DISCLAIMER: Yes, I'm borrowing characters from the old TV show, "The Facts of Life". In my version, Blair marries an old family friend, Scott McNair, prompting her to keep her maiden name or be evermore known as Blair McNair. Jo still majors in business, but marries and later divorces John Eagle, a fellow accountant. Dorothy (Tootie) marries fellow actor Thornton Stiles while Natalie Green has followed her journalistic dream while living with a series of boyfriends.
Copyright © 2004-2005 by JS Stephens. All Rights Reserved, blah, blah.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Impossible Dream
By JS Stephens
Blair listened with half an ear as her daughter, Madison, chattered happily about the tennis team at Eastland School. "Mother, we advanced to the semifinals before we were knocked out. Isn't that great?"
"Yes, dear, it is," Blair answered, reluctantly dragging her attention from the funding proposal in front of her. She flashed her brilliant smile at her daughter, which was echoed by a similarly brilliant smile. "How is your tennis equipment holding up this year?"
"Well, now that you ask," Madison answered, "my shoes are getting worn out and a pinch small. Can we go shopping, Mother? I mean, it's Saturday, and I don't have to be back at Eastland until Sunday evening, and Dad and Scott are out golfing now. Please?"
Blair looked fondly at her twelve year old daughter, who had been lucky enough to inherit her blonde hair and brown eyes and her father's slender build and height. Madison was already two inches taller than Blair, but thankfully had not shown signs of becoming curvy at this young age. "Let me call your father first, then I'll take you shopping," Blair promised as she reached for the phone. Madison squealed happily, hugging her mother briefly before running off to change clothes before Blair could call Scott. She shook her head fondly as she dialed her husband's cell phone number, waiting for it to ring as she started straightening up the files on her desk and closing files on her computer.
"Mr. McNair's phone," the caddy answered softly.
So very serious about his golf, Blair thought with some irritation, but asked smoothly, "Would you please tell Mr. McNair that his wife is taking their daughter shopping today? We should be back in time for a late supper. I'll have my phone with me."
"Very good, Ms. Warner, I shall tell him after this hole. Mr. McNair may be in poor spirits, but young Mr. Scott is shooting under par today," Nathan reported with quiet pride.
"Excellent. Nathan, keep my men out of trouble."
"I shall do my utmost. Good hunting, Ms. Warner," the caddy replied before disconnecting.
At supper, Madison rattled on about the new tennis shoes, clothes, and racquet they had bought while Scott, Jr., described a rare hole in one he'd shot that afternoon. Scott senior listened quietly, steadily refilling his wineglass during the recitations. Blair noticed that their almost sixteen year old son's hair was starting to darken, now a light brown rather than the golden blonde of his parents'. His blue eyes were vivid, his body sturdier and broader than his father's. Blair wondered idly if her son, like her husband, would keep his thick hair. She then studied her husband, wondering why he seemed to be drinking so much and eating so little these days. His family's business was doing well, so that couldn't be it. She was still pondering this and half listening to the children when the butler approached her silently, murmuring, "A phone call, ma'am, from a woman identifying herself as Jo Eagle. Would you like to take it in your office, or would you like for me to take a message?"
"I'll take it in my office, Charles, thank you." Blair stood, excusing herself, following the butler into her office, waiting until he released the line. She picked up her headset and tapped the blinking button. "Good evening, this is Blair Warner speaking."
"Hey, Blondie, whatcha doing?" Jo's familiar Bronx flavored voice cannon-balled down the line. "Did I interrupt anything important?"
"Just finishing supper," Blair allowed, wondering why Jo was calling. Curiosity aroused, she schooled herself to be patient, asking, "How's your husband, John?"
A brief silence, followed by Jo's quiet, "Blair, we divorced last year. Long story, difference in opinions about starting families and careers. Anyway, I'm in town on business and thought I'd give you a buzz, see what you were up to. How's the family?"
Blair relaxed in her chair as she started filling Jo in on the past few years since they had last talked. She bragged about the children's athletic and academic accomplishments, ending with, "I was bored playing society wife, so I dusted off my financial skills and started a venture capital funding company. Just a few of us rich trust babies pooling some funds, helping small startup businesses. But I really shouldn't rattle on, where are you staying, and for how long?"
"Until Thursday, I'm working on something, staying in a hotel not too far from your little mansion."
Blair smiled at Jo's teasing. "It's not a mansion, just a cozy five bedroom house," she responded in the same teasing tone. Score one for Warner, she thought, that hot button doesn't work any longer. "Say, why don't you come over for a bit, if you're not busy now, have dessert here? I'd love to catch up with you, what you're doing."
"Are you serious, Blondie?"
"Yes, Jo, I'd love to see you."
Silence on the other end of the phone as Blair mentally scored another point. Warner, 2, Polniaczek, 0. Make that Eagle, 0. "Okay, I'll be over in a few minutes. Tell Jeeves not to be too horrified when I come over in a car rather than my cycle."
Blair laughed, remembering the first time Charles saw Jo rumbling up to the front of the house on a Harley. The look on the butler's face was priceless, the only time that Blair could remember him being startled. "I'll tell Charles. See you soon."
Minutes later, the doorbell rang and Charles was escorting Jo into Blair's office, announcing unnecessarily, "Ms. Jo Eagle to see you, Miss Blair." Blair waited until he left the room before crossing the room to tentatively hug Jo, who returned the hug warmly before breaking away. "Have a seat, Jo," Blair said, indicating a pair of comfortable wing chairs near the fireplace. "This is quite a surprise to see you. You're looking quite good."
"Same to you, Blair," Jo answered, eyes twinkling. "Sounds like life is pretty grand for you, but ya know, I never could picture you as a stay at home mom type. What do you do while you're counting money, farm them out?"
Blair had to laugh, Jo's honesty and curiosity had definitely not mellowed over the years since Eastland. "Scotty and Madison are going to boarding school during the year, and Scott and I schedule a long family vacation with them during the summer. This year we plan to go west, with stops in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, California, maybe Washington."
"Let's see, that means art galleries in Taos, Neiman Marcus in Dallas, other arts in Colorado, and of course, Rodeo Drive, right, Blondie?" Jo teased.
"My, how perceptive you are, Joey. Scotty wants to see the Ft. Worth Stockyards and Madison wants to see Old Town in Albuquerque, Scott has clients in Denver, and I have potential clients in Dallas. Both of the men will want to check out all golf courses while Madison will ask me to play tennis with her. How about you?"
Jo sat back in her chair, smile fading. "I'm reluctant to admit this, but I'm worried about my company, I keep hearing rumors of takeovers. If so, I'd like to be prepared to jump ship, maybe start my own business."
"What else? A motorcycle shop! Not just any shop, but a custom shop, one where I can build bikes for rich folks like you, custom designs."
Blair nodded, asking, "So, have you done any research? Seen if there is a market for custom bikes?"
"Some. Blair," Jo said earnestly, leaning forward, "I have some savings, but John got almost all of the property and screwed me out of thousands in savings during the divorce. I do have some commercial property in Fort Worth, zoned for manufacturing, and I was thinking of setting up shop there. To be honest, I already knew that you were funding startups, so I'm asking as a friend, what hoops do you put people through in order for them to successfully apply for funding? Would you even consider this, seeing that we have a previous relationship? Writing out a business plan and a budget is no problem, I've been a CPA, a tax accountant, and a finance planner for my company for the past fifteen years."
Blair started to give a flip answer, but stopped when she realized that Jo was revealing her dreams, taking a huge emotional risk just by asking for her help. Not the independent, stubborn Jo she'd know as a teenager and young adult. "Listen, Jo, come by my office on Monday and I'll give you the standard application package. Let me ask this, although I'm sure I know the answer, is this your dream?"
"Yes. I've lived as a corporate drone for too long. Oh, I saw Natalie last week." As Jo launched into her tale of Nat's latest journalistic triumph, Blair accepted the change of subject, just enjoying sitting back and listening to Jo, watching Jo's animated face as she described their mutual friend's latest adventures. She noticed that Jo had grown thinner since she last saw her, back when they gathered for Mrs. Garret's funeral a few years ago. It shocked her when she noticed silver threads creeping into Jo's dark hair, which now barely brushed her collar, not enough for her trademark ponytail of yore.
Finally, Jo came to an abrupt halt, asking, "So, Blair, where's that promised dessert?" Blair smiled, standing up to announce, "We'll just have to raid the kitchen for some, like old times. Come on, Jo," she said, holding out her hand. Jo took it, allowing Blair to lever her out of the chair, following her to the kitchen for the promised culinary delights.
Six weeks later, Blair was walking through an abandoned warehouse in Fort Worth, grateful that she had taken Jo's suggestion to wear shorts and a sleeveless cotton blouse rather than her usual suit and hose. Even so, the sweat was rolling down her face and sides in a most unladylike manner, but she didn't complain. Jo was enthusiastically waving her arms around, pointing out how this warehouse could be easily converted to her custom bike shop. "The structure is sound, it already has good ventilation, and I can buy it outright, I sold the other property and got a good deal. I decided it would be easier to modify an existing structure rather than build from scratch. So, whatta ya think, Warner?"
