Santana remembered the very day that she stopped believing in fairy tales. It was Halloween at 6:00 in the evening. They'd just finished dinner and Santana raced upstairs to put on her costume. She was 8 years old and dressed as a princess. Ever since she started watching Disney princess movies, she'd dreamt of being one of them. Her favorite was Jasmine because she thought she looked like her the most, with her darker skin and hair the shade of night. Her father sat with her when she watched the movie and she told her father that she was going to be like Jasmine one day. Her father chuckled.
"No, Santana, you're going to marry someone who has an actual job." He said. Santana frowned and crossed her arms.
"It's true love, Daddy!" She insisted.
"If you don't marry someone with money, sweetie, he won't be able to buy you toys." This seemed to change Santana's mind instantly.
"I wanna marry a prince!" She said and her father let out a deep, engine rumble of a laugh as he hugged his daughter close.
"That's more like it." He patted her on the head and they continued to watch Aladdin escape the guards for the fiftieth time.
Santana dressed up like Jasmine that Halloween, excited that maybe her prince would see her out trick-or-treating and sweep her off her feet and onto a white horse or something along those lines. Her father was supposed to take her out but while she was waiting upstairs, twirling in the mirror in her custom-made costume, the shouting started.
Santana crept over to the stairs. She gripped the railing with her tiny hands. As a child any shouting from either parent was enough to frighten her. But when both her parents shouted at once, Santana wanted to hide under her bed and wait until everything was quiet again. She peered through the wooden balusters, trying to see if maybe her mother had accidentally dropped one of her dad's favorite beer mugs again. She saw her father, his face red with rage waving papers around. The tone of his voice scared her and she cowered. Her mother, equally angry was not visible but her voice was audible. She was in the kitchen, slamming pots and pans everywhere. Her father screamed things like,
"Bills past due" and "you do none of the work! I slave at the construction site every day while you get your hair done." Her mother suddenly came into view and started hitting him with her hands and her perfectly manicured nails. Even though Santana didn't know what the word meant, it was the first time she'd heard the word "infidelity." Her father went quiet and glared at her mother. For a minute, Santana thought that maybe they'd finally stopped fighting. She began to crawl down the stairs when her father turned on his heel and grabbed his coat.
"Where are you going?" Santana's mother demanded.
"I'm done." He said and stormed out the door. Her mother let out a yell and flung a cup at him, the mug smashing against the closing door.
"I don't need you and your worthless ass!" She screamed. She sat down at the table, her hands folded in front of her face, almost as if in a prayer. Santana, scared out of her wits, made her way over to her mother. She was crying through her hands. Santana didn't know how to make her stop so she tugged on her pants.
"Mommy, are we going trick or treating?" She asked.
"Not now." Her mother said in as steady a voice as she could manage.
"I'll share some of my candy..." Santana offered in a small voice.
"Later." She said sternly.
"I said later!" Her mother shouted. Santana backed away, shrinking in a terrified manner and bolted back up the stairs. She jumped onto her bed and began crying, not sure why her mother rejected candy. Candy made everything better. She looked out her window. The streets were filled with people and their kids running around back and forth, screaming with delight. Santana watched them for a while, tears streaming down her face.
She wanted to be out there with her dad and even her mother as they swung her by her arms and carried her when she got tired. She wanted her mother to sort the candy for her, designate what she could eat over the next year so that she didn't get cavities. She looked at the sky and remembered another Disney movie that she'd watched. There were no princesses in that one, but she liked it just the same.
"Please, let Daddy come back and take me trick or treating. Please."
Santana's father never came back for Halloween, nor did Santana's mother take her out. Her wish, which Jiminy Cricket promised would come true if she wished on a star, did not. Her parents got divorced the following year. Her mother, married quickly after, to a surgeon who provided her with all the money she wanted. And Santana grew up with a stepfather that showered her with gifts.
