“Dear Mr. Arthur Abrams,
Congratulations! You have been accepted to the University of California-Los Angeles School of Theater, Film and Television. You will be embarking on the Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theater with a specialization in design/production, a four-year degree program. Attached is an information package with the curriculum requirements, housing information, school fees table,...”
Tina scans through Artie’s acceptance letter, the smile on her face growing wider and wider. When she’s done, she squeals and throws her arms around Artie.
“Oh, Artie, I’m so glad for you!”
He looks up at her. “Thanks.”
Tina arches an eyebrow. “What’s wrong?”
He sighs loudly, then wheels to the corner of Room No. 3. “I want to watch Singin’ In The Rain. We haven’t watched it in a while.”
We haven’t watched it in a while. Tina twists her lips. “Tell me, Artie. What’re you upset or afraid about?”
Artie looks at her, his spectacles drooping. “All freshmen have to do ballet.”
Tina does a double-take. “Huh?”
“It’s stated there. And Tai-Chi. Those are stupid. I just want to learn about stage and directing.”
“Artie,” says Tina, scanning through the documents once again. “They’re just encouraged modules, not compulsory ones. Besides, it helps you to learn more when you do other things, remember? Like finance?”
“Then I’ll do finance.”
“We can work out a specialized program for you, I’m sure. But you must promise me to be more open-minded. There are some things that you might love but because you don’t try, you’ll never know.”
Artie makes a grumbling noise and Tina feels a wave of affection hit her once again. “Aw, come on.”
There’s a short silence before Artie says softly,
“You’re not my mentor anymore anyway. It’s okay, I’ll manage.”
Tina rolls her eyes. “I’m still your friend, right? I had to come when Sue announced to everyone that you’ve been accepted.”
“It’s great,” Artie mumbles.
“Something else is wrong.”
“It’s not wrong,” he insists. “It’s right. I am an independent young man.”
Tina’s slightly confused by him repeating that statement again.
“A director must be confident,” he continues, “and ready to take on challenges. It’s not wrong, it’s right.”
It takes a short while more before Tina realizes what he’s trying to say. “You’re scared of being lonely.” When he only lowers his head further, she knows she’s right. “Artie, you’ll make lots of friends there.”
“Nobody wants to make friends with me,” he says, simply. “I’m in a chair and I have autism. I can’t dance and run and play with them.”
He’s in defensive mode all over again, but Tina’s determined to make this regression last for less than ten seconds.
“We are not going through this again. This is the last time.”
She takes a deep breath. “You’re in a chair, but it’s just a part of you, like an extra limb, it makes you maneuver on slopes better than people on two feet. You have autism, but that’s also a part of you and that makes you special, because if you weren’t, you wouldn’t have directed a successful musical the way you did. You can’t dance on two feet, but you can dance on four wheels. You can’t run but you can move faster than everyone else. And you most certainly can play, it’s just that you don’t want to.”
“Also, you sing. With a guitar. That’s a good way to get friends,” says Tina, with a wink. “Everyone loves a good serenade.”
“You always make me feel better.”
“You won’t be alone, Artie,” says Tina. She’s aching to hug him, but she holds herself back. “I’m sure of it.”
Artie doesn’t reply; he just looks at his lap.
She’s not even sure why she’s so certain. But somehow, she is.
“I heard he’s going away.”
Tina is surprised to see Quinn Fabray standing by Room No. 3 once again. Artie is inside, watching Singin’ In The Rain with no clipboard in hand.
“Is that what you call progress?” Quinn smirks as she eyes the screen. “Another musical?”
Tina bristles. “Why don’t you go talk to him? I’m not saying goodbye for you.”
“You might want to hang around. I’m not responsible if he breaks down a wall.”
Tina does wait, just in case Artie gets upset. She gets another psychologist to attend to Jacob while she waits in the next room. Surprisingly, Quinn stays inside the room for quite a long while. In fact, it’s almost two whole hours before she finally emerges from the room.
Tina looks at her questioningly because her eyes are red-rimmed. “So... is that what you would call progress?”