Blair resisted laughing at Jo's infectious enthusiasm, opting instead to say seriously, "It might be workable." Seeing Jo's face start to fall, she relented. "I'll start moving on your application for funding. I must admit, the company rarely receives such detailed planning documents as your application. I think you made a wise choice, Ms. Eagle."
"I had the time," Jo admitted, "and the severance package helped pay for the information. So, you gonna order a bike from me?"
"What, me, a Warner, ride a motorcycle? Heaven forbid!" Blair responded in her snootiest voice. "No, I'll just look forward to your bottom line grow fat, enhancing my portfolio when you take the shop out for an IPO." She discretely wiped her face with a tissue as Jo turned around, surveying the warehouse again, wincing at the amount of makeup melting off her face.
"Hey, you're not so bad," Jo admitted, "and much smarter than you acted at Eastland."
"Thank you, I think," Blair riposted. "Let's get out of this hot warehouse and on to the Japanese Gardens. Madison has suddenly decided that she may want to go into landscaping instead of being a tennis star. Or, go into landscaping after a fabulous career in tennis."
As the women slipped on their sunglasses before walking back into the merciless Texas sun, Jo commented wistfully, "You and Scott have some pretty good kids. If I had kids, I'd wanted them to be as good as yours. Not as stuck up, of course," she added mischievously. Blair retorted by sticking her tongue out before sliding into the furnace, also known as Jo's truck. She continued to grill Jo about the shop as Jo deftly steered the truck away from the warehouse and towards the gardens. At least the truck was air conditioned, Blair thought as the temperature started dropping. "Do you have all of your suppliers lined up, letters of credit arranged?"
"Yep, just waiting for the final go ahead from Warner & Co. before signing all of the contracts," Jo answered, swinging the truck into the parking lot. "Okay, I declare that we're done with business, princess, let's find your family." She bounced out of the truck, with Blair slowly following, reluctant to leave the cool climes of the truck cab.
The grand vacation was over, and Blair plunged back into work. "Honey, aren't you ready for bed yet?" Scott asked Blair as she browsed through Jo's latest report.
"Just about," Blair replied absently, jotting a note on her legal pad. "Jo's reported that the bulk of the work is completed on refitting the warehouse and she's starting to hire a few workers. I'll need to ask if she's found a payroll company yet. Scott, do you have any contacts in Texas in that line?"
Scott flopped down in the chair next to her desk, running his fingers through his thick blonde hair, mumbling, "It's always Jo this and Jo that. No, I do not know anyone in the payroll business in Texas."
"What? Honey, are you grumbling?"
"Yes, I am," he snapped, "you don't spend this much time with the other startups your business is funding, you just throw them in there and let them sink or swim. In fact, you spend more time talking on the phone with her than you do with me in person."
Blair stared at her husband, shocked at his accusations, but she quickly recovered her wits, closing the file and the notepad. "Scott, Jo is an old friend, the others are strangers. I recall that you spent a lot of time last year finding a position for your old high school golf buddy, David."
Scott snorted. "I didn't spend hours on the phone with him. Besides, who can make money on motorcycles, anyway? They're so crude."
"Let's see, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Suzuki, Kawisaki, BMW, and independents like Orange County Choppers, West Coast Choppers. Honey, you should really read the demographics report, lots of professionals are spending tens of thousands of dollars on high end or custom bikes. Ask some of your golfing buddies who owns a motorcycle, you might be surprised."
"Sure, right," Scott muttered, but he reached over, stroking Blair's cheek. "I'm sorry, babe, but sometimes you work such long hours that I feel like you've deserted me. Come on, the kids are asleep, let's go go bed, spend some quality time together."
"The kids are asleep already?" Blair looked up at her wall clock, noting that it was pretty late. She yawned and stretched, then remarked, "I should have been asleep already, I have a 7:30 meeting in the city tomorrow." She stood, allowing her husband to lead them to their bedroom upstairs. Scott closed the door behind them and reached for Blair, but she was already stripping off her clothes, reaching for her nightgown. Scott waited until she was about to pull the nightgown before growling, "I don't think so," and snatched it out of her reach. He dangled it over her head while he untied his robe, allowing it to part and expose his still nicely muscled torso.
"Funny, Scott, I'm just too tired tonight and I have to be fresh for this meeting. Maybe tomorrow afternoon, when Scotty and Madison are visiting your parents."
Scott's face hardened as he wadded up her gown and threw it at her. "So, when am I allowed to touch you, Blair? My God, woman, guys still envy me for having such a beautiful, brainy, sexy wife, yet I can count on one hand how many times we've made love since Christmas, and it's July! I guess I'll have to start taking matters into my own hands."
"Scott, you just made a very bad pun," Blair tossed back, approaching her husband and wrapping her arms around him, "I'm very sorry I've been distracted this year. But I promise, tomorrow."
"I guess I did make a bad pun," Scott agreed, chuckling unwillingly, settling her in his arms. They stood like that for a moment, just enjoying the warmth of each other's bodies, gradually drifting off to sleep.
The next morning, Blair was still stinging from Scott's complaints about their lack of a sex life, worried that something was wrong, with her, with their marriage. If she was really honest with herself, their marriage had never been great, just good, usually having the same goals and wanting their children to turn out as good human beings. But the way her friends talked, the way Tootie, no, Dorothy, and Natalie talked, sex was the pinnacle of human experience, which Blair didn't quite understand. Sure, it was fun, but even the best nights with Scott were not quite the mind-blowing experiences that her friends and the media insisted they should be.
"Ms. Warner, your son is here, do you have time to see him?"
Blair jumped, scattering papers and CDs around as she fumbled for the phone, jabbing the intercom button. "Yes," she told her assistant, "but see if he wants coffee or soda first. I need to clear a few things off my desk. Oh, and would you mind bringing me a fresh coffee, Laura? Thanks." Blair disconnected before her assistant could harp on the amount of coffee she was consuming these days. She stood up, quickly reshelving and refiling papers and CDs until her desk was cleared.
"Hi, Mom," Scott said as he poked his head around her door, "ready to see me now?"
"Yes, come in. Oh, you have my coffee, let's sit at the conference table."
"Sure," Scott answered, walking over to the table, carefully setting down the drinks before turning to kiss his mother's cheek before seating himself. "Mother," he asked as he sat down, "may I ask a favor of you?"
"Sure, Scotty, what do you need?" Blair answered, thinking of introductory letters for an internship to friends' businesses.
Her handsome son took a sip of his cola before answering, "Is it okay if I play golf just for fun? Dad keeps talking about me being the next Tiger Woods, but I'm not sure I want to turn pro."
Blair fully focused her attention on her son now, wondering what caused this change. Scotty had been planning to be a professional golfer since he could swing a club. "What do you want to do? How can I help?"
"I'm not really sure," Scott replied slowly, "but I don't want to do some sort of make work internship, then sit on a bunch of boards like Dad. I really don't have a head for high finance like you do, or I'd ask to intern here."
Blair sipped her coffee before asking, "Okay, I know you, you are leading up to something. Spill it, son, what do you want to do that you need me to run interference with your father? Be a rock musician? Work for a nonprofit? Be a bum?"
Scott sipped his cola again, then set it on the table, took a deep breath, and announced quietly, "I'd like to go to work for your friend Jo next summer."
Scott rushed on, face lighting up as he spoke. "Now, Mom, before you have a cow, I've already asked her and she's cool with it. We chatted a few minutes the other night when she called and I grabbed the phone while you were pulling into the driveway. I've always been fascinated by engines and how they work. She said that by next summer, she could afford to pay me some above minimum wage."
Blair held up her hands, signaling him to stop for a moment. "You realize, of course, that you can't afford to live on that type of wage. Where will you live? Will you be disciplined enough to remember to pay your bills and buy groceries rather then spending it all on clothes and entertainment, like you do with your allowance now?"
Scott leaned over, touching his mother's arm for emphasis. "Mom, Jo's already warned me about how hard it will be, how I'll start at rock bottom, sweeping the floors and scrubbing the toilets. She said that if you can help with my basic bills, that she will take care of 'working my butt off,' as she put it."
Blair sat back, sipping her coffee while looking at her son's eager expression. Scott Senior would be horrified that his son wanted to work at a motorcycle shop, starting at the bottom, but she had worked in Mrs. Garret's kitchen for years in school, so it wasn't completely unheard of for a Warner or a McNair to do menial labor. Getting Scott to go along would be difficult, but she also figured that Jo would keep a very close eye on her son, making sure that he didn't get into too much trouble. "Have you asked your father yet?"
"No," he admitted, "I was hoping that you could talk him into it for me, or at least soften him up. Could you at least call Jo, verify what I've told you? Please?"
Blair had to smile as Scott suddenly started batting his eyelashes, something he'd probably seen her do a thousand times. "No promises," she warned, "but I'll investigate and talk to Jo this afternoon. Now, my handsome young man, it is almost lunch time, are your father and sister near?"
"Yeah, I mean, yes, I'm supposed to meet them at Dad's club. Dad took Madison shopping for more clothes or something. I said I was coming over to visit with one of my school buddies."
"Tricky, just like your mother," Blair commented approvingly as she stood up. "All right, buster, let me get my purse and jacket, then I'll be ready to go."
"Thanks!" Scott beamed, "Hey, you're the best mom ever!"
