A heat wave sweeps through Lima as soon as we're let out for summer vacation. Santana is in her glory and happily spends her days reading magazines in her lounge chair while wearing extremely skimpy bikinis. By the end of the first week her skin is already deeply tanned and she shows it off by wearing a low-cut halter dress to the first big party of the summer.
I watch her flirt with some boys that go to St. Andrew's, the Catholic school a few towns away. Despite the heat, the blonde one that keeps touching her arm is wearing his green and white letterman jacket. Santana laughs at him and casually shrugs out of his grip. I turn my attention back towards Brittany, who is rambling about her upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon with her family to a timid girl that looks like she doesn't know how to escape from the conversation.
When I glance back across the pool, the St. Andrew's boys are still standing there but Santana is no longer in sight. I fight my instinct to search for her, but our obsession with being attached at the hip keeps causing us to lose control. Instead, I take a swig from the blue concoction that Puck made me when I had arrived (alone, exactly fifteen minutes before Santana).
It's impossible to ignore how the crowd parts in front of me, giving me a renewed view of Santana in her skintight white dress. Finn is standing with a red cup and his arm looped over Rachel's shoulders, but his eyes are glued onto Santana's chest. I want to shove him and tell him what a sleaze he's being, but again I turn back to my drink to control my impulses. Rachel seems oblivious to her leering boyfriend; she just seems happy to be included in a big party like this one.
I wander away from Brittany, citing that I need another drink, even though my cup is still half full. The liquor is on a folding table up by the house, meaning I'm walking away from Santana. I'm not head cheerleader anymore, but it's still nice to notice that I turn a fair share of heads as I push through the groups of jocks and drunken girls.
Puck miraculously appears at my side as soon as I reach the liquor. I'm pretty awful at mixing anything beyond a rum and coke, so I let him take my cup and watch as he pours from a couple of bottles and tops it off with Sprite. I take a sip and grimace at the strong taste of vodka. Puck pats me on the back and smirks at my expression. I don't push his hand away, taking comfort in the small circles he's rubbing between my shoulder blades.
I spend the next hour hovering near Puck and laughing as he repeatedly gets turned down my girls. He's really got no game beyond mixing drinks and flashing his impressive abs, but the girls hardly give him the time of day as soon as he starts trying to show off. Every once in a while I catch a glimpse of Santana as she chats with random Cheerios and cute boys. All night, I haven't seen so much as a shot in her hand, but her eyes are twinkling with happiness as she works the room.
Around midnight my phone goes off and I yank it out of my purse, swiping my thumb across the screen to read the message from Santana.
Ready to get out of here?
I look up to see her standing about ten yards away, looking at me with a shadow of a grin on her lips. I nod at her rather than respond and she walks towards me purposefully. Immediately the scent of her perfume sweeps over me and I feel at home again. She shouts a quick goodbye to a handful of people and tells them that she's taking me, the drunken girl of the evening, home on her way.
People don't seem to think twice as we weave through the crowd and exit the yard through the side gate. Santana keeps her arms swinging loosely at her sides, her cheeks rosy from the warm summer air and she walks with a bounce in her step. Her car is parked a block away and we walk side-by-side in comfortable silence.
It takes all of my effort to wait until we're behind the closed door of Santana's bedroom before I attack her with my lips. She groans and drops her purse, allowing her hands to grasp my waist tightly. Santana tastes like spearmint gum as her tongue rolls against mine, kissing me with feverish intent.
I moan and pull her in tighter as she kisses down my jaw and starts sucking lightly on my neck, nipping with her teeth.
"Mmm, I think Rachel is right," Santana mumbles, her breath hot against my skin.
"About what?" I ask, throwing my head back against the door to give her more access to my bare flesh.
"Coming out to the glee club," Santana responds, dragging her teeth down to where my neck meets my shoulder.
That effectively ruins the mood for me. I nudge Santana's mouth away from my neck and she gazes up into my eyes curiously.
"You want us to come out?" I ask incredulously, horrified that Santana actually took Rachel seriously a couple of weeks ago.
Santana immediately looks at her feet when she realizes we're not on the same page on the issue at hand. I cup her chin and tip her face back up to mine, stroking her cheek gently with my thumb.
"I'm not ashamed of you, Santana." Apparently I hit the nail on the head, she perks up slightly as I assuage her worries. "You know that I think you're amazing."
"It's just the glee losers," Santana says hopefully, gauging the reaction of my look before slumping her shoulders again.
"San, I'm not ready for it to get out. You know how they are! Nothing stays a secret between them for more than a couple of days and I can't afford for them to blab to someone like JewFro and have my mom find out."
"Yeah, they gossip about stupid crap, but they're not going to tell the whole school if they know that we're serious about it staying between us. I mean, most of them are still terrified of us and considering that they hardly ever get slushied anymore because of me, they kind of owe me to keep this to themselves."
I bit my lip and think about what Santana is proposing. It's only a dozen people and most of them have pretty much no social standing beyond glee, which puts them at the bottom of the heap. Santana's words and mine would always overrule theirs if it came down to it. But it still wasn't a chance I was willing to take right now.
"I'll think about it, okay?" I know that Santana is disappointed, but she tries to smile and nods at me, nuzzling into my hand that's resting on her cheek. "We can talk about it again before school starts up in the fall."
