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 5 of 16 Chapters. Quotes in italics are direct quotes from Season 2, Episode 5, Cousin Geri.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Beauty Crowds Me
5: Make Out Mountain
Jo stared off into the distance, looking over the town of Eastland in a daze. Her breathing was labored and her face flushed, not because of the young girl sitting behind her with her arms wrapped firmly around her waist, but because she was quite literally terrified. She shivered from the fear as much as from the cold, wondering how anything could be so beautiful and so frightening at the same time. It was then that she turned her head toward the beautiful blonde sitting behind her, reminding herself that she should be accustomed to feeling terrified in the presence of beauty.
Jo Polniaczek was afraid of heights. She never spoke of her fear, or the reason behind it. She hid it well, knowing that even her friends would torment her with it if they ever learned of her weakness. In Jo's old neighborhood, a weakness like hers would buy you a trip to a rooftop should you ever get caught in the wrong crowd. The reason behind her fear was also a well guarded secret, more so than the fear itself.
Yet here she was, sitting on what was undeniably the highest rock upon the highest hill in the entire town of Peekskill. Jo could never recall having ever been perched so high in her entire life. She glanced again at Blair, seeing only deep concern in chestnut brown eyes as she tried her best to hold Jo in what she intended as a reassuring embrace.
Blair had thought Jo was joking when she refused to follow Blair out onto the ledge of Cooper's Rock earlier that day. Jo had at first pretended disinterest. Then she had gone into an angry rant about Blair not telling her where they were headed. It was only after Blair had unknowingly teased Jo about being afraid to follow her onto the rock that Jo had set her jaw in determination and stumbled toward her friend. When Jo had neared the ledge and stopped abruptly, Blair had impatiently grabbed hold of her hand and dragged her up onto the upper ledge. Jo had been caught so off guard by Blair's sudden movement that she hadn't had time to pull back. It never occurred to Blair that Jo might truly be afraid to follow her across the rocky ledge. After all, Jo was the bravest person Blair had ever met.
It was only after Jo turned around to move away from the edge that she caught the view displayed beneath her. She could see the entire town of Peekskill from their vantage point, and when she looked straight down, she could barely see all the way to the bottom of the cliff on which she stood. That's when everything turned fuzzy in Jo's mind.
Blair's playful attitude turned to absolute terror when she saw Jo's knees buckle and realized that Jo was about to faint while standing very close to the edge of the ragged drop off. Blair instinctively threw her arms around Jo and pulled her backward with all her strength, landing them both sprawled out upon the smooth rock hillside where Eastland girls and Bates boys had been making out with one another for generations.
After gathering her composure, Blair sat up and pulled Jo between her knees, pressing herself up against Jo's back and settling her chin on Jo's shoulder so that they both looked out over the side of the cliff.
"I'm sorry Jo, why in the world didn't you tell me you were afraid of heights. I never would have brought you here if I had known."
Blair's voice was half scolding and half apologetic.
"I'm not afraid of heights, I must have eaten something that disagreed with me is all. Don't go around telling anyone that I'm afraid of heights or you'll regret it."
"Whatever you say Jo."
Blair wasn't about to start an argument with Jo. The frightened girl was as pale as a ghost.
They sat like that for several minutes before Jo decided that she had regained enough of her balance and her resolve to walk back along the trail they had followed. It wasn't until she looked over that she realized that the path from which they came was much closer to the edge of the cliff than the area onto which Blair had pulled them both while tumbling backwards.
"Uh, so I guess that's the only way off this hunk of rock?" Jo's voice revealed more about how she really felt about her predicament than her words ever would.
"I'm sorry. I only wanted to show you how beautiful it was up here, I really didn't realize that, uh, that you weren't feeling well today. Are you ready to go?" Blair knew that she'd have enough trouble getting Jo around the narrow ledge she'd dragged her across earlier without making her angry.
"No. No, not yet. Let's just enjoy it for a little while." Jo couldn't take her eyes off of the ledge while she spoke. She remembered another friend who, like Blair, loved gazing out from high places. Jo shuddered as she forced memories of Gloria from her mind.
"Well, since we're here, do you see that hill way over to your right?"
"Yeah. What about it?"
"If you look really close, you can see little paths zig zagging up the hill. That's the track where you go to race your motorcycle."
For the first time Jo seemed to forget about where she was and pay attention to Blair.
"Yes, really. Look to the left of the race track and you can see the Eastland tower. See the field to the left of the dorms? That's where you play your field hockey games. At night when they turn on the flood lights, it looks like Christmas from up here."
Jo relaxed a little and leaned back toward Blair as she continued to point out all the places Jo would recognize.
"So, have you been up here at night a lot?"
The question took Blair by surprise and she hesitated before answering.
"Just once, at night I mean. I've been here with a few boys during the day, but not to this particular spot. I've never brought anyone to this ledge before, I like to come here by myself so that I can sketch. I'd be afraid to visit any of the ledges on Cooper's Rock at night by myself, but I wanted to know what it would look like so I let Robbie Jackson take me to his favorite spot one night. It was wonderful, until Robbie got the idea that coming with him at night meant something more was going to happen than what happened when we came during the day."
"So what happens when you come with boys during the day?"
"Holding hands and a little smooching, but no petting. Contrary to what some people may have told you, I'm not that kind of girl."
Blair noticed Jo's eyes narrow and the little vain in her neck begin to twitch, those two signals never bode well for the blonde.
"I guess that means that Robbie was interested in touching below the neck."
"He just needed to be reminded of how a gentleman is supposed to act."
"And did you educate him about that?"
Blair grinned at the memory.
"Oh, it's a lesson he won't soon forget."
Jo looked down at Blair's hands, knitted together, forming a protective loop around Jo's waist. She moved her own hands, which had been clinched around her knees, over to rest on top of Blair's. Blair nuzzled her cheek against Jo's so that their lips were almost touching.
"Jo", Blair breathed the name more than she spoke it.
Jo shifted her weight and turned her face toward Blair's. Seconds later, Blair leaned forward to place her lips to Jo's. At the contact, Jo turned her body toward Blair and pressed her backwards until she was lying on top of the other girl. Unlike their earlier kisses, this time Jo pressed her tongue firmly against Blair's lips. When Blair opened her lips in response, Jo roughly pushed her tongue into her mouth. Blair was more than a little surprised. First, Jo had previously been extraordinarily tender with Blair when they kissed. The kisses were intimate, but also innocent. Second, during all their earlier kisses Blair had done everything she could think of in her effort to take their innocent kisses to the next level, only to have Jo shyly pull away. This time Jo's kiss was as sudden as it was clumsy.
