Chapter 12: Cross Your Heart
Wednesday, July 6th, 1898: Dyersville, Iowa
Santana dreams in watercolor and wakes as soon as Puck does, sitting up from her cot at the first sounds of his stirring. Everything runs close to the surface through her—the thrill of Brittany loving her just as she loves Brittany and a shifting anxiety about what will become of the circus after last night's fiasco with Will.
For those first few quiet moments when Puck will only groan and stretch his spine, Santana waits on thready breaths, wondering if he won't tell her that Mr. Adams is entirely bankrupt now and that everything is over—that there will be no more shows for the J.P. Adams & Son Traveling Circus & Menagerie, either this week or ever.
He doesn't, of course.
He says, "Come on, ladybird. We're going to Dyersville today," as if Dyersville should mean something to her—as if she should know the place as he does.
She doesn't, of course.
After Santana and Puck wash their faces and teeth in the basin, they step outside into the paling moonlight, and Santana stands by, watching in silence as Puck dismantles their tent. She slaps the mosquitoes that graze her arms and exposed collarbones.
"Sorry, ladybird," Puck apologizes, as though it were his fault that the Iowa prairie is home to more insects than the sky is stars.
When Puck slips his hand into Santana's after finishing his work, it catches her off guard; she had been thinking of someone else's palms, warm against her own, and hadn't remembered Puck's new need to keep close to her. She gasps.
(It's because she's surprised.)
Puck stiffens at Santana's intake of breath, suddenly self-conscious for his own boldness. "May I walk you to breakfast?" he asks in retrospect. He doesn't retract his touch.
Though her first impulse is to yank her hand away from his, Santana refrains. She told herself she wouldn't be harsh to Puck anymore, and he hasn't done anything wrong, really.
(He just isn't the right person, is all.)
"Oh, uh, sure thing," Santana stammers. When Puck flashes her a questioning look, Santana smiles a show smile at him, reassuring. "Claro, claro," she says, as though she were telling fortunes on the midway.
Puck buys Santana's act and relaxes his grip, pacified. He ducks his head in a slight bow before leading Santana onward through the grass. Though Puck seems as pleased with Santana's word as if she had paid him a compliment with it, Santana can hardly fuss about him the least bit in return, for she's already across camp with Brittany in her thoughts and heart.
Brittany Pierce is in love with her.
The moonlight seems as gay to Santana as midday sun, bright for her knowledge that the most wonderful girl in the world somehow feels that she herself is wonderful just the same. She remembers Brittany painting her mouth with kisses last night. She remembers the way that Brittany's eyes looked when Brittany actually spoke the beautiful words—like day and night sky met in one.
Brittany Pierce loves her back.
Santana can hardly fathom the notion.
Two weeks ago, she never could have imagined anything so happy, even if she had read about it in a book written in the most exquisite prose. For a girl who had thought that no one would ever truly love her again after her father died, it seems such a rare and precious gift to have love—and not just from anyone but from the person she most adores and admires out of all the people in the world.
Brittany Pierce found her when she was alone, and now she won't ever have to feel lonely again.
"You're sure in a cheerful mood this morning," Puck observes, wheeling Santana into the mess.
For a second, Santana worries that Puck means to tease her—has she been scowling?—but then she realizes that she wears a smile wide enough to bring the dimples out on her cheeks. She fixes her face and sniffs. "Am I not usually?"
She expects Puck to say something sharp in reply, but he doesn't. He stares at her, his eyes very dark even under the firelight. "No," he says bluntly. "But sometimes being somber is the same as being thoughtful, when it comes to you, ladybird—and even if you're being thoughtful about something droll."
It may be the wisest thing that Puck has ever said concerning Santana.
Santana gawps at Puck, amazed that he would pay enough attention to notice such a trait in her. Part of her wants Puck to elaborate—to go on to say what he believes she thinks about, whether it were droll or not. He doesn't, though. Instead, he plays his observation off with a shrug, steering Santana onto a bench at the breakfast table.
"Puck—," Santana starts, but he doesn't allow her to finish.
"Sit tight, ladybird," he says. "I'll bring you some hotcakes."
Somehow, he seems almost embarrassed of himself for being so right about her somberness. His idiot smile wavers for the quickest instant, and then he hurries away, retreating before Santana can ask him anything else. As he goes, Santana can't help but wonder if he hasn't someway turned a corner with her, in terms of his regard.
At the bachelor cottage, Puck scarcely paid Santana real mind, liking to have her around in the same careless sort of way that a boy likes to have a favorite toy by his side, even when he's playing at a game that doesn't involve it. But now Puck seems attentive—enthused, even. Santana has to wonder if it is only her own determination to treat Puck more kindly that's made the difference in him or if something else has changed his ways.
Brittany appears before Puck returns with Santana's plate, creeping up from behind Santana and taking hold of her shoulders.
"Hello," she says, close to Santana's ear, and, at that, Santana forgets any questions she may have concerning Noah Puckerman.
She's all Brittany, Brittany, Brittany again.
(She always somehow is.)
"Mm, good morning," Santana purrs, turning her head so that her cheeks and Brittany's are suddenly close enough for kisses. Their lips don't touch each other, but Santana feels a pleasant jolt as if they do. She wants to ask if Brittany has eaten yet, but she can't form the question before Brittany mumbles against her skin.
"Maybe the night with the fireflies, darlin'."
"What?" Santana says, confused.
Brittany's fingers stroke over Santana's skin and shirtsleeves. She's answering a question that Santana hasn't asked. Her nose nudges Santana's face.
"Maybe in the firelight, I mean," Brittany mumbles again, drawing in a deep breath of something before pulling away from Santana. Her eyes glint and she gives her cat grin. "I'm going to go get myself a plate," she says. "I'll be right back."
And then she's away.
Though what Brittany said baffles Santana, it also comforts her, for Santana loves Brittany's riddles as much as she loves the rest of her. It's nice to know that, even having told Santana her big secret, Brittany will still have her little mysteries.
(Santana hadn't known she loved surprises until she knew that she was in love with Brittany.)
Puck returns with Santana's plate. "Still cheerful, ladybird?" he notes, quirking an eyebrow at Santana's lingering Brittany-smile.
Santana shoots a glance over at Brittany, fixing herself a plate just a few yards away. She smiles even wider. "The cheerfullest," she says.
(The truth, the truth, the truth.)
Brittany and Santana perch atop heavy crates of midway ticket stubs at the front of the circus cart, silhouetted before a backdrop of innumerable stars. They brace their ankles against the edges of the crates and dig their fingernails into the wood grain to balance. Puck leans against the cart tailgate, facing them. He rests on his elbows and wears his devil smirk against the breeze, his hat pulled down low upon his brow.
The sky reminds Santana of a single ream of dark fabric, like when she was a child and used to hide in her grandmother's dressing closet, shrouded under so many drab skirts and petticoats. Pinpricks of starlight dot the long swathe of the vast expanse, and the waning gibbous moon, still glutted from Sunday last, presides over everything. With warm wind whipping at their hair and threatening to tear words from their lips should they speak aloud, neither Brittany nor Santana says anything. Instead, they grin at each other, open-mouthed and feeling more in the heavens than they do on the earth.
Though Independence was a failed stop for the circus, Santana can't bring herself to entirely dislike the place. Brittany Pierce told Santana her most important secret in this town, after all, and anyplace where that has happened can't be so altogether bad.
Just as the circus processional passes under the pennants of the Rush Park Kite Track, the cart jogs over a rut in the road, and Santana bobbles where she sits, nearly toppling over before Brittany reaches out to catch her with one arm, grabbing her around the shoulders. Brittany doesn't let go even once Santana rights herself and instead holds Santana close to her, their edges run up alongside one another. Brittany's embrace is sure and safe, and Santana adores it, as she does Brittany.
"You feel nice," she whispers close to Brittany's ear, blocking the compliment both from the wind and from Puck potentially eavesdropping.
Brittany doesn't make a reply. She squeezes Santana tighter to her side, and Santana all but melts for her touch. Puck looks on from the back of the cart, chewing a plug of tobacco fat inside his cheek and watching Brittany and Santana with nary a glint of recognition behind his eyes—just an uninformed kind of lassitude as he sees everything but observes nothing.
When the circus reaches the train depot, Brittany leads Puck and Santana to a boxcar along the middle of the line. Their trio joins Blaine, Rory, the Bearded Lady, and a few midway vendors inside the open compartment.
"Good morning!" Blaine greets as Puck, Brittany, and Santana clamber into the car, more chipper than any person has a right to be before the sun has risen. He tips his trilby hat to them and says, "You ladies weren't planning to sleep on the train ride, were you?"
It's a strange question for him to ask and one that makes Santana nervous, though she doesn't know why. She looks to Brittany to answer for the pair of them. Brittany offers Blaine a small shrug.
Whatever Brittany means by the shrug, Blaine seems to take it as a signal that she would be amenable to doing something other than napping on the way to Dyersville. He smiles and reaches for an object at his back, pulling it forward along the boxcar floor until Brittany and Santana can see what it is—namely, a wicker basket filled with bright yellow flowers with tall, dark-seeded centers.
"I picked these this morning during breakfast," Blaine explains. "I want to make wreaths that I can throw to the crowd during the parade into Dyersville. Can't you just imagine how happy it would make the little girls in town to get them? I asked this joker to help me," he says, nodding at Rory, slumped against the corner of the car, "but he says his hands aren't right for the job, so I was wondering if perhaps you all might be more obliged to braid some flowers than he is? I know I've seen you make some lovely garlands before, Miss Pierce, and I have high hopes that you're similarly skilled, Mrs. Puckerman."
When Santana flinches at Blaine calling her by Puck's surname, Blaine mistakes her start for something that it isn't.
"Oh!" he says quickly, glancing over at Puck. "Only if it's all right by your mister, of course! Noah, would you mind if I borrowed your bride for just a while?"
Puck rolls his eyes at Blaine's earnestness but nevertheless answers the question nicely, by his standards. "If you want to help him, that's fine by me, ladybird," he says. "It's your choice."
"If Britt wants to," Santana shrugs, feeling strange having the decision put all to her.
Brittany wears her cat-grin. "I like braiding flowers," she says, shrugging, as well.
Blaine claps, delighted. "Then it's settled! We'll make flower wreaths."
(If there has ever been another boy so thrilled about wild asters, Santana wouldn't believe it.)
Santana waits alongside Brittany as Blaine begins to sort through his basket, divvying up the blooms by threes. In the meanwhile, Puck settles up against the wall and covers his eyes with his hat. He seems intent upon sleeping the ride away, not yet fully rested from all the excitement of yesterday and last night. Santana doesn't begrudge him his nap and instead feels glad to have some time to spend with Brittany sans his watchful supervision. She offers Brittany a smile while Blaine still has his head down.
Hi, she mouths.
Hi, Brittany mouths back.
(The way Santana figures, any morning spent with Brittany and wildflowers is bound to be a good one.)
It occurs to Santana that Blaine is probably rather a good clown, going out of his way to make little children smile. It also occurs to her that she hardly knows anything about Blaine, aside from what type of hat he likes to wear and that he seems like a rather excitable little fellow. Has he always been with Mr. Adams' circus, she wonders, or did he join up as a youth, like Puck?
(There are still so many people at the circus that Santana has yet to truly meet.)
Santana has never really watched Blaine when the clowns perform during the circus shows, as she always has her gaze trained to Sam instead. She's also never really had a full conversation with Blaine—a point of fact which doesn't change this morning, even though Santana works in close proximity to him for once.
In fact, neither Blaine nor Brittany or Santana says much of anything as they go about their task, both out of respect to all the sleeping people in their cabin and also because constructing flower wreaths is hardly the kind of work that requires many words.
They make their knots in the flower stems silently and wearing smiles, happy to be doing a good turn but also content not to make much of it between them. When necessary, they pass one another new blooms and help one another link multiple braids together. It doesn't take long for them to work through almost all the contents of Blaine's basket, and particularly since Brittany is so handy in this medium.
As Blaine starts to gather some of the extra flower petals that have spilled onto the boxcar floor, sweeping them into a pile of sunshine with the edge of his hand, Brittany meets Santana's eyes, wearing her mischief-making grin. She plucks up one of the wreaths she made and nods her head in Puck's direction.
At first, Santana doesn't follow Brittany's meaning, and she watches, perplexed, as Brittany crawls on fours over to where Puck sleeps, slumped at the corner of the car. She only starts to realize Brittany's intentions as Brittany sidles up to Puck's shoulder, stopping just beside it. Brittany wags her eyebrows at Santana and very gently sets the flower chain over Puck's hat, crowning him with it.
Santana laughs aloud before she can stop herself, and, when she does so, it draws Blaine's attention. Once he sees Brittany's joke, Blaine laughs, too, somewhere between amused and shocked at Brittany's audacity. In the next second, Blaine selects a flower wreath from the wicker basket and then thrusts the thing at Santana, urging her to do the same.
Soon Puck has three people decorating him with yellow blooms, all of them stifling giggles as they drape flowers over the brim of his hat and upon his shoulders.
"He looks very pretty," Blaine whispers.
"He smells pretty, too," Brittany smirks.
Santana laughs, knowing how very cross Puck will be when he awakens to find himself done up in more garlands than a Maypole. She sets a small wreath about his kneecap.
¿Acaso Salomón en toda su gloria vistió como uno de éstos?
Puck doesn't disappoint Santana's expectations.
He stirs just as the train begins to slow, approaching the Dyersville depot. "What the Sam Hill?!" he snarls, sitting up with a start. He swipes at the flowers hanging from his hat as though they were a snake descending from a tree branch overhead. That's all it takes to get Brittany, Santana, and Blaine laughing and to wake all the other sleeping passengers in the cabin at once. Puck snatches at the flowers over his vest with his whole hand. "Goddamn it, Anderson!"
"Don't ruin them!" Santana warns, still laughing as she grabs for Puck's wrist, stilling Puck before he can cause real damage.
For the briefest instant, Puck seems as if he wants to protest, but then he softens, leaning back against the boxcar wall in defeat. His snarl transforms into a boyish expression, part embarrassment, part something else that Santana can't read. He blushes about his ears.
"You're lucky I like you so well, ladybird," he grouses, allowing Santana to gather up the garland herself, her touch much gentler than his ever could be.
Santana rolls her eyes. "Well, you're just lucky that we didn't have more flowers," she counters.
When Blaine asks Puck if he would like to help distribute flower wreaths during the parade, Puck says he surely wouldn't. When Blaine asks Brittany and Santana if they would like to help distribute flower wreaths during the parade, they say of course they would.
Puck ends up riding on the bench of a circus wagon with the burly yeller supe—Matt, Puck calls him—while Brittany, Blaine, and Santana go dancing behind the wagon's backend on foot, running over to the little children lined up along the street and handing out flowers to whichever ones aren't too shy to accept their gifts.
Brittany and Santana link pinky fingers as they go and frolic, the garlands slung over their wrists.
One little girl points up at Santana, a smile wide upon her face. The girl has long, light eyelashes and wears a pretty white dress of cotton batiste, embroidered around the yoke. Too young to feel ashamed for staring, she gapes at Santana's bangle bracelets and pretty rainbow sashes.
"Look, Mama, a princess!"
"That's not a princess, honey. That's a gypsy."
"Look, Mama, a gypsy princess!"
Santana can tell by the way the mother's lips thin that she would prefer it if her daughter never saw another person like Santana again. The mother sets a hand on her daughter's bonnet, protecting her little one from a danger that isn't there. Despite her caution, wonderment shines in her daughter's eyes—sweet, adoring, and uncomplicated.
Santana feels a pang.
She looks away from the mother and child and would go away from them too, too, except that at that precise moment Brittany gives her finger a tug. Before Santana can protest, she and Brittany stand just in front of the little girl. Brittany crouches down to meet the child's eyes, kneeling at the edge of the road, knees ground into the dirt.
"She's the prettiest gypsy princess, isn't she?" Brittany says reverently, something very like appreciation bright behind her eyes. With an air of ceremony, she crowns the little girl with a garland of Black-eyed Susan. "And now you're a princess, just like she is."
The mother looks flabbergasted, but the little girl beams, dimples deep in her cheeks.
For her part, Santana once again finds that she feels two conflicting emotions at once—adoration for Brittany and her compliment, on the one hand, and nervousness concerning the mother's reaction, on the other. After all, Santana doesn't want Brittany to get in trouble for saying things she oughtn't to, and especially not on her account.
She waits until Brittany leads her back to the center of the street to voice her worry. "Britt, you really shouldn't have," she mumbles, dizzy from Brittany's rule-breaking as well as from Brittany's compliment.
Brittany shrugs, unconcerned. "It made her happy and it was the truth," she says simply and as if that's all the more there is to the matter.
Santana wants to believe just as easily as Brittany does that things are really as straightforward as simply showing goodwill toward strangers and telling the truth when one can. The trouble is that Santana can't bring herself to trust in the goodness of people in the same way that Brittany does.
Something inside Santana nags and whispers that Brittany is an exception. Not everyone will return kindness for kindness—and especially not kindness for spite. Not everyone will like the truth when they see it or even recognize it for truth when they do.
While Brittany could stand before the board of the world and trust the knife throws of any number of people, Santana can only do so for just one person—for Brittany, who is unlike anyone else Santana has ever known.
Of course, the fact that an exception like Brittany exists gladdens Santana more than she can say and helps her to want to trust more freely. Santana doesn't know how it's possible, but Brittany has never seemed to think that Santana has anything wrong with her, even though everyone else in the world would disagree.
With Brittany, Santana just feels right.
Brittany Pierce is in love with her.
Santana can still scarcely even understand by what miracle it's possible; she only knows that it's so without knowing how. She catches Brittany staring at her from the corner of her eye.
"What're you smiling at, darlin'?" Brittany asks, matching Santana's look with a cat-smile of her own. She starts to swing her and Santana's hands between them.
Santana shrugs, unable to explain all that she feels. "You just called me a princess again, is all," she says.
(It's almost exactly what she means, or at least the most important part of it.)
Dyersville is a well-trimmed town of red and brown brick. A Catholic church more ornate than any structure Santana has encountered since leaving New York City stands at a prominent intersection just beyond the main row of shops. The church's two twin spires, capped with black steeples and iron crosses, cast long shadows across the street below it.
The main road through town doesn't extend very far and soon the circus turns off onto a side avenue, foregoing a longer parade in favor of making early camp. When the circus takes its detour, Brittany and Santana run to catch up with Puck's wagon and clamber onto the back of it, riding the rest of the way to their destination rather than walking there.
From then on, the circus processional follows a dirt byway along the edge of a river until it comes upon a sprawling wooded area and the first frameworks of the white city. Tents rise up from the grass, only partway constructed. They remind Santana of stretching dogs, rumps in the air and noses to the turf. The wagons only just manage to circle up before someone starts hollering at the company.
"Come on, you lot! Come on over here!"
Santana's heart falls when she sees Ken gesturing to a high point in the wagon bay—to Mr. Adams perched atop his flatbed cart. It isn't payday yet, and, even if it were, Mr. Adams appears far too cross to have any good news for the company regarding their current situation. He wears a stony expression, his jaw tight and a spot above his temple throbbing, visible even from some distance away. Santana shoots a glance at Brittany just as Puck appears at their wagon's mud flap.
"Hup, hup, ladies," Puck states brusquely, helping first Brittany and then Santana down from the wagon bed, though his gaze remains trained to Mr. Adams all the while.
Their little trio takes their places at the center of the throng, jostled up alongside Finn Hudson, Kurt Hummel, and Mr. and Mrs. Evans and their two younger children. Vaguely, it occurs to Santana that she hasn't seen either Sam Evans or Ma Jones today as of yet. She doesn't have time to wonder more about their absence or fret for it before Mr. Adams demands the attention of the crowd, though.
At once, Mr. Adams produces a folded document from the back pocket of his trousers and holds it up for his employees to see, giving it an emphatic shake. When he speaks, he does so through gritted teeth, though his voice sounds surprisingly and even startlingly calm, like crushed velvet smoothed beneath an open hand.
"Roderick Remington has been with the Associated Press since before it was incorporated. For twenty-seven years, he's been a newspaper man. He's one of the most esteemed reporters on the A.P. dispatch. His report on our business will be distributed on Friday morning, all across the great states of Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Some seventeen newspapers will run this bulletin. As you can see, Mr. Remington was kind enough to send me an advanced copy of his article."
Here, Mr. Adams waves the paper high in the air and laughs, though nothing he's said so far seems especially humorous, at least to Santana's ear. When Mr. Adams lifts his eyes again, they blaze. He straightens out his paper with a hard shake and reads directly from a headline somewhere on the front page. His voice is a lion's roar.
"'Concerned Citizens Must Rally for the Disbandment of the J.P.A. Circus for the Good of the Public: How to Stop the Immorality, Debauchery, and Unchristian Horrors of the Itinerant Carnival Lifestyle from Doing Great Harm to Our Children'—that's the title of his exposé!"
Mr. Adams laughs again, a frayed, unwell sound. He searches the crowd before returning to his paper.
"Shall I read it to you?" he asks, though his answer seems already determined.
"'It was in the thriving farm town of Ackley, Iowa that I was initiated into the mysteries of the J.P. Adams & Son Traveling Circus & Menagerie in the midst of great merriments for their celebration of the Glorious Fourth. Little did I know it at the time, but I had entered into an engagement far more vile than such a lively name or date would suggest.
Though the owner of the operation, one Mr. Jonah P. Adams of Charlotte, North Carolina, comports himself as a gentleman, his business is entirely devoid of morals and not only debauched but unfriendly. Adams is a fellow withal wiry and muscular, of breadth without length and a type that the old bugbear of my schoolboy days, Euclid, would call the antithesis of a line. He is a swindler and great defrauder who claims to purvey 'upstanding and high quality entertainment of a most wholesome sort' but who knowingly employs a rabble of unsociable and depraved charlatans and criminal types who belong more in asylums than they do in the public eye.'"
As Mr. Adams reads Mr. Remington's unflattering description of his body, he starts to straighten up, filling more and more space, despite his small stature. His shoulders somehow seem to broaden as he mounts in his anger. He suddenly appears taller, wider, and greater than he is. Everything in Mr. Adams seems to want to undo Mr. Remington's slanders so badly that even his flesh and bones would rebut the words on the page.
