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 13

Brooke entered Sam's room after school, leaving the door open so she could hear family members arriving home and make her escape if she had to. She knew Sam had an editorial meeting for the Zapruder and wouldn't be home for awhile, but Jane's hours were irregular and one could never tell when she might be home in the middle of the day. She had time today so she removed the entire folder from the drawer and sat at the end of Sam's bed, planning on reading and rereading several that had become favorites. Opening the folder, she found a typed letter. Sam must have written it last night because it wasn't there yesterday. Interesting. It had been a while since a letter had been typed. She leaned her elbows on the folder in her lap and began to read.

Dear Brooke,

I really like being your friend. I feel close to you. I enjoy the time we spend together, and I hope we always will do fun stuff together. But you must realize that my love for you needs to be expressed in other ways besides sports and games and bonding over homework assignments.

Simply put, I want to fuck you senseless.

Someday, when you're ready, we'll find someplace private, and I'll lay you down on something soft. I'll take off every piece of your clothing and finally satisfy my curiosity about what you look like naked. I'll get to see what your curves and planes hint at behind the burden of fabric. My clothes will disappear as well, and we will embrace. Every place where our skin meets will be like the touch of a kiss: our breasts, our bellies, our cheeks, our lips. My hands and eyes will be allowed to fully admire you, caressing you everywhere, and you will be able to feel the great care I take in this, and trust in that care.

Our kisses – slow, wet, languorous – will be like a world opening to us, leading us to other rooms, new places. And all the while my hands will chart the soft contours of your body, remembering for the first time the curve of your neck, the line of your thigh, the graceful slope of your spine. To you it will feel like charges of lightning, sharp bursts to the senses, delivering delirium and joy. When I focus on your breasts, it will be like nothing you've ever felt, an excruciating pleasure that will radiate out towards your center, where it will pool in a sweet and growing warmth. And it will build.

We will find our rhythm, it will be calling to us, and when we can't ignore its force any longer, I will use my hands and my mouth and all that I am to build that warmth to an indescribable searing heat, and you will be aching for me to quench it, to take its strength away. When you can't possibly withstand anymore, this will be our moment of combustion, and we will burn.

I want this for you. I want this for me. I want this for us.

Someday, when you are ready.


Brooke's heart was pounding. She put a hand to her forehead and felt a fine sheen of perspiration there. She was also parched, and would go down to the kitchen and get a glass of water as soon as she made sure she understood what she had just read. It would probably take one or two more readings for her to fully grasp Sam's meaning. Brooke held the paper in both hands and started to read again, the imagery burning pictures in her mind of what she and Sam would look like together.

All Brooke's attention was focused on the letter in front of her, so she didn't hear Sam come home and climb the stairs. She didn't even notice when Sam stopped at her open door and tried to make sense of what she was seeing.

"Brooke? What are you doing?"

Brooke was so surprised she jumped up, the folder sliding from her lap and letters scattering everywhere. "Sam, you scared the crap out of me!" She reflexively put her hand to her chest, involuntarily crumpling the letter within it.

"You know about these?" The anxiety was evident in Sam's voice as she bent down and hurriedly collected the letters, blocking Brooke's path of escape.

"Yes." Brooke just stood there, bathed in shame.

"How?" Sam stood up, her confusion plainly written across her face. She didn't wait for an answer. "I'm really sorry. I didn't think you would ever find out. You weren't supposed to know. I didn't think it would hurt anybody. I'm sorry," she blathered. "How did you know?"

"Harrison told me," Brooke admitted.

"Oh my God," she moaned. "Why would he do that?" Sam looked close to totally losing it. She held the folder with the letters messily stuffed back inside and smacked it rapidly against her thigh.

"Why are you even here? I thought you had a meeting," was the only thing Brooke could think of to say. She felt guilty and trapped.

It looked like it took a great effort for Sam to respond. "I forgot my flash drive. I have to go back." As Sam moved past Brooke to retrieve the drive from her desk, Brooke lunged backwards to avoid coming into contact with her. Sam noticed. "Maybe we should talk about this," she said slowly. "I can call Brad and tell him to take over."

"No, you shouldn't do that." The only thing Brooke was interested in was removing herself from Sam's presence. She had never felt so mortified. Her path was now clear and she started backing away from Sam toward the door. "Go to your meeting. See you later." She was almost free when she remembered the letter in her hand. She handed it to Sam without meeting her eyes, then raced out of the room and closed the door behind her.

Sam looked down at the wrinkled page in her hand and saw that it was the steamy letter from last night. She sighed. "You are so stupid," she told herself.

The editorial meeting was less than productive. Sam was forced to put aside her thoughts about Brooke and deal with the Zapruder's many problems. This would be the first issue since her inflammatory popularity article, and she had lost several staff members who disagreed with her investigative methods. The few who remained felt more passionately about putting the populars in their place than journalistic integrity.

