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

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

 

Part 5

Thanksgiving was a memory. A very recent, very pleasant memory. As Sam said goodnight to the parentals, Mike was reaching into the fridge to make a sandwich from the leftovers. She retired to her room, filled with that lassitude which stems from the gluttonous excess of Thanksgiving, sleepy and content. Their newly blended family had enjoyed the day; it was peaceful, amicable, with lots of good food. She and Brooke were able to hold on to their cordiality and had even found several occasions in which to bond in a sisterly way about some trivial holiday detail, but all the goodwill and courtesy extended in the name of Thanksgiving had left Sam with a yearning for honesty.

Sam did not want to be Brooke's sister. She had long since admitted to herself that what she wanted with Brooke was a relationship defined by devotion, intimacy, and - dare she think it - carnality. Each letter she wrote continued the excavation of her heart, exposing new layers of her attraction to Brooke. What was killing her was the knowledge that if she knocked on Brooke's door right now and confessed her love she would be met with ridicule and probably anger, but it didn't change the fact that she desired a more honest and immediate interaction with Brooke than writing a letter could provide. Sam wanted to talk to Brooke while still cloaked in Josh's persona, to communicate with her as her lover and hear what she had to say in reply. The letters were like screaming into the Grand Canyon: they satisfied her urge to make extravagant declarations, but she didn't get anything in return. She needed the give and take of a real conversation, even if she was playing the part of someone else.

Throwing herself down on her bed, she mulled the problem, considering and rejecting the most harebrained of ideas as they floated into her consciousness. There was no way of contriving to get Brooke inside a church confessional where voices and faces were muffled, or calling her and using one of those digital voice disguisers like she was a mob informant or something. Then she thought of something halfway plausible. She wondered it she could somehow instant message Brooke, maybe pretending to be a stranger with a new username. Or pretend to IM her as Josh.

Pretend to IM her as Josh. It was brilliant. Sam knew that Josh was away for the Thanksgiving holiday, he had told her at lunch on Wednesday. The likelihood of him being online himself at nine o'clock on Thanksgiving Evening was pretty slim, she thought. She had also filed away Josh's username and password when Harrison helped them contact Brooke in the library for future reference, thinking the information might be useful one day. That day had arrived.

Pausing to listen, Sam could hear the soft strains of a mellow female singer-songwriter emanating through the not-very-soundproof wall her room shared with Brooke's. This told her that Brooke had spun up ITunes on her sleek and trendy MacBook, was online, and would probably be curious to know who was pinging her with a request for her virtual company.

She practically lunged at her desk, flipping her own battle-weary laptop screen upright while frantically rubbing the touchpad to awaken it from sleep mode. She was tired of keeping everything tamped down inside herself, living her life as if she were holding a giant breath, fearing that all of those untidy emotions would burst forth in a moment of weakness. At least she was choosing her moment. But as the sign-in screen appeared in front of her she stopped to think. This was definitely crossing a line. It was one thing to pass off letters she had written as someone else's, but this was several blocks down towards the shadier end of the ethical street. Impersonating someone else online was absolutely wrong; it could even be criminal for all she knew.

And what if Brooke suspected she wasn't who she said she was? Josh told her he rarely used Instant Messaging to communicate with Brooke, but when he did he probably used the acronym-laden shorthand everyone used. Sam couldn't do that. She wrote in proper sentences always, and couldn't mimic that kind of thing.

Coming to a decision, she discarded any doubts. An idea this good had to be realized – consequences shmonsequences. A minute later she was signed in and ready to go. But what to say?

Jfordqb2000: Hi.

Real eloquent, she thought, and waited for Brooke to reply.

Brooke was sitting on her bed, idly surfing a celebrity gossip website when Josh's message popped up.

Blu_brookemcq: Josh?

Jfordqb2000: Who else?

It wasn't really a lie, but it was an evasion Sam didn't think would hold up in court.

Blu_brookemcq: I thought you were at your grandmother's.

Jfordqb2000: I am.

Blu_brookemcq: But she doesn't have a computer.

Whoops, think fast McPherson.

Jfordqb2000: She just got one; I was teaching her some stuff today. She said she didn't mind if I used it.

