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 12 of 16 Chapters. Quotes in italics are direct quotes from the Facts of Life Series, Season 2, Episode 12, The Secret.
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
12: Revelations and Celebrations

By Slave2Free


Blair sat in her room, thinking about her latest obsession. She frowned, however, at that characterization. Jo was much more than an obsession, she was a treasure. Blair smiled, mentally comparing herself to various well-known explorers. Blair was in possession of a diamond in the rough, a well-buried treasure chest, an undiscovered land of milk and honey. She gave herself a great deal of credit for recognizing what everyone else had overlooked, the remarkableness of Jo Polniaczek.

It amazed Blair that she and Jo had been able to avoid the physical intimacy that had played havoc with their emotions during their first semester at Eastland. Blair took Jo's newly discovered ability to refrain from touching Blair as yet another sign of her ability to adapt. It didn't occur to Blair that most of the changes she saw in Jo might be associated with her new surroundings, new mentors, new teachers, and many new friends. In Blair's eyes, Jo was growing stronger, smarter, surer, and sweeter, all for Blair.

It hadn't been easy to love a diamond in the rough. There were many days when Jo's sharp edges cut into Blair's heart like a knife. Although Jo's edges were still sharp, she had begun to fit into the framework of Eastland as if she had been attending the school for years.

Despite her efforts not to conform, Blair could see that Jo was changing. In some ways it seemed wrong to tame someone so wild and unpredictable, but Jo didn't belong on an open range, she was meant to dwell among the civilized, Blair was certain of it. Although Blair's estimate of her own contribution toward Jo's ability to fit into a society totally foreign to the girl who had grown up on the tough streets of the Bronx was exaggerated, she had in truth been the only one to recognize Jo's potential dominance both academically and socially at Eastland.

However, others were beginning to take notice of the intense young girl whose mind was as quick as her fists.

"Mrs. Garrett, you will not believe this, but I have done it again."

"What have you done again, Blair?"

"Thanks to me, Jo has won the annual 'Best New Student' award."

"Thanks to her." Jo sarcastically muttered, pointing at Blair.

"You've come a long way, baby. Oh, congratulations, Jo, I'm so proud of you."

Jo grimaced under Mrs. G's embrace, but the accolade made her feel ten feet tall. Blair was practically walking on air, thrilled by Jo's accomplishment. Jo was finally feeling like she belonged at the influential preparatory school. She had worked hard to excel in both academics and sports and winning the award was a much needed validation of her efforts. It was no surprise that Blair was taking as much credit for the award as Jo, but Jo didn't mind, she knew that Blair was bursting with pride for Jo.

The day had been perfect, until Mrs. Garrett had shown up with a letter from Jo's father which had accidentally been opened, revealing to Mrs. G. that he was in a federal penitentiary. Jo was ashamed of her father. He had abandoned her as a child and Jo didn't want any of her friends to know that her father was a 'jailbird'. It was bad enough that Blair knew about the bad behavior of the other men in her mom's life, Jo didn't want to add her father's prison record to the dismal picture in Blair's mind.

Jo often struggled with how much information she should share with Blair. She knew that Blair wanted her to confide in her, but there were some things that she still didn't want Blair to know about. She'd worked hard to gain Blair's respect and she didn't want to lose it because of what she or her parents had done in the past.

Jo had every intention of one day sharing everything about herself with Blair, but their friendship was still on fragile ground. Although the two continued to clash on a regular basis, removing the physical component from their relationship had stabilized their friendship. Not that Jo was happy about the minimal amount of physical contact between the two. She rarely missed an opportunity to let Blair know that she was still very much interested in cuddling with the affectionate blonde.

"Jo, that's the third shirt you've tried on. What's so important about this trip to Albany? I don't even see why you need to go with Mrs. Garrett to get vanilla."

Jo hedged. She didn't like keeping secrets from Blair. Mrs. Garrett had convinced Jo to go to the prison near Albany to visit her father, but she couldn't tell Blair. Jo couldn't bring herself to give Blair one more reason to pity her.

"I have relatives near Albany and Mrs. G. said that she'd let me stop by for a visit. I haven't seen them in a long time, so I guess I wanted to wear something nice."

Blair hesitated. Jo was very sensitive about borrowing things from Blair, but on rare occasions she would accept a coat or a skirt.

"You know, Jo. I have a sweater that would go great with that shirt you're wearing. It'll look great with your jeans, too, so you'll be comfortable for the trip."

Jo found it hard to admit to herself that she wanted to look nice for her father. She was nervous about seeing him after so many years and she didn't want to look like a hoodlum. She didn't like borrowing things from Blair, but she knew that whatever Blair gave her would make her feel like she was looking her best.

The sweater Blair selected was understated, and it did go well with Jo's shirt. It looked good without making it look like she was trying to dress up for the occasion. In short, it was perfect. Jo smiled at Blair as the fashion-conscious debutante folded back the cuffs of Jo's blouse. When Blair started adjusting Jo's collar, both girls grew quiet, enjoying the intimacy of the gesture.

"You look beautiful, Jo."

Jo blushed.

"Aw, you shouldn't start sweet-talking me when you know I only have a few minutes before we leave."

Blair smiled.

"I'm not sweet-talking you, Jo. I'm being honest. You look fantastic. You always look nice, but you look especially good today. Your family members are going to be blown away."

Jo knew that Blair was extraordinarily intuitive about people, and especially so about Jo. Blair always seemed to know the right thing to say to make Jo feel better in almost all situations. Sure, half of the time Blair was yelling at her or talking down to her, but never when Jo was feeling down or insecure.

Jo leaned forward and lightly kissed Blair on the cheek, surprising the flirtatious girl.

"Thanks, Blair. Um, we'll be back around 5:00, will you be here?"

"There's nowhere else I'd rather be."

Blair smiled back at Jo and enjoyed the view as Jo left the room.

Later that afternoon, when Tootie and Natalie went to the movies, Blair stayed at Mrs. Garrett's. It wasn't like Jo to ask Blair if she was going to be around when Jo returned from a trip. It was even less like Jo to try on several shirts prior to going out, much less accept an article of clothing from Blair. Jo may have been visiting her relatives near Albany as she had told Blair, but Blair felt there was more to the story than her secretive roommate had revealed.

Blair wished, not for the first time, that Jo would confide in her. Blair worried that Jo thought she would make fun of Jo or think less of her when she told Blair about her problems. Blair had tried to curb her condescending attitude, especially where Jo was concerned, but old habits were difficult to break. She felt sure that Jo knew that she didn't mean anything when she spoke critically of Jo's wardrobe and poor manners. She thought that she and Jo had progressed enough in their relationship so that Jo understood that Blair was only teasing her when she made those kinds of comments. While waiting on Jo to return from Albany, however, Blair began to worry that her snobbish attitude was preventing Jo from telling her more about herself and her family.

By the time Jo returned that afternoon, Blair had devised a plan to encourage Jo to open up to her about why she had really traveled to Albany with Mrs. Garrett.

"Hey, you're back a little earlier than I expected. Did you have a nice visit with your family?"

"Yeah. Thanks for letting me borrow your sweater."

Jo took off the sweater and handed it to Blair, who carefully folded it.

"It doesn't look nearly as nice with any of my shirts, Jo. Your shirt is a perfect match for it. Of course, your shirt looks great all by itself."

Blair knew that Jo wasn't interested in fashion, but Blair was more secure talking about clothes than feelings. She hoped to coax Jo into trusting her with more information about her trip. As intuitive as Blair had become where Jo was concerned, Jo had also learned to interpret Blair's actions equally as well.

"You've joked about this shirt a hundred times, Blair."

"Oh, you know I just like to hear myself talking sometimes. I don't mean anything by those comments, Jo. You know that, don't you?"

Jo smiled indulgently at her inquisitive roommate. Blair was trying to gather information, but Jo was nervous about revealing so much about her father. She was certain that Blair had never met anyone remotely associated with someone in a federal penitentiary. As great as Blair had been when Jo told her about Gloria and the Young Diablos, Jo wasn't sure that Blair could handle knowing that Jo's father was a thief. Still, it would be nice to tell Blair a little about her visit.

"I know words come out of your mouth without going through your brain half the time, Blair."

Jo grinned and sat down on the bed beside Blair.

"I guess you want to know all about my trip?"

Blair nervously picked at the sweater in her lap.

"Only if you want to tell me."

"I was mostly honest with your earlier. I did go to see family."

Jo didn't speak for a couple of minutes, trying to figure out how much she wanted Blair to know. Blair, uncharacteristically patient, waited silently for Jo to continue.

"My father sent me a letter asking me to visit him. He's the one I went to see. The whole reason Mrs. G. went to Albany was so that she could take me to visit with my dad."

