One of the things Brittany loves about Santana is that Santana is an "even though" kind of friend.
Like even though Santana says they're way too old for Saturday morning cartoons now that they're thirteen and in middle school, she'll still watch, hunched over a bowl of cereal, lips wet with milk and soggy sugar, when Brittany turns the television on in the mornings after their sleepovers, and she'll even chuckle at the jokes when she thinks Brittany won't notice.
(Brittany always notices.)
(Santana, at least.)
Even though Santana hates her full name, she doesn't mind it when Brittany doodles it out longhand alongside little hearts and whirligigs and butterflies that look like mirror-image capital Bs on the inside cover of the secret note-notebook they pass back and forth to each other between first and seventh period.
And even though Santana doesn't give very many hugs? She likes it when Brittany hugs her; her whole body relaxes, like a sigh, and she presses into Brittany's hair.
(It feels special and warm, like making a promise that you knows you'll keep.)
So even though Santana doesn't believe that anything short of kitty liposuction will make at difference at this point, she's here anyway, because Brittany swears up and down that a regular walking regimen will do the trick—you know, if Lord Tubbington would ever start moving—and Santana always goes along with Brittany, even if she has other ideas.
The cat lies flat against the sidewalk, or at least as flat as something with a round backend can lie, as if he thinks he can just slip out from under his harness if he crouches low enough to the ground, Brittany on one side of him, Santana on the other.
As soon as they put the harness on him, he just kind of flopped over in the grass and started glowering. Brittany tried her best to convince Lord Tubbington that this walk would do him a world of good, that getting out of the house could be fun and educational if he would only let it be, but Lord Tubbington wouldn't hear it. Instead, he commando-crawled all of two feet forward, stopping just before he reached Brittany's mother's azaleas, and growled.
(Eventually, Brittany gave in and carried him the remaining ten paces to the sidewalk, but she swore that that was it; once she set him down, it was all him, no more free rides.)
(Now she's out of breath; he's still not moving.)
"The vet says he needs to lose three pounds before his next checkup," Brittany pants, stooped over, hands on her knees, as she looks out towards the end of the street. Her goal is to make it to the park and back before noon; she thinks that if they hurry, they can make it in time.
"Just three?" Santana asks, raising an eyebrow; Brittany ignores the jab.
(Even though Santana will go along with the plan, she'll still be a little rude about it on the way; that's just Santana.)
(Brittany tries not to think it's cute when Santana's mean like that.)
(Brittany does think it's cute, though.)
Lord Tubbington has started acting even more unreasonable than usual lately. Brittany says it's because he's going through puberty; Santana says it's because he's a fat ass.
"The only one you're hurting is yourself," Brittany reminds Lord Tubbington, crouching beside him. Lord Tubbington doesn't respond; he looks bored and more than just a little bit ornery. Brittany squints against the sunlight. She can feel summer seeping into her skin, spangling her shoulders and nose with freckles, painting pinkness into her cheeks, spreading out with an even warmth. It would be a nice day if someone would cooperate.
Brittany shakes her head. "Who knew that being in the eighty-ninth weight percentile isn't a good thing?" she mumbles, mostly to Santana and not Lord Tubbington. "I thought that was, like, at least a B+ or something."
Santana stares through her oversized sunglasses at Lord Tubbington spread flat over the concrete, chewing on her soda straw. She gives the leash a halfhearted shake. "Giddyup," she says flatly, taking another sip of Diet Coke. Lord Tubbington glares at Santana and bares his teeth, but otherwise doesn't move. Santana rolls her eyes—Brittany sees her do it behind the amber lenses of her glasses. "Fat ass," Santana mutters, turning away.
Brittany knows there are about a million and a half things Santana would rather do than walk with Lord Tubbington right now, but Santana is here anyway. "I swear to God, Britt," Santana says, "we could probably go to the mall for two hours and Tubbs would still be right where we left him when we got back."
Santana doesn't really care about going to the mall today; what she really wants is to go to the pool party that one of the girls on their cheerleading squad invited them to at one o'clock. It's eleven-thirty now and Santana is starting to get antsy.
The thing is that Santana doesn't even like the girl very much—Santana doesn't like anybody very much, except for Brittany, really—but Santana has gotten kind of obsessed with parties lately and goes to every party she can, even if she hates half the kids on the guest list. There's a quiet desperation in the way she works to please people now that wasn't there in elementary school, but it is as much a part of Santana as everything else that makes Santana, well, Santana, just like all those "even thoughs."
(Santana says that it's important to get out more now that they're in middle school; Brittany doesn't know about that, but since she thinks that most of the people in their grade are pretty okay and she likes dancing and swimming and hanging out and fruit punch anyway, she just kind of goes along.)
(Santana's not the only one who can do that.)
