Day 12: Character A is stuck working in a coffee shop on Christmas Day and Character B is the lonely soul spending their whole day there.


Sighing, Rachel used the end of her pen to scratch in front of her ear. The latest coffee rush had trickled out five minutes before, and with five hours still left in her shift, she was doing her best to occupy herself with the daily crossword puzzle. Not for the first time she cursed management's strict rules about not having a phone or computer behind the counter; at least she'd managed to convince her boss that her Christmas CDs were worth bringing in, meaning her ears weren't getting inundated with uninspired covers.

As the CD changer shuffled to the next album, the woman sitting at the table closest to the fireplace sighed, pushing herself back from her computer. Running her hand through her hair and slipping black-rimmed reading glasses off her nose to rub her eyes with the bottom of her palm, she reached for the mug of coffee Rachel had already refilled twice. About to take a sip, she smirked as she looked inside it, shaking her head and standing up.

Realizing she was about to get caught watching, Rachel snapped her gaze back down at the crossword puzzle.

Clack, clack, bmp.

"More of the same?" Rachel asked, looking up as the mug made contact with the counter, pushing her hair behind her ear as she lay down the pen.

The woman, an attractive Latina Rachel had seen around the café a couple of times before, around her age and dressed in stylish cold weather clothes, offered a small, dimpled cheek smile. "It's the only thing keeping me awake."

"Oh?" Picking up the mug and sliding it into the coffee maker, Rachel turned back, unable to stop herself from teasing, "You sure your blood isn't made of coffee by now?"

"Would that make me still human?" the woman asked, leaning with her hip against the counter.

Rachel shrugged. "Med students seem pretty human to me."

"Don't you mean all students?"

Nodding in the direction of the woman's table, Rachel smiled at her. "That what you're doing? Studying?"

The woman made a face. "That would be preferable to what I'm doing, honestly." She sighed, shaking her head, tapping her fingernails on the counter.

Glancing at her out of the corner of her eye as she swirled caramel on top of the (non-vegan, Rachel couldn't help noting) whipped cream, Rachel slid the finished mug of coffee at her; she rested her elbows on the counter, leaning in interestedly, "Mind if I ask?" When dark brown eyes met hers, she gave her warmest smile, "If you haven't noticed, it's pretty slow in here today. I can clean already clean tables only so many times before even that loses entertainment value."

"Mmm. I bet." The woman sipped her coffee, making a pleased sound in the back of her throat. "Fine. Rachel," reading the nametag on Rachel's chest, she wrapped both hands around the mug, eyelashes fluttering as she gazed off into space for a couple of moments, "My ex is getting married. I was asked to take care of all the arrangements."

"On Christmas Day?" Rachel asked incredulously, "How much can you even get done today?"

The woman smirked. "Hence it taking almost two hours to find a caterer willing to answer their phone."

"Wait, he's getting married today? How're you going to get everything set?"

"Ah, no. I have a little bit more time than that. She's getting married on New Year's. I figured spending Christmas planning it would only make punishing myself even easier and more meaningful."

Praying her expression wasn't insulting or blinding in its surprise, Rachel found herself asking instead, "Bad break-up?"

The woman laughed. "You could say that. We were on-and-off again through high school, drifted apart for a couple of years, and then got married spur of the moment before our 21st birthdays." Her expression pinched, and she sighed, rubbing the back of her neck before shrugging, almost emotionless. "We divorced right before our two year anniversary." She waited a beat. "Almost a year ago."

"I was going to say you didn't look older than 25."

"As if!" The woman used the hand holding her coffee to point at Rachel, smirking. "23."

Rachel smiled. "22." Almost belatedly, she pointed at herself.

The woman winked. "Got it."

…Right. Feeling a small embarrassed blush rise on her cheeks, Rachel nodded. "Right, right. Uhm…" she tucked her hands into her apron, resettling herself on her feet, "This is a little awkward, but, seeing as you were the only one in here when you came in, I didn't ask for your name…?"

A wide, beautiful smile turned the woman's lips up. "I'm Santana."

"Santana." Nibbling on her lower lip, Rachel was casting around for something else to say when the jingle of the bell above the door and sudden frigid gust of wind moved her attention to a man, incredibly bundled up, waddling in, snow practically cracking off of him. "Oh, I…" she turned back to Santana, smiling apologetically.

