Sunday, June 13th, 1999, 10:30 a.m.
A quick phone call from Brittany on Sunday morning informed me that she was on lockdown for the next week, which meant I couldn't call her or go to her house. She was also afraid to risk staying the night at mine, telling me that the night before, she had tried to sneak out, only to find her dad reading the paper in their living room.
It's the thought that counts, right?
She seemed withdrawn as she whispered goodbye into the phone, promising to call me as soon as she was un-grounded. My knuckles were white where I gripped the receiver.
"I'll see you before you know it," she said. "It's only a week."
It's only a week, I repeated in my head. It's only a week. I squeezed my eyes shut.
"I know," I said. "Bye, Britt."
The line went dead.
I desperately wanted to call her back; my thumbs ghosted over the memorized digits, tempted to press them and hear her voice again, but I knew that wasn't allowed.
After I'd peeled myself off of the bathroom floor the night before, I'd suffered through dinner with my mother, my eyes downcast. My food had tasted like cardboard, and my thoughts were plagued with Brittany and my secrets. After realizing I wasn't in the mood for conversation, my mom had picked up her plate and finished her dinner in front of the TV. I'd gone to bed, staring at my ceiling for hours, waiting for Brittany. She never came.
It's only a week.
Monday, June 14th, 1999
I slept as late as I possibly could, hoping to waste the day. Miserably, I watched TV for hours, moving on to reading when I couldn't sit in the blue light any longer.
My mom came home and started making lasagna. In my bedroom, I sifted through the piles of dirty clothes on the floor, finding one of Brittany's Columbine cheer shirts. I pressed the fabric to my face, trying to inhale the traces of lavender that lingered on it. After tugging off the shirt I was wearing and tossing it to the floor, I pulled the gray cotton over my head and gripped the hem, wishing I had her, and not just a t-shirt.
Six months ago, if anybody had told me I'd be wearing a Columbine cheerleading t-shirt, I would've told them to get their head checked.
Desperately needing some structure in my day, some routine, I pulled one of the donated notebooks out of the donated black backpack that I'd left in my closet. Because we'd gotten out of school so soon after everything happened, I'd only really used about twenty pages in the notebook. I opened it to a random blank page, rummaging around in the bottom of my backpack for a pen.
I wrote my name and the date at the top of the page out of habit. After I finished the 99, I looked down at the heading and felt weird. I flipped to a different page.
I drew a large, neat, black T in the center of the page.
At the top of the left column, I hesitated, looking at my closed door, before neatly titling the left column Reasons Why I Should Love Brittany. Opposite that, Reasons Why I Shouldn't Love Brittany.
I started with Reasons Why I Should Love Brittany column, because that was easiest. Clearly.
Briefly, I considered ordering the reasons by importance, but I decided against it. I'd never be able to decide if I liked Brittany's hair or her lips or her eyes the best.
My pen shook in my hand as I pressed it to the page, scrawling the last three things I had thought of; eyes, lips, hair. Deciding that "touching her hair" was far too similar to "looking at her hair" to get its own line (I had to be objective here), I skipped it, and wrote down kissing her. Because kissing is different than just looking at her lips.
The tips of my ears pinked as I thought about kissing her.
The way she looks at me spilled out onto the page. Her legs when she runs. I crossed out "when she runs," because when weren't her legs a reason to be in love with her? They were always great.
The way she acts around her sister.
The way she treats her parents.
The way she wears my t-shirts.
The way she holds me when we sleep.
The pink on my ears had gone into a full-blown blush, creeping down to my neck, making my body temperature feel a thousand degrees higher. The reasons were endless.
I looked at the paper in my hands.
What the hell am I doing?
For one, the number of things that could go in the leftmost column was infinite. And extremely embarrassing to write down and to think about.
I decided I'd move on from the left column. There were plenty of things in there.
After approximately seven minutes of careful deliberation and crossing things out with an angry black slash, I only had four things in the Reasons Why I Shouldn't Love Brittany column.
They were as follows: my mom. Sub-clause: she'd condemn me to hell. My religion, sub-clause: they'd also condemn me to hell. Society/school, sub-clause: they'd reject me. Maybe not condemn me to hell, but I'd probably be the subject of more whispers than I'd ever care to be the subject of. Being the center of attention is one of my worst fears, and allowing myself to be in love with Brittany, and, Christ, come out (bile rose in my throat at the thought) as being in love with her, would bring me under the scrutiny of everyone I know. And with their attention would come questions.
It would be way safer to find a nice, boring guy with a similar love for Alanis Morissette (do guys even listen to Alanis Morissette?) and go to church every Sunday and have my mom over for roast and send our kids to piano lessons.
But suffering through a life like that, with someone I didn't actually love, would probably kill me. On the other hand, I could die from the questions and the attention that being in love with Brittany would bring. It was a lose-lose.
Am I overthinking this? Does it even matte right now?
I stared down at the pages in front of me, covered in my handwriting, which leaned further to the left than usual. It always got worse over the summer.
I re-read both columns, twice. A third time.
It wasn't a conclusive chart. How could it be, when everything in the left column was completely subjective? "Her eyes, her hair?" Really? Of course I loved those things about her. Those weren't objective reasons why I should be in love with her. Everything in the right column was completely objective. Reasonable.
In a moment of impulsivity, I hurled the notebook at the wall opposite my bed as hard as I could. A few loose pages fluttered out, and the journal slid down the wall and landed with a thunk on top of my cluttered dresser, knocking a bottle of hair product to the ground.
The heels of my hands found my eyes, digging in. That was becoming a habit now—blocking out the world in favor of complete darkness.
"Fuck," I whispered. I wasn't talking about the small pattern of gray lines the binding of the notebook had left on the wall. I didn't care about that.
A concerned "Santana?" floated up from the kitchen, bringing with it the smell of garlic and spaghetti sauce.
"Yeah?" I called back.
"Are you alright up there?"
Pots and pans shuffled on the stovetop, scraping.
"Dinner's ready, Santanita," came my mother's voice.
"Be right down," I sighed, mostly to myself, too burnt out to be loud enough for her to hear me.
"I taped your summer reading list to the fridge," my mother said, pushing a forkful of lasagna into her mouth.
I glanced towards the fridge. "Thanks."
There was an identical reading list on my own dresser, with a few books circled, and one already crossed off. I was on top of my summer reading. Apparently Columbine had thought it would be a good idea to send the lists out as a reminder that we actually had work to do to prepare for the 1999-2000 school year.
"Can we turn the air conditioner up, mom? It's really hot in here," I said, tugging at the collar of Brittany's t-shirt. I'd forgotten I was wearing it.
I began to sweat more.
"I'll turn the air conditioning up when you start spending enough time in the house for it to matter."
I ate the rest of my lasagna quietly.
Tuesday, June 15th, 1999, 1:00 p.m.
Staying home by myself for a week proved to be detrimental to my mental health.
Maybe detrimental was too strong a word. But I was definitely losing it.
After just two days spent with virtually no distractions other than my lovesick brain, I couldn't stand to be in the same room with myself; my emotions oscillated between guilt about my infatuation with Brittany, panic that she'd reject me, and elation that she even existed and I was alive to witness it.
Other times, I skipped around the house like I was on crack, elated that I had found my soul's counterpart, and then scolding myself for thinking really gay things like that.
