DISCLAIMER: The characters of Popular do not belong to me, no infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story began as an homage to the play, Cyrano de Bergerac and the works that it inspired, most notably the movie Roxanne and the TV series, My So-called Life. However, it eventually veers away from its inspiration. The title is taken from the song "Mexican Wrestler," by Jill Sobule. Thanks, as always, to Junebug.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To green_quarter70[at]yahoo.com

I Can Crack All Your Ribs, But I Canít Break Your Heart
By Green Quarter


Part 9

Dear Brooke,

One thing I have been remiss in mentioning in these letters is how sorry I am. No, I'm not sorry that I continue to love you, or sorry that you found out about it. I am sorry that I never really thought about how me writing these letters for Josh would affect you.

Harrison tried to tell both Josh and me, but I was too absorbed in conjuring new ways of telling you how I felt. And that felt awesome. I didn't want to give up that awesomeness, but now, even though I never meant it to be, I see how destructive the whole situation was. And for that I am deeply, truly sorry.

I need to apologize to you in person, and someday I will. You have to believe me when I say that none of this was done with the intention to hurt you. I only thought as far as making you happy, and I thought that finding imaginative ways to convey my feelings (and Josh's) would do that. I'm very sorry that I didn't see beyond that to our present circumstances. Someday I hope you will forgive me.


Sam ripped out this latest missive from her Spanish notebook, folded it and slipped it into her bag just as the bell rang. While other students were racing to finish a test on the present progressive tense, Sam sauntered out of the room and headed for the library. She and Josh had been tutor and tutee in name only for the past two months, sharing a table in the library and nothing else. After Brooke's annihilation of their pseudo three-way relationship, Sam and Josh really had nothing to say to each other. Josh usually just sat at the table doing nothing, or sometimes he read a magazine. No doubt his grades were suffering, but the spike in his GPA from when he and Sam worked together was enough to ensure that he passed this term. Sam thought she had more than done her penance for that long ago Zapruder article. So she used the time for herself and for once was caught up on all her schoolwork, which was why she finished her Spanish test so quickly and was able to write another letter to Brooke.

Steps away from the library, she stopped. Today was the first day of the new term, and she was no longer required to tutor Josh, she realized. She made an about face and headed for the cafeteria instead.

Brooke knew immediately when Josh entered the cafeteria. Loud conversations were flying all around her, and it was easy for her to supply a "really?" or an "oh my God" when required while her attention was across the room. She eyed him as he got on line, took a tray and accepted whatever was being dished out today. She watched as he unthinkingly made his way to their table, and saw the exact moment when it hit him that sitting at his usual, pre-tutoring lunch table was probably not a good idea.

Their eyes met for a moment, then Josh's slid away towards an adjacent table that was unoccupied. He coolly walked past and sat at the empty table. Brooke took a deep breath; moment of conflict averted - for now.

Nobody noticed for a few moments. Brooke's table was crowded as usual, with seats borrowed from other tables so as many cheerleaders and football players could sit together as possible. But Sugar Daddy was Josh's best friend, and he knew that Josh would be sprung from tutoring today. When he looked up from his conversation with the new defensive tackle who had transferred from Nixon High, he noticed Josh sitting by himself. And Brooke noticed him noticing.

Sugar Daddy looked around at the others sitting at the table; he seemed about to say something, but then he caught Brooke quietly watching him. He shrugged apologetically at her, and took his tray to Josh's table and sat down. Josh looked up from his meal and gave SD a bros-before-hos fist bump, and they started talking about whatever it was that the two of them talked about.

Brooke sighed. At least Josh wasn't wearing that mopey, done-wrong expression today. Maybe they were both moving past this now.

"Hey, Sammie's back!" Carmen smiled when she saw Sam and pulled out a chair for her to sit. Harrison and Lily looked up and welcomed her too.

Sam smiled bashfully at them. "Hey guys. What's for lunch?"

"We're so glad to have you back," Harrison said. "It wasn't the same without you."

"Yeah," Lily agreed, looking over at the other side of the cafeteria.

"Well, I have paid my debt to Kennedy society. I am a free women and I will not succumb to recidivism."

"Recidi-what?" Carmen said.

It's an SAT word. Look it up," Sam replied, grabbing the apple from Carmen's tray and taking a bite. "Can I have this?" she grinned. Carmen nodded.

"I guess all that time in the library paid off," Harrison said, looking at her quickly before his attention was caught by something across the room.

