Of all the things Santana had been warned about before moving to the city - pick-pockets at Times Square, handsy commuters on the Metro, Pedestrian's Russian Roulette (otherwise known as crossing with the light when taxis are turning) - no one seemed to feel the need to prepare her for this.
All the rest she could handle, but summer thunder storms?
No way. She spent too much time and money on her hair to deal with that crap. After three years in the city, she was a little pissed that she still got caught unprepared in sudden downpours.
Holding one hand over the lid to her coffee, she ducked out from under the store awning and looked up warily at the sky. The blue that was there less than fifteen minutes before was gone, replaced with deepening shades of gray.
A cab rounded the corner too quickly, its tires screeching as it sent a wave of water cresting over the curb. Even though she wasn't in any real danger of getting wet, she wasn't going to take any chances with her Jimmy Choo Balfours. It was the only major purchase she'd made in the city and she wasn't about to throw that kind of money down the drain.
She jumped backward out and elbowed a passerby who, in turn, shared an especially tasteless obscenity that left her grinding her teeth and staring daggers into his back. Her own words of rage were just about to break free when she realized that that she'd managed not to spill her coffee. A long exhale replaced the curses that were about to be unleashed not even a full second earlier.
The cheerful ting-ting of a store bell caught her attention. Being decidedly not in the mood for anything even remotely cheerful, Santana glared at the door as though it had personally offended her. Painted in old-fashioned type-set, the words McBride the Book Seller stared back at her. She wrinkled her nose dubiously at the subtitle: Where Something Old is Something New …
Santana blinked a few times, looked behind her at the asphalt street and, deciding that a dry, musty bookstore was better than wet, slippery sidewalks, she opened the door and peeked inside. The little bell hanging above jingled again, announcing her presence.
"You can come in," a bored voice offered, "until it stops raining."
Santana stepped gingerly into the shop. The smell of summer rain - hot and strong in her nose - was replaced by a softer scent, something that reminded her of the basement in her grandfather's house back in Ohio. It was instantly calming.
She cleared her throat and asked in a hushed whisper, "And when it stops raining?"
"This isn't a library," the girl behind the counter said breezily. She lowered her book, adding, "You don't have to whis-"
The word died in her throat when caught sight of the girl standing in front of her. When the pen she was twirling in her free hand fell to the counter, she cleared her throat and tried again, "whisper. You don't have to."
She wasn't proud of the amount of time – a good three seconds, she guessed – that it took for her to reign in her surprise at being face-to-face with Santana. It'd been a few years but she would know the other girl anywhere. Of course she would, she'd spent most of her high school experience simultaneously hiding from and dreaming up ways to be noticed by her.
Looking back, the idea of hiding from Santana seemed ridiculous. What was the point in hiding from someone who didn't even know she existed?
Lost in thought, it didn't even register to Quinn that the other girl was staring, too. Santana's eyes widened and her mouth dropped open slightly, as if she might say something.
Maybe it was that Santana had seen too many movies about old men who owned used book stores. Or maybe it was just that she'd never actually gone into a used book store. It might even have been that she was just unaccustomed to the heady, musty smell of old books that replaced the wet street smell that surrounded her moments ago. But when the book lowered to reveal the owner of the voice behind it, she was surprised to find a girl her age sporting wild, blonde hair with hot pink tips and looking up at her with pale green eyes.
Santana broke the staring contest and chuckled good-naturedly, wrinkling her nose cutely and forcing herself to say something - anything. "Right. Thanks." She paused and narrowed her eyes before saying, "Quinn."
She was feeling pretty good about that recovery. Smooth, even.
Quinn was certain her heart stopped. And that maybe her cheeks were on fire.
In a million years, she never would have expected Santana to remember her - or even to have recognized her. In the many years they shared a school, Quinn had only spoken one word to the other girl. She'd planned a whole speech but, when it came down to it, she could only force out a soft "congratulations" before Santana was swept away by family and friends to celebrate graduation.
