DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended.
SERIES: Part of the Post Peekskill Series; sequel to The Thanksgiving Episode
CHALLENGE: Written for the first International Day of Femslash.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"Are you blind, you bum? That was a rhetorical question, by the way," Jo Polniaczek yelled from the front row of the field box. The first base umpire flinched a little. Jo's Bronx-accented tones and good vocabulary were very penetrating.
"Now Jo, calm down, the Yanks are still ahead," Natalie Greene reassured her friend.
"Yeah but our middle relief pitching sucks," Jo said worriedly. "Oh sorry, I forgot."
"That's fine. Octavio is the first to admit that the middle relief sucks." Natalie was now dating Octavio Hernandez, a Yankee pitcher, recently arrived from Cuba.
"You and Octavio seem like you're having a good time," Jo observed. "Although he's a lot different from your last boyfriend. Why did you and Vikram break up, by the way?"
"He wasn't sexually adventurous enough," Natalie explained, referring to Vikram Pindar, her former academician beau. "For someone who is supposedly an expert in erotic art, he was pretty plain vanilla in the sack."
"Natalie, please," Jo said, crooking her head at the third member of their party.
"Sorry, Mr. Warner," Natalie apologized.
"That's fine, Natalie," David Warner replied. "Although I must admit that the sex life of you ladies is something upon which I really don't wish to dwell."
"I wish your ex-wife felt the same way," Jo muttered under her breath. In Jo's opinion, Monica had an unhealthy curiosity about the technical aspects of her daughter's physical relationship with Jo.
"Um, thanks again for these seats, Mr. Warner," Natalie said, sensing the need for a change of subject. "It sure is a step up from the bleachers where Jo and I used to sit during summer vacations from school."
"We had some good times there, you have to admit, Nat," Jo chuckled.
"Yeah, the world's most obscene belch contest is still burned in my memory," Natalie replied. "I must be getting old. I think I prefer these more civilized surroundings."
"Well, you are very welcome," Mr. Warner said. "I'm just glad that you wanted to come. I could never get Blair to use these tickets."
"Blair isn't really one for spectator sports," Jo observed. "She has trouble grasping the concept of 50,000 people focusing on something other than her for three hours."
"True," Natalie laughed. "Although there was that one time the stadium camera caught her putting on her eyeliner and showed it on the jumbo screen. The crowd went wild. Blair pretended to be embarrassed but she secretly liked it."
"It wasn't so secret," Jo pointed out. "She requested the video tape so that she could replay it at home."
Blair's father laughed. "Well it is nice to finally have a real baseball fan as a member of the family."
Natalie caught Jo's eye and smiled. 'A member of the family?' she mouthed silently.
Jo shrugged. "Oh Christ," she groaned as a Cleveland player lifted a grand slam into the seats and the crowd booed.
After the Yankees went quietly in the 9th, Jo, Natalie and Mr. Warner started for the exits.
"Natalie, are you sure that you don't want to join us for a bite at the Stadium Club?" Mr. Warner asked.
"No thanks. I'm going to go console Octavio. And he's leaving for a ten-day road trip, so we have to make some hay while the sun shines," Natalie replied, waggling her eyebrows.
"OK, Nat. Just don't tire him out. We have the Boston series coming up," Jo warned.
"I'll be sure to keep that in mind, Jo. Not. See ya later." Natalie left with a wave.
"So, I guess it's just the two of us, Jo. Well that might be a good thing. I have some business I would like to discuss with you," Mr. Warner announced.
"All right, Mr. War-- David," Jo replied. For some reason, she found honoring Blair's father's request to call him by his first name a little difficult.
Mr. Warner smiled as they entered the Stadium Club, a facility reserved for season ticket holders of box seats. "A table for two please, Ronald."
"Right this way, Mr. Warner," the host replied.
After Jo and Blair's father had been served their beers, Mr. Warner cleared his throat and said, "Jo, I don't want you to think that I am interfering or that I in anyway disapprove, because I don't, but I thought that, in light of Blair's recent actions, we should have a chat."
"Blair's recent actions?" Jo asked, mystified.
"Yes." Seeing Jo's bewildered expression, Mr. Warner asked, "You mean she didn't tell you about this?"
"I'm sorry, David, I really don't know what you're talking about," Jo replied.
"Oh lord. I can't imagine Blair will be pleased with me breaking the news, but, as a matter of sound corporate governance, you need to know. Blair has changed her will. Other than certain bequests to charities and friends, you are the primary beneficiary."
"So what does that mean?" Jo asked warily, taking a sip of her brew.
"Well, assuming Blair survives me, it means that, if Blair dies, you will inherit approximately four hundred and fifty-million dollars and effective control of Warner Industries."
A stream of beer flew from Jo's mouth. "What!" she choked.
"It's true. And even if Blair doesn't survive me, you'll still own about twenty percent of the shares worth about one hundred and fifty million dollars. It's a big responsibility, Jo," Mr. Warner said soberly.
Jo was flummoxed. "Mr. Warner," she sputtered, her shock causing her to revert to her old habits. "You've got to believe me. I had no idea. I never asked for anything like this. If Blair had talked to me, I would have told her she was crazy. Jeez, what was she thinking?"
"Jo, calm down," Mr. Warner said. "As I said before, I don't object to this development. I just wanted you to be prepared for it."
"You don't object to your daughter leaving your company to a lesbian cop? Sorry, I find that a little hard to believe," Jo snorted.
"Jo," Mr. Warner declared, putting his hand over hers. "Ever since I first met you, back when you and Blair were teenagers, I've thought that you were a wonderful influence on my daughter. You had values-- self-reliance, belief in hard work, concern for others-- which Blair needed to learn. Since her mother and I were never around enough to teach her, I think she picked at least some of them up from you. And while I admit that your romantic relationship took a little bit of an adjustment on my part, I've never seen Blair so happy. So believe me when I tell you that I respect and understand her decision."
"I don't know what to say, Mr. Warner, I mean David. Thank you, I guess. I'm not sure what to do about this. I suppose that the likelihood of Blair predeceasing me is sort of remote."
"You never know, Jo. After all, there is a history of cancer in the family," Mr. Warner pointed out.
Jo shuddered. She made an internal note to remind Blair about her mammogram. "Well, I'll talk to Blair. Maybe she can change it back or put it in trust or something. I really can't imagine me owning Warner Industries."
"Jo, given some of the losers in our family and some of the less-than-sentient life forms that Blair could have married, you aren't such a bad option," Mr. Warner said matter-of- factly.
