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: Chapter 3 of the series: Common Ground. Quotes in italics are direct quotes from the Facts of Life Series, Season 3, Episode 1, Growing Pains.
THANKS: To Stacey for the Beta, assistance in story and character development, encouragement, and meticulous attention to detail.
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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
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3: Growing Pains
Blair felt small sitting alone in the back of the limousine, but she wouldn't be lonely for long. She was minutes away from the school she loved, and the people she considered her family.
Blair's summer had been packed with activity. Her mother had made sure that every minute of every day was scheduled for a shopping excursion, sightseeing tour, fashion event, or gala. Monica had gone to great lengths to limit the amount of time she and her daughter would have available for private discussions. Had Blair's grandmother not grown ill during the summer, Blair doubted that she and her mother would have come to any type of agreement, however much a compromise, about Jo. When Monica received word of the gravity of her mother's condition, she and Blair immediately flew to Texas, where Monica would be forced to listen to declarations from both her mother and her daughter that she found difficult to accept.
Blair ran her fingers along her necklace, lingering on the small cross her grandmother had given her shortly before her death. Her mother described the necklace as an heirloom, passed down for generations. Blair's grandfather had given it to Blair's grandmother on their wedding day and she, in turn, had given it to Blair. It was a simple piece of jewelry, but Blair loved it. She'd thought of Jo the moment she saw it, wondering how it would look dangling from her girlfriend's neck.
Blair had never been very close to her grandmother. As a child, her grandfather had monopolized all of his namesake's time when she had visited his ranch in Texas. Blair smiled as she considered the vast differences in her grandparents. Her grandmother was very much like Blair's mother. She had grown up socializing with New York's elite, but her life changed dramatically when she accompanied her father on a business trip to Texas one year and met Judge J. Carlton Blair. Fifteen years her senior, Judge Blair was unlike anyone Christina Bailey had ever known. Judge Blair came from the most prominent and powerful family in Colleton County and was a well respected judge. There was nothing frivolous or superficial about Judge Blair, he made his own way in life, apart from his affluent family.
Blair realized at seventeen that her mother had inherited her free spirit, artistic ability, and love of adventure from Christina Bailey Blair, but it would be many years later before she would come to attribute her mother's obsession with outward appearance, flawless manners, and perfect features to her grandfather's influence.
While her grandmother, who loved the New York nightlife, attended gala events with Monica, Blair would ride horses or go fishing with her grandfather. Judge Blair would also take his granddaughter to the courthouse, where she was allowed to roam unimpeded throughout the building, much to the dismay of those who knew the judge as a demanding taskmaster and a stern man. His staff was expected to adhere to a strict and rigid set of rules. However, anyone who came into contact with the severe judge while his granddaughter was visiting knew that the austere persona he projected to the rest of the world did not apply to the grandchild he adored.
Even before Blair's parents divorced, her father spent most of his time building his empire while her mother spent most of her time traveling the globe. Blair's paternal grandmother died when she was a small child and her Grandfather Warner was as obsessed with Warner Textiles as his son. Therefore, Blair spent a great deal of her childhood at the Texas ranch with her maternal grandparents.
Although Blair could still recall wonderful summers at the ranch with her cousin Geri, a disagreement between her grandparents and Geri's mother had estranged Blair's Aunt Geraldine from the rest of the family when Blair was very young. Blair's mother repeatedly warned Blair not to mention her aunt or her cousin when in her grandfather's presence. An obedient child, Blair never questioned the reasons for the rift between her grandfather and his oldest daughter. Far into the future, learning the reason for the conflict between her grandfather and her aunt would forever alter Blair's already tarnished perception of the man who had once lavished her with love and attention.
Blair had not visited her grandparents' ranch since her grandfather's death when she was twelve years old. She had been unprepared for the emotions the visit evoked. The ranch was much the same, but Blair's perspective had changed. As she gazed at her grandmother's paintings, depicting many of the same cathedrals Blair had been recently sketching, she imagined her grandmother and mother strolling through Paris during the day with their sketchpads and attending fashion shows and parties late into the evening. It provided Blair with the sense of continuity for which she had always longed.
Blair began to wonder about the woman who had painted the pictures hanging throughout the ranch. Christina's paintings weren't as exquisite as Monica's artwork, but they exuded an attitude of hope and cheerfulness that Blair found very appealing. She wished that her mother could find the same kind of comfort in viewing the paintings that Blair found. Seeing her once vivacious mother thin and frail in her hospital bed had unhinged Monica.
Blair continued to caress her grandmother's necklace as the limousine drew closer to Eastland. Her grandmother had given Blair the necklace and told her that she was the light of her grandfather's life. She had also asked her granddaughter not to judge her husband, Carlton, too harshly. Blair hadn't comprehended the admonition, but she understood the significance of the piece of jewelry her grandmother had given to her. For Blair, the necklace wasn't a religious symbol; it was a physical representation of her grandparents' legacy.
As the limousine pulled into the driveway beside the Eastland cafeteria, Blair's eyes searched the upstairs bedroom window, wondering if anyone might be watching for her arrival.
"Be careful, Jo!"
"I am. Listen, I don't want to be lying around on the sofa when everyone gets here. You've been waiting on me for weeks. I want to help out more."
"Are you sure?"
Jo smiled at the concerned expression on Mrs. G.'s face.
"Well, I'd hate to lose that ring. I can't believe I didn't take it off before I started washing dishes."
"I'm sure I can find it. It'll give me something to do instead of staring out the window waiting for someone to arrive."
Mrs. Garrett sighed. She knew it hadn't been much fun for Jo to be stuck at Eastland while the other girls were enjoying their summer vacations.
"No one will envy you for spending part of your vacation with me, Jo. I hope it wasn't too boring for you."
The sincerity in Jo's voice touched Edna.
"I'm grateful that you let me stay with you, Mrs. G., and I enjoy your company, but I was kind of hoping that we could just keep my little problem to ourselves?"
"You don't want the other girls to know that you spent the last part of the summer here with me, recuperating?"
"You've been great, Mrs. G., but . . . they'll wonder why I didn't stay with my mom."
"I understand, Jo. I'm not going to say anything, but you shouldn't underestimate your friends."
Jo smiled weakly, thinking of Blair. Jo dreaded having to tell Blair about her injury. She remembered how devastated Blair had been when she'd left a few scratches on Jo's back after having gotten carried away in a moment of passion. She also remembered the concern on her girlfriend's face as Blair had gently massaged cream onto Jo's rough hands.
Jo looked down at her hands. Weeks of harsh dish detergent had left them in worse shape than the night Blair had found her cleaning them with abrasive chemicals. Jo would have a lot of explaining to do. She had written Blair every week, but most of her letters were poems or expressions of love. She hadn't told Blair anything about her summer.
'She's going to have a fit when she sees my back. She'll probably want to call a plastic surgeon,' mused Jo.
Mrs. Garrett noticed Jo's gaze lingering on her hands and remembered Blair's insensitive remark the semester before. Edna loved Blair, but she wasn't blind to the pampered girl's occasional thoughtlessness.
"Jo, why don't you borrow some of my hand lotion after you retrieve my ring from the drain? It's the least I can do after making you dig through those nasty pipes. I've been scrubbing floors and washing dishes more years than you've been alive and my lotion has kept my hands as soft as anything Countess Calvert sells."
Jo looked directly into the lively redhead's eyes, finding no pity, only understanding. Mrs. G. had struggled as much as Jo's mom. She'd raised two sons without any help from her gambling addicted ex-husband.
"I'll give it a try. I guess you've had a lot of different jobs over the years, huh?"
"Oh, it's been an adventure. I've done everything from wiping runny noses to stitching knife wounds and I've always taken pride in my work. A clean floor is just as important as a well-sown stitch."
"What you do here is important, Mrs. G. I don't think I'd still be at Eastland if you hadn't helped me."
