And again, if you are still reading this, thank you. All of your reviews are incredible and are what keeps me writing.



Two days later, standing in a motel lobby in Iowa, Brooke waits, hands on her hips, foot tapping the ground. Seeing a familiar figure head into the lobby, she marches over with a purposeful stride.

"And who, exactly, gave you permission to steal my iPod and put your icky music on it?"

"Well, good morning sunshine!" Chris smiles and rubs her hair in a thoroughly irritating manner. "Sorry I didn't say 'bye' earlier, I had to be at the radio station pretty early. But the interview went great, thanks for asking."

"Do you know how far I had to scroll down so that I could listen to Madonna?"

"Not far enough, obviously, if you were still able to listen to Madonna."

"Listen, as much as I'm sure my life would be enriched by --" she squints at the screen of her iPod "-- Blue Oyster Cult, do me a favor and don't do me any favors." She ducks around him and walks briskly outside to where a car is waiting for her.

"Where are we going?" His voice is much too close. She needs some time away from him, some time to rationalize her thought process, to force herself into sanity again. Because despite her best efforts, she's finding herself less and less annoyed by him, and more and more inclined to actually spend time with him. And that is not a good thing.

"I am going to the fabric store. You are going to go sit in your room and write songs, or call one nine hundred numbers, or whatever you do with your free time."

"That's the problem." She attempts to slam the door while he's talking, but he just pulls it out of her grasp and slides in the backseat next to her. "I'm kind of blocked."


"Yeah. I haven't written anything in four days. I have a little bit of a melody I want to use, some chords, but I can't figure out any words."

"Isn't that too bad for you. I guess your music career will be over before it's even begun. What a shame."

"I just need inspiration."

"I really don't understand how going to a fabric store is going to help."

"I need distraction. It triggers my brain." He stares at her expectantly.

"I'm not taking my shirt off."


They have a stare off for a minute; and then, rolling her eyes, she relents. "Fine. You can come. But don't touch anything, and don't talk. You're just there to carry stuff for me."

He grins and slings an arm around her. "I love field trips!"

Turns out, he's not terrible at carrying things. Plus, he can reach things off of all the high shelves that are a foot above her head.

They've been shopping for nearly two hours, and all she needs is one more bolt of fabric. She chews her lip, glancing back and forth between a blue pinstripe pattern and a shimmery pink with little stars.


She glances over at Chris, who's leaning against a fabric rack, carrying three full shopping baskets and wearing several spools of ribbon around his neck.

"Excuse me?"

"Blue. Get the blue fabric."

"Right. Because I always take fashion advice from someone who wears short sleeved flannel shirts without irony."

"You just said you want something to pair the gold ribbon with. The stars on the pink fabric are silver. It would look weird."

"I'm sorry, did you come on this shopping trip to get inspiration or to come out of the closet?"

"Fine. Ignore my advice. Don't blame me when Clothes Over Broes plummets and you're left walking the streets with fifty pink purses that no one wants."

"You know what you should title your next song? Shut the hell up." She grabs the blue fabric and stomps off to the checkout line.

When she walks into his room, he's sitting on the king size bed, his guitar resting propped up against the edge of the bed.

"Please, please don't brood. I don't need anymore guys in my life who brood."

Any traces of contemplation disappear from his face as he gives her a signature smirk. "So I've been upgraded to the status of 'guy in your life?' That explains you coming into my hotel room. Can't resist me, it's alright. They all break down eventually."

"Or my TV is broken, and there's a really good episode of Saved by the Bell on." She climbs onto the bed next to him and grabs the remote.

"Are you kidding me? How am I supposed to write songs while you're watching this crap?"

"Zach and Kelly are not crap. Actually, there is nothing about Zach Morris that is crap."

She settles in to watch, and he rolls his eyes but stays uncharacteristically silent. Brooke finds herself tearing up when Zach and Kelly start dancing.

"You're not serious."

She leans over to punch him in the arm without taking her eyes off the TV.

"You're actually crying over Saved by the Bell."

"Some of us have these things called emotions, Chris, and --" She's cut off by the ringing of a cell phone. Brooke snorts.

"You have your own song as a ringtone? That really shouldn't be allowed."

He ignores her, which pisses her off way more than it should.

"Hey, I told you not to call unless I --" He frowns. "Uh huh. Yeah, that's really not a good idea."

