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 11

Brooke spun the dial on her locker and opened it between third and fourth periods. She exchanged her English books for her History text and began walking to her next class. The halls were buzzing. Something was throwing the student body into a tizzy, she could tell, but she figured she would find out what it was sooner or later. Whatever it was, it had nothing to do with her, as she was already on Kennedy's least wanted list.


Brooke heard Nicole calling her but didn't stop or slow down. Nicole hadn't talked to her in weeks, and whatever she wanted now couldn't be good. She was momentarily startled when her former best friend caught up with her and grabbed her by the arm.

"I can't believe what that no-good bitch did to you!" Nicole was enraged.

"What are you talking about? And why are you talking to me? I'm not popular anymore, remember?"

Nicole had the decency to blush at that. "Whatever, Brookie. Now we know it wasn't your fault," she said with a sympathy-laden voice that irritated Brooke mightily.

"Again, I don't know what you're talking about, and I have to get to class," Brooke started walking again, but Nicole shoved the school's newspaper at her before she could make a clean get away.

"You should know what everyone else knows," Nicole said as Brooke made her escape.

Brooke slid into her seat just as the bell rang, and as the teacher started taking attendance, she flipped the paper over to see the front-page headline and the byline just under it. She braced herself for what she was about to read.

Popularity Stronger than Love at Kennedy?

by Samantha McPherson

Reporter and Editor-in-Chief

In our continuing series exposing the biases and privileges of the popular clique here at Kennedy, this reporter has carried out an undercover experiment to determine if love is stronger than popularity. Due to unprecedented illicit access to both members of the most popular romantic couple at Kennedy High, the experiment proved to be anthropologically and sociologically fascinating. For reasons of privacy, their names will not be divulged here.

The female and male of the couple became unwitting pawns in the scheme when this reporter obtained the password to one party's email and instant messaging account. Dummy messages were sent which were designed to confuse and confound the other party. Misunderstandings and miscommunication led to frustration and anger, and the end result was a relationship that could not withstand the wrench that had been thrown into it. When this golden couple broke up, the real test began. Would these two popular people maintain their popularity now that they were no longer joined in true love?

Observations of the social interactions of both the male and the female over the last several weeks since their breakup have revealed that one has survived with popularity intact, while the other has had to endure the loss of same, all because of the fickle nature of public perception. Although not one person was privy to the details of this couple's demise, the entire student body took sides and found one of them wanting.

The popular crowd has become public theater to the rest of the student population; we use them as entertainment to stave off the monotony of our own humdrum lives. Why do we allow them this power? Why do they allow us to use them this way? Is this a mutually beneficial relationship or a corrosive system designed to prop up a few while keeping the rest of the population in prescribed boxes? What has transpired here in the microcosm of Kennedy over the course of this experiment is also indicative of what happens every day in the world of the mega-popular, our nation's celebrities.

Two of Kennedy's most popular students have been manipulated into making decisions they may not have otherwise made. Their private, personal relationship was hijacked in aid of revealing the student body's role in awarding popularity and social status to a lucky few. It remains to be seen whether the loss of their popularity and/or love is temporary. Prevailing wisdom tells us that these two admired personalities will recover from the effects of this experiment now that it has been revealed. However, if the same experiment had been performed on two members of the marching band, or the chess club, or any of the less popular pursuits available to students here, would we as a school be nearly as invested in whether their relationship succeeded or failed? This reporter thinks not.

Brooke sat back in her chair and slowly breathed out. So she had been cast into the center of a Sam-induced controversy once again. Why would Sam create such a story? Perhaps it had something to do with the remorse Sam had expressed in her letters, the contents of which were still swirling around Brooke's brain.

Her history teacher was waiting for the class to open their textbooks. She quickly turned her book to the chapter on the Industrial Revolution, as Mr. Fisher requested, thankful that he had chosen to lecture today. She would have been inundated with questions from her classmates if he had put them into groups. She noticed a few people looking her way with expressions that ranged from the curious to the contemptuous to the confused to the compassionate.

What in the world had Sam been thinking? Every time Brooke thought she had a handle on her current existence, Sam McPherson upended her entire life again. The ramifications of this article were not what she wanted to think about right now. She had enough to think about in processing her weekend.

Sam had gone out Saturday afternoon and Brooke had used the opportunity to read more letters. She read a few of the older letters, but felt like she was reading them for the first time, with Sam's voice in her head instead of Josh's. Many of the ideas and metaphors and analogies took on new meaning now that she knew Sam was writing from her heart. And the new letters… Many were short. Quick, hurried paragraphs that perhaps Sam didn't want to forget before she wrote them down. Others were longer and more composed, but all of them were plainly written, direct in their meaning and surprisingly sincere. Gone were the elaborate constructions she had written before, which Brooke assumed had been designed to impress. And the new letters looked nothing like Sam's writings for the newspaper, with its formality and argumentative tone.

