Again, I'm sorry for the lateness of this update. It's so long, I probably should have split it in two, but it might be confusing to post two chapters in one update, so I'll just leave it as-is.
The only thing I feel like I should note about this one is that the church sign Santana sees toward the middle of the chapter is a real church sign that recently got some press in Ohio. I didn't make that shit up... I only wish I had.
More than anything else, I just want to say thank you, again, to everyone who has reviewed over the course of this story. I had no idea when I started it that there would be so many readers (now I'm wishing I'd plotted it to be a little longer, but a camping trip story is limited by its very nature.) I'm actually sad this is the last chapter, and I know I'm going to miss writing it. Some have asked if I plan to start something else, and I have no current ideas in mind, but I doubt I'll be able to hold off too long. I don't know what it'll be, but Brittana has gotten under my skin. I'm addicted to them!
I added my tumblr link to my profile, so anything I write will be linked from there, and I also hope some of you will consider coming over to the Brittana thread on Glee-forum. It's an amazing group, and we love new people!
Once again, thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart. This has really meant a lot to me.
What the hell is under my sleeping bag?
Santana attempted to roll over and dislodge whatever it was that was keeping her from stretching out, but it didn't move. She opened her eyes, blinking in the gray morning light, and was confused to find herself looking not through the mesh ceiling of her tent, or any tent for that matter, but straight up into the trees.
Oh, shit. It all came rushing back to her, and now she realized why her back and neck ached, why it felt like she'd been sleeping on a log all night. Because she had been sleeping on a log all night.
Annoyed with herself, she groaned a little, trying to stretch, and it was only then that she realized she had an audience. She froze. Brittany's parents were sitting in canvas chairs on the other side of the now smoldering campfire, drinking coffee from steaming mugs. They smiled at her.
"Good morning, sweetheart," Bunny said.
"Hi," she said awkwardly, sitting up. Alarmed, she glanced down at Brittany, and was glad to see she was facing the other direction. So at least they hadn't been all over each other. But still...
"Decided to stay out under the stars, huh?" Gerald asked.
"Yeah," she said, grasping onto the explanation he offered. "It was just so nice out. And also, I forgot that I'm a little claustrophobic." She inwardly cringed as soon as the words left her mouth. Wow, that sounded stupid. A little claustrophobic?
But Gerald only nodded and sipped at his coffee. "I used to know a good joke about claustrophobia." He considered. "Or maybe it was cluster bombs."
Santana looked down at Brittany again and nudged her a little. She wanted someone to help take the spotlight off her. "Hey.. wake up."
"Feline gingivitis for two hundred," Brittany muttered, not opening her eyes.
Santana gave her a strange look, but decided to let her sleep a little longer. She started to pull herself out from under the quilt, but then she realized that her jeans were still undone. Oh my God.
Gerald and Bunny were watching her with a bemused sort of affection. In order to distract them, she asked, "How was your fishing trip?" Underneath the blanket, she tried to button her pants with as little movement as possible. It now seemed like a blessing in disguise that they'd been in too much of a hurry to undress.
"It was lovely," Bunny said, trading a flirtatious smile with her husband. "We used organic bait and navigated by the stars. We only got lost three times. Didn't catch anything, though."
"Well, maybe next time," she said, using the words to mask the sound of her zipper going up. What would they think if they knew who'd pulled it down? She felt her face get warm just thinking about it.
A light breeze picked up, rustling the leaves around the campsite, and there was a distant rumble of thunder. Now she realized that it wasn't just dark because it was early. The sky hung low and gray with the threat of storms. Great. Why not?
Bunny stretched and stood up. "Guess I better get breakfast started, just in case Mother Nature comes calling." Then she seemed to realize how this sounded and she amended, "I mean rain, not... you know." She raised her eyebrows at Santana. "Do you want to help, honey?"
"Um." Santana looked around, hoping an excuse would come to her, or that Brit would wake up and rescue her, but no such luck. It was too hard to say no to Mrs. Pierce. She was just so freaking nice. "Okay."
Fifteen minutes later, she found herself standing over a barbecue grill with a skillet balanced on it, pushing a mixture of eggs and milk around with a spatula. So this was how they got scrambled. She'd had no idea.
From this opposite side of the campsite, she'd been keeping a close eye on Brittany. She was awake and up now, dressed and back from the latrine, chatting with her dad. She still hadn't spoken to her, but they'd been exchanging meaningful glances, even a coy little wave. Of course, this was not exactly the way she'd wanted things to go. Santana wished they could have woken up slowly and just lay there together for a while. But there were too many other people around. How were you supposed to have post-coital romance with parents and second graders in the picture? Maybe if they'd gone into the damn tent like they were supposed to...
"Morning," Brittany said, finally getting a chance to slip away from her family and come over to Santana.
They smiled at each other a little shyly, thinking about last night.
"I really thought I could stay awake," Santana said in an apologetic way. "I don't know what happened."
"It's okay. I like sleeping outside."
They smiled at each other again, and Santana bit her lip, looking back down at the skillet. Okay, this was stupid. It wasn't like they'd never had sex before. Why did it feel like the first time?
"So, check it out," she said as she indicated her cooking. "Huevos, Lopez style."
"Santana. Those are eggs." Brittany's tone of voice said Nice try.
She thought about explaining, but it didn't seem worth it. "You're right." She looked over at Gerald and Bunny, who were attempting to make toast on the remains of the campfire. "Hey, can I ask you something? Do you think your parents know?" She paused, then elaborated, "About us?"
"No. Not that I know of."
"It's just that they were giving me this look when I woke up." She scraped the spatula across the bottom of the pan, watching as the liquid magically started to form lumps. "I don't know... it was weird."
The truth was, she found herself almost hoping that they did know. She couldn't believe it, but there was a part of her that wanted them to figure things out on their own, and to still be okay with it. But what were the chances of everything going that smoothly? For her, approximately zero percent.
"Well, I didn't tell 'em, if that's what you're asking," Brittany said. "Besides, I'm pretty sure they think I'm still a virgin."
"Brittany, come on." Who was she kidding?
"Well, in their defense, I thought I was too until just recently. It turns out that word doesn't mean what I thought it meant."
Santana shook her head. She wasn't touching that one. She didn't even want to know.
Now Brittany kicked at the dirt, looking over toward the tent and then back at the ground again. She sighed heavily, sounding annoyed, which was unusual coming from her.
