Your eyes dart quickly around the walls of the venue as soon as you enter the small arena, flitting quick across the rows upon rows of seats until your gaze lands firmly upon the stage up front. It's not a large stage and it seems as though the band hasn't had time to set up their equipment yet. In fact, all you seem to be able to make out is a solitary podium pointing out towards the empty audience. Your first thought is lost in confusion. You know the gig isn't scheduled to start until the evening and it's only early afternoon, and sure, you're still relatively new to this part of your job, but so far, every review you've gone to garner has begun with the witnessing of sound checks and set ups and endless onstage activity for hours and hours before any actual music is played.
This is new.
Maybe you shouldn't be so surprised. The last two years of your life have been one new thing after another. You'd been happy as a high school cheerleader; you'd been more than happy with your continued advancement through your many dance classes and with the rave reviews which came after each of your regular recitals. You had an abundance of friends and an airtight plan and you weren't going to rest until you'd danced your socks off across every prestigious stage around the world and your arms were filled full with the bouquets of your success. You were Brittany S Pierce and you were going places.
That's one thing that hasn't changed: you're still Brittany S Pierce and you're still going places. It just seems that somewhere along the way somebody switched up the directions and you're now nowhere near to all of the places which you'd always dreamed you wanted to go. You know that some people would call it fate, perhaps destiny, maybe serendipity at play; yet as far as you've been able to tell, the only name you have to thank for this roller coaster ride you've been placed upon is the now world famous Lord Tubbington. Your name may be the one on the top of the contracts and it's your signature which gets scrawled across the bottom of the page, but you've never been dumb enough to think that you're the talent wielding one in this two man band. It's Lord Tubbington's rather rounded feline face that stares back at you from the t-shirts, posters, and other assorted merchandise that only attests to the success of your once made on a whim web-show. He was an instant hit. You had hoped that it would be a craze for fondue that caught on, or perhaps the healthy fingers snacks you cut up for ease of dipping during interviews, but when it comes to creating a cult like status, it's your cat that's sitting pretty and posing in the spotlight.
You're definitely proud of him. And you've learnt a lot from him too.
If it had been left down to you alone, you'd have hashed your way in a daze of words through that first ever interview and the whole show would've stalled before you'd ever even got started. Not Lord Tubbington though. He'd settled his solid gaze upon your first celebrity guest and he hadn't flinched once. He'd followed your nationally famous cheerleading coach's movements with that wily stare of his, digging silently through her secrets with his Holmes like mind until she'd cracked beneath the weight and flipped out in quite spectacular fashion. It seemed she didn't appreciate his 'Gestapo-style interrogation techniques' and his single solitary meow in response had swiftly turned the first ever episode of Fondue for Two into more of a fondue massacre, ending with the pot unceremoniously upturned on your bed and an extremely irate Sue Sylvester screaming insults as she threw methodically chopped up vegetables in the direction of your fleeing feline.
It's still the most watched episode you've ever produced. Even now, with your show being broadcast weekly from the hallowed halls of MTV, that original fifteen minute broadcast still sits smug atop the ratings pile. The last time you looked it had attracted close to 83million hits. You and your cat are an internet sensation, and this new feature is the prize for your fame. MTV have liked what they've seen of you, they've realised already that you possess the quality that high up entertainment execs are always waxing lyrical about, that elusive X factor, that certain je ne sais quoi which turns the girl next door into a name that everybody knows, and they want to capitalise on that.
Your manager explained it to you as 'maximising exposure'. Your blonde hair and blue eyes and dancers physique are dominating social media sites at present and MTV wants to give the public what it desires most. So you're here. In an empty arena, trying hard to recall what the whole deal is exactly with this Rock the Vote season of features you've signed on to front.
Sam had been the one to relay the details to you. As the guy who's always been behind the camera ever since that very first show, and more importantly, as the guy who's grown up in the house next door to yours for the last fifteen years, you trust him implicitly. Maybe more so. He'd been your one condition when you signed your first contract and now it's him who breaks down the endless lines of text for you and gives you the gist of what it is you're putting your name to in ways you understand.
