* This part contains spoilers for 1X09, "Wheels."
When We Touch
Artie & Emma
The moment he spotted Tina sitting at their normal table in the lunchroom, Artie rolled to a stop.
Just inside the cafeteria's doors, he should have been worried about people coming in behind him. But for once, Artie wasn't worried about trying to make sure he wasn't in anyone's way. That wasn't to say that he usually hid by walls until everyone was gone, but he did try to be mindful of those around him and of his surroundings.
Because as he watched Tina throw her head back in laughter at something Kurt said, Artie didn't care. To him, making sure that the jocks could get to the slushie machine just didn't seem important after what had happened with Tina the other night.
Up until their kiss, things had been going so well between them. Not just on the date, but in general. They'd become friends at the beginning of their freshman year, and since then, they'd studied together and hung out on the weekends. Their friendship had seemed so great, and on top of that, their date had gone really well.
Until she'd confessed that her stutter, her disability, was fake that was.
After she'd confessed to him, Artie had felt as if he'd been looking at a totally different person. The girl sitting in the wheelchair before him was no longer Tina, the girl he'd developed a crush on because of her pretty eyes and sweet smile. She wasn't the one who had pushed him to glee rehearsal everyday since it had started. But worst of all, she was no longer the person he could relate to because, when it came down to it, she was fine.
There was nothing wrong with her.
Deep down, Artie knew Tina had thought she was doing the right thing by telling him. But, the truth was… she'd broken his heart. And even though she obviously had feelings for him, Artie didn't know if he had it in him to totally forgive her.
"Have you tried talking to her?" Even though it came out of nowhere, Artie recognized the gentle voice instantly. He didn't need to turn to know that Ms. Pillsbury was standing right next to him. He could feel her there.
"I don't want to talk to her right now." Even though he was addressing the guidance counselor, Artie continued to watch Tina who was trying not to laugh as she bit off a piece of her pizza. Normally, he would have been sitting next to her, laughing with her, but today he didn't feel like eating.
"Oh." The response was simple, to the point and full of painful understanding.
"Yeah…" For the first time since he'd stopped in the doorway, Artie tore his eyes away from Tina. Looking up at Ms. Pillsbury, he was surprised to see that she wasn't looking at him or Tina. Instead, her gaze was trained on Mr. Schuester, who was grabbing something from the lunch line. And instantly, he knew how she felt about him. Artie had heard rumors but never really believed them himself. But when he saw her large brown eyes, he knew that they were all true, because the look in them mirrored how he felt whenever he saw Tina.
"What do you do when there's something huge in the way?" Artie's voice was soft and unsure; his question wasn't as articulate as normal. And instead of watching her face for a reaction, he looked from Mr. Schuester to Tina.
"I… Well, I… Artie." Mr. Schuester walked over to where Tina, Kurt, and Mercedes were sitting. But instead of talking to them, he looked up and waved at Ms. Pillsbury.
Unable to stand feeling like he was spying on a private moment, Artie looked down at his lap, waiting for the guidance counselor to answer his question.
But when she didn't, he looked up at her. Larger and rounder than usual, her eyes were sparkling in the fluorescent glow of the cafeteria lights. As he watched, she smiled sweetly and bit down on her bottom lip before giving Schu a little wave back.
When she finally turned and looked down at him, Artie was surprised to see her looking so straight forward and matter of fact. It was almost as if looking at Mr. Schuester had inspired her some way.
"Well, Artie," Ms. Pillsbury stopped and smiled down at him. "Is this something that is insurmountable? Or… Well, that's to say, is this something, the thing between you two." Here, she gestured between himself and Tina, but her eyes flickered to Schuester. "Is it something that just can't be helped or forgiven?" Her voice trailed off at the end, sounding almost desperate.
"I… don't know." The sadness that tinged Ms. Pillsbury's words was reflected in Artie's own. At first, he'd been upset, but as he watched Tina, laughing and enjoying herself, Artie felt that anger turn to sorrow. He wanted to say more, but all that came out was a long, low sigh.
"Well, when you figure out if this thing…" Ms. Pillsbury stopped to give Artie a sympathetic smile before continuing, "is forgivable or not…"
Artie picked up on the slight emphasis she'd put on the not and couldn't help but wonder if she were talking about herself and Mr. Schuester as well as his problem with Tina. "Then you'll know what to do."
Artie simply nodded. Her advice, despite its indirectness, was simply common sense. And if someone had asked him the same question, he'd probably have responded the same way. (With fewer words that was.) But even though it was such ordinary advice, it still helped. "Thanks, Ms. Pillsbury."
"Oh, you're welcome, Artie. You're a smart kid. I'm sure you'll figure out what to do." Artie was about to say something but stopped when Ms. Pillsbury tentatively reached out her hand as if she were going to place it on his shoulder.
While no one knew for sure what the guidance counselor suffered from, everyone in the school knew she didn't like germs or touching people. And for the most part, everyone respected that. But deep down, Artie couldn't help but wonder how many of them truly understood just how difficult things could be for her.
It wasn't so much that Artie understood what she went through with her problem, but he could empathize with her. Though their challenges were different, they both had their obstacles to overcome. And for the most part, they were able to deal, but they were still treated differently. And more than once, Artie had seen his own pain reflected in her eyes.
Just liked he'd thought he could with Tina.
Ms. Pillsbury's hand hung over Artie's shoulder for a few seconds before she pulled it back a little but not completely. Artie just sat still, waiting to see what she would do. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the guidance counselor lower her hand again, fractionally before hastily pulling it back to herself.
For the next few seconds, Artie continued to sit patiently, acting as if he didn't know what she was trying to do. He knew that, in the end, she probably wouldn't be able to touch him, but he wanted to give her the chance to at least try.
Instead of saying anything, Artie reached up and placed his own hand on the shoulder she'd been aiming for. And though she wasn't even touching him, Artie swore he could feel her hand under his.
And oddly enough, it made him think of the episodes of Paranormal State he and Tina had watched at his house. Together, they'd scoffed at the idea of being touched by a ghost. But as Ms. Pillsbury's hand, warm and reassuring, seemed to linger under his own, Artie understood the power of a phantom touch.
Dropping his hand, Artie looked up at Ms. Pillsbury, and for the first time, their eyes met. "Thanks, again." Together, they looked over to where Mr. Schuester was handing Tina some sheet music before looking back at each other. "I'm sure everything will work out for you too."
Ms. Pillsbury simply stared down at him, looking very much like a doe caught in headlights. Before she could respond, Artie wheeled himself out of the cafeteria. Still not hungry, he decided to spend the rest of his lunch hour in the music room practicing.
Whether or not the thing between he and Tina was forgivable, Artie still wasn't sure. Part of him wanted to go right over and join the table, to join in. But another part, the part of him that had been truly hurt, just couldn't. And he figured that it would take a lot of time for him to truly decide how he felt. But for now, he didn't want to be, didn't think he could be, near her.
The next day, instead of waiting for Tina to push him to glee rehearsal, Artie wheeled himself to the auditorium.
Squeeka Cuomo's Notes
- Though this project was originally started for the lj community "story_lottery", I'm no longer working on those prompts. My personal prompt was "ghost touch".
- Quack: Thank you. Your help means more than I can say.
- Reviews are love.