A/N: This is probably a good time to tell y'all that there's 2-3 chapters left in this story. As you can see, we're getting into 1945, and if you remember your history lessons, WW 2 ended in 1945. If you didn't know that, this is probably a good time to remind you to stay in school kids! As always, thank you to my beta slayhue and my pre-reader uvaack for their invaluable input, edits, honesty and cheerleading. Thanks to all you readers. You're fantastic! Best fan fic readers around, if I do say so myself :)
Brittany looked up and down the camp kitchen table and smiled. Before her lay a feast of mountain quail, potatoes and squash and her crew had a mix of delight and confusion on their faces.
"I don't know if I can eat baby chickens," Rachel said as she eyed the platter of small roasted birds.
Burt chuckled, "They're mountain quail. Fully grown I promise."
"Quail?" Rachel asked.
"The long loggers do a lot of hunting on their down time. Marley traded them for some of the bear meat. Seemed more fitting for Thanksgiving," Burt explained.
"Thanks Marley," Rachel said. "Dinner looks wonderful," she praised.
Everyone chimed in with thanks and a round of applause for the meal and the cook.
"Takes a little of the sting out of working today," Mercedes noted.
"Burt's still taking you to the city this weekend," Brittany reminded her.
"And for that, we are all truly thankful," Tina said with a raised glass.
"Here, here!" Blaine cheered.
The crew didn't complain when they had to finish out the week's work, without the long weekend of family and turkey. They had quotas to fill and they couldn't afford a weekday off. But Burt kindly offered them all a trip to Seattle that weekend, to see their families. Santana would, again, stay with Brittany, Alex and Marley at the house, as there was no family or time or home to go to in California.
Santana of course, did not mind spending her holidays with the Pierces. More and more, they felt like her family, and she felt less and less like a stray taken in out of pity. When the others had left Saturday morning, Santana spent her day with Marley and Brittany, preparing the Thanksgiving dinner at the Pierce home. She was put on pie making duty once Marley took a look at her feather plucking work. Santana's hands were raw and sore after plucking the pheasant on the back steps, yet Marley took one look at it, sighed, and traded Santana a pie plate for the bird.
"She's real particular about plucking," Brittany informed her.
"Not even a thank you," Santana said with a frown.
"Real particular," Brittany replied with a pat on Santana's rear.
Santana jumped and looked for Alex. She turned and gave Brittany a disapproving glare and a smack with her dish towel. Brittany held up her hands in innocence and winked.
"You're incorrigible," Santana said with a small smile.
"You're pretty," Brittany teased.
"Well you are," Brittany smiled.
"Hush," Santana demurred.
"How long 'til we can go to bed?" Brittany whispered.
Santana held her breath and looked at the clock.
"Not before 10," Santana said, biting her lip.
"Too long," Brittany whined and grabbed at Santana's waist.
"How are my girls?" Alex greeted with a smile and open arms.
"Good Pop," Brittany replied. "Marley's plucking, Santana's making pie, and they got me peeling potatoes."
Santana took two steps back from Brittany.
"KP duty? In trouble again, huh?" Alex teased.
"Always," Brittany chuckled and embraced her father.
Santana smoothed down the front of her dress and tried to calm her racing heart.
"What kind of pie?" Alex asked. "Santana?"
"Excuse me?" Santana asked.
"What kind of pie are you making?"
"Oh. Apple. Apple. Sir. I mean, Mr. Pierce," Santana stammered.
"Can't wait," Alex said. "Well, I'll leave you gals to it."
Santana watched Alex retire to the living room.
"That was close Britt," Santana warned.
"Not close enough," Brittany said, grabbing Santana's hand.
Santana lightly smacked Brittany's hand away, "Later," Santana promised.
"Can't wait," Brittany said under her breath.
That afternoon, Brittany helped Marley cook, but spent most of the time watching Santana. Her flour covered apron, and dough-speckled hands. She watched Santana's forearm muscles flex as she rolled the dough. She watched her fingers and thumbs crease as she crimped the edges of the dough in the pie plate. She watched her lick her bottom lip after tasting the filling, then added more cinnamon. Brittany was entranced with every little movement. She daydreamed as she peeled the potatoes and carrots. Brittany thought about a life with Santana. A life where they cooked together, and made the bed, and did dishes, and chopped wood, and hung curtains, and swept the front steps. Brittany dreamt of a life with Santana, full of all the everyday things that stitched a life together. That made life warm, and comforting and whole. Marley looked over to see Brittany's serene smile as she chopped the vegetables. Then she looked at Santana and shook her head.
