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Drawn to Feel the Emptiness

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Drawn To Feel The Emptiness


I'm high above the world, why should I feel pain or feel alone…

Weirdly, living in New York is exactly as you expected it. It's romantic and cheesy, like those old movies you say you hate, but you secretly love. And yet it's gross, and you try to avoid sitting too close to anyone on the subway who smells like they haven't showered since 1987, and you have to keep coming up with creative places to hide your phone and wallet so you can't get robbed. You almost feel sorry for those poor, naïve tourists who haven't figured that out yet.

You have absolutely zero regrets about dropping out of college. College was fun, for about a week, and then after all the novelty wore off, you just couldn't stop thinking about her, and how you wished she was lying in bed with you, running her long fingers through your hair, gently caressing your body. After the breakup, it was easy to get distracted with classes, and cheer practice. You didn't even care that you hadn't really made any friends there. You still don't; after all, it's been weeks, and you've already basically forgotten everyone's name anyway, and you're never going to see any of them ever again. You haven't completely ruled out the possibility of going to college altogether; it's just not something you necessarily want to be doing right now, and certainly not in Kentucky. You're careful with what's left of your graduation money, and you don't touch it if you can avoid it, in case you eventually change your mind, and between paying rent and affording living expenses, you're trying to recoup the damage.

The conversation you had with your mother after she found out you dropped out was not a pleasant experience.

You're in the middle of a nap when your phone rings. Since you don't have classes to go to, and, although you've had job interviews coming out of your ears for the past couple weeks, you haven't officially got a job yet, you have so much more time on your hands, and, right now, the weather sucks. So you're using your free time to sleep. You pick up your phone, see that it's now five in the afternoon, and the words 'incoming call' flash on the screen, with a photo of your mother staring back at you.

You panic. "Hello?" You answer, sleepily.

"Hola mija," your mother says, with a cheerful tone. "I was just calling to see how school's going."

You're thankful that she can't see you through the phone. "Oh yeah, college is really good," you lie, sounding way more artificially enthusiastic than you intended. "Um, I'm having the best time. I just got out of my sociology class."

"Well, funny you should mention that, because guess who I ran into yesterday?"

You pray that it's anyone but Sue. Or Brittany, but especially Sue. "Madonna?" You guess, trying to diffuse the tension.

"Your friend Kurt's father."

That's even worse than Sue. "Oh, that's nice." Lie number two.

"Yes, it was nice," she says. "I took the car in to get serviced, and we were having a nice chat. I asked him how Kurt's going in New York, and do you know what he said?"


"He said Kurt's doing really well at NYADA, and 'he and Rachel must be having an easier time paying rent now that Santana's moved in with them', and I was thinking, 'surely he can't be talking about my lovely daughter, seeing as she's in college in Kentucky', and how can you possibly be in two places at once?"

She knows. There's no point trying to lie your way out of this one even more. "I just…"

"Please, just stop with the lying," she says. "Are you actually going to tell me what you've been doing for the past couple months? Or am I going to hear about it from our mailman?"

"Okay, fine. I dropped out of college. Satisfied?"

"You dropped out in January. Where have you been?"

"I stayed at a friend's place," you reply. It's not a complete lie. You crashed on a few people's couches, and sometimes you stayed in youth hostels if you were desperate and had nowhere else to go. "I don't know why you're making such a big deal out of this. You said I could go to New York if I wanted to."

"Santana, when my daughter just randomly decides to drop out of college out of the blue for no good reason and disappear for a month, it's a big deal! If you didn't want to stay in college, you could have easily just come to me."

"Well, I didn't," you snap. "It's all in the past!"

Your mother sighs. "So, are you just going to abandon your education? I thought you wanted to get your college degree."

"I don't know. Maybe. Eventually. Just not now."

"Please, don't tell me you've already blown your college fund?"

You shake your head, even though she can't see you through the phone. "No. Not all of it."

It's the truth. You've spent a bit of it since you got here, but there's still a small chunk of it left. You hardly used it at all in college; you didn't have much time for socialising in Kentucky.

"Well, I guess that's a relief," she says, breathing in a sigh of resignation. "Just hold onto it, okay? You could change your mind."

"Fine," you say.

"Is everything okay, mija?" She asks, concerned. "I saw Brittany the other day. She was with that blond boy from…"

"Yeah, I know," You interrupt, not wanting to hear the rest of the sentence. "I'm okay. Just drop it, mami, all right?"

"Whatever you say," she replies. "You know you can call us any time, right?"

"I know. I have to go, okay?"

You don't really have anywhere to be right now. You're just desperate to get out of this conversation.

If someone had told you two years ago that you'd be living in New York with Kurt and Rachel after high school, you'd have probably asked them two things: "What are you smoking", and "Can I have some". Most of the time, they annoy the living crap out of you, especially Rachel, who alternates between singing at the top of her lungs to do her ridiculous vocal exercises that make her sound like a dying whale, and refusing to talk because she's 'preserving her voice'. Kurt's not much better, but because he's still as not over his break-up as you are with yours, every now and then, he's up for an angsty movie marathon. However annoying you think they are, you kind of need them, though you'll never tell anyone that. New York is a big city, and it's sort of comforting to have people there that you already know, even if those people are Kurt Hummel and Rachel Berry. Because you're not super close with them like with, say, Quinn, for example, they don't force themselves on you when you need space. They don't force you to talk about things you don't want to talk about, and you know they won't dare bring up what happened with Brittany unless you explicitly say it's okay. They still don't really know you well enough for that. And yet at the same time, you're very much aware that they're a lot closer to each other than with you, and there's a part of you that really wants to prove to them that you're not that same angry, bitter person you were in high school, and deep down, you'd kind of like to be closer with them than you are right now.

And so, you're the perfect roommate, most of the time. Your bed (an uncomfortable foam mattress on top of an equally uncomfortable air mattress) is made every day, and your area of the loft is spotless. Your parents would probably laugh, and wonder if you were possessed because your bedroom at their house is the complete opposite and looks like a bomb went off in there. When you're home alone, and there are dishes in the sink, you'll wash them. Rachel and Kurt can't complain, and they don't say anything to you about it, though you suspect that they're still probably a bit scared of you.

You're especially careful about not eating their weird food, which suits you just fine, since Rachel only eats weird vegan crap, and Kurt makes elaborate dishes with all sorts of ingredients that you can't pronounce the names of. The first time he offered to share his cooking with you, you declined, because it had shellfish in it, and you're severely allergic. You insisted that your ramen noodles, which you bought in a pack of twelve for a dollar, were just as good, if not better than his weird French food anyway.

You got a job working at a coffeehouse a few blocks away. It's not the most glamorous job, but it's better than nothing, and the hiring manager seemed to like you once you mentioned your availability and that you actually know how to use a coffee machine. It pays reasonably well, they give you as many bags of free coffee beans as you want, and it's mostly morning shifts, so you've got lots of free time to go to auditions, in case you find something that appeals to you. It doesn't hurt that every Friday night, they get you to get up and sing with one of the other baristas, Eddie, who plays the guitar. You were so relieved to get a job, because, to be honest, living in New York is kind of expensive, and as much as you don't want to have to continually dip into what's left of your college fund, you fear you might not have a choice. But, for now, you're managing.

It's only when Kurt nervously approaches you after your nap (because you had the damn morning shift and the couch looked so comfortable when you got home) and reminds you about the impending rent you have to pay at the end of this week that you start to panic. Where did your money go? You curse yourself as you remember how, more often than not this past month, you were lazy and bought takeaway instead of groceries, and you bought your lunch instead of bringing it from home. You remember how you had to buy work-appropriate shoes, and how you invested in noise-cancelling headphones for those nights when the city is just so loud that you can't get to sleep, and now you're sitting on barely enough to pay rent. You get paid fortnightly, so until the end of the week, you try to avoid spending any money altogether. You survive on ramen. It's your breakfast, lunch and dinner. After two days in a row of eating nothing but ramen, you can't stand it, and you'd honestly be so happy if you never looked at noodles again, but you can afford to pay rent, so you can't complain. It's just the price you have to pay to live here, as opposed to Kentucky, where there's literally nothing there for you, or Lima, where Brittany is, kissing someone who isn't you.

Then, you forget to bring your lunch with you. It isn't your fault; you just slept in because Rachel kept you up all night practicing the tango with a broom and making the entire floor shake, and you slept through your alarm. You wake up, realise your morning shift starts very soon, and you panic, and you get dressed and leave for work without properly doing your hair or your makeup, or eating breakfast. You push through the hunger pangs until your supervisor lets you go for lunch, and then you open up your bag and realise that you were in such a rush that you've completely forgotten about it. You curse yourself for being so careless; why did you have to sleep through your alarm? You think about buying lunch, but you really need to pay rent this month. So you pass on lunch, telling yourself that you survived not eating breakfast, so why not just go without lunch as well. You remembered your phone; so you distract yourself by watching dumb Internet memes until your break is over. You get home and you're so tired that all you want to do is fall asleep, so you do. As you drift off, you start to think about your day. How it was easier than expected.

How you survived your eight-hour shift without breakfast and lunch, and if you sleep for the rest of the day, you could probably skip dinner as well. You make that your mission.