The previous urge to need my mouth on every inch of her skin is replaced by the need to be held. We get ready for bed quickly and then slide under the covers, snuggling close together in the large bed. Santana falls asleep first, her little snores comforting as I grip her tighter and try to let my mind rest.
Fourth of July is a big holiday with the Lopezes. As always, Mrs. Lopez has planned for a big barbeque with all of Santana's relatives and some friends. Santana decides to invite the glee kids over for it and we spent the first three days of July helping Mrs. Lopez prepare for the party.
By the time people start showing up midday on the Fourth, the backyard is full of tables covered with festive tablecloths and the smell of cooking meat from where Mr. Lopez is manning the grill on the far side of the deck. Santana's little cousins head straight for the pool, cannonballing into it and splashing one another playfully.
I'm wearing a simple navy blue and white sundress over my bathing suit (red for the patriotic occasion) and a plain pair of white flip-flops. Santana, on the other hand, is prancing around the pool deck in a bikini top decorated to look like an American flag and has a short, red sarong wrapped around her waist that falls no longer than her knee. As she walks, it sways with her, tightening over her ass when her hips move with each step.
I'm grateful for the arrival of our friends to distract me from staring at Santana's body in front of all her relatives. We all settle at a table as far away from Santana's aunts and uncles. Most are dressed simply like I am; the boys are all wearing board shorts and t-shirts and Rachel and Tina show up in jean shorts and tank tops with the strings of their bathing suits peeking out around their necks. Mrs. Lopez urges us to eat as much as we want and the boys dive at the table, loading paper plates with potato salad and hot dogs.
Santana saunters over, her sexy smirk plastered on her face as she walks barefoot across the cool grass to our table. I force myself to pretend to be busy with opening my can of soda as she slides into a metal folding chair directly across from me.
"Where's the booze?" Puck immediately asks her through a mouthful of cheeseburger. Santana wrinkles her nose at him.
"First of all, repulsive. Second of all, you need to wait until my relatives leave and then we can start spiking our sodas, but as it's one in the afternoon, I don't need people being sloppy messes before sundown."
Puck starts to argue that he would never be sloppy, but Santana silences him by standing up and untying the knot that's holding her sarong in place. It falls to the ground, leaving her tanned thighs exposed.
"I'm going in the pool. Any takers?"
Brittany immediately jumps up from her seat at the end of the table and yanks off her tank top and shimmies out of her tiny shorts to expose a bathing suit rather similar to Santana's. Mike and Matt agree to join and they jump into the deep end on a run, soaking her little cousins and making them all start to giggle.
I watch Santana splash around with Brittany, not worrying if they grab onto each other's bare waists as they thrash around in the water. Every public touch between Santana and I has to be carefully calculated with the current audience in mind, but her relationship with Brittany has always been filled with lots of physical contact and nobody seems to even notice when they're entwined in one another's arms. Puck and Finn finish their burger and go to join them, Puck pulling his t-shirt off and immediately flexing his muscles at Santana and Brittany and Finn self-consciously keeping on his loose-fitting rash guard to cover his less than flattering upper body.
It leaves Tina, Rachel, and I sitting at the table and I listen in on their conversation, munching on the mini pretzels that are sitting in a bowl on the middle of the table. Rachel is going on about her summer dance and acting classes and the singing lessons she takes year-round. In all honesty, I'm impressed with her dedication to her craft; her summer schedule revolves solely around performing arts, but it takes up more time than my typical school schedule does. Tina is spending the summer babysitting twin boys that live next door to her and I can't help but laugh at her stories of all the trouble that two five year-olds can manage to get into. They're probably not the girls I would have singled out as being my good friends, but when Rachel isn't fighting for solos, she's actually pretty interesting to talk to and behind the gothic makeup, Tina has a great sense of humor and a knack for storytelling.
I squeal when I feel cold droplets of water hit my bare shoulders as I'm in the middle of telling Rachel about the art exhibit I want to see at Columbus Museum of Art. Santana is leaning over me, her long hair dripping onto my shoulder and dress as she leans across me to grab her soda. She makes a point of grazing my arm with her fingers as she leans back and it gives me chills. I wish I could grab her hand and hold it against my warm skin, but her touch is gone before I have a chance to act irrationally.
By the late afternoon, we're all in the pool and I can't remember the last time that I have felt so carefree and happy. We play chicken fights and Marco Polo and let ourselves act like kids for once. None of us emerge from the water until every finger and toe is pruny and our stomachs are growling. The evening is spent eating and watching the boys' set of firecrackers on the street in front of Santana's house while her cousins linger along the edge of the grass watching in awe.
Once Santana's relatives leave and the boys' stockpile of fireworks are depleted, we lounge on the cool grass in Santana's backyard and sneak vodka into our cans of soda and watching the flashes of color that light up the sky from all over town. My knee casually brushes Santana's as she fidgets beside me, reaching for the bottle of vodka that Puck has hidden under his towel. I watch as she takes a gulp directly from it before chasing it with the soda in her other hand.
"This is lame. Let's play truth or dare!" Puck exclaims, yanking the bottle back from Santana and adding more to his own drink.
There's a general murmur around the group over the suggestion, but when nobody flat out refuses, Puck hops to his feet excitedly and points at Finn.