That evening, after the dinner plates were cleared, Marley, Brittany, Santana and Alex sat at the table and enjoyed their coffee and dessert.
"I ran into Bob last month in Seattle," Mr. Pierce said.
"How's he doing?" Brittany asked.
"Good. His son Carl is starting to take over some of the reins at his shop," Alex replied.
"Carl was the smart one," Brittany nodded.
"You went to school with his younger boy, didn't you?" Alex asked.
Brittany nodded, "Bobby Jr. He played football."
"Bob says he's doing well. Making a name for himself as a machinist over in Maryland," Alex explained.
"Good for him," Brittany said genuinely, between bites of her pie.
"I was thinking he'd be good for you," Alex suggested.
"What would I do with Bobby Jr.?" Brittany asked, taking a sip of her coffee.
"Marry him of course," Alex said nonchalantly.
Brittany swallowed her coffee just in time to not spit it out. She still coughed enough to make her eyes water. Santana stopped stirring her coffee and breathing.
"I'm not marrying Bobby Jr. He was shitty to me in school," Brittany argued.
"People change," Alex reasoned.
"Not him," Brittany reiterated.
"Carl?" Alex suggested.
"I'm not moving to Seattle. And if he's running the family business soon, he's not moving here," Brittany explained.
"Billy's son?" Alex countered.
"He's the size of two Karofsky's," Brittany replied.
"Mrs. J's son...what's his name?" Alex asked.
"George. And no. He's about as nice as his mother," Brittany grimaced.
"No, the other Mrs. J's son," Alex clarified.
"He's as much a cad as Puck," Brittany retorted.
"Well, I'm out of ideas," Alex said, throwing up his hands playfully.
"Finally," Brittany said with a grin.
Marley knocked an empty bowl off the table. The bang and clang of the serving spoon in the bowl hitting the hardwood floor startled everyone. Santana got up to help Marley clean up. Brittany wiped her mouth with her napkin. Alex watched the brief loud scramble.
"Didn't break? Grandma's bowls. Those things just don't quit," Alex said proudly.
Brittany made a mental note to thank Marley for that purposeful distraction. The last thing she wanted to talk about was marrying Bobby Jr. or anyone else. And she certainly didn't want to talk about it in front of Santana. Brittany looked over to see how Santana looked. Santana didn't make eye contact, and her face was blank. Brittany knew that look. That was Santana's "all business" look. Brittany wasn't going to see Santana flinch, though she knew that face was for her father, more than for her. She hoped.
Santana washed dishes in silence next to Brittany and Marley. She spent all her mental energy calming her nauseous stomach and reminding herself that she saw this coming. Santana knew, from the beginning, that eventually, their romance would have to end. The war would end. She would leave. They would have to marry someone else. Marry men. Santana shuddered. Santana entertained the idea of being an "old maid". Some women did that. But all she knew of them, were that they were old and sad. She didn't want to be old and sad. She certainly didn't want that for Brittany. No, Brittany deserved to be happy. To live a full, happy, normal life. Santana wanted that for Brittany more than anything. More than wanting that happiness for herself.
Santana silently thanked Alex for not bringing up marriage again. She found him asleep in front of the fire, an empty glass of whiskey next to his chair. She smiled at his loud snores. She fought the urge to hate him for wanting Brittany to marry Bobby Jr. or any man. She couldn't fault him, though she wanted to. Marley covered him with a blanket and waved goodnight to Brittany and Santana. Brittany took Santana's hand gently and led her upstairs. Brittany worried about Santana's silence, and continued to watch her for signs of any emotion as they got changed for bed. Santana gave her a small smile when Brittany held up the covers for Santana to slide in beside her. Brittany slid her strong warm arm over Santana's waist, and spooned up behind her.
