DISCLAIMER: Characters of Popular are not mine. The title is taken from a Radiohead song, which is not mine either.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This fic is set in season one, and riffs on plot points from "Fall On Your Knees," and "Ex, Lies and Videotape," so those are the spoilers, if anyone still pays any attention to that. I've taken some liberties with the parentals' back stories, but not too many, hope you don't mind. I'm not a lawyer, so any legal stuff in the story is strictly fiction; I have no idea if this could ever happen. Oh yes, one more thing, it's all in Brooke's POV.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Fake Plastic Trees
By Green Quarter
The supporting act had already finished, but Radiohead had yet to go on. The house lights of the Staples Center were still on as we emerged from the short tunnel that brought us out to the floor. Sam had purchased floor seats, which were general admission. I had never been to a show like this, where the floor was just a mass of people standing around, surrounded by tiered seating where you had an actual assigned seat. It didn't seem very fair to me that we would be stuck behind all of these people just because we showed up a little late, but I resigned myself to watching Thom Yorke and company from way back here at the rear of the floor section.
Sam was trying to tell me something, but the noise of the crowd made it nearly impossible to hear. She put her hand on my shoulder and put her mouth near my ear.
"I didn't pay all that money for us to stand way the hell back here," she said, her warm breath tickling my neck. "Follow me."
And she started aggressively pushing and loudly excuse me-ing her way towards the stage. Her voice carried over the crowd and most people moved aside without comment. We had gone about a third of the distance to the stage when Sam pushed her way between two very big guys who didn't look like the typical Radiohead fan, which was the introverted, moody, black-rimmed glasses, indie rocker navel gazing type. These guys were no-neck meatheads who would have looked more at home at a Limp Bizkit show. As soon as Sam passed by them they immediately closed ranks, and although I screamed excuse me, they didn't budge. I felt a mild sense of panic at the thought of being separated from Sam, and frantically tried to remember what section the car was parked in. Then I saw Sam's hand reach up between their two massive heads and I grabbed it and she pulled me through, as they reluctantly let me by I saw Sam shoot the pair of them the dirtiest look ever.
I continued to trail behind Sam, not letting go of her hand until we had staked out a space for ourselves about ten feet from the stage. She grabbed my shoulder again and leaned in.
"Better?" she shouted.
"Much," I screamed back, nodding my approval. She looked extremely satisfied with herself, and I could feel the excitement rolling off of her in waves, as she stood on her tiptoes and scanned the stage for a sign of the band. Her enthusiasm was infectious as I turned to face the stage as well, purposely brushing my arm against hers, just to feel her comforting solidity next to me. I could still feel the imprint of her hand in my palm, and wondered what she would do if I took hold of it again now.
Then, as if they were waiting for Sam and me to find our spot, the house lights dimmed and a deafening roar sounded through the arena, followed by a single note of feedback channeled through the Marshall stacks on either side of the stage. The blue filtered stage lights came up and the show began.
Hours later, my ears were still ringing, and Sam was still excitedly discussing the show as we pulled into the parking lot of Pink's. We were both famished and I let Sam take control, content to just follow her lead on this date. For some reason, I was now very comfortable with calling our evening a date, it had been nicer so far than any of the ones I had been on with Josh or anyone else for that matter, but when I had said something to that effect as we left the concert, Sam had frowned and become silent for a few minutes, visibly distressed by the label I had given it. I turned the conversation back to the set list, and Sam had relaxed again, and began expounding on her theories about Thomas Pynchon's influence on the lyrics of OK Computer.
We slid into a booth at Los Angeles', maybe the country's, most famous hot dog stand, and rested our weary legs for a few minutes. The floor was a great place to see the show, but it sure did a number on your feet. Pink's was an LA landmark, and had been around since the dawn of time, probably. Hundreds of headshots of famous and not so famous actors lined the walls, and just about everyone in the city had been here at one time or another.
"What do you want? I'll get it." Sam asked and started to get to her feet.
"No way. You gave me the tickets, at least let me buy you a hot dog," I objected.
Sam sat back down. "That seems fair. Okay, here's what I want: a stretch chili dog with mustard and extra onions and no, I repeat no, relish. And a diet coke. Please."
Heartburn on a bun. I got up and went to the counter and quickly returned with our order.
"Did you know that Bruce Willis proposed to Demi Moore here?" Sam asked conversationally as she took a drink from her soda.
"Really? I thought it was Sean Penn who proposed to Madonna," I replied, grabbing some napkins from the dispenser on the table. Then I thought about both of those celebrity couples. "Doesn't matter anyway. Neither of their marriages lasted," I commented with not a little bitterness.
Sam looked like she wanted to kick herself for bringing it up. "Well there has to be something good that came from those relationships," Sam said philosophically. "Bruce and Demi had all those kids with the crazy names who'll probably be hitting our movie screens in a few years time. We have that to look forward to," she grinned. "And if Sean and Madonna had never gotten together then the world would have been deprived of the stunning cinematic achievement that is Shanghai Surprise."
I smiled half-heartedly at Sam's attempt to cheer me, but I was still dwelling on the futility of marriage.
"And look at Demi now," Sam continued. "She bought herself a brand new body and found a strapping younger man to babysit her kids."
