Chapter 14

Disclaimer: I do not own anything Glee, nor do I make any money from this. (Fair use, etc., etc., etc.) Errors are all mine, and I do take some liberties with canon that might shade to the AU side of things from time to time. In this story, nothing from Season 3 has happened yet, and much of it will not if we get that far.

A/N: This chapter is probably rated about T, though prior chapters are definitely M and I make no promises about the content or rating of future chapters. Con/crit, reviews and "follows" do make the creative impulses trip between synapses more quickly. For those who have responded with reviews, I appreciate the feedback, even if it's an "update, please." If there's something I blatantly missed or if you think a particular plot would work well in the fabric of this narrative, please do send word.

Apologies for the inexcusably long delay. I've had these ideas percolating in my head for a long time but not enough coherence to get them down as electrons. These lovelies were never abandoned, merely neglected for a (really longish) time. I envision this story shifting OTP'ers Brittany and Santana to a side burner for a bit, and I plan to start noodling around with what happens when you combine a more self-aware participatory "Fa" with a knowing and receptive "Berry." I love their dynamic and the canon subtext.

On a rant note, I had a thousand-plus words in the original draft for this chapter that my e-mail client arbitrarily truncated and they are nowhere to be found. If I thought that a milk carton or wanted poster would help, I'd do 'em up but alas, I doubt those will achieve the desired result. I will re-write the lost parts and they may so appear here but let it be known and let it be said aloud that Anne is not happy with this turn of events. The optimist on the left shoulder says that it's a chance to do over even better than the original - wittier, lusher in detail, really dig around and root out those feelings and what the characters realistically would do. The pessimist on the right shoulder is effing lazy and does not want to revisit ground already traversed in the landscape of the mind. If you're reading this the optimist channeled its inner Santana and went all Lima Heights Adjacent on the pessimist. Whatever that's supposed to mean.

A quick recap: This story is set during the summer between junior and senior years. Santana has stepped up and admitted to the members of the Glee Club that she's in love with Brittany during a 4th of July pool party that apparently lasts longer than the entire month of July. Rachel and Quinn sucked face in the kitchen after Quinn knocked back a fair amount of tequila. Kurt and Blaine are on to the vibe between Rachel and Quinn. Hot lusty sweet lady kisses and g-o-o-d s-e-x transpired overnight for Brittana. Rachel and Quinn shared some discussion moments. Rachel's on vacation with her dads at a beach to be named later, Quinn works at the mall bookstore (look it up - there really is a bookstore at the mall in Lima, OH, which is why nobody works at Abercrombie and Fitch), and Santana is headed over to Brittany's house for a cookout. Quinn's supposed to have a date with Shane, the studly soccer player from Carmel, but I haven't decided yet how this will play out - whether he'll be a tool or just a really nice regular guy she's using to try to bridge the gap between "I'm not" and "maybe I am and maybe it's OK." Any reproduction or retransmission without the express written consent of Major League Base-ball is strictly prohibited.

.:.

Santana arrived later than she'd predicted at the Pierces' house, but she took longer than usual to get ready; she wanted to look good. She parked the SUV in the driveway and blew herself a kiss in the rearview mirror as she always did. As she got out of the car, she saw that Brittany was giving her sister Hailey a piggy-back ride around the side of the house. Ellen Pierce, an older version of Brittany with shorter hair and laugh lines wreathing her face, was watching her daughters' cavorting with a half-smile as she balanced a basket of damp laundry on one hip in the side yard near some clotheslines. Santana fought off a genuine smile and envied the effortless family intimacy that the Pierces enjoyed with each other. This would never have happened at the Lopez house.

"San!" Brittany carefully dropped Hailey to her feet and both young Pierces ran in her direction. Santana, sensing an incoming full-body tackle, braced for impact. Hailey reached Santana first and wrapped herself around the side of Santana's waist, as Santana absorbed the brunt of Hailey's enthusiastic momentum with two steps back. Brittany pressed up against Santana's front with more finesse and wrapped her arms around Santana's rib cage joyfully. Santana hugged both of them back, without reservation, and felt Brittany's lips softly pressing a tender kiss to her temple. She shivered, despite the summertime afternoon temperature, and her pulse picked up tempo.

