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 11 of ? Chapters. Quotes in italics are direct quotes from the Facts of Life Series, Season 2, Episode 11, Sex Symbol.
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
11: Turning Point

By Slave2Free


Natalie Greene sat at her typewriter, staring blankly at the keys. How does a reporter remain objective when she becomes part of the story? Two weeks earlier, Natalie and Tootie discovered their classmate, Cynthia, passed out in her dorm room. Several hours later Cynthia died of an intentional overdose. As the editor of the school's newspaper, Natalie felt that she should write an article about teenage suicide. It was, however, turning out to be a difficult task.

Natalie glanced over at her three friends, Blair, Jo, and Tootie, performing their regular duties in the cafeteria. Mrs. Garrett had exempted Natalie from her kitchen responsibilities for the day so that she could continue to work on the article that had eluded her for so long.

"Hey, Natalie. Are you making any progress?"

Blair smiled at Natalie, but Natalie's brow furrowed in concern. Blair had been exceptionally sweet subsequent to Cynthia's death. 'That's it! I'll write about the impact of Cynthia's life and death on those who knew her.'

"Thanks, Blair."

"Thanks for what?"

"Giving me the idea I needed for my article."

Blair smiled, patted Natalie on the shoulder, and went about her tasks.

Natalie didn't have to use her keen powers of observation to see significant changes in her three roommates during the past couple of weeks.

The changes in Blair were the most obvious, but Natalie observed changes in all three of her roommates.

Tootie, who had been with Natalie when they found Cynthia, was still angry and confused. Most of Tootie's anger was directed toward Cynthia. Tootie couldn't understand why anyone, especially someone with so much going for her, would want to take their own life. Tootie had always been the most emotional of her roommates; lately, she was either laughing or crying all the time. It appeared that Tootie was trying to cram as much of life as possible into every moment of every day. In some ways, Natalie suspected that Tootie was trying to live for two people, experiencing all the fun, sorrow, excitement, and drama to its fullest in order to make up for her missing friend.

Blair's behavior had changed from insensitive, shallow, rude, and condescending to caring, concerned, and affectionate. Natalie understood that categorizing Blair with such broad descriptions was inaccurate. Although Blair's behavior seemed to indicate a shallow individual, Natalie knew that there was much more to Blair than her behavior ever revealed. Before rooming with Blair, Natalie had made the mistake of judging the girl as supremely superficial. Natalie grinned at her clever characterization of that inaccurate assessment as superficial.

Blair had competed with Cynthia for the title of Eastland Student Body President and had lost. Never a good loser, Blair had been particularly insensitive toward Cynthia. The guilt of not having made an effort to be nice to Cynthia was distressing Blair to the point that she was being kind and considerate to everyone with whom she came into contact. Even Jo, who had recently offended Blair, was once again on the receiving end of Blair's affection.

Natalie watched as Blair smiled her thanks to Jo as the stronger girl took the stack of trays Blair had been carrying. To the casual observer, Jo's behavior would not have appeared to have changed in the slightest. Jo was doing her best to pretend that Cynthia's actions didn't affect her. As usual, Jo was pretending to be tougher than she was. Where Jo grew up, Natalie assumed that a girl would have to camouflage her more tender feelings in order to survive. Jo hadn't known Cynthia very well, but her death reminded Jo of her friend Gloria's suicide. Even young Tootie had noticed that Jo couldn't speak Gloria's name without tears pooling in her eyes.

Regardless of how hard Jo attempted to hide her sensitive side, Natalie had often seen evidence of it. Natalie smiled as she recalled how furious Jo reacted when Blair complimented Jo on her sensitivity shortly after Jo arrived at Eastland. It made sense that Blair would be the first to recognize it, since she was most often the one toward whom it was directed.

Finding Cynthia had caused a small splinter in Natalie's relationship with Tootie. They had shared a devastating experience and sometimes just looking at one another reminded them of the event. It made it more difficult for Natalie to comfort Tootie, but she was confident that time would heal the awkwardness between them.

Natalie observed that the incident had the opposite effect on Jo and Blair's relationship. Prior to Cynthia's death, Blair had obviously been trying to distance herself from Jo. Jo, on the other hand, had been doing everything possible to ingratiate herself with the stubborn debutante. Natalie assumed that Cynthia's death had given Blair enough perspective to realize that she should let go of her anger toward Jo and begin to rebuild their friendship.

Natalie wasn't shocked by the rift in Blair's relationship with Jo after Jo ran away with Eddie. Tootie couldn't understand why Blair should care one way or the other, but Natalie could. She kept thinking about how she would feel if Tootie did something so stupid and jeopardized her entire future. Natalie would have done everything possible to stop Tootie, just as Blair did for Jo. Natalie suspected that Tootie would respond to that type of interference with anger, just as Jo had.

Natalie was also aware that there were things between the two other girls to which she would never be privy. Jo had been furious at Blair for interfering with Eddie and Natalie had no way of knowing how that anger may have manifested in private conversations between the two. Whatever had happened, Natalie had never seen Blair Warner so hurt and dejected. Natalie shook her head, needing to change the direction of her thoughts. Any other suspicions she had about the two older roommates weren't relevant to her article.

What was relevant was that Cynthia's death had acted as a catalyst for the two older girls to begin mending their friendship. Blair had also made good on her promise to start a Suicide Hotline so that teenagers contemplating suicide could call and speak with a peer. Hotline volunteers had enrolled in a suicide prevention course and were being trained to listen to callers. Adult counselors had been enlisted to monitor the calls so that they could intervene if needed. Natalie made a note to interview Blair about the hotline and make sure it was prominently promoted in her article.

Natalie was still deep in thought when Mrs. Garrett gently touched her shoulder.

"Are you making any progress, Natalie?"

"Yes, Mrs. Garrett, but it's not easy to write an article when an important 'W' is missing."


"You know, who, what, when, where, Why. I don't have an answer as to why Cynthia killed herself and I never will. My article seems incomplete."

Mrs. Garrett sighed.

"Yes, like Cynthia's life – incomplete."

"Thanks for giving me the extra time I needed to work on the article, Mrs. Garrett. I'm almost finished. I'm going to interview some of Cynthia's friends and ask them how knowing Cynthia influenced their lives. I think that what happened to Cynthia has changed the way a lot of the students at Eastland think."

"Hey, I think interviewing Cynthia's friends is a great idea. That way they'll have a chance to say some nice things about her so that the article can be more about her life than her death."

"Do you want to go first, Jo?"

"Nah, I didn't really know Cynthia, but I would have liked to see an article about all the nice things Gloria had done while she was still alive instead of just reading about how she died. You're doing a good thing."


Natalie hesitated, but felt that she was catching Jo in an unguarded moment and couldn't let the opportunity pass.

"Um, you didn't know Cynthia very well, but you do know some of the people impacted by her death. Would you be willing to shed some light on how her death has changed some of your friends?"

"I don't see how I could help, Nat. You know Cynthia's friends as well as I do."

"Well, I was kind of thinking about Blair."

To Natalie's knowledge, Jo Polniaczek was the only person with whom Blair consistently shared personal details about herself. Anyone could see the changes in Blair's behavior, but the only person who would know how Blair felt about what happened to Cynthia would be Jo.

"Blair wasn't really one of Cynthia's friends. You know that. Blair didn't know Cynthia any better than I did."

"Yeah, but Blair is the one who is initiating the suicide hotline in memory of Cynthia. She spent a lot of time with Cynthia during the student council election. They debated one another twice. She became Student Council President only after Cynthia died. Blair is definitely someone affected by Cynthia's death."

Jo looked beseechingly at Mrs. Garrett, who held her silence. Giving up on receiving help from their guardian, Jo sat down opposite Natalie.

"Look, Nat, I can't tell you anything about Blair that you don't already know."

"Everyone can see how nice Blair is being lately. You must know that they think it's only because Blair feels guilty about the heated election. Is that how you see it?"

Jo reached over and took Natalie's pencil, preventing the reporter from taking notes.

"First of all, Blair doesn't feel guilty about how she campaigned in the election and she shouldn't. She didn't run any type of smear campaign against Cynthia. It was a fair fight, in the spirit of competition. Blair feels bad that she placed so high a value on a trivial election when her opponent was struggling with significant problems. The motivation for setting up the hotline, if you have to have one, is compassion – not guilt."

"Don't you think Blair might feel a little guilty that she only got what she wanted, to be President, because Cynthia killed herself?"

Jo cocked her head at Natalie, deciding how far she would allow the reporter to push her.

"That's just it, Nat. Like I told you before, Blair feels bad that she placed so high a value on the election. She doesn't value it anymore. So, she didn't get what she wanted when Cynthia died because winning the election is no longer important to Blair. Compared to how much she wanted to be able to help Cynthia, the election is trivial. The suicide hotline is a way for Blair to use her position to help other girls like Cynthia, not a penance for gaining the position at someone else's expense."