Quinn's brow furrowed and she followed Santana's sight-line to her name badge, held onto her shirt with a quill pin. It dawned on her quite quickly that Santana hadn't, in fact, remembered her but, instead, had simply read her name on the white rectangle attached to her shirt.
"It's a quill." She waited a beat, blinked a few more times and then quickly disappeared behind her book. From behind a worn copy of Dante's Inferno she offered, "... and after it stops raining, whatever."
Santana wasn't sure if that was a complete brush off, an invitation to look around, or if she was expected to just stare at the window and wait for the surprise storm to break. "Mind if I look around?" Santana asked.
Quinn didn't bother to take her nose out of the book. She felt foolish and, if she could help it, she'd rather feel foolish behind the safety of the Inferno than in front of Santana. She was contemplating answering the other girl when a door at the far end of the first aisle opened and a young man came striding through it.
"Hey," he said pleasantly as he passed. "Can I help you find anything?"
Before Santana could answer, Quinn picked up her discarded pen and pointed to her, informing him, "Rain stop."
"Oh, well," he paused and smiled politely. Pointing to his name tag, he said, "I'm Mike. If you decide you wanna look for something, just let me know. I just got done cataloging a few boxes of non-fiction that came in the other day. So, if you're interested, I can help you out with that."
"Eh." Santana crinkled her nose and shook her head. "I prefer to watch non-fiction, you know? I mean," her eyes wandered over the titles on display in the nearest bookcase and she said, "everything noteworthy that actually happened has been made into documentaries. So why waste my time, right?"
"Well, we have some great fiction, too," he offered, ignoring the annoyed sigh coming from behind the counter. "And don't mind Quinn. She's just a bibliophile. I'm pretty sure she's read every book in this place by now. And she thinks every book is the best book. "
"Untrue," Quinn said as she rolled her eyes – not that anyone would know. Dante was still shielding her from their unexpected guest.
"Name one book you don't like," he challenged her.
"I can name five - four of which have to do with a certain vampire who, if you look at the mainstays of vampire lore, isn't really even a vampire and one that's basically a how-to book for creating and maintaining a barely consensual, sexual co-dependency."
"Twilight and 50 Shades don't count," Mike argued. "I'm talking about real literature."
Quinn dropped her book in her lap and frowned at Mike. "You said books."
"I meant literature."
"But you said books."
"But I meant - "
Santana crossed her arms and watched in amusement as the two bickered back and forth. "So, I'm just going to ... " she pointed over her shoulder and, when it was obvious that Mike and Quinn were too busy arguing to continue talking to her, she slipped away to explore the book cases. She chuckled under her breath before whispering, "Superior customer service. A plus."
Following the autobiographies to the biographies, she quickly passed the history section. She turned the corner and wrinkled her nose in distaste at the philosophy section as she strode past.
She wasn't sure at what point the poetry collection became the children's literature section; but, before she knew it, she was staring at spines of books with titles like A Wrinkle in Time, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Ender's Game. Santana ran her fingers along the shelf, mentally checking off books she read when she was little.
Halfway down the aisle, she stopped, her breath catching in her throat and she blinked at one of the titles. She gently touched the book's spine before tenderly pulling it from its spot on the shelf.
Carefully lifting the book's worn cover, Santana peeked at the first page. It was blank except for the price, printed in fine pencil at the top right corner. She blew out a harsh breath. Three hundred bucks - for a book? Maybe it was supposed to be thirty ...
She cradled her find in the crook of her arm, one hand clutching it tightly, and brought it to the counter where Mike was putting a new roll of paper in the cash register.
"Is the price on this book right?" she asked curiously.
Quinn bit her lip and held out her hand. "Let me check."
She couldn't help but smile softly at the care Santana took in setting the book onto her waiting hand. There was a reverence in the way she handled the item - a gentleness that was quite endearing. Quinn clicked her tongue upon opening the book and, after pursing her lips, she said, "First edition, Robert Louis Stevenson? It's definitely the right price."
Santana sighed in disappointment, her eyes on the book in Quinn's hands. "Of course it is. I have immaculate taste. Why wouldn't I pick up a first edition?"
