First off, I just want to say thank you so, so much to everyone who's reviewed. It means a lot to me. Nobody in my real life has any idea I'm doing this, so your encouragement is so very much appreciated.
Also, it looks like this is still on track for being 8 chapters long, with the last four in particular being the most important ones, IMO. I realize I took my sweet time getting there, but I love the little moments as much as the big ones.
Thank you so much for reading!
(Home video footage begins, first blurry and then gradually in focus. Brittany sits in a canvas lawn chair in front of thick woods.)
Brittany: Hi. I'm Brittany S. Pierce, and welcome to my special back to school edition of Fondue for Two, filmed on location from the 2011 Pierce Family Lake Hope Camping Trip Extravaganza, Copyright 1996. Let me start off by saying that the only cheese I have with me today is these Kraft singles, and from past experience I can tell you that they're not really good for dipping things in. But... they're still pretty awesome, and I'm probably gonna eat a bunch of 'em later. For now, though, why don't I... take you on a little tour?
(cut to Brittany standing next to the water, gesturing out at it)
Brittany: This is the lake. It's called Lake Hope. And coincidentally, this park is called Lake Hope State Park. (appears to be in deep thought) I just now got that.
(cut to a small dark-haired girl standing next to Brittany with hands on hips, looking impatient)
Brittany: (unenthusiastic) This is Bianca Grossman. She's my little sister's friend.
Bianca: (waits for a few seconds in silence) Do you want me to say anything?
Brittany: Not really. You can go now.
Bianca: This show is stupid.
(cut to Brittany petting a white Labrador retriever)
Brittany: This is someone's dog, I don't know whose... but it keeps following me. Let's see if he'll fetch a stick. (throws a stick far out into the lake. The dog sits and stares at it, panting. Brittany looks at the dog, then at the camera, then back at the dog.) You're gonna make me go get that myself, aren't you? (She sighs.) I think you planned this all along. (She strips down to her swimsuit and wades out into the water)
(cut to Mr. and Mrs. Pierce setting up a tent)
Brittany: These are my parents, Gerald and Bunny. Say hi.
Gerald: Hey, Britster! You want me to tell a joke for your show?
Brittany: Um... thanks Dad, but I only have a few minutes of tape left.
Gerald: (goes back to putting in tent pegs) Okay, your loss.
(Brittany looks into the camera and shakes her head slightly)
Bunny: (going through luggage, turns to Brittany) Sweetie, did you remember to pack enough underwear? I don't want you wearing that damp bathing suit for three days like you did last year, you'll get a rash again.
(cut to Brittany, now in front of the van, looking embarrassed)
Brittany: We may edit that last part out. In hindsight, interviewing my parents was probably a bad idea.
(camera begins to wobble, go out of focus)
Brittany: Hold it up!
Disembodied Voice: I can't, my hand hurts!
Brittany: Give it to me, then.
(frame flips around, Ariel comes into focus)
Brittany: This is my little sister Ariel. You may remember her from the recurring segment called Ariel Get Out of My Room.
Ariel: Can I go now?
Brittany: Fine. But you're only getting half of the Milk Duds I owe you, because this was shoddy work.
(From somewhere off screen comes a female voice wailing "God, my hair!" Camera focuses on Brittany's feet as she walks around the van, then her hand as she pulls the door open. Santana is sitting inside, looking into a handheld mirror in horror.)
Brittany: Oh, look who it is, my best friend in the entire world Santana Lopez.
Santana: It's like this lake is cursed, Brittany! I get within a hundred feet of it, and this happens. (indicating hair) Every time.
Brittany: (after a few seconds) It's not that bad. It looks... natural.
Santana: Natural! The only way this is natural is if I'm working on a sugar cane plantation in Jamaica! (looks in mirror again, whines) I don't understand. Half of this hair isn't even mine!
Brittany: So, would you like to tell the students of McKinley how you spent your summer vacation?
Santana: (rolls eyes) No. Not really.
Brittany: Okay, then... is there anything else you'd like to say? (waits) Any other... announcements you'd like to make? (camera zooms in on Santana's face)
Santana: (appears to think, finishes putting her hair in ponytail) Oh you know what, there is one thing I'd like to say to McKinley. (smirks and raises her middle finger to the camera)
Brittany: (heavy sigh) Santana.
Santana: (shrugs, says innocently) I'm just tryin' to represent.
(picture goes out of focus again, screen goes black)
Brittany lowered the camera, annoyed. "I can't use that."