Blair was shocked. As far as she knew, Jo hadn't seen or heard from her father for over four years. Blair reached over and placed her hand on Jo's.

"Wow, that's a big deal, Jo."


"How did your father know where to send the letter?"

"Oh, he sends me letters all the time. He's been bugging me to visit him for years."

"I thought he abandoned you."

"He did. He left us, didn't he?" Jo's temper flared, but soon calmed.

"I only meant that I didn't know he tried to stay in touch. How did he know you were at Eastland?"

"My mom told him. I had no idea she was telling him so much about me. He knew about you, Natalie, and Tootie. He even knew about my award."

"Wow. They must talk about you a lot."

"I guess. My mom knew better than to tell me all the stuff she's been telling him about me. She knows I wouldn't like it."

"Jo, if your father has been writing to you for years, why did you decide to go see him now?"

Jo shifted nervously. Mrs. G. had encouraged her to visit her father, but it had ultimately been Jo's decision. She wasn't sure why she had changed her mind about seeing him after rejecting his reconciliation attempts so many times before.

"I don't really know. Mrs. G. kept bugging me about seeing him, but my mom does that all the time. I kind of wanted to tell him to leave me alone, but I kind of didn't want him to leave me alone. I guess that sounds like a dumb answer."

Blair moved closer to Jo, leaning forward slightly in order to see Jo's face better.

"It's not dumb. I don't know why I do half the things I do."

Jo smiled, happy that she had decided to talk with Blair about her father.

"Thanks, Blair."

"Well, what did he have to say after all this time? I'll bet he flipped when he saw how beautiful you turned out."

Jo's smile turned bashfully awkward.

"He said something like that. He said that he knows he's been a lousy father and that he shouldn't have run out on my mom and me. He said he missed me and that he wants me to give him a second chance."

"What do you want?"

Jo laughed. "I don't know. My mom says that I'm a lot like him."

Jo glanced over at Blair, reluctant to bring up anything to remind Blair about Eddie.

"When my mom came to Eastland, she told me that I shouldn't run away when things bothered me. She said that my dad did that and she didn't want me taking after him in that way."

Blair nodded.

"I see."

"He says he's changed. I want to believe him, but he ran out on me. That's hard to forgive."

"I know."

Jo looked solemnly at Blair, wondering if Blair was also thinking about how much Jo was like her father.

"It's hard to trust someone after they let you down like that. I guess you understand about that better than most."

Blair sighed.

"Jo, do you love your father?"

"It's not that simple."

"Sometimes it is that simple. Your father wants to be a part of your life again. If you want that, too, then you're going to have to forgive him."

"How do I know that he won't run out on me again?"

Blair thought about Jo's question. It was a question she had asked herself a hundred times, about Jo.

"You don't. You have to decide if letting him back into your life is worth the risk."

"He wants to come to the awards ceremony."

"It sounds like he's proud of you."

"That's what he says."

"What does Mrs. Garrett think about all this?"

"She thinks I should give him a second chance. She said that everyone makes mistakes."

"She usually gives good advice. I think you should let your father come to the awards ceremony."


"Of course. The only way to see if he's really changed is to spend time with him."

"I guess."

"I can't wait to meet him."


"Why are you so surprised?"

"He ran out on his family. Why would you want to meet someone like that?"

"If you're willing to give him a second chance, Jo, then I want to get to know him, too."

Blair smiled and removed her hand from Jo's. As she went to put away her sweater, she glanced back over her shoulder.

"Thanks for telling me about your father, Jo."

Jo felt better after talking with Blair. She wanted to tell Blair everything, but something held her back. Blair had told Jo how disappointed she was when Jo stole the blouse for Mrs. Garrett's birthday. Jo was afraid that Blair would think that Jo was going to turn out to be like her father, a thief. Jo kept the information as to where her father had spent the last few years to herself.

Jo had been surprised by Blair's enthusiastic support of her decision to invite her father to the awards ceremony. Jo had expected Blair to criticize her father, but Blair seemed happy at the prospect of meeting Charlie Polniaczek.

Jo had always considered Blair's devotion to her own father somewhat unnatural, given that the man had never once visited his daughter during the four and a half years she had attended Eastland. Jo both admired and resented Blair's adoration of her 'Daddy'. Jo, however, never argued with Blair about the many second chances she gave her father, who was constantly breaking promises to his devoted daughter. Instead, Jo took satisfaction in the fact that the tenderhearted blonde had given her more than one second chance as well.

Charlie Polniaczek sat reflectively in his room at the Peekskill Hotel, which had been his home since he had been released from prison the previous day. His hands were sweaty at the prospect of holding his daughter for the first time in years. Seeing Jo the week before had been a dream come true for the regretful father. Charlie had made more than a few bad choices in his life, but marrying Jo's mother and having Jo had been the best thing to ever happen to the chronic dreamer.

He knew his ex-wife had been encouraging Jo to visit him for years, but it was the influence of her new guardian that had propelled his daughter to the prison visitor's room. Charlie was curious about the woman who had such a strong influence on his daughter and the friends Jo had made at the pricy preparatory school she was attending.

Jo's mother had told Charlie the little she knew about Edna Garrett and Charlie could tell that Rose was impressed with the woman who had guided Jo through some pretty tough decisions during her first semester at Eastland. Rose had only mentioned three of Jo's new friends to Charlie. Most of what Rose told Charlie came from Jo, since Rose had only been able to visit Jo once during her first semester at Eastland. Although Rose was very complimentary of Jo's friend, Blair, she seemed uncharacteristically intimidated by the sixteen-year-old girl who had become so much a part of Jo's life.

When Rose had mentioned Jo's new best friend, Charlie had immediately asked if there was a connection between the Blair Warner at Eastland and Warner Textile Enterprises. Rose hadn't even considered the possibility until Charlie brought it up, but the girl must have made a very distinctive impression because Rose agreed that Blair was probably related to 'The' Warner family in some way.

Charlie, who had always placed more importance on money and position than his ex-wife, did a little checking on his own after speaking with Rose and was shocked to discover that Blair Warner was not only related, she was the only child and sole heir to David Warner's vast fortune. Rose had described the girl as well-mannered and polite, which made Charlie somewhat skeptical as to how close she and Jo could be. He hadn't seen his daughter for many years, but he knew that Jo was enough like her father that she would be easily bored by a reserved socialite.

During her brief visit to the prison, Charlie had been glad to see that the fire hadn't gone out of his daughter's temperament. Jo seemed more accepting and demonstrated a new willingness to forgive, but the Polniaczek intensity still shone through Jo's piercing green eyes.

Charlie wiped his hands on his pant legs one last time and mentally braced himself for his visit to Eastland. He was beginning to have doubts about his request to attend the awards ceremony. He was nervous enough about spending time with Jo after so many years, now he would also have to make small talk with a bunch of debutantes from some of the wealthiest families in the country. Charlie was out of his league and he knew it, he only hoped that he wouldn't embarrass his daughter during his visit.

Jo had been talking with Blair about her father's visit when he arrived at Mrs. Garrett's, unexpectedly early.

"This is Mrs. Garrett, our dietician."

"And Warden." Natalie added, grinning despite the pinch she received from Tootie.

Jo didn't know that Tootie had also seen the letter from her father and the normally talkative young girl had tied her tongue into knots to keep the secret.

"She's kidding." Tootie added quickly, glaring at Natalie.

"It's really a pleasure meeting you."

Charlie was using his best manners. Edna Garrett was an intimidating figure and he was certain that she was very protective of his daughter.

"The pleasure is mine, Mr. Polniaczek."

After introducing Mrs. Garrett, Jo turned her attention to her three friends.

"These are my roommates, Tootie, Natalie, and Blair."

"I heard all about you guys."

"Funny, we never heard a thing about you." Natalie quipped.

Tootie wished for once that Natalie would stop trying to be funny.

"But we're not nosy." Tootie added.

Tootie physically yanked Natalie away from Jo's father, hoping her humorous friend would stop putting her foot in her mouth.

"Welcome. Welcome to Eastland."

Mrs. Garrett was thrilled to see Charlie Polniaczek. She loved all of her girls, but she felt that Jo especially needed a firm hand and the tough young girl wasn't getting that from her lenient mother. Mrs. Garrett thought it would do the temperamental girl good to have a stronger parental influence.

"Thank you."

"Jo, why didn't you tell us how handsome your father is? So distinguished looking. Now I want to find out all about him."

Charlie could kick himself for forming preconceptions about Jo's friends based solely on reports from Jo's mother. He supposed that Rose may not have noticed that Jo's friend Blair was an outrageous flirt, but he was sure Rose couldn't have missed how beautiful the young heiress was.

"Like what?"