"'S cool." Santana shrugged, briefly setting down her coffee to fish for the wallet she'd been keeping in the pocket of her thinner inner pullover, pulling out another ten, "Here."

Though Rachel's first impulse was to refuse, wanting to offer to cover it herself, she really couldn't; not only because her bank account needed her full paycheck, but because it was against employee regulations. So, smiling sheepishly, she accepted the bill and quickly handed back the change, giving Santana a quick, fluttery wave as she turned, heading back to her table.


An hour and six customers later, Rachel groaned, using the counter to stretch her back and shoulders. She was about to make another circuit around the café, wet rag waiting for her, when Santana's voice caught her attention.

"Yes, hello, I'm calling about your ad online? Tell me you're going to be available New Year's Day. …A rate increase? C'mon. You're already getting another day of work that you weren't before. No, I don't think that's an unreasonable expectation. No, honestly, I don't care if January 1st is a day some people like to have off so they can nurse hangovers. Ever think that maybe anticipating that makes you an alcoholic? Oh come on. That's not personal. You're the one who brought it up! Don't say something if you're unprepared for it to be addressed. That's, like, common knowledge. … No. You're lucky I called you at all. Fine, how much? Fine. I'll e-mail you with the particulars. Yes. I - Santana Lopez. Lopez. Yes. Fine. Great. Later."

Dropping her phone, Santana shook her head, her fingers on the bridge of her nose. She looked up, eyes finding Rachel's. "Highway robbery. Fucking thieves."

Silently, Rachel pointed at Santana's mug. When Santana shook her head, making a comment about it probably being a good thing to slow down on the caffeine, she dipped her head in acknowledgment, resting her elbows on the counter. "Not to completely play Devil's Advocate, but I don't think it's that much of an irregular thing to anticipate being hungover on New Year's Day. Of course, depending on what you have planned."

One corner of Santana's lips quirked up, and she fully turned in her seat to face Rachel. "Oh god yeah. I'm going to be terribly hungover. New Year's Eve is bad enough as it is, but it's also going to be the bachelorette party. Knowing Brittany, we're not going to be done until we've visited all of the strip clubs she knows about, plus others we just," she made bunny ears, "Happen to stumble upon. Granted I'll only fully appreciate half of them, but that's what I get for agreeing to be her Maid of Honor."

"Brittany? She your…?"

"Mmhm." Santana nodded.

Biting her lip, not sure it was her place, Rachel opened her mouth, then closed it, sure the expression on her face conveyed her inner struggle.

"Go ahead and ask. It looks like it's physically hurting you, and I won't be responsible for you keeling over from an aneurysm."

"I just – " Bursting out, Rachel scaled herself back, straightening as she tugged on her apron, "You were married to her. How… How can you do that to yourself? If it were me…" She didn't even want to think about it. "I'm just surprised you're taking this so well, is all," she shrugged, ending mildly.

Her chin resting on her hand, Santana studied her before humming, shoulders rising in a slight shrug. "It's not the easiest."

Waiting a bit to see if the woman was going to elucidate, Rachel picked up her rag. "I'm sorry if I pried," she said quietly when she didn't, pushing her hair from her face before heading to the first table to Santana's left and back.

"You didn't."

"You don't have to say any more." Rachel made another sweep across the tabletop, glancing up.

Santana swept her hands out. "Who else am I going to tell? Brittany's a sweetheart; it's the least I can do, doing this for her with a smile on my face. She knows, subconsciously, probably, how hard this is for me, but it's also the truth that I know her and what she wants the best."

Rachel paused, lightly leaning on her palm on the table. It was one of her faults, being so tirelessly curious and nosy. "Do you… Miss her?" The laugh that left Santana's mouth surprised her, and she straightened, gripping the rag between her hands. "I'm sorry?" She hadn't expected that. She… Actually, she didn't know what she had been expecting.

Shaking her head, Santana picked up her glasses, swinging them between her thumb and pointer finger. "We were good, but we weren't good for each other… In the long run."

There was an air of finality after that, and Rachel nodded, offering Santana a small, sincere smile. Giving an even smaller smile in response, Santana swiveled back around, sliding her glasses on before retaking her mouse. Watching her, Rachel sighed quietly, allowing her shoulders to slump. She'd just had to pry.


Taking the break afforded to her by the weather taking a momentary turn for the worse, Rachel was just about to bite into her veggie sandwich when the sound of Santana's mug getting set down onto the counter again made her sit up and shove it to the side, frantically brushing her hands off on her apron. "Okay, now I have to ask if you're still human," she teased, smiling into tired but warm dark eyes, "Or if you've now transcended into a being of pure caffeine."