Quinn chokes out a laugh. “What did you do? A magical elixir of optimism?”
Tina can’t help matching her smile. “Maybe.”
“He’s so...” Quinn is almost in wonder. “He’s so sensible now. He’s no longer obsessed – he listens. He tries to make sense of things instead of criticizing them from the beginning. It’s... it’s so unlike him.”
“I hope that’s a good thing.”
“He’s going to study theater?”
“Yes, though his main goal is directing. That would be a graduate degree.”
“He’ll be rather old by the time he’s done.”
“I don’t think there’s any issue with age in the arts,” says Tina, chuckling.
“Right, I guess the older you get, the more likely people will listen to you if you’re a director...”
Tina giggles. “Trust me, if you have a way like Artie, people would listen to him even if he was a five-year-old. I think he’d be very convincing that way.”
Quinn stops laughing and stares at her. “You. You are the elixir. He keeps talking about you.”
Tina’s smile weakens. “You believed in him too.”
“No, but I gave up,” says Quinn, her voice trembling. “I gave up on him. I thought I couldn’t do anymore.”
Tina meets her gaze and at that moment, she is overcome with an indescribable emotion.
“Whatever it is,” says Quinn, sincerely. “Thank you. Thank you for making him the man he deserves to be.”
Tina looks back at Artie in the room. He’s watching Gene Kelly dance with the umbrella once again, singing,
I’m singin’ in the rain
Just singin’ in the rain
What a glorious feelin’, I’m happy again...
“Tina, we need to talk.”
“We are talking.”
“Oh, nice, somebody famous is ditching her humble desk-side friend, who also happens to be hot and handsomely beautiful and...”
“You picked the wrong adjective, Santana, ‘h’ doesn’t give you much room for flair. It only ends up with horrible, hilariously bad, hormonal, hellish, heckling...”
“It is quite the holistic letter, isn’t it?” Santana glares at Tina, who grins at her.
“So, what’s up, hobo?”
“Bitch,” says Santana, simply. “I was going to give well-meaning advice, but your snobby nose looks down upon my absolutely astonishing and amazing alliterative skills that I shall just keep them for myself.”
“If it’s about Artie, you can save it. I’m just trying to help with the process,” says Tina, sorting through her files. “Sue’s selected a good accommodation for him, he’s approved it, he’s settling his course stuff. He’ll be good and ready to go.”
“Aren’t you excited?” Santana smirks. “He’s going to achieve big things.”
“I don’t like that look on your face.”
“It’s the look of ‘Tell-me-the-truth-or-I’ll-skin-you-in-my-scalding-and-spicy-hot-Spanish-curry.’ And before you doubt me, yes, I can cook.”
Tina shrugs. “It’s not just me worrying. Sue worries too. What if Artie gets into the wrong company there while he’s all alone? He rarely gets out of here. I just – I mean, I know he’s been doing good, but –”
“The musical showed how much he has improved,” says Blaine, coming by.
“Yeah, with us around. If we hadn’t been there, do you think –”
“Cohen-Chang? Don’t make this about Artie,” says Santana, now serious. “We know you and Changster are all but a done deal.”
Tina leans back in her chair. “It wasn’t supposed to end that way.”
“But it did, because I told you, the bee in your boobs has stung you real good. What is it that you want, hun?”
“You’re right,” says Tina, suddenly not caring about being evasive anymore. “I like Artie. I feel really comfortable with him. I don’t know if this is attraction or care or whatever, but I’ve always wanted to be there for him. He’s always been there for me, sticking up for me, opening up my heart to my passion once again... I don’t know how to explain this, but –” She runs her hand through her hair. “Damn it, I’m hurting too many people.”
“You’re damn right too,” says Santana.
“Tina?” Blaine leans over her desk. “What did your parents say?”
“Your parents are in this too?” Santana demands.
Tina remembers – it was the night of the musical.
