"There's a new girl in my class," Brittany says while she tosses her jump rope lasso at the tree again.
LT lounges in the wagon, inspecting his claws. "So?"
The loop misses the nubby branch and Brittany reels it back, undeterred, to try again. "Her name's Santana."
"Who cares?" LT grumbles with a warning edge to his voice.
Brittany shrugs mildly and aims her grin up at the branch as her toss circles it perfectly, like the ring toss game she totally rocked during Field Day last spring. "She's super nice," she adds, testing the rope with cautious tugs and artfully ignoring the way Santana spent her whole first day snarling at Rachel during class and threatening to beat up Puck during recess.
"What the heck, who cares!" bursts LT. The wagon clanks when he sits up sharply.
Brittany starts scaling the rope, yanking as hard as she can with her arms and twisting her legs as tight around as she can. "I care," she grits while she bites her tongue to focus.
In the corner of her eye, she sees LT eyeing her suspiciously. She struggles another inch up the rope, disappointed to find it's significantly more challenging than it looked in Indiana Jones. "Do you like her or something?" LT asks finally, scowling like he does when she tries to pawn her vegetables off on him.
"No," Brittany pouts, willing her grip to hold just a little longer so she can clamp the soles of her sandals against the bottom of the rope. Maybe she should've tied knots in it, like the gym teacher does for the big kids who do climbing in class.
"Oh my god, you like her?" wails LT. He's leaning over the edge of the wagon now, more incredulous than annoyed.
Brittany wrinkles her nose and the distraction is just enough to land her on her butt in the not-quite-soft grass. She winces, rubbing her tailbone in pain, and whines, "Do not."
"Well, good," LT sniffs. He settles back into her wagon with his arms folded.
She sticks her tongue out at him. "I was just saying."
The breeze picks back up, and the jump rope sways. LT glances it, raises an eyebrow, and says, "Whatever. You suck at climbing trees."
"I don't have any claws," she whines.
"Reason number fifty why cats are superior," LT says sagely, closing his eyes and nodding like he's Obi-Wan or something.
Brittany leans on the dirt and gets to her feet. "Maybe cats are just cheating."
LT gives her his Cheshire cat grin. "Somebody's jealous."
"If you're so awesome at climbing, why don't you help me?" she asks.
His face pinches and he regards the tree with some reluctance. "I hardly think that's appropriate," he huffs, retracting his claws protectively.
Brittany sticks her tongue out at him and goads, "I knew you couldn't do it. You suck way worse than I do."
"I can too climb trees," blusters LT, preening and sitting upright.
"Well prove it." Brittany blows another raspberry at him.
This gives him pause, and he flicks his tail like Bagheera while he considers the tree bark warily. "I don't see why I have to prove anything to you," he disdains, even as he lopes over the wagon's edge and sidles up to the tree. He looks up at it and the wind blows Brittany's jump rope into his back.
The touch makes him jump into a kung-fu pose and bare his teeth, and Brittany laughs so hard she doubles over. LT recovers and his face falls. "Stop that, it's hardly dignified," LT complains. He'd probably be blushing if his whiskers weren't in the way.
"Stop stalling," Brittany teases.
LT sets his jaw, digs his claws deep into the tree bark, and hops upward.
His soft back paws slide helplessly down the tree's side, and Brittany falls over laughing in the grass.
"Oh, shut up," LT bristles.
Brittany just laughs harder.
After the last fold looks crisp and neat, Brittany carefully pops shape into the hat and grins when it comes out perfect. "Ta-da!" she yells, spinning to face LT where he's reading a comic book in the opposite corner with an ankle against his knee.
"Ta-da what?" he asks without looking up.
"Ta-duh, your hat," she chides and bounces over to him. When he doesn't look up at her, she sighs dramatically and instructs, "Up, up, up," holding the hat carefully behind her back.
LT groans and makes a production out of closing the comic book and setting it aside. "Jeez, you're like my dad," Brittany criticizes with a wrinkled nose, while LT takes five million years to get to his feet.
"Hardly," LT bristles, folding his arms.
It's obvious he's about to make another speech about how awesome cats are, so Brittany cuts him off and waves: "Get down on one knee."
He recoils. "Ew, are you making me propose? You have cooties!"
"Ew, why would I marry you?" yells Brittany, waving more emphatically. "Just get on your knees. I can't reach your head from here."