But it isn't meant to be. You wake up at three in the morning. You go to the kitchen to get a glass of water and the first thing you see is Kurt's box of Special K sitting on the kitchen bench. And just like that, you're instantly reminded of how hungry you are.

"Kurt won't mind if I steal some," you say to yourself. And after all, it isn't ramen. You pour as much of it as will fit in a small coffee mug, and you don't bother to put milk in it. There's none in the fridge, anyway, because Kurt and Rachel both drink soy, which is gross, and you ran out of regular milk a week ago and didn't bother buying more. You finish your tiny serving of cereal and then you realise you didn't skip dinner like you wanted to. You know it's three o'clock in the morning, so it doesn't technically count as dinner, but it's still dark, so therefore, you've just eaten dinner.

You don't know what to feel. Part of you is relieved, because you were starving, and that tiny cup of cereal was better than nothing, but there's another part of you that's disappointed, and guilty. I was weak, you think. I failed my mission. You're just relieved that you stopped. You resisted.

You go back to sleep, still feeling pretty mad at yourself, and before you know it, you've missed your alarm again. You wonder if maybe today you can try again. This time, you're successful, and you're kind of proud, and you start to think paying rent won't be such a headache after all. When Kurt asks you if you're good to pay rent this month, you cheerfully say yes, and all is good in the world. You're pretty broke at the moment, so you tell yourself that as soon as you get paid next week, you'll eat normally again, and everything will go back to normal, and you'll just have to get better at economising next month. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures. This was just a once off. After all, you skipped a few meals every once in a while during sophomore year (Sue basically expected it of all of you), and you're totally fine, better than fine, even. You love New York. You're here,and not in Louisville, or Lima, or some random youth hostel. You're here.

You get paid every second Wednesday. You're relieved when you check your bank balance and find that there's actual money in there, and the first thing you think of is the delicious Caesar salad from your favourite deli, just across the road from your workplace. You've missed it so much; you're practically drooling just thinking about it. You go to the deli on your work break, and the owner, a middle-aged Greek-Cypriot man named Theo, greets you with a smile.

"Long time, no see," Theo says. "You want your usual?"

You nod, and listen to him, as he tells you all about his son scoring the winning goal at his soccer game, and his cousin's wedding, and his mother and his aunt having a fight over his yiayia's baklava recipe. You laugh when he tells you all about his mother shoving his aunt into a table of appetisers and wine.

"I'm telling you, you have not experienced true physical pain unless you've been in a physical altercation with my mother. She's a small lady, but she's got a mean punch." Theo says. You want to roll your eyes, because you've been in a fight with Lauren Zizes, and you're pretty sure she probably trumps Theo's mom any day of the week, no matter how mean her punch is. You're pretty sure your left butt cheek has never been the same since. You spend so long listening to Theo go on and on about his kids and all his cousins, and how he lost at arm wrestling against his mother (which you think must be pretty embarrassing for him) that you don't end up actually finishing your lunch. Before you know it, your lunch break is over and your distressed supervisor immediately asks you to clean up after some small child who apparently dropped their banana milkshake all over the floor. You cringe; the banana flavour is revolting and bears no resemblance to the taste of actual bananas. It's the kind that only appeals to children with underdeveloped taste buds, or adults who still feel the need to add whipped cream and ten packets of sugar to their coffee, like Finn Hudson.

You don't know if it's the artificial smell of the banana flavouring, or the fact that maybe you ate too fast, or you ate too much or not enough, or all of that combined, but a wave of nausea hits you like a ton of bricks. You try and shake it off, and you clean the floor until you can't take it anymore. You excuse yourself, bolt to the restroom, and your stomach and throat burn as your lunch makes a spontaneous encore appearance into the toilet bowl. You panic. You scrutinise yourself for a good minute or so in the mirror, paranoid that your co-workers might smell sick on you. You sip water, slowly, trying desperately to get the taste of bile and stomach acid out of your mouth. You leave the bathroom, and you think maybe the universe doesn't hate you after all, because Kylie, the cute redheaded barista with tattoos and stretched earlobes, holds out a tray with several four ounce cups of coffee on it, and asks you to taste it.

"This one's a dark roast single origin," she explains. "We all have to taste it in case customers ask us what we think of it." You nod, and accept the small cup from her, and you drain it, savouring it like it's liquid gold. Everyone you work with is a coffee snob, but Kylie is the biggest; she's always quick to brag about how good the coffee is in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia. You're not quite there yet, although you do know that the coffee at your work is head and shoulders above Folgers, Starbucks' Pike Place, or that god-awful McDonalds coffee you took one sip of and then threw out because it tasted worse than Puck's bong water that you drank once on a dare; in other words, the kind of coffee people in Lima think is 'good coffee'. You're usually hesitant to share your opinion on things, because you don't want to look like an idiot. If you're being honest, you haven't quite figured out your place here yet. At eighteen (nineteen in May), you're the youngest barista, and you get the impression that everyone mostly sees you as a kid. You almost miss high school. Sure it seriously sucked ninety percent of the time, but at least you sort of owned the place. Here, it's different; you can't get into fights with people, and you're not really out to anyone yet. It's not that you're back in the closet; your love life has just never really come up in conversation before.

Kylie asks you what you think of the dark roast single origin, and you're not really sure what to say. The only purpose it served was to disguise the fact that you just threw up your lunch. You shrug. "Yeah, it was good, I guess." She frowns and looks at you with a bewildered expression, before nodding, and going to clean up a table. Your shift ends shortly after, and you try to leave as quickly as possible, but she stops you.

"Are you okay?" She asks. "You seem kind of, I don't know, distracted today."

You shrug, and just tell her you're fine; your roommate kept you awake, so you're just a bit tired. You say goodbye to her and everyone and you leave. You're in such a rush that you forget the rest of your salad from lunch. As you walk home, you can't help feeling that you screwed up, that if you hadn't given in and eaten that damn salad, you wouldn't have been sick, and therefore on edge for the rest of your shift. This was a wake-up call. This whole freaking month's been a wake-up call. If you want to make it here in this city, if you want to survive here, if you want Brittany to realise she's made a terrible mistake, dump Trouty Mouth and choose you for good, you've got to make sacrifices. And this is only temporary.

You're free to go…

Increase, delete, escape defeat, it's all that matters to you…

You've never really known how you feel about rules. Most of the time, they suck, because some of them are just ridiculous. For example, you think it's absolute bullshit that you're eighteen, and legally you can join the army, vote in an election, smoke cigarettes and buy porn, but you can't legally buy alcohol yet. You can't even begin to imagine the rude shock Kylie must have got when she discovered that after two years of being legal in Australia, she'd have to get a fake ID if she wanted to go out for a drink or two.

Your dad lives by rules. He's ten years older than your mother and was in the military before going to college. You've had a pretty complicated relationship with your dad for as long as you can remember. You know that it's not that he doesn't love you; he was just never there half the time, and when he was, he just wasn't all that affectionate. Early on in your life, you learned that you go to your mom when you need a hug, or you need a report card signed, and you go to your dad when you want something and he's in a good mood. He's always been strict. He wouldn't let you get a cell phone or a laptop until your freshman year of high school ('when I was at school, we didn't have cell phones'). He hated the mullet you grew out for Halloween ('little girls don't dress up as Uncle Jesse from Full House'). You had to beg him to let you be the goalkeeper on the boys' soccer team when you were seven, and he only let you because you were the only person who blocked any goals and the coach guilt-tripped him ('why can't you play on the girls' team if you want to play soccer?'). You used to lie awake at night dreading his reaction to you being gay, and in a relationship with another girl, so him not really having a reaction at all legitimately surprised you. Oddly enough, he was way more pissed off about you 'abandoning your education' and 'throwing your life away' than your relationship with Brittany.

The only time you can live by the rules is if you make them, and then you need rules. When you were fifteen, you made sure Puckerman knew you were in charge at all times. When you were seventeen, you'd only hold hands with Brittany under a napkin if the two of you were in public. So now, you tell yourself that if you eat a handful of cereal and a caffeine pill for breakfast, and only drink water, coffee, or sugar-free Red Bull, all will be good in the world. It's easy to fall into a routine. You've missed that sense of structure in your life. Craved it, even.

You hardly see Kurt or Rachel; you leave for work long before they leave for school, and then you're usually so tired after work that you're in bed before they get home. On your days off, they're at school, and lately it's been heavily raining, but there's nothing to do but watch trashy reality TV shows. You decide you're bored of seeing Kim and Kourtney yell at each other about something or other that you tuned out at least four episodes ago, so you go to take a shower.

Kurt or Rachel has a scale in the bathroom. It's one of those fancy-looking digital glass ones. You shrug, and figure that since you're living here, you've got to fiddle around with all their weird little gadgets at least once, and you're bored, and a little curious. So you strip, and step onto the scale, your heart speeding up as you nervously look down at the numbers. The last time you checked, you were bang on 100; you haven't been under 100 in almost two years. You look down and see the number 93 staring back at you. Part of you is kind of relieved, and almost surprised, but there's a bigger part of you that's a little confused, and disappointed, because you've hardly eaten anything for almost two weeks, and you've only lost six pounds. You look in the mirror, wondering if you look any different. It's hard to tell. Right now, you just look tired, because that's pretty much what you feel like most of the time. You tell yourself that if you had cut down even more, it might have had more of an impact.