Quinn watched the girl stare longingly at the book. To say she was charmed by Santana's interest in it would be an understatement. She was moved - how could she not be at the sight of someone so clearly in love.
The cash drawer slamming into the place and the clicking of the paper winding its way through the machine snapped both girls out of their reverie. Quinn actually jumped where she sat on the counter stool and Santana let her eyes drift away from the treasured book.
"I guess I'll just have to make do with the one I've got, huh?" She gave Quinn a sheepish smile. "Mine's not as pretty or, y'know, as old, but ..."
"... but it's yours." Quinn said. "And it must be really important to you if you're even considered buying another, older version."
"Oh, no. I'm not considering it," Santana informed her as her lips twisted into a pained smile. "If I didn't want to eat for the next month, I might consider it, but ..." she inhaled deeply and pressed her lips together. "It's just - do you remember what books your parents read to you when you were little?" she asked curiously.
Quinn licked her lips, her eyes narrowing and rolling to the side as she thought. "Actually, no. I remember getting in trouble for staying up too late reading but I don't remember any specific instances of my parents reading to me." She held up her hand and quickly stated, "I know it happened. I just don't remember."
"My brother used to give me his old comic books. I think that was the extent of shared reading in my house," Mike added simply before gathering up a stack of papers and heading to the back room.
Santana looked lovingly at the book and explained, "My mom didn't tuck me in without a trip into that garden. We started with At the Sea-side every night, like a ritual. Some nights I'd be able to stay awake long enough to hear The Land of Counterpane, but most nights I was out after My Shadow."
She chuckled under her breath. "She thought I was a genius for all of about two seconds when I was three."
Quinn leaned her elbow on the counter and rested her chin in her palm. "Why's that?"
"She came to tuck me in and I was sitting in bed and," Santana paused and pointed to the book. "May I?"
Quinn gave her a small nod and Santana carefully turned the pages until she found the poem she was looking for. With a quick smirk, she said, "Imagine a three year old sitting in bed with a teddy bear under one arm and a book in her lap and doing this ..." Santana plopped her finger on the page and recited, "When I was down beside the sea, a wooden spade they gave to me to dig the sandy shore ..."
She paused for a beat, and then she chuckled softly and shook her head. "She didn't realize I wasn't reading until I closed my eyes," she looked up at Quinn and offered her a tiny shrug as she said, "and finished the poem."
Quinn laughed gently. "It sounds like there's a lot of history between you and this book."
"Yeah. But not three hundred dollars' worth of history," Santana said, closing the book and nodding firmly. "Maybe when I'm rich and famous. But I'm not right now so ... "
"Well, you're welcome to visit it any time you'd like," the other girl offered. "You don't even have to be rich and famous or anything."
Santana shook her head. "Nah," she said. "What's the use in dwelling on something that's not meant to be?"
Quinn was certain she wouldn't see Santana again. She'd all but said she wouldn't be back.
Part of her mourned the missed opportunity of befriending the girl. But, she'd be remiss if she didn't admit that there was also a part of her that was relieved to know that, just as quickly as Santana re-entered her life, she'd exited it.
She didn't need her hanging around, a constant reminder of the life she'd left behind. Unlike most of her classmates, there was no fanfare at the announcement of her acceptance into Barnard College. She didn't even rank a note in the school newspaper - even Rachel Berry got a write-up about her future-Broadway career after her New York Academy of Dramatic Arts letter arrived. And Rachel Berry was no more than half a rung higher than Quinn on the McKinley High School social ladder.
Certainly Columbia University ranked higher than a performance school. It was definitely on par with New York University, the school that snagged Santana Lopez. She and her other cheer friends had full articles written about them, complete with side-box bios and photos.
In the end, Quinn decided that it would be to her benefit if Santana didn't find her way back to the book store. She'd come too far and fought too many demons to let a mostly-forgotten fantasy come back to haunt her.