"Hey, Hale. Look at how tall you're getting!" Santana pulled away to smile down at Brittany's sister and ruffled her trademark blonde Pierce hair.

"I'm almost as tall as you, San." Hailey smiled up at her.

"You're getting there, squirt." At age 8 now, with those Dutch Pierce genes, Hailey probably would be taller than Santana by this time next year.

Brittany took a small step back but kept a subtle, soothing hand on Santana's hip, of which Santana was aware. "But really, Hale, it's not that hard to grow taller than Santana." Brittany's tone was teasing, and the light of mischief sparkled in her eyes. Santana narrowed her own eyes at Brittany in response.

"Very funny, Britt," she said, but she never could muster a truly menacing tone, or look, when it came to Brittany. Brittany just continued rubbing the small circles on Santana's hip with a telling and dreamy half-smile.

"Daddy's going to be grilling out in the back yard," Hailey continued. "Brittany was going to give me a piggyback ride, but you got here and she set me down." Hailey pouted a little.

"I'll make it up to you later, Hale. OK?" Santana looked down at the younger Pierce. She didn't like disappointing Hailey if she could avoid it; this was the kid sister she would never have.

Brittany saved the day. "Come on, Hale, I'll take you." She dropped her hand from Santana's hip, picked up Hailey on her back, and turned to Santana with a questioning look and those clear, clear blue eyes. "Coming, San?"

Santana couldn't stop the smile curving her lips despite noticing that Brittany's hand was gone. "Right behind you, Britt." She willingly followed in the wake of Brittany's summer-scented skin and hair.

.:.

In the rented oceanfront condo, Rachel set down her suitcase in the bedroom that would be hers for the next week. Paradise? She sighed, and resolved not to let brooding about Quinn take any more of her energy or time. It just wasn't in her nature to brood long. She walked over to the window and pulled the wooden horizontal blinds, taking in the panoramic view of the relentless tide of the ocean. She warmed to the thought of wiggling her toes in some sand and maybe hunting up some seashells with her dads in the morning or going shore-bird-watching. She took a deep breath, tried again to shake off her pique and flipped her hair over one shoulder before she turned around to unpack.

In the other bedroom, Hiram was clucking at Leroy and whispering.

"I'm telling you, Lee, there's something going on. Did you see how she practically sulked all the way here?"

"She's 17, Hiram. There's bound to be some sulking. I think it's normal teenage behavior." Leroy unzipped his suitcase, and contemplated talking his husband into heading out to catch some ocean breeze and maybe a glass of wine before they unpacked. "Why are we whispering?"

"Because I don't want her to overhear." Hiram frowned and walked around the foot of the bed to still Leroy's hands from the suitcase. "Sulking isn't normal teenage behavior for Rachel. She's never sulked about anything, not even when she was dating that Finn kid and they broke up."

Leroy nearly growled. "I never liked him."

"Me either, but that's not the point. It's like she's...pining for something."

Leroy considered this. "She came home the other morning from that 4th party in the Heights in an odd mood." He remembered the unusual body language and the lack of specifics about the party.

"I know. She was fine before she left, and not fine when she got home. I want to know what happened at that party. I'm going to talk to her." Hiram had taken two steps toward the bedroom door when Leroy stopped him with a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"Hi, you can't. She'll come to us when she's ready. She always has."

"What if she doesn't this time? She's obviously struggling with something and I want to help her. I'm worried. What if something happened to her?" Hiram was nearly wringing his hands.

Leroy's features softened at his husband's ferocity in protecting their daughter. "She's growing up. We need to trust her, Hi. Maybe she needs more time to sort something out, or maybe she wants to handle it herself." Leroy shrugged slightly. "We have to let go and let her be her own person sometime. Let it be for a little while?"

Hiram's shoulders slumped and he sat down on the bed, defeated, but seeing the wisdom in Leroy's words. This was one of the many reasons they worked so well as a couple: Leroy tempered his charge-ahead mentality, and he offset Leroy's laissez-faire approach. "Two days. If she's not back to herself by Friday, we're hashing it out, Berry-style."