I swore never to say the "soul's counterpart" thing out loud, especially not to Brittany. That would send her running to the hills in no time.
However, there was still the idea of being in love with Brittany that I was still struggling to come to terms with. When I was with her, it was really, really easy to forget that I was a girl and she was a girl and being anything more than friends was considered wrong by a large majority of society. Knowing how open-minded Brittany was, I doubted she cared about things like that.
Still, there was that nagging in the back of my head, a weak cry of protest, telling me that the only reason I "loved" Brittany was because she was a symbol of safety for me. When you survive a massacre wrapped in the arms of somebody else, you're bound to feel attached to that person, right? But was I attached, or in love?
Everything was still confusing. I just wanted to know what I was feeling and why, but I really wasn't sure if I wanted to know, because I was afraid of the answers.
I was afraid of what being in love with another girl meant.
I wouldn't have needed to tell her if I didn't have such strong feelings for her. If I weren't actually in love with her, I wouldn't have needed her to say it back. I wouldn't be so desperate to touch her all the time. I wouldn't be sitting on my floor in nothing but her t-shirt and a pair of underwear not knowing what to do with my life.
She'd loved me enough to tell Quinn and risk her judgment. That was important.
When my mom got home from work, I immediately asked if I could borrow the car, wanting to go back to the library. I still had the post-it list of books Ms. Pillsbury had recommended. The drive was short, and I rolled the windows down.
Being in the library again made me a little bit anxious, as it had the last time, but it was easier to overcome. That was comforting, at least; a lifelong fear of libraries wasn't something I'd wanted to come away from the shooting with.
I pulled the crumpled post-it out of the pockets of my jeans, scanning the fading letters. The yellow paper felt flimsy in my hands.
Despite having a number of titles to choose from, and a few required reading books that I could pick up, I went back to the same section of the library I had spent hours in the previous week.
As I found Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit again, I was reminded that just a week earlier, when I had sat in the same place, with the same book, I was missing Brittany. Yet here I was again, without Brittany, because she was grounded. We'd barely spent five blissful days together before she was taken from me again, albeit under different circumstances.
There were two solutions to missing Brittany: be with her more often, or stop missing her. Neither was particularly feasible.
I sat down on the carpet with the autobiography in my hands, painfully aware that this wasn't the last time I'd be missing Brittany. She had a life separate from mine, one that would take her to the lake in July and god knows where after our senior year. Briefly, I wondered if I'd be close enough to her through our senior year to care where she went to school. Or if she didn't go to school, where she was working, or what she was doing.
I knew I'd always care, even if things didn't work out. But I hoped to god that they would.
Everything was happening so fast.
Unlike the last time I visited the library, I didn't lose track of time. When the analog clock on the wall told me it was almost seven, I found myself only halfway through the book. I was disappointed, despite having read it before. I paused for a second and glanced behind me towards the librarian's desk before dog-earing the page I was on and carefully replacing it on the shelf I had taken it from.
Just to prove that I'd been at the library, and because I'd have to read it eventually, I took out a copy of The Invisible Man. The librarian gave me a small nod on my way out, but not before reminding me that I still had Where the Wild Things Are in my possession. I made a mental note to ask Brittany for the book back whenever it would be that we could see each other again. That day seemed further and further away.
Wednesday, June 16th, 1999, 12:00 p.m.
The hours ticked by slowly. I cleaned my room, something I'd avoided doing for weeks. Brittany was hardly ever in my room in daylight, so it didn't matter. But cleaning was distracting and time-consuming, which was exactly what I needed. I put on some music and began to collect my dirty clothes to bring downstairs.
It felt good to clean. It made me feel clean, too.
I was halfway down the stairs when the phone rang, making me drop the basket of laundry in my hands. I watched in despair as it bounced all the way to the bottom, leaving my clothes strewn everywhere. Sighing, I bounded down the stairs after it, kicking my clothes so they'd end up somewhere near the bottom of the stairs. I sprinted into the kitchen and grabbed the phone out of its cradle.
"Hello?" I panted into the receiver.
"Santana?" a familiar voice asked.
"Brittany?" I replied, grinning, wondering how she was calling me.
"Hey," she said slowly, drawing out the word. "What's up?"
"Uh," I stammered. "Laundry."
Brittany paused. "That's cool."
I waited for her to say something else. Or was it my turn to talk?
Why is everything so awkward?
She finally spoke again. "I can't talk for very long, because Emily and my mom will be back from ballet soon." She paused. I didn't say anything. "But I think my mom feels bad that I've been grounded for so long, so she said you could come over Saturday night to babysit Emily with me." She paused again. My heart swelled with excitement. "If you want," she added.
"I'd love to," I told her, winding the cord of the phone around my finger. I knew I looked like an idiot, but I didn't care. It wasn't like anybody was watching.
I heard a door slam on Brittany's end of the line, and she breathed a quick "Gotta go, see you soon" before the line went dead.
"Bye, Britt," I said into the receiver, to no one but myself-she'd already hung up.
After I put the phone back in its cradle, I carefully picked up all of the laundry from the staircase and took it all back to the laundry room. Too amped up to continue doing household chores, I went to the kitchen and made chocolate chip cookies to celebrate Brittany's impending un-groundedness.
The cookies were awesome, and Saturday couldn't come fast enough.
Thursday, June 17th, 1999, 11:00 a.m.
I don't know what possessed me to look at my old yearbooks. When I'd first bought them, I'd looked at them briefly, and then the newness wore off and they were banished to my closet. Now, however, it seemed like a good idea to reacquaint myself with my school and my classmates. And Brittany. Mostly Brittany. I wanted to remember what she looked like (as if I could ever forget), and see versions of her before I really knew her.
A puff of dust escaped my closet when I pulled them off of the top shelf. The 1996-1997 yearbook from my freshman year was on the bottom, with 1997-1998 on top of it, and '98-'99 still shiny and new, unopened. The most recent issue had been finalized and published before the shooting, and I'd received it in the mail about a week after school had let out. I'd had no desire to look at it, at the time.
I figured I'd start from the beginning—I opened my yearbook from freshman year to the individual portraits, skipping all of the introductory pages. I scanned the familiar faces, amused by the residual baby fat on Finn Hudson's face and the braces on Artie Abrams. He was in my physics class. I remembered that Brittany had mentioned dating Artie, and I cringed. Seeing him with braces was a small victory.
Dust came off of the pages in my hands as I turned the pages, slowing down as I got to the last names beginning with 'P.' Brittany S. Pierce was listed on the page after mine, under a small picture of my friend. A smile bloomed on my face immediately.
She was younger, there was no doubt about it—her hair was lighter, and she still had a tan from the summer, and even more of those freckles on her nose that had begun to appear since we'd left school. I could see the white 'v' of the Columbine cheerleading uniform right above the bottom of the frame. Her cheeks were a little rounder. Her smile was just as wide. She had a blue ribbon in her hair.
It was a really good picture of her. She was beautiful. How had I not known her until this year? Our class wasn't that big, and she wasn't so far below me in academics that we wouldn't have a class together.
I ran my thumb over the small picture.
But then again, leafing through the pages, there were plenty of people that I didn't recognize. Had I just not been paying attention?
How many kids that died in the library had I known? Maybe six? Eight, if you count Dylan and Eric, whom I knew by name only. But that was it. Was I really so self-absorbed that I didn't know half of the people I went to school with? Was it because all I did was schoolwork?