"What do you want with my head?" He glares at her suspiciously but does like she asks.
Brittany clears her throat in an important way and braces her free hand solemnly over her heart. "Lord Thomas Hobbes Tubbington, I hereby declare you the chief lieutenant of my newly-chartered club, D.O.T.S."
Unimpressed, LT hesitantly sneers, "What's that stand for?"
"Dance Or eaT Sugar."
"That's D-O-E-S," says LT pretentiously. "And why am I a lieutenant? I should definitely be overlord. It's in my name!"
Brittany glares. "You know, it's really an honor to be part of my club," she warns.
She lets him look at her for a moment to decide if she's bluffing. He makes the right decision and asks, "Who else is gonna be in it?"
Brittany shrugs. "Just us, for now. Now bend down so I can reach."
"Wait a second," he says, holding up his paw and frowning at her. "You're not gonna invite that slimy girl you like, are you?"
Brittany pulls a face and gasps, insulted, "Ew, I don't like Rachel! She's totally gross!"
"No, not her." LT tries to snap his fingers to remember the name, but his fuzzy paws don't make the right noise. "The other one. The one you like."
"I don't like anybody," Brittany insists angrily. "Now bend down so I can put your hat on before I demote you!"
"Promise," LT pushes. "No girls."
Brittany huffs. "I'm a girl."
"No other girls."
"Oh my gosh, fine!" Brittany reaches menacingly for LT's ears and he bends over in panic. "Now," she narrates, resuming her Regal Voice as she raises the newspaper hat over LT's head, "I hereby dub thee, Lord Thomas Hobbes Tubbington, chief lieutenant of D.O.T.S.!" She plants the hat squarely over his ears and he rises to his feet, eyes shut serenely and paw pressing delicately over his chest.
"It's an honor to be here with all of you today," he proclaims to an imaginary audience. Brittany giggles, pleased. "I've worked long and hard to get here, building my skills and reputation, and it's just—" He breaks from military character into Miss United States and brushes invisible tears. "I just can't believe I finally made it," he weeps with a high, cracking voice, fanning himself as he squeals, "they like me, they really like me!"
Brittany laughs so hard she can't move fast enough to catch her own hat when the breeze picks up, and she has to climb all the way down the treehouse ladder and chase it around the house and down the street.
When she sees Santana staring at her with a little smile, sitting across the street and petting the stuffed unicorn in her lap, Brittany chokes down a blush and yells, "What're you lookin' at?"
Santana shrugs and returns to her play tea set, and Brittany stomps back to the treehouse with her newspaper hat unwrapping in her fists.
Under 9 + 4, Brittany diligently recounts what LT taught her: 9 stands for mimes, which always copy whatever's near them, so the problem is really two 4s, which is the kind of handgun Dirty Harry uses. She's writing "Clint Eastwood" in careful print when she feels a prick at the back of her neck and turns around to see Santana staring at her.
"What?" she whispers uneasily.
Santana keeps looking at her a moment longer, and just when Brittany fidgets in her seat, Santana whispers back, "I can't see around your hat."
Since she already had to argue with Mr. Schuester for five minutes to get him to let her wear it, she doesn't want to relinquish it that easily. "I have to wear it," she whispers. "Presidents have to wear hats."
"The President doesn't wear a hat," Santana answers with a frown.
With a little, secret smile, Brittany whispers, "That's 'cause his club's not as cool as mine."
Santana's dark eyes light up. "You have a club?"
Brittany shushes her. "I have to wear it."
"I can't see, though," Santana protests, pouting.
It makes Brittany uncomfortable. She sullenly pulls the newspaper hat off her head and sets it reverently on her desk beside her totally A+ math worksheet.
After she's done the next problem, though, she still feels that prick along the back of her neck. She turns her head in super slow motion and catches Santana looking at her head.
"What, you want me to take my head off now?" Brittany asks, more uncomfortable than angry.
Santana just shrugs, glancing between Brittany's eyes and her light hair with a weird shimmer in her eyes. "No."
"Girls," Mr. Schuester says, and Brittany looks up to see he's standing right beside them with his arms crossed. She cowers a little, but right when he's opening his mouth to scold them, the recess bell rings.
When she stands up, Santana's giving her this weird smile, so Brittany bolts.
