WAS YOU EVER BIT BY A DEAD BEE?
A Britta and Lise Story
“Would you hold still?”
“You knew it would!”
“Look, you’ve been asking for this all week,” she pointed out. Damn it, she was right, too. I sniffled, hoping she’d take pity on me.
“If I’d remembered how much it hurt, I…ow, ow, OW!”
“Owwwwwwwwww,” I whimpered, deciding it was useless.
“You do this every time…and then you’re happy when I’m done,” she reminded me.
“Of course I’m happy when you’re done, because you’re not KILLING me anymore when you’re done…ouch!”
“There. Finished. Was that really such a big deal?”
I started to jump up.
“Not so fast.” She rose to her feet – giving me a quick conciliatory pat first – and disappeared into the kitchen, returning a few moments later with a handful of small plastic heart-shaped ice cubes.
Guess which one of us picked those out.
“Those are totally unsanitary,” I’d told her when she bought them. “I can’t believe people actually use those in their drinks.”
“Who says they’re for our drinks?” she’d leered.
Now she smoothed a thin layer of cream where I was sore and handed me the colorful ice hearts. “Put these on; you’ll feel better.”
“Can I at least look first?”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s just a little red. Would you stop making such a big deal out of it?”
“You’re heartless.” I glared.
She just grinned in response and flashed the array of plastic hearts in her hands. “Am not.”
“It still hurts,” I pointed out.
“Oh, for...” She sighed. “Just look already.”
I made a beeline for the bathroom mirror, where I twisted and turned, examining myself from every possible angle.
“Well?” She appeared behind me, hands on her hips. I made a face at her reflection.
“They look great,” I admitted. They did, smooth and clean around the arch. She’s talented. I turned around to give her a kiss. “Thanks, doll.”
She smiled modestly and tucked her Tweezerman’s back into their plush case. “Told you,” she said sweetly. “You have to be responsible about maintenance, Frida.”
I had turned back to the mirror and was tilting my head to admire the line of my brows when her remark sank in and I spun around. “‘Frida’…excuse me?”
Britta turned tail and ran and I chased that very familiar and very lovely tail all the way upstairs.
The winter was cold and gusty outside, warm and cozy inside our little house.
A month or so at the bookstore had convinced Britta she was ready to try something more to her liking, and her summer job at the Y turned into an academic course. These days she was doing a practical at a daycare while completing the classroom requirements for her degree. The change in her as she got back to something she loved was remarkable to see.
I mused on this as Britta leaned across the car to kiss me good-bye. “Thanks for the ride,” she said as she did every morning. “Thanks for the car,” I replied. It was our routine. I looked over her shoulder as she wrapped her arms around my neck; her coat and sweater rode up her back a bit and I caught a glimpse of well-worn heathered green tee-shirt. It was one of my favorites; I’d had it for years. “Hey. Lightfingers.” I poked her ribs. “That shirt looks awfully familiar.”
“I meant to ask you.” She flashed me a smile. “I was in a rush this morning.”
“Because you turned off the alarm clock while I was in the shower,” I pointed out.
I kissed her to cut off the protest. “We’ll discuss it later. Have a great day. Don’t let your charges throw up on my shirt.”
She grinned. “No promises. Love you!” she threw over her shoulder, slamming the door of the Jeep.
“You too!” I called to the bright, retreating head, waiting until she’d walked inside to throw the car into reverse and roar out of the lot.
I took a late lunch, enjoying the white winter sunshine. It was bright and cold outside, a beautiful February day. We’d spent the weekend before at Explorateurs, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. I hefted my purse higher on my shoulder, conscious of the rolls of films we’d snapped at the park tucked neatly inside, waiting to be developed. I checked my watch, wondering if I had enough time to drop by the pharmacy. My cell phone interrupted the train of thought and I slipped it out of the front pocket of my bag.
She hopped off the bench when she saw me coming and gave me a quick hug. “I’m fine,” she assured me.
She was holding white gauze to her hand and her hand to her chest. Blood flowered on the cloth. I winced. Britta was unbothered by blood, which is probably a good thing considering her course of study, which tends to involve far too much of all the bodily fluids for my taste.
The daycare nurse patted Britta’s shoulder and smiled at me. “She won’t need stitches, but she may need a tetanus booster,” he said. “I’d check with the doctor. Human bites are funny things.”