Natalie was stunned by Jo's candid answers, but uncertain as to whether she would be able to use any of it in her article. Momentarily forgetting about the article, the inquisitive reporter wondered if she could learn more about the intriguing friendship between Jo and Blair.

"Blair's been a lot nicer to you since Cynthia's death. Do you think she is being nicer to us now because she wishes that she had been nicer to Cynthia?"

Jo looked across the cafeteria at her best friend, who was laughing about something with Tootie.

"I think every student at Eastland feels like she should have been nicer to Cynthia. Don't you feel like you should have been nicer to Cynthia?"

"Yeah, but I changed how I treat my friends because of it."

"Blair and I were fighting and we're not fighting anymore. You can't attribute every change you've seen over the past two weeks to one incident. People don't live in a vacuum; other things can contribute to the changes you see."

"That's all good information, but I'm not sure it belongs in my article."

Jo smiled.

"I didn't tell you all of that so that you could put it into your article, Nat. Do you think you are the only one watching her friends to make sure they're doing okay? Do you think that Tootie, Blair, and I haven't seen changes in you? Look, Natalie, Mrs. G. didn't give you the day off so that you could get your article straight, she gave you the time in hopes that working on the article would help you to get your head straight."

Uncharacteristically, Jo reached over and took Natalie's hand.

"Natalie, Blair feels the same things you feel. We all do. She feels regret that she didn't notice that Cynthia was depressed. She feels anger that Cynthia didn't reach out to anyone and ask for help. She feels compassion toward anyone who could be in so much pain that they'd rather die than face another day. Finally, she feels a responsibility to her friends to pay more attention to what they are feeling."

"You can't detach yourself from this, Nat. You can't hide behind a reporter's objectivity. Cynthia wasn't thinking clearly when she took those pills. She seemed like a nice girl and a nice girl wouldn't have been so cruel as to set it up so that you and Tootie would find her that way. I know how it feels to watch a friend die and it's an image that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It doesn't help much, but I promise that it'll get a little easier to deal with in time."

"Thanks, Jo. I guess maybe I was trying so hard to see how Cynthia's suicide influenced all of you so that I wouldn't have to think about the impact it had on me."

"No problem. By the way, see that blonde girl over there with her arm around Tootie?"

"Yeah, I see Blair."

"She's a really good listener if you ever decide you want to talk about what you saw and how you feel about it."

"You're a good listener, too, Jo."

Jo winked at Natalie.

"She's better, but you can talk to me anytime."

Jo was in the process of standing up to leave with Natalie stopped her.

"Jo, did you talk to Blair about watching your friend die?"

"I wouldn't have told you that talking with Blair would help if I wasn't sure about it, now would I?"

As the weeks went by, Tootie stopped having nightmares about finding Cynthia. Natalie stopped trying to discover the mystery as to why Cynthia committed suicide. Blair stopped being overly nice to everyone. Students at Eastland studied for tests, attended dances, and got on with their lives. Jo Polniaczek, however, had started down a path from which she could not retreat.

Jo had broken open her heart and allowed Blair Warner to wiggle inside. Blair's reaction to the information Jo had shared about her mother's abusive boyfriends and about the nature of Jo's relationship with Eddie had given the sensitive blonde a tremendous amount of insight into Jo's personality. Jo no longer had to tell Blair what she was thinking, Blair seemed to know instinctively what Jo was thinking and feeling. Blair and Jo had always been able to communicate their feelings better through eye contact and facial expressions than with words, but the level of nonverbal communication increased astronomically as they discovered more about one another.

It had been a difficult winter for Jo, but as spring approached, it brought out new challenges. It was one thing to refrain from touching Blair when she was being cold and indifferent. Jo's self control was being put to an entirely different test now that Blair consistently smiled at her. Sometimes Blair would forget herself and allow her eyes to lock with Jo's for longer than they should, leaving Jo wound so tight she had to sneak into the garage and do pushups to alleviate the tension.

Blair would soothe Jo when the intense girl would get upset with a teacher or classmate. She would help Jo stay calm before field hockey matches and motorbike races. She would fight with Jo when she knew that Jo needed to vent some pent up energy. Blair filled the role of best friend to perfection, but Jo didn't want Blair as her best friend. The cracks in Jo's heart grew wider each day and Blair was seeping into every crevice.

"Polniaczek, keep your head in the game!"

Jo Polniaczek was the best field hockey player Coach Cooper had ever coached. Jo had always been aggressive on the playing field, but she was normally able to direct it appropriately. Lately, however, the volatile teen was causing more injuries than goals.

'Keep my head in the game? Right.'

Jo shook her head, trying to clear her mind.

That morning Blair had accidentally bumped into Jo as Jo returned from the shower. Instead of glaring at Jo, as she had that winter, she smiled groggily. Blair had been breathtaking that morning. Sleepy eyes had smiled at Jo through tousled hair as Blair apologized for running into her. Blair's silk robe had been tied hurriedly and hung provocatively open. Jo had gaped at her roommate, unable to speak. She'd been able to restrain herself from reaching out and grabbing hold of the appealing blonde, but the tension in her body had grown tighter as the day progressed.

Jo's thoughts turned back to the game as she saw a Saint Frances Academy player slam into Cindy – again. Jo glanced over at the referee to see if he was going to call a penalty this time. When he didn't, Jo cursed under her breath. That girl had been tormenting Cindy the entire game. Jo was wound up tight, fighting an itch she couldn't scratch. She may not be able to act on her attraction toward Blair, but she could at least vent a little frustration on the playing field.

Jo didn't have to wait long for the Saint Frances player to start running toward Cindy again. This time, however, Jo left her own position and intercepted the other player.

"Polniaczek, it's a body check, not a body slam!"

Coach Cooper was furious with her star player as several Saint Frances players had to assist one of their own off of the field.

"Get over here, Polniaczek. You're sitting out the rest of this game."

Jo winked at Cindy as she ran past her toward the sidelines.

Cindy felt her heart bursting. Was it gratitude?

The next morning, Jo spent more time in the shower than normal, allowing the cool water to clear her thoughts before heading back to the bedroom to face Blair. When she exited the bathroom, she found Blair sitting on the floor in the hallway.

"Blair, what are you doing out here?"

Blair smiled up at Jo, negating the effects of the cool shower.

"You took longer than usual."

"Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you wait."

Blair stretched and yawned. "That's okay. I enjoyed the extra sleepy time."

Jo reached down to help Blair up. When rising, Blair almost dropped her bath supplies and in the process of grabbing for them she fell against Jo. They both stilled at the contact, neither wanting to separate, both afraid of remaining so close. Jo's eyes locked onto Blair's in a heated gaze. Blair reached out her hand toward Jo's cheek, but then pulled it back at the last moment.

They were still standing in one another's arms when Mrs. Garrett opened the door from her room. An instant later, Jo bent down and picked up the shampoo Blair had been unable to catch. Mrs. Garrett, however, continued to stare at the two girls, perplexed.

"Uh, here's your shampoo, Blair. Sorry about running over you and all."

Jo's attempt to cover was somewhat effective, but a seed had been planted in Mrs. Garrett's mind that wouldn't need much encouragement to grow.

Later that day, Jo stopped by Miss Gallagher's classroom after her last morning class and was late meeting her friends at the student center.

Jo grinned broadly as Blair nudged Sue Ann so that she would give up her seat beside the upbeat debutante. Jo wondered if Blair noticed the sighs of relief from their friends as Blair greeted Jo with a smile. Although Blair had been much nicer to everyone subsequent to Cynthia's death, her friends worried that her new attitude toward Jo may only be a temporary reaction. Blair's temperament toward everyone else was always a lot nicer when she and the consistently bad-tempered brunette were getting along.

Nancy, who had patched up her relationship with Roger, was also in better spirits. For the first time that semester, Jo began to relax.

"Hi, Jo. Cindy was just telling us about the field hockey game yesterday. She said you were going to single-handedly get them to the championship playoffs."

Jo shrugged.

"We have a good team. If we make it to the playoffs, it'll be because of everyone."

Jo smiled at Cindy.

"Besides, Cindy is the one who scored the winning goal yesterday."

"Yay, Cindy!"

Sue Ann was always eager to acknowledge Cindy's athletic abilities. The two girls had grown close the year before when they had competed with one another on the Eastland track team.

Cindy blushed, unaccustomed to being the center of attention.

"The coach gave us all coupons for free pizza at Shakey's as a reward for playing so well."

Nancy rolled her eyes.

"Pizza? Whose waistline can afford that?"

"Mine can." Cindy boasted.

"What about you, Jo? Would you like to go to Shakey's with me this evening and use our coupons?"

Cindy would have preferred to ask Jo when Blair Warner wasn't around, but the two girls were seldom apart. Even when Blair had been ignoring Jo, they were almost always within earshot of one another.

Jo glanced at Blair, uncertain how to answer. Blair, seeing Jo's discomfort, stepped into the conversation.

"That's a great idea, Cindy. Why don't we all go?"

"Yay, I love Shakey's."

As grown up as Molly wanted to be perceived, she was still a young girl at heart and it often showed.

