DISCLAIMER: Popular and its characters are the property of Ryan Murphy. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: MAJOR props go to faechick for the awesome beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Just a Little Insight
By Misty Flores


Part 4. Between The Lines of Fear And Blame

"Seriously, Brooke, Florida? You're choosing Florida over the awesomeness of Cabo? Do you have any idea how many hot guys will be there? Drunk? Naked?"

Glancing up, Brooke offered a weak shrug in response, as Stephanie settled onto her roommate's bed, sitting Indian style.

Folding together another bikini, Brooke concentrated on her packing. "Sam asked me to go, and I'd like to see her."

"Ahh… the cute gay sis." Maria, her dark-haired, olive-skinned roommate mused, swinging into the room and crawling around Stephanie, punching up a pillow to make herself comfy. "But isn't she going with her girlfriend and all their gay friends?"

Resisting the urge to roll her eyes at her audience, Brooke nodded. "Probably."

"Oh, God, what if one of them hits on you?" Stephanie asked, horrified at the thought.

"I kissed a girl once." Settling back on her bed, Maria considered the memory. "At that Kappa party."

Closing her suitcase, Brooke kept her mouth purposely closed.

"Oh really? How was it?"

"Disappointing. I think the girl I got was just a bad kisser. Cause it was really wet. I hate wet sloppy kisses. Then again we both were really drunk."

"Do you think drunk gay girls can have sex? Cause Jason got really drunk once and seriously, nothing was more pathetic than trying to have sex with that brewery."

"I wish we had a gay girl in this sorority." Maria chewed on the end of her hair thoughtfully.

"Seriously." Stephanie nodded agreeably. "We need to keep our diversity quotient up. If only they were prettier. All the LGBT girls in our classes look all… why aren't there any lesbians here like the girls in the L Word?"

"They're all at Northwestern," Maria said, and thumbed over to Brooke's side of the room. "Hooking up with Sammy."

"Hey, Brooke. If you meet any cute gay girls that want to transfer, try to get them to rush, yeah?"

Oh, Good God. Smiling tightly, Brooke turned back, hoisting her pack over her shoulder. "Will you guys please remind Martha to feed the fish? I know I've already asked her-"

"Oh, trust me honey," Stephanie said, waving a manicured palm in her direction. "No one is going to mess with the Fish Chick's Little Bleu."

"Yeah, that thing's practically a mascot," Maria said.

Palm wrapping around the handle of her suitcase, she shot her roommate a frown. "And Maria, please for the love of God, do not spend all night with your compact against the bowl trying to get him to fight himself."

"But he gets all puffed up and pretty!"

Fighting the urge to smile and inadvertently encourage her sisters, Brooke grabbed her purse and blew a quick kiss to the little fish. "I'll see you guys in a week."

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" Stephanie twittered after her.

"Please," she heard Maria mutter. "Like that leaves out a whole lot."

There was a nervous pit in the bottom of her stomach, a hard knot that made her nauseous. Maneuvering through throngs of travelers, she gripped her luggage so hard that her knuckles were white with the effort. Eyes peeled for a brunette, she wondered idly if there was time to hurl before she had to meet up with Sam and her group.

The month or so between New Years and Spring Break had been remarkably pleasant, at least as their long distance friendship was concerned. Personalized emails were sent almost every day, and Sam was her regular night time AIM chat buddy. There had never been a question where she would spend her spring break, and although Adam had taken offense, the relationship had deteriorated to the point where she was sure he would be banging some hero worshiping freshman at the first opportunity in the bathroom of Margarita Jones in Cabo.

Not that Brooke had a problem with that. Adam, dumb jock he sometimes could be, deserved more than a barely interested girl who would rather chat than make out. Brooke had the strong suspicion that she was getting a reputation for being frigid, and as much as she hated the idea, she couldn't muster the energy to even try to fight it.

The fact was, she had read those books she had given to Sam, and they had made her wetter and hotter than thirty minutes of Adam settled between her legs.

Maria had a dancer's body, tight and compact, and she didn't have a high sense of modesty, and because of that, Brooke had more than ample opportunity to look at rose bud colored nipples and perfectly portioned breasts, lean thighs and tight asses. Her sex drive was definitely not frigid, but her unexpected kiss with Sam and the thrill that resulted had given her license to admit, her desires weren't with Adam.

It was an unstated want, and just like her love of Sam, lay buried deep inside of her, because Brooke already had a label, given to her by everyone, including Sam. She was the straight step sister, the pretty blonde one who would eventually marry some wealthy and talented football star. Sam was the gay one, she had taken that from her by having the courage to admit it, and because of that, Brooke's secret was all the more illicit.

She was sure that a part of that contributed to her conflict. She was a bundle of nerves, and she knew she would see Sam for the first time since the day after she had kissed her, and with her would be Rebecca, who she had seen pictures of: a beautiful, red-haired girl with a thin mouth and piercing blue eyes.

Her breath was shallow, her palms were sweaty, and when, through the noisy crowded baggage claim, she heard a familiar laugh, a spike of emotion hit her so hard she nearly turned around and headed back towards departing flights.

Biting her lower lip for strength, Brooke straightened up and pasted on a smile, and began to walk, around a group of guys who were shoving and jostling each other, around a Cuban family chattering to each other in Spanish, and toward a group of about five girls, waiting in a corner in various states of casual wear. In the fore front, back to her, was a familiar brunette, and beside her, was that redhead.

It was Rebecca who saw her first, who nudged Sam's shoulder to get her attention, and forced her to finally see Brooke, coming closer all the time.

Through it all, Brooke's smile was polite, forced, until Sam's dark eyes met her own, and then all there was was happiness, because Sam's grin was sincere.

"HI!" Sam looked a little too pale, probably a gift from the frigid Northwestern climate, but gorgeous, just the same. Dropping her suitcase, Brooke was lucky enough to get a hug and a familiar whiff of perfumed lavender. "Sorry! You were early!"

"Blame American Airlines," Brooke said, squeezing her forearms. Her friends crowded around them, and then Brooke felt awkward again, feeling the study of some intense scrutiny.

"Oh, right. Intros." One hand still on her shoulder, Sam turned around and began to point, singling out each friend one by one. "So, that's Mallory. That's Jess over there. Christelle is the chick who needs a hair cut." Christelle answered that with a very polite middle finger pointed at Sam. "She thinks she's Shane," Sam told Brooke pointedly, as if Brooke would have any idea what that meant. "And umm… there's Abby, and of course… Rebecca." In the corner, Abby twiddled her fingers, and beside her Rebecca smiled. "You guys? This is Brooke."

"Finally!" Rebecca laughed, and came forward, wrapping her arms around Brooke in an entirely too friendly hug. "It seems like I already know you!"

"Likewise," she managed, extracting herself as politely as she could.

"She's gorgeous." That comment came from Abby, and Brooke couldn't miss the glare that Sam threw in her direction. "You didn't tell us she was so hot, Sam."

"Abby, seriously. She's straight," Sam snapped, as if she had had this conversation before. "Behave." When Brooke glanced at her oddly, Sam leaned forward, and under her breath, explained, "Sorry. She's umm… well… she's a gay Nicole."

Sam's friends weren't sorority types, that was quite clear. While they were an attractive bunch, they were all different, and a little less immaculate about their appearance. Mallory and Jess, obviously a couple, looked like twins, with equally boyish short cuts and athletic bodies. They seemed an indivisible unit, and Jess appeared to be the spokesmen for them both. Mallory seemed content to simply observe, and when she had a comment would whisper it quietly into the more outspoken Jess' ear. Christelle was decidedly butch, and a little sullen to boot. Still, she had a nice smile when she bothered to show it, and appeared to be gentlemanly as well, making a point of opening the door for Brooke and the other girls at every opportunity. Mostly, she hid behind the shaggy bangs of her hair, and even though the others called her 'Don Juan', Brooke had a hard time believing it.

It was a little ironic that of Sam's friends, she appeared to be the most femme of the group, Rebecca and Abby following in closely. Sam was the most attractive of the bunch, at least in Brooke's love addled eyes, but she had to grudgingly admit that Rebecca had her own unique red-headed glamour. And she clearly seemed to adore Sam. It seemed that no matter what the situation, in any given moment, Rebecca would find an excuse to touch Sam. Either sidling up behind her, sliding a possessive palm onto her hip, or running her fingertips up and down Sam's forearm, or pressing a gentle kiss on the nape of Sam's neck while Sam was speaking, Rebecca always seemed to make a pointed note that Sam and her were together.

