Magical Thinking: Brittany, PG-13
Characters: Brittany, Artie, Santana, Kurt, Brittany’s OC family; Brittany/Artie, Brittany/Kurt, and Brittany/Santana
Word Count: ~6,300
Warnings: Language, non-explicit sex, and miscarriage (though not any of the Glee kids)
Spoilers: Through 2.16 (Original Songs)
Summary: Two questions someone, someday, should ask that would give them all the insight into the mind of Brittany S. Pierce that they would ever want or need.
Author’s Notes: I feel very uncertain writing a story that deals so heavily with magical realism, because I haven’t read or studied this area very deeply. In fact, though I’ve read several of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short stories, I’ve only read excerpts from One Hundred Years of Solitude. (I know. I’m a bad former lit. major.) The idea that Brittany might see the world through that kind of lens just latched on to me and wouldn’t let me go, though, so I apologize for any inaccuracies. (I suppose I could get by if I attributed them to Brittany rather than to myself…). I also probably shouldn’t steal titles from books I haven’t read in their entirety, but from what I’ve heard and read about Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, I couldn’t pass up the reference. Thank you so much, safenthecity, for assuring me that this story wasn’t as incomprehensible as I feared it might be.
People are always asking Brittany S. Pierce the wrong questions.
No, it’s not just Finn asking for her help on algebra homework, which even Brittany knows is a very bad idea but gives him her answers anyway, because that’s what friends are for. Nor is it pretty much every boy but the boys in glee club asking her, “If I flip a coin, what are my chances of getting head?” (to which Brittany usually answers, “Ask Finn. He has my math homework.”) It’s that everyone at some point or other asks Brittany a variation of the question: “What the hell is going on in your brain?”
Which, of course, is a stupid question, because her usual answer of something like, “I’m thinking about what roots root beer is made from and whether you could get drunk from it since it’s beer, and also otters, but mostly I’m thinking about how your question isn’t as interesting as a drunk otter making root beer,” is honest and true and exactly what they’re asking for. The problem is, it’s like asking a cat what she’s saying when she meows: her answer is going to be in meow-form, too.
There are two questions that no one has ever asked her which would clear up a lot of things about Brittany, though it’s unlikely anyone will ever think of them:
Question One: What was your favorite bedtime book as a child?
Answer: The Great Big Book of Magical Realism: An Anthology.
Question Two: What was the name of your first pet?
First, Question One.
Had Brittany been an only child, her favorite childhood bedtime book probably would have been The Very Hungry Caterpillar. For some reason Brittany never quite understood, she, her big brother, and her little sister always insisted on having joint bedtime story time. (Not her little brother without a name or her little-little sister Abby, though. Brittany read to Abby sometimes, but the joint bedtime story tradition went away before Abby was old enough to join in.) That meant they had to pick books that appealed to everyone. More than that, her mom and dad said they had to pick books that “intellectually stimulated” all three of them.
Mom had started out reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the original Spanish to them. She teaches Spanish at Lima’s OSU satellite campus. Most of her students are really bad and only take her class because they need foreign language credits to get their degrees, so it was understandable why she wanted her children to learn the language: so she could have someone to talk to. (Brittany is pretty sure this is why Mom always comes home so happy from parent-teacher conferences with Mr. Schue. She suspects they commiserate, and also that they get so caught up in speaking Spanish with someone pretty good at it that they don’t really get around to talking about Brittany. Mom is certainly not all smiley after Conference Night because of Brittany’s Spanish grades, that’s for sure.)
They did not change over to reading bedtime stories in English because of Brittany. Brittany never learned much Spanish, so she had no idea what was going on in the stories. She never exactly told anyone this, though. She liked her mom’s voice and the sounds of the words, how they rolled and flowed in ways that English didn’t. It was like listening to music, and nobody would ask Dad to stop playing his recordings of Italian operas because you don’t know what exactly they mean, right? You know what they feel like, so that’s enough.
Pretty sounds weren’t enough for Kyle, though. When Brittany was about seven, Kyle complained that Mom’s Spanish lessons were interfering with his studying French, and while he could juggle French, Japanese, and Arabic, really, Mom, it’s much too difficult to keep apart two romance languages at once. Mandy, however, loved Garcia Marquez and got into a huge fight with Kyle over taking him away from her, until Mom found The Great Big Book of Magical Realism: An Anthology.