"I hope you still say that when Jo is in charge," Blair laughed as she crossed her office for her belongings, "because she's really gonna work your butt off!"
Later that afternoon, Blair found herself looking at her phone for a long time before picking it up and dialing Jo's number to ask about the proposed internship. Scotty had not mentioned it during lunch, but instead had asked Madison about her shopping expedition, effectively cutting off any other conversation. Blair started wondering if she really sounded so shallow when she was that age. She could always ask Jo, Jo was ruthless about telling the truth about their teenage years, she thought with an involuntary smile.
Blair finally picked up the phone, dialing, then tapping her pen on the desk impatiently while waiting for the call to go through. An eternity later, Jo picked up the phone and Blair announced, "Jo, this is Blair, and I found out that my son has been talking to you."
"Yeah, what a kid, Blondie. Grabs the phone and bold as brass announces that he'd like to work for me next summer, if I'm hiring interns by then. He's got your charm, I must say."
"Ha, ha. Very funny. Listen, Jo, what exactly are you proposing that Scotty do at your company? He mentioned starting at the bottom, would he work up to building bikes? Taking orders? Sweeping the shop floor all summer?"
Jo chuckled, sounding quite relaxed. "Warner, you're hilarious. I haven't actually worked out the details yet, but I'd probably have him do a bit of everything, after a few weeks of sweeping and scrubbing, then starting on paperwork, maybe getting up to confirming orders, stuff like that. If he shows a talent, I'd have him doing some basic assembly on the lower end bikes, but nothing dangerous unless my foreman approves. Two days off a week, Sunday and a week day, one weekend free to go home. Sound good?"
Blair was rapidly sketching out notes while Jo talked. When Jo finished, Blair said slowly, "It sounds like you've given this some serious thought. I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll talk to Scott and see if he agrees that we should pay for Scotty's rent, maybe have him pay the utilities and groceries. Maybe buy him a good used car, nothing fancy."
"You're a laugh a minute, Warner," Jo answered, "sounding all sensible and such. Listen, I hate to cut this short, but I have some meetings with potential subcontractors in a bit." A pause, then quietly, "It's good working with you, Blair. Um, I'll call you later in the week with updated budget figures."
Blair answered back, "I look forward to hearing from you." She hesitated, then cleared her throat and announced, "You'd just better be prepared to turn a profit by this time next year."
"Yeah, whatever you say, Blondie. See ya."
Blair replaced the handset, finished her notes on the conversation while thinking that if anyone could make a profit at something as wild as custom cycles, it would be Jo Eagle.
The next year flew by. Jo reported steadily growing sales after a bumpy start, compounded by a broken air conditioning system the day she opened for business. Scott, Jr. was really buckling down at school, opting to add more math and business courses in place of the usual senior fluff courses, even as he placed second in the state high school golf tournament. Madison had an excellent year in tennis, and even paid more attention to school than tennis, clothes, and boys. Scott, Sr. was spending a lot of time lining up new avenues of revenue for a nonprofit organization whose board he sat on, one of the few times he did more than attend meetings.
Blair's venture capital company was starting to bring in more money from investing in startups than in funds from the backers. She was very proud of her family, children doing well, husband finally involved in more than golf and board meetings. Blair even saw more of her friends from Eastland; Natalie had moved in with a man who lived a few blocks over, Dorothy and Thornton had bought an old movie theater in the next town, and Jo flew to several bike shows in the area and usually managed to see Blair for a few minutes. Blair sometimes worried about Natalie never marrying, but the gentleman she had moved in with was an old frat brother of Scott's, and had lost his wife to cancer several years ago. Natalie had interviewed him for a series of stories titled, "Those Left Behind," interviewing the widows and widowers of cancer victims. Dorothy and Thornton were planning to renovate the old movie theater and turn it into a community theater venue, whose board of directors included both Scott and Blair.
The only drawback was that with the additional work generated by their professional lives, Blair and Scott saw less of each other than usual. The children came home less often than before, opting to stay at school on the weekends more often, Scott to study and Madison to go on group dates with friends. Scott was also dating a senior from a local high school, a girl he had met at the local bookstore. Her name, he had reported in a long chatty e-mail, was Frieda Robbins, and she was planning to accept a scholarship to a university in Fort Worth next year, and planned to start working and living there next summer. Wouldn't that be grand? Blair just hoped that Scotty wasn't planning to room with her any time soon. Madison seemed to have a different boyfriend every time they talked, which Natalie reminded her was pretty common at that age. "I mean, just think of the number of hearts you broke at that age, Blair," Nat recounted gleefully during a neighborhood party. "Madison is just taking after her dear old mother."
Blair had flown to Texas on business in late April when life turned completely upside down. It started off quietly enough, with a board meeting of one of the companies that Warner Capital had invested in, with a reception following the meeting so that Blair could meet the newest company officers. The meeting was followed by what was supposed to be a brief lunch with Jo, who was in Dallas on business, personally taking an order from a senior partner at one of the larger law firms.
"Blair, it's so good to see you," Jo said as she shook hands warmly, "I have a table reserved for us at Dakota's, across from Lincoln Plaza, you'll love it. All underground, wonderful steak, you're buying. I'll go easy on you and split the key lime pie with you."
"Thank you so much, Jo, your thoughtfulness knows no bounds. So, tell me about this motorcycle that the lawyer wanted. Are you going to make piles of lovely money on the order? Will he get his fellow attorneys to order from you?"
"Yeah, I'll make money on it, and SHE will probably have the rest of her buddies ordering after the first ride."
"She? I guess you're not the only woman wanting a bike," Blair teased as they entered the elevator to descend to the underground level. "I'll buy this time, but you get the bill next time."
"Fine," Jo smirked, "I need the extra tax deductions. It's over there, the heavy doors," Jo added as they stepped off the elevator. "Since it's not blazing yet, I reserved a table outside, near the waterfall. It's really cool, I think you'll enjoy it, no chance for anyone to overhear and steal our ideas."
"You do think of everything," Blair replied, "I do admire that in a colleague." She waited until they were seated and their drinks ordered to add, "This place is nice looking, I had no idea that such a place existed east of New York."
"Snob," Jo shot back. "I recommend the steak, it's pretty good. Or the steak and salmon, we could share that and then share the key lime pie and save your money."
"Gracious, worried about my money? Jo, how you've changed!" Before she could add any more snide remarks, the waiter came by to take their order.
It was a rare day in Dallas, sunny, but not too warm and not too cool, a whisper of a breeze, but not enough to splash the waterfall over them. Blair thought she heard her phone, but decided that it was either someone else's or her imagination. The only drawback to sitting next to a two story waterfall was that it was rather noisy, even though she could hear Jo easily enough. Then again, Jo's Bronx accent cut through the rest of the crowd easily, although Blair was always surprised that people in Dallas didn't sound like she expected, not near as twangy as on television or in the movies. "I believe I'm stuffed," Blair admitted after the last shared bite of key lime pie.
"Me too," Jo admitted, absently scraping the last crumbs with her fork. "Just tangy enough to cut the sweet." She paused as the waiter brought over the bill and Blair handed over her card before continuing, "it's fun working with you, Blondie, as much as I'm loathe to admit it. You do have a respectable brain after all, not just money."
"You'd be wise to remember that, missy," Blair retorted. The check came back and she added the tip, then signed the slip with a flourish. Stuffing the receipt and card in her wallet, she snapped her purse closed decidedly, then groaned, "I supposed we have to move now."
"We could go to Neiman Marcus, it's only a few blocks south."
"A miracle!" Jo followed Blair out of the restaurant, pushing the button for the elevator up. "It's been fun, but I really need to head back to Fort Worth before the traffic in the mid-cities starts stacking up too much." The elevator opened and they got on for the short ride, arriving at street level. "You're at the Fairmont? It's over that direction, I'll walk with you, my truck is in a nearby lot."
"Thank you, Jo," Blair said absently as her phone shrilled insistently. "Blair Warner," she answered as they started walking, but she stopped abruptly, clutching blindly for Jo's arm to steady herself. "What? Scott, you're breaking up-" Her face paled, her grip tightening on Jo's arm. "I'll get back home as soon as possible. How's Scotty?" She listened intently, then added softly, "Honey, I came in the corporate jet, I'll see if Jo can drive me to the airport. I'll call ahead and have them file the flight plan. I'll see you soon." She closed up her phone, letting go of Jo's arm while she dropped the phone back into her purse.
"What's wrong, Blair?" Jo asked quietly, "something happen to Scotty?"
Blair didn't answer for a few seconds, blinking rapidly to keep the tears at bay, motioning for them to start walking. She stayed silent until they had gone all the way back to the hotel and were safely in her room before answering hoarsely, "It's Madison. She collapsed on the tennis courts this morning and they rushed her to the emergency room. Scott's been trying to call, but I guess I didn't hear my phone."
"God, Blair, did they say why she collapsed?" Jo asked worriedly, guiding Blair to sit on the bed.
"They think an aneurysm burst in her head and they don't know if she's going to make it or not."
"Shit!" Jo jumped up and started to pace, unsure how to handle this. She looked at Blair, who was unusually pale, wondering what to do for her. Blair was just staring, not appearing to see anything. She finally opted to gingerly sit back down beside Blair and nervously pat her leg. "What can I do for you, Blair?"
