DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Beauty Crowds Me: Chapter 10 of 16 Chapters. Quotes in italics are direct quotes from the Facts of Life Series, Season 2, Episode 10, Breaking Point.
MEDIA LINK: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=192C5D50428674AB
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
THANKS: To Stacey for the Beta.
Beauty Crowds Me
10: Breaking Point
Jo could barely contain her excitement as the upperclassmen from Eastland Academy boarded a bus for their cultural trip to New York City.
"Come on, Blair. It's going to take forever to get to the city on this old bus. You can't sit there and not speak to me the entire trip. It's cruel and unusual punishment."
Blair leveled a disdainful glare at Jo, but said nothing.
"You haven't even told me about Monte Carlo. I know you're dying to tell me all about your dress and the kind of shoes you wore. I knew your mother had a lot of celebrity friends, but I didn't know that she was connected to royalty."
Blair smiled as she recalled being introduced to Princess Stephanie.
"Wait a minute, I don't remember telling you that much about my mother's wedding."
"I saw some pictures in the society section of the newspaper. "
Blair stared disbelievingly at Jo.
"You read the society pages?"
"Uh, I read lots of things. I'm not backwards, y'know."
"I didn't say you were backwards, I was just surprised. You always ask for the sports section of the newspaper."
"That's because you always want the society section, Blair. After you, Tootie, and Natalie get finished pulling the paper apart, the sports section is the only one left."
Jo could tell by Blair's expression that she was getting to the sulking blonde. Blair loved to talk in general and an open invitation to talk about herself, her wardrobe, and her family's famous connections might persuade her to drop her code of silence toward Jo for just a short period of time.
"You forgave Tootie for telling Nancy about your plans with Roger and blaming it on me. The least you could do is to offer me a forgiveness furlough for this weekend. We could pretend that you don't hate me just long enough for us to ride the bus to the city and back."
Blair looked intently at Jo before whispering so that no one else could hear.
"I didn't mean to give you the impression that I hated you. You don't occupy my thoughts enough to stir up such a strong emotion. I told you before that you have done nothing for which you need to ask my forgiveness. I just don't feel like entertaining you for the next few hours. I would like to close my eyes and rest. Is that too much to ask?"
Jo had begun to hope that she was breaking through the ice, just a little, but she resigned herself to the fact that Blair wasn't going to give in so easily.
"You'll still go to the museum with me, right?"
Blair sighed deeply.
"I said that I would, didn't I?"
"Yeah, but sometimes you change your mind."
Blair furrowed her brow.
"I'm not the one who can't make up her mind about things. I keep my promises."
"I know. I remember when you told me that one day you'd paint a picture for me. I can't believe you gave it to me. It's the most incredible thing I've ever seen. I know you told me before that you didn't want to talk about it, but it's too special for me not to tell you how much it means to me."
"You're welcome. It was nothing, really."
"It was something to me. Do you like where I put it? I figured the ceiling would be perfect. I can see it when I'm standing and I get an even better view when I'm lying in bed."
"That's where I thought it should go when I decided on the size."
"It's perfect. Now I know why you borrowed Tootie's camera when you came to my races. Did you use the pictures when you were painting or did you do it from memory?"
If there was one thing Blair loved talking about more than herself, it was her artwork.
"A little of both. I don't like to depend totally on photographs because then you may as well just hang a photo on the wall. A painting should go deeper into the subject. It should be more than an image or snapshot of an event, it should capture the emotions of the moment. A good piece of art either stimulates emotions or intellect. Some photographs can do that, too, but I think that it's easier in a painting because you can always interject your own personality into the painting."
"I'm glad you decided to give it to me, even after what I did."
"There's not a big demand out there for paintings of motorbike racers, Jo."
"All the same, you could have kept it or thrown it away. I'm lucky to have it."
"Mrs. Garrett put her drawing in her Bible. I think that means that she likes it."
Jo looked at her feet. Jo had insisted that Mrs. Garrett take back the Bible she had given Jo during her bridal shower. She'd also insisted that Natalie and Tootie take back their diary and photo album. The only gift she had kept was the nightgown from Blair.
"Liked it? She loved it. She cried when she opened it."
"Yeah, she said it was one of the best gifts she had ever received."
"I guess she liked it a lot better than the Gucci purse I gave her for her birthday."
"She liked it because it was a part of you. You put a lot of time and talent into all our gifts, you made our Christmas special even though you weren't here to share it."
"Did you make Christmas gifts for Natalie and Tootie, like you did for me?"
"Nah, I just did what Mrs. G. suggested after her birthday and gave them Christmas cards. They didn't seem to mind and I think Mrs. G. appreciated that I didn't try to do more than I could afford."
Blair was surprised by Jo's admission about her financial situation. She usually liked to downplay her lack of money.
"I'm sure Tootie enjoyed your card a lot more than Nat's crazy socks. I wish Tootie had given me a card instead of those Christmas cookies, too. Did you actually try to eat any of those?"
Jo laughed as well.
"If you think they tasted bad, you should have had to smell them burning when she was cooking them."
"Speaking of Christmas, did you enjoy your visit home?"
"Mrs. Garrett said that you came back a couple of days early and spent New Year's Eve with her."
"Yeah, I think Mrs. G enjoyed having some company watching the ball drop. We wore those funky socks Natalie gave all of us for Christmas and Mrs. G. bought a couple of those things you blow to make noise."
"You didn't want to spend New Year's Eve with your mother?"
"Nah, I'm not into crowds anyway. I liked being with Mrs. G. She didn't even fuss at me on New Year's Day when I watched all the football games. She made hot chocolate and let me eat dinner in front of the television."
"You make it sound like you never get to watch television."
"I do, but with so many people in the house we don't usually watch what I'd like to see."
Blair knew that Jo hadn't meant the statement as a complaint, but she wondered why she and the other girls never asked Jo what she'd like to watch. Blair, Natalie, and Tootie all loved romantic comedies and so it was always assumed that they'd watch those types of movies. Blair tried to recall a time when they had watched an action or science fiction film on the television in the lounge and she couldn't recall a single one. New Year's Day was probably the first time anyone had ever watched a football game in the lounge.
"We should take turns deciding what to watch on movie nights at Mrs. Garrett's."
Blair's acknowledgement took Jo completely by surprise.
"Uh, that's okay. I don't mind watching the mushy stuff. It doesn't seem fair to watch what one person wants to see when the other three people want to see something else."
"It's not fair if you never get to pick, Jo."
"My grandfather used to say that fair was a place where old men threw horseshoes."
"What does that mean?"
"I think it means that life isn't fair."
"Are you and your grandfather close?"
"All of my grandparents are dead. The ones I've met anyway. I've never met my father's father. He lives in Poland."
"I have five sets of grandparents. No, I have six sets. I haven't seen my father's parents for around three years, but I used to see my mother's mother at least once a year. I was closest to my grandpa Blair until he died."
"Your grandfather's name was Blair?"
"His last name was Blair. It's a tradition in our family to use the family surname as the given name whenever appropriate. I have a cousin whose first name is Warner."
"No silly. He has a different last name."
"Was Grandpa Blair as loaded as Grandpa Warner?"
"Oh yes. Grandpa Blair wasn't thrilled with the fact that mother married beneath her status."
"Are you kiddin'?"
