DISCLAIMER: Characters of Popular are not mine. They belong to whomever. Title taken from Dar Williams' song of the same name.
SERIES: Third story in the 'An Ever Fixed Mark' series, following Here's Where I Stand and The Mercy of the Fallen.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
And So this is Christmas
By Green Quarter
Brooke gazed out the window as the plane made its final approach into Los Angeles airspace. The bottom half of the rectangular window displayed the twinkling lights and tangled snarl of freeways that made up the city at night. The upper half was a pitch black void, where the Pacific Ocean stretched out to the unseen horizon. Ambivalence clouded her usual delight at returning home for the holidays, this year she had wanted to spend Christmas in New York. Manhattan at Christmastime was magic, especially if you were happy and in love. And Brooke was in love. Deeply, inexorably, profoundly in love with the woman in the seat next to her, the woman whose head was resting on her shoulder, both arms wrapped around Brooke's own left arm, nearly unconscious in the depth of her slumber.
They had embarked upon a new and wondrous phase of their relationship, a relationship that had seen them transition over the years from enemies, to friends, to estranged acquaintances who happened to be members of the same family, back to friends, and finally, to this new place; this miraculous place where she was loved by Sam and loved her in return, with all that she was.
It was just a few months ago that Sam had come to New York, only supposed to be stopping briefly on her way to destinations far more exotic, and had awakened a passion in Brooke that amazed and sometimes frightened her with its endless depths. Sam had promised to end her worldly wanderings, but the idea that she wouldn't be able to give it up sometimes gave Brooke pause. Like today, when Brooke saw Sam hand over her passport, currently her only source of a picture ID, to the ticketing agent. The battered passport had been curled slightly, from so much time spent in a back pocket, and was twice the thickness of an average passport, from having pages added to accommodate all the colorful stamps that Brooke knew were inside. But she trusted in Sam's assurance that there was no place she would want to go if Brooke wasn't coming with her.
The flight attendant came over the public address and announced that all seatbelts should be fastened and all trays and seat backs should be in their upright position as they began their final descent, and a pinging noise followed this announcement.
Sam, like one of Pavlov's dogs, immediately woke up upon hearing the chime. She jerked away from Brooke and looked around, wholly discombobulated.
"Are we there yet?" she asked, her voice gravelly and her eyes dazed as she turned and looked at Brooke, like a coma patient waking after a decade's absence.
"Nearly," Brooke smiled.
"What's wrong?" Sam asked, her eyebrows scrunching in the most endearing way, Brooke thought. It was incredible that Sam could be down for the count one second, and instantly attuned to Brooke's mood the next.
"Nothing," Brooke replied. At Sam's disbelieving expression, she looked down at her lap. She was just being silly. "It's just that I wanted to show you the tree at Rockefeller Center, and go ice skating with you in Central Park," Brooke admitted. "We haven't walked down Fifth Avenue to see all the shop windows decorated for Christmas, or seen the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City."
Brooke couldn't read Sam's face. She looked both wistful and impatient at the same time.
"We're only going to be in Los Angeles for four days," Sam said, rationally. "We'll have time to do all of that when we get back." She rested her head against Brooke's shoulder once more. "Anyway, I can't ice skate for beans. I'd either look like Bambi, trying to stay upright on wobbly legs, or be careening around, arms flailing and out of control."
"Not with me there, you wouldn't," Brooke declared.
Brooke tilted her head, so that it rested on Sam's. They had lived their lives in a bubble of obliviousness for the past two months. If the country had gone to war in that time, neither Brooke nor Sam would have noticed. Their lives revolved around getting through their respective workdays in order to come back home and lose themselves in each other. Returning to Los Angeles to visit their family was a little bit too much reality for them to have to deal with, but the plane would inevitably land, and bring them to their destination and to Mike, who was picking them up tonight. They both independently realized that their world was going to have to expand to let a few more people in for the next few days.
As the plane landed, packed full of people visiting loved ones for the holidays, Brooke and Sam prepared themselves for a switch from the bitterly cold northeast to a sunny southern California climate, and all that went along with it. Brooke remembered two nights ago, when Sam had returned home unexpectedly from her shift at the restaurant, which had closed early due to inclement weather. She had looked so beautiful with snowflakes glistening in her hair as they melted in the drastic change in temperature from outdoors to the cozy warmth of their apartment. She had gotten Brooke out of bed and dragged her outside, and made her experience their first snowfall together. Of course, both of them had seen snow before; Sam had gone to school in Chicago and Brooke had lived in New York for years, but this was the first time that snow had fallen when they had been witnesses to it together.
They had wandered aimlessly through their West Village neighborhood for an hour or more that night, impervious to the cold, their footprints leaving a dual trail behind them, a temporary record of their journey. At one point they found themselves as far west as the island of Manhattan would allow, across the West Side Highway, standing on the promenade that overlooked the Hudson, and the dark outline of the buildings of Hoboken across the water. They stood in each other's arms watching through the swirling snowflakes as the last ferry of the night made its way across the churning whitecaps, and Brooke had been overcome by a feeling of euphoria so intense it was like a physical pain in her chest. The next day the snow had turned into the gray slush that made winter in Manhattan so miserable, but for a short time on a blustery Tuesday night, New York had been the most beautiful place on earth.
Sam leaned forward in her seat and looked past Brooke out the small porthole. The plane was now taxiing through the maze-like network of runways and slowly making its way to the terminal.
It had been quite awhile since she had been back to visit her family in Los Angeles, and while she agreed with Brooke that it would have been nice to spend Christmas by themselves in New York, her mother would throw a shit fit if she was in the States and didn't come home for the holidays.
She sat back and turned her body away from her seatmate sitting on the aisle and put her face against Brooke's neck, inhaling the light, flowery perfume Brooke preferred, that meshed so well with Brooke's own scent. In all the time that the lonely, exiled Sam had spent dreaming of Brooke, she had never considered how much her smell was a part of her. When she had been far from home, Sam had no trouble recalling the sight and sound of Brooke, and her overactive brain had done pretty well in imagining how Brooke's skin felt to the touch. She had even harbored a distant memory of how Brooke tasted, from a night long ago when her feelings for Brooke were first born. But she had somehow managed to overlook the way Brooke smelled, and being close to her now and breathing in was enough for her to know the difference between her dreams and her new and improved reality.
But Sam did have an issue or two to surmount. When they had been together about a week, Sam had woken up before dawn one morning and looked at Brooke while she slept, suddenly overcome with a seething anger towards her. She had immediately left the apartment and started walking, the destination not as important as the act of moving, and tried to figure out the source of her fury. After loving Brooke for so long, how could she possibly feel anger towards her? She had walked uptown, block after block, realizing that she was enraged with Brooke for taking so long to figure out what Sam herself had known for such a long time, and heartsick over the time they had wasted. The regret that overwhelmed her at that moment nearly stopped her in her tracks. She had been so dumbfounded when Brooke had confessed her feelings that she had pushed any contrary reaction to the side, but it had surfaced, and she had been very conflicted.
