I would shiver the whole night through
The call comes in at a little before three in the afternoon. In pure annoyance, she nearly decides not to answer the call at all (it doesn't feel like it's time to wake up, all she knows is that she's being woken up out of deep sleep), but curiosity drives her to at least check who it is from.
The fact that it's her father snaps her brain into gear a little bit, and she answers with a groggy, "Hi, Dad."
"Santana," he greets, his voice as steady and serious as always, "I'm calling because I have important news."
"Right," she clears her throat. That much is obvious to her. He's not the type of person to just call to chat. They don't really talk.
"It's about your abuela," he continues in that same calm tone, and though he's managed to keep any strain out of his voice, just that word sends chills down Santana's spine. He calls his mother Santana's Grandmama. Dr. Lopez does not speak Spanish. Not at home or to his family, at any rate, only sometimes with patients. Even in Santana's youth, when she'd hear him argue with his mother, who would shout in Spanish, he'd reply in English.
"Oh, god," Santana gasps.
"She's in the hospital. Severe stomach pain, she refused to go to the hospital until she collapsed. Luckily, your mother was coming by with some groceries she'd asked for and found her before too long."
"How…is she going to…?"
"They're doing the best they can. They don't know anything for sure yet, and unless they can figure it out, her prognosis isn't great. Her health has declined kind of rapidly in the past year or so."
"Okay," Santana says quietly. She has no idea what else to say. What can she say about the news that someone she loves dearly is dying?
"I know she hasn't been talking to you," Dr. Lopez says, and his voice is more gentle, less clinical, "But she asked about you, just now. I think…I think she knows that if she didn't see you once more before dying, she would regret it."
"You…think she'll see me?"
"I don't know for certain, but I think so. My mother is a stubborn woman, but I know she loved you." Santana winces. His use of past tense can be taken two ways, and both are infinitely painful.
"I'll leave right now. I'll drive."
"If you need money for gas, we can help you."
"I should have enough to get there."
"Okay. We'll help you out for the travel and time off work." He sounds like some kind of goddamn HR rep and Santana wants to scream at him for being so detached.
"Thanks. I'll see you as soon as I can."
"Safe travels. Goodbye, sweetheart." The words sound completely unnatural to Santana's ear, and as soon as she hangs up, she's sobbing.
Once she's composed herself, she calls work and tells them she has a family emergency and needs a few days off. They tell her in a bored tone that that's certainly fine and that they hope everything is okay. She had called ready for a fight, really. Ready to scream at someone who told her they needed her. But of course, this is a dayside manager she's speaking to. He doesn't have a clue who she is and he doesn't care whether she shows up tonight at all.
She exits the bedroom to find the apartment blessedly empty, which is good. She doesn't think she can handle Kurt or Rachel's hugs or sympathy right now. She just scrawls a quick note ("Grandmother in the hospital. Back to Lima for a few days. Don't worry. –S") and leaves it on the counter.
She spends about twenty minutes sobbing in the shower again before really feeling like she can pull herself together enough to drive home. Her stomach is queasy, but she forces down a piece of toast and half a cup of coffee, filling a travel thermos with the rest of what she's brewed. Then, she's haphazardly packing her Cheerios duffle with a couple day's worth of clothes and, hesitating, includes a black dress, just in case. She slips on jeans—an old pair of Kurt's actually men's skinny jeans that he was going to throw out, but that it turned out fit her well enough—and a t-shirt with a tabby cat on it. She slips on her leather jacket and takes out her phone to call Brittany.
Brittany actually answers—Santana checks the time, she's probably just finished Cheerios by now—and Brittany's voice is a little chilly as she greets Santana.
"My abeula is in the hospital," Santana begins without pretense. "I...I'm about to head back to Lima."
"Come stay with me," Brittany offers immediately, "Oh, San…"
"Thanks," Santana swallows. It's exactly what she'd hoped for, "I really need you right now."
"I know," Brittany's voice is soft again, "I know you do. I'll take care of you. But you have to get here first. Are you driving?"
"Be safe. Be careful."
"I will. Thanks, Britt-Britt. I'll be there around maybe 3am."
"Okay," Brittany sounds a little surprised; perhaps she forgot how long this drive really is. "I'll tell my parents you'll be coming. Just call when you're close, I'll let you in."
"Okay. I love you."
"Always. See you soon."
The air outside is cold, the sun just present as some light struggling through swaths of cloud on the horizon. Her leather jacket isn't nearly enough to keep her warm as she walks to her car, but she lets the cold seep into her, lets it energize her as she begins her trip to Lima.
Getting out of the city at this time of day takes time, but at least it's not an hour or two later when it gets even worse, so she grits her teeth and follows traffic until the choking line of cars clogging the streets begin to thin out and everyone can actually drive the speed limit again. She's trying to listen to music that will keep her spirits up, that will help her stay awake. She doesn't have the heat on full blast, and feels the cool leather creaking tight against her arms as she moves them. All measures, in addition to her thermos of coffee, meant to keep her awake, and focused on driving. She's never driven this far on her own before.
It's dark within a few hours and she's driving through a rural highway in Pennsylvania, surrounded by the skeletal limbs of trees, passing trucks and joining clusters of cars around towns. And as she keeps driving, her speed rising as her mind closes off, she blanks out almost everything except the road beneath her and the darkness around her.
She knows she stops for gas a few times, and for Taco Bell another (what would her abuela say if she saw Santana eating that Crunchwrap Supreme, she doesn't want to imagine), but for some reason, the only album she can really remember listening to during this trip is Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," and it starts to feel like "Highway Unicorn" and "Heavy Metal Lover" are just on repeat through her entire journey, just dark, metal-inspired thrums echoing the tires on the asphalt.
She makes good time. She must've been driving faster than she realized, because it's a little after two in the morning when she pulls into Brittany's driveway, dialing Brittany's number.
Brittany answers and lets her in, grabbing her duffel bag from her and sliding her out from her coat. Santana shivers at its loss, despite the warmth inside Brittany's house, and Brittany guides her upstairs, strips her, and just holds her. Santana wants to have sex, wants to do something to make her stop thinking about her grandmother, lying in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of her, wants to stop the images she now can't distract herself from with music and night highways. But Brittany grabs her wandering hands and kisses them and just holds her, until she's sobbing weakly against her chest.
Let me freeze again to death
She realizes she forgot to even tell her parents her plan when her phone wakes her up around seven in the morning, while she's still curled into Brittany's chest. She jolts awake and answers her mother's call. Her mother thanks God in rambley Spanish prayer that Santana is alright and tells her that her abuela is going into surgery that afternoon, and suggests maybe Santana would want to see her beforehand.
"They think she'll be alright after surgery, but, with someone her age and in her condition, they can't be sure."
"Right. Okay. I'll be there soon."
"Visiting hours start at 9am, but I'm sure if you're there sooner, they can let you in."
"Right, okay." She hangs up, and looks down at Brittany, who is still curled up and rubbing at her eyes sleepily.
"Want me to come with you?" Brittany asks groggily.
"Aren't you supposed to be in school?"
She shrugs, "I have to take care of you. They'll understand."
Santana frowns, but shrugs. All in all, it isn't a big deal for Brittany to miss a few days. "Do you…want to come with me?"
Brittany nods fervently, "Yeah. I want to help."
Another hesitation, "Okay. But…you probably shouldn't actually see her." Brittany frowns a little, tries to protest, and Santana continues, "I know you know her, and have known her for so much of your life. I know you love her, almost as much as I do. But I'm afraid if she sees us…together…if she sees the evidence of why she never wanted to see me again…that she won't talk to me."
Brittany stares at her hands for a moment before nodding, "I understand. I'm more concerned about you anyway. Plus I'm still mad at her for hurting you."
And that was Brittany. She could be the queen of holding grudges if she had reason to.
After some quick showers and breakfast that Santana can barely choke down, Brittany drives them over in her little champagne-colored car. She insists on driving, and Santana isn't much in the mood to argue. It's around 9 when they make it there, which is just as well. Easier than pulling the "My dad is Dr. Lopez, let me through" card.
Not that Santana's dad has huge amounts of clout or anything. He is a good doctor, and most people know and respect him, but it isn't like he owns the hospital or anything. Still, she could probably use it if she wanted to.
They find out where Santana's abuela is from a sad-eyed nurse. Santana takes a deep breath, and Brittany squeezes her hand. She reminds herself that all her grandmother wanted for her was to never be afraid, and so she straightens, and stands tall as she walks into the room.
She deflates almost immediately. It's one thing to know someone is in the hospital and to imagine it. It's another to see it. It's somehow always worse than imagination. She reflects that maybe it's a good thing she was never allowed to see Quinn in the hospital after her accident. If Quinn's broken body could look worse than it did in her mind…
Her grandmother is not a very old woman. She'd been vibrant and volatile the last time Santana saw her. But within a year's time, she seems to have aged a decade or more. Which means, she looks a little closer to her actual age, since in Santana's experience, adult women of color always seem to look ten years younger than they are; she's seen it in her family, at her work, everywhere. Her grandmother's hair has thinned, her body slimmed to the point of emaciation. She can see the knobs in her wrists, the bones extending up her forearms. Her eyes are sunken, her facial features obscured by sagging, wrinkled skin. Her belly, though, is distended weirdly, in a way that makes Santana's own belly churn unpleasantly. And there are tubes. All over. Like they aren't sure which organ is in danger of failing.
Her grandmother opens hawkish eyes and it's only then that Santana can really be sure that it's her. Alma Lopez is clearly exhausted, clearly in pain, clearly somewhat drugged, but her eyes hold Santana in sharp focus. Her lips move. "Garbage Face," she manages to croak in Spanish.
Santana breaks into a smile and sucks in a breath. This isn't something that should make anyone smile, but she understands. It's the beginning of a peace offering, because when it comes down to it, this is her childhood nickname. She had only been exaggerating a little bit when she'd said she didn't know her name wasn't Garbage Face until kindergarten. Santana had always been a strong-willed child, and her grandmother a proponent of tough love. Anyone looking in would have seen a cruel woman being harsh to an innocent child, but Santana knew she had always stretched the boundaries and tested limits, and her grandmother had responded harshly to try to keep her safe, but make her strong.
"Abuelita," she answers, "You look god-awful."
Alma somehow snorts wheezily, despite the oxygen tubes in her nose. "I feel awful. I've felt awful for a year."
"Why didn't you do anything about it?"
She shrugs, "I don't care what your father says, I don't trust any damn doctors. Hell, if they didn't have me damn near strapped to this bed…"
"You have to let them take care of you."