Jo wasn't kissing Blair the way she had expected. The kiss was rough and demanding. Jo was kissing Blair like a boy would kiss. As a matter of fact, she was kissing Blair as if she were a very inexperienced boy. If Jo had been a boy, Blair would have immediately pulled away from the rough treatment, but she knew how shy Jo was when it came to intimacy, despite her current behavior. That's when it dawned on Blair that Jo was kissing like an inexperienced boy because that's all she had ever known. 'No wonder she never wanted to deepen our kisses', thought Blair, Jo probably hated this as much as she did.
When she felt she could pull away without hurting Jo's feelings, Blair broke free of the kiss. When she saw Jo's expression, her thoughts were confirmed, Jo didn't seem to be enjoying the kiss any more than Blair.
Jo had felt Blair's body stiffen during the kiss. She cursed herself for going too fast, certain that Blair wasn't ready to take their relationship to a new level. She was confused, however, because Blair had given her every indication that she had wanted to deepen their kisses.
Jo rolled off of Blair, uncertain as to what she was supposed to do now that she realized Blair wasn't as interested in her as she had thought.
Blair smiled at her girlfriend, as she had come to think of Jo.
"Now it's my turn to kiss you."
She saw the doubt in Jo's eyes. It was as if she had told Jo she was going to have to swallow some very disagreeable medicine. However, to her credit Jo didn't back away when Blair leaned forward. Instead, Jo pulled Blair on top of her, enjoying the feel of the beautiful blonde's body resting on top of her own.
Blair slid her tongue over Jo's lips with infinite tenderness. When Jo opened her lips to grant Blair entry, she continued to lick and suck Jo's lips instead. She could feel Jo's body relaxing as she took her time placing gentle kisses all along Jo's mouth.
When Blair began a deeper exploration, it was with slow hesitant movements. She continuously pulled back and looked into Jo's eyes for approval as she gradually teased Jo's tongue into a mutual exploration. Jo began to moan within the kiss, arching her hips against Blair and whispering her name.
"God, Blair. Do you know what you do to me?"
Blair smiled. She considered herself something of an expert in the art of kissing. She felt she owed it to her boyfriends to at least provide a wonderful kissing experience, since she was a total tease when it came to anything more. The smile drifted from Blair's face however, when it struck her how much more experienced she was than Jo. Blair had always considered herself innocent, but she was learning that her seductive games had taken more of her innocence than she had realized. Still, she'd never known a kiss as intimate as the one she shared with Jo. It was beginning to dawn on Blair that it was the depth of her emotional connection with Jo that added a new level of intimacy to their kisses.
Jo was so surprised by how good it felt to have Blair's tongue in her mouth that she never wanted the experience to end. Eddie was the only one who had ever kissed her like this, and his kisses were rough and predictable. It occurred to Jo that Eddie's kisses were also somewhat selfish, providing Eddie with what he wanted without any consideration for what Jo might need.
Blair's kisses were just the opposite. Everything she did seemed to be directed toward meeting Jo's desires. When Eddie kissed Jo, she felt like he had taken something from her. When Blair kissed Jo, she felt like she had been given a wonderful gift.
With Blair's encouragement, Jo began to participate more in the kiss. Noticing Blair's sigh of pleasure any time Jo did something she enjoyed, Jo felt she had been given a roadmap to all the ways to please the seductive blonde. Hearing Blair sigh with pleasure was intoxicating for the smitten brunette.
The warmth of Jo's body underneath her own took Blair's breath away. When her tongue continued to meet Jo's in an intimate sharing of desire, she couldn't restrain the moans of pleasure. It felt so good to feel Jo's tongue seeking hers and to feel her body pressing against her, knowing that it was Jo kissing her sent tremors of pleasure through her body. It felt so different being pressed close to Jo than when Blair had kissed boys. Jo's body was curvy and inviting and although Jo's skin was soft, her muscles were as firm as any of the boys Blair had known.
Jo broke the kiss in order to look into dark brown eyes. She ran her fingertips over Blair's swollen lips and gasped when Blair grabbed one between her lips and sucked. Jo trembled from the sensations caused by the visual image.
Jo's hand moved to Blair's cheek and then to a strand of hair. She looked at Blair as if she were touching pure gold.
Blair didn't understand the request at first, until she felt Jo's hand gently pressing further into her hair, then stopping, waiting for permission. Blair's smile was all the encouragement Jo needed to allow herself to continue. Jo combed Blair's hair with her fingers, gently pulling handfuls to her face to lose herself in the softness.
"Your hair feels as good as it smells, Blair."
Then she leaned forward again, burying her face in Blair's hair. She pulled back only enough to press her lips to Blair's neck, just below her ear.
"You taste good too, Blair, I knew you would."
Jo was only vaguely aware that her head and back were resting on cold, hard, stone because her body was on fire from Blair's kisses. No one had ever affected her this way.
Blair's body moved against Jo with purpose, but Jo's responses were beyond any of her control. The raw need in her eyes was almost painful for Blair to watch. Jo's trembling became more pronounced with each kiss. Blair could tell that everything she was feeling physically was amplified in Jo. Jo's responsiveness was thrilling, but it was also a little alarming.
"Touch me, Blair. I need to feel your hands on me."
Jo trembled violently as Blair slid her hands along Jo's back, slipping them under the back of Jo's shirt in order to feel the warmth of Jo's skin. She ran her fingers along Jo's waist and up her back toward her shoulders, allowing her thumbs to glide along her side.
Jo wanted to feel more of Blair, to give Blair as much pleasure as she gave, so she began to fumble with the buttons on Blair's shirt.
"Jo, don't. I told you, no petting. I can't."
"I'm just trying to get to more of your neck Blair, that's all. I ain't gonna do nothing you don't want." Jo continued working with the buttons, her lips quickly lowering and following a trail across Blair's collar bone.
"Jo, stop." Even though her words held little conviction, Blair pushed away from Jo when she spoke.
Blair rolled to Jo's side, her eyes closed, gasping for breath.