She called him Dad, he bought her a new shiny handbag. She said "I love you" and he gave her $200. He tried to buy his way into her heart but it only made her grow colder. Soon she came to understand that only two things were important, money and status. It was how she treated people, how she treated life and it was how she lived. She never had to apologize for anything, not that one time that she beat up a girl so hard the girl missed a week of school. Her father merely wrote a check large enough to pay for her bills and then some and Santana never got in trouble.
But in life, there are always exceptions. For Santana, that exception was Brittany. Brittany had come from a poor family but her demeanor was always so cheerful. Santana couldn't help but be drawn to Brittany. Here was this girl who didn't have half of what Santana had yet she was always smiling. Where Santana said "money" on her second grade "What is the one thing you wish you had" question, Brittany answered "Nothing." Santana confronted the girl after, asking why she'd answered "nothing" and Brittany shrugged.
"I'm happy." She replied. From then on, Santana couldn't help but stay by her side, fascinated by how someone could be so happy all the time. And Brittany never left Santana. Brittany was that constant in her life.
It was Brittany who was that one inexplicable anomaly that no one could ever figure out. Brittany, whom she relied on to be there at her best and worst, who had always been there holding her pinky or hand or kissing her when she needed it most. And for years and years, that was how their relationship was.
So when Santana stared at strange papers with strange words like "divorce" and "separation" she felt just numb inside. None of the sentences made any sense. How could this have happened? They'd always pulled through. It never mattered how stupid Santana acted or what mess Brittany got in, they'd always made it. Santana glanced down over at the papers in the eerie silence of her house. She looked over at the clock. Normally at 4:00pm, Sammy would be asking for her snack. Matt would be bursting through the door to get to his video games and Brittany would follow, chasing after him with groceries in her hand.
But now that she thought about it, that hadn't happened in a long time. How long had it been since two of her children left the house with her wife? Since their rooms had been emptied of clothes and her belongings packed up. How long had Santana been brushing her teeth alone, or sleeping with no one beside her?
It had been quiet and lonely for a very long time. The hustle bustle of the afternoon was gone and Santana missed it. Brittany, Sammy and Matt were gone.
The door opened and Santana quickly looked toward it. She knew who it was but it didn't stop her from hoping that it was the rest of her family. She could imagine Sammy running into her arms yelling "Mommy!" and Matt stubbornly refusing to admit he missed her. And Brittany would apologize for running out.
"Hi Mom." Aaron said as he walked in. He took off his shoes and backpack. Santana hastened to put the papers away in her folder before he saw but he knew what they were anyway. He walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge, getting out juice to drink.
"How was your day, sweetie?"
"Ok." He replied but he sounded tired and Santana knew it wasn't from baseball practice. He opened the cupboards and got out a box of EasyMac. Santana cursed under her breath and put her hand to her face.
"Oh, Honey, I'm so sorry. I completely forgot about dinner." She sighed, getting up.
"'S'ok. I got dinner." Aaron said, getting out a pot and filling it with water. Santana walked over to him and brushed his hair back.
"I'm going to clean up, ok?" She insisted. Aaron nodded as he sat down to do his homework as the water boiled.
Aaron had been more than a Godsend for Santana. He'd stepped into the nurturer role and taken care of her. At his age, a young fourteen, he should've been out playing with his friends. Instead, he was at home with his depressed mother, doing his best to fight depression as well because he had to be that light in Santana's life. Santana kissed the top of his head.
"I'm going to go wash my face, ok?" She asked. He nodded, furiously scribbling at math. Santana went upstairs. She sat down on the bed and pressed the palms of her hand against her eyes, trying with futility to force the tears back. When she removed her hands, she sighed. There were dark bags under her eyes from all the mental and physical exhaustion. Her shoulders slumped forward and she stared at the floor. The divorce was taking its toll on her.
Fighting with Brittany had never been easy. It started as small things, dishes unwashed, clothes tossed here and there, being late a few minutes to a soccer game. But they soon spiraled into coming home late drunk, arguing about the rising cost of bills now that they had two teenage sons and a young daughter.
