1. Yesterday's Gone
Sam awoke with the daylight as the first bright rays sifted through the blinds and into the motel room. He didn't get out of bed right away; he still felt as though he were half-asleep. He wanted to return to the dream he'd woken up from, but try as he might, there was no going back.
He sat up slowly and looked around the room at his parents and siblings. They had yet to wake up, and he envied them for it. He wanted so badly to drift back to sleep, to forget once again what had happened to him and his family over the past few months – to forget the humiliation he felt at being accused of convincing two of his friends to cheat on their boyfriends with him when all he'd done was accept their help.
The alternative was to face all of that pain full-force, and to remember that, of all his so-called friends at McKinley, only Quinn and Kurt had stuck with him through all of this. Even worse, no matter how much those two helped him and his family, and no matter what anyone tried to tell him to give him hope, he knew that there would be no return to normalcy and comfort until the recession was over. For all he knew, that could take several more years.
He winced as his body reminded him that he hadn't had dinner the night before. After work, he hadn't really been in the mood for it, so he'd gone straight to bed.
He got up carefully and hoped no one else would be woken up early by the creaking of the cheap mattress. He glanced at his parents' bed once more; neither of them stirred. With a silent sigh, he went to the kitchen area and, as quietly as he could, pulled the refrigerator door open, expecting little and finding less.
The light from the refrigerator spread throughout the entire room, but not waking his family up no longer seemed very important. The shelves and drawers inside were more or less empty. He closed the door and started opening cabinets, but all he could find worth eating was a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter, both of which he took down.
By the light coming in through the windows, he took out a couple of slices of bread and started spreading a thin layer of peanut butter over one of them, sighing in disgust. He was so tired of peanut butter sandwiches. He and his family had had them for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a while now… but at least they were better than an empty stomach.
All of a sudden, he startled at the sound of his dad's whispering voice: "Sam, what are you doing up this early?"
Sam put down the sandwich-in-progress, but didn't turn to face his dad. Staring down at the counter, he whispered back, "Couldn't sleep…"
His dad sighed heavily. Finally, Sam turned around to look at him. "I should have known you'd lose sleep over this, too," his dad muttered, shaking his head solemnly. "Believe me, Sam, this is scary for all of us. But things… things will get better." He put a hand on his eldest son's shoulder. "Meanwhile, we need to make the most of what we have left." He then took the slice of bread that didn't have any peanut butter on it, placed it back in the bag with the rest of the loaf and closed the bag with a tie.
Sam watched in disbelief. "But Dad…" he trailed off.
His dad shook his head, trying to look optimistic. "Just fold it…" he said. He picked up what was left of the sandwich and folded it in half before handing it to his son. Sam just stared wordlessly at the meager half-meal in his hand. "We all need to get used to doing this for a little while," his father told him, his voice heavy with empathy.
Something clicked in Sam's mind as he heard those words. He glanced at the dwindling loaf of bread sitting on the counter in front of him and wondered if this tiny supply of food would have to last the family of five until his paycheck was dispensed to him that Saturday. He would have to ask his boss for an advance paycheck the next time he saw him, which he hoped would be that afternoon after school.
Sam wasn't worried for himself; he had known hunger in the past, though it had been self-inflicted in his effort to impress Quinn during the months when they were dating, but Stevie and Stacy had never gone hungry before. Raising his eyes to the bed in which his younger siblings slept, he knew what he had to do. Without further hesitation, he placed the half-sandwich back on its plate and put it in the refrigerator.
"What are you doing?" his dad asked, bewildered.
Sam avoided his gaze and walked back over to his bed. Thinking sadly of his guitar, he was beginning to understand why he had ever had to sell his most prized possession. He let out a deep, sorrowful sigh. "I didn't get it before," he answered. "I do now." He sat down on the folding bed and lay back, pulling the covers over him and wondering if Quinn or Kurt would get him something for lunch at school. One thing was for sure: he wouldn't be able to ask either of them in anyone else's presence. If he did, any observers would undoubtedly come to yet another wrong conclusion. Besides, he had already sworn to himself that he would never let anyone else know what was happening.