“How did it happen?”
“Mid-tantrum,” Britta explained. “My fault; Desiree didn’t mean it.”
The managing director handed me Britta’s bag and coat, which I helped her into. She winced a little as I slipped her gauze-wrapped hand through the sleeve.
“Human bites are painful,” Audrey sympathized. “I took a bad one to the leg once. It’s worse when they have missing teeth; good thing these munchkins are too young for that.”
I had seen Britta’s charges. She was convinced they were the most adorable children in the world, but thinking about it I realized they did all have full sets of tiny, sharp, white teeth. Ouch.
The nurse smiled at Britta again. “She’s a trooper,” he said. “Feel better.”
We said our goodbyes and headed for the car, both our bags slung over my shoulder, Brit’s good arm linked through mine.
“Britta Lindstrom,” I told the receptionist, while Herself got comfortable in the waiting room, feet propped up and Marie Claire open on her lap. “We’re Dr. Ekborg’s patients.”
“The human bite is extremely painful,” Dr. Ekborg observed, turning Britta’s hand over carefully in his.
“Not all the time,” Britta said sweetly, swinging her feet. I rolled my eyes. Watching Britta flirt with the old doctor was amusing. He adores her. I know the feeling.
“Are you sure I need the shot? Desi’s a REALLY clean kid,” Brit said.
“It’s a precaution.”
“Fine, Stabby McStabberson,” Britta sighed and pushed the arm of her tee-shirt up. And by her tee-shirt, I do mean my tee-shirt. “Just don’t get tetanus on Lise’s shirt,” Britta warned. “She’s already mad at me for borrowing it.”
“Taking it,” I corrected, playing with the fingers of her good hand when she slipped them into mine. “Borrowing implies consent.”
Dr. Ekborg took Britta’s arm, looking impressed at the musculature. “Are you still doing Jujitsu?” he asked.
Britta nodded. “Ooh, I think I’m in the mood for Chinese,” she said thoughtfully as the needle entered her arm. “Want to eat out tonight?”
“You sure you’re not too shaken up?” I teased her.
“From what? …Oh.” Britta looked down at her arm just as Dr. Ekborg retracted the needle. “Gross,” she said cheerfully.
The doctor finished bandaging her hand. “Keep it clean and dry,” he instructed us as Britta swung herself off the exam table and took my hand.
“Painkillers?” she said doubtfully when the doctor wrote the prescription.
“At least tonight,” he suggested. “You’ll be glad of it when the hand stiffens up.”
I took the prescription from him, since Britta was still eyeing it the way one might a millipede.
“You’re a model patient,” he told Britta at the door of his office.
Yeah, we’d see about that.
“Lis.” Britta put up a hand to shade her eyes from the late afternoon sunshine. It was cold and bright in the parking lot. “Open the top, will you?”
“It’s the middle of winter,” I pointed out, opening the passenger door of the Jeep.
“It’s sunny and gorgeous. C’mon.” Those baby blues might work on Dr. Ekborg, but I was slightly more experienced.
“You want pneumonia too? In,” I tickled her lightly and she ducked away from my questing hand and into the Jeep. Her blond head popped out just as I was about to shut the door. “We have extra fleeces in the back,” she said hopefully.
I kissed the tip of her nose. “Nice try,” I said, closing the door as she slumped good-naturedly down in defeat.
“Chinese?” she asked brightly, cheering up and sitting up as we pulled out of the parking lot.
“How about take-out by the pharmacy?”
“My hand’s fine,” Britta assured me.
“It doesn’t hurt?”
“You heard Dr. Ekborg. He’s been practicing medicine for at least three centuries.” As always, her beautiful smile was ridiculously rewarding. “Take-out,” I said, signaling and moving up to overtake a minivan.
As we waited on the familiar orange chairs for our order, Britta sipping a bottle of water to wash down the painkiller, my darling girl started to flag. I loved the rise in her energy levels since she’d started the new program. I loved her in any mood, but this was the Britta I’d fallen for. But now, though she likes to claim a high tolerance, I could see the medicine hit her as we sat there.
She turned slightly glazed, but still lovely, blue eyes to me. “Lise? I think I’m a little tired.”
“A little drugged,” I rubbed her shoulder. “Hang on, babe.” Luckily, the food was ready and we headed to the car, Britta leaning sweetly into me as I balanced hot, moist paper bags.
