Disclaimer: I don't own Glee. Two of the scenes (Quinn and Santana fighting and Sue lecturing Santana) are directly from the show, but everything else is backstory from my convoluted brain. Enjoy plz?
The water bra is on clearance. At Macy's. It's her mother who buys it—her robust, chesty mother who clucks disapprovingly at her trim Cheerios figure. "What will a man have to hold on to?" she asks, and then answers herself: "A twig. He's looking for a woman, not playing fetch!"
Santana ignores her. Twig or no, she's never had any trouble attracting men. She doesn't need some stupid water bra to impress anyone, and she certainly doesn't need any advice from her twice-divorced, E-harmony active mother. The bra ends up abandoned in the bottom dresser drawer with a bunch of clutter, all but forgotten.
That was June. But soon it's July, and she's trudging through a month and a half worth counseling at cheer camp. The days are long, the sun is brutal, and by the end of the day Santana wants nothing more than to wring those brats' scrawny little necks.
One afternoon she's walking to her car when some asshole speeds into the parking lot and nearly runs her down before screeching to a halt. As she stands there fuming, trying to decide how to react, she watches the tinted windows of the car roll down and hears a voice yell, "Hey, runt, get in the car, I don't have all day."
She slams her fist down on the car hood. "Watch where you're going, Puckerman," she spits, because even if she can't see him through those ridiculous tinted windows, that voice is unmistakable.
He sticks his head out the car window. "You're the one hauling off in the middle of the road."
She rolls her eyes and considers flipping him off, but remembers that her ridiculously peppy boss is probably eyeing her from camp check-out and just keeps walking.
Puck honks the horn. She stops but very pointedly doesn't look back.
"I'm cleaning the Campbell pool in an hour," he calls.
She throws her shoulders back and keeps walking. "Try cleaning up your act."
His sister clambers into the car. "About time," he says to the pudgy little kid, and then he roars the car back to life in a ridiculous, show-offy effort to make her turn around and look at him. She won't give him the satisfaction. She stalks over to her car, listening as he screeches out of the lot and feeling the weight of his stare on her the whole time.
The next afternoon he knocks on her car window as she's about to pull out of the camp lot. She shoots him a pointed, impatient look, then reluctantly rolls down her window.
He interprets this as an invitation and sticks his head in at a distance too close to be friendly, so close that she can feel the heat of his body near to hers.
"I didn't see you at the Campbell's," he says. He's teasing her, a confident smirk on his face. He's reminding her that if she says no, he has nothing to lose.
She starts the car up and sets it in reverse. "I had better things to do."
She expects him to laugh at her, or say something defensive. She expects him to treat her the way he always does—because she's expendable, because he has so many other women lined up to take her place.
Instead he leans forward, so slowly and fluidly that she feels her skin crawl with sudden and unwarranted desire. His mouth is right next to her ear and she can feel his breath tickling her neck as he says, "If you ever change your mind—" He pauses, a low chuckle in his throat, and she feels every part of her body tense in anticipation. "You know where to find me."
After a moment she unclenches her fists on the wheel and takes a breath of perspective. She knows better than to fall for this. Ever since Quinn rejected him, Puck has been on an ungodly sex spree and the last she needs is to get tangled in his mess of a life. She juts her chest forward haughtily. He is the one who abandoned her. She doesn't owe him anything. It's not her responsibility to pick up the pieces.
"I can't back my car up with your head poking through the window like a dog," she says.
He backs up from the window and pats her car affectionately. "See you around."
Puck makes love differently now. It used to be that he was almost lazy about it, cocky and sure of himself, and she didn't mind because she had never been too particular when it came to sex. She had never felt obligated to work for it with him, because she would only dish out as much as she was getting in return.
But now, now he seems like an animal—desperate, fast, and eager to please. He doesn't just squeeze, but clutches. Doesn't just kiss, but presses his entire body against hers, his muscles tense with effort. He explores every realm, touches every part of her, as if he's moments away from losing her and has to memorize every inch before she disappears.
For the first time she finishes before he does. It should feel nice, rewarding, even, that he's being selfless for once, but it doesn't seem right. She lays there with him in the calm of the aftermath, and he's staring so intently at the ceiling that she may as well not be there at all.
She scoots her body away from him. He doesn't seem to notice. "You're different," she says, her tone critical.
He just grunts in response, his eyes sliding shut. His expression is distant and unrecognizable. It's like he's going some place and leaving her behind. It irritates her, that he's taking her for granted like this—that for the first time he's treated her like she's his whole world, and now he won't even acknowledge her.
The irritation shoots through her like a lightning bolt, and in one heated, fluid motion she reels away from him, off of the bed. He sits up and stares at her, but she won't look at him. It only takes a few seconds to throw her clothes back on and toss her bag over her shoulder.
She stops and swivels toward him. "I have somewhere to be."
He stares at her briefly, then catches himself, and rolls his eyes. "Tomorrow?"
