(Author's Note: This is intended as a companion piece to "The Only True Paradises," which follows the same sequence of events from Santana's perspective. The chapters will be more or less aligned, chronologically, so you can alternate between the two accounts. Obviously, they're not exactly parallel, as that would be boring.
The style isn't as soutenu, even if the third-person shift does give me a little narrative distance, but I see Brittany as a somatic, sense-driven being. Like Santana, she will also get a little more sophisticated as she ages.)
Santana has always been the most beautiful thing Brittany has ever seen since she saw her filing into their classroom that first day in the middle of fifth grade. She's always the first one you see. Her hair's black-black, not just dark brown like other girls', and her skin's the color of her mother's coffee after she lets Brittany pour in milk and the new brown cloud rises and bursts all over the surface. She's so pretty that Brittany has to remind herself what her mother says, that it's not nice to stare.
Turns out Santana's kind of mean. The other girls whisper. Still, she secretly dreams of being Santana's friend and getting to brush her long dark hair that shines blue.
One day their art teacher sits her right next to Santana. Brittany's never been so close to her before. Santana smells like gardenias and green tea when she takes off her jacket. She catches Brittany staring, so she pretends she wants to borrow Santana's colored pencil. And suddenly Santana is nice and holds her hand and she gets to brush her hair at sleepovers. All of the other girls want to be friends with her now, but Brittany gets to be her best friend and look at her as much as she wants.
When Brittany gets out of school, her mother drives her straight to the dance studio. Brittany feels dumb all the time at school, but as soon as she gets to the studio and changes into slippers, the smell of wood and warm metal and sweat comes over her like a sweet fever, and she stretches and flies and becomes something other than human.
Because of the dancing, her feet are getting ugly. She doesn't wear sandals anymore. The only person who sees her feet is Santana, who sits next to her parents at all of her recitals.
Sometimes, when Brittany has to watch her baby sister, Santana comes over and brings movies and music to listen to, all kinds of music that Brittany never would have found on her own. While they listen, she teaches San some of her old dance routines and makes up new ones. Santana's a fast learner.
From time to time they sing. Santana has such a pretty voice but anyone can tell she doesn't know it. Her voice sounds like warm dark honey dripping from a rock. It sounds like that when she speaks Spanish to her parents too. Brittany wants to learn Spanish so she can understand. San tries to teach her a little, but it's like a secret code to her.
Even from Brittany, Santana keeps plenty of secrets.
In seventh grade, Santana stops holding hands with her. She says it's weird and that they're too old for that stuff. A few girls go after boys in middle school. Not Santana. She's too good for that kind of thing. Brittany almost lets that boy Mike Chang take her to a dance in the eighth grade, but she turns him down after all when Santana gives her a hard time about it. She's kind of happy about that, actually. She'd rather keep San to herself.
But like Brittany's cat, Santana belongs to nothing and nobody.
The summer after eighth grade is hot, sticky, and full of Santana. She's at San's house so much her mother's stopped keeping dinner warm for her. Instead, she eats with San and her parents. They're super nice to her. Mrs. Lopez even keeps her favorite kind of ice cream in the freezer. The whole summer, Brittany doesn't miss anyone from school.
Something's different about Santana lately. It's not just her body, longer and with soft places where there used to be tight muscle. She smells different. Like hothouse flowers and warm silk, and something animal. Sometimes she looks at Brittany like she's never seen her before.
Brittany likes to sleep in Santana's bed with all the pillows, like a nest. San is so warm, and sometimes she touches Brittany all over, which feels good in a strange new way. Ever since she started growing breasts and getting her period, Brittany feels something funny in her belly whenever Santana touches her, like an itch deep in her body. She tries to get the feeling out of her through the place between her legs with water jets and her fingers. It always comes back.
When Santana catches her in the pool, she shows her how to use the water jets. San won't admit she likes it. She says she does it to play along with Brittany. But Brittany knows better. She sees how hard Santana grips the side of the pool and turns away, looking almost angry.
It's not her anger that Brittany fears. Being with San reminds her of when she was little and used to try to pet the birds that landed so prettily on the branches of the oak trees in her backyard—they would only fly away if she got too close, so she had to be content with staring at them, sneaking as quiet and close as she could.
One night they're talking about boys and kissing. Then, Santana says something Brittany never would have expected in a thousand years.
"Do you want to try it?"
She thinks of the birds. Of one in particular: a little brown bird one day that hopped sideways toward her. She stayed perfectly still, so still she held her breath until she was dizzy, so she could watch it twitch and bob and ruffle its feathers.
"Okay," she says.
She tilts her mouth and lets Santana come to her. They close their eyes. Santana's lips press soft and cool against her lips, and that deep fluttery feeling blooms in her belly. She asks Santana if she felt something too.
She did. Relief and joy wash over Brittany. They kiss again, and the feeling spills out of her like too much water in a bowl in the sink. She begins to giggle, and Santana giggles too, and doesn't fly away.
Brittany wants to try it again. So once Santana falls asleep that night, Brittany kisses her. To her surprise, Santana kisses back.
Deep in the nights that follow, she does it again and again. Santana never starts it but she always lets her—maybe she's asleep and dreaming, but maybe she's awake. They touch so lightly and softly that Brittany feels buried in a cloud. Santana's body, even beneath clothes, feels like it smells: smooth and rich and animal.
She wishes the summer wouldn't end. But it does, of course.
Then everything is different.