"I'm sorry Jo, I shouldn't have started ,"
Before she could finish speaking, Jo interrupted.
"Hey, don't you ever apologize to anyone for that. No one has the right to make you do anything you don't want to do, ever. Promise me you'll never apologize to anyone for telling them to stop, not if that's what you want."
Jo trapped Blair's eyes with a blaze of green, silently telegraphing the depth of the protective instincts Blair evoked.
"I promise. Jo, I didn't really want to stop, I just felt like we should stop before we couldn't. Everything between us happens so fast. I've never felt anything like this before. I've never wanted to be with anyone like this before."
Jo was stunned by the honesty of Blair's admission, fueling her desire to protect her. Jo closed her eyes again in an attempt to gain some control, but she felt completely at Blair's mercy because she was so disoriented by her desire for the flirtatious debutant.
"Blair. I didn't mean to pressure you. I want to be close to you so bad."
"Me too, but I'm afraid."
The soft admission from Blair helped Jo to clear her mind.
"It's getting late and I don't want to be out on this rock in the dark. I don't want them to have to send out a rescue crew to retrieve me."
Jo swallowed hard, set her jaw again, and stood up, ready to face one of her greatest fears.
"Just look at me, don't look down."
"I can't NOT look down, Blair. How will I know where to put my feet?"
"Put your feet in front of me, don't look down."
Blair walked backwards along the narrow ledge, her arms wrapped loosely around Jo's forearms as Jo gripped Blair's elbows so tight it hurt. Blair's eyes never wavered from Jo's, willing Jo by sheer force of her own will not to look anywhere other than at Blair. One step at a time they back tracked over the trail that had led them to the edge of Cooper's Rock.
Once they were far away from the overlook, Jo began to relax and enjoy the walk back toward their room over the cafeteria.
"Next weekend, I'm doing all the planning." Jo emphasized in her most authoritative voice.
"Really, so where are we going to go, the hardware store or Auto Zone?"
"I don't know where we're going yet, but I know how we're gonna get there."
It took only a few seconds for Blair to catch on.
"Oh no, I'm not going anywhere on the back of that bike. I can't wear a helmet, it would ruin my hair."
Jo laughed, wondering how Blair was going to feel when she saw how mussed and tousled her hair was due to Jo's amorous attention on Cooper's Rock.
"You wouldn't make me, would you Jo?"
"Pay backs a bitch, babe." Jo smirked.
Blair gave Jo her best pout, secretly glad that Jo's cocky attitude and corresponding swagger had returned.
The next morning, Blair, Tootie and Natalie were relaxing in their room at the end of the breakfast shift in the cafeteria.
"Uh, hi. Is Jo around?"
Blair gave the girl who had knocked on their door a bored perusal, but didn't speak. Blair had seen the younger girl around campus, but had no idea who she was or why she would be looking for Jo. Tootie felt sorry for the girl for having to suffer from one of Blair's glares and answered.
"Jo's at church."
"You have heard of it, haven't you?"
Blair was using her most condescending voice and Tootie looked apprehensively at Natalie. It was one thing to watch Blair and Jo square off against one another, but it was sad to watch Blair chew up a defenseless underclassman.
"Yeah, I just didn't know that Jo went to church."
"Any reason why you should know anything about Jo?"
"I'm sure Maggie didn't mean anything by it, Blair."
Tootie smiled reassuringly at her classmate.
"Jo will be back in a little while. We can go down to the lounge and wait for her together if you like."
Maggie was relieved that Tootie Ramsey was one of Jo's roommates. Tootie was always nice to everyone, and she was funny as well. Maggie hadn't counted on Jo not being there when she went to visit her room and she really hadn't counted on running into Blair Warner. The cute little red head had spent weeks gathering the courage to take Jo up on her offer of help with one of her assignments. Maggie was nervous at the prospect of working closely on something with Jo Polniaczek.
"Wait a minute. What do you want with Jo?"
"That's none of your business, Blair. Jo won't be happy about you questioning one of her friends."
Maggie turned wide eyes toward Natalie Green. Natalie had a reputation for a quick wit and a smart mouth, but Maggie never imaged that Natalie would speak in such a way to Blair Warner. Natalie, seeing the look of awe on the younger girls face was a little amazed as well. Before Jo came to school, Natalie would never have spoken to Blair that way. Natalie had gotten so accustomed to assisting Jo in her daily Blair bashing that she had forgotten that Jo wasn't around to deflect any type of retaliation on Blair's part.
Blair discarded her sketch pad and sauntered over to where Tootie and Maggie were standing near the door, hoping for a fast getaway.
"So, Margie, you're a good friend of Jo's are you?"
Blair crossed her arms and ran her eyes up and down the younger girl.
"Uh, no, not really."
Blair turned toward Natalie and raised her eyebrows.
"I thought you reporter types were supposed to do a little fact checking before you made an announcement. It looks like you overestimated Margie and Jo's friendship."
"My name is Maggie?"
"Maggie doesn't sound like a real name. Are you sure that your name isn't Margaret?"
"Blair, leave her alone."
Tootie couldn't take it, Blair was only warming up and the cute little red head was already blushing, her cheeks as bright as her hair.
"What? I asked the girl her name?"
"Uh, yes, my real name is Margaret, but my friends call me Maggie."
"I'll just call you Margaret."
"Oh sure. Um, I have to run, if you would just please let Jo know that I stopped by, that would be great. Thanks, bye."
Maggie started to bolt, but Blair stepped in front of her.
"Do I look like a messenger boy to you Margaret?"
"N n no. I didn't mean it like that."
Tootie, like Natalie, had been bolstered by her frequent altercations with Blair when Jo was around, and Tootie stepped in between Blair and the frightened underclassman.
"Bye, Maggie. I'll make sure Jo gets your message."
Maggie didn't take time to smile her thanks to Tootie, she practically ran from the room.
"Blair, why do you have to be so mean sometimes?"
Blair flopped down on her bed. She didn't like it when Jo went off to church on Sunday mornings. It was a part of Jo's life that Blair felt she couldn't share and it made her feel left out. She liked it even less that cute little red heads thought they could visit Jo's room any time they pleased.
Blair glared over at Natalie and Tootie. She admired them for standing up for their little friend, but she wasn't about to acknowledge that. She couldn't afford for either of her two younger roommates to make a habit of openly confronting Blair in front of other classmates.
