Notes: So! I was going to wait until I finished writing All the chapters before I started posting this fic, but I recently hit 500 followers on Tumblr (side note: there's 500 people who follow my dumb little blog? absolutely wild omfg), so I've decided to begin posting this story earlier as a celebration.
It's going to be 15 chapters, updated on Thursdays! I'm moving this weekend which has put me behind a little bit (i.e., I'm almost done the first draft of chapter 4), so I will either be updating weekly or every second week, depending on how far I get before next Thursday.
I got the idea for this story back in January, and since then it's gone through three different re-plottings and a whole bunch of debate about whether anyone would actually even like this concept, but now that I've started writing it I'm so excited to share it!
Fic title is a Slightly altered line from Andrea Gibson's "The Vinegar Club."
Chapter titles come from "Gravity" by Against the Current and "Dreaming Alone" by Against the Current feat. Taka from ONE OK ROCK.
Chapter Summary: Brittany doesn't believe that she's tutoring material; her math teacher is very insistent that she is.
Chapter Title: the story starts where the story falls apart with you
"You know your face never looked so fun house mirror as it did the day you finally found a way to escape.
You terrible speller.
You busted compass.
My heart is still a leather jacket that I am waiting to give to someone sweet."
Andrea Gibson, "The Vinegar Club"
Mr. Dunngan's AP Calc class starts at 8:35 in the morning, which means that Brittany has until 9:00 to show up before he will actually mark her late, and until 9:10 before he'll actually get upset that she's late.
Back in freshman year, the school administrators used to call her parents every day, all in a tizzy because she was consistently late to basically every single class—until they started to use Brittany's work in mathematics to pull in grant money from prestigious universities. The money was intended to further her research, but nobody really traces where the money is distributed, and McKinley very quickly stopped bothering her about being late as long as she kept her mouth shut and continued to be their math monkey.
Mr. Dunngan is the only teacher who still bothers to care about Brittany outside of a human calculator, and as hard as Brittany works to cultivate a reputation as one of the school's resident broody, uncaring rebels, she kind of hates disappointing Mr. Dunngan. It's not like she really needs to actually go to math class—because math is about the only academic related thing that doesn't make her want to drive her motocross bike off a really high cliff—but she likes Mr. Dunngan because he doesn't treat her like some freaky idiot savant (a phrase Brittany had to google in eighth grade after hearing it lobbed at her during recess every other day, a phrase she still really fucking hates even to this day). Mr. Dunngan is the only teacher who doesn't doubt Brittany the way all her other teachers do, and he's about the only reason she actually still shows up to any of her classes, because he's always believed she could graduate even without her math grades.
Which is why, when she ends up skulking into his calculus class at 9:27—because her sister threw a tantrum in the back of Brittany's truck while Brittany was dropping her off, which meant Brittany was forced into calming her down enough to walk her into the school, and then play with her to keep her distracted until the elementary school's first period started—she quietly sets a coffee down on his desk before slouching into a seat at the very back of the classroom.
He understands, more than any other teacher at this dumb school, that his students have lives outside of his class and, as long as he gets a coffee on his desk, he'll pretend that you weren't almost an hour late to a sixty-seven minute class.
They're only doing derivatives as rates of change anyways, and Brittany can basically do these types of questions in her sleep, so she just tugs her notebook out of her bag and copies down the questions on the board. She can solve them in her head, but she's kind of feeling guilty about being so late, so she might as well pretend she's actually paying attention. It takes her two steps to answer them—since she does most of the answering in her head—as she half-heartedly listens to Mr. Dunngan try to explain why you can't square root a negative number to a student who really shouldn't have even read the description for AP Calc. He went over why you can't divide by zero last Friday with the same student, and most of the class completely zones out as Nathan Morgensen starts arguing with Mr. Dunngan about the things that are just mathematical common sense.
The bell rings after the argument and four more simple questions, and the entire class hurries to shove notebooks and textbooks and pencil cases into backpacks before rushing off to their next class. Brittany has a second period spare, so she is unhurried in packing her notebook away and dropping her pencil to the bottom of her ratty old backpack, knowing her bag will definitely shatter the lead in it but not caring enough to actually put the pencil in a safer place; it's not like she can't just pick up new pencils, or nab them off teachers' desks when they aren't paying attention. Mr. Dunngan greets Brittany before she can slip away behind his back as he erases the whiteboard, and Brittany inwardly groans. She doesn't really want to have an awkward conversation about the fact that she can only ever get him gas station coffee instead of something from the Lima Bean like all the other student's do, but since she has that damn second period spare—same as him—she doesn't actually have any excuses to escape the impending conversation.
Instead of interrogating her or anything, Mr. Dunngan just smiles at her as if she was in class for more than fifteen minutes today and crosses the classroom to sit at his desk. He sips the gas station coffee Brittany brought him with an appreciative hum—one that Brittany's pretty sure is only about sixty-seven percent faked—and gestures to the student desk that is closest to his own. Brittany rolls her eyes a little and rounds the three desks separating them, carelessly dropping her backpack on the floor by her feet. Instead of sitting in the desk, she just leans against the desk because she knows it annoys Mr. Dunngan, just a little bit, and he's kind of funny when he gets annoyed because instead of getting mean like a lot of other people, he just gets snarky and rolls his eyes a lot.
