DISCLAIMER: Characters of Popular belong to someone who is taking their sweet time releasing the DVD's. And to satisfy my anal desire to bring everything full circle, the title of this fic is taken from another Dar Williams song.
SHOUTOUT: Props to Alex O'Neal for kicking ideas around with me all those months ago, much appreciation goes to JuneBug, my quick-like-a-bunny beta reader, and many thanks to Betsy, for patiently answering all my stupid questions.
SERIES: Fifth story in the 'An Ever Fixed Mark' series, following Here's Where I Stand, The Mercy of the Fallen, And So this is Christmas and An Ever Fixed Mark.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

You're Aging Well
By Green Quarter


Part 4

When Sam pulled up to the valet at L'Orangerie, Brooke was suitably impressed. The French restaurant was a grand dame in Los Angeles, having been around for decades, but neither Sam nor Brooke had ever been there. Sam had heard it was the best French food in the city, and in her newfound culinary curiosity, she wanted to know what that tasted like.

"How did you manage to get a reservation so last minute?" Brooke asked, as they were seated at a secluded table for two in the lovely garden room with its retractable roof. Walking through the restaurant to get to the table had been like moving through a richly appointed French chateau, with candle light, and beautiful art, and explosions of fresh flowers every few feet.

"Jonathan owed me a favor," Sam explained, referring to a friend of hers, who was the food critic at LA Weekly. Even though this place was expensive, and would put a noticeable dent in their budget, Sam thought they deserved it. She had been working very hard lately, and wanted whatever time she spent with Brooke to be quality, and Brooke deserved to be in a beautiful place like this, she thought, as she watched her delightedly take in their surroundings. Besides, they wouldn't have many opportunities to do things like this once the baby was born.

If it was possible to fall in love with a restaurant, than that is what Brooke had done. She felt as if she was living in a fairytale, like she had entered another time. "Sam I love this place," she lowered her menu and whispered, "I want to eat every meal here for the rest of my life."

Sam smiled. "Why don't we try the food first, before taking up residence in one of the bathroom stalls." But she congratulated herself on picking a place that impressed Brooke. She might even get lucky two nights in a row.

She tried to concentrate on the menu, but her thoughts had turned serious. Sam wanted Brooke to have whatever she wanted, even if that meant fancy restaurants that sold snails at a three thousand percent markup. Although she knew that Brooke would disagree, she thought of herself as the breadwinner of the family, now that Brooke was having the baby. It may have been some kind of antiquated nuclear patriarchal society ideal which didn't begin to describe the modern alternative family she and Brooke were going to create, but she couldn't help thinking that way all the same. It was her responsibility to find a way to provide Brooke and their child with a comfortable life, which was why she had been taking any assignment offered to her, and working so hard lately. She simply couldn't afford to turn down the money.

After they had ordered, Brooke looked at Sam, her face an expression of pure pleasure. "What a great idea. I'm glad I thought of it. Aren't you happy to have a night off from the kitchen?"

"What? You think I can't make shirred eggs with Sevruga caviar?" Sam scoffed, referring to the starter she had ordered.

"What are shirred eggs, Sam?" Brooke questioned, ingenuously.

"I don't know," Sam admitted, "I'll tell you when they get here. But rest assured I will be whipping up batches of them in no time. If they taste good."

Sam changed the subject, needing to get some answers to the questions that had been whizzing around her brain for the last little while. She reached for Brooke's hand where it lay across the table. "Brooke, how do you picture our lives after the baby comes?"

"What do you mean?"

Sam was ruminative. "Do you want to take an extended leave from Julian? Do you want to go back to work right away and get a nanny?" A thought suddenly occurred to her. "Do you want me to cut back on work and take care of the baby?"

"I guess I just assumed that we would both take maternity leave, and then we'd work something out between the two of us," Brooke replied.

Sam shook her head, "Since I work for myself, I would be able to take maternity leave, which would really be just a regular, garden-variety, unpaid leave. Personally, I don't think we can afford that. But even if I worked for some company, how would it be possible for me to take maternity leave? I don't exactly have any proof that I'm going to become a mother."

Brooke wanted to put a stop to this kind of thinking right away. Sam was just as much the mother of this baby as she was. The lack of societal recognition Sam would face as the non-biological mother of their child was something Brooke had been thinking about more and more lately. It was important for Sam to know now that she was an equal in Brooke's eyes, so that it would carry over into all aspects of their existence. They needed to present a united front to the world: to doctors and medical personnel, to school administrators when the time came, to any people who came in contact with their daily lives, really.

"We're going to do the second parent adoption as soon as we can after the baby is born," Brooke said adamantly, her face determined. "Adoptive parents are entitled to maternity leave."

"Okay," Sam said appeasingly. She didn't want Brooke to get upset about a hypothetical situation, and she hadn't meant for this to become a discussion about the issues surrounding non-biological motherhood. She knew it wasn't going to be easy, but she could handle it. And this was California, where an alternative family was not seen as a freakish thing so much, unlike a lot of places. They were lucky to live here. People cobbled together their families in all sorts of different ways these days, just look at the family her mother and Brooke's father had shaped for them when they were teenagers. But this had not been the point Sam had originally been trying to make. "I think what I'm really trying to figure out is what you want to do when the baby comes. If money, and your career, and the expense of childcare were taken out of the equation, would you want to stay at home?"

Sam watched as Brooke deflated slightly, switching gears from crusading lesbo mom, to the thoughtful, introspective woman Sam knew a little better. "Well, we can't really take those things out of the equation, because they are factors. If there were no obstacles in the way, I guess I would prefer to stay at home, but that's not really an option, and I don't mind working. I love my job."

Brooke leaned her elbow on the table and rested her chin in her hand, looking dreamily at Sam. "Speaking purely from a place of fantasy, I would wish that we could have lots of children, and you and I could both stay at home to raise them, and we could live in something like Barbie's Dream House on the beach in Malibu. And you would have a big office where you could work, instead of using the kitchen table, and Mac could have a room of her own for when she came to visit, and our parents too. If I did start working again, my commute would be no longer than ten minutes door to door. And we would hire a maid whose only job is to clean the cats' litter box," she added, and laughed a little at the absurdity of her vision. "Maybe we should just concentrate on successfully having the first one before we think about all of that."

"That sounds really nice," Sam said, wistfully. "While we're at it, could we hire a cook?"

"Oh, absolutely," Brooke grinned. "For all we know, shirred eggs take ten hours to prepare, and then where would you be? Working all day long to satisfy my raging shirred egg addiction with no time for anything else? No, we'd have to get a cook just for that."

"So now you're addicted to them?" Sam raised an eyebrow. "Without even tasting them?" As she was speaking, a waiter arrived with their first course, and the much-discussed dish was placed before her. She looked at the simple presentation of the baked egg still in its shell, with a dollop of caviar on top, and said, "Somehow I don't think this takes ten hours to prepare."

She took a bite, and had to admit that it was a pretty damn tasty egg. She scooped up some more and passed her spoon to Brooke so she could taste. Brooke took the offered bite and paused, her eyes growing round as she swallowed.

"I am addicted. Let's trade," she picked up her dish of stuffed zucchini blossoms and thrust it toward Sam.

Sam obligingly switched dishes with Brooke and tasted it, rolling her eyes in satisfaction. "God, Brooke, these are awesome too. Did you try them?"

"Oops, this egg got me all excited, I forgot."

Sam laughed, holding out her fork again so Brooke could try her original choice.

Brooke took the forkful and tasted the zucchini blossom, and she moaned at how good it tasted. "Wait. I want to switch back," she said. "I'm holding your fork hostage until we switch back."