"'When I first arrived at the circus, I came forewarned that such operations often employ a class of persons rollicking and roistering, with men who prefer short pipes and tobies of ale to wine and cigars and whose dressing-rooms are a theatrical exhibition of everything that is coarse and objectionable. Several of my colleagues had made more than the vague suggestion to me that some of the ladies at the circus might be a little loose in their notions of strict propriety. However, being the impartial public observer that I am, I had determined to stay my own judgment until I had observed these folks throughout the course of their exertions and with my own two eyes.
Though Mr. Adams spared no small flattery when introducing me to his employees, even his mandate that they make me feel welcome in their camp could not dissuade those reprobate persons from their natural state of rancor and incivility.
It perhaps should not have come as such a shock to me that this ragtag assemblage, with its high population of irresolute foreigners—including a magician from Bohemia, female horseback riders from the Empire of Russia, Gypsies, and Oriental tumblers—and men with long criminal histories, should show such a distaste for the proclivities of polite society, but so tender is my heart that even after many years spent reporting on the depravities of humanity, it is still my first impulse to anticipate goodness in my fellow men, however it might disadvantage me to do so.
How great was my surprise, then, to witness the sins that go on under the big top!
What I report to you next might cause alarm to any of my dear readers who are delicate of constitution or susceptible to moral distress in the face of great degeneracy. Nevertheless, I feel it is my duty as a Reporter of the Truth to convey to you some of the sights I've seen and words I've heard while cloistered in the circus camp amongst such an untoward number as those employees of Mr. J.P. Adams.'"
By now, Mr. Adams is in fine form, frothing like the ocean crashed in upon itself. His whole face burns red and he spits at every word.
"'To start off with, the circus runs afoul with many instances of cohabitation. Men and ladies by no means related, either through blood or by marriage, sleep in close quarters to one another, with nothing but flimsy walls of fabric between them and with no one looking over what happens amongst their ranks after the fall of night.
While your tenderhearted reporter could not bear to listen at the doors of these tents after the final show had played, he did observe many of the young people of the circus keeping company with one another with nary any supervision and with such small space between them that one could scarcely insert a Bible betwixt their various persons.
By day, men and women worked right alongside each other, as did red-blooded American men and Negroes, sharing everything in common to such a degree that one must wonder what amongst them the one group would forbid the other, if asked.
Such coarse language I have never heard until I visited the circus—and I have sailed on ships with sailors whose own mothers had disavowed them for their roughness!
The chief property man at the circus—a malcontented half-breed with the most offensive halitosis—called me a 'chucking cuss' not two minutes after Mr. Adams had made his introduction of me to the company. I later learned that I should have considered myself honored that the property man would so elevate his usual speech on my account. In preparation for the celebrations of the Glorious Fourth, this fellow let out such a spew of blasphemies and expletives at his young underlings that even a seasoned railway man would have blushed to hear it!'"
Ken wilts where he stands before Mr. Adams' cart, mortified to hear himself singled out in Mr. Remington's prose. For his part, Mr. Adams won't look at Ken but radiates such strong derision for Ken's actions that Santana can feel it even from where she stands.
As he continues to read, Mr. Adams' voice reaches a fever pitch, so loud that someone passing by on the main road into town might hear him.
"'Such rudeness as his seems customary at the circus, for not a single person in the company would willingly stop to answer my questions for them, though I importuned them to do so with the utmost politeness. Indeed, even when I sought these persons at their acts on the midway, when they ought to have been at leisure to speak to anyone who wished himself entertained, none of them would as much as tell me the time, though I asked it.
Excluded from the madding crowd by their surliness towards me, I watched all the more keenly to see if I could discern the habits of these lowly creatures by observation rather than interrogation. Would to God that I could forget what I saw, for no Christian person should have such images seared into his mind!
Near the circus dressing tents, I encountered both men and ladies in all states of undress and running about in the open, with no regard for decency. A lady in only her petticoat—no older than fifteen years of age, I'm sure—walked by me under the noonday sun and had not the courtesy to blush, though she met my eyes whilst without her overskirt.
I found men and women stealing kisses in all corners of the camp, performers extorting money from patrons on the midway through subterfuge and trickery, and no small number of persons drunk before ten o'clock in the day. Sights for which I have no name turned my blood cold in my veins.
When I sought to ask Mr. Adams about how he enforces any sort of ethical comportment amongst his employees, he told me that he didn't concern himself with such matters and tried to divert my attention to having a tour of his lion cages instead.
'My man has them under such perfect control that we could walk in there this minute without a moment's hesitation. Would you like to go in? There's no danger,' said he—though I certainly sensed danger myself.
Like Daniel tossed into the lion's den, I found myself encircled about by the coarsest brutes.
My experience at the circus has convinced me of one thing, namely, that from the proprietor down to the lowest supe and stableman, all at the circus, without exception, lead a hellish life, and even their short nights and long journeys in the hot sun over sandy, dusty roads, their processions in the midday glare, and their thoroughly broken days cannot account for the strangeness of their manners or their utter disregard for laws of Man and God.
Though Mr. Adams made it plain to me that his outfit intends to tour through many of the great Midwestern states before the summer's end, it is my recommendation to any man who is a friend to civility, a lover of law, and a holder to morals that the people of this region ought to campaign against the circus coming to their towns and bringing with it such profanities, whoredoms, and abominations as those I have described above. The voice of the public is the only means through which our society can silence the menace of the circus and save our young ones from coming under its degenerate influence.
While I had visited the circus hoping to find it worthy of my endorsement, I can offer the place no praise having spent a day there. I can present only warning and say that everyone should stay away when the circus comes to town.'"
By the final sentence, Mr. Adams bites down so hard on each syllable that Santana worries he might chip his teeth.
He doesn't, of course.
But he does appear more aggravated than even Jesse St. James' jungle cats in their cage at high noon, his knuckles white as they curl around the paper in his hand, his whole frame quaking as if it can scarcely contain his fury.
Santana shudders, recognizing shadows of herself in many of Mr. Remington's sundry condemnations of the circus. She remembers what happened in her fortunetelling booth on the midway and in the alleyway between the derelict tents and burns with an angry sort of shame, upset with herself for allowing Mr. Remington to glimpse her in moments when she was indisposed, for one thing, and upset with him for invading her space to begin with, for another.
She finds that she hates the man for arriving at the circus already thoroughly convinced of its wickedness, having yet to even investigate its enterprise.
(She feels a pang, remembering that she did the same thing, coming from New York.)
Whatever Mr. Remington claims to the contrary in his article, Santana knows that he never intended to allow the circus a fair review. She listened to enough of her father's rants about "yellow journalism" and the intolerable practices of Messrs. Pulitzer and Hearst to know what type of reporter Mr. Remington is and what his tactics for drumming up readership amount to, after all.
He wanted to write something sensational and he did just that.
The circus never really stood a chance when it came to Remington's pen, and the more Santana considers how they didn't, the more she smolders with bitter resentment toward Remington, not just on her own account, but on account of the whole circus—on account of Puck, who won't hold grudges, though well he could; and of Mr. Evans, who prays nice things for people; and of Ma Jones, who feeds everyone, even when she has a broken heart; and of Sam, the nicest boy that Santana has ever met; and of Rachel, who can be kind to even those persons who treat her despitefully; and of Blaine, who braids flowers for little children he's never met before and will never see again; and of Kurt and of Rory and of little Stevie Evans, who can tell when a stranger feels sad just by how her face looks; and especially of Brittany, who is the single best person anywhere and who would lay down her own life for her poor father's sake, no matter how harshly he treats her.
("Circus folk are the salt of the earth, Santana.")
The fact that Mr. Remington could be cruel to all of these persons without knowing them both breaks Santana's heart and at the same time turns something to stone inside of her.
"That rotten old coward," Santana whispers through gritted teeth. "¡Está mintiendo!"
Though both Brittany and Puck look at Santana, in the one case, listening to hear more from her, and in the other case, affronted by her sudden show of emotion, Santana doesn't get the chance to explain her thinking before Mr. Adams regains his composure enough to address the crowd again.
"Have you any idea what this means?" he despairs, shaking the paper for a second time. He looks over his employees, not simply infuriated or distraught, but utterly lost. "After what happened yesterday, I scarcely managed to convince Mr. Fabray to stay with us through the weekend! A-a-and now we have this—this—animadversion stacked against us, as well! Do you all want to starve?!"
Though he undoubtedly means to accuse his workers, his question to them rings out more like a plea than anything else. It echoes, desperate and hopeless at the same time, and recalls to Santana how her father sounded when he tried to convince his mother to see her granddaughter one last time before death—to perdona la niña, Madre, por favor.
Santana almost can't stand to look at Mr. Adams now, with his face contorted into such an awful grimace. She shrinks at Brittany's side.
"All I had asked is that you accommodate the man—make him feel welcome in our camp, answer his questions, show him some hospitality! You're not incapable of it. Would it have ruined you to speak kindly to a stranger?"
Mr. Adams allows the question to hang in the air. He still clutches the paper in his hand. Now sweat drips down his brow and neck, saturating his collar. His eyes look mad, like Mrs. Schuester's, but also sad at the same time.
He reaches up and loosens his cravat with a frantic hand, seemingly starved for breath. For a long while, he only stares at the crowd, gasping as he recovers. When he finally summons up his next words, he sounds not calm, but steely.
"We have two days before the article goes to print, and, in that time, I intend to get Mr. Remington back to this camp, even if it is to be the endeavor that finally kills me. Should I succeed in bringing him back here, I expect that you shall treat him as though he were your lord and king, do you hear?
Should I get news of any man, woman, or child doing anything even the least bit untoward in the presence of our guest, that person shall lose his employment at the circus surer than it's my name on the marquee, understand? I'll have the culprit and all his friends arrested for indecency! We're to be polite and mind our manners. Do you simpletons think you can manage that?
I swear by God that I will have no foul-ups, not today and not when Remington comes here again! You hear that? No foul-ups! I expect perfection today to make up for last night. If you fools try me, I'll have all of you red-lighted to a one!"
At his final exclamation, Mr. Adams turns on his heel. He slaps his papers to the flatbed of the cart before hopping down from it to the ground himself. Though he lands heavily upon the grass, he doesn't halt even for one second upon impact. He's on his feet and heading away before Ken can even work out whether or not to follow after him.
"Don't you all have work to do?" Mr. Adams bellows without turning to look at anyone, still charging off in the direction of his business tent.
The company jolts at his word and—to Santana's great surprise—actually begins to disperse, as though Mr. Adams had somehow shocked them into doing it. Kitchen girls scatter to the east, supes to the west, everyone else out to all points of the compass.
"Jesus H. Christ," Puck mutters, watching Mr. Adams and everyone retreat.
Santana scarcely registers what Puck says, for she can't stop herself from thinking about anything except how Mr. Remington likely planned for his visit to the circus to work out this way all along.
Her father used to rail against men whom he called "mountebanks"—false physicians who sold spurious medicines to sick folks for the purpose of making those folks sicker so that they would then purchase even more spurious medicines.
Roderick Remington is a mountebank if ever there was one.
What kind of bribe will Mr. Adams have to offer to lure that old huckster back to the circus to make a second investigation of the place?
(Santana had known she had a good reason to distrust Mr. Remington from the start.)
Briefly, Santana wonders if Mr. Adams knows how Mr. Remington has defrauded him, for it occurs to her that if an inexperienced person like herself can discern Mr. Remington's game, a shrewd businessman like Mr. Adams likely will have done so, as well. If he has, does his discernment make it worse or better for him, still having to play by Mr. Remington's rules? Is it worse or better to recognize one's own cage while one remains trapped inside of it?
As more people clear out of the wagon bay, Puck starts to look off in the direction of the road back into town. "I'm going to go put our things in the tent," he says to Santana. "Then I've somewhere to be."
He seems in a strange mood and Santana can't say whether it's from Mr. Adams castigating the company and Puck feeling guilty about it or for some other reason.
"Will you be all right here, ladybird?" he asks.
Santana slips her hand into Brittany's again. Her skin brushes up against the lone flower wreath still garlanding Brittany's wrist. "Sure thing," she says.
Puck hardly seems to register Santana's answer; he's already off somewhere beyond the white city, caught up in the same strange business he had to do yesterday. He chucks Santana's elbow as he goes past her, but he doesn't say another word to her, including goodbye.
Vaguely, Santana imagines that Puck feels the same way about Mr. Adams' distress that she did whenever her father arrived at the bachelor cottage still cross about something that had happened at his practice or with his patients.
Santana sometimes hid in her grandmother's bedroom because she hated to hear Papa shout. Does Puck have anywhere to hide, she wonders?
Brittany squeezes Santana's hand. "Are you okay?" Brittany asks, searching Santana's eyes.
"I am," Santana says. "I don't think Mr. Adams is, though. Are you okay, BrittBritt?"
Brittany nods. "I am," she says, though she doesn't smile.
Santana would kiss Brittany then, but they're not entirely alone; Finn, David, Matt, Rory, and a few other supes and clowns congregate about Mr. Adams' flatbed cart. At first, Santana thinks that they're preparing to load the cart with cargo, but then she notices how the boys seem entirely engrossed by something on the flatbed itself.
The advance copy of the article.
Though Mr. Adams just read the article aloud to the company, Santana can't help but want to see the object of her undoing for herself, and Brittany seems to share her impulse. The two girls meet eyes and make the wordless decision to join the boys in their inspection.
"Hey, fellas," Brittany says, leading Santana over to the cart by the pinky finger.
The boys grunt hellos and tip their hats to the girls, and some of them who stand directly in front of the cart even take a step back so as to allow Brittany and Santana to squeeze in front of them. Good manners notwithstanding, all of the boys still seem a bit stunned by what Mr. Remington wrote, looking vacant in the eyes and long in the faces, to the point where Santana wonders if there isn't something more on the page than what Mr. Adams told to the whole company—perhaps something worse than all of Mr. Remington's other libels.
Even just from a quick scan, Santana can see that Mr. Adams read the article exactly as it appears in print, from the title down to the last word.
However, he did fail to mention one particular item on the page: namely, Mr. Halberstadt's photograph of the company, situated just above the article's byline.
Whereas the circus in real time is a cascade of color, like the light that shines through the billboard partition at noontime made human and multiple, and whereas the circus folk themselves are more often show-smiling than not, the circus in a photograph is both monochrome and sullen.
The company stands in six jagged rows, amid which Santana immediately spots several familiar faces.
Sam and Finn pose at the back of the lot, their arms crossed bravely over their bodies and their chests puffed out, all for show. Puck is a dark figure on the edge of the fourth row, his eyes shady and vacuous on the page.
Will and Theresa Schuester stand grimacing alongside each other, the latter holding the former's hands so tightly that Santana winces in sympathy at the sight. Jesse St. James strikes a grand pose, blocking out several supes just behind him with the angle of his elbows and shoulders. Rachel Berry appears between her father and the quadroon manservant, their hands on her shoulders as she holds her skirt in a curtsy for the camera.
Ma Jones' kitchen girls surround Ma Jones like chambermaids would surround their empress, both attendant and protective.
Ken scowls out from amidst several of the circus freaks, the family of little people just in front of him and the Bearded Lady and Famed Giantess of Akron flanking him on either side.
Everyone wears hard, rigid expressions except for just two people.
Brittany and Santana occupy the very center of the photograph, their images stopped mid-movement. Brittany pulls Santana's hand in close toward her body, the gesture smudged like a shooting star, while Santana smoothes back her own hair with her free hand, tucking a loose lock behind her ear.
The same circus wear that tinges everything else in the photograph touches on the two girls, as well: Santana's deep grays and blacks get lost against each other, and Brittany blurs around the edges. Both girls appear ragamuffin and windswept, their clothing tattered and their hair in snarls, and yet, and yet, and yet—
Santana seems bashful but charmed and Brittany bold and charming. Both girls grin, their eyes and mouths soft for each other, and Santana's dimples show, even through the film grain.
If Brittany hadn't already confessed her love for Santana last night in a field of grass, Santana would have seen it today captured forever in a snapshot, for there's such a light to Brittany's face on the page that Santana can almost feel a glow from it now.
It's the same light that illuminates her own features.
It's Santana's first portrait.
Without thinking about what she's doing, Santana reaches out, her fingers tracing over the image. She had never before seen her own likeness anywhere but in a mirror or reflected in water until today. Who is this happy girl in the picture? Her father and grandmother wouldn't even recognize her.
(How many people will view this photograph in the Friday paper? Will readers in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota be able to see what Santana sees now and what Sam saw yesterday—the gypsy girl in love with the knife thrower's daughter and the knife thrower's daughter in love with her just the same?)
"Britt," Santana says, a lump of adoration rising to her throat.
When had Santana become so happy without realizing it? Just a few weeks ago, she had felt so lonely and miserable. Now she can't remember what it's like to feel anything but loved.
Santana glances up from the page to find Brittany wearing her purest look of affection. The expression resides more in Brittany's eyes than it does at her mouth and has more to do with reverent blue than even a change in Brittany's visage. Just seeing it causes Santana's heart to all but collapse for feeling so much.
(Her penny flips, her string tugs, her piano plays. She feels surprised in the best way possible because Brittany Pierce loves her.)
When Santana says her name, Brittany's head tilts just the slightest bit to the left, and her gaze shifts from Santana's eyes to Santana's mouth and then back to Santana's eyes again. Something in her expression turns deep and wanting and Santana can't help but react for it. She wets her lips and starts to close her eyes, fully expecting a kiss.
She and Brittany still aren't alone.
Santana only realizes it when one of the fellas shifts at her side.
She looks away from Brittany, startled to remember that they have company and then even more startled to see how closely their company watches their actions. Do the boys comprehend what they're seeing, Santana wonders, both on the page and just before them? She searches their faces for any glint of recognition but finds none.
Instead, she sees something else.
It takes Santana several seconds to distinguish what that something else is—namely, that the boys don't really look at Brittany and Santana as much as they look just at Santana, and that they aren't so much interested in her as they are in what she can potentially do for them.
Their eyes move back and forth between her and the page—and specifically between her and the caption which appears beneath Mr. Halberstadt's photograph.
They want to know how Mr. Remington has slandered them.
They know that Santana can tell them how he has.
After all, it was Finn Hudson who was the first person at the circus besides Puck to learn that Santana can read. He told Ma Jones Santana's secret, and Ma Jones told it to Mrs. Schuester. By this late date, is it really any wonder that the whole camp knows about Santana having more letters and learning than she ought to?
Sometimes it is very difficult to keep certain secrets at the circus.
"Oh," Santana says, unprepared to find herself at the center of attention. She points at the photograph to clarify. "Do you—?" she stammers, not entirely able to phrase the question for fear of impropriety. She looks to Brittany for reassurance. When Brittany offers her an encouraging nod, she restarts, "It says, 'The five-hundred souls under the employ of Mr. J.P. Adams, as photographed on July 4th, 1898, in Hardin County, Iowa.'"
Rory frowns. "Is that all?"
Santana nods. "That's all."
Finn Hudson makes a face like his thoughts are a bobber that a fish just pulled beneath the surface of a murky pond. He furrows his brow. "Oh," he says, turning to leave in a slow, confused kind of way.
He obviously expected something much worse than just a brief statement of place and time.
The other boys follow his lead and start to disperse, as well, unwilling to loiter any longer in one place, lest Ken find them out and shout at them for lollygagging.
Briefly, it occurs to Santana how very strange it is that out of a group of nearly ten persons, all of them except for herself and Brittany men, she should be the only one with enough education to read a simple passage aloud. She doesn't know what to make of the occurrence, and the boys seem not to know what to make of it, either; they cast glances at her as they walk away, wearing expressions equal parts distrustful and admiring.
Soon enough, Santana and Brittany find themselves alone together in the wagon bay.
Brittany hasn't stopped staring at Santana since Santana read the caption. Whereas the boys seemed unsure as to how to regard Santana's literacy, Brittany seems solely impressed by it herself. She grins like Santana is the best person she's ever seen. When Santana meets her eyes, Brittany's smile turns wily. Brittany bites her bottom lip.
"Is everyone gone?" she asks, not daring to look away from Santana, even for a second.
Santana checks to make sure that she and Brittany are alone. "Uh huh," she chirps.
Brittany's smile turns even wilier. "Good," she says, "because I've been waiting all morning to kiss you, darlin'."
She releases Santana's hand, opting to snake her arm around Santana's waist instead. In the next second, she pulls her and Santana's hips together and turns their bodies as if they were dancing, backing Santana up against the flatbed of the cart.
The strength and control in Brittany's motion sends a tremor through Santana's whole body, and Santana lets out a low groan, reeling and wedged between Brittany and the cart, as dizzy as if she'd just spent hours spinning circles. She fumbles to find a hold onto Brittany's person, settling for a spot just below Brittany's ribcage.
Brittany reaches up with her free hand and strokes Santana's hair away from her face, lifting Santana's chin, tilting Santana's head just so. Santana allows Brittany to lead her, closing her eyes and stilling herself in anticipation of Brittany's kiss.
Brittany's breath heats her mouth, and then Brittany's teeth graze her bottom lip. Then she and Brittany are kissing, full and deep, like they didn't get enough in the way of kisses last night in the field—like they could never get enough in the way of kisses, really. Brittany directs their motions, humming and grinning as she urges Santana to open her mouth just a bit.
"Mm," Brittany says, tasting the kiss, and Santana's heartbeat spreads out into her skin and between her legs. She feels wonderfully overwhelmed, so taken by Brittany that she can scarcely think straight.
They kiss once, twice, and then a final time, with Brittany trailing her lips from Santana's mouth to Santana's jaw, kissing once just below Santana's ear.
"Good morning," Brittany whispers, a smile in her voice.
"Good morning," Santana repeats through a breathless laugh. She thumbs over Brittany's ribs and laughs again, pulling Brittany in even closer to her so that their hips and bellies and breasts all align. "Amazing morning, actually. Best morning in the history."
"In the history?" Brittany repeats, scrunching up her nose.
Santana feels too happy to even blush at her own mistake. "That's how you say it in Spanish," she shrugs. "If you keep kissing me like that, I'll forget all my words, Britt."
Brittany pouts. "You'd better not. I like your words," she says. She nuzzles her head against Santana's. "Mm, I love you."
