They picked the table at the back, away from everyone else. It was still their lunch hour, but nearing the end, so the place only had a few McKinley students left mulling around. Not that Santana planned to go back for classes. The rest of the day was now fully devoted to cheering Brittany up.
The pair was at the ice cream parlour in the strip mall across the street from the high school. Brittany was half way through her rainbow sherbet cone, and Santana was slowly making her way through the mint chocolate she had in the cup in front of her.
"You're still upset," Santana stated after a few moments of silence.
Sad eyes lifted to meet hers and Santana's heart squeezed. Brittany looked so vulnerable and broken, sitting in front of her like this.
The words were hard to say, but she said them anyway, "He didn't mean it Brit. He didn't understand."
"It's still true though."
"No it isn't, B."
Brittany sighed heavily, "Yes it is. I'm dumb. I'm stupid. I'm slow. I'm retarded. Everyone says it." Her eyes skidded away, as if looking for someone else in ice cream parlour to say so.
Santana reached across the table and took Brittany's free hand, "No," she said, looking the other girl straight in the eyes, "No, Brittany. You aren't."
"Then why does everyone say it, if it isn't true? Everyone's always said it. Since I was little."
"Don't listen to them, B."
"Why does everyone say it, it if isn't true?" Brittany repeated, her irritation showing. She was frustrated and confused and Santana wished she had the magic words that would make this all better.
Brittany's intelligence was insulted all the time, but she was used to ignoring it. Yet today was different because it had been someone she cared about. In Brittany's mind, someone she trusted had called her the worst word imaginable.
"Because they can't see how smart you are, Brit."
The dancer frowned, glaring down at her ice cream cone. "I'm not a kid, Santana."
Santana hadn't meant it like that. She never spoke to Brittany like she was a child, never. She talked with Brittany like she was a regular girl, because she was. Brittany got her words mixed up and wasn't so great at counting, but she didn't deserve to be treated like a child, and Santana hated seeing her classmates treat her like one.
She shook her head slowly, willing the blonde to make eye contact, "I didn't say you were."
"But you said the sort of thing you say to kids to make them stop being upset."
"No," Santana said when her eyes finally met blue ones, "I said it because it's true. You are smart Brit, people just can't see it."
The blonde's eyes dropped as she took another sad lick of the ice cream, "I don't believe you."
But Santana ignored it and pressed on, "You should, B. You are smart."
"Give me ten ways I'm smart."
And Santana couldn't stop the smile that formed on her lips. This was how she was going to cheer Brittany up. Because this was easy. It was like listing the reasons why the blonde girl was cute – it was a list that went on and on. If there was anyone who could answer this, it was Santana. She was the closest with Brittany, had known her practically since birth, and she knew Brittany like no one else.
"Cheerios," she began.
"What?" Brittany looked up, surprised.
"Cheerios," the Latina repeated, as if her reasoning were obvious.
"You don't have to be smart to get on the Cheerios, San. You just have to be cheerful and athletic and have Coach not hate you."
"Yeah, that's true. But what was Coach's biggest rule?"
Brittany's scrunched her nose. "Coach Sylvester had a lot of rules," she finally answered.
"What did you have to do to stay on Cheerios? What do you have to do to stay on any team at McKinley?"
Brittany thought about this and Santana stayed quiet, waiting for the light-bulb moment. It came with a shy smile, "Get… good grades."
"Exactly. You need good grades to stay on the squad. And to get good grades, you need to be smart."
"But you always help me with my homework in Study Hall."
Santana wagged a finger, "I help you, B. I don't do it for you."
"Yeah," Brittany said shyly, "sometimes I get frustrated because you don't."
"But I don't," the brunette insisted, taking another bite of her ice cream, "Because I know you know the answers. You had to keep up good marks to stay on the Cheerios, and you did Brit. Okay," she said, her next reason coming easily to her, "reason two: Quinn."
"What? How does Quinn mean I'm smart?"
"Q's a bitch, right?"
"San," Brittany scolded.
"No, I mean in a good way, like how I'm a bitch." She decided to change her wording, "She knows how to get what she wants, right? She likes power?"
"Do you remember how we met her?"
"She was on Cheerios in freshman year with us."
