The Night Will Go As Follows
People joke about it, sometimes. Or they discuss it lightly – as if it's little more than a topic to spark conversation.
"What would you do," they ask, "if you were told that you only had twenty-four hours to live?"
"Well," the person being asked tilts their head to the side and ponders for a moment, "that's a pretty loaded question, really."
Of course it's a loaded question.
It's a question full of everything in the world that no one really wants to think about. It involves all of the regrets you try to forget and all of the things you wish you had said but you didn't and the things you wish you had done but you haven't yet and all of the people you wish you could kiss and hug and love and hate all rolled into one.
What would you do?
What would you do if your life was ending?
Santana Lopez blinked into consciousness. The blinds and the curtains were drawn. It was pitch black in her room, and that was how she liked it.
For a moment, she just continued to lie there in the silence and the aloneness and the acute self-awareness. She wiggled her toes, and her digits brushed lightly against the soft cotton sheets that were pressing against her body. She reached up and touched her fingertips to the edge of the pillow her head was resting on, fingering a loose string between her thumb and forefinger.
When she sighed, it escaped into the air like the last wisps of a cool, autumn breeze in the path of an oncoming winter. As if something bigger was approaching – something that Santana couldn't have stopped if she had wanted to.
She blinked. And it was a prolonged blink – one where her eyelashes graced her cheeks and then stayed there longer than normal. And when her eyelids opened once more – to a new day – two tears escaped, rolling gracefully down her cheeks and over the contours of her face, only to end up on the overly warm skin of her neck.
Because Santana woke up that morning with the most overwhelming feeling of certainty that she had ever felt in her entire life.
Santana Lopez woke up knowing that this was the day she was going to die.
By the time the almost-scalding water was cascading over her body in the shower, Santana had decided that she wouldn't be crying anymore that day.
If it was the last thing she did – and, ironically, it would be – Santana was going to be happy in these final moments between morning and night.
"What a wonderful life I've had!" Someone once said, "I only wish I'd realized it sooner…"
Today was Santana's day to realize it. She considered it a gift, really, to have woken up knowing with such certainty that she was going to die. Albeit, she had no clue concerning the how of it all – surely her therapist would have something to say about that. But as she deftly rinsed the shampoo from her scalp, she told herself that it didn't matter.
It didn't matter how she was going to die. It just mattered that she was going to die.
Santana's hair was still in a towel as she opened her refrigerator door. She had wondered momentarily if it even mattered whether or not she ate today.
That was another question that people sometimes used to get to know each other.
"What would your last meal be," they would ask, "if you knew you were going to die after you finished it?"
"Well," Santana mumbled under her breath as she perused the contents of her fridge, "probably something with seven courses. You know, to prolong the inevitable."
So maybe it didn't matter whether or not she ate on this, her last day alive on earth. But she was going to eat, dammit, because she was not going to spend her last few precious hours with a growling stomach as her only beat of accompaniment.
There was a plastic container of strawberries on a shelf. Santana bit her lip and pulled it out. She made her way over to the sink and began to run water down the drain. Opening the box of strawberries, she allowed the cool water to rush over them.
She couldn't help but stare. She stared at those strawberries as if they held all the secrets to the world.
The water continued to run, and Santana grabbed a couple of paper towels. She absently noted that she was now completely out of paper towels – and then she noted that it didn't matter. Since she wouldn't be using any tomorrow.
The strawberries were cool to the touch as she washed them off under the flowing stream of water from the faucet – removing dirt or bacteria or pesticides or whatever it was people were so paranoid about when it came to grocery store fruit. She held one of the plump, ripe berries in the palm of her hand for a few moments. And then she placed it on the paper towel to the side and moved on to the next.
Six strawberries were finally lined up on the paper towel. "Beautiful," Santana whispered. And she was right – because they were, they were beautiful. She felt like giving herself a pat on the back for having picked such an outstanding box of fruit from the store a few days before. And then she remembered that she was dying today, so she reached her left arm over her left shoulder and literally patted herself on the back.
