Disclaimer: Yeah, I don't own any of the characters. Big surprise there.

A/N: All right, so this chapter is long overdue, but, really, I've been extremely busy these days which, once again, means I have no idea when the next chapter will be out. That being said, I hope you guys like this chapter 'cause from this point on, there might be a bit of drama and we all know how enjoyable Brucas drama is, right?

Anyway, the response to the last chapter was overwhelming and I love all you guys for it. Thank you so much for making writing a pleasure. And I only hope that I did good by guys with this latest update.

Enjoy! And as always, please review!

-X-

Chapter 7

As promised, Lucas received a text from Brooke the following Monday about their interior decorating stint, You can run, but you can't hide. I'll be seeing you soon, Broody!

As it turned out, soon was code for 8 o'clock the next morning, beating Lucas's alarm to the punch by a good two hours. It must've been his imagination running wild or something; but somehow, Brooke managed to infuse an extra note of imperiousness into the buzzer when she rang it, and because of that, Lucas knew it was her before he even opened the door.

"Don't you ever just sleep like a normal person?" he mumbled groggily as she walked past him.

"Nope, never. Why, do you?" she batted her eyelids innocently, and Lucas groaned. "I'll take that as a yes," she laughed.

"This is the second time in two weeks, Davis. What do you want?"

"I told you I was coming, didn't I?" Brooke shrugged, suppressing a smirk at the sight of Lucas Scott with bed hair sticking up every which way.

"No, you told me you were coming soon. And by soon, I thought you meant...later."

Brooke frowned, eyebrows raised. "Dude, that doesn't even make any sense. Besides, I'm a morning person. You know that."

"Yeah, but couldn't you have at least come at ten thirty or something? Or eleven?"

"Eleven!" she gasped as if the idea was too preposterous to begin with. "Lucas, eleven o'clock is practically afternoon! Decorating is a process, all right? You can't just squeeze it in between your mid-morning facial and afternoon pedicure."

"Yes, because that's how I usually structure my days."

Brooke slapped him upside the head gently. "Be nice. Anyway, go get dressed quickly because we need to look at paint swatches now. I've brought some catalogues with me, and already marked some pieces that I think would fit the 'look' we were talking about earlier. You can study them on the way, it might help you – no, me decide on a color for the walls and..."

She trailed off once she noticed Lucas quietly banging his head against the door. "Trying to lose your few remaining brain cells, are you, Broods?" she chided, biting back a laugh.

"Trying to shake loose the reason I ever agreed to this."

"Oh, come on. Don't be such a baby. This will be fun!"

"I was up until two a.m. writing, at which point I fell asleep at the kitchen table."

"Well, then. All the more reason to get your new office into place. In fact, I think it should have a chaise so that the next time you fall asleep writing you can fall asleep on that. Maybe then you won't wake up such a grumpy old man."

Lucas shot her a dry look. "It's good to know that all the fame and success hasn't changed you one bit, Brooke Davis," he muttered under his breath, and Brooke's answering smile was wide.

"I know, right? Anyway, I've got some coffee and chocolate croissants in the car. Will that help your mood?"

Lucas immediately perked up at the mention of a double dose of caffeine. He speedily got dressed, dragged Brooke away from her measurement-taking and down to her convertible to the promised sustenance.

Lucas wasn't all that surprised as he focused on the catalogues Brooke was showing him that the furnishings she had highlighted were exactly the things that he would have picked for himself, if he could've been bothered to go through the trouble of leafing through dozens of store catalogues, rather than just making a one-shop stop at IKEA. They were classic but comfortable pieces, and while eclectic, would complement each other well.

Choosing the color for the walls of the office, however, was something else entirely.

"Okay, how about this one?" Brooke ran a hand along another makeshift wall. "What does this shade of green say to you?"

"Um," Lucas raised a brow. "Beware of crazy young women who talk to green walls?"

Brooke sighed. "Funny, Lucas."

But finally, after a two whole hours of examining literally hundreds of paint colors, (Lucas had never realized that there were so many shades of cream, or that a person – i.e. Brooke – could be fervently in favor of some while zealously in opposition to others), they decided on an eggshell blue for the walls and a Brooke-approved cream for the trim.