Cindy covered her disappointment. She had wanted a chance to have a meal and talk with Jo privately. She liked playing field hockey with the agile brunette, but they didn't get many opportunities to talk to one another during games. She couldn't stop thinking about what Jo had done for her the day before and how she had winked at her before leaving the field.

"How about you, Sue Ann, do you want to come along?"

"Count me in. We can meet here at 5:30 and walk over together."

Jo had planned on asking Blair to accompany her to Shakey's. She seldom had an opportunity to treat Blair when they went out, so she had looked forward to sharing her pizza with Blair. She wouldn't get to be alone with Blair, but it would be Jo's pizza Blair would be eating and not Cindy's. It was the next best thing to a date.

If Natalie had been present, she would have enjoyed watching her friends manipulate one another for position during the short walk from Eastland Academy to Shakey's. Blair, who normally paid attention to such details, took for granted that everyone would understand that she and Jo would walk beside one another. She was therefore unprepared for Cindy's behavior.

Cindy, emboldened by Jo's wink the previous day, pulled Jo's sleeve as soon as all six girls arrived at the student center and started leading the way toward Shakey's. Nancy stepped past Sue Ann and Molly, positioning herself beside Blair. Sue Ann, who was terminally happy, didn't mind walking beside the youngest member of the group.

As they walked toward Shakey's, Blair decided that following behind Jo wasn't an unpleasant experience. She had always appreciated viewing the brunette from behind. Jo walked with an easy confidence that Blair found exhilarating. She was careful not to stare too openly at certain areas, but she was definitely enjoying the sway of Jo's hips as she cantered along the sidewalk.

If Blair hadn't been paying so much attention to Jo, she would have heard Margo descending on them.

"Hey, someone must have forgotten to tell me about our little excursion to Shakey's tonight."

Margo edged in between Blair and Nancy, wrapping an arm about each girl's shoulder. Nodding up ahead at Cindy and Jo, Margo smiled brightly at Blair

"They are such a cute couple, don't you think?"

Margo's assertion shocked Blair. She opened her mouth to respond, then quickly closed it again, afraid of what she might say.

"Come on, Blair. Don't give me that look. Everyone knows you practically accused Cindy of being a dyke last year."

Blair stopped in her tracks, unable to move.

"Everyone also knows that Mrs. Garrett read me the riot act for those insensitive comments. For the record, I never have, nor will I ever use the word 'dyke' to refer to anyone. I would hope that you would never again use it either."

"Whoa, down, tiger. I was paying them a compliment. It's about time Cindy found herself a boyfriend that's more of a man than she is."

Margo beamed.

"Cool it, Margo."

Molly and Sue Ann had caught up to the trio quickly once Blair stopped walking.

"Don't tell me you have a thing for the jock, too."

Nancy usually didn't get in between Blair and Margo during an argument, but Cindy was her friend, too, and she didn't like what Margo was implying.

"You're being ridiculous, Margo. Molly's just trying to keep you from making a fool of yourself."

Margo looked at the other four girls in disbelief.

It was the perfect time for Harrison Andrews to come riding by in his Porsche.

"Hey, Margo. Want a lift? Some of the guys are going down to the lake for a bonfire."

Blair was still having trouble believing that the little boy she had played with as a child had turned out to be such a jerk.

"Oh, you ladies will have to excuse me. I have a date with a real man."

Blair's face and neck were blood red.

"What word?"


"When we came up you were arguing about something Margo said."

Sue Ann had only caught the latter part of the conversation.


Nancy explained.


Sue Ann uttered, confused and uncomfortable.

When Sue Ann noticed that Nancy was watching Jo and Cindy, she realized the gist of the conversation.

"Oh, I get it! Margo was talking about Jo and Cindy being lesbians?"

Molly rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips.

"Just because Cindy can run faster than you, it doesn't make her a lesbian."

"But, I think it would be neat."

Sue Ann enthusiastically explained.

"We'd be the first group on campus to have a lesbian couple as part of our entourage. We'd be social trailblazers."

Nancy smiled, liking the idea.

"It would set us apart from any other group, past or present."

Blair was frustrated. How had she managed to lose control of the conversation?

"Jo and Cindy are not a couple."

Molly looked at Blair with sympathy for the girl who was too dense to see what was right in front of her eyes.

"You have to admit that it's a possibility, Blair."

For emphasis, Molly nodded toward the couple.

"See how Cindy is looking at Jo, she's positively glowing."

Blair turned and look skeptically toward Jo and Cindy. Cindy was glowing. She was also giggling and occasionally touching Jo's forearm. Blair was not amused.

Blair didn't exactly lie, but she felt like a fraud.

"Look. Jo is my roommate. We talk about things. She's still a little hung up on her boyfriend Eddie. If she liked anyone else, she'd tell me. As far as Cindy goes, whoever she does or doesn't like is none of our business. If she ever decides to make it our business, that's up to her. Until then -"

Blair took the time to pause and stare into each girl's eyes individually before continuing.

"No one is going to speculate about either of them. If they do, so help me God I will make it my mission in life to torment them until they beg to leave Eastland."

Even the permanently cheerful Sue Ann had the wisdom to appear sufficiently chastised by Blair's comments. Nancy was the only one of the three to raise an eyebrow toward Blair. As Sue Ann and Molly walked past them in order to catch up to Jo and Cindy, Blair and Nancy continued to stare defiantly at one another.

"Y'know, Blair. If I didn't know better, I'd read something into your over the top defense of Jo and Cindy."

"Read whatever you like into it, Nancy."

"People could get the wrong idea."

Blair looked directly into Nancy's eyes knowing that Nancy was studying her reaction.

"We'd better catch up or all the pizza will be gone before we get there."

Blair and Nancy walked the remainder of the way to Shakey's in an uncomfortable silence.

By the time Nancy and Blair arrived at Shakey's, the other four girls were seated at a table and a small crowd had gathered around them.

'What now?' Thought Blair, deflated by her confrontation with Nancy.

As they came within view of the table, Blair could see what all the commotion was about. Jo and Cindy were arm wrestling and several other members of the field hockey team had gathered to cheer one or the other of them on.

Jo was smiling sympathetically at Cindy, whose face was contorted in her effort to budge Jo's arm. As soon as their audience hushed, Jo knew that her teammates had recognized Blair and Nancy. The girls on the field hockey team were all from prominent families, but they tended to judge one another more on athletic abilities and sportsmanship than the size of their family's bank account. Since both Nancy and Blair had reputations for being spoiled, pampered, and delicate, the field hockey players weren't particularly eager to have either girl hanging around.

As the crowd began to whisper to one another, Jo looked up from the table to find Blair's eyes. Once she caught Jo's gaze, Blair raised her brow in a 'what are you waiting for' expression. Jo grinned as she proceeded to push Cindy's arm backwards until her wrist hit the table.

Nancy leaned over and whispered in Blair's ear.

"If you don't want people thinking that the two of them are a couple, this is the type of thing you need to discourage, Blair."

The last thing Blair planned to do was to allow Nancy to dictate her behavior or that of her friends.

The cheer that had gone up from the crowd after Jo's victory quickly dissipated when Blair placed her hand on Cindy's shoulder.

"Is this event limited to field hockey players or can anyone participate?"

A group of shocked pizza patrons exchanged curious glances. When Cindy gave up her seat opposite Jo to Blair, members of the field hockey team quickly began placing bets, not on who would win, but on how many seconds it would take for Jo to slam the prissy debutante's wrist against the table.

Jo was uneasy, uncertain as to what Blair intended. Surely she didn't think she had a chance of beating Jo or that Jo would throw the match.

"Uh, Blair, this is a test of strength."

Blair smiled reassuringly at her roommate.

"What do I get if I win?"

Jo held up two free pizza coupons. The one the coach had given to her and the one she'd just won from Cindy.

"Do I buy you a pizza if I lose?"

"Give me a break. You're not really going to do this."

"Why not? If Cindy can do it, then so can I."

Jo pursed her lips, silently telling Blair that she wasn't going to go easy on her if she went through with the arm wrestling match.

"It's your pocketbook, but if you lose, you buy pizza for the entire field hockey team."

That brought another, louder cheer from the crowd.

Blair nodded her agreement and placed her elbow on the table.

Jo reached for a metal napkin holder with her left hand and placed it less than an inch from her right wrist.

"If you can move my wrist far enough to touch this, you win."

Blair's smile grew to her eyes, acknowledging Jo's superior strength.

"You're using a handicap? Like in golf?"

Jo shrugged, embarrassed by the concession she hadn't given Cindy.

"That's one way of looking at it."

Even Nancy, who disapproved of the entire spectacle, was captivated by the interaction between the two girls.

Blair reached for Jo's hand and entwined their fingers, earning a strained laugh from Jo.

"Not like that, Princess. Here, hold my hand like this."