Brooke had been prepared for it. It had been a given, when she had agreed to visit with Sam during this spring break, that she would have to see Sam and her girlfriend in a romantic clinch. Unfortunately, she hadn't expected to get pelted with it every half second. The uneasy feeling in her stomach had grown from nausea to something a little worse, and it was hard to maintain her easy smile when she began to suspect that Rebecca was doing everything but peeing on Sam to mark her territory. Sam seemed bewildered by the attention, and it gave Brooke pause.

In the cab ride to the motel, Rebecca looked at her, a scrutinizing stare that made her feel like she was being tried and judged. At that moment, she finally had to look away, irritation boiling up in her irrationally. It was then that she truly noticed Abby.

Despite Sam's assertion that Abby was the gay version of Nicole, she bore none of her physical traits. Abby was a brunette, with green eyes and a wide smile. She was tall and slender, and knew her designers and how to color coordinate. And she was staring at Brooke.

The undisguised attraction was hard to ignore, and facing it full on, Brooke found herself suddenly breathless. Her fingers clenched together in her lap, and self consciously, she began to fuss with her hair.

It was going to be an interesting break.

"So umm…. I know it's not much," Sam said, elbows resting on Brooke's suitcase as Brooke inspected her side of the adjoining motel rooms. "And I hate you put you with Abby and Christelle, but... Rebecca and I…"

"You need your space," she finished lightly, crossing her arms and heading toward the open balcony, looking over the crowded boardwalk. Looking back at Sam, she grinned reassuringly. "It's fine, Sam."

Sam stared at her, clearly not sure if it WAS okay. "I don't want you to think I dragged you a few thousand miles to pawn you off on my friends."

"I don't think that," she assured her.

Sam let out a long breath, and suddenly slouched, eyes rolling up to her head before she whimpered, head in her palms.

"Sam?" Immediately flooded with concern, Brooke moved fast, leaning down in front of the luggage, one open palm on the back of her step sister splayed on top of it. "What's up?"

Letting out an animal sort of grunt, Sam immediately jerked her head up, brunette strands flying back. Her brown eyes looked up at her pleadingly.

"We're having issues," she admitted.

Brows furrowing, Brooke sank onto the double bed she was assigned, trying hard to get her heart out of her throat. "You and Rebecca?" she managed. "Because you two looked like…"

Releasing an audible sigh, Sam straightened, hands on her hip. "She's… she wants more."

"More than what?"

"More than what I'm giving her," Sam said, and sank down beside her, hands pressed on either side of her, curled around the edge of the bed. "She's been out since she was in high school, and she says she's had enough casual girlfriends. She wants something more serious than that. She wants me to move in with her, at least till the summer."

As that sunk in, Brooke blinked, suddenly incensed. "Sam, you're 18! This is your first serious relationship!"

"I know," Sam said, licking her lips in her agitation. "And she used to be so cool about it, but ever since Christmas she's just… I don't know, it's like something's changed."

"Well, whatever it is, it's her problem, not yours." Sam looked at her pleadingly, and Brooke sighed, fingertips kneading the bridge of her nose, trying to calm herself down. "Boy or girl, Sam, your … lover… should never pressure you into anything."

"I know. In theory, I know, but honestly, Brooke, I don't understand what's wrong with me. Why can't I just move in? I don't even know what's holding me back." Falling back onto the cheap bed, Sam fell into a desperate sort of silence, completely frustrated. "I know she's being unreasonable, but logically? Why can't I?"

Sitting straight up, Brooke looked down upon a beautiful, confused girl. Sam looked miserable, and Brooke had no idea what to say to her. She had to be the wise sister, not the jealous would be lover, and it was a hard line to define.

Hesitating, Brooke reached out a hand, ready to take Sam's, comfort her with touch. But awareness of Sam had taken on a sexual notation, and just the feel of fingertips against hers… She shied back, reminding herself harshly that she was here as a sister to Sam. Eyes on the carpet, she pressed her lips together, making a point of keeping her palm flat against the bed.

Seconds later, soft fingers tickled her palm, and Brooke glanced down, to find Sam's fingers burrowing under her hand, until digits were entwining with her own, clasping them gently.

"Brooke," came the soft whisper. "I need help."

Just like that, she melted, her insides liquefying into a pile of goo. It was pathetic, really. With a resigned sigh, she settled back onto the bed, resting on her elbow, and lovingly smoothed an errant bang off of Sam's forehead. "Whatever you do, don't do it to prove something, okay?" Earnest doe eyes stared up at her. "Sam, I slept with Josh to prove something, and I wasn't ready for it, and it was a nightmare, remember?"

Intimacy with Sam was always spellbinding, and Brooke found herself drawn into the intense stare, the moist lips.

"Doesn't speak much of Josh," Sam whispered conspiratorially, and Brooke chuckled alongside her, tightening her hold on her palm and retracing the line of her face.

"No, it doesn't."

"Wow." The foreign voice, interjected at that charged moment, did its work, and spell broken, Brooke flushed, glancing up to find an entirely too interested Abby standing just inside the doorway. Disentangling herself from Sam, she kept a wary eye on the other girl. Abby dropped her bags on the floor, picked up immediately by an incoming Christelle, who shot her a glare and put them carefully beside the bed. "If I didn't know better I would think Rebecca had some competition."

"Shut up, Abby," Sam said, rising up to her elbows. "Where is she, anyway?"

"Getting the rest of the stuff," Christelle mumbled, already setting up camp on the single bed, kicking off her doc martins. "You don't mind if I take this, do you?" she asked Brooke. "I can't sleep with anyone."

"Ironic, if you ask me, considering the trail of broken hearts at Northwestern," Abby chirped. "Guess you're stuck with me, Brooke."

"Abby, seriously. She's straight. Back off." Sam shot her a sympathetic apologetic shrug. Eyes drawn back to the clearly magnetic Abby, Brooke only smiled mutely.

"You'll have to excuse Abby." Appearing in the doorway, Rebecca slapped a hand onto Abby's shoulder. "She likes to be contrary. She thinks it's cute. It's not, by the way," she added pointedly. Grabbing hold of Sam's hand, she hauled her up and immediately pressed a kiss to Sam's lips.

Brooke turned away, pretending to be distracted by the hard bodies now cavorting below the balcony.

"So what now?" Abby asked. "I got the skinny from this chick downstairs? There's an awesome party over in South Beach."

"Guys, we're gonna do straight stuff too," Sam said, and Brooke glanced back when everyone stared at her, the elephant literally in the room. "We're gonna do the beach and the parasailing, and the shopping, and not everything is going to be about eye-fucking, okay Abby?"

"What crawled up Sam's butt?" Christelle sniffled.

Brooke smiled uncomfortably. "You guys can do you whatever you want. I can do whatever, it's fine."

"Brooke, you came to hang out with me," Sam reminded her.

"And seriously, Brooke, it's fine," Rebecca told her, sinking down on the bed. "I don't want you to think we're some sort of gay cult. We are capable of doing things that aren't defined by our sexual orientation. Besides, Abby's bi."

Abby gave her a ridiculously cheesy grin. "All else fails, we oogle the hard bodied men together."

Sam's look was pained, but Brooke couldn't help but smile back.

Abby was a junior, who, in an incestuous twist, had come into the group by banging Rebecca.

"It was a couple years ago," she told her, the next day, as they lay side by side on adjoining towels on scorching sand. "Your regular one night stand, but she never left. We never slept together again, but I'm happier that way. She's got an Irish temper. I don't envy Sam."

Shades on, Brooke made sure to keep her expression as neutral as possible. Crossing her forearms underneath them, she used them as a makeshift pillow, resting her chin as she eyed the frolicking Sam and Rebecca, fighting playfully in the waves with the rest of the swimmers.

Sam wore a red bikini, and she wore it well. Her brunette hair was dripping wet, and it provided for an extremely interesting distraction, as Brooke allowed herself to linger, under the pretense of curiosity.

"Any relationship takes work," she replied, "But Rebecca should probably put on a little more sunscreen or she's going to be red all over."

Beside her, Abby chuckled, using her pink to draw her shades down long enough to give her a look. "I'm sure Sam wouldn't mind that job." Brooke didn't respond, but it didn't deter her neighbor. "You know, I think it's really cool of you to blow off your friends to spend some time with your sis."

"Step-sis," she corrected, and then felt foolish. Mouth turning down bitterly, she dug her elbows in the towel, and turned over, so the hot ray of the sun now burned down onto her exposed belly. "And I didn't mind."

