DISCLAIMER: I don't own them... if I did there would have been kissing and such. This story is not intended for profit but simply to test my ability to create something I am happy with that others might enjoy.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Close Quarters
By Annette


It was a pleasant day in Peekskill, the sun was shining, and birds were singing and the scent of freshly baked blueberry muffins wafted on the breeze outside of Edna's Edibles. The tinkling of a bell heralded the arrival of yet another customer intent on fulfilling a craving for sweets and pleasant conversation with the proprietress of the establishment. Edna Garrett stood behind the counter watching with pride as her young charges went about their daily chores. Natalie and Tootie were filling orders, while Blair worked the cash register and Jo went about stocking shelves and cleaning up. Everything was going so smoothly…

No sooner had that thought entered Edna's mind then the quiet of the day was shattered by shouting. Not again! What am I going to do with those two? Thankfully there were no customers in the store at the moment, but Edna knew she had to intercede.

"You did that on purpose!" Blair yelled at Jo as she pointed to the smear of chocolate on her shoulder. "Do you have any idea how much this blouse cost?"

"First off, Princess, I asked ya to move so I could get by with that tray. It ain't my fault ya didn't move fast enough."

Moving quickly between the two Edna held her hands up to forestall further conversation. "Girls, please don't argue in the store. I'd prefer it if you two didn't argue at all, but I'm not sure that's possible."

"But look what she did to my blouse."

"If she wasn't so busy polishing her nails…"

"Well at least I care about how I look."

"What's that supposed ta mean?"

"Stop it, both of you!" Frustrated and at the end of her rope Edna made a decision. "This has got to stop. You two need to learn how to work together without biting each other's heads off. You've left me with no choice but to ground you both."

"What! No way…"

"That's not fair!"

"Girls, you've no one to blame but yourselves. For the next week you'll both come home straight from school and do your homework, have dinner and then you'll work in the store until closing. Then you'll both clean and prepare for the next day. And I don't want to hear any complaints from the customers or either of you. Is that clear?"

"Yeah, fine." Jo answered as she gave Blair her best death glare.

"Very well, but I refuse to sweep – it will give me calluses."

On the last day of their sentence, as Jo liked to call it, they were preparing to close up for the night. Edna was out with a friend and her two younger charges were with their respective parents for the weekend. Jo had just finished sweeping the floors and taking out the trash and Blair had cleared the counter and cashed out the register. After placing the money in the safe she joined Jo in restocking for the next day.

"Jo, did you restock the beverage case?" Blair inquired as she walked into the pantry where Jo was straightening up.

"Yeah, all I gotta do is finish up in here and we're…" Turning toward the blonde Jo's eyes widened. "Blair, watch what you're doin'!"

Startled Blair looked behind her just in time to watch the door close with a loud click.

"Damn it Blair, what did ya go and do that for?" Jo shouted as she hurried to the door, hoping beyond hope that it would somehow miraculously open. "Do you have any idea what you just did?"

"No, why on earth are you yelling at me?" Hands on hips the blonde stood waiting for an explanation.

"Because…" Jo blew out a breath trying to calm herself before she ripped Blair's head off. "Because you just locked us in the damn pantry."

"What? What are you talking about?" Trying the knob for herself she looked at Jo. "You can get it open right?"

"No." Pounding her fist on the door she turned toward the blonde. "That's why I kept it propped open. The lock's broken and you can only open it from the outside. I haven't had a chance to fix it yet."

Eyes wide Blair pleaded with the brunette. "But you can get it open, right? You can do anything. You have tools and… and you know what to do with them. You can get it open right?"

"Hey, Blair, calm down will ya? Let me think here."

Suddenly Jo found herself being turned around with Blair right in her face. "Please, Jo, you have to get the door open. I can't stay in here… I have to get out of here!" Her breathing grew ragged and short and she looked about ready to cry.

"Easy there Princess, I won't let anything happen to you. I just need you to stay calm." Moving the panicked blonde toward a crate she sat her down. "Now just sit here while I see if I can figure out how to get this door open."

Blair felt a bit of relief as Jo calmed her down and she sat back to watch as the beautiful brunette stood staring pensively at the door. Blair was claustrophobic and would normally be completely overwrought by this situation, but somehow she was able to remain relatively calm. She had faith in Jo and she believed it when the brunette told her she'd keep her safe. She also knew that, if she had to be locked in a small room with someone, she was glad it was with Jo. Her musing was interrupted by a thud followed quickly by some very colorful language.

Holding her shoulder Jo fell to her knees as she continued to curse the pain she was feeling. "Ah, shit that hurt."

