Instead of opening to the table of contents and looking for At the Sea-side, she opened the book and a handwritten note fell into her lap.
You deserve to be told how you make each day better just by showing up. And I would tell you every day if I could only figure out how to make you hear me.
Santana read and re-read the note. She held it up and squinted at the paper, looking for signs of ownership. At one point she smelled it to see if it was scented, like in those movies where the only clue is the perfume on the note. As if the words weren't enough, the fact that it was written with what Santana suspected was a dipped fountain pen made the note all the more special, more personal.
She checked the book for clues about the book's previous owner. There were no names or inscriptions, no notes or stars (as her childhood copy had next to her favorite poems) – there was nothing linking the book to anything.
Except for McBride's.
Mike or Quinn had to know who brought the book in. They could tell her who it was and, even if they didn't give her the information, maybe they would facilitate getting the note back to its owner.
Not even a full day after her last visit, Santana found herself standing in the little store, leaning against the counter and arguing with Quinn.
"So, you're not going to tell me who sold it to the store?" Santana asked for the third time.
For the third time Quinn answered, "Confidential information. And!" She put her hand in the air to stop the other girl from asking yet again. "And if you think I'm going to tell you something confidential without good reason, then forget it. You said the book isn't missing pages. It's not defective in any way and, even if it was, you'd bring it to us, not to the previous owner."
"The book's great, I'm sure," Santana said. "I mean, okay, I haven't actually looked at it a whole lot but," she paused and shook her head, "it's not about the book. It's just that..."
"Well," Quinn scrambled for something else to say. She knew what this was about and, as if her life depended on it, she was grasping for anything to make the situation go away. "No returns."
Frustrated, Santana blew out a quick breath and, looking over her shoulder, asked, "Is Mike here?'
"He is, but he's not going to give you the information."
"Maybe when I tell him what it's about, he will," Santana said.
"... but you won't tell me," Quinn stated, her eyes narrowed and her lips pushing together. "I see."
Without any further discussion, she turned on her heel, walked to the back room door, opened it and shouted, "Mike! Customer!" She didn't look twice at Santana as she settled herself back on the stool, grabbed her favorite twirling pen and re-opened a copy of Ash that Mike just rated "Like New".
Mike popped his head out from behind the door and smile brightly. "Oh, hey!" he called out, making his way to the counter. "How's the new book settling in?"
"Great, great," Santana said quickly before asking, "Hey, do you know where it came from? Who had it before me?"
Mike shook his head, his mouth pulling into a tiny frown. "No, why? Something wrong with it?"
"No, it's just – " She glanced quickly at Quinn and then let out a sigh of defeat. There was no way around the other girl overhearing her. "I found a note inside and, I know it sounds like some romantic movie crap or something, but if it was my note, I'd want it back. It's not the kind of note someone just throws away."
Santana's gaze flicked toward the other girl only momentarily before she was looking to Mike for some kind of response. Had her stare lingered, she might have seen the pink rise in Quinn's cheeks or would have, perhaps, noticed the precarious teeter of her pen as she half-fumbled its twirl.
"I don't remember a note from when I catalogued it," Mike said. He gave her a sly smile and teasingly suggested, "Hey, maybe the note was for you."
Blowing out a long, uncomfortable breath, Santana shifted on her feet. This was exactly what she was afraid of.
"Yeah, no. That's not ..." she paused and steeled herself for the conversation. She'd taken advantage of the little niceties Mike had offered and now the situation had escalated in the most uncomfortable of ways. "Look, you seem like a nice guy and all, but-"
"Oh, whoa. Me?" Mike voice raised an octave as he pointed to himself.
Santana's raised her hands, palms up in the universal I don't know position. "I was pretending not to notice the nice stuff you've been doing for me because, y'know, you're really not my type. I was hoping you did the chair thing and talked to your boss about the book because you thought we were, like, friends or something. 'Cause if you're looking for more ..." She winced and shook her head softly.