A wolf-whistle caught her attention, and peering through her sunglasses, she discovered a group of bare chested demi gods, walking past them, silly grins making no secret their interest.

Abby seemed amused at least, and Brooke found herself grinning as well, tossing her a sly grin before a dark-skinned tall one in blue trunks holding a volleyball was shoved more or less in their direction.

"Ladies!" he called out. "Feel like some volleyball?"

"Oh, he wants more than volleyball," Brooke muttered under her breath. Abby sat up, appraising him.

"Why wouldn't he? We're two of the hottest chicks on the beach." Sliding off her glasses, she arched an eyebrow. "What do you think?"

Brooke glanced back toward the water, to Sam. The unknown object of her affection clearly only had eyes for her girlfriend.

That's great, Brooke, she suddenly thought. Spend your Spring Break mooning over your horribly inappropriate crush or actually have some fun.

Ignoring the small flare of pain in her chest, Brooke drew in her breath and allowed herself a brilliant smile.

Sitting up, she eyed the boy, and with a flirtatious smile, winked at her new partner-in-crime. "Let's do it."

Despite her frail appearance, Brooke knew how to play the game. She was tall, and scrappy, and paired with the fiercely competitive Abby, she was suddenly in her element.

The boys, who at first, seemed more interested in their bouncing lady bits than the actual game, soon found themselves actually trying, and cursing more than once.

And Abby was fun. She was lively and witty and attractive. They made a good pair, and after her third spike, Brooke realized she was actually laughing.

Incidentally, she had also forgotten about Sam, until half an hour later, when she came off the court, laughing and chatting with Doug, a starting guard at Ohio State, and nearly ran straight into her.

"Hi!" Smile lingering, Brooke grabbed hold of another hi-five from one of Doug's friends, before realizing that the look on Sam's face was less than thrilled. "What's up?"

"Nothing," Sam said, and Brooke frowned slightly.


"Hey, Kerri Walsh!" Large hands came down on her shoulders, and Doug squeezed playfully. "What do you say you and Misty May over there stop by the hotel later? We got an open bar." His eyes lingered on Sam's rather fine form. "Bring your friend if you want."

"Umm… she's taken, so behave," Brooke said, tweaking his nose, "And I'll keep that in mind!"

"Right, well, I gave Abby my cell, so CALL US, okay gorgeous?" Grinning, she nodded, and laughed when he suddenly did a backflip, spraying her with sand.

"You're not actually going, right?"

Blinking, Brooke found herself drawn back to Sam. "What?" Sam's brown eyes were obnoxiously judgmental, and they were a damper on her happy state. "What's wrong with him?"

"Their hotel? Open bar? Brooke, that screams date rape."

She sighed, smile becoming strained, as Sam's arms crossed in front of her, salty hair pulled back to further heighten her stony expression. "I'm not actually GOING, okay? But even if I did, what is so wrong with it? God, it's not like I'd be alone."

"Brooke!" Skidding to a stop beside them, Abby was breathless, eyes sparkling with mirth. "So I was talking to one of the guys? And they're going bungie jumping! They totally just invited us."

"Guys, we're actually LEAVING," Sam snapped.

Abby blinked, and when Brooke just shrugged, she picked a nonexistent bit of sand off Sam's shoulder. "Oh come on, Sammie. I haven't had a hot girl to bond over guys with in forever! You guys are all, together and boring and I can't exactly flirt with dudes with Christelle! Let me HAVE her for a while!"

"Let you have her?!"

For some reason, having her first reasonable good mood since she had arrived become soured by the suddenly pissy Sam was making her a little annoyed.

"Abby, can I talk to Sam alone please?" Eyes rolling up to the top of her head, Abby brought her shoulders up and backed away, presumably to join Sam's friends, already waiting nearby.

Alone, Brooke tried to regain her clarity, staring down at the suddenly pouty Sam.

"Okay, what's up?" she began, in an attempt to stay rational.

"What's up? Brooke, I WARNED you about her!" Sam said, thrusting a palm out to her. "Gay Nicole, remember?!"

"Umm, BI-Nicole," Brooke corrected, "And I liked Nicole!"

"Yeah, right up until she tried to KILL you!"

"Sam, what is the big deal? I'm having FUN, it's Spring Break, and I'm allowed."

"Yes, but you're supposed to have fun with me, remember?"

"Oh." Crossing her arms, Brooke arched a skeptical eyebrow, suddenly incensed. "Am I supposed to just WAIT around for you until you decide you want to spend time with me? Because the entire trip thus far you have been attached in some form to Rebecca, and honestly, the lip on lip Siamese twin thing, is starting to get a little old." Sam's mouth dropped open, and Brooke felt a twinge of validation, wounded heart beating harder in response. "You can't expect me to linger like some third wheel, Sam. It's not fair."

Sam literally groaned, and Brooke's eyes narrowed when the other girl's hands came up to cover her face, pressing them into her flesh in frustration. "You know what? Fine. Go have fun with Abby. Go be straight sluts together."

"Fine," Brooke said tightly, "Have fun with Rebecca and your U-Haul."

Throwing her hands up at her, Sam glared at her, stomping away in the sand. As she walked away, Brooke shut her eyes and sighed, a chill flooding her spine.

When she opened them again, Sam had grabbed hold of Rebecca's hand, and was leading her away.

To hell with her, she thought bitterly, and turned back to an approaching Abby.

At least for the night.

She awoke slowly and with resistance, mostly in part to the completely heinous aftertaste of beer in her mouth and the fact that two drills seemed to be trying to pick apart her skull.

She felt heavy, and sluggish, and most of her senses refused to work. What did, she wished didn't.

It was the most horrible feeling in the world, and … she was fairly certain she had thrown up at some point.

Blinking, Brooke slowly felt herself come alive, body aching, as uncertainty created a damp fog over her reality.

She saw one arm hanging over her bed, and she was fairly certain it was hers, because the fingers moved when she willed them to. Her hair hung in her face, and it made it impossible to see much, but she had definitely made it back to her bed. The twin bed, across from her, barely made out with her struggling peripheral vision, was empty and made.

There was also something pinning her to the bed.

Brooke winced, digits digging into her bangs, as she struggled to move, and it was then she realized there were no blankets on the bed.

She also, incidentally appeared to be naked.

A sharp, nagging fear began to germinate, and Brooke sucked in a harsh breath, fogginess giving way to alert paranoia as she arched her neck and looked behind her.

Plastered against her, was a naked body, long brunette strands piled lewdly against her, obscuring the face.

Oh, God.

"Ummm…" her throat was hoarse, and the headache pounded, and suddenly remnants of the night before began to crash into her brain, like painful lightning bolts.

Slender fingers threading through her hair, slamming her lips hotly against her own, tongue plunging inside for a bitter taste.

The body stirred, and Brooke's paranoia almost became hypoventilation, as Abby began to rub against her, groaning oddly.

Fingers jerking at the halter top, jerking it down almost angrily to display perfect breasts

"Oh, shit," she breathed.

Abby froze, and slowly, her partner managed a hesitant, "Brooke?"

"Oh, shit," she said again.

"Oh, God," Abby groaned, and then she shoveled off of her. "Did we-"

"Yeah, I think we did," she managed.

"Was it good?"

"I think so," she said, her voice a strangled pitch. Scrambling for a sheet, Brooke fumbled off the bed.

Abby sat up, pulling strands of hair out of her eyes, still insanely naked. "Oh, Fuck! Sam's going to kill me."

"Listen, Brooke, I need you to wake up, because I've been thinking and… "

It was, of course, at that moment, that Sam had chosen to walk in.


Part 5. You Begin To Wonder Why You Came

There had been several moments in Brooke's short but colorful life where she wanted the earth to open up and swallow her whole.

Never before had she wished so fervently that that exact thing would happen, and that a roaring fire would also come up from the bowels of hell and incinerate her to boot.

The horror that she felt had mingled nicely with the panic, and it had left her dumb and frozen, standing helplessly in nothing but a sheet as Sam wavered in the room, absorbing everything.

Luminous brown eyes took her in, following the line of her body from the toes to her horrified, guilty expression, to the unmade bed and the other naked girl sitting on top of it.

It seemed as if they were all frozen in time, and Brooke had no idea how to snap any of them out of it.

"Okay..." Abby began, scooting on all fours off the bed, taking care to always be facing their intruder. "Sam, this isn't what it looks like. Okay, it is, but..."

