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Thunder, Clap Us Open

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Her father is a stone in the stiff leather armchair when she eases the door shut behind her; it clicks into the lock and he remains frozen, eyes fixed on her dirty bare feet. There’s a dry smudge of blood on one of them, an ache she hadn’t before felt, and it’s as if he feels it as well the way he keeps his soft gaze stuck on that one little wound.

She curls her toes against the edge of the rug and it’s at this that he finally moves, face easing into something she hasn’t seen in a long while.

“Couldn’t sleep either?” he offers in a quiet voice, rising from the chair like steam.

If he’s at all curious as to why she’s only now returning home, just after dawn in a thin black nightgown, feet worn by the empty streets, he doesn’t show it. Just meets her in the doorway, eyes soft and hazy.

“Needed to clear my head,” she says, and he nods.

“Your mother did the same, when she was pregnant with you,” he says, not so much to her as to the slice of light between them from the streetlamp outside. “All hours of the night – just walking, never letting me join her. Said I had work in the morning, you know, needed the sleep, but I think she just needed to be alone.”

He falls quiet again and she wonders what he sees in her face, now, glancing down at her, lips pulled into something close to a smile. Is she another shadow of her mother? Does she look anything like the woman he fell in love with, or more the lines of grief that cut the woman’s face?

But then maybe she might just look like him, and the idea has her breath falter for a brief moment.

Maybe when he looks at her he can only find himself, and that’s why he always looks away, and it’s never been about what she did or didn’t do.

“Do you- do you want to join me? On a walk?” she finds herself asking, already bracing herself for the response.

Don’t be silly, Santana. It’s time we both put ourselves to bed.

Haven’t you walked enough for one night?

And she’s ready for him to decline, not even sure if she could manage it if he said yes, knowing all too well how her voice slips away when he’s around. But then there’s a smile and a careful nod, and neither of them are expecting him to reach for his shoes.

“I’d love to,” he murmurs, slipping into those beat up loafers reserved for lounging.

She can’t even remember the last time she saw him put those on. But she pulls on a pair of shoes as well, an old pair of sandals, and he holds the door, and the bluish-grey of the yawning sky swallows them both before either can go back on their word.

They keep the same steady pace, she finds; the same quiet footsteps.

He keeps his gaze on the same level spot in the distance, and at one time she knew these things about him but children grow up and let go of their fathers’ hands.

“We almost bought that house, before we had you,” he says to her now, of the house at the end of the block.

It’s cradled by a wraparound porch and a lawn edged in flowerbeds, and Santana knows it was her mother who wanted it, for the picturesque life it boasts. Children running through the grass. Rocking chairs overlooking the garden.

“Took us another couple of years to get into this neighborhood after we were outbid, but the house we got isn’t too shabby, is it?” He’s smiling at her, and she smiles back.

“It’ll do,” she says. And then, a few houses down, “Think it would’ve been different, had you got the first house?”

She can feel him glance over at her, calm and inquisitive. They’re nearing the crosswalk where Desi once rode his bike into an idling car, helmetless and determined to fly, and she’s struck with the memory of her mother’s jarring scream, dropping her bags to run after him.

Just a few stitches above his eye it got him, but their mother went on like he’d pierced a lung every time he even took a step near his bike.

Like hell you’ll be getting back on that any time soon, mister.

But he did, any time she wasn’t home, flying up and down the block with so much joy Santana didn’t have the heart to tattle. He was so free.

“The people make the house, and not the other way around,” her father says now, passing by the site of Desi’s accident without even flinching. He wasn’t there, but their mother brought it up so much she half expected him to absorb the memory by osmosis.

“But I don’t know,” he continues. “I’m sure the possibility exists for one small difference to alter everything. In any case, I’m glad we got the house that we did.”

“Me too,” she says, looking up at him for a brief moment, chancing eye contact.

He smiles at her with something she can’t quite place, but it’s warm and familiar and she looks away so she doesn’t have to see his expression change and can just hold on to that image as long as she wants.

Maybe it’s just a dad look. Just one of those things they do.

Because then he’s bringing up her birth, the same old story of the deal they had about baby names (he’d choose if it was a girl and her mother would choose for a boy), and how pleased he was to see her grouchy little face, screaming bloody murder.

“I just knew I’d picked the right name for you, Santana, after your grandfather and after the winds. Because you were definitely a force to be reckoned with. And still are,” he reminds her, placing a soft hand on her shoulder before remembering the years that have grown between them and quickly bringing it back to his side.

But the heat of his palm lingers, and she remembers when they were younger and he still felt like her whole world. The piggyback rides. How he’d let her dance on his toes to old songs in the living room.

It wasn’t a conscious choice, leaving all that behind. She just- grew up. And into herself. And she supposes he did the same, because she can barely see him anymore.

“Remember when Desi was born?” she says, as soft as the pink that warms the sky.

He chuckles, and she’s missed him.

“I remember how much you cried,” he says. “Didn’t want anyone else joining our little family, no matter how many presents you got for it. My stubborn little girl. But you came around, hm?”

“Didn’t really have a choice,” she mutters, just to make him laugh.

“You’ve been a good sister, though. And he loves you.” He goes quiet for a moment, watching a handful of leaves scatter down the street in a small gust of wind.

They aren’t the only ones awake at this hour, a few cars have driven down the main road up ahead, but it still feels that way; like they’re alone in this hazy sunrise, drifting down the sidewalk in a conversation too small for the things they should be saying.

“Were you the same when Uncle Roman was born?” she asks carefully, not daring to look at him.

He straightens up beside her and sort of clears his throat, startling a bird in a nearby tree. It disappears behind a house before he answers and Santana’s about to take it all back as he lets out a heavy breath.

“They were different times, Santana,” he says, eyes fixed on the cross street up ahead. “My parents were young, and there wasn’t much money… It was less like a new sibling and more like another worry, I suppose. Your uncle Mateo – I remember him telling me they wouldn’t need me anymore, our parents. And I think it really stuck with me. For a long time.”

It isn’t something he’s talked about before; this side of his past. She’s heard all about university and him meeting her mother, and the adventures that followed, but his childhood… his brothers…

They’re both like that – him and her mother. Not secretive, but just not entirely open, and maybe that’s why everything feels to her like a delicate glass figurine she needs to keep up on a high shelf.

“He was wrong though, wasn’t he?”

She doesn’t know much about Uncle Mateo other than his cult-ish missionary work and his disappearance to some part of Africa over a decade ago, but obsessive faith notwithstanding he seemed decent enough. Not the type to scar his brother for life.

“He was a child,” her father says. “He couldn’t have known any better. But, you know. It still felt like something I had to prove. If my parents were alive today…”

“They’d be proud,” Santana assures him. He gives her a doubtful look and she continues, “I mean, you made me, so obviously you did pretty well for yourself.”

It’s not the laugh she was aiming for, but the smile feels like enough.

“I don’t want you to be left wondering once I’m dead,” he says quietly, as they pause at the corner to wait for a car to pass.

“I won’t, Papi. Don’t worry.”

They’re closer to Brittany’s house than their own now, having reached the semi-busy street that prevented Santana from ever making the short walk on her own, just up until she was wearing training bras and basically begged her mother to take her head out of her ass.

They’d installed a crosswalk the year prior and as rebellious as she was she was never much for jaywalking so really, it was crazy it went on as long as it did, her mother driving her the eight and a half blocks to Brittany’s every day after school.

“I’m not so much the man I wanted to be,” her father admits, jolting her from the memory.

It’s totally not where she thought the conversation was heading, but by the look in his eyes it seems he’d been leading it here all along, inch by timid inch.

“You’re good,” she tries telling him, but he waves it away.

“There’s too much I don’t ever say; too much that stays quiet. I don’t want my children to feel like they never knew me at all, once I’m gone.” He runs a hand through his short dark curls, leaving it to rest at the back of his neck. “Everything with your grandmother, everything with your friend Quinn… I think it’s forced me to examine a lot of my life. Not in a bad way,” he says, just as she goes to ask.

She frowns. “You’re nothing like Quinn’s mom, Papi. You know that, right?”

He isn’t always there, but he’s never gone the way Judy is, leaving her daughter to clean up the pieces.

He lifts his shoulders, and- “She’s not a villain, Santana. Just- struggling. Something we’ll all do in our lifetime. And I… have definitely been struggling myself, these past few months. I know I’ve been away a lot, for work and other necessities,” he says, steering them into the park, his loafers trudging against the gravel path.

“Your conferences,” she says, nodding. “I don’t mind that much. Everyone pretty much looks after themselves, so…”

“But I only had one conference this year, at the start of July,” he confesses, waiting for her to process before continuing.

“So you’ve been…” Her eyebrows scrunch up, muddling the look she gives him.

Clearly not working, which he’s been all too happy to let everyone believe. All of a sudden she’s struck with the concern that she’s got another sibling somewhere, or entire set of siblings, in some love nest he’s set up for his other family far enough away for the worlds to never collide.

Does her mother know? Is it even an affair if it’s sanctioned?

“At the James Cancer Hospital, in Columbus,” he says, and suddenly she can see the deep bags under his eyes, and the years of exhaustion it brings to his face.

Papi,” she asks, not able to get the words out. There’s a brick in her stomach that only gets heavier.

“For your uncle Roman,” he tells her, motioning towards a nearby bench. She gladly takes the seat and exhales slowly as he goes on. “They found it earlier this year, in his liver. I don’t know, our father drank, and maybe it seemed like a thing to do, but I always feared it would catch up with him. And now, well.”
She desperately wants to be the kind of daughter who has the right words for this, but all she can think is how relieved she is that it wasn’t another family somewhere, and how utterly thrown she is by the truth, and how terribly glad she is it isn’t her own father.

Because they’re supposed to have years, and she’s supposed to make him a grandpa, and he’s supposed to be so proud and goddamnit this isn’t the time but she’s absolutely terrified of the confession that’s desperate to slip out.

The one that seems so small in the light of cancer, but still somehow feels like her own cancer, swallowing her whole before she can even give it a name.

“Is he… like, dying?” she asks in the tiniest voice.

Her father eases into the bench next to her, hand cautiously ghosting over to take hers. “It looks like it,” he says with a slow nod. “At this point, there isn’t much left to be done.”

She thinks of her cousin Sienna, always laughing and put together. Of the games they used to play in Sienna’s bedroom, making forts in her bunk bed, before her father left the church and Santana’s father refused to even see him.

How Sienna would still call sometimes, just wanting to make sure Santana was okay.

And Santana doesn’t even know what college she went to, or if she’s engaged, or how she’s going to cope with any of this.

“I’ve been going just to see him,” her father says. “After all these years… it just seemed like the right thing to do.”

“I’m sorry,” Santana murmurs.

His hand is nearly twice the size of hers, just like when she was little and used to make him hold it up to measure. Hands that could cradle the sun if she asked. Hands that somehow forgot to handle her, and she somehow forgot to hold.

“Maybe you could come with me next time?” he asks, gentle. Fearful.

The sort of voice she never wanted to associate with him.

“Of course,” she says. “Any time.”

“He’s been asking about you,” he tells her, slowly steadying his grip on her hand. “I’ve shown him a couple videos of your glee club, of you singing. You know he thinks you could be the next Beyoncé.”

It puts a small smile on his face, and she smiles back, softly.

“I could sing for him, if he wanted,” she offers.

“I think he’d like that,” he says, giving her hand a squeeze before releasing it.

Something about him feels lighter now, on the other end of his confession. The same kind of lightness she’s been chasing all summer with the words that just won’t come out and this obviously isn’t the time, sitting next to him in their pyjamas in the middle of the park, but holy sweet hell does she want to let go.

Just let it all out.

Come clean and not have to choke on it any longer.

Maybe then it wouldn’t feel so apocalyptic, sitting on her chest with the weight of every star in the galaxy. And she could watch the sun come up like her father’s doing now: eyes the color of a clear breaking day, mouth no longer pulling so hard.

“Thanks for telling me,” she just about whispers. He isn’t expecting it, and she can feel it rustle the air between them.

“I think I owed you that much,” he replies. “More, but that much of a start.”

 


 

 

Brittany stops by later that day, when the sun’s high in the sky and Santana’s still curled up in bed, skin sticking to the sheets.

The A/C isn’t even broken anymore but her mother’s on some unnecessary penny-pinching kick after the last set of bills came in and apparently the summer’s been bipolar enough in its temperatures for keeping cool on the hot days to no longer be a priority.

“We own fans, Santana,” her mother had said when she complained. “And you can always make use of Brittany’s hot tub if it comes down to it.”

Santana wasn’t going to bring up why that just wouldn’t happen again, but it was the end of the argument on her mother’s end and they’ve been forbidden to touch the A/C ever since.

It obviously hasn’t mattered much with the past few days feeling so close to Fall, but the Thursday sun’s brought with it a discernible heat and when Santana wakes to her hair damp with sweat and Brittany perched on the edge of her bed, all she wants is to slap her mother across the face. (A little. Not like enough to hurt or anything.)

“It’s almost two,” is the first thing Brittany says, with a roll of her eyes and sweet little smile.

Santana pushes up on her elbows and brushes a sweaty matt of hair from her neck, just blinking for a second before Brittany admits to Desi letting her in, the little shit.

“I brought popsicles,” she adds. “They’re downstairs, with Desi. So you should probably get dressed so we can have some before he eats them all. Unless you don’t want any – then I’ll just have to fight him for them and pretend he isn’t a kid so it’s a fair fight.”

Brittany’s rambling, and any other day Santana would find this adorable, but she knows it’s to cover up the way her voice trembles slightly at all the things she isn’t saying and everything at the gallery yesterday comes rushing back and Santana contemplates just pulling the covers over her head and calling it a day.