Only it didn't stop there, of course. They had to then spend another thirty minutes arguing about how the paint was going to get on the walls. Brooke had taken it for granted that she and Lucas would buy the paint and then hire 'people' to put it on the walls for them, under Brooke's supervision of course. Lucas, however, was adamant that he would be painting the room himself, and that as Brooke had insisted on horning in on the whole re-decorating scheme, the least she could do was make herself useful with a paintbrush. She finally gave in with bad grace.

"You're so gonna pay for my new manicure," Brooke told him before she stalked off to go look for gloves, and Lucas smiled to himself, turning away as well.

When they met again, he found the brunette talking to another customer, and judging by the wide smiles on both their faces, they had definitely passed the 'we just bumped into each other' stage of the conversation.

Brow furrowed, Lucas walked up to them cautiously, overhearing something about a new restaurant opening in town, when Brooke glanced up at once. "Oh hey, Broody." The guy frowned in response, and she quickly corrected herself. "Lucas, I mean. This is the friend I was telling you about," she quickly introduced him to the stranger. "And Lucas…" she turned to him. "This is Kevin Harte."

"Hey," Lucas shook Kevin's hand. "It's nice to meet you."

"Yeah, you, too, man. Brooke tells me that you're renovating."

"Actually, no. Brooke's renovating and I'm just watching."

"Hey!" Brooke glared at him playfully, and everyone had a good laugh at her expense, Brooke included.

"Anyway, I've got to go," Kevin said, looking inappropriately regretful about that fact. "Work, you know…"

The brunette nodded before she turned to Lucas. "Yeah, we should probably head out as well."

"Well… I guess I'll see you later then."

"Yeah, later…" Brooke agreed, only no one moved.

Lucas was about two seconds away from rolling his eyes before Kevin finally took a step back. "I have your number so I'll call you."

"Definitely."

"Until next time, then."

"Next time."

And after a few more furtive glances, Brooke and Kevin finally parted.

"So…fiftieth time lucky?" Lucas commented once they were alone again.

"I'm still on cloud nine so shut up."

The blonde bit back a smile. "I'm just saying. I mean, given what happened with that insurance agent you dated last week..."

"Oh, no," Brooke groaned, covering her face with her hands. "Don't remind me."

"Or Christiano, the Italian chef you met during Thanksgiving. Do you remember him?"

"Lucas Scott! Do you want me to kill myself?" she demanded, and Lucas laughed.

"Fine," Brooke admitted grudgingly after a moment. "I guess you're right. I haven't had much luck in the dating department lately. But Kevin's different. He has his own teeth, his own hair and we share a mutual love for the Beetles," the brunette clarified. "He's just a regular guy, and when he calls we'll go on a regular date."

"So there really is a first time for everything."

Brooke tactfully ignored him. "And he also knew that my favorite color was red, Luke. I mean…" she shook head, still in awe, "just what are the chances?"

"Well. Ignoring the fact that both your handbag and sweater are red, not to mention your nails, I'd herald a guess and say pretty slim," Lucas replied dryly, and Brooke shot him a dirty look.

"Spread your broodiness, why don't you, Scott? You're such a pessimist."

"I prefer the word 'realist'," Lucas grinned, and the brunette rolled her eyes at him, even though she was smiling, too.

"Whatever. Anyway, come on, we need to get these babies to the counter," she said, and made a move to lift one of the cans of paint, which she promptly dropped back down again, wincing. "Shit!" she swore. "Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!"

"I'll be forever grateful that Sawyer was nowhere within the vicinity," Lucas raised a brow, amused.

"Funny, but I think I just sprained an arm, dude. That stuff's seriously heavy!"

"Or maybe you're just out of form," he teased, effortlessly picking up both the cans and carrying them over to the counter.

Brooke gaped at him in sheer disbelief, then shook her head as if to clear her thoughts, her eyes narrowing dangerously. She hurried after him immediately. "You're a man. You're supposed to be freakishly strong and muscular."

"Mm-hm."

"And just what do you mean I'm out of form," she demanded, her hands on her hips; making a face at him that was entirely inappropriate on a twenty-five year old woman. "I'll have you know that my form is just fine, thank you very much."

She glanced down at herself as she said the words, and in spite of himself, Lucas did, too. His eyes skimmed over the length of her body – clad in a bright red sweater and a pair of blue skinny jeans that he liked very much – and he couldn't say he disagreed. Raising a brow, Brooke smirked at him, and he quickly looked away.

