This morning has been the strangest. Once, Sandy Ryerson pulled me into his Socks & Linens store to introduce me to a sachet of marijuana, but even that doesn't come close to the weirdness of seeing Laynefax completely deserted.
I'm not even sure I should be going to work, but when I see Sugar sat in the diner, legs dangling as she reads, I'm more relieve than I probably should have been.
"Hey," I say, pushing the door open. "Where is everyone? It's like the freaking Sahara out there."
Sugar flips a page of her magazine and sighs dramatically. "It's Kaplutz."
She finally lifts her head to look at me and smiles, "No, it's Kaplutz. The day of the PoBe."
"Is there like, some booze in your coffee or something? Because I'mma need to get in on that."
She laughs and pivots on the stool, putting her magazine down and readjusting the large, pale blue bow on top on her head. Frankly, her clothes are butt weird most of the time, and they often look like what the offspring of Minnie Mouse would wear if she had bumped uglies with Iceman, but weirdly it suits Sugar and her endearing dramatics.
"Kaplutz is Polar Bear day; he's Laynefax's mascot. Well," she trails off, rolling her eyes at herself, "he died over sixty-five years ago, but you can find him at the 'Fax Museum if you want to. Anyway it's not officially an off day, which is why we're not really closed... but ya' know, people don't go to work either way, and the ones who don't work sleep until noon."
"Huh, okay. So we're celebrating a dead polar bear?"
"Wait, how was there even a polar bear here in the first place?"
"Actually you know what? Nevermind. Where's Brittany?"
Sugar pouts again - she's a weird shade of cray cray but weirdly attaching? - and points a finger to the kitchen before picking her magazine back up. I thank her and quietly slide to the kitchen, popping my head in when I hear the familiar clinks and clanks. Sam is flipping pancakes - there are various shapes so I'm assuming he's more bored than anything else - while whistling under his breath, his hairnet forgotten as he leans away from the pan. He's convinced he's Matthew McConaughey's long lost brother or something, which is why most of the time his hair looks like bleach met key lime pie.
"Hi Sam," I smile.
"Hey," he drawls.
"Still sticking to the lemon in your hair huh?"
His eyes widen as he looks around and starts stuttering, "What? No way! What? I don't... put juice in my... hair, I'm— I'm a dude!"
I snort, "Really? Having a dick is your excuse?"
He groans and then sighs, "Fine, I dye my hair with lemon juice. But don't tell Sugar okay? Please."
I roll my eyes and smile, "I won't, relax."
Then I ask, "Hey um, where's Britt?"
He turns his head and motions to the furthest corner before ducking out of the kitchen, probably to talk to Sugar or take a breather. I move around the countertop and pans in the middle and smile when I see her silhouette.
She's on the other side of her station in a rather cramped corner, hair pulled into a loose ponytail, with wisps of honey blonde sticking out a bit from everywhere. Her lips are pinched and her brows furrowed as she scrapes some dough off a rollpat and sets it aside. She's wearing a dark blue dress under the ever-present apron tied around her waist, and when she hunches just a bit, the invisible lines of her back fall down to her perfectly round...
"I asked if you wanted to try one of my éclairs? There's chocolate, lemon, coffee..."
I blink and frown as she goes on about the different kinds, my only thoughts revolving around the fact Brittany went from being over there, to right here in front of me without me noticing her actually moving. If someone is editing my life right now, it's a seriously choppy job with a bunch of jump cuts. Maybe the ghost of Godard is my editor?
"Yeah strawberry, totally."
"... and caramel," Brittany trails off. Then she stops, blinks as my answer registers and starts laughing. "You can't make strawberry éclairs silly. Or wait... maybe you can? I should totally find out."
I shake my head. "I'm sorry, I'll try coffee."
She grins and hands me one, waiting for me to take the first bite. When I do, it's like someone put pop rocks and whipped cream in my mouth and made it the best moment of my life. Hallelujah, I can die a happy woman.
