Title: Forever Young

Author: Megan

Email: shy_grrl@hotmail.com

Feedback: Yes, please. Just be gentle, I break easily.

Archive: http://www.realmoftheshadow.com/megan.htm (My eternal gratitude to Kim for saving my stories from oblivion)

Summary: Takes place on two timelines. In one Brooke finds out she's pregnant. The other one is set six years into future, where in Brooke struggles to raise her child, and Sam does her best to help.

Disclaimer: Characters belong to other people. Well, some are mine.

Author's notes: Haven't done anything in third person pov in a real long time, so I'm not sure how that's gona work. This is a new series with kind of a far fetched idea. I've altered some of the characters pretty much, namely Mike and Jane. Also, don't know New York that well, I have no idea if a girl in Brooke's situation could afford to live in Greenwich Village, but let's pretend so.

The Wait

The waiting room. No one likes the waiting room. It is a cold and a distant place. And there's nothing to do but wait. People sit by themselves and try to distract their minds with menial things. They rarely succeed. This particular waiting room is quite large, and it is painted completely white. There are seats covering every wall, except for the one where the reception desk is. At the moment there are almost a dozen people occupying the room. They all have their reasons, some are waiting for good news, some for bad. And you can always tell in which category a person belongs to.

Two girls, one brunette, one blonde, are clearly of the latter group. They sit together, but they are separated by an invisible wall. They seem to hold hands, but they are not touching each other. The blonde's stare is fixed on the floor in front of her. The brunette tries to read a magazine, she skims through page after page of meaningless articles. She glances at her watch and isn't the least bit surprised to find it showing almost the exact same time than at her previous glance. Time is relative after all. She turns to the blonde and asks if she is all right, if she needs anything.

The blonde girl barely hears her. But enough gets through and she manages to shake her head and mumble something in response. Apparently it was enough as the brunette leaves her alone. She is grateful to her friend for the support, and for the concern, but there is only one thing that could make her feel better. And in her heart she knows that thing is already beyond her reach. All this is just for show. All this is just for her friend, who is still hoping for a happy ending.

"Brooke McQueen?", asks a stern voice suddenly.

It is enough of a surprise to shock both the girls back to reality. They both turn to look at the large nurse behind the reception desk. The blonde girl releases her hold on the brunette's hand and stands up. She takes a few tentative steps and then turns around. She looks at the brunette and asks for the first of many favors to come, "Please don't call him. I don't want him here."

The brunette puts up a weak protest. It is an argument they've had before. She thinks the blonde is wrong. But she still can't bring herself to do anything against her will, and so she eventually yields. The blonde is satisfied and disappears through a door, leaving the brunette alone. Alone with all these other people.

She waits patiently. She sits and she waits. People around her change. They come and go. Either by the same door as the blonde, or by the door they came in earlier. She waits over an hour and the blonde still hasn't come back. She'll wait as long as it takes.

Deeper inside the building the blonde is also waiting. Her waiting is coming to an end though. And it's none too soon, her anxiety has been growing all the time. Her initial cynicism has subsided. All this fuss has brought her hopes up. When the man in the white coat enters the room, she starts to babble. She is telling him how stupid it all is. How she even shouldn't be here. They only did it once for crying out loud, and they used protection! It isn't possible, it can't...

"Miss McQueen, you are pregnant."


New York, six years later.

"Hurry up Katie!", Sam is scooting on a little girl. She successfully resists the urge to pick the girl up and start running, "Mommy is waiting already. And you don't want to miss Harry, do you?"

"Don't wanna miss Harry!", the girl screams and tries to run faster nearly tripping over her own feet.

"Whoa!", Sam bends down to make sure the girl won't fall. And then mentally scolds herself for urging her to hurry, "Easy there. Safety first, remember Katie?"

The two rush through the dark and half empty streets, making their way to a crossing. Sam grabs the girl's hand when they stop at the lights. She squints her eyes and tries to spot their target across the road. She doesn't. She does see the bright lights of the movie theater though. The woman should be there already. But maybe she is inside.

The light changes to green and they start to cross the road. There isn't a single car in sight, and only a few people. Again Sam wonders how such a crappy theater could have gotten Harry Potter. But it's good. Katie loves Harry and this way her mother doesn't have to go too far from her apartment to show the movie to the girl. She hates going far, she is always too tired after work.

They are almost on the other side when the girl struggles free from Sam's hold and starts to run towards the theater, "Mom!", she screams to the blonde woman who has just stepped outside.

Sam sees the way the blonde fights a smile on her face. It has been a hard day for her again, yet she finds energy to be there for her daughter, "Oh, mommy's little kitten!", she breathes out heavily and kneels down to hug the girl. She closes her eyes and draws the girl closer. It's a long hug. Sam walks slowly up to them, not wanting to disturb the moment, "Hey Sam", the mother says after opening her eyes again. Big black rings surround those pretty eyes. And they always strike Sam so hard. Only a few years ago the blonde would never have left her room looking like that.

"Hey Brooke", Sam answers, "How was your day?"

"It was okay", the blonde grins at her daughter and starts to mess with the girl's hair.

"Mom, stop it!", Katie starts to giggle and tries to get away from Brooke's hands, "Sam fixed my hair, so it's pretty!"

"Pffft!", Brooke laughs, "Let me tell you something about your aunty Sam. She doesn't know the first thing about pretty", the blonde turns her adorable grin towards Sam.

She only smiles back, trying to look casual. But inside she hurts. It always hurts her to see Brooke these days. The blonde deserves so much better, "When's the last time you looked into a mirror Brooke?", she finally says. It's only meant as a joke but it strikes home. Cause the blonde knows she looks like shit. Sam wants to apologize, but can't because of the girl.

And besides, Brooke knows she doesn't mean to be evil, "Oh hey, if you're gona be that way I don't think you get to see the movie Sam", the grin disappears, "What do you think Katie?"

The girl thinks about it for a second, "I want Sam to come too, mom."

"You do? Aww, you're teaming up on me! Little rascals", Katie starts to giggle again as Brooke proceeds to tickle her, "Listen, why don't you go in Katie, before you catch a cold", the blonde goes on and stands up, "I'll be right after you", the girl hesitates before going. Sam pushes the door open for her, "But stay right there!", Brooke suddenly commands, "Behind the glass, so I can see you."

The two watch in silence as the girl makes her way inside and then begins to stare in wonderment at the huge Harry Potter poster on the wall.

"Thanks Sam", Brooke says not removing her eyes from her daughter, "I really had no choice. Ron would've fired me."

"It's okay", Sam answers, "I love spending time with her. But you know, the guy can't just fire you without a good reason. You have rights."

The blonde only shakes her head, "Yeah.. and what am I gona do? Sue him?", there is only the slightest touch of self-pity in her voice. But Sam always notices it. There is no way out for Brooke, she works days as a waitress in a diner, plus all the double shifts her asshole of an employer demands. And on top of that she has a part time job, working three nights a week, at the NYU library, that Sam arranged for her. And she still barely makes ends meet. But she doesn't complain. She never complains, "Ehh.. so..", the blonde finally shakes out of her daze and glances at Sam, "You wanna come see this movie? It's supposed to be really good. You know, it's based on those books...", she goes on and then gets distracted again when Katie bends down to tie her shoe laces, "You keep buying her."

