Couple notes:

Laura: I do understand your feelings on the section about Santana's dad, and I apologize to anyone who would prefer the fic to stay on the light/comedy side, but I did intend all along to introduce heavier stuff in the latter half. I probably shouldn't try to get both the comedy and the angst in one fic, but that's just the way the story came to me. I guess it's a hot mess of a fic in the same way Glee is a hot mess of a show. (I do have to point out, though, that hella is not just a California word - people say it everywhere. My ghetto-posturing Santana-esque friend uses it annoyingly often. ;)

For those who like the lighter stuff, though, there's still plenty of that to come. I'm currently having way too much fun writing a Santana dream sequence where the entire Glee club is at the campsite with her. But this chapter in particular is something I really needed to do, because it's an issue that's close to my heart & I'm not sure the Glee writers will ever delve into it much, living as they do in their LA bubble.

Anyway, thank you so much, again, to everyone who reviews. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. I keep thinking I'm getting someone else's story alerts and reviews by mistake. Group hug!


Chapter 5

The dice were thrown, skittered across the board, and came up seven. Santana narrowed her eyes in concentration, then moved her top hat token the appropriate number of spaces. She landed on Baltic Avenue, where Bianca had a house erected.

"You have to pay me rent!" the little girl crowed.

"Hmm, not so fast," she told her. "See, the thing is, there was some gang-inspired arson last week, and now all my stuff is ruined. So who's responsible for that... the owner, or the tenant? I think if you'd read the lease, you'd know the answer. This is what happens when you own property in the hood."

"What?"

"I will, however, give you two dollars so you can take the bus back home, since you came all the way down here for nothing."

Bianca took the proffered white money, confused. "You can't do that."

"Ariel's turn!" Santana said, ignoring her.

And this is where she found herself, on a Friday night, the last Friday night before school started. Not at some killer party getting buzzed off her ass. Not having sexytimes with Brittany in the air-conditioned comfort of her own home. Not even hanging out with the rest of the Glee club in some lame pizza-party meeting at Shuester's house, which at the moment didn't sound half bad. Instead, she was in a forest, covered in bug spray, sitting at a wobbly table with a lantern hanging over it, playing Monopoly with a moody Brittany and two eight-year-old girls. What the hell has happened to my life?

The game, of course, was proving to be hopelessly complicated due to the fact that Brittany didn't understand the rules, Ariel made up her own whimsical rules, Santana cheated, and Bianca was constantly on the brink of a meltdown because of the chaos. "That's not how you do it!" she kept lecturing. Out of the four board games Ariel had brought along (more evidence that Gerald and Bunny were insane for letting a second-grader do her own packing), Monopoly had seemed to Santana like the least of all evils, though not by a wide margin. At least it involved money, if only the fake kind. The other girls' first choice had been Candyland, but she'd talked them out of it, explaining that the last time she played Candyland, someone lost a finger.

"What if the dog pushes the wheelbarrow?" Ariel now suggested.

"You can't use two tokens," Bianca told her. "You have to pick one."

"But I don't want any of them to be left out."

Santana sighed, wondering what time it was. She glanced at Brittany, who had her arms crossed over her chest and wasn't looking at her. She still seemed upset from their little scene in the woods earlier, as she had every right to be. But Santana was beginning to get impatient. She'd agreed to play this stupid game, hadn't she, against all her better instincts? She was trying to be as nice as she could. She needed Brittany to not be mad at her the way she needed air. When she held a grudge for too long, it was terrifying. The feeling reminded her of a recurring dream she sometimes had in which a tornado was trying to blow her off the face of the earth and she couldn't find anything to hold onto, no anchor to grab to keep her from oblivion.

After Ariel, it was Brittany's turn. She rolled a four and landed on the Free Parking space.

"I don't understand what I'm supposed to do here," she said, sounding glum as she moved her shoe token.

Bianca explained. "You don't do anything, you just sit there until your next turn."

"Why would I want to just sit in a parking lot?" She thought for a second. "Can I get out of the car?"

"There is no car."

"Then why am I in a parking lot?"

Bianca leaned her head against the table, shaking it back and forth.

On Santana's next turn, she drew a card from the Community Chest that told her to go directly to jail. "Hold up, look at this!" she said, pretending to be excited. "It says that Brittany gets to leave the parking lot and move her token wherever she wants to. And she also gets $300 for being the best player."

"Let me see that," Bianca demanded, but Santana held the card up over her head.

Brittany looked intrigued as she considered this. "Does it really say my name on there?"

Santana shrugged a little. "I'm paraphrasing." She smiled sweetly and handed three hundred dollar bills across the table.

Brittany seemed to soften a little as she took the play money, but then she set her expression again and muttered, "I'm still mad at you though." Ariel and Bianca looked from one of them to the other as if wondering what was going on, but didn't say anything.

Damn it. Okay, I tried doing the whole nice thing, and it's not working. It looks like maybe it's time to move onto Phase Two: Seduction. Because if there's one thing Santana Lopez knows how to do, it's to make damn sure the world wants all up on this.