"Whichever I am, I make it look good." Smiling, Santana sighed and rocked back on her feet, gaze moving to the small selection of food items Rachel had prepared when the boredom had gotten too much for her. "Any of that edible?" she pointed.

"Well considering I was the one who made them and not my coworker Tina, who has decided that everything needs sriracha on it, I'd say so." As Santana hummed subvocally, surveying the selection, Rachel nervously twisted her apron in her hands so she didn't tap them obnoxiously on the counter. "Uh, unless you like sriracha, we have some in the back."

Santana waved that away. "No worries. I don't think that'd go well with the coffee thrumming through my veins. Speaking of…" She tapped the glass in front of the roast beef and swiss cheese on focaccia sandwich Rachel had only managed to make with doubled up gloves, "Can you heat that up?"

Rachel smiled. "You bet." Pulling a pair of disposable gloves out of the box, and then pulling another pair after to insure she was suitably protected from touching murdered carcass, she transferred the wanted sandwich to the warming oven. "Are you going to want more coffee? Something else?" she asked over her shoulder. When she didn't get an answer, however, she turned back, eyebrows raised questioningly.

Santana was smirking at her, dimples on full display. "Either you're allergic to olive oil or you're a meat heathen."

"Meat – meat heathen?"

"You might want to work on the automatic repelled scrunch of your nose the next time you pull a sandwich out for someone," grinned Santana. "The double gloves was a nice touch, too." Standing up in parody of peering over the counter, she finished triumphantly, "And if I'm not mistaken – which I'm not – that's a boring ass vegetarian excuse for a sandwich behind you."

Only not insulted because the woman seemed to be truly amused, giving her a slight wink to soften her words, Rachel hoped that the flush on her cheeks wasn't too noticeable. "I just would prefer not to…" Watching the other woman's eyebrows steadily rise, she sighed, closing her eyes and shaking her head. "Okay, yes, I'm vegan."

"Say no more." Santana lowered her hand from where she had put it up to pause Rachel's admission. "I'm not judging… Much."

"It's a valid lifestyle choice."

"I said I wasn't judging!"

Unable to stop a smile from lifting the corners of her mouth, Rachel didn't try to hide it either as she moved to take the sandwich out as the oven beeped. "I believe your exact words ended with a, '…much,' so yes, you were completely judging."

"I don't know how you get from much to completely, but if that better fits your warped vegan mind… Have at it."

"Hey!" Turning back to a gigantic grin, Rachel felt a tightness in her chest she hadn't even realized was there ease at the continued validation that whatever she might have messed up with her inquiring earlier had been, for all intents and purposes, set aside by the woman before her. That made her happy. Santana was like her (paying) partner in anti-Christmas time passing. Transferring the hot sandwich into a waiting basket, she took the couple of extra seconds to arrange it to think up a fitting response.

But Santana interrupted her thoughts. "Okay. How about this? I will give you a chance to attempt to sway my entirely reasonable point of view if you," her smile gentled as she took up the sandwich Rachel slid to her; she half turned, glancing at her table and back to Rachel, "Join me?"

Rachel's jaw almost dropped. "I… I'd like to, but…" She looked at the camera in the corner of the shop, unconsciously straightening and impersonalizing her body language, "I'm really not supposed to."

"C'mon. You can'ts tell me your manager's gonna watch the video – even as, like, a masturbatory aide or something equally as whack as that."

A shocked noise left Rachel's mouth, and she coughed, quickly clearing her throat to pretend that it hadn't happened. "That's disgusting." Santana's dimples met her again. "And no, I don't have any idea why Mr. Ryerson would choose to do so. Regardless that I'm pretty sure his 'interests' lie elsewhere."

"Oh?" Santana raised an eyebrow. "That sounds like juicy gossip."

Rachel stopped her by raising her hand. "Seriously not worth going into. The less I have to speak about Mr. Ryerson, the better." The man seriously gave her the creeps. Shaking her head, she inhaled, leaning against the counter. "Mmm… Before I ring up the total, are you going to want more coffee?"

"Nah. Do you have any, like, free water?"

"Of course!" Turning away and picking up one of their cheap 'free' cups, Rachel only paused a half second before snagging another one for herself. Filling both, she came back to a twenty, Santana pushing it at her with a kind smile and, "Here; stuff the remainder in your tip jar."