"What's going on?" Sam asked, turning her head in the direction her friends were looking.

"Josh is back today too," Lily said. "Everyone wants to see where he sits."

"Everyone?" Sam said disgustedly.

"Well, probably not Brooke. But she's the only one." Carmen said.

"I couldn't care less," Sam declared.

"Me neither," Harrison said, and smiled at Sam in a show of support.

"It's just idle curiosity," Lily said. "It's like a soap opera broadcast right here in the halls of Kennedy."

"I really hate that about this school! Who cares what the popular people are doing?" Sam asked, annoyed.

You do, Harrison mouthed at her, discreetly pointing at her. Sam frowned.

"Oh, he sat at that empty table across from them," Carmen reported.

"Big deal," said Sam.

"Sugar Daddy is getting up. He's going over. Aww, he's sitting with Josh," Lily said. "That's nice."

"Why shouldn't he?" Carmen sniffed. "Josh didn't do anything wrong."

"Oh no? I have it on good authority that even though Brooke was the one to break up with him, he totally deserved it. He's a total rat," Sam said.

All three of them looked at her. Harrison looked appalled at what Sam had said.

"How do you know?" Carmen asked.

"Yeah, who gave you the inside scoop?" Lily said.

Whoops. Sam looked guiltily at Harrison. What must he think of her? She was ten times the rat Josh was. "I don't know. I think I heard it around," Sam said sheepishly.

"Whatever, Sam. You don't know anything. Brooke was a complete bitch to him. Everyone knows it,"

Lily said.

"How does everyone know?" Sam scoffed.

"Lily told me," Carmen said.

"That's the word on the street," Harrison added quietly.

"And Brooke will probably have to pay," Lily said and nodded sagely.

"What do you mean?" Sam said.

"This is seriously tarnishing her reputation," Harrison said.

"No it isn't. Nothing could do that." Sam shook her head emphatically, but then looked doubtful. "Really? But she's the most popular girl in school."

Harrison nodded, and Carmen said, "Everyone wants to see the great ones stumble. Even if it's Brooke, who is the nicest popular person in this school."

"If Brooke and Josh were stocks, and we had the choice to buy, sell or hold," Lily began.

"But they're not stocks, Lily. They're people," Sam asserted.

"We'd be buying Josh like crazy and selling Brooke as fast as we could!" Carmen finished. "That was a great analogy, Lil."

"Thanks!" Lily said, then she looked at Sam. "Come on. You of all people know that's how it works around here." They heard the bell that signaled the end of lunch. All four of them moved with the flow of bodies out into the hallway.

Sam maneuvered to get Harrison alone. She quietly said, "Is this my fault? Did I do this?"

"You had a hand in it," Harrison answered honestly. "But now they have become grist for the Kennedy gossip mill, and there's not much any of us can do to stop it."

Over the next two weeks of lunch periods, Sam and her friends, along with the rest of the student body, watched as the tide of popular public opinion turned against Brooke.

First it was just the football players. Every day a few more would migrate to Josh's table. Once all the boys had resettled, one cheerleader, Nicole, defected. She was in her glory. One girl amidst a crash of teenaged rhinos, a lone bird among all those brawny shoulders and beefy arms. The temptation was too great for the remaining girls, who prided their elaborately cultivated images over loyalty to a friend and team captain. Part of popularity is the company one kept, and Brooke had become box-office poison. Slowly but surely, Brooke's table dwindled down to just two: Mary Cherry and Brooke.

Sam was beside herself. She couldn't understand how her actions had led to this horrific outcome. And how could Josh let this happen? Had he no scruples whatsoever? This was not what was supposed to happen.

She kept her head low as she watched Brooke sit down at her empty table, seemingly unconcerned, even as the students at the popular table beside her pretended not to notice her. Sam breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Mary Cherry approaching. Now Brooke would have some company. She allowed herself to sit up straight and focused her attention on her lunch companions.

"Oh my God," Carmen said, staring in Brooke's direction.

"What?" Sam whipped back around to see Mary Cherry bypassing Brooke's table for a seat with the now wholly transplanted popular table minus one. Brooke was alone.

"Wow," Lily said. "That's cold." Harrison just sat with his mouth open.

"Harrison, Carmen, Lily, I want you to go over there and sit with Brooke," Sam commanded. "Go now!"

"Sam, we're barely friends with her," Carmen protested.