"It's not as though I have any choice," she grumbles.
Santana just nods, and an awkward pause settles. Her grandmother closes her eyes for a moment, then opens them and regards Santana more closely.
"Did you come all the way from New York to see me?"
Santana nods, "Yeah."
She puffs out a harsh breath, "That must mean I'm really dying."
Try as she might, Santana can't keep tears from flooding her eyes at this, "No," she lies, "No, you're gonna be fine."
Her grandmother waves a hand weakly, "Don't bullshit me, you were never any good at it. Tell me this. Are you still…that way?"
Santana freezes for a moment, and knows there's no point in lying, "Yes," she says quietly.
"Still with that Pierce girl?"
"Yes," she's a little defensive now. It's second nature to a mention of Brittany. Besides, she knows Brittany's name.
The old eyes scan. "You don't look any different." A long pause, because Santana doesn't know what to say to that, until Alma says, "I thought you'd have changed by now. Living in that city. Being how you are."
Santana shrugs now, "I don't have to change anything. I've always been me, and I've always been…gay," she chokes out. It's like coming out to her grandmother all over again. "I'm still the same person."
"I just figured you'd be a man by now. That's all."
Those words sting, for so many reasons. Ignorance. The insult implied. Ignorance. But Santana sighs. "No," is all she can say, weakly.
"I don't believe in a lot of things you young people do," her abuela says, "I still think that some secrets should be secret, and there are things your family has a right to ignore, to not know. But I also believe that God works in mysterious ways. And the fact is, I got sick almost as soon as I cut you out of my life." She shakes her head. "I don't care for that part of you. And I don't care to even know anything more about it. But I do care for you, little Garbage Face." She closes her eyes, "I just needed you to know that, before I go."
"You're not going any—," Santana begins hotly.
"Shut up," Alma cuts her off. "Just get on out of here, let me die in peace. You always were too stubborn for your own good."
"I love you," Santana blurts, halfway to the door, following her abuela's instructions instinctively.
A weak chuckle. "I know you do. That's because you were always too stupid for your own good, too."
It's as close as she's likely to get to a similar declaration in return, but she easily feels the affection in her grandmother's tone. She takes one last look at her frail body and leaves the room, wiping her eyes discretely as she meets Brittany.
Brittany holds her, briefly, allowing her to compose herself against her shoulder, before beginning to gently guide her away.
Now all there is to do is wait and see.
End is the only part of the world that I heard
The details don't stick well in Santana's mind—something about the gallbladder, and a blockage in the intestines, and ulcers; multitudinous problems. That had been why the source of her grandmother's agony had been so hard to place. But the important thing does stick: her grandmother is alive and is expected to make a good recovery.
Hearing about her abuela's good prognosis completely reverses Santana's mood. Where she had just been laying listlessly on Brittany's bed, the two of them half-dozing, now she's abruptly overjoyed. She grabs Brittany's face and kisses her, hard, passionately, in celebration. Brittany responds slowly and pulls away after several seconds, smiling with Santana. But when Santana begins to touch Brittany gently over her clothes, begins to slide her hands beneath her shirt to invite celebratory sex, Brittany grabs her wrists.
Santana feels hurt, "What?" she asks crossly. It's rare that Brittany rejects her advances.
Smiling a bit sadly, Brittany responds, "Just not right now, okay? I'm glad you're happy she's going to be okay, I'm happy, too, but I don't know if licking each other's kitties is the best way to celebrate."
"Are you kidding? It's the perfect way to celebrate. She's alive and she might talk to me again. The love between us," Santana waves a hand between them, "She knows about it, and she'll still talk to me."
"I really am so happy for you," Brittany nods, "But just…not right now."
"Okay…" Santana scowls.
She takes a shower, again, just to have something to do while Brittany just lays there and talks to Lord Tubbington. She can't hear what they're saying (damn it, what she's saying, because it's not like Lord Tubbington speaks back, or at least, not that she knows of, she has to admit she's seen that cat do some strange things…), but she can hear Brittany's low murmur through the door when she comes back from her shower.
She comes back in, wrapped in a towel, and Brittany meets her eye, "Your phone rang. It was your mom."
"Oh, okay," Santana nods. She perches on the edge of the bed and calls her mother back. She's invited to go out to dinner with her family to celebrate her abuela's prognosis, and she can bring Brittany, of course. She smiles. She figures she really should see her family. It seems odd that she hasn't yet, but then, it had also felt natural to seek comfort with Brittany and in Brittany's love. It felt…adult, somehow. Like she and Brittany are taking steps to be each other's new family.
She hangs up with her mom and turns to grin at Brittany. "Want to come to dinner with my parents? I bet I can convince them to take us to Breadstix."
Brittany laughs a bit, "Breadstix? Really? When your dad is paying you choose somewhere nicer."
Santana waves a hand, "I miss my 'Stix, and I wants them in me. Honestly, other than you it's like the only other thing I miss about this awful place."
Brittany's smile turns sad, "I'd like to go with you, but I'd better not. I'll need to catch up on the school I missed. I'm going to call Artie and Tina in a minute; they should be home from school by now. I'll get my assignments and work on them so that we can have some time together tonight."
That sounds like a promise, so Santana grins, "Perfect. You're perfect, baby." As she leans to kiss Brittany, she reflects that in previous years, Brittany would never have cared about catching up on missed classes. She feels a pang of guilt as she remembers all the times they'd cut class to go make out in secret corners of the school. Perhaps without her there as a distraction, Brittany could handle school with much more ease.
She just always thought of Brittany as someone who needed help, guidance. She had been a naïve child, and Santana had defended her against kids who took advantage of the fact that she didn't see innuendo, didn't understand she was being teased. Santana had helped her when school had been confusing (because Brittany's mind was always wandering in class). But there's the fact that Brittany is now passing, with ease, with help from Tina and Artie, who weren't doing her work for her, like Santana so often did…it strikes Santana, now, that Brittany is probably smarter than she ever gave her credit for.
She remembers, around Christmas time, asking Brittany if she was sure she wanted to go to college, if she was sure she could handle it. She remembered the way Brittany's excited face fell, on the Skype screen, and now wants to kick herself. Brittany is being more responsible and studious this year than any other year of high school, and it's clear she's doing well.
Santana realizes that maybe she doesn't know Brittany better than anyone. She'd never thought Brittany was capable of being a good student.
She stands up to get dressed and whips her towel off exaggeratedly, but Brittany is already unpacking her backpack at her desk and seems not to notice Santana's nudity.
Dinner with her family is pleasant. Her mother tears up happily every few minutes, her father is slightly more chatty than usual. Almost every comment yields a short round of relieved, soft laughter, and Santana feels closer to them than almost ever before. But when she tells them she'll be going back to Brittany's for a day or so before heading back to New York, they understand. Her mother expresses disappointment that she hasn't seen Brittany in awhile and requests Santana tell her hello. Santana feels proud and strong and happy that her family—her whole family—accepts, in their own way, how important Brittany is to her.
She arrives back at Brittany's house to find her girlfriend bent over her desk, working on what looks like an English essay. She leans over to look, then turns her head and begins to place kisses on Brittany's cheek, trailing them down her neck, nibbling at her shoulder. Brittany squirms and gently strokes Santana's hair, lifting her head away from her neck, "Santana," she chastises gently, "Let me at least finish this paragraph."
"Alright," Santana answers, exaggerating the glumness in her voice as she sits on the edge of Brittany's bed. Brittany doesn't seem to notice. She narrows her eyes. Little suspicions are building.
A minute or so later, Brittany turns around in her chair and smiles. Santana is still staring narrow-eyed at her, and her smile falters just a bit.
"What's going on?" Santana finally asks.
Sighing, Brittany stands and moves over to sit next to Santana on the bed. She stares at her knees and says quietly, "We need to talk."
Santana's stomach drops, her dinner churns. "About what?" she asks quietly, but it's barely a question, her voice is so monotone.
Brittany grabs her hand, almost reflexively. "This…this isn't working, is it?"
"What isn't?" She refuses to be the first person to say it.
"That's a matter of opinion," she refutes stubbornly.
Brittany's eyes squeeze shut, "Then, it isn't working for me."
Panic flutters now, her stomach clenches harder. "Then I'll make it work. I'll do anything."
Brittany shakes her head, "You won't. You can't. And that's okay."
"How the hell is it okay?"
"Because this is temporary."
"We are not temporary! We are supposed to be together forever. I am not giving up on us!" It sounds feeble, stupid, childish, coming from her mouth right now, but she can't help how she feels. She knows she's young, and she knows, logically, that so many relationships like hers don't last, but she and Brittany are different. She's always known that, too.
"I don't mean we are temporary. I mean the reasons we aren't working are temporary."
"Oh." Relief. She sucks in a deep breath, "Yeah, I know. We can power through it." Brittany shaking her head, so she amends quickly, "Or, I can come back. Back to Lima, until you graduate. We can be together for real again."
"No," Brittany says sharply, "You hate it here, and you can't leave Rachel and Kurt with that rent."
Santana scoffs, but she knows Brittany is right about that. She is struggling enough to pay rent with her hours the way they are right now, she can't imagine the trouble she'd be having if Kurt hadn't moved in.
"So…what are you saying?" she asks. She really is confused now, because Brittany is saying so much that conflicts. It isn't working, but they aren't temporary.
"I'm saying…I want to take a break."
She shakes her head stubbornly, "I don't."
"Well, we need to. Don't you get that?"
"No. Because the first step away is the first step toward never coming back to each other."
"We will come back to each other, though. Because I'm coming to New York to be with you, but if we keep going like this, we're going to resent each other too much, fall out of love, before I get there."
"This doesn't make any sense. I love you. Being with you and away from you isn't easy, but it's worth it. I don't resent you."
Brittany stares at the wall for a several long moments. "You will. Because I am, a little."
"I…" There really aren't words.
Brittany shakes her head, hard. "I love you. I still love you, so much. But if I can't be with you, and I really can't be with anyone else…that makes me feel crazy. I wish I didn't want other people, but I get lonely without you. It just doesn't make sense to stay together when we're apart."
"Yes it does, because we love each other."
"And that fades the tighter we hold on to each other."
"Not for me."
"But it might. You haven't had any luck getting with anyone in New York, have you? And it's probably because of me?"
It's an astute guess, considering Santana hasn't, and it is, but she never told Brittany that. She hasn't really had many opportunities to try, though.
"So, you want a break so you can, what, jump on some cock?" Santana asks bitterly.
