Title: Forever Young

| The Morning After | In Preparation | Made Fun | After The Party |

Author: Megan

Email: shy_grrl@hotmail.com

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

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.

Author's notes: I've altered some of the characters pretty much, namely Mike and Jane. Also, I still don't know New York that well, though I now have an idea that a girl in Brooke's situation couldn't afford to live in Greenwich Village. But let's pretend she can. Special thanks goes to Carla for all the cool NY pointers and facts. You've been a tremendous help.

The Morning After

Author's Note: I think it's closer to a year, I started this series. And I think it'll be closer to another year, before it's finished. So, don't read, if you're not into unfinished stories.

Again, extra special thanks to Carla, who's NY information, and encouraging feedback in general have had a major effect on this story. I only hope one day I'll be able to give her something back.


"You're crazy, Brooke," Nicole says. She's sitting by Brooke's desk, scanning through a fashion magazine.

Brooke didn't know, she still had fashion magazines in her room. She thought, she'd stopped reading them about a week ago, when her life changed. Though, maybe Nicole brought it with her.

"Just give the little maggot up for adoption," the short hared blonde goes on, "Trust me, it's best for all parties involved. How do you think the child will feel, once it finds out you gave up your own life for it?" Nicole says. She lifts her head, and gives Brooke a knowing look, "That's right. Guilty!"

Brooke frowns from her seat at the bed, and ponders on this new point of view. It's a possibility, of course. But she wouldn't be giving up her life! Who's to say, she can't have a happy life with her child? Just the two of them. Maybe it's not what she planned, but there certainly isn't any shame in it.

Nicole turns back to the magazine, and flips another page, "Besides," she says, "This half-assed plan of yours... never gona work. What do you know about real life? You'll be running back home within a week."

"I won't," Brooke whispers. She's sure of herself, but she doesn't want to argue with Nicole. It's pointless. She knows the girl will only become more adamant about her stand, the more she tries convincing her otherwise.

"You won't?" the other girl laughs pompously as she closes up the magazine, and tosses it aside, "Well, chew on this then," she says, "Where're you gona have it? You go to a hospital, and they'll call your dad in a second."

Brooke has thought about it. A lot. And she has the answer. She's watched ER enough times to know how easy it is, "Not if I don't give out my real name."

"They'll call the cops," Nicole answers immediately, "Or the social workers."

"Please," Brooke smirks, and glances at her friend under her brow, "They'll rip the baby out of me, and throw me back on the street, before I can say `thanks'."

Nicole falls silent, but keeps studying her. Brooke isn't sure, why the girl wants her to give up this plan. It should be everything, Nicole has wanted all along. Brooke'd be out of the way, leaving the shorter blonde as the undisputed queen of Kennedy High. But then again, if Brooke stayed, and had the baby here, that would also destroy her social status. Even more. She'd be humiliated in front of the entire school. If she leaves, there's a chance her memory will still live on.

Finally, after two silent minutes, Nicole sighs, and leans forward in the chair, "Is that thing gona do something, or am I gona have to sit here all day?"

"Sorry," Brooke answers. She places a hand on her tummy, "It doesn't seem to be very active today."

"How far along are you, anyway?"

"About two months," Brooke answers, "Why?"

Nicole rolls her eyes, and leans back, "Brooke... I don't think you can feel it move at that age."

"No. I definitely felt something last night," she starts furiously shaking her head. She had to feel the baby! It was such a magical moment. Concrete proof, that she, in fact, is pregnant.

Nicole glares at her, and folds her arms across her chest, "It was probably your stomach crumbling," the girl says, "Eat something, for God's sake! You should be gaining weight, not losing it."

"I'm not losing weight!" Brooke shouts, losing control for a second. She quickly breathes deep, and closes her eyes. The truth is, she did actually lose a pound or two last week. But it was just the excitement, that was ruining her appetite! "Sometimes you sound just like Sam," she says, after calming down a bit.

Nicole is quiet for some ten seconds. Her mouth twists into a kind smile, when she slowly stands up. And Brooke is baffled by it. Nicole's smiles are almost never kind, "Oh, hey, if you're gona start insulting me, I'm leaving!" the blonde says, faking offended, "Look..." she says, "I've gotta go now, but promise me you won't do anything stupid?"

"Like what?" Brooke asks.

"Like run away," Nicole furrows her brow, and shakes her head slightly, "There's gotta be a better way."

Brooke keeps studying her friend silently. She's starting to realize telling Nicole was a mistake. Whatever her motives may be, she's obviously strongly against Brooke leaving. And that's not good. Nicole isn't in the habit of respecting other people's wishes, when she thinks she knows best. Finally, Brooke replies with a nod, "Yeah. I'm sure there is," she says, and smiles winningly, "It was just a thought anyway."

Nicole looks skeptically at her for a while longer, and then turns to leave, "Bye," she says.

"Yeah, bye," Brooke answers, and watches her go. And watches the door close behind the blonde. She hopes her words sounded honest enough to fool Nicole.

Sighing deep, Brooke again graces her stomach with her hand. She wonders, whether Nicole was right about the baby. That she couldn't possibly have felt it moving yet. Maybe it was just her imagination then. It's also very troubling, that Nicole would know more about pregnancies, than her. She does have a couple of books, tucked away under her pillow, but she hasn't gotten much reading done.

Brooke shakes her head fast a couple of times, and clears her thoughts. More pressing matters, she needs to attend to now. Like her father's birthday dinner, she promised to cook.

In the hallway, outside Brooke's room, Nicole moves towards the stairs in a rapid pace. But she stops short, when she passes another door. Hesitating a moment, she quickly knocks on it three times. The answer takes a while, but when it finally comes in the form of an invitation, she opens the door and steps inside.


Brooke slouches down the street, trying to keep an eye on Katie, who is joyfully skipping some ten yards ahead of her. It has been a dreadful morning for her. She only got a few hours of sleep, and woke up to find she'd caught a bit of a cold from yesterday's skating trip. The only thing she had felt up to doing was to lie in bed all day.

But Sunday is church day. And Brooke promised herself a long time ago, she'd give her daughter some sort of a grasp on religion. No matter, how small. They have been going to church every Sunday since. She never thought herself a religious person before, but with a child she found it easier to believe in something. It gives her strength, at times, when she just wants to give up. Katie doesn't seem to think about it that much herself. The girl always whines, when they have to leave for church, but once there, she sits patiently through the mass. Sometimes even asks Brooke questions afterwards.

Katie stops running, and turns around to wait for her mother, "Did you sleep in the church, mom?" she asks.

"What?" Brooke furrows her brow, when she reaches the girl. She pauses for a second, and then, with a tiny nudge on her shoulder urges Katie to keep moving, "Of course not!" she says, outraged by the allegation.

"I think I saw you sleeping," Katie insists, glancing up at her.

Brooke shakes her head furiously, "I did not sleep!" she forcefully argues back, "Now, pipe down."


"Here," Brooke interrupts Katie quickly, and digs out their house keys from her pocket, "Why don't you run ahead, and open the door?" she says, handing the keys down to her daughter.

Katie studies her hand dubiously for a while, "Really?!" she asks, and attempts to grab the keys.

Brooke whisks them out of Katie's reach, "You can run to the street corner," she points down the walkway, "And you'll wait for me there," she goes on, and looks down at the girl, "Right?"

"But I can't..."

"Right?!" Brooke forcefully asks. Katie nods a little reluctantly, "And when I get there, THEN you can run to the house."

"Okay," Katie nods her head in a grand motion, and snatches the keys, when Brooke lowers her hand, "Hurry up then!" the girl excitedly shouts, and rushes off.