Blair considered the situation carefully. Jo would be furious if Blair verbally attacked Tootie or Natalie, she was already going to be furious over Blair's treatment of the little red head, unless Blair could keep the information from Jo.
Natalie watched as Blair tapped her pencil on the outside cover of her sketch pad and considered her options. Natalie knew that she and Tootie had spent the first semester living with a 'G rated' version of Blair Warner and Natalie had no desire to experience the darker side of the recently light hearted debutant.
"Ah, Tootie and I were just playing around with you Blair."
Tootie turned a scalding look toward Natalie, who shrugged it off.
"You know how we like to tease you sometimes."
Natalie's concession seemed to appease the blonde. Natalie had discovered after living with Blair for most of the semester that Blair could not only be fun, she could be incredibly sweet when she wanted. Unfortunately, Natalie also knew that Blair's reputation for being devious and calculating was well deserved.
The atmosphere in the room was still a little awkward when Jo walked in. Tootie immediately started to speak up, but Natalie rested a hand on her young friends shoulder and guided her out of the room.
"Come on Tootie, I've been dying to take a turn at that new electronic football game you left in the lounge. Walk me down and show me how to set up a few plays."
Tootie loved it when any of the older girls would play games with her. She forgot her irritation with Blair and happily left with Natalie.
"Did you enjoy going to church?"
"What did you do?"
"I did what I always do."
Jo shrugged her shoulders, accustomed to Blair's questions every Sunday morning. She hadn't been able to figure out what Blair's problem was, but she sensed intuitively that it came from insecurity and not from prejudice.
"I dunno. I listened to the priest."
"Why would you listen to someone you don't agree with?"
"What makes you think I don't agree with him?"
"You said you didn't agree with everything the church said, I assume that the priest speaks for the church."
"Yeah. I don't agree with everything, but I agree with most things."
"I thought you were supposed to agree with all of it."
"I guess most Catholics do agree with all of it."
"Why don't you?"
"I told you before, Blair, the Church is no more perfect that the people who run it."
"So, you don't think the Pope is perfect?"
Jo's outburst shocked Blair. Her surprise was evident on her face.
"Look Blair, during WWII, the Pope signed an agreement with Hitler which basically guaranteed that Hitler would leave the Catholic Church alone so long as it didn't interfere with how Hitler ran Germany. There were a lot of Catholics in Germany and many of them wound up serving as soldiers in the German army. The Pope didn't exactly help Hitler, but he stood back and let things happen that he had to know were wrong. If he had taken more of a stand, other Catholics would have followed him. Now, maybe none of us will ever know the whole story. The Church did wind up helping to hide a lot of Jews, with the approval of the Pope. There could have been really good reasons why he did, or didn't do, what he did. It could also be that he was just plain wrong. Becoming Pope doesn't make a man any less of a man and all men make mistakes."
"I don't like the idea of some guy telling me what's right and wrong in my life, but I believe in God and I think that the Church is the best way to find out more about how God wants us to live."
"So you don't think I'm going to burn in hell for being gay?"
"Blair, you know better than that!"
"The Pope says it's wrong."
Jo thought for a moment. She had never met anyone as comfortable with their sexuality as Blair. But every time the subject of faith or religion came up, Blair would invariably bring up the Church's position on homosexuality.
"Popes have also told Catholics that using birth control is wrong, but you don't see all that many Catholic families with ten to twelve kids anymore, do you?"
Blair considered Jo's logic.
"What's wrong with birth control?"
"Nothing. You're getting side tracked. Blair, listen, you shouldn't worry so much about whether or not all Catholic's blindly accept what a priest tells them. You shouldn't worry about what I believe either, you should be thinking about what you believe."
"I care about what you think of me, Jo."
Jo sat down on the bed next to Blair, not saying anything, only looking deeply into the other girl's eyes for a number of minutes.
"I think that you are rich, spoiled, pampered, vain," Jo began kissing Blair on the cheek between words, "beautiful, arrogant, delicious, flaky, brilliant, condescending, passionate, insensitive, tender hearted, sweet, loving, caring, uh, did I mention beautiful?"
Blair closed her eyes and smiled as Jo lavished her face with affection.
"I'm sorry I ask so many questions about your faith, Jo. I just don't want it to make you hate me."
"Blair, I'm never going to hate you. My faith isn't about hating anyone. It's about me trying to understand more about God and me trying to do what's right for me. You may not have noticed, but I've got a few bad habits and it's not always easy for me to know the right thing to do in certain situations. Going to church makes me feel better. It gives me a chance to think about stuff without having a lot of other voices filling my head with their opinions. I know I'm not a very good person most of the time, but I want to be better."
Blair found out early in their friendship that Jo liked to have deep philosophical discussions about right and wrong. Blair didn't always understand Jo's ethical code, which seemed to fluctuate dramatically depending on the situation, but she had begun to recognize and accept it.
"Jo, don't say that. You are a wonderful person."
"Oh, so you don't think I need to tone down my temper?"
"Oh, well that's just one little thing."
"You don't have a problem with the off color language I use sometimes?"
"Well, that could use a little improvement as well. You know, Jo, you might want to start praying about your table manners too."
"You think so?"
"Well, you eat like a heathen."
Jo leaned back on the bed smiling. She was as relaxed as Blair had ever seen her. Blair decided it was as good a time as any to bring up Jo's friendly little visitor.
"You had a visitor while you were away."
Jo sat up, surprised.
"She seemed to think that the two of you were going to work on some project today, but since she is a few years younger than us, I can't figure out what kind of assignment you could be working on together."
"I can't remember anyone named Maggie who was supposed to come by to work on a project."
Jo's confusion helped Blair to keep her jealousy at bay. She had been upset by the younger girls visit, but wouldn't want Jo to know it.
"Red hair and freckles, does that ring a bell?"
"Oh yeah. I know who you're talkin about. I told her that I'd help her with her an assignment she's doing about the Bronx Zoo. For some reason she thinks that since I'm from the Bronx I must be some sort of expert. Heh, heh. Funny, huh?"
"I don't understand why you would want to waste your time helping someone you don't even know with a project she probably just made up as an excuse to spend time with you?"
"She looked a little love sick to me, Jo."
"Give me a break! I can't even help some poor kid with a school project without you thinking I'm gonna hit on her or something. That's disgusting. She's like Tootie's age! What do you think I am, some sort of pervert chasing after little girls?"