"See, that's just it. If we're on a break, we can still love each other just as much. We can still talk and be best friends. But we can have some casual sex with people without hurting each other, because we don't have that claim on each other. That claim makes us cling so tightly, so unreasonably. And since we know we'll be together again, so soon…I know I won't fall in love because I have that to look forward to. Because I know I love you best of all."
It doesn't make a damn bit of sense to Santana. "I still don't see why we should break up if we still love each other."
Brittany smiles, "I know you don't. But I say we're on break, and you can't really change my mind."
She thinks she might be too stunned to cry.
She doesn't know how it happens, but before she knows it, their limbs are tangled together, and they're kissing on the bed, her hands are tangled in Brittany's hair. Her shirt disappears, then Brittany's, then their pants, and they're writhing, kissing feverishly. Santana rolls on top, her hand between Brittany's legs, pressing firmly, rapidly, inside, bucking and grinding desperately against Brittany's thigh. It's so practiced she barely has to think about it, the sounds—the wetness around her fingers, the slap of skin, Brittany's panting low whimpers, her own whimpers, much less aroused—completely familiar, for the most part. When Brittany comes, it's so beautiful, that she follows suit, wailing, almost in agony, her head falling against Brittany's shoulder.
She feels spent, far more spent than she usually is after sex, but maybe it's because she's weeping, too. She refuses to move, other than sliding her hand out of Brittany's pussy, for a long time, and just stays as a dead weight on top of her, trying to cry silently against her skin. Brittany strokes her hair and kisses the top of her head.
Finally, she murmurs, "Did we just have break-up sex?"
Brittany chuckles a little, "I guess we did. Break sex, anyway."
Santana shakes her head, "This is still so weird. I can't really believe it."
Brittany shrugs and lifts Santana's chin to kiss her, very softly. "I'm just setting us both free for a little bit."
Santana bites back the stubborn response that she doesn't want it and just sighs, settling her head back on Brittany's shoulder.
After a little while, she says, "So, you're going to go sleep with guys."
Brittany doesn't say anything for awhile and finally says, "If I get the chance, sure. I miss the meaningless fun I can have with them. With girls it's always deeper, and I don't want anything deeper except with you."
Santana snorts. Her stomach burns. Why is this something she can't be okay with? "Well, I don't want to know anything when you do."
Brittany nods, "Good, because I don't want to have to tell you. Just because we're on break doesn't mean I want to hurt you."
They're quiet for a long time, and just breathe together, their naked skin sticking, hair stirring with their breaths. Santana listens to Brittany's heart and breaths and tries to understand. Tries to believe this is a good idea. It's just for several months until they can really be together again.
She's never heard of an idea that can go so wrong in so short a time.
Finally, Brittany says quietly, "You realize that this means I can't tell you not to sleep with Rachel or Quinn."
A laugh chokes out of Santana before she can think about it. "I'm sorry?"
"Remember our agreement? When we were still dating I told you you couldn't sleep with them. I mean, that doesn't mean I want you to now, but I can't tell you not to."
"Jesus," Santana breathes, "My answer is still the same. I'm not interested."
"No," Brittany frowns, "Last time it was because you said they were both straight. Did you figure it out now?"
Santana stares, "How did you even know?"
Brittany just shrugs, "I don't think anyone is really straight. They both definitely want lady kisses, even if they won't admit it."
Santana stares some more, her mouth open a little bit. So it wasn't that Brittany had some kind of special insight, just a weird theory. In the back of her mind, she wonders if Brittany thinks no one is really gay, either, and it bothers her more than it should. She sighs, "Okay, suppose you're right that they do. I can assure you I'm not interested. It's weird. Like, I'd be worried Quinn would choke me to death in bed or something, she's intense. And Rachel's like…my sister or something now. I've seen her half naked god knows how many times, and really, I'm not interested."
Brittany nods and shrugs, "Okay. I believe you." She's quiet a minute, and then asks, "There's really no attraction to Rachel?"
"I just told you—"
"I know, but that's because you've lived with her. I just…it was just really weird when you suddenly decided to become friends with her last year."
Santana thinks back to that moment when Rachel had boldly approached her and practically browbeat her into putting a picture in her locker. She smiles a little at the memory. "I don't know," she says slowly, "I mean, there were always things I kind of admired about her, you know? Even though mostly I was jealous. I guess I was still riding the adrenaline from a really good duet and when she was ballsy enough to just walk right up and insist of friendship…" she lifts a shoulder in a shrug, "I kinda had to respect that. She's got guts and talent. And for the first time, they didn't make me jealous, because I felt like I matched them that time. And like, I thought, it can't hurt. She might be famous someday. I thought I'd be friends with her for like two months and then she wouldn't make a chapter about how I'm Satan in her memoir."
Brittany's frowning, "It's not because you were hot for her? It was kind of an intimate duet."
"No," Santana insists, "I mean, I can see the appeal, especially when she doesn't dress like a Salvation Army sales rack from the children's section. She's got great legs. But she just doesn't do it for me. Your legs are far better. There's like, no comparison."
"Okay," Brittany agrees, flexing her own legs. "But we just spent so much time keeping her down. You told me we had to keep her down because she was unbearable. When you changed your mind, I just went with it and decided to be nice to her, but I didn't understand. I still really don't." She shrugs, "I don't understand girl friendships. It's easy to be friends with boys. They just say you're cool and that's that. Girl friendships are weird. I never had a reason to really like Rachel. I would still be fine with showing her that I'm better than her even now, because I am, but…she was suddenly important to you and Quinn. I guess that's why I stopped."
Santana frowns at this, "I didn't realize you didn't really like her."
"I don't dislike her," Brittany counters, "But I barely know her, I guess. We hung out all summer and she and I barely talked. I can be nice to her, that's fine. I like being nice when I have a reason to be, just like I like being mean when I have good reason. It's just a weird reason to be nice this time, since it seemed so random when you changed your mind."
"So, do you…even want to live with Rachel next year?"
"Sure," Brittany shrugs, "Like I said, I'm fine with her. I want to know her better. I was just curious."
"Right," Santana nods.
It's weird, but she'd never felt so far from Brittany, even as she's there in her arms. Maybe it's the break, combined with the realization that Brittany doesn't need her, not the way Santana always thought she did. Brittany was an independent woman, maybe finally coming into her own this year, and Santana wasn't a part of it.
Eventually, she rolls off of Brittany and falls asleep, curled up in a ball, away from her. Brittany doesn't even attempt to spoon her. When Brittany wakes up to her alarm and tries to decide if she wants to go to school, Santana tells her to go ahead, that she's going to head home. She'd wanted to stay for another day or so, maybe, just enjoying the chance to spend time with Brittany and celebrate her grandmother's recovery, but…there's no point now.
The drive home is somehow more numb than the drive to Lima. Maybe because she isn't trying to cloud her feelings with distractions. Maybe because she's still in shock, still has no idea what to feel.
She has no idea what the point even is in going home, in doing anything.
Your heart is a plastic thing and can be bought
It's been about two weeks since she and Quinn had that conversation that changed everything, that saved their friendship. Santana has been to Lima and just came back, reporting that her grandmother is fine, yet she's still been sulking around the apartment. Rachel is not sure what to do about that; she texted Santana a couple times while Santana was away, just to check up on her, and really only got monosyllabic answers, if any. She figures Santana needs some distance for whatever reason, and gives it to her. For his part, Kurt has been so busy with work this week that she doubts he even noticed Santana was out of town.
She has to admit she's been pretty busy herself. She's been putting in a lot of extra time in the vocal practice rooms, and in private lessons. Her teacher is even starting to seem annoyed with her, but it's just so difficult to get the sound right for operatic singing. She hates having to curb her propensity to emphasize syllables by sliding subtly into the notes. She hates how precise she has to be, how she has to exaggerate her vibrato. How she's really only allowed to sing like two vowel sounds. How all of this constricts her from being able to put emotion into the singing the way she does when she normally sings and acts. There's so much to focus on and it feels like she's using her voice as a machine instead of as an instrument; less artistic, more rote. But, her callback is next week, and it's her current project. Never mind that everything about it feels wrong (the fact that it's opera, the fact that it's a Christmas production they're going to be putting on in April due to the wonders of school scheduling, and really, the fact that she might be playing a little boy).
She's on her way home with Kurt and they've just come up from the subway near their apartment. He's so tired he hasn't even untied his food-stained apron from around his waist, and he's limping slightly; he still insists on wearing boots to the restaurant instead of something like sneakers. Then again, she's not sure she's seen him wear sneakers outside of gym class. Maybe he no longer owns a pair.
A few steps from the subway station and she feels her phone buzz in her pocket. She frowns and extracts it, noting that she has a voicemail. That's a little odd in itself, because most people who call her and don't get an answer would probably just text; that's what Santana and Quinn do. Her dads leave voicemails sometimes, though, so maybe it's one of them.
She doesn't recognize the number, but it's her home area code, so it seems safe.
Her heart seems to fall into her stomach as soon as the voice in the message starts speaking.
"Hello, Rachel. This is Jesse St. James. I heard through the grapevine that you're in New York studying at NYADA. Well, I just recently moved to the city to do some work, and I wondered if you'd like to get dinner sometime this weekend. You know, to catch up. I would just love to see you. Do call back, my number is the same."
She hangs up numbly, swallowing, both shocked at his assumption that she would have kept his number and embarrassed by the fact that she has (though, not in her phone; she had deleted it for Finn's sake last year, but she does still have his number tucked away). Kurt glances at her with drowsy eyes and asks, "Everything okay?"
"Yes," she answers, swallowing. Somehow she just doesn't want to tell Kurt that Jesse just called her. She feels like he would have a kneejerk reaction, and she wants someone who can help her think clearly about all this. "Nothing important, just information about my callback for Amahl."
He nods distractedly, and winces through a limping step. When they get home, he mumbles that he's going to take a bath, and Rachel is relieved to see that the bedroom is empty; Santana must've headed to work. She has relative privacy.
Quinn answers, sounding tired, on the fourth ring. "Hello? Rachel?"
"Hi, Quinn," she smiles, "How are you?"
There's a sigh, and a pause, like Quinn is considering her words, but finally she just says, "Alright. Just looks like a busy weekend already. How are you?"
"I'm okay," Rachel begins slowly, then says, "I'd…I'd want to chat more, but since you're busy, maybe I'll just get to the point. I need some advice."
"Okay," Quinn sounds more focused now, "I can do that."