It was obvious she didn't want to say. But eventually she mumbled, "Do you have any tampons with you?"
Santana couldn't resist laughing at her a little. So that was it. She told her in a teasing tone, "I thought you liked surprises."
Brittany shrugged, still looking irritable. "Yes or no."
"I think I have an emergency backup in my purse. Hold on."
"I can get it," Brittany said, stopping her. "You're doing such a good job."
Santana looked down at the skillet as Brit walked away, pleased with herself. She was doing a kickass job. These were going to be the best eggs the Pierces had ever tasted. Who knew it was as simple as pushing a spatula back and forth? She could even make them at home and impress Mildred the cleaning lady with how self-sufficient she was.
She was still fantasizing about how proud Mildred would be when Brittany climbed back out of the tent, an odd expression on her face.
"Did you find it?" Santana asked her.
"Yeah." She held it up, and then proceeded to wipe the outer plastic wrapping off with her shirt tail, saying at the same time in a low voice so that her parents wouldn't overhear, "But... here's a weird question for you. Why is everything in your purse soaked in whiskey?"
She stopped stirring the eggs. Son of a bitch. She'd forgotten all about that. Not about what had happened, obviously, but about the fact that she was still carrying around the evidence with her. And she'd just sent Brittany directly to it. Now the smell came wafting toward her, probably from Brit's hands, and she felt a stab of nausea.
"I don't know," she said, making a bad effort at sounding surprised. "Maybe that bottle I have in there got broken."
"That bottle of tequila?" Brittany asked. "No, it's fine. And also, it has tequila in it. Not whiskey." Her tone said How stupid do you think I am?
"I don't know what to tell you, Brittany," she said in an evasive way, feeling like she was being interrogated. "But I promise I'll get that picture fixed. There's a guy on my street who specializes in liquor damage. He can restore anything, good as new."
"I'm not worried about the picture. I'm worried about you. You're hiding something, I know you are."
"Look, it's not that big of a deal, okay?" The words were louder than she'd intended, and she said in a quieter voice, "Stop being such a drama queen about it." She gave her a pleading look, begging her to let it go.
Brittany continued to stare at her, disappointed. The honeymoon vibe they'd had going on just five minutes ago had evaporated into thin air. Even though she knew it was her fault, Santana was irrationally pissed at Brittany for ruining it.
"You're burning those."
She followed Brit's gaze down to the skillet, and then swore under her breath as she yanked it off the heat. The eggs were scorched and stuck to the bottom of the pan. Well, so much for that.
"Oh, sweetie!" Bunny suddenly rushed over, taking it from her. "I think they're done."
"Sorry," Santana muttered.
"Don't you worry about it!" Bunny said with loud, exaggerated cheer. "We love dark eggs, don't we girls? More flavor that way!"
Ariel wandered over and peered into the skillet. She stuck her pinky in her mouth, not answering. Bianca smiled, apparently thrilled by the fact that Santana had screwed things up. "I'm allergic to eggs," she announced.
Santana brushed past all of them, heading into the woods. She didn't bother to explain where she was going or why she wasn't sticking around for breakfast. She was tired of making excuses. Let Brittany come up with something for her.
When she got far enough away from the clearing to be out of sight, she slowed down. For no particular reason that she could name, she drew the pocket knife out of her jeans and opened it up, staring down at the blade. God, it would feel so good to stab somebody right now. What if Brittany had been right, and that guy was still here? What if she just happened to stumble on his campsite, and he was still sleeping? Or maybe she could just threaten him, scare the hell out of him the way he'd scared her. It was a ridiculous thought, she knew. But it made her feel a little better, just picturing it.
Idly, as if she wasn't even paying attention to what she was doing, she pressed the very tip of the blade against the center of her left palm, softly at first, and then with a bit more pressure. With a sharp intake of breath, she saw a bead of blood well up.
Then she pulled the knife away in horror, wondering what the hell she was doing. Why had she just done that? You are so not gonna turn into one of those girls. No way. Not a fucking chance.
Using all of her strength, she stabbed the knife into the trunk of a tree, feeling the satisfying way it sliced through the wood and stuck there. She had the urge to yank it back out and stab the tree again, over and over, but she resisted. Instead of heading back to the campsite, though, she continued on down toward the water.
Reaching the lake, she stood at the edge for a minute, splashing some water onto the cut on her palm. It had already stopped bleeding, thank God. Looking out toward the distant shore, she had the sudden impulse to wade in, to just keep going. It wasn't rational... she could barely swim and she had a suspicion the water wasn't even clean. It smelled like fish. But she rolled up her jeans anyway and walked out until she was at knee depth. She felt like she needed to escape from something, and this was the closest she could come at the moment.
It was colder than she'd thought it would be. In fact, the air itself was noticeably cooler than it had been yesterday. The wind picked up as the sky continued to darken, and against the blue gray of the clouds, she could see that the trees along the far shore of the lake had just the faintest tinge of yellow. Summer really was almost over. For the first time, there was an unmistakable feel of autumn in the air.
Santana lost track of time, not knowing how long she'd been standing in the water, or even why she was standing in the water. Suddenly a voice came from behind her, on the shore.
She turned around slightly, already knowing who it was. "Hey."
"Can I come out there with you?"
"I don't own the lake, Brit." She looked back out at the water. "If I did, I'd pave it over and put in a Starbucks."
She heard light splashing behind her as Brittany waded out to join her. She stood by her side, but not too close, about three feet away, as if she wanted to give her some distance. Crossing her arms, she waited in silence for a minute, following Santana's gaze to the thick woods on the opposite shore. Then she said hesitantly, "I thought maybe you came out here to sing by yourself, or something."
Santana looked at her like she was crazy. "Why would I do that?"
"I don't know." She shrugged. "It's what all our friends do when they're sad."
She rolled her eyes. "That's because all our friends are freaks."
Brittany didn't reply to this, other than to press her lips together a little in what was probably disapproval. Another low, threatening rumble came from the sky, louder this time. "I think it's gonna rain."
"No kidding. Maybe you should get a job forecasting on Channel 7." Santana heard how bitchy these words sounded, and immediately felt bad. She glanced at Brittany. "Sorry."
Brittany dragged her foot through the water, looking down at the ripples she kicked up. "I bet you did come down here to sing," she said, nodding as if she'd figured it out. "I bet you were standing out here, getting ready to sing that Pocahontas song about the blue porn moon."