Brooke starts to follow slowly behind. She keeps a keen eye on the girl's every movement. And pushes back the urge to run after, when Katie passes the point where she can't get to her in a matter of seconds anymore. She has to let go. But it hurts so much.

Katie reaches the street corner, and Brooke prepares to bark another command, if the girl suddenly decides to disappear behind the building. Katie takes a long glance along Houston street, towards their home, before turning to face Brooke again, "It's Sammy, mom! She's here!" her daughter shouts, and sprints out of her sight.

"Katie! Don't...!" Brooke yells, and curses her daughter's ten second long attention span in her mind. How hard is it to follow direct orders? She told her to wait in the corner! It really shouldn't be too much to ask... did she say Sammy?

Brooke picks up her pace, and half runs to the corner. Katie's already made her way closer to thirty yards down the street. She's roped her arms around one of her aunt Sam's legs, and is excitedly staring up at her face. Sam smiles briefly at the girl, gives her hair a quick brush, and then fixes her eyes on Brooke. They're a long way apart, but Brooke still sees the familiar kindness and strength radiating from the brunette. She knows Sam would die for her daughter. And she feels ashamed of her thoughts from the previous night. How could she think Sam would be a bad influence on her daughter? No one, who loves her that much, could be bad for her.

An involuntary smile escapes Brooke's lips, when she starts to walk towards the two. She breathes deep, and lets herself relax again. So, Sam is gay. Good for her. It doesn't have to change a thing between them.

"... you?" Sam's voice carries over to Brooke, and she manages to unscramble the last word.

"In church," Katie answers nonchalantly. She disentangles herself from the brunette, and glances back at her mother.

Brooke reaches them, and gives a short disciplinary glower back to her, "Hey, Sam," she says, slowly moving her eyes to the taller figure.

"Brooke," Sam replies bluntly, "How was church?"

"Fine..." she starts to answer.

"Mom slept the whole time..." Katie is quick to blow the whistle on her.

"I did not sleep!" Brooke huffs, between brief glances at the both of them, "God!" she exclaims, annoyed by her daughter's infuriating stubbornness.

"Whoops!" Sam cheerily quips, "I think you just broke rule number three."

"What?" she shakes her head in confusion, and frowns at the brunette.

"You know? The third commandment? Thou shalt not..."

"Shut up," Brooke cuts in, only slightly irritated anymore. Sam's cutesy behavior usually manages to soothe her down. But she holds onto her fierce expression, and doesn't let on her amusement.

"I saw you, mom," Katie still insists, "You had your eyes closed!"

"I was concentrating on the sermon, like you should've been. Instead of ogling at other people."


"No buts! You just lost your dessert, young woman," Brooke presses on. It is important to let the kid know, who's in charge at all times. Even if she might've, just for a second, dozed off, "What are you even doing here? Shouldn't you be busying yourself with the door?" she goes on, nodding towards the stairs that lie some ten feet down the road.

Katie glares at her under her brow, and then turns to go. Quietly muttering something about them never having dessert. Which is almost true. Brooke follows her distancing back, and then fixing the strap of her bag better on her shoulder, looks at Sam again.

"You tired?" the girl asks with an honest enough look in her eyes, "I could take Katie for the rest of the day, if you wanna catch up on your sleep?"

"No, I'm okay," Brooke sighs, and smiles gratefully, "Just wish the church was a bit closer."

Sam frowns slightly, and shifts her gaze past Brooke, down the road, "I don't understand, why you insist on going there. St. John's is just five blocks from here. I could even come there with you sometimes."

Brooke studies the brunette quietly for a few seconds. Sam's eyes eventually return to her, and demand the silence be broken. She shakes her head curtly, "No," she says, "I'm catholic, I wanna go to a catholic church."

"St. John's is catholic."

"It's Episcopalian," Brooke throws out a religious term off the top of her head.

Sam frowns, and shakes her head quickly, "What does that even mean?" she asks.

"I don't know. You're the one with the brains," Brooke says.

"But you're the zealot..."

"I'm not a zealot!" she angrily interrupts the brunette. Just because she goes to church every Sunday, doesn't make her a fanatic.

"Mom!" Katie's voice cuts in, before Brooke can work herself into a frenzy, "I can't get the door open!" the girl shouts from the top of the stairs, gaining the attention of both the women, "Which key is it?"

"Look," Brooke says in a cooler tone, and starts heading towards her daughter with Sam by her side, "I know you prefer St. John's, because it's a lot more progressive. But I like the traditions..."

"Wait a second," Sam says, and stops her by grabbing her shoulder, "I what?! For your information, I don't go to any church. Ever."

Brooke glances at Sam, and bows her head down, "I... I know," she shakes her head, "But if you did, you'd want to go there. Cause they're a lot more open-minded there. And..." her voice trails off, when she doesn't know how to finish her thought.

Sam waits patiently, and then urges her to go on, "And...?"

"And, I know you like that kind of stuff," Brooke manages to stutter. She doesn't know how to ask the right questions. It shouldn't even be up to her. Sam should be telling her these things without asking. When did they start having secrets again, anyway? And why isn't Sam telling her? Is she putting out some judgmental front, she isn't aware of?

"Mom!" Katie again shouts.

They're standing at the foot of the stairs, and Brooke turns to look at Sam, "You wanna come in?" she asks, and then frowns, "Why are you even here, by the way?"

"I didn't have anything planned for the day, so I thought I'd come see you," Sam shrugs. There's still a slightly puzzled expression on her face, "Brooke, what do you mean...?"

Sam never gets to finish her question, when Brooke swings around, and starts ascending the stairs, "So, what? The door's giving you a hard time?!" she exclaims to her daughter, "Want me to kick it in for you?" Katie just nods.

Sam remains standing on the street, and observes the mother, daughter duo quietly. She sees how Brooke helps the girl pick out the right key. Helps her to slide it inside the lock. And helps her to turn it. And she sees the excited grin on Katie's face, when she pulls the door open. And she's amazed, not for the first time, just how great a mother Brooke turned out to be. Who would've thought? The ridiculous idea had disaster written all over it.

"Isn't Sam coming?" Katie's quiet voice carries over to her.

Brooke's eyes turn towards her again. She's holding the door open, and smiling.

And Sam lets go off the nagging thought. It slowly sinks down, and settles on a comfy spot in the back of her mind. Deep down, Sam knows, that Brooke knows. But she won't bring it up today. She wants to spend a nice, fun Sunday with the blonde and her daughter.

In Preparation

Author's Notes: Sorry about the lax pace, with which I'm writing this. The story just holds a special place in my heart, and I won't do anything to ruin it. That means, I won't force it, if it doesn't wanna be told. On another note, thank you Carla. I couldn't write this without your help.


Boil this, chop that. Knead the dough, fry the fish.

Brooke's been cooking a long time. She doesn't consider it much of a chore anymore. She even likes it sometimes. A good way to clear her mind of disturbing thoughts. When she's cooking, there're so many things to remember, it doesn't leave much time to think about babies, or giving birth to them. She has to concentrate on not cutting off her finger instead.

And that is important right now. To not think about her problems, and focus on her dad. She has to be on a cheery mood all through the dinner. And whatever awkward party games Jane has come up with. Charades probably. Or scrabble. Something like that. Brooke can just imagine his father's incredulous face, when he finds out they don't have some grand party planned, with his fifty closest relatives slash friends slash coworkers. Just the four of them. And with any luck, Jane might even have something intimate planned for the two after dinner, thus giving the girls the night off.

