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.
SEQUEL/SERIES: This story follows the events in You Take the Good, You Take the Bad, Who Watches The Watch Man?, A (Black and) Blue Christmas and Resolutions.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Living in Exile
By Del Robertson
The music pounded in her ears, matching the thundering beating of her heart. Arms circled her possessively; one hand strategically placed on her hip, the other at the small of her back. He wore a pair of black, leather gloves. But, it wasn't enough to prevent the sensation of searing flesh wherever he touched her.
He was dressed in solid black, from head to toe. A black hat covered his head, obscuring most of his features. Only an ebony black ponytail could be seen beneath the brim and plumage. A mask, like a bandit's, covered his face, disguising his true identity. Deeper scrutiny revealed only a strong jawline and striking blue eyes.
A mask, like a bandit - That phrase stuck in Blair's mind. She'd watched old Zorro movies with her dad when she was little. She'd always been afraid of the masked man. He robbed from the rich, holding them at sword-point, embarrassing them before taking their riches. She always felt sorry for his victims, wondering what became of them after the bandit had robbed them of everything of value and made good his escape on his midnight black horse.
She wasn't afraid. She felt safe, secure in this bandit's arms. He had come to her rescue, appearing from nowhere. And, as they swayed to every dance, memories of the painful evening disappeared like the other dancers around her into a swirling mist of oblivion. And then, when it was suddenly just the two of them, she realized that this handsome stranger would protect her from anything that would harm her.
She'd offered him a reward, wanting him to know that his gallant gesture was appreciated. Of course, he refused. That's when she looked up at him, blinking her big, brown doe eyes. And, he leaned in, steel blue eyes meeting, holding her gaze. She wavered, eyes flickering shut as she felt lips pressed to hers.
Not the confusing, awkward kisses of Chad - or any of the other guys she had dated. They were all hands, touching, groping everywhere as they tried to plant a messy, wet kiss upon her lips. And, it seemed that they thought the more force they put into it, the better the kiss would be.
No, this was different. A feathery-light kiss upon her lips. The slightest of touches, not demanding at all. If she hadn't been expecting it, she might have missed it altogether. But, she had been expecting it. And, oddly enough, had to admit to herself that she had been looking forward to it. And now, she wanted another, deeper kiss.
A tongue ran along her upper lip, tracing its outline. A soft moan escaped her lips, encouraging further exploration. She felt him pull back slightly, ending the kiss. Surprised, her eyes flickered open.
The hat was gone - and so was the mask. Ebony hair that had been tied back in a ponytail was now loose, falling about slender shoulders, framing a soft face. Familiar blue eyes watched her expectantly. Hands upon her waist loosened their embrace, conveying the opportunity for escape if desired.
A heated flush spread to Blair's cheeks. Hands traveled quickly from her escort's waist, up silk-clad arms, fingers settling in luxurious ebony locks. Standing on tip-toe, Blair pulled Jo's face down to her level. Lips brushed gently; she felt Jo's breath upon her mouth. With a single, frustrated moan, she roughly pulled Jo's mouth to her, smothering her with deep kisses. Jo's tongue plunged into her mouth, causing her moan to deepen.
"Blair! Blair, are you okay?"
She heard the question, vaguely registered the hands on her shoulders, shaking her. Blair. That was her name. Her eyes rapidly blinked open, attempting to focus. A pair of chocolate brown eyes stared back at her.
"Huh? What's going on?" she managed to gasp out between being shaken.
"You were moaning in your sleep, Blair." With well-placed hands over both of Tootie's, Blair was able to keep her from continuing her persistent shaking. "I think you were having a nightmare."
"I don't know, Tootie. That didn't sound like any nightmare to me." Natalie suddenly appeared, looking over Tootie's shoulder at Blair. Tootie was effectively pinning Blair's arms to the bed, preventing her escape. Sensing her opportunity, a wry smirk played over Natalie's lips. "All that moaning and groaning, it kind of sounded like one of those late night movies that Blair likes to watch. You know, the kind that gets you all hot and bothered and needing something - wet - to cool you off because you - "
" - Turn blue, Natalie!" Blair shouted, shoving Tootie's hands away, struggling to sit up in bed. At Tootie's shocked expression, Blair lowered her voice, soothingly ran her hands down Tootie's arms. "I'm sorry, Tootie. You're right; it was a nightmare. Guess I'm still just a little jumpy."
"That's okay, Blair." She felt Tootie shrug at the apology. Peering over Tootie's shoulder, she saw the Yeah, Right smirk still firmly planted on Natalie's lips. She pursed her lips, blowing Blair an imaginary kiss, then raced from the room before Blair could respond. "Maybe you'll feel better after breakfast. Mrs. Garrett's making her Saturday-special pancakes."
"I'll bet you're right." Blair smiled reassuringly at her friend. "Tell you what; Why don't you go down and fix me a plate before Nat gets them all and I'll be there in a minute, okay?"