She couldn't resist smiling just a little bit, even though she still felt like shit. "It's corn moon."
"Santana, that doesn't make any sense," Brittany told her in a pitying way. "What's a corn moon? That's stupid."
"Okay, you're right. Because everybody knows what a porn moon is."
Brittany didn't respond to this with words. Instead, she leaned forward, and using the tips of her fingers, sent a small spray of water over in Santana's direction.
She stiffened up, holding her hand out in a warning gesture. "Stop it."
"Fine," Brittany said. "Jeez." She waited a few seconds. With a mischievous look on her face, she dipped her hand in deeper and sent yet another splash over to the side, this one landing square on the front of Santana's upper thighs, spattering her jeans.
"Brittany, I'm serious! I am so not in the mood."
"Yeah, clearly." Brittany stood still again. Then, as if she couldn't help herself, she used both hands to create the biggest splash yet, drenching the front of Santana's shirt.
She sucked in her breath, turning to Brittany in shock, arms out at her sides.
Then, in retaliation, she sent a massive wall of water in her direction, which hit her directly in the face. Brittany gasped and stared at her open-mouthed, eyes wide with glee as if to say Look what you did! It was the justification she'd been waiting for.
Santana tried to back up, knowing what was coming, but Brittany lunged at her, pulling her underwater before she could make it more than a few steps. They both came up shrieking and laughing. She grabbed Brittany's head and plunged her back under the water, but she was pulled down with her. They fought each other with aggressive playfulness, going under again and again, yelping with delight. Santana opened her eyes underwater and saw nothing but blond and black hair mixed together, swirling in front of her eyes.
The water level dropped off steeply, and even though they'd shifted just a few feet further out, they were now at a depth up to Brittany's chest and Santana's shoulders. "Okay, truce!" Santana finally choked out after a few more minutes of roughhousing, realizing how deep they were in. "Or you're gonna drown my ass."
Brittany seemed to sense her nervousness. She grabbed her around the waist and pulled her close, supporting her. They tried to catch their breath, bobbing up and down in the water, their faces just inches away from each other. The wind whipped the tree limbs around and another peal of thunder sounded, the storm getting closer.
Pressed up against Brittany, Santana shivered. The wind was cool and the water was even colder, but she didn't think that was the reason. She leaned back a little, still being held firmly by the waist, and pushed Brit's wet hair out of her eyes. For a while they just looked at each other without saying anything.
"Do you have any idea how lucky you are that I can't stay mad at you?" Santana asked just above a whisper, touching Brittany's nose with her index finger.
Brittany smiled at her. "Definitely. I was counting on it."
Santana stared at her lips, and then, unable to help herself, bent forward and kissed her. The inside of her mouth was deliciously warm compared to the lake water, and she felt the pull through her entire body. Brittany kissed her back, still holding her close. Santana raised her hands up out of the water, cupping her face, tugging a little at her lower lip with her teeth.
Reluctantly she pulled away, taking a shaky breath. Maybe things would be okay after all. If they could just get through this weekend.
Brittany looked like she wanted to kiss her again, but before she could, the expression on her face suddenly changed. She was looking over Santana's shoulder. "Uh-oh," she said in a low voice.
Santana turned to see what it was, already dreading whatever she would find.
On the edge of the shore, Bianca was standing there, watching them. She bounced up and down on her toes. "Are you lesbians?" she sang out. And she looked, for all the world, excited about it.
As if she'd been burned, Santana jerked backwards away from Brittany, breaking her grip. She felt a combination of horror and shock and outrage pulsing through her. Struggling out of the deep water, going under and coughing a few times in her haste, she splashed toward the shore.
"Santana," Brittany said in a warning tone.
"You are, aren't you?" Bianca crowed as she approached. "I knew it!"
She made it to the shallower, knee-deep water. As if her body was no longer connected to her brain, she reached down and scooped up a rock, about the size of her fist. Not pausing to take aim, she hurled it at the little girl as hard as she could. It missed, whizzing by her head about two feet to the left. But Bianca moved back, startled.
"Santana!" Brittany yelled from behind her, horrified. She splashed in her direction. "What are you doing!"
She trudged all the way out of the water, tripping a little but grabbing at another, bigger rock from the edge of the shore. Bianca was now heading back up toward the woods, looking over her shoulder like she was being chased by a wild animal.
She tossed the second rock at her, but it didn't make it far enough. Frantically, she reached to pick up another one, even though the kid was by now almost out of sight. She felt Brittany's hand tugging on her arm, holding her back.
"Stop it!" Brittany shouted.
"Let go of me!" She tried to shake her off, but she was clutching her too tight.
"Are you crazy? She's just a kid!"
"No, she's not," she sobbed. "She's not just a kid! She was sent here to ruin my life. Did you hear her? She sounded like she wanted to take us to show and tell!"
"Calm down." Brittany held onto her shoulders, looking at her like she'd finally snapped. She pretty much felt like she had. "What are you talking about?"
"What do you mean, what am I talking about? That evil little witch is gonna tell everyone! We might as well put it on a billboard!" She heard the hysteria in her voice, but she couldn't do anything about it. This was her worst fear, coming true.
"You're gonna tell everyone, if you don't stop screaming." Brittany was attempting to sound reasonable, but her voice was shaking.
"Don't you see what this means?" she ranted. "It's totally out of our hands now, no tenemos ningún control sobre ella!"
"You know I can't understand you when you talk Spanish."
Santana turned away from her, still rambling on. "I should have killed her when I had the chance. I shouldn't have gotten rid of the knife. God, this is even worse than that Muckraker thing. Like, a million times worse. There's an actual witness."
"Yeah, what could be worse than someone seeing us kiss?" Brittany rolled her eyes, looking disheartened and angry. "I'm so tired of this."
"You're tired of it?" Santana spun back around toward her. "How do you think I feel?"
"I don't know, Santana! Because you won't ever tell me how you feel. You won't even tell me what happened the other night that's making you act so crazy."
"Okay, fine. You really want to know what happened, Brit?" She stepped toward her, feeling a vindictive need to shock her. "I'll tell you what happened. I got high with some redneck scumbag at a gas station. And then he called us dykes and said we should be wiped off the planet, and then he threw a bottle of whiskey at me and it cut my ankles all to hell. That's what happened the other night. So now you know!" She paused, feeling a sick sense of satisfaction at the look on Brittany's face. "Do you feel better now? Aren't you glad we shared our feelings?"