At her front door, as usual, Brittany calls "I'm home!" before she remembers. LT tackles her out onto the stoop and her books go flying while he nuzzles her neck with a proud purr.
"Gotcha," he gloats, grinning that Cheshire grin.
"I totally let you have that one," Brittany whines, shimmying out from under him. "I just don't want you to feel bad after you're bored all day."
LT sits up in his slinky panther way and examines his claws again. "Who says I was bored? I don't need you to entertain me."
Brittany folds her arms and calls his bluff: "Oh yeah? What'd ya do, then?"
"I read," he says, defensive and vague.
LT mumbles and Brittany grins. She's got him. "Wanna speak up? Mumbling's not ladylike," she parrots.
"Comics," he sighs.
As she ambles inside with her crumpled papers, she adds, "You better not have bent the pages."
"Hardly," LT demurs, licking his paw as he follows her to her room. "Catwoman is disgraceful, by the way."
Brittany grins toothily. "I know. I have to sneak it in 'cause Mom doesn't want me buying it."
"No, I mean—" LT heaves his long-suffering, explanatory sigh. "She doesn't deserve the moniker. You would make a better cat than her."
It reminds Brittany of the idea she had during reading discussion this afternoon, and she gets excited as she turns to LT and bubbles, "That reminds me! Guess what I thought of?"
LT raises an eyebrow and coils up in the patch of sun on her bed. "What?"
She claps her hands together and skitters over. She crawls onto the bed and kneels in front of him, grinning eagerly. "A transmogrifier!"
Despite himself, LT's ears twitch with interest, and he looks at her curiously. He perks up as he asks, sincerely, "What's that?"
"Duh, it transmogrifies stuff!" Brittany explains, rolling her eyes as she backs away and skips over to her closet.
LT sits up on the bed while Brittany dives into the pile on her closet floor. "Yes, but what does that mean?" He's too curious to snap at her, which doesn't happen that often.
Brittany reappears, wielding a Brittany-sized cardboard box, and sets it upside-down with lip-biting precision. "It turns you into something else," she says as she runs to her desk to scavenge a fat black Sharpie.
"Like what?" asks LT, sitting at the edge of the bed.
"Anything!" she says, offended he's asking such dumb questions when there are way better ones to ask. She scribbles busily on the side of the box until curiosity brings LT over beside her.
"A cat?" he asks, excited.
Brittany nods enthusiastically. "Or anything else," she says, touching her lip with the marker thoughtfully before offering it to LT. "I left space," she adds, pointing at the expanse of blank cardboard. "Just leave space for the dial."
"What dial?" He watches her run back to her desk and pull out construction paper and scissors.
Two minutes later, she's fixing a nice purple arrow to the side of the box and aiming it at "Cat". She takes the marker back and draws a big black button while LT looks on.
"Okay." Brittany gives the Sharpie back to him and lifts the side of the box. "Once I'm inside, just push the button and I'll transmogrify."
LT smiles a bit at her, even as he teases, "What if you're no good at being a cat?"
Brittany rolls her eyes while she crawls underneath on all fours. "Don't be stupid," she says as darkness surrounds her; "I'm totally gonna be an awesome cat. Maybe even better than you. Maybe prettier."
"Yeah, yeah," LT says, voice muffled by the cardboard. "You ready?"
"Aye, Lieutenant," she chirps, saluting to the dark interior of the transmogrifier. She hears his finger against the button and shuts her eyes as a zap of electricity jolts through her.
LT waits a while before he asks, tentative, "You okay in there, Brittany?"
She's nuzzling her arm when she answers, "How can you be this soft all the time? I just wanna sit here and pet me."
The box lifts and a sliver of light pools around her knees. LT chuckles as she squirms out under the edge of the box. "That's what you humans are for," he says lightly. "Why do the work ourselves?"
"How do I look?" Brittany asks instead of answering. She's looking at the light fur down her arms and her soft white paws. She lopes over to the mirror and LT trails her.
He shrugs, brows raised, almost impressed. "You look pretty good, actually," he admits.
Brittany grins. "Am I as pretty as Charity?"
"Shut up," LT hisses. Brittany just laughs.
She wastes a little while leaping from her desk to her bed to her windowsill until her mother comes in and yells at her to quiet down. "How do I look, Mom?" she asks, holding her arms out proudly and flicking her tail with unpracticed clumsiness.