"I wasn't talking about that kind of form, Brooke," he rolled his eyes, averting his gaze from her, but not before he caught the wicked grin on her face.

"I know, but I wanted to ask Haley what she thought about this new pair of jeans; and after seeing that reaction – well, I don't think I'll need to because I'm definitely keeping them now."

"Yeah, and I'm...just gonna go over here now," Lucas whirled around and made his way to the counter.

"Oh, come on, Luke. It's all right if you think I'm hot."

"I'm actually too much of a gentleman to objectify women that way," he said, and then almost burst out laughing at the disgruntled expression on the brunette's face.

"You're downright horrible, Lucas Scott! I mean, what am I supposed to say to that?"

"You mean, besides the fact that you think I'm hot? Believe me, there wouldn't be any objectifying there."

"Ass," she muttered under her breath before she turned around and went in search for another paint brush, leaving Lucas laughing after her in real amusement. Shaking his head, he stood in line to pay.

"Oh my god," someone gasped the moment he made it to the front of the line, and he looked up to see a young woman manning the cash register, gaping at him with wide eyes. "You're Lucas Scott, aren't you? The author of An Unkindness of Ravens?"

She didn't even give him a chance to reply before she plunged on. "Believe me. I'm not a crazy stalker or anything," the girl finally took a deep breath, "but I love that book!"

"Really?" Lucas smiled in spite of himself. It was always strangely fulfilling to hear those words. "Thank you. I'm glad you liked it."

"I really did. I'm sorry about your wife, though. Peyton. I heard that she passed about a year ago."

His smile disappeared.

"I always thought she was kinda cool, I guess. But Brooke's my girl."

Lucas raised a brow, confused now. "Excuse me?"

The girl smiled sheepishly. "I guess I'm making it pretty obvious, huh? I'm a Brucas fan through and through."

"A…Brucas fan?"

"Yeah, you know…merge Brooke and Lucas together, and you get Brucas. Sort of like how Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez made Bennifer, and…well, there's Brangelina, of course."

Lucas felt as though someone had just kicked him the gut. And then kicked him again. "Right…" he nodded, clearing his throat. "Of course. Brucas."

"We have fan clubs and everything."

And that was about all he could take.

So he was more than thankful when Brooke appeared then, brandishing three paint brushes in his face. "I thought we could use the extra," she smiled at him, her dimples on full display, when she suddenly noticed the uncomfortable expression on his face. Only she didn't get a chance to ask him what was wrong before–

"Holy crow!" the cashier cried again, startling the both of them. "You're Brooke Davis!"

Shooting Lucas a questioning glance, Brooke turned to her smoothly, a polite but genuine smile on her face. She was clearly more at ease with the attention, no doubt a product of handling the media and paparazzi over the years. "That I am. It's a pleasure to meet you…" she trailed off suggestively, and the young girl got the hint immediately.

"Carly," she supplied, almost bouncing up and down. "It's a pleasure to meet you, too. I've read so much about you I feel like we know each other already."

"Aw, that's so sweet of you, Carly."

"Thanks," she grinned, and then suddenly stopped bouncing. "Hey, wait a minute," she glanced back and forth between the both of them, brow furrowed. She suddenly seemed to come to herself. "You two aren't, like, together or something, are you? Because that would just be – oh my god, that'd be awesome!" Her face lit up like a child's on Christmas. "Lucas Scott and Brooke Davis reunited. Broody and Cheery. Pretty girl and boyfriend…"

Brooke just stared at her, stumped. "Sorry, what?"

Lucas cleared his throat, and Brooke turned to him at once. "Carly here has read An Unkindess of Ravens, and she's a…" he paused, "Brucas fan."

"A Brucas fa– oh," she stopped as the comprehension dawned. "Oh." She had gotten it a lot faster than he had.

Carly nodded her agreement. "Mm-hm. You guys are like my most favorite couple ever. Better than Naley, even."

"Naley," Brooke shot Lucas a sideways glance. "Of course. You gotta love Naley."

"Didn't like Leyton much, but…whatever, you know?"

"I'm sorry. Leyton…?" Lucas frowned.

"Lucas and Peyton," Brooke supplied without even looking at him this time.

