Driving Ms. Martin
John Paul Lind had just finished dropping off his four passengers at Logan Airport and he was about to leave the terminal when his cell phone rang.
"Lind," he answered.
"J.P., you still at the airport?"
It was Millie the dispatcher for Sutherland's Ride Service on the other end of the phone.
"For the moment," he reported.
"Hillsboro Plastics called," Millie informed him. "Could you pick up one of their managers? She's flying in from Denver on United Flight 1469. Should be landing at Gate 14A in a half hour or so."
"Sure," John Paul replied. "What's her name?"
"Martin," Millie replied.
"Got it," John Paul said. "Thanks, Millie. See you tomorrow."
John Paul returned his cell to his pocket and headed for Gate 14A. He was glad he had grabbed the satchel from the van because he had the white board with him and he was able to sprawl "Martin – Hillsboro Plastics" on the white surface so his fare would know he was her ride when she came out of the gate.
John Paul took a seat in one of the chairs outside the security checkpoint and reviewed his e-mail messages and Facebook updates on his phone while waiting for his fare's arrival.
Eventually, the passengers from United Flight 1469 began shuffling through the security gate. John Paul glanced at his watch and saw that it was a few minutes after four o'clock. He stood in a prominent spot and held up the white board to be seen, waiting patiently as various passengers walked by. He finally noticed a woman in a blue business skirt suit with her face glued to her Smart Phone walking through the gate pulling a wheeled luggage case behind her. John Paul almost mistook her for a stewardess but the business suit didn't have any airline emblems on it. She was well figured with long blonde hair flowing down her back. The amount of make up on her face was noticeable and she had an upscale look to her as she walked.
John Paul frowned because there was something strangely familiar about the woman – as if he knew her from somewhere before. But the name (Martin) didn't match her face and he couldn't place her although his curiosity got the better of him and he found himself staring at this unique woman as she approached. Her legs were long and slender and her frame was curvy and lean. She carried herself with confidence and certainty. Her breasts were noticeably small and that's when a sudden recognition flashed through John Paul's mind. How ironic that this woman's breasts would be her identifying recognition.
The woman's gaze met his when she noticed her name on the portable white board John Paul was holding. A peculiar look flashed across her face at the same time he realized who she was. She parted her mouth, frowning slightly.
"I'm Brooke Martin," she announced.
As soon as he heard her voice John Paul knew it was her, although she was Brooke Austin back when he knew her.
"Are you from Hillsboro Plastics?" She asked.
"No, but they hired me to pick you up," he replied, hoping to hide the surprise he felt seeing her again.
Brooke was just as attractive up close as John Paul remembered her, but Brooke Austin's personality and attitude never matched her appearance and judging from the tone in her voice just now John Paul was pretty sure not much had changed over the years. What he remembered most about Brooke Austin (besides her golf ball sized breasts) was that she rarely smiled. Her lips were noticeably thick and full and she had a nice smile on the rare occasions she appeared to be cheerful but Brooke never struck John Paul as being a happy person in high school.
He felt her cold blue eyes slicing through him and he recalled the nickname some of the guys gave her back in high school: Frozen Brooke.
"You're Judas Priest, aren't you?" Brooke asked, calling him by one of his old high school nicknames and she didn't say it to be flattering.
John Paul looked at her with amusement not quite believing she went there so quickly but he was nice enough not to call her Frozen Brooke in return.
"Thanks for remembering," he said instead, trying to sound pleasant like he always did when representing Sutherland's Ride Service. He tried not to panic realizing he was going to be stuck in the van for two hours alone with this woman.
John Paul was wearing pressed jeans and a yellow Sunderland's polo shirt with the company emblem on the chest. He kept his hair short to look professional but he didn't think he looked that much different from his younger years and that's probably why Brooke recognized him so easily. Of course, he was 6'4" so that was an easy identifier too.
The only time Brooke Austin paid much attention to John Paul Lind in high school was when she took the time to insult him but mostly she purposefully ignored him, bored with the whole basketball jock role he played. Brooke was the class brain and student council president involved in most of the school's inner circles while John Paul used his basketball popularity to ride the gravy train without taking the rest of the stuff very seriously.
John Paul ("J.P." or "The Pope" to his friends) was extremely well known because of his athletic talents, the stereotypical boy next door popular jock, never without a girl on his arm. Brooke hated that sort of fake stardom, resentful that she had to break her ass to be recognized while never quite being taken seriously for her student council activities and other meaningful school involvement. She was proud to be a chorus member and play Flute in the band but it was the jocks like Judas Priest Lind who walked on water simply because they could dribble a frigin' basketball.
"You're my driver?" Brooke asked, making it sound like she was saying "So, you're a ditch digger?"