"Um, great, sweetie," her mom says, clearly confused. She probably just doesn't know how to handle the news. Brittany's about to console her when her mom says, "Just keep it down, okay? And stop jumping on your bed."
Brittany shrugs while LT lurks in the corner. He doesn't like her mom much. "I'm gonna go play outside anyway," she says. Her mom nods and lets her through the doorway.
LT lets her lead the way until she stops at the end of the driveway and ducks behind the bushes. "What is it?" asks LT quietly, like they're playing Secret Agents again.
"Nothing," dodges Brittany, biting her lip and fidgeting. She peers over the edge of the bush, but sure enough, Santana's drawing hopscotch on her driveway in big colored chalk, in plain view of the route Brittany wanted to take to the park.
Unfortunately, she's given herself away, and LT takes one look over the leaves before he's swatting her upside the head and scolding, "The girl again? You promised!"
"I didn't do anything!" she whispers back. "How'd I know she'd be here, anyway?"
LT shakes his head. "You must've seen her; you're not blind," he snaps.
"Relax, it's not like I'm going to talk to her," Brittany hisses.
"Talk to who?"
Brittany jumps about a foot in the air and whirls to see Santana right behind her. Santana's looking at her quizzically, that off-white unicorn tucked under her arm and her dark hair threaded in a pretty braid with a blue string weaved through it.
It takes a second of staring for Brittany to remember the question. "I—uh—n-nobody, talk to nobody," Brittany stammers.
Santana stays stock-still. "Then who were you talking to?" She sounds amused.
Brittany pouts. "LT," she sniffs, crossing her arms and flicking her tail.
"Who's that?" asks Santana, even as she glances at LT like she's pretty sure she knows.
"Lord Tubbington," Brittany says more ceremoniously, gesturing to him and adding, "meet Santana."
LT snarls at her and snaps his teeth, but Santana just eyes him, unfazed, before turning back to Brittany. She smiles—wide enough that Brittany sees one of her front teeth is missing—and holds the unicorn out. "This is Snix," she says.
Brittany stares, stunned, at the glass rainbow eyes shoved in her face. "Um, hi."
"And I'm Santana."
"I know that," says Brittany, bristling and a little annoyed Santana still hasn't commented on how completely awesome she looks as a kitty cat.
Santana looks at LT again and then at the bushes. "What're you playing?"
Brittany gets defensive immediately because LT still looks peeved, and Secret Agents is a D.O.T.S. game which means Santana can't play. "Nothing. Just. Um. Walking around."
She sounds so disappointed—her face looks so crestfallen—that Brittany falters and fiddles with her paw. "Well—I really just wanna see what it's like to be a cat all day."
Santana's expression lights up instantly. "You're being cats? Can I play?"
LT's shaking his head, but Santana's eyes look really really pretty when they glitter like this, and Brittany's saying yes before she's even thinking it.
It turns out Santana makes a pretty good cat, but Snix sucks at it because she's a dumb stuffed animal, and LT spends the whole afternoon sulking in the sun instead of playing with them.
Of course, too soon after, while LT's still mad at her, her parents go out on Friday night and leave her with Fink Hudson, who is the worst babysitter in the history of ever and also has no idea that she hates him.
LT seems determined that tonight is the night to make him find out, and that instead of helping her pull some legendary pranks on Fink, he's gonna do it all himself and pin it on her like a weasel.
While Fink makes them mac 'n cheese for dinner, Brittany realizes that LT's not reading in the corner anymore, and she leaves the TV to find him. It turns out he opened the window and snuck outside to turn the radio dials all the way up in Finn's car, put a Whoopee cushion on the driver's seat, and spray shaving cream all over his windshield. All of it's hilarious, but it takes her too long to get LT to stop and go inside, and Fink catches her with the shaving cream because LT pushes it into her hand right as the front door opens.
Fink grounds her for the rest of the night while he cleans up his car, and when LT shows up in her room fifteen minutes later, she yells at him and then begs him to tell her what else he's rigged.
Then Fink pounds on the front door.
By the time her parents get home, Fink's put up with enough of LT's genius to talk her parents into a thirty dollar bonus, and she's been grounded until the end of the century.
She whines about it in morning recess—not to anyone in particular; mostly to herself—and Santana overhears her.
The next night, the first real night of her month of being grounded, Santana throws a pebble at her upstairs window.