Title: An Ever Fixed Mark
Author: Green Quarter
Email: green_quarter70@yahoo. com
Archiving: http://www. realmoftheshadow. com/greenquarter. htmA bazillion thanks to Shadow for giving me a place to park my shit.
Disclaimer: Characters of Popular are not mine. They belong to whomever. Although I think it’s public domain, the title is taken from Shakespeare, Sonnet 116 (Yeah, pretentious as hell, I know, but appropriate, I think, in this case).
Feedback: Always appreciated, at above address.
Note: This fic is a sequel to “The Mercy of the Fallen,” which can be found here if you’re interested: http://www. realmoftheshadow. com/green_quarter/mercy. htm If you don’t care to read it, here’s the skinny:The first fic is set nearly ten years after the series ends, and Brooke and Sam meet and get ‘shippy in New York after several years estrangement. This story picks up nine months later.
Sam lifted her head from the pillow and looked past Brooke to the red LED display on the clock on the bedside table. Still ten minutes before their day officially began and Brooke had to get up. After a brief internal debate, Sam reached over, turned off the alarm and quietly slid out of bed, saying goodbye to those last ten minutes. She pulled on the jean shorts and sleeveless t-shirt that were lying on the floor near the bed and padded through the apartment out to the tiny galley kitchen, where she removed a bag of coffee grounds from the freezer. While waiting on the percolating coffee, Sam leaned against the sink and ran through her mental to-do list, there was a lot to get done today.
She brought a steaming mug into the bedroom and knelt down on the floor next to Brooke’s sleeping form, holding the cup out towards her and waiting for the aroma of the freshly brewed beverage to do the alarm clock’s job. She didn’t have to wait long. Brooke’s lips twisted into a grin and her eyes opened, and Sam was struck, as she was every morning, by the natural beauty of the sleepy woman before her.
“So much nicer than the alarm clock,” Brooke said as she stretched and sat up, then took the mug from Sam. Sam leaned in and kissed her. “And that was even more nicer. ”
Sam smiled at Brooke’s early morning grammar issues. “I’ll be back in ten,” she rocked back on her heels and stood up.
“’Kay,” Brooke nodded and hid a yawn behind her hand.
Sam shoved her feet into flip-flops and grabbed a few dollars and her keys and was out the door in a minute. As she walked down the hallway, she could hear the Today show blaring through the door of Mrs. Paradisi’s apartment, and thought she heard the woman reading the horoscopes out loud, probably to her Pomeranian, Checkers, since it was way too early for company.
Out on the street, the sun shone brightly even at this early hour, indicating that it would be another hot one in Manhattan today. Sam loved her West Village neighborhood at this early morning hour, when all the garbage had been magically removed during the night, and the streets were scrubbed clean, and the day was filled with promise. To her, Morton Street was an oasis of calm in an otherwise chaotic and at times, unforgiving city, and she felt lucky to have landed here in this place at this moment in her life. The nine months she had spent in New York City with Brooke had been among the happiest she had ever known. She had spent several years up until this point as a modern-day nomad, rootless and searching the world over for what she had finally found with Brooke. Now was about the time that her old self would be getting itchy feet and checking airfares for her next destination, but she didn’t think there was a reason in existence that would compel her to leave New York. Brooke was the star to her wandering bark.
At the corner she stopped at the newsstand and bought the paper, then continued on to the bagel place for some breakfast provisions. She turned back towards home and made a mental note to confirm their rental car for Monday, which then led to a slew of other things she had to remember to do before they left the city.
She heard the shower running as she entered the apartment, and Brooke doing her best Robert Smith impersonation, “Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick, the one that makes me scream she said…” An oldie but goody, Sam smiled; Brooke must be in a very good mood. She had only heard singing in the shower a few times since she came to live here, and couldn’t remember any singing back when they lived together as teenagers.
She slathered cream cheese on a bagel and set it on a plate on the small café table that served as their dinette set. Brooke had purchased the table and two wrought iron chairs for next to nothing from the French bistro down the street when it went out of business, and they were just the right size and scale for the square-footage-challenged apartment. Sam went into the bedroom and retrieved Brooke’s coffee cup and topped it off, while pouring some for herself. She set the cups on the table, then sat down and opened the paper.
Moments later, Sam watched Brooke from over her newspaper as she emerged from the bathroom in a terry cloth robe and a towel wrapped around her hair. Brooke smiled when she saw that Sam had returned and was sitting at the table. Sam lowered the paper as Brooke came and sat down in front of the bagel and took a bite. Brooke picked up her coffee cup, then grinned at Sam like a loon. “Someone’s in a good mood today,” Sam said, returning her grin.
Brooke’s eyes sparkled. “Only five more hours and I’m free for two weeks!”
“But you still have those meetings on Monday and Tuesday. ”
Brooke groaned. “Don’t remind me,” she monotoned, then she brightened. “At least I’ll be out of the office, and we’ll be out of the city. I can’t wait. ”
Sam looked at Brooke’s mouth, where a little smear of Cream Cheese was clinging to her upper lip. “You have a little something there on your lip, let me take care of that for you,” she said, and swiftly pressed her lips against Brooke’s and used her tongue to remove all traces of cream cheese from the vicinity.
“All gone?" Brooke asked huskily after a few moments.
“Yup,” Sam replied, not moving away from Brooke. She inhaled the soap and shampoo smell that enveloped her, “You smell good. All fresh and clean. ”
“You smell better,” Brooke said with a leer, “I can smell myself on you. ”
Sam blushed, but also felt a surge of heat between her legs. That was all it took.
“Much as I’d like to continue playing “101 ways to make Sammy blush,” I can’t,“ Brooke sighed. “The sooner I get to work, the sooner I can come home, and then, maybe. . . ” Brooke wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.
“You know there is nothing I would like better, but have you forgotten about the ‘rents and Mac?” Sam asked as she moved out of Brooke’s very tempting locus.
Brooke’s smile faltered a little bit. “No, I haven’t forgotten, just wishful thinking, I guess. What time are they due to arrive?”
“They should be here around four. ”
“Right,” Brooke nodded. “I have to change,” she said, and got up from the table.
Shortly after that, the hair dryer went on, and Sam knew that Brooke was almost ready. This vacation was sorely needed. Brooke was working incredibly long hours lately. The bank had promoted her and she was now working in a new department that she didn’t like so much. So besides all the work she had to do there was also the pressure of learning her new role while on the job.
Sam wished she could find a job where she and Brooke worked the same hours, which would leave them more free time together, but the restaurant where she worked as a server provided a good steady income while she looked for other opportunities. The job market was tight, and a position that involved any kind of editorial work was scarcer still, so Sam used the free time not devoted to seeking employment to working on a travel memoir that hadn’t a hope in hell of being published. At least she was writing. She knew this was temporary, and she wouldn’t be a waitress forever, but snatching only brief snippets of time with Brooke every few days like ships passing in the night was not what she wanted for them. Sam promised herself that she would redouble her efforts to find a real job when they returned from vacation.
Brooke breezed back into the room looking like summer. She wore pink gingham Capri pants and a short-sleeved white linen top, and a pair of white strappy sandals. Casual Friday was her favorite day of the week. Sam watched her gather her stuff together and head towards the door. Then she stopped and turned around, coming towards Sam and smacking her lips on Sam’s cheek. “See you later,” she said a bit distractedly, already in work mode, and turned back towards the door.
Brooke looked back as she opened the door to go. Sam picked up her coffee spoon and held it aloft in a wordless declaration. Brooke smiled and was momentarily back with Sam, not preoccupied by a million other things. She blew Sam a kiss before closing the door behind her.
Sam sighed and set to putting her mental to-do list on an actual piece of paper.
Brooke stood on the subway, holding onto a railing, crammed between some sweaty tourists and a Verizon repairman, who appeared to be sleeping standing up. The heat on the train was like a physical presence, and Brooke felt limp and deflated. The thought of getting out of the city was all that was keeping her sane this week. She had accomplished everything she needed to do at the bank, where she worked as a financial analyst in mergers and acquisitions. It was only a little after two in the afternoon, but it looked like the whole world was escaping work early on this beautiful June Friday, and it might as well have been rush hour. She should have been happy that she had tied up all her loose ends and was free to enjoy her vacation, but her family’s impending visit was weighing on her mind.
Although she and Sam had been together for a while now, they had not told their family about their relationship. They hadn’t felt comfortable with making an announcement at Christmas, when they had gone back to California for a short visit, and it had been easy to ignore the issue when they were so far away here in New York. Neither Brooke nor Sam had a clue what Mike and Jane’s reaction would be, although the parents had congratulated Brooke on getting Sam to hang around the States for an extended period of time. As far as they knew, Manhattan was just another stop on Sam’s tour of the world.
Brooke and Sam had agreed that they needed to take care of this while the family was in town this weekend. Mike and Jane would only be in the city for the weekend, their sole purpose in coming was to drop off Mac, who would be joining Brooke and Sam on their vacation. The parents would then continue on, leaving on Sunday for a Mediterranean cruise.
Their flight got in this afternoon, and they would only stop to check into their hotel before coming to see the apartment for the first time, and Jane had made reservations for the whole family at a nearby restaurant she wanted to try. Tomorrow Mike had planned a circle line tour, a trip to the theater and more family fun time. Brooke didn’t know when her father had turned into Clark Griswold, she was just glad she didn’t have to endure his manic spurts of forced familial togetherness very often. She did feel sorry for Mac, though. It had been her idea to offer Mac the choice between joining her parents’ “Treasures of the Mediterranean” extravaganza and spending quality time with her sisters. It was no contest, as Brooke well knew. Mac idolized Sam and would jump at the chance to spend ten minutes with her, much less two weeks. So everyone was happy. Her father and Jane were happy that they wouldn’t have to drag a truculent tween across Europe, Mac was happy that she wouldn’t be subjected to two weeks of Greek ruins and renaissance architecture, and she and Sam were happy that they had two unadulterated weeks to spend in each other’s company. Well, nearly two weeks. Brooke had been unable to reschedule some meetings with a client in Boston, so Sam had come up with the idea of getting a place on Cape Cod so that Brooke could easily join her and Mac once she was done.
When the train came to her stop, she neatly sidestepped the tourists, and climbed the stairs to the street, where the air was noticeably a few degrees cooler. Everything was going to be fine. Her dad and Jane loved her, and they loved Sam. What could possibly be wrong with her and Sam loving each other? Only the social stigma, the lesbian issue, the perceived incestuous-ness of the thing, etcetera, she listed grimly in her mind. Brooke had been over and over it, and had even considered therapy to help her see her way clearly through all the societal junk that attached itself to her feelings for Sam. She had told Sam from the very beginning that she would need help overcoming her own prejudices and hang-ups, and Sam had been very supportive, being available and willing to listen whenever Brooke needed her. Sam assured her that she had done a lot of thinking about many of the same things, most of it done the summer after they graduated high school, when she realized not only that she was gay but also that she had feelings for her stepsister. Brooke marveled at the emotional maturity Sam had shown at such a young age, and wondered what it said about herself, that she had ignored and fought her inclinations for so long. Sam refused to let her beat herself up about it, and although she was still taking baby steps out of the closet, Brooke could honestly say that she was adjusting pretty well to her new life.
But the telling the parents thing was huge. Brooke knew that Jane was used to all kinds of outrageous behavior from Sam, and her stepmother had taken all of Sam’s decisions in stride, with graceful aplomb, but her dad was another story, and she was seriously worried about his reaction. She and Sam would just have to come up with a way to tell them that would minimize the freakout factor, she thought as she mounted the steps to her building.
When she entered the apartment, she could immediately tell Sam had been a busy girl while she was gone. The place was spotless. It looked as if Sam had wiped everything down with a whiteboard eraser, lifting a layer of grime that Brooke hadn’t even been aware of. The kitchen floor had never looked that clean. Brooke was stunned, and a little surprised that she hadn’t known that Sam was so house proud. They had both done their share of cleaning and tidying up, but this was far beyond that. Just then the door opened and Sam appeared with arms full of shopping bags and fresh flowers.
“Sam!This place didn’t look this good when I moved in. You’ve done an amazing job. ”
“It cleans up nice, doesn’t it?” Sam was pleased with her reaction. She put the flowers in the sink and started taking things out of her shopping bags. “I never really had a place of my own to clean, you know? And I couldn’t let my mad chamber maid skillz go to waste, could I?”
“No, I guess not,” Brooke laughed. “Well, what can I do to help?’
“You want to handle the flowers?” Sam asked. “I’ll do food prep. ”
While they were busy at their tasks, Brooke brought up strategy for the announcement. “So, how do you think we should go about telling them?”
Sam reached into a bag and pulled out a bottle. “This is your dad’s favorite Scotch, right?I got plenty of wine for my mom, too. I figured we’ll just get them so liquored up they’ll be beyond caring. ”Sam laughed uneasily.
Sam was nervous about it too, Brooke realized.
“No, seriously,” Sam continued, “I think we should just wait for a natural opening in the conversation and take it from there. What do you think?”
“That sounds good, but what if there is no natural opening in the conversation?”
Sam stepped up behind Brooke where she was standing at the sink snipping off the stem ends of a bunch of Gerbera daisies. She put her arms around Brooke’s waist and said, “Then we’ll tell them minutes before they get in the cab to go to the airport. ”She made a pretend speech. “Mom, Mike, thanks for coming to visit. I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the Lion King and, by the way, you know those t-shirts that say, “I heart NY? ”Well I have one too, but it says, “I heart Brooke” on it. Bye! Enjoy the ruins!” She kissed Brooke’s neck. “Do you think they’d get it?”
Brooke smiled and leaned back against Sam. It would do no good to worry about something they couldn’t control anyway. Sam was right; they should just relax and let it happen naturally. “We should’ve made t-shirts like that and just answered the door wearing them. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about it at all. ”Brooke felt Sam smile against her neck. They stood like that for a few moments
“Brooke, you know that whatever reaction they have, it’s not going to change anything, right?” Sam suddenly turned serious.
Brooke turned around so that she was facing Sam. She reached up and cradled Sam’s face in her hands. “Yeah, I know,” she said, and kissed Sam tenderly.
Sam reluctantly tried to pull away from Brooke. “That cheese plate won’t make itself,” she said.
“Oh, who wants cheese, anyway?” Brooke didn’t let go of Sam and went in for another kiss, this one having a bit more heat.
“Suddenly, not me,” Sam muttered, surrendering to Brooke’s assault.
And inevitably, the doorbell chose that moment to buzz.
“Oh God, that’s them,” Sam jumped at the angry sound of the buzzer. “You go down and get them, and I’ll finish these flowers,” she said as she pushed Brooke away from her.
Brooke grabbed Sam by the shoulders and looked her in the eye. “Everything is going to be fine. Don’t worry. I love you. ”She gave Sam a kiss on the lips, like a final stamp of approval, and then went to the intercom and said “Hi!I’ll be right down. ”Then she was out the door.
Sam had placed the flowers on the table and was hurriedly finishing the cheese plate when Mac sped through the door left open by Brooke.
“Bathroom?” she asked, urgently.
“Right through that door,” Sam pointed. Well, that was a fine greeting for not seeing her younger sister in six months, she thought, chagrined. But she didn’t have time to think about it because Brooke was entering with their parents. Jane was carrying a huge purple bow with a philodendron plant attached to it, and Mike had a bottle of champagne. Hugs and greetings were exchanged all around, and the tiny apartment became very crowded.
There was a flurry of activity while Brooke dragged the two dining chairs over towards the sofa so everyone would have a place to sit. Sam fetched drinks for everyone and put the cheese out. Once the hosting duties were accomplished, silence descended on the room.
“Mom, Mike, how was your flight?” Sam asked, trying to fill in the quiet.
“Oh fine,” Mike replied, “pretty uneventful. ”He took a sip of his drink. “It’s pretty muggy today, isn’t it?”
“Brooke,” Jane interrupted, “I love how you’ve decorated your place. Why don’t you give us a tour?”
“Well,” Brooke responded, “Pretty much what you see is what you get. ”She got up and stood to one side. “This, of course, is the living room, and over in that corner is what we call the dining room, the kitchen is through there, the bathroom you can see when it becomes unoccupied by Mac, and the bedroom is here. ”She motioned behind her to the opened French doors and the small room beyond.
Mike got up and poked his head in the bedroom. Sam saw him sizing up the queen-sized bed and furniture that took up most of the space. “Nice,” he said. “Where’s Sam’s bedroom?”
