hloe: C’mon Brooke. It’ll be fun. You’re my dance dance party girl :’(
Brooke: I’ll check with my dad!!
Chloe: Your dad loves me, the answers gonna be yes
Jenna: wait am I on driving duty
Jenna: this party already sucks
Chloe: Brooke. Brookie. Ask. Ask now
Chloe: Dustins house. 8 pm sharp.
Chloe: Bring drinks!
Jenna: I think she fell asleep
Brooke lobs her phone on the duvet. Pretends it doesn’t exist and pretends she’s jogging down the stairs to ask her dad. Which she won’t do. Until the morning, at least.
She pulls up youtube and watches a pointless montage of skateboard failures, eyelids drooping sleepily. Does she even want to go to another party?
Halloween was- felt - like a long time ago. It was the end of November. She’d worked things out with Chloe.
Well, it was meant to be back to normal. She acted like she still didn’t feel an odd twinge of anguish in her gut when Chloe laughed a little too loud, or a dull frustration when she teased her playfully.
It was stupid, really. Chloe hadn’t even done anything. That’s what she kept telling herself.
Her phone rings, and she groans. Covers her ears with a pillow. Chloe must be super desperate about this party-
She glances at the screen, pouting, then-
She’s scrambling to pick it up, accepts the call and presses it to her ear, “Hey, Jeremy!”
A fuzzy, “Hi- Uh. Sorry. Fuck. Was this a bad idea? I just realised it's like- almost midnight-“
“Are you uh. Free?”
Brooke looks down at her baggy shirt, aka pajamas, then, “Hell yeah I am. What’s up?”
“I’m at the park. Just- I was just wondering if you wanted to talk- Or hang out or something. But the whole midnight thing- “
Brooke’s already scrambling into leggings, phone crammed between her ear and shoulder, “No no, it’s cool, I’m wide awake anyway.”
“You sound tired .”
“Hah! Yeah. I’m fine- why are you in the park anyway?”
A pause. “Star gazing?”
“Bullshit!” She breathes out a laugh, pulling on a coat and scarf and jogging downstairs.
“Why’s that so hard to believe?”
She can hear the grin in his voice. Her stomach churns, “’Cus you said you didn’t like astronomy.”
Brooke peeks around the corner into the living room, “Bye, dad.”
He’s hunched over the table, tapping away on his laptop. She can see the blotchy, dark eyes even from a distance. “Bye, sweetie.”
”Wait, where are you g-?” She hears as she steps out and closes the door.
Jeremy’s gone painfully quiet. For some reason that adds a little urgency. She speeds up.
“Are you running?”
“Maybe- Listen I’m nearly there, meet you on the bridge?”
“Right. Stay safe.”
Brooke grins, “Right-o.”
As soon as her phones safely crammed in her pocket, she breaks into a sprint.
It’s almost refreshing.
See, her school life was just this- Following Chloe, being the second best. Sure, people loved the popular kids, but hate rivalled that on the same level. Things had gotten better, ever since the play, at least. Chloe had seemed to ease up on being- well, unfair. Even if it hadn’t completely vanished. She was showing more of that childish giddiness she’d had before highschool. It was nice, even if it was only reserved strictly for friends.
Her home life was being a role model to her younger siblings. Twins. Double Trouble, as her mom calls them. Her dad growing increasingly tired from work.
Yeah. Running where no one could see you, she decides, was definitely nice.
* * *
Brooke almost runs straight past the park, when she finally makes it. She knows her face is red- it always is after she runs for any amount of time.
She also knows Jeremy won’t judge her.
She hops up the stone stairs into the battered park, everything seeming eery and freckled with violet shadows. She pulls her scarf closer, focuses on the warmth until she spots Jeremy’s silhouette- lanky and hunched over the flimsy wooden structure.
She skips over, waves a hand, “Jeremy!”
He spins instantly, almost flinches, she realises. “Oh- Hey!”
She grins, but it’s short lived, “You didn’t bring a jacket?”
“Yeah, a little bit.”
She doesn't call him out, just wheezes, “Are you cold?”
“No.” He says, with goosebumps rippling up his arms.
She pulls off her scarf, plops it over his head with a satisfied nod.
His whole body quakes in a shiver, like he’d been holding it back, then wraps the scarf around himself. Breathes a soft, “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it.”
There’s a pause. Brooke knows Jeremy’s awkward and quiet and sometimes has too much to say or too little. Tonight’s different. Tonight she can’t laugh it off fondly- he looks sad.
“I didn’t mean what I mean about astrology.” He says finally, “I like it. I just- Yeah.”
“Yeah, I just- I don’t know why I said I didn’t.”
Brooke thinks she knows why.
Because he’d said it in that month or so when his name was the talk of Middlesbrough. When he went from cardigans and sheepish smiles to his head held high and his curly hair tamed and sneered comments. She still doesn’t know what happened- but something reversed. Maybe not all of it, but most.
She says, “Hey, have you ever met my dog?”
“You have a dog?”
“He’s called Bentley.”
“Like the car?”
“No, like the dog.” She’s laughing, but it’s reserved. She brushes her hair behind her ear, and realises she’s waiting for Jeremy to snap. Spill to Brooke what’s upsetting him or frustrating him.
