Title: Secret Evolution
Rating: NC-17 for sex, language
Pairing: Sam/Brooke – some mention of Sam/George, Sam/Other, Brooke/Other (kind of)
Archiving: This will be at www.realmoftheshadow.com/harper.htm with the rest of my drivel. Thanks to Kim for housing it.
Disclaimer: I don’t own them and I’m not making any money. I mean no harm. Much love to Popular. Much sadness at its continued passing.
A/N: It’s The House of Yes meets Sister, My Sister meets Harper’s twisted imagination minus any disturbing deaths. Also, I’ve made up a number of characters. I needed more to work with than the few on the show. The way this thing is set up highlights important events in the evolution of an occurrence (hence the title). That said, it will not flow as a continuous piece. Sometimes, chunks of time will be missing.
As per my usual, this isn’t beta’d. I own all mistakes. If you’d like to tell me something, I’d be glad to hear it, no matter the flavor. I’ll be at Xfjnky2@yahoo.com. Thanks for reading.
“Jesus Brooke… stare much?”
The acerbic words shook the blonde from the semi-coma she’d apparently been inhabiting, and she tore her eyes away from Sam. Well, at the very least, she slipped on her sunglasses and turned to the side, making sure the girl was still visible in her peripheral vision while avoiding the creepy stalker glare she’d been unwittingly perfecting. After all, it wasn’t every day she got to see Sam lounging beside the pool in a fairly skimpy chocolate brown bikini and she wasn’t one to waste opportunities.
“What?” she replied as innocently as possible, picking up the latest issue of Cosmo as if she hadn’t been practically salivating mere moments before. “I just didn’t know that human beings could be that pale and not be an albino.”
Schoolyard rumor was that when a boy liked a girl, he chased her around the playground, tugged on her ponytails, called her names. It was the way boys expressed emotion before they learned how to deal with it, Brooke supposed, though in her estimation, almost all of the boys she knew were still stuck in the hair-pulling stage.
Then again, so was she.
She’d started that rumor that Sam was a private dancer at one of the less savory establishments located just outside of city limits (ironic really, considered the Mary Cherry/Nicole fiasco that had nearly ruined their parents’ wedding). And it was kind of funny, the way Sam had kept getting dollar bills tucked into the waistband of her pants for a whole week until the rumor had died down and Kennedy’s attention had shifted elsewhere. Truth be told, Sam really should thank her for that one. She had to have made at least $30 off of it – tax free income was nothing to sneer at.
Then again, it might also be why she’d told the other girl that she dressed like a “goth whore on cheap crack” one day, mainly because she was in the midst of a hormone surge and Sam had been too close and her cleavage had been a bit more on display than usual and Brooke had been having far too much difficulty keeping her hands to herself. It had worked, too, and she’d felt bad when Sam had pouted and glared at her for nearly three days. But, she hadn’t attempted to ravish her step-sister in the kitchen which was, ultimately, infinitely better than any little fashion insult.
It was almost certainly why she’d let her posse of ‘friends’ torment Sam all of freshman year without saying a word.
All that torment, and all because the brunette made her drool when she’d wear unrelenting black, when she’d go off on some rant in class or give just as good as she got when Nicole would do her best to squash her under a stylish stiletto heel.
And then sophomore year had rolled around. Sam had jumped headfirst into journalism, hoping to jump headfirst into Mr. Grant, the Zapruder Reporter advisor while she was at it. The two of them had the stupid idea that she should work on some piece about popularity, and, Brooke thought with a sigh, just when she was readjusting herself to the new school year and to the sight of Sam glaring at her across the lunchroom table, the brunette had popped up out of nowhere wanting an interview.
She’d been at the mall, already upset about the way she knew the whole Carmen/cheerleading thing was going to go down and the way her relationship with Josh was going nowhere, when suddenly there was Sam. Her hair looked slightly ridiculous and the outfit was something Brooke would never be caught dead wearing, but she’d instantly felt her heart start to race and hoped that the shell-shocked look on her face came across more as confusion than as a sudden burst of unrequited lust.
Brooke had tried not to babble. In fact, she’d tried to come up with answers that would impress Sam, that would show the brunette a hint of her layers. Layers that she wouldn’t mind showing quite a bit more of, truth be told. And part of her thought that maybe she had stumped Sam. The other girl had seemed flustered. Antagonistic, yet flustered, and Brooke liked the combination a bit too much for comfort. So she muttered some excuse, fled the premises without a backward glance and cursed the part of her brain that had obviously malfunctioned some years earlier when it decided she had to have a crush on Sam McPherson. God, of all people. Not just a girl, but Sam. Talk about a relationship destined to end up even worse than any of Shakespeare’s doomed couples. Othello was a light-hearted comedy in comparison.
And then Sam had started to be nice to her, and it had almost been too much. Laughing at some stupid joke she’d made in biology, helping her pick up her books when Freddie Gong knocked them to the floor, and Brooke hadn’t known what to think or what to do, so she’d invited Sam to her party like an idiot. She wasn’t sure what the rationale behind that one had been, because even if Sam did show up, then what? Was she planning on sweeping her off her feet to the boom-boom bass of whatever music Nicole arranged? Offer her a beer and try to hold her hand and make an awkward pass at her while they waited in line for the bathroom?
Stupid. And to top it all off, her relationship with Golden Boy wasn’t doing so well either. Josh had decided to find himself or reinvent himself or something equally as disastrous. Not that she didn’t love him, because she did. She loved how normal and perfect he was, and how normal and perfect their relationship was. On the outside, that is, though on the inside it seemed to be folding like a house of cards. She needed that normality, craved it really. If she was going to be the Golden Girl, she had to have the perfect accessories. Josh fit the bill, but not if he started deciding to buck the system, to forget about being perfect and try to be happy. Happy most definitely did not fit in with perfect, and she couldn’t quite handle his journey into self-exploration. The way of the world was clear… Josh should be quarterback and Josh should be the most popular guy at school and he should be miserable and perfect with her, and that’s the way it was supposed to be.
The party actually had been strangely perfect, at least for a while. Everyone was having a good time (herself and Nicole not included), and Josh hadn’t shown up, which was also fine since each interaction they’d had since his musical revelation had seemed to drive them further apart instead of closer together. Sam hadn’t shown up either, and so she didn’t have to worry about making an ass out of herself trying to not woo the girl despite her rather weak resolve to avoid that mess entirely.
Then Sam did show up, and Brooke tried not to gape at how gorgeous she’d looked in that pink bustier thing she was wearing. Which was hard, even with Sam yelling at her, and she tried to yell back, tried to make Sam see that they weren’t so different from one another in the end. She tried to keep up her end of the socially contracted roles that they played, tried to ignore the heat being lasered her way from angry brown eyes. She had a sinking feeling she’d been failing, which is why she should have been glad that her Dad chose that time to bust her.
Only she couldn’t be glad that he’d walked in with Sam’s mom, rambling on about love and being engaged and generally giving her a panic attack in front of the entire school. How could he go off and fall in love in less than a week? What about her feelings? What about her mother?
And what the hell about Sam? If he was engaged to Sam’s mom, then they were soon going to be the most fucked up blended family in Southern California, which was saying quite a lot. She couldn’t have Sam around every day, couldn’t live in the same house with her. Her secret wouldn’t hold up under constant scrutiny, and then what was she supposed to do?
But, despite her protestations, the parents had gotten together and she tried to view their forced cohabitation as some sort of karmic retribution. The object of her most embarrassing desire was only a wall away. Sam moved all too quickly from fantasy to reality, and Brooke became devastatingly aware of just how the other girl looked when she rolled out of bed in the morning, when she lounged on the couch in a pair of short, faded boxers and a fitted tank-top, barely paying attention to the action on the television. She saw Sam everywhere, doing everything from brushing her teeth to doing homework to talking on the phone.
Pure torture, nothing less.
In the face of all that luscious Sam-ness, she found, oddly enough, that it was almost easier to hate Sam. It was as if the other girl flaunted her unavailability, like each cutting look was secretly, subtextually layered with a not so subtle fuck you. She felt herself falling apart, each passing day ripping cortex from brain stem until all she had left was the animalistic part beating a primitive rhythm. See Sam, hate Sam, love Sam, fuck Sam… the tribal drum beat of Neanderthal-ish sentiment seemed to reverberate throughout her entire body. She could literally feel it buzzing through her system whenever the other girl was near, its primal, savage call driving her to do things and say things she wouldn’t have ever imagined would originate with her.
And on top of that, trying to keep up appearances was hellish. She hadn’t been able to maintain the façade with Josh. He didn’t know what was off, just that something was. He’d stuck it out for longer than she could have hoped, but when the end came, part of her was relieved. She didn’t have to take the time to cater to him, didn’t have to feed the pool of speculation. Everyone wanted them to be the Golden Couple, and the pressure was too much. Especially when she had enough on her mind as it was, trying to keep herself from barging into Sam’s room and pinning her to the bed, letting out all of the frustration and emotion she was finding it increasingly difficult to keep inside.
Sometimes it was easy to keep up the one-sided game of spite. Devastating attraction notwithstanding, Sam could be an utter pain in the ass on occasion. The expose over the biology cheating debacle, the push to prove the depth of her relationship with Josh… Sam was the engineer behind most of her more traumatic teenage experiences. In fact, she wasn’t entirely sure that she would have slept with Josh again, and subsequently broken up with him the following day, had she not made that stupid bet with Sam. Other times, though, it was excruciatingly hard, especially when Brooke wanted nothing more than to push the brunette back against the kitchen counter and kiss her until Sam couldn’t remember the words necessary for arguing.
She thought about all of the ridiculousness that had passed. The competition over Harrison, when all Brooke really wanted to do was make Sam go to the Prom with her. She could have even done the threesome thing. If Harrison was ancillary to that arrangement, so be it. Maybe once the hot teenage threesome sex had started, she could simply have shoved Harrison out of the way and gone about using her collected knowledge to make it a rather exclusive twosome. Because she’d been reading up, had perused the internet and checked out a few books at the local library, and Brooke knew that when the day came, she’d be ready. She had a complete store of fantasies floating about in her head, each mapped out in excruciating detail, and she was ready to put her theory into practice.
Not that she really would have gone to Prom with Sam, just that she wanted to think that she would. The truth was she’d never do anything like that, never be able to step out of the shining halo of her goldenness. And publicly trying to date her step-sister? Not going to happen. She could dream though, and plan, and construct elaborate sexual fantasies and wait for the nonexistent day to arrive when she’d work up the guts to tell Sam how she felt.
And then it had happened.
“You don’t take things without asking,” Brooke growled to herself, fists clenched as she took the time to work up a proper fit of rage. She needed the push, needed to be on the top of her game when she crossed into the other girl’s room. If she let herself slip, if she let one tiny crack form in the perfect shell she’d created, she’d be lost. Besides, she loved to watch Sam when they argued, loved the way the brunette’s eyes lit up and her voice lost the smooth, cultured edge she tried so hard to keep hold of.
Sam had borrowed one of her CDs, one that she decided, at that very second, that she needed desperately. So she stormed down the hall, flinging the other girl’s door open with just the right touch of drama, steeling herself against the upcoming tirade. But, there was no tirade. Instead, there was Sam, trying desperately to hide whatever it was that she’d been reading, and seeing her chance to further antagonize the girl, to push against the boundaries of their relationship just a little bit more, Brooke stepped inside the other girl’s room calmly. If Sam didn’t want her to see something, then she was damn well going to see it.
“Hiding something?” she asked, voice painfully nonchalant, even as she steadily made her way closer to Sam’s bed. Sam looked almost terrified, the fear in her eyes only strengthening Brooke’s desire to discover the mystery. Terror denoted something good, something she definitely needed to see and possibly exploit. Like another newspaper article, perhaps, only one that she could get the scoop on before it went public. One that she could try to circumvent or counterattack, and she tried not to think about how exciting the possibility of a huge fight with Sam seemed to be.
“Hello! Major invasion of privacy here,” Sam yelped, face burning bright red with embarrassment. She hadn’t been expecting company, and sure didn’t want it. Brooke hadn’t given her time to get the magazine she’d been looking at under her mattress and she’d had to settle for her pillow. The pillow that Brooke was eyeing with a bit too much interest for her taste, and she took a step forward, trying her best to look menacing. “I want you out.”
“I don’t think so,” Brooke nearly growled, tilting her head to the side, trying to calculate the most direct path to the pillow. She was on a mission, her determination to see what Sam had been hiding driven as much by some perverse need to invoke a physical confrontation as by her very real curiosity. The pillow was her objective, and she was a woman with a goal.
Easily divining Brooke’s intent, Sam tried to block her path. Stepping squarely in front of the blonde, scowl etched deeply on her face, she crossed her arms over her chest. “No closer,” she warned, seriously disturbed by the look of unnatural determination the blonde was sporting.
“Like I’m worried,” Brooke said flippantly, feinting to the left and then crossing quickly to the right in a move that would have landed her the starting point guard position on Kennedy High’s girls basketball team had she ever been scouted. Thrown off-balance, Sam tried to recover, tried to throw herself in the other girl’s path, but unfortunately, Brooke was stronger and quicker than she looked, and Sam soon found herself sprawled out on the floor with Brooke triumphantly digging under her pillow, pulling free a short stack of…
It took her a moment to grasp the import of her prize.
The Advocate. Out. On Our Backs.
The resulting smirk was positively evil.
Sam was back on her feet in an instant, her reaction an interesting mix between fear, panic, anger and confusion. Yanking the magazines out of Brooke’s hands and holding them to her chest as if to protect them from the blonde’s gaze, she tried desperately to formulate a plausible reason for their presence in her bedroom. But, by then it was too late. Brooke saw it – her perfect opening, yawning wide before her.
“Gay much?” Brooke said gaily, the smirk growing.
Sam gulped, watching her life start to crumble in front of her eyes. The evidence was incriminating, no matter what her intent might have been. And honestly, she didn’t know what her intent had been. She’d borrowed the magazines from Lily, intending to just take a look, to explore a lifestyle that the larger part of her mind insisted could never be her lifestyle. Not that she hadn’t thought about it, hadn’t wondered about herself and the conflicting thoughts that seemed to race through her mind at the most inopportune times. And now her confusion had been revealed. Her biggest secret in the hands of her biggest enemy… no good to be found there.
“It’s not what it looks like,” Sam hedged, the crack in her voice giving her away.
Brooke merely advanced on her, hand reaching out to knock the magazines to the ground. She watched Sam’s startled confusion for a moment, the heady power of the moment rushing through her. “It looks like what it is,” she replied reasonably, nearly licking her lips with glee.
Sam hedged further, searching fruitlessly for an escape and finding nothing short of a brick wall. This was not a label with which she wanted to be branded, particularly when she wasn’t even sure it applied. But if Brooke told, it might as well be true. She’d never be able to shirk the rumors, to disprove the essentially improvable. She’d rather have her sexuality crisis without public scrutiny and disapproval, and didn’t see a way of having that option that didn’t involve some small amount of begging. “Brooke, look… whatever it takes. I’ll do it.”
At that, Brooke stopped short. So, so tempting, a voice in her head sang. The thoughts running through her mind were a little horrifying taken out of context, but the only context Brooke had to work from was the one she’d been living with for years. Over two of those years had found her actually living with the object of her desire, and if there was such a thing as terminal sexual frustration, Brooke was a walking example. So, if Sam was willing to do whatever it took to keep her little secret, then Brooke was going to take it all.
One hand behind Sam’s neck held her in place as Brooke’s lips descended. Hard, crushing, possessive, dominating. All of those and more, and when she ascertained that Sam wasn’t going to scream or slap her or bite her, she gentled the kiss.
When they broke apart for air, her eyes devoured the sight of Sam’s kiss reddened lips, the slight sheen of the other girl’s eyes. “Brooke, what…” Sam tried to ask, the words croaking past a suddenly tight throat.
Brooke merely leaned back in, her lips inches away from Sam’s. “Whatever it takes,” she repeated fiercely, brow arched as if daring the brunette to contradict her, then closed the distance again. She was done with talking, and didn’t want to give her mind any time to second guess the course of action she’d chosen. She’d stumbled into the perfect vehicle. Blackmail gave her the power to have what she wanted without sacrificing anything in the process. She had the pleasure of Sam without the pain of possible rejection or social suicide, all wrapped up in a hidden stash of magazines and a borrowed CD.
Sam wondered if the numbness pervading her was shock. She wasn’t sure she understood what was happening, between Brooke’s lips on hers and the other girl’s hands touching her in places no other female besides her doctor had touched. Because it didn’t make sense, didn’t compute that Brooke would be doing those things at all, much less to her. Brooke didn’t go around kissing girls, and neither did she. Even if she had wanted to explore the possibility a little bit, this was a lot more than the tiny, safe exploration she’d only barely begun to think about. This was jumping feet first into the abyss, only the abyss was quickly morphing into a seductive vortex into which she wouldn’t mind disappearing. The kiss was more than nice, was making her feel things low in her belly that she’d only felt late at night when she’d touched herself with silent, expert hands. The part of her mind that urged her to throw caution to the wind wondered what it would feel like for someone else to touch her, for fingers other than her own to explore her body. With Brooke’s body pressed so tightly against hers, it was hard to think of anything else. Hands and lips and tongues, and she wondered where her sanity had vanished off to because suddenly she wanted to kiss Brooke back.
Sam’s shirt buttoned down the front, and Brooke managed to open it, to push it back over the other girl’s slim shoulders in a manner of seconds. Soft skin teased her fingertips even as the brunette’s tongue made a tentative foray, brushing against Brooke’s lower lip. The improbable hint that whatever it was that was happening to her was a mutual thing was all Brooke needed. She moaned and scraped her nails down Sam’s arms, lost.
She didn’t dare speak, didn’t do anything to break the haze of unreality surrounding the moment. Minutes melded together seamlessly, and some indeterminate amount of time later, Sam was on the bed, long dark hair fanned out on her pillow as her head thrashed back and forth. Brooke’s teeth were on a sensitive earlobe, on the powdery soft skin of a puckered nipple. And then her mouth was enveloped in a searing wetness that she couldn’t ever have contemplated, lips and tongue covered with a sweet saltiness that was oddly familiar yet exquisitely exotic.
Strong hands pulled at her hair, nails digging into her scalp painfully, but she didn’t notice any of it. Sam’s lithe body tensed and undulated as low keening cries painted the air with desperate desire. Cries that soon grew sharp, gathering momentum as they grew steadily to a peak, culminating in a near scream that echoed around the room.
Unable to resist, Brooke looked up, catching her first sight of that beautiful face tensed in something almost like pain.
As Sam’s chest heaved, she climbed upward, arms wrapping tightly around the other girl’s torso. She planted soft kisses on Sam’s neck, her chin, her lips, fingers smoothing through silky dark hair.
Soft kisses that soon turned heated.
Sam was devastatingly beautiful as she loomed over her, long hair spilling over her shoulders and dark eyes gone black. Brooke drank in the sight, having been previously unaware that the simple act of looking at someone else, of seeing unbridled passion and careless recklessness, could result in such arousal.
The feel of the other girl’s fingers on her flesh was teasing at first, hesitation and inexperience making the touches soft, jerky. But Sam was a quick learner, soon catching on to the little cues Brooke readily gave out and it wasn’t long before the blonde closed her eyes on the wave of pleasure rushing through her, her own heartbeat deafening against sensitive eardrums.
Sam collapsed on top of her, their skin melding together, dark brown eyes looking at her with heartrending confusion. “Brooke, what…” The words were hoarse, the first to be spoken coherently in close to an hour, and Brooke pressed her finger against Sam’s lips, stopping the question before it could take flight.
“Shh, Sam,” she whispered, following her words with a soft kiss. And Sam only looked more confused, a hint of anger thrown in to draw a frown over her features.
“I want you to kiss me, Lily.”
Sam was having serious fallout from what had happened in her room the afternoon before. She couldn’t move past it. Her body still burned from the contact, the searing impression of Brooke’s hands on her leaving behind some kind of tangible psychic reminder. It seemed almost like a blur, like it hadn’t happened at all. She’d been so wrapped up in the immediacy of the moment that everything that had happened now seemed hazy, like a dream. Like she couldn’t believe it then and still couldn’t believe it, and everything was disjointed and vaguely unreal. She’d wanted to protest as the blonde had rolled out of her bed, as she slowly pulled back on wrinkled clothes. She hadn’t said anything though, just watched Brooke, wondering at the calm poise the other girl seemed to possess in spades. And then Brooke was bending over her, was placing a searing kiss on her lips and Sam had wanted to cry.
“Remember, it’s a secret,” Brooke had said, running a finger gently down the side of her face.
The blonde had carried on as if nothing had changed. She’d practically ignored Sam at dinner later that night and had only given her a cursory glance that morning as she’d grabbed a banana and headed off to summer cheerleading practice. Part of her was glad for it, because if Brooke had suddenly turned to her and wanted to do it again, she might just have said yes. No, she probably would have said yes. And now she needed to know. Was it a fluke? Teenage hormones run amok? Could she really have enjoyed it that much, so much so she was already contemplating enjoying it again? Because that was patently insane, in so many ways. She wasn’t gay, or maybe she was, but she certainly wasn’t ready to accept it. She certainly wasn’t ready to have slept with Brooke, to have lost her virginity to Brooke.
Lily looked from the stash of returned magazines the brunette had shoved into her hands to the serious expression on Sam’s face, a little thrown by the desperation she saw there.
“Uh, are you sure that’s a good idea?” she asked, unnerved by the slightly crazed glint in the other girl’s eyes.
“Probably not,” Sam said dryly, “but I need to know something.”
“Uh, because I’m married. Because you’re my friend,” Lily said, stressing the last word. She wasn’t ready to be sacrificed on the altar of exploration even if part of her couldn’t believe the chance she was being handed. Even if she had felt guilty about it, she’d always thought Sam was pretty hot. And, it wasn’t every day that she was given the chance to explore the bi part of her bisexuality. Or her supposed bisexuality. She was pretty certain she was bisexual, but hadn’t really been able to try it out past her hesitant kiss with Carmen back in the 10th grade. But, if she said yes to what Sam was asking, then she could try it out. Part of her felt like she’d know for sure then, when she got to kiss a girl for real. It would fit the last piece of the puzzle into place. She’d kissed boys and liked it. She’d looked at girls and wanted to kiss them. This, then, was her opportunity, and she couldn’t really figure out why she was protesting. Maybe some part of her was remembering the abortive attempt at exploratory sex she’d made with Harrison at the beginning of Sophomore year, and the awkwardness and the awfulness that had prevailed for the following few days after she’d backed out of it. Maybe she was thinking about Josh. Maybe she just instinctively knew it might be a very bad idea.
Sam frowned, tone more biting than usual. “I’m not asking you to be my life partner. I just want you to kiss me. That’s all.”
But, this wasn’t Harrison and Sam wasn’t asking to have sex with her and she swore to herself that she’d tell Josh all about it, and about how it hadn’t meant anything to her but had been important to Sam and that, as her friend, Lily couldn’t really refuse her. Not when her friend was on the verge of some kind of crisis and desperately needed her help, and not when Josh would probably just think it was hot anyway and not really care beyond the fact that he hadn’t been able to watch. “Just this once,” Lily murmured, eyes focused on the red pout of Sam’s lips. Licking her own, unmindful of the unconsciously seductive move, she leaned forward slowly, nerves zinging with anticipation and a slight hint of terror.
The first press was soft, totally unlike the first kiss Sam had shared with Brooke, but the similarities were there, overlapping her experience of the day before. Soft skin and soft lips, the gentle hint of flowers and the choked cry of girlish pleasure, though there was some essential something missing. Kissing Lily was pleasant. Kissing Brooke had been all-consuming.
The other girl broke the kiss first, sitting back on her haunches, a slightly dazed expression dulling her eyes. “Uh, that was… that was nice,” Lily croaked, heart beating abnormally fast. She hadn’t expected kissing Sam to be so… well, so exciting. “Do you want to do that again?”
Cutting her eyes at her suddenly over-enthusiastic friend, Sam pursed her lips in contemplation. She could try it again, could see if the day before with Brooke had been the fluke she hoped it was. But, one kiss and she already knew that it wasn’t.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said steadily, trying to ignore the brief spark of hurt in Lily’s eyes. “I, uh… I need to go.”
She rushed away, knowing that she owed the other girl more than that. But, she couldn’t give it, not without talking about what had happened, and she just wasn’t prepared to do that. So, she could only hope that Lily would somehow take it all in stride, would chalk it up to some sort of safe experimentation and not freak out about the kiss and Sam’s subsequent race from her house. She couldn’t stay though. She had to straighten things out, first in her own head and then with Brooke.
Work constraints meant that her Mom and Mike never got back to the Palace before six. Brooke was usually back from cheerleading practice by 3:00, if she came home right after. For some reason, Sam had a feeling today would be one of the days when she would. And, as expected, the blonde was back, though rather unexpectedly, she was lounging on her bed when Sam threw open the door to her room. It was anti-climatic in a climatic kind of way, because she found that though her quarry was present, her mind had skipped town. The ride back to the Palace hadn’t resulted in any kind of earth shattering revelations or introspective epiphanies, so she was going planless. Given her lack of capacity for rational thought, the only things she had to hold onto were her feelings and topping her list of emotional turmoil was hopeless fury, so she went with it.
“I want to know what kind of game you’re playing,” she demanded, frustration growing as Brooke regarded her calmly, face giving away nothing. In fact, the blonde seemed utterly unmoved by the display of anger, taking her time sliding off of her bed and crossing the room until she was standing in front of Sam, eyes unreadable.
Truth was, she hadn’t been able to think about much of anything since the events of the afternoon before. She’d been out of control, warping and manipulating the situation like she had, and she’d tried to feel guilty about it, had searched deep within her soul to find some trace of embarrassment or shame but there wasn’t any. She was glad she’d done it, was glad she’d finally made a move and that the move had paid off. It wasn’t the most healthy move, most definitely wasn’t the sanest, but she’d done it nonetheless. She’d been with Sam, had touched her and tasted her and been touched in return, and it was far more than she ever could have hoped for. So, whatever the fallout, she could deal with it. Not that she wanted to deal with it. She just wanted to keep on doing what they’d started yesterday, no questions asked and no awkward conversations laying in wait.
At the moment, she was all about shirking the complications.
Reaching behind the other girl to shove her door closed, Brooke continued to advance until Sam’s back was pressed against the hard wood. “There’s no game,” she murmured seductively, bringing her hands up so that they rested against the wood on either side of Sam’s shoulders, caging the other girl. Operation Ignore Giant Issues was underway, and if she could help it, Sam would soon be far too busy to worry about berating her.
Laughing humorlessly, Sam tried to ignore the heat of the other girl’s body burning into her. “Like hell,” she said defiantly, trying to mask her sudden flare of desire with bravado. It was hard, though, when Brooke was pressing so intimately into her space, when her mind raced back to scenes from the day before and she felt her knees go a little weak. She didn’t understand this reaction, wondered if she would be feeling this way if she’d tried to push for a little bit more experimentation with Lily. Then again, she knew she wouldn’t, had been able to tell from their one kiss that while she might find these same activities enjoyable if she tried them with Lily, she wouldn’t have her brain come screeching to a halt, all thoughts but that of MORE thoroughly erased.
