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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Della Street
By Blair's estimation, her mother would be another twenty minutes or so. Not bad, she figured. If staying gorgeous required only one additional minute per year, Blair Warner owed it to the world to make the effort. Meanwhile . . . .
She looked around the apartment for something to occupy her time. She had already devoured the magazines and catalogs that weren't available in the backwoods where she went to school, already tried on the gray knee-length that was delivered yesterday and looked utterly fabulous on her.
Her glance landed on the telephone. Perhaps she could . . . . No. She wasn't that desperate.
She ran an index finger across the telephone stand between her Harvest Queen and Future Entrepreneur trophies. Not a speck of dust. Of course not.
Blair caressed the phone with her fingertips. She probably wouldn't even be home. Or maybe she would. What did people like that do all day?
"Are you calling someone, Darling?"
"No! I mean . . . Actually, I was thinking I should call Jo and double check when we're meeting on Sunday."
"3:15, didn't you say?" Monica replied.
"I mean double check that she remembers," Blair said. "I certainly wouldn't want to sit in Union Station by myself for hours."
Now that Blair thought about it, it really was a good idea to call. Granted, Jo hadn't been late on any of their previous trips together, but it might well happen, and then where would she be? She picked up the phone again and dialed the number, pleased when a familiar Bronx accent answered.
"And how are the Polniaczeks today?" she asked.
"Ma's at work," Jo said. "I'm just kickin' back, enjoyin' the silence."
Lonely, in other words. "You're lucky I called then," Blair said. "I just wanted to be sure that you remembered when we're meeting Sunday."
"Whaddya think, I got brain damage? We always meet at 3:15."
Her mother breezed into the room and then, with an, "Oh, my goodnessno scarf!" breezed back into the bedroom to choose the accessory. That gave Blair a few more minutes.
"So . . .," she said, "what have you been up to?"
Cruising the old neighborhood? Playing street ball? My, how stimulating.
"How 'bout you?" Jo asked, but then she added, "Lemme guessshopping."
"Of course," Blair replied. "And fundraisers, and the cocktail circuit with Mother and her friends." Every day, another one of Monica's friends. Sometimes they brought their daughters, which was a little better, but still . . . .
"You aren't old enough for cocktails," Jo pointed out.
"Not legally," Blair agreed. As if the bartenders ever did anything but leer at her when she sidled up to the bar. The last thing they wanted from the sexy blonde was proof of her age.
"Every day with that bunch, huh?" Jo said.
Blair carried the cordless over to the couch. "Yeah."
"Sounds kinda . . . ."
"Yeah." Suddenly, she blurted, "Why don't you come over?" She instantly regretted her impulsiveness. Jo was sure to make fun of the suggestion. Well, two could play at that game. When Jo turned her down, Blair would make clear that she hadn't really meant it, anyway. The laugh would be on Jo for taking her seriously.
For a moment, Jo didn't say anythingthinking up some snide remark, Blair supposed. She braced herself for it.
Instead, she heard, "And do what?"
She was actually considering it? Of course, it wasn't like she and Jo didn't do things together when they were in Peekskill, and it wasn't always horrible. "We're going out for some purse shopping and then Mother has another fundraiser," Blair said, "but I could beg off if . . . ."
"If I rescue you?"
Blair was not going to stipulate to that characterization. After all, fundraisers were what she lived for. She was just in a strange mood today.
"So, what would we do?" Jo returned to her original question. "I mean, besides the usual."
"What's the usual?"
True. Blair heard the sound of a dresser drawer closing in the next room. She needed to seal this deal. "We could go"
"Do not say shopping!"
"walking around or something," she finished quickly. "Or to MOMA. You could ride your skateboard down the rails." She remembered Jo mentioning that once, and she was hard pressed to think of anything else that her impoverished roommate could afford. Blair certainly wasn't going to "cruise the old neighborhood," not in these shoes.
"While you do what?"
What she always did: "Watch." Blair did a lot of that. Field hockey, volleyball, whatever. One or more afternoons a week, there she was in the stands, watching Jo body check some poor girl into the parking lot until she was finally ready to head home for a badly needed shower. It was just part of the price Blair paid for being an exceptional roommate.
Unfortunately, Jo lacked the equipment for a MOMA run these days, she informed Blair, having cracked her board last month. She was saving up for another one, which was on the list right after a new muffler.
A brilliant idea popped into Blair's head, and she declared, "We could go board shopping!" Immediately realizing her mistake, she tried to cover with, "For myself, I mean. I'm thinking of trying it."