"Please, guys," she said desperately. "Just go. Don't let her sit by herself." Sam started pointing and snapping her fingers towards Brooke. "Be a friend to me and do this. Please, just go."

"Aren't you coming with us? You know her the best out of all of us," said Carmen.

"No. You guys go." Sam was frantic now.

"But what about you?" Lily asked. "Now you'll be by yourself."

"She won't want me there. You know we don't get along. You guys go." Sam urged them away. "Go, go, go!"

"Alright! Take it easy," Carmen said as she picked up her tray. Harrison and Lily followed.

Sam watched as her friends approached Brooke. She looked surprised, but not unhappy to see them as Carmen asked if they could sit down. Sam waited until they were settled before getting up. She threw away her untouched lunch and headed to the library.

"You guys really don't have to do this," Brooke said, chagrined at her situation. To be the beneficiary of goodwill from Sam's friends, of all people, was both embarrassing and touching.

"Well, we probably wouldn't have done it on our own," Lily said with an edge to her voice, "but Sam suggested we come over and keep you company."

Brooke knew that Lily was protesting her perceived callous behavior towards Josh without really coming out and saying it. Nobody had really come out and said anything to her face yet. From this evidence, Brooke guessed that she still had some kind of popularity power here at school.

She had known that this would be the end result since the day Sugar Daddy got up to sit with Josh. She just hadn't realized it would take two weeks to happen. She actually gave her former friends a little credit for the decorum of their protracted exodus from her table. She knew she was persona non grata to everyone, but her pride would not allow her to rectify the public record by defending herself. She couldn't even work up the energy to be that angry with Josh or Sam.

The popularity she had enjoyed throughout high school had always seemed like a fleeting thing. She didn't know how it had been bestowed on her in the first place, and she greeted its disappearance with something akin to resignation. Brooke only wished that her closest relationships would have been strong enough to withstand this loss, but choosing Nicole and Mary Cherry as her best friends, girls who valued the transitory nature of popularity over everything else, meant that she should not be surprised that they had left along with the popularity. Mary Cherry did earn a few points for being the last to leave, but leave she nevertheless had done. Brooke understood it intellectually, but it had still left her feeling unloved.

"Where is Sam, anyway? She eats with you guys; why isn't she here?" Brooke asked.

"Um, I think she had to go do something," Carmen said, still not entirely sure how she had arrived at a lunch table with Brooke McQueen.

Harrison, who had taken the seat next to Brooke, murmured in Brooke's ear, "You know why she's not here."

Brooke glanced at Harrison and nodded briefly. He was the only other person beside herself, Sam and Josh who knew the whole story.

It was generous of Sam to send her friends to Brooke's rescue. She supposed Sam was feeling guilty for her part in this. However, substituting a few warm bodies at a lunch table didn't really solve the problem. Lily, Carmen and Harrison were Sam's friends, not hers. Brooke currently did not have any friends, and that was totally depressing.

Dear Brooke,

I think I learned something pretty important today. What I felt for you recently hasn't really been love. Whatever it was, it was strong; it was passionate and intense. Perhaps it was infatuation. Certainly I have been obsessed and enthralled and captivated by you. And if I'm completely honest, there was definitely a little bit of lust in there. But it was missing an essential component that brings it up to the level of mature, selfless, unhesitating love. Less Romeo and Juliet, more Cyrano and Roxanne.

I want my love for you to bring you joy, and you are so far from joyful right now. I'm going to do everything I can to restore you to a place where you can feel happiness. I had no idea that expressing my feelings for you would lead you here; that's never what I imagined would happen. But now that it has, know that I am going to fix it. Know that my love is now a protecting and persevering kind of love, a more unselfish kind of love, and that things will get better for you.


Sam had been waiting near the door to the boys' locker room for a while now. Long enough that she had finished another letter, which she put with the other one she had written today, making a note to herself to transfer them to the folder in her desk drawer. Listening to the laughter and hollering taking place behind the closed door, Sam could only imagine what football players talked about after practice every day.

She reflected on what she had just written. The letters made her feel better, like she had some control over things, which is why she wrote them. Sam had accepted that she would never share anything more with Brooke than a feeble step-familial connection, and she had made her peace with that. She didn't think she was hurting anyone by continuing to write the letters for herself.

When the locker room door opened and freshly-showered football players dressed in their street clothes began walking past her, Sam put her things back in her school bag and waited for Josh to emerge. When Josh stepped into the hallway, he saw Sam but kept walking.