“Dad, come on! This is Manhattan. A second bedroom would add a thousand dollars to the rent, easily. We couldn’t afford that in this neighborhood,” Brooke said, a little defensively.
Sam immediately saw where Mike was going with this.
“So where do you sleep, Sam? That couch looks mighty uncomfortable,” Mike said nonchalantly.
Sam looked at Brooke. Was this the opening they were looking for? It was so soon. She saw Brooke nod imperceptibly. She took a deep breath. Here goes nothing.
“The couch is uncomfortable, Mike. But I haven’t slept on it for months. I sleep in Brooke’s bed, with Brooke. ” Sam looked at her mother’s noncommittal face, then Mike’s perplexed expression, and decided to push on so there would be no misunderstanding. “We share the same bed because we’re in a committed relationship with each other, and I love her very much. ”
It was immediately following this statement that Mac swung the bathroom door open. “Mom, Dad, you have to see what they have in the bathroom-” She looked at the stunned faces of her parents and the uncomfortable looks on her sisters’ faces. “What?What is it?”
Brooke recovered first. “Hey Macky, would you do me a huge favor?” She walked over to the front door and took a small key that was hanging on a hook next to it. “Did you see the mailboxes down in the hallway on the first floor?” Mac nodded. “Would you go get the mail for me? It’s box 2F. ”
Mac took the key from Brooke and then looked back at the rest of the family. “Okay, but please don’t say anything important ‘til I come back. ” Then she walked out the door and down the hall.
Brooke went to stand next to Sam, and grasped her hand. “It’s true, Dad, Jane. I love Sam, and she loves me. We wanted to tell you at Christmas, but we didn’t know how. We still don’t. We know it’s a lot to take in, and it will take some time to get used to, we just hope you’ll accept us and love us like you’ve always done. ”
There was silence in the room for a good five minutes.
Mike finally found his voice. “But you’re sisters,” he said uncomprehendingly.
“No Mike, not really,” Jane said. “Officially, we never went through with the adoptions all those years ago, and unofficially, well…” Jane trailed off; everyone knew what she was getting at.
Sam looked at her mother gratefully. She watched as Jane tried to process the information.
“It shouldn’t be taking Mac this long to get the mail,” Jane then said with a frown on her face.
“I’ll go get her,” Sam volunteered.
Sam found Mac near the bank of mailboxes in the vestibule of the building holding onto a rhinestone-encrusted leash attached to a tiny brindle-colored Pomeranian, who was showing signs of ennui as he sat diffidently on the linoleum. She looked at her ten-year-old sister with affection. The sandy-haired girl looked more like a McQueen than a McPherson, and had sprouted another few inches since Christmas. She was entering that awkward, coltish stage of adolescence, all gangly arms and legs. At the moment Mac was squatting, her arms hugging her knees, as she talked quietly to the dog.
“Hey Mac-attack. I see you’ve met Checkers,” she said with a smile.
Mac looked up, surprised. “Brooke doesn’t have any mail,” she said shyly.
It broke Sam’s heart that Mac was so shy around her for the first few days whenever they were together. It meant that they repeated the “getting to know you” stage every time, and by the time Mac was comfortable, Sam was leaving again. She envied the easy relationship that Brooke had with Mac, but knew she had no one to blame but herself. She had selfishly put her own needs and desires first during Mac’s formative years, and was hardly ever around while she grew and rarely took part in her upbringing. And now, the price she paid was barely knowing her sister, and Mac barely knew her. When Sam thought of her younger self, a teenager holding Mac when she was an infant, she would never have guessed that she would feel so far away from her sister ten years later. She wanted to rectify her mistakes, and was determined to be a better sister to Mac.
“That’s okay, Brooke might’ve been popular once, but nobody except the bill collectors really likes her these days,” Sam joked.
“I like her,” Mac declared indignantly.
“Sorry, bad joke. I like her too,” Sam said gently, then directed her attention to the dog. “Well, Checkers, what do you have to say for yourself?” she knelt down next to Mac and patted the listless dog roughly on the head.
“I think he’s sick,” Mac said worriedly.
“Nah, not Checkers. He’s just as lazy as the day is long, and spoiled rotten,” Sam replied. “And he’s a Sagittarius,” she added, as if that explained everything.
Mac giggled at that.
“But don’t ever give him Snausages. You don’t have any on you, do you?” Sam asked warningly. “Because he can smell ‘em from a mile away. He goes crazy for those treats. ”
“No, I don’t have any Snausages,” Mac rolled her eyes and looked at Sam like she was an idiot.
Sam tried to keep a straight face. “Well, good. The last guy who tried to give Checkers a Snausage lost his arm up to the elbow. It was so sad,” she said regretfully.
Mac looked doubtfully at Checkers’ miniature mouth, then up at Sam’s grinning face.
“Sam!” Mac protested, but couldn’t hide her own matching grin.
“Where’s Mrs. Paradisi, anyway?” Sam needed to get back up to the apartment. She didn’t want to leave Brooke there alone with the parents for too long.
“The lady whose dog this is?” Mac asked. “She’s out there. ”
“Well, let’s give ol’ Checkers back before he becomes too attached to you. ” Sam opened the front door to see a woman of a certain age with hair the same shade as Checkers’ fur. A lit cigarette was balanced delicately between two fingers, as she stood there on the stoop in her housecoat, haranguing the super about the sorry state of the recyclables. “Hi, Mrs. P. ,” she interrupted.
The woman swung around, forgetting all about the super, who saw his chance and scurried away. “Oh hiya, doll,” she croaked in a voice obtained only by a lifetime’s supply of Kent menthols. “I met your sister. ”She nodded at Mac, who was leading Checkers out onto the stoop.
“Yeah, she’s an International Crime Fighter, just in from Minsk,” Sam winked at Mac, as the girl handed the leash back to its owner.
“That’s nice, doll,” Mrs. P was distracted by Checkers, whose leash was getting tangled.
“She has to be getting back to her busy crime-fighting schedule, so we’ll see you later, Mrs. P. ”
Mac looked up at Sam and grinned.
“Okay, doll. Nice meeting you, dear, thanks for keeping an eye on my Checkers,” Mrs. P. waved them away, and looked around for the super.
When they entered the apartment once again, Brooke and her dad were sitting side by side on the sofa, and Jane was collecting her purse.
“Sam, Mike wants to talk to Brooke alone,” Jane reported. “Why don’t you, Mac, and I go get some air?”
Sam didn’t think this was a good idea. She thought they should put up a united front, but when she looked at Brooke she saw that she was fine with it, and was wordlessly pleading with Sam to understand. She nodded at Brooke and picked up her keys.
“Maybe we can see if Checkers wants to get some exercise, Mac,” Sam said, as she followed her mom and sister out the door.
As the door closed behind the rest of their family, Brooke tried to gauge her father’s reaction. She knew that Sam wanted to discuss this together, to show solidarity, but she thought she owed it to her father to hear what he had to say. He had a sober expression on his face, and his eyes looked a bit glazed, but other than that, he looked pretty calm.
She decided to launch into an offensive before he could get started.
“Dad, before you start talking I just want to say a few things. First of all, Sam did not ‘turn’ me gay, if that’s what you’re thinking. She didn’t come to New York and put some kind of spell on me. In fact, I was the one who declared my feelings first,” she saw her father flinch at this,” and it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Secondly, I didn’t enter into this lightly, at all. Every day I think about the implications of our decision, about what it will mean to our family, you and Jane, and Mac, too. But I’ve never been happier, dad. Isn’t that what you want for me?”
She waited for her father to say something.
“Brooke,” Mike began, “I’ve always loved the closeness we had when you were growing up. I felt so lucky to have this great kid in my life, this amazing person who never stopped surprising me, and I love you more than I’ll ever be able to tell you. And I know I haven’t always been the best father, and things were really rough for us for a while, but we made it through the troubled times, and look at you now. You’re this bright, successful, beautiful, charming woman, and I couldn’t be more proud of you. ”
Brooke was warmed by her father’s flattering words; however, she sensed there was a ‘but’ coming.
“But I want you to think very carefully about what you’re doing. Lesbianism,” he choked out the word as if there hadn’t already been one lesbian in the family for years now, “is a very difficult way of life. You’ll meet with every kind of discrimination; you’ll have to endure people who make judgments on you based purely on that one thing, not to mention the inequality of rights. How can you have a family? What about healthcare? The military? ”Mike realized he was straying from the point, and concluded, “It will be a very lonely life, Brooke. ”
“I’m curious, Dad,” Brooke said casually, “did you say all this to Sam when she came out?”
“You know I have a different relationship with her than I do with you. ” He replied, somewhat defensively. “Jane has always handled anything that had to do with Sam, that’s the way both Jane and Sam wanted it. I don’t pretend to know why Sam does the things she does, or makes the choices she does, and it was clear from the first that she didn’t want my input on her life. I know she loves me in her way, and I love her. I did the best I could with Sam. ”Mike looked at Brooke. “But you are my daughter, and if you do something that may be harmful to yourself, I feel duty-bound to say something, no matter how old you are. ”
“Well, it’s clear to me, despite what I just said, that you do think that this is Sam’s fault,” Brooke said coldly.
“I didn’t say that, Brooke,” Mike’s voice rose in agitation.
“But what’s okay for Sam isn’t good enough for me?” Brooke’s voice matched the volume of her father’s. “How can you be so hypocritical? This is the woman I love, Dad, and you are making her sound like some skanky dyke who swooped in and hypnotized me, your poor defenseless daughter! Not to mention that she’s been living as your daughter for ten years now!”
“Brooke, please, “ her father’s voice cracked, and he reached up to press his forehead with his fingertips, “I’ve just had all the hopes I had for you come crashing down around my ears. Please, just…” he closed his eyes and let his head fall back on the sofa. “I think I need a drink. ”
Brooke was contrite; she didn’t know why she always went for the basest way of conveying her point in an argument. Her father suddenly looked very old. She had pushed way too hard. “I’ll get it,” she got up and went to the kitchen, and reached for the scotch Sam had bought. If she had any hope of salvaging this conversation, she had to try a different approach.
“I don’t get it, Brooke,” Mike said, as Brooke returned with a good four fingers in a highball glass. “All those boyfriends, you’ve always had them. Why the sudden change? Why now?”
“It’s not something that just magically happened out of the blue, Daddy,” she said gently. “I don’t think I can pinpoint when it started, but it was a long time ago, probably before you and Jane got married, which may have been a factor in why I suppressed it for so long. Yes I had boyfriends, but didn’t you ever notice that none of them lasted? None of them ever made me feel the way that Sam does.
“All the things you are worried about, I worry about them too, except for maybe the military issue,” she gave a half smile. “I could be married with 2. 3 kids, have all the money I could ever need, and be fulfilled in my career, but it wouldn’t mean much if I wasn’t happy. It would be the easier row to hoe, sure, but at what cost?”
Her father had stopped gulping down the scotch like it was the elixir of life. “Brooke, I do want you to be happy, I do, but--”
“Dad,” Brooke interrupted. “I know this is hard. I know I’m probably not doing a very good job of stating my case. But do you think that maybe we could just stop talking about it for now? You did a good job raising me, you’ve given me all the tools I need to be a useful, productive person, a good person; but my happiness is my own responsibility. Maybe you could have faith that I know what I’m doing, that I’m an adult and I’ve made a decision after giving it a lot of thought. Maybe what we need to do is step back and let some time pass, so we can figure out how we feel. ”Brooke already knew how she felt, but she thought that using the collective ‘we’ would make her father feel better, like they were working on a joint project.
Mike looked relieved that an end was in sight to this conversation. “I think that’s a good idea, honey. You know that I love you,” he leaned over and gave her a hug. “I only want what’s best for you. ”
What’s best for me is Sam, Brooke thought, but all she said was, “Thanks, Dad. ”
Sam and her mom were sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park, as the late afternoon sun cast long shadows over the warm concrete. They were watching Mac slowly follow the perimeter of the central fountain behind Checkers, who in turn was sniffing at weeds and trash to his heart’s content. Sam had endured a silent walk to the park, and was growing weary of waiting for her mother to speak. She studied her mother’s profile and noticed quite a bit more gray hair intermingled with her usual raven-colored tresses, and the crow’s feet around her mother’s eyes were more pronounced than she remembered. Neither of us is getting any younger, she thought, when she recalled observing fine lines appearing near her own eyes not too long ago. And we’ll just sit here getting older if she doesn’t open her mouth, Sam thought impatiently.
“Mom, if you don’t say something soon, I’m going to challenge one of those old guys to a game of chess,” Sam motioned to the stone tables where several men gathered, somberly concentrating over their black and white pieces.
“Well, Sam, just what exactly do you want me to say?” Jane said, exasperated with her wiseass daughter. “You are an adult. You’ve been making your own decisions, some crazier than others, for a long time now. ”
That shut Sam up. Her mother had never commented on her life choices before, but then, Sam was asking for a comment, wasn’t she? Her mother had also never nagged her about settling down or finding a proper job, and had been wonderful when Sam announced she was gay, but she could tell Jane was disturbed by their bombshell, if only because she had been silent for so long.
“But I will say this: If you hurt Brooke, what will happen after that? Did you even think about our family? Do you think you two will just be able to go back to a normal friendly relationship and be all ‘please pass the cranberry sauce’ at Thanksgiving if this doesn’t work out?” Jane asked.
Sam’s blood rushed to her head, she could feel it pounding in her ears. “What makes you think I’d be the one to end it?” she asked hoarsely. “That I would be the one to hurt Brooke and not the other way around?”
“Sam, I don’t want to make you feel bad,” Jane cast a sidelong glance at her daughter, “but you’ve never been in a serious relationship before. You mention a girl’s name in one email, and then it’s a new one in the next. ”
Sam was stung by her mother’s casual callousness. “Mom,” she began, her voice low and full of emotion, “If not for Brooke telling me the way she felt last fall, I would be in some foreign country right now, still trying to ignore the fact that I’ve been in love with my stepsister for years. ”Sam’s eyes were shining with angry unshed tears. “Years!” she repeated fiercely. “Why do you think I could never be in a relationship for more than a month or two? This would never have happened if not for Brooke. Don’t you think I know how weird it looks? I fought it for such a long time, I would’ve gone a lifetime without telling her how I felt, and I would have been miserable every damn day. ”She swiped her hand over her eyes in consternation. “And it’s all so new to her, and she has just embraced it, embraced me, like it was something she was born to do. I don’t know if she’s really brave or just innocent. Sometimes I lie awake at night and worry that she’ll change her mind. If she’ll suddenly decide that being gay isn’t worth it, that loving me isn’t worth it, and she’ll end it. And, Mom, believe me when I say, that would kill me. ”
Jane was taken aback by the outburst. Her usually stoic daughter was known for playing her emotional cards close to her chest. She looked at Sam, finally understanding the impetus behind her rootless existence of the last several years, and she was ashamed of what she had said.
Sam had regained some equanimity. “So to answer your original question, I would never knowingly hurt her. If it’s up to me, there will never be a Thanksgiving when we are not together. She makes me happy, Mom. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt anything close to this, maybe since Dad. ”She paused. “And I know it’s a lot to ask, but I would really appreciate… not your blessing,” Sam struggled to find the words, “an acknowledgement, maybe. Because I love her, and I love you, and I can’t bear the thought of you not being okay with this. ”
“Oh, honey,” Jane pulled her grown-up daughter into her arms and rocked her like a baby. “You have to know that nothing you could ever do would make me not love you. I’m sorry I said what I did. ”They sat there like that, Jane still reeling from the implications of Sam’s heartfelt declaration, and Sam just drinking in the feeling of her mother’s closeness, which she hadn’t realized she had missed so terribly. After a moment Jane shook her head and laughed. “Boy, Sam, I think you need your own appendix in the Mom handbook. The things you throw at me. I thought I could put away that book where you were concerned, but I guess a mother never can. ”
“You never needed a handbook, Mom, you were just naturally brilliant at it,” Sam said as she sat up.
“Sometimes I wish there was a handbook, believe me,” Jane returned. “I am going to try to be okay with this,” she resolved, “I love you and Brooke the same. How could I not want you both to be happy?And if you’re happy with each other… as strange as that sounds to me, who am I to stand in your way?I guess a McQueen just knows not to pass up a good thing when it comes to a McPherson. ”
“Thanks, Mom. ” Sam took her mother’s hand in both of hers. Relief washed over her. She felt drained, like she had just run a marathon.