Had Quinn ever considered herself lucky, she would have re-evaluated that notion when, only a few days after her first visit, Santana returned. From her spot at the counter, Quinn pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes as she watched the other girl head for the too-expensive edition of A Child's Garden of Verses.
Though her first instinct was to give the girl a warm welcome, the kind she would normally give one of the regulars, she ultimately decided against it. She was already fighting the after-effects of their last meeting – the first, as far as Santana was concerned.
The other girl was charming and funny. There was a depth that Quinn had hoped, even as a teenager, was there. And knowing all of this did Quinn no favors. She hadn't strengthened her fortifications enough to chance letting Santana chip away at the wall she'd worked so hard to build around herself.
Professional. Detached. Quinn had her (very safe) course of action.
"It's not part of the sale," Quinn notified her only semi-helpfully.
"I didn't think it would be," Santana replied, flashing the other girl a brilliant smile. "Do you think it'd be cool if I took a picture of it?" She held up her cell phone and tilted it back and forth in the air.
Quinn simply stated, "If you post it, you have to credit to the book store."
Pulling the book from its resting place, Santana brought it to the counter and laid it flat. "It's not going online or anything," she said off-handedly as she set up the shot. After a moment or two of re-placing the book and of changing the angle at which she held the phone, she asked, "Can you hold it up or something? There's a weird glare from the lights."
A sigh was Quinn's only response.
"Please?" Santana looked up through her lashes and, though she tried not to let it sway her, Quinn couldn't help but pick up the book and let it lean back against her hands.
"You always get what you want, don't you?" Quinn asked. She was aiming for annoyed but she couldn't keep the fact that she was somewhat charmed out of her voice. She pressed her lips together when her words came out soft, completely lacking bite.
"Yeah, kinda." Santana smirked playfully and snapped a couple of pictures.
The other girl hummed lowly under her breath. "Hmmm … former cheerleader type."
"And what are you?" Santana asked curiously, her brow pushing up. "Former fat girl type?" She chuckled under her breath, quite sure that Quinn wasn't, in fact, a former fat girl. Maybe a former loner or stoner or something, but definitely not a fat girl.
The other girl narrowed her eyes dangerously. "And if I was?"
"Kudos to you for getting hot," Santana offered nonchalantly as she typed a quick text message. "Oh, wait," she looked up and winced, "are you one of those super-feministy, girl-power, size-don't-matter kinda girls? If so, let me rephrase: kudos to you for being hot now and for possibly being hot when you were fat. Better?"
Quinn clenched her jaw and took a steadying breath. She really wasn't expecting Santana to say she was hot – to even notice her at all. She figured she was, as she always thought she'd be, the keeper of the book; a person with no distinguishing characteristics except that she had access to this meaningful tome.
Not knowing what to do with the unexpected compliment, she did the only thing she knew how to do: she hid in the safety of distance.
Keeping her voice neutral, Quinn asked, "Is there anything else I can help you with today?"
Santana inhaled through her teeth and winced. She was pretty sure this girl was pissed at her. If the flaring of nostrils and grinding of teeth was an indication, anyway. "Uh," she began, wrinkling her nose, "should I have started with 'no offense'? I stopped using it because most people didn't take it seriously when I said it."
"Maybe they would have if you didn't follow it up with something offensive," Quinn suggested. "If you need anything else, Mike can help you. I'm due for a break."
Quinn really hadn't expected to see Santana again after that visit - not two days later, not the day following that, not ever. When the girl showed up for the sixth time in just over a week, Quinn felt like she should give up being surprised and just accept the fact that Santana was part of the background of her life.
"Forty days to make a habit," she said drolly from her stool behind the counter as she rubbed at the ink stain on her middle finger.
Santana narrowed her eyes and tilted her head, her attention stolen from the bookcase she was automatically heading toward.
She never knew who would be sitting at the counter when she arrived. Quinn seemed to run in varying temperatures – warm, cool and downright cold. The other girl tended to be a bit more hospitable when Mike was around but when he left the room, it seemed he took a bit of Quinn's warmth with him.