"Truth or dare, man?"
The game is mostly filled with the boys challenging each other to eat gross combinations of food for the first couple of rounds, but as people continue to drink, it gets more intimate. Most of the girls choose truth and blush as they answer various questions about their sex life and what boys they think are cute at school.
After Puck takes Sam's dare of recounting his most vivid sex dream - about one of the younger substitute teachers nonetheless – Puck turns to Santana with a knowing smirk.
"Truth or Dare, Lopez?"
"Dare," Santana challenges back. She's the first girl to not take the cheap way out.
"Make out with Brittany for five minutes."
In all reality, it's a simple enough dare. It's something that pretty much everybody in the room has seen at some time or another. Brittany is already sliding onto her knees to crawl across the circle to where Santana is sitting. But just from the side profile, I know Santana is frozen in place. Her shoulders are tense and she stares at Puck, who is still smirking at her, glad at the direction the game is going.
"I'll drink instead."
Santana is trying to ease out of the question with a common occurrence at parties. Most of the guys pull this move if they are ever dared to kiss one another and people just go with it.
"You've done it a million times. C'mon, Santana," Puck pushes.
I sit frozen beside her, waiting for her next move. Brittany is on her knees in the center of the circle; unsure as to whether she should head towards Santana or back to her own patch of grass next to Tina.
"I said I'll drink," Santana responds through gritted teeth.
But Puck doesn't give up even when Santana chugs the rest of her drink and throws the can at his head, hardly missing hitting him in the face. Rachel gasps and covers her own nose like she's Santana's next target for projectiles.
"Your turn, Santana," Brittany states definitively, trying to ease the tension between Santana and Puck.
"Bullshit, she didn't fulfill her dare yet," Puck challenges, staring pointedly at her.
"Just give it up, Puck. It's a stupid fucking game in the first place." I didn't really want to get involved, but it's impossible when Puck is being such a horny asshole to my girlfriend.
"Jealous I requested she kiss Brittany instead of you?" Puck remarks, turning his attention to me instead of Santana. I feel the flush immediately take over my cheeks and I'm sure even in the dim light of the backyard that it's blaringly obvious.
"Leave her alone, Puckerman," Santana seethes, reaching over to put her hand on my knee protectively.
"Need to save your girlfriend from a little harmless teasing?"
"Yeah. I do."
Puck's jaw drops, not knowing if Santana is playing him to get him to drop it or if she's being serious. The rest of the group sits frozen, their eyes darting between Santana's hand on my knee and Puck's confused gaze.
"San…" I whisper, but it's loud enough that everybody can hear. It's pleading, hoping she'll just drop it and put an end to the game before she really outs us to the whole group.
Her hand squeezes my knee briefly before pulling away.
"I'm not doing this crap with you. Have a little fucking respect when someone tells you no for once."
Santana is on her feet now with her hands clenched in tight fists. Puck, of course, doesn't even think before opening his mouth to retort.
"What crawled up your ass and died? I thought this was supposed to be a party!"
"It's Santana's decision to deny the dare. Considering she fulfilled the consequence adequately, I believe it makes it her turn," Rachel intercedes, adamantly refusing to look directly at Santana.
Santana turns quickly to leer at Rachel for getting involved, but her features quickly melt in gratitude. They harden again before she turns back to Puck.
"And I say this game is fucking over," she says authoritatively, glaring harshly at Puck. Brittany crawls awkwardly back to her spot in the circle without a word.
The mood becomes very subdued after that as we just sit and talk. Santana hardly contributes and I watch her fingers as she plucks blades of grass from the lawn and builds a little pile. She hasn't bothered to get herself a new drink since throwing her can at Puck.
A little after midnight everybody finally decides to call it a night. Santana gives brief hugs to everybody besides Puck, who stands awkwardly a couple feet away from the group holding his towel and waiting for Finn and Sam. Santana is silent as we bag up the remnants of the party around the backyard. I work alongside her in equal silence, the conversation with Puck rattling around in my head. There's no point in pushing Santana to talk about it all before she brings it up herself, so I let it all sit over us like a dense cloud.
Santana leads me wordlessly up to her bedroom, her fingers stiff between my own. It makes me feel like we don't fit as perfectly as usual and my chest tightens at the thought. I force myself to shake it away. We change out of our bathing suits quickly, facing away from one another like we're in the locker room. Santana is tucked into a little ball facing the wall under the comforter before I even finish pulling my t-shirt over my head. I crawl in behind her, draping an arm over her waist and pulling her tightly against me. Her body relaxes just a fraction and I take that as a small victory.
I wake up the next morning to the smell of pancakes and bacon. Santana is perched on the end of the bed with a tray of food balanced on her knees. She gives me a sheepish grin as I wipe the sleep from my eyes and move to sit up against the headboard. Santana shifts the tray onto my lap and moves closer to me, swinging her legs up onto the bed.
"Why aren't we having breakfast with your family?" I ask curiously as I pour syrup over the pancakes. They smell fantastic.
"They're all sleeping in today and I thought you deserved a thank you for not hating me after how I acted last night."
"Why would I hate you, San?" I say genuinely.
"I pretty much outed both of us after you sort of told me that you're not ready for that step." I can see the remorse painted on her features as she stares at the wall, purposefully avoiding my eyes.
