Santana has attended so many of Brittany's cousins' weddings over the years that it doesn't even register with her that this one will be different—that this will be the first time she's attended a Pierce family wedding not just as Brittany's best friend but as Brittany's girlfriend, and that this will be the first time she's ever attended a wedding as anyone's plus one.
The realization doesn't come to Santana as she and Brittany dress for the occasion, helping each other put in their earrings, trading compliments as they stand hip-to-hip in front of Brittany's bedroom mirror, fixing their lipstick.
It also doesn't strike her when they pile into the Pierce family van and sit down side-by-side together, holding hands in the backseat, their clutch purses resting in their laps, their bracelets tangling together where their wrists touch.
In fact, she doesn't think about it at all during the two hour drive from Lima to Columbus—not when she's too busy playing footsie with Brittany under the seat and teasing Brittany's little sister that all the cousins like her best because her voice isn't so shrill.
("My voice isn't shrill!")
("Okay, whoa. That right there? That sounded like a dog whistle, pipsqueak.")
("Yeah, it totally did. Santana's so right.")
("What? I'm just saying that they might like you better if you actually spoke at a frequency that didn't shatter the human ear drum.")
It's only after they get out of the van in the church parking lot and Brittany's teenage boy cousins don't catcall Santana on sight for the first time since they've known her that Santana starts to realize that something feels different.
The feeling only grows stronger when she and Brittany enter the chapel, hand-in-hand—thank god for Episcopalians—and some of Brittany's aunties stop them before they can reach their seats, forcing the girls to pose for cellphone pictures in the aisle, admonishing them to skooch closer, closer, closer until finally one of the aunties just says Come on, Britt! Kiss her! and Brittany does as she's told, sloppily, half on the lips and half on the chin, mostly out of surprise.
("Are you even supposed to take pictures in a church?")
("They're totally gonna want to friend you on Facebook so they can tag you when they post those.")
("I'm friends with Aunt Lori already.")
("Oh my god! Whenever she updates her status, it's like she tries to fit her whole life story in one post. Like, she talks about her blood sugar and her dogs and her kids and her yoga. Plus, it sounds like she's writing a letter to some random person.")
("Yes. Jesus! I think I know more about her than I know about my mother.")
The difference doesn't really sink in for Santana until they get to the front of the chapel, though, because that's when Brittany's uncle motions Brittany and Santana over to sit in the grown up section of the pews, where all of Brittany's cousins who are in college sit with their serious live-in boyfriends and girlfriends, and suddenly everything feels very real and wonderfully close.
The cousins greet Brittany and Santana by name and shuffle over to make room for them on the bench. Santana peeks over her shoulder to the kiddie section; Brittany's little sister sticks her tongue out when she catches Santana looking, jealous at Brittany and Santana's sudden promotion to adulthood.
One of the elderly relatives from the other family leans over the pew in front of them and whispers to Santana that she looks lovely and then winks at Brittany. Santana's mouth falls open into a little o in surprise, and Brittany gives her hand a squeeze.
Santana feels warm-cheeked even after the ceremony starts.
All through the wedding, the back of Santana's throat buzzes like she has something she wants to say, though she doesn't know what it is. Brittany traces circles on Santana's bare shoulders with her nails, and Santana sinks into the sensation, engrossed in centrifugal Brittany.
Santana doesn't realize she's crying through the vows until suddenly one of Brittany's cousin's girlfriends passes a pack of Kleenex down the row to her and she dabs her fingertip to her cheek to find it wet and plush with tears. She doesn't realize that Brittany's crying, too, until Brittany chuckles at her when she fumbles with the adhesive latch on the plastic tissue package and she looks up to see Brittany's eyes glistening and the tip of her nose just a little bit pink.
They share the tissues between them and mouth the word sap at each other. Santana feels that always-the-same-but-always-new kite string tug on her heart. She takes Brittany's tissue from her and wipes carefully under Brittany's eyes so as not to smear her mascara. Brittany does the same for her, tilting up her chin and smiling when she rolls her eyes at herself.
When it gets to the part where Brittany's cousin can kiss his bride, Santana and Brittany lean their heads together and snuggle close. Brittany gasps out a little aw with some of the rest of the congregation, and Santana's heart actually skips a beat and then lands running. She tugs their twined hands closer to her belly and tucks her chin on Brittany's shoulder.
It really does feel different.