He doesn't verbally comment on her decision to slouch against the desk, but his pointed look and raised eyebrow gets the message across pretty clearly. He quickly recaps what Brittany missed in the first half of today's lesson, and reassures Brittany that she really didn't miss anything she doesn't already understand.
"Is that all, Mr. D.?" she asks as soon as he's done. Mr. Dunngan's her favourite teacher, but that doesn't make her any less itchy when talking to authority figures. Her mom says it's natural for teenagers to rebel; she just thinks that it's because she's always hated when people tell her what to do.
(In the deepest part of her heart, she knows she can blame most of her rebellious tendencies and resistance to authority is because her bio-dad was a real asshole cop, before he was killed, and no number of uniformed pallbearers offering their deepest condolences to her will ever change that. It will make her take advantage of their pity, though, because she knows she can basically get away with every single small misdemeanour just by giving a sad sigh and a pout; because they all liked her bio-dad for whatever reason, and so they all give his bio-daughter special treatment even though he was never her dad at all. She's never actually been arrested for graffiti or trespassing or shoplifting, even when she probably should have, but she figures she might as well take any advantage she can get.)
"I actually have something to talk to you about," Mr. Dunngan says, interrupting her thoughts. Brittany winces a little and hopes it's not about who's been writing bad math jokes with sharpie in the girl's bathroom by the arts wing; she's a really bad liar.
"You can decline this offer if you want, but I'd really like for you to honestly think about it," he starts, "and then, if you decide you really don't want to do it, I'll respect your decision."
"Okay," Brittany says slowly.
Mr. Dunngan places his coffee back on his desk and spins his chair to fully face Brittany, his hands laced together and his elbows on his knees. That's how Brittany knows he means business, and she really, really hopes that he's not about to ask why she thinks that the slope of an ass can be calculated by x=ay^2+by+c, because then she might have to burn down the classroom and flee town.
There's literally nothing more awkwardly embarrassing than talking about theoretical asses with your high school math teacher.
"There's a student in your grade that needs a math tutor, and I was wondering if you would consider talking the job," Mr. Dunngan explains, and Brittany almost tells him that she's never even seen sharpie before in her life, but she manages to process what he's actually saying before that happens.
"Why the fu— Uh," Brittany cuts herself off when she remembers she's talking to her teacher. She might get away with always being late to math class because of the whole math genius thing, but she doesn't really think that will help her in the realm of cursing. "Uh, I mean why the, um, heck would anyone want me to tutor them?"
Mr. Dunngan gives her a look that means he's letting her get away with almost slipping into a curse this one time because he's got bigger fish to fry. "It was the parent that requested a tutor."
Brittany just raises her eyebrows. "And?" she prompts.
"He was very insistent that the tutor provided is our top student in all the math classes McKinley offers or has ever offered."
"And?" Brittany repeats. Mr. Dunngan doesn't look impressed, and as much as Brittany is generally devil-may-care about her relationships with teachers, she does genuinely try not to be a complete asshole to Mr. Dunngan. "Come on, Mr. D., everyone and their mother knows that I'm not exactly a 'model' student," she adds, bending the first two fingers on each hand and then immediately regretting it. She's glad no other students are in the classroom right now because that was the lamest thing she's ever done; and she's in the glee club. "Can you really imagine me tutoring other students?"
Mr. Dunngan sighs and rubs a hand over his bald head like he does when he needs to bell curve the grades. Brittany wonders if the habit started when he had hair to run his hands through, but then she decides that might come off as more mean than genuinely curious, so she keeps the question to herself. "I know you're not—"
"I'm not what?" Brittany bristles, something defensive flaring in her stomach covering the cracking in her chest.
Mr. Dunngan gives her a look that she's always thought of as pitying, because she's seen it on just about every adult in her life; though, right now, it just seems tired and sad. "You're smart, Brittany." Brittany tries not to scoff and instead crosses her arms, puffing herself up to make it seem like she's not as small as she feels right now. "I know you are, even if you're not the type of student that you think is the model student. If you just applied yours—"
"I just don't think I'm tutoring material," Brittany interrupts before the defensive thing can turn embarrassed and sad.
Mr. Dunngan sighs and changes tactics. "The parent was very insistent that only the student with the highest grades tutor his daughter. And I mean— Well, his daughter isn't struggling too much, so you won't have too much work to do with her. Personally, I don't think she needs a tutor at all, but her father was rather insistent."
"So?" Brittany slouches further against the desk, scowling at the ground, "It's not like he'll know if you assign a different student unless you tell him."
"It's not that simple, Brittany." Mr. Dunngan's never seemed so tired before. "This particular parent is a big name in the town."
"And your point is?" Brittany drawls.
