She had always thought that the ride to one of these things would be nerve-wracking. White spots of light dancing before her eyes, heart pounding like a jackhammer, wracking sobs and sappy shit like what she read in books. It wasn't.
There wasn't tension in the car. The ride to the hospital didn't feel endless. The wait outside the emergency room wasn't agonisingly long. She hadn't broken down and cried.
Instead, she found herself responding to everything with a logical calm. She could even recite everything she did with methodological precision. Received a call from the hospital at 11.37pm. Called Britt's parent at 11.39pm. Called Quinn at 11.42pm to do the honours of contacting their friends. Grabbed car keys. Locked door to apartment at 11.46pm. Drive. Reached hospital at 12.23am. Called the parents and Q to give a non-update.
Brittany was fine and there was nothing to worry about.
So when the doctor called for "family members and friends of Miss Brittany S Pierce" at 3.45am, she coolly walked up to him and listened as he explained to her the extensive list of damage that had resulted from the car accident. She didn't blink when he told her that due to brain trauma, Britt wouldn't be waking up anytime soon. She simply nodded, made little sounds that showed she understood. She didn't make a scene. All she chose to hear was "She's out of danger but will require further monitoring."
When she walked into the ward, she calmly walked up to the prone body on the bed, took her girlfriend's hand and thanked the good Jesus, Allah, Mary, Buddha and all the saints that her girl was alive. Some people find religion when they encounter something earth-shattering. Others turn away from religion. For Santana, she simply accepted and was grateful.
It was 4.01am when Quinn entered the room. Red-rimmed eyes behind harry potter glasses were the only tell-tale signs that she had cried on the bus to New York. Apart from that, her hair was immaculate (a trait she had learned from her time on Sue Sylvester's cheerleading squad) and her dress was uncreased despite the two-hour long bus ride (the neatness Russell instilled in her was never shaken off despite her estranged relationship with her father.)
The only greeting that Santana gave her best friend was a soft "Hey. Thanks for coming. She's okay. She's alright."
The relief that flooded Quinn's face was short-lived when she asked when Brittany would be waking up.
"The doctor isn't sure but she's okay." After that unexpected answer, Santana returned to Brittany's side with a smile.
It took more than a moment for Quinn to recover from that but after she had stopped gaping and blinking, she didn't have the heart to ask Santana to repeat herself to ensure she hadn't heard wrongly or to carefully tell Santana that someone in a coma was definitely not okay. Instead, she left the room to cry her eyes out.
After her crying jag, she decided that this was Santana's coping mechanism and all she needed was some time before the severity of the situation sank in. So she touched up her makeup, redid her pony and walked out of the ladies with brighter spirits, only for that to be doused out quicker than it had been ignited.
The doctor was conferring with Mr. and Mrs. Pierce in the corridor. Though she could only hear bits of the conversation, the words "broken spine" and "may never be able to walk again, much less dance" sent her sprinting to the toilet for another sob marathon.
When she finally returned to the ward after what she guessed must have been an hour, Rachel and Kurt had joined their little band of concerned worrywarts.
In the background, she realised someone was humming the verse of songbird.
For you, there'll be no more crying
For you, the sun will be shining
She was familiar with the words because after Santana had sung it to Brittany in Glee club during their junior year (and if anyone accused her of this, she would vehemently deny it), she had gone back home to YouTube the song, put it on loop and fantasized someone baring his soul to her as Santana had to Brittany. Santana had many flaws (Quinn could definitely attest to this) but one thing you could never fault her on was being romantic and knowing how to treat her girl right.
Still, she couldn't help notice that everyone sans Santana spotted puffy, watery eyes and that the sky outside the room was still dark.
It took Quinn a week to come up with the "simmering pot of gruel" theory. She theorised that Santana had all her fears, desperation and hopes pocketed in little bubbles that refused to pop. (Santana once said that she'd removed her tear ducts but Quinn knew that to be a complete lie, not to mention completely unoriginal since Sue had once used that phrase.) Despite the gravity of the situation, she had to give herself a pat on the back for the genius of her metaphor. Her English professor would have been proud.
