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Atlantic City
By Della Street


"Just you and the schoolmarm, huh?" Casey asked a little too casually.

Wary as always when Blair came up in their conversations, Jo replied, "Yeah . . . ."

"You don't spend enough time together already?"

What business is it of yours?

Jo nearly asked. You blew it, and she's moved on. Nothing to see here.

At least Jo hoped that Blair had moved on. Marriage wasn't all it was cracked up to be, Jo would have told her if Blair had asked. What seemed like a good idea at the time sometimes lost its luster in the light of day.

She knew what Blair would say – "Oh, you're just mopey because Rick is gone so much" – and it was probably true. And if Blair were married, at least she wouldn't be alone in that big house as she was when Jo had to temporarily relocate during the occasional gaps in Rick's concert tour.

Answering her co-worker's question, Jo said, "Oh, yeah? When's that? I spend twenty-four hours a day here doing your job and mine, and Blair's out raising funds every night."

Eastland's headmistress was remarkably good at getting people to part with their money – especially benefactors of the male persuasion – but on top of her administrative duties, it was quite time consuming. More than once, Blair had considered just having her foundation operate the school – apparently, under subsection A of section whatever of the Internal Revenue Code, Blair would actually make money that way – but donations gave others a personal investment in Eastland's success, she felt, and Jo, unfortunately, agreed with her reasoning.

"I hardly ever see Blair," Jo added. "Not that I'm complaining."

The phone on Jo's private line rang, and she hadn't even finished the "Jo Polniaczek" when the caller breathlessly interrupted, "Are we still on?"

"Unless you're wimping out," Jo replied.

"I can't believe how excited I am about this trip," Blair said, "especially considering the company."

"That's because you're one of us now," Jo explained. "Working girls can't flit off to Paris any time we happen to feel like it. We gotta plan ahead, so we look forward to it more."

The plan was simple enough that even Blair could follow it, Jo said: Princess Warner was to get in her Porsche at approximately 4:45 p.m., turn the key, press down on the accelerator, cruise home to the place in which she had been living for the past seven years, pick up the woman with whom she had been living for the past nine years, and throw a long weekend's worth of clothes and hairspray into the trunk.

"Three bags, max," Jo warned. When no reply came, she added, "That's all I'm haulin', Blair. You're on your own with the rest." She hung up, checking her watch to see how much time she had.

"You carry Blair's bags?"

"Like you haven't." Jo had seen Casey loaded up plenty of times after a Bloomie's run.

"I was her boyfriend," he pointed out. "I got something in return."

Too much information. Jo knew that he never got the ultimate Something in return, but she didn't particularly care to hear how close he got.

"I get somethin', too," she said. "I don't have to listen to her whine."

Casey was still eying her. "I haven't been to Atlantic City in years . . . ," he said.

Ah, now he was getting to the point.

"You guys up for some company?"

"No," Jo said bluntly.

"Are you speaking for Blair?"

"Yeah, I am," Jo decided. What the hell; it was time to let it all out. "You dump her, which makes you the dumbest guy in New York, and then–"

"I didn't dump her," Casey objected. "She broke up with me."

"You asked her to shack up instead of getting married," Jo said. "That was a slap in her face."

"That's old fashioned thinking."

"That's Blair."

If Casey thought Blair wouldn't be upset by what he did, he was even more of an insensitive clod than Jo already thought, but there was no point in getting into this, she decided. "You know what?" she said. "We've had this discussion. We don't talk about Blair, we get along fine."

"You talk about Blair all the time."

"Then we don't talk about Blair and you," she amended. "'cause Blair owns this place and pays our salaries, and you know what that means."

It was a thinly veiled reminder: If Casey couldn't make this work, he could look for work somewhere else. One word from Jo and he was history. Not that she was playing the Blair card. She wasn't; she was just stating facts.

Perhaps it would be best if Casey did find some other youth center to lord over, Jo had thought a couple of times. She was convinced that, even with her busy schedule at Eastland, Blair would stop by more often if she wasn't reluctant to encounter her ex-fiancé. Jo resented that. Blair might be annoying, but she had been part of Jo's daily routine for almost a decade. Her morning Folgers wasn't good for her, either, but Jo would be just as pissed if Casey banned coffee from the Center. It was the same irritation she felt when Rick's last visit kept her from helping Blair with that donors dinner.

