For Tina Cohen-Chang, Mondays usually means that she has to set her alarm for six, but doesn't have to actually wake up until six thirty. However, the dull heat of summer is sweeping itself across Lima, Ohio. School has been out of session for a couple of weeks, and all remnants of a militant schedule has been vaporized.
It's noon when Tina begins stirring in her bed. She's swaddled like an infant by her thin white sheets and it's a struggle to untangle herself. After she's free, Tina lays in bed as if the only thing on the agenda for the day is to peacefully exist on top of snug sheets and soft pillows. There's no angry mom busting into her room ranting about how Tina has missed the bus, no dad knocking on her door and asking if she wants breakfast, and no boyfriend calling to report how well he is settling in his new dorm. It's just Tina.
After about thirty minutes, Tina pushes herself into a sitting position, but immediately seems to want to plop back down. Instead, she trudges across the room to finally get herself together.
It takes longer than usual to get ready. Running her hands through her glossy black hair, Tina checks herself one last time in the mirror. She's going for a simple aesthetic today with a high wasted short skirt and light tank top, but it's more of an attempt to not sweat all over her clothes than it is a fashion statement. Before long, she shoulders a tote bag and makes her way out of the house.
Once she leaves, the slow haze of her morning is left behind and the fast paced world around her begins to speed her up like a steaming cup of coffee.
Cars, traffic, honks among honks among honks. There are people everywhere: couples holding hands or sharing ice cream, parents squabbling as they walk shop to shop, teenagers at a loss of what to do without school or jobs. Birds chirping, like the ones outside of her window, but now they are as erratic as the rest of the world, flapping their wings and jumping around at every blare of a car horn that interrupts their thoughts.
Tina weaves her car through the streets until the evergreen of the park trees loom over her. She quickly finds a parking spot, the gravel kicked up from her tires, and slams the car door behind her.
It doesn't take long until she sees her friends.
Sugar Motta lets out a war cry (that sounds suspiciously like Xena's) as she carries Brittany on her shoulders in some sort of land version of Chicken Fight. Rory and Sam chase them down (separately, much to Tina's disappointment), but soon Rory trips and falls face first into the ground. He lets out a string of curses as Joe stops to help him back up. Off to the side, Blaine throws his hands in the air and yells "I give up!"
Tina giggles as she runs up to Artie on the sideline and nearly knocks him over in her burst of excitement.
"Woah, woman! Watch where you're going!" Artie sputters out, but with each word his aggravation seems to evaporate until he's laughing alongside Tina.
"I thought we were playing football today?" Tina says as she points to the other few members of New Directions on the field.
"Uh, that is football," he points to the very ball in question that is being thrown like hot potato between Sugar and Brittany as they run down the field again.
"I'm pretty sure that's not how you play."
"Well, we were playing for real, but Brittany said the rules were too confusing and started doing whatever. Everyone else sort of just followed."
Tina and Artie only stand on the sidelines (imagined as no one thought to bring spray paint or tape to actually solidify the boundaries) for a few minutes. Soon, they join in the game as well.
There is no semblance of time as they toss the ball back and forth and tackle each other to the ground in fits of laughter. It was a push and pull existence of just the eight of them. At school, Tina always saw kids attempt to surround themselves with hundreds of friends and floated clique to clique. But, honestly, this is enough for her.
It is about five when they decide to call a break and lay out in the last hours of sun.
Tina is drenched in sweat at this point. Every surface and spot of skin has a dull sheen that glows under the falling sunlight. A few bruises and grass stains mark her body, but she agrees with Sam, the captain of their football "team", when he had jokingly called them badges of honor. After all, it wasn't every day that Tina got run over by Artie Abrams' wheelchair after he made a particularly nice save and scored a touchdown.
Now that she is no longer moving and allows the grass to cushion her like her soft bed at home, Tina feels the effects of the day wear her down. It is like she ran for miles beyond her body's capabilities, but couldn't bring herself to stop or care during.
She can hear faint talking, but her ears don't register the noise anymore. Not now. Not now that she is finally getting another respite from the commotion of life.
It's nice to do this. To just… Exist.
"I think that one look like a bunny."
Tina let her face roll to the side. Sam is laying next to her with his body covered with the scent of Earth. Dirt peppers his skin as if it was worn down completely to a dull fatigue. His eyes, however, sparked with energy.
"That cloud, right there," he lifts his stubby finger to jab upwards. Tina's eyes trail up his arm, his hand, and then to the sky.
"I guess," Tina squints and then cocks her head. She feels the haze of nothingness lifting itself off of her. "Actually, no, it looks like a moose."
Sam grins, his smile slow as it spreads across his face. He looks kind of goofy, laid out covered in grass stains and sweat but smiling like he has been given some sort of gift.
"Nothing. It's just no one's ever really challenged my cloud deduction skills."
"Well, they should, because that wisp of cloud, right there?" Now she's pointing up, and Sam trail his eyes up her arm, lingering longer than Tina's did, before looking back up at the cloud in question. "That is definitely an antler."
"Mm. I can see it."
They don't talk much after that, and Tina falls back into her haze of existence where no one needs anything of her. She is slowly dragged out when it's dark and her friends begin pushing themselves off the ground.
Later that night, as she piles her hair onto her head and turns on Hawaii 5-0, she Skypes with Mike as he regales his day in fine detail. How well he's fitting in and making friends already. Sometime after, she tells him a bit about her day, although he stops her about halfway through when she talks about the football game.
"Isn't that dangerous? You could've got hurt, Tina!"
