It’s the first time Tina will be out with Artie for that long ever since the theater fiasco, so she tells herself it’s understandable being nervous as they sit facing opposite windows in the cab. It’s also compounded by the fact that the driver sports a mohawk, sunglasses and a disturbingly smiling expression as he chews on gum and is clearly staring at them through the rear mirror despite him wearing shades.
Tina and Artie remain silent throughout half the journey, until they reach a traffic junction and the jaunty cab driver turns back to flash them a stained-teeth grin. Tina recoils a little.
“Fancy some life in this moldy backseat? It stinks so much of ciggys, alcohol and regrets that it must be gettin’ to your sad, sad faces.”
“Would you mind... just focusing on driving?” Tina glares at him.
“Hot damn,” says the man immediately, tipping his glasses up. “The Puckasaurus is setting his big foot on this one.”
“Uh, green light?” Tina gestures to the front.
The driver steps on the accelerator and Tina is thrown back. Artie makes a rather disgruntled sound.
“Your man there ain’t the happiest dude around. I’ll guarantee smiles and a hundred percent satisfaction,” says the driver, smirking.
Tina presses her lips together and stares out the cab window.
“I’m happy,” retorts Artie. “There’s life in this moldy backseat.”
“Took you long enough for that witty comeback,” replies the driver. “You’re fancy in that suit, homeboy. Your pocket fancy too?”
Artie frowns at the driver. “Why do you want to know about my pockets? Are you after my money?”
Tina is afraid that the driver will make an offensive comment about Artie’s unusual answer and is about to cut in, but to her surprise, he laughs out loud.
“Well, fancy squarepants, the moment you got into my cab, you signed up for it. Can’t say it’s my fault.”
The driver raises his sunglasses with one hand, looks Tina straight in the eye through the rear mirror and gives her a wink. Suddenly, Tina feels much warmer to him and offers him a smile in return.
The world outside is cruel and relentless, but sometimes, you’re not alone in trying to tackle it.
Tina says that to Artie when she gives him one last check-through at the lobby area of the building where they are to meet the Ohio representative of UCLA. Artie’s gaze is boring into her as she adjusts his bow-tie and suspenders (for goodness’ sake, what an attire for a meeting! But they were running late and she hadn’t the time and energy to deal with that).
“Ready?” Tina asks as she runs her hands along his arms encouragingly.
“I don’t know the answers,” says Artie, as he looks up at Tina. “He’s going to ask so many questions and I’m going to be scared.”
“No, Artie, you’re going to tell him the truth.”
“What if it’s inappropriate...”
“After all the lessons we’ve had, I think you’d be good enough not to let me down,” says Tina, with a small smile. “Just be yourself, Artie. It’s what’s inside you that will make you deserving of this chance.”
Artie picks at his fingernails. “It’s also what’s on my resume. That I have autism.”
“Show him,” says Tina, her determined voice so strong that Artie looks up at her immediately. “Show all of us that it won’t matter. The fact that they asked you here for an interview shows they’re interested in something more than that.”
Artie holds out his hand and Tina takes it. “Thank you for being here with me. It makes me feel better,” he says.
Although Artie has maneuvered his way out of situations due to unintended wordplay, most of the time he really means what he says and the raw sincerity that emanates from him never fails to touch Tina’s heart every single time.
“Mr. Abrams?” calls the receptionist. “Mr. Henzie will meet you now.”
Artie turns and wheels himself into the room with a long meeting table. Tina follows, and apprehensively looks at the well-dressed man seated at the other end of the table.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Abrams,” says Henzie, his countenance not betraying any hint of emotion.
“Good afternoon,” Artie replies. He’s fidgeting with his fingers once again and Tina has to tap on the handles of his wheelchair to remind him. Sue has already prepared Henzie for communicating with Artie (in terms of speaking more clearly, directly and succinctly), and that Tina will be present, so she can only cross her fingers that it won’t be a problem getting through this interview.
