Chapter 15: Never Let Me Go
I'm in the middle of trying to explain to Santana that even though I don't know her, something inside me recognizes her, knows her and feels her and remembers her place inside me, inside my heart. But as I'm speaking suddenly something clicks, something more important than explaining myself, something so important I need her answer right away.
"Do you sing?" I ask, the words bubbling from my lips before I can even think to hold them back.
Santana looks taken back by the question, clearly not expecting it. "What?" she asks, face squishing up in confusion.
"Do you sing?"
She's the voice.
She's the voice that's been inside my head, singing and soothing and always there. I know it, there's no question. It's her voice that has always been on the tip of my consciousness, her voice that draws me into my dreams. It's her voice that I've been able to remember when I'd forgotten everything else.
I must be smiling really big, because Santana's giving me a confused look. "What does singing have to do with anything?" she asks softly.
"It's nothing, it… it's just something I remembered."
Santana frowns, not understanding.
"It… when I woke up in the hospital, I could hear this voice singing in my head. I couldn't remember whose voice it was, or what they were singing, but I knew it was important."
Her lips part, forming a small 'o' of realization. Then she pulls her bottom lip into her mouth, trying to hold back a smile. She looks so innocent and sweet, like she's trying desperately hard not to let me know how happy those few words have made her.
It melts my heart a little bit. This must be so difficult for her, seeing me after so long, but she's trying so hard to hold herself back. I can see the love written so clearly on her face, but she's holding back for my benefit.
Eventually she lets the moment pass. Santana clears her throat and shakes her head a little bit before asking, "Where have you… been living?"
"In Phoenix. After the hospital… that's where I ended up."
"And you're…" she's trying desperately hard to stay formal, but I can see her hands clenched into fists at her sides, "doing okay for yourself?"
I smile, "Yeah. I have a job, it's fun. And I have a few friends. And a cat."
The laughter that bursts from inside her takes me by surprise. It's beautiful, light and airy and musical despite the fact that she was crying moments ago. I quirk my eyebrows at her and she shakes her head, wearing a of course you do expression.
"What about you?" I ask, feeling kind of compelled. She asked to make sure I was okay, I should do the same for her. The whole conversation feels both forced and breathlessly easy at the same time, like talking with someone you haven't seen in a long time yet you've known all your life, it feels hesitant but natural.
She shrugs and gestures around the room. "This," she answers. "After Ruby was born, the apartment… I needed something new. Bigger, for her. But new, too."
"When was she…?" My unfinished question hangs between us as I suddenly remember the balloons outside and the little girl in her white tights. My words sting my throat, like a swarm of unhappy bees.
I can feel my eyes widen in realization.
Santana doesn't look upset, simply… regretful. "Yeah," she breaths out. "I… I was eight months pregnant when you…"
No, please tell me that that isn't true. Please tell me I didn't disappear right before her daughter was born. Please tell me I didn't do that to her. Artie said she broke apart after I disappeared, but this… this brings that to a whole new level. She was about to have a baby. She was about to have a baby and her wife vanished? That wouldn't have just broken her, it must have shattered her beyond repair.
It's so horrible. It's so cruel and horrible, how did she even make it through that? Her wife leaving right before she gave birth? The stinging inside me intensifies, focusing right behind my eyes. I was responsible for that, for making her give birth to and raise her baby alone. I left her, even if I didn't mean to, I left her, right before she was about to have–
"She…" The stinging is replaced by ice. It feels like there's ice forming behind my eyes, sharp and painfully cold. "She…" I stare at Santana, trying to understand. "We…"
Ruby isn't just Santana's daughter, she's…
Santana bites her lip and looks down for a long moment before meeting my eyes. Giving me an apologetic look, she whispers, "Yeah."
Ruby was supposed to be mine, mine and Santana's. She was supposed to be our daughter. Ours.
And I disappeared. I left Santana alone. I didn't just shatter her heart. I ripped it apart.
"Brittany," Santana says softly, taking a slight step closer to me and then stopping. I watch her fingers twitch, like she wants to lay a hand on my arm to comfort me, but she holds herself back. "It's okay."
"No." No, she can't say that. It can't be okay. It couldn't have been okay. I did this to her. I destroyed her whole life by not coming home.
"Brittany, it wasn't your fault. You were hit by a car, I don't… I don't blame you for not coming back, for forgetting."
"You must have hated me," I whisper, the realization setting in.