"You're a good girl, Jo. Don't let anyone criticize you or belittle the work you do."
Jo Polniaczek considered her guardian. She had confided more in Edna Garrett within the past few weeks than she had confided in anyone before, other than Blair Warner. Jo understood the unquestioning devotion Blair felt toward Mrs. Garrett. Edna Garrett was the kind of person other people aspired to be, yet few could match the fiery redhead's character.
"Aw, you're just saying that because you want me to crawl under the sink and find your ring."
Edna Garrett chuckled as she handed Jo her wrench.
"I'll be back soon, Jo. Mr. Parker wants to go over this week's meal plan before today's assembly."
After briefly scanning the lounge and finding it unoccupied, Blair rushed upstairs to her bedroom. Disappointed, she went back down to the lounge. At first Blair thought that she must be the first one of her roommates to return to Eastland, but then she heard a very familiar voice booming from the kitchen.
When Jo first arrived at Eastland, Blair was shocked by Jo's off-color language. She'd never heard anything, however, like the wealth of profanity spewing from the kitchen. Following each outburst, Blair could hear the sound of metal clanging against metal.
When Blair quietly entered the kitchen, she found Jo lying on the floor with her head and hands hidden underneath the sink. A flannel shirt had been casually draped across the countertop. Jo's left leg was straight and the right one was bent at the knee. Her light blue t-shirt was soaking wet and the hem had slipped up while Jo worked, exposing an inch of skin between her shirt and the top of Jo's jeans. It was the transparent quality of Jo's shirt, however, that caused Blair to place her hand over her mouth to keep from audibly gasping.
The prior year, Jo often refrained from wearing a bra when she was wearing a flannel shirt over her t-shirt or when she wore a sweater over her Eastland uniform. Jo had complained to Blair that bras were uncomfortable and that Blair was the only one who ever noticed. Blair hadn't argued a great deal about it with her girlfriend, primarily because Jo was right; the boyishly framed Bronx native didn't need a great deal of support.
After entering the kitchen, it took Blair's brain less than a fraction of a second to revise her opinion. Jo continued to curse each time she banged her wrench against a pipe, spurting more water onto her clothing and the surrounding area.
'She's a late bloomer,' thought Blair, thrilled with the changes in her girlfriend's physical appearance. Blair's body had developed fully by the time she turned thirteen, so she was completely surprised to see such a dramatic change in Jo over the summer months. She smiled to herself, thinking of the conversation she would certainly have to have with Jo in order to explain to the fashion-challenged tomboy why she could no longer maintain any degree of modesty without wearing the appropriate undergarments.
Blair had spent hours imagining what it would be like to see Jo again. She hadn't expected Jo to greet her at the door with a box of chocolates in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in the other, but she had envisioned a highly romantic scene. She was totally unprepared to find herself, therefore, gawking at Jo's body within minutes of her arrival. Nor was she prepared for the intensity of her own body's response to the sight. As much as the idealistic heiress had argued with her mother that her attraction to Jo was based solely on the emotional bond they shared, her sexually charged body confirmed that the physical chemistry between them also played a significant role in their relationship.
Unable to resist the urge to touch the tantalizing area of exposed skin along Jo's stomach, Blair silently knelt beside the brunette, who was focused on dismantling the pipes in which Mrs. Garrett's ring was lodged. Blair clamped down on her lower lip and slowly ran her index finger along Jo's stomach, startling her distracted roommate.
Instead of the clanging sound she'd heard earlier, Blair heard a loud thump and then watched, horrified, as Jo's body went limp. Seconds later, Jo groaned and began crawling from beneath the cabinetry. Disoriented and rubbing her bruised forehead, Jo eventually saw Blair.
"Ouch, what happened?"
"Um, I don't know. I think you hit your head."
Seeing Blair's guilty expression, Jo cocked her head to the side and squinted her eyes.
"You don't know?"
'She looks adorable', Jo thought as she watched Blair's face scrunch into a remorseful grimace.
"I may have startled you."
Jo leaned forward as if she was going to sit up, then her eyes rolled back into her head and she fell backwards, her body limp.
Blair practically fell on top of Jo, frantic that Jo had passed out again, but Jo surprised her by suddenly grabbing the unsuspecting blonde and pulling her into a soggy embrace. Blair lightly swatted at Jo's shoulders and tried to break free, but Jo pinned her on the drenched floor. By the time they finished rolling across the floor, Blair's clothing was as wet as Jo's.
Jo's laughter echoed throughout the kitchen during the tussle, then stopped abruptly as her mood shifted. Without warning, Jo's lips were pressed to Blair's, her tongue seeking more intimate contact.
Blair returned the kiss with equal fervor, relishing the tingly sensations pulsing throughout her body. After several minutes of thoughtlessly clinging to one another, Jo ended their kiss, her gaze lingering on Blair's lips.
Jo felt Blair's body tremble and started to say more, but words failed her. Blair was equally tongue-tied. She'd rehearsed her greeting a hundred times, but all she could do was gaze into eyes far greener than she had remembered. Jo came to her senses first, smiling broadly.
"Thanks. I see Mrs. Garrett didn't waste any time putting you to work."
Jo lifted the wrench she had been abusing against the pipes.
"I was eager to try out my new tools."
Blair's smile matched Jo's in its brilliance.
"I'm glad you like them. I hope I got the right kind."
"Blair, about the tools ."
"Please don't tell me that you don't want to keep them."
"I want to keep them, Blair. Thank you."
Blair was gratified that Jo understood how important it was to her that Jo accept the gift. She shook her head as she looked back and forth between her bedraggled girlfriend and the wrench.
"The Bronx smog must agree with you, Jo. You look taller, and . . . um, more mature."
Jo glanced down at her shirt, still clinging provocatively to her breasts.
"I haven't changed that much."
Blair ran her fingers along the hem of Jo's shirt.
"I think you look great, Jo."
Jo flexed her arm, revealing her toned bicep.
"I've been working out."
Blair touched the muscle and then trailed her fingers down to Jo's hand.
"I can see that, Jo, but I was talking about your, um, curvier parts."
"There's not much I can do about that."
Blair gripped Jo's shoulders and pulled her closer, molding them more intimately.
"I like your girlie parts, Jo. I always have."
Jo leaned her head to the side and scowled.
Blair's fingers traveled back up Jo's arm, to her bicep.
"The best of both worlds."
Jo tangled a few strands of Blair's hair into her hand as she gazed into dark brown orbs. She was seconds away from leaning forward and kissing the lips that were already opening to welcome her when she heard footsteps coming from the lounge.
The girls scrambled frantically, managing to separate themselves only seconds before Mrs. Garrett entered the kitchen. The good-humored nutritionist couldn't restrain her laugh upon seeing the disheveled girls. Drops of water lingered on Jo's eyelashes and damp strands of hair curled wildly around her face. Blair was sitting in a massive puddle of water, near the overturned bucket Jo had originally used to capture most of the water as it leaked from the pipes. Blair's white pants and matching silk blouse were ruined.
Jo grinned proudly as she waved Mrs. Garrett's ring in the air above her head.
"I found it!" Jo proclaimed.
"I helped," added Blair.
"I see," acknowledged Mrs. Garrett with a chuckle.
"It's so wonderful to see you again, Blair."
Despite Blair's wet clothing, Edna drew Blair into a fierce hug. Both women laughed as they embraced one another.
"You look marvelous, Mrs. Garrett. How do you manage to grow younger each summer?"
Edna ignored the flattery, happy to focus her attention on Blair.
"You're back early this year. You're usually the last one to arrive."
"I, um, wanted to make sure I wasn't late for my speech. The student council president has to welcome everyone back to school during the orientation assembly."
"That's right. You'd better run upstairs and change into your uniform. I'm sure Natalie and Tootie will be here any minute."
Jo stepped forward and shyly nodded her head toward the stairs.
"I guess we should both change."