You shake your head in frustration. This is not about that. This is completely normal. You're just economising. You're one thousand percent sure people do this all the time. You're not living with your parents, or in a dorm room anymore. You have things to pay for now. You have a job. You have responsibilities. All of that just means you have sacrifices to make, and anything that comes with these sacrifices is just a bonus.

You come out of the shower and decide that since there's nothing better to do, you should probably take a nap. As you lie on the couch, you notice something different about it. You don't remember it being this lumpy, or hard, and you certainly don't remember it making a shrill, panicked shriek as you lay down on it. You immediately jolt back up, and your jaw drops in horror as you realise you've just landed on Kurt. He sits up slowly, probably just as shocked as you are.

"Jesus, Santana, I'm home for literally five minutes and already you're trying to kill me?" Kurt says.

"I didn't know anyone was home!" You hiss, defensively. "What are you doing here so early, anyway? Don't you have class?"

"Ms July has 'golden staph'," Kurt explains, air quotes on the words 'golden staph'. "I think that's code for 'she's really hungover and/or sleeping with someone'. My feet are killing me, so I thought I'd lie down on the couch, and you're heavy."

He says it in a mock-whiny tone, almost jokingly, but it startles you, making your heart skip a beat. You hear it echo through your head. You look away from him and mumble something about going to bed. He raises his left eyebrow, because it's still light outside, but you spend so much time in bed that he doesn't question it anymore. You curl up under the covers of your bed, trying to make yourself comfortable, but you can't sleep. Kurt's words are still playing on your mind.

You're heavy, he had said. Heavy. You run your fingers up and down your stomach and legs, pinching whatever flesh you can, imagining it vanishing. You tell yourself this is ridiculous. You're not heavy, are you? It seems as though your brain's having a fight with itself, and your plans to sleep fly immediately out the window. You tell yourself Brittany told you that you were beautiful.

But Brittany's not here. She's in Lima, with Trouty Mouth and not you.

You tell yourself she told you to come here because she loves you, and she wants to get back together with you when both of you get your shit together.

Maybe she did love you, but clearly not anymore. That's over now. You lost your chance. She chose Trouty Mouth, so she obviously likes him more than you. You fucked up, majorly. Clearly there's something wrong with you, because if you weren't such a fuck-up, you'd be here with her.

You cry yourself to sleep. You haven't done it since the night you and Brittany went to that Left Behind Club meeting. Only this time, it sucks, because you're here alone, and all you want right now is some physical contact. You want your mom, you want Brittany, hell, you'll even take one of those creepy pillow arm things like what Kurt has; anything's better than nothing. You fall asleep, and your conversation with Kurt replays over and over again.

You wake up, and you think you've got the previous night out of your system. You had a moment of weakness. You don't want anyone. You don't need anyone. You got here by yourself, and you answer to no one but yourself.

You down your caffeine pill and get ready for work.

Emotion sickness, addict with no heroine. Good things will pass, lessons learned…

Once upon a time, I could lose myself…

You weren't ever particularly good at lying. Your mother could always tell when you were trying to cover something up as a kid. But there have been a few times when you've managed to deceive people, even yourself. When you were ten, you told your dad it was okay for him to miss your birthday dinner because he had to work. When you were thirteen, you told yourself that kissing Brittany was just practice (you were really embarrassed that you'd never kissed anyone so she offered to help you get good at it).

These days, you lie pretty frequently. You tell your roommates you ate at work. You tell your work colleagues you ate at home. And you tell yourself that this is just temporary. Yesterday, Kurt offered you one of the chocolate brownies he's just made, and you refused. You told him you don't like chocolate, and he looked at you like you're an alien from another planet.

You're in your bed, when you notice there's someone sitting on it. You try to push them off, but you're completely wrapped in your blankets, so you can barely move. You nudge the pillow off your head, and you make out a blurry, blonde figure. Brittany? You hope to God that you didn't say that out loud. You try to free your arm so you can grab your glasses from next to your bed, and you nearly fall out once you put them on and realise which blonde is sitting in your bed right now. After all, the last time you had Quinn Fabray in your bed was when the two of you got drunk and slept together at Mr Schue's epic fail wedding.

"Good morning," Quinn says, cheerfully. "Nice glasses."

"Shut up, Q!" You mumble, sleepily. She laughs. You can't remember if she's ever seen you in your glasses before. You wore them every day between the ages of seven and fourteen; once you got to high school, you found them so embarrassing that you refused to wear them and insisted on contacts instead. But now, everyone seems to have them (even people who don't actually need them), so you can get away with it here. Rachel saw you wear them once and she said you looked like something out of Law in Order.

"Such a gracious host, Santana," Quinn says. "I finished all my exams so I thought I'd come check out New York again. There's seriously nothing to do in New Haven. Rachel said I could sleep on the couch."

You nod, dumbly. You're not sure how to feel about that. "Cool," you say. "Do you, um, do you want a drink or something?"

She shakes her head, and you listen as she goes on and on about Yale, and how amazing it is. Your dad had wanted you to go to Yale, or some other impressive college, probably just so he could brag to his work colleagues about you. He's old school; he thinks if you're not going to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or an engineer, then you're setting yourself up for failure. A liberal arts college, or a performing arts school like NYADA would be completely out of the question, because 'there are no jobs in that, and those schools are a waste of money', according to him. He used to brag about you a lot when you were younger, and considered a gifted child, but not now you're older, and, in your opinion, a mediocre adult. You try to picture him bragging about what you've been doing these days, and you laugh, uncomfortably.

"Well, my daughter just dropped out of college in Louisville, and now she's working at a coffeehouse in New York," you imagine him boasting, enthusiastically. "She used to be such a promising child. She could have been a doctor, or a lawyer. I don't know what happened, but her mother and I are so very proud."

"Hello? Earth to Santana?" Quinn says, raising her left eyebrow, snapping you back into reality. "Rachel said you have the day off today."

You frown. "Yeah, and?"

"You want to do touristy things?" She asks.

You nod, because it's not raining, and you're bored. You grab your black jeans, and your dad's old Indiana University, Class of 1986 sweatshirt that you 'borrowed' about a year ago and forgot to give back, and you go to the bathroom to change. The scale stares at you, begging for you to step onto it. So you comply, your heart racing before you read the number 89 and you start to relax. You don't get too caught up in the actual number itself; you just need it to be lower than the previous one, so at least it feels like you're actually accomplishing something. You throw on your clothes, and you're not sure if you're just imagining things, but they feel looser on you than they used to.

You take Quinn to Central Park, and listen to her talk about these two girls in her residence hall who freaked everyone out by attempting to do a séance to talk to someone's dead great-grandfather. You tell her about your job, and how you make a mean cup of coffee, and about Kylie and her cute accent, and Eddie, and how you sing with him on Fridays. You tell her how Rachel practices her dance steps for college with a broom and she laughs.

"Are you happy?" Quinn asks. She looks at you a little too long, like she's studying you, and it pisses you off, because you're her friend, and you don't need her to psychoanalyse you.

You nod, and say, "Yes," because, usually, you are happy. You're more than happy. You're in control of your life, and there's no one or nothing holding you back. Sometimes, you feel other things, like dizzy, or tired, or cold, but for the most part, you're happy.

"Good," she says. "I'm happy you're happy."

She announces that she's hungry, and you take her to a burger joint. She asks you if you're going to order anything and you say no. She orders a cheeseburger and large fries ('because you always end up eating half my fries'). The two of you find a spot on the grass and sit down.

"You're not even going to steal just one of my fries?" Quinn teases, dangling the fries in front of your face. You shake your head in refusal, knowing you're obviously lying. Of course you want one. You could eat all the fucking fries. But you can't, and you hate that Quinn's just flaunting them, making you want them. She just shrugs. "Suit yourself."

Before you can stop it, your hand develops a mind of its own, and reaches out and grabs two of her fries and puts them in your mouth. You freeze. You've got no choice now but to swallow them, and you're freaking out. You hate that you lost control like that. You're furious with yourself. How could you be so careless? You feel sick, and all you can do is pretend to listen to Quinn talk about everything and everything; you tuned out after she started talking about how her team won the Simpsons Trivia Night she went to last week.

"Are you okay?" She asks, concerned. "You just kind of zoned out there."

"Yeah," you lie, blushing with embarrassment. "Sorry."

You're relieved when she finishes the fries, ridding you of your temptation. Your hand subconsciously reaches inside your sweatshirt and pinches at your skin in frustration, willing the flesh to just evaporate.

The two of you go back to the loft, where Kurt is making dinner, which smells so good your mouth waters. You panic, hoping no one can tell. Kurt gets excited when he sees Quinn with you, and enthusiastically asks her questions about Yale while you play Tetris on your phone.

"I'm making dinner, do you guys want some?" Kurt asks. He looks at you and says, "Don't worry, Santana, it's completely seafood-free."

You shake your head. "It's okay," you say. "I'm not really that hungry."

Quinn turns to look at you and frowns. "But you didn't eat any lunch."

You start to feel anxious. "I know. I'm actually not feeling too great. I'm probably just going to go to bed."

Kurt's face falls. "Oh, okay," he says, sadly. "Good night. Feel better tomorrow."