Slowly, the shadows the young sunlight cast against the walls and ceiling sank as the sun itself rose. Sam closed his eyes and tried desperately to sleep, but it was impossible now. His dad had told him – however hesitantly – that their situation would improve. How was he supposed to believe that? Things were only getting worse for the Evans family, and Sam could no longer blind himself to it.
When sunlight finally filled the cloudless sky that morning, Sam still lay awake on his cot bed, unable to dream. Finally, he glanced over at the clock on the wall; it was almost six-thirty. He would have to get up in a few minutes, so that he could be ready in time to walk to school. He sighed and pushed himself up and into a sitting position, feeling like he hadn't slept a wink all night.
He stood up and got ready as quietly as possible, leaving him only enough time to get to school. So, grabbing his book bag and shouldering it, he walked out to the parking lot, closing the door carefully behind him.
Just as silently, he made his way to McKinley. He was nearly there when, seemingly out of nowhere, he felt as if he were spinning wildly. Very worried, he stopped walking and took hold of the wire-mesh fence he'd been walking past to steady himself. He was somewhat familiar with this reaction, but it had never hit him so hard before. He could only guess it was because, even back when he was going out with Quinn and had restricted himself to only a few menu items, he had at least had enough of those things to eat to get him through the day. Back then, his body had waited nearly a week to send him dizzy spells. This time around, however, it had taken less than a day. He took a moment to marvel over why, but when the spinning finally subsided, he set the question aside and resumed the walk to school.
Sam's first class that morning was Astronomy. It had been the most interesting class for him all year, but this time, he couldn't keep his mind on classwork. Trying to figure out how five people – minus him if he could manage it – would make a loaf of bread last until payday was enough work for his tired brain to handle. Besides, he was already starting to discover how much harder than usual it was to pay attention on an empty stomach. He felt as if he were lost in a fog, trying to follow a voice that seemed to come from all directions.
Thinking of the job that awaited him after the Glee Club met and parted that day, he sighed almost inaudibly. He had begun to resent the free time his classmates took for granted. He missed having time of his own, hours on end that he wouldn't have to spend working, doing homework or babysitting. It hadn't been very long ago when he would use that time more freely.
After a while, Sam heard the shuffling of books and the swish of pages being turned, and the sudden noise – however subtle – snapped him out of his thoughts. As quickly as he could, he reached for his Astronomy textbook and checked the whiteboard, hoping the teacher, Ms. Tyler, had written down what page he had to turn to. She hadn't. Perfect, he thought.
He looked around nervously, trying to see what page his nearby classmates were on in their books. A girl sitting to his right glared at him. Sam slid down a little in his chair when he realized the teacher was also watching him, and a few other students had turned to see what she was looking at, too.
"So, Sam, I take it you've finally decided to take part in the lesson?" Ms. Tyler prompted impatiently.
Sam stared down at his desk and nodded. "Sorry," he mumbled. He wasn't in the mood to argue right then. He just wanted to be invisible.
At the very next moment, his wish proved too much to ask when half the classroom snickered. Sam looked around the room at them, frowning. The other half had joined the girl next to him in scowling at him as though he had offended them somehow.
He knew what they were upset about, but they were the ones in the wrong. Anger at all of them swelled in his chest, but he did nothing to try to vent it. Not yet, he told himself. Not today. The truth can wait…
Sam's second, third and fourth classes that day weren't much easier. Although Sam made an extra effort to pay attention, new questions bombarded his mind, nagging at him and making it impossible to focus on anything else while he remained at his desk.
What would he do if his boss refused to give him even a fraction of his paycheck today? He had never asked to be paid early before, and it was only Thursday. On the other hand, if he did get the check early, and he spent it on food as planned, there was no way he would have enough money left to pay next week's rent on time. He had a very serious decision to make, and he would have to make it before leaving work that night.