It had taken many more blocks for her to own up to the fact that it wasn't only Brooke's fault, and that she herself must take a fair portion of the blame. She remembered saying as much to Brooke the night she revealed the extent of her own feelings, and thought that it was something she had already dealt with. But then she started thinking how maybe if she had been around Brooke more, she could have shown her how she felt a lot earlier, ending her misery that much sooner. After dwelling on that just long enough to make herself nauseous, she realized that all of the second-guessing in the world would do no good for either of them. Sam knew she had to let this go if she didn't want it to poison what she could potentially have with Brooke now. She had been well into the Upper West Side when she was finally able to forgive herself and forgive Brooke, and her troubled heart had felt lighter. She found the nearest subway entrance and returned downtown, and had tried not to look back since that day. She was determined that she and Brooke were going to be happy for a long, long time.
"Will you carry my carry-on for me?" Brooke asked, looking down at her from under her eyelashes, a poor-pitiful-me expression on her face.
"Now why would I want to do that?" Sam returned, sitting up, amused by Brooke's blatant attempt to turn her into her own personal pack mule.
Brooke nudged her foot against the bag under the seat at her feet. "Because my camera bag is so heavy," she replied, woefully. "It would give you a chance to prove your love for me," she cajoled, a small grin on her face.
"I'm already proving my love for you as we speak, " Sam replied.
"Oh yeah? How do you figure? You don't appear to be writing me a sonnet, or cooking me a five-course meal at this particular moment in time," Brooke teased cheekily, as if those were the only ways Sam could prove her love.
"I'm sitting in the middle seat, Brooke," Sam said laconically. "If that's not love, I don't know what is. You must know by now that I'm strictly an aisle girl, but you wanted a window, so I graciously gave up my preference in deference to you."
Brooke was silenced in the face of this incontrovertible logic. "You are so selfless, Sam. What did I ever do to deserve you?" She asked, unable to hide the amusement in her eyes, grinning.
"I've asked that question myself many times," Sam deadpanned, returning the grin and laughing.
The fasten seatbelts light was finally turned off, accompanied by a chime, and Sam heard that sound so peculiar to air travel all over the world, the sound of a hundred seatbelts unfastening at once.
Sam's seatmate immediately got up and bolted for the exit, only to be stopped by the mass of bodies suddenly crowding the aisle. Sam shook her head. That strategy never works, she thought, looking at the impatient man in his thwarted attempt to deplane.
As they waited for the rows in front of them to empty out, Sam stood and removed their two bags from the overhead bin. She placed them side-by-side on the seat and stared steadily at Brooke, defying her not to take her bag. Brooke stared back, equally defiant, not making a move to take the bag. I can do this all day, McQueen, Sam thought determinedly.
But when it came time to move, Sam sighed, and shouldered both bags, rolling her eyes at Brooke's triumphant smile. "When we get to the baggage claim, you're on suitcase duty," she grumbled. Sam was appalled at the amount of luggage they had for their brief visit, but told herself that they needed some way to transport the presents, and this really didn't mean she was any less of a world traveler, just an overburdened one.
"Whatever you say, Sam," Brooke complacently agreed, as she easily lifted her camera bag and followed Sam off the plane.
Their hands found each other and their fingers entwined as the pair walked up the Jetway, and they stretched and tried to work out the kinks from sitting for so long. Then, just before reaching the doorway that led to the gate and Brooke's father waiting beyond, they unconsciously let go of each other's hand and separated, creating some distance between themselves. By a mutual unspoken agreement, they had turned back into stepsisters, masking the deeper connection that meant so much to both of them, and neither really knew why.
Jane ran to greet them as they wearily came through the front door, carrying their bags, Brooke insisting on lugging the suitcase by herself. Her mom practically cut off Sam's circulation; she was hugging her firstborn daughter so hard. And Sam felt the inevitable wave of guilt wash over her, as she did every time she returned home. It had been awhile since Brooke had been home too, so her welcome was only slightly less fierce. After the round of hugs and "how was your flights," Sam looked around and noticed something amiss.
"Where's Mac?" she asked.
"She's in bed, Sam," Jane replied, "it's almost midnight."
"She can't even come down just to say hello?"
"She has school tomorrow," Jane explained. "If she doesn't get enough sleep she'll be cranky all day, just like you used to get."
"I don't recall ever needing an excuse to be cranky," Sam remarked. "And she has school on Christmas Eve?"
"Half day," Mike supplied, as he started to move the bags out of the foyer and up the stairs.
"Oh, girls," Jane suddenly thought of something. "Wait until you see the new crafts studio. We put a day bed in there so you won't have to share the guest room. We know how you both like your privacy."
"Crafts studio?" Brooke repeated, slightly bewildered.
"Yes," Jane nodded, smiling at Brooke. "Remember when we moved Mac into your old room and put all of Sam's and your stuff in the nursery?" She waited for Brooke to nod. "Well we finally moved all of those boxes down to the basement and the nursery is now the crafts studio I have always wanted."
"You always wanted a crafts studio?" Sam asked skeptically. She had never had a problem with the renaming of her old room as the guest room, but a crafts studio? What was her mother playing at? She had obviously been gone longer than she realized.
"Yes," Jane threw Sam a slightly exasperated look. "I need a place to do my crafts. Well, we can talk about that later, come in and sit down." She led them into the living room, where the traditional two Christmas trees of the McQueen/McPherson household stood. The room had been transformed with boughs of evergreen on the mantel and red and green velvet bunting draped around the trees. Candles and Christmas music softly playing in the background completed the festive holiday tableau. The trees looked magnificent. Brooke had lately been won over by the advantages of a live tree, which smelled awesome, but she would never admit that to Sam, and besides, she still thought that the sleek modern tree she used to love looked great in her childhood home.
On the ride home from the airport, Brooke had sat in the backseat and listened as Sam and Mike made conversation. Sam had seemed to change before her eyes from her loving and affectionate girlfriend to the polite stranger who had walked back into her life several months ago. Mike asked Sam about where she planned to go next, what country was next on the list. Sam answered vaguely, but didn't come out and say she was planning on staying in New York either.
Then Mike had mentioned a cruise that he and Jane were thinking of taking, and started asking Sam questions about Italy and Greece. Although Sam had to be in the right mood, Brooke had still been able to extract many tales from Sam about her travels, but hadn't heard anything about her time in Greece. She had leaned forward to listen, but Sam kept things pretty dry with detailed descriptions of ruins and museums. Brooke had sat back and tuned them out, looking out the window and staring unseeingly at the industrial scenery that flanked the freeway. She hadn't known what to make of Sam's behavior, but decided to reserve judgment until she could talk to her.
Now she looked at Sam, who was sitting on the sofa listening to Jane's plans for reupholstering the chair in the master bedroom, a skill Brooke didn't know Jane possessed. She suddenly wished with all her heart that she and Sam were back in New York, doing something mundane like arguing over what to order from the Chinese takeout menu. But here they were, in a place that was supposed to be familiar but felt only strange, because Sam was strange here. Brooke didn't want to think about it as she felt fatigue wash over her, and she abruptly stood up.
"I'm really tired, guys. I'm going to bed," Brooke turned to Sam. "You can have the guest room, I'll sleep in the, uh, crafts studio."
"Okay," Sam watched her carefully.
"The beds are already made and you know where everything is, Brooke," Jane said.
"Thanks," Brooke replied. "The house looks wonderful, Jane, you did a great job decorating. Goodnight." Brooke bent to kiss her father, and then crossed the room to kiss Jane. She stood awkwardly in front of Sam. "Goodnight, Sam."