Jo was nervously questioning Blair about her curiosity. Charlie could tell that his daughter was more nervous than he was, and that was saying a lot. He decided that Blair Warner's opinion must be extremely important to his daughter by how hard Jo was trying to keep Blair from spending any time with him.

Mrs. Garrett also noticed Jo's overreaction.

"Jo, maybe your father would like a cup of coffee?"

"Yes, that would really hit the spot."

"Oh sure, okay, why don't you just come over here with me?"


Jo pulled Charlie over to where the coffee had been placed, getting him further away from Blair. The maneuver didn't work, however, since Blair was intent on following them.

"Jo, I like the look of your uniform."

"They could be worse, if you're forced to wear a uniform. You know what I mean."

Jo smacked her head. Why was it that everything Blair and Natalie said reminded her that her father had just gotten out of prison?

"How would he know what you mean?"

Jo had jumped down Blair's throat at the innocent comment, concerning Charlie and confusing Blair. Jo was so flustered with the situation that she spilled the coffee she had been preparing for her father onto her uniform.

Charlie tried to assist Jo in cleaning up the mess, but it was clear that she would need to change clothes.

"It's all right. I have a clean skirt upstairs. Why don't you come with me?"

Jo was about to pull her father away when Blair grabbed hold of his other arm, gracing him with another brilliant smile as she sweetly, but firmly made it clear to Jo that she had no intention of releasing Jo's father.

"No. Stay here. I want to get to know your father better."

Charlie was a bit taken aback by how forcefully Blair addressed Jo. Most of the girls from their old neighborhood feared Jo, but the beautiful blonde seemed perfectly accustomed to challenging his daughter.

"Jo, your dad's going to be just fine."

Mrs. Garrett attempted to reassure the overly anxious girl.

"Okay, I'll be back soon."

Jo walked over and leaned close to Charlie's ear to whisper, but Mrs. Garrett overheard.

"Don't talk their ears off."

It was a warning and Charlie took it as such. He was again surprised at the steady influence Jo's mentor held over his daughter when Mrs. Garrett scolded Jo for being rude to her father. Rose had let Jo run wild in the Bronx and Charlie was glad to see that she had boundaries at Eastland.

"Don't worry about our ears. Go on."

Natalie, who had finally wrenched herself from Tootie, returned to Mr. Polniaczek and Mrs. Garrett.

"Mrs. Garrett, you told me to tell you when it was a half an hour before the awards. It's ten minutes before the awards."

"Oh dear. Natalie, you and Tootie better bring out some more coffee cups. Mr. Polniaczek, sit down and make yourself at home, I'll be right back."

Tootie walked over to speak confidentially to Mrs. Garrett.

"Mrs. Garrett, I'd better stick around. Blair is sure to ask some dumb, embarrassing questions."

Blair had not left Charlie Polniaczek's side since he had arrived. She was excited about meeting Jo's father for the first time. Blair considered her first meeting with Jo's mother somewhat of a disaster since the reason for Rose's visit had been to convince Jo not to elope with Eddie. She had only had a few short minutes to get to know Jo's mother and she wanted all the time she could get with Jo's father.

"So Mr. Polniaczek, how come Jo's been keeping you such a big secret?"

Charlie recognized the humor in Blair's tone and stance immediately. This girl had flirted with him within minutes of meeting him and now she was teasing him, she was definitely not the reserved wallflower his ex-wife had described. Blair Warner was more than a match for his Jo and he was beginning to understand their friendship better. He probably understood much better than Jo's mother, but that was simply because Rose had closed her eyes to certain things about Jo.

"Yeah, I'm in transportation."

Charlie had a feeling that Blair already knew his occupation, but he let the implication lie unchallenged for several seconds before clarifying. He wanted to see if the prominent heiress would correct him.

"That means I drive a truck."

Blair smiled brightly at Charlie and he instantly liked the talkative, flirtatious young girl.

"Really, my father has a warehouse in Miami. Maybe you've 'trucked' on by it. Warner Textile Mills?"

"Warner Tex on the New York Stock Exchange?"

Blair smiled, flattered that Jo's father knew how important her father was. Charlie smiled back, sure that he was making a good impression on Jo's friend and happy to have a topic about which he felt comfortable and knowledgeable.

"I charted your dad's company."

"Charted it?"

"It's kind of a hobby I do. See, I analyze how healthy a corporation is to determine its earning potential."

"You did that on my Daddy's company. How sweet."

Charlie sat back in his chair, completely charmed by the girl in front of him. Jo was in trouble if she thought she was going to run all over this girl. Blair was pulling out all the stops to impress Charlie and he knew that the only reason a girl like that would be smiling at him the way the beautiful heiress was and treating him like he was the brightest and wittiest man around was because she valued his daughter's friendship very much. He found himself doing something he had never expected, relaxing. Blair's friendly banter and flattery put Charlie at ease. He wasn't going to embarrass his daughter after all. He was a hit with her best friend.

"Yeah, it's a shame about the financial problem's he's had."

Charlie was demonstrating that he could tease as well. He hadn't counted on Blair's lack of knowledge about what was going on with her father's business. Nor had he counted on her total adoration of the father she idolized. The sweet young girl looked horrified by his comments.

"Financial problems? What financial problems?"

"You know. Japanese competition. The government audit. It was all in The Wall Street Journal."

"If it wasn't in Harper's Bazaar, forget her." Tootie felt the need to explain Blair's lack of business savvy.

"Hey, don't worry. Warner Tex is coming back stronger than ever."

Charlie hadn't meant to upset the girl, but he was beginning to get the feeling that her exaggerated reaction was more of a show designed to entertain him than anything else. The look he received for his reassuring comments proved that he was right. Blair was playing with him as much as he had been teasing her. This girl definitely didn't worry about where her next allowance check was coming from.

"You wouldn't kid me?"

Blair sighed and Charlie suspected she intended it as a sign of how much she valued his opinion of her father's financial position. The young heiress was good at making people feel however she wanted them to feel, but Charlie sensed that she was as kind and nice as she presented herself to be – at least where Jo was concerned.

"You know. You sound more like a broker than a truck driver."

Blair meant it as a compliment and Charlie accepted it gracefully. Charlie had met a few rich debutantes in his time, so he wanted to give Blair a little test to see just how sincere she was about his daughter. Rich socialites looked down on anyone whose bank account didn't measure up, but they were even more snobbish when it came to educational background.

"Thanks. I've been thinking about getting into that line, but it won't be easy. I haven't been past high school."

"I don't see why a truck driver couldn't get into the stock market. On the other hand, Mr. Polniaczek, I understand how difficult it would be for someone of your background to change after so many years."

Charlie was thrilled with Blair's answer. She didn't turn up her nose at his lack of a college education, but she also didn't discount the extra effort he would have to make in order to succeed without it.

Neither Blair nor Jo's father noticed Jo enter the room.

"Yeah, it's going to be a whole new world out there for me."

"Well it certainly sounds as if you've paid your dues."

Blair acknowledged the hard work she felt Charlie must have put into learning so much about the stock market while continuing to drive a truck. Jo, hearing only the last couple of lines of the conversation, misinterpreted the discussion.

"You just couldn't keep your mouth shut, could you? I knew I shouldn't have let you come up here."

"Wait a minute, honey."

"Don't call me that!"

Jo was shouting. She was furious at her father for talking out of turn to Blair. Of all people, why had he talked to Blair? Blair, on the other hand, was horrified. She was completely in the dark as to why Jo was so upset and couldn't help but feel that she had done something to trigger the volatile girl's temper.

"So now you all know about his stretch."

"Stretch? We weren't even talking about exercise."

Blair was simultaneously confused and clueless. Jo thought Blair was indulging in one of her favorite pastimes, playing mind games with other people. Blair often acted like she didn't know what was going on when she was the one orchestrating the entire situation. Jo was too angry to note the sincerity of Blair's confusion.

"Don't play games with me, Blair. I'm talking about his prison sentence."

"Oh no." Tootie half-whispered.

Tootie was the only one who knew what Jo was talking about. Blair looked totally stunned, but was attempting to hide it.

"What did he tell you? That it wasn't his fault? That child support made him do it?"

Tootie enlightened Jo.

"He didn't tell us anything, you did."

"Yeah, well so what? I'm tired of feeling guilty about him."

Jo's voice continued to rise. She was as angry with herself for spilling her secret as she was at her father. She was also angry that her father had put her in a position that caused her to yell at Blair again. She could see the hurt in Blair's eyes. Jo believed that Blair must feel as if Jo hadn't trusted her with the information about her father. Instead of telling Blair about her father in the privacy of their room, which she should have done, Jo had blurted it out in public. Jo's frustration fueled her anger.

"And I don't need you messing up my life again. I've been doing just fine without ya. You want to do somethin' for me, get out of my life and this time stay out!"