From what you recall this is a battle of the bands type feature. For the next eight weeks or so you'll be shadowing the lead singer in a band called The Young Republicans, learning the ins and outs of their daily lives and then following them into a climactic battle with another local band who are being shadowed in the same way by a team of your colleagues.
It had sounded simple when Sam had laid it out to you like that, yet standing here now, thirty minutes early and in an empty auditorium, you're beginning to wonder if maybe you've made a mistake. It wouldn't be the first time and you're actually quite sure that it won't be your last - things are confusing sometimes, especially when you have so many people giving you so much information - but other people's irritation has always left you unsettled inside, and without the stoic stare of your cat to keep you company you can feel your nerves starting to fluster a little.
You reach for the phone nestled inside the top pocket of your denim jacket with the intention of calling Sam and checking again what it is you're here for, yet the sound of footsteps approaching from behind stop your actions before they begin. Instead you turn, and in that instant your mind goes blank. Maybe all the thoughts you've managed to think through in the last few minutes have seized your ability to form new thoughts, you're not sure, you're only sure that any words you've ever said have suddenly become inconsequential because walking towards you with shoulders tense and eyes averted is the most stunning expression of beauty you've ever seen.
It hits you like a blow to the solar plexus. She steals the breath from your throat and you know that the gulp of air you try to pull back has to be all sorts of obvious. Not to her; her eyes are still averted, but her companion is looking you up and down and you recognise the intent behind the smirk which falls easily onto her lips as you gulp like a guppy in front of her.
"Miss Holliday, I presume?"
Her words are short and crisp just like the blonde bob which frames her face, yet her smirk has morphed into a smile and her hand is out in front of you waiting for you to take a hold.
"Hi, no, uh… Miss Holliday, I'm not. I'm Miss Pierce. Brittany. Brittany S Pierce." You stumble across the start of your explanation and it's not the first time you've wished that your dancers grace could extend to your formation of words in pressure situations. You do take her hand though and you do return the wide smile she offers you when she informs you that her name is Quinn and that now she knows your name she's sure that she recognises you.
"You're cat woman, right? From the internet?"
"I'm… yeah." Because you don't know what else to say to that. You're used to that moniker now, so much so that you donned the leather outfit and embraced it in all its glory for last Halloween. It didn't score you any extra candy, but you left the party you'd been attending with a whole heap of phone numbers, both from males and females, all who'd wanted to take you home and stroke you 'til you purred. You shake off the memories of leather based pleasure and return your attention to the woman in front of you; you can see she's waiting for further explanation so you seek to fill in the blanks, "My show's on MTV now too, so."
"Oh, right! You're working with Miss Holliday then?"
"Sure. Kind of." You point to the laminated MTV reporters badge hanging from the belt loop of your cargo pants to offer confirmation that you are who you say you are, "Holly's overseeing the project as a whole, but when it comes to the day to day, it's me you're gonna be stuck with."
"I think we can live with that." Se turns her head to face her companion then and you know what's about to happen, "What do you say, Santana, shall we keep her?"
You know, you're prepared, yet still. When the gaze which has stayed disinterested and averted finally rises up to meet your own, you can't help but flush just a little. You feel somewhere close to thirteen again, somewhere close to that time when you stood in front of Mercedes Jones and asked her if her skin tasted as pretty as it looked, because it looked like Easter, and chocolate has always been you're greatest weakness. This woman, Santana, she looks like Easter wrapped up in Christmas and it's all you can do to hold your hand out without any traces of the tremors you're currently feeling inside as you ask to make her acquaintance.
You offer up a simple Hi and she returns a somewhat bored Hey before she drops your hand and turns her attention onto Quinn, "How long do I have to suffer this bullshit today?"
"I'm not joking, Q, I need this crap about as much as I need an enema-"
"Yet not as much as you need a Prozac. Can you not just chill out? You know how important this is to my father," you watch as Santana rolls her eyes away from Quinn's words, "you also know what your abuela threatened if you don't actually partake in this conservative festival of fun and frivolity."