"No!" she insists, shaking her head sharply. Her voice doesn't waver as she answers, "No, I… I was confused. I was hurt and confused and emotional, but I never… You didn't leave. Everyone else, they… they didn't know what to think. Everyone had their own idea about what happened to you. But I knew you didn't leave me. You wouldn't, not like that. I knew you couldn't do that, not to me. I didn't understand what happened, how you disappeared, but I never hated you."
"I'm so sorry." I don't even have the right words to tell her how sorry I am. "I'm so sorry I left you alone to raise her."
She gives me a sheepish smile. "Don't be. It was hard at first but… she's the best thing in my life."
"Why Ruby?" I ask.
She bites down on her lip and looks away, mumbling something.
Her eyes close momentarily as she sighs, readying herself. Then they open, warm and soft as they meet my gaze. Everything about her is soft, her eyes, her voice, the way she stands. How can she still be so soft, after years of being left alone to grow hard?
"My… my due date was Valentine's. You," she pauses, watching my reaction to her words. "You wanted a name that had to do with Valentine's Day. We debated over a few, names that meant love or things like that. But Ruby was your favourite; red, like a Valentine's colour.
"We never agreed on it, but you always came back to that one, even though I wasn't sure." She looks away again, unable to hold my gaze. She speaks to the photos on the fireplace, blinking rapidly, "When she was born… there was no other name for her. You… you were gone, but I couldn't bear to name her anything else. Don't…" she looks hesitant, whispering the words. "Don't be mad."
I'm not really sure what I'm feeling at this point– confused, hurt, apologetic, frustrated, heartbroken – but mad is definitely not it.
"Quinn said it was a bad idea, to hold on to you like that. No one knew if you'd gotten hurt or le-" she chokes a little on the word, "or left me, but she was still yours. Even if you weren't there, she was a part of you, and I couldn't name her anything else."
"I'm not mad at you," I say softly, my words hardly there at all.
She looks at me with hope in her eyes.
"I'm mad that I did this to you. Even if I can't remember you or why I left or how I got hurt, I still feel horrible for doing this to you, but I'm not mad that you… that you named her that."
She nods, and I can see her tears threatening to fall again. "I'm just glad you're okay, Brittany." She takes a nervous step closer to me, like I'm a doe in a forest that she so desperately wants to reach out and touch.
Santana freezes, her eyes growing wide and her whole body tensing. Fear. Her whole expression has morphed into one of pure fear. I shift to the right, looking over her shoulder. I give an anxious smile as I make eye-contact with Ruby, who's hanging in the doorway with a questioning look on her face. Her ribbon is gone from her hair and she's worrying her lip between her teeth.
Santana turns abruptly, her shoulder brushing mine. She gives her daughter a surprised but sharp look, "Ruby."
The little girl, who looks so, so much like her mother, lets her gaze move from me to Santana. "You… you said Brittany." She has an innocent curiosity on her face, big brown eyes looking up at her mother and waiting for an explanation.
"Sal fuera, mija," Santana replies, and it throws me for a moment until I realize that the words aren't in English. "Tus amigos te están esperando."
Ruby takes a small step into the room, looking nervously between me and her mother. "Pero mamá, la has llamado Brittany."
"Sal de la habitación, Ruby," Santana says, her words quick and sharp. "Los adultos tienen que hablar. Por favor, tienes que salir fuera."
The little girl pouts and then juts her chin out defiantly, not doing whatever Santana's telling her to. "Pero…" She looks at me, switching back to words I can understand, "She called you Brittany."
"Yes," I reply slowly, unsure what she's getting at.
Santana turns and glares at me, the force of her look is so strong it makes me take a small step back. Her eyes were so soft a moment ago. I don't know exactly what I've done wrong, but I know that agreeing to Ruby's statement has upset Santana somehow.
"Are you her?" Ruby asks me.
Before I can respond, Santana cuts in, "Ahora no, mija."
Ruby opens her mouth to protest, but Quinn appears in the doorway behind Ruby and lays a hand on her shoulder, stopping her words; I can feel Santana sag in relief next to me. Quinn silently assesses the situation. First she looks down at the little girl, who is trembling slightly under her touch, eyes still moving back and forth between me and her mother. Then Quinn looks up at Santana and I, studying us; my confused expression and Santana's hard one.
"Ruby, honey," Quinn says, tender and sweet, as if she's afraid her words themselves might break everyone in the room. "You left your friends. Why don't we go back outside?"
"No," she says, voice small. "I don't understand."
"Ruby, baby, please," Santana whispers, begging her daughter to let it go and leave with Quinn.
It happens so fast I hardly have time to react. One moment Ruby is standing with Quinn in the doorway, the next she's across the room, wrapping her small arms around my legs in a tight hug and pressing her face into my body.