Mr. Dunngan shifts awkwardly in his desk chair, looking for all the world like the type of high school nerd that Brittany would usually avoid at all costs. "Her father makes sizeable donations to the school. And he's on the board," he finally admits painfully, sounding like Brittany is standing over him and pulling his teeth out with pliers instead of slouching against a desk ten feet away.
"Oh, so this is like a neophilism thing?"
"Nepotism," Mr. Dunngan corrects without sounding condescending like her English teacher usually does, "But yeah, kind of like that."
Brittany takes pity on her teacher just then, because she's not actually being difficult just for the sake of being difficult, which, admittedly, is her usual M.O.; she is just kind of insecure about her academic ability after years upon years of being told that she's stupid or that her genius regarding math is a fluke or that she's never going to graduate. Mr. Dunngan doesn't deserve her acting like an asshole on account of her own issues, because he's always been the only teacher who's always believed in her unconditionally. "I just don't really think I'm the right student to, you know, teach others," she finally mumbles, scuffing the dirty tiled ground with the toe of her even dirtier sneaker.
Mr. Dunngan sits back in his chair and offers Brittany a tiny smile. "I know you pretend to be all big and bad and broody and rebellious—" when Brittany sputters and tries to protest, he just smiles wider and keeps talking over her, "—but I know under that tough leather jacket, you're sweet and helpful and smarter than you know."
"Whatever," Brittany mumbles, wishing her pale skin didn't show her blush so easily.
Wishing that she could actually believe Mr. Dunngan when he said stuff like that.
Mr. Dunngan's eyes twinkle like they do when he solves a really hard math problem for fun; it's his gotcha! face, and Brittany hates to admit that he might have already gotten her roped into this thing. "Tutoring also pays fifteen dollars an hour. And it looks really good on applications."
Brittany groans, because ever since her parents stopped paying her to babysit her sister, she's been alternating between shovelling sidewalks in the winter and mowing lawns in the summer and picking up shifts at Hummel Tires & Lube whenever a motocross bike is (very rarely) brought in, all to try and make enough for gas money. "Can I think about it at least?" she says, trying to bite back the whine in her voice.
"Until the end of the day? Sure."
Mr. Dunngan starts shuffling his papers and sorting assignments. "Great, I'll see you after the final bell later today then," he says as if Brittany hadn't even said anything.
"Ugh, fine," Brittany groans, sliding off the desk and slinging her backpack over her shoulder as she sulks towards the door.
"Have a good rest of your day, Brittany!" Mr. Dunngan calls, and Brittany has no clue how he can be so chipper towards her when she just spent the last ten minutes being grumpy and difficult and moody.
She shuts the door more carefully than usual and resolves to be a little bit nicer to Mr. Dunngan; he's about the only teacher that doesn't dismiss her as a problem kid these days, and as much as she pretends not to care about anything, she really doesn't want to lose that.
"Fifteen dollars an hour?" Brittany wrinkles her nose at the sight of chewed up cafeteria food that comes with that exclamation; she didn't think it was possible, but somehow the cafeteria food looks even more unappetizing than it did before. "Jesus, maybe I should start tutoring."
"You're barely smart enough to count to fifteen, Puck," Quinn says dismissively, "And your grades won't make any impressions on girls so I don't see why you're even interested in it."
"As if you wouldn't be interested in seeing my A+ in anatomy—"
"As if I would actually be interested in seeing any of your failing marks—"
"As if you haven't—"
"Guys, can we not rehash this again?" Mike interrupts tiredly. "This is, like, the third time this week. And it's only Monday."
"Aww," Quinn pouts, her angelic face hiding the ice under her expression, "Did your little girlfriend keep you up late?"
"It's only lunch," Brittany retorts when Mike just rolls his eyes in response, "can we please at least wait until fourth period before trying to kill each other?"
The group all glares at each other until Puck cracks and starts laughing, causing a domino effect, except with amusement; Brittany loves the sound of her friend's laughter because it's contagious and bright, like an avalanche curling over on itself on a sunny day.
"So, tutoring," Brittany says once they've finally all calmed down, "Yes or no?"
"Fifteen dollars an hour," Puck repeats.
"It's good experience to put on your resume or college application," Quinn agrees.
"You don't know if you'll end up with some crazy person though," Mike argues.
"You don't not know that you'll end up with some crazy person," Puck says, and then frowns when he realizes he didn't make much sense, "I mean, you might get a normal person. Or, uh—"
"Not to repeat Puck," Quinn interrupts before Puck can talk circles around himself, "but fifteen dollars an hour is nothing to sneeze at, especially if they need a lot of help."
"Ooh, you might end up with a hot person." Puck wiggles his eyebrows suggestively, but they look more like bushes trying to do the worm so Brittany just rolls her eyes at him.
"If you get more gas money you can start driving me around," Mike grins.
"Don't you have a girlfriend with a fancy, expensive car for that?" Quinn asks snidely.
Mike shrugs and pokes at his food, shoving it around without meeting anyone's eyes. "We're not steady enough for me to constantly rely on her for rides."
"Course not," Quinn mutters. If Brittany didn't know any better, she would think that Quinn was jealous of Mike's girlfriend or something; but she does know better, and she knows that Quinn's just worried about Mike. They all are, after watching his relationship with his on-again-off-again girlfriend yoyo wildly around for the past three years.