Like, she doesn’t even care that she’s practically naked and Brittany’s only a couple feet away, and this is how she knows what a wedge the summer’s driven between her now and who she was back in June.

And yet she still ran at the gallery, and Britt’s still looking at her like they’re back at their lockers and Santana’s heart is a bloody mess on the ground between them.

“You didn’t have to come check up on me,” she says, shifting the sheets to hide a little more of her cleavage.

Brittany shrugs. “Maybe I came to make strudel with your grandma.”

“She’s Dominican,” Santana says blankly, before catching Brittany’s sly grin. “I already talked to Quinn, Britt. Everything’s cool with us.”

“Well we’ve got like twenty popsicles to eat so put some clothes on and we’ll see what’s up then, okay? Because I came all this way and it wasn’t exactly so I could hang out with your brother.” Brittany slides off the bed with a look Santana’s sure she’s not supposed to see, this tired frustration, and then pauses in the doorway. “Anything Quinn says when you can’t see her face doesn’t mean a thing, Santana. You should know that by now.”

And then she’s heading downstairs without giving Santana time to reply, but she knows it’s futile to try and argue with that. Quinn will lie through her teeth. Quinn probably lies to Jesus.

At least sitting in the dark they could pretend it was sort of true. And even if you can see Quinn’s face it’ll still be the same story.

They were never supposed to call her on it.

But they were never supposed to call each other on anything, and look where that got them.

 


 

Desi’s face is a purple stain by the time Santana finds them, Brittany’s not that far off. The table is a sticky mess of popsicles sticks and maybe Brittany was actually serious about eating them all before she goes.

“You guys are gonna crash from all that sugar,” she says to the two of them, hopping up on the counter next to the fridge with slightly more effort than she’d like.

Brittany wordlessly hands her a cherry popsicle and falls into place beside her, back against the edge of the fridge, never even making eye contact. If Santana had any doubts as to how Brittany felt about her ditching at the gallery they’ve been cleared up for her now.

“They’re better than the ones Mami buys,” Desi says, eyeing the space between her and Brittany. “Don’t tell her that, obviously. But they’re good.”

“Kurt left some recipes,” Brittany replies.

She still isn’t looking at Santana and it almost makes up for the A/C being set so damn low.

Desi’s watching them like he might actually know what went down at the art gallery, or has at least caught on to the Everybody’s Disappointed in Santana vibe that seems to have taken over, maintaining some creepy passive-aggressive eye contact every time Santana goes to take a look at Brittany.

It’s like he’s willing her not to say anything stupid, like that might make a difference.

“You didn’t invite Quinn over,” he comments with a frown, catching a bright blue drip down the side of his hand.

Santana doesn’t miss the way Brittany straightens up slightly at the mention of Quinn’s name.

“Didn’t invite Britt over either,” she says, waiting for it to hit its target. But Brittany’s a stone wall and Santana nearly hurls her damn popsicle across the room just to illicit a reaction.

Desi eyes them both now, the panic growing. And yet still doesn’t seem to twig that he could leave at any point to let them hash this out, whatever it is, but chooses to hang around like a lame watch dog out of guilt or responsibility or whatever role he’s taken today.

And she knows. She knows it’s because of how she gets around Britt, and what he’s seen with her and Quinn. He’s just trying to keep her from breaking everything completely.

But if it truly is an inevitability she’d so rather not have her little brother be around to witness it.

Not when he’s chosen, God knows why, to believe in her.

She sighs and Brittany finally graces her with a look even more chilling than she expected. “Quinn’s apparently already had this conversation,” Brittany says with a small shrug. “Because Santana’s so responsible.”

“Seriously? We’re doing this?” Santana hops off the counter just to be able to properly stare Brittany down but all it does is provoke a laugh, Brittany opening the freezer as she does so.

“Doing what, Santana? Eating popsicles in your kitchen?”

It’s like they’re back to that dumb Lebanese shirt with the way Brittany’s words come out, all brittle and long overdue, and Santana barely has it in her to reply. She’s just standing lamely in the middle of the room, untouched popsicle melting quickly down her hand. Just letting the cherry droplets fall to the floor.

“I don’t know what you want me to say, Britt. I left and I’m sorry, okay? It was stupid,” she says, wincing as Brittany turns around and lets the freezer door swing shut behind her.

“You think that’s what this is about?” she says scathingly. “That you did what you’ve been doing for years now? Years, Santana. And you don’t ever seem to care.”

Santana flinches and steps back towards the counter, just to have something to hold onto. “I care,” she says quietly. Brittany snorts out a laugh.

“Sure you do, when someone calls you on it. But does that stop you from doing it again? Does it stop you from pretending no one’s hurting except you?”

Brittany still has popsicle stains around her lips and now is definitely not the time to be noticing, the little ring of bluish-purple like sloppy lipstick, but Santana fixates on it to try and steady herself, unable to focus on anything but Brittany’s verbal slap ringing through the air.

Out of the corner of her eye she catches Desi slowly backing out of the kitchen with a half-eaten popsicle, which if it stains anything will no doubt earn Santana a good talking to from her mother. But she can’t call him back. She can’t even apologize.

All she can do is take in a slow breath to fight the familiar sting of tears.

“If I’m so shitty why didn’t you give up on me ages ago?” she asks in a reed-thin voice.

Brittany softens a little, but it doesn’t change the resolution in her eyes. “Because you were trying,” she says. “Because I wanted to believe in you. When you said all that stuff at my locker – god, Santana, it was so brave. But you were so ashamed, to be saying those things, how you felt, and I just…”

She lifts her shoulders and lets out a tiny laugh, a little reminder of all that heartbreak, pulling all her hair to one side the way she does whenever she’s struggling to put her words together.

Santana knows these things about her. Up until a couple weeks ago, she thought she knew everything about her. And somehow she still managed to ignore so much and it’s a sick weight in the bottom of her gut. Guilt, but more than that.

“I knew I had to give you time,” Brittany continues, softer now. “Not just to accept your feelings, but be proud of them. To not run from them.”

“I’m trying,” Santana pleads.

It’s shame. She’s feeling shame.

Brittany nods and gives her a sympathetic frown, reaching out for her un-popsicled hand. There’s too far a distance between them for them to touch without either stepping forward, and this isn’t a test, but Santana knows it has to be her. She inches closer and folds her fingers around Brittany’s the way they’ve done it so many times before.

“It isn’t enough, Santana,” Brittany tells her. “Not when it isn’t getting you anywhere.”

“I know,” Santana says, lungs emptying as Brittany releases her hand.

“You’re doing the exact same thing to Quinn though. And she hasn’t had years to get used to it, or to figure out how to still be a person when you keep taking bits of her without ever giving back. Don’t you see that?” Brittany lets it hit her, stepping aside to put the space back between them.

Santana never wanted to think about it; why it felt so safe, so easy, stepping into that whatever with Quinn. Why there wasn’t the panic there should have been every time Quinn kissed her. Because… Because she’s been letting the same story play out, without ever considering how it might be affecting Quinn.

The girl who might as well be a paper doll with how well she stands up on her own.

And Santana was more than happy to be her secret spine, like she hasn’t just been adding to all that crap that never seems to let Quinn go.

“I’m sorry,” she murmurs, tears pricking her eyes before she can stop them.

“I know you wouldn’t have done it on purpose,” Britt tells her. “You’re not that kind of person, no matter what you let people say about you. But it’s still happening. And Quinn needs you now. And you need to figure out how you’re going to make it better.”

Santana wipes at the skin under her eyes, trying hard not to let the tears fall. “Is that still a possibility?” she asks with a sniff.

Brittany nods. “I think so.”

“And what about us?” Santana asks. She doesn’t really want to hear, but she needs to. She needs to know.

“We could be like, a thousand things,” Brittany says, glancing down at the melted popsicle at Santana’s feet, and then at the bare stick in her hand, and at the red streaks down her fingers. “I still love you. But I think we really need to be our own people right now, before it’s too late to figure out how.”

“I understand,” Santana says softly.

It’s basically what Brittany tried to tell her back in June, but she thinks she finally heard it.

“And this is just for now,” Brittany adds, a small smile on her bluish lips. “We have the rest of our lives, you know. And I don’t want to spend that alone.”

Santana lets out a laugh despite the substantial lump in her throat. “I love you, Britt-Britt. You’re my best friend.”

Brittany’s smile widens and she reaches out a crooked pinky, locking it with Santana’s. It feels like home. Like they’re a hundred years older, but still the same two girls who met over a library book and a shared love of pigtails.

“Me too,” Britt says, pulling her closer until their sides are touching. “Always. Even when you make the world’s biggest mess and have no idea how to clean it up.” There’s a very pointed look to the cherry puddle on the ground, and Santana snorts. “How ‘bout we go at it together and then we can eat the rest of these popsicles, okay? I made them myself so you’d better actually taste one.”

“Sounds good,” Santana agrees.

In a minute. She just wants to give herself another minute of linked pinkies and Brittany’s smile before the world has to keep turning.

 


 

 

Desi finds her on the back porch after Brittany’s gone, plugging his nose to evade the smoke from her cigarette and taking a seat far enough away, at the top of the steps, to not have to breathe it in.

She rocks the porch swing a little bit and exhales a long cloud of smoke before finally acknowledging him, and even then he barely looks at her. Just picks at flaking paint. Just sighs.

“You’re mad,” she says, flicking ash over the railing, and he shrugs. “Want to yell at me?”

He laughs a little and shifts so it seems almost accidental that he’s looking in her direction, and says, “Kind of. Kind of want to hit you, but you’re a girl. And, you know. Stronger than me.”

It’s not the cigarette that’s keeping him so far away from her, but she won’t admit to knowing that. And it’s deserved, anyway, and if she was in his position she’d feel the same, and it’s so shit that she doesn’t want to have to think about any of it.

But he came looking for her, even if he won’t come near her. And she’s supposed to be the grown up here.

“Look, Desi-” she starts, but then he really does look at her, those achingly dark eyes, cutting straight to the bone, and her voice falls flat and she has to take another drag of her cigarette before she can start again. “I’m sorry,” she finally mumbles.

“What happened with Quinn?” he asks, snapping off a large piece of paint.

She expects splinters, those alligator tears that plagued him as a little kid, but he just cracks it into smaller and smaller pieces, his palms red from the exertion.

It falls in steely-grey flakes over his bare legs and she stares too long.

“She was crying,” she says, “and I took off.”

He rubs his forehead and frowns at her. “Why? To both.”

It’s a valid enough question for her to want to work her way through the entire carton of cigarettes, or maybe pour herself a drink, or just take off again, into the streets, nothing on her but shame, for the words that just won’t come.

Why.

Because Quinn needed her. Because the room was full of people who didn’t know her. Because she should’ve stayed?

“People keep making dumb art about shit that no one needs to think about,” she bites out, stubbing the cigarette against the railing until it’s a pile of ash. “Dead babies and stuff.”

It puts a sobering look on his face and he’s quiet for a heavy pause.

She can see him working through it, Quinn’s tears and the weird fetus and Santana just walking out, and part of her wants to rip the thoughts from his head before they fully sink in but she also knows he kind of needs it, to see the worst parts of his sister.

To pick the scab until it’s bleeding again, because he used to look up to her, and growing up is swallowing truths.

“And- I just took off, because I’m a fucking coward,” she exhales.

He flinches at the curse but nods with her, hands stagnant in his lap. “I heard what Brittany said, Santana.”

There’s an apology there as well, but she doesn’t take it. Not when the whole block probably heard what Brittany said, with how much hurt filled those words, and she knows he did his best to disappear.

“This whole summer’s been people hurting Quinn, and I really thought you could… could help a little, even if you kissed her.” He shrugs at this, and shakes his head, and she knows.

“Desi,” she says, but he waves her off.

“Are you guys even friends? Is anybody friends when you’re older? Or do you all just hurt each other and apologize and then do it again? Because I don’t know! I want you to be nice, and know how to fix things, and you just can’t. And I don’t think anybody can. You all just… walk away.”

He’s on his feet now, hands balled into fists, a flush to his cheeks, and all she wants to do is hug him as tight as she possibly can and stroke his hair and let him cry and cry and cry until the world makes sense again.

Because she knows. She knows what’s just crashed down around him. All that pent up disenchantment.

But she’s a sweaty, cigarette-stink mess on the porch swing, and he’s a trembling fury six feet away, and the space between them grows bigger and bigger with each passing second.

He wouldn’t accept her hug anyway.

“It’s not all like this,” she tries, but he shakes his head and steps backwards until he’s leaning against the railing.

Is he taller? It’s like she blinked and he’s suddenly all grown up, staring her down with their mother’s disappointed eyes.

“I don’t even think I want to talk about it,” he says quietly. “I just want to be mad for a while.”

She nods and bites her bottom lip. “I think that’s fair. Can I apologize, at least?”

“I guess,” he says. “Yeah.”

“I’m scared, like all the time, Desi. And it ruins so much. I’m sorry.” It’s stupid, but she can feel a lump forming in her throat at just getting the words out, in their simplest form, in front of probably the only person who doesn’t need to hear them. “All I ever do is lie and push people away and everything’s- I mean, Brittany’s done with it, and I am too, but I don’t know how to stop it, or fix it, or…”

She barely holds back that first, ugly sob, but the tears are there regardless, and she kind of wishes Desi would just leave her to cry alone like she knows she deserves.

He’s too good to her, coming to sit next to her, taking her hand.

All those things she somehow never learned, in one sweet, eleven year-old package, rocking the swing just enough to stop her shuddering.

“I still want to be mad,” he half whispers, stroking the back of her hand with his thumb. “You make it really, really hard.”