Blair took a shaky breath, pulling out her phone and punching the speed dial for the jet crew. She spoke briefly, then turned to Jo, asking, "Do you mind running me to the airport before you go back? The pilot will take care of the flight plan and I didn't bring much and can pack in a few minutes. If you bring your truck around, I'll meet you in the circle in front."
"Sure will, Blair, anything else I can do?" Jo asked anxiously.
"No, I suppose not," Blair whispered. Jo stood, still uncertain, as Blair looked up, tears welling silently. She stepped closer, allowing Blair to lean against her for a moment. They lightly wrapped their arms around each other for a moment, then Blair broke away. "Go, or I'll really fall apart."
"Okay," Jo answered quietly, settling for patting Blair's shoulder before walking to the door. Blair's pale face haunted her as she went back out into the sunny day to retrieve her truck, but at least she had a mission. A concrete mission was much easier to deal with than the awkward world of emotions.
Blair arrived at the hospital only to find that Madison had died shortly before she arrived. Her son was the one to greet her, taking her in his arms and reporting in a strained voice, "Mom, Madison died almost an hour ago. We couldn't reach you since you were in the air, so Dad said to wait until you came to the hospital. God, I'm so sorry, Mom, it just doesn't seem possible."
"I got here as fast as I could," Blair answered mechanically, mind already racing ahead to the pending arrangements. "Scotty, do you know how to access her computer? Find out the names and numbers of her friends? And where's your father?"
"He's in the chapel with the minister. He absolutely freaked, Mom, after he called you, the doctors gave him a sedative. There's still lots of paperwork to fill out, I've been doing my best to fill out what I knew."
"Thanks, son. How are you holding up?" Blair inquired anxiously.
"I've been better, but I'm more worried about Dad right now than me. Oh, here comes Dr. Kent." Scott released his mother as the family doctor walked up.
"Ms. Warner, I'm so sorry," Dr. Kent said as he took Blair's cold hands in his warm ones, "we had her in surgery trying to patch the aneurysm when she died. Your son has been trying his best to hold everyone together."
"Could this have been prevented?" Blair asked anxiously.
"Probably not, we rarely get warning about this condition. She might have lived a long life or died in childhood." Dr. Kent dropped her hands, then added, "Please don't think that you or your husband could have prevented this, I understand you were out of state on business and that Mr. McNair was at the hospital before the ambulance arrived. I know that you have a lot to think about now, but please, consider grief counseling for your family."
"I will, after the funeral," Blair replied tiredly. She was starting to feel the initial burst of nervous energy draining away and wondered if coffee would fuel her through the rest of this difficult day. "I need to find my husband now." Dr. Kent nodded and started walking down the corridor to the elevators, giving her directions to the room that Scott had been taken to after his collapse in the chapel. Blair thanked him, then belatedly looked for her son. "Scott, let's go to your father," she said softly as she linked her arm through her son's.
The rest of the day went by in a blur. Blair filled out the reams of paperwork, talked to their minister, made funeral arrangements, called relatives and family friends, and finally met her son in Madison's room at home, watching him scroll through his sister's contact list. Her husband was sleeping off his second sedative in their bedroom, having started sobbing uncontrollably when the initial sedative wore off to the point that Dr. Kent was afraid that Scott would be sick. Blair had just talked to Jo, Nat and Tootie, filling them in on the funeral arrangements. All three promised to come and all three asked if Blair needed them to come early, but she said no. Now she watched text scrolling down the screen, not really taking in any of it, glad that her son was taking that responsibility. "Mom, do you mind if I send a blanket email to her friends? I can't find phone numbers or addresses for half of these folks."
Blair ran her hands through her hair, making it stick up in a most undignified fashion. "Times change, so must etiquette. Do you know any of her friends?"
"Not many, Mom, she is, was, so much younger. Four years is quite a difference at our ages."
"Yes. Do you want to compose the email, or do you want me to?"
Scott struggled against a sudden rush of tears, balling his fists and taking a deep shaky breath before he could answer. "I'd like to," he answered unsteadily. Blair cupped his face, leaned over to kiss his forehead, then sat back, struggling with her own sudden wave of grief. Scott quirked a sad smile at his mother, then turned back to the computer, lightly drumming his fingers on the keyboard before composing the message to his sister's known and unknown friends. He typed in a quick burst, then turned the screen for Blair to see. "Look okay?" he asked tentatively.
Blair leaned forward, reading the message.
"Don't change a word," was all Blair said before she abruptly left the room. Scott watched his mother leave, then turned back to the computer, clicking on the SEND button, praying that his sister had kept her email address book up to date. He reluctantly disconnected and shut down his sister's computer, knowing he would come back multiple times over the next few days in case her friends simply clicked REPLY instead of emailing his mother or himself. Scott stood up and wandered around his sister's room, his vision swimming with tears when he saw the teddy bear he had given her six years ago on a bookshelf, wedged between her beloved Little House on the Prairie books and her scrapbooks. He touched the golden bear, remembering going shopping with his mother, insisting on buying his sister the largest bear he could afford for her birthday. He couldn't remember why he insisted on the fifteen inch bear, but he remembered Maddy's squeals of delight when she unwrapped it, immediately dubbing the bear Trey, short for Scott the Third. He took the bear off the shelf, tucking it in the crook of his arm before going back to his own room. It was sappy and sentimental, but he wanted Trey where he could see him, a reminder of his sister.
Jo sat anxiously between Natalie and Dorothy, gripping the hymnal with all of her strength, heart breaking at the stiffness of Blair's back at the front of the church. That damned husband of hers wasn't paying a bit of attention to her pain, too busy making a spectacle of himself, continuously wiping his eyes with that monogrammed handkerchief of his. She wanted to be by Blair, offering... what? At least Scotty was solicitous of his mother, his entire body conveying his deep personal grief and his worry for his mother. Jo was dimly aware that the minister had concluded the sermon or whatever it was called and was asking for the mourners to turn to hymnal for some standard funeral hymn. Jo mechanically opened the book to the correct page, standing with her former classmates, unable to join in the singing. She felt Dorothy's arm slip around her waist, supporting her. God bless Tootie, Jo thought, realizing that she had been swaying a little from fatigue, sorrow and worry. Her thoughts drifted back to yesterday afternoon, when many of Blair's friends had gathered at the house to privately offer Blair their condolences. Scott Sr. had burst in, yelling that Madison wouldn't have died if Blair had stayed home where she belonged, that certainly the aneurysm would have been caught earlier. Blair had turned white, then escorted her husband out of the room. Jo didn't know what happened after that, but Blair had looked years older when she returned.
The initial torture was finally over. Blair stood under the tent at the cemetery, calmly accepting the hugs and kisses of friends and family, murmuring correct responses, aware that her husband was sobbing openly and her son was trying to stem his tears. The faces blurred together until Tootie's husband Thornton led her dearest high school friends through the line. "Thornton, Dorothy, Natalie, Jo, thank you for coming," Blair said quietly, accepting their hugs in turn until Jo stood nervously before her.
"I'm really sorry about Madison," Jo offered, voice hoarse with restrained emotion, "she was the daughter I never had. What can I do for you?" Blair was touched by her tough friend's offer of support, unable to answer for the lump of pain forming in her chest, simply reached for Jo, trying to muffle her sobs against Jo's shoulder, shaking with the intensity of submerged emotion, clinging hard to Jo.
Jo wrapped Blair in her arms, instinctively reaching up to stroke the golden hair, trying to absorb Blair's pain, trying to offer any comfort she could. She was dimly aware that Dorothy and Natalie had joined in, all surrounding Blair with their love and friendship. Finally, Blair lifted her head and stepped back. "Thank you all for coming," she said brokenly, "my dearest friends, I appreciate all of you. I really wish the circumstances were happier, like a graduation or wedding. Will you all be coming back to the house tonight? We have more food than I know what to do with, I'd really like for it to be just the four of us. Will you? About eight?"
"Sure," Natalie answered for them, "the four musketeers."
"Thank you. Now I have to find Scott and Scotty and that damned limo." Blair hugged each woman individually, then squared her shoulders and marched off in search of her son and husband.
The friends all gathered as bidden and soon were eating, drinking, talking, and laughing about their shared past. "God, I remember seeing you in the hospital with Scotty," Jo cackled, waving a breadstick for emphasis, "and the nurse handed him to you and you looked absolutely terrified. But when you were in the hospital with Madison, you acted like an old pro."
"Sure, bring up the fact that I'm less than perfect," Blair countered, "I had Scotty so soon after I married Scott that I hadn't adjusted to being a wife, much less think about being a mother. But, Lord, Maddy was so different than her brother, I'd swear that someone had brought me Jo's baby at first. Maddy wasn't interested in clothes until she was in school, then she became my daughter. But from the start, she was a daddy's girl, just adored tagging after her father." She smiled wistfully, then raised her glass. "To Madison, may she live long in our hearts." The others raised their glasses, clinking them together, sipping their drinks.
"How is your husband?" Dorothy asked.
Blair set her glass on the coffee table, frowning. "I don't understand, Scott won't talk to me at all now, this after two days of screaming that it's all my fault that Madison died."