Head dipping, lips finding Sam’s throat with unerring accuracy, Brooke drew a gasp from the brunette. “No game,” she murmured again, easing forward until her body was pressed tightly against Sam’s, trapping the other girl between the hard wood of the door and the hot, soft curves of her body. Brooke felt reckless, conscious thought having long ago fled to make room for an indolent hedonism that she had never given rein to before the previous afternoon but that now seemed to be dominating her. She was normally controlled, always thinking about her actions and the consequences of those actions, all of which normally led to a great deal of inaction. Her life had been guided by expectations and social conventions for so long that simply doing something because she felt like it seemed almost like an unforgivable sin.
“Brooke,” Sam whimpered, trying desperately to keep a grasp on the few remaining shards of rationality that hadn’t fled when Brooke had pressed into her, hazel eyes glowing with seductive intent. This wasn’t the way she wanted the conversation to go. It wasn’t the way the conversation would have gone before the incidents of the previous day. Before then, Sam had been able to toss off scathing comments with barely a thought. Now it seemed that all she had left was barely a thought, with no comments, and really no words, coming to mind.
Brooke’s hand was on her breast, kneading the soft flesh through the material of her shirt. The blonde’s thigh was nestled against the juncture of her legs, pressing up into her, pinning her, and it seemed like the only thing she could focus on was that contact. She tried to fight past the multiple assaults to her sanity, tried to ignore the all too skillful kiss. Tried but failed, giving in with a whimper as Brooke’s free hand came down to flick open the line of buttons running down the front of her jeans. And then Brooke was spinning her around so that she was facing the door, was whipping her shirt over her head and roughly unclasping her bra, and Sam felt her heart begin to race. She felt dizzy, overwhelmed, overheated as Brooke’s hand slid down her stomach, stealing under the waistband of her panties and past soft curls. The blonde’s free hand came down from its perch against the door, wrapping around Sam’s side, her hand coming up to cup the other girl’s breast as she pressed hard into her back, wrapping Sam in a cocoon of flesh.
Using her chin to edge aside Sam’s hair, Brooke bent her head, teeth nipping the soft flesh she uncovered even as her fingers enveloped themselves in warm wetness. Sam moaned, bracing herself on the door with outstretched palms. She found it perversely easier to have Brooke touch her this way, when she didn’t have to look at the blonde, and pressed her hips forward gently.
At the move, Brooke’s face twisted in a feral smile. Her fingers had found a rhythm, circling relentlessly over Sam’s clit, and she tightened her grip on the brunette’s upper body, pressing her against her chest more closely. “Pretty girl,” she whispered against Sam’s neck, taking advantage of the other girl’s arousal to express some of the feelings she’d held in check for far too long. The words were inadequate, not able to bear up under the weight of Brooke’s emotions, but she felt powerful saying them, in finally giving voice to her long hidden attraction.
Sam could feel her heart beating in her throat, her eyes seemingly welded shut as she focused on remaining upright. Her legs were quickly turning to jelly and her head drooped forward to rest against the door. She couldn’t hold it up any longer, not when it took every ounce of energy she possessed to keep from collapsing. Not that it mattered. When her climax hit her knees buckled, sending them both crashing to the floor in a graceless pile of limbs. She heard Brooke’s grunt, was vaguely aware that she was almost pinning the blonde to the floor and had to be crushing her, but she couldn’t do anything about it. Her chest felt as if it were on fire and for a moment she was afraid that something was seriously wrong, that her heart couldn’t beat that fast without invoking some kind of medical emergency.
As she worked to regain her breath, Brooke shimmied free, rolling over so that she was on her side looking at Sam. The brunette turned to look at her weakly and spied her shirt lying on the floor just a few inches away. Snagging it, slipping it on so that she didn’t feel quite so vulnerable, she licked dry lips, mind racing as she tried to think of something to say.
“Don’t overthink it, Sammy,” Brooke said with a soft, sweet smile. “If you overthink it, you’ll ruin it.”
“But it doesn’t make any sense,” Sam protested faintly, rolling up so that she was sitting with her legs crossed. She propped one elbow on her thigh, head resting on her fist. All she really wanted to do was crawl into Brooke’s arms and stay there until she felt normal again, the compunction disturbing in the extreme. Instead she forced herself to look at the blonde coolly, trying to ignore the shivers still racing through her. “Why are you doing this? Is it some kind of trick? Some kind of evil game?”
Barely resisting the urge to roll her eyes, Brooke said, “What kind of trick do you think it is? What kind of game? Do you honestly think I’m trying to get one over on you?”
“I think this is definitely abnormal,” Sam muttered, unable to come up with any other reaction. Brooke was right. It didn’t make sense that she was trying to play some kind of trick, or that her actions were part of some kind of evil plan. If she’d wanted to embarrass Sam or up the ante in their little war, then sleeping with her would have been one of the most unusual, and quite possibly counterproductive, ways possible.
Fighting down a blush, Brooke strove to remain calm as she said, “Right. Definitely abnormal, which is why we absolutely cannot tell anyone about it.”
The blonde’s words didn’t match her actions, at least in Sam’s opinion. “I don’t get it, Brooke,” she said, well aware that the theme kept reoccurring. But, she hadn’t yet received a satisfactory answer, and was going to keep trying until that happened. “Are you, like, gay? Is that it?”
Recoiling back, Brooke narrowed her eyes, a look of something close to terror on her face. “What, me? Why, are you?”
Definitely confused, Sam said slowly, “You’re the one who started this. You kissed me. You… you know.”
Crossing her arms over her chest defensively, feeling distinctly threatened, Brooke huffed, “You were the one looking at those magazines.”
“Yeah, magazines,” Sam stressed, now on the defensive herself. “I looked at some magazines. You blackmailed me into sex,” she pointed out.
Sputtering, not quite happy with the far too accurate description of what had happened, Brooke protested, “Yeah, but you didn’t say no. And I seem to remember you being on both the receiving and the giving end. And,” she added triumphantly, “you liked it.”
Looking at the other girl with something akin to horror, Sam muttered, “This is insane.”
Deciding to press what she perceived as a tenuous advantage, Brooke leaned forward, voice silky as she said, “No, this is good. You liked it, I liked it. It feels good. We don’t have to worry about getting pregnant,” she added somewhat absently, shivering at the memory of her scare. “We’re all alone here most of the time, so we don’t have to worry about getting caught. It’s perfect, Sam.”
“Aren’t you forgetting the obvious?” Sam asked, trying not to let herself be too easily convinced by the surprisingly logical argument. “We don’t even like each other.”
Trying not to be hurt by the words, Brooke said softly, “We don’t have to like each other. Besides, I don’t dislike you. And, you know this is perfect. I know you’re curious about sex, Sam. What’s a better risk-free way of finding out everything you want to know?”
The pull to give in was seductive. She was curious about sex, had actually bemoaned her virgin status to Brooke only a few months before. Things hadn’t worked out with George and part of her was glad for it, but that didn’t mean she was any less intrigued. She didn’t like being the last one to know, didn’t like being behind in the race to adulthood. She wanted to experience it all, to learn what all the fuss was about. Not that she couldn’t see what all the fuss was about now, having being treated to the fuss firsthand twice now. The fuss was very, very nice indeed, and her hormones were telling her that she wouldn’t mind having a lot more of the fuss.
Damn hormones. She thought she wasn’t supposed to peak until her thirties.
Still, she was guarded. “What’s in it for you?” she asked, some part of her not quite understanding why Brooke was so in favor of continuing this. Of course, Brooke had been the one to start it, so there was some motivation here to which she just wasn’t clued in.
Nearly rolling her eyes, Brooke muttered, “Besides the obvious?” It was the best she could come up with, though. She wasn’t about to admit to a longstanding attraction, not when she could almost feel what she wanted within her grip. That would most definitely freak out Sam, and freak outs weren’t conducive to more, well… more freaky behavior.
Somewhat hurt by the scathing reply, Sam sulked. “Whatever. Sorry I asked.”
Sighing, moving on to damage control, Brooke said, “Look, I get the same things as you, Sam. So, come on… what do you say?”
Sam eyed the blonde carefully, trying to pick up any last-minute hint of malevolence. There was none, however. Nothing but Brooke staring at her in expectation, and Sam sighed.
“I guess we could give it a try,” she said slowly, shrieking with surprised laughter when Brooke bowled her over, pinning her arms to the floor above her head.
“You won’t be sorry, Sammy,” Brooke whispered, leaning down to place a searing kiss on the other girl’s lips. “I promise.”
“Hey, Sam,” Brooke said, striving for blithe, “you want to help me pick out music for the cheerleading routine I’m working on.”
Looking at the blonde askance, the request the strangest, lamest excuse she had ever heard, she said slowly, “Yeah, sure. I’d, uh… love to, Brooke.”
“Stop it right there.”
Jane sounded entirely too concerned, and Brooke nearly cursed.
“Yes, Jane?” she asked, trying to sound as innocent as possible. Normally, that wasn’t very difficult for her to do, since she had long been considered to be quite innocent.
Eyes narrowing as she looked from Brooke to Sam and back again, Jane said cautiously, “I’m not sure what you two are planning, but I think I’m a little weirded out by it. Don’t get me wrong… the moratorium on fighting is definitely a welcome change. But the incredibly bad lying? It makes me nervous.”
Barely resisting the urge to shake her head in frustration, Sam resolved that she was going to be in charge of all secret rendezvous in the future. Brooke was apparently a horrible liar, something that didn’t really surprise her.
“Mom…” she started tiredly, only to glance up in surprise when Brooke cut her off.
“Jane, it’s just that… I know your birthday is coming up and I wanted to get you something special,” Brooke confessed, sounding for all the world like a bashful little girl. “I thought Sam could help, and I didn’t want you to find out because I wanted it to be a surprise…”
She trailed off, a hangdog look on her face, and Jane melted. “Oh, Brooke. That’s so sweet. You don’t have to get me anything, though. Having you in my life is gift enough.”
Face lighting up in a bright smile, Brooke hugged the older woman. The move drew a beaming smile from Jane and a glare from Sam. “So maybe we can go on with our secret plans then,” Brooke said slyly, shooting Sam a mischievous look that nearly ruined the entire thing.
“Having you in my life is gift enough,” Sam muttered sarcastically the moment they were behind closed doors. “That’s so disgusting.”
“I can’t help it I’m inherently loveable,” Brooke said breezily, walking over to Sam’s cd collection and flicking through the various selections.
Arching a brow in disbelief at the other girl’s offhand, yet still somehow serious, comment, Sam muttered, “What you are is the worst liar I’ve ever seen.”
Pausing in her inspection of Sam’s lackluster music collection, Brooke shot a glare over her shoulder. “I’ll admit that the first one wasn’t all that well thought out, but I think the recovery was more than enough to make up for it.”
Frowning grumpily, Sam huffed, “Maybe we should just work out hand signals or something. Like, you scratch behind your ear when you want to come upstairs and make out. We’re far less likely to get caught that way. Allowing you to continue to lie will only lead to inevitable disaster and parental disapproval.”
“Please. Then they’ll just think I have fleas or something,” Brooke replied flippantly, not quite sure why she found a dour Sam quite so arousing.
This perked up the brunette, who quickly smirked. Realizing the implication of her words just a second too late, Brooke was unable to head off the arrogant, “So, I’m that good, huh? Irresistible, even. You just can’t keep your hands off me.”
Warning clear in her tone, Brooke said, “Don’t get too cocky.”
Openly smirking now, Sam said smugly, “Oh, I’ll get cocky. You just admitted that you want me bad, like all the time. You make up bad lies just so you can have your wicked way with me. Apparently, you can’t help yourself.” Sam paused dramatically, eyes practically twinkling with amusement. “You’re my bitch.”
Brooke rolled her eyes, but couldn’t suppress the soft smile that crept across her face. The statement was horrifically true, though she was well aware that Sam didn’t know that. And, if she had anything to say about it, Sam would never know just how true it was.
“You’re delusional,” Brooke said, though there was a smile in her tone. Then, with unhurried deliberation, she scratched behind her ear.
“I’ll never understand why you cut your hair,” Brooke said wistfully, pushing a silky dark lock behind Sam’s ear. “It’s so gorgeous when it’s long.”
“It’s growing back,” Sam said defensively, tilting her head to the side to nip at Brooke’s palm.
Brooke stopped the nip with a soft kiss, then snuggled down into Sam’s shoulder, sighing contentedly. The transition from wary enemies to lovers had actually been smoother than she’d thought it would be. She wasn’t sure why, exactly. After all, she could still see suspicion lurking in Sam’s eyes on occasion, particularly when she did something far too blatant… like smile at the brunette a little too warmly, or want to hold her hand, or secretly want to come bursting out of the big metaphorical closet she’d built for herself. She was acting far more like a girlfriend than a socially debilitating secret, but she didn’t know how to stop herself. Now that she had full access to the girl of her dreams, literally, she found she couldn’t stop herself from taking advantage of it. She was even beginning to think improbable thoughts, like telling her friends or telling their parents or moving to Vermont and getting civil unionized and living blissfully among what she imagined to be gorgeous autumnal colors and placid, happy cows.
Quite frankly, it was disturbing. She was perilously close to forgetting about the sham agreement she’d pushed for and creating a real relationship. They were surprisingly good together now that they weren’t fighting quite so much, and Brooke had never felt happier. Sam was safe and exciting all at the same time, a place of comfort and a catalyst for exploration.
“Are you asleep?”
They were curled up in Sam’s bed, a cool breeze from the open window cooling the sweat slicking their skin, and Brooke realized she’d lost herself in her thoughts.
Wiggling slightly, running her fingers along the curve of Sam’s cheek to dig into her hair once again, she whispered, “No. Not yet.”
Casting a lazy glance at her alarm clock, Sam sighed. “It’s probably not a good idea for us to be doing this on a school night,” she said tiredly, idly scratching her nails along Brooke’s upper arm.
Brows furrowing into a frown, Brooke murmured, “School hasn’t even started yet.”
Rolling her eyes, Sam sighed again. “Tomorrow’s the first day, so this technically qualifies as a school night,” she pointed out, squirming slightly in an attempt to settle further into the mattress. She felt almost boneless, all of her energy long gone in the face of her earlier climaxes. It was a contentment she’d only recently become familiar with, and was slightly afraid that she was growing addicted to it.
That troubled her. She’d been thinking with something other than her brain when she’d agreed to the arrangement with Brooke six weeks before, but things had changed since then. She’d changed, had starting wanting more than clandestine meetings and the mock sham of petty bickering they still put up for their parents. She liked being with Brooke, talking to Brooke, spending time with Brooke. She liked her out of bed as much as she liked her in it, and she’d only recently become aware of the fact that she was setting herself up for a major fall. A very major fall, and one that she wanted to avoid at all costs. Whatever it was they were doing, it didn’t allow for feelings. She might have given in to the fantasy that it did, might have slipped into the secret realm created when they were alone in their bedrooms, the one where they had a real relationship and not a mutual fuck-buddy pact, but the small part of her that remained rational realized that whatever this was, it wasn’t going to last.
With that realization, she’d decided to distance herself. It was harder than she thought, and she hadn’t been too terribly successful at it thusfar, but it was time step up things. The last thing she wanted to be was weak and exposed when Brooke rejoined forces with her lackeys at school. In a vacuum, things were perfect. In the real world, she’d get her heart broken in a second. This time, she was going to be proactive. Besides, this faux relationship she was enjoying was most definitely fucked up. She was fairly certain she was being manipulated and used, but was too happy about it to really care. Nothing truly good could come from something that started so deviously, could it?
Brooke had been silent for so long that she had almost forgotten that the blonde was still awake. But, a soft, hesitant kiss on her cheek and a slight sigh let her know that she probably wasn’t the only one thinking some rather heavy thoughts. “We’ll worry about that later,” Brooke whispered, and Sam had the odd feeling that the other girl was talking about far more than a silly school night argument.
She was going to tell her. She was going to do it today.
“Sam, I love you.”
She paused, frowning at herself critically in the mirror.
“I love you, Sam.”
The frown was still there, rapidly morphing into a scowl. It was too plain. She needed more.
“Sam, I think you should know that I love you.”
That wasn’t it either. It was the same thing, only wordier, and she sighed in frustration, tromping over to her bed and throwing herself down forlornly.
“This is so hard,” she groaned into her pillow, on the brink of tears.
“What’s so hard, princess?”
Gasping, sitting up and spinning around so quickly she almost made herself dizzy, Brooke said breathlessly, “Sam?”
Smirking, amusement shining in hooded eyes, Sam stepped into Brooke’s room, closing the door behind her. “Talking to yourself again?” she quirked, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning back against the door lazily, thoroughly enjoying the blush chasing its way up Brooke’s cheeks. She liked to see the blonde thrown off-balance. It made her seem more human.
“Not exactly,” Brooke hedged, fingers plucking at her duvet nervously. This was it. This was her chance. “I wanted to talk to you about something actually.”
Straightening, far more serious in the passing of a second than she had been when she entered the room, Sam said softly, “I wanted to talk to you about something too.”
Brooke didn’t like the uneasiness in the set of the brunette’s shoulders, in the way she wouldn’t meet her eyes. She didn’t like the serious timbre in her tone, and didn’t like the way the very air in the room seemed to change, to grow heavier. Swallowing, looking away herself, she muttered, “You first.”
Eyes focused on the far wall, Sam bit her bottom lip nervously. “Uh, okay. It’s just… well, you know that George transferred back…”
She trailed off, and Brooke felt her heart skip a beat. When George had moved away mid-way through their Junior year, she hadn’t been upset in the least. When he’d reappeared at the end of the first week of classes, she’d been a little nervous. After all, Sam had dated him for a while, had truly seemed to care about him. Brooke hadn’t really had any serious competition for Sam’s affections over the summer, and she didn’t like the notion that some had appeared. She wasn’t sure where she stood in relation, and the thought left her feeling vaguely uneasy.
Growing more flustered in the silence that trailed on after her abortive attempt to engender conversation, Sam stuttered, “He asked me out. I said yes.”
Chest constricting, making it extremely difficult for her to breathe, much less think, Brooke said dully, “Oh. Okay.”
It was really all she could say, shock pervading her body and stealing away the ability for autonomous thought. She was relying on instinct alone, and apparently her instincts had been right on about George. Of course, her instincts had been helped along by the way Sam had seemed to pull away from her lately, the way she’d found reasons to hang out with her friends after school and eat dinner at someone else’s house and return only in time to give Brooke a sheepish smile and a shrug and a careless ‘I’m tired’ as she met her eyes in the mirror while they were brushing their teeth and getting ready for bed.
“So you’re okay with that?” Sam asked tentatively, feeling relief rush through her. She’d been right. There was no future in the thing she had with Brooke, and George as a contingency plan wasn’t so bad. He was nice and fun and a fabulous diversion, and if he was there then she might just manage to not break her own heart. After all, it wouldn’t do to get too wrapped up in this thing with Brooke. It wasn’t right, and the guilt had been eating away at her. Some days she felt like she was wearing a sign, a veritable albatross around her neck, and she imagined people looking at her with pity and whispering behind their hands about how she was fucking her stepsister, poor girl, and that she was a dirty, shameful secret and it was so sad that she didn’t know it. “It’s just that I was hoping you wouldn’t mind. I know we don’t really have a relationship or anything, but I thought I should tell you.”
Spine stiffening, mask falling in place, Brooke said with forced gaiety, “No, totally. If you like him, I say give it a try. Besides, just because you’re dating him, that doesn’t mean that things have to change between us.”
The moment she said it, she knew she shouldn’t have. Sam blinked, brows crashing together in a fierce frown. “It’s not right, Brooke. If I’m with George, then I should only be with George. We can’t keep doing this.”
While she couldn’t quite figure out why, Sam could see that Brooke was hurt, her eyes taking on that soft, wounded quality that had worked to subdue her anger on more occasions than the brunette could remember. But, not this time. The mockery of a relationship that they were having, the one confined to private and existing only in their locked rooms, wasn’t enough and sometimes she had the sickening feeling that whatever was going on between them was twisted, was fatally wrong, and as much as she wanted it, it couldn’t continue. She couldn’t keep on sleeping with her stepsister and lying to her friends, her Mom and Mike. When George had asked her if she wanted to go out – just as friends, he’d reassured with an easy smile – the part of her that felt desperately trapped by what was happening with Brooke jumped at the chance. George was her shot at a normal relationship, one that everyone could know about and one that she could share with her friends. He was her chance for legitimacy. The fact that she felt intensely guilty about Brooke, both because of what they had together and because she knew she would never tell George about it, had put her on edge, had made her words a little more harsh than she’d wanted them to be. But, now that she was confronting her, she felt herself get angry. Brooke wanted to keep on fucking? She wanted to keep her comfort blanket of sex at her beck and call because it was all about the physical and fuck the emotional? Strike angry, Sam was livid.
“If you do this…” Brooke started to say, voice threatening even though she had no idea how she was going to finish the statement.
“You’ll what?” Sam broke in with a hiss, nervousness and guilt and rage putting her on the offensive. “You’ll tell everyone I like girls?”
Sam didn’t know why she was accusing Brooke, or jumping to the conclusion that the other girl would try to threaten her or blackmail her. Or maybe she did, maybe she was thinking about the incident that had gotten them both in this situation in the first place, and remembering the way Brooke had taken control of it, the way she had twisted it so that Sam capitulated, so that she got what she wanted. Maybe she just wanted to get a little of the ugliness bottled inside of her out, wanted to hide her hurt feelings in anger.
Brooke remained silent at the taunt, eyes full of venom as she absorbed the unexpected and unwarranted attack.
“How’re you going to validate that particular claim, huh? You out me and you out yourself,” Sam scoffed angrily, hating Brooke, and maybe herself, in that moment. “You were the one who started this. How’re you going to explain that? Are you going to tell everyone that when you crawled down between my legs, I didn’t stop you? That I enjoyed it? Maybe people will start to wonder where you picked up your technique. Just how many girls have you practiced on, Brooke?”
Her words were deliberately ugly and hurtful, cruel and callous. She wanted to inflict pain on the blonde, wanted to see the effects of her untidy emotions. She wanted some kind of response… anything. Anger, perhaps, to make her feel better about what she was doing. She wasn’t even sure why she should feel bad about calling a halt to things, but she did and it made her confused and angry and uncertain, and what she desperately needed was for Brooke to validate that, to argue with her like they had before the whole thing between them had gotten started. She needed to feel in control of something again, and if the only thing she could control was Brooke’s pain, then so be it.
Eyes gone blank and body rigidly wooden, Brooke said stiffly, “You’re the only girl I’ve ever been with, Sam.” She wasn’t sure what had prompted the attack, and she definitely didn’t know how to respond to it. Part of her screamed at herself to fight back, to make Sam hurt as much as she was hurting. But, the pain was too much, leaving her drained, unable to summon the necessary emotion. Besides, she didn’t really want to hurt Sam, strange as the thought might be. Even in the face of the ugly words, the threats, the recriminations, all she wanted to do was wrap Sam in her arms and not let go until she took all of it back, until she promised that the date with George had been a big hoax, until they could laugh about the whole thing.
“Then its time for you to find a new playmate,” Sam spat, turning on her heel and flinging open the door, trying desperately to ignore the tears burning her eyes.
The door slammed behind her, causing Brooke to jump. She looked at it for a moment, chest burning as she realized she’d forgotten to breathe.
Exhaling, feeling tears start to flow steadily, she whispered, “I love you, Sam.”
“What’s up with Brooke?”
Sam poked her fork into her mashed potatoes dejectedly, trying desperately to ignore Carmen’s question. She didn’t want to think about Brooke, about the hurt look in her eyes and the way she left a room as soon as Sam entered it.
“Yeah, she seems kind of… I don’t know. She seems kind of sad,” Harrison said thoughtfully, looking over to the popular table where Brooke sat, listlessly picking the crust off of her uneaten sandwich.
“Something going on at home, Sam?” Lily asked, looking at the uneasy brunette with concern. She’d noticed that Sam hadn’t been acting quite like herself for the past few weeks either, and the thought that the two were on the verge of beginning another apocalyptic year of fighting was a bit depressing. “I thought you two were getting along better.”
Scowling, jamming her fork into the potatoes with a little more ferocity than was necessary, Sam growled, “What am I, her personal slave? I don’t know what’s up with Brooke.”
“Whoa, chill Kujo,” Harrison said, leaning back in his seat and holding his hands out defensively. “Lily asks questions in peace.”
Slumping down, guilt at her part in Brooke’s apparent bad mood weighing heavily on her mind, she sighed. “And I said I don’t know. Ask Brooke, if you’re so concerned.”
Needing to get away before she cracked, before she blurted out the whole sorry tale, Sam pushed back away from the table, chair screeching loudly as she stalked out of the lunchroom. Watching their friend’s dramatic exit in something akin to shock, the three looked at one another dubiously.
“Okay,” Carmen said slowly, brows lowering. “Guess we’re in for McQueen/McPherson drama, round 217. Anybody care to place any bets on the winners?”
“I can’t take this,” Sam said, bursting into Brooke’s room to find the blonde sitting on her bed, headphones on.
Reaching up to pull them off, Brooke looked at Sam expectantly. “Take what?” she asked nonchalantly. After crying virtually non-stop for almost three weeks, she’d decided that what she needed to do was get over it. She’d had her fling with Sam. It’d been fun, and the other girl had decided to move on. So it burned that she’d been the one dumped. So it hurt that she’d been on the verge of declaring her feelings when she found out that what they had was apparently not so high on Sam’s list of priorities. She’d had enough of the moping, and of giving Sam the satisfaction of knowing she’d hurt her.
“Of you walking around here like a zombie,” Sam said shortly. She’d worked herself up into quite an impressive indignant rage and was holding onto it fiercely. Rage blocked out the far more confusing guilt and loss she’d been feeling. Rage was definitely better.
Shrugging her shoulders casually, Brooke said, “Don’t worry about it. I was just in a funk, that’s all.”
A funk. Sam fumed at that. Brooke wanted to write her feelings off as a funk. She knew she shouldn’t be mad, that she should just walk away and not have the confrontation she could feel brewing, but she couldn’t. Insight that she’d been consciously trying to avoid made itself known with a vengeance, and she felt her anger grow. Maybe she’d broken it off with Brooke because she’d wanted some indication that whatever it was they had was important. She wanted the other girl to beg her not to go, to say that it was more than just sex and convenience. She wanted Brooke to feel something, to have feelings for her. Their liaison had been enjoyable. It’d been educational. It had been everything Brooke had promised that day in her room and more.
It had been the perfect arrangement.
Sam wanted to be more than just some arrangement. She wanted to think she was better than that, and suddenly she was furious. Hatred crept up her spine, all directed at the girl staring at her impassively, and she snapped, all of the emotion that she’d been trying desperately to suppress spilling out in a rush of heated words.
“You said I shouldn’t rush into my first time, that it would only happen once. You told me it should be special,” Sam spat venomously, anguish ravaging her broken voice. “You stole my first time, Brooke. You took it without asking.”
She stopped for a moment, disgust overwhelming her suddenly. Tears clung to dark lashes, slid down the ivory skin of her cheeks. “Then you convinced me to go along with a sham of a relationship. And that’s my own fault, because I let you. I let you trick me into thinking that second best was good enough, and it’s not. It’s not nearly good enough, and I’m not going to do it anymore.”
Voice sharp, Brooke said, “Yeah, I know. I got the memo, remember.”
Taken aback by the callous carelessness in the other girl’s voice, Sam took a step back. “Yeah, I guess you did. You know, whatever. Just… whatever. I don’t know what I thought this was going to prove.”