Well, not irritation, of course. She only saw Rick once every few months; of course she had been happy to have him home. The timing was just bad.

The Porsche pulled into the driveway right on schedule – in other words, fifteen minutes late. Blair gave Jo an excited hug, which seemed a little unnecessary given that they were about to spend four days together. Jo endured the affection until she was finally released.

Upstairs, Blair pulled blouses out of her closet and stuffed them carefully into one of those hanging suitcases. Jo, of course, had packed this morning, but Blair would not risk the wrinkles.

"I only got us one room," Blair said.

Spying an errant price tag, she tore the plastic tie in two with her teeth. That made Jo smile. When they first moved in together, Blair would have dug around forever for a pair of those dainty scissors to cut through it in a dignified fashion. Jo liked these periodic reminders that she had rubbed off a little on her roommate.

"That's all right, isn't it?"

Considering that they still shared one room in Mrs. Garrett's house (now owned by Blair Warner Enterprises) even though Tootie and Nat had moved out nearly a year ago, the answer to that question seemed self-evident.

"Unless you plan to get lucky," Jo replied. "I don't know if my stomach can take watching you make out with some blackjack dealer."

"You're the one whose husband has been away for three months," Blair pointed out. "It might be you with that blackjack dealer."

Jo thought about that for a moment. She would never cheat on Rick – she believed in the sanctity of marriage – but a little harmless flirtation might be fun. Just to liven things up a bit . . . .

Blair glanced up from some undefined struggle with the zipper. "I was joking," she said. "I don't think they let their dealers get that drunk, anyway."

Stepping over to the bed to yank the zipper into place, Jo retorted, "You still wanna go, then?"

Next up was the tossing of eyeliner and lipstick and other stuff that Blair didn't need into her makeup kit, which she picked up and carried downstairs – calling out "Ready!" like Julie Andrews getting goosed – leaving four overstuffed Louis Vittons on her bed for Jo to haul outside.

At the top of the stairs, Jo toyed with the notion of booting one of the bags down the stairs to remind Blair of the three-bag limit. "No, I got it," she called out sarcastically, but Blair must have gone outside already.

She could see her own bag sitting on the couch downstairs. Through a quick logistical analysis, Jo ruled out adding to her existing load. She'd have to come back for it. Or, rather, Blair would have to come back for it. She grinned. Yeah.

Just as she was fumbling for the doorknob, seventy pounds of Warner originals balanced precariously in her arms, the phone rang. Of course. Jo's instincts were to put down her load and grab the phone, but she would have chewed Blair's ass if she had done that. No interruptions, they had promised each other. No gambling every cent they had – Blair – and no distractions. Just the two of them hanging out and nagging each other, like it used to be.

What if it was an emergency at the Center, though? Or Eastland? But the number to Blair's cellular phone was on file, and Jo had given it to Casey, too – for use only in a dire emergency. If it really was urgent, they would try that next.

After four rings, the machine made the decision for her.

"Hi, Sex Goddess."

She froze at the sound of her husband's voice.

"Good news and bad news," he said. "The bad news is that Salt Lake City's Symphony Hall has bad wiring; the good news is that I suddenly have a free weekend."

The bags landed on the floor with a thud.

"I'm thinking a late dinner for two–"

No roommates this time.

"–and then . . . I'm sure we'll think of something."

It was ironic, Jo mused; if they had left three minutes earlier, she would never have known about this call.

"See you at midnight, Babe."

Midnight. Jo had pictured herself at midnight watching Blair hit on a twenty, listening to the airbrain ramble on about how fabulous she was, her hand resting lightly on Jo's forearm. And, at some point over the next few hours, the two of them would wander up to their expensive hotel room, Blair waving goodnight to the various disappointed young men who had hit on her during the evening. She would slip into the silk nightgown that Jo saw her pack, the one that stopped just above her knees, and plop down on Jo's bed for another endless chat . . . .

The front door swung open, and Blair poked her head in. "It was this Thursday that we were leaving, wasn't it?" she asked. The answering machine beeped, and Blair looked at it. "Who was that?"

Jo's gaze shifted from the phone to her friend's happy face. After a long moment, she reached for the bags again. "Wrong number . . . ."

The End

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