Jo sat on the Number 2 train as the subway headed towards Manhattan. She had declined Mr. Warner's offer of a limo ride home, wanting a little alone time to digest what he had told her. How could Blair do this? Jo asked herself. And why hadn't she said anything? Because she knew that I would go ballistic, Jo admitted to herself ruefully.
Jo would no longer bite Blair's head off just for offering to pay for an airplane ticket, but she still felt uncomfortable being financially dependent. She insisted on paying half the mortgage on the brownstone and tried to keep accounts of groceries and other expenses in a small attempt to preserve her pride. Truth be told, though, these were just token gestures, Jo realized. She was perfectly willing to let Blair make the down payment on the house, to accept the fancy box seats from her father, to use the private jet to fly to Florida to see Jo's mother at Christmas. Who was she kidding? She was a kept woman.
Still, Blair naming Jo as her heir was a whole different kettle of fish. If there was anything that Blair cherished more than her special Swedish moisturizer and her Cartier tennis bracelet, it was the Warner Industries name. To entrust that to Jo implied a level of respect and commitment on Blair's part that was simply astounding.
And what does she get in return? Jo wondered. Great sex, for sure, but sleepless nights when I'm on assignment, bad temper when I'm not. I make fun of her friends. I scoff at the things she cares about. I don't use a coaster for my beer bottle and refuse to go to the ballet. I take and take and never give anything back. Well, maybe it's time I did something for her, an agitated Jo vowed to herself as she got off at the 72nd Street stop and walked the few blocks to their brownstone.
Jo opened the door to the house. "Hello? Blair?"
"Hi darling, I'm in the living room. Did you have a good time? How was Daddy? I heard on the radio that the Yankees lost. I'm sorry."
Jo walked in to the living room where Blair was sitting on the couch with a book in her hand, a cup of tea next to her and Bella the dog asleep on her lap. She was wearing half-frame reading glasses and a flowing blue silk bathrobe. Mozart was playing on the stereo. Jo didn't think she had ever seen anything more beautiful.
"So, how was the game?" Blair asked with a smile
Overcome, Jo threw off her jacket, knelt by the couch, took Blair's hand and said simply, "Blair, I love you more than life itself. Will you marry me?"
Blair took off her reading glasses and stared at a visibly emotional Jo Polniaczek kneeling before her. She surreptitiously sniffed. A little beer on the breath but nothing too bad. So it wasn't just liquor talking.
"Jo, did you lose another bet with Natalie?" Blair offered carefully. "What, you didn't know the scoreboard trivia question? Is that what brought this on?" She moved a little towards Jo, which caused Bella to wake and start to bark. "Quiet, girl." Blair put the dog on the floor and Bella proceeded to jump on Jo and try to lick her face.
"Bella, down, please. Blair, I'm serious. I realize that marry may not be the right verb, given the legalities, but I want us to publicly commit to one another. Or at least I want to publicly commit to you. I can only hope you feel the same way."
Blair blinked. "You aren't kidding? This isn't a joke?"
"No, no it's not," Jo declared, shifting on her knees a little, and shooing Bella away.
"I thought you said that you would rather have your eyes poked out than participate in a, and I quote, 'fruity, moon beam commitment ritual in front of some turquoise-clad, incense-burning, bear-claw-wearing nut-job,'" Blair reminded her.
"Well, I changed my mind," Jo said tightly. "Jeez, Blair, you really know how to drain the romance out of a moment. Do you want to do this or not?"
A glorious smile broke out on Blair's face. "More than anything, my dearest." Her tone became more formal. "Joanna Marie Polniaczek, I accept your proposal. I will gladly become your life partner."
Jo grinned. "Really? Well that's great. Just great. Now help me up, my bad knee got stiff."
"I have a better idea," Blair said, joining Jo on the floor and pulling her in for a searing kiss. She unwrapped her bathrobe, and pressed Jo down onto the rug. They didn't make it upstairs until several hours later.
Jo awoke the next morning with a sense of peace and well-being. She had gotten seriously laid the night before. It was Saturday and she had the whole weekend off. And, not that it was really a factor, someone worth four hundred and fifty million dollars had just agreed to be her life partner. So, what's not to like? Jo mused as she stretched her limbs languorously.
"Oomph." A large leather volume, the size and weight of the Oxford English Dictionary, was dropped on Jo's chest, causing all breath to leave her body.
"B-B-B-Blair," Jo wheezed. "Wha-what the hell is that? Christ, I think my rib is broken."
"It's My Wedding Book," Blair explained happily, crawling into bed beside Jo and pointing to the gold embossed title on the front cover. "I thought we could take a look, just to get some ideas."
Jo gazed warily at the tome. "It sure is big." Her sense of peace and well-being was starting to dissipate.
"There is an index, if you need it. I have also put it on a searchable CD-ROM," Blair noted, pulling out a disk from a sleeve. "It's divided into segments," she added, turning back to the book and excitedly flipping through the pages. "Planning musts, pre-wedding celebrations, showers, guest lists, registries, family issues, wardrobes-- gowns and veils have their own subsection of course-- venues, food, flowers, photography, multimedia options, care and feeding of peace doves, vows, lighting, music, toasts, bridesmaid dos and don'ts, honeymoons." She stopped. "Oh, I guess we can skip this part," Blair said nervously.
"Wait, let me see," Jo said. She started to read aloud. "How to Please Your Man on the Wedding Night. Don't Just Think of England: Eight Sensual Tricks Your Mother Never Told You. Erotic Oils, Yes or No? Jesus, Blair, how long have you been working on this thing?"
"Since I was six. Well, not the Wedding Night segment. That came later."
Jo looked at Blair in amazement. "You've been planning your wedding for over twenty years?"
"Well don't make me sound so pathetic, Jo. After all, it is supposed to be every little girl's dream," Blair declared, a trifle snippily.
"It was never mine," Jo replied. "Which is kinda ironic considering the number of occasions I've put on a wedding dress. Two, three, four, I've sorta lost count."
"I've never worn a bridal gown even once," Blair noted a little forlornly, closing the volume. "Anyway, I put My Wedding Book away once we got together."
For some reason that made Jo sad. "You know, Blair, as you undoubtedly guessed, I was going to suggest a small ceremony here at the house with just our families, Nat and Tootie, and a few others. But, what the hell, let's do it up right. You can pull out all the stops if you want. Invite five hundred people, have thirty bridesmaids, a dress made of platinum, forty doves of peace, whatever. Use every page of that goddamn book, if that's what will make you happy."
"Are you serious, Jo? Really, you wouldn't mind?" Blair asked, her face aglow.
"No, I wouldn't mind, Princess. Skip the Erotic Oils, though, they give me a rash."
"Did they call you? Did you hear?" Tootie, a.k.a. Dorothy, Ramsey said excitedly into her cell phone.
