DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to Ryan Murphy and the WB. No infringement is intended.
CONTINUITY: This is next in line after 'How Lily Found Out, Parts I & II', and 'Her Favorite Fantasy'.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Christmas, 2:33pm
By Quatorz


Bing Crosby crooned in the background, dreaming of something that Brooke had never witnessed, and-with blue skies and temperatures in the mid-fifties-wasn't likely to see today either.

It was Christmas at the Palace. Decorations of gold and silver-with dashes of red and green-were hung sparsely and tastefully throughout the house. The gilded adornment looked very festive.

And thanks to the 'miracle' of canned snow, Brooke sighed, the Palace was probably closer to granting the illusion of Bring Crosby's dream than any other home in the Golden State.

The tree, the garland, the wreath-every holiday garnish and innocent horizontal surface had been enhanced (Sam's term-not hers) by the magic of imitation snow.

Brooke just shook her head. God bless her, Sam really did try to restrain herself-it just wasn't in her. She was like a kid at, well....Christmas.

When you put it like that, Brooke thought to herself.

And Brooke would have to admit that Sam-ever the anal retentive perfectionist when it came to things that had absolutely no bearing in real life-worked hard to master her technique, and by her fourth or fifth window the effect was very convincing. If Brooke stared for a few moments, she could almost see fresh snowflakes falling just beyond the windowpane.

It was funny: as much as she had resented the intrusion of Jane and Sam into their very ordered and structured lives, ever since the two of them moved in the Palace had felt a lot more like a home.

Speaking of Sam...

Brooke poked her head in the kitchen. Jane was fixing a cup of coffee, and smiled at her.

"Hi Jane," she greeted. "Have you seen Sam?"

"She went out for a bit," Jane answered. There was something in her expression Brooke couldn't quite place, and her answer was strangely evasive.

"Is everything okay?" she vocalized her concern.

"Everything's fine," Jane answered, forcing a smile. "Sam went to visit her father's grave," she explained. "She goes every year at Christmas."

"Oh," Brooke replied, a bit shell shocked. Now that she thought about it, Sam had disappeared for a couple of hours last year before the party also.

"Why didn't--" she began, but then realized the answer was obvious. As much as she liked to think they were getting closer, obviously--

Wait. She reigned in her suddenly rampaging insecurities. They were getting closer. Sam was her friend. Of that much she was sure.

"Do you--" she stuttered, "do you think she'd like some company?"

"Why?" Jane shot back.

It stung. Rejection from a maternal figure was never something Brooke handled well, and Jane had become the mother Brooke had always wanted-or at least as close as anyone could get. But now her voice was laced with surprise, suspicion, and even a trace of anger.

"I'm sorry," Jane offered immediately, realizing how that sounded. "I-I don't know why I said that. I didn't mean that to come out like that.

"It's sweet of you to be concerned. I've seen how close the two of you have become, and I'm glad. I-I was just surprised."

Brooke walked on eggshells. "I just thought maybe Sam could use a little moral support," she suggested tentatively.

"I do too," Jane agreed, "but she always wants to go alone."

Brooke thought about that for a moment. "I don't think she means it," she replied, and the moment the words were said she knew instinctively it was true.

Jane appraised her with a smile. "I think you're right." She walked over to Brooke and put her hands on the blonde's shoulders. "And I'm sorry for what I said." Jane searched herself. "I guess I'm still a little...territorial where Joe is concerned.

"Can you forgive me?" Jane asked her.

Brooke nodded, and Jane pulled her in for a hug. Brooke basked in the warmth and acceptance that had been missing in her life for so long before Jane's arrival.

It was all she could do not to let the 'M word' slip out.

From a distance, a passerby would observe a pretty brunette sitting in the shadow of a headstone-a sight not at all uncommon on a holiday embedded with so many family memories.

But this scene was different. Although quite alone, she gesticulated in the air, trying to articulate with her hands what appeared to be an animated discussion.

Her expression was perplexing as well. She smiled, and even laughed from time to time, but tears streamed copiously down her cheeks.

The casual observer would be able to tell one thing from the scene: whoever Joseph McPherson-that was the name chiseled on the headstone-had been in life, he had meant a great deal to this pretty young woman...

Sam shook her head ruefully. "You're probably laughing your head off, aren't you?" she smiled at herself. "As much as I complained about her all those times."

Sam sniffed, and used a tissue to swipe at a runny nose. "Yeah, it turns out she's not as bad as I thought," she laughed at the irony. "She's pretty great, actually," she blushed.

