DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to the amazing Rachel for taking time out of her very busy schedule to beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
A Magical Christmas
"That has got to be the worst looking Christmas tree I've ever seen," Tootie said, shaking her head sadly and adding a tsking sound to further express her displeasure with the sparse, pitiful-looking tree. "Why I bet even Santa Claus has never seen such a "
"Shut-up, Tootie, and get over here and help decorate," Jo grumbled, her Bronx accent shining through on 'over' and 'here.' Gently placing a glass reindeer ornament on one the tree's few limbs, she held her breath and waited to see if it would stay in place, cupping her hands together and readying to dive forward should it fall. Her intense focus was broken by the one person who had an uncanny ability to distract Jo from whatever she happened to be doing at the time.
"You call that a tree?" Blair Warner asked snootily as she waltzed into the room. "I thought Charlie Brown bought the last of the pathetic trees," she added, aiming a look of disdain at the helpless tree.
"There's nothing wrong with this tree, Blair," Jo spoke up for the defenseless tree but, in doing so, dropped her own guard and wasn't in the proper position to catch the ornament when it began to fall. She was, however, fast enough to keep it from hitting the floor, just not quite able to grab hold of the flying reindeer as she batted it at the last second and watched as it sailed across the room, heading directly for Blair. Jo closed her eyes and scrunched up her face. Vixen was toast and, more than likely, Jo was, too.
"Whoa!" Natalie exclaimed as she stepped through the swinging kitchen door just in time to snag one of Mrs. Garrett's eight tiny reindeer from mid-air. "This one taking a trial run?" she asked with a chuckle as she eased further into the room and got her first look at Jo's latest purchase. "Hey, what's up with that tree?" Natalie's frown matched the one she'd given the day before when she'd bitten into a bourbon pecan tart. She'd wondered why it had burned all the way down when she'd swallowed and quickly found out when Mrs. Garrett had rushed in and scolded Natalie for getting into the dessert she'd made for her women's club Christmas party.
"Oh my God, I'm bleeding!" Blair stared down at the bright red that coated her fingers and almost fainted. No one had seemed to notice that Vixen had glanced off her head on its way to Natalie. She hadn't even been sure herself until she felt something wet trickle down her forehead.
Natalie quickly rushed over and moved in front of Blair to check out the other girl's claim. "Yep, you're bleeding alright." She looked down at Vixen. "You need a crash course in flying before the big night," she told the tiny reindeer, barely holding back a chuckle at her own joke.
"Keep still, Blair," Mrs. Garrett ordered sternly, her gentle doctoring of Blair's injury taking the sting out of her words. Blair just wished it would take the sting out of whatever it was that the older woman was using on her wound.
"But it hurts," she whined pitifully, earning an eye roll from a watching Jo.
"It's just a scratch, Blair; you'd have thought Vixen had knocked your eye out or something."
Natalie chuckled. "Kind of like that Red Rider bb gun in A Christmas Story. You'll shoot you eye out, you'll shoot your eye out," she sing-songed the movie's main theme as Tootie joined in. A chuckling Mrs. Garrett stopped the duo before Blair could blow a fuse.
"Okay, girls, that's enough. Blair is lucky she didn't get hit in the eye. Those little reindeer antlers are sharp," she said as she put the finishing touches on Blair's injury. "There you go, Blair, you're as good as new."
"Except for that big ol' butterfly Band-Aid on her head," Jo said with a grin. "You're going to look like you're marking the spot for Christmas treasure at the school party tonight."
Blair's eyes went wide and she moved her hand to her injured forehead. "Ow!" she complained and then stared across at Jo. "This is all your fault; if you had bought a more substantial tree, that stupid reindeer would still be hanging on a limb and none of this would've happened."
"There is nothing wrong with that tree," Jo argued back. "So what if it's got a few less limbs, it's still a Christmas tree. If it had been left to you, you'd have bought the biggest one you could find and then paid people to decorate it for you!"
Tootie and Natalie grinned at each other and settled into the chairs on either side of Blair to watch and listen. Mrs. Garrett, on the other hand, frowned slightly but chose not to butt in just yet.
"What's wrong with that? It would serve the purpose. We'd end up with a nice tree and someone would earn a little money to buy Christmas gifts for friends and family," Blair volleyed back. She grimaced once more and moved her fingers away from her injury.
"You can't buy the Christmas spirit, Blair. Half the fun of buying a tree is decorating it," Jo tried to explain. It was one of the few things she'd really looked forward to growing up. That and her mother's special lasagna.