"Yeah, that was kind of the point." Then Santana seemed a little chastened, remembering that this was the second episode of the cheese show she'd ruined. "Look, why don't you put that thing away, and we can go down to the water."
"But you said you didn't want to swim."
"I don't. But we can still sunbathe, and make canoes crash into each other with our hotness." She peered outside, looking up at the trees as if expecting something to come swooping down at her. "I'm afraid if I don't make myself leave this van now, I won't do it at all. It's like the last link to civilization."
"Okay," Brittany smiled at her. "Let me just go grab some towels."
"Don't forget the sun screen," Santana called after her. "I wants to get my grope on."
On the way down to the water, they passed Ariel and Bianca, sitting on a cooler and eating sandwiches that appeared to be mostly mustard, judging by the amount on their faces and shirts.
Bianca looked up at Santana with amusement. "What happened to your hair? It's like it exploded."
Santana pointed her finger malevolently at the girl as she passed by, as if to say Just wait, but otherwise didn't respond.
They started down the path to the lake, and Santana immediately tripped over a root and grabbed Brittany's arm to keep from falling.
"If you'd worn better shoes..."
"I don't want to hear it." She tried to walk more carefully as she looked around at the heavy woods, still a dark, lush green, even this late in the summer. Everything smelled damp and earthy. "So I see this place hasn't changed much."
"It's a state park, it's not supposed to change," Brittany said. "That's the point."
"Still, this would be some kickass real estate if they cut down all these trees."
"Santana, that's a horrible thing to say." She looked at as her as if she'd just kicked a puppy.
"I'm just messing with you!" She nudged her arm, trying to get her to smile. Then in a resigned way, she added, "You're gonna make me join Greenpeace or the Sierra Club some day, aren't you? Some organization that sends you pictures of clobbered baby seals every three weeks with an envelope for money."
"I'm pretty sure lesbians have to do that anyway," Brittany said, in her patented deadpan manner. "It's in the handbook."
Santana laughed. How could anybody think this girl was stupid when she could come up with things like that?
They reached the bottom of the slope and the woods opened up onto a small beach area. Brittany chose a rocky ledge to spread their towels on, and they sat down, looking out at the water. The lake was a deep blue color in the sun, sweeping away into numerous coves and inlets, a shape impossible to define. The thick greenery came right down to the water's edge in all directions, rising up into bluffs and cliffs higher up.
"Even you have to admit that it's pretty."
"It's all right," Santana agreed grudgingly. "I just wish someone would build a hotel here."
In fact, she'd noticed on the way into the park this year that there were not only campsites with electric hookups available, but cottages with full power, running water, and kitchens. So why the hell were they pitching tents in a clearing and cooking over a fire? Was it a matter of money? She'd hand over her dad's credit card right now if she didn't think there was a chance it would deeply offend Brittany's parents. And considering they were some of the few people who actually seemed to like her, genuinely like her, she didn't want to take the risk. What if they finally realized what a terrible person she was and they turned against her too?
They pulled off their outer clothing to reveal their bathing suits. Santana noted that while hers was solid black, Brittany's was bright and rainbow-patterned. And that about sums it up, she thought wryly.
Brittany held the bottle of sun screen up, raising her eyebrows.
"I'll do you first," Santana said.
She smirked, lifting her hair off of her back. "Typical."
Santana gave her a pointed smile. "Mm-hm, that's right." She took the bottle and squeezed a generous portion into her hand, looking at the expanse of bare flesh and trying to decide where to begin. She felt like a starving person presented with a buffet.
"Brit, did you already get in the water?" she asked, suddenly noticing the damp swimsuit.
"A dog made me fetch a stick. I don't want to talk about it."
Santana nodded a little, as if to say of course it did, and decided to start on the lower back and work her way up.
She made light circles with her fingertips, rubbing the lotion in, grazing along the top of Brittany's bikini bottoms. It took extreme willpower not to just grab them and pull them off. The fact that she resisted made her feel like she was growing as a person. Then slowly, very slowly, she moved on to her upper back, but not before sliding her fingers briefly underneath the strap of her top. It felt so wonderful just to be touching her this way, finally, after so long.
She continued on to her shoulders, noticing that Brittany had her eyes closed and seemed to be deeply relaxed. Deciding that she was maybe a little too relaxed, Santana let her hands gradually move lower and lower, over the slope of her shoulders, down past her collar bone, until she was grazing the tops of her breasts, lightly rubbing sun screen over the ample portion of skin that wasn't covered by the bikini. To her satisfaction, she felt Brit tense up a bit, her pulse quickening. Santana smiled to herself. That's more like it.
