This chapter is rated M. Heh. Whoops.
Ms. Morah reminded Santana of a potted orchid. She had long, skinny legs and a petite, flat waist that looked like a freshly made bed. Her close-set eyes were perched above her prow of a nose, and her lips were a thin Cupid's bow that Santana liked to stare at while she talked. She had masses of wavy hair the color of black coffee that she wore pinned up like a Greek goddess.
She was basically the coolest person Santana knew. Well, not cool—she wasn't cool at all. But she was exotically beautiful and very smart, so Santana couldn't help but be drawn to her. Santana liked everything about her, from her elegant wrists to her loopy handwriting to her peanut butter smooth voice.
Not many of the other seventh graders liked Ms. Morah, though. She taught history and her tests were really hard. She expected everyone to be obedient and learn from her, which didn't seem unreasonable to Santana, but definitely got on the nerves of the class. Santana felt bad for the young, inexperienced teacher. She began to study diligently for Ms. Morah's tests, and after getting her fifth A-plus in a row, Santana felt comfortable enough that she began to arrive early and stay late to talk to her.
Ms. Morah was the first person who ever told Santana she was really smart. She was the first person who showed Santana how much fun learning could be. She was the first person who encouraged Santana to read books that weren't required because they were so much more interesting. Ms. Morah was Santana's second crush, because Brittany would always be her first.
By the time Thanksgiving break rolled around, Santana was Ms. Morah's star pupil. Hers was the only class Santana sat in the front row for, and the only class she tried to answer questions in. Ms. Morah adored her—Tiffany called Santana out on it, told her she was a teacher's pet, but Santana just shrugged and mentioned Mr. Asher's luxurious hair and Tiffany shut right up.
Santana was always the last to leave Ms. Morah's class too, even if it made her miss her bus and she had to walk home. She would stay late to help her stack up all the chairs and wipe down the whiteboard. They would race to see who could finish her half of the whiteboard first and then they would talk about that day's lesson. Ms. Morah always had really rad books and movies to recommend and Santana gobbled them up like cupcakes from a box.
By Winter Break, Santana was utterly enamored. Anything Ms. Morah did, Santana wanted to do. She tried to wear her hair in a fluffy bun and use big words to sound more important. She could have sworn that the room grew ten degrees warmer when Ms. Morah called her 'mini-me.'
On the last day before Winter Break, Santana snuck a gift bag into class. She wasn't one of those kids whose parents bought gifts for all the teachers—no, Santana had to steal forty dollars from her dad's wallet for Ms. Morah's presents. She had gotten her a big candle that smelled like honey and roses, a dark chocolate Hershey's bar because it looked the fanciest, and a hardcover book of Ancient Greek poetry that Ms. Morah told her she had been looking for.
"Happy holidays, Ms. Morah," Santana peeped when she came to visit after school, holding the bag aloft. Ms. Morah's eyes lit up like sparklers as she took the bag from Santana.
"Oh, Santana," she breathed, peering into the bag. She pulled out the book and gasped, running her fingers over the gold plated letters. "You shouldn't have! Thank you!" And, even though she wasn't supposed to, she bent down and pulled Santana into a hug.
Santana's heart started hammering in her throat as Ms. Morah squeezed her shoulders. Ms. Morah's cheek was icy where it pressed against her own. She smelled like gingerbread cookies and wool sweaters. Santana never wanted to let go.
"Oh, here!" Ms. Morah jumped out of the embrace, leaving Santana's arms empty. "I got you something, too." She handed her a small box with a bow on it, which Santana opened eagerly. "I noticed you had a charm bracelet so I got you a little something for it. It's a crown because I know how much you liked learning about the Tudors."
Santana's face burned. She fingered the charm gently, then picked it up between her thumb and forefinger and spun it around. The red gemstones inset on the arches glittered in the harsh fluorescent lights of the classroom.
Santana felt kind of bad, because she and Brittany had matching bracelets and now Santana had one extra charm. Maybe she could just order her an extra one? Yeah. Her parents wouldn't notice if she stole a few twenties from their emergency cash drawer. Santana could get Brittany a matching charm; a crown with blue gems, like her eyes. Or pink, because pink was Brittany's favorite color this month.