"I know", Sam answers and glances at her watch. It's already past eight and she has a paper due tomorrow. As much as she'd like to stay and see the movie, she can't, "But I can't stay Brooke. I mean, I have to do this assignment."

The blonde girl turns to look at her and nods, "Yeah. This is the last time Sam. I promise. There's this girl next door I've been meaning to ask..."

Sam cuts her in mid sentence, "No, I didn't mean that. Like I said, I love spending time with Katie."

Brooke shakes her head furiously, "But you have your own stuff. This school work and all... it's hard, I know", she talks and she believes what she says. But Sam has heard it before, the promises. So she doesn't get too upset about them. The truth is, she could never imagine living without Brooke and her child. As much as it hurts to see their desperate situation, it would hurt even more not to see them at all.

"You better go", Sam says and nods towards the door, "The movie starts any minute now. I'll come by on Friday."

"Okay", Brooke smiles and walks inside.

Sam stays for a little while longer and observes as Brooke takes her daughter's hand. Katie is so much like her mother, it's uncanny. All her facial features, the blonde hair of course, they are just like Brooke's at that age. Or what Sam can remeber of Brooke's childhood photos. They have none with them, Mike and Jane have them all. Back in California. In the land of sunshine.

When the two blonde girls start to walk away, Sam turns to leave too. But then at the last moment she sees the smaller girl look up at her mother and say something. The tall blonde smiles, and from this distance, and through the smudged glass, Sam sees her as the lively teen goddess she once was. Not as the worn-out mother she is. Her mouth moves as she bends down to tie her daughter's shoe laces. And Sam wishes she could hear the words. But she can't, they aren't for her.

The Way Home

Author's notes: Special thanks goes to Carla for all the cool NY pointers and facts. You've been a tremendous help.


The brunette is driving. The streets are familiar, but they have never seemed so gray before. Or so empty. She is getting more worried for her friend, her sister. The girl hasn't said one word since leaving the clinic. And even in there she only responded her question with a nod and a quiet plea that the brunette take her home.

"Maybe it won't be that bad", she tries again, "Maybe they'll understand."

The blonde doesn't answer for a long time. And she has already given up hope of a response when it finally does come, "You don't know my father. He may act nice, he may act like he cares, really cares about me. And I guess he does, as long as I do things his way. But in the end, it's all about appearances for him."

The brunette has hard time believing it all. She has come to know the girl's father as a fair man. A kind man. But she doesn't push it. She doesn't want to alienate the girl, "So you're going to keep it then?", she tries a different approach.

There is another silent moment. And then when the reply comes, it is so vehement it shuts the brunette girl's mouth right up. Apparently even the idea of an abortion isn't open for discussion. And reasoning with the blonde in her current state of mind is near impossible.

So she settles to drive in silence again. In a slightly dazed state of mind. Not only because of the blonde's pregnancy, but more because of her dramatic behavior. Sure things may look grim, but really what is the worst that can happen? Her father won't kick the girl out. No way, the brunette just can't see it happening. And it's the new millennium, no one is forced to marry a guy just because of a child. She decides then and there that she'll tell her mother. She trusts her mother, and she will know what to do.

"You'll keep your mouth shut then", the girl next to her says all of a sudden. Like she had read her mind.

The brunette glances next to her quickly and finds the blonde still staring out the window. She doesn't know what to make of it all. But she will tell her mother, even if it means going against the girl's will. It's for her own good. She has to save the blonde from herself.

"Promise me."

"I can't Brooke."

The tension starts to rise inside the car. The brunette is expecting an explosion any moment. But it never comes, "Please Sam", and the girl's voice is so pitiful there really is no way of going against it, "It's the last thing I'll ever ask."

She shakes her head a little, "Even you don't believe that", she says and curses her spineless nature, "Fine. I won't tell."

When they arrive home, the brunette's mother is there to meet them. She asks why they are home so early. The blonde only brushes past her and skips upstairs, not saying a word. The woman gives the brunette a questioning look, but there is nothing she can do. She promised, "Brooke wasn't feeling well, so I drove her home."


They walk down Greenwich Avenue until it intercepts with Sixth Avenue, and then it's along West Fifth Street onto Fifth Avenue just so they can walk through the park. Cause Katie loves the Washington Square Park. They'll stroll through it slowly, even though it's late. Even though they should both be in bed by now. But Brooke wants more time with her daughter, so screw the rules. It's only two more days till weekend, and then she can rest. Then they can both rest.

The Arch at the end of Fifth Avenue is what Katie loves the most. She'll walk under it, and around it, back and forth, tens of times, with her head bend as far back as it goes, as she tries to fully grasp the size of the thing. Until finally she'll get dizzy and lose her balance. That's when Brooke picks her up and they head deeper into the park, towards home.

The little girl wants to stop at the playground, "Not today", answers her mother, "It's too late", it's almost eleven already. And the park closes at eleven.

When they emerge from the other side of the park, it's only a couple of more blocks to home. Katie wants to walk again, so Brooke sets her on the ground. They take the Thompson Street and walk across West Third and Bleecker, right down to West Houston Street, where home is.

It's the only home Katie has ever known. And when she recognizes the building she starts to run. She loves her home. Because for her, it has always been a happy place. She hates the mornings when she has to leave, go away to that awful kindergarten with the other little kids. But she loves the evenings when she gets to come home with her mom. That is always her favorite part of the day. Sometimes, when mom isn't too tired she'll even play with her. Or reads to her. Or just sits there and watches her play.

"Is Sammy here too, mom?", Katie shouts from the front door, when her mother is still yards away.

Brooke shakes her head and digs into her pockets, trying to find the key. When she comes close enough she answers, "No. Sammy is at her own home. You know, where all the brainy people live."

"Oh", the girl says with the disappointment shining through so clearly, "Aren't you brainy then, mom?"

"Nah", Brooke answers and opens the door, "But I have other things", she smiles at her daughter and steps aside so the girl can get in.

"Like what?", the girl asks. And all the disappointment has faded. She can't remember it anymore. All she can do is try to think what her mother has, that others don't.

"Get in already", Brooke gives Katie a little nudge on the shoulder, and the girl reluctantly walks inside.

Once there she turns around, "Like what mom?"

"Well, Catherine", she says and walks in after her daughter. She checks the mailbox on their way to the stairs, "I'm pretty cute, don't you think?"

"Yeah...", the girl answers not sounding very convincing, "But Sammy said you were even MORE", Katie goes on pressing the word `more' to extremes, "Pretty when you were young."

"Hey!", Brooke frowns first and then grins, "I'll have you know, oh tiny one, that I'm still young!", they start to walk up the stairs and Brooke turns to skim through the mail, "And pretty too. When I want to be."

The smaller girl is a few steps in front of her mother and wants to turn around to say something. But the mother only urges her to keep moving, "But Sammy said..."