"Hang on just a second," Sam held up an index finger. "Just because you're pregnant doesn't mean that you can hijack the first course. You've tried them both. Which one do you really want?"

Brooke considered. "That one," she said, pointing to the zucchini with Sam's fork.

"All right," Sam handed her the plate, and Brooke passed over the egg plate, along with Sam's fork. When Sam reached for her spoon to continue eating, she let out a frustrated, "Hey!"

She looked up at Brooke, who was giggling silently into her napkin, her mouth full of zucchini.

"You ate the whole thing!" Sam cried, picking up the empty eggshell with her fingers.

"I'm sorry," Brooke exclaimed. "I couldn't help it, it was just so good. Come on, I'll share this with you," she held out a forkful of her food, which Sam tried to remove from her hand. "Oh no, the fork stays in my hand, McPherson. Do you think I'm stupid?"

"You must think I'm stupid," Sam muttered, letting Brooke feed her the bite.

"Not stupid," Brooke replied, smiling. "Just gullible, and entirely too good to me."

Sam just shook her head, trying to look stern and failing utterly. "You are not getting one more bite of my food tonight."

Brooke nodded, letting Sam think this was the case, but knowing better.

Their evening continued with more good food, and the best sparkling water money could buy. Sam was secretly relieved that Brooke couldn't drink wine, and that she was driving. It would keep the cost down somewhat, then she felt guilty for thinking that. Brooke tended to not dwell on money as much, although if Sam asked, she could probably recall their checkbook balance within about ten bucks. Brooke was definitely the fiscal expert of the pair, and she never seemed to stress about their finances. Sam hadn't a clue how much money was in the bank, yet she couldn't stop worrying about it. It was only since trying to conceive that the subject had occupied Sam to the extent that it had. She sometimes remembered fondly the days when she was a carefree traveler with no responsibilities to anyone, living hand to mouth, and wished that she didn't have to think about money all the time.

The dinner plates had just been cleared away and Sam asked to see a dessert menu. She didn't think she could eat another bite, but it wouldn't hurt to look at what they had. Maybe she and Brooke could share something, even though greedy-guts Brooke didn't deserve it. Somehow Brooke had managed to get a taste of Sam's duck, even though Sam had tried mightily to prevent it.

"You should get coffee, Sam, I bet they have great coffee here," Brooke recommended, perusing the dessert selections.

"You could get decaf if you want," Sam suggested, she hated to partake of any of the forbidden foods in front of Brooke.


Both Sam and Brooke looked in the direction from where the heavily accented voice was coming. A woman about their age was approaching the table, her eyes locked onto Sam.

Brooke knew for certain that she had never laid eyes on the woman before. She was practically spilling out of a wildly colorful print blouse that was either vintage Pucci or Pucci-inspired. Her skin was that burnt orange color from too much time in a tanning bed, and it looked like she had spent a lot of money to get her frosted hair to look that trashy. Brooke took an instant dislike to the woman.

Sam frowned at the woman, sure she knew her from somewhere, but she couldn't place her. The voice was instantly familiar, and the Italian accent. "Paola?" she asked uncertainly as the woman stopped and leaned over their table.

"Si, si," Paola smiled broadly, laying her hand on Sam's shoulder. "I knew it was you, you look just the same."

Sam stood up, and Paola immediately pulled her into a hug. "Wow. You look so different. It's been…" Sam was at a genuine loss for words, "… a long time." She stepped back and looked at Paola. It was nothing short of surreal to see someone from so far in the past, so removed from the context from which they knew each other. Sam had met Paola years ago, when she was still living her nomadic existence, before she had reconnected with Brooke in New York City.

"Five years, at least," Paola agreed, looking expectantly at Brooke.

"Oh, I'm sorry, where are my manners?" Sam distractedly made introductions. "Brooke, this is Paola, we met in Israel. Paola, this is Brooke."

Brooke glared at Sam, incensed at the lackluster introduction.

But Sam was staring at Paola with a mix of consternation and wonder. "What are you doing here?" Sam asked, then suddenly realized how rude she sounded. "In Los Angeles, I mean."

"My father is in the movie business now," Paola said excitedly. She turned and included Brooke in the conversation. "In Italia, the family business is marble, we have been stone masons since the sixteenth century. We export all over the world, but it's not glamorous, believe me. Now Papa wants to make movies, and he sent me to be his representative in Hollywood. His English, not so good."

"You'll fit right in," Brooke said dryly.

"So Sam, what have you been doing? Tell me everything," Paola exuberantly held onto Sam's shoulders. "I can't believe you haven't changed one bit. Do you remember the time we went out to the quarry and you wanted to dive in because it was so hot, but you didn't have the… como se dice costume da bagno," Paola muttered to herself, trying to find the words. "Bathing costume!" She clapped her hands in triumph.

Sam could see this would quickly degenerate into a humiliating conversation of all her past indiscretions, which she wanted to avoid if possible. Before Paola could finish her story, she grabbed her by the elbow and steered her away from the table, saying over her shoulder, "I'll be right back, Brooke."

She pulled Paola under an archway that connected the garden room with the restaurant proper, and tried to stay out of the way of the waitstaff. She stood so she could still see Brooke over Paola's shoulder, and saw that Brooke was fruitlessly trying to get their waiter's attention with her water glass, which needed a refill.

"Look, Paola," Sam said, 'it's really wonderful to see you again, but now is not the best time for me to catch up."

"Is she your latest girlfriend, Sam? So bellissima," Paola turned around to look at Brooke.

"No, she's not a girlfriend," Sam started to say, before Paola turned to face her, and interrupted.

"She's not? Then you must come with me to the Beverly Wilshire. I have a suite, we can talk and laugh and whatever else you want to do," she said suggestively.

Sam got annoyed; she remembered now Paola's irritating habit of interrupting at the drop of a hat. She was a spoiled rich girl, who had never worked a day in her life.

"Brooke isn't just my girlfriend, she's my life partner, we've been together over five years," Sam clarified.

Paola looked at her. "So maybe you won't come to the Beverly Wilshire until later, after she falls asleep."

"No, Paola," Sam shook her head emphatically. "I'm not the same person you once knew."

"You look the same, but you are different, " Paola commented, finally getting the message.

"I guess I finally grew up somewhere along the line. We're having a baby, you know," Sam announced proudly.

Paola's eyes lit up and she grabbed at Sam's belly with both hands. "You are? But that's wonderful!"

"Actually, Brooke's the one who's having the baby," Sam took Paola's hands and put them back at her sides.

"How did you and your partner decide which of you would have the baby?"

It was just like Paola to ask the inappropriate questions. "We flipped a coin," Sam said sarcastically.

"Really?" Paola's eyebrows went up.


"Well, I'm sure the baby will be very beautiful. You look happy, Samantha, and that's good. I am happy for you," Paola smiled at her, almost pensively.

Sam suddenly remembered how big a heart Paola had, and how this woman had been there for her when Sam had needed a friend badly, and she was ashamed of her obnoxious behavior. "How are things with you?" she asked awkwardly.

"Oh fine, fine. I'm still spending my father's money," Paola laughed humorlessly. "Still trying to find interesting things to do, and meet interesting people to do them with."

"That sounds like fun," Sam said amiably, although she could see that Paola thought it was anything but fun, and was leaving a lot unsaid.

"Yes, lots of fun," Paola seemed to pull herself together, readopting her jocular tone from before. "Oh! I left my brother around here somewhere, he doesn't speak any English," she slapped her forehead and smiled brightly at Sam. "I must go find him. It was lovely to see you, bella Samantha." She put her hands on Sam's shoulders and kissed her on both cheeks. "Remember, I'm at the Beverly Wilshire until next Wednesday."

