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Bright Lights
By misty flores


Part V

Maybe, maybe, maybe
You'll find something
That's enough to keep you
But if the bright lights don't receive you
You should turn yourself around
And come on home


In the wee dawn of the morning hours, Jo found herself in the self-aware neurotic state reserved for those broken down from lack of sleep, warring emotions, and too many thoughts swirling around in her head.

Physical contact with Blair, real contact, hadn't happened since their impromptu make-out session, which, incidentally, started this whole mess to begin with, and yet Jo didn't move away.

At the moment sapped of strength and pride, broken-hearted and emotionally bruised, Jo had no wisecrack to give, no defensive jerk of her shoulder that would tell Blair she had had enough of the cuddling. Jo's temporary insanity drove her to seek out the warmth of Blair's shoulder, inhale the rich scent of her perfume, palm a slim waist. Against her will, she sucked in a sob, and at the sound, Blair just held her tighter.

"Why are you crying, Jo?"

Blair's voice was soft, like Jo knew it could be, when there wasn't anyone around. No pretension, nothing behind the tone, Blair simply saying whatever it was she wanted to say, for no one's benefit but her own.

Suddenly aware of how tightly she was clinging to her friend, Jo shut her eyes, and pulled back. Blair's arm around her shoulder trapped her from moving away completely, and Jo found herself inches away from concerned brown eyes, an intensely serious face.

"Why do you think I'm crying?" she snorted, aware that she must have been distinctly unattractive at that moment, with blotchy red eyes and a runny nose.

For once, Blair didn't seem to notice her less-than-stellar appearance.

"Rick won't leave you," she told her matter-of-factly.

The statement seemed odd, coming from Blair, and settled so intimately in her friend's embrace, Jo found it off-putting. "I think he just did."

"He was angry. He stormed out. God knows you've done the same thing to me."

"This isn't the same as all that."

Dark eyes studied her for a moment, then looked away. "Point taken," Blair said, oddly detached in a way that made Jo's stomach turn. "But my point remains intact. Rick loves you; he won't end a marriage simply because you had a drunken kiss with your best friend."

Blair sounded so unaffected.

"God… you really don't get it, do you?" she breathed, and Blair only kept staring, lips a thin line, pressing together. "It wasn't just a kiss to me, Blair!" The hand dropped and Blair glanced away, and she rose off the bed. "You're making it sound like… like…"

"Like what it was." Hands on her hips, Blair turned on her heel, orbs sharp with the glitter of a glare. "Unless there is something you told him, that you're not telling me."

Suddenly speechless, Jo could only stare, a wild panicked feeling fluttering up the pit of her stomach and blasting in her ribcage.

Blair, apparently, wasn't in the mood to wait, because the arms came down and she came forward, looking frustrated and trying to keep her temper. "Jo," she sighed, settling hands on her shoulders. "It's four am in the morning. You're emotionally distraught and quite obviously disturbed. Get some rest and sleep this off, and I promise you, you and Rick will still have a marriage. I'll talk to him myself if I have to."

"You'd do that?" Jo never remembered Blair as the type to take responsibility for anything if she didn't have to.

"Fix your problems? Don't I always?"

"Don't you always make them worse?"

"That's neither here nor there," she snitted, and the two lapsed in silence, staring thoughtfully at each other, an unexpected smile playing on Jo's lips.

Stepping back, Blair gathered her coat. "I have an 8AM meeting with the Eastland School. Good night, Jo."

"You're leaving?" the open crack in her voice at the sensed caused an obligatory wince, but again, an oddly-out-of-character Blair Warner didn't call her on her sudden neediness.

"I have an 8AM meeting," she said again, tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder, as if that explained everything.

In a sense it did. But the fact that Blair Warner – self-imposed pain-in-her-neck, was leaving their room to stay in a hotel when she would probably be awake in an hour to wash, blowdry, and do whatever the hell Blair did in the bathroom anyway just seemed… idiotic.

Additionally, at the moment Jo was consumed with an odd empty feeling that was also compulsively and confusedly induced with the need to be with Blair.

"Blair, this is your room, too. You can just stay."

Blair glanced at the empty space where her bed used to be.

"Just sleep here."

Once again, the look Blair gave her seemed furious. "Jo, really?"

She glanced back at the full size bed. "What? It's big enough."

