Best Christmas Ever

When he was eleven, the only thing he wanted for Christmas was a PS3.

Like seriously, he didn't even ask for anything else. All he wanted was the new Playstation, and by the time the things were finally released, he was pretty much obsessed with them. So yeah, he was kind of counting on actually getting it.

He even freaking asked Santa for it, and he hadn't even believed in that stuff since he was like eight. But his mom forced him into seeing him at the mall because the year before, his sister was only a few months old, and they didn't really get any pictures with Santa or whatever. So his mom was like totally dead set on getting one with all three kids, and she basically didn't give him a choice before she shoved his sister into his arms and pushed all of them down that red felt carpet. It was totally embarrassing, and Sam was pissed off the whole time and pretty much just looking to make sure none of his friends happened to walk by or something. Looking back, that picture's pretty funny because he's so not amused, his brother's playing with Santa's beard, and his sister's screaming because she obviously wasn't too into random strange old men holding her when she was a baby. But at that moment, it definitely wasn't funny- it was basically torture.

So he kind of figured that if he was getting tortured anyway, he might as well get something out of it and at least try his luck by being honest with what he wanted for Christmas.

So, yeah. He told his mom and his dad and even freaking Santa Claus, so he was pretty confident that somebody would get the message and that he'd come downstairs on Christmas morning to find exactly what he wanted. What he didn't count on (or maybe just didn't understand) was that PS3s were basically impossible to get that first year they were out, so on Christmas morning, he actually came downstairs to find a bunch of stuff that he didn't ask for.

And no PS3.

He pitched probably like the biggest fit of his whole life, and he should probably just feel lucky that his parents didn't actually beat him to death that morning. He was being a total little asshole, and he knows it now, but back then, he totally thought he was in the right and that they were evil and terrible parents. He must have been pretty ballsy, too, at least for a sixth grader, because he didn't take their warnings seriously, and when they threatened to give all of his presents to somebody who would appreciate them, he just told them he didn't care because he didn't want that crap anyway.

So on December 26th, he definitely found himself in the car with all of his presents bagged up in the trunk.

He should've known better. His parents aren't those empty threats kind of people, and they never have been. "You're going to be very sorry," was never a warning in their house but more like a promise. So, yeah. He should've known better, but he was too pissed off and bratty to realize it and shut up when he should have. Obviously he tried all kinds of apologizing and swearing he didn't mean it and everything else when they were actually in the car, but it didn't work. And he just had to stand there and watch while his parents gave every single one of his presents to the homeless shelter. Then they shoved him to the end of the serving line with some plastic gloves and a tub full of stale cookies.

It was kind of the best and the worst Christmas ever.

At the time, it felt like the worst because he ended up with nothing but some really, really pissed off parents. But he was also smart enough to realize that he was learning a real lesson. And he learned it pretty fast.

He was pretty privileged. Kind of spoiled even- especially when he was little, back before his brother and sister were born. He was an only child for eight years, and he was pretty used to getting his way and basically everything he asked for. He certainly didn't need anything, and he had tons and tons of stuff that he barely even used. There were kids at that shelter, though, who didn't have anything. They didn't even have homes. And by the time he left the shelter that day, he was way more appreciative of everything in his life than he'd ever been before. Those kids didn't even have like a house or clean clothes, and there he was, whining about some stupid video game console.

It changed his perspective on a lot of things.

He thought losing his presents when he was eleven was bad, but that didn't even compare to losing his house when he was fifteen.

Seriously. He always imagined getting a car for his sixteenth birthday and having some kind of kick ass party. But sometimes life doesn't work out like you imagine, and he didn't get anything close to that. He was living in one room with his parents and both his little siblings, and the closest he got to a party was a little store-bought cake with some messy icing, and the closest he got to a car was his mom looking like she wanted to cry when she told him they couldn't really afford any presents.

It wasn't his best birthday ever.

Those months in the hotel were pretty rough. He spent a lot of time just being really pissed off. He just felt so mad at pretty much everyone. He was mad at his parents for letting it all happen. He was mad at his friends for still having real places to go and sleep at night. He was mad at God for putting them through all that when they were basically good people and tried really hard to be good Christians and do all the stuff they were supposed to.

So yeah, he was mad. But it didn't change anything, and he realized that pretty quickly. His attitude wasn't helping anything- it was stressing his parents out, and it definitely wasn't setting a good example for Stevie and Stacy. So he just made up his mind to be better. His dad always told him something like, "We make ourselves happy, or we make ourselves miserable. The amount of effort is the same." So Sam just decided not to be miserable one day. It definitely wasn't easy, and he definitely wasn't successful all the time, but he tried because that's what his family needed him to do.

