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.
CHALLENGE: Submitted for the 5th Anniversary Challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Pomp & Circumstance
By Del Robertson
Jo edged down the center aisle, furtively looking to her left, then right, searching for their seats. She'd wanted to leave early, get there before the crowd. But, Nooo! - as usual, Princess Warner had to change her outfit - again. Why she couldn't just put on something and stick with it was beyond her. How hard could it be; pick something out of the closet, put it on, wear it the rest of the day.
Couldn't be done. Not where Blair was concerned, anyway. And, now, she had Jo doing it, too. She had originally been wearing her white button down shirt tucked into her grey slacks, a tweed shirt tossed casually over the top. But, somehow, Blair had convinced her to change. Something about how she clashed with Blair's blue silk blouse and black skirt.
So, at Princess Warner's suggestion, she'd changed. Into exactly what Blair wanted her to wear. Her black slacks. With her blue button down shirt, a thin black piano tie loosely about her neck. I only changed so I didn't have to listen to her whining about it for the next week, Jo groused.
She paused at the end of an aisle, turned, waited. Blair sauntered down the red carpeting rolled out on the grass. Adjusting her hat, reaching out with one hand to steady herself on the uneven ground, she casually gripped Jo's forearm. Reflexively, Jo's free hand went to Blair's waist, guiding her. She waited as Blair slid into the aisle, then slumped down in the chair beside her.
Blair settled in, opening her bulletin, perusing the agenda. Surreptitiously, she checked her watch. Good. They'd missed the band, but arrived before the main ceremonies commenced. Any second now, Principal Bailey should be taking the stage.
Right on cue, a drum roll was sounded. A balding man with grey hair stepped up to the podium, adjusted the microphone. Feedback caused a sharp whistle before he finally got it adjusted to his diminutive height. Blair feigned interest in the principal's speech, noting that he had the audacity to use the very same opening he had when they'd last attended a graduation at the school.
Out of the corner of her eye, she glanced at Jo. The brunette was slouched down in her chair, arms folded over her chest. Her long legs were stretched out in the aisle, crossed at the ankles. Blair reflexively felt her nose crinkle at the sight of the Bronx native's Vans.
She leaned over, brushing Jo's hair back, whispering into her ear. "I thought we agreed; no sneakers at formal events."
Jo rolled her eyes, allowed her head to loll to the side, taking in Blair's serious expression. "Vans aren't sneakers. Hi-tops are sneakers."
"Well, they certainly aren't the loafers I suggested you wear today."
"Yeah, 'suggested', Blair. That means I ain't gotta do it. I only have to think about doing it."
Jo smirked at a flabbergasted Blair, turned her attention back to the podium. It sounded like the principal was just getting ready to hand over the microphone.
"And, so, it gives me great honor to present to you the valedictorian of this year's graduating class, Ms. Natalie Green."
Jo instantly sat up in her chair, inching towards the edge of her seat. As her friend made her appearance, awkwardly tripping on the top step before recovering, Jo whistled and clapped wholeheartedly. Beside her, Blair clapped just as enthusiastically, albeit without the caterwauling and wolf whistling.
Natalie approached the microphone, attempted to adjust the height. She struggled for a while, finally got it raised. She leaned forward, placing her lips close to the fuzzy head. Just as she opened her mouth to speak, the microphone slid down. Amidst snickering from the audience, the coach, Ms. Wickham, quickly sauntered over, adjusted the microphone, tightened the screw. She flashed a disapproving look at the audience before resuming her seat at the end of the stage. All laughter abruptly quieted.
"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Faculty." Natalie's voice came out softly, but rose in pitch and confidence as she spotted Blair and Jo seated in the audience. "And friends." She flashed a warm smile. "As we prepare to go out into the world to make our mark, there are some things we should consider. Gone are our formulative years." A wry smile. "Hopefully, we've learned enough to survive." A pointed look at the graduating class. "Tootie."
The audience laughed. Natalie paused, waiting for the laughter to subside before continuing. "As we make our plans, and eagerly look towards our future, let's not forget to remember our past."
Blair leaned over, whispering in Jo's ear, "I gave her that line."
"It sounds like you."
"I just think it's important to look back and reflect, to remember the good times. And, believe me, Natalie will remember being the class valedictorian for the rest of her life."
"You act like it's been forever since we graduated. We're only a couple years ahead of them." Jo smiled appreciatively, never taking her eyes from the stage. Arms still folded across her chest, she leaned back in her chair, angling towards Blair. A slow smile spread over her features. "I take it you still remember your own turn at being valedictorian?"