What was written in the letters had to be the real Sam, right? It was this person whom Brooke wanted to know. She thought she could like the girl who wrote those letters. Maybe not the way Sam wanted to be liked, but Brooke felt a deep affinity with her, and wanted to at least be friends.

Sam had not brought up Brooke's proposal to do something together. In fact, she had seemed to go out of her way to avoid her, even though they had spent the majority of their time separately coexisting at home over the last forty-eight hours. Brooke guessed she knew why now, with this article coming out today.

She still didn't want to think about the article. God only knew what lunch was going to be like next period. Brooke decided to do something completely new and different. She looked up at her teacher and began learning something about the Industrial Revolution.

Sam had known exactly what she was doing when she published her story. She just wanted to make sure that the fruits of her labor were coming to bear in the cafeteria at lunchtime. The lunchroom seemed the same as always, and nobody noticed her standing just inside its double doors at first. People were standing and sitting in groups, some reading the Zapruder, some just holding it in their hand while talking about it. A few saw her and elbowed their friends, whispering, and one girl pointed and said, "That's her." Then Freddie Gong caught her eye from his chess team table on the periphery of the room. He struck his breast twice and held up his fist, a sort of covert solidarity salute. Sam nodded a greeting at him.

She scanned the other tables to see where the major players of this drama had ended up, and smiled grimly in unsurprised satisfaction. The cheerleaders and football players were back at their original table with Brooke, as she was the one person who had never left. She sat in her usual seat, at the end of the table, and Josh sat across from her. They seemed to be involved in a serious discussion. Maybe working out the terms of their reunification? Aware as she was of the possibility of Brooke and Josh getting back together, it still caused a pang. She thought Brooke deserved to be treated better, and, yes, she was very cognizant of that irony.

Harrison, Lily and Carmen were back at their own table too, laughing at Harrison and the extra long string of cheese that hung suspended between his mouth and the slice of pizza in his hand. The world had popped back onto its axis, and could begin turning properly again.

Sam was shoved from behind, and turned to find Mary Cherry glaring at her.

"Oops, didn't see ya there, Spam. Better watch where you're goin'," she said before backing away. "Noooo, don't get too close." Mary Cherry held up her two index fingers, crossed like an X to ward off Sam's bad juju. "I wouldn't want you or your nasty newspaper infiltratin' any of my private, personal relationships."

Sam didn't bother replying. She'd seen enough anyway. It was back to the library for her.

"I don't understand why you think it's okay for you to sit there," Brooke said, trying to remain calm. She shifted her gaze from Josh and looked around the table, now crowded with all the people who had deserted her just a short while ago. She could barely stomach the hypocrisy.

"What do you mean?" Josh wondered. "We can be together again."

"Really?" Brooke crossed her arms. "And what, exactly, has changed? You know that fictional story in the paper is a lie. You're still the guy who accepted Sam's letters under false pretenses aren't you? You're still guilty of about a hundred lies of omission, aren't you? What makes you think I'd ever change my mind about you?" The volume of Brooke's voice had been increasing in her incredulousness from a low murmur to a fierce stage whisper. She knew that they were the objects of much attention, although most were pretending not to notice the conversation happening between them.

The thing that had hurt and angered Brooke the most was the way Josh had let her take the blame. He had allowed her reputation to sink and accepted the school's support as his due. He had never apologized or asked her forgiveness. She wasn't even sure if he knew what he had done was wrong. At least she knew Sam was sorry.

"Come on, Brooke," Josh was surprised that this wasn't happening as easily as he expected. Admittedly, he was glad to get away cleanly from this situation; he had been slightly fearful that Sam would do something a lot worse. But now, this was a great solution to the problem. Why couldn't Brooke see that? Josh lowered his voice and spoke cajolingly. He really didn't want to be overheard. "Sam has kind of taken responsibility for everything."

"Does that absolve you from your part in this?" Brooke asked coldly.

"No, but people are expecting us to get together again."

Brooke was starting to seethe. "Why should I care about that? Since when have I ever done what was expected of me?"

"Um, you always do," Josh frowned in confusion. "Don't you?"

He was right, she realized. Brooke had never once deviated from her safe, predictable path. The righteous fury she was feeling was punctured by her own complicity in the situation. Admittedly, she was the wronged party, but how many other times had she made a choice in which preserving her place in the Kennedy hierarchy was the topmost consideration? Her decisions had almost been premade for her by the dictates of her social position. What was wrong with her? She didn't want to be that person anymore.

Brooke got up without a word and left the table, ignoring Josh's protests. She looked around for a second and found her destination. Carmen's eyebrows lifted into her bangs as Brooke approached and said, "Do you have room for me?"

"Sure," Harrison said, moving his books to one side to create some space.