"I don't know, Sam. It makes me wonder why people even bother. The odds are stacked against them from the very beginning," I said glumly. "Like that song in the second encore tonight, 'Fake Plastic Trees,' it's about a couple who are so miserable, and their lives are so empty, I couldn't help comparing them to my parents." I really loved that song; it was sadly beautiful and had a haunting melody that progressively built to a resounding finish. I had hoped all night to hear it, but as I listened to the desolate lyrics tonight, the song had taken on new meaning to me, becoming emblematic of my parents' empty marriage.
"That's my favorite song," Sam stated, "I told you I loved it when they started playing it tonight."
"Oh, is that what you said? I thought you said 'My gloves are long.' No wonder it didn't make sense," I said, smiling a little.
Sam smiled too, then said, "I could tell you didn't hear me, you just smiled politely like you were thinking, 'Shut up, Sam, I'm trying to listen here.' But I get a different meaning out of that song. To me, the heart of the song is in the third verse, when he switches to the first person and sings about his fake plastic love, like his feelings aren't really real, or valid, unless the object of his love returns the sentiment. 'If I could be who you wanted,'" she quoted from the song, her eyes focusing on something over my left shoulder. "I think it's about unrequited love," she finished, and punctuated her explanation by taking a big bite of her hot dog.
I thought about it. A case could definitely be made for Sam's version, but I was sticking with mine. "I still think it's about a miserable couple," I maintained doggedly.
"Tomato, tomahto, Sam," I cut her off rudely, just wanting to end the discussion already.
"I guess it is open to interpretation," Sam conceded lightly, then tried a ham-handed segue into a more cheery, or at least less volatile subject. "How can you come to Pink's and not get chili on your dog?" she asked.
"Very easily," I answered dryly.
Sam looked over at my hot dog. "He looks so naked with only a thin strip of mustard to cover him up," she said sadly.
"Please don't assign personal pronouns to my food, Sam, I'm trying to eat here," I said, slightly amused but not ready to give up my grumpiness.
"But chili and hot dogs go together like " Sam looked up at the ceiling and tried to think of a good simile, " Christmas and credit card debt." She looked at me expectantly, hoping to get a laugh, but I was unmoved.
"Spring Break and underage drinking?"
She'd have to do better than that.
"Courtney Love and crazy?"
"Demi and plastic surgery?" She brought it back to our earlier conversation, and I had to give her credit, she was trying so hard.
"Madonna and the Kabbalah!" She said triumphantly, and I finally let out a grudging guffaw. "You're lucky you laughed. I was just about to go all Forest Gump and say peas and carrots."
"And I'm eternally grateful that you didn't," I smiled. It really was kind of her to go to such lengths to cheer me up.
Sam concentrated on her chilidog, and we ate in a comfortable silence for a little while. After a few bites, she looked around the busy restaurant and sighed wistfully.
"My dad and I used to come here all the time," she said.
That was the difference between Sam and me. Even though remembering her dad made her sad, she still had all these fond memories of their times together, while remembering my mother just made me sad. Period.
"I remember this one time when we came here when my father was trying to help me figure out the solution to a problem I was having. I was in the third grade, and I was having issues with this boy in my class, Charlie Kaufman. My father knew something was wrong but I hadn't told anyone about it until we came here and, giving me his undivided attention and employing all the tricks of his trade, he got me to spill the whole sordid story. I cracked like a walnut, I crumbled like bleu cheese," Sam grinned ruefully.
"You could've made a salad," I said, smiling, "what happened?"
"Charlie was this big, dumb, inarticulate kid in my class who, now it seems so obvious in hindsight, had a big old third grade-sized crush on me. He wasn't a bully exactly; I just think he had a hard time expressing himself. But at the time all I knew was that he was terrorizing me by chasing me on the playground from the moment recess started until the bell rang, and knocking my books off my desk, throwing my pencil case out the window, taking my homework, and generally making a nuisance of himself any way he could."
I grinned at the thought of a mini version of Sam in the third grade, forlornly watching her pencil case fly out the window. Then I thought of the whimsy of the school zoning board, which placed Sam and I in separate primary and middle schools even though we had only lived a few miles apart. All that time she had been growing up a short distance away, neither of us knowing that fate and our parents would bring us together in high school.
"So I tell my dad the whole story with all the gravity and ponderousness of the most melodramatic nine-year-old alive, and my dad considers the matter very seriously, although he must have been trying not to laugh," Sam continued with a smile, "and he gave me some advice."
"What did he say?"
"He said, 'Sam, you should try killing him with kindness,'" she revealed. "I totally didn't get it. It might have been over the head of the average third-grader, but my dad explained the concept to his exceptionally intelligent daughter and I still didn't get it. I did not understand how being kind to someone who was being mean to me could ever be a solution, but I thought my dad was pretty smart so I decided to try it his way.
"The next day, I was super nice to Charlie. I gave him some of my unicorn stickers, and let him have backsies on the lunch line, I even gave him a piece of my watermelon Bubblicious, which was my favorite flavor and very hard for me to part with."
"Grape was my favorite flavor," I interrupted.
Sam made a face, "No wonder we don't get along."
"We're getting along now," I replied, feeling a bit stung, but pushed it from my mind. "What happened? Did it work?"
"Well it sure confused the hell out of him. Plus, like I said, Charlie was a few crayons short of a sixty-four pack, and when he tried to chase me at recess that day, he was chewing watermelon Bubblicious and, unfortunately, he blew a big bubble while running which ended up all in his hair," Sam smirked at the memory. "He became too busy starting fights with the boys who made fun of his new haircut to bother with me for awhile."