Rachel stared at her, the waters cool in her hands. "But…" That was almost fifteen dollars leftover. And Santana had already spent upwards of twenty dollars. As much as Rachel would appreciate the gesture, and on-the-job Rachel should have been salivating at the continual profit, early-twenties-student Rachel was starting to feel the strain on Santana's bank account. "I…" She was stumped at how to respond that wouldn't insult anyone.

Santana glared lightly at her, seemingly amused at the conflicted expression on Rachel's face. "Take it. It's compensation for spending this crap day with me."

"It hasn't been a hardship…" Rachel prevaricated, then sighed and gave in, delicately pulling the bill out of Santana's hand. "Thank you. But you know that's not your responsibility, right?" She half-smiled, lowering her voice, "Besides, I'm getting paid time and a half. Had to 'gently' remind Mr. Ryerson about labor laws, but I got it." She rang up the order and dumped the change into the tip jar that only previously held two nickels, doing her best not to look directly at it, instead focusing on Santana's now smug smirk.

"Well, now you have even more money." Santana shifted backwards, sweeping out her arms and raising her hands, rotating them jovially, "Merry Christmas~!"

That elicited a burst of laughter, Rachel too late to hide it behind her hand. "That's certainly the most… unique Merry Christmas I've ever received, thank you." She skirted around the counter, waters in hand – before detouring back when she realized she had forgotten her sandwich.

"What? You've never been given money for a present before?" Leading the way to her table, graciously taking one of the waters so Rachel could have a better hold on her sandwich, Santana carelessly shoved her things to one side of the table, freeing up space for both of them to sit across from each other. "That became one of my favorite things to receive after age twelve. Can't go wrong with free choice of how to spend the cash."

Rachel shrugged. Setting down her sandwich and the water, she made quick work of her apron, folding it and, wavering for a second, slipped it onto the chair nearest her. It still felt a little weird after the tip, but she was determined to sweep that away quickly. "Do gift cards count?"

"Hmm." Tilting her head back and forth, Santana thought about it, then shrugged, pushing her hair behind her ear as she picked up her sandwich to take a bite. "Unless they're a general card for, like, a mall, then no. You know, one that works for whatever – whichever – stores you want." Chewing and swallowing, a light surprised expression crossed her face, and she grinned at Rachel. "Hey, this is pretty good for a meat heathen."

Rachel politely ignored that comment. She picked up her own sandwich, turning it in her hands to find the best spot to bite back into it. "Probably not, then. Although I do still," she admitted a little embarrassedly, "Get a 'monthly allowance' from my dads to help with rent, if I need it."

Santana seemed to mentally file away the 'my dads' comment, nodding. "That's sorta like money presents, you know."

"Yes, but we don't call it such."

"Right." A beat. "Out of pride and all that, right?"

"Hey!" Laughing, Rachel shook her head. "Even if I didn't need it, I think they'd still send it. I'm their only child, and they can only visit every other month or so." Feeling a bit awkward, she bit her lip, "Sorry. Off topic." It was no time to burst into her original song, Only Child.

Santana shrugged, smiling, tucking her chin into the palm of her hand as she rested her elbow on the table. Her dark eyes were accepting. "'S the holidays. You're allowed. Do you normally spend them with them?"

"Yes. They're, uh, actually not here now because a work emergency came up for my dad, and daddy decided he should be there to support him. My dad gets a little," Rachel cleared her throat, smirking, "Insane when stressed and left to his own devices."

Santana smirked back. "I bet." When Rachel nodded, letting silence lapse before tentatively broaching, "How about you?" she shrugged again, taking the time to take another bite of her sandwich to come up with a response. "Whenever we can plan it, yeah. Or when my mother thinks mi abuela's ready to come around… And turns out to be wrong." She sighed, picking up her water. "This year, I didn't even want to try. Especially once I knew I was going to be planning Britt's wedding."

"I'm sorry."

"'S life," Santana started, then snorted, straightening and shaking her head, eyes glowing with such ferocity that it made Rachel instinctively sit back and up in mimicry, "But that doesn't matter! This year, I gets to spend it with you." She winked confidently. "In this nice café that has an actual fireplace and Christmas decorations, and whose barista doesn't mind if I take up temporary residence all for the cost of a couple coffees and sandwich."

Rachel raised an eyebrow. "A couple coffees?"