Quinn doesn't move. Santana gives a tearful gasp.
After a moment my hands move to rub up and down Ruby's arms, tugging a little until she lets go. Then I crouch down in front of her, holding her tiny hands in mine.
"You went away," she whispers, so softly I'm sure I'm the only one who hears her. Her fingers cling to mine.
"I got lost," I tell her, my voice just as quietly. I can't look away from her, I can't look up at Quinn or Santana, afraid of what I'll see. My eyes stay locked on hers, watching her brown eyes grow wide and wet.
Ruby gives a tiny little nod before rising up on her toes and leaning forward, throwing her arms around my neck and squeezing tightly. My hands lift, one wrapping tightly around her small frame and one rubbing her back.
"It made Mamá really sad," she whispers.
"I know," I say gingerly, speaking into her hair.
Her arms grip around my neck tighter, "Are you back to stay?" Her words are soft and spoken into my neck.
I'm not expecting the tight clench that grips at my heart with her words. It knocks the breath out of me a little bit, hearing her honest plea for me to stay, to make her mother happy again. I stare at the wall by Quinn's knees, forcing myself not to look up at the other two women in the room.
"I… I don't know," I whisper to her honestly, my voice weak. I can feel tears pricking behind my eyes and I swallow thickly, trying to force them back.
Her body gives a tiny little shake in my arms, because this isn't the answer she wants to hear. But she squeezes me tighter once more, burrowing her body into me for another long second before pulling away. Her eyes look so much older than her five years. I can see her childlike innocence but I can also see wisdom someone so small shouldn't be expected to hold.
"Okay," she whispers, accepting the truth of my answer. She leans forward once more, brushing a sweet kiss against my cheek. Then she pulls away and turns, walking towards Quinn and taking her hand to be led from the room.
I stay rooted to the spot, still crouching on the floor. My heart is doing little jumps and twirls inside my chest, unsure how to feel about what just happened.
"Brittany," Santana says softly from behind me, and after a second I feel hesitant fingers touch my shoulder.
It feels like the whole world does a backflip the second her fingers touch me. I can feel gooseflesh rise up all over me and my lips part slightly as I revel in the sensation. I wasn't expecting her touch to affect me like that.
"Brittany?" I can hear the worry in her voice.
I stand on shaky legs, slowly turning to face her.
"What…" her voice wavers weakly with her words, "What did she say to you?"
I shake my head and give her a shy smile. "Secret," I tell her. Those words from Ruby, so fragile, were for me and me alone.
She swallows and gives a defeated little sigh. "I… I'm sorry… about that… about… her…"
Why does she keep apologizing to me? Why is she sorry for what's going on, for being emotional, for naming her daughter the name I wanted, for her daughter being confused by my being here after being gone for so long? Why is she the one looking for forgiveness?
It doesn't make sense to me, how she can be the one to have her heart shattered but she's begging me to forgive her for what's happening now. She looks so helpless and nervous, a tiny bird folding in on herself, too scared to take flight. She looks small and cracked, like she really is afraid I'm going to throw everything she's feeling back in her face as the final breaking blow.
Why is she the one apologizing?
I'm the one who disappeared from her life without a trace.
"Don't be," I tell her honestly. "I… I needed that. She needed that." Santana gives a little whimper, and suddenly I wonder what it looked like for her. Seeing her daughter and… and… me, when I was supposed to be her other mother, having such an intimate moment, something so tender and fragile when we've never met before. "And I think you needed that, too."
She needed to know her daughter forgave me for leaving. And she needed to know her daughter forgave her for not knowing what happened to me.
She gives another whimper and tries to force it into a laugh, but her face crumbles. Her breath hitches as she tries to force everything back, but she can't. The tears fall anyway, no matter how hard she fights them.
"Don't cry," I beg softly, stepping close to her and wiping her cheek with my thumb. I can't watch her cry, it will only pull me under too.
I can feel her body tremble at my touch and she leans in subconsciously, until she's sinking into my arms, folding into my skin. Her body, her tears and her strength and her fears, it at all bleeds into me, melting until my arms are the only things holding her up. She cries, heavy and hard like she hasn't let herself cry like this in a long time, and my arms hold her.
A few tears run down my cheeks, but this isn't about me. This is about her, needing a release for everything, all her pain and confusion, that have been swirling around inside her without a way to drain.
"It's okay," I tell her, hugging her body closer. "I've got you."