She found herself taking on many more assignments to fill in for the lack of writers, and realized she was going to have a lot of work to do in the coming weeks.

As the meeting broke up, Sam's layout editor, Brad, approached her and said, "So what are you going to do to top that last article, Sam?"

"Nothing. You just heard all the assignments for the next issue," Sam said wearily.

"Yeah, but you've got something cooking, right? Someone's got to keep sticking it to those assholes."

"Then why not you, Brad? I'm sick and tired of it, if you want to know the truth," Sam's temper flared.

"Hey, sorry," Brad backed off. "I didn't mean to piss you off."

"Right, sorry," Sam said. "Hey, are you sure you can't take one of these articles off my hands? I'm writing, like, five."

"Sorry, can't," Brad said as he shouldered his pack and made for the door. "Too much school work."

"Yeah, me too," Sam said to the now empty room.

There was nothing for it. She was the boss and she was responsible for the paper's success. It would simply have to get done. She would get started tonight, but she had one more stop before going home.

"Hi, Mrs. John," Sam said when Harrison's mother opened the door. "Is Harrison home?"

Harrison's mom smiled at Sam. "Sure, Sam, but I don't think he's expecting you. Come on in."

"Um, can you go get him for me, please? This won't take long. I'll just wait out here."

"Okay, it's nice to see you again. Tell your mom I said hi." Mrs. John left the door open while Sam stood on the porch. Harrison appeared moments later.

"Hey, Sammy, what's up? Why don't you come in? I got a new video game that's like a simulator of the Space Shuttle. You'll love it. It's got these payloads, right-"

"I just wanted to tell you that you're not my friend anymore," Sam interrupted heatedly. "You totally betrayed me, and I don't want to ever speak to you again." She turned her back and started down the porch steps to her car.

"Whoa! Wait! Sam, what happened? What did I do?" Harrison chased after Sam in his stocking feet.

She whirled to face him. "Do you deny that you told her I was still writing letters?"

About to protest whatever accusation Sam hit him with, Harrison closed his mouth and looked down.

"Yeah, that's what I thought," Sam said. "How could you do this to me?"

"I thought it would help," Harrison said.

"But now? After all this time? And we had been getting along, Harrison," Sam said with regret. "We had become friends."

"Wait. I told her about the letters a long time ago. Even before your article came out," Harrison explained. "You just found out?"

"She was in my room, reading them," Sam answered, totally embarrassed. "Today, after school."

"Then this is not the first time she's looked at them."

Sam put her hands to her face, refusing to look at him. Ironically, she could hardly stand the thought of Brooke reading letters that were written expressly for her.

"Look, it's going to be okay." Harrison put his arm around Sam. "Let me go put my shoes on, and we can go talk about this. Are you hungry?"

"Starving," Sam said through her hands.

"Let's get something to eat."

Ten minutes later found them sitting in a booth at McDonalds. Harrison got Sam up to speed while they began to eat. "She said she had lost the letters from Josh, and that she wanted them back."

"She didn't lose them. She destroyed them," Sam gestured emphatically with a French fry. "She shredded them."

"They made her feel good, she said. This was during that time when she was lonely and had no friends," Harrison reminded her. "She actually caught me on a grammar technicality. I used the present tense."

"Idiot," Sam muttered, and smiled to take the sting out. She was actually enormously relieved that she still had Harrison as a friend, but humiliation reverberated through her and she wanted to blame him a little. "Some of what I was writing wasn't fit for anyone to see, not even Brooke. Some of them were incredibly personal, too personal even for love letters. I really wish you hadn't said anything."

"I'm so sorry. I thought it might help if she knew your point of view. And then things did get better. You guys started hanging out all the time, eating together at lunch and all that." Harrison stopped talking to take a massive bite of his burger.

"I thought that was because of the article. I thought she appreciated my attempt to vindicate her with the whole Josh thing."

"Enough to want to become your best friend?" Harrison looked dubious, even with his mouth full. "Maybe it was the letters too."

Sam shook her head. "No. It doesn't make sense. She's not interested in me in that way. Why would she even want to read them?"

"She's vain?" Harrison guessed. "She likes it when she reads nice things about herself? She wants to have her cake and eat it too?"

"What do you mean by that?"

"Well, she's trying to have it both ways, isn't she? She gets all of the benefits and takes none of the risks."

Sam thought about that for a moment, and then pointed at herself. "Confused."

Harrison pulled a bunch of napkins from the dispenser. "She gets to read all the presumably wonderful things you say about her. She gets to have you as a friend, and by extension your friends as well, lucky girl. But by not acknowledging the reason you are writing the letters, i.e. you dig her, she doesn't have to take any responsibility for her own feelings or deal with yours."

"That little brat," Sam said in wonder. "I never in a million years would have thought that she actually enjoyed reading them after she found out it was me. If she wants them that bad, I guess she can have them."

"You gonna eat the rest of your fries?"

