DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Common Ground: Chapter 17. Quotes in italics are direct quotes from the Facts of Life Series, Season 3, Episode 6, Give and Take.
THANKS: To Stacey (aka BetaPup) for the Beta, assistance in story and character development, encouragement, and meticulous attention to detail.
MEDIA LINK: http://www.youtube.com/user/FactsOfLifeMinutes#p/p
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To FOLfan[at]ymail.com

Common Ground
17: Give and Take

By Slave2Free


Blair Warner yanked another page from her friend Tootie's typewriter. She had been typing for half an hour and had used an entire bottle of Wite-Out correcting a massive number of typographical errors.

"It's going to take me all night to finish typing my book report, Jo."

Jo barely raised her eyes from her biology textbook.

"I ain't typing your homework for you, Blair."

"I was hoping we could go see the new Brooke Shields movie, but I won't be finished in time for us to catch the last showing."

Jo groaned; she wasn't looking forward to the movie anyway.

"We can go next weekend."

Blair's lower lip protruded. She knew that her girlfriend could type her entire report in less than fifteen minutes, without a single error. Blair considered it unfair that every boy at Bates Academy would gladly type her homework for her if she gave him the time of day, while the girlfriend she doted on was unwilling to give her a single morsel of assistance.

"It may not be playing next weekend."

"If ya focus on typing instead of complaining, you'll finish a lot faster."

The petulant blonde lowered her shoulders and sighed loudly. It was a calculated act and Jo knew it.

"Stop making that sound, Blair. You know it drives me crazy."

Blair tossed her hair and smiled affectionately at the grumbling brunette.

"It drives you crazy when I breathe?"

Jo flipped her book closed and rolled onto her side, gazing at her enticing girlfriend.

"Yeah, it drives me crazy when you sigh."

"I thought you liked that sound. It always seems to . . . um, motivate you."

"That's when we're on Cooper's Rock, Princess. You're only doing it now because you think it'll motivate me to type your damn paper. I ain't one of those empty-headed Bates nerds you're used to jerking around."

Blair yanked the paper from the typewriter and threw it into the wastebasket. She made a face at her girlfriend before inserting another sheet of paper.

"I'm under a great deal of pressure, you know. I volunteered to host the art club luncheon next week and I'm in charge of the French club party later this month."

"It's not my fault you volunteered to host that silly luncheon. You could have said no."

"I told you, Jo. Margo says that the Harvest Queen election is going to be very close this year. Julie Sable has been campaigning for weeks. Since I'm not taking an art class this year, I need to make sure my fellow artists don't feel as if I've abandoned them. The French club has more members than any other club on campus and if I hadn't said yes when they asked me to be in charge of the dance, they were going to ask Julie. You have no idea how much work goes into being popular."

Jo lounged on her bed giving the beautiful blonde her full attention.

"Well, getting a good grade isn't going to win you any popularity votes so why are you so stressed out about this assignment?"

"I'm not stressed. I just . . . I just want to . . . you know . . . make Miss Gallagher proud of me. Is that a crime?"

Jo grinned. Since learning that Gail Gallagher knew about her relationship with Jo, Blair had gone to great lengths to gain the energetic teacher's approval. Seeing how uncomfortable the unassuming teacher was with the newfound attention, Jo had apologized on behalf of her girlfriend, but Gail had downplayed her embarrassment. Without complaining, Gail had speculated that in the absence of Jo's parents, Blair must have decided that charming Jo's mentor and friend was the next best thing.

In class, Blair was the first to raise her hand to answer every question posed by the literature teacher. No one knew better than Jo how unsettling it was to be constantly bombarded with Blair's megawatt smile and Miss Gallagher was as affected as anyone would be when on the receiving end of the beautiful heiress's charisma.

The enthusiastic debutante's new attitude toward her teacher was so obvious that Margo had teased Jo that Blair had stolen her title as teacher's pet. Jo wasn't bothered by the barbs; she found Blair's desire to impress Miss Gallagher adorable. Lately, Jo found everything about her girlfriend adorable, even Blair's pouty lips and exaggerated sighs when she wanted something from Jo.

While Blair focused on typing her report, Jo quietly slipped behind her girlfriend, leaned close, and blew softly into the distracted blonde's ear. Blair jumped from surprise and began giggling.

"Stop that or I'll never finish."

Jo ignored her girlfriend's protest and gently tugged at Blair's earlobe with her lips. This time, Blair's sigh was genuine, ending as more of a whimper than a sigh.

"Julie Sable can't hold a candle to you and you know it. A princess doesn't need to court her loyal subjects and you, Blair Warner, are a princess."

Jo and Blair were so caught up in the moment that they didn't hear their roommates until the door to their bedroom flew open. Startled, Jo stepped back and in the process tripped over a pair of tennis shoes on the floor. When the unbalanced athlete fell, her head hit the base of her bed with a loud thump.

Tootie immediately ran toward her injured roommate, having barely missed a glimpse of what had caused Jo to jerk away from the stunned blonde so recklessly.

"Jo, are you okay?"

"Hell no! I just cracked my head on a fucking piece of oak. I've probably got a concussion. Why did you run in here like that? You almost gave me a heart attack to go with my brain injury."

Tootie and Natalie knelt by Jo's side and extended their arms in order to help the older girl up from the floor. Blair, on the other hand, relaxed in her chair. Unfortunately, Blair had seen Jo injured on many occasions and she knew without a doubt that any time Jo was truly hurting, the willful brunette did her best to hide her discomfort. It was only when Jo was simply embarrassed that she complained about her physical injuries.

"It serves you right for making fun of my situation, Jo. I hope you've learned your lesson."

Natalie and Tootie simultaneously glared at the insensitive debutante as Jo continued to struggle to stand. Once standing, Jo rubbed her head as she shot a warning toward Blair.

"Careful, Farrah, I can arrange for you to know exactly what it feels like to have your skull knocked in."

Blair rolled her eyes and continued typing as she cast a tentative glance in Jo's direction just to confirm that her girlfriend was truly uninjured. What she saw caused her to leap from her chair, grab Jo's arm, and forcefully maneuver Jo into a sitting position on her bed.

Jo was so shocked by Blair's behavior that she stared speechlessly at the frazzled blonde.

"Sit still, you Neanderthal, your head is bleeding. Nat, go get the first aid kit from the bathroom."

Natalie ran from the room while Tootie leaned close to Blair, carefully observing Jo's injury.

"Do you think she'll need stitches?"

Jo shoved Blair's hand away from her head and grumbled.