I decided not to think about it anymore. I knew Brittany now; there was no use in trying to figure out why I hadn't known her earlier.
And, I supposed, if Brittany and I had met under any circumstances other than the ones we did, we wouldn't have had a reason to spend any time together.
There's a silver lining to every raincloud.
I flipped to the sports section of the yearbook, finding the team picture of the cheerleaders. Brittany stood in the back, tall, looking wiry next to some seniors. Quinn Fabray stood in front of her, a pom-pom in each hand, a wide smile painted on her face.
I sneered at the tiny, perfect Quinn on the glossy page. Her proximity to Brittany was unsettling, and my throat burned with jealousy.
I was still absolutely furious with her, and furious that Brittany would trust her. How could Brittany trust someone that was such an awful person? Quinn didn't really have a great reputation, so it's not like Brittany wouldn't have had a clue.
Why would someone ever want to spread half-truths about Brittany, anyway? She would never ever spread rumors about anyone.
If I had any muscles at all I would beat the shit out of Quinn.
I mean, probably not. But I would fuck her up.
I did not trust Quinn Fabray. Not at all.
Knowing that she would be everywhere Brittany was in the other yearbooks, I put all of them back up on the shelf in my closet, content to let them collect dust for the rest of forever.
Friday, June 19th, 1999, 11:00 a.m.
I went for a run on the trail by Brittany's house. I could see the roof sticking out above the trees, and I felt weird being near her house without her. Like I was spying, or something.
I didn't like running without Brittany. I had no motivation, no blonde ponytail bobbing in front of me to encourage my legs to work harder. The run took me twice as long as it would have with her there, and I left the trail exhausted and disappointed.
Saturday, June 20th, 1999, 5:45 p.m.
Waiting to see Brittany had been agony. When her mom's Buick turned onto my street (I may or may not have been looking out the window for it), I had to fight to contain my excitement.
Brittany was in the passenger's seat, grinning at me as I crossed the lawn to the car. The leather interior was cold on the backs of my legs. Brittany craned her neck to smile at me in the backseat; any tension that was leftover from last weekend and our phone conversation on Wednesday had melted. Mrs. Pierce seemed to be over Brittany's unscheduled trip to the mountains, and she greeted me warmly.
"You guys are having chicken nuggets tonight," she told us. "Do you like chicken nuggets?"
Who doesn't like chicken nuggets?
"They're perfect," I said.
"Excellent. And Emily had a birthday party this afternoon, so I think she'll be pretty tired. Bedtime at nine for her, and Alan and I will be back around eleven and we can drive you home. Does that sound good?"
We pulled into the Pierce's driveway. Brittany had been unusually quiet, but her mother spent most of the ride talking.
"Works for me," I told Mrs. Pierce.
"Fantastic. Call me if you need anything."
"Will do," Brittany supplied as we got out of the car. It was hot, the kind of hot that made the branches on the trees droop and wavy lines appear over the roads. It reminded me of cooking bacon. Emily sat on the porch eating a bright orange popsicle, its juice dripping down the side of her hand.
Brittany walked ahead of me to her sister. "Who gave you that popsicle?" she asked.
"Daddy," Emily answered.
"I won't tell mom you're eating a popsicle before dinner if you give me a bite," Brittany told her sister, reaching for the melted popsicle.
Emily handed her the popsicle, and Brittany raised her eyebrows at me as she bit off a massive chunk of the orange ice and handed it back to her sister. I laughed as Mrs. Pierce walked up behind us.
"Are you eating a popsicle before dinner?" she asked Emily.
Emily looked to Brittany for support.
"Come on," Brittany said, her sticky fingers finding my forearm. "Let's go."
We went inside giggling and sat at the island in the kitchen, where Brittany got us both a glass of ice water, with lemon. I worried that I was sweating profusely, but a quick swipe of my hand across my forehead told me I wasn't, which was a relief. It was so hot.
"Why the lemon?" I asked Brittany, taking the glass of water.
"Because tonight is a fancy night."
"Ah, yes, with our white meat chicken nuggets."
Mrs. Pierce and Emily made it into the house and disappeared upstairs, and I could hear footsteps above our heads, where Mr. and Mrs. Pierce's bedroom was.
"So how was being grounded?" I asked Brittany, drinking my lemon water.
"Frickin' torture," she replied, collapsing into the leather armchair in the corner. "I hate my house so much right now."
I laughed, and she smiled at me, drinking her water. She looked at me over the lip of the glass, and I wished I knew what she was thinking. I tapped my feet nervously on the carpet.
"So," Brittany said, placing both of her hands on either arm of the chair.
"The lake," I repeated.
"The lake," she said again.
"Oh my god," I laughed. "What about it?"
"Well, I need to get out of this house. So, the lake. Like, in two weeks. What do you think?"
"What do I think?"
"Why does it matter what I think?"
Brittany's fingers drummed against the letter. "You're coming with us, aren't you?"
My heart leapt into my mouth. "I am?"
She shook her head. "Gosh, you're obtuse."
Mr. and Mrs. Pierce left. Brittany arranged the chicken nuggets on the pan, and I stood at her side, watching Emily channel surf in the living room.
"Are you serious about the lake?"
"Yes, of course." She paused, and her hand held a cold chicken nugget mid-air, as if an alternative had occurred to her. "Do you not want to go?"
"No, no. I mean, yes, of course I do. Just, like, why me? Why not—" I cringed, "—Quinn?"
Brittany scoffed as Emily turned around to look at us, probably at the mention of Quinn's name. "Quinn's a bit—" Brittany continued.
I nudged Brittany and gave her a wide, warning stare.
"Bitter person. A bitter, bitter person. And besides, she's in Ohio," Brittany said, glancing at her sister. The blonde head popped back behind the half-wall between the kitchen and the living room.
"And come on, who have I been hanging out with all summer?"
"Exactly," Brittany said. "How many chicken nuggets do you want?"
"Santana!" Emily sang as she ran into the kitchen, dressed in her pajamas.
"Emily!" I exclaimed with equal enthusiasm, earning a smile from Brittany and a grin from Emily.
"I want to build a fort," Emily said, gesturing to the living room. "And you—"she pointed at me "—are the architect."
"How does she even know what an architect is?" I asked Brittany.
Brittany shrugged as if she'd given up trying to understand Emily years ago.
"Okay, if I'm the architect, what are you guys?" I asked Emily and Brittany.
"Brittany is the chef," Emily began, pointing to her sister.
Brittany looked at me. "Why do we need a—"
"And I," Emily glared at her sister, "am the supervisor."
"So we do everything and you watch?" Brittany asked.
Emily hadn't considered this. "You're the chef," she told Brittany. "Can you cut up oranges?"
Brittany threw her hands in the air.
"Santana, let's go start the foundation," Emily said, dragging me to the living room.
"Wear your hard hats!" Brittany yelled after us as she put a knife up to the leathery skin of an orange.
Emily and I removed all of the cushions and pillows from both of the couches in the living room, and we stole the pillows off of Brittany's bed and more blankets from the guest room closet. The stack of "building materials" (Emily's words, not mine) had grown impressively. When we returned to the living room, Brittany was sitting on one of the cushion-less couches, eating an orange slice. She held them in a pink bowl on her lap; they looked like sunrises, all in a bowl.
"Orange?" she asked, holding out a slice. I took it.