"Yes, but do you remember the first time we actually talked to her?" Brittany shook her head no, so Santana reminded her, "It was after one of our first practices once we'd made the team. You and I were the last ones in the locker room. She was waiting outside for us. Do remember what she said?"
Again Brittany shook her head animatedly.
"She told us she was going to be captain of the Cheerios one day, and that we were going to be her right-hand girls. Remember?"
"A bit," the dancer offered.
Santana continued, "She knew right away she wanted to own the school, but she knew she couldn't do it alone. She chose us, B. She chose us to help her become the most popular, feared girls at McKinley. And she didn't just choose me, Brit. She chose us. She saw us at practice, she knew I was a hard-ass and would be able to help her get what she wanted. But she didn't just ask me, she asked us. If she had just asked me I would have told her to fuck off, but she wanted both of us, Brittany. She saw something in you."
Brittany chewed her lip as she considered this, "That doesn't mean I'm smart though."
"You don't think Q's stupid, do you?"
"No," Brittany answered right away.
"If Quinn isn't stupid, then why would she have wanted you? Hmm? Because she knows your smart, B. Just like I do."
Brittany seemed reluctant to agree to this, so Santana continued, "Next reason. Mike."
"San, you can't just keep picking people."
Santana waved her comment off, "Let me finish. You remember Regionals this year?"
Brittany smiled, "Yeah."
"Do you remember what Mike said to you? Right after we won?"
The blonde thought about this for a moment, "Um… he said… he said I was the best dance partner he'd ever had?"
"Exactly, B. Remember how scared you got, how nervous you were that if we lost it would be your fault?" Brittany nodded hesitantly, "But we all believed in you. Me, Artie, Mike, everyone in Glee. And when we won, Mike said you were the best dance partner he'd ever had. You were phenomenal during that performance."
Some of Brittany's ice cream dribbled down onto her hand and Santana laughed as the blonde quickly licked it away. "But that doesn't mean I'm smart," she said, trying not to giggle.
"Yes it does. Mike's an awesome dancer, B. And the two of you together were amazing. You both made up that choreography all on your own. You know how much talent that requires? How much brain power that needs? Quinn and I could hardly come up with Cheerio routines on our own, much less a whole dance number. You needed intelligence to be able to do that, and you needed intelligence to let your talent shine through on stage."
"It was kind of fun to win," Brittany smiled.
"Mike knows you're smart Brit Brit, he knew there was no one else in Glee who could have done a better job at Regionals."
Brittany seemed to accept this one, "Okay."
"Alright, next reason. Your dancing means you're smart."
"But S, you just said-"
Santana smiled, "No, Brits. I said Mike choosing you because you could dance meant you're smart. This reason is about your dancing in general, and how that means you aren't stupid."
The blonde frowned, not impressed.
"How long have you been taking dance lessons?"
"I started Jazz when I was three."
"Don't you think that's a little impressive?"
Brittany shrugged, "I didn't like Tap much. I made my mom take me out after a year. And I don't do Ballet anymore either; I stopped when I started Hip-Hop."
Santana fought the urge to roll her eyes. "Brittany," she tried again, "Don't you think it's impressive that you could at least do all those different kinds of dance styles, even if you didn't stick with them all? And you've done so many Jazz competitions. Remember the first one you brought me to? You won that one."
"That was the first one I won," Brittany admitted.
"And the Hip-Hop? You've practically won everything you've entered. You're amazing. It is amazing to watch you move; you can put on a song and start moving in ways other people can't. You have so much talent, B."
"But that doesn't mean I'm not stupid," Brittany mumbled into her ice cream cone.
"Have you not been hearing me? Brittany, some of those dances have complicated routines. Most of those are complicated moves. And you pick them up like that," she snapped for emphasis. "I've seen you, before Glee starts. When everyone is still getting there from their last class, and you and Mike are in the corner goofing off. He'll show you something, a move you've never seen before, and you can just do it. One, maybe two tries, and you've got it. You know your body, and you know how to make it move. It's like it all comes effortlessly for you."
"Mike can pick up things I show him fast too," Brittany argued, but it lacked any real force, she was slowly being swayed by the Latina's efforts.