"Indeed." Draping her coat, Blair laid it angrily against the desk chair. "Jo, I realize that it is very late and you're not thinking clearly, but allow me to walk you through this. Rick has just been informed, on the night that he was meant to consummate a marriage with his wife, that said wife has 'cheated' on him with her best friend while he was away." The air quotes Blair was using didn't seem to dampen the twist of Jo's insides. "Currently, Natalie and Tootie are more than likely pressed with their ears against the door." Moving heels to the aforementioned entryway that linked their bedroom to Natalie and Tootie's, she banged on the door pointedly. Immediately, Jo heard a scuffle of bodies, scurrying away like hidden mice. Rolling her eyes, Blair turned once again toward her. "Because they are gossips, and can't keep their mouths shut to save their lives, they will most likely in some comedic-turn-of-events, relay the idea that immediately after he left your room, I entered it. Imagine the consequences if he were to discover not only that I was here, but that I spent the night? In your bed? Jo, I'm not even sure I can fix that."

She said it so clearly, so blatantly. They were sitting in their old room and Blair was calmly telling her that in Rick's eyes, she was a rival for Jo's affections. That Rick wouldn't forgive her for asking Blair to spend the night, not now. That if Jo went through with asking Blair to spend the night with her, it would mean the end of her marriage.

Sitting quietly, Jo contemplated the situation. Rationally, if she wanted to save her marriage, she should be okay with Blair leaving. She wouldn't be asking her to stay.

Glancing up, she caught sight of an expressionless face, an impatient stance.

It occurred to Jo that at the moment, she had no idea what Blair was thinking, or what Blair wanted from her.

The very idea frightened her more than she wanted to admit.

"I know," she managed finally, voice low and rough. "But I don't want you to leave."

It was a simple truth, pulled out of her out of pure need, eradicating both her concern for the ramifications of what this meant or her fear that Blair couldn't or wouldn't feel the same way.

She would stay because Jo asked her to, because she knew what it took for Jo to ask, because Jo hated to admit when she needed something.

There was a long silence, during which Jo struggled to breathe, and then she heard it: a sigh, she saw it: in a muted, darkening expression, before Blair placed her hands on her hips and closed her eyes, taking a moment for herself, before kicking off her heels and heading to her.

Tense with sudden awareness of her friend beside her, Jo offered a weak smile, feeling a suddenly-familiar flutter as the bed sunk down with her friend's weight.

"Thank you," she managed.

Caught between an expression that looked both confused and inordinately not pleased, Blair simply stated, "You'll be the death of me, Jo."

There was something distinctly different about the way Blair settled into her bed.

She made no complaints about the borrowed shirt from Jo, despite that fact that it was cotton and obviously not nearly up to her standards. She stepped into the bathroom to change, and when she came back in, skin glowing from a clean scrubbing, there was an awkward stiffness that Jo hadn't ever seen before, as Blair averted her eyes and slipped in beside her, careful to stay on her designated area.

"Thanks," Jo said again, still.

In the midst of settling in, Blair's blonde head lifted slightly from the pillows. "Only for a couple hours. My things are all at the hotel." Dark eyes shone at her over the expanse of the bed. "Goodnight Jo." The word was careful, polite.

Exhausted, and unable to sleep, Jo found herself staring at the blonde head one foot away from her.

Her friend was rude, condescending, entitled, thoughtless, selfish…

The words flitted through her head, but without the emotion that usually charged through her when she ranted on about Blair. Instead, they seemed almost mechanical, because if Blair was really that thoughtless, that selfish, she wouldn't be here at this moment. She wouldn't be so sensitive to Jo, at the expense of herself.

Hot tears began to sting in her eyes, and embarrassed, Jo flipped over suddenly, doing her best to control herself as she brought a trembling palm to her mouth.


The rustle of sheets and swish of fabric told her she hadn't been quiet enough. A warm hand settled on her shoulder, and at the contact, she sucked in a sob-soaked ragged breath, confused at the way her chest tightened as a result.

"Jo, what's wrong?"

Pressure on her shoulder forced her on her back, and Blair loomed over her, obscured in shadow, as long blonde strands tickled her collarbone.

Forcing herself in control, she managed to swallow down the incredible lump in her throat, intensely aware of the fingers that brushed gently at her tearducts, wiping at the salty droplets.