I laughed. "You tell a good story, McPherson."
"Thanks, Sam said proudly, "I'd like to think it's my father's legacy. And that was pretty good advice, too, even though it didn't work out the way he planned. I've been trying to follow it again lately, with, um, mixed results." Sam looked down at her half-finished hot dog, which had been ignored while she told her story.
"Why? Is someone giving you a hard time?" I could feel my fists clenching at the thought of it. "Who is it? Is it Nic?" I knew my voice was getting louder and more agitated and there didn't seem to be anything I could do to control it.
Sam raised her eyes to me in surprise. "No. It's nobody," she backtracked, trying to calm me. "Don't worry about it, forget I even mentioned it."
I knew I couldn't pursue the topic without sounding like a total ass, so I let the subject drop.
"I think I need some extra onion," Sam said in a strained voice. "I'll be right back."
Oh god. What is wrong with me? Why am I acting like an overprotective freak? All I want is for Sam to be my friend, right? So why am I pretending I'm on a date with her? People don't want to date their friends. And she's not my friend, and at this rate, she never will be because who wants to be friends with a moody irrational psycho?
Okay. Relax. Breathe. Just keep your lip buttoned for the rest of the night, got it? If you don't say anything more, maybe you can keep your embarrassing behavior to a minimum. I honestly didn't know why I was behaving so erratically tonight, I can usually be counted on to act appropriately in social situations. Here she comes, just act naturally.
Sam returned with a little paper ramekin filled with onions and began sprinkling them over the last bit of her hot dog.
"That's a lot of onions. You better be careful, Sam, or you won't get a kiss at the end of our date." What the fuck? Why did I just say that? There definitely was something wrong with me, as evidenced by the obvious disconnect between my mouth and my brain. I couldn't even look her in the face to see what her reaction to that little statement was, so instead I just looked at the table, and saw Sam's hands put down the onions and lie flat on the table. She began to drum the fingers of her right hand impatiently; I knew she was waiting for me to look up at her.
"Okay Brooke, that's, like, the third time you've mentioned this so-called date tonight, which means it qualifies as a running joke." Sam had decided to speak even though I hadn't looked up yet. "However, the fundamental rule of a running joke, or any joke for that matter, is that it be funny, which, I'm sorry to disappoint you, it's not. So, please, knock it off."
There was something in Sam's voice that compelled me to look at her, a weariness that I had not expected. Anger or ridicule, maybe, but not this tired pleading I thought I heard. Her eyes betrayed nothing, and she defiantly picked up her oniony hot dog and finished it, brushing her hands in finality after the last bite.
"Are you ready to go?" she asked me, collecting the soiled napkins she had scattered about the table, and finishing the last of her soda.
"Almost," I answered, my face felt like it was burning up. "Let me just go to the restroom."
I had ruined everything. Things had been going well despite my crazy mood swings and I felt Sam and I had really gained some ground tonight. Yes, I had definitely made some progress, only to sabotage myself with my stupid mouth, and now Sam was back to hating me. I splashed my face with cool water, hoping to reduce the embarrassment that was no doubt the reason my body temperature was spiking. Maybe I could undo some of the damage on the way home, but on second thought maybe I shouldn't even try, there was no telling what might come out of my mouth at this point.
Sam was waiting for me by the door, and as I approached she smiled and took my hand. She wants to hold my hand? My heart soared. Then she turned my palm upwards and poured a handful of m&m's into it.
"Here you go, Ophelia, sweets to the sweet," she said, smiling easily. Then she turned back to the old-fashioned cast iron candy machine behind her and deposited another quarter into it. I watched as she turned the crank and cupped her palm underneath the opening, lifting the metal flap so that more m&m's showered into her hand.
So she didn't want to hold my hand, I thought glumly. It was still very nice of her to make an effort to get us back to the easy, friendly manner that we had shared for most of the night, and I had to meet her half way. "Thanks, Hamlet," I said, and tried to return her smile.
Out in the parking lot, I opened the trunk, remembering I had more CD's in there, thinking that would be a good way to keep conversation to a minimum. I rummaged through the jewel cases spread over the spare tire and picked one. Sam would probably make fun of me for it, but I didn't care. I turned to where she stood a few feet away, offhandedly tossing the remaining candy into her mouth. "Do you mind driving, still?" I asked. Sam wordlessly took the keys and unlocked the passenger side and opened the door for me.
It was funny; my mood had returned to the melancholic depressive state I had been in earlier in the evening, when we had first left the house. Was it because the night was ending, and this little fantasy of mine where Sam and I got along and were friends would be over? And I would have to face my miserable reality when we arrived back home?
As Sam pulled out of the parking lot I put the CD in and turned the volume up very loud. The opening notes of the first track began; the song was "Let Go," by Frou Frou. I turned the volume even louder, letting the trip-hoppy, poppy beats wash over me. I had been addicted to this CD about a year ago, but it had been vanquished to the trunk when a new flavor of the month had replaced it. It totally suited my mood tonight.