“My name is Kenneth Henzie, and I represent the University of California, Los Angeles in their recruitment for the state of Ohio.” Henzie shuffles through some papers, then looks expectantly at Artie. “We’ve read through your application and have been very intrigued by your rather diverse interests. What makes you want to pursue both a theater undergraduate and a directing graduate degree?”
Artie looks sideways at Tina, then back at Henzie. “I like them.”
“Why?” Henzie asks. “Also, I read that you are interested in business modules, like finance. Why?”
When Artie loses focus with the multiple questions, Henzie leans forward, drums his fingers on the table, then says, “Let’s start with the less obvious. What is it about finance that you like?”
“I like numbers and how they make a lot of sense when arranged in sequence... or like they tell a story. Profit and loss tells a story of what the company has been doing. Not many people find the logic in numbers so I like that I can make sense of it and help them understand.”
He takes a deep breath and Tina knows he’s counting inside his head to calm himself down.
“I also like to make sense of the stage and people on the stage. They don’t always see it because they’re acting or moving props and they become very focused, so they need someone to look at everything from afar and give them that perspective. It’s my biggest passion, but there’s no undergraduate degree for it, so I’m doing a stage-based one first.”
Tina doesn’t realize she’s clasping her hands together so tightly until her nails dig deep into her skin and a faint but sharp pain hits her.
“From what you said,” says Henzie, slowly. “You like to make sense of things and help others make sense of it too. That’s a very good thing."
When Henzie summarizes it like this, it's like a lightbulb has just switched on in Tina's head.
That's why Artie is so multi-talented compared to so many other people with autism who have a single, driven interest and capability. His singular ability is to make things sensible to both himself and others, and art, music and finance somehow intertwine to make this possible.
"But do people accept your advice?” asks Henzie.
Artie stares at him for a good five seconds before saying, “Sometimes.”
“I hope you don’t mind me being blunt here, Mr. Abrams, and Miss Cohen-Chang,” he eyes Tina, who flinches, “but because of your autism, it’s not easy for you to socialize with other people. On our campus, there are many people who may say or do things to overload your senses. There are autistic people studying on campus, of course, but they have shown me that they can manage. We have a couple of special cases who need to study independently. Which one would you prefer if we were to accept you?”
Tina knows that he wants to be on his own because that’s how he functions best. But Artie takes a good long while before he replies, “Study with other people.”
Tina arches an eyebrow.
“Are you sure?” Henzie has apparently taken notice of her expression.
“Yes,” says Artie, firmly.
“It’s not easy for you,” says Tina, in a low voice. “You’re already going to be in a new environment. It’s a lot to take in.”
“I’m okay,” says Artie. “I will be okay. In the past, I wouldn’t have been. But now I’m okay.”
“In the past?” Henzie muses. “What’s different from now?”
“In the past...” Artie fiddles with his thumbs again. “When I was in the orphanage and then in Lima Autism Center...” he pronounces every word clearly, pauses, then continues, “everyone tells me I’m different. I feel different from everyone else. There’s a way to be normal and I have to go through lessons to be normal. I have to say and do the right things so that I won’t hurt people or make them angry. I have to keep quiet on certain occasions and say more during others. It’s a lot to remember and it’s very difficult, but no one else seems to find it a problem.”
“I stopped trying after a while.”
He casts a quick glance at Tina, then looks back at Henzie. “It was tiring. I didn’t want to make people happy anymore. I wasn’t happy anyway. I just wanted to watch West Side Story and listen to the music. Some days, the show’s good. Some days, a lot of it is wrong, like the movements and the articulations. It’s all messy and I don’t like it.”
The days when you’re really upset, Tina thinks.
“Everybody still said I had a problem, but when I didn’t try, they’d let me do what I wanted.”
This time, Artie’s gaze fixes on Tina and doesn’t leave. “Tina didn’t let me. She made it easy for me. I don’t know how, but it seemed a lot easier to do the things I didn’t want to do when she was around. It’s easier to talk when she’s around. She makes it feel like I’m doing something right and that everybody is different too, so I don’t have to be so scared about being different. She gives me lessons too and I think they’re still stupid, but I understand now that it’s not about pleasing people but to make them understand what I’m saying.”