The braying in her ear did not seem entirely called for. "Hell, it's worth a bus ride to see that," Jo declared.
She shouldn't reward Jo for her skepticism, but Blair really was desperate to do something anything other than stand around and make small talk. A few hours of barbs and insults would do it, and remind Blair why she preferred the company of her own kind.
She would be back at the apartment about two-thirty, she told Jo; they could meet up then. "You know where I live?"
"The famous-historic-exclusive Morgan Building that wouldn't even let John Delorean in?" Jo said. "I think you mentioned it."
After an airy toodle-oo, Blair picked up the purse she was replacing. Perhaps Jo might want it. It was nearly three months old, but still in pristine condition and really quite handy for most business-casual occasions. If not, Natalie or Tootie probably would. She would tuck it away in one of her Peekskill bags.
It wouldn't be difficult to get out of this afternoon's do. When her mother returned, Blair would simply tell her the truth, that Jo was lonely and desperate for her company. Monica seemed to tolerate Jo fairly well, and would understand the higher calling of being kind to the less fortunate.
There was no doubt in Blair's mind that the two of them would find something to do this afternoon, even if shopping was out. One thing about Jo, she was never short of ideas, some of which were legal.
Three transfers into her ride, a ponytailed teenager wearing her lucky New York Yankees baseball shirt, jeans with the beginnings of a hole in one knee, and ancient hightops stepped off a city bus to begin the three-block stroll to Snobville. Funny how there were no public transportation stops in this particular part of town.
Jo was having second thoughts about this already. What if someone from school heard that she voluntarily spent time with Airbrain over spring break? Her reputation would be ruined. Before stepping one foot outside with Blair, Jo would extract a blood oath that they keep this little outing to themselves.
The doorman had a hand on the ornate brass handle, but didn't open it for her as Jo expected. If he was looking for a handout, he had the wrong girl. "What's the holdup?" she said.
"Sorry, Miss," he said. "I'm required to ask if you have business in the building."
Just doing his job; Jo could relate to that. "I'm here to see Blair Warner," she told him.
"Miss Warner is not back yet," he said.
"Running late, huh? What a shock!" Jo said mockingly. "But then you know how hard it is to find just the right twenty purses."
He smiled at her. "You know Miss Warner," he said.
"Unfortunately," she replied. "We're roommates at Eastland. I'm gonna show her how to skateboard."
His eyes widened slightly.
Jo chuckled. "That's what she said anyway, so I called her bluff." She shrugged. "She'll probably chicken out and we'll end up at a movie or somethin'."
"Sounds safer," he said. "We wouldn't want Miss Warner to injure herself."
"If she landed on her hair, she'd be all right," Jo said. "Might have to re-pave the sidewalk, though."
The lack of a response didn't surprise her. Guys wouldn't last long in this position if they openly made fun of their own tenants. It was like her Uncle Sal; he waited until the wallets dropped off their fancy cars and headed off to their high rises before pronouncing them idiots.
She didn't want him to think she was really ragging on Blair, though. "She's klutzie, but she's kinda fun," she said.
Opening the door for her, he agreed, "Yes, she is." He nodded toward a group of couches and chairs. "The waiting area is to your right. Enjoy your afternoon."
Maybe she would, Jo allowed. She strolled over to one of the short couch things near the front window and plopped down, crossing her feet on the coffee table. Leaning back into magnificent stuffed leather, she closed her eyes. She wasn't worried about missing her roommate's return. There was nothing quite like a Blair Warner entrance. She thought back to some of the more memorable ones she had witnessed.
"May I help you?"
Her eyes shot open. She had fallen asleep? Damn cushions. "Oh, hey," she said, sitting up straight. The stranger wore a fancy gray suit and one of those red flowers in his lapel. "What time you got?"
"Two-forty," the man replied. "Is there something I can help you with?"
She hadn't missed Blondie, had she? "Yeah, do you know if Blair Warner's in?"
"Miss Warner is not expected back until this evening."
"Actually, I was supposed to meet her here at 2:30," Jo said.
"I was informed by Mrs. Warner that she and Miss Warner would be out all afternoon."
"I think Mrs. Warner will be," she clarified, "but Miss Warner decided to bag the moochfest."
He frowned at her. "I was not informed of any change in plans."
The guy knew how to stick to a theme. "Was she supposed to do that?" Jo asked.
"I am typically informed if tenants are expecting visitors."
What was going on here? The guy was giving her the eye pretty good. Not that Jo didn't get that once in a while, but this wasn't for the usual reason.
