"...Why don't you come on over, Valeri-i-i-ie?"
Santana grinned as the crowd erupted into applause, hollering and calling for an encore. Sure, it was only a small bar, one of many that littered New York, yet its weekly live-music nights drew an impressive audience, locals and tourists alike cramming in for a chance to see the next big thing before their career really kicked off.
"Thank you, thank you, you've been amazing tonight..." She winced as the guitarist tripped over the microphone lead, a piercing sound filling the bar as it was tugged from its socket. Blushing underneath the playful glares being sent his way, the guitarist hurriedly plugged it back in, no desire to take the attention away from the singer's big moment. "I'm afraid we can't do any more songs, that's our time up for this week, but hopefully we'll be ba-.."
"Two beers and a rum and coke, no ice." Santana jumped, the gruff voice dragging her attention from the singer still busy thanking the crowd to the customer leaning on the bar. Forcing a smile onto her face, she fixed his drinks as quickly as possible and gratefully accepted the change as a tip. Though she knew it had been more in recognition of the lower cut she had worn tonight than her service, a tip was a tip and Santana couldn’t afford to begin refusing tips on moral grounds.
The brunette had no time to watch the band traipse off the stage as people crowded the bar, each trying to get a drink before the next act appeared. Order after order was thrown at her as customers hung over the counter, voices raised in an attempt to seize her attention and thus get served ahead of anyone else. Such a tactic never worked, as Santana despised the more obnoxious customers and would often neglect serving them for as long as she possibly could, yet the vindictive side of her chose to swallow the warning that the stick residue of spilt drinks on the bar would most likely stain their clothes. She hated the crowd on live music nights ('And you hate the fact that you're behind the bar instead of on the stage' whispered the bitter voice of a treacherous mind, ignoring her attempts at repressing such thoughts), the regular, friendly clientele with whom she could share idle conversation as she filled their orders replaced by tourists and arrogant music fans with little care for those serving their drinks.
Santana shot a glare along the bar at the other girl on her shift in between mixing what felt like her thousandth drink of the night and fetching two beers for a particularly irritating customer in a rather disgusting shirt. Hummel probably would have bleached his eyes after seeing it. Alyssa, the owner's daughter, had made it clear from their very first shift together that she couldn't stand the 'snarky bitch from Ohio' and she seemed to have made it her life's work to do as little as possible whenever the two were working together. Knowing that her family connection would prevent her from ever being fired, the redhead whiled away her shifts flirting with her boyfriend, an ever present fixture in the bar whose name Santana could never bother to remember. Honestly, she didn't understand why Alyssa didn't just ask her father to never put them onto the same shift, though suspected it was because she knew Santana would never dare report her as long as she continued to do the bare minimum. Both of them knew that the Latina needed the job more than she wanted to complain and, though she sometimes felt like a coward, Santana couldn’t bring herself to risk it.
Santana sighed wearily as the next act began to play, the crowd turning away from the bar to watch some electro band she really couldn't care less about, and grabbed a bottle of water from one of the fridges. Pausing only to mutter quickly to Alyssa that she was taking a break, she stalked out through the back of the bar to the stock room, tapping her back pocket to make sure her pack of cigarettes hadn't fallen out.
She'd had to downgrade from cigars. Too expensive.
Wrenching open the door that led out onto an alley, Santana leant in the doorway to watch the rain drizzling miserably outside and lit a cigarette with practised hands before frowning at the near emptiness of the packet. She really ought to give up the habit, her nicotine addiction eating into what little money she had left after paying her share of the rent and bills each month, yet she'd become so dependent on it recently to relieve her stress that she couldn't bear the idea of quitting.
Taking a long drag of her cigarette then exhaling slowly, tired eyes tracking the smoke as it drifted away through the shadowy alley, Santana started as her phone vibrated with a new message. Sighing, she slipped it from her pocket, thumb sliding to unlock the phone as she wondered who would be texting her so late. Part of her expected it to be Alyssa bitching at her to get back inside, not trusting the other girl to allow her even five minutes of peace.