"I don't need stitches. It's only a scratch. Geez, I wouldn't even know it was bleeding if I wasn't rooming with Florence Nightingale."

Natalie returned with the first aid kit and handed it to Blair.

"Stop squirming, Jo. You have to let me clean it."

At first, Jo tried to fend off Blair's ministrations, but soon realized the futility of her efforts and allowed her girlfriend to clean and bandage her head.

"It's nothing, really. Head wounds always look a lot worse than they are. My cousin Bud accidentally hit me in the head with a baseball bat once and I must have lost a whole pint of blood."

Tootie continued to hover, critically examining Blair's handiwork.

"Maybe we should get Mrs. Garrett to take a look at it? What do you think, Nat? Don't you think Mrs. Garrett should take a look?"

Blair bit her lip and turned to Natalie, wondering how the physician's daughter would answer Tootie's question.

Because her father was a doctor, Natalie considered herself as much a medical expert as Mrs. Garrett.

"Well, so long as she doesn't go to sleep within the next few hours, we probably don't have to worry about a concussion."

"See? Natalie says I'm fine so there's no need to drag Mrs. G. up here to look at a silly bump on my head. Besides, Blair and I are going to the movies and we're already late."

Blair shook her head decisively and nudged Jo back onto the bed.

"We're not going anywhere tonight. You can't fall asleep, but you need to lie still."

"I thought you wanted to go to the movies."

"I . . . um, I don't want to have to listen to you whine all through the movie about a headache. You'll probably look for ways to blame this whole thing on me anyway."

The guilty look on Blair's face communicated to Jo that Blair had already assigned blame of the incident onto herself. She didn't want to upset the concerned blonde further by refusing to take it easy so she leaned back on her bed and closed her eyes.

Knowing how negatively the slightest lack of sleep impacted her girlfriend's disposition, Blair made a point of rising early the next morning and being the first of her roommates to check in with Mrs. Garrett. Blair had only awakened a few times during the night when Jo yelled at their youngest roommate, but Blair felt certain that Tootie had interrupted Jo's sleep repeatedly.

Alarmed by Natalie's explanation of the potential dangers related to head injuries, the youngest roommate had indeed awakened Jo every thirty minutes throughout the night in order to ensure that Jo hadn't fallen into a coma. Tootie's actions were motivated entirely by her concern for Jo, but that didn't lessen Jo's grumpy attitude the next morning.

Jo was already eager for a confrontation when she entered the cafeteria and overheard the tail end of Blair and Mrs. Garrett's conversation.

"Yours truly has been asked to hostess the art club luncheon."

Mrs. Garrett's mood wasn't any better than Jo's as she tried to brush off Blair's obvious ploy to enlist her aid.

"Ah, not now, Blair."

Standing in the entryway, Jo shook her head silently as she watched her girlfriend ignore Mrs. G.'s reply in the same way she ignored Jo when Jo didn't give the spoiled heiress the response she wanted.

"Of course I can handle it, Mrs. Garrett, but I am going to need a teensy weensy bit of help."

"Hmm, how teensy?"

"I just need you to do a few minor things, fold a few napkins, arrange a few flowers, stuff a few capons."

"Oh, you mean set the table, decorate, and cook? Blair, I'm in the middle of something."

Jo snickered, pleased with Mrs. G.'s assessment of the situation.

"Mrs. Garrett, hostessing this art club luncheon is an honor and a responsibility."

"Yes, it's an honor for you and a responsibility for me."

"I know, but all they really want from me is my charm and uh . . . can you blame them?"

Jo was uncomfortable with the way Blair was pressuring Mrs. G. when their guardian obviously had something more important to do. Knowing that Blair often didn't realize when she was treating people thoughtlessly, Jo decided that perhaps Blair would realize how selfish she was acting if Jo mimicked her behavior. Jo was certain that Blair didn't intend to be so pushy.

"Mrs. G., my bike's got a flat and there's this great tire sale at Retread City. Do you think you could drive me to town?"

"Oh, not now, Jo. I've got to go see Mr. Parker about a problem that's come up."

"Oh, come on. Mr. Parker can wait."

Despite the seriousness of her errand, Edna Garrett had been exceptionally tolerant of Blair's demanding attitude. In light of how much she felt the young heiress had matured over the past few years, Mrs. Garrett was never overly critical when Blair occasionally lapsed. Jo's behavior, on the other hand, confused the distracted nutritionist. Of all her girls, Jo was consistently the most considerate. While Edna shot Jo a questioning look, Blair interrupted.

Blair was horrified to see Jo, who had never questioned anything Mrs. Garrett had ever said, pestering their beloved guardian to take her to town for a tire Blair knew for certain Jo didn't need. Jo had taken Blair for a bike ride the day before and Jo never allowed Blair to ride the motorcycle unless it was in perfect condition. Irritated that Jo was trying to usurp Mrs. Garrett's attention with a fabricated need, Blair continued her pleas.

"Maybe he can, but I can't. I have an art club luncheon to plan. Mrs. Garrett, what should I serve with the capons, wild rice, and —?

Jo growled at Blair, determined to demonstrate how rude it was to interrupt someone else's conversation.

"A stomach pump. Come on, we coulda been halfway to town by now."

As their flabbergasted guardian walked away, Blair turned to Jo in exasperation. Even if Tootie had kept Jo up all night, it was no excuse for Jo's boorish behavior.

"What is with you?"

Before Edna could completely retreat, Natalie cornered the redhead in the doorway. While Mrs. Garrett brushed Natalie off in much the same way she had reacted toward Jo and Blair, Blair continued to question her grumpy roommate privately.

"Joanna Marie Polniaczek, what has gotten into you? Why did you lie about needing a new tire? How could you treat Mrs. Garrett so disrespectfully?"

The more Blair babbled, the more satisfied Jo was that her ploy had worked.

"Give me a break, Blair. I was only giving you a taste of your own medicine. You were ten times more inconsiderate toward Mrs. G. than I was. All I did was show you how selfish you look when you act like that."

While Blair was defending herself to Jo, Tootie arrived and pushed Natalie aside in order to get Mrs. Garrett's attention. Each set of best friends became so embroiled in their respective disputes that none of them noticed when Mrs. Garrett left the room. They had no idea of the financial burden that had befallen their maternal guardian. Edna had received a letter that morning notifying her that the company she had worked for years earlier had gone bankrupt and that her pension fund was lost. Edna had spent everything else she earned supporting herself and her free-spirited son, Alex, and she had been depending on the pension fund to support her in retirement.