"What?" Brittany stared at her, appalled. "How could you not have said anything? You should have told me! You should have told my parents!"
"So they could do what, exactly?" She paused a little to wait for an answer, knowing there wouldn't be one. "Sing me a lullaby to make it all better? They can't protect us from that stuff. Nobody can. We're not eight years old anymore!"
Brittany watched her, her horror gradually fading into something more like sorrow. She looked miserable, but more for Santana's sake than her own. She started toward her, reaching for her, but Santana backed away, shaking her head to warn her off.
"Don't." She knew all Brit wanted to do was hold her, but she couldn't let her. Not right now.
Brittany let her arms drop back down to her sides, giving up, but obviously not without an inner struggle. "I don't know what to say."
"There isn't anything to say." Santana looked down at herself, at her drenched clothes, her shoes that were no doubt ruined. None of it seemed to matter. The wind gusted around them, and a few fat drops of rain spattered down, heralding the coming downpour.
In a quiet, resolute voice, she went on. "Brittany, I can't do this. I'm not gonna be able to do it. I'm so sorry." She looked back up at her, knowing she would understand exactly what she was talking about. With more tears welling up, she dragged her wrist across her cheeks, which didn't help much. Forcing the words out, she told her, "I don't want you to wait for me anymore. You deserve..." Her voice broke, and she waited until she could go on. "You deserve so much better."
There was no immediate response to this, like she'd expected there to be. Brittany was silent, taking it in. A crack of thunder sounded just over their heads, and she glanced up at the sky, worried.
Gerald's voice suddenly echoed from the woods. "Hey girls, you still down there?"
Santana used the distraction to move a few steps toward the water. She faced away and tried to get her emotions under control, hoping Brittany's dad wouldn't come any closer. She wondered if Bianca had told them about her meltdown.
Brittany seemed to force herself to turn around. "What is it?"
"Got some bad news! Mom was just listening to the weather on the radio, and it looks like this rain's supposed to stick around for a few days. Think we're gonna have to hit the road early."
"That's okay, Dad," she called back. "We'll be right up."
She waited until he was out of sight, then approached Santana again. She stood close to her. In a low, earnest tone, she spoke. "I just want you to know that... I will never stop waiting for you."
Still facing the water, Santana closed her eyes, shaking her head a tiny bit, but Brittany ignored her and went on. "I don't care how long it takes. And even if you're with someone else... even if I'm with someone else. It won't matter. I will never stop waiting."
"Don't say that," she whispered.
"I have to. It's the truth."
Brittany gently brushed Santana's hair out of her eyes, and then turned and headed back up toward the path, glancing back once as if reluctant to leave her behind but sensing she should give her space.
When she was alone, Santana sank down onto the gravel beach, tilting her head backwards and letting the rain hit her full in the face. There was no lightning, but if there had been, she would have done the same thing, daring a bolt to strike her. She sat there for as long as she could stand it.
They packed up the van in a hurry, trying to beat the worst of the rain. Gerald and Bunny attempted to make even this hasty departure seem like an adventure, but most of the girls weren't buying it. Bianca kept shooting wary looks at Santana, as if waiting for her to snap again. She wisely kept her distance.
Santana tried to avoid everyone's eyes. All she wanted was to gather her things together and get as far away from this place as possible. Thank God for the weather, or they'd be here for another day.
Because she was freezing from being in the water, and the temperature was still dropping, Bunny gave her a sweatshirt to change into. It was pale pink and said Peace Corps on the front. Although she generally had a rule against wearing pink, or anything that promoted a cause, she was beyond caring at the moment. It was warm and dry and it smelled like the Pierces laundry detergent, which reminded her of Brittany. It was probably the closest she'd get to her for a long time, now.
Finally everything was packed up and they climbed into the van. The rain was beginning to fall in sheets now, and thunder shook the ground. "Just in time," Gerald said.
"Isn't this nice and cozy?" Bunny asked. No one replied.
As they pulled out onto the dirt road, Santana noticed Brittany staring wistfully out the rear glass, back over in the direction of the campfire pit and the lake. She wondered what she was thinking about, but she didn't ask her. She didn't look back at all.
To her immense relief, they passed by the gas station from hell without even slowing. The tank didn't need to be filled up yet, and everyone but Santana had just eaten breakfast. She didn't know what she would have done if she'd had to sit there in that parking lot and stare at the shattered glass that she had no doubt still littered the ground.
Sinking back into the seat, she tried to relax and settle in for the long haul. The interior of the van was warm, stuffy even, and had that signature post-vacation smell of lake water, dirty socks, and junk food. She had a feeling it was going to be a long, strained trip home, even longer than the trip here had been. It didn't help that nobody wanted to talk to her, and she didn't want to speak to them either.
Leaning into the corner of her seat, she drifted in and out of a sort of willed sleepiness. The rain pounding on the roof of the van helped make conversation unnecessary, drowning out words and even thoughts. In the front the windshield wipers droned back and forth in a hypnotic way, squeaking rhythmically. They seemed to travel deeper into the gloomy weather the further west they headed.
In a small town somewhere about an hour away from the lake, they stopped at an intersection to wait for a red light. Santana stared out the window, not focusing on much of anything. Through the rain, she found herself looking at a sign near the street, the words blurry and meaningless at first. Then she blinked and peered forward a little through the water-beaded glass in disbelief.
It wasn't just any sign. It was a church message board, the kind with transparent removable letters, the kind she'd specifically been trying to avoid looking at. But now she'd let her guard down, and she'd taken in the entire thing before she'd even had the chance to look away.
But it couldn't seriously say what she thought it said, could it? It had to be her mind playing tricks on her. Because there was no way. There was just no way. I mean, honestly, what are the chances that I would see this TODAY? Is the universe fucking with me? Is that what's going on here?
In bold black print on a white background, the sign proclaimed,
I KISSED A GIRL AND I LIKED IT
AND THEN I WENT TO HELL
"FOR THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH" - ROMANS 6:23
Knowing she shouldn't, but unable to help herself, she nudged Brittany. She felt like she needed to prove something to her, and maybe this was a harsh way to do it, but it needed to be done. Maybe she could make her understand why she'd said what she had earlier, why she knew that she couldn't go through with it, at least not here in Ohio. But also, she wanted confirmation that the sign really said what she thought it said, that she wasn't just losing her mind. It was too surreal.