"I'm not! I'm not looking for more," he answered firmly. "I have my hands full with the one girlfriend I already have. And, if she thought I was hitting on you, she'd string me up by my most tender dude-parts. So, no. That's not - I didn't do it."
Santana's eye narrowed and she slowly turned her head toward Quinn. The girl was sitting on the stool, her eyes trained on her book, though they seemed to be staring at one word rather than skimming the lines across the page. Instead of twirling her pen, she was tapping it against her thigh in a quick, nervous rhythm.
"You're too quiet," Santana commented suspiciously. Her eyes narrowed as red crept up the other girl's neck and into her ears.
Quinn waited a beat before she ultimately decided on reiterating in a shaky voice, "No returns."
Santana rolled her eyes and pointed to the large sign posted behind the other girl. "Then why do you have the return policy up there?"
The other girl didn't reply. Instead, she blinked a few times and tugged her bottom lip between her teeth.
"You know something."
Quinn blew out a breath and tried to sound more annoyed than nervous. "I know many things."
"About the note ..." Santana inhaled slowly and stepped in front of the girl. She reached forward, grabbed her book and forced it, along with Quinn's hand, to the counter top. "Spill."
"Why does it matter so much?" Quinn asked. "It's just a stupid note."
"It's not stupid." Santana frowned. She reached into her pocket, unfolded it and held it up for the other girl to see. "If anyone ever wrote you something like this, you'd be curious, too."
"Now you think it's for you? A second ago, it was for someone else."
"If it was for someone else, why was it in my book?" Santana asked. "And why wasn't it there when Mike did his – whatever - thing to it."
"Catalog," he supplied. He quickly closed his mouth when both girls glared at him.
"Suppose it is for you," Quinn closed her book and blinked down at the cover. "Can't you just take a compliment and move on?"
Mike cleared his throat. Santana seemed like a smart girl to him - smart enough to start figuring things out. If Quinn didn't make this conversation go away, then she would soon be having a different conversation – one he was sure she wasn't prepared for.
After Quinn gave the other girl the cold shoulder a few times, he'd decided to tempt his friend's quick temper and ask her what her problem was. Only nicer, of course. He'd sat her down with a vanilla scone (he needed some sort of offering lest the girl get her hackles up) and as kindly as possible, asked what her issue was with Santana.
"I don't have a problem with anyone," Quinn said. It sounded a little too practiced for Mike's liking.
"She's really nice," he tried. "And you've been kind of ..."
"Kind of what?"
"Mean, I guess?" Mike gave her one of his best don't be mad at me smiles.
Quinn sighed. "Look, I don't have a reason to be anything but indifferent. She's a customer who -" She shook her head and amended, "Actually, since she hasn't even bought anything, she's technically not even a customer. She's just a girl who comes in here to read the same book over and over again."
"Sounds like you, except you get paid for it," Mike teased.
Quinn pointed to the book on the counter. "I read a different one yesterday."
"Not really the point," he said. "You were super nice to her when she came in that first day and, ever since then, you've been kind of mean."
"Indifferent," Quinn corrected. "I don't do mean. I do indifferent."
Mike blinked a few times. "So, you know you're being …" he trailed off a second before asking, "On purpose?"
"Indifferent. Yes." She nodded and cleared her throat. "There's some history there and it's the kind that sucks. And what makes it suck even more is that she doesn't even know we have history. So," Quinn concluded, "it's easier – safer – to keep a distance."
"How can she not know you have a history if you have a history?" Mike asked, his bottom lip poking out in confusion. His eyes widened and he slapped his hand on the counter. "Is this a drunken hook-up story?"
"No," she said. "I don't have any of those. I just have unrequited and-slash-or unnoticed completely stories. This happens to be the latter and, really, I don't want to go into how I was completely invisible in high school. Pretty sure I've worked my way out of that and I'd prefer not to go back."
Mike eventually got the whole story out of his friend. It took a few scones and a promise to do the backlog data entry but it was worth it. Quinn had been a good friend to him and it meant a lot to him that she trusted him enough to share who she used to be. It meant that maybe she trusted his friendship, too.