The question is needy, but his voice isn't. She searches his face for a moment, trying to figure him out, but it isn't really worth her time or trouble. She is not Puck's keeper.
"I have to go," she says, and shuts the pool house door behind her.
Santana understands that he is using her. She understands that she is an escape to him, that she may as well be nameless and faceless, but she is different—everything that Quinn isn't—and that is enough. She feels enough for him that she comes back every afternoon, but doesn't feel anything deep enough for him to care.
The desperation doesn't change. By mid-July he still presses her to him like a lost possession, and even starts to whisper sweet things. He tells her she's beautiful, he tells her she's special, and she's heard it all before but she can't help but get caught up in the moment of it.
It's different for her. She can pretend with Puck and then she can leave and go back to her normal life. Puck is the one, she thinks, who wants for it to be real. He is the one who tries to will himself to want somebody who is not Quinn, wills himself so much that he has become an entirely different person.
The instant she untangles herself from the sheets, the old Puck is back. All stiff posture and calculated coolness, the perfect combination of sexy and intolerable. Sometimes she lingers for a little while, a minute or two, to see if it will fade away. It never does.
Occasionally Brittany's waiting for her when she comes home post-Puck, usually for a free meal or to watch outdated reruns of reality series. They're halfway through season two of America's Next Top Model when Brittany pokes her head up from her cup of air and says nonchalantly, "Harriet thinks you're a slut."
Santana just scoffs. The only thing more ridiculous than her floozy of a mother lecturing her is little miss bottom-of-the-pyramid, barely out of freshman year. "Does she now?" she asks, bored.
Brittany nods. "For shacking up with Puck." When Santana snaps her head toward Brittany sharply, the other girl throws her hands up in defense. "No judgment. But I'm pretty sure everyone knows."
"I am not shacking up with Puck."
"That's not what he said."
Something primal in her snaps. She feels her spinal cord straighten, feels herself grow rigid as a board. She clenches her fists into knots and curls her lips into a sneer. "Excuse me?"
In her usual obtuse way, Brittany just shrugs and says, "Puck says you two have been at it all summer."
It shouldn't feel like betrayal, but it does. Here she is, the unwitting fool—convinced that Puck has changed, that he is broken and maybe he needs her, that she is helping him. She has imagined that the same sensitive guy who steals her away to pool houses is the kind of guy who respects her, who doesn't use her to tell tales in the locker room.
She imagined wrong. It's evident that he is the same old Puck with a different face. That he doesn't care about her that way, that she is nothing more than a bragging right.
It's stupid. She shouldn't care whether or not his feelings are genuine, not when she feels nothing for him, but somehow it still hurts like she does.
"Fuck," Santana says lowly.
Brittany just blinks at her. "So it's true."
Santana doesn't say anything. Her heart is beating in her ears. In the background the television cuts to a commercial break, prompting Brittany to sink back into the couch cushions.
"You could have told me," she says, pouting.
"There was nothing worth telling. It didn't matter."
Brittany accepts this easily, shrugging her shoulders with a simple, "If you say so."
It's a few minutes before Santana sits down again. Her head is whirring and there's a sick feeling in her gut—she recognizes it, gives it a name. She is ashamed. It occurs to her that maybe Puck isn't all that different, maybe it's just her who has changed, into somebody naïve and stupid enough to believe in his tricks.
A week later he calls her on the phone. She doesn't pick up. If he really wants to get in touch with her, he knows where she lives, for God's sake. So she ignores the phone call and he doesn't leave a voicemail and another two days pass before her mother yells from downstairs, "There's someone at the door for you."
She thinks it might be Puck. It turns out to be Quinn.
"Hi," says Santana, stopping stupidly on the stairway, taken by surprise.
Quinn shuffles awkwardly in the doorway. "Hey."
It's the first time she's seen Quinn since school ended. It's remarkable how little of her has changed from the Quinn she knew at the beginning of high school. There is no trace of baby weight, no trace of her plight. The muscles of her arms are still tight and thin and emphasized by her halter top, her stomach is flat as a board, and her ponytail is impeccable. She looks like an angel, the light of the sun catching her hair in the doorway.
A year ago Santana would not have hesitated to hug her, clamber into Quinn's car, and head to the mall. Now they are so distant they are practically strangers. She can't look at Quinn without thinking about Puck's baby in someone else's apartment, in someone else's arms.
"What are you . . ."
"I want to be a Cheerio again," says Quinn, interrupting the awkward question before it slips out of her.
For a split second Santana thinks that maybe she is asking for help. That for the first time, maybe Quinn has come crawling to her, the new head cheerleader, to reclaim her dignity. Santana has never thought of herself as better than Quinn, even when the pregnancy knocked her off the Cheerios pyramid for good, but now—for this instant—she relishes the feeling of having more power.
Before she can say anything, before the words, "When do you want to practice?" can so much as form in her brain, Quinn continues.
"It's just that I want to make sure we're still friends."
Santana's brow furrows, confused. "What?"