"Josh," Sam called, trailing after him. "Can I talk to you for a second?"

Josh reluctantly stopped and turned around. "What?"

"I just wanted to say, I'm surprised at how things have turned out," Sam said calmly.

"What are you talking about?" Josh looked annoyed.

"Well, you and I were totally the ones at fault over your breakup with Brooke, but the whole school thinks Brooke is the bad guy." Sam looked into Josh's eyes, trying to pick up on any emotion he might be feeling.

"And that's my fault?" Josh's eyes betrayed nothing but defensiveness.

"Partly," Sam replied. "Look, I know I'm just as responsible, but this really is not fair to Brooke."

"So what do you want me to do about it?" Josh said, and started walking again.

Sam kept pace beside him. "I want you to make it known that Brooke is blameless in your breakup."

Josh laughed, but not like he thought it was funny. "You do, huh? I'm not thinking that's in my best interest, you know? And even if I wanted to, how do you propose I do that?"

Sam stopped walking, and Josh unthinkingly stopped beside her. "Get your own rumors going. Tell your football buddies; they'll spread it around. They're the biggest gossips at this school. You guys and your locker room talk."

"Make myself look bad? Why would I want to do that, Sam? I'm happy with the way things are right now."

"You claimed to love Brooke just a few short months ago," Sam pointed out. "Whatever happened to that? Would you willingly let someone you love be miserable for what you have done?"

"Hey, she broke up with me. Whatever duty I had to Brooke disappeared then." Josh raised both hands as if to fend off responsibility.

Sam was momentarily taken aback by this insensitivity. Then her eyebrows lowered and she spoke severely. "You have to fix this. Today is Monday; I want to hear the rumors by Friday."

Josh laughed that humorless laugh again. "And if I don't?"

"Then I'll resolve the matter to my own satisfaction," Sam stated, and walked away.

Josh watched her go, a little unnerved by the determination he heard in her voice.

Brooke stepped back and assessed the situation. This was not working. She looked at the wire hanger in her hand, now untwisted and straightened into a long hook, and wondered why her brilliant idea wasn't working.

That afternoon, as Brooke was alone in the house with no one to talk to, she decided to try to remedy the loneliness she was feeling. She was feeling completely unloved and unwanted by everyone in her life, and it was making her dejected. But she knew there was a way to temporarily remove those feelings, and that was through the letters. Her plan was to get the letters back and read them again, imagining that someone else entirely had written them. She was still trying to decide if she wanted her fantasy letter writer to be Orlando Bloom or James Franco, but figured either one would do. Brooke knew the power those letters held. They would easily stave off her feelings of self-pity and isolation until she was more accustomed to her unpopular existence.

The problem was actually retrieving the letters from their well-concealed repository between the wall and the desk in the home office. It must be shoddy carpentry, she surmised, as the desk met the wall at the front and the rear of the casement, but the wood had bowed in between those two points, creating the gap where she had shoved the letters. Unfortunately, it was a perfect little pocket in which to hide something one never wanted to see again. Still, she had been trying to fish the letters out with the wire hanger taken from the hall closet.

While she could feel the papers with the hanger and move them around some, actually hooking them and bringing them up to where she could grab them had proven difficult. She had not managed to capture a single letter, and it was getting on six o'clock, when Jane and her Dad would be coming home from work. Sam should have been here hours ago, but Brooke would never have attempted this if Sam were anywhere around to witness it.

Brooke exhaled in annoyance and whipped the hanger down to the desk's surface with a loud thwap of frustration. The irony of trying to reclaim the letters that were the cause of all the problems in the first place was not lost on Brooke, but she couldn't deny the happiness they once inspired in her – happiness she was longing to feel again. She would keep trying with the coat hanger until someone came home, resolving to find another way of recovering the letters from their hiding place.


Part 10

"Sam, wait up!" Lily ran toward her in the parking lot, followed a few paces behind by Carmen.

Sam turned around and smiled. "Hey guys."

"Where have you been? Why aren't you coming to lunch anymore?" Lily asked.

"Did you get another tutoring gig?" Carmen added.

"No, but I am spending lunch in the library," Sam said. "I guess I got used to having that time to do school work. It's not too bad now that I don't have to sit with Josh anymore."

"Why are you making us eat with Brooke? If I have a choice, I would want to eat with you, you know," Lily pouted.