She and Mercedes spent the wee hours after that in her bedroom as she poured out the unhappiness of her and Mike’s relationship and how everything never seemed to fit. The thing was that it all fit nicely with Artie, but it was just impossible. She couldn’t have fallen in love with Artie. It was all an illusion, all part of the whole emotional attachment trap that she kept reminding herself to stay away from and that she kept tumbling into it somehow. Mercedes had listened very, very carefully, said very, very little except to hug Tina, and had stayed over.
Early the next morning, Mercedes had already left, but she left behind a note telling Tina to check her email after eleven o’clock. When Tina opened her email, she found dozens of weblinks from Mercedes on the subject of ‘Relationships with People with Autism’. Slack-jawed, she browsed through the various weblinks, tears filling up her eyes with every scroll and click.
Her mother found her sobbing in the middle of the bedroom and had gathered her in her arms. After what seemed like a long, long time, Tina sobered, only to find that her mother had already seen the links on her computer.
“Honey,” said her mother, gently. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
“And you told them?” Santana gasps. “What did they say?”
“Tina, you’re feeling sorry for the boy. It’s normal.”
“Dad?” Tina says in a small voice as she looks at her parents seated before her in the living room. “It’s not so simple.”
“He makes you feel good, doesn’t he?” Her mother looks at her intently.
Tina draws in a deep breath.
“That’s not part of the criteria,” says her dad, annoyed. Then hesitantly, he asks, “Is it?”
“I started out helping him. Training him. Guiding him,” says Tina. “But since a long time ago, I’ve seen past his condition. He’s no longer someone I’m supposed to help. Yes, I worry about him because of his autism, I care for him because he’s socially awkward and tends to get into situations because of that. But I care about his future because he deserves it with the sheer amount of talent he has. I care about his health because it pains me to see him sick and upset. I care about what he does because it makes me so happy to see him smile and enjoy himself.”
“But what can he do for you, Tina?” her father asks, his voice pained. “Are you sure he even reciprocates whatever feelings you think you may have?”
Tina’s lips trembles as she says, “So much. He does so much for me, Daddy, you have no idea.”
“And you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”
“You have no idea...”
“...what I’m getting myself into,” says Tina, with a heavy sigh. “Kurt, come up with something more original.”
Kurt clicks his tongue exasperatedly over the phone. “No, I was going to say you have no idea what a horrible friend you are.”
“Tina, I’m hurt. I get to know all of the details through Mercedes, through Blaine, but nothing from you. What is this?! Am I so hard-hearted that you would pass over my approval stamp?”
“I might say that,” mutters Tina. “You aren’t exactly sunshine and rainbows about him.”
“No, I’m not. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be logical and appropriately emotional about this issue.”
“So what do you think?”
There is a long pause as Tina picks at her bedsheet.
“Go with what makes you happy, Tina,” says Kurt. “You deserve to be happy. So go get that happiness.”
"And this future you speak of," her father continues. "Is it really what you want? Or is this another thing whereby you're trying it out for a while and saying, no, it all lies somewhere else?"
"Life isn't a straight road," is all Tina manages to say.
Her father looks at her thoughtfully.
“You know what?” Tina’s mother holds her husband’s hand and looks straight at a desperate Tina. “I think our daughter does know what she’s getting herself into.”
Sue announces that she’s going to launch a new training program for special needs educators and researchers in the county. Emma will be spearheading a new program to overhaul the current logistical system after Tina’s relentless complaints that it was inefficient in really tracking the progress of the individuals. Will and Holly are coming up with a project that involves producing illustrated audiobooks by the talented writers and artists of the Center. Jacob will be the first author because he has already finished conceptualizing his book.
Sugar has been accepted by Kurt’s company to undergo training, after which, if she is deemed good enough, she may even open her own fashion line.
Finn has expanded his services to the whole of the Midwest region and Ken is helping him to source for a proper store outside the Center.
New individuals are entering the Center next month, some are the kids from the children’s section. One of them has been earmarked by Blaine to head the new musical plans for next year because he’s great with set movements and plans.
“It’s gonna take a while before we find anyone like Artie though,” says Blaine, to Tina one day.
Tina smiles. “There’s no one like him.”