'Te echo de menos y te quiero. B x'
Warmth flooded through Santana as she read and re-read Brittany's message, the corners of her mouth pulling up into a small smile at the words. She had never understood the blonde's ability to do that, to distract Santana from all the crap in her life with only a few words or a soft smile, yet she always found herself touched by Brittany’s comfort. Her girlfriend always seemed to sense when she was feeling particularly low, whether the two were tangled together in bed while 'star-gazing' (Brittany hated not being able to see the stars through the city lights, so had plastered their bedroom ceiling with glow-in-the-dark plastic replicas) or separated by thousands of miles.
She was glad to hear that Brittany missed her, to think that maybe the blonde felt as unbalanced by their separation, but it didn't change the fact that the she was halfway round the world. Santana’s smile dropped, the thoughts that had been plaguing her throughout her entire shift returning, and she slipped her phone back into her pocket while taking another long drag of her cigarette. She hated herself for it, but in that moment the Latina couldn’t stifle the burning envy she felt over Brittany’s fortune, whisking her around the world to as a backing dancer on tour with the latest generic pop sensation. Serving beers was never the career path on which she'd expected to end up.
Everything had fallen into place for Brittany, from the very moment the two of them had moved to New York. Santana had dropped out of Louisville after a year (with her parents' blessing - they expected it to happen, her father had told her, and were just glad she'd given college a try) to move to the city with Brittany around a month after the blonde's graduation. They'd thrown themselves into trying to 'build their dream', Brittany trekking back and forth across the city for dance auditions while Santana contacted every bar she could find that held a live music or open mic night in the hope of performing. But, while Santana received very few positive responses, forcing her to pick up several jobs to pay her half of the rent (the money her mother had given her only stretching so far), the blonde had found that every choreographer, director or musician she danced for was desperate to get her onto their projects. Quite the buzz had grown around Brittany. Santana had accompanied her to enough parties to learn that those in the know considered her a rising star in the industry and, in the words of one particularly important choreographer (tongue loosened by the unlimited champagne), 'the best thing I've seen in fucking forever'.
Only Brittany's complete innocence kept her jealousy in check. The blonde had never expected achieving her dream to happen so smoothly and she was often bewildered by her success. She'd even confessed, murmuring quietly in the Latina's ear as they sat, curled together, in a bath ready for the minute Santana trudged through the door after a closing shift (she'd nearly cried at the gesture), that she was sure it would be the other way round, that Santana's career would take off while she struggled to get anything from her auditions. "It'll happen soon," Brittany had whispered softly as the brunette relaxed in her arms. "Soon someone will see just how awesome you are and give you your chance."
Yet here she was, four years after moving to New York: waitress and shop assistant by day, bartender by night.
'Coach Sylvester would be so fucking proud,' she scoffed internally, shaking off the ash collecting at the end of her cigarette before taking another drag. Her thoughts often strayed to McKinley when she worked music nights, back to when she'd actually meant something, been someone other than one of the thousands of young hopefuls whose dreams had been crushed beneath the skyscrapers. She could only imagine how scathing some of her former classmates would be if they saw what she'd been reduced to, though she wasn't sure if it would be better or worse than the traces of sympathy, and even pity, she sometimes caught in the faces of the former Glee club members whenever they saw each other. Brittany still insisted they were all a family, and that families kept in touch, so they made sure to see all of the group throughout the year, some more regularly than others. She hated their annual Skype call with Rory - turns out the Irish boy was even harder to understand through a computer, and she often gave up after the sixth time his screen went blank, muttering darkly about 'fucking technologically incompetent leprechauns'.
She was Santana fucking Lopez, she thought bitterly as she crushed her cigarette against the damp brick of the doorway. She neither wanted nor needed their sympathy. So she was working crappy jobs instead of singing? Not everybody had as easy a route to their dream career as Brittany, but at least she still had her girlfriend, her health and a nice enough apartment. With Brittany’s earnings, they could have lived somewhere much grander, but they had both known that Santana would have come to resent her inability to pay her fair share and had decided to limit their search only to places where Santana could afford to contribute at least a third of the rent.
If she just kept her thoughts fixed on what she was lucky enough to have, rather than dwelling on what she thought she would have achieved by now, the Latina could at least make it to the safety of her own bed before breaking down.