"Thank you," Santana squeaked, her voice high and shaky. "It's so beautiful, wow."
Ms. Morah beamed and hugged her again. "I'm glad you like it. Have a good vacation, okay? Take a break from all that reading, or you'll know more than me!"
Santana giggled and curled the charm up in her fist, feeling the cross dig into the fleshy crook between her middle and ring finger. "Have a good vacation too, Ms. Morah."
Santana and Brittany spent their entire winter vacation together. They celebrated the Solstice with the Pierces. It was Santana's second Solstice celebration. All they really did was drink spiced punch, snack on sun-shaped lemon cookies, and light beeswax candles all around the house and yard. They had planned a bonfire, but when Mr. Pierce almost ignited the dry old evergreen in the backyard that plan was nixed.
They spent Christmas Eve at Santana's house in a food coma from the feast Mrs. Lopez had ordered. Then everyone, even Mr., Mrs., and little Baby Pierce, trekked up to Abeula's house on Christmas Day, where they exchanged presents and hugs and got sick on candy canes and green and red sugar cookies.
Then for the last night of Hanukkah, the Pierces dragged Santana with them to the Berrys' annual Festival of Lights, Camera, Action because the Pierces liked celebrating things and Santana was pretty much part of their family. Santana and Brittany spent the entire party avoiding Rachel Berry by hiding under the desert table and gorging themselves on jelly doughnuts and chocolate coins and those weird hashbrown pancake things.
They spent New Years at Brittany's grandma's house. Grandma Pierce didn't believe in central heating, so Santana and Brittany huddled together under a blanket fort in the corner of the room. They made a nest out of all the blankets they could find and the curled around each other like newborn chipmunks. They held hands as they watched the ball drop through a threadbare section of the top blanket. When all the grownups were distracted by kissing and yelling "Happy New Years!" at each other, Brittany turned her head and pressed her lips against Santana's gaping ones. Brittany kept her lips there, slowly increasing the pressure until Santana's top lip was fitted between hers. She was softly tugging on Santana's lip when Mrs. Lopez lifted the top blanket to check on them. Santana fell backwards in her haste to get away from Brittany's apple-juice-flavored lips.
But however fun her two-week-long playdate with Brittany was, Santana was super excited to go back to school in January. Getting ready for the first day back felt like her birthday. Her stomach was fluttering like she had swallowed Mexican jumping beans. She brushed her hair out until it gleamed and she wore her favorite red and white shirt, the one with hearts and puffed sleeves. She planned to go to Ms. Morah's classroom as soon as she got there.
And for three weeks, everything was great. She and Ms. Morah fell into a comfortable rhythm of cleaning up the classroom and talking about history. They got to talking about TV shows, too, and Santana found herself watching awesome shows, like Buffy and Xena, which she never would have discovered by herself.
She also started having really funny dreams—dreams about Ms. Morah. They were those muddled dreams where only a few seconds were clear when she woke up. But those few seconds... Santana woke up from them drenched in cold sweat, feeling like someone just punched her lower stomach. She could remember little snippets of her dreams—Ms. Morah running her fingers through her hair, Ms. Morah telling her how smart she is, Ms. Morah telling her what a gorgeous young woman she was turning out to be, Ms. Morah hugging her... it was enough to make every smile Ms. Morah flashed at her in class jolt through Santana like a switch.
One Saturday Brittany and Santana were at the mall when Santana glimpsed a woman with long, wavy, coffee-colored hair entering a jewelry store. She took off running, leaving Brittany sitting at their table with a half-eaten chocolate-strawberry ice cream.
"Ms. Morah!" she yelled, skidding to a halt in front of her teacher. The lighting in the jewelry store was low and muted; the air was humid and stuffy and all the sparkling gemstones in the magnifying cases hurt Santana's eyes.
"Santana!" Ms. Morah grinned, spinning to face Santana. She tucked a strand of hair behind Santana's ear that had gotten loose from her ponytail. "How are you, sweetie?"
"Great! What are you doing here?"
Ms. Morah blushed, her ivory skin turning the color of Brittany's cat's salmon flavored food. "My boyfriend—fiancée—proposed last night! Can you believe it? We're here to pick out rings. You'll come to my wedding, right?"