"No," Sam said absently, sliding the container across the table. Then she narrowed her eyes. "But keep your mitts off my burger."

"Will do, chief," Harrison grinned. "So what happens now?"

"I have no idea. She seemed pretty freaked when I caught her. She ran out of the room like I had turned into a giant smelly turd. I don't know if she'll still want to be friends or what."

"Will you keep writing letters?"

Sam thought about it. "I don't think so. I'm not sure what's left to say."

"What will you say to Brooke?"

"I'm not going to say anything. If she wants to talk about it, I'll be more than happy to." Sam took a deep breath. "But nothing has really changed here. I still love her, and she doesn't love me back."

"Are you sure about that?" Harrison knew how long the odds were, but he was rooting for Sam.

"Of course I'm sure," Sam sighed. It would not do to keep out hope that Brooke would want to do the right thing and at the very least explain herself to Sam. There was no profit in it for Brooke, so why would she bother? Life was so unfair.

"Yeah, but you guys will have to talk about it, won't you? Clear the air a little?"

Sam picked up her drink and took a sip from the straw. "That's up to her, but I'm not counting on it."

Sam walked through the kitchen door to find her family seated at the table eating the last of their dinner. "Hey, sorry I'm late."

Jane turned to her daughter. "And you're late because..."

"Zapruder meeting went long," Sam supplied, her tone subdued. "I have more work to do than I ever thought imaginable." She kept walking, headed for the stairs. She didn't bother to seek out Brooke's expression. She knew Brooke would not meet her gaze.

"Don't you want any dinner?" Jane asked.

"No. I ate with Harrison." Sam heard a fork drop onto a plate, and knew it must be Brooke's. "His mom said to say hi."

"Goodnight, Sam," Mike said, while Jane's eyes worriedly followed Sam out of the room. "She seems a little out of sorts tonight," he commented. "Anything happen at school, Brooke?"

"Not that I know of," Brooke said. It happened after school, not that she'd be spilling those secrets to her dad and Jane.

Brooke had gone to the health club to practice her tennis after Sam left that afternoon. It had been quite a while since she had played, and she was making adjustments to her game, getting used to the larger space and the switch from the hardwood racquetball court to the outdoor tennis court's asphalt surface. After a quick conversation with the pro, she decided to use the ball machine to work on her forehand. Tomorrow she'd work on her backhand. Tryouts were only a few days away.

Her right arm ached with the repetitive movement, but the mindless cadence of the ball machine had allowed her to think while she practiced. It was only Sam who occupied her thoughts. Brooke needed to talk to her. She hurried through the rest of her dinner. "May I be excused?

"Sure, Brooke," her dad said. "I've got dish duty tonight."

Brooke flashed a grateful smile and headed up the stairs. She paused at Sam's closed door, but couldn't make herself knock. She stood there, trying to figure out what she would say to Sam, and having no idea. Knowing she had to talk to Sam about this did not make it any easier to do. She gave up and continued walking down the hall. Upon entering her own room, Brooke saw the folder with all the letters inside sitting on her bed, with a post-it note that read:

These belong to you.

– S

Brooke sat down and flipped the folder open and began to straighten the untidy pile until it was nice and neat again. She briefly looked through the letters for the one she had been reading earlier, but couldn't find it. What was Sam saying by giving her the letters? It was true that Brooke wanted to possess them, but was she ready to deal with whatever changes in her relationship with Sam they would bring? Because everything had changed.

Shuffling through the papers, she found one that looked unfamiliar. Brooke thought she had read the entire contents of the folder, but here was one she hadn't read.

Dear Brooke,

It's five am. I just woke up from a dream. I think it was about you, and it sure was strange. I wanted to write about it before I forgot it, the way I always do, about five minutes after I wake up.

I was a wrestler. One of those Mexican wrestlers, and it was right before a match. I had a red vinyl mask that zipped up the back and a cape, and I was strutting around the ring, very sure of myself. There were thousands of people watching and the noise was deafening. When I saw my opponent, I took off the cape with a flourish, but I kept the mask on. The whole dream was like watching out of the eyeholes of the mask.

My opponent was you, but you were a seven-foot wrestler dressed in black, with a black mask. You had enormous guns and a barrel chest, but I was still confident that I could beat you. I knew it was you, but you were this giant man instead of yourself, if that makes any sense. The bell rang and we came out fighting. We did all those crazy holds and maneuvers, but I was definitely winning. Bones were being crushed, and bodies were being slammed. After a while, I body slammed you and you didn't get up. I had won. Instead of ripping your mask off, I went to you and put my hand through your chest and brought out your heart. It wasn't a real heart with the four chambers and the ventricles; it was a Valentine's heart, shiny and deep red. I knew what I was supposed to do. I had to break it. I tried to crumple it like it was paper and that didn't work. I tried to tear it, squeeze it, mash it, pound it and pulverize it, all without success. Nothing I did had any effect. I couldn't put a mark on it. Your heart was unbreakable, at least by me. So I put it back, leaving it for someone else to break. You had watched me try the whole time, and started to laugh when I returned it to you. This got me mad, and I tried to rip your mask off, but that's when I woke up.