"Maybe we should just tell them and get it over with." I had been up most of the night thinking about it. "I mean, Rachel already knows and it won't be long before the rest of them catch on."
Santana turns her attention from the wall to study my face. I'm scared that all of this could backfire and put us in a bad situation, but it would be nice to be ourselves around some people once in a while outside of Santana's bedroom.
"I don't want to do this unless you're one hundred percent ready for it," Santana comments, reaching over to grab a strawberry from the tray on my lap.
"I don't think I'll ever be completely ready," I confide. "But we need to do it anyway. It's getting too difficult to hide this from everybody, especially our friends."
Santana smiles at me and nods, obviously agreeing with my reasoning. She moves closer and snuggles up against my side, resting her head on my shoulder.
"We'll see if the moment arises," she says softly. Peacefulness washes over the room as Santana finally relaxes, her body molding against my side. I push the tray off my lap, leaving most of breakfast uneaten, but I'd rather kiss my girlfriend.
"Quinnie, where are you going?" I'm halfway through the foyer to the front door when my mom's voice rings out from the kitchen. I pause.
"I have plans with Santana and Brittany today!" I shout back, gazing longingly at the shiny brass doorknob that marks my escape.
"Alright, but I want you home for dinner tonight, please."
I grumble under my breath and finish walking to the front door.
I'm in my car before my mom can get another word in. Part of me knows that she's not trying to difficult, but it's weird having a mom that actually seems to want to see me after getting used to having two parents that only cared to have me around for appearances.
Santana is in her backyard already when I show up. Her skin is gleaming with a fresh coat of tanning oil and her dark hair is pulled up into a bun on top of her head to make sure that her neck and shoulders are getting full sun exposure. I admire the sight of her oiled up abs as I walk slowly across the grass from the fence gate.
When my flip-flops hit the surface of the deck, Santana pushes her sunglasses onto her head and smiles at me. She looks so relaxed and carefree that I just want to climb onto her lounge chair and kiss her, but Max and his two friends are on the other side of the pool shooting each other with water guns.
I settle for the chair next to hers and I drop my tote bag between us, fishing out my sunglasses and the novel I'm currently reading. Santana doesn't say anything but glances over at her brother and sighs before dropping her sunglasses back of her eyes and settling into her chair again.
As soon it hits 5 o'clock, I know that I better head home to help my mom with dinner. Santana tries to convince me to call her and get out of it, but it's not worth pushing her buttons when she has the power to ground me. So I throw my stuff into my bag and pull my sundress back over my head, giving Santana the briefest of hugs in the presence of her brother and his friends before I head back out through the gate.
I can already smell the cooking chicken when I walk into the house. Despite having been getting along better with my mom since it's just been the two of us, I'd still rather be out with my friends or up in my room rather than sitting through an awkward dinner.
The dining room table has pretty much become a dust collector; my mom hardly ate in the weeks after my dad left and I chose to eat my frozen meals at the kitchen counter on the nights I didn't escape to eat at Santana's. I'm surprised when I see that it's been freshly polished and the flowery summer placemats have been set down at each seat. Our two places are also adorned with glasses, empty china plates, and neatly lined silverware.
I wander through to the kitchen to see my mom jumping between two pots and something in the oven. I know she always cooked for my dad, but it's nice to see her back in a place that she is comfortable. I say hello and she responds without taking her eye off of the simmering pot.
She gestures at a pile of salad ingredients on the island and I take it as my cue to get to work helping her prepare dinner. I fall into the rhythm of chopping up vegetables and tearing lettuce until I have a heaping bowl to toss. My mom starts carrying food to the table and I pour myself a glass of water and carry it with the salad into the dining room.
My mom's wine glass is absent, replaced instead by her own glass of water. The table looks uneven without my mom's glass of red and my dad's tumbler of scotch. I slide into my seat and sit still as she says a short grace, before I pull my cloth napkin from its holder and drop it down onto my lap.
"Did you have a nice afternoon?" my mom asks as I fill my salad plate.
"Yeah, it was fine," I respond, moving onto filling my actual dinner plate. Everything smells amazing and I realize that I've missed my mom's cooking even if I haven't missed the dinner atmosphere.
"What did you do all day?" I try to not roll my eyes. She's just being friendly, but it's not like she's really trying to pry into my secret life.
"Hung out by the pool at Santana's house," I mutter, cutting my chicken before diving into my food. I didn't realize how hungry I was until my mom decided she wanted to talk so much. If my mouth is constantly full, there's less room for awkward conversation.
But my mom doesn't stop.
"Is that all you girls have done for the first few weeks of summer?" she inquires. Her own food is practically untouched, but she twirls her fork in her fingers.
My mom lets out the tiniest of sighs. I feel bad that I'm been so difficult, but it's not like I'm used to her actually caring how I spend my days.
"We see the glee kids or some of the Cheerios sometimes," I add when I swallow my bite of green beans.
"You still are in the glee club? I figured you'd stop that after you broke up with that Finn boy."
"It's good diversity for my college applications," I answer immediately, my tone defensive.
"You can just say that you enjoy doing it, Quinnie. If you're spending time with these choir kids during the summer, I'm sure it's not just for your college applications."