Tina shrugs, and doesn't bother telling him about her badge-of-honor bruises. Instead, she cuts the story short and asks Mike to tell her more about dance school. He complies.
Tina lets his words wash over her like the warm summer night air. His speech is like background music, slowly pushing her thoughts down, and so she let herself sink in his speech as the night grew old.
As time drags on, Tina finds herself less and less likely to get out of her room and do something. When her friends don't plan a big event or call her or even just appear on her doorstep only to raid her fridge, she finds herself complacent with laying on her bed and doing nothing.
"You're complacent about a lot of things," Mercedes jokes one day when the two lounge in Tina's living room with a bowl of popcorn on the coffee table. Their feet are tangled up despite the searing and unrelenting heat.
Tina throws some freshly buttered popcorn at Mercedes who giggles and flings some back.
"Stop, I like this part," Mercedes holds out her hands in defeat and Tina turns back to their movie. When she sees what is going on, she scoffs and playfully kicks Mercedes' leg.
"You just like it because he's half-naked," Tina chides. The two are watching Thor, and the title character is waltzing around without a shirt.
"Of course; that boy is fine," Mercedes lifts her hand in the form of giving "praise" like Artie does all the time in Glee Club. Tina giggles again.
"I'll agree to that. He's got nice abs."
"And, while I love me some loving from men that can match my chocolate thunder, I have to admit I have a soft spot for blonds," Mercedes reaches for some more popcorn.
"Like Sam?" Tina teases as she prods Mercedes' leg with her big toe.
Mercedes flinches. She then pops the rest of the snack into her mouth and chews slowly.
"Tina, if I tell you something, will you promise not to tell anyone?" Tina sits up. The banter is gone once she notices her friend is sitting up straighter. There is no graceful slope of comfort in her posture. It's rigid, and suddenly Tina feels sapped out of her haze.
"Yeah, I promise. Is everything okay?" Tina places a hand on her friend's shoulder.
"I just. I think I have to break up with Sam."
"Wait, what? Why?"
Mercedes purses her lips and fiddles with the bottom fold of her shirt before turning to look Tina in the eye.
"I'm leaving for college soon. Sam's sweet, but I don't think we can handle long distance."
"Don't say that. You can always give it a try? Me and Mike are."
"You and Mike are different. You're the kind of couple that can last," Mercedes rolls her eyes as if it is the most obvious thing in the world. "But I already broke it off with Sam once because the distance was too much. This isn't a new problem."
"Have you talked to Sam about this?" Tina blindly grabs for some more popcorn.
"I've been hinting about it. I think he knows I'm planning on it but he hasn't said anything. I… Honestly, I feel bad doing this to him twice," Mercedes sighs. "I feel like some sort of villain. I should have thought about this more before we tried it again."
"You care about him, don't you?" Tina tilts her head towards Mercedes. The two girls retain eye contact for a few brief moments before Mercedes closes her eyes and sighs.
"Yeah. More than I want to."
"Then talk to him. Tell him how you're feeling and let it all out. It's bad to keep this stuff bottled up."
Mercedes smiles, or attempts to, before it falters on her face. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Tina smiles, and then playfully smacks her lips. "Now, enough about boys. Or, the ones in our life, at least," she laughs as she turns the volume up on the movie. The two of them snuggle back into the couch, comfortable, as if all the energy in the room that had built up has been snapped away.
A week later, Mercedes breaks up with Sam. It's a short talk, but both parties are understanding. There is no yelling, but no attempts to go long distance. It's amicable at best.
Mercedes regales the story in suppressed tears to Tina over the phone. The best she can do in response is promise her friend a shopping trip later in the week. The idea of two of her friends breaking up seemed to snap something inside of Tina. It leaves her wondering about a lot of things in her life.
"Do you hate me for breaking up with you?" Tina decides to ask one bright sunny day. She reaches into her pocket to count out the money needed to buy a movie ticket to distract herself while she waits for the answer she has been dreading all week.
"Um, well, it just sort of happened," Artie adjusts his glasses as the two move up in line.
"That's not really an answer."
"Well, yeah, I was mad. But I was more interested in getting you back than being mad at you." Tina lifts her head as a slow smile spreads on her face.
"You wanted me back?"
"Well, yeah. I felt like we hit a brick wall, but, like, that brick wall wasn't supposed to be there."
"I'm guessing the brick wall was Mike?"
"Yeah. He was a giant smooth dancing brick wall with nice abs. It's kind of hard to compete with that," He snorts. It is good natured, though, if his fond smile is anything to judge by.
"You're a nice person, Artie. That's something that's hard to compete with."
"Mike's nice, too, though," Artie shrugged. He doesn't seem particularly bothered by the conversation, but Tina can't help but wince at how determined Artie is to put himself down. Tina's knee-jerk reaction would be to tell him that he's nicer than Mike, but she chides herself since that is a terrible thing to say. They are exes. Mike's her boyfriend. She shouldn't willingly tell her ex that he's nicer than the man she's dating. Besides, it's not true, is it?
"How can I help you?" The ticket lady drones.
"One ticket for Chernobyl Diaries, please," she says. After they get their tickets and refreshments, they settle into their movie. As the title card appears on the big screen, Tina immerses herself in the movie and lets all other thoughts fall to the wayside.
Unfortunately, her life isn't a movie. It goes on beyond two hours. It goes on and she has to live every second. Most of those seconds she is cooped up in her room, surfing the net, or reading. And, in those moments, she finds that no matter how much she wants to leave her brain and escape all the thoughts that plague her, it just doesn't work.