“You know, if I’m honest, I should probably tell you that I suspected something at Christmas,” Jane admitted.
“What?” Sam was aghast. They thought they had done such a good job of passing as only stepsisters.
“It’s just that you two were so,” Jane looked at the sky and tried to find the right word, “loving towards each other. At first I thought you were just entering a new phase of adult friendship, but there was something I couldn’t put my finger on that was different about it. Guess I know what it is now,” she said, slightly chagrined.
“God, we thought we were being so tricky, too. Wait ‘til I tell Brooke. ”
“Speaking of, we should probably go back and see how they’re doing,” Jane stood up and called out to Mac.
Mac had been sitting on the fountain ledge for a while now. She turned when she heard her mother, but made no move to get up.
Sam thought she knew what the problem was. “Uh oh, what is up with that stupid dog, now?” she asked rhetorically as she and her mother walked over to Mac.
“He won’t get up,” Mac said plaintively, when they got closer.
There was nothing wrong with Checkers, he was just contrary, and had tired of sniffing and walking. Sam had found out about this charming personality trait early on in her relationship with him, but had forgotten it. Sam thought little toy dogs like Pomeranians were supposed to be energetic and yappy, but Checkers evidently had not gotten the memo. “Come on, Checkers, “ she smacked him lightly on the behind, “don’t you want to go home?”
Checkers looked at them pitifully.
Sam stood up and put her hands on her hips, looking at the far side of the park. “Maybe you want to go in the dog run with those two Dobermans,” she threatened, “I bet they’d love to get a piece of you, ya big baby. ”
Checkers didn’t bat an eye.
Sam sighed. She picked up Checkers and held him in her arms like the baby he apparently was. “Let’s go,” she said.
Mac sat silently between her parents in the back of a cab that was heading uptown to their hotel. Things were weird. Things were always weird when the whole family was together, when Mac’s little family of three suddenly expanded to include her two big sisters, but things were definitely weirder than normal.
She and her mom and Sam had returned to the apartment to find Brooke cleaning the kitchen, which already looked pretty clean to Mac, and her dad sitting on the sofa with a drink in his hand. As the rest of the family retook their places in the living room, Mac had wandered around the small apartment. She was pretending to explore, but was really trying to overhear what the rest of the family was talking about, without them realizing what she was doing. Back in her Harriet the Spy days, she learned she could find out a lot more if she pretended like she was disinterested. After a bunch of really long pauses, all they had talked about was boring stuff like plays and restaurants, so she tuned them out, and really did start to investigate her surroundings.
The apartment was small, and there weren’t many places to go, so she had gone back in the bathroom first and lowered the toilet seat and sat there for a while. The bathroom was all white tile, but kind of a yellowy white, like it was faded. There was a claw-footed tub, a kind that Mac had never seen before. Everything looked really old and there were some cracks making a spider web pattern up the wall, too. She had stared at the tiny hexagonal floor tiles until they got all crazy and started to move around, and it made her dizzy. She shook her head and studied the shower curtain, which was what she wanted to show her parents earlier. The curtain was made of clear plastic and it had a map of the world printed on it, the countries were in a bunch of different colors. There were little black X’s made with a magic marker on a lot of the countries, all the places that Sam had been. Mac had a map hanging on the wall in her room at home too, and when Sam went somewhere new, she and her dad would find the new place on the map, and put a thumbtack in it. Someday she wanted to do cool stuff like that, go to foreign places and have adventures and stuff.
When she had tired of the bathroom, she meandered into Brooke’s bedroom, still no good conversation happening in the living room. She moved past the bed to look out the window and saw a fire escape. She had seen them in the movies and on TV but had never seen a real live one before. It looked rusty and dirty but she wanted to go out on it anyway. Mac wanted to make believe she was high up in the crow’s nest of a pirate ship, where she would lean out over the deep blue ocean and put her hand to her forehead and call out “Land ho!” even if they were only on the second floor, because everyone knew that the crow’s nest had to be at least a hundred feet in the air.
The window was open because it was way hot outside, and Mac had briefly entertained the notion of crawling through. She decided not to try and lift the screen because she knew she’d only get yelled at, so she went to the closet and opened that instead. Brooke had the coolest clothes. She wished this stuff would look good on her, and then she could look as pretty and nice as Brooke did, but she would only look stupid.
“Hey, Mac. What’re you up to?”
Mac twirled around to find Brooke standing in the doorway. She guiltily closed the closet door, but Brooke didn’t seem mad. In fact, Brooke reopened the closet door and scrutinized the clothes inside.
“See anything you like?” Brooke asked. “You know, you’re the smart one, hanging by yourself. It’s like watching paint dry out there,” she rolled her eyes and gestured to the living room. She went over to her jewelry box and said, “We’re going out for dinner soon. You want something to dress up your look a little? This is Manhattan, after all. ”She rummaged through her collection and when she found what she was looking for, she held them out to Mac.
When Mac saw what it was, she unhappily said, “I don’t have pierced ears. I can’t get them until I’m thirteen. ”Mac thought this was grossly unfair. All her friends had pierced ears.
“I know, I couldn’t either,” Brooke made a face, and then smiled. “But these are clip-ons. ”She sat down on the bed and helped Mac put them on. “Sam didn’t get her ears pierced until she was fourteen, but it wasn’t because your mom wouldn’t let her,” she disclosed, “it was because she was a big old fraidy cat. ”
“No!” Mac couldn’t believe that. Sam? Scared?
“Yes!”Brooke laughed. “And then, a year or so later, apparently over her fears, she tried to get her nose pierced, and that was a total disaster,” Brooke smirked at the memory. ”Don’t tell her I told you, she’ll kill me. There, they look good on you, Mac. ”
Mac stood up and looked in the mirror over the dresser. They looked awesome. “Thanks, Brooke, these are cool!”
“What’s cool?” Sam walked into the bedroom and sat down next to Brooke. Mac watched through the mirror as Sam slipped her forearm under Brooke’s forearm and entwined their fingers together. They looked at each other for a moment and then Brooke put her head on Sam’s shoulder for just a second.
“Mac’s new earrings. ”Brooke said.
Sam stood up and inspected Mac, nodding. “Yeah. Looking good, Mac. ”
“I was just telling her about how you were too scared to get your ears pierced,” Brooke casually mentioned.
Mac looked askance at Brooke. Hadn’t she just said not to say anything? But Brooke appeared to be about two seconds away from bursting out laughing.
Sam said sourly, “I wasn’t scared, I just didn’t have time to get them done. ”
“What thirteen-year-old girl doesn’t have time to get her ears pierced?” Brooke asked disbelievingly.
“I was very busy that year,” Sam declared airily to Mac, then turned to Brooke. “I’m never telling you anything ever again,” she said and shook her fist at Brooke.
Mac could tell Sam wasn’t really mad. In fact, both of them were smiling.
Sam looked down at Mac“ So are you guys ready to get some grub?”
So then they had gone to dinner, walking for about ten minutes before arriving at the restaurant. As the family walked, Sam and Brooke took the lead, their heads together and talking seriously about something, and her parents had fallen behind, equally wrapped up in their own conversation. Mac was left by herself between the two groups. She had felt like the monkey in a tag-team game of Monkey-in-the-Middle, until her sisters had slowed down to allow her to catch up with them.
Dinner itself had taken forever, with more long gaps between conversation, until Mac employed a tried and true method of getting her sisters talking. She asked them questions about high school. She loved hearing them talk about when they were younger, even if she had already heard most of the stories. It made her feel like she knew them better. Brooke and Sam got on a roll, and tried to outdo each other with one story more outrageous than the next. Soon everyone was laughing, even her dad, who had been uncharacteristically silent for most of the night.
As the cab pulled up in front of their hotel, Mac thought to herself that she was happy that she was here with her family, and even happier at the prospect of a vacation at the beach with her sisters. But something had happened today and although she didn’t know what it was right now, she was going to find out.
Brooke sniffed suspiciously at the spout of the carton of milk in her hands. It was probably good now, but it wouldn't be when they got back, so she poured the milk down the drain and binned the carton. She was getting rid of all the perishable items before they left. It was six in the morning, and she was waiting for Sam to come back with their rental car. They had planned on letting Mac sleep until the last possible moment before waking her up and throwing her in the backseat. It was essential that they get on the road early to make it to Boston by lunchtime; Brooke's meetings began at one.
The past weekend with the parents had both flown, and passed in tortuous sluggishness, if that was possible. After the unending dinner on Friday night, which Mac had saved from being the worst night in McQueen/McPherson family history with a few well-placed queries about their checkered high school history, she and Sam had practically sprinted back to the apartment. It would almost be worth going through the agony of telling the parents about themselves again if it would result in the incredible sex she and Sam had that night. They had arrived home and tore their clothes off as if they hadn't touched each other in months. After their first frenzied coupling, they had come together again slowly, languorously, every caress fraught with meaning. The anxiety they had been suppressing over the thought of losing each other ebbed away as they took comfort and reassurance from each other's bodies through the long night. The sun had been rising by the time the two were satiated, and they clung together in sleep, grateful that they had each other, and relieved that they had looked on this tempest, and were not shaken.
Sam had to work a lunch shift the next day, so Brooke had to endure the Circle Line tourist cruise from hell without her. It actually worked out okay, because while they slowly looped around Manhattan, and her father and Mac got all geeky about being on a boat, she and Jane had been able to have a good conversation about their situation. Jane had promised to help smooth the way with her father, but had spoken frankly about her concerns for both Sam and Brooke herself, should their union not work out. Brooke did her best to set Jane's mind at rest, but had the feeling that only time would really do that. She was deeply touched by the apprehension Jane felt on her behalf; she really loved Jane. The difference between her talk with Jane and the conversation she had with her father was like night and day. She didn't blame her father for that, but was glad he had the tempering hand of someone like Jane in his life.
Sam had met up with them that evening for the Lion King, and was grudgingly impressed, as was Brooke. Mac had absolutely loved it, and insisted on buying the soundtrack right there. It had already worn out its welcome. If Brooke heard "that wonderful phrase," Hakuna Matata, one more time, she thought she would go ballistic.
Yesterday they had brunch at their parents' hotel before her dad and Jane left for their cruise, and then they took Mac and her stuff back to their apartment. Sam worked her last dinner shift before their vacation last night, while Brooke treated Mac to the movies and then Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity 3.
Brooke heard the key in the lock and Sam entered quietly. "Hey," she whispered. "I'm double-parked downstairs. Are we about ready?"
"Yep," Brooke softly replied, tying up the garbage bag. "Why don't you go wake Mac, and I'll start down with the luggage. "
Sam walked over to the sofa and softly said, "Mac-a-doodle-doo, time to get up. The beach is waiting, it's time to hit the road. " She gave Mac a change of clothes and then sent her into the bathroom. She straightened the couch, took a look around the apartment. If it wasn't already packed, it wasn't coming. Then Mac was ready, and helped Sam with the rest of the bags.
As they drove out of Morton Street, Mac sleepily said from the backseat, "Can we play the Lion King?"
"Later," Sam replied, "try and get some sleep. " She smiled and rolled her eyes at Brooke and took her hand, using the other to turn the wheel towards the Tri-borough Bridge.
Sam drove slowly down an unpaved lane, the wheels of the car creating clouds of dust in the rear-view mirror. She and Mac had left Brooke in Boston and had made their way up the Cape. They stopped in Wellfleet to pick up the key, and were now trying to locate their home for the next two weeks. "It's got to be around here somewhere, Mac, keep your eyes peeled. " She craned her neck to get a look at the house numbers as they passed. "It's number twenty-four. "
"There it is," Mac said from the passenger seat, pointing to a small sign nearly camouflaged by a full, green, deciduous hedge, dotted with small purple flowers.
"Good eyes, Macky," Sam said absently as she angled the car through an opening in the wall of shrubbery and parked the car in the driveway.
Sam was very pleased with the stereotypical Cape Cod cottage she saw before her. The pictures Brooke had shown her from the agency's website didn't do the rental justice. The small house was clad in Cedar shingles, weather-beaten to a silvery-gray color, with crisp white trim on the windows and shutters. They left the bags for the moment and ascended the porch steps to the front door. Sam struggled with the lock on the heavy Oak door and finally pushed it open to reveal an open floor plan, the large kitchen windows at the back of the house showcasing a view straight out to the Atlantic Ocean. The place was decorated minimally; the only adornment to the white bead-board covered walls was a few wooden shelves nailed into the studs, holding tattered paperbacks and jars of shells and sea glass. The furniture had seen better days, but the overstuffed chairs and sofa were spruced up with awning-striped canvas slipcovers, and the various wooden pieces, although scarred and nicked, were serviceable and clean. The kitchen had open shelving, as well, and aged, but clean and serviceable appliances. The feeling of space and light Sam got from the building was in direct contrast to her cramped but cozy apartment in the city.
This couldn't be any more perfect if it was art directed by Hollywood, Sam thought, and wondered if a backlot somewhere in Burbank was missing its Beachfront Cottage. She wished Brooke were here with her right now; she will absolutely love this place. Sam thought back to not three hours before when she had said goodbye to Brooke in the forecourt of her fancy hotel in Copley Place. She had felt like a hole was opening up in her chest as she watched Brooke walk away, pulling her little black wheelie suitcase behind her. God, get a grip, you big sap, you'll see her again in less than two days, she had thought.
Mac crossed the scuffed Mahogany floor and sat down on the sofa, she picked up a conch shell displayed on a side table and held it to her ear. "What now?" she asked Sam.
Sam directed her attention to Mac. This time apart from Brooke was a good thing, she told herself. Now she could put Operation Be A Better Sister into action. "What now?" she repeated. "I think we should go check out the beach, don't you?" She held out her hand and noticed a bit of reluctance on Mac's part, as the girl stood and took her hand and walked with her out the back door. "What's wrong?" she asked, concerned.
"Nothing," Mac shrugged.
Sam decided not to push it. As they exited the house, she looked around. This place just keeps getting better. The kitchen door opened onto a large flagstone patio, which had several pieces of outdoor furniture, a large picnic table and a pretty substantial grilling area. "We are so going to put this to good use," she smiled at Mac and pointed at the grill.
"You know how to cook?" Mac asked dubiously.
"It's grilling, not cooking! What's to know?" Sam asked, unconcerned. She and Mac walked across a small yard of scrubby beach grass to a precipice that dropped about thirty feet to the pebbly beach below. A timber staircase connected the property to the beach. The view was stunning. Not a cloud in the sky, and the late afternoon sun made the blue ocean sparkle. "Doesn't the ocean look great? Wanna go for a swim?" Sam was visibly excited.
Mac, however, was not. "Isn't there a pool?"
"A pool?" Sam's brow furrowed. "I don't know, Mac. We could check around, I guess. Why? Don't you like the ocean?"
Mac shrugged noncommittally.
"Tell you what," Sam said easily, putting her hand on Mac's shoulder. "The ocean will still be there later, or tomorrow. Why don't we bring the bags in and go get supplies?"
"Supplies?" Mac asked, relief clearly etched on her face, as they turned around and walked back towards the house.
"Yeah, supplies, Macintosh. Like food and drink, and some new CD's, so we can give Simba and all the creatures of the jungle a break. " Sam tousled Mac's hair. How does one be a good big sister, she wondered. That would probably start with not messing with the sister's hair. "Sorry about that," she said and hastily tried to straighten Mac's tangled locks.
"You're weird," Mac said, with a small grin.
"The defense rests on that very fact," Sam intoned, like she was a judge.
They dragged the luggage in from the car and hauled it to the second floor, where there were two bedrooms. Mac was excited about the bunk beds in the smaller room, declaring that she would sleep on the top bunk. Across the hall was the master bedroom, which had a very spacious king sized bed, Sam saw with much satisfaction. It also had a view of the ocean, and quite a respectable master bath. Brooke did such a good job picking this place out, Sam thought, as she looked out at the view. It's a good thing she didn't leave this to me, I would've booked three beds in the hostel in Truro and called it a day. But then, Brooke probably knew that, she thought ruefully.
"Is Brooke going to sleep in here with you?" Mac asked, from the doorway, resting her cheek against the doorjamb.
"I think so, Mac," Sam replied. She damn well better, she thought. "Why do you ask?"
"I don't know, 'cause you guys slept in the same bed last night too. "
"Yes, we did," Sam acknowledged, waiting for Mac to continue, but hoping that she wouldn't.
Mac looked at Sam speculatively, then said, "So are we going shopping, or what?"
Thank God, Sam thought, relieved. "Yes, we're going shopping. You ready, yet?"