After the ceremony, Brittany and Santana eventually make it out of the chattering, milling chapel and into the parking lot to wait for Brittany's parents by the van. Brittany slings her arms around Santana's waist, and Santana nearly slumps back against the sliding door, but Brittany stops her before she can move.
("Careful, hun. Don't lean on the car. You'll get your dress all dirty.")
("You're my hero, Britt.")
("Does that mean I get a grappling hook?")
("A utility belt?")
("And a cape and a catchy theme song?")
Brittany holds Santana upright at the small of her back, and Santana slings her arms around Brittany's neck. They kiss like they wanted to kiss back in the chapel, lazily and deeply, Santana hanging from every new motion like it's a promise made in the same words that she felt like she wanted to say before.
They only break away from each other when Brittany's dad presses the unlock button on his keychain and all the doors on the van beep loudly, jolting them out of their embrace. Brittany's dad smirks as he approaches and tells them to save it for the reception please, ladies. A wave of heat passes over Santana's whole body, and she looks down at her toes. Brittany won't stop smiling, though, and pretty soon Santana has to smile, too. They climb into the van after Brittany's sister.
("Grandpa told me to ask you if you found your missing gum, Britt.")
("He said you must have lost your chewing gum down Santana's throat. He wanted to know if you found it yet.")
("Hey! Brittany! Mom, she kicked me!")
("I didn't touch her!")
("I swear I didn't know that anybody could see us.")
The whole family wedding party has lunch at a big Italian restaurant a couple miles down the road from the church. Everyone eats communal style, with huge bowls of ravioli and Caesar salad passed around the table and soda poured from of big plastic pitchers. One of the bride's uncles teases Santana that she eats like a bird, and Brittany blurts out that Santana is only being polite and that she actually really loves pasta. When Brittany realizes that what she said sounds bad—or that it sounds bad to her because, really, nothing Brittany ever says nowadays sounds bad to Santana at all, even that—her face turns bright crimson, redder than Santana has ever seen it.
("Oh my god, babe! Breathe! Here, drink some pop.")
("I didn't mean it that way, I swear—")
("Britt, it's okay.")
("Drink first, then talk. Please don't choke.")
("So she's got a healthy appetite on her? So what? That's a good quality in a woman.")
("See? You heard the man. It's fine, Britt. Cross my heart.")
In-between the luncheon and the reception, Brittany's family goes to Brittany's grandparents' place for a not-an-official-open-house open house. Brittany's grandma keeps trying to serve lemon bars, but Brittany's dad and his brothers tell her to just sit the hell down and relax a bit because everyone's still stuffed from the restaurant.
Brittany and Santana end up squished on a couch in the sitting room with Brittany's older cousin and her husband, some of the groom's not-Pierce relatives gathered around them, standing in a half-circle. After some introductions, Brittany's older cousin and her husband start to tell stories about how cute Brittany and Santana were at their wedding reception, back when Brittany and Santana were just thirteen years old.
("They wore these matching little dresses and way too much eye make up.")
("They danced together in their socks.")
("My little brothers asked me if I could get Britt's and Santana's phone numbers for them, but I told them they were taken.")
("Santana was so shy. She tried not to get in any of the family photos—")
("My mom told me not to!")
("—but we told her we wanted her in there with the rest of the gang.")
("Yeah. I said, 'Stop being ridiculous!'")
("Now they babysit for us sometimes whenever we're all in Columbus for things like this.")
("Look at how red Brittany is! And Santana! Are we embarrassing you girls? Should we stop?")
But even with all that, the reception is where it really sinks in.
The couple holds the event at a park under a picnic pavilion with an aluminum roof that Brittany's family decorated with taffeta and twinkle lights. The bride's family paid for an open mobile bar, and Brittany's parents give Santana and Brittany the okay to drink a glass of champagne each during the toast and one later during the dancing.
The park feels far less claustrophobic than Brittany's grandparents' crowded living room did, and Santana takes the chance to finally breathe and just be with Brittany, sitting at a table all their own while the rest of the family moves through the receiving line. They sip from their champagne flutes, smiling like goons because Brittany's parents act like the champagne should be a novelty for them or something.
Eventually, Brittany's grandma shuffles over to their table with a plate of potato chips and a glass of champagne of her own. She asks if she can sit down with them at one of the empty seats. When they tell her of course she can, she claims a seat across from them. She takes a second to settle herself and then stares, scrutinizing them through her glasses.
"So," she says. "When are you two gonna do this?"