"Daddy wasn't always a business tycoon. Sometimes I think that one of the reasons he spends so much time on business is because of how Grandpa Blair treated him. It's ironic really, he built an industrial empire to prove he was worthy of my mother and she resented the time he spent away from her so much that she, um-"
"Like I'm always sayin', no one is perfect. We all do the best we can, in our own way. It's nice that you had a good relationship with your grandpa."
"I remember him being there for dance recitals when I was very young. One time when I had the chicken pox and Daddy and Mother were on vacation, Grandpa Blair came and stayed at our house so that I wouldn't be all alone with just the servants. He wasn't afraid of getting sick. He'd read to me and try to take my mind off of how bad I felt."
"He sounds great."
"He was great. He was a judge. I've thought about studying law some day, to kind of follow in his footsteps, but Daddy wants me to work for Warner."
"I think that your grandpa would be very proud of you if you became a lawyer, or a judge."
"Oh, I could never be a judge."
"Don't say that, Blair. You can be anything you want to be."
Blair seemed to be lost in thoughts of her grandfather, so Jo stopped questioning her. Eventually, Blair turned back to her conversation with Jo, having forgotten that she was supposed to be giving Jo the silent treatment.
"Did you see those cousins of yours that you are always talking about, the Largos?"
"Nah, my mom and Uncle Sal are kind of on the outs these days."
"Isn't he her brother?"
"No, Sal was married to my mother's sister. She passed away several years ago."
"Oh, I'm sorry that they aren't getting along. I know how much he means to you."
"Yeah, he was always there for me, kind of like your Grandpa Blair was there for you."
"Your father is in Florida, right?"
"Uh, yeah, Florida."
"He drives a truck."
"Do you see him much?"
"Well, I guess that's one more thing we have in common."
"Yeah, our fathers are both big business tycoons who have very little time for their daughters."
"Is your mom still working double shifts? I figured that was why you came back early, because your mom had to work so much during the holidays. I guess tips are better when everyone is filled with the Christmas spirit."
Jo expression darkened.
"Something like that."
"Well if you don't want to tell me, just say so."
Jo shrugged. Blair had already accused Jo of never having confided in her and Jo didn't want Blair to feel like Jo was shutting her out again.
"Jack and I don't get along so good."
"Oh. I didn't think he would be there. It must have been weird to go home and have a stranger living with you"
"We didn't exactly spend a lot of time together. I visited with my friends mostly."
"The Young Dodos?"
"Diablos, why can't any of you ever get that right?"
Blair couldn't help but smile. Natalie, Tootie, and Blair had an agreement to never pronounce the name of Jo's old gang correctly. Natalie had noticed how much it bothered Jo the first time she mispronounced the name and they had all decided after that to always pronounce it incorrectly
"Did you go see any of them?"
"Did you see Jessie?"
Jo should have seen that one coming, but she'd been so happy that Blair was talking to her that she'd neglected to veer away from anything that might lead to Jessie.
"I met a bunch of girls one afternoon for a few games of pool and Jessie was there. I didn't spend any time alone with her."
"Is she still in the gang?"
"Yeah, but she wants out. It's going to be a lot harder for her because she can't get away from them. I hope she makes it."
"Out of the gang?"
"You hope she makes it out of the gang?"
"No, I hope she makes it, period."
"Yeah, her mom is really nice, but her dad is never around and Jessie has a lot of responsibilities. One thing I can say for my mom is that she made sure that I stayed in school, even when I was in the gang and working nights."
"You had a job working nights while you were in your old school?"
"Yeah, everyone back home starts working early, but Mom made sure that I didn't work so many hours that I got behind on my school work. Jessie wasn't so lucky. She's working full time now, cleaning up at a beauty shop during the day and she works at a pool hall at night."
"How old is Jessie?"
"Sixteen, like us."
Blair knew Jo came from a rough neighborhood, but she could never really grasp what it was like to grow up as Jo.
"That's too bad for her. Are the two of you still close?"
"Not like you're thinking. We were never really close like that. One drunken moment doesn't mean anything. We've been good friends for a long time though and there are a lot of things I admire about Jessie. Sometimes I look at her and see what my life could have been like if I hadn't come to Eastland."
"You earned your scholarship, Jo."
"Did I earn the right to be more intelligent than Jessie, because that's what got me the scholarship? My grades weren't good because I wasn't in class to take the tests half the time. The only reason I'm here and she's there is that I was born smarter than most people."
"So now who needs to work on her humility?"
"Okay, you're right. Sometimes it doesn't make sense to pretend we don't know certain things about ourselves. I'm smart, you know it and I know it. Just like everyone knows how beautiful you are. It would be ridiculous for you to pretend you didn't know it. Most people don't know how smart you are though."
Blair didn't know how to respond to the compliment so she changed the subject.
"I'm sorry you have to work at Harrison's to pay off Mrs. Garrett's blouse. Do you get a sales commission? I could buy some things from you if you do."
"That's a nice offer, Blair, but I stole the shirt and I'll be the one to pay for it."
"Do you get a commission?"
"Yeah, but it's peanuts."
"Do you have any idea how much I spend at that store each year?"
"I shudder to think. Listen, I don't want you buying stuff just so I can get a commission."
"Fine, I'll buy my things from some other sales clerk."
"I didn't mean it like that. If you're already going to buy something, it'd be okay if you bought it from me, every little bit helps."
"Whatever. If someone is going to profit from my purchases, it may as well be someone I know instead of a stranger."
"So, are you ever going to tell me about Monte Carlo?"
Blair smiled. Monte Carlo hadn't been as lonely as she had feared.
"M, uh," Blair had started to say 'M.J.', the nickname family members used for her stepsister. Blair cursed herself, not for the first time, for telling Jo about M.J. so early in their relationship. Thinking that Jo might make fun of her if she realized that Blair's first kiss was with her stepsister, Blair used her stepsister's given name when telling her story.
"Meg, my stepsister, crashed the wedding. She had a little too much to drink at the reception and kept calling Mother's new husband Alan."
"Alan is Meg's father. Mother was fit to be tied. Meg is something of a rebel. She's always doing something to shock and embarrass everyone. Her presence made the wedding bearable."
"Are you and your stepsister close?
Blair didn't know why she felt so awkward talking with Jo about M.J. It wasn't as if she and Jo were still romantically involved, but she decided that Jo already knew more about M.J. than Blair thought wise, so she changed the topic.
"We used to be close. There were a lot of other friends at the wedding as well. One of my mother's best friends stayed in Monte Carlo with me after the wedding. More accurately, she stayed in Monte Carlo and her daughter stayed with me, but it was fun."
"So you had a friend with you on Christmas Day?"
"Yeah, it turned out to be great for both of us. Alex doesn't usually have anyone with her on Christmas Day either."
"You and Alex are close?"
"Yeah, she's great."
"How long have you two known one another?"
"Always, her whole life anyway. The Blairs and the Cabots go way back. Our mothers have been best friends since they attended Eastland together."
"So why doesn't Alex attend Eastland?"
"Oh, I'm sure she will."
Jo was getting more upset by the minute.
"So when were you going to tell me about all of this or were you just going to show up one day with Alex and announce that she was moving in with us?"
"Alex, when is she transferring to Eastland?"
Realizing where Jo's mind had gone, Blair was relieved that she hadn't mentioned to Jo that M.J. had also spent time with Blair during the holidays.
"Alex lives in New York, Jo. Would you like to go visit her while we're in the city?"
Jo folded her arms across her chest. She'd heard all she wanted to hear about Alex.