Sam put her hand in her pocket, searching for a business card to give to Paola so they could keep in touch, then thought better of it. She watched her old friend go, and thought about earlier in the evening when she had wished for the return of her itinerant lifestyle. How could she have ever thought that? There was no comparison between the miserable girl she had been then, desperately trying to fill up her emptiness with the interesting things to do and the interesting people Paola talked about, and the person she was now. For all its problems, Sam would take her current life any day of the week. She would worry over money, clean the litter box, and cook dinner every night if it meant that she could share her days with Brooke. Any day of the week, and twice on Sundays.

Brooke could not sleep. Back at the restaurant, while Sam was talking to Paola, she had wanted nothing more than to be home and in her bed. Now that she was, sleep was elusive.

Sam had returned to the table and had apologized profusely, and had striven to return them to the pleasant evening they had shared up until that point, but the mood had been irretrievably broken, the bubble they had enclosed themselves in before the interruption had popped. Brooke had paid the check while Sam was gone and was only waiting for Sam so they could leave, saying she was feeling very tired and had a headache.

While waiting for the valet, Brooke had wished for once that she hadn't asked Sam to drive. Usually when they went out on weekday evenings, Brooke hated to end the night by getting into separate cars in order to drive back home. But tonight she would have welcomed a little solo time to think about what had just happened.

And now that she was alone, her mind couldn't settle. She could hear the muted tapping of the keyboard coming from the kitchen, Sam had returned to work soon after they got home, after kindly seeing Brooke into bed with a glass of warm milk.

She got up, turned on the light and walked over to the closet, throwing the doors open and contemplating the contents, trying to decide what to wear tomorrow. But the sight of so many of their belongings crammed into such a small area distracted her. Their little old house was severely lacking in storage space, and Brooke mentally added separate, gigantic Hers 'n Hers walk-in closets to the floorplan of her fantasy Barbie Dream House. Her work clothes took up the majority of the hanging space, while Sam's more casual stuff occupied a fraction of the closet on the left side. She looked at the shelf above packed with untidy stacks of folded clothes, and the shelf above that, overcrowded with teetering boxes and other items they seldom needed.

She lifted a pile of messily jumbled sweaters from the shelf and brought them to the bed. Channeling her inner Gap employee, she began to neatly refold them, anally stacking them according to the ROYGBIV color spectrum.

It wasn't Sam's fault that Paola had shown up. Sam had talked a little about her on the car ride home, saying that the woman had come a long way from the Birkenstock shod, fashionable political slogan t-shirt clad, neo-hippie Sam had met years ago. She had deadpanned that she thought Paola had become Italy's answer to their old classmate Mary Cherry. Brooke had refused to be drawn into conversation about the woman, however, and Sam had let the subject drop.

Over the years, Sam had occasionally told stories of her travels, sometimes including the names of the girlfriends who had been her partners in crime on her exploits, although she had never explicitly referred to them as her girlfriends, always calling them simply "a friend." At one point, long ago, they had had a discussion about it. Sam had tried to be as honest as she could with Brooke about the years she had been away without spelling everything out, wanting to spare Brooke's feelings. The implication being, Brooke had realized, that Sam had not lacked for female company, nor had she lived like a nun. Sam's insistence that none of the women she had spent time with had meant anything to her was all very well and good, but it didn't do much to quiet Brooke's jealous imagination when she had occasion to dwell on Sam's past. Not that Brooke could claim to be any different, having had several male partners in the intervening years as well.

But Sam was her one and only, and as irrational and overly dramatic as it sounded, she couldn't help dying inside a little bit when she thought of Sam with another woman. And to have to actually meet one of them face-to-face had been nearly intolerable. Brooke knew that this was her issue, and she needed to get over it. It would only plague her own happiness, and Sam's by extension, if she let it. There was nothing to be done about the past, and how could she begrudge Sam the companionship that she herself had sought so freely with guys before they were together? But her love, and the accompanying jealousy, didn't have to make sense, and she couldn't help the way she felt.

Brooke slid one hand under the now precisely folded sweaters, and placed her other hand on top, returning to the closet and carefully sliding the stack onto the shelf. She stood back and observed her handiwork: one stack of perfect sweaters lining up with regimental exactness among a shelf of chaotic and sloppy piles of clothes. She wanted to refold the entire shelf, but her exhaustion was catching up with her. As it was, she wouldn't be getting anywhere near the ten hours of sleep she found herself needing these days.

She knew she should talk to Sam about how she was feeling, but what could she really say? And what was Sam supposed to do about it? All this time had passed and now Brooke was supposed to bring it up? No. This was one time when she didn't think there was anything to be gained from open lines of communication. It would only make Sam feel bad.

She started to close the closet doors when a box on the top shelf caught her eye. It was a dusty, blue, Adidas shoebox, and Brooke knew exactly what was inside. She considered taking the box down and going through the contents, but knew if she went down that road she would never get to sleep.

Brooke turned away from the closet and got back into bed. She reached over and turned out the light, careful not to spill the long since cooled glass of milk on the bedside table, with the skin that had formed on the top.


Part 5

Brooke woke to the insistent beep of her alarm, immediately aware that Sam was not beside her. She was still tired, and could easily have slept another several hours, but her day was packed and she needed to get up. She thought back to the previous night, and the morose thoughts that had made her upset, and resolved to put the Paola sighting out of her mind. Dwelling on it would only make things worse, and a positive outlook was what she and the baby needed right now. Anyway, she thought she had become far too overwrought with emotion about the whole thing, and wanted to chalk it up to her tumultuous hormones.

She got up and zombied to the bathroom, opening the door to find Sam, dressed to the teeth in her one good suit, gazing into a small spot on the mirror that had been wiped dry of condensation as she carefully applied eyeliner. There were two things wrong with this picture that Brooke could see.

Firstly, Sam rarely wore the suit, a black Armani trouser suit that Brooke had found for her at a runway sale she had gone to with Nic one or two years back. Sam wore pretty much whatever she wanted while she worked and really didn't have a need for corporate attire. She and Sam had jokingly referred to it as her "Interview for a Funeral" suit, as those seemed to be the only two occasions when it was needed, although Sam did wear it every once in a while to intimidate or impress an interview subject. Every time she put it on Brooke commented that she should wear it more often, as it seemed to be tailor-made for Sam's body. The flattering lines of the suit made her appear taller and whippet thin, and Sam looked coolly elegant and stunningly sharp in it.

Secondly, Sam had been wearing makeup less and less as the years passed, again, because her job didn't really require it. Sam had access to pretty much anything she could want from Julian, but when she did use cosmetics, she pretty much stuck to just lipstick and mascara. Something big was definitely up, Brooke deduced.

"Hubba, Hubba," Brooke said and stood next to her, looking at Sam's reflection in the mirror. "Gotta hot date, baby?"

"At seven in the morning? Please." Sam smiled over at Brooke, a pleased look on her face, but she didn't explain. "Do you want a ride downtown again this morning? I'm meeting Carmen for coffee at that new café that's right near your building. She's so busy these days that she can only meet up before court is in session." Sam shook her head in disbelief.

"You got all dressed up like that for Carmen?"

"No, I have another meeting later," Sam replied vaguely, as she moved behind Brooke and embraced her, spanning her hands across Brooke's tummy. "Hey, I'm making eggs for mama and baby, they'll be ready in twenty minutes, like you will be, right?" Sam gave Brooke a "be ready, or else," kind of look.

