A few notes:
*There's a vague reference in this chapter to the Rachel/Santana one-shot I wrote before this fic, since I decided to keep those events "canon" in this one. It's not necessary to read it, though. I just wanted to explain so that the mention didn't seem to come out of nowhere. All you really need to know is that Santana came out to Rachel on the last day of school and they had an actual conversation.
*In my head, Brittany's older sister Lindsey is played by Kristen Bell. I needed to picture someone who I thought Santana might believably have a crush on, and for whatever reason, that's who I kept coming back to.
*And again, because I can't say it enough, thank you so much to everyone who reviews. I'm spending a ridiculous amount of time writing this - it's a bit like being possessed. I admit I had way too much fun writing this chapter. I promise loads of Brittany/Santana quality time in the next one!
Birds were singing, but it still seemed dark. Santana squinted up through the ceiling mesh of the tent, past the thick green foliage, where she could see that the sky was a pearly gray color. She'd only managed to fall asleep about an hour ago, she estimated. But now she was awake again, and at first she thought it was the birds who were responsible. This was why trees were bad, because they gave the damn birds someplace to park themselves while they interfered with people's much-needed rest. She should have brought ear plugs.
But then she noticed the more likely reason she'd woken up, and it was that Brittany was gone. She seemed to have been gone for a while, actually, judging by the coolness of her sleeping bag. Santana sat up, and then closed her eyes against momentary dizziness. Her head had that light, buzzy feeling that comes from not getting enough sleep. She threw on some shorts and a tank top and then stuck her feet into a pair of Brittany's flip flops - she didn't think she'd be able to walk in any of her own ill-advised footwear this morning. For the first time she could remember, she didn't care what she looked like.
Outside in the campground, she could hear sounds of stirring from within the other two tents, but no one was visible yet. Grateful, since she had no desire to make small talk with them, especially after last night, she hurried toward the latrine before anyone spotted her. But Brittany wasn't there, as she'd expected her to be. Where was she, then? Out making more secret phone calls to her cat?
Bypassing the campground, she walked along the edge of the woods, looking down toward the lake. This early in the morning, a heavy mist rose up off the water, obscuring most detail. But... what was that? Was someone sitting down there? Santana stopped and tried to figure out what exactly she was looking at. Then the breeze shifted a little, parting the fog, and she could see that it was in fact Brittany, sitting cross-legged on the rocky ledge they'd sunbathed on yesterday. And she appeared to be holding a fishing pole.
Unable to help herself, Santana smiled a little. She looked around and located something approximating a path, then gingerly picked her way down to the water. "Hey," she said as she approached. "You get any bites yet?"
Brittany turned her head, happy to see her. "There's not really a hook on it," she said a little self-consciously. "I don't want to hurt any fish."
Santana nodded. In Brittany's world, fishing without a hook was a perfectly valid activity. She stood back behind her, looking out at the mist-covered lake. The sky was just beginning to turn pink as the sun rose. It would have been beautiful, if she was in any mood at all to appreciate it.
"I'm sorry I was asleep when you got back last night," Brittany told her.
"It's okay." She didn't want to talk about last night. She didn't even want to think about it.
"I tried so hard to stay awake, so we could talk. I ate extra marshmallows, for the sugar. Then I pinched myself all over. And when that didn't work, I even counted sheep."
"Actually, Brit," Santana began, as if she were trying to break the news to her gently. She moved up to stand beside her. "I think counting sheep is what you're supposed to do when you're trying to go to sleep."
Brittany shook her head, saying emphatically, "Not these sheep. You don't know 'em."
She laughed a little. "Oh."
"Santana," Brittany now said with alarm, turning all the way to the side. The expression on her face darkened with worry. "What happened to your legs?" As she said this she let go of the fishing pole and it clattered down the ledge and splashed, unheeded, into the water.
"What?" She looked down to where Brittany was staring in horror. Oh, shit. How had she not noticed this before? All over her calves and ankles were tiny cuts from the shattered glass of the whiskey bottle. From a few of them, blood had trickled down and then dried, leaving reddish-brown trails on her skin. She looked away from it, suddenly feeling sick.
Brittany stood up. She was watching her, waiting for an explanation.
"It's nothing," Santana said, making an extreme effort to sound casual and slightly embarrassed. "When I got back last night, I wasn't tired yet. So... I decided to shave my legs. You know, in case you changed your mind about the hanky-panky."
"In the dark?" Brittany looked at her in disbelief. "That's crazy. Even I wouldn't do that."
"Yeah, well... it seemed like a good idea at the time." She avoided eye contact, knowing that if Brittany kept looking at her like that, she would crack and tell her everything. And she just couldn't do it. Not yet.
Brittany was too good at reading her, though. "Is something going on?" she asked now, still giving her a searching gaze.
"No." Now she met her eyes, begging her to let it go. "But could you go get the first aid kit? Please?" she added, when Brit hesitated.
Finally, she turned to go, but not as if she was content to let the matter drop. "Yeah. I'll be right back."
Santana watched as she receded into the fog, heading back up toward the campsite, and then exhaled heavily, closing her eyes for a second. Get your ass under control, she instructed herself. You're not gonna ruin this for her. She deserves to have a great weekend. If you ever tell her about what happened, it's not going to be here.