"I'm not going to marry Bobby Jr.," Brittany whispered into Santana's ear. "Or any of those men."
Brittany felt Santana's body relax and exhale.
"But your father," Santana argued.
"Pop can go shit in his hat," Brittany huffed.
"I'm not marrying anyone I don't want to," Brittany replied.
"Do you want to get married?" Santana hesitantly asked.
"Is that you fishing for a proposal? Because I don't think I'm ready for that kind of commitment," Brittany joked.
"I'm being serious, Britt," Santana sighed.
She felt Brittany squeeze her hand and shrug.
"It's a nice idea, but no, I don't think so," Brittany replied honestly.
"No?" Santana asked.
"No. I don't need to marry someone to prove I want to be with them," Brittany explained.
Santana ran her thumb over Brittany's knuckles. A tender stroke of thank you.
"Especially since I want to be with you," Brittany added with a kiss to the back of Santana's neck.
Santana turned on her left side to face Brittany.
"It's a dream Britt," Santana replied.
"I know, but I'm taking your advice, and enjoying us while we can," Brittany explained.
"Sorry, I know," Santana said as she rubbed the tip of her nose against Brittany's. "It's just that your father talking about you getting married."
"Ignore him. It wasn't the first time, and it won't be the last," Brittany explained.
"It just...the idea of you marrying someone..."Santana added.
"He's thinking about the business, not me. He thinks I need a husband to help me run the mill when he retires," Brittany replied.
"He's not wrong. I mean, having help would be good, right?" Santana reasoned.
"He's run that mill on his own for years. If he doesn't need a wife to help, then I don't need a husband," Brittany explained.
"Sounds like you have your mind made up," Santana smiled.
"Yeah," Brittany smiled. "I've had it made up on you for a long time now," Brittany said with a kiss. "I'd marry you if I could."
"But we can't," Santana replied with a sigh.
"Then we'll be old maids together," Brittany said with a giggle.
"They always look so sad," Santana lamented, as she played with a lock of Brittany's hair.
"Would you be sad, growing old with me?" Brittany asked.
Santana shook her head. "No. I think growing old with you would make me the happiest old maid that ever lived," Santana grinned.
"Then that settles it. We'll be happy old maids," Brittany said, sealing that idea with a firm kiss.
"Well, whenever I can come back," Santana reminded her.
"I don't think I can let you leave," Brittany replied with a pout.
"I don't think it's up to you," Santana said with a sympathetic frown.
Brittany rolled onto her back and let out a tired breath. "Pop," she said, shaking her head.
"Don't be mad at him," Santana said, rolling over to drape over Brittany's chest.
"I'm not," Brittany sighed, stroking Santana's back. "I just don't like the idea of you being kicked to the curb after all the good work you've done. You've run the books better than anyone. Pop said so himself," Brittany explained.
"The boys coming home deserve jobs too," Santana reasoned.
"Yeah...I know," Brittany said, hugging Santana tighter. "I know."
Brittany twisted a few strands of Santana's hair in her fingers, as she thought about her father's hairbrained idea about her marrying Bobby. Marrying anybody. Anybody but Santana. She stared at the beamed ceiling and smiled at the weight of Santana's head on her chest. It grounded her. Made her feel steady. Made her feel sure. Made her feel loved. It was the one thing Brittany was sure of. She wasn't sure how much longer they had together, and after the war ended, she wasn't sure when they would see each other again. But she was sure she loved Santana and sure Santana loved her back. Brittany thought about how they shared that love. With stories, and laughs and honest confessions; with kisses and touches that sent her mind reeling and her body singing. Brittany was convinced no one else could give her that. Not a man. Certainly not Bobby Jr.
She didn't like disappointing her father, but with this, she didn't mind at all. Pop could live just fine, knowing Brittany was capable, happy and in his mind, single. That was all right by her. He may wish for a marriage and grandchildren, but she knew it wasn't a deal breaker. In the end, he always came around to her way of thinking. He came around to her happiness.