Sam held out her hand, and I passed her the jewel case, bracing myself for her criticism, but it never came. She examined the cover art for a moment before handing it back. "Good driving song," she grunted. Then as she steered up the onramp to the freeway, she pressed the button that opened the sunroof, letting in the cool night air. I looked up, and unbelievably, saw stars, which almost never happens in smog-laden LA. We didn't speak, but drove in silence, letting the music and the wind and the night create a hypnotic atmosphere in the car, which became the whole world for twenty-five minutes.
But soon enough we had arrived back home, and Sam and I walked up to the front door together. After we mounted the porch steps Sam turned to me and said, "Thanks for the ticket, Brooke. The show was great."
"Thanks for coming with me," I replied. "I had a really good time on our "
But I didn't say it. I had finally realized that no matter how much I wanted it to be true, saying the word was not going to make it so. Sam knew what I meant to say, too, and she assumed a pained expression.
"Brooke, I really just think-"
And then I did a stupid thing. Instead of listening to Sam tell me how distasteful the thought of going on a date with me was, I did the only thing I could think of that would stop the words from coming out of her mouth. I kissed her. I took her face in my hands and quickly pressed my lips against hers, savoring the feel of her lips, so warm and soft and alive, for a few seconds before she violently pushed me away.
Sam put her hand over her mouth like she was protecting herself from any further violation and glared at me with accusation and, I was surprised to see, hurt, in her eyes. Then they began to fill with tears.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that," I said, panicking, I never meant to make her cry.
"You're damn right you shouldn't have," Sam spat, now shaking with anger. "There is such a thing as taking a joke too far, you know," she said lowly. She seemed overwhelmed by emotion, shaking her head and fiercely wiping her eyes with her palms. "That's it. I can't do this anymore. I'm done," she said, but she wasn't talking to me.
"Sam, I'm really sorry-"
She opened the front door, not listening anymore, and I knew she just wanted to get away from me as fast as humanly possible, but then she turned around. "Why, Brooke? Why would you do that? You must have a rock where your heart is supposed to be. Do you really hate me that much?"
Sam didn't wait for an answer, just slammed the door in my face, leaving me in dark shadows on the front porch.
"I don't hate you, Sam. I love you."
I sat on the grass on the JV soccer field, which the JV soccer team was not currently using, and watched the squad go through the stretching exercises that I insisted on before every practice. I wasn't practicing what I preached, though, I was just sitting, and absently pulling on random blades of grass, trying to think my way out of the predicament I now found myself in. However, logical thought was hindered by my semi-functioning brain, which had been dwelling on only one thing for the better part of a sleepless night and all through classes today, where I don't think one educational thing had penetrated through the haze of confusion and worry and regret I had been feeling all day.
I loved Sam. It was only a minor correction to my liking her, which was the conclusion I had reached the other day. Was that a monumental understatement, or what? Unfortunately, I didn't want her to be my friend; I wanted her to be much more than that. My emotions had been swinging from elation at the feelings I was having for Sam, a kind of love I hadn't been aware existed until last night, to despair that I might never get the chance to express this overwhelming, cataclysmic love. The thing I had been searching for with Josh but had always seemed out of reach and unattainable, I had found in Sam. It was a shock. Totally unexpected.
The only thing I could think of to which I could equate it was the old movies with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn that my dad likes so much. The two of them would spend the entire movie bickering and scrapping, and shredding each other with barbs and insults and razor sharp wit, only to proclaim their love and fall into each other's arms in the last five minutes. That was Sam and me all over, well, at least the bickering part. I'd like to think that the final reel of Sam's and my movie hasn't run yet, but that may be a tad optimistic on my part. From the way Sam is behaving, the credits are long over, the popcorn is being swept off the floor, and the gum is calcifying on the bottoms of the seats. You know, they did a bunch of those Tracy/Hepburn movies, and they all had basically the same plot. I always thought them so old-fashioned and unbelievable, but at least Tracy always got Hepburn in the end, which, let's face it, the chances of that happening with Sam and me were slim to none, and slim has just left town.
Especially when she won't talk to me. Not that I blame her. God only knows what she must think of me. At least I can pin my erratic, crazy behavior on this, which is a relief, considering I thought I was on a one-way trip to straitjacket-ville. This morning the kitchen was plunged into sub-arctic temperatures when I entered, and Sam immediately got up, leaving her half-eaten bowl of corn flakes, and flounced out of the room. Sam was a flouncer from way back, she could flounce with the best of them, and I could watch her flounce all day.
But I hadn't seen her at all, except in Biology, and she had come in late and refused to look at me. I tried everything I could think of to get her to talk to me, to the point of nearly getting detention from Bio Glass, but nothing worked.
I had covertly studied her profile as she steadfastly ignored me while Glass droned on about asexual reproduction, and something had prompted me to remember a dream I had this morning, when I had finally fallen into an exhausted sleep after hours of tossing and turning. It was the kind of dream you had just before you wake up, so vivid it could be in Technicolor, the colors so rich and saturated it seems like hyper reality, and every detail seems like it will be etched forever on your brain, only it begins to fade minutes after waking. But this one stayed with me, I'd been thinking about it all day, and it started running through my head again now.
I remembered standing in a long line of people on the playground of my elementary school. The line moved fairly quickly, and I heard a familiar voice periodically call, "Next," as boys and girls of all different ages shuffled forward. When I reached the head of the line, I saw Sam, wedged into a small child-sized desk, with a clipboard in her hands. There was a hand-lettered sign taped to the front of her desk that read: "Wanted: One Bride for Marriage."
