For as long as Santana could remember, Sunday morning meant Church.
As a small child, Church meant putting on a pretty dress, picking out one book to take with her, and then lunch at her abuela's. Her uncle and her two aunts and all their kids would come to lunch, too, even though they go to Church closer to their own homes. When she was six, the idea of Columbus had seemed magical and far away, although now that seems ridiculous because she'd been to Puerto Rico heaps of times by then. She'd like to go back in time and tell her little self to just wait until she sees New York, then she'll know what magic is.
Once she was a bit older, Church still meant the same thing, except she wasn't allowed to bring a book anymore. Her mom would tell her to pay attention, she might actually learn something, and her daddy would poke her in the knee until she would wriggle away and her abuela would glare at both of them once she had finished praying. She's not sure when she actually started paying attention, but she would like to go back and tell her younger self that the words she heard aren't the only way people think. She'd like to tell her younger self a lot of things, not that she ever would have listened.
They would get home from her abuela's after lunch, and even though she had homework to do and Cheerios routines to practice and probably some chores that she never actually did, she would strip off the pretty dress she'd worn and replace it with the tightest top and the shortest skirt and, god. What the Pierces must have thought of her then, coming over at three in the afternoon looking like a child prostitute. But Mrs P would just wave her on up to Brittany's room, and call out good night when she left far later than she should on a school night.
The Pierces didn't attend Church, and for a long while that mostly just meant Santana was jealous that Brittany got to sleep in on the one day they didn't have school or Cheerios practice. Later, she'd been jealous Brittany didn't have to listen to some of the things she had to listen to. Not all of them; sometimes the things she heard were nice, and those she'd have liked Brittany to hear, too. Those are the things that don't make this the chore it would otherwise feel like. But you never knew what it was going to be until you got there, so. One afternoon, she stormed into Brittany's room, pushed Brittany back into the floor where she was doing whatever and straddled her hips, and said, "today in Church I learnt we are going to hell."
It was a pretty vague statement, all things considered, but Brittany had just looked up at her and said, "that's okay, if we're all going there it'll be fun." She'd like to tell her not much younger self that this is something she should have paid more attention to.
She spends three Sundays skipping Church and skipping lunch but her dad wakes her up on the fourth Sunday and says, "that's enough now, Chicken, the real world is waiting." She's pretty sure he means her abuela.
It's cold in the Church and not just because someone forgot to close the inner door once the service started. She wears her prettiest dress. Her abuela sits by the aisle as always, and now her usual place on the other side of her parents feels strange and deliberate. At lunch she has always sat next to her abuela, but never at Church.
She presses at the clasp on her purse, over and over, clicking it closed in between each press. Her abuela hasn't said a word to her, but she had nodded approvingly when Santana had dipped her fingers in the Holy Water and blessed herself as they walked through the doors. Perhaps she had thought Santana would be struck by lightening.
Her dad wraps his hand over hers, and now her purse is sitting open in her lap. There are five movie ticket stubs, a Zippo lighter she's had no use for in the last few months, two tampons, her wallet (five dollars, three credit cards, drivers licence, Lima Bean loyalty card, two expired condoms, a photo of her and Brittany), and her iPhone. She pressed the button on her phone, lighting up the inside of her purse; it's 10.47am and she has two new messages.
The first is a speech bubble with eyes.
(I'm a whale!)
The second says
ily, followed by a less than sign, then a 3.
She wonders if God, or Jesus, or chocolate, or anything has ever made a person feel like she does right now, staring at that collection of letters and characters. (Has her abuela?) She hopes so, because it would fucking suck if everyone went through life without this, though it would explain why most people are assholes. She doesn't care that this is Church; people are assholes and she thinks God would approve of her keeping it real.
They leave the Church and head to lunch, and as the car pulls in she sees her younger cousins sitting on the porch, waiting for them to arrive after their own service. It's been a month, and she knows everyone else is fine because her cousin Luisa had sent her a message on Facebook saying, amongst other things, that she looked smoking in the photo that asshole had used and this summer Santana was helping her lose the last couple of post-baby pounds.
Her hands start to shake anyway.