Rolling up one of the napkins Rachel had included with her purchase, Santana threw it at her, laughing as Rachel ineffectually batted it away, having chosen her hand holding her sandwich. It bounced off her wrist, coming to a rest under the table, near Rachel's foot. Taking pity on her and bending down to get it, Santana came back up with an allowing, "Okay, fine, a whole college rowing team's worth of coffees." She flattened out the napkin, replacing it under the relatively clean one resting next to her food. "Happy now?"

Rachel smiled at her. "I am. Thank you. And thank you for picking that up, too."

"Less work for you, yeah?" Santana hid her smirk behind her sandwich, "I mean, on this staggeringly busy day."

"Exactly."

Silence rose up between them, but it wasn't incredibly awkward or stuffy, and Rachel could feel herself continually relaxing, reaching the decision that sitting down with the other woman had been a good call. Speaking of… Glancing at Santana, who was calmly taking a sip of her water, she asked curiously, "So… Any new… Girlfriend…?" she hedged, relaxing when Santana nodded in the social cue she was on the right track, "Who doesn't really know what to make of this whole…" She searched for a word, "Wedding situation?"

Swallowing her sip of water, Santana shook her head, almost laughing. "No. Thank god. Could you imagine?" She picked up her sandwich again, "I mean, hopefully, if I was dating someone, she'd understand and trust me, but it would be a bit much for someone, probably, if the relationship was newer and not established." Nodding at Rachel's soft, "Small favors," she took a bite of her sandwich, chewing and swallowing before asking, "How about you? Any 'significant other' put out you're working all day? Not to mention probably worried that you're spending those hours with the devastatingly sexy likes of myself?"

Enjoying the cocky smirk on Santana's face, Rachel only partially rolled her eyes, hoping her ears weren't as heated visually as they felt – along with the rest of her cheeks and face and nose. "Has anyone ever told you you're amazingly confident?" she asked, blushing again when Santana only shrugged and waved her hand over her body, asking archly, "You have seen me, haven't you?" "Well, anyway," she cleared her throat, "Uhm, no. On the boyfriend front." Briefly meeting Santana's gaze, she added quickly, quietly, "Nor on the girlfriend front, for that matter."

"Because of choice, lack of prospects, or," Santana set down her sandwich, smiling knowingly at her, her voice sharing how she thought of her next statement, "Strictly non-chickly?"

Rachel's cheeks pinkened again. "M-mostly the first, somewhat of the second." Her voice lowered, "Though I think you had figured that out."

"It's what I do." Sitting back in her chair, Santana gave her a real, dimpled again smile, "And yeah." She tilted her head. "Why is that? You seem pretty… Not psycho killer to me."

Rachel shook her head, crumpling up the last bit of her veggie sandwich before stuffing it into the container she'd originally kept it in. "I mean, yes. I'm not a psycho killer. I've just been told I'm…" she tilted her head back and forth, "Often intense."

"That's not necessarily a bad thing, though."

"Apparently my brand is?" When Santana didn't respond, continuing to study her, Rachel shrugged. "I, well, I go to NYADA, see," "Congratulations," Santana offered, and Rachel nodded, "And – thank you, it's tough but I enjoy it – and since I've been making my way to Broadway ever since the age of six months after experiencing the incomparable Barbra Streisand for the first time sitting on my father's lap and watching Funny Girl, that's where most of my time – when not working here, of course – is devoted to." She looked up, meeting Santana's gaze again. "Many don't seem to understand that drive. Or they think it's a choice." She shook her head. "It isn't. I'm meant to be on the stage, and that's where I'm going."

Santana looked at her askance. "…You can remember when you were six months old?"

"You can't?"

"What? No." Putting up her hand, Santana stayed Rachel's response, "Hold on. Gimme a sec. You just said a lot and I have to work through all of it." She pursed her lips, dark eyes lowered as her index finger tapped the table.

Rachel waited. The steadily growing squeezing feeling in her chest was preparing her for eventual dismissal, and she shifted, unable to stop herself from fidgeting. Even though she believed wholeheartedly in what she'd said, and wasn't ashamed, she also knew that had been probably a bit more personal or passionate – intense, a small voice in her mind supplied – than anyone, especially a practical stranger, would know what to do with. She held in a sigh.