Rachel nods. Now that she's on the phone, it's suddenly harder to talk, but she takes a breath and utters, "I got a phone call. From Jesse St. James."
Silence on the other end for a bit. "Oh?" Quinn asks. Her voice is a bit weak.
"Yes," Rachel continues, "Apparently he's in New York. He wants to meet with me."
"Okay…" Quinn says slowly, "I'm not sure how I can help."
"I just need to know…should I meet with him?"
"Are you seriously calling to ask me this?" Quinn asks, a bitter edge to her voice, "Obviously you shouldn't. He's scum, Rachel. He's never wanted anything to do with you unless it was to use you, and when he's done, he always betrays you, painfully."
Rachel twists her mouth a little, "Well, no, that's not really true. He never tried to hurt me Junior year."
Quinn snorts lightly, "He was horrible enough to you before then. Some people don't deserve another chance from you."
All at once, Rachel clearly remembers the sensation of raw egg smashing and cracking on the top of her head. But at the same time, she understands it. Jesse had to look out for his own interests, his own future, and his best prospects were in being her enemy.
She might've done the same thing, in his shoes.
But she doesn't say that to Quinn. Instead, she reminds her quietly, "You were horrible to me. But I trust you."
In the silence that follows, Rachel can actually hear Quinn swallow over the phone, "Maybe if you'd have asked me, I'd say the same thing about me, a year or two ago. But it's okay, because I'm not sure you really do trust me."
"What are you talking—"
"I'm sorry," Quinn says quickly, "That was out of line. I just…" she pauses, "I just know we still have work to do, putting what happened behind us." She laughs mirthlessly, "What I did to you, I mean, it didn't just happen. You didn't want to tell me about what was happening with Finn. I didn't want to tell you I'm gay. We're still building that trust we claim to have."
"Okay," Rachel concedes, "Maybe you're right."
"Look," Quinn continues, voice strong now, "You've told me before that you trust my judgment. That you've wished you'd listened to me other times. I'm telling you right now, stay away from Jesse. He's bad news, and I don't want to see you getting hurt."
She's not sure why, but Quinn's words turn her spine to stubborn steel. "You know, I'm not sure what makes him so different from you, after all," she muses, "I think you both have tried to manipulate me. And I think, I can't call myself your best friend and not give Jesse another chance."
"He's had another chance, and he embarrassed you at prom!"
"No, Finn embarrassed both of us," Rachel corrects, "Besides, how many chances have I given you?"
"Rachel…" Quinn whispers, her voice broken, "Just…please."
"No, I get it now," Rachel says decisively, "Thank you for your concern, Quinn, but you've reminded me of what's important. Forgiveness."
Quinn can't come up with anything to say and just sighs.
"I'll let you get back to your weekend," Rachel says pleasantly, "And I'll let you know how it goes. Thank you for being a sounding board."
"Right," Quinn answers dully.
"Good night, Quinn."
It's a little bit late, but this is New York, so she's not all that worried as she returns Jesse's call.
"Rachel," he damn near purrs into the phone, "How wonderful to hear from you. I'd hoped you'd call back."
"Jesse," she returns, her voice rather formal, "How are you?"
"Even better now," he responds. Rachel smiles in spite of herself.
Jesse claims to not have much time because he's currently rehearsing, so they cut to the chase, and agree to meet the next night, Saturday, for dinner. He says he'll handle the reservation and text her the location and time. Rachel is relieved she has a morning work shift the next day so she can make this.
An hour later, she gets a text naming a moderately upscale location in Manhattan, with an 8pm reservation. It's enough to make her heart rate pick up, partially for the overtly romantic insinuation, and partly for the cost. She hopes she'll be able to cover her portion of the bill.
She has just enough time to come home and get ready after her work shift. Her stomach is already growling as she steps out of the shower, and although the restaurant doesn't actually have a strict dress code, she dresses nicely anyway, in a purple long-sleeved dress with a low neckline and heels, her hair brushed over one shoulder. She doesn't have a particularly fancy winter coat, so she just wears her peacoat, and hopes her hat and scarf don't ruin her hair on the way. It's a bit cold to go without them.
Although she arrives several minutes early, Jesse is already seated and waiting for her when she gets there. She's relieved that there's a tiny coatroom so she can remove her unflattering outwear and smooth her hair before she goes to meet him. He stands when he sees her, running his hands down his white shirt and vest unnecessarily. He looks effortless in his clothing, neither too fancy nor too casual, his hair is beautiful. He isn't wearing a tie, which somehow makes him seem even more appealing, and there are the thinnest pinstripes of purple in his vest that, miraculously, match her dress exactly.
"Rachel," he draws out her chair for her and unnecessarily takes her hand as she seats herself.
"Hello, Jesse," she responds. She tries to keep her mind clear of just how good-looking he is, tries to ignore the way her heart speeds up when he helps her sit down. Because, in spite of the way her conversation with Quinn ended, she's left thinking about Quinn's point. She should be wary of Jesse, even as she gives him another chance.
He orders wine when the waiter approaches, and she shoots him a look, even as he's carded. She subsides quickly, "Oh, right. You just turned 21."
He smiles without teeth, and she notices the faintest dimples in his cheeks. "You remember my birthday?"
Rachel feels her body heat up and hopes she isn't noticeably blushing, "I guess I do."
Somehow, their age difference hadn't seemed so great, even when she was a Sophomore and he was a Senior. It's just three years, but maybe right now, they feel like three really crucial years. Especially if Jesse's career is already underway…
For her part, Rachel sticks with ordering water, and then begins scouring the menu for vegan options. Nothing sticks out, and she starts feel anxious.
Jesse actually notices. She sees the frown lines on his forehead as he regards her, "What's wrong?"
"I…don't see anything vegan on here," she frets at her lip a bit.
His brows furrow, "You're still vegan?"
"Yes," she hisses, slightly annoyed, and the way he used her diet against her previously once again flashes through her mind.
He holds up his hands, "No offense meant. I just see a lot of vegans fail, is all. It says a lot about your level of commitment." he smiles disarmingly.
Jesse calls over the waiter with that commanding finger snap that Kurt used to do (and now complains about bitterly). Rachel prickles unpleasantly, but Jesse turns on plenty of charm when the man is there. The waiter nods and immediately says the chef can easily prepare a fresh vegan dish. Rachel barely listens to what it is, she's so grateful it's available.
Jesse peruses the menu for several moments more, his lips pursed thoughtfully, before setting it aside with a smile. He meets her eye, and steeples his fingers under his chin, "So. Tell me all about New York."
And so Rachel begins. Talking is easy. Even when they're interrupted by the waiter when he comes back for Jesse's order (he orders a steak, of course), it's barely a hiccup. Rachel tells him about NYADA, how everyone is so talented, about Gretchen, who commands so much of Rachel's respect even though she's so cold and so stoic. About her performances in the play and the musical, about her upcoming callback for the opera. About living with Kurt and Santana (she doesn't miss his surprise at that detail) and about how it's simultaneously a blessing, to have such good friends by her side, and a struggle, to have so little personal space and to have such quirks that they annoy each other. About her job at the clothing store, with Kurt, and her very easy library job on campus, and how they're all kind of struggling a bit to make enough money to live there, in their slightly sketchy neighborhood. About Quinn, and how they're such good friends (and boy, if she'd thought Jesse was surprised before…), and Quinn's visits are almost the only reason she really gets to go out and enjoy the city, and how relaxing on the couch with Quinn is some of the only times she really enjoys the quiet. About how she's tried out for several shows, on Broadway and off, and has mostly been told that she's very talented but not quite right.
She doesn't mention Finn, or Jeremy.
Jesse is a very good listener, or at least, he appears to be listening closely. She supposes out of all her boyfriends, he really was the best at paying attention to her, even if he'd rather talk about himself, and she's sure he's itching to. She talks through their first course—salads, hers without feta—to the point that she barely eats hers.
Toward the end of what turns out to be essentially a monologue about her life, their main course arrives. She watches Jesse replace the napkin on his lap and then lift his wine glass, eyes twinkling. "To your burgeoning success," he offers with his charming smirk, lifting it. Rachel lifts her own water glass and they clink, gently, and sip. His eyes never leave hers.
Rachel begins to tuck into her food, which turns out to be pasta with roasted vegetables—a lot of winter root vegetables and greens. "So, Jesse, tell me about what brings you to New York."
Jesse smiles and eats a bite of steak, then leans back in a self-satisfied sort of way. "Well. It all happened last year at Nationals."
"Oh?" Rachel prompts.
Jesse nods. "It turns out Carmen Tibideaux wasn't the only talent scout in the audience that night." He smirks, "There was a choreographer in the audience, too. I ran into him later that night." Rachel nods, and Jesse leans forward with a conspiratorial wink, "I think he thought I was Will Schuester at first, and I went along with it. By the time he realized I'd coached the second place team to victory, he was already quite interested in me and my individual talents. And, it turns out he remembered me from Nationals 2010. When he discovered I could perform and coach…yeah. We exchanged information and he told me he had a few upcoming projects he might be able to put in a good word for me about. I took my losing team home and prevented half a dozen suicides. A little time passed."
Jesse pauses to eat, and Rachel wonders what might have happened if Mr. Schue had met the choreographer, who seemed to be more interested in him, anyway. Would Mr. Schue still be in Lima? Would Mr. Schue even have married Emma? All at once, she's struck with the notion that Mr. Schue might be stuck there, stuck building a life in Lima, his own dreams confined to fantasy.
She doesn't want to think about how close she may have come to that, if she'd stayed with Finn.
New York isn't perfect, but it's hers.
A few bites later and Jesse swallows, wipes his mouth delicately, and continues. "I heard from him about an audition about a month later. I flew out to New York, but it didn't pan out. There were a couple more like that, until not too long ago, he told me about the Pippin revival." He pauses significantly, "I auditioned and…it went rather well."
Rachel stares, wide-eyed, "You got the part? You got Pippin?!"
Jesse just smiles enigmatically and raises his eyebrows. Rachel is speechless, her heart is pounding in a heady mix of excitement and jealousy. It's not her favorite show by any means—it's really weird—but still. It's an amazing role for Jesse.
Finally, she utters, "Congratulations. That's amazing."
He inclines his head in modest thanks and sips his wine. "They thought so. So, I moved out of Ohio, and here I am. Ready to make my Broadway debut and really get started on my career." He waves a hand lazily, "I got as much as I need out of school, and honestly, coaching Vocal Adrenaline wasn't nearly as rewarding as I thought it'd be. No wonder Shelby left." He falls silent.