Because why not?
Gently, she dried the fruit with the paper towel and then put them into a bowl. In another, she poured a generous amount of sugar out of the larger bowl that she kept it in. On an ordinary day, Santana probably would have used less sugar, perhaps a sugar substitute.
But this wasn't an ordinary day.
Santana sat down at the table – with her bathrobe slipping from her shoulders and her hair still wound up tightly in a towel – and she looked down at the two bowls in front of her. Her hands moved seemingly of their own accord, picking up a strawberry from one bowl and dipping and swirling it into the sugar in the other.
And Santana brought the sugar-coated strawberry up to her lips.
And then she hesitated.
Because there was the moment of actually eating the strawberry. And she knew how delicious it was going to be.
But there was this moment just before that delicious strawberry was going to reach her lips and her tongue and her cheeks and her taste buds – and maybe that moment was the more overwhelming of the two. Maybe that moment just when her anticipation was to reach its crest…
As Santana opened her mouth and bit into the gushingly yummy berry, she decided that this was the type of moment she would live for today, her last day of days. She would live as many moments of overwhelmingly happy anticipation as she possibly could.
She chewed her breakfast and promised herself that she was going to do it all with a smile on her face. A smile not of obligation – but of appreciation.
Santana's first trying obstacle presented itself when she came face to face with the door that led out of her apartment. Her hand was clasped around the doorknob, her knuckles were white, her breathing was ragged. The cold metal was pressing into her overly warm skin, and she didn't know what to do. She didn't know how to handle it.
"With a smile," she breathed out, managing to calm her raging thoughts for the briefest moment of clarity. "Greet this day with a smile," she said again, "because every moment today could be your last. You just have now, Santana, and that's it."
Then she twisted the doorknob and walked out into the hall and towards the elevator.
Because the world was waiting.
"I love you too, Mom," Santana spoke into her phone as she stepped out of the veritable skyscraper she called home and onto the sidewalk. "Yeah, tell dad I love him and that I hope you guys have a great weekend in the city." A pause makes its way into Santana's words as she turns to the right. Her mother replies – her tone light and cheery and full of no worry for her eldest child in the slightest. "I'll talk to you later," Santana finally said, the corners of her mouth tilting upwards as her mom sent her love back over the phone line.
And then the call disconnected. And that was that.
The cool, crisp October air blew Santana's loose hair about her face and managed to somehow sneak into the crevices of her form-fitting pea coat. But the chill wasn't annoying – as it might have been on any other day. Instead, Santana pushed her hands deeper into her pockets and relished the goosebumps that rose on her forearms as an indication that she was still alive.
She was still alive.
After a few blocks had passed by underneath the soles of her boots, Santana started paying attention to where she was going. It shouldn't have been a shock, really, that her subconscious had directed her straight towards her favorite coffee shop in New York City – though favorite mostly implied that it was within walking distance and the barista who worked there each morning knew exactly how many shots of espresso to add in order to make Santana's days substantially better.
"Good morning, Santana," Sam called out from behind the counter. Something about his perfectly styled brown hair and his wide smile and his sometimes rosy cheeks always lit up Santana's own face, brightened her day.
"Morning, Sam," she replied, unwinding the dark blue scarf she had wrapped around her neck before leaving her apartment. "The usual, if you don't mind."
"The usual," he replied cheerily, "coming right up!" He set to work preparing her order. There was no line, so Santana leaned against the counter as she tucked the scarf into one of her coat pockets. Sam turned and caught her eye. "You don't have to go into work today, right?"
Santana shook her head. "Nope, no overtime this weekend."
"They work you too hard."
"Yeah well, what can you do?"
"You could quit," Sam offered with a playful wink as he walked back towards her with what she could only assume was a perfectly prepared drink of delicious caffeine induced happiness.
Santana smiled, and she stared down at the cup on the counter as she said, "Yeah, maybe I'll do that."
Sam's brow furrowed in confusion as he smiled adorably. "Really?" he asked. "You would…you would quit?"