It was ironic that on the day she departed for New Haven, Santana had left her half-eaten bowl of porridge on the overbed table. She couldn’t help but notice that the topmost layer had already begun to crust over.
It was after a month and 6 days that Brittany finally woke up. During that one month and 6 days, not much had changed in Santana's schedule. She continued attending classes at NYU in the day and slinging drinks at the bar after dark. In between, she hung out at the hospital, read her notes and griped about her day to Brittany. Sometimes, she slept over; on the floor or on the chair, it didn't matter as long as she was by Brittany’s side. She didn’t want Brittany to wake up scared and alone, as Santana knew she would be. She had also promised Mr. and Mrs. Pierce that she would take care of Britt. It had been hard for them to leave, but with Ashley back home, they hadn’t had much of a choice.
Kurt and Rachel were also around a lot, usually separately, so her ears didn’t burst from their incessant chatter. If they came together, they were unusually quiet (or at least as quiet as the both of them together could manage). They had tried to talk her out of sleeping at the hospital but their efforts had quickly ceased when she had let Snix out of her cage. For the sake of normalcy, she complained, griped and bitched at them but they continued to visit and they continued to care. For that, she was grateful and she would owe them.
Quinn herself came every week without fail, after she was done with her classes at Yale. Often, she would sit quietly with Santana, perusing her lecture notes and studying for her exams. They never spoke much, but the easy quiet and company was comforting and welcomed in the sterile hospital room.
One of Santana’s routine was to bring a brand new bottle of Dr. Peppers whenever she visited. When Brittany woke up, Santana was sure it would be the first thing she would want to drink. She was proven wrong when Bottle 37 was opened violently, flung across the room by a shaking Brittany who had woken up to a body that wasn’t hers.
“I can’t feel my legs!”
“Shhhh shhh it’s okay Britt. Calm down babe. I’ve got you. You’re okay,” Santana placated, pressing her lips to her girl’s ruffled hair, desperate to stem her panicked screams and thrashing arms, even while they waited for the doctors to arrive.
As she hugged Brittany close to her, she heard the click of a door closing and spotted the ends of a blonde ponytail she knew belonged to Quinn.
Dr. Pepper lay in the middle of its own pool of blood, bubbles fizzing and popping in a sea of brown.
Quinn didn’t return the Saturday that Brittany woke up, or the next day, or the next weekend. She had told Santana it was because she really had to focus on her exams but fact was, she didn’t know how to look at Brittany without falling apart.
Bubbly, energetic Brittany who could rarely keep still, who loved to dance and could move her body in ways that most people could not even dream of. Happy Brittany who had looked so distraught for that few seconds she had seen her before she had fled in a moment of cowardice. What do you say to someone who may never walk again? What do you say to someone who may have lost a fundamental part of her identity? How do you act? How do you behave? Where do you start? What was the appropriate protocol for this?
And then there was Santana; fiery Santana whose fire had been put out after the accident. Quinn had seen it in her eyes - the fear and helplessness that nothing would ever be right again. But what Quinn found scary was the stoic front, the defense towers that Santana had been building higher and higher and higher on an increasingly unstable foundation. She needed to believe that everything was okay and would be okay, and so she believed. It was easier to believe when Britt was still sleeping but now with the facts all out in the open, now that Britt had said she could not feel her legs, would Santana’s foundation still hold? Or would her towers continue to climb higher and higher till everything crumbled in on its own weight? When does someone know when to push? When does someone know the right words to say at the right time?
So on the third Saturday of her absence from the hospital, she spent the afternoon flipping idly through her textbook and busying her mind with thoughts that had nothing to do with her upcoming exams. But all that faded into the background when she received Rachel’s text. It simply read, “They need you.”
Guilt immediately flooded her and so she returned the very next day, and using the key to her best friends’ apartment, timidly let herself into their rented space. The apartment had been empty, just as she had expected. Alone, she looked around the tiny space. What was once a pretty, tidy living room was now slightly cluttered – an empty pizza box, a couple of beer cans and unwashed clothes littered the area. Certainly not what it had been just two weeks ago.
It certainly meant that Brittany had not yet been discharged. For one, Santana would never have let Britt return to such a mess. Secondly, someone would definitely have texted her, even if she had been MIA for a bit.