We started with the couch cushions, because they were the heaviest—we made a ring of them for the foundation, building the structure up with lighter pillows until it was almost Emily's height. One section of the wall was made up of a couch cushion turned on its side to act as a door.
The blanket roof was tough to construct, but by weighing down the corners with some extra pillows, we successfully made an impenetrable fortress out of nearly all of the blankets and pillows in the house.
Emily was ecstatic. She was the first into the fort, because, according to her, the supervisor has to be in first check everything. Brittany and I shared secret smiles as we followed Emily into the fort on our hands and knees.
The fortress was suffocating. The top of my head just brushed the top of the blanket, but Brittany had to sit and tuck her head into her chest so she didn't displace the blanket roof. Emily hardly noticed the size—she could sit comfortably in the mess of pillows.
"I think this fort needs an open roof," Brittany commented.
"No," Emily disagreed, her tone sharp. "Then we'd be vulnerable to attack."
"Yes, of course. My bad," Brittany said, winking at me. I smiled.
Between me, Emily, Brittany, and the bowl of oranges, there wasn't much oxygen to be had.
"Can we read, Brittany?" Emily asked.
"Sure, I'll go get a book," Brittany offered, and she made a mad dash (as madly as one could dash in a four by four fort) to the exit.
Emily's tiny hands pushed her sister back into a sitting position. "No, I'll do it."
She maneuvered her way out of the fort. Her footsteps were erratic as they thundered up the staircase.
"It's so hot in here," Brittany commented. "I thought I was going to get some air."
I nodded sympathetically. "There's no room in here."
Brittany's side was pressed against mine, and her sharp elbows dug into my thigh every time she picked up an orange wedge. I was feeling slightly dizzy.
"Orange?" she offered again. I took the slice.
We ate our oranges quietly, listening to Emily run around upstairs. Brittany tapped my shoulder, and I turned to look at her; her smile had been replaced by an orange wedge, and in the dim light of the fort, she looked like an evil clown. I laughed and put my orange peel in my mouth in the same fashion, smiling back at her with my orange smile.
Neither one of us bothered to remove the orange peels from our mouths when Emily came back—she returned with Where the Wild Things Are under her arm, a camping flashlight, and a bottle of red nail polish in her hand.
Oh god, I thought, molding my lips around the orange peel.
"Santana!" Emily sang. "Read," she commanded, handing me the book. I smiled my orange peel smile at her.
She shrieked with laughter as Brittany showed her identical orange smile. I laughed with her as I removed the orange peel and discarded it onto a napkin, trying to regain feeling in my lips. Brittany did the same and pulled her younger sister into her lap and turned on the flashlight, pointing it at the book in my hands. I opened to the first page and began to read.
If the fort was suffocating before, now it was hellish—the air was sauna-like, stealing the oxygen out of our lungs and leaving a light sheen of sweat on all of our faces. Emily didn't notice how uncomfortable it was; her enthusiasm never seemed to let up. After an hour it stopped being infectious and became exhausting.
We finished the oranges and deposited the bowl outside of the fort for some extra room, and Emily insisted that we use the extra room for manicures.
"I'm pretty sure we're all going to die from inhaling toxic fumes if we open a bottle of nail polish in here," I pointed out. Brittany nodded with wide eyes, her hair plastered to her forehead, grateful for the excuse to get out of Emily's fort. "And besides, I can't paint my nails very well if I'm holding a flashlight, too."
Emily considered this. Brittany gave me an appreciative look, and I bit my lower lip to keep from smiling.
"Okay," Emily finally agreed. "We'll do the manicures on the kitchen floor."
"Excellent idea," Brittany said.
We filed out through the pillow doorway, and the air of the Pierce's living room, which was easily fifteen degrees cooler than the inside of the fort, was positively invigorating. I brushed my hair off of my shoulders, happy to be in a normal climate again.
"Santana, will you paint my nails?" Emily asked. "This color." She held up the red nail polish.
"And then Emily can paint mine," Brittany offered, sticking out her tongue at Emily. "And then I'll paint Santana's!"
I paled a little, unsure if Brittany painting my nails would be a good idea. I brushed it off and began to paint Emily's nails. Her fingers were so tiny, so delicate—it didn't take me long to finish the first coat. I blew on them gently to dry them. Emily giggled.
Brittany washed the bowl that once held the oranges in the sink to our right, leaning on the countertop as she ran a sponge along the inside. Her bare toes tapped on the kitchen tiles, restless—Brittany didn't like to do mundane things like washing bowls. I started on Emily's second coat.
A few minutes later, Brittany was struggling not to laugh as Emily attempted to paint her sister's nails. The blood-red polish was all over Brittany's fingers, dripping down the side of her hand and onto the floor. Emily moved on to Brittany's left hand, never breaking focus. I discretely passed Brittany a napkin, which she used to wipe up the excess polish.
"Beautiful," she complimented when Emily finished. She leaned down to kiss the top of her sister's head.
"Gross," Emily said, ducking out of the way, but she blushed with the compliment.
"Now it's your turn," Brittany told me, making a 'come hither' motion with her red fingers.
I presented my left hand to Brittany, and she took it gently, dipping the brush back in the polish before applying smooth, even strokes to my pinky. Her movements were fluid, and her feet didn't tap restlessly. Her tongue poked out of the corner of her mouth. She was focused.
Her hair fell in her eyes as she moved to my ring finger, but she didn't seem to notice. I watched the brush paint the red polish neatly onto my fingernails.
"Could you get that?" she asked, finally noticing the strand hanging in front of her face.
"Oh, uh," I stammered. "Sure."
I reached out and pushed the silky blonde strand back in place. My fingers brushed the shell of her ear, and ghost of a smile flitted across Brittany's otherwise stoic features. My heart pounded in my chest, gnashing its terrible teeth.
I held my breath for the rest of the manicure, completely forgetting about Emily, who was holding a hairdryer to her wet nails, and completely mesmerized by the way Brittany held my hands so gently.
"Santana?" Emily asked.
I tore my eyes away from watching Brittany start the second coat. "Yep?"
"Are you a cheerleader?"
I looked at Brittany. She wasn't really paying attention to her sister. "Um, no, I'm not. Why?"
"All of Brittany's other friends are cheerleaders."
I looked to Brittany again. Her smooth strokes had stopped, and the brush hovered over my nails.
"Emily-" Brittany started.
"No, it's okay," Emily said. "I like you. Sometimes cheerleaders aren't very nice."
Brittany shook her head. "Alright, Em," she laughed.
"Thanks," I said, pinching her cheek. She smiled at me.
When Brittany had finished all three coats (I'd only given Emily two, and the polish was thick enough that I really didn't need three coats, but Brittany insisted), she replaced the brush, screwed on the top of the bottle, wiped her hands on a paper towel, and looked at me with a sheepish grin. Emily had long disappeared, bored by the amount of time Brittany was taking to paint my nails.
"Thanks," I told her.
"Anytime," she replied.
We finished out the night on the couch, sans cushions, with Emily between us, watching The Little Mermaid. Brittany tapped her feet to the music. Somewhere in the middle of "Kiss the Girl," Emily's head dropped onto my shoulder. She was fast asleep.
Brittany looked at me. "Should we take her up?" she whispered.
I nodded, and Brittany stood, pulling her younger sister into her arms as carefully as she had painted my nails. She could be so careful when she wanted to be.
