DISCLAIMER: I don't own The Facts of Life or any of the characters represented in the show. They're owned by someone else who isn't me. No copyright infringement is implied/meant/deliberate in any way, shape or form, and no money is changing hands/no profit is being made, etc.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
CHALLENGE: Submitted for The July Challenge.

Illusory Manifestations
By Del Robertson


- Believe Only Half of What You Read -

Tootie frantically rummaged around her dresser drawer, shoving socks this way and that. In frustration, she slammed the drawer, opened the next. She ransacked each drawer in turn, slamming each one closed more forcefully than the last. With an exasperated sigh, she crossed the room, fumbled through books and papers atop a nightstand.

"What are you doing?" Natalie asked, entering the room, tossing her bookbag on her bed.

"I need to send off this application to Juliard if I want to even think of getting a scholarship there."

"Graduation's still two years away," protested Natalie.

"Yeah, but if I want to be a serious actress, I have to prepare for the role of a lifetime today," Tootie reasoned. "And, that means applying now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next month."

"I got it; You mean now," Natalie interrupted before the melodramatics could really get started. "But, why are you snooping through Jo's stuff?"

"I'm not snooping, I'm searching. I need a stamp." She continued to rifle through papers. "I know Jo's got to have one. She's constantly sending letters to her mom." She opened a notebook, casually leafed through it. "Besides, Jo won't mind."

"Are we talking about the same Jo here?" Natalie asked. "The Jo that threatened to park her motorcycle on Blair's face the first day of school?"

"Yeah, good times," Tootie smiled at the memory. "But, Jo's mellowed. She'd understand." Tootie gave a slight pause, looked at the mess she'd made on the nightstand. "If she knew." She discreetly began rearranging the stacks she'd disturbed. "But, I'm not going to tell her."

"Now you're being sensible." Natalie grabbed her house keys from her bookbag. "Come on, I'll walk with you to the post office." She marched towards the door, stopped, turned around when she didn't receive an answer from her friend.

"Tootie?" she asked, noticing Tootie standing stock-still, holding a sheet of paper in her hand, mouth open in shock. "Tootie, you okay?" Concerned, she edged closer to her friend.

"I don't believe it!" Her eyes widened. "I don't believe it!"

"What?" Natalie gesticulated wildly. "What don't you believe?"

"This - " she gasped, passing the sheet of stationery to Natalie.

Jo -

I've known you for years, watching you from afar. From the first day you stormed into my life, I knew you were different. Never had I met anyone like you. Your speech, your dress, your attitude - your confidence. From our very first debate, I knew that you were my equal in every sense of the word.

From that first day, we've always been on opposite sides of the field, heatedly battling, sparring with our words. I long for the day we can meet on common ground. I yearn to look into your ocean blue eyes, to see into their depths as you realize what it took so long for me to admit even to myself -

I love you.

- B.

Natalie's mouth dropped open as she read the closing line. Fingers visibly shaking, she passed the stationery back to Tootie. "Oh, my!" she gasped, flopping down on Jo's bed. "Does that mean - "

"Yeah," Tootie agreed. "Blair and Jo are - "

" - Back early," Jo finished, storming into the room, yanking the paper from Tootie's grasp, "And, wondering what you're doing snooping where you don't belong!"

"I - " Tootie stepped back as Jo advanced on her. " - Was looking for a stamp. For my application to Juliard."

"Yeah? You find it in my notebook?" Jo pushed up her sleeves, flexed her hand.

"I'm sorry, Jo! I didn't mean to pry!"

"Yeah, well you did, you little sneak-thief!"

Blair caught Jo's closed fist, restraining her. "Jo, please." Feeling Jo flex, the muscles subtly shifting in her taut forearm as tension coursed through her entire body, she snatched the stationery from Jo's grasp. "What's got you so upset, anyway?" Her eyes quickly scanned the document, taking in the elegant handwriting, the heartfelt words upon the page. "Oh, Jo," the words ripped from her throat. She collapsed on the bed beside Natalie. "I can't believe it."

"Neither could we," agreed Natalie. "I never would have thought - "

"Yeah?" Jo grabbed the paper from Blair, wadded it up, tossed it into the garbage can beside her bed. "Well, it's no big deal."

"Well, it is to me!" protested Blair, reaching for the discarded paper, unwadding it, smoothing it out on her skirt.