"I am," John Paul confirmed, putting the white board back in the satchel.
She handed off the luggage to him. "Where's the limo?"
"Sorry, no Limo," John Paul replied as he started walking her toward the main door of the terminal. "I brought a group of people down in a van."
"A van?" She groaned with disgusted displeasure.
"It's a nice van," he let her know.
Brooke Austin should have been the last girl in Hillsboro John Paul would be attracted to. They had absolutely nothing in common and most of their interactions involved insults, put downs, and plenty of distain. Yet, deep down and secretly, John Paul found himself thinking about Brooke in a completely nonsensical way most of the time back then although he never told anybody of his hidden passion. Crushing on Brooke Adams would have made John Paul an easy mark for ridicule in the locker room where girls like Brooke Austin were constantly made fun of (hence the nickname Frozen Brooke).
But John Paul was enamered by Brooke from afar and sometimes he'd go out of his way just to be around her in the hallways between classes or at a table not far from hers in the cafeteria. She hung out with the other prisses - self-absorbed egotistical girls who didn't have time for jerky jocks like him but that didn't stop John Paul from being intrigued by her.
John Paul knew Brooke came from a successful and wealthy family. She was also sophisticated and smart so he didn't waste his time trying to woo her by talking about his 28 point basketball games. Instead, he tried to impress her by coming across as intellectual, well read and interesting in the classes they shared. Unfortunately, it never seemed to work as Brooke usually made him sound like a moron in the various discussions and debates they spared in the classroom. John Paul could never figure out why he was secretly attracted to the one girl in the school who wanted nothing to do with him and who went out of her way to make him want to despise her all the more.
The van driver tried not to check his fare out as they walked across the terminal but it was hard not to notice the sway of her hips and the tap-tap-tapping of her heels against the tiled floor. He could also smell the scent of her perfume.
"What are you looking at?" Brooke asked with annoyance when she became aware of his repeated glances.
"Nothing," John Paul replied. "It's just nice to see you again."
"Oh, give me a break," Brooke seethed. "You hated me in high school."
"No I didn't," he said lamely.
"Right," she mumbled. "Where'd you park?" She wanted to know, now standing outside the terminal.
"Over there in the pool parking," John Paul replied, gesturing toward a lot to their right.
John Paul didn't exactly tower over Brooke as they walked – she was tall for her gender and weight (5' 8") - but JP definitely had a presence with his taller height. He had the same slender frame although he had put on twenty pounds since his high school days. Brooke noticed that Judas Priest still had those eyes that always seemed to look right into her heart every time she caught him eyeing her back in high school.
Brooke had the convenience of going steady in high school with Rory O'Brien who was a boarding student at the prestigious Sun Rise Lake School For Boys fifteen miles north of Hillsboro so she could be independent and free while still enjoying the social status of a popular boyfriend.
Sometimes Brooke would secretly fantasize about Judas Priest Lund. It was those eyes of his that she noticed the most and although she loathed his self-assured cockiness that came with his basketball success she had to admit that she found herself thinking about him even though she treated him like shit.
"Here we are," John Paul announced when they arrived at a white eight seat luxury passenger van with the Sutherland Riding Service Logo on the sides.
He loaded the suitcase in the back before opening the front passenger door for his fare. He could see that Brooke was embarrassed and insulted to be riding in such a pedestrian looking vehicle and he resisted the urge to laugh.
"Don't worry," John Paul said. "Nobody's looking."
Brooke threw him a look of distain as she climbed into the vehicle. John Paul closed the door for her and then he walked around the front and climbed in behind the steering wheel, tossing his satchel on the back seat floor. The van was comfortable and new with leather seats and a space-shuttle like dashboard but that probably wasn't good enough for the snobby Brooke. J.P. buckled and she did the same
John Paul maneuvered the van out of the lot and then through the airport entryway and finally they were on the highway, thick with Boston traffic. He let out a breath of relief.
"No matter how many times I drive down here I'm still stressed by the damn traffic,"the driver said.
"Maybe you shouldn't be driving a van then," his passenger said snottily.
"Well, I can see you haven't changed much since high school," John Paul replied.
"What are you doing driving a van anyway?" Brooke wanted to know. "Weren't you supposed to be NBA or something?"
"Or something," John Paul replied sadly.
"So what happened?" She asked meanly. "You washed out?"
"Jesus, Brooke, only one percent of the guys who play college basketball make it to the NBA," John Paul said.
"So you weren't among the one percent."
"No, I was among the ninety-nine percent," he replied, trying not to sound annoyed. "But after playing on scholarship at Green for four years I made it to the Central League for a few years and then I went up to Canada and played and then I went over to Europe and suited up there for a few years before heading to Spain and finally England."