Blu_brookemcq: Good for her. You're teaching your grandma new tricks?

Jfordqb2000: Yeah. How was your Thanksgiving?

Blu_brookemcq: It was nice. We all got along for once, lol. How was yours?

Jfordqb2000: I'm full. There was lots of food.

Blu_brookemcq: Yeah. Us too.

Jfordqb2000: So. Consider this IM to be like a pebble hitting your window. I'm standing below wishing for your company. And although the real you is preferable, I'll take the virtual version.

Brooke smiled. This sounded like the Josh who wrote her achingly beautiful letters, not the one who was constantly trying to hide that fact. She didn't care why he chose to appear now; she only wanted to be carried along for a while as he waxed poetic. She picked up his metaphor, encouraging him to continue.

Blu_brookemcq: I heard the pebble. I've opened the window. I can't see you, but I feel your presence beneath the leafy branches that conceal you.

Brooke knew she wasn't as good at this as Josh was. She hoped he wouldn't laugh at her. No, he wouldn't laugh. He wouldn't do that.

Jfordqb2000: I'm here. I'm not going to serenade you; I can't carry a tune to save my life. But I have a big beautiful bouquet for you – the only kind of gift I can offer.

Blu_brookemcq: A bouquet? Describe it for me. What kind of flowers?

Jfordqb2000: That's the thing. It's not a bouquet of flowers; it's a bouquet of words, of poetry.

Sam reached over and grabbed a thick book from a pile on her desk. A few weeks ago she had been in a dusty used bookstore, searching for inspiration for Brooke's letters. Coming up with new ways of saying basically the same thing had been difficult, so she had turned to the masters. For a few dollars she had purchased an old college text, The Norton Anthology of Poetry, and it had been a bonanza of ideas. Now, she flipped through the crinkly pages to the numerous selections she had dog-eared

Jfordqb2000: Where there would be roses, there is Shakespeare: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate"

Brooke didn't respond; she knew there was more coming. She sat back against the headboard and waited.

Jfordqb2000: Where there would be daffodils, there is Elizabeth Barrett Browning: "If thou must love me, let it be for nought / Except for love's sake only"

Jfordqb2000: Where there would be lilies, there is Byron: "She walks in beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies"

Jfordqb2000: And where there would be baby's breath, there is Marlowe: "Come live with me and be my love, / And we will all the pleasures prove"

Jfordqb2000: I would wrap up these lines, and all the other great love poems ever written, and offer them to you. They can't do justice to your beauty or the strength of my love, and are only a few weeds in the vast, rolling field of wildflowers that blankets my heart. Every bloom that grows there, sprouted in adoration, is yours.

Sam stopped there, wondering if it was all too much. She waited for a reply.

Brooke gazed at her computer screen, her eyes filling with ridiculous unshed tears at the force of her emotion. No one had ever cared this much for her, not even the Josh she used to go out with. Whatever change had occurred, whatever had made him into this new incarnation who could affect her so deeply from one hundred miles away, she was grateful for it. She didn't think she knew how to express that gratitude.

Blu_brookemcq: You astound me. You say the most amazing things.

Sam smiled with pride, and reached over her shoulder to give herself a pat on the back. This was the validation she was craving. She knew she would never get the opportunity to say these things to Brooke for real, but at least she got to say them. And knowing that Brooke liked it was enough. Well, not really, but it was better than nothing.

Jfordqb2000: Well, I can't take credit for the dead poets. But you inspire me to say the rest.

Blu_brookemcq: If you weren't at your Grandmother's I would ask you to come over right now. I don't think I can wait until next week.

Of course, Sam didn't know exactly what Brooke meant, but she could make an educated guess. Still, she wanted clarification, even if it meant Josh would get in trouble for it.

Jfordqb2000: Next week?

Blu_brookemcq: Is it possible your head is so filled with poetry that you forgot? Remember what we talked about yesterday? You, me, hotel room, big bed?

Sam felt the blood drain from her face. As long as the reality of Brooke and Josh's physical relationship was something abstract, she could deal. Having it shoved in her face like this was unbearable, and her finger moved across the touchpad so that the cursor hovered over the X that would terminate the program. But she had initiated this; she had to see it through. She resumed typing instead.