"You two were just awesome. I mean, the 82 letters, and then that scene in the parking lot, Lucas, where Brooke told you that you had to fight for her…" Brooke and Lucas automatically stiffened at those words, "I mean, it was just so romantic, you know? And what makes it so much better is that it was all real. Right? That's what you said in your interview, anyway."

"Um," Brooke fumbled for the right words before she turned to Lucas for help. "We…gotta go."

"Now," he added.

"Immediately."

"I mean, we're kind of busy. And we really…"

"Have to go," Brooke nodded. "It was nice meeting you, Carly."

"It really was," Lucas added before he slapped down a few dollar notes on to the counter for the cans of paint, and practically ran out the doors with Brooke right behind him.

"I'm still rooting for you guys!" Carly shouted after them, and Brooke cringed, picking up her pace and overtaking Lucas at the very last moment.

"Fuck," he swore the second they were outside.

"Yes, fuck!"

"What the hell was that?"

"I don't know!"

"Brucas?" he repeated dubiously.

"Well, it's your fault for writing about us! I mean, seriously, Luke? Couldn't you have at least changed our names or something? And Broody and Cheery? Really? You could've definitely changed those, you know!"

"What, and made me Cheery and you, Broody?"

"It's a fiction, isn't it?"

"Mm-hm. Of course. And while I was it, maybe you could've been the one playing basketball and I could've been the one cheering for you on the sidelines."

"Oooh," Brooke's expression suddenly cleared and her face lit up, "Kinky…"

Lucas laughed in spite of himself. "That was just crazy in there right now."

"You have no idea."

"I can't believe she knew our whole lives."

"Lucas, you practically wrote our whole lives," Brooke rolled her eyes, looking amused now. "What did you expect?"

"Not fandoms for one."

"I know. I should want to kick your ass right now for breach of privacy, huh?"

Lucas remained silent, his expression thoughtful, and Brooke shook head. "And there you go again."

"What?" Lucas blinked at her.

"You were squinting right now, which can only mean that you were brooding…" Brooke smiled at him as she opened the car boot. "What were you thinking about inside that pretty head of yours, anyway?"

"Nothing, I just…it's kind of amazing how passionate these people are."

"It is, isn't it? Fans might be crazy, but they're also downright fantastic. Just look at the following Harry Potter has. Or even Twilight."

"Twilight?" Lucas repeated, and Brooke raised a brow at him when she heard the note of confusion in his voice.

"Yeah, Twilight. You know… Vampires. Werewolves. Edward, Bella. Any of those ring a bell?"

"Umm…"

Brooke just shook her head. "For someone who's such a literary genius, do you know anything about your cultural heritage, Luke?"

"I know about–"

"Human Bondage and Othello and Winter's Discontent, yeah. But sometimes…" Brooke nudged him teasingly, "it pays off to read something that's not complicated with sentences that are almost a page long, you know?"

"Funny," Lucas shot her a dry look.

Brooke laughed. "Anyway, come on. Let's head home, Broody. We only have about ten hours left till it's a brand new day, and I'm going to get your office done by tonight if it's the last thing I do."

"I'll be damned if you don't," Lucas muttered under his breath and received a hard slap on the shoulder for it. "Ow!"

-X-

Time was money, Brooke insisted. But Lucas still made two stops along the way home, one to pick Sawyer up from Nathan and Haley's, and the other to buy some of the best dim sum in town, just in case, Lucas reminded Brooke, they were too tired to move after all the manual labor to head out again for dinner.

"Are you sure you we have everything we need, Luke?"

"Yes, I'm sure," he repeated. He'd said it so many this afternoon it might as well have become a mantra at this point.

"All right, then. If this new fashion line doesn't work out, I guess I might have to end up painting houses for a living so…hand me that brush, would you," Brooke said, adjusting the 'work' sweater she had changed into the moment they'd gotten home. Tying her hair into a sloppy pony tail, she waved a hand for Lucas to move faster, but he hesitated.

True, Brooke had been complaining about painting the room themselves from the word get go, and true, he'd (affectionally) told her to stop being such a snob. But now that they were actually here…

"You've never painted a wall before, have you?"

"It's just a wall, Lucas," Brooke rolled her eyes as she strode past him toward his study with one of the smaller paint cans in her hand. She disappeared into the room. "How hard can it–"

Crash.