To distract herself, she grabbed a stick and used it to pull the fishing pole back up from where it floated a few feet below in the water. She didn't want Brittany to get in trouble for losing it. Although, to be honest, it was hard to picture Gerald and Bunny being mad about much of anything.
Brittany returned, carrying the small white plastic box with the Red Cross insignia on the front of it. Santana remembered seeing it on previous camping trips, but as far as she could recall, this was the first time it had needed to be used. Leave it to her to inaugurate a brand new, shitty tradition.
She held her hand out, since Brit seemed reluctant to hand it over.
"I'll do it," Brittany told her.
"That's okay. I can do it myself."
"Santana," she said, firmly. "Sit down."
She raised her eyebrows a little, but then did as she was told. It was a tone of voice that she didn't feel like messing with.
Brittany sat beside her and dug through the box, locating antiseptic and band-aids. Her hair still hung loose and wavy, and it fell over her face as she leaned forward, obscuring her vision. Santana pushed it back behind her ear for her in a practiced motion. But somehow the intimacy of the gesture felt too raw at the moment. She wished she'd checked the impulse.
"Your hair's getting long," she remarked, trying for casualness.
"I want you to trim it for me before school starts," Brittany said, glancing up. "The lady at the salon scares me. Last time I went, she told me that my improper use of the curling iron means that I'll probably be bald before I'm thirty. I just don't need that kind of stress in my life right now."
Santana smiled. "I'll do it today if you want."
Soaking a gauze pad with peroxide, Brittany began to dab it onto the cuts, working from the top down. Santana prayed that there weren't any slivers of glass in there. How would she explain that?
"Does it sting?" Brittany asked, noticing her wince.
"A little." She waited, grimacing, then added, "Okay, a lot."
"You're such a baby." Brittany looked mildly amused, but also as if she found this cute. "Here. My mom used to do this." Leaning forward, she blew gently on the cuts that had already received antiseptic.
To Santana's surprise, the soft stream of cool air reduced the sting. She watched Brittany, grateful at least for the excuse to be so close to her. She noticed that just from their few hours in the sun yesterday, she had a smattering of very faint freckles over her nose and cheeks. She knew from past experience that they would fade as summer turned into fall, but they were adorable while they lasted.
"You're gonna make a great mom, you know." Then, hearing these words out loud, she felt her face heat up. She rolled her eyes, saying, "God, I can't believe I just said that. That was so lame."
Brittany glanced up at her, a little wistful. "No it wasn't." She dabbed on more peroxide, moving toward the left ankle, and then added without much conviction, "You'd make a good mom too."
Santana laughed a little. "You're a bad liar, Brittany."
"You just need practice."
"Well, if I can survive this whole weekend without stabbing that Bianca kid, I think I could handle just about anything."
Smiling a little, she finished up with the peroxide, not neglecting to blow on the last cuts to reduce the sting.
Santana watched her, thoughtful. "I'm really sorry about yesterday. All that stuff I said... I don't know what I was thinking. I just go loco when I think about losing you before we even..." she trailed off. "Anyway, I'm sorry."
Now Brittany began applying band-aids to the worst of the cuts. After doing the first one, she paused and stared at Santana as if she were proud of her. "Thanks. That's all I wanted you to say, you know."
Santana took a few seconds to process this. So that was what she'd been waiting for last night. "Why didn't you just tell me that?"
Brittany seemed to find this funny, but also somehow endearing. She shook her head just a tiny bit, in a You are so hopeless gesture. After a second, she said as she unwrapped another band-aid, "You're not completely crazy, though. Quinn has been calling me a lot."
Wait, what? Santana suppressed her I knew it! reaction, with a massive effort of willpower.
"But it's just because she's lonely, and she didn't have anyone else to talk to this summer. Mercedes went on vacation with her family, and... she's not really close with anyone else. She doesn't even have a cat. It's so sad."
"I know that," Santana said, shrugging slightly in an attempt at off-handedness. "I feel terrible for her." Okay, so that wasn't true at all. But sometimes she had to settle for simply imitating what she thought a decent person would say.
Luckily, before Brittany could sense the insincerity of these words, Gerald's voice came booming down from the woods. "Girls! We're leaving in ten minutes, okay? You better come and get something to eat before the munchkins hoard it all!"
"Okay, Dad!" she yelled back.
"Leaving?" Santana looked at her, trying to figure out what was going on. Had she somehow been wrong about the length of the trip? Could they possibly be going back home?
"We're hiking the Hope Furnace trail today. I told you, remember?"
"Oh, right." Damn it. "I forgot."
"Santana." Brittany examined her face, sensing opposition. "You're coming, right?"
"It's just... " she hedged. "I didn't bring the right kind of shoes for hiking."
"I knew you wouldn't. So I brought an extra pair for you."
She considered for a second, feeling bad. "That's sweet. But... I hardly slept at all last night. I feel like a zombie. And besides..." she added, going for the pity card. "My ankles are all messed up."
Brittany looked down at the band-aids. She couldn't exactly argue with that. Without more than a few seconds of hesitation, she seemed to come to a decision. "Then I'm staying here with you."