Sam bade her goodnight, and her eyes never left Brooke's retreating figure as she climbed the stairs. What was going on? Sam was having a minor freakout, returning home after so much time had passed, and Brooke had reverted to acting like they were back in high school, a friendly stepsister but nothing more. She made an effort to drag her faculties back to the conversation she was still having with her mother, acutely and guiltily aware of the pleasure her mother felt in her company. She was such a bad daughter. And she had started right in with the sarcasm not two minutes in the front door. Listening to her mother prattle on about hand-tied springs and cotton batting (whatever that was) and hard wearing fabrics for as long as she could, Sam finally had to interrupt her to plead exhaustion and say goodnight. She had to talk to Brooke.
Brooke had changed into her pajamas, Christmas-themed flannel ones with snowmen on ice skates printed all over them, and was almost ready for bed. She was just hanging up some of her clothes before turning out the light when there was a quiet knock and Sam entered. They stood and looked at each other in silence for a moment, and then both began speaking at once, then stopped. We're like a bad sitcom, Brooke thought ruefully.
"You first," Sam said, from her position near the door.
"What is happening?" Brooke asked beseechingly.
"I don't know," Sam confessed. "Everything is all weird, since we landed."
"Should we be telling them?" Brooke asked, a little fearfully.
Sam walked over to the day bed and sat down, Indian style. "I'm not ready for that," she said quietly.
"Me neither," Brooke immediately replied, feeling relieved. She joined Sam on the narrow bed.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, not looking at each other.
"I wanted to kiss you goodnight," Brooke said.
"I know. Same. What are we afraid of?" Sam asked.
Brooke realized that taking her cues from Sam was probably pretty stupid, because she had just figured out that Sam was no doubt reacting to whatever she was doing, as well.
"I'm not afraid. I want to tell the whole world that I love you," Brooke said forcefully. "But a part of me wants to keep you and all that we share to myself. Is that selfish?"
"God, no." Sam turned to Brooke and looked her in the eye. "I feel the same way. I just want to have us be this special, private thing that only we know about, at least for now. Would that be okay with you?"
"Of course," Brooke raised her hand and caressed Sam's cheek. "I thought we would at least have the guest room and be able to sleep together," she said, disappointed.
"Damn my mother and her new hobby that requires an entire room," Sam said with a smile. She looked around at the day bed, which she could now see had a trundle bed hidden beneath it as well, and the large high work table and stools set up across the room, and the open shelving with bins and cubbies filled with god knew what. "As far as I know, she's never been the glue gun type-"
Sam was silenced by Brooke's mouth, which effectively stopped the flow of words because it was now pressed against Sam's. All thoughts of whatever she was saying vanished and she focused all her concentration on the task at hand. She closed her eyes and returned the kiss with enthusiasm. There was very little sound in the room for the next few minutes, and things had quickly begun spiraling out of control as the pair broke away from each other, panting heavily.
"Maybe we should stop," Brooke raised her eyes to Sam's, "somebody might hear."
"Not yet," Sam said vehemently, then grabbed Brooke by her flannel lapels and pulled her down on top of her, so that somehow Brooke found herself nestled in the apex of Sam's thighs. Sam bent her legs at the knees and opened her thighs as wide as she could, and Brooke went up in flames. She slid upwards, so that her pubic bone was resting against Sam's, and she held herself above her, bracing herself against the bed with both hands planted on either side of Sam's head.
Brooke did a pushup down to Sam's face and kissed her, slowly grinding her pelvis into Sam's, and felt her gasp in her mouth. She raised herself up again so she could watch Sam's face as she began to rock against her, and felt Sam begin to meet her motions with thrusts of her own, her mouth slightly parted and her hooded black eyes staring back into her own. Brooke couldn't believe that she was so ready for Sam this quickly; these fast couplings drove her insane with want. She relished hearing the low moans that Sam had no control over emitting, glorying in her ability to bring Sam to this heedless state. But Sam was able to get her own back when her hands slid under Brooke's loose pajama top and stroked her skin upward from her abdomen, finding and roaming over Brooke's breasts, causing Brooke to bite her lip at the sensual ministrations.
All at once, Brooke stopped all her movements and looked towards the door. Sam continued to writhe beneath her, softly calling out, "Brooke."
Brooke lowered her body so that she was draped on top of Sam, their faces inches apart, and looked into her eyes. She put her finger to her lips, then placed her fingertips over Sam's mouth, silencing her. She again looked to the door and then Sam heard it as well. Jane and Mike were out in the hallway, murmuring to each other as they made their way to the master bedroom. Sam didn't care. She sucked Brooke's index finger into her mouth and bucked her hips upward, instantly regaining her attention.
But Brooke needed her arm to prop herself up, and since her finger was attached to her arm she reluctantly pulled her hand away from Sam's mouth and resumed her earlier position. She wriggled her pelvis back down against Sam, grinning when she heard Sam's forceful exhalation. Rotating her hips and beginning to thrust again with long even strokes, she shuddered when she found the sweet spot. The ridge created by the seam of Sam's jeans was in exactly the right place, and she became frenzied, and her rhythm increased until she was mindlessly pounding herself against Sam, as Sam met her with her own gyrating pelvis, her hands holding onto Brooke's waist in a near vise grip. Brooke raised herself on her fingertips, arching her back and throwing her head back as her orgasm hit, all her muscles tensing and then relaxing with release.
Her arms felt shaky and rubbery and she didn't know how long she could stay above Sam, who was desperately thrusting still, her butt cheeks flexing as she raised herself against Brooke. "Oh god, Brooke, please don't stop," she panted.
Brooke moved down the bed, quickly unzipping Sam's jeans, and then yanked them, along with her underwear, down to her knees. She knelt between Sam's legs and reverently lowered her face to her mound, her nose catching the scent that could only belong to Sam. There was no time to be leisurely; Brooke went directly to where she knew Sam needed her most. She nuzzled her lips against Sam's labia and found what she was looking for. Brooke took her clit between her lips and sucked, and ran her tongue over the hard button, feeling gratified when Sam's legs closed around her head as she ground herself into Brooke's face, and she felt her hands digging in her scalp, as Sam silently thrashed on the bed in the violent throes of her climax.
Brooke extricated herself from between Sam's legs and crawled up the bed to lie next to her, throwing a flannel-clad leg over her as Sam wrapped her in her arms and kissed her as she caught her breath, then licked the sticky moisture from Brooke's chin and cheeks. Brooke couldn't help grinning at the humor of their situation, and she broke into giggles, which got Sam going, until they were desperately shushing each other as they tried to control themselves.
"Is this what we're reduced to?" Sam asked, as their giddy laughter trailed away to affectionate and tender smiles as they stared into each other's eyes. "Dry humping like a couple of teenagers, praying they won't get caught by the 'rents?"
"Hey, consider yourself lucky," Brooke returned, sassily. "You made it all the way to third base with me."
"That was third base?" Sam asked, frowning. "I never knew what those all meant. Well, if I made it to third, then you hit a grand slam in the seventh game of the world series."
"Yes," Brooke preened. "I am that good."
"You won't hear me complaining, " Sam said, then looked at Brooke's pajamas. "I'm surprised all the snowmen haven't melted on your PJ's, with all the heat we were generating."
Brooke looked down at her decidedly unsexy and childlike pajamas, "Yeah, kinda dirty," she remarked, smirking.
"The only way this could be dirtier is if those pajamas had feet," Sam quipped.
Brooke giggled, snuggling closer to Sam.
Sam sighed. "It's late. I should go."
"Go where?" Brooke asked, raising her head to look at Sam.
"Across the hall, remember? Back to my old room."
