Waking up felt like a dream. The first rays of spring pushed their way through my curtains. My fingers curled and uncurled into my comforter. I was back in New York. I was home.
I groaned and rolled over; remembering the way Brittany had reacted the night before. I had never really seen her angry, and to be honest, I'd expected that type of reaction from you, Tía, not her. But I guess that's why life is so confusing. People never act the way you think they will.
I pushed myself up in bed and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. Brittany would be getting ready for the day. Maybe I could fix things before she left, or at least find out what her deal was.
I got out of bed and pulled on some sweat pants before heading out of my room. The sound of the fridge opening and closing made me falter in my steps. Britt had been really mad. Maybe I should deal with the situation later?
No, I thought. I needed to face her now, when I had her to myself.
I stepped into the kitchen and saw Brittany cracking eggs in a bowl. She didn't notice me so I sat down at the table and tried to think of something to say.
She jumped when she turned around to put the eggs away. "Jesus, Cass." She put a hand on her chest. "You scared me."
"Sorry," I said meekly, inwardly grimacing because the situation was already awkward and difficult enough. I watched as Brittany shook her head, her ponytail swishing back and forth. My stomach clenched with tension. She sighed and opened her mouth to speak, but I beat her to it.
"I'm sorry, Britt."
Brittany's face hardened into a mask. It looked weird and really forced, like she was channeling you or Abuela. "Stop, Cass."
I felt my heart sink. "Please listen to me, Britt. Just hear me out."
"Because I'm, like, angry. Really mad at you."
"I said I was sorry," I pleaded.
Brittany turned around and reached up in the cabinets to get a plate, effectively ignoring me. Somehow her anger felt icier than yours ever does, Tía.
I made my voice extra whiny and sad, using everything I could to my advantage. Britt's a sucker for a sob story. "I'm really sorry."
Brittany turned around and leaned against the counter, defeated. I saw some tension leave her shoulders. "Look, Cass. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to react so…" She gestured awkwardly with her hands. "I got caught up in the moment. I was just really surprised. I expected to come home to Santana and pizza and instead, there you were."
"I know, I feel really shitty," I rushed out. "I should've called."
Brittany smiled bitterly. "Yeah, that probably would've been a smart decision." She shook her head again and poured the eggs into a frying a pan on the stove. "I'm not… that was really rash of me to say you can't stay here. You can. I just… you really hurt Santana, Cass."
I grimaced. How much had I hurt you, Tía? You'd never tell me. "I know, I'm really stupid."
"You're not stupid. You made a decision based on what you needed to do, and that's really good. You're going to have to make hard choices like that all your life. You just have to realize the consequences of your actions."
I knew that. I did. I still felt so awful. "I do. I feel so bad."
Britt poured some coffee in a mug and handed it to me with a shrug. I wrapped my hands around it tightly. "Santana will forgive you, don't worry."
"I know. But what about you?" I looked at her steadily, searching for any sign that her anger was melting away. Brittany wouldn't look at me and instead started scrambling the eggs in the frying pan.
"I just don't get it," she said after a minute. "Why did you leave?"
Why did I leave? I guess I was searching for something. Had I found it? I thought so. Or at least I hoped so.
Wasn't I looking for reassurance that I had done everything possible to be different than the rest of my family? That I was better than the abandonment and the teen pregnancies and everything shitty I had known about family until I met you and Brittany?
"It's hard to explain," I said.
"Well, I'm not stupid so try," Brittany snapped. I recoiled slightly.
I tried to put it in the simplest of terms. "Your family isn't like ours, okay? Sure, maybe your dad is a little uptight, but he loves you. Santana and I, we don't have people who care about what we do with our lives."
Brittany shook her head and stared back at me heavily, her blue eyes reflecting ice, but harboring something deeper. Something warmer. "Santana cares about you. If what you're saying is true, then what's the point of leaving someone who loves you?"
I sighed, exasperated. "I made a mistake, Britt. I thought I could mend what I had with my dad, alright?"