If Santana thought that it was wonderful hearing the words for the first time last night after waiting for them all day, she had underestimated the sheer exhilaration she would experience hearing them today, just because.
She nuzzles her head against Brittany's. "That's the best news in the world, Britt," she grins, "because I love you, too."
"Oh lands, Santana," Brittany says in the same way that a person might say it when someone has given her a gift that she finds just too thoughtful.
For a second, Santana expects that Brittany will kiss her again, but Brittany doesn't.
(Brittany always finds some way to surprise her.)
Instead, Brittany spins so that she's the one with her back against the cart and Santana rests against her. Brittany slouches into the cart's support and wraps both her arms around Santana, pulling Santana in close. With Brittany at a slight recline, she and Santana are very nearly of the same height—an unusual occurrence but one in which Brittany seems to revel. She sets her head on Santana's shoulder and breathes in the scent of Santana's hair, holding her.
Though they stand out in the open, Santana feels entirely safe.
Both girls sigh into the embrace.
"From the first day I met you, I just kept wishing that you'd like me as much as I liked you, and then you did, and then I loved you, and then you loved me, too," Brittany mumbles, her jaw still resting on Santana's shoulder. "How did we even get lucky enough to find each other?"
"I don't know," Santana says honestly. "I'm just glad that we did."
Brittany nods but doesn't reply aloud—and it's all right that she doesn't because she doesn't need to. Santana can feel Brittany's agreement by the way her body sinks, so relaxed and soft, against Santana's own. By now, Santana has folded her hands at the top of Brittany's back. She rubs her thumbs over the curve of Brittany's spine, mapping out the vertebrae, writing calm and care and love into the gaps between Brittany's hard and soft places.
Sun heat soaks into Santana's hair. Brittany heat soaks into Santana's skin. Without meaning to do it, Santana starts to imagine what it would be like to run her hands under Brittany's skirt here against the flatbed cart. Her heartbeat gives another hard pulse between her legs, and she wonders if Brittany can sense it.
Nothing Santana has ever done in her life has ever felt so right as touching Brittany in the tent, and Santana longs to try it again—to do it better and less clumsily and with more love laced into her movements. The way Brittany touched her was so perfect. and Santana almost aches to return some of that perfection to Brittany, as well as to have Brittany touch her again. Just thinking about it causes Santana to shift, her body rubbing hot against Brittany's.
Santana lets out a gasp.
Only then does she realize where she and Brittany stand and how very out-in-the-open they are. Though she hates to do so, Santana forces herself to peel back from Brittany just a bit, disconnecting their hips from each other and coaxing Brittany to lift her head from her shoulder. When Brittany whines, Santana gives her back another rub.
"What do you bet Mrs. Schuester still won't want to see us today?" Santana asks, squinting against the sun glare.
Brittany smirks. "Everything. She won't stop being sore at us until next week, I don't think. Or maybe next month, even."
Santana laughs. "Well, maybe if we're lucky, she'll never forgive us," she says.
Brittany shakes her head. "No," she says, "we haven't got it that good just yet. I think you would have had to slap her back for that to happen. Or I would have."
For the briefest instant, Santana allows herself to picture such an event in her mind. Mrs. Schuester would be so offended that she would probably frog march Brittany and Santana straight to Mr. Adams and demand their expulsion from the circus that instant.
"Let's not let it get to that, BrittBritt," Santana says shrewdly.
Brittany nods her consent. "Okay," she says. For a second, she smiles at Santana, but then suddenly she turns quiet and starts chewing her lip. Santana feels Brittany twiddle her thumbs where they link her hands at the small of Santana's back, abruptly nervous about something. Just as Santana is about to ask Brittany what troubles her, Brittany blurts out, "I don't think we should go see Ma Jones today, either."
Santana quirks an eyebrow. If they don't work for Mrs. Schuester today, they have to work for Ma Jones. They haven't another option. "Why?" she asks, astonished.
Brittany's gaze dances between Santana's eyes. "It's just—," Brittany stammers. "It's just that I don't think she'd like to see two folks like you and me who are, well—when she can't—"
"—when she can't be," Santana finishes, knowing the words that Brittany omitted.
Santana's heart aches with the same sympathetic pain she felt yesterday as she thinks on Ma Jones' predicament. It also swells with adoration for Brittany, who's thoughtful and compassionate enough to know how much it could gall a girl who just had to give up on love to find herself in the presence of two persons who are so in love that they can hardly see straight for it.
"Right," Brittany says.
"Right," Santana says back. They stare at each other for a long while before Santana asks, "Then what shall we do today, BrittBritt?"
"You don't suppose the fellas need help mending zebra fences or feeding the elephants, do you?" Brittany jokes.
Though nothing in what Brittany says suggests the notion to Santana, at Brittany's word, Santana realizes what she and Brittany ought to do about their lack of morning work. "Britt," she says, standing up a bit straighter. "You know how Mr. Adams said that the shows need to be perfect from now on?"
Brittany nods, aware that Santana has come upon an idea but not what the idea is. Her brow furrows, and she waits for Santana to explain herself.
"You know what would help the show be perfect?" Santana leads.
"What?" Brittany says.
Santana draws a breath, steeling herself. "If it included a knife act with a knife thrower who could, well—"
"—see," Brittany finishes.
Immediately, Santana searches Brittany's eyes, wondering if Brittany will want to practice throwing today. She and Santana haven't managed to get in any more time with the board since that first occasion in the woods, and Santana doesn't know if Brittany will even want to try the act again, now that she's had more time to consider things.
(Santana knows that, for herself, she often tends to become more afraid of precarious situations the longer she has to think about them in advance.)
(Of course, Brittany is so much braver than she is.)
It takes a long while for Brittany to say anything. She searches Santana's eyes for an unnamable something and then searches inside herself before she finally gives a nod. "Okay," she breathes. Then, "Yeah. Let's do that. The sooner we can show Mr. Adams the act, the better. No misses."
"No misses," Santana repeats, knowing that Brittany means it. She gives Brittany's back another rub, proud of Brittany for wanting to try the act again, even though it so upset her to do it last time.
Her touch seems to embolden Brittany, who starts to sit up from against the cart. "All right," Brittany says, determination in her voice. "We need a plan so we don't get caught sneaking out of camp, darlin'."
The girls spend the next quarter hour in conference, discussing how they'll steal through the camp to Brittany's tent to procure the throwing supplies. They draw out maps of the route they intend to take against the grass with their toes and decide that Santana will act as a guard outside the tent flap while Brittany fetches the gear.
Once they have their things, they'll proceed directly to the woods, choosing a spot where they can still hear camp sounds but not see any part of the white city through the tree cover—that way, they'll be able to hear the lunch bell, but no one from the circus will glimpse them at their endeavors.
They plan to leave the woods around the time they start to get hungry—which should be just a few minutes before the mess bell actually sounds. However, should their stomachs fail to give them proper warning about the time, their location will still allow them to hear the bell toll and make it back to the mess with seconds to spare.
If worse comes worst, they can always leave the throwing supplies behind in the woods while they run along to lunch, and Brittany can retrieve the supplies later, after the warning bell rings for the morning fair. Her father never checks the gear before show time anyway.
The logistics of their plan decided, the girls consider what they'll say if someone should happen upon them while they're in transit with the board and knives—just cleaning off the apple stains and sharpening the blades before the show.
(One can't be too careful, after all.)
Thoroughly prepared to undertake their endeavor, Brittany gives Santana a nod, and they start off in the direction of the Pierce tent—though they only take a few steps before Brittany turns back to the cart.
Santana watches with curiosity as Brittany peels the advance article up from the flatbed and folds it, careful-handed, down to a three-inch square, which she then tucks under her sash as though it were a missive and she a messenger. Santana must meet Brittany with a shocked look because Brittany shrugs and explains her actions at once.
"Mr. Adams left it behind," Brittany says, as if the fact that he did so grants her permission to take the thing for herself. "If he wants it back, he'll have Ken threaten everyone, and I'll just slip it under the flap of his business tent while no one's looking. He won't even have to punish anyone for stealing it because he won't know who took it in the first place, and he'll have it returned to him as soon as he asks for it. It's better me taking it than someone who wouldn't know enough to get it back to Mr. Adams." Here Brittany flashes Santana her cat-smile, "Plus, I like the photograph."
(Santana can't help it if she can hardly argue with Brittany's logic.)
(Santana can't help it if her more-than-a-sweetheart is the cleverest person at the circus.)
The girls resort to the Pierce tent by way of the billboard partition, following along it on the business side of the camp in-between the midway booths and the actual posters themselves so as to avoid happening upon any circus folks in transit. The billboards don't yet cast their full spectrum of color upon the earth, with the sun still low in the sky and it still early in the day, but they do turn Brittany's hair and Santana's blouse shades of blue and green and ruby red in passing, causing the girls to laugh at the strange beauty of the light's tricks.
Neither one of them talks at all as they walk, for fear of attracting unwanted attention. Instead, they grin at each other and swing their hands between them, pleased with their own cunning and with everything, really.
They make it as far as the family tent row.
When they turn the corner, there she is—Ma Jones standing outside the Evans family tent, just across from Brittany's.
At first, Santana doesn't register who it is that she sees, for there's always a weirdness to happening upon a person in a place that the person doesn't usually frequent, like suddenly becoming aware of a dream. It especially throws Santana to take in Ma Jones' company—Sam's mother, Mrs. Evans, a slight woman whom Santana has often seen around camp but has never herself spoken to.
Mrs. Evans has hair as fair as Sam's, high cheekbones, and a kind face. She whispers something to Ma Jones, standing very close to her, almost but not exactly touching Ma's person. For her part, Ma appears very young, situated so close to a woman older than herself, and small and windless like at the general store at St. James. She folds her arms over her breast, clutching herself in close, and looks at Mrs. Evans with dark, sad eyes, following the way Mrs. Evans moves her mouth, hearing without understanding.
After a few seconds, Mrs. Evans seems to ask Ma Jones a question, meeting her eyes and addressing her very directly. Ma Jones nods her head yes, her lips pursed tight.
Just then, it occurs to Santana that this conference must be one of a very private sort, for fear shines from Ma Jones' countenance such as Santana has never seen in her before, even yesterday when Shane made his proposal to Ma in front of everyone. For her part, Mrs. Evans acts utterly concerned about these whole proceedings, repeating her question until Ma Jones nods again. Is Ma Jones about to cry?
To Santana's great surprise, Mrs. Evans then reaches out and sets her hand on Ma's elbow, comforting her.
Shock runs through Santana, of the same type she always feels whenever someone like Mrs. Evans shows human kindness toward someone like her. She gasps, in awe that Mrs. Evans would choose to break a rule, though Mrs. Evans is well-respected around the camp—and the preacher's wife, no less.
Santana's gasp isn't loud enough to attract any attention, and yet it escapes her lips at the exact moment that Ma Jones seems to sense her and Brittany's presence. Ma turns her head towards the disturbance, looking down the tent row.
When she sees Brittany and Santana, whatever tears she had in her eyes dry up in an instant.
"Brittany Pierce! Santana Puckerman! What y'all think you're doing, skulking about camp when there's work to be done?"
(It had been too long since Ma Jones had caught Santana unawares.)
Brittany and Santana end up in the mess pit, conscripted into helping Ma Jones and her girls prepare a picnic lunch for Messrs. Adams and Fabray and their families. Ma Jones assigns Santana to stir batter for a pastry dessert and Brittany to assemble sandwiches with bread, mayonnaise, sardines from a can, and vegetable fixings.
Though the girls had feared that their own jolly mood might somehow prove hurtful to Ma Jones if she were to spend time in their presence, Ma Jones actually pays very little attention to them altogether as they work. Instead, she bustles about her kitchen, critiquing her girls as they roll silverware into napkins for place settings and pack pickled beets, biscuits, boiled eggs, and quince preserves, one item atop the others, into the belly of a sizable splint basket.
Of course, even if Ma Jones were to pay them mind, Brittany and Santana don't feel much in a jolly mood anymore, for all of their elaborate planning has gone for naught and their good intentions to practice the knife throwing act have in fact amounted to nothing.
"I'm sorry, Britt," Santana says as she starts to pour her batter into a mold, as Ma Jones instructed.
Brittany shrugs. "It's not your fault. And we can always try again later," she says, though even as she speaks, Santana can't help but wonder when they'll ever find a better moment to sneak off into the woods together than the one Ma Jones just stole from them.
Once Santana finishes setting the batter into its mold, Ma Jones sets the dish on embers to cook and appoints Santana to grate cinnamon in the meanwhile. Grating cinnamon is an awful job, for it is hard on the elbows and often results in cut fingers. Santana flinches with each new scrape, and Brittany pouts at her, sympathetic to her trouble.
"Abuela never wanted me to grate cinnamon in her kitchen," Santana gripes, scraping another cinnamon stick down her shredder. "She thought that I might ruin something."
Brittany quirks an eyebrow. "Are spice graters made for right-handed people, too?" she asks.
Santana laughs. "Not for right-handed people—just grown women and not little girls with clumsy fingers, I don't think," she says.
Brittany slops mayonnaise onto a new slice of bread with the flat of her knife. "Did Abuela have a Spanish proverb about that?" she teases.
"Nope. She just said, '¡Santana, no lo toques!'"
"What's that mean?"
"It means 'Santana, don't you touch that.'"
Brittany smirks. "Were you always getting into things that you shouldn't, darlin'?"
At first, the question flusters Santana, but then she realizes that Brittany is still teasing her. "No," she protests, giggling. She tries to tease Brittany just a little bit in return. "I'll have you know that I was very well behaved until I met you, Brittany Pierce."
Brittany feigns disbelief. "You? I don't believe it for one second," she declares. At first, she wears a lopsided, careless kind of smile, but then it turns reverent. When next she speaks, her voice is much quieter. "I like learning new things about you."
Santana wants to reply with a quick "I love you," but she knows that she oughtn't to do so within earshot of Ma Jones and the kitchen staff. She grins at Brittany, adoring the girl who adores her boring old bachelor cottage stories. She wants to say something more, but can't think of what that something should be before Ma Jones happens by and she has to turn mum.
Gradually, Santana and Brittany settle into a companionable silence, such as has been the working custom between them since the first occasion of their meeting. As they do so, Santana starts to observe Ma Jones, checking to see if whatever troubled Ma on the family tent row followed Ma back to the mess pit, too.
Yesterday, it was easy to tell how much it gutted Sam to see his true love affianced to someone other than himself because his sunshine turned into the dreariest rain clouds.
Ma Jones isn't such an easy person read as Sam is, though.
Indeed, most persons might wonder if Ma Jones were actually heartbroken at all, considering the evenness of her expression and the regularity with which she attends her obligations in the kitchen. Santana might even be one of those persons herself, except that today she watches Ma very closely and for a long while, until she starts to notice a certain disposition in Ma—a particular rhythm, both familiar and strange to Santana, like something out of a waking dream.
Though Santana herself became prone to tears and miserable almost to the point of illness when she felt heartbroken thinking that Brittany could never return her love, she well knows that there are other kinds of heartbreak than just that kind in the world.
Some heartbreak is quiet, like Santana's father's. Some is sudden, like Sam's.
For Ma Jones, heartbreak seems to give chase like a hunting dog at her heels. She reacts to it by running ever faster, trying to do more and more to put it in the dust behind her. Most people would mistake Ma's reaction for her being a busybody or having no sense of humor, but Santana doesn't. She recognizes heartbreak in the snap of Ma's voice and can see it very plainly written into the way that Ma can't seem to allow herself to settle into any one place for too long or to enjoy any kind of peace.
That was how Santana got by in the first few days after Papa died, after all—always running along so as to keep from stopping, pretending to be sharp as tacks when really she felt soft and torn inside.
Santana knows that she and Ma Jones aren't truly friends and that even if they were friends she would still hardly have the right to say anything to Ma concerning Ma's present troubles. Even so, Santana can't help but wish that she could offer Ma some comfort or at least let her know that her heartbreak hasn't gone unnoticed by the whole world. Santana wishes she could tell Ma that someone else has seen her hurt and cares about it, even if that someone can do nothing to make it better.
When Brittany and Santana finish their respective tasks and Ma dismisses them to go wash the kitchen grime from their hands before lunch, Santana very nearly blurts out the words "I'm sorry" and only at the last instant prevents herself from doing so.
Ma Jones probably doesn't notice Santana almost saying something, but Brittany does, and she fixes Santana with an inquisitive look as they set off for the washtubs at the back of the chuck together.
"Santana—?" she starts.
She doesn't finish her question, mainly because she and Santana happen upon something just as they round the wagon: a single dried dandelion, crushed in the grass at their feet. An empty jam jar bobs, soaking in the washtub nearest it.
Without another word, Brittany reaches over and takes Santana's hand in hers. When the girls meet each other's eyes, they don't smile. Their shared look tells Santana that they both feel of two hearts at once again—grateful, on the one hand, to have what they do, but confounded, on the other, as to why they should have it when others can't and don't and when there are rules upon rules upon rules that should thwart it.
Brittany lifts Santana's hand to her mouth and gives Santana's knuckles a kiss before stooping down to retrieve the dandelion from the grass, tucking it into her sash along with Mr. Adams' article. When Santana flashes her a questioning look, Brittany bites her lip, apologetic.
"So Sam doesn't have to see it after lunch," she mumbles, and Santana nods in understanding.
(Sometimes it's not easier to go without the thing one wants even when one knows precisely why he can't have it.)
It's not yet lunchtime when Brittany and Santana return to the mess after washing, so of course Ma Jones still has work for them to do before the bell rings.
"Y'all take this to Mr. Adams at the business tent," Ma instructs, shoving the heavy splint basket into Santana's arms and handing Brittany two pitchers, one filled with coffee and the other with lemonade. "Don't dawdle, and don't make pests of your fool selves. If Mr. Adams says anything to either of you, you best reply Yes, sir or No, sir, and nothing more or less than that, you hear? He has real business with Mr. Fabray today, and he don't need no troublemakers like you two hitching things for him in no way, you wise?"
"Good," Ma says. "Now don't spill that coffee."
She sends Brittany and Santana away with a wave of her spoon, muttering to herself under her breath as they go that she hopes she won't live to regret sending "the two biggest fool girls that ever there was" to run her errands for her.
(Under the sharpness in her complaints, Santana just hears soft and torn.)
Santana always feels nervous going to see Mr. Adams, like one of Mr. Malory's knights approaching a strange castle, and today she does more so than ever on account of Mr. Adams' perturbation concerning the advance article. With Ma Jones' stern warning still ringing in her ears, Santana can only hope that she won't do anything to trouble her employer or to upset anyone in his party by her presence.
As she and Brittany draw closer to their destination, Santana begins to hold her breath, as if waiting for someone to cinch a tight corset around her ribs, and decides on the spot to remain silent unless directly called upon to speak.
The Adams and Fabray families are already waiting for their lunch by the time Brittany and Santana arrive with it. They stand outside the business tent, flanked by Ken and the same manservant Santana saw pushing Arthur's chair the other day.
Messrs. Adams and Fabray smoke from their pipes, their free hands pushed into their pockets. Mr. Fabray mutters something to Mr. Adams, and Mr. Adams listens intently, more chewing on the end of his pipe than simply holding it in his mouth. Every few seconds, Mr. Adams nods and takes a hard puff of tobacco, saying something like "Of course, of course" or "Indeed, sir." Santana can't hear what Mr. Fabray tells him, but she supposes it must have to do with their business.
Arthur sits in his chair, dispassionately picking at the flannel blanket spread over his legs. Every now and again, he glances at his father, but Mr. Adams never returns his looks or even registers his presence at all. The manservant holds to the back of Arthur's chair, shading Arthur's neck from the sun with his own person.
Looking at the boy, it strikes Santana that Arthur seems as circus-lonely as everyone else in the white city, though he's the proprietor's son and has his name printed on the circus marquee.
Ken is off to the left of the manservant, as wretched as a dog that knows it has displeased its master. He glances every now and again at Mr. Adams, just as Arthur does, but he daren't get too close to the man. He holds his little bowler hat in his hands and mouths something to himself.
(Santana imagines it's Ken's version of an apology for calling Mr. Remington a "chucking cuss," or at least for doing so when Mr. Remington could hear him.)
Just beside Ken is Mrs. Fabray, fussing with Quinn's shirtsleeves, primping and fluffing where her daughter can't be bothered to do so.
Upon first glimpse, Quinn seems in a stoic or maybe even a stony mood, but a second glance reveals a subtle misery written into her disposition. Quinn's eyes, usually the clearest and most beautiful shade of hazel that Santana has ever seen, have turned pink and cloudy, and Quinn swallows heavily every few minutes, as if there were an obstruction lodged in her throat.
Though Quinn appears calm enough now, she obviously spent some time either last night or this morning weeping. She refuses to look at Arthur or at anyone around her, really. Even when Brittany and Santana arrive on scene, Quinn hardly seems to register their presence.
"What're you lot doing here?" Ken barks as soon as he sees Brittany and Santana coming down the lane. Then, "Give that to me!" he says, jamming his hat back on his head and marching over to wrest first the splint basket away from Santana and then the coffee and lemonade pitchers away from Brittany.
As soon as he has the whole picnic in his possession, Ken glances at Mr. Adams, searching for approval. Of course, Mr. Adams doesn't pay Ken the least bit of mind.
Rather, he checks his pocket watch. "What have we got today?" he asks absently.
It takes Santana a second to realize that he addresses her and Brittany. She looks to Brittany for help, aware of the rules.
Brittany offers Mr. Adams a smile. "Sardine sandwiches, beets, eggs, crackers, Ma's best biscuits, and cinnamon cake for dessert, with lemonade and coffee to wash it all down, sir," she says brightly.
Mr. Adams nods, too distracted to really show excitement for the spread. Santana feels a bit of relief, knowing that she and Brittany have just completed the hardest part of their errand. She starts to curtsy and back away from the business tent.
"We also have another delivery," Brittany says suddenly.
Santana's eyes aren't the only ones to widen at Brittany's word. Ken, too, looks shocked that Brittany would claim to have something else to distribute, as it's obvious that neither she nor Santana has any food or drink left in their possession. Ken stiffens where he stands, but he can't do much more than that, considering that he holds an entire summer picnic in his arms. Santana stiffens, too.