"Sammy said", Brooke mimics her. Why on earth is Sammy so concerned about her looks all of a sudden?, "Tell you what Katie, Sammy is coming by on Friday. Let's fix up mom real nice, and see what Sammy says then", a postcard has caught her attention and she stops walking. They are on the second floor, one more till their apartment.

"Yeah!", Katie gets exited and turns around beaming with joy, "And I get to fix your hair! Sammy showed me how!"

Brooke stares at the girl for a while lost in thought. Then she realizes what the girl has just said. Sam McPhearson giving HER daughter beauty lessons! Oh, for heaven's sake!, "No, no no. Didn't I tell you already that Sam and pretty don't mix? Mom's gona show you how it's really done."

"But don't you think Sammy is pretty?", the girl frowns.

"Well, sure she is. I'm just kidding", Brooke answers and they start their journey again, "We're all pretty in our own way", they walk up the last stairs and reach their door. Again Brooke fishes out her key and opens the door, "You got a card from your father by the way."

"I did?", the girl is stunned and stops in the doorway, "But it's not my birthday?", she turns and looks up at her with those big blue eyes. And Brooke's heart swells with love. Not for the first time she thanks God for her precious daughter.

"No, it's not", she smiles and brushes the girl's hair with her free hand. Then she nods the girl to go on in. She has this annoying way of blocking the doorways, "He's coming to visit."

Katie is even more surprised, "He is?", she says and backs inside when Brooke starts to advance through her. Her mother nods a couple of times and closes the door behind her. Katie proceeds to bombard her with an army of questions.

When? Soon. How? By plane, probably. With who? No idea. For how long? Mom doesn't know. What if she won't recognize him? Don't be silly! Will he take her away? Of course not. What if...? No more, Katie. Mommy doesn't know.

Brooke promises to call her father tomorrow and then tell her everything, "Meanwhile, here's the card. It's a Harry card, nice ha?", she says and hands out the postcard.

"Yeah...", the girl only glances at it and then starts to stare at her again, "Did you see how Harry flew with the broom, mom?!"

She has only the vaguest of memories of it. She was half a sleep through the whole movie, "Sure", she answers and opens the refrigerator door. Katie keeps on explaining the finer points of Harry Potter while Brooke ponders what to do with an orange, half a carton of milk, and lettuce, "Guess what Catherine?", she asks when her daughter has finished her ramblings.

"What?", the little girl asks.

Brooke picks up the orange, closes the door and turns around. She finds Katie still staring at her with eyes wide open, "Looks like tomorrow is going to be...", she speaks slowly teasing the girl on purpose.


Brooke opens her mouth as wide as she can. Then when the girl is about to pop, she throws her hands up and screams, "A SHOPPING DAY! YAY!"

"YAY!", the girl yells back and starts to bounce up and down.

Brooke grabs her hands and they jump in circles for a while, both screaming the whole time. When the girl tires, Brooke then tells her to sit down by the table, while she peels the orange. She observes in silence as the girl slowly eats it. Time is flying by and it's past midnight until the girl is finally asleep. That's only six hours of sleep for the child, not nearly enough. It's not nearly enough for her either, but they'll make do. Cause in the end, it's the little moments that count. Brooke knows, that years after even the memory of the movie has already faded into nothingness, she'll still remember walking through the park with her daughter. Maybe she won't remember this exact trip, but she'll remember one of the thousands of others. And she'll remember the overwhelming love.


"You're not gona eat?", Sam opens her mouth for the first time that morning, "You should eat something Brooke."

The blonde glares at her for a second and then presses her gaze back down on the table. She has no appetite worth mentioning. She wishes Sam hadn't made her stupid comment, cause now the grownups will join in, and there'll be no end to it. But that was probably what the brunette was aiming for.

Half a minute goes by, and then the father unit starts talking, "Brooke... Sam is right, you should eat something."

Brooke doesn't answer. She wants to escape the kitchen but she can't. She has to make sure Sam won't spoil her secret. She isn't sure yet. The brunette has some weird ideas about what's good for her.

Then Jane joins in, "Are you still ill, Brooke?", she says and saves the morning.

The perfect excuse! How could she overlook it herself? Brooke's head jumps up and there's a smile on her mouth as she glances at her future stepmother, "Yeah", she's nodding like crazy, "I mean... yeah."

Jane looks back at her confused at first, but agrees to smile finally. Brooke's gaze sweeps across the table and she sees the weird look Sam is giving her, and the concerned face of her father. He reaches out and places a hand on Brooke's shoulder, "Should you be going to school then?"

"Oh!, I have to dad. We have this real important...", she is furiously trying to think of a reason. She doesn't want to stay home, she wants to go to school and forget. Finally she swallows hard, "Cheer leading practice", and hopes Sam will let it pass.

No such luck. The girl across from her emits a muffled chuckle which earns her another evil glare from Brooke. And even more confused looks from the parents, "What? Come on! She used the words `important' and `cheer leading' in the same sentence!"

Brooke shakes her head and stands up, "Cute", she remarks and leaves the room.

Once alone with the grownups, Sam gets this awful urge to tell. She wants to tell them. That's how life works. Children screw up and the parents fix things. But a promise is a promise. And a promise to Brooke is something even bigger. It's huge. It's everything. The girl would never trust her with anything again, if she told.

"So, I'm doing this article about teen pregnancies for the school paper", she starts and swirls her spoon in the bowl of cereal, "Any thoughts on that?"

The two look even more confused. Then Jane shrugs and shakes her head once, "Well, it's of course a difficult subject and...", she gets lost in her own head and starts to mumble, "What exactly do you mean, Sam?"

"Just what I said", she says bowing her head and swirling the spoon even faster, "Like... okay, let's say I was pregnant..."

"What are you trying to tell us Sam?", her mother interrupts her.

"What?! I didn't mean I was! Let's just pretend...", her head swings back and forth between Jane and Mike, and then Brooke's form catches her eye behind the man.

She's standing by the door, "You coming Sam?", the blonde says, and her voice betrays nothing. It is as even as ever.

They both say their good-byes and leave behind two very distraught parents. Brooke is rushing to her car with such speed Sam barely has time to grab her bag. When she jumps into the passengers seat, the car is already in motion.. Sam quickly pulls the door shut and fastens her seat belt.

"Listen Brooke... I didn't tell them anything. And I wasn't going to", Brooke only glances at her, doesn't answer anything, "Really, I wasn't. I won't tell if that's what you really want."

"If you keep dropping them clues like that, they'll catch on", the girl finally says when they are already speeding on the road. Brooke is driving way faster than usual, "They are not brain dead."

"Brooke... I'm only trying to...", she shuts up when Brooke slams on the brakes and they come to a dead stop on the road.

The blonde turns to look at her and hisses under her breath, "I know what you're trying to do. And I want you to stop", she says and then leans back and talks in a more normal voice, "It's my life, so just back off."

Sam keeps on warily looking at her sister. Brooke seems to calm down after the burst, and drives in a more normal speed. If that's the way the blonde wants things, it's fine by her. Let her keep her fucked up life.