Tina looks at him with sheer pride.
“I can do it,” repeats Artie. “If you give me the chance. I really want to show other people with autism that I can do normal things too. I want to be the first person with autism to direct a big, popular musical. I’m not afraid anymore and I want to try.”
Henzie’s expression remains undecipherable, but he scribbles something down on his paper. Then he stands up and walks around the table. Artie wheels around to face him and meets his outstretched hand instead.
“It’s a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Abrams,” says Henzie. “We will let you know the result of your interview at the end of this week.”
“My pleasure,” replies Artie. “Thank you.”
Henzie nods at Tina, who thanks him and helps wheel Artie out of the room. When they’re out of the building, Tina squats next to Artie’s chair and looks at him with a grin.
“I think that went splendidly. You really held your own and I’m seriously impressed.”
Artie meets her gaze, then drops it to his lap. “Yes.”
“You’re not happy?”
“Something’s bothering you.”
“I dreamt last night.”
This is the first time Artie has mentioned his dreams. Fascinated, Tina gives him an encouraging smile. “What about?”
“You were dancing with the umbrella on stage,” he says. “It was raining glitter and you were dancing and singing to Singin’ In The Rain.”
Tina grips his handrail.
“Then when you finished, everyone stood up to clap for you. I was in the audience at the back, where the director sits, and everybody in front of me was standing. They liked it, Tina, they really did.”
With that, Artie reaches out to take her hand. She flinches, but doesn’t withdraw.
“You looked so happy, Tina. I wish you would look as happy as you did in my dream.”
Tina stands up and brushes down her dress. “I... That’s a very nice dream, Artie, but it won’t –”
She looks to the road and there is a cab in the distance. She breaks away from Artie and flags the cab down. Throughout helping him into the cab and sending him back to the center, she doesn’t say a word more other than ‘Goodbye, Artie’.
But when she’s back home at night, in her bed, she dreams of him standing on the stage instead. This time, he points to her and says,
“Come up here, Tina. You were very good.”
Then the audience cheers for her as she walks up the stage, now dressed in a long black evening gown that shimmers under the light. Artie takes her hand, squeezes it, then wheels backwards with his hands stretched out towards her. She turns to the front, takes a bow, and the applause is thunderous. It rings in her ears even when she wakes up, eyes wide open.
All I do is dream of you
The whole night through
With the dawn, I still go on, and dream of you
It never rains but it pours.
The first is just a harmless rehearsal, one that yielded very little changes except slight directions from Artie about spacing on stage. Tina’s seated at the back, taking notes to remind Artie to look into later, including notes on some of his own phrasings.
The second is that Artie needs to get his laptop repaired because it’s been unresponsive. Santana is too occupied trying to coax Brittany out of an emotional fit, Emma knows nothing about technology and Sue immediately points the finger at Tina again. After accompanying Artie to the computer center (because he actually knows what he wants so she really doesn’t have to do anything and Emma could have just come...), it’s almost dinnertime. She decides she might as well treat him to dinner.
Both times are part of her work duty, but outside of office hours.
Both times were also dinner days with Mike.
There’s no issue either time. Mike just nods and smiles and says he understands. Or rather, Tina pictures him doing so when he texts her with a ‘No problem.’
Then on Friday, out of the blue, she doesn’t see him at the gate as usual. Five, ten, twenty minutes go by, and Tina’s worried because Mike’s never late and wouldn’t ignore her messages and calls. She goes back into the office, attempting to call him via somebody else’s phone, when she sees him seated near her desk, idly playing with a few pieces of paper. He hasn’t noticed her.
A second later, her phone vibrates. It’s a text from Mike.
“Hi Tina, so sorry, but I can’t make it. I’ve something on. Catch up with you tonight. Love, Mike.”
Tina looks up from her phone screen to Mike still fiddling with the papers on her desk. Feeling something rise in her, she storms towards him.
Now he notices, but he’s not flinching. He looks at her with an undecipherable expression.
“What’s the meaning of this?” Tina demands.