Blair folded her arms over her chest and tried to raise an eyebrow, finally giving up when it hurt too much to try again. "Well, you were gypped out of your halves, Jo. First, that tree isn't really a tree; it's more like a few twigs glued together, and second, it can't hold a single decoration. So you didn't get either half of your fun."
Jo pushed her sweatshirt sleeves up to her elbows and pointed forcefully toward the kitchen door. "There is nothing wrong with that tree!"
"Okay, I was wrong," Blair stated solemnly, a ghost of a grin edging her lips. "Charlie Brown did buy the last of the pathetic trees." She looked around the table and then flicked her hand toward Jo. "Ladies, meet Charlie Brown."
Jo rushed forward but she was intercepted by Tootie and Natalie, both girls barely able to stop their incensed friend from climbing over the table.
"Jo! Stop this instant!" Mrs. Garrett yelled, silently cursing herself for allowing the argument to continue. She'd hoped to glean a little more information from both of her charges before she made a decision about the tree, but now, they'd forced her hand. At least Jo had stopped trying to get to Blair.
"Jo, you're grounded," she said with authority. The words had just left her lips when Blair piped up from her chair.
"See what happens when you act like a Neanderthal?"
Mrs. Garrett turned toward the smug girl. "Blair, you're grounded, too."
"Wha-" she sputtered but closed her mouth when Mrs. Garrett lifted her hand, the universal signal for 'I'm not done yet.'
"You are both staying in this house while Tootie, Natalie, and I go to the Christmas party," she started and glanced back and forth at Blair and Jo to make sure she had their attention. A surprised look and a grumpy expression looked back at her. "And when we get back, I expect to find that tree fully decorated and everything put away."
"That won't take " Blair started but allowed her words to hang in the air at the look that was being directed at her.
"Is that clear?" Mrs. Garrett tilted her head and put on that face the one that indicated there would be no other discussion, period.
Jo and Blair silently nodded their head.
"Good. Now, Tootie, Natalie, hop to it, girls; we need to hurry and get dressed if we're going to make it to the party on time."
Two blurs sped from the room but slowed their pace when they got to the stairs.
"Jo is going to stick that tree "
"Oops, sorry, Mrs. G," Natalie shrugged innocently and turned to race up the stairs with Tootie right on her heels.
Mrs. Garrett hesitated momentarily outside the kitchen door. She hoped she hadn't made the wrong decision.
Almost an hour had past since the others had left for the party, and the little tree sat alone in the corner, not even a single icicle decorating its branches.
Jo lay on the couch and hugged a pillow to her middle as she stared up at the ceiling. She hadn't really wanted to go to the Christmas party anyway. All she'd wanted was for her and her friends to spend the afternoon together, decorating the tree. Tilting her head to the side, she looked over at the sad tree and wondered what she'd been thinking when she chose it over the ones that had full branches. She knew no one else would buy it and had thought, after she and the others had finished with it, that it would be a great Christmas tree. Maybe she really was Charlie Brown.
"I bet we could figure out a way to strengthen its trunk and branches, so that it would hold lights and ornaments," Blair said softly, having quietly crept down the stairs in her stocking feet.
Jo sighed. "I don't know, Blair. That reindeer ornament didn't really weigh all that much and look what happened to it." She waited for Blair to have a snappy comeback about her injury but received something unexpected instead.
"What if we just wrap the lights around its trunk and try to figure out something else for its branches?" Blair moved closer to the tree and angled her head to study the spindly branches. Surely, they could come up with something.
"Think an old broom handle would work to steady its trunk? I think Mrs. G has several in the garage," Jo said, easing into a sitting position. At least the tree would have lights.
"Maybe," Blair replied as she reached out and gently took the end of a limb between her fingers. "Hmm, I bet it would hold bows made out of ribbon. There's some red and green ribbon left from Tootie's Christmas project."
"That might work," Jo said with a smile. "And I don't think icicles would weigh the limbs down too much, either."
Blair nodded in agreement. "Mrs. G's star isn't too heavy. It'll probably work, too."
Jo finally looked over at Blair. "We really going to do this?" She tried to keep the hopefulness out of her voice, but Blair had known Jo far too long to have missed it.
"Let's give it a try," she smiled lightly. The little tree deserved a chance to shine. "You go get the broom handles and I'll see if I can find the ribbon."