"Come on! Lift those tiny legs, you!", Brooke is practically carrying her daughter from one hand, while Katie is desperately trying to keep up, "We're so late!"

The little girl finally catches on the rhythm when they get to the top of the stairs, and Brooke has to stop to open the door. New York University Library, reads in big white letters on top of it. And Katie is trying to make sense of them. She reads good for her age, but they are in such a hurry that the words are nothing but a big jumble of mess.

"Why are we always running mom?", she asks when they get inside, "I don't like running."

"Well, how are you supposed to win the marathon then? Do you think you can win that by walking?", Brooke is looking frantically at the checkout desk and is relieved when she finds a familiar face, "I don't think so, Katie."

"But mom! I don't wanna win the marathon!"

"Oh, of course you do", Brooke grins and starts to remove the girl's coat, "Everybody wants to win the marathon."

"But mom..."

"No buts. Next year we're both running in the New York marathon", she says and gives the girl a happy smile, so she'll know that mom is only kidding, "And you better win with all this practice!", she takes Katie's coat and the mittens the girl is handing over her, "Now scurry along. And don't tease the students this time! They are doing important things."

Brooke watches after her daughter for a while. Katie is walking first towards one table, then she decides for another one and changes her course. And then she changes her mind again, and heads for the original table. All the while holding onto her Harry Potter book with both hands, hugging it tightly.

Brooke finally turns away and walks to the desk. The twentyish girl behind it is tapping at her clock and looking at the blonde with her head tilted sideways. She throws the clothes on the hanger and puts on her best `Sorry!' face.

"I know, I know. I'm sorry Helen", she says and pins on her name tag, "You wouldn't believe the amount of customers we had today! I had to stay an extra hour."

The dark hared girl sighs, "I don't mind the extra fifteen to thirty minutes you make me work, every time by the way, cause you have the cutest little girl. And I'm happy to help out", there's a flicker of smile on her face, "But if you want more shifts here, you're gona have to start showing up on time."

"I know", Brooke nods, "And I will."

Helen sighs again, "How? It's not like you're late cause you're lazy? You don't have the time."

Brooke turns and hides her face. She loves the library work, "If I had more shifts here, I could cut back on the waiting thing, and I'd have the time."

The girl doesn't answer immediately. Instead she grabs her own coat and gets ready to leave. After taking a few steps she swings around, "I hate to break this to you Brooke", she says and looks like she really means it, "But you're never gona make as much money working here as you make waiting tables", she lets the words sink in, "Never", and then turns around and leaves.

And Brooke knows she is right. She knows no job will ever pay her as good as waiting. But she hates that work so much. It's so hard, staying on her feet all day long, every day. She has to put up all kinds of idiots, and keep a smile on her face all the time. Even when she's too tired to care, she still has to keep smiling. No smiles, no tips.

Such a contrast to the library work. This she loves, it's the ideal job for her. Interesting enough to keep her awake, cause she loves books. And not in the least bit exhausting, not even tiring, and best of all, she can keep Katie close to herself. She can bring the girl right in here. And instead of looking at ugly jerks all day long, she can watch at her pretty daughter. And it's quiet, so quiet she can relax, and sometimes when it's an especially slow night she can even read a book.

And then there is always the possibility of meeting... "Hey Brooke", her.

"Hey Sam", Brooke answers before even looking up from the sheet of paper she was reading. When she does she finds that the brunette is not alone. She is accompanied by a friend Brooke doesn't recognize. She doesn't know many of Sam's friends from the university. Sometimes she thinks Sam is a little ashamed of her. And sometimes she can understand that, "Oh hey, did you finish that assignment?", the blonde goes on after a time of silence.

Sam frowns at her, "What assignment?"

"The one... from last...", she mumbles and then stops, "Never mind."

Sam is still frowning, but then suddenly it hits her, "Oh yeah! The one from last night", she says, and Brooke smiles and nods, "No, actually it wasn't due till Friday", Sam glances at her friend, "That's actually why we're here. To finish it", Brooke nods again and turns to look at the friend. It's a pretty girl with light brown hair and glasses, "This is Rachel by the way."

The blonde puts on her most charming smile and waves her hand quickly, "Hi. I'm Brooke."

"Yeah..", the girl answers with an awkward smile, "I gathered as much."

Okay. Brooke keeps on smiling, "Oh, right. Of course", she mutters and bows her head for a second, "So what's the assignment about?"

The two girl across the counter look at each other for a second and then Sam turns to face the blonde, "It's.. uhm.. this Shakespeare thing..."

"Speaking of which, we should be getting to work Sam", Rachel talks. And she sounds bored. And why wouldn't she be, talking to an idiot like her?

"Sure, don't let me keep you", Brooke says and again bows her head, "Just holler if you need my help", the friend looks at her for a second in disbelief, "You know, finding books and stuff", cause how else could a high school dropout like she ever help them? Oh God, of course Sam is ashamed of her! She's such an idiot. And she doesn't know when to keep her stupid mouth shut.

But the really sad thing is, it's all in her own head. All these feelings of inferiority are in her own stupid head. Rachel is probably only anxious to get the work done and leave. She hasn't come here to chitchat. But Brooke can't help feeling stupid, cause she so much would want to be in Rachel's place. She wants to study Shakespeare as much as anyone else.

Across the hall a little girl, oblivious to her mother's distress, is enthusiastically explaining Harry Potter to a much older boy. She is telling him how she too is going to a witch school when she's old enough. Mommy has already reserved her a place in there. And mommy is coming too, she is going to be the new cook in the school. Cause mommy is a good cook, she sometimes makes pies that are so good, that... that... she can't even tell him! Mommy is right there by the way, she starts shoving her hand to the general direction behind her back, mommy owns all of these books, and she gets to give them to anyone she wants to!

When Katie's head spins around, and she finds her mother talking to aunt Sam, a cry escapes her lips, "Sammy!", the girl is up on her feet and running so fast, she forgets her book.

Sam turns around to face the girl, "Look who's here. I didn't know you went to this college?"

"I don't!", the girl is beaming. She loves Sam almost as much as she loves her mother, "I'm going to the witch college!"

"Oh right. Columbia then?", Sam and the friend exchange amused looks, and even snicker a little. And Brooke is wondering what is so funny.

And so is Katie. But she doesn't wonder for long. Too much excitement around, now that Sam is here, "Can you read Harry to me now, Sammy?"

"Sam has school work", Brooke answers before the brunette can open her mouth, "So are you still coming by tomorrow?", she directs the question to Sam.

"Sure", she nods and then smiles at Katie, "I'll read with you then, okay?", the girl just smiles, "Okay. We really gotta get to work now."

Brooke smiles too and watches quietly as the two students disappear behind the many shelves. She then turns to her daughter and frowns, "Didn't I tell you to leave the students alone Katie?", she says and points towards the table where the guy is now reading by himself.

"He asked me!"

"Right", Brooke doesn't believe her daughter for a second, "Now you're going to have to sit here with me for the rest of the evening", when the girl's face lights up with joy, Brooke feels the need to stricken the punishment, "Quietly."

"But he did", the girl tries once more, while rounding behind the desk.