Somehow, it feels like she just said something that's gone unspoken all day.
"Grandma?" Brittany says.
"We're still in high school," Santana splutters.
"So what?" counters Brittany's grandma. "When you know, you know. I'm not saying you have to do it this year, but sometime before your grandpa and I kick it, yeah?"
Santana can't find anything to say to that for a thousand reasons. She can't bring herself to look anywhere but at the tabletop and at the thin, fine neck of the champagne glass pinched between her fingers, so it surprises her when Brittany speaks next.
"We can't do that here, though," Brittany says, her voice a shade of blue that Santana seldom hears from her.
Santana notices that both she and Brittany have said the same thing in different words, and that that thing most definitely isn't no or not ever. She holds her breath, the invisible kite string tied to her heart yanked up, up, up, always with Brittany lifting it, while at the same time she feels Brittany's blue because sometimes seeing the thing you want but can't have from up close causes a special kind of ache.
Brittany's grandmother heaves a sigh, long and deep from the bottom of her lungs.
"I know, Brittany Sue. I know."
She looks at both Brittany and Santana, sad and commiserative. Her lips tighten on her face. She reaches across the table and nods at them until they reach their hands to hers, then sandwiches their handhold between her warm, careworn palms.
"Don't let the fuckers get you down," she says sternly. "And don't ever give up, not on your most important thing."
Santana and Brittany look at each other—into the quick of each other's eyes, underneath all the words they wish they could say—and then back to Brittany's grandmother, waiting. She doesn't smile, but her next words feel hopeful.
"I've voted in every election in this state since 1963, and I'm going to keep voting until you girls can have what your cousins have here, you got it?"
"Good girls. Now have some more champagne." She lifts her own champagne flute and pours half its contents into Brittany's glass, half into Santana's, before standing up and shuffling away, leaving her paper potato chip plate behind for them.
Not long after that, the bride and groom call everyone's attention, and, at the head of the pavilion, they cut their cake with a large, flat spatula; they don't shove their slice into each other's faces, but instead feed it to each other delicately, careful not to drop crumbs or icing on each other's fancy clothes.
A few minutes later, the DJ enters his booth, and the newlyweds share their first dance. Eventually, everyone joins them on the grassy dance floor. Brittany invites Santana to follow her and helps Santana up from her chair. They both kick off their high heels and leave them jumbled against the table legs.
They dance every fast dance and every slow dance flush against each other, and nobody asks to cut in between them. Santana rests her head against Brittany's shoulder, her arms propped, straight at the elbows, around Brittany's neck in a loose embrace. They both breathe against each other's skin.
When it comes time for all the end of the evening traditions, they huddle together in the middle of the crowd, Brittany standing behind Santana with her arms around Santana's waist, swaying her just a little bit as the last traces of bruised nectarine sun disappear over the horizon of the park skyline.
They hoot and whoop when Brittany's cousin tosses his bride's garter and laugh when a little boy no older than five or six catches it, grinning, gap-toothed, at his prize. Brittany leans down and whispers to Santana, explaining to which set of parents the little boy belongs, and Santana gets so lost in the way that Brittany's lips tickle against the shell of her ear that it takes her a second to notice when the bride calls Brittany's name over the din.
It's only when the relatives bunched all around them start pointing to Brittany and shouting Here she is! that Santana realizes that Brittany has somehow become the center of attention. She looks up to where the bride stands next to the DJ booth, holding a microphone and her bouquet, her new husband at her side, his hand pressed lovingly to her shoulder. The newlyweds pass the microphone between them as Brittany and Santana look around themselves, confused, trying to piece together why Brittany suddenly has everyone's attention.
("We talked about it—")
("—with Grandma Pierce—")
("—and we've decided that we want to forego the traditional bouquet toss.")
("Our little cousin Brittany is in attendance with her girlfriend Santana tonight.")
("We're so happy to have them with us.")
("Grandma mentioned how maybe they could use this bouquet a little bit more than the rest of the girls could.")
("So Brittany, Santana, if you want to step forward?")
Before either Santana or Brittany can say anything, the relatives around them press hands against their backs and guide them to step over the children sitting on the ground in front of them, through the assembled crowd, until the bride and groom can reach them. Brittany's cousin and his wife beam at them and extend the bouquet, which Santana and Brittany eye gingerly before both reaching out to take at the same time. The crowd applauds loudly, some of Brittany's uncles cheering, and Brittany's grandma loudest of all.