"Hellooo, I've been waiting for you while you've been staring out the window," Mac said, exasperated.
"Alright, already, let's go!"
Deciding that they were too famished to shop without eating first, Sam and Mac drove into Provincetown and found a parking spot near the far end of Commercial Street. The historic fishing and whaling town at the very tip of Cape Cod was now a gay tourism Mecca, and rainbow flags and tea dance fliers were the decorations of choice for many of the shop windows that lined this main thoroughfare. While the street was open to cars, it was pretty much taken over by pedestrians that represented the whole range of the Kinsey scale, a few more outlandishly represented than others. Sam loved it, but wondered if it was too much for Mac. Her fear lessened when Mac didn't even appear to notice some of the more bizarrely clad denizens, but wanted to stop at every two-bit t-shirt shop going. Sam was more drawn to the many art galleries on the street, and made a mental note to return for a more leisurely perusal of the numerous local artists' work. She did take a minute to pick up a postcard, she wanted to surprise Brooke and have one waiting in their mailbox when they arrived home.
They stopped in at a pizza place and got a couple of slices, and found a table near a window that looked out onto the street. They sat and tried various techniques to get their pizza to a reasonable temperature for consumption, but Sam was impatient and burned the roof of her mouth anyway.
"You should've waited longer," Mac said primly, as she watched Sam reach frantically for her soft drink, "or blown on it some more. "
"Gee, thanks, Mom," Sam answered sarcastically, taking a long pull from her straw.
Mac merely smiled and looked out the window. After a moment she said, " There are lots of rainbow flags around here, does that mean there are a lot of gay people here, too?"
Sam eyed her sister as she pulled napkins out of the dispenser. Mac had been aware of Sam's orientation for quite a long time, probably since before she knew what it meant to be gay. Sam and her mother had told Mac together, when she was seven, and had used the flag to illustrate the idea of tolerance. But she hadn't really been around to follow up on any of the questions Mac might have had about it. She had left that task to her mom. Now Sam felt guilty.
"Yeah, there are," Sam said carefully. "There are some places that are very welcoming to gay people, and this town is one of them. Does it bother you that there are so many around?"
"Nah, the only thing that's bothering me is how your onions got on my pizza," Mac said disgustedly, as she flicked some wayward onions onto her plate.
"Sorry," Sam chuckled.
"I think it's nice," she added.
"Me too," Sam smiled, relieved.
"Are you and Brooke a couple?"
Sam blinked. Oh God, no. Please don't make me do this by myself, she begged. She and Brooke had known that they would have to tell Mac eventually, but had been so worried about their parents that they hadn't formulated a plan for Mac, hoping that they could do it at some future date, a really far away future date. "A couple of what?" she stalled.
Mac pursed her lips and stared at her silently.
If there was one thing Sam remembered from being a kid, it was how much she hated it when adults lied to her "for her own good. " She decided she would never be guilty of that with Mac.
"Brooke's not here to speak for herself, but I don't think she would mind me saying that, yes, we are a couple. "
"Can sisters be in a couple together?" Mac asked, with a slight frown.
Sam scrunched up her napkin and wiped her lips, she needed to choose her words very carefully here. "Well, Mac, typically, no. Two blood sisters would not be a couple. But you know that Brooke and I aren't related by blood, the way you and I are, and you and Brooke are. We knew each other before our parents knew each other, we were friends," Sam inwardly cringed at this white lie; they were hardly friends in the beginning. "After Mom and Mike got married, both Brooke and I came to separate decisions that it wasn't a good idea to like each other, in a romantic way. " She paused to look at Mac, to see if she got the distinction. "Brooke wasn't even aware that I liked her, and I didn't know that Brooke. well, that's complicated. Anyway, a long time passed and neither of us had stopped liking the other, in fact, we loved each other but we were afraid. "
"Afraid of what?" Mac asked. She was hanging on Sam's every word.
Sam did not want to go into that. "It doesn't matter. What matters is that we were finally brave enough to tell each other, and now we are happier because we did. And we sleep in the same bed together because we love each other, and want to be close to each other," she finished, referring to Mac's earlier question back at the house.
"Is that why everything was so weird before, and Mom and Dad were so wigged out? Did you tell them?"
"Yes, you're very observant, Mac. " Sam was parched, and her hand shook slightly as she raised her cup to take a drink. That was so much harder than telling the parents, she thought.
Mac smiled bashfully at the compliment, but then the frown returned. "So, why are Mom and Dad so mad about it?"
"Well, they're not really mad about it, they are just really surprised right now. Even if Brooke and I don't see each other as sisters, Mom and Mike do. To them, there is no difference between Brooke, and you, and me. They just need to change their perception a little bit. And you could see that it was getting a little better by the time they left for their cruise, couldn't you?" She watched Mac solemnly nod her head. "They just need a little time to get used to the idea. " Sam prayed that she was telling the truth.
"So are you okay with this?" Sam asked, hesitantly.
"Yeah," was all Mac said.
Sam waited for more, but that was all she was going to get. She nodded. "Good. Let's get out of here. Ready?"
As they were walking back to the car, Sam leaned over and grabbed Mac around the shoulders in a one-armed hug. "I love you, Macky baby. "
Brooke waited at the elevator for her day to be over. It was late and she and her colleagues had worked very hard, and then had to have dinner with the client, the owner of one of the largest construction concerns in the northeast, in this case. Once she got to her room she was off the clock. All she wanted to do was take off her shoes and call Sam. She shifted her briefcase into her other hand and looked at her watch. After eleven, she sighed.
"Brooke McQueen, is that you?" a voice behind her inquired.
Oh God, what now? Brooke wearily turned around and her eyes widened in shock. "Nicole. Julian?"
Additional Note: Well, now that Nic is back in the picture, I'm interested to know what you think of the backstory I created for her. Go ahead, let me have it, I can take it.
Brooke waited at the elevator for her day to be over. It was late and she and her colleagues had worked very hard, and then had to have dinner with the client, the owner of one of the largest construction concerns in the northeast, in this case. Once she got to her room she was off the clock. All she wanted to do was take off her shoes and call Sam. She shifted her briefcase into her other hand and looked at her watch. After eleven, she sighed.
"Brooke McQueen, is that you?" a voice behind her inquired.
Oh God, what now? Brooke wearily turned around and her eyes widened in shock. "Nicole. Julian?"
Before her stood the person who had tried to end her life, and nearly succeeded, ten years ago, when she was in high school. Brooke had not seen Nicole Julian since the day of her junior prom, and could have happily lived her life without seeing her ever again. After the incident where Brooke met with the front grille of a drunken and bitter Nicole's car, it was as if the girl had disappeared off the face of the planet. No one in school knew where she had gone, but then, no one had tried very hard to find out, either. Although it had been a long time, and her appearance was slightly different, Brooke would have recognized her former friend anywhere.
Nicole was now wearing her hair longer, in a business-like pageboy that reached her chin, and the platinum color was replaced by her natural dirty-blonde shade. Brooke could see some aging around the eyes and mouth, but the most telling difference was the expression she wore. The usual look of smug condescension that had been so familiar to Brooke in high school was now replaced by one of dispirited sadness. The hardness in her eyes was replaced by a certain world-weariness. Some things hadn't changed all that much, however. Nicole's makeup was as flawlessly done as Brooke remembered, and she was dressed in what looked like a Valentino suit from this year's collection.
"Do you know what I recognized first when I saw you here waiting for the elevator, Brooke?" Nicole asked, a friendly smile on her lips, but visibly apprehensive as to what Brooke's as yet unknown reaction would be.
Brooke shook her head; she was still speechless.
"Your posture," Nicole disclosed. "You always stood like you were about to do the runway in Milan, even if you were only on line in the cafeteria, or standing in front of a mirror in the Novak. I saw this person standing there and it reminded me so much of you that I had to see what they looked like. And it's you," she said, disbelief tingeing her voice.
"Yes, it's me," Brooke replied, finding her voice, but still at a loss.
"I know I don't have a right to ask you this, I don't have a right to anything where you're concerned, in actual fact, but I would really like to know how you are doing. Would you let me buy you a drink?" Nicole asked, motioning to the hotel cocktail lounge on the other side of the lobby.
Brooke contemplated the woman who stood before her. She should be angry. She should be yelling and screaming and causing a scene. How dare Nicole even think of talking to Brooke? After causing so much damage and pain and suffering, Nicole now wanted to hoist a beverage in her company? Ten years and not one word, no apology, nothing, Brooke thought. But Brooke didn't feel the anger she thought she should have; in fact, she was strangely devoid of feeling. It was such a long time ago, her life was so completely different, and she found that she was also curious as to what fate had befallen her once very close friend. Yes, she would have a drink with Nicole; what could it hurt?
Ten minutes later saw them seated at a red leather banquette, Nicole with a glass of club soda before her, Brooke with a glass of red wine.
"So, Nicole, what twists and turns have brought you here, where our paths have collided once again?" Brooke asked dryly, wondering briefly about her sanity, and what Sam would have to say about this.
"Oh, only the dissolution of my marriage and my livelihood," Nicole said breezily, but the pain in her eyes belied the lightness of her tone.
Brooke was taken aback by the bald statement, and floundered for something to say. "I'm sorry?" she finally said.
"Maybe I should start a little further back, " Nicole said, "wait, let me start at the beginning. I owe you an explanation for that night. I do," she insisted, when she saw Brooke begin to shake her head.
Brooke actually didn't know why she was shaking her head. She did want to know if Nicole had a reason that could be considered in any way valid, but at the same time, she didn't want to know. She didn't think much about that summer she had spent in traction, with a broken leg and collarbone, several broken ribs, some minor internal injuries, and head trauma that left her unconscious for several days at the beginning of her convalescence. Brooke had put it all behind her and was afraid to stir it all up again.
"And now that I say that," Nicole continued, ruefully, "I realize that I don't have an explanation. There is nothing I could say that would excuse the horrible thing I did to you. " Nicole shook her head, seemingly at a loss. "I hope you realize why I never got in touch," she said earnestly. "I just didn't know how to face you, after what I did. "
"Why don't you start with after that," Brooke said, letting her off the hook. She was actually relieved that they weren't going to go there. "What happened to you? You just disappeared. "
"Well, it should come as no surprise that my mother wanted no part of dealing with the accident, to her it was just another skeleton that needed to be stored in the closet. She threw me into rehab so fast I hardly knew what happened, and had my sentence reduced to time served there. And it was a militant rehab where they practically tattooed the twelve steps onto your ass upon arrival. "
Good to know that Nic had not lost her ability to turn a creative phrase, Brooke thought.
"But it worked. They broke me down and ground me into paste. I don't know if I had a drinking problem before I went to that place, but I sure don't have one now. I haven't touched a drop since that day," Nicole continued. "Anyway, my mother enrolled me at the Harbor School for my senior year, it had a good reputation but was lousy with rich troubled teens who had been kicked out of nearly everywhere else. You would think that I would fit right in, but my personality type was already well represented and I was just one of the crowd. So I did the unthinkable. I studied. I had nothing better to do. No friends, no football team so no cheerleading, no distractions, and I was pretty much an outcast. I became the April Tuna of the Harbor School. I did well, grade-wise, but not well enough to cancel out the army of black marks on my permanent record, or an actual criminal record. So my string-pulling mother came to the rescue once again. She knew a trustee on the board of a very prestigious college and got me in, but it wasn't one that I would have ever picked for myself. " Nicole stopped after this monologue and took a long drink.
"Well?" Brooke prodded, "Where did you go for undergrad?"
"M. I. T. "
"You went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology?" Brooke couldn't believe it. "What was your major?"
"Chemical Engineering. "
"You're a chemist?" Brooke was having trouble wrapping her head around the thought of her former friend spending time in a lab, in a lab coat, probably, with all the brains that went to M. I. T. The Nicole she used to know wouldn't be caught dead in a lab coat.
Her incredulity must have shown clearly on her face, because Nicole smiled knowingly and said, "I know it's a stretch from the girl you used to know. But even back in Glass's chemistry class I secretly had a knack for it, I just hid it well. "
"Wow. I never knew. You really did hide it well. "
"Yeah, I really do have a talent for it," Nic said without modesty, "but you know me, why try to synthesize a cheap energy alternative or produce a chemical vaccine for mad cow disease when I could devote my time to something frivolous like perfecting a long lasting lipstick?"
"Oh my God! Julian Cosmetics! That's you?"
"Yes," Nicole was impressed. "You've heard of us? We're still really small time, mostly just mail and Internet orders to the trades, so far. "
"But you're poised," Brooke said excitedly," and I read in the Journal that all the makeup artists in Hollywood swear by your product. "
"The drag queens love us, too," Nicole said proudly. "You saw that article in the Wall Street Journal?"
"Yeah," Brooke thought of something. "But you weren't quoted in the article, or else I might've put it together, that you were, well, you. "
"Mark does all the PR for the company, at least he did," Nicole looked away, biting her lip.
"Mark?" Brooke prompted.
"My ex-husband, as of yesterday," Nicole turned back to Brooke, with tears in her eyes.
"I'm so sorry, Nic," Brooke really did feel bad. She didn't know how it happened, but she felt like Nicole was her friend again, and she wanted to help.
Nicole wiped her tears with her napkin, taking care not to ruin her mascara. "We met on campus, Mark was taking a satellite course while doing his masters at U Mass. He was so high energy; he completely bowled me over. I fell like a piano from a twelve-story building for him. We were so happy. And he believed in me, told me I could do anything I put my mind to. We started the company right after I graduated, I worked in the lab and he handled all the business, and we were just starting to put a dent in the big corporations' bottom lines when he told me he wanted out. Out of the company and out of my life," she finished bleakly.
Brooke patted Nicole's hand sympathetically, she didn't know what else to do. "So is this where you're staying until you get everything sorted out?"
Nicole looked at her oddly. "No, I live and work in Los Angeles. We have business offices and a lab on Wilshire downtown, but we incorporated in Massachusetts so I had to come here to see lawyers and sign some papers. The divorce finalizing yesterday was just an added bonus," she said bitterly.
"Oh. " Brooke watched as Nic struggled to pull herself together.
Nicole took a deep breath and directed her full attention to Brooke. "Enough about me and my boring sob story, Brooke, tell me about you. "
Where to start, Brooke thought. She decided to skip over her recovery and her senior year at Kennedy. "I studied English at Stanford, then got my MBA from Columbia, and was recruited by Leviathan & McStuffy for a position as a financial analyst. I've been there ever since," Brooke summarized.
"Wow, impressive," Nicole smiled. "They are only like the most prestigious firm on Wall Street, Brooke. Do you like it?"
Brooke shrugged noncommittally. "I'm only a small cog in a very big machine. I'm in Mergers and Acquisitions right now, which isn't really my thing. Most of the time I feel like Igor, helping his master Dr. Frankenstein create a monster. Assisting large corporations in the buying and selling of smaller companies doesn't really seem very productive to me. Don't get me wrong, I like my job, and I'm good at it, but. " It was hard for Brooke to explain. "What I used to do was analysis for potential IPO's. I liked that quite a bit. When a company would actually make it to the end, and had gone over all the hurdles and through all the red tape and was really going to have an Initial Product Offering, I felt like a proud mother sending her child off on the school bus for the first time. When I was able to help these companies it felt like I was doing something good instead of something, well, less good. I'd rather feel like proud mama than Igor any day, you know?" Brooke took a sip of wine.
"So you know all the ins and outs of taking a company public?" Nicole queried intently.
"Yeah," Brooke sighed, "it's pretty complicated. But, like I said, I don't do that anymore. "
Nicole let the subject go. "I'm assuming you live in New York?"
"Yes," Brooke smiled, "we have an apartment in the Village. "
"We?" Nicole was curious. "There's someone in your life?"
"Yes. And I've never been happier. It's someone you know, actually. Someone from high school. "
"Really?" Nicole breathed, her eyes huge. "Who is it?"
"Sam? Sam who?" Nicole frowned, thinking. "Was he in our class?"
"Yes, she was. Sam McPherson. " Brooke watched Nicole for her reaction.
Nicole still had a frown on her face, then realization dawned. Her already wide eyes nearly bulged out of her head. "Spam?" she asked uncomprehendingly.
Brooke smiled. "I prefer to call her Sam. "
Nicole simply stared at Brooke.
"We've been together nine months and I don't think Sam would mind me saying we are extremely happy together, blissful, really," Brooke's tone bordered on smug.