Lily looked pained. "Brooke, I just want to say that I'm so sorry for being a herd thinker. I assumed you had done Josh wrong without knowing the facts. And I'm sorry for what Sam did to you. I really don't understand her sometimes."

"No offense, Brooke?" Carmen broke in. "What are you doing here with us? You can be popular again."

"If that's what it means to be popular, I'm not sure I want it," Brooke said. "And thanks, Lily, but I'm thinking that Sam maybe did me a favor."

"Yeah, but she really did it this time. I think the whole school wants to lynch her," Lily said.

"Uh huh," Carmen agreed. "They either want to lynch her, or run her up the flagpole by her hair after pulling out her eyelashes one by one with salad tongs, and then maybe drag her by her big toes around the JV football field, 'cause that's the really muddy one, and then-"

"We get it, Carm," Lily cut her off, looking at her like she was a lunatic. "It wasn't that bad," she added, reconsidering as Carmen unwittingly put Sam's transgression into a larger context. "We're just talking about popularity here; no need to treat her like a Guantanamo detainee."

"Well I agree with what she said in the article," Harrison put in. "I just don't agree with the way she did it." He and Brooke shared a quick knowing look.

"Let me make it clear to you guys that I'm not mad at Sam," Brooke declared. "I'm not sure what she was talking about in that article. I'm not aware of any dummy messages she sent through me, and I didn't get anything weird from Josh. Maybe she's talking about some other couple."

"Give me a break!" Carmen said. "Who else could it be? You and Josh were the unofficial queen and king of this school. It's no wonder everyone wants to do something to punish her."

"But why do they want to punish her?" Brooke argued. "She's actually speaking for the whole school, minus the twenty or so popular students. They are the ones who are the minority. She's totally right."

"I never thought I'd hear Brooke McQueen say that Sam McPherson was right. About anything." Harrison smiled. "How come she's not here to hear it?"

"She's probably in the library, waiting until the coast is clear," Carmen said.

Lily shook her head. "She'll probably have to wait until graduation."

Brooke was afraid Lily was right. Sam's article had put Brooke right back at the top of the social heap, but it had made Sam a member of the untouchable caste. It was quite the sacrifice, one that Brooke hadn't really needed, although she was touched by the gesture. This must be that selfless love that Sam wrote about in her letters.

Brooke entered the house from the kitchen door to find Sam at the kitchen table writing in a notebook. She dropped her stuff and sat down next to Sam, as Sam quickly closed her book and put her pen down. "Tell me why you did this," Brooke said softly, laying her hand on Sam's arm.

Sam gazed at Brooke's hand on her arm, then briefly looked into her eyes before looking down at the table. "I needed to fix it," she said simply.

"Why did you think it even needed fixing?"

Sam looked at her as if she were nuts. "It was my and Josh's fault that you were a social outcast. Josh wasn't going to do anything about it, so I had to."

"I was doing fine, Sam." Brooke sat back in her chair. "You didn't have to commit social suicide along with me."

"That's just it. It was homicide in your case. I jumped all on my own; you were pushed." Sam fingered her notebook, sliding it away from Brooke's reach.

"I don't care. Five minutes back at the "cool" table and I was ready to kill myself anyway. They're so fake! And they're hypocrites. Yesterday they wouldn't even look at me, and today I'm their queen again!" Brooke exclaimed. "Was I like that too?"

Sam shrugged. She had no idea how to answer that question or even if Brooke wanted her to reply. "I saw you with Josh at lunch."

Brooke rolled her eyes. "For about five minutes. He needed a refresher course in Breaking Up 101. For some reason he thought we were getting back together." She shook her head in disbelief.

Sam smiled slightly at this. "I tried to think of a way to do this while still keeping him on the hook. In the end, I couldn't come up with anything."

"You were way too kind to him. And thank God for your friends," Brooke continued. "They welcomed me with open arms."

"You went and sat with them?" Sam's smile grew wider. "Yeah, they are pretty great." Then her smile faltered. "I don't know how I'm going to explain the article to Lily and Carmen. They usually hate it when I use the Zapruder to stir the shit like this."

"Like I used to," Brooke pointed out. "We talked about it a little at lunch. And they know I'm not upset," Brooke said. "Why don't you come back to the cafeteria and we can all sit together? They are your friends, and while it was kind of you to lend them to me…"

Sam shrugged again, thinking about Brooke's previous comment. "I thought maybe you wouldn't like it. To be the subject of all the attention again."

Brooke considered her response. Sam didn't know that Brooke had lately read her innermost thoughts. How would she have reacted if she hadn't read that Sam was trying her best to make amends, had only Brooke's best interests at heart? She didn't think she would have been quite so sympathetic. "Well, if you had waited for two seconds after making your apology the other night, I could have told you that I wasn't angry anymore, and I was getting used to my new social status. Popularity is all a bunch of smoke and nonsense. I actually agree with a lot of what you said in your article."