Mike looks at his plate instead of meeting Quinn's stare, but he doesn't seem upset, just thoughtful and a little bit sad; it's his go to look when they gang up on his girlfriend, like he understands where they're coming from, but knows that they'll never understand his relationship. It's been like this since that party sophomore year that kickstarted this whole yoyo of a relationship with his depends-on-the-day girlfriend.
"Okay," Brittany says, hating the thick tension growing around the lunch table, "So, I guess I'm telling Mr. Dunngan that I accept."
"Good for you," Quinn says seriously, "Call me if they're insane." She's always been a little protective of Brittany, which Brittany thinks is funny because Quinn is like tiny compared to her, and because Quinn has never actually been in a fight before. "But not that we've settled that, it's my turn."
It's a Monday, so the rest of them all roll their eyes, knowing that Quinn's about to launch into a long-winded and mostly bitchy complaint about the Cheerios captain running Monday morning practice. It's been a weekly tradition ever since sophomore year when Coach Sylvester passed Quinn over for the captain spot after she joined the glee club. Quinn doesn't actually care about the Cheerios, but it had taken her a while to understand that. Now, her complaints about the captain are mostly about how many wind sprints she had to do and less about Quinn seriously plotting her revenge—Brittany's pretty sure she had genuine blueprints in sophomore year on how to best seek revenge and everything. This year, there's an awkward truce between Quinn and her captain, and it makes Brittany grin because there's nothing funnier than an awkward Quinn.
Mr. Dunngan is erasing the whiteboard when Brittany walks into his classroom five minutes after the final bell. She thought about waiting longer, just to make him sweat a little because he's kind of amusing when he's annoyed and snarky and skittish, but she still feels a little bad about being so difficult and moody this morning.
"Hey, Mr. D.," she greets from the doorway, grinning when he jumps in surprise and throws the whiteboard eraser across the room. "Sorry," she says, biting back a laugh because she's not sorry at all.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, laugh it up," Mr. Dunngan complains lightheartedly, like he didn't just have a minor heart attack or something. "Did you make your decision?"
Brittany steps further into the classroom, not wanting anyone in the hallway to overhear their conversation, because tutoring is kind of lame and would drop her several spots on the high school status ladder if the wrong people found out; Mr. Dunngan's classroom is located in the freshmen hallway and they're all too terrified of Brittany S. Pierce to even look her in the eyes half the time, but still.
"Yeah," she answers, dropping her backpack carelessly on the ground and collapsing into Mr. Dunngan's desk chair. He rolls his eyes but hides a small smile as he bends to pick up the eraser he accidentally threw. Brittany knows that she's his favourite student, and she definitely takes advantage of it—not like in a bad way or anything, because all her one-hundred percent tests are all her own work and not a result of favouritism, but just in a way that means she can get away with being a little bit more outright rebellious than she can with any other teacher.
"So?" he prompts when Brittany doesn't say anything. She just spins back and forth in his chair because it's far too much fun, and she figures it's part of the reason why students get boring regular chairs at their desks, because they'd all pay even less attention than they already do if they had rolling chairs.
"I'll do it," she finally says, picking at her nails. It's a habit she's had since she was little, back when her mom would gently swat at her hands in attempts to break her from it after one ruined nail-bed too many, but she can't help it; it's completely unconscious because, whenever she's nervous or awkward, picking at and fiddling with her nails undercuts some of the thick tension that builds in her spine and chokes her from her chest.
"Great." Mr. Dunngan smiles like he already knew that would be her answer, and maybe he already did; being good at math makes you kind of psychic because you can predict all these things about the universe, so you can kind of predict the future in a way, too. He turns his back to Brittany and continues erasing the whiteboard. "You two can figure out your own schedule—whatever works for you and her. She's a smart student, and I don't really know why her father's insisting on a tutor, but that will probably make your job easier. You two could even treat it as more of a study-buddy relationship if you wanted. And the school's tutoring jobs are intended to be confidential—you'll need to sign a form about it but I'll print one off and you can sign it tomorrow or something. I know I can trust you though so it's just mostly a formality. She'll be paying you for your time at the end of every week so make sure you keep a tally of the hours. Any questions?" He finishes his explanation and erasing at the same time, setting the eraser down on the metal shelf at the bottom of the whiteboard before finally turning around. Brittany raises her eyebrows and just stares at him, but he only grows confused and frowns a little. "I'm pretty sure I covered everything?"
Brittany smirks. "I'd kind of like to know who I'm tutoring," she prompts.
Mr. Dunngan's face blooms in shock as he seems to think back on everything he just said, before he laughs and rubs a hand over his head sheepishly. "I suppose that might be useful."
Brittany raises and eyebrow and tries not to smile as much as she wants too. "Maybe a little," she agrees.
"Fine," he says, raising his hands in joking surrender, "You'll be tutoring Santana."