Blair felt her heart flutter with anticipation as she followed Jo up the stairs. Once they were alone in their room, neither girl spoke for several minutes, each taking time to gaze at the other. Eventually tearing her eyes away from Jo, Blair noticed the absence of Jo's duffel bag.
"Have you had a chance to unpack?"
"Uh, I got here earlier and I didn't have a lot to unpack. Where are your bags?"
"Mother is having them shipped. I only brought enough clothes for the first few days."
"Is there anything left to buy in Paris?"
"If there is, it's not my fault."
The room was charged with awareness as the girls awkwardly gathered their uniforms.
"I guess we need to shower before we change, Blair. Would you like to go first?"
Blair nodded, but she didn't leave the room.
"Jo, there's so much I want to tell you."
Jo shoved her hands into her pockets and rocked back and forth on her feet.
"We'll have lots of time to talk after the assembly. You're dripping wet; get out of here before I have to mop the floor."
Jo was too wet to sit on her bed and she didn't want to take off her clothes and reveal the injury to her back, so she sat patiently on the floor while she waited for Blair to finish showering. She felt a small twinge along her back and hoped that the horseplay with Blair hadn't torn her stitches. She knew Mrs. Garrett would be changing her bandage later that night and didn't want to worry the compassionate woman.
When Blair returned to their bedroom, she was dressed in her crisply pressed uniform. Her hair was perfectly curled and her face glowed with excitement. Jo stopped to kiss Blair on the cheek as she headed for the bathroom. Just as she stepped into the hallway, Blair called out to her.
Jo turned, stepping back into their room. She was surprised to see Blair pulling something from Jo's dresser. She waited while Blair closed the distance between them, holding something behind her back.
"You're going to need this."
Jo leaned to the side, curious to see what Blair had taken from her drawer. The debutante presented her girlfriend with her most brilliant smile as she pulled Jo's bra from behind her back and handed it to the confused brunette.
Jo tossed back her head and laughed.
"Heh, I guess you don't want anyone else appreciating my, uh, curvier parts."
Blair rolled her eyes and threw the damp towel she was carrying at Jo's head. Jo deftly caught the towel and rubbed it through her hair.
Natalie Greene burst into the bedroom like a lightning bolt, full of energy and excitement. Tootie arrived shortly after Natalie and they quickly changed into their uniforms in preparation of the orientation assembly. While their younger roommates put away their clothing, Blair and Jo listened as Natalie and Tootie talked about their summer vacations. Natalie spent the summer traveling with her parents, while Tootie attended a girls' drama camp. After showing off her souvenirs, Natalie was eager to see what the other girls had brought back from their vacations.
"Blair, you should have brought back some souvenirs from Europe."
"Aha, but I did. I've just been saving this for the right occasion."
Jo put away the papers she had been scanning and walked over to Blair. She was also excited to see Blair's souvenirs.
"Come on, open it up."
Tootie also joined Jo and Natalie at the desk as Blair brought out a large box.
Just as she was about to open the box, Blair reconsidered showing its contents to her youngest roommate. She'd smuggled two bottles of fine French wine into her luggage, but thought Tootie was much too young to participate in the celebration she'd planned for that evening.
"Um, how about later, Jo? Not in front of the child."
Blair nodded toward Tootie.
"Who are you calling a child? If I was still a child, they wouldn't have made me dorm monitor."
"They would if nobody else wanted the job."
Jo wasn't trying to make Tootie feel bad, she was simply stating a fact. Her comment, however, sounded a little harsh, causing Tootie to take offense.
"Oh, come on, Blair. Let me see what's in the box."
"Sorry, Tootie, but this is private."
Blair glanced over at Jo and shrugged. Jo's attention was diverted to Natalie when the bubbly roommate started talking to the shrunken head she'd received in a package from a boy she'd met during her summer vacation.
"Well, Paul, Mrs. Garrett says that seeing you makes her jumpy so I'm shipping you home to Mom and Dad."
Blair laughed in agreement.
"Thank goodness. The last thing I want to see first thing in the morning is that nasty thing."
As soon as Natalie left the room to mail her package, Jo asked Blair the question she'd wanted to ask since the beautiful blonde had startled her earlier, knocking her unconscious.
"Um, they're having a back to school special on ice cream cones at Shakey's this afternoon. Would you like to walk over after the assembly?"
Blair stopped putting away her many packages and gave Jo a shy smile.
Jo casually nodded, hiding the huge grin spreading across her face.
"I want to go, too."
Tootie was feeling left out because Blair hadn't allowed her youngest roommate to see her souvenirs and continued to whine. Eager to be alone with Blair, Jo challenged the younger girl.
"You never wanted to go to Shakey's with us before."
"Well, you never invited me before."
It was going to be more difficult to ditch Tootie this year than it had been the year before and Tootie's persistence sparked Jo's temper.
"And I'm not invitin' ya now."
"You can't go, Tootie, there's a meeting with all of the dorm monitors after the assembly. I'm surprised you would have forgotten it."
Tootie's brow furrowed and she began looking through her dorm monitor's handbook. Unnoticed, Jo winked at Blair. Yes, it would be more difficult to ditch Tootie, but it wouldn't be impossible.
"Wait up, Jo."
"Geez, Blair, it's taking you forever."
"It's these new boots. They pinch my toes."
"Why are you wearing new boots to hike up Cooper's Rock?"
"Because they look good."
"It's not as if anyone's gonna see you up here."
Blair stopped walking and glared at Jo.
"You'll see me."
Jo was both flattered and embarrassed by the declaration. She walked the short distance back down the trail to where Blair was struggling to keep up with her.
"You look really nice, Blair. I'm sorry I've been rushing you, but I can't wait to be alone with you again."
Blair wrapped a strand of her hair around her finger and began twirling it while smiling at Jo.
"You're just being nice to me because you want to get lucky on Cooper's Rock."
Jo scanned the area for any onlookers and grinned back at Blair.
"Is it working?"
"You'll find out when we get there."
Jo slowed her pace so that Blair could keep up, reaching for Blair's hand to help her climb up the steeper parts of the trail. Jo could feel the stitches in her back expanding as she exerted herself and knew that Mrs. Garrett would reprimand her that evening when she saw the results of Jo's excursion, but Jo couldn't resist the opportunity to return to the secluded ledge with Blair.
Adrenaline propelled Jo forward, despite the twinges periodically emanating from her wound. However, once they reached the ledge they had visited so often the year before, Jo froze. Seeing Jo's expression as she looked over the edge of the mountainside, Blair reached for her girlfriend's hand.
"It's okay, Jo."
"No, it's not. I've done this a hundred times. I don't understand why this is happening."
"It's been a long time since we came here, Jo. It's only natural that it would be hard for you. We'll just have to take it slow, like we did before."
"I don't want to take it slow. I want to be with you now." Jo complained.
Blair smiled affectionately at the frustrated brunette. She was just as impatient as Jo.
"You can kiss me right here, Jo."
Jo closed her eyes and squeezed Blair's hand.
"You must think I'm such a baby."
"Jo Polniaczek! Don't you dare talk that way about my girlfriend. I'll never forget how you walked across this ledge in the middle of a thunderstorm to save my life."
"You're just saying that to make me feel better."
"No. You're the bravest person I know. If I had seen a friend commit suicide by jumping from a rooftop, I wouldn't even try to come to a place like this."
Jo found comfort in the fingers securely wrapped around her hand.
"I guess that being back in the Bronx this summer reminded me of a lot of things. I missed Eastland a lot."
Jo awkwardly shuffled her feet before continuing.
"I missed you a lot, too, Blair."
Blair draped her arms over Jo's shoulders and smiled into her eyes.
"How much did you miss me?"
Jo placed her hands on Blair's waist and gazed into her eyes. She looked up briefly, gauging the location of the sun through the limbs of the old oak tree under which they stood, before leaning forward, her lips within an inch of her girlfriend's.