Brittany liked Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Spanish better, but she had to admit he and the other writers in the book were pretty great in English, too. The only problem was Brittany had to pay more attention. Now that bedtime reading wasn’t “intellectually stimulating” them with a new language, Mom would ask them what they thought at the end of each story.
Brittany figured this taught Mom what was going on inside her kids’ brains. For example, take the night when she read “Eva is Inside Her Cat” to them. Kyle said, “Did he write this before One Hundred Years of Solitude? Because it seems like the symbolism of the orange in this story is much less mature than the golden fishes in the novel.” Mandy said, “So much gets lost in translation. There’s just no way to render the flow of his writing style in English.”
And Brittany’s response? Brittany pulled Schrodinger into her lap, lifted her up by her armpits so they were facing each other, and asked her very seriously if she liked oranges. Since Eva had spent most of the story wondering the same thing about her cat, Brittany figured this was just as reasonable as the weird stuff her brother and sister were talking about. Mom praised Brittany for demonstrating her understanding of the magical realism genre.
School wasn’t nearly as fun as reading at home. They did read some good books where animals talked and people found new worlds by walking into closets or finding old, abandoned magical objects, but the questions the teachers asked were boring. They didn’t like Brittany’s answers, either. Not because there wasn’t a certain kind of sense to what she said, Brittany was pretty sure, but because her responses weren’t what they were looking for. Which, if you already knew what answer you want, why bother asking a question? Brittany thought.
Worst of all was “let’s pretend time.” The things they did during that time themselves were fun, like turning dowels and glitter into magic wands and casting spells that made each other into frogs and dogs and chickens. The bad part was that the teachers limited “let’s pretend” to a certain time of day. They treated magic and seeing things differently like it was something you turned on and off by clapping your hands, like the lights on Brittany’s family’s Christmas tree. (And even The Clapper had a kind of magic to it, if you hooked it up to something special like Christmas lights and didn’t think about it too carefully, didn’t it?) Brittany didn’t understand why anyone would want to do that. When life could be so special and exciting and full of possibilities for the half-hour a day that you let it be, why would anybody ever want to go back to looking at it in another way?
Eva and her cat didn’t live life that way. Neither did the Buendia family in One Hundred Years of Solitude, or anyone in The Great Big Book of Magical Realism: An Anthology. So Brittany decided, well, she wouldn’t live that way, either.
One of the things Brittany loves about Artie—and actually, she loves a lot of things about Artie—is she thinks he might very well be the first person to get all of this without her having to explain it. (Because she can’t explain it. Not only had she never bothered to find the words for it, but if you have to explain it, you kill the magic of it.) Combs were no more magical than dowels coated with glitter and tied with streamers. But Artie had made the comb magic by believing it was, then letting Brittany in on the secret. That kind of believing went further than what people did when they made things lucky, like heads-up pennies and four-leaf clovers and rabbit’s feet (which was especially stupid, because that rabbit wasn’t very lucky, was he?). The comb could be magic or poison or even a golden fish, so long as no one questioned that belief and broke the spell.
Another thing she loves about Artie is that he knows that sometimes breaking the spell isn’t a bad thing. Brittany forgets that sometimes. It’s understandable; with so many people saying she’s weird and stupid, she has to believe so hard to keep them from taking it away from her, leaving her with a world that is so cold and dull and…sad. Once Artie figured out why Brittany was so upset the week before Sectionals, he broke the spell they’d believed into life and let just the right amount of the dull, normal world seep in. He let the magic serve its purpose but reminded her how to release it with a thought as soon as it started hurting more than helping.
(Brittany is still a little pissed that he hadn’t at least washed the comb off before giving it to her, though. Who gives somebody a comb, magic or not, and forgets to mention that it’s filthy?)
There are other things Brittany loves about Artie, but before that, Question Two.
Dad explained Schrodinger’s Cat to her, Kyle, and Mandy one night in lieu of a bedtime story when Mom was out of town at a conference. Dad teaches at the OSU satellite campus, too, though his situation is a little different from Mom’s. He teaches physics. Physics is not required for most degrees, so he only gets the students who really want to be good at science. The problem is, most of them are not very good, no matter how hard they try. So it was understandable that her dad wanted to teach physics to his kids: to have somebody to talk to about it, yes, but also to prove to himself that he was still a good teacher.