Santana smiled, taking another scoop of ice cream. "That doesn't make you any less talented. When we were practicing that number for Glee last week, you were trying to show the girls what you wanted us to do. Quinn and I got it fast enough – Cheerio's made it easier for us to pick up routines. But remember how much trouble Mercedes had?"
"She was stepping too fast. She was leading the music, not letting the music lead her."
Santana pointed at the blonde with her spoon, "And remember how you worked with her, until she got it? Remember how happy you were for her when she did?"
Brittany smiled, her eyes becoming bright.
"All that talent you have hidden inside you, Brit? That makes you smart. That makes you so smart. Not everyone can do it like you can. Stupid girls can't move like you do," Santana said evenly, forcing eye-contact with the other girl.
"Okay, so what if I have rhyme."
Santana corrected automatically, "Rhythm."
"Right. So I have rhythm? I can do cheer and dance routines. I'm smart when it comes to moving my body. That doesn't mean I'm not stupid."
The brunette hesitated a moment, disappointed that Brittany thought so little of herself. But she forced herself to continue, determined to end this conversation with the blonde believing her. Brittany was not stupid.
Artie was the stupid one. Idiot.
"Alright. In your kitchen, what's on your fridge?"
Brittany looked confused for a moment, no doubt wondering how Santana was psychic enough to know what was on the Pierce's refrigerator door. "Um… my sister drew a picture of Charity for art class. It was really good. Mom put it up on the fridge with the butterfly magnets. But I switched them for the cloud ones; even a picture-version of Charity likes to eat butterflies. I've seen her chasing the real ones when I take her out in the backyard."
Santana blinked for a moment, sidetracked from her original question. She smiled affectionately at the dancer before she spoke again, "What else?"
"Um… a grocery list."
"A phone number Dad has to call, something for work."
"And," the brunette pressed.
"Oh," eyes widening, Brittany seemed to understand what the other girl meant. "That."
"Yes," Santana laughed, "That."
"How did you know Mom put it up on our fridge? I only just got it back."
"Because you got an A on it, Brit. Of course she put it up."
"But we worked in pairs, I didn't do it all on my own."
"Brittany, you and Tina wrote that report together. And then you presented it to the class. I know; I had to do it in my History class too. Remember how excited you were when the two of you picked your topic? You and Tina were bouncing all over the choir room. You almost killed Berry," Santana laughed, and then added as an afterthought, "Which I wouldn't have minded."
"Domesticated Animals in Ancient Egypt," Brittany recited.
"And you earned that A, Brit. That's why your mom and dad put it on the fridge. Because they believe in you. Because you're smart. They like showing off how smart you are."
Brittany was frowning again. "I don't know," she said slowly.
"Brittany, you earned that grade. Tina wrote her half, and you wrote yours. She edited it for you, but she didn't re-write it for you so you two would get a better grade. You wrote it, on your own. And you got an A. Your teacher wouldn't have given you that if you didn't deserve it."
"No, B. Trust me. Your History teacher's a tight-ass. You earned that mark. You and Tina even skipped a Glee rehearsal, and you said you cancelled your Jazz lessons twice, just so you could go to the library to research and write that paper. Your teacher saw the effort you put in. And what you wrote was good. You deserved that. Only smart people get A's."
"I don't get A's in math."
"Neither do I," Santana countered easily. She continued with her original reasoning, "You are smart, Brit. And Tina knows that. You said she picked to work with you. If she thought you were just some ditzy blonde, she wouldn't have asked to work with you."
"We're friends. She was being nice."
"No. She knew you had it in you and she trusted you to try your hardest. You. Earned. That. Grade."
The dancer signed, but smiled, crunching the last bite of the waffle-pattern cone in her hand. "Okay."
Santana smiled, proud of her closest friend. "That one counts as three reasons. Your parents think you're smart, your teachers think you're smart, and Tina thinks you're smart. You are smart."
The blonde's eyebrows pinched, but she didn't argue.
"Okay, next reason." Santana grimaced as she spoke, "Berry."
"I'm smart because of Rachel?"
Santana couldn't believe she was doing this. "Yes."
"I don't get it."
"Ugg," the brunette moaned, rubbing the bridge of her nose for a moment. "Berry's talented, right? She can sing?"