Brittany looked at her, and Santana gestured out her window, silently, so that she wouldn't attract the attention of anyone else in the vehicle. Brittany leaned across her to peer out, and she watched her lips move a little as she read the words. Then she slowly straightened back up, not looking at Santana, but instead at the floor of the van. She had a strange expression on her face.
"That's stupid," she muttered after a second. "That song is like three years old."
Santana stared at her, incredulous, thinking, That's it? This was so different than just one homophobic hillbilly. This was the stance of an entire group of people, a group that was the definition of normality, at least around here. She swallowed hard and tried to keep her voice low and calm. "I just wanted you to see it." The words came out sounding harsher than she'd intended. But how, how could she not be affected by this? How could it not get through?
"I saw it."
Brittany raised her gaze to make eye contact, and now, finally, Santana could see something like hurt there, as well as disgust, and maybe just the barest trace of fear for what they were going to have to deal with if they ever did go public. It was all there in her eyes, plain as day to someone who knew her as well as she did. Brittany looked as if the world had suddenly betrayed her, as if all along she'd thought it was one thing and now it was revealed to be something else entirely. It was what Santana had wanted to see from her, what she'd needed to see, and now that she saw it she wanted nothing more than to never, ever see it again.
Because now she knew, without a doubt, that she was the most selfish person in the world. She felt like she'd personally put that look in Brittany's eyes, and she knew she could never take it back. That was absurd, of course. The world would have put it there eventually, even if she'd had nothing to do with it. But it didn't change the way she felt. She felt like she'd stolen the innocence from the person she loved most in the world.
She wanted to say she was sorry, that she never should have made her look, but Brittany was already facing out her own window, arms crossed in a protective way over her chest, staring vacantly into the rain. She looked sadder than Santana had ever seen her before.
After what seemed an interminable wait, the light finally turned green, and they rolled on past the church. She closed her eyes, leaning back in her seat, determined not to give the sign even one more passing glance. If she had to see it again she was afraid she'd be sick.
For a while she dozed, coming in and out of wakefulness. She wasn't sure exactly how much time had passed, but she knew it had to be at least a few hours. They had to be getting close to home, didn't they? They were on the interstate now, back in the world of flat farmland, the hills and valleys of the southern part of the state thankfully left behind. Santana had never thought she'd be so glad to see cornfields.
At an exit for the small town of Lakeview, Gerald slowed and eased the van off the highway. Santana sat up a little, confused. "We're not going to another lake, are we?" she muttered to Brittany. She was afraid she'd have to jump out of the moving vehicle if that was the case.
Brittany said without looking at her, "We're just dropping Bianca off. She lives here."
Wait, the kid didn't even live in Lima? Now she remembered Brittany saying the little girls had met at Brownie camp. So she supposed that made sense, but it hadn't occurred to her before. Her terror over Bianca telling everyone about the kiss seemed a little less acute now. After all, she probably didn't know anybody that they knew.
But now she realized this meant she was going to have to be there when the kid was reunited with her parents. Freaking perfect. She'd no doubt spill everything to them. They'll probably call the cops on me, Santana thought. Child endangerment. Attempted murder. Her mind raced ahead to the inevitable trial, and she saw herself trying to convince the jury that she wasn't really gay, that it was just that Brittany had saved her from drowning, and she'd been so grateful she'd kissed her without thinking about it...
They traveled down a tiny, picturesque main street, like something from a movie set. On a side road, Gerald pulled up at a Victorian farmhouse that seemed to be in the process of a remodeling job. Only one half had fresh paint, and there was scaffolding on the rounded cupola. Although Santana hated old stuff, she had to admit it was kind of cute. Not the type of house she'd expected Satan's spawn to reside in. But you never could tell.
A woman opened the front door of the house and ducked through the rain, jogging out to the van. Bianca undid her seatbelt, excited. "Mom!" When the door was slid open, she flung herself at her. "Guess what? I got a sun tan!"
Santana allowed herself to breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe she was safe after all. That didn't sound like the opening to a tale of attempted bludgeoning.
And now she looked closer at the woman who was smiling down at Bianca, pushing the little girl's hair back behind her ears. Huh. That's weird. She was Asian. Was the kid adopted? Her mom had a short, funky haircut, and she was wearing a trendy leather jacket with boots... amazing boots. Santana stared at her feet, wondering where she'd bought them.
Someone else emerged from the house, carrying an umbrella. When this person got closer, Santana could see that it was another woman. And here was the second weird thing. This woman was almost identical to Bianca... same hair, same eyes, same everything. They were obviously related. Yet she'd called the other one Mom.
Bianca now ran toward the second woman, throwing her arms around her waist. The two women smiled at each other over her head, and Santana watched them. Suddenly her eyes narrowed, her mind racing. Wait a minute. Are they...?
Bunny got out of the van and circled around to the back, opening the rear door and yanking Bianca's duffel bag out from under the mountain of other luggage. "Here you go, sweetie!"
The kid ran toward her. Both women called after her in unison "Say thank you!"
"Thank you," Bianca repeated. She looked through the back door into the van, catching Santana's eye. Still seeming a little intimidated, she said, "Bye."
Feeling guilty, she mumbled back, "See you around, Beyoncé." And then in an even lower voice, "Sorry about the rock."
Bianca smiled at her. All seemed to be forgiven, and she reflected that it was probably the Beyoncé that had done it. It figured. If only everyone was as easy to please as a second-grader.
The little girl hoisted her bag over her shoulder and ran toward her house. "Slow down!" one of the women called after her. The two of them smiled and waved at the Pierces, then headed up the walkway, both ducking under the umbrella against the heavy rain. One of them, the dark-haired one, let her hand slip behind her and settle lightly on the other one's ass. Santana peered closer, wondering if she was imagining it. But she didn't think she was.
She looked over at Brittany to see if she'd noticed, and was glad to see that she had, and that she looked thoughtful, too. What had they just seen?
Santana leaned forward to try to get Ariel's attention, which wasn't easy because she was playing some kind of handheld video game. "Hey," she said, trying to sound casual. "Where was your friend's dad?"
Without looking up from her game, Ariel said in a manner that indicated everyone should already know this, "Bianca doesn't have a dad. She has two moms."
Santana leaned back in her seat and looked at Brittany again. Neither of them seemed to know what to say.