"Okay, sure, Blair." Tootie sprang from the bed, rushing out the bedroom door and towards the stairs. She wasn't sure what was wrong with Blair. What had happened to her. She had come back different after the Christmas holidays. But, Blair had always been nice to her, and she'd do anything to make Blair feel better. If that meant fixing her a plate of pancakes, then that's what she would do.
Wrapped in an oversized towel, humming to herself, Blair stepped from the shower. She'd stayed in as long as she wanted, well past the point when the water began to turn lukewarm. Natalie and Tootie were both already dressed and downstairs, so she figured she could indulge herself a little longer than usual. Besides, I deserve some time to myself after that nightmare!
Blair checked her reflection in the bathroom mirror. A smile played over her lips. Perfect, as always. Frowning, she leaned in closer, studying her image intently. There was an unusual layer of puffiness beneath her eyes. And, she was looking a bit tired, even after her relaxing shower.
That's why God created make-up! Blair refused to give in to her melancholy, instead choosing to put on a happy face and hum an upbeat tune as she dabbed on her makeup and fixed her hair. By the time she was done, she'd completely blocked her dream out of her mind.
Still humming to herself, she sauntered into the bedroom. Extravagantly, she threw open both closet doors. Her eyes fairly lit up at the sight of her wardrobe. If there was anything - besides money - that could bring an instant smile to Blair's face, it was her wardrobe. She'd taken her time amassing an array of designer labels for every occasion, every season. Selecting outfits that could be accessorized and then re-accessorized to create a new look at a whim. If there was one thing limited closet space and suddenly limited funds at Eastland and Langley had taught her, it was how to creatively maximize her wardrobe power.
Knowing she could generate ten different looks in five minutes or less sent a secret thrill shooting down Blair's spine. It was always such a rush for her to be so artistic with such a limited amount of resources. Grabbing several hangers from the closet, she pulled out several tops and blazers. Spinning around, she deposited them on her bed.
Tapping her chin thoughtfully, she turned back to her closet. Grabbing several other hangers, she turned back around. She frowned, realizing there wasn't anymore space left on her bed. She stood there indecisively biting her bottom lip, clothes folded across her arms. Her gaze fell on the bed closest to her own, a blue downy comforter covering the mattress.
Taking a deep breath, she dropped the clothes on the blue comforter. She took a hurried step back, eyes riveted to the bed, as if she expected her clothes to suddenly burst into flames. When nothing happened, she let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Laughing at herself, Blair spread the clothes out on the bedspread, arranging them by style.
It had been some sort of unspoken agreement. No one had touched the bed - had even dared lay anything across it - since Jo had left. She had moved out New Year's Eve, just after midnight, coming to the room only long enough to grab some money and a change of clothes. Natalie and Tootie hadn't even realized the switch had taken place until they woke up the next morning, both nursing hangovers from something that had been slipped into the punchbowl.
Of course, Mrs. Garrett had known. She'd ran after Jo, begging her to stay. Jo steadfastly refused, saying how it was her fault and she wouldn't have Mrs. G put out of her own bed because of her stupidity. Blair hadn't stuck around for the entire conversation, preferring to reclaim her rightful place upstairs. When Mrs. Garrett had come up half an hour later carrying fresh sheets, it was obvious that she had been crying. Naturally, the stoic woman told Blair it was tears of joy because she was back. And, Blair was sure part of it was that. But, still, she knew Mrs. Garrett loved Jo and -
Blair reached over, cranking up the volume on the radio. As she shook her head from side to side with the beat, she banished all thoughts she had of Jo from her mind. It was over and done with and nothing could change what had happened. And, it wasn't her fault, anyway. And, anyone who thought otherwise could - well, they could just turn blue.
By the time Blair bounded down the stairs, Natalie and Tootie were already clearing their breakfast plates from the table. She glanced expectantly at the table. Her place setting was bare, not even a plate left behind. Funny; Before Christmas break, my plate used to be waiting for me every morning. Along with a half-glass of milk. Ever since I've been back, though, nothing's been the same.
"You take the dishes, Tootie. I'll open the store."
Natalie shoved the plates at Tootie, glanced at her watch. Hurriedly, she pushed open the swinging door leading to the store. Blair heard Natalie rushing to set up the cash drawer.
"Guess we're late," Tootie shrugged. "Oh, your plate's in the kitchen, Blair."
"Thanks, Tootie." Blair followed her friend to the kitchen. "I knew I could count on you."
"Well, Mrs. Garrett insisted. Said she was going to be baking in the kitchen anyway, and your breakfast would stay warmer if you were going to sleep in today and all." She paused, glanced back over her shoulder at Blair. "Speaking of which, just what are you planning to do on your Saturday off?"
"Shopping, my dear Tootie, shopping!" Blair's entire face lit up at the question. "You know, I haven't been since before the Christmas holidays."