After failing to convince Mr. Parker to give her a raise, Edna scanned the newspaper for part-time employment to supplement her income. Accustomed to hard work, Mrs. Garrett accepted a second job working at the local Howard Johnson's restaurant and hoped that she would be able to resolve her money problems on her own. She'd been working at her new part-time job for less than a week when the extra hours began to negatively impact her full-time job at Eastland.

Although her attempt to change Blair's behavior by mimicking it had failed miserably, Jo wasn't giving up on her mission. Jo was frustrated that Blair's behavior so often kept others from recognizing that Blair was truly a very compassionate girl. Jo was especially aggravated when Blair didn't do her fair share of work in the cafeteria. It gave people the impression that Blair was lazy, which couldn't be further from the truth, at least from Jo's perspective. Blair's problem was that others were so willing to do things for Blair that her spoiled girlfriend had simply grown accustomed to letting others do her work.

"Excuse me, Princess Diana, but do you think you could give us a hand here?"

Jo, Tootie, and Natalie were cleaning tables while Blair flipped through one of Mrs. Garrett's cookbooks.

"In a minute."

Tootie questioned the debutante, not because she expected Blair to assist in cleaning the cafeteria, but because she was curious about why Blair was studying a cookbook.

"What are you doing with that cookbook?"

"I'm trying to find a recipe for stuffed capons. Does anyone know how this thing works?"

Jo grimaced, wondering if Blair was reverting to her dumb blonde routine in order to get someone else to prepare the capons or if Blair truly didn't know how to navigate a cookbook. Feeling certain that a girl of Blair's intelligence could figure out a simple cookbook if she applied herself to the task, Jo remained silent.

Tootie, however, amazed that the upperclassman could be so ignorant, sought to educate the ditsy blonde.

"It's a cookbook, Blair."

"I know that. I'm trying to figure out how to make capons."

Exasperated, Tootie sat down beside the convincingly confused blonde and began flipping through the pages of the cookbook.

"Look under poultry. Roasted capons. Now, for stuffing, you look under? Under?"

"Wait, wait, wait, it's on the tip of my tongue."

Natalie stared at Jo to communicate her sheer amazement at the helplessness of their oldest roommate before exclaiming.

"Stuffing, Blair. You look under stuffing! Who doesn't know that?"

Jo tilted her head and glared at Blair, making sure her girlfriend could see that there was one person in the room who wasn't buying the helpless act.

"How do you get through life?"

Realizing Jo was on to her, Blair extended her lower lip in what she hoped was a charming pout and whined.

"It's not my fault. I have to handle this art club luncheon all by myself. Mrs. Garrett isn't helping."

Comprehending Blair's strict adherence to the social etiquette expected in the elitist environment in which the heiress was raised, Jo intentionally goaded the socialite.

"Why don't you just go to Kentucky Colonel? I mean, who's gonna know? A chicken is a chicken."

"They're capons."

"What's the difference?"

Giving up the pretense of playing dumb, Blair shot back a lightning fast retort, especially pleased with herself since Jo was usually able to outwit her in their public displays of bickering.


It took a great deal of effort on Jo's part not to burst into laughter. Perhaps she hadn't taught Blair to be more independent, but she felt that she was in part responsible for Blair's ability to stand on her own two feet and trade insults with more of an arsenal than 'turn blue'. Feeling a bit proud of her girlfriend, Jo turned her attention to preparing dinner, which wasn't an easy task without Mrs. Garrett's guidance.

The four roommates continued to grumble amongst themselves as they attempted to prepare dinner without the guidance of Eastland's nutritionist. By the time Mrs. Garrett ran into the kitchen, weary from too many hours working the night shift at the Howard Johnson's, the only thing the girls had accomplished was to burn the roast.

Hoping that Mrs. Garrett would overhear her question, Tootie turned to Natalie.

"Have you figured out how we're going to get into that Brooke Shields movie tonight? It's R rated."

Natalie placed her head on Mrs. Garrett's shoulder and hugged the older woman affectionately.

"I think so. We'll need a responsible adult to take us."

Mrs. Garrett ignored the gesture and continued delegating kitchen duties.

"Tootie, will you look in the refrigerator and get out the apple sauce?"


"Natalie, help me shred."

"Sure. So what do you say, will you take us to the movies?"

Tootie couldn't find the apple sauce and Mrs. Garrett had to retrieve it herself while Natalie continued to pester the busy cook about taking them to the movies. Mrs. Garrett was ignoring the younger girls and trying to prepare the meal when Jo and Blair entered the kitchen in mid-argument.

"Blair, forget it."

"What are we talking about, really? Six little birds and a bowl of stuffing."

Jo kept reminding herself to stand firm in her resolution not to spoil her girlfriend, no matter how much cajoling she had to endure.

"I'm not sticking my hand into a dead chicken."

"Dead capon, dead capon, how many times do I have to tell you?"

The tension in the kitchen continued to escalate until Mrs. Garrett discovered the burnt roast and the girls expressed their dissatisfaction with Mrs. Garrett's lack of attention during the past few days. Eventually, Edna Garrett's lack of sleep and temper resulted in an uncharacteristic outburst.

Once tempers had cooled, Mrs. Garrett explained to the girls that she had taken the night manager's job at the Howard Johnson's and that she'd been losing sleep because of the long work hours.

"I don't think I can keep up this pace much longer."

Blair smiled at her second mother, happy that Mrs. Garrett realized how unrealistic it was for her to work two jobs.

"Let's face it. You're just going to have to give up that other job."

"Or this one."

Mrs. Garrett's tone had been deadly serious as she exited the cafeteria, leaving Blair feeling queasy. Natalie turned to her older roommate for reassurance.

"'Or this one'? What does she mean, 'or this one'?"

"She's just tired."

Blair tried to project a confidence she didn't feel and Natalie followed her example by stating her hopes instead of her fears.

"She wouldn't leave us."

Tootie had tears in her eyes as she also looked toward Blair.

"She can't do that."

If the three girls who had been amazed by their blonde friend's incompetence only a few minutes earlier noted the irony in the fact that they were all looking to that same girl for answers in the midst of the crisis, their actions didn't show it. Blair quickly assumed the leadership role in any situation involving matters of the heart and no one was nearer to the heart of the four classmates than Edna Garrett.

"We . . . we just won't let her."

Even Jo, who was normally the voice of calm during a crisis, deferred to Blair, masking her fears in her tough Bronx attitude.

"Well, what are we supposed to do, chain her to the sink?"

Blair fortified her heart and plunged forward with a plan. Losing Mrs. Garrett, who had given the wealthy heiress the guidance and love the child's parents had been either unwilling or unable to offer, was unthinkable for Blair.