Her words take me aback. Being a Fabray has always meant being most popular, the most beautiful, and the smartest. I was raised to think that we were somehow higher members of society because we belonged to the right country club and the best church. Frannie and I went to expensive summer camps and took classical piano lessons. Glee club has been the one thing in my life, besides my secret relationship with Santana, that didn't fit into what was expected of a Fabray. I joined Cheerios because it was the hardest team to get onto and it was good for popularity. It was elite and the Fabrays were meant to be part of elite teams.
"They're nice," I admit. "And glee can be fun. It's a lot different than all of my other activities."
My mom smiles warmly at me. It's so unlike her tight-lipped polite smile that I'm often graced with.
"I'm glad you're happy, Quinn. It's all I ever wanted for you and Frannie."
I'm immediately fighting the urge to laugh. If she wanted me to be happy, why was she so fixated on me being a perfect, blonde beanpole? I wasn't popular as Lucy, but I was still content. Popularity only ever mattered to me because it was so important to my parents and my sister.
"It's a competitive club, right?"
"Yeah, there are competitions leading up to Nationals."
"So it's kind of like Cheerios, but for singing and dancing."
"I guess you could say that. You need twelve people to compete, but our team mostly revolves around a couple of the kids that are really serious about it and the rest of us are just there for swaying in the background and adding some harmony. We have a couple of really good singers, but there are still a lot of teams that are better than us."
My mom nods as I explain how glee club works. I don't obsessively care about it the way that Rachel does, but talking about it to my mom makes me realize how much I do enjoy it. Plus, it's extra time spent near Santana.
"I'll have to come see you compete sometime," my mom muses as she picks at her salad. My plate is pretty much empty already.
"I just stand in the back, there's not much to see," I mumble.
"That doesn't mean I shouldn't be supportive. You can't be captain for every activity you do."
This also wasn't the Fabray way. Things were only worth doing if you could be the best.
Conversation slows for a bit after that and I sip my water slowly as I wait for her to finish eating. I tap my fingers against the rim of the glass and will the minutes to go by faster so that I can disappear up to my room.
Just as I think she's finally finished, she opens her mouth to speak again.
"I think we should get away for the weekend," she announces, her voice full of strained enthusiasm.
"Why?" It's an immediate response before I have a chance to filter my thoughts.
"I think it would be good for us. We're starting over and I never get to see you anymore since you're always busy with your friends."
"Where are we going?" As per usual, it's not like I'm really going to get an opinion on whether I want to go or not. I definitely don't want to go, but I'll be packing up and heading out anyway.
"I was thinking we'd go down to Buck Creek like we used to when you and Frannie were kids. I'm going to call Frannie tonight and see if she can get home for a girls' weekend."
I give a little nod, acknowledging that she's making me go on this stupid outing. Having Frannie there will just make it ten times less bearable. I use the break in conversation as an excuse to clear the table, therefore allowing me to make my escape. As soon as I have the dishes into the dishwasher, I head up to my bedroom and close the door.
Santana and I text back and forth for a while about how unfair it is that my mom is forcing me to go on this last minute trip with her and I am tempted to ask my mom if I can go back out now that I've been home for dinner so that I can see Santana in person.
As soon as I make the decision to ask her if I can go, she's knocking on my bedroom door.
I swing open the door and stand with my hand on the doorknob. She stares awkwardly until I move out of the way and let her cross the threshold.
"Frannie is refusing to make the trip home. She says she has other plans that are more important."
I feel bad for how disappointed my mom seems. She obviously wanted this to be a chance to reconnect with both Frannie and I.
"Well, it's her loss," I say casually with a shrug of my shoulders. My mom seems happy that I'm at least embracing the trip and not throwing a fit over it. It's two nights and then I can go back to my regular summer plans of getting a tan and making out in the safety of Santana's bedroom.
"I think we'll have fun anyway," my mom states and I can tell that she's working hard to convince herself that this weekend won't be a complete disaster.
"Some of our friends are going down to the lake for a bonfire tonight," I mention casually, glancing down at the screen of my cell phone where Santana's newest message has just popped up telling me about the party.
"And you want to go I presume?" she inquires. I glance away from her.
"Well, yeah," I say, studying the little stain on my carpet instead of meeting her eyes.
"Go have fun. We'll talk about the trip over breakfast tomorrow."
Getting out of the house was a lot easier than I thought it would be, but she's already stated that I'll be home for breakfast, which means no sleeping at Santana's. That means I won't get to sleepover again until after we get back because tomorrow night I'll need to be here so we can leave the following morning.
I rush through showering and getting ready, wanting to get there as soon as possible. It's under an hour by the time I'm yanking the first dress over my head and grabbing a cardigan off of a hanger before I'm out the door.
Santana and I show up separately to the bonfire like we have for every social engagement for weeks. She's already there when I pull into the parking as shown by her car sitting a few spaces down from where mine is now parked. I meander down the path with my cardigan and purse in my hands, eyes taking in the roar of orange flames coming from the fire pit about twenty yards from the edge of the lake.
The light given off from the bonfire is enough to let me see what's going on around it. A few guys are off on one side setting up a makeshift DJ station while another group stands around the keg and keep punching one another in the arm. Puck is flirting his way through the crowd, taking in the cleavage of every girl in his path to the beer. And then I see Santana.