Brittany's mouth drops open and she doesn't think she could hide her surprise even if she wanted to. "Santana like Santana Lopez Santana?" she manages. He nods and Brittany grows even more confused. "But, she's like, actually smart," she says without thinking.
Mr. Dunngan frowns a little. "You're smart too, Britta—"
"No, no, no," Brittany interrupts, forgetting to maintain her uncaring attitude, "I'm like fluke smart because I only understand math and everything else gets jumbled all the time and the only reason my GPA is halfway decent is because I'm like some kind of weird genius when it comes to theorems and laws and formulas or whatever. Santana's like actually smart."
Mr. Dunngan looks a little sad at Brittany's words, and Brittany tries to hide the fact that her words, while true, make her a little sad too. "We all struggle with something," he says comfortingly. Brittany scoffs and pretends that his words don't just make her feel worse. It's not that she struggles with something, it's that she gets something and struggles with everything else. "Math is getting more difficult this semester," he adds like that explains why Santana, a straight A student as far as Brittany knows, suddenly needs a tutor when she never has before.
"I guess," Brittany mutters. Sometimes when she feels too much inside she gets really quiet on the outside; she's glad she has glee practice after school today so she doesn't have to pick up her little sister, because this feels like one of those times and her sister is annoying perceptive when it comes to Brittany's moods.
"Like I said, you two can just study together instead of it being a formal tutoring thing if that helps," he suggests, and Brittany just stares at him wordlessly.
Santana is like the town's golden child, perfect and untouchable and incapable of making a mistake. She's the only daughter of one of the three family doctors in town, who eventually became the first emerg doctor after the Lima General Hospital was finally built. Everyone knows Dr. Lopez because they've had him as a doctor for like twenty years, or they know him because he set their kid's broken bone in emerg, or they know him because he's on the town council, or they know him because he's kind of one of the richest people in town and gives absurd donations to different community causes. Everyone knows Dr. Lopez because he's basically everywhere, and because he has his hands (and his money) in basically everything in town.
Which means that everyone knows Santana Lopez, his perfect, pretty, athletic, smart, untouchable daughter. She's the captain of the Cheerios, she's a straight A student, she's never been in detention, she's the favourite of all the teachers, she's bitchy but not an outright bully, she's never turned in a late assignment, she never gets messy drunk during the few hours she makes an appearance at parties, she spends her lunch hours glaring at anyone who so much as glances in her direction, she's locked up tighter than a maximum security prison, she's been going to class with everyone since kindergarten but still all anyone knows about her is that she's Dr. Lopez's daughter, she's aloof and distant and enticingly mysterious. She's basically never made a mistake in her life, which makes Brittany think that she's never really had fun in her life, and it also makes her think that Santana must be incredibly lonely. She's never heard anyone call Santana their friend; not even Mike, and he's been dating her for three years.
Brittany thinks that the school's fascination with her is because she's so mysterious; there's a curiosity in the not-knowingness of something, and she figures that's why everyone knows so much about Santana without really knowing anything about her at all. There's something tempting about something someone so enigmatic—or, at least that's what the school seems to think.
"What?" Brittany snaps, her cheeks flaming at being caught zoning out.
"I just asked if you're okay with tutoring Santana?" Mr. Dunngan repeats, and if Brittany feels embarrassed for getting lost in her thoughts, it's nothing compared to the awkwardness painting Mr. Dunngan's face in bright red. "You two don't have some sort of, uh, rivalry or— Or— Or, like, some sort of history—"
"No," Brittany says quickly, putting both of them out of their misery, because there really is nothing like your high school math teacher asking if you and another student have too much history together to be able to work with each other. Somehow, she's found something more awkwardly embarrassing than talking about the terrifying thought of talking about theoretical asses with your high school math teacher. "We've only spoken like three times. She's kind of dating one of my friends, so."
"Oh," Mr. Dunngan looks even more awkward than before. "That's, uh, good."
Brittany doesn't really think good is the right word, because it seems like Mike and Santana break up and then get back together every couple weeks, and that really can't be healthy. Sure, Brittany's switched girlfriends and boyfriends every couple weeks before, but it's always been mutually casual, and she's never broken up and gotten back together with someone that many times for three years straight.
"Yeah," Brittany agrees. "Look, uh, I gotta go, 'cause I have— 'Cause glee practice is starting soon, so."
Mr. Dunngan looks relieved and lamely waves goodbye, and Brittany would feel a little insulted that her favourite teacher was trying to get rid of her so quickly, but his classroom feels a little suffocating at the moment under the weight of his awkward embarrassment. "Let me know how it goes and, uh, I'll get that form tomorrow and, uh, yeah," he trails off uneasily.
"Sure, Mr. D.," Brittany agrees, standing up out of his desk chair so suddenly that it spins feebly behind her. "See you tomorrow," she calls as she slings her backpack over her shoulder and tries not to act like she's fleeing the classroom.
She's late to glee practice but it's alright because, when she walks in the door, Rachel is still doing her usual rambling spiel to Mr. Schue about how she's the best and deserves the best or whatever. Brittany started tuning her out in sophomore year and she hasn't stopped.