"Oh, please, Brookie, don't make me toss my cookies. "
Brooke burst out laughing, delighted. It was almost like old times. She hadn't realized how much she had missed hearing Nic call her Brookie.
"So you're together, together," Nicole wanted to clarify, "like in a girl-on-girl preferring, pot-luck dinner having, Indigo Girls listening, Home Depot shopping, softball playing kind of way. "
"Brooke McQueen parks on the other side of the street, I can't believe it," Nic marveled. "Wait a minute. You've known each other how long? And you only just got together nine months ago?"
"Well, it took us a while to get on the same page," Brooke conceded. "We had a few issues to iron out. "
"I'll say," Nic averred. "Do Ma and Pa Kettle know?"
"We just told them, actually. "
"How'd they take it?" Nic was curious.
"I think they'll live to tell about it," Brooke said, her voice hopeful. "Hey, when do you go back to L. A?"
"Because Sam and Mac are waiting for me on the Cape," Brooke thought briefly about what Sam's reaction to this might be, but plowed on anyway. "Why don't you change your flight and come stay for a few days? It'll cheer you up. " She was feeling magnanimous; her life was roses compared to Nic's. She wanted to spread the love around.
"Aww, Mac is there? God, she must be, I don't know, how old is she?"
"She's ten. "
"Ten! I don't know Brooke, I wouldn't want to barge in on family time. And Sam has never liked me," she omitted the fact that the feeling was mutual.
"She'll love it," Brooke dismissed, thinking that she could convince Sam to love it. She could convince Sam of anything if she had a horizontal surface and ten minutes alone with her.
"Okay, hi, has Sam really changed that much?" Nic asked suspiciously.
"No," Brooke grinned, "but she likes to keep me sweet. "
Nicole laughed. "All right, but just a day or two, I don't want to ruin Sam's entire vacation. "
Brooke smiled to herself in the elevator on the way up to her room. She looked at her watch; it was far too late to call Sam now. Although she had started to become worried about Sam's reaction, she was glad she could do this for Nic. She found that it was easy to forgive, especially when she was so happy in her own life. A more cynical person, like Sam, would ask why she thought she owed the woman who almost took her life anything. And Brooke would say to that person that she didn't owe that Nic anything, but she wanted to give something to the Nic who was her friend, the girl she once knew who was like a bulldog for her, always in her corner; well, for most of the time, anyway. The girl that Brooke once knew was hurting, and if it was within her power to help, why not extend a little human kindness and reach out to her.
Sam was on her way out the kitchen door when her cell phone started ringing. She picked it up off the kitchen counter and saw from the caller ID that it was Brooke. She smiled.
"Hey," she said.
"Hey, yourself. "
Sam heard the smile in Brooke's voice. "So, how's it going there? How are you?"
"Tired. I was up late last night. You?"
"Oh, please, I bet you and Mac are having a great time. "
"Yeah, we are," Sam admitted. "Oh, guess what? She knows. About us. "
"She asked me. Flat out. She's a little smarty. You would have been so proud of me, Brooke. I was brilliant. The words just came to me. "
"What did you say?"
"I don't have a fucking clue. "
"Sam! You better not be cursing in front of Mac," Brooke scolded.
"I'm not," Sam said defensively.
There was a pause, then Brooke said, "Wow. That's huge. How'd she take it?"
"Okay, I think. She didn't say much. "
"Wow," Brooke said again, then changed the subject. "So how's the place?"
"Oh, Brooke, it is so great! You are going to love it. It feels like one of the Kennedys may drop by for martinis and touch football, or something.
"Good," Brooke said, then, "I miss you. "
"I miss you, too. The bed's too big without you, really. " Sam thought of something. "Brooke, what's up with Mac and swimming?"
"What do you mean? She swims all the time in the pool at home, she's a fish. "
"How about the beach? Does she go in the ocean?"
"I can't remember, it's been forever since I've been to the beach with her. Wait, hang on. "
Sam could hear a rustling noise as Brooke was distracted by something.
"Listen, I can't talk much longer, we're only on a fifteen minute break," Brooke said hurriedly when she returned to the line.
"Okay. Are you still coming back today?"
"Yes, my ferry gets in at," Brooke paused, Sam could hear more rustling, "five-twenty this afternoon. You'll be there?"
"Nothing could stop me. "
"Oh, and Sam? I'm bringing somebody with me. "
"What? Who?" Sam was surprised.
"It's someone you know. A face from our past," Brooke said mysteriously.
"Who is it?"
"It's a surprise. I've really got to go. Can't wait to see you, love you. "
"Love you, too," Sam said to the dial tone.
You ready to hit the beach?" Sam walked out the kitchen door to find Mac sitting at the picnic table, listening to a CD Walkman. The hell? If she had a CD player, why have I been listening to the Lion King, she thought.
Mac heaved a long-suffering sigh. "I've only been waiting out here for five songs worth," she complained.
"Well, I'm glad I missed "The Circle of Life," yet again," Sam deadpanned.
"I'm not listening to that," Mac informed her, 'I got tired of it. "
"Thank God. If I had to hear Sir Elton asking me "Can I Feel the Love Tonight" one more time, I was going to have to smack him," Sam joked. "So, whatcha got?"
"Nirvana?' Sam's eyebrows rose. "Old school, huh? From the Lion King to Nirvana. Interesting. Wait, let me see that," she reached for the jewel case and flipped it open. There, scrawled across the liner notes was "Property of Samantha McPherson" in the handwriting of a snotty fifteen-year-old. She had inscribed her entire collection thusly right before moving into the McQueen residence. What an asshole I was, Sam thought. As if Brooke would ever listen to Nirvana in the first place. The two of them must have twenty boxloads of stuff in their parents' basement, which is obviously where Mac got the CD.
"Are you mad?" Mac asked.
"Mad?" Sam asked, deliberately misunderstanding. "Heck, no. This is a big improvement. It was definitely time to put Simba and company away for a while. And you have good taste, I'll say that for you,' she added, with a grin. Mac could have all that stuff in the basement; she had no use for it.
They collected the beach chairs Sam had found in a shed on the side of the house and carried them down the steps to the beach, along with towels, sunscreen, books, and snacks. The beach wasn't large, and all of the homes along the lane had access to it, but they had it pretty much to themselves for the moment. They scrambled over the pebbles and got closer to the water, where the beach became sandy. Once they were settled, they began to feel the hot sun beating down on them. Sam got out the sunscreen and made Mac apply it liberally. They sat for a little while in comfortable silence, Mac looking out at the water and Sam listlessly reading a magazine, and the two sisters began to sweat. Sam could feel droplets forming on her forehead and upper lip. She was itching to get wet, but didn't know what was up with Mac and the ocean. She decided to try something.
"Hey, Mac, do you remember me telling you about my friends Carmen and Lily, from when I was a kid?"
"Yeah," Mac affirmed.
"Well, one year, when I was about your age, my very good friend Carmen Ferrera invited me to a birthday slumber party at her house, like she did every year, along with my other very good friend, Lily Esposito. We stayed up late, made popcorn, watched movies," Sam tried to think what else they did at those parties, "and, um, braided each other's hair, or something. It was fun. But that particular year, we watched Jaws. Have you ever seen it?"
"That old movie about the shark? No," Mac said, as if it were too lame to even contemplate.
"Good. Don't. It may be old, but it's scary as hell. Oops, heck," Sam corrected herself. "So the next day, Carmen's mom dropped me, Lily, Carmen, and her brothers off at the beach so we could continue her birthday celebration. Everyone went into the water, joking about sharks, but I was terrified that I was going to get eaten by a shark. Really," she said to Mac's disbelieving expression. "Petrified. Carmen's brother Leo noticed my fear and played the meanest trick on me. While I was nervously wading out to join Carmen and Lily, who were making fun of me for being so slow, Leo swam between my legs, and I swear to God, I thought he was a shark. I flipped out and ran back to the shore and wouldn't get back in the water for love or money. Later, Leo apologized to me and revealed that he was the stupid shark and I felt like the biggest idiot. The next time I went to the beach I remembered how scared I was, and I was still a little bit scared, but I wanted to go in the water and prove to myself that I could do it. So I did. And you know what?"
Mac shook her head.
"To this day, I have never been eaten by a shark. "
Mac smiled and said, "I know what you're trying to do. "
"Oh, I'm that transparent, am I? Sam asked, oh well, at least she tried. Score a big fat goose egg for Operation Big Sister.
She sat back in her chair and thought about Carmen and Lily. Somehow, she had lost track of both of them. The problem with traveling all the time is that it's so easy to let people slip away. One missed Christmas card or a wrong address and they are gone. Sure you meet new people, but holding onto the old friends is really important, and she had failed at that. She wondered how hard it would be to track them down, through their parents, maybe.
Mac interrupted her thoughts. "I'm not afraid of sharks, you know. "
"Is there something else that you are afraid of?" Sam asked gently.
Mac exhaled in frustration. "I just don't like that I can't see the bottom. And there's all those rocks and shells that hurt my feet, and I'm scared that I'll get bit by a crab. "
Sam bit her cheek and tried not to smile. "Well maybe we can do something about that. I'll be right back," she said and was out of her chair and up the stairs in a moment. When she came back, she was carrying Mac's white canvas sneakers, her own navy Chuck Taylor low-tops, and a cheap plastic raft they had picked up at the store yesterday.
"You want me to wear my shoes in the water?" Mac asked incredulously.
"Well, yeah," Sam replied, "that way the crabs won't get you. " She put on her own sneakers in a show of sisterly solidarity, and then started to blow up the raft.
Mac was waiting for her at the water's edge when she finished, squatting with her arms wrapped around her knees, examining a gnarled piece of driftwood. Her vertebrae were visible under the straps of her bathing suit, making Sam think of a vulnerable little turtle. They walked into the surf together, and once they were waist deep, Sam motioned for Mac to get on the raft. She towed Mac out beyond the breakers until they were bobbing in relatively calm water.
"Are you doing okay?" Sam asked.
"Yeah," Mac responded, verbose as ever.
"Good, shove over," Sam pulled herself half onto the raft sideways, and Mac moved over so that their torsos were side by side, and they were lying perpendicularly across the raft. They sat there for a little while, just enjoying the rolling motion of the water. Sam maneuvered the raft so that they were facing away from the beach, and the ocean stretched out before them.
"Where do you want to go, Mackerel? If we start kicking we could go to Brittany, or Liverpool," Sam squinted into the horizon. "If we went a little bit this way," she adjusted their course slightly, "I bet we'd hit the Azores. I've never been there. "
"Sounds like something Annabella would do," Mac looked over at her sister.
"Yeah," Sam smiled, pleasantly surprised. This was the first time Mac had ever mentioned the fictional character Sam had created for her.
When she had started traveling, years ago, and Mac had been a beginning reader, Sam had wanted to do something to keep in touch with her sister, but didn't think a little girl would appreciate a normal letter or postcard enumerating the minutiae of her daily life. So she had invented Annabella, an adventurous and resourceful young girl who traveled the world having rollicking escapades, and who, remarkably, had many similar physical features and personality traits to her sister, Mac. It wasn't an accident that the location of Annabella's exploits just happened to coincide with where Sam herself was residing at the time. Sam had given Annabella a sidekick as well, a snooty, uptight penguin, because Mac had a thing for penguins, named Horace. Sam would write incredible tales of high adventure, astounding bravery and narrow escapes from the clutches of evil on thin, crinkly onionskin paper, and send them off in blue airmail envelopes, trying to make them as exotic-looking as possible. She would write them as if Annabella was writing to her close personal friend Mac, and she would include the address of a poste restante where Mac could write back. She still had every drawing and letter Mac had sent to Annabella, they were among her most prized possessions. As Mac got older, she knew that Sam was the letter writer, but it was a pleasant fiction they both kept up, until Sam had arrived in New York, nine months ago, and had neglected to send anything to Mac.
"Sometimes I think about her. I wonder how she's doing," Mac remarked wistfully.
I am the lamest sister in the universe, Sam thought, shamed by her behavior. She had no idea that the letters meant so much to Mac. For her, it was just a way to let Mac know that she was thinking of her. But if she held everything she had received from Mac dear to her heart, it only made sense that Mac might feel the same about what she had sent. She had just never realized it before.
"Mom helped me make a scrapbook of all her letters, and we put some of your postcards in there too," Mac continued.
"Mom knows about Annabella?" Sam was surprised.
"Oh yeah. She loved reading them almost as much as I did. Brooke has read them too. A while ago, Mom photocopied all of them and sent them to a friend who make's children's books," Mac disclosed.
"She sent them to a publisher?" Sam's eyebrows disappeared into her hairline. She digested this bit of information. "Well, how do you like that? I wonder why she never told me. "
"She didn't want to get your hopes up, she said. " Mac informed her.
"But you don't mind getting my hopes up?' Sam grinned.
"I think they're good. Maybe if she told you, you would write more of them, and I'd be able to find out what happens to her in the end. " Mac looked over at Sam pointedly.
"I will, Mac," Sam promised, soberly. "I'm sorry I left you hanging. "
Mac smiled, but had acquitted herself of the topic already. She was examining her fingers, which had become wrinkly and waterlogged. "Why is it that water can come out of us, like when we sweat, but water doesn't go into us, like when we're in water?"
Sam tried to keep up with the rapid subject change. "Um, I dunno, Mac," she tried to think back to high school biology. "I think it's because we have a semi-permeable membrane, or something? Does that sound right?" she ventured uncertainly.
"I'm asking you," Mac pointed out.
"Sorry, Mac, you've stumped me. Maybe Brooke will know. "
"Yeah, she probably will. She's coming today, right?" Mac said.
Operation Big Sister has officially crashed and burned, Sam thought glumly. She nodded, "Yep, we'll meet her ferry later. She's bringing somebody with her, by the way. "
Mac looked at her. "Who?"
"I don't know, she said it's a surprise. You may have to share your bunk beds, Macaroon. "
"What if it's a boy? I'm not sleeping with any boys," Mac said vehemently.
"Me neither," Sam smirked. But Mac had a point. Who could it be? Who could Brooke have possibly met while in Boston that they both knew? She guessed she'd find out soon. "Don't worry, any boys will have to sleep outside on this raft, 'kay?"
"So, what do you say, prune-girl? You ready to get out?"
Brooke and Nicole stood at the railing of a Boston/Provincetown ferry, watching the dock come closer as the boat approached land. There was a crowd of people waiting at the dock, but Brooke couldn't make out any individual faces. She took her camera out of her bag and looked through the telephoto lens and quickly spotted Sam and Mac. Mac stood with her arms folded on the dock's guardrail, and Sam stood behind her with her hands on Mac's shoulders. They were scanning the faces on the boat, just as she and Nicole were searching the ones on land. Brooke depressed the shutter of her mother's old Nikon and heard the mechanical snick of the aperture opening and closing. She took the camera away from her eye and pointed out Sam and Mac to Nic, then held it up once again, hoping to take a few more shots of the sisters. But Sam must have really good eyesight, Brooke thought, because when she adjusted the focus she saw that Sam had locked onto herself and Nic, and she did not look at all pleased. Oh boy, maybe this wasn't such a good idea.
Mac ran up to Brooke and gave her a hug as they materialized through the crowd of people.
"Hi, Mac," Brooke exclaimed, as she bent down to return her embrace. "Look at you, already started on your tan! Have you been having fun?"
"Yep," Mac replied, then looked at Nicole, who had been standing at Brooke's side.
"Mac," Brooke introduced, "this is Nicole, she's an old friend of mine and Sam's, from high school. "
"Not my friend," Sam said coldly, as she got close to the little group. "Brooke?" she asked, the one word a demand for an explanation.
"Hi Sam," Brooke said sheepishly. She hadn't seen Sam this angry in a long time. Brooke pulled her into a hug and whispered in her ear, "Please, please don't be upset. I'll explain everything. "
Sam drew away and simply looked at her for a moment, never once glancing towards Nicole. She picked up Brooke's bag and stomped off, with a "Car's this way," tossed over her shoulder.
Brooke looked at Nic and sighed.
"I'm not going to say 'I told you so,' but that's what I said in the first place," Nicole said regretfully.
"It'll be all right, she just needs to get used to the idea, I should have told her on the phone," Brooke said.
Mac stood between them, looking at one face and then the other, as they spoke, like she was watching a tennis match.
"Maybe I should go, I can get right back on the ferry," Nic suggested.
"No. You are my guest. Come on," she took Mac's hand and they all followed Sam through the congested parking lot to the car.