"Yes, they did. Isn't it great?" Natalie replied.
"It's wonderful. We have so much to do, Nat. The gift, the shower, the bachelorette party. Do we have one or two? I can't believe that Blair asked me to be matron of honor. I'm thrilled."
"Well, the position was vacant now that Jo has turned into the groom. I guess I'm the maid of honor or the best man. Jo wasn't quite clear," Natalie said.
"It is a little confusing," Tootie conceded. "But I'm sure we'll work it out. Oh Nat, what are you going to get them for a wedding gift? Blair has everything. Jo wants nothing. It's a dilemma."
"I was thinking about that, Tootie, and I had what Blair would call a brilliant idea. You and I could go in on it together, if you want. I've already made some inquiries and I think it will work out. And we can give it to them as soon as next week. The earlier they have it, the more they'll appreciate it."
"So what is it?" Tootie asked.
Natalie told her.
"Oh Nat! That's just fabulous! They'll go nuts."
"Excuse me, Ms. Ramsey, shooting resumes in ten minutes."
"Thanks, George. Natalie, I'm going to have to get off in a minute," Tootie informed her friend.
"So how's it going?" Natalie asked.
"Pretty well, I think. It is fun playing against type."
"You know, Tootie, I think I recall you saying that you detested Lifetime Movies and that you would never appear in one," Natalie noted
"Well that's because they always portrayed women as victims: victims of abuse, infidelity, eating disorders, whatever. In this case my character is no victim; she takes charge of her life."
"Right, she's a psychopathic killer who poisons her neighbors. A real improvement," Natalie noted wryly. Tootie was playing the title role in "To Win At Any Cost: The Soccer Mom Murderer."
"She does it for her family," Tootie stated. "She's driven to it by the bad officiating at her daughter's games."
"Her daughter is four, Tootie. It's the toddler league. Well I'm sure you've nailed the role," Natalie laughed. "So we'll spring the surprise at brunch, next Sunday."
"Great, talk to you later," Tootie said a little curtly, already getting into character for the strychnine-in-the-orange-slice scene.
"I think we should have a pitcher of mimosas," Natalie declared to the group sitting around the table at Ernie's, a popular Upper West Side brunch locale. "After all, it is a celebration."
"Fine by me," said Jo, giving Blair a little poke. "C'mon Blair, you need to relax after your grueling negotiations."
"What? Did the Warner Foundation make a major endowment?" Tootie asked.
"Better than that," Jo said proudly. "Blair got Eastland to let us use the campus for our commitment ceremony. Saddle up your horses, girls, we're going back to Peekskill."
"Hooray!" exclaimed Tootie. "That is absolutely perfect."
Jo grinned. "I know, and it is a lot more practical than some of Blair's other notions. The floating ceremony in the Central Park Reservoir, for example."
"I liked that one," Blair said. "It was based on Renaissance Venice. Everyone would be in gondolas. Singers from the Metropolitan Opera would provide the background music. It would have been incredibly romantic."
"Until Beverly Ann fell out of the boat and drowned," Jo pointed out.
"Well, I am pleased with the Eastland option," Blair conceded. "And Mayor Callahan has agreed to perform the ceremony."
"He's still Mayor?" Natalie asked. "I didn't know that. What? Was he appointed Mayor-for-Life?"
"Pretty much," Blair said. "And, get this, in the last few years, he has been issuing rogue same-sex marriage licenses. They may not be recognized by the State of New York, but they are good in Peekskill."
"Which is really the only place that matters," Tootie pointed out.
"This is a perfect segue to our gift to you ladies," Natalie announced. "We decided that you, and by 'you', we mean Jo, needed some moral support to help get through the pre-ceremony pressures. We don't want our grumpy little friend to freak out in the face of the Warner Bridezilla machine, do we?"
"I'm not going to freak out," Jo said unconvincingly.
"Of course you won't. Not with our gift by your side for the next few weeks," Natalie pronounced.
"So what is it, a case of Scotch?" Jo asked.
"No. Look over there." Tootie grinned.
Blair and Jo looked at the bar area and simultaneously gasped. There, tanned, thinner, red hair a little more flecked with gray, sat a beaming Edna Garrett. The host at Ernie's, even inured as he was to the noise level of a Sunday brunch crowd, still winced at the piercing screams of joy that rang through his establishment.
"What a wonderful place," Mrs. Garrett enthused as she gazed around the brownstone. "And this must be Bella. I've heard so much about you. Hello dear. No, don't jump on me. Sit, please."
Bella immediately obeyed and sat perfectly still, awaiting her next instruction. Blair and Jo both looked at the dog in shock.
"You still got it, Mrs. G.," Jo laughed.
"In Africa, you learn how to deal with wildlife," Mrs. Garrett replied calmly.
"So, Bruce didn't have a problem with you coming back to the States for a month?" Blair asked.
"For my girls? For this occasion? He was delighted. Things in the orphanage and school are running smoothly enough for the moment. And we have to keep our foundation benefactor happy," Mrs. Garrett laughed, putting her arm around Blair.
"Your husband is an understanding man, proven by the fact that he never asked you to change your name," Jo pointed out.
"He knows better than to tamper with a brand," Mrs. Garrett replied. "It's like Elizabeth Taylor. 'Mrs. Garrett' has meaning in the marketplace."
"So true," Blair said. "Anyway, you are to consider the third-floor guest room as your home, for as long as you like. We are just thrilled to have you here."
"As am I. Thank you, girls. I will give you some breaks. I may go to Appleton for few days to see Beverly Ann. Andy is home from business school for the summer. I told Tootie and Jeff I would stay with them for a while and I promised Natalie I would help organize her apartment."
"Good luck with that," Jo muttered. "Talk about the Heart of Darkness."
"Oh dear, look at the time," Blair said. "Unfortunately, I have to go meet Mother for a headwear fitting. We're looking at a diamond tiara spotted with occasional sapphires."
"That sounds magnificent, Blair. I'm sure you'll look spectacular," Mrs. Garrett declared.
"Oh, it's not for me. It's for Bailey, the flower girl. I'll see you both at dinner. Don't talk about me when I'm gone. What am I saying; of course you'll talk about me. What could possibly be more interesting?" She gave Jo a quick kiss and left with a cheery wave.
Jo and Mrs. Garrett went into the garden and sat on the bench by the fountain.
"Mrs. G., I hope that this doesn't creep you out," Jo said warily. "Me and Blair, I mean. It's one thing to approve in the abstract but it must be sort of weird seeing us actually kissing and sharing a bed."
"Jo, don't give it a thought. As I told you when you first gave me the news, I couldn't be happier for you both. It just makes so much sense."