Blair's breathing grew labored as she impatiently waited. Every part of her wanted to throw herself into Jo's arms and wantonly taste her lips, which were glistening from the moisture of Jo's tongue as it constantly licked them in anticipation of the impending kiss.
Once her patience was exhausted, Blair gently touched Jo's cheek, tugging her closer. When their lips met, both girls whimpered, overcome by the reality of the long awaited reunion of their tongues. While their earlier kiss in the cafeteria had been frantic and rushed, this kiss was a leisurely exploration.
After several minutes Blair pulled away, catching her breath.
"I've missed you."
"Yeah, me, too. Now, will you help me across the ledge?"
"Jo, you don't have to do that."
"Yes, I do. Will you help me?"
"Of course I will."
It took almost a half hour for the two girls to cross the narrow ledge leading to their private spot on Cooper's Rock. Once there, Blair spread out a blanket and they sat looking over the landscape. Blair sat between Jo's legs as the stronger girl held her from behind, stroking her hair and tenderly kissing her neck.
"Tell me about Paris."
"It's a good thing I took so many clothes. Mother scheduled a party or a show every night. I've never been so busy in my life. I've never been so lonely either."
"I was lonely, too."
"What happened, Jo? I worried when I received your letter warning me to be careful about what I wrote in my letters to you. Does your mother have a new boyfriend, now that Jack is out of the picture?"
Jo's fingers halted their movement.
"Funny thing about that picture; seems it was harder to erase Jack than I thought."
Blair turned in Jo's arms, concern written on her face.
"Was he there?"
"He's the reason you asked me not to write anything personal in my letters and cards?"
"Don't you remember? You asked me not to write anything personal in the letters I sent to you."
"You sent more than one postcard?"
Blair's face crumbled.
"Of course. You didn't get my letters?"
"I guess I didn't fool Jack when I pretended not to care about the postcard he gave me. He must have thrown away the others."
Blair was distraught.
"I can't believe he made you think I hadn't written. I'm so sorry. He didn't hurt you, did he?"
"Nah. I think Uncle Sal must have scared him pretty good about doing anything like that."
"I should have asked you about it earlier, Jo. I knew something was wrong when I got your first letter. It must have been terrible for you. Is he the reason you visited Mrs. Garrett so often?"
Jo hadn't lied to Blair in the letters she mailed while staying with Mrs. Garrett, but she'd definitely given Blair the impression that she was in Peekskill visiting their guardian for short periods of time instead of revealing that she had moved in with Mrs. Garrett.
"It wasn't that bad. I didn't tell you about Jack because I didn't want you to worry."
Blair leaned into Jo, resting her back against Jo's chest.
"I'm sorry you had to be around someone like that, Jo. I can't believe your mother is still with him."
"She finally kicked him out. I'm not as worried about her now."
Blair could feel Jo's heart beating as they spoke in quiet whispers.
"Do you think she'll take him back again, like she did before?"
"I hope not. He's not a nice man."
They sat in silence for several minutes until Jo's fingers found Blair's necklace. Jo tilted her head over Blair's shoulder for a better look.
"That's a beautiful necklace you're wearing, Blair, but it doesn't look like something you would buy for yourself."
Blair's gaze followed Jo's fingers as she traced the outline of the cross around Blair's neck.
"My grandmother gave it to me."
"Was she in Paris, too?"
"No. Mother and I went to Texas a few weeks ago. Grandmother Blair gave me this necklace the day before she died."
Jo stopped playing with the necklace and wrapped her arms protectively around her girlfriend.
"I'm sorry, Blair."
"I hadn't seen her in a long time. I was closer to Granddaddy Blair, but I loved her, too."
"I wish I could have been there with you."
"So do I, but it was hardest for my mother. Let's talk about something cheerful, okay?"
Blair tried to turn in Jo's arms, wanting to embrace her, but Jo resisted, not wanting Blair to discover the wound on her back.
"Heh, for a princess, you're pretty strong."
When Blair persisted, Jo stretched out along the rock, allowing Blair to face her while they talked. Unaware of Jo's injury, Blair settled on top of her girlfriend, pressing her body intimately against Jo's. After a couple of minutes, Jo's back began to ache and she shifted Blair so that they were lying side by side on the blanket. Blair moved her fingers constantly, as if she couldn't decide which parts of Jo she wanted to caress first. She moved back and forth from Jo's arms to her face, tenderly stroking her cheek and lips. When Blair spoke, her voice was filled with emotion, her Texas accent unusually thick.
"Your face is so soft, so beautiful. In Paris, I'd be sitting in front of a cathedral, sketching, but I always wound up drawing you. I never want to be away from you that long again, Jo."
"Hey, it's okay if you had a good time. After all, you were in Paris. You wouldn't be human if you didn't enjoy it."
"I missed you, Joey, more than you'll ever know. It was terrible having to pretend to enjoy all the parties my mother would drag me to when all I could think about was being with you."
Jo smiled while Blair's thumb continued to caress her lips. Jo's eyes closed for a moment, enjoying the feather soft touch and inhaling the scent of Blair's shampoo and perfume. Upon opening her eyes, Jo lowered her head, her gaze drawn to her seductive girlfriend's body. She became so fascinated with the subtle movement of the fringe along the front of Blair's western style blouse that she was somewhat startled when Blair spoke.
"Tell me about your summer, Jo. Did you get to work in your uncle's garage?"
Jo didn't raise her eyes to look at Blair, instead focusing on the fringe.
"Nah, I had to find something closer to home. I worked in a diner most of the summer."
Blair had noticed Jo's hands immediately, but had intentionally pretended not to see the cracked skin, discolored by too many hours of exposure to harsh detergents and scalding water. Sure that Jo wouldn't want to discuss her summer job, Blair searched for a more pleasant topic.
"Did you get a chance to read any of the books on Miss Gallagher's summer reading list?"
Jo's mood instantly brightened.
"Yeah. I think I'm going to really enjoy her class. She can act a little goofy sometimes, like you, but most of what she says makes sense."
Blair laughed at Jo's assessment of Miss Gallagher.
"I only read the first half. I didn't have a lot of time to myself. Mother likes to stay busy."
"Did you tell her how much my mom loved the autographed album? Giving it to her was the best moment of my entire summer."
Blair was surprised by the sad expression on Jo's face. Jo's letter detailing the homecoming party her mother had thrown for her and the impression the gifts from Neil Diamond had made on her snooty neighbor had been entertaining. Blair loved reading the humorous stories Jo had written about her cousins and the odd characters who lived in her mother's apartment building.
"I told her. She was happy to do it."
Jo's gaze intensified as they sought out Blair's soft brown eyes.
"I, um, thought she might regret having gone to the trouble, uh, once she found out about us."
It was the first time Jo had alluded to what happened the last night they'd spent together, before Blair left for Paris.
Blair closed her eyes, but continued to stroke Jo's face.
"It's going to take some time for Mother to accept that I'm never going be the daughter she . . . I mean, I'm not who she expected me to be."
Jo leaned forward and tenderly kissed Blair's lips, easing her tongue into the wet warmth of Blair's mouth, trying to wipe away the sadness in her girlfriend's voice. Blair returned the languid kiss, relishing the lack of urgency now that she and Jo had a full year ahead of them to enjoy one another's company. Blair moaned when Jo ended the kiss, but Jo was anxious to know more about Monica's attitude toward the couple.
"Did she give you a hard time about coming back to Eastland? Is she going to try to keep you away from me?"
"Mother and I have come to an understanding about you, Jo. You'll grow on her."
"Ugh, she hates me, doesn't she?"
"She doesn't even know you, yet. She doesn't like the fact that we're roommates, but I pointed out that if we wanted to have sex with one another, sleeping in separate rooms wouldn't stop us."
Jo swallowed hard. She and Blair had skirted around the topic of sex before and Jo felt certain that if Blair's mother hadn't shown up a day early to whisk Blair off to Paris, they would have consummated their relationship that night.