"Oh yeah," Brooke said, glumly, "I forgot. I'll miss you," Brooke had gotten used to having Sam in her bed; it would be a long night without her.
Sam reluctantly got up to go, giving Brooke a long kiss for the road, that distant journey to the room across the hall.
"Brooke, I'm telling you, the flour does not have to be sifted."
"Yes it does."
"No," Sam insisted, "it doesn't."
"Look," Brooke picked up a dog-eared index card and shoved it in Sam's face. "Right here. 'Sift salt, baking powder and flour and add to mixture.'"
"That's for sugar cookies," Sam pointed out. "I'm making chocolate chip."
"You're what?" Brooke was confused. "I thought we were making sugar cookies."
"You are making sugar cookies," Sam explained patiently. "I am making chocolate chip cookies, and never the twain shall meet."
"Well get your own mixing bowl then," Brooke snatched the big blue ceramic bowl that was always used for cookie dough away from Sam. "This one is mine."
"Hey, that's my bowl. I was here first," Sam made a grab for the bowl but Brooke swung it out of her reach.
"I don't think this kitchen is big enough for the both of us, Sam," Brooke said threateningly, dipping into the bag of flour and flinging a handful at Sam.
Sam looked down at the diagonal white stripe now bisecting her black shirt, and grabbed the first thing handy from the countertop, which just happened to be an egg from a full carton.
Brooke had been snickering at Sam but then froze. "Oh no, you wouldn't dare," she said nervously.
"Oh, but I would," Sam replied, advancing on Brooke, smiling now that she had the upper hand.
"Wait, wait," Brooke now said, backing away with her hands raised in supplication. "Let's just be calm about this. There is no need to bring a poor defenseless egg into it. Think of the children."
"The children?" Sam repeated, nonplussed, the egg poised for throwing in her hand. The hell?
"Hey, what's going on in here?" Jane had entered the kitchen and stood in the doorway, hands on hips. "Honestly, girls, doesn't this antagonistic shtick ever get old?"
Jane had obviously missed the playful tone their bickering held. They had been on the verge of cracking up the whole time, and Sam nearly had with that 'think of the children' remark.
Jane turned to Sam. "Sam, put that egg down. The last thing I need is to be cleaning up after a food fight the day before Christmas."
"Yeah, Sam" Brooke mocked. "Put down the egg and step away from the hand mixer. Just leave the baking to the professionals."
To Brooke's surprise, Sam immediately relented, placing the egg gently back in the carton.
"Fine. I see I'm not needed here, I'll just be de-flouring my shirt," she smirked, and left the kitchen in the direction of the laundry room.
Well, that's no fun, Brooke thought, as she watched Sam leave the room. She turned to Jane, who had been speaking.
"So I'll be back to help after I pick up Mac," Jane finished as she collected her purse.
"Could you pick up some more sugar and butter? I think we're going to need it if we're making chocolate chip cookies too."
Waiting until Jane left, Brooke then went to find Sam, and found her, as expected, in the laundry room. Sam had removed her shirt and had laid it on the dryer, wiping at the flour with a sponge, creating a pasty glutinous mess. Brooke knew Sam was aware of her presence, but she didn't look up, only continued working on her shirt as she stood there in her bra and jeans.
"I'm here to de-flour you," Brooke announced with a smile, aware of the double entendre, dragging her fingers across Sam's bare back as she walked past Sam and hoisted herself onto the washing machine, sitting on top as the machine chugged away with a load of whites inside.
"That train has sailed, Brooke, that ship has left the station," she looked up at Brooke and tried to hide her grin but failed miserably. Then she cocked her head to the side, and looked unseeingly at the row of laundry detergents on the shelf, thinking of the boy who had that privilege. "Actually, I wish it had been you, all those years ago on a windy fall afternoon."
Brooke felt a little bit of wistfulness at this, too. "Well, I'm here now," she said, smiling seductively at Sam, and pulling her over by the arm so Sam stood in front of her. Brooke pulled Sam in by the shoulders, slouching down and angling her face as she went in for a kiss. Sam rested her forearms on Brooke's thighs and returned the kiss, leaning into the V made by Brooke's parted legs.
They separated, a little breathlessly, and looked at each other.
"Jane went to pick up Mac and get some more baking supplies," Brooke reported. "Why don't we make both kinds of cookies together?"
"You sure you professionals don't mind working with an amateur?" Sam grinned.
"How else are you going to learn, sweetie?" Brooke returned in a butter-wouldn't-melt voice, cupping Sam's face in her hands.
The washing machine suddenly stopped, then lurched into the next phase of its cycle.
"Ooh, spin cycle, my favorite of all the cycles," Brooke purred, as the machine began to vibrate beneath her. She couldn't help squirming at the warm pulsating action of the rotating agitator. "That feels nice," she sighed, "C'mere, you," she drew Sam against her, unhooking her bra and rubbing her hands up and down her back.
Brooke marveled at the change that had come over her in the short time that she and Sam had been together. Sex had always been a sometimes-pleasant activity to be enjoyed when it was convenient and fit into her busy schedule. Now, with Sam, she needed it, she craved it, she would drop anything and everything just to be able to touch her. All Sam had to do was look at her and Brooke was instantly ready. She had never been this horny, not even when she was a teenager. She reveled in her lust for Sam, it made her feel alive, she thought she could feel her blood racing away from her brain to all her erogenous zones, hell, her whole body became an erogenous zone when she was around Sam.
"Who knew the Maytag EnergySaver was the world's largest sex toy, as well as being an industry leader in stain removal and dependability?" Sam wondered as her hands crept beneath Brooke's sweater, unhooking the front clasp of her bra as well.
"Shut up, Sam," Brooke scooted up so that she was closer to Sam, bending to lay a series of kisses on her throat, moving her hands to Sam's front, letting them wander aimlessly over her skin.
"This would sure make doing laundry at home more fun, but I don't think they'd go for it in the Laundromat," Sam said conversationally, then gasped as Brooke licked a particularly sensitive spot on her neck.
"Why are you still talking?" Brooke demanded. "Less talking, more doing,"
"I love it when you get all bossy," Sam laughed, obediently pushing Brooke's sweater up and attacking her right nipple with her lips and tongue, while cupping the left one and rubbing it with her thumb in case it felt lonely. Brooke sat very straight and drew in a breath at Sam's touch.
They heard a door slam. Eyes widening in shock, the pair drew away from each other. They hadn't heard the car because of the sound of the washing machine.
"Oh fuck," Sam breathed.
"No," Brooke replied regretfully, "not right now, it seems." If they were found out, she thought philosophically, then so be it.
Sam re-attached the clasp of Brooke's bra and pulled her sweater down, running her hands through Brooke's hair as she slid off the washing machine. "You look fine; no one would suspect you were getting pervy with me and the washing machine five seconds ago." She turned Brooke toward the door and said, "Go, I'll be there in a minute." She picked up the sponge again.
"I may look fine, but I don't feel fine," Brooke muttered, then smiled ruefully at their predicament. She opened the door and looked out, "They're not even in the kitchen yet," she said as she closed the door behind her.
Sam looked from the sponge to her shirt and realized it was a lost cause. The shirt needed to be thrown in the sex toy, but she couldn't walk out in just her bra, and while she remembered that there were usually a few articles of clothing left lying around the laundry room, today there were none to be seen, except for one blue sock sitting on the windowsill.