“You know what,” Brooke said coldly, feeling a chill settle deep in her bones at the accusations, “I’m a heartless bitch. Write it in your diary, tell all your friends. Believe it, if it makes you feel better, but don’t come in here and attack me when you’re the one who ended things. And don’t make me feel like I did something wrong. I didn’t steal anything from you. I didn’t force you. You didn’t tell me to stop and I never heard you say no. Don’t think I’m going to feel bad over this retroactive blame you’ve decided to throw my way to justify what you did. Own up to it, Sam. You wanted me, and now you can’t deal with that.”
“That’s so arrogant, so typically Brooke McQueen,” Sam muttered snidely. “Far too perfect for anything to ever be her fault.”
“Yeah,” Brooke said indignantly, needing to get Sam out of her room before she fell apart completely, “right now that’s pretty much it.” She paused, gathering together as much hatred as she could. Narrowing her eyes, an impervious arch of a brow designed to grate against Sam’s nerves firmly in place, Brooke muttered, “Shouldn’t you be off screwing a football player or something?”
Clearly wounded, Sam drew herself up straight. “Fuck you, Brooke,” she said, drained, then turned and walked slowly from the room.
Brooke watched her go, every ounce of her energy dedicated to keeping herself on the bed so that she wouldn’t rush after her, wouldn’t wrap her arms around Sam and not let go. She felt like utter shit, Sam’s words ringing through her head. Was that really how Sam saw things? She felt like she’d been robbed, like Brooke had stolen something important from her? Shaking her head in dejection, wondering how it was that all of her bad karma had decided on revenge at the same time, Brooke smiled sadly.
“I love you, Sam,” she murmured, giving in to the urge to cry.
Nearly a week later, Brooke looked with disgust at a small, bluish bruise on the side of Sam’s neck. “A hickey, Sam?” she questioned archly, toothbrush hanging from the side of her mouth as she looked over at the brunette derisively. “Tres skanky.”
Refusing to rise to the bait, Sam scowled, jerking her hairbrush through her hair. “You’re just jealous,” she muttered.
“Of my own sloppy seconds?” Brooke said with a small, humorless laugh. “Hardly.”
Slamming the hairbrush down on the counter, eyes blazing with fury, Sam took a quick step over to where Brooke was standing, crowding her against the bathroom counter. “Finally, the truth,” Sam scoffed, running her tongue over her top teeth. “I was getting tired of you playing the obviously false part of the aggrieved party when you know just as well as I do that the only thing you’re upset about is the fact that your easy outlet for casual sex decided to cut you off.”
“Wow, you’ve got me all figured out,” Brooke said dryly, tone heavy with sarcasm. “That’s totally me. I’m such a user. Not like you,” she added with faux innocence. “The only reason you were with me was because you loved me, right. Because you couldn’t stand to be without me.”
The deliberate irony was enough to make her laugh. “Can the martyr routine, Sam. Your moral high ground is nonexistent.”
“At least I’m not bitter,” Sam sneered, backing down slightly.
“At least I’m not a slut,” Brooke shot back, though the venom in her tone was significantly less potent that she would have liked.
Shaking her head in amazement, a soft snort of laughter echoing between them, Sam muttered, “Whatever, Brooke. I’m so over this.”
This time, when the door closed, Brooke didn’t let herself say it.
“Brookie, all this scowling is going to cause some major wrinkles,” Nicole said distastefully, settling down onto her chair gently. Following the line of Brooke’s gaze, she settled on Sam and George, the reunited duo apparently thoroughly enjoying their lunch. George was feeding Sam slices of apple, the display one step beyond sickening in Nicole’s estimation. “He’s such a hottie,” she sighed, shaking her head in disappointment. “What he sees in Spam McPherson is beyond me.”
Not knowing where the indignation was coming from, Brooke said scathingly, “What, you don’t think Sam’s hot?”
Looking at the other blonde askance, clearly checking for subtle signs of some kind of head trauma, Nicole asked, voice full of concern, “Are you having some kind of psychotic episode? Has living with McBitch finally driven you insane?”
Shoulders slumping, Brooke continued to glare in Sam’s general direction. “No,” she said, depressed. “I’ve just been feeling on edge lately.”
Patting Brooke’s hand comfortingly, Nicole murmured, “Is it Homecoming? Missing the era of your glorious reign?”
Scowling, Homecoming the last thing on her mind, Brooke muttered, “Yeah, that has to be it.” She trailed off, then added, almost absently, “I’m not running this year. If I get nominated, I’m going to withdraw.”
Nicole tried to hide the speculative gleam in her eyes, and almost succeeded. Instead, she plastered on her best sympathetic voice. “That’s too bad, Brookie. You’re perfect for it, you know.”
Brooke shook her head sadly, remembering Sophomore year when she’d won. She’d tried to call a truce that night, offering her tiara to Sam and settling the question of the coveted right sink. It had been a momentary détente, one she’d cherished. She loved seeing Sam smile.
“Everybody deserves to wear the crown at least once,” she said wearily, echoing the words Carmen had said to her in the Novak, the words that had kept her from withdrawing her name from the race the first time around. “Its time I move on.”
“Regardless,” Nicole said, voice once again all business, “the after-game dance is fast approaching and you’re currently unattached.”
Sighing, too tired to deal with the issue, Brooke murmured, “Maybe I’ll skip it this year.”
“Skip it?” Nicole echoed, horrified. “One, its Senior year. Last chance, and all that. Two, that’s a little too social reject, don’t you think?”
“It’s just a dance,” Brooke muttered, scowling down at the table. Where was Mary Cherry? She was always good for a diversion.
“No,” Nicole said patiently, “it’s Homecoming. You have to make an appearance, preferably on the arm of the studliest stud you can find.” The blonde paused, taking in Brooke’s abject lack of interest. “Surly and depressed just isn’t going to cut it, Brookie. People are starting to talk.”
“Let them talk,” Brooke said dully, surprised to find that she had absolutely no interest in what might or might not be being said about her.
Sighing, afraid she hadn’t made any headway with her uncharacteristically morose friend, Nicole said, “Just think about it. Whatever the problem, social suicide isn’t the answer.”
Nicole had been right. The sulking wasn’t getting her anywhere, and she’d be damned if she continued to let Sam know that she was affected. What she needed was a plan, and after several hours of careful thought, she was pretty sure she had one.
“Diego,” she said shortly, drawing the attention of a boy with whom she was only marginally acquainted. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Looking around in confusion, not quite sure why Brooke McQueen was addressing him but curious enough to want to find out, he said smoothly, “Sure, what’s up?”
“Privately,” she added, looking pointedly at his companions.
Shrugging his shoulders, giving his
football buddies a “Whatever” look, he said, “No problem.”
“Good,” Brooke said curtly, not quite sure her plan wasn’t crap. But, he was following her into an empty classroom, and since the plan was apparently already in motion, she wasn’t going to interfere with it.
Settling into one of the desks, wondering again why he’d been summoned, Diego waited patiently. It wasn’t that he wasn’t popular. Tall, dark hair, dark eyes, and exquisitely built normally got him entrée alone, but he didn’t aspire to the same social heights that Brooke occupied. He wasn’t particularly upset about that, but was still a bit surprised to find himself talking to her. They were more like planets in orbit, circling around one another but rarely in contact. Having sudden contact was a little disconcerting.
“So,” he said awkwardly, “what’s up?”
Taking a deep breath, aware that she was about to be brutally blunt but unable to think of any other way to approach the topic, Brooke said quickly, “Rumor has it that your position as tight end is especially apropos.”
There was a moment when Diego blanched, when his face tightened with something like fear and his eyes widened in shock. Then it was gone, neatly covered, and his voice was calm as he said, “I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about the little known fact that your favorite part of football is probably the communal showers,” Brooke said knowingly, an arched brow daring the boy to contradict her.
Sitting back in defeat, not sure where the attack had come from but too blindsided by it to prepare a proper defense, Diego said weakly, “It’s not true.”
“No, it’s true,” Brooke said with amusement, recognizing the uncomfortable squirm for what it was, “which is why you’re going to be my date for Homecoming. Actually, not just for Homecoming… you’re the incredibly lucky man who will have the honor of being my next boyfriend.”
Clearly caught by surprise at the new turn of events, Diego looked at Brooke guardedly. “I’m not exactly following,” he said cautiously.
“Look,” Brooke said impatiently, “here’s the breakdown. You’re a gay football player. It’s probably in your best interests to kind of keep that on the down low, right? You need a girl to divert suspicion; I need a boy to get my friends off my case about my current lack of a boyfriend. See how this is mutually beneficial?”
“Oh my God,” Diego said on a soft, surprised gasp, a light bulb almost literally turning on over his head. “You’re gay. Brooke McQueen’s gay.”
“I am not,” Brooke said from between gritted teeth. “I’m just not particularly interested in the hassle of having a boyfriend right now but don’t want to have to deal with the irritation of being single.”
“You’re looking for a beard,” Diego scoffed, dark eyes twinkling. “This is priceless. Who is she?”
“There isn’t any she. I don’t know where this astonishing leap of logic came from, but you’re wrong,” Brooke ground out. Then, frustration nearly overflowing, she muttered, “This was such a stupid idea.”
Backing down, not completely unaware of the powerful allure of denial, Diego said softly, “No, it’s not stupid. It’s a great idea. I’d love to pretend to date you.”
Tension bleeding away slightly at his words, Brooke said cautiously, “Are you sure? I mean, you’re going to have to actually go out with me some, and hold my hand at school and maybe sit by me in the lunchroom occasionally. You might have to kiss me too.”
“Honey, please,” Diego said flirtatiously, Brooke’s discomfort making him feel oddly at ease, “we may be in California but we still live in Orange County. My gay football player ass would prefer to remain unkicked. If I have to date the most popular girl in school and engage in occasional displays of public affection with her to keep it that way, I think it’s probably worth it.”
“You’re going to Homecoming with whom?” Nicole asked again, eyes scrunched up in confusion. If she hadn’t been so baffled, she would never have allowed herself the expression.
Speaking slowly, Brooke repeated, “Diego Diaz. You know, the football player.”
“Uh huh, honey,” Mary Cherry said gleefully, her tone a bit too lascivious for mere curiosity. “Quite the Hispanic hottie. I had no idea you had caught the jungle fever too, Brookie. Did ya get it from Sam? Maybe it’s in the water.”
Looking at the blonde in confusion, Brooke shook her head, letting it pass without comment. “Uh, whatever.”
Brooke smiled up at her pretend boyfriend, insanely grateful that he had chosen that moment to appear. Sliding into the seat next to her, placing a kiss on her proffered cheek, he slid an arm around her shoulders, snuggling in close.
“Diego, this is Nicole and Mary Cherry. I’m sure you already know Sugar Daddy,” she said, introducing the table’s other occupants.
“What’s up, yo,” Sugar Daddy said with a smile, reaching out his fist in friendly greeting. “Good to have another guy around. Josh mostly sits with the wifey now, and I was feeling kinda outnumbered, yo.”
“Diego,” Nicole said coolly, clearly appraising Brooke’s apparent new love interest.
He smiled in response, flashing parallel dimples to their best advantage. “Nicole. Radiant as always.”
The stiffness eased away, giving way to a smile as Nicole devoured the compliment.
“Hola, mi amigo,” Mary Cherry said brightly, her Texas-flavored butchering of the language drawing a few pained flinches. “Habla espanol?”
“Uh, MC, unlike you most of the time, I think he speaks English,” Nicole said sharply, throwing Diego a dazzling smile.
“What?” Mary Cherry said defensively. “I was tryin’ to make him feel comfortable.”
“You’ll have to excuse her,” Nicole whispered loudly, shooting Mary Cherry a slightly disgusted look. “Way too much head trauma as a toddler, if you know what I mean.”
“Uh, no problem,” Diego stuttered, a little thrown by his first visit to the strangeness that apparently comprised the inner circle. “I was just checking to make sure we were still on for this Friday,” he said, turning to Brooke.
Smiling brightly, aware that her tone rang a little false but unable to do anything about it, Brooke said happily, “Wouldn’t miss it.”
“Great,” Diego said with a slightly disbelieving look, dipping down for another kiss on the cheek. “I’ll pick you up around 7:30.” Pulling Brooke into a hug, he continued with a whispered, “You have so got to work on this fake dating thing.”
“Quite the cutie,” Nicole said impassively as Diego sauntered away. Eyeing him speculatively, she murmured, “I can see why they call him a tight end.”
“If you are referring to the tightness of his end,” Mary Cherry whispered conspiratorially, “I totally concur.”
Brooke relaxed slightly, the lack of laughing and pointing restoring her faith in the plan. If he’d passed the Nicole test, then he was damn near close to perfect.
“So who’s the new boytoy?” Sam asked blandly, leaning close to the mirror as she applied her mascara. She’d seen Brooke with the guy, obviously a jock, the previous day and was desperately trying to ignore the completely out of place flash of jealousy she’d felt.
“Who, Diego?” Brooke replied blithely, lips smacking together as she finished applying her gloss. Barely sparing Sam a glance, Brooke walked past her, disappearing into her room.
“Who, Diego?” Sam mimicked silently into the mirror, sticking her tongue out at her reflection in disgust.
“Not jealous, are you?” Brooke asked, her voice floating back into the bathroom.
Scowling into the mirror, using the tip of her finger to smooth out her eye shadow, Sam scoffed. “You wish.”
“Actually,” Brooke said, suddenly reappearing in the doorway, “I could care less.”
Sam told herself she wasn’t angry, but threw away the broken mascara wand nonetheless.
“Look at them,” Sam muttered in disgust. George followed her line of sight over to Brooke and Diego, bodies pressed tightly together as they danced. He didn’t really see what the problem was, other than the fact that they appeared to be enjoying themselves entirely too much for a school dance.
“What?” he asked, clearly confused. “What’s wrong with them?”
“It’s not right,” Sam said fiercely, though she had no idea what it was that was not right about it. All she knew was that she’d recently developed an intense hatred of Diego Diaz, a boy she really hardly knew. He’d been nothing but polite to her on the few occasions they’d happened to meet, usually when he appeared at the Palace to pick Brooke up for a date. Outwardly, there was little to hate. Perfectly styled hair, a smile that could melt steel, a body to die for, sexy dark eyes and gorgeous golden skin… he was actually nauseatingly perfect. And, apparently, a fabulous dancer too.
Well aware of George’s utter lack of understanding and furiously avoiding introspection that might lead to self-awareness, Sam pulled her boyfriend closer, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. “I’m glad you came back,” she murmured seductively, her smile leaving George a little weak.
“Me too,” he husked, leaning down to place a light kiss on her lips. “I’ve never been happier.”
Catching sight of Brooke and Diego out of the corner of her eye, the look of sheer enjoyment painted across their faces enough to make her want to stab something, she looked back at George, determination written clearly across her face. “I think I could make you even happier,” she said slyly, the look in her eyes more than enough to let him know exactly what she was thinking.
Pulling her closer, suddenly quite excited at the prospect of obliquely promised activities to come, George bent down, lips brushing Sam’s ear as he said, “You want to get out of here?”
Looking up at him, dark eyes glittering, she said softly, “I’d love to.”
The hotel had taken cash and hadn’t seemed too concerned with details, like the obviously under aged nature of their potential customers. Of course, that particular hotel had quite the reputation at Kennedy, so that was only to be expected, but Sam felt a rush of relief nonetheless as the door to the room closed behind them. They could have gone back to the Palace. Her Mom and Mike were out of town, Mike on a business trip and her Mom taking advantage of the frequent flier miles for a short vacation. Thankfully, they’d taken little Mac with them, leaving Brooke and Sam unencumbered. But, she couldn’t go home, couldn’t do this with George if Brooke were right next door. Couldn’t do this in her bed, not with memories of Brooke still permeating the air, even after close to two and a half months of separation.
The room itself was standard issue, with a queen sized bed, a dresser, a desk and a nightstand. The window overlooked a street and the bedspread was a mix of unassuming pastels. The door to the bathroom was open, and through it she could see the requisite coffeemaker and assorted toiletries. It was absurdly mundane, and she was suddenly quite sad. Nothing here was special.
George’s large, warms hands came to rest on her shoulders, cupping them before sliding down her arms. He entwined his fingers with hers, stepping up behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist, bringing her own with his. The movement drew her back into the moment, pulling her from her perusal of everything that was wrong and forcing her to try to think of everything that was right.
“Are you sure about this, baby?” he asked, voice full of concern.
Sam looked at the pastel bedspread, at the neon sign of an all-night diner shining in through the matching pastel drapes. She looked at the nondescript stationary sitting on the bedside table, at the sterile hotel phone. Then she looked up at George, his face startlingly close to hers as she turned. “Yes,” she whispered, throat suddenly very dry.
As soon as the word crossed her lips, he was kissing her. Turning her in his arms, he brought his hands up to cup her face, and Sam tried to lose herself in the kiss, much as she’d tried to lose herself in his kisses since they’d started dating again. Her hands were under his suit jacket, running along broad shoulders and down the flat expanse of his chest, and she felt herself ache for more, felt the wrongness of it.
Tearing her lips away from his, she looked at him for a second. George’s eyes were hooded, pupils dilated. He wanted her.
“I want this,” she said calmly, deliberately, willing herself to believe the words.
Fingers fumbling with the buttons on his shirt, Sam watched as he shrugged out of his jacket, as he threw it to the floor. His chest and abdomen was a collection of muscles, and she ran her fingers along the delineations, his skin rough against her fingertips. She wondered why that was, why George’s skin felt rough where Brooke’s was silky smooth and instantly tried to push the thought away. Brooke had no place in what was happening. George… he was the one she was with. He was the one she should be focused on.
“Sam,” he moaned, the deepness of the voice confusing her for a second. She frowned, wondering if it were possible to physically rip memories from her mind, to tear away their haunting presence. Nearly laughing at the absurdity, she shook her head, trying desperately to clear it as George’s fingers found the zipper to her dress. He fumbled with it and she turned, holding up her hair to help him as she slammed shut the part of her mind that screamed that Brooke never fumbled.
“God, you’re beautiful,” George husked, and Sam tried not to blush under the heat in his gaze. She could see his arousal, watched as his fingers grappled with his belt. She heard the hiss of fabric as he pulled it free, the thump as it hit the floor, and then the rasp of his zipper wiped away all other sound.
He paused, and she looked up at him, unsure. She wondered if maybe she’d done something wrong, if he could sense her trepidation. Instead, she watched as he reached back into his back pocket, pulling free his wallet. “Condom,” he rasped, the crinkle of plastic absurdly loud as he held it up carefully.
Sam swallowed, nodded. She’d seen one, knew what it was for, but she’d never had to put one to practical use. Oddly enough, she wished she’d paid more attention during her mother’s sex talk. She needed guidance, something, because she felt almost like an observer and not a participant as she stood there watching George, her eyes cataloguing every single difference between him and Brooke. She wanted George to wipe away all thoughts of Brooke, to replace those memories with newer, less painful ones. She wanted to be a blank slate, with all of the pain, anger, confusion and fear wiped clean.
Laying the condom down on the bedside table, George drew her into his arms again. He kissed her softly, the touch comforting, and Sam felt herself relax slowly, felt her heartbeat start to return to normal. She hadn’t even realized she was close to panic, and clung tightly to his shoulders, wanting to restore her sense of balance.
She didn’t wait for him to try the clasp to her bra, reaching back and undoing it herself. It fell to the floor, and she felt the roughness of his chest against her nipples. She shivered, the feeling odd yet arousing. George’s fingers were digging into her buttocks, pulling her against him with purpose, and she whimpered as she felt him, hard between her legs. His movements were rougher now, his hands shaking as he pushed his pants and underwear down, kicking off his shoes. She chanced a look down, a gasp coming to her unbidden as she saw him for the first time.
Curious, she reached out, wrapping a hand around him. He was thick, warm to the touch, and she felt a hint of apprehension. Holding him like that, she felt the seriousness of what she was doing. This was it, no turning back.
“Let me,” he murmured, and she had no idea what he was talking about until she saw him grab the condom from the side table. The plastic crinkled again as he ripped it open, as he pulled it free from the package. She watched with something close to detachment as he pinched the tip of the condom, placing it on himself and rolling it down. It was all so clinical, so strange. She thought it should be more exciting, more imbued with some kind of meaning. She needed more than practicality and efficiency. She needed magic.
“Sam,” he said softly, drawing her attention back up to his face. Then he was kissing her again, and she tried not to notice the roughness of the sheets against her skin or the way he felt against her after he removed her panties. His hands were on her breasts, and she tried desperately to ignore the part of her that said he was too big, too clumsy. And then he was on his knees, kneeling, looming over her, huge as he blocked out the light streaming in from the street, the neon sign disappearing completely. She could feel him prod against her, the alien sensation causing her to jerk in surprise, and then suddenly, he was pressing forward.
She flinched, gasped, the pressure more intense than she’d anticipated. He was on top of her again, his chest pressed against hers as his forearms dug into the mattress by her shoulders, his hands accidentally trapping and pulling her hair. He looked at her for a moment, his face almost blissful, then dropped his head to the mattress besides hers, his cheek brushing roughly against her skin as his hips began to move slowly.
Each thrust brought a small gasp, and she felt herself move underneath him, her body driven by the strength of his. It was odd, this feeling of being covered, of being impaled, of being overpowered. It was overwhelming, and she wrapped her arms around his back and hooked her legs behind his thighs and tried to hold onto him, tried to anchor herself against all of the feelings coursing through her. She felt desperately out of control, like a puppet at the whim of another, and she tried to push aside the unfamiliarity, tried to embrace the experience and what it signified.
His movements were speeding up, and she tried to relax, to focus on the friction and the pleasure. She’d learned how to do that, how to tense her body and narrow down everything she was feeling to that one point of contact that she knew was going to drive her over the edge, but this was completely different. It was a different feeling, a different kind of pleasure, and her nails dug into his back as she struggled to hold onto it. She could feel it, could feel a hint of what she’d felt before, with Brooke. She just needed something more, some intangible yet all too important.
And then he was shuddering, his body tensed and strained as he held himself perfectly still, and she rocked her hips up into him, straining for the elusive more. But, he was already easing himself down slowly, his weight crushing her, and she closed her eyes and tried not to whimper with frustration as he slid out of her, rolling over onto his back beside her.
“Mmm, Sam,” he murmured contentedly, one hand coming up to rest behind his head. “So good, baby.”
Bottom lip quivering, wanting to point out that it had only just started to feel good, wanting to point out that he didn’t touch her the way Brooke touched her, didn’t make her feel the way Brooke made her feel, she turned away, eyes focusing blankly on the far wall.
Brooke heard the sound of the downstairs door opening. She’d seen Sam leave with George, had seen the look in her eyes. She knew that look, knew what the brunette was planning. It had taken everything she had not to rush to the bathroom and expel the contents of her stomach. Instead she’d continued dancing, telling herself over and over that it didn’t matter, the mantra not doing a thing for the nausea. Diego had noticed, had looked at her with those beautiful concerned eyes, and Brooke wished for a second that he could really love her and she could really love him and they wouldn’t have to pretend. If so, it would be perfect. He was gorgeous and kind and loving and caring… and hopelessly gay, which was probably why she liked him so much.
He’d left the dance with her early, promising her that he didn’t mind as he dropped her off at her house. She had a feeling that he really didn’t mind, that he was happy with the amount of time they’d put in at the dance and was confident that the charade was doing for him exactly what it was supposed to be doing. Besides, she had no doubt that anyone watching their departure would come to any other conclusion than that they were sneaking away for a little clandestine sex, which she found satisfyingly humorous.
There was no sex, of course. After he’d left, she’d run upstairs to her bathroom, had torn off her dress and pulled on her most comfortable pair of pajamas before collapsing onto her bed and curling up in a ball. She didn’t want to think about just who was most definitely having sex, didn’t want to know about it, and most definitely didn’t want to hear about it. In fact, she’d rather pretend like it had never happened.
Given fate’s determination to tighten the cosmic screws just a little tighter, the door to her room swung inward silently as Sam’s footsteps slowed in front of it, revealing the somewhat tortured and morose countenance of her erstwhile lover.
“Home early, aren’t you?” Brooke asked caustically, ready to do or say anything to drive the other girl away. She didn’t need to hear the gloating, or to see the way her hair was mussed and her make-up smudged. She didn’t need to have incontrovertible proof.
Robotically, looking through Brooke almost as if she didn’t see her, Sam said, “I slept with George.”
“What, you want a gold star?” Brooke said acidly, trying to ignore the deep pang of hatred that rushed through her as Sam provided her with that proof. Hatred for Sam, hatred for George, hatred for herself and for the situation. She never should have given in, never should have even known what it was like to have Sam. If she hadn’t done that, she wouldn’t know what it was like to lose her so completely.
Sighing, moving into the room, seemingly heedless of the other girl’s antagonism, Sam said softly, sadly, “It’s not the same.”
Momentarily drawing back her ire, sensing an undercurrent of something more, Brooke remained silent, face a blank.
Laughing harshly, eyes staring without seeing, Sam continued, “This can’t be right. I can’t think about you when my boyfriend touches me. I can’t wish it were you instead of him.”
Heart rate increasing in response to the sullen declaration, Brooke sat up a little straighter, trying to tamp down an irrational bolt of hope. “It’s not wrong,” she said smoothly, fully aware of the verbal betrayal of her own self-interests as she made an abrupt about-face. If she were a good friend, a true friend, she would be helping Sam out in her time of need, not watching out for herself. But, she wasn’t any kind of friend at all, apparently.
Shaking her head in disgust, Sam said, “I broke up with him after. I told him he needed someone a little less damaged but I don’t think it made him feel any better.”
She paused introspectively, then added, “I don’t think I’m quite sane right now.”
In reply Brooke held up the covers on the unoccupied side of her bed wordlessly, unspoken invitation clear. She wasn’t sure what was guiding her actions, and felt almost certain that Sam would look at her in derision, would laugh and shake her head and say that it was ridiculous for her to even think of offering. All she knew was that she had to take the chance, had to push down the part of her that wanted to throw up at the thought of George’s hands touching her Sam and take this potential opportunity and run with it.
Self-hatred clear in her eyes, Sam kicked off her shoes, fingers moving to unzip her dress as she felt herself start to crumble. “Do you have a conscience? A soul? Anything? Any compunction about taking advantage of my situation?”
Pursing her lips as if in deep thought, Brooke said honestly, “No. Not really.”
“You really are evil,” Sam exhaled in wonder, shoving the dress down over her hips, leaving the fabric in a careless heap on the floor. “You’ve got everyone fooled. Even me, even after all this time. I still fall for it.”
Eyes hypnotic in the darkness of the room, Brooke shook her head, the movement barely perceptible. “I just don’t see the point in denying myself. I don’t see any point in you denying yourself, either.”
“Don’t you get it, Brooke?” Sam asked in exasperation as she reached behind her, unclasping the clasp to her bra for the second time that night. “This is not right. This is not normal. You are not normal.”
Brooke clenched her jaw, refusing to let the words get to her. “What I get,” she hissed sharply, “is that I’m the only one here not making excuses for what I want.”
Sam started to reply, started to scream that she was firmly convinced that Brooke didn’t quite get anything when the blonde stood, closing the distance between them and pulling Sam into a kiss that burned away everything she’d been feeling, everything she’d been planning to say. Brooke’s hands sliding up and down her back felt insanely, disgustingly right, and she wanted to hate her for that too.
But, when Brooke pressed her down onto the bed and straddled her waist, looming over her as she whipped her pajama top over her head and tossed it to the side, she wanted to whimper with the rightness of it. She didn’t feel crowded, didn’t feel overwhelmed.