She was furiously scribbling something on the clipboard and had asked, "Name?" without looking up.
"Brooke McQueen," I replied.
"Okay, thank you. We'll let you know. Next!" Sam ripped a page from her clipboard and placed it face down on the desk.
"Wait," I cried. "What is this all about? Who's getting married?"
"I am," Sam answered, and finally looked up at me. "Oh, hi, Brooke, I didn't know you would want to be considered."
'Of course I want to be considered," I replied, "but is it allowed?"
Sam seemed to know what I was talking about, even though I didn't. "Yes, it's allowed. I'm marrying a girl, so I don't know what all these boys are doing here; they're just wasting their time. They're automatically disqualified." She tapped the sign with her pen. "It clearly states that I am looking for a bride."
"What do I have to do for you to pick me?" I asked desperately.
"Well you do fit the preliminary criteria," Sam looked at me appraisingly while she mulled it over, and even while dreaming my heart was in my throat.
"Do you have any gum?" she finally asked.
I didn't know. I reached into my pockets, which were so full, I suddenly realized, that they were weighing me down. I pulled out two handfuls of m&m's, and deposited them on the desk, where they clattered and skidded over the slick surface.
Sam looked at the candy distastefully and began to shake her head.
"Wait, wait," I cried, now repeatedly reaching into my pockets and pulling all the m&m's out as fast as I could, trying to see if there was anything else I could offer her. There were so many m&m's that the small heap started cascading off the desk and onto the blacktop in a shower of multi-colored candy.
Everything depended on one piece of gum. I had finally removed the m&m's from my pockets and thrust my hands back in, splaying my fingers, feeling for anything that might be left. And then I felt it. I pulled a small, soft, wax paper wrapped rectangle from my left pocket in triumph, and held it up to Sam in offering. Then my face fell. "Oh no," I wailed despairingly, "It's grape!"
Sam reached up and snatched the bubblegum away from me. "So what? I love grape." She popped the gum into her mouth and began to vigorously chew.
"So does this mean I get to marry you?" I asked, tremulously.
"Yes it does," Sam said, getting up from the little desk. "But first you have to catch me." And she took off running toward the jungle gym, kicking up a cartoon-like cloud of dust behind her.
I was just about to start after her when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around to find my mother standing there, wearing the last clothes I had seen her in, a cream colored trouser suit with a brilliant white tailored shirt underneath. She was beautiful and glamorous and I missed her so much.
"What do you think you're doing, Brooke?" she asked.
I was a little girl again, standing before her in my nightgown, feeling vaguely ashamed about something, and wishing she would stay home tonight instead of going out with Daddy.
"I'm going after her, Mom," I replied simply.
"But Brooke, she's a girl. What will people think?"
I shrugged my shoulders sullenly. Where did she get off asking what people would think? "I don't know, Mom. I don't care. I have to go." And I turned my back on her and started running.
At first the nightgown hampered my childish steps, but as I ran I felt myself start to grow, my legs lengthened, their strides powerful and long, and my arms got stronger, pumping at my sides, giving me an extra burst of speed. I looked down and saw I was wearing the clothes I had on before I saw my mother, and I was back to the teenaged me. Now I had to find Sam. I scanned the playground, and saw her over by the swings, she was standing there looking at me, but as I approached she started running again.
I chased her all over the playground, coming close to catching up several times, but she was always just out of my reach. At one point I was so close I could feel her hair against my fingertips, which was trailing behind her in wild strands, and I made a desperate lunge, leaping for her like I was about to tackle one of the LA Raiders. But as I was flying through the air, arms outstretched to capture her to me, I realized that she was already beyond my grasp, and she would be long gone when my body met the ground, and that moment of impact was when my eyes opened and I woke up.
Now, I didn't need to be Freud to figure out what this all meant, especially since I had been led around by my id for the past several days. I knew my mind pretty clearly at this point, what I didn't know was why Sam had been so upset last night. Something about her reaction was a little strange, and I needed an explanation for it. Although it was patently obvious that she didn't want to talk to me, I had to give it one more try. I got up and brushed myself off, little blades of grass that I had killed fluttering to the ground.
"Nic, take over, I'll be back in a bit," I called, knowing it was probably useless and I would be back here on the field after Sam had shot me down, but hoping that somehow I could convince her to listen while I pled my case.
I found her in the newspaper office, where she was working with a boy who looked vaguely familiar to me. The two of them stood before a table where the proofs of the latest issue of the paper were laid before them, and it looked like they were making some last minute layout decisions.
The door was open, but neither of them had noticed me, they were so engrossed in their work. I knocked on the doorjamb, and two faces looked up and saw me, one smiled in pleasure, the other frowned in irritation.
"Hi, Brooke," the boy welcomed.
"Hi, Brad," instantly his name had come to me. "Sam, you got a minute?"
"Go away, Brooke, I have tons of work to do and I'm really busy," Sam said curtly, and pulled a blue editing pencil from behind her ear and made a mark on the sheet in front of her.
"But Sam, you just said we were ready to put this baby to bed," Brad said, and I was so grateful to him I would've bought him a car if he wanted.
Sam glared at Brad for blowing her cover.
"Brad, could you please give us a minute?" I asked sweetly.