Summer moves on. People move away. There's only a handful of New Directions members left, and Tina feels like the world is moving too fast and too slow at once. She Skypes regularly with Mike, but she feels like it's an hour of blankness. She doesn't feel anything anymore with him. It's becoming an obligation to get on Skype to talk to her boyfriend. An obligation. She has no idea where that word is coming from or why it's suddenly attached to her boyfriend.
"Tina, are you listening?"
Tina blinks at the hazy low quality picture of Mike on her computer.
"Yeah. Sorry, a little tired. Go on."
"If I can stay up to listen to your tirade about how Brave is the best movie of the year, then I hope you can stay up to talk to me a little," Mike says. He sounds wounded. Maybe even a little annoyed.
"I said sorry," Tina mumbles as she clicks refresh on the webpage. There is a sudden pang go guilt inside of her chest. Like a hollow drum being struck once. This is just that complacence thing Mercedes was talking about, right? She just isn't trying hard enough to be a good enough girlfriend for Mike. "Please continue," she smiles, forced, but she is determined to not mess up.
He talks for another thirty minutes before finishing with a flourish about how excited he is in a new city. Tina nods along the entire time, making sure that each of her interjections are chipper enough to make her boyfriend happy. However, it doesn't take long before Tina is moving mechanically, like she has fallen asleep with her eyes wide open. Or maybe they aren't open at all, and her summer has been nothing but a dream.
Her summer hasn't been a dream. It is hazy and fluid, but everything is real. Real with consequences.
The Fourth of July sprung up fast. It's a loud holiday full of sparks and whistling and booms that fill the night sky with a rainbow of colors. Tina isn't one for crowds, so instead of going to the park like the rest of Lima, she goes to the Hummel-Hudson barbecue. They have a good view of the fireworks that will be shot at the park, and it isn't as crowded. Tina hates crowds. She hates the lack of space.
Despite her high hopes, even the Hummel-Hudson residence becomes crowded. After three hours of people drinking and eating and having fun, they huddle a lot closer. Touch each other more. A few couples go missing, or disappear only to come back a mess of hair and clothing. So, Tina hops up on the roof where Finn had set up a small viewing area for anyone who wants to be higher.
She enjoys the way the party makes a nice background noise. The voices come together and buzz. It isn't harmonious. There is no rhyme or reason. It is just a yard full of energy that seems to flow through Tina's veins. She feels more awake than she has all summer, more alert than she has in the past year, and more herself than she can ever recall.
"Is it okay if I join you?" It's like a beautiful song ends sharp. Tina looks up to see Sam's head poking above the roof, his body still clutching on the ladder.
"Yeah, sure," she says, but mostly out of courtesy. After all, it isn't her roof to claim. He hauls himself onto the roof, two bottles of something in his hand. One is already half empty.
"Want one?" Sam offers when he notices her eying it.
"Sure," she says even though she is sure it's alcohol. She doesn't have anything against the substance, but she has sworn it off for the most part ever since Rachel Berry's Trainwreck House Party Extravaganza. However, she remembers how it filled her the last time. The warmth that had licked its way through her body. Right now, in that moment, it seems like a really good idea.
Handing Tina her drink, Sam plops down next to her. He isn't too close that she feels her personal space is being invaded, but it is enough to feel the heat radiating off every inch of his skin. Suddenly, the breeze on the roof isn't enough to cool her skin.
"You staying up here for the entire thing?" Sam asks as he takes a swig of his drink.
"The fireworks? Yeah," She runs her bottom lip against her teeth. She didn't expect to talk to Sam at this party. After all, where will they start? Who is Sam anyway? All she knows about him is Glee Club drama, and that's not a reliable source at all. She has hung out with him when it came to New Directions parties, but there is always other people around to steer the conversation as Tina fades into the background.
They sit in an almost-silence. The buzzing of over-enthusiastic and slightly drunk party-goers below still provide Tina an ambient noise to her thoughts, but it isn't as loud anymore. Now, Tina can hear Sam's exhales. The sound of his bottle being placed on the roof. The soft scratching noise of his jeans against the shingles.
"You know, I used to do this all the time when I was a kid," Sam starts as he reclines onto his back with his hands behind his head. Tina is distracted by the way his arm muscles stretch taut behind his head until she realizes she has no idea what he is talking about.
"This?" Tina asks.
"My parents used to bring me up on the roof to view the fireworks when I was little. We would make a picnic out of it with coolers and," he pauses for a second. "It was fun. I know that's kind of a boring story…"
"No, it's fine. I know what you mean," Tina takes a small sip of her drink. It is like a surge of power running through her limbs. "It sounds really amazing. I don't have a lot of memories of my parents like that. I mean, we were close, but not that close. But the memories I do have sort of feel like…" She trails off as she scrunches her eyebrows in concentration.
"Sort of like magic?"
"Yeah. Something like that."
"Everything looks magical looking back."
"Not everything," Tina counters.
"Well, I mean, at least the important stuff that you want to remember forever." Sam tips his bottle Tina's way before finishing it off. There is a few seconds of silence, so Tina reclines until she is eye level with Sam. The roof is scratchy against her back, but it is nicer like this. Now, instead of a dusty tree-dotted horizon, she has an expanse of night sky that seems just an outstretch of fingers away. With nothing but sky above her, it is as if she isn't grounded at all. As if she can float on with no worries alongside the stars.