"Where you washed out," she assumed.
"Aged out, actually," John Paul replied, refusing to become angry by her tone. "The medium age of a professional basketball player is like twenty-seven. We're thirty four now, Brooke. Can't play forever."
"So you drive a van for a living?"
"And coaching recreational and youth leagues," he said. "I'm doing okay."
"Yeah, right," she replied cynically.
"You can ridicule me all you want," John Paul replied easily. "Have you been to Canada? Europe? Spain? England?"
"I'm the Chief Financial Officer for a multi-million dollar corporation," she replied contently. "I'm doing okay, thank you very much."
"I'm sure you are," John Paul grinned, amused that she really was the same Brooke Austin (Martin) all these years removed from high school
No doubt CFO Brooke Martin was successful. But she still didn't sound (or look) happy and she sure did seem to have the same chip on her shoulder. All of John Paul's high school memories were flowing back as if they happened yesterday and he wondered if he and Brooke were going to pick up where they left off: as antagonists.
"Let me make this perfectly clear to you," Brooke said coldly. "I am one hundred and fifty percent removed from high school. I've moved on and I don't like thinking about those days so please don't wax poetic about how great it was."
"Wow," John Paul replied with surprise. "I guess we won't be seeing you at any class reunions anytime soon."
"I know high school were your glory days, getting your name and picture in the paper for shooting a basketball and being Mr. Cool around campus but those little achievements don't mean much now, do they?"
"You think I'm some washed up loser living in the past?" John Paul asked.
"You're driving a van," she deadpanned.
"Look, I know you had the high IQ and went off to Harvard Business School or wherever it was and now you're the big cheese at Hillsboro Plastics but that's no reason to look down your snobby nose at me."
"Your best subject was gym class," she rebutted.
John Paul laughed. "That still bothers you, doesn't it? Me being a popular jock."
"Nobody cared that I had the highest GPA in the school," she complained.
"And you took such delight in showing everyone up whenever you could," John Paul recalled. "Always bragging about your achievements and successes, going on about your father the big deal lawyer."
"You're just jealous because your mother was a waitress at Johnny C's Diner," Brooke countered. "I bet that humiliated you every day."
"Not at all," John Paul replied knowingly. "I was proud of my mother. Maybe we didn't live up on the hill like you or come from a big deal family but we did okay."
"What's she doing now?" Brooke asked with an eye roll. "Still slinging hash at the diner?"
"She died a couple of years ago, actually," John Paul replied quietly.
"Oh," Brooke said, clearly caught off guard by the news. "I didn't know." She said lamely, sounding embarrassed for a rare moment.
"I guess we were never perfect like you," John Paul remarked. "I know how important you thought you were and I guess that comes with the territory when you're smart and pretty. You worked hard to be Number One even though you acted like Number Two."
"Don't be disgusting," Brooke complained. "Besides, you still got all the glory," she complained. "For shooting a stupid basketball."
"And now I'm driving a van," John Paul said sarcastically. "So you get the last laugh."
Brooke raised her eyebrow and gave sort of a half-shrug. "I'm not laughing," she said quietly. "But it does serve your right."
John Paul looked at her, wondering why she was still so bitter all these years later. She was gazing out the window watching the scenery as he drove. They were both silent for a while but the awkwardness inside the van was stifling.
"Is it okay if I turn on the radio?" John Paul asked.
"As long as it's not sports talk radio," Brooke grumbled. Then she threw him a look. "Or a Christian station, Pope John Paul."
John Paul elected not to bother turning on the radio. "Maybe I'll just sing instead," he joked.
"You were never in the chorus."
"You were," he grinned. "Why don't you sing?"
"Those days are over," she replied, sounding regretful.
"Sugar, Sugar, you are my Candy girl..." John Paul began to sing.
"Jesus, you're just as weird as ever," Brooke complained. "Please stop!"
"Well, we'll just have to talk then," John Paul announced.
"No we won't," Brooke replied tiredly.
They were silent for a few miles as John Paul concentrated on the traffic as they left the expressway and drove along Storrow Drive next to the Charles River through Cambridge until they got onto Route 2, but traffic would still be a bitch at least until they got out to the Concord Rotary and perhaps the I-495 interchange. The awkwardness inside the van was as thick as Brooke's make up.
"So, I read your Dad's name in the paper quite often," John Paul commented. "He's still the Perry Mason of Blue County."
"He's a good lawyer," Brooke confirmed.
"And your Mom is still the chair of the School Committee," John Paul noted.
Brooke tossed him a look. "Are you still making fun of my family?" She wanted to know.
"Not at all," he insisted. "I'm just trying to make conversation."