"Did you promise your mother that nothing like that would happen between us if you continued to room with me?"
Blair's voice didn't waver, but Jo felt the fingers resting against her face tremble.
Jo closed her eyes again, feeling lightheaded. She wasn't sure if it was because of the constant tingling produced by Blair's fingers as they caressed her face, the swell of pride in her girlfriend's willingness to openly acknowledge the depth of her feelings for Jo to her mother, Blair's insinuation that she had been contemplating a sexual relationship with Jo, or the fact that after spending the last three weeks doing little more than leaning forward on the sofa to change the channel on Mrs. Garrett's television, her back hurt like hell.
Blair watched as the color drained from Jo's cheeks. As romantic and sometimes erotic as Jo's letters and poems were, Blair was accustomed to Jo shying away from intimate conversations. She was concerned, however, by what she interpreted as a clear sign that Jo was uncomfortable with the idea of making love with her.
"I didn't mean to embarrass you, Jo. I don't want you to think that I'm taking anything for granted."
"Huh? Oh, I'm not embarrassed. I just . . . it's getting late and we'd better get back. We don't want to be late for kitchen duty on our very first day. Mrs. G. will have a fit."
Disappointed, Blair gathered the blanket before reaching for Jo's hand, suspecting that Jo would still be nervous about walking across the ledge. She was surprised to find Jo's hand so cold and clammy. Warmth normally exuded from every pore of Jo's skin, a trait that Blair, whose body temperature required that she use two blankets in the winter while her roommates were comfortable with one, found terribly appealing.
Blair held Jo's gaze as she walked backwards along the ledge, remembering their first visits to Cooper's Rock. Blair thought that Jo had overcome her fear of heights, especially after her heroic behavior the night of the thunderstorm, but she interpreted Jo's pale features as the result of intense anxiety. Blair made a mental note to suggest that she and Jo search for another place where they could enjoy some privacy. She didn't think Jo should have to overcome her phobia every time she wanted to be alone with Blair.
The walk back to the cafeteria was filled with awkward silences. Blair was feeling insecure and Jo was feeling sick, but was valiantly trying to hide it. She'd been able to fool Blair, but as soon as Mrs. Garrett saw the two older roommates enter the lounge she knew that Jo had overexerted herself.
Tootie and Natalie were sitting on the sofa, going through the photographs Natalie had taken during her road trip. When Blair joined them, eager to see pictures of all the boys Natalie had acquired as pen pals, Mrs. Garrett took the opportunity to separate Jo from her friends.
"Jo, could you come upstairs and help me with the dresser in my bedroom? The drawer keeps sticking."
Jo nodded, grateful for Mrs. G.'s thinly veiled excuse to check Jo's injury. Once they were in the privacy of Edna's room, Jo almost collapsed onto the bed.
"That does it. No more activity for you, young lady."
"I'm just a little tired. I'm not used to moving around so much. I'll be fine after I rest a little."
Jo lifted herself from Mrs. Garrett's bed, intending to walk the short distance to her own room.
"Wait a minute. You won't get any rest in there. You stay here and take a nap. I'll come and get you when it's time for dinner."
"I want to help in the kitchen, just like the others."
"You can help, but if I see you doing too much, I'll send you straight to bed."
Jo grinned as she walked back to Mrs. Garrett's bed.
"I'll be careful, Mrs. G., you don't have to worry about me."
Mrs. Garrett's expression softened as she watched Jo curl onto her side.
"I'll stop worrying when you're as old as I am, Jo Polniaczek, not one minute sooner. Go to sleep. I'll wake you up when it's time to work."
Blair was beginning to wonder if Jo was avoiding her. Jo had been unusually quiet on the return trip from Cooper's Rock and Blair hadn't seen her since Jo had gone to Mrs. Garrett's room almost an hour earlier. After checking their bedroom and Mrs. Garrett's room, Blair supposed that Jo might be in the garage. When she left the cafeteria in search of Jo, however, her stomach lurched when she saw her girlfriend in the driveway hugging a handsome young man. He was tall and dark, like Eddie, but he wasn't dressed like Eddie. The young man was wearing a flashy colored shirt which Blair thought exposed a little more of his chest hair than was fashionable or respectable.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Blair stepped forward, interrupting the hug. When Jo noticed Blair, she stopped hugging the dark man with the sexy green eyes, but he continued to keep his arm wrapped possessively around Blair's girlfriend.
"Hey, Blair. I was going to come and get you so that you could meet Bud. Bud, this is my roommate, Blair Warner."
Bud smiled rakishly at the pretty blonde and extended his hand.
"If I'd known there was a beauty requirement for admission to Eastland, I would have been up here sooner."
Jo lightly punched Bud in the midsection, causing him to laugh.
"If I'd known you were going to hit on my friends, I'd have asked Uncle Sal to drive my bike up for me."
The lights finally came on in Blair's head, illuminating the situation.
"You must be one of the Largo cousins I've heard so much about."
Bud winked at Blair.
"It's all true, too."
"I didn't say it was all good."
Bud smiled at Jo before answering.
"I wouldn't have believed you if you had. It's all true, anyway. If you're interested, I can take you for a ride on Jo's bike and prove it to you."
Jo stepped between Bud and Blair, glaring at her cousin.
"She ain't interested."
Bud held up his hands in mock surrender and took a step back from Blair.
"Well, you can't blame a guy for trying, Jo."
Jo continued to glare.
"Who says I can't?"
Bud smiled at Blair.
"It was nice seeing you, Blair. I seem to have worn out my welcome for the moment, but perhaps you and I will run into one another again sometime, when Jo's not around to interfere."
Before Jo could lash out at him, Bud sauntered down the street in the direction of the train station. Blair couldn't help but notice that Bud's strut was very similar to Jo's and Jo couldn't help noticing that Blair was noticing Bud.
"Is he going to walk all the way to the train station? Shouldn't you offer him a ride on your bike?"
Jo grumbled, her earlier good mood lost in a haze of jealousy.
"It won't hurt him to walk."
Blair persisted, fueling Jo's jealousy.
"But he did you a favor by driving your bike all the way to Eastland."
Jo's temper ignited and she yelled at Blair.
"If you like him so much, you give him a ride to the train station. I'm sure he'd enjoy hanging all over you while you drive him around town."
It took several beats for Blair to grasp the reason for Jo's anger.
"I am not!"
"Yes, you are. You're more jealous than you've ever been of one of the boys from Bates."
"Maybe you think that because you're more interested in Bud than in any of those twerps from Bates."
"Why would I be interested in Bud?"
Jo looked at Blair in disbelief.
"Give me a break! He's attractive. He's cool. He's smart. He's athletic."
As amusing as it was to watch Jo pout, Blair sashayed over to her girlfriend, displaying the Warner version of strutting and draped her arm over Jo's shoulder.
"You mean he's a lot like you."
Jo hadn't thought of it exactly that way, but it did explain why she felt her temperature rise every time Bud looked at Blair.
"Uh, I'm told that we resemble one another."
"Resemble one another? If he was a little younger, he could be your twin."
Jo grinned, feeling complimented.
"You really think we look alike?"
Blair smiled into the sparkling green eyes that had danced through her dreams for the past year.
"Do you think he's attractive?"
"Yes, but why would I want an imitation when I could have the original Jo Polniaczek?"
"Heh, I am an original."
"You're modest, too."
"Heh, heh. I am what I am, Blair."
After dinner, Blair and Natalie were having trouble keeping up with Jo as the energetic brunette bustled around the cafeteria clearing the tables.
"Mrs. Garrett, tell them to give me a chance. Tell them I'm not a baby."
Blair stopped working long enough to frown at Tootie, who had been pestering Mrs. Garrett all afternoon.
"Tootie, would you not whine? You're giving me a migraine."
"I'm not whining."
Even Natalie was exasperated by Tootie's constant complaints.
