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The Dinner Party
"Man oh man," Jo exhaled. "That was something."
"You like?" Cherie asked.
"You could say that," Jo said. She glanced over at the clock on the bedside table. "Oh shit. I'm late. My shift at the shop starts in forty minutes. Cherie, I hate to um do this and run, but I really need to go."
"Hey Jo, not an issue. What did I tell you, casual is fine with me. I'm really not a flowers and candy kind of gal."
Jo got up from the bed and headed for the small shower. "Still, I don't want to be rude. I really had a good time."
"Me too," Cherie confirmed, fishing for her cigarettes. She paused. Hmm, maybe she would wait. Jo really wasn't a tobacco fan. And there wasn't that much air circulation in the trailer. She could wait. Cherie smiled to herself. Yikes. Be careful, Thompson. This one could get to you.
Jo emerged from the bathroom after her quick rinse. "So, will you be at the park on Thursday?" she inquired, referring to their weekly pick-up basketball game.
"I dunno. I have a lot to do before I leave."
"Yeah, I'm going back to Michigan for a while. My daughter called. She's pregnant."
Cherie laughed at her expression. "Yeah, Jo, that's right. You're screwing a grandmother-to-be."
"Uh, well um, that's great, I guess. Uh, how old is your daughter?" Jo stuttered a little.
"Nineteen. A year older than I was when I had her. I'm a little disappointed she got knocked up, but what can I say? At least her boyfriend isn't a complete lowlife."
"So how long will you be gone?"
"Hard to say. I gave notice at the Ramada."
Cherie looked at Jo questioningly. "You aren't upset, are you? Casual, right? That's what we agreed on?"
"No, no, I'm not upset. You do what you need to do," Jo said, a little too quickly.
"Well, it isn't like there aren't plenty of people at the Rooster who would be willing to sub for me," Cherie laughed. "Rhonda has had her eye on you for a while."
"Rhonda? Ewww, gross." Jo paused. "Listen Cherie, why don't you come over to my house for dinner before you go? I'll get Mrs. G. to cook us a nice meal. You could meet everyone. Well you know Tootie, but everyone else. It would be like a bon voyage party."
"You want to bring me home to meet the family?" Cherie struck her chest dramatically. "Why Jo, I'm honored."
"Funny, funny. I just thought it would be nice."
"It would be nice. Thanks. Just so we're clear though, they don't know about, um, this," Cherie pointed to the disheveled sheets, "do they?"
"No. And I'm sorry, Cherie. I'm really not ready to tell them yet."
"Hey, that's no problem. I'm going to be nervous enough without worrying about them wanting to kill me for bringing you over to the dark side."
"Oh please," Jo retorted. "I went willingly. And why would you be nervous? You're a pretty confident lady--as you recently proved," she added with a smirk.
"Why would I be nervous? Two words: Blair Warner."
"So who is this person?" Natalie inquired suspiciously.
"She's not a person; she's Cherie. She was the bartender at the Ramada when Jo and I performed there in February. She's really nice. I guess Jo kept in touch with her," Tootie mused. "Although it's sort of odd that Jo never mentioned that before."
"Well, if Jo is making us all stay home on a Saturday night to have dinner with her, she must have done something to rate," Natalie opined.
"Maybe it's her jump shot. Jo said they play basketball sometimes," Tootie offered.
"Jump shot?!? I'm giving up a night at the movies with Dirk Witowski for a jump shot?" Natalie protested.
"C'mon Nat. This is so unusual. Jo never asks us to do something like this. And unlike Blair, with her royal entourage, Jo hardly ever brings friends around. Anyway, it seems like ages since we all sat down for dinner together. Everyone is always running around so much," Tootie said, a bit wistfully.
"Ah Tootie, still pining for the days of forced companionship and involuntary servitude at the Eastland Cafeteria, are you? Please don't let those days be the highlight of your life." Natalie put her arm around her friend. "OK, I'll be a sport."
Blair burst into the girls' room. "So who is this person? And in what universe am I staying home on the night of the Deke Spring Fling to consort with one of Jo's lowlife .jockettes?" She choked out the last word disdainfully.