"So, what is this then? Some kind of game or something?" Santana asked, her eyes narrowed as she stared at the note she held in front of the other girl. "Revenge, maybe?"
"Revenge?" Quinn scoffed. "For what?"
"I have no idea. I've actually been wondering what it is that I did to piss you off so badly. Or maybe I didn't have to do anything. Maybe it's the former cheerleader thing you don't like. Is that it?" Santana's lip curled up in distaste. "That's messed up."
Quinn's mouth fell open as she wordlessly shook her head.
"Don't you think I've had my fair share of love notes? I've had them shoved in my locker, put under my windshield wiper and even put in my backpack in the middle of class. So whatever romantic charade you thought I was going to fall for isn't going to work."
Santana crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm not going to get myself giddy over a secret admirer so you can forget about the big, heart-breaking reveal where the cheerleader finds out that no one actually cares about her and cries herself to sleep. It's not going to happen."
"That's not what I -" Quinn said, her eyes wide. "I wouldn't -"
Mike took a few steps toward the girls and, placing his hand on Santana's arm, said, "Hey, it's not like that. Quinn's not like that."
"You left this in the book for me to find." Santana crumbled up the note and tossed it onto the counter, her dark eyes trained on the other girl. She pulled Quinn's pen out of her hand, uncapped it and held it up.
It was Quinn's favorite pen, the one she was always tapping or twirling. She didn't care that it was also the messiest pen she'd ever held. There was something about dipping the tip into an inkwell and listening to it as it scratched across the paper.
"It was you," Santana said decisively as she smacked the pen down on the counter.
Quinn nodded silently, her slender fingers reaching out to undo the damage the other girl had done to the paper. She smoothed it out and tried folding it neatly, again. The creases made it difficult but it didn't stop her from trying.
She knew it was a bad idea when she wrote it. And she knew it was an even worse idea when she folded it into the first page of the book, but she just couldn't help herself. She'd let Santana walk away without even trying before and, even if this was only a lame attempt - it was better than not doing anything at all.
"I knew if you found out you'd be disappointed," Quinn whispered. "This is why I didn't give you notes in high school."
Without looking up, she explained. "I watched everyone else sneak their words under your nose but I could never bring myself to stop in front of your locker because I knew - just as I should have known now - that it wouldn't matter what I said. You didn't even know I existed." She looked up, her eyes soft and vulnerable. "I should have stayed invisible."
With a soft apology spilling from her lips, Quinn pushed off of her stool and disappeared to the back room.
The other girl stared in disbelief, her eyes remaining trained on the door even after it closed.
"So," Mike began, clearing his throat. He pointed to the sign on the door and offered with a nervous chuckle, "That's not a real policy or anything. I mean, it says employees only but ... " He trailed off and raised his brows. "You're here all the time. I mean, in my mind, you practically work here."
Santana didn't need further prompting. She made a beeline for the door and opened it much more harshly than she meant to, causing Quinn to jump where she was standing.
"What notes in high school?" Santana asked, the door closing with a soft creak behind her.
Quinn bit her lip and shook her head. "I'm already dying of embarrassment, Santana. I'm completely mortified. Do you really need to push it?"
"Yes." The other girl waited for more but Santana didn't offer an explanation. She gave her a simple answer and stared at Quinn, waiting.
"You were a cheerleader," Quinn explained. "And you're right - I was a fat girl. I wasn't even the fat girl. I was a fat girl that no one noticed. Lauren Zizes? She at least got slushied. But -"
"You knew Lauren?" Santana asked, surprised.
How did Santana not know that this girl went to school with her? There's no way she wouldn't have noticed a girl like Quinn. She was pretty – even under the dark eyeliner, donning hipster threads and with her pink hair. Santana was actually pretty partial to the hair. She thought it made the girl look badass.
"No - not - she had her friends and I - " The other girl blew out a frustrated breath. "I didn't - it doesn't matter. No, I didn't know her. Or anyone else. I told you, I was invisible."