Blair sat stunned as Jo screamed at her father. Blair had seen Jo angry, but she knew the anger Jo was expressing toward her father was rooted in hurt. Blair had never spoken to either of her parents the way Jo was ranting at her father. The one time Blair had slightly offended her mother she had earned a slap in the face. She wished that Jo had felt comfortable enough to tell Blair about her father because Blair could understand better than most about 'daddy issues'. Blair didn't blame Jo for keeping the information to herself, however, understanding why Jo had wanted to keep it a secret.

Jo hadn't told Blair much of anything about her father, only that he hadn't been very kind to her mother, but that he had always treated Jo well. Blair hoped that Jo's father had really changed, as he said. She had enjoyed talking with him and she got the feeling that he liked her, too. Blair would give anything if her own father had ever shown up to see her accept one of the many awards she had won while at Eastland, but her father had never been interested. Blair had come to accept her father's limitations, but it appeared as if Jo had a chance to build a better relationship with her father, and Blair wanted that for Jo.

Blair immediately followed Jo when she stormed out of the room.

Blair found Jo sulking in their room.

"Hey, do you wanna talk?"

"We've got nothing to talk about."

Blair knew that the last thing Jo wanted was sympathy, so she didn't offer any.

"Don't get bratty with me; I could give lessons in that. I want to talk about your father."

Jo cared deeply for Blair, but she felt that Blair was asking too much of her. Jo was a private person and nothing was as private as her feelings about her father. It was difficult to love someone and be ashamed of them at the same time.

"My father's none of your business."

"You're acting like he's none of yours either."

"What would you know about it?"

"I've had three fathers. I could give lessons in that, too."

Jo hesitated. She knew that Blair had a point. Blair's father and step-fathers all put together didn't amount to one decent parent.

"But none of them are ex-cons."

Jo felt the word sticking in her throat. Blair didn't mean to do it, but sometimes she treated Jo like some sort of third world refugee. Finding out that Jo's father was an ex-con was probably going to short circuit Blair's brain.

"True, but none of them ever came here to see me either."

Jo was stunned that Blair was still trying to mediate between Jo and her father. Even after learning that Charlie had been in prison, Blair was encouraging Jo to give her father another chance. It was true that Charlie was making more of an effort than Blair's father would ever make, but Jo had years of anger inside of her and couldn't let go of it all in one afternoon.

Jo knew that Blair was trying to help, in her own way. She also knew that if anyone could appreciate how hard it was to forgive a parent for neglect, it was Blair. Their fathers couldn't be more different, but they had both managed to inflict upon their daughters deep feelings of abandonment and betrayal that would periodically surface in both girls throughout their lives. Jo, however, had a chance to improve her relationship with her father and Blair was determined to do everything she could to convince Jo to give Charlie Polniaczek a second chance.

Charlie interrupted the girls' conversation and asked Blair if she would allow him to speak privately with Jo.

Blair was honored that Jo asked her to stay. She took the invitation to stay as a rare sign of trust. Regardless, when Charlie asked Blair to leave, she did so, realizing that it would be impossible for him to open up to Jo if Blair was also in the room. However, Blair didn't go far. She wanted Jo to give her father a second chance, but Blair planned to stay close enough to step in if it turned out that Charlie wasn't everything he presented himself to be. Since Jo had invited Blair to stay, she didn't feel like she was invading Jo's privacy by listening in on their conversation. She was, after all, only doing it in case Jo needed her to intervene.

"What do you want from me?"

"I want to be your father."

"Oh, hey, that'll be great. We'll be a family and we'll get close and we'll do stuff together and I'll depend on you and you'll run out on me. Well, no thanks, I've tried it before."

Jo was shaking with anger as she poured her heartache out on her father.

"I'm telling you I won't run out on you this time."

"How do I know that?"

"Cause I'm here, aren't I?"

"That's not enough."

"It's a start. Jo, can you believe me, I'm not the same person I was before? Give me another shot. Meet me half way, honey."


Jo's voice was filled with unshed tears and she was barely able to vocalize the one word plea.

"Because I'm your father and I say so, and I happen to love you."

Mrs. Garrett nodded briefly at Blair as she walked past the sober young girl and entered Jo's room, confident that father and daughter had been given an opportunity to resolve at least some of their issues. Blair, knowing that Jo was in good hands, went to the awards ceremony in order to get a good seat for the presentation.

If Charlie Polniaczek had any doubts about the depth of his daughter's friendship with Blair Warner, they had vanished when he saw Jo tug at Blair's arm and ask her to stay in the room while Jo confronted her father. Although Blair finally left, the fact that Jo trusted the other girl enough to have allowed her to witness such an emotionally charged meeting was significant.

Also telling was the look Blair gave Charlie as she left the room. Charlie thought that Blair had one of the best 'you had better not hurt her' looks he'd ever seen. Charlie was fully aware that although Rose pretended that she only allowed Jo to go off to school in order to keep her away from Eddie and the Young Diablos gang, Rose's primary goal was to get Jo away from Jessie. Jessie had a reputation for liking other girls and Rose didn't want Jo anywhere near Jessie or her type.

Charlie thought that Rose must have considered Blair a breath of fresh air in comparison. Especially since Blair was such a girlie girl. Blair was the type of girl that Rose could introduce as Jo's best friend without having their neighbors wonder about the relationship.

Charlie, however, had seen the concern in Blair's eyes when Jo was ranting at her father. He had seen the protectiveness Blair demonstrated toward Jo when he entered Jo's room. He had seen Blair beam with pride when Jo accepted her award and he had seen Jo lock eyes with the blonde at the very moment she took hold of her trophy.

Charlie didn't care what type of relationship Jo had with her friend, as long as his daughter was happy. He'd missed out on the last four years of Jo's life, but he was determined to get to know his daughter better and Charlie felt that Blair Warner could help him to do that. The other girl seemed to want Jo to mend fences with her father and Charlie was grateful. He had liked Blair instantly, but the more time he spent around the saucy blonde, the better he felt about his daughter's best friend.

Charlie had spent his entire life chasing one get rich quick scheme after another. All he'd ever wanted for himself and his family was the kind of respect being shown to him by Jo's friends and teachers. Every one of Jo's teacher's made a point of spending time with Charlie and telling him what a wonderful student Jo was. One teacher in particular seemed especially impressed with Jo.

"Your daughter is an exceptional young lady, Mr. Polniaczek."

"Thank you, Miss Gallagher. What subject do you teach? I've met so many of Jo's teachers that I've lost track."

"Oh, I teach senior English. I haven't had the privilege of having Jo in my class yet, but I'm looking forward to it next year."

Charlie supposed that faculty members in a school like Eastland Academy made it their business to get to know all of the students, but when Jo came up and smiled fondly at Miss Gallagher, Charlie knew that Jo had formed a more personal relationship with this teacher.

"I didn't know you were going to be here, Miss Gallagher. I'd have had Blair save you a seat up front."

"That's okay, Jo. I had a great view of the ceremony. You didn't really think I'd miss it, did you?"

Jo shrugged.

"I guess you met my father."

Gail Gallagher smiled at Charlie Polniaczek.

"Yes, I've been telling him how gifted you are. I hope you don't make me regret saying such wonderful things about you."

Miss Gallagher winked at Jo.

'So that's where that came from', thought Blair, who had been watching the exchange. Jo had recently taken on the habit of winking at anyone when she would make a joke or had done something nice for them and Blair had wondered what had instigated the new habit. After the fifth 'give me a break' from Jo's father, Blair knew where that phrase originated as well. Although Blair was sure that Jo didn't realize she was emulating her father and teacher, it caused Blair to reconsider Jo's relationship with Miss Gallagher. The two were much closer than Blair had originally thought.

Miss Gallagher wasn't surprised to look up and see Blair Warner watching her, but she was surprised when Blair didn't turn away after being caught in the act. Gail suddenly understood why the other students at Eastland were so intimidated by Blair. Although Blair's smile was perfectly sweet on the surface, there was definitely a warning attached to it. The fact that the teenager felt confident enough to bestow that type of look on a teacher was imposing. Given that the relationship between the two girls seemed to have significantly thawed, Gail fully expected to find Jo on her doorstep confused about Blair more often.

After the awards ceremony, Blair pulled Jo outside for a walk around campus.

"Your father sure did seem proud of you today, Jo."

"I guess."

"It seems like he's trying."

Jo continued looking forward, but cut her eyes over toward Blair.

"I guess you're pretty mad that I didn't tell you about his prison record."


"I'd understand if you were. You have a right to know that you might be hanging out with a future jailbird."

Blair stopped walking and stared at Jo.

"Why would you say something like that?"

Jo shoved her hands into her pockets and shifted back and forth on her feet.