Tootie bristled. "You may not recall, Blair, but you and Cherie have met. She was there the night you came to watch us at the Ramada. She helped you out," Tootie added meaningfully, glaring at the blonde.
Blair paled. "Oh. Well, as you know, Tootie, I had the flu that night. I don't really remember being formally introduced."
"Flu, right. Anyway, she's a nice woman and Jo's friend. So you have to be polite and show up for this dinner," Tootie emphatically declared.
"Oh fine," Blair sniffed. "Since when has anyone in my family been anything less than entirely polite? My great grandfather Blair served tea to the Yankee soldiers who invaded and then burnt down his house."
"Be sure to point that out to Cherie," Natalie remarked. "I'm certain she'll appreciate the comparison."
"I don't know, Mrs. G, your pot roast is terrific, but the leg of lamb might be a little more festive. What do you think?"
"Whichever you want, Jo. Although lamb is a tried and true spring dish. We can do asparagus and new potatoes. Or, if you really want to go wild---couscous."
"Couscous. Yeah, that's it. Something a little out of the ordinary," Jo decided with satisfaction.
Edna smiled. "I don't think I've ever seen you so involved in menu planning before. You seem to be looking forward to this dinner quite a bit."
"I am. I mean Cherie has been a good friend these past couple of months. I want to make her send-off special."
"Well, I'm always happy to host your friends. You should have them here more often."
Jo looked at her mentor. "Maybe, but Mrs. G., Cherie isn't the usual Eastland/Langley crowd. She's blue collar, divorced, a bartender. She lives in a trailer. And I didn't tell you this but she smokes. I mean I know she can't do it in the house, but if she wants to have a cigarette on the back porch, please don't give her a hard time."
"When did you get me mixed up with some elitist, puritan, kill-joy?" Mrs. Garrett asked. "She's your guest. I won't embarrass you."
"I know Mrs. G, but well she's different."
"If you like her, then I'm sure I will too," Mrs. Garrett affirmed. "By the way, Jo, I'm blue collar, I'm divorced, I know how to mix cocktails and after the divorce, I stayed in my sister's trailer for a while. I even used to smoke. Trust me, things will be fine. We'll have more in common than you realize."
With one pretty big exception, Jo thought.
"Good lord, Jo, will you relax? You would think it was the Queen of England, and not some cocktail slinger from Tarrytown."
"Blair, I swear, if you say anything nasty about where she works or where she lives, or, if you utter one more whining word about missing the Spring Fling, you're going to be sprung flung into the back yard trash can," Jo growled.
The doorbell rang, stopping Blair's retort, and Jo ran to open it.
"Hey," she said, greeting Cherie. "You look nice," noticing her slim dark jeans and white man-tailored shirt, opened a few buttons down.
"Thanks, you said it was casual," Cherie replied, waggling her eyebrows.
"Right, come on in. Um, this is everyone," Jo said pointing to the others standing in the living room. "Mrs. Garrett, Blair, Natalie and of course you know Tootie."
"Hi Cherie," Tootie ran up and gave her a hug. "It's really good to see you again."
"Hey Dorothy. Same here. Lou says hello. He was very jealous when I said I was going to see you."
"How is Lou? He stopped writing."
"Mrs. Rysdale told him to stop. He was using up all the guest stationary. Lou's fine. He actually had a real date with Yolanda the night maid."
"That's good to hear," Tootie declared.
"Ahem," Blair coughed. "Tootie, don't monopolize our guest. Let her get comfortable. Hello, I'm Blair Warner. So pleased to meet you. Won't you sit down? May I offer you a mini-quiche? Perhaps a beverage?" Blair inquired, in a tone worthy of Jeeves the butler.
Jo rolled her eyes. Here we go, she thought to herself. Miss Manners rears her ugly head.
"Thank you Blair,"' Cherie said, taking a quiche. She smiled at Natalie and Tootie who were looking at her with undisguised curiosity. Oh boy, could this be a long evening, she thought, dying for a cigarette. "Um, a soda pop or water would be fine."
