DISCLAIMER: Characters of Popular are not mine. They belong to somebody who is not me. The title was inspired by the lyrics of the song of the same name, on the soundtrack to the movie, Camp.
SERIES: First story in the 'An Ever Fixed Mark' series.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Here's Where I Stand
By Green Quarter


Part 1

"Get out of my face, Brooke."  Sam warned playfully, as she butted Brooke with her hip and stood her ground.

"What's the matter, can't take it?" Brooke baited, all elbows and hands waving in her face, playing a mean intimidation game.

Sam faked to the left, then dodged to the right, but Brooke was on her like white on rice.  Jesus!  It's only a gym class game of basketball, on the last day of school no less, and Brooke is acting like it's March Madness, Sam thought exasperatedly.  And we both suck at basketball!

"I'm open," Sam called to Popita, who was indolently dribbling the ball at the top of the key while chatting with Mary Cherry, although Sam was not, in fact, open.

Poppy couldn't care less if Sam was open or not, she threw the ball underhanded in Sam and Brooke's direction.  Sam made a desperate lunge for the ball, fingertips grasping, but Brooke's superior arm length allowed her to tip the ball out of Sam's reach.  Brooke scrambled after the ball and awkwardly dribbled it down the court, looking behind her to see if Sam had given chase.

Sam stayed where she was, bending over and resting her hands on her knees, watching as Brooke skidded to a stop about five feet away from the basket.  Brooke took careful aim and made her shot, and Sam saw her clench her fists at her sides as the ball wobbled and bounced on the rim before falling through the basket with a swish.  Brooke jumped in place and pumped her fist in the air, as Mary Cherry ran over to congratulate her.

"Brookie, slap my palm," Mary Cherry said, holding her hand up.

Brooke high-fived Mary Cherry and then turned to Sam and yelled across the gym, "Ha!  Suck it, McPherson!"

Sam shook her head and smiled in spite of herself.  She and Brooke had been on friendly terms for quite a while now, their senior year spent in relative harmony, but sometimes that old antagonism would pop up and color their interactions, and there didn't seem to be anything she could do about it.  She was just glad that it seemed to manifest itself in harmless ways, like competing for their baby sister Mac's attention, or bickering over the largest pork chop, or battling it out on the basketball court.

Sam threw an aggrieved glance over to their gym teacher, who had looked up from the bleachers where she was making notations in her role book and seemed to realize she was fighting a losing battle.  All the students were standing around talking in groups of twos and threes, and the only student that appeared to be benefiting from physical education this period was Brooke McQueen. Finals had ended the previous day, and for seniors, this day was an annoying formality, as no one, present teacher excepted, was holding a class.

Sam slowly followed Brooke, Mary Cherry, and Popita out of the gym after class was dismissed.  She looked around at the gym and noted that it would probably be the last time she would ever be subjected to forced exercise in a gulag-like setting.  It was a good feeling, but weird, too.  She cleaned out her gym locker and made her way into the hallway where, as usual, Carmen and Lily waited for her so they could walk to their next class together.

"So, how does it feel, Sam?" Lily asked.  "No more gym class, ever."

"It would have felt better if Coach didn't make us change and I could have just sat around on the bleachers all period like you guys did," Sam grumbled.  She had complained all semester about having to take a different gym class than Carmen and Lily.  "And Brooke chose the last class of the year to go all WNBA on me, she actually forced me to break a sweat," Sam said incredulously, she still didn't know where Brooke's exuberant hoop dreams had come from.

"Well, you'll never have to endure the sweet stench of moldy gymnasium ever again," Carmen comforted.

"Can I get an Amen for that," Sam testified.  "Now only two classes left before it's really all over."

"Except for commencement," said Lily.

"And Sugar Daddy's party," Carmen added, with a grin of anticipation.

Sugar Daddy had invited the entire senior class to a huge bash immediately following commencement exercises, which were being held tomorrow, and Sam and her friends were really looking forward to it.  Sam grinned, and put gym class out of her mind as they headed down the hall together.


Sam turned around to see Brooke heading her way.

"Are you still going home right after school?" Brooke asked.  It had become standard practice for the stepsisters to share a car to school if their schedules coincided.

"Yeah, Magic Johnson.  Are you?"

"Yes," Brooke replied, snickering at Sam's comment.  "I just thought I would check to see if your plans had changed.  I'll meet you in the parking lot."

"Okay, see you later, Brooke."

"See you."

Sam leaned against her car and waited for Brooke.  She could see her across the parking lot waiting for April Tuna to finish signing her yearbook; April appeared to be scrawling War and Peace longhand into the back flap of the book.  When Brooke finally made her escape, she threw her stuff onto the back seat of Sam's ancient convertible bug and sat in the passenger seat with a sigh.  "It's over.  Can you believe it?" she asked Sam.

"The end of an era," Sam returned as she tried to start the car.  After a few unsuccessful attempts, the engine turned over and she labored to put the car in gear.  The clutch was going, in fact, pretty much everything mechanical was failing on the car, and she just hoped it would last until she started college in September, when she wouldn't need it anymore.

Sam ignored the grinding noises coming from the engine.  "So can I ask?  What did April Tuna write?"

Brooke flipped back to April's entry and said, "Oh God, it goes on and on, it starts with 'Dear Brooke McQueen, let me first say thank you for walking in front of me in the hallway on the second day of freshman year, you were the bomb in that pink cashmere twin set…' I'll read the rest later."  Brooke paged through the book, idly looking at the pictures.  "You still haven't signed my book, Sam," she remarked.

"I know," Sam replied  "I'll get to it.  It's not like I don't know where you live."  She looked over at Brooke and smirked at her.  "Hey, you want to get a movie or something tonight?  Only this time I get to pick.  I can't believe you made me suffer through The Bodyguard last time."

"Well, I didn't know how bad it was going to be," Brooke protested defensively.  "I had never seen it before, and I like that one song that Whitney sings."

"Which one?" Sam cracked, "There's only about eighty of them.  Every two seconds she's bursting into song, and then the inevitable early nineties sax solo comes cheesily wailing through the soundtrack."

"I know," Brooke said, chuckling.  "And what do you think the wig budget was for that movie?  Whitney had a new one in practically every scene.  I love how they showed her getting her hair done, like she was fooling anybody.  She should've been like, "Oh, it's time to do my hair?  Here take it; I'll go practice my next number or something.'" Brooke mimed removing a wig from her head and flinging it in Sam's direction.

Sam guffawed.  "Well they saved money by letting Stone-Faced Costner do his own.  Now that was an attractive hairstyle, except for the attractive part.  How does that guy keep working?  He should change his name to Kevin 'I can't make a facial expression or my face will crack and fall off and then I won't be able to make a movie about post-apocalyptic mailmen that nobody will see' Costner."

"Exactly," Brooke was now cackling.  "I was looking forward to seeing Whitney before she became all crack-addled and sweaty, but that movie was just awful.  Thumbs wholeheartedly down."  She paused.  "We should be movie critics," Brooke mused, "'cause we tell it like it is."

"McPherson and McQueen.  Save us the aisle seats." Sam headlined.  "Hey!  We should rent "Glitter" tonight.  I bet that will have plenty of stuff for us to make fun of," she looked over at Brooke and grinned evilly.

"I can't," Brooke said apologetically.  "I'm going out with Harrison tonight."

"Oh," Sam said.  "I guess I'll call Carmen and see if she wants to see 'Glitter,' then."  She should've known, it was Friday night, after all.  Come to think of it, Carmen would probably have plans already, as well.

"No!  I want to make fun of Glitter, too.  Rent something else, please?"  Brooke turned in her seat and pleaded with Sam.

"Okay," Sam laughed, taking her eyes off the road to glance at Brooke's pathetic expression.  "We'll string Mariah up by her hoochie low-riders another time."  She jiggled the stick shift as she tried to maneuver it into third gear.

"We should have taken my car today," Brooke noted, watching Sam at last find the gear she needed,  "Yours is not long for this world."

"As long as she makes it until the end of August, I'll be happy.  She's been a great little car to me," Sam patted the dashboard fondly.  "She deserves a rest."

"Yeah.  It's a good thing you won't have to drive it all the way to Chicago," Brooke said, referring to the location of Northwestern University, where Sam would be studying in the fall.  She turned in her seat to face forward, and looked out her window at the familiar scenery passing by.  "What are you going to do, Sam, so far away from home?"

Sam didn't really understand the question.  "Um, take the el?" Maybe Brooke was referring to the transportation issue.

