Her Smile Heals Me


Saturday, May 26, 2012

10:13 am

The underside of the football bleachers had an eerie calm to it when Santana Lopez stood in its shade Saturday morning. She could hear the footsteps of the people walking up the metal staircase of the bleachers above her, proud parents and grandparents and siblings all taking their places in the stands to watch the seniors of William McKinley High graduate. It was a particularly beautiful morning with blue skies and the bright sunshine peeking out behind fluffy white clouds, but the bottom of the bleachers eclipsed any of the day's brightness for Santana.

Ever since the night of her junior prom, in April of last year, each time Santana arrived at the stadium for Cheerios practice or football games or other sporting events, the Latina consciously avoided this part of the bleachers, always entering from the visitors' gate or intentionally walking the length of the track to get over to the school building.

On this day though, Santana walked purposefully toward the metal seats and forced herself to stand under them. She looked across the empty space, seeing the wooden snack booth that sat in the middle of the paved path. She took in a deep breath of air and noticed that she somehow had remained calm so far.

The brunette beauty looked down at the white envelope in her hand. The letter arrived in the mail the day before, addressed directly to her. At first, she refused to read it when she saw the return address was from a nearby Ohio state prison.

Perhaps her curiosity had gotten the better of her, because something internal caused her to grab the letter from her nightstand before she left this morning for the high school.

She hesitated but eventually relented, running the tip of her finger under the envelope's seal, slowly tearing it open. She looked in it and found a folded sheet of paper which had been ripped neatly from a blue-lined, yellow legal pad.

Santana unfolded it, taking another settling breath before reading the short message that was hand-printed on the page. It said simply:

Thank you, Santana.

You were right. The truth is much easier than all the lies.

Please know I am truly sorry for what I did to you.

David Karofsky

Santana looked back over at the snack booth then at the dusty pavement. Her world had changed forever in that very spot, and though the events of prom night would stay with her forever, she knew in the deepest part of her soul that the changes that were initiated that night had ultimately changed her life for the better.

She folded the sheet of paper and pushed it back inside the envelope, reflecting on everything that happened over the past twelve months, and she felt no more bitterness.

"A lot of memories under here, huh?" a familiar voice asked from behind her.

Santana turned around quickly, startled from being yanked back to the present, but she smiled when she saw Brittany standing there. "Quite a lot actually," she emphasized.

"Some good…?" Brittany ventured.

Santana nodded, turning back toward the shadow of the stands, then she added justly, "Some not so good."

Brittany closed the distance between them then took Santana by the hand and drew her further under the stands, maneuvering between two metal support beams, gravel crunching under their feet as they moved.

She stopped in a somewhat hidden spot near a pole. "Do you know what I remember?" the tall blonde asked.

Santana smiled coyly, anticipating the memories to which Brittany was inferring.

Brittany wrapped her arms around Santana's trim waist, inching her closer toward her, reminiscing with raised eyebrows, "I remember making out with you many times back here…before anyone else arrived for practice…and after some of the games."

The Latina laughed, tilting her head back, her long dark hair cascading over her shoulders. "I remember it being a lot more than making out on some occasions."

Brittany shared Santana's laughter, a slight blush spreading across the fair skin of her cheeks, "True."

"Seeing you in your uniform was one of the main reasons I'm glad we rejoined the Cheerios for senior year," Santana told Brittany with a purr which highlighted the raspy edge of her voice.

"Ohhh, really?" Brittany found that sexy, adding with a playful smirk, "Well, seeing you out of your uniform was my main reason."

Santana pushed up on her toes slightly to kiss the taller girl, tightening their embrace, and whispered, "We won't put this stop on the tour when we bring our kids back home for a visit."

"Why not?" Brittany giggled at the thought, "They'll want to know that their moms were trailblazers."

"Trailblazers?" Santana laughed even harder, "Britt…we were horny teens at best."

"Well, we don't have to tell them everything that went on back here, but maybe…they'll want to see where I gave you this," Brittany said, moving the fabric of her red graduation gown to reach into the side pocket of her skirt, pulling out a small black box.