“I’m ditching a dinner date, like you’ve been doing.”
Tina stares at him incredulously. “Excuse me? It was twice, and I’m pretty sure I have valid reasons compared to you sitting in front of my desk and texting me a lie at the same time?”
“Does Artie make your reason that valid?”
“I know what you’ve been doing,” says Mike, evenly. “It’s really weird though, you said you wanted to work with other people so that Artie won’t be so emotionally attached to you, but you’re still hanging around him. I don’t understand. You can just leave the rehearsal stuff to Blaine, and Emma could have brought him to the computer center. You’re not his superheroine, you don’t have to do everything...”
She had mentioned to Mike that Artie was getting a little too used to her, but she hadn’t said anything about Artie confessing to her. What was Mike talking about now? Was he actually getting jealous of Artie?
“Uh, first of all?” Tina folds her arms. “I came up with the whole musical idea so I have the right to decide when and how I want to be involved.”
“Oh, great, so your own initiative makes you decide to go on a day when we have our dinner date.”
“Mike! It’s just one day! Will it kill you not to have dinner with me for less than three times a week?!” Tina throws up her hands.
Mike goes rigid. “If I said yes?”
“It doesn’t mean we love each other any less!” Tina is extremely frustrated now. “That’s the problem with you, you’re always measuring our relationship by the number of times we go out, by the number of flowers you give me, by the number of conversations we have – it’s just – sometimes you need to break out of a routine to have a breath of fresh air! We are already sticking to a huge routine in this center, we have to have routines for the people here, and now you want to make our relationship a big routine too?”
“I’m only trying to make sure we’re stable!” says Mike. “I want to make sure we both have equal time for our family as well as for the two of us, that we can constantly provide support for each other at intervals of the week...”
“What you’re doing is making sure our ship stays at the same point in the sea!” cries Tina. “Just because we have dinner or talk about our lives doesn’t mean we understand each other. For one, I don’t get why you would abandon your dreams just because your parents didn’t allow you to. I mean, I know that you love dance so much more than sports therapy and you’re old enough to make your own decisions.”
“You don’t understand!” Mike’s eyes flashes. “Because I’m old enough, I have to honor my parents for what they’ve gone through to bring me up. You think it’s so easy for them and my grandparents to come from China all the way to the US and sink roots here?”
“Well, have you really, truly tried pouring your heart out to them?” Tina raises her eyebrows.
“What about you?” Mike counters. “You gave up community theater too. You’re also not pursuing your dreams.”
Tina opens her mouth, but words don’t come out.
“Instead, you’re spending time trying to get a boy with autism to see hope in the very thing you gave up on.” Mike chuckles mirthlessly. “Wow.”
"You're treading dangerous waters here, Michael Robert Chang."
"You're the one sinking into it! That boy has physically abused you before and now he's mentally and emotionally depriving you of what you should be seeking!"
"He has learnt to control himself," says Tina, coldly. "And as a staff member of the Center, I think you should know better than to say things about him like that."
"Tina, that's the workplace. I'm talking about a third party in our relationship here," says Mike, angrily.
Tina glares at him. “Now I see that we’re really not understanding each other at all. In that case, this conversation isn’t productive, you can check it off the list of conversations that will help stabilize a relationship.”
Mike seems to realize that this argument has really gone sour and tries to say, “Tina, wait...”
But she doesn’t wait.
The musical is about to commence in a week’s time.
Artie has called for a major dry run mid-week so that everything is assuredly in place.
Except that it isn’t, because the female lead is nowhere to be found.
“It’s three o’ clock!” Artie jabs at his watch. “Unprofessional! I am entitled to shout at her!”
“I have to agree,” mutters Tina. She taps her feet impatiently. “That’s very unlike Amanda though, she should have...”
As if on cue, Blaine’s cell phone rings. His facial expression morphs as he listens, then ends on a grave note as he regards Artie and Tina. “She’s got a very high fever, just got admitted to the emergency department for frothing at the mouth.”
“What?! No!” Artie gasps.
“Oh my God, is she okay?” Tina asks.