"I know this year has been weird. I just wanted to make sure that we were still, you know." Quinn flashes a tiny, demure smile, the one she is best known for. "Cool?"
"Of course," Santana stammers, because she doesn't know what else to say.
Quinn's smile widens. "Good." She takes a step forward and embraces Santana, holds her there for a second, and as Santana hugs her back she can't help but feel like something is not quite right about this visit.
"I'll see you at conditioning, then," Quinn says, the brilliant smile still showcasing her perfect white teeth. She flips her hair as she pivots toward the door.
"Yeah. I'll see you."
A few hours after Quinn leaves it occurs to her: Quinn is planning on becoming head cheerleader again. And a head cheerleader is nothing without her loyal Cheerios. Santana comes to the realization with a start, but then it makes perfect sense. Of course Quinn is not the kind of girl who stays knocked down for long.
Suddenly Santana has the feeling that the ground isn't as solid as it was this morning. The careful, calculated control she has over the student masses is now giving way, and she knows that now that Quinn is back, there is nothing she can do about it.
She can't compete with the lithe smiles and the blonde curls that command an entire gym. She is no match for the sultry looks and the innocent wrist flicks that charm the whole school. Even Santana, the most competitive of all the Cheerios, knows that Quinn will always win.
And Quinn knows it too, or she wouldn't have bothered dropping by in the first place. Santana heaves a sigh into her pillow, resolving to give it more thought tomorrow. She won't go down without a fight.
By the beginning of August she hasn't seen Puck for a full two weeks. She resolves that the next time she sees him she'll cuss him out like the scum he is. Later she decides she might smack him. Eventually she determines she'll just ignore him altogether.
In the end she does none of these things. The weekend Brittany's parents leave for Australia Brittany throws a huge party in her basement and invites all the Cheerios and the entire football team. In all honesty Santana isn't looking for Puck at all. She spends the first half of the night fairly tipsy, makes out with a senior for a while until she figures out he's only a soccer player, and then spends the next hour prying Brittany off a boy she suspects has at least one form of gonorrhea.
It's past midnight when Puck finally stumbles in, seemingly trashed. When she first sees him her gut pangs with familiarity, with a sudden impulse to walk over to him and say hello, but then gradually she pushes past the film of her drunkenness and remembers what a tool he is.
And just in case she needs any more reminding, he's draping himself all over the younger Cheerios, practically drooling over them. It's a big show and he's making a fool of himself. She turns her cheek and pretends not to see him, which only prompts him to act out even more outlandishly, groping fifteen-year-olds who are too tickled and stupid to know any better.
She wonders what she ever saw in him, before she remembers that she never saw anything at all. Or did she? It's probably the alcohol, but she looks at him as if she's reconstructing a scene. The curve of his jaw, the slightness of his smile, the way his eyes search hers and never break away first in a gaze. She cocks her head, forgetting not to stare, suddenly curious of this unwarranted feeling rising in her chest.
Maybe she's a little bit in love with him. Probably she's drunk. But above all, she is furious.
She stares at him for too long and he meets her eye, that same smile curving into something sinister, like a hunter who has locked on his prey. The crowd of teeming girls seems to part for him as he makes his way over to her, and she just stands there and waits, leaning against the counter and hoping she looks nonchalant and not like she's just had several shots of something.
"Where have you been, huh, babe?" he asks.
She rolls her eyes. "Really? Don't try lines with me, Puckerman."
His eyes flash, exposing the frustration beneath his slick front. "I don't know what's wrong with you, but you better just say it. I don't want to deal with girls playing games."
"Then stop playing girls," she snaps back, because it sounds like a good comeback in her head rather than the Lifetime movie one-liner it ends up being out loud.
He scoffs at her and she just glares. It's evident he is not going to apologize, and she's angry enough to smack him into saying something, anything, because she wants him to feel even an ounce of what she feels and it's clear that he's incapable of feeling anything at all.
After a few infuriating moments she unclenches her fists and starts to walk away.
"I'm not going to chase after you, you know," he calls from behind her, and a few heads turn around to look at them. He doesn't seem to notice. "I'm through with that."
She turns around, very slowly and deliberately, and sets a hand on her hip. There's an audience now. She has always thrived on attention, and now that she is the center of it she suddenly feels much more confident and vicious than she did a few hours before.
"You listen to me, Puck. There is nothing for you to chase. I don't give a shit about you, and if you think for an instant that I did, you're way more full of yourself than I could ever imagine."
He's just standing there, his mouth in a tight line. He won't react. She accepts it, but not without adding a final blow.
"So fuck off."
She flips her hair, empowered by the stares and the curiosity of the other partygoers, high on her own drama. Her heart is pulsing with adrenaline, her fingers near shaking with it, and she steps outside of the party into the cool air and relishes the feeling of tearing him down as if she did it with her own hands.