"It's not as if I've never stolen anything, Blair."

The full impact of what Jo was saying hit Blair at that moment and she stepped forward and stood as close to Jo as she could without actually touching her. Looking directly into Jo's eyes until Jo returned the steady gaze, Blair spoke softly, but firmly.

"I will never judge you based on your parents or your past. If you and I are going to be friends, you have to trust me not to do that."

Jo couldn't recall Blair ever looking more beautiful.

"I trust you, Blair. I'm sorry that I kept things from you in the past. I guess I'm going to have to learn to talk more about things."

"Well, I don't expect you to turn into a Chatty Cathy overnight, but I would like for you to feel like you can talk to me, especially if you're upset about something."

Jo smiled, relieved that Blair wasn't hurt or angry by her prior omission.

"That works both ways, y'know. You're going to have to tell me if something is bothering you, too."

Blair sighed dramatically.

"I have a lot of drama in my life, Jo."

Jo rolled her eyes and tugged at Blair's arm.

"Come on, drama queen, we can't be out here all night."

As they walked back toward the cafeteria, Jo turned admiring eyes toward Blair.

"My dad seemed pretty taken with you, by the way."


"You know he was. You were flirting with him all evening."

"Well, he is a very handsome and charming man. He reminds me a lot of you."

Jo smiled, flattered by the compliment to both her father and her.

"Do you think people can really change?"

"Yes. I don't know if your father has changed, but I definitely think it's possible. The problem is that the only way you'll ever know is if you give him a chance to prove himself."

"I want to."

"I know.

"It's hard."

"I know."

"Blair, don't you ever get angry with your father?"


"Why not? I mean, after what he did to you, putting you in that clinic. He says he'll visit you and then something more important always comes up. It just seems like he's always letting you down. I don't get why you're always so willing to forgive him."

"If I didn't forgive him, I would be angry all the time and I don't want to live my life that way."

""You know what, Blair?"


"You're a lot smarter than people think you are."

Blair sighed deeply.

"I know."

Jo just shook her head at the sheer guile of the girl she was beginning to respect as much as she desired. Blair wasn't modest, but she didn't exaggerate her beauty or intelligence. Jo had to begrudgingly admire Blair's unwillingness to pretend that she didn't recognize her own attributes.

The next Saturday Jo was up early washing her motorcycle. Jo found it odd that someone who craved attention as much as Blair didn't want a birthday celebration, but she didn't argue the point. Blair may not like birthday celebrations, but Jo knew that Blair loved surprises and Jo had been waiting all spring to give Blair this particular surprise.

"Hey, Blair, are you doing anything special today?"

"Look, Jo, I don't know who told you about my birthday, but they should have told you that I'm serious about not celebrating it."

"I know, but you have to spend the day doing something."

Blair shrugged. She planned to spend the day like any other Saturday.

"That new science fiction movie I was telling you about comes on television tonight, would you like to watch it with me?"

Blair smiled, she knew how badly Jo wanted to see the movie and it would be nice to watch something Jo liked for a change.

"That sounds great."

"It's a date then."

"Ah, well, I, uh, sure."

"If you're not doing anything this morning, you could walk down to the motorcycle shop with me, if you're not too busy. I need to pick up a part. It's not a long walk and it's a nice day."

Blair didn't want to celebrate another birthday, but she wasn't thrilled about spending another birthday alone either.

"Okay. I'll walk with you."

"You'd better put on some jeans and sneakers. The motorcycle shop isn't a Fifth Avenue kind of store."

Blair rolled her eyes.

"I'll see if I have something sufficiently tattered."

"Yeah. The more tattered the better."

Jo grinned as Blair left to change, leaving Jo to put phase two of Blair's birthday surprise in action.

"Okay, I'm ready. Let's go."

"There's been a little change in plans."


"Well, it's not all that far to the motorcycle shop, but it won't take nearly so long to get there if we ride my bike."

"What? No!"

Jo's face fell instantly and Blair felt bad for being so abrupt.

"Come on, Blair, you'll love it."

"No. I don't mind walking."

Jo stuck her hands in her pockets and stared at her feet.

"You're still mad at me, aren't you?"

"About Eddie?"

Jo nodded.

"No, Jo. Really, that's not it."

"Then you don't trust me."

Blair was feeling worse as the conversation progressed. She'd never seen Jo so disappointed so she tried to explain.

"It has nothing to do with you, Jo. I don't want to make you fall."

"Huh? You're not gonna make me fall. You're just making that up so you won't have to ride with me."

"No, really."

Blair sighed deeply before continuing. She didn't like having to tell Jo certain things about her childhood.

"Jo, I don't know how to ride a bike."

"It's just like a bicycle, only with a motor."

Blair sighed again.

"You don't understand. I don't know how to ride a bicycle."


"Please, Jo. Let's just walk."

"You mean to tell me that you never had a bicycle?"

"My parents gave me lots of bicycles."

Blair answered defensively. She paused, feeling cornered. When she continued, her voice was soft.

"They just never had time to show me how to ride one."

Jo hadn't meant to hurt Blair's feelings. She had been so intent on giving Blair a birthday surprise that she hadn't noticed how sad the conversation was making the other girl.

"Hey, that doesn't matter. You don't have to know how to ride a bicycle in order to sit on the back of my bike."

"I don't?"

"Nah. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride, I do all the balancing."

Blair frowned, uncertain.

"I don't know."

"Come on, Blair, you can trust me."

"I trust you."


Blair looked at the bike as if it was something out of one of Jo's science fiction movies, but Jo had been absolutely crestfallen when she'd refused to ride earlier, so she put aside her fears and nodded affirmatively at Jo.

Seeing Blair's acquiescence, Jo reached behind her motorcycle and presented Blair with a brightly decorated box.

"Jo, what is this?"

"It's safety equipment. You have to wear it in order to ride on my bike, it's the law."

"It looks like a birthday present."

"Nope, it's essential motorcycle gear. G'head and open it."

Blair almost refused, but Jo's grin was splitting her entire face and her eyes were dancing with excitement. Blair carefully opened the box and removed a motorcycle helmet. The helmet Jo had given Blair was identical to her own, but the colors were reversed. Instead of a white helmet with a red visor, Blair had been given a red helmet with a white visor.

"What is this?"

"It's a helmet."

"I know that, but . . . is it for me?"

"Of course it's for you. How else are you going to ride around on my bike with me?"

Jo was grinning from ear to ear, bouncing with excitement.

"Just for me?"

Blair was still grappling with the significance of the present. Jo took the helmet from Blair and turned it around so that Blair got a clear view of the back.

"I buffed out the scratches and painted it to sort of match mine. I used a stencil to paint the initials. Do you really like it? I wasn't sure about the initials, but you don't think it's hokey, do you?"

Blair couldn't speak and Jo couldn't shut up. Blair ran her fingers lovingly over her initials stenciled onto the helmet which was obviously intended only for her use.

"Jo! This is...How . . ."

Blair turned disbelieving eyes toward Jo, who awkwardly shuffled her feet.

"It's nothing, really."

Blair continued to caress the helmet as if it was a fragile piece of artwork.

"Do you like it? I mean, it's okay?"

Blair continued to stare at the object in her hands, continuously running her fingers over the initials. The longer Blair waited to respond, the more Jo babbled.

"I can change it if you don't like the colors and I can paint over your initials if . . ."

"No! I mean, don't change anything. It's perfect."

Jo took the helmet from Blair and held it up.

"Do you want to try it on?"

Blair wrapped her arms around Jo trying to hug her despite the helmet between them.

"It's the best non-birthday present anyone has ever given to me! How does it fit?"

Blair allowed Jo to place the helmet on her head.

"I'm going to look ridiculous in it, but I love it!"

As Jo was latching the chin strap, she leaned in close to Blair and whispered.

"Nothing can mask your beauty, Blair."

Jo looked around briefly and then placed a tender kiss on Blair's cheek.

"I do look good, don't I?"

Blair confirmed, admiring herself in the motorcycle mirror.

"Yes you do."

Jo laughed as she tightened the chin strap and then straddled her bike.

"Now throw your leg over the seat and get on."

"Jo, are you sure I don't have to balance or anything? Maybe I should start out riding something smaller?"

"Blair, I'm holding the bike up. All you have to do it get on. Trust me."

"I do, sort of."

"Hey, if I can climb across the ledge up on Cooper's Rock, you can get on my bike."

Jo smiled reassuringly as Blair tentatively got on the back of her bike. At first, Blair placed her hands on Jo's shoulders, but Jo corrected her.

"Put your hands on my waist, Blair. I have to use my arms to steer."

"Oh, right."

Blair cautiously placed her hands on Jo's waist and waited.

"Are you ready?"

"No, but go ahead and start it."