You climb into bed and you pull off your jeans, with a lot more ease than you used to. You shove your pillow over your head, hoping it blocks out the sound of Kurt and Quinn talking and laughing, and the smell of dinner. You force yourself to sleep, trying not to think about the fries you ate, and how terrible they made you feel. You tell yourself you won't let it happen again. You refuse to let it happen again.

Once upon a time, I could control myself…

Heavy at heart, it may be a lie, you will not see me…

You're in the kitchen with Kurt and Rachel, on one of the rare days that the three of you all have the same day off. You're genuinely happy for Kurt when he announces that his dad is officially in remission, and you're surprised when Rachel says that Ms July turned out to be not so bad after all. You're all having a good time, until Rachel mentions a girl in her dance class who recently got admitted to hospital.

"What was wrong with her?" You ask, curiously.

You see Rachel blush and awkwardly look down at her nails. "Oh, um, she just lost a lot of weight really quickly. Some people thought she might have, um, she might have an eating disorder."

She says those last two words softly, too softly. You're not sure if you're just being paranoid, but you swear you can see Kurt looking at you strangely, and you don't like it. "What's that supposed to mean?" You ask, defensively.

Kurt and Rachel look at each other, awkwardly, before Kurt says, "We thought it might be a bit of a sensitive thing for you, Santana."

You shake your head in disbelief. You can feel yourself becoming more agitated. You put your hand on your hip, and ask, "Why? Spit it out, Hummel!"

He looks scared, genuinely scared, but you refuse to calm down. "Well, Finn said you were looking after that Marley girl, you know the one who fainted at Sectionals?"

"Oh," you say, softly, looking down. Of course. "Right."

The two of them keep talking, and you just feel embarrassed. You tell yourself to snap out of it. You do not have an eating disorder. You're not Marley. You're not fifteen, you don't worship Taylor Swift, you don't go to the monthly Mary Poppins Sing-Along at the Lima Community Centre, and you don't have any real or imagined 'fat gene' in your family that you need to fight against. You're eighteen. You're a legal adult, and you don't live with your parents anymore, so you have real responsibilities now. All you're doing is giving yourself order and structure in your life, and that's completely healthy and normal.

You can't remember the last time you had more than one or two handfuls of cereal to eat in a day, if anything; most of your energy just comes from sugar-free caffeine drinks. You don't feel as hungry these days. You don't know if it's because your body's just gotten used to eating much less now, or you've managed to block out the feeling of hunger, and you can't remember what it feels like anymore. As long as you don't think about food, you're fine. And right now, all you can think about is how much the room is spinning and you need to lie down somewhere, and here feels good enough.

You hear Kurt yell, "Oh shit!" You can feel his hands guiding you to sit on the couch.

"Oh my God!" Rachel shrieks, panicking. "Are you okay?"

"Relax. I'm fine." You say, calmly, wishing they'd stop fussing over you.

"No, you're not! You almost fainted!" Rachel protests. "Are you diabetic? Should I call 911?"

You roll your eyes. "I'm not diabetic, and no one is calling 911. I'm fine. Okay?"

They look at each other awkwardly, and decide that it's probably best not to push it. Kurt opens the fridge, pulls out a strawberry, and hands it to you. "Please, just eat one."

You stare at it for a good minute. Strawberries are healthy, right? Strawberries are fruit, and fruit has vitamins and natural sugar. Your mom always insisted you eat at least two pieces of fruit every day. Something about 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away', which made absolutely zero sense to you growing up, because your dad's a doctor, and why would your mom want you to keep your dad away? Maybe you can justify one strawberry. So you put the whole thing in your mouth, biting into the top and leaving the stem. You chew it and swallow it as quickly as possible, like a small child being forced to eat broccoli, or brussels sprouts, or some other unfavourable green vegetable. You try not to savour it and make it feel like an enjoyable experience, because it isn't. Food isn't there for your enjoyment; it's there to get you from point A to point B, and that's all it's good for.

You weigh yourself every day now, sometimes twice a day. Today the scale reads 85. You feel at ease; you like multiples of five. When you're watching television, the volume always has to be at a multiple of five. You've always been like that. Brittany once told you it was adorable, and you blushed and grinned so wide that you showed your dimples.

"Oh, Mercedes is coming to visit tomorrow," Kurt informs you. "She says she's bringing champagne and copies of her new CD."

You sigh. It's not that you don't like Mercedes, or you don't want to see her. You love Mercedes, she's your Troubletones homegirl, and you're interested to know how she's getting on in Los Angeles. But you're exhausted, and another person coming into your house, and potentially observing your eating habits, is something you absolutely dread.

"Awesome," you say, with a lot less enthusiasm than you intended. "That's great."

Kurt frowns. "You don't sound very excited."

You sigh. "I'm sorry. I am. I'm just tired." It's not a complete lie. You're always tired, physically and emotionally.

Kurt nods. "You work too much. We hardly ever see you," he says. "Have you ever thought about, I don't know, taking a few days off?"

You shake your head. "No," you reply. "I need to work."

"Why don't we all go get acupuncture? That's meant to be really relaxing." Kurt suggests.

You shake your head, visibly paling at the thought. The idea of a stranger sticking a bunch of needles in your face makes you feel nauseous, and sounds anything but relaxing. "Yeah, how about no."

Kurt laughs, and sits down next to you. He looks at you and asks, "Are we friends?"

You frown with confusion. "Yeah, sure, we're friends, I guess. I mean we live together, don't we?"

"Of course. I just want you to know that I'm a pretty good listener, if you ever want someone to talk to."

"Great," you say, unenthusiastically. "Good to know."

He nods, satisfied, probably because he's done his good deed for the day, and leaves you to sleep in silence.

Mercedes arrives at the loft the next day, and she wraps all three of you up in a huge hug, and announces that she brought champagne. It's supposedly some $400 champagne that was given to her by some famous person. She pours you a glass (because you'll drink $400 champagne as long as you don't have to pay for it) and you hang on to her every word as she tells you about how she met Erykah Badu at a party. She and Kurt both eat fancy cheese and crackers, Rachel eats some weird vegan food, and you absent-mindedly pick at dry cereal. Mercedes looks from you to the cereal and frowns, but she doesn't say anything in front of Kurt or Rachel, and you're relieved. When the two of you are alone, however, it's a different story.

"How have you been?" She asks.

You shrug. "I'm okay."

"Just 'okay'?" She asks, with a slight smile. "Listen, I'm sorry to hear about you and Brittany."

"It's fine." You say, wincing at the mention of Brittany.

She places her hands on your shoulders and says, "I've missed you. I've missed all of you guys."

The two of you are interrupted when Kurt and Rachel decide they want to get loose and play drinking games, and you agree to it, because you'll happily play drinking games with them as long as they're drunker than you are. It turns out the drinking game they want to play is truth or dare. The deal is that if anyone refuses to answer the truth question, or do the dare, they have to take a shot and take off an article of clothing. Rachel is particularly terrible at this game, and asks you the most benign questions. The first truth question she asks you is, "Why did you join the Cheerios?"

"Seriously, Berry? That's it?" You ask, and she nods enthusiastically. You roll your eyes. "Because my parents said that if I joined, they'd buy me a skateboard. Are all your questions going to suck this bad?"

"That was a good question!" Rachel protests. You shake your head in disagreement. She pouts. "I'd like to see you do better!"

"I plan to." You reply, smugly. You watch in amusement, as Kurt, and especially Rachel both get considerably more inebriated, and as they respond to their dares. The things they get dared to do are relatively tame, so when Kurt turns to you and you pick 'dare', you expect something equally benign.

"You are going to call your mom, and…" Kurt starts, but you interrupt him. You have a fair idea of what he wants you to do.

"Kurt, my mother knows I'm gay, remember?" You argue. "If I tell her I'm pregnant, she's not going to fall for it."

"You're not going to tell her you're pregnant," Kurt says, with a sly smile. "You're going to tell her that some photographs of you leaked on the Internet; photographs of the naked variety."

"Yes!" Rachel shrieks. "Oh my God, yes! You have to do that!"

You gasp in horror. "What the fuckNo! What is wrong with you people?" You protest. Rachel giggles hysterically, and you add, "Come on, there's already a sex tape of me on the Internet."

"No, there isn't," Kurt replies. You frown in confusion, because you haven't actually seen it, but once upon a time, you and Brittany thought it would be fun to film yourselves having sex, and you're pretty sure Brittany said she posted it online. "Tina watched it, and she said it was just footage of Brittany's cat being his stud self."

"Wait, Tina watched it? The whole thing?" You ask, frowning. You're a little disturbed and grossed out, and you make a mental note to message Tina and tell her she's a pervert. "That's just creepy."

"Seriously?" Kurt asks, his eyebrow raised. "That's your reaction? Maybe you didn't hear me clearly enough, Santana. There is no actual sex tape of you and Brittany on the Internet!"

Of course, you think. Though you wish Brittany had come up with a different title for the video, because seeing 'nude-les-boobies' every time someone Googles your name must be pretty disturbing, especially since, as it turns out, it's just a video of a cat. "Okay, whatever. But seriously? You want me to call my mother and tell her my nudes leaked? She's probably in bed." It's nine in the evening, so she probably isn't, but your friends don't need to know that.

Suddenly Rachel, the traitor, in her drunken hysteria, grabs your phone and announces she's going to call your mother. "Kurt, I don't know her passcode. What is it?"

