I do not own any of the characters in One Tree Hill and do not intend for this work to be used for commercial purposes. KTHX.

Eleven Shades of Vermillion

Prologue

…x~x…

Oh my smile is fragile;
my heart is held together with string and sellotape.
Be gentle please remember,
I don't bleed, I don't bruise
its always good news
cant loose, cant loose
I can't loose

/Reuben/

…x~x…

"Life is like sailing," Old Jed used to say, "and some people are constantly moving forward, like waves, where others let the waves float them, like boats".

Yeah, it sounded like load of gibberish to Brooke, too. Nonsense, but true anyway. Her mother was a tidal wave, moving along the maps and roads of North Carolina, and she was a boat, carried along with that wave, in danger of crushing the next time the wave chooses to hit a rough patch and withdraw too soon.

Old Jed told her to expect that at some point. That was back before they moved to Fayetteville from Oak Island when she was eleven. Old Jed was Oak Island's favorite memory. They lasted four months in that town.

…x~x…

Brooke doesn't remember Richard Davis in the slightest.

A decade ago, she used to imagine him as some sort of Prince Charming, riding into the gloomy castle, slaying the evil dragon and taking her with him to live far, far away – as far as another state. Back then, crossing a state border was a lifelong dream, a miracle waiting to happen, a magic wall that would protect her from her mother's poor lifestyle choices.

Now, at seventeen, having observed Victoria's shitty taste in men, Brooke harbors no misguided illusions on her father's part. He was probably scum along with the rest of them. Perhaps even worse.

They move from boyfriend to boyfriend, from town to town, once every few months. She lasted a year in Charlotte and almost ten months in Fayetteville, about six in Raleigh but only five weeks in Chapel Hill. Her mother gravitated towards the Appalachians, and Brooke can proudly claim to have witnessed the Blizzard of 1993 there. It was nothing like Stephen King, but to each his own fiction, she supposes.

She doesn't like fiction much. Brooke's opportunities to enroll in school are few and pretty far between. She goes weeks without classes, and sometimes, she has to work in a diner or even a dingy bar just to help get by, and college is a luxury she doesn't let herself dream about. She is seventeen, and she doesn't know much past the basic reading and subtracting percents written on discount cards, or calculating a proper size of a tip.

She knows all about how to cook a meal when the fridge is empty, though. Sam, her new stepfather's kid, is fifteen and permanently hungry, while her dad is always either drunk or hung over, and Victoria doesn't ever do anything but make up. Brooke only remembers her mother having a job a handful of times. They make a living out of leeching off poor bastards who are unfortunate enough to take them in. Her money, well, nobody knows she saves money, nobody even knows she has any. Nobody needs to know that she has a plan.

Really, nobody even notices her much, and Brooke likes it that way.

…x~x…

Old Jed wasn't really old, but he had a sage aura about him that made people overlook his birth date. He was tall, lanky, ginger and nearing fifty. And for the four months that Brooke and Victoria Davis were staying in Oak Island, he was teaching sailing and building sail boats.

Best part about the man was he let Brooke hang around and watch him. They roasted on the beach (Brooke's favorite place in the world) the whole day, and he was teaching her the moving water. He talked about the Outer Banks and the endless sandy shores where one could be alone, but not lost, where a person can be one with nature and at the same time separate from everything they don't want to see in their life. Old Jed knew every hue in the blue vastness that is the Atlantic, knew what the colors in the sky meant, and he didn't mind talking about it to the curious eleven year old with huge dimples smiles and eyes with a tint of hopelessness.

Brooke came across her love of moving water when Old Jed took her sailing into the blood-spilling sunset, when she breathed salt and freedom in for the first time. That, and her love of red and blue.

When she squints her eyes just a tiny bit at the right angle, she can always see those colors, and smile. Brooke learned early on that she needs to smile. Crying can earn her a slap across the face, but even worse than that, crying can never stop once it starts.

…x~x…

So her plan is pretty distant, but she never calls it a dream. She calculates as much as possible.

She is still calculating in the early hours of the morning, when Sammy is still cuddling with her blanket and Joe, Sam's dad and her mother's most recent boytoy, is snoring throughout the tiny hole of the apartment. Brooke is used to waking the earliest. She likes to be prepared.

An hour later, the kitchen is full of steam from the boiling kettle and porridge, her hair tied in a knot, twisted in a bun and kept together by a pencil, for lack of better accessories. Brooke chops an apple to throw in her cereal when Sam walks in, the usual surly gloom hot on the teenager's trail.

"What is wrong with you that you're so happy so early?" she mumbles as per ritual. Brooke smiles back at her, pearly teeth and a certain fakeness about her cheery disposition that is as imperceptible as a Japanese Oni mask. Sam, who knows her enough by now, sees it as just as fierce.

The moment Brooke makes herself a plate and takes a sip of her coffee, she hears a loud booooom from the bedroom, and a piercing shout. The distinct sounds of fighting break out then, like a bad case of acne on a teenage skin. She digs in quicker, and smiles at Sam invitingly.

"Come on, kid. This could be the last proper meal you'll have in a long time. It's my cue to leave."

She ends up being right on this account. And on the account of her stuff being packed already, for she has to rush her mother to their car and drive hurriedly away not fifteen minutes later. In an hour, they drive by "You're now leaving Forsyth County" sign. They drive on route 40 until the lines start to blur before her eyes and they're about an hour's time from Wilmington, but Brooke is too tired to make it. Her mother is long asleep, and she can't find a single town on the map, so she parks in the clearing and nods off hoping to find a café in need of a waitress tomorrow. Which she will.

Next morning, she drives into some small town on Cape Fear River called Tree Hill.

Brooke is always right about that sort of thing.

…x~x…

A/N: So, this is very AU, and I really didn't want to start another story that might not ever get finished, but I am so enamored with this idea (which is not entirely mine) that I couldn't help myself. Please review (Cor and whoever else happens to read this), and let me know if you would like to know where this goes.