This place felt so different without anybody in it. She'd never been alone in the choir room before, not that she could remember. For rehearsals, she liked to show up fashionably late so that everyone could be sure to see how kickass she looked in whatever new item of clothing she was modeling for the day. And she was always the first one out the door when practice was over, before any of the kids too poor to have their own cars could ask her for a ride home and leave their geek-scent lingering in her leather upholstery.
But now everyone was gone. Not just the choir room, but the entire school echoed with a vast emptiness, that particular last day of school emptiness that should have been filled with promise and excitement for the three months of freedom ahead. But instead Santana sat there, in the same place she'd been for over an hour, unmoving. She felt like a child sent to her room, only she was the one forcing herself to stay here. Until she could figure out why she'd been such a coward. Until she felt punished enough for not having been able to go through with it, even at the last minute. Until she could work up the energy required to simply get up and go home to her empty house.
A janitor moved down the hallway, pushing a broom in a desultory way. He glanced into the choir room, and then away quickly, as if he hadn't seen anything. Even though she had no desire to have him question her, Santana couldn't help feeling a twinge of insult. Bastard. It was like she radiated some kind of broken quality these days that people seemed to go out of their way to avoid having to deal with. It was different than the lust and/or fear she was used to seeing when someone dared to make eye contact with her. Now everyone seemed wary for a different reason. It was like they sensed something was wrong, but nobody wanted it to be their problem. She felt like she had a disease.
Like I give a shit, she told herself. The last thing I need is these losers feeling sorry for me.
The whshhh and clunk of the broom receded down the hallway. From the open windows came the drone of a lawnmower and the late-May scent of cut grass, the distant chants of the Cheerios from the football field on the other side of the building. Even on the last day of school, Coach Sylvester had those freaks practicing for next season. So glad I'm out of that, she thought. And for the first time, she actually believed herself.
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, sighing into the silence. This was ridiculous. Just get up and go home. What the hell are you doing?
But now she heard footsteps approaching down the hallway again, and not the janitor this time. These steps were quick, and purposeful, and entirely humorless. These were the steps of someone who knew exactly where she was going and had no time to waste getting there.
Oh no, Santana thought. No no no no no. It can't be.
But somehow, against all odds, it was.
Rachel strode into the room, lost in her own self-contained bubble of driven intent. She headed straight for Mr. Shuester's office, not even glancing around. Santana could see her through the glass partition, digging through a file cabinet. She watched, intrigued in spite of herself. Although she probably should have been more concerned about the possible burglary she was now a witness to, what she found herself noticing instead was the fact that Rachel was wearing jeans. Jeans that actually fit her, no less. And an inexplicably normal-looking t-shirt that also fit, a little too well. Was this her after-school wardrobe? Why the hell couldn't she just wear this kind of stuff every day, instead of that Irish boarding school fetish attire?
Rachel bent over to dig through a bottom drawer, and Santana peered forward with increased interest, but then forced herself to look away. She shook her head at herself slightly. No. Uh-uh.
Apparently finding what she'd come for, Rachel now emerged from the office and headed back toward the door. Santana froze, closing her eyes. If I don't move, she won't see me. If I don't move, she won't see me.
She let her breath out in a heavy sigh. So close.
Opening her eyes, she found that Rachel had her hand over her heart in some Hollywood ingénue gesture of startled surprise.
"I didn't see you. Why didn't you say anything when I came in?"
"What were you doing in there, Berry? If you're looking for Mr. Shue's weed, you're too late. I already found it."
Wisely choosing to ignore this, Rachel said, "I just came to pick up some sheet music I forgot. Guys and Dolls." She lifted up the sheaf of papers, then flipped through it thoughtfully as she approached the tiers of chairs. "You know, you and I would probably do a mean rendition of Marry the Man Today."
Santana made a face. "I have no idea what that is, but it sounds awful." She glanced toward the empty hallway. "And if you haven't noticed, school's over."
"It's never too early to start preparing for next year. Especially after what happened at Nationals." A shadow passed over Rachel's features. "I just… can't let that happen again."
"Yeah, well, maybe next year you could take it up a notch and lose your virginity on stage. Wonder what kind of trophy we'd get for that?"