After another minute or so of this, Brittany said in a soft warning tone, without opening her eyes, "Santana."
"What? I just don't want you to get burned there." She let her fingers slide down into the hollow between her breasts, and now Brittany put her hand over Santana's and glanced up at her with a meaningful look. For a second Santana wondered whether she was going to move her hand, or perhaps just assist her a little, but suddenly her erotic concentration was shattered by a loud male "Woo!" and then a wolf whistle coming from out on the lake.
She pulled her hand back as if she'd been bitten, looking up to see a canoe about fifty yards off. They'd been so absorbed they hadn't noticed it drifting in. Two men were watching them and grinning, far enough away so that they had to yell to be heard.
"Hey ladies! You don't got to stop on our account!"
"That's right," agreed the other one. "Hell, you can make out if you want, we ain't gonna mind!"
Santana rolled her eyes and sat back on her own towel, knowing her fun was over for now. She sighed. "You know, the terrible thing is, last year we probably would have."
Brittany smiled a little, but then said in a serious tone, "I don't ever want to do that again."
"Make out?" Santana asked, alarmed.
"I mean, for boys." She paused. "I don't want to do it like that."
"Oh," Santana said, more relieved than she wanted to show. "Of course not. Neither do I."
They looked back out at their audience again. The fat one raised a beer in salute. The other one was mildly attractive, but not really, like Matthew McConaughey's inbred cousin. Eventually the two of them began fishing off the other side of the canoe, and seemed to lose interest in the girls.
"You want me to do you now?" Brittany asked.
Santana looked at the canoe again, desperately wanting to say yes, but feeling too weird about it. Everything was so different now that there were all these emotions, all this fear involved. She missed the simplicity of the way it used to be. But at the same time she wouldn't go back to it... not for anything in the world.
"Don't worry about it. I hardly ever burn."
"Sometimes you do," Brittany said, and from the tone of her voice, Santana could tell she really wanted to do this. That settled it.
She smiled a little. "Okay." Stretching out on her stomach, she rested her head on her arms, facing away from the water. Brittany began in the same place she had earlier, with the lower back. But she found that for herself, relaxing was not an option. She tried, she really did, but it was a lost cause. With her eyes closed, she could feel each tiny touch, each barest whisper of contact, every sensation magnified a thousand fold. And it didn't help that Brittany's hands were as graceful and flexible as the rest of her. Holy sweet hell, the things this girl can do with her fingers, Santana thought.
She tried not to breathe as Brittany spread the lotion around her upper back and shoulders. The scent of Coppertone should have reminded her of childhood summers, but she didn't feel much like a child right now. Even though they were in the sun, she could tell the warm flush spreading through her body was from an entirely different source. And when it began to concentrate in one particular spot, she knew it was time to quit. "Okay, Brit," she said, suddenly sitting up. "That's enough. Or you're gonna have to throw my ass in the water to get me off of you."
She looked sheepish. "Sorry."
"Yeah, well, rules are rules." Santana glanced at her after she said this to see if maybe, just maybe, those particular rules would be relaxed for this weekend without her having to try to seduce her into it. But from the expression on Brittany's face, it didn't look like it.
"I'm doing it for you, you know," she said. "Because I know how much happier you'll be. When you're not hiding anymore."
Santana stared down at the water. Oh, Brittany, she thought, plaintive. You don't know that. You don't know that at all. God I wish it were that simple. But it was a conversation she didn't want to have right now. Almost to her relief, the men in the canoe chose this moment to provide another distraction.
"Hey, you girls want to come fishin' with us, down at the south end? We got room for two more!" the chubby guy hollered. "I ain't picky, but my buddy here likes dark meat."
"Shut the fuck up!" the skinny guy said, splashing him with his paddle.
"Classy," Santana muttered. In a louder voice, she yelled, "It kinda looks like you're at full capacity there, Ricky Bobby, so I think we're gonna have to take a rain check!"
It was true, the canoe was sunk up to the waterline on the side where the heavier guy sat.
"Too much beer!" he called in apparent explanation. "Here, let me lighten the load a little." With that, he rose awkwardly to his knees, almost tipping the entire thing over, and started peeing over the side.
"Gross," Brittany said.