I followed her up the stairs and into Emily's room, where I stood in the doorway as Brittany kissed her sister on the cheek and pulled a blanket over her sleeping form.
"Let's go clean up that fort," Brittany whispered.
"Remind me to never ever do this again," Brittany said, taking a cushion from me and placing it on the couch. "She never said the chef was in the demolition crew."
I smiled and picked up a blanket off of the floor and began to fold it. "Come on, that was fun."
Brittany turned away from me to adjust the couch, but I knew she was smiling. "And really, really hot."
"I think you had the right idea with the no-roof plan," I told Brittany.
"I always have the right idea," Brittany said, winking at me as she took the last blanket from my hands.
We sat on the couch, which finally had cushions again, and Brittany flipped through the channels as I examined my nails. I caught her watching me once, twice, and then on the third time, I called her out on it.
"What?" I asked her.
She smiled and looked back at the TV, thumbing the battery compartment on the remote open and closed. "Nothing."
I rolled my eyes. "You're so mysterious," I told her, my voice dripping with sarcasm.
She shrugged, grinning. "I try."
We ended up semi-watching the eleven o'clock news, which was speeding through coverage of the library reconstruction effort at Columbine, a benefit concert in a neighboring Denver suburb, and a story about a hiker that had been stranded on Longs Peak for three days because of a storm.
I swung my legs up onto the couch, blocking my view of Brittany, and her view of me. My head fell against the arm of the couch. I was tired.
"You can stretch out your legs, if you want," Brittany offered, patting her lap.
"Alright," I agreed, grateful.
I extended my legs and let my feet fall into her lap, onto her bare legs. They were warm. Brittany propped up her head on her fist and stared at the TV.
"But don't tickle my feet," I warned her.
"I won't," she said. "Pinky promise." She lifted her arm to show me her pinky, and let her arm rest on my shins.
The corners of her lips remained upturned as the news droned on, covering the weather for the week. I wasn't paying attention.
I wonder if it'd be okay to kiss her right now.
Brittany glanced at me, saw me watching her, and looked back at the TV. I blushed.
I just wanted somebody to explain the rules.
A glance at the clock told me that it was 11:15—Brittany's parents were supposed to be home in fifteen minutes.
A strange panic washed over me, making my stomach churn with the acid of the oranges we ate. I didn't want to go home and sleep alone.
"Are you coming over tonight?" I asked, point-blank. Might as well be straight with her.
"Yep," she said flatly. "That okay?"
We watched the weather diagrams flicker on the screen, showing a green mass moving over Denver.
Why are we watching the weather?
"Do you want a drink?" she asked me. She swallowed dryly, as if to prove that she needed something to drink.
"Sure," I replied, sitting up to get my feet out of her way.
She returned a few minutes later, sitting directly next to me. She stared at the TV and drank her water. I could smell the oranges she'd eaten earlier. And sunscreen, and nail polish, and lavender. Always lavender.
I took a shaky breath.
Brittany looked at her nails and laughed. "I should get this stuff off," she said, looking at the pathetic smears of red all over her fingers.
I laughed, and it sounded thin. I prayed she didn't notice. "Let me see. It can't be that bad."
I took her hand delicately, bringing it close to my face to examine the polish. She leaned closer to me, and the cocktail of scents became overwhelming. My head began to pound.
"Nothing a little nail polish remover won't fix," I breathed, lowering her hand to her lap, but not letting go of it. She was just inches away now, staring into my eyes.
"Mhm," she agreed, her gaze sliding to my lips. I inhaled.
She moved closer. I could taste her on my lips already—oranges and lavender, cold from the ice water. I felt warmer than I had in the fort. Her hand trembled against mine, and her other hand floated in the air next to my face, shaking slightly. I closed my eyes, tilting my head to the right. Her palm, warm and dry, touched my jaw, fluttering. Our noses brushed together, and her thumb ran over my cheekbone.
I sensed her lips nearing mine, and I sighed, leaning towards her. She kissed the corner of my mouth, and her mouth was just as soft as the last time. I parted my own lips. And then she was drawing backwards, and I was leaning forwards, and when my lips met nothing but the trace of oranges and lavender she'd left behind, my eyes snapped open.
Hers searched mine desperately.
"What-" I stuttered.
Her chest moved up and down. Her eyes looked wild. "What is this?" she asked.
"What do you mean?" The panic rose in my chest. I began to sweat, and I felt self conscious of my hands, one of which was still loosely holding hers.
"What is this, Santana?" Brittany asked again, gesturing between the two of us. She sighed, and her breathing was as shaky as mine. "Because I know," she inhaled, "how I feel about you. And I think," she exhaled, "I know how you feel about me."
I opened my mouth, but she held up a finger to silence with me. The whole thing felt like déja vu.
"But I don't know what this is or how I feel about it," she rushed, the confession tumbling from her pretty lips.
"I—" I started, struggling to say the right thing.
"You don't have to know right now," Brittany whispered, looking down and running her thumb over the back of my hand.
I closed my eyes, trying to think clearly. "It's just us. Just me and you." I didn't open my eyes, not sure how she'd react. My hands felt clammy. "That's it."
When I finally opened my eyes, her expression was unreadable.
"For now," I added hesitantly.
A car pulled into the Pierce's driveway, ending the conversation. Brittany looked towards the noise and sighed. She still wasn't thrilled with the outcome of the conversation—I could tell—but she seemed more satisfied than the other times we'd talked about what exactly "we" were.
She turned back to face me and leaned forwards again, but her intentions were clearer. She left a lingering kiss on my cheek, and I kept my eyes open.
Her hand released mine gently, and she stood in a single fluid motion and took our glasses to the sink, bringing with her the oranges and the lavender and the traces of sunscreen and my heart. I twisted on the couch and rested my chin on the back of the couch, watching her.
The fact that Brittany was going with her mom to drop me off, driving back to her house, and then walking back to mine was wildly amusing in that it was a complete waste of time. She was quiet on the drive back to my house, and I leaned to the side so I could watch her reflection in the side mirrors. Her forehead was crinkled and her eyebrows were knitted—she was thinking. Her silence left me responsible for telling Mrs. Pierce about our manicures and the fort. Mrs. Pierce looked over at Brittany a few times, perplexed by her silence, but eventually ignored it.
"Bye, Britt," I said as I got out of the car. "Thanks for the ride, Mrs. Pierce."
"See you later," Brittany called over her shoulder. I walked across the lawn, hugging my arms to my chest as I walked to the side door, which my mom had left unlocked.
Only I knew how soon 'later' would be.
I used the forty-five minutes it took for Brittany to drive home, wait for her parents to go to bed, and walk back to my house to take a shower. Afterwards, I drew shapes in the fog on my mirror, wasting time, thinking about Brittany.
Why hadn't she kissed me for real? Was that not allowed?
The other times we'd kissed—all four of them—were vastly different in circumstance. There were the two times where we'd gone too far for our own good, and as nice as it was, it just made me even more confused.
I wasn't supposed to feel like that about Brittany.
I'd given up repressing the feelings, but I still didn't like that Mrs. Pillsbury had put a name to them. I didn't like that at all.
One of my favorite things about Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit was that it never says the word 'lesbian.' Not once. It was sort of like attraction to someone of the same sex just existed, and it wasn't significant enough to have a name. The reactions of the people around the attraction were what made it taboo, not the thing itself.