"No. We'll just have to make her life easier for her, that's all."

Jo could see that Blair was on the verge of losing her composure and swiftly helped clear the room.

"Hey, Nat. Why don't you and Tootie go back into the kitchen and see if you can salvage that burnt roast for Mrs. G. That would definitely help make her life easier. Blair and I will work out a plan for solving Mrs. G.'s money problems and keeping her here at Eastland."

Natalie and Tootie were relieved that Jo was working with Blair to develop a plan. The younger girls left the cafeteria confident that their friends would come up with a way to keep their beloved nutritionist with them.

"Don't look so worried, Blair. We'll figure this out."

"I know. It's just . . . well, I've come to count on Mrs. Garrett always being here for me. I can't imagine my life without her."

"Aw, it's not like she'd be moving to another planet, Blair. She isn't leaving you; she just needs to make more money."

"I could —."

"No, you couldn't! I mean it, Blair. Don't even think about it. Mrs. Garrett has too much pride to accept anything from you. Promise me that we'll think of another way."

"What if we can't?"

"Then you and I will just ride my bike out to the Howard Johnson's a couple of nights each week."

Blair's face brightened.

"You'd do that?"

Jo sat a little straighter in her chair, always happy to be Blair's hero.

"Heh heh, I'm more dependable than the limo service, Princess. Nothing is going to come between you and Mrs. G. I'll make sure of it."

"You'd better start getting ready or we'll be late for the movie."

Jo swung her legs over the side of the bed and smiled.

"I'm ready."

"You can't seriously be planning to wear that."

Jo looked down at her camouflage t-shirt and jeans.

"What's wrong with it?"

Blair pulled Jo's elbow as she led her amused girlfriend down the hallway to the stairs.

"One of these days, Jo Polniaczek, we are going to have a serious discussion about your wardrobe."

"Hey, if you don't like my clothes, I can take 'em off."

As the couple descended the stairs, Jo lifted the hem of her shirt.

"Stop that!"

"Oh, so it's the outdated jeans you don't like? Ya should have said so."

Jo quickly unbuttoned her jeans and started working the zipper as she reached the bottom of the stairs. Blair's hand was less than an inch from preventing Jo from undressing further when Natalie rounded the corner.

"Whoa! Is there something you two want to tell me?"

Blair blushed while Jo snickered.

"Blair isn't happy with my ensemble."

Blair placed her hands on her hips and glared at the cocky brunette.

"There should be laws preventing people from wearing things like that in public."

Natalie's eyes lingered on the unbuttoned state of Jo's jeans.

"Um, you might want to get Mrs. Garrett to sew on that button before you leave the lounge, Jo. I'm not a fashion Nazi like Blair, but I do expect my friends to be fully dressed when we go to the movies."

Jo smirked at her friends as she buttoned her jeans and retrieved her jacket from the coat rack by the door.

"Sorry, Nat. The movie is rated R. You'll have to get an adult to take you."

"Don't tell me you're going to go see Brooke Shields without me? I've been waiting to see that movie forever. Have you seen the trailers? The guy who plays her boyfriend is such a stud. You have to take me."

Tootie had an internal radar system that always alerted her when Natalie was up to something and it led her straight into the parlor as Natalie was begging Jo to take her to see the new Brooke Shields movie, Endless Love.

"Take you where?"

Tootie's question didn't fool Jo. It was obvious that she'd been listening at the door before entering the lounge.

"Blair and I are going to the movies. You and Natalie can't come. End of story."

Blair fidgeted with her hair as Jo gruffly rebuffed their friends. It wasn't like Jo to deal so harshly with their younger roommates, but Jo was tired of constantly being scrutinized by the snoop sisters.

"I'm sorry, Nat. Jo's right. You're too young to come with us tonight. We'll take you to one of the PG movies tomorrow night, okay?"

Natalie placed her arm around Tootie's shoulders in solidarity.

"We'll get Mrs. Garrett to take us to the movies tomorrow night. You and Jo can stay home all by yourselves and see how you like being left behind."

Blair bit her lip to keep from smiling at the thought of being left alone with Jo.

"If that will make you feel better, Nat, we'll happily stay in tomorrow night while you go to the movie."

Seeing Natalie's anger begin to dissolve, Blair giggled and whispered confidentially to her young friend.

"I'll give you all the details on the nude scenes when I get back tonight. That way you'll know when not to go for popcorn."

Natalie cackled and Tootie's eyes grew wide with surprise.

"Nude scene? There's a nude scene with Brooke Shields?"

Blair winked at the thirteen-year-old and grinned.

"More importantly, Tootie, there's a nude scene with her hunky boyfriend. Why do you think it's rated R?"

"Geez, Nat. Do you really think Mrs. Garrett will take us to see it?"

"Of course she will. We just have to ask her after Jo and Blair figure out how to solve her financial problems."

Jo frowned as she opened the door for Blair.

"Don't pester Mrs. G. while we're gone."

Blair grabbed Jo's elbow possessively as she breezed through the doorway.

"Come on, Jo. I don't want to miss the first of the movie."

Jo liked action movies. She didn't like mushy romantic movies. She didn't like love scenes and she hated nude love scenes. For all of her brash Bronx bravado, the intense brunette was excessively shy and uncomfortable sitting in a room full of people when body parts were being exposed on a large projection screen. She was especially uncomfortable when her beautiful girlfriend was so obviously excited about watching love scenes involving a gorgeous brunette.

Several minutes into the film, however, Jo's initial misgivings turned into full-blown apprehension. Usually, the mere brush of Blair's lips against her ear as the sensual blonde whispered to her would send shivers of pleasure up and down Jo's spine, but Blair's movie commentary only fueled Jo's discomfort.

"How awful it would be to have a father like him? I can't imagine Daddy trying to fit it with my friends during a silly jam session."

Jo folded her arms across her chest, trying not to recall early images of her father entertaining her friends in their Bronx apartment. Jo recalled how proud she'd been that her pop was a cool jazz musician. She grimaced at the unrealistic view she'd had of her father when she was only ten. At that time, she had thought her ma was boring and argumentative. It wasn't until Charlie abandoned them and her mother began working extra jobs in order to ensure that Jo had the basic necessities that Jo's perspective of both her parents changed.

Jo reminded herself that Charlie had changed. He wasn't the carefree dreamer he'd been when she was younger. He wasn't anything like the man whose behavior in the movie had gained Blair's disdain.

If Jo hadn't been so wrapped up in her own childhood memories, she might have given more thought to the words she whispered in Blair's ear several minutes later.