"No.  I mean, aren't you going to be homesick?"  Brooke asked, still looking out the window.

"Yeah, I guess.  Isn't everyone?"  To tell the truth, Sam was not a bit apprehensive about leaving home.  She was excited to go to a new place where nobody knew her, and she could start fresh with an absolutely clean slate.  Sure, it was kind of depressing thinking about leaving her friends and family, but she'd come home during her breaks, and Chicago was only a short flight away.  Maybe this question was more about Brooke feeling anxious about leaving home than about Sam being far from it.   "But you can come visit me in Chicago, and I'll come to Stanford and visit you, and we won't be homesick," she said, trying to make Brooke feel better.

Brooke looked over at her and smiled, but didn't say anything.

"I hear Chicago has a great basketball team," Sam continued with a grin, "you could come watch a game, since you're so intent on becoming the next Michael Jordan, from what I saw today in gym class."

It looked like Brooke's momentary serious mood had lifted.  "You're just jealous of my moves, Sam," she said, airily.

"Moves?" Sam asked skeptically, rolling her eyes, "I saw no moves."

Brooke punched her lightly on the arm.

"So you're taking up boxing, now, too?"  Sam joked, as they pulled into the driveway.

Sam wandered aimlessly around the house that evening, at a loss.  Her Mom and Mike had taken advantage of her Friday night loser status and had gone to the movies, asking her to watch her baby sister Mac.  Sam didn't mind that in the least, she loved hanging out with Mac.  Her little sister wasn't the most scintillating conversationalist, having mastered only mama and baba so far, but Sam couldn't help smiling while she played with Mac.  The little girl was like an instant upper.  Plus it would give her more time to coach Mac on how to say her name, so she could beat Brooke to the punch, thus proving that Mac loved her more.  Now, if Mac would only get over her problem with the sibilant "S."

Tonight they played with blocks; Sam would stack them up five or six high, and Mac would knock them down with a swipe of her hand, giggling madly every time.  But she had just put Mac to bed and had lost her playmate for the evening.

There was no homework to be done, no newspaper articles hanging over her head, her hours had been cut down at Kranky's; she had absolutely nothing on her agenda.  She went into Brooke's room and took her yearbook from her desk, then went down to the kitchen and sat at the kitchen table, intent on writing a nice message for Brooke.

She knew that their relationship was pretty complex.  They had begun as bitter enemies, forced to associate with each other because of their parents' relationship.  Even the smallest incidents became fodder for the continuing contention between the pair.  There had been times even in the early days of their acquaintance that Sam realized that Brooke was not the popularity-crazed she-beast Sam had made her out to be, but a genuinely nice person with whom she had a lot in common.  But after investing so much in not liking her, Sam had not known how to put aside her habitual dislike and be nice to Brooke.  It took something as life changing as Brooke's accident to make Sam realize that their petty feuds were stupid and inconsequential.

The vicious triangle they had set up between themselves and Harrison, which led to the horrifying events that night of the Junior Prom last year had left Sam feeling disgusted with her selfish actions.  The car accident that had put Brooke in the hospital for nearly three months had made it patently obvious; the message was received loud and clear.  She vowed to herself as she had sat by Brooke's broken and battered body that she would never let her petty jealousies get the best of her again.  She had spent all last summer trying to make it up to Brooke, in an attempt to assuage the guilt she felt for her part in bringing about that mess.

Harrison, on the other hand, had stayed far, far away.  Sam could kind of understand it in retrospect; he had chosen Brooke, who had inexplicably run away right after hearing that, which resulted in her near death in a car crash.  Sam had gone to see Harrison and had made it clear that she was fine with his decision, and had hinted that Brooke would probably like to see him, but Harrison had still stayed away.  She had been very disappointed in Harrison at the time, and they had nearly stopped being friends over it, but sometime late that summer, Harrison went to visit Brooke and they became inseparable.  They were the cutest couple at Kennedy, almost nauseatingly so.

No, not really nauseating, Sam thought.  They were very cute together, and Sam was happy for them.  She had realized she hadn't really wanted Harrison as a boyfriend, but had felt threatened by what she perceived as Brooke horning in on her territory.  The accident made her see things more clearly.

She had found somebody new by the time they got together, anyway.  A nice guy named Gavin whom she had met at the hospital while visiting Brooke.  He had always seemed to be in the cafeteria when she went down to get a snack or something for Brooke, and so they struck up a friendship.  He was a volunteer as part of a co-operative program at his high school, which is why Sam saw him so often.  They had started dating, and had a good long run of it.  Sam had broken things off with Gavin a few months ago, but still liked him as a friend, and was now taking a break from dating.

It turned out that Brooke's so-called best friend, Nicole, had been responsible for the accident.  Nobody Sam knew, including Brooke, knew what had happened to her, it was as if she had disappeared, like Keyser Soze, with the lingering threat of returning to wreak more havoc someday in the future.  But that was fine with Sam.  The girl had been the bane of her existence for her whole high school career, and she had been glad that she hadn't had to deal with her for the last fourth of it.  It was because of Nicole's disappearance that she and Brooke became closer.  Not that Sam would ever contemplate becoming a cheerleader or anything, but the time usually spent shopping or gossiping with Nic was sometimes spent doing things with Sam.  And she and Brooke still had their moments of unrestrained bitchiness towards each other, but they also laughed a lot, and enjoyed each other's company. 

So the matter of boiling down all that history into a pithy yearbook entry weighed on Sam.  She didn't want to screw it up, and she didn't want it to be lousy because even though it was something that Brooke would only look at, maybe, once every ten years, it was for posterity.  Her pride in her writing ability wouldn't let her do a half-assed job, and she was feeling the pressure.  She had signed all of her other friends' yearbooks without a second thought, she didn't know why this one was giving her so much trouble.

She turned when she heard the kitchen door open, and Brooke and Harrison came in, laughing.

Brooke saw Sam sitting at the table and declared, "Sam will settle it.  Sam, who would win in a celebrity death match, Jim Carrey or Mike Meyers?"

Sam tented her fingers and pretended to think hard about the question.  Brooke and Harrison stood over her, waiting for her answer.

"It is my considered opinion that the victor in a celebrity death match between those two comedic thespians would be…" she paused for dramatic effect, "Jim Carrey."

"Ha!"  Brooke turned to Harrison and pointed in his face, grinning.

"Sammy, why?" Harrison whined, pulling out a chair and sitting down.  "Mike Meyers is tough!  And he's funnier."

"Agreed.  Mike Meyers is definitely funnier, and not nearly as annoying as Carrey," Sam conceded.  "But, tough?  I don't think so.  This is celebrity death match, Harrison, and I have two words for you.  Cable. And Guy.  That is some twisted shit."  Sam leaned back and folded her arms like she had just proven her point.

"That's exactly what I said, Sam," Brooke looked at Sam with her eyes wide with surprise.

Sam looked at Brooke and grinned at her, and they both turned to look at Harrison with matching smug expressions.

Although their argument made no sense, Harrison knew there was no chance of winning when he was being double-teamed.  "Whatever.  I guess mediocre minds think alike," he said with a sly smile.

"Why, I oughta," Sam said threateningly.

Brooke didn't bother replying, just got up and put Harrison in a headlock and started to noogy him to death.

"Okay, uncle!" Harrison protested, laughing and trying to avoid Brooke's knuckles.

"Say you're sorry," Brooke demanded.

"Sorry, sorry," Harrison said immediately, his hands raised in surrender.

"Good."  Brooke instantly stopped with the noogies and smoothed Harrison's hair down, giving him a quick kiss on the top of his head before sitting back down.  She saw the yearbook on the table and reached for it.  "Is that mine?  Did you sign it, Sam?"

"I tried," Sam sighed.

"What's the matter, no room to sign anywhere in the most popular girl at Kennedy's yearbook?" Harrison asked, gazing moonily at Brooke.

"Oh, please," Brooke scoffed, "there's plenty of room."  She flipped the pages to find some space for Sam.

"No, that's not it," Sam said.  "Inspiration has left the building."

"It's just a yearbook, Sam, not your college application essay.  Just write anything," Harrison said.

"Let her take her time, Harrison," Brooke smiled at Sam.  "Someday I'll be able to say that she signed my yearbook after she wins the Pulitzer."

"Oh stop!  I'm blushing," Sam jested, but her skin had turned a little pink.  She decided it was time to adjourn to her room and give Brooke some privacy.  She got up from the table and started for the door.  "Good night you guys, don't forget to take your cap and gown out of the plastic, you don't want to be all wrinkled for the big day."