“Oh my God, what about our musical?” Artie clutches at his hair.
When neither Tina nor Blaine respond, Artie throws up his hands in frustration. “It’s over!”
“No, it’s not,” says Tina immediately. “We just have to get Kate to replace her...”
“Not Kate!” Artie flashes a look of disgust. “She knows nothing! We did a rehearsal once with her and she fumbled over everything!”
“That’s true,” Blaine admits, and Tina has to agree because Kate, the most suitable understudy, has a tendency to repeat lines over and over again when she fumbles and it is really jarring and confuses the rest of the actors too. “We really were banking on Amanda being 100% well. I think she’ll be warded for a couple of days.”
“Oh, Artie.” Tina places a hand on his shoulder. “We’ll have to make do, we really don’t have a choice.”
Suddenly, Artie jerks his head up. “She doesn’t know all the words. But you do.”
Tina steps back, startled. “Eh?”
“You’ve watched all our rehearsals. You’ve read all the scripts. I know you know it.”
Tina raises her hands slowly. “Oh no. No, no, no...”
“He’s right,” says Blaine, his eyes brightening. “Tina, you performing alongside the special needs actors sends a great message for equality and eliminating differences.”
“No!” Tina waves her hands frantically. “I can’t do it!”
“Yes, you can,” says Artie.
“You don’t understand!” Tina groans. “This is about you. I’m not about to ruin your directorial debut!”
“You won’t,” says Artie, simply. “If Kate performs, it will be ruined.”
Blaine rubs his face ruefully.
Artie grabs Tina’s hands, startling her. “You like performing. You’ve always performed very well in front of me. I’m sure you can do it.”
“Now you’re encouraging me?” Tina stares at him incredulously. “But –”
“Yes, I am,” replies Artie. “Do you trust me?”
Tina wants to argue and protest further, but when he asks that question point-blank, along with that firm gaze of his, she can’t help sighing and mumbling, “Of course I do.”
“Then it will be a fantastic musical,” says Artie, decisively. “Just follow my directions during this rehearsal and it will turn out beautiful.” Then suddenly, he smiles. “Because I trust you.”
“Artie –” Tina is still flailing desperately.
“Stage crew on standby!” yells Artie as he wheels back into position.
“Oh my God, he’s serious,” whispers Tina. “Is he?”
“Only if you think he is,” says Blaine. Then he grins. “Come, let’s get you fitted quickly.”
He pulls Tina backstage and along the way, he whispers in his best Artie impression, “Because I trust you...”
“Shut up!” Tina swats at him as he giggles, but she knows she’s blushing.
“Did you ever imagine this?” Blaine asks as he hustles her into the dressing room. “That he would be the one to ignite your dreams again?”
When Tina only stares at him, he laughs and says, “Kurt told me you used to do community theater with him. He quit, but you stayed. Not to mention that your knowledge of musical theater is incredible, you always sing and dance with Artie...”
“I don’t always!”
Blaine shrugs. “It’s not hard to guess.”
Tina picks at the nearby hairbrush.
“Tina?” Blaine says gently. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t know,” she mumbles. “I haven’t acted in years.”
“Trust me.” Blaine winks and Tina has to laugh again. “You’ll make a fantastic Estella.”
“Thank you...” Her whisper is lost in thin air as he shuts the door. She stares at the mirror surrounded by light bulbs and is immediately reminded of her youth theater days. There is Amanda’s makeup set on the table, and she knows immediately what goes where and how much to put. There’s that shiny black dress –
The one in her dreams.
Artie’s right. She knows this. She knows every detail because like him, she loves this. This – the stage and its back trove of mad rushes, costume fittings, last-minute rehearsals – is where she belongs.
She takes a deep breath, then begins her transformation.
It goes by in a blur.
She’s stepping onstage as Estella and offstage as Tina. Onstage, offstage.