"At least the father isn't a pervert. What kind of mother makes a pass at her daughter's date? I'd have a brain aneurysm trying to imagine my ma humiliating me like that."

Blair had been looking forward to a salacious love story along the lines of Blue Lagoon and was unprepared for a movie that often used symbolism to shed light on the complex relationships portrayed. Too many of the unattractive and somewhat disturbing characteristics of the adults and teenagers in the movie hit too close to home.

It was Blair's turn to struggle with unwanted memories as she watched the main character's mother flirt shamelessly with her daughter's boyfriend.

Following the movie, Jo suggested that they walk home instead of taking the bus, but Blair complained that walking would take too long and make them late for their curfew. In Blair's opinion, Jo could take the simplest movie and weave an intricate tangle of nonexistent shades of gray into an otherwise black and white scenario. The last thing the disappointed blonde wanted was to get into a philosophical discussion about the motivations of each character in the film. Blair had no idea what exotic moral Jo would attribute to the thought-provoking movie and had no desire to find out.

Natalie was bouncing up and down on her bed, excitedly waiting for Blair to confide all the juicy details of the movie that was currently the hottest topic on campus.

"Well, was Sue Ann exaggerating or did the hunky guy in the movie trailer get completely naked?"

Blair glanced apprehensively at Jo before responding. She'd avoided talking about the movie with her insightful girlfriend, but couldn't resist giving Natalie the scoop on the love scenes.

"Let's just say that very little is left to your imagination. Well, perhaps not that little."

Natalie cackled at the insinuation and Blair giggled uncontrollably while Jo scowled and Tootie appeared confused.

"Don't get so wound up, Nat. You ain't gonna get to see it."

"Ignore Jo; she's just in a bad mood because I made fun of her G.I. Joe t-shirt."

"It's not a G.I. Joe t-shirt. There's nothing G.I. Joe about it and Natalie is too young to see that movie."

"Mrs. Garrett will take us."


"Yes, Tootie and me."

"No way, Nat. Mrs. G. will yank you out of that movie before the opening credits finish."

"Not if Blair tells me when to send Mrs. Garrett to get popcorn and drinks."

Jo glared at Blair, who was trying to shush Natalie.

"We'll talk later, Nat. I think Jo's head might still be hurting from when she fell the other night."

Natalie nodded conspiratorially at her friend, certain that Blair would fill her in on all the important details when Jo wasn't around to scowl at them.

It was after midnight when Jo slipped from her bed covers and sat on the floor beside Blair's bed. Although both of their roommates appeared to be asleep, Jo whispered in order not to be overheard by their prying friends.

"I don't think the title fits, do you?"

Blair smiled at the question. She really didn't mind Jo's propensity to analyze everything, it was one of many characteristics that made Jo so much more interesting than Blair's other friends. She'd had enough time to get control of the emotions the film had evoked and was curious about Jo's perceptions.

"I guess it depends on whether or not you think she forgave him at the end of the movie."

"He burned down her house. He went to a nut house. He stalked her and then he caused her father's death and hid it from her. That's a lot to forgive."

"What bothers you more, Jo, the fact that he inadvertently contributed to the accident that killed her father or that he kept it from her?"

Jo cocked her head to the side and considered her intuitive girlfriend's question.

"Ya think ya know me, don't ya?"

The thickness of Jo's accent was another clue to the brunette's mood and Blair marveled at how easily she could read her girlfriend's mannerisms. Jo's behavior had confounded the debutante for over a year, but she felt she was finally beginning to understand her intense roommate.

"I think you're avoiding the question."

"A lie is a lie, Blair. You don't lie to the people you supposedly love."

Blair wasn't surprised by Jo's answer. Jo prized the truth above all else.

"He didn't mean to burn down her house. He was desperate."

"He was a moron."

"Her parents forbade her from seeing him. I don't think you would allow anyone to keep me from seeing you, Jo."

"Well, I sure as hell wouldn't be stupid enough to start a fire just so I could pretend to save you and play the role of a hero."

"You've already saved me, Jo. You were very heroic when you fought those snakes."

Jo grinned as she recalled the night she'd rescued Blair.

"Well, I got a feelin' it won't be the last time I have to save your ass. You tend to make a habit of getting yourself into trouble, Warner."

Sensing Blair's downcast mood, Jo had attempted to cheer up her girlfriend and was surprised when Blair hung her head and spoke in an unsteady voice.

"When I was in Paris, André avoided being alone with Mother. When I asked him about it, he was very tactful, but . . . well, Mother can be . . . she . . ."

"Stop it, Blair. Monica is an outrageous flirt, but she would never go as far as the mother in that movie. You shouldn't go looking for trouble where there isn't any."

Blair looked toward Jo's voice, trying to see her girlfriend's face in the dark room, but was unable to discern Jo's expression.

"Mother made a fool of herself during her last visit here. When we had lunch together, she practically threw herself at a couple of students from Bates. She couldn't tell that they were making fun of her."

Jo winced at the thought of Rose Polniaczek doing something so mortifying.

"She was scared, Blair. She'd just found out that she had cancer and she . . . maybe she needed to feel attractive. It's just a stupid movie. Ya have to learn not to take everything so personally."

"Don't pretend you can't see the similarities, Jo. You said it yourself during the movie."

Jo could have kicked herself for all the nasty things she said about the mother of Brooke Shields's character during the movie.

"I'm sorry I said those things, Blair. I didn't mean to ruin our date. I admit that I was a little rattled by the irresponsible father who kept trying to be his daughter's friend. Prison changed my pop. He's more like a regular dad now, but things were different when I was younger."

Blair's crossed her arms in front of her chest. Charlie Polniaczek had been unexpectedly charming when they'd met.

"You don't have to say that in order to make me feel better, Jo."

Jo could understand how Blair would have trouble equating the doctor in the movie with her father, but Blair hadn't spent enough time with Charlie to note the similarities.

"Did I ever tell you that my pop used to play the sax? He and his band played in the bar where Ma worked. Sometimes he and his friends would hang around the apartment all night, smoking and playing their instruments. He invited the whole neighborhood, but mostly only the teenagers would come and that's just because they wanted free booze."

Blair hadn't meant to bring up bad memories for Jo and her voice was barely audible when she spoke.

"I still have so very much to learn about you."

Blair didn't realize she had spoken her thoughts out loud until Jo leaned forward to gaze into her girlfriend's eyes.

"I'm nothing like my pop, Princess. I'm not an angel, like Ma, but I'm not an irresponsible louse, either."