As they prepared to depart, Sam and Brooke in the front, Nic and Mac in the back, Nicole said, "It's good to see you, Sam," meaning to extend the olive branch.
Sam turned in her seat and looked Nicole in the eye. "Listen," she said savagely, before her eyes slid over towards Mac and she swallowed the torrent of foul language she was about to unleash. She looked at the ignition key in her hand and gave it to Brooke. "Here," she said, "I'll walk back," and she slammed out of the driver's seat and started walking.
"I'll be right back," Brooke said opening her car door. "Mac you'll be okay with Nic?" she asked turning back to look at her sister. When she saw Mac's mute nod, she was off and running.
Nicole looked at Mac. "Well, that wasn't too uncomfortable" she said, chagrined.
"You knew my sisters in high school?" Mac cast a sidelong glance at Nic.
Brooke caught up with Sam, who had only gone a few cars lengths distant. "Sam!"
Sam wheeled around to confront Brooke. "How could you invite that would-be murderer here, Brooke?" she asked in disbelief, her brown eyes nearly onyx with fury. "What the hell were you thinking? Oh wait, you totally weren't! She tried to kill you! What makes you think she won't try it again?"
"Sam, please, calm down," Brooke said placatingly. "You're turning all purple and blotchy. She's not going to try it again. "
"How could you possibly know that?" Sam spoke in a quieter tone, trying to get a hold of herself.
"I just do. She's in really bad shape. Her life is a mess. I feel sorry for her. "
"She deserves it," Sam snapped, "for everything she did to you. "
"Maybe she does," Brooke acknowledged. "But I couldn't just leave her in that hotel and not try to do something to help her. You and I, Sam, we have so much. We've always had so much more than she ever had. I think she needs our help, and I think we owe it to ourselves to help her. You know, be the better person, and all that. Plus, we'll get some serious karmic brownie points"
"But Brooke, you nearly died," Sam fiercely beseeched, the rage in her eyes commingled with terror-filled remembrance.
Brooke realized that Sam's anger was coming from a place of fear, and didn't really have much to do with Nicole. "I'm right here, Sam," Brooke soothed, and grasped her around the upper arms, and looked into her eyes. "Alive and well, although a little pale among all these tanned bodies. It's certainly not going to kill me to be nice to Nicole for a few days. What happened is in the past, and that's where it needs to stay. " She hugged Sam again, and this time she did not pull away.
Sam's shoulders sagged, the fight gone out of her, and she looked confounded. "How can you be so good?"
Brooke knew it was over, she had disarmed the bomb Sam had nearly become, and she didn't even need to get horizontal. "Easy," she said, but didn't explain any further. She took Sam's arm and began walking her back to the car. "Now, Nic's going to take us out to dinner, can you be civil for a little while?"
Sam stopped her. "I'm doing this for you, Brooke, not her, because you want me to," she looked soberly into Brooke's eyes. "And I'm ordering the most expensive thing on the menu," she added in total seriousness.
"Fair enough. " Brooke couldn't hide a smile. She grabbed Sam's shirtfront and gave her a very thorough kiss. "Thank you. " She took a step back from Sam and smoothed her now wrinkled shirt. "So, how are you and Mac doing?"
"Ah, I don't know. I think she's really glad you're back. Now that she's had some solid time to get to know me again, I don't think she likes me very much," Sam was dejected.
Brooke didn't believe it. She knew that Mac thought Sam hung the moon. "How could you possibly know that?" she repeated Sam's earlier question, and adopted the haughty tone she had used.
Sam smiled in spite of herself, she hated how Brooke could so easily get her to cave to her wishes. She was so utterly whipped. "I just do," she echoed Brooke's response.
"Come on, I'm starved. "
When they got back in the car, they were surprised to hear gales of laughter, coming from Mac.
". So Brookie took this bottle of ketchup and squeezed it all over Spam, sorry, I mean Sam. Then Sam took a cup of hot chocolate and threw it in Brooke's face, and that's how these two started the biggest food fight in Kennedy history," Nic waggled her thumb towards the front seat, nearly dissolving into hysterics herself.
"Oh god, she's telling tales," Brooke realized.
Sam started the car. "Then we better find somewhere to eat fast. She can't talk if her mouth is full. And somewhere in this town is a big expensive slab of cow with my name on it. "
When the foursome arrived back at the cottage, and Brooke and Nicole made the requisite ooh and ahh sounds regarding their surroundings after getting a tour of the cottage, Brooke accompanied Mac upstairs to help her get ready for bed.
Sam and Nicole stood awkwardly in the kitchen. "Would you like a drink?" Sam asked. She had noticed that Nicole hadn't had any alcohol at dinner. "We have soda, and juice, or I could make coffee if you want. "
"A soda would be great. "
Sam got her a soda and a beer for herself, and led Nicole out to the patio, where they sat down in the darkness and listened to the waves roll up on the beach below. Brooke had ensured that the conversation flowed at dinner, and had kept up a litany of each woman's achievements for the other to hear. They had been mutually impressed with all that the other had accomplished in their lives, and were now at a loss as to how to carry on the combative relationship that had been stuck on pause for ten years.
Sam decided to lay her cards out on the table. "Look, Nicole, I'm sorry to have to say this, because it seems like you've really changed since the last time I saw you, but I have to have your word that you will never do anything to harm Brooke ever again. I hope you understand, I just need to hear it. "
"I understand," Nicole nodded. "I'm glad that Brooke has someone like you looking out for her. " She paused a moment to gather her thoughts. "Brooke was my best friend. One momentary lapse in judgment and I lost her. I have been paying for it ever since that day, and I'll continue to pay for it for the rest of my life. Somehow, I have been given a second chance with her, and instead of running away from me in horror, she brought me on her vacation," Nicole gave a short laugh of disbelief. "I've lost a lot of things, but I don't want to lose Brooke's friendship again. I will never do anything to jeopardize this," she concluded.
Sam studied the woman who had once been such a plague on her high school days. She was sure that the smug bitch Nicole had been still existed on some level within her, but Sam could find no trace of her in the earnest words she now spoke. "Okay, then," Sam replied, satisfied.
The two sat in silence, each one thinking about where their lives had taken them.
Sam would never want to change anything that had brought her to this point. All the traveling and transience she had experienced made her who she was. Although she was only a waitress right now, she was still proud of the things she had seen and done in her life. But she couldn't help wondering what her life would have been like if she had gone down a different road, if she had stuck with journalism, or had become an entrepreneur like Nicole. They say hindsight is twenty/twenty, but Sam didn't think hindsight had illuminated anything for her. If anything, the meaning of her past was just as murky and dim as her future. All she knew was that she was enjoying the hell out of her present.
Nicole, for her part, was thinking how nice it would be to take a page out of Sam's previous book and just get on a plane and fly away from all her problems and responsibilities. She was twenty-eight years old with a failed marriage and a business that, while once promising, was now on the edge of collapse, without the business acumen of her husband to guide it. It didn't help that every moment of her workday was filled with reminders of him; she could never get away from him. Taking a long journey to some exotic land seemed like the solution to all her problems.
If either woman knew the direction of the other's thoughts, they would have been appalled.
Brooke stood leaning against the top bunk, watching Mac get settled under the covers. She had been listening to a running commentary of all the things Mac and Sam had gotten up to while she was gone. Mac proudly told her about her first successful foray into the ocean, and Brooke was happy that Sam found a way to get Mac over her fears. Being afraid of crabs was apparently a big thing to get over. She hadn't known it was a crustacean issue that was troubling the girl. Brooke commended Sam's simple and elegant solution to the problem. And she could see that Mac was excited by the experience.
"It's better than the pool, right Mac?" Brooke asked with a smile.
"It's pretty fun," Mac agreed. "Do you think Sam knows how to surf?"
"You can ask her tomorrow. "
"Did you know that Sam was afraid of sharks?"
"She was?" Brooke laughed at the thought. She couldn't believe that Sam was unaware of Mac's adulation. How did Mac act around Sam anyway? She would have to pay closer attention.
"Yeah, but not anymore. Guess what? She's going to write me some more Annabella stories. She said she would. "
"That's great, Mac," Brooke enthused. The whole family loved reading those letters, and she shamefully remembered being pettily jealous of the attention Sam paid to Mac in them, back in the old, pre-Sam-comes-to-New-York days. She couldn't remember if she had ever discussed them with Sam or not.
Mac's chatter was finally winding down, and Brooke got the chance to say what was on her mind. "Mac, Sam told me about the conversation you had with her the other day, the one about her and me being in a relationship now. "
Mac lifted her head from the pillow and propped it up with her hand. She nodded at Brooke.
"I just wanted to tell you that it doesn't mean that anything will ever change for our family. I love you very much, and I know Sam does too. If anything, it just means that there is even more love to go around now, okay?" she watched Mac nod again. "So if you ever want to talk about it, or have any questions, just ask. " She leaned over and gave Mac a kiss on the forehead.
"Okay," Mac said, and snuggled back down under the covers.
"Hey, Mac," Brooke said before she turned to go, "Would it be okay if Nic slept on the bottom bunk?"
"Yeah," Mac acquiesced. "I like her, she's funny. "
"Yeah, she is," Brooke said, and turned out the light. "Goodnight, Macky. Bedbugs. "
Brooke went across the hall and into the master bedroom. The bed was large, the drawer-space was plentiful, and the view was spectacular. What more could she ask for? She was more than impressed with the rental; it was everything she hoped it would be. She breathed a sigh of contentment and sat down on the bed and kicked off her shoes. She was so happy to be out of the city, to be done with her meetings in Boston, and to be finally free to enjoy herself. She lay down on the bed and thought she would go down and join Sam and Nic, right after she rested her eyes for a minute.
Many minutes later, she awoke to find Sam sitting next to her, softly calling her name.
"If you're going to sleep, you should at least change out of these things first," Sam said when she saw Brooke's eye flutter open.
"Sam, what time is it?"
"It's late, Satan went to bed, and I got lonely waiting for you. "
"Do you have to call her Satan?" Brooke asked, discouraged. She had hoped the two might come to an understanding, after all, she thought she had seen a few looks of grudging respect pass between them at dinner.
"Relax," Sam said cajolingly, "I haven't said it to her face - yet. "
"Well, thank you for being so good about her being here, I should have told you on the phone," Brooke said.
"Maybe not, I might have shown up at the pier with a gun," Sam jested.
"Not funny, Sam," Brooke tsked. "Anyway, I owe you one. " She rubbed Sam's forearm, noticing that it was already turning a golden brown.
"I can think of a million ways for you repay me," Sam said and leaned over, her face inches from Brooke's.
"Oh, yeah?" Brooke smiled.
"But not tonight," Sam gave her a quick kiss and then pulled back. She was disappointed that she wouldn't be paid tonight, but she could clearly see that Brooke was exhausted; she shouldn't have even woken her up. "We have plenty of time. Get some sleep. " She handed Brooke her pajamas, and got up to go.
"Wait, where are you going?" Brooke asked. She was tired, but she wasn't that tired. And she could sleep tomorrow.
"I want you at one hundred percent when I exact payment, McQueen," Sam grinned mischievously. "Tomorrow," she added.
"Promise?" Brooke smirked back.
"Promise. Believe it. " She headed for the door, then turned back around. "Are we still going to do the belated b-day dinner thing for Mac tomorrow?"
Brooke was a little thrown by the subject change. "Yeah, you still want to?"
"Hell, yeah, I've got something special planned," Sam said and rubbed her hands together.
"Can't wait," Brooke replied, and fell back among the pillows. She was asleep again within ten minutes.
Sam sat on her beach chair with a notepad in front of her. She had stayed up late last night writing an Annabella letter for Mac, and she was just putting the finishing touches on it now. She had spent the morning running around Wellfleet and P-town, gathering items for a birthday dinner for her little sister, and the letter was to be part of her gift. She and Brooke had sent presents to California for her sister's actual birthday in May, but they wanted to do something special while she was visiting.
A killer last sentence was all she needed to wrap up her letter, but the words had been eluding her, and she was having trouble concentrating. She looked out at the water, but wasn't really seeing it. Nicole's reappearance after all this time had dredged up memories she hadn't thought of in a long time. Visions of Brooke, motionless and solemn in a white hospital bed seized her heart once again all these years later.
She thought of the time spent with Brooke as she recovered that summer could have been the early stages of her love. The seed was planted as she brought books and magazines to read to Brooke in the hospital, and wracked her brain for funny and witty things to say to her, to keep her cheerful during the long afternoons spent marking the time until Brooke's bones healed and became strong again. All through their senior year the seed had incubated in the earth, her feelings buried but brewing. It wasn't until a fateful graduation party where they had been thrown together in the most intimate and accidental of ways that a sapling had sprung forth, strong and green. Its roots were deep, but it had been left to grow in rocky soil, untended without sunlight or water. Years later, the withered stalk was just barely surviving when the ground suddenly became rain-soaked and fertile, and the sun came out everyday. And now, the once poor little emaciated tree was growing tall and sturdy. Or that could just be a hackneyed metaphor and revisionist history, she thought wryly, biting her pen and shaking her head at the way her brain ran towards the purplest of prose. If she put as much effort into her story for Mac as she did her melodramatic musings, she would be finished by now.
Sam looked up from her writing to see Brooke approaching, hale and healthy Brooke, with only a few scars to show from that horrible accident, dressed in Sam's old Coca-cola t-shirt and a faded pair of shorts, and carrying a towel. If anything could shake her from her maudlin reminiscences it was the woman herself. "Hey," she called, and resolutely bent her head down over the notepad, wanting to pin down that last sentence that had been buzzing around in her brain. Then she could give Brooke her undivided attention.
She could sense Brooke moving around, laying down her towel next to Sam's chair, getting things out of her beach bag, doing other things just outside her peripheral vision. She tried to concentrate on the page before her and the words that she was having a hard time stringing together.
"So what's the deal with tonight, Sam?" Brooke asked, breaking her train of thought.
"Don't worry about it, I've got it covered," Sam answered absently, eyes still trained on the page.
"Do we have everything we need?"
"Yes, I went to the market this morning," Sam answered, still patient, but slightly less so.
"And you were able to get everything?"
"Yep," Sam said shortly, just give me a minute here, Brooke, she thought, tapping her pen on the pad with frustration.
"Are you sure?"
A shadow covered Sam and her notebook as Brooke stood directly in front of her and blocked out the sun.
The hell? What's with all the questions, Sam thought. "I told you, you don't have to worry about a. " Sam finally looked up at Brooke, ". thong. " Sam's jaw dropped in astonishment and the thought she was trying to put on paper was gone, flown away, never to return. Brooke stood before her in nothing but the merest hint of a fire-engine red bikini and a saucy grin. Oh. My. God, Sam licked her suddenly dry lips. She was suffused with desire as she let her eyes roam over Brooke's perfect pale flesh, covered only by a few strategically placed bits of fabric.
"Payback time," Brooke announced impishly.
Sam stood up and faced Brooke. She held out her thumb and slowly traced a line from the hollow of Brooke's throat down to her navel, like a benediction, and felt Brooke's answering shudder. She plucked gently at the string that connected two of the three triangular wisps covering Brooke's body before suddenly remembering that the two of them were on a public beach, and while there was no one around at the moment, people had a tendency to walk by at intermittent intervals.
She drew her hand back as if stung. "Brooke, we can't do this here," Sam took a step back reluctantly, and held her hands up, palms outward in a surrendering gesture.
"Why not? There's no one around," Brooke responded throatily. She advanced on Sam, leaned in and thrust her breasts into Sam's open palms.
"Oh," Sam said weakly, lost in sensation. She looked around wildly for a moment. There really was no one but the two of them and a few indifferent seagulls on the beach. Her attention was once again riveted to the mounds of soft flesh that filled her hands. She couldn't stop her thumbs from rubbing across Brooke's erect nipples through the silky material. She was made for this, she thought, made for nothing but this. The exquisite friction caused a thrill of anticipation to run through her, and left her in no doubt of what it was doing to Brooke when she saw her eyes close and heard a sigh escape her lips. But, something was calling to her from the depths of her memory, and try as she may to disregard it; it would not be ignored. What was it? It would come to her, she thought fuzzily as she took a step closer and angled her face towards Brooke's, intent on claiming her lips with her own.
Brooke drank hungrily from Sam's lips, and slowly moved her hands upward from where they had been stationed on Sam's hips, stroking the sun-kissed skin that felt slick with sweat and sunscreen. Her hands were dangerously close to Sam's more modest bikini top when Sam tore her lips from Brooke's and blurted, "Mac!"