Leroy smiled, and smoothed a hand through Hiram's soft curly hair. "Agreed." He shifted gears. "Now, how about we collect our girl and go take a walk on the beach before we scope out some vegan dinner? The unpacking can wait."

Hiram took Leroy's proffered hand and stood up. "Sounds good."

.:.

Santana trailed a bit behind Brittany and Hailey, because really, who wanted to run in the midsummer heat, and noticed that a bedsheet was trailing out of Ellen's wicker laundry basket. She stopped to pick it up and hand it back.

"Oh, thank you, Santana. I didn't know I had a jumper." Ellen smiled and took the sheet, blue eyes twinkling.

"No problem, Mrs. P." Santana smiled back and started toward the back yard again.

She made two steps before Ellen spoke again. "Hey, Santana, can you give me a hand with this?" Ellen held up the sheet and raised her eyebrows. I didn't toss it out into the grass for nothing, she thought.

Santana didn't think twice. "Of course." She walked back, reached out and took half of the sheet and worked with Brittany's mother to get the sheet hung on the line, straightened out and clothespinned down. She savored the fragrance of the laundry detergent clinging to clean, damp cotton.

"It's so nice to see you, Santana. Brittany really missed you while we were gone out west," Ellen started conversationally. "She wasn't counting on not getting a cell phone signal for so much of the trip." Ellen plucked another sheet out of the basket and nonchalantly put one end in Santana's hand, her intent clear.

"I missed her too," Santana replied neutrally. They worked together to hang the damp fabric. Santana's end was a little crooked but it'd dry all the same, Ellen thought.

"You know, San," Ellen said softly, using the nickname deliberately, "she's a different person when you're around. She's...happier, more vibrant, like she's lit up from the inside out." Ellen let her words float on the light breeze, hoping for an opening in this conversation she and her husband Paul had agreed it was time to have.

Santana lightly bit her lip, concentrating on straightening out the fabric of the sheet on the clothesline to make the edges even, stalling a couple of seconds. She wasn't sure what to say back but there was cold dread squeezing into her belly and chest, at odds with the warm summer day and the scent of clean laundry all around. "Uh...thanks. Yeah, I'm happier too." She tried a half-hearted Cheerios smile that would have incensed Coach Sylvester into a "You think that's hard" rant for its lackluster quality, and finished situating the sheet on the line.

Ellen blew out a breath, bent down and pulled out a pillowcase, which she handed to Santana. "Her dad and I like seeing her so happy. We like seeing you happy too."

Santana laid the pillowcase across the line and concentrated on pinning it down before she took the second one Ellen passed to her. "That's great, Mrs. P." Totally not sure where this is going but it doesn't sound good.

The laundry basket was empty, so Ellen picked it up and motioned toward a weathered wooden and wrought-iron bench in the side yard under a huge maple tree. "Come sit with me, San."

I don't think I want to have this conversation. Santana froze. "Um, I think I'd better get back there before Brittany comes looking for me..."

"It'll only take a minute, sweetie." Ellen realized that Santana was frightened, very nearly out of her own skin. Oh, good, she's caught on. Ellen sat and nonchalantly dropped the laundry basket beside her in the grass. She patted the spot next to her on the bench invitingly.

Santana, defeated, trudged over and lightly perched on the edge of the bench with the barest of sighs, and faced straight ahead. She took the offensive, out of nerves, and asked, "What'd you want to talk about?" She smoothed her hair back, a subconscious gesture meant to calm her racing heart, and let her hands fall demurely to her lap before her fingers reached for the comfort of the silver bracelet around the opposite wrist.

Ellen registered Santana's nervous gestures and relaxed against the back of the bench. She tilted her face to catch the light breeze, relishing the relief from the sun that the dappled shade provided. "I remember when you and Brittany were little, even before you started kindergarten. You'd spend all day out here in the yard in the summers, playing and talking, and every once in awhile I'd find you both curled up and napping together on this bench in the shade." She stretched her legs and toes out in front of her, and paused comfortably, wanting to put Santana more at ease. "I knew it was time to come check on you when the noise level died down after lunch. It was so cute, the way you'd watch out for each other. You practically had your own language." She chuckled. "Even now, you're the only one of her peers who can follow her mental twists and turns without losing a beat and appreciate her more ... unique perspectives."