Santana squinted at Quinn and tilted her head, studying the other girl's face for a long moment.
"You can stop trying to place me. It's impossible," Quinn said. "I'm pretty sure I only managed to speak to you one time. And any other time you would have heard me, I wouldn't have even been speaking in English." She blew out a breath and haltingly said, "Espanol."
"Oh shit!" Santana shouted when her brain made the connection and Quinn jumped again. "You sat in front of me in that dumbass Spanish teacher's class. God what was his name? Sherman? Shubert?"
"Schuester," Quinn supplied.
"Yes!" Santana shook her head as she remembered her teacher. "Man, he sucked!"
She paused, not sure how to ask Quinn what she wanted to ask her. Mostly, she was afraid of the answer. Santana had been, for the most part, a good kid - even though some of her friends ran on the mean end of the temperament spectrum. That didn't mean she didn't have her moments. There were times when, she was ashamed to admit, she let her popularity get the best of her.
"I didn't ..." Santana stalled and blew out a breath. "I wasn't, like, mean to you or anything, was I?" Before Quinn could answer, she said, "Because I feel like I'd remember that. I remember you were really smart - your Spanish accent needed, still needs, some major work but you were better than Shubert."
"Schuester." Quinn wasn't sure how she managed to correct the other girl, again. She was still processing that Santana knew who she was.
"Right, him." Santana bit her lip and raised her brows. "But, I didn't, like, do anything to you, did I?"
"No." Quinn shook her head softly. "You and your friends didn't even notice me."
"Yes, I did. Well, the back of your head," Santana offered. The corners of her lips twitched. "And your horrible accent."
Santana watched the other girl nervously rock back on her heels, pale green eyes looking everywhere but at her. "Hey, can I ask you something?"
"What made you do this?" Santana asked, taking a step forward and tugging at the pink end of the girl's hair. "Hot pink is the kind of thing girls who want to be noticed do. It's not really the blend-in girl's go-to color." She held up her finger before Quinn could answer and, with a wink, said, "Unless you were never really meant to blend in?"
"Meant to or not, I just decided that being invisible wasn't okay, anymore – that I'd take whatever anyone threw at me." Quinn shifted her feet where she stood. "It wasn't worth not having to deal with what other people thought of me because they didn't – think of me, I mean."
She looked up through her lashes and explained. "I'd done enough worrying about being teased or slushied and I just didn't want to be a ghost anymore. Even then there were times," she admitted, "when I would have taken a slushie just to prove that I was important enough to dislike."
"Here's what I don't get. You're assuming that the only outcome of someone noticing you would be a bad one. What if someone noticed you and liked you?" Santana asked. As far as she could tell, there was a lot more to like about Quinn – now that she was actually talking to her – than there was to dislike about her.
Quinn looked away, her fingers pulling at the note in her hand. "If I'd written you a note then …" She shook her head, rephrasing her question. "If I gave you one of the notes then, would you have taken it seriously? Would you have had any idea who Quinn Fabray was or would it just be a note from some fat girl?"
"I gotta be honest with you. I don't think I have any idea who Quinn Fabray is right now," the other girl admitted. "No offense, but you come across kinda bipolar. One minute you're big with the 'come visit' stuff and then next it's like – nothing. Like you can't even be bothered with me."
"I was about three seconds from giving up on you." Santana inhaled deeply before pulling the note out of Quinn's hand. She held up the folded paper. "And this is mine," she said before sliding it into her back pocket.
"Giving up on me?" Quinn's brows furrowed. She pressed her lips together before they curved into a frown and she belatedly added, "And I'm not bipolar."
"Hey, I said 'no offense' first," Santana tilted her head and gave the other girl a teasing smile, "Give me credit for that, will ya? I'm actually trying to have a conversation with you right now. And, you have to admit, it's kind of cool of me not to be dub-tee-eff'in you right now."
At Quinn's blank stare, the other girl began to clarify. "You know, dub'ya, tee, eff … nevermind. Point is, I don't want to turn around and leave. I don't want to go home and re-read the note for the thousandth time and wonder why I have it – or why I don't have others to go with it."