Brittany knows how badly Santana wants to go to this party because Santana refuses to say that that's what she wants. Santana is funny like that: when something really matters to her, she'll almost never mention it. Brittany knows that about Santana, though. She keeps it, like a secret.
Santana hands the leash over to Brittany, impatient. "I'll be right back," she says, turning away. Before Brittany can even ask where Santana's going, Santana disappears into the open garage, ducking around the family van, dropping her empty soda cup into the trash bin pushed against the wall with a flourish, and dodging the bicycles hanging from the rafters as she disappears from sight. Soon, Brittany hears the open and shut of the house door.
Lord Tubbington mewls, annoyed. Brittany says, "Just wait. She'll be back," and, soon enough, Santana is. She exits the house through the front door, carrying the blue plastic squirt bottle Brittany's mom uses to wet her sister's hair down in the mornings before preschool. She must have taken it from the downstairs bathroom. "What are you doing?" Brittany asks, suddenly nervous.
Santana smiles, more devious than happy. "I saw this on the Pet Network, Britt," she says, bending down in front of Lord Tubbington's face.
"Santana!" Brittany says, but it's too late; Santana clicks the trigger on the bottle and a spritz of water blasts Lord Tubbington in the eyes. Lord Tubbington recoils, backing up several steps; the spray condenses on his whiskers, dripping. He hisses and bats at the air in front of him, his expression suddenly tigerlike.
"What?" Santana says, shrugging. "It doesn't hurt him! And it's hot outside, so this will actually cool him off. Plus, it gets him to walk."
Brittany humphs, "Yeah, backwards."
"Walking backwards is still walking, Britt," Santana says wisely, and Brittany can't argue with that logic. Santana shuffles around to the other side of Lord Tubbington and he adjusts to her movement, shying away from the squirt bottle. Now his backend faces in the direction of the park. "Come on, fatty," says Santana, spraying him again; Lord Tubbington retreats about ten steps backwards, until the leash tugs tight.
Reluctantly, Brittany follows after him. Brittany doesn't like the idea of Santana chasing Lord Tubbington all the way to the park like this, but, then again, she has to admit that at least Santana's getting Lord Tubbington to move. Brittany sighs and Santana takes that as her cue to squirt Lord Tubbington again.
The good news is that Santana only has to actually spray Lord Tubbington a few more times before he learns that if he just keeps walking, he can avoid getting his face wet. He still refuses to turn around—he doesn't seem to want Santana to get behind him—but he moves without prompting, backpedaling at a steady pace down the sidewalk. Santana twirls the bottle around her finger like a sharpshooter with a gun in an Old West movie, obviously pleased with her success. "See, Britt? He's exercising."
Brittany just shakes her head. Santana and Lord Tubbington have never really gotten along with each other and there's nothing Brittany can do about it.
(Brittany thinks it's because their zodiac signs are incompatible.)
About halfway to the park, Brittany loses track of time, mainly because they pass a lady in pink and silver jogging sneakers walking a Yorkshire Terrier and Lord Tubbington snarls and makes a lunge at the little dog; the dog yaps and the lady gasps, stumbling back onto somebody's lawn, crushing the little apple thistle growing around the edge of the grass with her shiny shoes. Brittany yanks Lord Tubbington away by his halter and Santana just laughs, not even trying to control her snickers. Once the lady picks up her dog and huffs away, Brittany shakes her head.
"That isn't funny, San," she says, but she refuses to look Santana in the eyes because she knows that if she does, she'll burst out laughing, too.
After that, Santana starts doing slow-motion reenactments of the scandalized expression on the lady's face when Lord Tubbington pounced and Brittany feels adoration for Santana bloom like a flower in her chest. The sunlight catches in Santana's hair, which is so dark and fine that it almost shines blue. Brittany kind of stops checking the clock on her cell phone. Instead, she watches how the corners of Santana's mouth curl and tries to memorize the way Santana seems so at ease, teasing and joking around like this, her gestures getting bigger and more ridiculous with each retelling.
They both giggle like maniacs the rest of the way to the park; every time they look at Lord Tubbington, retreating backend first in front of them, a scowl on his face, the story seems a little funnier.
(Lately, every time Brittany looks at Santana, she gets this light, warm feeling in her chest.)
(When their friends ask who Brittany likes late at night at slumber parties, Brittany will never say.)
When they make it past the park welcome sign with all the rules about picking up after pets and no open flames and no snowmobiles in winter and how children require constant adult supervision on the playground, Santana's telling it like Lord Tubbington is some sort of sabertoothed circus lion and he really did eat the little dog, who was no bigger than a lab rat; she puts on a funny, snooty accent to impersonate the lady, even though the lady didn't actually talk at all.
"That brute!" Santana trills, putting a hand to her heart, scandalized.
Lord Tubbington looks secretly pleased with himself.
Brittany tells Santana to stop giving him a big head and Santana just shrugs.