Santana listened to the steady rhythm of Brittany's heart beat as she rested her head on Brittany's chest. It was her calm amid the storm of thoughts in her mind. It thumped out strength, confidence, warmth, love. She hoped Brittany felt her heart beat tell the same story. Santana closed her eyes and lulled her mind with the rise and fall of Brittany's chest. She smoothed over the hair on Brittany's forearm and imagined it older, skin thinned and mottled with age spots and years of living. Santana smiled to herself. To touch Brittany at 23 or 83 sounded perfect. But when would that life start for real? That dream that, at this point, seemed only that; a dream. The war would end. The boys would come home. Santana would return to her father in California. It was all very clear. All very matter-of-fact.
But there was that dream. The one she was living in. The one she had built for over a year. It still seemed unreal to her, especially in these quiet dark moments. When Santana cleared her mind and just thought and felt about Brittany, it seemed more and more fantastic. Brittany - who was so beautiful, strong, smart, loyal, kind, loving - wanted Santana. Brittany pursued and cajoled and nudged and patiently waited until Santana woke up and saw - for perhaps the first time in her life - what love looked like. Love looked like Brittany. And when Santana thought about every first kiss and touch and discovery. When she thought about the joy in the intimacy, the pleasure, and vulnerability, she could hardly believe it's all happened. Brittany made her so happy, and in this moment she knew, she made Brittany happy as well. Brittany loved her, and she was going to break her heart when she was forced to leave. But before that happened, Santana resolved to love Brittany as best she could. Love her so much, that the love will last the length of time it would take to reunite again. Even if it took 10 years. Yes, she decided, she loved Brittany that much.
Santana tilted her head and kissed Brittany's chin. Brittany smiled and stirred. Her hands reached down Santana's back and over her butt.
"Hi," Santana whispered.
"Hi," Brittany whispered back.
Brittany pulled Santana on top of her and kissed her. She kissed all her sureness and love into Santana's full lips. She kissed away her doubts and pulled Santana into her tighter. Holding Santana as close as she could, to stave away their eventual parting. Santana pulled at the hem of Brittany's worn, flannel nightgown, feeling the same need to be nothing but them. To have nothing but themselves in that bed and in that world. If it could just be their hearts and bodies and wants and dreams, then just for that night, reality and expectations could be put on hold. Just for one night.
Naked, warm and restless, their legs slid between each others. Santana slowly kissed down Brittany's jaw, her collarbone, and stopped to pay special attention to her breasts. There she kissed and licked and sucked, pulling out moans and gasps from Brittany's mouth, and trying to imbue all her own feelings of love and sureness and life and want with each kiss, and lick and suck. She loved Brittany so much, she wanted to kiss it into every pore.
"Please," Brittany whispered as she pulled Santana's face up to hers. "Please," Brittany said again with a soft, wet kiss.
Santana grinned and nodded. Her hand slid down Brittany's side and stomach. She let her thumb dip over her navel and pet the soft fine hair just below. Santana wanted to map every inch, every dip and curve. She needed a permanent memory of Brittany's body. How she felt, how she tasted, how she breathed, how she gasped.
Brittany did gasp, as if Santana slipping her fingers up and down her center was a surprise. Santana watched Brittany's face in the shadow of their dark room, and nudged Brittany's cheek with her nose.
"This okay?" Santana whispered.
Brittany tilted up her chin, and kissed Santana hungrily. It was more than okay. With that kiss, Santana stopped thinking, stopped worrying if what she was doing was okay, and just loved Brittany, with her lips and her body and her hand. She kissed and breathed and touched love into Brittany, and she hoped that Brittany felt it. Felt her. Felt her heart.
What Brittany felt, beyond the spasms and joy of her release, was uninhibited love and passion from Santana. Even as they kept quiet - as they made love in secret behind closed door, in the dark warm corner of her bedroom - Brittany felt something give way in Santana, and perhaps in herself. Was that the last shred of doubt leaving her mind? The fear that Santana was always holding something back, even just a little? Brittany felt a freedom between them. A deeper connection than anytime before. Santana didn't say or do anything different, but Brittany felt it between them. The world no longer touched what they had, and it felt joyful and precious. Sacred and permanent.