"It's not you I'm worried about, it's her. It's all of them, the whole Jo Polniaczek fan club."
"Don't tell me that you don't know what I'm talking about?"
"You're insane. I think all that hairspray has damaged your brain."
Tootie and Natalie entered the room just as Jo was finishing her insult.
"Ha, good one Jo."
Blair rolled her eyes.
"Ask them, Jo, they know about your little fan club."
Tootie was glad that her darker complexion prevented Jo from seeing her blush, Natalie was not so lucky.
"Tell Blair that she's been sniffing her crayons too long." Jo growled.
"Look at them, Jo. They are not denying it. This is what happens when an upper classman like you is too nice to the underclassmen. Look at Tootie over there, she's probably a charter member of your fan club."
"Hey, I resent that!"
Jo was having a flashback to the first days of school when it seemed like everyone else was speaking a different language.
"Are either of you going to tell me what Princess Grace here is talking about?"
Natalie started, hesitantly. She hadn't been sure that Blair was aware of the hero worship Jo had inspired in many of the underclassmen.
"Well, it's no big deal really. It's just that you're a little different than most upper classmen. You have friends in every different social circle. You take time to explain things to the girls who aren't as quick in class. You're especially nice to the youngest students, you kind of take them under your wing a little and help them out."
"See." Blair's voice was very accusatory.
"What's wrong with being nice to people and explaining things?" Jo complained.
Natalie continued. "Nothing. It's just that you've created this image and it's like you're becoming something of a, um."
"You're something of a legend!" Tootie gushed.
Jo was appalled and Blair finally felt vindicated.
"It's called hero worship, Jo."
"You know, rebel without a cause."
"James Dean, huh?"
Jo seemed particularly pleased with the comparison to Dean, but then shook herself out of her revelry.
"They don't think like that. You guys are making this stuff up."
"Oh, no." Tootie assured Jo. She grinned shyly at all three upper classmen.
"I'm sort of a celebrity just because I room with you."
"Give me a break!"
Jo was mortified.
Blair smiled at the irony. She had worked tirelessly to maintain a small level of social dominance at Eastland, but she had never garnered the widespread admiration that Jo had gained in only a few months. Blair's pride in Jo outmatched her jealousy so she took pity on Jo.
"Oh Jo, don't take it so hard. It's not your fault that all the little munchkins want to emulate you."
Jo's head was spinning. She had only been trying to be nice. All she wanted was to fit in at the prestigious school and not stand out. She didn't want to be some sort of social folk hero.
Unfortunately for Maggie, she chose that moment to return to Jo's room.
Had it not been for the conversation she'd been having with her three roommates, Jo wouldn't have noticed the look of adoration on Maggie's face as she smiled up at Jo.
"Hi, Jo, do you remember me?"
"Maggie, sure I do."
Maggie's face lit up when Jo said her name and Jo gave the young girl an awkward smile.
"You said you would help me with my project. I was wondering if you had some time to spend with me today."
"Oh, gee whiz, Maggie, I really wish I could but -"
Jo searched her mind for a reason to put off the underclassman, but Blair solved the problem for her.
"Sorry Maggie, but Jo and I made plans to take in a movie this afternoon."
The younger girl's disappointment was so pronounced that Jo was having second thoughts. Blair could see her friend struggling to discern the right thing to do in the situation, so she assisted Jo once again. Blair was very careful not to touch Jo in front of any of their classmates, but she was clever enough to telegraph her message in other ways.
"You know Maggie, you're welcome to come with Jo and me to the movies."
"Sure. Natalie and Tootie are also invited. Jo and I don't mind when our friends join us on an outing."
Jo smiled at Blair, happily surprised that Blair had invited the shy younger girl and unaware that Blair had stated the invitation in such a way that boldly linked Jo to Blair.
Although their classmates at Eastland never suspected that anything more than friendship linked the two girls whose personalities were so opposite, even a child the age of Maggie could see the affection in Jo's eyes when she smiled at Blair.
Maggie knew that Blair's friendly attitude was likely to last only as long as Jo was present and it appeared to Maggie that wherever Jo could be found, Blair would not be very far away. A dejected Maggie turned down Blair's invitation to the movies feeling foolish for ever having dreamed that Jo Polniaczek would want to spend time with a kid like her. Maggie couldn't understand why someone as great as Jo would want to be friends with a bitch like Blair Warner either. Jo made Maggie's heart skip a beat every time Maggie walked through the line to get her meals in the cafeteria. A girl like Blair Warner would never treat Jo like Maggie would. Maggie shook her head at the confusing thoughts going through her mind.
Once Maggie left, Jo shot Natalie and Tootie a devilish grin.
"Hey, Nat, how about going downstairs and getting the Sunday paper for us so that we can see what movie Blair is going to treat us all to this afternoon."
"What are you talking about?"
"Now I clearly heard Blair say that we were all invited to the movies, didn't you guys."
It took Natalie and Tootie less than half a beat to catch on.
"We sure did. That was awfully nice of you Blair."
Blair pretended to be irritated, but she was secretly pleased to be able to pay Jo's way to the movies, even if it meant also treating Natalie and Tootie.
As Natalie and Tootie waited for Blair and Jo in the lounge, Tootie expressed her dissatisfaction with how things had turned out.
"I thought for sure that Jo would chew Blair out for being mean to Maggie."
Natalie draped her arm around her younger friends shoulder.
"Let me give you the benefit of my experience, Tootie. Never underestimate girls like Blair Warner. They always have a way of coming out on top."
"I think you're wrong Nat. If Jo only knew how mean Blair was toward Maggie, she'd let Blair have it, I know she would."
"Take my advice Tootie and drop it."
Tootie was able to contain her resentment until just before the movie started. She was sitting between Jo and Natalie and watching Blair, who was sitting on the other side of Jo, happily enjoying the jumbo bucket of popcorn she had purchased for all four girls to share. Tootie didn't think it was right for Blair to be having such a good time when poor Maggie was probably back in her dorm room crying. Tootie decided it was time for Jo to bring their snobbish roommate down a few pegs.
"Jo, about this afternoon, when Maggie came by while you were at church."
Tootie had barely begun when Blair interrupted.
"Brrrrr. Are you girls cold? I'm miserable."