"Holy f'ck," I munch, "this is ahmaz'ng."
"Yay!" She cheers, fist pumping goofily.
This time I swallow before smiling, making sure I don't have anything stuck in my teeth. "Brittany, you should totally do this for a living."
She chuckles before she points to the corner of my lips and her cheeks redden just a bit. "What?"
"You have um..."
I wipe my hand across my mouth. "Gone?"
She looks down with a smile before looking back up, lightly chewing on her bottom lip. Finally, she swipes her thumb over the corner of my mouth and chuckles low. "Now it is."
I smile nervously before I clear my throat. "Thanks."
There's an awkward pause before I think about Sugar's words and try to break the weird tension. "So um... Kaplutz day huh?"
Her face lightens up in realization and she quickly puts the éclairs back down before frowning apologetically. "God yeah, I should have told you not to come in today, I'm sorry."
I shrug, "It's okay. The streets were so empty I thought zombies had like, gnawed on the whole town while I was sleeping, so trust me I'm way more relieved than upset about this."
She laughs, "You watch a lot of TV don't you?"
"Yeah, it was kind of my only friend back in Philly."
She pouts and frowns, as if the idea doesn't bode too well with her. "Aw, really? How come?"
I scratch the back of my neck and lean back on one of the giant kitchen countertops, trying to choose my words carefully as she moves to stand next to me. "I just... didn't really care for my ex-husband's friends I guess. And in high school I was never the social type except for dumb reasons like popularity, so when I got married I kind of focused on writing and got lazier."
"What do you mean?"
"Well it's not like I never went out, but I never made the effort to meet new people. Except work related and everything, but you can't really rely on them when you're weeping on the bathroom floor thinking about your failed marriage."
"That's really sad," Brittany murmurs.
I'm looking down at the kitchen tiles but I can feel her eyes on me, so I turn my head and smile softly when our eyes meet. "Well, I intend on changing that, so don't pity me just yet."
She frowns, "I don't pity you. But for what it's worth Santana, I think you're shaping out to be a great friend."
She smiles widely and bumps my ass with hers, much like I did yesterday. "Ass bumping and ramblings included."
I roll my eyes but I think the smile splitting my face goes against my fake, offended expression. "Please, any more sweet words and you'll give me a cavity."
She laughs louder - the sort of laugh that's just pure warmth and music - and turns so she's now facing me. "Santana, I will never stop being sweet, and you will never stop being a big, closeted dork. Thus is a fact in life."
I arch an eyebrow, "Oh really?"
"I'm sorry, who was singing 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' Wednesday afternoon?"
Her eyes widen, "You sneaked on me? I was in the back room!"
"Hey I needed guidance. You were too busy blasting a 90's song though," I shrug. "It's not my fault you're the big closeted dork. I mean literally Brittany, you were actually in a dark, closed off space singing a freakin' TMNT song and— ouch! Why the heck did you pinch me for?"
She pouts and crosses her arms. "That's verbal bullying, and I won't accept it."
"I'm the bully?" I squeak out. "You just pinched me!"
"Really? I don't think so."
"What? Brittany you just pinched me! My arm is red!"
"Nu-huh, maybe that was a mosquito bite. You can't prove it."
I gasp, "You - you are such a—"
"Nope, you can't insult your boss, now can you Santy Pantsy?"
Oh no she didn't. "Santy Pantsy? There is no way. NO way you are calling me that."
She giggles and hums as she looks at the éclairs with a sly smirk, and scoops some of the cream on her finger. My mouth is still wide open when she boops my nose with the same finger, and chuckles playfully.
"I'll tell you what. You wipe that off, drag your tiny sweet butt outside, and we'll trust Sugar and Sam with the diner so I can introduce you to Kaplutz. What do you say?"
"Fine," I grumble.
Far, far away in your head, a tiny whip cracked.
"Awesome," Brittany grins.