"Yeah, right," Sam scoffed. When Brooke just gazed at her earnestly and nodded, Sam couldn't hide her dubiousness. "Really?"

Brooke had to laugh. In her letters, Sam had claimed to love her a thousand different ways, but she still didn't know Brooke very well. "Really."

"Wow." Sam sort of went boneless at the table. She put her head down, resting her cheek against its cool surface. "I'm sorry. It's been a tense day. I'm a little tense."

"I know the perfect way to relax you," Brooke said, and got her phone out of her bag.

"What?" Sam was upright again, nervous and suspicious.

"Not telling!" Brooke trilled. Then her hand was back on Sam's arm. "Do you trust me?"

"I'm not sure," Sam said honestly. For some reason, she scooped up her notebook and held it to her chest.

This didn't faze Brooke; she was finally getting to do something with Sam. It would probably be easier on a weekday afternoon too. "Do you trust me enough to change into work out clothes and come with me, no questions asked?"

The mention of work out wear was enough of a hint for Sam to relent. "Okay."

"Good." Brooke put the phone to her ear. "Let me make a quick call. Be ready in ten?"

Plastic eyeglasses are weird. Sam lifted the safety glasses from her eyes, then brought them back down again, deciding that they didn't hinder her vision at all really, they just felt funny. She waited for Brooke to finish talking to the attendant.

This felt absolutely surreal. She and Brooke were having conversations and doing things together like a couple of long lost pals. Crazy. And Brooke had touched her twice! Sam knew before publishing it that her article could potentially change things between them, but had no idea just how much, or how swiftly. This was positively whiplash inducing.

"He said we're on Court 3," Brooke said, and led Sam down the hallway. "There's still a game going on, but their time is almost up."

Back at home, Sam had taken one look at Brooke's yoga pants and assumed they were going to a yoga class. But this was not yoga. Not even close. They were at Brooke's dad's health club, and were about to play racquetball. Floor to ceiling walls of glass enabled Sam to see into other courts where pairs of men and women were fiercely playing a very fast-moving game. The ball was whizzing and bouncing so rapidly Sam's eyes almost couldn't keep up.

"I've never played this before," Sam said, a little intimidated by the fancy club and the perfect people inhabiting it.

"Have you ever played tennis?"


"It's just like tennis, except we're both on the same side of the court," Brooke explained. "You'll love it. It's fast and fun. You'll forget about everything. Except the little blue ball, of course." It had been several years since Brooke had last played. She had often played with her dad while in middle school, but it kind of fell away once she started going to Kennedy.

She gave Sam her dad's racquet and hefted her own, which had finally revealed itself in the garage after she had looked everywhere else this past weekend. She had been thinking about doing this for a while, and Sam made the perfect partner. Well, the only partner since she had chosen to not re-befriend her old acquaintances, and doubted that Mary Cherry or Nicole would have wanted to do this anyway.

Two sweaty men were leaving Court 3, Brooke nodded to them and said to Sam, "Why don't you go in there and smack the ball around a few times? Get a feel for it."

Sam obeyed, awkwardly grabbing the small blue ball as Brooke tossed it to her. The court had a timber floor and white walls, and was less than half the size of a tennis court. It was like an echo chamber, she realized, as she bounced the ball. She put her hand to the side of her mouth and called, "Hello, hello, hello," just to hear it echo.

The glass door closed behind her and Sam turned to see Brooke – oh so much of Brooke. She had shed her yoga pants and hoodie to reveal mid-thigh length cotton shorts and a white, ribbed, racer-back tank top. Sam nearly dropped her racquet at the sight of so much skin.

"Um, you look great," Sam blurted. She looked at her own garden-variety sweatpants and t-shirt. "I feel so unfashionable."

"Shut up," Brooke muttered, embarrassed. "Okay, ready? Let's just volley for a little bit, and I'll explain the rules as we go along."

Somebody please explain this to me, Sam thought, not referring to racquetball. She watched Brooke put on her glasses and did the same. Then Brooke put on a terrycloth headband, and Sam snickered. She couldn't help it.

"What?" Brooke said defensively.

"Nothing," Sam smirked and put her own hair up in a ponytail. "It's just that I forgot my headband. I think I left it back in the seventies."

Brooke smiled (somewhat seductively, Sam thought), and moved to the middle of the court. "We'll see who laughs last. You're in a good position to return my serve. Ready?"

Sam stood about five feet behind and slightly to the right of where Brooke stood. She watched Brooke as she bounced the ball a few times, her well-defined shoulder and arm muscles flexing; she couldn't help following the length of those long shapely legs with her eyes, and was powerless when her gaze was arrested by Brooke's perfect ass. Sam was caught completely unaware when the ball went bouncing past her.

"Sam! You're supposed to at least try to hit the ball." Brooke had turned to look at her.