She pretended to spill a few drops of Pepsi onto her lap. "Oh, great," she said in exaggerated annoyance. "Now I have to change clothes again." She stood up and moved the money over toward Ariel, instructing her to keep a close eye on it as she gave Bianca a warning look. "I'll be right back," she told them as she headed for the tent.

She emerged about five minutes later wearing an extremely short, tight red dress that she'd brought along on the off chance it would come in handy at some point. There was no justification for traveling anywhere without at least one cleavage-enhancing ensemble, in her opinion. On her feet were a pair of inappropriate heels that Brittany had missed during her spot check. She'd managed to get her hair under control for the time being with a headband, and using a flashlight, she'd quickly redone her eye makeup and lipstick.

Gerald was doing a crossword puzzle by the campfire and glanced up and then back down as she passed by, then did a double take and looked up again. Bunny took the crossword puzzle and smacked him on the back of the head with it.

When she got back to the table, Brittany stared at her for a few seconds in surprise. But her reaction wasn't exactly what Santana was hoping for. She seemed more confused than turned on. "Why are you wearing that?"

"I don't know. I just thought since I had to change clothes anyway, I might as well look good."

Brittany didn't seem especially convinced. "It's your turn," she told her.

Sitting down, she rolled the dice, while Ariel continued to stare at her in awe. "You look really pretty," she told her.

"Thank you," she said with a superior smile. At least someone thought so. She moved her token and landed on the Chance slot. Drawing a card, she saw that it once again instructed her to go directly to jail. What the fuck? she thought, irritated.

"It says you have to give me Boardwalk," she told Bianca.

"What? Why?"

"Because that hotel you have on there is a crack den. You know what happens if you own a crack den when the Feds swoop down because some politician is in there getting his knob polished with a coked-up showgirl?" She paused, looking as if she felt bad. "You lose the whole game. Do you really want to take that risk?"

Bianca looked to Ariel for support, who just gave a massive shrug as if to say, "Don't ask me."

"I hate you," she muttered as she pulled out the title card.

Santana held out her hand. "That's right, fork it over, Mousekewitz."

While they continued playing, Santana mulled over how best to implement her plan. Brittany seemed to be stealing covert glances at her every few seconds, so maybe she was a little interested. On one of her rolls of the dice, Santana deliberately sent them too close to the edge of the table so that she had to lean far over to retrieve them, putting her tits practically under Brit's nose. "Sorry," she said in an innocent voice.

Brittany seemed to roll her eyes a little. Okay, so maybe this wasn't working. It was all so much easier with boys. She wished she could just get her in the tent right now, because while Brit was the undisputed expert at emotional manipulation, Santana knew she could be very persuasive when it came to the physical stuff. Unfortunately, it was still too early for bed.

Making a last ditch effort to deploy her wiles, on her next turn she "accidentally" dropped one of the dice down into her cleavage. "Ughh, I'm such a klutz tonight," she groaned. She pretended to dig for it, intending to whisk it out in a sexy maneuver, but then she found she couldn't actually locate it. She stared down between her breasts, growing embarrassed under everyone's gazes, Brittany's in particular radiating skeptical boredom. "Hold on just a second." She dug some more, feeling like an idiot. Oh, come on, are you kidding me? How could it get lost in there?

"Do you want me to help?" Ariel offered. "I have small hands."

"No!" Santana told her, horrified. "I'll find it."

But she was spared any further awkwardness by Gerald hollering out, "Who thinks it's dark enough for ghost stories?"

"I do!" Ariel shouted, jumping up and knocking the game board off the table, along with all the houses, hotels, cards, and tokens. None of the girls seemed particularly concerned.

They moved over to the campfire, and Brittany sat down on the ground, crossing her legs underneath her. Santana stood for a few seconds, unsure of what to do, and then sat down next to her. She wanted to move closer, but Brit still didn't seem to have forgiven her enough for that.

"It's getting cold out here," she remarked, hoping for an invitation to cuddle. Even if it was just the platonic, audience-friendly kind.

But instead Bunny seemed to come out of nowhere, saying "Here, sweetheart," as she dropped a blanket over her shoulders, making sure to cover up her chest. Santana had a feeling she'd been waiting in the wings with the blanket for just this opportunity.

Thwarted in her plans, she said, "Thanks, Mrs..." She stopped herself. "Bunny."

She met Brittany's eyes for a second, and she was glad to see she smiled just a little before looking away. It was progress.

The night was getting cool, she hadn't just been making it up. It was quiet and almost unbelievably dark outside the small circle of light in the clearing. Every once in a while a scrap of music or a loud laugh would reach them from someone else's distant campsite, but for the most part, it was silent. The last fireflies of summer flickered on and off along the margins of the lake, and owls hooted to each other across the water. Santana found it all creepy and unbearably cliché.

Over the next hour or so, everybody listened while Gerald told nonsensical ghost stories which seemed to be mostly amalgamations of two or more different stories that didn't have anything to do with each other. None of them had much logic or coherence, but no one seemed to mind since the atmosphere aided in the spooky tone. Santana tried to contribute by narrating tales of past Lima Heights murders, though no one seemed to be quite as entertained by these as she was - with the possible exception of Bianca, who made thought-provoking observations like, "I bet he was an animal hoarder, that's why the body got eaten."