She crossed her arms. "Why are you back?"
"It doesn't matter," I pushed. "I fucked things up."
Brittany gave me a look. "Cass. Language." I shrugged. "It matters," she said.
"No, what matters is how much I fucked it up with Santana." Had I ruined everything? How much had I hurt you? And how much had I hurt Brittany? I learned that my dad cared about me, and I learned that I can make my own decisions about how I want to live my life. But in the process of that had I screwed everything up that I had going for me?
"Well what about me, Cass?" Brittany asked.
"What about you?"
I watched, confused, as she turned off the stove and transferred the eggs to a plate. Then she turned around and met my eyes. In that second, the iciness in Brittany's eyes cracked.
"You didn't even say goodbye."
Brittany gasped out a breath and I instinctively took a step forward. Her hands gripped the counter behind her and I stopped in my tracks. I hadn't even said goodbye. I thought about the moment in that stupid conference room when I decided to stay in Ohio and how I didn't know how to say goodbye.
"I didn't think I'd be able to leave if I did," I choked out.
"So, what you think avoiding it makes it any better?"
"I thought you were coming home. You were supposed to come home." Tears pushed their way down Brittany's cheeks and she wiped at them carefully.
My heart broke a little bit at the sight. "Britt."
"I thought… you really…" She looked away from me and her hand rubbed at the back of her neck, frustrated. "I haven't felt like this since Lord Tubbington died. And like, you're not a cat and you don't have feline AIDS and I'm pretty sure he's up there with Jesus so it's okay. But it just feels like that moment when you're going down the stairs and you think there's one more step but there isn't so your foot gets all jarred against the floor and it feels like your stomach is pushing itself up your chest."
Brittany finally looked back at me and I stepped closer, knowing exactly the feeling she described even though I had no idea what the hell feline AIDS was. My stomach clenched at the thought that I had made Britt feel like that. It was my fault.
I said the only thing that I knew was true and that didn't feel like I was making excuses. Britt was right; I had to own up to the consequences of my actions, even if there were good reasons for them. "I really missed you, B."
"Yeah," Brittany sighed and slumped in defeat. "I really missed you too."
I closed the distance between us and wrapped my arms around her stomach. Hers fell around my shoulders and I squeezed really super tight. "I'm so sorry I hurt you," I said into her chest. I had never meant to hurt anyone. I was just trying to figure my life out. I think Brittany knew that too. She squeezed back just as hard.
She sighed and I felt her breath on the top of my head. "Just… just don't leave again, alright?"
I nodded frantically and took a step back. Brittany rolled her eyes and wiped the last of the wetness from her cheeks. Then she picked up the plate of eggs on the counter and handed them to me. I accepted the peace offering with a small smile.
As I sat down to eat them, I heard quiet groaning. Then I remembered you'd slept on the couch last night. I looked over at Brittany who had frozen with her hand on the fridge. She glanced at me with an amused, but guilty smile. I moved to look into the hall where you were trying to stealthily sneak back into your room.
"Santana," Brittany said to get your attention.
You grumbled and whipped around before going on a rant about having to sleep on the couch. Then you slunk off back to bed. I snorted and returned to my eggs. You are the biggest baby sometimes, Tía.
"Whoops," Brittany giggled to herself. "Think she's really mad?"
I laughed. "She can't stay mad at you, trust me."
Brittany gave a sly smile. "Oh, I know."
I shook my head and tried not to lose my appetite because, like, ew, love. "Hey, Britt," I said after swallowing some more egggs. "Can you help me get set up again at school?"
"I guess so," she said and sat down across from me at the table with a cup of coffee. "You're ready to go back?"
I nodded. "I have this idea for my art project…"
Brittany smiled. "It's about time."
Brittany shrugged and got up to get ready for the day. I finished my eggs and did the same. For once, I was eager to get back to school.
"So, really, why are you back?" Brittany asked on our way to school.
I shrugged, my backpack heavy on my shoulders with all of my books. "To be honest, my dad suggested I come back."