“Now keep in mind that this was Schrodinger’s way of pointing out a paradoxical problem with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. And we don’t even know if the Copenhagen interpretation is true—it’s not something you scientifically test in the traditional sense. It’s more a philosophy or way of understanding quantum mechanics than anything,” Dad said.
Kyle and Mandy nodded knowingly. Brittany lifted her feet under the covers, trying to irk Schrodinger into waking up and leaving her normal night-time sleeping spot at the foot of Brittany’s bed. Schrodinger merely eyed her and then curled her paw over her face.
“So, you put a cat in a steel box with a radioactive particle. If the particle decays, it’ll make a Geiger counter detect radiation, and the Geiger counter is set up so it’ll break a vial of poison gas if it detects that radiation.”
“So if the radioactive particle decays, the cat dies,” Kyle said.
Brittany toed more insistently at Schrodinger. This time, Schrodinger sat up, stretched, and padded up Brittany’s legs toward her lap. Brittany though Schrodinger could sense her feelings better than she could herself most of the time. The warm, furry body vibrating with a purr was a great comfort.
Dad continued, “Quantum physics doesn’t tell us whether the particle will or won’t decay. It tells us the probability that the particle will decay—the probability that the cat is dead. Now, what Schrodinger was trying to point out as so paradoxical about the Copenhagen interpretation is that according to it, the wave-function of the system means the cat is both alive and dead while the box is closed. Only when someone opens the box and observes the cat does the wave collapse, and we have either a dead or alive cat.”
“I agree with Schrodinger and Einstein,” Kyle said thoughtfully. “It’s almost irresponsible for physicists to go around claiming that reality is indeterminate, when it’s science’s job to tell us about what we can observe through objective experiments.”
“Why does a human opening the box and observing matter, though?” Mandy asked. “Why can’t the cat observe itself? It sounds very ethnocentric to me, rejecting animism like that. I bet if Schrodinger were Inuit, his experiment would’ve been very different.”
Brittany just hugged Schrodinger tight and rested her cheek against her soft black-and-white fur, wondering fearfully how anybody could leave a poor cat in a box like that, listening to it yowl and claw as it tried to get out. “Can we read ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’ again?” she asked. “I don’t think I can go to sleep yet.”
She did learn something from Dad, though: things could simultaneously be and not-be. She still doesn’t understand why Mandy and Kyle have such a hard time accepting that. Brittany notices it every day. Like the school cafeteria’s sporks: they’re forks, they’re spoons, and yet they’re not forks or spoons, either. Frighteningly, so is the cafeteria’s Mystery Meat: it must be meat, because why would the school bother lying about something that dumb, and yet it can’t be meat because meat is not that shade of gray and does not have that level of jiggle to it. Brittany herself is a Schrodinger’s Cat: she likes girls and boys, so she’s neither gay like Kurt and Melissa Etheridge nor straight like Quinn and Finn and Rachel and Mike and Tina and Puck and…well, everybody but Kurt and Melissa Etheridge and maybe, possibly, Santana (though no, she won’t say anything about that because Brittany keeps her promises). Or, she’s both.
There’s one thing Schrodinger had wrong. There is no one to open the box and tell you if you’re a spoon or a fork or gay or straight or alive or dead or what.
One of the things Brittany loves about Artie is that, shortly after she found out he wasn’t a robot, she discovered he was a breed of Schrodinger’s Cat. (A couple weeks after they started dating for real, Artie asked her what she’d meant about the robot thing. After she explained it to him, he said, “Oh, actually, you thought I was a cyborg. And actually, I wish I were that awesome and badass.” Then they watched the Terminator movies and Star Trek: Voyager together so Brittany could get a feel for what a real cyborg was. Brittany liked them. Artie declared her the coolest girlfriend ever. Brittany decided that based on what she’d seen, Artie wasn’t hot enough to be a cyborg. She still liked him anyway.)