"No thanks, I'll wait until she gets to Eastland."
"That may be a very long wait."
"Jo, Alex is only seven years old."
"Yes. Elizabeth Cabot's husband died young and she was overprotective of Alex and didn't like to leave her with sitters so she'd drag the poor kid to all of my mother's parties when I was younger. Even though I wasn't old enough to stay by myself, they'd drop Alex off in my room and I'd entertain her while the adults socialized downstairs. It was kind of thrilling to watch her tear into her Christmas presents this year and she seemed extremely happy to have someone there to watch. We played with my makeup and painted one another's nails, it was fun."
Jo felt foolish for having been so jealous and grateful that Blair hadn't commented on how hypocritical it was.
"I wouldn't mind meeting the kid if you're planning on visiting her."
"Really, because I told her that I'd be in the city this weekend and she begged me to stop by. We could drop in to see her on our way to the museum. She's terribly shy, but she'll warm up to you in no time."
When the bus pulled to a stop in front of their hotel, both girls were amazed that the hours had passed so quickly.
As soon as they were checked into the hotel, Jo headed for the lobby phone.
"Hey, Uncle Sal."
"Yeah, me, too."
"Nah, I went back to school a few days early, I don't like him either."
"Ha, that's what I said."
"Listen, do you remember that guy whose Mercedes broke down in the wrong part of town and you helped him out?"
"Yeah, that's the one. Didn't he say something to you about letting him know if you ever wanted any kind of theater tickets when you were in the city?"
"Well, have you ever called him?"
"I know you don't go for that stuff, that's why I'm calling. How would you feel about asking him if he can get me some tickets for the ballet this weekend?"
"Stop laughing, it's not that funny."
"Yeah, I know what it is."
"Yeah, tell him I want them for tomorrow night, to see Baryshnikov."
"No, that's not the name of the ballet, that's the name of one of the dancers."
"No, it's a guy."
"They all wear tights. Listen, are ya gonna call him or not?"
"Thanks, Uncle Sal, you're the greatest."
"Oh, one more thing. Uh, thanks for always being there for me when I was little. With Dad being away and all, it really helped to have you around."
"Sure, I love you, too. Bye."
Jo hung up the lobby phone and skipped back up the stairs to the room she was sharing with Blair.
"Jo, how long has that red light on the phone been blinking?"
"Huh? I didn't notice it. What does it mean?"
"It means we have a phone call. Haven't you ever stayed at a hotel before?"
"Uh, no I haven't."
"Nope. So how do I answer this thing?"
"Just press seven and it'll tell you if anyone left us a message."
Jo listened to the message from her Uncle Sal telling her how, when, and where to pick up the tickets for Baryshnikov. Apparently the guy who owed her uncle a favor was as big a deal as he had indicated.
Later that night, Jo approached Blair about the ballet.
"So, uh, I guess you and Roger are kind of on the outs now."
"Oh Jo, you know that I was never interested in Roger."
"So the two of you won't be going out tomorrow night?"
"No, it turns out that Roger never even had tickets in the first place. He was just using Baryshnikov as a way to get me to go out with him. Can you believe that?"
Jo smiled; Roger wasn't the only one willing to go to such lengths to spend time with the sexy blonde.
"So you're free tomorrow night?"
"Of course I'm free tomorrow night, we're not allowed out without a chaperone."
"Um, but you'd really like to go see Baryshnikov?"
"I'd give anything to see Baryshnikov, but it's impossible."
"It's not impossible. I have tickets to the ballet. You could go with me tomorrow night, or, um, I'd give you the tickets and you could take someone else if you wanted."
"Jo, don't be so ridiculous. Those tickets are impossible to get and I should know because my daddy tried for weeks to get me a pair."
"Well, your daddy doesn't have the same connections that I have, because I happen to have a pair of tickets for tomorrow night's performance."
"What did you do, steal them?"
The insult stung and Jo's expression reflected it.
"No, Blair. I promised Mrs. G. I'd never steal again."
Blair thought about it. She didn't believe for one second that Jo had tickets to the ballet, but it was pointless to continue to argue.
"Okay. Since you're getting the tickets, I'll pay for a limo to take us there. Deal?"
Blair couldn't believe Jo's arrogance, pretending that she could get tickets to see Baryshnikov when even David Warner couldn't manage it. If tickets to that performance could be found, Blair knew that her daddy would have found them. It was going to serve Jo right to be embarrassed when Blair called her bluff.
The following night, the girls put on their best dresses and traveled to the ballet in the limo Blair had arranged.
Blair checked her watch for the fifth time that evening, making sure that they had plenty of time to get back to the hotel before curfew. She wanted to embarrass Jo, but she certainly didn't want her to get kicked out of school because of another infraction.
Jo strolled up to the ticket office in front of the theater while Blair paced nervously. She hoped that Jo wouldn't make a scene when she was unable to get tickets for the evening's performance.
"Someone was supposed to leave tickets for me."
"What's the name?"
Jo waited patiently for several minutes while Blair continued to pace back and forth.
Eventually an usher appeared beside the ticket desk and Blair was certain that they were about to be tossed out on their ears.
"Are you Ms. Polniaczek?"
"Well, I'm here to take you and your guest to your seats."
The usher led Blair and Jo to the fourth row, center section. Blair looked at Jo as if she was seeing her for the first time.
"These are backstage passes for after the performance, if you'd like to come back and say hello to Mr. Baryshnikov."
Blair's expression was priceless. It wasn't everyday someone was able to outmaneuver Blair's father and Jo had not only gained tickets to a sold out performance, she had access to back stage passes. Jo owed Uncle Sal a debt she would never be able to repay. When they had settled into their seats, Blair leaned over and whispered into Jo's ear.
"Are you ever going to tell me how you did this?"
"No, but I can tell you why."
"I did it for you."
Blair looked into bright green eyes. The same eyes she had fallen in love with on sight. The same eyes she had seen light up whenever she entered a room. The eyes she'd seen turn dark with passion on Cooper's Rock. The eyes she had tried so hard to force from her mind and her heart.
Blair's response was polite, yet awkward.
For the next two hours Blair sat on the edge of her seat, staring intently at the stage. Jo spent the same two hours staring intently at the beautiful girl beside her. Blair's eyes had been vacant for weeks, but Jo could see the spark returning as gold flecks danced within chocolate.
As soon as the performance was over, the same young usher who had escorted them to their seats reappeared.
"Would you ladies like to come backstage? Mr. Baryshnikov won't be able to meet with you for another hour, but you are welcome to stay in his dressing room and enjoy some refreshments while you wait."
Jo was ecstatic, but Blair didn't look pleased.
"Jo, I think we should be getting back to the hotel."
Jo was dumbstruck. Blair had been swooning over Baryshnikov as long as Jo had known her. She couldn't understand why Blair would give up the chance to finally meet him.
"Blair, you can't be serious! This is Baryshnikov we're talking about. We have to stay."
"Jo, we could get caught."
"So what? It'd be worth it, wouldn't it?"
"Jo, you don't understand. Mrs. Garrett told me that after the shoplifting incident you are only one infraction away from expulsion."
It took Jo several seconds to comprehend what Blair was saying and what it meant. Blair wasn't concerned about getting caught; she was worried about Jo getting caught. Jo was speechless at the revelation and simply shook her head at the usher and led Blair to the limousine waiting for them outside the theater.