Pop! A silhouette of a rocket rises and suddenly explodes in hundreds of streaks of white. The resulting boom is loud, even from a distance. Tina is sure the land is bathed in a temporary light below, but she's too enamored with the sudden pop pop pop of different colored fireworks exploding in the night's sky. The shapes vary. Most are circular, but every now and then special shapes like hearts or stars are thrown in. It's a potpourri of colored lights.
The show goes on, colorful as a rainbow, for an indeterminable amount of time. The end is evident by it's Grand Finale. The fireworks are no longer evenly spaced out. Instead, they are shot off all together. Instead of tiny dots of stars tracing patterns, the sky seems to be a raging fire of color.
"I always love this part!" Sam shouts over the display. Tina tugs her eyes away from the show to look over at Sam. He is bathed in light. Every strand of hair and eyelash is thrown into an extreme contrast. Honestly, he doesn't look real. He looks like he had stepped out of a renaissance painting.
"Me too," she agrees, but she doesn't think she said it loud enough. However, Sam turns to her, smiling, as the fireworks sizzle off to a finish.
"What?" he asks, but his smile is so large the word was barely distinguishable.
He really does have a large mouth, Tina thinks as her eyes lazily droop down his face. He probably has a lot of control over…
"You okay?" Sam asks. His smile drops down a level or two, but he still looks radiant.
"I'm fine. It's just. That was a really good show," Tina mutters. Her eyes flick back up Sam's face to meet his eyes and he seems to take notice of the movement.
It's weird. The show left her dazed, but she feels a low humming energy running through her limbs. Maybe it is from the alcohol. Or maybe it is from the excitement of the fireworks. Either way, the energy seems to coil deep inside her as she watches Sam lean towards her. She doesn't think about what he's doing. About what she's doing. Instead, her heart beat quickens as he gets closer and closer and closer until suddenly their lips are grazing.
There aren't more fireworks. There is just Sam's lips against her own. They are soft, just testing out how his lips slot against hers. He pushes closer and Tina's nose smushes against Sam's cheek.
It's official. The Summer heat has finally fried Tina's brain. She feels like she has been short circuited and all coherent thoughts are replaced by Sam's lips. When his hand trails up her arm and causes a wake of goose-bumps, Tina snaps back.
This is wrong. Bad. Mike. I didn't even… What about Mike? Also, Sam and Mercedes just broke up, so did he just kiss me as a rebound? Oh, God, we kissed. The energy that has been seeping through her veins is now a strong surge of panic. It must have shown on her face because Sam lifts his hands up as if he has been caught by the police.
"I- I'm sorry if that was uncalled for. I thought you were sending me signals to kiss you and… No, I'm sorry, I'm just. Wow, I really suck at this…" His words tumble out of his mouth like spitfire, but Tina doesn't pay attention. Instead, she sits up and gathers her bag that had been cast off to the side without looking at Sam.
"Wait, Tina, I'm sorry! Look, that was dumb, but please don't go!" He calls out again, but by the time he finishes, she is already half way down the ladder.
I have to tell Mike.
Tina must have said that sentence to herself dozens of times. This kiss consumes her thoughts like a nest of angry hornets that poke and prod and sting her consciousness with an unrelenting feeling of guilt until she can't concentrate anymore. How can she concentrate? Sam Evans had kissed her. He had kissed her and she doesn't know what to do with that. What does a person do with that? What did that kiss even mean?
… Not that it matters, anyway. She's with Mike. She's also a terrible girlfriend, apparently. This is, what, the second time she's cheated in two relationships?
That was cheating, right?
She slumps in her seat as her computer boots up. There is no way Tina can hold off telling Mike. It's already been a week since The Kiss, and Tina is already becoming nothing more than a shell of a person housing nothing but self-deprecating thoughts.
When she opens Skype and starts the video call to Mike, Tina hesitates. How will she explain The Kiss? She doesn't know what to think about it, but more because she hasn't allowed herself to think about what it means. How is she supposed to explain something she doesn't understand?
When he comes up, pixelated but smiling, Tina doesn't tell him about The Kiss right away. Or at all.
That night, Tina lays awake in bed for hours.
Elbow deep into a chip bag, Tina tries to balance her cellphone on her shoulder. It doesn't stop ringing until Tina is reclining on the couch with a mouthful of crunchy chips.
"Why, hello, Tina. I'm glad you called," comes Kurt's voice. It is overly sweet and dressed up. Tina knows not to trust that voice by now.
"I'm not doing that fashion project you want me to model for," Tina says as she finishes munching her chips. There is a long-suffering sigh from Kurt.
"Are you sure? You would be perfect!"
Tina rolls her eyes and changes the channel to Nickelodeon. Yeah, sure, she is perfect. Except he made the designs with someone Brittany's height and Quinn's weight in mind, so Tina would have to lose pounds to fit.
"Yes, I'm sure."
"Fine. So, why did you call?" Tina sits up a little straighter as she hears Kurt yell at someone in the background.
"Well, I need some advice. And, you're kind of the only person I can ask." She winces at her wording, but it's true. She needs help on how to deal with The Kiss and Mike, but she has an extremely limited pool of people she is even remotely comfortable talking about this with. She can't ask the New Directions girls together because they are gossip mongrels. Mercedes is the biggest gossip, but she can't tell her anyway since she and Sam are recent exes. She's not really good friends with the other girls, and her hang outs with the guys are limited to her just being there because she's Mike's girlfriend. She's friends with Artie, but it's sort of a complicated friendship. While Kurt is pretty much the only person she can talk to about this, she's not particularly troubled. He's great at advice… Sometimes.