"Oh come, Cherie," Mrs. Garrett interjected. "You may have something stronger if you like. What will it be-- scotch, bourbon, a vodka tonic?"
Natalie gasped. "You're offering booze? Since when do we have hooch in the house?"
"Hooch?" Mrs. Garrett repeated. "Natalie, it wasn't made in the bathtub. You've seen Scarface too many times. I keep a few bottles of spirits around for special occasions and for adult use only. Despite what Natalie says, Cherie, we're not Mennonites. What would you like?"
"A vodka on the rocks would be fine. Thanks. And don't worry, I took the bus."
Watching Mrs. Garrett go to cabinet in the tallboy and pull out a bottle of Smirnoff, Natalie declared, "You're my new favorite of Jo's friends, Cherie. Here for less than five minutes, and you've completely shattered the moral fiber of the house."
Jo started choking on her mini-quiche.
"So you're from Michigan?" Mrs. Garrett asked as she passed Cherie the couscous. "I'm a Midwesterner myself."
"Yeah, Jo said you were from Appleton," Cherie reported. "So you understand small town life. How sometimes you just have to get a way for a while. Go somewhere where you can be a little more, I don't know, anonymous."
"Well, I've never really been one for anonymity," Mrs. Garrett supplied. "But I can understand the desire to start anew. Particularly after a divorce."
"You got that right," Cherie confirmed. "Once my kids turned 18, I told them that I needed to figure some things out. Work on myself for a bit."
"And how did they react to that?" Blair asked coldly.
"Not that it's any of our business," Jo interjected, kicking her roommate under the table.
"That's all right. They said they were OK with it. They're twins--a boy and a girl-- and are pretty close. They went to live with their dad for a while. But now that my daughter is pregnant, I guess she needs her mom. Of course I'll go, but I hope I can come back someday. I'm really going to miss our pick-up games," Cherie added, nudging Jo.
Mrs. Garrett sat back and watched Jo watching Cherie. So that's it, she thought to herself. Well, you knew this day was coming, Edna. Just deal with it. "Blair, could you pour us all little more wine?" she instructed. Blair obeyed, refilling four glasses. Tootie and Natalie were having soda.
"More wine, Mrs. Garrett? What's happening? It's a bacchanal!" Natalie exclaimed.
"A bacchanal? Really, Natalie, I hardly think so," Mrs. Garrett replied.
"It's my word of the day," Natalie informed Cherie. "I want to be a writer, so I try to learn a new word every day."
"What's a bacchanal?" Cherie asked. "I only got my GED."
"Oh, it's sort of like an orgy," Natalie explained.
"Orgy. Well that's a word I do know," Cherie said nudging Jo again.
Blair, too, had seen the interaction between Cherie and Jo and wasn't sure she cared for it, although she didn't quite know why. "These games you mention, what exactly are they?" she asked.
"Oh on Thursdays, Jo and I go down to Curry Park to shoot some hoops with the locals. It can get pretty intense. Some of these guys don't take too kindly to having their clocks cleaned by two broads," Cherie explained.
"Cherie is great," Jo enthused. "She has awesome backcourt moves."
"Backcourt moves, that's what I'm known for." Jo and Cherie dissolved into giggles, much to Blair's annoyance. "Jo, on the other hand, is more of a power player," Cherie declared. "You should see her crash the boards. She doesn't let anything get in her way."
"Like an expensive watch?" Blair intoned ominously.
"Sorry?" Asked Cherie
"Oh, jeez," Jo blurted. "I thought we were over this Blair. You already made a federal case of it, literally."
"I just wanted to ask an eyewitness if there was even a scintilla of remorse or regret, when you blithely damaged my property," Blair replied archly.
"Well there wasn't, so don't bother Cherie about it, OK?"
"So you perjured yourself," Blair declared with satisfaction. "You told the court that you were sorry."
"I did not. The only thing I'm sorry about is that I bothered to give it back to you. You never would have missed it in your pile of overpriced junk."
"Junk?!? You're calling my collection of hand-made Baume & Mercier timepieces junk?"