And he's always known that family is the most important thing.

So he kept telling himself to think of his family every time he set foot in Stallionz.

It's not like he set out to be a stripper, okay? Like seriously, that probably would have never crossed his mind in like a million years. It was kind of just an accident…

They were in Kentucky, and it was okay because at least they had a house and all that. But he didn't know anyone there, and he wasn't making friends at school as fast as he did at McKinley because he didn't have time to join any kind of extra-curriculars or sports, and it just kind of sucked, okay? Being in his third school in three years… It just sucked, and he wasn't having the best time. He got this job at Dairy Queen just to kind of help out because even though his dad had a job, they still were struggling to make ends meet. There were still collection calls coming every day, and his dad's paycheck didn't even cover all the necessities. So Sam was happy to help out where he could, and DQ seemed like a good enough option.

Except it was minimum wage, and he was only getting like 15 hours a week. But at least it was something.

Then he was at the mall one day looking for some cheap tennis shoes because his were practically falling apart, and this woman stopped him outside Sears and asked him if he had any modeling experience. At first he was kind of freaked out because it was so random, and it all kind of reminded him of something straight out of To Catch a Predator or something. But he still answered her because she didn't really look like a child molester or anything. So he told her no, and she asked if he had a few minutes to talk.

Turns out, she was just putting together a mall fashion show. They were holding auditions, but she said she was doing some "light scouting," too, and she said he had a "perfect model look."

So that's how he ended up shirtless modeling a pair of jeans from Abercrombie & Fitch on a runway in the middle of the Florence Mall.

It was cool. He got a $25 gift card to the mall, and he met some new people. It was even kind of fun. He never really thought about modeling before, but lots of people in the fashion show told him he should look into it. One of the directors even told him to call around in Cincinnati and try to find an agency because he could probably be pretty successful in print work.

And then some other random woman came up to him after it was over, handed him a business card, and told him to stop by if he was interested in making some money.

Yeah, he probably should have paid closer attention, but he just assumed she meant make some money modeling. He didn't really know what Stallionz was, but he figured maybe it was just the name of her modeling agency or something. He sure as hell didn't expect to walk into the place and find an empty bar and a stage and a bunch of tables. It wasn't a modeling agency- it was like a restaurant or a club… or something. Then that woman showed up and took him back to her office, and he finally figured out what was going on.

He probably should have just left. His parents would flip the hell out of if they knew he was in a place like that, and he should have just politely declined when she asked him to have a seat. He really should have told the truth when she said, "You're eighteen, right?" And to be honest, he's not even sure why he lied- it just kind of slipped out, and he said yes. It took like five seconds for him to realize that he was just sitting there lying, but by then it was too late because she was handing him paperwork and asking him if he wanted to stick around watch that afternoon's early show.

So that's how it happened.

He saw what kind of money the dancers were making, and he thought about how it took him two or three days at DQ to make the kind of money these dudes made in like 20 minutes. And they didn't actually get naked- they just got really, really close. It didn't look like it would be that difficult…

So he found a place online to get a fake ID, and that's how he became a stripper.

And okay, the whole time he was doing it, he knew he was pushing his luck. Somebody was going to come in and recognize him and tell his parents, or they were going to find out some way. He wasn't looking forward to being busted for that because… Well, his parents wouldn't be happy, okay? But it was kind of addicting. Like he thought maybe he'd just do a few shows and save up some cash and then stick with Dairy Queen, but it took him about a week to realize that he didn't want to work his butt off in fast food for way less than he could make for just showing his butt a little bit. Like seriously, he'd never had so much money in his whole life, and he wasn't really at a point where he could just turn his back on that.

But he drew a line for himself. Like he sort of had to just to keep some kind of semblance of self-respect. He never did the private parties or anything like that- that was just too much, and he just really, really didn't want to do all that. He did sometimes take $20 bills from middle aged women and let them touch him a little inappropriately, but it was basically harmless. He got kind of popular there, and he usually always made the most or almost the most of all the dancers. And sometimes women would even come back specifically to see him. It was weird and creepy but also kind of flattering in a totally fucked up way.

But he basically lived in fear the whole time he was working there- fear that they would find out he was really sixteen, fear that his parents would discover what he was doing, fear that everything would just blow up in his face… But then his little sister needed thirty bucks for a field trip, and she wouldn't have been able to go if he didn't have the money to give her. And his brother started this weird growth spurt and started getting too big for all his clothes and shoes. And then the electric company put a notice on the door saying that if last month's bill wasn't paid in full by 5:00 that they would cut the power… And yeah. Sam was able to take care of all of that.