So, Brooke cooks for the better part of the afternoon. Jane comes in a couple of times to see how she's doing, and to offer her help. No, need. Thanks, though, Brooke kindly refuses, and keeps a nice smile on her face. Closer to four o'clock, when she's putting the finishing touches on the salad, and waiting for the rolls to be done in the oven, Sam enters. With a strangely devious look in her eyes.

"How's it going?" the brunette asks.

"Fine," Brooke answers with a slight nod. She glances towards the girl, and moves over to the oven.

"Keeping busy, I see," Sam says.

Brooke pauses for a second, before putting on a mitten, "Did you want something, Sam?" she asks, and retrieves the plate of baked rolls. She turns off the oven.

"I had, what you might call, an interesting little... rendezvous," Sam talks slowly, drawing Brooke's attention, and making her nervous, "With Nicole."

"What?" she whispers in a daze.

"Yeah, she stopped by in my room. After your talk."

Brooke stares at her stepsister with a half open mouth, and starts grasping at straws, "That's not a rendezvous, Sam," she still talks in the same, slightly disoriented voice, "You should know that, if you wanna grow up to be a..."

"Whatever!" Sam rudely cuts her off in mid sentence, "The point is, she told me."

And Brooke quiets down. She closes her mouth, and wishes she were alone in her room. Away from the annoying brunette, and the stupid advice that is sure to follow. Nicole told Sam? How could that happen? They don't talk. Period.

"And I suppose, you're here to lay down the law?" Brooke finally responds with disdain in her voice. People should just let her live her own life.

"Damn straight, I am," Sam verifies, "Don't think for a second, I won't tell on you if you leave."

Brooke glances at the girl under her brow. And to think, that for a moment last night, she was prepared to tell Sam everything. And she fully expected the brunette to even understand. Clearly the pregnancy has taken its toll on her brain power.

"You promised to let me do this my way," she says uncertainly. And winces a second later. She should've denied it straight up. Not start arguing.

"And you promised to tell me, what you were up to," Sam vehemently replies, "What ever happened with that?"

Brooke glares at the brunette briefly before turning her back. She starts tossing the rolls off the plate, and into a small basket, taking care not to burn her fingers, "I don't know, what Nicole told you..." she starts saying.

"She told me, you had some stupid ass plan to run away," Sam quite clearly states.

"I don't have any plans," she goes on, after a short hesitation, "It was just something that came up in a conversation. An idea. In fact, I think Nic's the one who brought it up," she lies quite convincingly. Sure, Sam will no doubt check it up with Nicole now, and learn the truth. But this way, Brooke'll have a leg to stand on. Doesn't Sam trust her?! How could she then trust the brunette?!

"That's not what she said," Sam answers after a while.

Brooke only shrugs her shoulders, "Yeah, well," she says, and turns around again, holding the basket in her hand.

Sam isn't happy, but doesn't get a chance to bug her more, when Jane walks in, "Everything ready?" the woman asks with a bright smile on her face, "I just called Mike. He should be here in ten minutes."

Brooke smiles back. She finds it fascinating, the way Jane absolutely radiates joy at times, "Good. Right on time," she says, and glances at the younger brunette, "Mind getting the salad, Sammy?" she is quite experienced at putting on a show for her dad's benefit. Or for anyone's benefit, for that matter. She didn't become the most popular girl in school by showing her real moods, after all.


Brooke carries a cup of coffee in each of her hands over to the couch. She exchanges smiles with Sam, who looks up when she hears her coming, "Sorry, I was all out of sugar," she says, hurriedly setting the cups down on the table. She quickly retrieves a handkerchief from her pocket, and sneezes in it.

"God bless you," Sam says with a smirk, and Brooke gives her another smile.

She sits down on the other end of the couch, and glances at the small girl on the floor, "Someone was supposed to remind me to buy more," she says. The snide is wasted though, as Katie is too deep into her drawing to notice it.

"It's okay," Sam says, following Brooke's gaze to the girl, before picking up the cup of coffee, "So, what time do you want me at the diner tomorrow?" she asks.

Brooke doesn't answer at first. She's lost again, amazed by her daughter's beauty. And when the question finally registers in her mind, it's still a physical effort for her to remove her eyes from the girl. Finally, she does though, and finds Sam staring back at her, "Umm... four," she mutters, closing her eyes for a second, "Did I tell you four before?" she opens them again, and looks puzzled, "I wrote it down, but..."

"I think you said four," Sam quickly intervenes. She was just making small talk anyway, and already knew the answer. Though, she should've guessed, Brooke had forgotten the time herself. Wasn't it always so?

"Oh, and you know what would be a huge help? If you could pick up Katie at the kindergarten, and bring her there."

"Sure," Sam nods her head.

"Yeah? That would be so great," Brooke again smiles. She leans forward and picks up her coffee, "Lily's coming too, by the way."

"She is?" Sam is genuinely surprised. And just a bit hurt, that Lily hasn't informed her. Granted, they haven't seen each other a lot in the recent years, but that's no excuse. They are still old childhood friends, and it feels like a breach of that contract.

Katie finally sets down the crayon, and looks up from her masterpiece, "Who's Lily?" she asks frowning.

Brooke rolls her eyes and sighs extravagantly, "You have the memory of a five-year old!" she exclaims, "We've gone this over a million times? You even met her a couple of years ago?" Katie's expression doesn't change, and Brooke gets the feeling the girl is only playing her. She can't have that bad a memory. In fact, it's quite remarkable at times. Though, maybe it's just selective, "She's married to your dad."

"Aren't dads supposed to be married to moms?" Katie finally lets the frown go.

"Tsh. Hardly," Sam snorts. And Brooke shoots a glare her way, but the brunette doesn't see it. She's looking at Katie, "When you get older, you'll see moms and dads rarely even get along."

"Don't tell her that!" Brooke angrily shouts, and turns her gaze to the girl, "Don't listen to her, Katie. Moms and dads are most certainly supposed to be married!"

"Not even, Brooke," Sam cuts in, "Have you seen the latest studies? More than..."

"I don't need to see any goddamn studies to know what's right!" Brooke's flushed face flips back to the brunette.

"Oh, yeah, I forgot. Miss McQueen is always right, and everybody else is always wrong," Sam replies, trying to keep her voice down, despite the aggravation.

"Exactly," Brooke nods, "As far as Katie's concerned, I'm always right."

Sam winces at the smug tone in the blonde's voice, "That's a healthy attitude," she says mockingly.

"Well, it's healthier than your man-hating..." Brooke starts to say, but quickly shuts up before going too far. God, how Sam can still get under her skin, and make her lose her temper. She hardly ever loses her temper anymore.

"What?" Sam asks incredulously, "My WHAT?!"

"Nothing," Brooke mutters. She slowly turns towards Katie again, and finds the little girl still sitting on her knees, with her hands crossed in front of her. And her mouth gaping, and blue eyes witnessing the extraordinary event in front of her.

Sam also turns to look at Brooke's daughter, and decides to drink her coffee instead of pressing the matter. But she also knows, that sooner or later she'll have to press it. God only knows, how she found out, but it's painfully clear to Sam now, that Brooke knows she's gay. And she is obviously having problems dealing with it.

"So, what'd you draw anyway?" Brooke asks sighing. She stands up, and places her still full cup back on the table. Katie's gaze follows her all the way, and the girl has to bend her head backwards as far as it goes, when Brooke takes the two steps and comes to stand right beside her. Her daughter's mouth is still gaping, and the blue eyes are very much confused, "Hmm?" Brooke intones, and sits down. She pulls Katie closer to her with one hand, and picks up the drawing from the floor with the other.

