The night air was a little cooler, the stars a little less intense, but the beach was much the same as I slowly made my way to the spot me and Brooke had shared a week before. I wasn't even sure if she’d would be there but I had felt an overwhelming urge to find out. I had tried to write it off as concern for the obviously distressed young woman. After all, Brooke seemed to have as bad a week as I myself had. Then self-awareness had kicked in, damn it, and I had been forced to acknowledge that there was more to it than that. A lot more. A whole icky mess more. Yet here I was, trudging across the sand in the hope of finding the lithe form settled in "their spot" on the beach. Elation whistled through me as my eyes found Brooke staring up to the heavens just as she had been seven days past. If possible, the blonde appeared even more hunched in to herself, her pale face stark in the flickering light of the nearby fire. 'Hi!' Brooke had turned at the approaching sounds, hoping beyond reason that it would be the girl that now stood a few feet away. She patted the sand beside her, offering a bright smile of reassurance as I took my place. 'Hi,' Brooke laughed lightly, surprised by a hint of nervousness in her voice, 'how did the group go?' I settled myself on the sand, looking out to sea for a few seconds before answering, 'I didn't go.' 'How come?' 'I...' I paused to order my thoughts, 'It's just been a weird week, I couldn't face it.' Brooke nodded, 'Yeah, it's definitely been a week and a half.' I recognised the hurt and disappointment in Brooke's tone, 'Anything I can do to help?' Brooke laughed harshly, 'Wipe out the past few days.' 'I wish,' I agreed, my own hurt clouding my voice. 'Well,' Brooke reached out to touch my arm, 'I'll tell you mine, if you'll tell me yours.' Hazel eyes smiled at the deliberately light-hearted phrasing of what was obviously a difficult offer to make...and to accept. Once again concern shone from the clear blue that held my gaze and I did so want to unburden myself of the confusion in my heart and mind. Plus, I genuinely wanted to help Brooke and I was certain that she needed to talk as much as I did. Why else had they both made their way to this spot? 'OK,' I agreed, 'who goes first?' Brooke grinned, reaching in to her pocket she pulled out a shiny coin and waved it in the air. I nodded as she turned the small disc in her fingers before tossing it in a low arc. 'Heads,' I called out as the coin neared the sand. We examined the coin lying between us, me groaning as I noted the uppermost surface. 'Looks like you start,' Brooke encouraged with a kind smile. I took a deep breathe and began in an unsteady voice, 'I tried to be something that I'm not - something that I know I'm not - and I just ended up confusing myself more and hurting someone who's really sweet.' Brooke nodded, trying to project an aura of quiet understanding when really she was desperate to ask for more details. Instead she simply waited, giving me time to think through how much I wanted to disclose. 'I've been chatting online with this guy,' I continued eventually, 'he's been really great and I thought... I guess I thought that if I met him and things worked out I could forget about the whole gay thing.' I looked at my companion, hoping for a hint of understanding but was surprised to find an expression of recognition on the beautiful features. 'You understand,' statement and question. 'Yeah,' Brooke cleared her throat to remove the lump that had formed there, 'yeah, I do.' They were silent for a while, Brooke raising her eyes skyward once more and me sifting the sand though my fingers. I glanced at the figure beside me through my fringe, noting the lines of worry etched in to the usually flawless skin. 'Your turn,' I encouraged in a hushed tone. Oh boy, Brooke chewed on her lip, she'd started this little confessional and now she had to make good on it. Briefly she considered brushing it off, discarding the topic in favour of something trivial, but she knew it would hurt ,me and that was unacceptable. Brooke turned that thought over in her mind, when had this nascent friendship become so important to her? When had I become so important to her? 'Can I call you ……?' Brooke was pretty sure that the request had surprised her even more than it had me. Though, looking at the startled features across from me, it was a close run thing. 'Sure.' my smile widened as I considered what my agreement meant. Only my closest friends used the diminutive of my name - Loz, Amber and Mel - and my family didn't even use it that much. I liked that Brooke wanted to be a part of that and I really liked that she had asked first. 'I'd like that.' 'Thanks, babe,' Brooke smiled back at me but her expression fell as she considered how to fulfill her half of their bargain. Sometimes feet first was the best way, she decided, 'Jai and I had sex for the first time. And then we broke up.' I nodded a few times, hoping that my expression was one of sympathy and understanding but fearing that I wasn't quite pulling it off. I'd never really believed Loz's rumours about Brooke and Jai's inexperience, assuming it was just jealousy talking. I had believed that they were the perfect couple...in every way. Wasn't that what Brooke and Jai were there for? To be the shining example of coupledom to an enraptured audience? It was kind of sad to think that they were as screwed up as everyone else. My brain shifted on to the second part of Brooke's statement. Sex followed by break up, that was tough, really tough. Maybe it hadn't been what they'd hoped for, maybe it was just plain bad or maybe...Oh god... 'He didn't force himself on you, did he?' I felt my body shake with rage. If that miserable, goodfornothing, pretty boy fuckwitt had hurt Brooke I was going to personally punt his ass from here to Hawaii. 'No!' Brooke gasped in horror, 'Jai would never do anything like that.' 'Good,' I barked out, though my anger quickly dissipated in the face of Brooke's assertion. 'It wasn't anything like that,' Brooke reassured, as surprised by my intense reaction as by the initial accusation. 'Good,' I said again but this time a smile tugged at the corner of my lips, ''cos I'd have to divest him of certain body parts if he even considered it.' 'Thanks,' Brooke returned the fledgling smile. It felt good to have someone who was so willing to stand up for her like that. Of course, Amber would stand up for her too, it was just that Brooke couldn't always be sure what she'd do or if it would be worth the hassle in the end. Or just why Amber was doing it in the first place. Not so with me, Brooke was certain there was nothing but genuine concern in my eyes. She began to elaborate, 'Loz and I had this stupid bet that she couldn't get a date before Jai and I became more open about our relationship. I guess it just made me realise that there was something missing and I thought what that was must be real intimacy. I was so wrong.' Brooke trailed off and I moved a little closer, tentatively placing a hand on tense shoulders. Sad blue eyes held mine and I felt an intense need to protect this fragile creature. The torrent of emotion shook me and I made to pull away. 'Don't,' Brooke asked in a whisper. 'Please stay close.' I blinked away the moisture in my eyes at the quiet plea. Moving my arm to encompass the slim shoulders I pulled Brooke to me.