Rachel breathed out slowly through her nose and didn't take the bait, but her expression made it clear that she thought she deserved the remark, at least a little. Looking around the deserted room, as if she'd just noticed the oddity of the situation, she asked, "Why are you still here? It's almost five o'clock. If you're waiting for Brittany, I saw her leave about an hour ago. She honked at me and made me spill Pepsi all over my shirt."
Santana tried not to smile. Brittany loved her car horn. Way too much. But the mention also made her sad, because it reminded her of why she was still sitting here, of the opportunity she'd let pass today. It was too late now, though. It was always too late. She stood up, reaching for her backpack.
"I'm not waiting for anybody. I was just enjoying the peace and quiet. Clearly, that's over."
But Rachel put her hand on Santana's arm, stopping her. A sudden perceptiveness touched her gaze. "Something's wrong."
Santana prepared to shake her off, angrily, but found that for some reason she couldn't. Somebody was touching her, in apparent kindness. Somebody besides Brittany. She glanced at Rachel's face, which was full of concern. Genuine, legitimate concern. What the hell was this?
"Don't," she said quietly, trying not to make eye contact again. This was a bad idea, she knew it was. But still she didn't move.
Undeterred by normal human signals in the way only she could be, Rachel pressed on. "What is it? Did something happen?"
And all of a sudden, Santana was exhausted. Too tired to come up with a witty insult, too tired to shake Rachel's hand off of her, too tired to take one step toward the doorway. So she sank back down into her chair, still staring straight ahead. She took a deep breath and let it all out in what sounded like an admission of defeat. And in spite of her best efforts not to, she heard herself talking, in a faraway, bitter voice. Like the words were coming from someone else.
"Nothing happened. That's the whole point… nothing happened. I just sat here, the entire meeting… and watched the clock, and knew that every minute that went by, I was more likely to chicken out. And I did. I sat here and watched everyone walk out that door to start their lame-ass Lima vacations. And I didn't say a word."
She stopped for a second, swallowing back emotion. "Today was supposed to be the day. I promised myself…. On the last day of school, I was gonna tell everybody. I can't believe I actually thought I'd go through with it."
Suddenly looking up at Rachel, as if she'd forgotten she was even in the room, she asked, "Do you have any idea what I'm talking about?"
At first, she didn't seem to, but then her eyes went wide. "Oh, God, are you pregnant?" And then, barely pausing for breath, "Is it Sam's?"
"What?" Santana's face contorted in disgust. "No!"
"Is it Puck's? Because I thought he had a procedure…"
But she was past listening. "Oh God," she continued, with sudden horror. "Oh no. It's… it's Finn's, isn't it? Is it Finn's? Just tell me." She held the sheet music up against her chest like a shield. "Preferably in English. But if you need to scream it in Spanish, go slow so I can translate."
"I'm not pregnant! God! I'm not new at this whole thing like Quinn, okay? I've been on birth control since I was thirteen." Then, because the thought had only just occurred to her for the first time, she laughed a little and muttered to herself, "Though I guess I won't need that anymore."
Rachel, zeroing in on the last part but completely misinterpreting it, gasped and sank down onto the next chair. "Santana." Her face crumpled and she seemed on the verge of actual tears. "Are you dying?"
Santana, bewildered, gave her a look of horrified exasperation. "What is wrong with you?"
Once again, Rachel swept ahead on her own momentum, not listening at all. "I just… I know we've had our differences. We haven't exactly been close… but I guess I just hoped that one day, maybe… if we spent enough time around each other… And I really do admire you!" She sniffled. "This is because of the cigars, isn't it? The same thing happened to my great uncle Saul. One minute he was puffing away and the next…" She continued rambling, distraught, as if she were delivering a eulogy. "And you were so talented, you could have been such a star…"
"All right, stop," Santana finally interrupted by placing a hand on Rachel's wrist, despite the fact that this was kind of fun to listen to. "I'm not dying, you drama queen."
Rachel took a deep breath, composing herself. "You're not?" You had to give her credit, Santana thought. Most people would be embarrassed after an outburst like that, but she just moved on like it hadn't happened.