During one particularly eerie story narrated by Bunny about a haunted whole foods store, Santana thought she noticed that Brittany seemed to be inching just a little bit closer to her. She watched out of the corner of her eye, and yep, she was definitely moving in her direction. She lifted the edge of the blanket, hoping to entice her, but just then Ariel exclaimed "Daddy, will you make flashlight animals?" Brittany yawned and stretched, in the process moving away again. Apparently story time was over. Santana gritted her teeth together and tried to resist shoving the kid into the fire.

Gerald went to fetch the flashlight, but when he attempted to turn it on, nothing happened. "Hmm," he said, looking it over, as if this was a really big mystery.

"Did you buy new batteries like I told you to?" Bunny asked him.

He stared at her blankly.

She sighed. "Gerald, we have to a have a flashlight, in case anyone needs to use the bathroom in the dark."

"Well," he said, reluctantly. "I'll just have to run back up to that gas station, I guess. The sign on the door said they're open all night."

"I can do it," Santana volunteered, not needing more than a split second to think it over. Everyone looked at her, surprised by her eagerness. "I mean..." she clarified. "I feel like I haven't helped out much. I'd be glad to."

"You sure?" Gerald asked, skeptical. Gesturing toward the van, he added, "That thing's no picnic to drive."

She smiled. "Yeah, I think I can handle it." The truth was that some time alone, even half an hour, sounded wonderful. There was only so much of this family togetherness stuff that she could take. True, she'd been around her own family for months this summer, but it didn't count. They weren't really family, they were relatives. She barely even knew them, and it was clear they didn't like her. They only put up with her because her parents sent them a ton of money.

Bunny gave her the keys and she didn't waste any time in heading toward the van, promising to get the batteries as well as an extra bag of ice for the cooler. Before she could climb in, though, someone approached.

"Hey."

She turned around to find that Brittany had followed her. It was so dark this far from the campfire that her features were just barely visible.

"Hey," she said back to her, surprised.

"Do you want me to go with you?"

Santana hesitated. Of course I do. What do you think? But she got the feeling that Brit was only asking because she felt like she should, and not because she really wanted to go. Glancing back toward the fire, she noticed that the two younger girls were getting the marshmallows out, preparing to make S'mores. "That's okay," she finally said, trying to make it sound casual. "I know this is your favorite part."

Brittany looked over at the fire, and even though she didn't argue the point, she didn't seem to want to join them again quite yet either.

They stood in silence for a minute, and it felt so unnatural. Santana was beginning to think that she'd screwed up worse than ever before. It was just a stupid misunderstanding, but she could see how badly Brittany's feelings were hurt. What had she done? What could she possibly do to make it right?

"So how long are you gonna stay mad at me?" she asked, her voice deceptively light.

"I don't know," Brittany said slowly. "Not much longer, probably. But you did call me a slut."

"I didn't say that."

"Well... you said I couldn't keep it in my pants."

Santana looked down. "Oh yeah." Damn it. She just wanted this day to be over. She continued, knowing she probably shouldn't. "To be fair, though, Brit, that call did sound really bad. I mean, who talks to their cat like that?"

Brittany continued to stare at her, not saying anything. She seemed disappointed, and like she expected something, but Santana couldn't figure out what the hell it was.

"Okay, I get why you're upset. I'm just gonna go now, before I say anything else I'll regret." Without thinking, she reached out and gently turned the center bead on the necklace she'd put on Brit earlier, the one with the love symbol on it. Brittany stared down at it, and Santana drew her hand back, awkwardly. "It was backwards," she explained.

The action seemed to soften Brittany's expression a little. "Be careful," she said. "This thing is hard to drive. One time I wrecked it before I was out of the garage."

Santana smiled a little. "I will, I promise."

She watched Brittany walk back over to the group at the fire, and she stared at them all for a second from the deep shadows. They were all so happy, so at ease with each other. All of this seemed so natural to them - even Bianca, who had only known the Pierces for a few months. Why was it so much harder for her? What was wrong with her that she couldn't just enjoy this, like any normal person would? Sadly, she climbed into the driver's seat.

Gerald watched her leave, cringing as if he expected her to back into a tree at any second. They hadn't been lying, the van was absurdly hard to drive. She felt like she was navigating a tank. She kept to the middle of the road, reasoning that if anyone else was out on these dirt tracks this late at night, they'd just have to move out of her way.

Somehow, without quite knowing how she did it, she found her way back to the gas station they'd stopped at this afternoon. It took much longer than she thought it would to get there, but she was just glad she'd been able to locate it in the middle of nowhere.

In the parking lot, she walked over to the fuel tanks out of curiosity and found that the scene of the crime was intact - there was still a substantial puddle of gasoline on the pavement. She shook her head at what she considered the laziness of country people, but it gave her an idea.

Inside the convenience store, she checked to make sure the place was deserted, as she'd expected it to be this late at night, and then went straight up to the man behind the counter. Or boy, rather. He was scrawny and short and appeared to be about seventeen, and he looked her up and down with wide eyes.

She put on her best queen bitch face. "Excuse me, hi. I don't know if anyone's bothered to point it out to you yet or not, but you've got a hell of a gasoline spill over by the fuel pumps."