Brittany wrapped her arms around Santana and pulled her tight against her. She wanted to press the memory of this moment into her body and her mind. She exhaled a sigh of relief and joy and contentment. A sigh of deep love and commitment. Brittany peppered Santana's cheek and chin and mouth with light kisses, and when her mind cleared from the haze of her orgasm, she gently turned Santana onto her stomach and straddled her legs. Brittany sat for a moment, careful not to press her full weight onto Santana's thighs, and ran her hands from Santana's shoulders, down the small of her back. Brittany traced the muscles between her shoulder blades and spin, above her hips. She let her finger tips dance over Santana's impossibly smooth, soft, warm skin. She relished in the feeling. She smiled at the low moan of approval that escaped Santana's lips. She relished in the thought that Santana laid prone, for her. All for her. Brittany was sure she was the luckiest woman in the world.
Brittany kissed, softly, slowly down Santana's back, from her shoulders to her hips. She paused at the small of Santana's back and the side of her hip, and had the compelling urge to kiss all of Santana. Brittany again, gently pulled at Santana's hips, and turned her over onto her back. She settled in between Santana's legs and leaned over and kissed Santana's lips, warm and a little dry from Brittany's inattention.
"That was nice," Santana hummed, at once relaxed and stimulated from Brittany's back kisses.
"I'm glad," Brittany whispered.
Brittany kissed Santana's cheek and jaw and down her neck and collar bone, down her chest and over her breasts. Santana arched up into Brittany, but Brittany did not linger, much to Santana's disappointment. Brittany continued on, placing feather light, soft, slow kisses down her stomach, along her hip bone and then she stopped. Santana could feel Brittany's breath between her legs and her eyes popped open.
"Britt?" Santana whispered with confused alarm. "What…" Santana gasped and slapped her palm over her mouth.
Brittany placed a tender, lingering kiss on Santana's center. Shyly excited, Brittany licked her lips and kissed again. She heard the air escape Santana's mouth, strained through the hand that covered it. Brittany kissed again. Lower. She felt Santana's other hand touch the side of her head and grip her hair. She didn't pull her up, or push her away. Just gripped, so Brittany dared kiss her again, and give a tentative quick lick with her tongue. Santana's grip tightened and her hips canted up. Brittany smiled, relaxed and relished in kissing and tasting Santana. Brittany felt as if this was the best idea she had ever had. Santana's mind had been wiped clean with Brittany's mouth, and teetered between disbelief and pleasure. It was difficult to comprehend, after all their love making, that there was anything that could feel better than what they had already shared. Santana was wrong. Brittany just discovered a new world for her.
As Santana felt her body tingle and tighten and flush, she tugged at Brittany to pull her from between her legs. She wanted to see Brittany. She wanted to feel the full weight of her body to anchor her when she came.
"Did I do something wrong?" Brittany whispered with worry, when she scooted up and met Santana's face.
Santana shook her head, and guided Brittany's hand to replace her mouth.
"I just want you here," Santana said, cupping Brittany's face with both hands.
Brittany nodded and kissed Santana sloppy and slick.
As they lay, limbs tangled and bodies sated, Santana licked the taste of herself off her lips, left from Brittany's kisses.
"You're covered in me," Santana mused with curiosity and a little concern as she touched Brittany's chin and bottom lip.
Brittany managed a tired grin and a small nod. "Happily. You taste like heaven."
Santana turned away and shook her head in embarrassment. It slowly sunk in what they had done. What Brittany had done, and Santana's self-consciousness rose.
Brittany curled up to Santana more and gave her a squeeze. "I can't wait to do that again," she whispered.
It started with Burt and a cough that just wouldn't go away. It was late December, and Blaine and Kurt were filling in for Burt, who was confined to his bunk, coughing, sneezing, and exhausted. Then Kurt's eyes started to water, his nose began to run. Blaine complained of a sore throat, and drank more weak tea. The fevers started to creep up and spread across camp. One morning, Mercedes looked over at Tina and grimaced.
"Shit, Tina's got it too," she declared.
Rachel covered her mouth. Santana smirked at her.
"Too late Rachel. We've all been exposed. Some guys at the mill have it too," Santana explained.
"What is it?" Quinn asked.
"Influenza by the looks of it. Fever, chills, sore throat, cough, achy joints, runny nose. Definitely influenza," Santana replied.