"I'm sure they mean forty consecutive days," Quinn amended, momentarily pulling her attention from her marked finger and looking up at Santana. "So, there's probably no real danger."
"Oh, are you talking to me today?" Santana clasped her hands over her heart and widened her eyes, as though she couldn't be more excited. After a quick beat, she her face fell into a scowl and she let out an annoyed huff.
She really wasn't in the mood for this Quinn's attitude. After waiting for nearly an hour for her professor, he met with her only long enough to give her one of the most back-handed compliments she'd ever heard. Apparently her research paper was so good that he wanted her to work on a special project he was heading up with his aid.
In what world is more work the reward for good work?
She just wanted to take refuge in the store. She wanted to be somewhere familiar and be near something special. Santana was sure she'd found something special the day the rain sent her scurrying inside. It was the reason she kept coming back.
"I guess not." Quinn pursed her lips and then opened the book that had been resting in her lap.
Santana rolled her eyes, turned on her heel and started the familiar walk toward the youth books section. She'd been to the store enough times now to know that she was allowed to flip through the pages - to take as much time as she needed with the book. They didn't even care if she sat on the floor to do it.
Or maybe they did.
At the end of the aisle, not far from where the book normally sat on the shelf, was a large, well-worn chair. It looked like the one her grandfather used to have in his basement - his chair. Its over-sized cushions coaxed her closer with promises of taking her back to those times she would sit in Poppa's chair and sink down, surrounded by the smell of vanilla cigarillos and peppermints.
When Santana looked over her shoulder, Quinn was staring at her.
"Mike brought it out," the other girl quickly explained when she realized she'd be caught. She blinked a few times and then, clearing her throat, forced her eyes down to stare at the pages in her hand.
"Yeah?" A slow smile brightened Santana's features and she said, "Thank him for me. That's really nice."
Quinn nodded curtly and raised her book, Fahrenheit 451, high enough to cover her face. She could feel the heat rising in her cheeks and decided the best way to keep Santana from noticing the deepening pink would be to hide - to continue to hide - behind the pages.
Santana found it kind of cool that Mike thought enough of her to do something like that. But the little warning bell in the back of her mind was ringing madly.
She knew she had to be careful. He seemed like a nice enough guy but, nice or not, he wasn't her type. She didn't want him to think she was interested or, just as importantly, that she was open to interest from him. As far anyone was concerned, her visits had everything to do with the book she cradled in her arm and nothing at all to do with the people in the store.
She certainly didn't want Quinn to think she visited for her company. The more she thought about it, the more she decided that the other girl was litter more than icicles and, on the occasion Quinn decided to actually speak to her, a chilling breeze.
They had one real conversation the first time Santana visited. They talked about the book and its significance. They talked about family. It seemed as though they talked about everything and nothing at the same time - and Santana thought that she'd maybe found a friend.
Which is why she was surprised when she visited again and Quinn was distant and professional – as professional as any college student working in a used book store. One minute the other girl would be reserved and the next she'd act like an old friend. It was a strange dynamic that kept Santana on her toes – and coming back.
There was something about Quinn that charmed her and, though she'd cite the book as her reason, it was the hope of some sort of connection to the girl behind the counter that prompted her many returns to the store.
Santana fell gracefully into the comfy chair and sighed. "S'nice," she commented to herself, patting the chair's arms.
"Mike's idea," Quinn reminded her from the front of the store.
"What's Mike's idea?" the young man said as he walked backward out of the stock room, books stacked high in his arms.
His co-worker narrowed her eyes dangerously, her voice a low hiss as she said, "Putting the chair out for S - customers." She pressed her lips together, her brows rising, before she added, "Remember?"
Mike's face scrunched in confusion. "Your chair from the back, you mean?"
"No," Quinn said slowly. "My chair is up here. I'm on it."
Santana cleared her throat. "Whoever's chair it is," she looked directly at Mike, letting him know she knew it was his doing, "thank you."