It really wasn't even mentioned explicitly in the Bible, as far as I knew.
I was pulling a t-shirt over my wet hair when I heard Brittany's bare feet on the stairs. I was still thinking about labels. I adjusted my pajamas, not wanting her to see anything she shouldn't. She walked in with her flip-flops dangling from her long fingers, and even though I heard her coming, I still jumped when she walked in. She gave me a curious smile and set her shoes on the floor.
"Hey," she said. Her voice was thick—she was tired.
I leaned casually—or so I hoped—against my bookshelf. "Hey."
She lifted the covers on my bed and slid under the sheets, pulling her knees to her chest. She faced away from me, but it looked like she was looking out the window. Her hair looked silver.
Seeing her in my bed again after a week of missing her, was like coming home. Even though I'd been home the whole time. Physically, at least.
I climbed into bed after her, not missing the way our calves brushed as I stretched out across the sheets.
Brittany wasn't asleep. I could tell by the way she breathed (that's not creepy, right?) and the way she adjusted her legs every few minutes. She could never stay still for very long.
I wondered what she was thinking about.
It could've been any number of things. It could have been me, which was a vain thought, but a possibility. It could've been our school, or guns. Or guns in our school. It could have been the lake.
And her thoughts about the lake probably included me. I realized that with a smile.
"What are you thinking about?" I asked her.
I hadn't thought of that.
"What about him?"
"I don't know," she replied, rolling over to face me. She shrugged. "Just Michael."
I searched her face for some sadness or nostalgia or pain and found nothing. Just calm resolve, just the smooth skin of a scar that'd already healed.
I shifted closer to her, hoping to give her comfort with my closeness, if she needed it.
"Does Emily know much about Michael?" I asked. She had to—there were plenty of pictures of him around their house.
Brittany nodded. "Yeah, she knows most of it." She paused, thinking. "She seems to 'get' death, you know?"
I thought of Brittany after the shooting. How she snapped out of it so quickly. How I vomited on her driveway, and she was fine. "Like you?"
"Not like me."
"You don't get death?"
And then I remembered the dark circles under her eyes for the first few weeks, and how she fell asleep during movies.
"Not like Emily does."
"Kids understand a lot of things better than we do."
Brittany murmured her agreement. Her eyes were almost closed.
"Does she know about the shooting?"
"My parents told her that someone did a bad thing at my school, and that I saw it. She asked me about it."
"What'd you tell her?"
Brittany's eyes opened, and her brow furrowed. She looked at the ceiling.
"That there were some monsters in the library and they knocked everything over and broke stuff."
"Sounds accurate," I affirmed.
Brittany nodded, and her eyes scanned my face.
"That's technically the truth, right?"
I thought of all of the monsters in my life.
There were a lot of them.
Sometimes my mom. Sometimes myself. Sometimes teenagers in a library with guns. Sometimes furry monsters, with horns, in picture books.
"Yeah," I said, my voice soft. "That's the truth."
"Good," Brittany sighed, and I noticed her move closer to me, just slightly. I responded by inching forward. "I worry that I don't say the right things," she confessed.
"You're a really good big sister, Brittany," I told her, watching her eyes. They blinked fast, trying to stay awake, trying to see everything.
It was quiet again. We stared at each other, unashamed. I found a freckle by her left eye.
"She really likes you."
My eyes snapped back to hers. I smiled in the dark. "You've told me that before."
She smiled back, two even rows of white, except for her canines. They were longer than her other teeth. "I thought I'd remind you."
She smelled like toothpaste, now. Toothpaste and lavender. I breathed it in. I inched closer, and the backs of our hands brushed each other. We lay like that, still as statues. Her eyes closed, and I shut mine, crossing the threshold into sleep.
"Goodnight, Santana," she whispered.
She rolled over, leaving her back exposed to me. I sighed and watched the muscles in her shoulders relax. I fell asleep wondering if she had been talking about her sister or herself.
Sunday, June 20th, 1999, 3:48 a.m.
Brittany and I stood in my room, which was sticky and heavy with summer heat. She was smiling at me. The room was very bright, almost too bright for it to be morning. I smiled back at her lazily, feeling dazed.
"I want to try something," she said slowly, taking my hands in hers.
"Okay," I said slowly, hoping she would kiss me. She did, leaning in to press our lips together for the fifth time. It still felt like the first. Our bodies met, pressed together so tightly that we could hardly be considered two separate people. I felt lightheaded, unsure as to whether I was drowning or floating in her. Probably both. The feeling of her lips on mine was not foreign to me, yet my heart and my stomach flipped and twisted relentlessly. Her hair felt silky when I worked up the nerve to run my fingers through it.
How did we go from barely touching each other to this?
Pretty soon, her thumbs were hooked in the belt loops of my pants, just like that night in her room, and my breath hitched against her lips. She yanked down, and this time my shorts came off. I felt very, very warm.
"Santana," Brittany whisper-moaned, lighting my skin on fire. Her fingers danced across the tops of my thighs, and I shivered under her touch. Her hands slid up my shirt, not quite as far as I wanted them to go. Her cool fingers left goosebumps on my summer-hot skin, and I grew more and more impatient with the pace we had set. I her lower lip urgently-something I'd never done before-and her lips curled into a smug smile against mine, telling me to wait.
I didn't want to wait.
"Now," I insisted, feeling my face flush with desperation and embarrassment. Heat rushed down my body, settling low in my belly. Brittany shook her head, grinning, as her right hand slipped into my underwear.
I woke up with a start, banging my head against the headboard. Though I didn't remember falling asleep on top of Brittany, the sudden movement had me tumbling off of her onto my side of the bed, my arms flailing behind me. That woke her up, and she sat up quickly, reaching for me blindly. I recoiled, launching myself backwards on the bed away from her, still trying to figure out what had just happened. My legs were still draped over hers, and she looked bewildered. Moonlight filtered through my open blinds.
A dream. That's all it was. A really, really embarrassing dream.
Brittany looked offended that I was moving away from her, but she seemed barely aware of what was going on; she had that sleepy look on her face.
"I'm all sweaty," I offered, in lieu of an explanation. And I was —my thin t-shirt was stuck to my stomach and to my back with cooling, guilty sweat. My head was pounding. I pulled my knees to my chest and sat quietly for a few seconds, just breathing. Brittany watched me, and I self-consciously wished that the moon hadn't been quite so bright that night.
I looked at her. "You can go back to–"
"Did you have a nightmare?" she asked, interrupting me. Brittany was awake now.
I sighed and almost shook my head. Almost.
"Yes," I told her, averting my eyes to the comforter. It wasn't technically lying. A dream that made me feel so guilty couldn't be considered a dream, could it?
Brittany looked frustrated. She pushed loose hairs off of her forehead, still silver, but her movements were less graceful, angrier. But Brittany wasn't one for anger. I knew I'd upset her, and that made me feel just as guilty as the dream.
"I thought those stopped," she whispered, so faintly that I almost couldn't hear her.
"I'm sure it's nothing," I insisted, smoothing out the front of my t-shirt. "Really." I wanted to reach out, to touch her.
Please don't ask me to explain it.
She looked down at her hands and took a deep breath. "What happened?"
"I don't really remember," I said.
Brittany looked skeptical. "Are you sure? You usually remember."