Someone offers her a cigarette and she doesn't usually smoke, but she lights it up anyway and spends the next hour or so sitting outside and nursing it. By one or two in the morning the buzz has worn off and she's just plain old Santana again, watching with a critical eye as the other kids stumble around and make fools of themselves.
She senses someone sitting next to her and even though he head is turned in the other direction she can tell that it's Puck.
"I'm not sorry," he says. His words are slurred and she can tell he's even worse off than he was when he arrived. "I didn't do anything wrong."
"It doesn't matter."
He keeps talking like she hasn't said anything. She turns to look at him and his eyes are distant, staring in front of him, as if he's talking to a ghost. "You're acting like I forced you into something. Like I tricked you."
She is bold only because she knows he won't remember this in the morning. "You didn't. It was my fault. I thought you had changed."
He chuckles a bit, but it sounds painful, like something hit his gag reflex. "Oh."
"You're drunk," she says scathingly.
"Mmm," he says noncommittally, and she's about to leave him there, slumped on the bench, when she sees his eyes slide shut and his body sag. "She doesn't love me," he says, so quietly that she thinks he never planned to say it out loud in the first place.
The anger dissipates. She doesn't know what to say. "I know," she tells him dumbly. All summer she has anticipated him opening up to her like this, and now that he is, even this tiny amount, she has absolutely no idea how to handle it.
He sighs and some of the beer from his cup sloshes by her feet. "I guess I'm not a great guy. Not good enough."
She doesn't want to hear this. Doesn't want to hear him pine after Quinn Fabray like some lovesick puppy. Doesn't want to face that one more thing must be relinquished to the princess of McKinley High. She knows that it's selfish of her to think this way, she knows that Puck has never exactly been a prize to be won, but it hurts nonetheless.
"I'm the wrong person to come to for this," she says, about to leave him there.
He grabs her hand, beckoning her back to the bench. "What can I do?" he asks her.
He's pleading. It's pathetic. Without thinking she wrenches her hand back and knocks the drink out of his hand, listening as the plastic cup thuds to the ground and bounces a few feet away.
"Get a grip," she says. Her throat is thick with tears she shouldn't be crying, for a boy she shouldn't care about. "She doesn't want you."
"Santana," Puck calls after her, but she flings herself away from the bench like a whip. Tears are streaming down her face—she shouldn't have had those last few shots, she thinks, or she'd never stoop to this level—she grabs for her purse on the kitchen counter and bolts out the door, into the night, knowing that no matter how many steps she takes she will never be far enough away from him.
In the middle of August, the day after camp ends, Santana catches the flu. She's vomiting up nearly everything, an absolute disgusting and unsightly mess, and her mother leaves for their yearly beach trip without her. For an entire week she lays curled up on the couch or with her head in the toilet. Brittany keeps her company at night but besides that, she spends the only free days of her summer puking and trying to fall asleep.
It's the same week that Cheerios conditioning starts, and even in her haze she knows the impact her absence is going to have on her chances of keeping her captain status. She would go but she knows the only thing that would make Sue madder than her missing conditioning is her throwing up on the football field.
By the time she's recovered it's the weekend before school starts, and Santana has enough of her wits back to start devising her plans to get back on top. She figures she has to walk in on the first day with a bang, with a take-no-prisoners look worthy of everyone's attention, because she needs to put in maximum effort to gage where she is on the food chain.
She and Brittany are tearing apart her wardrobe that Sunday when Brittany plucks something out of her dresser drawer and says, "What's this?"
It takes a little while for Santana to recognize it for what it is. Then she scoffs. "A waterbra," she says, and then she turns away and continues to root through her closet.
"Huh," says Brittany. She's unusually quiet for a few moments, and then adds, "Wow. Makes my boobs look huge."
Santana turns around and sees that she's absolutely right. Her chest looks suddenly enormous and there's even a hint of cleavage where Brittany has never had any before. All Santana can do at first is gape. It's unnatural. It's enormous.
"Take that stupid thing off," Santana snaps.
She wakes up in the middle of the night. She can't sleep. It isn't good enough, not her hair, her make-up, her perfectly-pressed Cheerios uniform—she'll go to school and she won't be any different at all, just plain old Santana, the same model that let Quinn beat her at everything since the third grade.
She's pacing the room when she feels something squish slightly beneath her feet. Her first instinct is to kick whatever it is across the room, but then with a burst of clarity she realizes it must be the stupid water bra. Instantly she thinks back to Brittany's unnaturally large bust from earlier that afternoon.
For a moment she just stares at it. It really is stupid. She's not that desperate, not enough to follow her own boneheaded mother's advice, or use a cheap gimmick to get attention.
But somehow she finds herself picking it up and holding it to her chest, and before she knows it the clasp is shut in the back and she's standing in front of her full length mirror with an unbelievable amount of cleavage bursting below her collarbones.
She can't help marveling at herself. She didn't think it was possible, and yet here she is, looking like a brand new Santana. It's realistic enough to look like a boob job. She reaches up and touches herself—it feels real, too, astonishingly real. She struts a little bit, sticking out her bust, and wiggles around.