Brooke was flying, her heart racing so fast she wondered if she should be afraid. She was touching Sam again, was looking down into heartrendingly beautiful dark eyes, and she wanted to cry. She deliberately ignored the situation, ignored what had prompted Sam to return to her. So long as she was back, Brooke could work through those things. The pain could come later. At that moment, she was far too wrapped up in the pleasure. She poured everything she was feeling into her touches, into her kisses. She was going to make it so good that Sam never left her again.
Sam wondered how Brooke could have her ten times more aroused just by touching her than George had ever made her feel. She didn’t like it, didn’t like the implications and didn’t like what it said about her, and when Brooke’s hand slid between her legs, the aching soreness there left over from her previous encounter making her wince, she wrapped her hand around the other girl’s wrist, tears immediately flooding her eyes.
“Brooke, no,” she whispered desperately. It was all crashing down on her. She’d slept with George, had broken up with him because he couldn’t give her what Brooke was giving her.
Brooke froze, mortified by the tears she could see streaming down Sam’s cheeks. The other girl looked miserable, and she pulled her hand free so that she could wind her fingers in Sam’s thick hair. Dusting soft kisses across the other girl’s face, she murmured, “Sam, sweetheart, it’ll be okay.”
Turning her face into Brooke’s shoulders, the tears burning her eyes as she began to sob, Sam said tightly, “No, it’s not okay. It won’t be okay.” She paused for a second, voice choking as she said wistfully, “Brooke, this is so utterly fucked up. I am so utterly fucked up.”
Wrapping her arms around Sam, feeling her heart break a little at the obvious anguish in the other girl’s voice, Brooke settled down beside the brunette. She pulled her closer, not quite sure what was happening and definitely not sure what she was going to do about it. This outburst was different from all of the ones that had come before. Before, Sam had been angry, had been cruel. This time, she was obviously hurting, and Brooke wanted nothing more than to comfort her.
The only problem was, she didn’t quite know how.
“You requested an audience, my queen?” Diego said with a stunning smile as he slid into the passenger’s seat of Brooke’s car. Closing the door behind him, looking out at the Kennedy High students clumped together in groups or rushing to their cars in a desire to leave the school as quickly as possible, he waited.
Brooke turned slightly, smiling gently as she watched him watch their contemporaries. She wondered if he felt like she did sometimes, like she didn’t fit in, like she was an alien surrounded by another distinct and unfamiliar alien race. “Do you have a boyfriend, Diego?” she asked curiously. “I know we’ve never really talked about it, and you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want…”
“Yes,” Diego said, breaking in with a quick grin. “His name is Silas. And, we don’t talk about it because it’s awkward. We don’t talk about it because I’m ashamed that I’m too afraid to openly go out with him on Friday nights so I go out with you instead, because you’re the perfect cover and I’m selfish enough to want that.”
“Tell me about him,” Brooke said as she reached over, placing her hand on Diego’s arm comfortingly.
Sitting back in his seat, staring without seeing now, Diego said softly, “He’s so totally not like me, and sometimes we’re so different that I don’t see how we can be together. He cares about books and art and activism and all that, and all I want to do is play football well enough to maybe get a scholarship to some college somewhere. He understands what I’m doing with you, but he doesn’t like it, and to be honest, I don’t like that I’m doing that to him. Like I’m treating him like he’s not important …” Diego trailed off uncomfortably, turning to Brooke with a sad smile. “You know what I mean?”
“Yeah,” she replied wistfully, “I think I do.”
They watched each other for a moment more, each wrapped up in thoughts of their own shortcomings, their own failures, their own fears. “Hey, Diego,” Brooke said suddenly, tilting her head to the side with a bright smile, “you think you might want to double date? You know, you and your boyfriend and me and my… girlfriend.”
Dark eyes lit up as Diego rubbed his hands together excitedly. “Girlfriend? I knew it,” he exclaimed, feeling some of his stress peel away at Brooke’s disclosure. “So spill… who is she? Do I know her?”
Pushing down a smile, trying to contain some of the enthusiasm rushing through her, Brooke hedged, “Actually, she’s not officially my girlfriend. I mean, it’s really kind of complicated. Very complicated.”
“Aren’t all teen relationships complicated?” he asked, rolling his eyes. “It’s required.”
Sighing, Brooke replied, “Maybe, but this one is especially complicated.” She paused, searching for the right way to divulge Sam’s identity. It would be her first time to own up to what was happening. Hesitantly, she added, “You’ve met her.”
“Oh, God,” Diego said, sitting back in horror. “Not Mary Cherry, right?”
“What?” Brooke said in disbelief, slapping him lightly on the arm. “I can’t believe you said that.”
“Just checking,” Diego drawled dryly, absently rubbing his arm. “She’s actually disturbingly frightening in a way I can’t quite figure out. Like I can’t decide if she’s just simply insane or intensely psychotically insane, waiting to snap at any second and take us all out in a blaze of bar-be-que coated glory. Besides, all this secrecy and drama makes me think it has to be someone horribly inappropriate, and she’s by far the most inappropriate thing around here. Except for April Tuna, maybe.”
“Anyway,” Brooke segued, trying to ignore the part of her that realized that was a viable option given Mary Cherry and steering well clear of any thoughts of the April Tuna, “it’s not her.”
“Then who?” Diego asked, exasperated. He hated riddles.
As if it had been choreographed, Sam walked by at just that moment. Flicking her hair back over her shoulder, laughing at something Lily had said as the wind picked up, plastering her already tight shirt to her body and highlighting all of her curves, she turned briefly and flashed Brooke a dizzying and slightly mysterious smile, the look in her eyes enough to make the blonde want to drop to her knees. Easily picking up on the slightly melted look Brooke was sporting, Diego chuckled.
“That may just be the hottest thing I’ve ever seen,” he murmured, shaking his head at the lovestruck look on the blonde’s face. “There’s a certain porn-esque quality to this whole thing that makes even me a little excited at the prospect of seeing you in action with Sam McPherson. Who is, might I add, the hottest girl in this school, present company excluded.”
Shooting Diego an impervious look, Brooke said archly, “I thought you were just telling me all about your wonderful boyfriend.”
“Maybe I’ve recently discovered that I’m bi,” he replied flirtatiously, a wide grin letting her know that he was thoroughly enjoying himself at her expense. “What was that about double dating?”
Suddenly serious in the face of his levity, Brooke said pensively, “Is there some place you go with Silas, some place where you can be yourselves and not have to worry? Some place where you can dance, maybe?”
“You want to get your groove on with your girl in public?” he teased, wiggling his eyebrows for emphasis. “I think I can swing that. You got fake IDs?”
Blushing, Brooke stuttered, “No. That is, I’ve never needed one…” She trailed off, suddenly feeling horrible socially inadequate. She had no idea how to get a fake ID, however much that seemed like it should come part and parcel with the popularity gift basket.
Barely refraining from teasing the blonde again, Diego said easily, “No problem. I’ll need pictures of both of you. Make sure that you’re standing in front of something white. California blue is tricky, but we can photoshop it in.”
“You’re going to do it?” Brooke asked dubiously. She didn’t want to hurt Diego’s feelings by implying that he couldn’t, but she didn’t want to get arrested either.
Rolling his eyes, he said, “Uh, no. Oh yeah… I’ll need $50 too.”
“Okay,” Brooke said, mentally compiling a list of ways to finagle the necessary funds from her Dad. “One more thing… we’re not officially dating. Actually, we’re not officially doing anything other than sleeping with one another and refraining from starting school wide food fights. I have no indication from her that she wants anything more, and I’m not going to push for it, so if there’s any weirdness, please ignore it. Please.”
Shaking his head in something close to disappointment, Diego mumbled, “I’ll ignore it, but you’d better not ignore what you’re really doing for too long. It’ll end badly… trust me.”
“We need pictures and $50 for what?” Sam asked dryly. She was leaning back against the headboard of her bed, advanced biology book open and ignored in her lap. After coming in from school, she’d changed into a pair of old, worn boxers, and was intensely amused by Brooke’s inability to stop staring at her legs.
“I told you,” Brooke said, voice full of exasperation. “We’re going out with Diego and his boyfriend this Friday night. He’s going to get us fake IDs.”
“And why do we need fake IDs?”
Sighing, searching for patience, Brooke explained slowly, “So we can dance.”
The double dating idea had been Brooke’s idea, and Sam wasn’t entirely convinced that she liked it. She was less inclined to hate Diego now that she knew he was gay, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to buy into the charade. She was well aware that Brooke undoubtedly thought that she could keep up the act. To all outward appearances, it would look like she was still dating Diego. Only now, Sam knew that Brooke wanted everyone to believe that she had started dating Silas, the mystery man she hadn’t even seen yet. Sam didn’t want anyone thinking she was dating Silas. In fact, she didn’t want anyone thinking she was dating at all. She didn’t need to see George’s hurt eyes, much as she had for the last few weeks at school. He’d been staring at her with such a heartfelt expression of confusion and pain that she’d had to escape to the newspaper room during her spare time just so she didn’t have to see it. It made her uncomfortable and irritated, primarily because of the self-loathing it induced. She’d used George, and a large part of her was ashamed about that.
Which was partly why she’d had absolutely no intention of telling anyone that she and Brooke were… doing whatever they were doing. She had no desire to see the depths of hurt that would cause, when George figured out that he’d been dumped because he couldn’t measure up to a secret, semi-incestuous girl-on-girl relationship. Besides, she was self-aware enough to know that all of that supposed bravery she projected at school and in her writing was, for the most part, a façade. Underneath it all, she was just a normal teenager going through the same things as every other normal teenager. She didn’t want to be different, didn’t want to be the one everybody stared at and whispered about. Quite frankly, she didn’t want to be a freak. Having Diego know was more than she’d wanted, but at least she knew his secret too.
Given that, the notion of procuring fake IDs and fake dating and the kind of dancing she had an idea Brooke was referring to wasn’t entirely appealing. So, a bit more sharply than she’d planned, Sam snapped, “I never said I wanted to go dancing.”
The hurt look reappeared, this time in Brooke’s eyes, and Sam fought the urge to pull her comforter up over her head, to bury herself under her makeshift shield until people decided to stop looking at her that way. But, she couldn’t really do that, not with tears shining bright in Brooke’s eyes. All of the fighting they’d done before, all of the cool aloofness and intractability and all of the detached scheming that had gone into Brooke’s seemingly haphazard seduction had done a fairly good job of persuading her that the blonde’s heart was slightly icy. But, icy or not, the intimation of emotions put Sam on edge. She couldn’t deal with any more disappointment.
So, hating herself even as she said it, Sam muttered, “Dancing could be fun.”
Brooke smiled a watery smile, seeing Sam’s concession as the peace offering it was and more than ready to grab hold of it before the situation spiraled into something more serious. So, trying to blink away her unexpected and unwelcome tears, she said happily, “It will be fun, Sammy. They’re going to take us to a club in the city, and we won’t know a single person there.”
Rolling her eyes, the obliviousness of the statement almost too much for her, Sam drawled, “It’ll be absolutely perfect for you then.”
“And you,” Brooke teased, closing the textbook with precision then carelessly dropping it to the floor. “You know, I’m more than willing to let you do a little hands-on studying of my biology. And later, maybe I’ll brush up on my chemistry. While we’re at it, if we’re lucky, we can test out some physics.”
Slightly taken aback, Sam grinned, voice a flirtatious murmur. “Are you always horny?” she teased, arching an imperious brow. She’d somehow forgotten, in those months she’d been with George, just how sexual Brooke could be. Impulsive, seeming to decide in the span of a second that she wanted more and lacking any compunction to delay gratification, and it continually left Sam fatally off-balance. Not that she denied Brooke often. There was something infectious about the blonde, something that made her want to forget all of the warnings her brain was so desperately trying to send in favor of the immediacy of the moment, the thrill of what they were doing.
Grinning widely, moving so that she was straddling Sam’s hips, Brooke pretended to give the question serious thought. “Not always,” she said after a long moment, hazel eyes twinkling. “Just when you’re around.”
If any part of Sam thought the statement odd, the kiss that followed managed to suppress her capacity for cognition long enough for her to forget about it.
“The blonde has it bad.”
Diego barely heard the words over the thumping bass of the club music, but when they registered, he turned to Silas with a wry smile. “I know. Sad, isn’t it.”
Moving in behind his boyfriend, wrapping his arms around Diego’s waist as the two stood on the balcony, watching the teeming mass of writhing bodies below them, Silas leaned his head forward, resting his chin on the other boy’s shoulder. “Why is it sad?”
Diego entwined their fingers together, turning his head for a quick kiss. Breaking away with a soft smile, he said, “Because Sam’s just along for the ride. She has no clue.”
“Hmm,” Silas hummed. “I like Sam.”
Shooting his boyfriend a sardonic look, remembering the way the two had fallen into intense dinner conversation as if they were the only ones at the table, Diego muttered, “I noticed. Should I be jealous?”
Face bland, Silas said thoughtfully, “I don’t know. She is a hottie. Smart, too.”
He felt Diego stiffen and sighed, tilting his head over to place a quick kiss on tan skin. “I guess it’s just too bad for her that I’ve already found someone with both of those qualities, and more.”
“So, Silas is nice,” Brooke said nonchalantly, drawing Sam off to the side of the dance floor for a breather. She’d pulled the brunette out into the crowd as soon as they’d gotten there and hadn’t let her out of her sight. But, she was a little tired and far more sweaty than she would have preferred, so a break seemed in order.
“Yeah, he’s cool,” Sam said excitedly, eyes flashing.
And extremely good looking, Brooke silently added bitterly. Of course, she had been expecting that. What she hadn’t been expecting was an Ian Somerhalder look-alike who seemed to share all of Sam’s interests. Favorite authors, favorite books, favorite historical scandals… they’d covered it all as she and Diego had merely sat back and watched, the conversation sustaining itself quite nicely without any input from them.
“Should I be jealous?” Brooke unconsciously echoed, unable to keep a scowl from creeping across her face.
Sam’s grin started off small, but soon spread. “Of a gay man? I’m not sure I see the threat there.”
The threat, Brooke thought but didn’t dare say out loud, was that the spark of deep-seated interest that Silas had evoked was an expression that had, at one time, been something the blonde had been used to seeing on a regular basis. And she didn’t mind sharing, really, because she wasn’t jealous and proprietary enough to want to cage Sam. Interacting, casual flirting, new friends… they were all well and good. The problem, however, was when other people started earning that spark on a more frequent basis than she did. After having mended things somewhat after the George incident, Brooke had seen a precipitous decline in her share of the spark.
She craved the spark.
She needed the spark.
She couldn’t imagine a future without the spark.
“You’re going to prom with Harrison?”
Brooke wasn’t quite sure if her voice was hurt or numb, which made sense given that she wasn’t quite sure which of those things she was feeling. This was… this was betrayal.
Sam answered blithely, with a carelessly shrugged shoulder. “Yeah. I want to go. He doesn’t have a date. I don’t have a date. It seemed like a good idea.”
Jaw clenching as she fought to hold back anger, Brooke gritted out, “What do you mean, you don’t have a date?”
Rolling her eyes, sighing in exasperation, Sam chuckled. “What? Go with you? Is that what you’re suggesting, Brooke?”
Voice viperishly stung, Brooke shot back, “Obviously not. Because that would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?”
“Maybe you expected me to go with Silas,” Sam said haughtily. “After all, that would complete the perfectness of your plan. I could take my fake gay boyfriend to the prom with me while you went with your fake gay boyfriend, and we could dance with our fake gay boyfriends and sip punch and shoot each other sly looks and leave early. Then my fake boyfriend and your fake boyfriend could rent us adjoining hotel rooms so we could all have wonderful, secret post-prom gay sex together.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Brooke nearly screamed, unaccountably irritated by what Sam was saying. “Are you mocking me? Are you passive aggressively trying to win some kind of argument? Is there a point here you’re trying to prove? I don’t get it.”
Shaking her head with disgust, Sam muttered, “Obviously. Look, I’ve already made up my mind. I’m going to prom with Harrison, and after, we’re all going down to the beach.”
“That’s absolutely ridiculous,” Brooke spluttered. “We’re going to spend the night together.”
“What,” Sam scoffed, “like a normal couple?”
“We are a normal couple,” came the irritated reply. Scowling deeply, Brooke murmured sharply, “This is senior year, Sam. Last hoorah and all that… do you honestly not want to spend the night with me?”
“What I want is to feel normal,” Sam spat, lips quirking up into a frustrated smirk.
The words, as usual, ripped straight through Brooke’s gut. “Fine then. Go to prom with Harrison and ignore me all night and have a fucking clambake or whatever with your friends on the beach afterwards and be normal. Be alone and normal.”
When she left or, more precisely, stormed out, Brooke did so with a resolute slam of the door. The sharp click of the lock on the door to her side of the bathroom effectively locked her away from Sam, but not from the anger she could feel creeping through her veins. She’d had what she now realized were stupid fantasies, idiotic visions of them two of them dancing together for at least one perfect, romantic moment. A moment she wanted to recreate later, when they were alone in their room or out under the stars or anywhere, really, that was far enough away from reality for them to believe they were the only people left in the world. She had rather foolishly imagined soft kisses and illegally obtained sparkling wine and sheer perfection for at least one night.
With a choked sob, she let the thought chase itself through her mind again. One night. One night when she was herself again, not this strange, scared caricature she’d become. After the things that had happened in the fall, she found that she was physically incapable of saying the words, of telling Sam how she felt. Instead she was bitchy and jealous and slightly psychotic, or at least she felt that way. She needed a safety net, a certain distance that allowed her to be with Sam but not in danger of being hurt by Sam, and when she examined herself in an objective light, she didn’t like what she saw. She was a coward, afraid to truly stand up for what she wanted and more subject to the whims of another than she’d probably ever been. She was a crying, sniveling ghost of who she’d been, trapping herself in a space where she grew increasingly unhappy with each passing day with no intention of doing anything to change it.
She was living half a life, tricking herself into believing in a shiny veneer of happiness that didn’t exist. There was no perfection. There never would be any perfection. If she were stronger, then she’d say no more, would set down rules or break all ties or do something other than rant and pout and take what came her way regardless of how it made her feel. She would storm back into Sam’s room, would pin her to the bed and tell her that she loved her and not let her get back up until the other girl understood how things were going to be. There would be no going to the prom with Harrison, there would be no careless flirting (because damn it if she was going to watch Sam half-heartedly encourage any more clueless little girls and boys while she was standing right beside her, for chrissakes) and there would be no doubts that their relationship was normal and good and everything the brunette needed.
But then, to do that, she’d need to face her fears. Topmost, of course, was that Sam would merely laugh at her, would call the whole thing off with a careless shrug of the shoulders and a ‘whatever’ and move on with her life as if they hadn’t had something special. And then she hated herself even more, because it was embarrassing to be in love with someone who didn’t feel the same way, to care about someone else more than they cared about you. It was pathetic, really, made even more so by the way she was desperately clinging on to whatever she could get, and Brooke momentarily felt a curl of nausea rise up in her belly, threatening to overtake her.
She’d been reduced to something pathetic.
She even disgusted herself. No wonder Sam could act the way she did.
What she needed to do was regain control over this situation. She needed to forget about the ridiculous feelings she’d been feeling for so long that they didn’t even matter anymore. There had been a time when this thing between them had worked, and she remembered exactly when and why that was. This was all about sex, was about gratification and her getting what she wanted and screw anything else. If she was going to fix things, then that’s what it had to be about again.
She was back in Sam’s room before she even fully formulated her plan, the other girl’s wide, surprised brown eyes making her unaccountably furious. She knew it was the middle of the afternoon, that their parents would be home sometime soon and that what she was planning on doing was probably a horribly bad thing, but she didn’t care.
Pulling her shirt off, tossing it casually to the floor as she approached Sam’s bed, Brooke growled, “You’re free to do whatever you want. I had forgotten what this was all about, so thanks for reminding me. I won’t make the same mistake again.”
And then she was kneeling on the bed, was cutting off Sam’s protest with an aggressive sweep of her tongue. She felt the other girls’ confusion, the momentary hint of panic, and she drank it in, reveling in it. This was something with which she was intimately familiar. Sam’s fingers were in her hair, pulling away and pushing her closer at the same time, a manifestation of the unsure tension she could feel thrumming through the body beneath hers. A tension she ignored, lips and tongue applying just the right amount of pressure to a long, slim neck. She’d had plenty of practice at this, at getting Sam to momentarily lose her mind and go along with what she wanted.
“Brooke,” the brunette whimpered as long fingers cupped her breasts, finding and rolling a taut peak. She didn’t know if it was a plea or a demand, but from the growl she elicited in reply, Sam imagined that it didn’t really matter.
This was the one place where Brooke would always have the advantage. She knew Sam’s body, knew how to touch her and lick her and tease her until every single reservation left the other girl’s mind and she was nothing but flesh and blood and nerves and living in the moment. This would be the place where she owned her.
When Brooke returned to her room hours later, sounds of Jane in the downstairs kitchen drifting up like a surprisingly soothing domestic lullaby, she buried her face in her pillow and cried. And, even though she’d sworn to herself that the words would never cross her lips again, they slid past a dry, scratchy throat, losing themselves in tear soaked fabric.
“I love you, Sam.”
She managed to get away with only 10 minutes of combined picture taking, but even that was 10 minutes too long.
“Do you really want to go to prom?”
The words drew a confused look from Diego, who took in her dress and his tux before saying slowly, “Well, I did get all dressed up…”
“I say we skip it. Call Silas, have him meet us downtown. We’ll have real dancing, not boring prom dancing.”
Pulling over into the overly harsh light of a gas station parking lot, Diego cut the engine and turned to look at Brooke, eyes soft with compassion. “You sure you want to do that, Brooke? This is it… senior year, and all that. Skip this one, and you can never take it back.”
“Take what back, Diego? A night spent watching my girl dance with everyone else? What am I losing out on here, exactly?”
Shaking his head sadly, Diego murmured, “I don’t get you sometimes, Brooke. You rule that school. Anything you do is golden. If you want to go to prom with your girlfriend, then do it. And you know what? Who cares if people care. Two more weeks and we’re out of here. Does it really matter to you what these people think?”
“She’s going with Harrison because she wants to go with Harrison. She says she wants to be normal, to have a normal night like a normal person. So, you know what that makes me? Abnormal.”
As she said it, she thought she might cry. She didn’t understand why Sam kept throwing that word at her like it was a curse, like it was something she could never offer. “She’s leaving in three weeks. She’s got a two month internship with the Times and then she’s going to Columbia. She’s going to leave me behind and not even care. She didn’t want to go with me, not the other way around. Would I have really done it? I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. I never had the opportunity to try.”
“Brooke…” he started, voice low and consoling.
“I love her, but she doesn’t love me,” the blonde broke in, voice resonating with hollow amusement, “and it’s pretty pathetic. She doesn’t love me, but I have this power over her and I exploit that. The sad thing is that I’m going to keep exploiting it until I can’t anymore, and then I don’t know what I’ll do.”
“You could try telling her how you feel,” Diego offered with a wry smile. He wanted to be comforting, wanted to be supportive and helpful and full of advice that would solve her problems. But, he couldn’t be. Deep down, he knew exactly how she felt and that shared knowledge left him vaguely hollow. That despair, that loneliness… it was a part of himself he didn’t like to acknowledge. It was a part he liked to pretend he didn’t have.
Brooke laughed shortly, lips twisting into an empty smirk. “Yeah. The last time I tried that plan, she left me for her ex-boyfriend.”
“You told her and she left you?” Diego asked, slightly horrified. Puzzled, too, because he didn’t understand how they were together if that was the case. He sure as hell wouldn’t have gotten back together with someone who had done that to him. He hoped. He liked to think. He was fairly certain.
“No, I was going to tell her, but before I got the chance she shared her big news.”
Rather at a loss, all Diego could say was, “Sucks.”
“Indeed it does. So, unless you have a burning desire to go to prom, I think I’d rather go to our club and dance.”
Restarting the car, Diego murmured, “You’re probably going to miss being named Prom Queen.”
Her smile, when it came, was weak but her words were strong. “Everybody should get a chance to wear the crown. I’ve more than had my share.”
The music was so loud that she wondered if she was suffering permanent hearing damage and she looked horribly out of place in her prom dress, but Brooke didn’t care. She was lost in a crowd of pulsing, sweating bodies, eyes closed and body moving to the music with abandon. Something about the anonymity of it all, the sudden smallness of herself in the face of the rest of the world, made her intensely happy. She was just a girl, a single person who had problems but surely none as horrible as other people in the world had. And there was music, and she could get lost in the sound of it, in the bass that seemed to climb inside her body and bounce right back out. In a room packed full of people, the world was hers alone.
There was a long body behind hers, taking up the little space she had managed to carve out for herself, and she was about to turn around and offer a rather scathing comment about what she thought about that when a low voice said in her ear, “Its almost three. Silas wants to get out of here. Do you want to go, or do you want me to go with him and leave you my keys?”
And suddenly the moment was gone, and she was alone again but this time the weight of the world was crushing in on her, and she was sure that her problem held at least the cosmic mass of the tiny problems of a thousand other people put together. “Just drop me by home, please,” she said, and tried to say it brightly so that he wouldn’t know that he’d just collapsed all of her happiness into the negative pressure of a black hole, but she wasn’t sure she’d succeeded.
Then again, maybe it was too loud for him to know the difference. “Great,” he said, and his fingers were twining through hers, and she felt herself being pulled away from the glorious blankness of her body and the music and the heat of being surrounded by a hundred bodies.
By the time they got back to the palace, she felt dirty and grimy and wanted nothing more than to take a shower and wash the smell of smoke out of her hair. Her parents were asleep and Sam’s room was dark, but she was quiet anyway as she slipped out of her dress and turned on the shower. The water was hot, and felt good against her skin, and she stood motionless for at least five minutes, letting it beat down on her head and slide down her spine, washing away metaphorical grime.
Cool air on her skin alerted her to the fact that something was off, but before she could begin to figure out what it was, warm arms wrapped around her waist and she squeaked in surprise.
“Shh… it’s me,” Sam whispered against the back of her neck, and for some reason, Brooke felt a tear slip down her cheek. “Where were you?”
Sighing, refusing to turn around, Brooke said dully, “Diego and Silas and I went dancing.”
There was a long pause, then a slightly strained, “You were named Prom Queen. You should have seen them when they figured out you weren’t even there.” There was a pause, then a dry, “Nicole graciously accepted the honor in your place.”
Brooke couldn’t help but smile a bit at the hint of bitter amusement in Sam’s tone. But then she smiled for real, imagining how Nicole would have felt with that tiara on her head, even if it wasn’t really for her. It was about time she had her shot at the crown.
“Good for her,” Brooke murmured. Then, after a moment of silence, she said, voice strained, “Weren’t you supposed to be spending the night out on the beach?”
“Came home early,” Sam murmured, nuzzling her neck, teeth scraping in a light tease. “I wanted to see you.”
This time Brooke didn’t begrudge the tear that slid down her cheek, or the one that followed close on its heels and left parallel tracks of salt on her skin. She felt like her heart was deconstructing itself and knew she couldn’t survive the final fall. So, turning her face up to the spray to wash away any trace of tears, she turned slowly, something in her breaking definitively at the sight of dark brown eyes. “You’re seeing all of me,” she said, nearly laughing when she realized that the words were horribly, irrevocably true.
The problem was, Sam wasn’t looking. Or, maybe she was, but she just couldn’t see.
The brunette leaned in, brushing a soft kiss against Brooke’s lips. “Come to bed,” she whispered.