"Not this time," I said, willing my voice not to tremble. I couldn't look her in the eyes. "It's not a big deal."
Brittany nodded, deciding not to press the issue. "Okay. Do you want to go back to sleep?"
"I have to go to the bathroom," I told her. "I'll be right back."
I rolled out of my bed, careful not to let the floorboards squeak under my weight. I could feel Brittany's eyes on me as I crossed my bedroom. My hands groped along the dresser until I found the right drawer, pulling it open to rummage around for a clean t-shirt. After looking back to make sure Brittany had rolled over to face the window, I tugged off the damp shirt, eyeing it with disgust as it hit the floor. I pulled the new shirt over my head and padded off to the bathroom.
It was dark in the windowless hallway, and I stumbled, planting my hand on the wall to steady myself. My bed creaked, and I assumed Brittany had been disturbed by the noise. I looked at the wall, as if I could look through it and see her—to just watch, without her knowing.
Sometimes, even when she was asleep, the slight upward curve of her candy-pink lips made me think that she knew I was watching her. Like she could see me through her eyelids, or feel me under her fingertips. It was a warming thought.
Once I was inside the bathroom with the door closed, I flicked on the light, wincing as I was momentarily blinded. I approached the sink cautiously, reaching out in front of me with one hand and rubbing my eyes with the other to get rid of the black spots dancing in my vision.
In the mirror, staring back at me, was a completely foreign, sweaty, embarrassed teenager; confused and guilty and desperate to understand why the hell I was having sex dreams about Brittany.
God, so many questions.
"Fuck," I groaned quietly, grinding my palms into my eyes, trying to pretend the dream hadn't happened.
It really was a lot scarier than it should've been to have a dream like that about Brittany. Being in love with her like I was, and it took a lot to admit that much to myself, sex was an inevitable thing to think about. But I didn't want to think about it, especially because it was such a touchy subject with Brittany and me. I knew she wasn't a virgin, and she had been trying to get me naked in her room a week or so ago, but two consenting parties didn't necessarily make it a good thing for anybody.
There really was nothing I wanted more than to lose my virginity to Brittany, if she even wanted that, which I thought she did. But once that happened, I sort of had this idea that there was no going back. To boys, even though there hadn't really been any boys. Just to a sense of normalcy. But I guess that had been gone since that Tuesday in April.
Sex complicated things. I knew that. But Brittany and I were about as complicated as we could possibly be.
And so I resolved to not think about it. Not until Brittany brought it up, maybe. I needed time.
Despite pushing the thoughts from my mind, I still couldn't shake the embarrassment of the whole thing; I sat on the edge of the bathtub, my cheeks burning, feeling the pressure of her hands on my bare skin, even though the touch had only been the ghosts of a dream.
I wasn't going to cry, because that would be weak.
The idea of going back into my hot bedroom and snuggling up next to Brittany and imagining her naked on top of me, as I'd done more times than I'd have liked to admit, made me positively sick with guilt. Mostly because of what I was wont to think when we were so close to each other that I didn't know where my legs were. Maybe, I thought, it'd be best if I stayed on my own side of the bed.
Fifteen minutes later, when I had splashed a considerable amount of cold water on my face, I walked quietly into my room to find Brittany fast asleep with her arms around my pillow, her blonde hair spread out in a fan behind her.
Just standing in the middle of my room, watching her, was enough to make my resolve crumble. There was strange tugging sensation in the center of my stomach, like she had me baited and hooked on a fishing line, and she was standing on the shore of some lake reeling me in.
It was impossible to just look at her; I craved to touch her, to be touched. I crawled in next to her, gently tugging the pillow out of her grip. Her eyes fluttered open, finding mine, and the corners wrinkled as she smiled at me, a lazy, I'm-not-really-awake-yet smile. I gave her an uncertain close-lipped smile in return. Oblivious, she raised her long arms above her head, stretching like a cat in sunlight. Her long arms casually draped themselves over me as I adjusted my pillow, and she pulled me close to her, forgiving me for lying about my dream. Even though the room was nearly sweltering, I let her hold me.
So much for staying on my own side of the bed.
I sighed, disappointed that I couldn't stay in control.
She fell back to sleep quickly, her mouth halfway open, her breaths hot against my collarbone, her hair soft on my cheek, her face distorted where it was pressed against the crook of my neck. Her eyelashes quivered, and her eyes moved under her eyelids, paper-thin, like the shell of a bird's egg.
I wondered if she was dreaming about me.
When I was certain that she was deep into her dream world, I untangled our limbs and pushed myself backwards on the bed even though it pained me to do so. I left about six inches between us. Brittany barely stirred, only closing and unclosing her fist once on the sheets, trying to grasp something that I couldn't see.
She was so beautiful.
I spent the night watching her—never thinking, not quite sleeping, just watching. Just keeping my distance. For my own good, but mostly hers.
We were tangled up again when I woke up. I'm not sure how it happened. We seemed to become magnets at night. Her arms were loosely wrapped around my waist, and I could feel her cheek pressed into the space between my shoulder blades.
Fortunately, I didn't have another dream.
Unfortunately, I'd woken up to a knock at my bedroom door. And my mother's not-so-sunny pre-coffee disposition.
"We're going to church, get up," came her flat, tired voice.
I nearly fell out of bed as I threw Brittany off of me and grumbled what I hoped was a nonchalant "I'm up."
I'd completely forgotten it was Sunday. It was funny, in an ironic way, because I'd been keeping careful track of the days all week, waiting to get back to Brittany. Now that we were together again, I had no idea what day of the week it was.
I was kind of a mess around Brittany, I realized.
However, there were more pressing matters at hand—Brittany was still asleep where I'd deposited her on her side of the bed, her mouth hanging open and her blonde hair wavy and tangled behind her.
She was wearing my Alanis Morissette shirt. I hadn't noticed that the night before.
Does this thing ever get washed?
I nudged her. "Brittany," I whispered, glancing at my door, just in case my mother were to burst in with an armful of laundry and figure out that I'd been harboring a cheerleader in my room every night for the past two months. "You have to get up."
Brittany groaned and rolled over. I nudged her again.
"Wha—" she started. Blue eyes popped open, confusion flickering across her once peaceful features. She looked from left to right, observing the amount of the light in the room, and she opened her mouth to speak again. I pressed a finger to her lips. They were warm, just like they'd been on her couch yesterday. I retracted my hand quickly.
I lowered my voice until it was practically inaudible. "It's Sunday. And it's late."
Brittany's confusion dissipated as she opened her mouth in that candy-pink 'o'. She knew I went to church on Sundays.
She leapt out of bed, landing softly on her socked feet.
"Wait," I instructed, listening to my mom's footsteps retreat down the stairs, presumably for breakfast.
Brittany stood in the middle of my room, looking more alert. Her pajamas were disheveled and twisted from moving around in her sleep. I forced myself to look anywhere in the room but at her.
I cracked open my door and listened down the stairs, trying to figure out where my mom was in the house. The coffee machine whirred, and I heard her puttering around in the kitchen, unloading the dishwasher. I chewed on my lower lip, trying to decide what to do with Brittany.
"Okay," I said, formulating the plan as I spoke. "We're going to leave in forty-five minutes. I need you to stay in here—" I glanced at the clock "—and you can walk home at 9, after we leave. Is that okay?"