Brooke frowned and gave him an annoyed stare. "You were never good at that."
"What do you mean?" He asked, feigning hurt. "You're the one who never talked to me unless you were insulting me."
"You were always making fun of me," she protested.
"Who me?" John Paul asked innocently. "I'd never do such a thing."
"Everyone got such a big kick out of you saying something stupid about me and my family," she complained.
"And everybody waited with baited breath for the next ingenious insult you came up with about me," John Paul reminded her.
"You survived, didn't you?" She asked.
"It could be why I'm a van driver now," John Paul offered with a hurt puppy dog look on his face.
"Oh please," Brooke groaned.
"And you survived the teasing," John Paul let her know. "You're a big success!"
"Yeah, I'm a big success," Brooke sighed, glancing out the window again.
"I'm sure your parents are very proud of you," John Paul remarked.
She nodded absentmindedly. "Very proud." But there was no satisfaction in her voice.
John Paul was slowly getting the idea that maybe Brooke wasn't all that happy with her life after all. The fact that she was Brooke Martin instead of Brooke Austin may have had something to do with that but he wasn't sure if he should bring up her marriage.
"Sorry about your mom," Brooke said after a few quiet miles.
"Thanks," John Paul replied politely.
"I remember her being one of the nicest and coolest waitresses at Johnny C's," Brooke remarked, offering a surprise compliment.
"She was fun," John Paul agreed.
"Did she get sick?"
John Paul nodded affirmatively. "It was sudden and quick," he told her. "Hard to watch."
"What about your Dad?" Brooke asked. "You never talked about him."
"I didn't have one," John Paul revealed. "I was raised by a single mom. That's why we lived in one of those tenement buildings by the canal and didn't even have a car."
"I got a brand new MG for my sixteenth birthday," Brooke recalled.
"I remember," John Paul smirked. "You looked pretty slick in that baby."
"One of my boyfriends totalled it in college," she sighed.
"Ouch, that sucks," John Paul laughed.
"I guess I was sort of a bitch to insult you back then," Brooke confessed suddenly. "I didn't know you had it so tough."
"It wasn't tough at all," John Paul smiled. "I had the greatest mom in the world. She raised me to enjoy life and be grateful. I got to play basketball, the one thing I loved above all else. And if I hurt your feelings by teasing you, I apologize."
"Doesn't matter now," Brooke replied.
"Besides, it's not as if people didn't know about my circumstances," John Paul said. "Half the high school hung out at Johnny C's. They knew who my mother was. Hillsboro is a small town. It wasn't as if it was some huge secret that my mother got knocked up at eighteen by some loser who ran off. I'm sure you heard stories about me around school, I seem to remember you calling me Gilmore Girl one time."
"Yeah, I knew," Brooke admitted. "I couldn't understand why you were so easy going and happy go lucky coming from the canal tenement. I grew up in a beautiful house on the hill and had my own car and I was still miserable."
"I'm sorry," John Paul said sincerely.
"I don't want your pity," she snapped.
John Paul decided it might be a good idea to switch conversational gears. "So, how's your brother doing? He was a great golf and tennis player."
"That's because he lived at the country club," Brooke said snidely.
"What's he doing now?"
"He's a golf pro at some golf course down in Florida," she said.
John Paul raised an eyebrow. "Really? Wow! That's impressive."
"It's stupid if you ask me."
"As stupid as me playing basketball?"
"You didn't play in Florida," she said. "Anyway, a golf pro? Teaching snobby rich kids how to hit a golf ball? That's what he wants to do with his life?"
"Well, he was a rich snobby kid," John Paul pointed out. "I'm sure he fits right in."
He hoped to get a laugh out of her but she failed to see the humor.
"Whatever," Brooke replied disinterestedly. "Anyway, I refuse to acknowledge what he does. It's so idiotic."
"Okay, I get it, you don't approve," John Paul laughed. "Sorry I brought it up!"
"It's just that I thought he'd go to law school and come back and be a partner with our father," Brooke grumbled and John Paul could hear the disappointment in her voice. "Now I'm stuck up here alone with my parents."
"You don't live with them," John Paul half stated/half asked.
"I might as well," she groaned. "I'm over there practically every day."
"I'm sure they appreciate it," John Paul commented.
"Yeah, well I don't appreciate all the nagging, second guessing, criticism and judgments," Brooke snarled. "I'm still sixteen in their eyes."
"You don't look sixteen to me!" John Paul grinned.
He could see Brooke cringe from the remark.
"I just meant you look very nice," he said awkwardly. "And very business like too."