She laughs wetly and wipes at her cheeks, apologizing. “I think I cry I more than all of Lima, sometimes.”

“Like all the time,” he says, and rolls his eyes. But then he’s soft again and sighing at her and murmuring a tired, “you can ask for help, you know. I don’t think it’ll kill you. Even… I mean, even the stuff you think you can’t really talk about, it doesn’t have to all be secrets.”

She won’t hug him, because right now he needs that gap between the two of them and she’s got to learn to do right by people she loves. But fuck, does she want to.

“You’re a really good kid, Desi.” She restrains herself to just squeezing his hand, but he gets it.

“You probably used to be too,” he offers in return, carefully withdrawing his hand from hers and sitting back into the swing.

Her head still hurts, but she isn’t really crying anymore. “Yeah,” she says. “Maybe.”

Brittany was always her better half, but surely there was some part of her, when she was still small and brave and wanted to know everything, that figured out how to retain decency. She can’t have always been so awful at handling herself around other people, right?

Maybe Mami could tell her stories, if she found it in her to ask.

Maybe her father remembers.

(Maybe she does too, but it feels too far away right now to really feel real. Like her hand would just fall right through if she tried to reach out and touch it.)

“Des,” she says, when they’ve been quiet for a while, and she’s almost sure he’s fallen asleep. It takes a moment but he hums something in reply. “D’you think you could help me with something, maybe? I need to find a song.”

 


 

Quinn calls the next morning. It isn’t like Santana slept much anyway, lying in bed listening to her mother come home late again and her father say nothing at all, but her phone rings not long after the sun comes up and she’s not even sure she wants to answer it.

It’s just been a summer of this; of listening to tiny worlds come crashing down through a crappy reception.

Like, they were fine yesterday morning after she left, but who knows what Brittany might have said in the interim and she’s so close to just pulling the sheets over her head to block out those repeating sixteen bars of Heads Will Roll.

It’s only the sudden thought that Quinn might leave another voicemail that jolts her out of bed and has her grasping for her phone on the cluttered side table.

(She still hasn’t even deleted the first voicemail. And that might not even be the worst part.)

“Hello?” she kind of breathes out, mostly hoping Quinn panics and hangs up on her. But then there’s a soft response and something clenches in Santana’s chest and, “it’s so early, Q.”

“I know,” Quinn says. “Can I come pick you up? It can’t really wait.”

Her first thought is Judy, but there’s no eerie calmness to Quinn’s voice, just a small pleading. Brittany then? Most likely, but she really doesn’t want to ask and she’s so sick of these sorts of conversations taking place over the phone.

Britt’s right about most things but almost especially about Quinn and how much bullshit they end up eating when she won’t talk to them face-to-face.

So. “Yeah, whatever. Just need to throw some clothes on.”

She can almost hear Quinn’s smile of relief.

“Thanks, Santana.”

“I kind of owe you,” Santana says, grimacing at the wall.

“Yeah,” Quinn replies. “A little.”

It’d be so easy to just crawl back into bed and pretend she never answered her phone. Quinn would knock and knock, and maybe the neighbor’s dog would start barking, but Santana could just bury herself under her blankets and put in headphones and wouldn’t have to think about anything.

“See you in a bit,” she says, and Quinn echoes it back to her.

Maybe if she’s lucky Quinn’s finally snapped and’ll drive her out to the middle of fucking nowhere to cut her up into pieces and feed her to some cows.

Or they’ll drive off a bridge into a river and no one will ever find their bloated remains.

Or maybe Quinn’s not even planning on showing at all and Santana will slowly decay into a pile of rancid rot waiting on her. Never having to find out what she wanted. Never having to speak to anyone again.

 


 

It comes close to the middle of nowhere. Some diner just off the highway, full of discolored vinyl and the acrid scent of brewing coffee.

Quinn doesn’t say anything about why they’re at this particular place but it’s so out of the way and far from anyone who could possibly know them that Santana doesn’t really have to ask. Whatever Quinn wants to talk about, they’ll be better off not being overheard.

They didn’t really speak the whole car ride, instead listening to some soft rock station, Santana biting the urge to comment on the crappy CD collection in the middle console and Quinn occasionally humming along to the radio. It was just their silence and the passing corn fields, which were almost sort of pretty in the golden morning sun.

“Coffee and a side of bacon,” Quinn tells the waitress, who doesn’t even seem fazed by two teenage girls sitting among a handful of greased-up truckers this humid Friday morning.

Not that she seems like the type to be fazed by anything, going on the tease of a chest tattoo peeking out the neckline of her blouse and the hardness of a face that obviously has to ignore whatever dirty hand lands on her ass.

It’s exactly the kind of life Santana’s always feared, seeing what happens to the kids who don’t get out of Lima. Babysitters and older cheerleaders and anyone she thought should’ve had a chance, slipping back down into the same sludge that trapped their parents.

“Santana,” Quinn urges, and Santana realizes the waitress is still there with her pad of paper, chewing on a hangnail.

“Uh, just a coffee, I guess,” she mumbles. “Two creams.”

The waitress doesn’t even bother writing it down, but leaves them with a curt smile and a faint cloud of some dirty perfume.

“You don’t want anything to eat?” Quinn asks, busying herself with procuring the least sketchy-looking sugar packets from the little tray next to the ketchups.

Santana hasn’t even really been trying to limit food this summer, with cheerleading no longer holding a noose around their necks, it’s just super fucking early, but she totally doesn’t want Quinn to feel like crap about eating either.

(It was kind of the team’s worst kept secret, how far Quinn took it. But she’s been looking so much better, and Santana just… doesn’t even want to mention it. Not on top of everything else.)

“I’d probably barf,” she says instead, making a face. “Didn’t really sleep, so.”

Quinn nods and her hands still, curling around some generic pink packet, and Santana has no clue how to move the conversation to anything else. Her eyes are probably still crusted together with sleep and she’s sure she’s still pillow-creased and god, this so could have waited another couple hours.

“I thought as much,” Quinn says, and Santana just hides her face between her hands and lets out a low groan.

“You know you could’ve picked any other fucking hour of the day to do this,” she chides.

Her hands are sticky from that weird mix of humidity and diner A/C and she reluctantly peels them away from her cheeks only to catch a flash of some unreadable expression in Quinn’s eyes.

“No I couldn’t,” Quinn says shortly. “It wouldn’t have- It just wouldn’t have happened otherwise. So, I’m sorry I dragged you from your bed, Santana, but this, is- important.”

Santana looks at her expectantly, waiting for her to finally reveal why they’re going through this whole charade, but she just waves her hand towards the kitchen and shakes her head.

“I’d like to have breakfast first, if that’s all right with you.”

That schoolmarm voice she’s putting on totally doesn’t match her face, but Santana’s not going to point that out when she seems three seconds away from bolting. And she was the one who brought them here, so Santana kind of doesn’t even mind waiting that much if it’s enough to have Quinn practically impersonating an anxious Chihuahua.

“Just don’t pee yourself,” she sort of mumbles, not really loud enough for Quinn to hear but enough to merit that patented eyebrow raise.

She strains to find something snarky to counter, but there’s basically nothing going on in her brain and damn, this is almost a ghost of their breakfasts at cheer camp. Minus Brittany’s vivid dream retellings and wandering hands, and those tiny, measured-out portions, and a couple hundred pairs of indestructible sweats across the dining hall. But it’s her and Quinn, batting the smallest fluff of an argument across the table, both too tired to put any effort into it. And the look Quinn keeps giving her – that you’re really gonna feel this tomorrow, Lopez.

Santana’s half expecting tasteless oatmeal when the food arrives.

Quinn dives right in to separating out the slices of bacon, moving the crispiest ones to the far side of the plate and picking around the ones with the most fat. Santana doesn’t want to watch, but she’s always been grotesquely fascinated with this routine; the napkin to soak up the grease and the tiny, tiny cutting, and the way Quinn’s face falls into something that could pass for serene.

It twists something inside her, that things haven’t really changed at all.

All this time, she thought she could run from herself, and it’s only just been in circles.

(Maybe this has happened every summer and she just never noticed.)

“Do you want a piece, or are you just going to stare at me?” Quinn asks her, fork hanging limply from her hand.

“Sorry,” Santana replies.

Quinn rolls her eyes and stabs at one of the cut up pieces, bringing it to her mouth, never breaking eye contact with Santana as she does so. It’s the same shit she’d pull with the newbies at camp and Santana considers applauding her, for bringing this back to something she can finally make sense of.

Like maybe this could be any other day of any other summer, and they’re not in a seafoam vinyl booth at some highway rest stop sipping coffee before Quinn’s vault finally cracks open.

“It wouldn’t kill you to actually tell me what’s so important,” Santana says, twirling the spoon around her cup of coffee. “You know, before we grow old and die here.”

Quinn smirks. “You’re grumpy today.”

“Yeah, well.” She shrugs, and debates continuing before tilting her head back and just going for it. “Brittany kind of dropped an A-bomb, yesterday, and my dad… his brother’s sick, so he’s been upset. And he just told me. And I don’t know.”

She’s not surprised to find Quinn frowning at her in that vaguely sympathetic tone of hers, but there’s also a twinge of guilt and Quinn puts down her fork before Santana can even ask.

“So she told you, then?” she says, pressing her lips together until she looks scarily similar to her mother.

Santana half-squints at Quinn in an attempt to figure out what part of the whole Brittany thing Quinn knows about, but it only seems to induce a wave of remorse from the girl and a quiet apology.

And shit, it would be so like Brittany to casually bring it up in some unrelated conversation, and it’s not like Santana hasn’t given them enough time alone to bitch about her. By the way Quinn, Santana’s using you so she doesn’t have to own up to how much she screwed up with me. Want a popsicle?

When Santana left at the gallery, when Brittany walked Quinn home, when she stayed to ease the sting of Santana taking off…

“I swear, I never meant to hurt you,” Santana breathes out, unable to take her eyes off her murky coffee. It isn’t another useless apology, but it isn’t like Quinn can do anything with it either, and she really just doesn’t want to have to watch it land.

“How would you-” She can almost feel Quinn’s confusion, and then the slow unraveling, and then, “Santana, I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing.”

Santana snaps her eyes to Quinn’s. “Did she… What was she supposed to have told me, then?”

Quinn sinks back into her seat, abandoning her fork in the middle of a sea of cut up bacon with the most indigent look. There’s a long, slow exhale, and then finally a strangled noise in the back of her throat.

“She walked me home, after- the gallery,” Quinn starts, wincing slightly at her own words like she’d gladly eat them up if she could.

Santana nods dully and tries not to think about it, but they’re both very much aware of her shortcomings right now.

Quinn takes in a long breath and presses her fingertips to her temple, speaking mostly towards the plate of bacon. “She stayed, and we were talking, and she just… kissed me. Santana, I’m sorry. I really thought she’d have told you first.”

It strangely isn’t a punch to the gut, but mostly because Santana isn’t even sure she’s felt it at all; like it’s still floating between them like some giant trash heap in the middle of the ocean, trailing swill behind it but not close enough to shore to really do any damage. And… and it sort of feels like she knows, like just seeing Brittany yesterday was a confession in itself, but then Quinn’s grabbing her hand and something just snaps.

“How could you?!” she bites out, snatching her hand away so hard she nearly knocks over her coffee.

Quinn reels back, but Santana can’t find it in her to care.

“Santana, it’s not like I-”

“You let her,” Santana continues, something sick and bitter rising in her throat. “You knew what she means to me and you still… what the fuck, Quinn!”

It’s involuntary, the flashes of Brittany’s lips on Quinn’s, like she’s seen countless times before at parties or with boys or Brittany’s goddamned boyfriend. But there’s something so pointedly personal about this – of it being Quinn, of all people. After everything Brittany said…

“I think I’m going to throw up,” Santana blurts, and then she’s elbowing her way out of the booth and dashing to the bathroom before Quinn can even react.

The tiled floor is just as sticky as everything else feels, but there’s a coolness that’s almost soothing as she heaves over the toilet bowl, her eyes stinging with tears. All that comes up is coffee and a bitter bile but she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and continues to retch up air, trying so desperately to get that feeling out of her gut.

She’s mostly spitting into the toilet and letting the tears run down her cheeks when Quinn comes to check on her.

It’s not like she locked the stall door, so Quinn nudges it open and then is just there, gingerly rubbing circles into her back with shaking hands.

“I think the waitress would’ve killed me if I hadn’t come,” Quinn admits in a weak voice, and Santana laughs despite herself. “Santana, I…”

“You kissed my best friend,” Santana says before spitting again, not even caring how Quinn takes that.

Because honestly, they can’t say they were anywhere close to friends, with all the shit they keep pulling. Quinn can’t kiss her and wake up the next morning like nothing fucking happened, and she can’t go off and kiss Brittany like- like anything Santana’s ever felt meant nothing, and…

“I didn’t even kiss back,” Quinn protests, hand stilling against the back of Santana’s shirt. “And maybe it should say something that I’m the one who had to tell you, because she was too busy placating you to care about the truth, even when it was her stupid decision that put us all here.”

Santana’s so tempted to turn around and just slap her hand away, but she’s still all snotty and half crying and gagging on leftover bile and can hardly handle even thinking about moving.

“Don’t you care?” Quinn continues, voice creeping closer to that desperate shrillness that always manages to send shivers down Santana’s spine. “She doesn’t even care enough to admit to-”

“Why should she?! Why should she have to say anything?” Santana cries out, hating how pathetic her voice sounds, echoing around the toilet bowl. “It’s not like she owes me anything. She’s not mine, you know.”