"What is it?" Santana asked with surprised confusion.

"Open it and find out," Brittany suggested, setting the box in Santana's palm, leaning back casually against the metal support beam.

Santana wasn't sure why her fingers were shaking somewhat as she turned the little box around and popped open the hinged top, but she looked up at Brittany's face when she saw what was inside. "Britt…."

The blonde smiled widely, "I'm sorry you had to wait so long, honey…but I saved my dance instructor money all year to buy it for you."

Santana swallowed hard as she felt her eyes cloud over with tears. "It's beautiful," she told Brittany.

"Of course it is…you designed it. Mr. Martin at the jewelry shop still had your original sketch," she explained, adding with a sweet smile, "He even gave it to me for my memory book when I pick this up last night."

"I don't know what to say, Britt," Santana was speechless, holding the open box that held a polished silver ring in it with the same intertwined hearts etched around it as the one she gave Brittany on July 4th.

"Put it on," Brittany took the ring from the box and slipped it on the ring finger of Santana's left hand.

The ring fit perfectly and, as Santana held up her hand, a beam of sunlight shown through the bleachers and reflected off of it, highlighting the intricate etching.

Brittany held her left hand up to the full length of Santana's raised hand, saying proudly, "Now we match forever."

The brunette interlocked their fingers, and pulled Brittany closer into a passionate kiss, agreeing, "Forever, my love."

Brittany leaned down to kiss Santana again, even more intensely than before.

"Ok, you two…enough. Ms. Pillsbury is telling everybody to line up right now," Will Shuester said to them from the edge of the bleachers.

The girls giggled as they wiped the moisture from their lips with the backs of their hands then walked toward their Glee Club instructor.

"Yes, Mr. Shue," Brittany smirked, choking back some of her laughter.

"Santana," Will said as the Latina passed him, causing her to turn around.


"It's been such a pleasure to teach you girls…but it has been inspirational to watch your personal growth over the past year," he told her, a tear forming in his eye, "I hope you know how much respect I have for both of you."

Santana reached up to hug him, "Thank you, Mr. Shue. That means so much to me."

Brittany leaned over and hugged him too. "Me too, Mr. Shue. Glee Club was definitely the best part of high school."

"I expect a wedding invitation, ok?" he smiled broadly.

"Absolutely," Santana grinned proudly.

"Hey," Rachel Berry said cautiously as she walked up behind Finn Hudson as the tall teen stood talking to Puck in the line that was forming near the rear of the field house.

"Hey back," Finn said with a reserved smile as he turned and looked down at his petite former girlfriend.

"Hi, Puck," Rachel said.

"Rachel," Puck acknowledged her with a hug, "Good luck today."

"Thanks. You both look handsome in your cap and gown," she told them.

"I can't get this cap to sit right though," Finn fidgeted with his red graduation cap.

"That's because you have a weird-shaped head, dude," Puck confirmed.

"Here…let me help you," Rachel volunteered.

Finn crouched down a bit so she could reach to straighten his cap until it sat perfectly on his head. "There you go…perfect," Rachel told him.

"Thank you," he responded, turning back toward Puck.

"Finn…," Rachel started.

The tall teen turned back around.

"I don't want to leave McKinley today with any tension between us," she confessed.

He sighed and smiled. The two of them had a rocky start to their senior year after Rachel broke things off with him at the end of last summer. Finn was grateful though that they had been able to smooth things out enough to at least co-captain the Glee Club to a Show Choir Nationals championship earlier in the month.

"McKinley will be an afterthought for you once you cross the New York state line next month," Finn told her, feeling bittersweet that Rachel was accepted into NYADA for college and he was headed to nearby University of Findlay.

Rachel paused and grimaced slightly. "McKinley might be forgotten after a while, Finn…but you'll never be."

Finn looked at her then bent over to hug her, saying softly, "I hope not."

"I care for you deeply, Finn…that will never change."