"Yes, I'll be ready, and thanks for the ride," Brooke leaned back and kissed Sam on the cheek. She was so not up to facing rush hour traffic this morning.

"Do you want anything in your eggs?" Sam asked as she started out of the bathroom.

"Hmm. How about caviar?" Brooke smirked at Sam.

"Fresh out. I was thinking of something more like a slice of American cheese," Sam returned, grinning.

"Sounds good." It wasn't until Brooke was in the shower that she realized that Sam hadn't really answered her question.

Sam parked her car in Brooke's spot in the parking garage beneath her office. They walked with the tide of human bodies entering the lobby of the building, and Sam gave Brooke a distracted kiss on the cheek. "I'll call you later to see what time you want to be picked up, okay? I've got to run."

She sped out into the street, turning once to wave and saw that Brooke was watching her with a peculiar look on her face. She knew she had been acting suspiciously this morning, and Brooke deserved an explanation, but there was no sense in getting her excited about something that probably wasn't going to happen. Looking at her watch, she hurried down the block towards the yellow and white striped awning that fronted the café where she was meeting Carmen.

She quickly located Carmen sitting at one of the tables inside, bent over a legal-sized folder, sipping from a gargantuan cup of coffee. Sam slid into the seat across from her, and gripped the sides of the table.

"Is she here yet?" Sam asked anxiously.

"Well, hello, how are you doing, to you too," Carmen said sardonically.

"I'm sorry, Carm, I'm just so nervous. I'm freaking out."

"Will you relax? She's not going to bite your head off; she's really very nice. And no, she hasn't gotten here yet."

"Good. I need to calm the hell down. It's just that it's been such a long time coming to this point, I don't want to blow this chance."

"Don't worry, everything will be fine. It's really good, Sam. I bet she likes it, too. We had pretty similar tastes when we were roommates in college, she's bound to think it's great."

"But she's seen a lot of stuff. She's a professional," Sam groaned. "What am I even doing? All right, I think I just need to stop thinking about it for a minute." She took a deep breath. "So how are you, Carmen? This new job is keeping you on your toes, huh?"

"Oh yeah," Carmen replied. "Just learning how to navigate through this impenetrable corporate culture could be a full time job. But it's all pretty exciting, I'm kind of enjoying it. Don't tell Lily."

Carmen was cheerfully aware of Lily's opinion of her defection to the private sector. Having paid her dues in the public defender's office, and becoming as much as a star as one could be in that arena, Carmen had been courted by several large firms that sought her talents. Now she wanted to raise her profile and cash in a little bit on her success. The benefit of being wooed, she had told Sam, was that she was able to stipulate in her contract that a certain percentage of her time would go to developing a pro bono program for disenfranchised youth at her new firm. Sam knew that Carmen had wearied of seeing the worst side of humanity and was happy that she had found a way to incorporate what she had liked best about her old job into her new one.

"I won't," Sam replied. "How's Ray?"

Carmen and her husband Ray had carried on a stormy love affair all through Carmen's college years. Sam had actually introduced the pair just before starting college herself, and had honestly never thought that lively, bubbly Carmen and taciturn and aloof Ray could make it work. But Carmen was just what Ray had needed, giving him faith in himself to start his own indie record label that after many years of hard work was finally starting to have some success. They had gotten married a few years after Carmen had graduated, and Sam still felt some residual guilt that she hadn't even known about their wedding until she returned to California and had renewed her friendship with Carmen.

"He's fine. He's all jazzed about some new band from Orange County he just signed." Carmen said fondly. "He says they're going to put him on the map."

"Aw, he's already on the map," Sam replied.

"I'll tell him you said so. How is Brooke feeling?"

"She's feeling okay, I think. The "Being With Child" thing has made her chronically tired, so she sleeps a lot, but other than that, she's doing well. Doctor says everything is fine."

"Good." Carmen slapped her forehead, remembering something. "Oh! She emailed me about the referral I was going to give you guys about the second parent adoption attorney. I forgot to reply to her, tell her I'll get to it soon.

"Will do. It's not like we need it right away; we still have some time. God, Carm, what would we do without you and your connections?" Sam smiled at her friend. "We owe you like crazy for all that you do for us, me especially."

"Shut up, Sam, it's nothing." Carmen said, embarrassed.

"Well, you guys will at least have to come over for dinner some night. I do a mean pot roast," Sam inveigled.

"You? Pot roast? Who are you trying to kid?" Carmen asked disbelievingly.

"Really! I've been brushing up on my cooking skills. I won't kill you, I swear."

"Yeah, right," Carmen returned, then looked past Sam and waved. "She's here, Sam."

All thoughts of roasts, pot or otherwise, flew from Sam's mind as she stood to greet the woman approaching the table.

Brooke had been sitting at her desk going through her email when her phone rang. "Hello?"

"Can you come into my office, please?"

Brooke sighed. 9:04AM. Nic had given her four minutes before calling. "What is it, Nic?"

"I need you to come into my office."

"You come into mine."

"No," Nicole said smoothly. "You come into mine."

"Why don't you just come in here, Nic?" Brooke started to smile.

"Because I called you, and I asked you first. So come into my office."

"No, you come into mine."

"No, mine."



The two of them dissolved into a fit of giggles, and Brooke heard Nic hang up. A minute later she appeared in Brooke's doorway, grinning. "We are such idiots," she said.

"Yes," Brooke agreed. "Who would ever believe that we are the two highest ranking officials of this company?"

"Not me." Nicole flopped into one of the chairs facing Brooke's desk. "So how was your dinner with Sam last night? Where'd you go?"

"Good. L'Orangerie."

"Wow, fancy," Nic was impressed. "What was the occasion, again?"

"No occasion," Brooke said casually. She knew if Nic got her talking about last night, she would blurt out the whole Paola story, and she just didn't want to seem like an over-emotional pregnant lady. "So how's your day shaping up?"

"I've got a busy day of riding Kevin and Raoul's asses planned. They promised to have the anti-clumping agent for the mascara ready for testing yesterday and it's still not done. I'm going to have to go into that lab and ladle up a big steaming cup of whupass." Nic sounded rather pleased with that prospect. "You?"

"Easy, killer," Brooke warned. "The samples aren't being shipped to the factory in Korea until the fifteenth. They still have time."

"Don't tell me how to run my lab, B, and I won't tell you how to run your," Nic waved her hand in a vague manner, "meetings, or whatever."

"Yeah, like that will ever happen," Brooke muttered, and looked at her calendar for the day. "I have a meeting with legal at ten and then I'll be working on next year's budget this afternoon." At the thought of legal, Brooke remembered the referral Carmen was going to give her. She had meant to remind Sam to ask Carmen about it, but had forgotten. She could go over and talk to them, she supposed, she was free until ten.

"Okay, so maybe I'll just go in there and help the process along," Nic was obviously still hoping for the chance to crack some skulls.

Brooke knew how intimidated the bench chemists got when Nic spent too much time in the lab. She shook her head. Somehow her and Nic's wildly divergent management styles had worked surprisingly well together, and she couldn't argue with the results Nic coaxed from her staff. "All right, but just don't let it end in tears. Hey, I'm going down to that new café for a frappucino, minus the espresso, you want anything?"

"Minus the espresso? Brookie, why don't you get real and call it what it is? A chocolate milkshake?" Nic sassed.

"Okay, it's a chocolate milkshake," Brooke said agreeably, laughing. She pulled her wallet out of her briefcase and stood up, walking with Nic out into the hallway. "I have to get my calcium somehow. And if I can't use having a baby as an excuse to have the occasional milkshake at nine in the morning, then what good is being pregnant?"