You catch the sarcasm as it wraps its way around Quinn's tone, yet you're far more interested in watching Santana's reaction than you are in trying to puzzle out the meaning behind what had been said. She just looks so angry. So angry and yet so restrained. You can see it in her jaw, you swear you can almost physically feel the tension as it marks itself out in the grinding of her teeth.
"Fuck you Quinn," she spits out.
"Can we not get through the convention first? You know what happened to my speech giving abilities the last time you suggested that."
It's as if you're now standing in the most uncomfortable spot you've ever stood in and you're flushing for a whole other reason, because there's no way anyone over the age of PG-13 could've missed that obvious insinuation. Quinn and Santana have fucked. They do fuck. And now, before your very eyes, it looks as though they're about to have some kind of long running, heated lovers quarrel. You'd appreciate a famous LA earthquake in this moment; it seems the only viable way for the ground to open up and swallow you whole before this situation escalates into something ugly.
Instead of a well timed natural disaster, the tension is pierced by the shrill sounds of someone's ring tone. It's not yours, yours is all rap music all of the time. You can't help it. You may hail originally from the streets of Lima, Ohio, yet you know deep within that your soul was forged somewhere on the streets of Compton. This ring tone is something classical which you don't immediately recognise, and it's Quinn who reaches into her pocket and brings the phone up to her ear.
She rushes out a few quick phrases before she turns to you apologetically and insists she has to take the call. She's going to leave you with Santana. She says that Santana will 'give you everything you need'. She smirks again before she turns away and you feel the slightest whisper of heat dance across your cheeks in response.
The word is hers and you lift your eyes again to meet her gaze.
"What exactly is it you need from me?"
The steel behind her stare lets you guess that not only isn't that item on the menu, she wouldn't see the funny side in you asking. Instead you aim for professionalism. You direct her attention towards the stage and you ask the obvious question, "What time are you expecting the band to set up?"
She looks at you as if you're speaking an indecipherable language though so you make an attempt at elaboration, "It'd be really cool to get some quotes and stuff before the show starts, that way I can really get a proper feel for you before…"
The look she's now giving you puts the last one to shame and kills any further words dead in your throat. You're not sure what you've said, but you are somewhat used to this look of absolute disdain from those who don't favour your thought process or the way you choose to present it. It freezes you up for a second as you rush back over your words to pick out any offending ones, yet you really have no idea, and her mouth is opening up to speak again and you're sure, so sure, that what's going to come from her is something harsh and belittling.
"You do realise I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about right now?" is all she actually says though, and you're so much happier to settle for confusing her rather than offending her.
It really is the least you can do to try again; your hand rising with your smile as you offer up a second handshake and a whole big attempt at a do-over, "Hi, I'm Brittany S Pierce, roving reporter for MTV and a newly dedicated member of the 2012 Rock the Vote team." You let go of her hand and give a little fist pump to underline your enthusiasm for the cause. You haven't heard The Young Republicans perform yet, but you know that if Santana has even the smallest connection to them, you definitely want them to win. You tell her just as much, that you're on her side all the way.
"Wait a minute," she stops you mid-flow, "you're seriously telling me that you're a republican?"
"Sure," you answer, with the same kind of disbelief that she asked you with. You're not sure. You don't want her to know that though, so you stretch the truth just a little, "I may not have heard you perform for myself yet, but my cameraman, Sam, he's a huge fan."
She looks almost bewildered by your confession, and you think it's cute that she so obviously doubts her band's talent, "He's a fan?", she questions, and you want nothing more than to reassure her.
"Totally, I think he even keeps your album on repeat in his car."
Her eyes don't leave yours the whole time you're speaking and you just know that somehow she knows you're being economical with the truth.
"This is just priceless," she breathes out, and it almost sounds to you like she's laughing.
"It absolutely is Brittany S Pierce, because up until about two minutes ago, I thought I was the only one here who doesn't belong."