"Really?" Jo said disbelievingly.
"Jo, it was clear from day one that you and Blair had passionate feelings for one another. And for one of you, I was fairly confident that those feelings derived, in some part, from sexual desire," Mrs. Garrett said.
"Was I that obvious?" Jo asked bemusedly.
"Oh Jo, you have it all wrong," Edna laughed. "Despite your tough-girl mannerisms and masculine aura, I never presumed anything about your sexuality, at least not until much later. Blair, on the other hand--all her talk about men seemed so forced, so rehearsed. Despite her very formidable flirting skills, her true heart only came out when she was around you or the other girls. No, I concluded early on that Blair was attracted to women. Well, if not women in general, certainly to you."
"Boy, I wish you could have let her know that a whole lot earlier. It would have saved us all a hell of a lot of grief," Jo replied with a chuckle.
"Lieutenant Polniaczek, do you mind coming back to the cell block? One of the small-time dealers we just picked up has asked for you. I know you don't have to do drug cases anymore but it might help us get a lead on the supplier if we can get her to talk."
"Sure, Detective Leonard. Lead the way."
"Thanks, Lieutenant. By the way, keep your distance; she's tried to escape twice. She's a heavy user."
Jo walked into the cell and looked at the emaciated woman before her. Jo's eyes widened. "Jessie? Is that you?" Jo asked, as she regarded her old cohort from the Bronx.
"Jo. Nice of you to drop by."
"Jessie, what the hell happened?"
"Shit happened, Jo. You wouldn't know about that, though, would you, with your shiny badge and fancy Park Avenue girlfriend and all."
"It's more Central Park West, actually," Jo murmured. "Hey Jessie, let's leave my personal life out of it. How did you know about Blair anyway?"
"Fuck, Jo, everybody in the hood knows. Jo College and her society dame. It's a joke."
Jo flushed. "C'mon Jessie, people caught on that I was a lesbian."
"It isn't the fact you're a dyke, Jo. It's the fact that you sold out, became a cop and, most of all, starting whoring yourself to some rich bitch from Manhattan," Jessie snarled.
"Shut up, Jessie, you don't know what you're talking about," Jo said angrily. Her desire to pummel her former friend was tempered only by her sense of professional ethics.
"Yeah right. Anyway, I was wondering if you could put in a good word for me. Or are you too high and mighty to help an old buddy?" Jessie asked.
"There is only so much I can do. I'll find out who your DA ismaybe we can get you into a half-way house or a clinic. It would help if you would cooperate."
"I'm not squealing, Jo," Jessie declared. "Never mind. Forget I asked. It's not like it makes a rat's ass worth of difference anyway." She started coughing violently.
"Jessie, I'll try to help if I can," Jo said, leaving the cell a little shaken.
Jo got back to her desk.
"Lieutenant Polniaczek, you have a call. It's a Charlie Polniaczek."
Jo brightened as she picked up the phone. "Hey Pops. How's it hanging? Do you have your flight info yet? We'll pick you up." Jo's dad, who had finally remarried, currently lived in Phoenix.
"Jo. I'm sorry; I'm not going to be able to make it. I forgot that Carole's son Mark is graduating the same day."
"I see," Jo said flatly. "My commitment ceremony plays second fiddle to your stepson's trade school graduation."
"Hey, Mark worked hard to get there. And, after all, Jo, it's not like it's a real wedding."
Jo's throat tightened. "Maybe you don't think my relationship with Blair is a real relationship."
"Give me a break, Jo," Charlie said. "I've tried to deal with it the best I can. I just can't be there, OK? Anyway, I would feel out of place at a big Warner shindig."
"It's not just a Warner shindig. I'll be there too. And besides, you've always liked Monica," Jo pointed out.
"I know, which is another reason Carole doesn't want me to come. I'm sorry, Jo, it just won't work out."
"Fine, Pops, fine. It's no skin off my nose. Showing support for your original family has never been a strong point of yours anyway. Give my best to Carole," Jo said bitterly as she slammed down the phone.
The cloud of resentment only darkened by the time Jo got home after working late. She had spent the afternoon talking to the DA and the public defender, managing to get Jessie released into a supervised rehab clinic. The DA told her that Jessie had been singularly ungrateful, quoting her as saying that Jo could take her pity handouts and go fuck herself.
"Hey," Jo said briefly to Blair as she walked in the door.
"Hi beautiful. Do you want to see the centerpiece design for Friday night's party? I keep telling everyone it's not a rehearsal dinner. After fifteen years, what do we need to rehearse? The Eastland cafeteria will be transformed. It may even equal my legendary sets for the production of 'South Pacific'. And the tent for the reception is equally spectacular. It will be great, won't it? Did you talk to Natalie? You're meeting your bachelorette party tomorrow at 8:00. Mother, Tootie, and the gang are taking me out for my shower at the same time. Your Mom called. She is coming into Peekskill Saturday morning directly from the airport. I hope her flight is on time, don't you? Did I tell you, there's still a bedroom above the cafeteria? I thought you might want to stay there for old times' sake. Is that OK? We have booked the whole Fireside Inn of course. But you and I should probably stay apart until after the ceremony. That will be hard, won't it?" Blair took a breath.
"Am I supposed to answer any of these questions or are they just for effect?" Jo said shortly.
"Excuse me?" Blair asked, puzzled.
"It sounds like you have everything pretty well decided. I just show up, right?"
"Jo, I didn't think you wanted to be bothered with the details. You told me to take charge. You said you preferred it that way," Blair said frostily.
Jo sighed. "You're right. I'm sorry, Blair. It's just been a bad day."
"Well let's go upstairs and let me see if I can improve it for you."
"Could we just go to sleep? I'm really beat."
"Of course, Jo," Blair said, with twinge of apprehension. Jo never rebuffed her advances, making heroic efforts even in the face of a dislocated shoulder and a 103-degree fever. It's just pre-ceremony stress, Blair told herself. Perfectly natural.
Blair, her mother, Tootie and some of Blair's friends were gathered around the table in a private room at an elegant restaurant on the Upper East Side. Blair was oohing and aahing over her shower gifts, including such items as a gold espresso maker, crystal champagne flutes, and Blair's personal favorite, a signed photograph of Mikhail Baryshnikov inscribed "To Blair, the one that got away, yours, Misha."
Blair looked at the elegantly wrapped box Monica put before her. "I can't imagine what this might be Mother." She unwrapped it to find a dark maroon leather case with a gold embossed B & J monogram on the lid. "Silver dinnerware? How lovely."
"Not precisely, dear. Open it up," Monica instructed
Blair lifted the lid to find a variety of strange-looking implements, each set in a velvet casing. She examined them, puzzled. What on earth? Realization dawned and Blair blushed to the tops of her ears.