Santana's joy at seeing Ms. Morah came crashing to a halt. Her chest started to burn. Ms. Morah had a boyfriend? They were getting married? But... she...
"Kare, who's this?" A slim, dark man wearing a plum colored fedora walked towards them. "One of your students?"
"Yes!" Ms. Morah turned to the man, her eyes sparkling. "This is Santana, honey."
"This is the famous Santana? Kare's told me so much about you." The man squatted down so he was eye level with her. "My name is Niko. I'm Karen's—I mean, Ms. Morah's—fiancée."
The normally stoic Ms. Morah squeaked a little bit and bent over to kiss Niko's cheek. "I'm just so excited, Santana! I know it seems so far away for you, but when you're getting married you'll understand how incredible this is!"
Santana's heart sank. Her face turned gray and stormy. Getting married seemed so... so... domestic. Unnecessary. What was it, just another piece of bling and a paper saying two people have to love each other forever? The whole thing was ridiculous, sappy, and gross.
"That's... great," Santana said through gritted teeth. "I'm happy for you, Ms. Morah."
Brittany ran up to them then, standing shoulder to shoulder with Santana. She slipped her dry hand into Santana's clammy one, which Santana shook out before linking their pinkies because big girls didn't hold hands in public.
"Hello, Brittany," Ms. Morah smiled down at her like she was a cute baby or a puppy or something, not a twelve-year-old. "I didn't realize you and Santana were friends, that's so nice. This is my fiancée—that means he's my almost-husband—Niko. Niko, honey, this is Brittany, another one of my students."
If there's one thing Santana couldn't stand, it was grownups talking to Brittany like she was a first-grader instead of a seventh-grader. And she was angry at stupid Ms. Morah for having a fiancée anyway, so she didn't feel too bad for snapping:
"She knows what a fiancée is, she's not stupid. We're going now, goodbye. Enjoy your stinky husband."
She tugged Brittany after her, leaving a shocked Ms. Morah and Niko behind her.
"I swear she's usually the most well-behaved student. I've never seen her act like that!"
Santana felt guilt gnaw at her stomach for being so rude to someone she was so fond of, but then she remembered that Ms. Morah was getting married and the bad feeling went away. It was replaced by a raging anger that only settled in the pit of her stomach when they were back at Brittany's house and Brittany asked if she could give her kisses to make her feel better.
Santana stopped hanging out with Ms. Morah after school. She stopped trying to do well in her class; she drifted towards the back and read sappy romance novels during Ms. Morah's entire lecture. She still liked to learn about history, though, so she didn't stop that. She liked history because it made her feel better about her own life. Reading about pain and suffering and hunger and hatred against other people made her own problems seem really insignificant.
Santana stopped having funny dreams about Ms. Morah, too, which was a welcome relief.
One day, around Spring Break, Ms. Morah asked her to stay late so they could talk. Santana considered ignoring her and walking out with the rest of the kids, but she didn't want to get in more trouble than she already was. Plus, her parents would get called, and the less time she had to spend with them, the better.
"Santana," Ms. Morah smiled sadly at her. "Sit down, please." She slid into the seat in front of her, facing backwards and leaning over the back of the chair so she cold rest her elbows on Santana's desk. Santana obeyed silently, dropping her bag with a thud by her feet. She refused to meet Ms. Morah's gaze.
"Is everything okay?" Ms. Morah's eyes were wide and her forehead was all crinkly with concern.
"You're worrying me, honey. Things are going fine at home, right? I know you mentioned things with your parents are strained. It's just that you used to be such a bright student, always excited to be here... now you sit in the back and you're failing all my tests. "
"My life is fine." Santana snapped, crossing her arms over her chest. "I just got bored of listening to a pathetic middle school teacher trying to get me excited about learning about dead people."
Ms. Morah's face fell. "Oh... I didn't realize you felt that way. You may go now, Santana. Don't want to make you bored with my pathetic life." There's a hint of venom in her words that Santana had never heard. It made her want to cry.
She ran out of the room, almost tripping over her sneakers.
A few days later, at another one of Tiffany's sleepovers, an 8th grader with bad breath and braces brought up her situation.