Rachel swallows carefully and doesn't say anything, in fact, takes another bite of food to prevent speech, because the question of where exactly Shelby went is burning in her throat. Instead, she congratulates him again, "That's really great. I'm really happy for you."
He grins and chews another bite. Then he frowns, slightly, "Something is missing, though."
"What's that?" Rachel asks.
His eyes flash, "Romance," he purrs, and pouts a little, "There's not even a good epic stage romance."
Rachel avoids his eyes and pushes her food around on her plate. She doesn't want to talk about this with him. She's terrified of the questions he must have, about what happened with Finn. The last time they'd seen each other, she was still wearing his ring….
When she doesn't say anything, he just smiles, slightly, a prompt. Cautiously, she replies, "I'm not sure what you should do about that."
"I have a few ideas," he answers, "And maybe we could explore one if you'll go on another date with me."
"Date?" she asks. Her eyes flick around the table. In spite of their clothes, and the atmosphere and the food, she hadn't been entirely sure this was a date. She thought it was just catching up with an old friend…well, sort of an old friend, and her romantic imagination got swept up in the environment.
"Date," he answers decisively, "And maybe, next date, I can introduce you to some of my contacts in the business." He winks, "I could be persuaded to be just as invested in your success as my own. Honestly, I've always been a little bit invested in your future. Your kind of talent is rare."
She blushes, and smiles, looking down and catching her bottom lip between her teeth, but the butterflies in her stomach, she realizes, are present because of anxiety, not romantic excitement. She can hear Quinn in her mind again, warning her that Jesse wants to use her, not to trust him.
"I…don't know if I want to be seeing anyone right now," she tells him honestly, "I feel like I have enough to worry about with school and my jobs."
He's frowning, but nods a few times. Then his face brightens slightly and he leans forward, "What if I introduced you anyway? And just…let them believe we were together? We would never have to do anything together in private. Just…appear to be together, for the sake of both our careers."
She stares at him, at his bright, hopefully features, his perfect hair, his lips. "You're saying…you want a fauxmance with me, and in exchange, you'll try to help me get roles on Broadway?"
"I'd settle for a fauxmance," he corrects. He sobers. "It could be beneficial for both of us. If were together, I have a reason to introduce you, and if I bring new, incredible talent to my contacts in the business, I look even better than I already do. And besides. If the see the chemistry you and I have always had, we might get put in something together."
Rachel frowns, and stares at him, and thinks while she finishes her meal.
By the time Jesse is ordering his dessert, she's pretty sure she's made up her mind.
"No," she tells him, and it almost surprises her, too.
He looks shocked. "Rachel," he says carefully, "This could be a great opportunity for us both. We have our careers to think of."
She nods, conceding the point, but says, "My career is a big part of what I want to be successful and happy, but…" she pauses, thinking carefully, "If there's one thing I learned, being with Finn, it's that I can't sacrifice love for my career. Breaking up with Finn, I also learned I can't sacrifice my career for love, either."
Jesse just looks confused and a little sour at the mention of Finn, "So, what," he asks slowly, "Your career is your love?"
"No," Rachel tells him, "Love and my career are separate, and I have to balance them. It isn't easy. But I can't cripple my chances at love by settling for a fauxmance with you."
"It doesn't have to be a fauxmance," Jesse reminds her stubbornly.
She smiles at him, "Maybe in a different time, at a different place, I'd be willing to give you another chance," she tells him honestly, "But right now? I don't think so. Not when you've approached me, after so long, take me out to a place I can't really afford, and make me an offer that asks me to cut myself off from finding love in order to better yourself."
Jesse blinks, "You can't afford…Rachel, did you really think I wasn't paying?"
Rachel is surprised, but she just sighs, "That's the least important part of my point. But the answer is no, Jesse."
In that moment, she thinks, once again, why do I even ignore Quinn's advice?
Jesse is disappointed, but he understands. And in the next few minutes, Rachel is positive she's made the right choice, because he tells her in a subdued voice, "I guess I understand. And you know, Rachel…I really can't deny you anything. I'd be happy to introduce you to my people…as my friend."
"Really?" she asks, slightly in awe.
"Really," he smiles. His smile wavers, just a little bit. "Although I can't promise you anything because…while I'm in Pippin…I'm not…Pippin."
"You…lied to me?" Rachel asks, hurt flashing through her more than anger.
He grimaces, "All I said was that the audition went well. You just inferred incorrectly, and I didn't correct you." He sighs. "I'm one of the Players in the show, and…understudy to Charles. I was nearly understudy to Pippin…"
Rachel sighs heavily. "I thought that sounded strange. I was sure I'd heard something about the revival, I was sure I'd have remembered if you got the role…" But she gets it now. Jesse feels overlooked, underappreciated, because he hadn't immediately succeeded, despite his charm and good looks and talent. He wants to be recognized as someone valuable, and wanted to bring her in to show it.
Quinn was right about him. Even if it would have been mutually beneficial, Jesse had wanted to use her, and he wasn't above using romance to get there.
And…she thinks again about Gretchen, about the way Gretchen implied that Rachel was not picky when it came to romance, and thinks, if I got back together with Jesse now, it wouldn't be because I want him. I would be settling. I need to pursue what I want.
Whatever that is.
It's really a shame, she reflects, because she understands him so well. In most ways, she feels like he's the most similar to her of anyone she ever dated. But that, she realizes, is exactly why they don't work. They're both too ambitious, and together, they would cheapen their own relationship to get on top. Rachel needs someone a little more like Finn, who would remind her that the relationship is important, too. But not too much like Finn. Not so much that they'd hold her back.
She blinks, that first time she thinks in gender-neutral terms about a potential romantic partner. She'd used them before, to be PC or queer-friendly, inclusive terms that didn't really apply to her imagination, which had always featured men as her romantic partners. But this time…there was the notion that "they" might be someone else.
She tries to think on it further. She tries to picture it. She can imagine a faceless, shadowy woman, almost in black and white, like she's being pasted into Rachel's thoughts through an old movie projector. She can imagine kissing this woman, holding her, curling up on the couch with her, even…even touching her, but…the fantasy breaks down as soon as she tries to imagine taking the woman outside of their shared apartment, on a date, to dinner…to a wedding, god the thought of marrying her makes Rachel want to laugh.
She shakes her head. She can sort of imagine being with a woman, just not…publicly. But she doesn't really have time to think on that, either. Jesse is finishing his dessert and signing his credit card receipt. She feels unexpectedly guilty about the fact that he's paying, especially considering he hasn't achieved his Broadway stardom, but he isn't complaining. As they leave, he helps her into her coat and puts an arm around her shoulders. She shrugs it off a little awkwardly.
Outside, he smiles, asks which way she's heading. He's going the opposite way, toward a different train. "I'll be in touch," he says, still smiling, and moves to hug her, but she shrinks away without knowing why. She's not upset with him. So she gives him an apologetic smile and leans in to give him a brief hug.
He's warm and strong and smells good. She wonders if things could have been different between them, but she isn't really disappointed that they aren't. And even though she's sure he'll keep his promise, and he will be in touch, the hug feels like goodbye.
He pulls away, catching her hand to squeeze it once more, then just winks and strolls away. She waves once, a little feebly, before walking the opposite way herself.
Passion's overrated anyway
When she makes it back from her brief visit in Lima, she just kind of shows up at work, not knowing what else to do. She doesn't even remember if she was scheduled. Her manager, Stu, just kind of blinks at her, asks if she's alright, and with a shrug agrees that she can work that night.
Her brain is a mess of conflicting emotions. She'd previously felt guilty and awkward around Helen, but now seeing her former sort-of friend, she just sees red. She restocks the health and beauty section, and kicks around boxes in the women's shaving and soap section in frustration. As she starts stocking the men's section, she comes to the realization that it feels like the warehouse packaging for men's products—razors, body wash, deodorant—is sturdier than the packaging for women's products; she certainly has less frustration with them. They're also cheaper. It just figures, she thinks. Men's products are less valuable yet better protected.
It feels all-to relevant to her life right now. Men are less valuable to Brittany, who claims to still love only her, but more necessary somehow. To the point that Brittany needs to take a break from Santana to be with them. It makes her body hurt. It makes her angry and she kicks a box of men's body wash, just to break it open.
Maybe because her growing anger makes her work faster, or distracts her, but the shift passes quickly. And she seems to work through her emotions as the shift goes on, moving from angry to a sort of frustration to a melancholy acceptance.
It's hard sometimes for her to think about the way other people perceive things. She'd thought, at one point, that she could be kinda bi…she liked sex with men well enough. But once she paid attention to what was in her heart—women—the sex she had with men, even men she had a decent degree of simpatico with, like Puck, just couldn't compare. It was easy for her to completely lose interest in male bodies and penises and everything that had to do with dating and bedding them in favor of Brittany.
So why, she keeps asking herself, can't Brittany do the same? Why does Brittany still enjoy men just as much as she always has?
The loudest part of her, the selfish part that tends to think that she is always right, tells her it's because Brittany doesn't love her as much as she loves Brittany. But a more rational part of her brain slowly begins to make her understand: Brittany was always legitimately bisexual. She wasn't. And it doesn't have anything more to do with their love, because Brittany isn't looking for love. Brittany is looking for a way to make love work.
Even though she can't personally understand Brittany's methods and doesn't particularly like them, after spending the shift inside her own head, she thinks she's more or less made peace with it. As long as she doesn't think too hard about what Brittany's up to, she can accept what's happening. She can accept this break for what it is: the only way to keep Brittany.
Even though it's so stupid to break up so Brittany can mess around with guys, disgusting guys and their stupid…she doesn't let herself continue on this path, and instead reminds herself of the good men in her life: Kurt. Sam. Hell, even Puck, who watches shows with her and seems to understand her when she laments that growing up sucks.
She's wrapped up enough in her own thoughts that she even inadvertently stays a little bit late, and the minute she realizes this, she abandons what she is working on and just begins to walk out. Only to nearly walk into Angela.
"Oh! Hi, Santana," Angela greets.
Santana glowers for a split second before forcing her expression to clear, because Angela looks actually glad to see her. So she forces a smile, "Hey," she answers casually, hunching her shoulders awkwardly without realizing it.
"Hey, listen," Angela looks around furtively, and grabs Santana's elbow to lead her down into an aisle. Santana follows a bit dazedly, surprised by the contact. Angela lowers her eyes and her voice, "I've been hoping to run into you for awhile now. I've been thinking more about your offer to me," she says, one corner of her mouth lifting in a little grin, "and I've talked to some friends and gotten some advice and…yeah. I think something casual and a non-relationship might be exactly what I need right now."