As they were riding back to their hotel in the hired limo, Jo made a decision. She fumbled in her purse for the paper she had been carrying for weeks, uncertain as to if and when she would ever give it to Blair. Jo slipped the piece of paper into Blair's hand. Blair held it within her hand for several minutes, almost afraid to read it. She waited until Jo turned her attention to city beyond the window of the limo before she read the note.
It took every ounce of WASP Warner training for Blair to retain her composure. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream. She wanted to hide her heart in a place far away from Jo Polniaczek. She wanted to crumple the paper and throw it at Jo's feet. She wanted to do all those things, but she couldn't drag her eyes away from the poem Jo had written for her. Blair could feel Jo's eyes searching, pleading, and unrelenting. She felt she should tear Jo's poem into a thousand shreds, so that it would match her heart, but she couldn't bring herself to part with it. Instead, she delicately folded it again and placed it in her purse, avoiding Jo's eyes as much as possible in the confined area of the limousine.
Upon arriving at the hotel, Blair's thoughts were jerked away from Jo's poem and back to their present predicament when she saw one of their chaperones standing in front of their hotel.
Blair's mind was scrambling as she and Jo exited the limo.
"Miss Gallagher! What a surprise to see you here."
"It's a lovely night for a stroll in the city, don't you agree?"
"Uh, yes. Well, nice seeing you."
Blair grabbed Jo's arm and started pulling her toward the hotel lobby.
"Wait a minute, girls. Isn't it a little bit late for the two of you to be exploring the city? I don't recall any evening activities on the cultural agenda."
Jo didn't appreciate how much pleasure Miss Gallagher was getting out of making Blair so uncomfortable.
It was against the rules to be out of the hotel after curfew without a chaperone and Jo had been sternly warmed by Mrs. G. that any shenanigans on her part would yield serious consequences. Jo knew that the only way she would be able to take Blair to the ballet was if one of the chaperones escorted them so she approached Miss Gallagher shortly after receiving word from Uncle Sal that the tickets would be waiting at the box office. When Miss Gallagher had agreed to chaperone Jo's evening with Blair, from an inconspicuous distance, Jo should have known that the light hearted teacher would find a way to insert herself into the evening.
Blair lowered her head, guilt ridden that she had once again gotten Jo into trouble. She wasn't ready to forgive Jo for choosing Eddie over her, but she didn't want Jo to lose her scholarship and leave Eastland either.
"It's all my fault, Miss Gallagher. Honestly, Jo didn't have anything to do with it. I snuck out of our room earlier and Jo only left the hotel so that she could find me and bring me back. Please don't punish her for trying to keep me from breaking the rules."
It wasn't difficult for Blair to lie, she did feel responsible. If she hadn't told Roger that she would go to the ballet with him in the first place, none of this would have happened.
Gail Gallagher's smile spread up her face and into her eyes. So, the spoiled debutante really did care about Jo.
"I'm sorry, Miss Warner. Miss Polniaczek is just as guilty of leaving the hotel as you are. I'll have to punish you both."
"Are you going to report us to the headmaster?"
"Oh no! The last time the two of you got into trouble, Mrs. Garrett managed to acquire indentured help in the cafeteria for the entire year. Although this offense isn't nearly as serious as your little adventure at the Chug-a-lug, I think I deserve at least one Saturday of your time. The librarian needs help shelving new books and I volunteered to assist her. The two of you will make the task much less time consuming for me."
Blair was stunned. She barely knew Miss Gallagher, but the senior girls spoke very highly of one of Eastland's newest teachers. Jo decided it was time for her to speak up and spoil Miss Gallagher's fun.
"That sounds fair, doesn't it, Blair?"
"Huh? Oh, yes."
"You just let us know when you want our help and we'll be there, Miss Gallagher. So, we'd better get back inside before another chaperone decides to confiscate the rest of our Saturdays." Jo gently tugged at Blair's sleeve and the two girls quickly walked to their room.
"That was weird."
"Why? She's just letting us work off our punishment like Mrs. Garrett did."
"Yeah, but Mrs. Garrett likes us. Miss Gallagher doesn't even know us."
"Uh, I've talked to her a few times around campus. She's always very nice."
"Nice? She wasn't at all upset that we broke curfew. She actually seemed happy about it."
"Maybe she was happy to get some help with the library books."
"Maybe. I still think her behavior was odd. She's a teacher. She's supposed to turn us in when we break the rules."
Jo wasn't ready to tell Blair about her friendship with Miss Gallagher or to reveal that the teacher knew of her feelings toward Blair. She tried to change the subject
"Did you enjoy the ballet, Blair?"
"What? I'm sorry, I was thinking about something Miss Gallagher said. What did you say?"
"I was asking you if you enjoyed the ballet."
Blair smiled wistfully at Jo. If only Eddie had never come to Eastland, things could be so different between them.
"It was wonderful and you are wonderful for taking me. I'm sorry you're going to have to give up an entire Saturday to work in the library.
"Hey, it was worth a thousand Saturdays."
Blair knew that she needed to distance herself from Jo or else she'd give in to the feelings bubbling up toward the surface.
"It's been a long day, Jo. I'm going to get ready for bed now; we can talk more in the morning."
Jo looked longingly toward the double sized bed Blair had slept in the night before and then at the other bed, where she would once again be sleeping. If only Eddie had never come to Eastland, things could be so different between them.
Later that night, when she was certain that Jo was asleep, Blair went into the hotel bathroom and opened the poem again. She sat for several long minutes, reading and crying.
I envied the wind that tousled your hair
As if apart from you it had no purpose.
While my hands ached from the memory of silken tresses
Bitter as the icy rocks upon which you stood.
I envied the coat that protected you from the wintry storm
Warm and comforting, it embraced your body.
While my arms lay useless by my side
Stilled by the beauty of your perfection.
I envied the snowflakes that caressed your tear stained face
Sweet and wet as they sought to kiss away your sorrow.
While my heart, once frozen, shattered
Broken shards too sharp to touch your tender skin.
Cold, unyielding, granite rocks lay beneath your feet
Ice and wind and terrifying height kept you from me
While my soul cried out from dark despair
You turned to gaze at me
Dark brown eyes once warmed me but no longer shine for me.
Soft warm lips once kissed me but no longer part for me.
The wind in silent glory, rises mockingly,
The wind has every right to boast
- - for it once envied me.
Please forgive me, Jo.
Jo couldn't help but smile at the irony. She was sitting all alone at the 'popular' table in the student center. Jo had left the cafeteria as soon as Mrs. Garrett had announced that Cynthia had won the student council election. More importantly, Blair had lost the election. The popular blonde socialite had been stunned. Jo reprimanded herself for not having been more supportive toward Blair, even though she thought Blair was blowing the entire thing out of proportion. No, Jo was kicking herself for having passed up on a major opportunity to get back into the beautiful girl's good graces.
To say that the relationship between the two girls had chilled since Jo's elopement attempt would be the understatement of all time. Jo looked down at her fingers, surprised she didn't see evidence of frost bite.
At first, Jo had tried to be especially nice and attentive toward Blair. She went out of her way to act as if nothing bad had happened between them, but that seemed to only make things worse. The trip to New York a couple of weeks earlier had been a mix of the best and worst between the two girls. Jo had been optimistic after they had attended the ballet. Blair had smiled at her throughout most of the evening and had defended Jo to Miss Gallagher. It was much later, in the middle of the night, when Jo overheard Blair crying in the bathroom that her hopes had been crushed.
