Chapter Fourteen: Learning to Forgive
Rachel had fallen asleep in her chair, passed out from exhaustion and dehydration, before we'd ever even gotten off of the elevator in our building. It had been a hard day with the interview, probably the second-hardest day of her life with the actual attack being the first; so I didn't blame her for checking out on us. She deserved the rest. She needed it, and honestly, so did I, but I wanted to talk to Hiram and find out what he'd learned about Rachel's case from the detective and how close they were to actually finding the bastard that did this to her.
I wheeled Rachel into our loft as her dads followed quietly behind me. I quickly made up her bed before settling her into it, kissing her forehead, and quietly slipping back out again. I decided to brew some coffee, because hell, we could all use some, and I was used to practically living off the stuff anyway. When I handed Hiram a cup, I noticed how ghostly pale he looked and how uncomfortable Leroy looked beside him as they sat on the couch. I couldn't help but feel a bit jealous of Leroy as he was the only one of us who didn't really know any of the details of what had happened to Rachel that night. He hadn't had to be present for her horrific account of the attack, and well…it had seriously fucking sucked, so I was simultaneously glad that he hadn't had to sit through it and jealous that he didn't have to have those images and those words spinning through his head right then like Hiram and I did.
I placed a gentle hand on Hiram's shoulder to try and comfort the man, because I didn't really know what else to do. I didn't know what to say or how to even go about any of this. It wasn't like I could fix anything or truly make them feel better about what had happened to their daughter, because to even think as much wouldn't be realistic in the slightest. No, they would be grieving over Rachel's attack for quite some time to come. I knew that much, because I would be, too. He patted my hand affectionately, so I guessed I'd maybe done something right, which made me feel better about my awkwardness in that moment.
I sat across from the Berry men and just stared into my coffee for a long time. We were all silent and still and it felt like the room was fucking alive with the quiet. I hated it. It ate at my flesh; so, when I finally couldn't take it anymore, I just started talking, hoping that they would talk as well, because I couldn't handle the silence. It was just too much for me in that moment. It allowed me too much space to get trapped inside my head, lost in the memories of everything that had happened that night and in the words that I'd only just listened to Rachel say out loud. I couldn't go there. I wasn't ready for that. I didn't know if I'd ever be ready to think about it, to deal with it. I just didn't know.
"Um, Mr. Berry," I started but they both quickly gave me stern looks, so I just smiled and corrected myself. "Sorry, um, Hiram? I know you probably don't want to talk about it, but I really need to know what that detective told you about Rachel's case. I mean, do they have any leads or anything?"
Hiram wiped a shaky hand over his face while his other hand gripped his coffee cup like he was trying to break it. He sighed heavily and said, "Not yet. They ran the DNA they collected through the system, but there were no hits which just means that he doesn't have a prior criminal record. They're optimistic, though, that he will slip up and try to use one of Rachel's bank cards or credit cards soon. We put a freeze on her accounts, and the detectives are tracking her cards, so if he attempts to use an ATM with her card or swipe a credit card, it should instantly alert them. She may have had a healthy amount of cash on her, so it may be a bit before he tries, but they believe it's only a matter of time before he does considering that the attack was messy and he wasn't careful enough not to leave behind DNA and evidence. That's about the best we can hope for right now, though."
"Oh…" I said quietly, just nodding my head while I absorbed the information. I couldn't help the anxiety stirring in my gut, because what if they didn't catch the guy? He could do this to other people. Nausea rolled through me and I had to swallow thickly to choke down the bile rising in my throat. "And if they do catch him, will we have to go to trial?" I asked him, remembering that the detective had asked me in the hospital that night if I'd be willing to testify, which of course I was.
"It isn't likely," Hiram told me, which I was surprised by but ultimately relieved. "DNA evidence is often irrefutable, and considering how messy the attack was, any lawyer that he could obtain would be a fool to suggest he plead anything other than guilty. The only way I could see it going to trial would be if the man pleaded insanity, but as I said, it is unlikely. It is much more likely that he will plead guilty to the attack and be sentenced directly by a judge. At least, that is what I'm hoping for. I don't want Rachel to have to sit through a trial and face her attacker. I don't want you to have to sit through one either for that matter."
I just nodded again as we fell into silence once more, all of us just sipping at our coffee and staring at random points in the loft—the floor, the door, the ceiling…anything. And then the silence was broken. "Santana…" Leroy said softly, and my head instantly shot up. We locked gazes as I asked, "Yes sir?"