A new thought occurred to Sam, and her expression sobered. "I hope you're laughing," she blinked through fresh tears. "I hope you're not disappointed in me. I know this isn't what you envisioned for me. I-I sure didn't plan for this to happen."

Sam couldn't bear the thought of not living up to her father's expectations. Even as a child, he never had to yell to admonish her. Telling her that he was disappointed in how she'd acted was worse than if he'd raised his voice. And the thought that she was disappointing him now...

But even as she considered it-and felt the implication of that-the pressing weight in her chest evaporated almost instantly.

"I don't think you are, are you?" she smiled, relieved. She didn't necessarily attribute this feeling to her father communicating from beyond the veil-although that would be extremely cool-but more to the certainty she had about the kind of person he was. "You knew love was real-and that it wasn't always convenient. And this one certainly is that-on both counts," she chuckled.

"I can hardly believe I'm saying that. Of all the people in the world, I had to fall for Brooke McQueen.

"We hated each other when we first moved in together." Sam took a moment to analyze her last statement. "Okay, apparently I didn't hate her," she admitted ruefully. "But she drove me crazy.

"Now I know why, huh?" she snickered.

Sam was quiet for a moment, not quite sure how to broach the next subject. "Mom's happy," she informed him. "I guess you know that already. You have a pretty good vantage point.

"Mike's a good man," she admitted. "He really is. And he loves Mom.

"He loves me too, and he tries hard to be a dad. I think I just-I won't let him." She had never voiced that realization out loud-even to herself. She made a mental note to examine her relationship with Mike, and maybe try and meet him halfway.

Her admission prompted further baring of her soul. "I'm ashamed of how I acted when they first got together. I was kind of a bitch there for a while. It took me a long time to realize that you would want Mom to find someone and be happy again."

She smiled. "Maybe I had to fall in love before I realized what it meant to really love someone.

"I don't know what I'm going to do, though," she confided. "I'm pretty sure its one sided.

"Although," she thought back on a recent excursion with the blonde, "there was this moment the other day-at the store-where I swear--"

She shook her head. "I probably imagined it. Seeing what I want to see. A good reporter should be more objective.

"I wish you were here. I could use some advice," she shrugged. Then she thought about that last comment: about going to her Dad and asking him for advice on how to woo girls.

"Okay, maybe not," she grinned. "But it does feel good just talking about it. You're the first person I've told, so feel honored," she laughed-and she figured he was laughing too.

"I wish you could meet her," she told him. "You'd like--"

Wind carried the sound of approaching footsteps crunching the parched grass. "Hey, Sammy," Brooke waved tentatively.

Sam felt a pang of guilt-immediately recognizing the blonde's defensive posture. A legacy from the old days: Brooke was ready to be attacked for showing up uninvited-here especially.

"Hey," Sam smiled warmly, hoping to allay her fears. "What are you doing here?" she asked, but her tone was of pleasant surprise-not accusatory.

Brooke felt a surge of relief. She had been so sure of herself when she talked to Jane and on the ride over. But the moment she saw Sam sitting there before her father's grave her confidence vanished. But still she kept walking, unable to stop herself at that point.

"I thought," Brooke shrugged, "you might like some company."

Sam nodded, and waved her closer. "Dad," she addressed the headstone. "This is the friend I was telling you about."

She was talking to her Dad about me? Brooke wondered. That probably wasn't good. Of course, she had referred to her as a friend, and not as 'the bitch' or something.

"Brooke, this is my Dad," Sam gestured.

Brooke felt a little awkward addressing a headstone, but she knew that Sam meant this is where she went to talk to him. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir," Brooke smiled. "I've heard...a lot of wonderful things about you, and I see all of those same qualities in Sam. You raised an amazing daughter."

Brooke wasn't sure why she'd volunteered that much information. But she imagined how she would feel meeting Joseph McPherson in person for the first time, maybe arriving at their house to pick Sam up for a--

She nipped the thought in the bud. No need to confuse herself right now. This moment was about Sam-about being there for Sam if she needed support.

"Thanks, Brooke," Sam replied bashfully. It was amazing to hear Brooke say such wonderful things about her-especially comparing her to her father. "That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me." Although-technically-Brooke hadn't said it to her. "About me," she corrected.

"Is that true?" Brooke laughed suddenly.

The tension burst, and Sam laughed as well. "I guess we didn't always say the nicest things to each other," she admitted.

"We were downright evil." Brooke chortled. Funny they could laugh about that now. "I'm sorry for that, by the way."