Shaken out of her shock, Sam suddenly came to life, head moving side to side before her mouth opened and closed and then, suddenly, she back pedaled out of the room, shutting it with a slam.

Throat dry, Brooke managed only a surprised squeak, so it was Abby, blinking and straightening, reaching for a comforter, who managed the obvious. "That went better than I thought it would."

Immediately, Brooke was treated to a second heart attack when the door slammed open again, and Sam barged back in.

"NO!" she barked, eyes red and face impossibly flushed. "No. NO NO! You do NOT get off this easy."

"Sam," she managed, raspy and thick. "I didn't-"

"NO!" Sam said again, bright eyes gleaming with rage. "I told you to lay the hell OFF of her," she snapped, and her voice was LOUD, so loud that Brooke found herself staring wide-eyed at the door.

"Sam," she tried again, "If you want to do this, maybe we should shut the-"

Those dark eyes turned on her. "How could you do this?! WHY? BROOKE?! WHY WITH HER?!"

In the midst of covering herself, Abby found the moment to take exception. "What the hell does that mean?!"

Brooke tried hard to force the lump of emotion past her throat, and found her horror mounting when the commotion attracted both Jess and Mallory, in varied states of sleepy casualness, and Christelle, keys in her hand, fully clothed and wide-eyed beneath her dirty bangs. The girls crowded in the door, and Brooke could only draw her sheet around her further.

"What the hell do you THINK it means, Abby?!" Sam snarled. "I asked ONE thing from you. ONE. All I asked you to do was to stay the hell away from Brooke-"

"Because you OWN her?!" Abby shouted back, no longer caring she was naked.

Arms crossed over her breasts, Brooke was especially distressed to discover that Rebecca was now in the doorway as well.

"What's going on?" she asked, and Sam glanced back at her for only a half a second, before ignoring her, instead stepping toward Abby.

"Well, that's what this about, right? Abby? You had to bang Brooke because I said you couldn't."

A prickle of insecurity wormed its way into irritation. "You know," she managed, voice steadying. "I am in the room. I can speak for myself."

"Exactly," Abby agreed, colored eyes blazing, back straight, shoving an arm in her direction. "And if I remember correctly, I'm not the one that started it!"

Just like that, all attention shifted to her. Her headache was rapidly overcoming anything else, and Brooke brought a palm to her flushed cheeks, staring hopefully at the floor. Nothing. No crack, no swallowing her whole.

"You're lying," Sam whispered, deadly even, and Brooke's head shot up.

"No, Sam," she managed, as poised as she could be, naked and hung over. "She's not."

Just like that, she remembered. She remembered the liquor and the walk home, she remembered the heavy flirtation and she remembered pressing Abby against a building, furious and drunk and suddenly uncaring.

Sam only stared at her, and Brooke found herself suddenly trying hard to resist the urge to cry.

"Sam," she tried, private and soft, trying to plead with her with her eyes. "Sam, just listen-"

"What is the big deal anyway, Sam?" It was Rebecca that broke in, stepping into the room. "She's your sister, not your god-damned girlfriend."

"She's not my sister," Brooke broke in, only to realize Sam had just said the exact same thing. Staring at her in surprise, Brooke tried to look for any expression that would give her any hope in discovering what Sam was feeling, but all she saw was that overwhelming anger.

"You know, I think we should go," Brooke heard Christelle say, before Mallory smacked her on the shoulder, effectively shutting her up.

"That's what this is about, isn't it?" Abby said suddenly, realization dawning into her tone. Brooke stared at her beseechingly, but her partner didn't look in her direction, too lost in her battle with Sam. "It's not about fucking your sister. This is about the same thing that it's always been with you, isn't it, Sam?"

"Shut the hell up, Abby," Sam said, dark and dangerous, and Brooke, like the others, was lost in the sudden tension.

"You're pissed for the same damn reason that you've always had a problem with me. You can't stand the fact, that just like Rebecca, I got there first."

"You bitch!" It was enough. Sam lunged, and Brooke's sheet dropped as she scrambled over the bed, wrapping a long arm around Abby's naked waist, ducking to keep out of the way of the flailing limbs as Abby fought back, violent and furious.

"You guys!" she barked, dragging Abby back. "STOP IT!"

Rebecca had managed to grab hold of Sam, wrapping both hands around Sam's waist and scrambling back, working as furiously as Brooke to try to get them separated.

And suddenly, Rebecca had had enough.

"That's it," she snapped, dropping Sam so suddenly Sam nearly landed on her ass, hands up in a surrendering position. "Kill each other. I don't care."

"Rebecca," Sam managed, but the blazing green eyes only stared at her with a vivid sort of fury.

"And YOU," she hissed, pointing a finger at her girlfriend. "Stay the HELL away from me."

Arms still around the suddenly lax Abby, Brooke stared helplessly as Sam looked at them both, and suddenly scrambled to her feet, chasing after Rebecca.

The room was dead quiet.

Breathing hard, Brooke released Abby, sharing a long, intense stare with the other girl, before she realized they still had an audience.

When she looked at the three girls in the doorway, Christelle suddenly remembered her manners. "We'll just... let you get dressed," she said, and shoved the other two out.

Deflated, Brooke was suddenly weak. Palm to her forehead, she leaned back, slumping against the wall for support.

"Oh my God," she breathed.

Abby didn't say much of anything at all. Locking eyes intensely, she simply sighed and then turned away, reaching for her clothes.

"You know?" Jess said, legs propped up on a nearby table, shoulder serving as an headrest for her girlfriend Mallory. "I knew adjoining motel rooms was a bad idea. I just knew it. Lesbian drama is not limited to a fourth wall."

"Abby, seriously, what the fuck?" That was Christelle who spoke up, glancing up from a book to stare down the disheveled girl who was now sitting uncaringly on the sofa, flipping through channels on the cheap television set. "What the hell did I tell you about LOCKING THE DOOR if you were gonna go insist on banging Sam's sister."

"They're not sisters," Abby snarled, glancing at her over her shoulder. "If that were the problem, Rebecca wouldn't be in there right now breaking up with Sam."

The shouting was getting ridiculous, and the fact that the thin door was closed did nothing to smother the sounds of Rebecca laying into Sam.

Curled into a ball on the other end of the sofa, Brooke had never felt so miserable in her life.

"God, this is all my fault," she managed, rubbing circles into her eyes.

"No," Abby said, turning to look at her, expression serious. "It's not, Brooke. This has been building for a while. You're just the straw that broke the redhead's back."

"No, YOU'RE the straw that broke the red-head's back," Christelle said, once again lowering her book. "It's not like Brooke KNEW what was going on, Abby. You did. And you shouldn't even be here right now. If Sam and Rebecca come out of there and see you two sitting together on the couch there's going to be a round two, and I'm way too hungover to deal with that shit."

"Then you leave," Abby barked, picking up the remote again. "I'm way too hung over to even try to deal with the sun right now."

"I knew it was a bad idea for Brooke to come," Jess mumbled. Brooke blinked, nauseous pit in her stomach literally growing. "No offense, Brooke. But... the rest of us saw this real life L Word coming a mile away."

"What do you mean?" Brooke asked, weak and soft. The entire room of lesbians stared at her, and only Abby finally sighed, turning toward her.

"Sam went from never mentioning your name at all before Christmas break, to coming back after the New Year and never shutting up about you. It was weird, and Rebecca started to get a little uneasy, but Sam was too busy IM'ing you to notice."

Brooke closed her eyes and winced, head falling back onto the couch.

"Not that we don't understand the obsession," Christelle said, trying hard to be nice. "You're very hot."

"We just figured it was a crush on a straight girl," Abby finished, and when Brooke opened her eyes to stare at her, found the other girl wearing an oddly vulnerable expression. "I think that the fact that you aren't completely opposed to the same sex drove Rebecca over the edge."

"Are you gay, Brooke?" Jess asked, and Brooke blinked, suddenly uncomfortable.

"That's so not an appropriate question," Christelle said, not lifting her eyes from her book.

"SHE'S NOT YOUR SISTER, SAM!" The shouting caused them all to jump, and Brooke found the knives sliding into her brain suddenly that much sharper. "You don't LOOK at her like she's your sister, you don't TALK to her like she's your sister-"

"Oh, God," Brooke breathed, and suddenly scrambled to her feet, unable to hear any more. "I gotta go. I completely ruined this-"

"Brooke, where are you going?" Abby asked, and Brooke ignored her, weaving dizzily to her room.