Jfordqb2000: How could I forget?

Blu_brookemcq: I feel so close to you right now. I want to be close in every way.

Jfordqb2000: I want that too. You have no idea how much.

Sam didn't think Josh would disagree with that statement.

Blu_brookemcq: Good. I'm glad we're in agreement, lol. It's getting late, Joshie. I have to get up early. Nic's picking me up at 6am. Much as I don't want to, I have to say goodnight.

Jfordqb2000: Okay. Are you bringing your laptop? Now that I have internet access, I could email you while you're away.

Sam had shrewdly realized that since Josh was unconnected this weekend, she had the playing field all to herself.

Blu_brookemcq: I'll bring it. The hotel probably has wi-fi.

Jfordqb2000: Good. Now put your pom-poms down for a second, Miss Cheerleader. I want you to pay attention.

Brooke frowned. Who had said that to her recently? She couldn't remember, and put it out of her mind.

Blu_brookemcq: I'm listening.

Jfordqb2000: This is me talking now, and it's different from all the other times we talk. Remember this moment and what I say because it will always be true. I LOVE YOU, BROOKE MCQUEEN.

Brooke smiled. Josh told her he loved her all the time. But if he wanted to make a big deal out of it tonight, she didn't mind.

Blu_brookemcq: I love you too, Josh.

Ugh, Sam thought. Why did she have to type that last word? She couldn't just let me have my little fantasy.

Jfordqb2000: Good. Now give 'em hell this weekend. Kick all those other girls' scrawny asses, okay? And check your email! 'Night.

Blu_brookemcq: goodnight.

Before Brooke shut down the program, she saved the text of their chat. She couldn't just let it disappear into the ether of cyberspace. Little did she know that Sam was in the next room doing the same thing, and printing it out. Sam placed the page in a manila folder at the bottom of her desk drawer, with copies of all the letters she had given to Josh. Both girls went to bed around the same time, Sam judiciously waiting in her room until she heard Brooke finish in the bathroom and re-enter her bedroom. Thinking her feelings would somehow be visible on her face, she decided to avoid Brooke.

The exhilaration Sam felt while chatting with Brooke had been replaced by sleepless depression, and she picked up the anthology of poetry while waiting for sleep to come. While paging through centuries of verse that either affirmed or negated what she was feeling, she found a short poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay which exactly mirrored her situation – all she had to do was change the pronouns.

Hyacinth

I am in love with him
To whom a hyacinth is dearer
Than I shall ever be dear.

On nights when the field-mice
Are abroad, he cannot sleep.
He hears their narrow teeth
At the bulbs of his hyacinths.

But the gnawing at my heart...
He does not hear.

 

Part 6

Sam's beat-up Beetle was the first car in the Kennedy High School parking lot on Monday morning after the long Thanksgiving weekend. She hunkered down in the front seat and tried to look inconspicuous as she waited for Josh's car to appear. Finally, she saw him pull in and was at his car door before he turned off the engine.

"I have to talk to you," she said urgently as Josh threw the car door open.

"Good morning, Sam. My Thanksgiving was great, thanks for asking," he replied. "Hang on a second."

Sam stood there looking chastened, and then impatient, as she waited while Josh bent to collect the textbooks that were strewn across the back seat. Lots of school work got done over the break, she wryly noted.

Josh straightened and deposited his books in a backpack. "What's up?"

"I crossed a line."

Josh peered at Sam uncomprehendingly.

"I did something I'm not proud of, and I am completely sorry," Sam said.

Josh had never seen Sam contrite. She usually blustered her way through an explanation and not once had he ever heard an apology pass her lips, not even for the GPA article which exposed him as an imbecile. Now he was worried. "Tell me."

Sam gazed somberly at Josh. If Josh wasn't clued in to what she had done then Brooke would instantly know there was something rotten in the state of Denmark, which absolutely could not happen. Sam saw no other way of getting it out than just… getting it out. "I stole your username and password and instant messaged Brooke last Thursday night."

Josh didn't say anything, but he stopped walking toward the school entrance and faced her.