What if he couldn't manage to speak alone with his two remaining friends before one o'clock, when the cafeteria would close for the day? What if they didn't have extra lunch money to lend him? What if someone overheard him asking for money? He couldn't stop a shudder at the thought.
But pride, it seemed, was a luxury he could no longer afford. Yes, it would be embarrassing, and his friends might not have extra money on hand, but he had to try. So, when the bell rang for lunch, he was one of the first to leave the Algebra classroom en route to the cafeteria.
When he got there, he sat down by the entrance, looking around for Quinn. He needed to speak with her, not only to ask for her help with lunch, but also – and most importantly – to apologize for the trouble he was inadvertently causing her. He didn't know who was coming up with these rumors, or why, but he did know that her reputation had been cruelly damaged as a result.
Regardless of who was at fault, she had kept the whole thing a secret for about a month now, despite the vicious attacks from the Muckraker, who had accused her of being unfaithful to Finn. All the while, she had remained a loyal friend to Sam, and neither of them had even suggested to the other that they were anything more than friends.
Yes, he still loved her, and he loved the thought that she might still have feelings for him, too, but even she didn't know that. So what right did the Muckraker have to pretend they knew what was going on inside his head?
Finally, Quinn strolled into the lunch room wearing a show-stopping smile Sam could easily see through. She looked as though she were busy trying to convince everyone to vote for her at the upcoming Prom Queen election, but he knew that if that prom votes weren't so important to her, she wouldn't be smiling at all. It was at least partially his fault. He had to say something…
"Quinn…" he called. He stood up and took a few steps toward her.
She stopped smiling when she saw him, but she looked concerned more than anything else. "Hi, Sam," she greeted him. Together, they walked over to an empty table and sat down.
He sighed. "I'm so sorry about all this, Quinn…" She shook her head, ready to protest, but he continued. "No, I am. I'm the one who asked you to keep the whole thing a secret, and look what it's done."
"Sam, this isn't your fault. None of it is. It's that stupid gossip paper. Don't let it get to you."
Sam lowered his gaze, but felt a little better. At least she didn't blame him… but he still did. "I can't thank you enough for what you've been doing."
Quinn sighed a quiet laugh. "Thank me for what?" she asked. "All I did was babysit a couple of times. I don't need any thanks for that."
Sam's eyes met hers again, and he shook his head. "That's not the half of it. You obviously haven't told anyone, even though it would've saved you all this trouble, and that means the world to me. You're an amazing person, Quinn."
Quinn looked down at the table, blushing. To Sam, she was the portrait of beauty, and he wanted those stunning, green eyes focused on him again. When she finally did look back up at him, however, her smile was gone, and her eyes had become sad. "I can't stand how everyone's treating you…" she said, her voice matching her expression.
They'd treat me worse if they knew the truth, he thought. Aloud, all he said was, "I'm fine. Don't worry." Meanwhile, his stomach was urging him to ask her about the lunch money already, but his heart refused to cut corners. He knew Finn could find them there at any moment, and every moment they had together was precious.
"There's something else," Quinn half-asked, watching Sam through worried eyes. "I can tell. What's wrong?"
Sam looked down, wondering how he would go about this. How would he explain? "Well, it's just…" After a moment more, he sighed. There was no easy way to borrow money from a girl who, not long ago, he had tried so hard to impress.
"Sam," Quinn tried, "you should know by now, you don't have to hide anything from me."
"It's not th— Quinn, I trust you. It's just…" He bit his lip, wondering whether or not it would have been easier to ask Kurt. It occurred to him then that unless he told one of them what was up before the next class began, he wouldn't have another chance until the next day at noon, at which point he would face the same dilemma. "You remember how I sold my guitar the other day?" he asked, trying not to look as miserable as he felt at the memory. He looked up to see Quinn nod slowly, encouraging him to go on. He took a deep breath. "Well, I gave the money to Mom and Dad to spend on food and stuff, but it wasn't enough." His voice faltered a little, but there were no tears in his eyes. He prayed no one else had heard him, but that Quinn would understand.