"It's times like these when I can't believe I ever thought I was straight," Santana said, making a disgusted face. "See, this is what happens when you camp one county away from West Virginia. It's like Deliverance down here. There are parks closer to Lima, you know."
"My parents love this one. They used to come here when they were growing up, it's where they met." She looked over at Santana, as if she'd just thought of something. "And you know what else? My mom told me yesterday that I was conceived here."
"Really? That's so sweet." Santana smiled in spite of herself, looking around at the woods and lake. It all suddenly looked much less forbidding to her. Oh jeez, I'm becoming such a sap.
Brittany seemed confused, though. "Wait, what does it mean?"
"It means she got pregnant with you here, silly."
"Oh." She thought about this for a second. "I thought it meant she hid me here, like under a bush or something. Because someone was trying to steal me?"
Santana looked perplexed, mentally working her way through the strange and imaginative labyrinths of Brittany's mind to figure this one out. It was a little like doing a crossword puzzle. Sounds like conceived, means the same thing as hidden... Then she had it. "That's concealed."
Brittany's face registered comprehension. "Too bad. Because it sounded pretty cool." Disappointed, she added, "I guess no one wanted to steal me after all."
"Aww," Santana said, rubbing her back consolingly. "I'm sure someone did."
The men in the canoe finally began paddling away, still leering for all they were worth. The skinny one hollered, "You ladies behave yourselves, now! We'll see you around!"
I hope not, Santana thought. She watched with distaste as they drifted out of view. I really hope not.
The rest of the afternoon passed slowly. They were put on unofficial babysitting duty, making sure the younger girls didn't drown while they played in the water. Santana didn't bother to pay much attention. She reasoned that since she wasn't much of a swimmer anyway, she wouldn't be a lot of help in the event of an emergency. They would probably end up drowning her.
After that, Brittany somehow signed them up for firewood gathering, and in the course of picking up sticks, they uncovered a small garter snake that Santana immediately retreated from in terror. Brittany, however, seemed to want to try to catch it.
"What are you doing!"
"I want to put it in a basket and see if it'll dance, like on Aladdin."
Braving her fear, Santana returned and grabbed her arm. "No, Brittany."
She looked back regretfully at the snake as Santana dragged her away.
Then, back at the campsite, they were forced to sit down for a special ceremony where Gerald unveiled the official 2011 poop stick, a branch about three feet long that was whittled at the end for easy digging.
"Oh, God," Santana moaned, lowering her head into her hands. "I forgot about the stick."
"What is it?" Bianca asked, looking nervous.
"That's right, we've got a first-timer along this year!" Gerald said. Enthusiastic, he explained that the poop stick was for digging a hole to "do your business in," then for covering it back up. Bianca was speechless with horror. For once, Santana felt for the kid.
"Gerald," Mrs. Pierce said, overhearing. "We're actually within walking distance of a latrine this year, so we won't need that. It's just right down the path," she said, gesturing over to the woods.
"A latrine!" he lamented, as if she'd just told him there was a full service day spa nearby. "What kind of fun is that?" Nobody answered. "Well, I'm still gonna use the stick. Who's with me?"
"Me!" Ariel exclaimed, raising her hand. She was the only one.
Then, as afternoon began to turn into evening, the two of them helped Mrs. Pierce prepare dinner. Or rather, Brittany helped, Santana stood around swatting at bugs, keeping a wary eye out for raccoons. At one point Bunny tossed her a manual can opener and asked her to open some beans. Santana stared at the strange contraption in her hands, unfolding it, turning it one way and then the other, mystified. Without a word, Brittany approached, took it from her and showed her how to use it, then gave her a quick, secret peck on the cheek as if to tell her that her ineptitude for normal everyday life was adorable.
Somehow, without Santana at all comprehending how she'd been roped into it, she and Brit were given the responsibility of molding the raw hamburger into meat patties. They stood at a portable table a little removed from the campfire and barbecue grill, looking down toward the lake.
"Ughhh," Santana groaned, gingerly shaping the ground beef with just the tips of her fingers. "This is hella rank, Brittany. I can't even believe I'm touching it. Aren't there machines for this or something?"
She smiled a little. "I don't think so."
"Well, someone should invent one. Maybe that's what your dad should do, instead of that global warming crap no one cares about."