Pretty crazy, right? So should I accept this as a sign of surrender? Your indifference is killing me. You will never love me. Part of me knows that, but the other part refuses to give up. I actually don't want to feel this way anymore, it's too hard, but I can't seem to close my own heart to the things it wants to feel.


Brooke wiped at the tears that fell down her face, confused and upset at Sam's raw honesty and her own response to it. It must have been written before they became friends. Brooke hadn't felt indifferent about Sam in a long time. Whatever she had to do to fix her relationship with Sam, it wasn't going to happen tonight. She carefully placed the folder in her middle dresser drawer, underneath the t-shirts and away from prying eyes. As the recipient of these deeply private letters, Brooke wouldn't want anyone to see them, and now understood how enormously she had violated Sam's privacy. Even though Brooke's name was at the top of each page, Sam wasn't really writing to her. Brooke finally realized that, and she was ashamed.


Part 14

Sam slipped into her seat next to Lily just as the bell rang. She was not her best today, after staying up past midnight studying for a chemistry test and drafting one of the articles for the paper. She had been dragging all day, but at least she was now in a class that she liked – English. She appreciated it when she was actually interested in something that was taught in high school, but it bothered her that it happened so infrequently. She had already finished her literary analysis of Jane Eyre, even though it wasn't due for another couple of days. She felt this was one class in which she could relax, for now.

"Missed you at lunch again," Lily said.

"I know, sorry. I just have too much to do this week with the paper," Sam apologized. "Did I miss anything?"

"Meatloaf," Lily grunted, "and no vegetarian option."

Sam smiled at her in sympathy. The door opened and Brooke came in and handed her pass to Mr. Bennett. Sam watched as Brooke quickly got to her seat, diagonally behind Sam. They had not spoken since Sam found her in her room with the letters two days ago. Admittedly, Sam was busy, but it did hurt that their friendship hadn't been strong enough to withstand this trial.

"All right, guys," Mr. Bennett called them to order. "We were talking about Jane Eyre and how it's a bildungsroman-"

"Mr. Bennett," Sugar Daddy called out, "this is the boringest book I have ever read the Spark Notes for."

"I agree, Mr. Bennett," Mary Cherry raised her hand and spoke. "Who wants to read an entire book about someone who is so poor?"

"Yeah, isn't she a nanny or something?" Nicole paused from filing her nails to add. "Is this whole book about the help?"

Sam raised her hand.

"Yes, Sam," Mr. Bennett said.

"Being a governess was the only thing available to someone who was an orphan with no connections. It's not her fault that's all she can be. She's a product of her time."

"That's true," said Mr. Bennett. "And Jane was in a kind of no-man's-land as a governess. She wasn't quite the help, and she wasn't a member of Mr. Rochester's social class either. She was truly alone at many points in the novel."

"So why is Rochester interested in her anyway? She's got no money, no class, she doesn't travel in the same social circles. She's not exactly a catch," Nicole said.

"She is a woman of passion and integrity, and his intellectual equal," Mr. Bennett replied.

"She sounds like a dog," Nicole yawned and closed her book.

"No, Rochester is the dog," Lily answered. "The author comes right out and says he's ugly. What does she see in him?"

"He's her kindred spirit, Lily. They're meant to be together," Sam said.

"Wait a minute," Brooke interrupted, paging through her copy. "If they're meant to be together, why does she leave him for like a million chapters in the middle?"

Sam turned around and faced Brooke, looking into her eyes and speaking to her directly, but loudly for the whole class to hear. "Would you have stayed? She's been on a lifelong search to find her kindred spirit, and once she's found him, she discovers she can't ever have him."

Brooke gazed right back at her. "Would you?" she reversed the question quietly, seriously.

"That's a great point, Sam," Mr. Bennett said. "And a perfect lead-in to today's notes, which are on the board. Please open your notebooks and get copying."

Still ensnared by Brooke's somber eyes, which seemed to be asking something altogether different, Sam didn't know what to say. She turned around and opened her notebook. A minute later Brooke tapped her on the shoulder and handed her a note.

They get there in the end, don't they?

– B

Sam held the note in her hand, befuddled. Was Brooke asking her about a plot point, or something else? She turned back to Brooke, who was watching her. She shrugged.

Brooke frowned, like she wasn't expecting that to be Sam's response, and started copying the notes.

Sam shook her head and got back to work.

Sam stopped working and shook her head. She was tired. Researching yet another article for the Zapruder wasn't how she wanted to be spending her precious after school free time. She sat back and gazed out the window of the newspaper office. It overlooked the baseball diamond and the near tennis courts, where there seemed to be some activity going on. She stood up and looked closer. Tennis team tryouts were today. She had completely forgotten. She saw Brooke's blonde head among a group of girls surrounding Coach Williams. The boys were using the far courts in the distance.