Jo kickstarted her motorcycle and shifted into first gear. She started slowly, being careful not to jerk the bike too quickly as they rode away from Mrs. Garrett's. Jo continued at a very leisurely speed around the block and then pulled back into Mrs. Garrett's driveway.

"Are you okay? Do you want to ride some more?"

Blair slid a little closer to Jo on the seat so that she could speak into Jo's ear.

"What if I lose my balance and don't know which way to lean?"

"Lean into me, Blair, that's all you have to do."

Blair removed her hands from Jo's waist and wrapped her arms around Jo, pressing her body close to Jo's back.

"Is this okay?"

Jo was ecstatic.

"Uh, yeah, that's perfect."

Jo continued to drive slowly around town until Blair began to feel safe. Jo noticed as Blair's body began to relax against her back that her tight grip around Jo's waist loosened into something more like an embrace. As the trip continued, Blair had never felt so safe. She glanced repeatedly at Jo's profile as she drove them around town. Jo was enjoying herself, but she was also alert to her surroundings. Blair relaxed as she leaned into Jo and pressed her head to Jo's shoulder.

Jo took Blair through downtown Peekskill and then up into the nearby mountains. Blair had never experienced anything so thrilling. Not only was she holding the girl of her dreams, she was seeing parts of Peekskill she had never noticed while riding around town in cars. The view from the motorcycle made everything so much more real. Once they were in the mountains, Jo drove off the main road and through areas where trees acted as a canopy for them and they stopped often to listen to waterfalls and to gaze over mountain landscapes.

Jo was experiencing her own version of heaven. Blair hadn't dared touch her so intimately since the night before she had run away with Eddie. Feeling Blair's arms wrapped tightly around her waist set Jo's world right again.

As they were returning home, Blair laid her head against Jo's back and pressed her hips as firmly as possible against Jo. When Jo noticed the chill bumps along Blair's arms, she took Blair's hands and pressed them underneath her shirt, allowing Blair to warm her hands against Jo's skin.

As they pulled into Mrs. Garrett's driveway, Jo eased the bike to a gentle stop, careful not to jar the bike and upset Blair's balance.

"Joey, that was just about the most wonderful thing I've ever experienced."

Jo grinned as if she had just won the Daytona 500.

"I told ya that you'd love it. There's nothing in the world like it."

"Now I see why you sometimes go off by yourself just to ride. I'm so glad that you invited me to ride with you. It was the perfect gift, Jo."

"My bike is the only thing that belongs to me, just like your artistic talent belongs to you. I figure that if you can share your talent with me, I can share my bike with you. I'm glad you had a good time, Blair. Uh, you can let go of me now that I've turned the motor off."

"Oh, right."

"You get off first while I hold the bike steady. Then I'll lower the kickstand and get off, too."

Blair got off of Jo's bike and released the latch on the chin strap of her new helmet. When she removed the helmet, Blair lowered her head and shook her hair vigorously before throwing her head back and shaking her hair loose again.

Jo watched Blair in awe as blonde curls seemed to dance around the beauty's face.

"Blair, you look amazing!"

Blair laughed and once again observed herself in one of the mirrors on the handlebars of Jo's bike.

"I know."

"We are going to have to do something about that lack of self-confidence thing you have going on." Jo teased.

"Oh, Jo, would you rather I pretended that I didn't know how nice I look?"

"No, Blair, I wouldn't change one single thing about you."

Blair gave Jo one of her thousand watt smiles.

"It's not as if you're any less beautiful yourself. In fact, I have to work really hard just to get close to how you look. It amazes me how nice you look when you don't do anything to try to look better; of course, you don't need to do anything. You tumble out of bed every morning looking more beautiful than someone who'd spent the day at a beauty spa."

Jo didn't know how to respond. Blair was an extraordinarily vain girl. To hear her say that she considered Jo the greater beauty was hard for Jo to believe, but the sincerity in Blair's eyes was unmistakable.

"I can't hold a candle to you, Blair. No one could."

Blair beamed. As much as she extolled her looks, it always surprised her when Jo complimented her.

"Jo, um, riding that bike is kind of, uh, well, with the vibrations and all it, um."

Jo walked over to Blair and wrapped her arms around her. It was the first time in months she had been so forward with Blair, but after spending the day with Blair holding her, it didn't seem out of line.

"It kind of gives you a little bit of a thrill, doesn't it? I can usually still feel a tingle for several minutes after I get off of her. Can you feel it?"

"Uh, yeah."

"Feel good?"

"Yeah, but I'm not sure if it's all from the bike. I think some of it might be from sitting so close to you."

Jo blushed at the innuendo. She was good at teasing Blair, but when Blair turned the tables Jo would sometimes turn shy.

"Jo, we have to do this more often."

"We will, Blair."

Jo took the helmet from Blair and swaggered back toward the house. Blair loved to see Jo at her most confident and self-assured. Nothing turned her on more than Jo when she was happy and pleased with herself. Maybe she could start looking forward to birthdays, now that she had someone who wanted to share them with her. She looked back longingly at the bike before following Jo into the house.

"Are you comfortable, Blair? You're not too cold are you?"

Blair peered over the light blanket Jo had wrapped over the two of them prior to the beginning of the movie.

"I'm very comfortable, thanks."

Tootie laughed.

"If she gets any more comfortable she'll die from heat stroke. Jo, what are you doing? I know it's Blair's birthday, but you don't have to treat her like royalty."

Jo turned away from the other girls, trying to hide the blush rushing to her face. She'd enjoyed riding her motorcycle with Blair that afternoon and looked forward to spending the evening watching a movie together. When Natalie and Tootie decided to join them, Jo hoped the blanket would give her an opportunity to hold Blair's hand during the show. Blair seemed perfectly content with their 'just friends' arrangement, but Jo missed holding Blair's hand and felt that Blair might be receptive to the idea as well.

"She gets cold at the movies." Jo groused.

Tootie laughed again.

"Yeah. You'd think by now she'd have learned to wear a sweater when we go out to the movies."

Blair glared at Tootie. Their young friend was getting a little too bold for her own good and Blair was very close to giving the talkative girl a lesson in etiquette. Natalie, forever watching over her young friend, stepped into the fray.

"Come on, Tootie. It's Blair's birthday. Even Jo is making an effort to be nice to her."

Blair smiled affectionately at Natalie.

"Thank you, Natalie. This is turning out to be one of the best birthdays ever."

Natalie almost blushed from the attention her small comment earned from Blair.

"Everybody shush, the movie is about to start and I don't want to miss the beginning."

Blair loved seeing Jo so enthusiastic about the movie. As soon as the opening credits began, Tootie began to grumble.

"Hey, this isn't the movie I wanted to watch. This is one of those weird science fiction movies with space ships and aliens that suck out people's brains. This isn't a real movie with real actors."

Jo joined Blair in glaring at Tootie.

"It's Blair's birthday and she gets to select the movie. When it's your birthday, we'll watch whatever you want to see. Now quit whining."

"I'm not whining."

Jo threw the blanket off of her shoulders and stood in front of Tootie.

"I'm warning you. You are going to sit through this movie and you are going to like it or else."

When she was certain that Tootie had been properly chastised, Jo returned to the sofa and pulled half of Blair's blanket over her shoulders.

Once Jo was comfortably seated and the movie began, Blair slipped her hand into Jo's. Jo stretched her legs out in front of the sofa and placed her feet up on the coffee table. From Jo's perspective, life didn't get any better. Things went well for the first ten minutes, then Tootie couldn't refrain from criticizing the plot of the movie.

"I can't believe they expect anyone to believe this stuff. I don't care if it is Blair's birthday. She shouldn't make us watch something like this when a perfectly good love story is on channel four."

Blair could see the vein in Jo's neck begin to twitch. Blair really hadn't been paying any attention to the plot. She was concentrating on drawing little figures on Jo's forearm under the blanket. It didn't matter to Blair what they watched, but she knew that Jo would never back down since Blair had selected the movie as part of her birthday privilege.

"Tootie, you shut your trap or I'll shut it for ya!"

"Oh, you don't scare me, Jo Polniaczek. You talk a big game but you're just a big teddy bear underneath."

Before Blair even realized that Jo had moved, Tootie had been wrapped up inside the blanket she and Blair had been sharing and Jo had thrown the small girl over her shoulder.

Natalie jumped to her feet, alarmed.

"Jo, what are you going to do with Tootie?"

"I'm gonna take her outside and throw her in the pond. Maybe the fish will enjoy listening to her, but I'm tired of it."

Blair stood in front of the door, blocking Jo's exit.

"Jo, you've made your point. Tootie isn't going to say anything else during the movie. Tell her, Tootie. Tell Jo that you've learned your lesson."

Tootie's voice was muffled because her head was still wrapped inside the blanket.