But he hated it. Like every single day, he just felt like he was doing something wrong, and he always felt guilty lying to his parents because they didn't raise him to be a liar. But he didn't know what else to do. He felt trapped, and sometimes he'd just lie awake at night and think about how kids his age shouldn't have to be doing all this. They should just be having fun and hanging out with their friends. He didn't even have any friends. He didn't have any at his new school, and he didn't really talk to any from his old schools. He just kept up with them on Facebook and stuff, but he barely even had time for that.

It just sucked, but he did what he had to do because that's what his family needed.

He likes being back in Lima and back at McKinley because he likes being back with his friends. But there's also a huge part of him that's super homesick, too.

He shouldn't be, okay? He's been away from home before. He went to boarding school, so it's not like he's never been away from his parents. So he's not really sure why it's so much harder now than it was then. Maybe it's just because back then he didn't have to worry about the bills getting paid and his brother having a winter coat that fits. Now that's basically all he can think about it, and it's kind of making him crazy inside. He came back here because he wanted to just be a normal teenager, but everything's different now. He's not really sure he's ever just gonna be a regular kid again.

He's staying with the Berrys, which doesn't suck, but it's not like the best living arrangement he ever imagined. Her dads are awesome, but Rachel's kind of (super) annoying to live with. It's not that he's not grateful or whatever, and she's his friend, yeah, but she's just… kind of obsessive. Like she wants to be on top of him all the time, making sure he's constantly entertained and included, and she's just trying to be nice, but she could tone it down a little. He's living here now, he doesn't need to always be treated like a guest.

But it's cool. Like it could be way worse. He's thankful that somebody was willing to offer him a place to stay, so he just deals with the downsides of it.

But sometimes he misses his family so much, he can't stand it.

He was stupid to think he'd come back here and everything would be the same.

Nothing's the same. Or it doesn't seem like it anyway. He came back to find the glee club split in two, Mercedes with a giant new boyfriend, and Quinn trying to steal back a baby she gave up for adoption a year and a half ago. And yeah, now New Directions is all back together again or whatever, but it still feels different. Or maybe it's just him who's different.

Christmas with glee was fun last year. It was kind of weird with them all having to pretend like Santa Claus was real or whatever to help Brittany, but it was still fun. They sang together and shopped together and played Dirty Santa together. They're still together this year, but it's just not the same. He knows it's mostly him, and he doesn't like it. He's still feeling that same kind of bitterness that he felt toward them for like half of last year, and that sorta scares him because he knows it's not healthy to have that in his heart or whatever it is they'd tell him at church. But he can't help it. Last year, it was more jealousy- like he was bitter because all of them had homes and money to go out to eat or to the movies or whatever. Now it's just kind of resentment because they're all so over-privileged and none of them even realize it.

He shouldn't judge them. He really shouldn't. Judging people isn't something you're supposed to do, and he knows it, but it's hard. It's hard to sit around and listen to all of them list off all the shit they told their parents to buy them for Christmas when he knows there are little kids out there who aren't getting anything this year. But none of his friends seem to understand that, or at least they all pretend not to notice.

Part of him wishes he could still fake that sort of mindless reality, too.

His sister calls him one night while he's trying to work on his geometry homework.

"Sam, I miss you."

He tries not to like actually sigh out loud, but it hurts him to hear stuff like that. He tries not to let on, though, and he just says, "I miss you, too, Stace."

"When are you coming home?"

"In a couple of weeks."

"I know how many days."

"You do?" He erases the last six answers from his homework when he realizes he's working the problems all wrong.

"Yeah. In school we made this chain out of construction paper that counts down to Christmas when you tear off the little loops. So me and Momma made another one that counts down to you."

He closes his eyes because all of a sudden, he really feels like crying.

"I wish all the loops were already gone..." She sounds really sad, and he can't stand it, so he tries to change the subject.

"Did you see Santa yet?" He knows she did because his mom already told him about it, but he wants Stacy to sound happy instead of so depressed, so he asks anyway.

"Yeah, he came to church."

"Did you talk to him?"

"Yeah. I told him you weren't here right now but that you'd be back for Christmas. So he won't forget you."

He laughs a little bit because he can practically see all of that happening in his mind. It's not the happiest kind of laugh, though, because picturing all of that just makes him miss his family even more than he already does. And even though sometimes his little sister is the most annoying thing in the world, he kind of feels like he'd do anything to just hug her right now.

This sucks.

He's not the only one who's homesick. There's this new kid, Rory, and he's like way further away from his family than Sam's ever been.