She brings her finger to her mouth in a quick motion, pink tongue darting to lick off the rest of the cream, and then sets the éclairs in one of the giant fridges. As she scurries out of the kitchen, I hesitate before I sweep off the cream on my nose and taste it, sighing contentedly when the sweet taste of coffee hits my taste buds.
Three minutes later I'm out the door with Brittany and walking down the mostly deserted main street, the pavements a bit wet from the morning rain and the sky starting to clear out. I can't really appreciate the lack of clouds now though, because I still feel the need to correct Brittany's earlier words.
"By the way," I start, "I'll have you know J-Lo herself would kill to have my ass."
Brittany frowns confusedly, but her face lights up when she understand what I'm referring to. She smiles and brushes back some strands of her hair before she looks at me with a coy little smile. "Isn't she already in a relationship?"
"What? No I meant—you said my ass is tiny, so I'm saying even she would kill to have my ass. Litteraly my butt. Not me. Not kill to have my ass as in have me—"
"I'm rambling again, aren't I?"
Laynefax Museum of Natural History
A tiny, teeny, stuffed polar bear cub.
That's what Kaplutz day is all about. A watermelon sized polar bear with glass eyes, a weird type of stuffing that makes him look like he swallowed a cactus before dying, and his mouth forced into an unnatural smile. Victor Frankenstein couldn't have created anything like it, and he had experience in the field of monster making.
"Isn't it?" Brittany sighs.
"I mean he's just..."
"Isn't he?" She coos.
I don't even know how to say it, because if I do, I'm pretty sure she'll stick her shoe in my eye. And her shoes aren't like... flip flops. They have a heel, even if small, and Brittany, though delicate at first glance, is a strong woman.
I shudder. Lying it is.
"He's SO adorable!" I blurt out. My voice is high-pitched and so fake I can hear the Blue Fairy tsk at me and threaten to make my nose grow.
Brittany looks at me with a glint in her eye, surprised at my sudden outburst - what can I say, I'm a terrible actress - and then lets out a small laugh. "You think it's ridiculous."
"What? No! Absolutely not, I think it's good for a town to have animal representation. And look how small and" CREEPY "cute he is."
She smiles wordlessly before looking back at the bugger that'll probably plague my sleep tonight. "It's a town thing I guess, my grandmother was really big on celebrating the day. The story is a bit long, though."
I'm actually curious about the town's history, and Brittany looks like she wants to tell me about it, so I walk around Kaplutz and his platform and spot a small museum bench against a wall.
"I have time," I tell her.
She blushes before she grins, rocking back on her heels and sitting next to me. She takes a deep, serious breath and crosses her fingers on her lap. It all feels like I'm back to school to learn about an important event in history, but honestly I wouldn't mind Brittany teaching me a couple of things. She has a way of speaking that's so different but passionate, it's like she's constantly excited to talk, even about mundane things like a newspaper forgotten on a bench.
"When Laynefax was being planned out," she starts, "there were a couple of people who started disagreeing on the construction plans. One day it got so bad a whole group of people just left, and started building another town."
"Don't you just hate deserters," I joke.
"It's not funny Santana," she scolds. I bite my lip and look down, but then she lifts my chin up and winks.
"It's just the really dark ages of the town, so some of the oldies around here will get really upset about it, even if they weren't even born when it all happened," she chuckles. "Even April is still insulting the people from Marlow Pine. Once she chased two visitors down the street with a broom because they told her the Antique store in Marlow was cheaper. It was awful."
"Oh wow. So everyone here just hates everyone there?"
"No actually, that's what Kaplutz is for. Marlow Pine have a day for him too."
Somewhere, Alice in Wonderland is saying, Curiouser and curiouser.
Brittany notices my confusion and picks at imaginary lint on her skirt. "Around 1946, there was a circus that stopped at the outskirts of the town. It was new and exciting and all the kids were eager to go, but it was literally in between Laynefax and Marlow Pine, so the people who went were kind of forced to be civil to each other. But..."