She fumbles her phone from her purse, saying she'll just be a minute when her mom says to hurry up, and taps at the screen.
Little bit of unicorn magic, babe?
Brittany will know what she's really asking. She doesn't wait for a reply, and climbs out of the car.
Lunch is somehow better and worse than whatever scene she had been imagining. Everyone is pretending like there is nothing wrong (maybe there isn't) and that every single person at the table isn't sitting in the wrong seat because three weeks ago they had to close the gap her absence had created. She's sitting between her mom and her aunt Francis and in order to move her away from her abuela they've moved her to the seat directly opposite.
As they're getting ready to leave, Luisa and Francis each kiss her cheeks, and her aunt tells her not to worry. "We're working on her," she says. 'But it shouldn't take work to love someone,' she thinks, because she gets it now. It's just there. Can't be willed away, and it can't be willed into existence. She's intimately familiar with this concept now.
They head home, and she strips off the pretty dress and takes the same shower she takes every week before heading over to Brittney's. She's combing out her hair while she looks at the pile of clothes on the floor, and— fuck, whatever. She puts her pretty dress back on.
Mrs P says she looks lovely when she lets her in. It had been kind of awkward, at least for her, when everything, well, came out. Brittany had campaigned heavily, after they had made them official, to tell her parents. Santana had felt like a royal bitch saying no, and that was how they ended up with the plan. It wasn't a complicated plan. There were really only three steps on it: 1. tell her parents. 2. tell Britt's parents. 3. tell anyone else they feel like telling.
The exact time frame had been a little shaky, but she had planned to tell her parents over the holidays, when her mom would be home and her dad would have less surgeries scheduled. And exams would be over, so if things went horribly she'd have time to find somewhere else to live without screwing up her grades. She'd been trying to be practical. Brittany curled around her when she'd mumbled her way through her list of considerations, combed her fingers through Santana's hair and said she had a nice big bed, just in case.
Brittany ended up telling her parents alone, while Santana was at home doing the same. "It's your face up there, but this is happening to me, too," she said, kissing her forehead. "I'm just sorry you won't see how happy they'll be for us."
It reminds her of the time they had gone up to the lake for the summer when they were eleven. Santana had wanted to jump from the cliffs into the water like the older boys there, but they'd been telling stories about how people had died doing it, splattering their brains all over the rocks, and she was afraid. Brittany was afraid too, had said she wasn't going up there just to impress some boys, but when Santana had been standing there, back pressed against the heated cliff face and unable to move, Brittany appeared at her side, laced their fingers together, and pulled her to the edge. For years, she realizes, Brittany has been tying her fate to Santana's, all the while waiting for Santana to decide for herself whether to jump.
That first Sunday after everything, Santana had stayed for breakfast instead of hurrying home for Church. She hadn't meant to spend the night, but she'd been dreading going home because what was she even supposed to do on a Sunday morning? It had been late, and Mrs P came down into the basement to say good night. She'd leaned over the back of the couch and kissed them both on the head, then started back up the stairs, calling out that she'd see them both in the morning.
She hadn't really known what to do with that. She'd never really married the idea of people knowing about her, about them, with the idea of them being together. "Britt," she'd whispered, in case Mrs P was still nearby, "I can't stay. They'll think we're— you know."
Brittany just giggled, and slid her hand into Santana's hair. "They know we 'you know' already, honey," she'd whispered back, and pulled Santana to her lips. So she'd stayed, but flat out refused to fool around. (The first time they eventually have sex in Brittany's bed, with parents knowing she's there, Santana nearly bites through her trying to stay quiet.) Sleeping in pajama pants with Brittany had been really weird, but parents knowing they were having sex was weirder. But Mr and Mrs P haven't treated her any differently as their daughter's girlfriend than they did when she was their daughter's best friend. Or, maybe differently, but not worse.
Mrs P hands her a plate of sandwiches to take up to Brittany's room with her, and even though she's just come from lunch her stomach growls loudly. "We missed you at breakfast this morning," Mrs P says, and Santana can see the question in her eyes. She's been there for three Sunday breakfasts in a row, even when she hasn't slept over, and she knows Brittany passed on her text this morning, sent as she sat on the edge of her bed in her underwear, the pretty dress she now wears laid out next to her.
