Santana watches wordlessly as Brittany closes and starts the dryer before slipping her hand into Santana’s, lacing their fingers together and leading her slowly back to their room. Santana feels disconnected from her body, but her legs don’t fail as she follows.
“Santana, I’m so sorry.” Brittany’s voice is so small and delicate that Santana has to strain to hear her over the ticking and humming of the crappy dorm room heater.
“Me too,” she sighs, falling heavily into the desk chair and opening her laptop. “I need to email her. Or text her or something. I just sat there silent on the phone like an idiot. Who does that? I just didn’t know what to say. And I didn’t want to say the wrong thing.”
“I don’t think she expected you to say anything, honey.”
“I knew things weren’t good or even okay between them, but I just-” her voice trailing away into silence, throat constricting with suppressed emotion. “And why hasn’t my dad called? He should have called me by now. I don’t know what’s happening, I don’t..” She blinks and tips her head back, fighting away gathering tears.
“What can I do? How about a cup of tea?”
“Yeah, that sounds good. And can you get Quinn? Please?” Santana hates the her voice sounds broken somehow.
“Of course,” Brittany promises, grabbing Santana’s Boston College mug from the nightstand and pressing a warm and soft kiss to her temple before slipping from the room.
Santana pulls in a shaky breath and clicks open a new email, typing her mother’s address and leaving the subject line empty. Hi. Sorry I didn’t really know what to say on the phone. I still don’t, really, just that I’m here for you and love you and support you and you’ll get through this. Call me anytime, it’s no problem, I promise. I love you <3
As she clicks “send,” Quinn appears, knocking softly on the slightly open door. “Hey, S, Britt said you needed me?” And she pauses when Santana turns, their eyes meeting as Quinn’s smile falls away and Santana pulls her lip between her teeth to keep herself from crying.
When Quinn wraps her up into a hug, Santana feels as close to home as she’s going to get.
Three hours later and well into the night, Santana hasn’t heard word from either parent. She finally closes her eyes, sandwiched between Quinn and Brittany on the tiny twin bed, her mind a thousand miles away.
The team starts to notice something is up at breakfast the next morning. Santana sits silently between Quinn and Brittany, pushing the eggs around her plate absently, Rachel’s normal stream of constant chatter fading into white noise. She keeps catching stolen glances from teammates who always look away awkwardly when every once and awhile she looks up. Even Rachel visibly worries when she tells an especially embarrassing story and Santana doesn’t laugh or off-handedly tease her for it.
Brittany squeezes her thigh under the table and Santana reaches for her hand, welcoming the warmth Brittany rubs back into her fingers.
Brittany eats the rest of her breakfast one-handed.
In the locker room, Santana moves slowly pulling on her pads, fumbling over buttons and Velcro straps, even putting her jersey on backwards the first time. She shakes her hands out over and over but they fail to cooperate as she’s lacing up her skates. An invisible fog continues to grow and thicken around her, making it harder and harder to concentrate.
You’ve gotta pull as hard as you can with every tug on these laces, okay, mija? Your skates are your most important piece of equipment out there and they need to be as tight as you can get them. I’m not always going to be there to tie them up for you, so you need to start practicing yourself, okay?
A flash of anger bolts quickly through her consciousness as she thinks of her father. No word from him still, the coward.
“Need a hand?” Brittany asks, crouching down in front of Santana’s stool and encircling both wrists gently. Santana nods but doesn’t look up and Brittany eases her hands down along Santana’s palms, slipping the laces from her fingers. They don’t speak as Brittany pulls and tightens, tying up each skate snug and just how Santana likes them. When she’s done, Brittany nudges a soft finger under Santana’s chin, looking at her softly and whispering, “you can do it, honey. One step at a time. I’ll be right there with you.”
Santana leans forward, pressing their foreheads together with her eyes closed. Brittany takes her feather-soft kiss as a ‘yes’.
Santana struggles through the warm-up skate, the puck inexplicably jumping up over the blade of her stick each time she tries to control it, her limbs not quite moving in sync with each other. After the third time she loses the puck between her skates, turning herself in circles, Brittany finds her by the corner boards.
“I know, I know,” Santana grumbles, cracking her stick so hard against the baseboard that the shaft snaps in two. “God damn it!” she yells, throwing both broken stick pieces to the ice.
“Hey,” Brittany nudges, grabbing Santana’s elbow before she tries to hit anything else. “Santana, look at me please.” She pauses until she has Santana’s full attention as the rest of the team skates around them. “It’s just hockey. Easy as breathing to you and me. Can you try something for me?” she asks, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth.