"Jo," Blair began, obviously struggling for something to say. "It will be okay. You and Rick… you'll find a way to make it work."

Blair would be this dense.

The tears stopped, when the anger came.

"You really don't get it, do you?"

A mottled, confused look beamed in her direction, as the fingers against her face stilled.

"My marriage is over, Blair." The words were said. They were out there, in the open, and Jo found, as they mumbled over her lips, she felt something inside her crack as a result.

Blair didn't move. "You can't know that for sure."

"I can," Jo answered, voice thick and full with her harsh whisper. "Don't you see? I can't stay married to Rick. It's not right."

"Because you kissed someone else?" Blair sneered, voice reaching a hyperactive curl. "I know men and women who have done much worse."

"Worse than falling for their best friend?"

The statement was swallowed by a blanket of intensity. Mouth dry, Jo's heart began to pound, drum against her chest as she distinctly felt the press of Blair pressed against her, felt the heat of Blair's stare looking down on her, the burn from the feel of fingers against her cheek.

"Jo," said Blair, and her eyes narrowed, her voice thickened, a choked, panicked expression. "Please, don't."


"Must you be so selfish?" Blair's eyes were wide, and Jo finally saw her fear, her confliction, as she didn't move from the incriminating position concern from her friend had left her in, half on top of Jo. Fingers moved from her cheek to Jo's thick brunette hair, tangling in it in an effort to be sincere.

"I'm being selfish?"

"Jo – I'm in an extremely competitive work environment. My every move is being watched, scrutinized. I need to prove myself to my father. To his company. To pursue this… it just won't do."

Tears were drying on her cheek, and gathering her resolve, Jo's fingers inched between Blair's waist and the bed, fingers fanning to press against warm fabric, the soft firmness of Blair's back pushing back against the pressure.

Blair exhaled, and deep breath inward sunk her further into Jo's embrace.

"Pursue what?"

"Jo, we were drunk. We weren't thinking clearly. And tonight – you're obviously distraught. To consider what this is to be anything but a … farce-"

If Jo let her, she knew Blair would say enough to piss her off.

She'd lose her nerve.

Lifting her head, she cut off Blair's words, dissolved them into a whimper as a warm mouth met hers. The hesitation was brief, and suddenly Blair's fingers tightened in her hair and the lips began to move, hungrily brushing against hers with desperate abandon.

The jolt inside of her, that flash that made her hips arch and her blood boil, came back with a vengeance.

Jo relied on instinct, as her mouth opened and Blair's tongue swept furiously inside, as she kissed her wetly and with sincere need. It was sloppy and uncontrolled, as tongues brushed against teeth and against lips. Desperate to be closer, Jo curled an arm around Blair's shoulder, smoothed the other up her back, and then there was the amazing feeling of breasts, pushing against hers, as Blair's body moved and a thigh settled in between her legs.

She cut off the kiss as a gasp escaped, and as her throat arched, she felt Blair drag her lips from her mouth to just under her ear.

"Oh God," she managed, and clawed at her friend's shirt, clutching the fabric with fisted handfuls, as Blair breathed hotly against her earlobe. Desperate, she grabbed hold of Blair's face with both hands, forcing those torturous lips back to her own.

It was six in the morning, and the sun, risen about ten minutes before, had begun to peak in through the window located just above Jo's bed – a prized location given to her by Blair in a fit of generosity years ago, when she discovered that Jo had sold her bike for the privilege of a shared room.

The sharing, Jo thought, nestled intimately against her friend, had never been quite this literal.

Lips swollen after hours of exploration, Jo felt the heady buzz of desire drumming through her. The ache, forever present in her gut and further south, had reached a steady pulsing rush, and yet, she had been careful of the boundaries, for Blair's sake at least.

Passion had been purposely dialed down to a simmer, and Jo, no longer desperately trying to force Blair's denial away, remained gentle, regarding Blair more tenderly than she ever remembered.

At the moment, her best friend, eyes flutteringly sleepily, swept a hand over her cheek, and Jo smiled into the kiss Blair gave her, familiar now with the way Blair liked the murmur into her mouth, before stealing her words with the soft swipe of a tongue against her lips, the possessive palm of a hand stealing up her stomach.