"No, Brittany." She suddenly felt a lump in her throat, and she swallowed against it, hard. Don't you even think about crying. "Look, I'm probably just gonna sleep. There's no reason for you to stay. I know how much you love these stupid hikes... and all that godawful nature stuff. I'm not gonna let you miss it just because of me."
Brittany stared at her, searching her face. She seemed to be trying to figure out whether she was telling the truth, and if she wasn't, whether it would still be better to let her have her way regardless. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely." She made her voice firm. "I'll be fine. If I can't sleep, I'll read the magazines I brought."
Brittany sighed, giving in. "Well, tonight my parents are taking the canoe and going on their private fishing trip." She gave Santana a pointed look. "So, after the girls are asleep, we'll have the whole place to ourselves. We can talk, and..." She trailed off with a shrug.
Santana was more intrigued than she wanted to admit by this open-ended "and." And what? But at the same time, the prospect of talking was a little terrifying. What did she want to talk about? Why did they always have to talk? She was afraid if she started, she'd end up losing control and spilling everything.
"Yeah," she said, nodding a little. "That sounds great."
Glancing toward the campsite, where Ariel could now be heard in the distance making vague but impatient noises to hurry everyone along, Brittany said, "I guess I'll go on up." She still seemed reluctant, but she turned to go.
"Hey." Santana stopped her. "Don't pick up any snakes, okay? In fact, don't pick up anything that's alive. If it has a pulse, you keep your pretty little mitts off of it, you hear me?"
Brittany turned back to smile at her. "I promise." Then her expression grew pensive, and as if having a quick debate with herself and deciding to act before she changed her mind, she moved toward Santana and kissed her.
Caught off guard at first, she eventually let herself close her eyes and give into it, lifting her hands up to the sides of Brittany's face, kissing her back. The entire world disappeared. She felt the tips of their tongues touch, delicately, and her knees went weak. But at the same time it was so tender and loving, not quite like anything she'd ever experienced before. Heat melted through her, but this too felt different, so much more than purely physical. Especially after what she'd gone through last night. It was like something in her had needed this more than she'd ever needed anything in her life. And somehow, Brit had known it. She always knew.
As Brittany reluctantly pulled away from her, Santana raised up just a little on her toes, wanting to make it last as long as she could, lingering on her bottom lip. As crazy as it sounded, she couldn't recall if they'd ever done this standing up before. Usually when they made out, it was on a bed, and it was part of warming up to the main act. They had so rarely just kissed each other, not this way. It was like a revelation. Apparently this is what it felt like to kiss someone you know you're in love with. Jesus Christ, no wonder people made such a big deal about it.
Santana opened her eyes, finally remembering to breathe, and looked up at Brittany with a slightly dazed, questioning, What was that for? expression. Brittany stared back into her eyes with a tiny smile, telling her without words that there didn't need to be a reason. The beams of the just-risen sun poured over her, turning her hair a coppery color.
Then, all of a sudden, Santana seemed to come back to her senses and remember where she was. Because the world hadn't disappeared after all. It was still very much present. She glanced nervously up at the woods, in the direction of the campsite. The mist had started to burn off, but it was still heavy enough to obscure most detail. Or at least she hoped so.
Seeing the direction of her gaze, Brittany's face immediately registered disappointment. "Don't worry," she said softly, sounding not angry but simply resigned. "Nobody saw."
"Brittany..." she began, feeling guilty. But she didn't know what else to say. I don't care if anybody saw? That would be a lie, and she would know it was a lie.
And the way she said it, Santana believed her. Maybe that was the worst part. To her, it really was okay. And it probably shouldn't be. I don't deserve you, she thought, not for the first time.
"We'll be back this afternoon. Try to get some sleep," Brittany said as she headed up the path into the woods. Looking back, she added, "You can borrow my sheep if you want to. Clearly they're no good to me anymore."
Santana watched her go, at war with herself, part of her wanting to just fling her instincts aside and go on the ridiculous hike. It would make Brittany so happy. It wasn't too late. But she didn't move.
After a few minutes she heard their voices fade away, and then it was too late to change her mind.
Back in the campsite, she forced herself to eat a cold pop tart, trying not to gag on it. She washed it down with one of Bianca's special chocolate milks. Not because she liked chocolate milk, but because it would drive the kid insane trying to figure out why one was missing.
The clearing was eerily quiet without anyone in it. She stood by the doused, still-smoking campfire, listening. There were no sounds from the lake or from any other campsites. Maybe it was too early. She couldn't remember ever being in a place this quiet and lonely.
She went back into the tent and made herself lie down. If she was honest, she didn't actually think she'd be able to sleep. She just hadn't wanted Brittany to have to miss the hike in order to keep her company. And she knew that just having her here would be too much of a temptation to let herself break down these still fragile emotional walls she'd erected around her fears. Those walls needed time to harden and become more secure.
Lying on her back, she flipped through a magazine. It was one of her favorites, but she couldn't seem to keep her mind on it. Somehow, knowing which boots were hot for fall didn't seem particularly relevant to her life right now. She'd never thought there'd be a day when that was the case.
She let her eyes fall shut for a second, since it was hopeless anyway and she knew she wouldn't sleep.