Jo angrily reached for the paper, attempting to take it back. Blair held firmly to one end, refusing to let Jo have it. A resounding rip echoed throughout the room as the paper tore in half, sending Jo flying backwards, landing on her rear on the hardwood floor.

"Geez! Get over it, will ya, Blair!" Jo jumped hastily to her feet, wiping off her rear with one hand, grabbing the remaining scrap of paper from Blair's grasp with the other. She ripped the paper to shreds, tossing it into the trashcan once again. "What do you care if Bink Parker sent me a love letter, anyway?"

"Bink Parker?" Tootie asked.

"That weenie from the Bates' Academy debate team?" Natalie added.

"And, just why is Bink Parker sending you love letters on floral scented stationery?" Blair demanded haughtily, crossing her arms, glaring at Jo.

"Because he's a weenie, that's why!" Jo growled. "He slipped me that at the last debate and I just hadn't had a chance to burn it!" She paused in mid-tirade, looked at Natalie's and Tootie's shocked faces. "Why? Who did you think it was from?"

"Umm," Natalie shrugged helplessly, looking frantically back and forth between Jo and Blair.

"Batman, of course!" exclaimed Tootie. "Isn't that right, Natalie?"

"Wha - ?" Natalie stared at Tootie - Then, "Oh! Yeah. Batman." She forced a laugh. "Good one, Tootie." Shooting imaginary daggers at her friend, she hurriedly retreated to her side of the room. She busied herself with pulling her books from her bag, focusing on her English assignment, effectively blocking out the rest of the conversation.

- And None of What You Hear -

"Just five more minutes, ma," Natalie protested in her sleep.

As the shrill ringing in her ear continued, she rolled over, blindly groping for her alarm clock. Still, the ringing persisted. She banged the top of the clock harder, giving a satisfied smile, burrowing deeper into her pillow as the ringing stopped.

Her smile instantly turned to a scowl as the shrill ringing resumed. Reaching out, she beat frantically at her alarm clock. As the ringing endured, she snatched the clock off her nightstand, threw it against the wall. It fell to the hardwood floor, the hands dangling uselessly from its shattered face.

"Oh, for crying out loud!" she shouted, jumping from her bed, storming across the room. Pink fuzzy slippers stomped past the bed Tootie was laying in, a large pillow being held over her head to block out the piercing sound. She snatched the alarm clock off Jo's nightstand, turning it off. "If people are going to get up before the alarm," she groused, tossing the offending object on Jo's mattress, "They should have the common courtesy to turn off their clocks!"

She stomped back across the room in a huff, picked her discarded alarm clock up off the floor, slammed it back down on her nightstand. Kicking off her fuzzy slippers, she lay back in bed, covering herself with her sheet. "Ahhh," she exaggerated a sigh, closing her eyes, settling into the deep indentation on her pillow.

Two minutes later -

Natalie's eyes flew open. "Oh, man!" she shouted, continuing to lay flat on her back, flinging her sheet off, sending it to land on the floor. She stared unblinking at the ceiling.

Tootie opened one eye, peered at Natalie from beneath the edge of her sheet. "Now what?" she mumbled.

"I gotta go pee!"

"So, go already and be quiet about it!" Tootie pointedly rolled over, turning her back to Natalie. "Saturday's the only day we get to sleep in late, you know."

Natalie flounced from her bed, casting a disdainful look at Tootie's form. "The longer we room with Jo, the more you sound just like her!" she admonished.

"And, the longer you hang with Blair," Tootie retorted, "The more you whine like her!"

"That hurts, Tootie," Natalie clutched her chest as if Tootie had stabbed her with a knife, "That really hurts." She shoved her feet back into her fuzzy slippers, shuffled off towards the bathroom.

"Dang! I should have known better than to drink that Slim-fast before bed," Natalie mumbled, rushing for the bathroom. "No, Green; that's not right. You can't blame the Slim-fast. At least not the first one." She clutched her stomach as she pulled the door open. "Now, the second or third - well, those you can blame a little." She chuckled at her own joke, closed the bathroom door behind herself.

She dimly registered the sound of the shower running in the background, spotted the silk robe hanging on the back of the door. Guess Blair decided to get up early so she'd have the bathroom all to herself, Natalie thought, Oh, well; What she doesn't know won't hurt me.