Santana remembered the night the divorce started. They were yelling at each other again and Santana uttered words she wished she never even knew. She screamed a single sentence at her and Brittany went deathly quiet. Aaron ushered their 7 year old daughter upstairs, promising her that she could watch TV in their parents' room if she went. Brittany looked at her, hurt written all over her face. Santana's face faltered. Soon, Brittany's expression turned to bitter hatred. Tears of rage fell from her eyes and she grabbed her coat and ran out the door, slamming it behind her. Instead of chasing after her, Santana was rooted to the spot, the image of her father storming out freezing her in place. She opened her mouth to say something, anything at all, as if the words could penetrate the door and reach Brittany but only a harsh gasp escaped her mouth.
Matt sat on the steps, glaring at Santana. The 13 year old was just a year younger than Aaron but he was like a normal teen. He wasn't unnaturally mature like Aaron, he was just a boy. But even if Santana tried to tell herself that, it still stung when he screamed "I hate you!" and ran out the door after Brittany. Santana couldn't bring herself to chase after them, even though she wanted to. Instead, she went back into the kitchen and fixed herself a drink. She stared at the wine bottle in her hand and smashed it against the counter, crying.
Aaron came downstairs after hearing the glass shatter. He surveyed the room with a calm eye, even though fear was apparent on his face. Without another word, he got a paper towel and began wiping up the mess that Santana made. Santana hated herself, hated that her son was cleaning up after her, hated that she had said what she did to Brittany, even if it was true, hated that she didn't know how to say that she was sorry.
The door to her room opened and Aaron walked in with two bowls of mac' and cheese. He sat down next to her and handed her one of them. Santana accepted it but instead of eating, she set it down on the opposite side of her. She reached up and combed her fingers through his hair.
"We need to get you a haircut." She said, feigning cheeriness.
"Ok." Aaron said, eating. Santana watched him. He was still a boy, he shouldn't have to deal with making dinner for his mother. He shouldn't be worried when she came home at eight though she normally came home at three, wondering if she'd died, or gotten drunk, or had also left him.
"Why did you stay with me?" She whispered. "Brittany was always the better mother."
"Do you not want me to stay?" Aaron asked. His voice quivered with hurt but he tried to hide it.
"No, God, that's not what I meant. Aaron, of course I want you to stay, I love you. I love you all. I just..." Santana trailed off. Aaron nodded, swallowing his food before he talked.
"You needed someone." He explained. "If you lost everyone, you'd never make it. Mama's fine, she always has been. But I stayed because I worry about you, Mom." Santana felt her eyes water.
"We'll get through this." She promised. "You're an amazing son, you know that?" She felt she didn't deserve him. You are your Mama's son. She said. Santana was Mom, Brittany was Mama.
After dinner, Santana made sure Aaron brushed his teeth and took a shower before going to bed. She cleaned up the dishes as he washed and when he was done, she tucked him in. He poked his head out from under the covers.
"Do you want me to tell you a story?" Santana asked.
"Mom, I'm in 8th grade, I don't need stories." He replied. Santana nodded and smiled. She'd grown accustomed to Sammy always asking for a story that she transferred that habit to her 14 year old son.
"Sorry. You're a big boy." She stood up. But almost as soon as she got to her feet, Aaron stopped her.
"Wait, Mom..." He ducked under the covers.
"Yes?" Santana asked, sitting back down.
"No, honey, what is it?" Santana prodded. Aaron popped out, only showing his eyes. He was silent for a few seconds before he spoke.
"You promise you won't get mad or sad?" He asked. Immediately, Santana knew it was going to be about Brittany. Aaron had always been so careful not to mention her for fear of upsetting his Mom. But she wasn't about to deny him anything.
"How...how did you and Mama meet?" Aaron said timidly, terrified of upsetting his mother. Santana smiled and forced back the pain that rose in her chest. He wanted her to do the one thing that was going to hurt her the most; reliving their long, tangled, beautiful and messed up history. She stroked his hair.
"I can tell you that story."