But then she opened them again, because that music was so annoying.
Love is but a song we sing
fears' the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
or make the angels cry
She made an irritated face. "Who's singing that?" Sitting up, she realized that she was wearing her black dress from the Nationals competition. Which was strange, because she didn't even remember bringing it, but it didn't seem worth thinking about.
The tent had changed color. It was hot pink now, and looked like the inside of somebody's backpack. She struggled with the zipper, but then she realized the zipper was only a decoy, because there was a latch on the inside of the tent flap like a car door. She pulled it, and the flap opened outward. But the opening seemed tiny, like a rabbit hole.
Taking a deep breath, she climbed through the doorway, trying not to rip her dress, and then stood up and stared around the campground. It was full of people. But not just any people, she saw, looking closer. New Directions. They were ranged around the clearing, some of them by the campfire, some a few yards away from it, most of them singing that ridiculous song while Puck and Artie played guitars.
Come on people now
Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now
She shook her head at the cheesiness of it all. And why the hell were they even here?
Then she noticed a banner hanging from the trees, the letters painted on in glitter and accentuated with gold stars.
Lake Hope Show Choir Extravaganza, Copyright 1996
But I don't even remember rehearsing for that, she thought to herself. Mr. Shue is such a shitty teacher.
It didn't seem all that important, though. What seemed important, more than anything, was finding Brittany. Because she didn't seem to be in the clearing with all the others. Where was she? Santana felt like she should know the answer, but she couldn't quite remember it. The urge to find her was overpowering. She needed to see her, right now.
But then she was distracted from her thoughts by an irritating tapping sound. Looking over to her right, she saw that where Gerald and Bunny's tent had been, there was now a tiny stage. Bianca was on it, wearing a ballet tutu, doing a clumsy dance. And Rachel seemed to be coaching her.
"Chin up!" she instructed her in a loud voice. "Always remember that there's an inverse ratio between how much your tap shoes pinch and how much you need to smile. Memorize this little rhyme - No pain, no trophies."
"That doesn't rhyme," Bianca said.
"Don't argue with me!"
Santana walked over to them slowly. "Berry, what the hell are you doing?"
"Oh, hello Santana," she said distractedly. "Bianca and I were just rehearsing our number for your coming out party. I know it may be a while, but good performances require time. Take five," she told the girl.
Then she took Santana's arm and led her away from the stage a little, gesturing wildly with her hand as she described. "I thought we'd do a medley; first a show tune, nothing too on the nose, because that might come off as ironic... and you know how I feel about irony. Then we'll transition into a ballad where everyone sings along, and you cry a little because you realize we actually care about you. Then we'll end with something jaunty and upbeat, maybe... Randy Newman, I haven't decided yet. Oh and then of course a big finish with balloons and sparklers in the shape of a rainbow!" She stopped and smiled expectantly.
"What?" Santana asked, horrified. "No... I don't want any of that. And besides..." she glanced around the campground and lowered her voice. "I thought I told you to keep your yap shut about this."
"Oh, her?" Rachel asked, looking at Bianca. "I didn't have to tell her, I think she already knew. She's very wise for her age. Much like me when I was a child."
Bianca nodded. "It's true, I am."
Santana rolled her eyes. "Oh please." She didn't have time for this. "Look, do you know where Brittany is?"
"No," Rachel said, and then a slightly worried look crossed her face. "Gosh, I hope she didn't find out about those messages you sent me."
"What are you talking about?"
"Oh, nothing really. It's just that last year when you got home from my party I received a series of very inappropriate drunk texts. At first I thought it was the alcohol that was making me hallucinate, but... I didn't even know some of those words."
Simultaneously, Santana thought There's no way in hell, but also Oh shit, I kinda remember that.
"What did they say?" she asked, alarmed.
"I'd rather not go into the specifics," Rachel said evasively. "Suffice it to say that I was terrified at first, but then... strangely flattered."
Mortified, Santana checked to make sure no one had overheard this. She had to remember to make Brittany hide her phone the next time she was drinking. With a low, threatening voice, she said, "You better not tell anybody about this, Gidget. Or I will sever your vocal cords with my fingernails."
Rachel examined her hands skeptically, thinking this over. "Santana, do you really think your nails are long enough for that?" But then, off the expression on her face, she smiled and amended this to, "Duly noted." As Santana walked away, she went back to coaching Bianca. "Five six seven eight! Good... Now smile!"
The irritating noise of Rachel's voice faded away behind her as she approached the campfire. Puckerman had at some point ditched his guitar, and was now lifting weights. "Sup, chica," he said, lifting his chin at her. "Just workin' on my guns." He pivoted his hand around in a circle, gripping what looked like a five-pound iron weight, and then transferred it to his left hand and gripped his right hand into a fist. "My lady likes me to have super strong wrists."
Santana made a grossed-out face. "Wanky."
She took a few steps further and discovered that Tina was now strumming an acoustic guitar, and doing a surprisingly good job at it. Santana looked down at her, puzzled. "I didn't know you could play the guitar."
"Neither did I," she said, staring down at her fingers with confusion. She looked up at Santana. "So much about me is still a mystery." Mike patted her on the back consolingly.