Katie eventually releases her mother from the stare, and turns to look at her work, "That's you," she points at a figure on the lower portion of the picture. Standing next to a black cauldron, and dressed in a white cloth. With a big ladle in her hand.

Katie draws very good for her age. Or so Brooke at least suspects. She doesn't know for sure, but with the amount of time the girl spends huddled over a piece of paper, she sure hopes so. The people in her drawings aren't unrecognizable stick figures. And with the items, she can actually tell what they are. And the girl has an exceptional patience for detail when it comes to drawing.

"And that's me and Sammy flying with brooms," Katie goes on, moving her finger upwards.

Brooke smiles a little, "I'm stuck down there, making dinner, while you go off and act like you're some kind of Harry Potter?" she says, quietly wondering if she should feel so bad that her daughter sees her as the cook. While aunt Sammy gets to fly around with brooms.

"You like making dinner," Katie states nodding her head, "Look. You're smiling."

Brooke takes a better glance, and notices the cook's red mouth is turned upwards. But the eyes look strangely empty, "Looks more like I'm sleeping," she says.

"Maybe you're just concentrating real hard," Sam puts in quietly. Her tone is settling, and when Brooke turns to look they exchange short smiles. It isn't hard to make up with Sam. Not like it was, when they were younger. They're both much more willing to swallow their pride, and accept blame now. They've grown up. And Brooke truly appreciates the effort Sam makes in front of Katie. It's important to show the girl everything is all right, despite the brief argument "Show your mom the picture, you showed me before, Katie."

Katie glances at Sam shortly, before reaching over to the table and picking up another paper. She brings it closer, and Brooke takes hold of one of its corners. There's a blonde hared girl in it, standing on skates, with her arms high up in the air. Lots of faces in the background, and bouquets of flowers on the ground, and in the air.

Brooke cannot help but smile, as she pulls her daughter into a tight hug. She looks at Sam again, and feels her eyes watering up. Only Sam ever knew of her ridiculous dream of winning a figure skating competition. Only Sam, and now her daughter.

Made Fun

The dinner crawls by like so many others before it. There's food, there's drinks, there's chitchat. It isn't awkward or especially strenuous. It's a nice dinner with the family. Brooke receives lots of compliments on her cooking and she accepts them all with a gracious smile. She knows she's good, no need to go overboard. Her father seems genuinely touched by her efforts and not in the least bit disappointed by the lack of over the top festivities. Brooke soon relaxes and, to her own surprise, even enjoys it. It's been ages since she last had a good time with her family. There's a feeling of real closeness and warmth. And for the first time it occurs to her that maybe everything would be all right, if she just had the baby here. Maybe leaving would be a mistake.

Brooke doesn't talk much, but mainly just listens and observes. And wonders, why now, all of a sudden, it seems like Sam and her father are on their way of becoming friends. When up till this dinner she hasn't seen any signs of it. They do most of the talking. Debate on some issues, agree on others and basically just get along. And would it really change anything, if there was a feeding chair next to her with a small baby in it?

Jane volunteers to help her clear the table, when they're done eating, "You were right, Brooke," the woman says in the kitchen. She turns on the faucet and starts rinsing the plates, "This was just perfect."

"Yeah?" Brooke replies with a small smile, "I guess it was okay. Dad seemed to like it, right?"

"Sure. I think he's having great fun," Jane says. She glances at the blonde briefly, "And it was nice to see you...." she starts saying, but then quiets down and just shrugs her shoulders.

"What?" Brooke encourages her.

Jane glances at her again and then stammers slightly embarrassed, "Well, I was gona say, it was nice to see you smiling for a change." When Brooke doesn't answer immediately an awkward silence descends into the room. And then Jane breaks it, "You've just seemed a little stressed lately."

"Oh... yeah... Well, it's just been a rough week in school," Brooke finally talks. She tries smiling to the woman again, but when it fails she quickly decides to escape back into the dining room, "I'll go get the rest of the plates," she says.

"Tell Sam to help too," Jane throws in before she's out the door.

Brooke mutters a quiet response. Jane's remark put a small dent in her good mood. It made the whole situation too real again. It is easy to imagine everything work out in her own head. But as soon as she introduces real people into the equation it gets much more difficult. The same as with the running away plan. Sure she can picture herself alone with the baby in some cozy little apartment, completely happy. But sometimes, when she's out and she thinks about leaving that exact moment, she sees herself ALONE. With the BABY. In some back alley. Freezing to death.

There's a quiet moment in the dining room, when Brooke reenters it. She moves closer and collects the plates from her and Jane's places, while Sam and her father silently study her. She tries to come up with something to say. But when she can't think of anything she just gets ready to leave.

That is before her father's words make her change her mind, "So, how did that article on teen pregnancies work out, Sam?" he asks.

Brooke's gaze flies to the brunette, who seems slightly uncomfortable under the scrutiny, "Fine..." Sam stutters at first, "I... mean... actually, you know what? I didn't even do it."

"Really?" Mike is a little confused by the contradicting answers.

"Yeah... it doesn't seem to be that big of a problem around here..." Sam mutters, bowing her head down for a second. And then lifting it up with renewed vigor, "But just out of curiosity, what do you think would be the best thing to do under such circumstances?" Sam asks, ignoring the daggers Brooke is shooting her way. It's an innocent enough question seeing as how Mike brought the subject up. Even if Sam's motives aren't completely innocent.

"You mean with an unwanted pregnancy?" he asks and waits for Sam's nod before going on, "Well, I would say abortion. Or adoption. It certainly isn't worth throwing your life away."

There's a short silence, during which Sam really has to fight not to look smugly at Brooke, "That's a little harsh, dad," the blonde joins the conversation. And Sam has to give credit to the girl, the voice is very noncommittal. Like it wasn't at all a personal subject to Brooke, "Isn't the baby worth something too? I mean, you can't just throw it away like garbage."

Mike turns towards his daughter, "I happen to think the baby would be better off too. I mean let's face it, teenagers wouldn't exactly make for the most reliable parents," he talks casually.

"I happen to think you're wrong," Brooke answers, and now there is an irate edge to her voice, "And you also said abortion. Do you HAPPEN to think the baby would be better off dead too?" she asks.

Mike frowns a little, realizing the matter isn't as casual as he thought. His daughter seems to have quite a strong opinion on this one. But still not fully appreciating how strong, he answers nonchalantly, "In most cases, yes, I do think the baby would be better off if it was never born."

Brooke stares at him sourly, "That's cold," she says quietly. Letting her eyes sweep over Sam she turns and leaves. Missing the well hidden satisfaction on the brunette's face.


"It isn't my fault!" Katie whines, when her aunt Sam yanks her arm again and forces her to start running, "You said we were in a hurry and I forgot!"

"We were in a hurry!" Sam answers. She quickly glances both ways down the street and then leads the little girl across it, "Thanks to your lousy memory, we're now dead late! Why do you need a scarf anyway? It isn't even that cold."

"Mom said I needed it, when we left in the morning," Katie grumbles. She doesn't understand how it's her fault! Sammy's the one who kept rushing her to put on her clothes at the kindergarten, without leaving her any time to think. Is it any wonder then, that she forgot the scarf? No! And then Sammy didn't even let her open her mouth when she remembered it on the street. When she finally got in a word they were already a block away. That's when Sam got mad, "What does dead late mean, Sammy?" Katie asks when they're safely across the road.

"It means your mom is gona kill us, if we don't get to the diner before your dad."