Just then, over the ever-present audio system, the CD changer shuffled from one of the softer Christmas albums to one Rachel had put even more of her already prodigious time and energy into recruiting the best musicians NYADA had to offer, allowing them to support and boost her vocals instead of blending in, more foreground than background. As the music swelled and the singing began, dark eyebrows started to furrow, and Santana glanced first up at the ceiling then to Rachel. She mouthed 'no way'. "Is this… You?"

Before Rachel had a chance to answer, Santana was already continuing, "Oh my god, it is. You know, I'd been sitting here for the longest time, knowing there was something about the vocalist." Straightening in her chair, she stared at Rachel, eyes wide with a triumphant tilt to her lips. "This is you." She sat back, crossing her arms, lips curled up. "You're good."

Rachel smiled, nodding. She raised her hands. "It's me. And I am."

Sitting up again, Santana rested her arm on the table, leaning over it as if in confiding something. "Well, really. If that," she jabbed her thumb up towards the ceiling, "Is what comes from your 'intensity', as well as taking in account what I have seen of you these past few hours…"

A blush warmed on her cheeks again as Rachel couldn't help injecting, "It would be remiss of me not to remind you I've been operating mostly from an employee-customer perspective…"

Santana waved that away. "Blah blah blah. Semantics. Who cares?" Her smile broadened, the triumphant slant of her lips even more evident – her dimples in full view once again, Rachel had to glance away momentarily not to stare – she lightly slapped her hand down on the table, pointing at Rachel and leaning towards her even more, "My obviously expert opinion says you've just been stuck dating the wrong kind of people. Let me guess." She tilted her head, sitting up once again, "Your first relationship upon reaching New York was a consequence of barely shaking off ties from your hometown: messy, unfulfilling, and full of uncomfortable compromises on your side."

Rachel's lips parted. "How… How did you know?" Granted those were pretty broad assumptions, but the way the other woman had said them, it was like she had picked up something more specific than generalizations.

Santana exhaled, shrugging lightly as she pushed her hair behind her shoulder, smile gentler but still practically a smirk. "Let's just say I've had experience. Bet you have a better idea and ability to predict who will fit you now, though, right?"

"…Yes."

"See?" Pushing herself back from the table, Santana made quick work of sweeping up their combined trash, turning back only when she'd dropped the trash into the garbage can near the counter to give Rachel a giant wink and toothy grin, "Makes up for the awful sex."

Spluttering, Rachel stood up from the table as well, pausing a bit before reaching for her apron again. "Thanks," she started, attempting to change the subject as politely as she could, gesturing lightly at the table and the garbage can, "For cleaning up." She looped the top of the apron over her head, smiling at Santana. "That was nice of you." It was also nice of Santana for saying what she did, though Rachel knew she was going to have to think about it. Even if… It was true there had been an awful lot of… Lacking people in her dating past.

Santana returned her smile, hands curling on her books and computer, pulling them back into their previous position. "Hey, can't start suddenly making work for you, can I?"

"Well, you could…"

"Right, and have you pour boiling hot coffee on me in retaliation? Mm. Rather not."

Rachel laughed, shaking her head. "You do realize," she raised her voice a little as she grabbed her sandwich container to safely stash behind the counter, once again starting to get herself situated, "That doing that would only make more work for me? Mopping up spilled coffee is not fun, in any sense of the word."

"Prior experience?"

Rachel made a face as she checked the espresso machine. "Common experience."

"Huh." Slipping her reading glasses onto her nose, Santana slightly leaned back, balancing herself on the back two legs of her chair. "Suppose I'd also have sued you for hospital bills, not to mention to replace this amazing weave of mine."

Satisfied that everything still looked in order, Rachel rested her forearms on the counter, unable to not return Santana's smile. "Hospital bills… Your… Weave?… Probably also being terminated from this job with extreme prejudice… No, it seems very unlikely I would have even thought of the action except for you bringing it up."

"Fiiine. Let's just agree I did it out of the goodness of my heart, then."

"If we must." Chest a little warm at the back-and-forth comradery, Rachel hesitated long enough for Santana to take the nonverbal cue to go back to her task, resettling back on all four legs and moving her gaze to her computer; she was still paying enough attention however to glance up at her when Rachel started slowly, "And, mm, thank you, for lunch. For inviting me to eat with you."

Santana smiled, nodding. "Don't mention it. It was a nice…" she gestured at her belongings, "Diversion and break from all this. I needed it just as much as you looked like you needed it." Her eyes crinkled behind her glasses.

