Summary: “All at once you are neither here nor there, drifting between two places to which you simultaneously belong and don’t belong. What if everything goes wrong and you have nowhere to belong to completely?”
Word Count: 3K+
"You have his suit? His glasses?"
"His fake mustache?"
"The folded-up speech and glasses case?"
"Mom, nobody is actually going to look in his pocket."
"She didn’t paint my front yet either, Mommy!"
Mom laughs on the other end of the line. You roll your eyes because you know that the other attorneys at her firm would kill to hear the supposedly-cutthroat Santana Pierce-Lopez sound so delighted at the thought of her children getting dressed up for Halloween.
“You know the drill, honey. Put the speech and glasses case in his breast pocket and paint the outside red.”
You’re far past the age of wanting to trick-or-treat yourself, but now it’s your little brother’s turn. And just your luck, Mom and Mama have to work tonight, so it’s up to you to make sure that Charlie’s costume is as historically accurate as he’s requested.
“Why didn’t you pick the normal Teddy Roosevelt?” you ask him, making sure Mom hears your exasperation over the phone. “You know, the version of him that didn’t get shot?”
He folds the speech (matching the 1912 copy verbatim, fake bullet hole and all, since Mama shook her head because no sweetie, we’re not buying a real gun with real bullets to shoot) and hands it to you. He keeps a close watch to make sure you keep the bullet hole aligned.
“I have sketches of Trust Busting Teddy and Square Deal Teddy but they weren’t as visually appealing.”
(Mama always swears that his presidential history phase will pass, then laughs when you shake your head and walk away.)
“Call me when you get to Uncle Al’s. And don’t let him suggest that you sleepover because he’s too lazy to drive you back to our place. Mama and I want you guys to come back home so we can see you both dressed up.”
(You opted for the “disgruntled teenage sister” costume this year, so you’re pretty sure Mom is only talking about Charlie.)
You grew up in a neighborhood where there weren’t any houses so the norm for you was taking your candy bucket to the local bodegas and every floor of your old apartment building. But Uncle Al and his family moved to New York a few years ago into one of the only safe neighborhoods that Mom and Mama trust. They live on a quiet block in Riverdale, where there are more houses than apartments and more retirees than the sex offenders that Mom found on familywatchdog.org to fret over.
You used to be sad that you never got the chance to trick-or-treat at actual houses the way Charlie gets to this year. But now you just wish that Mom and Mama were here to take him instead because this big sister stuff can be a pain sometimes.
(You don’t know it yet, but you’ll wish for Mom and Mama on another Halloween for reasons you never suspected.)
[Lima 2012, present day]
“What, no costume? No get togethers with your glee club friends? I was banking on having the TV tonight.”
Uncle Al plops himself onto the couch next to you and reaches for the remote. The slicked back hair of his “Al Motta” persona has given way to the usual scruffy mop that you grew up seeing him sport.
“Aren’t you supposed to be a responsible ‘parent’ and tell me to save the parties for the weekend?”
“Not a chance. Priorities, kid. I can’t watch old episodes of Jersey Shore in the future without your aunt judging the crap out of me.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Dead serious. This was the stuff of my youth! Come on, I’m sure you’ve got some friends that wanna hang out.”
You scroll through your text messages; nobody’s talked to you since last night.
Oct 27, 2012, 7:30 PM
Hey britt, just checking in : ) hanging in there?”
Oct 28, 2012, 2.22 AM
Uncle Al sees you sigh as you let your phone fall next to you on the couch.
"Mama’s still upset?"
“Brittany. She’s not ‘Mama’ here.”
“Fine,” he grunts. He’s barely paying attention now that his TiVo’d episode of Snooki falling down drunk on the beach is on. “Is Brittany still beat up about what happened with Santana?”
You feel a pang tug at your heart. The thought of it haunts and fatigues you, like something seems terribly wrong.
(Mostly because there is something wrong and you can’t imagine a universe where your mothers aren’t together and both madly and quietly in love with each other like you’ve always known.)
“She hasn’t been herself. But we don’t talk about it much.”
It hurts that you may be one of the people best equipped to be there for her. But these are the teenage versions of your mothers; you only know who they eventually become, not who they are along their journey of becoming, so maybe it’s for the best.
(Either way, it hurts more than you’d say aloud.)
[Lima 2012, two weeks ago]
You see Sam across the parking lot on the way home and ask if he needs a ride. He’s more than happy to accept your offer.
For most of the drive you only half-listen to what he says about the upcoming Grease auditions and about how he’d totally be the Danny to Mercedes’ Sandy if she was still around and that he kinda misses her.
You turn the radio dial to shush Taylor Swift for a few minutes and look at him from your periphery.
“How is Brittany doing?”
Your question is both surprising and expected, judging by the quirk of his eyebrows and the tired, knowing sigh he lets out.
“She could be doing better. She’s still pretty sad about the whole break up. They only started officially dating the year you came to McKinley, but from what I could tell, this whole thing between them has been going on for ages. Even when I was dating Santana.”