"I have to go," she said again, trying to focus on getting to the door. "I need to leave-"

"Brooke, come on-"

The door burst open, and she nearly ran into a flurry of curls and green eyes.

Stopping short, Brooke found herself overwhelmed with the presence of Rebecca, as the other girl stared at her, looked her up and down with such hurt and conviction and HATRED that Brooke found she could do nothing but wait for it to end.

And then Rebecca moved away from her, to the door of the motel room, grabbing her keys and jerking the doorknob, heading out.

"Rebecca, wait-" Already, Christelle was scrambling up after her, and Brooke was left behind, to stare at the open room, with Sam still in it.

Unable to help herself, she walked carefully, eyes on the brunette with her back towards her, staring out the window. Closing the door as gently as she could behind her, Brooke tried to process what she was about to do.

Her heart was beating so fast, and so much had happened in so short a time, she couldn't think straight. She tried to speak, and yet she had no voice. Swallowing, trying to get some moisture in, Brooke stared helplessly at Sam, arms crossed in front of her, feeling impossibly small.

"Sam," she managed, a thick croak. "Sam, I'm..."

In front of her, Sam's form stiffened, and the words died on her lips. Turning slowly, Brooke finally caught sight of tear-streaked eyes, a quivering mouth, and never before, had she seen Sam so closen in.

"This is all your fault," Sam whispered, and that sentence, just that sentence, was like a dagger slicing into her heart. "Why her, Brooke? Why out of everyone?" A lone tear began to drip down Sam's cheek, like a lone sparkling diamond. "Was it to hurt me?"

"Hurt you?" Brooke repeated, dizzily overwhelmed. "I don't under-"

"You just couldn't leave well enough alone, right? It always has to be about Brooke."

"Sam," she tried again.

"You're not even GAY, Brooke!" Sam's words were edged in ice. "And you just had to go bang the one girl I hate."

Brooke blinked, the words so hurtful, and inside her, she kept hurting, deeper and deeper. "I see," she managed. "So... forget that my first time with a girl is something I barely remember when I was drunk and pissed. Forget that I've never had a sexual encounter with another women and I might be a little freaked out about this - no! This is about poor SAM! That's great!"

"Excuse me?"

"Yes, excuse you, Sam!" Coming forward, Brooke couldn't help herself, wiping furious tears from her suddenly stinging eyes. "So it doesn't matter that I'm confused and scared and could possibly need my sister right now-"

"Oh, please. We're not sisters," Sam snapped back, evenly and hurtfully. "I think THAT much has been established."

Brooke stared at her, stunned. "Nice," she whispered.

"And when has it EVER come up that you could possibly want to sleep with a girl? Because the Brooke I know? A LITTLE obsessed with the boys!"

"Well, you know what, Sammy? Maybe you never really knew me."

"Yeah, I think that's obvious."

She was less than a foot away from the girl she was hopelessly, desperately in love with, and never, had she felt farther away from her than she did at that moment.

"I think I should go," she whispered, nodding with her own conviction. "I'm sorry for ruining your Spring Break with my sexual identity crisis."

Without waiting for Sam's reaction, Brooke reached up and wiped at the tears gathering underneath her eyes, and turned, walking away as quickly as she could.

Sam didn't come after her. Brooke didn't expect her to.

"You didn't have to come with me."

Sitting beside her, doing her best to remain perfectly still, Abby moved her head an inch in her direction, dark eyeglasses protecting her eyes as much as they could from the bright Florida sunlight.

"It's fine," Abby answered uneasily, clearly nauseous. "I made the bed, I might as well take it to the airport."

Brooke smiled in spite of herself, the numbness breaking down just slightly to allow for that bit of humor to pervade. The taxi driver blasted his IPOD, some Spanish sort of funky reggae mix, and Brooke could concentrate on little more than trying to stand the hang over headache.

"Brooke," she heard, and turned back to Abby. "Are you gay?"

Licking her lips, Brooke unscrewed the cap of her water bottle, taking in a long drink before letting out a labored sigh.

"I think so," she whispered finally, and her heart thudded darkly at her in response. "I don't know... I've thought about it."

Abby considered that carefully, and then took the water bottle Brooke held out, thanking her with a weak smile. "I take it Sam had no idea."

Brooke's mouth turned down into a sour frown, thankful her eyes were covered by the dark glasses. "No," she said evenly. "I mean, I mentioned it once, a few years ago. But it was in this group and I don't think anyone heard me... No," she said again. "She didn't know. But no one did."

"Oh." Abby settled her head back against the headrest, and Brooke turned, watching the traffic they passed by. "None of my family knows." Head swiveling, Brooke eyed the other girl. "Back home, I'm just... this boy crazy, insane little rich girl. Mom would die, and umm... Dad wouldn't stand for it, so... it's why I went away to college."

"Will you ever tell them?"

Scratching at her ear, Abby shrugged, and let the conversation die.

Brooke pressed her lips together, turning back toward the other girl. "I'm sorry I seduced you, Abby. If I had known it was gonna turn out like this-"

"I would have done it anyway." Abby's grin was small, but sincere. "Brooke, I wanted to sleep with you since the moment I saw you coming through the airport. The fact that I got to was a very welcome surprise. I'm just sorry that your first time with a girl was a drunk mess of a night."

Brooke laughed lightly, and nearly cried from the release of emotion. "Well, the parts I remember were good."

"Thanks, back at ya," Abby snorted, and then fell quiet again.

"Why does Sam hate you so much?" Brooke asked, suddenly innately curious.

Abby shrugged. "For the reason I said," she said, resigned. "Because I slept with Rebecca first, and Sam knows I never got over her, and if I had a chance of taking her away from her, I would."

It was honest, and surprising, and Brooke had no response for that but a careful nod.

"How long have you been in love with Sam?"

Her first instinct was to deny the question, but one look at Abby's knowing frown was enough to let any argument die. Blowing out her breath, she closed her eyes and felt terribly fragile. "I don't know," she whispered. "Maybe a couple years. I didn't realize it until prom night, and then seconds later I got hit by my best friend trying to run me over with her car and spent two months in a coma. It was a really eventful night."


"Yeah," she managed.

"Sam told us about the accident," Abby said. "She said it was the worst night of her life."

Brooke's eyes closed, unable to consider what that meant. "Well," she whispered, "That makes two of us."

"Hey Brooke." Opening her eyes, Brooke turned and looked at the other girl, equally pale, equally tired. "You know, if it were any other situation I probably would have asked to see you again."

She smiled, warmed by the heartfelt admission. "If it were any other situation, I would have said yes."

Abby stared at her, and suddenly, she leaned forward delicately, and with a tenderness Brooke had never seen in her before, placed a gentle kiss against her mouth.

She tasted of beer and mint, and Brooke found her eyes closing despite herself, tilting her head and parting her lips for a sweet touch of tongue against tongue.

Breaking the kiss with a small sigh, Abby's expression was intense, visible even from behind her dark glasses.

She smiled at her, corners of her lips curling up slightly, and Brooke understood it was both an apology and a good-bye.

Reaching up, she traced her thumb along the curve of Abby's jaw, and managed a smile of her own.

"Me too," she said, and Abby nodded, settling back into her seat and staring out the window.

They spent the rest of the cab ride in comfortable silence.

Brooke had never had a more miserable flight, and she was pretty sure everyone in the plane hated her.

Half of her trip was spent in the small lavatory, the other half was buried in a barf bag, and the other flight attendant finally got so fed up with her, she upgraded her to first class in order to put her closer to the bathroom and away from the other passengers, who all looked ready to murder her.

Not that that endeared her anymore to the first class passengers.

The conversation with Sam kept replaying in her head, and Sam's judgmental expression haunted her, and it only made her more nauseous than before.

When she finally walked off the plane, after apologizing profusely to both the flight attendants and the passengers who would look at her, she was weak, miserable, and on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

It was in that condition that she had to call Jane, and when Jane nearly shrieked at her on the phone, Brooke understood that it was not going to be a quiet trip home.

Sam's mother looked absolutely furious when she finally pulled up to the curb of LAX, face mottled with furious emotion, because she had an hour drive to get more and more pissed off.

She stomped forward, staring down at Brooke's pale, green face. "Are you allright?" she snapped, staring at her with concern.

Brooke managed a mute nod.

"Dammit, Brooke, I don't know what to do with the two of you anymore," Jane exploded, and nearly wrenched the luggage out of her hands, thrusting it with effort into the open trunk. "Get in the car. Do you need a plastic bag?"