"She's an amazing singer, San. You know that, even if you don't like saying it."
"We don't mention this to her, alright?" She waited and Brittany nodded. "Okay, Rach can sing?"
"And you think Rachel's smart?"
"Yeah. She talks a lot, but it all sounds really smart and stuff. She corrected Mr. Schue the other day in Spanish. It was weird. But she's really smart. I bet she could do, like… anything."
Santana wanted to move away from the Rachel-praise. "Right. Good. Okay." She watched Brittany's face as she spoke. "Has Rachel ever called you unintelligent?"
Brittany thought for a long moment. "No," she finally answered. "She's always offering to teach me to sing better, and she rolls her eyes sometimes at me when I say something. But… no."
"Rachel is stuck-up and self-centered, Brit. She's… God, what is wrong with me? She's an okay girl, most of the time. But she isn't an idiot. And she's never, ever called you dumb."
The girl sitting in front of her seemed to really consider this one. Santana scooped the last of her ice cream – all just leftover melted bits now – onto her spoon and finished it off while she let Brittany think.
"Okay," came the response after a long while. "I believe that one."
Santana laughed a little, "Good." She counted on her fingers, "We're at number eight now. Okay, what did you do just a few weeks ago that showed how smart you are?"
"Um… there was a squirrel on our fence and I fed it some cheese."
Closing her eyes and shaking her head, Santana smirked at the blonde, "Not what I was looking for, B."
"Mike, Tina, Artie…?"
"Yes," Santana stressed. "The Decathlon."
Brittany looked sour and mumbled, "But I didn't even do anything."
"Artie and Mike and Tina answered most of the questions. I was just a backup, a replacement. I only answered the cat ones."
Santana looked at her with an incredulous expression. "Brit. You answered all the questions about cats. You know so much about them. You probably know more about cats than any other person I know. You could write a whole book about cats. And you know why?"
The blonde chewed her lip.
"Because you're smart. How else could you pack all this knowledge about cats into that head of yours? Hmm? Do you remember how happy you were, when you guys won? You were practically doing cart wheels around the room. You won that for your team, because you didn't miss a question."
"But they're just cats," was the quiet reply.
Santana froze for a moment, suddenly thrown. Just cats? Just cats? Brittany never spoke like that about cats. Ever. The girl was obsessed with them. She had tried to convince Santana's mother to buy a cat, for the sole reason of there being one living there for her to play with when she hung out at the brunette's house.
"They're not just cats, B."
Brittany threw her hands up angrily, "But they are. It's stupid. So I can answer questions about cats. I can't answer questions about how fast trees fly or how tall rocket ships grow. I can't follow recipes. I can't read directions or labels. I can't even read that weird chart the eye-doctor has because I'm so dumb I can't even figure out what words it says. All I can do is answer stupid questions about stupid cats." Her anger and frustration spent, Brittany's shoulder's dropped sadly.
The tears were back in her eyes, but the dancer was trying her hardest to hold them in.
Santana silently stood from her chair and walked around to Brittany's side of the table, dragging her chair behind her. Repositioning it, she sat down so she was right next to the girl. Then she gently gripped Brittany's shoulders and forced the reluctant girl to turn and look at her.
"Brittany," she said gently, taking the blonde's hands in hers.
Santana answered softly, "Yes, it is."
Brittany's eyes widened with hurt at the brunette's words. She bit down on her lip harder, forcing her tears not to fall.
"Yes, it's true. But you know what else is true? I can't make paper airplanes like Mike can. I can't pick locks as good as Puck can. I don't have a fucking clue between a dessert and a salad fork, but I bet Quinn does. I can't do math. Like, at all. And there's no way in Hell I'd have the courage to wear the clothes Rachel wears."
She wasn't sure if Brittany was following exactly what she was trying to say, so she continued quickly, "When we're were little, our teachers would tell us we're all different. And I'd scoff and make faces behind their backs and you'd giggle. But-"
Santana took a deep breath, wanting Brittany to understand how important this was, "But they're right. We are all different. Just because you don't know anything about trees or rocket ships, Brittany, doesn't mean you're stupid. It means you don't know anything about trees or rocket ships. So what? You do know everything there is to know about cats. And you do know everything there is about dancing. You can't know everything. But that doesn't make you stupid. Not at all."