Jo looked over at Blair who was vigorously rubbing her hands along her arms.
"Blair, you're shivering."
"Oh, it's my own fault. I always get cold at the movies and I forgot to bring a sweater. I'm going to be miserable."
Blair shivered again for emphasis and stared intently at the blank screen ahead.
"Hey, I'm not cold at all. You can wear my jacket, okay?"
"Oh Jo, I don't want you to be uncomfortable. I couldn't let you do that for me."
"Nah, I never get cold. Here, take it. I want you to."
Jo leaned forward and pulled off her denim jacket, then she held it up for Blair as the blonde vixen slid her arms into the warm coat.
Blair hugged herself within Jo's jacket and gave Jo a radiant smile.
Blair continued to look directly into Jo's eyes, smiling sweetly. It took Jo several seconds to come to her senses and turn back toward the movie screen, on which the cartoon previews were beginning.
"Uh, Tootie, you were saying something about this afternoon?"
Blair leaned forward, fondling the sleeves of Jo's jacket on her arms and raising a challenging eyebrow toward Tootie. Only then did it dawn on Tootie that Blair had faked being cold just to get Jo to give away her jacket. Tootie gaped at Blair. Her jaw dropped in shock and she turned a questioning expression to Natalie.
"I said it once and I'll say it again. Never underestimate a girl like Blair Warner." Natalie repeated her earlier warning.
"Hey, Tootie. You were going to tell me something." Jo was still smiling from her encounter with Blair as she turned her attention to Tootie.
"Oh, never mind. It wasn't important."
"Here Jo, have some more popcorn."
Jo slid her hand into the large bucket and was rewarded with an array of tickles and caresses, and the popcorn wasn't bad either.
The following week, the results of the fine arts festival were announced.
Blair came sauntering into the cafeteria as if she had just been crowned Miss America. If there was one thing Blair Warner loved, it was being the center of attention. Her artistic abilities had garnered the attention she craved three years in a row and Blair was anything but modest in describing her artwork as an 'uplifting experience'.
Jo couldn't help herself; she considered it her responsibility to keep Blair's ego in check. She made a few jokes about Blair's paintings and was awarded with a disdainful glare from Blair. It was one of Jo's more pleasant chores, sometimes Blair made the job too easy.
No matter how clever Jo considered herself, Natalie always found a greater laugh, making another joke at Blair's expense. Jo didn't mind, she enjoyed the younger girls unique sense of humor and she knew that Blair's ego was large enough to take any amount of teasing.
As usual, Mrs. Garrett seemed to have an excuse to end the banter when the other girls were getting the best of Blair. This time, however, Blair didn't seem relieved, especially when she figured out that the message her mother had left with Mrs. Garrett involved Blair's cousin, Geri, and an impromptu visit to Eastland.
Even after meeting Geri and finding out that she had cerebral palsy; Jo was confused by Blair's behavior, as was Mrs. Garrett. Jo knew that Blair could be rude, she'd been the target of Blair's cutting remarks more than anyone, but she'd never figured that Blair could be so rude to someone handicapped. In Jo's opinion, Blair should have been watching out for her cousin, but instead Blair was incredibly rude toward Geri.
Blair seemed determined to brush off her cousin, much to everyone's surprise. Not long after introducing Geri to her friends, Blair made an excuse to go to her room. Jo was furious that Blair was embarrassed by her cousin. She confronted Blair about her behavior. Jo's accusations were met with total denial from Blair. Jo had known Blair to be condescending, but she never considered the heiress to be cruel, until she saw her interact with her cousin.
Jo tried to get Blair to tell her what was wrong, but her efforts fell short. After Jo left the room, however, Mrs. Garrett was able to get to the root of Blair's bad behavior. Fortunately for Blair, Jo overheard their conversation.
"Blair, I've never seen you act this way."
"Alright, so maybe I was a little rude."
"Oh, it's not that. I've seen you be rude lots of times. It's this running away."
"Please. What do you want from me?"
"What I've come to expect. A person whose mature enough to want to deal with her problems. But with your cousin Geri, you don't even want to admit that there is a problem."
"Because there is no problem."
"But you can't even stay in the same room with your cousin. Why don't you admit that you're embarrassed by Geri."
"I am not. I've been around Geri all my life."
"And you always ignore her like this?"
"Believe me, she gets all the attention she needs. She's always the center of attention at home. You're wrong Mrs. Garrett."
"You're right, I am wrong. You're not embarrassed by Geri, you're jealous of her."
"I'm not jealous of her. I gladly turn over the spotlight to her at home. No one can compete with her kind of courage."
"Geri's out there winning battles and all I win are stupid awards."
"They're not stupid awards Blair."
"They are when you compare them to what Geri's done. Can't you see? With her here on my night, at my school, with my friends, everything I've worked for just seems so silly."
Jo had heard enough. She walked away from the door and down the stairs. Jealousy in Blair was something Jo had come to accept. She couldn't have accepted it if Blair had been embarrassed by Geri, but Jo understood Blair's jealous streak, especially when it came to sharing attention. Jo smiled, it said a lot about Blair that she didn't take Geri's handicap into consideration at all in how she treated her cousin. She was treating Geri the same way she would treat any cousin who stole the spotlight from her during her big awards dinner. It had nothing to do with Geri's handicap.
It bothered Jo however, that Blair could easily acknowledge and admire Geri's accomplishments, but didn't seem to place a high enough value on her own.
Later than night, after Blair and Geri performed a comedy routine at the fine arts awards ceremony, Jo tried to make up with Blair.
"Wait up, Blair."
Jo wasn't used to running after anyone, but she knew she had hurt Blair earlier and she needed to make it up to her friend.
"Why would you want to be seen with such a rotten person?"
Both girls were remembering their earlier conversation, but Jo held tight to Blair, not allowing her to leave. She wished she could take back her earlier words, but Blair was partly responsible for their argument.
Jo looked around to make sure there wasn't anyone else on the walking path. She needed privacy in order to clear things up with Blair.
"I heard you and Mrs. G talking earlier. I didn't mean to ease drop, but I knew it had to be more than what everyone was thinking about you."
"Oh, come on Jo, you were thinking the same thing."
"Listen Blair, you gotta give me a break here, how am I supposed to know this stuff if you don't tell me. I admit that I thought you were giving your cousin the brush off because she has cerebral palsy, that's a lot for some folks to deal with, especially someone like you."