She dozed off in the car and I found myself giving her little darting glances as I navigated the traffic back to our house. I turned the heat up slightly. She slept adorably, head thrown back, breathing audibly through the tilted nose I loved.
I had to drag myself to wake her at the house. By then she’d snuggled deeper into the passenger seat and wasn’t eager to leave the warmth of the car. I pulled open her door, cold air swirling in almost visibly. “Lis,” Britta moaned. I leaned in across her to unsnap her seat belt and she burrowed her head against me. My little heat-seeking missile.
With some effort I got the food, our bags, and an armful of sleepy Britta into the house. She made for the couch immediately, pulling her legs up. She held her arms up as I walked out of the kitchen.
Well. I challenge anyone to resist that.
I settled behind her and she cuddled back against me. Her hair was soft against my neck and I kissed the satin skin of her cheek, several times. “How do you feel?”
“Groggy,” she admitted. “The Doc gave me some good stuff.”
“You’ll feel better if you eat something,” I suggested, though I was no hurry to let go of the warm length of her.
She tipped her head back to see me and her breath tickled my chin. “I’ll have a little Chinese. Out here,” she added majestically.
“Oh, will you?” I disengaged her gently and stood up. “Will I be waiting on you, then, Your Highness?”
“I’m injured,” Britta reminded me. “I wouldn’t say no to a cup of tea!” she called to my retreating back.
She gave me a satisfied smile as I carried out a tray, but scowled as I set it up on the
“I’m up here, Lis,” she pointed out.
“Come down here, Brit.” I patted the carpet. “We’ll picnic.”
“I want the tray on my lap,” she scowled, though on her half-asleep face it didn’t look terribly menacing.
“You’re not falling asleep with a lap full of Moo Shoo Chicken. Come,” I eased her down and, I had predicted, she perked up a bit as she sat cross-legged on the floor.
I rolled her a pancake, mindful of her injured hand. She tried to eat it with her good hand, but the sauce made the pancake slick and it slipped out of her hand and rolled open on the plate. I handed her silverware; the Moo Shoo was loose and could easily be eaten with a fork.
“This sucks with one hand,” she glared.
I decided not to remind her that she had insisted on Moo Shoo.
“Here.” I re-rolled the pancake, then sliced it into more manageable pieces. “Eat.”
She nibbled briefly, then lost interest. “How am I going to eat with one hand? When does this bandage come off? It’s just a stupid bite!” She said it all in one breath.
“You’re a fast healer.” I tucked her hair behind her ear. “Try to eat some more.”
“Not hungry.” She took a sip of Lhapsang Souchong and made a face. “It’s cold.”
Once again I decided not to point out that it was cold because she’d ignored it during the Moo Shoo sulk. I squeezed her shoulder instead. Poor Brit. She takes any kind of illness or weakness personally. “I’ll nuke it. Why don’t you lie down again if you’re not going to eat,” I suggested.
“I hate being sick!” Britta bellowed.
“You’re not sick,” I assured her, hoisting her up. “Just a little stoned. It’ll wear off.”
“Mm,” Britta leaned against me. “You smell good.”
“Here, why don’t you…Brit.” I detached her gently and with an enormous amount of willpower. “I’m not sure if you’re capable of consent right now, babe.”
“I consent,” Britta slurred as I eased her onto the couch and tucked a blanket around her legs. “Hey, come back here,” she called as I carried her tea into the kitchen.
I returned in a minute, scooped her legs up and sat down, drawing them onto my lap. “Drink.”
She lifted the mug to her lips dejectedly. “You think I’m ugly now,” she said morosely, looking at me through long lashes.
“Hardly.” I lifted her hand very carefully and kissed the bandage. “Drink that and then you’re going to bed.”
“Yes, boss.” She made a face around the tea. “More sugar, Lis. I’m a junkie now.”
Britta conked out while I washed up for bed, but woke up enough to give me a sleepy kiss as I slid into bed. She reached out and I tucked her injured hand carefully on her stomach as I drew her to me, spooning my body around hers. She made a small contented noise, lips moist against the arm I’d slipped under her head. I sighed in return, all too conscious of the curve of her bottom pressing firmly into me, the length of her legs tangled with mine. I pressed my lips to her hair, soft and citrus-scented, and waited for the cold shower of sleep.
