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
"Tell me why you did this."
Sam knew she had to speak but the words did not come. Explaining the magnitude of her feelings for Brooke in the face of her obvious rage had robbed Sam of her usual eloquence. She stood silently before Brooke and tried to will her thoughts into Brooke's head. Don't you understand? Don't you see that this was the only way for me to tell you how I feel? It didn't work. Brooke did not suddenly appear to receive a divine message that revealed the strength of Sam's love for her; she only stood there, her face a cold, still mask waiting for an explanation.
"Now you're at a loss for words? The one time I actually want to hear what you have to say?" Brooke folded her arms and waited.
"I only wanted to help Josh-" Sam began, before Brooke immediately cut her off.
"Don't even pretend you wanted to be helpful! What total bullshit. We both know why you did it!"
"Then why are you bothering to ask?" Sam replied with equal parts exasperation and despair. Brooke had already condemned her, what was the point in trying to explain? All of a sudden Sam wanted to shield the fragile feelings she had for Brooke, even from Brooke herself. How could she expose her precious, albeit one-sided, love to the vitriol and condemnation of its object? If Brooke was going to stomp all over Sam's feelings, grinding and crushing them into some unrecognizable paste, Sam couldn't let that happen. Denial. Denial would work. "I don't know what you're talking about." She did not bother to amend her original statement.
Brooke picked up the sheaf of letters. "You don't know what I'm talking about? Liar. You don't know anything about these letters I received from Josh? The ones that you wrote for him?" She thrust them at Sam's face.
"I didn't write them and you can't prove that I did," Sam said flatly.
This stopped Brooke for a moment. It was strategy, she realized. Sam's denial must be several moves ahead in the chess game of one-upmanship they were playing, her endgame so complex Brooke couldn't begin to figure out. What the hell did it mean? Sam wrote the letters. Brooke knew it and Sam knew it. What was the point in denying it? "Liar," she repeated, feebly. "You wrote them."
"I helped Josh with the first letter, I kind of proofread it for him," was all Sam would concede.
It was all so typical of Sam, Brooke thought. Twist and cloud and confuse the issue until Brooke couldn't follow a thought to its logical conclusion. But she had to address this last remark. "You proofread a love letter? Unbelievable. Is this, like, a game to you?"
"Hardly," Sam shot back.
"But you admit you were involved." Brooke was now dogged in her goal to implicate Sam in something.
"I'm not admitting anything." Sam could see Brooke's uncertainty and felt she was now on more stable ground.
Sam's cool response unhinged Brooke. "Oh my God! This is like some enormous joke. You and Josh got together and planned this whole thing out, right?" She turned away from Sam and started pacing, not seeing when Sam began to shake her head.
Brooke's anguish was so immediate and raw; it affected Sam, hitting her like a punch to the gut. The letters were supposed to make Brooke feel good, not make her suffer like this.
"I mean, what better way to get revenge, right?" Brooke continued. "And I believed it all! Those letters were so obviously just a bunch of lies!"
"No, I meant every word," Sam blurted, then froze when Brooke whirled around and searched her face. Oh, shit, what had she just done? "I mean, the person who wrote them meant every word. Probably."
And Brooke finally had the truth. "Sam?"
"I didn't write them," Sam insisted, looking everywhere but Brooke's face.
"But you just said-"
"Forget what I said!"
They stood gazing at each other. Sam was trying to figure out what Brooke would do next. She could continue to deny, but her denials were now meaningless to Brooke. She had just given Brooke an inordinate amount of power over her. The letters could be used as a weapon to destroy her socially, at school, whatever. But more than that, Brooke was now aware of her real feelings, and that scared her more than anything else. There was one thing she had to know, and she hated herself for not being strong enough not to ask it. "You liked them, though, didn't you?"
"Yes, I did," Brooke admitted.
"Because that's probably all that matters."
"To the person who wrote them," Sam said, sticking to the story. Suddenly, she didn't want a resolution to this situation. She thought she could live the rest of her life suspended just at this moment. It really was the only thing that mattered; Brooke knew how Sam felt. It was enough, right? Brooke didn't have to return her feelings and she didn't have to reject them. Because after this moment would come another one, the moment in which Brooke would respond, and Sam didn't want to know. It was enough that the fact of her love for Brooke was out there, existing in the world. She could live the rest of her life in ambivalence.