But anyway, Artie as a Schrodinger’s Cat. Artie said—and still says—that the reason he’s in a wheelchair is because he can’t feel anything below his waist. And yet, when they’re in bed, Artie’s dick works. Based on the noises and faces he makes during sex, Artie’s dick feels something, too. Artie’s dick is below his waist, though. Thus, paradox.
At first, that made Brittany wonder either if Artie was really being honest with her or if she misunderstood what “can’t feel” meant to him. It became even more complicated when he pretended he could feel her hand on his leg at Breadstix but was ignoring it. He explained later that it was a bad joke, and he was sorry, but honestly, that just muddied things more. So, she settled contentedly on the conclusion that either Artie is a Schrodinger’s Cat, or she is miraculous.
And Brittany supposes she might be miraculous, right? Not likely, but it’s possible. All things are possible. They say that in quantum mechanics and in church. Jesus made the lame walk. She hadn’t been able to do that much, but Artie had said that given the choice between being able to walk and being able to maintain an erection, he’d take the erection.
Brittany has considered asking someone about this miracle theory. Not Artie, because she doesn’t want to get his hopes up, and not Santana, because talking about Artie makes her angry and sad. Mercedes and Quinn seem to know a lot about Jesus and miracles, but she decides not to ask them. Quinn would likely just roll her eyes, and Mercedes would talk about faith but not answers.
On the other end of the spectrum, she considers asking Kurt, because he knows, like, everything, and even if he has no clue what the answer is, she’s pretty sure he’d get a kick out of the question. Then she thinks better of it, though, because he might get upset that Brittany could so easily get a rise out of the paralyzed but couldn’t even get an interested twitch out of his dick when they’d dated. (Not that that failure made it any less likely that she is miraculous. For one, Kurt hadn’t let her try nearly everything in her bag of tricks. For two, yeah, the Bible said something about making the crooked straight, but it never said anything about making the gay straight.)
Though, really, what’s the difference between a miracle and a paradox? Brittany wonders. It seems like they’re two words for the same thing. Brittany doesn’t pay much attention to words as a rule. She doesn’t trust words. They’re not like motions, where you do something, and you get the same feeling or reaction in response, no matter how many times you do it. You put one foot down like so and push off with the other with a certain amount of strength, and your body does a full turn, every single time. You let your palms slide there and twist your hips just so, and you feel that, and Artie’s hands fly up to cling to your elbows as his head falls back. You crook your finger just there, and Santana gasps, and her eyelids flutter shut, eyelashes brushing your cheek.
Words, on the other hand, are not reliable. You would think that, being words, the one thing they would be is what they mean, because why else would you bother with them? But Brittany has looked in the dictionary (she had to when she was dating Kurt, just to keep up with half the things he was saying), and she knows that every word means five or six or ten different things. Sometimes one word can even be its own opposite, Schrodinger’s Cat words: left, handicap, weather.
Sometimes words are outright lies. If she hadn’t trusted words before, Brittany certainly didn’t trust them after she and Mom took Schrodinger to the vet to be “put to sleep.” She had understood that Schrodinger was old and sick and unhappy, but she had thought the vet would do what he said he would: give her something that would make her sleep, so she could live out the rest of her days curled up in the sun at the foot of Brittany’s bed, warm and soft and purring. Brittany had cried and screamed when she realized the vet had killed Schrodinger, and when he got out the box to put her body in…well, they had to find a new vet to care for Charity when they adopted her a few months later.
Brittany ignores words the best she can. This is hard, because her parents seem intent on her being a genius with words, like how Kyle is a genius with science and Mandy is a genius with math and Abby is a genius at chess (but loves soccer more, Brittany knows), and everybody in the family is a genius with languages Brittany doesn’t understand. Brittany has learned a way around this. All she has to do is say exactly what is on her mind at that moment without any editing, and Mom and Dad praise her for single-handedly resurrecting the Fluxus movement, whatever that is.
Brittany knows her parents are wrong. (She does accidentally buy into her own hype sometimes. For example, “Dolphins are just gay sharks” had gone over like a lead balloon with Santana at Breadstix, whereas the same line at home had gotten a hearty “She’s the next Yoko Ono!”) Unlike everybody at school, though, and unlike Kyle and Mandy, Brittany does not believe that she lacks any and all genius. She just has her genius in a place her parents would never think to look. She is a genius of movement.