She turned in her seat, meeting Jo's gaze. Blue eyes intently stared at her, patiently awaiting her answer. Blair blushed, feeling the heat rise to her cheeks. "Vividly."
"Blair!" Jo called out again as she rounded the corner, rushing down the hall, past rows of lockers. "Blair!"
No answer. "Damn it, where is that girl?" Jo groused to herself.
She'd been up and down every hallway on the first floor, even checked the bathrooms - twice. Anywhere that might have an extra mirror or outlet for a blowdryer and curling iron was at the top of her search list. That only leaves the locker rooms, Jo thought. Her legs automatically carried her in that direction. But, as she spotted the stairs leading to the second floor, she stopped. Hand on the railing, foot on the bottom step, she glanced up the staircase.
"Warner!" she cupped a hand to her mouth, yelled as loud as she could.
She heard footsteps, started up the stairs. A couple of punks came down, skipping the last three stairs, ending up on the landing. The sound of their parachute pants rubbing together at the legs echoed loudly in the deserted stairwell as they continued their descent.
"Whoa, Jo!" said one of the punks, aiming a peace sign at the brunette. "Like, we thought you were the faculty."
"Yo, dude!" shouted the other one, "It's Jo." He reached out, unzipping one of the side pockets on his friend's pants, extracting a baggie full of white powder. "She's cool, dude!"
"Yeah, man." They turned around, started back up the stairs. "Hey!" The one with the red mohawk to match his red pants stopped halfway up, leaned over the railing, calling back down to Jo. "Hey! Do some art with us, man!"
"Maybe next time, Wayne," Jo waved him off. "Hey, is Blair up there?"
"Warner? Nah." A slight pause. "Hey! Like, if you change your mind, we'll be in the art room," He held up another baggie of white powder, "putting snow on the houses we drew, you know?"
"Yeah, thanks, man." Jo started back down the stairs, paused, debating about going up to check for herself. She hesitated, half on the bottom stair, half off, leaning around the railing, staring down the hall in the direction of the locker rooms. "Warner!" she yelled out one more time, directing her shout up the stairs.
"Well, if I'm wrong, I'll just double-back," she decided, jumping off the bottom stair, racing down the hall.
"Blair!" Jo shouted, seeing the object of her search standing outside the double doors leading to the gymnasium, ostensibly studying the trophies in the case. The school had installed special lighting to illuminate the interior of the case so the trophies and stats were visible even during evening hours. It took her a split second to realize that Blair was actually staring at her own reflection in the glass, and not the trophies won by the Langley Lions.
Jo almost forgot her errand. Blair was perfect. Standing in front of the trophy case, wearing her white gown with a set of white heels. Her cap rested atop blonde locks, angled just so as not to mess up her coiffure.
"Yo, Warner!" yelled Jo, coming to a halt in front of the primping blonde. "Come on! We're going to be late!"
"Oh, Joey! You can't rush perfection. If there's one thing I've taught you in all these years, surely it must be that." Blair took a step back, turned, twirling in front of the case. "What do you think?"
"You look gr - " Jo's words died in her throat, her mouth hung open. She felt as if her eyes were ready to burst out of their sockets.
"I know," Blair crinkled her nose, flashed her dimples, "I'm stunning, aren't I?"
"Definitely eye-catching," Jo agreed, swallowing loudly. She continued to stare in awe. "Umm, Blair, you're not wearing anything under your gown, are you?"
"Oh, don't worry, Jo!" Blair waved her friend's concerns off with a flick of her wrist. "I wouldn't embarrass you by being a nonconformist! Boots explained the tradition to me."
"You know, silly!" Blair laughed, thinking Jo was intentionally playing dumb. "The tradition where the entire graduating class doesn't wear anything beneath their gowns." She noticed Jo's slight frown. "Don't worry, I can be cool, too. Although, just between you and me, I'm glad you're doing this, too. Otherwise, I might not have gone through with it."
"Umm, Blair - " Jo bit her bottom lip, lifted the hem of her gown.
Blair's face remained impassive as Jo's high-tops were revealed, along with a pair of slouch-downed sports socks. Her eyes went wide as her hem continued to travel higher, over the expanse of her knees and thighs, revealing a pair of cut-off shorts. "Jo! You're not - "
"Nude beneath my gown?" Jo asked, letting her gown fall back into place.
Wordlessly, Blair nodded. Jo took an arm, steering her away from the trophy case. "Blair, the lights - " she explained, " - your - umm - assets can be seen through your gown."