"Yes, yes, I get it, John Paul," she groaned and he was flattered she called him by his real name, perhaps for the first time ever. "I'm a suit. A business woman. All numbers and figures, business trips and corporate decisions. I don't sing anymore."
"That's not what I meant," John Paul said quietly.
"I still wear my hair long," Brooke sighed, twirling a strand of it in her hand. "Like I'm still in high school."
"It looks good," he said sincerely.
She looked at him with surprise and she caught him looking at her with a smile on his face. "Thanks. I guess," she replied before looking away.
"You're welcome, I guess!" He smirked.
More quiet miles as John Paul drove the van in the still challenging traffic.
"We never really knew each other in high school, did we?" Brooke finally remarked.
"We knew some things," he offered.
"Like how to insult each other," She scoffed.
"I knew you had a beautiful singing voice," John Paul told her.
"How would you know that?" She challenged.
"I used to go to your chorus concerts," he said openly. "And you were a terrific flute player too." She glanced at him. "I used to go to the band concerts too," he explained.
"I never knew that," she admitted.
"I'd sit in the back," he said.
"I knew you were a pretty good basketball player," she confessed.
"Wow, finally, a true revelation," John Paul laughed. "Thanks!"
"I knew you were trying to make me laugh back then too," Brooke said. "I just didn't have anything to laugh about."
"How come?" He frowned.
'Doesn't matter now," she said again.
"I wish you would have told me back then," John Paul sighed. "Maybe I could have helped."
"Well I didn't and you didn't and that's the way it is," Brooke remarked. "Besides you were always with some girl and I had Mr. Perfect up at the lake."
"I bet he wasn't so perfect, was he?" John Paul asked.
"Nobody is," Brooke said.
"You wouldn't have asked for help anyway," John Paul concluded. "Especially from me. You were too proud. Too confident."
"I was mostly faking it," Brooke admitted.
"Everybody fakes it in high school," John Paul remarked.
"Even you?" She tested.
"Especially me," he revealed. "Believe me, Brooke, if I didn't have my mother propping me up I would have been one of those kids hiding in the library all day."
Brooke raised her eyebrows with interest. "I was so miserable that only my smarts got me through all of that," she confessed.
"Why were you so miserable?" John Paul couldn't help but ask.
"It doesn't matter now," Brooke said for the third time since their journey began.
"Your family?" John Paul guessed.
"They were just so controlling, demanding, and full of expectations," she sighed. "With power, position and money comes certain obligations and responsibilities and I knew from an early age that I was destined to fulfill my parents' preconceived notions of who I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to become."
"A tight ass?" John Paul wondered.
Brooke gave him a look of distain. "Really, Pope John Paul? That's what you have to offer? Another mean and hurtful insult?"
"I'm sorry," John Paul sighed. "You're right. That was out of line."
"I know what some of you guys called me," Brooke revealed.
"We didn't call you anything," John Paul lied.
"Frozen Brooke," she said with hurt in her voice. "Nobody's going fishing with her, right?"
"We all said and did stupid stuff in high school," John Paul remarked, feeling guiltier than hell. "Maybe we should both forget about all that stuff."
"Just like that, huh?" She sighed. "Pretend none of it ever happened?"
"Or show mercy and grant forgiveness," John Paul suggested.
"Ah, the Pope speaks," Brooke said sarcastically,
"Most people assume my mother was Catholic and named me after the Pope," John Paul noted. "I always let them think that because I liked the aurora of Sainthood and perfection the name brought."
"She didn't name you after the Pope?" Brooke asked with surprise.
"Na, she was a big Beatles fan," John Paul laughed. "She named me after her favorites, Lennon and McCartney!"
"No way!" Brooke exclaimed.
"It's true," John Paul insisted. "I was born a few months after Lennon was killed."
"Wow, I'll never be able to listen to a Beatles song the same way again," Brooke deadpanned.
"I'm assuming you're saying that as a compliment," John Paul smirked.
Brooke's phone went off. She dug it out of her suit jacket pocket and groaned when she glanced at the caller ID.
"Bad news?" John Paul wondered.
"It's my ex," Brooke grumbled as she hit the call button. "What?" She growled rudely.
John Paul had no choice but to listen to Brooke's one sided conversation as she barked into the phone with a displeased attitude.
"No…. I don't care…... you said it would be done on time….I'm just holding you to the agreement….it's costing both of us money….. No, I won't agree to that…well, talk to the lawyer then….Fine…."
She ended the call and stuffed the phone back in her pocket. "What a backstabbing bastard asshole," she complained.
"What was that all about?" John Paul wondered.
"You don't want to know," She grouched.
"So, you're divorced?" John Paul deduced.
"Another one of my great successes," Brooke grumbled sarcastically. "Another reason for my parents to criticize me. Can't even keep a husband."