Reluctantly he tore his gaze away from her chest and leaned over the counter to peer through the front windows.

"Yeah, it looks like someone went apeshit out there," Santana went on. "You're lucky some yokel hasn't lit a match and blown this place to smithereens like in a Road Runner cartoon." She paused while he looked at her nervously. "See, what you've got here is a serious safety hazard. I'm a lawyer specializing in environmental issues? And I just happen to have the EPA on speed dial." As if to confirm this, she showed him her phone. "The thing is though, I really don't want to have to make that call. Because my caseload is insane right now, and that's not even including my pro bono work on the anti-show tunes bill we're about to pass in Congress. Besides," she said, crossing her arms and leaning on the counter a little, "You seem like such a nice guy, I'd hate to cause all that trouble for you..."

"I'll take care of it," he broke in, looking both worried and aroused. "Don't call anyone."

"Thank you so much, Dustin," she said, noticing his name tag. She gave him what she thought was a sweet smile, but it only seemed to intimidate him more. Oh, well. That worked too.

She watched while he hefted a bag full of sand or something onto his shoulder, then waited while he went outside and moved toward the tanks. When he was safely out of sight, she stepped behind the counter and looked for the most expensive bottle of tequila. She'd had a new idea, and it was to try to convince Brittany to let her do body shots. Because after all, how can anyone stay mad at you when you're licking something off of them? It seemed like a foolproof plan.

She chose one and slipped it into her oversize purse, purchased especially for occasions like these. Since the kid was still outside, she examined the bourbon, wondering if it was worth it to take a bottle of Jack. She already had one at home, but might as well stock up while it was free.

"Can you grab me some Wild Turkey while you're back there?"

She froze. Shit. And she'd been so sure the place was empty.

Turning around slowly, she saw a man emerging from the back of the store, near the bathroom area. It was the guy from the canoe. The skinny one who was almost cute, but not quite. He was smiling in a conspiratorial way.

She didn't smile back. "Wild Turkey is for deadbeats and trailer trash."

"Well, then, I guess I'm trailer trash," he said, not offended. If anything he looked like she'd just complimented him.

She sighed. So he was one of those guys. She considered simply telling him to go to hell, but he sort of had her backed into a corner. He'd just seen her shoplifting. If she didn't play along, he could easily rat her out. If she was alone she might have risked it, but she didn't want the Pierces to have to bail her out of the local slammer. The thought of it was humiliating. And she doubted it would do much to improve Brittany's current opinion of her.

Checking to make sure poor Dustin was still occupied with sprinkling sand on the gasoline puddle, she turned around and pulled down a bottle of Wild Turkey, then held it out to him.

But he lifted his hands up, helplessly. "I ain't got nowhere to store it. Keep it for me til we get outside?"

She rolled her eyes. Didn't it just figure? Because this day couldn't possibly get any more awesome than it already was. But she put it into her purse, hearing it clink against the other bottle. She lifted the now significantly heavier handbag onto her shoulder and came out from behind the counter.

"Where's your friend?"

"She drowned," she replied casually, looking for the aisle with the batteries.

"No shit." He was still smiling.

"Yeah, I'm all broken up about it."

Finally she found the batteries and stood in front of them, trying to figure out what the hell she was supposed to get. She'd had no idea there were so many varieties and sizes. The only ones she was intimately familiar with were double A, because that's what went in her remote control. And her vibrator.

Deciding to be on the safe side, she took one package from each slot and put it in her purse. The guy watched her, seeming impressed. When she moved over to the snack food aisle, he followed her yet again.

I shouldn't have worn this dress, she thought. Sometimes being this smokin' hot is just a pain in the ass.

"My friend Jed took off earlier," he explained to her, as if she'd asked. "Had to work tomorrow."

"Aw, that's too bad," she told him with mock sympathy. "Who are you gonna play dueling banjos with?" She grabbed some licorice and a couple of boxes of Dots for Brittany, adding them to the liquor and batteries.

"I like you," he said as he grinned at her. "You're spicy."

She pushed past him and went up to counter, just as Dustin came back in from the parking lot, looking out of breath and irritable.

"I'd like to buy a bag of ice," she told him.

"That's it?" he asked her, incredulous. "You've been in here for like ten minutes."

"Well, your stock leaves a little something to be desired. This place is like a time warp... seriously, how old are those Shasta cans? I don't even think they make that anymore."

He exhaled heavily and rang her up. "That's $1.84."

She handed him two ones, smiling. "Keep the change, Dustin. You've been so helpful."

He pocketed the sixteen cents in an ironic manner, not replying to her.

Outside the store, she looked around to find out where the guy was parked, wanting to hand over his whiskey and get out of here as fast as possible. It was like the tequila in her purse was calling to her. She hoped she'd be able to locate the salt shaker in the boxes of food at the campsite without having to explain why she wanted it. They would just have to do without the limes.

She spotted his car over on the side of the building, away from the streetlights, which explained why she hadn't seen it to begin with. Glancing behind her to make sure he was following, she headed out to it.

Once there, she reached in and pulled out the bourbon, holding it out to him. But again, he didn't take it.

"I got a better idea," he told her. "You want to party?"

She looked at him like he was crazy. "Here?"