Blair never moved her gaze from Jo's eyes as Jo placed all four of her fingers between Blair's thumb and fingers. Blair continued to smile, enjoying the way Jo manipulated their hands. Jo, on the other hand, was having trouble breathing. Holding Cindy's hand hadn't fazed Jo, but as soon as Blair's familiar fingers wrapped around hers, Jo tingled with the memories of how those fingers had once caressed her more intimately.

"Now, Cindy is going to place her hand on top of ours. When she lifts her hand, you try to push my hand toward the napkin holder and I'll push yours in the opposite direction."

Blair nodded her understanding, not entirely trusting her voice. Like Jo, holding hands was affecting Blair far more than she had anticipated.

Cindy timidly placed her hand on top of the others and counted to three. Once she lifted her hand, Blair began to test Jo's strength.

Jo was a little surprised at how forcefully Blair was pushing, but Jo's arm didn't waver. Like with Cindy, Jo smiled indulgently at her opponent, not having to exert her full strength to fend off the attack.

A couple of minutes into the match, Jo figured that it was time to end the farce and started to press Blair's arm toward the table. She was shocked when Blair's wrist didn't go limp, as had Cindy's. Instead, Blair continued to resist, even as her wrist began to lower toward the table. As Blair's arm moved backward toward the table, it should have been easier for Jo to push. Instead, the closer Jo came to victory, the more Blair resisted. Blair shifted on her seat, using her shoulder for leverage and exerting so much effort that their arms began to shake violently.

Jo locked eyes with Blair and was amazed at the determination she saw. Blair was earnestly trying to thwart Jo's efforts to press her wrist to the table. Jo had always known that Blair had a stubborn streak, but she had never dreamed Blair would fight so hard to win a losing battle.

The other members of Jo's field hockey team hadn't expected Blair to last more than a few seconds and they could tell that Jo wasn't faking the effort it was taking to press the debutante's wrist to the table. Blair was losing the arm wrestling match, but she was gaining the respect of an entirely new section of the Eastland student population.

No one was surprised when Jo finally won the match. As soon as Blair's wrist touched the table, Jo lightened her grip on her friend's hand. Blair stretched her fingers, which were clearly hurting from the strain of the competition, then twisted her arm to restore normal blood circulation.

"I guess I'm not as strong as you are, Jo."

Jo stared in surprise at her own hand, which was red and swollen from the effort she had exerted during the match. While Jo was gathering her thoughts, Blair looked around the room and spotted a waiter, who had watched the competition with interest.

"Well, you heard her. I'm buying pizza for everyone."

The crowd cheered again, slapping Jo on the back and smiling at the debutante who was making good on her bet.

Jo frowned at Blair's swollen hand.

"Are you going to tell me what you were thinking when you challenged me, Warner?"

Blair cocked her head at Jo's use of her last name.


Jo was pacing back and forth in their room.

"You should put ice on it."

"Why? It doesn't hurt."

"It's swollen and it'll hurt tomorrow if you don't put ice on it tonight. I don't know what you were thinking anyway. You shouldn't have tried so hard. I wouldn't have needed to apply any pressure at all if you had just played the game like a normal person and given up once I had the advantage."

"What are you talking about? Do you mean to say that people just give up once their arm moves the tiniest bit?"

"Most of 'em."

Blair smiled.

"I don't give up that easily, on anything-"

She reached out and grasped Jo's hands.

"Or anyone."

There were moments throughout their relationship when Jo would look at Blair with a mixture of emotions so powerful that Blair would feel overwhelmed. In those moments, Jo's expression reflected an appreciation of some quality in Blair not previously recognized by Jo, an awareness of an increased depth of affection toward the blonde she had not known was possible, and a yearning so intense it made Blair feel weak in the knees.

Blair had seen that expression immediately following their first kiss, and she had seen it again the night she found Jo sitting in Cynthia's vacant dorm room when Jo asked Blair why she had sought her out.

They stared silently into one another's eyes for several minutes, until Jo broke the silence.

"Does that mean that you haven't given up on me?"

"I never gave up on you as a person, Jo."

Jo grinned.

"I'm glad."

"How about you, Jo? Are you a quitter? Does your wrist go limp at the first hint of defeat?"

"You may have missed it, but my hand never moves in the wrong direction."

"Come on, Jo. At some point you've encountered someone stronger than you. Did you give up?"

Jo looked sheepishly at Blair.

"No, I did the same thing you did. I didn't give up until my wrist was touching the table. I fought so hard that I hurt my arm."

"So, have you given up on me?"

Jo considered the question and once again revised her opinion of Blair.

"I'll never give up on you, Blair."

Blair nodded, satisfied with Jo's answer.

"I'm glad."

They both smiled at one another until they felt silly, but they continued smiling anyway. That's how they were when Natalie entered their room.

"Aren't you ready for the mixer?"

Blair tossed her hair.

"I'm always ready to mix, Natalie."

Jo shook her head.

"No. Bates boys are lame. Besides, it's too much trouble getting all dressed up for nothing."

Blair smiled, happy that Jo considered all the boys at Bates Academy beneath contempt.

"Why don't you borrow my light brown blazer? It goes well with the shirt you're already wearing. You won't have to change at all, just dress up your outfit a little."

"I guess it wouldn't kill me to go down there and try the punch."

"What about you, Natalie?"

Natalie had been trying on different outfits all week, trying to decide what to wear.

"My outfit is in the bathroom, I'm going to take another shower before the mixer."

Blair checked her watch.

"You'd better hurry or you'll show up wet."

Natalie checked the time before rushing from the room.

"It will be good for Natalie to go to the mixer; for all her sassy talk, she's very shy when it comes to actually talking with boys."

Jo walked over to Blair and held out her hand. Without asking any questions, Blair extended her own.

"I'm sorry if I hurt you, Blair."

"You didn't. See, it's not even swollen."

Jo ran her thumbs along Blair's wrist, gently caressing her skin.

"I'm sorry anyway."

"Tell me one thing, Jo."

Jo gazed seriously into Blair's eyes.


Their eyes locked and held for several seconds.

Blair's eyes twinkled seconds before asking the question.

"Could I beat Cindy?"

Jo burst out laughing.

"On her best day and your worst, you could definitely take her down."

Nancy always felt a little uncomfortable around Jo, so she sent Sue Ann over to socialize with Jo during the mixer, hoping to gather some information about the abrasive brunette. Margo's words had caused Nancy to pay a great deal more attention to Jo and Cindy. Jo, however, was in no mood to be social, waving Sue Ann off as she approached. Jo was too busy glaring at Blair to make small talk with anyone else. Blair, with a boy on each arm and another trailing behind her, was having a great time at the mixer. It both amazed and infuriated Jo that Blair was so thrilled to be the center of attention. Blair didn't seem to care who was noticing her, so long as she was in the spotlight. Blair wasn't attracted to boys, but her desire to have boys be attracted to her was sincere.

Jo, on the other hand, had already turned away several boys with nothing more than a scowl. She didn't attempt to make Blair jealous. With the exception of Eddie, Blair didn't appear to mind it when boys took an interest in Jo. On the contrary, she often encouraged Jo to accept invitations from boys for dates. At first, Jo thought it was an attempt to undermine her relationship with Eddie, but she soon realized that Blair was flattered when boys expressed an interest in Jo. Jo didn't understand the reaction because she hated it when boys were attracted to Blair, but she'd come to accept that there were things about Blair that she would never understand.

The mixer was a great success for Natalie. Neil Richards asked her to study with him in the library the following day.

Late into the night, Blair and Jo listened to the excited whispers being exchanged between Natalie and Tootie. They silently smiled at one another in understanding. As the older two roommates, they felt a sisterly affection toward the two younger girls and were thrilled to hear them happily chatting about Natalie's first study date.

While studying at the library, Neil asked Natalie out for what would be her first official date, dinner and a movie. Excitement gave way to nerves as Natalie worried over how she should dress and act during her date.

"Thanks for the help you guys, but face it, I'm doomed."

"Natalie, Natalie, Natalie, Natalie, Natalie."

Blair's ego was leading the charge into Natalie's personal life.

"All is not lost. You just happen to be rooming with the one person who can teach you everything you need to know about conversation, charm, and popularity."

Jo loved it when Blair unknowingly set it up so that Jo could steal her thunder. Jo jumped to her feet and wrapped her arm around Natalie's shoulder.

"Thanks, Blair. Now, as I see it there's no secret to a successful date."

"Please! To you a successful date is arm wrestling at Shakey's."

Jo glared at Blair. Blair loved to refer to things in front of their roommates that only the two of them knew about. Blair enjoyed it even better if she could confuse Jo in the process. Did Blair consider their arm wrestling match a date? Jo couldn't compete with Blair when it came to word games, especially those played out in front of an audience, so she stepped into the background and listened as Blair gave Natalie dating advice. As the enthusiastic blonde revealed all of her dating secrets to Natalie, she often glanced over to Jo's side of the room to make sure that the brunette was listening. Jo got the feeling that Blair's words were as much for her benefit as they were for Natalie.

The next day, after receiving a phone call from her friend Johnny at Bates Academy, Blair was more hurt than angry as she slowly walked into the cafeteria to deliver the news.