"Although… thanks, I guess," Santana added grudgingly. "Even though you totally just referred to me in the past tense."
"Then… what?" Rachel finally asked, calm now. "What is it that you wanted to tell everybody?"
Santana was quiet for a minute. She looked away toward the door and wrung her hands together in a nervous gesture, hearing her mom's voice in her head telling her to stop doing that. Forcing herself to unclench her fingers, she took a deep breath, glanced at Rachel once, and then away again. "I'm…" She stopped, then forced herself to go on, but in an almost inaudible voice and with a tiny shrug, as if the words weren't all that important after all. "I'm gay."
She waited, hardly daring to breathe, astonished and terrified that she had just uttered those words, and even more astonished by who she had uttered them to. She waited for the fireworks, for the shock, for the inevitable melodrama.
"Oh," Rachel said in a quiet voice, thoughtful. "That's all?"
Now Santana finally turned to look her full in the face, bewildered. "What do you mean, that's all? That's huge!" She looked around the room, as if searching for support from people who weren't there. "I'm Santana frickin' Lopez! I've partially or fully seduced nearly every guy in this school, including that gorilla you call a boyfriend! I have a sexual position named after me! Do you not understand what a big deal this is?" She heard how ridiculous her outrage was, but she couldn't seem to get a handle on it.
Rachel shrugged, a little intimidated. "I guess. It's just that… I'm not all that shocked. Personally."
"Why not?" Santana demanded. "I'm sorry it's not as exciting for you as pregnancy or death, but…"
"That's not what I meant," she broke in. "I just meant that I've sort of had my suspicions, for a while now."
Santana was prepared to continue her tirade, but now found her curiosity piqued. She considered for a minute, then forced herself to say in a calmer voice, "Since when?"
"I don't know." Rachel considered. "Since you sang Landslide with Miss Holiday, I guess. You were crying, and… the way you were looking at Brittany." She glanced over at Santana, sympathetic. "I know that look… it's not how you look at your friend. I'm sorry that Sapphic remark of mine made you angry, but I was just trying to be supportive." Rolling her eyes at herself, she added, "And frankly, I didn't think you would know what the word meant."
Ignoring the insult implied in the last bit, Santana took a minute to process this. It was true, she'd let her guard down that day, in a way that surprised no one so much as herself. Every time she remembered how public that naked display of emotion had been, she shuddered in horror, like she'd just discovered somebody watching her in the shower. Although, the analogy wasn't particularly apt, because plenty of people had watched her in the shower. Usually by invitation.
She asked awkwardly, "Do you think… I mean, does everyone know? Are they just less obnoxious about it than you were?"
Rachel gave it serious consideration. "I don't know. Some of the girls, maybe. The guys? I kind of doubt it. They don't really pick up on things like that. At least not in my experience."
Santana scoffed. "What experience?"
"Are you in love with Brittany?"
The abruptness of the question caught her off guard, even though the answer was obvious. She looked away, feeling her face heat up in a way that really pissed her off. She played for time with scorn. "You make it sound so cheesy."
"There's nothing cheesy about being in love," Rachel breathed in a cloyingly earnest voice, like a Disney princess.
"God, now it's even worse," Santana groaned.
"Fine. I won't talk about it." Insulted, she crossed her arms, then her legs, and faced forward into the choir room. Santana waited for her to break, because now, of course, she wanted to talk about it, but Rachel radiated haughty silence. At least she wasn't leaving, though.
Finally, Santana couldn't stand it anymore. "Yes. Okay? I am." She stole a glance sideways at Rachel. "I'm in love with her," she clarified, hating the ridiculous way her voice cracked a little on the word love.
Rachel seemed placated by the admission. After a minute she turned back toward Santana, mulling over the information. "But she's… straight. Right?"
"No. She's not." Santana laughed a little. "That's just it. I'm the one screwing everything up here. She's waiting for me. She's waiting for me to have the balls to come out and make it public, because she's tired of it being our dirty little secret. And who can blame her?"
"Wow." Rachel seemed surprised, thinking about the implications of this. "No offense, but that doesn't sound like Brittany."