"Shush now", Brooke is having none of it. The students don't usually mind the little girl. But she has gotten a couple of complaints. And it would be such an inconvenience if she couldn't bring Katie here anymore, "Read your book."

"Oh I..", Katie is a little taken aback by her mother's glare, "Forgot it there", she is pointing at the table.

Brooke turns to look and sees that the guy is now walking to their direction, with a book in his hand and a bag on his shoulder. When he gets closer Brooke recognizes the book as Katie's Harry book.

"Hey", the guy says, "You forgot this", he directs his words to the little girl who's still standing behind her mother, not sure what she's supposed to do.

"Thanks", Brooke answers and takes the book, "I'm sorry if she bothered you. It won't happen again."

"No, no", the guy says smiling, "Actually I started bothering her."

"See?!", Katie pipes up, quite happy that she has been cleared of all charges. But Brooke isn't budging, she gives her daughter a warning look and the girl shuts up again.

"I really did start it", the guy says again. This time Brooke looks at him a little better. He has a darkish and quite longish, shoulder length, hair. But despite that awful hair, he still looks pretty good. He has deep blue eyes and the smile is just adorable.

"Shame on you then", Brooke returns the guy's smile.

There's a short silent moment, while they both just keep smiling, "Listen, why don't I buy the two of you coffee to make it up?"

"Katie doesn't drink coffee."

"Coke then?", he tries again and turns to look at the girl, "Pepsi? Orange juice? Come on, you have to drink something!"

"Coke", the girl finally mumbles out.

"Coke. I like coke too", he says and turns back to Brooke.

"Good for you", she's getting a little annoyed at the guy, "But I have to work."

"What tme do you get off?"


"Oh", he says and the smile disappears, "Another time then, hey? I'm Thomas by the way."

When Brooke only nods he finally turns to leave. But only manages to walk a few steps before turning around again, "Look, I didn't mean to bother you. Just looked to me like you could've used a break", he says and sounds honest enough.

Brooke smiles at him again. She never goes out on dates anymore. It has been a long time she even met a guy who would've wanted to go out with her. Even if it was just for coffee. And that is mainly the reason she finally agrees, "Fine then. I could use a break tomorrow. Around four, at Caffe Reggio?"

The adorable smile is back on Thomas' face, "Is that a promise?"

"No, that's a threat. Reggio's is on MacDougal street, between..."

"West third and Bleecker, I know the place."

Brooke observes as the guy walks out. Even though he is an obnoxious ass, she has to admit he's also pretty good-looking. She turns around and hands the Harry book to it's owner and finds the girl staring at her with a weird gleam in her eyes, "What?", she asks.

"Sammy is coming tomorrow."

Oh yeah, Sam is coming tomorrow. Brooke shrugs, "We have time."

Shared Secret

The cafeteria. Brooke regrets coming to lunch the second she steps into the room. This is the one place where she can't avoid her friends. During classes she can pretend she's busy following the teaching, during breaks she can... well breaks are tough too. She usually heads for the study hall. But lunch is the worst.

And she can't turn back anymore. Nicole has already spotted her. Across the room. And of course the entire gang is there. Sitting at the same table as always. She wonders why they always sit at the same table, with the same people. It's so stupid, no one can be in the mood for the same company day after day after day. No one. But it made sense to her before.

Brooke gets in the line and hopes it'll take forever for her to get the food. But she's so late, there's really no line at all. Just a couple of kids in front of her. She turns to see what's on the menu and misses how the blonde at the table gets up and walks towards her. She also misses how a brunette at another table is keenly observing the whole event.

"Brookie. What's up?", Nicole surprises her from behind.

Slowly Brooke turns around and tries to smile, "Hi Nic. Nothing much", she starts to fidget.

Nicole is studying her every movement. Clinging onto her every word. The super blonde already knows she's hiding something, "Since when do you eat this garbage?", she asks and gives the lunch lady an evil look. Brooke is just about to answer when Nicole turns back to her, "Come on", she says and heads out of the cafeteria.

Brooke has little choice but to follow. But she really wasn't that hungry anyways. Still... she didn't even eat any breakfast. And her baby needs food. She promises herself she'll try harder, she'll eat more. She doesn't want to hurt her baby. It's not the baby's fault. Only she's to blame for the mess. And maybe that moron at the table too. Brooke glances over her shoulder once and sees how Josh is laughing at someone's joke. And how he's high-fiving Sugar Daddy.

She follows Nicole to the hallway and tries to keep up with the power walking blonde. They reach the Novak and the short hared girl opens the door for her. Brooke walks in giving her friend a weird look. It's confession time. But she isn't sure she can trust Nicole. Things she tells the girl tend to come out, one way or another. It's not always Nic's fault necessarily, but it's the way it is.

Nicole follows her in and let's the door swing shut. She then proceeds to check that the stalls are empty. They are. Brooke sighs and sits down on the sofa-thingy in the middle of the room, "So", Nicole says after she's sure the room is empty. Brooke looks up to her for a second and then back down, "Wanna let me in on the secret?"

"What secret?", she tries to buy time. She doesn't know whether to tell or not. Nicole doesn't answer. She knows perfectly well that Brooke knows perfectly well what she's talking about, "I'm not sure you want to hear this", the taller blonde finally says.

"Try me", her friend's voice is surprisingly comforting. It fits so badly in the girl's mouth, Brooke has to look up again. There is no way of telling when Nicole is being sincere and when she's just playing people. Even after a year of being best friends, spending almost every day together, Brooke still can't tell the difference, "Where'd you go yesterday?"

Brooke starts talking too fast. She doesn't pick her words carefully enough, "We had to... I mean I had to...", the words get stuck in her mouth.

"Who's we, Brooke?", Nicole is still talking with the sweet voice. But now she knows the girl is only trying to lure her into a trap. Now she knows she shouldn't tell the blonde anything.

"No one. Just me", she answers and crosses her hands.

"You and who else?", this time the sweetness is more strained. The voice is more demanding. More like the real Nicole. The door flies open and Sam steps in, "Come back later", the blonde says without even bothering to look who it is.

But Brooke is looking. And she's also thanking God for the interruption, "Sorry", Sam says and steps further in, "When you gotta go, you gotta go."

A smirk evolves into Nic's mouth when she realizes who it is. She crosses her arms and leans onto the sink, turning to face the brunette. She has guessed parts of it already. Nicole isn't stupid, she's quite clever in that evil way. But she doesn't say anything. Just waits, and makes Brooke all nervous. The tall blonde bows her head again, "Well, go then", Nicole finally urges Sam, when she isn't moving.

Sam hovers there for a second, not sure what to do. Then she walks to the first stall. Before she can get in though, Nicole talks again, "It's good that you were there for Brookie yesterday. Real nice of you Spam", she says and the smirk stays on.

Sam turns around, "You told HER?", she says before Brooke can stop her. And then it's too late.

"I didn't tell her anything", she sighs out the words, not looking up.

"Oh", Sam says after a pause.