"You got it," Jo grinned as she jumped from the couch and headed for the garage. This would be so much more fun than a stupid ol' party.
Fifteen minutes later, Jo and Blair stood, side by side, inches apart as they studied the tree. Three broomsticks, that had definitely seen better days, lay on the floor near Jo's feet and a box containing red and green spools of ribbon and a package of colored construction paper sat on the coffee table just behind them.
"Lights first, you think?" Jo asked and turned to Blair for confirmation. "We might knock things off the branches if we wait until later on." She held her tongue at mentioning that there was also a very strong possibility that they'd end up knocking off actual branches, regardless of when they strung the lights around the tree's trunk.
"Sounds good, but we need to be very careful when we brace the tree with the broomsticks and when we string the lights, too," Blair replied, fully aware of the problem Jo hadn't mentioned. She looked down at the tape Jo had grabbed from the garage. "Duct tape?"
Jo shrugged. "101 uses and all," she explained and added, "and silver's a Christmas color, right?"
Blair stared at the tape the drab, gunmetal gray tape. "Shiny silver maybe, but um " Her mind raced with possible alternatives before Jo could react in a less than positive manner to what Blair had to say about her choice of tape. For all Blair knew, the Polniaczeks made their tree topper out of the horrid-colored all-purpose tape. "Hey," she said in a perky voice, hoping her tone would make her next suggestion more enticing. "Why don't we use the same red and green ribbon that we'll use to make the bows? We can use it to attach the lights, too."
Jo paused in thought and studied the tree carefully. If they fastened the sticks and lights with the ribbon and made sure they used enough to tie bows with its extra length, it would look like it had been planned as part of the tree's decorations. They could even alternate the color for a better effect.
"Yeah, I like that idea," she agreed and leaned down to pick up the first of the broomsticks. "Hmm, maybe we should just use two one on each side. It might be easier to camouflage them that way."
"Let's see how the first one works and then decide," Blair suggested as she turned and reached for a roll of green ribbon. She slipped it over her narrow wrist and scooped up a red roll as well, along with a pair of scissors. "Okay, I'm armed and ready."
Jo chuckled and moved closer to the tree, easing next to the wall and carefully threading the wooden stick gently through the fragile branches, before gently sliding it down into the tree stand. "I'll hold it in place and you can secure it with the ribbon."
Blair edged closer to Jo and cut off a piece of red ribbon. She hadn't realized that she'd have to stand practically on top of Jo in order to reach inside the tree to tie the ribbon. Swallowing hard, she tried to concentrate on her task and not the very near proximity of her friend. Lately, she'd become more aware of the other girl and felt a weird kind of sensation in her stomach whenever they stood close to each other, sometimes even when they were just in the same room. She'd kept telling herself it was just indigestion, but it had happened on days when she hadn't eaten anything, too.
"Once you figure out how long you need the ribbon, you might want to cut off several pieces in advance," Jo said as she kept her focus dead ahead and not on the blonde who leaned against her.
"Good idea. Let me get this first one tied and then I can better judge how long the next one will need to be," Blair replied, her attention now fully on making the best bow she possibly could, despite the slight tremor in her hands.
Jo gripped the broomstick tightly. She knew Blair had more than likely poked her tongue out and was working it from side to side along her bottom lip as she always did when she was concentrating hard on something. It was all Jo could do not to glance down and watch; it would be so easy to just...
"Got it!" Blair said excitedly, her tongue returning to its proper place in her mouth. "It really looks good, too. We'll have this broomstick in place in no time, and I think we'll only need to use two of them."
"Good," Jo muttered in relief, grateful for whatever reprieve she could get. At least they wouldn't have to stand so close to each other when they tied the colored bows on the branches.
Now that Blair had calculated the necessary length of each ribbon to sufficiently wrap around both the trunk and the broomstick, and still have enough spare to tie a neat bow, she made quick work of cutting off several red and green strips, enabling the stabilization process to move along very quickly. In practically no time, they'd secured the sticks to the tree and managed to attach the lights, with the only casualty occurring when a small sprig fell from near the top of the tree.
"You know, that doesn't look half bad," Blair said with a smile as she stood back to admire their work. She could barely make out the worn broomsticks amid the lights and colorful ribbons. "Once we decorate its branches, no one would ever believe this is the same sad tree you carried in here this afternoon."