"What happened?" John Paul delicately asked.
"It doesn't matter," she said yet again.
John Paul decided not to ask any more questions just now and they drove in silence for a few miles.
"Part of the divorce agreement was that we would sell the house within a year of the final decree," Brooke explained through gritted teeth. "It's been almost two years."
"Why don't you just let him buy you out?" John Paul suggested.
"Because I don't want the tramp he had the affair with living in my house," Brooke seethed. "My mistake was leaving and letting him stay. Now he doesn't want to sell and I won't let him buy me out."
"So, it's a stalemate until somebody gives," John Paul said.
She gave him an unhappy frown. "What do you think I should do?" She asked critically.
John Paul shrugged. "It's none of my business but what's the point of holding on to something you've lost anyway? I mean, would you ever move back in there knowing she's been in there all this time?"
"Probably not," Brooke admitted with a defeated edge to her tone.
"Maybe it's just time to move on," he suggested. "Let it all go. Start new and fresh. Take the money and go buy something you can call your own."
"Damn it," Brooke cursed. "I hate giving in."
"It's not giving in," John Paul insisted. "It's living your life."
"I bet my parents spent more than three hundred thousand dollars on our wedding," Brooke sighed.
John Paul responded with a whistle.
"Yeah,' she said. "The wedding to end all weddings. Everything top notch. All Glamour and image. Lasted six years."
John Paul gave her a quick look. "Why did you keep his name?"
She shrugged. "That's the name everybody knows me by," she said. "Plus I didn't need to go back to Austin and have to go through all the 'oh, is your father…..' stuff again."
Brooke stared out the passenger's window for a while before turning back and glancing at John Paul. "I don't suppose you have any stories of woe regarding your failed relationships that will make me feel less inferior, do you?" She asked hopefully.
"Not really," John Paul admitted. "It was hard having any sort of normal relationship when I was playing ball, always moving around and being out on the road."
"How 'bout since you've been back?"
"I'm a van driver," John Paul remarked, giving her a cutting look. "Who wants to date one of those?"
Brooke looked chagrined. "Okay," she said. "I'm sorry I said anything about it. I'm glad you're giving me a ride. I appreciate the service you offer. There's nothing wrong with what you do."
John Paul tossed her a look of amusement while arching his eyebrow again. "I know you don't mean it," he grinned.
She laughed lightly perhaps for the first time since the trip began but then she was staring out the window again and John Paul tried to figure her out. Why was she so distant, removed, snooty and unaware? Why was that chip on her shoulder bigger than ever?
An uncomfortable silence ensued for several miles and John Paul wondered if there was anything he could say to help her out of her frozen past.
"I'm a loser, aren't I?" Brooke broke the silence with her unexpected question.
John Paul glanced at her and saw that she was staring at him again.
"I've always been a complete and total loser, haven't I?" She wanted to know. "I just pretended to be a winner."
"All I know is that we all have the capacity to change," John Paul theorized. "I'm not the same guy I was in high school….."
"Why not?" She interrupted.
"Because life changes us," John Paul answered. "Experiences shape us and hopefully help us grow. Defeats and failure can make us stronger. I know I'm just a van driver and part time coach, but I like who I am. I spent ten years chasing a dream that was never going to happen until I finally figured out that I wasn't meant to be NBA and I'm okay with that now. You're a successful executive and there's nothing wrong with that either."
"Everybody hates Frozen Brooke the Dragon Lady," Brooke replied. "My husband left me for another woman. What does that say about me?"
"You don't have to be Frozen Brooke The Dragon Lady if you don't want to," John Paul told her. "And your husband cheating on you says more about him than you," he pointed out.
"You hated me back then," Brooke said.
"I felt sorry for you," John Paul openly confessed.
She gave him a shocked look. "What are you talking about?"
"You were so pretty but you never seemed happy," John Paul observed.
"I guess I wasn't," she freely admitted, giving it some thought.
"I kept hoping that stuck up prick O'Brien would drown in one of his conceited crew races on the lake," John Paul added.
Brooke smirked. "You didn't like Rory?"
"You would have been better off dating Hillsboro High guys," John Paul told her.
"Nobody at Hillsboro High liked me," Brooke pouted.
"I liked you," John Paul revealed.
A blush momentarily colored Brooke's cheeks. "What are you talking about? She asked again. "We were always battling each other."
"I was battling you because I liked you," John Paul revealed. "But I knew you'd have nothing to do with me."
"We had nothing in common, J.P.," Brooke told him.
"I know," John Paul replied. "But that doesn't mean I didn't like you."
"I was a mean bitch to you," she said.
"Yep," he agreed.
"And you made fun of me."