Quinn scoffs and finally retracts her hand, hitting the side of the stall with a thud. “Yeah and neither am I, Santana. You’ve made that pretty damn clear.”

Another wave of nausea passes over her, and she’s so determined not to name the source.

(Brittany was right. Brittany’s always fucking right.)

She spits again into the bowl and finally latches on to her words. “You didn’t want to be,” she mumbles.

And that sharp breath is even harder to ignore, so acutely aware of Quinn’s closeness; of the shudder that passes through her body despite how hard she tries to fight it, and the sudden absence as Quinn shoots to her feet, stumbling backwards out of the stall.

“We’re not having this conversation,” Quinn says curtly, and Santana’s grateful she can’t see her face. “I just thought I’d do the mature thing and tell you, because you deserve to know.”

“Quinn,” Santana starts, but she mostly just wants to take back this whole morning, and there aren’t words for that.

She’s essentially drooling in a diner bathroom with Quinn shutting down behind her and no idea how to handle any of this.

This is still so much the gallery; Quinn quietly crumbling and Brittany’s voice in her ear reminding her that Quinn needs her – and she’s not running away this time, but being in the same space doesn’t seem to be any better, and Santana’s just awful. At all of this.

“Britt said I’ve been using you, because I couldn’t use her anymore,” she admits in a raspy voice, so tempted to stick her whole head in the toilet at this point.

“That’s fucking bullshit,” Quinn replies.

It’s verging on Ice Queen, how Quinn’s distancing herself now, and she must be at the wall with how much she’s been shifting backwards. Nowhere left to go but the door. Santana doesn’t know if she wants her to stay.

The tears are gone now, and that acidic bitterness isn’t hitting her gag reflex quite as much; the haze of having vomited slipping further and further away. She’s just a pathetic mass on the bathroom floor now. Just another sad girl in a diner.

“You can’t use me if I let you,” Quinn half murmurs, before taking in a gasping breath that sends a knife through Santana’s chest. “You guys keep acting like I need someone to hold my hand, like I can’t take care of myself like I’m some stupid child. I couldn’t possibly know what I’m doing! But you know, maybe if you took your head out of your goddamn ass for once, you’d realize hey! Quinn’s capable of making decisions! Quinn can kiss her best friend and it’s not anyone taking advantage of her! But no, everybody’s too busy getting off on my self-destruction, right?!”

“Quinn, you know that’s not true,” Santana starts, turning around, but Quinn’s already heading for the door, her cheeks glistening in the fluorescent lights.

It stops her for a second, though, by a ridiculously waxy fake plant, to wipe her eyes and let out that bitter little laugh that will never stop making Santana’s skin crawl. “I sent you a fucking postcard,” Quinn tells her, shaking her head with an unsettling smile. “Not that it matters now, huh? God. I can’t believe you.”

 

And then she’s running out, sniffling dissolving into full-on crying, but it’s those angry don’t you dare come after me tears Santana hasn’t actually seen since Babygate and it takes her a good ten minutes of just sitting on the floor to finally realize Quinn leaving means she has no way home.

And even if it was close enough to town for her to walk, she still reeks of vomit and could probably pass for roadkill with how puffy her face must be.

And- shit, she’s not even sure who to be mad at.

Herself, obviously, but maybe not as much anymore, and also so much more, for how none of this ever fails to lead back to her. She’s just such a fucking idiot. Again and again and again. And it’s costing her everything.

 


 

Her face has been scrubbed raw with that industrial pink soap by the time she resurfaces, washing away the brunt of the evidence of the past twenty minutes, but the waitress still makes a beeline for her before the bathroom door has even shut and it’s just so obvious Santana can’t even find it in her to care.

“You all right, hun?” the waitress asks with a frown, keeping her voice low despite not a single patron paying them any attention.

Santana shrugs lightly, mumbling a tiny “yeah”, just as she spots their booth by the window – Quinn’s bacon still cut into pieces, and Santana’s coffee cold and barely touched. It’s the fucking cherry on top, realizing there’s no way in hell Quinn paid the bill before she took off.

She’s fishing out her wallet from her back pocket when the waitress makes a little tutting noise, and then there’s a hand on her arm preventing her from completing her action.

“Don’t worry about it,” the waitress says, just as Santana’s about to say something. “It’s been taken care of.”

“By who?” Santana asks, looking around at the scattering of uncomfortably burly men and their equally abrasive facial hair.

Literally none of the options are at all inspiring.

“You seemed like you were having a tough time,” the waitress replies with a lift of her shoulders.

Santana’s cheeks heat up, and she’s fumbling for her wallet even quicker now. “At least let me tip you,” she says, unable to make eye contact. “That’s just- I mean, you didn’t have to do that.”

The waitress laughs and accepts the bill Santana hands her, but not before rubbing the small of her back. “Everyone’s been young and stupid, sweetheart. Just happy I’m not still making those mistakes. It’ll pass.”

The touch is the only thing that’s made her feel like there’s still ground beneath her, and as the waitress heads back behind the kitchen Santana can only exhale and grasp the edge of the counter, doing her best not to let out any more tears. Desi’s right; she cries enough for the entirety of Lima. And it isn’t even noon.

 


 

Out of everyone, Puck is the one who comes barreling down the highway in that old rusty truck of his.

Sure, Brittany probably would’ve grudgingly dragged her dad out here in their Honda, glancing at her across the backseat the entire ride home, and maybe even Kurt would’ve taken pity on her, but after puking in a diner bathroom there was only one person she really wanted to call.

“I don’t even want to know,” he’d said on the phone.

But she knew he’d ask anyway, finding her in the parking lot smoking a cigarette bummed from a biker in what probably counts for pyjamas. It’s just cheer sweats, but they feel the most like giving up these days.

“No lie,” he says when she’s buckling up, “You look like my sister after I burnt off all the faces on her Barbies. It’s kinda creeping me out.”

She can’t even be bothered to roll her eyes.

The sun’s no longer anywhere near gold, just the same basic oversaturated bullshit of every other morning now, and the corn fields outside her window look more like old pea soup than anything she could’ve ever called pretty.

“Seriously though. Did something happen?” Puck’s watching her watch the lack of scenery, and she doesn’t actually care that he won’t keep his eyes on the road. Maybe if they hit a tractor she’ll be left comatose and won’t have to think about anything.

“Quinn did,” she says, and watches Puck’s face fall from worried to exhausted.

His hand hovers over the radio for a second and she wouldn’t blame him for wanting to drown out this conversation. She hasn’t even told him yet and she’s already trying to move past it.

“Is it her mom, or you know-” There’s a vague hand gesture that she can kind of interpret as alcohol-related, but the look on his face tells her all she needs to know.

It’d be so easy, to let him dwell on that afternoon a few weeks ago, when they showed up soaked and Quinn could barely stand. Yeah, she’s totally the one at fault here. But you won’t blame her because you’re still in love with her so we can both just berate ourselves for caring so much.

But he’s done too much for both of them to deserve that sort of slap in the face so she can only hand him the match and her pile of kindling.

“It’s me, Puck. I fucked it all up, and now she hates me. She – I…”

And she just sort of shrugs helplessly, not even sure where to start with this entire fucking summer. But he knows. One look at her face and he knows all he needs to.

“God damn it, Santana.” His palm hits the steering wheel like a cartoon anvil. “She’s not a toy, you know? She’s a real, fucked up, broken thing, and you can’t just play with her like that! Did you even think about it? Did you even think about what it would do to her, to have the only person she cares about just drop her like everyone else?”

“I didn’t drop her,” she says, curling tighter around herself.

“No? Then what’d you do?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “Let her get too close? Let her use me?”

He glances over at her, and she’s slammed with a sick realization right as he seems to catch it as well.

This has a lot less to do with Brittany and a whole lot more to do with Santana’s traitor of a heart. And there just aren’t really words to tell a guy the damaged love of his life is a manipulative, emotionally volatile little bitch, and you may or may not have fallen for her. It. Something.

“Brittany kissed her,” Santana says, unable to stop that hiccupy panic swallowing up her chest. “Because she kissed me, and we’ve been playing a really shitty game.”

“No fucking way,” Puck retorts.

“All summer. I don’t know who started it, Puck. I thought I was just a good distraction, from, you know, but then it just… I don’t want to be involved in any of this anymore,” she admits to him, hating the way he won’t even look at her now.

“I’m sorry, you don’t- what? You think you get a choice in this?!” he erupts. “Well too goddamn bad, Lopez! This is your mess. You let Quinn take this much. If she breaks, it’s on you. And that’s nobody’s problem but yours.”

“I know,” she says, twisting so all she sees is a sliver of Lima creeping back into her peripheral out the backseat window.

“So what, you got a plan? Or were you just gonna run away again?” he asks, his voice one string away from entirely torn. “Because I don’t want to watch Quinn burn. That’s just not fair.”

The houses are getting incrementally bigger, the streets lengthening as they pull further into town, and she’s never been so thankful to come back to this crappy place. All she wants to do is disappear into the back of her closet and sleep until no one remembers her name. Just block it all out.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t know what I’m doing, with anything.”

“Yeah, no shit,” he replies. But there’s a tired warmth creeping back into his voice, like maybe he’s remembering how many times they’ve both let circumstances paint them the devil no matter whose hand laid the cards.

They aren’t the villains everyone says they are. But they aren’t heroes either, and she has a full childhood of wishing it to be different riding on her next actions.

“She’s going to be a land mine either way,” she sighs, running a hand through her tangled hair. “I’m trying to figure out what’ll do the least amount of damage. You know I’d never deliberately hurt her, Puck. School crap aside I’m not that big a bitch.”

“I know,” he says. “But shit’s hitting the fan no matter how good your intentions were, so. They’re not really helping you much there.”

He isn’t telling her anything she doesn’t already know. But still, there’s something comforting in hearing someone else say it; like maybe with the two of them focused on it a solution might magically appear before them. Or at least a starting point. At least the first step.

“I have to ask you,” Puck starts, slowing at a stop sign not far from Santana’s street. “Promise you won’t be mad.”

“Just say it,” she says.

The speed limit’s low enough here for her to barrel roll out of the car if she needs to, so worst case scenario she limps home with a few scrapes and bruises and never speaks to Puck again. But he doesn’t seem angry, so maybe he already knows whatever he wants answered.

“This shit with Quinn… is she like your new Brittany?” He’s staring straight ahead but she doesn’t miss the way he steels his jaw, like maybe a dozen more questions are waiting to slip out if he isn’t careful.

She rubs at her neck, and says, “Are you asking if Brittany’s old news, or…”

It’s crap and they both know it. But he still humors her, letting the idea hang between them. Are you over the love of your life, Santana? I don’t know, Puck; are you?

They’re almost at her house, and she can see the same shiny windows that have glinted back at her since she was able to toddle down the street. The same lawns she and Brittany would offer to mow, just to have something to do on hazy afternoons, not at all expecting the bills they’d bashfully accept if only for the ice cream truck’s inevitable stop at the crosswalk.

He’s asking more than she’s been able to ask herself. More than she wants to think about. She wishes she was still small enough for her mother to appear on the front porch, calling her back for sandwiches and a tall glass of pink lemonade.

Or for her father to come home early, picking her up in a swinging hug in the driveway and twirling until she saw stars. Let’s say we go to the park before dinner, he’d whisper in her ear. Just the two of us.

“Santana,” he says in a tired voice.

“I know.” She could stop there; just get out and walk home. But he drove all this way for her and her knees would probably buckle out from underneath her if she tried. “She’s still Quinn, but… I guess I don’t know where I fit into it anymore.”

“Do you like her?” he asks quietly, chancing a glance over at her.

He’s the last person she wanted to talk to about any of this. Not that he has a say in anything in Quinn’s life anymore, if he ever did, but she knows how much still exists between them and she’d never want to try to sever that. There’s a baby out there that probably looks exactly like them. She couldn’t compete if she wanted to.

“It’s really, really complicated,” she tells him, turning so he can’t make eye contact.

“I’d punch you, if you were a guy,” he says. “I don’t know, Quinn’s feminist shit would probably want me to punch you regardless.”

“I think Quinn would punch you for saying that,” she says, which gets a chuckle out of him before his face settles back into that cross between anger and overall disappointment.

“I thought you were supposed to be all broken up over Brittany,” he mutters.

“Yeah, well. Brittany’s too busy kissing Quinn, I guess.” A wry smile slips out before she can stop it, but fuck if she’s going to let this swallow her too. “So this is full circle or something. I don’t know. Nothing’s going to happen, either way.”

He makes a face. “Pretty sure something’s happening. Otherwise you wouldn’t be in my truck looking like deep-fried crap.”

He stops just past the fire hydrant, lining the passenger’s side door with the start of the driveway so she can hop out and dash across the lawn to her front door whenever she wants. An easy exit from this conversation. An olive branch, if she really wanted to name it.

Who would’ve thought it would turn out to be him, after all this time?

(She should never have doubted him to begin with.)

She gathers all her hair in a low ponytail, just holding it there before letting it drop. “You know, Quinn had this ridiculous idea a while back that I could fix all this with a song. Like glee club’s suddenly been preparing us for real life all this time,” she tells him, releasing a small laugh.

He chuckles, shaking his head. “Quinn’s like the queen of hyperbolic ideals, especially when they all cancel each other out.”

“I know,” Santana says. “I just wanted to believe her.”

 


 

Abuela and Desi are watching a Spanish soap in the den when Santana comes in, although Desi’s more focused on the comic in his hands than whatever tragedy is playing out on the screen. He doesn’t smile when he sees her, but does pat the spot next to him on the scratchy orange couch, shifting closer to Abuela so she can join them.