"No, I'm the other sister. Brooke, remember?" Brooke asked, amused.
"No! Where is she? She can't see us like this. It's one thing for her to know about us, but actually witnessing me fondling your admittedly gorgeous breasts would send her into therapy for decades," Sam said, nervously looking up and down the beach again.
"Relax, Sam. Do you think I would allow that to happen?" Brooke asked, and ran her hand through Sam's hair and cupped her cheek. "Nic took her into Provincetown for some ice cream and t-shirt shopping. "
"Oh," Sam sighed, relieved, "I don't know why I was worried, with you on the case," she smiled into Brooke's eyes. Then she thought about what she had said. "You know I don't think there is anything shameful about us, right? But with Mac, seeing us would be like watching one of Mom and Mike's totally cringe-worthy cheesy public displays of affection from the early days, but, like, times ten. Not that it would be exactly like that, but-"
"Sam," Brooke pinched Sam's lips closed with her thumb and forefinger, "shut up. I get it. I really do. But we're wasting time here. "
"Sorry," Sam said, slightly indistinct through Brooke's fingers.
Brooke chuckled and released Sam's lips.
Sam cleared her throat and said, "Well, as I see it, we have three options. First, we could continue as we were right here, which would be great except for the curious passers-by factor, not to mention if we got down and dirty right here on the beach we would probably get sand in the unlikeliest of places. "
"And what's behind door number two?" Brooke asked dryly, trying to hide her grin.
"We could go in the ocean. But much as I would like to fling off my bathing suit and go swimming," Sam raised her eyebrows, "and stuff, with you, we should probably wait until the cover of darkness for that. But some of us have a lot less to fling off than others," She looked at Brooke's non-bikini pointedly, "so I would be willing to defer to your decision on this one. "
"Mm-hmmm," Brooke rubbed her chin, pretending to consider the issue carefully, "and the third option?"
"Go back up to the house and give that king size bed a workout. "
"Done. Let's go," Brooke said with finality.
Mac sat with Nicole in an ice-cream parlor on Commercial Street, a large chocolate sundae with extra sprinkles in front of her. Nicole had bought her the coolest sarong. She couldn't wait to wear it on the beach, and show Brooke and Sam. She didn't think either of them had a sarong. She hoped Brooke wouldn't be mad, she only gave her money to buy one t-shirt.
She watched as Nicole got up from the table and retrieved a spoon for herself. She had said she wasn't hungry, but that obviously wasn't the case as she dipped her spoon into Mac's ice cream and took a bite.
"Don't you want your own?" Mac asked, irritated at Nic's presumptuousness.
"I'm not hungry," Nic replied, her mouth full.
"I think you are," Mac declared, shooting her only a half-strength stinkeye, Nic had bought the ice cream, after all.
Nicole eyed her back and put her spoon down. "You've got more than a little Spam in you, haven't you?"
Mac blushed, and her mouth turned up in a grin. Her mother said that too, she looked more like Brooke, but acted more like Sam. She couldn't see it herself, and didn't know why Nic said it now. She had loved spending time with Sam these past few days, but she still didn't feel completely comfortable with her. Mac always felt a little off-balance when she was with Sam. Since she saw her so infrequently, Mac sometimes had trouble reconciling the real Sam with the Sam she held in her mind's eye. And things weren't easy with her like they were with Brooke. Her desire to impress Sam was always battling with her need to seem like she didn't care what Sam thought of her.
"Why do you call her Spam?" she asked Nicole.
Nic's expression clearly read, "busted. " "It's a term of endearment," she fibbed.
"Really?" Mac looked at her suspiciously.
"No, not really," Nic sighed. How to give this a positive spin, she thought. "When we were in high school, Sam was very much her own person," she said carefully. "She didn't care what anyone thought of her, or the tragic way she applied makeup and fixed her hair, and pretty much stuck to her principles most of the time, which is pretty hard to do in high school. But, that didn't stop her from being a total pain in the ass sometimes. Even Brooke thought she was a pain occasionally, although you'd never get her to admit it now," Nic said with a smirk.
Mac found this very hard to believe.
"When I called her Spam, it was to get under her skin, because she seemed to be made out of Teflon. So when I said you reminded me of Spam, it was a compliment, because I admire those parts of her personality. But if you ever tell her I said that," Nic pointed a finger in Mac's face, "I will hunt you down like a dog, and the aftermath won't be pretty. "
Mac drew back, slightly unnerved by Nicole's vehemence. She continued to eat her ice cream in thoughtful silence, pondering how a bad name could be a compliment.
"Hey Mac," Nic began, "how would you feel if Brooke and Sam came back to live in Los Angeles?"
"Are they moving?" Mac asked excitedly, her hopes soaring. "Did they tell you that?"
"No, no," Nicole quickly backpedaled. "I just thought that you live in L. A. , and I live in L. A. , and wouldn't it be great if they lived there too, and we could see them all the time. "
"Oh. " Mac suddenly didn't want any more ice cream. She stirred her spoon around, making swirls of vanilla and chocolate mixed with smears of bleeding multicolored sprinkles.
"Maybe they will, someday. "
"Maybe," Mac agreed, but she didn't think it was likely. "They have a really cool apartment," she informed Nic, "with a fire-escape. "
"That's good," Nic said amiably. "Safety first. "
Mac nodded. She pushed her dish towards Nic. "You want any more of this?"
Nic looked at the melting mess. "Appetizing," she said with distaste, "but no, thanks. "
Brooke and Sam lay sprawled across the king size bed in the master bedroom, which looked like it had been victimized by the early advent of hurricane season. Pillows and bedclothes were strewn haphazardly everywhere, but the pair hardly noticed. Their ardor had cooled, but they both enjoyed the post-coital pillow talk almost as much. Sam lay with her head and shoulders propped against the headboard, and Brooke was lying half on top of Sam, her cheek resting on Sam's belly. Sam was using one hand to comb her fingers through Brooke's blonde locks, while Brooke was half-assedly trying to defeat Sam in a thumb wrestle with the other. They both were looking out the window at the ocean.
"Remind me to thank Nicole. At least she's good for something. I guess I didn't think how having a kid around would cramp our style this vacation," Sam remarked, only half-kidding.
"Sam! She's not cramping our style," Brooke denied. "Besides, can you honestly say that you've gone without at anytime? We're like bunnies, for god's sake. I defy you to name one time you haven't been a satisfied customer. "
"Hmmm, how do I answer that without it leading to more dissatisfaction?" Sam said, teasingly. Last night didn't count, as she was the one who had put the brakes on.
Brooke turned over the hand she was holding and slapped it playfully on the wrist. "Besides, it's good practice for when we have our own kids. "
Sam's hand suddenly stopped moving through Brooke's hair, and Brooke realized her blunder. They had never talked about children before. It was way too soon. She took Sam's hand and placed it over her own mouth, wishing she could take the words back. She couldn't bear to see what the look on Sam's face was.
Sam did not want to talk about this right now, but couldn't see a way out of not having this conversation. "Brooke," she said.
Brooke refused to look at her, her head still turned towards the window and resting on Sam's stomach. "Just forget I said that, Sam. I'm sorry. "
Sam sighed. "You don't have to apologize. Would you please look at me?" Finding Brooke unresponsive, she scooted down on the bed so that she was level with her, and the two of them were lying on their sides facing each other. "What is it?" she asked quietly, once she was looking into Brooke's unhappy face.
Brooke didn't know if she was ready for this, but she couldn't dissemble. It was too important. "It's just, I don't know where you stand on the whole thing. We've never even talked about it in general, much less specifically in regard to us, and it means so much to me. I don't know what I would do if you don't want a family," Brooke just put it all out there, and waited to see what would happen.
It was true that Sam had avoided the topic of children. She had known almost immediately that Brooke would want to have them, probably in large numbers. She would practically burst into tears of happiness whenever she saw a kid doing something cute, and you couldn't drag her away from the window displays at Buy Buy Baby on Seventh Avenue.
The fact was that Sam had never needed to think about it, and so she hadn't, pushing the issue to the back of her mind. It was fine for other gay people to have kids, she was all for it, she just didn't know if she could do it. She had trouble taking care of herself most of the time, and then to bring some poor defenseless kid into it? A kid who would have to deal with the state of the world today, not to mention the additional handicap of being saddled with gay parents. Was it fair to do that to a kid? Then there was the whole separate issue of explaining their particular relationship to their hypothetical progeny, which was as headache-inducing a thought as she had ever encountered.
In her idea of perfect happiness, she saw Brooke and herself together as the years stretched out before them, but she honestly hadn't seen any children in the picture. She now knew that for Brooke to be happy, she would have to enlarge her picture a little bit to include them. Because Sam did want Brooke to be happy; and she would do almost anything to achieve that end. It suddenly became a question of when, not if. And she decided then and there that, despite her reservations, she would get behind the having kids thing, just not right away.
"Well, you won't have to find out, because I do want a family. I want a family with you," Sam smiled.
Tears instantly came to Brooke's eyes and she smiled tremulously. "Really?"
"But I don't want to start tomorrow, " Sam cautioned. "In fact, I would prefer that I wasn't working in food service when we start to spawn, so it'll probably be years before we can consider it," she finished wryly.
"Oh, absolutely," Brooke agreed. "It'll be a long time before we're financially ready. " She grabbed Sam's face and started placing kisses all over it. "Do you know how happy you've made me? I was so worried about this. We should've talked about it much sooner. "
"Yeah," Sam laughed weakly. Then she brightened. "Hey, I know parthenogenesis is a long shot, but maybe we should start ruling it out as a possibility right now. "
"You're insatiable," Brooke laughed, and planted a wet one on Sam's lips.
"I just want to remain another satisfied customer," Sam returned with a grin.
"You're the only customer," Brooke looked into her eyes with gratitude.
They heard a car pull into the driveway.
"They're back," Brooke said, "we better put some clothes on. "
They had both managed to find something to wear when Mac shouted out their names upon entering. She ran up the stairs and into the bedroom to find Sam picking up the pillows from around the room and Brooke reaching under the bed for what looked like a bright red piece of dental floss.
"What happened in here?" Mac asked, nonplussed.
"We, ah, we're going to be washing the sheets, " Sam hastily improvised.
Nicole came up behind Mac and observed, "Looks like you've been burning up the sheets. "
Mac looked at Nicole, confused.
"Thanks for your input, Nicole," Sam gritted out, then looked at Mac. "Hey Mac, you want to have one last swim before we get ready for dinner?" She put her hand on Mac's shoulder and steered her out of the room.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and give me feedback, it really means something when there is so much fic on this list to be read lately
Brooke went downstairs after a long shower to find Nicole in the kitchen making iced tea.
"Hey, Nic," she greeted, "so how was P-town?"
"Good, cute little town," Nic said, taking two glasses off the shelf and waving one towards Brooke. "Lots of your kind of people hanging around. "
Brooke nodded. "Mac behave herself?"
"Oh, yeah," Nic smiled. "She's a little spitfire. I like her. "
"She likes you too," Brooke said, accepting a glass from Nicole.
They went outside and walked across the lawn to the wooden staircase that connected the house to the beach. Brooke sat down on the top step and Nicole joined her. When she looked out over the water, she could see Sam and Mac on the raft, paddling lazily side by side. She smiled as she saw Sam gesticulating wildly, most likely telling some improbable story, while Mac's face was looking up at her, like a flower turned towards the sun.
She thought of her earlier conversation with Sam about parenthood. Whether Sam knew it or not, she was very good with Mac, and Brooke was sure she would be an excellent parent. She could tell that Sam had many unspoken doubts about having children; and she had seen the inner conflict that had been raging in Sam's brown eyes as Brooke waited for the verdict to be handed down. She didn't think that Sam was aware that every thought and emotion she had could be read in her expressive eyes, or maybe only Brooke could see it, having become so attuned to her since the change in their relationship.
She was still kicking herself for broaching a subject that neither of them was ready for, but had to admit that she felt relief to finally know how Sam felt about it. Brooke herself had many issues to work through before any concrete steps could be taken in the direction of having a family, and that's why she was surprised at herself for letting it slip in conversation. She guessed that it had been weighing more heavily in the back of her mind than she was willing to admit. She just couldn't picture her life without children in it, no matter what sort of adversity they would have to face as a couple and a family; the rewards would far outweigh the hardships.
Somewhere deep inside of her, Brooke felt that a major factor in healing the old wounds made by her own mother leaving when she was as young as Mac was now would be to become a mother herself. It seemed the only way to confirm the belief that she wasn't like her mother, that she wouldn't be repeating her mistakes. Not that that was the only reason why she wanted to have children, there were so many reasons. But she needed to test herself in this way, and she was certain that, with Sam's help, she would pass with flying colors. An enormous weight had been lifted, now that she didn't have to contemplate a future without children.
Nicole studied Brooke's face as she looked out towards Sam and Mac, and could easily see the depth of feeling clearly displayed in her features. She may not have made a success of her own marriage, but she knew real love when she saw it, and it burned with intensity in both Brooke and Sam. If someone had told her in high school that this would be the way things would end up for the stepsisters, she would have laughed them out of the state, but if the two of them had found happiness together in this fucked up world, then she was happy for them.
She still marveled at whatever god was manning the controls when she and Brooke had been placed in the lobby of the same hotel, in the same city, at the same time the other night. Maybe it was the same god who had allowed her to destroy her own life and seriously damage Brooke's that night long ago, now there would be a god with a sense of humor, or irony, at the very least. The timing was eerily fortuitous. There had to be a reason why she and Brooke had met again at this point in time, it couldn't have been just blind coincidence. All she knew was that she wasn't going to let an opportunity like this slip through her fingers. Nicole needed something, and Brooke could provide it. And it was beneficial to both of them. The additional benefit for herself was that instead of passing through Brooke's life, she thought she had figured out a way to remain. She felt good about what she was about to do; it felt right to her, in her gut. The only unknown element in this formula was Brooke's reaction.
"Boy, that Sam must be a bobcat in the sack," Nic said, "you're miles away. "
"Nic!" Brooke protested, and nudged her with her shoulder.
"Now that I have your attention," Nicole grinned, "I wanted to talk to you about something. "
"Okay. " Brooke looked at Nicole inquiringly.
"You know how when we were talking about my company, and you said we were poised?"
"Yes, you're not very far from your tipping point," Brooke remarked seriously.
"Well, actually, it's more like we're teetering," Nic confessed, "on the brink of failure. With Mark gone, I've been trying to take care of the business and run the lab myself. I'm certainly not equipped for the business end, and most of the staff is science types, no business sense whatsoever. So I've begun a search for a new CEO and guess who is at the top of my short list?"
"Me?" Brooke asked incredulously. "Nic, I'm an analyst. A lowly analyst at that, my cube is nowhere near a window. " But even as she said it she was gripped with excitement at the thought of such an opportunity.
"Brooke, I need you to pull us back from the edge of disaster. You can't do any worse a job than I'm already doing. You have that blue chip degree from Columbia, and all your IPO experience from Leviathan, which we are going to need when we're ready to go public. Mind you, that probably won't be for quite a while. " Nicole paused and saw the ruminative expression on Brooke's face. "Let me just ask you this: Do you think you can do it?"
Brooke hesitated before answering. What a chance, she thought. But it would mean leaving the secure little world she had made for herself at the bank. And obviously, she would have to leave the home she had made with Sam in New York and relocate to L. A. What would Sam think about that?
Could she do it? She was young and hopelessly inexperienced, but she knew that a lot of being successful in business came down to common sense, and she had that. Could she let Nicole take such a huge risk with her livelihood? Despite what Nic said, there was every chance that she could do worse than Nic herself had done, but she didn't think she would. The more she thought about it, the more sure she became. She could do it. Brooke looked at Nicole and was about to give her answer when Nicole spoke again.
"Let me do this for you. It would also give me the chance to ---"
"No! Don't say it, Nicole," Brooke interrupted. "If you give me this opportunity, let it be because you think I can do it and not because you need to assuage your guilt over the accident. "
Nicole nodded mutely.
"I can do it, Nic, I can make a success out of Julian Cosmetics," Brooke said with much more confidence than she was feeling. "But I can't give you an answer right now. Give me until tomorrow to think about it?"
"Of course. Thank you for even considering it," Nic said humbly.