Even in the last official event of their high school careers, Sam and Brooke were linked.  They sat side by side on flimsy folding chairs that were sinking into the muddy turf of the football field, waiting for one of the most boring rites of passage to be over.  There had been few highlights: naked guy, who unzipped his gown and flashed the graduates on his way to collect his diploma, the football team, Josh included, mooning the bleachers where all the parents and relatives sat, Emory Dick trying unsuccessfully to start the wave, beach balls, bubbles, etc.  All the usual things that make a tedious affair even more tedious.  At long last, the band struck up a reprise of "Pomp and Circumstance," and the newly graduated class shuffled out the way they had come in, in that age-old tradition of high schools everywhere, alphabetical order.

The procession seemed to stop when the students reached the track, and everyone was just milling around congratulating each other and searching for friends and family.  Brooke turned to Sam and smiled tentatively.  "Well, I guess it's official."

"Yeah," Sam agreed, waving her diploma, "They can't take it away from me now."  She took off her mortarboard and looked at it for a moment.

"Congratulations, Sam," Brooke reached out and gave her a quick hug.

"Yeah, congratulations to you, too," Sam smiled.  "We did it."  God, that sounds so corny, she thought.

But Brooke grinned.  "Yay, Go us!"

Lily and Josh materialized through the crowd, closely followed by Carmen.

"Sam, congratulations!" Lily said, and threw her arms around her.

Carmen made it a group hug, and crushed both girls to her, tears in her eyes.  "You guys, I'm so proud of us."

"Me too," Sam said, feeling a bit overwhelmed.

"Guess what I got for graduation, guys?" Carmen asked, as they separated slightly but kept their arms around each other.  "A car!"

"No way!  That's great Carmen," Lily exclaimed.

"Yeah.  It's not new or anything; Leo fixed it up for me.  It's really only four cinder blocks away from being a white trash lawn ornament, but it's all mine," Carmen said excitedly, as they stood in a row with their arms around each other's shoulders.  She turned to Brooke.  "Congratulations, Brooke."

"Thanks Carmen," Brooke smiled warmly at Sam's group of friends, now after three years, pretty much her friends too.

Sam put her arm around Brooke's shoulder so she was included in the group love.

Sugar Daddy suddenly appeared and clapped his hand on Josh's shoulder and said, "Yo, dude, times a' wastin'.  We gotta go pick up the kegs, you know what I'm sayin'?"

Josh grinned, and gave his wife, Lily, a quick kiss before running off with Sugar Daddy.

Just then Sam heard her mother.

"Here they are, Mike.  Ooh, come quick, this would make a great photo!"

Sam finally got a visual on her mother, who was carrying Mac in one arm and dragging Harrison behind her with the other.

"Harrison, go over there and get in the picture.  Sam, put your little hat back on.  Mike, where are you?"  Jane stage directed them while waiting for her husband.

Mike McQueen finally caught up with his wife and started taking pictures of Sam and Brooke and their friends.  Mary Cherry and Poppy had found the, by now, large cluster of people and were striking poses with abandon.  After Mike had snapped every possible combination and permutation of the group, they began to make plans to change and head over to Sugar Daddy's.

Sam walked with Carmen and Lily over to Carmen's new car so they could admire it properly.  After checking out all the bells and whistles of the stylish 1989 Buick Skylark, Carmen and Lily departed in the new old vehicle, and Sam walked across the near empty parking lot to her decrepit Beetle.  She and Brooke had driven over together, but Harrison had taken Brooke back home to change.  Sam put her key in the ignition and tried to start the car, but nothing happened.  Her poor little beetle didn't even try to turn over.

"Oh shit."


Part 2

Sam stepped over the threshold to find a scene of absolute pandemonium.  If the Bernardino home had had rafters, students from the graduating class of Kennedy High would surely be swinging from them.  She saw that the party must have gotten underway quickly, as calling Mike and having him return to the school to give her a jump had only taken an hour or so away from her recreational time. Sam looked around for a familiar face, but realized there must be teens packing every available nook of Sugar Daddy's sprawling abode.


Sam turned at the sound of her name, and saw Brooke barreling towards her, a crazy grin on her face and a weird light in her eyes.

"Sammy, Sam, Sam, Sam," Brooke chanted, "Where have you been?  I've been looking for you for hours."  She took Sam's hand and led her into the living room, over to the crowded couch, where she waved her other hand in a shooing motion and a few students scattered to make room for her.

"You have?" Sam asked, marveling at the power a tipsy Brooke could still wield over their ex-classmates.

"Yesh," Brooke said, then stopped and put up her hand.  "I mean, yes," She corrected, laboriously pronouncing the word without slurring.  "I'm not drunk."

"Heaven forefend," Sam agreed, smiling.  She had seen Brooke in much worse states than this, and Brooke was always a cheerful, touchy-feely drunk, and so funny to watch.

"So what was it that I had to tell you?" Brooke looked away and scratched her chin, frowning and trying to remember.  She turned back to Sam with the inane grin re-plastered to her face.  "Oh well.  All gone.  Can't remember," She sing-songed.  She suddenly grabbed Sam's arm.  "Sam!  Oh my God!  You have to do a shot with me!"

Sam watched her reach next to her for a bottle she hadn't seen Brooke carrying.  Brooke unscrewed the cap and was about to take a slug straight from the bottle, when she stopped and said, "No.  Wait.  We'll do this the shivilized way."  She poked the guy sitting next to her.  "Get me two cups, from over there," Brooke ordered, pointing to the corner where some guys surrounded one of the kegs.  Then she gave him a thousand megawatt smile and said, "Please?"

Sam shook her head in disbelief as the guy got up to do Brooke's bidding.  "Okay, Bossy Boots," she said to Brooke, laughing.

"Bossy Boots," Brooke tittered, covering her mouth with her hand.

When the guy returned, Brooke had Sam hold the cups while she carefully poured a measure for both of them, her tongue poking out of the side of her mouth in concentration.  Sam didn't even know what they were drinking, but figured if Brooke could handle it, then she could too.  She envied Brooke's happy state and wondered if it was too late to try and catch up with her.

"Okay, down in one," Brooke said, holding up her cup.

"Cheers, big ears," Sam saluted and knocked back the shot.  The liquid blazed a path down her esophagus and exploded into her stomach like a mushroom cloud.  She spluttered as she felt the fiery brew burn in her belly.  "What the hell is this stuff?" she demanded, reaching for the bottle.

"It's ta-kill-ya," Brooke snickered, pointing at Sam's reaction.

Sam looked at the label and read the brand: Tequila Zapata.  The orange price tag read $4.99.  They couldn't get anything better than this cheap rotgut, she wondered.  "Brooke, the literal translation of Tequila Zapata is shoe tequila.  That ought to tell you that this isn't exactly top shelf."

"Shoe tequila!" Brooke fell back on the couch, dissolving in a fit of giggles.  Sam just watched her, bemused by this little seen version of Brooke.  She was on the verge of being out of control, and it didn't happen very often.  Brooke wasn't exactly a heavyweight when it came to drinking; she had better start pacing herself, Sam thought.  She laid the bottle of tequila on the floor and shoved it under the couch with her foot.

Suddenly Brooke sat up ramrod straight and said, "I remember what I was going to tell you."

Sam thought she looked almost sober, as Brooke turned to look at her seriously in the eye.

"I'm going to break up with Harrison tonight," Brooke disclosed.

Sam was shocked.  "Brooke, why?"

Brooke gestured vaguely with one hand.  "Because."

"I'm not trying to tell you what to do, Brooke, but maybe you should wait until tomorrow to do something like that."

"Yeah, maybe," Brooke said absently, her attention directed across the room, where Harrison had just entered.  Brooke got up and walked over to him.

Sam looked on in horror as Harrison smiled with pleasure at Brooke's approach.  She couldn't watch; she got up and left the room through another door, one that led to the kitchen.  She was relieved to find Carmen, Lily, Josh and several others gathered around the kitchen table playing quarters.  Lily pulled up a chair for her and Josh poured her a beer from the pitcher on the table.

"Sam, what happened to you?  We left you hours ago," Lily asked, concerned, and slightly buzzed.

"My car died," she replied briefly, taking a hefty swig of her beer, determined to get her own buzz on.

"Have you seen Brooke?"  Carmen asked.  "She's already halfway schnockered."

"Yeah, she's definitely on a mission," Sam said, slightly worried.  But Brooke could take care of herself, and she would know when she had enough.  Hopefully she would stick to beer now that Sam had hidden the cheap tequila.  She wondered if Brooke felt she needed Dutch courage to break up with Harrison.  Whatever.  It was none of her business.  She put it out of her mind and took another pull from her beer.

