Chapter Seven: Being Pretty
Two hours and two updates later, Rachel was still in surgery and I was curled up in a chair in the waiting room on my own. Quinn had gone down to the gift shop about ten minutes ago to buy me a new shirt so that I could rid my body of the last visual evidence of Rachel's attack that still stuck to my skin as if the material had somehow woven into my flesh, branding me with tragedy. It took me forever to agree to let her go. I'd been clinging to her since my little rage-fest in the bathroom and didn't want to be on my own again, but I'd finally agreed after a few hours of her telling me that seeing Rachel's blood all over my shirt was upsetting her and would just continue to upset me. She was right.
Neither of us had bothered with the cafeteria. I don't think we could have eaten even if we wanted to. My stomach had been in knots for hours and all I really wanted was to sleep and to see Rachel, see with my own eyes that she was okay, because some doctor telling me once every hour just wasn't enough. Nothing felt like enough, but at the same time, everything felt like too much. It was maddening.
Just as I was about to text Quinn and ask her to grab me a coffee on her way up, the door to the waiting room opened and I heard a nurse say, "You can wait in here sirs and a doctor will be out to update you both as soon as possible." And then I saw them—Rachel's dads being ushered into the room by the very nurse who had just spoken, both of them still with their carry-on bags slung over their shoulders, and my stomach just bottomed the hell out. My heart instantly started hammering in my chest, because no. No, no, no, I couldn't do this. I couldn't face them like this. My clothes were soaked and stained with their daughter's blood for fuck's sake. I needed a doctor or that detective or Quinn, because I couldn't do this. I couldn't tell them everything. I couldn't go down that road again, not with Rachel's dads; not with anyone.
My instinct in that moment was to bolt, just to jump from my seat and take the hell off, but instead, I rose shakily to my feet and watched as their eyes instantly locked with mine. Their gazes dropped at the same time, taking in my clothing. I heard them both gasp and my stomach plummeted again. I was trembling from my head to my toes, and I could feel my throat closing up, burning and refusing to allow any air to pass into my lungs and just let me fucking breathe. They started to make their way toward me, and for the life of me, I didn't have a single clue as to what I should do or how I was going to even force the words out, the words that I knew they'd need to hear; the words telling them exactly what had happened to their little girl.
Just before they reached me, though, the damn heavens opened up and whatever god was watching decided, for once, to take some fucking mercy on me, because Quinn walked through the door and instantly shot to my side. She nodded to Rachel's dads who were now standing right in front of us, eyes teary and fearful, before turning toward me. She cupped my face in her hands and whispered, "You don't have to do this, Santana. Go change, and I'll talk to them. I've got this. Go ahead." I nodded and pulled her into a hug as she slipped the shirt she had bought me into my hand before pushing me toward the restroom.
As I took shaky steps toward the restroom, I stopped just before rounding the corner and turned to look back at them. Quinn was hugging Rachel's dads, and my heart ached for them and for her, for what Quinn was about to endure in recounting my own story and for what the Berry men were about to endure in hearing it. It just wasn't fair. None of this was fair, and none of it was right. I had never hated life more than I did in that moment. I shook my head, letting out a heavy sigh as tears slipped down my cheeks, and I finally rounded the corner and stepped into the restroom to change out of my blood-stained shirt.
As shallow as it seemed, I used to really love my reflection. I was a pretty girl, you know? All those times in my life when it felt like everything was just falling apart, when I was terrified of who I was, when I struggled with my identity and with my sexuality, when I was outed before I was ready, when my abuela disowned me, when Brittany couldn't love me the way I needed her to or dated some idiot boy and left me behind, the first time and the second time and every time after that that I dumped a slushy in someone's face and pretended like it didn't bother me—through all of those times, I only ever felt like I had one thing. I would stand in front of the mirror, just stare at myself, and think, you're a pretty girl, Santana. If nothing else…you're a pretty girl.
But as I stared into my own reflection in a hospital restroom, I just felt empty and ugly and alone. All I could see when I looked into my own haunted eyes was every cruel, heartless, stupid, stupid, stupid thing I'd ever done to Rachel Berry. I'd made her life a living hell for at least two years of our time in high school together, and for what? To prove my status as one of the head bitches of McKinley High? To try and make her feel as horrible inside as I did, hating myself every day? To try and bring her down to my own level of insecurity? Yeah…maybe; because Rachel was the most secure person I'd ever met. She never questioned who she was or what she wanted. She knew. She always knew, and nothing and no one could ever bring her down or dampen her dreams. She was a rock through every slushy and every insult and every degrading, manipulative trick that me and Q played on her, and the sickest and most astounding thing about all of it was that she loved us.
She loved us no matter how terrible we were. Sure, she let her anger get the better of her and took the bait every now and then, like the time she told me I'd only ever be able to work on a pole, but most of the time, she never faltered. Most of the time, she just slapped on that Rachel Berry gold-star smile and continued to try to win us over. Most of the time, she saw us even when we couldn't see ourselves. She never stopped trying to teach us that we could be so much more than just a couple of high school cheerleaders, more than selfish, more than easy, more than mean, more than background vocals, and more than just a couple of Lima losers getting high on bringing others down. Everything that we had always been terrified of admitting we always wanted to be—she made sure we knew we could be them. She made sure that we knew we were special.
Rachel was…this, this shouldn't have happened to her. Not to anyone, but especially not to her.