"As a matter of fact, I am," Jo retorted.
"Girls, girls. Do we really need to do this in front of company?" Mrs. Garrett interrupted. "Why don't you clear the table and bring the coffee and pie to the living room. I'll take Cherie out and show her the back porch." She turned to their guest. "You have been very good, but as an ex-smoker, I can tell that you need a fix. C'mon, bring your pack."
Cherie smiled. "Thank you, thank you, and thank you."
"Who knows, I may even take a puff myself," Mrs. Garrett said, winking at Natalie.
"Sodom, Gomorrah, what did I say?" Natalie cried.
The two women went out to the porch that overlooked the small garden. Cherie lit up a cigarette and took a long drag. She exhaled with relief. "Thanks for having me tonight, Edna. You have a wonderful home."
"It is wonderful--not always peaceful--but wonderful," Edna agreed.
"Jo and Blair, they are a combustible pair, aren't they?" Cherie offered
"That's an understatement for the ages." Edna looked up at the moon. After a moment she said, "I still remember the day Jo arrived. She was so angry, defensive, insolent. But even then, you could tell that she was something special. She's made quite a journey over these years."
"I'm sure," Cherie replied, uncertain as to where this was going.
"But her journey isn't over. I know that." Mrs. Garrett seemed to be talking more to herself than to her companion. "All I can do is help her adjust to her discoveries, and be there if she needs me. And I know I can't protect her, as much as I would like to, but I can certainly have something to say about it if someone wants to use her or deliberately hurt her." There was a dangerous undertone to Mrs. Garrett's words.
Cherie looked at Edna. "Oh. I see. And I guess you see too. Jo always said you were a sharp one. Well, Edna, you don't have to worry about me. I never wanted to use or hurt Jo. I guess you could just say I was one of her 'discoveries.'"
Edna smiled. "Maybe a little more than that. She cares for you, I can tell."
"I know but I promised her and myself that it would be casual. That's one of the reasons it's probably a good idea that I leave for a while."
Mrs. Garrett looked at her. "Jo is the least casual person I know. That's her blessing and her curse. She feels things--deeply."
"I'm starting to realize that. That's why a strategic retreat may be in order. Besides, I don't want to get caught up in the crossfire between her and Blair. There could be collateral damage."
Edna chuckled. "Like me, you must have played war games with your son. But you're right. That battle is an epic one. I'm still not sure how it's going to turn out."
"Blair's an idiot not to see what she could have," Cherie declared, somewhat resentfully.
"Hey, that's one of my girls you're talking about," Mrs. Garrett objected. "And Blair is many things but she's no idiot. She, too, has a lot of burdens to bear."
"Yeah, beauty, money, popularity--it's a real tough road."
"Oh come, Cherie, you know better than that. No, Blair has to work through a mountain of expectations and stereotypes about what her life should be to find her true heart. That isn't an easy task."
"I guess not," Cherie admitted, taking a drag on her cigarette. She grinned. "Boy Edna, this is quite an evening. Couscous, raspberry pie, and deep psychological insights."
Mrs. Garrett smiled. "Well it is nice to have someone I can really talk to about the girls. They are my favorite subject."
"They are an entertaining bunch. Speaking of discoveries, as a parent of teenagers I'm thinking that now that Natalie knows where you keep the booze, you might get a lock."
"Natalie has always known. She was faking tonight because she never told Tootie. Tootie's brother has a drinking problem and Tootie once guzzled a lot of wine when she was 13. Natalie is protecting her, even though Tootie could care less about alcohol. That's what they do. They look out for each other even when there's no need."
"Wow. This is some family," Cherie said.
"Isn't it though?" Mrs. Garrett concurred.
"Now we don't want to scandalize Peekskill too much," Cherie said as she broke off the kiss. Jo had walked Cherie to the bus stop to say goodbye. They were alone.
"I guess not." Jo looked at her. "I'm really going to miss you."
"Me too. Jo, it's been great, but don't feel that you owe me anything. If you find something you like go ahead and grab it, OK?"