"Yeah, well there's a lot you don't know about her!" Santana said, immediately feeling defensive. Making an effort not to lose her temper, she went on. "She's much smarter than anyone gives her credit for. And she's strong. She's so much stronger than me." She felt tears spring to her eyes as she realized for the first time just how true those words were. "She's not afraid of anything."
Overcome, she looked away and pressed her sleeve to her eye, embarrassed. Damn it. Rachel, for once choosing discretion over pushiness, pretended not to notice. They sat in silence for a minute.
"Well, if it was me, and I had to choose between being with the person I love, or risk losing everything out of fear… there's no contest."
"I can't be like you," Santana said, her voiced edged with bitterness. "I can't just not care what people think, or what they say about me."
"You think I don't care what people say?" Rachel turned on her, genuinely angry. "I care too much. I care so much that sometimes I cry myself to sleep. But I don't let it stop me from being who I am, or doing what I love. I can't. And neither should you."
"It's not the same. Yeah, okay, being a loud, annoying aspiring Broadway star may get you some nasty Facebook comments. But nobody thinks you're going to hell because of it. Nobody writes newspaper editorials about how Rachel Berry is spreading musical theater propaganda and corrupting Ohio's children." She paused. "Although now that I think of it I kinda wish I'd done that."
"What are you talking about, Santana?" Rachel looked at her like she was an idiot. "Are you forgetting that I have two gay dads?"
"No," she said indignantly. Although, yes, actually she had. In fact, she'd sort of forgotten that Rachel had parents at all. She vaguely pictured her as one of those cheery Dickens waifs who hang around alleys singing carols and holding out a tin cup for a bit of gruel.
"Well, I do. So do me a favor and don't lecture me about homophobia. You know, one of my earliest memories is of my family being asked to leave a restaurant, because some people sitting at a table nearby were offended by our presence. It was my fourth birthday."
Santana looked down at her lap, not sure what to say.
Rachel went on. "For as long as I can remember, strangers gave us dirty looks when we went out in public. They called my dads names… horrible names. At the time, I didn't even know what those words meant. Once an old lady tried to make me get in her car, because she said she wanted to save me."
"You know what the strangest part was? I knew that I had the best parents in the world. My dads were so amazing… are so amazing," she corrected herself. "They would give their lives for me. But these… these complete strangers can look at them, and see something that makes them disgusted. Or furious. Or worse." She paused for a minute. "I don't know how it's possible."
She was quiet for a second. Santana couldn't seem to say anything. Her heart sort of ached, and for possibly the first time ever, not just for herself or Brittany. What was happening here?
Rachel finally went on. "But what I finally realized, is that it doesn't matter. It took a long time for me to be able to believe that. And I can't say I don't still feel sick when I see someone get up and move to a different row in the theater when we sit down. But I know that it doesn't really matter. Because they don't know us." She looked at Santana. "All that matters are the people who know you. The people you're close to… your friends, your family." She put particular emphasis on the last part. "Nobody else."
Her words echoed Brittany's from this afternoon, and Santana wanted to emphasize again that the glee club was not a freaking family, but somehow she couldn't. It didn't feel quite true.
"I just wish I could stop being afraid," she said, her voice threatening to break. "Just get it over with, and let everyone know. But then I think… what if it only gets worse? What if this is the easy part?"
Now Rachel seemed to be the one who didn't know what to say. "I wish I could tell you what to do. But as much as I love to indulge my bossy side… I don't know the answer. Maybe it will get worse, for a while. Considering where we live."
Santana stared at the floor, disappointed, even though it wasn't like she was hearing anything she didn't already know. Somehow it made her fears more real to have them confirmed by someone else.
"But I do know for a fact that you'll have at least twelve people… thirteen counting Mr. Shuester… who'll be there with you, every step of the way." She looked pointedly at Santana, as if anticipating her objections. "Whether you like it or not."
Santana gave a hint of a smile, and glanced up at her. Rachel smiled back, and then they both looked away, weirded out by this extremely unusual moment.
"I'm pretty sure I'm gonna wake up in the morning and think I dreamed this entire conversation."