"Okay. So let's see", Nic pushes herself up and starts slowly pacing back and forth, "Something traumatic. A secret meeting you didn't tell your daddy about. Or your friends, save little Sammy here...", she is talking with a confident voice. She knows she's gona guess it any moment now. And Brooke knows it too, "A couple of scenarios come to mind. But in light of the recent events I'd say...", Nicole turns around and looks straight at Brooke, who has also lifted her gaze, "You're pregnant."

Brooke's eyes give out nothing. Her expression gives out nothing. She knew what was coming so she could prepare herself for it. And her calmness throws Nicole off. The girl starts to second guess and the smirk disappears. But Brooke knows it's no use anymore. Better she come clean, than start denying it. So she finally nods.

And now there's three of them. And a shared secret... really is no secret at all.


"This coke is too cold mom. It hurts my teeth", Katie complains. She hasn't stopped complaining since they sat down. Every word is intended to show just how much she doesn't want to be there.

"Then don't drink it", Brooke answers with a sigh and another apologetic look to the guy across the table. The guy only smiles back.

"But I like it!"

"Ah well... then you just gotta make a choice, Catherine", she says and glances at her clock. It's twenty past four. Sam is coming around five. And Brooke doesn't want to miss Sam. They have important things to discuss. Like Josh's impending visit, "You can either drink it and suffer the pain. Or you can not drink it and be denied the pleasure."

The little girl bows her head and starts to mope. She hates it when her mother is all overly reasonable. Which is all the time!

"Catherine? Is that your full name?", mom's stupid friend starts begging for her attention again. Katie can't understand how someone who likes Harry Potter can be such an idiot in other ways!, "It's pretty."

"Only my mother can call me that", she says glowering at him under her brow, "You can't."

Brooke has had enough, "Excuse us", she says standing up and grabbing the girl by the hand, "We'll be right back", Brooke starts dragging the girl behind her and heads straight for the rest room. They gather a couple of looks from other occupants of the cafe.

Once out of sight, behind a corner, Brooke let's go of the girl's hand and turns to face her, "What is your problem? Can't you behave for a few lousy minutes?", Katie only looks away and refuses to answer, "Look at me when I'm..."

"When are we going home?", the girl's head suddenly swings back.

Brooke is a little taken back by the sudden reaction, "Soon", she answers shaking her head once, "Look if this is still about Sam, we have plenty of time", she goes on, remembering the reason for the girl's earlier crankiness.

"You promised I could fix your hair!", the girl screams. And Brooke is sure it carries over to the table. The guy is probably long gone by now.

"What do you want from me Katie?", she tries to reason with her daughter, "I promised Thomas I'd have coffee with him. I can't be in two places at once."

"You promised me first."

And, yeah, she did. And she knows she should hold up to the promises she makes for her daughter. Those should be the most important thing in her life. And so she smiles apologetically to the girl, "I know. I'm sorry", Katie only glares at her. She's still angry. Brooke kneels down and brushes a hand through the girl's blonde locks, "But could you, please, do this one thing for me? Only this, nothing more. And then we'll spend the rest of the weekend doing whatever you want", she tries to smile a happier smile.

Katie finally agrees to smile back, "Okay", she says, "I'll be the most nicest kitty here."

"That's all I ask", Brooke says standing up again. She takes a more gentle hold of the girl's hand this time and the two head back.

She's relieved to find Thomas still sitting at the table. It's not that she's especially interested in the guy. But the feeling of normality that comes with the idea of dating is so soothing. It makes Brooke feel more like she's part of this world. Not that it's a date of course... it's more like...coffee with a guy. But maybe it could evolve. Maybe the guy will ask her out. Maybe they'll fall in love. Get married...

"Everything okay?", Thomas asks and wakes Brooke from her daydreams.

"Uhhum", she nods and sits down with her daughter.

He smiles at Brooke and then turns to the girl, "I got you another coke", he says, "This one without ice."

"Thank you", Katie purrs and grabs the glass with both hands. She brings it closer and takes a sip from the straw. She then looks at her mother to make sure the woman notices her efforts.

Brooke smiles at the girl, "So, anyway, what do you study?", she asks from the guy.

"History", he replies immediately.

"Oh, that... sounds like..."

"Boring. I know", he finishes Brooke's sentence and flashes his adorable smile again.

"No, that's... that's not what I was gona say", Brooke quickly starts to argue.

"I was", Katie says and then immediately shuts up when her mother glares at her.

"It sounds like fun", Brooke says still looking at the girl. Then she slowly turns towards the guy and continues, "Learning about all those wars and things."

He chuckles a little, "Yeah. Wars are fun", he says, making Brooke regret her stupid comment, "But I'm actually specializing in cultural history. Not so much warring there."

She isn't sure if the guy is making fun of her, or if he's only being cute. She is so out of her element here. She doesn't know how to talk to this guy, "So what's that like then?", she finally asks, not lifting her gaze from her coffee cup.

Thomas proceeds to explain some aspects of his studies, while Brooke does her best to throw in some follow-up questions. It's not that she doesn't find the subject interesting, it's just hard for her to understand it all. And pretty soon she starts hoping she hadn't asked the question. Luckily Thomas notices her lack of enthusiasm and quickly finishes his lecture, "It really is interesting, once you get past all the boring introductory stuff."

Brooke smiles shyly and nods, "I'm sure."

"So how about you?", he asks.

"Me?", Brooke frowns.

"Yeah, what do you study?"

"Oh, I'm not a student", she answers shaking her head, "I just work at the library a few nights a week."

"Really?", Thomas sounds surprised, "I thought they only hired students there."

"I think they usually do", Brooke says. This awful feeling is growing in her. The guy probably won't want anything to do with her, when he finds out what a loser she is, "My... my sis...friend got the job for me."

"Oh", he says, "What do you do when you're not working there?"

"I'm a...", she says and clears her throat, "A waitress."

Thomas is silent for a while. Brooke doesn't dare to look up. She finishes her coffee with one big gulp and prepares to leave, "I guess that doesn't leave too much time to study", the guy finally says.

"Guess not", she answers, "Come on Katie, we gotta go", the girl's face lights up with joy because of the sudden prospect of departure, "This was real nice. Thank you Thomas", Brooke goes on and forces a smile. All she wants to do is get as far from here as possible, as fast as she can. And she's sure, that's all he wants too.

But she's wrong, "You have to go?", he sounds disappointed, "Could we like... do this again?"

"What?", Brooke frowns again when standing up.

"Maybe tomorrow? Or Sunday?", Thomas says with a hopeful look.

Brooke looks at him for the longest time. Trying to decide if he's serious or not. She finds no signs of deceit on his expression, "Sorry", she shakes her head. She promised her daughter, "We've reserved the weekend for some serious mother daughter bonding."

"Oh, you going to Hogwarts?", Thomas replies with a big grin. It is directed to Katie.

Brooke glances at the girl and finds her grinning back at the guy. And she herself is totally lost, "Excuse me?"

He shrugs his shoulders still grinning, "Go out with me again, and I'll tell you."

Brooke is getting more and more confused, "You are blackmailing me now?"

"How does Monday sound?", the guy goes on ignoring her words.

"I work late."


"I work late."