Brittany looked stressed. "I guess," she said, thinking. "But I'm usually home by now, and I don't want to show up at 9:30 because everybody will be awake by then."
I stood in front of my mirror, a bottle of hair product in my hand. "I don't know what else you can do, Britt."
"Yeah, I know. It's fine." She blew a piece of hair out of her face and adjusted her pajama shorts, sitting down on my bed. "I'll just say I went for a run. In my flip-flops." She smiled, but it was tense. We both knew this was a close call. And we still weren't in the clear yet.
"Alright," I said, feeling guilty that I had to keep her trapped in my room until I left for church. Plus, it was kind of weird that I had to get ready while she was sitting in my room.
I remembered my dream as I thought about her on my bed, in the same room as me, when I didn't have clothes on, and my face pinked. I tugged a brush through my hair and watched Brittany to see if she was looking at me. She wasn't—her attention was on the stack of books and magazines and pictures I had on my bedside table.
After I finished my hair, I glanced at the clock. "I need to go get ready in the bathroom. If you hear my mom on the stairs, go in the closet or under the bed or something."
Brittany looked up from one of the magazines she'd been reading. "Okay," she said with a smirk.
I rolled my eyes and smirked back.
In the bathroom, I applied my makeup with a shaky hand, more focused on listening to my mom downstairs than the mascara wand.
Back in my room, I pulled a skirt and a dress shirt out of my closet. Slightly self-conscious of Brittany's presence, I made sure she was focused on her magazine before stripping out of my pajamas. I watched her as I changed, made possible by my angle-she couldn't see me from where I was standing, but I could see her. I caught the way her fingers gripped the pages tightly. She stared at an ad for shaving cream for the entire two minutes it took me to get dressed.
I walked up behind her, buttoning the last button of my shirt.
"You must really like that shaving cream," I said.
She jumped, dropping the magazine into her lap. Her ears burned red.
"Yeah, I just ran out of shaving cream and I, uh, need some more," she stuttered.
"It's on sale," I remarked, pointing at the ad.
Brittany nodded, turning away from me. I could still see the tips of her ears poking through her hair, and they were still red. It made me smile with newfound confidence. I adjusted my skirt.
"I've never seen you in dress clothes before," she said, changing the subject.
"I guess you haven't," I said. "What do you think?" I twirled for her, flashing a smile.
"Pretty," she commented, looking at the outfit. She closed the magazine and placed it on my bedside table.
She got that look in her eyes, and they shifted across my face and down to the skirt. The column of her throat moved as she swallowed, and my own throat went completely dry.
I looked away and sighed, remembering the dream. That was going to haunt me for months.
"I have to go," I told her.
"I'll see you later."
I briefly considered hugging her, but I decided not to. She folded her long, bare legs beneath her, like a grasshopper, and she waved at me. I waved back as I shut my bedroom door behind me.
On the landing at the top of the stairs, I ran my shaky fingers through my hair, took a deep breath, and smoothed down the front of my shirt before descending.
I was far from being mentally prepared for church.
We were on time, as usual, and the panic in my chest hadn't really subsided since my mom had woken me up.
What if she'd opened the door?
That would have been disastrous. Brittany and I hardly slept in unassuming positions.
Nothing we did was really normal. My mom didn't need to know that.
Church smelled the same—like old people and holy water (I swear it has a certain smell) and incense and ladies' perfume. I dipped my fingers into the holy water at the doorway, and the water magnified the red nail polish on my fingertips as they skimmed the top of the water.
I made the sign of the cross quickly, embarrassed by the color of my nails. I'd forgotten they were painted, and I didn't need another reason to draw attention to myself.
Everything was making me paranoid. Loud noises reminded me of gunshots, heavy footsteps brought back the thundering of combat boots, and now, standing in a place I had felt safe in for most of my life, it felt like my thoughts were being carefully monitored.
My hands shook. I clasped them together, pretending to pray with my mother in the pew before the mass started. The only thing I prayed for was to keep Brittany out of my thoughts for an hour. Just until I was out of church.
I made it less than five minutes before I gave up, losing myself in my daydreams.
When we walked out, I was biting my nails, still worried about the color. It really shouldn't have been a big deal—but it was to me. Red nails and holy water don't go together.
Louis' Diner was more crowded than the last time we went. I saw Sofia, our waitress from the last time we came, running a pot of coffee to a family in a booth by the window. It smelled like syrup and spicy sausage.
We sat at a table in the center of the room. I didn't like it. It made me feel exposed. I made sure I sat where I had a view of the door. My mom sat across from me, oblivious, clearly not bothered by our position in the restaurant. On the table, the paper placemats now had a memorial square for those who had died in the shooting; all of the names were listed, with a cross at the top. Louis' was run by a Spanish Catholic family. I stared at it for a few seconds, lost in my thoughts.
"Santana," my mother was saying. "Santana. Mija."
"What?" I asked, looking up. A waiter was smiling tightly at me.
"Something to drink?" he asked.
"Oh," I said, blushing. "Water is fine. Thanks."
"Your head is in the clouds today," my mom remarked after the waiter walked away. "And you look exhausted. When did you get home last night?"
"Like 11:30," I said, shrugging. "Couldn't sleep."
I couldn't stop staring at the "In Loving Memory" square on the placemat. It was so big, so prominent. So consuming.
The waiter brought our drinks out—my mom began to sip her coffee. It was silent for a while.
"They're making good progress on the library," my mom finally said, leaning forward on her elbows.
"What?" I asked, looking up from my glass of water.
My mother's forehead crinkled, just like Brittany's did when she was thinking, except from the creases, little webs of wrinkles fanned out like hairline cracks in a sidewalk. "The library? The memorial library?"
"Oh. Yeah, of course," I said, internally kicking myself; it had just been on the news the night before. But it wasn't like I'd been paying much attention. "The memorial library. I haven't been by there in a while."
I remember Mrs. Pierce saying something about how they'd been planning to knock out the library, which was above the cafeteria, and create an atrium or something in its place. The library would become a separate building, and a foundation had been laid, last I heard. I wasn't paying too much attention to what was going on at school. I was avoiding it, actually.
I stirred my straw in my water, watching the water swirl around the ice. I thought about Brittany.
The waiter came over, and I ordered my blueberry pancakes.
"I'm worried about you."
"You shouldn't be."
My mom sighed, exasperated. "I don't know what to do with you. You're never home-"
"I was home all week!" I protested. Maribel held up her hand to shush me.
"And now you're tired and distant and I'm worried about you."
"Well you shouldn't be."
The waiter brought out our food. We thanked him. The syrupy air was thick.
I cut up my pancakes into small bites and pushed them around on my plate, choking down a bite every minute or so.
"We could call Ms. Pillsbury again."
I already called Ms. Pillsbury. "I'm fine."
"I'm fine. Seriously. Stop bothering me about it."
"Is it school? Do you not want to go back to school?"
I sighed and took another sip of my water. "Well, not really."
My mother put her fork down and clasped her hands together. "I've been thinking—" I looked up from my pancakes "—that it wouldn't be such a bad idea to transfer. It's your senior year, the worst is behind you. Academically and… otherwise. It could be good for you. You could go to Chatfield, or a private school. Maybe in Denver, somewhere near the hospital."
Transferring had never crossed my mind. Ever.
"If that's what you need."
I took a bite of pancake. "I'll think about it."
Louis' pancakes weren't as good as Mrs. Pierce's.