Jo put her hands to her temples, unable to alleviate the growing tension. When she saw someone else worthy of sitting at the popular table arrive in the student center she cringed, she'd rather sit alone than have to make small talk with Molly Parker.
"Enjoying the last days of civilization, Jo?"
Jo barely looked up at the younger girl, who idolized Blair Warner. She rarely understood anything Molly said and had given up trying to understand the prissy little red head's attitude.
"Hey, Molly. What happened, did you miss dinner? It looks like you bought out the entire canteen."
"I'm depressed. I eat when I'm depressed."
"Heh, you sound like Blair. Doom and gloom, the world is coming to an end."
Molly was outraged.
"How dare you joke about this situation? This is all your fault you know, you sorry excuse for a civilized human being."
"Hey, you got no right to talk to me like that. I haven't done anything to you."
"Yes you have, you idiot, you've tipped the delicate balance of power. The worst part is that you don't even have the good sense to know what you've done."
Jo was tired of putting up with tantrums and the nonsense drama of Blair's upper crust friends. It was one thing to tolerate them when Blair was around, but Blair had been avoiding Jo for weeks.
"Listen you over-privileged Blair Warner 'wannabe', the brain power of you and your whole snooty crowd ain't enough to light a match, so go spew your nonsense somewhere else."
"Nonsense!" Molly went from outrage to rage. Otherwise she never would have been so confrontational with the tough girl from the Bronx.
"You'll be singing a different tune in a few weeks after Margo starts running things around here."
Jo had only come in contact with Margo on a few occasions since the arrogant girl had insulted Jo's mother and Blair had retaliated by smacking the rude girl in the face with a pie. Margo was one of the select few girls who rated a seat at the popular table in the student center even though she and Blair didn't get along.
"What's Margo got to do with anything?"
Jo wasn't just curious, she had an uneasy feeling that she was not going to like what Molly was going to tell her.
"You don't really believe that Cynthia strolled into Eastland only a few months ago and was able to defeat Blair all by her little lonesome, do you? Blair has been elected student council president every year for the past three years. A new girl couldn't possibly compete with that. Cynthia is nothing more than a pawn. A sweet, clueless pawn, but a pawn nevertheless."
"You're saying that Margo campaigned for Cynthia just because she wanted Blair to lose the election?"
"I swear I don't know what Blair sees in you, you are dumb as dirt. I'll make it simple enough so that even you can understand. There is a hierarchy here at Eastland. The person at the top of the hierarchy decides who's in and who's out. She sets the tone for all the rest of us and we follow because that's just the way things work. You called me a snob, you're right. I'm a snob, just like Blair. I don't have to follow the same rules as the other girls because I'm special, just like Blair. I get to sit at the best table, wear the most expensive clothes, date the most sought after boys, dine at the finest restaurants, and snub my nose at anyone who doesn't have the good sense to see how superior I am, just like Blair. You don't get to be at the top of the hierarchy at one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country without being a snob, and therein is the reason I resent Blair's incomprehensible attachment to you."
"Well, I'm glad you cleared all that up for me. Eastland is full of snobs who think that they are better than everyone else. This is not a news flash."
"Well, fasten your seatbelt, Polniaczek, because I've got a real news flash for you. You called me a Blair 'wannabe', well I could do a lot worse, and so could this school. Trust me, you're not going to like it when Margo and her minions start changing the rules I so graciously laid out for you. I'll be clear, so that your muddled mind can understand. Blair has a lot of traits that you don't like, but most of that is an act with Blair, a necessary evil to maintain her position at the top of the hierarchy. One thing I think you know is that Blair is not intentionally cruel. Yes, our group gets special privileges, but we do not go around building ourselves up by tearing down others. Things were a lot different around here when Tumpy and her crowd ran things. Eastland is the first prep school you've ever attended, so let me clue you in that what you consider snobbish behavior is light years away from the real deal."
"A snob is a snob, Molly. It sounds to me like you're all alike."
"Really? Don't lump me in the same category as people like Margo Ellis and Harrison Andrews. Ask your friend Natalie about that in a few weeks. Oh yes, I remember when you got so upset that Natalie wasn't allowed to sit with us in the student center. That's child's play compared to what girls like Natalie are going to face on a daily basis once it gets around that Blair has been toppled from her pedestal. Girls who don't have what might be considered a perfect body type will face constant ridicule."
Molly continued her rant.
"Margo is cruel, and the same girls who have sat at this table and simply rolled their eyes when someone fashion challenged walked by, will be standing in front of the poor girl taunting her about everything from her wardrobe to her hair style until the girl runs off in tears. Don't think your other roommate will have it any easier. You won't hear any racial slurs because that would be too obvious, but they'll find ways to exclude girls like Tootie. The cute little girl, who entertains us in all the school plays, will suddenly be too short or too tall or too loud or too quiet to get the lead roles. The worst prejudices will flourish, I've seen it before. Anyone who doesn't fit into a size four uniform will be given funny little nicknames, like lard ass, and no one will think there's anything wrong with saying it right out loud.
Jo was beginning to get the picture, but Molly couldn't lay the responsibility for the downfall of the social order at Eastland on Jo any more than she could lay the responsibility for upholding what she considered the delicate balance solely on Blair's shoulders.
"I get it, Molly. Really, I do. I think you may be exaggerating, but I get it. However, you can't blame me because Blair lost the election. If Margo ran some sort of smear campaign against Blair, then you should blame Margo, not me."
"That's the beauty of it, she didn't have to run a smear campaign - you did it for her. You are here for one day and Blair gets arrested. That alone isn't such a big deal, but having to put on an apron like a common house maid and perform manual tasks in the cafeteria does not fit the image of the person at the top of the social hierarchy, now does it? Then Blair has to defend you against all kinds of rumors. Do you know that there are people around here who believe that you have actually been in a gang, a common street gang? As ridiculous as it sounds, Blair still had to deal with that potential scandal. Things were finally settling down when you went on another crime spree. Shoplifting! She tried to spin that as well, but even Mrs. Garrett acknowledged that it was true, not intentionally you know, but she was overheard talking about it in the headmaster's office. I mean, getting arrested for dope or grand theft auto would almost be acceptable, but petty theft, really."
"I get it. You can stop now. Blair's image has suffered because of her friendship with me. You can't be the snobbiest of the snobs and hang out with a common street thug. I'm the reason that Blair's not as popular as before. I admit it, are you satisfied now?"
"Satisfied? No, I'm far from satisfied."
"Why am I not surprised?"
Molly leveled a chilling glare on Jo, almost as icy as the ones she'd been getting from Blair over the past few weeks. If Molly's goal in life was to mimic Blair, she was succeeding.
"What did you do to her to make her so sad?"
"What? I don't know what the hell you're talking about. I haven't done anything to Blair."
"Tootie Ramsey told Erica Turner that you ran off with a sailor and that Mrs. Garrett had to track you down and drag you kicking and screaming back to Eastland. Both Natalie and Blair say that Tootie has an overactive imagination. According to them, you and your boyfriend got caught in the ice storm and didn't get home until after curfew. They say Tootie dreamed the reason for your tardiness all up in her head."
"What goes on between me and my boyfriend has nothing to do with Blair, and it is certainly none of your business."
If it weren't for the guilt that Molly's earlier tirade had produced, Jo's temper would have flared as it normally did any time Eddie's name came up in a conversation. Jo returned Molly's cool stare with a heated glare of her own, wishing she could go back to the first day of school and change everything that had happened, almost everything.