Mercedes laughs. "It's probably 6-9-6-9."

You tell yourself that as long as they don't know Brittany's birthday, they can't unlock your phone. Who are you kidding, you think. It's Rachel Berry you're talking about; she probably knows everyone's birthday.

Kurt says, "You have two choices, Santana. You can unlock your phone for us, or we can lock your phone for the next year." You want to strangle him, but they're already messing with your phone, and you actually need that thing. So you unlock it, and you're about to dial Brittany's number, because even though you're not dating anymore, you figure she's most likely still awake, and she'd probably be willing to go along with you and pretend to be your mom over the phone, but Rachel squeals, grabs your phone, and calls your mother, and you panic when she answers the phone.

"What happened? Are you sick?" Your mother asks, frantically. "Oh my God, you haven't been arrested, have you?"

Kurt, Mercedes and Rachel are all totally loving this, and you make a mental note to poison their vodka when they're not looking. "No, ma, I haven't been arrested," you say, awkwardly, ignoring the fact that your mother's immediate first thought was that you might have been arrested, and you don't know why, but you're a little offended by that. If you were watching someone else do this, you'd probably find it hilarious. "Um, mami?"

"Yes, mija?"

You cup your hand over the phone receiver, so your mother doesn't hear your friends cackling like hyenas, and you shakily say, "I'm kind of in a bit of trouble."

Your mother's tone turns stern. "What kind of trouble?"

You see Kurt mouthing 'my nudes leaked', and you respond to him by giving him the middle finger. "Some, uh, photos of me are on the Internet," you say, breathing in, nervously. You brace yourself for your mother's reaction and hold the phone further away from your ear. "Naked photos. They've had over a million hits already."

As you predicted, your mother is beside herself, and furious. "What on Earth were you thinking? Who even took those photos? I want you to give me their phone number, and I am going to report them to the police!" You decide that pointing out to your mother that there's nothing the police can do, since you're eighteen would just further aggravate her.

You listen to her rant on and on about online privacy, and dignity and discretion, and "how could you be so careless", and how you're lucky you're not still living at home, because if you were, she'd give you a good smack over the ear. She's in the middle of telling you how disappointed your father would be, and how you'll be hearing from him later, before you finally let her know that it's a prank. "Ma, there aren't any nudes. It was a joke."

Your mother doesn't speak for the longest time. You start to think maybe she collapsed from the shock, before she breaks the silence. "Santana, don't you think you're a little old for prank phone calls?" She asks, not sounding amused at all.

You try not to let her hear you laughing. "Ma, it was a dare. Kurt told me to do it."

You already know what she's going to say before she even says it. "And if Kurt told you to jump off a cliff, would you do that?" She asks, and you shake your head, even though she can't see you. "Please, just promise me you won't ever scare me like that ever again, okay?"

"Okay, ma, I promise. Sorry for freaking you out."

"Good night, mi amor. Ti quiero."

You smile. "Ti quiero, mami." You hang up the phone, and Rachel is staring at you with googly eyes. "What?"

She looks like she's about to burst into tears with excitement when she says, "That was so cute! You love your mom!"

You don't know how to respond to that, because of course you love your mom, but you're pretty uncomfortable with Rachel Berry of all people telling you that you're cute. You know that out of the four of you, you're the most sober person here, and you look at her and realise she's probably had way too much to drink, so you try and move all the alcohol away from her. She frowns, and you roll your eyes. "Rachel, come on. I think you've had enough."

She looks up at you, confused, and says, "But I'm having so much fun!"

You laugh and you move her to the couch, just as she and Kurt did when you nearly passed out. You keep an eye on her as you go to get her a glass of water. "Sip slowly," you say, firmly, and she complies. "Are you going to be sick?"

She doesn't answer your question, but she just laughs, before she puts her hands on your wrists, wrapping them in her fingers, and you start to feel anxious. "You know what's weird, Santana?" She asks, and you humour her by shaking your head to say no. "You, like, don't eat anything. What's the deal with that?"

All you can say to her is, "You're drunk." You realise that Kurt and Mercedes must have also heard her, because you hear Kurt say, "Rachel, that's personal." At least, you think you do. You're a little shocked right now.

"What, she doesn't!" Rachel protests. She turns to you and asks, "How much do you weigh?"

Mercedes looks from Rachel, to you, and then back to Rachel, and says, "Come on, Rachel, you're not thinking clearly. Don't say anything you wouldn't say sober."

Rachel doesn't say anything else, and shortly afterwards, Mercedes leads her to her bed in the hopes that she'll sleep off her drunkenness, but the damage is already done. You wonder if there are already cracks in your façade. You thought you were good at hiding this from them. It's not like you see them all that often at home anyway. Maybe they're more perceptive than you thought; after all, wasn't it Rachel who made that comment about Sapphic charm when you sang with Brittany that one time in glee club? You furiously tell yourself that Rachel's drunk, and she'll forget about it in the morning.

Kurt and Mercedes aren't that drunk, you think. You saw how awkward they acted when Rachel brought it up. They're not going to forget about it, and they won't let you forget about it either.

You wake up to the sound of Rachel vomiting violently in the bathroom. You don't know why, because you're still pissed off with her, but you hold back her hair, anyway. She looks up at you, bewildered.

"I thought you said after junior year you were never drinking again," you say, smirking. "How's your hangover?"

She throws up again, and weakly says, "Awful." Good, you think. She can sense your annoyance with her, because she asks, "What did I do?"

That's when you realise you're caught between a rock and a hard place. You're pissed at Rachel because of something she doesn't even remember. You can't justify not being pissed at Rachel, but you also can't tell Rachel why you're pissed, because that would mean reminding her of what she said, which happened to be an observation about something you thought you were keeping secret. So you let Rachel vomit in solitude, and you listen to Mercedes vent to you about her producer, and how much of an asshole he is. It infuriates you, but it also intrigues you, how shady some people in the entertainment industry are. You tell her how your co-worker Eddie's death metal band got burned a couple years ago by an 'indie label' that turned out to be a bunch of fakes; promising an album release that never materialised and giving away the band's songs to other bands.

You notice that Mercedes doesn't mention what happened last night, and you appreciate that. Your only saving grace is that Rachel was drunk and has no recollection of last night.

You hope things stay that way.

Leave no mark, you lost your way, I hope you're watching me…

Somebody told me, 'get over it', it's like water under bridges that have already burned…

You completely forget that your birthday is coming up until Eddie comes up to you in the middle of your shift and says, "Kylie's brother is coming from Australia on May nineteenth, and could you cover her shift that day?"

Your brain recognises May nineteenth as some important day, but it doesn't register until way afterwards what important day it is, and then you realise that you've just agreed to work on your birthday. You wonder if you should call Eddie and tell him you can't. But you don't, because it's an extra day of work, and the people you normally celebrate your birthday with are in Lima, so being away from them just makes this one feel like just another day. Also birthdays mean cake, and you don't want cake.

That's a lie. You can't want cake. But you do, and now that's all you're going to be thinking about for the rest of the day. It makes you even more determined to make your birthday feel like just another day.

You don't know how it happened, but Rachel and Kurt found out that your birthday's coming up, and they won't stop asking you what you want, or what you want to do. You tell them that you're working that day, and they look at each other and their jaws drop.

"You can't work on your birthday!" Rachel whines, looking at you sadly. You don't want her pity.

"Kylie's brother's coming from Australia. They were really desperate." You explain, not knowing exactly how desperate they were to cover the shift, but you figure that it's a good enough explanation. They look at each other, and nod sadly, and you consider this case closed.

Or at least you thought you did. Until you wake up to your phone vibrating, and playing a song that you've refused to listen to for months, which can only mean one thing.

"Brittany?" It comes out so desperate and childlike, and you feel like you're sixteen again.

"Hey," she says, cheerfully. "How have you been? I feel like we haven't talked properly in, like, forever."

"Yeah, I'm okay," you say, sadly. She's right; you've liked each other's Facebook statuses (although, in your case, only the ones that didn't include Sam), and you've texted from time to time, but it's been ages since you've actually spoken to Brittany. "I miss you."

"I miss you too," she says. "I mostly called to give you a heads up."

You frown. "About what?"

"Kurt and Rachel are trying to plan a surprise birthday party for you," Brittany says. The first thought you have is how Kurt and Rachel are going to look splattered against the wall. "I don't know how they found out your birthday, but they're super excited and they're planning on inviting a lot of music theatre nerds from their school."

"What? Why?" You ask, frustrated. You specifically told them you'd be working. Not to mention they're apparently throwing a party for you and yet they're inviting their weird friends? Not cool!

"I told Kurt it was a bad idea. I know how much you hate surprises." Brittany says, and you laugh, because it's true. Brittany was there for your sixth birthday, when your abuela thought it would be a good idea to surprise you and all the other kids with a clown, not knowing that you'd been terrified of clowns since you were three and your much older cousin let you watch some horror movie with a clown that killed everyone. The surprise ended in disaster, and you crawled into the dryer to hide from the clown and refused to come out until it was gone.

"Good. Thanks," you say, knowing they'll probably still try and throw the party anyway. "I'm working that day anyway. I kind of want them to have the party just so I don't turn up."