Santana blinks. A week ago, she might have been elated, but right now, she has no idea what to think. Still…as the idea sinks in, she notes that her heart rate has risen, and that her eyes dipped to Angela's breasts. "Yeah?" she asks.
Angela nods and grins, "Yeah. Although, I do want to talk to your girlfriend. You know. To make sure it's actually cool with her."
Santana shrugs, "You won't have to. She and I are on break. I mean, if you want proof, I can let you talk to her but…yeah," she shrugs sullenly.
"Oh," Angela says, "I'm so sorry you broke up."
"We didn't. It's just a break until she moves here, then we pick up where we left off. So…it's cool that, this thing between us, has an expiration date, right?"
"Of course. It's probably better that way," Angela nods, but her eyes are sad as she regards Santana. So Santana avoids them.
"So, uh. Cool. So. We can…do the casual thing then."
"Mmhmm," Angela purrs, smirking again.
"So what should we do?"
"I took us out last time. It's your turn," Angela winks, then walks away.
Santana stares after her. She'd been avoiding her out of humiliation for, what, weeks now? But this…this is perfect timing. A distraction from her break with Brittany fell right into her lap.
A hot distraction.
Helen's angry face, snarling about "back-ups," flashes through her mind, and Santana pushes the thought away.
Nothing is going to change the love she has for Brittany, no matter how much she goes down on Angela.
And fuck, does she want to go down on Angela.
She drives home with a smirk of her own.
I will relentlessly shame myself
The conversation she has with Rachel about Jesse is the beginning to a very strange weekend.
Stephanie is in a remarkably cheerful mood, which at first seems to be a good omen about the weekend. She had been insanely productive that evening, finishing almost all her weekend homework, and spent dinner chatting excitedly about nothing in particular. Quinn isn't even sure how she'd been so productive, with music in her headphones loud enough for Quinn to hear across the room, and with the way she danced in her chair while she worked. She'd also gone out for the evening, and that was the thing about her good mood that really gave Quinn pause.
"I'm going to a party!" she chirps excitedly half an hour after dinner.
Quinn frowns, "But what about the reading we have to do for Dr. Palmer?"
Stephanie waves a hand, "Oh, I speed read most of it, got the gist, I'm not worried. I'm well prepared enough for class! But I'm excited! Do you want to come?"
"…no," Quinn says hesitantly, "I don't think so." She supposes all parties aren't like the ones she sees on TV and movies, college keggers with craziness and date rape, but…they'd talked before, about how they didn't party. Stephanie's parents were alcoholics; it was one reason her grandmother had raised her. Quinn had thought she didn't want to be tempted at parties like this. But asks, "Someone's going with you, right?"
"Oh, sure!" Stephanie assures, "Lucas is taking me!"
"Great," Quinn grumbles. She's still pretty uncertain how she feels about him. He isn't entirely the jerk she thought he was, but that didn't mean she liked him much more. She would feel better if it were Sean accompanying Stephanie. Sean seems more responsible. He does drink sometimes because, as he says, Chemistry majors had to to stay sane, and he's practicing for when he gets to declare. Stephanie gathers her shower things and practically dances to the bathroom. Quinn frowns after her, then goes back to her reading.
Stephanie comes back not long afterwards, wrapped in her too-short towel. Santana's smirk and cocky teasing fills Quinn's mind, Did you sneak a peek?
God, help me.
Her eyes totally out of her control, Quinn raises them over the edge of her book to watch as Stephanie, her side to Quinn, bends over. The way the towel rises, exposing more tan thigh, nearly to her ass, the way her cleavage strains over the towel and the arm holding it in place, and Quinn is again struck by the size of her roommate's breasts.
That I once ran my hands over.
Quinn drops her eyes back to her book, but could swear she saw Stephanie smirking. And she can't help but be constantly aware of all the skin on display across the room, as her roommate, with barely any modesty, begins to dress. This is not completely common. Stephanie sometimes dresses in the bathroom after her showers. And Quinn, for her part, usually turns away entirely.
It's just that now that she's out, turning away like that feels like admitting guilt to something.
The towel drops so that it hangs only around Stephanie's waist, and Quinn's eyes flash up to take in Stephanie's naked back. The flesh is tan and soft and curvy. Quinn knows exactly how it feels to run her hands over that skin. Stephanie leans over to get a bra, and Quinn sees the outline of a breast, round and full, as her body moves. She curses herself when she realizes she's hoping to see a nipple, and jerks her eyes back to her reading. She shifts on her bed as a not entirely pleasant tingling starts in her…in her panties.
There are shuffling sounds of fabric across the room, and when Quinn sees the towel get hung up in her periphery, she figures it must be safe to look again. She nearly chokes when she realizes it really is not.
Her roommate has her back to Quinn, and sure, she's wearing a bra and underpants. But, the underwear is a thong. Quinn stares helplessly at Stephanie's round ass, tight-looking and shapely in comparison to her lean, short legs. The tingling begins to feel more like itching, like her body is screaming to be touched. She watches until Stephanie slides jeans on over that ass, and then Quinn remembers how rude it is to stare, and stares instead at her book, which won't be offended, sure, but which significantly lacks beautiful, smooth, delicious curves.
She shifts on the bed again, crossing her legs firmly.
A few moments later, Stephanie is fully dressed and pulling on her winter coat, though no hat or scarf. "Okay! I'm going to meet Lucas!" She grins at Quinn, "Behave while I'm gone," she admonishes, her smile turning a bit wicked.
Quinn keeps her expression blank, or at least she hopes it's blank. It's something she's supposed to be good at, hiding her thoughts and feelings. "Sure. A fun night of homework awaits me," she grumbles.
"Uh huh," Stephanie giggles, "I'll be back later!" she calls, much too loudly as she leaves the room. She forgets to lock the door behind her, so, sighing, Quinn gets up to lock it herself.
By the time she sits back down, she's disgusted with herself. Yet, her body still tingles, without warmth, with only ridiculous need to be touched.
Quinn struggles to ignore it, berating herself over and over for watching her roommate change like some kind of disgusting pervert, until the words she's supposed to be reading blur, and she's running her eyes over them methodically while taking nothing in.
It's at about that moment when she gets the call from Rachel.
She's so distracted, she feels like she really can't make her point properly, really can't express fully to Rachel what a bad idea it is to see Jesse. But she knows she's also personally conflicted, and she can't stop that part of her from having its say. The part of her that, at this moment, just can't stand to think about Rachel having another boyfriend, particularly one like Jesse, who, goddamn it, was probably right for Rachel in a lot of ways.
She hangs up just…aching. It's so stupid, but she's furious and jealous. Jesse gets another chance with Rachel, that he certainly doesn't deserve, because he's male. She will never get a first chance.
She focuses on her schoolwork. Or tries. But her heartache and the distinct…wetness between her legs are distracting.
Rachel is moving on from Finn. It's the thing she's wanted for Rachel for so long. Her objection to Finn hadn't entirely been about her feelings for Rachel. It had mostly been about the reasons Finn was wrong for her, the ways he would hold her back. Back then, she knew she didn't have a prayer of ever being someone Rachel could want. But now…
She supposes Jesse hurts more because, even just briefly, there was a time when her fantasy had crystallized into something almost real. That moment, when Rachel told her she was bisexual, her heart had pounded, her breath had caught, as she pretended, for an instant, that it was the beginning to a much bigger confession, one where Rachel told her she had realized she was bisexual because she was attracted to her, to Quinn.
Just like Quinn really knew she was gay because she had fallen for Rachel.
But, of course, it hadn't happened that way, and Quinn was left with harsh, cold reality, and Rachel with boyfriends, once again.
Like Santana had told her, maybe it was really time to move on.
Her feelings for Rachel weren't a constant aching pain. In fact, they had been less clear the more she got immersed in her schoolwork at Yale, only to come rushing back with a vengeance any time they had visited each other. She'd be sure she was nearly over her crush only to be confronted with a million reasons it should return every time she saw Rachel (her eyes, her smile, her big heart, her ambition, her talent, her kindness, her depth of forgiveness, her beauty, her voice, her dreams). Occasionally, she considered spending less time with Rachel, because if they had enough distance, maybe those feelings could go away permanently. But, she has to admit that there is something about Rachel that always draws her back. Something beyond her attraction. Even when they weren't being the best of friends and weren't being totally honest with each other, there is a comfort between them that Quinn loves. They feel good together. It is rare that she feels so at peace just sitting beside someone on a couch, and she isn't ready to give that up. Not unless she somehow, someday, finds a friendship just as potent.
But, moving on. She can try to do that.
Maybe she won't visit Rachel for awhile (except she had already hinted she'd probably come down for spring break in a week).
Maybe she can think about other things. Other women.
Her body still prickles, and a wave of desperate tingles floods over her in a wave. Her heart pounding, she puts her book aside, gets up to check again that the door is locked, and gets her hand mirror.
Then, she is peeling off her Cheerios sweats and leaning back against her pillows, her legs spread in front of her.
She forces herself to look at the mirror, at her own genitals, and God, they're glistening and open, and as she watches, they pulse once, and a shudder runs through her. They aren't…ugly per se, she realizes now. Just…complex, messy, difficult to understand. A little weird.
Like herself, really.
She takes a deep breath, and tries to feel like this is a part of her, like it is her, instead of this strange attached piece she is disconnected from. And then watches, in the mirror, as her hand travels down to touch the little protruding nub of her clit.
It's…different this time. Not like the last time where she rubbed and rubbed and didn't feel anything. This time, probably from the teasing, she's primed, wet…turned on. It's an unfamiliar feeling, those tingles and prickles and the almost itching between her legs. She had barely been able to identify it. But as soon as she touches her clit, it quivers, and like an electric charge, she feels something, all over her body.
She watches her finger draw a little circle, moving over her…her self and—
Quinn moans, a tiny, shaky sound.
Her eyes fall closed, and once again, she sees Stephanie's flesh.
She imagines coming up behind her, while she's in that bra and thong, and pressing herself against her back. Pressing her naked self against Stephanie's ass, gripping at her breasts with one hand, pressing a rough, biting kiss on Stephanie's shoulder.
Her hand moves a little faster, and pleasant sensations travel up and down her spine, and she drops the forgotten mirror.