"You haven't been shopping in - " Tootie paused in the doorway to the kitchen, doing the math on her fingers. " - over three weeks now? It's a miracle the department stores haven't called to see if you're okay."
"I know! I'm going to have so much fun at the outlet malls today. Maybe I'll pick you up a little something, Tootie." Blair laughed. That annoying little rich girl laugh that accompanied the flipping of her luxuriously rich hair.
She was so busy laughing and flipping her hair in that pretentious Warner manner that she didn't pay attention as she blindly followed Tootie into the kitchen. As she walked across the tiled floor, she stumbled over something in her path. She reached out, barely catching the corner of the counter, preventing herself from falling.
"Hey!" came a shout from the floor.
"Blair!" Mrs. Garrett rushed over to Blair, slipping an arm about her. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Mrs. Garrett. Just a little shaken, I think." Blair used the counter to steady herself as she regained her bearings, slowly standing up straight. Mrs. Garrett kept a protective arm around her waist, helping to guide her to a nearby chair.
"Excuse me! Person with broken ribs on the floor right here!"
"Oh, Jo! I'm so sorry!" Mrs. Garrett hurriedly dropped Blair into her chair, rushed to Jo's side. "Are you okay? Do you need a doctor?"
"Nah, I'm fine, Mrs. G." Jo shrugged.
Mrs. Garrett continued to fawn over her, fingers tracing along Jo's black tee, briskly rubbing over her bandages. Jo skittered away from the touch, blushing at the attention. Tootie stood near the kitchen door, watching the unfolding scene silently.
"What are you doing here?" Blair demanded, eyes narrowing at the sight of Jo sitting on the floor.
"Other than being trampled to death by the rampaging Warner Elephant?" Jo smirked. "I was fixing the sink for Mrs. G."
For the first time, Blair noticed the tools spread out on the floor beside Jo. The cabinet doors beneath the sink were open, and a pan was positioned beneath the pipes. Wordlessly, Jo leaned back, laying on her back. She reached for one of her tools, brought it up above her head, out of Blair's view. She saw Jo grimace, heard something like grinding gears.
Dismissing the sight with a roll of her eyes, Blair's gaze settled on her plate of pancakes. Pulling them across the table, she eagerly poured maple syrup over the short stack. Biting into the first forkful, she let out a delightful moan at the taste of rich buttermilk melting in her mouth.
She was almost halfway through when Jo popped her head out from beneath the sink again. Blair watched, half-interested, as Jo wiped her wet hands on a kitchen towel that lay on the floor beside her. She subsequently wiped each of her tools before dropping them back into a little red toolbox. Removing the drain pan, she closed both cabinet doors. With a slight groan and grimace she pulled herself up from the floor.
"Here ya go, Mrs. G." Jo reached into the drain pan, fished something shiny out of the water. She towel-dried the item, passed it to Mrs. Garrett. "This is what clogged ya up."
"That's my charm bracelet!" Blair jumped up from her chair, snatched it from Jo's grasp.
"Well, it was a real charm getting that thing untangled, let me tell you."
Blair's eyes narrowed to tiny slits. "I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't throw it down the sink on purpose!"
"I got better things to do than yank your chain, Warner!" Jo wiped her hands on the dish towel, threw it on the counter. "Maybe it fell off your wrist while you were washing dishes - Oh, that's right; you never do help out with the dishes, do you?"
"Jo," Mrs. Garrett stepped between the two, pulled on Jo's arm. "Thank you for fixing the sink. Please, have some pancakes."
"Well, Mrs. G. - "
" - I'm sure she has better things to do than sit around all day with us," interrupted Blair, "Like hanging curtains in that little hovel of a garage she calls home."
Jo glared at Blair over Mrs. Garrett's shoulder. Steel blue eyes flashed angrily. Her jaw clenched, fists flexed at her sides.
"Why can't you both just stop it!" All heads turned to see Tootie standing just inside the doorway, staring at them. "Can't you see what you're doing to Mrs. Garrett? Making her choose between the two of you? Stop it! Just stop it!"
Tootie threw her dishes onto the counter. One of the plates landed awkwardly, the gold rim shattering as it fell. Syrup oozed off the plate onto the counter. Tears abruptly sprang into Tootie's eyes. With a startled cry, she turned, running from the room.
"Tootie! Wait!" Mrs. Garrett shouted, taking off after her. "Tootie!"
Jo and Blair were left in the kitchen, staring at each other. For long moments, neither spoke. Jo leaned with her back against the sink, arms folded across her chest, openly staring at Blair.
Blair watched Jo warily before backing towards the table, as if afraid to turn her back on the Bronx native. She bumped into the edge of the table, knocking the syrup bottle over. Startled, she hurriedly grabbed for the bottle, righting it. A river of thick syrup lazily made its way across the tabletop, running towards the edge.
"See what you've done now?" Blair angrily snapped, capping the syrup bottle with as much force as humanly possibly.