Brooke only opened the car door and pulled on her sunglasses, fumbling for her seatbelt. Through the rearview mirror, she caught sight of Little Mac, passed out in the car seat, drool on her chin.

The driver's door opened and then slammed closed again, and Brooke groaned, curling up as best she could.

"I can't believe it," Jane ranted, obviously still furious, fumbling with her keys and jamming them into the lock. "You have a lot of explaining to do, young lady!"

"Jane," she managed, literally sick. "Please don't yell."

"Dammit, Brooke! I just- I'm completely at a loss." Jerking the car into the outside lane, Jane swerved into the next lane and nearly took Brooke's stomach with it. "Everytime I think you two are getting closer and behaving more like sisters something happens and then you are right back where you started!"

"Jane," Brooke wheezed, eyes shut tight.

"Is it impossible for you two to behave at least civilly to each other? Are you that incompatible?!"

Brooke kept her mouth shut, intentionally silent. Opening her eyes, she discovered they were on their way to clearing the airport and heading toward the highway.

"I don't know what else to do! What could have possibly happened, Brooke?! What could have been so bad that you had to actually get on a plane and LEAVE Sam in Florida in the middle of Spring Break!?"

Clutching the plastic bag Jane had thrust into her hands, Brooke's eyes flooded with tears, weakened and helpless.

"Tell me, Brooke!"

"God, Jane, I don't know!" she burst suddenly, tearing off her glasses to display bloodshot eyes, tears spilling over. "Maybe I got so tired of repressing the idea that I might be gay that I got drunk and slept with one of Sam's friends!"

It was enough to shut Jane up, and also enough to nearly cause a three car pile-up when Jane let go of the wheel for half a second and nearly veered into the next lane.

As Jane cursed and struggled with the car, Brooke's building emotions finally imploded, and helpless and furious and scared and hurt, she could do nothing else but collapse into a torrent of tears, giving up.


Part 6. Somewhere Along In The Bitterness

In retrospect, there was possibly no worse way to come out to her step-mother, than driving eighty miles an hour down a high way with a sleeping baby, and she a sobbing, nauseous, hurling mess.

Still, something about that moment, so broken, so alone, and so devastated, had managed to convey what Brooke would have never been able to say with words.

Fragile, shaken, and frightened, Brooke's uncontrollable sobs were her only focus. The emotion inside of her had rushed out in a torrent, broken through a dam of repression that had been building for years, and it dominated her body and her mind.

She wasn't sure how long she cried, curled up in that seat, but as the shudders became small shakes, and the sobs became sniffles, there came a quiet stillness, a minute moment of the relief that came with release. Until she began again to feel the weight of her body, wipe at her hopelessly ruined face, awareness coming back all at once, as she remembered her own circumstances.

With it, came horror.

Inhaling sharply, Brooke's eyes grew wide, and her chest tightened and she could barely breathe, as her head jerked to the side, suddenly paralyzed with fear.

She expected chaos, and instead there was only silence. Jane only stared straight ahead, fingers wrapped around her steering wheel so tight, her knuckles were white.

Brooke shifted, and realized that a tissue box had miraculously landed on her lap.

Glancing back uneasily, she discovered Mac now wide awake, round eyes looking at her like she was a horror movie waiting to happen.

It was then that she noticed Jane had veered onto an exit, and without a word, pulled into a Wendy's parking lot, conveniently placed in viewing range of the freeway to attract the traveling crowd.

Heading into the drivethru, Jane lowered her window, and then, finally, stared at Brooke. "Frosty?"

Fingers crimping around the tissue box, Brooke didn't know what to say to that.

"Welcome to Wendys, may I take your order?"

"Two frostys, please, one order of fries." She paused, hesitating, before leaning out of the car window. "Make those LARGE."

There was a curious sort of surrealism in the quiet that existed in the car.

Still hungover, Brooke could only pick at her melting frosty, taking small comfort in the chocolately ice cream concoction.

Behind them, Mac had mushed the fries given to her into a pulpy little mess, and she ate it greedily, happily engrossed in chewing on the salty treat.

Jane had an almost scary intensity about her, methodically taking the fries that were carefully tilted between them and one by one, dunking them into her frosty, swirling them around and then popping them into her mouth.

Weakened from her burst of emotion, Brooke had no idea what to say or do, and so she simply stared at her Frosty, doing the best she could not to consider what it was she had just done.

"You know," Jane said, breaking the silence with a firm tone, that dropped the bottom out of Brooke's stomach. Swallowing, Brooke blinked, and realized she was trembling when a drop of melting chocolate ice cream fell on her forearm. "Sam does this."

Wiping at her arm, Brooke offered a hesitant nod. "Yeah, I know."

Picking up a fry, Jane drenched it in her chocolate. "I used to think she was insane. And then one day, after I complained about it, she told me to stop being such a baby and just try it." Jane studied the soggy fry. "Now, just the IDEA of liking a French fry dipped in ice cream sounded horrible to me, but I had always taught Sam to never hold any preconceived notions. So I tried it. And I liked it, though I'll never admit it to her." Jane shot her a sharp stare. "And you are not allowed to tell her."

Brooke smiled weakly. "Okay."

Jane stared at her, and then suddenly faced forward again, hands falling to her lap. "So… are you … you know… like Sam?"

The wince that went through her was painful, and the headache that Brooke had only worsened, as she pushed the shake away from her.

Unable to speak, she only nodded tiredly.

"I see." Jane went quiet for a beat, as if she was allowing that to sink in. "And um… this friend of Sam's… was female?"

Nodding again, Brooke curled into herself, sighing raggedly, trying to will her tears away.

"And I take it Sam wasn't okay with this."

She shook her head mutely. Behind them, Little Mac giggled at some unseen oddity.

"Okay. Okay." Straightening, Jane suddenly reached for the keys, inserting them into the steering wheel and starting the ignition with a jerk of her fingertips. "Here's what we're going to do. We're going to drive home, and you are going to sleep this hang over off. Meanwhile, I will… attempt to process this and then when you don't look like death warmed over, and I can't crash, we will discuss this like adults." An uncontrollable sniffle erupted from her, and Brooke shut her eyes, clamping her mouth shut when Jane veered the car out of the parking spot. "Brooke."

She opened her eyes weakly.

"I love you."

Jane had a gentle touch, but there were tears in her eyes as she literally tucked Brooke into her bed, pulled the covers over her body, and smiled tightly.

Without a word, she left Brooke, shutting the door soundly behind her.

Alone, in her bed, with her thoughts and her weaknesses, and the aftermath of what she had done, Brooke understood that at that moment, every fear she had had about herself had been realized.

Coming out should have been a relief – a sign of courage, not despair. A sign of hope, not of heartache.

Brooke sucked in a ragged breath and thought of Sam, and the look of pure contempt that had flashed across her face.

Whimpering, Brooke had no other recourse but to close her eyes and pull the covers over herself again, determined to shut out the world, at least to keep her own emotion from drowning her.

Sleep did not come easily for Brooke, but it did eventually come – an uneasy version of it at least, that was filled with dreams and nightmares, mingled together in an eery version of events of the last few days.

When her eyes finally opened, she was still tired, and still queasy, the rock in her stomach refusing to dissolve, because she understood that nothing would ever be the same.

Brooke had tried hard to be what everyone wanted her to be.

She had failed, miserably.

Sunlight had eeked in past the drawn blinds, finding their way through every nook in cranny, as if the world was determined to let itself in.

Turning over in her bed, Brooke stared at the empty dresser drawer, where a little blue fish would normally be wiggling at her, trying to will her into feeding him with a longing blink of his beady little eyes.

Lil Bleu.

It was a simple thought, but it was enough, to force her to push away the bedsheets and push herself up, determined to head back to her house and pick up her fish.

It was something to do, and Brooke desperately needed something to do.

Jane was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee, when Brooke found her. She was quietly contemplative, fingertips tenting against the cup.

Glancing up, she offered Brooke a quiet smile. "Feeling better?"

Frightened and overwhelmed, Brooke was at a curious precipice. Heart in her throat, she smiled as best she could, crossing her arms across her chest. "Yes, thanks." Jane nodded, eyes lingering on her face, trying to read her, the expression foreign and different than Brooke had ever felt.

The sinking in her stomach only made it worse, and she glanced away, inching toward the door. "I was thinking about driving down to school and picking up the fish-"

"No, Brooke stop." The coffee cup came down, and Jane's brown eyes were suddenly moist, as fingers tangled into brunette hair. Her step mother looked lost. "Sit down. Please."