What is Brittany playing at?
"It's for Miss Lucy," Brittany says, stepping forward to where Quinn is.
Brittany's statement wins the attention of everyone present. The whole party looks to her, and no one more so than Quinn, who seems to notice Brittany's presence for the very first time since she and Santana appeared on the scene. All at once, Quinn stares at Brittany with an eagle perspicacity, quirking her head to one side and furrowing her brow, beyond interested in the strange girl, offering her she knows not what.
Brittany approaches Quinn in the same way one would approach a skittish bird as it hopped along the grass—slowly and with gentle movements. She wears her furrowed, really-seeing expression, perceiving parts of Quinn that Quinn probably doesn't realize she has on display.
Of course, Santana knows what it's like having Brittany take note of you when no one else has ever really done so before, so it doesn't surprise her when Quinn softens under Brittany's gaze and allows Brittany to come to within whispering distance of her.
Brittany acknowledges the new openness with a nod and reaches for the last remaining flower garland still slung at her wrist. A few of the petals have been crushed since the parade—likely in the closeness of Brittany's and Santana's embrace at the wagon bay—but the garland still looks just as sunny as Blaine had hoped it would be when first he envisioned it.
"Brave flowers for a brave girl," Brittany says quietly, extending the wreath to Quinn.
To Santana's surprise, Quinn actually offers up her wrist for Brittany to wrap the wreath around, meek. "Brave flowers?" she repeats, unused to Brittany's queer way of wording things.
Brittany nods. "It takes brave flowers to be such a bright yellow," she says matter-of-factly. She laces the garland over the curve of Quinn's wrist bones, retying a few of the stems that have fallen loose with quick and careful movements.
Though Santana is almost certain that Quinn still doesn't understand what Brittany means, Quinn laughs her wilted, hapless laugh and flashes Brittany the ghost of a smile.
"There," Brittany says, satisfied with her own work.
Brittany speaks in her kindest, sweetest voice, and Santana suddenly loves Brittany even just a little bit more for how gently she treats Quinn, despite the fact that Quinn has never acted especially friendly toward her on the few occasions when they've met before.
It occurs to Santana then that Brittany isn't just the girl who finds Santana, but the girl who can find anyone who needs finding, and that such is a great and rare dispensation in a world where people are generally indisposed to go looking for things that don't directly concern them.
For a few seconds, everyone remains silent, but then Mrs. Fabray prompts, "Lucy, thank the poor girl, for God's sake," and Quinn jogs back to a state of full awareness, broken from her reverie.
Quinn retracts her wrist from Brittany's touch, drawing it close to her own body and cradling it. "Thank you, Miss Pierce," she says, staring at Brittany like she can't figure out what Brittany's made of or where she came from.
"You're welcome," Brittany says back, completely guileless.
Having made their delivery, Brittany and Santana set off back toward the mess pit, knowing that Ma Jones will undoubtedly want a full report on how Mr. Adams received his meal. The girls go along with linked pinky fingers, smiling at each other and feeling contented for their good work back at the business tent.
They don't make it all the way to the mess before someone stops their progress, though.
"Miz Brittany, your daddy's looking for you!" a voice calls out.
Brittany and Santana halt where they stand, surprised to find themselves in the presence of one of Ma Jones' kitchen girls, and even more surprised, perhaps, to find the girl all by her lonesome. The girl sits on the edge of one of the washtubs scrubbing out the same dessert mold into which Santana poured the pastry batter earlier.
Her declaration catches both Brittany and Santana entirely unawares.
"He is?" Brittany asks, brow furrowing. She seems not to know what her father could want with her right before lunchtime.
The kitchen girl nods. "Mhm," she confirms. "He's been in your tent hollering for you something fierce for so long and so loud that lil' Miz Stacey Evans come over here to fetch you because her mama said that your daddy must need to see you real bad. Then Miz Jones told Miz Stacey Evans that she had sent you on an errand but that she would have you go to your daddy as soon as you got back from it."
The girl couldn't be smugger for delivering Ma's order. She smirks at Brittany and Santana, infinitely pleased with herself for having something important to tell them.
Santana can't say that she feels as thrilled as the girl does at the news.
Though Mr. Pierce is much less of a mystery to her now than he was when she first made Brittany's acquaintance, Santana still doesn't know that she altogether likes the way that the knife thrower treats his daughter or that she trusts him, even though Brittany seems to. The fact is that while Mr. Pierce will sometimes give his daughter a nickel for sarsaparilla, he'll also sometimes box her ear or frighten her, behavior which Santana simply cannot tolerate.
Something in the way the girl says Mr. Pierce has been hollering for Brittany puts a heaviness into the pit of Santana's belly.
Has he been hollering for his baby girl to come join him at some harmless task or hollering for Brittany because they have hard work to do together?
("You know that!")
When Santana glances at Brittany, she finds that she wears an unreadable expression, lips slightly parted but jaws tight. Brittany nods at the girl, thanking her for conveying Ma's orders, and then turns to Santana. "I've got to go," she whispers, her gaze flitting between Santana's eyes.
"Do you want me to wait outside the tent for you?" Santana asks, reluctant to part from Brittany even for the shortest while. She immediately dislikes how helpless she sounds, but of course Brittany doesn't seem to mind it.
Brittany smiles at Santana's offer, even as she laughs and shakes her head to decline. "You should probably go to lunch," she says gently.
Santana sighs. "I could save you a plate," she tries.
Brittany gives her finger a squeeze. "How about this? You take two biscuits, and if I'm not back by the time the fellas clear their first plates, you eat my biscuit, too?"
Really, Brittany oughtn't to be able to make Santana smile so widely even when Santana feels worried for her. Santana tells Brittany as much.
"Not Hugo, Brittany Pierce," she says softly.
Brittany smirks. "Am so," she says. Then, "I'll see you at the show, darlin'."
She gives Santana's finger another squeeze before releasing it and starts off in the direction of the family tent row. Santana watches her go until her shadow disappears around the corner, feeling nervous, on the one hand, for what Mr. Pierce might want with his daughter, and sweet on Brittany, on the other hand, for more reasons than she can count.
It's only when the lunch bell rings that Santana remembers the presence of the kitchen girl. When she turns around, she finds the girl watching her with dark, curious eyes.
"You best get on to lunch now, cookie. Don't wanna keep your mister waiting," the girl says, not unkindly but with a strange consultative tone to her voice.
Santana can only nod. "Right."
She wishes that the girl would stop staring at her as if she weren't real.
(Will she and Brittany ever find themselves alone together again?)
Since her arrival at the circus, Santana has seldom taken a meal sans a companion, but today she does just that, with Brittany gone off to tend her father, Puck still away on his secret errands, Sam nowhere around, and Finn, Blaine, and Rory sitting in a little cluster with David and the other supe who harassed Santana on the train ride to Mankato, the lot of them oblivious to Santana's presence in the mess pit.
Briefly, Santana considers going over to join Rachel Berry and her father where they eat, but then she thinks better of it, remembering that Rachel is likely still cross with her. Defeated, she fixes herself a small plate with two biscuits and takes a seat on the grass, away from everyone else, perching herself in a place where she could see Brittany's arrival in the mess pit, were it to actually happen.
It doesn't happen.
Brittany never turns up, but Puck does about midway through the meal. He arrives to the mess pit out-of-breath and so sweaty that his skin glints as if buffed. Secretly, Santana hopes that Puck won't see her or that he'll choose to eat with his friends, regardless. Unfortunately, Santana enjoys no such luck; Puck hails her almost right away.
"Hey, ladybird!" he calls, carrying his plate over to her spot of grass. "You saved me a biscuit?" As usual, he doesn't wait for Santana to reply to him—he flops down on the ground beside her, groaning and kicking out his legs. Heat radiates from his body in droves, and he smells like horse flesh and his usual musky herbs. "Oh, Jesus, it's hot!" he complains.
For a moment, Santana considers asking Puck where he's been for the last several hours and why he's left camp after the parade two days in a row now, but then she thinks better of doing so. After all, if Santana were to ask Puck about his day, then Puck might think to ask Santana about hers. Since Santana doesn't particularly care to explain to Puck that she spent her morning trading dizzying kisses with Brittany in the wagon bay, she decides to keep quiet.
She offers Puck what she hopes is a sympathetic look. "It's because we have black hair," she says simply, patting Puck on the wrist. "Black hair traps in sunlight. We're lucky our heads haven't baked yet in this Iowa heat."
Santana expects Puck to roll his eyes at her or to tell her that she sure must have baked her head if she thinks that his hair color has anything to do with why he feels hot, but he doesn't.
He smiles his idiot smile at her, impressed by her logic.
"Shucks, ladybird," he says, "you're probably onto something. You know, I haven't had my head shaved since your pa's funeral. My hair's much too long for July. What do you say you help me sheer it down after the matinee?"
His request takes Santana entirely by surprise.
As a child, Santana would often observe as Abuela trimmed Papa's hair in the kitchen at the bachelor cottage. Papa would sit on a pantry stool with newspaper spread out under it and Abuela would stand just behind him, tongue between her teeth as she measured out her work. Papa always wore his hair in a very smart cut and slicked it back with pomade. He preferred having Abuela cut it rather than a barber because he said she took more care in completing her task free of charge than a barber would even for a sizable tip.
He was probably right.
When Abuela died, Papa offered Santana the chance to take over Abuela's old job, and, though the prospect of being responsible for Papa's grooming did somewhat daunt her, Santana still felt honored to accept the position.
Of course, Santana had only to attempt the task once while using Abuela's right-handed sewing sheers before Papa determined that it would indeed be better for him to seek out a barber for himself after all.
"Santana, my angel, don't cry. It's only a little cut. You see? It washes right away."
"But I hurt you, didn't I?"
"It's all right, Santana. I'm all right. You didn't hurt me. I'm fine."
Fear must show in Santana's eyes for the memory because Puck frowns. "What's the matter, ladybird?" he asks, suddenly serious.
Santana sees no point in lying. "I'm not very handy with scissors—"
"You don't need scissors," Puck says quickly. "You can use my razor or even a kitchen knife, if it suits you. I like my hair shaved all the way down. Do you think you can handle that?"
Santana has never shaved a man's face before, so she wouldn't know if she were any good with a razor, and while she is fairly handy with a kitchen knife, she knows that peeling vegetables is a mite bit different than sheering a man's hair. The idea of holding a sharp edge so close to Puck's head frightens her. What if she were to really hurt him? Even if she doesn't like Puck much, she would hate to give him a bad cut or to nick his ear.
Puck senses Santana's apprehension and reaches out to touch her hand. "You don't have to do it if you don't want to, ladybird," he says. "I think I saw a barbershop on our way through town. I suppose could spare a dime or so to have my hair cut if doing it will help me beat this terrible heat. If you didn't feel up to—"
He speaks so earnestly about not forcing Santana to do something that she doesn't want to do that Santana can't help but take compassion on him.
"I could give it a try," she says abruptly.
Santana's offer clearly takes Puck aback. He blinks several times in succession, both surprised and impressed that Santana would choose to do something she considers uncomfortable for his sake.
"Are you sure?" he asks, searching Santana up and down. When she nods in confirmation, he grins, suddenly more boyish than idiot. "Look at you, trying something new, ladybird!" he says approvingly, chucking her on the knee.
In the next second, he shifts.
Santana only registers what's happening when it's too late for her to do anything about it: Puck uses his right hand to draw Santana's face down to his at the same time that he uses his left hand to prop himself up, rising to meet her.
"That's a good girl," he says, his jaw slackening and gaze fixing in on her face.
Puck lifts his chin, and Santana stiffens.
In the next second, everything happens both all at once and painfully slowly. Santana feels helpless to do anything for her situation, running up against that same old wall inside herself as ever until she's unable to move or even protest. Puck's smell overwhelms her, stronger and brighter than usual for his perspiration. Santana hates it and hates his damp shirt pressing up against her shirt. She hates that he's trying to kiss her in public. She hates that he's trying to kiss her at all.
(She only ever wants to kiss Brittany, not him.)
Though Puck kissed Santana on the neck after their quarrel in the tent the other night, Santana hasn't either kissed Puck on the lips or allowed him to kiss her on the lips since the day she first realized that she was in love with Brittany. Of course, Santana never much liked it when Puck kissed her before—like Brittany says, Puck kisses like a fish—but now that Santana and Brittany have both admitted to loving each other, Santana doesn't think that she'll be able to stand Puck's lips on hers, even if it's just for an instant.
Puck draws so close that Santana can taste the hot tobacco stench of his mouth on her tongue and feel his whole body, hard and heavy, touching hers. She hasn't closed her eyes yet, but he has closed his. He tilts his head and urges Santana forward with his thumb.
She gives a sharp intake of breath and tenses, flinching.
That's all it takes to jar Puck.
His eyes flitter open and he draws back, suddenly running a hand over his own face, checking it. "Oh shit, ladybird!" he says. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to drip sweat on you or anything."
To Santana's great shock, he pulls entirely away from her, once again assuming a proper public distance. To her even greater shock, he actually blushes, embarrassed for his own impropriety. In the next second, he produces a pretty blue and white handkerchief from his pocket and begins to dab his face with it.
Santana would tell Puck that it's all right—that he didn't drip sweat on her—but she somehow can't bring herself to say aught to him now, as she's not entirely certain he won't try to kiss her again once he's wiped his face clean. She holds her breath and counts out one, two, three, four, five beats while Puck scrubs over his brow, cheeks, and chin, grumbling at himself.
Only when he returns his handkerchief to his pocket and finally reaches for his fork to begin eating does Santana allow herself to feel relieved.
(And to feel more relieved than she can say.)
If Puck should never try to kiss Santana again, it would still be too soon.
Santana doesn't want Puck's kisses and she doesn't want Puck. She just wants Brittany. She stares at the thread ring about her finger, heart beating so loudly in her chest that she feels certain that Puck must hear it.
Vaguely, Santana wonders what Brittany would have said if Brittany had seen Puck leaning in to kiss her. After all, Santana can only imagine how awful it would be to watch someone try to kiss Brittany. She feels a stab of shame that she didn't do more to evade Puck's advances. Part of her wishes that she had scratched Puck's face with her nails.
Of course, Puck seems not to realize that he's caused Santana any internal distress. He goes about eating his lunch, chattering on and on to Santana.
"The grub tastes better than usual today, don't it, ladybird? Being affianced must suit our Ma Jones rather nicely, huh? You mind if I take that second biscuit? I'm starved."
The more Puck jaws on at her, the more Santana longs for Brittany and watches in the direction of the chuck, hoping that Brittany will appear before the warning bell rings for the show. As the hour hastens on, Santana can't help but wonder why Mr. Pierce called his daughter back to their tent. Not knowing his reasons worries Santana very much.
(She strokes over the thread ring at her finger, anxious, anxious, anxious.)
When the warning bell finally does ring for the show, Santana contents herself with the knowledge that she will soon see Brittany at the matinee. Puck busses his and Santana's plates, and they walk back to their tent together to gather up their things for the morning fair. As they go, Santana frets that Puck might try to kiss her goodbye once they reach the midway and so makes a point to walk far ahead of him, ducking into her gazebo before he can have any clever ideas.
By now, Puck isn't the only one to have reason to complain about the heat; the temperature has risen by the hour, and the afternoon air positively swelters. Patrons arrive to the midway bearing little fans in hand, the men rolling their shirtsleeves and the ladies hating their petticoats. Unlike yesterday, Ken sticks close to Santana's gazebo throughout the whole fair, maintaining watch over her interactions with their customers.
Santana's initial readings prove uneventful: for the first, she tells a farmer that he would be wise to set aside some of his highest quality seeds from this year's crops to plant next year, if he would like to increase his future yields, and, for the second, she advises a rather giggly woman to seek out happy music to keep her good mood alive. Santana hopes that her third reading will be equally easy for her.
Of course, it isn't.
Five young men in boater hats and waistcoats appear before her table. None of them looks older than thirty years of age, and all of them seem very jolly, laughing and ribbing at one another. The foremost amongst them wears a green and yellow pinstriped vest and a green bowtie. He keeps his hands jammed in his pockets and smirks at Santana when he looks at her.
"Hello," he says. "We're students from the Keokuk Medical College, and we were wondering if you might perhaps be willing to help us settle a small, ah, scientific debate between us, Madame?
You see, my colleagues and I have studied somewhat concerning your profession of chirology, and while I myself am of the opinion that it is a most scientific and quantifiable endeavor, my friends here seem to think that it is—and you must pardon my frankness, for I don't mean to be vulgar—a rather fraudulent pursuit with no basis in the principles of physiology or in human anatomy at all.
In order to resolve our differences, we've determined that if I were to apply some scientific principles to construe a palm reading of my own and do so to the satisfaction of a professional such as yourself, it might satisfy my fellows that palmistry had some scientific basis. All we ask is that you, dear girl, allow me to practice my reading on your palm and then that you judge for your own self whether I have done so well. If my reading proves accurate according to your estimations, then my friends will have to agree that chirology is a valid scientific process, will they not?
So what do you say, Madame? Would you be willing to help us in the name of science?"
It's a very strange appeal and one that doesn't altogether sit well with Santana, who herself knows next to nothing concerning traditional palmistry. Will this medical student be able to discern her fraud if she acquiesces to his request?
Her hesitation must show on her face, for, in the next second, the medical student seems to realize that Santana will need some incentive to help him. He produces a two dollar bill from the pocket of his striped waistcoat.
The bill appears tattered but absolutely legal. It bears an image of General McPherson, who was killed in the Battle of Atlanta, with the large red seal of the U.S. Department of Treasury right beside his portrait.
Even though Santana acquired a bill twenty-five times more valuable than the one the medical student offers her now only just yesterday, she still can't help but gape a bit at the prospect of coming into more money—and especially so soon. She had never imagined herself making tips, after all.
"I promise to only take few moments of your time," the medical student says, setting the bill down in front of Santana on the table. "And I will compensate you for your troubles, of course."
If Santana weren't already tempted to accept the bill on her own behalf, Ken's animated gesticulations to her from over her patron's shoulder would otherwise convince her that she had no choice but to agree to her patron's proposed terms.
She glances from Ken's blotchy face to the money on the table.
"All right, sir," she says, wearing her grandmother's accent.
She extends her hand to the medical student, who positively beams for her cooperation.
The medical student nods at Santana and receives her hand with both of his own. In the next second, he sits down and begins to pour over the features of her palm, observing its anatomy as if he were checking it for injury or defect.
His manner isn't unfamiliar to Santana, for she finds that the medical student behaves in much the same way that her father used to whenever he had reason make an examination of her when she was a child—which is to say with thoroughness and clinical precision but also an air of human warmth.
In fact, the medical student and his friends rather remind Santana of her father and his colleagues from Bellevue.
While Santana was growing up, her father would invite his doctor friends over to the bachelor cottage to make merry with him with some regularity. The men would gather around the piano in the parlor and drink until they felt bold enough to sing. While the men socialized, Abuela would serve them jelly rolls and sweet pickles and refill their glasses with Papa's fine liquors. The men would stay up long into the night, well past Santana's bedtime, swapping stories about their work and reminiscing over their college days.
Santana wasn't allowed to touch Papa or to speak to him while his friends were in the house—¡No lo molestes, querida!—but once or twice he did invite her down into the parlor to sing for everyone as if she were giving a recital. Santana remembers how her father's eyes welled with tears as he shook his brandy in her direction.
"Isn't she just—? Well, isn't she—?" he said, a tightness in his throat that Santana didn't often hear.
Looking back, Santana knows that her father could have chosen to host his stag parties wherever he liked—at the Grolier Club or his own apartment on East 32nd Street, say—but that he preferred to stage them at the bachelor cottage because some secret part of him had hoped that someone might notice how very special his hidden things were, even if he could do nothing to unhide them.
Santana allows herself to carry away so deeply into memory that it jolts her when the medical student finally speaks.
"Very well, gentlemen," says the medical student, and his friends immediately gather around him, as though they were attending a gross clinic in one of Mr. Eakins' paintings.
The crowd outside Santana's booth titters with excitement, and Santana herself feels both nervous and thrilled, wondering what the medical student will have to say about her. The medical student clears his throat.
"Here we see our subject's lifeline," he announces, tracing over the crease that runs along the bulb of Santana's thumb, "and here the heart line," and he traces again, this time over the suture at the top of Santana's palm just below her fingers. "Note the abruptness of the first line and the acute pronunciation of the second."
"Noted," says one of the student's companions, and the others laugh, amused with the mock formality of the proceedings.
The medical student giving the reading ignores the laughter and carries on straight-faced.
"Now, the lifeline is the cursus vitae and shows the vitality of the specimen. The heart line is tied to the powers of Venus and shows inclinations towards romance and attraction."
Here, Santana begins to panic. She dislikes how the medical student talks.
(She dislikes him rifling through what should be her secret things—)
A malevolent look starts to spread over the student's features. His smile turns from a genuine one to something meaner. He continues his tour of Santana's hand: "As you can see from the shortness of the first line and the marked articulation of the second, we have ourselves here a modern day Juliet, who will love truly but die young."
Santana doesn't mean to do it, of course, but at the medical student's word, she flinches and attempts to pull her hand away from him.
His grip is too strong for her, though.
He grabs on more tightly to her hand with both of his and holds her firmly in place, though she balks at him. Before she can say anything to protest it, he goes on with his reading, talking in a very loud voice, to the amusement of his friends and the intrigue of the larger crowd.
"Of course, there is a medical explanation for this diagnosis, gentlemen. We know that this woman leads an itinerant lifestyle and is likely subject to such deprivations as are natural to her peripatetic state. Malnutrition, the dangers of live performance, and poor hygiene will all contribute to her premature expiration."
Judging by the way that the medical student smirks at her, he doesn't seem to think that Santana will understand what it is he's just said concerning her character, but she does. His words cut her.
She isn't a vagrant, for God's sake.
Ken still stands just behind the student's companions, and Santana looks to him for help. He once stopped a handful of teenage boys from harassing Santana in St. James, after all. Won't he do anything to intervene now?
He only watches, agog and useless, too flabbergasted to speak, fear behind his beady eyes as the medical student continues to impugn Santana's honor and say the most terrible things about her.