"I'm afraid that sleeping is not allowed in our lobby," he went on.
Yeah, that was kind of tacky, Jo had to admit. Apologetically, she held up a hand. "Sorry about that," she said. "Long bus ride, you know? And I was out kinda late. I'll stay awake."
"Perhaps it would be best if you waited outside."
"Outside?" Jo echoed, confused. "There's no place to sit out there." She had noticed that on her way in. No benches, no raised curb, no place that the less worthy might be tempted to rest.
"I'm afraid that building rules are quite clear." He glanced at the hole in the knee of her jeans. "No waiting."
But . . . "Those guys are waiting," Jo said. She pointed at a couple of women in the corner who were now staring at them. She could feel her face growing warm.
To Jo's shock, the suit reached for her arm. "If you would accompany me . . .," he began.
What the hell? Jo jerked her arm free from his grasp. "Hands off, Jeeves," she warned. Everyone in the lobby was looking at them now. Lowering her voice slightly, she said, "Look, Blair and I go to school together."
His skeptical expression irritated her. She knew what he was thinking, but there was no way that she was going to announce to a room full of strangers that she was on scholarship. She wasn't embarrassed by it, but this jackass and people like him, she could just picture the sneers.
"Look, when Blair gets here, I'll be out of your hair," she said.
"As I said, I have no reason to believe that Miss Warner will be returning until this evening," he replied.
"Whaddya mean no reason?" she said. "I just gave you a reason!"
The man signaled to someone. To her mortification, Jo realized it was a security guard, who stepped out from behind his desk and started toward them. She held up her hands. "Fine," she said. "Go fuck yourself."
She stormed outside, past the doorman who was opening a cab door for some lazy bastard, and kept going until she was at the bus stop. Did Blair know this would happen? She probably did, yet she made Jo go through it anyway by being late. Maybe she thought it would be funny. She probably did. Why else would she be late, knowing that a snotty bastard would call her a liar in front of all those people? Granted, Blair was always late Jo had even factored that in when planning her trip downtown but she had to know what would happen if she didn't show up on time. Typical self-centered, egotistical, inconsiderate Blair Warner.
She threw herself into one of the empty seats. Damn those uptowners who thought they were better than everyone else just because they had money, the whole stupid lot of them, including her roommate. Especially her roommate.
A short while later, another taxi pulled up to the curb, but its occupant did not wait for someone to open the door for her. She had already tossed her money to the driver with a hurried "Thanks!" before the cab had even come to a stop. Yanking on the handle, Blair propelled herself and her armful of bags out onto the sidewalk. "I'm late," she exclaimed to Perry, who quickly opened the door for her.
Shopping bags bounced wildly against her hips as she hurried toward the lobby. Good, no Jo yet. Blair knew that she was a few minutes tardy through absolutely no fault of her own and did not particularly care to hear about it from Miss Punctual.
Upstairs, she dropped the bags on her bed for Ella to put away later, consulted her full length mirror, brushed her hair, touched up her makeup she looked especially gorgeous today, she noticed waved goodbye to the maid, and took the elevator back downstairs to wait for her grumpy roommate.
As the minutes went past, Blair frowned at her diamond-crested gold watch. This was odd. Jo was almost never late. When the 14-carat hand went past the twelve, Blair rose and walked over to the reception desk. "Hello, Curtis," she greeted him.
"Good afternoon, Miss Warner," he replied. "May I help you with something?"
She scanned the lobby again. "A friend of mine was supposed to meet me here," she said. "You haven't seen her, have you? Pretty brunette, ponytail, fashion sense of a Hell's Angel?"
"Ah . . .," he said, suddenly uncomfortable. "There was a young woman . . . ."
Blair whirled around. "Where?"
"She went outside to wait for you."
"Outside? Why would she do that?" She shouldn't be judgmental, Blair reminded herself; maybe poor people felt more comfortable in the outdoors.
"I'm sorry, Miss," he replied. "Building rules."
"She was sleeping," he said.
"I fell asleep down here once," Blair said.
"Her . . . attire . . . was not consistent with our standards."
The horror of what he was saying finally sank in. "You sent her away?"
"I merely asked her to wait outside," he said.
"You made her leave?" Blair nearly shouted. Jo would never forgive her, not with that hyper-thin skin of hers. "Didn't she tell you that we were meeting?"
"I had not been informed that your plans had changed."
"Didn't she tell you?"
He didn't reply.
Oh, no. "You didn't believe her?" Oh, no. "That was my best friend you just insulted," she snapped.