"Your fault?" Jo huffed.
"Yes, my fault," Blair interrupted before Jo could work up a head of steam. "He's got it in his head that if I hadn't gone to work, set up my venture capital company, that somehow that would have saved Madison. Our son, on the other hand, has been a jewel, alternately see what he could do for me and soothing his father." Blair twisted her hands together, debating whether or not to confide in her friends. One look at their dear faces decided her. "Scott has me worried," she said slowly, groping for the right words. "Of course, as her father, he has the right to grieve, but he refused to come to bed last night, instead, he slept in her bed. It's like something snapped, and I'm at a loss as to what to do. I asked our minister to come over in the morning to talk to Scott privately, but I'm not sure what else I can do for him." She stopped, taking a sip of water, then continued. "Jo, it gets worse, he blames you for me being across the country when this all happened."
"Why that son-of-a-bitch!" Jo exploded, shooting out of her chair, intent on finding Scott and pounding him into a satisfying pulp.
"No, Jo," Blair said, jumping up to physically restrain her friend, "I just thought you should know. I don't need you to do anything to him." Good thing I didn't add that he called you a dyke, she thought as she tugged on Jo's arm, trying to get her to sit back down.
Natalie cast a worried glance at Dorothy, who shrugged. "Blair, Jo, could you please sit back down?" Natalie asked. Jo glared at the door, then shook off Blair's grip, throwing herself back in the armchair while Blair sank back into her rocker. "Thanks, you two were making me nervous," Natalie continued. "Now, this may be overreaching the bounds of friendship, Blair, but I did a series on depression for the paper recently and interviewed a lot of mental health professionals for the articles. I know there's a very good grief counselor in the area who specializes in families who have lost a child, would you like for me to give you his name and number?" Blair considered, then accepted the offer. It probably wouldn't hurt to try to get her husband into counseling, she reflected, not considering that it might help her as well.
Several hours later, Natalie and Dorothy left. Jo started to leave, but hesitated, hand on the door. "Blair, are you going to be okay?"
"Yes, I'll be fine," Blair answered, "I appreciate your being here today. This may sound strange from me, but having you, Nat, and Tootie helped considerably. I don't know what I'd do without you three tonight."
Jo nodded, shoving her hands in her pockets. "Hey, just give me a call if you need anything, ya hear? And this may be a bad time to ask, but Scott Jr. is still coming to intern with me next year, right?"
"As far as I know, Jo." Blair rubbed her face tiredly, then reached over to tuck a stray lock of hair behind Jo's ear. "Jo, it really meant a lot for you to come. I know you're really busy building the business and are swamped."
Jo just grinned tiredly. "It's what friends do, Blair. You helped me start the business. Well, I should say goodnight now. God bless, okay?"
"Okay," Blair whispered. The women just stared for a moment until Blair giggled. "This is ridiculous, Jo, I don't want you to leave."
"I'm not sure I want to leave you and Scotty alone with your husband. He sounds like he's going around the bend."
Blair sighed heavily as she reached for her friend. "We'll manage," she muttered into Jo's shoulder. Blair closed her eyes for just a moment, relaxing as she felt Jo wrap her arms around her, content to just be held, to feel the warmth of Jo's cheek against hers.
"Early flight, gotta go," Jo finally said, pulling away. "Take care and I'll call you in a few days, see how you're faring." Jo fidgeted, then suddenly placed a quick kiss on Blair's cheek and was gone.
"Hey, what the hell do you think you're doing?" Scott yelled, grabbing a box away from Blair, "that's Maddy's things!"
"Scott, we need to do something, it's been nearly six weeks and all you've let me do is have the room dusted and vacuumed. We need to move forward, honey, maybe donate her things, or let her friends take something."
"You didn't love her the way I did, you only loved Scotty."
"What?" Blair stared, uncomprehending. "What do you mean by that?"
Scott set the box down, then sat down in Madison's desk chair. "I mean, you didn't understand her, you were so wrapped up in the first child that you didn't care about her."
"That's not right and you know it, Scott, Madison was a daddy's girl from the time she could walk. I could barely get her to go shopping with me, and that was only when you weren't available. As for our son, he plays golf with you more than he ever did anything with me. Honey, what is really behind these attacks?"
Scott crossed his arms and legs, staring at his wife defiantly. "You should have stayed home with them."
Blair threw her hands up in the air in a gesture of despair. "Stayed home? What do you think I did until Madison was eight? I stayed home with them while you went around playing Mr. Big Shot Board Member, trading on your father's name!"
"A name you refused to take, thank you very much!"
"I didn't see you volunteering to become Scott Warner! Blair McNair, just not the best combination! We gave the children your name, and I didn't exactly refuse, I asked you if it was okay and you agreed."
"I had no idea that you would desert your children."
"Just what do you mean by that?"
Scott waved his arms around, answering sarcastically, "What do I mean? I mean, my mother stayed home and took care of us until we were in college. But no, despite the fact that I'm providing for this family, you have to go start a business so you can desert the children, that's what the hell I mean, Ms. Warner."
Blair stood up and walked over to where her husband and sat in the chair next to the desk, reaching for his hands, answering quietly, "Scott, I was at home with them until they were in boarding schools. We both went to the same schools that Madison and Scott attend and I thought we did fine. Even with my business, just like you, I made the time to attend as many tennis games, as many golf tournaments as possible. We both attended school plays, middle school graduations, church choir concerts, but now I'm a bad mother? Scott, what's really going on?"
"None of your business," he growled, jerking up from the chair.
Blair grabbed his arm, tugging him back down in the chair. "Scott, it's not fair to Scott Jr. to see us at each other's throats all the time. It's not fair to our marriage, either. Will you go to grief counseling with me? He is an old frat brother of yours, maybe you can confide in Greg."
Scott shook off her hand as he stood back up, snarling, "I don't need to go to any headshrinker, especially an old fraternity brother. It's just too early to be getting rid of Madison's things. I mean, my God, it's like you're trying to completely get rid of her memory or something! Blair, I don't know you any more, I swear I don't. I need a drink, I'll be down in the study. My study, that is." Blair jumped up and managed to block the door before Scott got to it. "Now what?" he snapped.
"If you won't go to a grief counselor, will you at least go to the pastor with me? Scott, we both need help coming to terms with Madison's death. Scotty is going to see the youth minister to deal with his grief, won't you go to see Dr. Flynn with me?"
"No." Scott brushed past her. Blair watched his retreating back, then turned back to the sad task of sorting and boxing Madison's things. Silent tears trickled down her cheeks unheeded as she referred to her master list, little knickknacks, CD's, books, stuffed animals that Madison's friends had requested. Bless young Scott for personally following up on all of the replies from Maddy's friends, and for asking what they would like of Madison's to remember her by. Scotty had been a godsend, as had her old friends from Eastland. Natalie and Dorothy called or came by several times a week, and Jo had called or emailed every night since Madison's death. Now Scott had to be back at school full time and couldn't run interference between his parents, a loss that Blair felt keenly.
She didn't know what happened to her husband. He had consistently blamed her for their daughter's death, conveniently forgetting that neither one of them were in town when she collapsed, and that she was at school, practicing with the tennis team. Blair had gone back and talked with Dr. Kent, who assured her that even if they had found the aneurysm prior to her death, that there was little chance they could have repaired it, and that if she had shown symptoms, they could have been mistaken for something else.
Blair worked steadily as she pondered the whole messy situation, and thought again about Scott's outburst about Jo. "You care for that godforsaken dyke more than you care for your daughter!" he had yelled after they came home from the service. Blair was still mystified about that particular accusation, she had always thought of Jo as tough, blunt, outspoken, intelligent, and no-nonsense in business, but a dyke? Jo had been married to John Eagle for, what nearly ten years? If she was, well, that way, could she have married him? And what about that boy she briefly married when she ran away from school? No, Scott must be jealous of the attention she had given Jo recently. She rubbed her eyes, suddenly angry that she was still finding herself crying at the oddest times. Maybe Scott was jealous because Jo cared enough to check on them and none of his friends had called him after the funeral. She referred to her list one more time, then decided to stop for the evening. All of the things Madison's friends had asked for were boxed and labeled now, all she had left to do was to finish sorting the rest of her belongings and decide what to do with them. Maybe, just maybe, her husband would come to his senses and help, this wasn't an easy task. Maybe she should see if Scott wanted to go out to eat with some of his friends tonight.
The situation continued to deteriorate. Sometimes Scott Sr. disappeared for days at a time, coming home only to check his messages, mail, and to pack more clothes. Blair tried to reach him, to find out where he had been, but he refused to answer, once threatening with violence if she continued to ask questions. Blair finally gave up and went to the counselor, knowing she needed to take care of her own grief for young Scott's sake, if for no one else's.
The only bright side of the whole sordid mess was that Scott Jr. was doing better than ever in school, and was still dating that very nice young woman, Frieda Robbins, who was now in her freshman year of college in Fort Worth. She had already told him that her semester would end before the prom, for him not to worry about her not attending it, and she would be at his graduation. Blair didn't have the heart to point out that the events were still many months away, that anything could happen before then. If the truth were to be told, another unintentional bright side was that she was getting to know Jo better, this time as an adult, not just as a school rival and angry adolescent. Blair smiled, thinking of some of the terrible battles she had with Jo, her admittedly insensitive treatment of the girl, not understanding the reason Jo was so angry. The quiet pride that grudgingly accepted the scholarship to Eastland, the frustration with the rich girls who spent their oversized allowances without a care. Blair glanced at her office clock, grimacing when she realized that she was now late to meet Natalie for lunch.