Just days ago Brooke had asked her to tryout with her. Was Sam not good enough to play with Brooke anymore? That's sure what it looked like. Sam was a reject. Rejected by Brooke, and rejected by snooty fucking tennis. Not this time. She hurried out of the office and headed for the girls' locker room.

Her gym clothes would have to do. Sam refused to be self-conscious as she approached the other hopefuls in her gray Kennedy t-shirt and blue shorts. She had obviously missed the memo where it said that tennis had a dress code. Most girls were in cute little tennis outfits, including Brooke, naturally. She wore a short white pleated skirt with a matching top and visor. She looked good, Sam grudgingly admitted, but did not go to stand near her. "Sorry I'm late, Coach. Can I still tryout?"

"Yep." Coach Williams wrote something on her clipboard. "McPherson needs a partner. Who's still available?"

"I am." Brooke raised her hand.

Of course she is. Sam crossed her arms and refused to look at her. She would show Brooke that she was good enough. She could do anything she wanted at this school. She could be a jock. There was nothing simpler.

"Everybody paired up? Okay. Wait your turns, ladies," Coach said. "When I call your names, get out there and show me what you've got."

"Hey! You're here," Brooke said, coming to stand next to Sam and grabbing her by the arm. "I know you're busy. I'm glad you decided to come." She had a huge smile on her face, like nothing devastating had happened in the last few days.

Sam shrugged out of Brooke's grip and looked away, saying nothing.

"Where's your racquet?" Brooke asked.

Racquet? Oh yeah, she would need a racquet.

"McPherson and McQueen," Coach called out.

Sam turned to a girl in a pink outfit, complete with pink head and wristbands. "Can I borrow your racquet for a minute?"

The girl raised her eyebrows and handed her racquet over. It was pink too. Sam took her place opposite Brooke on the court.

"McPherson, serve. After the volley, McQueen serves." Coach tossed a tennis ball over to Sam.

Sam caught the ball and bounced it a few times. It had been a while since she had played. Worrying about how she would play now was a bit stupid. Anyway, she could do this. She threw the ball up and went for it.

Brooke easily returned the ball, making Sam scramble for it, but she was able to put it back on Brooke's side. Sam began running back and forth, as Brooke continued to effortlessly place the ball exactly where Sam was not. It was starting to make Sam angry. Brooke approached the net and batted the ball swiftly just over it, miles away from where Sam was at the baseline. One of the girls retrieved the ball and threw it to Brooke.

As Sam waited to receive Brooke's serve, she tried to get a hold of her anger, but as she watched Brooke calmly collect herself and prepare to serve, it bubbled over into rage. Everything was Brooke's fault. She would use this stupid pink racquet to smash away at all that was wrong and difficult in her life. When Brooke served using a powerful overhand, Sam sprang on the attack. She got into position and swung.

Four fucking extra articles because of Brooke. Thwop! It was a good shot and Brooke had to run.

Abandoning my journalistic integrity because of Brooke. Thwop! With each strike of her racquet against the ball, Sam thought of another grievance.

And Brooke didn't even want her popularity back – I did it for nothing. Thwop!

Brooke touching me all the fucking time! Thwop!

Flaunting her perfect body – driving me crazy. Thwop! Sam couldn't control her emotions; her returns were becoming wild, but so far stayed within bounds. Brooke was all over the court trying to keep up.

And she knew! The whole time she knew how I felt! Thwop! Tears welled in her eyes.

Doesn't have the decency to talk to me! Thwop! It was becoming hard for her to see the fuzzy green projectile coming toward her.

She doesn't care. She doesn't care about me! Thwop! Somehow Sam managed to hit the ball, but she was openly weeping now.

Brooke caught sight of Sam's distress and faltered before instinctively using her forehand to smash the ball past Sam, who had dropped her arms and come out of her ready crouch. "Sam, what's wrong?"

Sam bent at the waist and wiped her eyes, trying to master her emotions. Well, that had been a resounding success, she thought, not able to remember why she had wanted to tryout so badly in the first place. Badly being the operative word. Breathing heavily and head aching, Sam thought only of escape. She stood up and flung the racquet towards the girl who loaned it to her, who caught it in one hand. "Thanks, Pinkie," Sam called, before jogging off the court and straight to the locker room, where she grabbed her stuff and made a speedy departure to the parking lot. She didn't think Brooke would try to catch up with her, but just in case, she didn't want to be caught.

Brooke knocked on Sam's door. She knew Sam was in there, but she didn't get a response. This couldn't wait. She opened the door a few inches to see Sam sitting on her bed with her laptop in her lap, but she was staring into space, not scowling at the screen for once. She was still in her gym clothes, and she looked utterly exhausted.