Santana allowed herself a small, genuine smile but kept her posture stiff and gaze focused directly in front of her, concentrating on taking shallow breaths that smelled like summer sun, growing grass, honeysuckle and...comfort. Brittany was really lucky to have a mom like this who was so caring and could joke around.

"You guys spent so much time together, first at school and on weekends, and then gymnastics and cheerleading and the glee club." Ellen smiled fondly as she remembered, let the warmth seep into her words. "San," she said, daring to reach and put a hand on Santana's arm, "Paul and I want you to know..."

Santana counted one, two, three heartbeats' worth of silence as the weight of Mrs. Pierce's hand on her arm started to feel unbearable. She figured it was now or never, so she looked over at Brittany's mother and locked eyes with her, not holding anything back. "Want me to know what?" she forced out resignedly as she tensed her legs to get up off that bench in a hurry if she needed to.

Ellen smiled gently and went for broke. "That the relationship you two have with each other, whatever it might be, is okay. We love both of you." She lightly squeezed Santana's arm for emphasis.

Santana snorted involuntarily in disbelief and looked away, even as she felt the burn of tears threatening. Damn. All this acceptance is a little much to absorb.

Ellen left her hand where it was, for fear that Santana might just leap off the bench and run, but she also noted that Santana hadn't denied the implied relationship. She smiled gently, leaned forward and kept speaking to her de facto daughter-in-law. "San, honey, we knew years ago that you were it for Brittany and she was it for you." She shifted a little bit closer, intent on relaying how earnest she was. "You look at each other like people in love do, and you both have since before you hit your teens. You just get each other," Ellen paused, remembering. "You know, she was just devastated when you stopped coming over for a little while after she started seeing that Artie boy." Santana frowned. "I wondered what that was about. Even though he seems like a nice young man, he didn't fit her the way you do." Ellen watched Santana's frown deepen into a scowl and decided to lighten the moment. "Even Lord Tubbington couldn't cheer her up. You know that she's convinced he started smoking again and that the cricket stealing her jewelry is fencing it to support the cat's tobacco habit..." her voice trailed off and she fully grinned when she heard Santana's choked-off laugh.

"Seriously, Santana. Look at me."

Santana forced her tears back down on a shaky breath and slowly turned her unguarded eyes toward Ellen's caring ones. "It's okay that you're in love with each other," Ellen said softly, but directly. "We just want you to be happy and to be able to be yourselves around us." Ellen smiled again. "Frankly the tension was really wearing us out."

"Really?" Santana reached up carefully to dab away the tears that had welled in her eyes anyway. Twice in two days...it was a new record. BAMFs shouldn't have emotions running quite so close to the surface.

Ellen smiled. "Really. Well, the part about being yourselves here, at our house. The tension part was tiring but we could have managed if we didn't think it was bad in the long run..." She shifted back to lounge against the backrest of the bench and waited to see if there was anything else forthcoming.

"But...my mom and dad don't know," Santana whispered raggedly.

"They won't hear it from us, unless you both tell us it's okay to say something."

"What about Hailey?"

"What about her? Kids are so flexible, and we think it'll be good for her to see her sister in a loving and committed relationship. Brittany's dad and I are agreed on this. We really don't think she'll bat an eyelash."

Santana slowly let out out a heavy sigh and slumped back on the bench with her eyes closed. Ellen waited a few seconds, and Santana rolled her head along the backrest to look at Brittany's mom again. "This is ... kinda weird," she said. "But in a totally good way." She smiled, softly, and Ellen thought for not the first time that Santana should smile like that more often because it only amplified her radiant beauty. "Thanks, Mrs. P. For everything."

"You're welcome, honey. Thanks for helping me with the laundry." Ellen stood up as Brittany rounded the back of the house and bounded over to the bench.

"San, did you get lost?" Brittany flicked a puzzled look between her mom and Santana.

"No, B." Santana smiled again, offered her hands to Brittany and stood up when Brittany automatically took them in hers. "We just got found."

"I know, silly, I just found you."