"You should do that." Brittany laughs. She doesn't tell you that you shouldn't be working on your birthday, or give you that pitying tone like Rachel did, and you're so grateful for that.

"So, how's school?" You ask, wondering if the teachers actually did their jobs and actually helped her graduate this year. You find it so frustrating, because you know she's smart; she just learns things differently, and it's like that saying, 'try and teach a fish how to climb a tree and it will believe it's stupid'. You remember how your dad's and Brittany's conversations at the dinner table were always legendary.

"I got offered early acceptance to MIT," she says, and you beam with pride. You wish she could see you, and how proud you are of her. "I don't think I want to go there though. I'm still trying to decide what I want to do, you know?"

"Yeah," you say. Before you can stop yourself, you ask, "How's Sam?"

She pauses for a second, and you worry that you've crossed a line somehow. "Sam's good," she says, and your heart sinks. "He's working with Kurt's dad and Finn at the tyre shop, and he and I are really good friends now."

Your jaw drops. "Friends?" You say, dumbly.

"Yeah," she answers. "We broke up a couple weeks ago. I really like him and he really likes me. There just wasn't any chemistry."

All you can think of is, they're broken up, and it makes you feel like a terrible person. But she was your best friend before anything else, so you ask, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," she answers. "How about you? Are you dating anyone?"

You laugh. You haven't had any action since, well, since Quinn. You're definitely not dating Quinn. "No, no one special."

"Are you sure you're okay?" Brittany asks. She's so amazingly perceptive; even talking on the phone with her after months of very limited contact, she knows that maybe you're not as okay as you're trying to tell yourself you are.

"I'm great." You lie.

"Well, that's good," she says, and you're not sure if she believes you. "You know, I'm happy as long as you're happy."

You're not. It's not exactly like you can tell her everything; like how much you miss lying in bed with her, and how you've hardly eaten anything in months, and how you feel tired and run down all the time, and even though it's springtime, you feel cold every day. How today, the scale read 80, another multiple of five, and how this is the only time you feel like you're actually accomplishing anything, but you hate it, because it makes you feel terrible. But you can't stop.

So you block out the negative. You tell her the good things about New York. Maybe if you sell it to her enough, she might come move here and get back together with you. "I work with this guy called Eddie. He's from South Africa, and he's got bleached blond hair and a lip piercing, and he plays one of those death metal guitars with eight strings," you explain. "Whenever I see him, I say, 'if you're from Africa, why are you white', and he says, 'oh my God, Karen, you can't just ask people why they're white'."

"That's awesome." Brittany says, laughing.

"I know," you reply. "It sounds even funnier in his accent. I should introduce you guys."

You say that last part hopefully, and you almost squeal with delight when she says, "I'd like that. It sucks that your birthday's on a school day this year."

You agree, although last year it wouldn't have bothered you at all, since you and Brittany were still together, and could see each other every day. "So, where else are you thinking of going for college?"

"I got into Columbia too. And NYU," Brittany says, and you feel like maybe you've died and gone to heaven, because all of this is way too good to be true. "I really love doing my Internet talk show. So I'm going to major in Communications."

"I could totally see you doing that," you say, grinning. "Sexy Newscaster Britt."

It's been a really long time since you've been intimate with her, but you haven't forgotten what she looks like, or what her body feels like, or how good she made your body feel when she touched you.

"What about you?" She asks. "Do you know what you want to do yet?"

You shake your head. "No," you say. "I mean, I sort of had an idea, but I don't know if I'd be any good at it, and I don't think I'd get in anywhere…"

"What was it?" Brittany asks, excitedly.

"don't even know, to be honest. I just kind of thought about entertainment law or entertainment management or something like that. You know, protecting people from getting scammed." You say, quickly and quietly in case someone in the loft can hear you, because you've never said it out loud. You love performing, and it comes naturally to you, but you don't know if you'd want to pursue it professionally for the rest of your life. Plus there's another part of you that's always really liked arguing with people and helping your friends, and you think that maybe entertainment law could be your calling in life.

"That's kind of awesome," Brittany says, and you blush, relieved she can't see you through the phone. "But why would you think you couldn't get in anywhere? You had, like, perfect grades every year."

"Not quite," you say, remembering a particularly painful math test you took the day after your abuela kicked you out, that you barely passed; the one black mark on your academic record. "I've left it too late to apply anywhere, and I haven't really got that much money anymore."

"Well, save up a bit then, and try next year," Brittany suggests. "I'll help you."

"You really are a genius, Brittany." You say. It's the first time you've really smiled since you got here.

"I know, I'm like the smartest person in America," Brittany says, and you know it's one hundred percent true. "I have to go, okay? I love you."

"Love you too."

The two of you hang up your phones, and your moment of joy comes crashing to a halt, because you remember that she isn't here. You're here and you're alone.

Even our worst days are better than loneliness…

Distant emotion hides a concrete wall, naked and anchored, I'll climb right back to you…

You try and make it through your birthday without thinking of food. It feels almost impossible. Birthdays in your family are always associated with food. Not anymore, you think. You refuse any food offered to you, with the exception of coffee. Mostly, you just do your job, and watch some old lady verbally abuse poor Eddie over his accent, bleached hair and lip piercing.

"How does your boss feel about you having those horrible metal things in your mouth?" The old lady asks.

Eddie just shrugs. "Oh, she doesn't really have an opinion on them."

You wince. Oh shit, wrong answer, Eddie, you think, hoping the old lady just leaves. But she doesn't. "You have a very peculiar accent, young man. Where are you from?"

Eddie smiles. "Johannesburg, South Africa."

"Oh, so you think it's okay to come into this country and take jobs from innocent American citizens?" The old lady snaps. You freeze. Normally you're the target of racist old ladies at this job, because New York might not be Lima, but racist old ladies will be racist old ladies regardless of where they are in the world, but it's just as cringe-worthy witnessing someone else getting yelled at. You and Eddie make jokes about him being from Africa all the time, and his phone number is actually saved in your phone as 'The African' (by him, not you), but he was the one who first started it, and the two of you only do it because it's a Mean Girls reference. Also, you live with two 'innocent American citizens' who refuse to get up off their lazy asses and get jobs (and one of those 'innocent American citizens' parents still pay her rent), so you don't really think it's fair that this lady's yelling at Eddie for actually working. Eddie's smile never leaves his face; he's certainly handling this a lot better than you did, the first time someone here asked you when you were going to get deported. You were so shocked that you ran into the back, and refused to come back out. Eddie followed you to try and cheer you up. At first you thought he was a massive dork, but he was actually funny and he didn't try to force you to listen to lady music. In the subsequent shifts you had with him, you learned that he's twenty-three, he's a guitarist; at the time he was looking for people to play music with since his band They're Like Twelve broke up, he's watched Mean Girls probably more than you, Quinn and Brittany all have combined, his parents wanted him to join the South African army, and he lost twenty percent of the vision in his left eye when he was fifteen in chemistry class. He's not the sort of guy you'd ever imagine yourself being friends with, but you're really glad you are, because he's basically the epitome of individuality.

After the old lady threatens to call your boss to get you fired, and her pastor, probably to get all of you sent directly to hell, Eddie just bursts out laughing, and suddenly, everyone else does too. "What the hell was that?" He asks.

You're about to leave, when Eddie calls your name. You turn around and he says, "Happy birthday."

You're stunned, because you didn't tell him today's your birthday, but you figure he must have seen it on Facebook and remembered it or something, but it's still thoughtful of him. "Thanks, Eddie."

You pull out your phone and see a text from Kurt that says, We were going to have a surprise party, but our sources told us you wouldn't want one. However we did get you a surprise, it's waiting for you at the loft. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. K.

You just roll your eyes and pray that the surprise isn't edible. You're tired, and the last thing you want is to be bombarded with food right now. You feel nauseous just thinking about it. But the surprise isn't edible. It's a person; the very person you've been so anxious to see.

"Hey," Brittany says, smiling, sitting with Kurt on the couch. "Happy birthday."

Your eyes widen and your jaw drops, because damn they're sneaky, and she's here. Kurt makes you wear a ridiculous birthday hat and sit on the couch with the two of them. He tells you that Brittany being here is more for his benefit than yours, because since she's known you since kindergarten, he can grill her on embarrassing stories about you.

"Kurt, I don't know what you're talking about," Brittany says, innocently, winking at you and making you weak at the knees. "Santana doesn't have any embarrassing stories. I feel like you probably wasted your money." You know she's here for you, and not so Kurt can laugh at your expense. You and Brittany both know that the part about you not having any embarrassing stories is a complete and utter lie.

"Brittany," Kurt whines. "I will give you whatever you want…"

"Can you murder Rachel?" Brittany asks, without a hint of sarcasm, and Kurt's face goes even paler than usual.

"Well, I can't really do that, I mean, we live together…" Kurt starts.

Brittany shrugs and cuts him off. "Sorry, Kurt. No deal."

"Well," Kurt starts, thinking long and hard about what would be considered a fair trade. "What if, um, what if told an embarrassing story about Rachel?"

Brittany looks at you, and you just shrug in agreement, because having fun at Berry's expense is worth it. "Well, there was this one time at the beginning of fourth grade when we had show and tell," she starts, but she pauses, and then shakes her head. "I don't know if I should be telling you this, Kurt."