She put on the damp, dirty shirt and buttoned it up, resolving to go up and change right away. Upon entering the kitchen, she saw her little sister smiling up into Brooke's face as Brooke examined what looked like an art project. Mac had grown so much in the time Sam had been away, she couldn't get over it. Not only had she sprouted several inches, but her whole body looked different, her legs and arms looked longer, and she had lost most traces of baby fat that Sam remembered from over a year ago. And she was going to be blessed with the good looks of the McQueen genes, Sam noted, observing the hair that was blonder than she remembered and the facial structure that was so similar to Brooke and Mike's.
"Hiya Mac," Sam exclaimed, sounding louder and more jovial than she had intended. Who am I, her Uncle Morty, Sam thought, cursing her sudden nervousness. Why am I nervous?
Mac turned to her and studied her, her smile falling away and her eyebrows drawing together. "Your shirt is dirty," she blurted out.
"Mac," Jane scolded.
Sam reddened. "Yeah, I had a little accident," she shot Brooke a look. "If I promise not to get you dirty, can I get a hug?"
Mac walked into Sam's arms, and Sam ridiculously thought she might cry. "Wow," she laughed, trying to cover up her emotion, "you've gotten so big, it's been, what, a year since we've seen each other?" She looked up and saw Brooke and Jane watching her and Mac, but couldn't tell what either of them was thinking.
"A year and a half," Mac corrected, as she stepped away from Sam. "Fourth of July, when I was eight."
"Right," Sam said faintly, remembering the three-day layover she had been unable to avoid when she had been en route from Anchorage to Mexico City. They had gone to the beach to watch the fireworks.
"Mac, show Sam your picture," Brooke suggested.
Mac thrust her artwork towards Sam and stood silently, waiting for the verdict.
Sam cleared her throat. "This is great, Mac." It was a portrait of Rudolph and Santa on a blue construction paper background, using more multicolored construction paper cutouts for the bodies, cotton balls for Santa's beard and suit, buttons for eyes, pipe cleaners for Rudolph's antlers, and a red gumdrop for his nose. "Good use of mixed media," she added.
If Mac's blank stare was anything to go by, she had no idea what Sam was talking about.
"I really like it," Sam finished, lamely. She had known that it would take Mac a little time to get used to her, but she hadn't thought it would be this hard; it was like Mac thought she was a stranger.
Jane took the picture from her and stuck it on the refrigerator with a magnet; Sam watched it slide down a few inches from its weight.
"Okay," Jane said, clapping her hands together once, "time for cookies."
And so the women of the McQueen/McPherson clan baked cookies all afternoon, chocolate chip and sugar cookies, in relative harmony. Jane was just happy to have all her girls around her, and Mac had begun to warm up a little towards Sam, giggling when she watched Sam absently put three eggs on the table and not notice when two of them promptly rolled off and fell to the floor with a splat that sounded in stereo. Sam and Brooke put their differences behind them, deciding that all flour should be sifted, whether it needed it or not. Brooke didn't think anyone noticed when she held out a fingerful of cookie dough to Sam, who spent longer than strictly necessary licking it off, revving up her nerves back to the state they had been in just before Mac and Jane came home.
When Jane sent Mac down to the basement to retrieve the cookie cutters, Sam thought to ask whether the girl still believed in Santa Claus. Jane believed that Mac was on the fence; Mac wanted to believe but her common sense was overruling her. Sam nodded, remembering she had been the same way, wanting desperately to believe in the fairy tale, but unable to deny the empirical evidence to the contrary.
They had just finished putting the cooled cookies away into festive tins when Mike arrived home with the traditional Christmas Eve pizza. Ever since Sam had been a little girl, she and her parents had eaten pizza on Christmas Eve, and the tradition had been adopted by the McQueens on the very first Christmas they had spent as a new family.
When Mike reached for the last slice of pizza, Mac stopped him with a fervent, "No!"
"Oops, sorry, Mac. I forgot." Mike put the slice back.
Santa always got the last slice of pizza, along with a carrot for Rudolph; it had been this way since time immemorial.
Jane got up to retrieve a carrot from the vegetable keeper and put it on a plate along with the slice, and poured a glass of milk. "Here Mac, go put these by the fireplace."
"Let's hope Santa's not lactose intolerant," Sam cracked, as Mac left the room.
"How do you think Santa makes it down the chimney, being that he's such a portly gentleman?" Brooke asked as Mac returned.
"Maybe he sends down one of his skinnier elves and just shouts down instructions from the roof," Sam guessed.
"Or maybe, he sneaks in with the Thanksgiving guests and hides in the laundry hamper until December 24," Mike suggested, grinning.
"What do you think, Mac?" Brooke asked.
"I don't know," Mac admitted. "He's magic. Or he's stretchy. One or the other." She shrugged.
After some heated debate, the family came to the conclusion that Santa Claus was probably both magic and stretchy, admirably settling the matter for this year, anyway.
Long after Mac had been sent to bed, and the remaining four members of the family retrieved gaily wrapped boxes that had been secreted all over the house, and Mike had carried in the new bicycle they had bought for their youngest daughter, Sam sat on the sofa, contemplating the booty that awaited Mac and the rest of the family. Her younger, more obnoxious self would have condemned it for crass, commercialistic, holiday overspending, but now she just thought it was nice that her mother and Mike could do this for Mac, plus, she noticed some of the tags on those gifts had her name on them.
Brooke appeared next to her and sat down, having just done her part by taking a few bites from Santa's cold slice of pizza, and drinking some of Santa's milk. She handed Sam the carrot and said, "Do your thing, Rudolph."
Sam broke the carrot at about the three-quarter mark and took a bite from the smaller end, examining it to see if it looked like she had made authentic reindeer bite marks in it. Being that she had never seen reindeer teeth, and didn't think Mac had either, she thought it would be good enough, then she put the rest of the carrot in her pocket.
"Hey, you want to take a walk?" she asked Brooke.
"What, now?" Brooke was surprised.
"I'm not tired, are you? Maybe we'll see Santa," Sam coaxed.
Brooke thought about it, weighing her desire to stay indoors with her need to spend a little alone time with Sam. "Let me put some shoes on," she got up and went upstairs.
While Sam waited, she picked up the remote and flicked through the channels, settling on a cable station that was broadcasting the movie Grease.
Brooke returned and started putting on her sneakers. "Is this Grease?"
"Yeah," Sam replied, "it was either this or the Yule Log, but somebody told me how that ended and it just ruined it for me," she smirked.
"Lame," Brooke shook her head. The two of them watched for a moment as Sandy and Danny cavorted in the Shake Shack at the Senior Carnival, singing about chills multiplying. "How can she dance in those heels?" Brooke wondered. "Who do you like better? Slutty Sandy or Virginal Sandy?" she asked, taking in the bad perm and uncomfortable looking costume.
"Virginal Sandy," Sam answered promptly.
"Really? I thought everybody loved the redemptive power of a big slutty makeover," Brooke commented.
"Well let's see," Sam said, and began to tick off on her fingers. "Virginal Sandy is sweet and nice, beautiful in that freshly scrubbed way, sociable enough to make friends on the first day of school, and a cheerleader. Remind you of anyone we used to know? It's no wonder she gives me the moisties."
Brooke looked at Sam and smiled.
"And don't you dare go comparing me to Rizzo," Sam warned, as she turned off the TV.
"I would never," Brooke giggled, walking with Sam to the front door.