Brittany glanced at me carefully. "Was it bad there?"
"Not really," I sighed. "I mean, it wasn't good. But it wasn't, like, horrible. My dad…" I stopped talking and tried to think of a good way to explain. "You know when you're going down the stairs and you think there's one more step but there isn't so your foot gets all jarred against the floor and it feels like your stomach is pushing itself up your chest?" Brittany smirked and nodded. "Well that's what being there felt like. And my dad, I think he knew that. He wants me to be better so he told me that Santana could take care of me because he could tell that I was way happier here."
"So you came back. Just like that?"
I shrugged again. "Basically. I guess, deep down, I kind of knew it would work out that way. I just had to see for myself. Plus," I said. "I was going to come back here for college anyway."
"Well, that's good," Britt replied. "I think Santana has an account set up for you. I might try to pitch in. You could really go somewhere great. The world needs to see how awesome you are."
I rolled my eyes. "Stop, B."
She looked at me seriously. "I'm not kidding, dork."
"You're the dork," I said, heat creeping into my cheeks.
"Pretty much," Brittany said with a goofy smile. "Come on, let's get you settled."
We walked into the school and Brittany talked to the administrators and explained everything and how we lived together. I was a little surprised at that, but the administrators really like Brittany (obviously because everybody likes Brittany), so they let all the paperwork go through and soon I was back in all of my classes as if nothing had changed.
Brittany turned to me after everything was settled and patted me on the shoulder. "See you in gym, Cass!" I inwardly groaned and made my way back to my new-old locker. I was spinning the dial when the bell for the end of first period rang and kids started to flood the hallways. Opening my locker, I heard a loud and embarrassing shriek.
I whipped around to see John Crater towering over me, his mouth open in shock. "Hey," I said nonchalantly.
I tried to keep a straight face, but I felt a tiny smile peeking through. "Yep."
"HOW? WHY? YOU'RE HERE! HOW?"
I laughed. "Please stop screaming."
He rushed forward and squeezed me to his chest, my arms awkwardly getting caught in between us in surprise. "THIS IS THE BEST!"
I pushed back and looked at the excitement on his face, laughing at his glasses which were sliding down his nose and his hair which never seemed to stay styled.
"Hi," I said.
"Hi," he said back. "Are you really here? Like forever and stuff?"
I nodded. "Yeah I really am."
"Because I missed you, obviously." I didn't really want to get into the full extent of the ordeal with my dad right then in the middle of the hallway.
John's smile was huge. It felt so good to see him. "I missed you too," he said. "Like, so much."
John rolled his eyes. "She's actually home sick today. I think she might have mono." He grabbed my hands in front of him. "Do we still have gym together?"
I nodded and stared at my fingers, carefully intertwined with his. "Yeah."
"Awesome," he said and it felt like he was talking about something else.
I nodded. "It really is."
As soon as I got to art I started to explain to Ms. Baker the idea I had while I was on the plane back to New York. She wasn't too impressed with my absence and she told me I was going to have to work my ass off to get caught up, but she didn't seem too mad that I was back in her class.
I sat down in the back at a table all to myself and took out my sketchpad to start drawing some ideas I had for the "New York" aspect of my comparison.
It felt good to feel the pencil between my fingers again. I absentmindedly guided my fingers over the page, adding smaller details as I envisioned them in my mind. I thought about everything. About my dad and Abuela, about you and Brittany, about Crater. I thought about art and college and spray painting.
I thought about how I wouldn't have much time for spray painting until summer at least. I had a lot of catching up to do. Somehow, I didn't mind all that much. The feeling I got when I was out on the street filled me up in that moment. I realized it had more to do with being at ease with myself than it had to do with location or what I was doing.
And finally being at ease with myself, finally coming to terms with who I was and the things I'd done, was the best thing that had happened to me in months.
Shortly after returning to New York, I got a call from my dad. He was checking in on me and making sure that you had taken me back. I reassured him that we were family, Tía, that you didn't care how badly my leaving had sucked for you, and that you would always be there for me.