"What's up, Blair?"

"I don't know how to say this, Natalie."

"Blair, what is going on?"

Mrs. Garrett recognized the pained expression on Blair's face immediately. Blair's gaze went back and forth between Mrs. Garrett and Natalie, before turning back to speak directly to Mrs. Garrett and Jo.

"The reason Natalie's been getting all those study dates is because . . . Well, Neil's been saying that she's . . . she's. ."

"Great in algebra?"

Tootie's innocence was refreshing, but didn't make it any easier for Blair to tell Natalie the truth about Neil.

"Noooo. It was more like, 'real easy to get along with', if you know what I mean. Real EASY."

Blair's words were accompanied by a nervous expression as she concluded her remarks by looking directly at Natalie.

"You mean he's saying that I, that he, that we? How could he say that?"

"I guess he just opened his big mouth." Tootie blurted.

"And I thought Neil was such a nice kid." Mrs. Garrett exclaimed.

Blair was solemn. She should have done more to make it clear to her multitude of boyfriends at Bates that Natalie was important to her. Perhaps she would have been able to prevent the spread of such a vicious rumor. She didn't have to glance at Jo to know what the protective girl was thinking.

"I don't believe he'd do that to me. What am I gonna do?"

"Where I come from, we get your brother to break both his legs."

Jo's response didn't surprise any of the girls, but Mrs. Garrett wasn't about to pass up an opportunity to steer Jo away from her violent upbringing.

"Girls, physical violence is not the solution."

Jo was not swayed.

"Mrs. Garrett, a girl's got to protect her reputation."

Blair was so angry that Jo's idea sounded good to her as well, if only Natalie had a brother.

"She's right."

"Yeah." Even Tootie thought Neil's legs needed to be broken.

Looking back, Blair had to admit that she had allowed her sense of relief at the realization that Neil's lies were unbelievable to cause her to act a little insensitively. Adding to her relief was Jo's uncommon case of the giggles. It was so nice to laugh with Jo that Blair didn't consider how their conversation might sound to Natalie.

"You know, when you stop to think about this whole thing, it is kind of silly."

"What do you mean?"

"Anyone who knows you isn't going to believe it for a minute."

"You really think so?"

"Of course. Imagine. Ha, ha, ha, ha. You, as a sex symbol."

Blair was overcome with laughter, laying her head on Jo's shoulder for support. Jo, both relieved and excited by Blair's close proximity, joined in the hilarity. It had been such a long time since she and Blair had enjoyed a good laugh with one another that neither wanted it to end.

"Sex symbol! Heh. That is funny."

Jo leaned toward Blair and the tickled blonde once again laid her head on Jo's shoulder as she continued her fit of giggles.

Tootie couldn't help but see the humor in the situation as well.

"Loni Anderson, watch out."

That remark incited another round of giggles from the two older girls.

Natalie's three roommates only meant that no one who knew of Natalie's morals would believe the lies Neil was telling. Natalie, however, interpreted their laughter as if they were making fun of the idea that Neil or any other boy could find Natalie attractive. Natalie's anger caused her to react badly, accepting not only Neil's invitation for another date, but accepting offers from other boys who believed Neil's lies.

The next few days were terrible for Jo, Blair, and Tootie. Everyone on campus was gossiping about their friend Natalie and all the things she was doing on her study dates with Bates boys.

"Come on, Blair. You know bunches of guys at Bates, can't you stop them from spreading rumors about Natalie?"

Blair sighed. She had called in every favor she had ever earned at Bates earlier in the year to prevent Harrison from ruining Jo's reputation.

"If Natalie would only deny the accusations, I might be able to help, but I can't even keep the girls at Eastland from talking about her."

Jo felt bad for placing all the responsibility for looking after Natalie onto Blair.

"That's okay, Blair. I know you're trying. If we can't get Natalie to tell the truth about what happened on her study date with Neil, I'll just have to get Neil to tell the truth."

"How are you going to do that?"

Jo rubbed her knuckles and stared ahead.

"Oh, he'll tell the truth eventually. He just needs a little persuasion."

Tootie, Jo, and Blair were surprised when Neil showed up mid-week asking to see Natalie. While Tootie went upstairs to retrieve Natalie, Blair and Jo took the opportunity to have a little discussion with Neil. Since they hadn't planned on seeing Neil, they didn't have a strategy worked out for dealing with him, but they decided to confront Neil anyway.

Neil Richards had rarely felt as uncomfortable as he did in Edna Garrett's lounge.

The two girls paced back and forth behind the sofa glaring at Neil. Eventually, the brunette leaned menacingly against the sofa and cocked her head toward him.

"Spill it."

She waited for Neil to look at her before continuing.

"What do you want to talk to Natalie about?"

"I don't have to tell you."

The brunette hardened her eyes threateningly.

"Oh, I think it's a good idea."

The brunette edged closer. She wasn't a large girl, but there was an intensity about her that made her dangerous.

"Just think of me as one of the guys, Natalie's brother."

Neil wished he was talking with Natalie's brother. He couldn't possibly be as daunting as the brunette.

"What are you talking about?"

It was bad enough being grilled by the scary brunette, things got worse when the blonde joined the fray. She smiled at Neil so seductively that he almost enjoyed being threatened by her.

"Let me explain."

The beautiful blonde girl sat provocatively on the back of the sofa and flashed the kind of smile at Neil that he dreamed about.

"If you don't leave Natalie alone,"

As the blonde paused for emphasis, Neil tried to regain his equilibrium. The girl's voice was sweet and innocent, like an angel, belying her words.

"I'm going to let her,"

The blonde pointed to the enforcer and smiled affectionately at the intimidating brunette.

"break both of your legs."

The blonde continued to smile as the brunette placed her hands in front of Neil and twisted them, making a cracking sound as she demonstrated exactly how she intended to break his legs.

Neil was relieved when Natalie joined them in the lounge. He wished that the other two girls would leave so that he could speak with Natalie privately, but he knew better than to ask and Natalie seemed happy to have them around.

The two older girls continued to insert themselves into Neil's conversation with Natalie. Natalie's two protectors had the ability to know what the other was thinking without having to communicate through speech and it made Neil terribly uncomfortable.

By the end of the excruciating confrontation, Neil promised to tell his friends the truth and admit that nothing happened between him and Natalie on their date.

Two days later, Jo was sitting on the block wall that ran along the sidewalk leading to the Bates sophomore dormitory.

"Hiya, Neil, long time no see."

Neil Richards froze in his tracks. After being threatened by Jo earlier that week, he had checked around to find out that she was as good as her threats. No one at Bates wanted to have anything to do with the roughneck girl who had knocked out two of Robbie Jackson's teeth and almost broken his jaw. She'd also been in numerous fights at the motorcycle track, not that Neil or any of his friends ever mingled with the local riffraff at those kinds of places.

"Jo, what brings you to Bates?" Neil hoped his friends didn't notice the squeak in his voice.

"Oh, I was just talking to a few pals and it's a funny thing, they didn't know anything about you changing your story about what happened between you and Nat. Now, I know you said you were gonna set the record straight and I believe you, but my pals are a little harder to convince. They say that you've had plenty of time to tell the truth, if you really meant what you said to Natalie."

"Hey, you mean Natalie Greene, the make out queen?"

Brandon Anderson was only a freshman at Bates and was trying to enhance his own reputation as a ladies' man.

"Shut up, Brandon, you don't know what you're talking about."

Neil was not only furious at Brandon for spreading the lie he had started about Natalie, he was more than a little afraid of how Jo would react to the slur. Neil had heard several girls at Eastland using the same phrase to characterize Natalie.

"Y'see, Neil? Even your good buddy Brandon here doesn't know the truth from a lie. Now, let me think, what was it Blair told me to do if you didn't come clean? Oh yeah, she told me to break both your legs."

Neil thought back on the day the two girls had confronted him about the rumors he had started about the extent of his relationship with Natalie. The sassy blonde had acted like some sort of mob boss and the brunette seemed to relish the role as her enforcer.

"I just need a little more time", Neil sputtered.

"Time's up, twerp." Jo jumped off the wall and sauntered toward Neil.

"So, do you really think you can take all three of us?"

Jo made a point of carefully appraising all three boys. "Well, I've got no beef with the other two unless they intend on getting in my way, but yeah, I think I can take all three of ya if I have to."

Patrick Waters was already backing away from the scene. "See you later, Neil; I'm late for history class."

Brandon was a little undecided until he looked over at Neil and saw the terror in his expression. This was a no-win situation. If he and Neil beat up on a girl, that would do nothing but tarnish his reputation. If he and Neil got into a fight with a girl and lost, he would never live it down. Brandon finally decided to take Patrick's lead and ran off toward English class.

"It looks like it's gonna be just the two of us after all, Neil."

"I won't fight a girl."

"Then you're gonna get your ass kicked pretty bad. C'mon, Neil, I'll give you the first shot. Go ahead, take a swing."

