AN: AU reply to challenge. This story runs cannon with the series up through "Ballads" except we're going to disregard the Artie/Tina stuff that took place in "Wheels." For the purpose of this fic, we're gonna get a little AU and say that Tina's stutter is real and nothing has happened between her and Artie.
Why is it that whenever my life starts settling down and getting good, something has to come along and blow it up? I'd honestly thought that things might stay good for me for once. I mean, I've got glee club and friends and confidence, and for the most part I've been able to put the past behind me. I finally feel like a normal kid again, despite how not normal I am. And then in one sentence, Mr. Schuester kicks my legs out from under me.
"School for the Deaf in Dayton, and some place called Jane Addams Academy…"
Yeah, I got a little panicked at first, although I hid it really well as my friends were celebrating. I pretend to be just as excited and confident as them, even tossing in a statement about how great sectionals will be, while I was secretly trying not to pass out. Eventually though, when I was sitting alone at home, I realized there's no reason to freak out. So I'll just be careful to keep a good distance from the other teams and no will have to know anything more. Crisis averted, right?
Weeks later, after I've had the time to calm down completely and there's been enough other things going on to push my worries to the back of my mind, Mr. Schue drops the atomic bomb on my Hiroshima.
"Alright team, to cultivate some good sportsmanship, I've made plans for us to visit the other schools and we're going to rehearse together. You know, bounce ideas off each other, get a little constructive criticism, and maybe spark up some of that old competitive flair in you guys. So this Saturday we're going up to Jane Addams to…"
Should've known the good wouldn't last. I mean, it's not like I'm scared to go there or anything, and if it were under any other circumstances I would be excited. I'd really like to see some of the girls; I miss them and haven't talked to most of them in a while. The problem, you ask? Well none of my new friends know I spent nine months in a halfway house. Or more specifically, the Jane Addams halfway house.
So now it's six in the morning on a Saturday and I'm sitting alone in my seat on the bus, leaning against the window with my headphones on and trying to keep myself from freaking. Thankfully because we had to leave so early in the morning to get all the way to Jane Addams, everyone is still pretty much asleep and keeping to themselves. Even Mr. Schue gave up on getting us pumped up after the first few miles, and now he and Ms. Pillsbury are talking to each other in low voices but it looks like they're both on the verge of dozing off.
My heartbeat seems to picking up as the miles roll under the bus. It's a pretty long ride to Jane Addams; I've been down it a couple times. I remember the ride from when my parents had moved us from Defiance to Lima, and I know it takes about three hours. I don't know if I want the trip to end or not, I can't decide whether the ride or that moment of truth will be worse.
The sky's starting to get bright when I feel a hand on my shoulder and I jump. When I turn to look the gloved hand waves at me and then retreats over the back of the chair. Smiling, I pull my legs up onto the bench and sit on my heels so I can see into the space behind me. Artie's looking up at me from where his chair is parked in that open area set aside for him, grinning that typical Artie grin.
"I didn't wake you up, did I?" he asks nervously after I've plucked my headphones from my ears. I shake my head and he lets out a relieved breath. "Oh good, I'm glad. It's just everyone else is asleep but I can't get to sleep in this chair."
"Oh r-right, sorry," I say and instantly I feel bad. I was so worried about my own problems I didn't even consider that my best friend is sitting back there by himself and probably bored out of his mind. Artie just shrugs and never stops smiling, and I marvel again at just how easily he takes everything. "So d-did you get to listen to that CD I l-l-lent you?"
"Yeah I listened to it last night," Artie says and I love the way his face suddenly brightens up. I know that most of the time his smile is only half-real, but when we start talking about music it becomes a real smile. It may have been the fact that we were outcasts that brought us together, but it was our love of music that made us friends. We spend a lot of time searching out new bands we've never heard of and trading mix CDs. "I liked it for the most part. That fourth track was a little strange, but the guitar solo on the seventh song… Wow!"
Artie gets me distracted with talking about the different songs on the CD and I don't even realize how far we've gone until suddenly the bus is stopping. The moment the brakes pull, all of the panic I've been avoiding comes flooding back into me. It must show on my face because Artie has that concerned little frown on that's so sweet and caring I want to break down crying.