"They're lovely women," Bunny said from the front, overhearing the answer. "I'm sure they weren't thrilled about having to move here from Chicago, but apparently there was no way around it. Some kind of job transfer."
"They seem to be doing okay, though," Gerald added. "I guess things are finally starting to change around here." He caught Santana's eye in the rearview mirror and gave her a small smile. She looked away, quickly.
"It's about time," Bunny sighed.
Santana was quiet, thinking about the implications of all this. Now she realized why Bianca had sounded genuinely excited when she'd seen them kissing in the lake. It all made sense. And she realized, yet again, what a terrible person she was.
It also occurred to her, in a confused and jumbled way, that everything she'd thought this weekend had proved to her was suddenly much less certain, much less conclusive. This seemed to complicate everything. How were those women living here, in this town not even a fourth the size of Lima? How could they stand it? And if they could stand it... what did that mean for her and Brittany? Did it mean anything? Maybe. Maybe not. She sure as hell couldn't make sense of it right now. But she also couldn't deny that she felt the slightest, almost non-existent inkling of something like hope.
Back on the interstate, it wasn't long before they began seeing signs for the Lima exit. Santana could practically feel her satin sheets already. She wondered if her TiVo had recorded Keeping Up with the Karadashians. She missed those crazy Armenian bitches.
But before they could make it to the exit, the van went haywire. With the same loud backfiring noise it had made outside Santana's house on Friday morning, the power seemed to fail. It jerked spasmodically and slowed down. "Darn it," Gerald said, which was apparently the closest he could come to cursing.
"Are we gonna die?" Ariel wailed.
"Sweetheart, calm down," her mom told her. "It's just car trouble."
"Good." She sighed in relief, going back to her game. "Because I really want to get to the end of this level."
Gerald guided the vehicle onto an off-ramp and toward a truck stop. Santana wanted to scream. Would this trip never end? Even Brittany looked pissed off.
In the parking lot, both Pierces climbed out and stood examining the workings under the hood. After a few minutes Bunny popped her head back in, looking exasperated. "Why don't you girls go on in and get yourselves something to eat? It may be a while. Dad's gonna try to fix it."
"Mom," Brittany said, trying to keep her voice low. "He doesn't have any idea what he's doing."
She sighed. "Honey, I know that, and you know that, but try to tell him that. I'll give him twenty minutes and then I'll call a mechanic."
Brittany looked over at Santana, seeing if she wanted to go in.
"Whatever," she agreed, climbing forward and sliding open the door. It couldn't be worse than waiting here. Brittany followed her. Ariel decided to stay behind to play her game. She told her sister to bring her a milkshake, but Brittany pretended not to hear her.
The inside of the diner was old-fashioned, the kind with stools along the counter and pies on display. Santana shook her head a bit at how cliché it all was. The customers seemed to be mostly old people and truck drivers. The truckers of course checked her and Brittany out as they made their way through the restaurant, which she couldn't blame them for. Even though she knew the two of them weren't looking their best today, they were probably still the hottest action this dump had ever seen.
They took a seat in a booth next to the windows, facing each other. Santana pretended to examine a menu, and Brittany stared out at her parents on the other side of the parking lot. Gerald had his head under the hood of the van, and Bunny stood holding an umbrella over both of them, every few minutes glancing at her watch.
Finally Brittany turned away from the window and looked at her. There was a heavy silence between them, and Santana wasn't sure how to break it. This wasn't at all like the distance that had existed between them this morning, before the fight. There was no tension left now. This silence was just sad, and weary. What was there left to say?
Before she could attempt anything, a waitress came over. She was a tired looking middle-aged woman with mountains of curly red hair, and she said as if it were one word, "WhatcanIgetya?"
"I'll just have coffee."
The waitress looked at Brittany next, who was biting her lip and staring at the menu, unsure.
"They have a kids' meal," Santana encouraged her. "It comes with a toy."
Brittany closed the menu. "I'll just have coffee, too."
The waitress scratched something on her pad and then scooped up the menus, walking away without bothering to say anything.
Santana looked at Brittany, confused. "You don't even like coffee."
She met her eyes briefly, but then looked down at the table, saying, "Yeah, but... we're not eight years old anymore."
Hearing her words from this morning echoed back to her, Santana felt terrible. It was one thing to say something like that, herself, but to hear it from Brittany... it just felt wrong. She wished she could take it back.
She waited a few seconds, not knowing what to say. Brittany looked so sad. "I'm really sorry for ruining your camping trip," she told her. "I know how much you look forward to it every year."
"What are you talking about?" Brittany said, looking genuinely puzzled. "Except for this morning, this was the best Lake Hope Camping Trip Extravaganza ever. I had an amazing time."
"How can you say that?" She wanted to follow this up with It was a nightmare, but she stopped herself.
"Because you were with me." Brittany said this like it should be obvious. "That makes everything better. I just wish you had as much fun as I did. I wish... that you hadn't heard those awful things."
Santana scratched at a coffee ring on the table with her fingernail, considering these words. "I'm fine. And I mean, I did have some fun." She paused, adding in a low voice, "Especially last night." She met Brittany's eyes with a secretive smile, thankful to see that she returned it. And just like that, everything between them felt okay again. Not perfect, maybe, but better than before.
She breathed a small sigh of relief. "Can you believe that school starts in three days?"
"I know. I can't wait... I miss everybody."
Surprisingly, Santana found herself agreeing. "Me too." Then she seemed a little alarmed by this admission. "But don't you dare tell them I said that."
"I won't," Brittany promised.
The waitress, whose name tag read Mindy in faded black letters, returned with their coffee, setting both saucers down with a practiced clank.
"Finally," Santana said. "I've had faster service at my grandma's nursing home."
The woman gave her an impassive, ironic gaze, as if she'd heard it all before. "Anything else?"
"We'll let you know, Reba. You can go back to adding up your child support payments now." She watched her go with a patronizing smile.
"Santana," Brittany said when the waitress was out of earshot. The tone of her voice was gentle, but serious. Obviously she was about to say something she'd been thinking about for a while. "It's not that I don't love your vicious words, because I do. I even have a journal to keep track of your best insults. But... maybe this year, you could try not to use them quite as much?"
Confused, Santana asked, "Why?"