Three women, a redhead, a brunette, and a petite blonde, sat around a café table, making pleasant small talk. Carmen had introduced Sam to her college friend and had spent the last several minutes telling funny anecdotes about their time at UCLA, putting Sam at ease. Sam felt like a complete dork. She had interviewed coked up, violent, alleged mobsters with impunity, but this tiny woman had her shaking. She was relieved that Carmen was still here, but now Sam saw her sneak a glance at her watch.

"I guess you two have a few things to talk about, and I'm going to be late if I don't make a move for the courthouse," Carmen packed up her things and stood to go. "So, I'll just leave you to it. It was great seeing you, Sandy; we should do it again soon. Sam, call me later."

"Thanks, Carm," Sam stood up and gave Carmen a kiss on the cheek. As Carmen left the café, Sam sat back down. She squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. "Ms. Towers, I want to thank you for taking the time to meet with me."

"Please, Sam, call me Sandy." The woman smiled warmly at Sam, but got right down to business. "I may have some very good news for you. I was very excited by the manuscript Carmen gave me, she told me how long you've been trying to get it seen by publishers without success. And that's where I come in. As an agent, I have access to the people who make the decisions, and I took the liberty of putting out a few feelers on your behalf, even though we haven't signed a contract. I think I can safely say that your manuscript has generated quite a bit of interest in children's publishing lately."

"Really?" Sam was at a loss for words. Of all the outcomes she had thought possible for this meeting, she had not really let herself think that this would be one of them.

"My office is only a few blocks away. I propose we go there and come up with a strategy to maximize the buzz that's already started with the few pages I leaked. Then we can really up the ante when the bidding war begins. Carmen told me all about how the book began life as a series of letters written to your little sister. That's fantastic, it'll make great jacket copy. I want to suggest a few editors that I think could help us get the book into shape too. And you can take a look at that oh-so-important contract I mentioned," Sandy grinned at Sam.

"Buh – Bidding war?" Sam repeated, in a daze.

"Would you like a glass of water?" Sandy asked, growing concerned.

"No, no, I'm fine," Sam snapped out of it, a smile lighting up her whole face. "So, you liked it?"

"I did," Sandy affirmed. "I think a lot of people are going to like your Annabella. Shall we go?"

Brooke strolled down the sidewalk, taking her time, allowing the workday's stragglers and latecomers to rush by her. The day was beautiful and sunny, but there must have been some rain during the night because the streets were still damp. The city felt freshly scrubbed, and Brooke breathed deeply in appreciation. She was feeling good, the drained feeling she had woken up with now gone. Maybe she was at last pulling out of that exhausted phase and going into the period of energy and vigor that marked the second trimester she had read so much about. That would make a welcome change, she thought.

She had almost reached her destination when someone in a black suit who looked remarkably like Sam caught her eye. But this person was just exiting the café, and was accompanied by a short blonde woman, and Sam would be inside with Carmen. Wouldn't she?

Brooke slowed her steps and tried to get a look at the face of the person who was now obscured by the umbrellas that stood up from the tables that were being set up on the outdoor patio in front of the café. The two figures walked towards the sidewalk, approaching the iron gate that led out of the cafe. Then the person in black stopped, and held her arm out in a gesture that allowed her companion to go ahead, and Brooke knew that it was Sam. Sam had used that gesture with her countless times; Brooke would recognize the angle of her forearm and the casual position of her upturned palm anywhere.

As Sam held the gate open for the woman, she turned to say something to the other woman, and Brooke was able to see her face in three-quarter profile. Sam was beaming. She had a look of pure bliss on her face. Brooke watched as the pair walked down the street, away from her.

She had seen that expression on Sam's face before, and she knew what it meant. Brooke felt like a doomed passenger on the sinking Titanic, the deck rolling and pitching beneath her unsteady feet, and Sam had just gotten into the last lifeboat without her. She turned around and walked back to her office.

Sam jauntily strode into Brooke's office sometime shortly before noon, feeling like Leonardo DiCaprio standing on the prow of a really big boat, or maybe Kate Winslet, it didn't really matter. She had rolled up the sleeves of her black silk blouse and had slung her suit jacket over her arm. All she wanted to do was go out and play with Brooke and tell her the good news.

"Sing all hail, what will be revealed today, when we peer into the great unknown, from the line to the throne," Sam sang lustily and wiggled her ass, causing Brooke to jump in surprise and swivel her chair away from the window where she had been engrossed in watching the flow of traffic down on Wilshire, as far as Sam could tell. "You free for lunch, oh lovely, corporate cosmetic captain of industry sitting before me?" she asked, winningly.

Nic breezed in right behind Sam and interrupted. "I have three things I need to discuss with you, Brooke, yeah, hi Spam could you please stop singing, thank you, is now a good time?"

Brooke looked from Sam to Nic, her expression glacial, but she said nothing.

"Okay, then," Nic continued. "First thing, the company picnic. Attendance has been down for the past three years. What can we do to entice our ungrateful employees to come to the one event we can afford to throw for them?"

"Hold it at night, in a bar," Sam said promptly, grinning. She had been to the annual Julian picnics, and horseshoes and soggy potato salad were not nearly enticing enough.

"Thank you, Don Rickles," Nicole threw a withering glare Sam's way.

"Sam, do you have your car keys?" Brooke asked.

Maybe Brooke felt like ditching the rest of the day too, Sam thought. She pulled them from her pocket and held them up. "Right here."

Brooke got up from her desk and grabbed her briefcase. She took the keys from Sam's hand and left her office without a word.

Nic and Sam stared at each other, puzzled.

"You're in trouble," Nic accused. "What'd you do?"

"Me? Nothing! It must have been you. What'd you do?"

"I didn't do anything, I don't think. Where is she going, anyway? I didn't even get to my two other things."

They followed her out of her office to see Brooke getting on the elevator at the end of the hallway.

"Shit." Sam exclaimed. "Brooke! Wait up. Hold the elevator." She hurried down the hallway, then started to run when she saw the doors closing, and Brooke not doing a thing to hold them open for her.

Sam slammed the front door, ready to raise holy hell. She found Brooke in the living room, where it looked like she had been pacing. She looked up at Sam's entrance and then started to pace again, her arms folded across her chest, her expression severe.

"What the hell was that all about, Brooke? I had to take a cab. It cost me thirty bucks!" Sam was indignant, and totally perplexed.

Brooke suddenly stopped. There was a stillness about her that unnerved Sam as she watched Brooke turn to face her.

"I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to answer me honestly. Got it?" Everything about Brooke's demeanor screamed that there would be dire consequences for an improper response to the question.

"Of course. Brooke what is this? What is going on?" Sam was frantically trying to figure out what Brooke was obviously so upset about.

"Did you really meet Carmen this morning?"

"Yes. We met at that café like I told you."

"Don't fucking lie to me, Sam," Brooke harshed, her voice low.

"I'm not! Brooke, what is your problem?"

"Sam, I saw you. I saw you leave with some little blonde slut."


"Yeah. Oh."

"Well, I can explain that," Sam said, reasonably. "Carmen was there and then she left. She's a friend of Carmen's," Sam started to smile as she got excited about the events that occurred earlier, and that enraged Brooke even further. "Carmen introduced us and-"

"So Carmen is your pimp now?"

Sam's smile immediately turned into a frown, her brain catching up and recalling Brooke's use of the word slut to describe Sandy. She suddenly understood what Brooke was implying, and she was pissed. "Brooke! Shut up! Listen to me. You're jumping to conclusions-"

"I didn't have to jump, Sam! I took a step and a conclusion slapped me in the face!" Brooke was apoplectic.