He looked as uncomfortable as Jo had probably felt. "It is my job to"
Angrily, she cut him off. "Don't." No, no, no . . . . She ran to the elevator.
It took nine attempts before a still-infuriated Jo finally answered the phone.
"Jo!" Blair said. There was no use in pretending she didn't know what had happened. "Jo, I'm sorry. I had no idea"
"Forget it," Jo interrupted. "You people are all alike."
It was exactly what Blair had feared, a step back in their already tenuous relationship. "Don't lump me in with Curtis," she said.
"Oh, yeah, Miss 'Last Year's Jeans'?"
How long did Blair have to pay for that remark? "I thought we were past that," she said.
"You can't change your stripes."
"Oh, really?" Blair said. "You threatened to park your motorcycle on my face that day, as I recall. Do you still want to do that?"
"All the time." But the tone was lighter than the words.
Sensing that her roommate might be mellowing, Blair said, "Then how can you resist an opportunity to see me risk life and limb on a skateboard?"
Jo said grudgingly, "I guess there is a chance you might kill yourself . . . ."
"And you could witness it! Who could ask for more?" Unleashing her most irresistible tone, Blair coaxed her, "Come on, Jo . . . ."
All right, Jo finally relentedbut no way was she going back to Blair's place. That was fine, Blair decreed. Perry could easily flag down a cab for his tenant, and within an hour she stood beside Jo in a recreational shop of some kind, only half listening as Jo explained the pros and cons of each board. It was much simpler to just wait until Jo's eyes lit up when she got toah, that one.
"This is a real beauty," Jo said, caressing the blue and silver board reverently. "But you probably don't need one this nice. You aren't gonna use it very much."
True enough. After one excursion (the briefer the better), Blair would declare herself uninterested in continuing with the barbaric sport, and would then have to find someone to give the board to . . . . "Excuse me," she said. "Did you just say that a Warner did not need the nicest brand?"
Jo rolled her eyes. "I said need, not want."
"You seem to think there's a difference," Blair said. Directing the clerk to the shiny board, she whipped out her credit card.
The first step (and, as far as Blair was concerned, the only step) in her education was to watch someone else make some basic moves on a board. Jo started slowly down the sidewalk, then turned around and came back.
"Is that all there is to it?" Blair said. "Why would anyone spend an afternoon doing that?"
No, that was not all, Jo replied, illustrating her point with increasingly precarious moves, culminating in a rapid descent down the railing and "catching air," as she called it, soaring over the last few steps to land on the sidewalk in front of her pupil. "Your turn!" she sang out.
"I am not doing that!"
They would start with something easier, Jo claimed. But what she considered easy and what a normal person would consider easy might bear very little correlation, Blair feared.
"Maybe I should just watch some more," she suggested. Just another two hours or so.
"You know what they say: You can't learn by watching."
"What about reading?"
"Come on, Blair," Jo said. "I'm not gonna let anything happen to you."
Seizing another line of resistance, Blair said, "How do I know that? How do I know you won't send me out into traffic or something equally sinister?"
"Blair, if I wanna do something sinister to you, I'll do it in Peekskill," Jo said. "Dumber cops."
How comforting. Nervously, Blair placed one foot on the board. "I don't think so," she said, but Jo stepped up behind her and wrapped an arm around her waist.
"You won't fall on your ass," Jo said.
"I don't know . . . ." The board seemed so small, and the others their age were going so fast.
"You got plenty of padding there anyway."
For example, that boy was practically"Excuse me?"
"Come on, Princess, up."
"What did you just say about my . . . derriere?"
"If that means ass, I said ya got plenty of padding."
"I'll have you know that I have a very attractive . . . you know what."
"You'll 'have me know?'" Jo repeated. "How? By showin' it to me? 'cause I've already seen it, remember?"
She did, unfortunately. Jo had an annoying tendency to yell "Time's up!" at the 15-minute mark and then storm unannounced into the bathroom, not caring whether Blair was decent or not.
Jo patted Blair's butt. "Eh, it's nice," she said. "Now get it on this board."
"What do you mean by nice?" Blair asked. "'Nice' as in 'sincere compliment,' or 'nice' as in 'really an insult'?"
"What do you think?"
Blair waited for an answer.
"Nice nice," Jo finally said. "It's a nice ass. If I was a guy, I'd be grabbing it."
"Thank you, I guess."
"Now get on," Jo said. "I got ya."
Blair really hoped so. Taking a deep breath, she raised her other foot onto the narrow surface. The board didn't shoot out from under her as she expected. Looking down, she saw Jo's foot planted firmly in front of it.