“How’s the pain?”
“Hardly any. It feels much better,” she assured me.
She nodded vigorously. “It just stings a bit and I can’t put any weight on it.”
“That sounds like pain to me.”
“Plucking your EYEBROWS sounds like pain to you,” Britta said. “Let’s face it, Lis, you just don’t have a very high pain tolerance. I mean, I’m not so sure you could put up with HALF the painful thing I – ow,” she said, her pink lips a perfect O of surprise as she put her good hand back to rub her butt. “See?”
“I do see,” I told her with mock grimness, swatting her again, more gently, enjoying the feel of her against my hand.
“I doubt you could walk around all day like a moving target – HEY!”
“How’s your pain tolerance now, Brit?” I teased her, wrapping an arm around her waist and delivering a few more smacks to the round cheeks so temptingly displayed.
“You think you’re sooooo clever.”
“Well,” I said modestly. I pulled Britta into a hug. It’s hard to get enough of her bare skin in the morning. “Take them with you just in case.”
“I don’t want to be groggy at work,” Britta pointed out, face buried in my neck. The vibration of her lips against my pulse was intoxicating. When I recovered my senses, I patted her bottom reassuringly. “You won’t be; just take half a dose if you need it. Last night you had an empty stomach, too. Speaking of which, I’m going to fix some breakfast and you,” I gave her one last kiss, “are going to get dressed. Scoot.” I turned her on her way with a last, light swat.
I poured orange juice into two glasses, loving the way the sun streams through the kitchen windows in the morning.
Britta propped her hands on her hips, pausing to hitch her pants up a bit. And yes, they were my pants. I was reluctant to take her to task; for all that her closet was twice the size of mine, Britta liked to wear my clothes, especially when she was in need of comfort. I could lend her a belt, though; the pants were slipping dangerously low on her hips. It was distracting, to say the least, though it doesn’t seem fair that Britta looks ravishing in my clothes while the tightness of her clothes on me just make me look a bit on the Dirrty side, if you catch my drift. I handed her a glass of juice. “Drink; I’ll be right back.”
“Here.” I held my hand out and Britta unfurled my fist with interest, only to lift the belt disdainfully between two coiled fingers. “What am I supposed to do with this?” she scowled.
“Look.” I pulled her to me gently by her – no, MY – belt loops. “You’ve got these neat little fabric loops right on the pants, Britta. What you want to do is thread the belt THROUGH them.”
“Ha ha.” She stuck her tongue out at me and I trapped it with my own before she could retract it. Thus silenced, we kept ourselves busy for a few moments.
Britta licked her lips. “That’s not a great deterrent to tongue-sticking, Lis,” she said.
“I have other ways of deterring you, don’t worry.” I held out the belt. “Brit?”
“How am I supposed to put that on?” she asked, glaring. “I have only ONE working hand, remember?”
“I remember,” I told her cheerfully. “Luckily, I have two.” I used one of them to turn her slightly away from me and the other to land a firm swat on her corduroy covered rear. “So watch it.” I pulled her back to me before she could protest, landed a quick kiss on her pouting lips, and threaded the belt through her belt loops. She submitted with a deliberately patient air, but did brush my hair out of my eyes with her good hand as I leaned over to buckle the belt.
“There.” I let go of the waistband of her pants, and they slipped comfortably back to her hips. In the daily war of the hiphuggers, I rarely win. Figuring loss tasted better sweet, I dropped delicately to my knees, lifted the hem of her tee-shirt (you guessed it, MY tee-shirt) slightly and kissed her belly. I couldn’t see her face, but I could hear the scowl drop off it.
“Mmm.” Britta threaded her good hand into my hair again. “Maybe belts aren’t so bad....”
It was starting to stay lighter later, and I loved the impression of longer days. Dim light filtered through the curtains; shadows danced across the carpet and played around the four slippered feet resting together on the arm of the couch. A good hour passed as the sun sank lower behind the house, night sounds starting to emerge. Brit slipped lower beneath her book, pillowing her head on the other side of the loveseat. Stretched out on the couch, I let my book fall open on my stomach as I reached for the glass I’d set on the coffee table.
“That’s going to rot your bones,” Britta announced, lowering her book as I sipped Diet Coke.
“And it’s delicious.”
“Don’t micromanage me, little britches.” I tapped her feet with mine.