Then she stops. It's ridiculous. It probably won't even fit under her Cheerios uniform. She tears it off, shuts off the lights, and spends the rest of the night staring up at the wall, unable to sleep.
The stares are magnetic. She feels the heat of the school staring at her like the hallway is her own personal sauna. She's intriguing, she's infectious, and nobody can help but look. Whenever someone passes she juts out her chest a little further, stands up a little straighter.
On a whim she tossed the water bra on this morning, and now that all eyes are on her she has absolutely no regrets. The sea of would-be Cheerios parts as she stalks her way over to the tryouts list, and a sense of overwhelming pride swells in her stomach. "Move it," she snaps to one straggler, shoving her way through. She is powerful, she is confident, and even Quinn can't bring her down now.
"Nice boob job," a football player yells from across the hall.
She flips her head around, letting her perfectly-groomed ponytail swish, and winks.
The rest of the day only perpetuates her feeling of self-satisfaction. The way Quinn gapes at her in disbelief, Noah's camera shoved toward her chest, the stares of the school's entire male population, including her new pervy math teacher. Her walks in the halls between classes are filled with approving nods and catcalls and mouths wide open.
For once, all the attention is on her. For once, she has something that Quinn can't compete with. For once, she is on top of the school, unbeatable, incomparable—safe.
"A little bird told me that someone spent the summer getting a brand new set of melons, even though you know I have a strict 'no-plastic' policy in Cheerios. Care to comment?"
Santana can't believe she's sitting here, about to endure a lecture about the fake boobs she doesn't actually have. She wants to justify herself, wants to tell Coach Sylvester that it's just the stupid water bra her ridiculous mother bought her, but somehow that seems even more pathetic and desperate than if she just took responsibility for the full-on boob job. At least committing to a change like this seems more intentional and certain than a flippant wardrobe switch.
"I just—" she starts, but Sue cuts her off.
"What would possess a person your age to get a boob job?" Sue demands, emphasizing each word with a condescending gesture. "You don't even know what your body's going to look like." She shoots Santana an indignant glare and continues, "It's an insult to nature, and completely distracting. I can't take my eyes off them, I'm actually talking to them right now."
Santana feels the rush of embarrassment heating her cheeks. She never stopped to consider the consequences of committing to this. She swallows back her uncertainty, the part of her that wants to scream that they're not real, it's just a bra, but instead she cools it and says as calmly as she can, "I wanted people to notice me more. I don't get what the big deal is."
"Look, the big deal is that a person who has to pump her nonnies full of gravy to feel good about herself clearly doesn't have the self-esteem to be my head cheerleader."
Her heart has possibly stopped beating.
No. No. She can't take this from her, not after she worked so hard, not after she has stretched herself in a million directions and given up her entire life to achieve this.
"Quinn will replace you."
And that's when her world starts falling apart. None of it matters. All of last year, the delicate, excruciating process of rising from Quinn's ashes, of establishing herself on the top of the pyramid, it's all gone in an instant for something she didn't do.
It's more than she can bear. There are tears welling up in her cheeks and her throat is tightening and she feels an irrational urge to scream and kick and fight her way into getting what she wants, what she deserves, but she knows that it's useless now. Even if she tells Sue it's just a bra, her mind is made up.
There is nothing she can do but watch as her carefully constructed life is stolen over one careless, frivolous mistake.
"Wh—what—" She hears the sounds croaking out of her mouth before she can stop them.
Sue takes off her glasses to stare Santana straight in the eye, making sure the message hits home.
"Oh, and Boobs McGee? You're demoted to the bottom of the pyramid," she informs her. So when it collapses, your exploding sandbags will protect the squad from injury."
Santana scowls at her, trying to retain some composure even though Sue is rubbing salt on the wound. She crosses her arms and presses them to her chest, feeling the unfamiliar weight and girth of the water bra above them, wishing she could pop the damn thing and throw it in Sue's face.
"Now take your juicy, vine-riping chest fruit and get the hell out of my office."
She skips fifth period to cry in her car. Loud, gut-wrenching sobs, the kind that doubles her over so her head is resting on the steering wheel and her breath is catching in her throat. It feels as if someone has died, and in a melodramatic way, maybe someone has. The Santana who was going to rule the school is gone forever, replaced by the same empty shell she's always been.
Ever since third grade she has been defined by Quinn. As if she's never been pretty or funny or talented enough to stand out on her own, as if she needed to be accentuated by Quinn's better features.
It can't go on like this. She knows that much. But now she has single-handedly left herself with no other options.
She can't take off the bra now. Nothing would make her plight more pathetic than everyone realizing she has been a phony all along. Now that she has faced the consequences for the extra cup sizes, now that she has been called out in such a humiliating and permanent way, she can't just change her mind.
Her sobs are so loud that she's hurting her own ears, that she doesn't even hear the passenger door open and doesn't notice Puck until his hand is on her shoulder. She wrenches her shoulder from his grasp, practically butting her head against the window in an effort to get away from him.
