A/N: Hello fine readers! I'm back with a new story and my first foray into AU. Very different from my Mama Lopez fics, because, well, no Mama Lopez. BUT, hopefully you'll dig this AU version of Brittana. Short prologue to start you off. Updates will be at least once a month. Dust off your Big Band records, pull on your flannel and check your camping gear, because we're going on an adventure. As always, big love to slayhue for her beta wisdom.
May 16, 1943 - Seattle
Her 20th birthday started with a door slam in her face, or rather, a very stern gate guard, denying her entrance. Santana Lopez traveled from California to the Naval shipyard in Seattle to do her part in the war effort. She grew up around boats in a small coastal town, so it seemed like a natural fit. Plus, the men she knew who worked the docks back home assured her the shipyards were hiring women. She even read it in the newspaper. She saw the posters. It was as if President Roosevelt himself asked her directly to leave home, join the war effort and earn a fair wage. Instead, she sat on a park bench, rubbing her aching feet propped up on her suitcase, wondering where she would sleep that night.
She walked the hour and a half from the shipyard, to Broadway and Yesler. The bus driver who wouldn't let her on was sympathetic enough to at least tell her where to go, and thankfully, it wasn't Hell. Santana walked into a coffee shop and sat down at the counter. It wasn't until she saw the dark brown hand slide the menu in front of her, did she look around and notice she was in a Negro establishment.
Santana looked up at the young waitress, "I'm sorry, is it okay that I'm here?" she asked as she gripped her suitcase handle near her feet.
"Gave you a menu didn't I," the waitress replied with an annoyed smirk. "What you havin'?"
"Coffee," Santana answered with a sigh of relief. "and the number two," she said, sliding the menu back across the counter with a smile.
The waitress' name tag read, "Penny".
"Number two!" Penny yelled over her shoulder toward the kitchen.
Penny returned with a pot of coffee and small pitcher of cream.
"You lost?" Penny asked, pouring the coffee into Santana's cup.
"You can say that," Santana replied, dejection and irritation clearly showing across her face. "Came to work at the shipyard."
"But they ain't hirin'," Penny replied with a shake of her head. "Well, they ain't hirin' you."
Santana looked at Penny with a furrowed brow.
"Or me," Penny added with a shrug.
"It was supposed to be different. They passed that law," Santana complained, jaw clenched as she sipped her coffee and swallowed hard.
"Just because they passed a law don't mean folks are going to abide by it. Where you from? You should know better than that. Or do you live in Fairyland?" Penny asked.
"No, no, it's not that different where I'm from," Santana admitted.
"Order up!" a man called from the kitchen.
Penny placed Santana's plate in front of her. "Eat. You'll feel better," Penny encouraged.
"Got a job hidden in these mashed potatoes? That'll make me feel better," Santana replied with more annoyance than she intended.
Penny shook her head and filled the napkin dispenser.
Santana forced herself to eat, despite the angry acid pooling in her stomach. Penny returned to refill her coffee cup.
"Know where I can get a room for the night?" Santana asked, pouring cream into her coffee.
"Two blocks down, on the right. Miss Hazel will take care of you," Penny replied. "You headin' home tomorrow?"
"No," Santana replied with a sigh. "Still looking for work, and word is, it's here. You know of anything?"
"Nope," Penny replied shaking her head. "But ask Miss Hazel when you get there. "If anyone knows anything, it's her," Penny smiled.
Santana thanked Penny, paid her tab, grabbed her suitcase and walked the two blocks to Miss Hazel's Hotel.
Miss Hazel's Hotel was in reality, a rooming house. But Miss Hazel herself sat behind the desk and welcomed Santana.
"How many nights dear?" Miss Hazel asked.
"Only one, I hope," Santana replied.
Miss Hazel frowned.
"Oh no. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it about your hotel ma'am. I'm hoping to find work tomorrow," Santana clarified. "Actually, Penny down at the coffee shop said you might know who's hiring."
Miss Hazel looked Santana over and nodded in thought.
"Name?" Miss Hazel asked, pen poised over her ledger book.
"Don't have one," she said, clearing her throat.
Miss Hazel paused her pen, set it down and dug out a room key from a creaky wooden drawer.
"Room 515. Elevator's broken. Stairs are on your left. Dinner's at six. Don't be late or don't eat," Miss Hazel instructed.
"Thank you," Santana replied, taking the key from the old woman.
Santana paused, to see if Miss Hazel would say anything about work, but the old woman just looked back down at her ledger and began to write.
The stairs reminded Santana of how much her feet ached. When she arrived at her room, she unlocked her door and entered a simple yet clean room. She left her suitcase by the door, and threw her key on the nightstand. One single bed, one lamp, one sink and a tiny closet with just enough space for the toilet were the only things in the room. Honestly, they were the only things that would fit in the room.