"So what are we playing here, guys?  Thumper?  The vegetable game?  What?"

Much later, Sam and Carmen were coming back from an interminable wait for the bathroom when Sugar Daddy came up from behind and hung his arms around their shoulders.

"Hey ladies, we need some more girls for this game, yo, come on!"

"What game is that, SD?" Carmen asked.

"Just come on, you'll see."

Carmen and Sam allowed themselves to be turned around and led into the dining room, where the table and chairs had been pushed aside and about twenty teens sat in a loose circle on the floor.  Lots more people were standing around outside the circle, an audience for what was about to happen.  As Sam and Carmen took their seats for the game, Sam saw Brooke and Harrison sitting next to each on the far side of the circle, their heads close together as Brooke whispered something in Harrison's ear.  She guessed that Brooke hadn't gone through with the breakup after all; in her sozzled state she had probably forgotten about it.

"Okay, everyone, we're about to get all old school up in the hizzy," Sugar Daddy announced.  "The game we're about to play," he presented an empty wine bottle of green glass with a flourish, "is 'Spin the Bottle,' just like we played in junior high."

Amidst the cheers and hollering, Sam heard a commotion at the other end of the room.

"Outta my way, y'all," Mary Cherry pushed several people aside and sat in the circle several places down from Sam.  "This may be my only chance to lock lips with Joe, and there's nothin' you can do about it, Brookie," Mary Cherry waved her finger in Brooke's direction.

Brooke just stuck her tongue out at Mary Cherry, and linked her arm with Harrison's possessively.

And so the game began, and Sam grew bored with it quickly, just as she had grown bored with the same game back in the seventh grade, when the mortification factor was high and the boys seemed to become slobbering saliva machines.  She was barely paying attention as people took their turns and the crowd's responses ranged from laughter to jeering to raunchy catcalls.  She had just decided to get herself another beer when a hush fell over the crowd and Carmen nudged her with her elbow.  Sam looked at her in confusion, and Carmen nodded towards the center of the circle, where the green bottle was pointing at her.

Sam sighed.  "Who is it?" she asked resignedly.


Oh no.

Sam watched unbelievingly as Brooke crawled towards her on all fours, in a parody of sexiness.  When she reached Sam, Brooke sat back on her haunches and looked at her through drooping eyelids.  Sam could see the answer to a challenge in the set of Brooke's jaw, but there was something else, a tentativeness, maybe nervousness, hidden behind her placid, booze-soaked expression.

The crowd recovered and found its voice again when it realized that neither of the stepsisters was protesting.  Sam was too stunned at the suddenness of her situation, and Brooke was obviously not backing down now.  Somebody yelled out, "Stepsisters!"  And from the crowd a chant of  "Go, go, go," gained momentum and volume.

Brooke took a breath, shut her eyes, and quickly pressed her lips against Sam's in a sweet, chaste smack.  It was so quick that Sam didn't have time to react, really.  Soft, was the only message her brain was sending her.  Brooke's lips were so soft.

Immediately, the crowd turned on them.  The "Go" chant had become one long extended "Nooo" of disapproval.

Sam looked around, frowning, wanting to tell them all to fuck off, but then she noticed that Brooke had a smile on her face.

"Well, Sam," Brooke said, one eyebrow raised in devilish amusement, "should we give them a show?"

"We don't have to do-"

But Sam never finished her sentence, because Brooke pounced on her, grabbing her by the neck and seizing her lips with her own.  Sam was overwhelmed by Brooke's intensity, and at first it was all she could do to just hold on and let herself be thoroughly kissed.  Brooke took advantage of Sam's open-mouthed surprise and pushed her tongue past Sam's lips, recklessly exploring her moist interior.  Sam closed her eyes and sighed into Brooke's mouth, surrendering to Brooke's near-attack on her mouth and lips.  She recognized the stale and sour taste of beer and tequila on Brooke's breath, but it did nothing to mitigate the deliciousness of their interaction.  Sam felt an unfamiliar rush of desire course through her from deep in her belly; it ran through her body like a brush fire and set all her nerve endings ablaze.  She responded with a force she had never known in her short life, and began to battle Brooke for dominance, pushing her tongue into Brooke's mouth, their teeth colliding in the frenzy.  She heard short little moans of varying intensity coming from Brooke like punctuation; a comma moan when Sam pulled Brooke's lower lip between her lips, a semi-colon when she bit down and gently nibbled on it, and an exclamation point when she sucked Brooke's tongue into her mouth and lashed it with her own.

Amid the indistinct roar of the crowd, one screaming voice somewhere behind her penetrated through Sam's lust and she heard the phrase "Take it off" repeated over and over in a high-pitched male squeal.  Her eyes opened and she came back to herself, realizing the spectacle she and Brooke were making of themselves.  She grabbed Brooke's shoulders and gave her a slight shove away from her, abruptly ending the kiss.  Brooke's eyes were still closed and she was breathing heavily, her reaction time lagging by several seconds.  She appeared to be lost in a haze of either passion or drunkenness; Sam couldn't tell, but figured it was probably the latter.   

When Brooke's eyes finally snapped open, she blinked several times, and looked to be struggling to reconcile what she had just done and with whom she had done it.  Sam could see that her drunken bravado had deserted her, as she awkwardly scooted back away from Sam, sending the bottle skittering across the floor to where Mary Cherry was sitting.

"Well, I don't know how anyone is going to top a lurid and dirty display like that one, but I'm sure gonna try," Mary Cherry said gamely, and set the bottle spinning once again.

And the game went on.  Sam couldn't look at Brooke, who had returned to Harrison's side.  She couldn't look at anyone.  She couldn't explain the voracious reaction she had to Brooke's kiss; not to herself or anyone else.  Realizing her hands were shaking, her whole body trembling, in fact, she strove to get control of herself.

"Wow, Sam.  That was something else," Carmen said with a mischievous grin.  "Have you two been practicing at home or something?"

Sam smiled weakly in return.

"Are you okay?" Carmen asked with concern.

"I'm fine," Sam tried to act like everything was normal.  "I'm going to get another beer, you want one?"  When Carmen shook her head, Sam got up and left the game, heading not for the keg, but the front door.  She quietly left the house and escaped to the deserted, darkened front porch, leaning against the cool stone that encased the house, and tried to make sense of what had just occurred.

Okay, she thought, what the hell was that?  Calm down.  It was just a kiss.  No need to make a big deal about it.  Sam pressed her hands to her flushed cheeks and tried to take deep breaths, to slow her thudding heart.  Her mind was racing and she couldn't think.  The beer she had consumed wasn't helping, and yet she was suddenly feeling pretty sober.

Just a kiss?  Sam had never felt anything remotely like that.  She'd had boyfriends, had let them run the bases, she'd even lost her virginity with Gavin, because she was tired of waiting and wanted to find out what all the fuss was about.  There had been nothing fuss-worthy about their awkward grapplings one afternoon at Gavin's house while his mother was at her Weight Watchers meeting. But this?  This was definite cause for making a fuss.  This was a fuss in all caps and neon lettering in a very flashy font.  Maybe a nice sanserif.

No.  It was just a kiss, she insisted to herself.  It's meaningless.  A one time only, never to be repeated, stupid, drunken mash with her stepsister, of all people, that is best forgotten.  Sam lightly touched her lower lip with two of her fingertips and remembered the feel of Brooke's silken lips, nearly swooning from the memory.  Well, that's new, she thought dispassionately.  Never swooned before.  Objectively thinking about this at the moment was a near impossibility, Sam decided, and she resolved to give it an in depth analysis sometime later, when seventy different emotions weren't running through her like the bulls at Pamplona.

Just then the front door swung wide and a tall blonde figure lurched past her at full speed, hit the porch railing and doubled over, emptying the contents of her stomach into the bushes below in a very loud and obvious manner.

"Oh God," Brooke groaned, sounding like a mortally wounded water buffalo.  She stayed bent over, breathing heavily and hiccupping, waiting for the next wave.

Sam sighed and pushed herself off the stone wall to go and stand beside Brooke, leaning over to pull her hair back from her face to get it out of the way.

Brooke flinched in surprise.  "Harrison?" she asked, turning her head to see.  Her face was pale and her eyes were watering, and Sam wondered how she could still look pretty, even at her worst.

"No, it's me," she said, and stroked Brooke's back soothingly with her free hand.