"What about that true love?" someone calls from the crowd.
The medical student sneers. "We know from Dr. Morton and the modern anthropologists that specimens from her race often exhibit nymphomanical traits, which is to say that it shouldn't surprise me if our fortuneteller here were to take many lovers throughout her brief life. Venus rules her, after all. Of course, the clap won't do anything to extend her life, either, and—"
Hearing the student say such a vulgar thing about her to a crowd gives Santana the burst of strength she needs to wrench her arm from his grasp. She twists away from him and stands up out of her chair, as rushed and agitated as one of Jesse St. James' lions at the sound of the tamer's whip.
The suddenness of her motion causes the crowd around her booth to recoil and some to shout. The medical student and his friends all start.
"Madame, I haven't finished with my reading yet!" the medical student cries, genuinely incensed that Santana would thwart him. He gestures furiously to the two dollar bill on the table. "If you want your reward—!"
"I don't want it! Not from you!"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Well, you can't have it!"
The medical student couldn't look more surprised if touching Santana's palm were to have scalded him. He stands up from the table, outraged. When he spots Ken hovering behind him, seems to expect that Ken will intervene and reprimand Santana for the disrespect.
Ken stands firm, looking between the medical students and Santana. His face isn't purple, and his hands hang limp at his sides. He seems surprisingly calm, considering that Santana just ruined the morning fair on a day when Mr. Adams said that the circus couldn't afford to have anything go wrong.
Santana's just done everything wrong.
Her pulse pounds in her ears, and she watches, dizzy, as the medical student snatches up his bill from the table and gestures for his friends to follow him away. He is gone in a trice, cutting through the crowd like a saber.
Santana faces Ken. "I'm sorry," she babbles. "I insulted him and forgot my accent, and now he's cross, and Mr. Adams said he didn't want any foul ups today, and I've already fouled up everything before the show's even begun and—"
Ken gives his head one sharp shake in Santana's direction, cutting her off before she says anything more. When he meets her eyes, his meaning couldn't be clearer.
If you don't say it, it didn't happen.
Santana shuts up immediately.
Ken turns to the throng outside Santana's booth. "The J.P. Adams & Son Traveling Circus & Menagerie is proud to purvey only the most upstanding and high quality entertainment of a most wholesome sort to the people of Dyersville!" he calls out over the excited chatter. "We don't abide hoodlums on this midway anymore than we do in our shows! No vulgar talk here, folks! Nothing to see!"
(For the first time since she arrived at the circus, it occurs to Santana that Ken might actually be good at his job.)
The show bell rings not one minute after Ken makes his announcement, and, when it does so, the crowd around Santana's booth immediately begins to disperse. Santana waits to feel better, watching her patrons go away. She waits to feel less cornered, less foolish, less mocked. If she could only breathe, she'd be all right, she knows. She tries to busy her hands, worrying them together.
(She waits, she waits, she waits.)
But though Santana endeavors to soothe herself, she finds that she can't do so. The medical student's "reading" replays again and again through her mind, accusing her of things she would never do, predicting an outcome for her that she can hardly stand to think about.
Santana hates the medical student for saying such awful things about her, and especially to such a wide audience as the one that had gathered around her gazebo. She also hates that she can never seem to speak up at the right times—that she always defends herself either not at all or too late to do good for anyone. Belated tears start to sting at her eyes, and all of a sudden she hurts inside, as if something had scraped out the hollow of her ribcage.
A physician is supposed to do no harm.
("That's not a princess, honey. That's a gypsy.")
Ken waits until the last of Santana's patrons have quit the premises before he comes over to Santana's table, standing just in front of her. He fixes Santana with a serious look but doesn't curse at her.
"We don't shout at patrons," he says gravely.
He seems to want to remind himself of this fact as much as he wants to remind Santana of it.
Just then, Santana remembers what Mr. Remington's article said about Ken, and she wonders if it isn't true. She remembers her first day performing on the midway, when Puck stared Ken down until Ken shirked. Do the rules place Puck higher up than Ken? Is Ken really almost just as lowly as Santana?
It occurs to Santana that even after eleven days at the circus, she's never yet learned Ken's surname, though he seems like a person who should go by his surname, considering his position. Is Ken's surname like Santana's, then? Is it one that would give him away for what he is?
(Give him away as different?)
Santana studies the hardness of Ken's features and the tightness in his jaw. She perceives in his bearing a particular discomfort of being, an uneasiness in his own skin. It strikes her as familiar. She recalls the mirror in St. James. She recalls her time in the Tenderloin district. All at once, for the first time since she met him, Santana begins to feel a bit sorry for Ken, for though she knows what it is to feel ashamed of oneself and to realize that others will hate her for her birth, she's never yet known such self-hatred as he has.
(She remembers the frontier sketch in Ackley and blanches.)
Santana all but runs to the backstage area and puts herself at the front of the line to enter the big top for the knight sketch, set on a reunion with Brittany. Though only a few hours have elapsed since last she and Brittany parted ways, Santana almost aches, starved for Brittany's company.
While the more logical part of Santana knows that no spell or talisman exists that could help ward off what the medical student said about her, her heart has convinced her that just seeing Brittany—that just feeling Brittany's touch—will be enough to undo whatever damage the medical student has done to her and to prove him wrong once and for all.
(Santana has but one true love and wouldn't want another.)
(She and Brittany are young and well and happier than the medical student could possibly understand.)
When Ken finally draws back the flaps to the big top, something loosens inside Santana and the calm she had hoped for before finds her. She can finally breathe. She can finally be. When she spies Brittany waiting for her at the heart of the ring, she very nearly flies to Brittany's side and doesn't refrain from throwing her arms around Brittany's waist in an embrace.
She buries her face in Brittany's hair, breathing in the windy, wonderful Brittany scent at the back of Brittany's neck. She doesn't linger—just squeezes Brittany once, enough to know that Brittany is there and well and hers.
"Don't ever leave me again," she says, only partly joking.
Brittany sighs and spins Santana around to face her just as the music starts. "You couldn't have missed me half as much as I missed you," she says, swinging her and Santana's hands out wide to the side of them.
Though Santana hates to do it, she can't help but check over Brittany on impulse, searching her for injuries. When she finds none—no boxed ears, no new scrapes—the last strained cord inside her eases.
Mr. Pierce didn't do harm by his daughter.
Brittany is all right.
Though it's probably silly of her to feel so relieved and overjoyed about being back in Brittany's presence when she and Brittany have only been apart for just a short time, Santana doesn't care; she can be silly around Brittany, and it doesn't matter because Brittany never faults her for it.
Santana grins, and Brittany grins at her in return. She takes a step forward just as Brittany gestures for her to come in close.
With the band already in lively form, the girls dance in circles around the center of the ring, allowing the music to catch them up. They nearly bump into Rachel Berry, who spares them a scathing look for their carelessness, and laugh so loudly at each other that it wouldn't surprise Santana if the audience could hear them over the song.
When the knights rush out, Santana hides at Brittany's shoulder, sneaking a kiss against Brittany's skin, her own hair and Brittany's shrouding her face. When the maids all go to give their flowers to the men, Santana and Brittany seek out Puck and Sam right alongside each other and present their blooms to the boys in turn.
"Do you really have to go back to your backstage?" Santana complains as she and Brittany and Puck and Sam all exit the big top together.
Brittany shrugs. "I have to go have my bath day," she says, scrunching up her nose not at the prospect of bathing but rather at the prospect of having to part from Santana again.
"During the show?" Santana asks, shocked.
Brittany nods. "Saves time," she says, shrugging. "The knife throwing act isn't until close to the end of things anyway."
"You're so smart, Britt," Santana says, and Brittany beams as she makes her exit, wandering off in the direction of the dressing tents.
Only with Brittany gone does Santana start to pay attention to the matinee again, and, when she does so, it surprises her to hear a familiar but unexpected voice booming from the big top.
"Ladies and gentleman, children young and old, welcome to the most magnificent spectacle between this nation's two fair oceans! You've read my name on the marquee. That's right—I'm Mr. J.P. Adams and this is my circus! Welcome to our show today. It's my pleasure to purvey to you the most high quality entertainment available on this continent. I'm very pleased to introduce the very best artists in the world, who've come to amuse you with their antics, pluck, charisma, and even their willingness to defy death! You'll see both man and beast perform feats of strength, skill, and pageantry! Please do make yourselves comfortable. And now on with the circus!"
In all of the excitement following last night's show, Santana had forgotten about Will's suspension. She had also forgotten that he would have a replacement during today's performances.
Curious upon curious, Santana looks to Puck, asking his silent permission to go over to the aperture at the back of the tent. When Puck grants Santana leave with a nod, she hurries to her usual place and pokes her head through the tent flap, gazing out just in time to see Mr. Adams gesturing to the trapeze with his cane.
Mr. Adams wears his magnificent red topcoat and a stovepipe hat and seems perhaps more regal than ever. Though his stature is small, he somehow appears to fill the ring, bigger than himself and almost dazzling in his own right.
"Kindly direct your attention to the high wire to witness the intrepid aerial experimentation of the Flying Dragon Changs of Peking, the most skillful equilibrists and trapeze artistes of the Orient, who will astound you as they defy the very principles of physics!" he roars, smiling as the spotlight shifts from himself to the Changs high on their perches.
Whereas Will typically seems rather listless and almost bored at his job, Mr. Adams speaks with such contagious excitement that even Santana, who has watched the Flying Dragon Changs perform at least twenty times since her arrival at the circus, feels a thrill for it, as though the act were brand new.
As the Changs begin their tumbling, Mr. Adams recedes into shadow, observing them from the floor. How many times has he watched the circus in his lifetime, Santana wonders? Does it still thrill him to take in performances like it does her?
(Even if Santana were to travel with the circus for a thousand years, she doesn't think she would ever tire of seeing it.)
Santana stands transfixed at the back of the big top, watching as Mr. Adams introduces act after act. Not only is his enthusiasm for the circus much greater than Will's, but his whole manner of performance differs from Will's, as well.
Mr. Adams chats with the crowd and drawls to them, making note of their applause when they give it and chiding them when they laugh at him, though inevitably with a smile. He always seems to have some trick as he talks up each successive act. At one point, he balances his cane on the tip of his finger. At another, he climbs up along the edge of the ring, walking it as though it were a tightrope.
When the clowns bustle onto the stage to steal his hat away from him, Mr. Adams catches them in the act, turning around with a great and exaggerated "Aha!" so loud that it reverberates all the way around the big top.
Mr. Evans—who had been just about to pluck the hat from Mr. Adams' head—leaps backwards at the sound, jumping up into Sam's arms for fright. Since Sam is hardly prepared to catch such a heavy load, he ends up staggering into the clown just behind him, who turns out to be David, the big fellow usually responsible for abducting Rachel during the Little Malibran sketch. David blunders into Blaine and Blaine into Rory. Soon all the clowns are falling down like dominoes, at first in genuine but then as a gag.
"Serves you right, trying to make me look foolish in front of these good folks!" Mr. Adams crows.
He waits until Mr. Evans leaps down from Sam's arms to give Mr. Evans a sharp rap on the oversized clown shoe with his cane.
Mr. Evans plays off the motion, tripping back into Sam again, clutching his toe and howling for his hurt, and soon the whole gag starts over, with Sam stumbling into David and David into Blaine and Blaine into Rory until the whole audience is in stitches for the folly of it all.
Santana has never laughed so hard at the clown sketch as she does when Mr. Adams begins to chase Mr. Evans around the ring, brandishing his cane as though it were a sword. Mr. Evans jumps into Sam's arms again, and then Sam starts to run, holding Mr. Evans as if he were a very large baby, Mr. Adams still in fleet pursuit. In the meantime, all the other clowns stand about in a dither, chewing their nails and ringing their hats, not sure where to go or what to do.
It takes ten minutes for Mr. Adams to clear all the clowns from the stage. He gives the last one to go—Rory—a sharp smack on the seat of his pants with his cane and then cheers for himself, triumphant.
"Huzzah! That will teach those meddling scoundrels a lesson or two, won't it?" he says, his eyes disappearing as his cheeks lift into his jocund grin.
The audience cheers for his bravery and Santana does, too.
It occurs to Santana that Mr. Adams certainly doesn't act like a man who lost nearly $2000 to accidental expenses last night. He also doesn't act like a man being blackmailed or like one on the brink of losing his livelihood. Rather, he acts like a man doing something he loves and being somewhere that suits him, to the point where Santana has to wonder why he isn't always the ringmaster—why he bothers with Will at all.
Mr. Adams announces the Most Elite and Accomplished Sylvesteri Equestrienne Coterie of St. Petersburg, complimenting the women for their beauty and informing the crowd that the women's horses come from an unbroken line of the finest pedigree Russian Tersks. He speaks of how the Coterie learned riding from their Cossack ancestors and puts on a most impressive Russian accent to welcome them to the stage.
There's almost as much performance in him as there is in the riding of the Coterie, and Santana marvels that someone as important and successful as Mr. Adams could be so playful—that he could love the circus so much.
After the Coterie finishes their ride, Mr. Adams remains on stage for the lion act, passing his hat off to the shaggy-haired band maestro before acting as a human prop under the direction of Jesse St. James.
When Jesse pries open the jaws of the big, male lion, Mr. Adams fearlessly inserts his head between the lion's fangs, standing at a cocked angle and mugging for the audience. He remarks that the lion's red gums match the color of his jacket and also that he believes he may have discovered his lost pocket watch in the depths of the lion's throat. Everyone laughs heartily, and even Jesse gives a real smile as opposed to his usual sneer.
When the jugglers come on, Mr. Adams calls for Kurt to pass him a few clubs for his own and then deftly manages to keep them in the air, all on a cycle, balancing his cane on the toe of his shoe at the very same time that he lobs his targets, one after another.
Only as Santana watches Mr. Adams make way for the contortionists to snake into the ring does it strike her: on her very first day at the circus, she gave Mr. Adams a palm reading, though she hardly knew him at all at the time. She remembers what she told him just before he cut her reading short.
"You have a hidden passion."
(Now she has to wonder: what does it mean when a sham of a fortuneteller tells her fortunes true?)
Since joining the circus, Santana has learned many truisms regarding show business but none more appropriate to this evening's particular performance than this one: namely, that one person's exceptional performance during a show can elevate the performances of everyone around him.
It was true yesterday of Sam's sad, brilliant clowning, and it's true today of Mr. Adams' grand, wholehearted pageantry. Everyone seems so on-point for his candor. No one misses a cue, no one missteps, and every performer executes his or her act with an especial degree of deftness.
Even Santana feels personally bolstered by Mr. Adams' fine performance, waxing bold enough to add a flare to her dance, tossing her tambourine into the air on an off-beat in the music.
Red light from Puck's staff glints against the tin discs of the instrument for the half-second during which it hovers suspended above Santana's head. When it returns to Santana's hand, she immediately strikes it against the curve of her hip, punctuating the next note of the song with a tinkering flurry. The audience cheers so boisterously for her flourish that both Puck and Rachel offer her approving looks, impressed by her showmanship.
At the end of the gypsy act, Santana rushes back to her place at the aperture of the tent, not wanting to miss one moment of Mr. Adams' conduct. She watches him tease Rachel for the Little Malibran sketch, inviting his "most talented young ingénue" to sing to the crowd. He plays his role perfectly, engaging Rachel's comedy with a graceful, jocular repartee of his own.
(It's easy to see why Puck, a boy who loves the circus, should also love Mr. Adams so very much.)
Mr. Adams' antics distract Santana to the point that it somehow surprises her when it comes time for the knife throwing act and the Pierces arrive on stage. For a few moments, Santana had forgotten that there could be anything dangerous in the world.
There's something wrong, and Santana senses it from the start.
It's in the way Mr. Pierce moves.
When Santana watched her first circus performance, she noted Mr. Pierce's burdened gait, but today she sees something more than just the regular encumbrance on his motion.
She sees pain, too.
Mr. Pierce clearly favors his right foot while nursing his left. He scarcely puts any weight on what must be his injury and winces at each new step. Brittany helps him to move along, allowing him to lean on her, even though she also carries their satchel full of gear. Mr. Pierce grimaces more than usual and bites down on his lip every time he feels pressure. His left moccasin wears unevenly; Santana wonders if it doesn't conceal a thick bandage or poultice around the arch of his foot.
Of course, Mr. Adams says nothing concerning Mr. Pierce's injury in his introduction to the act, and nothing changes in the way that Brittany and Mr. Pierce execute their set up. The supes bring the board to the center of the stage, Brittany puts the satchel into place, and Mr. Adams counts out ten paces for Mr. Pierce, who limps to his appointed position.
Santana knows that knife throwing requires a certain degree of athleticism—she saw that when she stood before the board in the woods and watched Brittany at her art. The thrower must possess strength, balance, and coordination. The thrower must be sure and stable. The thrower must be poised.
A knot forms in the pit of Santana's belly.
It redoubles on itself.
(Mr. Pierce is a ragged man falling apart at his seams.)
"... six, seven, eight, nine, ten! Hooray! There we have it!" Mr. Adams cheers as Mr. Pierce comes to a halt, straightening up to face the board.
Santana watches Mr. Pierce meet Brittany's eyes from across the way. She searches for certainty in their look, for trust, steadiness, and the passionate desire to do no harm. She can't see the colors or details from such a distance, but she imagines blue meeting blue, browbeaten meeting beautiful.
(You ready, baby girl?)
(Sure, I'm ready, Daddy.)
Brittany nods her head and raises her hand. Mr. Pierce inhales. In the next instant, Mr. Pierce lunges forward from his right foot to his left with a mighty flinch and a throw.
Santana imagines the moment as if she stood in Brittany's place; she sees Mr. Pierce's pupils expand to fill his eyes, she intakes a sharp breath, she braces for the impact just a hairline second before it happens.
She waits for pain.
But the knife hits true.
It drives deep into the wooden board but doesn't touch Brittany at all, hitting somewhat farther away from Brittany than it usually might. Better there than anywhere else, Santana supposes, but still. She only just has time to acknowledge that Brittany is safe before Mr. Pierce throws again.
This time, Santana watches his form. She watches how he keeps his weight on his back foot and juts his hips but doesn't step forward. He's shifting, making adjustments to the act for his injury, probably without even thinking about it. The throw comes more from his shoulders than from the rest of his body, but he's strong enough to make it connect.
Another clean throw.
Santana watches Brittany and wonders how Brittany must feel, standing before the board for her father, who can scarcely see her or stand on his own two feet. Santana almost feels Brittany's pulse in her own skin—what must be the hard, hot, fast of it. She barely breathes her own breath. When Mr. Pierce raises his arm to lob another throw, Santana's muscles tense at her back, and she's there before the board with Brittany.
She doesn't dare blink.
Santana waits until the third throw hits true to make her move: in the split second before Mr. Pierce lunges again, she takes three long strides from the aperture of the tent to the inside of the big top and stops just at the border between deep shadow and shadow, still under shade and invisible to the audience, but on the brink of where Brittany might see her, if Brittany were to turn her head.
Brittany doesn't turn her head.
(Santana is glad that she doesn't.)
Brittany stands statue still for another throw and doesn't twitch as the knife drives deep into the wood at her side, slicing deep enough to poke through the back of the target with a single cuspid tooth.
Without thinking about it, Santana lowers to her knees, crouching and creeping just a bit closer to the line of darkness which separates her from the limelight in the ring. She wants to see Brittany's eyes. She wants to see if Brittany holds her father's gaze.
Five knives frame Brittany at Vitruvian points. Santana inches forward along the floor, searching for that exact place where the shade will lift from her vision, changed into light. She still doesn't dare blink and hardly breathes.
The sixth throw lands.
It's wide but clean. Something in Santana's belly unravels—one knot out of two, at least. She lifts a hand to her breast and feels a scurrying beat beneath her skin.
It takes a full minute for Brittany to travel from the board to her father and back to the board again, retrieving the bandolier at midpoint. It takes another minute for Brittany to dislodge all six of her father's knives from the backboard and sheath them in their leather casings. Thirty more seconds elapse after that before Brittany returns the restocked bandolier to her father. Santana waits all the while, barely breathing, until Brittany scampers over to the satchel, laid out on the ground.
Only then does Santana move, emerging just enough from shadow to straddle light and darkness, concealment and visibility. Brittany stoops just ten paces from her, collecting the apple for the second half of the act. Santana's motion catches her eye immediately, and Brittany starts just a bit because of it.
Brittany recognizes Santana quickly enough, and, when she does so, her shocked look changes to a curious one. She seems surprised to find Santana so close to her, though not at all displeased. Her pretty cat-eyes light like sunrise over the sea, and her primrose lips curl in a wise, happy way.
("Fancy seeing you here, darlin'.")
The girls can't speak to each other—not without alerting Brittany's father and Mr. Adams to the fact that Santana sneaked into the big top through the back of the tent—but it doesn't much matter.
Santana finds the deepest part of Brittany's eyes—the black quick against the blue—and asks a question without words. Brittany answers back with a single, sure nod.
Are you all right?
I'm all right.
Of course, Brittany can't promise Santana that her father will aim true—not with any real certainty, not in a way that matters—and she can't know the future any more than Santana can, never mind palms or cards or the sign outside Santana's gazebo announcing her prowess as a fortuneteller. All the same, Santana takes comfort from knowing that Brittany feels sure enough of her father's ability to stand before the board for him, unafraid.
I love you, Santana mouths out.
I love you, too, Brittany mouths back.
Santana doesn't bother to step back into the darkness, even after Brittany returns to the board, apple in hand. She can't force herself away from the light—away from her girl in promise white. Instead, she lingers just between the back and foreground, hanging where Brittany will know to find her, should Brittany need that, need her. She holds her breath and braces for the count.
Mr. Adams wants a perfect show, and he gets his wish.
Mr. Pierce aims true—if wide—throughout the whole knife throwing act, much to the delight of the crowd. The audience cheers for the Pierces, and Brittany helps her father to take his bow, standing under his arm and carrying his weight across her shoulders, supporting him as he limps off stage.
Afterwards, Mr. Adams summons the elephants to the rings, and they perform as well as if they understood human speech, heeding commands from their trainers with perfect obedience. The grand exit parade passes in a blur of color and music, and the audience applauds so loudly for the whole show that Santana can feel the reverberations of their ovation through her breastbone and temples. The sound is deafening.