"OK. Maybe Rhonda isn't so bad, at least after a few drinks."
"I'm not talking about Rhonda, you dolt."
Jo smiled. "Well I do owe you for something. There was that double pump move you showed me."
"Double pump basketball shot or double pump the other thing?" Cherie inquired.
"Both," Jo laughed.
"Well you are very welcome. Hey, here's the bus." Cherie gave Jo a hug and climbed into vehicle. She waved through the window as the bus pulled away.
Sitting in the nearly deserted interior, Cherie spoke aloud. "Double pump move, huh? Blair Warner, you may not know it now, but you're going to thank me someday."
Jo walked back from the bus stop to the Edna's Edibles storefront. She entered the house and went into the kitchen where she saw Mrs. Garrett stacking the dishes in the sink. "Here Mrs. G, I'll get those."
"No, Jo, let's leave them until tomorrow. We'll just goof off tonight."
"Whoa, Natalie's right. Not doing the dishes? It's anarchy."
Mrs. Garrett sniffed. "You know, I'm a little insulted that everyone seems to think that I'm some kind of inflexible martinet. I know how to have fun. I can let loose sometimes."
"We know that Mrs. G. It's just that you've always liked structure and routine," Jo commented.
"Structure and routine are fine Jo. But they can change and sometimes they should change. Don't ever be afraid to try a new... um structure, if that's what will make you happy."
"Are we still talking about the dishes?" Jo asked in puzzlement.
Mrs. Garrett merely smiled and brought her hand up to stroke Jo's cheek. "Goodnight dear," she said as she left the room.
Jo regarded the sink for a moment. She shrugged, turned off the kitchen light and followed Mrs. Garrett up the stairs. She walked into her bedroom to find Natalie and Tootie in their nightgowns playing checkers on Natalie's bed and Blair at the vanity table removing her make-up.
"You know Blair, it isn't that late," Jo noted. "You could still drop in at the Spring Fling."
"Blair Warner does not drop in. She arrives," Blair proclaimed. "No, I'm in for the evening."
"I'll tell the news trucks outside to go home then," Jo replied snidely before flopping down on her bed and burying her face in her pillow.
Blair looked at her. "Did you have a good time tonight, Jo?"
"Yeah," came the muffled reply
"I'm sorry I brought up the watch."
Blair swallowed. It almost seemed like Jo was crying. Something clenched in Blair's stomach. She really didn't want Jo to be crying.
"I liked Cherie, Jo. I'm sorry you won't see her for a while."
"Doesn't matter," Jo murmured.
"Make new friends and keep the old," Tootie interjected from the other side of the room. "One is silver, the other gold."
"What are you? Five?" Natalie complained.
"It's a good sentiment," Tootie replied as she jumped three of Natalie's checkers. "Ha! King me."
"Gold schmold," Natalie muttered.
Blair swallowed again. "Well, Jo, now that you have some free time on Thursdays, I have a proposition for you."
"What's that?" the voice from the pillow asked.
"I take you bowling next Thursday."
"What?" echoed Natalie and Tootie.
"Yes. Your birthday is coming up. You like bowling. I want to take you bowling," Blair declared firmly.
Jo raised her head off the pillow. "You don't bowl."
"That doesn't matter. I have excellent hand eye coordination."
"No you don't."
"Well, come on, how hard can it be?"
"I guess you'll find out, won't you?" Jo said with a small smile. "OK, Blair you can take me bowling."
"Wonderful. You two can come too," Blair informed Tootie and Nat.
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Natalie said. "You do know, Blair, that you have to wear shoes other people have worn."
"Oh Natalie, don't be ridiculous. That would be a violation of the health code. Right Jo?"
"Absolutely Princess," Jo said, giving Nat a wink.
"Good. It's a date." Blair returned her focus to the mirror. Natalie and Tootie resumed their game.
Jo looked around at her friends. What would happen if she told? Would she lose this? She didn't want to lose this. It was everything. The rest, well, the rest was just casual. Jo sprung off her bed and headed for the shower. "You're right, Tootie, it's gold," she said, as she closed the bathroom door.
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