Brooke flips through the channels, pausing on a Lifetime movie. Maybe she's imagining things, but she could swear that he's sort of looking at her while he talks on the phone.

"Well, why can't you just tell me? I can so be sensitive enough!"

Ok, she's totally not imagining it.

"Look, she won't want to -- no. Just let me -- Haley, listen to me!"

Brooke instantly whirls around on the bed. "You're talking to Haley?"

Chris scoots backwards on the bed, looking guilty. "I called her that night I met up with you and let her know where you were. I figured -- hold on, I'm talking to Brooke."

Brooke swings her legs of the bed and stands up, not quite believing how pissed off she is. "So this whole time you've been spilling to Haley and everyone behind my back all my secrets, huh? Letting them laugh it up! God, you're an asshole!"

"Brooke! This is the first time I've talked to her since then. I've texted her once a day to let her know your alive and I told her not to call unless it was an emergency. Which apparently this isn't, because she won't tell me why she's calling." He rolls his eyes at the phone, but she won't be calmed down.

"You know what? I feel like having a chat with Tutor Wife." Taking him by surprise, she leans forward and snatches the phone from him. He attempts to swipe it back but she shoves him back down on the bed.

"Haley! How's the trash talking going? Shared enough of my inner pain yet? Did Chris send you today's updates?"

"I didn't --" Chris starts to protest but Brooke gives him her deadliest glare.

"Brooke, thank god. Listen, we need to..." Haley trails off and she hears mumbling in the background. Nathan? Lucas? She can't tell the voice. "Hold on a sec."

"Hold on?!?" Brooke actually stares at the cell phone, as if it will somehow provide more answers. "What the hell is that? She's the one who wants to talk to me so badly, and now she thinks she can just..."


Brooke hears the voice, and it's as if her entire stomach is dropping to somewhere around the region of her knees.


"I've been trying to call your cell, but it's turned off, and Haley told me you were with Chris, but he wouldn't pick up his phone, so I'm so glad I finally got through."

Peyton's voice is shaking, and Brooke feels a slow burn of rage start up in her chest.

"So you decided that telling me to my face that your in love with my boyfriend wasn't enough, and you wanted to get in a little phone time as well? How are you two, by the way? Set a date yet?"

"Brooke... I -- we -- there's something you need to know."

"Aw, you two have found happiness? That's just lovely. I'll make sure to send you a card with my blessing."

"It's Lucas, Brooke. He's on his way to see you."

She feels like the room has just spun around a little, and has to actually sit down on the edge of the bed. She feels Chris looking at her but ignores him.

"He --what?"

"He found the tour dates on the website, and he's coming to tell you... but..." She hears Peyton pause and sniffle. "You have to give him a message for me. His cell's out of service."

The room stops spinning, and Brooke can feel her anger again. "That's lovely, P. Sawyer, but you'll have to excuse me for not wanting to play Cupid. I'm sure you can just tell him whatever you want when he comes back with my footprint in his ass."

"No, it's not... just tell him I'm not, ok?" Brooke's now almost positive that Peyton's crying. "Tell him I was wrong, and I'm not."

Before Brooke can try and come up with something to say to that confusion, the in-room phone starts ringing. Taking it as a sign of some sort, she presses the end key on Chris' phone and tosses it back to him. "You're a jackass, and I'm so pissed off at you," she snaps, and starts to head towards the door.

"Brooke, wait! I--" The loud ringing of the phone interrupts his voice, and he groans. "Hello? Who?"

Brooke is halfway into the hallway when he calls after her.

"Brooke! Lucas Scott is waiting for you in the lobby."

She doesn't really remember taking the elevator to the ground floor and walking across the lobby. All she knows is that she's standing there, white hot fury blazing through her veins, and for some reason, Chris is standing there with her. Lucas gives her a half smile that a month ago would've melted her heart.

"Brooke." He takes a half step closer. "We've all been so worried."

"Cut the shit, Lucas, and tell me why the hell you're here." Chris laughs, and she clenches her nails into her palms so tightly she swears she might draw blood.

"I..." He runs his hand through his hair and sighs. "Peyton wanted to tell you, but she couldn't, so I said I would. Because she's a friend, Brooke, and she didn't want to hurt you. Ok? You have to remember that, she didn't do this to hurt you."

