Brittany left first. Her parents drove the family minivan with the trailer full of all the girl's worldly possessions hitched to the back. Santana waved from the end of her driveway, then followed them out into the street as they got further down the block, further than she wanted to be from Brittany. The blond hung out the window, half her body suspended in mid air as her arm flailed and tears rolled down her cheeks. Not that Santana could see them. Not that she was doing the same damn thing, flailing and crying.
Quinn and Rachel were there when the car rounded the corner. They stood immediately behind her as she spun and fell, knees buckling under the weight of the fake smile she'd carried all summer, of the many times she'd said, "Don't worry about the fall. Boston isn't that far from Ohio. I can come visit you all the time. We'll be fine."
Two sets of hands caught her arms, holding her up, their shoulders meeting next to one another and she pressed her face between them. They wrapped their arms around her, and then each other, the collective sorrow at the empty house a hundred feet away hanging like a cloud. Santana sobbed, not caring that several of Brittany's neighbors stood at their doors, watching the three of them in the street with the sun beating down on them like a metaphorical ,"Fuck you," to go along with the terror at being left alone. She would have much preferred that it had been raining. Instead, the blue sky taunted her, as though her pain was not enough to overwhelm the weather, to bring on the monsoon she felt welling behind her eyes.
"We'll make sure she's okay," Quinn said, trying to comfort her. "It's a quick bus ride from New York to Boston. Rach and I, we'll take care of her."
But it only made things worse, and Santana bitterly pushed them away. No one should be taking care of Brittany except her, and she snarled bitterly before getting in her car and driving away.
Her parents had dropped her off at her dorm and, with her little sister's help, settled her into the cold, unfamiliar room as best as they knew how. Her father had taken pictures of her walls back in Lima and masterfully recreated the mosaic of photographs that had once hung there. Her mother arranged her drawers exactly as they had been in her bureau. Her sister had done her best to put together the toiletries in her en suite bathroom just like they were at their shared bathroom at home.
None of it went unnoticed, but familiar niceties were wasted when Santana wasn't there to fall asleep with.
She kissed them all goodbye a few hours later, tearfully watching them drive away before she returned to the dorm room, still only half occupied and lonely. She sat down on the hard mattress, staring at her side of the room and hoping to find the feeling of home that her family had worked so painstakingly to recreate. But it wasn't there.
So she called Santana.
It didn't seem to matter what time it was. If Brittany needed Santana, she called. And Santana answered, every single time.
Even at three in the morning, after a binge drinking session with the Ohio State cheerleaders during a hazing ritual, when she was wasted out of her mind, she picked up. The great thing about expecting that call was that Santana knew exactly where to tuck the phone so she'd always always wake up. Setting it to vibrate before the party, she'd pressed it between the lace of her bra and her right breast, over the freckle that Brittany loved so much. So when she was back in her dorm and too tired to take off her clothes, the thing was still there when it buzzed, shaking her to life. The wave of nausea that took over as the light blinded her nearly made her throw it across the room.
But she couldn't let Brittany down. Especially not at three in the morning.
"San, I had a dream."
"Whaddid you dream 'bout?" she mumbled back, slurring her words together as she fumbled in the dark, waking her roommate in the amble toward the door. She needed the bathroom, and fast.
"I dreamed that you came to Boston in a brown paper package and I kept you in my desk drawer," she went on, oblivious to Santana retching into the toilet in the girls' communal bathrooms. "D'you think you could do that? Send yourself to me? It might be cheaper than flying, and you know how much I love mail…"
She nodded even though Brittany couldn't see her. "Maybe… but it'd take a really long time to get there."
"Hmm," she sighed, pausing to consider the logistics of sending a hundred-pound package some six hundred miles. "FedEx ships overnight, though. They could poke holes in the box so you could breathe."
Santana tried to stop herself from laughing, the muscles in her abdomen aching from the strain of vomiting up the alcohol in her belly, but she couldn't. A fresh wave overtakes her and she retches once again, setting the phone far enough away that Brittany can't hear her getting sick. There's no need to make her worry over a little booze.
"San, are you there?"
"Yeah, B," she said, wiping her mouth on the back of her hand and catching her breath. "I'm here, baby. I'll always be here."
The Boston Conservatory was a prestigious school. Brittany knew she'd been given a gift when she figured out she could dance, but the school was full of people just like her. People who knew how special they were. People who had no problem pointing out the obvious fact that, even though she could dance, she wasn't exactly a genius.
She missed Santana.
No one was around to help her with her homework, or explain to her what iambic pentameter was in her Intro to Poetry course. The professors had little patience, and for a while she missed Mr. Schue. The only things that made her day brighter were the modern dance courses that challenged her body more than her mind, and her phone calls to Santana.
But none of that could stop those looks, and the whispers as she warmed up each day in the studio. The snickers from the other, more beautiful, better-trained dancers who saw her weakness and exploited it.
For the first time in her life, she missed the beat. Her step faltered, and she fell.