Brooke was struck again at the change the years had brought to Nicole. She looked out to the sea and saw Mac and Sam coming in, running up the sand to where they had left their towels. "Could you not mention it to Sam and Mac, yet? I don't want them to influence my decision. "
Sam was in complete control of the kitchen. She had Mac cover the picnic table outside with newspaper, and set the table on top. Brooke was shucking corn, and Nicole was filling a huge pot with water. When Sam had seen that the cottage had all the necessary equipment for a New England Clambake, she knew she had to try it, even though she's a California girl, and severely lacking in culinary talent. She had gone to the fish market that morning and had peppered the fishmonger with questions until she thought she could handle it. Along with the lobsters and clams she had purchased, she also went to the supermarket and bought hot dogs, in case of a total seafood disaster.
"Hey Mac, c'mere," Sam called as she pulled a big bag out of the refrigerator. She removed four lobsters and placed them on the counter. They were still alive and they did not look very happy. Everyone gathered around the lobsters to have a closer look.
"That's what we're eating?" Mac asked in a disgusted voice.
"What else are we having?"
Sam had known that this would be a tough sell. "You know what the fish guy told me?" she asked. "The only crabs they have around here are the tiny little blue ones, but they're really wimpy and mostly hang out in Maryland anyway so you don't need to worry about them when you're swimming. " She waited for Mac to be impressed, but Mac was poker-faced, so she continued. "Now the lobsters could definitely do some damage," Sam pointed to a claw that was encased in a thick rubber band, "but they stick to deeper water and we'd never encounter one where we are. And they taste really good, too. "
"I thought lobsters were supposed to be red," Mac said, studying the darkish color of the lobsters, and still not looking too thrilled about dinner.
"They will be when they're ready," Sam explained, "they turn red when they cook. " She turned to Nic and Brooke, "Man, if Lily could see me now, she'd dump me in a pot of boiling water," Sam remarked.
Brooke picked up two of the lobsters and cried, "Lily, please save us!"
"She would so not appreciate that, Brooke," Sam tsked, shaking her head woefully, but she couldn't keep a straight face.
"I had a meeting with Lily not too long ago," Nic said nonchalantly. "You know she works for PETA, right?"
Sam was surprised. "Yeah, but I lost track of her a few years ago. How is she? What is she up to?"
"She's great. A little surprised to see me after so many years, but very gracious and helpful, and not too preachy. She's a campaign coordinator and works with the cosmetics industry to educate and promote non-cruel methods of makeup testing. Mark was a big believer in not testing on animals, more for the PR value than because he actually cared about them. Lily was great; we got a lot of good info from her. I have her card," Nic said to Sam, "do you want it?"
"Yeah! I'd love it. "
Nic retrieved her handbag and started digging through it. "She's still with Josh, and they have two kids. "
"Aww, that's great," Brooke gushed.
"A boy and a girl, and their names are Eddie and Babe," Nic continued.
"No. Way. " Brooke and Sam said in unison.
Nic cracked up. "Nah, I know they have two kids, but I have no idea what their names are. "
She handed the card to Sam, who examined it closely and smiled. She put it in her pocket and then patted it, like she had just put a diamond in there.
"It's great that she and Josh are still together," Brooke commented.
"Yeah, who would've thought that marriage would last," Sam agreed, then winced. "Sorry, Nic," she apologized.
"That's okay," Nicole said easily, "I'm not bitter, much. " She sat on a barstool near the counter. "Marriage is hard, but being in love is great. That's what I really miss. I loved being in love," she said dreamily. "You walk around in this haze and nothing bothers you. You see the object of your affection everywhere you go, in the petals of a flower or a passing cloud. "
"I never knew you were so sentimental, Nic," Sam said. "It's funny you should mention that. I was at the fish market today and I walked by a display case and this flounder caught my eye. I looked into his googly eyes and thought, 'he looks just like Brooke. ' The similarity was uncanny, really; I almost bought him. Ow!" Sam rubbed the place on her arm where Brooke punched her. "Just kidding," she smiled winningly.
Brooke just smirked and gave her a knowing glance. Sam was in trouble tonight.
Sam looked over at the pot on the stove and saw that it was boiling. "Okay, everybody out. " She started herding them out onto the patio. "It's time for Lil' Eddie and the gang to meet their doom, and I don't want anyone else to be emotionally scarred by it, as I will be," she said dramatically. She gave Brooke the corn to put on the grill, and closed the door behind them. She picked up one of the crustaceans and said, sadly, "So long, old pal. "
A little while later, the four of them sat around the table with newsprint covering their forearms, hands sticky with butter and lobster juice, unable to eat another bite. Mac had gotten into the shell pounding, claw-cracking aspect of eating lobster, and found that she liked the taste of the meat, too. However, nothing could induce her to try the steamers Sam had made, declaring that the clams looked like big boogers, which pretty much put everyone else off of them, as well. Unfortunately, Sam had neglected to get them bibs, so they were all a bit crustacean encrusted, but nobody seemed to mind. The best part was that cleanup had simply been a matter of rolling up all the newspaper and throwing the mess away. They sat in companionable silence as the sky darkened, leaving only a few citronella candles to see by, and the ocean as their background music.
Brooke had disappeared into the kitchen a few minutes before but now returned with the birthday cake Sam had bought, lit with eleven candles. Mac was speechless, but did not pass up the chance to blow out the candles while the three women sang to her.
As Brooke was doling out cake, Mac said, "My birthday was last month, and you guys already sent me presents. What's this for?"
"We wanted to celebrate with you in person, if that's okay," Sam said, smiling.
"Sure," Mac replied, beaming.
"Are you ready for presents, Mac?" Brooke asked.
"More presents?" Mac asked, her eyes wide, then quickly said, "Okay," as if she thought they might change their minds.
Sam presented Mac with a book. "Here you go, Macaroni, I didn't have time to wrap it, sorry," she said. It was a leather bound journal, with Celtic embossing on the rich caramel colored cover. Sam had one just like it. Mac opened the cover and a letter fell out. Sam couldn't find onionskin paper or a blue airmail envelope, but Mac knew what it was just the same. "Annabella?" she asked.
Mac ran over to Sam and threw her arms around her. "Thanks, Sam," she said. "And thanks for the journal, too. "
Sam hugged her back with all her might, and surreptitiously wiped a tear from her eye. Maybe Operation Big Sister was back on track. "Now you can write your own stories too, and let me read them," she said.
Brooke was next. She handed Mac a long, slim, pink envelope. Mac opened it to find a card that read, "Entitles bearer to a manicure and pedicure at the Pink Door Salon, New York, New York. " She looked up at Brooke.
"It's a day at the salon," Brooke explained. "You're scheduled to have your nails done, all twenty of them. "
"Do I have to go by myself?" Mac asked fearfully.
"No, Macky," Brooke laughed. "I'm going with you. We'll spend the day together. We can do it when we get back to the city if you want. "
"A Manny and a Peddy? If you don't want it, I'll take it," Nicole said, as she placed a white plastic pouch with Julian Cosmetics emblazoned on the side in front of Mac.
"No! I want to go," Mac insisted, smiling at Brooke. She picked up the pouch and asked, "What's this?"
"Well, I didn't know we'd be having this little shindig, but I never leave home without samples, and I thought you might like some. Happy Birthday," Nicole said to Mac.
Mac opened the case to find miniature lipsticks, blush and eye colors of every shade. "Whoa, this is so cool, Nic! Thank you so much! Brooke, look at this. "
"I know two drag queens in West Hollywood, Brianna Cracker and Helena Handbasket, who would tear each other apart for that little pouch," Nic grinned.
After Brooke had duly admired the gift, Mac turned around to show Sam, but saw she was no longer sitting at the table. "Hey, where did Sam go?"
"Here I am," Sam called as she re-entered the back yard with a foam core Boogie Board, about half the size of a surfboard, under her arm. She walked over to the group and stood the board up beside her. "We know you want to learn how to surf. I don't know how, and neither does Brooke, so we thought we could all learn together. But we'll start with this and maybe get to longboards by the time you can lift one. Okay?"
Mac just nodded vigorously with a huge grin on her face and took the board out of Sam's hands. She looked towards the water like she wanted to try it out immediately. Then she looked at the three adults. "Guess I have to wait until tomorrow, huh?"
Sam stepped out the kitchen door carrying two bottles of beer and a blanket. While she was doing the dishes after their birthday celebration, she had looked out the window into the darkness to see Brooke's white shirt move away from the house and disappear down the steps. She'd been gone a little while now, and Sam was going to find her. As she got away from the cottage she realized that it wasn't very dark, really, and there were a thousand stars shining down in the clear night sky.
She saw Brooke, a little removed from the water's edge, sitting Indian-style on the sand, her back very straight, almost like she was meditating. She turned when she heard the bottles Sam was carrying clink together.
"Want some company?" Sam asked, as she approached.
"Sure. You're just in time," Brooke welcomed.
"Just in time for what? Here, hold these," she gave Brooke the two bottles. She threw the blanket over her shoulders and sat down behind Brooke, extending her legs so that Brooke sat between them, and wrapped them both up in its folds.
"Just in time to keep me warm, it's getting chilly down here," Brooke said, leaning back into Sam and resting her head and back against her chest. "Where's Mac?"
"She's holed up in the bathroom with all her new products. Nic's giving her a makeover. " Sam sighed as the delicious heaviness of Brooke's body fell against her, and she felt the low voltage thrum of sexual energy course through her. "Which begs the question: What do a you call a makeover when you've never been made up in the first place?"
"Good question. Do you think Mac is too young for the salon?" Brooke asked uncertainly.
"I don't think it matters," Sam replied. "It's not like you think her toenails are heinous and she really needs a pedicure. You're doing it to spend time with her, right?"
"She'll love it. " Sam found Brooke's hands under the blanket and laced their fingers together. "Listen, are we okay about the children question from earlier?"
"Yes," Brooke replied, surprised. "Why do you ask?"
"Because you came down here all by yourself, looked like you were doing some heavy duty cogitating when I showed up. I thought maybe you were still thinking about it. "
"No. I was completely satisfied with your answer. "
Well that's great, but it doesn't tell me what's bothering you, Sam thought. She could tell something was up. "Are you upset because I compared you to a fish?" she tried. "It was a pretty cute flounder, you know. "
"No," Brooke laughed, "although you do say the sweetest things, sometimes. "
Sam took a drink from her beer and decided she would just shut up and wait. If Brooke wanted to talk, she would. Sam didn't have to wait long.
"Nic offered me a job today," Brooke announced. "As CEO of her company. "
Sam whistled. "That's a pretty big leap up the corporate ladder. Do you want to do it?"
"Yes, I think I want to," Brooke said hesitantly, then added rhetorically, "who would be fool enough not to want to do it?"
I would, Sam thought. Doesn't appeal to me in the slightest. But she stayed silent.
"The question is, can I do it?"
"Yes. You can. " Sam stated it with utter conviction.
"I know," Sam declared. "You're smart, you're dedicated and you have that business savvy thing going on. And you're sexy, although I'm not sure that's a prerequisite for the job, but it can't hurt. " She paused for a second. "Brooke, there is no reason for you not to take the job; however, the fact that it's being offered by Satan does give me pause. From what you told me about her company, it sounds like a great opportunity for you. And you're not exactly enamored of the job you have now, so that can't be stopping you. "
"Yeah. When I was sitting here thinking about it, I told myself that I should be like you. Just take a risk and do it. I don't want to be the kind of person who never has an adventure, who never takes a chance. "
Sam nodded. "You can do it, Brooke. It's perfect for you. And on the miniscule chance that it doesn't work out, we always have my meatball slinging abilities to pay the rent. "
"Sam, I know you are going to find something to do with your life that you are going to love, it just takes time. "
"I'm not worried about it, it'll happen. But this conversation is about you, not me. "
"There is a reason not to take the job," Brooke said slowly. "We'd have to move to Los Angeles. " She resisted the urge to look at Sam's face.
"Oh, I don't know, Brooke," Sam joked. "I'm this close to employee of the month at the restaurant. "
No response from Brooke.
"Kidding," Sam said. Still nothing. To fill the silence, Sam said, "So we're going back to Cali?"
"That's all you have to say? Your response to the not entirely unimportant decision of moving cross country is to make stupid jokes and quote LL Cool J?" Brooke was not happy.
"You're right," Sam apologized. She reflected on all the squalls that the little rowboat of their relationship had weathered lately. Telling their parents, the kid question, Nic's reappearance, and now this. The boat had rocked a little but they were still sitting side by side, each holding an oar. It was going to take a lot more than a change of location to capsize them.
"Okay. Here's a quote for you," Sam said. "Whither thou goest, I will go," she said simply. She moved her head closer and spoke quietly into Brooke's ear. "It's just a place, Brooke. It's as arbitrary as what pair of socks I put on this morning, or eating lobster for dinner. Where I am at any given point in time is just one of the variables that make up the equation of my life. But there is only one constant. "
Brooke burrowed further into Sam's chest and turned her face towards Sam's neck, happy again. This is more like it, she thought. She loved it when Sam waxed poetic.
Sam nearly lost her train of thought as she felt Brooke squirming against her. She convulsively wrapped her arms around Brooke, trying to quell the arousal that was uncoiling within her. She tried to put it out of her mind and remembered the other point she wanted to make. She lifted one arm and pointed upward. "Where's the Little Dipper?" she said, half to herself, as her finger scanned the night sky. "There. See that bright one at the end of the handle?" she asked Brooke.
"The North Star?"
"Yep. You could also call it a lodestar, which is a guiding star, the star that is used as a reference point. In navigation," Sam explained, "no matter how lost you are, once you spot the North Star you're safe and can find your way home. Sometimes, if somebody is lucky, they'll find their North Star, their lodestar, their beacon, the fixed person in their universe. " Sam brushed her lips against Brooke's forehead. "I'm lucky. I'm very, very lucky. You are the fixed person in my universe. So, New York, Los Angeles, hell, it could be Sandusky, Ohio for all I care, as long as I can find my way home to you, that's all that matters. "
Brooke turned around so that she was face to face with Sam. "Do you know how hot it makes me when you talk like that?" she asked breathlessly, a grin on her face.
"Now who's cracking wise," Sam admonished with a half-smile, "I was being serious. " But there was no denying that she was on fire for Brooke, as well.
"I know. " Brooke pushed Sam back into the sand until she was lying on top of her. Sam reached up and joined her hands at the small of Brooke's back, enjoying the wonderful torture of being pinned by her weight. Brooke rested her forearms on Sam's chest and looked into her beloved's eyes, before pressing her lips against hers. Brooke's hot lips gave Sam a shock; it felt like an actual electrical pulse that spurred her response. She fiercely returned the kiss, plundering Brooke's mouth with her lips and tongue. They were drowning in each other, and the sound of the ocean only meters away had faded far into the background. Sam tilted her head, exposing her neck to Brooke's assault of her sensitive skin. She moved her hands down to firmly cup Brooke's bum, while simultaneously lifting her hips off the sand. Brooke groaned into Sam's neck, where her lips were pressed against Sam's jugular vein, fascinated by the feel of the strong and rapidly pounding pulse beating just under her skin.
Brooke suddenly felt the need to slow down; she just wanted to savor the moment. She raised her head and took Sam's flushed face in her hands, looking into eyes black with passion. Brooke wanted to remember this as one of the moments where their lives turned down a different path, a path that they would walk together, but which bent in the undergrowth all the same, concealing obstacles that remained to be seen.
Sam's eyes cleared and she seemed to understand what Brooke was feeling. She reached up and tucked Brooke's hair behind her ear, then brushed her knuckles along the soft skin of her cheek.
"I guess we're moving to Los Angeles. " Brooke said.
"I guess so," Sam returned.
"Mac will by psyched," Brooke remarked.
"Yes," Sam smiled, that was probably the best thing about this surprising turn of events. "Moving to California will probably make it easier to teach her how to surf. "
They lay in each other's arms, both offering hopeful prayers for their future.
Brooke mentally shook herself free from her serious musings and threw off the blanket that was half covering them. "Well, we can check the first option off our list," she said playfully. "And now I think it's time to see what's behind door number two. "
Sam had no idea what she was talking about. "Um, a brand new car?" she guessed, clueless.
"Maybe this will refresh your memory," Brooke said and got up from her comfortable position on top of Sam. She walked towards the surf, stripping off her clothes as she went.
Sam quickly got up to follow. She knew they would be freezing when they got out, but that only meant that they could warm up with option number three.
Love is not love
which alters when it alteration finds,
or bends with the remover to remove:
Oh, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
that looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
- from Sonnet 116, Shakespeare
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