"Whatever happened to your teacher crush, Santana? You haven't mentioned how smart and beautiful and generous Ms. Morah is for a few weeks."
"What?" Santana sputtered, her heart beating double-time. Fear sunk down in her stomach like a rock in a lake. "You're kidding me, Stubbles. I don't have any—"
"Don't try to lie, Santana," Tiffany sneered. "We know all about your big lezzie crush on Ms. Moron."
"I don't have a... look, I just wanted to pass her class, okay? It's fucking hard."
"Language, Santana." Tiffany tutted. "Do you want softballs or golf clubs for your coming out present? Don't get a flattop, though: you have too much baby fat and short haircuts and chubby cheeks will make you look like a cone head."
Santana's vision went red and she crouched low in her beanbag chair to launch herself at the grinning girl.
"I make out with my science teacher," Brittany deadpanned, placing a hand on Santana's back to relax her. She began to massage her neck, and slowly, Santana's vision cleared. "He has a tongue ring and I bite it because I think it's a mint."
Santana turned to give her a look, because whoring herself out for grades isn't something Brittany would do, and Brittany's science teacher is female and about a hundred years old. Brittany was definitely putting on airs for her benefit. Brittany just grinned impishly, shrugged, and continued stroking the back of her neck.
Brittany was the best friend a girl can ask for. Santana began to purr as Brittany's hand caressed lower.
Santana knew she had to be more careful with how she talked about women. She couldn't let any weakness show, couldn't let anything like a stupid little teacher crush drag her down. Brittany wouldn't always be there to save her. She needed to be respected and feared, not ridiculed. Thank god this happened before next year, because she'd never live it down once she got to eighth grade.
By the time Santana and Brittany were thirteen, their kisses had become more and more frequent—not like Santana was complaining, but at the same time, it was kind of weird. Wasn't it? She'd kissed so many other people but she always fell back to Brittany like her ratty old Dalmatian plushie. Brittany was familiar. Brittany was comfortable. And, unlike her stuffed animal, Brittany was a hell of a good kisser. Like, a really good kisser.
But she knew it couldn't be more than that. She and Brittany didn't get boyfriends; they agreed it was because they're just too cool for boys. Having one would have taken away from the time they could spend together, right? But they could kiss other people because, like, they weren't dating each other or anything.
Just like that sleepover two years ago, Santana came to the realization that she couldn't love Brittany. And she didn't. Like, love was too complex for kids, right? Real love, not just the sharing-crayons-and-sandwiches sappy middle school love; that couldn't happen when you were thirteen. And even though she and Brittany totally did stuff like that, they were just, like, super close. Best friends love each other, but they weren't in love with each other. She didn't like any of the boys in her school because they were all gross and scrawny. Once they got to high school she would fall in love with one of them for sure. She wouldn't marry him or anything, but they would have fun until she broke up with him—before graduation, but after prom.
And if she love loved Brittany, she wouldn't have a family anymore. Though her parents had never explicitly said they would disown her, it was kind of a given. She was expected to marry someone rich and semi-famous, not her best friend who was a girl. Santana's parents weren't the greatest but they were her parents. This was her house. She needed that. As much as she wished she was secretly adopted and could go live with her amazing birth parents in their massive penthouse apartment in New York or London or whatever, she knew that her parents were the only parents she had.
Her parents had never given her "the talk," thank god. They'd left that to Brittany's mom, who pretty much did everything with Santana. When Santana had needed a bra two years ago, Mrs. Pierce had been the one to drag her (and flat-chested Brittany) to the store for bras. Santana had gotten her first period at Brittany's house, and it had been Mrs. Pierce who had consoled her when she was sobbing about all the blood coming out of you know where. Mrs. Lopez had practically begged Mrs. Pierce to teach her daughter the facts of life, which Mrs. Pierce had happily done with the help of kinesthetic learning aids such as bananas, cow placenta, and anatomically correct sock puppets.
Trying to talk to her parents about her feelings would be a disaster, so Santana didn't even try. They didn't like to talk about feelings. They didn't like to talk about bad things. They didn't really like to talk to her at all, unless it was to criticize her or ask her if she could go to Brittany's house that night because they were having a grown-up party.