Sawyer cackled with delight from her spot in front of the TV.

"Um, Luke? Don't freak out or anything, but…"

Lucas was pretty sure he'd never be able to get that paint stain off of his floorboards after today, but maybe it was a fair trade off, he decided, watching Brooke flit around in an apron, doing a terrible job of moving the furniture (or what little he'd left for her to do, anyway) from one end of the room to the other. Sawyer, meanwhile, was sitting in her carrier by the windows, happily shaking her rattle away.

"Let me take care of that," Lucas stepped in when he saw Brooke struggling to carry the cream paint again. "Seriously, Brooke, step away from the giant tin. One patch of paint of my floor is enough."

Brooke made a face at him, but relinquished her grip on the metal lid gamely enough. "Fine. I'll go check on those two book shelves you ordered from IKEA the other day – a total waste of money if you ask me, by the way – and see if they're going to be delivered anytime soon," she decided. "You gave them the address, didn't you?"

"Um, no?" Lucas said.

"Lucas!" Brooke protested, hitting him on the arm. "Where's your sense of responsibility?"

"Brooke, it was you who called them up with the details!"

Brooke tactfully chose to ignore this fact as she picked Sawyer up. "Well, it looks like Sawyer and I are going to have to do some damage control," she told him with heavy sigh before walking off down the hall.

And she just might've been able to pull it off if had Lucas had not caught her lips twitch at the last minute. "Oh, I'm so on to you, Brooke Davis," he called down the hall, knowing full well that she'd staged this whole IKEA-slash-address protest on purpose, just to get out of having to wield a paint brush. "I'm not going to paint this room all by myself."

Faintly, he could hear Brooke and Sawyer giggling deviously. They were definitely bad influences on each other, Lucas decided, shaking his head with a smile, before he dipped his own brush into the paint and began to work again.

He'd just finished the wall on the far side of the room when Brooke waltzed in with Sawyer, picked up a paint brush, painted a few lines on her own wall before she disappeared again, muttering something about getting herself a glass of water. This happened a few more times, and Lucas had to press his lips together to keep from laughing when he caught her play tic tac toe with herself once on the wall because true to her form, Brooke Davis had this thing with paying attention – she wasn't particularly good at it.

Two hours and forty five minutes later, when the walls were finally blue and the trim was cream, Brooke slumped down on to the floor and wiped her brow with an exaggerated sigh. "Wow. That was so, so tiring!"

"Yeah, I can imagine," Lucas said dryly. "All that sitting around and watching me paint must've been a lot of work, huh."

Brooke only smiled serenely in response. "Think of it this way, Luke. Now I don't need a new manicure, and you don't have to pay for it. It's a win-win situation."

"I'm ecstatic."

"I thought so, too!

But her good-humored expression promptly disappeared when Lucas reached behind him and pulled out the two IKEA boxes that had been delivered later that afternoon. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Lucas smiled triumphantly, and almost broke down laughing at the look on Brooke's face.

"Oh, god, Luke! You're awful," she groaned, and Lucas's smile widened.

"So they tell me," he agreed when the doorbell suddenly rang, interrupting them, and Lucas heard his front door open and close. "Lucas!" Haley called.

"Dude, where are you?" Nathan called right afterwards, and Lucas yelled back that he was in his study with Brooke.

"Oh, save me, Young Haley and Nathan Scott, from Sir Lucas the Terrible!" the brunette added melodramatically, ignoring the dirty looks Lucas aimed in her direction.

"Very mature, Brooke."

She stuck her tongue out at him playfully at the same time that Nathan and Haley appeared in the doorway, stopping short at the sight in front of them. "Whoa," Haley breathed, looking around. "What's going on in here?"

"We just painted the walls," Brooke shrugged.

"We?" Lucas repeated, cocking an eyebrow, and Brooke rolled her eyes.

"Fine. Lucas painted the walls, and I watched."

"Much better," Lucas nodded approvingly.

"As any good boss should do," she added cheekily, and Lucas's eye narrowed.

"It looks…really good," Haley complimented as she walked into the room.

"Gee, don't sound so sure of yourself," Lucas grumbled, and Brooke winked at him reassuringly.

Nathan followed after Haley. "So what are you two doing now if you're done with the walls?"