He raised his eyebrows as if to say Why not?

"Look, Opie," she said, deciding subtlety was not going to work on this guy. "You wouldn't be able to handle partying with me, okay? I'm A-List, and you... well, you're not even on the list. So why don't you take your hillbilly whiskey and go back to your fishin' hole, and just forget you ever saw me. I know it's hard, but it'll be better for you in the long run." She set the bottle on the hood of his car and started to walk away.

"Okey-dokey!" he called after her. "I guess I'll smoke this stuff myself. It's just that it's so good, it seems a shame not to share."

Her steps slowed as she considered this. So that's what he was talking about. It had been a long time. And holy hell, it would be so nice to sleep tonight. A long, full night's sleep... which she had no doubt she was not going to get without some serious assistance. This was only Friday, and she knew the Pierces weren't planning to leave until Monday morning. That meant there were still three nights in a tent to get through.

She knew she shouldn't. She knew she really shouldn't... But now she came to a full stop, thinking. She could feel him watching her. It occurred to her that she could pretend to smoke it with him, and then just steal the bulk of it when he wasn't looking. She'd done it before.

She turned back around, having made up her mind. "Five minutes," she told him firmly. "That's it."

He smiled as if he'd expected this all along. "Ladies first," he said, opening the passenger side door for her.

She gingerly climbed into his disgusting car, some boxy late eighties model that had probably been handed over from his mom. It had wood veneer paneling on the dash and the upholstered seats had long ago been worn down and ripped nearly into oblivion. She made a face at the smell as he went around to get in on the other side, hoping the scent wouldn't cling to her dress. But she'd probably have to trash it no matter what. It already felt contaminated.

Once he was inside, he ceremoniously turned the radio on to what sounded like a country station, then took a plastic baggie out of the glove compartment. Santana waited with annoyed impatience while he rolled a joint. Of course, he wasn't prepared. And seriously, who still used rolling papers? What era was this?

"This shit's amazing," he explained to her, unaware of how much she was judging him. "Seventh generation Amsterdam." He looked over at her and then clarified. "That's in Europe."

She gave him a tight-lipped sarcastic smile, but didn't otherwise reply.

Finally, he got the damn thing lit and passed it over to her. She took a very careful drag, not wanting to inhale much. To distract him, she asked with distaste, "What is this?" referring to the song on the radio.

"It's Redneck Woman," he told her with surprise, as if it should be obvious to everyone. "What, don't tell me you never got your Gretchen Wilson on, girl."

She looked at him like he was from another planet. Taking another, deeper, hit, she held the thing out and scrutinized it. "Who told you this stuff was from Amsterdam?"

"My friend Jed. The guy from earlier."

"Yeah, well, you might not want to take Jed's advice about anything that counts, like your stock portfolio, because I'm pretty sure this was grown in some window box in Indiana. It smells like oregano."

"Does the job for me," he said, not offended. He took it back from her and inhaled deeply.

With the windows only cracked at the top, the interior of the car was rapidly filling up with smoke. It was a good thing the weed didn't seem to be strong, because otherwise there was the risk for a pretty significant contact high. But then, all of a sudden, she felt a strange sweeping upwards in her consciousness, a lightness and fuzzy heaviness at the same time. Her eyes went briefly out of focus and she leaned back against the headrest. Damn.

Noticing, the guy started to laugh at her. "You see? What'd I tell ya? Just takes a while to kick in, is all."

She found this slightly amusing, and not nearly as irritating as she should have, which definitely meant the stuff was affecting her. Another way she could tell it was working was that she was really starting to like this song. Just to be on the safe side, she reached over and turned the volume down.

He coughed a little. "So what's your name?" He passed her the blunt again, leaning too close to her.

She considered for a second. "Rachel Fabray." She took another hit and blew it out slowly. "My ancestors were famous for being both frigid and slutty at the same time." Then she laughed a little as an image swam into her mind of what Quinn and Berry's lovechild would look like. Sometimes when she was baked, she thought she caught glimpses of what it must be like in Brittany's head.

"Right on," he said, unsure what to make of this. He seemed to consider, with great effort. "You don't look much like a Rachel though."

"Thanks," she told him, passing the joint back to him. "That means a lot."

"My name's John," he told her, seeming to realize that she wasn't going to ask. "Most of my friends call me John-boy."

Of course they do, she thought.

"Where you from?" he asked her.

She sighed. This small talk thing was so unnecessary. She should really be going, anyway. If he would just put the baggie back in the glove compartment, she could distract him and then take it.

She thought for a second and considered telling him that she was from Tribeca, but she doubted he knew where it was, so there didn't seem to be any point. "Lima," she said.

"Oh yeah? I been to Lima." He paused. "Great place."

Glancing at him sideways with a deeply cynical expression, she laughed through her nose a little.

"I was just tryin' to be nice," he explained.

And then, because he apparently thought she wanted to know all about him, he went on. "I'm from Parkersburg, over in West Virginia... headed back tonight. Try to get over here to the lake every chance we get, me and Jed. There's just somethin' about being out on the water. Makes you feel alive, like you're connected to everything."