Santana finishes the show consumed with more questions than she can count, all of them having to do with the Pierces.
Had Mr. Pierce already hurt himself when he started hollering for Brittany to return to their tent this morning? Is that why he needed her help? Or did something happen to Mr. Pierce after Brittany answered his calls? What caused him harm? Will he be all right? Should Mr. Adams hire a doctor for him? Does his injury have something to do with his blindness? Is it something that will heal? Is Brittany all right?
(If Santana's father were present, he could treat Mr. Pierce in a jiff.)
Santana wishes that she could run over to Brittany's backstage area. She wishes that she could ask Brittany to explain what happened after their goodbye behind the chuck wagon. She wishes that she could hold Brittany and kiss Brittany's hair and tell Brittany that she was so brilliant and brave, going through the act for her injured father.
Santana seldom gets to do as she wishes, though.
Puck shoulders the gypsy gear and stands to his full height at Santana's side, squinting against the sunlight. "Good show, ladybird," he commends. "Now what do you say about that haircut?"
Santana had forgotten her promise.
(Somehow, with Puck, she always does.)
Somehow Santana hadn't expected that she would give Puck his haircut along the middle of their tent row, in broad daylight, where anyone could see them.
"Puck," she objects, "isn't this just a bit—?"
She wants to say vulgar or improper or even unsanitary, but somehow she can't settle on how to phrase her complaint in a way that would both make sense to Puck and spare his feelings.
(She just thinks it's a bit ghastly for her to put her hands on his scalp where someone might see her doing it, that's all.)
Puck smiles his idiot smile, his tongue poking from between his lips as he shuttles first the oak stool and then the steel washbasin on its overturned vegetable crate from the inside of his and Santana's tent to the outside, forming a makeshift "barbershop" on the grass.
"Don't worry, ladybird. I'll walk you through it," he assures her.
He seems to forget that his last attempt to teach Santana a new skill ended with them in a screaming match and the whole camp aware of their business.
(Then again, when it comes to Santana, Puck has always picked and chosen what he would remember and forget, based on what suits him.)
Once Puck has the "barbershop" aligned all to his liking, he sets about preparing his shaving kit for use. He sharpens the blade of his straight razor against a small, dark whetstone and strops the blade along a leather strip, turning it over expertly in his hand following each long stroke.
After he has his razor sufficiently beveled, he mixes up his shaving lather, soaking the bristles of his horsehair brush in the steel basin until they're thoroughly saturated and then gathering glycerin onto the brush from a tureen of Vinolia Shaving Soap. He whips the glycerin to a frothy lather in a small ceramic bowl as though he were Ma Jones whisking eggs for breakfast and checks its consistency between his fingers.
The whole process takes several minutes and Puck hums while he works, seemingly enjoying the opportunity to show off this part of his daily routine to Santana.
"Now comes the fun part," Puck says, passing the bowl of lather and his brush into Santana's hands.
Still wearing his idiot smile, he doffs his hat and sets it down on the grass beside the stool before gathering up his shaving towel and tucking it into the collar of his shirt, as though it were a bib and he about to dine. Shifting the towel around to cover his shoulders at both the back and front, he sits down on the stool.
"Ta-dah!" he says, wagging his eyebrows at Santana.
She frowns, incredulous. "That was the fun part?"
Puck laughs. "No, ladybird. The fun part is you soaping up my whole head. You've got to paint all that lather on and cover up everywhere you see hair."
"Oh," Santana says, glancing from the bowl in her hands to Puck and then back again.
Honestly, Santana doesn't know what fun she's supposed to have covering Puck's sweaty scalp with shaving soap. She doesn't like being close to Puck and touching him causes her considerable discomfort. When she steps up behind Puck, she can already smell him. God. Gingerly, she touches the horsehair brush to the back of his head, dabbing a smidgen of lather onto his crown.
"Oh, come on, ladybird! You've got to do better than that," Puck goads. "Really get it on there good or otherwise that razor won't do its work."
Santana sighs and applies a more liberal swatch of shaving soap to Puck's hair. Only once he nods his approval does she continue in her efforts.
When Santana first met Puck in New York, he wore his hair shorn so short that he may as well have been bald. Over the few months that he worked at the bachelor cottage, Puck would have his hair cut after every few weeks, always shaving it down before it could show its full blackness again. Like Puck told Santana this morning, he last shaved his head just before Santana's father's funeral, just over a month ago. Now his hair is as long as Santana's ever seen it, almost a third of an inch thick all over his head.
If Santana cared about how Puck looked, she might tell him not to have a haircut at all, for somehow having hair makes Puck seem younger than he is, and she has always liked Puck better as a boy than as anything else because he's more harmless that way.
Puck smirks his devil smirk, and Santana feels it through his scalp.
Soaping Puck's head is tedious work. Santana requires several minutes to coat Puck's scalp in lather and then another several more to whip the lather into the proper consistency and rub it against the grain of Puck's hair so as to make the hair stand on end. As she works, Santana twists the brush back and forth as though it were the pretty spinning skirt of a dancing girl. Thinking of dancing girls brings Santana's thoughts to Brittany.
(What Santana wouldn't give to be off with her true love instead of here, making a fool of herself in front of her fake-husband!)
Puck looks like a snowcapped mountain with his head white but face swarthy. "Use the towel to wipe the soap off my ears," he instructs, and Santana does as he tells her to do. He gestures to the straight razor lying on the vegetable crate. "Start in the center," he coaches, "and keep the blade flat. Use your other thumb to stretch my skin back and keep the hair raised up. You just want to glide it, nice and easy. The razor will do all the work. Just go with the grain, ladybird, slow as you like."
Santana would like not to shave Puck's head at all, but since she told him she'd do so, she supposes she ought to keep to her word.
With great trepidation, she raises the razor to Puck's head, pressing her free thumb to the cap of his skull and cringing at the texture of the slippery shaving foam under her fingertip. Holding down the skin, she handles the razor blade like her father would his scalpel, with two fingers pinching the shank and the handle resting between her other fingers. She keeps a loose wrist and does exactly as Puck advises her.
"All right," she says, more to herself than to Puck.
She makes her first cut and doesn't maim Puck's head.
It's a strange sensation, feeling the shaving soap and Puck's hair beneath steel. At first, the razor cuts through Puck's hair, halving it. Only on its second pass does it actually reveal Puck's skin. Santana quickly discovers that it would be easier to hurt herself than to hurt Puck's scalp, given the trajectory of the razor. She makes certain to keep her free hand well away from the blade, pinching Puck's skin back, just like he instructed. After every stroke of the razor, she wipes the blade along Puck's towel, cleaning it of lather.
"That's good work, ladybird," Puck praises.
His eyelashes flutter closed close to her wrist, and he relaxes his back against her front. She makes another pass with the razor, and he hums, pleased.
At first, Santana tries to ignore Puck's grateful noises, but then Santana adjusts her right hand against the cap of Puck's head, tautening his skin through the shaving lather with her thumb, and Puck lets out a grunt of pleasure like he does in the mornings when he eats hotcakes.
Suddenly, Santana finds it impossible to pretend that she can't hear Puck. She squirms, uncomfortable, and tries not to touch Puck as much as she did before.
Santana manages to shave the whole top of Puck's head and the area above his left ear before someone happens upon their makeshift barbershop. She sees the person's shadow along the grass before she sees anything else and almost flinches, for Puck chooses that exact instant to let out another happy moan.
Santana looks up from her work, panicked, and finds Brittany standing just a few paces off from Puck, arms crossed over tatty dress and cat-smirk fully in place. Brittany's hair shines, still damp from her recent shower and backlit by sun gold. Brittany doesn't speak aloud but mouths out, Hey, darlin'.
If it upsets Brittany to see Santana with her hands all over Puck's person, Brittany doesn't let on about it all. She sits down on the grass, curling her legs beneath her, and nods for Santana to continue working, if Santana will. As usual, Brittany seems infinitely curious about what Santana is doing. She also seems perfectly willing to linger throughout the remainder of Puck's haircut, even though she has no obligation to do so.
For her part, Santana just feels glad to have Brittany with her again.
It eases the tension inside of her and makes the task at hand seem not so daunting.
With Brittany around, the process of Puck's haircut becomes a strange tripartite dance, with Santana cutting Puck's hair, Brittany watching her do it, and Puck with his eyes still closed, oblivious to Brittany's presence. Whenever Puck sighs or grunts his approval, Brittany makes a goofy face and mouths out Jesus, calming Santana's nerves and making the haircut into a game.
As the minutes wear on, Santana's wrist begins to ache. She shifts the razor in her hand, and it glints against the afternoon sunlight, a blinding blink of brightness. Perspiration beads at the back of her neck and under her arms, and she fights the impulse to hurry her task, wanting more than anything to finish it so that she can run off with Brittany, leaving Puck behind.
"How goes it, ladybird?" Puck asks, his eyes still closed and posture lazy.
"Swell," Brittany answers for Santana.
Santana almost chokes on her laughter when Puck doesn't seem to notice the difference between voices. He groans and leans back further against Santana, his body warm from day heat, and accepts Brittany as Santana.
(He never notices Santana, no matter what she does.)
It takes five minutes for Santana to clean all the lather from Puck's head and to check her work over for any missed spots. The hardest part of the job is not nicking the soft fleshy spot just where Puck's scalp meets his ears, but once Santana realizes that she must only trim just a few of the hairs around Puck's ears at a time, she accomplishes even that maneuver quickly and efficiently.
She wipes the last of the lather from Puck's head and her own hands with Puck's towel and steps back from the stool. "All done," she announces, glad to have finished such an odious chore.
For the first time since Santana began shaving his head, Puck opens his eyes. He immediately spots Brittany sitting in front of him, seemingly appeared from nowhere. Brittany claps her hands as if she were a patron delighted by a magic trick on the midway, and Puck starts at the sight of her.
"Shit, Brittany! When did you get here?" he asks.
Brittany puts on her blank face. "When you were balder than Kurt's daddy but not as bald as Methuselah," she says, standing up and brushing grass from her skirt.
(Kurt's father works at the circus? Santana hadn't known.)
Though Santana finds Brittany's answer clever, Puck doesn't share Santana's opinion. He turns away from Brittany, rolling his eyes. "Of course, you did," he mutters, low enough that only Santana can hear him.
While he starts to rub his hand up the back of his neck and over his head, checking Santana's handiwork, Santana meets Brittany's eyes, silently asking Brittany if they're going to run off somewhere together once Puck grants them leave. Brittany's cat-smile is Santana's yes. Something flutters in Santana's belly, vivid with excitement. She turns back to Puck just in time to see him smile at his new haircut.
"You didn't do half bad," he says approvingly.
Puck means what he says as a compliment, but it's actually a fair assessment of Santana's work: she didn't do a half-bad job at cutting Puck's hair, insofar as she didn't hurt him, but she also didn't do a half-good job at cutting Puck's hair, insofar as she gave him an uneven shave, entirely balding him in some places and leaving Yale stubble behind in others. It isn't an altogether terrible job—Santana just left Puck looking a bit shabby, is all, and particularly as the skin at the top of his head shines much paler than the skin on his face. The few spots of darker stubble contrasted against the whiteness of his new bald places gives him a mottled appearance.
He puts on what he must suppose is a winning look. "What do you think, ladybird?"
Santana doesn't think anything. Puck looks like himself. Nothing about his person either impresses or distresses her. She shrugs with just one shoulder.
Puck seems to mistake Santana's silence for shy liking. His idiot smile blooms. "You two okay putting this stuff back in the tent?" he asks, indicating both Santana and Brittany and gesturing to the oak stool and steel washbasin where they sit upon the grass.
The girls both nod.
Puck grins, pleased. "Good," he says, "'cause I've got to get back to town." He retrieves his hat from the ground and sets it on his head before quickly gathering up the items from his shaving kit, setting his razor, whetstone, bowl, brush, and shaving soap back inside the small wooden box from whence he originally procured them. Once he has everything in order, he sets the shaving kit down on the vegetable crate and tips his hat to Santana. "Thanks awfully, ladybird," he tells her. "I knew you could do it."
Without warning, he lifts his hat and leans in. Santana inhales the clean, chemical scent of glycerin and the hot musk of Puck's sweat. In the next second, his lips brush hers, stealing her breath away, not in the pleasant sense but as if she had been robbed.
Santana's eyes widen, and she takes a step back from Puck, breaking their lips apart in what would be a dramatic reaction, except that Puck chooses that exact instant to peel back from Santana in kind. His motion hides hers, gentling it into nothing meaningful.
He entirely misses the fact that she hadn't wanted to kiss him.
"You and Brittany stay out of trouble," he cautions. "Once you finish cleaning up here, you'd best go ask Ma Jones if she needs help making supper."
Santana scarcely hears his suggestion.
She remains halted, too affronted to say or do anything.
Vaguely, Santana registers Puck walking away. She sees his shadow trail along the grass and down the tent row in the direction of the big top. Her ears ring and not just from the usual summer drone of bugs and grasses and bird wings all in motion. Though Puck's kiss was a brief one—scarcely more than a peck—Santana can still taste it all over her mouth. It's the sourest, worst flavor in the world, and she almost spits to rid herself of it.
Puck just kissed Santana in front of Brittany.
Santana doesn't think she's ever hated Puck more than she hates him now—not even the other night, when he accused her of fornicating with Sam Evans and all the gilly boys. Of course, Santana hates herself as much as she hates Puck. She should have slapped Puck as soon as he put his face close to hers. She should have screamed at him.
Why does she always turn so still until it's too late?
Santana can only imagine what Brittany must think—and especially considering that Brittany only confessed her love to Santana yesterday and now Santana has kissed someone else right before her eyes. Santana braces herself, unsure of what it will be like to have Brittany cross at her for the fist time since they've known each other. She tries to make an apology but finds that she can't speak, for when she considers how very sorry she is, tears well in her eyes and a knot forms in her throat, blocking it.
She is so, so sorry.
Her lip trembles, and she waits.
Brittany doesn't say anything to Santana. She moves, and Santana hears it. She moves, and Santana sees her silhouette graceful upon the earth. Santana hears Brittany shift Puck's shaving kit upon the vegetable crate, gathering it up, and though Santana fears to look, she can't help but do it. Curiosity overcomes her, and she glances at Brittany from the corner of her eye.
For whatever she had expected to see, she finds Brittany starting to dismantle the makeshift barbershop just as placidly as if nothing had happened. Brittany meets Santana's look, but says nothing, just goes about her business, tucking the shaving kit under her arm and stabilizing the washbasin on the crate, preparing to haul the thing back to the tent.
Brittany's expression is tight, her lips pursed and the corners of her mouth turned down not precisely in a frown or grimace but more into a wince, so they resemble the flap of an envelope tucked in upon its own pocket. If Santana peers closely enough, she thinks she can see sadness in Brittany's countenance but no anger.
"I'm sorry I let Puck kiss me," Santana chokes out.
Brittany grabs hold of the vegetable crate by the slats in its sides. She shakes her head, and her hair falls, curtaining her face. "Not your fault," she says, just so.
Her passivity baffles Santana.
"You're not sore at me?" Santana asks.
Brittany hefts up the vegetable crate and washbasin onto her hip with a grunt. "Nope," she says. "Why would I be?" She meets Santana's eyes.
It's a kind question but also one that tries to make something very complicated entirely too simple. For as much as Santana wants to accept Brittany's gesture, she can't do so, and Brittany knows she can't. Brittany sighs, face falling.
"I'm not sore at you. You didn't do anything wrong. It's just that I wish that you and I could go away someplace where you didn't have to kiss anyone except for who you wanted to kiss," Brittany corrects herself.
It's the closest either she or Santana has ever come to talking about Santana's arrangements with Puck and how much both girls have begun to regret them.
Just then, the vegetable crate starts to slip from Brittany's hipbone, and Santana rushes forward, catching the crate by its underside, helping Brittany to lift it. "I only ever want to kiss you, Britt," she says, all in a rush.
Her artlessness changes Brittany's sullen expression to a much pleasanter look—the beginnings of a smile. "I was kind of hoping you'd say that," Brittany admits. Her eyes turn reverent and deep, and she starts to lean forward across the crate. Santana takes her cue.
The two girls duck their heads, meeting in the middle with the crate and washbasin still suspended between them. Santana smells tallow on Brittany's skin and feels the last lacings of water still in Brittany's hair as it tickles at her neck. Their lips brush only for the shortest instant, but it's enough to rid Santana of the nasty Puck flavor in her mouth. She sighs into the kiss, closing her eyes and losing herself to Brittany, Brittany, Brittany.
"Better?" Brittany asks, pulling away.
"Much," Santana says honestly, opening her eyes to find Brittany wearing a full smile now. She shrugs her shoulder in the direction of the tent, signaling Brittany that they ought to start walking. Brittany nods her agreement and they begin to lug their cargo between them, shuffling along. Now that they've resolved the issue of Puck's kiss, Santana feels keen to ask Brittany about another matter altogether, and so she does. "How about you, BrittBritt? I was worried about you during the show. What happened to your father? How did he hurt his foot?"
Brittany kicks open the tent flap, gesturing Santana inside. "He dropped his shaving mirror and stepped on the glass in his bare feet," she explains, helping Santana to set the vegetable crate down in its place. "He was confused."
Santana frowns. She remembers the day when Brittany's father boxed Brittany's ear. Brittany said that her father was confused then, too.
"Confused about what?" Santana asks. "Could he not see the broken glass on the ground?"
Brittany shakes her head. "It was because of his medicine," Brittany says. "It makes his headaches go away."
Santana knows she oughtn't to ask—that it isn't really her business—but the physician's daughter in her can't help but wonder. "What kind of medicine, Britt?"
Brittany's expression turns very serious for the question. Her brow furrows, and she bites her lip. "I don't know what it's called," she says, "but it comes in a little brown bottle with an Indian brave drawn on it. The label has an E and an X and some other letters, but I don't know what those letters are because they're the little kind, and you haven't taught me those yet."
To say that Santana feels two ways at once for Brittany's word would only be the half of it.
In the first place, Santana's heart squeezes tight in her chest as she imagines Brittany inside the Pierce tent, trying to pick out letters on various bric-a-brac amongst her father's belongings. She pictures Brittany tracing over the medicine bottle with her finger, memorizing the characters that are familiar to her and wondering about the ones that aren't. Brittany's cleverness and dedication delight Santana and fill her with a warm, welling sort of pride.
(She's in love with the most brilliant girl in the world, she thinks—and the sweetest one, too.)
(The most precious and best.)
But that isn't all.
In the second place, concern gnaws at the pit of Santana's belly, for she knows the missing letters on the medicine label, even if Brittany can't name them for her.
Brittany's father is taking an elixir—probably one made from laudanum and sold to him by the same sort of mountebanks against whom Santana's father always railed.
The thought that someone would willfully deceive poor Mr. Pierce when all he wanted was some relief from his headaches is enough to turn Santana's insides cold and put flint into her heart. She hates whatever quack or swindler would prey upon someone in such distress—and especially when she knows that whoever did it not only defrauded Mr. Pierce and addled his mind but also put Brittany in danger.
Though she despises herself for prying, Santana must ask, "Had your father taken his medicine when he hurt your ear the other day, Britt?"
She holds Brittany's gaze under the gray shadows of the tent and reaches out to touch Brittany's wrist now that they have their hands free. Red thread brushes over the curve of Brittany's bone, and Brittany scowls, not at the sensation and not at Santana but at the ghosts behind Santana's query. Her jaw sets tight, and she nods.
"It just makes him so confused," she repeats. "He doesn't mean it, though."
What she says sounds strangely like a plea.
The more part of Santana wants to hate Mr. Pierce just like she hates the stranger who swindled him, for it strikes her that Mr. Pierce ought to realize how his elixir clouds his mind and causes him to do harm by Brittany. If Mr. Pierce truly cared for his daughter, he would stop taking his awful medicine for her sake, would he not? Would he not care for her more than for himself and his own pain? Wouldn't he be unselfish?
(Santana's father's obituary stated no definitive cause for his death. He was young and apparently healthy until the moment that he died. His lawyers claimed that he "expired at will.")
(Santana seethes with shame and anger. She can't understand it, she can't.)
Brittany's words sound rehearsed—like something Brittany has told herself on more than one occasion previously. Santana thinks back to when Brittany's father boxed Brittany's ear. She wants that day to have been the only one on which Mr. Pierce has ever injured his daughter doing something other than their circus act.
"Has he hurt you before, Britt?" Santana asks in a small voice, rubbing her thumb over Brittany's wrist again.
Brittany is quick to shake her head. "He hasn't hurt me," she says. She pauses, her gaze shifting back and forth between Santana's eyes. Eventually, her look seems to stop on something. She starts again, "—but sometimes he says things that he doesn't mean."
Santana can only imagine the kinds of things that a man as hardened as Mr. Pierce might say under the effects of such a powerful drug. She hates to think of him insulting Brittany or cursing her or blaming her for things which aren't her fault. Santana recalls how keenly it stung when her own grandmother died spewing maledictions about her; she hates to think how she would have felt if it had been Papa who had spoken about her in that way. Brittany seems so small just now, and Santana's heart aches.
When Abuela started to hate her, Santana stopped talking to the old woman—stopped going in to see her and trying to give her comfort. Since Abuela wouldn't have changed her mind anyway and it wounded Santana too deeply to even stand in her presence, Santana started avoiding her.
Brittany doesn't avoid her father, though.
"Golly," Santana whispers.
Brittany quirks an eyebrow. "What?"
Santana tries to explain what strikes her. "It's just—," she says. "It's just that you don't ever seem to mind your father, even though he says cruel things to you." She pets over Brittany's wrist again, absentminded. "He just seems like a hard person to be around, is all."
"He wasn't always," she says, as if that's the entire matter.
But it isn't.
She shrugs again.
"When it was time to meet the new baby, Sam's mama told me it was my job to heat the rags on the hearth and bring them over to her, but Daddy had to stay out in the hall. It was night, and we were at a hotel, but the room had electric lamps, so everyone could see. Sam's mama kept saying how good everything was, but then it wasn't anymore—good. There was so much blood all over the bed sheets and on floor and on Sam's mama's shoes. Mama wanted us with her, so Daddy had to come inside. Mama put my hand in Daddy's, and she said to him, 'Darlin', Brittany will take care of you, and you'll take care of Brittany.' I left the last rag on too long. It singed the edge and smelled like wet leaves in the cooking fire."