First semester she went along in syncopation with the rest of the school. She was always half a beat behind, always stumbling. She called Santana to find her rhythm, to hear the voice that she'd spent the last 10 years of her life hearing, understanding, loving. She couldn't find the beat at school, so far away from her. But her voice… it brought her back.
"How're classes going, B?" Santana asked when she failed to offer. "Is Ballet Technique still a pain?"
Brittany bit her lip. Yes, it was a pain. No, she didn't want to talk about it. Not to Santana, who could do nothing about it in Ohio. Why worry her over something like a little teasing? She could handle it. She was a big girl, a college student. She didn't need her girlfriend fighting those battles.
"It's fine," she said instead, closing her eyes and burying her face in her pillow. "Couldn't be better."
If being on a squad with Sue Sylvester had taught Santana anything, it was perseverance. Set a goal, stay the course, and don't let anyone or anything keep you from that.
Also, there's nothing that a little cheating can't solve.
Sue's little change-of-heart following Jean's death had led Santana, Brittany and Quinn back to the Cheerios during their senior year. All three of them were recruited to the OSU cheer squad, but Quinn had an acceptance letter from Columbia and Brittany had auditioned at the Conservatory. Having no better offers, and no other options, Santana had taken what she was given.
She didn't regret it. Much. She knew she was always going to be That Girl who stayed in Lima. She'd hoped for more, but she wasn't smart, like Quinn, or effortlessly talented, like Brittany. She was simply another girl who was mediocre at best at everything she did. She was okay with that, as long as she knew how to tough it out. Stay the course.
So she set goals during her first year: Don't fail. Don't let them see you cry. Call Brittany every day.
Don't let her know how miserable you are.
"The team is doing really well this season, B," she told her over the phone late one night. "Maybe if we make it to the playoffs we'll come to Boston. I can see you, stay a few extra days. You can introduce me to your friends."
Santana chose not to read too much into the prolonged pause on the other end of the phone.
"Sure, San," Brittany replied, a heavy sigh lost through the phone. "Maybe."
It took two off-campus tutors and several counselor meetings to scrape passing grades in her theoretic courses. Anything involving a classroom left her in a cold sweat, and it had taken several doctors and a lot of paperwork to finally have that learning disability slapped on her permanent record. With disappointed shakes of their heads, her professors had administered tests orally, explaining questions one at a time so she could stop mixing up her words.
At the end of the day, she returned to her now-empty dorm room, the seemingly always absent roommate now moved out. There were no friends to meet up with, or "See you in January"s to say. There was no one.
So she called Santana.
"You'll be home in a few days, baby," Santana reassured her. "I'll be at your house 9am Christmas morning. I'll even wear a bow, so you can unwrap me. Call it your gift."
"That's all I asked my parents for anyway," she replied with a sad smile as she looked around the vacant corridor of the empty dorm.
"What?" Santana sounded confused.
"You," she corrected. "All I asked for was you."
Ohio State made it to the finals, calling Santana back to her squad for game day prep. She never even left the campus.
"I love you," she wept into the phone. "If I had a choice, I would be with you. But I'll lose my scholarship, Britt. If I don't stay, I'll lose everything."
But when she hung up, she wondered why she was fighting so hard to keep something she didn't know she really wanted anyway.
Second semester began in late January, but with Santana so far away, spending a week in New York with Quinn and Rachel didn't seem like a bad idea. She bunked down on the couch in their small Lower East Side apartment, watching the cockroach that lived under their sink creep out in the stillness of the night. During they day they took her to every dance troupe they could think of, pimping her out first to Rachel's theater friends at the Tisch school, then Quinn's fellow psychology students at Columbia. They all seemed to fawn over her for one reason or another. She was something to be inspected rather than admired. A test case. She didn't let either of her friends know how uncomfortable she was, instead smiling and taking what they thought was kindness in stride.
Then she called Santana.
"I haven't seen you in six months," she said, laying on her back in the still-awful dorm bed. "Spring break? It's you and me. I'll come to Boston and we'll never leave your bed."
"I think we'll get hungry, San." Brittany said this seriously, silently angry that she was being kept at a distance. Their conversations were strained, both of them fighting to find new things to say when they were both fighting equally hard not to say something that would ruin the ideal of, "One day…"
Because Santana didn't want to hurt Brittany by telling her how lonely she was. She didn't want her to worry about her, alone at this giant university where she'd lost herself in the crowd. The other cheerleaders had tolerated her because she was light and easy to throw, but the jocks had disregarded her after she'd spurned their many advances. Once it came out that she was gay, they'd all stopped talking to her entirely.
Not that she would have talked back if they'd tried.
"We'll order in," Santana reassured her, restoring the hope to her voice in an attempt to make the deal sound better than it was. "You can order for me, because I'm sure you know all the best places to eat that will deliver."
Another prolonged silence. The frequency at which these happened was increasing, and her chest tightened.