He doesn't know Rory that well or anything, but they've talked a few times in glee, and he seems pretty okay. He's Irish, which is cool, and he's kind of in the same boat as Sam- living at somebody else's house without any of his real family close by. So Sam can totally sympathize when he gets up in glee and talks about how badly he misses his family. He can also sympathize with the whole new kid thing. Sam's practically a pro at being the new kid- he's been the new kid for what seems like forever now.

So he offers to help him out.

He kind of gets the feeling that Rory's not totally accepted yet or something, even by the rest of the glee club. He's friends with like Finn maybe, but nobody else pays him that much attention. And Sam knows from his own experience that it sucks not to have any friends, so he offers himself. He offers to show him all about Christmas in America and stuff, and he even asks if he wants to come home with him over break. They don't have a lot of extra room at their house (or any extra room- he's still sharing a room with his brother, and his sister is sleeping in a room that's supposed to be an over-sized storage area), but he knows his parents won't mind. If Rory doesn't mind crashing on the couch, it'll be totally fine.

Nobody should be alone on Christmas, and he's sure his parents think the same thing.

He doesn't mean to get in a fight with Artie at glee, but it just kind of happens.

It's probably mostly his fault because he's the one who opened his mouth and gave his opinion when nobody asked for it, but he couldn't really help it. He's been getting kind of annoyed a lot lately, and Artie pretending like Christmas isn't about anything besides laughing and joking just kind of pushed him over the edge. They're not little kids- they should be old enough to know that all this happy-go-lucky crap is just, well, crap. Life isn't all fun and games, and neither is Christmas. So he kind of just says exactly what's on his mind.

Nobody takes his side.

They're all too caught up in the idea of being in some stupid TV special that nobody's even gonna see. Like seriously, who watches PBS? Some old people who'll be asleep before their special even comes on at 8? It's just kind of dumb and totally not important enough to buy into some crap about Christmas only being about fun.

It only stings a little bit when he leaves alone.

He's trying to study for a chemistry test, but Rachel comes running up the hallway and bangs on his door until he tells her to come in.

She looks half-hysterical or something, like she's in a panic over something. She's got that crazy look in her eyes, and he's not surprised because she kind of looks like that a lot. He just looks at her, though, because he knows she'll tell him whatever's wrong without him having to actually ask.

"I need your help."

"What's wrong?"

"I can't decide what dress to wear for the Christmas special!" He rolls his eyes, but she either doesn't notice or doesn't care. "Mercedes texted me a picture of her dress, and I want us to at least coordinate a little. But I can't decide which color will look best under the television lights."

"Um, isn't that thing black and white?"

She gives him one of those looks like she wants to kill him or something. He's only a little bit afraid of it. "The producers might take still shots to use for syndication promos." He has no idea what any of that means, but he's pretty sure it's easier to just do whatever she's asking than sit here and try to talk logically to her.

"So what do you want me to do?"

"Come tell me which of these dresses you like, and then I need you to take pictures under the basement stage lights."

If he ends up failing chemistry, he wonders if his parents will take him having to photograph wardrobe changes as an excuse.

He really likes his church in Lima.

It's kind of weird coming here all by himself without his family or whatever, but they were here for a whole year, so he knows everyone pretty well. It's just a small church, but he likes it much better than the one they got to in Kentucky. That one's huge and just feels kind of impersonal or something. This one feels like home even though they weren't here for a ton of time or whatever.

He usually sits with Quinn because she's the person he knows best here, and it's better than sitting alone. Actually, Quinn was kind of his best friend before he moved, and she was his girlfriend before that. He's not so much into wanting to date her anymore or anything, not since she cheated on him and all that, but out of everybody in Lima, she's probably the person that knows him the best.

She's late today, though, so he doesn't really get to talk to her until after Sunday School when they're heading to the sanctuary for the main service. She looks tired, and he can tell she didn't get enough sleep last night- that's probably why she was late this morning. They just talk about some stupid stuff while they walk, and then they sit down toward the back because Quinn says she doesn't want to sit with her mom. He assumes they must be in a fight or something, but he's not really sure if he should ask.

There are a couple of minutes of mostly silence, and then Quinn says, "Nobody's going to help at the shelter Friday. That's when they're filming the special."

He's not surprised. He kind of figured that would happen. He just shrugs because he's not sure what he's supposed to say to that. He can't really think of anything to say that doesn't involve calling his friends a bunch of selfish assholes.

"I'm not doing it." He looks over, but Quinn's pulling a string off of her sweater. "Can you give me a ride?"

"You want to come to the shelter?"

She finally looks at him and nods. "Can you pick me up?"

He just nods.