Santana tried to think how to reply to this in a way that wasn't insulting, but she was distracted by a rhythmic thumping sound. She looked over to her left and noticed Artie, methodically ramming his wheelchair into one of the large stones placed around the perimeter of the campfire. He looked depressed.
She went over to him and crouched down. "Artie, hey. Have you seen Brittany?"
"No, I haven't seen Brittany," he said in a pointed way, obviously annoyed with her. "I never see Brittany anymore, thanks to you."
"Oh, spare me the pity party, it's not my fault you called her stupid." She sniffed, looking around. "What's that smell?"
He made his voice sound exaggeratedly pathetic. "Somebody slushied me earlier, and I'm pretty sure the cup had gasoline in it."
"That's horrible." Santana avoided making eye contact, keeping her voice innocent. "Who would do something like that?"
Artie continued to stare at her with melancholy accusation.
"Santana!" someone shouted. She stood up and turned around to find Mercedes charging at her like a raging bull. "Girl, I know you haven't been stealing my shoes. I don't even want to have to get in the ring with you again, because I will break you like a twig."
"Whoa, how 'bout you take the drama down a notch, Mo'Nique, because I don't even think we wear the same size. I mean no offense, but you have man feet."
"Then what the hell are these?" She held up the platform clogs with the gold straps, putting her hand on her hip and raising her eyebrows.
With a straight face, Santana told her, "I've never seen those before in my life."
Suddenly Finn ran into the clearing, out of breath and looking even more dopey than usual. "Guys! Um, we've got a little problem. I was just going out in the woods to..." He paused, looking shifty. "Meditate."
"Right hand or left?" Santana asked him.
"Right," he said quickly. "Wait, what?" He looked confused, then shook it off and went on. "Anyway, I heard this weird noise, like somebody left a chainsaw on, so I went to investigate and... It's bad." He waited a beat. "Lauren's wedged in the latrine. She can't get out."
"Aw, man," Puck said, looking guilty. "She has been gone a while. I thought she was just taking an extra long crap."
"Does anybody have a crowbar?" Finn asked.
"I've got one," said Sam, stepping forward with a cartoonishly large bar of metal.
Santana glanced to the side at him. "Where did you come from?"
"I've been here the whole time," he told her. "You just didn't notice me. Like usual."
"Let's go!" Finn said, sounding like a he was leading a rescue posse on some cheesy kids' TV show. The boys took off down the path, followed by Mercedes and Tina pushing Artie's wheelchair over the uneven ground, nearly tipping him over in their haste.
Rachel was standing on the stage, lecturing the departing club in a loud voice, "Everybody stay calm! After all, we want to look dignified and professional when we're on the evening news following what is sure to be a dramatic rescue." She smoothed her hair down, then pointed her finger and commanded, "Bianca, grab those sparklers!" Then the two of them took off with the rest of the group.
Santana took a few steps after them, not because she wanted to help, but because the prospect of Zizes getting pried from an outhouse with a crowbar sounded too hilarious to be missed. But then she stopped, remembering there was something else she was supposed to be doing. What was it? Oh yeah, Brittany. Find Brittany.
She retraced her steps back to the campsite, and now became aware of Blaine and Kurt, over at the portable table with their backs to her. They appeared to be making hamburgers. She approached them, taking note of Blaine's ridiculously elaborate uniform blazer. Why is there a freaking Warbler here anyway?
He turned to her with a debonair smile. "I'm everywhere now. You'd better get used to me."
She gave him a funny look, thinking Did I say that out loud?
"No," he told her.
"Santana," Kurt said in a chipper voice. "Just the person I wanted to see. We need a woman's opinion."
She squeezed between them and looked down at the table. They weren't making hamburgers after all, she now realized, they were making... hats. Tiny, fancy hats. The table was piled with them. "What is this?" she asked.
"They're raccoon fedoras," Kurt said, as if it should be obvious. "Apparently they're all the rage for the fall season." He lifted one that was made of felt and had a feather sticking out of it, modeling it on his own head. "I call this one Robin Hood Chic. What do you think?"
"It's good, Kurt. Really good," she said, not wanting to hurt his feelings. "Listen, I'm trying to find Brittany, and none of these losers have seen her."
"Oh," he said, looking back down at the hats, compressing his lips. "So you haven't heard."
He acted as if he didn't want to say. "Quinn took her to look for seashells."
"Seashells," Santana repeated. "But this is a lake."
Kurt looked amused. "Yes, but.. it is Brittany we're talking about."
"That's true," Blaine said, as he looked at Kurt and laughed.
"Oh shut up Hogwarts, you don't even know her," Santana told him, pissed.
"Speak of the she-devils," Kurt said, angling his chin toward the slope down to the lake. "There they are now."
Santana moved out from behind the table and over to the tree line to get a closer look. She stared in shock at the water's edge, where Quinn and Brittany were ambling along, both of them squeezed underneath one giant beach towel. I was right, she told herself. I fucking knew it. This is so typical.
Suddenly, Quinn lifted her hand high above her head, and Santana could see something glinting in the sunlight, something turquoise and red. It was Brittany's necklace, the one she'd bought her in Puerto Rico. Quinn gave a tiny jump as she hurled the thing out into the water as far as she could. "Go get it!" she told Brittany excitedly.