A funny feeling is spreading through her stomach, like she sort of might know what's coming. "Peyton..." She trails off, begging him with her eyes not to confirm what she's thinking.

"She twisted her ankle the other day, and she went to the doctor. So they were going to do an x-ray, you know, and they always have these questions, and... uh... well, she had to tell them that she might..." He's fidgeting, and suddenly she knows.

"You know what? Let me save you some trouble, Lucas. Peyton said to tell you that she's not."

Lucas blinks a few times. "She's not... you mean she isn't..."

"Pregnant? Is that the word you're looking for?"

She thinks she hears a "holy shit" from behind her, but she ignores it. "Because if she thought she was pregnant, Lucas, you're an awfully good friend to drive all over the country spreading the news to anyone who might give a shit. But wait a minute. Here's the puzzle. Why would I give a damn if Peyton was pregnant?"


"The answer is, I wouldn't. Or rather, I shouldn't. I shouldn't care whether or not Peyton is with child. The only issue here seems to be that you are standing here telling me about her little miracle. Which only means one thing, you colossal dickhead. It means that you would've been the father."

She waits a minute, waits for him to deny it, to spin some long story about being a caring friend to the girl who'd been abandoned by the midget rockstar or the teen father. But he doesn't. He just stands there.

"And since I seem to be getting everything right tonight, I'm just going to go ahead and guess this little creation of life happened while we were together?"

"Brooke, it was an accident."

She snorts. "An accident? Spilling Diet Coke on my new purse is an accident. Screwing Peyton was a decision."

He has the mournful puppydog face now, and she really, really wants to hit him. "Brooke, it wasn't like that, ok? It was after the shooting, and she had just come back from visiting Ellie's grave. She was really upset, and she needed a friend, and --"

"So you comforted her with your penis?"

Chris cracks up behind her.

"Brooke, you really need to --"

"I don't, actually." The flood of anger is threatening to escape through the tears pooling in her eyes. "I don't need to do anything except tell you to get the hell out of my face and stay away from me. I never want to speak to you again."

"Dammit, Brooke! Just listen!" Lucas starts to take a step closer to her, and before she can get her stiletto within kicking range of a good target, Chris has somehow moved in front of her.

"Dude, I think she wanted you to leave." He's smiling, a bit, but there's also a slight steeliness in his eyes, and Brooke is suddenly very aware of the fact that Chris is taller than Lucas. She wonders why she'd never really noticed it before.

"Chris. This is between me and Brooke." Lucas starts to step around Chris, but Chris simply moves with him, blocking his stride.

"Actually, I'm in between you and Brooke. And I'm telling you, the conversation is done."

They stare off at each other a moment longer.

"Fine." Lucas glares in her direction for a moment, and as she watches him exit through the glass doors of the hotel, she thinks she's going to throw up. Chris turns to her and raises an eyebrow.

"See, that was way more entertaining than Saved by the Bell."

She can't decide whether to laugh or cry, so she instead silently walks towards the elevator, letting him trail behind her. The silence envelops them as the elevator coasts back up to their floor, remaining unbroken as he follows her into her room. Brooke flops backwards onto the bed and wonders if she could just fall asleep for a really, really long time. Like six months. She shuts her eyes, and then abruptly opens them as she feels the weight of the mattress shifting next to her.

"What are you doing?"

"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm laying down on your bed."

She can't even muster up a sarcastic comment. "Why?"

"Because I'm comforting you."

"Not fucking likely." She waits for him to snap back, to shove her elbow, to sit back up. Several moments of silence pass. "You can't violate the no touching rule."

"Didn't say I was planning on it."

She shuts her eyes, not wanting to see the ugly ceiling anymore. "Well, I'm not planning on moving anytime soon."

"Good. Bed's pretty damn comfortable."

This time, the silence is longer. She opens her eyes at some point, and spends what she figures is half an hour watching the shadows across the ceiling stretch longer and longer as the sun sets outside. Her eyes shut again, and the next time they open, the room is completely dark. She realizes that at some point she must have fallen asleep.

"Chris?" Her voice is a lot weaker than she'd like, and she can't believe how lost and tiny her voice sounds in the blackness.

"Still here." The vibrations tickle her ear, and she feels herself relax, just a little.

"Okay," Brooke half speaks, half whispers, and she closes her eyes again.