He's not sure if everybody's mad at him or if they're all just ignoring him because they think he's mad at them.

He's not mad at anyone. He's annoyed, yeah, but what else is he supposed to feel when all of his friends would rather be on some local PBS Christmas special than do something actually meaningful and help some people. But he's not mad.

The only people who really talk to him over the next few days are Quinn and Rachel, and he's pretty sure Rachel's only talking to him because she's still on her perfect hostess kick. Rory gives him a few looks in the hallway like he feels guilty or something, but it's weird, and Sam doesn't know what to do with all of that, so he just leaves it alone.

It's weird because he's felt out of place here before, so it's kind of familiar. But he didn't like it then, and he doesn't like it now.

Last year, he walked around for months hiding some huge secret, and he knew people were whispering behind his back, but he couldn't do anything about it. Now he feels like people are whispering again, and he doesn't even really care to do anything about it.

He talks to his dad on Wednesday and tells him about the plans for Friday. He leaves out the part about all of his friends bailing to be on TV. His dad seems really proud of him and tells him he can't wait to see him. Sam wants to ask how everything's going financially, but he doesn't. One, because he knows his dad will lie and say everything's fine even if it's not. And two, because he's too scared to know the truth anyway.

He's sure everything's fine, and everybody's eating and the lights are still on and all that… But he's also worried that some of the other stuff isn't getting covered, and he can't help feeling guilty that he's not there to fill in those spots. He came back to McKinley because he just wanted to be a teenager, but he's already had to be a man, and he's not really sure how you just revert out of that completely.

He wants to think that it's really not fair, but then he feels guilty for that, too.

"You're sure you don't want to be in the special?"

Rachel's hanging around his doorway holding a wardrobe bag and a make-up case. She's got the ends of her hair rolled and pinned to her head, and he can totally tell that she thinks she's some kind of real star or something now.

"I'm sure." He's tying his own shoes and getting ready to leave, too. He doesn't really look at her because he doesn't actually trust himself not to roll his eyes or something.

"It'll be so much fun, though!" She sounds excited and positive about her own words- the way she always sounds whenever she's trying to sell something normal people don't find as fantastic as she does. "It's TV!"

He does roll his eyes a little bit then, but he's pretty sure she doesn't see him (because she doesn't scream at him). "I'm sure," he repeats because she obviously didn't get it the first time. "Y'all have fun, though."

He can kind of see her from the corner of his eye, and he sees her chewing her lip a little bit. "If it were any other night… We'd all come help you and Quinn."

He just shrugs because the last thing he wants is some insincere promise of what could be in some stupid hypothetical situation. He hates that. "It's cool. Have fun."

"I wish you were coming. And Quinn, too. She's been having such a rough time lately…"

He feels like he's heard that same sentence forty million times from various people (mostly from Rachel), and he's kind of getting sick of it. Quinn seems like she's doing okay to him, and he's pretty sure that she's not that awesome of an actress that she could fake it all that much or anything. He's already heard all about her pink hair and her new friends and all that stupid stuff with the baby, but Shelby's gone, the baby's gone, Quinn's hair is blonde, and she's back with all her normal friends.

Except Quinn's never really had real friends, and that's where most of her problems come from. (He's ninety-nine percent positive that nobody else has ever taken the time to notice this.)

Everybody ends up showing up to the shelter.

It's cool because everyone's there to help out, and they bring food and stuff. But it would have been better if they'd like chosen the shelter over the TV stuff in the first place. But whatever, at least they show up. It's nice to hang out and help out, and they get to sing and watch all the kids open gifts and stuff. Watching the kids makes him miss his little siblings even more than he already did, but it also makes him thankful that he knows they're safe at home right now and that even though Christmas is definitely going to be small this year (like barely existent), at least they have a home and a safe place to sleep and everything. He's glad that the kids at the shelter are safe, too, because he knows there're a ton of people that don't even have a shelter. There were times when they were in the motel and struggling to come up with the weekly rent that he seriously thought they were going to have to live in his dad's car. Luckily they always managed to come up with enough to at least stay in the motel, but they still came too close for comfort.

Quinn's across the room playing Barbies with two little girls. She used to do that all the time with Stacy, and he realizes just how much she helped him last year. He already knew it, but it's like it hits him again and reminds him that she was basically the only person in the world he really trusted for awhile.

And after tonight, she might still be the only person he trusts.

She wants to go by Sonic on the way home, so they stop there and sit in his car and drink slushes with the radio on and the heat turned way up. He has grape, and she has strawberry, and it's kind of dumb to be sucking down frozen drinks in the middle of December, but whatever.