Despite the mess, the apartment still obviously belonged to Santana and Brittany. Photos of the couple hung on the walls, of their families, of their school activities, of their friends, of their dates, all of which were part of a timeline they had chosen to share. It looked different but it was still the same home.
After she had cleared up the mess, she decided that she deserved a cold drink and so opened the refrigerator to find 51 of Dr. Pepper’s friends hogging the fridge shelves; perfectly lined up in straight, orderly rows. 15 new additions from the last time, and the only orderly thing in the untidy house.
Swallowing the stone that had suddenly formed in her throat, she gently closed the fridge door and turned away, parchedness forgotten.
Same but different, and she had never much been comfortable with different.
Santana had been glad to have Quinn back. Something had spooked Quinn the day Brittany woke up, and though Santana would have loved to have Quinn around, she hadn’t wanted to push. Their friendship didn’t work that way. They didn’t talk about their feelings and they certainly didn’t talk about what irked them.
Instead, they give each other space, knowing that the other would always come back. So she gave Quinn space and Quinn had come back. She had taken two weeks to sort out her mind but she had returned.
It had been hard being around Brittany. She had always been the shadow and Brittany, the light. But now, their roles were reversed. Brittany was a walking combustible, volatile and ready to explode. And so it was Santana’s turn to be the balanced, composed one, a role she was determined to succeed in.
So if Brittany screamed, she soothed. If Brittany seethed, she cooled. If Brittany wallowed, she pushed. If Brittany cried, she smiled for the two of them. If Brittany broke down, she picked up the pieces and put them back together. Because that was the way they had always been – two pieces of a puzzle. If she had to cut the pieces to make them fit, she damn well would as long as she could have the completed puzzle. Defective but nevertheless complete.
Speaking of defective, she glanced at Quinn who was poring over one of her ridiculously thick Yale textbooks, as she had been for the past hour after Brittany had fallen asleep, exhausted after her therapy session. Quinn was a walking example of a defective but completed picture. She appeared so proper and put together on the outside, but inside was a mosaic of shattered fragments, painstakingly pieced together one by one after she had been kicked out of her own house for a single, stupid mistake she had made at sixteen. If anyone could understand what heartbroken was, Quinn would, having had to give her child away for adoption after carrying it inside her for nine months.
But pieces no matter how well glued together, could and would fall apart after time. And Santana couldn’t help but worry when Quinn’s would come apart.
Quinn wasn’t sure how she would fare for her exams, what with her shuttering to and fro from New Haven and New York on the weekends, and being distracted on so many levels on the weekdays. But she was relieved that for now, she wouldn’t have to think about school and her results until another couple of months.
Once her last paper was over, she politely declined the party invites, then took the bus out to New York with the small suitcase she had brought with her into the exam room. With everything that was going on, she definitely was not in the mood for celebrating, especially not when she arrived at the therapy room to hear Brittany shouting.
“I can’t do this shit!” She had fallen again.
“You’re fine. You’re doing great babe,” Santana crouched down to pick her up but was pushed away with furious hands.
“No I can’t! I’ll never be able to walk! I want to go home!”
“You’re okay! You’ll be okay! We’ll try again!”
“No Santana! I’m not okay! Take me home!”
“Come on babe. Don’t be like this. There’s still half an hour on your..”
“Don’t tell me what I can’t do! I know exactly what I can’t do! I can’t walk! I can’t dance! I can’t move without this damn wheelchair!
“Britt-Britt, you’ll be fine. You just need time and you’ll be okay. You’re…”
“How am I okay? How am I okay because I don’t feel okay! I want to go home.”
“Babe, come on. You’re okay, you’re alive and…” Santana’s eyes darted around looking for help, and found it in Quinn. Her relief was obvious but unfounded, “Quinn! Thank God. Tell her she’s fine.”
When Brittany had started bawling and Quinn hadn’t replied, Santana turned to her with a frantic desperation, a hint of anger and something else she couldn’t place, “Quinn!”