“Oh, but you can micromanage me?”
“Pretty much.” I sat up, twisting to get the kinks out of my back. “Got a problem with that?”
Britta tilted her head as if pondering the question, then grinned. “Nope.” I barely had time to set down my glass as she hopped off the loveseat and dropped onto my lap, pulling her legs up. I wrapped my arms around her.
“I’m back on full duty tomorrow,” she said, tipping her head back.
I rubbed my chin against her hair. “That’s great.” Britta had observed the last few days, making notes for one of her practical papers. Two hands were a necessity for chasing anklebiters, she’d explained – although after what happened to her, I’m not sure anklebiters is the correct term. “You have two classes next week, right?”
I felt her nod against me. Britta is less enthusiastic about the academic part of her coursework. To say the least. But she knew it was an important component of the certification. And we’d get through it.
“How’s the reading coming?”
“Brit.” I smoothed my hands through her hair, pulling it off her neck. “How much do you have for the next class?”
I nudged her up. “Go check your syllabus.”
“Now.” I stood up too, turned her in the direction of her knapsack with a swat. If I didn’t take charge now, it would take the rest of the night.
“Uh…this, this, and this.” She pointed out the assignments on the slightly wrinkled sheet.
“When were you planning on starting?”
“I’ve been injured!”
“Britta.” I put a hand on my hip. “You told me yourself how much better you feel.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine.”
“Don’t ‘fine’ me. Britta, this is a lot of reading and you’re not going to leave it to the last minute.”
“I have five days!”
“So we’ll divide it into five chunks.” I snatched a felt-tip pen from the mug on the desk and made a few calculations, then showed her.
“Tonight’s is short.”
“It’s almost nine,” I pointed out. “You work better earlier.”
“You think you know me so well,” she grumbled.
Focusing Britta was a task for the ages. We tried reading together in the living room, but Britta emerged from behind her books several times in the first few minutes alone, to complain about the reading, ask me a random question or gaze out at the window at the neighbors’ cat, who liked to perch on the outside of our sill.
“Okay, that’s it,” I said after Britta tossed aside her book to ask me if I thought the Jeep needed an oil change.
“What?” Britta turned innocent eyes on me. I hesitated, not wanting to overreact, but knowing I’d need to nip this in the bud eventually.
I settled for taking Britta into the kitchen and telling her to finish her assignment at the small table in there while I folded a load of whites in the laundry closet.
“How are you doing?” I stopped in the kitchen to check on her.
“Ten more pages,” she sighed. “I’ve BEEN reading, Lis, it’s just slow. And I’m so tired.”
“All right. You can finish those pages tomorrow with the second chunk,” I relented. “Go get ready for bed.”
Britta slammed the book shut with a gleeful finality that didn’t sit quite right with me.
So I wasn’t terribly surprised when the issue came up again the next night.
“I hate the reading part,” she scowled.
“You need to pass it if you want the certification,” I reminded her. “And procrastinating isn’t going to make it go away.”
“But my hand…” her voice faded.
I ruffled her hair. You have to admire her a bit for trying. “Britta, so far your hand has been in perfect condition for everything you’ve wanted to do. It’s only started to hurt you now?”
“Read with one hand, then.” I kissed her forehead. She looked at me with enormously wounded eyes.
“Come on, Brit.” Nip it in the bud, Lis. I escorted her into the den with minimal protest, helped her get set up at the small desk in there, and folded my arms.
“Stay in here?” She suggested.
“We tried that.” I ruffled her hair. “I love sitting with you but it’s just going to distract you. Look,” I cupped her face; admittedly, that disappointed expression got to me. “Give it an hour. I’ll be in the kitchen. You’ll feel much better when it’s done.”
“What are you going to do?” She played with the hem of my shirt and looked up at me through her lashes as I stood above her.
“Hmm.” I smoothed down the blond locks I’d just ruffled. “Cook, maybe…” I let my voice trail off.
“Ooh!” Britta’s face lit up. “Muffins?”
“Corn, please,” Britta said. “Please! And we can eat them hot when I’m done.”
“It’s a deal.” I turned her around gently. “Read, Brit.”
I glanced in on her after I’d slid the trays into the oven; she was buried in a book and I didn’t want to distract her.
I waited until the steaming muffins were cooling on a rack before heading back into the den. It had been just over an hour.