Brittany wisely refrained from comment. All her energies seemed to be focused on taking up and remaking every single patty that Santana accomplished, molding it into something that resembled an actual hamburger. Santana didn't seem to notice. She wasn't even looking at the meat, but instead gazing through the gaps in the trees down to the water, where Ariel and Bianca were splashing around in the shallows. Sulking, she wondered why they didn't have to help.
"Oh, looky here," she said after a minute, sounding amused. "Someone's got themselves some gentlemen callers."
Down at the lake, a pair of eleven or twelve-year-old boys had drifted over on inner tubes and seemed to be chatting with the two younger girls. Suddenly, Bianca attempted to turn a show-offy cartwheel in the ankle-deep water, splashing one of the boys in the face.
Santana laughed, shaking her head. "No game." She turned to Brittany. "Watch this."
She stepped around the table and moved a little way down the slope. "Hey Grossman! We were just finishing up the unpacking... did you want us to put your rubber bed-wetting sheets in the tent, or should we let 'em air out for a while first? 'Cause to be honest? They looks a little skeevy to me."
"What are you talking about?" Bianca demanded, mortified.
But as predicted, the boys had already begun to drift discreetly away, back out into the deep water.
"Ooh, strike out," Santana said with exaggerated sympathy. "Hey, maybe next time, tell 'em how your name sounds like Beyoncé. Boys love that."
Ariel had her hands up over her mouth, trying to contain an attack of giggles. Bianca turned to her with fury. "Why are you laughing, stupid?"
Santana returned to the table, looking pleased with herself.
"That was mean," Brittany told her.
"Oh come on, that kid is awful. Has anyone checked her skull for the Devil's mark?" She went back to forming horribly misshapen hamburgers. "Besides, those boys were much too old for them. What are they doing flirting anyway, they're second-graders."
"We were flirting with older boys when we were that age."
"Yeah, well, maybe we shouldn't have been." She reflected, privately, that maybe she shouldn't have lost her virginity at age twelve to their sixteen-year-old pool boy, either. But there was no use dwelling on it now. And anyway, it didn't really count, the way she looked at it. When she and Brittany were fourteen and first realized there was much more they could do together than fix each other's hair, that was her first time. The real one, the one that counted. Everything else was just a pale imitation, the difference between authentic Gucci and some sweatshop knockoff from a grungy flea market.
"We only flirted with boys because we were copying Lindsey and her friends," Brittany said, picking out a leaf that Santana had kneaded into the hamburger meat without noticing.
"Exactly. And they tortured us. So... now it's our turn."
"I guess. It's just that Ariel likes her a lot," she said, gazing down at her sister a little wistfully. "I don't want to ruin it for her. It's her first friend that isn't imaginary." She paused, considering. "Although I have to admit I'm really gonna miss Cowboy Todd. I'm pretty sure he had a crush on me. Sometimes he let me wear his hat."
Santana stared down at the girls, contemplative. They were out of the water now and had apparently made up, in that rapid-fire way little kids are capable of, because the two of them were walking along the edge of the lake squeezed under one giant beach towel, picking up rocks. "Okay, I guess they're sorta cute together," she admitted in a grudging way. She watched them for a few more seconds. "I just hope they don't end up like us."
"Why not?" Brittany asked, defensive. "What's wrong with us?"
"Nothing," she hastily corrected. "I just meant... I hope they stay friends. Without things getting complicated."
Brittany was quiet for a minute, putting the rest of the meat patties on a plate. Then she picked it up to take back over to the grill, saying as she left, "Things are complicated for everyone, Santana. Just in different ways."
She watched her walk away, knowing she was right. It was just hard to remember it sometimes.
While they ate, Santana listened while Brittany and her dad carried on a deep discussion about the electoral politics of woodland creatures. It included such abstruse topics as whether skunks received extra representation because of their powerful stench lobby, and the growing problem of low voter turnout among songbirds. They egged each other on, Brittany keeping a straight face as always, but with amusement radiating from her gaze. Every time she came up with a new and particularly absurd observation, Gerald looked at her with proud delight.
Santana smiled a little, looking down at her plate. It was adorable, of course. It always was. But as usual, it left her feeling sad.
Bunny seemed to notice, but with typical Mom-clumsiness, chose the exact wrong question to ask. "How are your parents, honey?"
Santana looked up to find everybody staring at her. "They're good," she said awkwardly. "As far as I know. I think they're in... Belize. Or Panama. Something like that."
Bunny exchanged a quick glance with her husband, and now Santana felt even more pathetic.