"Someone like me? You mean someone shallow and vain?"
Jo paused, unsure of how much she wanted to admit.
"I mean someone smart and beautiful and talented. It might be hard for someone like that to be around someone with a disability."
"I tried to tell you. I don't feel that way about Geri, we're very close. I don't think of her as someone with a disability. Geri and I don't always get along; it has nothing to do with her disability. I tried to explain that to you."
"Well you didn't try hard enough."
Jo was exasperated.
"You could have admitted that you were jealous of the amount of attention Geri receives. But, you know Blair; you can't be the center of attention all the time."
"I know, but is it so wrong for me to want to be the center of my parent's attention some of the time?"
For the first time, Jo realized how much it hurt Blair to be consistently ignored by her parents. All the money in the world couldn't make up for a neglected heart. Jo thought of her own parents. Her father was even more worthless than David Warner, but her mom always lavished attention on Jo. Sure, her mom had problems of her own that caused more than a few problems for Jo, but Jo never had to doubt how much her mother loved her.
"No Blair, it's not too much to ask, but I don't think you can blame Geri for that."
"I know. I love Geri, I really do. It's just that this was supposed to be my night. I know it's shallow and my award doesn't seem like much when compared to all that Geri has accomplished, but painting is the one thing that I do well."
"Didn't you hear anything Mrs. G said to you? Your award is special, you are special, and maybe I should have told you earlier how proud I am of you. The sketches you showed me are awesome. They make me feel things when I look at them."
Blair smiled. She liked it when Jo said sweet things to her, though it didn't happen as often as she would like.
"I didn't mind Geri being here, we have a lot of fun together usually."
"Anyone can see that Blair, the two of you put on a pretty good show."
"Geri really is a wonderful comedian, isn't she? She has accomplished so much in spite of her disability."
"You've accomplished a lot too Blair. Don't sell yourself short. You didn't win that award three years in a row just because of your pretty face."
"Um, you think I'm pretty?"
"You're missing the point. You've got talent, Blair. Your paintings are awesome."
"You've seen my paintings? I only showed you my sketches. I don't ever recall seeing you in art class or at the gallery where my paintings are on display?"
"Uh, I was walking right past the gallery anyway and figured I may as well take a look. Don't go reading anything into it. You can't always be the center of my attention either."
Blair draped her arms over Jo's shoulders, letting her wrists hang loose.
"Well, can I at least be the center of your attention some of the time?"
Jo scanned the area again for onlookers, and then pushed Blair forcefully off of the walking path and against the nearest tree.
"Now that you have my full attention, what are you going to do with it?"
Jo grinned at Blair's suddenly flustered appearance.
"C'mon princess, times a wasting. You know you want to kiss me, admit it."
"I, um, you can be a real pain Jo."
"Yes I can, and you love it. Now, where's my kiss?"
Blair rolled her eyes as if the idea of kissing Jo made her miserable, but her actions revealed a completely different opinion as she leaned toward Jo with an expectant smile. Jo didn't disappoint her when she brought their lips together.
By the time the two girls got back to Mrs. Garrett's, Tootie, Natalie, and Geri were all gathered in the lounge having a good laugh.
"What's so funny?"
Blair smiled at her cousin.
"Tootie was just telling me about the day you slammed a cream pie into some other girl's face. That's a little extreme, Blair, even for you."
Blair visibly blushed. Geri knew Blair better than anyone and she knew about the incident with M.J. If Blair intended to keep her relationship with Jo a secret from Geri, she'd have to be more careful with her perceptive cousin around.
"Margo has always been a pain. I don't know why it took me so long to put her in her place."
"It was because of what she said about, Jo. Don't you remember, Blair?"
Jo didn't miss the glare Blair aimed at Tootie. Sometimes their young friend didn't know when to shut up. Jo decided to divert the conversation to safer ground.
"So Geri, you have decided to stay the night with us, haven't you?"
Blair sat down beside Geri on the sofa, holding her hand.
"I really do want you to stay Geri, I'm sorry I acted like such a jerk before."
"Of course I'm staying. I'm used to Blair acting like a jerk."
Everyone laughed at Geri's joke and Blair lightly punched her cousin in the arm.
"So where am I sleeping tonight?"
Geri produced an exaggerated yawn.
"You'll sleep in my bed."
"Where will you sleep?"
"If Jo will let me borrow her sleeping bag, I'll sleep on the floor."
At Geri's questioning look, Blair proudly pronounced.
"I've slept on the floor before. It's not a big deal."
Geri didn't have to use her imagination to know why all three other girls laughed vigorously at Blair's declaration. Her pampered cousin may have slept on the floor, but it wouldn't have been an easy night for anyone.
"It's okay, Blair. I don't mind sleeping on the floor, I've done it lots of times."
"Well you're not doing it here. I won't hear of it so there's no point in arguing about it. Come on, we've hardly had any time to talk."
At that revelation, Jo decided to give the two cousins some privacy.
"Come on Nat, let's go on up and give these two a chance to catch up with one another."
Natalie grabbed Tootie's arm, dragging her along with the older two girls up the stairs.
"Blair, I'll put Geri's bag and your pajamas in the bathroom once we're finished, okay?"
"Thanks, Jo, and don't forget to get out your sleeping bag for me."
Jo grinned widely.
"Oh, I ain't about to forget that."
After the other girls had left the room, Geri took a long discerning look at her cousin.
"You seem especially happy this year Blair."
Blair blushed again, she could never keep anything from Geri for very long.
"You like her?"
"You know who. Jo, do you like her?"
Blair's blush grew and she could feel her face turning red. How could Geri see in one day what she and Jo had managed to hide from everyone else for months?
"You won't tell, will you?"
"Of course not! Blair, you know I didn't approve of what your parents did to you summer before last and I told them so."
"Of course I did. Being gay isn't a sickness, Blair. They had no right to put you through that kind of therapy. My mother tried to stop it too."
Blair was shocked, and more than a little relieved to find that not all the adults in her family considered her a freak of nature.
Geri turned her head sideways and gave Blair a crooked smile.
"Mother told Aunt Monica off. She reminded your mother of all the really crazy things she did when they were teenagers and called her a hypocrite for allowing your father to dictate how you were being raised."
Blair smiled, she liked the idea of being defended by her aunt.