"Right. Sorry." Sam chased after the ball and tossed it to Brooke. Focus, Sam, focus, and not on Brooke's anatomy, she berated herself. "Do it again, I'm ready." Brooke gently hit the ball toward the front wall and moved to get out of the way. Sam shuffled over a few feet and swung, connecting with the ball after its first bounce. It smacked the side wall and banked at a weird angle and bounced. "Oh, sorry."

Brooke hurried to the other side of the court and returned it with a little more force. "That's fair. It only has to hit the front wall on the serve, then you can return it from anywhere. Side walls, back wall, ceiling, wherever. Get it!"

The ball bounced twice, but Sam was able to flick it towards the front wall. To her surprise, Brooke caught it and moved to the box in the middle of the court. "What just happened?" Sam said.

You have to hit it on the first bounce. I just scored a point," Brooke explained.

"Wait. We're playing? What happened to volleying for a while?"

"Oh, yeah," Brooke said sheepishly. "Sorry."

"No, no, I'm ready. I think I've got it. Let's play a game, or a match or whatever," Sam bounced on the balls of her feet a few times. "How hard can it be?"

"Not hard," Brooke grinned (somewhat evilly, Sam thought). "You want the first serve?"

"Go ahead," Sam said gallantly, gesturing with her racquet.

Brooke's serve this time was not gentle. Her racquet blurred and the ball came rocketing toward Sam, who sort of both protected herself and returned the ball with an inept close to the body backhand. The ball did not have enough force to hit any wall before bouncing.

Brooke grabbed it and went back to the short line to serve again, all business. "One, nothing. We play to fifteen, and it scores like ping pong."

"Got it," Sam muttered. So that's how it's going to be. She crouched into a ready stance, pushing her safety glasses up her nose and putting her game face on.

Sam and Brooke were soon running all over the small court, their competitive natures refusing to yield a point. Once Sam had wrested service from Brooke, she tried very hard to keep her from getting it back. But Brooke had experience, and her cheerleading training, which kept her way fitter than Sam.

The score was 13-11, Sam was behind and desperate to win this rally so she could be in a position to score. She had learned quickly to aim the ball low to make it harder to return, and smacked it into the left corner, hoping Brooke wouldn't be able to get to it. Brooke got to it, and lobbed it up toward the ceiling. Sam backpedaled, turning her body while still looking upward at the ball, and collided hard with Brooke. Their heads cracked together and they tumbled to the floor.

Sam fell heavily on top of Brooke, her forehead connecting with Brooke's shoulder as Brooke landed spread-eagle on her back. Sam just managed not to hit her with her racquet. For a moment, neither moved. Both were sweaty, breathing heavily from exertion, and Sam was so shocked at this turn of events she couldn't have spoken if she wanted to.

"Ow," Brooke groaned.

Sam still could not speak. She had just realized that her face was resting on Brooke's chest, her nose a few millimeters from Brooke's erect right nipple.

"Are you alright, Sam?"

Sam had to do something, had to move. Her left racquet arm was held above her head, one leg rested on the floor of the court and the other was splayed across Brooke's lower half. She dropped the racquet and tried to get up, managing to flail onto her hands and knees, one knee between Brooke's thighs. Her hands rested on the floor on either side of Brooke's head.

Then Sam stopped. She looked into Brooke's eyes, and found her gazing right back at her. Brooke's cheeks were flushed, and her stupid headband had crept up into her hairline, and her expression was tentative. Sam's lips would probably never be this close to Brooke's lips ever again. Should she take this opportunity to find out what Brooke would taste like? Steal a kiss in front of anyone who happened by the decidedly unprivate glass wall? The temptation was so great that she closed her eyes for a moment, savoring the possibility before her. When she opened them, she could see that Brooke was looking a little freaked out, wide-eyed and nostrils flaring slightly.

Sam found her voice, ragged-sounding though it was. "Sorry. That was totally clumsy of me." She quickly got up, then held out a hand to help Brooke stand as well. "Are you okay?"

Brooke answered a little breathlessly. "I'm fine."

Sam willed her attention back to racquetball. "14-11, your serve."

Brooke went to the short line and served a grapefruit, which Sam quickly smashed high and to the left. It bounced across the court so that Brooke couldn't return it, and Sam got to serve. Brooke's game went off the rails, which enabled Sam to catch up and tie the score.

Sam put on her sports announcer voice. "McPherson the rookie is poised to topple McQueen, the legend. This is it folks, match point. The winner gets to take home all the bragging rights. Never before on a racquetball court has-"

"Sam! Just serve!" Brooke was back, completely present in the moment. "You're going down."