"Well, you tell your dad I said hi," Gerald said. "I still appreciate all those free pseudophedrine samples he got me from the hospital. Thanks to the darn meth-heads, you just can't get the stuff over the counter anymore. At least not in bulk."
She forced herself to look pleasant. "I will."
She wouldn't, she knew. And not only because she'd stolen those samples herself. But because she didn't foresee much conversation between her and her father, possibly not for the rest of her life. And now, without wanting to, she was forced to remember why.
It was just before she'd gotten shipped off to Puerto Rico for the summer. As if he felt bad for exiling her, he'd asked her to stop for a layover in Miami, to attend some kind of fancy medical conference with him. She didn't know exactly what the event was for, but it was enough to know it required evening dress and new heels. She accepted, flattered by the offer, since, as she well knew, the offers were few and far between these days.
When she was younger, she'd often attended events with him; country club luncheons, black tie benefits, that sort of thing. Her primary role at these functions was to let him show her off, to let him play the role of wealthy father who just couldn't help showering his princess with whatever she wanted. She was of course expected to keep up her end of the game, to giggle and pretend to be embarrassed, to say things like "Daddy, don't tell them that!" while he loudly joked to anyone who would listen about what she'd made him buy her last month. And the horrible thing was that she did it. She played her part, because as fake as it was, it was better than nothing. It was the only kind of interaction she had with him. Once they were out of the public eye, it was like she donned an invisibility cloak.
So, even while hating herself a little for her eagerness, she jumped at the chance to go. He even seemed in a particularly attentive mood, telling her that she looked nice, which she knew was an understatement because she looked hot as hell, but it was the thought that counted. He even brought her a glass of champagne, and when she looked surprised and said, "Really?" he told her to have as much as she wanted. So she did, drinking one after another, feeling like a true adult. Maybe now things would be different, she thought with delight as the bubbles went straight to her head. Maybe he just didn't like kids, and now that she was almost grown up they'd be able to spend more time together.
Over the course of the evening, she noticed an odd thing, which was that he wasn't referring to her as his daughter. He just introduced her by name, as if she were his secretary or something. It gradually dawned on her that he didn't want anyone to know she was his kid. But she was cynical enough not to be shocked by it. She rationalized that it was probably something wealthy middle-aged men did all the time, when their daughters were too old to be of any use to their image as daughters anymore, but only as arm candy. The champagne made her just tipsy enough so that she could overlook it. At least he was paying attention to her. She would never see these people again anyway.
But then he drew her aside and pointed out a distinguished looking older man across the room, silver-haired and impeccably dressed. "Walter Fox," he told her. "Could be a very important donor when we get the new wing built on the hospital next year, if we play our cards right."
"He looks rich enough," she said, not very interested. The alcohol was making her hungry, and she was wondering if she was brave enough to attempt the caviar.
"Poor guy just lost his wife last year." He looked at her pointedly. "I imagine he could really do with some company right about now. He's a lonely man."
Misunderstanding, she thought he was trying to get rid of her so he could go out with the boys, maybe hit a high-class strip club.
"Do you want me to go back to the hotel?" she asked, not surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised.
He smiled a little, like he thought she was an idiot. "I don't think it's my company that he'd be interested in."
She stared at him as understanding dawned, confusion turning into disbelief. Oh. Of course. Then she forced herself to look away, determined to keep her dignity. She wasn't going to put on a show for these people.
He spoke in a deceptively light and joking tone, like they were talking about her next shopping trip. "Let's not pretend we're some spotless little lamb, all right? Save ourselves that embarrassment? It'd be almost as funny as when your mother tries it." He smiled and took a swig of his cocktail, waving at a woman across the room. "Maybe it's time you start thinking about your future. Do you know how much out-of-state tuition is, princesa? Or... what?" He looked amused. "Were you planning to get yourself a job... pay your own way?"
She didn't respond to this, not even knowing where to begin.
"I didn't think so," he said smugly.
He continued to wait patiently for her decision, as if he already knew what it was. She stared at the champagne fountain and the hors d'œuvre platter, not really seeing them. Everything continued to have the substance of reality, so apparently this was actually happening.
"Fine," she eventually said in a small voice, not making eye contact with him. She swallowed another gulp of champagne. "I just need to run to the bathroom first. Freshen up," she added with irony, though he didn't seem to notice. In fact, he wasn't even looking at her. He was looking across the room at the older man, and she saw a smile and a hint of a nod pass between them. Which was when she realized that, of course, this had all been arranged earlier.