"Brooke, honey, I think maybe you're a little emotional right now-"

"Don't, Sam. Don't fucking honey me and don't even try to pin this on my emotional pregnant state. I know what I saw."

"Well, what the hell did you see?" Sam was completely exasperated. "Me in a public place with a woman who was not Carmen? And now you're ready to crucify me? I honestly don't know what you're even thinking, but if you're insinuating that something inappropriate went on, then you are sadly mistaken. Have I ever given you a reason to doubt me? I don't know what you think you saw, but whatever it is, you're interpreting it totally the wrong way. Now if you'll just calm down and let me explain, you'll see that it's all just a misunderstanding, and hilarity is about to ensue."

"Since when do I need an interpretation for what I can plainly see with my two correctly functioning eyes," Brooke said coldly.

Brooke's frigid reply brought Sam up short. She had never heard this tone coming from Brooke before, and she was starting to worry that she wouldn't be able to get through to her. And then things got worse.

"I want you to leave, Sam."

"You want me to-" Sam was nonplussed. "Like for an hour? Or something?"

"I want you to take your shit and get out. Can I be any clearer?" Brooke's words echoed with the sound of cracks widening on a frozen lake.

And then, stupidly, Sam laughed in Brooke's face, a short sharp bark that was anything but amused. "Hell, no. I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying right here and you're going to listen to me."

"Fine. You won't leave? Then I will." Brooke scooped up Sam's car keys from the coffee table and walked out the front door, leaving an utterly baffled Sam in her wake for the second time that day.


Part 6

"Brooke, turn on your stupid phone and call me back, dammit. We have to talk, so call me and tell me where you are." Sam left a frustrated message on Brooke's voicemail, after Brooke hung up on her the first time, realizing that Brooke would turn her phone back on only when she was good and ready.

She had spent twenty minutes looking for Brook's car keys, only to find them on the "Welcome Friends" key rack next to the door that led to the garage, where Brooke had always admonished her to put her own keys. Now she was headed back downtown, figuring Brooke might go back to the office to talk to Nic. She called the switchboard at Julian and asked to be put through to Nic. "Nic, it's Sam," she said, when Nic answered.

"What's up, Sam? Did you catch up with Brooke?"

"Caught up with her, and then lost her again."

"You're not too good at this, are you?" Nic commented flippantly.

Sam rolled her eyes; she didn't really want to be talking to Nic about any of this. "Look, if she comes back to the office will you call me on my cell, please? I really need to speak to her."

Nic must have picked up on the desperation in Sam's voice because she answered seriously. "You know I will, Sam."

"Thanks, Nic, bye." Sam ended the call but didn't put down the phone. She tried to think of other places where Brooke might go. The beach? Maybe. Their parents' house? Worth a try. She rapidly dialed the familiar digits, and was relieved to hear her mother pick up after the second ring.


"Oh, hi, honey," her mother greeted. "Do you know anything about sewing machines? I can't get this stupid-"

"Mom, by any chance, has Brooke shown up there?" Sam interrupted.

"Brooke? No, Sam. We're not expecting her. Why would she?"

"It's just that-" Sam sighed; she had to come clean. "We had a fight. Brooke took off and now I'm trying to find her."

"What do you mean, took off? Sam, what happened?" Jane asked, concerned.

"I honestly don't know, Mom. She kind of flipped out on me. She accused me of some really terrible things that are absolutely not true. And I'm getting worried. So if she comes to you, will you call me right away?"

"Wait, hang on, Sam. I hear a car, let me go to the window." Sam waited while her mother left the line for a moment. "It's your car, Sam. It must be Brooke."

"Mom, do not let her leave," Sam was adamant. "Also, tell her to call Carmen. Please. If she doesn't believe me, maybe she'll believe her. I'm on my way." Sam snapped her phone shut and made an extremely illegal u-turn, intent on breaking as many traffic statutes necessary to make it to Santa Monica as quickly as possible.

Brooke entered her childhood home through the kitchen door, and went directly up to the second floor, thinking that Jane would be doing one of her never-ending projects in her crafts room around this time of day. On the drive over, Brooke's anger had dissipated like a balloon with a slow leak, leaving only the withered sorrow that had encased it. She realized that she had no proof for the accusations she had hurled at Sam, and she was filled with doubt and confusion. What if all of this was a mistake? She desperately wanted it to be a mistake. But how would she be able to face Sam if it was? The only thing she really knew at this point was that the expression on Sam's face outside the café had immediately led her to the conclusion that Sam was cheating on her.

As Brooke walked down the hall, Jane came out of the room and saw her. All of the emotions she had been trying to suppress surged to the surface at the look of concern Jane gave her, and Brooke couldn't help but start to cry. Jane folded her in her arms and led her into her project room, sitting her down on the daybed and pulling Brooke's head onto her shoulder, offering soothing words as Brooke's frame was wracked with sobs.

Jane did not want to be put in this position. She had always known that there was a possibility of this happening, but after more than five years, she had thought it had become pretty remote. She honestly couldn't think of a more loving couple than Brooke and Sam. But now here it was, something had happened and Jane was to be the arbiter between her daughter and the girl who was as much a daughter to her as either Sam or Mac.

"Brooke, can you tell me what's wrong?" Jane asked delicately, after Brooke's tears had subsided somewhat.

"Her face. Sam's face," Brooke said helplessly. "I'm sorry. "I'm so sorry, Jane. I don't even know why I'm here."

Jane frowned at the lack of sense Brooke was making, deciding to just wait until she was ready to talk. In the few weeks it had been since Jane had seen Brooke, her face had filled out a little more and she was, even through her wretchedness, infused with the healthy vitality of mid-pregnancy. It reminded Jane of her own pregnancies, and the upheaval the body goes through.

Brooke finally raised her eyes to Jane's, having composed herself enough to start talking. "I saw Sam with another woman today."

Jane was shocked. She didn't want to think her daughter capable of something like this; she needed more information. "What exactly did you see?"

"I saw them," Brooke said resolutely. "Sam and that woman. They were walking."

Jane was confused. "That's all that you saw?"

Brooke seemed to realize how flimsy it sounded. "If you could have seen her face, Jane," she insisted. "I know that look on her face."

"Okay," Jane backed off. "So what did Sam say? Did she have an explanation?"

Brooke hung her head. "I didn't want to hear it. I was scared."

"Oh, honey, why were you scared?" Jane's heart went out to Brooke. She thought she knew what had happened.

"Because I didn't want her to tell me…" Brooke stopped, her throat closing up again.

"Brooke, this is Sam we're talking about. You two have been together for so long now. Don't you think she deserves to explain herself?"

Brooke just looked into Jane's eyes as if she was trying to find the answer there.

"She's on her way, you know, she called just before you got here," Jane told her. "She said that you should call Carmen and get the story from her."

"Sam's coming here?" Brooke cried, alarmed. "I can't see her yet, Jane. I don't know what to think. I don't know what to do."

Jane handed her the cordless phone. "If Sam wants you to talk to Carmen, why don't you start with that? Maybe you'll find the answer you're looking for, and you'll feel better," she said reasonably. "It can't hurt."

Brooke took the phone, "Okay," she said bemusedly. "Yeah, that's a good idea." She dialed information and got the number for Carmen's law firm. After enduring extremely annoying hold music for a while, she was finally told that Carmen wasn't in the office; she would be in court until four.

"Do you happen to know which courtroom she's in?" Brooke had the presence of mind to ask, looking at her watch. After getting that information, she dropped the phone and stood up. "I've got to go, Jane," Brooke simultaneously wiped at her cheeks and took a deep breath. She grabbed her stepmother by the shoulders and kissed her on the cheek. "Thank you. This has been so helpful."