"I'm sorry I missed it," she says, not sure what she's sorry for exactly. She's not sorry she missed Brittany's sister pestering her to death with questions about how she and Brittany were girlfriends now, and did they kiss and were they going to get married and would they have babies one day. She's not sorry she missed Mr P singing B52's songs, because it's his Sunday morning cooking music. She's not sorry that her abuela has let her back in the house, even if she refused to talk to her.
She is sorry that it still feels like she has to choose between all the things she wants, Brittany tied to whatever decision she makes, even if it's just about where to eat a meal.
Brittany will smile at her from her usual place on the floor, just like she always has (nearly) every weekend since Santana was old enough to ride her bike to the Pierces' house. They'll share the plate of sandwiches, and then take a nap because it's getting cold and naps mean snuggles. Homework will wait (Santana), or will have already been done (Brittany).
The next weekend will be much of the same.
"Next Sunday's Christmas," she'll say, snuggling into Brittany's side in the afternoon sunshine. Brittany will blink the sleep from her eyes, a tiny "yay" swallowed by a yawn. "Come to Church with me."
Brittany will come. She'll sit next to Santana in a dress prettier than any Santana has ever worn, and it will be a week for hearing good things. Santana will look down the pew and see her abuela cross herself as she gets up off her knees, the last in their row of people to do so after communion. Her parents will have their fingers laced together, and she'll be so angry for a moment. So angry that they get to sit in this house that supposedly belongs to a god who loves everyone, and show the world that they belong to each other, while she can't. As if her whole world doesn't already know who she is, and what she is.
And she'll say 'fuck it', and grabs Brittany's hand. She won't let it go until they stand on the footpath after the service is over, Brittany leaving to go to Christmas lunch at her own grandparents' house. She'll kiss Brittany on the cheek, because even if they were surrounded by an army of lesbians, Santana won't ever be that comfortable with public displays of true affection.
They'll each go to Christmas lunch, and text all day until people start to notice. Luisa will make fun of Santana ("look at you, you're so in loooooooove") like she isn't twenty-seven with two kids. "Grow up," Santana will say.
"Just wait until you're married with kids, you'll see how not grown up you always feel. Your cousins are still your cousins, and your parents are still your parents." Maybe her abuela will still be her abuela.
Brittany will come to Church again the next week, on New Years Day and nursing a worse hangover than Santana. She'll be the one to drag Santana out of bed and pick out their pretty dresses and drive them to Church. It's important to Santana, even if she doesn't say so.
They'll stand on the footpath again, and she won't leave Brittany's side until it's time to head to lunch and for Brittany to head home. She'll climb into the back of her parents' car and sit beside her abuela and they will ride in silence to lunch.
She'll stand in her abuela's kitchen that same day, and the woman who raised her will say "Brittany will come to lunch next week." And Brittany will come. Sunday morning will always mean Church and then lunch at her abuela's when they're in Lima.
They'll come home (nearly) every Christmas, because her father will never retire and Mr P's own mother will live in Lima until she's one hundred and six. Freshman year, they'll have been apart for months because Yale had the nerve not to be in the same state as Juilliard. Sophomore year they'll be fighting because NYU dorms are tiny. Her abuela will send her outside when Brittany storms out of the house, and she'll panic for a moment because it's been years now, and they never talk about her relationship with Brittany, but her abuela will tell her to "shut up, and go bring her back inside before she freezes to death."
Brittany will come to lunch at her abuela's and Santana won't ever move back to her old seat. Brittany won't ever move from the seat beside hers. Santana'll move twice more, though; once for Alexander and once for Daisy. She'll be two seats away from Brittany, but for them she'll make an exception.
Sunday will always mean Church and lunch at abuela's, and at Church she'll sit beside Brittany and hold her hand as she watches her abuela pray. She'll never pray herself, because she never did, but she'll hope her abuela finds the answers Santana has always had in the girl whose hand she'll always hold in Church.