I think that reality struck him as strange. Even though he suggested that I come back, it probably didn't seem like things would be okay. I know that feeling. It's hard to accept that things can get good when all you've really known until that point was bad, you know?
We still talk sometimes. I make it a point to call him at least once a month, sometimes more, just to see how he's doing. He's out of jail now, you know. He's working as a mechanic. After he got out, the first thing he told me was that I better stay where I was in New York. I guess that's okay. Maybe our relationship works best long distance.
I've come to learn that putting your best interests above others doesn't mean that you love them any less.
So, I know this a really long story of why you mean the world to me, and I'm definitely not going to read this as your maid of honor speech, but I hope you don't mind if I just finish it, Tía. I'm not sure you'll ever read this, but it's summer and I have nothing else to do and it feels really great to just write all of this stuff out.
Anyway, after the first week that I came back to New York, something happened that I do want to put into my speech somehow. I don't know if you remember it, or if it seemed as big to you as it did to me, but I remember this time that sums up yours and Brittany's relationship basically perfectly.
It was a Monday night and you didn't have to work which was nice, and Brittany had the night off, too, so we planned on having dinner together. You had gone to the gym and Brittany had gone to the store and was starting to make a dinner of chicken and sautéed vegetables.
I was sitting at the kitchen table working on some math homework, becoming more and more frustrated by the second because I wasn't very good at trigonometry.
"Why don't you take a break and help me cook some of this stuff?" Brittany glanced at me quickly as she finished dicing an onion.
"Okay," I said and bit my lip in concentration. "After I finish this problem."
I heard sizzling as Brittany added the onions to the pan on the stove. The door opened and you walked in all sweaty and panting.
"Smells good in here." You smiled at Brittany and took off your tennis shoes.
Brittany beamed back at you. I rolled my eyes and looked back down at my textbook. "Thanks," she said. "Go take a shower and it'll be ready when you're done."
You disappeared into the bathroom as Brittany added some peppers to the onions on the stove. I plugged some numbers into my calculator, violently pressing the sine button and watching as ERROR popped up on the screen. Stupid sine. I should've taken that as a sign that I should've just quit then and there. Haha sign, Tía, get it? Oh God I crack myself up.
(What Tía, I'm hilarious okay?)
Anyway. I circled the problem to ask my teacher about the next day and closed my textbook with a satisfying thunk.
"I'm just going to put this stuff away and I'll be right back," I told Brittany.
"Okay, it's basically done anyway. Tell Santana, will you?" She took the chicken out of the oven and placed the pan on the counter.
I dropped my backpack off in my room and made my way to your room where the door was open a crack. I pushed it open some more. "Tía, dinner is ready."
"Jesus, don't you knock!" You whipped around and glared at me, your hand on your hip, as if I would find that menacing. Right. You were in your underwear, Tía. Like I would be frightened by a half-naked woman who can't even bring herself to punish me for anything and who turns to mush whenever her girlfriend smiles at her.
I ignored you. "Dinner is ready. Put some damn clothes on and come on. I'm hungry."
You rolled your eyes and pulled a t-shirt over your head. "Watch your mouth."
You slipped some shorts up your legs and were pulling your hair into a ponytail when you froze. "Do you… do you smell that?"
I took a second to breathe, sniffing the air heavily, and felt a bitter taste in my throat. Like something was –
At that second, the smoke alarm in the kitchen started blaring. "Shit," you hissed and pushed past me, bounding down the hall in three big steps. I followed quickly.
I reached the kitchen just in time to see orange flames erupt on the stove. Brittany swiftly moved to pour water on the pan.
"Britt, no, STOP!" You screamed and rushed forward. A few drops of water sizzled on the flames as Brittany stopped herself from letting the liquid waterfall over the pan. You reached for something on the counter and slammed it down on the flames. Then you flicked off the stove and grabbed a towel before using it to move the lidded pan to the sink.