"I wish you only the best, Rachel," Finn assured her.

"There's our darling graduate," Daniel hollered as he spotted Rachel in her bright red graduation gown.

The tiny diva looked up to see both of her fathers walking toward her with Burt and Carol Hummel in tow.

"Hi, Dads," Rachel gave them a huge smile, hugging Daniel then Trey.

"Hi, sweetheart," Trey said, "We just wanted to say a quick hello before you guys walked to your seats."

"Rachel, you look as beautiful as always," Burt told her as he hugged her too.

"Thank you, Burt. Hi, Carol," she waved to Finn's mother who smiled warmly and greeted her.

"Oh, look at you, my handsome grown man," Carol said to Finn, reaching up to straighten his necktie, "Good luck today."

"Finn, where's your brother?" Burt asked him, "We wanted to wish him luck too."

"I saw him with Blaine earlier," Finn answered.

"Kurt's further up in line with Mercedes," Puck offered, "They're walking together."

"Come on, I'll show you…I've got to get back up there anyway," Rachel started walking toward the head of the line to find the rest of the Glee Club members, giving Finn one last smile and wave.

Toward the front of the long line of seniors, Mercedes and Sam stood talking and laughing with Mike Chang.

"Kurt, would you calm down?" Mercedes playfully slapped at her best friend. She was thrilled when Kurt told her he wanted her to be his line partner for the ceremony. She didn't even hesitate to tell her boyfriend that he would have to buddy up with Mike Chang. She knew it would be their one last memory together before Kurt headed off to Manhattan to attend NYADA with Rachel and Mercedes left for Northwestern University in Chicago.

"Just how much longer before we get this dog and pony show going?" Kurt asked dramatically, covering his eyes from the bright sun to see what Emma Pillsbury was doing with her clip-board at the front of the line of graduates, "I am literally starting to sweat."

Blaine laughed at his boyfriend and started fanning him with the graduation program he held in his hands, "Maybe I should pray for rain next year when I graduate so they'll move it to the auditorium for you, dear."

"I can't help that I have the skin coloring of a vampire from a macabre 1920s movie," Kurt insisted, waving his hand in front of his forehead to generate airflow.

"You know, Kurt…if you didn't have three layers of clothing on under your gown, you'd be fine like the rest of us," Mercedes pointed out sarcastically.

"The first rule of fashion, Mercedes, is strategic layering," Kurt retorted.

"I thought it was functionality?" Sam quipped, his white teeth showing as he grinned.

"Not true, there is no real function in high fashion, Sam," Blaine assured him.

"That explains the bowties then," Sam teased Blaine.

Mercedes laughed and shook her head, smiling at the handsome blond behind her in line.

"You look beautiful today, sweetheart," Sam complimented his girlfriend with a wink.

"Thank you," she hugged him in return, "I think the whole group of us look amazing today."

"I do feel quite dapper," Kurt adjusted the red cap on his head, turning to see his father and mother walking up.

"Son, you are already flushed," Burt told him.

"Hi, honey," Carol gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"Dad, you're our state senator…don't you think you could've arranged a couple of those misting machines for the comfort of the country's best Show Choir?"

"We are representing the State of Ohio, Burt," Blaine joked.

Burt laughed, never amazed by the suggestions that came from his son's mouth, "I don't think we had room in the budget for that this year, Kurt. As your state senator, I apologize for your discomfort."

The rest of the group laughed.

Blaine looked down at his watch to see that it was nearly 10:30am, "Burt, Carol…we better go find a seat."

"Ok, everybody…good luck…smile big when you accept your diploma so we get good pictures," Carol requested, waving back over her shoulder at them.

"Bye, relax and have fun out there," Blaine gave Kurt a quick kiss before walking away, telling him, "I'm proud of you, Kurt!"

Quinn Fabray stood at the front of the line of graduating seniors and scanned the bleachers for her mom's blonde, sculpted bob, spotting her a few rows up, sitting next to Quinn's older sister near the middle of the stadium. The teen waved noticeably, catching her mom's attention, and her mom waved back and blew her a kiss. Quinn snickered slightly, not at all surprised to find her father absent from today's celebration.