Sam glanced around quickly before answering. "I know, Lil. Thanks for doing this for me. I just feel bad for her now that all her popular pseudo-friends have deserted her."

"Well I don't want to sit with her either, if you want to know the truth. I mean she's nice and all, but I really don't approve of what she did to Josh," Lily said.

"What did she do to Josh, Lil?" Carmen asked curiously. She had been enjoying her lunches with Brooke, but had endorsed Lily's reservations out of loyalty. Now she wanted to know why she had to behave so standoffishly (the opposite of bubbly, her go-to outlook on life) around Brooke.

"I'm not sure, but it must have been really terrible by the way he's been going around looking all hurt and heartbroken."

"You don't even know? God, I'm a sheep-like idiot," Carmen said.

"Carmen!" Lily objected.

Sam resisted the urge to roll her eyes, and cut in before their argument could really get going. "Don't worry, guys. These issues between the popular crowd have a way of working themselves out. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Brooke was back at her own table by next week," she said confidently.

"But we don't have any classes together this term," Lily complained. "I never get to see you."

"Tomorrow's Friday. Why don't we do something?" Sam said.

"You guys could come over my house," Carmen said. "We could order pizza and watch movies or something."

"Great! I'll tell Harrison." Lily took Carmen by the arm and started walking away, their argument forgotten. "See you later, Sam. Carmen, what can I bring?"

Sam watched them go, glad that she had real friends in her life, and hoping she could hold onto them, no matter what.

"Hey Brooke," Harrison greeted as he sat down with his lunch. "How is your day going?"

Brooke smiled. Harrison had been the first to arrive these last few days they had been sharing a lunch table. Lily and Carmen always eventually joined them, but she got the feeling they were a bit reserved around her. Harrison, however, was nothing but friendly, and Brooke appreciated that. "I'm fine, but feeling a little frustrated."

Harrison looked unsure how to respond to that.

"Not that kind of frustrated!" Brooke hastened to assure him. She had been trying for two days to get her letters back but had been unsuccessful. Now they were on her mind constantly. Thinking about those letters had led her to questions some of the circumstances surrounding the whole situation. She wanted to talk about it, and Harrison was the only person with whom she could do that. "I have a problem."

"Anything I can help with?"

"Yeah, actually," Brooke replied. "Remember that day you told me that Sam was writing the letters?"

Harrison cautiously looked around before answering. "Of course."

"You really did blindside me that day," Brooke admitted.

"I know, and I'm sorry."

"It's okay. I'm glad you did. I really needed to know what was going on," Brooke said. "I just want your honest opinion about something."

"If there is any way I can help you without betraying Sam's trust, I will absolutely help you," Harrison said.

Brooke didn't know why she wanted to know this; it didn't have anything to do with anything. Sam had said that she meant every word she had written, but while pondering that as she tried to fish the letters from their hiding spot, Brooke doubted her sincerity. With all the turmoil she had gone through with Sam, how could the letters not be works of fiction? All she knew was that it had become important for her to know the truth. Harrison was looking at her expectantly so she plunged ahead. "Was Sam being honest when she wrote those letters, or did she have some kind of ulterior motive for doing it that I haven't figured out yet?"

Harrison thought for a moment before answering. "Here's what I think I can say: Sam writes letters to you because she can't not write them. I know she has done some destructive things to you and the people in your crowd in the past, but that is not what's happening here. This is not one of her schemes to bring down you or your friends."

Brooke chewed on that for a minute, thinking about Harrison's reply. "Wait. You just said she writes letters. Present tense."

Harrison's face became red. "Wrote. I mean the letters she wrote to you in the past."

A surge of adrenaline coursed through Brooke. "Harrison. Tell me, please. Is she still writing letters to me?"

"Why do you even want to know, Brooke? It's not like you're going to return her feelings." Harrison wanted to protect Sam from further heartbreak. He was worried about her, now that she had decided to cede her place in the cafeteria with her friends to Brooke.

"I can't explain it," she said honestly. "Nothing has ever made me feel as cherished as those letters did. Pretty pathetic, right?"

"Why is it pathetic? Everyone wants to know that they are loved."

"Yeah, but…" Brooke let her words hang there unfinished. They both knew what she was going to say. Then she went on, "And now, I've lost them and I can't get them back, and I'm only now just realizing how important they are to me."

Harrison could see that Brooke was being truthful. He hoped that telling Brooke would somehow help Sam. "Yes, she's still writing letters," he confirmed.