All of his posturing to make it seem like Quinn had something to do with it wasn't going to work. Santana was sure she understood how the other girl felt about her – she merely tolerated her presence - there was no way she would spare even a passing thought about Santana, let alone consider her long enough to do something like that.
"Uh." Mike wasn't really sure what was going on. All he knew was that he had gotten back from lunch the day before to Quinn ordering him to pull her favorite chair out of the back room and directing him to put it near the end of the youth literature section. His request for a reason was denied.
"Don't you have something you want to show her?" Quinn prompted, nudging Mike with her elbow. "That thing?" When he just stared blankly back at her she rolled her eyes and said, "That you wanted to show her? The thing ..."
"Oh!" Mike's eyes - and smile - widened and he held up a finger. "Hang on, I'll be right back. You're gonna love this."
Santana's gaze flicked to Quinn. The girl had a soft look on her face but, as soon as she caught Santana looking, her expression hardened. It was growing more and more clear to Santana that the girl simply didn't like her.
The back room door opened and Mike charged out with a book cradled in his arm. "It's not cheap but it's cheaper than that one," he said. "And Quinn talked to McB about – "
"I did not," Quinn interrupted, shooting her friend an icy glare. "You," she emphasized, "talked to McB and he agreed to the better deal. Right?"
"Deal on what?" Santana asked, slowly rising from the chair and making her way toward the counter. She tried not to be hopeful but she couldn't keep herself from wanting Mike to be holding a sister copy of the book she was clutching.
"First American print," Mike announced. "Since it's the American first edition, it's cheaper by almost a third."
Quinn had already opened her book and was pretending to read when she mentioned, "List price is about a hundred. Mike got it down for you."
"I – " Mike shook his head, not really sure why Quinn was giving him the sale. It's not like they worked on commission or she owed him something.
Holding out the book, he told Santana, "He's gone to eighty - seventy-five if you really love it but feel the need to haggle. Qu-I may have mentioned something about your strange preoccupation with the desire to eat. McB's been there and, he's a good guy. He's not going to worry about five bucks if it means you can get a Big Mac and have your book."
"Seventy-five?" Santana asked incredulously. She bit her lip as she considered it.
Santana had been very careful since her arrival in New York. She steered clear of stores where she knew she'd have a hard time talking herself out of making purchases. No Barney's. No Tiffany's. As a rule of thumb, if the store name was also person's first name, Santana avoided it.
A couple of years of resisting even the best sales - okay, there was the one Jimmy Choo sale she couldn't pass up, but other than that - and Santana had a little nest egg, some cash for a rainy day. She couldn't afford the price attached to the rainy day that brought her into the shop; but, she rationalized, perhaps a rain check for that book's American cousin.
"It's amazing that you'd do that," Santana said. "Go to your boss for me. That's ..." She was caught between touched by the action on her behalf and nervous about the expected return. Mike seemed like a great guy and now she was even more worried about leading him on.
Mike had no idea what to say. He hadn't actually done anything and he couldn't steal Quinn's reasoning because his friend hadn't actually shared it with him. All he knew was that Quinn couldn't stop talking about the girl when she wasn't there and couldn't stop herself from practically ignoring her when she was.
"So, you'll take it then?' Quinn asked, standing from the stool to start ringing her up.
"How can I not? It's ... " Santana paused to run her fingers over the cover of the book before saying, "amazing."
It was a bittersweet moment for Quinn. The other girl was practically glowing with happiness (that she attributed to Mike) and, with her new purchase, Quinn was fairly certain that Santana's visits would stop. What point was there in popping in to visit a book when she had a fair replacement?
When Santana lifted the book from the counter and started to open it, Quinn's eyes grew round and she hurriedly said, "Why don't you wait until you get home? You know, give yourself time to really savor it?"
Santana let out a short, breathy chuckle and nodded. "Savor it," she repeated. "Totally."
She'd intended to savor the crap out of it after she'd texted a photo of the cover to her mom – just as she'd texted the cover of the British version. Most of the plan fell into place: get some coffee on the way home, open the window by the fire escape, curl up with the book, and …
… and that is where the plan fell apart.