And her parents weren't accepting people. She could remember what had happened when she was watching a TV show with them a few weeks ago, a rare night that they were all together with nothing to do. The main characters on the show were undercover at a bar and then suddenly, two girls were kissing. Her mom had jumped to cover her eyes and her father flipped through the channels so fast they couldn't tell which channel he was changing to.
"Hey, I was watching that!" Santana protested, pulling her mom's hand off her eyes.
"No, you weren't," Mrs. Lopez snarled. "That was not appropriate for a girl your age."
"I..." Santana brought a pillow up to cover her burning face. What was she going to say? That she liked it? Did she? No. Maybe. Yes. She liked the three seconds of girls kissing more then she had liked any makeout scene before that.
Mr. Lopez growled. "I really wish early evening programming didn't do things like that... They throw that garbage in there to get guys excited, but I just want to watch some TV with my family and not have it turn into a porno."
Santana's heart dropped to her stomach from the hostility in her father's words.
"I'm going to bed," Santana announced. She teetered her way upstairs.
Yeah. Even if she did love Brittany in a girlfriend-way—which she totally didn't—she just couldn't. It was too risky; there was too much disapproval. And she totally didn't, so worrying about it was super pointless.
Santana wasn't stupid. She'd seen Mean Girls, like, a thousand times. She liked to look up random things on her computer when she couldn't sleep, so early one morning she wound up Wikipedia-ing lesbianism. It was weird - whoever wrote the article seemed to think it was fine; that it wasn't gross; that it was normal. That acidic feeling in Santana's esophagus that had been burning since Tiffany's first sleepover finally settled down, like sand over a fire. It was normal, see? Those people could be happy, successful, and powerful. And if she was a—a lesbian, it was okay. She'd be okay. But she wasn't gay, not at all. Not even a minuscule bit. She was just curious about things like that, because homosexuality was morbidly fascinating, like genocide and Brittany's mom's earrings that were made out of dead birds.
After finishing the article, she decided to try Google. The results that popped up weren't as rosy as the article. She managed to get halfway down the page before she felt like she needed to throw up. Words like hate crime, outsiders in society, and h0t nude gurls swam before her eyes. She tried downloading a file that she thought was titled Advice for Questioning Girls, but it turned out to be Questioning Girls, a bad porno. She watched the superficially tan, disgustingly thin, triple-D cup women grind against each other while a guy stroked himself on the bed next to them. Bile rose in Santana's throat. She clicked out of the video as fast as she could and deleted her browsing history with shaking fingers. Tears began to stream down her face even though she didn't know why she felt so overwhelmed. She crawled back into bed. Her tears wet her pillow and made the back of her clammy neck stick to it.
Santana released a shuddering breath. Her belly ached; she rested a hand on it, and it ached harder, just lower. She trailed her hand downward, then realized what she was doing and snapped her hand up her neck. The ache started to throb so she rolled over and curled up like a fetus, tucking her knees under her chin. That just made it worse, though; her thighs felt sticky and warm. Sitting up and hanging her head in shame, Santana made her way to the bathroom.
She cleaned the mess between her legs, crying out when the wad of toilet paper touched something sensitive. What was this? What was happening?
Looking in the mirror, she could see her face was flushed and her lips were swollen. Did she have a fever? She felt her forehead, which was damp and cool but otherwise normal. What was wrong with her? Why was her stomach so tender? No, it wasn't her stomach, it was her... oh. Was she turned on? She rested her head between her hands. Tears squeezed out from behind her clenched eyelids. Could seeing two women grind against each other, moaning so falsely and shooting coy glances to the camera really have done this to her? Was it the way their... no. She was just young, that was all; young and inexperienced and easily turned on. It was her hormones, or something. Yeah, that was it! That was totally it. That video hadn't turned her on at all.
She made her way back to bed. She laid down under the heavy covers and tried to fall asleep, but the hissing of her skin made it impossible. But she could power through this, right? The tingling would go away soon.
Or not. Twenty minutes passed and Santana was still stiff with discomfort. With a choking, resigned sigh, she began to trail her fingers downward, under the band of her underwear. Her finger brushed something that made her gasp and arch her back, legs falling open like a clamp getting released. Yes.