"Fine", Brooke finally agrees sighing deep, "But if you're this annoying then, it's gona be the last time", she bends to write down her phone number on a napkin, "Say bye bye Katie."

"Bye bye", the girl obeys waving her hand.

When Brooke straightens her back again, she smiles at him. And then walks away with her daughter.


Jane observes with concern as the blonde cheerleader prepares a sandwich. She knows something is wrong. Something is so very wrong with the girl. But she doesn't dare to ask. Her relationship with Mike's daughter is still on very shaky ground. Everything is still so new.

She started to notice the change last weekend. First it appeared in the form of agitation. Brooke would snap from the smallest irritation. And on couple of occasions she spotted the girl chewing her nails. Unheard of. The blonde strives for perfection when it comes to appearances. Not much unlike her father.

Then there was Monday. The girls came home because Brooke was supposedly sick. Only Jane got the idea it wasn't true. She knows Sam too well, she can tell when her daughter is lying. But she didn't press it since the whole thing obviously concerned Brooke, not Sam. It wasn't her problem as much as it was Mike's. Of course she cares for the blonde too... but it's not the same. She doesn't have the right to interfere in the girl's life.

And when she told Mike, how she thought something was eating his daughter, the man had only grumbled, "It's nothing. Brooke gets that way sometimes. She'll snap out of it soon", and Jane believed him.

But then this week brought on an even bigger change in the cheerleader. Brooke didn't get those anger attacks anymore. She became sadder, more secluded. And that is so unlike the girl, Jane doesn't even recognize her sometimes. Even when stressed out by school work, Josh, whatever, Jane has never seen Brooke withdraw into herself like this.

"Everything okay in school, Brooke?", she asks when she can't take it anymore.

The blonde tenses up from the interruption. She slowly finishes the sandwich and then turns around to face Jane, "Yeah... everything's... peachy", she says shrugging her shoulders.

Jane squints her eyes, "Are you sure?"

"Uhhum", Brooke starts nodding.

"Cause you can tell me, if something's wrong."

The blonde is getting annoyed. She looks silently at the woman for a few seconds, "Yeah", she then says in a mocking tone and turns her back to the woman again, "Why don't you drop the concerned mother act? I haven't had a mother in ten years, why would I need one now?", she goes on and places the sandwich on a plate.

"I'm not your mother, I know that", Jane isn't giving up, "But I could be like a... a friend or..."

"A friend who sleeps with my father? That's exactly what I need", Brooke says and prepares to leave the room. She turns around and looks at Jane once more, "Just give it a rest. I've got friends. More than I know what do with."

"Okay! I'm giving it a rest", Jane quickly blurts out when the blonde heads for the door, "But there's this other thing too."

"What?", Brooke stops but doesn't turn around.

"Your father's birthday. It's on Saturday."

"Yeah, so?", like she didn't know that. Just slipped her mind, is all.

Jane is also getting annoyed. She's trying to be nice to the girl, and this is the thanks? What a nice life she has ahead of her, "So what are we gona do about it?"

Couldn't care less is what Brooke wants to say, but doesn't, "Something small. Just the family."

"Are you sure?", Jane asks.

"Yeah", Brooke nods once and leaves the room. She knows perfectly well that her father would prefer a big party, but she just isn't up for it. She doesn't have the energy to plan something like that. She has enough problems already. With Nicole and Sam.

Jane watches after the cheerleader for a few moments, and takes a deep breath. What a God awful mess. Sometimes she hopes she'd never gotten involved with Mike. Sure she loves the man, even a lot some days. But all this other baggage that comes with it, is too much sometimes. The last thing she needs at this point of her life, is a stepdaughter, who's jealous of her father's love.

Well, one thing is for sure. Jane isn't getting any more involved in Brooke's problems. Let the McQueens sort their own lives.


Brooke is late again. So what else is new? Sam has gotten used to it by now. If Brooke isn't late for an appointment, she's at least rushing to it like crazy. In Sam's opinion it's all because of poor planning. All because the blonde makes her decisions in a hurry.

Sam gets up from the couch when she hears noises behind the front door. She reaches and turns off the tv, and then walks up to the door, "... the keys?", the brunette makes out the two quiet words through the door. It's Brooke's voice, the sweetest voice in the world.

"No mom", comes a higher pitched voice. It sounds real annoyed, "You NEVER give me the keys."

"Well, I'm sorry. I don't know where they are then", Brooke says.

"You just had them! When you opened the door downstairs!"

"Yeah, so?", the adult voice states, "What is your problem anyways, tiny one?"

"Don't! call me that!", the scream emits at the same time as Sam opens the door from the inside.

She let's it slide open slowly. The blonde woman comes to view first, and then the younger version of her a moment later. Sam has an amused grin on her face, the argument was quite adorable. And now the confused faces of the mother and the daughter only add to her enjoyment.

"You're late", she says and steps aside so the two can get in.

"Yeah, cause mom had a date", the little girl brushes past her and heads straight for her room, not even removing her clothes.

"Hey!", Brooke yells after the girl.

The girl flings around and squints her little eyes, "It was a date."

"Take off your shoes and your jacket", the blonde replies, undressing her own coat. Sam's look flips between the two McQueens, "And it was so NOT a date", Brooke adds quietly after a moment.

Sam walks back to the kitchen slash living room to hide her grin. Sometimes the two act more like squabbling sisters, than a mother and a daughter. She can hear the little one's low muttering carry over to her. The words are a jumble though.

"You know, maybe you should read more Catherine", even Brooke's voice is a tad strained, "Cause your vocabulary seems to be alarmingly small."

This time there is no reply. No verbal reply. Only a few stomping sounds and then a loud bang as a door is slammed shut. Sam sits back down on the sofa and wishes she'd picked a better day for the visit.

"Hey Sam", Brooke chirps as she passes by her and walks to the kitchen portion, "Sorry I'm late."

Sam only shrugs as a reply. Her eyes follow the blonde all the way. Her eyes have followed the blonde for so many years. And she never gets tired of it, "So you had a date?", she says and shakes her head slightly.

"It was not a date!", Brooke cries frustrated, "God!", she opens the refrigerator and retrieves a plate. Then she turns around to face Sam. There's a sheepish grin on the girl's face. And as she bows her head, she brushes a few stray hairs behind her ear, "More like a... a pre date...ish type of thing."

Okay... if Sam didn't know better, she'd swear the girl is smitten. But that can't be. Brooke hasn't so much as looked at a guy twice during the past six or so years.

"You hungry?", the blonde asks when Sam doesn't say anything. And even then the brunette only shakes her head as reply. She's lost in thought, "No? Okay. But I'm very disappointed in you."

"What?", Sam finally says, frowning.

"Well, I thought that's what you students do. You know, sponge of your parents", there's a smile playing on the blonde's lips as she turns around again, and places the plate in the microwave.

"So... what, you're like my mother now then?"

She can't see Brooke's face, but she knows the girl, woman, whatever, must be grinning, "Yeah, kinda. Dont'ya think so, Sam?", eh... no. Actually Sam doesn't think that. Actually, that sounds very disturbing to her. But it's only a joke... right?, "I mean, I have a regular job, and I'm raising a child", the blonde starts throwing of things from the top of her head, "I'm really the only adult figure in your life. So it's only natural that you depend on me."