And Brooke closed her eyes and pretended, erased everyone from the world but Sam and herself, and the beautiful anonymity of it made her happy again. So, with a blinding smile she nodded, pushed wet hair behind her ears and barely took the time to turn off the shower before pulling the other girl with her, leaving foot shaped puddles in their path.
“So I’ll… uh… see you around, I guess.”
Brooke fought the urge to laugh hysterically, sure that the seeming snap of her sanity wouldn’t do much to help Jane’s already tenuous grip on her emotions. But the words just seemed so pitiful in the face of everything she wanted to hear (and say), and the sight of Sam looking at her hesitantly, hands shoved deep in her pockets and bottom lip trapped nervously between her teeth just completed the picture. Maybe it was the perfect coda to their relationship up to that point – ambiguous, vaguely unsatisfying and incomplete.
Well aware of the pressure of her parents’ combined stares, Brooke offered a weak, “Thanksgiving, right. You’re coming home?”
What she really wanted to do was grab the brunette by the hand and drag her up to her room and not let her out for days. One day back from her internship and she had already packed her bags and labeled boxes for shipping to New York as soon as she had a permanent address. Brooke would have preferred at least a week, or maybe a month, or maybe a dorm room at Stanford that they could have shared. Instead all she got was a single night, one where Sam murmured that she was tired and settled her face into the crook of Brooke’s shoulder before drifting off to sleep. Sleep that Brooke didn’t share, spending every single minute rememorizing the feel of Sam’s skin and the pattern of her breathing and the soft whimpers she occasionally made in response to a dream image.
“So, you must be the straightest straight girl they could find this year.”
The words startled Brooke, drawing her out of her inspection of the few pictures she had arranged on the desk. For some reason, she had pushed the one of her and Sam to the back, slightly obscured behind a picture of the two of them with their parents.
“I’m sorry?” she gasped, heart and mind racing. She couldn’t fight the momentary panic that she’d somehow been exposed, that she was being taunted.
“I said,” this time the voice was slower, as if speaking to a toddler, “that you must be the straightest straight girl they could find this year.”
Throwing on haughty arrogance as a protective cloak, Brooke said dismissively, “Who are you?”
“Your roomie, Roomie,” came the sardonic reply.
Pushing down a scowl, Brooke replied calmly, “You’re Parker Addison?”
“Indeed. And call me Parker. It’s far less pretentious.”
Save for the decidedly evil smirk, Parker looked like the typical Southern California girl. Long blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes and a nicely burnished tan combined with the air of the carelessly rich, and Brooke couldn’t help her confusion. “What the hell are you talking about?’
Closing the door to their small room behind her, Parker moved over to her bed, slouching down on it gracefully. “I mean that you’re the latest victim in Alpha Psi Omega’s quest to keep me straightened out, so to speak.”
“So you’re not…” Brooke trailed off, leaving the sentence unfinished deliberately, not wanting to make too many assumptions.
“Straight? Afraid not. That’s why you’re here. You’ve apparently been deemed the most immune to corruption of all the new girls. You should take it as a compliment. They feel you’re strong enough to resist my evil ways,” the other girl drawled, a hint of amusement threaded through her tone.
Refusing to rise to the bait, Brooke said nonchalantly, “Are you going to keep this badass posturing up all year? Cause I’m thinking I could get pretty tired of it.”
“Ooh, this one’s got fire,” Parker drawled, though there was a spark of interest in her eyes. “Not going to run away, to beg for a new room? Because, you know, that’s my goal. I always like to send the first one packing.”
“Sucks you’re going to be so unfulfilled then,” Brooke said lightly, settling down onto her own bed. “I could care less.”
“Let me guess… you just came from the freshman mandated Diversity Awareness training.”
“No,” Brooke said thoughtfully, “I just came from the real world where it’s not nearly as big a deal as you seem to want it to be. Not that I meant to take all of the fun out of your angsty little rebellion or anything.”
Looking at Brooke appraisingly, Parker finally murmured, “This might not be so bad.”
“Why didn’t I meet you at Rush?” Brooke asked, blinking her eyes in an attempt to stay awake and eschewing the new, politically correct term, Membership Recruitment, in favor of old school correctness. Her Western Civ book wasn’t doing much to help her retain consciousness, and so she’d turned to conversation to give herself a little boost. Not that she was interrupting her roommate or anything, the other girl’s intense focus on her nail polish not withstanding.
Parker frowned, using her fingernail to scrape away a hint of bubblegum pink that had gone astray. “Ever since I nearly got us banned from Rush for sleeping with a Rushee, they decided that I should sit it out.”
Slamming the book closed in surprise, Brooke leaned forward. “What?” she gasped, immediately latching on to the prurience of it all.
Shooting the blonde a sardonic glare, Parker mumbled, “It’s not like I knew she was a Rushee. I met her at a bar. I didn’t do it on purpose.”
“So what? She told?” Brooke asked, thoroughly intrigued.
Shrugging her shoulders, Parker said dispassionately, “She said she didn’t, but if she didn’t, I don’t know who did. Either way, she certainly fessed up in the Rush infractions meeting with the NPC bigwigs. Apparently the only thing that saved us from banishment for that majorly serious Rush infraction was the fact that our rush advisor is a bigshot lawyer who got them so tied up in fake legal bullshit that they were too scared to kick us off campus for fear that she’d sue the pants off of them. Even with that, everybody in the chapter had to do 10 extra service hours that Fall. I was not popular, to say the least.”
Brow furrowing as she thought, Brooke finally said slowly, “Why didn’t they kick you out?”
“Who? Exec?” Parker asked absently, finishing off her last toe.
“After you got them in all that trouble, I would think they’d want you gone,” Brooke pointed out reasonably, sliding her book to the side.
Capping the nail polish and putting it back on her desk, Parker laid back and sighed. “My parents have a lot of money. One day I’ll have a lot of money. No need to lose a potentially loaded future alumna,” she said sarcastically.
“So the whole gay thing…” Brooke started to say then stopped, consternation written clearly on her face as she tried to think of a tactful way to end her sentence.
Chuckling, Parker replied, “Is a big deal but not that big of a deal. Besides, it would be hypocritical of them. NPC is all about the tolerance message right now, so no way is Alpha Psi going to risk the shitstorm of negative publicity that comes along with kicking out a member because of her sexual orientation. Anyway, it’s college, time for experimentation and all that. If they started kicking out girls for sleeping with other girls, they’d probably cut member numbers by a third.”
Eyes widening at that, Brooke whispered, “Really? That many girls?”
Rolling her eyes at the naïve display, Parker drawled, “Yeah. I’m not saying they’re all dyed in the wool dykes or anything, but sometimes all the sisterly bonding goes a little too far. Some try it once, some try it a few times, some find out they like to have it both ways, and then there are the girls like me.”
Frowning, trying to process the influx of new information, Brooke asked, somewhat confused, “But why do you stick around?”
Shrugging, Parker said nonchalantly, “Because I like it.” She paused, then added, smirking, “Besides, some girls go positively wild when they see the letters.”
“That’s kind of disturbing,” Brooke muttered, trying to picture Parker as kind of a rockstar in Greek letters, groupies hanging off of her. It was surprisingly easy to envision.
Eyes narrowing slyly, Parker teased, “You should try it sometime, you know. Like I said, its college. Experiment. You might just like it.”
Ducking her head to hide her blush, Brooke muttered, “Yeah. Whatever.”
Reopening her book, not caring what page she was looking at so long as she didn’t have to look at Parker, Brooke pretended to read.
Thoroughly enjoying the other girl’s discomfort, Parker laughed. “Who knew you were such a prude.”
Throwing the other girl a glare, Brooke turned back to her book, intent on resolutely ignoring her.
“Sam, hi,” Brooke said, hoping that she didn’t sound as nervous as she felt. She hadn’t seen the other girl in months, hadn’t heard from her in just as long. And now she was there, sullen and brooding and gloriously Sam, and Brooke wanted to hug her.
“A sorority, Brooke?” Sam muttered, looking up at the imposing brick façade of the Alpha Psi Omega sorority house. “How cliché.”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to break out of the mold of anything,” Brooke said cheerily, refusing to let Sam’s mood ruin her high. “How about a tour?”
“Shouldn’t we wait on the parents?” Sam said, trying desperately to hold on to some of her anger. She hadn’t wanted to accompany her parents on their trip to visit Brooke at school and certainly hadn’t wanted to be left there alone with her.
“They could be hours,” Brooke said dismissively. Little Mac had taken umbrage at the long car ride and all of the activity she’d been subjected to that morning, and with abject apologies, Jane and Mike had bundled her up and taken her back to the hotel for a little afternoon nap, hoping to make the rest of the evening a little more enjoyable for everyone involved. Sam had tried to go back with them, but Brooke had ganged up with the parents, all three insisting that she stay. There was no need for her to go back and suffer, too, they said. She could stick around, catch up with Brooke, see student-y things.
Walking into the house, sure that Sam would follow her, Brooke took a minute to collect her nerves. She wanted nothing more than to touch Sam, to press her up against the cherry paneling in the chapter room and make her scream. “So, most of the main floor is pretty simple. The chapter room, where we having meetings. The dining room, where we eat. The entertainment room, where we watch TV and otherwise entertain ourselves.”
“Fascinating,” Sam drawled, taking in the opulence surrounding her. Everything in the house reeked of privilege. She hated it immediately.
“My room is on the second floor,” Brooke said, ignoring the glare sent her way when she reached out to wrap her fingers around Sam’s, pulling the brunette behind her.
Racing up the stairs, both were breathless when they reached Brooke’s room. Swallowing heavily, already feeling her hormones ramp into overdrive, Brooke pushed open the door. “So this is it,” she said unsteadily, immediately focused on every detail of Sam’s reaction.
Leaving the door open behind her, feeling it was the most prudent thing to do, Sam took in the two beds, the relatively simple decor. If it weren’t for the overabundance of Alpha Psi Omega gear, it might have almost looked like a normal dorm room. Of course, the computer on the desk was loaded, the stereo in the corner top of the line. But, she didn’t think any of that was Brooke’s, so she couldn’t technically hate the girl for her technological abundance.
Nonchalantly moving around Sam to close the door further, not pushing it all the way shut, Brooke took a step closer. She wanted to let Sam know she wasn’t pressuring her, hence the lack of the locked door, but she desperately wanted to touch her. The fact that the house was practically deserted made this far more plausible. In fact, as far as she knew, she was the last girl remaining, and that was only because she’d delayed her departure an extra day so that her parents could bring Sam to campus with them after picking her up from the airport.
Moving to stand in front of Sam, pushing a fall of dark hair back behind the other girl’s ear, Brooke eased into Sam’s personal space. Eliminated it would be more accurate, and Sam’s breath caught as she felt Brooke’s curves against her own for the first time in months.
“Brooke,” she said weakly, cursing herself as she felt her will begin to crumble with barely a fight, “what are you doing?”
“Getting reacquainted,” Brooke whispered, placing a soft kiss on Sam’s neck. The soft kisses continued, drawing a sigh from the brunette as they moved up her neck, over her chin, to her lips.
The kiss was exhilarating yet familiar, and even as she told herself to take a step back, to call a halt to all of it, her hands slid up Brooke’s arms to wrap in her hair. She’d tried to deny the re-emergence of her attraction, had tried to ignore the shiver that had slid up her spine at the first sight of the other girl. Before she’d even stepped out of the car, she’d made herself elaborate promises, told herself that she wouldn’t fall back into this pattern.
The promises hadn’t held much weight, apparently. She was moaning, excitement shooting through her as Brooke tugged furiously at her shirt. The other girl’s urgency was intoxicating, as if Brooke couldn’t handle another second without her touch. As if the other girl would die if she couldn’t touch her flesh.
“I missed you,” Brooke hissed, breaking away from the kiss to rip Sam’s shirt over her head. Now that she had Sam back in her arms, nothing was going to slow her down. Fingers fumbling with the buttons on Sam’s jeans, she backed the other girl into her bed, pushing her down and ridding herself of her own shirt in the process.
“Off, off… I want them off,” she growled, giving up on the row of buttons and pulling the jeans down, the tight fabric catching on Sam’s hips as she jerked. Her movements were frenetic, overwhelming, and as she ripped the jeans off, kicking off her shoes and shucking her own pants before lowering herself to the bed, Brooke tried hard not to think about what it meant, her need to touch Sam again.
Her kiss was fierce, her hands everywhere. She couldn’t get enough, couldn’t satisfy her need to learn Sam’s body all over again. She couldn’t wait either, and the startled gasp of surprise when she slid her fingers into warm wetness let her know that Sam hadn’t expected the sudden move.
“God, Brooke,” Sam moaned, taken off-guard. Brooke’s fingers were already moving with blinding speed, the intensity of the sensation stealing her breath. Her head thrashed about even as her eyes opened wide in confusion, the sensations rushing through her coming faster than they ever had before. Sex between them had never been like that, so rushed, so desperate.
Brooke merely kissed her again, increasing the pressure of her fingers. She felt Sam start to stiffen, felt the sudden tense of her abdomen and thighs, and smiled into the kiss, her rhythm unflinching. When she felt the shudder run through Sam she didn’t stop, just kept up her movements, drawing a series of gasps and jerks from the girl beneath her.
Trapped in waves of pleasure, Sam stared up blindly, mind not quite comprehending the look in Brooke’s eyes. It seemed almost loving, the emotion so antithetical to their particular relationship that she knew she had to be imagining it.
Brooke didn’t stop what she was doing until Sam wrapped a hand around her wrist. “Too sensitive,” the brunette gasped, body still shivering. At the words, Brooke collapsed on top of her, the delicious feel of their skin pressed together almost enough to bring tears to her eyes.
Long minutes later, Sam’s heart finally began to slow, to return to its normal rhythm. Turning her head to the side, lips grazing Brooke’s ear, she said hoarsely, “My turn.”
“Oh, the drama. The passion. The incest.”
“I take it you had an interesting Thanksgiving,” Brooke drawled, not even looking up at her roommate’s dramatic entrance.
Parker merely laughed, drawing a scowl from the already angry looking blonde. “Not exactly. I was actually thinking about your holiday break.”
Feeling herself stiffen, a guilty blush darkening her features, Brooke murmured menacingly, “What are you talking about?”
“Me?” Parker replied innocently. “Nothing. Just a sizzling brunette and a peep show like you wouldn’t believe.”
An angry suspicion growing, Brooke narrowed her eyes. “Parker…” she said threateningly, drawing a smirk in reply.
“It’s not my fault if you don’t shut the door to our room when you decide to fuck your sister,” the other girl said with kittenish venom.
Torn, not quite sure how she should respond to that, Brooke merely said coolly, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about the free porn I saw when I realized I had forgotten my make-up bag,” Parker scoffed, not buying the icy denial. “You and your sister. Never would have guessed you’d be so… dominant. Muy kinky.”
Not sure what else to say, Brooke muttered, “She’s not my sister.”
“The family photo says otherwise,” Parker pointed out reasonably. “Not that the irony isn’t delicious. Exec’s evil plan finally worked, for once. Even I can’t corrupt the already seriously bent.”
“My father is married to her mother. She’s not my sister. We’re not related,” Brooke said steadily, pushing down her anger and trying to ignore Parker’s amusement.
“Your powers of rationalization astound me,” Parker replied dryly. “You say not related, I say step-sisters. Technically, I think I’m actually right.”
Seething, utterly helpless in the face of her roommate’s new knowledge, Brooke closed her eyes, mind racing as she tried to work out some way to spin the situation. She had precious few options.
“So you know,” she said finally, slightly defeated. “Now what? You tell everybody else so you can finally not be the biggest freak around here?”
“It is kind of tempting,” Parker admitted honestly, “but no. Where’s the fun in that? If I do that, then I won’t get to experience all the fun that comes with showing you the ropes.”
Arching an expectant brow at her overly enthusiastic roommate, Brooke merely waited.
“The gay girl’s guide to sorority life, Brooke,” Parker said dryly, clearly finding her a bit slow on the uptake.
“I’m not gay,” Brooke replied immediately, automatically.
“Again, I’m thinking the smoking hot gay sex says otherwise,” Parker drawled sarcastically. “How long you been banging your sister?”
“She’s not my sister,” Brooke growled.
Rolling her eyes, Parker huffed. “Fine then, how long have you been banging your girlfriend?”
Expression closing down immediately, Brooke said woodenly, “She’s not my girlfriend.”
“Good God,” Parker groaned, exasperated. “How long have you been banging the brunette? Is that an acceptable way of addressing her?”
“Her name is Sam,” Brooke reminded Parker absently. “And, about a year and a half.”
“You’re seriously fucked up,” Parker observed wryly. “Frankly, I’m impressed. It’s actually quite difficult to reach the heights of fucked-uppedness that you seem to have attained. Trust me, I’ve tried.”
Scowling, deciding to ignore any comments on her mental instability, Brooke asked, “Just how long did you watch, anyway?”
“Long enough to wish you weren’t already taken,” Parker smirked lasciviously. “Or maybe you’re not. You said she’s not your girlfriend.”
“I don’t really think that’s a good idea,” Brooke said coolly, hoping to cut any germinating ideas off before they had an opportunity to grow.
Shrugging off the mini-rejection with ease, Parker smiled widely, taking in Brooke’s hunched figure with obvious glee. “You so fooled me. I bought into that wide-eyed naiveté completely. All those hesitant questions about me, all that shock when you found out that things weren’t as straight around here as you might have thought… all of it. Brava, Brooke.”
“I never lied about anything,” Brooke pointed out defiantly. “You made assumptions. I just didn’t bother to correct them.”
“Lies of omission,” Parker shot back easily. “I still can’t believe it. Couldn’t be prouder, either. I could think of no better successor.”
Rolling her eyes in frustration, Brooke growled, “Whatever you think is going to happen now, isn’t. Go ahead and repack the evil plans, because I’m not taking part.”
“Don’t be a spoilsport, Brookie,” Parker groaning, flopping down on Brooke’s bed dramatically. “I’ve dreamed of this. A Robin to my Batman, an Ace to my Gary.”
“This is about orgies, isn’t it?” Brooke drawled peevishly. “You’ve got that look in your eyes. You’re planning orgies and tag team seductions and about fifteen other things that I don’t want to have anything to do with.”
Pouting, Parker whined, “But don’t you see the perfection of it?”
“I see that it’s a supremely bad idea.”
“No fun,” Parker huffed, pushing herself up off the bed. Then, brightening, she said, “You’ll come around. Think about it, imagine the possibilities. See the beauty of my vision. Take your time… I’ll be waiting.”
Brooke had just stuffed the last of her clothes into her suitcase when Parker breezed into their room, plopping down on her bed carelessly.
“Heading out?” she asked casually, eyeing Brooke’s bulging suitcase. Then, somewhat snidely, she added, “I thought you were only going to be gone for a week.”
“Like you wouldn’t pack two suitcases for half that long,” Brooke replied snottily. “Aren’t you leaving soon?”
“Me?” Parker said nonchalantly. “Nah. I’m sticking around here, I guess. Taking advantage of the relative peace and quiet.”
Eyes narrowing at the other girl’s posturing, Brooke said softly, “Real reason, if you don’t mind.”
“Fine,” Parker huffed, drawing her knees up on the bed, hugging them to her chest. “The parents are in Bern. I turned down an invite. I though maybe I’d try the holidays without drunken fights and poorly concealed adultery this year.”
“Come home with me then,” Brooke said slyly. “The fights aren’t drunken, though they can be quite amusing.”
“Please,” Parker scoffed. “I’m not that pathetic.”
“Fine. Stay here all by yourself when you could be kicking it in the ‘burbs deep in OC, mocking me,” Brooke shot back nonchalantly.
“Well, when you put it that way…”
A few hours later, Brooke put her car into park, sighing deeply. “You’re right. This was a horrible idea.”
“Uh-uh. We’re here now. Come on, introduce me to the folks. I’m dying to experience domestic bliss,” Parker drawled, throwing open her door. “Besides, I’ve been wondering what the hottie looks like with her clothes on.”
Eyes narrowing, Brooke glared. “I’m expecting you to be on good behavior,” she said sternly. “That means hands off. Understand?”
“So touchy about a girl you’re not even dating,” Parker teased, tone much lighter than usual.
“Parker,” Brooke growled, a hint of warning in her tone.
“Fine,” the other girl said, exasperated. “Hands off. Best behavior. Whatever.”
Jane’s voice broke into their friendly repartee, and Brooke sighed again, popping the trunk to remove their luggage. Her one suitcase and Parker’s two in tow, they approached the happily smiling Jane.
“I brought someone with me,” Brooke said unnecessarily. “I hope you don’t mind.”
Slightly confused at the unexpected addition to their holidays but excited to see Brooke nonetheless, Jane helped them into the living room. “Of course not. You know the guest room…”
This time it was her dad, almost jogging down the stairs. His face broke out into a huge grin at the first sight of her, and ignoring her yelps of protest, he wrapped her up in a bear hug.
“Dad, what’s with the display of emotion?” she teased, blushing a little at his exuberance.
“What? A father can’t be happy to see his little girl?” Mike replied with a grin.
Blush deepening, Brooke whined, “Daddy…”
“I take it Brooke’s here,” came a rather sarcastic drawl, followed shortly thereafter by an only slightly sullen brunette dressed all in black.
“Sam,” Brooke said, cursing the shy note in her tone. Then, remembering her friend, she somewhat guiltily made belated introductions. “Jane, Dad, Sam… this is Parker, my roommate.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Mike said jovially, extending his hand. Parker took it, the formality of it a little odd to her. Nice, but odd.
Sam merely nodded. Unable to help herself, Parker grinned at her seductively, throwing in a wink just for fun. The resulting flustered blush was almost worth Brooke’s glare.
“I was just saying that the guest room is now Mac’s room. We thought it was time for her to move out of our room,” Jane said worriedly.
“That’s okay,” Brooke said brightly, breaking in before her step-mom could devise some kind of plan. “Parker can stay in my room and I’ll sleep with Sam.”
The startled choke/cough from the brunette in question had Brooke desperately hoping that Sam wouldn’t veto her plan, so with wide, innocent eyes, she added silkily, “That’s okay with you, isn’t it Sam?”
Looking up to see four expectant faces looking back at her, Sam croaked, “Uh, yeah.” The shock of hearing ‘I’ll sleep with Sam’ had almost caused her to suffocate on her own air and she could only hope she was the only one who had noticed. From the strange looks she was getting from Brooke’s friend it wasn’t promising. Coupled with the decidedly lascivious glint in her eyes, Sam realized she found the otherwise unassuming, though disarmingly attractive, blonde quite disturbing.
“Oh, good then,” Jane said happily, and Sam cursed her mother’s obliviousness. She thought parents were supposed to be more attuned to their children’s moods. Then again, she had managed to carry on an affair with her step-sister for a year without either her Mom or Mike picking up on it, so maybe it was a little too much to hope her mother would notice a brief spate of discomfort and embarrassment.
“Not nervous, are you?”
Parker eyed Brooke with amusement. Her roommate had made sure she was settled into her now vacated room, had pointed out every feature of the house that she might remotely need to know about, and was currently reviewing the CD collection she’d left at home as if it might produce treasured and forgotten gems.
Jumping slightly, cursing herself for being so transparent, Brooke muttered, “No.”
“Good, because I’m tired,” Parker said pointedly, cutting her eyes to the door. “You should go. Unless you want me to go sleep with the hottie.”
“Stop calling her that,” Brooke muttered, snapping shut the jewel case to *N’SYNC’s seminal cd.
“Or we could both go,” Parker added slyly. “You, me, the hottie… it’d be the best holiday vacation I’ve ever had.”
Glaring, Brooke growled, “No.” She was a bit unnerved by Parker’s interest in Sam. If she examined it closely, it looked remarkably like jealousy. Not that jealousy wasn’t an emotion she hadn’t experienced before, especially when it came to Sam. Maybe this was more. Maybe this was more like fear. Parker was attractive. She had no guarantees that Sam wouldn’t be receptive to the other girl’s advances, and that made her distinctly uncomfortable.
“So possessive,” Parker tsked, shaking her head in mock disappointment. “If you’re not going to claim her, you should at least share.”
Brooke’s glare grew exponentially sharper. “I’m leaving now,” she huffed, shoulders straightening, desperate to get away from Parker and closer to Sam, to reestablish the connection between them. “Again, I stress, behave.”
“Only if you promise not to,” Parker said, voice sing-song. “Don’t keep it down on my account. I won’t mind.”
“There’s something seriously wrong with you,” Brooke said drolly, fighting back an unexpected chuckle, the other girl’s words catching her off guard.
Drawing together the slightly ragged ends of her courage, Brooke made her way through the bathroom adjoining her room with Sam’s. She momentarily considered locking the door connecting the room to her old room, the one Parker was occupying, but didn’t want to explain what had happened if the blonde had to use the bathroom during the night and ended up with a concussion. Instead, she took a deep breath, steeling herself as she eased open the door to Sam’s room, and painted on the most nonchalant visage she could muster.
Sam was curled up on the far side of her bed, dark eyes watching Brooke warily in the dim light of the room. Her lips were pursed in a scowl, body decidedly rigid. Brooke could tell that she had something she wanted to say and so she stopped, giving Sam room to speak.
“I don’t like being manipulated,” the brunette said shortly, tugging the covers up her chest a little further.
Biting back another sigh, this time dreading what might potentially become a messy and emotional confrontation, Brooke said quietly, “I’m not manipulating you.”
“You manipulated the situation,” Sam pointed out, eyes growing distrustful.
Not quite able to deny that, Brooke said with a shrug, “A little.”
“Your friend’s kind of weird,” Sam said evasively, not prepared for Brooke’s easy acceptance of her assertion. It left her unable to move to the next logical step in her argument, which was pointing out how exactly Brooke had managed her manipulation. The other girl’s casual acceptance of her duplicity left her momentarily adrift and so she turned to the second most important item on her list of grievances.
Chuckling lightly, Brooke took a tentative step closer to the bed. “Yeah, she is.”
Easing further back into the corner, wanting to maintain a physical distance from the blonde, Sam said uneasily, “Are you two…”
Pausing, smirking at the implication, Brooke said dryly, “Not hardly. Do you think I would have set things up so that I could be in here with you if I was sleeping with Parker?”
“You could have told Mom and Mike that to throw them off your scent,” Sam said defiantly, eyeing Brooke warily as the blonde took another step toward the bed.
“I guess I could have,” Brooke mused, “but that wouldn’t make much sense. First of all, I don’t think either of them know that there’s anything going on that they’re not picking up on, so why would I need to trick them into thinking that I’m not sleeping with Parker? I don’t think they would have blinked an eye if I’d shared a bed with her. Secondly, if it was a trick, then I would have actually stayed in my room with her, not come in here to be with you.”
Reasonable enough arguments, Sam decided, though she wasn’t yet ready to give it up. “Was she hitting on me?” she finally asked, blushing slightly as she remembered her response to the girl’s playful wink.
Eyes narrowing, Brooke muttered, “She better not be. I told her hands off.”
“So the possibility exists that she would hit on me,” Sam said triumphantly, finding herself oddly flattered at the notion.
Scowling, Brooke took another step forward, bringing her even with the side of the bed. “Why?” she asked angrily, insecurity rising to the fore. “Do you want her to hit on you?”
“She is attractive,” Sam said thoughtfully, remembering the other girl’s lean curves.
It was exactly the wrong thing to say.
Now on the verge of being outright furious, Brooke kicked off her shoes, crawling into the bed and over toward Sam, stopping only when she was crouched over the brunette. “Stay away from her,” she said fiercely, eyes glinting wildly in the room’s dim light.