The smile turned indulgent, happy and Brittany smiled back out of reflex. "No, I mean your mom and dad know about us...and they're totally cool with it."

Brittany's face lit up, and she looked at her mom, who just nodded. She picked up Santana and twirled her around in a bear hug. "This is so cool, San!" She set Santana down and looked at her mom again. "Wait, mom, I thought you and daddy already knew about this, like, ages ago." Brittany's brow creased lightly. Santana frowned too and looked to Ellen.

"Ummm..." Busted. "Well, Brittany, honey, we might have had an idea a little while ago..." she hedged. I don't want to tell them that we've heard them ... not sleeping...overnight for a couple of years now but haven't had this talk yet. She looked at Santana, whose eyes widened perceptibly as a blush worked its way across her cheekbones.

"Britt, um, I think they probably just guessed because we spent so much time together and missed each other so much when we were apart," Santana said, as she reached for Brittany's hand and shyly laced their fingers together.

"Oh. Yeah, you totally should have come with us on vacation."

Ellen smiled at her elder daughter. Darned if the kid isn't right. "I'm going to head into the house to get the next load of laundry started. Brittany, how's your dad doing back there?"

"He's good. I think he's done warming up the grill. Hailey's going to help bring some stuff out."

"Alright. I'll see you two around back in a few minutes, then," Ellen said as she walked away, humming a happy tune to herself.

Brittany sat down on the bench and pulled Santana down into her lap, linking her hands around Santana's waist. "Britt," Santana warned, and turned her gaze to Brittany's face.

"What?" Brittany asked innocently. "Mom and dad already know and it doesn't matter to Hailey. She already thought we were dating. She told me weeks ago," she said simply.

Santana's eyebrows rose. She sighed lightly in mock-defeat, kicked off her wedges, and stretched her legs out to the other end of the bench as she slipped her own arms around Brittany's waist. She breathed Brittany in and nuzzled her cheek.

"San?" Brittany's voice was soft. "We ARE dating, aren't we?"

Santana rubbed her palm across the back of Brittany's hip bone and smiled against Brittany's soft skin. Perfect. "Yeah, Britt. We're dating."

.:.

Kurt plucked a garishly bright postcard from the stack of mail that the postman had just delivered. He flipped it over to skim the writing on the other side. Rachel, he thought with a smile. He took out his cell phone and hit her number on speed dial. She answered on the third ring.

"Hey, Kurt." Rachel adjusted herself in her beach lounger under her umbrella and smiled.

"Hi yourself, Ms. Berry. Your postcard just came in the mail. It's ..." Kurt struggled for an apt adjective. "Colorful."

Rachel let a small snort of laughter escape. "'Colorful?' It was that or the well-sculpted and oily-looking half-naked man. I wasn't sure that your dad would appreciate that, and I was sure Finn wouldn't."

"Meh. What they don't know won't hurt them, I say." Kurt set down the postcard. "So are you having fun? For this to get here so quickly you must have sent it when you got off the plane."

Rachel hesitated. "I may have purchased the postcard at the airport on the way out of baggage claim. I didn't want to get home before it was delivered, after all." She took in Kurt's chuckle.

"Funny." Kurt listened for a moment. "I can hear the distant pounding of the surf. Are you on the beach now?"

Rachel contemplated the tide lapping at the beach a couple of dozen yards away. "Yes. I brought some reading along. I want to get this book finished today," she said ruefully, looking down at her book, where her finger marked the spot where she'd stopped when the phone rang.

"Oooh, a potboiler novel at the beach! Light summertime entertainment at its best! What are you reading?" Kurt opened the fridge and scanned the contents to see if a salad could be assembled.

"Crime and Punishment."

Kurt shrieked, utterly aghast. "No! No, no no! Rachel, you can NOT go to the beach and drag along a laborious tome like that. It's against the Vacation Code! Where's your Danielle Steele? Or at least some John Grisham in paperback!" Kurt exclaimed.

"The summer's more than half-over, Kurt and the works of those authors are the intellectual equivalent of cotton candy." Rachel paused and thought about putting the book back inside her beach bag but decided to hang on. "I have to read the book sometime before the end of the summer because it's on our AP English reading list, and there aren't a lot of distractions here." Rachel's voice trailed off as she saw an attractive blonde woman delicately toeing through the sodden sand at the water's edge.