Her head's a little bit clearer now that she's not so shocked by the news that she'll be tutoring Santana Lopez. She really doesn't know much about her—honestly, no one really does—and now that her surprise is starting to recede, she's actually able to process the whole situation; but being able to process it doesn't make her any less confused as to why in the world Santana Lopez would need a tutor.
Brittany slinks towards the risers by sticking close to the edges of the room, just far enough away from Rachel going on and on and on to Mr. Schue that she'll be blurred in their peripheral vision. Most of the glee club grins at her as she creeps towards the chairs set up on the risers; most of them—the ones that aren't close friends with Rachel, polar opposites to the ones that put up with and sometimes defend Rachel's particular brand of bullshit—find Brittany's antics amusing and stifle their snickers so they don't draw attention to her. She drops her bag and carelessly nudges it under the empty chair beside Mike before slumping into it. A glance at the front of the room reveals that Rachel is still complaining about god knows what, so Brittany takes the opportunity to scooch her chair closer to Mike.
"How long's she been going on like that?" she mutters.
"I don't know," Quinn answers from in front of them without turning her head, "I don't hear Rachel when Rachel talks."
Brittany snorts because Quinn's weird hate-friendship with Rachel has been the source of her amusement for years; it's like watching Mike's yo-yoing relationship, but with awkward-barely-friends instead.
"Where've you been?" Mike mumbles out of the side of his mouth. The rest of the glee club are all staring straight ahead but having full on conversations with each other; they've had a lot of practice looking attentive without actually being attentive.
"Talking to Mr. Dunngan about the tutoring thing. He wanted an answer today."
"Oh yeah? How'd that go?" Mike asks. Brittany can tell Quinn's listening to them without ever seeing her even twitch a muscle, and Brittany suddenly feels like she has her hand in the cookie jar and is just waiting for her mom to turn around and see her, which is weird because it's not like Quinn is anything like her mom. Maybe it's because she knows that, despite the whole Good Christian Girl image that Quinn's been projecting for as long as Brittany's known her, she's absolutely certain that Quinn would take advantage of this new information about Santana without a second thought; she's slyly devious like that.
Thankfully, Tina takes that moment to start a conversation with Quinn, which saves Brittany from having to make the decision to let her know about who she's tutoring; usually she tells her friends everything, but Mr. Dunngan said he could trust her and she really doesn't want to ruin that. While Quinn is distracted, Brittany shifts her chair even closer to Mike, dropping her voice even more so Mike knows she's being serious about this. "You can't tell anyone, and I mean that, okay?" she whispers, forcing Mike to lean closer just to hear, "I'll seriously kick your ass if you do and I find out about it. I'm not even kidding."
Mike just looks at her with those trusting brown eyes of his and dips his head in a slight nod.
"I'm tutoring Santana," she finally whispers.
Mike looks just as surprised as Brittany felt when Mr. Dunngan told her. "Really?" he asks with a small frown, his brow crinkling together like forks of lightning.
"Yeah," Brittany confirms quietly, "Mr. Dunngan said her father requested it because otherwise her grades are decent or whatever."
Mike's whole body goes a little still at that comment, breathing deeply like he might unravel if he doesn't focus on the movement of air through his lungs. Brittany stares at him out of the corner of her eye, scrunching her eyebrows in confusion because she never would have ever thought that Mike would be that stereotypical high school boyfriend who has issues with his girlfriend's father. It seems so not like Mike that it throws Brittany for a loop.
"Does Santana know?" Mike finally asks, the pads of his middle fingers and thumbs pressing together so tightly that the nail beds turn white; it's something he does when he's trying to control his temper, and that confuses Brittany even more.
"I— Uh, I don't know," Brittany flounders for a moment at the sudden appearance of an angry Mike Chang, something she's witnessed so rarely that she can count the number of times he's lost his cool one hand, "I kind of thought you would know, 'cause you're her boyfriend and stuff."
"Santana never said anything about it," he says absently. Something a little sad curls in Brittany's chest at that. It's his answer for almost everything, and she wonders—not for the first time—why Santana seems to just keep playing with his feelings like that; why she doesn't just dump Mike and be done with it instead of stringing him along, instead of having boyfriend but not acting like it. Mike is so sweet and caring, and as far as she knows Santana is just as aloof and distant and icy with Mike as she is with everyone. Brittany could understand their relationship if Santana, like, melted around Mike and was sweet with him while being cold with everyone else, because that's kind of what Brittany was like with her first girlfriend back in freshman year; but half the time that Santana and Mike are 'on,' they don't even seem to be friendly with each other, let alone dating. Honestly, they don't even seem to like each other all that much because they so rarely acknowledge each other at school and only occasionally attend parties together, and it's seriously so fucking confusing to Brittany. Mike is just so secretive about his relationship that their friend group does nothing but worry about how Santana is probably just playing with his feelings.
Tina and Quinn suddenly freeze and stop talking, so Brittany and Mike quickly lean away from each other as well. Rachel has just made an encompassing gesture to the rest of the group and whispered conversations die off immediately, everyone holding their breaths while they wait to see if they've been caught. But Rachel just turns back to Mr. Schue and continues with her rambling-rant-thing, so everyone rolls their eyes and picks their conversations back up where they left off.