"There's the Valedictorian!"

Quinn turned her head, and exclaimed, "Yay, you made it!"

"I wouldn't miss it," Cate told her, walking up to put her arms around her girlfriend, kissing her lightly on the lips, "I'm so proud of you, honey."

"Thanks," the shorter girl beamed, "It was a fight to the finish…I barely edged out Rachel and Mike."

Cate squeezed her tightly and whispered, "Smart is sexy…you make sure those Ivy Leaguers at Yale know you're happily taken."

Quinn laughed, Cate's warm breath tickling her ear, "Well, good thing you'll be close enough to keep an eye on my extracurricular activities."

"Northampton is still nearly two hours away from New Haven…I guess I'll just have to trust you," Cate winked, "Or make you a giant sign for your dorm room window that says something like, 'Here rooms Quinn, girlfriend of Cate'!"

"Or…I could wear a scarlet C on all my clothes," Quinn joked.

Cate laughed loudly at that proposal, "I like that…I'll have my mom start sewing this week."

"Hi, Quinn…congratulations," another voice said behind the girls.

They turned to find Shelby Corcoran standing there, holding an adorable two-year-old little girl with a head full of blonde curls.

Quinn felt a mixture of elation and overwhelming emotion wash over her, and she swallowed hard to fight back tears. "Hi," she responded with restraint, "I didn't think about you being here today."

"I promised Rachel we'd come," Shelby said, "She want it to be a surprise."

"It is," Quinn sniffed and looked at Cate who had no idea what the connection was for Quinn, "This is Cate, my girlfriend."

"Hi, Cate…very nice to meet you…I've heard a lot about through Rachel," Shelby stated, adjusting the little girl on her hip, "I'm Shelby."

"Hello," Cate smiled politely.

"Shelby is Rachel's birth mother," Quinn explained to Cate.

"I carried Rachel for Daniel and Trey," Shelby said matter-of-factly.

"Oh ok," Cate nodded in recognition of the connection she now understood.

"And this is Beth," Shelby looked down at her daughter who was dressed in a white sundress with little white sandals and a pastel yellow sweater. The little girl looked as sweet and lovely as a summer daisy.

Cate looked at Quinn then back at Beth, instantly recognizing the green in the toddler's eyes, "Hi, Beth. You are a little beauty, aren't you?"

"Would you like to hold her, Quinn?" Shelby asked.

"Of course," Quinn said somewhat timidly, reaching out to the baby she gave birth to at the end of her sophomore year.

Beth went to Quinn with a smile and her arms outstretched. The blonde teen pulled her child close to her chest and kissed her on the forehead, pausing to breathe in the scent of her apricot shampoo.

"You just had a birthday," Quinn said to Beth.

"Aww, Happy Birthday, Beth," Cate told her, bending down to her height.

"Can you tell Quinn and Cate how old you are?"

Beth held up two fingers and said with a big smile, "Two."

All three of them laughed and smiled at the small gesture by the little girl.

"That's great!" Quinn complimented her.

"She can also sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," Shelby said cheerfully, "Well…sort of."

"I'd love to hear it. Will you be staying for the reception?" Quinn asked, squeezing Beth to her chest again, "Puck would love to see her too."

"Definitely," Shelby assured her, "We'll be in town this whole week. Let's all have lunch one day."

"That would be wonderful," Quinn's face lit up.

Cate silently watched Quinn as she held Beth, noting that Quinn seemed to have found some sense of peace about her decision to allow Beth to be adopted. The strength Quinn exhibited made the older girl respect and love her that much more.

"Shelby!" Rachel said as she walked up to them, followed closely by her dads.

"Hey there!" Shelby hugged each of them.

"It means a lot to me that you came today," Rachel said, slipping her arms around the taller woman's waist and pressing into her affectionately.