"But I'm not getting them, obviously. Why is she still writing them? What is she doing with them?"

"I don't think they're meant for you anymore. She writes them as some kind of catharsis, I guess. She said she just sticks them in a drawer."

Brooke reached out and gripped Harrison's hand. "Thank you for telling me," she said earnestly.

"Whatever you do, please don't hurt her," Harrison said. "She's my best friend, and she's really been through the wringer lately. I know that may be hard for you to understand, and I know things haven't been easy for you either, but Sam is dealing with a hopeless situation." Harrison looked Brooke in the eye, daring her to contradict him. "Hopeless, right?"

Brooke looked down at the table, not knowing what to say.

"And how long do you think it will be until you are back on top and it's business as usual at Kennedy High?" Harrison asked without bothering to hide his bitterness.

"Thanks for telling me," she repeated. "You don't have to mention this to her. I don't want to hurt her either."

Brooke came straight home after school. She cancelled cheering; the girls were barely tolerating her leadership anyway. Making sure she was alone in the house first, Brooke then went into full-on snoop mode.

Of course, she had been in Sam's room before, but it felt completely different today. Brooke moved directly to the desk. If Sam was "sticking the letters in a drawer," it had to be one of these. She tried the middle drawer, then top left, then the left lower drawer, and there it was, right on top. A manila folder with her own name written right on it. She pulled it out and sat on Sam's bed. Opening the folder, she leafed through the pages and noticed the new, mostly handwritten letters on top, and the familiar letters with Josh's name at the bottom underneath. Oddly, even though each letter had her name at the top, she kind of felt like she was trespassing on something private.

Don't be ridiculous, she told herself. She's writing them for you.

Brooke took the topmost letter in her hand and prepared to read it. She closed her eyes. She brought James Franco to mind. She imagined his dark wavy hair and brown eyes, the devilish smile. He was wearing a navy blue t-shirt and faded jeans. He had on a battered stone-colored Carhartt jacket, the kind construction workers wear. Perfect. She smiled, opened her eyes and began to read.

Dear Brooke,

I read this poem today called "Valentine," by Carol Ann Duffy. The speaker of the poem, instead of the usual roses, cards or satin hearts, offers her beloved an onion, calling it "a moon wrapped in brown paper." Isn't that just fantastic? I almost think an onion is more appropriate then those other things. Onions make you cry, or as she says, "it will blind you with tears like a lover." And the taste of an onion stays with you for a long time, just like love.

Of course, it made me think of you. But then, everything does. Writing an essay on the Louisiana Purchase will somehow lead me back to thoughts of you. I pull out of a parking space somewhere and you are beside me in the passenger seat. I'm arguing with my mother and I think to myself, what does any of this matter when you are doing something far more interesting without me. And I try to figure out a way to make you see me; there has to be some way of doing this.

I don't mind saying that I've shed a few tears over you. They are as inevitable as when my knife goes through that onion. But would I eliminate an onion from the dish because I know that slicing into one will cause my tears? No way. Its strong intense flavor permeates everything, enriching the flavor, adding complexity, enhancing the parts and making a more delicious whole. And that's what my love for you does too. It's worth it.


Brooke slowly put the paper back in the file. This letter was different than the ones she had received from Josh. Not that those didn't seem honest, but what she had just read seemed almost naked in comparison. The other letters were flattering to be sure, but this seemed very real, like Sam was talking directly to her. James Franco didn't write this; he never could. From the first word, James had disappeared and Brooke thought only of Sam.

She heard a door close downstairs. In one fluid movement, the folder was back in the drawer, the drawer was closed, and she was out of Sam's room. It was just as well. Even though she wanted to pore over every letter in that folder, reading just one had given her much to think about. The stakes had changed.

Sam came home after a quick meeting regarding the Zapruder and went directly to her room. The next issue was imminent and she would have to go in and finalize the proof for printing tomorrow. She was still finalizing an article and got to work on it immediately before she was due to meet her friends later. She spent a good couple of hours writing. Brooke was moving around in her room next door, but Sam ignored that and focused on the task at hand. When she heard her mother arrive, she went down to the kitchen to greet her.

"Hi, Honey." Jane put down the mail and greeted her daughter. As Sam walked by she accepted a kiss on the cheek from her mother.

"Hi," Sam said, getting some grapes out of the fridge before sitting on a stool at the counter.