"I'm so sorry for what you've had to go through with all of this," he said quietly which really surprised me, because well…Rachel was the one who had been attacked. I didn't feel like I deserved any kind of comfort when Rachel needed it most, but it definitely wasn't unwelcome. It felt good to have someone caring about me and for me. It was nice. "We both are," he continued, placing one of his hands on top of his husband's. "I know that Rachel has a rough road ahead of her, but you do as well. We're both very grateful that Rachel has you to help her through this in a way that we can't. We're grateful that you have each other."
"I love her," I blurted out before I could stop myself, and my hand instantly shot up and smacked into my forehead loudly. "Shit, um, I meant…I mean…shit," I mumbled out quickly and I could feel my cheeks burning bright red as I took in both their looks of shock before they both schooled their features, and Hiram was even smiling softly at me.
"Uh…I didn't meant to just blurt that out, sorry," I said, still feeling like a world-class dumbass and unable to stop the blush that was surely devouring my entire face in that moment. "I just meant that Rachel is important to me. I—I know that I haven't always been there for her, and I was really…t-terrible to her in high school, and I don't have any excuses, but it's not like that with us anymore. She's important to me. I…I…fuck, I love her. I don't know how else to say it. Sorry."
Leroy was smiling now, too, and it made my insides squirm, because why the hell were they looking at me like that? They both were just staring at me like they knew some kind of secret that I didn't have a clue about. "Um, could you guys like say something, please?" I asked them when I couldn't stand it any longer, and they both chuckled softly at that.
"Relax, Santana," Hiram said, still smiling at me. "I know it may not be my business, but I am going to ask anyway. You are a lesbian, correct? I believe that Rachel may have mentioned something about that."
"Uhhh….y-yeah. I mean, yes sir," I answered him, now feeling terribly nervous, though I wasn't entirely sure why. It just kind of felt like I was suddenly under a microscope while the Berry men poked and prodded me, voicing the occasional 'hmm' and 'interesting'.
"And you discovered as much during high school," Hiram said, and it wasn't a question. It was a statement, but I nodded anyway. "And you felt repressed and angry all the time? Like you were just going to explode any minute?"
I swallowed thickly and nodded in agreement. "How did you know?" I asked him softly, tears building in my eyes as I remembered how I used to feel growing up. It was like I was just so full all the time, so much at war inside me that the pressure was just too much at times—as if I was constantly on the verge of ripping open or like he'd said, exploding.
"How do you think?" He asked me with a soft smile. "Being gay isn't easy, especially when you live in a small, conservative town like Lima. Leroy and I went through much the same thing as young teens. He was much more the bullying type, but I think we all know what that feels like to some degree. It's easier to deflect onto other people when you are terrified of who you are and of anyone discovering as much. It doesn't excuse how any of us acted or the fact that you bullied Rachel or anyone else, but it does matter that you were hurting as well, Santana. What matters most, though, is that Rachel has forgiven you as have Leroy and I. Have you forgiven yourself?"
Tears were fully streaming down my cheeks at this point and there was an ache in my chest that just wouldn't fucking quit. I tried to talk but I couldn't so I just shook my head in answer. I hadn't forgiven myself for all the bullying I'd done, especially to Rachel. I didn't know if I would ever be able to.
Leroy smiled sadly at me and said, "Well, I think it's about time you start, sweetheart."
I only cried harder at that, and Hiram motioned me over. I shakily sat my coffee mug on the table beside my chair before pushing myself up and walking over to join them on the couch. I sat between them and they both slipped a hand into mine. They squeezed my hands tightly and I squeezed them back as I rested my head on Hiram's shoulder and just let myself cry.
When I was finally able to calm myself down, I felt Hiram press a soft kiss to the top of my head and he said, "I don't know how Rachel feels, Santana, or if she will even be able to consider her feelings for a long time given everything that's happened. She's only ever shown interest in boys, but she also has a very healthy understanding of sexuality. I can't say that she will ever return your feelings, but if she doesn't, please don't let it bring you down. You are a wonderful young woman, and someday, you will find someone who will appreciate that and show you as much every day. That may end up being our daughter or it may not. Either way, it will happen for you."
"And we hope that you will let us be a part of your life regardless," Leroy added, squeezing my hand tightly. I nodded into Hiram's shoulder as a few more tears slipped down my cheeks and soaked through his shirt. God, how the hell was it possible for two people to be so fucking wonderful? I really didn't understand it, but then again…I guess it made sense, because Rachel was the same way. I loved her for it, and I loved her dads. They, all three of them, made me feel like I was really a part of something special, and I cherished that feeling with everything I had in me.
Leroy squeezed my hand again before chuckling a bit and saying, "And we get it. Rachel can be loud and sometimes even unsettling when you aren't used to her, but once you get to know her, you see that her heart is enormous, and her caring for other people is unconditional and endless. She's easy to fall in love with."
I laughed softly at that and squeezed both their hands. "Yeah," I whispered, "she is."