"It's just that... I think this whole gay thing might be easier for you if you didn't piss people off every time you open your mouth. Especially when they don't do anything to deserve it." Brittany seemed hesitant, but she forced herself to go on, dumping one, two, three, and then four packets of sugar into her coffee as she talked. "So do you think that... maybe you could be nicer to people sometimes? People who aren't me?"
"I don't know." Santana mulled this idea over for a few seconds. "I never tried it before."
"I think you should."
She seemed to give in, with a tiny nod, because it was impossible to deny Brittany anything when she looked so earnest. But she couldn't help whining, "I just wish that everyone didn't suck so bad."
Brittany patted her hand, sympathetic. "I know." She poured a massive dollop of milk into her coffee and then cautiously raised it to her lips, making a face as she tasted it. She seemed to force herself to swallow a gulp. "I don't know why grown-ups like this stuff so much. It doesn't even have whipped cream on it."
Toward the back of the restaurant, a fat trucker inserted a few coins into an ancient jukebox, and a twangy, honky-tonk song suddenly filled the restaurant, something about tractors and beer. "Oh, nice going, Lard Ass," Santana muttered. Off of Brittany's look, she added, "He can't hear me, that doesn't count." She exhaled wearily, leaning back into the booth and sipping her coffee."If I never hear country music again, I'll die happy."
And then, as if in direct response to this remark, My Headband started playing. Santana rolled her eyes heavenward as if to say Of course. Because the universe is still punishing me. Trying to keep her patience, she watched Brittany slowly take her phone out of her sweatshirt pocket and stare at it.
Finally, she couldn't stand it anymore. "Brit, are you gonna answer it or not?"
"In just a second. This is my favorite part."
Santana grabbed it from her, pushed the button, and then handed it back. Brittany gave her a reproachful look, but raised the phone to her ear.
"Hello?" She listened for a second, and her face took on a wary, closed-off expression. "Oh. Hi."
Great. Santana knew there were only two people in the world who could make Brittany look like that. One of them was Sue Sylvester. The other one was Rosa Lopez. And she seriously doubted Coach Sylvester would have any reason to call, especially now. So that left only one option.
She shook her head slightly at Brittany. I'm not here.
But Brittany already knew the drill. She didn't need any prompting. "She's not here. I mean, she is, but... you can't talk to her. She's busy." She paused, listening, then said, "She's feeding a goat."
Santana gave her a What the fuck? look and Brittany shrugged a little, as if to say I couldn't think of anything else.
"Okay," she said into the phone, biting her lip in a nervous gesture. "Okay. I will." She glanced at Santana, then back down at the table, still listening. She held the phone out a little away from her ear, cringing, and Santana could hear the shrill voice even from across the table. "I don't understand what you're saying," Brittany said, and then abruptly, "I'm gonna hang up now, bye."
She turned the phone off, looking relieved, and put it back in her pocket.
Santana waited, a little anxious. Was there a chance they'd been worried about her? That they'd called to find out where she was, if she was okay? "What did she want?" she asked, when Brittany didn't seem forthcoming.
"First, she said that you're not answering your phone."
"My phone is totaled. Turns out being soaked in Wild Turkey didn't really agree with it."
"And then she said that... your dad just got your credit card bill. And that you spent seven thousand dollars in Puerto Rico. And then she started yelling at me in Spanish."
"Oh." So that's all. Santana wrapped her hands around her coffee mug, staring into the steaming liquid and avoiding Brittany's eyes for a second. "Whatever. Don't worry about it. By the time I get home, she'll be about five daiquiris in, she won't even remember that she called."
"Santana," Brittany said, sounding disturbed. "Seven thousand dollars?"
She raised her shoulders a little in an attempt at brushing it off. "It's not that much. And he deserved it. Trust me."
Brittany absorbed this, watching her. As if she almost didn't want to know the answer, she eventually asked, "What did he do?"
Santana met her gaze, and then looked away, shaking her head with a small, tight smile. "Another day," she said, knowing there was no way in hell she was getting into that story now. One thing at a time.
Though she didn't press her, Brittany was obviously troubled by the admission. She reached across the table and took Santana's hand. She stared down at it, contemplative, turning it palm upward and running her fingertips over the creases. She didn't ask why there was a tiny nick in the middle, she just traced around it gently. "I wish you could live with me. I hate your family," she said in a quiet voice.
Santana felt her throat tighten a little. Not here. Don't do it. She was suddenly reminded of last summer, almost exactly a year ago, and of waking up in a hospital bed, her chest feeling like it was on fire. Her father had been nowhere to be seen, her mother was in the hallway, screaming at a nurse about how if one turned out bigger than the other one, there'd be a lawsuit involved. The only person in the room had been Brittany. And even though Santana had lied to her the day before, told her that she'd changed her mind and she didn't want the surgery after all, she hadn't been surprised to see her there. Not a bit surprised.
For the next few days, through an infection that had set in, through a fog of painkillers, through her parents flitting in a few times a day in order to fight with each other in loud, hostile Spanish over her bed, Brittany had never left her side. Even when the hospital staff kicked her out at the end of visiting hours, she'd simply snuck back in. She'd never left, and she'd never uttered one word of blame.
"You're my family," Santana told her now, staring into her eyes with conviction. "Not them."
At this, Brittany lifted the hand she was holding, pressing her lips against it. They watched each other, communicating without words. But all of a sudden Brittany's expression closed off a little as she glanced to the side, and she lowered Santana's hand back to the table, letting go of it.
Santana looked to see what had disturbed her, and predictably, there was an old couple in the aisle across from them. The woman's mouth was a prim line of disapproval, and the man shook his head at his wife as he ate his eggs, lamenting what the world was coming to.
"Sorry," Brittany muttered, and Santana wasn't sure whether she was apologizing to the elderly people, or to her. Either way, it saddened her. And it also pissed her off. Would it always be like this? Would they always have to be careful about every look, every gesture, to avoid the risk of offending somebody? How the hell were two people in love supposed to exist like this? Even though she'd just announced this morning that she wasn't going to do it, that she couldn't do it, she could already feel her resolve slipping away. Every time she looked at Brittany, it slipped a little further.
"Speaking of living together," she said, hoping to distract Brit enough to get that guilty look off her face. "That reminds me of something I wanted to ask you about. Do you have any idea what you're gonna do after graduation? I know we used to think we'd get cheerleading scholarships, but... you can bet your sweet ass that's off the table now, thanks to Coach Lucifer. We'd be lucky to even get on a college squad. She's probably had us blacklisted."