"As you," Sam elaborated. "I pretended to be you. If it makes you feel any better, she thinks you're the most romantic guy on the planet."

"It doesn't," he replied shortly. "Don't do it again." He began walking away from her.

"I won't. I promise." Sam followed him. "There's something else."

Josh stopped again. "What?" he said through gritted teeth.

"I told her to bring her laptop to San Diego so that I, I mean you, could email her while she was gone. And I got a little carried away."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I didn't have much to do over the weekend so I wound up sending… several emails."

"How many?"

Sam didn't like the way Josh began clenching and unclenching his fists. "It's nothing to get excited about. She really liked them, she said they were helping her perform her routines better, knowing that I, I mean we, I mean you, were rooting for her."

"How many, Sam?"

"Eleven?" Sam squeaked out, now nearly afraid for her life.

"You sent her eleven emails in three days?" Josh was incredulous.

Sam nodded guiltily.

"It's over." Josh said, his voice low. "It ends now. No more letters, no emails, no instant messaging, no text messages, no telegrams, no Morse code, and no communicating with fucking flags or any other kind of crap!"

"Okay." Sam tried to calm him; Josh seriously looked like he was about to explode.

"It ends now," Josh repeated. "I'm going to stand or fall without your help. And Brooke will just have to understand. Or she won't. It's that simple."

"Wait. You're not going to tell her, are you?"

"Yes! I have to now. Thanks to you," Josh said bitterly. "She loves those letters and she loves me for writing them. But I'm not that guy, Sam! I stupidly let them speak for me, and just avoided talking about them. You made me look good and she was happy. But now she won't be able to accept that I don't want to talk about it. Not after eleven emails and you spinning your creative writing web of bullshit online!"

"Josh, you cannot tell her." Sam grabbed his sleeve to reinforce her statement.

"I'm going to tell her." He was resolute.

"Please don't tell her. You can't!" Sam was desperately hanging on to his arm. "If she finds out I wrote the letters she'll hate me!"

"You're just realizing that now? Sam, you're the thorn in her side, the fly in her latte. She already can't stand you," Josh said brutally. Then he paused, and a look of comprehension passed over his features. "Oh. I finally get it."

Sam knew what was coming. She looked away.

"Everything you put in those letters was real, wasn't it?"

She didn't answer him.

"Now it makes sense. I never could figure out what was in it for you," he said, then added, "That's pathetic."

"Don't you think I know that?" she muttered.

"Well, whatever, Sam. I can't help you," Josh said, shaking his head. "She's going to dump me so fast."

Desperation made Sam crafty. She would play her last, her only, card. That card made the bile rise in her throat, but she had no choice. Even then, she knew if she was granted a reprieve it would be temporary at best. But maybe she could figure out a way to get out from under this in the meantime. "It's too bad. Your timing isn't that great. Brooke is really looking forward to that date of yours at the hotel," she said ultra-casually. "You know, with the big bed? Think about it."

If possible, Josh's features darkened further. Before he backed away from her as if she had leprosy, he said, "That's below the belt. That was private, personal. You're disgusting, you know that?"

She knew; she hated herself. But her self-preservation instinct had kicked in, and self-preservation was not pretty.


Harrison had been waiting for Sam at her locker, as their usual morning routine dictated. They would catch each other up on any news that had transpired in their lives since the previous day and then walk to Lily's locker, where Lily and Carmen waited for them, then they would all walk to class together. Sam wasn't usually this late. When she finally appeared he could tell something was up. She avoided looking at him and concentrated on transferring books into and out of her locker.

"Morning, Sam. What's the haps?" Harrison asked, bending down and trying to meet her gaze.

She wouldn't look at him. "Hey. Sorry I'm late. If you want to just go, I can catch up."

"No, it's okay. You alright?"

"I'm fine," Sam said with the defensiveness turned way up, which meant the opposite was probably true. "Are you ready yet?"

Harrison wisely did not point out that he had been ready for ages, and gestured for Sam to lead the way. When they arrived at Lily's locker, their friends were not there. "They probably went to homeroom already," he said to Sam, who had halted at Lily's locker and was staring stupidly toward the end of the hallway. "Sam?"