When Jo started to move, Blair desperately grabbed her arm. "Don't let go!" she said.
"I won't." Jo's arm tightened around her waist, and then, slowly, they moved forward together. "How does that feel?"
Strange, but tolerable as long as Jo stayed with her. She kept her hand on Jo's wrist.
"Okay, now bring your foot back here." When Blair hesitated, Jo said, "I'm right here . . . ."
And, to Blair's relief, she stayed right there, even as Blair alternatively clung to and cursed her, and when those boys from Jo's neighborhood tried to distract them with indecent propositions, and, of course, later that afternoon when the inevitable happened.
Fortunately, Curtis was nowhere to be seen when Perry opened the door to the Morgan Building for the two girls, so Jo did not have to decide whether to heed Blair's plea to ignore the dick.
She wouldn't have come back to this building at all except that she felt a little guilty. With Blair's board tucked securely under one arm, Jo followed her roommate into the elevator. She would make sure Blair got back to her place all right, leave the expensive board with someone who probably would never use it, and then say adios until Sunday.
Contrary to what Blair had been expecting, Monica was home already and having wine or something with a couple of other rich broads. As Jo stood unobtrusively inside the doorway, hugging Blair's board to her chest, Monica rushed over to her daughter. "Darling! What in the world happened to you?" she exclaimed. She examined the bandage around Blair's wrist.
"Just a sprain," Blair brushed it off. She added proudly, "I was skateboarding!"
Sort of. Jo should have known she wasn't ready to go it alone yet. To her credit, Blair had made it nearly half a block before she and the board parted ways.
"Did you see Dr. Sid?" Monica was asking.
"Actually, I went to the free clinic," Blair replied.
"The . . . what?"
"A free clinic!" Blair said, as if she'd never heard of it. But then, maybe she hadn't. "They help anyone who comes in!"
The older women gaped at her.
"Don't worry," Blair assured them, "I made a donation."
That wasn't what they were worried about, Jo could have told her. Their little minds were wondering what kinds of contagious diseases their princess might have picked up from the kind of people who went to clinics like thatpeople like Jo and her ma.
"And then Jo brought me home," Blair finished, gesturing toward the girl lurking near the door.
That was her cue. Jo stepped forward and laid the skateboard on the floor beside the coffee table, wheels up. "Here's your board," she said. She would hop a bus back to the Bronx now; she wanted to have Ma's dinner ready when she got off shift, and she clearly didn't belong here anyway.
One of the other women reached into her purse, then walked over to Jo and held out a five-dollar bill.
Jo frowned at the bill until she finally realized what it was. She looked over at Blair, who stood motionless, a horrified expression on her face.
Jo wrestled for a moment with her instincts, which were to toss the bill back at Mrs. Moneybags and inform her that only rich people tied everything to money; some people actually helped others because it was the right thing to do.
But that would humiliate someone who really didn't deserve it. Blair couldn't help what these other people did.
With a toothy "Thanks! Now I won't have to walk home to the Bronx," Jo tucked the bill into her pocket, then said to Blair, "Glad you didn't break your ass, Miss Warner."
The women blinked at her.
"Why, thank you," Blair replied a little too sweetly. "I'll always think of you when I think of my posterior."
"Back at ya."
Happily, Jo started her trip home. That wasn't so bad. In fact, it was almost kinda
There he was, the jerk who had tossed her out earlier. That's right; I've been up in your precious Blair Warner's apartment, she thought.
Ignore him, Blair had said. She would speak to her parents about the incident. Let her handle it.
Unfortunately, she had extracted a promise that Jo would not say a word if they ran into him. Of course, she wouldn't necessarily have to know . . . . But she might find out, and then she might not trust Jo any more.
Mulling it over, Jo realized that he had insulted Blair, too. Why couldn't someone like her have a friend from another part of town? Didn't he think she was likeable? Not that Jo really liked Blair, but he didn't know that.
Not a word . . . .
A grin formed on Jo's face. As she passed by, she paused in her stride and, at a decibel level befitting his status, gave him a genuine Bronx cheer.
She smiled all the way to the bus stop, enjoying the clink of coins dropped into the slot. Blair had been a pretty good sport today, she mused, even when Tony and his shit friends were offering to give her 'private lessons.' She hadn't whined forever about her hurt wrist, either, or most amazing of all blamed Jo for it.
One fun roommate versus a couple of snobby bastards. Not really a close call. Maybe she'd come see Blair over Christmas break, too. And maybe she'd take another nap on that couch . . . .
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