"He isn't so bad, Britt," Santana mutters. Brittany wishes she could record it.
There's this funny thing about Santana that Brittany knows the same way her body knows how to reach for dance moves when she's at the studio, like something her muscles and bones remember instead of her mind: it's that even though Santana takes a while to wear into things, once she does, she's comfortable, and she stays there like she's become part of the fabric.
She does it at slumber parties, when she takes forever to adjust on the bed, rolling her shoulders and kicking until she makes a perfect, Santana-shaped indent on the mattress and she can finally sigh and sleep. She does it when she visits new places, like when she went with Brittany's family to Columbus to visit Brittany's grandparents last summer and would only say little things like "Thank you, ma'am" and "Please may I?" for the first few hours, until Brittany's grandma fed Brittany and Santana apple fritters as a treat before lunch, and then Santana opened up and talked a lot about how she'd never eaten something like that and that it was so good and about how homemade whipped cream is so much better than that weird stuff in the tubs that gets all hard and nasty if you leave it in the freezer for too long.
Over the years, Santana's done the same thing with Brittany, too—worn into her, made a fit. Brittany feels it when they link pinky fingers on their way across the soccer fields.
It's one of the things that Brittany loves best about Santana, actually: that they just kind of go together.
When Brittany first planned this walk, she had thought that once she and Santana and Lord Tubbington reached the park, they would just turn around and go back to her house to get ready for the party. But as soon as Brittany tries to steer Lord Tubbington back the way they already came, Santana's eyebrows knit together.
"What are you doing, BrittBritt?"
Brittany shrugs. "I thought we should go," she starts, thinking of the pool party and the fact that this walk has already taken a lot longer than either she or Santana had expected. She doesn't mention the party by name because Santana hasn't said anything about it yet herself and Brittany doesn't want Santana to think that she has her heart set on it or anything.
(Brittany wouldn't mind going, of course.)
Santana shakes her head. She peels her sunglasses off her face and hangs them on her shirt collar. "We made Tubbs walk all this way. Now that we're here…," Santana pauses like she's searching for something. "Wanna get some ice cream?" She nods towards the pavilion on the far end of the park next to the baseball diamonds where Brittany used to play t-ball in second grade. Santana is smiling now, and even though Brittany knows that Santana hasn't really forgotten about the party, it's easy for both of them to pretend that she has.
Brittany feels something warm inside her and gives Santana's pinky a little tug. "But what about…?" she asks, and she's almost going to say it. There's a smile in her voice to match the one on her face. Everything seems summer bright and wonderful all of the sudden.
Santana shakes her head and the next thing Brittany knows Santana has the blue squirt bottle pointed in Brittany's face. Santana wears an evil look and gives the trigger on the bottle a warning squeeze.
"Santana!" Brittany crosses her arms in front on her eyes, still holding tight to the end of Lord Tubbington's leash. The cat strains against his harness when he feels Brittany move, nervous now that Santana has brandished the bottle again. Brittany feels nervous, too—but the giggly kind.
"Ice cream. Now," Santana says, her evil look changing into a smile.
"Ice cream," Brittany repeats, nodding, moving her hands away from her face in mock surrender. Now both of them grin like they have a secret and for a second, Santana's eyes fix on Brittany's mouth. Santana swallows; she has the same windswept look she gets when she and Brittany spend all day riding their bikes up and downhill. After another second, Santana drops her guard, the squirt bottle falling harmlessly to her side.
And then Brittany pounces.
In the next instant, Brittany wrests the bottle from Santana's hands. Santana flinches and shrieks, but Brittany's too fast: she sprays Santana half in the face, half in the neck as Santana dodges away. Santana splutters, "What the hell?" but she's laughing and already scrambling to take the squirt bottle back so she can have her revenge, water flecked across her lips and dripping from the crook of her neck, dotting the amber lenses of her glasses, which rattle against her chest.
And even though what Santana says next is "God, I wasn't actually gonna spray you!" and what Brittany says is "I know, but I was always gonna spray you anyway," what they really mean is something else.
(Brittany will figure it out before Santana does.)
(But it's there for both of them already.)
For the next five minutes, Santana keeps swiping at the bottle and Brittany holds it high above her head, dancing away whenever Santana gets too close. They do a whole lot of laughing, but not a lot of talking. And this is either one of the things or everything that Brittany loves best about Santana.
(Santana never talks about the things that matter to her most.)
About the time that Santana finally manages to tackle Brittany to the ground, rubbing her face into the itchy grass and pinning her down with knobby elbows, they both realize all at once that Brittany dropped the leash a while back, and look up, breathless, to see what happens next. And even though Santana had all sorts of other ideas about what they would do today, she's in this with Brittany now, just like she always is.
(For the first time since Brittany got him, Lord Tubbington runs, free.)