"What?" Jo breathed, smiling into her friends mouth as she pulled away, reverently catching Blair's fingers before they reached her highly sensitive chest, tangling them with hers.

"I said, I have to go," Blair answered, voice rough with lack of sleep.

"No you don't," Jo smiled, so giddy it was pathetic, and opened her mouth again for a lazy, intimate caress.

"Yes, I do," Blair answered a minute later, palming the side of her face lovingly to ease the sting of rejection. "I have that meeting at Eastland and then I have to catch a noon train to New York."

As Blair moved, out of her arms, and out of her bed, the reality of Jo's situation began to slowly sink in. No longer in the sweet sanctuary she and Blair had created, the complexity of her situation began to manifest itself.

Leaning up on her elbows, Jo studied her old roommate as she carefully put herself together as best she could, ready to leave her.

"Did you want me to go with you?"

Blair paused, startled by the question. "I can't imagine why you would want to go. You haven't expressed an inkling of interest in saving Eastland."

"That's because it's not our business if the school can't manage its own books, Blair," she sighed, momentarily lulled into the security of a good squabble. "I can barely keep the Center afloat, on what you give us."

In the middle of reattaching an earring, Blair offered a skeptical glance. "I took a look at those books, Jo. Casey is doing a fine job of running the Center on what the Foundation has allocated."

A hot flush of anger spread on her cheeks at the evocation of Blair's former boyfriend.

"Casey doesn't really see what's going as much as he should have."

Narrowing her eyes thoughtfully, Blair considered the idea. "He did seem a bit lost during our meeting yesterday." Coming forward, she sank onto the corner of the bed, offering Jo a small, gentle smile. "I just assumed it was a lack of attention based on his complete devotion to revisiting the past."

Curling her knees into her chest, Jo snorted. "I bet that wasn't all he wanted to revisit."

"Can you blame him?" Blair asked haughtily.

The sentence sank into a suddenly thick atmosphere, and swallowing, Jo found herself shaking her head.

"No, I guess I can't."

Her friend lingered, long look burning into her eyes with an intensity and focus she was beginning to ache for.

Straightening, Blair broke the stare. "Casey has a lot on his plate right now."

"Casey always had a lot on his plate," Jo retorted. "But not as much as me, considering it's me that's running the damned place." For the moment overwhelmed by her bitterness, she stared down at her hands. "Everything he doesn't want to do he pushes over to me and I hate it."

"Well, if you hate it so much why do you take it?"

"It's not my place," Jo answered, brow narrowing. "He's my boss."

"And since when has that stopped you?" Blair answered blithely. "You've never known your place, Jo. You ordered french fries at the Russian Tea Room."

"I didn't want anything else."

"And that's my point," Blair answered simply. "Jo, you always went after what you wanted - you always knew what you wanted. If this job isn't what you want anymore..."

"What? Quit?"

"If that's what you want, then yes," Blair answered evenly.

Suddenly, it didn't seem like they were talking about the job anymore.

"It's more complicated than that," she sighed, after a brief pause.

"If it's not what you want, what's complicated about it?"

Blair was talking her into a corner. "People depend on me."

"That's your own delusion talking." Blair straightened, fussing with the cuffs of her jacket. "Jo, the simple truth is they were fine before you came and they'll be fine after you're gone. You've always made a habit of burying yourself so deeply into your own causes that you fail to see that when you make yourself a foot soldier, that only means there are ten thousand just like you ready to take your place."

"I'm a dime a dozen?" Despite herself, Jo was actually stung by the idea. "That's your big point?"

"No, my point is that you're more than that." The tone was flippantly complex - but then again Blair always was a walking contradiction. "And you've let your own fear get in the way of figuring that out."

"You're one to talk." It put her on the losing side of a power struggle, to be sitting up in a bed with rumpled bed covers, while Blair smoothed out her own long strands, morphing back into her new stylish, professional self. "Isn't what you're doing in New York the same thing? Doing what's expected of you by your dad?"

Blair's brown eyes met hers, and a small, sad smile flitted across her lips. "Jo, by taking the job and working hard and succeeding at it, I'm doing exactly the opposite. I need to go." Leaning forward, she pressed a kiss against Jo's cheek. Jo found her eyes fluttering closed at the contact.

"Am I gonna see you before you leave?"

Already rising, Blair kept her head down. "I'm not sure if I'll have time."