Artie’s giving directions throughout the night, but he never fails to be beside her just before she goes on. The crowd laughs and cheers at the talented but cheeky young man who plays Pip, who has a tendency to talk more than necessary, but channels that absolutely well into acting. But when she goes onstage as the icy-cold Estella, the crowd seems to be holding her breath with theirs as she mercilessly tears Pip’s heart apart along with everyone else’s with her hard, bitter words. She lets the misery of Artie’s song reverberate in her singing as the rest of the cast chant the cruel lyrics against Estella behind, and doesn’t even realize till she’s backstage that there are salty streaks on her face.
When Pip and Estella put their heads together at the end of the show, the curtains fall.
A vacuum of silence.
Then suddenly, there’s a thunderous roar. It’s like the gushing of a waterfall that echoes so hard in your ears that you can barely hear anything.
The curtains open, and Tina finally sees it.
She finally sees the crowd on their feet, clapping vigorously with bobbing faces of sunshine and pride.
She sees the woman in her dreams with the hanky to her eyes, calling out. “Amazing! Just amazing!”
Artie wheels across the stage with the cast and people are stamping their feet and catcalling in approval.
Artie dips his head, then raises his shining eyes to Tina beside him. Then he holds up her hand, surprising her.
“GO TINA!” She can hear Kurt shout himself hoarse from the side.
She turns back to Artie, whose hand is trembling in hers, and knows that this is all that she has dreamed about.
And it has come true.
"Miss Sylvester! Miss Sylvester!” A dozen reporters have found their way into backstage and Sue yells a shrill order that involves Will, Ken and many other staff members trying to move the reporters away to the reception area. One of them catches sight of Artie coming out of a dressing room and yells, “That’s the director! Hey, Mister Abrams! Mister Abrams!”
Tina watches as Artie’s eyes grow round and start to dart around even as his body grows rigid. Quickly, she slips through the throngs of actors and crew members to grab hold of his wheelchair. He looks at her with a terrified expression, but she whispers, “I know, don’t worry, I’m getting you out of here,” and ushers him towards her dressing room and shuts the door and all the rest of the commotion out.
Artie visibly relaxes. “Thank you.”
Tina smiles. “You do know that all these people are really, really thrilled by the whole performance, don’t you? The crowd... this amount of people that are coming in here to congratulate you... it symbolizes how stunning your whole direction has been.”
She kneels down next to him. “Artie, you’re successful. Did you hear the applause just now? It was...”
He stares at her. “The applause was for you.”
“You were amazing, Tina,” says Artie, and he covers her hand on his handrail with his own. “I would have very little complaints, only that you were still slightly nervous, it made your delivery a little stiffer than usual.”
Tina chokes out a laugh. “Trust you to still critique me at the end!”
“So you can be better next time.”
Tina sobers. “Next time?”
“Next time,” Artie repeats.
Warmth is coursing through her veins now. He continues, “And I will still be the director.”
Tina swallows. “What are you talking about, Artie? You’ve so much ahead of you. You’re going to direct stars in the future and have hugely successful worldwide musicals.”
“But you’re my star.”
When Artie says this, there is no trace of cliché. There’s only a matter-of-fact statement laced with a certain indifference as to how much these words can truly impact Tina, who holds her free hand to her heart.
Then she leans forward and presses her lips to his cheeks. It’s cold, but her body has never felt warmer.
She pulls back just enough to catch a glimpse of his mesmerizing eyes; then on pure, sheer impulse, she leans forward again and kisses him – on the lips.
There is no pulling back this time. His breath catches on her lips and she reaches out to cup his cold cheek with her hand as their lips move soundlessly against each other. The second puff of breath brings her back to reality, but their faces remain close enough for her to watch his shining eyes search hers.
“Does that mean...” Artie whispers, “...that you like me?”
Tina has barely any time to process his words when the door opens. Both of them turn their heads to see Mike standing in the doorway.
His expression is a dead one.
Artie wheels back slightly. “Hi, Mike.”
“Artie, go out for a while, please?” Tina whispers.
“No, you go out with Mike,” says Artie. “I don’t like the crowd outside.”
“I’ll like to speak with my girlfriend in private, if you don’t mind,” says Mike, his voice hollow.
Artie’s eyes widen. “He’s your boyfriend?”