Neil backed away from Jo, but she kept coming toward him until his back was pressed up against the block wall bordering the other side of the sidewalk.

"Please, Jo, give me one more day. I'll tell the truth, I swear."

"Oh, you're gonna tell the truth all right or else I'll be back again, and next time I'm not gonna be as nice as this time."

Neil breathed a sigh of relief until he noticed that Jo wasn't leaving.

"I thought you were giving me more time."

"You thought wrong."

The first blow was to Neil's midsection, bringing his face down to exactly the place Jo wanted it to be when she threw the uppercut to his jaw. Neil staggered backwards, but didn't fall. Whether he really didn't believe in hitting girls or he didn't think it would help, Neil did nothing to defend himself as Jo moved in for another round of punches. When she was finished, Neil lay on the sidewalk with a broken nose, a black eye, and enough bruises on his midsection to warrant painkillers for the next month.

"Like I said before, next time I won't be so nice. You better clear up that little misunderstanding about Natalie, and quick. You got that?"

Neil shook his head affirmatively as a crowd began to gather.

It took news of the fight less than an hour to reach the Eastland campus.


Blair came flying into the lounge.

"Where is she?"

"Here I am. What do you want?"

"What has gotten into you? Are you crazy?"

"What's wrong, Blair?"

Tootie couldn't see any reason for the ditsy blonde to be so upset.

"Are you going to tell them or am I?"

"There's nothing to tell."

"Only that you beat the crap out of Neil Richards today. Jo, what were you thinking? You're going to get kicked out of school."

"You hit Neil?"

Natalie was shocked.

"I barely laid a hand on him."

Blair looked back and forth between her two younger friends.

"She broke his nose."

"My Neil?" Natalie squeaked.

"Your Neil!?"

Blair's fury shifted from Jo to Natalie.

"Listen, Natalie, Jo wouldn't have had to beat up Neil if you hadn't let people think those stories about you were true. You can't possibly care what happens to him now."

"But he promised that -"

Blair didn't let Natalie finish whining.

"I don't care what he promised. Jo is your friend. She went out there and risked her entire future to defend you, the least you could do is be grateful."

"I thought you were angry at Jo."

Natalie pouted.

"Of course I'm angry at Jo! I'm always angry at Jo. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't be grateful to her for making that twerp pay for telling lies about you."

Blair abruptly turned and left the room in a huff.

After taking a walk in order to cool down, Blair returned to Mrs. Garrett's and found Jo alone in their bedroom.

"Hey there. Are you still mad at me?"

Jo watched Blair carefully. Although Blair seemed happy with the current state of their friendship, Jo would sometimes notice a hesitance in Blair, as if she was constantly monitoring her reactions toward Jo.

Looking into Blair's eyes, Jo was relieved to see only concern.

"You shouldn't have done that. Are you trying to get kicked out of school?"

"I'm not going anywhere, Blair. No guy is going to admit that a girl did that much damage to him. I would have done the same for Tootie."

"What about me?" Blair ventured, her voice timid.

Jo's scowl became exaggerated and her voice was dangerously low.

"If he'd said those things about you, I'd have killed him."

Blair started to laugh until she realized that Jo was serious.

"There are other ways of dealing with situations like this, Jo."

"I got my own ways and they work pretty good. Don't go trying to change me, Blair. I am who I am."

Blair took a step back from Jo. She wanted them to be good friends again, but Jo's proximity was making it difficult for her to think.

"I'm not trying to change you, Jo. I don't want to change you. I like you just the way you are."

"Are you ever going to be able to forgive me, Blair?"

Blair knew that they were no longer talking about what Jo did to Neil. She took hold of Jo's hands, shattering Jo's belief that she would never again be allowed to touch the beautiful blonde.

"Jo, I was hurt. I won't pretend that your relationship with Eddie doesn't still bother me and I won't continue to pretend that I understand why you won't admit that you and I were more than just friends. I won't be someone you make out with while you're waiting for Eddie. Mrs. Garrett says that we should never sacrifice self-esteem in favor of a relationship, no matter how much we love the other person."

Jo looked down at their intertwined hands and then back up into Blair's eyes.


"I shouldn't have said that, Jo."

"Does that mean that we can never again be friends?"

Blair sighed.

"Friends? What do you mean, Jo?"

"What do you think I mean? I want to be friends with you again."

"I think both of us would have to be lesbians in order for us to be that kind of friends."

"Blair, I've wanted to be with you since the very first day we met. I'll always think of you that way."

Blair released Jo's hands and took another step back. Jo pressed forward.

"Haven't you ever made a mistake before?"

"Of course I've made mistakes. I'm just not a very forgiving person. I'm calculating and manipulative and shallow, ask anyone."

"Mrs. G. told me that you are the most forgiving person she has ever known."

Blair was surprised.

"Mrs. Garrett told you that?"

"Yes, Blair. She's always saying nice things about you."

Blair smiled. Mrs. Garrett was her rock. Everyone else might let her down, but she could always depend on Mrs. Garrett.

"Mrs. Garrett always sees the best in me, but I'm not sure I can live up to her expectations. You chose Eddie over me, Jo. You did it once, you'll do it again."

"Blair, listen to me."

Jo reached out and took Blair's hands again, relieved when she didn't yank them away.

"I ran away with Eddie because I was angry at my mother, not because I wanted to marry Eddie. I didn't choose Eddie over you. I won't deny that I love Eddie, but I've never felt for him the way I feel for you. Are you going to deny what you felt for me? Weren't we 'friends' in every sense of the word?"

"We were. I won't pretend about that. Sometimes-."

Blair hesitated again and Jo knew that she was censoring herself.

"Sometimes? Don't stop, Blair. Be honest with me."

"Sometimes I still want to be with you in ways that are definitely outside the generally accepted definition of friendship, but we should try to be just friends."

Jo's grin widened in surprise and joy.

"So, uh, what ways exactly do you want to be friendly with me?"

Blair gave Jo an exasperated look.

"How about we work on the friendship part first? Would that be okay with you?"


Jo stood close to Blair, letting her eyes roam over her.

"Jo, don't look at me like that."

"Like what?"

"Stop it, Jo. It's almost as if you're touching me."

Jo grinned and lowered her eyes.

"I can't help looking at you, Blair. Maybe I can't touch, but I can't keep myself from looking."

Jo cautiously reached out and placed her hands on Blair's waist and drew her closer.

"Listen, about the touching. It's not that I don't want to be with you like that anymore, but it's just not . . . Can't we try just being friends?"

Jo removed her hands from Blair's waist.

"I can do that. Hey, we might find out that we actually like one another."

Jo grinned and Blair playfully punched her in the arm.

"Maybe we will."

The next day Blair found Jo sitting on a bench along the walkway between the cafeteria and Warner Hall.

"Hey, what are you doing here?"

Jo took a deep breath and smiled skeptically at Blair.

"You'll laugh at me if I tell ya."

"I won't laugh."

Blair burst into giggles before she even finished promising not to laugh.

"Oh sure."

Jo patted the seat beside her and nodded for Blair to join her on the bench.

"You know, I don't think I've ever seen anyone sitting on any of the benches around campus. Why do you think that is?"

"You'd know better than me. After all, I'm the one sitting on the bench."

"You don't mind that I joined you? I mean, if you wanted to be alone or something, I could always just -"

Jo smiled at Blair and leaned back on the bench, stretching her legs out in front of her.

"A little company wouldn't kill me."

"So, what are you doing sitting out here all alone?"

"Do you smell that?"

Blair sniffed the air, but didn't smell anything coming from the cafeteria.

"No. I don't smell anything."

"That's because you're used to it, but I can't get enough of it."


Jo grinned sheepishly.

"I like the smell of grass. It's not like I never got a chance to see it or even play on it when I was a kid. My mom would take me to the park and there was always lots of grass, but I guess the smells from the snack vendors and nearby construction must have covered it up or something because I don't ever remember smelling grass until I came to Eastland."

"They must have cut it recently. It's a sure sign of spring when the maintenance crews start cutting the grass."

Jo looked over at the beautiful girl sitting beside her and almost pinched herself. A year ago she couldn't have imagined being at a place like Eastland and having a best friend like Blair. Jo stretched her arm over the back of the bench, not touching Blair's shoulders, but creating an air of intimacy all the same.

"I saw Mrs. G planting flowers early this morning."

"Another sure sign of spring. She must have wanted to get out before it got too hot. Winter seems light years away on a day like today, doesn't it?"

Jo's mind flashed back to an image of Blair standing near the edge of Cooper's Rock with snow falling all around her and tears streaming down her face. The bright smile on Blair's face did make the winter seem light years away.

"Yeah. In some ways it seems like forever ago and in other ways the year has passed so quickly that I feel like I just got here."

"Are you thinking about what it will be like for you when you go back home?"

Jo's grin turned lopsided, but she still managed a smile.

"I try not to think about it much. Don't get me wrong, I love my mom and I'm looking forward to seeing her, but this place kind of grows on you."