"Leave it to us to not get it when the whole country had it last year, only to get it now," Brittany remarked.
"Probably just took that long to get all the way out here," Quinn joked.
"Well, we still have to work, so everyone, get plenty of rest when you can. The war doesn't stop for some sniffles," Brittany declared.
Santana pulled Brittany aside. "It's not just sniffles Britt. This is serious. They'll be in bed at least a week, maybe two," she cautioned.
"What can we do?" Brittany asked. "We still have to work."
"If they work while they're sick, it'll just make it tougher for them to get over it and we'll be even more behind," Santana explained. "Right now, we're down Burt, Kurt, Blaine and Tina. In the next few days, we'll all start to have symptoms. Everyone needs to rest."
"We can't afford that," Brittany argued.
"Then we do shorter shifts. Send Quinn and Rachel out to fell today. Half day. Mercedes and me will get the rest of the bucked timber to the river. Everyone else rests. Including you," Santana explained.
"I'm fine," Brittany retorted.
"Your eyes are already glassy and tired. Don't push it," Santana warned.
For the next few days, Quinn, Rachel, Santana and Mercedes worked half shifts to accomplish a bare minimum of work. Santana spent the rest of the days she wasn't in the forest, at the mill office, maintaining the books, orders and payroll. She checked in on Alex, who sat in his office, sipping tea.
"Feeling okay?" Santana asked as she poked her head in the door.
"Yes, Santana. Thank you. I don't have the plague currently infecting half my staff," Alex wryly replied. "Just a little sore throat. A little tired."
"I'm pretty confident it's influenza Mr. Pierce, not the plague" Santana replied with a smirk.
"The girls taking care of themselves up there?" Alex asked.
"Yes. We're taking half shifts. Keeping the work moving, just at a reduced pace," Santana explained.
"Good. Keep me posted as things improve, or if they don't," Alex instructed. "I have no problem calling the doc up if we need him."
"Absolutely," Santana agreed. "Though he can't do much with this."
"You have what you need?" Alex asked.
"We have enough aspirin, tea, coffee, handkerchiefs, cough drops, and chest rub," Santana replied.
"Good. Let me know if I can get you anything else."
"I will, thank you Mr. Pierce," Santana said as she stepped out of the office.
"Santana?" Alex called.
"Yes Mr. Pierce?"
"Don't forget to take care of yourself too now," Alex said with a wink.
"I won't forget," Santana promised. "Thank you."
Two days later, Mercedes opened her tired eyes just enough to see Marley slink into the bunkhouse with a cast iron pot. She was bundled up with a bandana over her nose and mouth. She set the pot on the woodstove with a stack of bowls and soup. She refilled the kettle and placed it back on the woodstove, then slipped out as quietly as she had arrived.
"Marley is a saint," Quinn said with a flu-raspy voice.
Tina sat up, letting a dirty handkerchief drop to the floor. "Is that soup?"
"God I hope so," Brittany moaned as she sat up; her head resting in her hands.
Brittany stood up, wobbled slightly, and went straight to the sink. She swallowed a couple aspirin, and then served herself some soup.
"What kind is it?" Quinn asked.
"Meat, vegetables...hot. It's hot, so that's all that matters to me," Brittany replied.
Santana walked in from the snowy outdoors, and quickly closed the door behind her.
"How's everyone feeling?" Santana asked.
"Like shit," Brittany complained.
"Kill me," Mercedes groaned.
"A little better," Tina replied.
"I think I'll live," Quinn said with a wave of her hand.
Rachel snored. Quinn looked over at her and rolled her eyes.
"This one's been sleeping for 12 hours straight."
"Good for her," Santana replied with an encouraging smile. "Rest is best."
"Why aren't you sick?" Tina asked.
"I may have had it before. Or my immune system is just more stubborn than yours," Santana replied.
Santana sat down on her bunk next to Brittany's, and leaned over.
"Your father isn't resting, and he doesn't look good," Santana conveyed in a hushed tone.
"How bad?" Brittany asked with concern.
"I sent him home and sent for the doctor," Santana replied. "Fever, chills, bad cough."
"I should go check on him," Brittany said, pulling on another shirt.