She looks around Room No. 3. The television set. The stack of tapes in the corner, with the worn-out West Side Story sticking out. Then Singin’ In The Rain right at the end. The table, now cleared of all the files and papers that used to be on it.
This would be a new room to someone else. Someone else who would cling onto the four walls and have to be slowly pried away to emerge from his or her chrysalis.
It’s Artie’s turn to leave his cocoon, and the sun would not melt his wings.
She sees Mike coaching a couple of kids in the field. She’s been asked whether she wants to go to the kids’ section, a zone she’s probably more comfortable in, but she rejected it. Watching Mike patiently guide them through the rules of softball is rather calming, but then he notices her. She wants to walk away, but he catches up with her first.
“Have you...” Mike looks at her tentatively. “Have you changed your mind?”
She sees the hope in his eyes once again and whispers,
“Can I hug you?”
It’s the last day.
The last day for Artie Abrams to stay in the Lima Autism Center.
Tina has brought him out on occasion to the store to get some extra stuff for packing, to the park for some fresh air (and even though some people make comments, he doesn’t act up this time), to the neighborhood to see pretty houses. But this time, he’s going out of the center, out into the open... for good.
Artie’s vehemently stuffing his stationery into his luggage when Tina comes by. She can’t help smiling as he fishes out something at the bottom of the luggage – a small cushion of sorts that was a souvenir from one of the Center’s open house days – and tosses it aside, along with a couple of shirts. Then he continues to shove the bag of pens into the side.
“Are you sure you’re not wearing those anymore?” asks Tina.
Artie looks up, a brilliant smile plastered on his face. “Hi, Tina.” Then he sobers. “Yes. I don’t want them.”
“But they’re your favorite blue checkered shirts.”
“I don’t like blue anymore.”
“Oh, really? What’s your new favorite color?”
“I don’t have a favorite. I just want to look like a new man.”
Tina grins. Artie still has his suspenders and big shoes on and honestly looks no different, but she knows better.
“Santana and Blaine want to say goodbye, but they have a meeting to attend so they can’t come.”
“Goodbye to them,” says Artie, seriously, as he tries to shut his luggage.
Tina sits down on the side of the bed to watch him, and eventually he does shut it, but not without a good deal of effort.
“It’s heavy,” he grumbles.
“You’re moving across the country, Artie, it’s not a small vacation.”
He looks at her. “I will miss you, Tina.”
Tina thinks of how Artie clung onto Rachel even though they were never close and wonders what he would say when he meets his professors in UCLA.
“I know,” she says.
“It’s heavy,” he says. “Again.”
“Artie, of course it’s heavy.”
“Heavy here.” He points to his chest. “That’s not a crush, is it?”
Tina reaches out for his shoulder and rubs it. Then she brings her hand closer to his chest and rubs it too. “Well, young man,” she says half-mockingly. “It looks like you have a case of the heartache.”
“Is that serious?”
Tina laughs softly. “You’ll be fine, Artie.”
Her smile fades when he turns away from her.
“It wasn’t enough for you.”
“It was more than I deserved.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No, I don’t suppose.”
“Do you... do you love him?”
“I don’t know.”
“You should stop saying that.”
“That’s the thing. I really don’t know a lot of things. But I do know what I want to do now and what it entails in the near future. The rest... I’ll just let nature take its course.”
“You know, the reason why I said you should stop saying that is because even though you’re always not really sure of articulating your feelings, in the end, you’re always acting on it.”
“That sums my life up pretty well.”
“Can I have another hug again?”
“Don’t be greedy.”
“That’s your parting shot, Tina Cohen-Chang?”
“Oh, Mike. Come here.”
“I promise I will do well,” Artie says quietly. “I promise I will be successful like I was for the musical.”
He looks up at the wall. “And I promise I will earn enough to pay for your air ticket to fly and watch my first musical.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
Artie wheels around, hurt. “You don’t want to come watch me be successful?”
Tina fishes out an air ticket and points to her name on it. “I’ve got my own, so no thank you.”
Artie’s eyes scan through, then he looks confusedly at Tina.