Kurt makes a hum of interest, so Tina takes that as a prompt to continue.
"I kind of did something… Well, no, I did. Reciprocate. Kind of…" Tina trails off.
"I have no idea what you're saying, Tina."
"I kissed someone and-"
"Well, he kissed me, actually!"
"Tina!" She can hear a chair scraping and a door slamming on Kurt's side of the line. "You're with Mike!"
"I know that!" Tina flops down on the couch. She hurts her head a little against the armrest, but she can't bring herself to care. "I need advice on how to tell him!"
"You tell him by just saying what happened! Do you like this guy?"
"No. I mean, I never thought about him like that…"
"Wait, do I know him?"
There is a pause.
"Is it someone in the New Directions?"
"Kurt, I don't want to talk about who it is."
"Oh my God. Is it Finn?"
"What? No! Kurt, stop. I'm just really confused because it's not like the kiss was bad. It was sort of thrilling." Tina waits for a few seconds, but Kurt does't interrupt. "It surprised me. I mean, he came at me slow, so I knew what he was doing and what we were doing, but I just got caught up? I don't know. But, how do I say that to Mike? 'Another guy kissed me and I sort of kissed back and it was nice but please don't be mad'?"
"Just tell him everything. Who it was, what happened, and how you felt. You have to communicate these things now or it will blow up in your face later. Trust me on this," Kurt sighs. "I never thought I would have this conversation with you."
"What? Didn't think I was a harlot?" Tina snorts.
"No, I just thought. Y'know. You and Mike were kind of like the perfect couple in Glee. It was cute and also kind of infuriating."
"We have troubles too just like everyone else. Just because we don't use our very few solo opportunities to voice our fight of the week doesn't mean we don't."
"No, stop, you're ruining too many illusions. I liked thinking about perfect Mike and Tina's wedding that looked like a Kodak Moment."
Tina giggles, but lets it trail off as she lets their words sink in. Because, honestly? She and Mike really don't fight often. Usually if there's disagreement, Mike thinks of a compromise and the problem gets swept under the rug.
Kurt gives her a few more pointers and some encouraging words before he hangs up. Tina spends the rest of that day and week planning what she will say. When her weekly chat with Mike comes around, she tries making a Word document outline of points to cover. It looks something like this:
The Kiss Situation
I. Get Mike on Skype
A. Make sure he's in a good mood
B. Ask him about his day
II. TELL HIM
Obviously, she doesn't get very far into planning before he comes online.
They start talking and Mike is in a good mood. Or, at least, he was. After ten minutes, he starts pausing a lot more.
"Are you okay?"
"Huh? What do you mean?" Tina tries to keep a smile on her face, but it is harder than usual.
"You look strained. Is everything alright?"
"It's…" Tina sighs. It is now or never. Well, later instead of never, but if she has to live another day without telling Mike about The Kiss she might scream. "No, it's not alright."
"I did something. It was bad, and I want to tell you. I need to tell you."
"Tina, you're scaring me a little. What's up?"
"At the fireworks party a little while ago- you remember me telling you about that, right? At Finn and Kurt's? Well, Sam kissed me." Just like that, it is out in the open. The Kiss that had been haunting Tina's dreams and following her like a shadow of shame. It seems like such a simple statement now that she has told Mike. Sam kissed her. It issn't this abstract event that is pressing down on her thoughts. It's something that simply happened. Something that had wrapped its arms around her body and strangled her as long as she ignored it. Now that she is thinking about it, the phantom touch of Sam Evans' lips sends a shiver down her spine.
"Did you kiss him back?" Mike's lips are brought together into a thin line.
"I," she starts. Tina closes her eyes for a brief second and lets the memories of the night of fireworks and Sam wash over her. "Not really."
"Not really?" He repeats. There is a bubbling anger that is just below his skin. Tina leans back against the chair to put some space between herself and the monitor. She feels like his eyes are boring into her skull.
"How can you 'not really' kiss someone?"
"It's hard to explain, Mike. He caught me by surprise."
"He caught you by sur..? Did he force himself on you?"
"No! God, no! Sam's not like that!" Tina grips the desk's edge in front of her. She needs to explain this right. "I'm telling you this because I don't want to keep secrets from you."
"Oh, great, you want to be honest. Why did you kiss Sam, then?"
"I didn't kiss him. He kissed me."
"Does it really matter, Tina?"
"Yes, it does!"
"Well, I don't think it does matter. The fact is that you cheated. No amount of dancing around the subject changes that."
"I'm not dancing around the subject. I told you, I'm trying to be honest. I'm trying to tell you what I'm thinking!"
"So, what are you thinking of right now? Are you thinking about him?"
Tina grips the edge harder. "No. I'm thinking you're not giving me a chance to explain." She feels like she is suffocating under blankets upon blankets of pressure.
"I am giving you a chance! Right now, Tina, go ahead! Explain yourself!"
Sam and I kissed. And I know we're together, but I enjoyed that kiss? Yes, I definitely enjoyed what little I experienced. It was nice. Exciting. It was the most excited I ever felt kissing someone. There was no dull feeling of affection in my belly. There were fireworks. Tingles. The kind of stuff fairy tales say about kisses but you resign yourself to plain smooches because you never experience the good kind. I don't want to run off and suddenly kiss Sam all of the time because I still care about you and that's why the kiss has been driving me nuts. How can I care so much about you but you never make me feel that way? How come I felt so alive kissing some guy I hardly know, but not my boyfriend of two years? I'm so confused about this and I would really appreciate if you stop yelling at me and instead pay attention to me and talk this through with me!