"It might be a little chilly outside," Sam opened the closet and gave Brooke a fisherman's sweater that belonged to her father, and she took her mother's fleece jacket. "Come on, don we now our gay apparel."
Brooke snorted. "How long have you been waiting to use that one?"
"A while," Sam grinned. "I figured an opportunity would present itself eventually."
They left the house and began walking down the wide sidewalk, not speaking as they made their way through the hushed neighborhood. Sam deposited the remains of the carrot in a neighbor's trash can, knowing that preserving the fantasy for Mac was all about the details. If Mac was teetering on the edge of disbelief, Sam didn't want to be the one responsible for pushing her over.
They began to rate the Christmas decorations of each of the houses as they passed them. Brooke liked the more tastefully decorated houses, of course, and Sam thought the more garish the better. They came upon a house that was festooned with more colored lights than either of them had ever seen in one place. The house itself was a Greek revival, and resembled nothing so much as a modern Acropolis, with massive columns supporting a decorative pediment, and two fountains, each with a statuesque maiden, in the front yard.
"Wow," Sam remarked. "There are simply no words."
"You know about Greek architecture," Brooke encouraged, recalling Sam's conversation with her father in the car, "tell me about this house."
"The columns," Sam began in a self-important scholarly voice, "are of the Ionic order, the use of an architrave and a cornice are common to this period, and although it is difficult to say with any certainty, the frieze looks to be decorated with an ancient proverb that loosely translates to 'Look, I bought this Greek shit at Home Depot, isn't it neat?'"
Brooke laughed. "Tell me more about Greece, the country, not the movie," she said as they continued walking, "I haven't heard anything about when you were there, yet."
"Not much to tell," Sam said a little guardedly. "I floated around for a little while before settling on an island and finding a job in a café for a few months."
The truth was that Sam didn't really want to tell Brooke about her time in Greece. She had spent a few days each in Athens and Crete, making a cursory inspection of the more famous ruins, before going directly to the island of Lesbos, birthplace of Sappho and presumed mecca to girls like her. Wanting to see it, but not really knowing what she was looking for, Sam had found herself in a sleepy beachside town called Skala Eressos right before the hordes of European lesbians descended for their summer holidays. She had lucked into a job at a café called the Tenth Muse, a popular place right in the main square, and had proceeded to discover the not so redemptive power of her own slutty transformation.
As chartered flights began delivering the gay women of Britain, Germany and Italy to the tiny island town, Sam the daytime server and nighttime bartender found herself much in demand with the ladies. She embraced her newfound popularity and left a trail of broken hearts all over the island, indulging in meaningless boozy sex with girls from all over. For a while she had enjoyed being the object of so much attention, and had been able to attract nearly any woman with her sultry smile as she poured another shot of Ouzo or glass of Retsina, flexing her player muscle with pleasure. The town was a relatively small place, and she had quickly earned the reputation of being the Lothario of Lesbos.
But adding notches to her bedpost hadn't made her any happier; in fact, she started to detest herself for the empty encounters that had become commonplace, and she began drinking more than she ever had before. By the end of the summer she had saved up quite a pile of drachmas, but what she gained financially she had lost in self-respect. She decided to go to a place that was the direct opposite of the hedonistic beach town, and chose the mountains of Nepal as her next destination. It had all been a long time ago and was either something she needed to get out of her system or a way to distract herself from her problems, to this day she still wasn't sure which. She had been lucky to leave the country without an STD or a stalker.
Describing the details of this low-point in her life to Brooke was something Sam did not want to do, and hoped that her evasive non-answer would be enough to satisfy her. She sometimes felt that embarking on this new and fragile relationship with Brooke was like running in a footrace with a pot of water held in her outstretched hands, the goal being to cross the finish line without having spilled a drop. Rightly or wrongly, Sam was inclined to believe that disclosing some of the darker escapades of her past to Brooke would be akin to tripping over a root and spilling the contents of the pot onto the dusty ground. She would eventually tell Brooke everything, and hold nothing back, but in these early days she wanted to tread delicately, until she was surer of her footing.
Brooke could easily see that Sam was being deliberately vague about the particulars of her stay in Greece. When Brooke was able to get Sam talking, her anecdotes were as finely limned and detailed as a glass etching, so Brooke didn't know whom Sam thought she was fooling. Although she was burning to know every last minor detail of Sam's life, there had to be a reason why she was being evasive, and Brooke decided not to push.
She thought of herself as a geologist, uncovering the minutiae of Sam's past as if she was examining an outcropping of sedimentary rock. There was the known information from their shared time together as teenagers, like sandstone jutting from the earth in plain view, but there were also the layers that hid beneath the ground, compressed deposits of experience, heavily scored with cross-bedding and striations, that she would have no knowledge of unless she dug deeper. But as a geologist is patient to discover what the ravages of time will reveal, so was Brooke patient enough to give Sam the time she needed to feel comfortable in divulging the secrets of her past. There was no rush. She changed the subject.
"Remember those Christmas parties we used to throw in high school?" she asked.
"Yeah," Sam replied, smiling. "How about that one year when Emory and the Tuna twins came?"
"Jane was so freaked out by April Tuna," Brooke laughed. "April followed her around and wouldn't stop asking her questions about the house, getting right up in her face each time."
"April was a close talker."
"Yes she was," Brooke agreed.
"Wonder what she's up to now?" Sam mused.
"Hey Sam," Brooke interrupted. "What time is it?"
"It's," Sam looked at her watch, "half past twelve. Why?"
Brooke stopped Sam and moved closer, encircling Sam's waist with both arms. "Merry Christmas." She leaned in and kissed her.
After they parted, Sam reached up and held Brooke's face in her hands, thinking that this was the one thing she wanted this year, and every year. "Merry Christmas."
They returned hand in hand, in a comfortable, contemplative silence.
When they arrived back home, they quietly got ready for bed, brushing their teeth side by side in the bathroom that had seen so many arguments in its day. Sam followed Brooke down the hall and got a little confused when she saw her enter the guest room. She stood there for a second and then followed her in. Brooke was turning down the bed.
"I'd invite you to my room, but your bed is bigger," Brooke said. "Just for a little while, I don't want to say goodnight yet."
"Whatever you want," Sam returned, she didn't want to say goodnight either. She got in bed, and Brooke snuggled in close. "You know if you fall asleep you'll have to get up at the crack of ass to get back in your room before Mac wakes up," she informed Brooke.
"I won't fall asleep. I'm only staying fifteen minutes, twenty tops."
"Famous last words."
Sam woke to the sound of a door slamming. Then from out in the hall she heard:
Brooke sat up straight in bed next to her, "I'm up!"
"Brooke?" Sam heard it again, less certain this time.
Sam heard another door slam, and Brooke was up and out of the bed like a shot. She stood there like the proverbial deer in the headlights, from zero to fully awake in 2.2 seconds.
Sam rolled on her side, and propped her head up with her hand, looking toward the door, waiting for the show to start.
Mac burst into the room. "Sam! Get up! Where's Oh. Brooke. What are you doing in here?"
"Merry Christmas, Mac," Sam said, to buy Brooke some time.
"Merry Christmas," Mac smiled at Sam.
"I was just borrowing Sam's toothbrush, Mac," Brooke started.
"Her toothbrush?" Mac interrupted, disgusted.
"No, no, I mean her hairbrush," Brooke slapped her forehead, "her hairbrush. 'Cause I forgot mine."