Smoke still filled the air and I coughed slightly. Brittany reached up and jabbed at the smoke alarm where it was still blaring and hit the button on it, effectively silencing the loud noise. You wiped at the air with your hands trying to clear the steam. Angrily you turned on Brittany.
"Britt, what the hell?" Your hair was wildly flowing around your face, wet and curly.
"I…" Brittany looked between you and the stove. "I forgot it was on there. I was doing the chicken."
"You forgot? Seriously Britt, Jesus Christ." Your hands gestured wildly. "And you can't fucking pour water on a flame like that, it only fuels the fire. You have to cover it otherwise it'll just get worse!"
Brittany shrunk into herself and I looked between the two of you, unsure of what to do or how to calm you down. "Sorry," Brittany squeaked.
"Sorry? You could've set the whole place on fire and all you're saying is sorry?"
"Tía," I said helplessly as a crease appeared in Brittany's forehead. I knew she was holding back tears.
"You could've set the whole place on fire," you repeated. "The whole…" you trailed off and I watched incredulously as your hands flew to your face and you choked out a sob.
I looked at Brittany confused. One second you'd been yelling and the next you were crying. I had never seen you cry before. What should I do?
"Tía," I said again because I seemed to have forgotten that other words existed. You coughed out another sob, your tiny frame shaking with the force of it.
"Oh, Santana," Brittany rushed forward and wrapped her arms around you. You leaned into her, your forehead resting against her shoulder. "Santana, honey, it's okay. We're fine. Everybody is fine."
I stood there awkwardly, uncertain if I should do something, but it seemed that the two of you had migrated into your own tiny world. I was just barely standing on the edge, close to enough to observe, but too far to make a difference.
I watched as Brittany kissed your hair, murmuring something that I couldn't hear and how your shaking body slowly stilled. I remembered how similar we are, how when we're scared and worried, anger defensively floods our bloodstreams, trying to flush out that vulnerability.
I hummed sympathetically, wondering how Brittany realized so quickly that you weren't really angry, just scared that we could've been hurt. I marveled at how quickly your emotions had flared up when you thought Brittany might hurt herself.
Your relationship with Brittany is so confusing and amazing to me. I don't understand it that much, but I get that you guys have this strange symbiosis going on. You care for Brittany in ways I've never cared about anyone, in ways that I can barely begin to fathom. And Brittany has the ability to soothe you with just a quick whispered word.
I hope someday I find something like that. I love John, but I don't know, it doesn't feel as deep as the love between you and Brittany. Maybe it's an appreciation that comes with age, or maybe John is my just first love and it won't last. I'm not sure.
All I know is that staring at the way your hands clenched around Brittany's shirt and how her cheek rested against the top of your head, that sort of love was a special kind of dance.
For just a moment, a beat in the sands of time, our dinner lay forgotten. I blended into the background. You and Brittany held each other. And I marveled at the tiny world the two of you had created together.
I'm glad that I'm lucky enough to be one of the few people who get to have one foot in that world. It makes me certain that no matter what, love exists and it's everything that people expect it to be.
Sometimes, it's even more.
A/N: Hello all. So... that was it. That's the end. I know this is not the ending point for They Bring Me Back, but in my opinion, this is where Cass feels that things in her life have finally shifted for the best and the end of where she thanks Santana. I hope you all enjoyed it, and sorry that it took me a year and a half to finish. Thank you all for sticking around and for all your kind words and support. I have loved writing this. Of course, thank you so much to Carola who has been with me for awhile now, editing and helping my writing be its very best.
As for the future, I have a few things in progress, but I am slow to finish them. So they might happen in the near future or the far future or who knows when, but I guess cautiously expect those if you enjoy my stuff. And if you haven't checked them out, I have two other stories which I think are pretty fun. If you want to, you may make prompt requests at my tumblr (thatswherehopelies), and I'll see what I can do.
Finally, just really, thank you. This story, and Cass especially, have meant so much to me and all of my readers have only helped to foster my love for writing and for this fiction. Thank you all so much.
See you next time,