"Look, I could not care less about what you and your slimy boyfriend do, unless it causes more trouble for Blair nine months from now."
"You watch your mouth, Molly. I ain't pregnant and if I were, it wouldn't be anyone's business but my own."
Molly was shocked by the vehemence of Jo's reaction, but anger was overriding her good sense.
"Oh, is that how it works in the Bronx? Because here at Eastland, it'll be everyone's business. Blair has a reputation as a tease, that's acceptable. If people start thinking she likes to associate with girls who give it up too easy, she'll get a very different kind of reputation. After what happened with Allison, a second incident would do a lot more damage to Blair's reputation than losing a student council election."
Jo was tired. It had been a long day and all she wanted to do was go back to her room and be ignored by Blair. Anything was better than this.
"Molly", Jo sighed, "I assure you that there is no way I could possibly be pregnant. As far as this Allison person goes, I don't even know anybody named Allison."
"Blair didn't tell you about Allison?"
Molly sounded truly surprised, piquing Jo's interest.
"Is there anything to tell?"
"Whoa, you can say that again. Allison was Blair's best friend, since forever. Allison and Blair were quite a pair. They always looked out for one another. That's important when you have friends like Margo hanging around all the time."
Jo knew it was ridiculous to be jealous of a girl she had never met, but she hated the feelings that Molly's description of Blair's friendship with Allison brought up in her. As soon as the thought entered Jo's mind, her heart started pounding. She remembered that Blair had told her the names of the two girls she had kissed, Allison wasn't one of them, but Allie was. It seemed odd that Blair had never mentioned her best friend, unless Allison was Allie.
Oblivious to Jo's scowl, Molly continued.
"Of course, I can see why Blair might not want to talk about Allison. Allison got in trouble last year. Trouble with a capital P, if you know what I mean. So you see why it would hurt Blair's reputation if both of her best friends got 'preggers' two years in a row."
Finding out that Blair's best friend had gotten knocked up by some guy made Jo feel a little better. Regardless, Jo knew what she had to do and the fact that Blair was already avoiding her would make it easier for Jo to distance herself from the socialite.
"Don't worry about Blair anymore, Molly. Despite what you think, Blair is my friend and I'm not going to ruin her reputation by hanging around her anymore."
"No, no no no no no!" Molly was in a full blown panic.
"What, isn't that what you want, for Blair to go back to being a proper snob and stop associating with trash like me?"
"No. Are you crazy? Do you have any idea how hard it is for someone in Blair's position to find a friend she can really trust? Practically every friend she has is more interested in her last name than they are in Blair. All I want from you is for you to stop doing stupid things so that Blair won't have to keep cleaning up after you. It will crush Blair if you reject her friendship. She has issues when it comes to rejection."
The last part of Molly's speech was whispered in a seriously confidential manner. Jo was aware that Blair tended to misinterpret the slightest lack of attentiveness as rejection. It had been a constant sore point between the two girls. Jo was surprised that Molly was perceptive enough to have seen it, slightly changing her opinion of the younger girl.
If Molly knew how badly Jo had really treated Blair, the smaller girl would probably be pounding on Jo instead of trying to make her feel better. Jo sighed deeply, she supposed that Blair's 'issues' with rejection may have escalated to a traumatic level after Jo ran away from her and into the arms of a man she didn't love. She still hadn't told Blair the real reason for her abrupt departure. She couldn't tell Blair why she had reacted so strongly to the news that her mother had invited a man to move in with her.
"I've got to get back to the cafeteria. Mrs. Garrett is expecting me to help with lunch."
Jo looked so downcast that Molly was beginning to regret having vented so much of her anger at Blair's newest friend. Jo was basically a nice girl and she was a lot more interesting than almost anyone else Molly knew at Eastland. The girl had plenty of rough edges, but Molly was sure that once Blair smoothed those out, Jo would fit in nicely with their other friends.
"Jo, I didn't mean to make you feel like you haven't been a good friend to Blair."
"That's ok, Molly. I didn't like what you said, but I respect you for saying it. Blair's lucky to have you as a friend."
"I'm the lucky one."
Jo could find no other word for the starry look in Molly's eyes, other than 'love struck'. Jo finally understood why she and Molly were always at odds with one another. Molly had a crush on Blair.
As soon as Jo was far enough away from Molly that she knew the lovesick girl couldn't hear her, she spoke out loud.
"No, I'm the lucky one."
When Jo retuned to Mrs. Garrett's, Blair was in much worse shape than Jo had anticipated. Her cheerful arrogance had been replaced by depressed insecurity. Jo never thought she'd see the day when Blair Warner needed an ego boost, but self doubt radiated from the once confident debutante. Jo had no way of knowing that afternoon, that her plan to minimize the election would be unnecessary by the end of one of the most difficult days the young women would ever experience while living behind the sheltered walls of Eastland Academy.
Shortly after Jo's return, Tootie came running full throttle into the cafeteria, frantic. She and Natalie had found Cynthia unconscious in her room with an empty bottle of pills on the floor. Mrs. Garrett went to Cynthia while Blair called 911 and Jo ran to get the headmaster.
Later that afternoon, Mrs. Garrett had all four girls busy making brownies. She understood that the girls needed to feel like they were contributing, so she'd suggested they send brownies to Cynthia while she recovered in the hospital.
Blair still couldn't get over the fact that someone as pretty and popular as Cynthia would try to kill herself.
"Let's face it, the girl beat me, she has everything to live for."
"Ah, she'll be okay. She didn't really want to kill herself anyway."
The seemingly callous statement was very uncharacteristic of Jo. Tootie couldn't understand Jo's reasoning.
"What makes you say that?"
"She set it up so you guys would find her. If she was really serious she would have done it like my friend Gloria back home. She jumped off the school roof between history class and home economics."
Blair felt her heart lurch at Jo's revelation.
"Your friend killed herself?"
Tootie almost whispered the question.
Mrs. Garrett's voice was filled with compassion as she addressed Jo. She could now see why Cynthia's suicide attempt was hitting Jo so hard.
"Jo, to lose a friend like that, what a horrible experience for you."
"Yeah." Jo cleared her throat to hold down the tears.
"No. I don't know. Just forget I brought it up."
Blair was speechless. She recognized Gloria's name instantly. She doubted that Jo remembered telling her the names of the two girls she had kissed prior to meeting Blair, but Blair would never forget. Jessie and Gloria were the two girls Jo had kissed and now Blair knew what had happened to Gloria. As much as Blair had tried in recent weeks to disassociate herself from Jo, her heart sank with the knowledge that someone with whom Jo had been so close had taken her own life. Discovering that Gloria had jumped to her death from a rooftop also explained a lot about Jo's initial reaction to Cooper's Rock and the morning when Blair stood so near the edge during the winter storm.
When Mrs. Garrett got the call telling them that Cynthia had died, it was Jo who actually said the words.
"Cynthia's dead." Jo's voice sounded dead as well. She delivered the news in such a matter of fact manner, as if it was nothing at all to lose a friend to such a horrible act.
Later that night, when Blair had searched everywhere else she could think of, she found Jo in Cynthia's dorm room.
"Jo, I've been looking everywhere for you. You shouldn't be in here."
Blair cautiously entered the dorm room where sixteen year old Cynthia had overdosed on sleeping pills. Mrs. Garrett and her four charges had packed Cynthia's things earlier that day and shipped them to her mother in Las Vegas. The room was empty except for a single bed frame and mattress. Jo was sitting crossed legged in the center of the abandoned room.