“Yeah, we’ve all made our rounds in the glee club. Me and Santana, me and Quinn, Quinn and Finn, Finn and Rachel – “
You clear your throat, but make sure to save that little nugget of information for later.
“ – oh, right. Well, point is, Santana was pretty sad at that time, except she channeled it through being especially mean.”
“Sounds like her.”
“Right. But Brittany isn’t like that so…she’s not channeling anything through anything. She’s just sad.”
(A familiar chill settles in your bones at the thought, and you try to shake it away.)
“Why don’t you ask her yourself?” he inquires.
You would if you could. Instead, you’re stuck seeing her and Sam together in the back row of the choir room, huddled next to each other and whispering. His face is dressed up in worry on her more solemn days, and he usually offers her his shoulder to lean on.
You’re jealous that he gets the chance to be as close to her as you wish you could be right now. But you can’t tell him that, so you shrug.
Sam, being Sam, sees the worry etched on your face and does his best anyway.
“Well, we can’t really make her say more than she’s comfortable saying, you know? And I don’t wanna say anything she doesn’t want me to tell anybody else. How about I shoot her a good word from you and let her know you’re concerned?”
It’s the best you can do right now, so you take what you can get.
[Lima 2012, present day]
"How can you be so calm?” The frustration creeps into your voice as Uncle Al keeps his eyes glued to the screen and continues to scratch at the stubble growing on his chin, still barely paying attention to you. “If we let this happen to them, it’ll change everything.”
As much as you think about home with your mothers and brother, you’re not quite there with them in body as much as much as in spirit, and as much as you can be physically tethered to Ohio in 2012 for the moment, you will forever be an outsider from the future. All at once you are neither here nor there, drifting between two places to which you simultaneously belong and don’t belong. What if everything goes wrong and you have nowhere to belong to completely?
If they don’t end up together, I won’t exist.
He mutes the television and sighs as he turns to you. “What would you say if I told you everything is supposed to happen this way?”
You shrug away your disbelief and fold your arms across your chest as Snooki plummets into the sand for the third time.
(You swear you can feel the memory of Mom dressing you as a gypsy for your thirteenth Halloween drifting from you and you can’t imagine that anything about this is supposed to happen at all.)
“Everybody ready to go?”
Your little brother stands at Mama’s feet with his arms raised, ready to be lifted up. She straightens the thin fabric of his mask so that he can see properly, hoists him up from the underarms, and puts him on her shoulders. The two of them tower over Mom, who reaches up to pinch Charlie’s cheek. Mama is already taller than Mom, but Mama and Charlie combined loom over her and she has stand to especially higher stand on tiptoe.
“Alright Charlie, gimme your scariest ghost voice!”
Mom and Mama giggle and give each other a quick kiss as Charlie wobbles on Mama’s shoulders.
“Aw San, we got ourselves a little ghost owlet!”
You laugh along with them as you check your reflection in the mirror; your body is changing and it shows in the way the costume hangs off of you, tight and awkward in places it never would have been before. Your temperament is changing too, and you sorta feel like you might be getting a little old for this trick-or-treating stuff.
It’s a family tradition, though, and it’s the first year Charlie can actually eat and enjoy some of his candy. That’s something you wouldn’t miss for the world, no matter how old you are.
(Although you could probably stand to lose the gypsy costume at some point.)
Charlie is perched on Mama’s shoulders as the four of you walk down the block to all of the bodegas and small shops. The little witches and Batmans around you are herded away from the street traffic by their excited yet fatigued parents. Mr. Arteaga at the tiny Mayela Grocery Corp. on the corner smiles when you enter his store, and plops a fistful of Almond Joys into your pumpkin candy bucket. When he hands Charlie a lollipop, Charlie stares blankly at him and doesn’t know what to do with it; he spends the rest of the walk back to the apartment building prodding Mama in the ear with it.
She smiles sweetly and laughs through it all, saving some smiles for you and Mom as the sun starts to set on the previously bustling but now-quieting neighborhood.
(You’ll never get too old to not feel warm inside under her soothing gaze.)
[Lima 2012, present day]
A few hours into several agonizing episodes of Jersey Shore, your phone rings on the coffee table, and you reach over Uncle Al asleep on the couch to retrieve it.
It appears that a “Brittany Pierce” is calling; a picture of you and Brittany making goofy faces in the choir room is the background that appears behind her name in white text. Your heart squeezes a little bit too tightly when you see it, and you have to wait a beat before answering.
Mama has liked to collect old things for as long as you could remember. Clocks, teacups, notebooks, televisions, VHS tapes, Walkmans; it’s all precious to her, and most of it is really old, like before Mom and Mama’s time old. You tend to think anything from the early 2000’s is ancient, but Mama goes for the real old stuff.