Santana sat on the bed, kicked off her shoes, unpinned her hat from her hair, and fell onto her back, arms splayed. The exhaustion had hit her. She closed her eyes and sent a silent prayer for her father's safety and for herself, a job come morning.
She opened her eyes to a darkened room. She fumbled for the lamp switch and checked her watch.
"Shoot," she muttered, and rushed to put her shoes on. It was 5:55 pm.
Santana found the dining room and entered at exactly 6:00 pm. Miss Hazel stood behind the buffet table of salmon, potatoes, green beans and biscuits. Santana looked around the room as she hovered by the doorway. The clientele was a spectrum of browns and tans, the likes Santana never had seen in one place, or maybe at all. Miss Hazel smiled at her and nodded. Santana closed her mouth once she realized she was gaping, and stood in line for her meal.
"Smells delicious Miss Hazel," Santana complemented when she arrived with her plate in hand.
Miss Hazel just smiled as she filled Santana's plate.
"Come see me at the desk at nine for a nightcap, won't you?" Miss Hazel offered.
Santana started to say she doesn't really drink, but thought better of it.
"Thank you ma'am. I'd like that," Santana replied.
Santana sat by herself and ate her meal. She spent the time between bites surveying the room and the people who found their way to Miss Hazel's. Some servicemen, some that looked well off enough to be traveling, others looked like they needed a job months ago. Santana bussed her plate to a cart near the kitchen and returned to her room. She dug out her little alarm clock and set it for 8:45 pm, just in case she fell asleep again. Instead she pulled out her worn copy of The Odyssey, and began to read.
At 8:45 pm Santana put down her book and freshened up at the sink. She smoothed down the front of her dress and walked down stairs to meet Miss Hazel for a cocktail. Miss Hazel was behind the check-in desk, humming to jazz on the radio. She looked up and greeted Santana with a toothy grin.
"Follow me," Miss Hazel greeted.
Miss Hazel grabbed a bottle of liquor and two glasses from her desk and motioned and walked out from behind her desk, down the hall, to a small door. Santana followed Miss Hazel out the door and onto a small patio next to the fire escape at the back of the hotel. Two wrought iron chairs took up most of the space. Miss Hazel sat down and pulled a silver cigarette case out of her bra. She offered Santana one and Santana obliged. Miss Hazel lit Santana's cigarette, then her own. Miss Hazel inhaled deeply and exhaled with a sigh, curls of smoke seeping out her nostrils as she closed her mouth. She poured Santana a drink, then herself and clinked her glass with Santana's.
"To an end to the war," Miss Hazel toasted.
"To an end," Santana agreed.
"You Mexican?" Miss Hazel asked, after swallowing a mouthful of liquor.
"American," Santana replied.
Miss Hazel smiled. "You're a tiny thing. What are you, 100 pounds soaking wet?"
"125 last time I checked," Santana answered.
"Hmmm," Miss Hazel thought.
"Not much meat on ya. You got any muscle under all that skin and bones?"
"I'm strong enough," Santana replied.
"Stubborn enough, I'm sure," Miss Hazel assessed with a wink and another swig of her liquor. "There's work if you're willing."
"I'm willing," Santana said, sitting up and leaning toward Miss Hazel.
"I haven't told you what it is yet, have I? Don't know what you're getting into yet," Miss Hazel shook her head with a chuckle.
"Tell me," Santana implored.
"Logging company's hiring north east of the city. They couldn't keep the first three batches of women on. All quit. But they need the help. Got the ship and the airplane contracts with the military," Miss Hazel said, her eyes fell to the glass in her hand. "They can't cut down trees or cut 'em up fast enough."
"Wait, what? They're hiring women to be...to be...lumberjacks?" Santana asked, wide-eyed.
"Don't let them hear you say that child. The proper term is logger," Miss Hazel explained. "They don't like 'lumberjack'."
"What does it pay?" Santana asked.
"Same as most of these government jobs. You make about $4 a day. Give or take," Miss Hazel replied.
Santana took a big swallow of what she thought was bourbon. Most jobs only paid $1.50 a day. This could be worth it for the money alone. But logging.
"Nothing else, huh? No other work?" Santana asked.
"None for girls that look like you. White girls snapped up most of the other jobs. All the good ones. Nice office jobs, or working inside, in a factory," Miss Hazel explained. "If you're interested, my nephew is heading up there tomorrow with a delivery. He'll give you a lift. Be out front. 6 am sharp," Miss Hazel explained, stubbing out her cigarette.
Santana didn't know what to think, as she laid in bed, watching the clock tick past 10, then 11. She was exhausted, but too nervous to sleep. What had she gotten herself into? She left her home, not that she could've stayed, really. Her father's practice was shut down and he was overseas. But now she was leaving the coast. The ocean that grounded her. That gave her a sense of peace. She was trading sun and sand and seafood for dark, damp woods in the middle of nowhere. Santana needed to get some sleep. Her alarm clock would ring far too quickly the next morning.
"Happy Birthday to me," she groaned.