"Yep," he said again, grinning this time. "Because I liked you," he said, throwing her a look.
She groaned and stared out the window yet again.
"You okay?" John Paul asked.
"I liked you too," she practically whispered after a long pause.
"I had a feeling," John Paul said. "I always hoped, anyway."
"But I could never tell you," she sighed.
"I know," John Paul nodded. "The boy from the canal with the waitress mother would never be accepted by your folks. You were the rich girl on the hill with the successful family and the elite prep school boyfriend."
Brooke nodded sadly. "I just—it was so hard—you know…ah never mind, there's no point talking about it now."
They exchanged knowing and sad looks, each regretting their lost pasts.
"We were both pretty foolish back then, weren't we?" John Paul smirked.
She laughed with embarrassment. "Yeah."
"You were the smartest kid in the class," John Paul complimented her.
"And you were the best basketball player," she acknowledged. "Neither matters much now though."
"The Genius and The Jock," John Paul remarked. "It could have been a great love story."
Brooke actually smiled and John Paul was struck by how pretty she looked when she smiled.
"You really should have smiled more in high school," he said. "I think what I remember most is that you never smiled."
"I was never happy," she confessed and it was the saddest thing he ever heard her say. "Anyway,' she said. "Aren't unrequited love stories the best kind?"
"Only if they have a happy ending," John Paul replied.
"Unfortunately, I don't believe in happy endings," she said.
That was pretty sad too, John Paul thought. But who could blame her for her cynical attitude? Despite her brains and looks and successes and money, Brooke had never been happy for whatever reasons.
"Without happy endings, what's the point of trying?" John Paul wondered.
Brooke arched her eyebrow with interest. "Geez, I didn't realize The Pope was a romantic at heart," she teased.
"Probably now more than ever," John Paul admitted. "I mean, we're not getting any younger. I'm ready to settle down, find love, and be happy." He gave her a look. "Aren't you?"
"I already had my chance," she sighed with regret. "It didn't work out so well."
"We all get second chances, Brooke," John Paul told her.
She didn't respond and John Paul drove the van in silence for a few miles.
"It's getting so I can drive this road with my eyes closed," John Paul remarked after a while.
"Please don't," Brooke replied.
John Paul laughed. "I'm just driving down the road of life, I guess," he said after a pause. "I'm glad you joined me."
"I'll be getting off soon," she informed him, her tone reverting back to the old Brooke.
"You don't have to if you don't want to," John Paul said.
"Yes, I suppose I could always request you as my van driver," Brooke replied.
He tried not to feel hurt by her sudden detached insensitivity. They had just spent the last hour and fifty miles getting to know each other and Frozen Brooke seemed to be de-thawing a little but now she was reverting back to her old tones and attitudes.
"Maybe we could meet for lunch at Johnny C's," John Paul suggested cheerfully. "To honor my mother," he added.
Brooke cleared her throat. "We still have nothing in common," she said.
"So what?" John Paul rebutted.
"Sorry, but I don't understand the point, really," she said with a frown.
"Could I have your phone number?" John Paul asked hopefully.
"John Paul, there's no point in any of this."
He pulled his cell out of his pocket and handed it to her. "Just put your number in my contacts," he requested.
She hesitated, staring at his phone she was holding against her lap for the longest time before finally – and quite reluctantly – punching her number into his phone.
"Thanks," he smiled.
She handed him the phone and their hands touched when John Paul reached out to take it. Instead of taking the phone, John Paul gently rubbed his finger lightly along the outside of Brooke's palm. She tried to jerk her hand away and the phone tumbled into the console between the seats but John Paul wrapped his hand around hers instead of letting it go.
"What are you doing?" She asked uncomfortably, her eyebrows arched and a frown on her face.
"What?" He asked innocently.
"Could you let go of my hand please?"
He sighed and dropped her hand from his, already missing the electrifying feel of her skin on his. Brooke was staring out the window again and John Paul wondered if he would ever figure this woman out. He fished his cell phone out of the console and put it back in his pocket. He had always been infatuated with Brooke and now that he was with her again all those old feelings had come rushing back. Sadly, Brooke didn't seem to be interested in him in that way.
Neither spoke the rest of the way to Hillsboro, a good forty-minute ride of silence – except perhaps for the rythm of their breathing and the sounds of the van tires on the highway.
Route 2 eventually turned into a two way road through the small towns of Western Massachusetts and when they got near the familiar surroundings of Blue County, John Paul turned onto Route 36 which would take them into Hillsboro.
"Where do you live?" a sullen John Paul asked after thirty miles of silence.
"Hillside condos," she answered. "But why don't you drive us to your place?"