"I'm glad you're here. About dinner… Remember, Mike and I are going out tonight, to that fundraiser thing for his office," Jane said.

"Oh yeah."

"There are some options in the freezer, or I can give you and Brooke some money for takeout if you prefer."

"Yeah, that's what I wanted to tell you. I won't need anything; I'm going over to Carmen's to hang out with Lily and Harrison. I think we're ordering pizza or something," Sam said.

"Oh. Okay," Jane nodded. "Say Sam, that reminds me. I've been wanting to talk to you about something."

"What's up?"

Jane reached into the bowl and pulled a grape from the bunch before answering. "Have you noticed that Brooke's been staying home a lot lately?"

Sam looked at her mother and waited for her to continue.

"I mean, she used to be so social. She always had something going on. Do you know anything? What's happening at school?"

"I don't know." Sam was not about to provide any details. "You know we don't exactly hang out together."

"I know, but I think if you two just tried a little harder you would see that you could like each other."

"Okay Mom, we'll work on that." Sam suddenly found the bowl of grapes very interesting. Liking Brooke was not the problem.

"Now don't brush me off like that." Jane was getting irritated and decided to change her approach. "Wouldn't it be great if she went to Carmen's with you tonight? You have such nice friends, and I'm sure Brooke would get along with them."

"Fine. Why don't you go ahead and ask her? I guarantee that she will say no."

"Wouldn't it be better coming from you?" Jane suggested. "Please Sam, she's been looking so down lately. She won't tell me what's wrong. Maybe some time out of the house will cheer her up."

Ugh, with the guilt, thought Sam. She looked at her mother. "Alright. I will ask her, but don't blame me when she refuses." And Sam knew that Brooke would refuse.

Jane smiled at her and moved in for a hug from behind. "You're my good girl," she said, kissing the top of her head.

"Mom! What am I, six?" Sam complained, but she was smiling too.

Jane disentangled herself from Sam and went to the cupboard. She retrieved a glass and filled it from the tap. "So how was school today?"


Jane waited for more, but Sam did not elaborate. "Fine does not tell me very much, Samantha. Can you speak in sentences that are longer than one word, please?"

"It. was. fine," Sam stated, and laughed.

"Ha ha," said Jane drily, grudgingly amused. "You know, I don't get why teenagers are so closemouthed around their parents. It's not like we're going to-"

"Hi Jane," Brooke entered the kitchen and stopped just inside the doorway. "Hi Sam," she turned towards Sam and their eyes met for half a second.

That's new, Sam thought. "Hi Brooke," she greeted her. She watched her mother nod in approval, so eager it was embarrassing.

"How was school today, Brooke?" Jane asked.

"Fine," Brooke answered.

Sam and Jane cracked up. "Good answer," Sam said.

Brooke looked confused.

"It's nothing," Jane reassured her, then changed the subject. "What are your plans tonight?"

"I thought I'd just hang out here tonight," Brooke said.

Jane turned to Sam and said something with her eyes. Sam turned to Brooke and said, "I'm going over to Carmen's for pizza and movies. Want to come?"

Obviously, Brooke knew that Jane had put Sam up to this. Sam did not look too enthused about even issuing the invitation. Brooke considered. If everyone was out of the house tonight, she could peruse Sam's letters in peace. But she was also sick of staying home all the time, and even a half-hearted request to hang out with her new lunchtime buddies seemed like a good time. And Sam. Sam would be there too.

"That sounds like fun," she said. "Are you sure you don't mind me coming with?" Brooke grinned and wished she could take a picture of Jane and Sam's faces. Jane looked so happy she might have just won the California lottery. And Sam's mouth dropped open in shock, but she recovered quickly.

"No, I don't mind," she said, her eyes a bit bewildered. "We'll, uh, leave around seven, okay? I have some things to do before then. I'll be in my room." She marched out of the kitchen without a backward glance.

"That'll be fun, right?" Jane said encouragingly.

Brooke answered with a wan smile. "I guess." Now that she had acquiesced, she realized she would be spending several hours with Sam.

"I have to go get ready. You girls have a good time tonight." Jane gripped Brooke's arm and kissed her on the cheek, and then started to exit the kitchen. Then she turned back and said, "I'm glad you're going out with Sam. Everybody needs a little fun now and then."

Brooke needed fun, but did she need fun with Sam?