He wants to talk to her, like really talk to her, but it's weird, and he's not sure how to bring it up. They talked a little bit while they were at the shelter, and he managed to ask how she was… just to kind of feel her out a little bit, since everybody's been telling him how messed up she is and stuff. But they didn't get to talk very long, and he's not really sure how much of what she said is the full truth and how much is her just trying to pretend like she's not as bad off as everybody keeps saying.

He figures the best way to get her to open up is to just really be honest with her. At least show her that he appreciates her and cares about her anyway.

"Thanks for helping tonight. It means a lot." He's not being sappy or whatever, he's just being real.

"I like doing this."

She's messing with her straw, but he can kind of tell that she doesn't really want to look at him. She looks out of place in this car. It's a fifteen year old Honda Civic that's got scraped up paint and is kind of trashed on the inside, but it was cheap and it runs pretty good, so his dad went in halves with him and got it when they moved and got back on their feet a little bit. Sometimes he feels embarrassed by it because nobody else he knows drives anything this old or this beat up, and most of the cars at school are at least from the twenty-first century… But really, it does what he needs it to do, and he's thankful for it. He knows better than to be demanding and picky, and he's basically grateful for whatever he's got. But Quinn doesn't match this car- she's way too put together and perfect for this piece of junk, and if he thinks about it too hard, he's going to get stuck on it.

"It made me miss my brother and sister."

She looks up then and gives him this smile. "I miss them." He believes her. She helped take care of them for months, and they practically worship her like some kind of superhero or something.

"Stacy used to ask about you like every day right after we moved. She tried to call you a few times." There's a guilty look on Quinn's face, and he can tell that she remembers those missed calls. She probably missed them to hang out with all the bad kids she fell in with over the summer or whatever.

"Things just got weird." She's kind of talking quietly now, and he's seriously not trying to guilt her or whatever, so he's not really sure why she sounds like she's apologizing. "Everything was messed up."

He can't imagine it. Even though he's heard all about it, he still can't picture it, and he still can't believe Quinn turned punk and total badass for however long because she's… Quinn. She's the girl who makes you take your shoes off before you come inside her room and the girl who threatened to break up with him because his tie was an inch too short one day at church. She's super anal, a total control freak, and she's basically appearance obsessed. So he's not really sure where all the pink hair and stuff would really fit in…

But it's just… everything. Like he came back to Lima, and basically the first thing she said to him was, "Wanna help me steal my baby back and raise it with me?" And yeah, that's just… He can't even picture her pregnant, much less as an actual mother. Yeah, he knows it happened or whatever, but she never, ever talked about it last year. Like seriously, the only reason he knew she even had a baby was because he heard some other people talking about it. And then when he asked her about it, she just said yeah and that she didn't want to talk about it, so he dropped it. And it's not like she ever brought it up. So yeah, it was real, but it wasn't exactly a reality, not to him anyway. He never saw her while she was pregnant, she never talked about the baby, so basically for all it was to him, none of it even happened.

"I'm in therapy." He doesn't ask, and he's actually pretty shocked she even says it. She's looking at him like she's waiting for him to react. "Please don't tell anybody, I don't want people to know."

He wouldn't tell anyway, but especially not if she doesn't want people to know. She kept his secret, so he owes her that much at least. Still…

"You shouldn't be embarrassed…"

"Shouldn't be embarrassed of what? The fact that I'm crazy?"

"You're not crazy." Or maybe she is, he doesn't know. He's not sure what crazy actually is, at least not beyond like psycho crazy serial killers in movies and stuff. Quinn hasn't (and probably won't) ever kill anybody, at least as far as he knows. But there's got to be other levels to crazy than just the horror movie stuff, and maybe she fits the bill. Either way, it's not like it's something she can help.

She's playing with her straw again, and it's making that weird squeaky noise when plastic scrapes plastic. "I'm trying not to be."

He doesn't know what he's supposed to say. Quinn's not that girl who just likes talking about her feelings and all that. She's pretty introverted or whatever that word is, and he doesn't know how much he should push with this. So he just says, "Well, if you ever wanna talk about it, I'm a pretty good listener."

She looks sad when she nods, and he doesn't even know why. "I missed you…"

He doesn't really think that's true, but he doesn't really mean to come out and say it, either. "You could have called." He's really not trying to be rude, but it's true. She didn't call. Nobody called. He got like some random mass Happy Thanksgiving texts, and that was seriously the extent of contact he had with basically anyone at McKinley while he was gone. Not that he was really calling and texting them, either, but it's always kind of shocking how fast and easy it is to lose touch with his friends every time he switches schools.

"I was just dealing with a lot. And I didn't… I thought everything was better with your dad?"