"Trust me, Tootie, you're whining."
Things went from bad to worse for Tootie when two hours later she walked in on the "back to school" celebration her roommates were having in their bedroom.
"Hey, what's going on? Are you guys having a party?"
Blair was scrunched down in her seat, hiding a bottle of wine under the desk.
"Uh, sort of."
"Where's the milk and cookies?"
Jo, who had been hiding beer cans under the desk, straightened in her chair and placed two cans of beer on top of the desk.
"It's not that kind of party, kid."
"Oohh, you've got beer!"
Now that their party was out in the open, Natalie felt free to cheerfully share everything.
Blair chewed on her lower lip, upset that Natalie had made things worse by revealing that Blair also had wine. She furrowed her brow as she sarcastically addressed her young friend.
Tootie watched in shock as Blair placed a bottle of wine on the desk.
"You guys can't have that stuff. It's against the law and it's against the rules and why didn't you invite me?"
Jo shook her head.
"This isn't your speed."
"We're in the fast lane, Tootie. You're still on the bike path."
Natalie blew out the breath she had been holding, ruffling her bangs.
"Face it, kid. You're under the hill."
"You, too, Natalie?"
"Oh, come on, Tootie. There are lots of other things you can do. You're dorm monitor, aren't you?"
"Yeah, that's right, and don't you guys forget it."
"How can we?" Blair deadpanned, remembering the numerous citations Tootie had given her earlier in the day.
Jo tried to ease Tootie out of the room, but her suggestions as to what other things Tootie could be doing sounded condescending and Tootie fought back.
"Why don't you go turn off a light or lock a door?"
"Or report a drunken brawl."
Natalie was shocked that her best friend would even consider reporting her.
"What? Report us?"
"It's my job."
Blair was also incredulous.
Jo's eyes narrowed dangerously.
"Because you don't have the guts."
"I do, too. You're breaking the rules and it's my job and this is my room."
Jo stood, trying to hold back her temper while yanking the beer cans off the desk.
"Then we'll take OUR party out of YOUR room."
Natalie, who was already standing, also began gathering cups and snacks from the desk.
"Yeah, let's go to the laundry room. I'm real disappointed in you, Tootie."
Natalie walked toward the door while Jo waited for Blair to stand. Blair glared at Tootie before leaving the room. Although her comment sounded as if she was talking to Jo, she stared directly at Tootie while she spoke.
"Please. What do you expect from a child?"
Jo touched Blair's elbow and nodded toward the door.
"Come on, let's get outta here."
As she followed Blair from the room, Jo leveled a parting shot at Tootie.
"You know, kid. You're gettin' to be a real drag."
"Blair, I have never been so disappointed in you."
Edna Garrett wasn't telling Blair anything she didn't already know. The look on her guardian's face spoke volumes.
"I had no way of knowing that Tootie would stupidly drink an entire bottle of wine. The reason she was so mad at me was because I was trying to keep her away from our party. I know that she's too young for that."
"Blair, stop making excuses for your poor judgment. After the incident with Tumpy and your other friends, you should know better than anyone that drugs and alcohol are not tolerated here at Eastland."
"I know and I'm sorry. Everywhere I went this summer, someone was shoving a glass of wine or a cocktail into my hands. I didn't think about what I was doing. I only wanted to have a little celebration. No one was supposed to get drunk. I didn't see the harm."
"You have never had to suffer the consequences of your bad behavior so I shouldn't be surprised by this, but I doubt you understand what expulsion from Eastland would mean for Jo."
Blair chewed her lower lip as the realization of the seriousness of their offense sank in.
"I know that Jo is better off here at Eastland than she would be in the Bronx."
"Do you recall what I told you when Jo first arrived at Eastland? I'm depending on you to help her to stay out of trouble. Instead, you smuggled two bottles of wine into your room and encouraged Jo to bring in beer. You should be setting a good example."
"I'm sorry. It won't happen again. What more can I say?"
Edna Garrett continued to glare at the young girl sitting in front of her. She had worked so hard to keep Jo out of trouble that summer and the first thing Blair did when she returned to Eastland was to share wine with Jo and Natalie, not to mention unintentionally leaving a bottle accessible to Tootie, placing all three of her roommates at risk of expulsion.
"You got off easy this time, next time I'll have to report you to Mr. Parker."
"I'm sorry. There won't be a next time."
Edna wanted to say more to Blair, to make her understand how critical it was that Jo not get into any more trouble. Jo was one mistake away from losing her scholarship and Edna Garrett worried about what would happen to the headstrong girl if she was forced to return to her old neighborhood.
"You'd better get back to your room. You'll need to be up early tomorrow morning to help prepare breakfast."
Blair left Mrs. Garrett's room feeling as if she had let down the one person who had always supported her.
"Well, this was certainly a great way to start the new school year, Blair. You haven't been back in Peekskill for a whole day and we're already grounded for two months, without television."
Jo's tone and fleeting smile betrayed her words as she finished off the last few cans of beer left over from Blair's impromptu party.
Blair sighed, "Not to mention, no dates."
Jo smiled to herself; she had been delighted when Natalie suggested that last addition to their punishment. Jo still had trouble believing that a kid as tiny as Tootie could have polished off an entire bottle of the expensive wine Blair brought back from her summer trip to Paris. However, Jo didn't consider two months confinement with her beautiful roommate as punishment. The fact that Blair was forbidden to date for the next two months was a bonus.
Blair took in the sight of her girlfriend, leaning back so that the front two legs of her chair were in the air, her feet casually propped up on a laundry bin. Jo looked as content as Blair had ever seen her, sipping her cheap beer and smiling at some thought she didn't seem to want to share. What in the world had made her think that Jo, of all people, would have appreciated a fine French wine?
"You shouldn't be drinking that. I don't want us to get into any more trouble. Mrs. Garrett was very disappointed in me. If she knew you were finishing that six pack, she'd be furious."
"Look, Tootie is sleeping off her hangover and Natalie is still sick from all the pineapple slices and maraschino cherries she ate. We're not gonna get caught again and I don't want to waste the rest of this beer."
The beer had combined with Jo's pain medication to produce more of a buzz than the brunette usually experienced when drinking alcohol.
"You're not taking this as seriously as you should. I don't want you to get expelled, Jo. I couldn't live with myself if I did something that got you kicked out of Eastland."
"No one is going to kick me out of Eastland."
"All I wanted was to celebrate our being back at school. I thought the wine would make it special, more romantic."
"It did, Blair. How could you know that Tootie would go and chug an entire bottle all by herself?"
"It doesn't matter anyway; you didn't even taste the wine."
Blair sounded dejected and for the first time Jo considered that she shouldn't have made a big deal of going out and getting beer for the party after Blair had gone to so much trouble to provide the wine. Jo imagined that Blair probably didn't consider sitting around in the laundry room watching her drink the last of the beer much of a celebration.
Jo threw away the remaining cans of beer and knelt in front of Blair's chair.
"It's an acquired taste. You gotta give me a little time to get used to things like that. The next time you bring wine into our room, I promise I'll drink it."
"There won't be a next time. Haven't you been listening? Mrs. Garrett will report us if she catches us again."
Jo extended her lower lip in a pout, a behavior Blair had only witnessed once before in the authoritative girl.
"I'm sorry that I didn't taste your wine, Blair. I guess I'm not used to drinking anything so nice."
Blair placed her palms on both of Jo's cheeks and drew her forward for a kiss.
"Could you get used to that?"
"Well, you're definitely an acquired taste, but I could learn to like it."
Blair rolled her eyes as she caressed Jo's face. Still kneeling in front of Blair's chair, Jo leaned in for another kiss, tenderly exploring Blair's mouth with her tongue.
"I really like your new shirt, Blair."
Blair lifted her eyebrows.
Jo ran her fingers lightly over the fringe outline along the front of Blair's shirt before leaning in for another passionate kiss.