She was tilted back far in the wooden desk chair, only two of its legs on the ground, reading what I could see from this angle was clearly the biography she’d started the week before.
She started, almost losing her balance, and I pushed the chair back onto four legs.
“What?” She looked hurt.
“First of all, don’t sit like that. You could fall over. And second of all, did you finish your reading?”
Her eyes darted from the biography to me, to the desk and back again. I caught her gaze and pulled her in. “No,” she said, looking downcast.
“How far did you get?”
“I don’t know. A few pages.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s boring, Lis. I tried!”
“A few pages isn’t trying very hard!”
“Sorry,” Britta said conversationally. “Hey, are the muffins ready? I like them to be really warm.”
I blinked at her. Nothing she says should shock me anymore, really, but…. I pulled her up from the chair. “Something else is going to be warm,” I informed her.
“What did I do?” she asked, affronted.
“I sincerely hope that’s a rhetorical question.” I sat down in the wooden desk chair I’d whisked her out of. “Lose the pants, Britta.”
Looking very put upon, she unbuttoned the caramel-colored cords and stepped out of them, leaving them in a puddle on the floor.
“Fold them, please,” I told her heartlessly. “I like to keep my pants neat.”
She glared, but shook the corduroy pants out and folded them, then laid them on the desk with something between a flourish and flounce. “Happy?”
“Oh, ecstatic.” I pulled her across my lap in a smooth, practiced arc. “Not only did you ignore my instructions, procrastinate, and mislead me, but you’re sassing me too. This must be my birthday.”
“You’re mean,” Britta muttered, voice muffled by her hair and the fact that she was hanging upside down.
“I know; I’m vicious.” I rested a hand on her rounded cheeks, exposed neatly by the thin strip of pink cotton underwear. Britta claims anything other than a thong is much too restrictive. It certainly makes my job easier, at any rate. “You want to tell me what you were thinking?”
“That my reading is boring and useless and I know it already?” Britta chanced in that slightly-strained, upside-down voice.
“Try again.” I swatted her smartly and she yelped.
“Lise…” she whined. “It IS boring. You read it, you’ll see!”
“Britta, you chose this course and you want this certification, am I right?”
“Yes,” she said quickly. “I like the LIVE part, Lis. Reading about it is just…” she trailed off.
“Okay. You like the practical, that’s great. And you like to read in general.”
“Sure.” She made an approximation of a shrug, considering that her shoulders were pointing downward at the floor.
“Right. You like the topic and you like to read, but you can’t bring yourself to do THIS reading…because it’s assigned?”
Britta lifted a shoulder, just barely. “Hey.” I swatted her again. “A conversation takes two people, missy. Unless you’d rather just I talked.”
“No,” she said quickly. “I just couldn’t focus, Lis.”
I stroked the bare skin under my hand, already warm from the few swats. “Let me help you then. I understand, Brit; I know it’s hard. But you’re not going to fall into a bad pattern. I won’t let you.”
Britta sniffled a little. “I don’t want to be in a bad pattern. I’m sorry.”
“I know.” I concentrated on getting us into a good pattern, starting with a pattern of firm smacks on the fleshy part of her bottom. I ignored the stinging in my palm and focused completely on Britta, on her cries, first outraged, then more resigned—and was it relieved? “You can do this, Britta,” I reminded her, punctuating every other word or so with a resounding swat. “I know you can. You’re damned good at it.” I stopped and rubbed her inflamed skin gently. “And Brit? If you tell me you’re going to do something, and you don’t think you can, you come and get me. You do NOT sit in here procrastinating for an hour. Got it?”
“Yeah,” she murmured.
I swatted her soundly a few more times. “Pardon?”
“Yes, I got it!” she said loudly.
I stopped, shook out my hand, and eased her back to her knees. She slid down, then yelped as her bottom made contact with her feet. “Ow.”
“Aw, c’mere.” I pulled her up again and settled her on my lap, turning her to take most of her weight, and soothed the reddened skin with my hand. She pressed her damp face into my neck.
“Don’t be mad at me, Lis.”
“I’m not.” I thumbed the tears off her cheeks, kissed her wet eyes, and she sighed, relaxing against me. I continued to stroke her, rhythmically; it was fascinating to watch her lulled into contentment, eyes drifting shut, like a cat when you smooth the bridge of its nose. Britta needed to focus. I needed to focus her. We were a good team.