Brooke sighed. This was now a complicated thing. She had been so righteous in her anger, had believed with all her heart that she was the wronged party and Sam had done the wronging. She had thought the whole situation was colored in the blackest of blacks and the brightest of whites, and to now learn that it included about a thousand shades of gray had shown her that nothing was ever really that simple. The burning anger remained, but she had lost the will to deliver the punishment she had been planning for Sam. Still, she needed to make an unequivocal gesture that would tell Sam exactly where they stood.
"I did like them," Brooke said, looking down at the folded papers in her hand. "That's exactly the problem." Then Brooke knew what had to come next. The letters had to go.
Sam watched as Brooke walked out of the kitchen to a small adjacent room. She followed when Brooke entered the room, actually a repurposed pantry that their parents used as a home office, and which held all the usual items an office would have, including a shredder. Brooke sat at the desk and moved bills, letters, catalogs, and the computer keyboard out of the way so she had an open work surface. She took the shredder from off the floor and placed it on the desk.
Sam realized what Brooke was going to do and couldn't watch anymore. If there was a clearer way of conveying how little the letters meant to Brooke, Sam couldn't think of it. She turned away, retreating back to the kitchen to wait.
Brooke saw that Sam had left her alone and breathed a little easier. She took the time to glance through the letters again, grieving over what she had to do. She held them close to the feeder, almost putting them through, and stopped. She couldn't destroy them, but they had to be gone. She couldn't leave the room with them, the message that would send to Sam was wrong. She didn't feel that way about her. But she loved the letters. Knowing that someone cared enough for her to put those feelings into words was amazing; but why did it have to be Sam?
Brooke looked around the room. Without thinking too much about it, she shoved the folded papers in a half-inch crack between the desk and the wall, listening as they slid down to the floor. The heavy modular furniture and cabinetry was custom made for the room, it was virtually built-in and could not be moved. The letters were as good as destroyed. She could never get them back from where they were. But it felt better that they were still intact, rather than reducing them to a heap of curly paper pulp. Either way, the letters were gone from her life. Taking some blank paper from the printer, she jammed it through the shredder, its mechanized destruction loudly reverberating in the tiny room.
When she exited empty-handed, she saw Sam slouched against the kitchen counter, her expression solemn with a heavy disappointment she tried to hide. Message received, loud and clear. She pushed away from the counter and left the room without a word.
It was done.
I'm trying to keep this pure.
You may think that this episode between you, Josh and me is finished, and I desperately wanted it to be finished too, but I'm finding that love doesn't work that way. At least, not for me. So now, two months after you found out about the letters, I am compelled to start writing to you again.
You will never read this. By unspoken agreement, we are trying to go back to the way things were before the bubble burst. Make that bubbles, plural. I can see that all three of us are struggling with our individual post-bubble lives.
I accept the fault; the burden of blame is mine. I can totally understand your disappointment. I can totally understand Josh's disappointment. None of us is getting what we want. But that doesn't mean that I will not protect what I still have. I have to because it is the only thing I have left.
So I'm doing my best to keep my love pure. I don't want it to be diluted by bitterness, or tainted by regret. I thought that my love for you was not valid if you didn't return it, but this isn't true. My love for you is the best part of me, and I will continue to be its keeper until I don't really know when.
We don't have a relationship anymore, not that we ever really had one to begin with. We don't talk, or even look at each other much. But my love is still there. You'll probably never want it or return it, but it is yours just the same.
Sam stopped writing. She pulled the sheet from the yellow legal pad and read it over. It was more straightforward than the other letters, less hearts-and-flowersy, but then she wasn't trying to woo Brooke here. It was a simple, honest expression of her intentions, futile though they may be.
She opened her bottom desk drawer and took out a manila file folder. It contained every letter she had written for Josh except the first one, of which she did not have a copy. This newest addition to the file was the first to have her own name at the bottom. Was it momentous to finally be taking credit for her own work? Not really, since the object of her affection would never read it. Sam was doing this for herself.