"Santana! Get back in here, there's customers that want serving!" screeched Alyssa, her nasal voice shattering the silence coating Santana. Sighing, she slammed the alley door shut harder than was necessary, taking her anger out on cold metal even though she ached to punish her co-worker for her rudeness. God forbid Alyssa put herself out even remotely... She stopped just before she exited the stock room, taking a moment to collect herself as she plastered another fake grin across her face before walking back out into the onslaught of orders that greeted her.
Stifling a yawn with the post clenched tightly in her hand, Santana unlocked the door to her apartment and shoved it open irritably, wincing as the sound of the wood connecting with the hall wall reverberated around her already aching head. Wearily stepping inside, she blindly kicked the door closed behind her before making her way through the small open-plan apartment, dropping items as she went. The bills were thrown onto the dining table, pushed against the wall after one too many mid-dance collisions, one too many plates smashed during exuberant choreography. They could wait until tomorrow. No doubt they would put her in an excellent frame of mind to deal with fussy diners and customers who were adamant that no, that shirt really had been ripped when they bought it.
Her stomach grumbled, abnormally loud against the silence of the apartment. It had taken a few weeks to get used to the quietness after Brittany left, but after four months she had somewhat adjusted to it though. If Santana was honest with herself, not that she would ever let her girlfriend know, she had subconsciously taken to spending as little time as possible in the apartment. The glaring absence shining throughout the apartment was heavy, consuming Santana’s thoughts until she wept brokenly for her girlfriend, and moments spent shivering on a park bench were a welcome reprieve from such torture. Absently kicking her shoes off, feet screaming with exhaustion after yet another long day, Santana realised she hadn’t grabbed anything to eat since...actually, she couldn't remember eating anything all day. Her alarm had decided to run out of battery during the night and it had thrown her whole day out of joint. She'd had to get changed in the stock room of the diner after sprinting to get to her to shift on time; still, it had been worth it just to see the irritating high-schooler who worked the till faint at the sight of her in a bra, having unwittingly stumbled upon her halfway through changing.
She smirked at the memory. The ego boost had been nice.
The egg splattered over her top later that afternoon in the course of some brat’s tantrum over his mother ordering him the wrong meal, however...not so much.
Their answering machine flashed obnoxiously from the counter as she walked into the kitchen area, meaning to fix herself a small snack before bed. Five new messages, read the small screen. Maybe Brittany had rung while she'd been at work. More than anything, Santana missed talking to her girlfriend, from the silly commentary they provided to the movies they watched on the rare Sundays they both had free to the whispers of the future that floated through the air between them as they lay wrapped around one another beneath the sheets.
"Yo, lezbro! It's Puck...listen, I'm gonna be in town in two weeks, can I crash at-... message deleted."
"Hola, mija. Your father and I were just wondering if you and Brittany are planning to vi- message deleted."
"Hey, San, it's Quinn. Wanted to know what day Britt gets back, Rach and I were thinking di- message deleted."
"Hello, this is Rick Shawcross from the Sundown Lounge for Santana Lopez. Unfortunately, we have no openings for singers at the moment, but thank you for your interest in performing at the b- message deleted."
"San!" Santana grinned, tiredness lifting as Brittany’s voice filtered through the machine and filled the apartment, pushing back the shadows that lingered in her absence. "I can't wait to bring you to London one day! They have like a giant ferris wheel in the middle of the city, it's so much fun...we went on it earlier today, you can see for miles..." She chuckled at the excitement in the blonde's voice, imagining her pressed up against the glass of the London Eye, eyes wide as she took in the view. She'd been exactly the same their first time up the Empire State Building. "...and everyone here has really funny accents, like that guy who works at the diner with you. We went to see a rugby match earlier, it was brutal, like football but without all the padding. McKinley would never have won a thing if they played that instead! Oh, oh, and I had a pint at lunch! It was a really disgusting beer, but James said it was like an English tradit- end of message. To hear the message again, press 1."