"Wait until you're a bit better. Give it a few days. Marley and I will take turns looking in on him," Santana reassured her.
The crew spent most of Christmas and the New Year sick in bed. By early January, the logging crew started to feel better. The fevers had broken, and all that was left were a few lingering coughs. Mr. Pierce, on the other hand, was still battling the brunt of the influenza. It settled in his chest, and would not be moved. No matter how many steam baths, chest rub or black coffee Marley and Brittany administered, the infection in his chest was staying put.
"His fever is up again," Brittany said upon her return from the house one bright January afternoon.
"Again? What did the doctor say?" Santana asked with obvious concern.
"That this flu is as stubborn as Pop," Brittany said with a frustrated frown. "He doesn't look good."
"You should stay with him," Santana suggested.
"But the crew…the mill..." Brittany protested.
"We can handle it. I'll talk to Burt and the team. Go be with your Pop," Santana encouraged.
Brittany quietly packed up a few things and left for home. Santana talked with Burt and he set out the plan for the logging crew and the mill in Alex and Brittany's absence. The crew would continue on at the camp. Santana would be sent to work full time at the mill office to keep the business running. Brittany didn't come back to camp all week.
Santana left the mill office one Friday evening, the week's papers and mail tucked under her arm. She smiled thinking about giving Tina the news. The Supreme Court had struck down the Japanese internment law. Mike's parents were free. They were all released with a train ticket home and $25 in their pockets. She saw the letter addressed to Tina. It was postmarked in Seattle. Mike and his family were home safe and free.
"You know you shouldn't be walking alone," a man's voice called out from behind her.
Santana turned to see Walter, a skinny, scruffy mill worker in his late 40s sidle up beside her.
"I'm fine Walter," Santana said with tired disinterest.
"Without Mr. Pierce giving you a ride every night, you never know what could happen," Walter suggested.
Santana stopped. She knew that tone, and she didn't like it. But instead of getting scared and nervous, she just got angry. How rude of Walter to suggest such a thing. Especially since Mr. Pierce was ill. How dare he.
"Walter, if you're insinuating what I think you are, you need to consider a few things," Santana said, straightening her back and lifting her chin.
Walter looked at her with an amused grin.
"If you plan on assaulting me, I want you to first think about how much you like your nose and how much you like your balls. Because I swear to almighty fucking god I will break both if you dare lay a hand on me," Santana threatened.
Walter was taken aback, but not fully deterred. "You're too little to hurt me. What's a little 'spic like you gonna do?" Walter argued.
Santana sighed with exasperation. "Let me put it in terms you might understand then. Walter, do you like getting paid?"
"Of course," Walter replied.
"Who does the payroll?" Santana asked.
Walter scratched his stubbled chin. He knew the answer.
"Leave me alone, you get paid. Touch one saw dusted finger on me, I will lose your pay for at least a month," Santana threatened. "I'm pretty sure your wife will be in your ear if your paycheck is a day late, let alone a few weeks," Santana warned. "Don't you have, what, four kids?"
"Five," Walter replied.
"Probably should get home to them, don't you think?" Santana suggested.
Santana could hear Walter muttering "beaner bitch" as he walked back down the logging trail to the mill. She let out a deep breath of relief, and continued on to the logging camp, even on shaky legs, weak with nerves.
"Asshole," Santana said under her breath.
Santana returned to the camp and Burt noticed she was a little pale.
"Cold?" he asked.
"Walter," Santana grimaced.
"Need me to talk to him?" Burt said, clenching his fists.
"Thank you, no," Santana said with a smile. "I reminded him I did payroll."
"Atta girl," Burt said, putting his hand on her shoulder. "Those boys give you any more trouble…"
"I'll let you know Burt," Santana said with a smile.
"We'll need to talk to everyone if things don't go well with Alex," Burt said.
"I didn't think it was that bad," Santana lied.
"It's his heart," Burt explained.
Santana nodded. She knew that his childhood illness, most likely Scarlet fever, damaged his heart. The influenza would only weaken it. Irreparably so. Santana's thoughts went to Brittany. She needed to see her. After dinner and celebratory drinks in honor of Tina and Mike and his family, Santana slipped away and walked to the Pierce home.