She imagines Stephanie moaning herself, begging Quinn to touch her. It's the thing that terrifies Quinn most, really, the thought of touching another woman there. What if it's disgusting? She'd always thought that this part was supposed to be disgusting. The boys she had dated had never expressed much interested in touching it except with their dicks (well, that one time, Puck had offered to go down on her in an attempt to sweeten the deal as they negotiated sex, but she had been shocked and disgusted and told him no way). It's the weirdest, stupidest thing, knowing she wants women, and being terrified of having sex with them.
But now that she is touching herself and she is…God, she is horny, that fear vanishes, and in her imagination, one of her hands slides down Stephanie's naked stomach and dips right into her thong, right into all that wetness and warmth and…
God, help me.
She wants to touch. She wants to taste.
Keeping with the fantasy, she pauses her touches to raise her own fingers to her mouth. And…the taste is…she isn't sure what she expected. But not this. It isn't quite delicious, but certainly not disgusting. She has no idea how to describe the flavor—tangy, yet earthy, yet—but it isn't gross.
Her heart is thudding madly with all of the things she is doing right now. Fantasizing about sex with women. Touching herself. Tasting herself.
She doesn't let herself think too hard about it as she frantically moves her hand back down to touch more.
She doesn't know how long she touches like this, her mind sometimes concentrating on the movement of her fingers, sometimes on the fantasy of Stephanie's flesh beneath her hands. But it's probably for at least five minutes, just savoring everything.
Her own hips are moving a little bit in response to her touches, and in her mind, she makes it's Stephanie's hips that buck against her hand, while she bites and suckles against Stephanie's neck.
"Please, Quinn," Stephanie moans, except…it's not with Stephanie's voice.
It's Rachel's voice she hears in her head, and she shudders harder, and tries not to, but…
The images flash faster, out of control, without context. Rachel's lips, parting seductively. Stephanie's breasts in her palms. Rachel's eyes, fluttering closed. Stephanie's ass in that thong. The smooth plane of Rachel's stomach. Stephanie's soft, warm curves under her hand. The way Stephanie shuddered as she came on top of Quinn, morphing into the way Quinn would love to see Rachel, shuddering and moaning with Quinn's hand between her—
It sneaks up on Quinn, a little. She has a sense that something about the sensations are changing, becoming stronger, coiling in her guts like a winding spring. She's barely aware of the way her breathing is changing, becoming shorter, and she's gasping, but she's so focused on her myriad of thoughts—her struggle to fantasize about her roommate instead of about Rachel—that when the tension breaks, she doesn't have the forethought to keep quiet.
She moans, and though it isn't extremely loud, it's louder than she likes, but there's not much she can do about it. Her hips buck hard, and like a wave, her back arches up until she flops back onto her pillows. The sudden reaction of her body knocks her hand away from what it was doing, and the sensations seem to catch, to stutter. There's more there, she realizes in a flash of almost panic, and her hand leaps back, touches more, and the sensations are shorter, less intense. There's a sense of desperation in her body, of missed opportunity.
She just had her first orgasm and, she realizes, it could have been better.
It's hard to believe, she thinks, as she lays back against her pillows breathing hard, her legs having fallen limply to the side. She stares at her hand, then cleans off her fingers mechanically, tasting again that strange flavor. She feels the wetness inside her thighs.
Moments later, she jerks her sweats back up roughly, suddenly overwhelmed with fear and guilt. What if someone heard her? What if Stephanie had come back, because she'd forgotten something, to find Quinn with her legs spread wantonly? She should have at least hidden in the shower or something!
Not to mention…God how could she think of Rachel that way?
It was…different to think about Stephanie. They had fooled around before, there was always the possibility it could happen again, and if what had happened in the room tonight was any indication, Stephanie might be interested. But Rachel…
It was just wrong. She had constructed a fantasy about Rachel, about what Rachel would look and sound like in bed, from all her intimate knowledge about her friend. Moments she was privy to due to their close friendship; the way Rachel would sometimes whimper lightly in her sleep, the smell of her hair, the way her lips would part unconsciously when tall, dark and handsome David Boreanaz would appear as they watched Buffy, the way her eyes smoldered during solos in Glee club, especially when she sang them to Finn…
The way that Rachel would sometimes look at her, her eyes bright and open and just…Quinn could swear that Rachel had a special look for her, and sometimes, it made butterflies erupt in her stomach.
But using that knowledge to masturbate to was disgusting. She was disgusting.
She tried to finish her schoolwork, alternately grinning at how amazing her orgasm felt and brooding on the thoughts she used to make it happen.
Maybe I would have been something you'd be good at
Stephanie stumbles home drunk fairly late. Quinn can hear Lucas whispering outside the door, so at least he kept an eye on her and made sure she got home okay. Quinn isn't quite asleep, but she pretends to be, while Stephanie bumps around the room. She heads to the bathroom a few times—Quinn is pretty sure she's throwing up—but again, she just lays there. The last time Stephanie was loopy, things happened.
She does, however, note that Stephanie strips nearly nude to get into bed.
The next morning, Stephanie is fine again. No hangover, just brimming with energy and elation about how much fun she'd had out with Lucas. Quinn tries to smile, but she's worried, mostly. She ends up having to head to the library in the afternoon because, without homework herself, Stephanie seems to have decided to just have a solo dance party in their room. She's blasting (Quinn has to check what it is because she doesn't know it) System of a Down, of all things, and dancing around the room. Quinn leaves soon afterwards, because it's impossible to concentrate.
She's working on a short essay for her Freshmen Seminar, actually succeeding in concentrating on it, when a pleasant voice quietly greets, "Hey, Quinn."
She glances up, jolted out of her thoughts, but immediately smiles, "Oh, hey Rob. What's up?"
He shrugs, "Looking for a book," he smiles wryly, lifting up a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
"Ah," Quinn nods.
Rob slides into the seat across from her. "Working on an essay?"
"Yeah," Quinn grunts. She's glad for the break and seeing him, but she isn't sure how long she wants him to stay. She was kind of on a roll with the essay.
He nods for several seconds longer than is necessary before saying quietly, "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure," she shrugs, lowering her laptop screen so that she can really look at him.
He's still nodding, "Is there…anything between you and Stephanie?"
Quinn gulps almost audibly. She carefully evades, "What makes you ask that?"
He smiles humorlessly, "Ah. I see. Well, I was just wondering, because, when I met you two, I had a sense you were close, and since you came out, I guess the pieces fell into place."
"No," Quinn shakes her head, "I didn't mean to…make you assume anything. It's just…no, there really isn't. We…" she hesitates. She'd wanted this to remain a secret. So she tells half the truth. "We made out once. That's all. There isn't anything there."
"Ah," Rob nods, leaning back thoughtfully, "Okay. So…I just wanted to be sure."
Quinn watches him, waiting for him to elaborate.
"I'm…interested in Stephanie. I don't have a lot of hope that she's interested in me 'cause she's kinda outta my league, but I figured I'd try. I know I'm a little bit older, but I don't think it's so bad. She's pretty mature for her age, and there's nothing that restricts advisors at the radio station from dating undergrads. It's different for almost any other advisor position, but…not there, because I really have no power over them. My job is administrative, basically."
Quinn stares some more. She shouldn't be surprised, she supposes. Stephanie is very charismatic, very attractive. It's natural Rob would be interested.
"So, I just wanted to make sure I wasn't stepping on anyone's toes. I…I mean, I can tell Steve is definitely over it, but you, I wasn't sure of…"
"You're not stepping on my toes," Quinn assures, "My toes are nowhere near there."
He smiles faintly, "Good. Good, I'm glad. Thanks, Quinn." He stands up and holds out a fist for her to bump. She does so, giggling despite herself, at this scrawny Jewish boy in his slacks and long coat and collared shirt, offering a fist bump. He just nods in satisfaction, pulls his headphones back over his ears and tugs his newsboy cap back on his head, then strides toward the exit, standing tall.
Quinn deflates, slightly, and stares at her essay for a long while. There isn't anything between her and Stephanie, she reminds herself. And…she doesn't want there to be, does she? Stephanie insists she's straight. Stephanie can be horrible when she's grumpy. They've definitely had a lot of good, fun moments in their friendship, but those had soured since they had that experience together. Quinn is sure that, for her, becoming involved with Stephanie again, even just physically, would be playing with fire.
Still, there's a part of her that wanted to. That had happily fantasized about her in order to successfully masturbate for the first time. If Stephanie got involved with Rob…Quinn didn't think she could continue to fantasize about her in good faith. It would be too close to cheating, something she's done enough.
It's as if, at every turn, her options for how to deal with Rachel get erased.
She hasn't even heard from that girl she gave her number to at the GLBT club meeting. Not that she really minds. She hadn't been that into her anyway…
She sighs. Maybe it's a sign, that she shouldn't be focused on her romantic life anyway. Maybe she can just distract herself with her abundant schoolwork.
She focuses back on her essay and tries not to think too hard about anything else.
Suppose I kept on singing love songs just to break my own fall
Rachel feels guilty.
It's definitely not a new feeling in itself. Guilt is a strong motivator, and any time she'd felt like she might be disappointing her dads, she'd feel guilty for all they had to go through to have a daughter, and try to be better. It's probably one of many reasons why she is a performer; she was groomed to be one, and further prompted to excel with guilt. It's lucky she enjoys it.
This is a new flavor of guilt, though. It's guilt for failing a friend.
Rachel hasn't had too many friends she's felt so strongly about that guilt is such an issue. But right now, when she thinks back on her conversation with Quinn about Jesse, and thinks how that meeting between them went, she realizes that Quinn had been somewhat right about Jesse's intentions—he had wanted to use Rachel, however benign and mutually beneficial. She remembers that Quinn had sounded hurt. And though she'd felt guilty before for many reasons with regard to Quinn, her motivations had always felt excusable. They didn't, right now, because she can't place them.
She just got home from her date with Jesse, and she's undressing slowly, thinking more than paying attention to her movements. Santana is at work and Kurt seems to be asleep already, so she has ample solitude to work with.
Why had she not listened to Quinn? She feels like she had been trying to make a point to Quinn, about forgiveness, maybe. That maybe forgiveness wasn't part of Quinn's nature, but it was part of Rachel's.
Still, that isn't true. Quinn forgave her a lot. Quinn forgave everyone a lot.
What was it about what Quinn had said that had pushed Rachel? Why had she felt so defensive of Jesse?
Maybe it was Quinn's insinuation that she might have advised Rachel not to even give her another chance. Yes, perhaps that was it. That must've been why Rachel had been inspired to give Jesse another chance. Because everyone deserved it.
Rachel sighs and rubs at her forehead. What was it about Quinn's advice that she always wanted?