“It’s Manuel,” Abuela says when Santana sits down, gesturing towards the TV. “Uno de sus hijos tenían un ataque epiléptico and they won’t let him in the hospital room.”

Desi looks over to her.

“His kid had a seizure,” she translates for him. “That’s awful, Abuela. Poor Manuel.”

“I want to learn Spanish,” Desi mumbles, flipping the page of his comic. It’s something dark and gritty and probably not at all appropriate for a kid but neither is half the shit he hears at recess so Santana’s not going to rat him out.

“I taught you, mi osito,” Abuela says with a pat to his head. “Before you were walking, you were singing. Remember? Doña Semama tiene siete hijitos… Unos sos blancos, otros son negritos…”

Santana grins, continuing, “Lunes, Martes, Miércoles, Jueves, Viernes, Sábado, y Domingo el fin, que no trabaja y es un bailarín! That was me, Abuela. I was in preschool though so I’m pretty sure I was already walking but-”

She stops, because it’s suddenly too clear and her stomach’s one giant knot. It’s pretty much always Maci now, so she doesn’t know why she assumed it would be different. Why would Abuela remember anything of Santana’s childhood when Maci was clearly so much bigger than any of it?

It’s an awful thought and her mother would probably hand her a bar of soap to chew if she dared say it out loud. None of this is Abuela’s fault. But she’s not the only one whose life it’s erasing either.

“You were such a clever little thing,” Abuela’s saying, but there’s that misty look in her eyes and Santana wants bolt.

It’s not fair. Not this, or her mother’s sister being dead, or Quinn being so sad, or Santana being so fucking bad at dealing with other people like she’s some sort of leper hell-bent on infecting everyone around her.

“I’m not clever,” she murmurs to no one.

Desi’s hand finds hers but he’s still staring down at those little cartoon superheroes, his heart too big for his own good.

She wonders how different his life would be if he’d never made the mistake of looking up to her.

“You are,” she tells him, as sirens go off on the screen. “You’ve got all the brains in this family, Des.”

He finally looks up just to give her an eye roll that could only come from years of watching his big sister. “Maybe if you actually tried you wouldn’t always be so disappointed in yourself,” he replies. “You could be Black Widow if you wanted, you know. But you’re just… just Loki.”

“I have no idea what that means,” she says, dropping her voice before Abuela can slap her thigh for talking over the soap.

Desi snorts. “Yeah you do.”

“Maybe. Fine.” She peers over at his page, where a building’s on fire and some ominous dark mass hangs in the sky. “Who’s gonna save them in this one?”

“Thor, obviously,” Desi says, shifting so she can see better. “He’d probably kill himself before he let any earth civilians suffer. He and his brother are kinda opposites like that. But, I don’t know. Sometimes not all the time. Want me to turn the page?”

She nods, her lips curling in a smile. “Yeah, let’s see that beautiful blond hair in action.”

“You’re such a dork,” he says with a laugh. Abuela shushes them both and Santana can’t help but laugh too.

 


 

“I’ve been snooping in your stuff,” Desi tells her later, after Abuela falls asleep and the two of them retreat to the kitchen to make something for lunch.

Santana’s in the middle of mixing up some tuna salad and kind of hopes she didn’t hear him right but he did not inherit her outstanding poker face and she just drops the fork into the bowl and puts her hands up.

“Desi, I swear to god…”

“It’s to help you though,” he insists, eyes like saucers. His feet still against the rung of his stool and she frowns at him over the island. “It was just your laptop. You left it open and I thought… you know, you asked me to find a song so I thought I’d look while you were out. Where’d you go, by the way? Mami was asking and I just said Brittany’s. But I know it wasn’t.”

Because of the fight they had, obviously, which seems so much smaller in light of Quinn’s admission. Brittany didn’t even tell her. Brittany didn’t even care to tell her.

“I’ve got stuff on my laptop I don’t want you seeing,” she warns him, ignoring the question and going back to the tuna salad. “Unless I’m with you I don’t really want you on there, okay?”

He nods, and she realizes how much older she’s sounding to her own ears these days.

“Mami thought you were probably with Quinn,” he says.

She grabs a few slices of bread from the bag and spreads them out on the island countertop, plates be damned. With how frequently their mother cleans this place she isn’t sure they could consume any germs even if they wanted to.

“I was,” she says. “And Puck.”

The butter’s nearly a pool of liquid in the dish but she uses it anyway, basically pouring it onto the bread. If she wasn’t so afraid of her mother’s superstitions she’d stick it in the fridge, not leave it out to melt on the counter, but this clearly isn’t a day for being brave.

Desi’s grown quiet enough for her to look up, and when she meets his eye he finally breathes out a question.

“Is she pregnant again?”

The worst part is that her first reaction is to laugh. She catches herself in time, albeit barely, thinking it’d somehow be so much easier if it was anything as simple as that. Just another Babygate. Judy probably wouldn’t even kick her out this time and maybe they could all help raise the little devil like some twisted commune family.

Another time around probably wouldn’t be nearly as traumatizing.

“No, Des. She’s just sad.”

She doesn’t even want the tuna salad. Maybe some cyanide, or a little bleach, but not these crappy sandwiches. She can’t blame Desi for the look he gives her when she drops one in front of him.

“Because of you?” he asks. He takes a bite, probably just to please her, and even manages to swallow. “This isn’t that awful,” he tells her.

She pulls a stool over to where she’s been standing and finally gets off her feet, gagging herself with a sandwich so she won’t have to answer. Of course it’s because of her. It’s always because of her. If Desi didn’t actually know the answer to that, he probably wouldn’t have asked.

“It’s terrible,” she replies after forcing herself to swallow. “Yeah. Because of me. Because I’m stupid and don’t know anything.”

He considers this, taking another tiny bite of his sandwich. “Did you apologize?”

She sighs. “I think so, yeah. It doesn’t really make a difference. Quinn’s… I mean it’s deserved, her anger. Is what I’m trying to say. An apology isn’t going to change that.”

Desi sighs too, elbows on the table, propping his chin up with a hand and staring at her. The kind of look she’d imagine she’d get from her mother if she was ever brave enough to ask for advice, which she supposes she’s kind of been doing with Desi all this time. Her little brother. Who hasn’t even hit puberty.

And yet somehow knows more than she does about her own life.

“Is there anyone who isn’t mad at you?” he asks, adding, “I’m counting me in that too. I’m still a little mad.”

She’s abandoning the idea of anything entering her stomach today. Maybe it isn’t the sandwich – maybe she’s just so full of poison there isn’t any room left for anything else. But the sandwich is pretty bad.

“I don’t know. Maybe Puck isn’t,” she offers.

He probably is, but it isn’t enough for him not to answer her calls or deny her existence or anything. If she hadn’t come out to him he’d probably still be hitting her up for blowjobs.

But then again, the only time he ever really stopped asking was a brief moment when Quinn was carrying his child, because he thought she might’ve been “the one” or something. And maybe Quinn’s blowjobs wouldn’t have had that tanginess of lesbianism to them.

“Why was Puck there?” Desi asks, frowning into his hand. “If it was a Quinn thing, and she isn’t pregnant, then I just don’t… It just doesn’t make sense. It’s not his space.”

How much should she tell him? Where does any of it even start?

“He loves her,” she says.

Desi waits a moment, and then quietly asks, “Like you do?”

It chills her blood. She stares hard at the sandwich abandoned on the counter, a depressing mound in a sea of crumbs.

“He’s in love with her,” she says. Of course there’s a difference. She just can’t really locate the line right now, with everything in her head. “She’s my friend. Either way we’re both worried about her.”

“Okay,” he says.

“And besides, he was only giving me a ride home. He didn’t even see her. They’re not- ah, totally chummy right now,” she goes on. “So. And he yelled at me a little, for being such a dumbass. But that’s still only because we both care about Quinn.”

Desi nods, following along. “So he knows you made her sad and angry then.”

“He does. He’s not exactly happy about that, but he’s known me long enough to expect it, I guess.” She rubs at her eye.

“Does he know you’ve kissed them both?” Desi asks it softly, like it’s a mug of boiling water in his hands. Ready to spill. Ready to burn.

“Yeah,” she mutters. “And… Yeah. He knows.”

And they’ve all sort of kissed each other now, and they’re all sort of mad at each other. Maybe all they need is for Brittany to have sex with Puck to top it all off. Everything even and the ball in no one’s court.

God, this is some messed up sitcom drama. They could probably give Manuel a run for his money.

“So where does that put you?” Desi asks. “Like what are you supposed to do next?”

“Des, if I knew, do you think I’d be sitting here doing nothing?” She’s so tired, a twelve-hour nap wouldn’t even cut it.

He snorts. “Probably. You don’t really like to do things.”

She flicks a crumb at him and gets up off her stool, needing to be anywhere but here in this apparent interrogation room with her little brother. So much for lunchtime. Maybe she’ll find a coffin and take a little snooze.

“Hey wait,” he says. “I’m trying to help you.”

“By what, making me feel awful about everything?” she says dryly.

“No, that’s all your doing. Sorry! I couldn’t help myself,” he rushes. “But I am trying to help. I was snooping through your stuff because I was trying to find that song you wanted. And I think I found one.”

Her stomach flips. “Really?”

“Well I don’t know, wanna see?” Desi grins at her. “I think I’m doing the most work to try to fix your problems. You probably owe me, you know.”

She rolls her eyes. “Yeah, I know. C’mon. Let’s go see.”

 


 

Despite already having more than enough time to snoop around on her laptop, Desi still isn’t sure what his sister doesn’t want him to see.

Obviously there are things on there she wouldn’t want their parents seeing (like, her desktop background’s a picture of Brittany, and Papi would figure things out super quick if he saw that), but could there even be anything left for him to find out? Because he’s pretty sure he knows everything now.

Or the important things at least. He knows why she’s scared.

And this is why it’s so hard to stay mad at her.

“You know how to operate iTunes?” she asks him, sitting cross-legged on the bed, chewing on the end of a pen. “Does Mami’s laptop even have iTunes?”

He feels like some sort of TV hacker, sitting here at her desk.

“No, but Tyler’s laptop has it, and he likes to listen to Jay-Z when I’m over there,” he says.

She gives him a look that says she shouldn’t approve but is secretly appreciative and he smiles to himself. It’s kind of nice, not having her hate him all the time. Actually being able to tell her things.

Not that he’s happy she got so hurt this summer, but at least she isn’t bothering him all the time anymore. Or worse- ignoring him. He’s glad he didn’t have to admit how lonely he was with her so unreachable.

“I know you like Amy Winehouse,” he says, the cursor hovering over the song. He needs her to be ready before he presses play. “You sing her in the shower a lot.”

Her cheeks redden, but he goes on.

“You kind of sound like her too, so that’s why I thought to look at her songs. Even though she’s kind of hard to understand sometimes,” he admits. “But obviously I can Google that.”

“So you found one,” she says. The pen’s still in her mouth and she has this absent look on her face, sort of like she forgot something.

He chuckles a little, reading the title. “Yeah. A Song For You.”

And it’s like she’s just realizing it, how perfect that cover is, and realizing she managed to overlook it. It’s her own music library and she never even thought about it. He could rub it in, but instead he clicks on the song and lets her listen.

If he shuts his eyes, he can almost hear her singing it.

I know your image of me is what I hope to be.
I’ve treated you unkindly but can’t you see,
there’s no one more important to me

“Des,” she breathes out.

He’s still picturing her on a big dark stage, glimmering curtains behind her, singing her broken heart out. Like her glee club competitions but she’s alone. And the only person who’s allowed to listen to it is-

He has no idea.

Wasn’t it supposed to be for Brittany? Wasn’t that what she said?

“Who’s it for?” he asks, just as she says, “It’s perfect, Desi.”

They stare at each other for a second before she realizes his question actually needs an answer.

We were alone
and I was singing this song for you.

“Brittany,” she says, sounding a little unsure. “Of course it’s for Brittany. Quinn thought… you know… it was supposed to fix it…”

“But what are you supposed to be fixing now?” he asks. “Like, isn’t Brittany-”

Des,” she stresses.

He shrugs. “Sorry. I just don’t really understand.”

The song ends and automatically starts playing again, and he wonders why she’d ever want to listen to the same song on repeat. Just over and over and over again. Wouldn’t she know it well enough the first few times?

Santana lets out a long breath, twisting her hair into a bun and sticking the pen through the middle. It holds everything in place and he wonders if she’s magic.

“The plan was to find a song for Brittany. So we did that. So thank-you.” She’s looking a lot less happy than she was a few minutes ago.

“So now you sing it to her, and everything gets fixed?”

She sighs. “I guess. I don’t know. I guess nobody really thought that far ahead.”

“But it could still work,” he prods, not sure if he should be looking at her or the glowing screen of the laptop. Neither one’s really making him feel any better.

“Look, it was a stupid plan to begin with,” she says. And then quieter, “and kinda my last shot, so I’ll just, like, shave my head and go befriend Rachel Berry or something now. I don’t know.”

He kind of remembers Rachel, mostly from seeing their glee club perform. She didn’t seem awful, but he knows how Santana gets with people who aren’t scared of her, so maybe Rachel’s her worst case scenario.

He knows she’s not popular. He knows they sort of used to be friends, a long time ago.

A horrible thought occurs to him and he knows she’d skin him alive if he ever asked her, so maybe he’ll never know. But maybe Rachel is what happens after the Brittanys and Quinns get all eaten up by Santana and have nowhere else to go. Maybe Santana liked Rachel too, a long time ago, and just destroyed everyone over it.

Looking at her now all sad on the bed he isn’t sure how anyone could ever be scared of her.

But maybe this is her most dangerous. She’s too soft to care what happens later. She’s just giving up.