It was then that it struck her. She didn’t know who to feel most sorry for. Brittany, who may never walk or dance again and was inflicting herself with doubt and self-hatred for her sudden dependence? Santana, whose life was on a standstill, who was struggling to stay strong when she was obviously just a hair from falling apart herself? Or herself, who may possibly lose her scholarship when her results get released in a few months, and who was worrying herself sick over her two best friends?
They were not okay. None of them were and it felt good to admit it. So she did.
“I..I can’t. B’s right. She’s not okay. None of us are.”
It came out first in a whisper, barely audible but the smouldering glare that Santana shot her showed that she had heard her loud and clear. And there that look was again. Only now, Quinn recognised it for what it was. Resignation, helplessness, fear and all of Pandora’s contents if it had contained misery instead of evil.
So she tried again, hoping to release the last and most important seed of the box. Her voice was shaky but strong, “We’re not okay Santana, and it’s okay to accept that. We may not be okay in a long time, but if we try, we may just make that happen.”
She looked between them, looking for a spark that showed they understood a change was needed, that all was not right with them. She looked for something, anything that would make her believe in her God again, something that would show her that there could be hope and mercy in this pitiless, cruel, unpredictable world.
Brittany continued to cry. Santana stared at her with baffled eyes. There was nothing to find, not today. So she bit her bottom lip, walked over to the pair of them where she sat down, then drew her knees to her chin and rocked. And rocked.
One thing that Quinn had learned in High School, after all that had happened to her was that while waiting was painful, it was necessary and usually worth the wait.
She waited nine months and bore Beth. She waited six months and got her mother back. She found it poetic then that she waited three months and found hope.
Three months. Three friends.
Quinn was supposed to be sleeping but she had woken up to pee, a habit she had yet to shake off from her pregnancy days. She had meant to do exactly that when she heard soft cries and comforting murmurs coming from San's and Britt's room. Worried but unperturbed, she glanced at the analogue clock on the wall. 3.30am. It wasn't uncommon for Brittany to wake up in the middle of the night, crying for what she had possibly lost forever and what she had already lost forever. What was surprising was Brittany hunched over her girlfriend, whispering soothing, comforting words as Santana cried her eyes out.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to... I shouldn't be.. Quinn was right. I'm a mess."
She found it odd that Santana never accepted how Brittany was a mess.
But when Brittany proceeded to envelope Santana in the most intimate, loving embrace, Quinn realised how it wasn't so odd after all. All her life, she had always known her two best friends as Santana&Brittany or Brittany&Santana. It was never Santana and Brittany or Brittany and Santana.
When Brittany buried Lord Tubbington, Santana was heartbroken. When Santana was disowned by her grandmother, Brittany was devastated. When Brittany became a mess, Santana was a hurricane-struck city.
“I’m sorry too Santana. I promise I’ll try better, for you, my parents, for Quinn, for Rach and Kurt….”
“For yourself,” Santana sniffed and pulled Brittany closer, “And if…” her voice trembled and broke, “If you can’t dance again, we’ll work something out. Okay?”
“Okay. I love you Santana.”
“I love you too Britt.”
It would have made a perfect picture, Quinn thought and couldn’t help but smile. They had reached a milestone. Acceptance was the first step to understanding and to change.
The next morning, Quinn steps into the kitchen, groggy and bleary-eyed. She has not gotten use to the lumpy couch.
When she opens the fridge, she takes out the carton of orange juice and pours herself a glass. It takes a minute but her brain finally kicks in and she realises something different.
She blinks, pads over to the fridge for the second time and reads the note secured by a grinning duck magnet, “Gone to the therapist. Didn’t want to wake you even though you were drooling all over the sofa. Probably going to ask the doc for someone we can talk to. Meet for lunch? Lots to tell you! – Love, S&B”
She smiles, then yanks open the fridge door to make an inventory check. She had long lost count, and the fridge had long lost the space needed to accept the new bottles of Dr. Pepper that Santana continued to buy everyday. Quinn had always thought the action impractical but no doubt, romantic. Hopeless sap, she grinned to herself and swept her eyes to where an empty slot of where she supposed Dr. Pepper number 30ish was supposed to be.
Yep, not wrong at all, she thinks and closes the door with her first genuine smile in weeks. Change. It was going to be difficult and it was going to take time, but at the end of it all, she was sure they were all going to be okay.