"Can I come in?"

"Whatever," Sam muttered, closing her laptop and placing it on her night stand. She moved to the edge of the bed and put her bare feet on the floor, poised to get up. A look of surprise crossed her features when she saw that Brooke was holding a tennis racquet with a red bow attached to its cover.

"This is for you. I went to the pro shop at the club on the way home," Brooke said, sitting down next to her and presenting the racquet to Sam.

Sam took the racquet and pulled the cover off. She inspected the strings, having no real idea how to judge its quality. It did, however, look expensive. Why was Brooke trying to buy her affections? It pained Sam to admit that Brooke owned them outright. "Thanks, but I can't accept this. I won't be needing it anyway."

"Why not? It's not official yet, but I think you made the team. Coach Williams said you showed promise, and that you were 'scrappy,'" Brooke used air quotes to show the word choice was the coach's.

Sam smiled faintly. "I didn't know that the definition of scrappy was – prone to emotional meltdowns while engaging in sporting activities." She tried to give the racquet back to Brooke.

Brooke kept her hands in her lap. "Please take it. I have to start apologizing to you somehow, and I thought that a present would be a good first step."

Her words didn't have much of an effect on Sam. She was emotionally depleted. "What's the second step?"

"A change of scenery." Brooke got up and stood in front of Sam. "Will you come with me? I have a lot that I need to say, and I thought it might be easier if we were looking at something pretty."

What could be prettier than what I'm looking at right now, Sam thought bleakly. She did have a glimmer of curiosity about what Brooke wanted to say, though. "All right."

"You might want to change. And bring a sweater."

Brooke took them to the beach. The closest one to their house was Santa Monica, which was usually swarming with tourists and surfer wannabes, but the day was almost over, and it wasn't too crowded. They could see the pier, where some amusement rides and a giant Ferris wheel dominated the view, and they would shortly have what looked to be a spectacular sunset. They walked closer to the water's edge, and Brooke spread out the blanket she had brought. They sat side by side, about a foot apart, gazing at the horizon. Brooke stopped herself from moving closer to Sam or touching her in any way, although she had a strong desire to.

She regarded Sam's profile, as Sam stared pensively at the churning ocean. "I'm sorry for reading the letters. It was a total invasion of your privacy and I should not have done it."

"They did have your name on them," Sam said. "I can't really blame you for that."

"Yeah, but Harrison even told me that you weren't writing them to me. It took me awhile to understand that."

"What does it matter now, Brooke? It's all water under the bridge."

"I need you to understand how much I appreciated them, how much they meant, no, mean to me," Brooke spoke urgently. "Did you know that I couldn't destroy the first bunch? Even when I was feeling so betrayed by you and Josh, I couldn't do it."

"You shredded them. I heard it," Sam said bitterly.

"I shredded some blank paper," Brooke corrected. "I shoved the letters between the wall and the desk. Then I tried for days to get them back, but I would've had to take an axe to that desk. It's a good thing you kept copies."

"Really?" Sam looked quickly at Brooke, trying to judge her sincerity.

Brooke nodded vigorously. "Even after I knew it was you, I still loved those letters. They are so special, Sam. You have to know that. When Harrison told me you were still writing, I knew it was wrong to read them, but I couldn't stop myself. And it became so hard because you were still saying wonderful things to me and about me, but your pain was so obvious."

Sam had started to cry. Silent tears rolled down her face. Brooke still didn't touch her, resorting to actually folding her arms across her chest to restrain them from comforting Sam.

"So many things were changing around me," Brooke continued. "I was changing! I had given up my friends, thrown over my social position, quit cheerleading. I could barely cope. And then to learn that a girl, my supposed stepsister, was in love with me? It was too much."

Sam nodded, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. She understood, she really did.

"But I knew you were there for me, and you helped me through those changes. Your friendship is the reason I didn't succumb to the pressure and go right back to the popular table, and Nicole and Mary Cherry, and Josh. You were the reason I broke free of the Glamazons and found something I wanted to do for myself." Brooke looked out at the waves breaking on the sand. The sun would start setting soon. "I'm such a better person because of you. I hope you'll be my friend for a long, long time."

Sam nodded again. She'd find a way to remain friends if that's all Brooke was offering.

"And I hope," Brooke hesitated, her earlier confidence faltering, "I hope that you'll help me work through some other things I feel for you."

Sam closed her eyes, hearing it, but not sure what to make of it. She was too spent to try to figure out what those other things might be. She would wait for Brooke to tell her.

Brooke gazed at Sam's neutral closed expression, troubled that her declaration hadn't been met with more enthusiasm, or any enthusiasm. Was she not clear enough? She finally gave in to the desire to touch Sam and scooched over on the blanket and wrapped both of her arms around Sam's arm. "'Can I shift your wise, skeptical heart enough to see me?'" Brooke quoted that first, cherished letter from memory. "This girl who is in love with you too?"