Brittany loves to dance. Brittany also loves sex. The entire school can attest to how good she is at one of them, and a pretty good portion of the school can confirm her ability at the other. She sees these two skills as two parts of a whole. She knows her body. She can get it to do amazing things for her.
She realizes she should add a caveat to those statements: Brittany loves good dancing and good sex. And in her experience? Most boys aren’t very good at either, if you let them lead. (Mike Chang is a notable exception on the dancing side of things. Brittany would be lying if she said it had never crossed her mind whether that skill carried over into bed. She would never, ever cheat or encourage Mike to cheat to find out. Still. She suspects Tina is a very lucky girl.) The worst of it is, no boy thinks that he’s bad at sex, and pointing out that he is is the surest way to hurt his feelings.
(But seriously, most boys are bad at sex, Brittany knows. Even out of the guys who don’t do it in a way that outright hurts, almost none of them seem to have any clue where the G-spot is. That or they flat-out don’t care, but Brittany gives them the benefit of the doubt and chalks it up to ignorance.
Since when they were dating, Kurt was so interested in what boys taste like and smell like and feel like, Brittany shared this observation on boys and sex with him when he gave her a ride home from Breadstix on Valentine’s Day. He is a boy, too, though, so she knew this was potentially dangerous to his ego. She tried to lead off with a joke.
She pointed to his GPS system. “They should totally make PSGs, too,” she said.
“What?” Kurt asked.
“Boys won’t ask directions for how to get to, like, stores or offices or karate dojos or anything when driving, but at least they have GPSs. Boys won’t ever ask for directions to a girl’s G-spot, either, so there should be PSGs. You know, with a little nagging voice that says, ‘P.S.: the G-spot is over here.’”
Kurt was usually pale, but he went paler and his eyes went much bigger than normal. “I thought one of the benefits of being gay is I’d never have to worry about any of…that.”
Brittany shrugged. “Gay or straight, boys are boys, so I just thought you should know.” She paused for a moment, thinking. “Do gay boys have G-spots?”
Kurt spat the soda he’d been drinking all over the dashboard. “Oh my god—”
“Because I don’t know much about gay sex, but I do know where in you Blaine would put his dick—”
“Oh god, Blaine and I aren’t even dat—”
“—or where in Blaine you’d put your dick, whatever.”
“Can we not have this conversation?”
“I just think you should know that, if boys do have a G-spot in there, it’s very important that you and Blaine find it. Trust me. I have experience. One time—”
At that point, Kurt turned up the volume dial on his CD player and blasted “Alejandro.” They both sang along until they got to Brittany’s house. Brittany apologized—she wasn’t quite sure for what—and said she’d give him a blowjob lesson with a banana, as a peace offering of sorts. Kurt has yet to take her up on her offer. But Mercedes says Kurt and Blaine are finally officially dating. Brittany expects a phone call any day now.)
Sometimes she can convince boys to let her lead in sex, though. Once they let her one time, it’s really easy to get them to let her lead again (and again, and again. Yes, Brittany is that good. That’s not bragging; that’s just telling it like it is.). One thing she loves about Artie is that he let her lead from day one. Granted, the paralyzed thing had a lot to do with it, but she gives him major credit by not acting all weird and threatened by her skill like some of the other football guys had. Also, he is very, very grateful.
Even though the answers to Questions One and Two should tell a person everything they need to know about her, Brittany thinks, even she admits that there’s a kind of unavoidable follow-up question:
How much of this do you truly believe, Brittany?
It’s a much harder question to answer. Brittany believes in all of it—the magic, the paradoxes, her personal genius, everything—because none of these things would work if she didn’t believe. But…
But. She may believe in it all, but she does know that the world is not as magical and full of possibilities as she believes it is. There is a difference. It’s like Alice in Wonderland, the one actual children’s book Mom read at bedtimes. Alice was bored the day she followed the White Rabbit to Wonderland, yes, but it must have been so much worse once she came back. So Brittany does her best to put away what she knows and only think about what she believes. Sometimes this does get her into trouble, though, this forgetting. It was bad enough with the comb, but it was worse with the stork.