Even though Brooke did not want or return her affection, had even gone so far as destroying the evidence of it (for which Sam could not really blame her), Sam was glad that she still possessed her copies of the letters. They were proof that her feelings for Brooke actually continued to exist, and since there was no other proof of it in her life, she would keep them as a testament. Sam grabbed a black Sharpie from a mug on her desk and scrawled Brooke's name across the folder, then she put it back in the drawer.
Her mother was at the stove and Brooke was sitting at the counter reading a magazine when Sam entered the kitchen. "Mom, I'm going to Harrison's, okay?" Sam took a banana from the bowl of fruit on the counter and added, as a carefully orchestrated afterthought, "Hi Brooke."
Brooke didn't look up from her magazine. "Hi Sam," she responded dutifully, if unenthusiastically.
"Dinner is in a half an hour; don't eat that and spoil your dinner." Jane said. "Can't you go to Harrison's after dinner?"
Sam put the banana back. "I'll be back for dinner. Promise."
"You'd better." Jane said as Sam walked toward the front door. "We're not waiting for you," she called after her.
"What are we having?" Brooke asked, finally looking up from the pages of her magazine after she had heard the door close.
"Chicken tagine," Jane replied. She turned and looked thoughtfully at her stepdaughter.
"Yum," Brooke approved, going back to her magazine. After a minute she looked up again to Jane's pensive stare. "What?"
"What is going on between you and Sam?"
"What do you mean?" Brooke asked warily.
"I don't know, Brooke. There is some kind of tension between you two, but it's not the usual one-of-you-did-something-to-upset-the-other-and-now-you're-not-talking-to-each-other kind of tension. Should I be waiting for the other shoe to drop?" Jane took a lemon from the fruit bowl and put it on her cutting board.
"What shoe? I don't know what you're talking about," Brooke replied, slightly defensive.
"Well," Jane began slicing the lemon, "all I know is: the holidays were not as happy as your father and I would have liked them to be. Thanksgiving was so much fun and then Christmas seemed like there had been a death in the family or something. Both of you mope around here like you have nothing to live for. I haven't seen either of you smile in months."
"Yeah, Christmas break was pretty quiet," Brooke acknowledged, ignoring Jane's last comment. "But Sam and I weren't fighting. I would think that you and Dad would have appreciated that."
"We do, honey. I guess we just thought that by now, you two would have become friendlier towards each other," Jane said a bit wistfully. "I mean, Sam came in here and said hello to you, and you didn't even look up."
"So it's my fault, Jane?" Brooke exploded. "I'm doing the best that I can! You have no idea how hard this has been for me-" Brooke cut herself off. She did not want to get into this with Jane at all.
"What, Brooke? What's hard for you? What is all this about?" Jane pleaded.
"Nothing," Brooke muttered. "Let me know when dinner is ready." She grabbed her magazine and took the stairs two at a time to her room.
"When am I going to get my Sam back?" Harrison asked, watching Sam copy notes at his desk from the window seat across the room.
Sam looked up for a second. "What do you mean?"
"The Sam we all know and love. You are not her. You, madam, are an imposter!" He pointed dramatically at her like a film noir detective.
Sam snorted while she copied.
Harrison continued. "We want the one back who gets worked up about the injustices in the world, who gets passionate about something new every other week, and who takes great notes in Chemistry and lets me copy them instead of the other way around," Harrison said.
"Yeah?" Sam smiled but didn't look up. "Who's we?"
"Your friends! Me and Lily and Carmen!"
"Look," Sam put her pen down and looked at him. "I'm sorry about blowing off Chemistry today. I just had other things on my mind."
"I don't care about that," Harrison moved and sat on the bed, right across from his desk chair and Sam sitting in it. "It's been, like, months. You're hiding it pretty well, but we can tell you're not happy. Lily and Carmen don't even know the reason why, but I do."
"Harrison, I told you that I forgave you for telling Brooke."
"I know you did, and I believe you-"
"But this isn't about you," Sam interrupted. "Anyway, you guys are going to get the old Sam back."
"Yeah. You're right," Sam said. "It's time that I stop mourning for something that will never be."
"So you're getting over Brooke?" Harrison raised his eyebrows.
"No. I've tried that and it hasn't worked." Sam closed her notebook. "So I'm just going to embrace it, and take it underground."
"Um, what?" Harrison was confused.