She took her book from beneath her arm, placed it on the back of the toilet seat; Checked the supply of paper on the roll - a necessity when rooming with three other girls. Lowering her pajama bottoms, she settled upon the seat, squirming around a bit, searching for just that right 'comfort' zone. Satisfied, she reached behind herself for her book, opened it to the dog-eared page.

"Oh, yes," the woman's voice murmured breathlessly. "There."

"Yes," Natalie's thoughts echoed those of the sultry maiden's in her latest historical romance novel. "Take me." The Southern Belle begged the Captain of the Union Forces as he pressed her against the wall. His troops had invaded her home, raiding her plantation, overcoming the meager defenses erected to stop them. And, now, he planned to conquer the last remaining bit of her resistance in one solitary thrust. "Take me - "

"You heathen."

Hey, that's not what it says here! Natalie's mind protested as she flipped the book this way and that, leafing through the pages. She heard a wanton moan; The kind she'd only read about in her novels. Her head snapped up, gaze focusing on the closed shower curtain.

"Mmmm. My nipples are so hard."

Natalie stifled a laugh, quickly covered her mouth with her hand. I wonder if Blair's using that 'massage' setting on the shower head, again! Her face reddened, cheeks brightening, eyebrows raising as the moaning increased in volume. Closing her book, she shifted, cocking her head in the direction of the shower curtain, straining to hear more.

"Pull them. Harder. Use your teeth."

Natalie's fevered imagination pictured Blair in the shower, back pressed against the wall, fingering her own hardening nipples as her imaginary lover followed her instructions. I always thought Blair was too uptight for masturbation. A low moan caught Natalie's attention again. Guess that explains how she manages to use up all the hot water every morning!

"Ummm. Do you like my ass? Un-huh? Spank it." Blair's voice took on a slightly flirtatious quality. "Go on, it's okay. I like it. Really."

Natalie's eyes impossibly widened more as she heard the echo of a resounding wet slap followed by a deep moan, then another slap. Who knew Blair was so - so - so Natalie's mind couldn't even begin to process the words necessary to describe Blair wantonly spanking her own ass while masturbating in the shower.

The sounds of wet-on-wet abruptly ended. The noises coming from behind the shower curtain didn't. If anything, they increased in volume. Not the teasing banter, the detailed instructions given earlier, but rather, Blair's vocalizations were reduced to generalized moans and gasps. Guess it's kind of hard to make complete sentences when your hand's doing the talking for you.

"Mmm, harder! Deeper!" Blair gasped, "Oh, Jo!"

Natalie's eyes became saucers. Well, now, isn't that interesting? She hid a smirk behind her hand. Heiress Blair Warner masturbates to fantasies of being fucked senseless by grease-monkey. That would make one heck of a story for the tabloids - if she wasn't my friend. Natalie felt a momentary twinge of guilt about spying on Blair's private moment. That little bout of conscience quickly disappeared, though, as Blair announced her impending climax.

"Jo. Jo. Jo." She chanted breathlessly -

Then, silence.

Natalie waited with bated breath, hearing only the sound of the running water. Oh, I hope she didn't pass out and hit her head! A faint moan eased her fears. She quickly pulled up her pajama bottoms, gathered her things, ready to sneak back to her bed before Blair emerged from behind the curtain.

"You okay, Princess?"

Natalie openly gasped as she recognized Jo's deeper, huskier voice. She fumbled, dropped her book, quickly retrieved it as she bolted for the door.

"Tootie!" Natalie shouted, sliding to a halt on her knees beside her friend's bed. "Tootie!" she shouted again, roughly shaking the younger woman's shoulder. "Wake up!"

"What is it now?" Tootie moaned, opening up one eye.

"Blair. Jo." Natalie waved her hands frantically. "Jo. Blair."

"What about them?" Tootie sighed, closing her eye once again, snuggling down into her pillow.

"They - they - " Natalie paused took a deep breath. "They're in the bathroom."

"That's great, Nat," Tootie murmured, hugging her pillow, "Wake me when they come out."

"Together. Naked." Natalie frantically clutched at the front of Tootie's nightshirt. "Doing - things."

"What sort of things?" Tootie asked, warily.

"Things. Each other. Things lovers do to each other!"

Tootie's eyes flew open; She bolted from the bed, racing for the bathroom. Natalie rushed behind her, pressing up against her as she turned the knob, flung the door open.

