Tina wasn't sure how it had happened, but somehow, as she was patiently waiting to dry off, she'd drifted off to sleep. She figured it was because the summer sun (what little of it was filtered through the pine trees overhead) felt so good on her fins that as she warmed up, she just wanted to curl up like a cat in front of a hearth and hibernate. Sometime later, though, she was startled awake by a snapping twig, and she yelped when she found none other than Mr. Schuester standing over her.
"Tina? Are you all right?"
"Uh, y-yeah, I'm fine, I-I-I just—" she stammered. Oh, my God, he's seen it, he knows. What do I do? SHIT. She glanced down at her tail in horror, only to sigh with relief when she saw that she'd dried off in time and her legs had reappeared, and then flush tomato red when she realized that from the waist down, she was naked. In front of her teacher. Oh, god.
"Uhm, I, uh…" she started, half-frozen.
His expression changed from one of shock and confusion to one of pseudo-parental resignation. "Here," he said, unbuttoning the shirt that he was wearing over his yellow swim trunks and handing it to her. "You can wear that."
"Th-thanks," she mumbled, pulling herself to her feet and stumbling slightly. Her legs were always a little stiff after changing to and from the giant fish tail, though she'd never understood why. Mr. Schue, looking a little red himself, turned around as he waited for her to tie his shirt around her waist in a sort of makeshift skirt.
"We've, uh, been looking all over for you," he said, still facing away towards the lake. "We were really worried."
"Sorry," she said, tying the sleeves into a knot at her hip. "I'm…really not a good swimmer."
"Well, you made it all the way here…" It was almost a question, but Tina decided to just avoid it and change the subject.
"What time is it?" she asked, noticing that the light had started to change from the bright noon sunlight to the softer mid-afternoon.
Mr. Schue glanced as his watch. "About two thirty. Are you okay enough to walk?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine." She took a few steps, the pine needles crunching under her bare feet. Mr. Schue fell into place beside her, eyeing her with a sort of confused concern, as if he was trying to figure out how to phrase a question that could spark a potentially bad reaction. "How'd you find me?" she ventured after a minute or so.
"Well, we called the park authorities when we couldn't find you in the water, and they asked if we'd combed the shores," he answered, still looking puzzled.
Tina supposed that the only thing she could do now was prepare some sort of scripted response for the inquiries that she knew would come sooner or later.
How did she manage to be swept away in three feet of water in a lake with no currents? Why did she pass out? How did she escape the mysterious underwater creature that had had a close encounter with Puck and Mike? How did she lose her pants? She groaned mentally. If it hadn't been likely to prompt even more interrogation, she would've banged her head against a tree.
When they made it back to the beach nearly ten minutes later, Tina was greeted with whoops of excitement and exclamations of relief, and was practically body-slammed into a hug from both Kurt and Mercedes at the same time.
"Tina, thank GOD you're okay!" Kurt cried as she wriggled in their embrace, trying to breathe.
"Girl, don't you EVER scare us like that again!" Mercedes demanded. She looked like she was trying to decide whether to smack Tina or just keep hugging her.
"Sorry," she said sheepishly, blushing bright red.
"Why are you wearing Mr. Schue's shirt?" Puck asked, wrinkling his nose slightly.
Tina turned a deeper shade of crimson. "Uh, I-I-I kinda…lost my pants in – in the water…" she stammered, ducking her head to avoid the grin that was forming on Puck's face.
"Uh, guys, why don't we give Tina some air?" Mr. Schue suggested, a hand on her shoulder. "I think maybe a swim party was a bad idea."
"No," Tina protested. "Sorry, I just…I wasn't planning on going in the water. It would've been fine otherwise."
"Jesus, Puck," Finn mumbled. "Thanks a lot."
"What?" Puck complained. "How was I supposed to know that Gothika couldn't swim?"
Tina ducked her head again, her ears turning pink. Mr. Schue squeezed her shoulder. "Puck, why don't you go pack up the food?" he said, flashing the mohawked boy a look that clearly stated that he wasn't asking. Puck huffed and did as he was told.
"Guys, let's start cleaning up," Mr. Schue said to the rest of them. "It's time we should be heading back. Tina, why don't you go sit by the bus. Take a break." He gave her shoulder a pat and turned his attention to directing the beach cleanup.
Tina sighed and went to sit on the bottom step in the bus door. Artie wheeled over tentatively, locking his brakes once he was sitting as close as he could.
"Are you okay?" he asked softly.
She fiddled with a button on Mr. Schue's shirt. "Yeah," she said. "Yeah, I'm fine. Sorry."
"You don't have anything to apologize for, Tee," Artie assured her, though his eyes were searching. "What happened exactly?"
"I just…I'm a bad swimmer. I got caught up in the currant."
"I can always tell when you're lying."
Tina didn't say anything, instead chewing on her thumbnail and trying to pretend that Artie wasn't still staring at her and waiting for a response. "I'm sorry, Artie…" she said after a few long minutes. "I'm really sorry, but I can't. I can't tell you. I will, eventually. But…not now." She looked up hopefully. "…Is that okay?"
He let out a long, drawn-out breath. "I guess it'll have to be," he said. "Look, Tee, I'm not mad about anything. Okay? I promise. Just…don't hide things from me so much. You know I'm on your side."
Tina sighed, grasping his hand lightly. "I know, I'm sorry," she repeated. "I just need some time to process this."
He smiled. "Take as much time as you need."