Privately agreeing, Rachel was going to say as much when a harried looking woman, laden down with bags and several small children, bustled inside, automatically sighing in relief at the heat and emptiness. Exhaling, and placing a perfectly happy and polite expression on her face, Rachel went to greet them, Santana's smile and head tilt of understanding sending her off.


It was about an hour later, a little less than two hours before Rachel's shift ended, that Santana stood, groaning as she leaned back to crack her spine before stretching out her arms and swinging them around her body. "Okay, I have to take an honest-to-god break now," she breathed, offering a crooked smile when she caught Rachel's eye.

Rachel set down her pen on her fifth crossword of the day. "Oh. Time to pack up and go?"

"Yeah. I have a late shift today, and for me that means I'mma have to get to work before eight. As it is…" Santana pulled her phone up, checking the time, "If I leave within the next twenty minutes, run a couple of the errands I still have to do, it'll still be after six when I get home with another long bus ride to get to the diner."

Trying to ignore the disappointment settling in her stomach, Rachel was slightly bolstered by the twin flash she thought she might have caught on Santana's face as she started gathering everything up, closing her laptop and pushing it into her shoulder bag. "Oh…" she repeated, then shook herself, asking shyly, "Would… Would you like a drink to take with you?"

"Wanting even more money from me?" Santana shot her a grin, shaking her head in a teasing way when Rachel automatically tried to refute her, "Kidding, kidding!" When she turned to look at the darkening skies outside the window, she let out a small laugh. "Actually, you know what? I think I would. Keep me warm. You know what I like."

Yeah, Rachel really did. She didn't think she'd ever forget Santana's order after making it multiple times that day. "Okay!" she chirped, happily busying herself with the order, knowing she needed that time to collect her wits and prepare herself to be without the other woman's presence. It wasn't like she fully expected Santana to be there throughout her whole shift. She'd just… Hoped she would. She liked the company. Both in an abstract way – though Rachel was used to being alone, she liked human contact just as much – and in a Santana specific way too. They'd bonded over their dismal circumstances.

Not for the first time, Rachel wondered if she'd ever be able to arrange someone else's wedding, not to mention the wedding for one of her exes! It was admirable how much Santana still adored Brittany to take that particular mantle on…

Santana's arrival at the counter distracted her just as she was putting the finishing touches on the to-go coffee, and she ended up accidentally drizzling caramel on her fingers, letting out a small sound of shock. "Ah, wait just a moment," she smiled beseechingly at Santana, "I'll clean my hand off, then get you a sleeve."

Santana rested her hip against the counter, lips quirking up. "Go ahead. I still have a few."

"Good. I doubt you'd like a sticky cup," Rachel said over the running water of the sink behind the counter; as she shut off the tap and reached for the waiting hand towel, she frowned momentarily as a dull noise reached her from the right. However, when she turned, Santana was still where Rachel had left her, checking something on her phone, her shoulder bag slung low on her shoulder.

"You're right about that…" Santana mused, tapping a couple of times before putting her phone into the same pocket she'd been carrying her wallet in, pulling out a couple of bills. "Here," she smiled, handing them to Rachel in exchange for her drink, "Keep the change."

"Again? But – what –" Rachel sighed, dropping her eyes before she could roll them, almost smirking at Santana's pointed gaze and raised eyebrows. "You know, you're making me feel awfully inadequate, not having a Christmas present for you…" she pointed out.

Santana laughed, shaking her head. Pulling on a pair of fashionable gloves, she chanced a small sip of her coffee. "Right, like you keep extra Christmas presents on hand. Besides, isn't it backwards for employees to give money or other things to the customers if it's not what they're already selling?" Pausing a bit, she appeared to come to a decision, resettling on her feet to better face Rachel, resting her weight on her forearms. "Look, if you really want to return the gesture or whatever, I'm sure you'll have time to later."

Rachel's heart thumped. "Later?"

"I don't know if you've noticed this, but I kinda run on coffee. There's no way I'm not coming back to my favorite café."

Oh. Right. Of course. Rachel hoped her embarrassed blush wasn't neon bright on her cheeks. She cleared her throat, trying to move past that lapse of mental acuity, fully aware of Santana's eyes dancing with amusement. "It's really hard not to notice that, you're right."

"Yup."

Silence flowed between them, Rachel nervously drawing circles on the counter, Santana's eyes lowered as she appeared to be deciding something.