Sam opened her eyes and leaned away from Brooke. "Please, please don't say that unless you really, truly mean it. I think I'd die if you're pitying me, or just experimenting."

Brooke refused to give up her hold on Sam's arm, but she gazed back at her and tried to convince her of her sincerity. "Neither love me for thine own dear pity's wiping my cheek dry - "

Sam nodded at the familiar words, supplying, "But love me for love's sake, that evermore – "

"'Thou may'st love on, through love's eternity.'" Brooke joined in, smiling with slightly watery eyes.

"I love that one." Sam finally allowed herself to relax into Brooke's side. She had scarcely allowed herself to believe that she would ever hear Brooke say this, and she didn't know how to respond yet. Brooke's nearness felt wonderful; that she could start enjoying right away.

Brooke felt the change in Sam and embraced her more intimately. "Me too. You made a poetry lover out of me. I can't believe I ever thought it could be Josh – and to think I was going to let him back in the sack, when it was you seducing me all along!"

"Brooke," Sam protested, nudging her with her shoulder. "'Seduce' isn't exactly right. My intentions were entirely pure, and I meant every single word."

"What about that letter when your intentions were decidedly impure? Did you mean every single word then?" Brooke asked playfully.

"Yes," Sam stated with conviction, then added, "Although a lot of that was my imagination. I'm not the most experienced girl in the world."

"We really don't have to worry about that yet," Brooke reassured her.

"But we will worry about it at some point, right?" Sam didn't think she could manage her pure and chaste love for much longer if she was regularly going to be this close to Brooke.

"Let's take our time. We're not in a rush, are we?" Brooke smoothed her hand down Sam's sleeve, and laced their fingers together. "It's another big change for me."

Sam realized that she had had much more time to get used to the idea of loving a girl. If she loved Brooke like she said she did, she had to prepare for the possibility that Brooke might have reservations about getting physical. "It's okay. It's not important," she said lightly.

"Yes it is," Brooke said immediately, much to Sam's relief. "But I need some time to wrap my head around this whole thing. I hope you understand."

Sam nodded. "Of course. Please don't worry."

"I won't," Brooke smiled. Sam's reassurances meant a lot to Brooke. Now that Brooke had gathered her courage and made this irrevocable change to their relationship, a change she wanted and welcomed, she was feeling unaccountably skittish. Having read the entire record of Sam's expectations over the past months, Brooke was aware that it was a lot to live up to. But it felt important to make some assurances of her own. "I do love you, Sam. Every time I read your letters it became harder and harder to stay away from you. And when we were together, I found I enjoyed being close to you, even if I couldn't understand how I could want you physically."

Sam could look at Brooke and listen to her talk like this all day. She tentatively lifted a hand to Brooke's cheek, gratified beyond sense when Brooke leaned into her touch.

Brooke grasped Sam's hand, answering her gaze with a clarity that startled her. "But I know enough already to tell you that I'm a girl who's in love with another girl, and I think I can love her in all the ways that entails."

Nearly giddy from Brooke's heartfelt words, Sam couldn't suppress a huge smile. "How would you love me? Let me count the ways."

"Count away, poetry girl," Brooke chuckled, leaning heavily into Sam's side.

Sam tapped her chin, pretending to think. Then, "In a romantic way?"

"Oh yeah," Brooke nodded emphatically.

"In a friendship way?"

"Yes, certainly in a friendship way," Brooke agreed.

"In a platonic way?"

Brooke frowned. "Sure. Platonic's okay."

"In a mother and child way?"

"Ew. No, that's gross," Brooke frowned even further.

"Just checking." Sam laughed, the fizz of happiness making it heartier than her lame joke perhaps warranted. "Well, I'm all out of ways."

"You can't think of any other ways to love me?" Brooke pushed Sam down on the blanket and straddled her, her hands on either side of Sam's head. "Are you sure?"

"Nothing comes to mind," Sam said slyly, but her breath caught in her throat as she realized how close she was to kissing Brooke.

Brooke's voice went down an octave. "What about a hot, steamy, sexy way? Hmm? Ever think of that?"

Sam had to answer honestly. "Only every minute of every day," she rasped. It was confusing. She thought Brooke wanted to take things slow. Now here they were, so intimately arranged that Sam could feel Brooke's hot breath on her neck. Her body thrummed with muscle memory. "We've sort of been in this position before."

'I know. Racquetball," Brooke said. She studied Sam's face, looking everywhere but her eyes.

"I really wanted to kiss you," Sam confessed.

Brooke nodded. "I wanted it too, and it completely freaked me out."

Sam could see indecision in her expression. She unconsciously licked her lips and waited. Brooke caught the movement and stared, transfixed, at Sam's mouth. After a moment, she glanced quickly into Sam's eyes and removed herself from on top of Sam, resuming her earlier position.