Quinn had always seemed so put together to her. Even when she was pregnant and alone, she held herself as though she was perfectly fine, as though she meant to be where she was. She always seemed so smart and wise, even when her life seemed to be a wreck.
Rachel had always admired her. Rachel had always wanted to have a reason to talk to her. Rachel had always wanted to be more like her.
So why had she never listened?
She falls back onto her bed and stares at the ceiling, trying to think back on their conversations. So often, she can remember knowing Quinn was giving her good, solid advice that she should follow. Hard advice. Advice she didn't want to hear, but needed to. When it came down to it, she just wasn't strong enough to follow through.
She wanted to be close to Quinn. She wanted Quinn to be a part of her issues and struggles.
Was she that selfish, that she would constantly try to draw Quinn into such things?
And then there was the whole thing about imagining being with a girl, that had happened toward the end of her date with Jesse.
What on earth was wrong with her that she could imagine being romantic with a girl until it came time to be public about it?
Rachel Berry is not homophobic.
Unless, perhaps, she is. A little bit. In the sense that she is terrified of being perceived as gay.
She feels her belly clench hard.
She's spent her entire life watching people she loves—her fathers, their friends, Kurt—being hurt and bullied and rejected and discriminated against for being gay. Is it any wonder she doesn't want to draw the same kind of treatment to herself?
But, that would mean…she probably is legitimately bisexual…and she's been lying to herself because she's afraid.
That terrifies her. She's fully capable of lying to herself. She's done it enough, when she told herself that sacrificing her career for her relationship with Finn was best. When she told herself she was ready to marry him. She just can't believe she could possibly lie to herself so convincingly that she could never date a woman.
That film noir girlfriend appears in her mind again, and Rachel imagines the way she might hold her, imagines her coming home with flowers, and…yes. There is something in her brain and body that wants this. It's just that, to her, relationships have been so public, because in high school they were all about her having something to prove, that she'd never given herself the chance to imagine the small, intimate moments that really define them, when she'd thought about being with women. She'd imagined the big, scary moments: being out to fancy dinners and events, thanking a woman in her first Tony acceptance speech, marriage proposals…things that made her want to laugh and run away when she imagined trying to do them with women.
Until now, when she's been forced to face that fact that it's her own internalized homophobia that's made her so terrified to admit to anyone, even to herself, that she's bisexual. And biromantic.
It's terrifying that any girlcrushes she may have had are legitimate crushes.
She thinks of the way Quinn has always made her feel: on edge, alight, careful, self-conscious. But also safe. Strong. Talented. Amazing. And Quinn herself…she's always thought Quinn was beautiful, strong, intelligent, passionate and just…amazing.
When Quinn had given her those Metro North passes the first time, Rachel had stared at her in wonder, and for the first time, considered that all the strange feelings she'd had for her over the years might be something. She thought there might be…potential.
But then Quinn had reminded her that she was still engaged to Finn, and she'd reminded Quinn that Puck was important to her, and she'd buried those thoughts again, to be mostly forgotten (except for pangs here and there as their friendship evolved) until Santana had pressed her to think of a girl she'd had real feelings for.
She'd mentioned that potential. That terrifying little moment of potential that she now knows was downplayed in her mind.
She has to set things right with Quinn.
She calls Quinn, who answers tiredly, "Hey."
"Hello, Quinn," she replies, some of her own exhaustion in her voice, "May I ask what you're doing tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow…" Quinn sounds momentarily bemused, then says, "Well, I mean, Spring Break starts next weekend, so I have a few midterms during the week, but…I mean, I'm pretty much finished with my homework for the weekend…why do you ask?"
"I…really wanted to see you," Rachel says decisively, "I was wondering if I could come up. Just for the day."
"Um, yeah, sure. That's no problem, Rachel. It'd be great to see you. Is…is everything okay?"
"Yes. I think so. I know you were talking about coming down here for Spring Break, but I wanted to see you sooner."
"Okay," Quinn sounds a little wary, "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Yes. I will arrive in the late morning. I'll have to check the schedules but I am hoping there is a train coming in around 11?"
"Probably. Sounds good. Text me your ETA and I'll meet you."
"Okay." There's a moment of silence, in which everything unsaid feels deafening, and she says, "Bye, Quinn."
I will lay down my heart, and I'll feel the power
Rachel spends her two hour train ride compiling her courage and rehearsing what she even wants to say to Quinn.
She's not entirely sure. She just knows…she needs to tell Quinn what she realized, she needs to apologize to Quinn for never listening, she needs Quinn to know that maybe, the real reason their friendship got so awkward was because Rachel wasn't ready to accept what intimacy could mean to her, that Rachel has trouble with the lines between friendly intimacy and romantic intimacy and she needs Quinn's help sorting it out. Because so many of her friendships had ended up with that kind of tension. She had been friends first with Finn and Puck, and had trouble with those boundaries with both of them.
Rachel likes rehearsals and she likes having a script to follow. Human social interaction is so complex. She knows that people do rehearse by having a lot of conversations with a lot of people, but she hasn't had all the social experience many other people her age do. So much of her rehearsal goes on by herself, in her head, and she only has a limited number of scripts to work with.
She has no script for how Quinn will react to any of the things Rachel may end up telling her.
Quinn meets her at the train station, looking more rumpled than she tends to allow herself to appear in public, like she had to hurry to get out of bed. There's a palpable hesitation before they hug one another, and Rachel pulls away before a few seconds have passed.
"Hi," she smiles.
"Hey," Quinn nods, one hand running through her hair in a way that seems unconscious. She nods once, to herself, and begins to lead Rachel away.
"Have you had breakfast?" Rachel asks her.
Quinn grimaces slightly, "I guess you can tell I sort of just got out of bed, huh?"
"Just a guess. I'm sorry to have cut into your sleep time."
"Nah," Quinn shakes her head, "I would've needed to get up around this time anyway. But no, I didn't have breakfast. Do you mind if we stop someplace on our way back to campus? That way we don't have to deal with the dining hall. That food's overpriced if you don't have a meal plan."
"Okay," Rachel nods. They stop at a Dunkin Donuts, where Quinn gets a full breakfast with juice and coffee and Rachel, not very hungry, just gets a bagel.
They sit at a little table together, and Rachel watches as Quinn dips her hash browns in ketchup and lifts the bun of her sausage, egg and cheese to smear some ketchup on it. A part of her just wants to launch into why she's here, but she takes in the way Quinn closes her eyes as she sips her coffee, and the tightness in her forehead smoothes away somewhat. The things Rachel wants to talk about, she needs Quinn to be lucid for.
So she just tries to enjoy her plain, dry bagel and lets Quinn wake up. When Quinn is finished with everything but her coffee, they stand back up and leave to huddle together at the nearest bus station. Quinn isn't wearing a hat or scarf, Rachel notes. She doesn't know whether Quinn was just too tired or if she's becoming a New Englander.
It's a little after noon by the time they get to Quinn's dorm room. Rachel drops her messenger bag by Quinn's bed—she didn't pack an overnight bag, since they both have class tomorrow. Stephanie isn't there, so Rachel inquires politely, "Where's your roommate?"
Quinn shrugs, "I think she went to the library. She thought she'd finished her homework on Friday but I guess when she woke up today she realized she wasn't happy with some of what she'd done. So she's redoing some of it."
"Oh," Rachel answers, and sits primly on Quinn's desk chair. Quinn just shrugs again, and as the awkward silence returns, Rachel starts to build up her courage a little bit. But Quinn reaches for a remote control on the little entertainment center and turns on the TV.
Rachel exhales. Quinn has to know she's here for a reason, that she wants to talk, but she doesn't seem keen to let her. Rachel gets that, she supposes. Almost any time she's come to Quinn to talk, for serious reasons, it hasn't exactly been fun. She gets that now. She gets why Quinn isn't ready.
"Anything good on?" she asks uncertainly as she gets up from the chair to sit next to Quinn on the bed.
Quinn grimaces, "Nah, probably not. Want to watch Ally or something on Netflix?"
"How about X-Files?"
Quinn looks at her then, with a small uncertain smile. Generally, they playfully argue over which of the two to watch, and each argues for the other show. Clearly she doesn't quite know what to make of the fact that neither of them feels like maintaining the game. Rachel just knows she would rather be distracted through a few episodes of the X-Files rather than Ally McBeal.
So they watch some X-Files.
And order some pizza.
And generally spend a good three hours or so just relaxing together on Quinn's bed.
Stephanie comes back at one point, looking haggard. She forces a cheerful smile and greeting for Rachel, but doesn't say anything to Quinn except, "I'll be out for awhile longer." Quinn just nods and watches her as she leaves, her shoulders hunched uncomfortably.
When the pizza arrives, Quinn pauses the show to go retrieve it, and when she comes back, she doesn't resume the episode. They sit and eat pizza on the bed together, mostly silent, until they've eaten about half of their first slice each. Then Quinn swallows and meets Rachel's eye. "So. Why did you want to see me so badly?"
Rachel inhales slowly, and everything is suddenly crashing around in her mind. She almost never forgets lines, but the few times she has in rehearsals, it feels exactly like this. Most people say their minds go blank when they forget their line, but not Rachel. Her mind just gets filled with so many lines that she can't remember which one is right. She thinks of Finn, and the way they both fought over him. She thinks of Jesse, and Quinn being right. She thinks of all the times she sought advice, she thinks of being slapped in the bathroom at Junior Prom, of Quinn standing at Senior Prom and tearing Rachel right out of Finn's arms when she did so, remembers Quinn telling her "You can't," and "Just wait," and a broken, angry Quinn whispering harshly, "She's sleeping with Puck." The comfort of their touches—hugs, early on, then sitting close on the couch, then cuddling in bed. The ways they'd tousle—not physically, like boys did, but emotionally, with subterfuge and words. She thinks of all the little moments when their eyes would meet and spark fire in her veins—fire that was part fear and admiration and trepidation and passion and unnamed desire all in one.
And all the things Rachel thought to say are gone, and what comes out of her mouth, in slow fragments, is, "I have these…little feelings for you…that keep getting bigger."
A/N: Chapter titles from Lead Belly, "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" (well known as a Nirvana cover), "Cold Song" from Purcell's King Arthur (I like the Klaus Nomi version though), Cake, "Friend is a Four Letter Word," Nina Simone, "22nd Century," Massive Attack, "Dissolved Girl," Purity Ring, "Saltkin," Tegan and Sara, "Call It Off," Regina Spektor, "Fidelity," and Bonnie Raitt, "I Can't Make You Love Me."