"Get out," she screams. Her throat is ripping with effort, her entire body shaking. "Get out, get out!"
He just stares at her, his eyes full of something—pity?—and it's too much, it's too god damn humiliating, to have him sit there feeling bad for her, when he's the one who should be broken. She screams in frustration, willing him to just leave already, and when he doesn't she hits him, and hits him again, but he doesn't even react because skinny little arms are no match for his football padding.
"Hey," he says, all calm and reason and the exact opposite of her.
"Just leave," she begs.
He doesn't. "Answer me one thing first," he says instead.
The tone of his voice, the way he says those words, is enough to unclench her fists for a moment. She looks at him. Stares. Maybe this is it. Maybe he will say the words she has been waiting for him to say since he took her virginity freshman year.
He doesn't say those words. Instead he says, "Why would you do this to yourself?"
It feels like he punched her in the stomach. This time the tears lack the rage, the fury, the desperation that they had before. She looks down at her Cheerios skirt, and as she lets the tears stain her thighs, all she feels is hopelessness.
"I didn't," she says in a whisper.
He doesn't hear her. "I mean God, Santana," he says. "I know you went AWOL for awhile, but I didn't think … I didn't think you'd go off and get some boob job."
"I didn't!" she says, this time louder, more insistent. "Damn it, Puck, I didn't. I was sick. Not that you'd ever give a shit."
She blindly grabs her purse, her backpack, her make-up bag. She's sure she's forgetting something, but she wants out of the car, and now.
"Of course I give a shit, Santana, or why would I—"
"It's a water bra, Puck," she says, her voice strangled and crazy-sounding, even in her own ears. "It's a fucking water bra." And then she laughs, because it's stupid, and laughs even harder because she must look like a lunatic, and she laughs until it hurts, and she has no idea what the tears in her eyes are for—losing her spot in the Cheerios? Losing Puck? Any shred of dignity she ever had?
But if she is being honest with herself, truly honest, she never had any of those things in the first place.
She slams the car door behind her, leaving Puck in her passenger seat, her heart set on nothing but revenge.
It isn't hard to find her. There she is, striding down the hall with two confident hands resting on her hips, her stare glazing the hallway and meeting the eyes of the gaping student body as if they are magnetized to her. Not a hair out of place, her Cheerios uniform pressed to perfection, her eyes glittering with satisfaction.
She doesn't know what she was planning to do, but it doesn't matter. All logical thought escapes her and in an instant she catapults herself at Quinn, shoves her hands against her back and slams her straight into a row of lockers.
What she doesn't expect is for little miss prissy perfect to fight back. Quinn pushes her away, and the moment their limbs disconnect Santana starts spewing her rage out loud.
"You did this to me, you told Coach Sylvester about my summer surgery," she accuses.
"You have a surgery when you get your appendix out," says Quinn, somehow managing to match her volume and venom and perpetuate her image as the perfect blonde angel as she does it. "You got a boob job."
The way she says it, enunciating each word as clearly and loudly as possible, is when Santana realizes it—Quinn knows she didn't get the boob job. But she is much craftier than Santana, much better at finding ways to clamber to the top, and when she saw the opportunity to tear Santana down this morning, she took it.
Quinn lied to Coach Sylvester. And now there's no way for her to prove it without looking like a fool.
"Yup, sure did!" Santana snaps back sarcastically, smacking her in the face.
God, it feels good, watching her reel back from the impact, knowing the entire school is seeing it too.
"You can't hit me!" Quinn says, dumbfounded, and Santana just smiles.
"Sure I can," she spits in her face, and just to put her back in her place she adds, "unless you got yourself knocked up again, slut!"
This time it's Quinn who grabs her by the shoulders and wrenches her away, slamming her into the opposite row of lockers with a brutal force and strength she wouldn't have guessed Quinn was capable of.
Some sort of violent survival instinct kicks in and suddenly they're both scrambling for control over the other one, reaching out for whatever they can grab, scratch, or hurt. She manages to spin Quinn around and pin her to the locker but just as fast Quinn's hand is yanking out her ponytail, the other one twisting the skin on her arm.
The blood in her veins starts pumping so quickly and so heatedly that all she can think about is what a bitch Quinn is, and how she's waited years to do this—how she has always lived in Quinn's shadow and if she has to take one more second of it, so help her God, she will lose her god damn mind—
And bam! Quinn hits the floor and skids, and Santana relishes the feeling of power it gives her, seeing Quinn outdone, outmatched, pathetic, lying there on the floor with every bit of indignity she has inflicted on Santana since the day they met.
"Hey," she hears someone cut in, and it doesn't even matter, she's already poised to kick Quinn down as she tries to get back up—but then all of a sudden Schuester is cutting her off, putting himself between them.
"Hey, hey, hey, what is this?" he exclaims, pushing Santana back with one arm and Quinn back on the other. "We're supposed to be a family!"