Taken aback by the vehemence in the blonde’s tone, Sam nonetheless drew upon her indignation to shoot back, “What right do you have to tell me to stay away from her?”
Not wanting to provoke an argument, knowing full well that it would escalate quickly, certainly deescalating her chances for engaging in what might possibly be her favorite activity, Brooke changed tactics. Easing down so that she was hovering mere millimeters above the brunette, she murmured seductively, “I’m better than her, Sammy.”
Eyebrow rising in challenge, trying fruitlessly to ignore the fingers of arousal steadily tightening their grip on her, Sam said, “If you two aren’t sleeping together, then how do you know that?”
“Because I know you,” Brooke growled softly, eyes focused on Sam hypnotically. “I know you like no one else can know you.”
“Brooke…” Sam said warningly.
A warning Brooke ignored. Fingers twining in Sam’s hair, Brooke brought their lips together in a crushing kiss, cutting off whatever the other girl had been preparing to say. She didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want words to interfere with what she wanted, what she knew Sam wanted. What Sam had to want, judging by the way she melted beneath Brooke’s touch.
“I know that you like this,” she whispered, hands wrapping tightly around Sam’s wrists, pinning them to the bed above the other girl’s head. The move earned a moan, the sound quickly turning to a shiver as she ran the blunt tip of her nail down the sensitive underside of Sam’s arm. One nail turned to four as she traced the curve of the other girl’s hip, as she drew her fingers across a taut belly before digging those nails into a pale thigh.
Running her nose along Sam’s jaw, she nipped the brunette’s ear with sharp teeth, breath hot in her ear as she murmured, “This, too.”
And then she was kissing Sam, was biting down on a lush bottom lip before soothing the pain away with the soft rasp of her tongue. Her hands had found the bottom of the other girl’s sleep shirt, had pushed it up and pulled away only long enough to slide it free and fling it to the floor. Pushing apart Sam’s thighs, she settled herself into the resulting vee, arching gently into the other girl’s body as she left sharp kisses along the length of her neck.
Pausing at Sam’s breast, she looked up, eyes luminous in the darkness of the room. “I know you love this,” she husked, slowly taking an already hard nipple in her mouth. This time she was digging her nails into the other girl’s back, her teeth teasing sensitive skin, and Sam was writhing and moaning beneath her and Brooke felt power and pleasure rush through her.
Her fingers slid beneath elastic, skimming over soft hair and into wet heat, and she moaned herself, the sound reverberating through the flesh she was teasing with her tongue. She loved that feeling best, when Sam opened up to her, when her fingers slicked against skin so soft it rivaled silk.
“Brooke… yes,” Sam hissed, fingers winding painfully in blonde hair, and Brooke smiled a feral smile and found a rhythm that she had long ago mastered.
“I never should have come,” Parker shouted, the words barely loud enough to be heard over the club music.
Confused, Brooke managed to tear her attention away from Sam long enough to look at her friend, concern etched on her features. “Why?” she shouted back.
“Because the sexual tension has me so fucking horny I don’t know what to do with myself.”
Rolling her eyes, Brooke drawled, “I’m sure you know exactly what to do with yourself. You’d just rather someone else do it instead.”
“What was that?” Parker exclaimed in mock surprise. “A masturbation reference? I’m shocked, Brooke McQueen. Completely shocked.”
Brooke’s reply was cut short by an excited shout, and as she saw a figure move in from the periphery, she turned just in time to find herself wrapped up in an exuberant hug.
“Nicole?” she choked in confusion, lightly patting the other girl’s back. She was fairly sure she knew the girl who was hugging her, but Nicole and physical displays of friendly affection had never been acquaintances before so she wasn’t entirely sure.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were in town?”
The hazy look in the other girl’s eyes combined with the sweet hint of alcohol she could smell solved the question of the suddenly overly-friendly Nicole, and Brooke smirked. It was distinctly amusing to see her always immaculately well kempt friend slightly worse for wear.
“Just here for the holidays,” Brooke replied succinctly, not really wanting to bother with the truth. When she’d left for Stanford, she’d made fairly clean cuts with almost everything that had been in her life before. That had included her friends, and Nicole hadn’t really made much of an effort to keep the friendship active.
There was a small pause, a slight stiffening as both realized something in the same instant – that they’d managed to run into one another in a predominantly non-heterosexual establishment.
“So…” Nicole said uneasily, taking a small step back and looking around her nervously. “This is a little awkward.”
“A little,” Brooke acknowledged in bemusement, a wry smile teasing at her lips. “Do you want to go first?”
“Go first?” Nicole echoed, confused.
Nodding shallowly, Brooke took a deep breath and screwed up her courage. “Disclosure time, I think. Do you want to go first?”
“Oh,” Nicole said hollowly, looking around as if searching for a way out. “I’m bi. Or kind of into girls. Or not completely heterosexual. Open to experimentation. Whatever… take your pick.”
Nodding slowly, feeling the urge to laugh hysterically at the situation, Brooke sighed. “Yeah. Me too, obviously.”
And then there were arms wrapping around her waist from behind, nearly knocking the breath out of her lungs, and a slightly tipsy, “Dance with me,” growled into her ear, and Brooke reached down to grab the fingers currently slipping into the waistband of her low-rise jeans in a decidedly intimate gesture.
This was it, then, she realized on a dizzy wave of relief. They were caught.
The figure behind her froze, nails digging reflexively into Brooke’s belly and the blonde winced. Extricating herself from the sudden stranglehold of Sam’s overly tense grip, Brooke brought the brunette forward so that they were standing side by side.
Nicole’s eyes were wide with shock, mouth opening as if she were going to speak only to snap closed and Brooke felt the hysterical laughter fight its way back to the surface.
“Well,” Nicole said finally, head tilting to the side analytically, “this is certainly unexpected.”
Brooke could see that Sam’s back was impossibly straight, lips pursed in a frown. She felt a little guilty for being so giddy, but there was something about the fact that someone, someone who knew them both and had known them for quite some time, now knew that made her indescribably happy.
And then, when the tension was on the verge of breaking, Nicole did the most unexpected thing.
She laughed the laugh Brooke had been refusing escape, for once sounding truly amused. There wasn’t a hint of malicious intent in it as far as the blonde could see, and the sight of a potentially carefree Nicole was almost enough to overload her brain. It was slightly frightening, actually.
“Your secret’s safe with me.”
“Satan…” Sam growled, fingers curling into loose fists.
“No, really,” Nicole said, holding her hands out placatingly. “I’m in possession of one of the juiciest pieces of gossip ever, and I couldn’t care less. Besides, who would I tell?”
“As if I’m going to believe that,” Sam snarled, taking a small step forward.
Rolling her eyes at the display of aggression, Nicole drawled, “Well, believe it or not, Sparky. Doesn’t matter to me. That’s my new motto.”
“Oh really?” Brooke asked with a hint of oddly kind sarcasm.
Smiling slightly, Nicole nodded. “That’s right. Freedom, Brookie. That’s what I’ve got now. I tried so hard to be on top, clawed my way up on the backs of anyone I thought could get me there, didn’t care about who I dug a perfect stiletto heel into on the way up and shaped myself into one of the most ruthless, most feared bitches to ever occupy Kennedy’s upper echelon. And do you know what? I was never happy.”
She said the last words slowly, as if they were a great truth that she’d worked long and hard to realize.
“And now?” Brooke prodded.
“Now I’ve got a fresh start. It’s a brand new me, Brookie. Nicole, version 3.0. It’s the ‘don’t give a fuck’ model, and it seems to be working better than the others.”
She paused, eyes burning straight through Sam. “And you can save the looks of disbelief, McPherson. I’ve changed. Deal with it. Think of it as a natural evolution, if you want.”
“I think I’ll think of it as a load of bullshit,” Sam shot back, eyes narrowed.
“Sam…” Brooke said warning, reaching out a calming hand to turn Sam toward her slightly.
“Brooke, I don’t…”
“Who’s your friend?”
The slightly lecherous words broke through whatever Sam had been about to say, and Brooke could honestly say that she’d never been happier than she was in that moment when Parker voluntarily decided to actually put a stop to drama instead of encouraging it.
“Parker Addison, this is Nicole Julian, a friend from high school. Nicole, this is Parker, my roommate at Stanford.” She made the introductions quickly, more than happy to latch onto the reprieve.
When Parker smiled at Nicole, it was perhaps one of the sexiest things Brooke had ever seen. She developed, in a single second, an entirely new level of respect for her friend’s ability to seduce. With a smile like that, Parker might just be able to rule the world. At the very least, she might as well have held out her hand and asked for Nicole’s panties on the spot, because it was more than evident that she’d be in them later if she wanted.
“Roommate?” Nicole asked with a hint of insinuation, her eyes clearly conveying her disbelief that anyone could live platonically with the girl she had just met.
Brooke felt Sam’s body tighten again, felt her muscles snap to attention in anger. “Roommates,” she reiterated firmly, sliding her hand down to wrap her fingers around Sam’s.
“If you’re finished catching up,” Parker said blithely, the look in her eyes promising things that Brooke suddenly realized she wouldn’t mind watching, “then I think we should dance.”
Eyebrows twitching in interest, Nicole purred, “Oh really?”
“Ooh,” Parker murmured, index finger snagging a beltloop and pulling Nicole forward with a soft jerk, “a tease. Perfect.”
It came as no surprise when Parker hitched a ride home, and not back to the McPherson home, with Nicole later that night. Brooke couldn’t help but be relieved, though, for the alone time with Sam. Since their run-in with her high school nemesis, Sam had been withdrawn and sullen, the carefree attitude that a little music and a lot of alcohol had been able to produce gone in an instant.
Pulling over to the side of the road a few streets over from their own, Brooke turned to Sam with a sigh. “She said she’s not going to tell anyone, Sam. Don’t freak out.”
“How am I not supposed to freak out?” Sam asked bitterly. “Nicole Julian knows about us. How long do you think she’ll actually keep her promise once she thinks about how good it will feel to out us to everyone?”
Screwing up her courage, not quite sure why she thought the words were a good idea, Brooke said blithely, “And would that be so bad, Sam?”
The look of disbelief the brunette shot her way was enough to have Brooke sliding down into her seat with a scowl. “Sorry I asked,” she muttered angrily, fingers playing absently with the gear shift. “Again, obvious delusion on my part.”
“Do you honestly want people to find out?” Sam shot back angrily, jaw clenching tightly as she leveled Brooke with a stare.
In the face of all that anger, all that obvious desire to keep everything they had between them a secret, Brooke caved. She wasn’t going to give Sam the satisfaction. She was going to hide everything she was feeling, was going to keep it all inside as her own personal secret. Did she want everyone to know about them?
“Of course not,” she responded shortly, the words sending a sharp bolt of pain through her chest. But, she refused. She refused to feel things that Sam didn’t, to want things that Sam didn’t. Time hadn’t changed anything, even if she had had a few months at college with her idealistic dreams of freedom and a real relationship. They weren’t any closer to together than they had been that first time, so long ago that Brooke had to concentrate to remember how it had all happened to begin with.
At the words, Sam felt a little bolt of pain too. She’d been waiting for so long, wanting any small sign that this thing she was feeling increasingly trapped by was worth it. After all the time they’d been together, some part of her needed to know it was about more than physical attraction, sex, and the ability to seem to get along. A real relationship – that’s what she wanted. A girlfriend who had never been ashamed to be with her, who had never hidden her or recruited an equally unhappy gay boy to play her boyfriend so that they could pretend. She had wanted something, some spark of anger or acceptance. Anything, really, but the same thing she’d had since the two of them had because a dysfunctional us.
Turning to look out of the window, eyes focusing without seeing on the lush green of an immaculately kept lawn, Sam muttered, “Take me home.”
Jane looked up distractedly from her perusal of the morning paper, eyes crinkling slightly as she took in Brooke’s somewhat bedraggled appearance. “Oh, she called late last night. She can’t make it until the end of the week. Something about a project for a class, though who would assign something to be due after Spring Break, I don’t know.”
Eyes narrowing, Brooke scowled. “But I’ll be gone then. She knows I’m going to Hawaii with Parker.”
Blowing gently on her still steaming coffee, slightly perplexed by the anger in her stepdaughter’s tone, Jane shrugged. “She said to tell you that you could catch up later. She said she’d e-mail you.”
“E-mail me?” Brooke asked incredulously, barely holding in a curse. Three months without seeing each other, and Sam was going to e-mail her?
Smiling apologetically, Jane said, “I’m sure you girls can catch up later.”
“Yeah,” Brooke muttered bitterly. “I’m sure.”
“What do you mean, she’s not coming home?”
Anger. Exasperation. Fury, maybe. Brooke wasn’t quite sure what it was she was feeling. She would have talked to Sam about it, but her e-mails were returned with vague, noncommittal and non-personal replies, and Sam never seemed to call her back unless she knew her call was going to go straight to voicemail. And now, this.
Giving Brooke an odd look, Jane said soothingly, “She said she’s going to take some classes this summer. She’s got a professor who really wants to work with her, and she thinks it’ll be a great opportunity. I’m not happy about it either, but she seemed pretty determined to stay.”
Shoulders painfully tight with tension, Brooke snapped, “This is unacceptable. Don’t you want to see her? Aren’t you upset?”
“I’m going to fly to New York and stay for a couple of weeks, actually,” Jane said apologetically. “It’s going to be like a little vacation for me. I’m looking forward to it, actually.”
Unable to take it anymore, Brooke stomped off and up to her room, a cd case meeting its untimely demise at the hands of her temper tantrum.
She’d only seen Sam for a few minutes when she’d arrived. The brunette was on her way out, a careless wave and a blithe see you later thrown out as she rushed past, nearly knocking over Brooke’s suitcase in her haste. And Brooke had stood there and watched her, had pouted and glared and done everything short of chasing Sam out to her car and prying her from the driver’s seat. Sam had glanced up, had seen her obvious displeasure. She’d held Brooke’s gaze for a moment, a flicker of something indefinable passing through her eyes in that second, then pulled out of the driveway without another look.
Dinner came and went without Sam, and soon her Dad and Jane were getting ready for bed, and she was watching late night television. Late night shows faded into late late night shows, and finally she couldn’t take the inanity any longer. Deciding that she was going to wait in her room, she took the stairs two at a time, full of a nervous energy she was dying to burn off.
The sound of water running in their adjoining bathroom woke her up some time later, and she glanced over at her alarm clock. 3:45, it read, the red letters nearly blurring together as she tried to focus in the dark room. Stretching, looking down at her wrinkled clothes in disgust, she looked for something more suitable to wear and then gave it up. She didn’t plan on wearing clothes for much longer anyway. Not wanting to be totally unpresentable, she brushed her hair and took a minute to make sure she was fully awake before easing open the door on her side of the bathroom. Creeping on silent feet, she soon wrapped her hand around the doorknob leading to Sam’s side.
It wouldn’t budge.
“Sam,” she hissed, trying to keep her voice low. “The door’s stuck.”
She heard the creak of bedsprings, the indistinct rustle of bedsheets and the soft pad of feet. “No it’s not,” came the strangely calm reply from the other side of the door.
Confused, trying the knob again, Brooke whispered, “Yes it is. I can’t get it open.”
There was a soft chuckle, and Brooke envisioned those gorgeous, full lips curling up in a smile. “It’s not stuck, Brooke,” she reiterated, something in her tone grating against Brooke’s spine. “It’s locked.”
“Locked?” Brooke repeated, uncomprehending. “Then unlock it.”
There was another moment of silence. Then, slowly, sadly, Sam said, “No.”
“No?” Brooke repeated, shocked. “What’s wrong?”
“Wrong?” This time it was Sam’s turn to act as an echo. “What we’ve been doing is wrong. The fact that I’ve kept doing it for so long is wrong.” Sam paused, letting her words sink in, letting Brooke absorb the import of them. “I’m not going to do it anymore. I thought that by now maybe you’d gotten the hint.”
Heart dropping, panic setting in without warning, Brooke said jumpily, “Open the door and let me see you, Sam. Let me talk to you. You won’t talk to me anymore. How are we supposed to work this out?”
There was a pleading note in her tone and she hated it. She was not weak. She certainly didn’t let Sam see that weakness. Theirs was a very specific relationship. There were rules and conventions and certain roles and she knew every one of them by heart. She’d come to accept it, and she knew exactly how to play it. Sudden changes to the rules were not welcome.
“I can’t do that, Brooke,” Sam said, and this time there was a hint of steel in her voice. Then the tiniest trace of sadness crept in, pricking at Brooke like the sharpest of knives. “It’s over.”
Placing the palm of her hand against the door, pushing with all her might while turning the knob, trying to force her way in, to force Sam to take the words back, Brooke said sternly, “It’s not over.”
“Yes,” Sam said softly, the word barely audible through the wooden barrier separating them. “It is.”
The sound of footsteps let Brooke know that Sam had retreated to her bed. Stilling all motion, the palm of her hand still flat against the cool grain of the wood, she became painfully aware of the rough pant of her breath. Bringing the other palm up, resting her forehead against the door between her outstretched hands, she felt a tear roll down her cheek. It was followed by another and then another, and seconds later she was sobbing silently, chest heaving and mouth pulled tight in a grimace.
Realizing that she had to be away from that door, that she needed to be back in the safety of her own room where she could give herself over to whatever it was that she was feeling, Brooke nearly ran back to her bed. Diving under the covers, she pressed her face into her pillows, the first choking cries muffled by the fabric. She didn’t believe Sam, couldn’t believe Sam. But, there had been something final in her voice, like she had made a decision and was determined to stick with it, and Brooke didn’t know what to do about that. She’d convinced herself that she was happy with the way things were, with the pantomime of a relationship she had with Sam. She’d carefully crafted it, after all. She got Sam and Sam got the plausible deniability of a “normal” life, and everyone was happy. Or maybe Sam wasn’t completely happy, but she didn’t try to buck the system, and that was good enough.
This, though, was beyond bucking. This was breaking.
The morning. Everything would be better in the morning. She could talk to Sam, could work things out.
Sam was gorgeous. Dark hair pulled back into a sloppy pony-tail, sweat plastering errant strands to the side of her face and the back of her neck. Tight black lycra sports bra, one of those that seemed long enough to satisfy some measure of propriety but that left more bare than it covered, and short black running shorts, and Brooke wondered when it was that she’d started to have a thing for the jock look. Then again, she didn’t have a thing for the jock look. She had a thing for Sam, and watching her standing there, gulping down a glass of water, she wondered what exactly to do with it.
“Good run?” she asked, cursing the inanity of it all. She didn’t want to be making small talk. She wanted to wrap her arms around Sam, not caring that she was hot and sweaty.
Sam spun around, nearly dropping the now empty glass, surprise evident on her face. “I thought you’d still be asleep,” she said hoarsely, calmly laying the glass on the table.
Taking a small step forward, disturbed by the resulting step backward taken by Sam, Brooke scowled. “I wanted to talk to you.”
Lips pursing in a scowl, Sam replied shortly, “There’s nothing to talk about. I said everything I wanted to say last night.”
“But you didn’t let me say anything,” Brooke said, and the pleading was back and she hated it and hated herself.
Laughing humorlessly, eyes dark and unreadable, Sam muttered, “You’ve called all the shots, Brooke. All this time, you’ve been the one making the decisions. Now I’ve made a decision. I’m not doing it anymore. This little thing we have… it’s over.”
“But Sam…” Brooke started, only to be cut off by a glare.
Frowning, shaking her head in disgust, Sam said softly, “I’m seeing someone. Someone special, and I’m not going to let this fuck it up.”
Taking a step back as if Sam had actually physically hit her, the words actually coming as a much stronger blow, Brooke whispered, “That doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me,” Sam said starkly, the look in her eyes edging close to hatred. “I’m leaving this afternoon. In the meantime, I want you to leave me alone.”
With that she left. Brooke stayed where she was, looking at the empty glass sitting on the counter. She felt like crying, but didn’t. She’d cried the night before, and it hadn’t gotten her anything. This time, she thought she’d go with numb.
Anastasia Chen was everything Sam thought she could ever want. Smart, funny, driven, gorgeous, interesting… she was the perfect girl.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” she asked, and the teasing grin she shot Sam nearly made the brunette’s knees give way.
Smiling, trying to joke, Sam said lightly, “I’m already nervous. Why do you keep rubbing it in?”
“I’m not,” Anastasia said with a fake pout. “I’m just giving you ample opportunity to change your mind, whisk me back to New York, and spend the entire holiday holed up with me in your ratty little apartment.”
“It’s temping,” Sam said honestly, wrapping her arms around her girlfriend. “I’ve never met parents before.”
Not that she would have had to, she thought sarcastically. The other woman in her life conveniently shared her parents.
“Well,” Anastasia teased, “I don’t bring just anybody home. You should feel honored.”
“Oh, I’m honored,” Sam drawled, the sarcastic edge to her voice taking on an unwanted bitterness. “I just don’t know what temporary insanity you were going through when you invited me.”
Anastasia’s smile was so inviting, all even white teeth and deep, dark dimples, and Sam roughly pushed the vision of another, similar smile out of her mind. Anastasia’s smile was the only one that mattered, the only one she cared about.
“How could I pass up the chance to share Hanukkah at the Chen house?” the other girl drawled, rolling her eyes. “They’ll probably actually feel like they have to do something since I brought someone home. We can only hope that my Mom doesn’t feel compelled to make latkes. I don’t understand how someone can manage to completely mangle what is basically a fancy version of hash browns, but I haven’t seen that level of drama since the GSSA had that free screening of Titanic.”
Sam winced, the memory a particularly vivid and quite unpleasant one. “Maybe we could volunteer for latke duty,” she said earnestly, barely holding in a shudder.
“Ooh, that’s right. I forgot that you got hit with Rae-Rae’s glitter powder,” Anastasia cooed sympathetically, trying not to laugh at the look of disgust on Sam’s face.
“It took me a week to get that stuff out of my hair,” the brunette pouted, knowing Anastasia was making fun of her. Grumpily, she added, “He throws like a girl, anyway. Devon was a good ten feet behind me.”
“Poor baby,” the other girl teased, breaking out her beautiful smile again. Then, growing a little more serious, she whispered, “Kiss me before we go in there.”
Sam happily complied.
Anastasia’s kissing technique was quite different from Brooke’s. Where Brooke tended to want to overwhelm, to dominate, Anastasia was soft. Her kisses never pressured, never demanded, and part of Sam liked that. It didn’t feel so hopelessly desperate, like each kiss was the last kiss. Conversely, sometimes she wanted more, she wanted Anastasia to feel hopelessly desperate, to kiss her like she was afraid she could never kiss her again. And, she hated herself for even comparing the kisses at all, for remembering what it felt like to kiss Brooke and to judge every other kiss she ever received against the innumerable ones she had to pull from memory. She wasn’t going to kiss Brooke ever again, so it didn’t matter if she missed the way the other girl’s kisses had stolen her breath, the way they made her forget everything but the feel of it. Not that she missed it, because she didn’t. Not at all.
Anastasia drew away with a soft sigh, leaning forward so that her forehead was resting on Sam’s shoulder. “No more of those for a while,” she said ruefully, chuckling darkly at the thought of what might happen if her parents caught them doing that.
Well versed in the art of the secret, Sam merely shrugged her shoulders. “There are always opportunities. And if not, there’s always later.”
“What do you mean, Sam’s not coming?”
Brooke knew she was on the verge of hysteria, knew that the strange looks she was garnering from her Dad and Jane meant that she needed to tone it down a bit, but she couldn’t help it. She’d spent the weeks between Thanksgiving and the end of the semester coming up with ways to win Sam back, and now the girl wasn’t even there. It was unthinkable to miss the Christmas holidays. Sam wouldn’t, no couldn’t, do it.
“Where…” she sputtered, hardly able to think, “where is she?”
“She went home with one of her friends for the holidays,” Jane said sadly, and Brooke could tell that the older woman didn’t quite understand it either. “I’m not especially happy about it, but she’s an adult now.”
Instantly suspicious, Brooke’s eyes narrowed. “What kind of friend?” she asked sharply, drawing more of the concerned looks.
Voice placating, not sure why his daughter was quite this upset, Mike said calmly, “A girl from school she’s good friends with.”
“Unbelievable,” Brooke muttered, the flare of jealousy racing through her catching her by surprise. She knew that Sam had said she was seeing someone, but she’d thought it was an excuse. No, she’d hoped it was an excuse, had convinced herself it had to be an excuse. And now she had skipped coming home for Christmas to spend time with some girl who was a friend of hers from school? That fact that she was jealous didn’t come as a surprise. It was the depth of the animosity she felt toward this unnamed girl that disturbed her. She’d been jealous before, when Sam had tried to make things work with George, when she’d seen Sam flirt with the idea of bestowing her attention on someone other than Brooke, but in comparison to the ugly feelings welling within her, that jealousy had been a paltry expression of the emotion. This jealousy was all-consuming.
Her mood didn’t improve as Christmas got closer.
“Brooke, do you want to talk to Sam?”
The brunette had called Christmas morning, full of questions about little Mac’s gifts and what they were having for lunch, and Brooke listened to Jane trying to be cheerful while desperately missing her daughter. They’d gotten their gifts, all ordered from online vendors and shipped straight to the Palace and Brooke had looked at her distressingly innocuous cd as if it were noxious.
She debated, wanting to refuse.
“Sure,” she said nonchalantly. “I’ll take it in my room.”
The hand-off went smoothly, and seconds later she found herself on the phone with Sam.
“Brooke,” came a neutral, tinny voice.
“Sam,” Brooke replied, struggling to keep her own voice from showing any of her anger. She failed soon after, hissing, “Having fun with your friend?”
There was a long moment of silence, and Brooke worried that Sam might actually have hung up the phone. Then, voice distinctly catty, Sam murmured, “Actually, yes. Lots of fun.”
Fuming, unable to tamp down her anger, Brooke exploded. “What the hell is this? First you say you’re seeing someone and then you don’t even come home for Christmas because you’re too busy fucking some girl? How do you think this makes me feel?”
“How do I think it makes you feel?” Sam echoed, amazed. “Why would I care how it makes you feel? I’m not your dirty little secret anymore, Brooke. I’ve moved on. Three years of dysfunction was more than enough, thanks.”
Trying to slow her breathing, well aware of the pleading in her tone, Brooke said, “But you didn’t even talk to me about it, Sammy.”
“Because I don’t need your permission to decide not to be your sex toy,” Sam shot back indignantly. “I was in stasis for three years because of you, Brooke. Never moving forward, never feeling good about myself. It’s over. No more.”
“But I love you,” Brooke cried desperately, shocked by the words even as she said them. Not shocked that they were true, because she’d known that for a long time. No, she was shocked that she’d said them at all.
When Sam replied, her voice was full of hate. “That’s pathetic, Brooke. I’m amazed at how far you’ll go, how much you’ll lie, to keep your perfect little world intact, just the way you like it no matter what you have to do to keep it that way. Right now, I don’t even think I want to speak to you again. Ever.”
Horrified, the pain of Sam’s rejection ripping through her though a part of her wondered if it was her just penance for long-time cowardice, Brooke pleaded, “That’s not true, Sammy. I love you. I’ve always loved you…”
She trailed off, the sound of a dial tone burning into her.
The atmosphere in the car was decidedly tense, though Sam couldn’t decide if it were a left-over of her phone confrontation with Brooke or a true phenomenon. Two hundred miles of uneasy silence seemed to point to something more than her own left-over angst, but she wasn’t willing to make any assumptions.
“I heard you on the phone,” Anastasia said suddenly, voice carefully neutral.
And that, Sam thought, answered that.