You laugh awkwardly, because you know exactly which embarrassing story it was. You tell her it's okay, because compared to other things Brittany knows about you, this is relatively tame, and you'll take a birthday where people have fun at your expense over a birthday where you're bombarded with food any day.

"Okay, so we had show and tell, and Santana brought in her Charmander that her abuela gave her, and, um, some kids in our class decided it would be a good idea to hide Charmander and pretend he went missing." Brittany says.

"What's a Charmander?" Kurt asks, confused, and you roll your eyes, because he hasn't lived. After Brittany explains who Charmander is, Kurt asks, "Well, did they steal him before or after show and tell?"

"Before," Brittany says. "The poor thing, she was so sad when she thought Charmander was gone. And then the kids felt really bad about it and they only gave him back so she'd stop crying."

It's true. You were so inconsolable that day that it's still monumentally embarrassing. You were so sad because you loved Charmander, and you didn't want your abuela to be mad at you for losing him, and you were scared you wouldn't be able to sleep without him and you'd have nightmares, and not even Brittany could cheer you up. Hearing the story just makes you wish you'd brought Charmander to New York with you; you know he's still at your parents house because they'd never get rid of him. He was always good to cuddle with on the nights you were separated from Brittany. Except you can't have Charmander here, because there's virtually no privacy, and you don't want to deal with Rachel asking what that weird stuffed dragon thing in your bed is doing (even though he isn't any peasant dragon; he's Charmander).

"Kids can be so cruel," Kurt replies. "I used to have a pink power ranger, and when I was eight, someone defaced it, and she was never the same again."

You're at least glad Kurt's story is more embarrassing than yours. You're thinking this 'party', if you can even call it that, isn't so bad after all. You think you're actually having a good time. And then Kurt disappears into the kitchen, and comes back with cake. Edible cake.

"Oh no, I can't. I literally just ate on the way home." You lie, but Kurt won't have any of it.

"It's your birthday! Which means you have to eat cake!" Kurt shrieks, giddily. He hands you a knife, to cut the cake, and you think it's a terrible idea. One: because your hands are shaking right now, and two: because you'd very much like to stab him. You cut Brittany the first piece, and then you cut Kurt a piece. Out of obligation, you give yourself the tiniest slither of cake. You break it up into smaller pieces and eat them very slowly. You end up giving Brittany most of your icing, which she happily accepts and eats, though you can't help feeling like she's watching you somehow, like she knows that maybe what you're doing isn't normal. You know that at some point, she's going to want to talk to you, alone, and you're dreading it.

Once Kurt eventually leaves the two of you alone, you say, "Thanks for coming, Britt."

"I wouldn't have missed it for the world," Brittany says. She pauses, before she adds, "I think you owe me an explanation, though."

"About what?" You ask, feigning innocence and confusion.

"I thought we've known each other long enough, and we're close enough to be honest with each other." She says. She sounds nervous, and you can tell she's been thinking about what to say to you since you got home. You're not naïve; she knows your body better than anyone.

But you're stubborn enough to still be in denial around her. "Brittany, I don't know what you're talking about."

"Santana," Brittany says. "I'm not stupid. I know you've been starving yourself."

You can feel yourself becoming more and more agitated. "I haven't, Britt. It's not like that. I'm fine."

"But you're not fine," she says. She gently reaches out her hands to hold your wrists and pull you in closer. "I told you to come here because I thought it would make you happy. You've lost, what, twenty pounds? And you barely ate any of your birthday cake. And today is your birthday!"

Twenty-three pounds, you think, remembering how the scale read 77 this morning. "Of course I ate my birthday cake…"

"Oh, please," she scoffs. "ate most of your icing. You love icing. You always said it's the best part."

"Yeah, well, people change, don't they!" You snap, and immediately, you feel bad. You don't want to get mad at Brittany. You're just really anxious right now. You're anxious because she knows, you're anxious because Kurt's probably in earshot, and you're anxious because you just ate birthday cake when you told yourself you wouldn't. Your eyes start welling up, and you whisper, "Things are just different now, okay? I have a job. I have responsibilities. This isn't like high school, Britt."

This isn't like high school, because you and me aren't together anymore, you think.

Brittany gently wraps you up in a hug, and says, "I know, but don't you think your health is more important than that? Does your hair fall out more now? Do you feel dizzy and sick and tired all the time?"

Yes. Yes to all of those things, you think. You curse Brittany for actually paying attention in health class instead of using the time to nap, like you and Mercedes both did. She looks at you, and nods. "Yeah, that's your body telling you that you need to eat more."

You shake your head in frustration, because it's easier said than done. You know what you're doing isn't healthy. You know that a caffeine pill shouldn't count as an actual meal, even if, sometimes, it's all you have in a day. You know that a handful of breakfast cereal isn't a good breakfast. But now, this is what you're used to, and breaking out of this routine is just impossible.

You hang your head in embarrassment, and mumble, "I'm sorry."

Brittany frowns. "What for?"

"You told me to come here and follow my dreams," you say. "And I did, and I tried to get my crap together for you, and I just kind of screwed everything up."

Like I always do, you think.

Brittany shakes your head. "Look at me," she says, and you comply. "You don't have to get it together for me. You have to do it for you. I think you just got stressed out and you made yourself sick in the process."

You look away from her, and, furiously and desperately, you whisper, "Britt, please don't tell anyone. I am begging you!"

"I won't," she says. "But you really need to try and get better."

You don't say anything. You don't want to make promises to Brittany that you can't keep.

And love me for my mind, 'cause I'm a dangerous heart. When I've got time to kill, I'm coming back for you…

Or is it because your silhouette is your frame like an empty window…

You wake up, feeling a scratchy, tickly sensation in your throat, and you think nothing of it.

A couple days later, you notice some minor congestion and your nose running, and you brush it off as seasonal hay fever and go to work with no qualms whatsoever.

Neither you, nor anyone else, can tell that it's an omen for what's to come.

You get the flu, and it honest to god feels like you're dying. You're delirious, you barely have the energy to get up out of your bed, and you feel vertigo from inside your bed. You've thrown up so many times Rachel's permanently moved the trashcan next to your bed. It's frustrating, because you've had the damn swine flu before, and that wasn't anywhere near as bad as this. This is hell.

After three days, you don't even have the energy to talk anymore. Your vision is blurry, your whole body aches, and you can barely move. All you can do is listen to Rachel and Kurt talking about you; you want to tell them that they're being annoying, but you can't.

"Should we call 911?" Rachel asks. "I'm scared."

"Relax, you're not going to catch it." Kurt replies, calmly. You're relieved for that. You're glad someone's being calm.

You hear Rachel whisper, "She could die." You want to yell at her for being so melodramatic.

The fuck? You think. You seriously think I'm going to let the flu finish me off, Berry? Bitch please! I'm from Lima Heights, motherfucker!

"Rachel, don't you think you're being a bit crazy? You know, even for you?" Kurt asks. "Most people in first world countries don't die from the flu these days."

"Remember how I told you I'm kind of psychic?" Rachel asks. Kurt rolls his eyes, and she keeps talking. "I've just got a really bad feeling, Kurt. This isn't normal."

Of course it isn't, you think. It's fucking hell, and listening to you two morons is only adding to the situation.

Eventually, Kurt agrees with her. While he calls 911, Rachel announces that she's going to sing a medley of Barbra Streisand's music to send positive energy back into the loft.

No me gusta, you think. You're actually convinced at this point that you've already died and you're in hell.

The paramedics come and take you to the hospital. You get there, and the doctors throw out words and phrases like 'malnourishment', 'weakened immune system', 'dehydration', 'anaemia'…the list goes on. You can't stand hospitals. You think it's probably because your dad took you to work with him once when you were eleven, and seeing people all bleeding and diseased, and the smell of the hospital, made you sick, and you decided from that moment on that you would never ever be a doctor. The last time you went to a hospital was when Quinn nearly died from her car accident.

Your anxiety heightens. You don't want to die yet.

Limbless in bed, sedated experiment…

Sooner or later I'll find my place, find my body, better fix my face…

Your parents come all the way to New York, because apparently they're still your emergency contacts, even though you haven't been in the same room as them for months. They get to the hospital, and Berry, traitor, takes the opportunity to tell your parents all about your 'weird eating habits', and the fact that you apparently talk in your sleep, and that you work in a coffee shop with people with 'interesting body modifications'. Your father is furious, but at least he's acting normal, well, normal for him; it's your mother's sadness that really makes you uncomfortable. The doctor tells the three of you that the flu was so bad for you this time around because your body was deprived of vital nutrients, and you were lucky you got to the hospital when you did. Your mother cries. She cries even more when the doctor tells her how lucky you are to be alive, how your emaciated state could leave you vulnerable to a serious infection. You hate this doctor. You hate that he's talking to your parents about you, like you're some pathetic child.

You honestly wish Kurt hadn't called 911. You think you'd have been fine at home with over-the-counter cold and flu medicine, just not the kind you have to take with food. Even listening to Rachel singing that damn Barbra medley would be better than this. The only saving grace is that your mom remembered to bring Charmander. The nurses bring you dry, flavourless food, which your mother cuts into smaller pieces, something she hasn't done since you were six. You notice that every time your father tries to talk to you, your mother gives him the famous death stare, and he just shakes his head angrily and goes outside. You also notice that when you're meant to be asleep, your parents talk about you. A lot. Like they think that because you're asleep, you can't hear them.