She walked calmly to the nearest bathroom, holding her head up, then ducked into the first stall and vomited up all the champagne she'd had over the course of the evening. She knew, even before she'd finished being sick, that she'd never be able to bear the smell or the taste of it again.
Finding a back exit to the banquet hall, she took a cab to the hotel and quickly packed up her belongings. Then she emptied one of her father's suitcases and filled it with all the snacks and liquor bottles in the hotel mini-fridge. Before she zipped it up, she added the shampoo bottles, the towels, the complimentary bathrobes, and the TV remote control. Last but not least, she called a transsexual escort service and ordered him a hooker for 3:00 a.m. "And could you not reveal the big surprise until the last minute?" she asked. "He's kinky that way."
At the airport she used his credit card to buy a first class ticket to Puerto Rico, even though she already had one for a flight the next day. On second thought, she went back to the ticket counter and bought the remaining first class seats, which totaled seven. Why not?
She ignored the constant ringing of her phone, eventually turning it off. Within two hours, she was on her way out of the country. And other than a few text messages with basic information about where on the planet he and her mother were headed to, she hadn't spoken to him since.
"But Dad," Brittany was now saying as Santana came out of her disgusted trip down memory lane. "That doesn't make any sense. If they don't redraw the district lines, then the rodents and the insects get screwed. Because they're still recovering from years of oppression."
He reached over and yanked one of her braids playfully. "You know, that's a good point."
Santana laid her plate aside, her appetite gone. She stood up, and when Brittany looked at her questioningly, said, "I'm gonna go change clothes... I've got to get out of this swimsuit."
She retreated to her and Brit's tent, zipping it up behind her, and lay down on her sleeping bag. She took a deep breath and let it out, staring up at the trees through the mesh ceiling vent. Finally, to her relief, the voices tapered off outside. After changing into jeans and a peasant top, she made another futile effort to tame her hair. When she finally emerged from the tent, Brittany was nowhere to be seen.
"Hey," she said to Ariel, who was sitting on a blanket, coloring a picture of a pumpkin with a purple crayon. "Where's your sister?"
"She went off in the woods. That way," she indicated.
"Maybe she wanted a break from you," Bianca suggested.
"Maybe she wanted a break from you," Santana said. Okay, it wasn't her best comeback, but she was distracted. Not only was she still in a blue mood from thinking about her dad, but now she was wondering whether Brittany had snuck back out to look for the damn snake again. What if she came across something poisonous this time?
She set off in the direction Ariel had indicated, stepping carefully over brush and sticks. Of course, she would go off somewhere there wasn't even a path. Santana angrily brushed bugs out of her hair. It kept trapping them like a net.
"Brittany?" she called. No answer. Then she thought she heard her voice, up ahead and a little to the left. She moved toward it. Who on earth was she talking to? The words became clearer as she approached, and she saw that Brit was sitting on a log in a little clearing, facing away, having a cell phone conversation with... someone. She hadn't intended to eavesdrop, but now that she was here she had no choice, right?
"I do miss you," she was saying. "But you knew this would happen. I've been telling you all summer, when Santana gets back, things are gonna change for a while. I have to spend time with her right now... I have to. She needs me. But it doesn't mean I don't love you. You just have to be patient." She paused for a minute, then said. "I've got to go now, they'll be wondering where I am. I'll see you when I get home. Please don't be mad at me. And don't talk about me behind my back. You know that hurts my feelings."
Santana stood behind her, not even bothering to conceal herself, feeling like all the air had suddenly left her lungs. Who the hell could she possibly be talking to? Hot Wheels? Some new boy? Some new girl? Quinn? This last possibility sent chills down her spine, because there'd been that one time in freshman year... and even though Her Holiness had made them swear on a Bible they'd never speak of it again, Santana sure as hell hadn't forgotten it, whether Fabray pretended she had or not. And Brittany had mentioned the two of them had been talking this summer.
For the love of all that is sacred, do I have to compete with that skanky porcelain doll over every fucking thing for the rest of my life? Can't I be free of her grabby little paws even when I switch to the other team? Can't I have anything good, ever? Working herself up to a pitch of near-rage, she almost didn't notice when Brittany hung up the phone and turned around to see her standing there.
"Santana. You shouldn't sneak up on people in the woods. What if they're going to the bathroom?"
She stared at her in shock. "That's all you have to say?"