You're certain by her tone of voice as it playfully wraps around your full name that she's teasing you, yet you don't miss the implication of all of her other words; that she feels she doesn't belong here. You want to ponder that fully, but your brain shorts out the second her eyes begin a slow and torturous descent down the length of your body, pausing at your feet before ascending again at the same leisurely pace, "If you seriously think that this is some kind of rock concert waiting to happen, then it's not hard to see how mistaken I was".
Her eyes are boring into yours again, and again you're struggling to find the right stream of words to fashion a reply. She has literally stolen your breath with that long searching look and you're forced to leave it up to her to break your silence, "This is a political convention".
"This," she expands her arms out to encompass the whole of the arena, "is the monthly gathering of the Young Republicans, as in, a bunch of boring moralisers talking crap from up there on that podium. Quinn's the extra special guest speaker tonight, so yeah, there'll be lots and lots of talking crap for you to focus on."
You know you're frowning at her and you want to stop, but it's crucial to you in ways you don't fully comprehend yet that you save yourself from looking anymore like an ass in front of her, and you're straining to think really hard right now. Because this is a political convention and you're here to rock the vote, and you know your family are die hard democrats and you know that the opposite to democrats are republicans, so, "You mean the Republican Party, right?"
"That I do," she replies, and you really don't mind anymore that you were so embarrassingly mistaken when she partners her words with a smile, "You sure you still want to rock the vote?"
You do. More than anything.
"I do," you confirm for her out loud, "though, I'm not really, I don't…" You're not sure how to phrase the next part, because it's still really important to you that you don't look like an ass here, and you can feel your frown lines fast returning to your face as you hold in the rambled admission which wants to break free.
"Let me help you out there," she interjects when you pause for far too long, and you can't help but wonder why her tone is now laced thick with sarcasm when just a second ago she was smiling so open and easily at you. "I'm guessing you belong to the fluffy kitten brigade," she rushes it out with an increasingly hostile lilt creeping up on her voice, "the bleeding hearts and the lofty liberals who spend so much fucking time wringing their hands and crying about their lousy lot in life, that they never actually manage to achieve anything of any worth. No doubt you also hate the republicans more than you hate Satan, and you're quickly reconsidering that whole show of team solidarity you fist pumped out just a minute ago, right?"
You witness a brief flash of something which looks like the anger you saw earlier when she faced off against Quinn, before she breathes in deep and pulls her shoulders back tight. Her fists are clenched at her sides and this all feels like something so much bigger than you.
Beneath her skin she's seething, you can see it, yet you honestly don't understand why.
You want to though.
"I was just going to say that I'm not really that in to politics."
Her shoulders slump a little before she just offers you a soft and almost whispered oh in reply.
"My cat also isn't a kitten, but he is kind of fluffy, so."
You instinctively keep your tone light and airy and you feel instantly rewarded when she shoots a small and flustered grimace styled grin in your direction as if she's embarrassed by her brief and unprompted outburst. Her fists uncurl and her left hand flaps about gently in front of her as she searches for words, "I take it back, alright? I'm just used to… Ugh, it doesn't matter. Let's just start again, okay?" This time it's her who's holding out her hand to be embraced by you and offering her name in introduction, "Santana Lopez, asshole apparent. I'm mostly here for the parties and free booze, though I am supposed to be speaking tomorrow, and my Daddy is Quinn's Daddy's campaign strategist, so yeah. Welcome to the shit-pit, I doubt you'll enjoy your stay."
She hasn't let go of your hand yet and you don't pull away. You do smile though, widely, because there's just something about her that's so pleasing to you. You don't want to let go of her hand, you want to hold on and see where it leads you.
"Nice to meet you, Santana Lopez," you finally reply, and you honestly mean it.
You want to say something else - you want to say so much else - yet your moment is interrupted when the outside door is swung inward to crash loud against the wall, and Sam bowls jauntily on through followed closely by Holly Holliday. Your hand is back at your side before you know who let go first, and you instantly jump to attention and rush forward to help Sam with the equipment he always insists on carrying alone. Holly lets him, she's all for alpha males displaying for her benefit, yet to you he's still just the boy next door who grew up to be your best friend, and you hate to see him struggle on alone.