She knows better than to hit Schuester, is aware that the consequences of that will be much more dire than the ones she's already going to face, so she stops herself even though every part of her is screaming to wail at him with all the strength she can muster.
"Oh, please," she says, pushing Schuester away from her, "she has a family, she's a mooother!"
Schuester is barely containing Quinn, who shrieks, "Walk away! And tighten up your pony before you get to class!"
Of course, of course Quinn would get the last word with something condescending—a command, a correction, something that made her seem better than Santana. But for once Santana doesn't give a shit. She barrels right throw the throng of onlookers, not caring who she shoves to get through the hallway, ignoring all the stares as she passes.
Brittany is following her, but Santana pushes her aside. She can't take this right now. She needs to be alone.
Finally she reaches the theater, where she heads backstage to the one lonely bathroom where nobody will look for her. She locks the door behind her, falls back against the wall and slides down to her knees.
She thought this would feel good. But now she is bruised and battered inside and out, and all she feels is shame.
School inevitably ends and Santana has no choice but to show up for practice. She may have nothing left to fight for, but without the Cheerios she truly is nothing. And even the bottom of the pyramid is the top of the rest of the student body's food chain.
It's humiliating. The younger Cheerios gape at her disbelievingly as she crouches down at the bottom of the pyramid like a dog, accompanied by the bunch of freshmen yuppies who are just happy to be on the squad in the first place and don't realize what a demeaning role the bottom rung is.
More than one person steps on her on their way up. She thinks that they must be doing it on purpose—do people really think so little of her? And they're staring at her chest now, as if it might do a trick. Quinn, to her credit, doesn't step on her, despite the easy access and understandable motivation.
Nobody talks to her in the locker room, not even Brittany, who is off making out with one of the new boy Cheerios. She leaves with her head ducked down and her shoulders hunched, and it feels like admitting defeat.
She comes home to find her mom back from vacation. She hands Santana an envelope from her father, and Santana sets it on the dresser, too tired to bother with it. She sheds her uniform, tears off the water bra, and hurls it across the room. It hits the window blinds with a satisfying clash.
Then she curls up on her bed, pulls out her ponytail, and instantly falls asleep.
A check falls out of the envelope. Happy Birthday, silly bear! the card says enthusiastically.
Her birthday isn't for another three months, but at least he remembered this year. She pockets the check and throws away the card.
It's midnight now. She fell asleep at five and isn't used to sleeping more than seven consecutive hours, so of course she's awake now, alert and ready for a day that has barely begun. She puts on a sweater and walks outside.
It still smells like summer. The breeze catches her loose hair and it flies behind her like it did when she was a little girl, before the strict regiment of her Cheerios ponytail. She walks down the sidewalk, no real direction in mind, and she closes her eyes as if she can shut off the rest of her senses and just feel that breeze on her skin.
She walks a good half a mile. The entire town is quiet, warm, and safe, like there's a quilt resting over her sleeping street. She looks up and the stars are clear and stretch out like a storybook page.
For the first time in years she can appreciate how small she really is in comparison to the universe.
She finds the park she used to play at, the old one from before Quinn had moved in the neighborhood, and sets herself down on a swing. Instantly she feels the familiar urge to swing as high up as she can, and although her muscles are sore from a day's worth of hoisting Cheerios up a pyramid, she pumps her arms and legs with all her might until it feels like she's soaring.
For a second it's gone. All of it. The water bra. Her self-doubt. Her image-obsessed mother, her absent dad. The ache of her muscles, her too-tight ponytail, her blistered feet. The bottom of the pyramid, the stupid glee club she never got to sing in. The enduring sting of Quinn's success. The way Puck will look at her but never see her. It's all . . . gone.
By the time her feet drag on the dirt and she ends her flight, she feels a strange sort of peace settle over her. Not quite acceptance, but something close to it. The tightness in her chest disappears and she slumps in the motionless swing, finally at ease.
The next day she wakes up with a new resolve to right her wrongs.
She goes to school without the water bra, fully prepared to take any and all attacks on her pride. And to her surprise, it doesn't even affect her—the jeers, the disappointment, the whispers and the giggles. She sticks her decided A-cup chest outward, juts her chin forward, and keeps walking.
Until she reaches Quinn's locker. She very publicly stops so that Quinn flinches, and within and instant there's a crowd watching. Santana is quiet for a moment, waiting for everyone to settle in, letting the mood heighten before she says her bit.
"I'm sorry," she tells Quinn, and she means it. "I was out of line yesterday."
Quinn stares at her for a second, looking for the catch. When she doesn't find one, she nods her head gracefully in acknowledgement. "I'll see you at practice."
And when Quinn shuts her locker and walks away, everyone in the crowd breathes of collective sigh of either disappointment or relief. Order has been restored. Santana has bowed before Quinn, given her back the power she is so good at maintaining, because at least for this day she doesn't care.