"I'm not the only one who filled out a little this summer."
Blair abruptly pushed Jo away.
"Don't make fun of me, Jo."
Blair was already making her way to the door before Jo realized that she was kneeling in front of an empty chair.
"Wait. You have to tell me what I did wrong."
Blair's lips were firmly pressed together, but Jo couldn't see her expression because Blair refused to look at her confused girlfriend.
"Blair, don't act like this. I can't take it. I've waited all summer to see you again. You can't go storming off without telling me why you're so mad."
Blair turned to Jo, suspicious of Jo's sincerity.
"I know I've gained weight, Jo. I don't need you pointing it out to me."
"What? You said the same thing to me and I didn't get mad."
"That's different. You're growing up. I'm just growing."
It wasn't that Jo didn't pay attention to Blair's body, she did. There wasn't a day that went by that she hadn't studied every curve. She could tell that Blair had gained a few pounds, but Jo hadn't given it more than a second's thought. She groaned, however, imagining that it may have sounded different to Blair. Jo placed herself between the door and Blair, making sure Blair couldn't run away before they made up.
"Blair, I had a little too much to drink tonight and I was kind of hypnotized by the fringe swaying back and forth on your shirt. Maybe you gained a couple of pounds, but the only place I noticed it was, uh, well, that damn fringe hypnotized me."
Blair looked directly into Jo's eyes, scanning for any sign of condescension.
"I'll be back to my normal weight in a few weeks."
Jo lightly pressed her forehead to Blair's.
"You do whatever makes you feel right, Blair. You know you're the most beautiful girl in school. I'll bet the guys in Paris were standing in line to get next to you."
Blair smiled. It was true. Blair's weight gain hadn't seemed to reduce the number of men vying for her attention. Although she'd spent most of her free time in Paris with André, she'd had lots of other invitations. As far as André was concerned, Blair was intuitive enough to know for certain that when André looked at her he wasn't thinking of her in a sisterly way. As recently as that morning, two young men had approached her and her mother as they waited for their limousine at the airport. Blair rolled her eyes, feeling silly for having doubted her sex appeal.
"Well, I can't deny that my smile is dazzling, or that my nose is adorable, or that my hair . . . well, my hair speaks for itself."
Jo grinned, happy to have her conceited girlfriend back.
"Yeah, I can hear it now. Do you want to know what it's saying?"
Jo leaned forward, pressing her lips to Blair's neck while running her fingers through Blair's hair.
Blair tilted her head to give Jo greater access to her neck. She moaned as Jo trailed kisses up to her earlobe, where she stopped to nibble on Blair's ear. Blair's eyes closed and her breathing grew rapid. Seeing her girlfriend's responsiveness, Jo pulled Blair closer, moving her hands to grip Blair's waist as she deepened their kiss.
Blair whimpered as Jo pressed her against the wall, molding their bodies closer. Blair had learned to discipline herself the previous school year, but it had been so long and Jo's kisses awakened longings that had been dormant for months. Blair gave herself over to her desire and slid her hands beneath the back of Jo's shirt, finding exquisite pleasure in the texture of Jo's skin as firm muscles flexed beneath her fingertips. As she had often done before, Blair reached higher, longing to glide her nails across the smooth expanse of Jo's back. Jo was a little too tipsy and too caught up in the kiss to think about the direction of Blair's caress and where it might lead. Therefore, she was confused when Blair's fingers abruptly abandoned their quest and Blair pushed her away.
"What happened to your back?"
Blair leaned forward and began tugging at the back of Jo's shirt, trying to lift it. Jo, however, angrily jerked away from her.
"It's none of your business."
Jo was mortified. She'd meant to tell Blair about what happened, but she hadn't expected to have to do it so soon.
"You heard me. It's none of your business!"
"There's a bandage on your back and you're telling me that it's none of my business?"
Blair's concern for Jo overcame her hurt feelings. She ignored Jo's abrasive manner and refused to release Jo's shirt.
"I don't want to talk about it, Blair."
"I don't care if you don't want to talk about it. I'm not going to let you shut me out. Why won't you talk to me?"
"Because it has nothing to do with you. What happens outside of Eastland doesn't have anything to do with us. Can't we leave it at that?"
"No, we can't. I . . . I love you, Jo. I think that gives me the right to know if you're hurt."
Jo softened, feeling like a jerk for having raised her voice toward Blair.
"You're not gonna like it."
"I don't suppose that I will, but I want to know anyway."
Jo stared at the ceiling as she delivered her monologue with as little emotion as possible.
"I went to see Jessie at the pool hall where she works. Some guys came in. They argued. Knives were pulled and I got cut."
Blair was horrified.
"Someone did this to you on purpose?"
Blair loosened her grip on Jo's shirt, her countenance filled with apprehension.
"Can I see it?"
The look on Blair's face broke through Jo's already crumbling shell. She shrugged and reluctantly began pulling up her shirt.
"You can't see much. Mrs. G. has been taking care of me. She puts medicine on it each night when she replaces the bandage. I have to go to the doctor next week to have the stitches removed."
Blair ran her fingers gently around the outer edge of the bandage.
"Did I hurt you when we went to Cooper's Rock? Is that why you looked so pale?"
Jo was quick to reassure Blair, seeing the guilty look on her face.
"No. Hiking up the mountain made me a little tired. You didn't hurt me."
Jo lowered her shirt and turned to face Blair before pulling the concerned blonde back into her arms.
"I'm fine, Blair. I'm just a little embarrassed. Try not to make a big deal out of this."
"Did the police arrest the person who did this to you?"
"No, they arrested me, but Mrs. G. came to the police station and worked her magic. She not only got them to drop the charges against me, she made them take me to the hospital for stitches."
Blair was outraged.
"You had to wait for Mrs. Garrett to drive all the way from Peekskill before they took you to the hospital? How long did you have to wait?"
"Um, a few hours, but it wasn't that bad. All I had to do was sit on a bench in the jail cell; it's not as if I had to do pushups while I waited, but I was relieved when Mrs. G. showed up."
"When you were in jail waiting for Mrs. Garrett, wasn't it painful?"
Jo's mood sobered.
"I didn't mind the pain. I was happy to be alive."
Blair felt queasy. She'd been a little worried about Jo going back to such a rough neighborhood, but Jo had convinced her that she could take care of herself.
"I can't imagine. You must have been terrified."
"Me? How did I help?"
"While I waited in the jail cell, I closed my eyes and imagined that I was holding you like I'm doing now. It helped me to ignore the pain."
"Does it hurt now?"
"Nah, I have medicine for that, too."
Blair groaned, feeling even guiltier about persuading Jo to drink alcohol now that she was aware that Jo was taking pain medication. She carefully leaned into Jo's embrace, but awkwardly kept her arms at her sides, afraid to return Jo's hug.
"Jo, why didn't you tell me about this?"
"What was I gonna say? Hey, Blair, wanna know how stupid I was this summer? Oh, I was so stupid that I went to visit my old gang banger friends in their new gang banger headquarters and jumped into the middle of a knife fight. I'm lucky that I'm not in Juvenile Hall with Jessie. I didn't tell you because . . . I feel stupid."
"You could have died."
Blair's voice was barely a whisper as she buried her face in Jo's neck.
"Nah. I wasn't hurt that bad, but I can admit that I was scared. I wasn't sure if my old gang members would be able to keep those guys from shoving another knife into me or if they'd even try to defend me."
Blair raised her arms to return Jo's embrace, cautious not to touch the bandage.
"I could have lost you, forever."
"Not a chance. I guess being at Eastland all last year made me soft, 'cause a couple of years ago I'd have been the one sticking a knife in someone else."
As the reality of what happened fully hit her, Blair began to cry.
"Hey, don't get upset. See why I didn't want to tell you?"
Blair stifled her crying, but couldn't withhold a few last sniffles.