Three blocks away, in a place called `Corner Diner', the mom in question sits in the booth closest to the entrance and harbors those very thoughts in her mind. She wanted Sam to be there for a reason. For moral support, but also so that they would avoid the MOST uncomfortable silences Brooke has ever experienced. Sam knows these people, knows how to talk to them. And always ensures Brooke doesn't make a fool of herself.

"I'm sure they'll be here any minute," she mutters and returns the fake smiles given to her from across the table. Again her stare involuntarily shifts to the brunette woman's stomach. The initial shock has worn off, but she still can't quite comprehend it. Lily is pregnant! With Josh's child, "So whe..." Brooke shakes her head and closes her eyes for a second to get rid of the confusing thoughts, "Where are you planning on going?" she finishes the question.

The young couple glance at each other briefly, and then Josh answers, "We thought... maybe to the zoo?"

Brooke nods once. Then twice, "That sounds good," she says, "Katie hasn't been there in a while..."

Josh, encouraged by the positive response, smiles and starts talking with more enthusiasm, "And then tomorrow, we thought we could take her to Coney Island and spend the day there," he says beaming at the blonde and then at his wife.

Brooke nods again but can't find a smile to match Josh's, "Yeah, she'll love that," Brooke says. Who wouldn't? She focuses all her will power, but still her head turns to the right and she finds herself staring at Lily, who is leaning back in her seat leaving the slightly swollen stomach visible. Nothing to attract attention, if she didn't know what to look for. But she does.

"It's a boy," Lily breaks the silent moment, having followed Brooke's gaze.

She lifts her eyes upwards and is rewarded with another smile. This time Lily's, "Yeah?" Brooke mutters slightly baffled. It sounds like over share. And it sets in motion different kinds of uncomfortable thoughts. Why now, of all the times, do they want more part in Katie's life? Just to get in a little practice before their own child arrives? Or is it guilt from Josh's part? It shouldn't be. Brooke never gave him much of a choice. If there's any guilt to be shared on that, it's all on her. But she made her choices a long time ago and refuses to second guess them. Instead, she shakes her head and frowns, "I'm a little confused... how... how does this all piece together?" she asks.

"What do you mean?" Josh asks back, equally confused.

"You popping up here now? With this..." Brooke frowns and sways her hand towards Lily, "Baby... And what you said on the phone, wanting to be around Katie more?"

There's another silent conference between the couple, "We want Josh Junior to get to know his big sister," it ends with Lily's pleasant voice.

Nothing wrong with that. But Brooke can't see how it'll ever work out. They live thousands of miles apart. She can barely afford next month's rent, let alone even a single plane ticket to the west coast. So, it'll all be up to Josh, and Brooke doubts he'll be willing to haul his first born son across the continent just to meet his bastard sister that often. Of course, if he is, then Brooke has no qualms about the whole matter. It would certainly be a good thing to Katie to get to know her father. And brother. Wouldn't it? "How's that gona happen?" Brooke asks cautiously, "I mean, you live awfully far away."

"That's just a small inconvenience. We can visit here and you can visit L.A..."

"No, Josh," Brooke quickly interrupts, "We can't. I don't have that kind of money..."

"I can pay for your trips..."

"No, Josh! I've told you a million times, I don't want any money from you!"

"Why not?! She's my daughter too!"

"Hey!" Lily intervenes before the argument has time to escalate any further. She puts her hand on Josh's shoulder, "Calm down. We're just talking."

Brooke takes a deep breath and looks away. She has refused any and all monetary help from Josh through out the years. It wouldn't feel right. She absolved Josh of all responsibilities regarding Katie when she ran away six years ago. Taking money now would make her feel indebted to the man, and she can't have that. Even when Josh says he only wants to help, and that Brooke wouldn't owe him anything, she refuses. It's the only way she can justify keeping Katie all to herself. And even that justification is on shaky ground. If Josh truly wants to be in the girl's life, Brooke has no right to deny it. Not a single reason. But one. He HASN'T wanted it for the four years since Brooke first let him know about New York. The few visits are no excuse for the lack of regular contact.

"Look..." Brooke sighs, turning back towards Josh, "You can visit her as much as you want, you can give her gifts. You can take her to places..." she starts reciting the rules off the top of her head, "But you CAN'T give us money. And make no mistake about it... Katie's mine, and mine alone."

"We could let the court decide..." Josh tries to put in.

"Shut up, Josh," Lily says quite harshly and turns to look at Brooke, "Of course she is yours, Brooke. But we really want to get to know her... and don't you think it would be good for Katie too?" the brunette tries to act as a mediator.

And does so quite successfully, "Yeah..." Brooke mutters and nods her head.

"Yeah," Lily repeats with a smile, "So, if you feel uncomfortable taking money from us, maybe Katie could come to Los Angeles alone from time to time?" she says. And receives a dumbfounded look from Brooke, who doesn't know how to respond to it. ALONE? Is the woman insane? There is no WAY Brooke will let that happen! "Maybe even this Christmas..." Lily goes on, but stops when she notices Brooke's bug-eyed stare and gaping mouth, "..o.. or maybe not Christmas... but after it... just for a few days..." her voice gets a little insecure.

Outside the diner another brunette is staring at the blonde's troubled face through the window. Sam curses herself again in her mind for being late. She shouldn't be, not when she knew how much it meant to Brooke. She tightens the hold on the little girl's hand and skips around the last corner to where the entrance is, "Now be a good girl, Katie," she says quietly and pulls the door open, "If your mom asks, we're late cause we couldn't get a cab," she whispers while Katie slips inside through the half open doorway. Sam follows behind without relinquishing the girl's hand. Katie only takes a few steps into the diner before coming to a halt. Sam stops to stand right beside the girl, who desperately clings on to the hem of Sam's jacket with her free hand and presses herself against Sam's leg.

"..this is too fast! You don't seriously..." Brooke is whining in the closest table to them, some ten feet away. The blonde is the first to see them and she never finishes the sentence she began. Instead, she glares irately at Sam, "Well, finally! You know we've been waiting almost half an hour for you!" she talks very loud, while inching away from her seat at the booth and standing up.

"Yeah, sorry about that, Brooke..." Sam apologizes. Her eyes drift away from the blonde and to the couple, who have also stood up from the table. They've had their backs to her so far and as they turn around, Sam sees an agitated expression on Lily's face when she looks at her, and a matching expression on Josh's when he looks at Katie.

Neither of them equal Katie's frightened stare, however. She grips Sam's hand harder and turns to look at her mother, "W... we were late cause Sammy couldn't get a cab, mom," she mutters.

"It's okay, Katie," Brooke quickly says, dropping her angry stance and smiling encouragingly. She takes a step forward and resists the urge to go and scoop the girl into her arms, "Say hi to your dad," she says gesturing towards Josh.

"Hi," Katie rushes the greeting nervously, only taking a small peek in the man's direction and then turning her eyes back to her mother.

"Hi, Katie," Josh coos in a childish voice, making Sam roll her eyes in secret. He heads closer to the girl, and crouches down in front of her, "This is my wife, Lily," he says pointing back towards the woman in question, "You remember Lily, right?"

Lily also steps up closer and throws a sweet smile in the girl's way, "Hey, Katie..." she chirps.

"Whoa! Lily!" Sam involuntarily jumps in when she takes a better look at one of her oldest friends, "You've put on a little weight there, haven't you?"

Lily blushes slightly but manages to keep the smile on her face, "Nice to see you too, Sam," she says, shifting her gaze to the other brunette, "Ever the gentle woman, I see. Good to know some things don't change."

"Oh, hey, I didn't mean anything bad!" Sam starts explaining, "I always thought you could use a little meat on your bones."