Jo glared at Blair. Her mouth worked, her jaw tightened. Finally, as if giving up on a retort, she merely reached her right arm behind herself. With a growl, she grabbed her discarded towel from the counter, threw it at Blair. She barely saw Blair awkwardly catch the towel with two hands as she stormed from the room.
"Oh, Blair! It's simply gorgeous!" Mrs. Garrett draped the brightly colored scarf around her neck. Moving to the full-length mirror in her bedroom, she admired herself as she turned left and right, modeling her new accessory.
"Well, I saw it in the shop and I just knew it was right for you." Blair sat on the edge of Mrs. Garrett's bed, folding one leg beneath her. She smoothed out her skirt as she sat, draping the material over her knee-length boots.
As Mrs. Garrett fondled the scarf, her fingers flitted over the tag. Adjusting her glasses, she read the price in the mirror's reflection. "But, you shouldn't have. It's really too expensive." Mrs. Garrett twirled away from the mirror, taking the scarf off with a flourish, handing it back to the stunned blonde in one swift movement.
"It's nothing," Blair waved off the price tag with a flick of her wrist. At Mrs. Garrett's scathing look, she amended her sentence. "Okay, with the restrictions put on my spending and my new - allowance - " she stumbled over the word with some difficulty. " - It's true I have to watch my spending habits a little more closely. But, I still have plenty to buy what I truly need. And, I truly needed to show you how much I appreciate you and all you do for me."
Mrs. Garrett gave into the batting brown doe eyes. Slowly, she sat down on the bed beside Blair. Hesitantly, her hand stole out, fingers tentatively stroking the silk material. "Well, it is a very nice scarf - " A broad grin broke out on Blair's face. " - And if it would make you happy - "
Before Mrs. Garrett could finish her rationalization, Blair had flipped the scarf, rolled it fashionably long-ways and draped it over Mrs. Garrett's shoulders. Before Mrs. Garrett could even blink, it was tied loosely about her neck, held in place by a matching broach.
"You know, Blair, there are other people who do things around here to help you out, too."
"Oh, I know." Blair's eyes twinkled mischievously; her nose crinkled. "I got Tootie and Natalie something, too. I hid it in the bedroom closet on my way in. I'm going to surprise them with it tomorrow."
"That's nice, Blair." A long pause. "But, I wasn't just talking about Tootie and Natalie."
"Then, who?" Blair's smile suddenly fell. "Oh, no." She shook her head in denial. "You can't be serious - "
"It's true, though, isn't it?" Mrs. Garrett reached out, brushing a stray strand of blonde hair away from Blair's face. "She's always been there for you. Like going with you to get that Rolex for your father. What would have happened if she hadn't been with you that night? And then, working all those hours to pay for the watch, too?"
Blair exhaled loudly, grudgingly nodded her head.
"She drove you everywhere while your car was in the shop. She helped you study all night for your English Lit finals." Another begrudging nod. "Even when you didn't know she was helping you, she was always there." A bemused look from Blair. "Remember when you beat Boots out for homecoming queen?"
"That was close. I only beat Boots by ten votes."
"I'll bet you never knew Jo campaigned to get the science club and the detention hall kids to vote for you, did you? Those were the swing votes that pulled in the ballots for you."
"I didn't know." Said in a smaller voice, looking down at her hands folded in her lap.
"Just like you probably didn't know that Jo's the one that put your plate on the table every morning. And, she always made sure she had the pitcher of milk ready to pour your customary half-glass."
Blair nervously rubbed her palms on her skirt. Cheeks flushed pink, she turned to look at Mrs. Garrett. "Do you think I was too hard on Jo for - " Blair's voice dropped off. She moistened her lips, tried again. " - At the Halloween Dance, and she was dressed like a - and then she - and I - Should I have forgiven - "
Mrs. Garrett reached out, taking both of Blair's hands in hers, gently patting. " - I think you need to look at why Jo did what she did."
Blair swallowed harshly, choking back tears that suddenly tried to spring up. "You're saying Jo only did what Jo's always done; been there for me."
"I'm not saying that." A secretive smile formed on Mrs. Garrett's lips. "I'm saying you need to decide what Jo's motives were." She stood up abruptly, prancing to the mirror. She adjusted her scarf, admiring her reflection. She looked in the mirror at Blair, sitting on her bed, brow furrowed in thought, picking at loose threads on her bedspread. "Did you get something for yourself, dear?"
Blair's head snapped up. A broad smile instantly appeared on her face. "As a matter of fact, I did. A nice little rose-hued dress that I'm planning on wearing to Church tomorrow morning." She leaped up from the bed, grabbed Mrs. Garrett by the hand, steered her towards the bedroom door. "Come on, you've got to see it. I left it laying across the foot of my bed."