"Sam, thank god it's you," Brooke said with relief, right before calling Uncle Ralph again.

"Brooke?"  Harrison came out on the porch and saw his girlfriend.  "Brooke, you're in the lead for the girls!  No girl will be able to touch fourteen seconds," he crowed proudly.

"What are you talking about, Harrison?" Sam asked, irritated.  This should have been his job, and it was like he hadn't even noticed that Brooke was heaving her guts out.

"Keg stand competition," Harrison elaborated.

The hell?  Sam looked at him in utter disbelief.  "Do you really think it's a good idea to encourage a girl who has been drinking for hours to dangle upside down over a keg and chug directly from the tap for fourteen seconds?  Or any seconds?" She was practically yelling at him.  "No wonder she's spewing like Old fucking Faithful!  Your girlfriend, Harrison, is sick.  Can you not see that?"

"Standing right here," Brooke said meekly from her still prone position over the railing.

"Yeah, Sam?"  Harrison indignantly returned, ignoring Brooke.  "Well, your stepsister is a big girl.  She should be able to take care of herself."

"Oh for fuck's sake!"  Sam had completely lost her patience with him.  "Go do something useful and get me a glass of water and some napkins or a towel or something."

"Why? Will it give you more time to suck face with my girlfriend?" Harrison goaded.

Sam gave him a withering glare, barely knowing how to respond to such an inappropriate accusation.  "You are such an asshole."

"Please, Harrison, just do what she says," Brooke cajoled, standing upright and turning around to face him, before a look passed over her face and she quickly spun around and began puking again.

Harrison took a moment to sulk before stomping into the house in a huff, but he soon returned with the items Sam requested.  Sam sat Brooke down on the porch steps and helped her clean herself up while Harrison watched with his arms folded, seemingly contrite over his rude remark.

"Do you guys want to go back in?" he asked, moving down a couple of steps to face them.

Sam could see that Harrison wanted very much to rejoin the party, but she also knew that Brooke shouldn't be here anymore.  She turned to Brooke.  "I'll take you home, if you want," she offered.

Brooke swayed unsteadily as she regarded Harrison.  "I'm ready to leave," she said slowly, staring into Harrison's face, but her hand reached out and grasped Sam's.

Sam put Brooke's hand back in her own lap, and got up.  "Let me just go put the top down, the fresh air will do you good.  Wait here."

Sam made sure her car started, then quickly put the top down.  When she turned back to the house, she saw Brooke leaning heavily against Harrison, as he led her down the sloping lawn towards the car.

"Are you okay to drive?  Are you sober?" Harrison asked.

"Completely," Sam responded shortly.

Sam got in the driver's seat while Harrison made sure Brooke was safely ensconced on the passenger side.  He closed the door and knelt down to kiss Brooke and whisper a goodbye to her through the open window.  Sam wished that Brooke would throw up again right into Harrison's face, she was so angry with him.  She heaved an audible sigh and Harrison got the clue, stepping away from the car.  Sam pulled away from the curb and said, "Brooke, if you're going to hurl, do it outside the car."  But Brooke was unresponsive and her head was lolling against the headrest; she had passed out.

Sam was monumentally pissed off.  She was pissed that it had taken her ten minutes to rouse Brooke from her stupor in the car, and now that she had, the girl was a giggling puddle who couldn't manage a simple stairwell by herself.  She was pissed at Harrison for being such a prick and not taking care of his stupid girlfriend.  She was pissed that she didn't have a good time on her graduation day, and had been stuck babysitting dumbass wasted Brooke.  She was pissed at her car for making her late to the party.  She did not want to be the responsible, sober person tonight; she had wanted to get stinking along with everyone else.

"Come on, you stupid lush, get upstairs," Sam muttered under her breath, pushing Brooke from behind up towards their bedrooms.

Brooke rested her hands on the steps and looked back at Sam.  "I heard that," she said loudly, and indignantly, but she didn't lose her idiotic grin.

"Brooke, shut up!  God!"  Sam whispered, incensed.  "If you wake them up, you're going to be in so much trouble."

She finally managed to push, pull, and prod Brooke up to her room, where the inebriated one threw herself down on the bed.  Sam busied herself with getting the aspirin from the bedside table, and made Brooke sit up as she fished two pills out of the bottle to give to her.  Brooke took the aspirin and blinked at them for several seconds.

"Aspirin?  We don't need no stinking aspirin," Brooke said, a mock sneer on her face, and then she threw the aspirin across the room.

Sam caught the tail end of Brooke's little act as she re-entered the room with a glass of water.  "You'll thank me for it tomorrow," she said in a no-nonsense tone, retrieving the aspirin from the floor as she approached the bed.  She took a perverse pleasure in making Brooke take the pills that had been on the floor.  They were probably a whole lot cleaner than the filthy tap Brooke had put in her mouth for fourteen freaking seconds, she thought snidely, as she put them back in Brooke's hand.

Brooke took no notice and slapped the pills into her mouth.  Sam sat down on the bed and handed her the glass of water, and watched as Brooke took a sip.  Sam took the glass back when she saw how precariously Brooke was holding it.

Brooke looked into Sam's face, smiled her goofy drunken grin, and then hiccupped.  Sam thought that if Brooke was a cartoon, she would have two black X's where her eyes were supposed to be.  Brooke scooched closer to Sam and threw her arms around her neck, spilling the water all over the two of them.  "I love you, Sam.  Nobody else would have taken care of me like you are."  She closed her eyes and didn't let go.

Sam's anger dissipated somewhat.  "Well, I would love you too if you could hold your damn liquor better," she said grudgingly, placing the empty glass on the bedside table and trying to disentangle herself from Brooke's curiously strong grip.  "But you can't, so I don't," she added childishly

Brooke loosened her hold, but rested her forearms on Sam's shoulders, keeping her close. "I know," she said, like she had just had a brilliant idea.  "Let's kiss again.  That was fun."  She closed her eyes and puckered her lips, waiting for Sam to plant one on her.

Although Brooke's expression was comical, Sam was drawn to her inviting lips, and felt a wave of heat spread through her.  She found herself leaning in, inches away from taking what Brooke so freely offered.  She wanted to so badly, but something made her stop herself.  Sam couldn't take advantage.  Maybe if she had been drunk too, then they could both blame it on the hooch, but she had nothing like Brooke's convenient excuse.  "No, we're not doing that again," she said roughly and stood up, tearing herself away from the girl's tempting proximity.

She crossed the room and jerked the dresser drawers open one by one, looking for something Brooke could change into.  She found a t-shirt and some pajama bottoms and threw them at Brooke.  "You'd better change, you're all wet."  Sam turned her back while Brooke changed, silence descending on the room.

"I'm sorry," Brooke said, her voice thick.  "I'm sorry I made you leave the party."

Sam turned back around and saw Brooke standing by the side of her bed, an expression of abject misery on her face.

The mood swings of a shitfaced teenager, Sam thought ruefully.  She felt bad for being such a bitch before. She knew that if their positions were reversed, Brooke would have done the same for her.  "Don't worry about it," she said, then laughed humorlessly.  "You're not even going to remember any of this tomorrow."  She stood next to Brooke and pulled the covers down, helping her into bed, making sure Brooke lay on her stomach.  Then she retrieved the wastepaper basket from under Brooke's desk and put it next to the bed, just in case.  As Sam flipped the light switch and began closing the door behind her, she heard Brooke mumbling as she fell into the dreamless sleep of the very drunk.

"I will…

I am…

I'm gonna…




Part 3

Brooke felt the pounding in her head before she was aware of anything else.  After that, she was conscious of the gummy residue at the corners of her mouth, the cotton balls that her tongue seemed to be swathed in, and the foul, acrid taste in her mouth.  Why hadn't Sam made her brush her teeth last night?  Wait.  Why would Sam…  All at once the events of the previous night came rushing back, and Brooke opened her eyes wide.  Then wished she hadn't.  If the simple act of blinking was going to cause so much pain then Brooke had a fun day of lying motionless in bed to look forward to.

She opened one eye again slowly, and moved her head slightly to look at the clock.  6:04 AM.  Wow.  Early.  The teeth simply had to be brushed; there was nothing for it.  She braced herself, then sat up in bed.  Well, that wasn't so…Ow.  The searing pain caught up and it felt like the cymbal guy in an orchestra was enthusiastically playing that really loud part of the William Tell Overture, that part where the cymbals crash about three thousand times a minute, but hadn't noticed Brooke's head caught in his cymbal-banging path.  She swung her legs to the floor, kicking the wastepaper basket in the process, and haltingly made her way out to the bathroom, only using the walls for support a few times.