Quinn shifted her eyes away from Santana's curious gaze and said, "There was no point in giving you the other notes back then."
"But there's one now?"
When Quinn didn't respond, Santana said, "No one sends an anonymous note without hoping they'll be found out. If you truly didn't want me to know, then you wouldn't have put it in the book. It would have ended up wherever the others did. So, what's different now? And don't tell me it's because you're hot now. That's selling me – and you - about a thousand layers short."
"I don't know," the other girl admitted. "Maybe you're more approachable now. Maybe it was a momentary lapse in judgment or a temporary rush of courage. I just – I don't know what's different. But I do know that as much as I wanted you to go away so that I wouldn't have think about you anymore," Quinn sighed, "I wanted to do something to make you stay – to make you come back and not just for some book."
"Excuse me, but that's not just some book. It's part of my childhood," Santana began. A part of her was thrilled to be able to use the speech she'd come up with in the event that Quinn questioned the frequency of her visits. "It's memories of my mom, and of her voice being the last thing I heard before I fell asleep and …"
She couldn't do it. She couldn't recite the monologue as she'd practiced.
"… and it's absolutely not why I kept coming back," she said, a hint of shyness creeping into her usually confident voice. "I came back because I thought we'd hit it off." Her eyes flashed and she added, "But then you went and turned on the cold front."
Quinn opened her mouth to say something but the words wouldn't come out. In all of the scenarios she'd imagined – even back in high school – this wasn't one of them. Santana laughing at her? Yes. Santana looking through her? Quite possibly. Santana letting her down easy? Maybe.
But Santana actually expressing an interest in her?
"And, furthermore," Santana continued as though the leading into something very important, "this is the worst break room in the history of break rooms. Where the hell do you even sit in here?" Maybe if Mike hadn't movedthe chair. Oh, wait." She smirked, one brow perking up as she stared at the other girl. "He didn't do that, did he?"
"Yes, he did," Quinn said.
"Just like he talked to your boss?" The other girl's smirk wasn't going away.
Quinn shook her head and looked down at her fingers as she nervously rubbed the ink stain. "No, that was me. But the chair," she said, looking up through her lashes, "that was Mike. He helped me move, so I knew he could maneuver it through the door."
"Why? If you wanted me gone, then why'd you ask him to do something that would make it more comfortable for me to be here?" Santana crossed her arms, her eyes softly searching Quinn's.
"Because I didn't really want you gone, Santana."
The other girl smiled gently at hearing Quinn say her name. She was pretty sure it was the first time the other girl said it.
"What did you want, then?" Santana asked, knowing she was tempting fate. At any moment, Quinn could close up, call in a cold front – freeze her out completely. She knew she was walking a fine line with the girl but she couldn't help herself. All of those visits to the shop and she was finally - finally -starting to feel like she was making progress.
Quinn's cheeks warmed and she mirrored Santana's position. With her arms crossed, she hugged herself and shrugged.
"If you wanted to be noticed," Santana said gently, "I'm noticing you." She dropped her hands to her sides and took another small, slow step forward. Resting her hand on Quinn's arm, she added, "I noticed you from day one. And not just because the hair," she teased with a smirk.
"So, what happens after I read the note and I don't ignore it?"
"I don't know. I hadn't thought that far ahead." Quinn chewed her bottom lip thoughtfully and squinted at the other girl. "Maybe we could get to know each other? I know I haven't made it easy so far but I'd like to try."
Santana squeezed the other girl's arm, pulling it free from where it folded into the other. She held Quinn's hand and sincerely said, "I'd like that. But," she paused and raised her brows, "you're not allowed to ignore me or do that cold shoulder thing anymore. I find it hard to get to know people who are glaring icicles at me."
"I think I can manage that," Quinn replied before haltingly asking, "Over coffee, maybe?"
