It’s hard at first, in New York.
Spoilers for 3.22 “Goodbye”
Companion piece to Four Months (1, 2, 3, 4)
It’s hard at first, in New York.
She has her mom’s money, so it’s not like she’s living some starving artist existence, but she still talks her way into a job at a coffee shop two weeks after getting there and rents the tiniest apartment she can reasonably manage in, in an attempt to make it last. She has a bedroom and a bathroom, and a desk for her computer, and she makes sure there’s enough space left in the wardrobe, which is exactly half full of her clothes.
She looks at the empty half sometimes and feels a pang, and then she tugs at the bracelet on her wrist and reaches for her phone, or her computer, or presses a hand to her heart and counts how many days are left until she gets to see her again.
The only thing she splurges on are dance classes, an acting class she picks up on impulse, just because she sees the flier on the board, and a decent internet connection so she can be sure Skype will work without cutting out.
She always picks up on the first ring, her smiling face shining out of the screen, and Santana leans closer, trying to remember the way she smells and the way she feels in her arms. She’s still not there, but at least she gets clear pictures of her four times a week, and she feels less guilty when she pays the bills and remember the way she smiles into the camera and shows her her school assignments, solid C pluses and B minuses marked carefully in the corners with red pen.
She pulls double shifts and goes to auditions, trying to get her foot in the door, and the first time she sees Rachel at this audition for a tiny off-off-off Broadway play she throws her arms around her and clings on for an embarrassingly long time, while Rachel laughs and asks her how she is. Neither of them get the part, but Santana takes her back to her coffee shop after and makes her a soy cinnamon latte, drinking her black coffee slowly and asking her about NYADA.
Santana doesn’t ask after him and Rachel doesn’t mention her name, but somehow they both hang between them anyway, lending everything this melancholy air that Santana has been trying to rid herself of, the same way you shake out a blanket and roll it away. Rachel stutters out a “How’s Br—” just before she leaves and then stops, surprised at herself and the sudden look on Santana’s face.
“Fine,” Santana says shortly, and knows that she’ll never ask again.
Everything makes Santana think of her. There’s this blonde girl who comes into the shop whenever she has a morning shift and always orders caramel lattes and smiles at her, easy and open, in a way that tugs at her heart. Santana just grunts at her and hands her the coffee carefully, so their fingers don’t touch, and ignores the confused look on the girl’s face.
Rachel comes around more and more, and it gets so Santana already has her coffee ready when she knows Rachel is on the way from her classes, and she doesn’t even question how Rachel Berry ended up the only familiar thing in her life, when everything else feels like it’s changing around her, unrecognisable and alien.
Cheerful Skype dates where they talk about their days turn into them staring at each other, red-eyed and silent, whimpering about how they miss each other and how none of this is fucking fair. Santana blames herself for not paying more attention, but it’s hard to notice things that are hidden so well and so far out of the realm of possibility that they don’t even occur to you in the first place.
She gets a part in the chorus of a tiny play that only runs for two nights, and Rachel comes opening night, sitting in the front row and beaming at her every time she dances into a spotlight. She doesn’t find out until afterwards, when they’re both four cocktails worse off in this bar near her apartment and Rachel is slurring in her ear and telling her to check her phone, but Rachel called her when the show started and kept the line open during the whole thing and when she looks there’s a message on her phone that says you were amazing baby xxx and just the thought of her sitting at home on her bed listening to the show from Ohio makes her throat close up and her vision swim.
She just sort of shuts down, ignoring the excitement of her castmates, until Rachel grabs her arm and ushers her out of the bar. She takes her back to her apartment—she has to ask her four times where she lives before Santana finally gives up the information in the back of the cab—and pulls her out of her clothes, ignoring Santana’s snappy comments about not being interested in her, before she thrusts some pajamas at her and pushes her towards her bed.
When she wakes up in the morning, Rachel is on her couch drinking black coffee with a grimace because she doesn’t have any soy milk, and she blinks at her sleepily when Rachel fixes her with this very determined look and asks her if she’s okay.
The weather gets cold in New York in November, which is something she hadn’t realised before, despite a lifetime of Ohio winters. Rachel starts visiting the shop bundled up in scarves and thick, padded coats, and it makes her think of the winter before, of building snowmen and rolling around in the snow, hot kisses cutting through the cold, and she grunts at Rachel and hands her her coffee without preamble when Rachel asks her how she is.
She goes and sees some exhibit show that NYADA puts on, and Rachel is phenomenal as usual, belting out the few solos she gets, much less than the old days in New Directions, and making the most of her time in the spotlight. It reminds her of Sectionals and Regionals and Nationals, and she doesn’t stick around much after it’s over, just congratulates Rachel and leaves, heading back to her apartment and her computer, hoping that she’ll answer when she calls.