"Okay, Santana," Brittany agreed, hesitation laced in her voice. Hesitation that told Santana, maybe Brittany didn't want her there. Maybe she'd met someone else. Maybe they were drifting apart.
"I love you, Brittany," she declared with more force than she intended. "I miss you."
"I miss you, too, San."
They hung up, and only after did Santana realize that Brittany hadn't said it back.
It was Brittany who canceled the spring break plans, claiming that her classes were overwhelming her and she needed the week to catch up. It wasn't entirely untrue, but she also couldn't bare the thought of Santana coming to see her like this.
She lived in this dorm room, leaving for classes and returning to rest. She ate her meals at her desk and called Santana from the bed. Waking hours when not doing either of those things were spent reading and rereading passages in her text books, valiantly trying to learn things she knew she would never use, let alone remember. All she wanted to do was dance, and studying dance made that nearly impossible.
Santana would have called that ironic, but Brittany didn't want to bug her about what irony meant… again.
"I understand, Britt," Santana said, even though the disappointment in her voice was palpable. Brittany tightened her grip on her cell phone and pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead, wishing she could beat out her own stupidity.
She deserves someone better than this, she thought. Someone who can make friends and not ruin everything by opening her stupid mouth.
She deserves better than me.
"You have to go see her," Santana demanded, shouting at Quinn through the receiver. "I need you to tell me if I should be scared, Quinn. She's pulling away. We – I – promised. I promised we'd be okay."
Quinn chewed on her lip while Rachel watched from the other end of the couch, her feet extended gracefully across Quinn's lap as she shook her head with a sad sigh. "Santana, you know I want to. But finals are next week. She'll be back in Ohio for the summer not long after that, and you can figure it out for yourselves."
She was begging. Her breath hitched in her throat and Quinn caught it, one eyebrow shooting up in surprise at the sound of her oldest – her best – friend sobbing into the phone.
"Okay, Santana," she agreed, and Rachel rolled her eyes. "Okay, I'll go."
Quinn showed up on Brittany's dorm on a Saturday afternoon. The look of surprise on her face when she opened her door told her that she hadn't expected Brittany to be home. It was a Saturday afternoon, she was young and in college. She knew she ought to be out, but she'd found it difficult to leave unless she had to.
"What're you doing-"
"Santana wanted me to-"
They tried talking over one another and both of them immediately went silent. Quinn blushed, not prepared for what an angry Brittany would look like. But there she stood, fuming.
"Santana sent you?"
Quinn nodded, adjusting the backpack on her shoulder that carried a change of clothes and the textbooks she needed to read on the bus back to New York. "She's worried."
"Then maybe she should have come here herself," Brittany quipped and stood aside, letting Quinn into her room. "You shouldn't have come."
"I'm your friend, too, Britt," Quinn said, sitting down awkwardly on the bed. "I'm worried, too."
Brittany stood stiffly in the center of the room, her hip cocked at the top of her long legs, indicating her impatience. "Don't be. I'm fine."
"Is this 'fine', Britt?" Quinn asked, waving her hand around the room. "You look like you're hiding out in here."
"I'm not hiding," she returned defensively. "This isn't Lima, Quinn. I can't get Sue to blackmail the teachers here. I have to work hard. I'm trying. But I'm not good enough, and everyone here knows it."
Quinn was on her feet, allowing them to pull her to Brittany and envelope her in the first hug she'd had since Christmas. She broke. She fell. She cried.
But she didn't call Santana.
"Go to Boston."
Quinn was angry, and Santana winced at the power behind it. "How is she?"
"Get on a bus," Quinn continued, her normally sing-song tone emphasized with short, staccato'd words. "Right. Now. I'm out of this. If you really loved her, you'd do what I tell you."
Santana was out the door before Quinn could hang up on her.
For the second time in a week, someone unexpectedly knocked on her door. Her first thought was that Rachel had come to further distract her, but when she pulled the door open, Santana was there, cheeks puffy from crying and her clothes rumpled from a 15 hour bus ride.
"I love you."
It came out in a whisper, choked with controlled restraint. Brittany stared at her, embarrassed that she was dressed in her workout sweats and no make up for the first time Santana had seen her in eight months. She blushed, looking away, saying nothing.
"I love you," Santana repeated, louder that time. A few dorm room doors down the hall opened and head poked out, interested. "Please."
There was no question with Santana's plea, but Brittany understood. Please love me back. It was the same plea she'd made two years before, in the middle of another hallway. She looked out at the faces of the people who shared her floor, shared the dining halls, shared her classes, not recognizing any of them. But there, in front of her, was the one girl she would never ever forget.
"I love you, too," she said, and pulled Santana into her arms. Her hands cupped her jaw, bringing her chin up so their mouths met, and suddenly a year of time hadn't passed. They're back in Brittany's driveway, holding each other and promising that nothing will change. They're kissing as though nothing changed. They haven't lied. They haven't pretended.
And, for a little while, that was okay.