"I've learned my lesson. I won't say another word."


"Get out of my way, Blair. This little twerp needs to learn some manners. Nobody talks to me like that and gets away with it."

Natalie was bobbing her head back and forth, looking at Blair for help.

"If you throw her in the lake, you'll ruin my blanket."

It was all Blair could think of to say in order to stop Jo. Jo looked over her shoulder at Blair's blanket. She started to tell Blair that she would buy her a new blanket, but there was no telling how much Blair had spent on it. Blair could spend a fortune on the simplest things. While Jo was still considering her options, Mrs. Garrett came into the room.

"I can hear you girls all the way upstairs. What is going on down here? Jo, what is in that blanket?"

Tootie's screams could barely be heard.

"It's me, Tootie. Please don't let Jo throw me in the pond."

"Jo Polniaczek, you let that child down right this minute!"

Jo obeyed. She never questioned Mrs. Garrett's authority.

Once Tootie had been released from the blanket, she scampered as far away from Jo as she could get.

"We're trying to watch a movie and she won't shut up."

"You can't throw someone in the pond because they talk too much during the movie, Jo. You'd better go upstairs and think about your actions. The rest of you girls can finish watching the movie."

Jo stomped up the stairs and Tootie reached for the television dial.

"Oh no, you don't. It's my birthday and you have to watch the movie that I picked. Isn't that right, Mrs. Garrett?"

"That's right, Blair. The birthday girl always gets to pick the movie. Tootie, don't interrupt again."

Tootie curled up in her chair and sulked. Natalie stretched out on the floor and Blair sat on the sofa alone. None of them were the least bit interested in the movie they were watching.

Fifteen minutes later, Blair got up from the sofa, saying that she was going for popcorn. Instead she went up the stairs to their bedroom.

"Hey, Jo. I'm sorry about the movie."

"It's not your fault the little creep ruined everything. I'm sorry that your birthday ended on such a sour note."

Blair sat down beside Jo on her bed.

"My birthday's not over yet, Jo. There's still one more thing I'd like to do."

Jo's mood brightened.

"What's that?"

Blair licked her lips and leaned toward Jo. They hadn't kissed on the lips since the night they'd packed Cynthia's things and sent them to Las Vegas.

Jo reached for Blair's face and gently caressed her lips before leaning in to tenderly kiss her. The kiss was brief, but it caused two hearts to skip several beats.

"Thank you for making this the best birthday ever, Jo."

"Aw, I didn't do anything."

"You gave me a beautiful gift. You took me for a ride on your bike. You let me choose the movie. You kissed me good night. I couldn't ask for a better day."

"Would you like another kiss? I've got lots more where that one came from."

"Jo, it's not that I don't want to. I don't know if we should. I've been very happy lately. I don't want to mess things up again."

"Kissing won't mess anything up. Kissing will make it even better. I want to kiss you so bad it hurts sometimes. Don't you trust me, Blair?"

"I don't trust myself. Not after what I did to you. I won't let myself be like that again. How can you trust me after I scratched you like that? Aren't you worried that I'll lose control and hurt you again?"

"You didn't hurt me, Blair. How many times do I have to tell you that? I liked it."

"Then you're just as warped as I am. That's not what love should look like, Jo. When you love someone you're supposed to be gentle and tender with them, not claw at them like an animal. That's not who I am. That's not who I want to be. You'd feel differently if you had left those marks on me."

Blair made her point. Jo thought about how she would feel if she had left scratches and bruises on Blair's perfect body. It would have made her sick. She'd probably never go near the other girl again. Jo was beginning to understand why Blair was so upset by her earlier actions, even though Jo hoped desperately that Blair would one day feel comfortable expressing her passion so forcefully.

"Okay. Calm down. I wasn't trying to upset you. Listen, if it will make you feel better, I'll promise not to let you do anything like that to me again."

"You will?"

"Sure. You know that you couldn't have done that if I hadn't let you. I promise I'll stop things before anything like that happens again."

"Are you sure you can stop me?"

Jo smiled patiently.

"I'm sure. I'm pretty strong when I need to be."

Blair smiled and ran her fingers along Jo's bicep.

"I don't want to lose my best friend, Jo. I like having someone I can talk to about things. If we start that again, I'll start getting possessive and you might run away."

"That won't happen, Blair. You are my best friend. I've told you things that I've never told anyone else. Being around you makes me feel good. I feel closer to you when we kiss. I don't know any other way to get closer to you and I want that – I want to feel closer to you. I want to feel like we have something special, just between us. There aren't any rules saying that best friends can't kiss one another. I know I can make you feel good, too, Blair; don't throw that away because of what happened before."

Jo held Blair's hand and looked directly into her eyes.

"I didn't understand how much I meant to you before, Blair. I thought you kind of liked me, but I figured that once the novelty wore off you'd get tired of me. I didn't feel like I had anything to offer you. I know better now. Everyone wants to feel special, like they're the most important person in the world to one other person. No one else means as much to me as you do, Blair."

"I guess one more kiss wouldn't hurt."

Blair smiled apprehensively at Jo and they started kissing. Like the first kiss, it was brief and innocent, but Blair didn't resist when Jo started to deepen the kiss. Jo was just about to lean backwards, pulling Blair on top of her, when she heard Tootie and Natalie arguing outside their door. Instead of pulling Blair toward her, Jo pushed her away just as their two younger roommates entered the room.

If Tootie expected Jo's attitude toward her to have softened, she was very disappointed when the brooding brunette glared at her.

"What are you doing in here? You're supposed to be watching the movie."

"Blair made us watch that stupid sci-fi movie so long that we can't figure out what's going on in the love story we wanted to watch. We gave up and decided to come up here and see what you two were doing."

"We're planning a way to get back at you for ruining our movie night. I don't know, Blair, quicksand is a great idea, but I don't think we have any in Peekskill."

"You two weren't really planning out ways to get back at me, were you, Blair?"

Blair whispered something in Jo's ear so that the other two girls couldn't hear and then both girls giggled.

Blair got up and walked over to her closet, but glanced back at Tootie before putting away her blanket.

"I'd try to stay awake as long as I could if I were you, Tootie."


"It's just advice. You don't have to take it."

Blair took a last look at her glorious new motorcycle helmet, sitting prominently on the top shelf Jo had secured for her earlier in the school year. Returning to her bed, she scooted under the sheets and shyly glanced in Jo's direction.

It was a good thing they didn't always need to use words to communicate, because no words could properly articulate Blair's feelings.

"Happy birthday, Blair."

"Thanks, Jo. Thanks for everything."

Post Series Flash Forward: Tootie Returns to Peekskill

"Garrett, they're doing it again!"

Dorothy expected the young boy, whose personality was so much like Blair's, to roll his eyes at his little sister's enthusiasm. She was surprised, therefore, when he leapt from the lounge chair on which he had been reclining and ran toward the far end of the pool deck. Mrs. G., after groaning her disapproval, also quickly walked toward the same area. Natalie smiled at Dorothy's surprised expression and nodded for her to join them.

Two motorcycles, one gold and the other red, were racing along the driveway leading up to Jo and Blair's home. Instead of building a drive that ran straight up the steep incline to the top of Cooper's Rock, Jo had created a zigzagging driveway that inched upward all along the hillside. The entire driveway, spanning at least three miles, was visible from the pool deck outside the home. As the drivers sped toward the first of many sharp curves, Dorothy held her breath as the red bike leaned precariously along the inside of the curve while the gold bike rounded the curve at a wider angle. As the driveway straightened, the gold bike caught up to the red and they were again side by side approaching the next curve. Once again, the red bike took the inside and the gold bike went wide. Dorothy watched in awe as the process was repeated on every curve.

As the two riders approached the last curve, which was significantly sharper than the others, the gold bike slowed and the red bike expanded its lead.

"Slow down!"

Garrett was yelling at the rider of the red bike as if she could hear him.

"What's wrong?"

Dorothy asked, alarmed by Garrett's concerned expression.

"She's going too fast into the turn."

Dorothy held her breath as the rider of the red bike leaned into the turn, but swerved wide when she was unable to maintain control of the bike at such a steep angle. In a move as stealthy as a missile, the gold bike dove into the small space left open on the inside corner of the curve. Dorothy gasped as the rider's knee appeared to almost touch the ground as the bike leaned into the curve. The bikes exited the curve side by side, but the gold bike inched out the red one at the end of the driveway. Both bikes slowed dramatically as the driveway narrowed for the last several yards leading to the house.

Garrett and EJ were running toward the side of the house before Dorothy ever realized they had moved. She and Natalie followed them while Mrs. G. once again grunted her disapproval and went back to her chair under the poolside umbrella.