"Oh. Well hurry up! You know the rules. I can't go downstairs until everyone is ready," Mac urged, then ran from the room, calling, "Mom! Dad! Get up!"
Sam began to laugh. "You're so good under pressure, Brooke."
"Not another word," Brooke said threateningly. "I'm just no good at deception."
"It's a good thing she didn't notice your bed wasn't slept in," Sam commented.
Brooke's eyes widened. "Seeya," she said, and left the room, presumably to go mess up her bed.
Sam got up and went downstairs to put the coffee on. She returned to the bottom of the stairwell, and looked up at Mac sitting forlornly on the top step, waiting for everyone to get out of bed. "I don't know, Mac, I don't see any presents and the stockings are all empty," she teased. "Were you on the naughty list this year?"
"You're lying," Mac said calmly.
"Come look for yourself," she watched the internal debate rage on Mac's face. "I'll cover for you."
Mac looked back towards her parents room, then cautiously started coming down the steps. When she was about three from the bottom, Sam said, "Uh oh, I think I hear Mike."
Mac scampered back up the steps, but it was only Brooke, with her camera slung around her neck. She sat down next to Mac and yawned.
Sam went up the stairs and said, "I just need to clean up a little. "Brooke, where is my hairbrush?" Sam smirked at Brooke as she passed her on the stairs.
"Right where you left it, Sammy," Brooke said, grinning in spite of herself.
"Hurry up, Sam! God!" Mac had reached her limit, and it wasn't even 8AM.
Sam stood in the bathroom brushing her hair. It had been a long, long day, but one of the nicest Christmases she could remember, just a quiet day with the family. Certainly it had been better than her Christmas last year, spent working the front desk at a youth hostel in Switzerland. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and couldn't help smirking as she appraised the new pajamas Brooke had given her that day, matching flannel ones with snowmen on ice skates, except with a red background to Brooke's blue. Flannel PJ's weren't really her thing, as Brooke knew, but the private smile Brooke had given her when she opened them told her that she too was thinking of the kinky antics they could get up to while both wearing them.
Mac had been blown over by the sheer volume of gifts in the living room, and loved the new bike. Still, it had only taken a short time for her to tear through all her presents, and then sit quietly engrossed with her new Barbie styling head, a gift from Brooke, while the rest of the family unhurriedly opened their gifts.
After a late breakfast, Sam and Mac had gone out to give Mac's new bike a whirl. As Mac made a few test figure eights in the driveway, Sam went into the garage on a whim, and was glad to see her old bike still there, collecting dust behind some patio furniture. With a little grease on the chain and some air in the tires, she was off riding with Mac around the development in no time. She tried to teach Mac how to pop a wheelie off the curb, like she and Harrison had done when they were about Mac's age, proudly watching as Mac caught good air on her third try. They leisurely rode around, Sam listening as Mac guided her around the neighborhood, excitedly giving her the inside scoop on where all her friends lived, and who were the scary neighbors, and who gave good candy on Halloween. She learned that the people who lived in the Greek monstrosity gave apples. Sam could've guessed as much.
They returned home to find Jane and Brooke busy in the kitchen, and Sam pitched in, she was good at following orders, if nothing else. Brooke had paid careful attention to how Jane made the gravy for the roast; she wanted to improve her cooking skills after last month's disastrous Thanksgiving. The two of them had bungled their way through the preparation of that meal, and had only needed to call her mother about forty times throughout the day, Sam remembered. Most of the blunders had been her fault. How was she supposed to know that there was a plastic bag of gross internal organs inside the turkey? They had finally just cut their losses, and Brooke had been appalled that their first Thanksgiving meal as a couple had included eggrolls and mu shoo pork, and had resolved to really learn how to cook. Like, real things, more than just cookies.
Sam thought Brooke's concentration at the stove was too cute. She had had to stop with the accidentally on purpose brushing up against Brooke, though. And she suspected that maybe her hand had rested a little too long on Brooke's hip as Brooke blew on a spoonful of gravy for her to try. They were getting sloppy. At one point during the day, Mike had walked into the living room when Brooke had been sitting practically on top of Sam, feeding her a chocolate kiss. Luckily, he had been on the phone with an emergency from work and hadn't noticed them, even when they sprang apart like two demented idiots.
At dinner, Sam had seen her mother observing her after she had gathered up the cherry tomatoes in her salad and put them in Brooke's bowl. Brooke hadn't even noticed and just continued the conversation she was having with her father. Sam just knew Brooke liked them better than she did, was there anything wrong with that?
Sam didn't know why they were putting themselves through this. Maybe they should just start acting like a couple and let Mike and her mother draw their own conclusions. Sam was aware that she and Brooke excelled at the obnoxious lovey-dovey behavior of couples in the first flush of courtship; it would take no time at all for Jane and Mike to pick up the clue phone. But the thought of her mother knowing about her and Brooke freaked her out a little bit, and she needed some time to figure out why. They were leaving tomorrow. They just had to make it a little while longer and they would be back in New York, free again to show their love openly.
Sam turned out the bathroom light and headed for Brooke's room to say goodnight before retiring to her cold, lonely, cobwebby bed in the guest room. She sighed. One thing was for sure: being with Brooke had certainly improved her flair for the dramatic. She knocked and poked her head around the door, and saw that Brooke had company. Someone had pulled out the trundle bed beneath the day bed, identical to the other one except it was on casters and rested only inches from the floor. Mac was sitting on it, deeply involved with telling Brooke a story, but she turned to Sam when she saw her.
"Sam, we're going to have a sleepover, you want to come?" she asked eagerly.
"I'd love to, Mac, but it looks like both beds are already taken," Sam replied, smiling, thinking Brooke would suggest that they share, but to her surprise, Brooke stayed quiet, looking at Mac.
"You can sleep with me in my bed," Mac said shyly, "if you want to."
And at that moment, more than sharing a bed with Brooke, Sam wanted to grab Mac and hug the life out of her, but she settled for a tickle-fest instead, leaping onto the low bed and mercilessly locating all of Mac's sensitive spots as the little girl gasped and giggled uncontrollably.
The three of them spent the next hour chatting, mostly about Mac's school, her friends, and her teacher. Sam felt a bit of sadness when she realized that she would be losing the ground she had gained with Mac once again, as she didn't know when she would next be seeing her little sister. Maybe she should make a New Year's resolution to somehow spend more time with Mac in the coming year.
Brooke and Sam watched with amusement as Mac struggled to keep her eyes open, and then succumbed to sleep while right in the middle of a sentence. Sam got up and took Brooke by the hand, pulling her out of bed and out into the hallway.
"I have one more present for you," she said, quietly.
Brooke smiled and whispered, "I have one for you, too." She went back in the room and quickly returned with a wrapped box.
They went downstairs and sat facing each other on the floor in front of the Christmas trees, the twinkling lights casting a warm glow over them. Sam leaned over and reached under the couch, pulling out a flat gift that looked like it could be a very wide tie.
"You look very fetching in your new pajamas, Sam," Brooke commented.
"Thank you. I'm beginning to have a newfound appreciation for flannel," Sam admitted, smiling. "I never thought the words 'sexy" and 'flannel' would go together, but in the past few days, I've somehow become convinced." She looked at Brooke's sleepwear, a long sleeved t-shirt and sweats. "But thank God you're not wearing yours, matching outfits are just about the gayest thing ever. Please tell me that we'll never be one of those couples that wears matching outfits in public."