You also need something to distract your hands with, because all you can seem to focus upon right now is the tingle you still feel from where you were just holding hands with Santana.
After the arrival of Holly and Sam, the afternoon passes fast in a flurry of too many introductions and the final outlining of plans for what you're now learning is going to be a very important and heavily promoted election year feature on MTV. The Rock the Vote message is apparently huge, supported by movie stars and rock stars alike, and it really is something that you should've perhaps been just a little more aware of when you consider that you're the music station's newest and brightest star. Like you told Santana though, politics really isn't your thing. You know the basics, you know that Obama is The President, and you know that this year is the big election year, and now, thanks to Google, you also know that Quinn is Quinn Fabray and she's the daughter of Russell Fabray, who's running on the republican ticket in November's elections for a seat on the US senate.
It turns out that Quinn is the whole reason you're here.
She's taken a year out of her political science degree at Yale to campaign alongside her father and apparently she's kicked up quite a storm along the way. People have noticed her and people are interested and, again, what the public wants the public gets and you're the one who's been designated to deliver it to them.
You'll be spending a minimum five days a week shadowing her every move, just you and Sam and a camera, leading all the way up to election night and following the success or failure of her father's campaign. Sam has told you that the added incentive is that the democratic rival also has a 21 year old daughter who's just as vocal a component when it comes to supporting her father, and it's this that MTV believes the viewers will be interested in.
It's Sam who nudges your shoulder now to pull your attention away from your inner thoughts to focus instead on the activity up ahead on the stage. The arena is full to bursting now, all of the rows of chairs are occupied, and the deafening cacophony of noise from the audience would fit just as well at a rock concert as it does at a political convention. The energy is electric. You don't really listen to any of the speakers, yet every time there's a pause for an upswell in applause you're rocked from your reverie.
You don't even really need to be here anymore.
You've done your short introduction into camera with the conference in full flow behind you, you've conducted your first short interview with Quinn, a quick piece where it'll be easy to judge if your chemistry is right on camera, and all the shots that'll be taken of her speech tonight could just as easily be shot by Sam on his own.
You told yourself you didn't want to leave him alone though.
You told Holly you'd meet her in the morning instead of heading back to the office with her when she'd left for the evening and offered to drop you home.
You told Sam you wanted to see Quinn in action.
It's why he's nudged you. Quinn has just been introduced and she's up there now, waving into the crowd and basking in the applause. She looks radiant silhouetted against the giant American flag which has been unfurled behind the podium, and you know already that the camera is just going to love her. Her words sound warm, even amplified and echoing as they bounce back from the podium up front, and even though you don't focus in on her words so much, you do appreciate the melodic rhythm of her speech.
But seeing Quinn in action isn't really what you're here for.
All day you've been waiting for and watching Santana. Not in a creepy stalker way, just, you'd seen her leave not long after Holly and Sam had arrived and you'd seen her return not long before the conference had really started to get going, and her face had changed so much in that short space of time that you couldn't help but keep looking in an attempt to figure out the differences.
She still looked beautiful, she is beautiful, but it was as though something had shifted and she wasn't shining so bright. To you she looked sad, and you couldn't stop looking. You haven't stopped looking. Even now, half of your attention focused up front on your project, and you're gazing to the left of stage every few seconds to watch the woman waiting in the wings. You can't see close enough to really confirm your suspicions, but even as the crowd roars at each of Quinn's well dropped sound bites, you just know she isn't smiling. You can sense it.
And you feel sad because she's sad.
You're helping Sam load his equipment back onto the van and you just have one more journey to take back inside before you'll be ready to call an end to this long and somewhat exhausting day and head home for a bath and for bed. Quinn had been the last speaker of the night, and you think that's a good thing because after the rapturous ovation that had heralded her final rousing and butt-kicking quip about her father's upcoming and assured victory, you don't see how anyone else could've taken the stage and held the crowd's attention.