“You can still sing it to her,” he tries to tell her, but she isn’t listening anymore. She’s just curled up on top of her covers, staring out the window. There’s nothing out there but sky.

It was so much easier when he was mad at her.

 


 

A storm finally breaks the heat that night. Lightning and heavy rolls of thunder, and Desi curls up in his bed wishing Quinn would find him under the kitchen table and make it seem funny again.

Make it seem beautiful.

He knows she’s not really his friend, but sometimes when he’s falling asleep he likes to pretend so, like they aren’t six years apart and she trusts him with things like her secrets and sadness. Like they’d meet somewhere for lunch and she’d know which comics he’s reading and he’d tell her silly jokes just to hear her laugh.

She could definitely use a friend like that. He isn’t even sure she has any friends, with everyone who’s supposed to be her friend going around kissing her and falling for her.

He wouldn’t let that get in the way. She’s beautiful, but she needs to be happy more than she needs someone to be in love with her, and even if they were the same age and hung out all the time he’d never try to kiss her or make her feel bad.

Maybe he’d think about it at night sometimes though like he’s doing now; pretend she was all healed and could be kissed without crying.

He doesn’t know if she cries, really, but it makes sense in his head that she would. And anyway, he doesn’t want to think about people kissing her. Or her kissing people. Or anything that isn’t her happy and in bright sunshine and glowing.

Pregnant people are supposed to glow, but somehow he knows she never did.

And he wonders a lot if the baby turned out sad, and if Quinn ever wonders if the baby turned out sad. Probably. If he’s thinking about it, and it’s not his baby, then she’s for sure thought about it before.

Every time it rains he thinks about her thinking about the baby now. Ever since she told him and all he could do was give her some of his chocolates.

She probably never wrote the baby a letter, but there’s been a lot going on this summer and she probably doesn’t know what to write about. If he were her he wouldn’t want to tell his baby about anything going on this summer either. But he’s sure there’s stuff he’ll never know about, little things that made her smile, all those days she wasn’t with Santana or anywhere he could check up on her, so maybe there’s something worth telling.

She could at least tell the baby she’s doing her best, right?

Another clap of thunder shakes the house and he bolts out of bed, grabbing a blanket to wrap around him.

Maybe Quinn’s in her bed right now, listening to the storm, thinking of him. Or maybe she’s sleeping. He thinks he’d rather her be asleep so at least he knows she isn’t thinking about the baby.

(And now he’s worried the baby’s awake and listening to the storm, and there’s no one around to sing her to sleep.)

(Obviously she has another mother. That’s what adoption means. But he can’t really picture a little baby being away from Quinn without feeling that aloneness. And as much as he wants the baby’s mother to be great, because everybody deserves it, he’s still kind of upset it didn’t get to be Quinn. Quinn would be so good.)

There’s a light on downstairs in the kitchen, so he heads there, pausing at the doorway when he hears voices.

Of course it won’t be Quinn in there, looking for him under the table. He doesn’t really think anything will ever feel like that moment again.

It’s Abuela, he picks up, hearing the soft lilt of her accent drifting between English and Spanish. Abuela and someone listening, and she talks about her babies like they’re still right there in front of her.

Mami’s sister. The one who died.

Maci, Abuela calls her, speaking to whoever’s sitting with her at the table. He can hear feet hitting the rung of a chair. See the shadows stretching across the tiles, all the way out to where he stands motionless in the hall. If either of them got up he’d probably look like a ghost.

They told me to straighten you out, before that girl got to you, Abuela’s saying.

And something soft in Spanish. Why did no one ever think to teach him? Isn’t it his language too?

I always thought Nicola was a good girl, you know. I always wanted to tell you.

He shouldn’t be listening in on this; it isn’t fair. If they knew he was here they’d probably chase him back upstairs, to where the lightning coats his room in a bright sheen and everything smells like rain.

Papi would yell at him for leaving his window open. Papi isn’t the one sitting with Abuela. He doesn’t ever listen to her like this.

Mami would try to talk Abuela back to reality, the way she does whenever Abuela starts mixing up her names. He doesn’t think pretending to be Abuela’s old cat is hurting anybody but Mami always gets mad at him for it anyway.

She’s not kicking the rung of her chair, making the shadows dance.

He knows who it is. He knows who listens all quiet like that.

He knows who looks just like Maci.

It must be awful, to be a walking ghost for someone you love. He’s trying to stop listening. It’s mostly Spanish now, but he’s still trying to stop.

Santana doesn’t want him to know anything about Maci.

He likes that, that she protects Mami like that. He’s sure if Mami wanted him to know she would’ve told him, so listening now is like going behind her back, and he’s always hated snooping in her stuff. Even when he’s on her laptop, he never goes looking through her folders. He even logs out of YouTube when she’s still signed in.

I still blame myself, mija. If I’d loved you more

“You loved me more than anything,” Santana’s saying. “You loved me more than the world.”

No one’s going to sit on the porch and watch the storm with him.

He doesn’t want to think about a thing.

The stairs don’t even creak when he sneaks back up to bed, and the stars on his ceiling have all lost their glow. If he buries himself deep under the blankets it almost feels like someone’s singing him to sleep.

 


 

Santana finds her mother in the den, curled up on the couch with her laptop perched on her knees. It’s still morning and her mother’s still soft and open, like she’s only recently surfaced from a dream, her hair down in curls around her face and still damp from the shower.

She loves her mother like this: makeupless and in pyjama bottoms and an old t-shirt, absolutely nowhere she needs to be.

Her mother’s days off are getting fewer and further between. She can’t even pinpoint when this started happening, the increase in work days, but it’s gotten to the point where she’s surprised to find her mother home and it always hits her in the same strange feeling. Some type of homesickness, maybe. A weird nostalgia.

Her mother was her whole world when she was little, and now they feel more like barges passing at sea. Maybe if she’d squint she could see her mother waving.

She dreamt about the two of them last night; about a long stretch of darkness and holding her mother’s hand. Only it kept slipping out and she kept stumbling and accidentally calling out for Maci instead, her dream self still aware Maci was long gone. Between the dream and the storm she’s not sure she even managed to get six hours sleep.

“You look a little tired, mija,” her mother says when she notices Santana in the doorway. “Did the storm keep you up too? I heard Desi padding around for a bit there.”

Santana joins her on the couch and tucks her knees up the same way her mother has them, the rough orange fabric scratching at her bare skin. She hates this couch. But her parents will die before they get rid of it, and even then she’s always had a feeling it would somehow find its way to her after that.

“I had some weird dreams too,” she says, resting her head against her mother’s shoulder, “so I don’t really know what kept me up. I just feel like a truck hit me or something.”

Her mother makes a sympathetic sound and wraps an arm around her, abandoning whatever she was doing on her laptop. Probably some online couponing, which, as Desi’s been reporting, is all she ever does for fun anymore.

“Seems like you’ve been having a pretty rough time lately,” she says.

Santana nods, relishing the warmth of being tucked into her mother like this.

She’s been so worried about losing her it feels like she’s been intentionally pushing her away, like she’s trying to get the upper hand in her potential abandonment. But god does she miss her. And her father as well, but she’s always had a special relationship with her mother; this dependency she’s given up on trying to shake.

She’ll always need her mother. But she’s been ready for her father to leave her for years now.

“Is it Brittany?” her mother asks, running her fingers through Santana’s hair. “You’ve been spending so much time with Quinn lately, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was a bit jealous.”

“It’s complicated,” Santana says. “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s jealousy. But she’s just… I think she’s moving on, Mami.”

Her mother presses a kiss to her head. “My baby. It’s never easy when your friends move at a different pace than you. But she’ll find her way back, you know. You two didn’t go through twelve years together to just let it slip away.”

No, but what if it’s just that Santana fucked it up and made it impossible for Brittany to stay? What if it was being with Santana all these years that turned Brittany toxic?

It’s not like it was a silly whim that had Brittany kissing Quinn. It was Santana not being ready to come out, and trying to keep everything the same between them, and then trying to make Quinn into a Brittany that would be content with never having to own up to what they were doing.

And she’s not even sure if that’s what happened but she’s knows it’s true on at least some level and maybe it’s only worse if there was something else as well.

(She’s trying so hard not to read into what Quinn said at the diner, right before she left. There just isn’t room in her life right now for it to mean anything more.)

“Santana,” her mother says, rousing her from her thoughts.

There’s a couponing website back up on her mother’s screen and she wonders how much of a silence she let grow between them.

“Abuela kept me up too last night,” she says, really not wanting to talk about Brittany anymore. There’s no saying how much she’ll reveal given how tired she is and now is definitely not the time for her mother to learn the truth.

Her mother sighs. “I’m sorry. I thought I heard her wandering too, but I didn’t want to say anything because your father would only bring up the padlock again. It just doesn’t feel right to lock her in her room. But then she’s all over the place, and I don’t know what I’d do if she got out of the house again, so it’s…”

She trails off, shaking her head. Santana knows where she was headed anyway.

“She was just in the kitchen this time,” Santana tells her. “I think she was lonely. She just wanted to talk to someone.”

It’s a subtle shift, but she sees the change in her mother’s eyes, realizing what Abuela could’ve been talking about. Like there’s ever anything else that slips out when Abuela’s in this foggy state.

(Santana’s been wondering lately if it works like ghosts – like Abuela has some unfinished business, some great regret, that needs taking care of before she can go. Like maybe Maci’s all that holds her back from the afterlife.)

(And it’s awful, but she’s not sure if she’s letting Abuela talk about it because she wants her to feel resolved, or if she’s just eager for it all to end.)

“It would’ve been nice if she wanted to talk thirty years ago,” her mother says wearily, pulling back slightly.

“She was apologizing,” Santana says.

Her mother nods, exhaling slowly. “You’d think she tied the noose herself, with how she goes on about it now. I’m sorry, Santana. I really wish she wouldn’t hound you with all that. You don’t need to hear it.”

“I don’t mind,” she says quietly, feeling the tenseness of her mother’s arm around her. “I mean, I look like Maci, right? So if it helps her…”

“She’s just trying to alleviate her guilt. It’s nothing more than that.” Her mother straightens up and leaves Santana limp at her side, now leaning against her hip.

It isn’t that Santana’s been seeking it out, but she hasn’t been avoiding it either, and she feels like her mother would only be more disappointed in her if she knew. Not that she’s dying to tell her. But keeping it from her feels almost the same; like by proxy she’s the one keeping it alive.

“Mami…” she starts, not really wanting to ask, but at the same time desperately needing to know.

“It’s not your fault,” her mother says, shifting so she can set her computer down beside her. “You and Maci – Desi looks nothing like the cat. She’d find a way to get it out no matter what.”

“It’s not that,” Santana says.

She has no idea how to ask her.

It’s not like there’s any basis for this type of conversation – no after school special has ever really delved into the world of parents’ dead siblings, let alone the reason for their suicide. Is this even something she’s allowed to ask?

“When Maci… Abuela keeps talking about Nicola,” Santana murmurs, staring down at her bare knees. “I just thought- I want to know if that-”

“Was why she killed herself?” her mother fills in.

Santana nods carefully, pressing her thumb into a bruise on her thigh. “I mean I don’t know, obviously. But Abuela keeps saying she wishes she never listened to anyone else, and it just… it just seems like that might be why. Like she and Nicola were… you know. Something.”

She can’t say the word; not to her mother. The very act of holding it on her tongue feels like releasing her confession and she can’t even believe she’s bringing this up now – bringing up Maci – because it’s way too close to everything she doesn’t want to say and this is the last light she’d want to dissect her secret in anyway. The noose, her mother said. Santana didn’t know.

“I’ve thought about it for a long time,” her mother says, nearly a foot of space between them now. She looks so small. So grief-ridden. “And I don’t know. I’ll never know for sure. You know, I never thought to ask her.”

There’s a flicker of something there, like maybe this would be the perfect time for her mother to ask, and Santana’s filled with the utter dread that it’s possible she’s been hiding nothing all along. But it passes as quick as it comes and Santana hugs her knees and her mother runs her palms along the rough fabric of the couch and neither will make eye contact. For different reasons. But for the same.

“It just wasn’t something that was talked about, back then. I wish it was. I wish I’d-” Her mother’s breath hitches, and Santana’s hand involuntarily reaches out to catch it.

“It’s okay,” she tells her.

“I just wish I’d tried to say something. To let her know she wasn’t alone. But that’s the thing when you’re young, I guess, and nothing seems like it could ever really disappear for good – you just assume there’ll always be time.”

The raw Brittany nerve chooses now to wake up, throbbing in Santana’s chest. She knows this so well.

“Maybe it was a lot of things,” she offers quietly, scooting a little closer.

Her mother reaches out and takes her hand. “I think it was. I think it was a lot no one really chose to notice. I loved my sister, Santana. More than anything. But how often did I tell her?”

“She knew, Mami,” she says. “She had to have known. That’s just how family is.”

Her words feel so flimsy, under everything her mother’s tossing out; like wet paper towel trying to catch falling rubble.

“I know,” her mother says, giving her hand a grateful squeeze. “I know. But if we’d ever sat down and talked about it… I don’t know. I don’t know that there was anything I could’ve done to save her. It was a lot of things, like you said, that led up to it. What people said about Nicola, about her; what our parents might think. She had a lot of burdens. And I think she felt it was the only way she could get out.”

“I’m scared it’s like that with Quinn,” Santana admits, and her mother cups her face, stroking her cheek with a soft thumb.

“Just keep talking to her,” she says. “Just keep letting her know she’s not alone. That there are people who will miss her very much, and won’t think any less of her for voicing her struggles. She’s so strong, mija. You’re both so strong.”