Santana surprised herself by not rolling her eyes. It was probably just the weed, but the way he'd said that sounded almost profound. Maybe he wasn't entirely inbred, after all.

"What about you?" he prodded.

"Family vacation." She didn't elaborate, or explain whose family it was.

Then, to her relief, he seemed to decide to drop the efforts at chit chat. They sat in silence. Santana stared out at the chain link fence he was parked near, the criss-crossed wires appearing to swim around and melt in her vision. She focused her gaze instead on a ridiculous-looking dreamcatcher hanging from his rearview mirror, elaborate with purple beads and feathers. But it only made her feel more disconnected from reality. She needed to get out of this car. Her plans to not actually get high had been blown to hell. She wasn't even sure she'd be able to drive without waiting a while for the effects to wear off.

The energy required to simply open the car door, however, seemed to be beyond her at the moment. She stared at the handle, and then looked at her hands in her lap, commanding them to move. But wait... there were three hands in her lap. And one of them was large and had hair on the knuckles.

"Ughh," she made a disgusted noise, taking it and pushing it back toward him. "Don't."

After a few seconds, or it could have been minutes, since time seemed to have developed a strange elastic quality, she felt something against her neck. Oh, you've got to be fucking kidding me. The guy was trying to kiss her.

"Stop it." She shrugged him off like a mosquito. "It's not gonna happen."

But then he was back, making another attempt. "I like your perfume," he muttered against her ear, his hand dipping down into her cleavage.

"That's bug spray, you idiot," she said, shoving him off of her harder this time.

He came away with something pinched between his thumb and index finger, holding it up to the dim illumination from the faraway streetlight. It was the Monopoly dice. Squinting at it, he turned it over a few times and then looked at her in confusion.

"It's a long story," she told him.

He grinned as if he thought this was the best response ever, saying, "Don't worry, I can put it back."

He reached for her chest again, but she pushed his hand away. "All right, seriously, that's enough. You don't want to piss me off, trust me. It never ends well."

"Jesus," he said in a wounded voice, finally realizing that she meant it. "I'm not really trailer trash, you know. I live in a duplex."

She tried not to laugh. It wasn't as if he was the first guy ever to pull the pity card on her. She'd once had a member of the football team try to convince her that the fact that she wouldn't give him head meant that she was racist. And he'd been white. But for some reason, maybe because her thoughts were still a little cloudy, she actually felt just a tiny bit bad about it this time. She was a bitch, but she wasn't a snob. She'd made out with plenty of poor guys before. Just look at Sam.

"Look, it's nothing personal," she assured him. And then, since her inhibitions were down and she would never see him again and it was the perfect excuse, she drew a deep breath and took the plunge. "It's just... I don't swing that way. If you catch my drift."

He looked at her like he must have misinterpreted the words, laughing a little. "What?"

"You heard me." She avoided eye contact, slightly amazed by what she'd just done.

After a few minutes of contemplating this, he asked, "You serious?"

"Yeah, I'm serious." She paused, and then plunged ahead. "In fact, that girl I was with earlier... We're together."

Even though this wasn't technically true, not yet anyway, she'd wanted to see what it felt like to say it out loud. And it felt wonderful. It was as if just by saying the words, she brought it closer to being true, to being reality. She suddenly wished Brittany was here, that she could have heard those words. She would be proud, Santana knew she would.

But now she finally looked back over at the guy, John-boy, she reminded herself with irony. And he didn't look impressed at all. He didn't look amused. He didn't even look aroused or titillated, the way she'd halfway expected he would at this information. The expression on his face was one of shock at first, and then growing disgust.

"Unbelievable," he said, shaking his head a little. "That's just sick."

"What are you talking about, you moron?" she demanded, staring at him in bewilderment. "You were leering at us earlier. You were yelling at us to make out!"

"Yeah, because we thought it'd be hot. But we didn't know you were real dykes. That's disgusting."

And there it was. She'd known it was in store for her eventually, and she'd even thought she was getting closer to being prepared for it, maybe even ready to embrace it, in some postmodern ironic sense. But she wasn't. She knew now that she hadn't been anywhere near ready for it. Because it felt like her blood had turned to ice, like all the oxygen had suddenly been sucked out of the car.

"What?" she said, though the word didn't seem to make any sound. She wasn't entirely sure she'd said it out loud.

"You heard me," he said. "Man oh man. Just when I think I seen it all." He shook his head again, thinking, seeming to grow more revolted the more he dwelt on it. "Wish someone would take the whole lot of ya and just wipe you off the face of the planet."

Feeling like she must be hallucinating, because surely no one could be that terrible, she said in a voice just barely above a whisper, "How can you really think that?"

"How can anyone not think that?" He gave her another look of contempt, and then said, "You know what, get the fuck out of my car. Go on. Now."

She heard the words, but just barely, like they were coming from the bottom of a well. She was still stunned, looking out the window behind his head with a baffled expression, and she hardly noticed when he got out of the driver's side and circled around the front of the vehicle. The next thing she knew her door was opened and she was being gripped hard around the upper arm and pulled out of the car.

The sudden blast of fresh, cool air brought her momentarily back to her senses. She yanked her arm out of his grasp and spun around, welcoming the rage that filtered through her. "Get off me!" Without thinking, she flung herself back at him, trying to scratch his face up, but he shoved her away again with easy strength.