When Jo's father had shared his dream of one day becoming a stockbroker, Blair had considered his lack of education an obstacle, but one he could overcome. Once she became aware of his criminal record, Blair realized how unrealistic Charlie's dreams must have seemed to Jo. Regardless of how much he had changed, Jo's father couldn't change his past and no brokerage firm would hire someone with a criminal background.

"I thought you had forgiven your father, Jo."

Jo sighed deeply and moved to sit on the side of Blair's bed.

"I have, but that doesn't mean I'm gonna depend on him for anything. He'll only be around until the next 'get rich quick' scheme comes along and then he'll be out of my life, just like before. That's what people do when things don't go their way, Blair. They walk out on the people who need them. The guy in the movie did it to his family, my pop did it, your daddy did it, too. That's why I try not to get too attached to people."

Blair placed her palms on either side of Jo's face, squeezing Jo's cheeks until her face contorted. Jo's eyes bulged with disapproval, but she made no effort to extract herself.

"You are stuck with me, Joanna Polniaczek. Get used to it."

Jo's voice was higher than normal as she acquiesced through scrunched lips.

"I know that."


Once Blair removed her hands, Jo grinned mischievously.

"You only keep me around for my typewriting skills."

"Well, it's not as if you'd ever use them to help me."

"Blair, you've got so many people doing so many things for you that you've never learned how to stand on your own two feet. You shouldn't depend on other people so much."

Blair's tone turned serious as she pressed her lips to Jo's ear and whispered.

"Can I depend on you, Jo?"


Blair's plan to make Mrs. Garrett's life easier began by allowing the weary nutritionist to sleep late and preparing breakfast themselves. For once, all four girls worked in harmony and breakfast preparations were complete by the time Edna Garrett entered the kitchen.

Instead of the reaction they expected, however, their mentor began to cry. Seeing the young girls she loved so dearly working so hard to please her was too much for Edna. The desperate nutritionist had accepted a full-time job at Howard Johnson's the night before and had delivered her resignation to Mr. Parker's secretary before returning to the cafeteria that evening. When Mr. Parker showed up in the cafeteria with Edna's resignation, the girls lost all hope of keeping Mrs. Garrett with them.

Mixed with the sadness of saying goodbye to Mrs. Garrett, Blair felt especially guilty for having selfishly wanted the older woman to stay in a low-paying job just so the heiress could spend more time with her. In less than a fraction of a second, she and Jo locked eyes and silently agreed that it was in the best interest of their guardian to let her go, even though they felt they still needed her desperately.

"Girls, you cannot go through life thinking today is forever. What's happening to me could happen to anyone. After a lifetime of hard work, well . . . I just don't want to end up eating dog food."

Natalie was aghast.

"Dog food? Really?"

Jo winced when Blair spoke, knowing how often her girlfriend's mouth outran her brain.

"We don't even serve that to our dogs."

Tootie turned to the only other adult in the room for confirmation. She leaned close to Mr. Parker, hoping he would downplay the severity of Mrs. Garrett's situation.

"She still is being dramatic, isn't she?"


Blair couldn't take anymore. Jo was always reminding Blair that money wasn't the answer to every problem, but Blair decided that money must certainly be the answer to a problem if the problem was a lack of money. Ignoring Jo's warning glare, the tender-hearted blonde leapt to her feet and wrapped her arm protectively around her mentor's shoulders.

"I can help you, I really can. We've got this real nice compound behind Daddy's summer ranch in Texas. The cook lives there and my former nanny and a couple of real nice ranch hands. We've got a swimming pool and a rec hall, you'll fit in just fine. Daddy will never notice."

Jo spoke as much to herself as to anyone, annoyed that Blair was trying to solve Mrs. G.'s problem by offering to send her to the other side of the country.

"Is she crazy?"

The hurt in Blair's voice was obvious to everyone, even Mrs. Garrett.

"I was just trying to be helpful."

Edna spoke gently to the young woman who had grown so compassionate under her guidance.

"I know you were, Blair, but I've always made my own way in the world. I don't want to live off anyone."

Blair lowered her head. Jo had been right; Blair's offer had hurt Mrs. Garrett's pride. Jo smiled reassuringly at Blair and walked over to the woman she admired almost as much as she admired her own mother.

"I know exactly how you feel. I don't want to lean on anybody either."

The emotional scene finally shamed Mr. Parker into action as the girls began helping Mrs. Garrett pack.

"She is not leaving!"

Jo was enraged. It had been terribly difficult to do the right thing and let go of Mrs. G. Mr. Parker wouldn't be pushing the lovable redhead around any longer; Jo would make sure of it. She stormed up to Mr. Parker and glared into his eyes, only inches from the headmaster's face.

"Are you gonna give her a hard time?"

"No, not her, the board of directors. Now, we do a lot of talking about being a family around here. Well, it's time we put our money where our mouth is."

Jo had never admired the man as much as in that moment, when he promised that he would threaten the board of directors with his own resignation if they didn't give Mrs. Garrett a raise. It was the perfect solution to Mrs. G.'s problem.

Later that day, Edna was only mildly surprised that Jo was with Blair when the debutante appeared at her guardian's door. The discerning woman sat on the edge of her bed and motioned for Blair to sit beside her. Jo chose to stand by the window, staring out at the garden she and Mrs. Garrett had planted in the spring.

"It was very nice of you girls to prepare breakfast this morning. I know how long it takes you to curl your hair, Blair. You must have gotten up before sunrise."

Blair smiled bashfully, thrilled by the compliment.

"It was the very least we could do, Mrs. Garrett, after behaving so selfishly. It's true that we need you, but we'll love you even when we don't need you anymore."

Jo glanced in Blair's direction, thinking it was a good thing she'd learned to read Blair's mood because her girlfriend was often incapable of expressing her feelings without getting tongue-tied.

"Uh, what Blair means to say is that we aren't working an angle, Mrs. G. We love you for who you are, not just because of all the things you do for us."

"I know what Blair meant, but thank you, Jo. I love you, too, both of you."

Jo shuffled her feet uncomfortably and returned her gaze to the window while Blair gazed directly into Edna's eyes. After a nervous glance toward Jo, the wealthy blonde leaned close to Mrs. Garrett and whispered.

"You can still stay at the ranch if you want, Mrs. Garrett. It really is nice and it wouldn't be charity. Heck, you can live with me in Manhattan if you don't like Texas. You'd be doing me a favor. You know how helpless I am without you."

Mrs. Garrett smiled lovingly at the young woman, knowing Blair's heart was in the right place.

"When are you going to stop pretending to be so helpless, Blair? You may have others fooled, but you should know by now that you can't fool me."