"Mother, are these things ?" Blair sputtered.
"Marital aids, dear. The Pleasure Chest's Premium Collection. Only the top of the line for my baby. This one is called the Golden Bone," Monica said, pulling out a curved cylinder. "Guaranteed to find that one special spot. These are known as the Beads of Wonderment. Apparently the key to the Duchess of Windsor's success at landing the Prince of Wales."
"Mother, please. I can't believe this," Blair protested, mortified.
"Oh Blair, don't be a prude. We are all adults here. Sometimes we need a little supplemental encouragement. Tootie, you're an old married lady, don't you agree?" Monica inquired.
Tootie choked. "Um, Monica. Uh, I ."
"These are really quite impressive, Monica," Boots St. Clair Perlmutter interrupted, much to Tootie's relief. Boots examined the instruments with interest. "If you don't mind me being rude, how much does a Premium Set go for? Not that I really need them of course," she hastily added. "Although to be frank, Howard is not quite as imaginative as I would like sometimes."
Blair muttered, "Too much information, Boots."
"Well Boots, it can run well into four figures," Monica reported cheerfully. "The price goes up if you have them monogrammed like I did."
"The Golden Bone is monogrammed?" Blair gasped in disbelief.
"Of course, dear. That's traditional for a wedding gift," her mother pointed out. "Now don't look so gobsmacked. I know Jo is more highly skilled than most, given her familiarity with the female anatomy, but if you just tell her to take this one -- it's called the Oracle's Tongue, isn't that clever? -- and turn it onto medium speed ."
"La La La La La," Blair sang aloud, covering her ears.
Uptown about two hundred blocks, the impending ceremony was being celebrated in a very different manner. Jo, Natalie, Nat's boyfriend Octavio, and some of Jo's friends and relatives from the neighborhood were gathered at a bowling alley off of the Grand Concourse. Bowling for Beer was in full swing.
"Strike!" Natalie yelled. "Good job, Octavio. Muy bien," she encouraged, giving him a hug.
"Now he throws a strike," Jo's Uncle Sal muttered. "Where was that aim against the Red Sox?"
Jo laughed. "He's showing off for his woman, what can I tell you? I'm really glad you could make it tonight, Uncle Sal. It's been too long."
"I know. I hardly ever get downtown. The garage keeps me busy. And you haven't been around the Bronx that much since your mom moved to Florida."
"Yeah. Sometimes, I feel like the old neighborhood is a different planet than the one I'm living on now. That would be Planet Blair," Jo added.
"Jo, you fell in love and moved on. Nothing to be ashamed of."
"Well, I would still like to keep in touch with my roots. You know I saw Jessie yesterday. She was in jail. She told me that I'd sold out."
"You're taking criticism from a drug addict? Jessie was always bad news. Don't let her get to you," Jo's uncle declared.
"I suppose. It's just sometimes hard to be in two different worlds."
"Hey, look at your friend Natalie. She comes from a fancy background but doesn't seem to have any problem fitting in here. Do you know how much street cred she has from dating a Cuban Yankee pitcher?"
Jo looked at her friend fondly. "Nat's a force of nature. Normal rules don't apply."
"So, I hear your Dad isn't coming to the ceremony."
"No. It's funny. Of all of our parents, I thought Charlie would be the most accepting. But he's not. He can't even be bothered to show up for the ceremony while Blair's dad is willing to bequeath his entire company to me. I just don't get it."
"Jo, it's not your fault. Charlie is a charming guy and he loves you very much but he can be weak and lazy."
"Hey," Jo said, offended.
"I'm sorry. But let's face it. He always liked to take the easy way out. I'm sure he was unwilling to stand up to that narrow-minded bitch of a second wife of his. Forget the fact you're gay, she doesn't like us because we're Italian. And there's also the fact that Charlie is probably incredibly jealous," Sal declared.
"What, jealous? Of me?"
"Yeah. You've made something of yourself, Jo. Through guts and hard work. He could never do that. Plus you're sleeping with a beautiful, young, blonde multi-millionaire. Trust me; we're all a little envious. You are a fortunate gal."
"I guess that's true," Jo admitted, getting up for her turn. "All right guys. This is the last frame of this game. Losing team buys the next pitcher."
Now where am I? Jo thought as she looked at the unfamiliar ceiling. Natalie's place, she remembered. As last night's gatherings had marked the official start of the Warner-Polniaczek Commitment Ceremony Celebration, Blair had dictated that she and Jo were to sleep apart until their union was officially blessed. And I agreed to this why? Jo wondered. A little hung over, she got up and went into Natalie's newly organized kitchen, courtesy of Mrs. Garrett. Jo noted with gratitude that there was a fresh pot of coffee made. There was also a note from Natalie saying that she had been called into work unexpectedly and would have to meet Jo in Peekskill for the party that night. I guess I'll go up alone then, Jo thought, a little discontentedly.
Jo's cell phone chirped. "Hey Blondie, how was the shower?" Jo asked, recognizing the numbers on the screen.
"It had its moments," Blair replied tersely. "Listen Jo, I can't talk long. I'm on my way to Peekskill. An hors d'oeuvre crisis of major proportions. The catering standards aren't what they were in Edna's Edibles' day, I can tell you that. A Detective Leonard called and wants you to call him back. Oh dear, Mayor Callahan's office is on the car phone. I'd better go. Bye."
"Blair, Blair?" The line was dead. "I love you too, babe," Jo said aloud.
She called the precinct and asked for Detective Leonard. "Lieutenant, I have news. Jessie, that user you know, ran away from the clinic. She slashed a nurse with a razor blade and took off. The nurse will be OK. I just thought I should tell you since she didn't seem to like you all that much."
"Oh boy. Thanks for letting me know. I'm on vacation for a week but I'll fax you a list of her old contacts. I don't know how much use they'll be."
"Thanks, Lieutenant. She'll turn up somewhere. Dead in an alley probably. Have a good vacation. Rumor has it that you're getting hitched."
"You could say that," Jo said, a little startled at Leonard's abrupt change of subject.
"I've seen your girlfriend. You're one lucky woman."
"So people keep telling me."
"It's like a wonderland, Blair. Who could imagine that the Eastland cafeteria could be turned into 16th-century Verona," Edna Garrett exclaimed.
"Although to be frank, Blair, are you sure that a Romeo and Juliet theme sends quite the right message for a commitment ceremony?" Beverly Ann Stickle asked. "Parental disapproval leading to double suicidenot the best of omens. However, now that I think about it, even a cheerful wedding decor, like the one Frank and I had, can't prevent utter disaster. So maybe it is better to foreshadow the death and despair early on."