Brooke didn't want to. She was afraid, and she knew it, because she loved Jane, and everything Jane had ever said to her, the hidden disappointment in Sam, it became an idea that Brooke was her safety, and that had been taken away from her.

She felt she had been doing nothing but crying, and yet she still couldn't stop the sudden rise in emotion, the tears that burst into her eyes as she shook her head mutely.

"Jane, I'm sorry," she managed, desperately pleading. "I know what you wanted me to be-"

"Oh, honey…" The woman she loved as a mother suddenly rose, and Brooke eyes shut tight when Jane suddenly wrapped her in her arms, drawing her in close. The sudden hint of affection was too much, and Brooke was suddenly sobbing again, salty tears rubbed into the sweatshirt she was now pinned against. "You listen to me," she heard, as her sobs became shudders, and Jane held her so tightly she could scarcely breathe, "I just want you to be who you are, honey. I just want you to be happy. That's all I want- I'm so sorry honey."

The emotion was so intense a lump of air lodged in her throat, and emerged as a rather unladylike hiccup. "But… but you said… you said that you wanted normal-"

"Oh, honey…" Pulling back, Jane pressed her palms against her cheeks, and Brooke looked into a tearstreaked, earnest expression. "Who am I kidding? With you and Sam? I've never had normal. I wouldn't know what to do with it!"

It took a second or two for the expression to sink in, but suddenly, Brooke found herself giggling, a horrible sounding chortle that she couldn't help, and just the sound of it set her off again, a river of snot and blubbering, and she felt so sorry for Jane for holding her and having to see it and feel it, but she couldn't help it.

She had crumpled like a torn up gross piece of tissue.

"It's okay." A reassuring palm rubbed against her back. "It's okay, honey. I love you."

Her eyes shut even tighter.

"Oh wow," she heard Jane say. "You and Sam really love to throw me some curveballs, don't you?"

She sniffled and choked and had nothing she could say to that. Burying her nose into Jane's sweater, Brooke gulped and curled her arms around Jane tighter.

"Oh, God, Jane," she managed, hoarse and weak. "You don't know the half of it." Jane froze, ever so slightly.

"Well, let's just concentrate on springing this on Mike and worry about the rest later, okay? He's got enough gray hairs, and I don't think his job can tolerate another bad dye job."

Oh, God. Brooke sniffled, and glanced up at Jane with hopeful, shiny moist orbs. "Maybe Mac will be straight."

Jane looked down at her with a beautifully bemused smile. "Honey, let's work on your logic later, okay? You need to eat something."


Mac's over enunciation of the last syllable was unbearably cute, but she had not yet learned the tricky art of an indoor voice, and as a result, several people passed not so pleased looks in Brooke's direction.

Smiling apologetically, Brooke shhshed the baby as best she could, maneuvering around other carts, trying to mind both the list and the baby sitting in the shopping cart.

"We got the milk," she said, wrinkled paper in her hand, distractedly trying to keep Mac from putting the ENTIRE chocolate lollipop into her mouth at once. Peering into the cart at the small pile she had accumulated, she gave Mac a smile of success. "Honey, I think we're actually done!"

"God, they're starting so young."

The passing comment threw her, and Brooke blinked, before realizing that the women who had just passed her in the aisle had actually assumed Mac was HER baby.

Rolling her eyes, Brooke curled her fingers over the sticky metal bar and pushed forward.

The day after her big revelation, in the wake of the complete chaos, had been a day of tentative peace. Without the powder keg that was Sam, the house had been quiet, almost too quiet.

At Brooke's request, Jane had agreed to keep the news of her sexual orientation silent to her father, at least for the moment. Still feeling terrible over the fact that in the past few months since Sam had come out, Jane must have accidentally stuck her foot in her mouth at least a dozen times in Brooke's presence, her step mother was being almost overly sweet – the trophy GLAAD mother to end all mothers.

Truthfully, Brooke was grateful for the chore she had been given. A day babysitting Lil' Mac wasn't easy by any means, but at least Mac was more interested in her popsicle than in discovering how she was feeling. Brooke was exhausted, and heartbroken, and while her secret had been revealed, there was still a deeper truth at the heart of all this that she was almost positive Jane would never be completely on board with.

"Just think," Jane had said, folding clothes with her on the couch the night before. "If we had known, Sam could have helped you out with this."

Brooke doubted very much that Jane had any idea that Brooke's gay tendencies included a lust for Sam, and if there was even an inkling, Jane proved insanely good at denial.

The result was a curious tightness in Brooke's chest, because yes, she had admitted it, and Jane knew, and she had promised her she would be there when she told Mike, and she had told Brooke everything was going to be okay, but there had been no word from Sam at all.

No email, not voicemail. Not even a veiled call to Jane to make sure Brooke's plane hadn't crashed or she hadn't been abducted by pirates (which, yes was unlikely, but Sam was the creative one, and if she cared enough she would have been paranoid enough to come up with that). Nothing, and because there was nothing, Brooke's relief at finally being able to tell SOMEONE who she really was, was now consumed with a much bigger cloud of doubt and sorrow overtaking it.

She hated how she was feeling – sad and hopeful and anxious and jealous, all at the same time, because Sam had freaked out finding her in bed with Abby, and the other girls told her that Sam had a crush on her – at least they thought she did.

And maybe Sam could have been jealous, and if that were true then maybe… just maybe-

But then Sam had also left her to run after her overly jealous, prone-to-freak out, narcissist little girlfriend Rebecca. She had blamed Brooke for all of it, and it was hard to forget the look on Sam's face when she did.

And despite all of it, Brooke still had to physically restrain herself from picking up the phone last night and begging Sam's voicemail to forgive her.

It was only when Mac smeared melted chocolate on her forearm that Brooke realized she had been reduced to brooding in the snack aisle.

"God-Dammit, Sam," Brooke snapped, and Mac blinked at her, as she dug into her purse for a tissue. "You're such an asshole."


Her name, said in a familiar male tone, was enough to cause a tingle to go up her spine, and frozen, Brooke had no time to prepare herself, when Harrison John stepped in her line of sight.

"Harrison," she breathed.

"Asshoe!" Mac chirped.

Harrison looked more emo than dorky nowadays. He was a little more filled out, a little more buff, and his hair was now cut in a stylish, lanky style, bangs falling over his forehead, locks falling over his ears.

Still, his big brown eyes were as magnetic than ever, and the smile that he gave her over the counter of the local Inn-N-Out was as sincere as she thought she deserved.

"So," she said, once she had managed to locate and snag one of the rare booster seats provided by the joint, "I didn't expect to see you here."

"What, hanging with the 'rents isn't cool for Spring Break?" he asked dryly. Leaning back, he fingered his coke, shrugging. "Saving some money for summer, thought I'd just hang out with Mom for the week." He eyed her curiously. "Didn't expect to find you playing the young mother in the grocery store."

Flushing, she offered him a careful wave of her manicured fingers, turning back to make sure Mac was secure in her chair.

"The sorority makes you pay extra if you stick around during Spring Break." It was a decent explanation, and obviously not what he wanted to hear. Flushing, Brooke offered him a stale smile, and made a show of buckling in Mac.

"I thought Sam told me you were going with her to Spring Break," he drawled, intelligent brown eyes studying her intently. "She was super stoked about it."

Oh, God.

The wave of heat that flushed over her cheeks made her distinctly uncomfortable, and she was sure he could see it, the stilted smile, and the uncomfortable shift.

"It didn't work out," she said flatly, hopefully in a tone that meant it wasn't open to discussion.

Her pseudo-ex wasn't one to take a hint. "Oh really? What happened?"

Cold eyes met his own. "Harrison, it doesn't matter."

"Obviously, it does."

Eyes rolling up in her head, she felt the flutters of fear. "Harrison, I really don't think-"

"Because what I got out of Sam was, you royally screwed her over."

The sentence hit like a bomb.

Like a gaping fish, she stared at him, hands still in mid air.

His smile was a tight one. "I made the misfortune of calling her, maybe a few minutes after you had, apparently, gotten on a plane."

"I screwed her over," she repeated, tone hoarse. Looking into his eyes, her blood began to boil underneath her hot skin. "I screwed HER over?! She wasn't the one had got on a plane hung over and throwing UP, Harrison! She wasn't the one who got barged into the morning after a very embarrassing one night stand while she was completely naked!"