Tina points at the flight date of the ticket.
His eyes widen.
“No!” he cries, alarmed. “Why are you going too? A holiday? For work? To see your friends?”
“I’m going to stay there,” says Tina. “I’ve rented an apartment unit with Santana’s help, not too far from the university. I’m not going to ask you to stay with me because it’s good for you to interact with other college kids. But at least if you have any issues, you can call me and –”
“Tina, you live here,” says Artie, emphatically. He’s looking like that petulant child one year ago and Tina can’t help grinning.
“I’m going to pursue my dreams too,” and Tina places her hand gently on top of his, “because after that performance, I know that the stage is where I really want to be, and LA’s the best place to work out something.”
“It’s not. L.A. is for acting on television. New York is for the stage.”
“True,” says Tina. “But my old friends at the community theater have linked me up to someone in L.A. who’s very familiar with the theater circle there. They sent him a video of my acting in Estella and he’s expressed great interest. I figure if I start somewhere with somebody guiding me, it’s going to be much better than wandering around aimlessly in New York.”
“It’s far,” Artie protests, “You won’t see your parents and your boyfriend and your friends for very long...”
“I broke up,” says Tina.
“Oh.” Artie blinks. “Why –”
Tina wasn’t about to discuss that with him there and then. “Also, there’s Skype. Viber. Whatsapp. All the technological shenanigans.”
“You’re too old to try that out, especially by the time you get to New York,” says Artie, rather ungraciously. Then his lips quirk up a little. “You could play mommies to little boys and girls instead.”
“Ha.” Tina sticks out her tongue. “I’m glad you think I have such maternal instincts.”
“You like working here,” says Artie.
“Well, I like caring for people and seeing them grow and develop, but there’s still something missing, somehow... honestly, Artie, who was the one encouraging me to go and find a better life?”
“Maybe,” muses Artie. “Maybe one day you can care for people and see them grow and develop... on stage.”
Tina stares at him. “Artie... that’s... exactly what I want to do.”
“Does that mean you’re staying?”
“No, that’s why I need to go. To fulfill my dream first, and then help to develop others. That would be really, really ideal.”
“Are you sure?” Artie asks warily. “Are you really going?”
“Yes. Why, you don’t want me to go?” Tina looks at him in slight despair. After all, he had just spent the last few minutes trying to talk her out of it.
It’s hard trying to read his face, and at this moment, even more so than ever.
Santana... Mike... Kurt... her dad... mom... their words swirling in her head. All an illusion.
Then Blaine. So you’re convincing yourself he isn’t normal when you don’t think that way.
Sue. There are other people here who need you to help them.
Her mom once more. I think she knows.
Then all of a sudden, Artie bursts into a brilliant smile, and with that, her heart bursts into happiness too. He leans forward and pulls her into the warm hug that she loves so much. “I’m so happy, Tina. I’m not going to be alone. I have you.”
“I did promise,” she says, her laughter half-choked. “I did say you wouldn’t be alone.”
Life was a song,
You came along
I’d laid awake the whole night through
If I ever dared to think you’d care
This is what I’d say to you
Tina breathes in his scent as she rubs his back, then pulls back slightly. Her hands have landed on his lap, but he doesn’t flinch. That in itself thrills her. Instead, he leans forward again and presses a light kiss on her forehead.
“Thank you,” he whispers.
“I want to be there, not just for you, but with you,” says Tina, earnestly. “You’re no longer the center participant whom I needed to help. You’ve become a friend, a person I truly care about and I want to be there to see you succeed. And I want you to see me succeed too. We’re going in this together and work hard to achieve what we’ve always dreamed of.”
You were meant for me
And I was meant for you
Nature patterned you
And when she was done
You were all the sweet things
Rolled up in one
“So, ready to go?” Tina looks at Artie with deep affection.
Artie reaches out and takes her hand in his gloved one, the smile on his face bright and brilliant. “Ready.”
You’re like a plaintive melody
That never lets me free
But I’m content
The angels must have sent you
And they meant you just for me.
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