They walked down the hall, Blair trying to practically drag Mrs. Garrett to the bedroom. Mrs. Garrett took her time, walking with a bit more decorum and restraint. To tell the truth, though, it was more to prolong the moment than it was the onslaught of arthritis that she claimed. She hadn't seen Blair so happy in so long, she wanted to make the moment last a little longer. And, if that meant telling a little white lie to procrastinate the moment, so be it.
They paused outside the door, Mrs. Garrett's hand on Blair's forearm. She applied just a bit of pressure. Blair turned to look at Mrs. Garrett expectantly.
"I can't tell you how pleased I am that you're looking forward to going to morning services. I still have to practically drag Tootie and Natalie from the house kicking and screaming."
"Well, I've matured a lot, Mrs. Garrett. And, I've come to appreciate the quiet time, the chance to meditate and think over what's really important in life and what isn't." Blair pushed open the bedroom door, stepping inside. She continued to look at Mrs. Garrett as they walked in, focusing her attention on the elderly woman. The last thing she wanted was for Mrs. Garrett to fall over one of Natalie's backpacks or something. "And, I've been thinking - " she paused, looking Mrs. Garrett in the eye. "Maybe I'll stop by the garage after the services and speak with Jo."
"Oh, Blair, that's so - "
Mrs. Garrett's voice trailed off. Her mouth hung open, gesticulating like a fish, but no words were coming out. Blair stared at her as if she was having a stroke. Finally, she managed to raise an arm, pointing towards Blair's bed.
Blair's head spun around. On the bed lay her brand new, rose-hued dress, the store tags still attached to the left sleeve. A protective plastic bag that had once been on the dress was now laying on the floor, a single boot print stained in oil clearly embedded in the plastic. Splotches of oil stained the dress, smeared into the fabric. In the center lay a mysterious dark piece of metal, slightly larger than a shoe box in size, covered in black oil.
Blair's face turned bright red, contorting with rage. "I'll kill her!" She shouted, rushing towards the bed. She folded the bottom of the dress up, covering the oily slab of metal, wrapping it in the folds of material. She snatched the garment up, shoving it beneath her arm like a football. Fire in her eyes, she bolted for the staircase, pushing past Natalie and Tootie on their way up. Dimly, she heard Mrs. Garrett yelling for her to be careful as she threw open the front door and stormed out into the cold night air.
Blair barreled down the sidewalk, following the path to the garage. One arm clutching her precious bundle, she used her free hand to jerk open the wooden side door. Jo was kneeling on the concrete floor, attaching the guard to the side of her bike. Startled, she looked up as Blair stormed in, slamming the door behind her.
"What the Hell - ?" she asked.
"My thoughts exactly!" Blair yelled, throwing the wadded up dress at her.
Jo instinctively caught the fabric ball that was hurled at her. As she realized it was a delicate dress, she abruptly threw it to the ground. Shocked, she held both hands up in the air. "Have you lost your mind? My hands are full of grease!"
"That's exactly what I want to know!"
"Whether you've lost your mind?" Jo questioned, brows arching in confusion.
"Whether you've lost yours!"
Jo slowly rose from her crouching position, wiping her greasy hands on a red mechanic's rag as she did so. Arms extended, palms up in a non-threatening manner towards the obviously distraught blonde, she carefully approached Blair. As she cautiously drew nearer, Jo lowered her voice an octave.
"Blair, what's wrong?"
"You! You're wrong!"
Jo bit her bottom lip, dropped both arms at her side. Turning her back on Blair, she paced in tight, little circles. Frustrated, she ran a hand through her thick, black hair, pushing it back from her eyes.
"Is this what we're gonna do tonight?" she asked. "What; you got bored, had nothing better to do on a Saturday night than come down and bust my chops?" She reared back, throwing her oily rag across the room in one smooth motion. Turning to face Blair, she held her hands up in mock surrender. "Okay, fine! Here I am; Take your best shot!"
"What?" asked Blair, suddenly caught off-guard by Jo's behavior.
"Ya heard me, Princess. Go ahead and lay into me and punish me some more for one lousy mistake I made last October. Say what ya gotta say and then get out of my garage so I can get on with my evening!"
"And what a magnificent evening you have planned, Polniachek!" Blair was confused as to Jo's demeanor, so she fell back on familiar tactics when dealing with Jo; defensive behavior. "Hanging out in a garage by yourself fixing that heap you call a bike!"
"At least my bike has always been loyal! She's never turned her back on me!" shouted Jo.
"I assume that's a dig meant for me." No answer from Jo. "If that precious bike means so much to you, why did you leave part of its guts strewn about my bed?" Blair glared at Jo, folded her arms across her chest. "Weren't you afraid I might just toss it out?"
"What the Hell are ya talking about now, Blondie?" Jo was now standing in front of Blair, invading her personal space, standing nose to nose. Hands were thrust on her hips as she leaned in closer, getting up in Warner's face.
"Your bike part!" Jo didn't so much as blink. "The one rolled up in my dress!"