What followed was a rally of epic proportions. The volleys lasted for what seemed like forever. They traded serves again and again, each trying to win that last point. Sam sweated through her t-shirt, gulping in lungfuls of air, chasing that damned blue ball all over the court. Then Brooke hit the kill shot: a shot so low Sam would have to be fifteen feet from where she was in a half second. She dove, and the ball skittered by her outstretched racquet by a few inches. Sam didn't move. She was lying face down on the wooden floor, totally spent, the loser, and she moaned, "Yoga pants mean yoga! Yoga is relaxing. This… So not relaxing."

"What are you talking about?"

Brooke's voice sounded concerned, but Sam was still facedown and couldn't see her expression. She rolled onto her side and propped her head up with her hand. "I thought we were going to do yoga. Remind me to have you clarify your definition of relaxation before I agree to something like this again," Sam said.

"We can do that next time if you want," Brooke said uncertainly. "You didn't have fun?" She walked over and extended a hand to help Sam up.

"I had a blast," Sam was already relishing the idea of a next time, no matter what activity Brooke chose. Then she winced as she tried to get up. "But my body will be doing some major complaining tomorrow."

"Mine too, but this was so fun!" Brooke enthused, leading Sam out of the court and donning her clothes. She reached into her duffel bag and handed Sam a bottle of water. "We are pretty well-matched, don't you think?"

Sam nodded and gulped at the water. It was nice to know that Brooke thought they were well matched in at least one aspect of their relationship, she thought, as she watched Brooke pack away the racquets into her bag. They began walking through the club to the exit.

"And you did so well for your first time. I thought I was going to have to be gentle with you, but you stayed right there with me the whole time," Brooke said, then blushed as she considered what she had said. She hurriedly kept talking. "Well, you know what I mean. And you thought we were going to do yoga! That's so funny. Hey, I do know this great yoga studio, but it's bikram yoga, where they turn up the heat to like a hundred degrees so you sweat out all your toxins. You don't mind getting a little hot and sweaty, do you?"

"Not at all," Sam laughed. Brooke was babbling. It was fascinating to observe, and so almightily cute.

Brooke curled her hand around Sam's arm as they walked side by side into the parking lot. "I'm glad you liked racquetball," she said shyly. "Can we do it again some time?"

"Sure," Sam answered. "You know where to find me."

"Yes I do, my friend." Brooke grinned at her and began looking for her car keys. "Ugh, I so need a shower."

Friend. If Sam had been wondering, and she had, Brooke had just cleared up any misconception. She wondered if Brooke was as touchy-feely with her former friends as she was with Sam. They seriously looked like a couple right now, walking along with their arms entwined. However, Sam reflected, this was a lot of progress compared to even a week ago. They were talking; they were laughing; it was good. For all her complaining, Sam actually was very relaxed right now. And Rome wasn't built in a day. Sam could not help but nurture that tiny flame that still burned in her heart for Brooke. She would show Brooke, now that they were friends, how it could become more. Sam was in it for the long haul. Love was going to win.


Part 12

Brooke was starting to dislike Jane Eyre intensely. The girl couldn't or wouldn't stand up for herself. She deserved whatever she got. The only one worse than Jane Eyre was that mousy friend of hers, Helen Burns. Sure, the Lowood School seemed like a terrible place, but maybe if Jane spoke up and complained or something things might get better. She picked up her phone and called Sam in her room next door.

Sam picked up on the first ring. "What?"

"Jane Eyre is a doormat."

"The hell she is. She's got spunk. Keep reading." Click.

Brooke called back. When Sam picked up, all Brooke heard was an annoyed sigh. "If you had hung up on Jane Eyre, she would've accepted it as her due because she didn't learn her bible verse or whatever. But I don't accept it when someone rudely hangs up on me. I demand satisfaction. Pistols or swords?"

"Are we even reading the same book?" Sam ignored Brooke's challenge to a duel. "Keep reading. It gets so much better after she leaves Lowood."

Brooke got up, still talking on the phone, and walked to her door. "I've read the Spark Notes already." She walked the few steps to Sam's door and went through without knocking. "Next she becomes a governess and goes to Wildfield." The last was said as she crossed Sam's room and sat opposite her at the foot of her bed. "Big Deal."

Sam lowered the phone from her ear and threw it on the bed. "Thornfield," she corrected, "and it is a big deal because that's where she meets Rochester."

"Yeah, yeah, the love of her life, whatevs," Brooke scorned, flinging her own phone to the side.

Sam looked as if she didn't know what to say to that, so she changed the subject. "Look, you're behind in the reading, the paper is due next week, just get it done." She picked up her Calculus book, which had been sitting in her lap. "It takes me three times as long to understand what the hell is going on in this class. I have a test tomorrow and I need to study," she pleaded. "Don't make me forcibly eject you from my room."

"I'm good at Calculus. You want help?"

"Brooke! Go read!"

"Fine," Brooke sulked, getting up.

"You know what would happen if you stayed," Sam said apologetically. "We'd get off track and start talking about something completely unrelated to Calculus or Jane Eyre, and neither of us would get anything done."