Jane thought that was a weird thing to say. She didn't think Brooke was thinking very clearly, still, but she didn't think she could stop her from leaving. "Brooke, be careful. Do you want me to drive you? I can do that, it's not a problem."

Brooke stopped. Her eyes seemed to focus and she didn't look as scattered. "I'll be fine, Jane. I'm okay. I'm hoping I made a big mistake, I just need to hear what Carmen says." And she turned and left the room.

Jane went to the window and watched Brooke walk to the car. After Brooke calmly got in, fastening her seatbelt before sedately backing out of the drive, Jane felt a little better about allowing her to leave.

Sam was dismayed to see that her car wasn't in the driveway when she arrived at what used to be her home. She ran into the house calling for Brooke, her mother, anyone. Seeing nobody downstairs, she took the steps two at a time and found her mother in the craft room, sitting before her sewing machine, but not doing any actual sewing.

"Mom, where did she go?" Sam asked breathlessly.

'She went to find Carmen," Jane reported. "She couldn't speak to her because she's in court today."

"Oh yeah, that's right," Sam replied. "I knew that." She went over and sat down on the daybed, in almost the exact spot that Brooke had sat not fifteen minutes before. Jane watched Sam wearily put her head in her hands. Then she lifted her head. "Is she okay?"

Jane got up and sat next to Sam. "Yes, she will be. She thinks you cheated on her."

"Mom, I didn't, I swear," Sam said vehemently. "It's ludicrous. There could never be anyone else for me. It was a business meeting, for chrissake."

"Sam, do you remember when I found out that I was pregnant with Mac?"

"Yeah." Sam was thrown off by her mother's non sequitur.

"Mike and I had separated and you and I were living in that dump that wasn't much better than a no-tell motel."

"And?" Sam was obviously waiting to hear what this had to do with her present situation.

"And I was a mess. I was irrational, moody, couldn't think straight. My emotions were constantly in the red, hormones wildly pinging through my body. I would swing from happy to sad, from despondent to elated, in a nanosecond. Carrying a baby will do that to you. You should remember, you had to live in a tiny, enclosed space with me."

"I do remember," Sam said, getting the point.

"Cut Brooke a little slack on this one, okay?" Jane said gently, putting her hand on Sam's shoulder.

Sam nodded. "I thought maybe that had something to do with it." She looked absently around the room, wondering what she should do now. Should she follow Brooke to the courthouse or just go home and wait for her there? She wished someone would tell her what to do. Then her eyes fell on her mother's sewing table. She walked over and examined the bits of blue and pink gingham fabric and linen appliqués with farm animals on them.

Her mother stood behind her. "It was supposed to be a surprise for the shower. It will be a quilt for the baby if I can get it finished in time," Jane said exasperatedly. "Brooke will still be surprised. She didn't even notice it."

Sam was touched by her mother's gesture. Neither she nor Brooke deserved such a wonderful mother. She only hoped she could do as good a job with her own children. "It'll be beautiful, Mom. Thanks. For everything." She hugged her for a long time before leaving her mother to her project.

She went downstairs and stood in the kitchen, still indecisive about her next move. She pulled out her cell and tried Brooke again. Her phone was still turned off.

Just then the kitchen door opened, and Sam watched Mac stumble in, awkwardly carrying a large piece of posterboard in her arms.

"Hi Mac," Sam greeted.

"Hey," Mac replied, surprised. "What are you doing here?"

"I just had to talk to Mom about something." Sam didn't really want to go into everything with Mac. "What have you got there?"

"Science Fair project," Mac said proudly. "I got an A."

"You got an A out of Bio Glass?" Sam was impressed.

"Yep." Mac turned her project around so Sam could see it. It was an in-depth report on Pediculosis Pubis, or Crabs, as it is more commonly known. It featured a large, and extremely unpleasant photo of the insect blown up under an electron microscope, as well as images of infestation and infected areas that were as disgusting and sensational as they were effective. The glitter was a nice touch too.

"That is brilliant, Mac," Sam said with admiration.

"Yeah, I knew that appealing to Glass' unnatural obsession with STD's would be the way to go. She never had a chance," Mac said smugly. "I finally figured out that in order to survive Bio Glass, you have to think like Bio Glass."

Sam laughed. "You undoubtedly have the biggest brain in this family. Why didn't I ever think of that?" It was nice to be distracted from her problem with Brooke even for a minute, it felt like she hadn't laughed in years, although it had only been a few hours, she realized.

Sam took the poster board out of Mac's hands. "C'mere," she said, and threw her arms around Mac, hugging her fiercely. She needed all the hugs she could get today.

"What's with you?" Mac asked, bewildered.

"Shut up. I need a hug, and you're the designated huggee."

Mac allowed herself to be hugged, silently waiting for Sam to let go of her. When Sam at last pulled away from her, Mac said, scathingly, "God, Heather, what's your damage?"

Sam petulantly zinged back, "Heather, why can't you just be a friend? Why do you have to be such a mega-bitch?"

To which Mac frostily replied, "Because I can be."

The two sisters giggled at each other, amused by the most inane things. Sam knew she shouldn't indulge Mac's unhealthy addiction to the quintessential teen movies of the eighties, but sometimes she just couldn't help herself.

"Sit down, Mac," Sam led her over to the kitchen table and sat, "I want to tell you something."

Mac sat down and looked at Sam, suspicion written on her face.

"Relax, it's good news," Sam assured her. "Annabella's getting published."

"No shit. Really?" Mac sat up straight in surprise. "Wow. That took a long time. You borrowed my scrapbook, what, like three years ago?"

"Yeah. Don't worry; I'm not that slow a writer. The manuscript didn't take long at all, it was getting it seen by the right people that took ages."

"Cool. So what did Brooke say? Was she surprised? It was kind of hard not telling her about it in the beginning, but then I just kind of forgot about it."

Sam sobered. "Brooke doesn't know yet."

"You didn't tell her?" Mac was incredulous.

"Not yet," Sam smiled sadly. "You're the first to know."

"That's great, Sam!" Mac was getting excited. "So are you going to dedicate it to me? And what about my cut?"

"Your cut?" Sam repeated.

"Yeah. If it weren't for me, you never would have made her up. Doesn't that entitle me to something?"

"A punch on the nose, maybe," Sam said, grinning. She had always dreamed that if Annabella ever got published, she would do something nice for Mac, some grand gesture of gratitude. Mac was right; Annabella existed because of her. Now that it was going to be a reality, Sam had to think just what that gesture might be. But she wouldn't be coming up with any great ideas today, she thought. "Okay, Macky, I've got to get out of here," Sam stood up.

"Hey, can you give me a ride down to the beach? I'm meeting Richie."

"What, no homework?"

"C'mon, Sam, don't be lame. I'll do it later."

"I'm not the boss of you, go check with Mom. She's upstairs."

After Jane's permission had been secured, Sam and Mac drove out to the beach, Mac having to endure Sam's good-natured ribbing about Mac and Richie sitting in a tree. Mac's flushed cheeks told Sam that her gentle teasing was probably founded in truth, but Mac was not ready to talk yet, it appeared. Sam couldn't wait to tell Brooke about this latest development, that is, if Brooke was speaking to her at all, she thought grimly.

When they reached the beach, Mac turned to her. "Congratulations, Sam. That's really awesome. And thanks for the ride."

"No problem, kid," Sam said affectionately.

"Tell Brooke I said hi," Mac added. Then, just before getting out of the car, she looked soberly at Sam and said in her best, most drama-laden, Ralph Macchio-esque delivery, "Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold."