After a while Britta sniffled, her breathing calm. “How about a muffin?”
I drew back to see her face, looked into her hopeful blue eyes.
“Uh-uh, Brit. Our deal had two parts.”
“But you already spanked me!” she cried, dismayed.
“I did. You deserved it.” I kissed her forehead and tipped her gently off my lap. “And now you’re going to do your reading where I can keep an eye on you.” I handed her the folded cords from the desk. “Put these back on.”
She did, wincing a great deal, and I did my best not to roll my eyes at her typically Oscar-worthy performance. I’d spanked her far more seriously in the past and she knew it. Still, I pulled her into a hug and patted her corduroy-covered bottom. “Get your books together.”
“But what about the muffins?” Britta turned wounded eyes on me as I walked her back into the main part of the house.
“We’ll take them to the Berglunds in the morning.” I slipped an arm around her shoulders. Britta was fond of the elderly couple in our cul-de-sac; Mrs. Berglund crocheted us an afghan every Christmas and we sometimes ran errands for them, or shoveled snow. “Just think, you can do a good deed and learn a lesson in one fell swoop.”
“That’s not fair.” Britta pouted.
“Excuse me?” I turned her around to look at me. “What’s not fair?”
Britta, who usually knew when she was cornered, sighed. “Nothing.”
I gave her one last squeeze and turned her toward the books with a swat. “Good.”
I finished packaging the muffins for the Berglunds. Straightening up the kitchen, I had a good view of the living room, where Britta was sprawled on her stomach on the rug, the tips of her hair brushing the open book in front of her. The squeaking of her highlighter against the pages was reassuring as I washed and dried the dishes, swept, and prepared two cups of tea, half an eye on the set of Britta’s shoulders, the firm pink lines her steady hand drew on the pages. Her focus.
“Lis!” Then Britta was in the doorway, a golden ball of energy. “I’m done, I’m done, I’m done!” She wrapped her arms around my neck and I hugged her back. “Great work, babe.”
Britta cast a longing glance at the large Tupperware container of muffins. “I’ll take the tea in,” she said finally, and carried the tray into the living room.
I followed her and placed one of the couch pillow on the rug for her. She grinned ruefully and dropped Indian-style onto the cushion. “Thanks.”
I slipped into the hallway to my purse, and returned with a small bag.
Britta perked up immediately. “What’s that?”
“Just something I picked up today.”
“Ooh.” Britta reached for it and I swatted her hand away teasingly. I knelt next to her and handed her the bag. “Pictures!” she exclaimed. “When did you get these developed?” She opened the envelope eagerly.
“When I was filling your prescription last week. You were too busy complaining that you didn’t need the meds,” I reminded her. “I picked them up at lunch today.”
She was already shuffling through the pictures. “I love this one.” She held it out for me – the two of us on the overlook by Beaver Creek Pond. “You should wear more red,” she mused. I leaned over to get a better look and Britta snatched a kiss. My red ski jacket did photograph nicely against the brilliant white snow. A kind fellow skier had snapped that shot. Britta giggled at a picture I’d taken of her tumbled in the snow. Britta’s not happy with a ski trip if she doesn’t absorb half the mountain into her clothing. She’s an excellent skier; she just likes to make personal contact with the powder.
We cuddled together the rest of the evening; I sat on the couch reading while Britta lay on her back, head pillowed in my lap, her own book resting against her bent knees. I held my book open with one hand, my other hand weaving slowly through Britta’s silky blond hair, separating the strands, noting the highlights. Britta had “misplaced” her hat the second day of our trip and the strong winter sun had worked its magic on the top layer of her hair.
“Another cup of tea?” I suggested.
Britta raised her beautifully-shaped eyebrows when she saw what I brought from the kitchen.
“I thought I was being punished.”
“You are,” I said simply. “But I’m not, and I cooked them, so it’s only fair I get to sample one. And I choose to share it with you.”
The corners of Britta’s mouth twitched.
I ripped the muffin in half, holding it over the plate. Steam swirled out of its yellow center. I’d kept it in the oven.
I handed one piece to Britta.
It was still warm.
She licked buttery crumbs off her fingers, then off mine. Turned warm blue eyes up to me, utterly relaxed, utterly Britta. “Thanks,” she said.