"I think I'm going to tryout for the tennis team," Brooke said. "Tryouts for spring sports start Wednesday."

"Well, that was apropos of nothing," Sam remarked. It was also the quickest they had ever gotten to the off track part, at least over the several weeks they had been friendly with each other. She thought about it for a minute. "Can you handle both that and the Glamazons?"

"I quit cheering." Brooke sat back down on Sam's bed.

"You did?" Sam was shocked. "When?"

"Last week. Spring is not really our busy time, and we only had one competition left. To tell you the truth, I think I'm the only one who really enjoyed the competitions. The rest of the squad couldn't care less. They're only in it to be seen at football games." And since Brooke was not deriving any ancillary benefits from cheering anymore, like prestige and popularity, there was no value in bossing around a bunch of girls whom she didn't really care about. She always had to work hard to convince them to participate in a competition anyway; it wasn't worth it.

Sam nodded slowly. "Is this because we've been playing racquetball?"

"Yeah. And, obviously, Kennedy doesn't have a racquetball team." Brooke started pleating Sam's bedspread between her fingers. "Will you tryout with me?"

"Me? I'm not a jock!"

"See?" Brooke was instantly exasperated. "You're just like everyone else at our school. Why can't you be a jock and a nerd? Or popular and a mathlete? Why does everyone have to be pigeonholed?"

"You think I'm a nerd?" Sam frowned.

"I'm speaking hypothetically here. Your article started me thinking about it, you know. And you're just as guilty."

"You're right," Sam accepted the accusation. "My only goal with that story was to manipulate public perception of you, to return you to your rightful place in the social hierarchy. Anything else was unintentional."

"But don't you see how stupid it all is?" Brooke was not surprised by how easy it was for Sam to accomplish her goal. People were really dumb.

"Of course," Sam acknowledged, "but just because it's stupid doesn't mean it will change. Just look at the role of political action committees in creating federal legislation."

Brooke stared at Sam, nonplussed.

"Sorry." Sam blushed. "Maybe I am a nerd. I was just doing some research for my Government class."

"Do you ever stop studying?"

"I want that 4.0," Sam declared.

"What about tennis?" Brooke came back to her point. "You're good, Sam. Our games are like we're waging war or something. I love that we're so aggressive and competitive, don't you? Imagine if we were on the same team," Brooke enthused. "We'd be unbeatable."

Sam was not convinced. "The newspaper is my extracurricular. It takes up a lot of time."

"Just think about it, okay?" Brooke got up and tousled Sam's hair before making her exit. "I think you would be great."

Back in her room, Brooke tried to concentrate on Jane Eyre, but found it hopeless. She went over her conversation with Sam and tried to reconcile it with her most recent letters, which Brooke had hurried home to read before Sam arrived. This had been her modus operandi since that first racquetball game, which Brooke considered the start of their friendship.

She had not been able to concentrate the day after that game, so curious was she about Sam's reaction to their shared time together. When she got home, she found that Sam had written a letter, but it had been a lot less articulate than those that preceded it.

In the letter, Sam said she couldn't believe that Brooke had taken the article so well, that she never dreamed it would have worked as well as it did. Sam talked about friendship, and how it was nice, but not enough. She commented on how Brooke had continuously touched her that afternoon (Brooke thought she exaggerated), and how she wanted to kiss Brooke when she fell on top of her.

Funnily enough, it didn't bother Brooke to read about Sam's desire to kiss her; she didn't even let herself think about it. But the idea that Brooke touched Sam a lot had given her pause. When she began watching herself in Sam's presence, she realized it was true and tried to stop it. But even tonight she had tousled Sam's hair. She couldn't help herself, it seemed, and it was only with Sam. She was not known for being overly demonstrative with her other friends.

Now Sam's letters had begun to reflect a certain confusion. Sam was perplexed by the signals she perceived Brooke was sending. Brooke was not aware of sending any signals; she merely wanted to be friends with Sam, so pleased was she to find such an awesome girl to replace her former friends. Sam was supportive and kind, sincere or sarcastic at all the right times; she was amusing, and their conversations ranged from total silliness to having a bit more substance than those subjects covered in the latest issue of Vogue.

The best part was the way they competed with each other. Brooke never knew such a healthy competitive relationship could exist. Sam was bringing something out in Brooke that was a cause for exultation. Brooke had always felt guilty about the competitiveness that existed between her and Nicole and Mary Cherry. It was nasty and sinister, and never talked about. And it was over stupid things like clothes and boys and money. The unspoken grudges over someone's hurt feelings could last for months. Somewhere along the way, Brooke had received the notion that competition was not ladylike and so did not seek it out openly. But she loved it, and found it in petty little contests with her friends or in cheering competitions.