"I never say 'no' to coffee." The other girl nodded firmly and confidently stated, "It's a date. What time are you off wo -" She stopped mid-word, noticing a strange look pass over Quinn's face.
"What was that?" Santana asked, pointing to Quinn's face and waving her finger in front of her. "I don't know your faces yet, so I don't know the difference between 'that sounds awesome, I'm so excited,' ' this isn't what I signed up for, get me out of here,' and 'I shouldn't have eaten that leftover fish.' Was 'date' the wrong word?"
Quinn couldn't help but grin - Santana wanted to learn her faces.
"No, it can definitely be a date," she finally said. "I'd like that. I didn't want to assume - "
"You didn't want to assume that, because I get my ass over to this store nearly every day for two weeks, I might want to go out with you?" Santana teased. "No, I can see how that could be misleading."
"Your guise of visiting the book was very convincing."
"That was the plan," Santana said, her lips quirking into a crooked smile. "What if I take you out? If by the end of the night, you're not convinced my interest wasn't solely in the book, then - well, I won't go away. I'll just try harder. I mean, you practically ignored me and I still kept coming back."
And she did. Time after time, Santana came back.
The bell above the door jingled happily when Santana arrived the afternoon following their first date. She brought the gift of freshly squeezed strawberry lemonade and delivered it with a simple, "just because."
It wasn't entirely true, of course. Santana rarely just did things without reason. She thought and planned and thought some more. Even if it seemed like she drifted through her life, making arbitrary choices, there was a method to her madness. And this was what she's thought of as reinforcement.
A personally delivered beverage and unscheduled visit meant that she didn't disappear. And that she'd been thinking about Quinn. Both were messages she wanted to make clear to the other girl.
Proof that she'd done something right came in the form of a brilliant smile and Quinn's cheeks coloring almost the same shade as the tips of her hair. And if she needed further proof – which she didn't – then Quinn tugging on her hand when it was time for her to leave would have been it.
With a shy smile, the other girl tangled their fingers together and gifted her a soft kiss, so soft that Santana was afraid to move and accidentally end it.
About a week later, Quinn opened the store. They'd talked on the phone until it was no longer correct to call it 'the night before'. It had gotten to be a habit for them. They'd spend some time together, maybe grab a meal and then go their separate ways just long enough to get to their apartments and embark on a long phone conversation together.
Quinn had begun to let her walls down during those late night discussions. The girl was intriguing and Santana couldn't get enough of the thoughtful, shy girl under the confident and aloof façade. Even though she'd only gotten a few hours of sleep, it didn't keep her from showing up that morning with two hot coffees in hand.
So what if she took a little cat-nap in Quinn's comfy chair?
Her chair now.
Santana was sitting in her chair a few weeks later when Quinn came bustling through the back room door with a stack of envelopes and a half-eaten sandwich.
"Hey," she called out and chuckled when the other girl jumped and quickly turned, her hand pressing the envelopes to her chest.
Quinn swallowed hard. "Hi," she said softly. She looked from Santana to the door and then back again. "How long have you been here?"
"Not long." Santana pushed herself out of the chair and walked up the aisle toward the counter. "I told Mike not to bother you if you were busy. Got a second?"
Quinn caught her bottom lip between her teeth and squinted, unsure of how to proceed. It was silly, but the fact that Santana was in the store and hadn't brought something - coffee, croissants, lemonade - made her nervous. The other girl always showed up with some edible token of her affection. While Quinn didn't need them, she'd almost come to rely on their consistency and what they represented.
And there Santana was - empty-handed.
"If it's about what I said last night –"
Santana tilted her head and locked her eyes on Quinn's. "You hung up before I could say anything. And, you know, normally it's after I say something that people hang up on me."
Less than twelve hours earlier, Santana had just finished a late night/early morning reading of The Land of Nod. Usually, Quinn hummed softly and asked Santana to read another.
Instead of her typical quiet request, the other girl sleepily said, "I love you."
"What?" Santana was sure she'd heard wrong. Maybe Quinn loved ... juice? Jews? Ewes?