"Take all the time you need," Brad said, blushing, "I was just leaving." He quickly gathered his stuff, wanting to be away from the wrath of Sam, and exited the room.
Sam turned her back to me and started collecting the large proofs that were scattered on the tables. I moved to help and was trying to neatly stack the oversized pages, when Sam whipped around and snippily asked, "What are you doing?"
"I'm helping," I said, defensively.
"Well don't," she snapped. "What are you doing here, anyway? I don't want to talk to you, I don't even want to look at you."
Oof, that hurt. Maybe a direct approach would be better. "Look, Sam, I know you're pissed at me, and I'm sorry. If you would let me, I do a good line in apologies, but you're not even giving me a chance. I never thought you would be one of those homophobic types who get all squeamish at the thought of kissing a girl."
"That's not it, and you know it," Sam fairly growled at me.
"No, I don't know," I insisted. "What I do know is that we are still in the middle of a project for Enterteenment Today and we have to finish it. If you're free now, we could do your interview, and then you can get back to your busy schedule of hating, loathing, and despising me, with extra sessions of wishing I would die thrown in for good measure."
"You really are un-fucking-believable," Sam shook her head in disbelief. "Fine. Let's get this over with."
"Great," I said, at least she was talking to me. "You want to do it here, in your natural habitat?"
"Whatever," Sam muttered.
I went to gather up the equipment, taking two trips, while Sam remained in the newspaper office, tidying up the proofs and doing whatever it was she needed to do. I set up the camera myself, and placed the mike in position, and then asked Sam to check everything for me. When she was satisfied, she took her position, sitting on the tabletop with a bulletin board that had the latest issues of the Zapruder tacked to it in the background. Her back was very straight and she looked very ill at ease, but I didn't know if it was because the journalist was uncomfortable being the subject, or because she was preparing to talk about some deeply personal stuff. Or maybe it was just my presence that was adversely affecting her.
I began to ask Sam some background questions, but she was closing me off at every turn, answering in monosyllables or a curt yes or no. This portion of the segment was going to be a complete failure unless I could get behind her defenses and make her open up, which seemed an impossible task given the circumstances. I didn't want to do it, but I was going to play the Joe McPherson card.
"Sam, can you please talk a little about you father? Share one of your favorite memories of him, perhaps?" I asked, blowing a major tenet of interviewing technique, because I didn't know how Sam was going to answer this question, and that was a very big no-no.
"I shared a story with you last night, Brooke, and you took the trust I showed you and threw it back in my face," Sam accused, harshly. She glared at me for a moment before looking away, becoming lost in reverie. "God, I miss him so much. He would know exactly what to do about you, instead I'm recycling old advice he gave me when I was nine-years old and trying to apply it to something completely different." Sam's emotions overcame her; she began to cry, lowering her head so I couldn't see her face.
Suddenly everything clicked. "Sam, have you been trying to kill me with kindness?" I asked hesitantly, "Am I Charlie what's-his-name?" I was sick at the thought of Sam viewing me as a problem she had to solve, that I was the new big dumb bully in her life that she was trying to get to stop picking on her. I understood now. She thought that all my references to our date and the kiss was just me being nasty and cruel towards her. How could she think that about me? Pretty easily, I guessed. No wonder she detested me. The tiny flame of hope that Sam might somehow return my feelings had finally been snuffed, and I knew what I had to do.
I went over and sat next to her. I was probably the last person from whom she wanted comfort, but I couldn't just stand by when she was so upset and unhappy. I took her hands and held them, and she didn't resist, so I put my arm around her and rubbed her back soothingly. I felt her draw in a huge shuddering breath, as she tried to regain her composure.
"It was good advice, Sam. But I guess I haven't made it very easy for you. I'm sure there were many times you wanted to kill me with a blunt object instead of with kindness. But you don't have to worry. I'm going to stay away from you. I won't be bothering you, or bullying you," My voice caught at using that word, "anymore. I've finally got the message."
Sam raised her head and searched my eyes. I wanted to wipe away the tracks of her tears, but I didn't dare. "You don't understand," she said miserably.
"Yes I do. I just want you to know that I never meant to hurt you, and no matter what you might think, last night really was one of the best nights of my life, because I was with you. You do something to me, Sam, everything you do affects me." I struggled to make her understand. "It's like, every time you take your blue pencil and write something on those big sheets of paper, there's another piece of paper underneath, and that's me. And you leave an impression on me, whether you dig in and write with passion and anger, or faintly, with kindness and humor and grace. All I know is that with every movement your hand makes, with everything that you are, you leave your marks all over me, even if I'm the only one who can see them.
"I apologize for kissing you, because it wasn't what you wanted, but I'm not sorry that it happened, because now at least I know what it's like. I wouldn't trade that for anything." I smiled a sad little smile. "And I mean that from the bottom of my rock."
Sam had the grace to blush.
"So I'm going to go now," I started to pull away from her, being in such close proximity to her lips was too tempting, and I couldn't look at her without wanting to touch her.
"No, wait," Sam said, putting her hands on my shoulders and staring me in the face. It looked like she was going to convey some words of great import, and I was frozen in place, waiting for her to speak. But when her mouth moved, it wasn't to communicate with words, instead she pressed her lips against mine, kissing me with a softness and a tenderness that made a mockery of my good intentions. I wanted to open my mouth and devour her whole, I wanted to tear open her skin and live inside of her, but all too soon it was over, and she was pulling away from me. She was kind.