Jo turned to look at the duo, foam running out the corner of her mouth as she held her toothbrush in mid-air. She was wearing a pair of baggy men's pajamas, her hair tied back in its customary ponytail. Bare feet tapped out an impatient rhythm on the floor. Natalie and Tootie continued to stare. "What?" Jo growled, turning to spit into the sink.

"Hey! Watch it!" Blair protested, frantically swiping at the sleeve of her silk nightgown - the new one imported from France. "This is dry-clean only!" Blair's hair was piled up on her head, wrapped in a large, fluffy towel. She elbowed Jo out of the way, jockeying for a better position in front of the mirror. Ignoring Jo's protests, she leaned in farther, obstructing most of the sink as she applied her eyeliner.

Tootie rolled her eyes, stared pointedly at Natalie. "Good one, Nat." She turned on her heel, trudged back to her bed.

"But, Tootie, I saw - " protested Natalie, following Tootie, flopping down on her own bed even as Tootie climbed in hers, adjusted the sheets.

"I get it, Natalie. Pay back for yesterday." Tootie fluffed her pillow, beat it with her closed fist before laying her head back on it again. "We're even," she declared, closing her eyes, searching for that elusive dream she was having before Natalie interrupted.

- Appearances Can Be Deceiving -

"I'm telling you, Tootie. I know what I saw."

"I believe you, Natalie."

"You do?" Natalie's smile widened as she followed her friend down the stairs. She paused on the landing, reaching out, touching Tootie's elbow. "Thanks." She smiled broadly. "That really means a lot to me."

"Not a problem," Tootie shrugged. "I believe you actually believe you saw something."

"Thanks." Her smile widened, then suddenly turned to a frown as the implication of Tootie's words registered. Tootie turned, continued down the stairs. "Hey! Wait a minute!" Natalie shouted after her. "I did see something!"

Tootie reached the bottom step, turned around, stared up at Natalie, still rooted to the landing. "Look, Natalie. I know you think you did. But sometimes, the mind plays tricks on us." She began counting off on her fingers, stressing each point to her friend. "You've been cramming for finals. I jumped to the wrong conclusion yesterday. You went stumbling into the bathroom half asleep. You've been reading that smut book ever since you got it - " She held up her hand as Natalie attempted to interrupt. " - Your subconscious took all these elements and blended them together into an elaborate fantasy. We studied it in Psychology last semester. Displaced sensory perceptions due to stress, lack of sleep and a fertile imagination. It's perfectly normal."

Natalie slowly strolled down the stairs, coming to stand beside her. She searched Tootie's eyes, scrutinizing her for insincerity. She didn't relish being the butt of Tootie's joke two days in a row. Not sensing any mischievous undertones, she visibly relaxed her guard.

"Normal, huh?" Tootie nodded. "Yeah, well next time I have a normal fantasy, I hope it includes Mr. T from the A-Team."

"Speaking of which," Tootie checked her wristwatch. She jumped over the back of the couch, dashed for the television. She turned it on, hurriedly changed channels. As the blaring music came on, the solid black van materialized, she settled back on the couch. "You coming?" she asked Natalie, grabbing her favorite throw pillow, hugging it to her chest.

"Yeah. I'll grab the snacks," Natalie offered.

"Great. I'll let you know if you miss anything," Tootie replied, already engrossed in the action. "Hey!" she shouted, turning to yell towards the dining room. "Leave some ding-dongs for me this time!"

"Ding-dongs? She is a ding-dong," Natalie muttered beneath her breath as she exited the living room, entered the dining room - And froze in her tracks.

Jo lay prone on the floor, hands at her sides. Blair knelt beside her, hovering over her. Jo's eyes were closed, lips slightly parted. Blair's hand was pressed to her cheek, lightly caressing.

Natalie tried to leave, but was rooted to the spot. She attempted speech, but realized all her motor facilities had left her. Unable to speak, unable to flee, all she could do was stare in numbed silence.

Blair's fingers stroked Jo's cheek, smoothly pushing errant locks back from her face as she softly murmured Jo's name. Except for a slight twitch at the corner of her lips, Jo remained amazingly unresponsive. Blair reached out, placing her hand over Jo's heart, murmuring the Bronx native's name once again. Blair's hand spread over the soft material of Jo's denim shirt, blatantly cupping a small breast. Jo's twitch grew into a smirk.