He wants to play dumb and act confused, but he knows what she's asking, and she's obviously trying to turn the conversation back on him or something. Like… yeah, I had pink hair and started smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, but you turned into a stripper. It's not like he can blame her for it. She doesn't like talking about things that aren't perfect in her life, so he's not really sure how therapy's going to work out for her.

"We were still struggling."

He hates trying to justify it because he knows people judge him for it. He also knows that no matter how many excuses he gives, people are still going to look at him and assume stuff about him even if it's not true. Even if they know him. He's lucky that nobody's really actually said much to him because he's kind of sick of just always being the nice guy all the time, and he's at the point where he basically just wants to say whatever pops into his head. Or, you know, just hit people. Like when Blaine accused him of selling himself… He didn't even think twice before trying to start a fight, and that kind of scares him a little. He feels like he's got too much pent up aggression inside of him or something and maybe like it's just been building up in there all year or something. It's a little bit scary.

"I can't believe your parents let you do that." She doesn't sound exactly judgmental, more like she's in disbelief or something.

"They don't know. I told them I was working at Dairy Queen."

She actually laughs at that, probably wondering how his parents believed that when he was clearly bringing home more than a fast food paycheck. He's not really sure how they believed it, either, but it worked. It's still working as far as he knows… He hopes it works forever and that this is something his parents never find out. He has no plans to ever tell them.

"Was it gross?" Now she's kind of got this smirk on her face like she's sickly curious about it or something. He could tell her to fuck off, or he could just answer her questions. It's not like she doesn't already know what happened, so he might as well just tell her the truth.

"It wasn't that gross. Just a lot of like middle-aged women and stuff." He tries to shrug like it's no big deal, mostly because he doesn't want it to be a big deal.

"They didn't know you were sixteen? Or they didn't care?" Her eyebrows are raised, and she's teasing him a little now, not really judging or whatever.

"Didn't know. It was basically illegal."

She laughs, and he can't help smiling a little bit, too, as he takes another drink from his straw. It's kind of nice to have somebody to talk to and just… like not take things so seriously for a second. Yeah, he knows that it's not really funny, given his situation and all that and the fact that he basically had to do something he didn't want to just to keep food on the table for his brother and sister. But if he steps back and just looks at it without all that, it's kind of funny and crazy, and he knows that.

"Why are you laughing?"

"It's just ironic." She shakes her head. "You're like literally the most innocent person I know, and you are also the only one who's ever been a teenage stripper."

"That you know of."

She laughs and nods. "Right. That I know of."

"Maybe you shouldn't knock it til you try it. It's really good money." She rolls her eyes, and he can't help adding, "Plus, you'll be old in like a month, so it won't even be illegal."

She reaches over and punches his stomach with the side of her fist and gives him a fake glare like turning eighteen actually makes someone old. He just offers her some of his drink to make up for it.

When they get back to her house, she stops before she gets out of the car. "Do you want to come over for Christmas? I mean, it'll just be my mom and me, and she'll probably be sleeping all day… But it might be better than the Chinese food you'll get with Rachel?"

Hanukkah's next week, too, but he doesn't point it out. He wouldn't know that anyway if he wasn't living with the Berrys, and Quinn's probably not interested. He smiles at her a little and just says, "I would, but I'm going home."

She looks a little disappointed, which is weird. She covers it up fast, though, and turns it into this fake smile. "Oh, that's good then. I was just checking, since I know they don't really do Christmas over there."

She has a mom and a place to go and everything, but he can tell she's not exactly looking forward to the holiday or whatever. He knows her mom and knows how she is. She tries, but she has a lot of problems, and Quinn has kind of a rocky relationship with her. Really the only time he ever heard Quinn talk about the baby or her pregnancy or whatever was when she talked about how her parents turned their backs on her and about how her mom now acts like it never happened.

"If you wanna come, you can." He says it before he really thinks about it, but it's the right thing to do anyway. "Rory's coming with me, and you know my parents won't care."

Quinn smiles, and he thinks this one is less fake. "Thanks. But I probably need to make sure Mom gets up and has her holiday egg nog on time, or she'll be pretty pissed." She's joking, but not really. It's a passive-aggressive joke, the kind he used to make about being homeless, so he knows what they sound like.

He doesn't call her on it, and right before she gets out, she gives him this quick kiss right on the corner of his mouth. It's kind of weird but not like weird enough to be weird… If that makes any sense. She tells him she'll see him Sunday and then gets out.

He can tell from how dark her house is that her mom's probably been passed out for hours already.

The last day of school is Wednesday, and he spends that night with Rory and Finn and Rachel ringing bells for the Salvation Army.