"So you two don't talk about school?" Brittany whispers, and Mike shifts a little beside her, his chair squeaking under his uncomfortable demeanour.
"No, it's just that she doesn't like to talk about her—" He cuts himself off and presses his middle fingers and thumbs so tightly together that Brittany thinks they might start to merge into one continuous, circular finger, which would probably be pretty impractical. "Santana's just pretty private," he says instead, "She, um, doesn't really like to— We just don't really talk about, uh, stuff like that."
Brittany hums disbelievingly because Mike's answer is kind of a bullshit copout. She doesn't really like talking about feelings either, but she still manages to not be cold and aloof and bitchy to the people she's supposed to care the most about; she doesn't treat her boyfriends or girlfriends the way that Santana treats Mike.
"Just— Brittany, promise me something?" Mike suddenly says pleadingly, "I know you guys don't like the two of us dating or, you know, like Santana at all, but she's just— Her fa— She— She means a lot to me, and she isn't actually— Just give her a chance, okay?"
Brittany is more than a little confused, because Mike almost never opens up about his girlfriend, despite being a pretty open person otherwise. "I, uh, I will," she manages to mumble after a long moment of silence.
"Thanks," Mike murmurs, and before Brittany can process the whole weird conversation, Rachel finally sits down and Mr. Schue starts rehearsal, forcing all the glee kids to switch from all-fake-paying-attention to (mostly-)all-real-paying-attention.
Mr. Schue allows the girls to have a quick five minute bathroom and water break while he works with Mike to teach some choreography to the boys. Mike shoots Brittany and Quinn a kill-me-now look when Finn trips into Puck and they nearly cause a domino effect, resulting in shoving Artie wildly rolling across the room and almost flattening Joe as he narrowly misses crashing into the piano. Brad the Piano Man looks like he actually might start murdering teenagers, and the girls all take that as their cue to flee the practice room. Tina, Lauren, and Rachel all head to the bathroom, while Quinn tugs Brittany in the opposite direction, leading them to the sole not disgusting water fountain in the entire school, the one by the office that's basically on the other end of the building.
The silence is comfortable between them, only broken by the soft pad of Quinn's flats and the shuffle-squeak of Brittany's ratty sneakers and the distant sound of the janitor using the floor cleaner by the library. The hallways are completely empty, but there's the steady thud basketballs growing louder as they approach the gym that makes it sound like the sweaty team is stomping along beside them.
"Hey, Quinn?" Brittany says suddenly, waiting for Quinn to glance up from her phone before she continues, "What's Santana like as captain?"
Mike's definitely positively biased about Santana because she's his girlfriend, and Quinn is probably negatively biased because she spent sophomore year to junior year trying (and failing) to ruin Santana's reputation, so she figures between the two of them she can kind of figure out what she should expect from Santana.
"Why do you wanna know?" Quinn asks suspiciously.
Brittany flounders for just a moment before she comes up with an answer. "Mr. Dunngan wants us to do some weird group math assignment thing tomorrow and I got stuck with Santana because I was late."
"Ugh, gross," Quinn scowls, her face twisted in distaste.
"So I wanna know what to expect," Brittany prods gently.
Quinn needs no more prompting and immediately slides her phone back into her pocket, not even bothering to lock it before she eagerly launches into a rant about seemingly every single tiny thing that annoys her about Santana Lopez, from the way she captains the Cheerios (which is basically a rehash of Quinn's lunchtime rant, so Brittany mostly tunes that one out) to how she's a complete bitch about everything, from the way she walks across the classroom too loudly in history to the way her left-handedness smudges all her notes (which seems like a weird complaint unless Santana was reaching over and smudging Quinn's notes, so), from the way she always 'accidentally' hits Quinn with her locker door when they're both exchanging binders and textbooks in their neighbouring lockers to the way she corrects Mr. Schue in Spanish class (though, honestly, that one seems to be an admirable quality to Quinn), from the way she takes notes while teachers are lecturing to the way she makes checkmarks backwards while grading quizzes in class when the teacher is too lazy to grade then himself and outsources the job to his students (which seems like an extension of Quinn's complaint about her left-handedness, which was also kind of a weird complaint to begin with).
"You done yet?" Brittany asks amusedly when Quinn finally pauses to take a breath, having already filled up their water bottles and started heading back to the glee practice room, passing Tina and Lauren on the way as they also head to fill up their water bottles at the sole not-disgusting water fountain in this dumb school.
Quinn rolls her eyes and swats at Brittany's arm. Brittany grins, unrepentant, and dances out of the way of Quinn's annoyed hand, causing the leather of her jacket to creak in protest, her amused shuffle echoing faintly in the empty hallway. Quinn rolls her eyes again, before turning serious again. "She's alright, though, to be honest."
Brittany blinks, trying to figure out if Quinn's messing with her. "Look I'm glad you got all your Santana-related frustration out or whatever, but what a weird way to end a rant."