She's wearing a pale green tube top and a tiny pair of light jean shorts. A strip of bare abdomen peeks out from beneath her shirt. Her golden skin reflects the orange glow of the bonfire in a way that only seems to work for her. Santana's hair falls over her bare shoulders in shiny waves and she runs a hand through it as she talks to a girl that was in our chemistry class this year.
Usually I would avoid walking directly over to Santana, but it's like being pulled by a magnetic force field. She's my best friend and there shouldn't be a real reason to avoid her just because other people are around. As long as we don't physically touch, nothing bad can come out of us hanging out in public.
Santana sees me approaching before I actually reach where she's standing. I can't help but grin when I see her eyes rake down my outfit before meeting my eyes. She's holding a red cup like pretty much everybody else at the party, yet somehow she makes even that simple action look sexy.
I greet the girl Santana is talking to, who seems intimidated being in the presence of both of simultaneously. As much as I'd rather have Santana's attention completely to myself, this girl, Sam I think, is the perfect buffer. She's friendly and doesn't seem too caught up in the gossip that practically engulfs Santana and I. She takes a sip of her drink and glances past Santana for a second, looking like she wonders if she should find a way out of this situation.
"So how has your summer been?" I ask Sam, focusing on her to keep myself from dragging Santana back to her car for a quickie.
I don't really register her response, but I nod politely and look at her while she speaks. Santana says something and takes over for me, talking about Cheerio boot camp while Sam brings up their soccer preseason. I never really thought about the other sports having it as bad as us. Football always seemed like such a huge joke.
I excuse myself to get a drink and leave them talking as I wander across the grass towards the rowdy boys near the keg. They part as I walk over and I roll my eyes at the ridiculous comments that follow me. Finn is at the keg and he gives me a weak nod in greeting before filling a cup and handing it to me wordlessly. With a half smile, I'm taking off again to where Santana is still talking to Sam.
I spend the next two hours joining in on Santana's casual social interactions, hovering near her with ever focusing my attention directly on her. Every time I feel her eyes on me, I struggle to maintain my nonchalance and I silently pray that the bonfire hides my blush. Nevertheless, being mere feet away and part of her conversations is a million times better than miserably admiring her from afar until it is time to leave.
I'm surprised when Santana taps my arm and gestures for me to follow her away from the crowd. We walk side-by-side away from the orange glow of the bonfire along the edge of the placid lake. The pounding of the music fades as we walk further from our friends into the darkness. The night air is cool and I pull my cardigan around my bare shoulders, hugging it against me.
"San…" I say softly, slowing to a halt. She stops too, turning to face me with her head cocked. "Where are we going?"
Santana shrugs her shoulders, glancing around in the dim moonlight before taking two big steps towards me. Her nose is only inches from mine; I can feel the heat of her breath against my lips. Paranoia takes over as Santana moves to close the distance of our lips and I turn my face and stumble backwards, putting a solid foot of space between us.
"I'm sorry," I mumble. "We've had too many close calls lately," I add as an excuse for my behavior. Santana sighs and nods in resignation, swinging her fists awkwardly at her sides.
"I just want to see you before you leave with your mom," Santana whines and I can't help but smile at her sheepish admission.
"Maybe I can get a couple of hours before dinner tomorrow while my mom is at work," I reason. Santana brightens up a bit at that. "You could always come over and help me pack."
Santana still avoids my house since my dad left, but I might be able to convince her to give up an afternoon of lounging by the pool if my mom isn't going to be around. If she's at her house she'll have to deal with the constant presence of her little brother and his friends.
"Yeah, maybe," Santana muses, slowly heading back towards the roaring fire. Her hand swings near mine and my chest aches with the urge to grab hold of it. As always, my fear wins out and I fold my arms across my chest instead.
I decide to leave the bonfire shortly after the walk and I give Santana a friendly hug with an extra squeeze as I say goodbye. I do the same to Brittany as protection, but her hug isn't nearly as comforting as Santana's.
My mom wakes me up at seven the next morning for breakfast. Before ninth and tenth grade, I would have been up by now anyway. My mornings of getting in a long run to stay in shape have faded into sleeping in with Santana and getting our exercise in a very different form. I groan and grumble, but my mom opens the shades and putters around my bedroom loudly until I finally throw the blanket back and climb out of bed.
Breakfast is fruit salad and my mom's homemade blueberry muffins with a tall glass of orange juice. It's healthier than the comfort food that make up my mornings at Santana's house, but I fill a bowl with melon and strawberries and take a bite out of a warm muffin as I settle into my seat at the formal table. It's been months since I sat in the dining room for breakfast.
My mom rambles about the details of our trip as I eat. She flips through printed pages with our cabin confirmation and extracts a packing list, which she drops down next to my juice. I'm given the task of making sure I'm ready to go at seven the following morning with everything on the list packed. Before I can read through it, my mom is dropping a kiss to my forehead and rushing out the door to go to work.
It's too early to call Santana since she'll still be sleeping. The list my mom made is extensive and includes everything I personally need, plus the list of snacks and drinks for the cooler and a separate list of supplies for two afternoons on the lakeshore. I sigh and head to the shed out back to find beach chairs and the large umbrella.