Brittany frowned, looking reluctant, but then waded out into the water and swam toward the necklace.
"Good girl!" Quinn said. She patted her knees like she was calling a dog. "Now bring it back!"
That bitch, Santana thought, outraged. How dare she make Brittany fetch?
But now she noticed something farther out in the water, a speck that had gradually grown larger and was moving toward Brittany. It was a canoe. A canoe with two men in it.
She felt her stomach clench in fear. "No," she whispered to herself. "Oh God, no."
One of the men, the skinny one that she recognized all too well, was leaning over the edge. She could hear his voice clearly, even though he was much too far away for that. "You need some help there? Come on in, girl, we got room for more!"
"Brittany, don't!" she shouted. But she didn't seem to hear her. She began to swim toward the canoe, as if grateful for a ride.
Santana frantically fought her way through brush and weeds to get down to the water's edge. She felt like she was moving through syrup. "Brittany!" she yelled again. She looked over at Quinn, distraught. "This is all your fault! Help me, damn it!"
Quinn was standing with her arms crossed, looking unconcerned and a trifle pitying. "You can't protect her, you know. You can't even protect yourself."
Santana looked back out over the water. The canoe was just a few feet from Brittany now, and the guy was reaching his hand out, preparing to pull her in. Santana started to wade out, desperate to stop her, but then she remembered what a terrible swimmer she was. She turned around and ran back up toward the campsite, the distance seeming to stretch out and recede before her. Somebody had to help. For God's sake, wouldn't somebody help her?
"Kurt!" she yelled.
But he was gone. So was Blaine.
In fact, the table itself wasn't there. There was nothing in the clearing at all. No stage. No tents. No campfire. It was empty, as if no one had ever been there.
She stood there, utterly alone, feeling her breathing become labored and panicky. It sounded like a jet liner in her ears. Otherwise the campsite was silent. Even the birds had stopped singing. What do I do? she asked herself. What the hell do I do?
And then... from out of nowhere...
There you rest
With all the rest
Of my accessories
On my nightstand.
She glanced around in all directions, bewildered. Where was that music coming from? "Rachel?" she called out. She would be glad to see any familiar face right now. Anyone at all.
You're red or yellow
and like a good fellow
Sometimes you get lost in my mess
She closed her eyes to concentrate, trying to pinpoint the location.
But when she opened them, she was inside her tent, staring at the ceiling. She took a deep breath and let it out, immensely relieved. It wasn't real. It wasn't real, which meant that Brittany was fine. It had all been a dream. Still, it took a few seconds for her heart rate to return to normal. I knew it wasn't real, she lied to herself. I knew it was a dream the whole time. There's no way Mercedes knows I took those shoes. She forced herself not to think about the last part of the dream, about what it meant.
That stupid song, though. It was still playing. What the hell?
But when schoolgirl pigtails won't do
and I need to control my do
Baffled, she poked her head out of the tent. The music had a tinny quality and sounded recorded. Santana followed it over to the table where they'd played Monopoly the night before. Crouching down, she saw Brittany's phone lying on the ground underneath a canvas lawn chair.
You're the only one I can count on
You're my headband...
"Oh, Brit," she muttered to herself, making a face. "Is this seriously your ring tone?"
She picked it up and hesitated, not knowing whether to answer it or not. From the phone now came Brittany's voice, saying, "Sing it again."
"I have to get to class, Brittany!"
"Just one more time."
Then a distinctively dramatic Rachel Berry sigh, followed by...
There you rest
With all the rest
That settled it. Santana couldn't listen to another round. She glanced at the screen, but the number was listed as unavailable. She turned it on, hoping that it wasn't that damn cat somehow calling Brittany back. Raising the phone to her ear, she listened without saying anything, halfway expecting to hear a meow.
But instead, someone spoke.
"Brittany? You there, sweetie?"
The voice was female, and familiar. Santana's eyes and mouth went wide with shock.
"Is that you, Fabray?" She stood up and felt ghetto swagger filter through her body like a drug. For the first time in days, she felt like herself again. This was exactly what she needed.
"Listen, I think you and me? ...needs to have ourselves a little pow-wow. I have three words for you. Locker. Room. Shower. Ring any bells, Princess?"
Silence on the other end. Santana nodded, Mm-hm. That's what I thought. Satisfied, she went on.
"Okay, so maybe you just want to be friends with Brittany, maybe you're lonely after losing your man to the oompa-loompa, again. Fine, I get that. And I'll tell you what, this year the three of us can all hang out like in days of yore and have ourselves a swell old time. But if you think you can sneak around and cozy up to Brit behind my back, then maybe our sordid little blast from the cheerleading past needs to get some press, and I'm talking Jewfro style. Because for some crazy reason I'm just not that good at keeping secrets when I'm all het up about losing my girl. Are we clear?" She waited, but there was no response. "Hello?"
"Who the hell is this?" The voice sounded not so much shocked as amused.
Puzzled, she said as if it should be obvious, "It's Santana." Damn, how many gay locker room trysts had Quinn had?