"Please, Beverly Ann," Edna chided her sister. "Don't listen to her, Blair. This is very romantic."
"Thank you, Mrs. Garrett. The lute players lend a nice touch, don't you think?"
"Absolutely," interrupted Natalie who had just joined the group. "Men in tights? Can't go wrong."
"Natalie, have you seen Jo?" Blair asked.
"She was in lounge a few minutes ago," Natalie replied. Blair went to check up on her life-partner-to be. Jo was chatting with Andy, who looked like the MBA candidate he was.
"Jo, derivatives, that's where the money is," Andy declared. Jo looked at Blair, imploringly.
"Excuse me, Andy, may I borrow Jo for a minute?"
"Sure," said Andy. "We can discuss 401K options later, Jo. The city pension fund is a sinkhole, I'm telling you."
"Thank you, Blair," Jo said as they walked away. "Was he always that smarmy?"
"In a word, yes," Blair replied, leading her back through the cafeteria and into the kitchen where the catering staff, clad in 16th-century costumes, was hard at work. "Let's go upstairs for a minute. I need a break."
Blair and Jo ascended the stairs to their old bedroom. Jo looked around with a smile. "It hasn't changed that much. The Jermaine Jackson poster has been replaced by Kurt Cobain but that's about it."
"Do you mind staying here tonight?" Blair asked
"I'd rather be with you," Jo husked, pulling Blair close and kissing the base of her throat.
Blair shivered. "It's tempting, but let me have my little ritual. Just one more night. I'll make it up to you, I promise."
"I'm going to hold you to that," Jo said, pressing her lips to Blair's forehead.
"You seem cheerier, I'm glad to see."
"It's a terrific party, Blair. I'm sorry if I've been surly. The thing with Pops bothers me, I have to admit. And I know Ma is doing her best, by coming up tomorrow, but next to your parents who've been so supportive and so involved, the Polniaczeks really haven't pulled their weight when it comes to the Warner-Polniaczek Commitment Ceremony Celebration. We need a shorter name, by the way."
"Warp? WC? Never mind. Anyway, involvement has its drawbacks," Blair replied, thinking of her shower gift. She looked at Jo with suppressed excitement. "Oh, I was going to make it a surprise but I just can't wait. Your father is coming."
"What! He changed his mind? How? When?" Jo exclaimed.
"Well, let's just say he underestimated the Warner powers of persuasion," Blair announced proudly.
Jo's grin vanished. "What did you do?"
"I simply had a little talk with your father and Carole. I said that you really wanted him here."
"That's it?" Jo asked
"Well, I may have facilitated his decision a little," Blair replied.
"How, Blair?" Jo inquired, deadly serious.
"I sent the private jet to pick him up and gave Carole a weekend at the Canyon Ranch Spa. I also sent her son Mark a fairly substantial graduation gift."
Jo closed her eyes. "How substantial?"
"I bought him an air conditioning repair business."
Jo couldn't trust herself to speak for a moment. "So what you're telling me is that you bribed my father to show up," she finally got out.
"I wouldn't put it that way," Blair said defensively.
"Exactly how would you put it, Blair?" Jo couldn't remember the last time she had been so angry. "After all these years, nothing has changed, has it? Any little problem can be washed away by the Warner money, isn't that right?"
"Jo, I did it for you. I wanted everything to be perfect for you," Blair protested.
"And yet you didn't bother to ask me, did you? It never occurred to you that I might have a problem with my father selling himself to you for a spa weekend, a jet ride and a goddamned air conditioning repair business. It never occurred to you that I wanted him to come because he wanted to be here, not because he won some jackpot on the fucking Wheel of Fortune. Or that I might object to having Charlie Polniaczek become one of your paid retainers," Jo spat out.
"He's not a retainer, Jo. He's part of our family. It is our family, isn't it?" Blair queried coldly.
They stared at each other for a moment. Jo shook her head. "Blair, I don't want to say something I might regret. The party is winding down so say goodbye to everyone for me. I need some air." She walked out of the room.
Blair stared at the door for a moment, then sank to her old single bed and put her head in her hands.
Jo stormed out of kitchen and into the Eastland grounds. She strode down a secluded path towards the old stables. If she hadn't been so distracted, she might have noticed the figure following behind her in the dark. She might have turned around before the figure got too close and she might have had time to ward off the blow to the head that sent her crumpling to the ground.
"Thanks for covering everyone. I don't think anyone suspected," Blair said to Natalie, Tootie, and Mrs. Garrett after they had said goodbye to the last of the partygoers. "I don't know what I would have done without you."
Tootie put her arm around her friend. "Don't worry, Blair, everything will be fine. Jeff and I had a horrendous fight before the wedding. It happens all the time."
"Maybe I should go look for her."
"I don't know, Blair," Natalie said. "Why don't you give her some time to come to her senses? She always does -- eventually."
"Mrs. Garrett, she is going to show up tomorrow, isn't she?" Blair asked her mentor, giving voice to her greatest fear.
"Of course she will, dear. Not appearing would be cowardly and cruel and Jo is neither of those things," Mrs. Garrett declared firmly.
"All right then. Let's go back to the Inn," Blair said with a thin smile. "I'll give her some space. Things will seem better in the morning."
What the fuck? Jo thought, regaining consciousness. She tried to stand up and found to her amazement that her wrists and ankles were bound with cord. She was lying on the floor of the old stable, now converted to a maintenance shed. She looked up. Jessie?
"Hey, Polniaczek." Jessie's words were slurred and her pupils dilated.
"Jessie, what in the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Crashing your commitment ceremony. You forgot to invite me. That wasn't very nice."
"How the fuck did you get here? Never mind, I don't care. Joke's over. Untie me right now."
Jessie knelt down, pulled out a pistol from under her shirt and held it to Jo's temple. "Don't take that tone with me, Jo. You aren't Sister Margaret," she said, referring to their former and extremely fearsome kindergarten teacher.
"All right Jessie, just calm down," Jo said in a low voice, heart pounding. "Let's talk about this. What do you want?"
"Oh now you're paying attention to me. Nothing like a 44 magnum to get you to focus on old buddies. You know they call these things cop killers -- ironic, huh?" Jessie giggled, pressing the barrel into Jo's skin.
"Jessie, you don't want to do this. Please," Jo pleaded.
"Maybe, maybe not. You'll just have to wait while I decide. It may take me a while. At least until after the ceremony. I guess your bitch is going to wonder where you are. Left at the altar. How humiliating."
"Is that what you want? To humiliate Blair? Trust me, there are a lot of better ways to go about it. I'm an expert. I could give you a list," Jo offered, desperately trying to calm her strung-out captor.