She lay remarkably still, eyes closed as Blair's hand traveled over her ribcage, down her abdomen. French-manicured fingernails worked deftly at Jo's belt, loosening it. Expert digits undid the button of Jo's faded blue jeans. As her fingers worked their way beneath the waistband of Jo's jeans, her tongue eased into Jo's mouth, delving into velvety wetness. Jo subtly arched as Blair's touch increased.

Natalie ran.

"I know it's not a commercial, Tootie," Natalie exclaimed, dragging her friend by the hand, "But this is just too important to wait!"

"Fine! But, I'm warning you, Natalie - " Tootie acquiesced as Natalie literally dragged her from in front of the television set. " - Mr. T was just getting ready to flex some muscle. And, I pity the fool - "

" - That makes you miss your program," Natalie interrupted. "I've got it. But, you've got to see this!" She urged, pushing open the door leading to the dining room.

Natalie stopped just inside the doorway. Jo was still laying on the floor, Blair hovering over her, a cascade of shimmering gold locks blocking the view of their faces from the doorway. Stunned, Tootie ran into Natalie from behind.

Simultaneously, the door leading from the kitchen flung open, Mrs. Garrett stepping through. Her gaze immediately focused on the two women laying on the floor. Her eyes instantly lit up. "Good! You're already going at it!" she congratulated, moving farther into the room. "How's it coming?" she asked, adjusting her glasses, peering over the wire-rims at Blair and Jo.

"Fine, Mrs. Garrett," Blair answered, flipping her hair to one side, flashing one of her trademark dazzling smiles. "I've attempted to revive her, checked for breathing - " Her gaze flickered down Jo's long, lean body to the waistband of her trousers. " - Loosened any tight-fitting clothing." She paused, biting her bottom lip.

"And, started trying to get air into my lungs," Jo helpfully supplied from her still-prone position on the floor.

"Well, it sounds like you've covered everything," Mrs. Garrett responded, picking up her clipboard off the table, reviewing the list. "I'm glad to see you two are really serious about getting your CPR badges."

"It counts as three credits," explained Blair. "Naturally, it was my brilliant idea to work together."

"Yeah," agreed Jo. "It was either work together or fail together."

"Still, it's a shame someone stole Resusci-Annie from the Health Lab."

"No big deal," Jo responded, moving to a sitting position on the floor. "Happens all the time."

"That's right!" Blair's nose crinkled; she slapped playfully at Jo's arm. "Remember the time we sto - " she caught the disapproving glance from Mrs. Garrett " - borrowed Annie?"

"Yeah, we snuck her into Trigonometry 101 and put her in your seat," Jo laughed, then frowned, looking suddenly serious. "You know, I don't think Mr. Woodward ever realized that dummy wasn't really you."

"Oh! You - " Blair jumped up from the carpeting, glared at Jo. " - can just turn blue!"

She stormed off to the kitchen, leaving Jo still sitting on the floor, laughing with Mrs. Garrett. Mrs. Garrett's expression turned from mirthful to somber in an instant. "Oh, we really shouldn't laugh." Her serious expression slowly cracked, giving way to a snigger, then a full-blown laugh. "But, it's so funny!" she shrieked, "Replacing Blair with a dummy!"

"Speaking of dummies," Tootie stood in the opposite doorway, arms folded across her chest, eyeing Natalie. "I can't believe I'm missing Mr. T to watch Blair and Jo practice CPR." She turned, stormed from the room.

"But, I - " Natalie hurriedly chased after Tootie, grabbing for her elbow, attempting to explain to her friend.

Tootie spun quickly, turning on the other girl. "CPR, Natalie!" she shouted. "They were doing CPR!"

"But - " Natalie helplessly held up her hand, pointing at Tootie, then the swinging door leading to the dining room. "I saw," she said in a small voice, "At least, I thought I saw - "

- The Hand Is Quicker Than The Eye -

Jo stood at the kitchen sink, hands submerged in soapy water, bubbles coming up to her elbows. A striped apron covered her shirt, soapy bubbles liberally coating the design. She worked at scrubbing a pan with a scouring pad.

"I swear, they gotta start greasing these pans better or we're never gonna be able to get all the gunk off them." She held up the pan in question, showing it to Blair, "You know, this same pan has been soaking for three days and it still ain't any cleaner than when I first put it in the water?"

Blair peered over Jo's shoulder, studying the pan. She arched an eyebrow. "Fascinating." Her arms slipped about Jo's slender waist, hugging her loosely. She pressed her entire body length against Jo's backside. Moving in, subtly, she forced Jo closer against the sink.