In the bathroom, she winced in the bright overhead light and leaned heavily on the sink while doing a painstaking job on her teeth.  She looked at her reflection for a moment, but then had to look away from the bloodshot eyes and pasty complexion that stared woefully back at her.  After drinking what must have been a gallon of water, Brooke went directly back to bed.

Once she was horizontal again, she waited impatiently for sleep to take her, and hopefully not bring her back until at least six more hours had passed.  But the throbbing in her head combined with the neural activity therein was preventing her from slumber.  Everything that had happened at the party was playing out in her brain like her own personal horror movie.

The one thing she had wanted to accomplish last night, breaking up with Harrison, hadn't happened, or at least she didn't think it had.  He had become nothing more than an accessory.  Hey girls, what is every stylish, popular, cheerleader-about-town and female high school senior wearing on her arm this season?  A sensitive, caring, funny, only slightly self-absorbed man-prop, that's what!   The spark had gone out of Brooke and Harrison's coupledom a while ago, and Brooke thought it would be kinder to end things now, rather than string him along all summer and break up with him right before she left for college.  She was not going to do the long distance relationship thing, not when there was the entire male student population of Stanford University waiting to be met come September.

Oh God, her head.  Why had she drunk all of that Tequila?  There wasn't even any margarita mix, and god forbid there be a lime anywhere on the premises.  Shoe Tequila, Sam called it, Brooke remembered with amusement.  Then she covered her eyes with her hand and grimaced at the thought of what had happened during the game of Spin the Bottle.  Having never known herself to have any lesbo leanings, Brooke was at a loss to explain why she had molested Sam the way she had.  It was a hot kiss, she thought objectively, and Sam had been into it.  Probably just caught up in the moment, like she had been.  Brooke had been so mortified, both by her brazen display and Sam's inability to look at her afterwards, that she had been the first one to volunteer for a very ill-advised kegstand, hoping to obliterate the game, and the kiss, from her mind.  The only thing that had been obliterated was her liver.  Oh, and her dinner.

But one kiss was excusable, she rationalized, teenage experimentation and all that; although she wouldn't choose to experiment in front of practically every horny slavering boy in her class if she had to do it over.  No, one kiss was fine, but Brooke clearly remembered propositioning Sam again, at the end of the night after Sam had so kindly taken care of her worthless, drunken, upchucking ass.  How did she explain that?  Sam had been disgusted by it, saying, "we're not doing that again," like it was the grossest thing imaginable.  And maybe, for two straight girls who had no problems in the dating department, it was.   Brooke had no idea why she had thrown herself at Sam; it was mystifying, really.  It had to be the noise and the lights and the cheering crowd that had just swept her up in the moment, she told herself, and her inability to back down from a challenge.

Coming up with an explanation and, of course, an apology was going to be difficult, but then Brooke recalled that Sam had given her the key to her salvation.  She wouldn't have to explain if she couldn't remember.  "You won't even remember this in the morning," Sam had said; so Brooke would just, not remember.  So easy.  Problem solved.  She felt a niggling sense of guilt about it, she and Sam ought to smooth things over and talk about it, but when given the choice between sweeping it under the rug and an excruciating conversation dissecting her motives, it was no choice at all.  Brooke was far too embarrassed to dredge this up in the cold light of day, and was relieved that Sam had inadvertently given her a way to bury it and not deal.  She knew Sam would understand.

Suddenly Brooke felt sleepy again, so she gingerly rolled over and emptied her sore head of everything but the image of sawing logs.

Sam wandered down to the kitchen late in the morning, to find her mother emptying the dishwasher, and Mac in her high chair, flinging cheerios across the room much like her sister had flung pain relievers the night before.  The determined, petulant expression Brooke wore at the time was indistinguishable from Mac's now.  And they both threw like a girl.  Sam shook her head and had to laugh.  She had woken up in a better mood than she had been in last night, even if she had been up half the night, tying her brain in knots.

"Morning, Sam.  How was the party?" her mom asked.

"Fine." Sam replied casually.  She stole a cheerio from Mac's tray and popped it in her mouth, grinning as Mac frowned at her and guarded the cereal with her chubby little arm.

"Did everyone behave themselves?"

"Yeah, Mom," Sam said, caustically, "We all got our bibles out and sang Kumbaya."

"What time did you get in?"  Jane ignored Sam's habitual sarcasm.

"Kind of early, actually, around midnight."

"Brooke too?" Jane inquired.  At Sam's nod she asked, "Is she still sleeping?"

"Yes," Sam had looked in on Brooke on her way down; it looked like she hadn't moved an inch since she put her to bed.

Sam's mom started getting ready to leave the house.  "You and I have baby swimming lessons this morning, don't we Mac?" she said to Mac, lifting the tiny girl out of her chair. "And then I have to go to the mall to get a wedding gift.  Do you need anything, Sam?"

Sam shook her head.

"Okay, then, see you later.  Oh, Mike had to go into the office.  Can you believe it, on a Sunday?  He should be back this afternoon."  And with that, Sam was left alone in the kitchen with the Sunday paper and lots of quiet.

Sam had endured a tough night, but had come to a conclusion.  She was forced to admit to herself that something had become clear last night; something that she hadn't even known was unclear.  The events that unfolded at the party had led her to believe that she was probably meant to be with a girl, or was bisexual, at the very least.  Just stringing that thought together in her head gave her a fluttery feeling in her stomach.  This changed everything, and she was very unnerved.  Even if she could acknowledge it to herself, could she ever live her life that way?  She never pictured living her life as a gay person, hell, she only knew one gay woman, her manager at Kranky's.  She guessed Lily maybe counted as bi, so make that two gay women, kind of, or one and a half.  She put a halt to her inner-babble, a clear indication that although she appeared outwardly calm, inside she was freaking the hell out.

Was it strange that one kiss had been enough to make her realize why her few relationships with guys had left her unsatisfied?  Makeout sessions with George had left her feeling lukewarm at best, and the actual sex act with Gavin had been something mechanical, with allusions to slot A and tab B not far from her mind.  She had never before felt the rush of adrenaline or arousal or whatever it was she had felt last night, and figured that if, or when, she ever had sex with a woman the feeling would be even more intense.

Which led her to the thing that was weirding her out the most: the fact that she had this reaction when she was kissing Brooke, her stepsister, for god's sake.  She was at a loss as to how to deal with it.  Although she had no experience to back it up, she wanted to believe that it could have been any girl who would have stirred such a response from her.  She absolutely did not have a crush on Brooke.  It was not a viable option; wanting to get with your stepsister was so Flowers in the Attic.  Creepy.  But testing that theory would mean finding another girl to kiss, and Sam had no idea where to rustle up a willing lesbian.

At any rate, she was putting the cart before the horse.  She just needed to take it easy, get used to the idea, and maybe do some research.  It would be comforting to have something to investigate, even if it was her own sexuality.  What would really help, she thought, was talking to Brooke about it.  They could clear the air about last night and Sam could tell her about what she was feeling and maybe Brooke could give her some advice, she was good at that.

She heard a tapping at the kitchen door and turned to see Harrison standing there with a sheepish grin on his face.  She waved him in and he sat down, placing a paper sack on the tabletop.

"Behold, a peace offering," he said.  He took two Egg McMuffins out of the bag and set one in front of Sam and one in front of himself.  "Nature's perfect hangover cure," he pronounced.

"I'm pretty sure nature has nothing to do with McDonald's breakfast food," Sam said with a smirk.  "And I'm not hungover."

"No?  Well, I am.  They taste pretty good even if you weren't an idiot to your friends last night.  Sam, I'm really sorry, for everything.  I really am an asshole."  Harrison was apologetic.

"Yeah, but sometimes, when the planets are aligned just right, you're a lovable asshole," Sam teased, forgiving him.  She didn't know why Harrison had bugged her so much last night.  It must have been because she seemed to be the only sober person and had been surrounded by sloshed idiots.  "Anyone who comes bearing McDonalds can't be all bad," she added, taking a bite.

"I hope Brooke wasn't too much of a pain last night."

"Only slightly more than usual," Sam said.

"Right.  I know you just wanted to get her back here so you could make with the smoochies," Harrison thought he was being funny.

Sam stared stonily at Harrison, making it clear what she thought of his joke.

"Just kidding, jeez," Harrison said.  "Where is she, anyway?"


"Still?  No word from the princess's chamber?"

"Not a peep."