“The other boy whom you thought was my boyfriend was actually my friend Kurt,” says Tina, with a sigh. She looks at Mike. “Are the reporters gone?”
“Sue’s attending to them. You’ll probably need to go out soon to meet them with Blaine too,” says Mike. “But I’ll really like to talk to you first.”
“Oh, they’re gone,” says Artie. “I’ll go back to my room then.”
As Artie leaves, he turns back to look at Tina once more. Then he disappears out of sight.
Tina expects Mike to blow up about the scene, but he doesn’t say anything about it. Instead, he starts rattling off,
“If I told you that I decided to listen to you, that I applied to a dance school and I talked to my parents about it and they’re still really unhappy but I’m doing it anyway because you’re right, I really love dance and I can’t give it up just like that...” He pauses for a breath. “Would you come with me? To Chicago?”
“You have a place there?”
“I will. They accepted me once. They will again.”
“You want me to follow you to Chicago.”
“Yes,” says Mike. “Yes, we can start afresh there. We can put behind whatever strains we have in our relationship and go and be happy and carefree there. You can... you can apply for theater there if you want. You were stunning tonight, really. I’m sure they’ll like you there. The local theaters there have a lot of programs, and you can do a part-time teaching job too.”
“Mike, I don’t want to go to Chicago.”
He’s breathing very heavily as he stares at her. “Tina, I love you. I want to honor your dreams too.”
“But the theater business in Chicago isn’t great,” says Tina, slowly. “If... If I really wanted to pursue theater, I would go to somewhere like New York, or L.A., or...”
“L.A.?” Mike narrows his eyes. “Artie. He’s going there.”
Tina makes an exasperated sound. “Mike, this isn’t about him, this is about you never really considering what I want! Even if I wanted to pursue theater, it’s not now. I love it, I loved tonight, it made me love theater all over again, but there’s so much more I want to do, so much more that I have yet to –”
She trails off.
“You mean, there’s so much more in Lima Autism Center that you haven’t done yet?” Mike smirks bitterly.
“You care for all of them, there’s no doubt. You’ve done a great job with the workshop and the musical. But all in all, the only person whom you’ve really cared about development has only, and always been Artie Abrams. Whatever you haven’t achieved yet is watch him grow into the person you’re hoping he will become.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” says Tina, but her voice is cracking.
“Every single time,” says Mike, his voice now shaking too. “You pushed me away because you wanted to focus on something to do with Artie. He’s more than a mentee to you, Tina. I can see the way he looks at you – he’s so attached just like Finn was to Rachel. Santana and I have told you what will happen. It’s not going to end well if you let him do that when...”
“...when I think he’s an amazing person who cares so much for the people around him? When I think that I’m the one who gives him strength to be this new, wonderful and strong young man, and in return, he gives me hope about my abilities and encourages me all this while?”
There’s a long, cold silence.
“In that case,” says Mike, his voice now completely raw. “If you’re more concerned about building Artie’s future than our future together, then I think you should go ahead. If that’s what you want. I hope you appreciate this last bit of encouragement.”
This time, it’s he who doesn’t wait.
Tina tries to hold it all together as she meets the reporters in the reception area with Blaine and Sue and answers all kinds of questions about the conception of the idea, the process and execution, and more about Artie, whom Tina politely tells the reporters is really too exhausted to conduct an interview. They arrange another date for an interview with him, and Tina moves on to meet her parents, Kurt and Mercedes at the theater entrance. She is appropriately showered with bouquets, hugs and kisses. Kurt goes on to hug Blaine, but it’s Mercedes who notices first.
“Tina?” she says gently, taking the girl to one side. “Have you been crying?”
Tina winces. “Is it obvious?”
“No, the whites of your eyes are good,” says Mercedes. “But I know my homegirl always shifts from foot to foot when she’s upset. And she cries when she’s upset. Two and two ain’t hard to make out that four, lady. Spill the mashed beans, what’s choking you up inside?”
Tina hangs her head.
When she looks up, all she can whisper is, “I don’t know.”