Jo's gaze followed Blair's emphatic gesturing. She was going on and on about her precious dress, pointing at it laying on the floor near her bike. Jo reluctantly moved away from Blair, slowly making her way across the floor. She stepped onto the blue tarp that covered the concrete around her workstation, picking her way amongst the motorcycle parts. She had carefully laid each part out in the order in which she needed to repair, replace and reassemble. It had taken her the better part of two weeks to get to this stage on her bike. And now, here was Blair, on her territory, in her face, ranting and raving about her dress.
With an exasperated sigh, Jo knelt on the ground beside her bike. Reaching beneath the body, she carefully extracted the bundle from where she had hastily tossed it. She tried to be as delicate as possible, not wanting to stain Blair's dress anymore than necessary. Holding the rose-hued, delicate fabric in her oil and grease stained hands, Jo slowly unrolled the dress.
A piece of metal fell from the hem. Jo deftly caught it in one hand. Eyes went wide as she realized what the piece of metal was. Her gaze darted swiftly about the tarp, taking inventory of the carefully arranged parts. Eyes narrowed as her gaze settled on the far side of the tarp where a large, empty gap stood between two innocuous pieces of metal.
"This is from my bike." Wide, blue eyes met suspicious chocolate brown in a mutual stare. "Where did you get it?"
"You - " Blair emphatically pointed a finger in Jo's direction, " - smeared grease all over my dress and left it on my bed!"
"I did not, Warner!"
"You think I went out and bought a brand new Church dress, came home and laid it out on my bed and smeared oil and grease all over it?"
"All I know is, I didn't do it!" Jo jumped up from her kneeling position. She carefully placed the motorcycle part in sequence on the tarp with the rest of the parts. Wadding up the dress into a ball, she roughly threw it at Blair.
Blair caught the dress in one hand, clutched it tightly to her side. "Then who did?" she shouted.
"I don't know! I just know it wasn't me!"
"OH!" Blair clutched the gown in her fist, stomped her foot on the concrete floor. "You can just - " she stormed to the side door she had come in earlier, " - turn blue!"
Blair slammed into the door. Stopping, she tried turning the knob, pushing against the door again. Frustrated, she beat on the doorframe with the palm of her hand. Swearing beneath her breath, she kicked the base of the door.
"Thought you were leaving, Warner," Jo called out, retrieving her grease rag from where she had tossed it earlier. Laughing to herself, she picked up her stray bike part, wiping the excess oil and grease from it.
"I can't get out!" Blair jiggled the door handle again.
"Oh, please!" Jo crossed over the blue tarp, coming to stand beside Blair. "I know you're a princess and everything, but even you can open a door."
"No, I can't! It's really stuck!"
"Here, hold this," Jo said, passing her grease rag to Blair. On reflex, Blair took the rag, not realizing at first what she was doing. Then, as her actions suddenly dawned on her, she threw the rag to the ground, a look of utter horror on her face. Chuckling to herself, Jo reached out, turning the knob.
She frowned. The knob turned, but the door wouldn't budge. She put all her weight behind it, pushing for all she was worth. Still, the door wouldn't budge. Finally, breathing heavily, she leaned against the door, staring at Blair.
"It's no use," she said, "It won't budge. You must have jarred something loose when you slammed the door."
"You mean - " Blair's eyes grew wide. " - We're trapped in here . . . Together?"
"Don't make out like it's the end of the world, Warner." Jo folded her arms across her chest, rolled her eyes at Blair's melodramatics. "Just call Nat and Toot on your cell phone and tell them to get out here. I'm sure the door can be opened from the other side."
"My purse is inside the house." Blair turned around, making her way across the garage. "No matter. We'll just use yours."
"My what?" asked Jo, following close on Blair's heels.
"Your cell phone, silly."
"I don't have one."
Blair stopped in her tracks so suddenly that Jo ran into her from behind. "What?"
"I don't have one." Jo shrugged. "Nobody I need to talk to that badly."
"Okay, where's the cordless?" asked Blair, undaunted.
Jo shook her head.
"Corded phone?" Blair raised both eyebrows.
Again, Jo shook her head. "I'm living in a garage, Blair," she protested at Blair's disdainful expression. "It's not like I had the phone company out to hook everything up before I moved in."
Blair slowly sat down on the sofa pushed up against the far side of the garage wall. She sank down into the soft cushions as soon as she sat. Jo stood, watching her, surprised by Blair's silence as she looked around the room, taking in her surroundings for the first time.
"So," she said in almost a whisper, "We're really trapped in the garage."
"I know!" Blair snapped her fingers. "We'll just roll up the thing." At Jo's blank expression, she elaborated. "The door that folds up so you can get the cars in."
"'Fraid not, Princess." Jo fought down her smirk. "Those doors are at least thirty years old. They're not the fancy ones with the remote control access like the kind you have at home. The only way these suckers open is from the outside."