"Are you crazy, girl?" he asked her.

"Mm-hm that's right, I am!" she shouted at him. "A crazy, deranged lesbian, and I'm from Lima Heights Adjacent! Y tu no quiero ni saber lo que pasa allĂ­!

He laughed at her. "I guess this explains why you're such a bitch, don't it? Probably just need to get laid."

She stared at him in shock, for the first time that she could recall rendered utterly speechless. She very nearly launched herself at him again, but there was some tiny self-preserving part of her brain holding her back, knowing it probably wasn't a good idea. Good God, it was hard to resist, though. If she had a weapon at her disposal she knew there'd be blood on her hands already.

"All's I can say is, you're lucky Jed ain't here," he told her now.

"Oh, yeah, and why's that?" she sneered back.

"Best if you don't know," he said, with an infuriating smile. "Let's just say he's got stronger opinions than I do."

She stared at him with revulsion. "I can't believe I was starting to think you were a normal person. It must have been the drugs."

"Sugar, I am a normal person. I'm about as normal as you get. Hardworking, love my mom, vote every election... I'm what this country's built on." He casually spit on the ground. "You're the one who's goin' to hell."

"I thought that's where I already was," she said, trying for scorn but not pulling it off very well, she knew. She felt like throwing up.

He started over toward the car door, preparing to leave. "Word of advice. You'd best be careful around here... because people won't put up with that fruity shit. Especially if you rub it in their faces."

"Oh, that's rich, coming from a guy who has a dreamcatcher hanging from his rearview mirror," she replied mockingly. "Tell me, how have you have not gotten your ass kicked yet?"

And oddly enough, this criticism seemed to ruffle him a little. "That's my girlfriend's," he said in a pointed way.

"Oh, really," she said with a smirk, not able to help herself. "Is her name Jed?"

But she regretted it instantly, because now he came back toward her, menacing, sheer hatred in his expression. She backed up a few steps but hit the chain link fence. There was no where else to go, and the entire parking lot was deserted. For perhaps the first time in her life, she wished that she was capable of keeping her damn mouth shut.

He stopped a few feet away and stared at her, and she watched him warily, hating the fact that he could see her fear. More than anything in the world, that was what she hated. He loomed over her for a few seconds, not touching her, and then seemed to force himself to turn back around. Noticing the bottle of Wild Turkey, which was still sitting on the hood of the car where she'd put it earlier, he picked it up and examined the label. He unscrewed the lid, took a long drink, and then chucked the entire bottle, hard, at her feet.

She cringed in spite of herself, the violent shattering of glass sounding appallingly loud in this empty parking lot. Whiskey splashed onto her legs and feet, and she felt a series of small, sharp stings all over her ankles and calves, like shaving cuts. She clenched her teeth together, forcing herself not to say anything, and stared at the ground, trying not to make eye contact.

Now he finally went back around to the driver's side, to her immense relief. Opening the door, he told her over the top of the car, "Why don't you go back to wherever the hell you came from, and take the other one with ya."

He got in, reversed and spun around, and she stepped away from the fence, now feeling a little bit of her familiar attitude return. Unable to keep herself from getting a parting shot in, she screamed after him, "Yeah you better leave! You don't even want to see what I'm packing!" But her voice cracked into a sob on the last words, and it sounded more like a plea than a threat.

To her horror, he backed up and pulled the car alongside her again, and for a second she thought she'd really screwed herself over now and would have to make a run for it. Where, though? To scrawny little Dustin, who she'd already pissed off?

But all the guy did was open his door and hurl her purse onto the ground at her feet - not as if he wanted to give it back to her, but as if he simply wanted to get it out of his car. It landed on its side in the puddle of bourbon, the contents spilling out everywhere.

And now he really left, tires squealing in his haste. Santana reflected, as if in a dream, that this was the second time she'd made a guy peel out of this gas station in a rage today. But could the two scenarios possibly be more different? She didn't even feel like the same person she'd been this afternoon.

Hearing the commotion, Dustin came out of the store and stood on the sidewalk, looking over at her. "Now what happened?" he asked, as if she was the bane of his existence.

She couldn't answer. After a minute he went back inside, and she stared down at the mess on the ground. Slowly, she sank down onto her knees. Trying to avoid the worst of the shattered glass, she pulled her purse toward her and began replacing the contents. The bottle of tequila was filthy, but unbroken. The batteries were all still wrapped, and she assumed they'd be okay, though she obviously didn't give a flying fuck at the moment.

Just out of reach, there was something flat and rectangle-shaped. She couldn't remember what it was. Leaning over, she pulled it to her and lifted it, angling it toward the faint light as whiskey dripped from its edges. It was the framed photograph, the one that Brittany had given her this morning. She stared down at it, noticing that the liquor had already begun to soak through into the picture. The bottoms of their white dresses were stained an ugly, faded brown color, and the stain was rising higher. She pressed the frame to her stomach, squeezing her eyes shut and trying not to lose it.

Don't you dare, she told herself. Don't you fucking dare. Not here. Not like this. He's not worth it.