"Come on," Harrison said, getting to his feet and grabbing the paper bag.  "She'll feel better once she's had the cure."

Sam followed as Harrison bounded up the stairs, and was right behind him after he quietly knocked on the door to Brooke's room and entered.  Harrison went directly over to the bed and sat down, leaning over Brooke's inert form as he tried to wake her up.  Sam had entered the room but hadn't gone any further.  She leaned against the wall, next to the doorway, not sure she should be in here at all.

She watched as Brooke finally responded to Harrison, by rolling away from him and burying her head deeper in the pillows.  But he was persistent, and it eventually looked like Brooke thought it would be easier to just give in than fight him any longer, although Sam couldn't be sure of that.  Brooke sat up and leaned against her headboard, and blinked when she saw Sam standing by the door.

"Look out world, it's Tequila McQueen," Harrison laughed.  "Kegstand champeen and slayer of evil shrubbery, using only the power of her toxic vomit.  Brooke, what did those bushes ever do to you?"

Sam was immediately annoyed with Harrison again.  Was he trying to make Brooke feel bad?

Brooke put her face in her hands in embarrassment.  "You guys, what happened last night?" she raised her head to look at the two of them.  "I do remember my little mishap on the porch, in unpleasant flashes," she looked chagrined, "but the rest of the night is pretty much a blur."

I knew it, Sam thought to herself.  There was no way she could drink that much and not black out.

"In a nutshell," Harrison said, "you got all kinds of shitty on cheap tequila, and then chased it with beer for the rest of the night.  You were the life of the party."

Sam grew even more aggravated when Harrison insinuated himself next to Brooke on the bed, putting his big sneakered feet on the quilt.

"I didn't do anything embarrassing, did I?" Brooke asked hesitantly.

"No. No way," Harrison assured.  "Except maybe when Sugar Daddy had this idea for a game of-"

"A kegstand competition," Sam forcefully overrode whatever Harrison was going to say and looked meaningfully at him.  Harrison got the hint and didn't bring up the Spin the Bottle game.

Brooke was studying Sam, and Sam soon grew uncomfortable under her gaze and avoided looking at her.  She couldn't bear to hear whatever words Harrison would say to describe the kiss between herself and Brooke.  Yes, she had thought she wanted to talk to Brooke about it, but that was before she knew that Brooke didn't remember it.  If she didn't remember the experience, there was no sense in bringing it up, and Sam didn't know if that made her relieved or regretful.  How would that conversation have gone?  So yeah, you don't remember this, but we kissed and now I think I'm gay, how about that?  Now she just wanted to save Brooke and herself the awkwardness of hashing the whole ordeal out.  If Brooke didn't remember, she guessed it hadn't been worth remembering, and she was the only one making a big deal of it. No, she decided, Brooke wouldn't be hearing of their little snog-fest from her.  And Harrison looked only too happy to gloss it over and pretend it never happened.

"I did a kegstand?" Brooke asked, unbelievingly.

"Yeah!" Harrison enthused.  "You did great!  Good form on your handstand, using the keg as support, and Sugar and Josh held your legs on either side, and you chugged for longer than any other girl, with very minimal sprayage.   A little weak on the follow through, as your bush-killing spree shows, but with a little practice, we could take you on the road."

Sam rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest.  She was suddenly very weary of talking about stupid drinking games.  If she never heard the word kegstand again in her life, it would be too soon.

"And Sam, here, was your white knight," Harrison continued.  "She brought you home and took care of you."

"Thanks, Sam," Brooke said seriously, looking at her stepsister appraisingly.  "I'm really sorry if I ruined your evening.  I know I was in good hands with you."

"Yeah, well, don't hate me because I'm dutiful," Sam said wryly.  She watched as Harrison took out the breakfast sandwich and offered it to Brooke, who accepted it hungrily.  Sam walked over to the nightstand and retrieved the empty glass and went to fill it.

In the bathroom she let the water run, waiting for it to get nice and cold.  She looked in the mirror and wondered if she looked any different than she had two minutes ago.  She exhaled.  Her life had started up again.  It was like the DJ had put his hand on the turntable and stopped the music while she had waited, without realizing it, for Brooke's sober and coherent reaction to the kiss, and now she knew; it was no reaction at all.   Now the record was slowly getting back up to 33RPM and her life would continue as before, except for one enormous difference.  She was in love with Brooke.  Creepy or not, she knew it was true.  It came to her unbidden, and she was calm.  The thought had been there, lying dormant, waiting for her to acknowledge its presence all the previous night as she lay in bed, turning over her newly realized membership to the 'girls only' club.  It made sense, really, when she thought of the passion she had put into her loathing of Brooke in the early days.  She had never felt indifferent about Brooke; it had always been intense, and isn't abhorrence simply the negative image of adoration?

When she returned to Brooke's room, Harrison was standing at the window opening the blinds while Brooke still sat in bed eating her breakfast.  She stopped short about two steps in, looking at their three relative positions in the room.  If you drew a line from Harrison to Brooke to herself it would make a triangle.  Oh, the irony.  Just a year ago the three of them had been embroiled in a similar triangular affair, and look how that had turned out.  The one merciful thing about her situation was that neither of them was aware of her feelings, and that was the way it would stay, she vowed.

Sam was now very relieved that she and Harrison hadn't mentioned the Spin the Bottle incident, she didn't even want to think how Brooke would react to some cringe-inducing declaration made by her stepsister.  Brooke might laugh outright at her, or worse, pity her.  There was no question of Brooke ever returning her feelings; the girl was less than complete without a boy on her arm.  But what about the way she kissed you, asked a persistent voice in her head, she had even made little mewling noises.  Surely the fact that her subconscious blocked out the memory of it happening should tell you something, she answered back.  Brooke would never learn of her little love epiphany, she decided.  It was the best thing for both of them, not to mention, her mother would have a hissy if she knew that Sam wanted to get carnal with her husband's daughter.  Is that what she wanted to do?  Get carnal with Brooke?  Yes, she reluctantly admitted to herself, she really did.  So, this was certainly the best outcome to be had from an unfortunate set of circumstances.

Brooke noticed her standing stock-still and asked, "What's wrong?"

Sam slid her eyes over to Brooke before realizing that there were no thought bubbles over her head, and Brooke couldn't possibly know what she was thinking.  She gave herself a mental shake and approached the bed.  As she handed the glass to Brooke, she took great care that their fingers not meet in the transferal.  "Nothing, I just remembered that I have to work today," Sam quickly improvised.  "Here, you should drink this, you're probably dehydrated."

"What time are you working until?  Emory Dick is having a party tonight," Harrison informed her.

"Well I definitely won't be drinking any time soon," Brooke said, her face contorting at the idea, "so if you want to get all silly, Sam, I'll return the favor and take care of you tonight."  She smiled encouragingly at Sam.

Sam didn't return the smile.  She knew herself well enough to know that she couldn't get drunk in front of Brooke.  Just as Brooke was an affectionate, amorous drunk, Sam became a blithering, blabbering, blubbering idiot when she had too much.  And while she may not literally hurl, she could be counted on to figuratively spill her guts all over Brooke.  She would avoid that if possible, thanks.

"Thanks for the offer, Brooke, but I don't think I'll be able to make it tonight."  She started backing out of the room, intent on beating a quick retreat.  "You guys have fun, see you later."

Brooke watched Sam hightail it out of the room.  It was like she suddenly couldn't get away fast enough.  The weirdness between them was palpable and it was all her fault.  And Brooke had noticed how Sam had not even wanted to touch her as she gave her the glass of water.  She was so ashamed.  What in the world had she been thinking last night?  She closed her eyes and felt a wave of remorse roll over her.  Sam's response was no more than she deserved.  She had full-on attacked the girl, no wonder she was so skittish now.  Brooke took a small amount of comfort from knowing that Sam didn't bring up her wildly inappropriate advances, obviously wanting to forget it as well.  After all, they were two straight girls, never in a million years would either of them be gay.  It was all for the best, really.  It wouldn't be long until both of them forgot all about it, and everything would go back to normal.  Right?  Right.  All the same, she was never going to drink again, she vowed dramatically to herself, even though she knew it was an empty promise.

"So what do you want to do today?" Harrison asked, sitting back down on the bed.

Brooke briefly considered having the break-up talk with Harrison now.  Then she decided that she really couldn't face it with her compromised brain function.  Plus, he was being so nice to her this morning; she was reconsidering her earlier decision.  I'm such an idiot; I don't know what the hell I want, she thought.  "Honestly?  I want to sleep," Brooke hoped Harrison would get the message and leave her alone for a while.