"Oh." Blair sank back against the cushions, biting her thumbnail in frustration.
They'd been trapped for over an hour now. She had to admit though, that things could be worse. They could still be fighting. But, somehow, given their current circumstances, they had agreed to a temporary cessation of hostilities. And, despite the rather abrupt appearance of her rude houseguest, Jo had made every attempt to be the perfect hostess. Sighing, Blair glanced around the garage again.
If she had to be honest, even Blair had to admit that Jo had done a remarkable job fixing up the garage since her sudden exile at the start of the new year. By some unspoken agreement, Mrs. Garrett and Blair had taken to parking their cars outside the garage to allow her privacy. The only vehicle currently housed inside the two-car garage was Jo's bike. And, that was tucked away neatly on one side of the garage while Jo worked on repairing it in her spare time. Jo's toolbox and CD player waited on the blue tarp that covered the concrete floor.
Jo had cleverly rearranged the existing boxes of memorabilia, decorations and other junk into partitions for privacy while changing clothes and such. There was a small refrigerator plugged into an existing outlet. And, an old table with two wooden chairs formed what Jo considered to be her kitchen. Of course, it helped that she still got all her hot meals from Mrs. Garrett's kitchen. Her tiny refrigerator only held the essential snacks for late-night munching.
A shower rod suctioned to two corners of the wall formed a suitable clothes rod for Jo's outfits. Her shoes were neatly lined up on the floor beneath the rod. The remainder of her clothes were neatly folded and stored in an antique dresser that she'd found buried in a far corner of the garage. Her hairbrush, mousse and other essential toiletries lay scattered across the top of the wooden dresser.
The living room/bedroom was located in the center of the garage. A small television sat on a sturdy box, rabbit ears adjusted at right angles for better reception. Across from the television was the sofa that Blair was currently sitting on, feet curled up beneath her. A stray corner from a sheet peeking out from beneath a cushion confirmed Blair's suspicion that the sofa doubled as Jo's bed.
Seated at a right angle, midway between the television and the sofa was a leather recliner. It had obviously undergone recent surgery, a fact attested to by the strips of duct tape sporadically stretched across the back and arms of the chair. Jo didn't seem to mind the patchwork job as she sat back in the chair, bare feet propped up as she divided her attention between listening to Blair and watching a cop show on television.
"I'm thirsty," Jo announced as a commercial came on. "You want something?"
Jo was already on her feet and halfway to the kitchen before Blair answered. "No, thank you."
"You sure?" asked Jo, opening the refrigerator, sticking her head in. She came back out with a soda. She popped the top, drinking heartily. "It's cold."
"Well," Blair hesitated. "I am thirsty."
"Say no more." Jo reached back into the refrigerator, dug around for a few moments. When she came back out again, she held a diet soda in her grasp. At the astonished look from Blair, she said, "What? I might have guests."
Blair smiled. Trust Jo to always be able to make the best of a bad situation. Like this one, for example. She was essentially trapped in a garage with someone who had basically had her evicted out of her own house. Yet, here she was, parading about in a comfortable t-shirt and sweats just like this was her new home, offering refreshments to her company. Ill-deserving company, at that, added Blair.
"You know, we're missing something," Jo said, looking down at the two drinks in her hand. She bit her bottom lip, foraged in the refrigerator again. "There, we go!" she said, triumphantly, "Nothing goes better with an old movie than a soda and chocolate donuts."
Jo balanced the box of donuts, sodas and a roll paper towels in her grasp as she made her way back to the living room. As the theme music signaled the return from commercial, she quickened her pace. She was at the corner of the sofa when her feet flew out from under her and she landed on her backside on the concrete floor. The roll of towels flew out of her grasp. The box of donuts lay crumpled beneath her shoulder. Blair's soda rolled beneath the sofa.
"Is everything okay?" Blair asked, kneeling down, helping Jo to a sitting position.
"Yeah," Jo glanced down at her left hand. "Didn't spill a drop of my soda."
"I didn't mean your beverage!" Blair playfully slapped Jo's shoulder. "I meant, are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
Blair reached out, helping Jo, encouraging her to sit on the sofa. Jo propped both feet up on the cushions, checking for swelling. Blair bent down, retrieving the crushed box of donuts from the floor. Gingerly, she sat them on the arm of the sofa.
Once she had caught her breath, Jo leaned over, reaching beneath the edge of the sofa with her hand. Fingers tracing along the edge, her grasp settled on something at the corner of the sofa, resting against the leg. Stretching, she leaned over, retrieving the object.
"Tootie's skate!" Blair screeched, reaching out, taking the metal skate from Jo's grasp. "She didn't take these off the first two years at Eastland!"
"Yeah," Jo smiled, fingering the leather strap attached to the metal frame. "She was a real terror on wheels."
"She was always and forever getting into trouble." Blair laughed at the memories of a young Tootie in pigtails, popping her gum, trying to sneak around on tiptoe in her rollerskates.