"I'm so proud of you, Rachel," Shelby declared, leaning her head on top of Rachel's, "You too, Quinn."

"Yes, if I had to be second best then I'm glad it's at least to someone I adore!" Rachel said to Quinn, reaching up to squeeze the blonde's elbow. Rachel then rubbed her hand across Beth's back and said, "Hey, cutie pie."

The little girl smiled at the small circle of people.

"We're just as proud of our Salutatorian," Daniel said enthusiastically.

"Co-Salutatorian," Rachel reminded them, referring to her tie with Mike Chang.

"Well, we couldn't be prouder of our baby girl," Daniel insisted.

"We love you, pumpkin," Trey added with a kiss on Rachel's cheek.

"Can we join this love fest?" Santana said jovially as she walked up to them with Brittany in tow.

"And there's our other baby girl!" Daniel exclaimed, greeting Santana with raised arms and a big kiss on the cheek then turning toward Brittany, "And a kiss for our baby-girl-in-law."

"Come on, Beth," Shelby held her hands out for her tiny daughter, "It's getting to be that time…let's go find a seat so we can see these lovely girls shine."

"Shelby…there's some extra room near my parents," Brittany told her, "They're holding seats for Daniel and Trey…just look for them…second row on the fifty-yard line."

"Thank you!" Shelby smiled gratefully, "Daniel, I'll see you guys up there in a few minutes."

"Bye, Beth," Quinn waived to the toddler, an emotional expression on the teen's attractive face. She was so glad to see her baby, but it pained her to see Beth go.

Shelby paused and turned so Beth could waive bye again to them then she leaned in to whisper something in the little girl's ear. Beth reached up with her chubby little hand and blew a kiss toward Quinn. It was actually more of a wet smack, but the gesture warmed Quinn's heart and made them all smile and waive again at the child.

Cate looked over at Quinn and saw fresh tears in the blonde's green eyes. She put her arm around Quinn and pulled her close, telling her in her ear, "You are amazing, Quinn Fabray. Don't ever forget that."

Quinn turned into Cate's embrace and sniffed hard, composing herself, then said softly, "I love you."

"I should go sit too…Judy's saving my seat," Cate said louder for everyone to hear, turning again toward Quinn and kissing her sweetly on the lips, adding, "I love you too. I can't wait to hear your speech!"

"Bye, Cate!" Santana and Brittany waived to their older friend.

The tall brunette looked back over her shoulder and waived to the group.

"Okay, before we go…I want to get a quick picture of you all together…Come on, Brittany, Santana, over here…Rachel stand next to your sister there," Daniel instructed, pointing Rachel to the spot next to Santana, "Quinn, you too, sweetheart…right there next to Rachel."

The four of them put their arms around each other's waists and leaned lovingly into each other, smiling happily.

"You all look beautiful in red!" Trey clasped his hands together with a giant smile and a look of such pride, "Gorgeous girls!"

"Say 'Graduation Day!'" Daniel suggested as they all smiled and repeated the phrase then he snapped several pictures.

"IF YOU ARE NOT A SENIOR, TAKE YOUR SEAT NOW!" Sue Sylvester's voice said loudly and firmly over her electronic megaphone.

"Dads go…or you'll end up walking with us!" Santana laughed.

"Okay, okay…we're going," Daniel smiled and waived to the girls as he and Trey walked away quickly to find Brittany's family in the bleachers.

"Santana?" a feminine voice said from the other direction.

The teen turned to find an older Latina woman stepping up behind her. "Mom!" the brunette instantly lit up, "You came."

"I was running late…I had to park down the street and come through the back gate," Mrs. Lopez said light-heartedly.

"I'm just glad to see you here," Santana told her, giving her a tight embrace.

"Congratulations! I can't believe my little girl is graduating from high school," Mrs. Lopez replied, "It seems like only yesterday I was leaving you at preschool…and you stood only this high." She held her hand near the top part of her thigh.

"Time flies…," Santana smiled.