Blair hugged Mrs. Garrett fiercely as tears filled her eyes.

"I'll always need you, Mrs. Garrett. Always."

Mrs. Garrett wiped a tear from her cheek and sniffled.

"Well, I need to catch up on my sleep. Why don't you and Jo go on one of your walks this afternoon? Tootie and Natalie can help me prepare dinner."

Jo gazed at Mrs. G. for a long time, wondering if the twinkle she'd seen in the older woman's eye was from unshed tears or something else. The perceptive brunette was still contemplating Mrs. Garrett's mood when Blair took her by the arm and started pulling Jo toward the door.

"Come on, Jo, before she changes her mind."

Blair ran her finger along the edge of Jo's ear as she placed feather soft kisses along Jo's cheek.

"Please, Jo."

"Didn't your mother ever teach you that no means no?"

Undeterred, Blair loosened Jo's tie and pressed her lips to Jo's neck, tenderly nibbling a path toward Jo's collarbone.

"If it were anyone else, you'd do it."

Jo ran her fingers through her girlfriend's hair, thoroughly enjoying the seduction, but not persuaded by Blair's efforts.

"Mmm, that feels really nice, Princess."

"So you'll help me with the art club luncheon?"

Jo sighed, regretful that her romantic interlude was about to end.

"Not a chance."

Blair rolled off of her girlfriend and stared at the landscape beyond the ledge for a moment before turning to glare at Jo. The spoiled heiress battled with her emotions. She wanted Jo to accommodate her every whim, but she found Jo's immunity to her charms inexplicably attractive.

"You are so irritating."

Jo chuckled, completely charmed by her girlfriend, yet determined not to show it.

"You are so transparent."

Both girls turned their gazes to the puffy white clouds floating overhead and smiled. Jo folded her arms behind her head and sighed contentedly. Everything was back to normal at Eastland Academy.

"I'm transparent, huh?"


"So, I guess the chances of me surprising you would be very slim?"


"Well, what if I told you that your mother called today?"

"I'd say you're making it up. No matter how upset she was about her finances, there's no way Mrs. G. would fail to come and get me if Ma called me."

"Oh, didn't I mention it? She didn't call you. She called me."

Jo almost broke her arm pulling it from behind her head and stuttered several times before giving up on her voice and staring at Blair through a fog of confusion.

"I did surprise you, didn't I?"

"What, what, why?"

"Your mother was very gracious. She said that she was sure you enjoyed your visit to Manhattan and felt it would be rude not to reciprocate with an invitation to your home."

"My home, in the Bronx?"

"Unless you have other homes you haven't told me about."

"What . . . what did you say?"

Blair grabbed Jo by the cheeks and kissed her puckered lips before answering.

"I said yes, silly."

Post Series Flash Forward: Tootie Returns to Peekskill

Dorothy Ramsey Williams walked aimlessly throughout the Polniaczek/Warner home. During the reunion festivities, Blair and Jo had cut back on their normal work hours, but after Dorothy's visit was extended the couple had far less time to entertain their guest.

During the first few days after Natalie, Jo, and Blair returned to work, Dorothy had enjoyed the solitude. She had welcomed a rest from her own hectic work schedule and had treasured the time with her daughter. Beverly, however, had begun spending her days at the country club where Garrett worked as a lifeguard, leaving only E.J. and Mrs. Gains to share the massive home with Dorothy.

Dorothy finally found E.J., Marie, and Mrs. Gains in the media room. Edna was sitting in a recliner with her eyes closed while E.J. and Marie played a board game. Dorothy sighed as she entered the eerily quiet room, thinking it was just her luck to be stuck with the least talkative nine-year-olds on the planet. Sometimes Dorothy would pretend to read the newspaper and surreptitiously observe the two children to see if she could figure out how they managed to communicate with one another when neither of them seemed the least bit interested in using words.

"Hi, who's winning?"

E.J. looked apprehensively toward Mrs. Gains and answered in a whisper.

"Marie is winning. We're being extra quiet since Mrs. G. is taking a nap."

Dorothy took a closer look at Edna and confirmed that the elderly woman was sleeping peacefully. She started to make a joke about how 'quiet' and 'extra quiet' sounded exactly the same when it came to E.J. and Marie, but thought better of it and kept the humorous observation to herself.

"In that case, I would be happy to drive the two of you into town for a few hours. Where would you like to go?"

E.J. immediately shook her head.

"Mrs. G. is babysitting us."

"I'm sure she wouldn't mind if you left with me while she finishes her nap."

E.J. bit her lower lip and looked hesitantly toward Mrs. Gains.

"Mrs. G. likes taking care of us. Mother says that watching over Marie and me is the most important job in the world and she wouldn't trust anyone but Mrs. G. to do it."

Dorothy chuckled softly and knelt beside the girls.

"It's only for one afternoon. We could leave a note so that Mrs. G. wouldn't worry about you."

Marie touched E.J.'s hand and nodded, obviously eager to ride into town with the famous actress, but E.J. shook her head once again and Marie instantly nodded her acquiescence.

"Mrs. G. likes having company. She likes helping us with puzzles and makes sandwiches for us. Maybe . . . um, maybe we could go to town when she wakes up and take her with us. She can't drive anymore, so she doesn't get out as much as she'd like. When I'm old enough to drive, I'm going to drive her everywhere."

Dorothy's heart swelled with affection for the young child as she realized that E.J. and Marie watched over Edna as much as the maternal woman watched over them. Dorothy thought back on the meals she'd watched the family prepare with a new perspective. Mrs. Gains would sit on a stool in the middle of the kitchen directing the preparations while each family member in turn would present the various dishes they had prepared to the former nutritionist for approval before placing them on the table.

Every child demonstrated an expertise in the kitchen uncommon for children their age, but each one of them sought out Mrs. Gains' advice during every meal. Dorothy scanned the lines along Mrs. Gains' face and wondered how she had managed to miss the clear signs of declining health.

'Well, well, well', thought Dorothy. 'Your kids aren't perfect, Jo, but caring for them is the perfect job for a woman who could never be satisfied with a leisurely retirement.'

"Mrs. Tootie?"

"Oh, yes, E.J. We'll wait for Mrs. G. to wake up and all go to town together."

E.J. grinned; looking so much like Jo Polniaczek that Dorothy couldn't prevent a surge of sentimentality. The tender mood was shattered, however, by E.J.'s next observation, which sent the actress into a fit of uncontrollable giggles.

"That's a brilliant idea, Mrs. Tootie."