It had been fun. It was only pizza and movies, just like Sam said, but Sam's friends were pretty welcoming. Sometime between lunch yesterday and now, Carmen had completely warmed up to her, and seemed to be petitioning to be her new best friend. Even Lily didn't seem as reserved as she usually did, and Harrison was as nice a guy as ever. Sam had been quiet, answering most conversational gambits with monosyllables, except for one bizarre exchange where she demanded to know if any of them had heard any new gossip that day. Then they started the movie and everyone was quiet for a while.

They ate pizza and snacks and watched "The Shining," a movie Brooke had never seen before and which was a total creepfest. About an hour in, with the tension ratcheted up to near impossible levels, Carmen made some comment that made them all giggle like maniacs, glad for some relief from the unrelenting dread produced by a mother and son trapped in a haunted snowbound hotel with the downward spiraling lunatic husband/father. All of them except Brooke were quickly engrossed in the movie again.

She was sitting in a chair with an oblique view of Sam, which distracted her from the movie. It was nice of Sam to invite her, even though her mom instigated the idea. Sam had a very solid group of friends, and Brooke envied her that. And Sam's friends wouldn't stay friends with her if she wasn't a good person, right? Brooke had been at odds with Sam for so long, she found it difficult to be objective about her. And how did she reconcile the Sam who made it a priority to attack her and her friends in public with the one who exposed her feelings so eloquently in the letters?

Brooke hadn't let herself really think about the implications of knowing that Sam had written the letters. The mild ick factor of the whole gayness aspect notwithstanding, it was kind of intriguing to think that on the surface Sam had carried on as usual, remaining Brooke's nemesis, and at the same time had concealed her passion for Brooke deep inside. Was it passion Sam felt, she wondered? While receiving the letters from Josh, that was the one word that had kept occurring to her, because the letters were certainly passionate. How could Sam mask those emotions from her 24/7 for months? Even now Sam sat a few feet away from her, her placid expression giving nothing away.

As she turned her gaze to see Jack Nicholson hacking away at a bathroom door while his wife screamed and carried on behind it, she wondered how Sam could be so confident in her feelings. She realized she didn't know Sam at all, but it might be worthwhile to get to know her.

Now they were driving home in Sam's little bug, which put them quite close to each other. They had maintained an awkward silence on the way over, but Brooke now wanted to use the time to talk.

"What did you think of the movie?" she asked.

"Honestly?" Sam glanced at her, then turned back to the road. "That is how a horror movie should be done. It was so amazingly creepy."

"Yeah," Brooke agreed. She cast about for something else to say. "What are you doing for the rest of the weekend?"

"Not much. The new issue of the Zapruder comes out Monday and I still have some things to do for that. Plus I haven't started my literary analysis of Jane Eyre yet. Have you?"

English was one of the few classes they shared. "No. It's not due for ages," Brooke said. "We haven't even finished reading the book yet."

"I have. It's pretty interesting. I liked it." Sam put her blinker on before turning and said, "I'm gunning for a 4.0 this term. It's the first time it's been within my reach ever. All that time in the library has to pay off."

"Is that where you go during lunch?" Brooke had been curious about that.

"Yes," Sam said.

Brooke watched her mouth turn downward in a frown and wondered what had gone wrong. This hadn't been too taxing a conversation. She decided to push a little further. "Since we both don't have anything major planned, maybe we could do something together tomorrow or Sunday."

"Maybe." Sam didn't look at her. She suddenly seemed preoccupied.

It was not the response that Brooke had been hoping for. Wasn't this the girl who was writing ardent letters to her every day? Not to sound conceited, but one would think that the idea of spending time with Brooke would be met with a little more eagerness. She faced forward and stopped trying. If Sam wanted to continue the conversation, she could. They rode the rest of the way in silence.

After they pulled into the driveway, Brooke reached for the door handle, but Sam stopped her with a hand on her forearm. Brooke turned to her and Sam's brown eyes were burning with intensity.

"I have to say something. I need to apologize to you for the role I played in your breakup with Josh," Sam said, and Brooke thought it almost sounded rehearsed but for Sam's agitation. "I didn't think about how those letters would affect you and your relationship. I was completely selfish and it was wrong and I know that now." Sam's eyes began to water as she appeared to struggle with what to say next. "So I'm really very sorry."

Sam removed her hand from Brooke's arm and quickly got out of the car without waiting to hear if Brooke had anything to say. She quickly walked into the house, leaving a stunned Brooke sitting in the car.

Part 11

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