"I know all about that. Did you know that I've been here since I was twelve? I can't imagine living anywhere else. Eastland is the only place that's ever felt like home. My parents trade houses like some people trade cars, so it means a lot to me to be able to come back here every year."

Jo looked around the campus again, burning the images into her mind.

"Everything here is so clean. Have you ever noticed that no one throws their trash on the lawn? You'd think in a school this large, some of the kids would be careless, but everyone uses the trash cans."

Blair laughed.

"Hey, you promised not to laugh."

"I'm sorry, Jo, but you notice the oddest things."

"I think this place has changed me a little. What if I go home and start picking up gum wrappers off of the sidewalk? My old friends will think I've lost my mind."

"When I went to Monte Carlo for Christmas, I made a snack for Alex and you would have thought I'd worn white after Labor Day the way her mother and the servants looked at me. I've gotten so accustomed to doing things for myself around the kitchen that it didn't occur to me to ask someone else to do it for us."

"Oh the horror, a Warner who knows how to cook."

"Well, I don't know how to cook yet, but I think I can put together a decent snack."

"You make damn good jiffy pop, Blair. Speaking of which, you want to watch a movie tonight?"

"Tootie and Natalie will have a fit if we don't watch The Family Feud."

"We could stay up and watch the late movie."

"I suppose that compliment earlier was your way of asking me to make the popcorn."


Jo and Blair both laughed.

Jo turned her attention to the bright blue sky. It didn't surprise her that Blair was also noticing changes in herself. They'd been through a lot together and the experience had opened both their eyes to new things.

"So how is Alex? I can't believe such a little girl can write such long, interesting letters. That kid's sharp as a tack."

"You're only saying that because half her letters are all about you. You made quite an impression on my young friend. I didn't realize that the hero worship you seem to inspire among the younger set extended beyond Eastland."

Jo scowled. She didn't like the term Blair used, but little Alex did have a magnificent crush on Jo. In Jo's mind, it was okay to have a little seven year old look at her that way. It was only when another teenager did it that Jo became nervous.

"I like her, too. She's gonna be a real heartbreaker one day, just like you."

Jo nudged Blair.

"That's me all right. I've got them lined up at the door just waiting for me to take a sledgehammer and smash their little hearts. That's why I'm spending Friday night at home with you, Natalie, and Tootie."

Jo smiled. She knew that Blair had turned down several invitations for the evening.

"It's nice to be able to just sit and talk about nothing. It's as if springtime has given us a fresh start."

Jo looked over at Warner Hall and remembered her first tour of the campus and how shocked she had been to see the Warner name on so many of the buildings. For all the criticism Jo aimed at Blair for her snobbery, she figured that it would be impossible for anyone not to become a snob when their name was embossed on buildings all around them.

Jo grinned at her companion.

"There's something else around here that's a sure sign of spring."

"What's that?"

"Someone's birthday."



"No. No. No. I do not celebrate birthdays. I see no reason to celebrate getting older."

"Blair, you'll be seventeen, you're allowed to be happy about getting older until you hit forty."

"Forty? I'll be too feeble to celebrate at that age anyway."

"You are one of a kind, Blair."

"I know."

Jo's morning was going so well that she should have known it wouldn't last.

"Mrs. Wallace, forgive me for interrupting your class, but I need to speak with Miss Polniaczek."

All heads turned toward Jo, who shrugged, gathered her books, and followed Miss Gallagher.

"Heh, are you taking me to the principal's office or something?"

"I should."

Gail Gallagher's voice was harsh as she abruptly turned to face Jo.

"Are you crazy?"

Realizing that Miss Gallagher would have certainly heard about her run-in with Neil by now, Jo understood why she had removed Jo from class. She hadn't expected Miss Gallagher to approach her about the incident, so she hadn't planned out what she would say. Knowing that Miss Gallagher had a great sense of humor, Jo began by trying to make light of the situation.

"Hey, that's what Blair said."

Miss Gallagher turned away and began walking quickly as Jo scrambled to keep up with her.

"This is not funny. Are you trying to get expelled?"

"She asked me that, too. I never noticed how much you two are alike until now."

Gail Gallagher stopped in the hallway and stared incredulously at Jo, shocked at her cavalier attitude.

"I'm going to have to re-evaluate my estimation of Blair Warner's patience. She must be a saint."

Jo grinned mischievously.

"She's been called a lot of things, but I don't think anyone has ever called her a saint before."

"Jo, why are you acting as if what you did was okay?"

"Because it was okay. Neil Richards was saying nasty things about my friend Natalie. I gave him a chance to tell the truth, but he kept right on lying to his buddies, trying to make himself look like some kind of Romeo. He deserved everything he got. He had it coming."

Gail was stunned. She'd seen Jo's temper flare and she'd heard rumors about fights, but she discounted them as unfounded. However, she'd seen Neil Richards herself and was certain that stories of the abuse he had suffered at Jo's hands were not exaggerations.

"So where are we going?"

"To my classroom, where I can hopefully talk some sense into you."

Once in Miss Gallagher's empty classroom, they sat in silence for a great deal of time while the teacher decided how to approach the aggressive student.

"Jo, we've talked about this before. I thought you understood that using your words was always preferable to using your fists."

"Hitting Neil was completely justified, he's an ass. Like I told you before, he had it coming."

Once Jo had discovered that Miss Gallagher grew up in streets as tough as Jo's old neighborhood, she stopped trying to filter her language in the teacher's presence.

Miss Gallagher didn't hold back her verbal punches either. She knew that Blair Warner was Jo's greatest weakness and she aimed straight for that target.

"What if Blair does something one day to make you think she has it coming?"

"That could never happen. I'd never hit Blair, even if she did have it coming. Blair could beat the shit out of me and I'd never raise my hand to her."

"Jo, violence is like a virus. If you don't eradicate it, it will multiply and spread."

"Sometimes violence is the only option."

"Was it the only option in this case? Did you even attempt to use words to resolve your dispute with Neil?"

"Yeah. Blair told him that if he didn't admit to his friends that he lied about Natalie, I'd break both his legs."

"So Blair instigated this?"

Sensing Miss Gallagher's intentions, Jo smoldered.

"You leave Blair out of this. She had nothing to do with it. She was only trying to scare Neil, she had no idea that I would make good on her threats."

Miss Gallagher, despite her rough upbringing, was a little taken aback by the vigor of Jo's defense of Blair.

"Jo, what would you do to someone who hurt Blair?"

Jo grinned, amused by the similarities between her teacher and her girlfriend.

"Heh, that's three for three. Blair asked the same thing."

"What did you tell her?"

Jo leaned forward in her chair and looked Gail Gallagher directly in the eyes. Her eyes squinted in their intensity and her brow furrowed.

"I'd have to kill them. Plain and simple."

Gail Gallagher recognized the look in Jo's eyes. She'd seen it often enough growing up.

"Jo, have you ever been the victim of abuse?"

"Hell no. I ain't anybody's victim. I can take care of myself just fine. For the record, I didn't abuse Neil Richards, I punished him."

"Have you ever been punished?"

"Look, Miss Gallagher, I know you mean well, but you are wrong about me."

"Jo, most people could not have inflicted the kind of 'punishment' you inflicted on Neil."

"Most people aren't as strong as I am."

"No. Most people couldn't bring themselves to exact that much pain on another human being."

"I didn't hurt him that bad, I've survived worse and it didn't kill me."

Gail stopped asking questions, she had her answer. She softened her approach, no longer being confrontational.

"Jo, would you do something for me?"

"I don't know. I guess it depends on what you want."

Miss Gallagher was gratified by how quickly Jo was able to douse her temper.

"I'd like for you to do something that may not make sense to you, but that would make me feel much better. Could you do that?"

Jo fidgeted. She liked Miss Gallagher and she liked having someone to talk with about Blair. She didn't want to disappoint the teacher of whom she'd grown so fond.

"I guess so."

"The next time you feel like hitting someone, I'd like for you to spend at least ten minutes writing down your feelings in a notebook before you act on them."

"That's all?"

"That's all."

"What if I still want to hit someone after ten minutes of writing?"

"That's up to you."

Jo smiled. It didn't seem like a lot to do in order to make the sensitive teacher feel better.

Later that night, Jo was thrilled when Blair pulled out the backgammon board. Blair had been serious about wanting to become friends again and Jo appreciated her efforts, even if it did mean that Jo would be beaten to a pulp in backgammon on a regular basis.

"Do you want to play another round?"

"No, I've been humiliated enough for one night."

Blair gathered the backgammon board and put it away on the shelf.

"Blair, can I ask you something kind of serious?"

"Sure, ask away."

Miss Gallagher's words had affected Jo more than she wanted to admit to herself. It hadn't been fair of the teacher to use Jo's feelings for Blair against her, but it caused Jo to wonder if Blair also worried that Jo's temper might one day turn on her.

"You know that I'd never hurt you, don't you? I mean, you know I'd never hit you or anything."

Blair was so confused by the question that she didn't answer at first, causing Jo to get upset.

"You don't really think I could hit you, do you!?"