She can't bring herself to speak.
"I care about you," is all she can say.
"You obviously don't care about me enough if you kind of," he spits those words out like venom. "kissed Sam."
"We can't talk if you're going to be like this." I want to talk like we used to. Like the first time we had sex. You listened to me, let me voice my thoughts. We actually talked instead of having a one sided brick wall conversation. Mike, please, give me a few moments to collect my thoughts. It's hard enough for me to speak without having you yelling at me. You know this about me. I thought you knew this about me.
"Be like what? Tina, I'm trying to talk to you but you keep deflecting!"
"I liked the kiss with Sam. It was nice," she mutters, her eyes downcast as she lets go of the edge of the desk. "But, I love you."
He doesn't speak this time. He has no retort for her. He is no longer yelling. Instead, Tina looks up to see Mike's face scrunched up, hurt, as if Tina had punched him repeatedly in the gut. It is then, for the first time that night and certainly not last, that Tina feels tears well up and fall down her face.
"I loved you, too."
Past tense. Like it's over. Like the thread that connects them has been brutally severed.
"I can't deal with this anymore tonight, Tina. I'm going to bed. Goodnight." With a few clicks, Mike disappears from her screen. He might as well have disappeared from her life.
Tina spends the next few hours letting sobs rock her to sleep.
From: Mike <3
We can't be together anymore
The final message comes in the morning. Tina pours her cereal and takes few bites when her phone buzzes. After that, she isn't very hungry.
The next few days, Tina doesn't feel like getting out of the house. However, that doesn't stop other people from coming over. Mercedes appears on her doorstep and all but pushes Tina out of the way as she prepares what she calls "comfort food." It is basically an assortment of ice cream and cookies and things that are pretty much the worst to eat. Naturally, the two of them make a fortress out of the living room and eat almost everything Mercedes brought over.
Kurt had come over with more of his designs to try and cajole Tina into participating in his project. When she says no for the millionth time, Kurt doesn't seem bothered by her answer like he was before. Instead, he seems content to just rifle through her closet and coordinate some of her clothes. His excitement as he throws shirts and accessories Tina never would have thought to put together is infectious. She feels herself laughing along with him as he talks about some of the disasters he has faced living with Finn.
(He conveniently doesn't say anything about Sam.)
Artie calls her up and asks her to come hang out at the mall with him and Puck. While she is not really a friend of Puck's, she also remembers she needs new comfort shoes, and decides to go with them. Tina finds herself staying quiet most of the time, but she knows that she's snorted from laughing so hard at least once.
The problem is that every time Tina hangs out with someone, they leave eventually. And, when they leave, Tina feels even more alone than before.
"Do you think there's something wrong with me?" Tina scrubs her cheeks with acne cream and winces at the texture scraping her skin. Mercedes looks up from her magazine with an eyebrow raised.
"I just," she sighs and caps the bottle before walking back towards the bed and plopping down next to Mercedes. "I don't know what to do with myself anymore."
"Congratulations, you're like the rest of us," Mercedes bends the magazine back to display a page of nail polish colors to Tina. "Okay, quick: which color? I need something new and Kurt won't shut up about mint."
"Mint would fit you, though."
"Ugh, but then I would need an entirely new wardrobe. I don't have a lot that'll coordinate well." Mercedes sighs and then flips the page as she lays on her side.
"How'd you feel? You know… After?" Tina fiddles with the edges of the towel on her head.
"After what? Me and," Mercedes stops short and bit her bottom lip. "Well, neither of us kissed anyone else. I mean, before we broke up," She winces at that last part. "Look, me and Sam broke up because it was our next step. It was natural and not because I went and smooched another guy. I'm not saying you're terrible…"
"I am," Tina interrupts.
"No, you're not. I just think you need time. To deal. Like, I know if some hottie kissed me and threw me for a loop even though I was a taken woman, I would be second guessing myself, too." Tina couldn't help but laugh a little as she takes a small throw pillow and swats Mercedes.
"Well, hey, just because we broke up doesn't mean he stops being hot." They dissolve into giggles and playful swatting until Mercedes suggests they have a sing-off, wii style.
Tina loses herself in the music that night. It is like a cleansing flow ebbs through her joints as she sings about someone else's pain and emotions that all too clearly mirror her own. For the first time in weeks, she feels peace ripple through her body.
♪♫ Confusion never stops, closing walls and ticking clocks ♪♫
After that night, Tina decides she has to take action. She can't just wallow and let summer slip through her fingers. But, she is at a loss of what to do. She racks on hours upon hours of internet searching and just sitting in her room and thinking, but she only comes to one conclusion.
She has to talk to Sam.
The problem is that when she finds herself standing on the Hummel-Hudsons' doorstep, she realizes she has no idea what she is going to say. Thankfully, she is given a little extra time because Kurt opens the door.
"Hey, Tina!" He opens the door all of the way and the smell of cookies drifts her way. It makes Tina want to forget what she came for.
"Hey. I actually came to talk to Sam. Real quick. Are you making cookies?" Kurt leans against the doorframe with his arms crossed. Tina feels a little unnerved under his piercing stare.
"I'll go get him," He says after a momentary silence and turns to go back in the house before calling over his shoulder, "And, yes! If you stay long enough you can have some!"
Tina sighs and leans against the house as a light breeze caresses her skin. The shade from the trees gives her body a much needed reprieve from the sun.
