The weeks leading up to Shelby's audition grew intense. Santana saw her slipping into what she could only label as "performance mode." She knew Shelby could be strict when it came to preparing for a performance, but she was growing downright militant.
5:00 am – 3-mile run on the treadmill
6:00 am – Shower with a concurrent vocalization session
7:00 am – A balanced breakfast straight out of a cereal commercial
7:20 am – Out the door to work
6:15 pm – Home, and dinner should be ready and waiting
9:30 pm – Bed
Santana felt like they barely saw each other. In reality, they had only lost a few hours to the adjusted sleep schedule, but it felt much more significant. Santana tried to adjust her sleep cycle to match, but more often than not, she was the one up late or in the middle of the night with Beth. She knew how badly Shelby wanted to land the role and she would do everything in her limited power to help her accomplish that. Santana was the one up at 3:00 am when Beth awoke for no reason, the one taking her to and from her part-time day care, and the clinic when she came down with an earache.
As she sat in the waiting room that afternoon with a screaming 18-month-old in her lap, she struggled to comprehend this is what her life had become: diapers and doctor visits and packing snacks for the class and cooking dinner every night. She wouldn't trade it for anything, but when she was woken at six-in-the-morning every day by Shelby singing scales or some jazzy tune, she couldn't help but feel a twinge of envy.
Shelby knew her, and she had been right that night at the winter lodge. Santana wanted to move to New York City and be a big star, and she was on the sidelines, being the water boy. But when Beth finally settled down and started dozing off, little fingers gripping Santana's shirt as though life depended on it, she really knew she wouldn't trade it for anything.
She loved their life.
Not that she would mind the opportunity to perform now and then….or maybe just the chance to make love to her girlfriend again. She was grateful for their getaway, and had to cling to the memories. There was no allotted time in Shelby's strict schedule for sex. Nights were for sleep and showers were for cleansing and soothing vocal cords. She promised Santana that after the audition, things would return to normal.
"Go," Santana said as Shelby hovered in the doorway, a small rolling suitcase waiting in the hall.
"Are you sure you'll be okay by yourself?"
Santana glanced back at Beth sitting on the floor, setting off the lights and sounds of one of her many new colorful electronic toys she had received Christmas morning. "I think I can handle her for one night."
Shelby's smile was apologetic and she pulled Santana into a hug. "Thank you for supporting me in this. I know it hasn't been easy."
Santana felt herself melt in Shelby's arms. Even a proper hug was hard to come by lately. "I didn't do all this for nothing, so you better get that damn role."
Shelby hugged Santana closer. "Can I tell you a secret?"
"You can tell me anything."
"I'm so scared right now."
Santana leaned back enough to look at Shelby. Either Shelby was good at hiding her emotions or Santana hadn't noticed the apprehension in her eyes until that moment. She cupped Shelby's face in her hands, brushing her thumbs across her cheeks. "You'll be amazing. You are amazing."
Shelby looked unsure whether to laugh or cry.
"And so help me God if you put me through your insanity for nothing, I swear –"
Shelby's bubbly laugh cut her off and suddenly Santana was being kissed. If hugs were rare, proper kisses were downright scarce. Sure, there were quick pecks as Shelby ran out the door in the morning and came home, and if Santana was particularly lucky, she could coax one out of Shelby after going to bed, if she happened to wake up. After all, kisses spread germs, and Santana spent every day with a toddler who played with other children. She was a germ magnet. Santana was familiar with Shelby's position on the matter – Rachel had rambled about the same annoying germophobia before glee competitions, and damn did she hate that it was making her sympathize with Finn. When their tongues grazed, Santana nearly fainted – not from excitement, but from shock. It had been so long, she had nearly forgotten what it was like.
"We're clear of the cold virus incubation window," Shelby said with a grin after pulling back.
Santana's heart was pounding. She really, really missed the physical side of their relationship. She needed it to be tomorrow, and she needed it to be tomorrow quickly. "You better go so you don't miss your flight."
"Okay," Shelby said, pressing one more kiss to Santana's lips. "Love you."
"I love you, too."
"I'll call you when I'm checked in and everything. Remember what you promised."