Brittany shrugs for a third time.
"Daddy and I are supposed to take care of each other now."
Brittany has spoken about her mother's death to Santana on two other occasions since they've known each other, but never has she done so in as much detail as she does now. Before today, Brittany had never mentioned how her mother died. She also hadn't told Santana that she was in the room to see it happen. Santana feels a pang and wraps her hand around Brittany's wrist, holding her.
"Oh, Britt," she says, "I'm sure you didn't mean to burn it." Then, "I'm sorry about your mama."
Brittany nods and reaches down, closing her hand around Santana's hand, like the inside spiral of a seashell coiled about itself. She squeezes Santana's fingers and fixes Santana with a queer look, peering out from underneath her hair.
"You don't remember your mama at all?" she asks.
Santana shakes her head. "No," she admits. "I don't even know what she looked like."
It's strange, Santana thinks, that two girls could be bereft of their mothers in such very different ways and yet share a single sense of grief concerning their experiences. Brittany lost her mother, whereas Santana never really had her mother to begin with, but both of them carry a notion of missing something that they can't exactly name—that they can't describe, though they know precisely what it is.
Brittany squeezes Santana's fingers again. "I'll bet your mama was really beautiful," she says.
Santana nods, her throat suddenly thick. "I'll bet yours was, too."
For a second, the two girls remain still, but then they kiss each other's hands.
(There's no one else in the world but each other to whom they'd trust their sacred things.)
The girls make short work of moving the stool back inside the tent and rearranging Puck and Santana's things, setting the tent back in order.
At first, they don't speak aloud to each other, still wrapped in the seriousness of their previous conversation, but then they start to take turns giving each other little butterfly kisses at odd places, on wrists and at ears and against shoulders and along the undersides of chins.
Before they head back outside from the tent, they kiss each other full on the mouths, long and lazy and slow. When they break the kiss, it makes a popping sound, and both girls laugh. As their displays of affection become bolder, they soon find it impossible to remain quiet and begin to chat, with Brittany teasing Santana that she ought to become a barber, and Santana protesting that she would only know how to give one kind of haircut if she did.
"I'd just sheer it all off every time," she laughs.
Brittany spares her a wink. "I would definitely recommend your shop to Rachel Berry, then."
Though Puck instructed Brittany and Santana to go help Ma Jones in the kitchen once they finished up at the tent, the girls don't heed his word. Instead, they start to wander off in the direction of the business side of camp, linked pinky finger in pinky finger and smiling tight-lipped at each other. They traipse along between the tent rows, avoiding other circus folk when they can, becoming increasingly giddy with their every step.
Just as they happen upon the billboard partition, a great gust of wind billows across the prairie, carrying with it the scents of myriad wildflowers and a slightest kick-up of dust. Something in the wind tickles at Santana's nose, and she sneezes before she can cover her face.
When she looks up again, lightheaded and flustered, she finds Brittany staring at her and wearing a most peculiar, adoring expression, as if in disbelief that she's real.
"Excuse me," Santana says, self-conscious.
Brittany laughs. "Bless your soul," she says gently.
When she continues to stare, Santana squirms. "What?"
Brittany bites her lip. "You just have the sweetest little sneeze in the world, is all," she says. She seems to deliberate with herself about elaborating further but then decides to do so, leaning in close to Santana and whispering to her, conspiratorial. "Back before I told you that I'm in love with you, you would do all your little sweet Santana-things, and I almost couldn't stand it. My heart felt like it would beat right out of my chest, and I always had to kiss you or touch you or hold your hand, or otherwise I would have said it all right then, even if there were other people around."
Santana just rolls her eyes. "Oh lands, Britt," she says.
(She really means something else.)
In a strange way, now that Santana and Brittany have begun talking about their love for each other, it almost seems like the only thing to talk about—like the best, most important conversation they can have, mainly because they held off from having it for so long.
It's weird and wonderful for Santana to think about Brittany being just as sweet on and confused about and silly for her as she was for Brittany. She smiles widely for imagining it all just as she and Brittany happen upon the elephant pen.
Whereas on her and Santana's first visit to the elephant pen, Brittany rushed over to the palisade and climbed right up it, eager to introduce Santana to her pachyderm friends, today Brittany stays herself, hanging back and keeping hold of Santana's hand. It's a thoughtful concession on her part, but one that Santana doesn't want Brittany to have to make. She knows how much Brittany adores the elephants, after all.
Santana gives Brittany a tug on the hand, gesturing in the direction of the pen. Once Brittany realizes what Santana means, she shoots Santana a questioning look, asking without speaking if Santana feels certain about her decision. When Santana nods in affirmation, Brittany positively beams.
(It's entirely, entirely worth it.)
Brittany practically skips when approaching the pen, bringing Santana right against the palisades, close enough to see through the gaps between the logs. The logs radiate heat though they cast shade so that the whole pen feels warm, like food baked on the edge of the fire. Santana spots Deborah first, for Deborah stands closest to the fence, and then Methuselah a ways behind Deborah. Bathsheba, the smallest, youngest elephant, lies down at the back of the pen, facing away from Brittany and Santana.
Though Bathsheba's posture alarms Santana—who has never known an elephant to lie on its side before—Brittany seems unconcerned about it and slides her arm through a slat in the fence to start waving the elephants over. It takes several seconds before Deborah and Methuselah notice Brittany's motion, but once they do, they lumber in Brittany's direction.
"Come on," Brittany coaxes them. "That's the way, folks. Right here, right here."
As the elephants draw up to the barrier, Brittany shoots Santana another questioning look, asking her if she's still all right with the idea of being so close to such large animals. Honestly, Santana does feel a bit dizzy at the prospect of standing so near to a creature that could potentially obliterate her, but having her hand in Brittany's also grants her a kind of courage she could never have just on her own.
She puts on a brave face. "Hey, folks," she says, offering up her free arm through a gap in the fence. She holds her breath, waiting.
(Brittany smiles at her like she's one of the heroes from Mr. Hawthorne's Tanglewood books, and it's worth it, worth it, worth it.)
Of course, for all her bravado, Santana quails once Deborah and Methuselah get up right beside her, feeling the awful sort of insignificance that comes from finding oneself in the presence of something truly great.
Santana had never gotten so close to an elephant before; she hadn't realized how hairy they were or how deeply the furrows in their skin ran, like rows hoed into a dirt field. Their hides smell like dried grass and dust. They reach out with their curious trunks, Deborah grabbing for Brittany's hand and Methuselah for Santana's.
Santana's stomach swoops when the wet nub of Methuselah's nose curls around her fingers. She hadn't known what to expect from his touch, but it certainly wasn't such measured strength and dexterity. Methuselah seems to count over her knuckles, massaging them one by one. Though he could easily crush Santana's bones in his grasp, he doesn't. Rather, he moves with a surpassing gentleness, as if he's somehow aware that Santana fears him and he wants to earn her trust.
He fans himself with his ears and turns his head from side to side as he explores, eyeing Santana up and down. If she didn't know any better, she would say that he was trying to determine if she were any good for Brittany.
She isn't the only one who seems to notice.
"Isn't Santana just swell?" Brittany asks, breathless, casting a knowing glance at Methuselah. "You remember how I told you that I'm in love with her? Well, it turns out that she's in love with me, too. Isn't that just dandy?"
(Santana is in love with the most brilliant girl in the world, she thinks—and the sweetest one, too.)
(The most precious and best.)
Santana would fuss about how Brittany's not fair, but she doesn't get the chance to say anything before Bathsheba lets out a raucous and wheedling trumpet from the far side of the pen. The noise is so loud that Santana, Brittany, and the other two elephants jolt at the sound of it.
When they look to where Bathsheba lies, they find her flicking up dust from the floor of the pen with her trunk, spreading the stuff about with obvious distaste. Bathsheba tosses her head to and fro against the earth and trumpets again, annoyed.
Brittany scrunches up her face. "Sometimes Bathsheba throws fits almost as bad as Mrs. Schuester's," she says disapprovingly.
Santana can't imagine what kind of displeasure an elephant might have to throw a fit about it, but she does know that she's glad that Bathsheba is on the other side of the pen from where she and Brittany stand.
Brittany wears her cat-smile. "Deborah is a disciplinarian, but Methuselah lets Bathsheba get away with whatever she likes. I keep telling Methuselah that he's spoiling Bathsheba rotten, but he's just so doting that he can't help himself," she explains, talking like it's entirely usual to converse with elephants about their styles of parenting.
(And maybe to a girl who grew up at the circus, somehow it is.)
After saying goodbye to the elephants—including Bathsheba, still having her fit—the girls continue wandering, eventually escaping the boundaries of the camp and making their way into the meadow beyond it.
They wade deep into the tawny sea of prairie dropseed, picking up their skirts to keep them from snagging on stray weeds along the way. When they find a patch of flatter grass, Brittany pulls Santana in close to her so that their hips line up. She sways, dancing with no music, turning herself and Santana in little circles.
"Thank you for playing hooky with me," she says.
Santana smirks. "You are a bad influence on me, Brittany Pierce. Sam tried to warn me that you would be, and I should have listened to him."
"You should have," Brittany agrees, "because now you're destined for a life of trouble."
"Oh! I shall never amount to anything!" Santana laments, putting on a false proper accent and pretending to swoon, covering her brow and falling back so that Brittany must support her weight.
Her action takes Brittany a bit by surprise, and both girls lose their balance, collapsing in a fit of giggles, sprawling on the ground with their legs all tangled, Brittany kneeling on Santana's skirts and Santana flat on her back.
"So how does it feel to be so criminal?" Brittany asks, leaning forward so that she's on fours over Santana. She brushes a stray strand of hair away from Santana's face. Her shadow shields Santana's eyes from the brightness of the sun.
Santana wraps her arms around Brittany's waist, holding Brittany in place above her. "Devastating," she grins.
Brittany thumbs along Santana's jaw line, peering into Santana's eyes from above. Her hair hangs around her and Santana like golden thread rested over a loom in a fairytale. Though her body doesn't touch Santana's, Santana can still feel her heat all over. "You do seem very upset," Brittany says thoughtfully, leaning down to kiss Santana but stopping just short of her lips.
"Very," Santana repeats, suddenly finding it difficult to focus on anything but Brittany's breath against her skin. Her eyes shift back and forth between Brittany's, chasing unpaintable blue and tiger flecks. She starts to sit up from the grass.
Her forehead meets Brittany's, skin upon skin, and Brittany shifts, allowing her more room. She sits up even farther until Brittany is in her lap and she's supporting them with her arms out straight behind her. Brittany's hips push up against her belly, and she feels heat, drawing one sharp breath as Brittany kisses her and then another as Brittany's tongue starts to trace over her own. Brittany grins into the kiss, running her hands up Santana's sides, and Santana grabs onto Brittany's waist, holding herself upright.
Their kissing turns sloppier the more that they touch until Brittany says, "Just let me," and starts sucking at a spot just under Santana's ear.
For all of Santana's thinking about how strange it is to feel two seemingly contradictory emotions at the same time, it didn't occur to her until now that perhaps the strangest sensation of all is to feel both too much and not enough at once. Everything in her body seems to focus on just two spots.
"Britt," she groans, softening inside.
She closes her eyes, focused on Brittany's breath against her ear and the ebb she can feel deep in her belly every time her heart beats. Sun and Brittany heat combine, warming Santana all over and all the way down to her core. Her hips move of their own accord, angling to Brittany. Brittany's tongue laves at the spot on her neck.
When Brittany's hips move in time to Santana's, Santana suddenly realizes what she and Brittany are doing and where.
She gasps and pulls back from Brittany's kiss.
"We—," she says, out of breath.
Brittany seems to understand. She laughs. "Oops," she says harmlessly, retracting.
When Brittany shifts from Santana's lap, it feels like some sort of punishment for both of them, but Santana knows it's for the best, and particularly considering that it will be time for the evening fair soon enough.
Brittany sits down across from Santana. Her eyes look like the ocean, and she breathes like the wind after a storm. When she looks over Santana's body, Santana can almost see her remembering their touching the other day in the tent, feeling it on her fingertips.
Santana swallows, completely self-aware under Brittany's attention, and only then does Brittany seem to notice her own staring. Her ears pink, and she reaches for a purple coneflower peeking out of the grass at her side, starting immediately to denude the flowers of its petals, pulling them off at first in clumps but then one by one, finicking at her task as though it were suddenly very important to her.
Her carefulness puts an old refrain into Santana's mind like a song.
"She loves me," Santana whispers, waiting until Brittany meets her eyes so that she can see if Brittany knows the game. When Brittany offers her a hopeful smile and plucks another petal from the bloom, Santana goes on. "She loves me not."
Brittany continues stripping the flower. "She loves me," she chimes in.
The next petal falls away.
"She loves me not," Santana recites.
Brittany's smile starts to grow. "She loves me," she amends.
Santana nods. "She loves me not."
"She loves me."
"She loves me not."
"She loves me."
"She loves me not."
Soon the girls cease to speak, though they still hear the refrain playing through their minds as if they repeated it aloud. Effeuiller la marguerite—just like in Goethe. Brittany tears another petal away from the flower and another and another. It isn't important, Santana realizes, for the flower to tell them what they already know, but still she can't help but feel a fervent interest in the outcome of the game.
She loves me not.
She loves me.
She loves me not.
"She loves me."
The final petal flitters to the sling of Brittany's skirt, a single swatch of purple amidst so much worn blue, and Brittany and Santana meet each other's eyes, grinning. It's silly for them to be so excited, they know, they know, they know.
"You promise?" Santana asks, watching as Brittany twirls the flower stem between her fingers as if it were the handle to a parasol and she a fancy lady.
Brittany nods and raises a hand to her own chest, drawing an X just below her collarbone, one stroke over another. "Cross my heart," she promises. "Heaps and for keeps. Forever and ever."
It's just a game, Santana knows, but it also isn't just that—not to the girl who, until just a few days ago, had thought that no living creature would ever love her again, not to the girl who had had good reason to question whether anyone who had ever purported to love her in the past had really loved her at all. Gratitude spreads quickly through Santana's heart. It settles in her bones and pricks at her eyes.
"I will, too, you know—love you forever," she says, reaching out to set a hand on Brittany's knee.
Anyone else in the world might think that Santana was foolish, getting so worked up over daisies and rhymes, but Brittany doesn't. She reaches for Santana's hand, lacing their grasps together, left to left, red thread to red thread. "Come here," she says, tugging Santana toward her at the same time that she moves forward herself until the two of them kneel right beside each other. She coaxes Santana to lie down.
Still joined at the hands, the girls slump to their sides, reclining upon the grass until their kneecaps touch and their heads lie even with each other. They rest upon the coneflower petals with tall grass all around them, hiding them, so that if anyone were to look out over the meadow, they would be invisible. A slight wind rushes over their secret place, rustling the grasses and hiding the sound of their breaths. It's quiet, like lying down in a whisper.
When Brittany starts to kiss Santana, it's in a different way than before—slow and attentive, with little nods and changes. Brittany kisses first Santana's bottom lip, then the top, and then both at once. She kisses Santana from pink to red, from shallow to deep, from you're welcome to thank you. Santana sinks down, feeling the grass against her cheek and the skittishness of the encircling prairie and Brittany all about her, her home, her home, her home. Sun seeps into her clothes and hair and filters through her closed eyelids. She kisses Brittany through oranges, yellows, and starbursts.
(There's no one else in the world but Brittany to whom she'd trust her sacred things.)
Santana and Brittany kiss for a long, long time, Brittany leading as Santana follows. Santana pets through Brittany's hair with her free hand while Brittany strokes at Santana's ribs through her shirt, memorizing the gaps and filling of them.
It doesn't take long for Santana's insides to start to soften again, to pulse with the beat of her heart. Brittany's kisses feel so good, and Santana can't help but think about how Brittany's touches would feel even better. She tilts her head down so that Brittany's lips meet her cheek rather than her lips for the moment.
"Britt," she says. "I want—I want to do what we did the other day after you threw me in the creek. I want to do what we did in my tent again."
Brittany's kisses still against Santana's skin. It takes a full second for Brittany to answer. "You mean right now?" Brittany asks, breathless.
Santana looks up to find Brittany staring at her, wide-eyed. Brittany's pupils fill her irises, black blotting out all but the barest sliver of blue, an eclipse of the sun. Santana smiles to see Brittany's reaction.
"Well, yes," she says, "but also no. I mean, I'd love to—"
Brittany finishes her thought, "—but we shouldn't right now."
"No, not right now."
"Later, yes. Tomorrow, maybe. If Puck leaves camp again during the day, we could always—"
"—in your tent."
"Before the show, yes."
Brittany's smile lights up her whole face. "It's like we're going to have a surprise party just for us," she says excitedly, giving Santana's waist a squeeze.
"And I get to go to that party with the best girl in the whole world," Santana says, pleased beyond pleased. She kisses Brittany's nose, and Brittany laughs a bit at first but then turns serious.
"Darlin'?" Brittany asks.
Brittany smoothes through Santana's hair. "How did you first know you were sweet on me? I mean, how did you know you liked me different than how you would like a friend?"
Like so many of Brittany's questions, it's a queer thing to ask, and it concerns a topic about which Santana hasn't given much thought before. Of course, Santana only realized that she was in love with Brittany after Ma Jones put the idea into her head, and that event in itself was a strange one, for Santana went from not realizing that she was sweet on Brittany at all in one moment to knowing truly and through her very heart that she was in love with Brittany in the next.
Santana searches Brittany's eyes, not quite sure of what to say.
"It's just—," Brittany starts. "Well, it's that I keep thinking about how lucky it is that we found each other. I thought there weren't any other girls like me."
"I never imagined what the heroes looked like in books," Santana says suddenly.
Brittany quirks an eyebrow, a funny, lopsided smile curling her lip. "What?" she says.
Santana repeats. "I never bothered to imagine what the heroes looked like in books. But I always imagined what the heroines looked like because they had pretty hair and eyes and the authors called them such nice things, like lovely and soft. I spent hours thinking about what Mr. Hardy meant when he said that his Tess had a 'mobile peony mouth.'" She laughs at herself. "I should have known that I'd like you, Britt."
Brittany eyes light up. "Why?"
"Because you're more beautiful than any of them," Santana shrugs. When Brittany scoffs, Santana insists. "No, you are. Someone should write a book about you."
"Someone should write book about you," Brittany argues.
"A book about us," Santana amends, causing Brittany to smile.
"I'd like that," Brittany says, just so, giving Santana another kiss.
For a long while, she and Santana lie alongside each other, trading dopey touches back and forth, playing with each other's hair, pecking one another's lips, watching the shadows from the tall grass change with each fluttering of wind.
(Santana is in love with Brittany and Brittany loves her back.)
They only just hear it when the warning bell rings.
Anything would have seemed dull after spending the whole afternoon hidden in the heart of a meadow with Brittany, but the evening fair seems especially so, with the patrons all too slow and too self-important and too demanding for Santana to stand. Santana gives very truncated readings to three patrons before a fourth arrives at her booth.
He must only be about Santana's age or younger, dressed in farm duds but with a dollar bill protruding very noticeably from his pocket. He makes a great show of sitting down before Santana, thumbs hitched under his suspenders.
"Howdy," he says. Then, "Lei è bellissima."
"Pardon?" Santana says, screwing up her face.
The boy smirks and gestures over his shoulder at Ken standing watch outside Santana's booth. "That feller said you came from Rome," the boy explains, "so I figured you must know I-talian. I told you you're pretty. Didn't I say it right?"
He smirks at Santana, daring her to prove him wrong. She only just manages not to roll her eyes at him. She gestures for him to extend his hand to her.
"You want a palm reading, no?" she asks, her grandmother's accent thick on her words.
The boy offers up his palm. "Sure do," he says.
The way he looks at Santana—like he's so certain that he has her figured out—recalls the worst parts of Puck to her. It puts a hardness into Santana's chest to the point where she finds herself bent on proving the boy wrong about something.
(About everything, maybe.)
She looks over the boy's palm for all of three seconds before deciding what to say to him. She spends another several seconds pretending to pour over the creases in his hand, playacting like she's learning them and gleaning new information from their folds, as one would when studying from a very informative book.
"Oh, that's very fascinante," she mutters, cupping her chin with her free hand.
"What?" the boy asks, confused at her Spanish.
Santana meets his eyes. "It's very interesting, sir—your fortune."
"Well, what does it say?" the boy asks, interested but not yet worried.
Santana smirks and points at the suture that runs around the bulb of the boy's thumb. "You see here?" she says. "It is what we call your lifeline—the cursus vitae. It tells to me many things."
The boy's eyebrows start to creep up his forehead. He glances from his hand to Santana. "What things?" he asks.
"It tells to me that you are, um—how do we call it? You are a traveler."
"Oh, really? Well, where will I travel to?"
By now, the boy is genuinely invested in what Santana has to say to him, hooked like a fish on a cleverly ornamented lure. Santana hides her smile and traces over the boy's lifeline with her fingernail, as if discerning details from it. "To many places. You will go to Europe, if you like. Or Africa."
Not only the boy himself but the whole crowd outside of Santana's gazebo repeats Santana's word, all of them aflutter with the idea of someone from their town visiting such an exotic locale.
Santana leans in closer, curling the boy's palm to her. She draws her nail from the crease at his thumb to the crease under his fingers, where his palm would fold if he were to make a fist, changing her expression from one caballed to one concerned. The boy notices right away.
"What is it?" he asked, engrossed.
Santana feigns at fumbling for words. "It is, uh—we call your heart line."
The boy peers at Santana, mirroring her concern. "And what about it?" he asks.
Santana opens her mouth and then closes it, pretending to deliberate concerning her phrasing. For the briefest second, she wonders if she oughtn't to say what she has planned—if it would be too unkind of her to fool the boy before her—but then she thinks about how the medical student at the morning fair showed no qualms in reading a bad fortune for her, and also about Puck who pressed kisses to her lips when she didn't want them, and about of all the swindlers and false persons in the world, and most of all about Mr. Pierce saying awful things to Brittany under the influence of his medicine, and feels the flint inside herself. The boy still looks at Santana like he knows something about her.