"Yeah, her and Nat were always pulling something, weren't th - " Jo stopped in midsentence. She looked up at Blair, an odd expression on her face. "You know Blair, that stunt with the grease on your dress, that's something I pulled when we first started rooming together. Natalie and Tootie - "
" - pulled a copycat crime," Blair finished. "I figured as much when I realized the plot on this old whodunnit movie."
"Which raises the question of Why?"
"Probably because we've both been behaving like real idiots. You heard what Tootie said in the kitchen this morning; our bickering is tearing Mrs. Garrett up. This was no doubt some elaborate ruse to force a confrontation between us. Why, I wouldn't be surprised to discover they locked us in the garage for the night hoping we'd air things out."
"Oh." Jo and Blair sat in silence for a while, attention on the television screen, where the detective was busily following a trail of bloody footprints. When the next commercial came on, Jo turned to face Blair again. Instead of looking at Blair, though, her gaze locked on the fabric of the sofa. "You know," she nervously picked at a loose thread on the cushion, "I don't know if I ever told you I was sorry about your first dress."
"Pah!" Blair waved Jo's apology off. "That dress is so out of season by now. I forgave you that mistake long ago."
"And, have you forgiven me for - " Hesitantly, blue eyes looked up, meeting chocolate brown. " - my other mistake?" Jo's breath caught in her throat. She looked at Blair expectantly. "You know, kissing you?"
"No." The words came out flat. "I can't forgive you that, Jo."
"Oh, I see." Jo's face fell. She moved to get off the sofa, thinking it best to put some space between them.
Jo felt the French manicured nails bite into her flesh, looked down at where Blair had reached out, grabbing her forearm. She gave in, allowing Blair to guide her movements, settling back down on the edge of the sofa. Hesitantly, she looked up at Blair.
"The issue was never about you kissing me, Jo. It's about me not knowing it was you." Blair took a deep breath, paused before continuing. "All these years, I thought you were my friend."
"I am your friend."
"Wait." Blair held up a hand, prompting Jo to remain silent. "I thought I knew everything about you. But, then when you kissed me - and I found out it was you - and then you kissed me again, I felt betrayed. Because I never knew you had those sort of feelings. And, it brought into question every word, every gesture, every touch we've shared over the years."
"Come on, Blair! I'm not some perv that's been sitting around planning how to seduce you for the past five years!"
"I know that, Jo." Blair reached out, taking Jo's hand in hers, interlocking their fingers. "But, you've always been the one constant in my life. When everything else hasn't made sense, I've always been able to count on you to stay the same. Then, I woke up one day, and suddenly my friend, my constant is gone - and my whole world has turned upside down. I lashed out at you because I was angry at you for changing - well, everything in my world. I wanted you to suffer - to hurt - the way I was hurting."
"That's why you left me at the hospital."
"Yes," Blair nodded. "Part of me wanted to stay. But, another part of me was convinced that you wrecked your motorcycle, that you got hurt, just so I'd feel guilty and wouldn't be mad at you anymore. And, I so desperately wanted to still be mad at you."
Jo extracted her hand from Blair's grip. She sat on the edge of the sofa, arms propped on her knees, hands dangling limply between her legs. She stared at the floor for long minutes, weighing what Blair had just said.
"And now?" she asked, glancing at the blonde that sat on the sofa beside.
"Now, I miss my friend. And, I want her back."
A broad smile spread over Jo's face. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." Blair nudged Jo's leg with her own. "I can't tell you we're back to where we were before this started, though. It's going to take time to build our friendship back. But - " she hesitated, " - maybe we can take it day by day and see what happens."
"And I can move back into the house?"
A deep sigh. "I'm not sure I can handle that, yet." Blair caught a fleeting, pained expression flash across Jo's features. "But, let me think about it." A ghost of a smile. "Providing, you agree to come to church with me on Sunday."
That earned a broad smile from Jo. "One Sunday? No sweat."
"A month of Sundays." Jo's mouth dropped open in shock. Just as she started to protest, Blair held up her hand. "A month of Sundays or no deal."
"Fine. A month of Sundays. I guess Church never did kill nobody."
"No, but the reverend did," Blair smirked.
"The reverend. On the movie." Blair pointed at the television screen.
Jo turned to the set just as the detective and two uniformed police officers stormed into a church, rushing past the congregation, snapping a set of cuffs onto the startled reverend. As he was led away and the credits rolled, both women settled back on the sofa, leaning against opposite ends, legs and feet stretched out atop each other as they awaited the next movie.
As the movie played out and her eyes began to get heavy with sleep, Blair rested her cheek against the back of the sofa, snuggling down deeper into the cushions. And, as her eyes drifted closed, she could swear she heard the sounds of skates, chalk on a board and a little girl's voice singing "Toot - Toot - Tootie, goodbye. Toot - Toot - Tootie, don't cry . . . "
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