"Ahh, Lopez. So you're still around, huh? Still BFFs, soulmates, friends with benefits, all that goopy shiz?"
"Who's this?" she demanded, alarmed now.
Santana froze in horror, then sank down onto the cooler, closing her eyes in absolute mortification. Oh, no. No no no no. What the fuck is wrong with me? WHY DO I KEEP DOING THIS? She had a split second of hoping this was still part of the dream, that it wasn't real, but she knew she wasn't that lucky.
"Hi Lindsey." She attempted to sound normal, probably not succeeding very well. "I thought you were someone else."
"Yeah, I kinda gathered that." She waited, as if she were thinking. "Fabray's the one who got knocked up, right?"
"Hm. Interesting." Then her voice turned brisk, already bored with this conversation. "Anyway, where's my sister?"
"She's..." Santana stopped. Where was Brittany again? The effects of her dream were still lingering, playing tricks with her memory. "They're all on a hike."
"A hike? You mean like for a disease or a tsunami or something?"
"No, a real hike. In the woods. We're at the stupid lake."
"Oh, God, is it Labor Day weekend already?" Lindsey sounded truly surprised. "You know what they say, time really flies when you're tranq darting zebras." She sighed heavily. "Well, this just frakking figures. The only time in six months I've been able to call, and no one's at home, my parents don't believe in cell phones, and Brittany can't seem to keep track of hers. I swear, I wish they'd just get Ariel one. She's the most responsible person in the family."
"Sorry," Santana told her. Now that she was getting over her initial humiliation, she was actually enjoying listening to Lindsey talk. It had been so long since she'd heard her voice. She felt her childhood crush reasserting itself.
"Well, that's that," she said with a tone of finality. "Tell 'em I called, I guess."
"Wait," Santana said. She didn't want her to hang up yet. Trying to think of a normal topic for small talk, she asked, "How's Africa?"
"It's great. It's pretty much the opposite of Lima in every way, which is exactly what I signed up for." Then she paused, and seemed to resign herself to returning the gesture. "How are things there? You still Head Cheerio?"
"No," Santana said with a roll of her eyes. Every time she thought about it she got pissed all over again. "But we're not even in Cheerios. Brittany and I both quit."
"Yeah. We're... focusing on show choir now." Then she cringed, because she had never realized just how pathetic that sounded until this moment.
But Lindsey seemed to approve. "Well, good. I'm glad. You know what, I hope Sue Sylvester dies in a fiery plane crash. That woman is evil incarnate. Actually, scratch that... I hope she doesn't die. I hope the plane crashes and she gets stranded on some Andean mountaintop, and she has to eat her own legs before she dies."
Santana listened, impressed. She'd forgotten that Lindsey was kind of a bitch. It was probably why she'd always seen her as such a role model.
She went on. "You know, I still have nightmares about the time she tried to launch me onto the football field from a catapult... a real medieval catapult. And it was just recently that my colon finally healed from that master cleanse stuff she used to make us drink. Do you know what it's like to have diarrhea for seven years, Santana?"
"No," she said, making a horrified face. "God." But despite the weirdness of the revelation, she was also thinking, Lindsey just said my name. She actually freaking said my name.
"Well, that's the Cheerios legacy. Be damn thankful you got out when you did."
"I thought you loved being in cheerleading," Santana told her.
"Nobody loves it," Lindsey said with conviction. "Not at McKinley. You just do it because it's what hot, popular girls are supposed to do. And it's what lets you stay on top."
"Yeah, well I'm pretty sure our days of being on top are over." She didn't elaborate that this, for her, was true for more reasons than just being out of Cheerios. "Whatever. I don't give a shit," she said, trying to sound worldly and sophisticated. "I'm ditching this Loserville as soon as I can, anyway. I'm moving to New York as soon as I graduate." She waited, a little surprised she'd said these words. The idea had only been half formed in her mind. But hearing it out loud made it sound so real, like something she could actually do.
"Rock on," Lindsey said. "I can see you there."
Emboldened by her support, Santana added, "I'll probably be a singer or something. Not the lame Broadway kind, but like... a real singer. Maybe I'll perform in clubs to start with... I'm not gonna take my dad's money anymore. Britts and I can manage on our own. I mean, the tips I'll get from sheer sex appeal alone would probably pay the rent."
Lindsey was quiet for a minute. "You think Brittany will go with you?"
"Well, yeah." The unspoken implication was Duh.
"Has she said she would?"
"No, but... we haven't really talked about it yet."
"Don't take this the wrong way. It's just that... I can't really picture her in the big city. I think she'd feel lost there. She's a small-town girl. She wants to be where everybody knows her name... and they're always glad she came."
Santana made a confused face. "Isn't that the Cheers theme song?"
Lindsey sighed. "Yeah, it's like the only show we get over here. I've seen every episode about twelve times."
"Well, I think you're wrong about Brittany. She's braver than you think she is."
"Maybe you're right. I mean, look at me. You think everyone didn't think I was insane when I announced I was joining the Peace Corps and going to Africa? Head Cheerio Lindsey Pierce, handing out mosquito nets in the jungle? The Homecoming Queen, getting her hands dirty on a game preserve? Nobody thought I could do it."