She took a series of deep, shaky breaths, waiting until she felt the emotion recede. She choked it down, burying it the way she buried everything else. It would stay there, waiting, she knew. It wouldn't go away, it would just lurk out of sight. But that was okay. It was better than nothing. Because she sure as hell couldn't handle it right now.

Gently, she used the bottom of her dress to wipe the whiskey off the photograph, drying it as well as she could. Then she put it back in her purse and stood up shakily. With all the dignity she could muster, she went back to the van.

She wasn't aware of exactly how she got back to the campsite. She just drove, and somehow, mercifully, ended up there. Looking back, she would have no memory of the drive itself. It was a miracle she didn't run off the road or get lost.

When she got out of the van she immediately noticed the quiet. The fire was lower now and popped intermittently, but there were no voices. Gerald sat in a lawn chair, as if he'd been waiting up for her, but his neck was tilted back, his mouth wide open in sleep. He even snored a little. Santana glanced around and saw the two younger girls' feet sticking out of their miniature pup tent. She vaguely wondered how long she'd been gone. Everyone seemed to have gone to bed. There was no sign of Brittany.

Trying not to make any sound, she pulled the packages of batteries out and wiped the liquor off with a dish towel. Then she put the towel in her purse, because how else would she explain? She laid the batteries gently on the table, keeping an eye on Gerald to make sure he didn't wake up. It occurred to her now that she'd forgotten the ice. As absurd as it was, she felt bad about it, on top of everything else.

Quietly, she climbed into her own tent. The dim campfire and the lantern near the table provided a faint illumination through the ceiling mesh, just enough to make out vague detail. Brittany was already there, lying on her side and facing away, apparently sound asleep. Santana zipped the flap up, halfway hoping it would wake her, but she didn't move. She knew from experience that Brittany slept like the dead. Or rather with the heavy, pure sleep of young children who have no regrets and nothing troubling their consciences. Especially when she'd been more active than usual, like she had today.

Feeling like she would shatter if she didn't hear her voice, she crossed the short distance and sat down next to her, resting her hand on her arm. "Brit?" she said softly. And then she didn't know what else to say. I know you're mad at me, but I really need you right now. Please, please wake up. Please just talk to me. She couldn't say any of that out loud. Right now, she couldn't. But she'd never felt more alone in her life.

Her hand on Brittany's arm rose and fell with her deep, peaceful breathing. She concentrated on the warmth, on the rhythm, trying to let it calm her down. And suddenly, out of nowhere, Santana was hit with a realization that made her own breathing stop short for a second, that made her feel like she'd been punched in the stomach. The realization was nothing more complicated than It could have been her.

It could have been Brittany there tonight. If she'd gone instead. She could have been the one to hear that word. She could have been the one wondering why some stranger suddenly hated her. She could have been the one backed up against a fence, hoping she hadn't made the worst mistake of her life.

She jerked her hand away from Brittany's arm, as if the thought itself could be transmitted through her skin like poison. Horrified, she pulled herself backwards until she was up against the flimsy nylon wall of the tent. Her heart pounded and she felt like she couldn't get any air. All the panic that she'd managed to tamp down and ignore over the last hour threatened to come at her now and overwhelm her.

With shaking hands, she dug through her purse and pulled out the bottle of tequila. Using the hem of her dress to grip the slimy neck of it, she unscrewed the cap and in the same motion raised it to her lips and drank a deep, choked gulp. She grimaced at the awful taste, but it also came as a relief. She drank again, feeling the strong alcohol travel in a warm path down her throat and into her middle, radiating outward in calming waves. One more swallow. Almost immediately, she felt her breathing slow down, the panic receding like a river that had breached its banks and then gradually retreated.

She sat there, staring at Brittany's sleeping form through scalding tears that threatened to fall if she would only let them. But she didn't let them. Eventually she put the bottle away, tucking it deep into her purse and covering it with the ruined dish towel. Then she slowly moved back over to Brittany.

Kicking her shoes off and pulling the filthy dress over her head at the same time, she lay down next to her in just her underwear. Putting anything else on seemed like too much effort at the moment. She pressed herself up against Brittany's back, trying to steal some of her warmth, needing to feel her physical presence even if she was asleep for it.

But even without fully waking up, Brittany seemed to sense her need, because she stirred and then turned around onto her other side, flinging her arm over Santana and pulling her close. She did all this without ever opening her eyes, and immediately seemed to fall back into a deeper sleep.

Santana froze for a second, but then let herself relax, more grateful than she could possibly express. Despite her efforts, a tear slid sideways down her cheek onto the pillow. Brittany's face was just inches from hers, and she stared at her in the dim light. Her hair was unbraided and wavy, cascading over her shoulders and now over Santana's as well. Her lips smelled like marshmallows. Wanting to kiss her, but not wanting to wake her up, she settled for touching her lips delicately to the hollow of her throat, where she could feel the reassuring, steady rhythm of her heartbeat. With a tiny smile, she noticed that Brit had worn the necklace to bed.

Pressing herself as close as she could possibly get into the warmth of Brittany's body, she shut her eyes, knowing she probably wouldn't sleep. For now, it was enough just to lie here in her arms. She wished the two of them could stay this way forever, and that everyone else in the world would simply disappear.