"Assembling Lucas's golden purchases from IKEA," Brooke answered with a grimace, and then suddenly perked up. "Oh, hey, Hales! You can totally help me with this book shelf here."

"Uh, no," Lucas disagreed. "Haley is helping me assemble, Cheery."

"No way. She's my friend."

"Well, she's been my friend for longer."

"I chose her first."

"I knew her first!" Lucas finished with a flourish, and opening and closing her mouth a couple of times, Brooke finally gave up.

"Fine," she glared at him before standing up and grabbing Nathan's hand. "It looks like it's gonna be just you and me then, Nate."

"Oh, so you finally noticed me, huh," Nathan raised a brow, sarcastic, and Brooke smiled at him, fluttering her eyelashes innocently.

"You know I love you, Nate."

But approximately an hour later, Brooke found herself hating everyone and everything all at once – well, really only the thin metal piece she was holding, but still... "What's this?" she whispered to Nathan, who only shrugged helplessly in response.

"I don't know," he whispered back as he looked up at the bookcase they'd just put together. "I'm pretty sure the picture says it's supposed to go into this slot," he said, turning the instruction manual the shelf came with sideways.

"And I'm pretty sure I'm not going to buy anything from IKEA ever again…" Brooke grumbled.

There were a few more minutes of silence, then– "You know what?"

"What?" Nathan asked, still studying the instructions.

"I bet this thing is pretty useless anyway, so…" With a swift glance over her shoulder, Brooke quickly tucked the piece into her pocket and turned to Lucas. "Done!"

"It looks great," Lucas congratulated them, his eyes twinkling in amusement. "But you do realize that in the time it's taken you to do that, Haley and I have not only put our shelf together, but also rearranged half the furniture as well?"

"We're…thorough?" Brooke offered, and Lucas had to laugh.

"So what's new with you guys?" Haley asked as she re-aligned Lucas's photographs on his desk, taking a moment to pinch Sawyer's cheeks. The baby squealed happily in response.

"Nothing much," Brooke shrugged.

"Are you kidding me?" Lucas snorted, before he turned to his friend. "Brooke has a date."

"Really?" Haley turned around, excited, and Brooke leveled Lucas with a glare.

"Yeah. He's a just guy I met at the store today."

"This one doesn't wear a wig, does he?" Nathan grimaced, and Lucas and Haley burst out laughing. Nathan held a hand up defensively when Brooke turned the wrath of her glower on him. "I'm sorry, Davis, but I'm just going on past history here. It's not my fault if you consistently date guys who should have a government warning stamped on them someplace. Case and point," he added, gesturing to Lucas, who stopped laughing immediately and reached out smack his brother upside the head.

"Ass," the older Scott muttered, and this time, Brooke had a laugh at his expense.

-X-

Poetry in motion. For as long as he could remember, those three words succinctly described how Lucas felt about playing basketball on the Rivercourt.

It had been awhile since he'd tried his hand at the game, but it turned out that starting up again was like riding a bike after a long stint of not riding one. Jerky at first, but after a few tries, as smooth as it ever had been.

Eyes trained on the basket, Lucas made the shot, and everything fell eerily silent as the ball precariously rotated around the metal rim. He held his breath, and there was a fleeting moment when he felt as though all the clocks had stopped ticking and the whole world was standing in its balance. He was seventeen all over again, playing for a crowd. The ball tipped inside, and… Lucas finally exhaled. It was the truest form of music there was, the only thing that really mattered, the defining—

Swish.

God, it still felt good.

"You know, basketball is a team sport," a familiar voice commented from behind him, and Lucas whirled around to see Brooke Davis smiling at him with her hands tucked into the pockets of her jeans. His answering smile was automatic.

"Teams can be overrated."

She wrinkled her nose at him, hazel eyes crinkling with amusement. "Oh my god. Broody's a glory-hog."

Lucas nodded with mock confidentiality. "Just don't tell the rest of the guys," he said before he scooped the basketball up into his hands and turned to face her again. She looked beautiful as always in black boots and a yellow sleeveless top that fell right to her thighs; it was so bright and so…her it only added to her generally sunny disposition. Strangely enough, Lucas couldn't help but think that twenty-five year old Brooke looked a lot more relaxed than twenty-two year-old Brooke ever did.