"You never told me."
"Well, they kept you away from everyone that summer and we really haven't had much of a chance to see one another since. That's one of the reason's I took that job at the moose club, so that I'd have a chance to explain things to you. I didn't want you to think that no one had stood up for you."
Tears began to form in Blair's eyes.
"You took that job just so that you could come here and tell me?"
"Yes, Blair. I love you."
Blair threw her arms around her cousin and held her tightly. She had felt abandoned and rejected by the entire family after the incident almost two years earlier.
"I'm sorry that I didn't come sooner, Blair. I've been fighting my own battles for independence and it took me longer than it should have to set you straight."
Both girls laughed at Geri's use of the word 'straight'. Geri couldn't help but be funny.
"How's that going anyway?"
"Well, I'm making enough money on the comedy circuit to support myself, that's a start. Mother is coming around to the idea that I can take care of myself, just like your mother will come around to the idea of having a gay daughter."
"I'm not sure that will ever happen, Geri."
"I'm sure that it will. Monica has always been very open minded when it comes to sex, maybe a little too open minded sometimes."
Geri smiled and nudged Blair, aware that Blair was often embarrassed by her mother's promiscuity.
"I know, but that's different."
"Listen, your mother was only going along with your father when she agreed to send you to that clinic. I think she feels pretty guilty about it in retrospect. Your father can be very intimidating when he wants something badly enough and I think Monica just didn't have it in her to fight him on this."
"Daddy did go a little crazy."
"Ha. Your daddy would have lost it if he'd walked in on you kissing a boy. He still thinks of you as his perfectly innocent little princess. Seeing you kissing M.J. must have sent him over the edge. I only wish I could have been there to see him. I bet he looked like a lobster."
"It's not funny. He went ballistic."
Blair sobered as she continued.
"He yelled at M.J. and called her a terrible name."
Geri sobered as well.
"I'm really sorry about that Blair. I can understand why he did that, with her being so much older than you."
Geri didn't know how to respond to Blair's father's actions toward M.J. She didn't want Blair to feel like Geri disapproved of Blair being gay just because Geri disapproved of M.J. In Geri's opinion, M.J. was at fault in the fiasco two years earlier. It didn't help Geri's opinion of M.J. that the older girl had basically abandoned Blair after the incident, leaving Blair alone to deal with her own parents as well as M.J.'s.
Blair's thoughts also drifted to M.J. They'd never been given a chance to talk to one another about what had happened between them. It was the first and only time they had kissed and it had turned into a nightmare for Blair. M.J.'s father handled the situation much better than Blair's parents. If only Blair's father hadn't been with her mother and M.J.'s father when they had walked in on them, Blair felt that things would have worked out much better.
Geri felt remorseful for not having talked about this with Blair sooner. Her cousin's gratitude for the simplest signs of acceptance tugged at Geri's heart.
"Was it terrible for you, at the clinic I mean?"
Blair simply nodded, unable to discuss the details of her therapy.
"Blair, I'm sorry I let you think you were alone for so long."
Blair looked down at her hands and tugged at her lower lip.
"I'm not exactly alone anymore."
"She likes you too?"
Blair nodded again.
So how are things with you and M.J.?"
Blair chose her words carefully. M.J. would always be a part of Blair's life, if for no other reason than that they were related by marriage.
"We used to write one another a lot, but she hasn't written in a while. She's living somewhere in Europe, but I'm not allowed to see her anymore. I know that her father and Mom still socialize with one another, but now that Mother is involved with someone else, I don't think I'll be seeing him again."
"Maybe that's best."
Geri saw a shadow cross over Blair's face and expanded her comment.
"Now that you're interested in someone else, that is."
Blair's smile was brilliant.
"Jo's wonderful Geri. You're going to love her, I just know it."
"Blair, uh, isn't it a problem that you two are roommates?"
"Oh, no. Natalie and Tootie are always around. We'd have more opportunity to be alone if we lived in the dorm in separate rooms. Besides, you know I'm not that kind of girl. I'm nothing like my mother."
Geri knew enough about Blair's opinion of her mother's rather loose standards to know that Blair was being honest, but it still bothered her that Blair was in a situation where the constant temptation might become too much for her to resist. There was also the other girl to consider. Geri had no idea what Jo's expectations might be and she didn't want her cousin to get hurt. Still, she wasn't about to say anything that would give Blair even a hint of disapproval. Her cousin had suffered enough of that to last a lifetime.
"That's good enough for me, but you're going to have to tell me a lot more about your new girlfriend the next time I visit."
Blair beamed. It had been wonderful to tell Geri about Jo. It made their relationship seem much more solid, having someone else know about them.
"Come on, we'll change in the bathroom so as not to wake up the other girls. I don't want to make you late for your rehearsal tomorrow."
Blair and Geri were already in their pajamas when they entered the dark bedroom shared by the other three girls. As always, Blair's eyes immediately turned first toward Jo's bed, but she was surprised to find the bed empty. Blair began looking around the room, uncertainty written all over her face. Geri nudged Blair in the side and pointed to the floor. Jo was sound asleep in her sleeping bag at the foot of her bed.
Geri watched as Blair looked down at her girlfriend with nothing less that adoration.
"Well, I guess I'll be sleeping in Jo's bed tonight instead of yours."
"Oh no. You'll still sleep in my bed. I'll sleep in Jo's."
Blair grinned mischievously at her cousin and jumped into Jo's bed. She was thrilled for an excuse to fall asleep with her head on Jo's pillow.
Geri smiled back at Blair and kept her reservations about Jo to herself. She was happy that Blair had found someone who she clearly adored, but Jo wasn't like anyone Blair had ever known and Geri worried that the differences between the girls would eventually become a problem. She made up her mind to visit Blair more often in the future. She'd let Blair down once, she didn't intend to do it again. She'd be there for Blair when her relationship with Jo ended. She'd be happy for Blair for now, but she couldn't see how Blair would possibly be able to remain friends with someone from such a different background for very long. Even their beds were totally different. Geri noted the soft scented sheets and flowery designs all around her and then looked over at Jo's bed, which was stark and plain in comparison. Of course, Blair's smile was evidence enough that she couldn't care less about the thread count of the sheets upon which she lay, she was completely happy to be anywhere that reminded her of Jo.
6: Girl Friends and Girlfriends
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