Quinn just shrugs as they finally reach the glee practice room. "I mean, don't get me wrong," she says as they stop in front of the closed door, "I hated her for years because she got the Cheerios captainship over me, but whatever. I'm over it."
"Right," Brittany says after a beat of silence.
"I am," Quinn insists. "I mean, yeah, am I still a little bitter that Coach Sylvester chose Santana as captain instead of me? Obviously. But I'm not taking it out on her anymore. She's annoying as all hell and she can be, like, the absolute biggest bitch, but—ugh, I can't believe I'm saying this—she is a good captain," Quinn reluctantly admits. "And now that we aren't at each other's throats anymore, she's actually been sharing her captaining duties with me this year."
"No, really, Britt." Quinn finally softens, her expression turning serious. "It took me a really long time to realize that glee makes me happier than the Cheerios ever did. I mean, Coach Sylvester is like certifiably insane, and in glee I don't risk permanent emotional and physical trauma like I do with the Cheerios—just social suicide, which I don't care so much about anymore. And now that I've finally taken my head out of my ass and figured that out, I stopped hating Santana for getting picked as captain instead of me. Honestly, as much as I complain about her, she is actually a good fit for captain because she's about the only person in this whole school who can stand up to Coach Sylvester without getting completely eviscerated. I still don't really like her all that much, but I don't hate her anymore."
Brittany studies Quinn for a long moment, searching her pretty hazel eyes until she cracks and smiles a little. "I believe you, Quinn," Brittany promises, "But this hasn't really helped me at all."
Quinn offers her a small smile in return. "You should probably just expect the unexpected with her."
"That's the thing," Brittany whines, expect she doesn't whine because she has a reputation to protect as the school's resident broody rebel and whining really undercuts that, "I'm really bad at surprises and not knowing things. Remember last Christmas?"
"When you decided that surprise presents are useless and instead insisted that you shop for yourself while I pay for it and called it a Christmas gift?" Quinn asks wryly, "Yeah, I remember that."
"Then you know how much I hate all this bingo shit."
"Limbo," Quinn corrects, "And, yeah, I do."
"Why would I hate showing off my superior ability to bend backwards and shuffle under a stick?" Brittany deadpans. "I hate bingo because you spend the whole game in a state of suspense, waiting for some sad middle aged man to announce a single number at a time, and it's all for nothing because your aunt somehow cheated the entire game anyways and won the pot and never shared it with you despite being her blood relative—and only niece at the time, I might add. What is distant family good for if they don't even share their riches with you?"
Quinn giggles as she finally opens the door. "And then after that she was caught cheating and drinking during the game and was subsequently banned from entering your grandma's nursing home ever again? I never would have guessed that she was your aunt," Quinn comments idly, a small smirk playing at her lips.
Brittany sighs deeply and slouches even more. "My mom was a total prep during high school and my dad was a complete nerd. And then they got together and somehow produced me," she agrees. "The rebellious gene my aunt got totally skipped my mom and went straight to me instead. She was so proud the first time I got caught graffiti-ing the middle school," Brittany admits, struggling to keep her smug smile under control, "My mom was so mad at me and she called Aunt Nell in the hopes that she'd talk to me and give me hell and be all don't follow in my footsteps, but instead she just taught me how to not get caught next time."
"Of course she did," Quinn grins at Brittany as they collapse into an empty pair of chairs. "And I'm sure she'd be so proud to discover you've turned into a tutoring nerd in her absence."
"God," Brittany groans, her eyes wide, "Give me your phone so I can delete her number from it so you can't tell her because she'd never let me live this down."
Quinn laughs loudly at that, startling the boys at the front of the room, none of whom had even noticed Quinn and Brittany returning because they were all too busy struggling to follow the simple choreography Mike and Mr. Schue are still demonstrating. "Maybe this will be good for you," Quinn suggests around her laughter, "Maybe your nerdy little math pupil will squash those rebellious urges of yours and you'll turn into the math nerd you've always been hiding deep inside."
Brittany just groans and sinks deep into her seat, shrugging her shoulders up by her ears so she can hide her pout in the collar of her leather jacket. She's pretty sure tutoring Santana definitely won't squash her rebellious urges or turn her into a nerd; if anything, she'll be lucky if she even survives tutoring, if Santana's reputation is anything to go by. She should have just fled Mr. Dunngan's classroom when she had the chance, because not even fifteen dollars an hour is worth losing her rebellious reputation and suffering Quinn's endless teasing.
And god knows if her aunt—the wild tattooed California biker with a suspiciously sealed criminal record, the one Brittany's mom still thinks is a bad influence on her daughters, the one that taught Brittany how to shoplift without getting caught and kind of completely validated her mom's worries—ever found out that she was about to start tutoring Santana Lopez, the daughter of a man that Aunt Nell once called the 'shittiest thing that Lima has ever produced, and that's including those dumb fucking redneck hick jingles that play on that godawful rural radio every single commercial break,' Brittany would never ever hear the end of it.
Brittany sinks deeper into her leather jacket and groans. She's starting to think that she's not going to make it through this dumb tutoring thing unscathed.