Unable to help herself, Santana said, "I thought you lost Homecoming Queen to that Danish foreign exchange student."
Lindsey was quiet for a second, and when she answered she sounded annoyed. "There were some issues of voter fraud. The Danes are tricky, don't ever forget that. Look, the point is, I did it. I'm thousands of miles away from Ohio, and I love it. I'm thinking about signing up for another stint. You can do it too. You just need to get out of your comfort zone."
Santana thought about this. "I don't think I have a comfort zone."
"Then that makes it even easier to leave, doesn't it?" She paused. "The truth is, I never really felt like I fit in there. I love my family, they're the most amazing people in the world... but sometimes I felt like I must have been switched at birth. They're so mellow, you know? They're so happy with the world, just the way it is. I wish I could be like that, but I can't."
"I know what you mean," Santana told her. Truer words were never spoken.
"I didn't belong in Lima. And I don't think you belong there either." Then, in a philosophical voice, she added, "It's like Norm said to Sam in season 2, episode 14. 'Terrorists have taken over my stomach, Sam. And they're demanding beer.'"
Santana tried her best to make sense out of this, but then gave up. "I have no idea what that means."
"Yeah, me neither." Lindsey sounded morose. "I really miss HBO."
Santana was quiet for a minute. She wanted to tell her how much the encouragement meant to her, how the mere fact that even one other person knew about her plan and thought that she could pull it off made her feel like she actually had a shot. But she was so hopeless at thanking people.
"Anyway," Lindsey now said, in a tone of finality. "Tell my family I'm sorry I didn't get to talk to them. I wish I could be there. As much as I hate Ohio, I do miss the camping trip. It was the best part of the year. And give Brittany a kiss for me," she added. "No tongue, though. Do that on your own time."
Santana smiled. "Got it." She wasn't sure exactly how Lindsey knew, but to her surprise, she wasn't bothered by it. Maybe because she was on the other side of the world.
In the background, there now came a loud trumpeting sound, followed by someone, a man, speaking a foreign language in a placating tone. Then another, angrier trumpeting sound.
"Oh, boy," Lindsey said. "I gotta go. I'm about to help collect semen from an elephant."
Santana wrinkled her nose, thinking about this. Unable to resist, she asked, "How?"
"It's like the world's biggest hand job, you don't even want to know."
"Well..." she said, knowing she had to let her hang up now. "It was really good to talk to you." Lindsey probably had no idea how much she meant those words.
"Yeah," she said, in a tone of voice that indicated she was surprised that she agreed. "And hey, good luck with your little love triangle situation."
"It's not actually..." Santana began, but then gave up. What was the point? "Thanks."
She hung up and turned the phone off for good measure, just in case anyone else tried to call. She already feared she'd have My Headband stuck in her head for the remainder of the camping trip.
Still sitting on the cooler, she looked around the clearing. She didn't know how long she'd been asleep, but it seemed to be about noon. There were now vague noises coming from other parts of the park, happy sounds of people swimming and having fun, doing what you're supposed to do on a vacation. Santana stared at the van longingly. What if I just took it and went home? she thought. Then I could pay someone to bring it back to them. Someone who has no life and nothing else to do. Like Mr. Shuester.
But thinking about driving the van brought back memories of last night, and she looked away from it, shuddering. She gave up her escape plans. It wasn't like she could really do it anyway. But she hated the fact that seemingly innocent thoughts (or at least innocent by her standards) were now tainted by that nightmarish scene at the gas station. How was she supposed to keep it buried when it kept popping back out at her?
Standing up, she decided to find something for lunch. She'd drink another one of Bianca's chocolate milks. That would make her feel better.
At some point during the long and solitary afternoon, without even trying to, she must have fallen back asleep. Because when she woke up for the second time, Brittany was in the tent, sitting next to her. "Hey," she said quietly.
Santana sat up, relieved to see her back. "Hi." Her voice sounded froggy with sleep.
And then, because she must have been sleeping very heavily this time and she couldn't quite seem to shake it off, she leaned her head forward onto Brittany's shoulder, pressing herself up against her. This day had been so weird. She had the sudden, overwhelming need to get her cuddle on. Since she wasn't awake enough to have her guard up yet, she simply went with the impulse.
Brittany wrapped her arms around her back, a little surprised, but pleased.
Murmuring almost incomprehensibly into her neck, Santana said, "I'm so glad you're back. Rachel wouldn't shut her trap... and I bitched out your sister for trying to steal you... and there were raccoon hats." She stopped, considering all this. "Part of that may have been a dream." She nuzzled into Brittany's skin, giving up on figuring it out for the time being. "How was your hike?"
"It was awesome," Brittany said. "I saw two lizards. I didn't pick 'em up, though, I swear."
"Good," Santana said. She seemed to be drifting back toward sleep.
"But I really wanted to. One of them had a mohawk."
"Of course it did." Still sounding groggy, Santana muttered against her shoulder, "Did they get Lauren out of the latrine?"
Brittany kept her arms around her, smoothing her hair down in the back. Over her shoulder, she made a perplexed, musing face as she thought about this. "I don't know what that means," she said finally. She kissed her on the cheek.
"But I think I need to make you some coffee."