"Hey," Sam shuffles out of the door with his hands in his pockets. "Nice day, isn't it?" He squints as he looks up to see the sun through parts in the overgrowth.
"Yeah. Hot," Tina feels like crawling in a hole and hiding. She didn't come here to talk about the weather. She came here to talk about-
"I'm guessing you're here to talk about how I kissed you?"
"Look, I'm sorry," he starts. "Like, really sorry. I don't really know a lot about what's going on with you and Mike besides what I've heard…"
"We broke up."
Sam stares at her for a few seconds before bringing a hand to run through his hair.
"Wow, I really do ruin everything don't I? I can't seem to get a girlfriend without cheating being involved and now I helped instigate it for someone else," Sam lets his back hit the wall of the house. The two of them are side by side with nothing but a door between them.
"We have that in common," Tina huff.
"I wish we didn't."
"Yeah, me too."
Tina looks down to her feet and shuffles them. She really doesn't know what to say here, but she has to do something. He's part of the reason her life has been thrown upside down. Instead of adding anything more to the conversation, they both just stand in a slightly uncomfortable silence. Tina can hear the rest of the world moving on with their business from the whispers of the wind to the birds chirping and fluttering above their heads. How come she can't get a handle on herself when everything else can?
"You're kind of… Dorky," Tina shifts and turns to look at Sam. He doesn't reply, but instead stays silent so she can finish. His patience encourages her to continue. "I don't really know a lot about you besides what goes on in Glee Club, and I try not to judge people on their Glee Club gossip. I do know that you're a good guy. Or, you seem to be. I mean, you left home to help us win and take Nationals. That's got to count for something, right?"
"It wasn't that hard," he interrupts, a little red faced. "I mean, I love my parents, but music is my passion. I could end up working in a boring desk job for the rest of my life, but as long as I have my guitar, I don't really care." There's a spark in his eyes. The drive of a musician. Tina knows all too well the safe comfort of music. It helped her to stop stuttering and running away from people. To accept herself.
"I know what you mean. I really like performing, but I kind of have… Issues standing my ground."
"You're pretty talented, though. Broadway bound, probably. I'm more at the level of a street performer."
"That's… Nice of you to say, but I can't even fight for a solo in Glee Club when it's for fun. How would I ever make it to Broadway?"
"By singing. Blowing everyone else away who happens to be louder with pure talent."
"Okay, I take back what I said. You are definitely a great guy. It's been a long time since I've heard anyone say that about my voice and not expect anything from me in return," Tina feels her cheeks flush slightly, but ignores the sensation in favor of giving Sam her undivided attention. He seems to be reading her, or trying to with the way he has his face scrunched up in concentration.
"You know, I haven't been in Glee since the beginning," he starts. "I wasn't an original kid or whatever you guys call yourselves. But, I have noticed that not a lot of you believe in yourselves. If my contribution to Glee Club is that I push you guys to realize how fucking amazing you are, then I'm okay with that. And, if that makes me a good guy? Then I'm also okay with that."
Tina smiles at him, wide and shameless. He returns the gesture with his own smile that crinkles his droopy puppy dog eyes.
"Oh, Kurt and his dad are making cookies, by the way. Do you…?" He gestures inside the house. Tina laughs.
"Yes, I would love that."
She follows him into the house, and, soon, they are all curled up in the living room watching a television program not everyone agrees on. Tina is squished between Kurt and Sam as she nibbles her deliciously fresh cookies, and finds herself relaxing into the conversation. It ranges from some football hit mess she has never heard of to college and graduation.
Tina finishes the last of her cookie as everyone breaks off into their own conversations. Kurt nudges her with his shoulder.
"Hey. You feeling okay?"
"Yeah, I'm…" She pauses. "You know, it's funny, with all the excitement of you guys graduating, I've never thought of any schools for myself." Kurt raises his eyebrows.
"But, I saw you pouring over college listings all year last year."
"That was all for Mike," Tina sighs and adjusts herself into a slightly more comfortable sitting position. "I didn't even think of looking up stuff for myself."
"After the fiasco that was me and Rachel's NYADA adventures, I really think you and everyone else in Glee Club should really band together and research that stuff. If you do it during club hours, just sing a bunch of party songs and Mr. Schue won't know the difference."
Tina couldn't help but laugh. "Yeah. Ke$ha is totally on topic for a college theme, right?"
"I'll go research and come back with the details," Kurt murmurs with a wink.
"No, but, even though I don't know where exactly I want to go, I do know that I want to be either on the East Coast or West Coast."
"If you go to New York, I promise you at least a night's crash on my couch," He nudges her shoulder, a small smile on his face. However, he quickly sobers up. "But, beyond that, you would have to pay rent."
"I'll keep that in mind," she says with a smile.
Over the next couple of weeks, Tina dives into research. She wants more from her life than just lounging on the couch and griping about the past. She needs a future. A future that keeps her in the spotlight and never lets her fade into the background.
That's why when Tina finds out about auditions for a local production of The King and I, she dashes to put her name down.
When the day of the audition comes around, the bundle of excitement at the prospect of finally getting out there to grab her dreams becomes more of a bundle of anxiety.
"Hey, Tina! It's kind of early, isn't it?"
Tina hitches the phone higher on her shoulder as she rummages through her closet. "Hey, Sam," she says as she considers a low-cut maroon shirt. "Sorry, I'm just a little… Jumbled." There is a beat of silence as Tina throws down the shirt in favor of bringing out a brown colored dress. "I know we haven't exactly talked very often. I mean, we've been talking a lot since that whole… Fireworks Thing day."