You haven't seen her since, but you do have her cell-phone number and you'll be sure to text her later to congratulate her on her speech and to confirm the time of your meeting for tomorrow.
You pass by Sam as you enter the auditorium again and he nods when you ask if that's the last of his stuff. It means you just have your bag to collect, and already your mind is drifting to what concoction of food you can throw together when you get back home.
You don't notice her standing right there until she speaks softly into the surrounding silence.
The room is mostly empty now.
And even if it's not you can only see Santana.
You respond to her singular Hey with a smile and she steps out of the shadows with your bag in her hand and a hurried explanation for why she's holding it, "I thought you'd forgotten it, I was going to… I don't know, give it to Quinn to give to you."
"You were?" you ask, because you're certain by the way she isn't meeting your eyes that there's something more to her being here.
"Sure. It gives Quinn a real sense of purpose when she gets to save the day."
If you knew her better, you'd call bullshit. You'd ask her if perhaps she'd been waiting in the wings and biding her time with your bag because she'd wanted to see you again. As it is, you go along with her ruse, simply happy to have her standing in front of you again regardless of the cause. You hold your hand out and she places the straps of your bag delicately across your fingers before pulling back and folding her arms across her chest.
The defensive posture reminds you of all the concerned looks you've shot her way today and you want to ask her if she's okay. Yet you still don't know her well enough.
"You look about as beat as I feel."
The words leave your lips and her eyes find your eyes within the same instant. You watch her frown, you hold your gaze steady as her stare searches yours. "You think I look beat?" she questions softy, and you have to lean forward slightly to hear what she says.
"Maybe not beat," you reply, "maybe just tired?"
She doesn't answer you, she just keeps looking, and you'd love more than anything to know what she's thinking. The expression on her face is unreadable to you, it's like her frown is still etching lines across her forehead, yet her lips are trying to lift upwards into a smile.
It's confusing and it's cute as hell.
If you stand here any longer you're going to ask for her number, or if she wants to get coffee, or even if she really is okay… and you're still not sure if that would be a good idea. Not only are there some kind of professional boundaries in place that you probably shouldn't cross, but also, there's Quinn. You haven't forgotten the scene you witnessed between them this afternoon, and you don't want to get involved in any messes when Quinn is supposed to be your sole focus for being here on this job.
You take your eyes away from hers and adjust your bag so it sits across your shoulder.
"Well," you say, and it's obvious that you're ready to leave now.
"Well," she replies, mimicking you before she again falls silent.
It shouldn't be this hard to walk away from someone you've only just met, but you honestly can't get your legs to move from this moment. You want to stay and watch the way her frown eases down and her lips lift up into a full and proper smile. You want to ask her what's making her smile; you want to ask her if you can do it again.
But you stop yourself. Sam is waiting outside and the kind of smiles you want to exchange with Santana would leave him still sitting there come morning. You hold your hand out again, happy when she takes it and embraces it with her own, "It's honestly been great meeting you today Santana," you say again, "and thank you for not teasing me too mercilessly for my rock concert faux pas earlier; it must've been hard."
She laughs a little before she speaks and you want to bottle the sound and take it home with you.
"It was hard," she agrees, "all day I wanted to ask Sam what he thought of my latest CD and what his favourite track on the album was." You feel your cheeks flush as she laughs again, and the heat only deepens when she reaches out and pushes gently at your shoulder with her hand, "You're okay, Britt. My teasing's pretty tame unless I don't like you, and I think I'm going to like you."
"Yeah?" you ask, and she nods like she really means it.
You tell her you think you're going to like her too and then you say goodbye. You pull the strap of the bag tight against your body and you turn and you swear you practically skip all the way out of the auditorium and to the place where Sam has the van parked and waiting.
She called you Britt and she said she's going to like you.
And professional boundaries or not, messes or not, there's now something you want to rock a whole lot more than you want to rock the vote.