Blair held Jo in place with one arm. With her other, she allowed her hand to brush along Jo's back, her fingers burning a trail down her spine, along the waistband of her jeans. Her hand slipped into Jo's back pocket, gently squeezing. Satisfied Jo couldn't go anywhere, she turned her head, sinking her teeth into the flesh of Jo's neck.

"It's not real. It's not real. It's just an illusion brought on by stress; a physical manifestation of my over-active imagination. It's not real." Natalie repeated the mantra over and over again in her mind, closing her eyes, then reopening them. "It is so real. It is so real." Her mantra changed as her eyes took in the sight of her two friends again; at the sink, doing things with a scrubber that no one should ever think about doing with a cleaning utensil.

Screwing her eyes tightly shut, Natalie backed out of the kitchen door. She leaned against the door, breathing heavily. Slowly, she stilled her breathing, controlling her reaction. Calmly, she opened her eyes. A concerned Tootie was sitting at the dining room table, openly appraising her friend.

"Don't ask!" Natalie commanded sharply. Taking a deep breath, she turned, pushing the kitchen door open again.

Jo was standing at the sink, scrubbing at a baking pan. Blair was standing beside her, retrieving dishes from the drainer, drying them with a cup towel before putting stacking them on the counter.

Relieved, Natalie exhaled sharply, fully entering the kitchen this time. She strode confidently to the counter, handing her dirty plate to Jo.

"Thanks, Nat," Jo said, turning to take the dish.

As she turned, Natalie caught sight of a fiery red mark on Jo's neck, peeking out from beneath the edges of her collar. Her dirty glass tumbled from her hand, landing on the floor, shattering upon impact. Natalie stared at the glass - looked at the stunned expressions on Jo's and Blair's faces - and bolted from the room.

- A Good Magician Never Reveals Her Secrets -

"A little lower, Blair."

Jo's voice rumbled in Blair's ear, her hot breath ruffling the blonde's patented locks. Blair shifted slightly, angling for a better position. Turning so she was laying flat on her back beneath Jo, she stretched seductively, long, elegant fingers searching.

"That's it, Blair; right there." Blair's hips involuntarily arched as she sought more leverage. She allowed herself a self-satisfied smirk when she heard Jo's sharp intake of breath, the catch in her voice. "A little more pressure – There."

"I'm –" Blair bit her bottom lip in concentration " – trying, Jo." She let out a frustrated huff. "It's so tight."

"Put some muscle behind it, Princess." Jo's fingers closed upon Blair's elbow, fingers tracing a path down her slender forearm to her delicate wrist. "Let me help you," she instructed. Her hand covered Blair's, Jo's rough palm hovering over the back of Blair's moisturized hand. Large, calloused fingers intertwined with long, delicate digits. "It's all just a matter of leverage."

Blair applied more pressure, grunting from the exertion. Her hand slipped; she suddenly squealed in delight. "Oh, Jo!" she shrieked, "I feel it! I'm doing it!"

"You certainly are," Jo agreed, sliding her entire body against Blair's. She turned her head, burying her nose in Blair's blonde tresses, deeply inhaling the scent of Blair's shampoo. She closed her eyes, letting the sensation wash over her. She shifted slightly, lightly kissing a delicate earlobe.

"Blair! Jo!" Mrs. Garrett's shrill pitch shattered the silence.

Jo growled low in her throat; Blair rolled her eyes.

With one powerful thrust, Jo shoved the eight-wheel creeper backwards. The tiny wheels beneath the full-length covered panel spun quickly on the concrete as they slid easily from beneath the automobile. Despite her annoyance, Jo smirked, pleased with her self-made mechanic's creeper, the one that was sleeker, better functional than any she'd seen in any of those high-priced, professional garages she'd haunted in her youth.

She'd spent days making it, despite Blair's protests that she would simply buy her one if that's what she wanted. No, this one was special. Not because Blair had offered to buy it for her, but because she'd made it herself, from the reinforced steel rails, to the vinyl covering, all the way down to the wheels. They were well-worn, having seen a lot of miles in their youth. Back when they were new, they'd toured the halls of Eastland, the streets of Peekskill, somehow, even the carpeted stairs leading to their second-floor bedroom.