Kurt stopped pulling veggies out of the fridge as his diva alarm went off. "Not a lot of distractions? It sounds like you just saw one. Let me guess: tall, dark, handsome and muscled?"

Rachel blushed, though Kurt couldn't see that. "Um, no, not exactly." She did set the book inside her bag then, pushed her sunglasses back up her nose, and leaned back in her chair.

"Why do you sound as if you need some cheering up?" He frowned. "Shouldn't you be regaling me with tales of out-of-town that will make me positively seethe with envy?"

"Of course not, Kurt. 'Hummel's Rule of Skin Care No. 14: Envy is bad for your pores. Don't succumb to it.'" Rachel smiled and Kurt snorted delicately as he pulled some spinach, bibb lettuce, bell pepper and carrot out of the fridge along with a jar of olives. He scoped out an onion on the counter.

"It's not like you to deflect, Rachel. What's really going on? Has Finn called you again to ask you on another date?"

"No," she sighed.

"So what is it? You and your dads usually have a grand time and are really good at making your own fun..." Kurt stopped short. "Oh. It's Quinn." He left his vegetables on the counter and turned around to contemplate this development.

Rachel quickly jumped in. "Kurt, I -"

"No, I get it, Rach. Let me guess: she hasn't called or texted since Tuesday, right? And today's -" he paused as he counted days in his head - "Friday." Rachel's silence told him he was right. "Rachel, sweetie, maybe you should let this one go. Quinn has a lot of ... issues." Kurt winced at his own word choice. That's one way to say it. "She's spent a long time and a lot of effort tearing you down, pushing you, bullying and generally trying to make your life miserable. Frankly, I don't think she deserves you." He felt better for having said it plainly.

Rachel sighed. "Kurt, there's this side of her that is so...I don't know, sweet, vulnerable, empathetic..." She casually watched the woman at the edge of the surf keep moving down the beach, out of her line of sight.

"I'm not saying that she doesn't have redeeming qualities, Rach. I'm just saying that whatever caused her to treat you so badly, as she has for so long, doesn't just stop on the proverbial dime. Even if she's inclined to change, she's fighting all those years of whatever oppressive conservative environment with her parents passed for normal at her house."

"I know you're right about some of that," Rachel said in a small voice. "I am just so ... drawn to her. I feel as if she needs me, somehow."

As a doormat, maybe, Kurt thought cattily. "She's kindof got a funny way of showing it, Rach," Kurt said gently. "It'll work itself out."

"I guess it will," Rachel mused thoughtfully, and Kurt thought it had been awhile since he'd heard her sound so sad. "But ... what if I was wrong about everything I thought my ideal romantic partner was supposed to be?"

Kurt thought for a moment. "I think it will still all work out the way it's meant to...the chips will fall as they should." He paused again and opted to shift gears, because an introspective Rachel was a mostly unhappy Rachel. "So, what else is on your vay-gay-tion agenda? More beach time, windsurfing, dune buggy racing, watching the manufacture of salt-water taffy, making fun of the old guys with the sandals and black socks, a visit to the wax museum?..."

"Dad, daddy and I are going on a brief dolphin-watching cruise around the inlet and bay later this afternoon, followed by a vegan dinner poolside and Tiki bar-themed karaoke on the beach later tonight."

Kurt clapped. "That sounds fun!"

"Yeah, I think it will be." Rachel's tone wasn't entirely convincing, but Kurt let it go because he knew that pegging sexuality was neither easy nor instant. "I'd better get back to my book, Kurt."

"Okay, diva. Call me later on if you want to talk about anything. Okay?" He frowned a bit, not liking that Quinn had managed to snuff out some of Rachel's sunshine.

"I will, Kurt. Thank you for calling."

"Sure. I'll talk to you later on." He said good-bye and disconnected.

Rachel dropped her phone back into her beach bag, and settled Dostoyevsky back into her lap. With any luck, she'd get through most of the rest of it today. She focused her formidable powers of concentration on the printed pages in front of her and resumed reading.

.:.