"Still killing me with kindness, huh, Sam?" I asked, when I felt able to speak, and allowed myself the pleasure of lightly brushing my fingers over her cheek, as she studied me with an expression I couldn't identify in her eyes. I got up on unsteady legs and walked from the room, trying to hold it together until out of her presence. Once out in the hallway, I looked around, dazed, I hadn't a clue where to go now.
The Kennedy High campus was adjacent to a small park that had a manmade lake as its focal point. A wide footpath surrounded the lake, and sometimes gym teachers would make us run around it when they were feeling lazy and hadn't planned anything for that day. It was a very attractive setting with benches and picnic tables dotting the landscape, and I didn't know why it didn't get more use by the general public. It was here, on a bench by the lake, still within sight of the school, that I found myself after my confession to Sam, wondering how I was going to keep my promise to stay away from her when we lived in the same house.
I didn't want to go back to cheering, although I knew that by leaving Nic in charge for too long I was subjecting the rest of the squad to her little Mussolini complex, which had undoubtedly kicked in moments after my departure. And I didn't want to go home either, all I really wanted to do was just sit and think, and here was as good a place as any.
I turned around to see Sam approaching. The sun was low in the sky behind her and created a halo effect, so I didn't see her neutral expression until she had sat down on the bench a few feet away from me.
"You're a hard woman to find," she commented, "I've been all over looking for you. No more cheerleading today?"
"Not feeling very cheerful," I replied.
"I see," Sam nodded, looking out at the lake. "By the way, I applaud the fascistic regimen that Satan seemed to be employing while in charge. Nothing like a little discipline to get those girls in shape. Did you give her permission to use that riding crop?"
I smiled, knowing the girls would have my head tomorrow, but they'd also be happy to have me back in command, so I wasn't worried.
Sam placed a videotape on the bench between us. "It's all on tape. All those wonderful things you said to me, I even watched it a few times after I put all the gear away, just to make sure I hadn't dreamt it, or something."
I stared at the tape, and tried to process what she was saying. I had completely forgotten that we had been taping the interview, and I had just walked out of there leaving Sam to clean everything up. "I'm sorry, I should have helped you with the equipment."
Sam just waved her hand in dismissal. "You were right, Brooke. I was trying to do everything I could think of to be kind to you, but not because I think you're mean or a bully or anything." Sam turned to face me, but I couldn't look at her.
"We had begun our relationship in this combative state," she started to explain, "each of us sniping at the other and unwilling to give up the slightest bit of ground, and that was the way it appeared things were going to continue. It was like we were on one of those racecar rides at Disneyland, where we were set on a certain track for the whole course, never able to veer off and take a different path. But something happened that made me realize that I didn't want to continue on this course. I started to care about you, and it began to hurt whenever we would have one of our stupid pointless arguments that just seemed to circle back on itself."
I could hardly believe what I was hearing. But wait. What was she saying? What did this mean? I didn't want to interrupt her and give her the chance to change her mind.
"I attempted to think of a way to break out of my clearly defined role as antagonist but I wasn't coming up with anything on my own," Sam continued. "My mother had found a way to break out of her own assumptions about her life, and although I was inspired by her, and particularly by how she expressed it yesterday when we interviewed her, there wasn't anything practical I could use for this specific situation. So I tried to think what my father would do, he was always a great one for advice. And I remembered how he helped me with Charlie and thought maybe it would work again, even though the circumstances were way different."
Sam stopped speaking for a moment while two women with baby carriages briskly walked by, loudly comparing breast milk to formula, breast milk being the overwhelming favorite in that discussion. Good to know, I guess.
"So I tried to resist rising to the bait when you would say something specifically geared to push my buttons, which you are the master of, let me tell you," Sam smiled. "It was nearly impossible to fight that impulse and I failed probably more times than I succeeded. Then I tried compliments, which only made you suspicious, and led to more button pushing. But sometimes kindness came very easily, like when we were interviewing your dad and I could see the hurt he was unwittingly inflicting on you, I would've done anything I could to make you feel better. You see, I had come to care very deeply for you, so much so that I thought you would find out and just put it in your arsenal of weapons to use against me, and that thought was unbearable to me."
I turned to face her. "I would never do that, Sam."
"But I didn't know that, did I?" she pointed out. "In fact, I thought you had found out, and were taunting me when you started talking about our being on a date, which was something I had scarcely let myself hope for in my most private moments. That hurt like hell, and it was as if you were just rubbing my face in it."
"I'm sorry," I exclaimed, my stomach clenching at the thought of causing her pain.
"Don't apologize," Sam shook her head emphatically. "You didn't do anything wrong. The main thing was that even though I was trying all these things to make you see me differently, to win you over, I didn't think there was a chance in hell that it would work. Up until recently you had been involved with Josh, and you had never shown the slightest inclination towards," Sam hesitated, groping for what she wanted to say, "an alternative lifestyle? Even after analyzing every moment of our interactions, I couldn't see any signs that you could ever like me the way I found myself liking you. And it had been coming on so slowly; I hardly know when I started to change my mind about you. My feelings," she said earnestly, "are so different from what they once were."