She growled in frustration. The plans she had spent various shifts obsessively perfecting for Brittany’s return could wait, the first thing she was doing when her girlfriend stepped off the plane and back into her arms was taking a hammer to her phone. It had to be the most temperamental piece of technology she had ever come across, and the amount of calls it had cut short was verging on ridiculous. It was one thing to have Brittany jumping between multiple countries and only being able to speak to her at certain times, but to have the already limited amount of times they could speak reduced even further was maddening. Sighing, the brunette deleted the message and made her way to the bedroom, no longer hungry.
Santana glanced at the clock as she undressed, clothes thrown lazily onto the chair perched in the corner of the room. It was nearly three in the morning, which meant it was nearly 8am in London. She knew the time differences between New York and every stop on the tour by heart; during one particular alcohol fuelled breakdown, mere days after Brittany had left, she had recited them all repeatedly to Quinn, who very much regretted being on Santana-duty that night. Her laptop still sat on Brittany's pillow from their goodnight/good morning chat yesterday, screen pointed towards the Latina's side of the bed so they could pretend they were lying beside each other. She slid beneath the covers, rolling onto her side to face the screen as she logged into Skype, calling her girlfriend as soon as she saw she was online.
"Hey, baby," grinned the blonde, rubbing the last traces of sleep from her eyes. "How was your day?"
She shrugged. "Same old, same old. Some little shit threw egg on my top at the diner and there was a folk singer with the most irritating voice at the bar...seriously, he sounded like a mix between a dying cat and a smoke alarm that's running out of power. But apart from that, y’know, nothing else to report..."
Brittany nodded, her smile dropping slightly, but she chose not to comment on the bitterness that had seeped into her girlfriend's voice at the mention of her bar shift, not when she wasn't there to comfort her. "Were you working with Alyssa tonight?" she asked. Casual acquaintances of Brittany would have been shocked by the hard edge to the blonde’s usually calm voice, and the sour expression that flashed across her face, yet she disliked Santana's co-worker even more than Alyssa disliked Santana. At times, it was more difficult to prevent Brittany from charging into her boss’ office and complaining about his daughter’s behaviour than it was to stop herself stabbing the girl with a corkscrew. Gone was the Santana Lopez of old, willing to threaten everyone and anyone with the razor blades stashed in her hair.
"No, it was some new hire...some guy called, uh, Duncan," Santana replied, only the slightest twinge of guilt over lying as she watched the smile return to the blonde's face. "So, how was your show last night? Only a few left now, right?" she asked, as if she hadn't been crossing each date off of the giant list taped to the bedroom wall.
Brittany smirked knowingly - Santana didn't know Quinn had told her about the checklist - and nodded. "It was fantastic, as always. I don't think I'll ever get over the buzz of dancing in front of a crowd, doing what I love in front of so many..." The dancer winced, not meaning to sound like she was bragging, but Santana nodded for her to continue, a tight smile on her face. "Um, yeah, so...There's only three more shows left...we're going to Dublin tonight for the show tomorrow then two back here next week, so I'll be home next Friday!"
A week tomorrow. Santana didn't think she'd be able to maintain any semblance of calm for the next eight days, arms ready to fling themselves back round her girlfriend.
Just as she opened her mouth to reply, another female voice cut her off on the blonde's end. She couldn't really tell what was being said, but from the frown forming on Brittany's face, it seemed she was being summoned somewhere urgently. Her heart plummeted; first a broken-off phone call, and now she didn’t even get to fully enjoy her daily chat with her girlfriend?
"I'm sorry, San," Brittany muttered, a crestfallen look painted across her face. Despite the distractions of dancing and travelling, the separation was just as hard for the blonde as it was for the brunette stuck in New York. "There's been a change to the set list for tomorrow's show, so we need to go learn some new choreography..." she explained, trailing off guiltily.
"I...it's okay, babe. You go do what you need to, I'll text you later."
"Okay...have a good sleep, San. I love you."
"Love you too, Britt. Bye..." she forced out thickly, painfully swallowing as she ended the call and slammed her laptop shut. Rolling onto her back, tears pricked in the corners of her eyes as she gazed up at the plastic stars, her thoughts still three and a half thousand miles away with Brittany.
'Just eight more days. You can do this,' Santana told herself, eventually drifting into a restless sleep.