"I'm sorry for crying. I don't want you to feel like you can't tell me things without having me turn into a drama queen. I'm not as sheltered as you think. I can handle the truth."
Jo moved her head, allowing Blair more space to rest her face against Jo's neck. She tenderly stroked Blair's hair as it cascaded across her shoulders, softening her voice to a whisper as she tried to explain why it was so hard for her to tell Blair about what happened.
"I got used to keeping things to myself this summer. It might take me a while to remember how to talk to you. Is that weird?"
"I don't think it's weird. I guess I gave you the short version of my summer, too. It wasn't all shopping and parties. When I tried to tell Mother about you, I could tell that she thought I was exaggerating. After I while, I started wondering if last year was even real. Sometimes I thought I'd dreamed it."
Jo pounced on the opportunity to lighten Blair's spirits.
"So, I'm the girl of your dreams, eh?"
Blair rolled her eyes, but Jo could feel her lips curve into a smile as they pressed against her neck.
"That's right, I have always dreamed of being with a Neanderthal."
"You were dreaming about being with me?"
"Not like that. You are twisting my words into something dirty."
"Hey, you're the one with the hyper imagination. You spent the entire summer dreaming about me, admit it."
"Jo, stop acting like that."
"Oh, you love it when I act like this."
Blair angled her head so that she could see Jo's expression, having gathered reassurance from the strength of Jo's embrace.
"I love you."
Blair sighed, exasperated.
Post Series Flash Forward: Tootie Returns to Peekskill
Bailey Polniaczek slumped over the table, resting her chin in her hands as she watched her parents on the dance floor.
"I can't believe this is happening to me. It's so embarrassing."
Arriving at their table just in time to hear the tail end of the conversation, Blair and Jo wore concerned expressions as Blair lightly placed her hand consolingly on Bailey's forearm.
"Bailey, sweetheart, what's wrong?"
Alex Garrett couldn't contain a cackle, which also ignited Natalie's laughter. Bailey rolled her eyes and glared at her parents.
"I am a great dancer, but I can't find a decent partner in this entire room. It's terrible. I have danced with every man and woman I know and all anyone can talk about is the two of you. Can you imagine how humiliating it is to have my friends tell me that my parents are the best dancers here?"
Blair smiled indulgently.
"I told you that we'd been practicing."
"Well, if you had told me that the band couldn't play anything written after 1982 I'd have asked one of my stodgy professors from Langley to attend the banquet with me."
"Hell no. We already have Cindy making a spectacle of herself with that young boy who couldn't be a day older than you. The last thing this party would have needed would have been for you to show up with a cradle-robbing old coot."
Natalie cleared her throat.
"You know, Bailey, Dorothy won every dance contest held at Eastland back when we attended. Um, in the early 80's."
Bailey grinned mischievously at Dorothy.
"Why haven't I seen you on the dance floor?"
Dorothy looked apprehensively toward Jeff.
"Uh, Jeff doesn't like to dance."
Bailey practically leapt from her chair. She'd seen Dorothy perform on stage and knew that Natalie wasn't exaggerating about the actress's dancing skills.
"Well, what are we waiting for? Come on, Dorothy, let's give 'em something to talk about."
Dorothy squirmed in her seat.
"I don't know if I should."
Bailey leaned in close.
"I see, you're afraid you can't keep up with me. I understand. Too bad, though, I could have taught you a thing or two."
Dorothy raised her eyebrows.
"YOU think you could teach ME how to dance. I was shaking the dance floor before you were even born, young lady."
Everyone, including Jeff, smiled as Dorothy reacted exactly as Bailey had planned. When the band started playing Boogie Shoes by K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Bailey's smile grew brighter, accentuating her resemblance to Blair even more than usual. She winked at Dorothy as she held out her hand, making it impossible for the music loving actress to decline.
As Bailey pulled her onto the dance floor, Dorothy took one last look toward the dinner table where her husband and friends sat laughing.
"Damn, Blair. Your daughter is hot!"
Blair and Jo turned in unison, ready to rip into whoever was saying such a thing about their baby, only to roll their eyes when Roger Butler sat down in Dorothy's vacant seat.
"Hiya, Jo. You've got a lot to answer for tonight. Why can't you fill Blair's head with all that romantic mumbo jumbo in private, so my wife doesn't keep asking me why I can't be more like Jo?"
Roger ended his question by perfectly mimicking Nancy's voice when she was whining.
"If you keep talking about my kid like that, you might never hear Nancy's voice again."
Despite her comment, Jo grinned at Roger who smiled warmly in return.
"I've seen Blair dancing with just about every guy here, but you only seem interested in one partner."
"Blair has a lot more energy than I do. Those guys are helping me wear her down so that I can keep up with her when they play the slower songs."
"Come on, Jo. I know those shoes want to boogie. How about a dance? You're the only woman here that Nancy will allow me to dance with and she's been stepping on my toes all night."
"Roger Butler, you are a cad and a scoundrel."
"I never pretended to be anything else, Blair. It's only one dance. I'm hoping Jo will give me some tips on how to sweet-talk Nancy into letting me buy a new car."
Blair smiled at Jo.
"Don't tell him too much about how you sweet-talk me, Jo. I wouldn't want his heart attack to be on my conscience."
Roger reached for Jo's hand and she reluctantly followed him onto the dance floor. However, all eyes were on Bailey and Dorothy, who were putting on a very entertaining show.
"Thank God he found someone else to dance with him. That man is like one of those little pink Energizer bunnies. He keeps going and going and going."
Natalie laughed at Nancy's humor and slid over so that she could sit beside her friend.
"At his age, you should be thankful you don't have to rely on something that needs real batteries."
"Natalie Greene, you are as outspoken as ever."
"I just tell it like I see it, Nancy."
Noticing Nancy glance toward Jeff, Blair realized that the two probably had not been introduced.
"Nancy, this is Dorothy's husband, Jeff Williams."
Nancy and Jeff exchanged pleasantries, their eyes often shifting toward the dance floor in search of their respective spouses.
"Look at him. He doesn't have any idea how ridiculous he looks trying to emulate Dorothy and Bailey. I hope Jo stomps on his foot so hard he'll need crutches."
Natalie agreed that Roger looked ridiculous but she thought Nancy was being a little harsh.
"Ouch, what's Roger done to get you in such a snit?"
"Oh, nothing out of the ordinary. Let's just say I'm not expecting to find the tree in my back yard filled with tiny paper prayers on my behalf."
Blair was surprised.
"You know about that?"
"Everyone knows about that. Dorothy may no longer be the Rona Barrett of Eastland, but she still manages to spread information faster than the internet."
Blair blushed, having been unaware that their friends were aware of Jo's sensitive gesture.
"You're a lucky woman, Blair."
If finding out that Nancy knew about the prayer tree had surprised Blair, hearing her tell Blair that she was lucky to be with Jo shocked the wealthy heiress.
"You think I'm lucky because I'm with Jo?"
Blair's confusion was obvious.
"But you act like you don't even remember going to school with Jo."
Nancy hung her head in embarrassment.
"Blair, I, um, I was ashamed of how I treated Jo our senior year. I feel awkward around Jo, but it's because of how I acted back then. Why else would I act that way?"
Blair placed her face in her hands, cluing Nancy in as to why she thought Nancy avoided Jo.
"Why do you think?"
Nancy looked to Natalie for confirmation, and received a nod from the observant reporter.
"Blair, I'm so sorry. It never occurred to me that you or Jo would think that my behavior was . . . I'm so sorry."
"I can't believe you just said that you think I'm lucky."
"That's what I keep telling her, she's the luckiest girl on the planet. Lucky Blair, that's my girl."
Jo grinned at Blair as she and Roger stood by the table. Jo was shocked, however, when Nancy stood and approached her.
"I hope you saved a dance for me, Jo."
Blair beamed as Nancy pulled a confused Jo back toward the dance floor.
4: Bad Omens
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