"Don't worry," the bubbly brunette grinned, grabbing the basketball from him. "Your secret is safe with me."

"Thank god."

"So…I went out with Kevin today," Brooke said, shooting the basketball herself and wincing when the ball landed nowhere near the hoop.

"Yeah?" Lucas bit back a smile at her horrible attempt at scoring, and then caught the ball before it could bounce off toward the river and passed it back to her.

"Mm-hm," Brooke nodded, catching it again. "He took me downtown for lunch."

"And…?"

The brunette grimaced, and Lucas chuckled. "Let me guess. Hairpiece?" he asked sympathetically. "Wife? Lives at home with his mom?"

"Lives at home with his dad," Brooke huffed, and Lucas laughed again. "Hey," she mock punched him in the arm, trying to keep a straight face and failing miserably. "Stop it, Lucas Scott! You don't get to tease me about this!"

"Oh, come on, it's funny. Or at least, it's a little funny," he said, nudging her gently. When she rolled her eyes at him, Lucas wrapped a comforting arm around her. "Hey, if I was you, I wouldn't worry about it too much, Brooke. You're beautiful, you're amazing, and you'll probably run out of freaks eventually."

"I've got to be getting close," Brooke groaned.

"You'd think, right?" Lucas teased, and was promptly pushed away for it.

"Oh, I hate you! Now stop being such a…a…butt-faced miscreant–"

"Butt-faced miscreant?" Lucas repeated, but Brooke ignored him.

"–and teach me how to play some basketball."

Lucas stared at her for a moment, and then said, "I'm sorry, but butt-faced miscreant?"

Making a face at him, Brooke just positioned herself in front of the net again.

But after about five tries, the bubbly brunette finally came to the invariable conclusion that for all the cheering she used to do back in high school, she couldn't have been watching that closely because she obviously hadn't picked up on any shooting techniques, ever. She was horribly useless at basketball.

Taking a deep breath, she heaved up another shot – it was five feet wide of the hoop this time, backboard, everything – and winced. "I think that might've been worse than the last one."

Lucas laughed and jogged over to the fence to collect her ball. "I don't know, at least you didn't hit me this time."

Brooke glared at him playfully, and Lucas shot her a winning grin as he dribbled back over. "Come on," he coaxed. "You'll get it. You just need to practice a little more."

"Or maybe my whole life," Brooke muttered, and Lucas shook his head at her in amusement.

"All right, look. Come here," Lucas said and turned her to face the basket again. Standing behind her, he positioned Brooke's hands on the ball and lifted her arms a bit to show her the correct way to shoot. Brooke took a deep breath, a little startled and suddenly hyper aware of his close proximity.

"Just bend your legs a little," Lucas told her, and she nodded. Gentle fingers gathered her hair and held it back a little when the wind continued to blow it in front of her eyes. "Try aiming for the backboard above the rim, and then just bank it in. All right?" he coached in a voice that sounded like a whisper against her ear.

Brooke couldn't help but shiver, and swallowing hard, she nodded. "Okay."

"Okay," Lucas said, and when she turned her head to the side a little and caught Lucas's eye, a brief electric current passed between them and Lucas felt his heart flutter at the sight of her hazel eyes up close. For just a second, she was seventeen, and he was seventeen and she was all there was.

What the hell?

A faint blush tainted Brooke's cheeks, and Lucas stepped away at once. He took a few steps backwards and cleared his throat, gesturing toward the hoop vaguely. "Okay, take your shot," he encouraged, swallowing hard when their eyes met again.

But she didn't have a chance to because right at that moment, a car pulled onto the side of the court. Both Brooke and Lucas glanced up at once when their visitor cut the engine and opened the door to the driver's side.

Lucas looked at the tall, dark haired stranger who climbed out of the SUV, and felt an odd tingle in the old, blocked off passageways. The neurons fired in the part of his brain that was responsible for present perception, but also in the part that was devoted to memory. And maybe that was why a strange overload took place just then, when he recognized the man and didn't recognize him at the same time.

"Julian," Brooke breathed softly, that single word hanging in the air, and closing his eyes, Lucas remembered another time and place; a younger Brooke in his back seat, whispering:

"How many moments can you point to and say, 'That's when it all changed'? You just had one."

Lucas opened his eyes.

Julian Baker was back.