Sam stopped talking again, giving me time to let her declaration sink in. My heart was nearly pounding out of my chest, it was pretty much all I could do to just stay seated on the bench and not fly off into the atmosphere. Then I realized that Sam had stopped talking because she was waiting for an older man to jog by and give us our privacy back. Now I'm all for staying healthy, but this man was quite a sight, and our attention was caught by his unique running style. It seriously took him about ten minutes to huff and puff his way past us, with tiny little mincing steps that advanced him about four inches per hour.
"There goes the slowest jogger in the world," Sam observed, after he had at last passed us by.
"Are you sure that was jogging? I thought it was more of a jaunty stroll," I asked, grinning.
"I think the workout clothes were the tip off, plus did you see the way his man boobs were heaving?"
I laughed. "How could I not? Somebody ought to tell him to strap those bitches down."
Sam turned to watch as he resolutely continued on his way. "Look at him go. I bet his milkshake brings all the boys to the yard."
We both started giggling uncontrollably. It felt so good to laugh with her, and our manic reaction was no doubt stemming from relief and a release of tension as well as our comical jogging man. After we calmed down a little bit I said, "We are definitely going to hell."
"Yes we are," Sam agreed. "At least we can keep each other company."
We sat in silence for a little while. Sam inched her hand towards mine on the bench, and I met her halfway, entwining our fingers together.
"So " I said.
"Yes, so," Sam responded.
"Where do we go from here?"
Sam shrugged. "Wherever we want, I guess."
I wanted to pour my heart out to her and tell her I loved her, but I was also enjoying this vague sense of the unknown, rather than having whatever this was defined. We could relax and take our time figuring things out. Sam and I had left ourselves open to one of life's unpredictable curveballs, and it was going to be fun seeing where it would take us.
"You know," Sam said casually, "Like I said before, I watched this tape a few times and I was able to make a pretty comprehensive assessment of the kiss, which was a fine early effort, but showed signs of rookie inexperience. I bet there are a few ways we can improve on our technique if we practice a little. The enthusiasm was there, but I think we were a little sloppy on the dismount." She smirked at me, and got up and grabbed both of my hands, pulling me off the bench.
We started walking back to the school, our path flanked by a row of forsythia bushes, in full bloom of vibrant yellow. The color just seemed to reflect back on the both of us, casting Sam's features in a golden glow. "That's something I've always admired about you, Sam," I laughed. "Your perseverance to excel in all things. You're such a perfectionist."
"Well, practice does make perfect, as they say. It might take a while to get it right," she warned. "Are you prepared to do this for as long as it takes?"
"Are you questioning my dedication? I guarantee I'll be able to outlast you."
"That sounds like a challenge, Ms. McQueen. Maybe we should stop off for some sustenance before we begin these lengthy practice sessions."
"You mean like in a restaurant? The two of us? Eating together?" I asked. "Can I call it a date?"
"I would be offended if you called it anything else." Sam had the goofiest smile on her face. She was beautiful.
"I don't think I can make it all the way to the end of a date without kissing you," I said mock doubtfully. "Can I get an advance right now?"
Sam pretended to give the matter serious consideration "I suppose," she replied heavily, then pulled away from my side and skipped a few feet ahead of me, turning around to smile and say, "But first you have to catch me."
I'm sure I looked very attractive standing there like a statue with my mouth hanging wide open. I didn't know if Sam had some kind of prescient knowledge of my dreams or if this was just a really weird coincidence. Either way, I decided, she was not going to escape this time.
She was still a few paces ahead, laughingly doing an imitation of the slow jogging man, and she looked back, waiting for me.
In a few strides I had caught up to her, fiercely grabbing her from behind and wrapping my arms around her. "Caught you," I whispered in her ear.
She turned around in my embrace and hugged me back, her arms tight around my shoulders. "I guess I'm not very good at playing hard to get."
And there, in the parking lot of Kennedy High, in front of anybody who cared to see in the fading light of an early spring day, she kissed me.
Oh, yes. The next day, Sam and I re-taped her interview, and she was much more forthcoming. We spent every spare minute over the next several days editing the segment, and Sam taught me how to use the Avid software, among other things. I had no idea that the editing room was so cozy and private, and I was seriously on my way to becoming an A/V nerd. Somehow amid all the distractions we created for ourselves, we managed to get the segment finished, and we fedex'ed it to Jamie Gunn's office a few days before the month was over.
The segment aired to great success. A writer from Vanity Fair saw it and wrote an article about it. Another writer read the Vanity Fair piece and wrote a screenplay based on it. A studio executive read the screenplay and greenlit a movie about it. A well-respected director and two up and coming Hollywood starlets read the screenplay and agreed to work on the film. The movie opened to wide release and took the top spot in box office receipts its first week, and continued to play to repeat audiences for months. At the Academy Awards, the film took more trophies than Titanic and Lord of the Rings combined. Actually, to say it had been a success was putting it mildly.
Nah. None of that really happened. A few days after we sent it we got a phone call from Jamie's assistant saying that they had received the tape and were dropping the suit, as we had fulfilled our contractual obligation. And we watched the show religiously, hoping to see our segment air, but it hadn't by the time the show was cancelled, about six months later. So god only knows what became of all our hard work and effort, it's probably sitting on a dusty shelf somewhere, forgotten.
But there is a drawer in my room where I keep mementoes and prized possessions, and every year around the same time we take one of these items out and watch as a reminder. It's a plain black videotape, with a little white label that reads "Sam's Interview Take One."
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