Sam turned the desk chair around so she was facing Harrison. "Okay, so we're talking about a classic case of unrequited love here, right? I have very intense feelings for Brooke, but she doesn't have them for me."
"At all." Harrison agreed.
"Thanks for that. Anyway, since she found out, I've been trying to forget about how I feel. Which is really damn hard since I see her all the time at home and at school. So, I have to just accept how I feel about her, but since she doesn't feel the same way, I can't go around demonstrating to all the world my love for her, because that's totally creepy, right?"
"So I'm going underground." Sam sat back like she had successfully argued her case.
"Yeah, that's the part where you lose me."
"Well," Sam explained, "I'm not going underground, but like, what I feel has to. Back when I was Josh's mouthpiece, I got to tell Brooke how I felt in my letters, right?"
"So, I will continue to write her letters, only I won't be sending them to her."
"What will you do with them?"
"Nothing. I'll just write them and stick 'em in a drawer."
"But Sam," Harrison pointed out, "you're not going to be able to move on if you keep writing letters to her."
"I've tried the moving on thing. It's not working! I've decided to do this, and the second I made the decision, I felt better. So this is what I'm going to do."
"For how long?"
Sam shrugged. "As long as I need to."
"No offense, Sam, but do you think this is healthy?" Harrison asked doubtfully.
Sam's sigh came from deep within her. "I don't know. All I know is that I am sick of trying to deny it out of existence. I'll do it until it runs its course. I'm only seventeen. I have to stop feeling this way someday, right?"
"I guess so."
"God, I hope so," Sam said wearily.
It wasn't until Sam said this that Harrison realized the depth of her despair. She was trying to move forward as best she could, and he couldn't criticize the way she was doing it. He didn't know how he would cope with a situation like this, and he was glad he didn't have to find out.
"I have to go," Sam said. "I'm late for dinner."
Harrison awkwardly patted Sam on the back as she left this room. "Take care, Sam. You know where to find me if you need me."
Brooke, sitting cross-legged on her bed, leafing through Cosmopolitan magazine, had turned the page to find an article called "Seduce Your Boyfriend With These Beauty Moves." She snorted in disgust and slapped to the next page. Why didn't they have a piece on "How To Deal With A Dumb Asshole Boyfriend Who Betrays You With Help From Your Worst Enemy?"
She threw down the magazine and buried her face in pillows. It had been two months and the betrayal was still fresh. Brooke couldn't help constantly thinking about what had happened. She honestly didn't know how to get past this. She needed to find some way to close the door on this episode in her life, but three things were making this nearly impossible. First, she lived with Sam, and her mere presence was a continual reminder that the girl had the hots for her. Second, she saw Josh every day at school and was irritated anew every time she caught him covertly staring at her with his hangdog expression. Third, however hard she tried, she couldn't forget Sam's letters. Phrases would arise in her memory unbidden when she was supposed to be concentrating on something else, like History homework, or a Glamazon routine.
The worst part was that the entire school had taken Josh's side regarding their breakup. She was cast as the giant bitch who had broken up with Josh again for no reason. Since neither she nor Josh wanted the real reason for their demise to become public, Brooke was forced to suffer this indignity in silence. If Josh were more of a gentleman, he would have found a way to rightfully shift the blame onto himself, but he didn't even seem to realize that the whole school was judging their separation and finding Brooke the villain of the piece.
Now Jane was blaming her for the strained relationship she shared with Sam. It was way too much to bear. She was the victim here! Admittedly, Sam's overture in the kitchen earlier was the first time she had attempted to communicate with Brooke since she had found out about the letters. Up until now, Sam had assumed a mortified expression whenever Brooke was around, and never met her eyes. Brooke felt that Sam's shame was appropriate, even though it made her feel slightly uncomfortable.
She didn't really know how to feel about Sam's inadvertent disclosure. It just made her feel bad that the one person who was able to articulate some pretty amazing feelings was the one person who's feelings she couldn't return. Someday she would have to sit down and really examine her own feelings about Sam and the letters, but she had nowhere near enough distance for that day to be anytime soon.
Brooke lifted her head from the pillow when she heard Jane call her for dinner. Right now, anger and frustration and righteousness in the knowledge that she was the injured party felt pretty good. Now if she could only get the rest of the school to somehow realize this, she would feel better.
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