Really, the whole thing with the stork was the fault of words, again. “Delivery” is one of those slippery words she cannot trust, particularly when it comes to delivering a baby. Brittany knows a thing or two about where babies come from. Quinn didn’t unhinge her jaw like a snake and eat a watermelon whole to get that baby bump last year, after all. Brittany doesn’t want to believe it, though, so she doesn’t.
Brittany knows delivering a baby involves a lot of crying, and no matter how much she wishes she could make that go away with belief, too, she can’t. She can still hear Mom in the bathroom too clearly, from that day when she was nine and she stayed home from school with a bad cold. Mom had been in there for a long time before Brittany heard her sobbing. She knocked on the door and asked if she needed more toilet paper from the hall closet. Mom said she needed the phone and the emergency numbers list on the fridge. When she opened the door and handed the phone and list in, Brittany saw Mom’s belly was still big—probably not as big as Quinn’s had been at the end, but still big—but her mascara had run down her face, and her fingers on one hand had blood on them.
Later that day, when Grandma Pierce and Brittany were sitting in a waiting room somewhere in the hospital, Brittany watched a bird building a nest in a tree outside the window. It was a very pretty bird, with silky black wings but a white breast and white on her face. Brittany watched her knit twigs and bits of trash together with her beak until the doctor and Dad came in. Dad sat down beside her and told Brittany that she wasn’t going to have a baby brother anymore.
She didn’t cry. She looked back out the window, though, only to find that the beautiful little nest had been blown out of the tree. The bird was gone, too. Because it made more sense and hurt a lot less than her baby brother just not being anymore, just all the sudden and for no reason at all, Brittany decided that that bird had been a stork. Whether the stork would have actually brought her baby brother if she’d stuck around or if she was just a symbol like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s golden fishes and oranges didn’t really matter. All that mattered was she had something to believe in besides the world just being ugly and random and sad.
Brittany knows her problem is that, just like with the magic comb, she forgets when she should let go of things she believes and use the things she knows to comfort her instead. When, even so many years later, she saw the black-and-white bird building a nest outside her bedroom window, the belief hit Brittany so hard that she forgot about how she and Artie used condoms every time except for the first one and even where her belief in the bird had come from in the first place.
At least she has the Glee Club to pull her back when these kinds of things went too far now. Artie is especially good at doing it in a way that doesn’t make her feel dumb—another thing she loves about him. But Santana was the best.
The first time she’d done it—the time Brittany remembers best—was the day God or whoever opened up the Schrodinger’s Cat box and resolved her unnamed little brother from both being and not-being into most definitely not-being. Mom and Dad stayed at the hospital; Grandma Pierce brought Brittany back just before Mandy and Kyle came home from school. Kyle and Mandy cried. Grandma Pierce was too busy comforting them to notice when Brittany slipped away.
First, Brittany went to her room and got The Great Big Book of Magical Realism: An Anthology. Next, she took it down to the family room in the basement and found her craft kit. She flipped the book open to Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” It would’ve been more helpful if there had been a picture, but she stumbled through reading the description of the very old man and his enormous wings the best she could. She found a big sheet of white tag board. She traced two wings on it and cut them out, then got out her glue and decorated them with glitter, seed beads, sequins, even a few feathers—anything she could find. She tied them to herself with two ribbons, then stuck them on even better by adding duct tape.
Finally, she snuck outside. She ran around the yard at first, getting up to her highest speed and then jumping, but it didn’t work. She remembered the very old man with enormous wings had trouble with takeoff, too, and he had a lot more experience flying to heaven than she did. The old apple tree didn’t grow apples worth eating anymore, but it had low branches that made it perfect for climbing, and some of the higher limbs hung right over the garage. Once she’d gotten up there on the roof, she licked her finger and tested the wind. Her best bet was to jump off the edge of the roof that hung over the vacant lot behind her yard. As strong as the wind was in that direction, it’d take her to heaven in no time, just like it had with the old man. The toes of her shoes stuck out over the edge of the shingles. She bent her knees and rocked her arms back, and—
—and a voice called up to her and stopped her in a most unusual way.
“That’s a bad word!” Brittany yelled back down.
