Chapter 13: CATASTROPHE AND THE CURE

(Brittany, Tokyo, November 2012)

Through the glass door I watched her, seated on the wall outside. She was bent into a question mark and rubbing her fingernails. The heels of her dirty boots collided with brick, her long hair hanging in her face as the moon fell down upon her.

I opened the door and stood in the slat between night and light. Her head swiveled left to catch me, a blank face engulfed in flames.

"Hey," I whispered.

She pushed a weak smile into the corner of her mouth. "Hey," she echoed.

I slid out of the doorway onto pavement. "Can I join you?"

She shrugged, legs still swinging, the toe of her boot caught in the moonlight. She'd started wearing those a while ago, way before she came out to me. Maybe it was what she thought lesbians were supposed to wear.

With a sigh I pulled myself up onto the wall. She didn't bother to move as my hip struck hers, my thigh grazing her jeans. I felt her palm fall along the wall's surface, one finger beside mine.

"Aren't you cold out here?" I asked.

"No, I'm good."

Fall usually came late to Tokyo, bursting through the heat with no warning. But it had come early this year and all of the leaves had already turned orange, bleeding with color.

Santana turned her head to gaze down the empty street. Next to me her hand tapped out a nervous melody. Dirt-streaked fingers, dotted wet.

The first time I'd met her she was sitting like this, sliding into the auditorium seat next to me for McKinley's freshman orientation. I'd stared at her then too, caught in her hair and her wide dark eyes. Caught in her blank, cold expression. Caught in her dangling legs and her drumming fingers. For some reason I didn't wanna look away.

"Hey, I'm Brittany," I said, holding out my hand. That's what you were supposed to do. Shake peoples' hands when you met them.

She gave me a funny look, pausing for a moment. "Santana." She didn't give me her hand in return.

"Santana? Isn't that the name of a band?"

"Yeah, so what?" she countered.

"I like music. And dancing."

"Me too," she answered, her face growing softer as she fiddled with the straps of her backpack. "I think I'm gonna join the Cheerios. Should be good for status." She shrugged. "You should join too. If you can dance."

"Yeah, okay." I smiled at her.

I had no idea then what that smile meant, that that was the handshake she'd finally decide to take, that from that moment we'd become best friends. And then more than just friends. Everything.

I looked at her now, laying a palm over her fingers, and swallowed them in a tiny hug . When she turned her head to face me there were tears in her eyes, months of tears dried on her cheeks.

"Hey, will you come with me somewhere?" I asked.

She bit her lip, one bruised word falling out. "Where?"

"Just come. Please?"

She pulled her hand away from me, folding her arms across her chest. That expression on her face, I'd seen it before. In the bathroom that night. On my couch in the morning.

Her eyes flew back into her skull, running away on a trail of black and brown.

"Please?" I repeated.

"Did you make it?" she'd asked, running up to me, the yellow paper in her fist. Cheerios.

She was nothing but smiles then, nothing but jumps. And she was so cool. Much cooler than me. Much stronger. I couldn't wait to be friends with her.

I took her down the street, walking in silence. Past the FamilyMart and the McDonald's, past the shrine with the cats out front, past the kindergarten that looked vaguely like a prison yard.

In the dark the plum trees loomed large, the short wooden bridge and the stream coursing towards us. On days off I stood here looking over the water. The koi circled the surface like a gasoline rainbow and all of the school kids would come running up behind me in their little yellow caps, laughing.

It couldn't be stranger or more beautiful. Something like this in the center of cold, metal Tokyo. Something so pure.

Santana looked at me. The questions in her eyes grew, her footsteps slowly following mine into the center of the bridge.

"I love this place." I bent over the rail, breathing in the scent of fish on water. "I thought...I don't know...I think it's just like magic here. A magical fairyland."

She was still staring, sucking at her lower lip, taking one step backwards.

"You wanna look? At the fish? You can still sort of see them, even in the dark."

Her warm eyes lined with red were asking so much.

Please don't cry now, Santana. Please don't cry.

And then I felt her next to me, her feet bumping mine, her shoulder shadowing the weight of my elbow on the bridge's rail.

"I can't see anything," she spoke softly.

"You gotta look hard. They're in there. Trust me."

Without thinking I wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her in too close.

One moment. One stupid moment.

The past was a flood.

Beneath my skin, I felt her body jerk away as if I were a burn. A knife. The needle of a tattoo gun. And then she was behind me again with her finger in her mouth, biting it the same way that I did, looking down at her heavy black boots.

I heard her voice ring out, so rough and so tired and so scared. "Brittany?"

And it was just like that night- my fingers pressed against my jeans, wanting nothing more than to touch her, to let her know how much I loved her. Skin on skin in a kiss.

But I saw her body, curled under this gray blanket of shadows, still hiding.

"I don't know myself anymore," she whispered.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, how could I let that shit happen? I'm not a weak fucking coward. I'm not some lame chick that people take advantage of. Am I?"

"No," I said, taking a step towards her.

"Yeah, no. I don't know," she whispered, shaking her head. She stared out across the dark, dark water. "Why didn't I make him stop? Why couldn't I stop him?"

I closed my eyes, crying. "I don't know," I whispered.

"I feel like I'm all alone inside. Like how I was before I met you," she said.

"You're not alone," I said softly. I turned around to smile at her. But it was a smile full of tears. I wiped them away and settled my wet fingers on the wooden rail of the bridge. "I'm still here."

"I know," she answered, looking down at my fingers.

"I never left you, Santana."

"I know." She stared at me, at my hands that ached to hold her. She took a step forward. "You were right. I left myself." She shrugged into her shoulders. "But I don't know where I went, Brit. Where did I go? Where did I go? And why can't I get myself back?"

Please don't cry now, Santana. Please don't cry.

But she couldn't stop, standing there holding onto herself in the middle of my bridge, standing there like some ancient statue. Her hair was glowing, her cheeks pink and wet. Her shoulders shook down into her arms, her waist, her legs, her feet planted so solidly on the ground.

I put a hand on her arm and I said the only thing left there was to say. "I love you, Santana."

"I got in too!" I exclaimed.

"Sweet!" And before I knew what had happened, she was in my arms, nearly knocking me over with the crash of her hug.

"I'm so sorry, Brit," Santana sobbed. "I'm so sorry."

I walked into Santana's concrete. Two hands on her shoulders, my fingers dancing down. Two arms, my waist hitting hers. Two legs, sliding into her calves.

She sobbed into my sweater. "I love you," she said, as quick as a flash of lightning.

"I know," I whispered.

The koi below us formed a circle that could barely be seen, curving under the dark water and swimming themselves to sleep.