"It tells to me," she says, her voice much calmer than her heart, "that you are best to be alone—that though you travel far and wide, you must not court a woman. You must go through this life without romance. There is no one for you."
In the next second, several things happen. The first thing is that the boy pulls a sour face, as if he had just tasted curdled milk upon his tongue when he had expected sweet cider instead. The second thing that happens is that the whole crowd around Santana's gazebo laughs, amused at both Santana's words and the boy's reaction to them. The third thing that happens is that someone yells out "Guess you'd better tell Sarah, buddy!" and everyone laughs even harder. The fourth thing is that Santana feels awful about saying what she did but desperately tries not to.
She doesn't control the future, after all.
It's the boy's choice whether he takes Santana's advice or not.
The boy shakes his head. "No thank you!" he says, yanking his hand away from Santana and standing up. Several people in the crowd clap him on the back as he retreats to the midway. He shakes his head and mutters, pulling his hat down on his brow.
Ken eyes Santana from his place at the entry to her booth, not exactly displeased with her performance, considering that the more part of the crowd liked it so well, but still seemingly surprised at it. For some reason, his attention causes Santana to feel even worse inside than she already did.
(It's a small person who returns meanness for meanness and an even smaller one who returns meanness for no reason in particular at all.)
When the next patron sits down for his reading, Santana promises him love, happiness, and wellbeing upon wellbeing. She doesn't dare look at the lines in his hand.
It doesn't change what she said to the smirking boy, though.
(It takes brave flowers to be such bright yellow.)
(Brittany never seems to mind her father, even when he says cruel things to her.)
Mr. Adams serves as the ringmaster at the night show just like he did at the matinee. Just as before, he is comic, personable, and brilliant. Santana tries to forget what happened on the midway by focusing on his antics, attempting to discern for herself what makes Mr. Adams such a fine showman. As far as she can tell, it has something to do with his bravery—with his willingness to fall down with just as much commitment and aplomb as if he were actually standing up.
Santana watches the show from her usual place at the aperture, feeling so many things at once that she can hardly keep hold of all of them.
She feels quicksilver excitement for the plans that she and Brittany have made for tomorrow and also a nebulous kind of anticipation, like so many somethings are all about to happen, from Mr. Remington's second visit to the circus to the two upcoming weddings to even just the distant down day that the weekend promises. She feels both hard and soft inside, deeply affectionate toward and protective of and sweet on some things but angry at and confused about and frustrated concerning others.
She wants nothing to do with Puck and everything to do with Brittany. She's scared for Sam and Ma Jones and Quinn Fabray but thrilled for Brittany and for herself. She misses her father and grandmother and mother more than she ever has missed them before, and yet she desires for nothing that she can have and for no one more than whom she does have at present.
For nearly nineteen years, Santana lived such a stupefied, insulated life, and now she has everything open to her. Now she's alive and in love.
"Come on, ladybird," Puck calls to her, waving her over to prepare for the gypsy act.
The sun has begun to set over the big top, staining the sky with wine tones, bleeding them down the page. Bats and bugs whir in the air. Santana allows Puck to hand the tambourine to her. She watches him strike fire to his and Rachel's implements.
(Sometimes Santana feels very much as if more happens to and around her than she could possibly take in at once.)
She follows Rachel and Puck into the tent, and the smell of char and red-blue heat fill her nostrils, choking at her throat. The music that the circus band plays seizes her. The more she dances before the crowd, the more their faces blur before her. She's seen more people in the last two weeks than she had seen throughout her whole life before she left New York.
Just as she and Rachel step to the midpoint of the ring, Santana senses a flash of motion at her side, a shadow. Heat sears her face and yellow-white light passes before her eyes like a comet's streaked tail. It all happens so quickly. The crowd lets out a gasp. Santana can almost taste the blaze—fire on her teeth and in her sinuses, close enough to make her flinch.
Puck yells a belated, "Look out!" and Santana stops dead in her tracks.
She checks herself for pain but feels none and then looks to Rachel to make sure that she hasn't missed something. Rachel gapes at her with wide, worried eyes.
It's Rachel's expression that panics Santana, for she suddenly realizes what just happened—that Puck swung his staff so close to her face that he could have struck her with it. For a split instant, Santana imagines her skirts ablaze, herself a pyre. She shudders at the image in her mind, at the nearness of it.
She glances over to Puck, who seems horrified at himself.
I'm so sorry, ladybird.
The whole exchange—from Puck's mistake to Santana meeting eyes with him—takes less than a few seconds, and Santana, Puck, and Rachel resume their dance right away afterward. Ultimately, neither the audience nor Mr. Adams seems to notice that Puck nearly had an accident at Santana's expense.
One can't say the same thing concerning Rachel, though.
Puck escorts Santana out of the tent, and the two of them stand dumbfounded beneath the twilight. "You're all right, aren't you, ladybird? I didn't mean—it wasn't—I—," Puck stammers, glancing between her and the back entrance to the big top, worried. He seems to wait for something, and, sure enough, it comes to him.
Rachel riding a wave of fury.
The instant she finishes with the Little Malibran sketch, Rachel storms out of the big top to where Puck had already been making a profuse apology to Santana in the backstage.
"Noah Puckerman!" she fumes. "Where is your head? In all my years on stage, I have never witnessed such a foolish mistake as that one—and I've been performing since infancy! If you want your wife's attention in the ring, that's no way to get it! You trying to show off like that nearly got her hurt! You owe Santana an apology, and you owe it to all of us to perform better! You heard Mr. Adams this morning—we can't afford to have any more foul-ups this week! And especially not one that would involve you maiming our only fortuneteller! What do you have to say for yourself?"
Puck daren't say anything but exactly what Rachel wants him to.
"I'm so sorry, ladybird," he mumbles. "I didn't mean to scare you or put you in danger, either. I just wasn't paying attention"—Rachel shoots him a scathing look—"but I should have been paying attention! I just got distracted, is all. I would have felt awful if you had gotten hurt. I know you don't like the fire. I'm so sorry."
He glances between Rachel and Santana and keeps his hands jammed in the pockets of his gypsy breeches. Before Santana can even think through his apology, Rachel has already accepted it.
"Good," Rachel says. She turns to Santana, all of the intensity with which she faced Puck gone away in an instant. When next she speaks, she does so with perfect concern in her voice. "Santana, are you all right? Puck must have given you an awful scare."
She reaches out, setting her fingertips on Santana's arm. The touch is an unconscious one on her part, Santana can tell, because as soon as she makes it, she stiffens, suddenly affronted by her own boldness. Even so, she doesn't pull away. She remains on, waiting for Santana to either reject the gesture or to accept it.
To accept her.
(Santana doesn't know what to make of Rachel Berry, who can be kind to even those persons who treat her despitefully and who never stays angry for too long—or at least not when someone stands in need.)
"I'm fine," Santana says, softening to Rachel's touch. "Really."
For the briefest second, Rachel seems as if she might challenge Santana's answer, but then she decides against it. Instead, she slings Puck another warning look and gently squeezes Santana's arm.
"I'm glad you're all right, Santana," she says kindly. With the matter settled, she retracts her hand and begins to walk away, heading over to where her father and the quadroon manservant sit beside the backstage fire.
When Santana thinks of how vehemently Rachel chastised her during the Independence Day spectacular in contrast to how genuinely Rachel cared for her just now, something in her heart snags.
"Rachel!" she calls out.
Rachel immediately pauses where she stands. She looks over Santana with her dark, sad eyes, hopeful and skittish and curious. "Yes?"
For once, Santana knows precisely what to say. "Just... thank you."
Rachel smiles, much shyer than she ever is on stage. "You're welcome," she says quietly, offering Santana a polite nod.
"I really didn't mean any harm, ladybird," Puck pipes up, pulling Santana's attention back to him.
With Rachel safely away, he reaches out, stroking at the curve of Santana's jaw, petting back a strand of her hair.
"The look on your face," he recalls. "It was like your heart had stopped."
"It did, a bit," Santana admits.
Puck has the decency to blush for Santana's word. He ducks his head. "Sometimes it's just hard to keep from looking—," he starts, wearing a most sheepish version of his idiot smile.
He doesn't manage to finish his thought, though—not before Brittany appears from the back of the big top, rushing into his and Santana's backstage area like a bolt of white lightning.
"Santana!" Brittany calls, breathless and pink-cheeked. "Are you all right, darlin'?"
She's just beside Santana in an instant, taking Santana by the wrists and checking her over from top to bottom. Her palms feel hot against Santana's skin, and she seems just as worried as if Santana were still in this very moment in danger.
"I'm just fine," Santana promises. Then, realizing that she must have just missed the knife throwing act, "Are you all right, BrittBritt?"
Brittany nods, "Yeah."
The two girls stare at each other, glad beyond speaking to find each other well, despite their recent brushes with real peril.
Santana hears Puck shift behind her. "Jesus Christ," he grumbles, annoyed with something. He turns away from Santana and Brittany and starts to wander off, muttering to himself.
(Santana doesn't know what has him so bothered, but she finds that she doesn't particularly care.)
Brittany spends the remainder of the show in Santana's backstage area, and she and Santana stand with each other beside the big top, their hands knotted together and their heads leaned against the tent canvas, in line.
Santana explains to Brittany what happened inside the tent, telling Brittany about how Puck waved his staff so close to her face that he might have almost singed her hair with the flame. Brittany's lips thin when Santana mentions that Puck allowed himself to become distracted, but she doesn't say anything disparaging against Puck; she just tells Santana again and again how glad she is that Santana is okay.
When it comes time for the grand exit parade, Santana and Brittany walk it together, with Brittany's father sitting out, nursing his hurt foot, and Puck and Rachel still too grateful for Santana's safety to deny Santana Brittany's companionship. After the girls emerge from the big top, Brittany says that she has to run along to help her father back to their tent and to herself change out of her costume. She promises to meet Santana at the mess pit for supper.
"Be sure to save me a seat, darlin'," she says before disappearing into the night.
(Retreating into the fairy country.)
Brittany isn't away for long; indeed, Santana only just has time to find a place in the mess pit before Brittany appears from behind the chuck, stepping into the firelight already clad in tatty blue. Brittany spots Santana right away and comes over to join her beside Puck. Sam isn't long behind Brittany, entering the mess pit with his family but choosing to sit with his friends once he finds them amongst the crowd.
Aside from at the matinee and evening shows, Santana and Brittany hadn't spent any time with Sam today and so hadn't had much opportunity to gauge his heartbreak. Of course he is still heartbroken, though in a quiet way. He wears his hat pulled down low about his eyes and smiles a much smaller, tighter smile than usual when he gives the girls his greeting. He keeps his back turned to the hearth. When Brittany asks him what the good word is, he just shrugs, having nothing in particular to say.
Since Santana didn't see Sam at either breakfast or lunch, she must suppose that he hadn't visited the mess pit today until now—a suspicion confirmed to her when Sam catches his first glimpse of Ma Jones from across the kitchen. As Sam goes to sit down on the grass, he happens to glance over his shoulder just as Ma Jones stands up from the hearth, carrying a cooking pot between two thick dishrags in her hands.
Ma doesn't seem to notice Sam, but Sam halts as soon as he sets eyes on Ma, stopped as if an archer had shot him through with an arrow. For a few seconds, Sam stays where he stands, watching Ma bustle her pot over to the spread upon the table. When she sets the pot down, she happens to look in Sam's direction. Santana can't tell if Ma sees Sam herself, as Mr. Evans stands up at that exact moment and removes his hat, signaling the start of the dinner prayer.
Whereas usually Mr. Evans prays some variation of the same prayer Santana heard him give on her first night at the circus, today he speaks different words.
"O Lord, bless this day our bread and vittles and open to us Thy hand. Uplift us in this, our time of need, and help us to prevail upon those who would seek to destroy us. Though Thy servants be at the mercy of pharaohs, plot our course through this wilderness. Let us not be destroyed by princes or powers. Lead us to that Promised Land. Please, dear Lord, heal our hearts and grant us sustenance. Give us hope in our differences, succor us in mercy, give to us a chance for renewal. In Jesus' name, amen."
Santana never has gotten into the habit of closing her eyes when Mr. Evans prays, so she keeps her gaze trained on Ma Jones and Sam throughout his invocation. When Mr. Evans speaks of healing hearts, she sees Ma Jones peek up, eyes deep and locked on Sam. When Mr. Evans asks that God give everyone a chance for renewal, Sam glances in the direction of Ma Jones, biting back a grimace.
As the prayer ends, Sam shoves his hat back on his head and Ma resumes her busywork around the campfire. If anyone else but Santana noticed their exchange, no one says anything of it.
(The circus is a place where everyone speaks freely of everything except for the most important things, after all.)
Eventually, Finn, Rory, Blaine, and Kurt come to join the group, sitting down with plates already in hand. Puck and Sam offer to fetch Brittany and Santana their meals. Everyone huddles together en masse on the ground, with Brittany beside Santana and the boys all gathered about them. Santana finds it very pleasant, keeping company with so many persons whom she finds, for the most part, agreeable.
When Rachel Berry arrives in the mess pit and starts making her plate, Santana sees her glance over to where the rest of the circus youths sit, a flash of circus-loneliness behind her eyes. Usually, Rachel takes her supper with her father and the quadroon manservant. She seldom associates with any of her peers outside of when they perform together during the shows.
Seeing the loneliness in Rachel causes that same something from before to snag in Santana's heart. She thinks back to lunchtime, when she had herself wished that Puck's friends would notice her and invite her to share her meal with them. She thinks back to those long, silent days after Abuela died at the bachelor cottage, when she would take her breakfasts and lunches alone and wait with tremulous heart for Papa to arrive home for supper. A strange, belated sort of guilt grips her.
"Rachel!" Santana calls. "Come eat with us!"
The invitation stops Rachel in her tracks. She gapes at Santana and then seems to process what Santana just entreated her to do. Something shifts in her expression. Suddenly, the girl who can fill the whole big top with her voice looks smaller than anyone Santana has ever seen. She peeks up at her father, silently asking his permission to join the other circus youths for supper. Her manner is tentative, like she durst not allow herself to hope for anything, though she wants everything more than she could say.
(Rachel Berry is the girl who wants everything too much, but fears that she can't have it. Santana knows just the type.)
Mr. Berry glances over at the rabble sitting on the grass, his spectacles reflecting firelight. A smile quirks his mouth. "Enjoy your meal, Rachelah," he says, nudging the quadroon manservant to follow him as he leaves Rachel to the group.
As Rachel flutters over to join the crowd, Santana meets Brittany's eyes. Though Santana might expect Brittany to act a bit upset or at least confused at her behavior, Brittany doesn't. Rather, she regards Santana with a thoughtful expression—one that eventually shifts into a smile.
Only as Rachel starts to take a seat beside Brittany do the boys really notice Rachel's presence.
"Well, look who it is!" Puck says, scooting over a bit to allow Rachel space.
"You're eating with us?" Sam asks, surprised but not displeased by the new development.
Rachel for once seems at a loss for words, so Santana's speaks to save her. "I just thought it would be nice, all of us eating together," she says, shrugging.
"It is nice," Brittany agrees.
"Sure is," says Sam, but in a distant way.
He starts to get that look about him—the one of concentrated determination on something just beyond himself, the selfsame one that came over him just before he congratulated Ma Jones on her engagement and insinuated to Puck that Brittany could only ever marry Santana. He starts to stand up from the ground, leaving his plate behind him. Santana's heart speeds in her chest. What is Sam doing? There are rules, after all.
Sam ambles to his feet and stands up onto the toes of his clown shoes. "We all ought to eat together," he mumbles. Then, he starts to wave over the rabble. "Hey, Ms. Jones! Why don't you grab yourself a biscuit and come on over here? You outdid yourself tonight, and you ought to take a load off, just for a minute. We've got a seat for you! You can bring your Mr. Tinsley, if you like. Come be friendly with us!"
For the first time since yesterday, Sam wears his brightest dopey smile. He gestures emphatically to the ground beside him, as though it were a throne awaiting a queen to sit upon it. Santana understands what he's doing immediately.
No hard feelings, he means.
Many of the people around the mess pit look scandalized at Sam's appeal—and perhaps Ma Jones most of all. Her eyes widen and her mouth falls open. A full second passes before she recovers from her shock at Sam's overboldness. She rebuffs him with a headshake and tries to resume her scuttling around the kitchen.
Puck says, "What're you doing, you idiot?" and pulls Sam back down to the ground by his wrist.
Though Santana expects Sam to be disheartened that Ma refused his invitation to dine with the group, he doesn't seem put out in the least. Per Puck's coaching, Sam rearranges himself on the grass and makes no attempt to stand up again. He doesn't give up on his objective, though.
Instead, he starts to sing.
Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight,
come out tonight, come out tonight?
Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight
and dance by the light of the moon?
As I was walking down the street,
down the street, down the street,
a handsome girl I chanced to meet
Oh, she was fair to see!
It's the same song Sam sang to Ma on the morning he rode up alongside the circus wagon on his horse, serenading her in front of her kitchen girls. Though Santana might expect Sam to sing it more sadly now than he did before, he doesn't at all; his voice is sweet, soft at first but then increasing in volume. Sam reaches over and taps Puck on the kneecap, encouraging him to join in the second chorus. Puck obliges him, and soon Sam's baritone and Puck's baritenor blend together, amiable and warm over the sounds of the mess.
Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight,
come out tonight, come out tonight?
Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight
and dance by the light of the moon?
I asked her, "Would you want to dance,
want to dance, want to dance?"
I thought that I might have the chance
to shake a foot with her
Soon others in the group start to notice the sing-along, and Sam gestures broadly like a conductor bringing his choir to performance. He wants everyone to join in with him, and he doesn't have to wait long before his fellows oblige. Rory and Finn start to sing, as well, and then, to Santana's surprise, so does Rachel Berry, her seraphic soprano soaring over the voices of the boys.
Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight,
come out tonight, come out tonight?
Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight
and dance by the light of the moon?
I danced with gal with hole in her stocking,
and her hip kept a-rocking,
and her toe kept a-knocking
I danced with a gal with a hole in her stocking,
and we danced by the light of the moon
When Sam first commenced singing, Ma Jones seemed entirely intent upon ignoring him, just like she did in the back of the circus wagon on that morning in St. James. However, the more Sam sings, the less Ma seems able to keep to her resolve. A smile starts to deepen the dimples in her cheeks, small to begin with but growing bigger with each subsequent verse.
Soon, Ma full-on grins.
The walls inside of her fall away, moldered to ruin in seconds. She sets down the washrag in her hands upon the table and shakes her head, feigning shame for herself, but the truth is that she couldn't look giddier or more pleased if she tried.
As Ma starts to walk over to the group, a great, happy feeling wells in Santana's heart. Though the logical part of her knows that this occasion isn't entirely without some underlying bitterness, for once, Santana feels only just one way in herself—just full of goodwill for her friends. As she and Brittany join in with the rest, sharing in the words and the tune, it strikes Santana as to just how perfect everyone's voices sound together. Their harmonies blend and strains combine, as pure and winning as those of any professional choir.
Brittany reaches over to take Santana by the hand just as Ma Jones arrives to join the rabble. Ma smiles at Sam, eyes full and deep and soft with something that Santana knows now by heart. Ma offers Sam a small wave, and he beams at her, still just as sweet on and proud of her as he has ever been.
For a second, Ma seems not to know where to sit amongst the group, aware of those rules she cannot break, though she already breaks some rules simply in coming over. Santana knows that feeling, as well, and reaches up on impulse, grabbing Ma's hand and motioning for Ma to take a seat at her side.
Though Santana expects Ma to perhaps resist the gesture, Ma doesn't. Seeming glad to have a place, she settles down beside Santana, their hands still clasped tight. Brittany follows Santana's lead and extends her free hand to Rachel. When Rachel accepts it, the girls find themselves all sitting in a chain—braided up like one of Blaine's garlands—Rachel beside Brittany and Brittany beside Santana and Santana beside Ma, all of them smiling.
Ma draws a breath and loans her pleasant thunder to the song.
come out tonight, come out tonight?
Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight
and dance by the light of the moon?
For the final verse, Brittany and Santana meet eyes. They sing not just from their lungs or throats but from somewhere deep inside themselves. They grin at each other, hands twined and with red thread around their fingers, feeling something so much vaster and deeper and more eternal than themselves.
I want to make that gal my wife,
gal my wife, gal my wife
Oh, I'd be happy all my life
if she would marry me!
come out tonight, come out tonight?
Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight
and dance by the light of the moon?
Oh, we're gonna be happy, we're gonna be happy,
we're gonna be happy, and dance!
The youth of the circus finish their song but don't stop singing. They find new words and melodies. They sing again and again and louder and louder, huddled together with the girls' skirts and petticoats bunched under their legs and the boys almost on top of one another. They sing to the stars, their voices curling to join the campfire smoke—Kurt and Rachel and Ma plucking notes from the stratosphere, Finn and Puck and Blaine and Sam and Rory all in a rumble, Brittany and Santana at counterpoints. They sing until the night turns cold, until they lose their own voices in the strength of their collective strain, until everyone else has left the mess pit, until it's just them, just song.
Author's Note: Thank you so much to Dr. Ruth for giving so generously of her time, talents, and thoughtful consideration in betaing this chapter. She truly is a genius and makes the writing process so rewarding. Special, special thanks to Lu for being such an awesome translator, helping me wade through the Spanish in this chapter even when she herself was ill. Happy upcoming birthday, bb! Finally, I dedicate this chapter to the effulgent Tess, who celebrated her birthday earlier this week. May she have many happy returns.
Also, for those who've asked, this is chapter 12/15. We're getting to the final stretch, guys.
"Claro, claro" : "Sure, sure"
¿Acaso Salomón en toda su gloria vistió como uno de éstos? : Was even Solomon in all his glory arrayed like one of these? [ref. Luke 12:27 Reina Valera Bible 1862 Ed.]
"¡Está mintiendo!" : "He's lying!"
perdona la niña, Madre, por favor : forgive the girl, Mother, please
¡Santana, no lo toques! : Santana don't touch that!
¡No le molestan, querida! : Don't bother him, sweetie!
fascinante : fascinating