“Well, if you actually do scare the shit out of me, I should be able to say ‘oh shit!’ shouldn’t I?” The girl standing below her in the vacant lot was Brittany’s age. She was wearing shorts and sneakers and a floppy green t-shirt. Her knees were scabbed and scratched up, and she had a grass stain on her forearm. Her black hair was pulled back into a long, messy braid, frizzling out and stuck with twigs from a long day of playing outside. She was scowling at Brittany, her arms folded across her chest.
She was beautiful.
“How did you get up there?” the girl asked.
“Come back down.” Brittany shook her head resolutely. The girl continued, “Why not?”
“I want to go to heaven.”
“I’m sure you will,” the girl answered. “All you gotta do is be good, and maybe pray a little bit.”
Brittany knew it was stupid, throwing a fit while standing on a rooftop, but she stamped her foot. “No! I want to go now!”
The girl’s eyes went wide. She put up her hands, as if she could push Brittany back on the roof even from that far away. “Stay there. I’m coming. Just stay.”
The girl pulled herself up over the back fence and fell to the yard with a hard thump. She didn’t even brush herself off before she scrambled up the tree, only stopping to untangle her shoelace when it got caught on a twig. When she got to the garage roof, she slowed down a bit, her legs wobbling like the baby horse Brittany had seen at the petting zoo. Brittany climbed a few feet closer to the peak of the roof to sit down beside the girl.
“Tell me for true. What are you doing?” the girl asked.
“The very old man with enormous wings got up and flew away to heaven when he grew his feathers back and didn’t want to live in the chicken coop anymore,” Brittany said. “So I grew wings, too. Remedios the Beauty did the same thing with bed sheets, but Mom would be mad if I got them dirty.”
Brittany could tell that the girl wanted to ask, What the hell are you talking about?, but she didn’t. “Why do you want to go?”
It was the most beautiful question anybody had ever asked Brittany. Finally, she felt wet tears on her face. “Because I wanted to be a good big sister so bad. I don’t want my little brother to be alone in heaven.”
The girl put her arms around Brittany, and Brittany leaned against her shoulder. “He’s not alone. Aren’t any of your grandpas or grandmas in heaven?”
“Grandpa Vanderwal,” Brittany sniffed. “And Schrodinger’s there, too.”
“Who’s Schrodinger? Your uncle?”
“My cat. I miss her.”
“I’m sorry.” Brittany felt light fingers on her hair, but they pulled away quickly. “Plus, if you go, you’d be leaving me alone,” the girl said, her voice wavering. “Please don’t go.”
Brittany looked up and saw that the girl couldn’t quite figure out what to say. Then it all came out in one terrified burst. “Because I’m scared of heights and I don’t think I can get back down by myself.”
It was only then that Brittany noticed the girl was shaking and that her eyes were big and wet. “But you climbed all the way up here for me—”
The girl squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. “Don’t—don’t talk about it. I think I’m gonna hurl.”
The last thing Brittany wanted was to make the girl throw up, especially after she’d been so nice. She helped her crawl across the roof back to the apple tree and guided her as she slowly, slowly climbed down. The girl’s legs pretty much collapsed under her when they made it to the ground. Brittany sat cross-legged beside her.
“You’re pretty,” the girl blurted, her cheeks turning rosy even though her skin was kind of dark. She spoke quickly, like she was hoping she’d make Brittany forget that bit with the other things she said. “I saw you outside a couple times before, jumping on your trampoline. You’re really good.”
“Thanks!” Brittany said, smiling. “Why didn’t you come say hi?”
The girl shrugged and stared at the grass.
“Are you named after Santa?” Brittany asked.
Santana shook her head. “Carlos Santana. You know.” She played a pretend guitar made of air. “My mom’s a big fan.” Suddenly, her face got very serious. “Don’t ever do that again. You could’ve got hurt bad.”
“I’m sorry,” Brittany said, and she was. “I didn’t think I’d get hurt.”
“Then promise you’ll let me look out for you, okay? You can look out for me, too.” She held up her hand, which was in a fist except for her little finger sticking out.
Santana’s eyebrows went up. “You’ve never done a pinkie swear before? I gotta teach you so much.”
Brittany copied Santana’s hand position experimentally. “Is it magic?”
Santana moved the last few inches and linked their little fingers. “Way better than magic. Way, way better.”