"God…" Shaking his head, Harrison looked mildly disgusted. "You two never quit, do you?"

"Excuse me?"

"This obsession you two have with making each other miserable. What's that about, Brooke?"

Brushing an errant bang furiously over her ear, she ignored him.

"Shut up, Harrison," she muttered.

"Do you really hate her that much, Brooke?"

Eyes widened, her head jerked up. "I don't HATE Sam."

"Seriously, Brooke. You care so much about getting a rise out of her that you'd screw a GIRL to one up her?!"

"Shut UP, Harrison." She hated that she was that easy. That the tears came so fast, and the emotion rushed to the surface like someone pulled a trigger. "Sleeping with Abby had nothing to do with Sam!"

"Oh, so you're gay now?" Harrison shook his head. "Helluva time to come out, don't you think?"

A flush of embarrassment overcame her. "I didn't say I was gay."

His finger tapped against the tabletop, obviously agitated. "You know what your problem is, Brooke? Everything has to be about you. You couldn't let Spring Break be about Sam-"

"Harrison, stop it!" Brooke hissed, one hand tightening over Mac's hand. "Is that why you asked me here? To attack me? Because, you know, Sam did a great job of that herself."

"I don't GET you, Brooke!" Harrison crossed his arms, staring hard at her. "You say one thing, but your actions don't match it. You love Sam, right?"

"Yes," she snapped. "I do."

"Right. But you come out of your coma and you ignore her for a year. Do you know what that did to her? Do you know the HELL she went through when you were in the hospital?"

Sucking in a painful breath, she stared at him stiffly. "It wasn't exactly a picnic for me either, Harrison."

He laughed, a bitter chortle. "I know," he said, as if, regrettably, he remembered what she had gone through. "And then I spent months watching Sam blame herself. Saying it was her fault you had almost died. That was when I figured it out."

Sighing raggedly, she knew she shouldn't ask, but she couldn't help it. "Figured what out?"

"Oh, come on, Brooke. Like you don't know. You think the whole world is in love with you, why not Sam?"

The words physically hurt her, and she reeled, as if she was slapped. Jaw tightening, she tried to stand up to him, but her eyes stung and her heart was beating so fast.

"Well," she began thickly. "It's great to know that college has turned you into a COMPLETE ass, Harrison. What, I throw you one bang and you suddenly think you know me?"

"Oh, you mean, I don't?"

"NO, Harrison, you DON'T! You never DID!" People were beginning to stare, and Brooke couldn't care. The tears were actively spilling over now, and with it, came the rest. Staring at little Mac, she turned to look at the boy she at one time, swore she could have loved. "Maybe it was my fault. Maybe it was just… easy to pretend…" Fingers pressed against her temples, she shook her head, suddenly furious. "I freaked, Harrison, okay? I freaked out, and you know why? Because I sat at that table with you and Sam and I realized that I wanted to kiss SAM more than I wanted to kiss you, more than I wanted to kiss anyone."

THAT got a reaction. Harrison looked stunned.

"So I walked away from you," she continued, quiet, desperate. "I walked away from Sam – because I was what no one expected, and then two seconds later I got hit by a CAR." Harrison swallowed. Wiping carelessly at her tears, Brooke shrugged. "Harrison, I hate to break it to you, but when you were dying of cancer, you weren't exactly the cheeriest person on the planet to me, either."

They fell into uncomfortable silence, and even Lil' Mac had been frightened into sitting still, lower lip quivering as if she wasn't sure if she should start bawling too.

"So, you're really gay?"

It was such a guy thing to say. "That's all you got from that?" she asked, brow rising.

Harrison was looking at her, dumbfounded, and then the corner of his mouth began to tilt, the hint of a ridiculous smile.

The laughter that bubbled up was a mixture of desperate emotion and utter hilarity at the situation, and she went with it, because honestly, there wasn't much else she COULD do.

"You're GAY," Harrison repeated, falling back in his chair, realization tinting his expression. "And you're in love with Sam."

"Oh, God," she whispered, shoulders shaking, grabbing a napking and wiping at her eyes.

"Brooke…" Giving up, she met his stare, suddenly intense. The truth must have been there, written in her face, because without another word he simply sat back, completely dumbfounded. "Oh, wow. I had no – I mean, Sam I knew-"

"You knew what?"

"That she was totally in love with you." Brooke's mouth parted, an unintentional gasp escaping, and Harrison arched a bemused eyebrow, the anger suddenly dissipating in his wonder. "Brooke, she played 'Girlfriend In a Coma' on repeat the entire summer you were in that hospital. It's a little hard to take that out of context."

Overwhelmed, Brooke couldn't dwell on that idea. She couldn't consider the image of Sam playing that song, what it meant…

She couldn't do that.

"She said…" Sucking in her breath, she tried to get a hold of herself. "She said she didn't tell you she was gay."

"She didn't have to." Harrison's smile was tired, a little bitter. "Brooke, it's becoming the precedent that any woman involved with me in some capacity will end up sexually confused. It's my lot in life." he added, when she only continued to stare dumbly.

"Asshoe!" Mac grinned gleefully, smacking her palms against the counter.

Deflating, Brooke shook her head, defeated. "She hates me. I did everything wrong, Harrison. I love her, and no matter how hard I try, all I do is hurt her. She has no idea… about me. All, she saw was some bicurious slut, just like you did."

Harrison stayed quiet, for a beat content to simply watch her, brown eyes taking in her despair. "You know… this may seem like a radical concept for the two of you… but have you ever considered, you know, actually communicating? Crazy idea, I know."

Brook broke into a bitter chuckle. "Why?" A palm fell onto the counter. "Do you actually care about me, Harrison?"

"I care about SAM," he enunciated, and then sighed. "And yes, some part of me does want to stop this vicious cycle before some other unsuspecting schmuck gets caught between the two of you like a rope on a tetherball pole."

Exhaling an uneasy breath, Brooke tried to consider the idea. But the look on Sam's face the last time she had seen it …

"What would I even say?"

If Harrison was a little thrown at the idea of Brooke McQueen asking HIM how to win over Sam McPherson, he had the grace not to show it. All that emerged was a tiny twitch of his mouth. "You could start with the truth," he suggested.

"Like she'd listen to me. All she does is make assumptions."

"Well, that's Sam's problem," he said, and gave one of his fries to Mac. "She makes assumptions. And you know that."

He was smiling, that warm Harrison grin, chucking lightly at Mac's chin, who giggled, instantly in love.

"Harrison," Brooke began, before she even knew what she was saying. When he looked at her, she smiled sadly. "I'm sorry. I owed you an explanation, and I never gave you one."

The grin he wore froze, but to his credit, didn't disapear. "You gave me my first time, Brooke," he answered quietly, and then went silent.

Brooke didn't know what that meant, or if one really was supposed to outweigh the other, but they ate in companionable quiet, and for the rest of the lunch, it was almost like she had her friend back.

Getting four bags of groceries, a case of bottled water, and a baby with all her accessories was going to be a tremendous chore, and Brooke wasn't looking forward to it.

Staring down the garage door, Brooke considered how it was supposed to be done. She could take the baby in first, but then she'd have to find a place to put her, and Mac had become quite the little escape artist. She could also leave Mac for last, but the car was terribly hot and Mac was grabby and what if she suddenly learned how to free herself from the car seat and accidentally put the car in nuetral and went skidding down the driveway to the open road?

"That's it," she told Mac. "I love you, but I'm so not ready to be a mother."

That said, she reached behind her to make sure the car seat was secure, before opening the minivan and hopping out, yanking the passenger section open as best she could.

Little Mac stared at her like she was performing a circus act.

"Okay," she told Mac, holding her open palm forward. "Stay. Good baby."

Scrambling around toward the back, Brooke fumbled with the keys, pressing the open trunk button and watching the machanized car door whir its way up.

Grabbing hold of the twenty four pack of bottled water, she grunted under its weight, and nearly dropped it, fingers slipping around the cardboard.

Struggling, she turned, just in time to see a blue shuttle pull into her driveway.

Curious and a little bewildered, Brooke hefted the box of bottled water, and cursed when the elastic stretched and a bottle fell out.

It rolled, and rolled, over toward the Shuttle, where the passenger door opened and it was stopped by a white sneaker.

Reaching down to pick it up, Sam stared at her, expressionless.

Overwhelmed, Brooke felt her heart suddenly thud into a panicked rushed beat, and in her shock, forgot herself.

The box of water bottles slipped, and landed squarely on her foot.

Part 7

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