Hesitantly, guardedly, she said, “Okay.”
Jaw flexing furiously as if trying to quash a rather virulent set of emotions, Anastasia said finally, “You lied to me.”
Lips pursed, a humorless laugh echoing from deep in her chest, Sam said softly, “I know.”
“I should have known,” Anastasia said, a hint of self-deprecating humor in her tone. “You didn’t touch me like a girl with no experience.”
“I never said I didn’t have any experience,” Sam shot back defensively.
“That’s right,” Anastasia snorted, fingers tightening on the wheel. “You told me about your one time with George and said you’d messed around a little with some girls back home. And maybe that’s true. I’m really not sure, anymore, since you neglected to mention the three year stint as a ‘sex toy’ for your step-sister.”
Slumping back into her seat, defeat creeping over her, Sam said quietly, “Would that be something you wanted to tell people? I mean, listen to you… you clearly think I’m a freak.”
“A freak?” Anastasia echoed. “I’m assuming you’re referring to the step-sister part.” She paused, shaking her head in disgust. “Sam, it’s not the fact that you had a three year relationship with your step-sister that bothers me. It’s the fact that you lied to me about it that bothers me. It’s the fact that you two are still involved, or were still involved, that bothers me.”
“We’re not involved,” Sam said emphatically, frowning deeply.
“You’re something,” Anastasia said with a soft laugh. “What I heard was a break-up. The whole time you’ve been with me, you’ve been in some kind of unresolved relationship with her.”
Sam shook her head, denying the very thought of it. “That’s not true.”
“It’s in everything you do,” the other girl scoffed. “It’s in the way you touch me, it’s in the way you almost always manage to change the subject when I try to ask about your past. It’s like I’m some paint-by-numbers replacement.”
“Anastasia, no,” Sam pleaded. “It’s not like that. You’re the one I’m with. You’re the one I want.”
“I don’t even know you,” Anastasia said sadly, a silver tear tracing down her cheek. Eyes remaining steadfastly on the road, she continued, “I’m not sure I want to know you.”
“How can you say that?” Sam whispered, body recoiling from the words as if she’d been struck.
“I’m not sure you’re getting what I’m saying here, Sam. You lied to me. You betrayed me. I thought I knew you, but I don’t. I don’t know anything about you. I don’t know this girl, the girl who could do that. The girl who would do that. The girl who would have continued to lie to me, who might not ever have told me. The girl who can’t really be with me because she’s still half-way with someone else.”
“What are you doing here?” Sam said guardedly, eyeing Brooke warily. “I thought you’d be off at some kegger with your sorority girl fake friends.”
“Jane said you were coming in for New Years. I wanted to see you,” Brooke said calmly, determined not to let Sam’s antagonism deter her. She was in the wrong. She was the one who bore the onus of reconciliation, and she was the one who was going to make this work.
Tossing her bag on the bed beside Brooke, Sam said coldly, “I don’t want to see you.”
Ignoring the waves of hate she could feel rolling off of the other girl, Brooke took another deep breath. “I love you, Sam. I’m not going anywhere until you understand that.”
“Fine,” Sam huffed, eyes dark and unreadable. “I understand it. You can leave now.”
Shooting up off the bed, bringing herself toe-to-toe with the angry brunette, Brooke said heatedly, “Fine, Sam. I fucked up. I was afraid, and I lied to you and I lied to myself. But you want the truth?”
“Like you’d even know what that was,” Sam scoffed, refusing to back down.
Squaring her shoulders, determined to lay it all on the line, Brooke spoke. “I wanted you for a long time, Sam,” she admitted roughly, laughing humorlessly. “Since Freshman year, maybe even longer. And when I saw a way I could have you, I took it and it was wrong, because it was the easy way. I was… no, I am scared. I told you that I love you. Do you know how scared I’ve been to tell you that? Afraid, and obviously with good reason, that you didn’t feel that way about me.”
She paused, voice softening and eyes glazing over as she finished. “I can’t run from it anymore, Sam. I can’t hide, can’t pretend, can’t cry into my pillow and tell it all the things I’ve been too afraid to say to you. The way things between us got started… well, once they were like that, I didn’t know how to fix them. I thought that if I told you how I really felt that you’d leave. That you’d freak, that you wouldn’t want me if it was for real. And so I didn’t tell you and you didn’t ask, and I didn’t have any idea that you wanted something different until you locked me out and found it with someone else.”
Guarded distrust still visible in the stiffness of her spine, Sam said cautiously, “And now you think you can tell me all of this and that I’ll be just so overjoyed that I’ll run back into your arms. Is that it?”
“Ideally,” Brooke admitted honestly. “But if you want me to work for it, I will. Whatever it takes. I’ll do it.”
The words, echoing those that had gotten them into the mess some three years earlier, were a deliberate and calculated ploy. Brooke was offering everything, was putting herself in Sam’s position, with no plans of backing down.
“What if I tell you to leave me alone?”
Brooke swallowed, the question far too loaded for her tastes. But, taking a step back, eyes falling to focus on the floor, she whispered, “I’d still love you. But, you know, you’re right. I can’t force you to love me back.”
“Alright then,” Sam said softly, “you’ll come to Josh and Lily’s party with me tonight as my date. We’ll see how well your ‘love’ for me stands up when someone besides the two of us is in the room.”
Looking up, grinning ecstatically, Brooke nodded her approval.
In Brooke’s estimation, the problem with Sam’s plan to discredit her declaration of love had one major flaw. Sam assumed that she was ashamed, that when she had to face up to social scrutiny, she’d fail.
“Sam, hi,” Lily said brightly, throwing open the door to the smallish townhouse she shared with Josh. Giving a short, confused glance to the tight grip Brooke had on Sam’s hand, she added slowly, “Brooke, it’s good to see you again. I didn’t know you were in town.”
Letting go of Sam’s hand long enough to envelop Lily in a hug, Brooke whispered, “It’s good to see you too. It’s been a long time.”
When she stepped back, it was to find both Sam and Lily looking at her strangely. Too euphoric to care, her elation at the chance she was getting to finally win Sam for good making her rather impervious to anything else, Brooke wrapped her fingers around Sam’s again.
Well aware of the piercing look Lily was shooting her way, Sam held up her free hand weakly. “Uh, we brought wine,” she said hesitantly, not quite sure what to make of Brooke’s behavior. The blonde had commandeered her hand as soon as they’d gotten out of the car, the move as unexpected as the warm hug she’d bestowed upon Lily.
“I’ll put it in the fridge,” Lily said distractedly, unable to keep her eyes from cutting over to the slightly scary smile Brooke was sporting. She was tempted to ask if the blonde had brought along any of the mood altering drugs she was obviously mainlining as well, but managed to curb the impulse.
Giving Brooke a fierce tug, Sam smiled at Lily apologetically. “Great.”
Waving at the still quite confused Lily as she was jerked inside, Brooke followed along behind Sam docilely. The brunette quickly pulled her into the downstairs guestroom, shutting the door firmly behind her.
“What was that?” Sam asked indignantly, wrenching her hand free.
Shrugging innocently, Brooke said, “What? I haven’t seen Lily in years. I can’t be happy to see her?”
Stumped, obviously wanting desperately to go on a tirade but not quite sure where to begin or how to go about it, Sam started tugging furiously on the sleeve of her jacket. “This is like some kind of mission now, right? I lay down the gauntlet and you decide you’ll go to any lengths to win,” she muttered, seemingly not even talking to Brooke any longer.
Reaching out, calmly sliding the jacket from Sam’s shoulders, Brooke wrapped her hands around the other girl’s upper arms, pulling her around so that they were staring at one another. “I always liked your friends,” she said rationally. “And I thought you said I was your date. Dating comes with certain privileges, you know. I get to hold your hand, bring you drinks, kiss you at midnight. Kiss you now, if you’ll let me.”
Encouraged by the fact that Sam hadn’t yet pulled free, she slid her hands up over the other girl’s shoulders, skimming her neck, her cheeks as she worked her fingers into the thick fall of Sam’s hair. Taking another step forward, lips only millimeters apart, she waited.
“Aren’t you worried you’ll smudge your lipstick?” Sam asked hoarsely, feeling her heart rate spike. She hated the power Brooke had over her, the way the other girl could make her melt in place. She wished she was stronger, that she could take a step back, ignore the lure of the other girl’s heat. She wished it didn’t feel like they’d only spent days apart instead of a whole year. Things shouldn’t be this easy, shouldn’t just slide back into place as if they’d never been disrupted.
Leaning infinitesimally closer, Brooke whispered seductively, “I can always fix it later.”
Cursing the moan that escaped her throat even as the blonde brought their lips together, Sam felt herself falling into the kiss. It was softer than she remembered, not so full of urgency and desperation, and as Brooke’s tongue flicked out to taste her bottom lip, she wrapped her arms around the other girl’s waist.
The words and the sound of the door opening broke through the haze, and Sam tried to jump back, tried to put some space between them as if the action could hide what they’d been doing. But, Brooke didn’t let her, holding her in place for another agonizingly long second, finishing the kiss. When she did pull away, she did so slowly, her eyes luminous in the half-light from the hall.
Looking over to see Harrison with his coat in his hand, a look of utter confusion on his face, Sam sighed. She was suddenly very afraid that the night was going to be far harder for her than it was for Brooke, who seemed very determined to prove her wrong.
Clearing her throat, well aware her cheeks were flaming, she croaked, “Harrison, hi. Brooke and I were just…”
“Kissing,” Brooke broke in impertinently. Smiling impishly, she added slyly, “Couldn’t wait for midnight.”
“That’s… oh my God,” Harrison babbled, blinking rapidly. “That’s… Lily said to leave our coats in here. I didn’t mean to…”
“I’ll take them,” Brooke broke in brightly, plucking the forgotten garments from his hands.
Backing away as soon as the coats were gone, Harrison stammered awkwardly, “That’s… thanks, Brooke. I’m going to go, ah… appetizers. I think they have appetizers, and I’m going to go have some. You two… please, continue with what you were doing.”
“I think you broke him,” Sam drawled sarcastically as her friend turned and fled, slamming the door closed behind him.
“He’ll recover,” Brooke growled, taking another step closer to Sam. “We can continue with what we were doing now. Harrison said so.”
Stepping back quickly, barely eluding Brooke’s grasp, Sam said nervously, “I think we should go back out there. I hear there are appetizers.”
Thoroughly pleased with the brunette’s discomfort, Brooke captured her hand again, giving it a tug as she headed for the door. “How about a drink? You look like you need one.”
Sam noted idly that they hadn’t told anyone at the party that they were there together. Mainly, she admitted, because there was no need to, not with Brooke only letting go of her hand to wrap an arm around her waist or shoulders or to go fetch her a drink. The blonde had snuggled into her side when they sat on the couch, had looked at her with undisguised love, and had been nothing but nice to her friends, witty in conversation, and conscious of her every need.
In short, it was something of a disaster. Sam had expected total failure, had expected Brooke to freeze up at the first sign of public disclosure. Instead, she was disturbingly perfect. Until, that was, Carmen asked the question.
“So, Sam, how long have the two of you been together?”
She’d felt Brooke freeze then, had seen the smile falter for a brief moment. But then Brooke leaned over, lips brushing the shell of her ear as she spoke, “You tell them whatever you want, Sammy. They’re your friends.”
Not quite sure what to make of the comment, Sam pulled back, shooting Brooke a guarded look. “I don’t know, Brooke,” she said, loud enough for everyone to hear. “How long has it been?”
Lips pursed, mind racing as she tried to figure out how to answer, Brooke finally said, “Well, Carmen, I don’t know that we actually are together.” She heard Sam’s surprised hiss, and rushed to add, “You see, I’ve been acting like an ass for about three years now, and so while you could say that we’ve been together that long, I think it would also be fair to say that we haven’t really ever been together. At least, not in the right way, but I’m trying to change that.”
Sam could almost see the wheels turning in everyone’s respective heads, but it was Lily who figured it out first.
“Three years? That’s senior year at Kennedy!”
Her eyes narrowed accusingly, and Sam blushed deeply, remembering their single shared kiss and the impetus for it.
“So that’s why you…” Lily began, voice somewhat accusing, before Sam broke in with a yelp.
“Yes. And we can talk about it later, if you want.”
“Why what?” Josh asked, sounding a bit confused and extremely interested, and Sam bit her bottom lip nervously, certainly not wanting to get into any past deeds in front of all of her friends.
“Hey… wait,” Carmen said suddenly, dark eyes flashing Brooke’s way. “Weren’t you dating that hottie football player? Diego?”
Growing slightly tense, not willing to divulge anyone’s secrets but her own, Brooke mumbled noncommittally, “Well, kind of. But, everything was complicated. Very complicated.”
Now sounding somewhat more interested, Josh glanced at the clock. “Ten minutes to go. You girls gonna kiss?”
“Been there, seen that,” Harrison muttered darkly, scowling first at Brooke, then at Sam. “Scarred for life.”
“You could have told us,” Carmen continued earnestly. “Really. I wouldn’t have cared. I’d have been thrilled. We could have had a parade, or something. Kennedy P-FLAG, or Pride, or maybe disco night… I don’t know.”
“Well, we’re telling you now,” Sam said shortly, suddenly overwhelmed by all of the attention. She hadn’t signed on for this when she’d made her rash dare that afternoon. She certainly wasn’t ready for this, not coming straight off her break-up with Anastasia and extremely fresh semi-reconciliation with Brooke. In New York she might have been out and happy about it, but at home, she just felt distinctly uncomfortable. “And we’re not putting on a floor show.”
With that, she glared at Josh, who tried to look as innocent as possible. With a pointed look at Lily, she muttered, “Can you hit him for me?”
“Gladly,” Lily shot back, whacking her husband on the arm. Josh grimaced and rubbed the spot, but his eyes were still glued to Sam and Brooke with something akin to desperate hope. Hope that soon turned to something else, and a slow frown began to overtake his features.
“It’s not my fault, is it?”
Both Sam and Brooke turned to look at him quizzically, and Josh held his hands up in self-defense. “What? I mean, you and me were together for a long time, Brooke. And Sam… we had that little…”
“No,” Brooke bit out. “Trust me. You had nothing to do with it, Josh.” She paused, then turned to Sam and snapped “And what happened between you and Lily?”
She hadn’t meant to ask, really, but it was clear the two of them were covering something up, and she wanted to know.
“Nothing,” Sam muttered at the same time as Lily blurted, “We kissed.”
“You kissed?” Josh asked with a hint of amazement. “Really?”
“Oh, my God,” Carmen said, eyes wide with awe. “I’m like the only girl in the room who hasn’t kissed at least two of the other three girls here. Well, except for you.”
She gave a nod to Harrison’s girlfriend, who merely nodded back, struck dumb by the scene.
“Two?” Josh questioned accusingly, glaring at his wife.
Sighing, she murmured, “Carmen. Sophomore year. I was just checking to be sure.”
“And are you sure?” he asked, voice rising higher with panic.
Rolling her eyes, she said, “Doesn’t really matter, does it? I chose you.”
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Sam muttered, standing abruptly.
“Us too,” Harrison said quickly, his voice disturbingly high pitched.
“But we haven’t had the toast,” Carmen protested.
Nearly growling, Sam yanked Brooke to her feet. Wrapping a hand around the back of the blonde’s neck, she drew her close for a short, sizzling kiss. “There. Everybody got a chance to see. No need to wait.”
Then, with as little fanfare as was possible to have when you were dragging someone from a room, Sam left.
Brooke was fairly certain that what she was witnessing was a sulk. A rather thorough, involved sulk, if the pout to Sam’s bottom lip was to be believed.
For a long moment, she thought she wasn’t going to get an answer and truthfully wasn’t sure that she even wanted one. So, when the reply did come, it seemed to violate the awkward silence she’d been starting to relish. “I don’t get it.”
She wondered if she should have been willing to let it go, but she couldn’t. Not talking about things had created the giant mess she was still trying to fix, and the last thing she was going to do was fall back into maladaptive patterns of denial and deliberate ignorance. “What don’t you get?” she asked patiently, trying desperately to keep her voice calm and understanding and not vaguely hysterical and accusing. Neither would help, even if she did feel an instinctive burst of panic.
“I don’t get how you could act like we’re together like that, like everything is fine and good and we’re some kind of happy couple.” The words came out in a rush, as if Sam had been holding them in for far too long, and Brooke took a deep breath. Her answer was important in a way she felt more than she understood, and she wanted it to be right.
“Well,” she started, then paused, the words escaping her, “maybe because I want us to be a happy couple. I want everything to be fine and good, and I guess that I thought that, for once, I should act like I felt instead of trying to hide it or lie about it or cover it up.”
Brown eyes focused on her with laser-like intensity, and the blonde fought the urge to shrink away. Sam was tense, shoulders set tight and lips pulled down in a frown. “I’m sorry, Brooke. It’s just that this is all so fast, you know,” she said urgently, willing Brooke to understand what she was saying, where she was coming from.
“Fast?” Brooke asked, obviously confused. “How is this fast, Sam? It’s not like this is new.”
“Brooke,” Sam said coolly, thrown by Brooke’s words, “we were not together in anything other than the physical sense of the word before tonight. This is extremely new. This is the definition of new.”
Again struggling desperately to remain calm, Brooke nonetheless said with fierce intensity, “It was always more than sex, Sam. I can see that you’re obviously freaking out right now, but I’m not going to let you devalue what happened before.”
“Devalue?” Sam echoed, voice tinny with shock. “What we had before was one of the unhealthiest relationships ever in the history of humankind. Where’s the value in that?”
“Where’s the value?” This time it was Brooke’s turn to echo, though the look of horror on her face and the bright sheen of tears in her eyes gave the gesture added heft. “I don’t even… Can you even comprehend how much that hurts? Do you know how many times I cried over you? How many times I wanted to forget about you and move on, but I couldn’t? Not because I didn’t want to… I had offers. I had opportunity. I just didn’t have the desire. You were the one I wanted, Sam. You’re the one I always wanted.”
The words seemed surreal. Unreal, really, like they were being said by someone else and heard by someone else, because there was no way to align the emotion and sentiment behind them with her perceptions of everything that had happened between Brooke and herself. It was the unveiling of a new, secret world full of emotions she’d hadn’t contemplated or clarified. And, to top it off, in the wake of her confession of attraction, of love even, Brooke was an emotional mess and Sam wasn’t quite sure how to deal with the change. She’d been around girls for all of her life. Most of her friends were girls, and she’d dealt with crying and hurt feelings and emotional upset and turmoil countless times. But, she was relatively new at dealing with the very specific, very delicate balance that came with dealing with the emotions of a girl with whom she was involved. She found herself unaccountably affected by hurt looks and tears, particularly when she had been the one to cause them. They made her want to give in, to acquiesce to whatever was needed to make them go away, and she’d didn’t like it. She didn’t like the power inherent in those tears, even as she found it practically impossible to resist their lure.
Suddenly turning angry, all of the emotion she had bottled inside converting itself into a sense of rage that swept through her unexpectedly, Brooke growled, “And don’t tell me that it’s not normal. I don’t even know what that is to you, what you mean by that. I don’t understand how I’m not normal and how we’re not normal, Sam. I can’t fucking stand that word. Don’t you dare say it.”
And somehow, it was that rant, as ostensibly illogical as it was, that let Sam know that it was all for real, that Brooke really did love her and really had loved her for years. The realization was, quite frankly, overwhelming, and she felt a panicked bubble of laughter start to build in her chest. “This is… this is priceless,” she gasped, panic turning into hysteria. “Do you know how severely fucked up I am, Brooke? And it’s your fault, you know. It’s been three years. Three years of being ashamed and confused and weak and dysfunctional, all because you couldn’t make things normal.”
She paused spitefully, letting the word expand in the void between them. “I couldn’t leave. I just couldn’t, and I hated myself because I was letting you use me. Because I felt something for you, something I thought it was fairly obvious you didn’t feel about me, and I wanted it to be out of something positive instead of something ugly. I wanted it to be about feelings. I wanted you to do something more than want me, but it didn’t matter what I did. You never did anything more than want me, except haunt me and wreck everything I tried to start to get away from you. I found a great girl, dated her for months. I thought I was happy, but you wrecked that too. She heard us on the phone, said I’d lied to her. She left me. Literally, like a week ago, she left me.”
“You weren’t exactly loving,” Brooke shot back, stung by the attack. “When was I supposed to tell you how I felt? When you left me for George, because I tried then. I was going to tell you that day, had been planning on it, and you walk in and break me, Sam. How about before you left for New York, when you avoided me all summer? Oh, I know. I could have told you in one of those hundreds of e-mails I sent that you ever so kindly ignored or in a voicemail, since you never answered the phone when I called. Or, I know… how about when you tell me you’re with someone else, some girl from school who’s ‘someone special’?”
Eyes narrowing, Sam nearly hissed, “Don’t put this on me, Brooke.”
“Maybe I was wrong,” Brooke snapped back, “but I wasn’t the only one in this relationship. You could have said something.”
“Oh, absolutely,” Sam scoffed with a harsh laugh. “Because that would have been fucking brilliant. I’ll just tell the girl who makes me miserable that I have feelings for her so that she can have even more power over my life.”
“I make you miserable?” Brooke asked, and though she strove for blithe unconcern there was no way to hide the trace of hurt in her tone.
Sighing, suddenly deflated, Sam murmured, “No.” She paused, unwilling to lie. “Well, yes. You make me miserable. Miserably happy, I think.”
Blinking dully, rather stunned, Brooke said emotionlessly, “Well, that’s… that’s just fabulous, isn’t it? I make you miserably happy. I… I… you should just leave. Go back to New York and your girlfriend,” and try though she might, she couldn’t help but spit the word, “and move on and be happy and perfect and normal. And I’ll just… I don’t know what I’ll do. Get over you, I guess. Because this… this is something I just can’t do any more.”
Sam felt the anger begin to creep back in, her voice harsh as she asked, “What does that mean?”
Sighing in disgust, Brooke turned away, staring sightlessly out of the window. “I’ve been in love with a girl who doesn’t love me for too long. I can’t do it anymore. I need more.” She paused, the words hitting her suddenly, the truth of them stealing the air from her lungs. “I deserve more.”
“So now you’re going to make all the decisions again? In one night, you’re going to decide that you love me and you want everyone to know it and then you’re going to leave me because it’s not enough?” Frustrated beyond comprehension, Sam fought the urge to hit something. “Of course I love you, Brooke. Why else would I still be here? I can’t not love you. I tried. I tried so hard. I wanted to stop, so much, but you can’t just turn feelings off. They’re there, even when you don’t want them. Even when they hurt.”
For a moment, Brooke forgot how to breathe. “Did you mean that?” she asked roughly, consciously ignoring the words that had gone along with Sam’s declaration.
“That I love you?” Sam asked, voice full of sardonic derision. “Unfortunately, yes. But, I’m not sure it matters, Brooke. I don’t trust you.”
The silence that followed her words grew malevolently until, with a strangled sob, Brooke said brokenly, “I’ve wanted to hear that for so long. I almost don’t care that you probably hate me right now, so long as you mean it.”
It was the fact that Brooke desperately meant it that broke through Sam’s anger. And then she discovered that she couldn’t hold on to it anymore, not when they’d wasted so much time doing everything wrong. So, voice barely more than a rasp, she said, “Kiss me like it was the first time.”
Wet, suspicious eyes looked at her hesitantly. “You mean…”
“Let’s start over. Let’s make it right,” Sam said urgently, not wanting to lose her nerve. She was about to recklessly wipe the slate clean, to consciously ignore all of the hurt she’d been bottling up for years. “Make me believe in it, Brooke. Make me believe in us.”
If Brooke had had to pick her defining moment, this wouldn’t have been it. There would have been a bed, or at least some notion of privacy. It certainly wouldn’t have been in her car, pulled over on the side of the road on a relatively deserted street in her neighborhood, with a dog barking crazily somewhere in the distance and streetlights washing away the color in everything until the world felt and looked a dull gray. But then again, if this was her defining moment, then she was going to make the best of it. And so she laid it all on the line, eyes shining with the truth of her words as she slid free of her seatbelt and turned in her seat.
“I love you, Sam,” she whispered, then slid her fingers into dark brown hair. The kiss was gentle and soft, because she was tired of overwhelming potential protests and drowning out her own desire for more. It was slow and thorough and as giving as she could make it, and when she pulled away she made herself look into Sam’s eyes even though she wanted to look anywhere else.
Sam was silent for what felt like a full minute, her dark brown eyes unreadable and distant. Just when Brooke was about to turn away, to start the car and drive them home where she could find her bed and sleep and forget about all the things she hated in her life, Sam reached up slowly, fingers tracing a nearly non-existent path over her lower lip.
“Let’s go home, Brooke,” she said, voice the barest hint of a whisper.
Brooke drew in a ragged breath, tears springing to her eyes as she turned quickly, fingers fumbling with her seat belt. Her movements were jerky, awkward even as she restarted the car, shifting it into drive.
The warm heat of fingers wrapping around her own almost made her jump, and she looked down in confusion before flicking her eyes back up at Sam. The other girl merely smiled at her, squeezing their palms together, and Brooke wondered if she’d somehow gotten it all wrong. She’d been rejected, or so she thought, but the heat of Sam’s hand in hers was instead the most welcoming thing she’d ever felt.
“Sam, I…” she started to say, only to be cut off.
“Shh… home, Brooke.”
“…don’t understand,” she finished mentally, not daring to voice the words.
Brooke didn’t understand why she was crying. She should be happy. Ecstatic, even. Sam was back in her bed, sleeping peacefully, an angelic smile on her face. They were back together. No, they were more than that… they were finally together.
She should know. She should be able to tell, like it was some intrinsic thing that didn’t need to be explained. She should feel it, like a warm glow under her skin or a sharp sting running through her veins. Instead she felt vaguely… empty.
Maybe it was the way Sam had smiled as Brooke had told her she loved her as she touched her. Said the words over and over again, lost them in that coy little smile, but never heard them come back her way.
She didn’t understand the reluctance she was hearing in the other girl’s voice, the surprising lack of enthusiasm that suddenly brought forward all of the vulnerability and insecurity that she despised.
“Is something wrong, Sam?”
She didn’t want to ask, didn’t want to hear that something was wrong or, even worse, over.
When she’d met with her advisor about the possibility of doing an internship over the summer, she’d been more than thrilled to see that the list of affiliated businesses included a few in New York. Not as many people tried for them, her advisor noted when Brooke’s initial excitement turned into a nervous fear that she wasn’t good enough to earn a spot. Unpaid internships provided a wealth of experience but were rather hard to manage when housing costs alone could easily jump into the thousands for a short summer of hands-on training and paid internships were practically non-existent.
“They always take at least two of our students,” the advisor had said encouragingly when Brooke returned with her top three picks. “You’ve got excellent grades. I’m sure something will work out.”
Something had. She’d snagged one of two coveted spots at a top interior design firm in the heart of New York City.
She’d apparently been mistaken when she assumed Sam would be thrilled.
There was a soft sigh. Tired, despondent even, and Brooke felt herself hurtle headfirst to the verge of tears. “Why didn’t you ask me about this before?” Sam asked wearily, and Brooke felt her heart skip a beat, felt her belly contract in fear.
Voice hesitant, smaller than she would have liked, Brooke said, “I wanted to surprise you. I thought you’d be excited. We can spend the whole summer together, Sam.”
And that must be the crux of it, she acknowledged with a wry sadness.
“This is just a little sudden,” Sam said, and there was a hesitation in her voice that knifed through Brooke.