"Jo!" Blair dropped to her knees in front of the brunette. "Oh my goodness, are you alright?" A clenched jaw and glare was all the answer she received. "Sorry. What were you thinking? Come over here and sit down." Leading Jo to the same crate she had been sitting on Blair now became the caretaker. "Can you move your shoulder?" Another glare. "Don't give me that look Jo I just want to make sure that you didn't break anything."

Slowly Jo lifted her arm and rotated her shoulder. The pain had subsided a bit but it still made her wince. "There, see, it's fine."

"Well, I don't believe it's fine but I'm glad you can move it." Patting the injured shoulder Blair sat down next to Jo. "I guess you really can't get the door open."

"Nope." Rubbing her still smarting shoulder she sighed. "I just hope Mrs. G stops in here when she gets home. Otherwise we'll be in here all night."

"All night! But I need my face cream… and I have to brush and floss my teeth… and I need to brush out my hair…"

"Whoa, ease up Princess. One night ain't gonna make that much difference in how pretty you are."

Looking at Jo as if she'd completely lost her mind Blair jumped to her feet. Just as she was about to explain to Jo the importance of her beauty regimen she realized something. "You think I'm pretty?"

"Huh?" Blushing at having been caught saying that out loud Jo lowered her eyes to her lap. "I…"

"Jo?" Taking her seat next to Jo again Blair took her hand. "Do you think I'm pretty?"

Squeezing the hand she was now holding, her voice barely above a whisper, Jo answered truthfully. "No, I don't think you're pretty." Tightening her grip as Blair tried to pull away she continued. "I think you are beautiful." Not getting any response to her admission Jo quickly attempted to back pedal. "I'm sorry, I probably shouldn't have said that."

"No, Jo, you don't understand. I've had so many people tell me I'm beautiful that I guess it stopped meaning anything." Turning her head Blair looked up into questioning blue eyes. "Until now."

Momentarily mesmerized by the look in the blonde's eyes Jo finally found her voice. "Whadda ya mean by that Blair?"

"Don't you see? Everyone says I'm beautiful because I tell them to; because I'm rich; because my family is important." Pausing in her speech Blair gazed deeply into Jo's eyes as she continued. "When you said it just now…" Reaching out she cupped the brunette's cheek. "I believed you."

Jo was stunned by that admission and equally stunned by the truth she now saw in the brown eyes that held her captive. Brown eyes that were currently brimming with unshed tears. Helpless to fight the sudden urge to offer comfort Jo pulled Blair into her arms. "I would never lie to you." She whispered as she rubbed circles on the blonde's back.

"I know." Blair answered. Squeezing Jo tightly she added. "You've always been honest with me, brutally honest at times."

Squeezing back Jo chuckled. "Well, I always said, if you can dish it out, ya gotta be able to take it."

Just then the girls heard a noise outside the door. Quickly they ran to the door and started pounding and shouting to whoever was out there. Suddenly the knob was turning and the door opened to reveal the stunned face of Edna Garrett. "Oh my goodness! How long were you two locked in there?"

"Thanks Mrs. G! I don't know, maybe a couple a hours?" She looked to Blair for confirmation.

"Yes, since about six o'clock." Blair agreed.

"Oh girls, are you both alright?" Edna asked as she looked from one to the other. Honestly, she was surprised that they each seemed to be in good spirits. Perhaps this punishment had the desired affect. Edna shuddered to think what condition she might have found these two in had this happened just one week earlier. "Well, you two should have a snack and then off to bed. Jo, I imagine you'll be fixing that lock in the morning?"

"Oh, yeah, Mrs. G. That'll be priority number one." She laughed as she made her way into the kitchen.

Bumping hips with the brunette Blair quipped. "What's the matter Jo? Afraid to get locked in the pantry with me again?"

Jo stood and stared at Blair for a moment before speaking. "Ya know, I can't believe I'm gonna say this, but I'm kinda glad it happened." Shuffling from foot to foot she went on. "I hope we don't need to be locked in a room anymore to talk nice to each other?"

Touched by Jo's admission Blair moved to her and wrapped her up in a hug. "No, we don't. As a matter of fact I'd really like to continue this conversation when we get to our room."

"I'd like that." Jo answered.

A short time later the girls made their way from the kitchen wishing a disbelieving Edna Garrett a good night. She watched as the two walked, side-by-side, to the stairs leading up to their room. Smiling to herself she said a silent prayer that this détente would last, at least long enough for them to realize they make better friends than enemies. Little did she know, but her prayers had already been answered.

The End

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