What the fuck was wrong with me? I was such an idiot. How could I…how was I supposed to make up for everything? How was I supposed to fix it all, fix this…fix her? How was I supposed to show her that I was sorry, and that I would do anything now to take it back, to change it all? The questions bombarded me like a fucking barrage of bullets, plunging into my flesh and stinging, burning, aching. I didn't have any answers. I didn't have a damn clue. The only thing that I did know was that I had to find a way to make it right, to show Rachel that she was special, too; that she was the most special one of us all.
I had to literally peel my shirt from my stomach. It was sticky and painfully attached to my flesh, and when I finally was able to pull it over my head, I looked down at my heaving chest and quivering abs, my bra and flesh stained red and prickling in the cold of the room. I ran my fingers over my skin, marked with all that Rachel had lost that night and my heart clenched in my chest, and realization hit me so hard that it knocked the air from my lungs, my breath slamming forcefully through my lips.
Everything was going to change now. Everything would be different, and nothing would ever, ever be the same.
I could swear I had cried every possible tear I could cry that night. I was so sure that I'd run myself dry, that there couldn't possibly be anything left in me, but I was wrong. As my fingers slipped over my stomach, tracing the crimson-stained skin, new tears spilled from my eyes and dripped over my chin, splashing onto my exposed flesh. My head ached, pounding and pounding and threatening my ability to stay on my feet. I just wanted to let myself fall away from the world, from consciousness. Every part of me hurt—my flesh, my muscles, my bones, my eyes, my cheeks, my head…and everything on the inside, too; my stomach, my lungs…and my heart. It all just hurt too much.
I wetted some paper towels in warm water and slowly washed the evidence of Rachel's blood from my flesh, not evening bothering with my shirt. I wadded it into a ball and tossed it in the trash, unable to stand the sight of it even a second longer, and finally…finally I felt clean; at least, on the surface, I did. I slipped into the t-shirt that Quinn had bought me, a gray tee with the words I Love New York printed across the front, and I couldn't help but think that those words would be more appropriate if that "Love" had a "d" on the end of it, because in that moment, I didn't love New York. I loved it before…but now, I just felt like the city had betrayed me. I felt like it had betrayed Rachel. All her life, all she wanted was New York City and Broadway, but it was in the city of her dreams that her life had nearly been taken from her. So yeah…in that moment and on this night, all I could do was look down at my shirt and think, correction: I LOVED New York.
When I stepped out of the restroom, I hesitated a moment, even more terrified of facing Rachel's dads now that they were sure to know everything that had happened, at least my version of what had happened. I was afraid of the fear and the heartbreak that I knew I would see in their eyes, because I knew…I knew I wouldn't be able to handle it. I had hit my quota of heartbreak for the night or for a fucking lifetime rather. But after several silent moments of just standing there awkwardly outside the restroom, I took a heavy breath and forced myself to move.
I came around the corner and nearly slammed into Quinn. Her hands came out to grab my shoulders and steady me while my hands only twisted in the bottom of my new shirt and I stared into the floor. I don't know why, but I just couldn't look at her or at anyone. I felt lost and scared and just…broken.
"Hey…you okay?" she asked softly, rubbing her hands up and down my arms soothingly. Her voice was scratchy and fractured from crying, and I could only imagine how difficult it must have been for her to tell Rachel's dads everything. God, she was a rock. I wished in that moment that I could be stronger like her. I wished so many things. I nodded into my chest and said nothing. "I was just coming to check on you," she said before pulling me into a tight hug that I didn't return. I let myself melt into her embrace, but I kept my hands curled into the bottom of my shirt and my eyes set on the floor as my head rested against her shoulder.
"It's going to be okay, Santana," she whispered as she rubbed my back before pulling away and offering me her hand. "Come on, we'll go back in there together. What do you say?"
"Okay," I whispered and slid a shaky hand into hers, leaving my other clenched around the bottom of my shirt and curling the material back and forth between my fingers. I kept my head down as we walked back into the waiting room and we came to a stop just a few feet from where Rachel's dads were seated. I had to take several deep, steadying breaths before I could bring myself to lift my head.
I had only met Rachel's dads a few times, and I liked them both. They were hilarious and affectionate and such great fathers, but I knew that they must hate me on some level. I was the girl who'd tormented their daughter for years. How could they not hate me? And now…now they'd seen me covered in their kid's blood, and Rachel had been coming to meet me when she was attacked. It seemed like everything bad that happened to Rachel was connected to me in some way; at least, that's how it felt in that moment and I was just terrified of facing them.
When I lifted my head to finally look at them, both of them were rising from their chairs, eyes wide and tearful, and I tried like hell to think of something to say, but no words would come out. My voice refused to work, so I just helplessly stood there and watched as Leroy stepped toward me and before I could even process what was happening, he bent and scooped me up off the ground and into his arms. I didn't know how to react at first, hanging there in his arms with my feet dangling just above the floor, but then I just let myself feel it. I just let myself feel the comfort of an adult, of a father, as it washed over me and suddenly I was hugging him back. I clutched onto him desperately and buried my head in his neck, sobbing so loudly that I knew people must be looking, but I couldn't bring myself to care. He rubbed my back and continued to hold me as I cried into him and within seconds, another pair of arms folded around me as Hiram stepped up and pulled both me and his husband into him, and they both just held me.
"You saved her," I heard Leroy whisper against my hair and my heart exploded in my chest as I only sobbed louder and harder. I felt Hiram press a tender kiss to my cheek and say, "Thank you," and for the first time in a long time I thought that maybe I had done something right for once, that I had done something good.