It scares me a little, how perfectly her body fits into mine. And how easily my body welcomes hers, like it knows she's it's other half even if my mind isn't sure. A fire runs through me everywhere she touches, but the fire doesn't burn, it pulses with life. My body welcomes her touch, remembering her and begging her not to let go.
She breathes an airy sigh, tucking herself further into my skin as her tears subside. Her arms are wrapped tightly around my waist, fingers clawing at my shirt, brushing the skin of the small of my back. Her chest and hips fit perfectly with mine. Her head is bowed, snug safety under my chin with her face pressing into my neck.
It doesn't matter that I can't remember her. Her touch isn't unwelcome. I know her, even if I can't remember her. And that's enough.
"Brittany." I can feel the word as she speaks against my skin, feel it travel along and spread out over me, wrapping around me, sinking deep inside me.
"I'm here, San."
I try to hug her closer but she shies back. She stays in my arms, but she leans back and tips her head up to look at me. "You're here now," she repeats, voice raw and hardly there at all. "You're here and… God, B, I'm never letting you go again."
Can I help the tiny, watery-eyed smile that pulls at the corners of my lips? No, not at all. "Okay," I whisper back.
Her body sinks back into mine again, fitting perfectly.
It's slow and gentle, her lips brushing mine so lightly, like she's afraid she's doing something wrong. My arms hug her closer, pulling her into me and telling her otherwise. Everything about this feels so right inside me. Then she kisses me, really and truly, pushing down every last barrier and exposing all of herself for me to see. Everything about her surrounds me.
She whimpers into my mouth, the sound heady and musical at the same time. It reaches into me, ringing in my ears as she threads herself closer. One hand grips my arm where I hold her around the waist, the other cups my face, her delicate fingers running over the skin of my cheek. She sighs, sounding blissful and content, like she's finally where she needs to be. The sound floats around me, hangs in the air and encircles me, coaxing my heart to beat faster and faster against my chest. Every sound she makes is musical, a song sung only for something deep inside me, calling me to her.
Her lips press continuously against mine, so soft, until I can't tell the difference between me and her. Her tongue teases me, gently pressing and swirling against my own, and I think I'm the one that makes the noise, gasping as her taste overtakes me. The taste of her lips, her tongue, washes over me in waves so strong it makes my knees buckle a little and I grip her tighter. She's so perfect; there are no words to describe the beauty she tastes of.
I pull back for a moment, eyes flickering open as I take a breath of air. Her eyes are shining up at me. God, she's so beautiful, I think as I pull her back.
Her smell, not just her hair or her skin, but everything about her, smells like heaven; like the beach and the stars and the rain in the spring. She smells more stunning than anything I could ever imagine. My hand slides slowly up her back, feeling each bone of her spine; she arches into the touch. I cup the back of her neck and let my fingers slip into her hair. I tug and thread and pull at the dark strands, tipping her head further back and encouraging her to press even closer into me as I take in how amazing she smells, breathing all of her in.
Everything about her ignites something inside me, a flame running over every inch of me. She's pressed so close I wonder if she can feel it too, the feeling of my heart pounding so strongly against my ribs, the feeling of the blood coursing through every part of me, the feeling of the heat radiating off of me in waves. She's doing this to me. She's waking something inside me that was stuck in slumber.
I can feel her, I can feel her the way I wonder if she can feel me. I can feel her hands, warm and strong and sure where they splay over the skin of my arm and cheek. I can feel the quick pitter-patter dance of her heart, jittery with excitement. I can feel her body sagging into mine, knowing and remembering and trusting I'll hold her up.
My eyes are closed, but they don't need to be open to see her beauty. I can feel all of it as she seeps into my skin, her beauty, her familiarity, her love. Behind my eyelids I see swirls of colour, dancing in time with the singing in my ears, moving in time with the beat of our hearts.
Her kiss ignites a fire inside of me, waking something I never knew existed. Every part of her paints itself across my skin, teasing me and filling my senses with only her. She sets off a spark inside me, that's the only way to describe it. She's set off the spark and now it's blooming into fireworks, radiant and stunning colours and shapes and sounds of things long forgotten.
Her voice hums against my lips as she pulls me tighter, smiling as she breaks the kiss and rests our foreheads together. I'm ducking down, and she's on her toes, but we fit perfectly together.
"Hi," I whisper.
"Hey," she says back, voice soft and full of love.
Her eyes shine with liquid emotions, too many to try and count. Her smile is no longer shy, but full-blown and glowing. Everything about her sings, calling to something inside of me with a voice I didn't think I'd ever place. She sings, and I answer. With her here, I remember how to answer her song.