"Adult...", Sam chuckles. She finally agrees to look away from the blonde. Her head turns towards the coffee table, and she spots a book on it. Sam leans forward and picks it up. Shakespeare. Brooke's reading Shakespeare? Since when?, "So this Hamlet thing is part of your `being an adult' program?"

Brooke doesn't answer at first. A low humming sound invades the room when she turns on the micro, "Oh...", her voice sounds embarrassed, "Yeah... I got interested when you and...", there's a short pause, "that friend... oh God, I forgot her name... anyway, when you..."

Sam turns to look at the drowning girl, who's lost in her own messed up head, "Yees?", she says, rather enjoying Brooke's flustered state of mind, "Me and..."

The blonde's face turns read, "Whatever", she mumbles and suddenly finds it necessary to watch how the invisible radiation waves are heating her dinner.

And Sam immediately regrets teasing the girl. But it still comes so naturally to her. Even after all these years, she still sees Brooke as the annoying, yet adorable, cheerleader, "So how are you liking it?", she asks after a few seconds.

"I'm not", the blonde answers right away, "It reads slow."

Sam opens up the book and skims ahead a few pages. There's a picture of Katie between the fourteenth and fifteenth page. Of course Brooke doesn't have enough time to read it, "Shakespeare is heavy stuff", the brunette agrees, and smiles at the little girl's picture, "And I don't think it's worth the effort", first it takes hours to read the book, then more hours to make sense of the weird use of words, and then even more hours to analyze the whole thing. And Sam can't see a single reason, why Brooke'd want to waste her time on that.

An eerie silence falls into the room. Only the quiet humming remains in the background. Sam doesn't know what else to tell the girl. So she keeps looking at the photograph. A sudden PING! sound rings through the air. Sam's head snaps up, and she finds herself staring at Brooke. Who's staring at her, but quickly looks away when caught.

"So anyway", the blonde opens the oven, "Josh is coming for a visit next week."

Oh no, "Josh?", Sam groans. She... dislikes the football..er so much.

"Uhhum", Brooke picks up the plate and places it on the kitchen table, "He wants to see Katie more, he says. I think it's good. For her I mean", there's only the smallest twinge of insecurity in the blonde's voice, that Sam can detect. But she knows Brooke sometimes fears, that Katie would prefer life with her father. Because of all the good things Josh can afford, "I was thinking... could you maybe...", the blonde is stuttering again, "Be there, when he comes?", she doesn't look up from the table. Too embarrassed to be asking it. Even though she has no reason to be.

"Sure", Sam answers with an upbeat voice. Trying to boost the girl's spirit, "Is Lily coming too?"

"No", Brooke shakes her head, "I mean yeah... I guess. Katie!", she screams all of sudden, taking Sam completely by surprise. The blonde lifts her gaze again, and looks at Sam. She gives a weak smile to the brunette, "You ever talk to her anymore? Or the others?"

Sam shrugs, "Not much. I see them sometimes when I visit... the parents."

Guilt flashes across Brooke's face. The last thing Sam wanted to see. It is SO not the blonde's fault. She has tried to tell it to the girl a million times.

"You going home for the Christmas?", she asks quietly.

"That was the plan", Sam answers with as weak a voice, "I kinda promised mom."

Brooke nods at Sam once. And looks serious. Then she forces herself to smile a little, and nods again. Sam smiles back. There's another awkward silence. Which is broken by another shout from the blonde, "Katie!", she calls again.

"I'm here", the little girl answers from the doorway. Both the women turn to look at her.

"Oh... good", Brooke says, "Your food's getting cold."

Sam smiles at the girl, as she strolls towards the table, "Aren't you eating mom?", Katie asks, when she sees that there is only one plate. Brooke doesn't answer, "Macaroni and cheese, AGAIN?", the girl goes on when she sits on the chair.

"I would really stop whining right about now, if I were you", the mother glares at her daughter.

Silence falls into the apartment. Sam observes how Brooke pours milk for Katie, and how the girl slowly starts to shovel the food into her mouth.

After a while the silence gets too heavy for Brooke. She takes a deep breath and looks at Sam, "Do you want coffee Sam?", she asks. Sam shakes her head. But Brooke still proceeds to make some.

"You just drank coffee mom!", Katie protests fiercely, "Sam, tell mom too much coffee isn't healthy!"

"Too much coffee isn't healthy, mom", Sam grins at the little girl, who grins back.

But Brooke isn't amused. She sighs heavily, "Neither is too little. It gives mom a headache", she replies bluntly, and loads up the coffee maker, "Are you sure, you don't want anything Sam? Cause we have so much stuff. Like cookies and..."

"Macaroni and cheese", Katie can't resist the temptation when her mother hesitates for a second. It costs her an evil glare, but nothing more.

Sam feels the need to step in for the mother's defense. Brooke sure doesn't deserve such disrespect from her own daughter, "You really shouldn't make fun of your mom's cookings Katie. She used to make dinner for us even back in California."

Brooke's back is still turned to the two. But Sam sees how her shoulders slump slightly. Katie doesn't see it though. Instead she just goes on and on, "I bet she didn't make macaroni every single day."

And Sam sees how the blonde's hand raises up and wipes away what, she's almost certain, are tears. The woman clears her throat, "I gotta go to the bathroom", she mumbles, flipping on the coffee maker. Brooke exits the room rapidly, making sure to hide her face from the both of them.

Sam looks after the blonde for a time. And then at the daughter. Who appears quite oblivious to what has just passed.

The brunette stands up, and makes her way to the table, "Why you being so hard on your mother, little girl?", Katie only bows her head in shame for response, "Hmm?"

"I'm not", the girl whispers quietly.

"Yes you are", Sam presses on.

There's a short silence while Katie gathers her thoughts. Sam waits patiently, "She promised we spend today with you", she still talks in the quiet voice. Sam has to strain to hear everything, "And then she just forgets everything cause she wants to go on a date."

The girl feels betrayed. She feels like she's been let down, "But you're spending the day with me", Sam says and smiles, "Well... at least the evening."

Another silence, "But I don't want her dating. What if they get married? And he moves in here?", Katie's eyes are wide open as she lifts her head up, "There's not enough room here!"

Sam resists the urge to start laughing. Oh, the stupid fears that plague little children!, "They won't get married", she says and keeps smiling. The girl opens her mouth to intervene, but Sam quickly goes on, "And even if they did, you have nothing to worry about. Your mother will never love anyone or anything as much as she loves you. You should know that by now."


"Yeah", Sam repeats, "But you can't say such evil things to your mom. Cause sometimes she hurts too."

"I didn't mean to", Katie whispers and bows her head again. She does it exactly the way her mother does. And always when she is sorry. Or she hurts. Just like her mother. She doesn't want anyone to see it. Sam reaches out her hand and gives the girl's curls a soft brush. Katie keeps playing with her food, not looking up, "Sammy", she says, "My food is cold."


Thanks for reading,

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