"...but what?" I ask. I'm surprised at my eagerness, the way my hands grip the edge of the bench like I'm about to be told the greatest mysteries in the world. Honestly, the messiah could pop in front of me and I'd still yell at him to shove off so I can hear Brittany finish her story.
"But," she finally says, "the circus had a pregnant polar bear, and they had to stop the show in panic because their veterinarian was sick and in another town. So they asked for someone in the audience to help, and two guys volunteered to help deliver her cubs. It was awful though... blood everywhere - the mama bear was restless and kept moving because she thought her babies were in danger, and then eventually she died. Later on the cubs died too because the mom was dead..."
"What? All this and they die? What kind of crack awful story is this?"
Brittany shakes her head and gets up, pointing at Kaplutz with a smirk. "Everyone but this little fellow. Well he did eventually die a few weeks later, but still."
"Brittany... this is... depressing!"
She shrugs and sits down next to me again, leaning against the wall and looking at me with a twinkle in her eye. "Tragedies make good stories."
"Right. Well I still don't know what the bear has got to do with the two towns."
"Ah, but you see, the two guys who helped were from Laynefax and Marlow Pine. After the bloody disaster... the circus left them with the cub. They took care of it as best as they could, named him, and brought our towns together. They restored peace with their alliance..."
"Wow, this is actually cheesier than I thought."
"Oh come on, it's not that cheesy a story. The bear did still die super young. I mean look at him..." she sighs, pouting adorably.
"Yeah, he's a real sight for sore eyes."
"Rude," she bumps me with her elbow.
I look at her with a frown, "How do you know that wasn't honest?"
To my surprise, she laughs. "Well, was it?"
I frown and grumble, "No it was not. But I swear sometimes I wonder if you're not a mind reader."
"I don't know... I guess I can read you well," she wonders out lout. Then she looks at me and asks, "Is that okay?"
I look back at the light blue eyes just staring at me so sweetly and nod. "That's fine."
After our tour at the museum, Brittany took me out to visit the town. She called Sugar to tell her and Sam they could go home if they wanted, but that they should lock up behind and leave the keys in the sixth flower pot near the entrance. We walked for so long I didn't even see the time fly. We actually walked until we reached Marlow Pine, then took a detour to grab a snack. I wasn't complaining; Brittany talked about everything and anything, and then asked me about my life in Philly. I didn't want to go too much into details, but somehow I got to tell her about high school, the books I'd written and life after my wedding.
I think she sensed it's a delicate topic so she didn't ask too much into it, but she doesn't seem to pity me either which I really appreciate. It was around 5:30 p.m. that we stopped at the local bar, probably the only one open at this time on this day. Brittany is now at the counter getting us drinks, and I'm sitting at our high table, looking around and wondering what the hell is up with the framed pictures of tortoises and platypuses.
Unsurprisingly, Brittany is laughing and chatting with the bartender, which she probably knows from middle school or something like that. I can't help my eyes from staring at her more intently. Lately, I've been catching myself looking at women differently. The first time I went grocery shopping, this tall brunette took the last jar of tomato sauce, but instead of being annoyed, I couldn't stop thinking, "Well that's a pretty face." Not that odd, I guess, but when I trail my eyes down curves and smooth skin now, I can't really blame it on normal female curiosity anymore.
Looking at Brittany, how simply stunning she is with chocolate on her cheek or a fry behind her ear instead of her pen - she can be ditzy like that - I don't feel so sure about who I am anymore. It's not a bad feeling, just different and new.
"Hey pretty," someone says.
I snap out of my thoughts and find myself looking at a guy my age, give or take a few years, with a lazy smirk on his face. I'm sat on a high bar stool so I'm about his height, but he still manages to look down at me. "Are you passing through? I've never seen you around."
I hesitate before my eyes glance back at Brittany. "Um no, I live here now."
His eyes light up and he smirks harder now. He reeks of alcohol, but he doesn't really seem all that drunk. "How about a date next week? To celebrate you living here," he winks.