Sam was so refreshing. She played to win as hard as she could, whether it was racquetball or scrabble, or that pinball machine at the pizza parlor they went to the other night. When she won she was happy, and wasn't too obnoxious in her boasting. When she lost, she shook it off, and it didn't seem to bother her that much. Brooke loved playing against her, but wanted even more to play with her. She knew they would make an outstanding doubles team.

They were closer at school, seeking each other out in the hallways between classes and eating together with Sam's friends at lunch. Their closeness was due in equal parts to Brooke's disinterest in her friends or her social position, and Sam's general unpopularity due to the article. Sam didn't seem to care about the rest of the school, as long as she was able to hold onto her friends. Brooke thought Lily and Carmen had seemed to accept Sam's assertion that there was a reason she had written the article but she couldn't tell them what it was, especially since Brooke was sitting beside her when she told them. Brooke liked that Sam's friends trusted her; Sam was a good, trustworthy person.

Everything they did together was fun, and Brooke liked to be with Sam all the time. They had done yoga, and more racquetball. They had gone out for pizza with Sam's friends, and to the movies. Sam had taken her to a poetry reading one night, and she had even dragged Sam to a trunk show downtown for an up and coming designer whom she admired. Their parents were totally psyched that they were getting along, and Brooke felt freer and happier now than she had been when she was popular. It was like she was allowing parts of herself to flower that had never seen the sun, and it was all inadvertently thanks to Sam.

The only problem was Sam's inconvenient feelings. Brooke felt bad that she didn't see the girl that way and felt guilty that she continued to read the letters without Sam knowing. Several times she had vowed to stop reading, but then couldn't stop herself from entering Sam's room to see if there was anything new added to the folder. It was like an addiction. And when she thought about telling Sam that she was reading the letters, it scared her. She just wanted everything to stay the way it was right now. Was that too much to ask?

Sam, too, was having difficulty concentrating on Calculus. Knowing Brooke was in the next room probably not doing any work was very tempting, and remaining on her bed with her books in her lap took all her willpower. She was committed to earning that 4.0 this term, but her new friendship with Brooke was proving a powerful distraction.

Getting to know Brooke over the past few weeks had been wonderful; to know firsthand what a great person Brooke was reinforced what she had been feeling all this time. Sam wasn't surprised in the least. She knew she had good taste in women. They had been slowly revealing their personalities to each other, and she was gratified to know that Brooke seemed to like her too. As a friend. Always with that unspoken addendum.

This wouldn't matter so much except for one thing. Sam had faith that she could win Brooke over in the long term. She could wait as long as it took for Brooke to see that they were meant to be together. However, she hadn't anticipated the intense level of frustration she was currently feeling.

The closer she and Brooke became, the more time they spent together. The more time they spent together, the longer Sam was around Brooke's incredible body. And the activities they had been doing were not helping. Brooke seemed to enjoy physical endeavors lately, which meant that Sam was continually watching Brooke's beautiful body in action.

Sam could not help but admit that she was probably one hundred percent gay. She yearned to touch Brooke, and things weren't helped by Brooke's innocent arm pats, shoulder squeezes, hand grabs, hair tousling (tonight!), and, on one especially trying occasion on the racquetball court, that flirtatious little butt slap. Sam, however, kept her hands to herself. Always. If she let herself touch Brooke, she didn't know what would happen.

Since she had started to write the letters as herself, Sam strove to keep her love for Brooke on a higher, purer plane. Her sexual thoughts had never overtly entered the folder in her desk drawer; those letters were the method for her "to love, pure and chaste from afar," as the song said. But her impossible dream had become too up close and personal, and it needed an outlet. How could her own body not react when she watched Brooke's upward facing dog, her back arched, lips parted and eyes closed, in a steamy yoga studio? What was she supposed to do when Brooke went into a warrior pose with her breasts thrust out and tight against her t-shirt, accentuated by the sweat-stained v that plunged between them down towards her belly? How could she cope with Brooke's standing forward bend when all Sam could see were Brooke's impossibly long legs with her muscular thighs, topped by the perkiest ass to ever have been created?

Brooke's body was truly amazing, and Sam had an excellent imagination, which she had to start using lest she go insane with want. This was not a task that could be served by a leisurely handwritten scrawl. She threw her math book aside, pulled her laptop to her and started to feverishly type her lusty, x-rated thoughts. The pure plane of true love had been breached and overrun by need, and Sam wrote quickly to capture the vivid thoughts racing through her mind.

About ten minutes later, standing over her printer and reading over what she had written, Sam blushed to the tips of her toes. But it was what she was feeling, and if they were supposed to help at all, these never-to-be-seen-by-anyone letters had to be honest. It had helped a little. She smirked at her reflection in the mirror. Sam was only human: a young, sex-crazed, inexperienced, frustrated, lesbian human, who had a heretofore unknown talent for writing smut. She shoved the letter into the folder in the drawer and went to bed, hoping to relive it in the most explicit of dreams.

Part 13

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