She watched him sadly for a moment, but then pulled something out of her pocket. She handed him three dollars under the table just as Finn walked in, Rachel by his side. Sam saw them before Quinn did, and quickly put the money in his pocket. His heated glare was met by two of the same. Quinn turned around and rolled her eyes at their timing.
Fortunately, they passed by without a word, but more than enough had been said in those few seconds of eye contact. As they walked away, Sam sighed in frustration. "Hypocrites…" he muttered under his breath. As much as he wanted to be with Quinn, he wanted her happy even more. She was Finn's girl now, although Finn wasn't honoring that. Sam knew what being cheated on was like; he didn't want Quinn feeling that way.
He turned his eyes back to her, about to thank her for the loan, when she shook her head, still glaring after her boyfriend. "You can just tell he'll be saving her a dance at the prom…" she sighed, fidgeting with her strawberry blond hair.
The mention of Junior Prom reminded him how badly he wanted to attend, if he could just afford it. The tux alone would cost at least a hundred dollars to rent for the night, and that was more than he had to spare, especially now that a week's worth of groceries was out of his reach. On top of that, there was the corsage, and with everything else involved, it just wasn't possible. Besides, who would he go with? Quinn was already going with Finn – assuming the rumors hadn't gotten in the way – and Santana had just left him for Karofsky. Yes, Rachel had asked him before all these rumors had started spreading, but by now, he wanted nothing more to do with her than she with him.
"Sam?" Quinn said softly when she saw the look on his face. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah…" Sam nodded, but didn't even pretend to cheer up. "I just really wanted to go."
"We'll figure something out," Quinn assured him, smiling kindly. "Meanwhile, we should probably get in the lunch line before it gets too long."
Sam nodded, smiling at the welcome reminder. He didn't need any convincing. They got up and walked over to the kitchen, where they parted. While Quinn headed for the salad bar, Sam waited in the main line to see what was on the menu that day. Overall, the selection looked pretty typical: pizza, grilled cheese, burgers, and so on. When he got the chance, he took a cheeseburger and went to the register, the three dollars ready in his hand.
He paid and sat down at the nearest empty table, pointedly ignoring the stares and whispers from several nearby gossipers. As he ate, Quinn came into view and smiled sadly at him. Sam smiled back, but she had already looked away. Finn was behind her, whispering to her, and she stared back at him, frustration written so plainly across her face that it was a wonder Finn was still talking. "I'll sit with you when you stop talking about this Muckraker business," he heard her say just as the lunch lady gave her her change. "Until then, I'd rather sit alone than with you and… her."
Sam hoped against hope that she would come and sit with him instead, but she didn't. She sat at the next table over, glaring down at her salad. He wished he had the freedom to move to her table and comfort her, but he knew that it would only make things harder for her in the long run. So he stayed put, hoping she understood why he had to. For now, it was for the best.
He finished his lunch slowly, trying to keep his mind in the present. His thoughts kept going to her; how she had bought back his trust with three dollars and a few hours of her time, how much he missed being close to her, how unfair it was that her reward for being a loyal friend was to be called disloyal and dishonest by her own so-called friends. He bit his lip, trying to keep the anger off of his face. He wanted to punch Finn; he was worst out of all of them!
He doesn't deserve her, Sam thought bitterly. He's obviously the one who's being dishonest… He got up, and as he passed Quinn on the way out, he whispered without slowing his pace, "Thanks." As much as he ached to, he forbade himself to look back to see if she had heard him, and he kept walking until he saw Finn, once again with Rachel. "Hypocrites," he mumbled again, making sure this time to come close enough to their table so that they heard him.
Finn scowled at him before he was out of sight, but Rachel touched his shoulder to calm him. "Don't listen to him," she urged.
"That shouldn't be too hard for either of you," Sam growled, and before they could respond, he turned his back and walked out the door.