It occurred to Jo, in a part inside her that seemed affronted and horrified on her behalf, that she was acting prematurely clingy and needy, and not at all like herself. This was, after all, Blair, and by all logic, Jo should have been glad to be rid of her. She had a crumbling marriage to worry about, the circumstances of which she was positive her boss Casey would have learned by now, because Rick was never one to keep things a secret, especially to his best man.

"Well... don't you think... we should figure some things out?"

"Oh, I think we each have quite a few things to figure out," Blair snorted, focused on tying the buttons together on her coat. "At the moment, however, things seem to only get more complicated when we attempt to figure them out together."

In her unspoken way, Blair was finally acknowledging what they had spent the better part of the early morning doing.

"Maybe that is figuring it out."

"Not for me." Blair straightened, regarded her with a mixed look of civility and passive stiffness. "You're still married, Jo, and I..." Searching for an expression to describe her own unknown state, Blair's hands landed on her hips, finally giving up. "What do you want from me, Jo? Do you want to date me? Do you have feelings for me?"

Jo hadn't thought nearly that far.

"I don't know."

"Of course you don't. You're so lost in your own impulsive need to follow your repressed instincts and emotions that you could care less about semantics. You've always been passionate and impulsive, Jo - it's one of the things that I've always admired and hated about you. But if you did know what you wanted, and what you wanted was me, it doesn't make the situation any easier."

"You kissed me back." It was a shoddy defense, but it was the only one Jo had.

"Of course I did," the budding law student admitted, shrugging her shoulders as if that was irrelevant. "I love you, Jo. Granted, it appears to be deeper than I ever thought it was but it doesn't change the fact that I'm getting on that train today, and I'm going back to New York."

"And then what?"

"And then I have a board meeting to prepare myself for and three days worth of backlogged files that I put aside in favor of coming down here. What we did doesn't change what really happened last night. There's still a chance for your marriage, Jo. If that is what you want."

"And what about what you want?"

Dirty blonde bangs were smoothed out of the way. "You don't know?"

"No," she replied thickly. "I don't."

Her emotional response must have finally melted the ice frosting over Blair's heart, because her friend finally took pity on her coming forward to once again sink down beside her on the bed, cupping her chin lovingly.

"Then we're even," Blair began, gently and simply. "Because I don't know what you want. And I refuse to make the decision for the both of us, only to have you regret it." Impulsively, Jo reached for Blair's hand, and covered it with her own. "You're not the only one that's confused, Jo," she continued. "I want to help you with your marriage - I was prepared to." The pad of her thumb slipped over Jo's bottom lip, the swollen skin that had been so thoroughly kissed by Blair's own lips. "Unfortunately I seem to be nothing but a constant barrier." Her hand came down, slipping out of Jo's grasp. "I'm your friend, but I won't be your mistress, Jo, and it seems that lately we can't be alone with each other without immediately gravitating towards that type of arrangement." Blinking away sudden moisture, Blair got up again, suddenly all business. "You'll have to figure this out for yourself. Talk to Natalie. Or Tootie, or even Beverly Ann. They want to help you, if you'd let them. I won't be involved until it resolves itself, one way or another."

"Blair," she began, but didn't know what else she could say.

"I'm entirely too invested in how it turns out," Blair announced, slipping on her heels, now in a focused process, readying herself to leave. "And I don't want to be. Even if you decide you don't want to stay married to Rick, I'm not sure if I'm ready to be a lesbian - if that is in fact what we are - nor am I ready to face my father and his peers with that alternative reality." She momentarily shuddered at the thought, before shoulders straightened and Jo was met with a beautiful, professional woman, who had somehow taken the place of her own spoiled debutante. "There are a thousand maybes, Jo, and there is no happily ever after on any horizon." The corner of Blair's lips trembled. "I hate you a little bit for that."

Blair clicked her way toward the door, and pulled it open, not the least bit startled when Natalie and Tootie unceremoniously tumbled in, falling into the room on top of each other.

Dark brown eyes regarded them thoughtfully, then turned to a speechless Jo.

"It's your bed, Jo," Blair announced, stiff and final. "You made it."

Stepping over their stammering and apologizing best friends, Blair made her way out of the room, leaving Jo alone with her two red-faced friends.

Part 6

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