She thought about it for a moment, imagined her grand plans taking a swan dive off a particularly high cliff overlooking malevolently beautiful, sharp rocks. “Forget it,” she muttered bitterly, giving over to the urge to cry silently. “It was obviously a stupid idea.”
Maybe she’d already known that. It had been four months since her confession and their reconciliation, and Sam still hadn’t lost that hint of cool aloofness that made Brooke want to cry every time they talked. It was desperation, perhaps, that made her think that this would fix things.
There was another sigh, then a strained, “No, it’s… professionally it’s good for you, right?”
“Yeah. Professionally,” Brooke bit out, suddenly wanting nothing more than to be off of the phone. She needed to go, to maybe have a drink or find an unscrupulous doctor to prescribe her a bottle of mind-numbing pills “I can always try for another one closer to home.”
“No. I mean, don’t look,” Sam murmured, pausing awkwardly. “You should come to New York. Just, you know… My place is tiny. Don’t expect too much.”
Bitterly, Brooke thought Sam was talking about far more than her apartment.
There was a reckless anger in her voice when she replied. “Yeah, I won’t. Don’t worry. I’m used to trying to be happy with what you’ll offer.”
“Brooke…” There was warning in Sam’s voice this time, a strained anger that Brooke wanted to rail against. An anger she wasn’t sure Sam deserved.
“I’ll talk to you later, Sam,” she said, breaking into whatever the other girl had been planning to say. She didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want to be on the phone for another second. “I’ve got to run.”
She hung up without saying good-bye and without waiting to hear it.
Sam had met her at the airport, had hugged her awkwardly when Brooke wanted nothing more than a kiss or a caress or a fucking for real smile that might make her feel better about this whole thing. Instead she got averted eyes and Sam grabbing the handle of her suitcase with a distracted jerkiness that made it tip over on one wheel, teetering precariously before righting itself with a rocking bounce.
Somehow, seeing it, Brooke felt something snap.
“What the bloody hell is going on?” she asked, the phrase one she’d picked up from Parker and grown to like immensely, particularly for it’s adeptness in situations such as this.
Sam stopped, looked around at all the people streaming past them as if they were a rock in an ever moving stream. She was quiet for a long moment before finally meeting Brooke’s eyes, the hint of a scowl pinching her features.
“You want to have this conversation now?” she asked incredulously.
“When’s a better time, Sam?” Brooke asked sharply, letting her carry-on bag slide down her shoulder to the ground by her feet. “I thought we’d resolved things over the holidays, but instead of growing closer, we’ve never been further apart. You’re not there, and I can’t handle it any more. You need to tell me what’s happening because I don’t know and I’m not making any more assumptions. I thought that when I got here, things would be different, but I get off the plane and after not seeing one another for close to six months, my supposed girlfriend can’t even meet my eyes and doesn’t want to touch me.”
Pursing her lips, eyes narrowing in annoyance, Sam muttered, “I don’t know what you want me to say, Brooke.”
“I want you to tell me the truth.”
Lips quirking into an ironic smirk, Sam said roughly, “The truth? How about this, then… I don’t know what I feel. I wish you’d talked to me about this internship plan before it was too late to back out of it. I wish it could be easy and I could just tell you I loved you too when you say it to me. I wish I could forget about everything that happened before New Year’s and not hate you just a little for the way you completely fucked me up.”
The words echoed the things Sam had said to her six months before, old problems that obviously hadn’t been resolved and suddenly, she felt so very, very tired. “Wonderful. Really,” she drawled, bending to scoop up her carry-on again, sliding the strap over her shoulder. “We’re stuck in the same place we were before.”
“What? Do you want me to pretend? You want me to act like everything’s okay when it’s not?” Sam asked acerbically. “Do you want me to make your life easier so that everything will be perfect for you like I did before?”
“Oh, right,” Brooke shot back sarcastically, “because my life was so perfect before. It was so much better when you were dating – no, when you were fucking – other people and I wanted more but was afraid that you’d leave me if I asked for it. Yeah… that was perfection.”
“This is not my fault,” Sam nearly hissed, giving the suitcase a vicious tug as they started walking again.
Biting back her initial retort, Brooke strove for calm as she said, “You’re right. It isn’t your fault. And you know what? It isn’t entirely my fault either. So, why don’t we stop talking about whose fault it is and move on. Unless you don’t want to be together or to try and work this out, in which case you need to let me know and I can try to make alternate arrangements so that we’re not both miserable for the next three months.”
“Now you’re giving up?” Sam asked sharply, angrily, the harsh clack of the suitcase’s wheel against tile providing an agitated staccato that seemed to match her words.
Resisting the urge to throw something in frustration, Brooke snapped, “No. I’m not giving up. I’m trying to be realistic. If you don’t want to be in this relationship with me, then I’m not going to force it. I want us to be on equal terms, and that goes for me as much as it does for you. I’m not going to torture us both by trying if this is something you don’t want.”
Bitterly, Sam muttered, “That’s great. Make this my responsibility.”
“That’s not what I’m doing,” Brooke grit out from between clenched teeth. “We both have to want to be in a relationship for it to work. If that’s not what you want, then have the courtesy to let me know. I can’t deal with much more of this uncertainty.”
Sighing, back slumping in dejection, Sam said tiredly, “Can we just go back to my apartment? We can talk about this there.”
Stepping closer, drawn in by the bleak look in Sam’s eyes, Brooke said softly, “Doesn’t matter where we talk, Sammy, so long as we talk. No more games, no more pretending things don’t exist.”
Sam hadn’t been kidding when she’d told Brooke not to expect much, the blonde thought with a mental laugh. The ‘apartment’ was little more than one continuous room linking the kitchen and the living space, with a small bathroom off to the side and a small closet along one wall. The bed was in one corner, with a chair and a television taking up most of the remaining portion of the living area. From what she could tell, Brooke surmised that the lone television tray doubled as both Sam’s table and desk. The apartment wasn’t bleak for all its lack of space, however. There was a small fish tank in the corner, a plant by the window, pictures scattered around and tacked up on the walls interspersed with what looked to be pieces of original artwork, all pencil drawings on creamy white paper.
“Well,” she said slowly, “it’s certainly cozy.”
Sam snorted, amused by Brooke’s judicious assessment of her apartment. “Yeah. Cozy. Wait till you see the bill for the rent and then tell me how cozy it is.”
They worked in tandem to put Brooke’s things away, her clothes sliding into the drawers alongside Sam’s. For some reason, that made the blonde inordinately happy.
“So, talk?” she asked hesitantly as she pushed her final pair of shoes under the bed, suddenly feeling shy.
Sam took in a deep, calming breath. “Tea first, then we talk,” she said firmly.
“Tea?” Brooke questioned with a raised brow, an amused look on her face.
“It makes me calm,” Sam said defensively. “I would think you’d want calm.”
Conceding with a small nod of her head, Brooke said softly, “Tea, then talk.”
They waited in awkward silence as the water boiled, and Sam pulled down mismatched mugs, adding a tablespoon of sugar and a tea bag to each before filling them with water. She gave a small stir, then handed one to Brooke. The configuration of the room left three seating options, and when Sam took the bed, Brooke chose the chair.
“So,” Brooke said slowly, blowing lightly on her tea. “I thought we’d worked all of this out at New Years.”
Nodding, jaw clenching briefly, Sam muttered, “We talked about it. We didn’t work it out. I got back to New York and I started thinking about things. It just didn’t sit right with me, that we spend a couple of nights together and then everything’s supposed to be okay between us.”
“So you shut me out?” Brooke questioned, shifting her hot cup from one hand to the other.
“Yeah. I shut you out,” Sam said
somewhat defiantly, taking a small sip from her cup. “I needed time to think
about things. I needed to make up my mind.”
”Okay,” Brooke said softly, suddenly envisioning the absolute worst summer of her life. No, actually, she wouldn’t stay here. She’d move out. She’d go into debt if that’s what it took. She wouldn’t stay here with Sam in some sort of strained half-friendship.
“I think we need to do all those things we didn’t do before,” Sam continued, eyes flicking from Brooke’s hands to her eyes, unable to hold them for more than a few seconds. “I think we need to find out if this could really work. I think we need to forget about sex and see if we even like one another.”
“And what does that mean, exactly?” Brooke asked cautiously, rubbing her thumb over the slightly chipped brim of her mug.
Taking another small sip, features twisting up slightly as it burned down her throat, Sam sighed. “I think we need to start with the basics. Have dates. Have conversations.”
Brooke merely looked at her, face expressionless. Sam wanted to start over? Then fine… they’d start over. But, this time, she wasn’t making a move. If Sam wanted this, then she’d do it but she was letting the other girl have complete control over the pace. She had to know if Sam wanted her once and for all, no more of the back and forth, and if that meant waiting for Sam to come to her, then that’s what she’d do. And, if Sam didn’t come to her, then she’d know.
“Fine,” Brooke said, tone clipped, businesslike. “I’ll sleep in the chair or on the floor. We’ll start over. We’ll take this as slow as you want.”
Sam was going to go crazy. Brooke had been living with her for over a month, sleeping on the floor in a hastily procured sleeping bag after a first night spent in the discomfort of the chair. The other girl worked long hours during the day, often coming back to the apartment exhausted. On the days when both of them were free, they did things. Walks in the park, movies, dinner, art festivals, museums, bands, clubs… they did it all. They talked, they shared comfortable silences, they ate breakfast together, brushed their teeth together and said goodnight before going to sleep.
Brooke would only hold her hand if Sam reached for hers first.
They hadn’t kissed since Brooke had gotten there.
It was the flawed ideal. She felt closer to Brooke than ever before, emotionally speaking, yet the intimacy wasn’t there. She wanted it to be there, wanted to kiss Brooke and push her down onto her little bed and make her scream, but she didn’t and Brooke certainly didn’t make any sort of move.
She felt like she was being punished.
That night it was take-out dinner on the floor, apartment lit with the soft glow of candles. They were sharing a bottle of wine that Brooke had gotten as a left over from one of her work functions, mangling spicy eggplant and laughing at their inability to use chopsticks, and Sam wanted to kiss the other girl so badly that she hurt with it.
Brooke had given up with her attempts and resorted to stabbing the eggplant pieces with a single chopstick. There was a glow about her, a happiness that Sam wanted to reach out and absorb.
So she did.
A single finger traced over Brooke’s jaw, past her chin, a thumb reaching up to glide softly over a full bottom lip, and the blonde froze, dinner and breathing forgotten. Eyes going wide at the touch, Brooke sat as still as possible, not wanting to do anything to impinge upon the moment.
When Sam leaned forward slowly, dark eyes drawing inexorably closer, near black and unreadable, it was all she could do to remain still, to not rush toward the thing she’d been waiting on for what seemed like forever. The first brush of their lips was soft, barely there, and Brooke moaned, the sound catching in a throat closed tight with emotion. Sam’s fingers were soft, hesitant even, as they slid through blonde hair to hold the other girl still while she deepened the kiss, tongue flicking out to draw slowly along Brooke’s bottom lip.
When she drew back, crouched above Brooke and the boxes laying forgotten between them, she took in the blonde’s eyes, lids drooping sensually and pupils overshadowing any hint of hazel.
“Do you want this?” she rasped, watching as the other girl swallowed nervously.
Taking in a deep breath, trying to calm the racing of her heart, Brooke nodded.
Brooke was tired, sweaty, and deliriously happy yet torn. Touching Sam, being drawn ever so willingly back into physical intimacy with her, had been a bittersweet joy. Everything was the way it had been, with the exception of the small, guarded part of herself that she couldn’t give up. After everything they’d gone through, all of the time spent trying to make Sam see that things between them could, and should, work out, she found that she was a little scared. She didn’t want to give into it all only to have it snatched away again, and that slight hint of emotional disconnect worried her. What if she couldn’t trust Sam again? Would she be happy that way, always waiting for an inevitable change of mind that would snatch away everything she thought she’d built?
“What is it?” Sam murmured sleepily, snuggling into her side, nuzzling her nose against Brooke’s neck.
Staring up at the ceiling blankly, not wanting to talk about what she was feeling but suddenly too overwhelmed with emotion to hold it back, Brooke felt a tear trickle down the side of her cheek.
Sleepiness turned to panicked confusion as Sam slid up onto an elbow, looking down at Brooke. “What is it?”
Closing her eyes, wishing that she could have managed to hold this in until she was alone, Brooke turned her head to the side, away from Sam. “Nothing’s wrong,” she said, voice strained.
Slightly angry now, Sam muttered, “Brooke, don’t lie to me.”
Turning her head again, this time meeting Sam’s eyes, Brooke said softly, “I’m not. Nothing’s wrong, really. I’m just… I just want to be sure about this, Sam, and I can’t.”
“What do you mean?” Sam asked accusingly, brows lowering in confused anger.
“Don’t be angry,” Brooke breathed out. “Every time I thought we’d worked things out, I find out later that we haven’t. I think that I’m happy now, but I can’t help worrying that tomorrow you’ll tell me that you need more time or that you’re unsure or that it was all a mistake and you didn’t mean it.”
Sighing again, reaching out to wipe away a freshly released tear, Sam said softly, “I’m not going to change my mind. You have to understand… I needed time to work through things, to make sure that this was really what I wanted. I felt that, for us to be in a relationship that actually had a chance of working, I had to go into it without any of the negativity from before. I’m ready for that now, Brooke, if you are.”
She followed the words with a soft, reassuring kiss, eyes open and bright and Brooke felt the honesty behind her words resonate through her bones.
“I don’t want to be afraid. I’m tired of feeling numb,” Brooke whispered, fingers ghosting over the sharp angle of Sam’s cheekbone. “Don’t hurt me again, Sammy.”
“Never,” Sam vowed fervently, then lost herself in another kiss.
Brooke looked up as the kitchen door cracked open, revealing a quite sneaky looking Sam.
“Where have you been?” she snapped, stepping out of the shadows.
“Jesus,” Sam hissed, hand going to her chest as her heart attempted to race out of it. “You scared the shit out of me.”
Undeterred by Sam’s lack of a response, Brooke pressed forward. “Didn’t you know I was coming in for Thanksgiving break today? Where were you?”
“Out with friends,” Sam snapped back, anger building instantly.
A surge of emotion rushed through her unexpectedly, leaving Brooke near tears. “I was so excited to see you, and you weren’t here.”
Anger crumbling instantly, undone by the rather pathetic sniff that followed the blonde’s words, Sam sighed. “I’m sorry. I don’t ever get to see Carmen and Lily anymore, and I guess the time just got away from me.”
“No, I’m sorry,” Brooke said tearfully. “I didn’t mean to go all jealous hag on you. I must be hormonally imbalanced or something.”
Closing the distance between them quickly, Sam wrapped the blonde up in a tight hug. Arms wrapped tightly around Brooke’s back, she simply held the other girl until Brooke’s breathing calmed, the slight tremors racing through her subsiding.
Pulling back, smiling gently at the slightly watery look in Brooke’s eyes, she murmured, “I missed you too.”
And then she kissed Brooke softly, the touch soothing and light. Until, that is, Brooke moaned, body surging into Sam’s as she slid her fingers through silky dark hair. Then the kiss turned decidedly more heated. For a moment, Sam resisted. She’d told herself that she wasn’t going to fall into Brooke’s arms immediately, like she’d always done before. Not because she didn’t want to be there, but because she wanted things to be different. She wanted to feel like their relationship was more that just sex, like it had been for too painfully long. But Brooke’s tears, her earnest admission that she’d missed Sam… maybe they were enough. And maybe she shouldn’t worry so much about making it seem like they didn’t need each other desperately. Maybe they did need each other desperately. There was an oddly comforting familiarity in Brooke’s increasingly fervent touches, in the soft moans and the pressure of their lips together. It was old and new at the same time, like touches from an intimate stranger after so much time spent apart.
“Brooke,” she said absently, the feel of the blonde’s fingers tracing up her sides making it nearly impossible for her to speak, “I don’t think we should be doing this here.”
“It’s midnight,” Brooke said distractedly, concentration focused on her attempt to pull Sam’s shirt over her head, to bare deliciously soft skin. “Everyone’s asleep. They’ve been asleep for hours.”
Relenting slightly, letting Brooke draw her shirt over her head, she shivered, feeling oddly vulnerable in the vast expanse of the kitchen. “But…”
Whipping off her own shirt, melding her skin to Sam’s with a hiss, Brooke growled, “I’ve always wanted to do this.”
Slightly frightened by the feral grin in Brooke’s eyes, Sam merely nodded her assent, barely holding back a yelp when Brooke pushed her none-too-gently into the counter. The thump and the rustle of utensils brought a frown to her face, but Brooke soon covered her lips with a heated kiss, cutting off any protests. The blonde was rocking against her, fingers digging into Sam’s back as she continued to kiss her, and soon the brunette forgot about where they were. Brooke’s fingers were ripping apart the button on her jeans, the resulting harsh rasp of her zipper filling the room, and when those long fingers slid into her, she couldn’t hold back the moan. There was precious little room for movement in the tight confines of her jeans, but Brooke didn’t seem to need much room. The tight circles she was making were enough to turn Sam’s legs to liquid, and she dug her nails into Brooke’s back. Brooke was kissing her, touching her, holding her up. She didn’t understand it, didn’t know how the blonde could have her that aroused that quickly. It didn’t seem physically possible, especially in light of some of her past experiences. With Brooke, though, not only was it possible, it seemed to be the slightly embarrassing norm.
“Did you hear that?” Jane whispered fiercely, poking Mike in the shoulder.
Stirring sleepily, he looked over with lidded eyes. “What?”
“That thump,” Jane hissed. “There it was again.”
“Probably raccoons,” Mike mumbled, rolling back over.
Scowling at her husband, Jane said huffily, “I’m going to check it out.”
Sighing deeply, not even wanting to contemplate how long it would take for him to crawl out of that particular doghouse, Mike rolled to his feet, rubbing his eyes slowly. “I’ll come with you,” he said, resigned.
Jane had already collected the baseball bat and was waiting for him by the doorway, undoubtedly having already known that his participation was a foregone conclusion. Shuffling along behind his wife silently, they eased down the stairs.
“Wait,” Mike said softly. “I heard it again.”
Shooting him a glare, daring him to ever doubt her again, Jane wrapped her hands more tightly around the baseball bat. Moving more quietly now, they both turned, eyeing the kitchen. Tip-toeing in that direction, the sound of quiet whispers sent a hint of fear up their spines. Whatever they were dealing with, it was human.
Hoping to catch the intruders unaware, they moved as quietly as they could then stepped into the kitchen fearlessly, Jane with bat at the ready. Then, with a gasp, they froze, not quite able to process what they were seeing.
“What in the hell is going on here?” Mike yelled, now fully awake. He wanted to close his eyes, wanted to block out the vision currently searing into them, but he found he couldn’t look away. His Brooke was half-naked, her body shielding that of her companion’s, her hand definitely down this other person’s pants. It was a very active hand, he noted somewhat sickly.
At the words, Brooke froze, drawing a pained whimper from Sam. Looking up into the brunette’s eyes, her own filled with horror, she found herself unable to move. Instead, her rate of respiration increased so dramatically that she was fairly certain she was on the verge of a panic attack.
Jane, on the other hand, had a slightly better view than Mike. Not that she could believe what she saw, but some part of her told her she was seeing it nonetheless. “Brooke,” she said unsteadily, hoping that her mind was only playing tricks on her, “who is that? Because I know its not…”
Sighing, cursing herself and her hormones and Brooke’s stupid kitchen fantasy, Sam said, voice resigned, “Yes, it is.”
Instantly realizing from Brooke’s still vacant and distinctly horrified stare that she was going to have to take charge of the situation, she reached down gently, wrapped her hand around Brooke’s immobile wrist, and drew the other girl’s hand free of her pants. Eyes immediately catching the tell-tale sheen of wetness on the digits in question, Sam pulled Brooke’s hand between them guiltily. Then, hoping her voice wouldn’t crack like a prepubescent boy’s, she said steadily, “If you guys would give us a minute here.”
“Why?” her mother asked sharply, grip still tight on the baseball bat.
Risking a look around Brooke at her mother, Sam said soothingly, “So we can get dressed and join you in the living room to discuss this. Calmly.”
Seeming to accept the explanation, Jane looked over sharply at the stunned silent Mike. Reaching out, giving his arm a tug, she pulled her seemingly shell-shocked husband out of the room.
Left alone with her own trauma victim, Sam said gently, “Time to face the music, Brooke.”
Brooke merely whimpered in response, and Sam sighed again. “I wouldn’t have picked this particular method of relationship revelation myself, but it looks like we’re just going to have to go with it.”
Moving for the first time since she’d heard her father’s voice, the moment undoubtedly scarring her for life, Brooke said dreamily, “They saw us, Sam.”
Momentarily fearing for her girlfriend’s mental state, Sam nodded slowly. “Yes, they did. And now we have to go talk to them.” She paused to take a deep breath, then added sarcastically, “I would suggest you wash your hands first.”
Voice a tight whisper, Brooke said, “My hand was down your pants.”
“Hence my suggestion,” Sam said with a knowing smile. “Come on, Brooke. Pull it together. I can’t do this by myself.”
Drawing herself up, straightening her shoulders, Brooke set her chin, a look of fierce determination on her face. “Right. We’re in this together. Kindly find my shirt, please.”
Immensely relieved to see the blonde’s return to something approaching sanity, Sam did as instructed. Moments later, once again fully clad, with hair smoothed down and hands washed, they walked slowly into the living room. Their parents were sitting uneasily on the couch, Jane still with a firm grip on the baseball bat, staring silently at the wall.
“Mom,” Sam said softly, drawing their attention. Having noticed the McQueen penchant for histrionic silence in the face of trauma, she chose to go with the more action-oriented member of the pair.
A thousand questions raced through her mind, so Jane randomly seized upon one of them, no page in her non-existent parental handbook devoted to dealing with the particular problem. “How long?” she asked starkly, taking in the looks of guilt and shame written across her daughters’ faces.
Not quite sure how to handle the question and not wanting to get themselves into more trouble, Sam hedged, “How long what?”
“How long have you two been… Is this the first time, or has this been going on for a while?” Jane asked sharply, not quite able to ask the exact question she’d wanted to ask, not able to give voice to the words.
“Well…” Sam started, clearing her throat awkwardly.
Voice strong, Brooke broke in, “Off and on since the summer before our senior year of high school.”
Sam shot the blonde an evil look, certain that whatever she had been going to say, it wouldn’t have been so utterly the truth. Certainly not that they’d been together, in some way or the other, for nearly four years give or take huge blocks of time spent apart and/or broken up.
Sure that she’d just heard Mike whimper, Jane took in a calming breath, deliberately loosening her grip on the baseball bat. In fact, she slowly sat it off to the side, not quite sure if it was a good idea to have it so readily accessible. “And just what is it that you two have been… doing?” she asked, suddenly horrified that she was going to hear some kind of play by play retelling of things she most definitely did not need to know about.
Mouth gaping open as she tried to comprehend what her mother was asking, Sam tried desperately to formulate some kind of response that wouldn’t see her placed in boot camp or on Jerry Springer.
“We’re together,” Brooke said smoothly, a preternatural calm stealing through her. Now that the moment had come, she found she was surprisingly ready to get everything out in the open. Well, almost everything. Feeling the need to say more, she murmured, “We love each other.”
This time the piteous whimper definitely came from Mike. “But you’re sisters,” he said, clearly confused.
Glad to see that her father wasn’t really suffering from some kind of psychologically induced paralysis in the aftermath of the kitchen scene, Brooke said, a hint of irony in her tone, “I’ll admit you deciding to marry Sam’s mom did complicate things. But, we’re not related by blood, Dad. And, if you and Jane hadn’t gotten together, we wouldn’t even be quasi-legally related at all.”
Picking up on the unspoken admission, Jane asked, “So you knew about this… whatever it is, before Mike and I met on the cruise?”
Face burning bright red, Brooke dipped her head as she said shyly, “Well, I did. Sam was a late-bloomer with issues.”
Jane paused for a moment, seeming to take that in. “I see, and if we told you we didn’t approve? What would you do then?”
This time it was Sam who spoke up, her voice calm. “I guess I would ask you to remember what things were like when you first got back from the cruise. Did I want to meet your new friend Mike? No. Did I want to see the two of you having sex on the kitchen floor? No.”
Sam paused, letting the parallel speak for itself before continuing. “Did I want to move here when you decided that the solution to the problem of sneaking around was cohabitation? No. Did I want my life to change, to have to start all over with new rules that I in no way wanted or had any say in? No. But, I did all of those things and I adapted. And now it’s your turn, because even if you say you don’t approve and you want to try and split us up or act like teenagers who can’t stand the thought of their parents getting together, we’re still going to love one another and we’re still going to be together. So, we can all go through the growing pains for the second time around, or we can deal with it and move on and be happy.”
Beaming, Brooke echoed, “Yeah, what she said.”
“Fair enough,” Jane said slowly, still obviously shaken. “I’m not hypocritical enough to demand that you not be together just because I’m not sure how I feel about this whole thing.”
Smiling slightly, a bit of happiness shining through her initial horror, Sam said softly, “Thanks, Mom.”
Nodding decisively, Jane reached out to pull her husband up to his feet. “Okay then. Mike, I suggest we save further discussion of this for the morning, when you’ve had time to process and regain verbal functioning.”
He whimpered again, which Brooke to be a positive sign, then followed along behind his wife docilely.
“Well, that went better than expected,” Sam said lightly, snuggling closer to Brooke. They’d given their parents plenty of time to lock themselves in their bedroom before heading upstairs, not even bothering with the pretense of going to separate rooms. By unspoken agreement, they’d moved silently through their nighttime routine, brushing their teeth and washing their faces before slipping into Brooke’s bed, naked skin pressed together in a reunion that was more about comfort than passion.
Brooke snorted, then immediately covered her mouth in embarrassment. “I think my Dad had some kind of mental breakdown,” she said sarcastically, turning her head so that she was staring at Sam’s profile.
“Yeah, well… I think you did too,” Sam shot back. “Must run in the family.”
“Please. Like getting caught with your hand down your girlfriend’s pants isn’t enough to justify a little histrionic muteness?”
Laughing slightly at the memory, Sam said softly, “It’s your fault. You and your never before discussed kitchen fetish are what got us caught.”
Brooke was silent for a moment at that, and when she did speak, her voice was full of hesitation. “Are you sorry?”
“That they found out?” Sam questioned, turning so that she was facing Brooke, the other girl’s eyes luminous dark pools in the darkness of the room.
“Yeah,” Brooke breathed out, voice a near whisper.
Sam paused, considering her answer carefully. “No. I’m not sorry that they know. I do wish they’d had better timing, though.”
Eyes darkening further, Brooke trailed a hand down Sam’s side, fingers teasing in soft hair at the apex of her thighs. “Poor baby,” she purred, running her nose along the side of Sam’s neck. “Feeling a little frustrated?”
“If you get us caught again…” Sam threatened in a mock growl, barely suppressing a yelp as Brooke rolled over so that she was perched on top of her, bodies pressed tightly together.
Bending down to nip gently against Sam’s neck, Brooke murmured, “Don’t worry. I’m sure they’re too busy freaking out to even wonder what we’re doing now.”
Grinning slightly at the memory of the blank stare of horror on her father’s face, Brooke lowered her head slightly, bringing their lips together. The kiss was long and deep, unhurried yet passionate. When she pulled away, her eyes were so full of desire and devotion that Sam nearly wanted to melt with it.
“I love you, Sam,” Brooke whispered softly.
Smiling back at the blonde radiantly, Sam whispered in reply.
“I love you, too.”