Jo was pleading.

"No, of course not. I was only trying to figure out why you would ask such a thing. I'm sorry that I waited so long to answer. Why would you ask me that?"

"Well, I do lose my temper a lot and I did beat on Neil a little more than I probably should have."

"Jo, I've never been afraid of you. You make me furious sometimes, but I've never thought about hitting you. Our arguments feel more like foreplay than a prelude to violence."

Blair didn't realize her slip until she saw Jo's grin.

"I didn't mean that the way it sounded."

Jo scooted over to the side of the bed where Blair was sitting.

"Oh, I think you did."

"Please don't make fun of me. I can't believe I said that out loud."

"Would it help to know that I feel the same way?"

"I think that makes it worse."

Jo leaned closer, whispering softly into Blair's ear.

"I do, y'know."

"Jo, we can't be talking like this."

Jo leaned back.

"Why not? I'm tired of pretending that I'm happy just being friends. I miss you, Blair."

"I haven't gone anywhere."

"You know what I mean. I miss holding you. I miss touching your hair. I miss kissing you. I miss being . . . uh, friends."

Blair was stunned. She wanted to believe that Jo meant her words, but Jo's rejection still stung.

"I can't be your FRIEND, Jo."


"I don't know. Not now. I don't know about later."

"That's okay, Blair. I understand. I know that I hurt you, but I know what I want now."

"What do you want, Jo?"

"I want you. I want Blair Warner."

Post Series Flash Forward: Tootie Returns to Peekskill

"Blair, I can't recall the last time I had so much fun."

"I can't believe Carl can still throw you over his shoulder like he did when you were twelve years old!"

Dorothy giggled.

"I know something else you won't believe. Carl actually asked me for my autograph."

All five women laughed as Dorothy did her best 'movie star' pose.

"Hey, I'll bet he's not the only one who'll be asking. You have to expect that sort of thing now that you are a big time celebrity."

Dorothy grinned at Jo.

"Look who's talking."

Jo rolled her eyes, but it was the opening Dorothy had been waiting for.

"Um, Jo?"


Dorothy glanced apprehensively at Mrs. G., Blair, and Natalie before reaching for the oversized bag she had left in their den prior to the dance.

"Don't laugh, okay?"

Jo looked at Blair, who shrugged her confusion.

"I, um, was wondering if you would sign my copy of your novel?"

Dorothy pulled a copy of Jo's first novel from the bag and handed it to Jo.

"She'd be honored!"

Blair answered for Jo, who looked embarrassed. Jo had been on numerous book signing tours, but was still somewhat uncomfortable with all the attention her books had attracted.

Natalie reached for Dorothy's copy of Jo's book and thumbed through it lightly.

"I'm not sure that I told you how magnificent this is, Jo. I couldn't have done it better myself."

"I don't believe that, Nat, but it's nice of you to say."

Mrs. G. wrapped her arm around Natalie.

"You'll get a book published, too, Natalie. You're a very gifted writer."

"I'm a very good reporter, and that's what I've always loved. I think I liked the idea of writing a book more than the reality. No offense, Jo, but I'm surprised you had the patience for it. I've always recognized your talent as a writer, but never pictured you being able to sit in front of a computer typing for long periods of time."

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Natalie realized her mistake. There were two things that Blair and Jo rarely spoke about and Natalie had just stepped into one of them. She looked to Blair for help and found a reassuring smile.

"Don't look so worried, Natalie. The shooting happened over ten years ago and Jo's physical therapy is going well. You're right. It was difficult for Jo to stay still long enough to finish her novel. Although her injuries kept her off of her feet for months, she didn't really get started on her book until much later in her recovery."

Blair retrieved a pen from her purse and took Jo's book from Natalie. Handing both to Jo, she sat down beside her lover and watched over Jo's shoulder as she began inscribing the inside book cover for Dorothy.

"Would anyone like some hot chocolate?"

"That'd be great, Mrs. G."

"Me, too, Edna."

Blair looked up from the book and over at Natalie and Dorothy, who were also shaking their heads affirmatively. Now that Mrs. Garrett was Mrs. Gains, Natalie and Tootie often felt a sense of awkwardness when addressing her and so both had picked up Jo's habit of calling her Mrs. G. Blair was the only one of the girls who referred to their former mentor and friend by her given name.

Blair smiled up at Dorothy while Jo was still writing.

"I hope you don't mind your old nickname, Tootie. Jo is never going to get used to calling you Dorothy."

Dorothy was a little embarrassed, she had made a huge deal about her name several years earlier and everyone, except Jo, had dropped her childhood nickname.

"As long as she signs it, I don't care which name she uses."

Jo closed the book and looked thoughtfully at the cover.

"You know, I never intended to write this book. I never intended to write any book."

Dorothy was intrigued.

"How do you unintentionally write a novel, Jo?"

Jo smiled sadly into Blair's eyes before answering.

"Back when we were in school, Miss Gallagher always encouraged me to write down my feelings when I was angry or upset about something. She taught me that writing about my feelings would help me to sort through them. When I was a detective, as I'm sure you realized after reading the book, I saw and experienced a lot of upsetting things. I would sometimes spend hours writing in my journal at the end of a particularly difficult shift."

Blair placed her arm on Jo's back and gently massaged the nape of her neck as Jo continued.

"When I was in the coma, Blair read some of the things I had written."

At Dorothy's shocked expression, Jo smiled. Unlike Edna and Natalie, Dorothy had spent very little time with the couple since they openly became a couple. Although she kept up with Jo and Blair through telephone calls and emails, seeing them interact with one another as adults sometimes bewildered her. In many ways they acted the same toward one another as when they had all lived together, but there were significant differences that kept surprising Dorothy.

"It's not like that, Tootie. I don't hide anything from Blair. I leave my journal lying around the house where anyone can pick it up. It's just that I had never asked Blair to read any of it before."

Blair smiled into Jo's eyes.

"Being able to read her journal made me feel like Jo was still communicating with me, even when she was unconscious for so long."

The two women locked eyes for the briefest of moments, but it was long enough to telegraph a lifetime of emotion.

"I think those days were a lot harder on Blair than they were on me. Anyway, I'd written a lot about my experiences with the NYPD. When Blair suggested that I organize my journal entries, the book just sort of happened. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the cases solved by the lesbian detective in my fictional story are based on my own experiences."

Dorothy's face grew serious.

"Jo, I never realized how hard it was for you when you were a detective."

"Neither did I."

Blair leaned over and kissed Jo gently on the cheek.

"And she edited some of the worst of it out of the book, thinking that the truth was too horrible for anyone to believe."

Natalie Greene wasn't about to allow her friends to become maudlin.

"Hey, it's not all sexy uniforms and handcuffs, y'know."

"Did I hear someone mention handcuffs?"

"Natalie has her mind in the gutter again, Mrs. G."

"So you're the one whose handcuffs I found in the sofa at Eastland!"

If Blair's warning glare hadn't kept Jo quiet, her crimson blush would have.

Natalie didn't mind taking credit for the handcuffs, even though she only had suspicions as to where they came from. She'd had enough adventures subsequent to Eastland to make any ideas Mrs. G. could think of related to the handcuffs seem tame by comparison.

"Do you know what surprised me most about your book, Jo?"

Natalie's serious expression took Jo by surprise.


"How excruciatingly honest you were. You said yourself that people know that the character in the book is based on you. You've always been such a private person. I was amazed at how much personal information you shared. I'm not sure I could reveal so much of myself, Jo. That's one of the reasons I became a reporter instead of a novelist."

Edna Garrett Gains smiled proudly.

"Jo had an important story to tell. I'm very proud of her for telling it so honestly. I'm proud of all of you girls. You are all living your lives with integrity. I'm glad I can claim to have had a small part in raising you."

Blair left Jo's side and wrapped her arms around her second mother.

"You were more of a mother than a friend, to all of us, Edna."

Edna grinned, her eyes twinkling.

"And now I'm off to bed. I have two more children who need my constant attention and they went to bed hours ago."

"I'll walk with you over to your house, Edna. I don't like you walking around in the dark all by yourself."

"Blair, Jo has so many security lights around this place, it's never dark."

"All the same, I like walking you home at night. You know that you're not going to win this argument, you never do."

The feisty redhead surrendered and smiled at the other three girls.

"Goodnight, my lovelies."

"G'night, Mrs. G."

Blair whispered something in Jo's ear and then she and Edna left the three other women alone. After Edna and Blair left, Natalie began clearing away their mugs.

"It must be nice having Mrs. G. living right next door, Jo. You and Blair eat like royalty."

"We're lucky, that's for sure."

"But what's with all the whispering? Haven't you and Blair outgrown that?"

Natalie teased, expecting Jo's sheepish response.

"Ah, she just likes to remind me of things."

"What kind of things?"

Natalie snickered and jabbed Dorothy in the side.

"The kind of things that aren't 'G' rated enough for you to hear, Dot."

"Oh. I mean, Ohh!"

12: Revelations and Celebrations

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