Dorothy watched with the others as the driver of the gold motorcycle pulled in front of the garage and turned the bike so that she could watch the second driver approach. Dorothy wasn't surprised to see Jo's smiling face when she removed her helmet, but she was still trying to figure out the identity of the other driver. At first, she had the ridiculous notion that it could be Blair, but after watching the expertise of both drivers during the race, she determined that it must be another one of Jo's friends, her cousin Bud perhaps.

When the red bike pulled into the driveway, however, Dorothy knew exactly who the driver was before the helmet was removed. Garrett Warner approached the bike quickly and solicitously steadied the bike with one hand while extending his other hand to assist the rider. Dorothy couldn't imagine the young boy doing such a thing for anyone other than his mother. Dorothy's suspicions were soon confirmed when blonde hair cascaded from the red helmet.

Dorothy glanced over at Jo, who was not only grinning like the cat that had swallowed the canary, but licking her lips in anticipation of her next bite. Dorothy tried to recall the last time her husband, Jeff, had looked at her that way, but couldn't. She hadn't yet shared her marital state with her friends, but she would have to do so before her daughter, Beverly, arrived the next day.

Dorothy didn't realize that she had been staring at Jo again until Natalie pinched her arm. Natalie had been constantly teasing Dorothy about checking Jo out by the pool the day before so she was expecting a smirk. What she didn't expect was to see Natalie's eyes shift toward Blair. When Dorothy looked in Blair's direction, she found Blair's brows raised in silent question. Dorothy didn't want to speculate what question Blair was attempting to communicate. She was too embarrassed by having been caught once again appreciating Jo's attributes.

Natalie leaned close to Dorothy's ear and giggled as she spoke, mimicking one of Dorothy's favorite phrases as a child.

"Ooooh, somebody's in trouble."

After glaring her annoyance at Natalie, Dorothy returned her attention to the two riders. Blair had removed her long sleeved leather jacket to reveal a tight white tank top. The top was obviously worn more as an undergarment for the riding gear than outer apparel and was all the more revealing due to the sheen of sweat covering Blair. Making sure that her eyes didn't stray anywhere near Jo, Dorothy smiled at Blair.

"I can't believe my eyes. I thought you were afraid of motorcycles."

Blair returned Dorothy's smile and continued to shake her hair loose from where it had been pulled up inside her helmet. Blair Warner was still a very sensuous woman and Dorothy perceived that much of Blair's stretching and hair flipping had more to do with providing a show for Jo than working any kinks out of her back or her hair. Whatever Blair's intent, Jo was enthralled. The brunette rider was still sitting on her bike, staring blatantly at her mate.

"I wish she was a little bit afraid of them." Jo complained to Dorothy. "Blair, I've told you before that you can't go that fast into the last turn. One of these days you're going to hit a loose piece of gravel or something and lose control."

Jo's words were scolding, but her eyes twinkled with admiration for her opponent.

"You're just afraid that I'm going to beat you one of these days."

While the two women were talking, Garrett took Blair's helmet from her and latched it to her bike. Afterward he held out his hand and Jo tossed the keys to her bike in his direction.

"Check the air pressure in Blair's front tire when you park it, I think it may have a slow leak."

Garrett started Blair's bike and drove it into the garage, while Natalie sauntered over to Blair and wrapped her arm around her waist.

"B l a i r."

Sometimes it was more the way Natalie said Blair's name than anything else that signaled a round of teasing.

"If you had told me that 'see through' was the fashion craze this year, I would have worn my transparent swim suit."

Blair looked down to where Natalie's eyes were drilling into her breasts and laughed as Jo scowled.

"Blame Jo. She insists on making me dress in leather from head to toe every time we ride. It's her fault that I'm soaking wet when we finish."

Jo practically leered at Blair.

"That's the primary reason I insist on the leather garments, Blair, safety is only a secondary consideration." Jo winked.

Natalie turned her frank appraisal toward Jo.

"Aren't you hot in that coat?"

Blair snuggled closer to Natalie and stared suggestively at Jo.

"Yes, Sweetheart. Aren't you hot?"

"Give me a break, Blair. You know exactly what I have on under this jacket."

"More accurately, I know exactly what you do not have on under your jacket."

Natalie bobbed her head back and forth between the two other women.

"Whoa, too much information!"

"So how about untangling yourself from my woman so that we can go change into something more appropriate for a warm spring day."

"But I like tangling with your woman." Natalie whined as she pulled Blair closer.

Blair, having much better insight as to just how far Jo's good nature could be pushed, withdrew from Natalie and walked over to place her hand on Jo's forearm, pulling her toward the house.

"You girls go back to the pool, Jo and I will be down shortly."

As she tugged Jo along, Blair's hand made its way down Jo's forearm to Jo's hand. Dorothy smiled as she watched her two friends walk away holding hands.

"I guess seeing the two of them acting like that makes you miss Jeff, huh? You should call him and tell him to come with Beverly tomorrow. Blair and Jo's house is so big you could invite ten or twelve extra friends and they'd never notice."

Natalie smiled affectionately at Dorothy, but her smile faded quickly when she saw the tears gathering in her younger friend's eyes.

As they walked back toward the pool area, Natalie reached out and held Dorothy's hand, causing the other woman to smile sadly.

"I'm afraid that Jeff and I are going through a bit of a bad patch, Nat."

"That's okay, Tootie. All marriages have their ups and downs."

Dorothy frowned.

"Ours has more downs than ups."

"I'm sorry to hear that. Do you want to talk about it?"

"I don't know. Seeing Jo and Blair just made me realize what I've been missing. I had accepted the fact that all couples become less passionate after several years of marriage, but that doesn't seem to be the case with Jo and Blair. Did you see the way Jo was looking at Blair when she got off of that motorcycle? I thought for a minute she was going to walk over to Blair and throw her on the ground right there in front of us."

Natalie laughed.

"She probably would have if Blair hadn't made her promise to be on her best behavior this week."

"In all the years we lived with them, I don't recall Jo being so affectionate."

"Oh, I think Jo was always that affectionate, we just didn't get to see it."

"Jeff used to be affectionate."

"I'm sorry, Tootie. I should have asked you how things were with Jeff earlier, instead of assuming that everything was fine. You know, things haven't always gone smoothly for Jo and Blair either."

Dorothy chuckled.

"As much as those two love to fight, I'm sure it's not as easy as they make it look. As adults, however, it looks like they've found better ways to direct those fiery temperaments."

"That's probably what's taking them so long to change."

"Stop, I've always thought of both Jo and Blair as older sisters; that's almost as bad as picturing my parents together!"

"Hey, what's so funny?"

Natalie winked at Dorothy before giving a less than totally honest explanation.

"Dorothy and I were just talking about some of the good times we used to have at Eastland."

"I've been meaning to tell you, Blair, how impressed I am with all the improvements you've made."

Blair smiled brightly and looked over at Jo.

"Jo is the real brain behind the operation. If it hadn't been for her, I would have gone bankrupt the very first year that I owned Eastland."

"Don't listen to her, Tootie. Blair works her tail off making sure the students at Eastland School get the best education available."

"Academically, Eastland has never been better, that's not why our enrollment is so high. Eastland is as sought after by high level diplomats and government officials for our high level of security as for our high academic standards these days."

"You won't notice it during the reunion activities we'll go to all this week, but the security system Jo has installed throughout the campus is second to none." Blair smiled at Jo and then at their entwined hands.

"She also has security personnel patrolling the campus twenty four hours a day. You won't notice them either, since they are dressed to blend in, looking like teachers, coaches, or parents."

Dorothy cleared her throat and looked cautiously at Blair.

"Speaking of Eastland students, how hard is it to get accepted these days?"

Jo grinned.

"Blair has ten times more applicants than we can place. Every diplomat in the country wants their kids to go to Eastland."

Blair placed her hand on Jo's forearm, drawing her attention.

"Dorothy, do you know of someone who might want to apply to Eastland?"

Catching on, Jo leaned forward expectantly.

"Well, I have talked to Beverly about it and Jeff agrees that it might be good for her. I'm not sure her grades are -"

Jo and Blair simultaneously interrupted their friend.

"Yay! We've been dying to ask you to consider sending Beverly to Eastland."

"Wha-What about the application process and-"

This time it was Jo who interrupted.

"The application process doesn't apply to family, Tootie. If Beverly wants to attend Eastland, then she'll attend Eastland. Right, Blair?"

Blair smiled back and forth between Jo and Dorothy.

"That's right, family comes first with us. So, has Beverly decided or do we need to help convince her when she arrives tomorrow?"

Dorothy's eyes were filled with unshed tears.

"I don't know about Beverly, but I feel like I've finally come home."

Natalie reached out and took her friend by the hand.

"This is your home, Tootie. Always."

13: Crushes and Clues

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