Almost every morning, they bantered back and forth about how Santana works too hard. About how she needs to do something with her life that makes her happy – that allows her to do more than just exist. Even if the way she was existing was luxurious – with a four-bedroom apartment (that was mostly empty anyway) and three and a half bathrooms and artwork on the walls that other Manhattan socialites would kill for. But every morning, Santana would smile (sadly so) and walk out of the coffee shop, calling over her shoulder, "Maybe next week. Or, you know, maybe never."
So Sam's confusion was understandable when he found Santana Lopez suddenly standing in front of him with an air of detached peacefulness surrounding her, a soft, worry-free smile on her face, and a statement such as that crossing her perfect lips.
"Yeah," she easily replied, "I think I'll do that."
"You're serious?" he questioned. And when her only response was a sincere smile and a nod, his eyes sparkled as he held his hand up for a fistbump. And instead of calling him a dork, Santana just laughed and pounded her knuckles against his before reaching into her pocket to retrieve money to pay for the drink.
As she extracted her wallet, Sam held up both of his hands and waved them frantically in the air. "No no no!" he practically shouted – not that it mattered, since Santana was the only person in the shop besides an older woman sitting off in the corner doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. "You're not paying today! I'm not going to take your money when you're so obviously happy. And certainly not on a day such as today when you've decided to quit your job that I've listened to you complain about day in and day out for the past two years!"
Santana's movements stilled as she fingered the bills in her hand. She looked up at Sam through long eyelashes and grinned. "You're a good guy, Sam." Her voice was soft, and Sam's smile dropped ever so slightly as something about her tone washed over him and left him in a state of curiosity that he couldn't quite explain. "Never change, ok?"
"Never," he said.
Santana took her drink and slipped out of the coffee shop and onto the sidewalk once more. And it wasn't until at least an hour later that Sam noticed the two fresh one hundred dollar bills in his tip jar.
He grabbed them and stuck them inside his back jean pocket – making a mental note to chastise the girl when he returned them to her the next morning.
Santana didn't get angry when a man in a business suit bumped into her and she managed to spill half of her coffee on the sidewalk – only narrowly avoiding getting it on herself instead. There was no point in anger, no room for bitterness.
She finished what was left of her drink and tossed it in a trashcan, and she continued making her way down the sidewalk. The wind whipped against her skin harder than before, so she pulled her scarf out and rewrapped it around her neck, the blue of the material resting softly against the gray of her coat.
The sidewalk was getting more crowded. The city never really slept, but it was certainly less restful now than it had been an hour before. Sounds and smells and sights surrounded Santana's senses harmoniously, and she just walked.
She walked down the sidewalk, and that was really all she had set out to do anyway. Just to walk and see and experience and know that this was the world she was leaving behind. To imprint, perhaps, some last vestiges of humanity in her mind before she disappeared into the nothingness that came after life. Every minute was another tick of the clock, another strike against the breath that filled her lungs and the blood that pumped through her veins. Every second carried her feet down the sidewalk and her life towards its end.
When Santana woke up that morning, the certainty she felt about her death had most definitely not been part of her plan when she had fallen asleep the night before. She hadn't planned on eating too much sugar for breakfast or tipping Sam two hundred bucks or not being angry at some douchebag suit for nearly soaking her in scalding coffee. She hadn't planned on accepting this or embracing it or whatever the hell it seemed she had started doing.
But most of all, Santana hadn't planned on seeing the most gorgeous example of feminine beauty she had ever seen in her life. She hadn't planned on passing this stunningly beautiful, tall, lithe, blonde woman just as she was about to step off of the sidewalk to cross the next street. She hadn't planned on losing her breath or literally stopping in her tracks or feeling her heart beating up in her throat.
Santana hadn't planned on rotating quickly in place and staring after the bobbing ponytail as the other girl trotted off in the direction that Santana had just come from.
And before she even knew what was happening, Santana was moving through the crowd, stretching her neck as she tried to keep the blonde in her sights. They hadn't even made eye contact, and there she was – pushing through people and attempting to get a better look at this complete stranger.