Santana’s heart feels swollen with all the burdens she’s let slither in. Like Brittany’s enlarged appendix, when they were twelve; swollen to the point of bursting, and she doesn’t know how to keep it all in her chest. There’s so much of it. Her mother keeps stroking her cheek.

“I’m scared it’s like that with me too,” she whispers, shutting her eyes.

She’s pulled into her mother’s chest before she can even exhale. “My baby, I know. I know. I’ve done so much praying for you.”

“I’m not strong like you are,” Santana mumbles, feeling the tears start to prick. “You and Desi are just- I don’t know how you handle everything. And I even look like Maci, and she-”

“No, nena, you’re nothing alike in those ways,” her mother promises, smoothing down her hair. “You’re so strong. And brave, and beautiful, and such a clever girl, just like Maci. I wish she could have met you, Santana. She would have been so proud of you, you know. So proud. Just like I am.”

Santana sniffles, trying to squeeze the tears back behind her eyelids before they stain her mother’s soft cotton shirt. “I don’t think you’ll always be proud of me, Mami. I’m not good, I’m not…”

“There’s nothing on this earth that could make me any less proud of you, my darling girl,” her mother insists, kissing the top of her head. “I swear on my grave. You’re perfect.”

“But I like girls,” Santana barely manages to get out, the last word disappearing under a rush of tears. “I’m so sorry, Mami. I’m so sorry. I’ve tried so hard to change it.”

She’s melting, a thick ooze of guilt and shame sinking into the couch cushions; sinking into her mother’s shirt. She’s a hot swell of lava. She can feel the world cracking beneath her.

And then her mother pulls back enough to look her in the eye, and presses the fiercest kiss to her forehead like absolutely everything will halt if she doesn’t do just this.

“You’re perfect,” her mother maintains. “Nothing will ever make me love you less.”

“But I’m not going to heaven,” Santana lets out in a sob, her chest caving in as she catches the sound of her mother holding back tears.

“Then we’ll build a new one, my baby. I don’t care. If they won’t let you in, they deserve to burn. Jesus would be lucky to walk beside you.” Her mother’s smothering her in kisses now, across her cheeks and over her eyelids and down to the corners of her lips and anywhere tears might have grazed as if she’s trying to take it all away.

“I thought you wouldn’t love me anymore,” Santana whimpers, and her mother nearly squeezes the life out of her.

Never. Not for this, not for anything,” she vows. “I will love you so long and so fierce they’ll power new worlds with it. Don’t you ever think I could love you any less, mija. It’s not possible.”

Her mother’s crying. Santana’s crying, but her mother’s a full out river of tears, and she’d so willingly drown in it. Submerge herself entirely so there’s nothing else in the world.

They’ve practically become one teary entity on the couch now, Santana so tucked into her mother she’s not sure where either one of them ends or begins. Everything hurts, but it’s the ache of a muscle that hasn’t been used in a long time, like a fiery bruise, and she keeps pushing down, trying to assure herself it won’t all fizzle out into misery if she takes her hands off it.

Because-

“Papi,” she croaks out in a whisper, despite everything inside her screaming not to.

And her mother’s gentle stroking stills.

His brother may be dying, but it’s still the brother he disowned for leaving the church, and Santana’s never wanted to find out what he’d do to his own daughter for so blatantly abandoning his beliefs like this.

“He’ll come around,” her mother says, but it’s hollow between them. “You don’t need to worry about that, Santana. Don’t think about it. Just let me handle it.”

“What if he leaves?” Santana asks, her face smooshed against her mother’s stomach. She can’t bear to untuck herself.

The hand on her back starts rubbing again, small circles spiraling out into apologies.

“He’s a very stubborn man, you know. Since the day I met him.”

The couch he wouldn’t leave behind; the town he forced them into calling home. It would take a second coming to change his mind once he has it set.

“I think you need to rest, mija. You need some sleep. Let me help you upstairs.”

The brother who called and called day after day until they finally had to disconnect the number, just because the man wouldn’t call his Sundays holy. The station wagon he kept until it fell apart around him. The wife he guilted into marriage.

She isn’t so sure anymore, if she wants him to believe in her.

She isn’t entirely sure it will even feel like abandonment.

“Will you stay with me?” she asks, when her mother’s sitting on the edge of her bed.

“Of course,” her mother says. “As long as you want.”

 


 

The sun’s gone down by the time Santana surfaces from her bed. Her room is as dark and chilled as she feels inside, numbing her bare feet as she steps off the rug to find something to wear.

Surely her father’s home by now. He came home so many times in her dreams it almost feels as if she’s done this already.

Watched him shut down. Watched him pack up and leave.

And every dream ended the exact same, with her mother pressed up against the window, begging him to turn around and come back. Promising she’d make it all better. Screaming so hard her voice came out in a shredded rasp.

Santana slips into an old sundress, something soft and faded. Her skin is covered in goosebumps. Someone has the A/C on high.

There are voices filtering up from downstairs, laughing, slipping through the crack of light where her door isn’t fully closed. She can’t remember when her mother left, but she knows there was a promise it would be okay.

As if her mother could predict the end of the storm in her father.

Santana pulls on a knitted cardigan for good measure.

Her dreams bled into each other, clinging to her even as she woke up gasping for air; some scummy film she couldn’t scrub off. Maybe it was watching her father walk away again and again. Or watching her mother finally turn away from the window, her eyes pinning Santana with blame.

What if she’s had enough time to change her mind? What if Santana goes downstairs, and the whole family’s gathered to tell her she needs to leave?

Would anyone even take her in?

The nausea’s rising again, and she takes a seat in the chair at her vanity to wait for it to pass. The last thing she needs is to throw up on everyone just before they kick her out.

A scrap of lace sticking out her jewellery box catches her eye and she wonders if she should tie her hair back or put on a necklace or something, the way this outfit’s starting to feel like she’s dressing for her funeral. Would her mother love her more with her hair out of her eyes? Would someone fight for her if she scrubbed her face clean?

She’s tugging at the lace before she can stop herself and a doily comes out with it, landing in her lap like some final omen.

Of course. She doesn’t know if she should laugh or cry. Or vomit.

Or tell Abuela she loves her, because this might be her last chance.

God, she doesn’t even know if Abuela would understand, with how much time she’s spending now in the past. Maybe if it sounded enough like Maci, but even then it might just sound like a message from beyond the grave, and the last thing Santana wants to do is play someone else’s ghost. She’s already so much her own.

No lace in her hair, she decides. Nothing that feels that thin.

She can barely look at herself in the mirror, carefully averting her eyes from having to take anything in, but she still manages to clasp a necklace around her neck – a gold chain that used to be her mother’s, but now holds a small rock with a hole straight through that Brittany brought back from some vacation years ago.

It’s a hag stone, she’d told her, pressing it into Santana’s palm. It’s for protection. Nothing bad can happen if you have it with you.

She’d slipped it on the chain and worn it for a couple months, but she was never really one for believing. Not when Brittany did so much for the both of them. Still- it’s something. And she’s so ready to be someone who has tangible faith.

The laughter’s stopped downstairs, but there’s still an even din filling the house. And music. Something slow. Jazzy.

She’s not brave.

But she’s spent far too long being afraid.

 


 

Her mother spots her before she’s even fully stepped into the kitchen, rising from the dining room table where they’ve all been doing what appears to be an actual jigsaw puzzle. Santana’s not even sure it was in this century the last time they tried one of those. But they all seem happy enough, hunched over their own small sections of the full picture, and no one else even looks up as her mother comes over to her.

“There’s a plate in the fridge if you’re feeling hungry,” she says, rubbing Santana’s arm.

Santana shakes her head and her mother nods.

“Have you said anything yet?” Santana asks in a low voice, as to not be heard by anyone else.

The radio probably does a good enough job of keeping their conversation secluded to the kitchen, but she doesn’t want to risk it. Her father’s smiling. She knew on some level the shitshow would wait for her but she was also sort of hoping she’d just wake up to a suitcase being thrown at her and clear directions to leave. At least it would be over with.

“I wanted to wait for you,” her mother says. “To see what you wanted to do. Do you want tea, maybe?”

Santana nods. “Yeah, all right.”

She follows her mother over to the kettle, the two of them crowded into one small corner of the kitchen like they’re huddling for warmth. It is colder than usual down here. Someone’s definitely been messing with the A/C.

She pulls herself up onto the counter while they wait for it to boil, and her mother leans against the sink, her hair haloed by the soft amber light from the dangling bulb above her.

She looks beautiful. The epitome of grace.

“Desi knows,” Santana finds herself telling her, in a voice just above a whisper.

Her mother doesn’t seem too phased by the idea of a child knowing about homosexuality, but with Desi parading around in Santana’s candy striper uniform a few weeks ago she’d probably have had time to get used to it if it was an issue.

“How does he feel about it?” is all she asks, looking up at her daughter with soft eyes.

Santana lifts her shoulders. “I think a little more positively than I do, actually.”

“Santana,” her mother says. It’s chastising, but it’s also sympathetic, and her mother’s lived in Ohio long enough to understand why.

The kettle’s making enough noise to soon be at its boiling point and the two of them turn to watch it despite knowing the old adage. It’s better than watching the other three members of their family sit unaware, still focused on trying to complete whatever colorful picture those pieces promise.

“Is it- was it Brittany?” her mother asks quietly, eyes still on the kettle.

Santana wants to swallow her tongue.

It could have been, or it could have been the other way around where the only reason Brittany even considered kissing her was because Santana so rashly dragged her into it. Trying to pinpoint its origins feels a lot like trying to find her way through the dark – it’s just a lot of jagged edges on familiar objects that she’s forgotten how to name.

“I’m sorry,” her mother says. “I don’t think I’m supposed to ask that.”

The kettle clicks and they both jump, somehow forgetting that’s why they’re waiting here. Her mother stares at it for a second longer before reaching into the cupboard for mugs and teabags.

“I just don’t know the answer,” Santana says honestly, curling her toes around the edge of a slightly open drawer.

Her mother nods sort of absentmindedly, dropping the teabags into the bottoms of the mugs. “Was Brittany ever- was she ever a thing, with you? Like a-”

Girlfriend? Could Santana even answer that if she wanted?

“I… I fell in love with her. I guess.” Her face is hot from the admission and she doesn’t dare meet her mother’s eye. “But it-”

“Okay,” her mother says. Her hands are steady while pouring the water, so maybe that’s a good sign.

“It didn’t work out,” Santana continues in a murmur, somehow unable to stop the words from leaving her mouth. “She wanted to tell everyone. And you know, she was with Artie, and chose him first, and I was just… I mean if I wasn’t even going to be a priority…But she’s nice, so of course I couldn’t- I don’t know.”

“It’s Ohio,” her mother says, putting a hand on her knee, and for the first time Santana thinks someone might get it.

Yeah,” she says with a dumb sniffle. “Maybe in a city somewhere, where people don’t care, but…”

Her mother’s lips pull slightly at this, and Santana hopes she hasn’t offended her. It may not have been her mother’s idea to stay in Ohio but she’s always supported her husband’s choice.

“You’re just a child,” her mother says in an apologetic tone, shaking her head. “You shouldn’t have to make these decisions. That’s not fair to either of you.”

“I really thought you’d kick me out,” Santana mumbles.

“You’re my home, Santana,” her mother says, and warmth floods her at the words. “Even if I tried my heart would still be there inside you.”

She pushes a mug of tea across the counter, towards Santana, and Santana takes it in her hands as she glances across the kitchen to her father. Despite the heat between her palms a chill still runs through her.

“Do you want me to tell him?” her mother asks, following her gaze.

“I don’t know,” Santana says. “I don’t know if it’d make a difference.”

She can sense her mother’s apprehension and somehow it’s kind of calming, knowing she’s not the only one dreading this conversation. Could he kick them both out? Probably, in theory. But he has a track record of walking away and she doesn’t really expect anything else from him. Maybe a couple choice passages from the bible and a reminder she’s going to hell.

As if she hasn’t known this since middle school.

“Together then?” her mother asks. “You know it doesn’t have to be tonight. I’m sure it could wait until…”

After church, and she’s sure the both of them are thinking about having to sit through mass with this secret heavy on their chests. Her mother gives her a look and she knows she’s thinking about how many Sundays Santana’s had to sit through on her own.

“No, it’s better this way. At least it gets it over with,” Santana says with a shrug.

She’s probably going to shit herself, but at least it’ll all be out in the open. No more secrets. No more Papi.

Her mother nods, taking a careful sip of her tea. “All right. Want to wait for us downstairs? I don’t want your brother hearing this.”

Santana slides off the counter, hopping backwards as she sloshes tea onto the kitchen tiles. If it goes the way she thinks it’s going to go he’ll hear the brunt of it anyway, but she appreciates her mother trying to make this easier for all of them. Desi knows too much already anyway. If she could take anything back it’d be dragging him into this.

“Mami? I love you,” Santana says as she pauses in the doorway, biting down on her lip.

Her mother’s face warms into a smile. “I love you more than the world, mija. It’s going to be okay.”

It’s a lie Santana’s more than happy to accept.

 


 

The last time she met with her parents down here, Quinn was asleep in her bed and she was sure the world was ending in an entirely different way. She’d wanted to fight, then. There was a drive inside her that could’ve moved mountains.

Now she’s waiting alone on a hard stool, too afraid to sit in her father’s desk chair lest he decide to yank it out from under her and send her packing, toying with the cold stone around her neck like maybe it’ll make any of this easier. Her whole body’s still trembling but maybe a little less with her hands preoccupied.

She can hear her mother voice from upstairs, calling to her father, and she’s trying so hard not to look at the screensaver on his computer; that slideshow of photos that seems to speak of another family entirely.