"I could use a nap myself," Harrison agreed, lying down next to her.

Not exactly what I had in mind, but at least I won't be expected to be ambulatory, she thought.  The cymbal guy had put down the cymbals, and was now striking her head with a ball peen hammer at semi-regular intervals.  She figured when he began poking her with a feather she would be ready to go to Emory Dick's party.  She thought of something.  "Hmmm."

"What?" asked Harrison, putting his arm around her waist.

"Sam never works on Sundays."

Sam never worked on Sundays; she had lied in order to get out of Brooke's room.  But she got in the car and decided to drive over to Kranky's anyway.  Maybe buy some Melissa Etheridge, since she figured it was a lesbian mandate that she like her music now.  She had just needed to get out of there.  Obviously, the time she had spent thinking about things last night hadn't been put to the best use.  She had managed to ignore one of the most important aspects of the situation, although admitting a change in sexual preference to oneself is a pretty big deal, and she thought she could excuse herself for the oversight.  As she absently made a right onto Santa Monica Boulevard, the logical side of her brain pushed the overwrought emotional side to the background and she began to list the things she knew to be true, or thought she knew:

1. She was pretty sure she was gay.  She felt herself warming slightly to the idea, and it didn't seem as scary now.

2. She was almost positive that Brooke was not gay, enthusiastic participation in aforementioned kiss notwithstanding.

3. It was summer; Brooke was jobless and would no doubt be spending lots of time at home.

4. She should keep her contact with Brooke to a minimum, lest she allow something to slip by accident, which is where Kranky's came in.

5. She was fairly certain that Tom Cruise was not human, but a sophisticated animatronic puppet foisted upon the cinema-going public by the movie industry at large.  And they weren't going to get away with it.

She parked her car and approached the record store where she had been working sporadically for the past year or so.  One or two shifts a week was all that she could manage during the school year, and last summer she had spent most of her time at the hospital.  Hopefully Sam could get a few more hours on the schedule.  Never before had the summer stretched out so drearily in front of her, with so many long and monotonous hours to fill before her new life in Chicago began.

As she entered the shop, one of her co-workers, Justin, was leaving.  A perpetual sad-sack, Sam was surprised to see a huge grin covering the part of his face that wasn't hidden behind a very floppy hairstyle.  He stopped to greet Sam, saying a quick hello, but then took off, seemingly unable to keep his feet still.

Sam continued into the store and immediately deduced from the Rolling Stones playing that her manager, Hopey, was somewhere on the premises.  She waved at Dan, who was ringing up somebody's purchases at the cash register, and looked around for Hopey.  She found her in the S's, alphabetizing Spears through System of a Down.

"Hey, Hopey."

"Samantha.  How are you?"  Hopey glanced up from her task to smile.  Hopey's friendly demeanor was slightly at odds with her style of dress.  In her trademark black leather pants, today paired with an old, black AC/DC concert t-shirt so faded it was light gray, and her dark shaggy hair, Hopey projected a badass image that screamed "don't fuck with me," but Sam had never known a nicer person.

"Fine.  Not too busy today, huh?" Sam noted.

"Nope.  Should pick up in an hour or two when people start leaving the beach."  The store's close proximity to the Third Street Promenade usually guaranteed a good amount of foot traffic; it was strange to see a lull in the middle of a weekend day.

Sam got right to the point.  "Hopey?  I know I'm just a part-timer and everything, but I was wondering if it would be possible to get a few more hours on the schedule this summer.  I have a lot of time to kill."

Hopey stopped what she was doing and gave Sam an odd look.  "Your timing is impeccable.  Justin just quit."

"He did?"  Sam was surprised; she thought Justin, with his die-hard love of all kinds of music, was a lifer.

Hopey turned around and leaned against the CD racks behind her and crossed her legs at the ankle.  A jewel case that displayed the faux-innocent image of Britney Spears was pressed right against her manager's leather-clad butt, Sam noticed.  "Yeah, his band is going on tour."

"Justin is in a band?" Sam was shocked.

Hopey laughed.  "Yeah.  Lead Singer.  He says that their sound is kind of like Nine Inch Nails meets Wang Chung.  I've never heard them," she deadpanned.  "Two months traveling packed like a sardine with his gear and bandmates in a cargo van that smells like feet and rancid bean burritos will just about make up for the fact that he left me in a major lurch," she said with a grudging smile, then she looked at Sam speculatively.  "You want to take his hours?"

Justin worked full-time, the day shift.

"Yeah, absolutely," Sam couldn't believe her luck; this was exactly what she needed.

"It means working a lot of hours with Ray," Hopey cautioned.

"No problem," Sam said immediately.  She had never worked with Ray, but had heard stories and rumors about him.  She gathered he was a little strange.

"It's nine to five, five days a week, with one day being on the weekend," Hopey clarified, making sure Sam understood.  "Justin didn't give me any notice, the little stain," she said with reluctant affection.  "Would you mind coming in tomorrow morning?"

"No, not at all," Sam assured.  This had all worked out so perfectly.  "Well that wasn't so hard.  I thought I was going to have to beg and plead and kiss your ass like Britney's doing," Sam joked.

"What?"  Hopey hadn't a clue what Sam was talking about.

Sam grinned and pointed at Britney's come-hither smile juxtaposed with Hopey's rear.

Hopey looked down and laughed.  "Britney wishes she could kiss my ass," she scoffed, smirking back at Sam.  "I wouldn't touch that skank with a ten foot toilet brush.  Now, Gwen Stefani, on the other hand, I wouldn't mind if she wanted to kiss me any old place."

"Yeah, me neither," Sam agreed, then blushed when she realized that she had spoken out loud.  God, I'm queer for one day and I'm already drooling over women like a post-pubescent boy, she thought, surprised that she had even let herself have those thoughts.

"Oh, really?" Hopey drawled insinuatingly, inviting Sam to continue speaking.

"Um, I really don't want to talk about it," Sam muttered, and looked down, utterly embarrassed.

Hopey took pity and let her off the hook.  "Well, if you ever do," she said casually, "I'm here for you.  Come on; let's go take a look at the schedule.  I'm going to have fun crossing out Justin's name."

Instead of going back to her car, Sam walked west to the park and beach.  She stood at a railing at the edge of the park that overlooked Route One and the beach beyond, resting her elbows on the pressure-treated wood and cupping her chin in the palm of her hand.  To her left, the enormous Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier dominated the view, while on the right the beach stretched out towards Venice.  There were mobs of people everywhere, and ordinarily, Sam would be availing herself of the superb people watching to be had, but today she was deep in thought.

She was thinking about Hopey, and how secure the woman was with her sexuality.  It was just an extra layer of her personality, something that made her who she was.   Sam wondered how long it took for Hopey to come to terms with herself and if she had any problems coming out.  She knew that Hopey was very happy with her girlfriend, a yoga instructor who had a studio nearby.  The smile that cracked Hopey's face whenever her girlfriend came into the store often made Sam want to look away, it was so intimate and radiant.  At first glance, they seemed an unlikely pair; the rocker chick and the new-agey natural woman, but anyone could see how in love they were.

For a moment, Sam allowed herself to daydream about the couple she and Brooke could make.  They, too, were near polar opposites, opposites were supposed to attract.  But the attraction was only known on one side.  She imagined herself gazing at Brooke from across the table at a romantic candlelit restaurant, or sweetly taking her hand as the lights went down at the movies, or sitting atop the Ferris wheel over there, surrounded by the stunning view, but having eyes only for Brooke.  She shook her head at the sappy direction in which her thoughts ran, she had never been the hearts and flowers type with any of her boyfriends, and she guessed it was just one more piece of proof that this is what she was meant for.  But it was just pipe dreaming, and Sam forced herself to stop pining over what was never going to happen.

So here is where she stood, shedding her former self but not completely a new person either.  The summer would be a watershed for her, a separation of her old life from the one that was yet to be.  One that she was growing increasingly excited to embrace, regardless of what it meant she would have to leave behind.  All that she had to do was get through the next two and a half months and she would be gone.  She would be unfailingly polite to Brooke, giving her, and anyone else in her family, no reason to suspect the inconvenient feelings that had sprung up in her.  And she wouldn't wallow in self-pity over the impossibility of her attraction to Brooke.  It was just simply not in the cards.  Everything would appear to be the same as usual, and she would keep her newfound sexuality on the down low for now, she was nowhere near ready to tell anyone anything.  So everything would go back to normal, except she would have a little secret in her heart.  Make that two little secrets.

Part 4

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