"Oh hey, look," Brooke said. "The sunset started without us." She chickened out. That had been the moment and Brooke had let it pass. Brooke wanted to kiss Sam. Expectations or not, Brooke was drawn to Sam in a powerful, passionate way. And it would mean so much to Sam for Brooke to initiate their first kiss, she knew, and she wanted to kiss her. Sam's lips looked so warm and inviting, just waiting for Brooke to press her own against them. So what was the problem?

Sam sat up and was relieved when Brooke snuggled up against her. The reason for Brooke's hesitance would make itself known sooner or later. She could wait. Sam turned to watch the sunset. They sat that way, witnessing the day's end, until the sun dropped behind the horizon.

"Gulp," Sam said, as last speck of sun disappeared. Brooke looked her way and she smiled.
"That's what you say when the sun gets swallowed by the ocean. Everybody knows that."

"I didn't know that." Brooke was preoccupied with enjoying the view that was the pinks and oranges of reflected sunset afterglow against Sam's face. And those gorgeous lips. She didn't want to wait any longer to start fulfilling Sam's expectations. Sam had waited long enough, and so had she. Brooke was ready now; she was creating a new moment. In a few seconds she and Sam would share their first kiss. Her breathing suddenly became shallow. Now, how to initiate it? "You know, I think we forgot to do something," Brooke said, drawing away from Sam and sitting straighter on the blanket.

"Really?" Sam frowned, peering into the dusky sky. Her eyes were drawn towards the glistening lights of the Santa Monica Pier in the near distance. "Oh, right! We need to ride the Ferris wheel."

"What? Sam – " Brooke became flustered, watching as Sam practically pulled the blanket out from under her and collected their shoes. "Sam!"

"Come on, Brooke. I don't think there'll be much of a line around now." Sam beckoned as she jogged backwards in the sand with blanket and shoes flapping about in her arms.

Brooke trudged after Sam, her face a veritable thundercloud. "That wasn't what I had in mind!" she shouted. Sam had hijacked her moment.

"Really? What else are we supposed to be doing?" Sam called out, her figure retreating further and further from Brooke.

"If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you!" Brooke sulked.

After a huffy, silent trek up to the pier, Sam and Brooke were finally ensconced in their own little compartment with a view of the Pacific Ocean and greater Los Angeles. Sam felt her stomach drop as they swooped around, higher and higher.

"Happy?" Brooke sniped.

"Very," Sam met Brooke's scowl with a broad smile. "Isn't this a terrific setting for a first kiss?"

"It's better for that than for our first fight," Brooke said. "I was gearing up to let you have it."

"I know, but we can have our first fight later." Sam grinned as she scooted closer, taking Brooke's hand in hers. "We have unfinished business, I believe."

Any lingering displeasure on Brooke's face melted away as she laughed. Here was their moment after all. "We do. What are you going to do about it?" Brooke breathed, moving closer and putting her arms around Sam's neck.

Sam reached for Brooke's waist, not quite believing that she was allowed to do this. She hesitated, all traces of cockiness gone. Her eyes filled with tears.

Brooke pulled back a little. "Don't cry, Sammy," she put her hands on Sam's cheeks, wiping away her tears with her thumbs. "This is supposed to make you happy."

"I am," Sam said, choked with emotion. "I'm so happy. Kiss me."

Brooke kissed her. Against a backdrop of a swirling pink evening skyline, she pressed her lips confidently to Sam's. Sam tasted Brooke's smooth, soft moistness, parting her own lips as Brooke's caressed hers. Brooke's tongue asked questions of Sam's mouth, and Sam's answer was to let her in, reveling in Brooke's teasing and questing. Sam wanted Brooke to be closer, and closer still. Brooke wanted to enfold Sam completely, to draw her within.

When they separated, the Ferris wheel had stopped. They were at the top, overlooking a great expanse. Brooke couldn't stop moving her hands over Sam's arms and shoulders. Now that she could, she didn't plan to stop. She gazed at Sam and gestured vaguely behind her. "Our house is somewhere over there," she said, because that's what people did on Ferris wheels, but she never took her eyes off of Sam.

"Yeah, I know," Sam said, not looking anywhere but at Brooke. She went in for another quick kiss, because she knew the ride was ending. This was the place where she had first kissed Brooke twice.

"I'm sorry it took me so long, Sam," Brooke said.

"It doesn't matter. We got there in the end, didn't we?" Sam smiled.

Brooke, understanding, smiled back. She now thought Sam was a genius for leading them to the Ferris wheel. They had come aboard as two separate people, but they would step back onto the ground, together. "We did," she told Sam, putting her arm around her. "I am here, Mr. Rochester."

"Wait, I'm the ugly blind one with the crazy wife in the attic?"

"No," Brooke squeezed Sam's shoulder, "You're my kindred spirit."

"Oh." Sam smiled easily, leaning into Brooke's embrace as the last of the sunset faded from the sky. "Lucky for you, I knew that all along."

The End

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