It didn't make sense and it wasn't rational and maybe Santana would look like a complete and total fool at the end of whatever encounter she was almost certain was about to occur, but that didn't matter.
Because this was it. This was Santana's last day of days. And she was having a fucking moment, ok? She had felt something when she saw the girl pass her on the sidewalk. Their elbows had touched, and Santana had felt something. Just like she had known that she was going to die today when she woke up, she knew that she was supposed to brush elbows with this girl.
She was breathing heavily by the time she caught up with the blonde at a crosswalk – mainly because she had stopped breathing entirely somewhere along the way, and she had only regained the ability to inhale and exhale upon achieving a closer vicinity to this girl with the blonde ponytail and the knitted, slightly-lumpy scarf and the skin-tight jeans and the earbuds dangling from her ears. Santana hadn't been able to breathe until she was standing next to her.
And now here she was, and she didn't really know how to proceed.
The signal switched, and the crowd surged into the crosswalk. And Santana, still with a curious look of awe written blatantly across her face, fell into step with the other girl as they moved forward as well. Her unknowing companion was bobbing her head to music that Santana couldn't hear, and Santana noted that the girl's steps were almost like dance moves as she proceeded from Point A to Point B.
They just barely missed the next light, so they ended up paused on the edge of the sidewalk once more. This time, however, the blonde tilted her head to look up the street to her left. And she noticed Santana standing next to her, that look of awe still plainly on display, and she smiled at her.
And when the girl smiled at Santana, something in her chest completely shattered. It broke apart and it fell to the ground and then it dissipated into an infinite number of particles that did little more than scatter on the frigid air that was rushing past them.
The light changed once more, and the blonde turned back to the road to cross. For a few moments, Santana was frozen in place – the unusual feeling she had just experienced left her stunned and tied to the ground beneath her feet. Again, her breath caught in her throat for a moment – until she realized that the blonde was already halfway down the next block, and she had to catch up to her.
Two blocks down, Santana was standing next to the blonde again. This time, the other girl immediately turned to glance in the brunette's direction. Her eyes were wide with mirth as Santana grinned up at her, and a smile spread slowly across her lips. Before Santana could stop herself, she was mouthing the word "Hi" and hoping she didn't look like a complete fool.
The other girl took one of her earbuds out of her ear and tucked it into the collar of her shirt beneath her tight, black jacket. "Hi," she replied. Her nose scrunched up as she tilted her head and asked, "Do I know you from somewhere?"
Santana shook her head and rolled her tongue against the inside of her cheek as she considered how to answer the question.
She could have been elegant. She could have used one of her many pickup lines that she had perfected over the years. She could have simply introduced herself.
She could have done a lot of things.
Instead, Santana opted for honesty.
"I don't think so," she said, "but we passed each other a few blocks back, and I had this epiphany." The light changed, and people started pushing past them in their rush to cross the street and make it to their final destinations. But the two girls remained standing still, facing each other.
"Did you?" the girl asked, almost smirking. Santana blushed – and Santana Lopez never blushes.
"I did." She paused and tried to select her next words carefully as they were leaving her mouth. Because this was important, and today was not the kind of day where Santana would have the opportunity for second chances. "And I know this is going to sound completely absurd, maybe a little mental, even. But it's not the first epiphany I've had today."
The blonde pulled out her other earbud and tucked it down next to the first before sticking her hands in her pockets. Santana had her full attention.
"My first epiphany," Santana continued, "happened when I woke up this morning. It was like, this crazy sense of knowing that I've never experienced before in my life. I knew when I woke up that today was going to be my last day."
"Your last day?" the blonde interrupted, a slight frown turning the corner of her lips downward. Santana instantly wanted to make her smile again.
"My last day," Santana reiterated with a nod. "And I don't know what it means – I don't know how it will happen and I don't know when or why or where. But I know that this is the end. And I'm starting to think that everything happens for a reason, you know? So when your elbow hit mine four blocks back, my world completely froze. Like, maybe this day and your beautiful face are all part of something that I was missing before – something that I was missing, but I hadn't realized I was missing. I mean, I felt you, and it was like…"
The girl's lips were already parted when she spoke again. "It was like…what?" Her question was soft, gentle. Santana wanted to reach out and grab the words and cradle them in the palm of her hand.