New Directions win at Sectionals, she tells her over Skype, and Santana wishes she could have been there, but a plane ticket or a bus ticket or any way of getting home would eat into her money, and she has shifts at the coffee house that she can’t miss. In her lowest moments, when she gets rejected for another part, or screws up the steps in her dance class, or feels less than everyone else waiting to be called back, just another girl out of her league in the big city, she wishes she’d stayed in Lima with her, because at least at the end of the day there’d be arms welcoming her home and loving her, making her feel like she’s worth something no one else is, because she’s the only one who gets to bury her head in her shoulder and hold on for dear life.
But the thing is, none of this is really working out the way it was supposed to.
Rachel eventually says his name when they’re polishing off tequila shots in a dive bar near Rachel’s dorms, and Santana just stares at her because the way this worked is they were never supposed to mention either of them, or remind each other about where they came from, because it’s easier to just be in the city without dealing with all of that, and Santana stutters out something that sounds like, “I have to go home,” before Rachel grabs her arm.
“The truth is—” she says, shouting over whatever awful song is blasting out of the jukebox. “The truth is, I don’t miss Finn anymore.”
“The truth is I miss her every day,” Santana shouts back, in a rare moment of honesty, and she shrugs out of Rachel’s touch and heads for the door and a cab, trying to ignore the images of blonde hair flitting behind her eyelids.
She gets another part in the chorus in December, only this time she has a couple of lines as well, and even if there’s only like five people that come to the tiny theatre to see the play it’s something to put on her resume. The show runs through the holidays, preventing her from going home like she said she would, and she calls her mom and breaks the news quickly like she’s pulling off a bandaid, surprised when the only thing her mom says is that she’ll be missed, only it doesn’t sound like she means by her.
She talks to her three nights in a row before she tells her, and she can’t deal with the way blue eyes swim with tears, the way she presses her hand to her mouth like she’s trying to push the sobs back in and stop them from coming out. “That’s great that you got a part,” she says, only it sounds like something else and Santana nods furiously, hoping it’ll make everything better.
“I have lines,” Santana says, like that should make it worthwhile, and watches her nod, the same way she had a moment before.
When she calls the next day, Santana sends it to voicemail and then texts her later saying that she had to switch shifts and work late, just because she can’t stand to disappoint her again. Sam calls her the next day and asks what the hell she’s doing, and she even hangs up on him and then ignores him when he tries to call her back. She knows he’ll take care of her, and it’s better if they don’t miss her at all.
The coffee shop gets sort of crazy around the holidays because everyone suddenly wants cinnamon in their drinks and hot chocolate with marshmellows, and it takes twice as long to make all the orders, so by the end of her shift Santana would be quite happy if she never saw a stick of cinnamon ever again, and it’s only made worse when Rachel comes in for her cinnamon soy latte and grins at Santana in the same way that used to annoy her in high school while she watches her make it.
Rachel says that she just wanted to come by before she went home to Lima to see her dads and the thought that Rachel gets to go home when she doesn’t makes Santana ache in ways she doesn’t have words for her, because the idea that Rachel might be in the same place as her is so grossly unfair on so many levels. “There isn’t— You don’t have anything you want me to take home do you?” Rachel asks eventually, just as Santana’s pulling her apron off and coming to sit down next to her, and she stares for a long moment before she shakes her head and fiddles with the cardboard holder around her cup, wishing Rachel would stop looking at her like that.
She works late on Christmas Eve because she’s the only one who doesn’t have anywhere else to go, and she closes up the shop alone, snuggling further into her coat and wrapping the scarf around her neck. She gets a cab home and swallows the extra charge wordlessly, just handing over the cash when the guy wishes her a merry Christmas and heads for her apartment building, not really paying attention to the shape sitting on her steps until she realises it’s person-shaped, and then looks again and realises it’s a kind of a familiar person shape too.
Santana’s heart tightens painfully in her chest, suddenly sure that she’s having some sort of hallucination right here on the steps to her building. The one thing she’s learnt in the last four months is that life isn’t some stupid romcom with a happy ending, and the idea that Bri— that she could be sitting on the steps just as snow starts to fall on Christmas Eve is so ludicrous that she actually stops and stares, wondering if maybe there was something in that last cup of coffee she drank.
“Hi,” the vision in front of her says, beaming that smile with that fucking fuzzy deerstalker hat pulled down low on her forehead, just the way she remembers her looking but even better because she’s actually here. “Your building is kind of scary at night” she says, and then she kisses her so hard that Santana forgets to breathe, her tongue pushing into her mouth clumsily, like she’s over-eager and anxious and forgotten what it feels like, cupping her face in mittened hands and wishing she never had to stop.
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