Santana rolled her eyes but smiled. "I will send you a photo every hour, on the hour, until you're back. Now hurry up and leave so you can come home."
Shelby hesitated, peering over Santana's shoulder at Beth.
"Just go while she's distracted so she doesn't have a breakdown seeing you leave."
"Kiss her for me."
"I will." Santana started closing the door, just enough to force Shelby to back up. "Now please go so I don't sit here worrying that you'll get caught in a surprise blizzard and get stranded along I-75 and miss your flight and your audition and your role."
"Okay, okay, I'm going!" Shelby finally took up the handle on her suitcase and spun it so it would roll behind her. "I'll call you."
"Drive safe. Oh – hey babe?"
Shelby paused a few steps away, at the top of the stairs, and glanced back. "Yeah?"
"Break a leg!"
Santana's day without Shelby was unsurprisingly uneventful. Beth had more than enough new toys, most of which hadn't even been removed from their packaging yet, to keep her easily occupied for days. Santana kept her word. Promptly at 8:00 am she snapped a photo of the toddler focused intently on trying to pull one of the levers out of its base. She sent the photo to Shelby, knowing she wouldn't receive a reply for a while as she was somewhere between Lima and Dayton.
A reply came about an hour later. "I miss her."
"I miss you."
"In security line brb." A few seconds later, "Don't let her break that."
Santana rolled her eyes, but made a mental note to stop Beth if she tried yanking that piece off again. "Yes ma'am."
Shelby's reply was a tiny graphic icon: a pair of handcuffs.
Santana felt her whole body flush with heat and she exited their text conversation, calling her immediately. Shelby answered by laughing.
"Don't tease me like that," Santana growled into the phone. She felt like a hormonal teenager – well, she was a hormonal teenager, but even more so than usual.
"You said, 'Yes ma'am.' If you're going to call me ma'am, I get to be in charge. Don't think I've forgotten the look on your face that night when I said I had 'cuffs in my bag."
Santana groaned. "This really isn't fair. You withhold it for like three weeks, leave, and then start flirting. Do you have any idea how much I've been wanting you?"
"I'd ask you to explain it to me in detail, but I don't think the middle of Dayton International Airport is the best place for me to listen to you telling me."
"I could do it anyway. It would be fair to make you just as frustrated as I've been."
Shelby was quiet and Santana wondered if she was actually going to go along with it. But instead, "Save your words and show me when I get home."
Their chat grew ordinary. Shelby's flight was on time. She had a window seat. She would be spending the flight getting into character. She had three hours to get from the airport to her audition. She would call as soon as she was finished. Santana would remember to send her hourly photos.
By the time they hung up, Shelby was boarding and it was Beth's naptime. She went to sleep easily and Santana took a photo of her in her crib to save it for the next picture obligation. She set a reminder in her phone to go off hourly and curled up on the couch, opting for it over the bed to enjoy the Christmas tree and its lights.
At ten o'clock, she sent the photo, squinting at her phone with one eye. At eleven o'clock, she sent photo of herself "sleeping" on the couch. At noon, their messy spaghetti lunch. And so on, until Santana opted to skip the three- and four o'clock photos. Shelby's audition was at four o'clock and Santana chose to let her focus on her task rather than distract her or make her phone interrupt her audition – not that Shelby would ever be so unprofessional as to allow her cell phone to ring in an audition.
Instead, Santana paced. She used giving Beth a ride on her shoulders as the excuse, but she knew she would have been pacing anyway. Minute after minute ticked by until it was nearly five o'clock, and her phone finally rang. Santana swung Beth down to her hip and scrambled for her phone, having to swipe at the screen three times before successfully connecting the call.
"You haven't sent me a photo in three hours."
"Shut up and tell me about your audition."
"Personally, I think they would be morons not to cast me."
Santana laughed. Sometimes she forgot just who Shelby Corcoran was. When they were their little family, Shelby was just Shelby – her partner, her lover, her other half, the mother to the daughter that felt like her own. Her self-confidence was far less obvious at home. Santana hadn't witnessed Shelby in true working mode in months, let alone this intense self-promoting version. She could see how off-putting it could be to someone who lacked his or her own confidence. Thankfully, Santana was not lacking in self-confidence and she found Shelby's intensity endearing and ever more attractive.