Yeah, it was really great that Tootie had donated her old skates for the cause, Jo thought, maneuvering the creeper so that it rolled to a stop beside the custom rims of Blair's Mercedes. She quickly scrambled to her feet, wiping her palm down the front of her faded tee, over the front pocket of her worn blue jeans, offering it to Blair.

Clutching at Jo for support, she allowed herself to be pulled to her feet in one fluid motion. She wiped down the socket wrench she'd been using with a nearby rag, daintily discarding both the wrench and the tool into the opened toolbox that lay on the ground nearby.

She stood beside the car, dressed in her designer white coveralls, looking every bit like a fashion model posing against a shiny sportscar. Yeah, except all those models in those auto magazines are wearing bikinis, not coveralls. And, they don't have smudges of oil on the tip of their pert little noses, thought Jo, pausing from putting her tools away to openly stare at Blair.

"Girls!" Mrs. Garrett appeared genuinely startled by their sudden appearance from beneath the vehicle. "I've been looking all over for you!" Natalie and Tootie stood quietly beside Mrs. G., watching eagerly to see if the two older girls were in trouble - again. "We've got the Saunders' wedding to cater at seven in the morning. And, those pigs aren't going to jump into the blankets by themselves!"

"Sorry, Mrs. Garrett," Blair apologized, looking suitably contrite.

"Yeah, sorry," Jo agreed, slamming shut the lid of her toolbox. "Guess we lost track of time." She ushered Blair out of the garage, turned off the overhead light before closing the door behind her.

"Well, for the life of me, I can't understand what the two of you would be doing out here so late," Mrs. Garrett rattled on, walking at a hurried pace in front of the girls, eager to get back to the kitchen.

Blair and Jo followed close behind, their stride somewhat less-urgent than Mrs. Garrett's. Their bodies subtly shifted into each other as they walked side by side. "I asked Jo to teach me how to do some minor repairs on the Mercedes, Mrs. Garrett." She looked pointedly at Jo. "You know, just in case I break down on the side of the road some time."

"Well, that sounds very practical of you girls." Mrs. Garrett smiled, bobbing her head in agreement. "It's always a good idea to have experience beneath your belt. You never know when you're going to need it." She paused, glancing back at the two young women. "I'm proud of you, Blair, Jo."

"Ah, it's nothin', Mrs. G.," Jo shrugged. "Just tweaking Princess' engine a little." She grinned, winked at Blair, causing a blush to color the debutante's cheeks.

Natalie and Tootie trailed behind at a distance, slowly following Mrs. Garrett and the girls up the sidewalk to the kitchen door. Tootie popped her gum loudly. "See, Nat? I told you they weren't up to anything."

"I may not know as much about automobiles as Jo does," Natalie countered, "But, since when do you work on the engine from underneath the car?"

"Well, it is a foreign car, Nat," Tootie reasoned, "There's no telling where they put all the parts. Heck, for all we know, you may have to go through the trunk to replace the windshield wipers!"

"Yeah, maybe." An edge of suspicion still lingered in Natalie's tone. She rubbed her chin thoughtfully, arched an eyebrow speculatively. Leaning in, she whispered in an exaggerated whisper in Tootie's ear, "But, since when have you ever known Blair to get her hands dirty, for ANY reason?"

Tootie's eyes narrowed as she squinted, following Natalie's line of sight. Ahead of them, barely perceptible in the fading light of the setting sun, she saw Jo and Blair walking side by side, leaning into each other, scarcely a hair's breadth between them. The backs of their hands nearly touching with each step, fingers almost interlacing. Tootie was just about to tell Natalie that she'd lost whatever little sense she had when her eyes focused directly on Jo's back.

That doesn't prove anything, she told herself, Jo probably just wiped her hand on her jeans. Yeah, that's it. With each step, Tootie's eyes were riveted to Jo's backside. A palm print, clearly defined in black oil was imprinted on Jo's jeans, covering the curve of her derriere, outlining one cheek. Only thing is, Jo's hands aren't that small. Her eyes shot back to Blair, attention focused on her hands. They had seen her wipe them on a towel in a garage; But, smudges of oil were still unmistakably visible on the palm of her right hand. Her eyes volleyed back and forth as if watching an invisible tennis match, bouncing from Blair's hand to Jo's rear, then back to Blair's hand again.

Turning to Natalie, eyes going wide with shock, she mouthed, "Ooooooh, they're in trouuubbbbllllleee!"

The End

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