He doesn’t, just smiles meekly. “No, I’ve never met your dog.”
“You should!” Brooke chirps up immediately, her chest swelling with a dull sense of excitement, “Um, are you free? Tomorrow? We have history together, last. You could come over, afterwards.”
Jeremy stays silent for a long moment, and she almost regrets her choice. She’s Brooke- always a step behind. Clumsy and nervous even if she warms to people quickly. And then it’s all teasing and hugs and close comfort. She’s Brooke, a step behind Chloe but a step ahead of new trends she’s growing too tired to keep up with.
And Jeremy’s Jeremy. He’s nervous and secretive and runs his hand through his hair when he stutters too much. Shaky hands and a loud laugh and references Brooke didn’t even understand.
“That’d be nice.” Jeremy says, and Brooke can’t help the grin that spreads across her cheeks.
* * *
She slams her palm into her phone until the piercing sound shuts off completely, and stumbles out of the warmth of her duvet, cursing under her breath over and over again. She runs a comb through her hand and decides her hair can stay wavy and messy. It takes four times for her to get her leg in her jeans before she’s pulling on a jumper.
Final boss is searching for her bag.
A quick peek under her bed, on her desk, and she finally finds it crammed underneath her chair- then she's jogging down the stairs two at a time and skidding into the kitchen.
Her dad’s slumped into a chair, glasses askew and squinting at a newspaper, Jack and Emilia are simultaneously shovelling spoonfuls of cereal into their mouths. Not only do her siblings look similar, the duo do everything together.
“Gonna be late, can’t stop, love you all,” Brooke declares as she pulls on some boots. Then hops around the table and graces them all with a kiss to the forehead before darting out of the door.
She almost drops the keys as she does so, twiddles them in her palm and unlocks the car door speedily before sliding into the driver's seat. She can already feel her phone vibrating angrily in her pocket and she puts it on speaker, throws it into the passenger's seat before starting up the engine.
“Where are you? Are you gonna be much longer? Because I refuse to get the bus-”
“Last time I did that, I saw someone get a rotten apple slapped against their face and I cannot handle that trauma-”
“I could stay at home, have we got any tests today?”
“I’m on my way, Chloe, I’ll be two seconds.”
“You better. Hey! Did you ask your dad?”
“About the party? Please tell me you did, I can’t handle another party with a limited squad-”
“I’m allowed.” Brooke says instantly. She has no idea if she is, but it’ll stop Chloe’s unceasing end of troubles.
And Chloe squeals, coves it behind a cough and a, “Well, see you soon.”
A loud beeping signifies her absence, and Brooke flicks her hair out of her face. Taps her finger on the wheel. It takes her roughly five minutes to get to Chloe’s house, who waves once before sliding into the passenger seat.
She does what she does every morning, pulls down the sun visor and starts perfecting her makeup in the mirror there, even if it's already flawless, to Brooke. To everyone in Middleborough. Probably the world- “Good morning, Brookey.”
A pause, then Chloe says, “Your hair looks nice.”
Brooke doesn’t respond to that, just smiles quietly and resumes at a regular pace. She knows Chloe’s not really fussed about being late. Neither is Brooke. Once they were an hour late to school because Chloe wanted coffee and they’d ended up with brownies for breakfast.
So they turn up to school pretty late.
Math and art pass uneventfully, except Brooke spends all of her free periods in the studio, sorting out her photography into a folder, sorting it even though she’s too nervous to show anyone.
She only realises Jeremy didn’t even show up for school when lunch comes around. Since the play, her group of friends had grown. It wasn’t a conscious choice- more like the event had left their minds fuzzy but a weird sense of connection to each other that didn't just happen with drugs. Even if that's what Chloe claimed.
It was weird. None of them addressed it, however.
So she sat at a table along with Chloe, Jenna, Jake and Christine, and instantly knew it was more quiet than usual. Or as quiet as it could be with Jake and Jenna on the table, babbling away. Rich was yet to come back to school, still in recovery mode. Christine and Michael joined most of the time, Michael only as long as Jeremy was present.
So when Brooke spotted him ducking out of the cafeteria, her face scrunched up.
“That’s what I said! Sharknado beats Jaw’s any day,” Jake was saying.
Jenna counters it with a hearty laugh and a, “Honey, I’m gonna pretend you didn’t say that.”
“It’s a classic.”
“Shitnado is not a classic, Jake, you’re paining me.”
And so on.
Brooke jabs her fork into some pasta, twiddles it on her plate before leaning closer to Christine, whose skimming through a book, “Hey, Chris.”
She jumps, then breaks into a crooked smile, “Yeah?”
“D’you know where Jeremy is?”
“Mmm. Nope. He said something about needing a break, yesterday. But he also said he couldn’t handle missing more math, which he did, so honestly, the possibilities are endless-”
Brooke smiles sweetly at that, ignores the sinking feeling in her stomach even though she knows it’s probably nothing personal or big. She worries. So she hums her gratitude to Christine, and leaves the table. Luckily, Chloe’s too busy tapping away at her phone screen to even notice.
So after heading off and seemingly going to the restroom to everyone else, she veers left. Follows after Michael, and wonders when she got so caught up in Jeremy’s business, even when he hides it time after time.