"With your fashion sense I can pretty much guarantee that won't be a problem," Brooke grinned evilly.
"Okay, stepped right into that one," Sam acknowledged ruefully. She handed her gift to Brooke. "When I was putting my presents under the tree, I realized that explaining this one to the rest of the family would be nearly impossible, so I hid it, and planned on giving it to you later."
She watched as Brooke opened the gift, a narrow, black lacquer, shadow-box frame with a spoon mounted simply and without adornment on an ecru background. There was nothing special about the spoon, it had once lived in a drawer in the kitchen with the rest of Brooke's flatware, but had sat on their night table for the past few months, until Sam had this idea.
"You can put it in your cubicle at work, and when you get all pissy and moany and you're having a bad day, you can look at it and remember that someone loves you beyond the meaning of the word love. And maybe it will make you feel better," Sam said, somewhat bashfully.
Brooke pressed the frame to her chest, looking up with tears in her eyes. "I love it," she said. "Thank you."
She handed Sam a box that was about eight inches square, "Same thing. There would have to be a lot of laborious explanation if I gave this to you in front of everyone else."
Sam tore the wrapping paper and opened the box from the top, pushed aside the tissue paper, and began to laugh with delight. She lifted a tiny house made of Lego bricks from the box. A small green baseplate was the foundation for a little red house with yellow windows and a yellow door. The roof was blue, and the chimney was black, and a little yellow fence surrounded the whole thing. There were even some Lego shrubs and flowers in the yard. Sam tried to remove one of the bricks from the chimney but found she couldn't
"I glued each brick down with model glue," Brooke disclosed. "I wanted our house to be strong, so that nothing will be able to break it apart. That, and I didn't want you getting bored one day and making a chicken out of it, or something." She smiled shyly at Sam.
"That would never happen," Sam said seriously. "Do you think I would want to ruin the best gift I've ever gotten?"
Brooke looked pleased.
Sam marveled at the little house, holding it up to eye level and opening the door and the windows. "Model glue, huh? You take after my mom and her crafts. 'She's crafty, and she's just my type,'" Sam sang quietly. She leaned in and kissed Brooke. "Thank you."
"Merry Christmas, Sam."
Brooke rolled over and opened her eyes, looking down at the trundle bed, to see Mac still sleeping, and Sam nowhere to be found. She quietly got up and left the room, walked past the open door of the guest room where the neatly made bed also showed no sign of Sam. As she wandered downstairs, she heard Sam and Jane in the kitchen, deep in conversation. She was about to enter when she heard her name mentioned, so she stopped short and listened.
"So, are you and Brooke really getting along?" Jane asked suspiciously.
"Yeah, Mom, we really are," Sam replied, Brooke could here the amusement in her voice.
"It's really good of her to allow you to stay with her," Jane continued. "I hope you're not taking advantage, and you're helping with the chores and the dishes and everything."
"I am," Sam said, patiently. "I even pay rent."
"She told me her apartment is really small, how is it that you two aren't at each other's throats?" Jane asked wonderingly.
Silence. Brooke thought maybe Sam shrugged.
"How long do you plan on staying with her?" Jane then queried.
"I really like New York, I'm planning on staying for good," Sam said with absolute conviction.
Brooke leaned her forehead against the wall and grinned goofily at the eggshell paint.
"Right, Sam," Jane scoffed. "You said the same thing about London, and that was three years and about eight countries ago.
"I mean it this time," Sam stated unequivocally. "Brooke and I get along. She said I could stay as long as I want, and I believe her, so I will be staying with her for the foreseeable future."
"Or until you two have an argument," Jane commented.
"No," Sam disagreed. "Even if we do argue, we'll work it out. Since we've been together," Sam began, then quickly added, "as roommates, I've realized something. You have to take the rough with the smooth. It probably isn't always going to be easy, but I'm committed to making this work. Brooke and I have had enough rough days; it's time to put them behind us. I predict smooth sailing for some time to come."
Although Sam was talking in code, the words she had said meant more to Brooke than a thousand "I love you's," because even though Jane didn't know it, Sam had just declared her love for Brooke to another person, which somehow made it more real.
"I'm glad to see you taking such a mature attitude, Sam," Jane sounded a bit surprised at what her daughter had said. "I would love to see you stay in one place for a while."
Brooke decided that now would be a good time to make an appearance. She walked into the kitchen and saw Sam and Jane at the table, with coffee cups in front of them. Instead of running over to Sam and squeezing her senseless, she calmly walked to the fridge and removed the orange juice. "Morning," she greeted the pair.
Sam got up from the table. "I have to go finish packing," she informed them. "Brooke, the cab will be here in an hour, can you be ready?"
"Absolutely," Brooke affirmed. They were going home.
After Sam left the room, Jane turned to Brooke and excitedly said, "Brooke, Sam said she wants to stay in New York, isn't that great?"
"It must be your good influence. She seemed happier than I've seen her in a long time this Christmas. Thanks for letting her stay with you."
Brooke smiled like the Cheshire cat. "It's no problem, Jane. I love having her."
"Boy, when you said you couldn't skate, you weren't kidding, were you?" Brooke said with amusement.
Sam winced as they hit another bump in the road. "My poor frozen ass will never be the same," she moaned. "And now we're riding around in this thing, we look like a couple of tourists in from Cincinnati," she complained. "You owe me so big for this."
"How else were we going to get out of the park?" Brooke asked reasonably.
"How about an ambulance?"
Brooke ignored this, calmly tucking the blanket more tightly around their laps. "You would have whined non-stop about your so-called broken coccyx if I made you walk, you should be thanking me."
Whenever Brooke had seen the horse-drawn carriages around Central Park and midtown she had always vowed to ride in one someday. She figured this would be her best opportunity with Sam being slightly incapacitated. So after she found out how much it cost, and picked her jaw up from off the ground, she had plunked down her credit card without another thought. She was determined to enjoy this. Looping her arm through Sam's, she sighed with pleasure, her warm breath visible in the chilly air. For no apparent reason except wanting Sam to know she had heard her say it, Brooke added, "Besides, you have to take the rough with the smooth."
"You heard that?" Sam involuntarily leaned in closer to Brooke, and watched her nod absently, as she stared out at the snow-laden trees that lined the road. Riding in a carriage had definitely wiped out any of the local New Yorker street cred she had been trying to build up over the past few months, but she shouldn't be giving Brooke such a hard time. She had seen how Brooke's eyes had lit up when she saw the carriage stand as they left Wollman Rink. So did this mean that the ice was the smooth part and her butt was the rough part? Or vice-versa? Maybe the carriage ride was the rough part and sitting next to Brooke inside it was the smooth part. Now she was only confusing herself.
Sam had to grudgingly admit that it was very peaceful and pleasant to be clip clopping along through the park to the rhythm of the jingle bells attached to the horse's bridle. It didn't even feel like they were in the city. "You're right; with the exception of the time spent on my butt, this has been a great day. Thanks."
Brooke turned to her and rubbed her cold nose against Sam's in an Eskimo kiss. "So what do you want to do tonight?" She didn't want to think about how they would both be returning to work the following day, and how their daily schedules would prevent them from spending as much time together.
"Hmm," Sam thought for a moment. "How about we get into our flannel jammies and make an early night of it?" she suggested, mischievously.
"Sounds good to me," Brooke replied, and laughed.
Sequel An Ever Fixed Mark
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