"Me too," Rachel agreed.
They sat quietly for a few minutes. The sun was slanting lower on the wall opposite the windows, a late afternoon summer glow that looked strange in this room. The lawnmower had cut off, and the school lay hushed and oddly peaceful.
Santana finally stood up, preparing to really go this time. Tentatively, she said, "Look, I really appreciate you listening and everything, but just because I told you about this, it doesn't mean…"
"Say no more," Rachel interrupted. "Your secret is safe with me."
Santana looked understandably skeptical. "It's just that you kind of have a reputation for being a blabber mouth."
"Well, I am offended by that accusation. Believe it or not, there are plenty of secrets I've never told anyone about. I still haven't breathed a word about what Quinn did to me in the bathroom at prom." Off of Santana's shocked look, she added quickly, "It's not what you think."
Uncomfortable and clearly regretting her slip, Rachel stood up and pretended to shuffle her sheet music.
"Anyway…." Santana said, allowing the subject to be changed but planning to send a text to Fabray the second she got out of this room. No way in hell was she not getting to the bottom of this. "I just wanted to say thanks. I mean…" She shrugged, not really knowing how this was done. "For what you said. I'll try not to call you Fraggle when school starts next year."
"I don't remember you calling me that before."
"I didn't, I just came up with it yesterday. I was afraid if I didn't use it now I wouldn't get the chance."
She started to head toward the door.
Suppressing a sigh, she turned back. "What?"
"I know you're kind of new at this whole platonic friends thing, but technically… I think we're supposed to hug."
Her face registered the reluctance she clearly felt for this idea. "We are?" She looked around, awkwardly. "Do we have to?"
Rachel seemed disappointed. "No, I guess not."
But now Santana felt bad, so she rolled her eyes and said, "All right, fine." Glancing back at the door to make sure no one was looking, she added, "Just make it fast. I needs to get my Grey's Anatomy on."
Rachel smiled and approached, actually standing on her tiptoes to throw her arms around the taller girl's neck. Okay, that was kind of cute, Santana had to admit. She gingerly put her own arms around Rachel's back and closed her eyes for a second, somewhat amazed that this was the second time she'd done this today. Sex, okay, but two hugs, with two different people, in the same day? What was happening to her?
But thinking about sex was a bad idea, because now she noticed that Rachel smelled like some kind of baby powder perfume, but like some kind of erotic baby powder, if that was possible, and she felt an alarming warm flush travel through her body. Quickly she dropped her arms and stepped back. Damn it, Brittany, if you knew what this no-sex rule is doing to me.
Rachel was giving her a strange look. To distract her, Santana reached into the front pocket of her backpack and pulled out the voodoo doll. "Here, before I forget. You should probably take this. In case I get the urge to stick any more needles in it."
Gazing down at the doll, Rachel asked in confusion, "Is this supposed to be me?"
"Yeah, well, I was really pissed at you. You should have seen how long it took to find a plaid skirt that small. Even my Barbies have better clothes than you do."
Rachel sighed, trying to look on the bright side. "I guess I should be thankful it doesn't have a beak."
"I knew I forgot something."
They smiled again, and it didn't feel quite as weird this time.
Lifting her backpack onto her shoulder, Santana said, "So, have a good summer, I guess." Impulsively, she added, "If you sleep with Finn, don't let him be on top. Trust me."
Rachel's face registered puzzlement, seemingly trying to figure out whether this was a joke, or an insult, or legitimate advice, or some specifically Santana-esque combination of the three. Leaving her to her dilemma, Santana finally left the choir room.
But she wasn't fast enough. Before she could make it to the end of the hallway, she heard footsteps behind her.
She turned, reluctantly. Now what?
Rachel lowered her voice in an exaggerated discreet manner. "When you do decide to come out to the club, could you let me know a few days in advance? I'd like to prepare a song or two. Something theme appropriate." Her face brightened with an idea. "Like Lilith Fair."
Santana closed her eyes briefly and sighed, in a what-have-I-gotten-myself into manner. Then, without answering, she turned and headed toward the parking lot.
Rachel's voice echoed down the empty hall. "Just think about it!"