Harrison followed her gaze. He saw Brooke barrel into Josh's arms, almost knocking him down with the force of her momentum. She had a smile of sheer delight on her face, and was holding aloft a small trophy. Josh grinned back at her and lifted her in his embrace, twirling them around in a tight circle. The pair kissed a bit too passionately for public consumption, and Harrison turned back to Sam, who was watching them intently.

Brooke began laughing and talking a mile a minute to Josh, but Harrison couldn't hear what she was saying. Josh put Brooke down, putting a protective arm around her shoulder, and they began walking down the hall in Sam and Harrison's direction. Brooke was oblivious to them but when Josh passed he directed a savage look at Sam, nearly baring his teeth at her. Sam didn't react, but as soon as they passed by, she turned toward the wall of lockers and closed her eyes, resting her forehead against the painted metal.

"What the hell was that all about?" Harrison asked.

"Nothing." Sam was obviously distraught.

"It wasn't nothing. What's his problem? You couldn't be any nicer to the guy. After all, you're making it possible for him to pass all his subjects, and you even wrote him those love letters awhile ago."

Sam glanced at Harrison, guilt evident on her face.

"What?"

"Nothing. You don't want to know," she said miserably.

"Will it make you feel better to tell me?"

"No. Yes. I don't know." Sam turned from the locker to look at Harrison properly. "I didn't stop writing the letters. I let you believe I did but I kept writing them, and Josh kept taking them. This weekend while he was away I pretended to be him and communicated with Brooke online."

"You've been writing to Brooke the whole time they've been dating?"

Sam nodded.

And Josh has been taking the credit. Harrison thought Josh's behavior was about as cowardly as it could get, but it was also totally wrong for Sam to continue with the deception, no matter how genuine she thought her feelings for Brooke were. Neither of them really seemed to care about how this was going to affect Brooke when she found out, which was the most tragic part of this whole mess.

He briefly wondered what a love letter from Sam to Brooke would be like. With Brooke as the object on which Sam was focusing her formidable literary gifts, he could guess how powerful the result might be. He hadn't talked with Sam again about her feelings for Brooke, but he now realized that she was still stuck in a morass of conflicted emotion about the girl, if only from the way she had been so subdued over the past month or so.

"And I bet you've been pouring your heart and soul into them, right? Making each sentence a perfect present, every word a gift."

"How did you know that?" Sam asked, caught out by how well he knew her.

"Sam, you work incredibly hard to make an article about cafeteria sanitation a thing of beauty, I can only imagine how much effort went into those letters."

"Yeah, well, it doesn't matter." Sam didn't tell him about the conversation she just had with Josh, not wanting Harrison to think even less of her. From their very public display of affection, Sam could surmise that Josh had not told Brooke about the letters. Yet. She couldn't believe she had actually suggested Josh keep mum so he could have sex with Brooke.

"Sammy, you know you can't keep doing this. It's killing you." Harrison put his hand on Sam's shoulder. "And stop for a minute and put yourself in Brooke's shoes. How do you think she's going to feel when she finds out, and her perfect guy bubble is burst all over the place?"

Sam's brain equated Brooke's burst bubble with the instant rejection of Sam's feelings, and for a moment her ardent love turned into bitter hate. Why couldn't she be loved by Brooke? What was so wrong with her? A sense of anticipatory disappointment threatened to swallow her whole. She looked at Harrison and, whether it existed there or not, saw judgment in his eyes, and it made her furious. At the moment she had no love in her heart for Brooke, only anger at the untenable position in which she had placed herself and resentment over the disproportionate component of unfairness her life held.

"Then maybe she can learn to live with disappointment in the real world with everyone else!" Sam exploded. She couldn't face Harrison anymore, and the perfect sense he was making. She ran away from him down the hall, away from homeroom, away from everyone.


Today had been an almost perfect day, Brooke thought, as she went to meet Josh after her last class. Principal Krupps had congratulated the squad for their second-place showing at the competition this morning during announcements, the lettuce in her salad at lunch had been fresher than average for cafeteria food, and she got her English paper back with a large red A on it. The one thing that made it less than perfect was not seeing Josh more during it. She had barely seen him all day, but now, there he was, waiting for her at her locker.