"You mean the Fourth of July?" He laughs.
"Yeah, that," she can't help but smile and roll her eyes. "Anyway… You were really nice to me, and it really helped me. Think and stuff. You said some things that… I'm not making any sense, am I? God, I really suck at talking to people."
"Well, I have all day, so take your time. Also, I don't think you suck at talking. It's interesting, at least."
Tina sighs and holds up the dress so she can see it in combination with her already finished make-up and hair. "Well, I have an audition today."
"Congratulations! What's it for?"
"King and I. I've been wanting… No, I've always wanted to perform. Ever since I was a little kid and saw women like Britney Spears taking the stage. But, I have, like, no experience."
"What about West Side Story last year?"
"Well, yeah, but I want a lead role this time to show people that I'm not just another background performer."
"I'm sure you'll get it, then."
"Yeah, but… I'm kind of nervous? I mean, I've never auditioned for something big like this. And, Mercedes is getting ready to move to her dorm, so it's not like I can ask her for moral support. Kurt's about to leave, too…"
"Do you want me to be there?" Tina can hear the playfulness in his voice, the eager excitement. Tina feels a rush of relief that she doesn't even have to offer.
"I would love that."
After giving him the details and finally getting her appearance together so that she isn't so flashy that she doesn't look the part, but flashy enough to catch the director's eye, Tina makes her way to the local theater.
After pretending to play on her phone for about ten minutes, Sam shows up to shower her with praise. She feels warm around the edges as if she has been curled up in front of a fireplace on a warm winter's day. After another thirty minutes, her name is called, and Sam huggs her for good luck.
There is a nervous thrum of energy coursing through her veins. As she takes her stance under the spotlight, the Director addresses her. She can barely see him, hidden in the shadows, so she squints and concentrates. She sees his face, uninterested as he tap tap taps his pen against his leg. Tina swallows heavily as she stutters out her chosen song to audition for. His eyes flicker up at her face for a moment before sitting back in his seat not even bothered with writing any notes down.
A movement off to the side catches her eye. That blond hair.. Yes, that's Sam. Is he giving her a thumbs up?
Tina can't help smiling at how Sam looks like he is at a football game cheering on his Home team. All that's missing is the war paint.
"You may start now, Miss Cohen-Chang," The director calls out.
She tries to put everything she is feeling, past and present, into a molten ball at the pit of her stomach. As she hums, preparing herself to sing, she tries focusing all of her energy into this one song. She wants to show everything she had to offer. She wants to shine.
Tina opens her mouth and lets the words hang in the air as if painted by some great artist. She wants every single word to hit the director, to hit everyone in the auditorium with the weight of a thousand bricks.
♪♫ Make believe you're brave / And the trick will take you far / You may be as brave / As you make believe you are…. ♪♫
After four months of practice and two weekends of performing, The King and I is over. Tina doesn't want it to be over. The hot feeling of the spotlight on her skin had been intoxicating as she knew every pair of eyes was on her as she delivered her lines and opened her mouth to sing. It has captivated her heart, and now it's over.
Patting her hair down, Tina drops off her costume before exiting the building. When she makes it outside, a crisp breeze washes over her skin. It is no longer overly humid as the approach of Autumn crawls its way across Lima. Tina no longer has to worry about the laziness of Summer. Instead, she is focused on making her senior year more productive than her past three years combined.
Flash! An illumination off to her side makes Tina jump. Standing a few feet away in a light jacket is Sam Evans. His eyes are crinkled, almost crescent moons, as he lowers his camera.
"I can't let the star leave without a few shots," he calls as he walks towards her. "What kind of paparazzi would I be?"
Tina lets herself laugh until he gets close. So close she can smell the cologne on his body.
"A pretty bad one, I would wager," Tina murmurs as she leans in and places a chaste kiss on his cheek. "Hi."
"Hey," he wraps an arm around her waist and starts to lead him to his car. "So, after party?"
"Milly is having an all out bash at her house, but, I don't know if I want to go," Tina leans her head against Sam's shoulder and lets him guide her to the passenger's side.
"What? Why not?"
"Well," Tina straightens up and lets her hands slowly make their way up Sam's arms. They finally rest on his shoulders when she brings herself to her tippy-toes and lets her lips touch his. There's a spark that settles on the two of them. It ignites their insides, but, most of all, their mouths as Sam reacts by swiping a tongue just inside her lips. All of the breezy air has evaporated in favor of the warmth of their pressed bodies.
Tina cuts the kiss short with a light smack!, but does not go far. Sam keeps his eyes trained on her as if there is nothing else more important than listening to her right this moment.
"As I was saying," she grins. "Tomorrow makes our one month anniversary."
"It feels longer than that. Y'know, in a good way," Sam darts a quick kiss to the corner of her mouth. "But, wait. Tomorrow is tomorrow, though…"
"I was thinking we could start celebrating a little early," and without any more prompting they kiss again. Sam grips her waist a little tighter and she grabs his shoulders as they tried to get closer. Tina doesn't feel dazed when she feels his firm lips against hers nor does she feel confused. She feels the warmth of another body, this boy that she knows is the biggest sweetheart she has ever met, and knows that he wants her. That he likes her for her.
When they realize that everyone else has already left, the two of them load up into Sam's car. Tina leans against the window and watches the world pass by. For the first time in her life, she can see the world clearly. She can see the world where she'll take the stage and bow for her adoring fans and the flashing lights of fame.
It is crystal clear and evident to Tina that she is a glowing star.