Brooke observes silently how Sam only digs her hole deeper. She reaches over to her seat and picks up her coat. She's already late from the library and needs to get a move on. But she can't go just yet, cause Katie looks more than a little lost amongst the reunion. Her big eyes are dancing between Sam and Lily and even Josh every once in a while. But mostly they stay on Brooke, and she keeps on smiling the same reassuring smile. Brooke pulls on the coat and tries to lure Katie to her by waving her finger.

"I'm actually pregnant, Sam," Lily huffs.

"What... you ARE?!" Sam almost shouts incredulously. She only gives a quick glance to Katie, when the girl escapes from her and runs past Josh to her mother.

Brooke kneels down and gives the girl a hug, "How was your day?" she whispers into her ear.

"Fine," Katie mumbles back, "Can we go home now, mom?"

Brooke winces a little when she has to deny the request, "Not just yet," she again talks silently only to Katie, "Mom has to go to the library. And you, my dear, are in for a quite a treat!" she tries to muster up a little enthusiasm and pulls back enough from the hug to look into the girl's eyes, "Your dad's gona take you to the zoo!"

Katie stares back at her with a hopeless look, "But I wanna come with you!" she begs weakly.

Brooke looks up, past her daughter and finds that the three adults have ceased their conversation and are studying the two of them. She bows her gaze again and gives Katie's shoulder a weak shove, "Hey, tomorrow then. Today you get to see the... zebras and... what have you," she says. It feels good that Katie wants to come with her, but it hurts to her soul having to let the girl down.

"Bu..." Katie whimpers.

"Shh. It's just for a few hours," Brooke lowers her voice down again, "And think of all the stories you can tell me later," she says pausing to wait for a response. Katie hesitates a few moments but finally nods her head in agreement. And even lets a little smile grace her pretty mouth, "Good," Brooke smiles back and stands up.

"Everything okay?" Josh asks.

"Uhhum," Brooke nods, "I really gotta get going, though. I'm already late. But it... it was really nice seeing you guys again," she tries to sound like she means it. But it must come out fake. Just like the mock excited greetings they all gave each other half an hour earlier. Life has moved on, and Brooke doesn't know or need her old friends anymore. It's just a cruel twist of fate that they've been tied together by this girl and are forced to interact during these awkward meetings.

"Yeah, you too, Brooke," Josh says and smiles, "And... we'll talk about that... thing later, okay?"

Brooke squints her eyes, "Yeah, sure," she says just to get him off her back. It's not a promise. It's a way to move things along, "You gona be all right?" she turns to her daughter once more, and the girl again nods an answer. Brooke smiles to her before heading towards the exit, "Can I see you outside for a second, Sam?" she asks on the way.

"Sure," Sam replies confused, and follows the blonde out, "Listen, Brooke, I'm really sorry that we came so late..." she starts talking the second the door closes behind her.

But Brooke only shrugs her apology aside, "Doesn't matter," she shakes her head and flings around to face Sam, "I'm gona need a huge favor, Sam," she moves on immediately.

Sam waits for a second, "What?" she asks. Brooke opens her mouth to talk but instead just turns her head away, "Just say it. I'd do anything for you, Brooke. You know that."

"You gotta go to the zoo with them and... and just... stay with Katie for tonight..." Brooke's voice drifts away.

Sam awaits for its return, but when it doesn't come she shakes her head dubiously, "That's it? That's the huge favor?"

"I'll pay for everything, but you have to stay with her..."

"Okay, Brooke," Sam cuts in, but it's like the blonde isn't even listening to her.

"...she looked so desperate, you know?" Brooke talks and glances at her, "I don't want her to have to be alone with Josh and Lily."

"I said okay," Sam states forcefully, "And you don't have to pay me anything."

"You'll go?" Brooke sighs, smiling in relief, "Thank you so much."

Sam smiles back, "Sure... anyway, can you believe Lily is pregnant?! I talk to her at least once a month and..."

After The Party

Author's Notes: Sorry about the lax pace with which I'm writing this. The story just holds a special place in my heart, and I won't do anything to ruin it. That means I won't force it if it doesn't wanna be told. And another note: Thank you, Carla. I couldn't write this without your help.


She stands in the background and smiles distantly as the two adults struggle on their coats and prepare to leave. The girl on their side offers semiserious orders and rules. And she listens to the happy conversation and nods her head when someone aims a comment directly at her. The adults head on their merry way, and she waves her hand for good-bye. The brunette girl closes the door behind them and turns around to stare at her with gleeful eyes.

"What?" Brooke asks hesitantly.

"Nothing," Sam shakes her head and heads past her towards the living room, "It's just... who would've thought, you know?" the brunette shrugs, "That those two would make such a good match."

"You think they make a good match?" Brooke asks surprised. She follows her stepsister a little reluctantly.

"Don't you?" Sam asks and sits down on the sofa. She glances back at the blonde for a second, before reaching for the remote and turning on the television.

Brooke stops in the doorway and considers it. She hasn't given much thought to her father and Jane's relationship lately. It seemed like the worst possible idea from the start, but she can't deny that it looks to be moving in the right direction. Her father does seem happier than in a long time. And he could have done a lot worse than Jane. And if Sam, who has, so far, been the biggest obstacle to the whole thing, is coming around then the relationship certainly has a fighting chance.

But it's still a very new thing and even the smallest problem could throw it off the course, "I guess..." Brooke mutters mostly to herself. Sam is flipping through the channels and paying her very little attention. She hovers there quietly behind the brunette a while longer. Then almost turns to go, but decides to speak instead, "What are you gona watch?" she asks.

"Whatever's on," Sam states, shrugging her shoulders.

"Oh..." Brooke mutters. She glances briefly at the screen where a movie quickly changes to a basketball game, "Okay then," she says and heads out of the room. It's good that Sam isn't bugging her. Very good, she's under enough stress without the brunette breathing down her neck all the time. Just a little confusing when she was prepared to fight off the advances and argue her case most vigorously. But it's better this way.

Brooke walks up the stairs and retreats into her own room. She makes her way to the desk on the far side of the room. And the large mirror on it. She runs her fingers on top of its frame and finds a key. Sits down on the chair and unlocks the desk drawer. Sliding it open she retrieves a thick envelope from inside it. She sizes it up in her hands a while, before flipping open the top and pulling out a stack of bills. She starts to carefully count them. Even though she knows the amount already.

Downstairs Sam is distractedly staring at the sport event. She fidgets around a little nervously. Things are sliding slowly out of her control. She was quite confident in her ability to guide Brooke on to the right path. But Nicole's revelation destroyed that confidence. If Brooke has planned her moves so far that she would tell Nicole about them, then there's no knowing when the girl will bolt. Sam didn't believe the blonde's feeble excuses for a second. She can tell when her stepsister is lying.

But she is a little confused as to why it matters to her so much. What happens to Brooke. Why it almost feels like it's happening to her too. That her life is on the line just as well as Brooke's. Yes, she cares about the girl. Maybe even loves her. Or is growing to love her. In a way. But that the thought of losing Brooke fills her with such despair... it doesn't quite add up in her mind. It's not like they are real sisters. Or the best of friends. They are barely even family. And even though she sometimes has intense dreams of her and Brooke... together, Sam isn't ready to accept that that would be the reason. She is a teenager, filled with hormones. And has for a while now been doubting her sexual orientation.

At any rate, she needs to do something. Either finally let the parents in on the joke. Or talk some sense into Brooke. The latter hasn't worked thus far. And she doubts it'll work any better no matter how many chances she gives the blonde. But she is still reluctant to go against Brooke's wishes.