Jo didn't bother reacting to the questionable jab Blair had thrown toward her and the Christmas tree. It was what she'd hoped for, after all: to do all she could to make the little tree the best that it could be. "It's going to be a great Christmas tree," was all Jo said as the two began to quickly and efficiently make it true. No other words were spoken while they worked, only an occasional humming of a Christmas carol by one girl or the other and, sometimes, both, until, finally, they turned out the room's lights and dropped onto the couch beside each other to admire the finished product.
"Unbelievable," Blair whispered as she sighed happily and rested her head against Jo's shoulder. "The others aren't going to believe it."
"Especially Tootie," Jo replied with a slight grin. She couldn't wait to see the expressions on the other girls' faces. Her joy was short-lived, however, when she caught sight of the huge mess they'd made. "Guess we better start the clean-up operation," she groaned, not looking forward to picking up all the itty-bitty pieces of ribbon and paper.
"Let's wait a bit and just look at the tree," Blair said in a soft and wistful tone.
Jo turned her head to the side to answer she told herself that she hadn't felt Blair shift next to her and hadn't suspected that her friend had tilted her head toward her when she'd made her suggestion and her lips brushed against Blair's. Both girls froze at the contact, but neither pulled away. More than a dozen heartbeats passed before Jo and Blair slowly lifted their heads as if in a silent mutual agreement. Wide eyes greeted each other.
"Um," Jo scrambled for an apology or an explanation or something, but Blair found one first.
"It's the mistletoe," she blurted and gestured to the sprig that had fallen out of the tree earlier. They'd both joked at the time that they should hang the greenery above the kitchen door and wait until Natalie and Tootie were both standing under the sprig and then insist that the two girls kiss.
"Yeah, that's it," Jo agreed nervously, although neither she nor Blair made mention of the fact that the mistletoe lay innocently on the coffee table and not above their heads. "Er, may be we should go ahead and start cleaning up."
Blair hated the cleanup part of decorating, even if it was the perfect excuse to distance herself from Jo. The weird feeling in her stomach had come back with a vengeance but she was determined to ride out the storm.
"Just a little while longer, Jo?" she pleaded softly and put on her 'puppy dog' expression, the one Jo could never resist.
Jo warred with her instinctive reflex to jump from the couch. Despite her confusion about the accidental kiss, she really hated to cleanup, too. She turned her focus back on the tree, its lights glowing softly in the unlit room.
"Okay, but not for too long; the others will be back soon."
Blair smiled and rested her head back on Jo's shoulder as a feeling of warmth and comfort began to spread through her.
The Christmas star at the top of the tree looked down on the couple and blinked.
The kitchen door swung open and Tootie and Natalie stepped through, both girls coming to a stop when they spied the living room.
"Someone is going to be in t-r-o-u-b-l-e," Tootie drew out her last word as she typically did and watched as Natalie edged closer to the sofa.
"Wow, what a mess," Natalie whispered. Bits of red and green ribbon were scattered all over the floor and cardboard bits, too. Even silver icicles dotted the area. She frowned at the broomstick that lay near the base of the tree. "Uh oh, they brought out the weapons, too."
"What is " Mrs. Garrett stepped through the door seconds behind Natalie and Tootie. Her eyes, however, bypassed the huge mess and zoomed in on the tiny tree. All the red and green ribbons were highlighted by the soft glow of lights wrapped around its trunk, along with a scattering of cut-out star ornaments made out of cardboard. A few icicles had been tossed here and there, and her star was nestled comfortably at its top. "Wow," she said in awe of the little tree's transformation.
"They didn't clean up their mess," Natalie supplied helpfully. She pointed at the floor just in case the older woman hadn't noticed. "They're going to be grounded until next year."
"Natalie, why don't you and Tootie go on up to bed," Mrs. Garrett suggested in her 'I'm really telling you to go' voice. She smiled at receiving twin nods from the girls.
"Okay, Mrs. G. Thanks for taking us to the party," Natalie replied as she turned for the stairs. She'd make sure to get up early in the morning so that she could sit on the couch and tease her friends as they cleaned up their mess.
"Yeah, thanks Mrs. G," Tootie echoed and followed behind Natalie.
Mrs. Garrett waited until the two girls were completely out of sight before she reached for the afghan that rested on the back of the couch and quietly unfurled it as she walked around in front of the sofa. She smiled and gently laid the cover over a sleeping Blair and Jo, who were nestled together on the couch.
"Merry Christmas, little tree," she whispered and glanced once more at the tree that had been responsible for bringing her girls together. She had no idea just how close they'd become.
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