"Jo, what are you doing in here?"
Jo didn't make a sound, her face buried in both hands. Blair approached Jo slowly, as if she was afraid she would startle Jo if she moved too quickly. Blair was almost afraid Jo would run away from her, the temperamental girl's highs and lows over the past couple of months had left Blair with emotional whiplash. Once she was within reach of her goal, Blair crouched down and extended her hand, soothingly brushing Jo's hair away from her downcast face.
"Jo, are you thinking about your friend Gloria? I'm so sorry, Jo."
"We were just friends, Blair. I mean, I thought we were just friends. We used to go up on the roof at lunch time and divide our sandwiches."
Jo lifted her face and forced a small smile for Blair.
"Is she the reason you're afraid, uh, I mean . . . I'm sure it was hard for you when she died."
"You can say it, Blair. I'm afraid of heights. Yes, it's mostly because of Gloria, of what she did. We always went to the roof during lunch. Gloria said that the air was cleaner up there. I didn't like standing close to the edge, not like Gloria, but I wasn't afraid of it back then."
"Did you see what happened, when she did it?"
Jo kept talking, ignoring Blair's question.
"I always had tuna fish sandwiches, but Gloria's mom made all kinds of sandwiches. Have you ever had a tomato and pimento cheese sandwich? It sounds awful, but it's really good. Gloria pretended to like tuna, but that was just so we could halve our sandwiches and share. She didn't want me to have to eat the same thing every day."
Blair edged closer to Jo, taking hold of both her hands.
"I always sat at the top of the stairway that leads to the roof, but Gloria liked to walk all around and look out over the edge."
Blair knelt on her knees, encircling Jo in her arms.
Blair and Jo had been on bad terms since the night Jo ran away with Eddie, but Blair couldn't deny Jo whatever comfort she might offer tonight. She didn't even try to convince herself that she was being unselfish, knowing that she also needed to feel the comfort she would find in Jo's arms.
"I was sitting there one day, using my pocket knife to slice my sandwich in half and Gloria looked over at me with a goofy grin. I had no idea what was happening until her lips were on mine. I jerked back the second it happened since I'd never thought about Gloria that way. I didn't mean to hurt her feelings, really I didn't. I was surprised and didn't know what to do."
Jo got on her knees, like Blair, so that their upper bodies were pressed more firmly together, taking solace in the warmth.
"I told you I kissed Jessie when we were drunk, that's the only time I really kissed another girl. I'd thought about other girls. I was attracted to other girls, but I never did anything about it. I'd never been attracted to Gloria. It's not that she wasn't pretty, I just couldn't see her as anything other than a friend."
"It's okay, Joey."
"No, Blair. It's not okay. Gloria started crying and I started cursing because it was awkward and I was scared that if she could see how much I liked girls then other people could see it, too. She pretended that everything was okay after that and that we could still be good friends. Three and a half weeks later Gloria handed me half a turkey sandwich and walked off the roof as casually as if she was walking off the sidewalk."
Blair could feel Jo's tears against her face as she continued to hold Jo close to her, rocking quietly back and forth.
"I'm such a fucking cry baby."
"Shhh, it's okay to cry. Like you said earlier today, we can't read anyone else's mind. We'll never know all the reasons why Cynthia did what she did and you'll never know what all was going on in Gloria's mind either."
"I coulda been nicer to Gloria."
"I could have been nicer to Cynthia. I couldn't see past the election, I thought Cynthia had it all."
Jo had been allowing Blair to hold her, leaving her own arms hanging loose by her sides. When she finally returned Blair's hug, she clung to Blair so firmly that Blair had difficulty breathing. However, Blair didn't try to break free of Jo's hold; instead she tightened her grip as she continued to cradle her grieving friend.
"Little Tootie shouldn't have ever had to see something like that."
"No one should, Jo."
"Why did you come looking for me?"
"I was worried about you. I'm not trying to intrude on your privacy, Jo. I only wanted to help."
"I wasn't running away from you, Blair."
"What? I don't understand."
"When I left with Eddie, I wasn't running away from you. I wasn't running away from how I feel about you."
"You don't owe me an explanation, Jo. You've never lied to me about you and Eddie. I've always known that you planned to marry him one day. I'm glad you decided to wait a little longer, but I shouldn't have interfered in your relationship. I still want to be your friend."
Jo pulled back and looked into dark, watery eyes. Jo knew that she could use a friend, but she didn't want pity. She continued to search Blair's eyes, but she didn't see pity, she saw concern. She knew that Blair didn't think she was weak because she was crying for Gloria, somehow this girl who shouldn't be able to understand anything about the world in which Jo grew up understood Jo better than any of her lifelong friends.
"Blair, I have something else I need to tell you."
Jo closed her eyes, gathering her courage, while Blair used her thumbs to wipe at the new tears spilling down Jo's face. The emptiness of the dorm room seemed to emphasize the silence as neither girl spoke for several minutes.
"My ma sent me to Eastland because she wanted me to get a good education and she wanted to get me away from the gang and away from Eddie."
Blair waited, her face pressed against Jo's cheek, her hands gently rubbing up and down Jo's back.
"Those weren't the only reasons she sent me away."
Jo turned her face a fraction toward Blair's and pressed their lips together. Blair's welcoming response was instant, opening her lips in invitation. Jo kissed Blair's lips, then her cheek, and then she buried her face in Blair's neck.
When Blair felt Jo's body begin to jerk with her sobs, she was overcome with fear and dread, unsure if she was prepared for what Jo might tell her.
At first, Jo spoke between her sobs, but as she talked she calmed and was able to control her emotions better.
"My father abandoned us when I was twelve. He was there one day and he was gone the next. Up until the day he left, he was a great dad, but he wasn't a great husband. Sometimes my dad was a little too rough on my ma, but he never raised his voice toward me. After my dad left, my ma had a string of new boyfriends, but none of them lasted very long. I figured out after the third one turned out to be as bad a jerk as the first two that my mother had a knack for picking out guys who liked to beat up on women. I wanted to protect my mother, but I was just a kid."
Jo looked up at Blair and tried to lighten the mood.
"My knees hurt, mind if we sit down?"
Jo's smile was more a grimace and Blair made a valiant effort to smile back at Jo, although her heart was breaking.
"Thank goodness, there's no telling what Natalie and Tootie's furtive imaginations would conjure up to explain our bruised knees."
"It wouldn't be anything I haven't already imagined myself."
Blair allowed herself to chuckle, but her voice was thick with concern when she spoke again.
"Jo, can we go for a walk while we talk? No one else is going to be out this late, we'll be all alone. This room is. . it's . . I don't want to stay in this room."
"That's probably a good idea. We can walk over to the hockey field and sit on the bleachers for a while."
"I'd like that."
Jo helped Blair up, but didn't release her hand once they were standing. She continued to hold Blair's hand as they left the dorm and started walking across campus. Both girls enjoyed the sensation of walking in the open area while holding hands. It was an experience they had never before allowed themselves.
Jo stared at the trail ahead as she continued to tell Blair about the harsh environment in which she grew up.
"As I got older, I'd try to step in when it looked like my mother was going to get punched, but I was never strong enough to do anything other than get my own face smacked." Blair winced, but Jo was looking forward and didn't notice.