Santana finally texts me around noon to say that she's awake and I tell her to come over. She knocks on the front door ten minutes later. It feels formal and cold considering I just walk into her house when I arrive. I yank the heavy door open to reveal her standing on the front porch wearing bright red Cheerio shorts and a plain white tank top over a red sports bra. Her skin shines with a thin layer of sweat and her hair is pulled back into a tight ponytail. I step to the side so that she can walk into the foyer before kicking the door closed.
She glances around the interior of the hall, not moving until I invite her to follow me into the living room. Mostly everything is packed already and I still have five hours until my mom will be home, so I crash down onto the couch and grab the remote. Santana sits down primly next to me, seemingly uncomfortable in the formal room.
I lean into her, letting my head fall heavily onto her bare shoulder as I flip through the thousands of cable channels. She relaxes a bit under my touch, shifting so that she can wrap her arm around me. The rest of the afternoon is spent on the couch relaxing together. Before I know it, the clock alerts me that my mom is expected home in fifteen minutes. Santana knows it too and she pulls herself away from me and up off of the couch. I walk her into the foyer and let my fingertips dance along the edge of her exposed hip as she leans down to tie up her sneakers. She shudders slightly and her eyes are darker when she stands up to look at me again.
"You don't play fair," she whines, her arms moving to pull me in closer.
"Just reminding you of what you can have when I get back," I say, my voice raspy against the words. I swear I hear a whimper escape her before she leans in and kisses me.
It's short because my mom could be home any second, but my lips tingle as she pulls away and walks the two steps to the front door. I give her a little wave and she blows me a kiss as she sets off at a jog down the porch steps in the direction of her house.
I try to distract my mom with various playlists as she drives to the resort. It's only a couple of hours away, but it's more alone time than we've spent together in years. She yammers away about her job and the houses she currently has listed and talks about her days as a cheerleader in an attempt to relate to me.
I breathe a sigh of relief when we pull up to the check-in. I choose to stay in the car while my mom collects the keys. Of course there is no cell phone service, so I can't even text Santana to tell her that we have arrived.
My mom is back ten minutes later with a handful of papers and brochures and a wider than normal smile. She's actually humming when she gets back into the car and drops the pamphlets onto my lap as she pulls out of the parking lot towards our assigned cabin.
The interior is generic: the walls are made of wood paneling and are adorned by prints of the lake in various seasons. Random country-themed decorations cover the end tables and mantelpiece. The kitchen is tucked in at the back and has a wall border of roosters lining the top of it. I wander off to the left towards the bedrooms. My mom sprung for the two bedroom and I'm immediately grateful at the sight of my own full bed.
It's only lunchtime, so my mom suggests that we get unpacked and then head into town to eat. I agree and drag my duffel bag into the second bedroom, closing the door quietly behind me. As soon as I'm alone, I sink onto the hideous floral bedspread and pull out my phone again. Zero service.
It takes me all of five minutes to shove my handful of shorts and bathing suits into the rickety wooden dresser and hang up a couple of sundresses. I walk across the hallway and deposit my toiletries in the bathroom and then flop onto the couch with my book to wait for my mom to be ready.
She emerges half an hour later in a clean dress with her pearls in place and her hair perfectly coiffed. I feel a little underdressed in my capri pants and light blue tank top, but my mom doesn't comment as she leads the way back to the car.
We end up at a small café about two miles up the road that my mom used to take Frannie and I to when we were kids. The view from the table on the deck is just a reminder of my childhood. It's been years since we came here and the memories of following Frannie around while my parents talked under the umbrella. My mom and I both order salads: a grilled chicken Caesar for me and a Waldorf for her. I sip on my unsweetened iced tea and look out over the surface of the lake, watching people float by in sailboats.
My mom jumps into conversation, reminiscing about weeks of the summer spent at the lake. I can hear the tears in her voice as she mentions my dad or Frannie as she recalls specific memories. I steer the conversation away from it as much as possible, but it's impossible to talk about the past without acknowledging the presence of my dad and sister.
The arrival of our meal causes the conversation to ebb a bit as we chew quietly and politely, both lost in our own thoughts. I try to focus on the warm sun on my face and on the two little girls swimming with bright orange water wings in front of their family cabin. They splash happily, the weight of the world still a long way from being their personal burden. Last time we had come to the lake, I felt the same way as those little girls with pigtails.
Mom pays the bill and we get back in the car. It's still early afternoon, but she doesn't bring up going to the lake, so I settle onto a lounge chair on the back deck with my book. She joins me with her copy of the latest issue of Home and Garden.
"What classes are you taking this year?" she asks, licking her finger and turning the glossy page of the magazine.
"Physics, Spanish, AP Literature, Calculus, AP US History, AP Psychology, Gym, and Glee," I recite, counting off the classes in my head.
"Ambitious as usual. You work so hard, Quinn," she compliments, glancing over the rims of her sunglasses at me. I gaze beyond her at the oak tree in the distance.
"Well I need to make sure I get into a good school with a lot of scholarship money," I respond mechanically. Money never used to be an issue; my dad would dish out money without blinking an eye as long as we didn't disgrace him. Frannie's schooling was completely paid for. But I had chosen mom in the separation and her job as a real estate agent wasn't going to be enough to pay the bills and send me to an expensive Ivy League school.