Quinn was quiet for a long time and, had she not heard steady breathing on the other end of the line, Santana might have thought the girl hung up.
"I meant, uh ..." Quinn tried to come up with something but also she could hear was her own voice echoing in her head, accompanied by the harsh bass of her heart beating in her ears. "That came out wrong," she eventually said.
"Oh." Santana frowned and set her book on the nightstand.
The other girl rolled her eyes before closing them tightly and pulled the covers over her head. Even in the darkness of her room, she couldn't resist the need to hide.
"I should go now," Quinn murmured. "I open tomorrow and - I should - I'm gonna go now."
"Wait, Q," Santana tried to interrupt.
Quinn didn't give her the chance. She hurriedly said, "I didn't mean - just forget I said it, okay?" Without waiting for a reply, she said, "Okay. Goodnight, Santana."
The soft background hum that accompanied their call stopped abruptly. Santana pulled her phone from her ear and frowned at the screen. A notification box alerted her that the call had been disconnected.
"I have a problem with people hanging up on me," Santana informed Quinn. "Either you don't care what I have to say -"
"No, I do," Quinn interrupted, setting the envelopes and her half-eaten lunch on the counter.
"Nuh uh, Pinky Lee," Santana said as she closed the distance, her eyes not leaving Quinn's. "My turn."
Quinn's mouth snapped closed. She pursed her lips and nodded slowly, letting Santana know that she understood. The other girl could barely stand the look of defeat she saw on Quinn's face.
"What you did last night wasn't fair." Santana crossed her arms over her chest. "Now, maybe you were in some kind of sleepy-haze or you were just entranced by my voice - I can't blame you for that - but you said something and, before I could even respond, you took it back. And what's worse, you took it back without an explanation. And that kinda sucked."
Pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, Quinn looked down at her hands, unsure if Santana was asking her to explain or just stating a fact.
"So," Santana began," what did you mean?"
When Quinn looked up at her with startled eyes, she clarified, "You said it came out wrong. So, make it come out right, now."
"I - "
"- because, alright," Santana continued, not giving Quinn the opportunity to explain, "I wasn't expecting it, I'll admit that. But then you took it back and I was like - oh." She furrowed her brow and frowned.
Santana blew out a breath. "Thing is, I kind of try harder with you than I ever have with anyone else - than I've had to with anyone else. And maybe that doesn't matter to you, but it kinda means something to me. Like, those ridiculous flashing neon lights they have on those signs down on Broadway."
Quinn peeked up at Santana through her lashes. "You try harder?"
"To make you feel special," Santana said, halfway shrugging it off. "Yeah."
But then she considered that, if they were really at this place - this point where major words might be said to convey major feelings - then, maybe she didn't have to shrug it off. She didn't have to fall back and wait Quinn out because, really, she'd crack long before Quinn. The girl was a fortress.
Santana took a deep breath and said, "To let you know that I know – and appreciate - how special you are." She was brave and all of that, but she wasn't about to go all in alone. With a teasing smile, she added, "Do you think I bring everyone I meet coffee? C'mon, look at me." Santana stepped back and opened her arms, giving Quinn a nod to give her a little once-over. "I'm obviously the buyer – not the buyee."
"Buyee?" Quinn's wrinkled her nose and she smiled softly at the other girl. "I think you made that up."
"Okay, whatever, maybe that's not a real word," Santana said with a little smirk."But you're smiling, aren't you? And you totally get what I'm saying."
Quinn pressed her lips together, her cheeks coloring.
"We're together, Q," Santana said gently. "When I talk to my friends or like, my mom, I call you my girlfriend. I say nice things about you - and not just your eyes or your lips. Okay, a little about those because, c'mon. Right?" She smiled saucily. "I'm not about to not brag a little about my girl."
"Q ..." Santana took a few steps forward and uncurled her arms to take Quinn's hands. "I'm just saying that if you're not feelin' it yet, that's okay."
She raised her brows and, over the counter, tangled her fingers with Quinn's. "But if you are, then that's okay, too. Just let me know what you're thinking because I don't want to be the only one standing on this side of it forever."