"So I take it it went well?"
"Like I said."
"When will you know?"
"I should know within the week, and callbacks are in two weeks."
Santana could hear the noise of New York City in the background. Horns honking and sirens and someone shouted something in a foreign language seemingly directly into Shelby's phone and her ear. "Do you want to tell me about it? Or wait 'til you get home?"
"I'm actually on my way to meet a friend for dinner and a show. Call you tonight?"
"An old girlfriend. We worked together at an ice cream shop when I used to live here."
Santana bristled. "You're meeting up with an ex-girlfriend?"
"Not an ex-girlfriend," Shelby said with a slightly patronizing tone to her voice. "I meant 'girlfriend' as in 'female friend'."
"Honey, she is as straight as they come. Trust me."
Santana didn't know why or how Shelby knew just how straight this woman was, and she wasn't sure she particularly wanted to know. She chose blissful ignorance over irrational jealousy. "I trust you. Call me?"
"As soon as I'm in for the night. It might be a bit late."
"I won't mind."
"Okay, I will. Is my pun'kin close?"
Santana kissed the top of Beth's head and hummed the affirmative before moving her phone to Beth's ear. "Go ahead."
Santana tilted her head to keep her own ear close to the phone to listen to Shelby tell her – their – daughter how much she loved and missed her.
"Can mommy talk to Santana now, please?" Shelby said after a million I love yous.
Santana giggled and reclaimed the phone. "It's me."
"I should go. I'm that jackass tourist not paying attention to where she's walking because she's blabbing on her cell phone."
"Okay. You'll call tonight?"
"If you resume sending me my hourly photos."
"Deal. I love you."
"I love you, too, baby. Bye."
Santana's phone went silent and on cue, Beth started straining to be set down. She kept her promise and snapped a photo as she ran away, immediately sending it to Shelby. Her phone chimed a moment later, an emoticon heart the reply.
Santana was asleep when her phone ringing startled her awake. She fumbled for it where she had left it on Shelby's empty pillow, squinting at the bright screen to answer it.
"Hi," she said, voice groggy.
"I woke you up; I'm sorry."
"'S'okay." Santana cleared her throat. "How was dinner?"
"It was fun to catch up. There were peas in my salad, though."
Santana snorted. "Aw, poor baby." Shelby hated peas as much as she hated poor work ethic.
"Not even in the pod so I could easily avoid them! So disappointed."
"Glad you survived. What did you see? You said you were going to a show."
Santana could almost hear Shelby rolling her eyes. "Oh God."
"Well it certainly wasn't my choice. I still don't see how it deserved the Best Musical Tony."
It was Santana's turn to roll her eyes. Shelby had a very clear opinion on what should have won the Best Musical Tony Award in 2004, and Avenue Q was not it. Santana didn't want this to turn into another rant – she wouldn't be able to stay awake for it. "At least you got to spend time with your friend. That's what matters."
"You're right," Shelby said with a sigh.
"Tell me about the audition."
That got Shelby's mind off the musical's inferiority. She launched into a recount of her afternoon – the waiting, the others waiting with her, her personal opinions of each of their talents (or lack thereof), her own vocal perfection and the positive reception those holding the casting session gave her.
Santana fought to stay awake. Shelby rambling on and on was working on her like a lullaby. At some point her body jolted her back to semi-consciousness. She hoped she wasn't snoring, but Shelby was still talking, apparently not noticing Santana's silence.
"…and then I'd tease it until you begged me to give you more."
The words finally registered with Santana and her eyes snapped open. "What?"
Shelby chuckled. "You fell asleep."
"No, I'm awake; keep going."
"Go to sleep, sweetie. I'll show you what you missed tomorrow."
"Fine," Santana resigned herself quickly. She was really tired. It had been a long day of toddler-chasing.
"You should call Quinn or Noah in the morning. Ask them if they want to babysit for a few hours in the evening."
The suggestive tone Shelby was using would have ignited Santana if she had the energy. Instead, all she managed was, "M'kay."
Shelby laughed again. "Go to sleep. I should be home by one."
"I miss you, too. Goodnight."
Santana dropped her phone somewhere in the bedding and rolled over, exhaustion pulling her right to sleep.