Dorothy covered her mouth to keep from waking Mrs. Gains and was surprised to see Marie having as much difficulty suppressing her own giggles.

In the next instant, Blair's youngest daughter modeled another classic Warner trait by rolling her eyes at her best friend and sighing.

"I'll go see if my parents want to join us for lunch before we leave."

When E.J. walked past the telephone and toward the hallway, Dorothy stopped her.

"Wait, aren't you going to call your parents?"

E.J. shook her head.

"They're just down the hall, in their office."

It was Dorothy's turn to roll her eyes, wondering how often Jo and Blair had actually been in their home when E.J. had informed her that the two were working.

"Would you mind if I go speak with them instead while you and Marie finish your game?"

E.J. shrugged indifferently and returned to the board game while Dorothy tried to remember which hallway led to the elegant office area she'd been shown during her original tour of the home.

Once Dorothy found her way to the office, the door was open and she could see her friends working inside. Seeing Jo and Blair sitting at their desks reading documents reminded Dorothy of their years at Eastland and Langley when all four girls had studied quietly for hours in their shared bedroom.

Dorothy allowed herself to drift down memory lane while standing silently in the doorway, a smile spreading over her face when Blair mischievously threw a kernel of popcorn toward Jo and hit the studious brunette in the face.

"Very funny, Blair. If you keep that up, I'll be working on this all day."

"It's time for a break, Jo. Everyone works better after a break. I've been telling you that for as many years as we've known one another."

"You take too many breaks."

"You don't take enough."

Blair punctuated her response with another kernel of popcorn, prompting Jo to quickly leap from her chair, walk across the small distance separating the two desks, and place her hands forcefully on the armrests of Blair's chair.

Just as Dorothy was about to announce her presence for fear of the oncoming confrontation, Jo's demeanor changed completely and she leaned forward to place a tender kiss on her lover's lips.

"Hmm, you always were a great popcorn popper, Princess."

"Yes, I'm a microwave aficionado."

Jo chuckled and stole another brief kiss.

"So, is it time for a break?"

Before Blair could answer, Dorothy cleared her throat, not wanting to give the playful banter a chance to escalate into something more intimate.

"Um, I'm taking the girls and Mrs. G. to town after lunch. Would you like to have sandwiches with us before we leave?"

Jo turned slowly and grinned agreeably at her younger friend.

"That sounds great, but I have to warn you that E.J. and Marie have some unique ideas when it comes to sandwich ingredients."

Blair rolled her chair to an angle in order to see Dorothy and elaborated.

"You know all those strange things we crave when we're pregnant? Well, E.J. apparently retained all the odd cravings I had when I was carrying her."

"Oh yeah, I had to go to the story every fu—."

Blair abruptly cleared her throat and glared at her partner.

"Dorothy doesn't need to hear all the horrid details, Jo."

Jo chuckled and winked at Dorothy.

"I'll tell ya later."

Blair rolled her eyes and Dorothy giggled at the memory of E.J. mimicking the mannerism.

Dorothy and Jo continued to exchange the worst food combinations they'd ever eaten while the three women walked the short distance to the den. Once they arrived, Blair touched Jo's hand and inclined her head toward Mrs. G.

"I told you not to give her those drugs."

"She has to take her medicine, Jo."

"They make her sleepy."

"Perhaps she needs to sleep."

Jo smiled reassuringly at her lover and nodded.

"You're probably right. She has been more tired than usual lately."

Blair chewed her lower lip for a few seconds and seemed uncertain.

"Maybe I should take her back to the doctor tomorrow, just to make sure. What do you think?"

Jo nodded again, trying not to appear overly concerned about the elderly woman's health.

"Tootie and I will take the girls into the kitchen while you try to convince Mrs. G. to go back to the doctor again."

Blair sighed.

"Gee, thanks."

Jo tilted her head and grinned.

"Aw, you know that you're the only one who can talk her into doing something she doesn't want to do."

Jo gathered the children, but Dorothy lingered behind them, glancing over her shoulder to see if Blair was having any luck convincing the former nurse to go along with her suggestion. For the third time within the hour, Dorothy's mind snapped back to the past as she watched the two women interact. The strong bond they had shared when Blair was a teenager had obviously grown deeper with time.

Blair was kneeling beside Edna Gains' chair, gently stroking the older woman's hand in order to wake her.

"I fell asleep again, didn't I?"

"You've been very tired lately, Edna. Jo thinks your medication may be too strong for you."

"Oh, I don't think the medicine is the problem, Blair. I just can't keep up with you girls the way I used to."

"You keep up with us just fine, Edna. I spent half the morning tossing popcorn kernels at Jo to keep her from falling asleep while we were working on the Eastland budget."

Edna chuckled at the image, but then grew serious.

"I'm sure Jo enjoyed the interruption, but she wouldn't have dozed off without it."

"Well, I'm beginning to think that Jo is right about your medication. Let's talk to your doctor and see about changing your prescription."

"Blair, the medicine isn't making me sleepy, it's Fred."


"You know Fred, from the hardware store."

"Fred Burnett, George's father?"

"What's so surprising about that?"

"Um, nothing. It's just . . . well, I'm a little confused."

"It's not confusing, Blair. Fred and I have been spending a lot more time with one another lately and last night he came over to visit with me and we lost track of time. When I was your age I could stay up half the night and still be fine the next day, but I'm getting too old for that."

Blair felt as if she'd been riding an emotional roller coaster. She'd been concerned about Edna for weeks because the maternal woman had seemed uncharacteristically tired. She was relieved that the reason Edna was sleepy was that the energetic woman had been staying up late with Fred but at the same time she was a tad irritated that she'd worried for no reason.

"Does this mean that you have a new boyfriend?"

"He's not my boyfriend, Blair. Fred's a grown man."

"And how late have you and Fred been . . . visiting?"

"Well . . . He noticed that the kitchen door was squeaking when he started to leave early this . . . um, when he started to leave and so he stayed to fix it. It would have been rude not to invite him for breakfast. He's very handy, you know. He's almost as handy as Jo."

Blair leaned her forehead against Edna's hand and laughed.

"You know Jo is going to go over to the hardware store the first chance she gets to grill him about his intentions?"

Edna grinned mischievously.

"I'm afraid Jo won't be finding Fred at the hardware store any time soon. The late date nights have taken more of a toll on him than on me. He hired another salesman to work the early shift. It's not Fred's fault, very few people my age have my stamina."

Blair's eyes twinkled as she kissed Edna on the cheek.

"I'll leave an extra sandwich in the refrigerator. You'll need your nourishment if you're rejoining the dating scene."

Part 18

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