Jessie relaxed and pulled the gun away from Jo's head. "OK, I'm listening."
Goddamn it. Where is she? Natalie thought. Natalie had gone back to the cafeteria the next morning and found the bedroom empty. Jo's cell phone was there, blinking with the dozens of messages Blair and the others had left.
Natalie called Tootie. "No luck here. Any word from New York?"
"No. Blair phoned the dog sitter. Jo hasn't showed up at home," Tootie replied
"How is she holding up?"
"Typical Blair. Determined to keep up the social niceties. She hasn't let on to anyone that anything is wrong."
"I just don't believe Jo would stand her up," Natalie declared. "She would never do that to a friend. And whatever else they are to each other, they've always been friends."
But as the morning wore on with no word, Natalie was starting to wonder. Blair, Tootie and Nat were in their old bedroom, where Blair had planned to dress before the ceremony. Blair hung up her gown and Jo's suit in the closet and closed the door. "Jo's parents have both arrived at the Inn," she said. "Mrs. Garrett is distracting them for now. I guess it's too late to call the guests. I'll just make an announcement at the chapel."
Blair's deadened tone chilled Tootie to the bone. "Don't give up, Blair; we still have a little while."
Blair, dry-eyed but pale, said, "No, Tootie. Face facts. For whatever reason, Jo couldn't go through with it. When push came to shove, she just couldn't bring herself to commit to me forever."
"That isn't true, Blair. I know that isn't true," Tootie declared with tears in her eyes.
Blair sighed. "You know, I'm going to take a little walk. I'll be back soon."
Blair wandered down past the gym, the site of the Eastland dances. Funny, all those slobbering Bates boys, all those Harvest Queen coronations and Blair's most vivid memories were of Jo, lurking in the corner by the punchbowl, hanging out with the DJ, talking shop with janitorial staff. Blair then walked by the classrooms, where she remembered the teachers' surprise when they realized that the funny-accented new girl had a piercing intellect and scholarly intensity rarely found in the languid preppies they normally taught. Blair came to the hockey field, where the image of Jo, in short shorts, body-checking her opponent into the stands, arose in vivid detail. The wave of nostalgia became overwhelming and caused Blair's throat to close and her chest to tighten.
I can't do this, Blair told herself in despair. If we break up, I won't be able to live with the ghosts. Blair approached the old stables. She remembered the flood, and her odd and, in retrospect, creepy crush on the headmaster. At least Jo wasn't there, Blair thought. At least I have one memory that doesn't involve Jo. Anxious to preserve that idea, Blair went up to the old stable building and opened the door.
"Tell me again how her dress was torn," Jessie ordered.
Jo groaned. "Jessie, I've told you. She went to the gym and the basketball team tossed her around. Her clothes got ripped, her hair got messy. That was it." Threats of a bullet to the head notwithstanding, Jo refused to feed Jessie's dark fantasies about Blair any further.
This is torture, Jo decided. Jo could handle the discomfort at being bound, her increasing thirst and occasional terror when Jessie decided to wave the pistol around. What was getting to her was the tedium of Jessie's rants about how hard her life had been, how everyone else got all the breaks, how spoiled and superficial Jo and all her friends were. Oh, my god, Jo realized. Is this what I sounded like? Did I wallow in self pity that much? Oh Blair, I promise that if I get out of this, I will never mention tough times in the Bronx again.
The only good thing about Jessie's hours of raving was that Jo had time to work at loosening the cords that tied her hands. Her wrists were rubbed raw and bleeding from the effort but she felt definite progress.
"It should have been us, Jo," Jessie murmured.
"What?" Jo asked, dumbfounded.
"It should have been us. We should have been together."
"What are you talking about, Jessie? You never felt that way about me. Anyway, aren't you straight?"
"You don't have a clue, Jo, you never did." Jessie bent down, pressed her mouth to Jo's lips, and cupped Jo's breasts. Jo struggled vigorously, thinking, this is about the last thing I need today.
"What the hell is going on?!" Blair stood silhouetted in the doorway.
Jessie leapt to her feet but Jo quickly swept her legs under Jessie's, tripping her and sending her sprawling.
"Blair, run! She has a gun. Run!" Jo yelled.
Blair stood still for a brief instant and then grabbed a shovel next to the door and brought the blade hard down on Jessie's back. Stunned, Jessie collapsed. In a supreme effort, Jo managed to free her hands and shimmied over to grab Jessie's pistol where it had landed when she fell. Jessie rose to her knees to face Jo pointing the gun at her and Blair brandishing the shovel. "I'll shoot you, Jessie. Don't think I won't," Jo said calmly.
Jessie curled into a ball and started to cry.
Blair hurried over to Jo and untied her legs. "Oh god, sweetheart. Are you all right?"
"Yeah. Go get the cops. I'll stay here."
Blair ran off and returned a few minutes later, with four of the security guards she had hired for the ceremony-- all off-duty members of the Peekskill police.
"Guys, can you take her to the station and book her. Call Detective Leonard of the NYPD. He has all the details," Jo instructed.
"Right. Lieutenant, do you need to go to the hospital?" one of the guards asked.
"No," said Jo. "I have a ceremony to make."
She grabbed Blair's hand and they started running towards the cafeteria.
"Jo," Blair gasped, as they ran. "Are you sure you don't want to see a doctor? Everyone will understand."
"Shut up, Blair. We are doing this. You're putting on your gown and we are doing this," Jo said fiercely. "How much time do we have?"
"Plenty of time."
"I had allocated four and half hours to dress, three hours for hair alone," Blair pointed out.
"Well you'll just have to accelerate," Jo stated as they reached the cafeteria, ran up the stairs and burst into the bedroom, where Tootie and Natalie were waiting.
"Jo!" exclaimed Natalie. "Where the hell have you been?"
"Would you believe I've spent the last fourteen hours being held hostage at gunpoint by a psychopathic drug addict who has a crush on me?"
"Sounds about right," Natalie shrugged.
"Everybody get dressed," Jo ordered.
Jo jumped into the shower and then emerged to find the three others all clustered in front of the one bathroom mirror, makeup flying, hair dryers blowing, perfume bottles and lipstick tubes being tossed around like juggling balls. She had to laugh. "Just like old times, right, guys?"
Jo and Natalie finished first and ran to the Eastland chapel where they found Mrs. Garrett anxiously standing by the front door.
"Jo, you made it. Not that I ever had any doubt," Edna declared. "Listen, now that your father is here maybe you would like to walk down the aisle with him."
Jo grabbed Mrs. Garrett's shoulders. "Mrs. G., I love my parents, but you raised me. I want you to give me away."