"Sorry I'm late," Blair said as she shrugged out of her overcoat, "but I'm still playing catch up from not being in the office for several weeks. How are you and Greg?"
Natalie smiled at the uncharacteristically flustered Blair. "We're fine, Blair. Okay, I'm nosey and Greg won't say, are you and Scott going to see him professionally?"
Blair picked up her menu and glanced through it before answering, "Scott refused to go, but I started going two weeks ago. Natalie, thank you for telling me about Greg, I think he's already helping me. Talking to him, and the calls from you, Dorothy, and Jo, all help."
"I can't imagine going through the death of a child, but I remember how you all helped me when my father died so unexpectedly. So, it's my turn to help you." Natalie broke off as the waiter approached the table, then continued after they had given their orders. "How is Scott holding up? How is Scotty?"
"Scott Jr. is doing fine, he's still dating Frieda long distance, and I think she has helped him by giving him someone outside the family to talk to. He called me last night and said he was also talking to the chaplain two days a week, so he's doing as well as can be expected. He's still looking forward to moving to Ft. Worth next summer and interning with Jo at her shop."
"Speaking of that devil, how is our Jo doing? I called her once after she went back to Texas, but she was busy getting ready for a bike show at the time."
Blair smiled. "Jo's fine, she's a real lifesaver. She calls or emails nearly every day just to check on me, she's been a great help. I never thought of Jo as the sensitive type, but she seems to know when I need to ramble on and when I need to be distracted. Her business is starting to mushroom so fast that she is adding subcontractors ahead of schedule, and I think she has a contract to build a custom bike for a former Texas governor."
"Ann Richards, of course. Jo met her at some sort of political function recently and started talking bikes with her. As she put it, 'Next thing I knew, I was pulling out my order pad and writing up a contract.' I swear I never knew that Jo would be such a natural salesperson." Blair paused as their lunches were laid down, then continued, telling Natalie some of the funny observations that Jo had about life in Texas. Natalie listened, watching Blair's face light up as she talked about their friend, how proud she sounded of Jo's early success in her new venture. She smiled and remembered Dorothy's comment after the four of them were sentenced to live together in one big room above the kitchen, "Blair and Jo will either love or hate each other, but whatever they feel toward each other, it will be legendary." Natalie couldn't agree more.
After arguing over the bill, Natalie reluctantly let Blair pay for her lunch, then followed her into the overcast New York afternoon. "Thanks again for lunch, but you didn't have to pay for it," Natalie said as she buttoned her overcoat.
"It was my pleasure," Blair responded, "thank you for listening, and thank you again for recommending Greg. I just wish that Scott would go with me, he worries me. Which way are you headed?" Natalie pointed, and Blair tucked a hand through Natalie's arm and started to walk with her. "To be honest," she said slowly, "we were having some problems before Maddy died. I think the fire went out a long time ago, but I was useful as his trophy wife, and he was useful as my trophy husband. Before Madison died, we used to be good friends too, he was my best friend for many years. Now I find that when Scott Jr. is home, I'm talking to him more as a friend than I do my husband. Sometimes I think you were wise to wait and not get married, Natalie, to get the wanderlust out of your system before settling with a partner."
"I've wondered over the past few years," Natalie admitted as they drew even with her building. "Well, this is my stop. I'll be in town off and on for a few more weeks before going off for my next fact gathering mission. Do you want to try lunch again?"
"Yes, this was good. Thank you again," Blair said as she hugged Natalie tightly.
"That's what friends are for," Natalie replied, "to have lunch together."
"Oh, it's all about the lunch, I see," Blair laughed. "Thanks again. Love you."
"Love you too, dear friend." They exchanged quick kisses, then parted ways, each lost in her own thoughts.
As the rest of the year dragged on, the only time that Scott and Blair were civil to each other was when they attended school functions for Scotty. Golf tournaments, a school play, an honors ceremony, graduation. Scott Sr. moved to their apartment in the city after New Year's, telling Blair quietly that he wanted a divorce, that he couldn't bear to live this way any longer. She tried again to get him to go to counseling of any kind, but he steadfastly refused, saying that he would start talking to his attorney and accountant soon. As much as it hurt, Blair decided she'd better be ready and sought her own legal and financial professionals. The calls and emails from Jo had gone to once a week call, usually on Sunday evening.
The phone rang on the Sunday after Scotty's graduation and Blair glanced at the caller ID before answering, relieved that it was Jo, calling exactly on time. "Hello, Jo," she trilled, "are you ready for my Scotty?"
"Yeah, sure am," the answer came, "I've been going over his list with my shop supervisor, Scott will never know what hit him. He'll be running ragged, but I'll make sure he has time to see Frieda. Did y'all find him an apartment and car?"
Blair kicked off her shoes and curled up on the sofa in her office, smiling. "I can't believe it, you said 'y'all!'" she crowed.
"Yeah, whatever, these guys are rubbing off on me, so sue me or something. Hey, you gonna come down and help settle your boy in?"
"I thought about it, to be honest. He's pretty level headed, but even the bravest, most level headed kids need a parent around, and it isn't his father. Yes, Frieda's mother helped find him an apartment, and her father located a good car for him. I've already made the arrangements, and I'll pay his rent and insurance, but he needs to pay utilities and groceries from what he earns working for you. Oh, and other little things like clothes, gas, entertainment too."
"Wow, Blair Warner making her kid earn his clothes and such! Never thought I'd see the day."
Blair laughed, picturing Jo rolling her eyes, then turned quieter. "Jo?"
Blair toyed with a pillow for a moment, then hugged it tight, wishing fleetingly that it was Jo. "Scott and I are divorcing. Our lawyers and accountants are talking right now, and it will be a long, messy process. He's been living in our apartment in the city since the first of the year and still refuses to seek help. Just thought you'd like to know."
"That bastard! I should-"
"Jo, it's for the best," Blair explained wearily, "I've realized through my grief counseling that my marriage has been dying for years, but Madison's death just hastened the end. I'm pretty sure that Scott has a lover, but he's managed to keep her under wraps pretty well. Dorothy and Thornton saw Scott hustling a woman through a theater lobby in the city one night, but when he saw them, he managed to lose them. They couldn't see her face, so we don't know if it's someone we know or not."
A long sigh from Jo. "Damn, Blair, I'm so sorry, why didn't you tell me earlier? I mean, I knew that things were pretty rough between you two, but I thought you might patch things up in time. Hey, when you and Scotty get here, I'll just have to make sure to take your mind off things, how's that?"
Blair found herself blinking rapidly, willing the sudden tears to evaporate. She managed to pull herself together in time to answer, "That would be wonderful, Jo, I'm sure Scott would appreciate it."
"Aw, hell, Princess, we'll take the boy out once, but I'm thinking of you. You're the one who is hurting the most here, I know, I've been there."
"Why did you and John divorce?"
The silence stretched out so long that Blair thought that they had been cut off. She heard a tiny sigh, then Jo answered softly, "It wasn't working. We had worked for the same company for years, but often had to spend weeks or months apart. I guess we just drifted apart, so when the company went through a merger, I took the buyout and he didn't. He got transferred to Houston, I opted to move to Ft. Worth, to take a big promotion. He was furious that I'd dare move away, even though I'm pretty sure he was carrying on an affair, so he tried his best to screw me in the divorce. I hurt his pride, so I hurt it more by refusing to take my maiden name back."
"I'm so sorry, Jo."
"It's for the best, Blair," Jo answered calmly, "I got to work with motorcycles again and John is now a proud papa of a six month old baby girl. Despite our bitterness, we have managed to tolerate each other, and he and his wife invited me for the christening. Kinda weird, but she's a much better match for him than I was, and John is much happier. But hey, I have my shop, I have friends like you, so life is good."
"And I'm grateful for you as my friend," Blair added. She cleared her throat, then asked brightly, "So, where to you plan to take me for fun?"
"I don't know, somewhere rough and rowdy like Billy Bob's, unless you just can't stand the smoke. Or more refined, see who's playing in the Bass Performance Hall, it's a really cool venue, beautiful. I saw Diana Krall there a few years back."
"You? Listening to jazz?"
"Shush, Blondie, don't give away my secret. Yes, I listen to jazz, big band music, a little country, not much rock these days. Can't stand most of the modern music except for maybe k. d. lang or The Corrs, a little Melissa Etheridge. Say, what kind of music do you listen to now?"
Blair stretched out, laying her head against the back of the couch before answering, "A little jazz, some classical, no opera though. I must confess that I bought the latest Melissa Etheridge CD, much happier than her earlier music."
"Cool! Say, I must go soon, I need to finish my laundry before it gets too late. So, when are you and Scotty coming?"
"We'll be arriving at his new apartment Tuesday afternoon, and the furniture should arrive Wednesday morning. I'll stay to get him set up, then, well, we'll just see how things go." Blair studied her fingernails, idly noting the chips in the polish that needed to be attended to soon. "When do you need him to report to work?"