Josh had been steeling himself all day for what he had to do. He had avoided Brooke since this morning, Sam's parting shot reverberating in his ears. He knew he had to tell Brooke but he didn't want to. Brooke made him happy, and he made her happy, except for the letters. Sometimes he wondered if he could have got Brooke back without them, then decided he didn't want to know the answer. He had to tell her. He just hoped she would understand.

"Hi," Brooke leaned into him, wrapping her arms around his waist.

"Hi, babe, how was your day?" Josh squeezed her in return.

"It was great. But I've missed you. Where have you been hiding all day?"

I've been around."

"Have I thanked you yet for all the emails while I was away? I'm convinced they're why we got second place."

"I'm sure you did it all by yourself," Josh denied credit.

"You're too modest," Brooke murmured into his shoulder.

"Brooke, listen, there is something I need to tell-"

"Why don't you make a reservation for Wednesday?" Brooke interrupted. "You won't mind missing one day of practice, will you?" She smiled slyly and looked up at him through her lashes.

Josh sighed. She wasn't making this easy for him. All his intentions unraveled at the sight of those limpid eyes gazing at him. Didn't he deserve to be happy with Brooke? He wanted that happiness. He would let this complicated situation with Sam and her stupid letters ride for today. He would tell Brooke tomorrow. Or Wednesday. No, not Wednesday, Thursday. "No, babe, I don't mind missing practice. That's a silly question."

"Well, I didn't want to assume," Brooke laughed. "What were you going to say?"

"Nothing. It's not important." Josh felt the heaviness of his worries slide away at the sound of Brooke's laughter. "How about you? You don't mind missing practice either?"

"Wonderful Glamazon captain that I am, I've used my powers for good and given the squad the week off after their stellar performance."

"Oh nice! Must be great to have all that free time." Josh could barely remember why he had been so worried. Things would be fine; the two of them would be fine. He knew Brooke would understand when he got around to telling her. He could take his time; it wasn't like Sam was going to spill the beans. "But I've got to go. Coach won't like it if I'm late."

"Okay, but before you go…" Brooke pulled his face down and thoroughly kissed him, drawing whistles and catcalls from the remaining students in the hallway. "Bye, handsome, call me later."

"Bye. Love you." Josh rushed away, knowing he was already late. It was worth getting chewed out by Coach for a kiss like that.

Brooke leaned against her locker and watched him go, not thinking about anything except how happy she was, and maybe how nice Josh's posterior looked as he walked away.

"Brooke?"

Brooke turned around to find Harrison, and wondered how long he had been standing there, waiting for her attention. "Hi, Harrison, how are you?"

"I'm fine," Harrison slouched against the wall of lockers and watched as Brooke spun her combination lock open.

When he didn't continue, Brooke looked up from packing her book bag and prompted him, "Was there something you wanted?"

"Yeah, I wanted to tell you something, but I think you probably already know." Harrison had decided that this was the best way to handle it; not only did couching his news as something she already knew play to her vanity and intelligence, it would also give Brooke an opportunity to save face. He wanted her to know, because it wasn't fair that she didn't. But he was under no illusions that he would be winning any points from this, he was painfully aware that he was the messenger, with a greater than average chance of getting shot.

"What is it?" Brooke stopped what she was doing. Harrison's gravitas had put her on her guard.

Harrison hesitated, suddenly not wanting to be the one to destroy another's happiness. But then he thought if it were him, he would want to know, and he hoped someone would be kind enough to tell him. He spoke slowly and got right to the point. "You know, don't you, that Josh hasn't been writing those letters he's been giving you? You know that Sam is writing them, right?"

Brooke turned away from Harrison and stared into her locker. The moment he said it, she knew it was true. No, she hadn't known that Sam wrote the letters, she would think about that galling news in a minute. But on some level she had known that it couldn't possibly be Josh. It was too different from the old Josh. Sweet, dumb Josh. Brooke had wanted to believe it so much that she ignored the little bells that had gone off in her head telling her that something was not right. And now Harrison had made it impossible for her to believe in her fantasy Josh, her perfect package of looks, sweetness, intelligence, and ardor. Her illusion had been shattered into so many pieces it had ruined the possibility of ever having illusions again. She turned back to Harrison and gazed into his sympathetic eyes. She knew that he knew he had just blindsided her, but he was allowing her a scrap of dignity. He was a nice guy. "Yes, I knew that. Thanks, though."