"Tee, you alright?" he asks anxiously.
I force myself back into a calmer expression and smile at him. It's a good thing I've spent so long learning to hide my feelings because I've gotten pretty good at masking what's going on in my head. From everyone except him, unfortunately. "I'm f-f-fine," I say quickly, trying to act casual. "Just n-nervous about perf-f-forming, th-that's all." Inside I'm cursing the fact that my stupid stutter gets worse when I'm stressed; it's like a natural lie detector to the people who pay enough attention to notice. Like Artie.
"You'll do fine," he assures me and reaches over the seat again to squeeze my shoulder. Considering that the thing I'm most worried about is that my best friend is going to find out I'm not exactly the person he thinks he's befriended, the gesture doesn't help me much. I tilt my head forward a little so my hair falls in front of my face and take the second of cover to get my facial expression back under control. When I tuck my hair behind my ear again, I can tell in Artie's face that he knows something more is up, but being the guy he is he doesn't push it and just gives me an encouraging look.
I don't even listen to Mr. Schuester's pep talk he's giving us as I make a grand affair of getting my mp3 player tucked away safely into my bag. Here goes… I can't help but feel grim, and a little nauseous, as I get off the bus behind Mercedes, trying not to listen to the comments she's making to Kurt about the academy girls. Mostly because they annoy me. Who is she to think she's knows what the people at Jane Addams are like? Sure, so some of them are not the nicest people in the world, but most of them are alright.
When everyone is loaded off the bus, (after a bit of a glitch with the wheelchair lift that leaves Artie stuck halfway between the bus and the ground for five minutes), we are finally heading into the old brick building. I keep my head down as I walk behind Artie's chair as usual, but it's okay because I already know what the building looks like. The old dirty brown brick walls, the windows that have been painted over so many times most of them don't open anymore. Inside, everything will be ordered and bland, with white-washed walls like college dormitory buildings.
"Wow, I'd hate to go to school here," Artie mutters, staring up at the building in awe and I can see he's also a little scared. "I'm gonna stick close to you, okay? I'd rather not cross paths with some juvie girl alone. They might decide I'm easy pickings."
"D-don't worry, they w-w-won't," I say without really thinking about it. Thankfully for once Artie doesn't read too much into it and just takes the words as a promise to keep an eye on him. I know it's true though, they wouldn't hurt him.
Mr. Schuester is leading us toward the auditorium, following the signs on the walls, and I'm careful to keep my head down as we pass the occasional person in the halls. All I can think is that maybe, if my luck finally holds out for me, the girls who I knew here will have all left as well. Most people don't stay here longer than a year, unless they cause a lot of trouble, and I left at the beginning of the summer.
We can hear singing when we get close to the auditorium and my heart starts pounding. I can't do this, I can't do this… So much for all that confidence, because that's apparently gone out the window. The music though, it makes me feel stronger. It's that bold, powerhouse music that they always sing at Jane Addams, the sort that you can't pull off without putting all of your heart and your spirit into it. The kind I love most.
So when we step into the auditorium, I feel like I've gone back in time. Everything looks exactly the same, from the slightly tattered stage curtains to the sight of the girls on stage going through a number. I almost want to go up and join them. That stage is where I first really embraced my love of music, where I first felt the confidence of performing, and where I felt, for the first time, like I fit in somewhere. In a way, it's almost like coming home.
But there is part of me that still remembers where I really am; in a rival club's auditorium, with my new friends and my new team who have no idea I'd once belonged here. That happy feeling is gone instantly. Especially when I lay eyes on the one person I hadn't thought of when I'd been panicking about being found out.
The one who is up there leading her girls through the dances with that same fierce, proud energy she taught to every one of the students she led. The one who encouraged me to join her choir and taught me how powerful music can be. The one who had been like a big sister to me while I was here. And I realize that even if all of the other students I'd known are gone, there is still that one person who will always be here and who will most definitely recognize me.
I am so screwed.