The frown on Brittany's face receded slightly. "You've got one more."
Santana squeezed Brittany's hands.
"Alright," she said carefully, "one more reason."
This one had to be handled delicately. She couldn't just be her blunt, usual self, or she'd just make things worse. She had to be extremely gentle with this one.
"You know Becky Jackson?"
"Yeah. Her mom and my mom are friends. I like her. She laughs a lot. We're friends."
Santana smiled at her friends words, proud of Brittany. "Okay. You being friends with her? That makes you the smartest girl I know. The smartest girl in our whole school."
"What?" Brittany's eyes clouded in confusion. "Why?"
"Do you remember what you asked me when you and Becky first became friends?"
Brittany nodded right away. "Yeah," she said quietly. "I asked you why everyone was always being mean to her."
"And I told you it's because she's a little different from us. She has Down's Syndrome. That's why she looks and acts a little…" Santana's voice faltered. She felt horrible; she knew she wasn't saying this right. She stopped speaking for a beat, trying to find better words. "Becky's a little different from everyone else, Brit."
The dancer sat quietly, listening to what she had to say.
"But you're still friends with her. You… God, B. You don't see her any differently. You see her as a person, as just another happy, giggly girl. You're drawn to her. You almost… when you're with her, it's like you naturally try to protect her from other people."
Santana could see the parallels here, clear as day, but she pressed on, "You, the way you are with Becky. Fuck, Brittany, it makes you the most beautiful, smartest, caring person. You've never seen her for what her first appearance makes her to be. You see what she is inside.
"You do that with everyone you meet. You look for the best in them. When we joined Glee, you made friends with Rachel right away. Even though Quinn, Coach, and I were constantly calling her horrible names, making fun of her, and telling you not to be her friend. You still were nice to her. And you were nice to everyone else in there, even though we were cheerleaders and they were losers.
"You may not be able to grasp ideas as fast as other people, and you still have trouble with your right," she squeezed Brittany's right hand, "and left," she squeezed the left one. "But you aren't stupid." She repeated herself, stressing every word, "You aren't stupid, Brit Brit."
"Then why did Artie say I was?" Brittany asked sadly, "Why does everyone say I am?"
"People are mean, Brit," Santana answered with all the honesty she could muster. "People make fun of other people. You're friends with me," a laugh, "you should know that. I make fun of people like it's a sport. It's just the way people are."
"Yeah," Santana admitted, "It is." She dropped the blonde's hands from her own and instead linked both of Brittany's pinkies with her own. "I know you don't think you're very smart. When you wrote what you did on that shirt the other week, you were admitting you know you're not as bright as everyone else. But you aren't completely clueless, Brit. And it was wrong that Artie said what he said."
"It hurt. It hurt because it's him. I care about him. It hurt to hear him say that."
"I know, B. He doesn't understand. He doesn't get how sensitive you are to this kind of thing. But I do, okay? And I don't think you're stupid. I think you are the smartest, most loving, most stunning girl I know. And I didn't struggle to find ten reasons for you, because they're all right there, plain as day. I could give you a hundred reasons for why you're smart. But as long as you believe just one, then I'm happy. As long as you know you aren't stupid, then I'm happy. Okay?"
Brittany looked down at her lap for a long moment. Santana waited anxiously, hoping her words had somehow made it through. She was pretty sure she'd never had such a heart-felt conversation, even with Brittany.
Eventually the blonde raised her head, and a small smile was visible on her lips. And Santana felt her heart flutter with the happiness she saw there. But then Brittany leaned forward, wrapping her arms around Santana, and the brunette's heart soared. The dancer pulled Santana tightly against her, ignoring the awkwardness of how their chairs were next to each other. And Santana hugged Brittany back just as tightly.
"I love you. You know that. I'd do anything for you. I'd do whatever it takes to see you smile."
"Do we have to go back to class now," Brittany asked into Santana's hair.
"Not if you don't want to."
"Can we go to the park? And see the ducks? There were a few geese there last week."
"Sure thing, Brit. Sure thing."