John Paul nearly drove the van off the road. "Wha…"
"I'd like to see where you grew up," she explained, sounding non-committal.
John Paul nodded, happy to have some extended time with her. Was the thaw back on? They didn't talk as they drove through the center of town, turning left across from Johnny C's Diner onto Canal Street and John Paul pulled the van into a parking spot in front of one of the old tenement buildings that sat on the hill above the old power canal in front of the old mill buildings.
"I live in this one," he said, gesturing toward a green door as they climbed out of the van and stretched their legs after the two hour ride.
Brooke walked with John Paul into the old brick building. The inside hall was dark and ancient with faded woodwork and aged light green paint on the walls. He led her up to the second floor and dug his keys out of his pocket when they reached the brown wood door of Apartment 2E.
John Paul didn't say anything as he opened the door to the apartment, stepping in and motioning for Brooke to follow.
Brooke stepped into the apartment and glanced around. It was nothing special but it was well kept and clean. The first thing she noticed was the huge poster of the Beatles' Let it Be Album cover on the wall over the couch and she smiled remembering J.P.'s story about his mother. The furniture in the apartment was older but well maintained. The walls were painted a light blue with a few landscape paintings hung. There was a living room, small kitchen, and a hallway leading to two bedrooms and a bathroom.
"You lived here all those years?" Brooke asked with amazement as she glanced around.
"I know, I know, your bedroom closet was bigger than this entire apartment," John Paul smirked.
"Not quite," she replied. "But almost," she added with a smile.
John Paul gave her a walk through before finally ending up in his bedroom that still resembled his teenaged years with his various high school sports trophies on the bookcase and numerous basketball posters on the walls. The room consisted of a large queen sized bed, a small desk, and a dresser. A large flat screen television hung on the wall.
Brooke was standing in the middle of the room and John Paul was standing in front of her. "This is my life," he said before leaning in to meet her lips, catching her by surprise but she didn't try to break free.
John Paul brought his hands up to cup her face as they continued to kiss, almost desperately. Brooke didn't resist when he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her closer, feeling the warmth of her body against his while her soft lips made his mouth spark.
"J.P?" She asked, sounding confused.
He moved his fingers underneath her chin and lifted it up so that their eyes met. "Brooke," he replied, sounding sure.
"Yeah?" She whispered.
"It's always been you," he said as he kissed her again.
She pressed her mouth into his soft lips and his hands moved down to rest on her hips. Brooke wrapped her warms around his neck and he could see that she was blushing.
"Smile," he told her.
Her mouth curved upward and he kissed it.
"He didn't like it that I made more money than him," Brooke explained.
She was lying in John Paul's bed, underneath the covers. He was naked and she was too, except for her bra because she was too embarrassed to let him see her small breasts which she always felt self conscious about.
"Who?" John Paul asked, snuggling his mouth against her neck as she lay flat on her back.
"Not to sound cliché, but it's only money," John Paul said, disinterested in her ex-husband's insecurities.
"It was always about the money in my house growing up."
"Money can't buy happiness," John Paul purred as he moved his mouth up to her chin and ear. "Hell, we were always broke."
"It doesn't bother you now?" She asked, turning her head to look at him.
"I'm happier now than I would have been if I made it to the NBA," John Paul laughed, kissing the top of her nose.
"You're nuts," Brooke decided.
"You are my champion ring," John Paul announced, rubbing his hand along the side of her face.
"Jesus, you really are a romantic, aren't you?" Brooke realized.
"Why don't you stay here for a while?" John Paul suggested. "Forget about your parents' house on the hill, or the house your ex wants so much, or even your nice condo. Stay here with me and live the simple life."
"You're just saying that because I'm good in bed," Brooke giggled and John Paul burst out in a shattering laugh, tickled that she had finally thawed out in earnest.
"I'm saying that because I want to be with you," he assured her.
"No more unrequited love stories?" Brooke asked with wide eyes.
"No more lonely nights," John Paul replied.
"You scare the hell out of me," Brooke said as she slipped out from under the covers and headed for the door bottomless and John Paul watched her backside with appreciation as she disappeared from view.
A few minutes later, Brooke returned from the bathroom, still bottomless and she stood by the side of the bed staring at him as he lay under the covers. She realized how stupid it was to not let him see her breasts after the hours of sex they had shared so she reached up, unsnapped the back of the bra, and let it fall to the floor, exposing her small appendage..
"Ping ball balls, not basketballs," she sighed as she slipped under the covers.
"You're beautiful," was all John Paul had to say as he cuddled her close to him.
"You really do believe in happy endings, don't you?" She smirked.
"All I know is I'll drive you anywhere," John Paul said.
"I like it best when you drive me to ecstasy," she teased.