He and Rachel get home kind of late, but she makes him stay up and watch Home Alone with her even though he's leaving pretty early tomorrow to get home. She makes hot chocolate that tastes kind of weird, but really, most of the stuff she makes tastes pretty weird- he's not used to the whole vegan thing yet, but he's not rude or whatever, so he drinks it. She makes the inevitable Macaulay Culkin comparison he's been hearing since the day he was born, and he rolls his eyes and tells her to be a little more original next time. Then she smacks him with a pillow, and it's kind of nice that she's finally relaxing a little bit and not treating him like some guest she has to impress every second of the day.

Rachel's cool. Probably a lot cooler than he originally thought when all he had to go on was her crazy glee stuff and Quinn (and then later Santana) in his ear telling him what a freak she was. But she's not. Yeah, she's a little weird and over the top sometimes, but she's genuinely nice (when she's not trying to butt into other people's relationships), and she's obviously done a lot for him this past month or so.

So yeah, she's definitely not as bad as some people make her out to be.

Rory spends like three and a half straight hours talking on the way to Kentucky, but it's cool because he obviously misses Ireland and wants to talk about it. Plus, Sam doesn't really know him that well, so it's kind of nice to find out more about him.

When they finally make it home, his sister literally runs out in the street to get to the car, so he has to grab her before she like gets killed or something. But she's super huggy and clingy and basically won't let him put her down once he's confident that she's not going to become the victim of some hit and run or something. He should probably give her some lecture on why it's not safe to run out in the middle of the street, but then his mom comes out with his brother, and he's like way too happy to see everybody to basically even think about anything else.

His mom's already got lunch ready when they get there, which is awesome because even though he ate breakfast before he left Rachel's, he already feels like he's starving. Everybody wants to talk at once when they sit down and find out how things are in Lima and at school and all that (even though he literally talks to them like every day on the phone), and they all want to know about Rory and how he likes America and that kind of stuff.

And he's not even gonna lie- after a month of basically eating a bunch of vegan/kosher stuff, his mom's food pretty much tastes like heaven.

He literally doesn't remember having a better Christmas in his entire life.

They have a live tree with a bunch of ornaments that his mom and brother and sister have obviously been making for a month now. It looks totally homemade but really cute. There aren't a lot of presents under it or anything- way less than they've ever had actually- but it doesn't matter. None of them expect more, and even the little kids have a brand new appreciation for everything they have and receive.

On Christmas Eve, they have this huge dinner just like they always have, and it seriously tastes so good. Rory says it's the best food he's had since he's been in America, and there's no way he's even lying about that. It really is awesome. They joke around and play board games after dinner, and maybe it's lame, but it's what they've always done. He never realized how much he actually loves it until just now when his whole family is on the floor around the coffee table. Stacy falls asleep pretty fast, right in the middle of the game, but that's not really shocking to anyone. Rory puts a pillow from the couch under her head, which she would totally love if she was awake because she's got a really obvious crush.

When it's actually time for bed, though, she's wide awake and bouncy. She wants to put cookies out for Santa, and then she says she's too excited to sleep. Stevie's excited, too, even though he told Sam a 'secret' that Santa's not real… "but don't tell Stacy." It's kind of cute, and even though it's going to take forever to get the kids asleep and the fact that they'll be up way too early, it's still fun.

Christmas morning is just as crazy as ever, even though the presents are way less than half of what they normally are. Everyone's happy and in a good mood and wide awake even though it's literally 6:15 in the morning. His mom makes fried apple pancakes for breakfast just like she has every year since before he can remember, and Rory acts like he's never tasted anything better in his whole life. Maybe he hasn't.

There are lots of random mass Merry Christmas texts that come in all morning, but Quinn's the only one who actually calls. He answers even though there's a ton going on in his house right now, and she wishes him Merry Christmas and asks how things are going. He wants to ask how Christmas is going at her house, but he can basically imagine it, and it's probably not something she wants to give a play by play of. Instead, she asks if she can talk to Stacy, and he smiles when he hands the phone to his sister and sees how big her (already huge) smile gets.

He's helping his brother put together a new Lego set when he randomly flashes back to the Christmas he spent pouting and being a brat over a stupid video game. It's so dumb now, looking back. But in a way, he's glad it all happened because it changed so much about the way he basically looks at, well, everything. He sure as hell didn't get a new Playstation this year, either, but it's okay. He's got a lot more than that, and he really just wishes more people could just be this happy with their lives. He has a lot to be thankful for, and none of it has to do with a new gaming system.

For real. Best. Christmas. Ever.