"We can wait until a week from tomorrow, give him time to settle in and visit with his girlfriend. So, call me when you get here."
"Will do. Jo?"
"Thank you for your support this past year," Blair said softly, "I'm not sure how I could have made it without you."
"Just glad to help, Blair," Jo answered gruffly. "Now, get your butt to Texas so we can have some fun! Bye."
"Good-bye." Blair clicked off, then held the phone to her chest, trying to imagine what Jo would have her son doing. She also tried to imagine going out as a nearly single woman, but couldn't make the picture come. Oh well, plenty of time for that, probably plenty of men who would still want her. But would they want her for her money, or herself? "Get a grip, Warner," she scolded herself, "at least Jo just wants you for you." She decisively placed the phone back in its charger, then forced herself to get up and start working again.
Blair had to admit that Jo was doing a terrific job with the business and with easing her son into the working world. She had just spent two weeks settling Scott into his new apartment and going over business with Jo. It was also nice to just take a break for a while, leaving the day to day business behind in New York, her first real vacation in years. Oh, she had taken a week at a time for the family vacations they had each summer, but if she were honest, Blair had to admit that she and Scott had not really relaxed and enjoyed themselves, just basically attended to their children. Now that they only had Scott, Jr., the marriage had fallen apart rapidly, or had it fallen apart earlier and they just refused to acknowledge it? No sense in thinking about it now, she decided. It was Saturday night, and Jo was going to pick her up in a short while, saying that Blair really needed to have some fun for once.
When Jo arrived at the hotel room, she was surprised to see Blair in dark jeans, a sleeveless cowgirl shirt, and sensible cowboy boots. Small silver earrings, thin watch, and a thin silver rope bracelet completed the look. "Blair, is that the bracelet I gave you for Christmas years ago?" Jo asked, stunned that Blair would still have it.
"Yes," Blair replied simply, "it just seemed right to take it out. I'm ready when you are."
Jo smiled. "I thought we'd go to Billy Bob's, that okay with you?"
"Sure, Jo, you get to call the shots tonight," Blair said, glancing at Jo's faded jeans, purple polo with the "Eagle Custom Bikes" logo, and polished black ropers. Plain and simple, the essence of Jo, Blair mused as she followed her friend out of the hotel. She'd always heard of Billy Bob's, but of course, had never been there. Imagine, a Warner in a <shudder> country bar! Blair smiled at her own thoughts, mocking herself silently, thinking of the days when she and Jo fought constantly, both snobs, but in different ways.
The act that night was Terri Clark, whom Blair was not familiar with, but liked instantly. Jo had surprised her by buying tickets that were front and center, so close to the stage that Blair had to sometimes tilt her head backwards to see the tall Canadian when she stood at the very edge of the stage. Blair had never really listened to much country music, but she liked Terri Clark, finding that her songs spoke to her heart. She decided that her favorite of the night was "Now That I Found You", with the haunting first stanza:
"Jo," the thought whispered through her mind, "that's Jo." Blair applauded with the rest of the crowd as Terri took her last bow, then turned to Jo and found herself lost in Jo's eyes. They were a deeper blue than usual, a little vulnerable. Blair reached up, touching Jo's cheek lightly, swallowing as unexpected tears threatened to overwhelm her. A smile skittered across Jo's face as she closed her hand over Blair's, holding it to her cheek for a few seconds before clearing her throat and gruffly announcing, "It's getting pretty late, Blair, do you want to go back now, or hang around for a bit longer?"
Blair blinked away the tears, answering, "I'm not really up for dancing any more, and you'll probably be sore from riding that mechanical bull. Nothing in the gift shop interested me except the shirt I bought for Scotty, and I'm not in the mood to get drunk."
Jo stood up, reaching out a hand to help Blair from her chair. "Back it is, Ms. Warner." She dropped Blair's hand as soon as she was standing, then started leading the way back through the maze of the honky tonk to the front door. "Did you like the beer you tried? I've developed a taste for Shiner Boch myself over the last year. Brewed in Texas with an attitude, or so the ad copy says."
"It was fine, although I'm more of a wine or cocktail woman myself." Blair found herself having to scramble to catch up with Jo's long stride, finally settling for hooking a finger through the back belt loop of Jo's jeans. She held on until they cleared the door, then started to tuck a hand through Jo's arm when Jo hissed, "Don't." Chagrined, Blair dropped her arm, wondering why Jo reacted so harshly. An uncomfortable silence stretched between the women as they found the truck, climbed in, and drove away. When Jo pulled into the hotel parking lot, she turned to Blair and said, "Hey, sorry I overreacted back there, but here in Texas, you have to be careful."
"Careful how? I just wanted to keep up with you and my feet were starting to hurt. These are new boots, you know."
"Yeah, I know, but it's just that Texas is in the middle of the Bible Belt, and I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea about us."
"Wrong idea? Jo, what in heaven's name are you talking about?"
Jo dropped her eyes, staring at the steering wheel as she replied, "I don't want anyone to think we're dykes, we could get beaten up for that. I get enough of that anyway, since I'm not married and don't wear makeup very often. It's hard to explain, Blair, but I want to take care of you, I know you're in a very vulnerable place now, going through the divorce, still dealing with Madison's death." She lifted her head, turning to look at Blair, anguish painted in her eyes. "I just wanted to make you happy for one night, Blair, but we did get some weird stares. I enjoyed the one dance with you, but that's just not done around here."
"I'm sorry," Blair said, "I had no idea, Jo. You think people really thought we were a couple, not just friends out having a fun time?"
Blair blew out an impatient breath. "Let'em think what they want, Jo. You're my friend, I love you, you've done more for me than anyone else has this past year. Let's try to salvage this evening, would you like to come up for a minute?"
Jo visibly agonized over her answer, finally turning off the engine and opening the door. "Lead on, Princess," she said softly. She followed Blair into the hotel, catching herself holding doors open for her just like a guy. What was it she was just telling Blair about being careful, not acting like dykes? Despite her nerves, she did have fun tonight, even the one dance that Blair insisted they share. "Don't go there," she warned herself sternly as Blair opened the door to her room, flipping on lights, motioning for Jo to follow her.
"Home, sweet home, at least for the moment," Blair commented drolly as she dropped on the bed, leaning over to take off her boots.
Jo heard herself offering, "Here, let me get those off for you."
"Please," Blair replied, gracing Jo with a genuine smile. Jo knelt before her, like a prince in reverse, Blair thought, watching her friend take hold of one boot to carefully tug it off her foot. She dropped it on the floor, then repeated with the other boot. "You might as well sit for a moment," Blair said as she flopped back on the bed, patting the space beside her. "I don't bite."
"Well, for just a few minutes, then I have to leave," Jo acquiesced as she gingerly sat by Blair.
Blair reached out a lazy hand, stroking Jo's arm. "Thank you for a wonderful night, Jo, I had a terrific time. Like the song said, you make me feel safe, and I swear, you do see right through me, you always have."
Jo started to blow it off, but saw the vulnerable light in Blair's soft brown eyes, and couldn't help but smile and reply, "Hey, you're in a difficult spot, and we are friends. Friends help each other."
Blair rolled on her side, laying her hand on Jo's thigh. "I'm lucky to have such a good friend."
Jo felt the warmth of Blair's hand through her jeans leg, a not unwelcome feeling. God, Blair was so beautiful when she was like this, the usual mask dropped away. Without thinking Jo reached out, touching Blair's cheek lightly. Blair closed her eyes, still smiling. Encouraged, Jo stroked her face more firmly, marveling at the softness of the skin, the shape of the generous lips, the cheekbones. As if in a dream, she leaned over, brushing her lips across Blair's forehead, then pulled back reluctantly. "I'd better go before I fall asleep here," Jo said quietly, reluctantly breaking the spell. She forced herself to stand up, pulling Blair up with her.
"If you must," Blair whispered, moving into the circle of Jo's arms, leaning her cheek on Jo's bony shoulder, resting her arms around Jo's waist. She fleetingly wished that Jo could spend the night, hold her to keep the nightmares at bay, to make her feel safe and loved. But she must let Jo leave now, she scolded herself, pulling back enough to see Jo's face. It surprised her to see how blue Jo's eyes were, to see some fleeting emotion she couldn't quite name dancing across her face. "Goodnight, Joanna," she said, kissing Jo's cheek, then squeezing her one last time.
"Goodnight, fair princess, call if you need me," Jo said gruffly as she pulled away from her friend. Then, like a puff of smoke, she was gone, leaving only sweet memories. Blair shut the door, mechanically locking up before stripping off her clothes to get ready for bed. "Fair princess," she repeated as she pulled on her nightgown and slid into bed. "I like that."
Jo was very pleased with Scotty's progress over the next two months. He came in early, stayed late, asked intelligent questions, and worked his butt off. He reminded her so much of Blair, who had flown back to New York after taking care of her business in the Metroplex, with his dark blonde hair and his easy charm. Her shop supervisor recommended that Jo let Scotty start taking orders from customers, and, after watching him smoothly clinch several sales, agreed. Scotty still wanted hands on experience with the bikes, but said he'd stay with sales for the summer if Jo thought it was best.