Mrs. Garrett smiled. "I would be honored. Let's go."
Natalie signaled for the chamber ensemble to start the music. She walked up the aisle of the filled-to-capacity chapel, followed by Jo and Mrs. Garrett, arms linked. A beaming Mayor Callahan greeted them. He looked at Natalie quizzically. "Don't I know you?"
"I ran against you once," Natalie explained. "I called you a bribe-taking crook. A duplicitous sneak. A tool of the special interests. How have you been? You look well."
Mayor Callahan was about to respond when the music changed to a traditional wedding processional and the audience rose.
Bailey walked down the aisle in a blue princess dress and miniature diamond tiara. Tootie followed in blue taffeta, surprisingly tasteful.
There was a collective gasp. Blair, adorned in a stunning white gown and headpiece, hair swept up in an intricate but elegant style, looked nothing short of magnificent. Jo, Natalie and Mrs. Garrett all had tears in their eyes as they watched her coming up the aisle with her parents on either side. "How did she do that in the time we had?" Natalie whispered to Jo.
Almost too choked up to speak, Jo said, "Because she's Blair. Just because she's Blair."
"Blair, I don't mean to be rude but do you think you could ask your mother to tone it down a little with the Dirty Dancing?" Natalie asked. "Her last salsa with Octavio nearly set the tent on fire."
"Sorry, Nat," Blair laughed. "Go ahead and cut in. He's your guy. Just claim him."
"Well, aren't you the little cavewoman?" Jo interjected, tightening her grip on Blair's hand, which she basically hadn't released since the ceremony ended.
"I am feeling particularly territorial for some reason," Blair replied, leaning over and giving Jo yet another kiss. "Are you having fun? Do your wrists hurt? Are you absolutely sure you're OK?"
"I'm fine Blair. And yes, I'm having the time of my life. The reception is going really well, don't you think?"
Tootie and Jeff walked up. "You know, I don't think I've officially congratulated you two. Here's to many long years of happiness ahead." Jeff saluted them with his glass.
"Well if the years are with Blair, I know they're gonna be long," Jo deadpanned. "Happywe'll have to see."
"Very funny, Polniaczek," Blair muttered. "Thank you, Jeff. We appreciate it."
"Awesome first dance," Jeff declared. "Great ballroom moves. I'm very impressed you led, Blair."
"I only know how to do the woman's part," Jo admitted. Nudging her Peekskill-licensed spouse, she added, "Blair, on the other hand, is very versatile."
"I also really liked the transition from the 'Fascination Waltz' to 'Born to be Wild'," Tootie said.
"That was my idea," Jo conceded.
"Well it was terrific," Tootie assured her.
"I don't know, Tootie; I don't think anything can surpass your duet with Nat," Blair asserted.
In lieu of a toast, Natalie and Tootie had sung a version of "Endless Love" with altered, more personal and slightly racier lyrics. Jo and Blair had been convulsed in laughter and moved to tears by the performance.
"Hear, hear," Jo agreed.
"Excuse me, may I speak to my daughter for a moment?" Charlie Polniaczek approached the foursome.
Jo sighed. "Sure, Pops. Jeff, if I don't talk to you later, I'll see you at the brunch tomorrow."
"You guys are coming to that?" Jeff asked, surprised.
"Yeah. We aren't leaving for the mountains until Monday. We wanted time to catch up with everybody this weekend. I've barely had a chance to say hello to Ma." Jo turned to her father. "Let's grab some cake, Dad." Jo caught Blair's eye, who mouthed 'be nice.'
The Polniaczeks took some wedding cake and coffee and sat down at a table a little removed from the dance floor. "Jo, I heard through the grapevineand by grapevine I mean your mother, who read me the riot actthat I screwed up by only deciding to come at the last minute. I'm sorry if I hurt you."
Jo looked at the man who had charmed and exasperated her in equal measure over the years. "Dad, after the last twenty-four hours, I've decided not to sweat the small stuff. I love you and I'm glad you're here, no matter what the reason."
"Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. Hey, that would be a good name for Mark's air conditioning business. You know, Jo, it isn't charity. This is a really smart investment for Blair, I swear," Charlie said excitedly.
"OK, Pops. If you say so."
"Aunt Jo, come see." Blair's sister Bailey ran up to them. "Beverly Ann and Mr. Perlmutter are doing the Macarena."
"Boots' husband and Beverly Ann?" Jo asked Natalie, who had accompanied Bailey.
"I kid you not. Boots's face alone is worth the price of admission."
"C'mon Dad, we can't miss this," Jo urged. She lagged behind for a moment to look around the reception tent where everyone she loved was gathered. They said you were lucky, Polniaczek, she thought to herself. They had no idea.
Blair lay sweaty, naked and sated on the gigantic four-poster bed in the VIP suite of Langley College's Alumni House. She had secretly arranged for the couple to stay there the night of the reception. It was close enough to Eastland to get back for the Sunday brunch, far enough away to avoid prying eyes and practical jokers.
"I definitely prefer the organic version," she informed Jo, who was resting her head on Blair's stomach. The Oracle's Tongue had its charms, but there was nothing like the real thing.
"Glad to hear it," Jo said, making her way up Blair's body to curl up next to her lover's shoulder and to sprawl her arm across Blair's chest.
Blair stroked Jo's hand, toying with the shiny new ring that adorned her third finger and lightly caressing the bandage around Jo's wrist. "What a day. What a terrible, wonderful, amazing day."
"No kidding. Nice work with the shovel, by the way."
A moment passed. "You know Jo," Blair said softly. "I was thinking."
"Always dangerous," Jo replied.
"OK. What were you thinking?"
"I was thinking that if Jessie had shot you in the stable, I would have wanted her to shoot me too."
There was silence.
"Well?" Blair inquired.
"Well this is where you are supposed to say, 'Same for me Blair. I wouldn't have wanted to go on without you either.'"
"Gee, Blair, I don't know. There's that four hundred and fifty million dollars to consider," Jo pointed out.
"Jo!" Blair cried, giving her little smack to the side of the head.
"I hate this game," Jo said seriously. "You once chided me for having a death fantasy and you were right. I have no interest in dying, either with or without you. I don't want you to die for me or me to die for you or yadda yadda yadda. That's too easy. The real heroism is in living and that's what I want us to do--- live."
Blair thought for a moment. "You have a point. I deserve a Medal of Honor for living with you."
"Yeah?" Jo asked, raising her head above Blair's.
"Yeah," Blair whispered, pulling her down for a kiss.
"Would you settle for a Bead of Wonderment?" Jo murmured as soon as she was able to take a breath. "It's already monogrammed."
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