When you’re seven and visiting your grandparents for the long Halloween weekend, you get to see one of your favorite old things that are kept in your grandma’s basement in Lima. It’s one of those vintage photo booths, circa 1990, the kind that still used film and were fading from popular use when Mom and Mama were your age. It’s kind of a miracle that Mama got one at all, because it’s clunky and huge and the chemicals are almost extinct, and you’ve never heard of anyone you know ever even seeing one. You tend to forget all of that once you’re squished on the tiny bench with Mama and she’s tickling you and kissing your cheek right as the third flash goes off.
(She always knows when the flash will go off, somehow; you’re always caught off guard with your eyes crossed or your tongue hanging half-out, which you kind of hate, but Mom always grins and giggles so much when you show her the newest skinny strip and that makes your heart swell a little bit).
Time always slows down in the photo booth, you think, but speeds up outside somehow; you and Mama can get in planning for just one strip, but by the time you’re done making monkey faces at each other thirty times, or squeezing the tail ends of each other’s hair between your upper lips and noses to make the silliest mustaches you’ve ever seen, Mom’s down in the basement shaking her head, trying to hide a smirk because you’ve been down here for an hour already.
Your favorite part comes after that, though. Mama pulls Mom around the basement in a lazy waltz as you kneel on the cold concrete and peer up into the slot in the side of the booth, trying to catch a glimpse of your strips developing. You wave away a “Mija, it’ll come when it comes,” as you bounce around, impatient, and Mom and Mama share a secret glance that they think you don’t see but you do.
Blink and you’d miss it, but Mom is looking at Mama from her periphery ever so slightly, so subtle that at first you’d swear she was looking at you or some point over Mama’s shoulder. But when you see it, you see Mom’s Mama look, even if she’s just glancing at her sideways and laughing quietly and shyly at your silliness.
(You don’t know it yet, but one day you’ll figure out that this is Mom’s “How am I so lucky?” look too.)
Finally, the photographs slip out into your waiting hands, still damp and reeking of darkroom chemicals. You don’t think you’ll ever get over how cool it is to hold a photo that’s just been through nine tanks of chemicals and is drying in front of you. You hold the first strip flat, careful not to get fingerprints on the surface, and peer closely at the first sequence.
The three of you gather around the photographs and Mom beams with delight as if she doesn’t already see you and Mama looking this silly on a daily basis. In the third panel, Mama’s resting her chin on your head as you grin widely, your tongue slightly filling the gap left by the tooth you lost last week. She pulls the goofiest face, her eyes crossed and her tongue poking out with a silliness you forget that adults and mothers can possess.
You look down at the strip again, smiling so widely that your cheeks hurt, grateful that even when you’re too “mature” to be this goofy, even when you’ve moved out and can’t hang around Mama all the time to make these faces with her, you’ll still have these photographs to smile at.
[Lima 2012, present day]
"Hey Sugar…what’re you up to?" She tries to sound like her usual calm and quietly bubbly self, but even through the phone you can still feel the subtle fatigue creeping into the edges of her voice.
"Nothing fun - it’s a school night," you say, careful to slip back into “Sugar Motta” mode, not letting the relief creep into your tone.
“Got a costume?”
“Trick-or-treating?” If the confidence in her voice wasn’t already faltering, it is now.
(The ghosts of all your Halloween memories trickle back into your mind.)
“It’s okay if you don’t want to,” she says quickly, fearing the snort of derision and the aren’t we past that age? that she gets from everyone else. “Not really us trick-or-treating, you know just…my parents wants me to take my sister and her friends even though they swear they’re old enough to go alone and they’re kinda right but…”
She lets her babbling trail off, the sadness settling in with every syllable.
(You feel your own pang of sadness.)
(“Mama and I want you guys to come back home so we can see you both dressed up…”)
"Santana usually comes with me but…"
A long pause.
“Yeah. I’m here.”
(Except she doesn’t sound like she is, not really)
“I’ll be over in 20.”
You’re four and impressionable, and the boy from the fifth floor runs past you, dressed beneath a white sheet and shouting a “Boo!” at unsuspecting passerby. You scream when you’re the victim of his trick and run to Mama.
You hide behind her arm and whisper into it, “Mama, I’m scared. Is that a ghost?”
Her laugh is honey-coated with affection as she takes your hand in hers. “Yes, sweetie, but you don’t have to be afraid.”
“But they’re spooky!”
“Ghosts are just people like you and me, sweetie,” she says. “They stay around after they die because they couldn’t bear to leave the people they love most. They won’t hurt you.”
You’ve never trusted or felt safer with anybody else in that moment.
You take her hand in yours as she watches her sister and friends run up to the next house, chattering and exchanging Butterfingers and Whoppers.
She looks at you, still sad with Santana on her mind, but confused by your gesture.
“She’ll stop being such a dummy and she’ll be back before you know it,” you say. You give her hand a squeeze and she knows you don’t really mean anything beyond support and friendship.
“What makes you think that?”
“It sucks right now for you both, but only because you couldn’t bear to leave each other.”
She smiles. This time, you see the hope glow faintly in her eyes.