Brittany's cousin and his wife pull Brittany and Santana in for congratulatory hugs. Brittany's cousin says that things will change someday, and his wife whispers in Santana's ear that when she saw the campaign ad, she couldn't believe it, that people just don't understand love, and it's terrible.
Santana doesn't know what to say; she has never felt so simultaneously embarrassed and welcome all at once, which is saying a lot, considering glee club. Her cheeks flare with self-conscious heat as she breaks away from the bride and groom and bumps shoulders with Brittany. The bouquet dangles limply between them, and everyone applauds again. Santana sneaks a glance at Brittany to see Brittany's face even redder than it was at the restaurant. Without thinking about it, Santana tucks herself partially behind Brittany, her eyes trained to their shoeless feet; the warmth of their twin blushes radiates between them.
The focus shifts when the DJ begins to play more music. The crowd disperses, breaking into more dancing, and the bride and groom recede into the tides of guests. Santana and Brittany glance bashfully at each other, then at the bouquet, then out at everyone. Santana quirks an eyebrow.
("That was nice of them.")
("That was kind of weird.")
("Yeah, it was weird.")
They grin at each other because goofy things like that always seem to happen to them, and then they decide to retrieve their shoes and grab a slice of cake to share. They hold hands all the way back to the table and end up joining a conversation with some of the bride's teenage cousins and siblings about which team they think will win this year's Ohio state high school football championship.
A while later, Brittany's boy cousins invite Santana and Brittany to help them decorate the groom's car. The group sneaks out to the parking lot, where they write things like Just married and We're gonna have sex! on the windows in funny colored shaving creams and tie rattling, empty soda cans to the tailpipe with fishing line. The groom's younger brother produces a set of keys to the car and opens the door so that Brittany can hang a pair of pink, fuzzy handcuffs over the rearview mirror before they all scuttle away, laughing like maniacs, back to the pavilion.
The sky turns fully plum dark and the bride and groom make their exit, the wedding party blowing bubbles at them from plastic wands as they run away. The groom leads his wife out to his car, which he laughs to find so trashed. The newlyweds wave, happy, as they drive away, and Brittany presses a kiss to Santana's hair from behind.
Not long after that, Brittany's dad tells Brittany and Santana to go fetch Brittany's little sister so they can head out. They find her playing night tag with a group of twenty or so other kids. She makes them chase her in their high heels and won't come to them until Santana threatens to leave her in the park where all the hobos can get her. She pouts the whole way to the car, and when Brittany's mom asks her what's wrong, she says that Santana is mean and won't stop going on about it until Santana gives her the bouquet to hold.
On the way back to Lima, Brittany and Santana talk to Brittany's parents about how lovely the wedding was—how lucky they were to have such nice weather for the reception, even though it's just barely spring, and how nice it was that the bride's mother's whole family could come, even though they're from Florida. Brittany's sister only makes it as far as Marysville before she falls asleep. Santana sits with her legs in Brittany's lap, even though they're both strapped in.
Eventually, the cabin lapses into silence, and Brittany traces patterns out on Santana's bare legs with her fingertips and nails. She draws out little hearts and writes I LOVE YOU, smiling when Santana holds up the same sign in ASL right back at her.
The Pierces drive Santana to her house before they go home, and Brittany gets out of the van with Santana to escort her to the door. Santana extends a hand to Brittany to help her step down onto the driveway from the vehicle, keeping her upright in her heels. They walk, hand-in-hand, to Santana's front door, where Santana's mother has left the lights on for them.
Santana thanks Brittany for inviting her to the wedding and tells her it was fun. Brittany says it was, but something wavers in her voice. Santana looks at Brittany quizzically and finds Brittany's brow furrowed, worried.
Santana pouts her lips, "What's up, babe? What's wrong?"
Brittany swallows and looks at their feet, then back to Santana. "Can I ask you a question?"
Brittany hesitates, then speaks, her words coming out in that rambling way that they do whenever she feels nervous. "Now I don't want you to think I'm like proposing right now or anything because—hello—high school, but I just wanted to make sure because everyone just kind of assumed tonight, and I don't ever want to assume anything with you." She licks her lips, "You want to marry me someday, right?"
The way Brittany asks is so small and questioning. She cocks her head to one side and looks at Santana, impossibly nervous. Her hands tug at her skirt, just to have something to do.