At practice Coach Sylvester doesn't so much as bat an eye at her, but on her way to the locker room she catches her looking at her significantly smaller bust. Their eyes meet and Sylvester frowns, but Santana doesn't look away first, determined not to show any trace of shame.
Puck approaches her after practice, on the way to her car. It figures that he would, as today she seems to be mending all her bridges, and his is the one she burned the most.
"Back to normal," he says lightly.
She leans against her car, and for once she doesn't scowl at him or cross her arms defensively. The serene feeling she's had since last night hasn't worn off yet, and she knows she is capable of handling this conversation—one that has been long overdue.
"Yeah," she agrees.
He offers her a cautious smile. Maybe he's afraid she's going to freak out like she did yesterday. "I like you better this way," he says, and she's not sure if she means without the water bra, or without the sour attitude she usually throws in his face.
She nods. "Me too."
He meets her gaze and it's so compelling, so overwhelming, that she feels an unmistakable longing for him that she suppressed all summer long. She's not ready for this. Embarrassed, she averts her eyes, concentrates on the grooves of her tires. This is no time to be vulnerable, not when she has determined she needs to get back on her feet.
"Hey." He steps forward and his hand brushes hers. She doesn't pull her hand away, but he doesn't reach to grab it, either.
It's now or never, she decides. "I needed—I wanted to talk to you, actually," she says, trying to regain her composure and follow through with this. "About the summer."
Puck sighs then, but not in irritation or disdain. She looks up at him again and sees there is real regret in his eyes—not the kind he manufactures for authority figures or the cougars he screws in pool houses. Actual, sincere regret.
It's almost enough to make her lose her resolve.
"Look—" they both say at the same time, and then they laugh at each other, shy and awkward as strangers.
He lets her talk first. "I'm not angry. But Puck—I know what the summer was about. The things we did … I know it was all to get over Quinn."
Surprisingly, it takes him a while to answer her. He opens his mouth but can't seem to find the appropriate words to say. It's all the confirmation that she needs that she is absolutely right.
For some reason she smiles, because she's afraid if she doesn't she'll just cry instead, and she's had enough of that from yesterday for a lifetime.
"I did sleep with you over the summer to get over Quinn," he finally confesses.
It doesn't hurt like she thought it would, because she knew all along. Hearing him say the words didn't make any difference. She's still Santana, standing outside her car, staring at the same old boy and realizing she fell for the same old tricks.
His voice cracks when he speaks again. "But . . . that's the thing." He waits until she'll look him in the eye, and says, "It worked."
She has never felt truly breathless in her life, but the impact of his words are enough to knock the wind out of her. Her brain seems to take an eternity to fully process his words, their meaning, and the tiny, apprehensive smile on his face. She gapes at him, feeling like a fish out of water.
"Santana," he says gently.
Her face is hot. "Puck, I—I—"
And then he's leaning in, his face inches from hers, closer and closer, until their lips are grazing—
"Puck," she breathes, "wait."
He looks disappointed, but he backs away without complaint. "I'm sorry," he says. "I shouldn't have … assumed."
She shakes her head. "It's not that. You know—how I—feel." The words are stilted, unnatural, because she is terrible at expressing herself, especially when it comes to feelings like these. She shakes off her uncertainty, squares her shoulders, and continues, "It's just that … I don't want this to be like all the other times before."
"It isn't," he assures her, and she's seen that fierce look in his eyes so many times that it almost breaks her heart. He believes in himself even if she doesn't. "It's different this time. Don't you feel it too?"
She doesn't answer, because in all honesty, it feels like all the times before—the grand, swooping feeling of her heart pounding in her throat, the disbelief, the perfection. The jump before the fall.
"If you're serious about me, then please. I need some time to work things out. Get my life back in order." She looks down at the ground sheepishly because she knows it sounds vague and stupid but it's what she feels. "It's not about you … it's about me."
They are quiet for a long time, until he finally nods. "Okay," he says, but it's soft. Accepting. It's the most mature either of them has sounded since they met. "Okay," he repeats.
Her stomach sinks. She knows she asked for it, but it's upsetting that he can walk away this easily—or at least that's what she thinks, until he reaches up and tucks a stray hair back behind her ear.
"Is it okay if I wait, then?"
She almost chokes on the word. It feels like the swing last night all over again, like flying, like she has lost all of her troubles and doesn't have a care in the world.
"Yes," she says emphatically.
He smiles and grabs his football bag to leave. "I'll be around," he says, his gaze lingering before he turns and heads for his car.
Driving home that night she knows she made the right choice, whether or not Puck decides to wait. Maybe this peace she feels is only temporary, but it's the best she has felt in years. Now there's something to look forward to—the challenge of gaining her rank back in Cheerios, the potential in Puck, even stupid regionals for glee club.
When she gets home she takes the trash out to the curb without being asked, so she can put as much distance between herself and the trashed water bra as possible. Then she walks back in the house satisfied, plain old Santana, finally ready for the new year and everything it had to offer.