"Me too," Sam smiled. It was amazing how good being in the blonde's presence could make her feel. And she could admit that to herself now-admit that what she felt for Brooke wasn't an infatuation, a crush, or a case of youthful experimentation. She was in love with this girl.

She had no idea what to do about it, but there it was.

"Thanks for coming out here," she added. Sam realized that with Brooke there, even the loss of her father didn't ache as much as it normally did.

"I thought maybe you could use the company-even mine," she grinned. It was a throwback remark to their old relationship that both knew didn't apply anymore. They spent most of their time-willingly-in each other's company.

"I'm sorry I've never come out here before," Brooke confessed. "I've known you for two and a half years and I've never been here to visit with you. I feel bad."

"It's okay," Sam assured her. "I probably would've said no if you'd asked me. But you're welcome here anytime," Sam added.

"Thanks, Sammy." Brooke knew what that meant coming from the brunette-that was inclusion into her inner sanctum.

Sam wiped her eyes. "I guess we should get back."

"People will be arriving soon," Brooke nodded in agreement.

Sam turned one more time to her father's grave. "Merry Christmas, Dad."

"Merry Christmas, Mr. McPherson," Brooke addressed in farewell.

They strolled back to their cars, and Brooke was seized with the overwhelming urge to go back. Mr. McPherson would be the perfect person to talk to-to try and articulate how she felt about--

A new realization stopped Brooke in her tracks.

"Are you okay?" Sam asked.

"I'm fine," Brooke nodded. She searched for an excuse. "I was just hoping we had enough ice, but I think we do."

"We do," Sam assured her. "Your Dad picked up some more yesterday. It's in the garage freezer."

"Great," Brooke answered-amazed at how convincing that sounded. At that moment she couldn't care less if Antarctica melted.

They got into separate cars, and headed for home. That was good: it gave Brooke time to think.

What had caused her brain to seize up was the almost audible 'click' from different pieces of a puzzle falling into place. She had thought about how good it would feel to come to Mr. McPherson's grave and try to sort through her jumble of feelings-and then realized that Sam had been talking to her father about her.

And Lily had said it was mutual.

She'd told herself repeatedly over the last few days (weeks, months) that she didn't even know what it was, but that wasn't true.

'It' was Door Number Three.

There was Josh standing there and just beyond him Harrison-neither of which were the one-and behind them was the very appealing yet thoroughly terrifying Door Number Three.

Was she ready for that? Would she ever be? That certainly didn't fit with the image she'd cultivated for herself for so long: the nuclear family built upon the union of the homecoming queen and the quarterback, complete with 2.2 kids and a white picket fence.

And she wanted that fence.

Then why when she pictured what was behind Door Number Three did she see big, brown Bambi eyes with long dark lashes raking over her, batting just like...

Like a stripper looking for tips.

Brooke slammed on the brakes-inches shy of kissing the bumper of the car in front of her.

That mental image had almost cost her a five hundred dollar deductible.

She saw Sam through her rear view mirror in the car behind her. The brunette soundlessly annunciated: 'Are you okay?'

Brooke lied and nodded, and waved in an effort to appear nonchalant. She willed her heart to slow down. It was beating so fast she was lightheaded.

Sam waved back and smiled.

Lily said it was mutual, her mind reminded her.

What was Sam thinking right now: was she as confused as Brooke? Was she considering taking a path she never could have imagined for herself? Was she debating a higher monthly rate in favor of a lower deductible?

Was she going crazy talking to herself?

Or was Lily nuts, and while Brooke was mired in a tangle of feelings and expectations and confusion, Sam sat unfettered by it all?

While she agonized over her decision and wondered where in the hell she would ever get the courage to step through Door Number Three, was it irrelevant?

Because she didn't want to step through that door with just anybody. She had a very specific someone in mind. And even then she wasn't sure...

But what about Sam: did she see her in that way? Had Brooke simply been imagining it: the little moments, the looks, the casual touches, the closeness between them? Had all of that just been figments of her warped imagination and desire to play house?

Did Sam want more than friendship? Did she even want Sam to want more than friendship?

You know the answer to that one, her mind chastised.

She glanced back, and watched Sam tap her finger on the steering wheel in time to whatever song she was listening to. The brunette seemed annoyingly unfazed.

Did Sam want Brooke to love her?

And for the first time, Brooke asked herself the question she'd been terrified of-the one that potentially changed everything:

Do I love her...?

Lily, Brooke resolved. I've got to talk to Lily...

The End

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