"On this side of it," Quinn repeated, inhaling quickly and trying to calm the pounding in her chest.
"Yeah." Santana pointed to the floor with her free hand. With a little grin and a head tilt, she added, "This side. Where I am."
Quinn let go of Santana's hand and stepped around the counter to stand in front of the other girl. She worried her lip for a moment, her eyes locked on Santana's, and then she softly asked, "You're going to make me say it again, aren't you?"
"I'm not gonna make you do anything," Santana answered simply. "I'm just standing here," she took Quinn's hands in hers again, "holding your hands. See? No big."
"Nope," Santana interrupted. "I'm just here, holding your hands and, okay, yeah. If you wanted to say something, like if something's on your mind, I'll listen. It's what a good girlfriend would do, right?"
Quinn glanced down at their joined hands and shyly admitted, "When I saw you sitting there," she chanced a look up through her lashes, "I thought you came to call it – us – off."
"Why in the world would –" Santana trailed off with a huff and shook her head. She hoped that, by the end of their talk, Quinn would be over this low expectation phase and would let herself believe that Santana was already in this for the long haul.
"It's just – " Quinn blew out a breath that pushed her bangs away from her eyes. "I guess you've spoiled me and," she bit her lip nervously before letting out a soft chuckle. "It's really stupid and - if it sounds this stupid in my head, I can't even imagine how ridiculous it will sound out loud."
Santana shrugged. "It might sound stupid but," she raised her brows, "that doesn't mean you can't say it. I'll only tease you about it for a few years, I promise."
Years? Quinn's ears burned and she wrinkled her nose, again. Years sounded pretty good.
"Usually, when things are good," she began, "you bring something. Like coffee or something we can share, y'know? And today…" Quinn couldn't finish her sentence because, really, it sounded worse than stupid – it sounded needy and childish.
Santana smirked and stepped close enough to wrap her arms around the other girl. "So, because I didn't bring you something," she started, obviously amused, "you thought I was breaking up with you. Is that it?"
Quinn looked down in embarrassment, her hair falling over her eyes. "Stupid; I told you," she mumbled with her chin practically shoved against her chest.
"Just because I didn't bring you one of those scones that, seriously, the sounds you make when you eat them?" Santana chuckled and brushed Quinn's hair behind her ear. She dipped her head as she tried to force Quinn to meet her gaze. "Or maybe this time I wanted to give you something different."
Quinn's brows furrowed and she leaned back enough to search Santana's eyes.
"Do you need more than what you're holding onto?" Santana asked. "Because it's kind of all I have to offer – and that's as much as you're getting right now. Don't you dare think I'm about to say that first. You started it and you get to start it again."
The other girl shook her head quickly. "No, it's," Quinn bit her lip and forced herself not to break eye contact, "it's perfect. I love it." She inhaled sharply and, with a tiny smile she tightened her arms around Santana and corrected herself, "You, I mean. I love you."
"Good." Santana dropped a quick kiss against Quinn's lips. "Now tell Mike you're going on break. I'm taking you out for a real lunch."
"I thought you were only offering what I was holding onto," Quinn reminded her, trying calm the butterflies in her stomach while also trying not to think too much about Santana's quick acceptance (but not the return) of her words.
Santana shrugged. "Girl's gotta eat, don't she?"
She kissed the tip of Quinn's nose before letting go of the other girl and stalking to the back room door. In a quick, fluid movement, the door was open and she shouted, "You got a problem with me taking the girl I love to lunch?" Without waiting for an answer, she said, "No? Awesome! See you later."
Not even half a minute later, Mike stepped out of the back room and poked his head out of the front door. The ting-a-ling of the shop bell punctuated a kiss Quinn left on Santana's cheek before she wound their arms together and they disappeared around the corner.
As Love and Hope together
Walk by me for a while,
Link-armed the ways they travel
For many a pleasant mile*
(Love's Viscissitudes, Robert Louis Stevenson)