“Just for the next few hours, pretend there’s nothing else. Just this rink, this ice. These two goals and a few rubber pucks. Your teammates. Me. And nothing else matters but what’s right here, okay?” Santana wonders if this is how Brittany got through playing while her mom was sick. If that’s how she goes on playing now.
“Okay,” she agrees, wordlessly thanking Brittany by nudging their helmets together softly, picking up her broken stick, and skating to the bench for a new one.
Although Santana is much quieter than usual during the morning session, she manages to find her stride quickly after the team stretch. Her play is consistent, agile, and calculated as she flawlessly executes all of the plays Coach Taylor has them running, finishes first in the conditioning sprints and even scores on each of her practice penalty shots, the only one on the team to make all five.
As the team finishes up the cool-down stretch Coach Taylor skates up alongside Santana as she reaches the tunnel for the locker room. “Lopez, a word in my office after you’re in your street clothes, if you would.”
She agrees, and after shucking off her sweaty pads and a quick shower, she finds herself in front of Coach Taylor’s open office door.
“Lopez, come in, have a seat. Close door behind you,” he says, clicking pause on the remote for the flat screen TV mounted to the wall that is playing a Canada vs. Sweden game. Coach Taylor leans back in his office chair, interlacing his fingers and forming a steeple as he studies her. He has a way, like Brittany, of making her feel completely exposed. “You looked a little lost out here this morning, everything okay?”
Santana debates whether or not she wants to tell Coach Taylor much of anything, keeping quiet as her eyes wander from him to the framed photographs on the desktop. She pauses on at the bright smiles of Coach and his wife, Tammy, on their wedding day. It’s a candid shot of them wrapped up together in the middle of the crowded dance floor, lost in a private moment with their noses pressed together. The sight makes Santana a little nauseous.
“Everything okay with, erm, with you and Pierce?”
“Oh yeah, yeah. It’s nothing like that, Coach.” Santana cracks a slight smile at how uncomfortable Coach Taylor is at the thought of talking to Santana about her love life, but it’s extinguished quickly as she is jarred back into reality. Deep breath. The hardest part is saying it out loud. “Looks like my parents are splitting up,” she says, shrugging and looking away from him while biting at a cuticle.
“I’m sorry,” he offers after a few moments of quiet, watching her carefully. “Did they just call you up and tell you?”
“Something like that. Last night. It’s why I’m kind of… out of it today. Sorry, Coach.”
“It’s alright, you’re doing just fine. Seems like Pierce was able to snap you out of it a bit during warm-ups, you were practically tripping over your own feet out there.” Santana feels her cheeks burn hot as she thinks about snapping her stick, but he doesn’t mention it.
“Yeah, she has a way of doing that. Pulling me out of funks, getting my head on straight, that kind of thing.”
“It’s a good quality to have in a partner. A teammate.”
“Yeah. How long have you been married?” she asks, nodding towards the picture frame.
“Almost ten years now.”
“My parents have been together thirty-four years. Married for thirty-one. How does it just fall apart after all that time? I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it and I just can’t.” Her eyes cloud and she bites her lip, pulling in a deep breath and blinking away the moisture. “They’re just my parents, you know? They’re supposed to be with each other, that’s how it works. That’s how it’s worked my whole life. How can they just give up?”
He sighs, leaning forward onto his elbows and pursing his lips sadly. “Sometimes things don’t work out the way you plan, Santana. It doesn’t mean it’s anyone’s fault, or that anyone is giving up. But people change, relationships change, nothing in this world is static and nothing is forever. Marriage is one of the hardest things there is and I’m sure your parents are doing what they think is best for everyone, and sometimes that means making hard choices and sacrifices. The best you can do is support them both the best way you know how, and most importantly, allow yourself to feel. It’s not going to be easy, but you have a whole room full of teammates out there who would do anything for you, who support you no matter what. Lean on them, lean on Brittany, and just do your best. Okay?”
Santana swipes at both watery eyes and cheeks with her sweatshirts sleeve before nodding. “Yeah, Coach. I’ll try.”
“Do you need the afternoon off? It’s okay if you want to take some time.”
“Nah, I’d rather be out there with the team if that’s alright. When I’m out on that ice, the rest can just fall away. It’s where I feel most free. Most like myself. The distraction is good, I think.”
“Well, we’ll see you out there this afternoon, then,” he says, standing and reaching across the desk to squeeze her shoulder. It’s the most affection she’s ever seen Coach Taylor show any of his players.
“Hey, Coach?” she asks as she’s about to leave the office, drawing his attention from the paperwork laid out on the desktop. “Do you think it can last? Love?”
He looks steadily at her for a long moment before nodding. “Yeah, Lopez, I really think it can.”