"Maybe I can make a few phone calls," you hear your father say. "Get a shrink, or a nutritionist, or something."

"For God's sake, Armando, she's your daughter, not one of your patients." Your mother replies.

"Precisely, Maribel, which is why I'm trying to fix this. Why do you think we came all the way here?"

"Because," your mother says. "We're being supportive parents."

"Yes, Maribel, and thanks to you, we will be supporting Santana for the rest of our lives!" Your father shouts. You've always been impressed by how scary your dad can be when he's angry; at least when he's not angry with you. Then it's just kind of terrifying.

"And what do you mean, 'thanks to me', Armando?" Your mother demands.

"You're the one who let her drop out of college," Your father says. "We wouldn't be here if she was still in college."

"She didn't tell me she was dropping out of college," your mother says, and you start to feel a bit guilty. "Don't even try to pin this one on me."

"What, so you're saying this is my fault?"

"I'm not saying this is anyone's fault," your mother, the peacemaker, replies. "I just don't think arguing about it is going to solve anything."

That shuts your dad up. Your dad goes to get coffee, and your mom sits beside your bed, softly running her fingers through your hair, and she whispers, "I know you're not really asleep."

"I was asleep." You lie. Your mother laughs.

"You're still not good at lying," she says. "You know we have to talk about this, don't you?"

You scowl, and nod. "Now?"

Your mother raises an eyebrow. "Do you want to talk about it now?" She asks. You shrug. She asks, "Were you upset because Brittany's dating someone else now?"

You don't answer. She tries again. "Do you feel insecure about your body?"

You want to remind your mother that she's a damn hairdresser, not a psychiatrist. You shake your head. The reason this all started seems so petty and trivial to you now; you went from doing something that felt convenient to you to developing an obsession with it. It cultivated, and just grew, and then suddenly it just stopped being about that anymore. This isn't exactly something you can articulate to your mother.

She kisses the top of your head and tells you to sleep.

Please don't ask me how I've been getting off…

They'll try to control you as if they own you…

You've thought a lot about labels throughout your life. How there are so many that can define a person. How there are so many that used to, and continue to define you. Female. Hispanic. Lesbian. Daughter. Cheerleader. Not to mention the mean nicknames and less-than-friendly labels people attached to you.

You're not sure if you're ready to accept another label just yet. Maybe it's because you let yourself get used to people defining you as 'bitch', 'slut', and 'Satan', but you feel like the label of 'anorexic' is a heavy cross that you don't want to carry.

Anorexia nervosa feels like something that happens to people who aren't you. There's a small part of you that still thinks of it as something that only really affects insecure teenage girls who think they're fat. You're not in denial about it; you just think it's embarrassing.

You slowly start to eat more, mostly just cereal, noodles and energy drinks, but you increase your portion sizes enough to stop people asking questions. Your dad sets you up with this nutritionist lady called Cathy, thanks to a colleague of his who used to live in New York. She's got red hair and an annoying high-pitched voice, like Emma Pillsbury on steroids. You'd happily take Emma Pillsbury over this lady any day of the week. She reminds you of those women on social media, who post multiple statuses about her kids, and how vaccines are bad, and how 'kids just shouldn't be exposed to the homosexual agenda at such an early age'. Basically, she's the love child of Professor Dolores Umbridge and Miranda Sings.

The first thing Cathy asks you is what kind of food you eat on an average day.

You answer, "Special K. Ramen noodles. That's about it." You don't specify how much or how little food you normally eat. She didn't ask that, after all. It also suddenly occurs to you that everything you eat basically takes about ten seconds to prepare, which you find amusing.

She copies your answer down in her notebook. "Do you have milk with your cereal?" You shake your head, and she asks, "Why not?"

You shrug, because you just don't, and you certainly don't need a reason. "I don't know," you say, embarrassed. "It just makes the cereal kind of gross."

Cathy raises an eyebrow. "How old are you?"

You frown, not sure what this has to do with your diet, and also you feel like you've answered this question before. "I'm nineteen."

"Years, or months?" Cathy asks, with a hint of mockery that you pick up immediately.

"Years." You answer through clenched teeth.

"Well, you could have fooled me," Cathy says, with a giggle. "You eat less than my two-year-old daughter."

You want to ask Cathy where she got her supposed credentials to become a nutritionist. Somehow, you doubt that she graduated from any sort of accredited program. Maybe she got her degree from the same website Sue got her PHD from. You wonder how long you can feign patience for.

You roll your eyes and exhale sharply. "This is bullshit."

Cathy doesn't say anything, just narrows her eyes. You're not sure why you should apologise to her, but you do. "I'm sorry, I just don't see the point in this. In any of this."

"I'm just trying to understand what's going on," Cathy explains, almost pathetically. "There's lots of reasons people stop eating. It could be stress-related, sensory-related – anything! It's not just teenage girls with body image issues like the media says."

You can't take any more of this; she's not being formal enough for you and the conversation is starting to get into feelings territory. "Look, I'm only here because my dad is forcing me, so you can pry all you like but don't even know how this all happened," you snap, cringing as you feel your voice thicken with tears. You figure you may as well get out of there; this was all a waste of your time anyway. "You're a nutritionist, not a fucking therapist. I just want to get out of your office, so leave me the hell alone!"

Cathy just sits there awkwardly as you slam her office door and walk out of the building, probably scared you might do or say something more to her. You know that eventually you'll get a phone call from your dad about how you're not taking your recovery seriously. You don't care. You just want to run away and never look back. Sure enough, your phone vibrates, but it's not your dad.


"Hello yourself," Brittany answers. "Your mom told me how you got sick."

Oh crap, you think. "It's not a big deal," you lie. "I just had the flu and they discharged me and I'm fine."

"Oh please, your mom said it was really serious and you could have died. She was really worried about you."


"She asked me if I knew about it."

You feel the colour drain from your cheeks. "Well, did you say anything?"

You hear a sob coming from your phone. "Listen Santana, I can lie to your parents about little things, you know. Just not this. I care about you too much. Please don't be mad."

You want to be angry, furious even, but you can't. "I'm not," you answer. "Why is that?"

"I don't know. Just like I don't know why Lady Tubbington still thinks it's okay to use my hairbrush."

"I miss you like crazy."

You hear Brittany inhale slowly, and you start to assume the worst. What if she doesn't like you anymore? What if she's realised the truth: that you're a barely functioning mess with no control over your life, and she's done with that?

"I miss you too," you hear her say. You wince as you brace yourself for what you think might come next. "I just need to know that you haven't been sick because of me."

You freeze. Somehow, you feel that's worse than the potential rejection. "Britt, I wish I could tell you, but I don't know. I'm not exactly proud of it. None of this is your fault. I'm perfectly capable of screwing up my own life without anyone's help."

"Okay Santana I'm not your therapist or anything. I mean, you should probably get a real one anyway, and definitely not Ms Pillsbury. She's really unqualified and gives pretty horrible advice, and her office is see-through and really awkward to be in. Plus she likes Mr Schue, so she just has really bad taste in general. My point is, I'm going to Columbia, so you're probably going to be seeing a lot of me soon. You're the only person who ever thought I could get in anywhere, but I'm actually going to college. I know we're not together anymore and I've tried to date Sam and other people, but I just want you. I need you to know I love you and I want to be there for you."

You hear other words, but you can't focus. You barely register that you're sobbing like an idiot outside Cathy's office building. You don't even care where you are anymore.

When you get home, you notice that one of your roommates has left a cup of yoghurt and muesli and a packet of dried fruit for you on the kitchen table. You pick at it for the longest time, contemplating whether or not to eat it at the risk that Kurt or Rachel might appear out of the blue and make a song and dance routine that you're eating actual food in front of them. But they don't, so you start eating it. Your hands shake and you give up on half of the yoghurt, but you don't care.

Will you let them steal your freedom …

Facing nothingness, drawn to feel the emptiness, oh help me now, describe the scene

You move out of the loft at the end of July. You still see Kurt and Rachel all the time, and in a way, you feel closer to them than you were when you all lived together.

You go to Lima to help Brittany move to New York with you, move into a new apartment (thanks to a friend of your dad's, who rented it out to you at a much cheaper rate), and within two weeks, the two of you are back together. You still work at the coffeehouse, only sometimes Brittany joins you and Eddie on stage on Fridays. Brittany gets a job at a pet store and works there part time while studying.

To your surprise, your dad agrees with you that Cathy was useless and finds you a decent psychologist. You're hesitant at first, but she wins you over with her no-bullshit attitude. You get diagnosed with severe anxiety. Your doctor puts you on anxiety medication that makes you feel less stressed all the time, but also less hungry sometimes. Sometimes you can still only eat a handful of cereal and a can of sugarfree energy drink in a day. Sometimes your mother comes to visit the two of you and cooks for you. Sometimes you find yourself opening up to your parents and Brittany about your food issues. You don't think you'll be one hundred percent over them; your parents and Brittany know that, but they're okay with it.

Weirdly, living in New York turned out to be completely different to what you expected. Like your life, and your recovery, it wasn't perfect. It had a lot of ups and downs, but knowing how it would end up, you would never change it.

Begin to know, you're free to go …