"One night, not long after I met Eddie, I tried to step in between my mother and a man named Sam. He was a big fella and pretty much beat the shit out of both of us. A neighbor called the police, but Ma sent me to my room when they got there. She lied to them and said she'd been mugged earlier in the day so they didn't arrest the bastard. Once the police left, I left, too. I went to my friend Jessie's house and her mother took care of me. Jessie was already in the Young Diablos. She told me that if I joined a gang, I'd have the kind of family I could depend on to back me up when I needed it. She said they'd get rid of Sam for me, but they didn't."
"I don't know how he did it, but Eddie got rid of Sam. He never asked me to do anything for him in return. "I could have protected myself from Sam by staying at Jessie's, but that wouldn't have kept him from hurting my mom. I never asked Eddie what he did to Sam because I never want to know."
Jo stopped, looking over at Blair to gauge her reaction to what she was learning.
"Like you said, Jo, things are never as black and white as they appear. I never understood how you could be persuaded to join a gang. I think that if I had been in your situation, I would have done the same thing. I guess that some choices don't fit nicely into right or wrong categories."
Jo could tell that Blair was being honest, she didn't condemn Jo for her decision to join a gang and although concern was evident in the deep chocolate eyes that stared back at her, Jo didn't see any signs that Blair thought less of Jo because of what had happened.
"As much as the Young Diablos gave me, they took back double. They made it clear to the men in my mother's life that the gang would take revenge on anyone who beat up on either of us. In return, I stole from stores, I mugged tourists and took their wallets, I helped beat up girls from rival gangs, I sold drugs, I got drunk or I got high every weekend, and I was terrified, all the time."
They arrived at the hockey field and Jo led Blair up onto the bleachers, where they sat staring out at the grassy playing field.
"Once word got around that I was in one of the more violent gangs, my mother had a lot more trouble finding Mister Wrong. Not many men wanted to deal with a gang of drugged-up teenagers, but somehow or the other she managed to find a new loser. My ma blames Eddie for me skipping school, but I was doing that long before I met Eddie. Eddie was the best thing that ever happened to me."
Once again, Jo turned to look Blair in the eyes and didn't look away as she explained her relationship with Eddie.
"Eddie got me to stop drinking and drugging. He tried to keep me away from the gang, but once they get their hooks into you it's almost impossible to get out. Eddie proved how much he loved me long before he ever tried to kiss me. I couldn't remember the one kiss with Jessie and I don't count the one with Gloria. Before you, Eddie was it for me."
"I could always count on Eddie. I could call him in the middle of the night if one of my mother's boyfriends was bothering me and Eddie would be standing at my door only a few minutes later. See, Eddie knows what it's like to grow up the way I did. Only it was ten times worse for Eddie. Eddie's father beat him so bad one time when he was just a little boy that Eddie almost died. I'm the only person Eddie's ever been able to talk to about his father."
"Can't ya see, Blair? Eddie would die for me. He risked his life more than once getting in the way of the Young Diablos when they wanted me to keep stealing for them. Not to mention all the times he stood up for me in front of my mother's boyfriends."
Jo took a deep breath before continuing.
"Eddie was too young to save his own mother. His father killed her one night a few years ago. Eddie's father is in a federal penitentiary. Eddie doesn't have anyone, except me. Eddie couldn't do anything for his mother, but he has been able to for my mother. He loves me."
"When I called Eddie and told him that I had called home and my mother's new live-in boyfriend Jack had answered the phone, Eddie knew why I was so upset. He knew that without me and my gang connections there to protect my mother, she could wind up in the hospital or worse. He went AWOL to come here and check on me to make sure I was okay."
The tears that had subsided threatened to again fill Jo's eyes as she held Blair's hand and looked steadfastly into her eyes.
"Please understand, Eddie never made me feel the way you make me feel, but he's been there for me in situations so bad you can't even imagine. Things I wouldn't want you to imagine. Things I never wanted you to know about. I would do anything to keep stuff like that from ever touching you."
"I don't know why I agreed to marry Eddie. I knew I'd be throwing away any chance I have at a half decent life if I got married this young. I'd be throwing away Eddie's chance as well. I was so crazy scared for my mother that I couldn't think straight about anything. Sometimes when I get scared or angry all I can think about is running away. I needed to do something, anything. I love my mother. She works three jobs just so I'll have all the things she thinks I need, but all I ever wanted was for her to be safe. I can't keep her safe while I'm here at Eastland. Not if she brings home some loser. I was trying to run away, but not from you."
Jo closed her eyes for a moment and when she opened them again, Blair felt the intensity of Jo's gaze penetrate her soul.
"Can you forgive me? Can you forgive me for making you believe that you didn't matter enough to me to deserve an explanation? You matter more to me than anyone else and it scares the hell out of me. Maybe some part of me does want to run away from you because I'm certain that one day you will figure out that I'm a big mistake. Another part of me thinks that I might carry some kind of genetic coding that will make me hurt you the way my mother has been hurt, physically or emotionally, and that scares me more than anything else."
Blair's fingers instinctively went to Jo's cheek, gently pulling Jo toward her lips. Their kiss was a mixture of salty tears and wet caresses between lips and tongues, each girl trying desperately to convey to the other the depth of her devotion. Blair eventually pulled herself away from Jo's lips, looking somewhat dazed. Blair had intended to comfort Jo, but not to kiss her. Jo recognized the conflicting emotions in Blair's face and backed away from her friend.
"I guess we'd better get back to our room before the others wake up and worry about where we've been."
"Thank you, Jo. Thank you for telling me about Gloria and about Eddie. I'm glad you had someone like Eddie, but now you have me, too. Don't ever forget that I'll always be here for you. I'll never run out on you."
"No one can make that kind of promise, Blair. I know you believe you can, but it's not possible. Eventually, everyone runs away. I want to hold on to you, Blair, more than I've ever wanted anything in my whole life, but I can't make promises to you. I can't even make promises to myself."
"I'm not asking you for anything, Jo. You have no idea how remarkable you are. I've never met anyone with half your courage. You are the strongest, most ethical, most dependable person I've ever known. I'm lucky to have you as my friend."
Jo was amazed to look down into Blair's face and see the truth of her love. Jo was learning that the pampered princess who had originally intrigued her was much stronger and more compassionate than she had ever imagined. She held Blair's hand during the silent walk back to Mrs. Garrett's and up the stairs to their room. Before entering the room, Jo looked down at their intertwined hands.
"I wish I knew what to say to you, Blair."
Blair reached out again for Jo's cheek, smiling into sad green eyes.
"You don't have to say anything, Jo. I want to be the kind of friend you can confide in."
"You are, Blair. You're the best friend I've ever had."
Once inside, they climbed into their separate beds and gazed into one another's eyes, each finding infinite comfort in the knowledge that the other girl would be sleeping only a few feet away.
Blair wasn't surprised to find a note tucked under her alarm clock the next morning. She'd become accustomed to Jo's habit of expressing herself in notes, letters, and poems. It was painfully difficult for Jo to talk about her feelings. It tugged at Blair's heart to know that Jo's notes were her way of breaking past her discomfort so that she could share her emotions with Blair. Blair smiled as she read the words written by both girls' favorite poet.
To see her is a Picture
To hear her is a Tune
To know her an Intemperance
As innocent as June
To know her not Affliction
To own her for a Friend
A warmth as near as if the Sun
Were shining in your Hand.
You are the best friend I have ever known, Jo
11: Turning Point
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