It was weird. Rachel felt weird. She shouldn't really expect anything from Santana, should she? She wet her lips. "So…"

"So I should go," Santana started at the same moment, and their eyes flew to each other, both laughing, the awkwardness momentarily forgotten. It felt very nice for the air around them to be settled again.

Hoisting her coffee up, Santana smiled. "Thanks for the great coffee and company. You're definitely in charge of making my drink for me now."

Rachel beamed at her, biting her lower lip. "How do you know I'm going to be working when you come in, though?"

One of Santana's shoulders lifted, both sides of her lips lifting as well. "You normally are." Then, walking backwards a few paces, and putting a gloved hand up to her forehead in a kind of salute, Santana nodded one last time before lifting the faux-fur hood of her outer jacket over her head. "Stay warm, Rachel. Merry Christmas."

Lifting on her toes to watch Santana shoulder her way out of the café, Rachel called back, giving only half of a proper wave before her hand curled back into her chest, "You too! Merry Christmas, Santana…"

Once the jangle of the bells stopped, echoing in the empty gulf left behind by the other woman's exit, Rachel sighed, giving herself a moment to drop her head and shake it before she went for the broom, wanting to sweep up the let in snow before it melted too much and she had to take out the mop instead. She hadn't lied to Santana. She hated mopping.


Without Santana's presence, it didn't take Rachel long to start slowly closing up the parts of the café that weren't needed as much. Leaving the fire crackling – as Rachel both appreciated the sense of the holiday it invoked via its mere presence and the smell of roasting chestnuts the pre-fab logs were specially formulated to smell like, as well as its warmth – she put the farthest most chairs from the entrance on top of their accompanying tables, figuring that if there really was a sudden rush of people wanting to stay in she could just pull them down again, and began straightening the magazines and books set out closest to the plush chairs and sofa. Doing a cursory sweep of the floors, knowing she'd end up doing another – real – sweep right before she locked up, it didn't take Rachel long to realize that she'd once again commenced with humming along to her holiday music. Pausing just a moment to realize she'd missed the opportunity to regal Santana with an impromptu performance, she sighed and began again. She would have chances to later. Santana said so.

It wasn't until ten minutes before she was set to turn out all the lights and start making her way home that Rachel realized she hadn't tallied up her tips yet. Pulling the plastic container closer to her and tipping it out, not surprised to see that there really wasn't too much in it aside from Santana's generous offerings, the sight of a folded over piece of notebook paper made her stop. Furrowing her brow as she separated it from the actual bills and coins, red slashed across her face as her eyes widened and her hand came up to smother an audible gasp when she opened it to see what it was.

Rachel, the note started, Rachel's gaze darting down to make sure, her heart both relaxing and squeezing when, indeed, the short letter was signed Santana, So you're cute and hot and definitely interesting enough that I wouldn't mind getting to know you. Unless I'm reading things wrong (and let's be honest, it's, like, statistically IMPOSSIBLE for me to ever be wrong), you're interested in me too. Even if you're not (and again I'm going to point out that I'm rarely EVER wrong), I'd like to thank you for making this day better than bearable. It was SO MUCH better than I was expecting, and that's definitely because of you. So here's my number. Call me. Santana

Underneath, scrawled in the same hurried, quick strokes as the rest of the note, was what was ostensibly Santana's cell phone number followed by an XOXO. Even as part of Rachel jumped up and down, tingles spreading through her body as she read and reread over the words, she realized that this, getting placed into the tip jar, was what she'd halfway sensed when washing her hands. Wow had Santana done a good job of looking completely innocent when Rachel had turned around! She also had to wonder how she hadn't seen it when she'd dropped in the change from Santana's last drink.

Moving backwards, resting against the stool for when the shop got slow, Rachel smiled under her hand, having to let out a girlish giggle as she reached for her phone. Copying Santana's number into it, she placed the letter safely onto the counter so it wouldn't get crumpled, going ahead and laying her phone down onto it afterwards.

As she finished everything up with a tired but large smile on her face, continually glancing at the letter and her phone, it wasn't until Rachel pulled her CDs out of the player that something occurred to her – something that made her blink and exhale out a small 'oh,': should she expect an invite to Santana's ex-wife's bachelorette party and wedding? It was New Year's Eve and Day, after all. The perfect days for tentative new romances, she'd always figured…

Still. Rachel hummed. Should she even want an invite?

Humming once again, Rachel decided she'd have to think about that later – after she'd put Santana's number to good use.