Sam changes channels just as a commentator is gushing over the perfect basket, which is being replayed. And she enters Australia through the eyes of a travel guide.


"This is a university library! It's here only to serve the students!" the guy in front of Brooke is exclaiming his outrage. His brown eyes are bulging from disbelief. He cannot understand! "I'm not gona pay," he suddenly has an epiphany and shakes his head confidently, "I'm a student here! Your salary is paid from my tuition! This library is paid from my tuition!" Brooke keeps a pleasant smile on her face through the tirade and nods a little. The guy sighs quietly and still goes on, "I'm a student," he repeats, "I needed the damn book!"

"Look, I understand," Brooke says. She notices two other people line up behind the whiny guy and decides to speed it up, "But if we didn't charge a fine for late returns, half the time people wouldn't bother to bring back what they loaned," she says and shrugs her shoulders, "And then you'd be here wondering why we didn't have the book in the first place."

"Yeah, right..." the guy scoffs.

"You know she's right!" an irate voice cuts in from the end of the line. It's vaguely familiar and attracts Brooke's attention. She glances at the girl and finds it to be Sam's friend. Rachel, she finally remembers the name, "So, just pay up and quit whining."

The guy throws a brief glare over his shoulder at the girl, "Well, I don't have the money with me," he says, turning back.

"That's okay," Brooke shakes her head once, "You can pay tomorrow."

"Fine," he agrees grouchily.

Brooke gives him a quick smile and a nod, before he turns and heads for the exit. The next customer loads three books on the counter and smiles charmingly, "Some people..." he says in a fraternizing way. It's a handsome man dressed in a suit and holding a briefcase in his hand.

"Yeah," Brooke says through a forced smile. She knows the grouchy guy. He's a frequent user of the library. Sometimes annoying but rarely to the extent as today. She doesn't know the suited up student. An economics major judging from his books, which she runs through the scanner and places aside. She lifts her head and smiles again, "All done," she says, when he hasn't moved on.

"Good. Bye," he says and follows in the grouchy guy's trail out of there.

"Hey, Rachel," Brooke tries to greet the girl cheerily, when she steps up.

"Hi," the girl replies.

And Brooke receives what she thinks must be the first smile from Sam's friend. "Listen, thanks for..." she starts to mutter and nods in the direction of the exit, "You know... helping with that guy."

"Yeah," Rachel says, "Adam can be a bit exhausting."

"You know him?" Brooke asks surprised.

"Not so much. Sam used to, though," the girl goes on. And laughs uncomfortably, "She said he was hitting on her constantly a year or so ago."

"What?" Brooke wonders dubiously in a high pitched tone, "That guy?" she frowns and pauses to wait for Rachel's nod, "But I thought Sam was..." her voice drifts off when she realizes she can't possibly finish the sentence without bringing about the most awkward conversation ever.

"You thought Sam was what?" Rachel's smile disappears and is replaced by the hostile expression Brooke is so very familiar with.

"Nothing," she quickly shakes her head, "Just... not into that type... obviously it wouldn't stop him from hitting on her, so..." she goes astray on a weird rant and again lets her words fade away. A short silence falls upon them, and Brooke tries to spend it looking at anything but the girl in front of her. She glances at the large clock on the wall past the many tables covering the front of the library. Quarter to ten. She counts three people studying at the tables, and a fourth one examining the first bookshelf row, which is visible to her. She bows her head for a second, clears her throat and turns to look at Rachel again, "So... did you need something?" she asks.

The girl waits a few moments. Her eyes are squint into tiny slits behind the glasses, "Yeah..." she answers, "Yeah," she repeats and returns the more friendly expression to her face, "I was looking for Hamlet... you know, by Shakespeare?" she leaves a small pause there, "I know it was here last week... but I couldn't find it on the shelf just now," Rachel finishes, shoving her hand in the general direction of the bookshelves.

Brooke stares at the girl confusedly, "Hamlet," she then nods, "Right. Shakespeare. Sure," single words jump out of her mouth, "I have it right here," Brooke bends down and picks up a small plastic bag from under the counter. She sinks her free hand inside the bag and retrieves the book, "I was reading it over the weekend..." she says, "Sorry about the inconvenience," she somehow feels the need to apologize. For wasting this promising students valuable time.

"Oh, it's nothing," Rachel shakes her head and accepts the book when Brooke hands it to her, "I just need to look up a couple of quotes. You'll have it right back."

"Okay..." Brooke smiles. And goes on before she can stop herself, "To be or not to be..." she adds and blushes a little at her own idiotic reference. Rachel stares incredulously at her for a second, then smiles falsely, points the book towards her and nods. The girl turns away and rolls her eyes. Or so Brooke imagines.

She stares at the distancing back as Rachel heads for the tables. Waits till the girl has settled down and then returns to her work. Pushing the embarrassment out of her mind. She feels stupid and inadequate quite often. It doesn't matter anymore. She has other things in her life. Katie. Her daughter doesn't find her stupid. Or inadequate. Her daughter loves her. And that is enough for now. Just thinking about Katie is a sure fix for any and all depressing feelings inside of her.

She picks up the stack of books that has accumulated on the desk and heads for the shelves. She slowly navigates her way between the rows, and stops every now and then to slide one of the books in its place. She comes across a redheaded girl of maybe twenty, who asks for directions to books on the history of art. The redhead needs to go past all these shelves and through the doorway to the second hall. There she needs to take the stairs on her right, and on the second floor turn immediately left. And behold! Art. The redhead is welcome. Brooke rounds one more row and disposes of the two last books in her possession, before heading back to her post.

She glances again at the clock on her way. It's past ten by now. Less than an hour left on her shift. She's been anxiously waiting for Sam and Katie to appear for the past couple of hours. Now she's starting to suspect that Sam took the girl straight home to bed. It would be the wiser and more sensible solution, but she can't help being disappointed that she won't get to see Katie in another hour.

Brooke surveys the hall quickly while circling behind the counter. The amount of hard-core students has halved while she was gone. Rachel is still there, lost in her reading at a nearby table. She pulls up her chair and sits down. Forces herself to take a few seconds to fight against the growing urge inside her. It's a mere formality. Brooke gives up almost immediately and picks up the phone. She dials Sam's cell phone number and stops to wait for an answer. It only takes a couple of rings.

"Hey," Sam's familiar voice greets her.

"Hi," Brooke replies hesitantly. Her nervous free hand reaches on the desk and picks up a pen lying on it, "Listen... I was just... wondering where you were..." she talks haltingly.

There's a short pause during which Brooke hears nothing, "Oh, we're at your place," Sam then says. Another pause, "It was getting so late, I thought it was best to bring Katie home...?"

"Yeah, that's... good," Brooke says trying to hide the disappointment in her voice. She starts tapping the pen to the desk, "Is she there?"

"She's in bed," Sam quickly answers, "You want me to go see if she's still awake?"

"No!... don't..." she exclaims, "I just miss her voice... So, anyway. Thanks again for this, Sam. I owe you one... hundred... Favors, you know?" she adds with a quiet chuckle.

"You don't owe me anything, Brooke," Sam says sternly, "I could go see if Katie's still awake. You'd get to say goodnight. There's no harm in that, right?"

"Well, okay," Brooke says again trying to hide the emotions ringing rampantly in her voice. Happy ones this time, "But DON'T wake..."


The shouted word behind her startles Brooke badly, "Shit!" she almost shrieks and jumps around in her chair. Only to be met by her daughter's shining face, "What are you doing?!" Brooke asks in a scolding tone, concentrating on Katie while unintentionally sliding the phone receiver lower, "Why are you here?" she goes on asking. Katie's face falls as the smile escapes from the girl. And Brooke feels bad, "Where is Sam?" she asks. Then remembers the phone and lifts the receiver back up to her mouth, "Sam?" she says timidly into it.