"I don't know what I'm gonna do," Brittany said, swishing her coffee around. "My dad wants me to go to Harvard. Or Yale." In a confiding tone, she added, "I think he may be setting his sights a little too high, though."
Santana smiled sympathetically, agreeing. "Maybe just a little."
"Why? What do you want to do?"
She took a deep breath. She was suddenly nervous, and almost wished she hadn't broached the subject. Why did this seem so important? And what if the answer was no? What then?
"I want to go to New York," she told her. "And I want you to come with me."
"New York," Brittany repeated, looking out the window at her parents. It was obvious she hadn't considered the idea before. Santana's anxiety increased. "But it's so far away."
"It's not that far," she insisted. "Only about an hour by plane, remember? We could visit all the time... and your family could come and stay with us. Even your sister's awful friend. You know how much fun they'd have?" Please say yes, she thought. Please. Just give me this, and I won't ask you for anything else.
She could see the hesitation on Brittany's face as she thought it through, as she contemplated what it would actually be like. "Could I bring Lord Tubbington?"
"Of course." She felt a stab of hope. "I'll even register as a Democrat, just to make him happy."
"Then... yes." Brittany smiled, then nodded, confirming it. "I will totally move to New York with you."
Santana let out the breath she'd been holding, more grateful than she could possibly express. She felt like she'd just proposed marriage and been accepted. And Brittany never went back on her word, ever. This meant it was real. It was really going to happen. "It's gonna be so amazing, I promise. You and me are gonna tear that town a new one."
Brittany thought for a second. "Can Kurt and Rachel live with us too?"
It was on the tip of her tongue to say Not a chance in hell. But she felt like she shouldn't push her luck, not this soon after getting the answer she'd so badly wanted. Instead she narrowed her eyes in pretend consideration and said in a strained voice, "We'll see."
Satisfied with this, Brittany took another sip of coffee.
"I can't believe graduation is only nine months away," Santana said. Until now, it hadn't even occurred to her. She hadn't had any particular reason to look forward to it. "It seems so soon."
"That's just thirty-six weeks," Brittany told her.
Santana stared at her in amazement. "Did you just do that in your head?"
"I think so," she said, surprised. Looking down at her coffee with raised eyebrows, she added, "Wow. I should drink this stuff more often." She was quiet for a minute, thinking. Then she asked, "But Santana... what about those nine months? What are things gonna be like at school this year?"
"I don't know, Brit." She sighed. It was like they were going around in circles. Wasn't this basically the same question she'd asked, a few months ago? Would either of them ever know the answer? "I wish I could tell you. But I don't have a crystal ball."
"I have a Magic 8 ball at home," Brittany suggested. "Do you think that would work?"
She smiled. "I kinda doubt it."
"Oh. I think it might be broken anyway. When I asked it about Nationals, it didn't say anything about Finn and Rachel making out on stage."
Knowing it was a stupid thing to say, but unable to resist the impulse, Santana bit her lip a little awkwardly and said, "Did you ever ask it about us?"
But Brittany didn't seem to think it was stupid. "Of course. That was my very first question."
"And it said... the outlook is good."
They smiled at each other, and then Santana looked out the window, feeling ridiculously emotional. Oh Jesus Christ, Lopez, get a grip, she told herself. You're not seriously getting misty over a Magic 8 ball, are you? You have got it so bad.
Peering out toward the van, she said, "Holy crap, I think your dad actually fixed the thing." Gerald had his hands clasped together and was raising them above his head in a victory gesture. Bunny laughed and then pulled his head down for a kiss.
"I don't believe it," Brittany said, looking amused. "This is the first time he's ever fixed anything in his life. He's never gonna shut up about it."
She watched the Pierces with affection for a few more seconds, but then looked away when they started hardcore making out. As Brittany would say, Gross.
"Well, guess that's our cue to bounce." Santana pushed her saucer aside and stood up, looking down at Brittany. Then she glanced over at the old couple, who were finishing their meal in judgmental silence, and at the rest of the diner, at the scattering of average, tired-looking middle class people eating their pie and drinking their coffee. Then back at Brittany, who was the most beautiful, the most creative, and without a doubt the kindest and most generous soul in the entire room. She was perfect. She was everything. And Santana was so tired of having to pretend that she didn't love her. So, so tired. You know what? Screw them.
Without giving herself more than a split second to think it over, she held out her hand. Brittany stared at it, surprised, and then up at her, a question in her eyes. Are you sure?
Santana nodded just a tiny bit, still holding out her hand. She breathed in deeply, forcing down her fears. It was never going to get any easier, no matter how long she waited. They had to start somewhere. Why not here?
Brittany took her hand, standing up. She clasped it against her chest for a second, and then dropped it down to her side. They walked toward the front of the restaurant, holding their heads up, trying to ignore the stares. Because there were plenty of stares.
At the register, their waitress came over to ring them up. She glanced at their hands, but seemed indifferent, bored even. Santana felt a surge of gratitude for this boredom, and she had the sudden need to make up for her earlier bitchiness. "Hi, Mindy," she said. "Sorry about before." She glanced at Brittany to see if she appreciated the effort, handing over her credit card.
"Also, while we're here, I'd like to pay for Grandma and Grandpa's meal." She gestured back at the old couple. "Whatever they ordered, just put it on my card." Smiling with exaggerated sweetness, she added, "And could you make sure to tell them that it's from the lesbians who were sitting across from them?"
Mindy raised her eyes from the register, taking in both of them. She gave a wry nod, as if anything that made the day a little more interesting was okay in her book. If nothing else, it would give her an entertaining story to tell the other waitresses in the back. "Will do, ladies."
"What?" Santana asked, noticing the look Brittany was giving her. "You told me I should be nicer. This is me, being nice."
"Except that those old people are gonna totally flip out." Brittany seemed to be trying hard to repress a grin, and not succeeding very well.
"Yeah, well..." Santana shrugged, taking back her credit card and putting it in her pocket with a flourish. "Not my problem."
Smiling at her, she led Brittany toward the door. People were still staring, but she didn't even notice it now. She squeezed her hand hard, using that simple motion to try to say so much. It said I'm sorry for everything I've put you through. It said Please don't give up on me. More than anything else, it said I love you. Brittany squeezed back, lacing their fingers together.
They walked out into the rain and headed across the parking lot, still holding hands. For the rest of the way back to Lima, neither one of them let go.