"I want you to know I tried until the last minute, Santana…but I couldn't get your father to come with me," the older woman said with a defeated tone to her voice.

Santana looked over at Brittany who gave her a supportive smile then she looked over at Rachel who was chatting spiritedly with Kurt, Mercedes, and Quinn.

"It's fine, Mom...don't worry for one second," she put her arms around her mother again, telling her with confidence, "Because I have my whole family here today!"

"You look radiant, sweetheart…and happy. That's all I can hope for you," her mother said encouragingly, "…and I'm so proud of you for getting accepted to NYU…I know you will do well. Study hard, ok?"

"No worries, Mrs. L, I'll help her with her homework...," Brittany joked with a wink, putting her hand at the small of Santana's back.

Santana laughed, "Dean's List, here I come!"

"I know you will continue to be her support system, Brittany…," the older Latina, reached to hug the young blonde, "But if either of you need anything…call me. I will do what I can for you two."

"We will," Brittany assured her.

Santana looked at her watch, "Mom…hurry and sit down…it's about to start."

"Yes, okay…good luck, girls!"

"Go look for my parents…I know they'll have a seat for you," Brittany called out after her.

Santana looked at Brittany and held her hand out to her, asking anxiously, "Are you ready for this?"

"To graduate?" The blonde took Santana's hand as they lined up directly behind Rachel and Quinn.

Santana shrugged, clarifying, "To head into adulthood."

Brittany's nose wrinkled as she innocently pondered their future endeavors, responding, "Well, if I'm with you then…what could go wrong?"

Santana laughed, her dimples showing. "I'll take care of you if you'll take care of me," the brunette declared, squeezing Brittany's hand.

"Deal!" Brittany agreed optimistically.

Don't you worry there my honey

We might not have any money

But we've got our love to pay the bills…

Maybe I think you're cute and funny

Maybe I wanna do what bunnies do with you

If you know what I mean…

Oh let's get rich and buy our parents homes

In the South of France

Let's get rich and give everybody nice sweaters

And teach them how to dance…

Let's get rich and build our house on a mountain

Making everybody look like ants

From way up there

You and I, you and I…

Well you might be a bit confused

And you might be a little bit bruised

But baby, how we spoon like no one else…

So I will help you read those books

If you will soothe my worried looks

And we will put the lonesome on the shelf…

Oh let's get rich and buy our parents homes

In the South of France

Let's get rich and give everybody nice sweaters

And teach them how to dance…

Let's get rich and build our house on a mountain

Making everybody look like ants

From way up there

You and I, you and I.

There was an announcement over the stadium loudspeaker, welcoming the families and friends of the 2012 graduating seniors and asking the excited crowd to please rise for their entrance. Soon after, the orchestra who was seated nearby began playing Pomp and Circumstance, and Emma Pillsbury motioned to Quinn Fabray to lead the line toward the designated chairs in the middle of the football field just as they had practiced the prior afternoon.

Quinn smiled at the petite brunette next to her and grabbed her by the hand, squeezing it tightly, "Ready?"

Rachel returned the smile and responded apprehensively, "I guess there's no turning back now."

The two of them started walking hand-in-hand, leading the rest of the seniors in the procession.

Santana and Brittany were the second pair in line and smiled at each other, lovingly linking arms as they walked slowly to the traditional graduation march behind Quinn and Rachel.

The girls both waived up into the stands when a roar of cheer from the center section of the bleachers erupted as they passed, hearing a particularly loud squeal of delight from a small blonde girl who hollered, "Yay, B…Yay, Santana!"

Kurt and Mercedes and Sam and Mike Chang kept the line going followed by the rest of the seniors in their bright red caps and gowns. They all waived excitedly when they passed Tina and Artie who were seated with Mike's family in the front row of the stands.

Somewhere toward the back of the line was Finn and Puck who high-fived Will Shuester when they passed his assigned monitoring location.

"Congratulations, guys!" Will told them with a proud smile, watching them take their seats behind the rest of their classmates.