"Okay, good. I don't feel bad for blabbing, then. I kind of figured you would figure it out."

"Yeah."

"Alright, then. I'll see you later, Brooke, and congratulations on the cheering competition thing." Harrison put his hands in his pockets and walked away, and Brooke watched him go too, although she wasn't seeing anything this time.


Brooke only vaguely remembered the drive home. The longer her knowledge of Josh and Sam's treachery sunk in, the angrier Brooke became. She could sort of understand Josh thinking he needed something extra to win her back, although he was nowhere close to getting away with this. But Sam. Brooke could only imagine how Sam had relished making a fool of her. And to think just last week, on Thanksgiving, how Sam must have been laughing at her as Brooke gushed about her relationship with Josh and her plans to spend the rest of her life with him. Sam was pure evil. What had she ever done to Sam to deserve to be treated this way? The thought of continuing to live in the same house with her was unbearable; the thought of that smug face looking at her across the dinner table filled her with disgust. By the time she had pulled into the driveway she had worked herself into a frothy lather of rage, intent on venting it on the girl who was responsible.

Sam's VW bug was there, and out of pure spite Brooke dragged her ignition key along its passenger door on her way inside, gaining a small bit of satisfaction at the jagged groove that now marred the aged paintwork. It kind of symbolized what Sam had done to her, slashing at Brooke's psyche and permanently damaging her hopes and dreams. It also neatly encapsulated what she wanted to do to Sam in return, make a deep cut that would result in its own ugly scar, a painful reminder of what happens when you cross Brooke McQueen.

She could see Sam through the window as she approached the kitchen door, sitting at the table with a textbook open in front of her, shoving handfuls of popcorn down her throat. Brooke entered and breezed by the evil one without a word, taking the stairs two at a time, and heading straight to her room. Once the door was closed behind her she moved to the bed and dropped to her knees. She pulled from under it a round Christmas cookie tin, red with snowflakes on it, and set it on the bed. She pried the lid off and gazed at the contents, the complete collection of "love" letters, each folded in half, in the order in which they had been received. The older pages were soft and slightly grubby from being too-often handled, the more recent ones crisp and new. Just last night she had printed out the emails from this weekend and added them to the collection. What a sap she was.

In her monumental stupidity she had placed these "treasures" in the metal container so that they would survive in case there was a fire. Now Brooke realized, as she tapped her nails against the flimsy tin, it would be among the first things to melt. She resisted the urge to take a last look through them; they shouldn't be able to captivate her as they once had. Admitting that the words printed on those pages still resonated, still made her vibrate with emotion, would be unforgivable. But even if the letters ceased to exist, Brooke couldn't erase the passages which had, through sheer number of readings, been committed to memory. Her capacity for memorization had gladdened her once – now she cursed it.

The letters had to be destroyed, but first she would confront Sam and see what she had to say for herself.

She went back downstairs, carrying the tin in one hand and its lid in the other. Sam looked up when she entered the kitchen, and was taken by surprise when Brooke hurled the tin down on the kitchen table with all her might, causing a collision with Sam's bowl of popcorn, which spilled onto the floor, and sent the tin skittering across the table's surface. The letters were jostled but stayed inside the tin. Then Brooke flung the lid, frisbee-like, at Sam, but fury had made Brooke's aim imprecise, and Sam was not guillotined by cookie tin.

Sam knew exactly what the contents were. The moment of reckoning had arrived. Her heart pounding, she stood and faced Brooke, waiting for her to say something. Even knowing that things were probably not going to go well for her, Sam couldn't help thinking that Brooke was wildly beautiful as she stood imperiously before her.

Brooke's own heart rate had become elevated, no doubt because of the altercation which had yet to ensue. She gazed at Sam, and with deadly calm, said, "Tell me why you did this."

Part 7

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