"I'm right here," Sam's answer doesn't come from the phone. But rather from the other side of the counter.

"Oh," Brooke manages to mumble through her utmost confusion. She also succeeds in glancing at Sam and is rewarded with a smug smirk. And she even manages to drop the receiver back into its place with minimal difficulty.

"Hi, Mom," Katie chirps a little hesitantly but still quite joyfully.

Brooke turns back to her expectant daughter and finally smiles. She reaches out and welcomes the girl into her arms, "Hey there, you," she says quietly, hoisting the girl up onto her lap, "You shouldn't scare me like that, Catherine," Brooke talks to the girl but stares at the brunette across the counter.

"Hey, it was my idea," Sam shakes her head quickly and still holds on to the smirk, "I just couldn't resist, when your call was so perfectly timed."

"Are you mad, Mom?" Katie asks, snaking her head around unnaturally so that she can see her mother's face.

"No," Brooke says smiling down at the girl. She runs her hand along Katie's arm and up to her shoulder, "How was the zoo?" she asks after a short pause, "And WHERE did you get the beret?" she goes on frowning when the new dark red cap catches her eye.

"Dad bought it for me!" Katie exclaims loudly, "Do you like it?"

"I don't know..." Brooke mumbles. She takes a better hold of the girl's waist and lowers her gently to the floor, "Model it for me." She smiles weakly as Katie scurries a few feet away and turns back to face Brooke. The little girl is wearing a red overcoat, that reaches her knees, and white stockings, which cover the rest of the legs. The beret makes her look like something out of a Sears catalog. Still Brooke encourages the girl to spin around by making a circular motion with her index finger. Katie happily obliges. Spreading her arms to her sides the girl concentrates and then twirls around rapidly a couple of times. Her long hair lifts a little from the momentum, and the picture makes Brooke laugh quietly. It almost seems to her like everything is happening in slow motion. Katie comes to a stop. Again facing her mother. The girl is very satisfied with the reaction and appears blissful. "You look absolutely divine," Brooke tells Katie with a slow shake of her head.

"Really?!" the girl asks excitedly. And then shoots a glare towards the brunette adult across the counter, "Sammy said I look like a French-fry with too much ketchup on me."

"That's right. And if you don't watch out somebody's gona eat you!" is Sam's quick response. The voice is dribbling with amusement, "Oh, stop blushing! It only makes you look more ketchuppy."

"Don't listen to her, Katie," Brooke quickly intervenes, "Sam's just jealous cause she has no fashion sense."

"Yeah!" Katie snottily agrees and stomps back to her mother.

Brooke places a hand on the girl's head but gets interrupted before she can talk again. "Hi, Sam," Rachel says, coming up from behind the brunette.

Sam startles a little too much, throwing a quick glance at Brooke before devoting her attention to the newcomer, "Rachel... Hi," she stumbles awkwardly, "What... what are you doing here?"

"Finishing up OUR Shakespeare essay," the girl replies with mock irritation. When Sam doesn't answer immediately, Rachel turns to face the small girl across the counter and smiles, "Hi, Katie. I love your beret." Katie only smiles back.

Sam finally decides to reply. She shakes her head quickly and frowns, "We returned that already," she says, "On Friday."

"Oh, we did?" Rachel chuckles sarcastically, "It bounced back like that," the girl goes on, snapping her fingers, "If you actually showed up on classes you'd know that. We got till Wednesday."

"It was THAT bad?" Sam asks incredulously.

Rachel shrugs weakly and nods in the direction of the tables, "Wanna join me?"

"Yeah, sure..." Sam replies halfheartedly. And then remembers the two blondes, "Just give me a sec. I gotta talk to Brooke first."

"Right..." Rachel is a little taken aback. And looks slightly irritated when she turns to stare at Brooke. The blonde tries to smile back in a friendly manner, "Brooke," Rachel mutters before turning and fleeing the scene.

Brooke throws a questioning look to Sam. She doesn't like this feeling that she's somehow competing over Sam with Rachel. And she doesn't like this thought that Sam is skipping classes and blowing of school assignments because of her, "Sam..." she starts, but stops straight off, when the brunette nudges her head towards Katie. Brooke glances at her daughter and then reaches over to a rack located below the counter. She pulls out a book from there, "You wanna run this book back to its place, Katie?" she asks, dangling the object in the girl's face.

"Yes!" Katie yelps enthusiastically, grabbing hold of the book, "But where?!" she frowns a little.

"Third row on the left," Brooke says smiling, "The lowermost shelf. There should be an empty slot close to the middle."

"Okay!" Katie says and scurries away.

Brooke looks after the girl a second. She sometimes leaves books behind on purpose so she can give them to Katie to return. Just because the girl likes helping out. Sometimes she even takes out books from the shelves just to have something for Katie to do.

"So, what are you doing on Christmas?" Sam asks her.

Brooke's head jerks around, "What?" she asks confusedly.

"I hear California is beautiful this time of year," Sam goes on in a way that annoys Brooke greatly. But she's too surprised to express it.

"They didn't..." she says incredulously.

"Oh, but they did," Sam smirks.

A few moments pass while Brooke keeps gaping at the brunette, "Damn," she whispers when no other words come to mind, "Not to Katie, though?"

"Oh yeah," Sam says immediately. But not as amusedly anymore. She understands how horrible it is to Brooke, "Disneyland. The sun. The ocean. Beaches... the whole package. She would've jumped on the next plane if Josh had offered to take her."

"My God," Brooke whimpers. She glances over her shoulder but the girl is still hidden behind the bookshelves, "He had no right talking to Katie about it."

"Maybe not," Sam shrugs. She pauses for a moment. To give room for a change of pace. She doesn't much care about Josh. He's a small concern compared to the real problem Brooke has with California. Sam looks sympathetic but her words are harsh, "But maybe it's time you went back and apologized."

Brooke glowers at the brunette under her brow, "I don't owe Josh an apology," she says quietly, "Not anymore."

"Yeah, I wasn't talking about him," Sam says. Though, she guesses Brooke already knew that, "I meant your father."

"Don't even go there!" Brooke states adamantly, snapping into attention, "You have no idea what you're messing with..."

"Oh, I have no idea?" Sam laughs incredulously, "Me?" she cranes her neck and stares wide-eyed at the blonde, "Who have actually had some sort of a relationship with him these past six years?" she stops to wait for Brooke's response. But there is none. Only a small sign of regret portrayed by turning away from her, "I'm the ONLY one who has any idea of what's going on."

"Back off, Sam" Brooke answers in a low voice. The tone is even slightly threatening, "I'm not discussing this. It's not an option."

Sam completely ignores Brooke's suggestion of letting the subject go, "What does that even mean?" she asks with an annoyed edge to her voice, "What's not an option?" she goes on when there's no answer at first, "Discussing your father? Josh? Wha...?"

And then it comes, when Brooke's head springs back towards Sam. Her eyes are a little misty and her voice slightly quivery, "California!" she shouts too loud. And looks around, worried that she's made a scene. But luckily no one is close enough, "I'm never going back!" she adds a bit more quietly, but still sternly. Without a doubt in her mind. Sam looks back at her. First in surprise, then in disappointment. But Brooke doesn't care. Her life is her own. And just the thought of her little girl, only a bookshelf or two away, clears all negative feelings from inside her.

Section 4 Megan Popular Main Index