She was gone before Sam had a chance to respond. Sam chuckled and shook her head, but then got serious, turning her car towards the freeway and back to downtown, deciding to find Carmen, which would hopefully lead her to Brooke.

Brooke tiptoed into the hushed room where a nervous man in a red tie was giving testimony, and was surprised to see that it didn't really look the way courtrooms look on TV. She let the door swing shut behind her, unknowingly letting it slam loudly in its frame, nearly waking up the one or two jurors who were using their civic duty to catch up on their sleep. Unfortunately, every other head in the place swung around to look at her, causing her to blush from her neck right up to the roots of her blonde hair.

She spotted Carmen, who, being the lowest member on her legal totem pole, sat on the extreme left side of the defense table, and saw that her redheaded friend was looking back at her with concern and surprise. Brooke quickly sat down in the spectator's section, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, intent on waiting for a recess or something so she could talk to Carmen.

She craned her neck to get a look at Carmen again, utterly disinterested in the proceedings and the now sweating man in the red tie, and saw her whispering to the colleague sitting next to her. Then Carmen got up and walked through the little swinging gate that separated the spectators from the real action and motioned to her with a little jerk of her head to follow.

Once they were out in the crowded and noisy hallway, Carmen turned to Brooke. "What are you doing here, Brooke? Not that I don't like seeing you, but I doubt you have an interest in our client and his recent troubles with the IRS. What's going on?"

"Carmen, I'm so sorry to bother you while you're working," Brooke said humbly, feeling like a complete ass. "Is there somewhere we can go and talk, just for a minute?"

"Um, not really," Carmen studied Brooke for a moment, and seemed to realize that all was not well. "Wait, come on." She took Brooke's arm and led her down the hall to the women's restroom.

A moment later they were in the relative quiet of the bathroom, which was strangely empty for a building with so many people coming and going. "It's not the Novak, but it'll do in a pinch," Carmen joked, leaning against one of the sinks and looking at Brooke expectantly.

"I just need to ask you, Carmen, what you were doing around nine o'clock this morning," Brooke asked, her voice high and tight.

"Wow." Carmen laughed. "I'm the one that usually asks these kind of questions." Then she looked at Brooke and saw that she was deadly serious, and anxiously waiting for her answer. She noticed that Brooke looked the worse for wear actually; as if she had been crying recently. "I was with Sam this morning, Brooke. We met for coffee before I came here."

"Yes, that's what Sam told me. The thing is," Brooke held her gaze steadily, "I saw her leaving with a blonde woman, and I didn't see you anywhere."

Carmen's expression grew uncomfortable, and Brooke's heart sank. "Brooke, I really think you should be talking to Sam about this."

Brooke gripped Carmen's forearm. "Please, Carmen, who is she?"

Carmen was disconcerted by the intensity of Brooke's distress. The poor woman was obviously thinking Sam was up to something sneaky, when that was the furthest thing from the truth. She didn't want to be the one to spoil the surprise but she didn't think Brooke would let her leave the bathroom unless she told her what she knew.

"She's a friend of mine from college. She's a literary agent specializing in children's publishing, and I passed along Sam's manuscript to her about a month ago," Carmen disclosed.

"Sam's manuscript?" Brooke was visibly confused.

"Sam wrote a book about a character she invented for Mac," Carmen began.

"Annabella," Brooke interrupted, wonderingly.

"Right," Carmen nodded. "Apparently, she got the idea when she heard that her mother had sent photocopies of her letters to a friend of hers in publishing, but nothing had ever come of that. So she wrote the book and sent out cover letters and the first chapter all over the place but didn't get any response.

"Until just recently, only Sam and Mac knew that she was trying to get the thing published. Then, last month, we were all supposed to meet for drinks, but you had bailed because you were tired, and Lily's son got sick, so it just ended up being Sam and me. Remember?"

Carmen watched Brooke nod. She had a grim look on her face.

"So Sam had just gotten her, like, fiftieth rejection letter, and she was pretty bummed, and it didn't take much for her to spill the whole story. I told her I knew someone in publishing, and I could introduce her if she wanted. And that's what happened this morning," Carmen concluded.

Brooke just stood before her, taking all the information in. Then she pressed her palms to her forehead and shook her head wearily. "God, Carmen, I am such a moron. I don't even want to tell you what I thought. Why didn't she tell me?" she asked plaintively.

"I got the feeling that she wanted it to be a surprise," Carmen said.

"I hate surprises," Brooke declared. "At least I do now."

Carmen chuckled. "Now I'm dying to know how the meeting went."

"Carmen, thank you. You don't know how relieved I am. Now I just have to apologize to Sam about six million times. We had an argument and I said some horrible things." Brooke said shamefacedly, her eyes filling with tears.

'Hey, it's okay. Sam'll understand, you guys can make it up. It was all just a misunderstanding." Carmen tried to say something that would lessen Brooke's clearly evident distress.

Brooke collected herself, and washed her face and hands. She knew she had to face Sam; she just wasn't relishing the task. She was so ashamed and embarrassed, and knew she had some serious groveling to do. But now, she had taken up too much of Carmen's time. She tried to smile. "Carmen you should get back into that courtroom, they probably need your help. He looks innocent to me."

"Thanks Brooke," Carmen laughed. "I wish you were on the jury."

The two of them left the bathroom and Carmen walked with Brooke as far as the door to the courtroom. Before quietly closing the door behind her, Carmen said, "Everything will be fine. Just talk to Sam."

Brooke nodded, praying that Carmen was right.

Sam screeched to a halt in front of the courthouse, immediately reaching for the glove compartment to retrieve the press credentials that would enable her to avoid being ticketed and/or towed before realizing that her press pass was in her car, the one that Brooke was currently driving. Oh well, she sighed, she would just have to hope that the meter maids were on a break, and put the matter out of her mind. The traffic had been heavy on the freeway, and it was just going on four o'clock, she doubted whether Carmen or Brooke would still be around, but she was here, so she would try.

As she started up the broad steps that led into the courthouse, she heard her name being called. She looked up to see Carmen, breaking away from a group of easily identifiable fellow attorneys standing a short distance away and coming over to her.

"Sam, Brooke was here earlier." Carmen reported without preamble.

"She's gone?" Sam was disappointed that she had missed her yet again.

"She left about twenty minutes ago." Carmen said, then hesitated. Sam waited, steeling herself for bad news. "I had to tell her about the book."

Relief washed over Sam. Was that all? "Carmen if I had today to live all over again, the first words out of my mouth when I woke up this morning would be, 'Brooke, I wrote a book and I have a meeting with someone about it today.' Talk about one of the all time backfiring good ideas."

"I think Brooke would like to live this day over again, too," Carmen said kindly. "She was going home when she left here."

"Thanks, Carm."

"So not to be indecorous or anything, but how did it go with Sandy?" Carmen asked curiously.

"It went so well," Sam smiled. "She thinks it's going to be big. I honestly will never be able to thank you enough."

"I'm sure we'll think of a few ways you can thank me," Carmen said cheekily. "And if pot roast is involved, there must be a restaurant involved as well."

"Suit yourself," Sam replied. "But you don't know what you're missing. My pot roast is like buttah."

"Go home, Sam, tell Brooke all about it. It looks like you've both been through the wringer today."

"All I know is, it takes a special woman to have made me feel this miserable," Sam declared. She looked down the street and saw the ominous little vehicle that held one merciless meter maid approaching. "Gotta go, Carm, thanks for everything." She gave Carmen a quick hug and scampered back down to Brooke's car.

She thought maybe her luck was changing as she narrowly escaped a ticket, and headed for home.

Part 7

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