She was happy as a kid, right? She loved her parents, and she tolerated her brother, and she would’ve done anything for her best friend. Surely these are the marks of a kid who didn’t grow up lonely. But she keeps catching her own eye in the stupid photos and that tiny Santana keeps putting on the same fake smile and she doesn’t know anymore. She doesn’t know what was happiness and what was wanting to believe.

Her skin prickles as her mother appears on the stairs, and then her father. The two share the same look of apprehension and her father can’t know what exactly is about to happen but he has to sense something, because he eyes the scene like a cornered wild animal.

That desperation to flee. The need to be anywhere else that Santana knows all too well.

She wonders for a moment if he thinks this is about his brother and that Santana sold him out to her mom and they’re all about to have some big confrontation. But wouldn’t he want to come into that with the upper hand? Wouldn’t he at least put on a face that looked like he was in control?

“Sorry that took so long, mija,” her mother says as she takes a seat in the crappier desk chair.

The three seats that are arranged near the desk are the ones her father placed here to talk about Quinn and when Santana remembers how delicately he spoke to Judy and how willing he was to try and make things better she wants to cry. It feels like forever ago and like this is some sad, empty echo.

Her father stands for a moment beside the last chair and just watches his screensaver like it’s the first time he’s seen any of those photos. And then he looks to Santana, no doubt catching the way her whole body shakes, and finally sits down.

Her mother gives her a nod to begin but Santana just stares helplessly back at her.

“I don’t know how to start,” she whispers, feeling so much like the kid in the principal’s office, trying to prove her innocence with bloody knuckles.

She glances at her tea cooling on the desk beside her and can’t even begin to think of drinking any of it with the way her stomach roils. Even when she tried to imagine this conversation it didn’t feel anywhere near as awful as this.

“Well,” her mother says, looking back and forth between her daughter and husband. “Santana has something she’d like to tell you, Isaiah. And I think it’s important you do your best to listen, and to keep in mind how difficult it is for her to share this.”

“Of course,” he says, with a bit of a stricken expression.

Santana wonders if he’s imagining a pregnancy or her having committed crime or whatever fathers fear most for their daughters. Surely no dad pictures this kind of conversation ending in their kid coming out.

Her chest feels like it’s about to cave in, but she forces herself to look directly at him. To take in the harsh lines of his features and the soft way he looks right back at her. He has a small cut from shaving just along the edge of his jaw and she used to always kiss those better, when she was a kid, because she thought it must hurt more than anything, and she couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t just let those tiny hairs stay.

He used to be her hero. She wants more than anything to bring that feeling back, but she’s been afraid of him for so long it’s engraved in her bones. And it’s all come down to this conversation. To him finally knowing.

“Papi,” she says, and swallows. Her mother reaches over and takes her hand.

“Santana, whatever it is we’ll get through it,” he tells her, face creasing in concern.

She nods and wishes it to be true. “First of all I’m sorry,” she says.

Her mother gives her a sharp look to scold her for the apology but she wants it out there, because even in the best case scenario she knows he’ll replay the conversation over and over and she wants there to at least be an acknowledgement of her changing everything for him. She wants him to know she thought of him in this. That he’s all she’s thought about.

“Papi I like girls,” she blurts out, and she can already feel the tears pricking her eyes. “The way I should like boys. I’m-”

“Santana,” he interjects.

“I’m a lesbian,” she says, because she needs him to hear the word. Even with the way he’s frowning at her she needs him to know this isn’t some rash decision. “I’m sorry. I know this isn’t…”

He has a hand over his mouth, and it moves to rub his chin as he just frowns blankly ahead.

This isn’t the moment to notice the lines of grief around his eyes but again she remembers his brother and wishes so badly she could take it all back because she knows this is the last thing he needs right now. His brother’s dying and she has the audacity to ruin the rest of his life.

“Isaiah,” her mother says hesitantly, leaning forward to block the emptiness between him and Santana. “Tell your daughter you love her, Isaiah. Tell her how brave she is for-”

“She’s sick, Isobel.”

Santana’s stomach just drops.

“That’s nonsense,” her mother tries, but her father raises a hand in dismissal.

“In the eyes of the Lord, she’s sick,” he says. “And it’s our job as her parents-”

“No!” her mother says over him, accidentally spinning the chair but ends up facing him anyway. “Our baby is perfectly fine, Isaiah, she’s-”

He tunes her out, instead facing Santana and speaking only to her. “We’re going to get you help. There’s a center in Utah that specializes in-”

“You cannot send her away!” her mother erupts. She’s out of the chair now, angrier than Santana ever remembers seeing her. “Especially not to some kind of gay rehab?!”

Her father’s still sitting calmly in his chair, apparently unfazed by the flush of her mother’s face that usually signifies someone getting a good smacking or a dish getting thrown across the room. His stillness is the only thing Santana can focus on right now because literally everything else about this conversation has bile rising in her throat and she’s not sure she can handle acknowledging that it’s even happening.

“As her parents, Isobel, it’s our duty to ensure she gets the help she needs,” he’s saying, as her mother grows into the kind of fury that before now was limited to fairytale villains.

“And I am telling you that there is no way you’re sending her anywhere,” her mother hurls at him. “Not without me. Not without our son, who you will never see again if you so even try to condemn her to that hell!”

“So you’ll just let her rot like this?!” He’s on his feet now as well, the two of them only steps from each other, and yet they’re both shouting as if either one’s standing at the edge of a field.

Santana would scoot away if she could, but the old metal stool’s planted firmly in its place and scraping it backwards would only alert them both to her shivering presence and drag her into a conversation she’s not sure she could survive right now.

It feels worse than dying just listening to them. God knows what would happen if either of them asked her anything.

Her father continues angrily, “You’d rather her go to hell than have her out of your sight for less than a year? Is that the kind of mother you are?”

“Don’t you dare take it there, Isaiah,” her mother warns as she brings her knuckles to her lips. “And if you truly believe she’s sick then you are not the man I married. The only ‘sickness’ here is the idea that our Lord would love her any less for something she was born with, with or without your understanding. Whether you choose to accept that or not.”

“This has nothing to do with acceptance,” her father says. “And we aren’t talking about an extra limb or missing chromosome – this is about knowing what’s right as her parents and doing our best for her wellbeing.”

“Exactly,” her mother says, moving closer to Santana who feels like someone’s doused her in acid. “So I’m taking the kids to a motel for the night and if you’re still here in the morning it’d better be because you’ve changed your mind. Otherwise we’re gone for good.”

“Isobel, don’t be rash,” her father says, but he looks as if he’s just been slapped.

Santana waits for her mother to take it back, to apologize and just tell him to smarten up, but she’s grabbing Santana’s hand and pulling her off the stool towards the stairs like not even God Himself could make her back down.

“I’m doing right by our daughter,” she tells him, and then calls for Desi who must’ve been listening at the door with how quickly he appears at the top of the basement stairs. “Pack an overnight bag, my sweet. We’re going away for the night.”

Desi looks at Santana like she might be able to explain what the hell just happened but she can only look back helplessly, clutching Mami’s hand like a terrified child.

“Quickly now,” her mother says, leading Santana up the stairs and shooing Desi along.

“You don’t have to do this,” Santana tells her as they reach the top, but her mother just shakes her head.

“Don’t worry. This is about more than just you. Now go pack your bag, Santana. I have to go talk to Abuela.” Her mother releases her hand, but pulls her back for a second to give her a quick kiss on the forehead. “And I am so, so proud of you.”

 


 

The entire time Santana’s in her room, numbly tossing essentials into her Cheerios duffel bag, she can’t help picturing her father still standing there in the basement with that stricken look on his face. He doesn’t come upstairs as they’re heading to the car, not even when her mother pauses to ask Abuela again if she’s sure she’s fine alone, and that last image of him standing there is burned into Santana’s vision even after they get on the road. Because that look on his face is exactly what she was trying to evade—he will never be able to come back from this point.

Desi holds her hand in the car the way Brittany once held the paw of a dying stray they found in the middle of the road, watching her out the corner of his eye but still not asking what’s going on.

Their mother hasn’t said a word since leaving Abuela at the door but Desi’s a smart kid and Santana wishes he’d just say something so someone could acknowledge how fucked up this all is. That they’re running away in the middle of the night and it feels like a plan her mother’s had in place for a while now.

The passing streetlights bathe the car in swatches of light, running along Santana’s body like brief moments of salvation.

She doesn’t want to feel responsible. She doesn’t want any of them to be here. And still she doesn’t know if she’s even surprised – or awake, or breathing, or able to speak. From the moment she said the word lesbian to getting in the car feels like it happened in less than a minute and she’s only now able to begin to take in what happened.

Her father tried to send her to Utah. To be fixed?

Is he disappointed in her or just worried? Can she still call it love?

“Santana,” Desi whispers, and she’s suddenly so grateful for the way the seat seems to swallow him whole. He’s still a child. Nothing’s broken him yet.

She gives his hand a light squeeze and realizes she hasn’t even cried yet. She cries at everything, and somehow this has her numb.

“What is it, Des?” she whispers back.

He glances at their mother in the front seat who’s staring straight ahead at the empty road stretched out in front of her. “If Papi’s gone,” he says softly, “do you think that means we can get a cat?”

Her laughter surprises her and then suddenly there’s a lump in her throat and she’s willing tears not to spill over.

“Everything’s going to change,” she says.

“Well yeah,” he says in reply. “But it was gonna happen either way – they’ve been fighting for over a year.”

But this was because of me, she wants to say, wanting him to really understand. They have to sleep in a musty motel tonight because she just had to tell Papi. He’s going to disappear from their lives and they’ll have to move to some place a quarter of the size of the only home they’ve known because she couldn’t live with this stupid secret any longer, even though she knew it would ruin everything.

“Did you bring your phone?” Desi asks her, nudging her out of her thoughts.

“Of course,” she says. It was probably the first thing she grabbed from her room, even though she’s now realizing she forgot deodorant.

“Maybe you should text one of your friends,” he tells her. “I think it might help.”

She nods in agreement, reaching over into her purse for her phone before wondering who exactly she should be texting.

Logically it should be Brittany, because Brittany was the one who kept pushing for this moment to happen and is probably the only one who could see it as a positive. But she’s basically ended things, at least for however long it takes for Santana to grow up, and Santana’s not even sure she actually wants to talk to her – because everything Quinn said was true even if Santana wouldn’t let herself hear it.

Quinn shouldn’t have been the one to have to tell Santana about the kiss. Quinn isn’t supposed to be handling other people’s fuck ups at all, but it isn’t like any of them could stop her. And it isn’t like Quinn would even reply to Santana’s text as well. (Or worse- she would, and then they’d never deal with what she said at the diner and everything would get even more messed up.)

She knows Puck would show up at the motel with a stupid care package that’d most likely consist entirely of alcohol and a token bar of chocolate and as much as she loves him she just feels too much like overcooked pasta to be able to handle him right now.

“Des,” she whispers, nudging him even though he’s looking right at her. “What if I don’t have any friends anymore?”

He scrunches up his face as he think for a second and then says, “Didn’t you say you were gonna shave your hair and befriend Rachel Berry?”

She rolls her eyes. “Oh my god, that’s like the last person I’d ever want in my business. Definitely not.”

Desi gives her a look that basically says can you really afford to be picky right now and she resists the urge to roll her eyes again with how much they ache from all the tears she won’t let out because fuck if she’s going to resort to freaking Berry. (And besides, Rachel’s probably too busy sucking out the soul of that supersized potato. She wouldn’t reply even if Santana had her number.)

“Maybe I’ll just talk to you, if that’s okay,” she says quietly.

Desi looks up at her from where he’s slouched against the seat and just watches her for a minute. “Okay,” he says. “And I’m not mad at you anymore, in case you were wondering.”

“But I didn’t fix anything,” she mutters.

“I know,” he says, as their mother pulls off the highway and into an empty motel parking lot. “But everything’s changed, right?”

The whole parking lot’s washed in the flashing neon vacancy sign hanging on a giant signpost and Santana can’t remember the last time she ever saw this much deep blue. Maybe standing at the edge of the ocean, years ago when she was still convinced she began and ended with Brittany.

“Do you kids want to grab something at the vending machine while I get us a room?” Mami asks, unbuckling her seatbelt.

Desi looks to Santana and she shrugs. “I could go for a Kit Kat.”

Mami hands them her change purse, leaving the two of them to gather their things as she heads over to the motel lobby. Desi grabs his backpack and reaches over to open the door but whips back around to Santana instead.

“You forgot the best part about this though,” he says.

“What?” Santana asks as she slings her duffel over her shoulder.

He gives her a smile. “No more secrets. Everybody knows now. And the world didn’t end, did it?”

“I guess not, in the grand scheme of things,” she says with a shrug. “But we are spending the night at a motel in the middle of fucking nowhere. Shit, sorry.”

The apology’s a reflex at this point and now he’s the one rolling his eyes. Like she doesn’t do this basically every time she talks to him. He’d probably be more surprised if she didn’t swear.

She gets out of the car and slams the door behind her, and a second later Desi does the same, joining her to head over to the brightly-lit vending machine. He’s still smiling, seemingly content to just walk beside her awash in this dark blue neon light that fills every crack and crevice of the night.

“It feels like an adventure,” he admits as he bumps up against her.

She rolls her eyes and laughs and ruffles his hair.

“Desi,” she says, “you are the vessel of the entire family’s optimism. Please don’t ever lose that.”

He puts an arm around her middle and pulls her closer, and she loops her arm around his shoulder, and banging against each other every step of the way they continue like that the entire length of the parking lot until they reach the glowing white light of the vending machine.