Once everyone in attendance was seated, Principal Figgins approached the microphone to give his welcome speech and make some final announcements for the seniors and their families. He then congratulated the Valedictorian and Co-Salutatorians with everyone applauding for Quinn, Rachel, and Mike Chang.

Santana leaned across Rachel and took Quinn's hand, whispering to her, "I'm so proud of you two."

They both smiled widely at her.

"So if you will help me congratulate Quinn Fabray who will now give our Commencement Address," Principal Figgins led the applause, stepping back to his seat for Quinn to approach the podium.

The beautiful blonde stood and brushed at her gown to straighten it then walked gracefully to the center of the stage. A light breeze blew at the black and red strands of the tassel hanging from the red cap that sat ceremoniously on top of her head. She looked over at the crowded bleachers and saw her mother and sister sitting with Cate, causing her to feel at ease. The former Cheerios captain drew in a deep breath then revealed, "I had a speech prepared about how reading is the foundation of a quality education and how focused we must stay in order to achieve in life...along with a few other nauseating clichés such as those, but I've decided I'm not going to give that speech today."

Quinn shuffled her index cards as the silence around her mounted, laying them down on the podium and adjusting the microphone toward her mouth.

She cleared her throat and continued, "I'm really no expert on any subject matter. I'm truly humbled as I stand before you today, because I am probably the poster child of how not to conduct your high school experience. I made some bad choices, hurt some important people along the way, but in spite of all that, I made one really wise choice…to be part of our school's Glee Club."

Quinn paused and looked up to see her fellow Glee Clubbers looking around at each other with giant smiles of affection on their faces.

"Through the friends I made in Glee Club, I learned firsthand that life…and love…are not about the moments you plan out, because who are we kidding…rarely does anything go according to plan, right? Life is a collection of the small things…the quiet moments when you gaze at the stars or when you share a delicious cup of coffee with good friends or when you get a surprise visit from somebody special, however brief the visit might be…."

Quinn bit at her lower lip to stop it from quivering at the thought of Beth before carrying on, "Enjoy those moments…soak them up…store them away…because those are the moments that make the best memories…and those are the memories that will keep us warm on cold nights when we are all old and gray. Thank you, Mr. Shue, for teaching all of us that valuable lesson."

She looked over at all the youthful, glowing faces of her fellow graduates, finishing with, "And even though the world is often a cruel and unpredictable place, stop and look around you….because when you are at your most vulnerable and your most broken and your most lonely…there are people who love you and want the best for you. They may not be the people you envisioned being part of your life, but regardless, love is beautiful if you just open yourself up to it."

Santana looked down at her lap and sighed, touched by Quinn's words of wisdom, grateful for all the love in her own life, even if most of it was oddly unconventional. Her eye instantly went to the silver ring on her left hand, and she twisted it off her finger to look closer at it. The gesture meant everything to her that Brittany wanted the two of them to have matching rings. The fact that Brittany worked hard all year just to buy it for her made Santana's heart nearly burst with joy.

The Latina tilted her ring, the sunlight glinting off of the polished silver, and she looked inside of it, seeing that there was an inscription. A smile spread across Santana's face, and she reached over to Brittany and took her by the hand, squeezing it.

"I love you," she whispered to Brittany who squeezed back then pulled Santana's hand up and kissed it with a knowing wink.

Santana Lopez pulled back her hand to put the ring back on her finger, looking once more at the ornate letters inside.

The message read simply…Forever yours, proudly so ~ B

The End

Final Author's Note: We made it to the end...together! Thank you to each and every one of you who took time out of your personal life to read this story. The fact that you guys were so invested and so emotional throughout it has been my ultimate motivation. I don't know y'all individually, but I adore each of you more than these simple words can express.

The song referenced in this section is You and I by Ingrid Michaelson. I love that song and thought it summed up everything that is precious about Brittany and Santana.

Please watch for the posting of my sequel, titled Keep Me Where the Light Is. It is set in Manhattan in the year 2022.

Thank you again, Kim