Santana's breath catches in her throat. Even though Brittany said this wasn't a for real proposal, suddenly it feels a lot like one. Dizziness sweeps over Santana the way it always does when she thinks about big things that she wants and the possibility she might actually have them.
She's still not used to it; she never will be.
Tears prick at her eyes, but she holds them back, not wanting to get ahead of herself any more than she already has.
"Of course I do," she says, voice crackly. She wets her lips in her mouth and then looks Brittany deep in the eyes. "Brittany, didn't you know that already, baby?"
Santana thought they had talked about this—that they had skated on the edge of it for a long time, dropping little hints and quiet promises to each other ever since they really, finally got together. She wants to make sure that she and Brittany have understood all those sweet secrets to mean the same thing.
"Yeah. I mean, I thought you did," Brittany admits, and Santana feels relieved. Brittany smiles at her briefly and then looks up at the porch light, like she wants to pull words from its glow. Brittany always looks up and away like this when she's thought about what she wants to say a lot before she finally says it. Brittany glances back at Santana, "I just didn't want to assume because I always want you to have a choice, and I want you to choose what you want. I don't want to take your choices away from you, ever. I want what you want."
Santana's whole body blooms with heat, gratitude, and adoration for Brittany and her words. Santana's throat turns thick and her heartbeat speeds. She reaches for Brittany's hands and pulls them in close to her because she just has to hold some part of Brittany right now in this moment when she loves Brittany so much.
Brittany knows how to care for Santana's heart better than anyone else in the world.
"Brittany," Santana says, unable to keep the tears from her voice now. "I just want you. You're all, okay?"
"Okay," Brittany says, mouth turning into a grin. She squeezes their hands between them. "Me, too." She pauses, looking thoughtful. "If we kiss, my parents will watch us."
Santana laughs. "Too bad the munchkin is sleeping—we could really gross her out."
They both laugh again and then lean forward, Brittany's arms snaking around Santana's waist, her left hand pressing at the small of Santana's back, her right hand at the base of Santana's neck. Santana frames the hinge of Brittany's jaw between her hands and stands on her tiptoes, her kiss beginning at Brittany's chin before brushing over Brittany's bottom lip and then whole mouth. Brittany nudges Santana's mouth open with her tongue and smirks as their kiss turns deep. Santana moans at the sparkling, golden aftertaste of champagne on Brittany, and her shut eyelids flutter each time Brittany changes the direction of their kiss.
She loves Brittany so much that she can't think of anything else.
She has no idea how long they've been kissing when Brittany's dad finally taps the car horn, jolting them apart.
("Maybe if we stand real still, he won't be able to see us.")
("He's not a velociraptor, Britt.")
("I don't wanna go.")
("I don't want you to go.")
They make pouty faces at each other and share another quick peck. Brittany squeezes Santana's hand and then steps down off the stoop, walking back toward the van but never taking her eyes off Santana. She walks so slowly that her dad starts to roll down his window to say something to her, but just then, she turns around to face him.
"Found my gum!" she says in her brightest voice, and Santana laughs because she is so beyond perfect.
Santana knows that Brittany's dad won't drive away until she's safely inside her house, so she fumbles in her clutch until she finds her keys and wiggles them into the lock. With one more wave, she disappears into her house, closing the door behind her. She hears the van's engine as it pulls out of the driveway and down the street. She cannot for the life of her stop smiling her biggest smile.
She doesn't think her kite has ever flown so high.
Quickly, Santana peels off her shoes, hooking her index and middle finger into the heels so she can carry them up to her room with her. She skitters from the foyer to the stairs through the darkness, filled with a boundless, frenetic energy.
"Did you have fun?" her mother's voice calls from the dining room.
"I'm gonna marry Brittany!" Santana shouts back, jogging up the stairs, almost on threes.
She can hear the smirk in her mother's voice when she shouts back, "Oh? Is that so? Well, did you hear? The sky—it's blue."
"Real funny!" Santana says, reaching the upper floor. "I'm gonna marry Brittany, and maybe if you're real nice, we'll invite you!"
Her mother's laugh carries all the way up from the downstairs. And Santana laughs, too. Lately, Santana's mother has started telling Santana that she's girl crazy, but Santana always corrects her: just crazy for one girl. Santana practically runs past her father's study down the hallway and into her room. She throws her shoes down on her bed and then bounces onto the mattress herself, lit with excitement as she fishes her phone out of her clutch.
Brittany's already left her a text.
i'll ask u better 1 day ok xoxo
Santana texts her back.
not if i ask u first