But Santana didn't know how to answer. So instead she asked, "Have you ever just known?" And her voice broke on the last word, because she hadn't realized before how badly she needed to know the girl's answer to this question. It was that moment – when the question left her lips to hang expectantly between their bodies – that Santana realized exactly how alone she felt. And she didn't want to be alone.
An ordinary person, perhaps, would have asked, "Have you ever just known what, exactly?"
But this girl was not ordinary. She was anything but ordinary. And when she answered, Santana shouldn't have been surprised. Because she was right – everything happens for a reason, and this chance meeting between two beautiful strangers was no exception. "You know," the blonde replied, ducking her head down and smiling at Santana's expectant expression, "I've never really just known before." Santana's breath left her in a sad shudder and her eyes clenched tightly together for a moment, but the other girl quickly continued. "However," her smile spread impossibly wide, "I'm starting to understand what you mean."
Eyes snapping open, Santana looked up at the perfect woman in front of her. The wind swept a tendril of long blonde hair into her face, but she made no move to tuck it back behind her ear. Her smile was beautiful and perfect and comforting and silently spoke to Santana's very soul as if they were kindred spirits, as if they belonged together.
Maybe in that moment, they did.
"What are you doing for the rest of the day?" Santana asked, hoping against all hope that the other girl understood what she was implying.
The blonde smiled. "I guess it depends. What are you doing for the rest of your life?"
Santana smiled and bit her lip. "I think I'd like to spend it with you, if I had the opportunity." Her voice was softer than she would have preferred – less confident than the average Santana Lopez statement and certainly more timid than she normally was when speaking to beautiful girls.
But the other girl merely smiled that stunning smile once more, and Santana knew that she would be doing exactly that.
"I'm Brittany, by the way."
"Brittany," Santana repeated. The name rolling off of her tongue tasted delicious. "It's nice to meet you. I'm Santana." She stuck her hand out in the air between their bodies.
But it became readily apparent that the traditional, formal gesture of a handshake during introductions was not enough for Brittany. She pulled her hands out of her jacket pockets and stepped forward, wrapping her arms around Santana's shoulders and holding onto her as if her life depended on it. It was the embrace of long lost friends or past lovers or some relationship that warranted a closer connection than a handshake between two strangers tossed together by the currents of chance or fate or destiny or one of those fickle things. And with Santana's hand pressed into Brittany's stomach between their bodies and her other hand simply grasping at the fabric on the girl's back, she stopped feeling lonely.
Her feelings of loneliness instantly vanished without a trace of their previous existence. Whatever residual fear she had felt before was replaced with something that felt like…
Something that felt like home.
All too soon, Brittany was pulling back. But the sense of comfort and familiarity remained, and Santana was thankful. She trailed her fingers down Santana's arm before reaching her wrist. Long, soft fingers gripped the warm skin just beneath the sleeve of her coat momentarily before dropping down and hooking their pinkies together. Brittany smiled brightly before turning and moving off into the crosswalk with purpose.
"Do you have plans for us?" Santana asked, ringing laughter crossing her lips involuntarily as they continued down the sidewalk.
Brittany turned her head to the side and stared mysteriously down her nose at her new friend. "I have some things in mind, S," she teased. The nickname caused Santana's smile to grow even wider, if that was possible. "You see, the night will go as follows…"
Santana woke up knowing that today would be her last. She knew it with everything that she was. But this day was just beginning. And maybe on this day when Santana knew her life was inevitably coming to a close, she would take this opportunity to finally start living.
And as she looked up at Brittany's smiling face while the girl outlined their plans for the rest of the day, Santana felt connected to her by more than just the touch of their fingertips.
Today was going to be Santana's last day.
But something told her that it was also going to be the best day of her life.