Brittany glanced around, confused, then asked slowly, "What do you want me to say?"
"Oh, I don't know, how about 'I'm sorry for making you think I would wait for you.' Or 'I'm sorry I can't keep it in my pants for even three freaking months.' Bitterness dripped from every word.
"What are you talking about?"
"I heard you, Brit," she said. "I heard the whole thing!"
Brittany seemed to think about this for a second. "Wait, you were spying on me?"
But Santana ignored this, not even really hearing it. She was driven on by anger, by increasing hysteria. She was afraid if she didn't keep ranting, she would collapse in tears. "You know, I could have fooled around this summer too! It's not like there weren't opportunities. There was this one girl... I don't know how she knew, but she knew. She was a total hottie and she was completely into me. But I didn't do anything! Or hardly anything," she amended. "You know why? Because all I could think about was getting back home, and seeing you."
Without saying anything, Brittany continued to stare at her with what looked like pity, which only made Santana feel more vengeful.
"I should have known this would happen, though. That bitch steals everything else from me, why not you too? I can't believe I didn't see it coming. She knew how easy it would be, she knows how sweet you are, how... how..."
"Dumb?" Brittany asked in a quietly sarcastic voice.
"Innocent, is what I was gonna say. She knew it wouldn't take much. Because that's the difference between you and me, Brit. You love everyone. But for me, it's just you." She swallowed hard, willing herself not to lose it. "You're the only one. There is no one else for me."
Brittany continued to stare at her for a few more seconds, and then dropped her gaze and moved a little closer. With an air of wanting to put her out of her misery, she lifted her phone and turned it around, showing it to Santana. There was a tiny picture of a gray tabby on the screen.
Santana stared at it. It was like something in a dream that should have made sense but didn't. "You want me to look at a cat! Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
"I was just leaving a message for Lord Tubbington," Brittany explained softly. "He's really mad that we had to leave him home alone. I thought it would be nice if he could hear my voice on the answering machine."
Santana closed her eyes slowly, horrified. Oh shit. Oh you've got to be kidding me. You have got to be fucking kidding me.
"Your cat?" she finally asked, in a voice that implied Really, Brittany? REALLY? But of course it wasn't Brit's fault, and it was wrong to even insinuate that it was. This was all her fault. Because she was destined to ruin everything. Through cowardice. Through selfishness. Through sheer stupidity, apparently. If it wasn't one thing, it was another. She would always be the one to ruin it.
Brittany appeared to be thinking, putting pieces together. "Did you think I was talking to Quinn? That's insane. She's straight."
Santana didn't even bother arguing that this wasn't one hundred percent accurate, or at least not in her experience. She was too miserable to even feel defensive. "It's just... it's been a really long day," she offered in a weak voice.
"And even if she wasn't straight," Brittany went on. "I can't believe you think I would fall for that. As the great and talented Britney Spears once said, 'I'm not that innocent.'"
"I know you're not," Santana said, not able to meet her eyes. This was so humiliating.
"If you're this paranoid now, what are you gonna be like when we're really together?" She paused. "I just don't know what else I can do. To prove to you how much I love you. It's like you never believe me."
"Brittany..." she began, but then stopped. She couldn't think of anything to say. There were no words. They stood facing each other for a moment in silence.
Then Brittany approached her, very close, and for a crazy second Santana thought she was about to kiss her, because why not? This moment couldn't possibly get any weirder or more uncomfortable. But instead she just brushed a mosquito off her shoulder and said, "Anyway. I can tell you're feeling super ridiculous right now, so... I'm gonna leave you alone and go help my mom clean up." Then she nodded to herself, adding in a soft voice, "Yeah," as she passed by.
Santana remained where she was, alone in the clearing. She tried to think of how she could possibly make Brittany understand how confusing and complicated all this was for someone like her, someone who was so new to this entire plane of human experience. How could she explain to her that she'd never done this before? That she'd never loved anyone? That she'd never in her life had anything worth protecting? She had no idea what she was doing. It was like moving to a foreign country where she didn't speak the language or know any of the customs.
But maybe Brittany did understand this, after all. Maybe she understands it even better than I do. Why the hell else would she put up with me?
She kept standing where she was until the mosquitoes made it impossible to remain any longer. What she wanted to do, more than anything, was fetch Gerald's poop stick, dig a hole big enough for herself to climb into, and then wait for some kind soul to do her the favor of covering her up with dirt. Instead, she turned around and headed reluctantly back toward the campsite.