"Your college trust fund is still locked for you. Your father couldn't take that away in the divorce," my mom comments. I knew that he wanted to take back everything when I chose mom, so I know that she must have really fought to maintain that account for me. She probably had to sacrifice big alimony checks to ensure that I could still go to the college of my choice.
I don't know how to respond that, so I give a ridiculous little nod of my head and stare back at the words on the open page of my book.
"And you're still doing Cheerios?" It's obvious that reading is going to be out of the question. My mom has decided that we're going to talk and bond this afternoon no matter what.
"Of course," I respond simply, running my fingers absentmindedly along the spine of my book and sigh softly.
"Do you really want to? It doesn't seem like you enjoy cheerleading like Frannie did."
"It's okay and it keeps me on top without much effort," I say with a shrug. "Plus, Frannie didn't cheer for Coach Sylvester. That woman is in her own league of evil most days."
My mom actually snorts at that comment and drops her magazine onto the table beside her chair.
"She's been coaching for as long as I can remember. She's been evil for that long too."
We talk about cheerleading and Sylvester's reign of terror for a while and I find myself relaxing around my mom. This is the most amount of time we've done something other than eat together with polite small talk. I find myself laughing as I recall Sylvester's crazy antics from the past couple of years. My mom tells me about her own cheerleading days, which sounded a lot more enjoyable to my own. They mostly involved actually cheering for the football team and riding the perks of being on the top of the high school food chain.
As the afternoon fades into evening, we move into the kitchen and cook dinner together. I fiddle with the old radio in the corner until an oldies station comes through. My mom hums along with the songs of her youth while she tosses a handful of spaghetti into the pot of boiling water. We eat at the little picnic table on the deck as the sun sets beyond the trees.
We watch some reruns of Friends on the old TV in the living room until we're both yawning. It's still pretty early, but I'm happy to retreat to my room for some alone time. I'm not tired enough to sleep, so I pull a notebook and pen out of the side pouch of my duffel bag and collapse onto the bed on my stomach.
Words scratch onto the paper, some bits of poems, some of them are hopes and dreams; other sentences make up the beginning of a love letter. The minutes and hours fade as I write and scribble out words, pouring my emotions onto the lines. When my eyes are finally sore from exhaustion, I push the notebook over the edge of the bed and crawl under the covers, falling into a dreamless sleep without the worries of what the future holds.
The next morning I wake to the sound of my mom getting breakfast ready in the kitchen. It's early and my eyes resist starting the day, but I know I can't leave my mom alone all morning while I sleep in. I shower and dress before I join her and by then, she's already setting breakfast up on the little kitchen table.
Breakfast is a quiet affair and we gather up our tote bags and head down to the lakefront as soon as the dishes are cleared. I lay my towel out on the ground and yank my sunglasses over my eyes figuring on taking a nap in the warm sun. My mom has a different plan.
"It's been a while since you broke up with Finn," she muses, her fingers tapping on the armrest of her beach chair.
"Yeah, he's still dating Rachel Berry," I comment, not bothering to open my eyes.
"Have you dated anybody else since him?" she asks and I can feel her looking at me.
She's giving me an opportunity to open up about dating Santana. Before my dad left, I would have never considered bringing this up to my mom. But things have been really different since it has been just the two of us. Still, I don't know how she'd react and I'm too scared to find out.
"Uh, nope," I mumble, rolling onto my stomach and facing away from her.
"You should allow yourself to date, Quinnie. I know that you work so hard with school and your extracurricular activities, but you don't need to neglect your love life."
"There just hasn't been anybody that I'm interested in."
God, I want this conversation to be over immediately.
"Most people don't marry their high school sweetheart anyway, but it would be good for you to get out date more."
My mom seems to catch on that this conversation is insanely uncomfortable and she sighs and pulls her book out of her bag and settles in, leaving me to my nap.
The rest of the weekend is a little awkward after the conversation at the lake. My mom seems scared to ask anything too personal and I don't push her to talk. I think we both breathe a huge sigh of relief when we pull back into our driveway in Lima.
I'm standing in the kitchen when I hear my dad's voice ring out from the living room. My mom is checking the messages on the answering machine.
"Hey, Judy, it's Russ. I just was calling to see if you'd get Quinn to come stay with me for a week in Cleveland. Frannie is flying in next Friday and is staying here and I'd love to get to see both girls together for a few days at least. Give me a call when you get a chance."
My chest tightens at his nonchalance. We hadn't spoken a word since he had left. Once in a while, he calls to discuss finances with my mom, but he hasn't even bothered to call me personally. Even now, when he wants me to visit, he doesn't just call me.
I pretend like I hadn't heard the message when my mom walks into the kitchen a few minutes later.
"Your father called while we were away," she says, pulling a glass from the cabinet and filling it with water. She takes a long sip.
"Oh?" I respond, feigning mild interest.
"Frannie is visiting him next week and he would like you to come visit as well."
"Do I have to?" I ask immediately. My mom seems happy that I'm not jumping at the opportunity to spend time with him.
"It's up to you, sweetie."
I bite my lip for a moment and watch as my mom takes another sip.
"Will you be mad if I go?"
"Of course not. If you want to see your sister and your dad, then you should." I know that she wants to say no, but it would be unfair of her to do so.
"I'll think about it," I state firmly. "I'm going to Santana's house." With that, I grab my keys from their hook and head out the front door.