"He's a natural, Blair," Jo was saying during their weekly conversation, "that boy of yours can sell higher end bikes so smoothly that the customers think they are adding on the extras. I think I'll wait to have him start working on the bikes themselves until next summer. By the way, where is Scott going to college? I assumed he'd be going to some Ivy League school, but he hasn't mentioned anything yet."
"Even though it breaks his father's heart, Scott is planning to stay in Ft. Worth and go to Texas Christian University instead of an Ivy League or Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It all costs an arm and a leg, but not as much as Harvard or Yale or Princeton. I think Frieda's going to TCU has firmed up his decision. Did I tell you that Scott managed to graduate with a high enough GPA to get some scholarships? His father and I can certainly afford to send him to college, but he insists on doing his part to pay his way."
"That's cool, Blair. As long as it doesn't interfere with his classes, I'll keep him working part time. Be good experience for him." Jo looked at the notepad she had been doodling on, smiling when she realized that she'd sketched a portrait of Blair's face. "So," she continued smoothly, "when can I expect a return visit from your highness?"
"Jo, you are so bad," Blair laughed, looking fondly at a picture that Scotty took of Jo at the formal opening of Eagle Custom Bikes. Damn it, she missed her son, missed her friend. "My soon to be ex is pushing hard to clear up all barriers for the divorce, I'm pretty sure his girlfriend wants a autumn wedding, maybe even a Christmas wedding. Natalie has seen her with Scott, says she's the traditional younger trophy wife."
"Hey, Scott doesn't know what he's throwing away," Jo blurted out. "I mean, you were the original, um, oh crap, I'm not sure what I meant."
"I know, I was a trophy wife, but I did the unforgivable sin of developing interests other than his," Blair finished lightly, but with a bitter tinge in her voice. She looked at the picture, then sighed heavily. "Jo, New York doesn't hold much for me any longer," she said slowly, easing into the question she had wanted to ask for the past few months. "What do you think of my getting a place in Texas?"
"Here?" Jo squeaked. She cleared her throat and flipped the page of her notebook over. "To be near your son?"
"To get away from old memories," Blair countered softly, "to make new ones. I'll miss Natalie and Dorothy, but I sure won't miss my other so-called friends. Most of the couples that Scott and I knew have been slowly melting away as they try to decide whether it is better to stay friends with me or with Scott. I suspect my dear almost ex-husband will win, no one wants to socialize with a middle-aged divorcée."
"Idiots," Jo spat, "they don't know what they're missing. Hell, the folks I hang around don't give a rat's ass about your marital status, they just care about their bikes and mixing fun with work, ya know? I mean, lots of them are professionals, like lawyers and bankers and professors and stuff, but they don't care if you're single, married, or divorced. They don't care if-" She stopped herself abruptly, not wanting to go there, especially after that woman in the shop today, with her throaty voice and hypnotic gaze. God, at least Blair wouldn't come on to her like that, or at least she'd have better manners.
Blair surveyed her office, looking at the spaces on the wall that used to have family portraits, not really hearing much of Jo's last outburst. Scott had managed to make off with most of the good pictures with Madison in them, she thought sadly. "I'm sorry, I started thinking about Maddy," she confessed. "Sweetheart, are you serious about me coming back to Texas?"
Jo swallowed hard, then managed to say naturally, "Sure, Princess, no problem, maybe I'll put you to work in my shop. Can you imagine that, you and Scott Jr. both selling bikes? I'd have a two year backlog just like that!" She firmly ignored the excited fluttering in her middle as she blithely extended the offer, hoping and scared that Blair would come out to Texas to live.
"I'll check flights and hotels in the morning," Blair said with a barely disguised yawn, "but Jo, it's nearly midnight here and I'm getting tired. Do you mind if we say goodnight and continue this in the morning?"
"God, I'm sorry, I didn't realize we'd been talking so long," Jo spluttered.
"I'm not sorry," Blair replied lightly, a big smile in her voice. "Goodnight, sweetheart, I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"Goodnight, Princess, sweet dreams." Jo reluctantly clicked off her phone, an uncontrollably silly grin flitting across her features. "Sweetheart," she repeated, "she called me sweetheart. Oh, God, I'm a goner."
"You want to what?" Scott thundered, staring at his almost ex-wife, clutching the arms of his desk chair tightly. "You want to sell the house? I assumed you would continue living there, I mean, don't you want Scott Jr. to have it when he gets over this Texas phase?"
Blair simply repeated, "I've had it appraised by three different real estate agents, and talked to both of my parents. My parents have no problem with me selling the house, they each have other houses. The real estate agents all say we should have no trouble selling the house fairly quickly. You've already taken the furnishings that you want, so why should you care? Aren't you planning to buy a new house with your new lover? I didn't think you would want to start a new marriage in the house with the ghosts of our marriage, Scott. I thought that offering you half of the profit was more than generous, considering that I am financing all of the repairs and redecorating."
"But Blair, think of Scotty. He'll need a house when he comes home, which reminds me, one of my golf partners has a daughter his age I'd like for Scotty to meet. When is he coming home?"
"He's not," Blair answered flatly. "Scott, I've told you and Scotty has told you, he's not coming back to New York any time soon. He's in his first semester at TCU and is working part-time at Jo's shop. He's planning to spend Thanksgiving with Frieda and her family, but hasn't decided about Christmas yet."
"So, where will you move? Your apartment in the city?"
"No, Scott, I'm also moving to Texas, I'm already looking at houses, but I may just rent a townhouse for a while."
Scott slumped back in his chair, unable to take it all in. His daughter dead, his son in college, now his wife moving away. His almost ex-wife, that is, but in the back of his mind, he expected Blair to stick around and convince young Scott to come back home, back to the society where he belonged. But sell their house? He had loved that house, even enjoyed the many shopping trips over the years to decorate and redecorate it according to Blair's whims. He felt like his life was spinning out of control again with no anchor to hold on to, no Blair to quietly support him. Phoebe was sweet, beautiful, socially adept, well-connected, and eager to get married. But did he really love her? Was it a mistake to let go of Blair? What was she saying?
"By the way, my lawyer has looked over the last proposals that your lawyer sent over and I'll be signing the papers this afternoon. I expect that they will be back in your lawyer's office by morning so you can sign them. Have you and Phoebe set a date yet?" Scott lifted a shaky hand to his face, rubbing his right cheek, a sure sign of nervousness. "Scott? Did you ever make an appointment with anyone? Our pastor? A counselor? You really don't look good, should I get you to your doctor?"
He brought his hands together, tightly lacing his fingers. "No, it's okay, really, I just wasn't, I mean, I didn't know that Bruce had sent the papers over already. Phoebe and I have not set a date yet, we were waiting for the final divorce decree before we did."
"In that case, I should leave, I'm planning to meet Natalie for lunch, then go to my lawyer's office to sign the papers. I'll have Gordon send over information about selling the house for you and Bruce to look over."
"But-" Scott paused, mind still swirling with confusion. "Maybe I'm not ready."
Blair stood up, walking around to his side of the desk, laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, forcing him to look up at her. "Scott," she said gently, "we have been more friends than lovers for many years. It is time to let go. Madison's death finished tearing us apart, and neither of us, nor Scotty, should have to live in a house with her memories haunting us. Let me urge you, once more, to seek counseling, if not for your sake, then for the sake of your new wife. I'm ready to let go, you should be too."
"Okay," he whispered hoarsely, standing up. "Fuck it," he mumbled, reaching for Blair, wrapping her tightly in his arms one last time, feeling her arms go around him. He breathed in her subtle perfume, felt the softness of her hair on his cheek, regretted this final step. He stepped back, still holding her arms. "I'm sorry for what I've put you through lately," he said slowly, brokenly, "I guess I just lashed out."
"Will you get some help?"
Those worried brown eyes, he thought as he absently reached up to cup the side of her face. Clearing his throat, he said, "I'll think about it."
"Good." She leaned up, kissing his cheek lightly, then added, "We both need a new start, Scott, and I need to get completely away from New York in order to do it." She pulled away, reaching for her briefcase and purse. "Good-bye, Scott. Let me know when the wedding is and where you are registered so I can buy something for you and Phoebe."
"Good-bye, Blair," Scott answered, "I'll call you when the plans are finalized. Oh, don't forget to give me your new address and phone when you have it."
"Same with you," Blair replied, shutting the door behind her. Scott sat down heavily, then pulled a drawer open, reaching in for the family picture that used to sit on his desk. Happier times, when Maddy was still alive, his family was still complete, when he and Blair were still happy. She was still breathtakingly beautiful, even as the mother of a grown man. He leaned back, thinking. Maybe Blair was right, maybe he did need to talk to someone, she had talked to Greg, and Jo had been there for her. Sometimes, he thought, he really envied how women could be so close, so open with each other.
Taking a deep breath, he reached for the phone, dialing his old frat brother's number, nearly dropping the receiver when Greg himself answered. "Greg? Hi, it's Scott," he said nervously, "and I think I need to see you. Are you available for lunch?" He listened for a moment, then replied, "Okay, see you at the club in an hour. Thanks." He hung up, then filed the photo away in his drawer again. Maybe Blair was right, it was time to let go.
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