Talk about shit game, but the trick is not to anger him. He looks strong and I don't want to take my chances by being rude.
"I'm busy with work, sorry."
"Not even for one night?" He reiterates.
Crap, I'm really rusty at this. How do you let a guy down without being a total bitch about it?
"Look I'm not looking for anyone—"
"I don't believe that," he chuckles, "a gorgeous woman like you isn't the type to stay single for long. Besides—"
"Who said she's single?" A voice cuts him off.
Next thing I know, Brittany's arm is around my waist and her body is so close to mine I can feel her breasts pressed against my back. Well.
The guy chuckles and straightens himself up. "Brittany. You're always one step ahead, huh?"
"It's not hard Marvin, you move like a slowpoke."
"Ouch. But hey, I'm an open guy, how about a—"
"No," she growls.
"Well damn Britt, why don't you let your little friend answer."
I don't know what this guy is on — because really the only thing I'm registering right now is the way the pads of Brittany's fingers feel against the exposed bit of skin between my jeans and my t-shirt — but there is no way I'm opening my mouth to say something stupid.
"Look," Brittany groans, "she's here with me, so just back off."
Though it seems like the guy got the message, her arm still tightens around my waist. I can't help the fluttery feeling in my gut, the way I lean back just a bit because it feels that good to be held like this. How long has it been since I've even felt this fire?
"A'right Brittany, don't get your panties in a twist jeez."
He smiles crookedly, the kind of smile you fake because your ego got bruised big time, and walks back to the bar, signaling the bartender in a quick, bitter-filled motion.
"I'm sorry," Brittany sighs, taking a step back - oh how I miss that arm - and looking at me with apologetic eyes. "It's really the only way to have him back off."
"That's fine," I brush off, trying to clear my throat. Instead I start coughing like a mad woman because it's dry and I just irritated it, so I take a quick swig of the ice blue drink Brittany brought over.
"You okay?" Brittany asks. She's got a sweet smile on her face and her hand is hovering over my back, most likely ready to tap it if I start coughing again.
"Yeah, I think it's been a long day."
She nods, "I'll walk you home after our drinks, 'kay?"
My stomach is too twisted to protest, so I agree and try not stumbling and falling face down on the floor when her hand touches my lower back again.
When we get home, I'm not too sure how to end the night. I want to ask her to come in for a cup of coffee perhaps, but we were just at the bar and maybe that'd be weird or something. I'm a complete noob with this communication thing; maybe I ought to get one of those "basic human interaction for losers" book. I'm sure that exists somewhere in the dark crevices of a shoddy bookstore.
"I miss this house," Brittany sighs. We've just passed the front garden and I can see Snix splayed on the couch from the window. Her tongue is sticking out and I'd bet $50 there's drool all over the carpet. Joy. She must be bored out of her doggy mind - I really need to sign her up to that daycare for dogs thing. Roz, my neighbor, told me it's a bit out of town, but I can take the car before work.
"I'm happy for Quinn though," Brittany said again. I think she noticed I was spacing out.
"Yeah, that sounds like such an amazing thing to do."
"So um... do you want to come in or something?" I ask. "I could make some coffee if you'd like."
Brittany seems to hesitate but after a few seconds she shakes her head. "I should really go home, I need to get up extra early for the cookies tomorrow," she smiles.
"Right," I chuckle.
There's a pause and her eyes seem to want to add something, but then they drop to my lips and my heart squeezes just a bit. I can see her swallow before she snaps out of it and says, "Well, goodnight Santana."
It takes me a few seconds to realize nothing happened, so I quickly smile back. "Goodnight Britt."
Once I'm inside, Snix's head lifts up and she moves around on the couch when I sit next to her. There isn't any drool in sight, so I pet her thankfully and scratch her behind her ears. She drops her head back on my lap and I sigh, wondering if it's so wrong to feel so good with Brittany.
an: Thank you for your reviews last chapter, you guys are better than warm chocolate chip muffins.