She began to stroke between her legs. Her fingers fumbled and slid over her skin. Something was building up; a pressure in her belly and chest and center was increasing. Her hips began to buck and then suddenly she was flying, trust over the edge of a cliff, the image of Brittany behind her eyes.
It felt like the time she and Brittany had gone to a water park. Brittany, with all her dancer's grace, had simply dove off the edge of the highest diving board. But Santana, who could count the number of times she'd swam on one hand, was stuck at the top, balancing poorly on the edge. She tried not to look down, tried not to feel the wind trying to push her off. The kids behind her started yowling at her to move, but she was petrified with fear.
Brittany stayed in the middle of the pool, treading water with her legs. She was waving her arms and yelling at Santana to just jump already, because it was super fun and she would love it. So Santana jumped. Her heart stopped beating as she fell, but those few seconds were the best. She felt like she was flying, like she was free. And that scary, dizzying, skydiving feeling was what she had just felt now, alone in her room with her hand between her legs.
The ache had calmed for a moment but soon it started up again, twice as intense. Her fingers were sticking together. The room smelled astringent and animal. Santana began to cry in earnest; large, shuddering sobs that shook her bed. She shuffled back to her bathroom to wash up, shame settling over her shoulders. What had she just done? That wasn't... she couldn't have... no.
And why had she thought of Brittany before the room had started spinning? Was that normal? She tried to remember anything she knew about sex, which, now that she thought about it, wasn't much. Was picturing her best friend before that skydiving feeling normal? It had to be. What it meant if it wasn't was too much for Santana to deal with before four in the morning.
Santana cried herself to sleep that night. She cried herself to sleep a lot of nights after that. Something changed inside her; she felt like a valve with pressure building steadily behind it. She bottled up all her feelings until they erupted like a volcano. To stop herself from breaking down during the day, she turned her emotions off. She felt hollow and empty, but it was better than constantly being close to tears. Still, it was almost like she had too many emotions to contain, and at night when she was finally alone, everything hurt so much more. It was a relief to break down before sleeping because it meant she could feel things again.
Santana thought her extra emotions would go away one day, like that time in forth grade she had wet the bed three nights in a row. Her body just needed to retrain itself or something, right?. But her tears didn't go away; they got work, like a scrape that wouldn't heal.
Her thoughts about Brittany didn't go away, either. She would get that rushing feeling between her legs and in her chest much more quickly if she allowed herself to think of Brittany. It terrified her, but once she started she couldn't stop. Brittany was so beautiful. Santana liked to picture her all dressed up for her dance recitals in form-fitting leotards and silk skirts with feathers and sequins. She liked to picture her in the green velvet dress from their holiday choir show, her hair in a loose bun. She liked to picture her in the morning after their sleepovers, her face squished up like a confused, grumpy kitten against the glare from her open window.
Santana liked to picture herself running her fingers through Brittany's pale, slippery hair. She would pretend she was massaging behind Brittany's ears until she would shudder into Santana's neck. Her most common daydream was of Brittany lying on top of her in bed, clinging to her waist and nuzzling her neck because she had had a nightmare. Their legs would intertwine and their bellies would press together. Santana could almost feel the fine downy hair by her ears getting dewy under Brittany's warm breath.
And those daydreams, however sensational they were, made sleepovers really awkward. Sleeping in bed next to Brittany but not being able to twine around her was a tangible hurt. Santana started crying at their weekly sleepovers because she just wanted Brittany so much, and that petrified her the most out of all her fears. Her insides felt like a battlefield, but any victory would have been Pyrrhic: too costly to be worth it.
The first few times Santana had gotten hysterical, Brittany had woken up, alarmed. She thought she had punched Santana in her sleep. But since Santana couldn't explain why she was crying and it began happening at every sleepover, Brittany had stopped waking up all the way. She would just stir and fling an arm over Santana's waist when she heard her friend's muffled whimpers.
And then Santana would cry herself to sleep, trapped and utterly alone in her best friend's arms.
When she was alone, it wasn't any better. She would picture Brittany naked underneath her, holding her flush against her body with shaking hands. But then Santana would jolt back into real life as she started trembling. She would collapse back on her pillows, her fingers sticky and her head dizzy with shame. She felt like a mess. She was a mess.