Blair's face blushed a beet red. Mortified, she covered her face with her hands. Before Jo could react, Blair had wrenched herself free from her grasp, ran sobbing through the double doors leading to the gymnasium.
"Blair?" Jo called out, stepping through the swinging door and into the girls' locker room.
She heard muffled sobbing coming from the last row, where she knew Blair's locker was. W for Warner equaled last row everywhere. Classrooms, rollcall, locker room. Stealthily, she edged her way around the corner, peeking at the blonde.
She was sitting on a bench in front of her locker. Sobbing uncontrollably, hiding her face in her hands. Gingerly, Jo approached, sitting down on the bench beside her friend. Reaching out, she placed a reassuring arm around Blair's shoulders.
"Okay, Princess. Let's hear it." Another muffled sob from Blair. "Tell me what happened."
"Oh, Jo!" Blair turned, leaning into Jo's embrace, openly sobbing on her shoulder. "I feel like such a fool!"
"Tell me," Jo pressed.
Blair sat up, looked Jo in the eye. "I was rehearsing my speech, getting ready. Boots and Muffy came in and started stripping down, talking about the tradition and everything in front of me. I told them I'd never heard of - " Blair had the decency to blush " - doing that. They laughed and said of course I hadn't; only the cool kids did it."
"And you wanted to prove you're just as cool as them?" Jo guessed.
"As you." Blair's bottom lip wavered. "I wasn't convinced until they casually mentioned that you were doing it, too." Another sob broke out from between trembling lips. "Why would they do that, Jo?"
"Who knows? Jealously, maybe?" Jo shrugged. "I guess they thought it'd be funny for you to stand up in front of a crowd and give your valedictorian speech with nothing on underneath your gown."
"But, they said no one would see anythi - "
Jo cut her off with a sharp look. "Grow up, Blair! The ceremony's at night. The speaker's podium will be lit up with spotlights from the football field." She paused, letting her words sink in. "I could see everything you've got with just that little bit of light in the hall."
Blair's face went suddenly pale. "Oh, Jo! What if you hadn't been the one to find me?"
A fresh round of sobs sent Blair crumbling back into Jo's strong embrace once again. "Shush, Princess," Jo cooed in her ear, brushing long, blonde locks back with shaking hands. "It's okay. We'll just get your clothes from your locker and be out to the field in a jiffy. Everything's okay."
Jo extracted herself from Blair's clutching embrace, stumbled to her locker. Jerking the door open, she reached inside. When her hand met midair, she stumbled back, looking sharply at the locker. "Blair?"
"Yes?" Blair wiped her eyes, looked at Jo.
"Where are your clothes?"
"Your clothes," Jo repeated. "Your clothes aren't here. Where are they?"
"I - " Blair stumbled towards her locker. " - I left them right here - "
"Boots!" Jo swore beneath her breath, punched her open palm with her fist.
"But, they left before I did, Jo," Blair protested. "They stripped down, put their clothes in their lockers and left."
Jo crossed the bench, stepping up to Boots locker. She yanked the handle roughly, jarring the entire row of lockers as she opened the door. "Empty. They doubled back and took their clothes - and yours." A quick check revealed all the lockers in the row to be empty, as well.
"They didn't leave so much as a pompom," Jo growled.
"What about something of yours?" Blair asked, hopefully.
Jo darted back to the next row, flung her locker open. "Empty," she reported, returning to Blair. "And, even if there was something, it wouldn't fit you, Princess. I'm - well, I don't have your curves."
"I didn't want to wear your old, smelly gym clothes, anyway," Blair pouted.
Jo snapped her fingers. "Blair, you just had a brilliant idea!" Jo grabbed her friend by the hand, tugged her to her feet. "Come with me!"
"I did?" asked Blair, running to keep up with her more athletic companion.
Jo rushed to the equipment room, located beside the coach's office. "Coach always keeps extra gym clothes in here," she said, triumphantly, reaching for the knob. Locked. Undaunted, she tried the coach's office. Also locked. She jiggled the handle, tried again. Frustrated, she kicked the door.
"Can't you just pick the lock?" Blair asked, hopefully.
Jo rolled her eyes. "Do I look like Nancy Drew, Warner?" Blair didn't answer with her usual snappy comeback. Jo caught her hurt expression out of the corner of her eye, suddenly felt like such a heel. "Maybe we can find Coach," she added, determinedly.
"Maybe." Blair's entire face lit up. "I saw her earlier with Ms. Smith, the Home Economics teacher." A slight pause. "But, I'm not sure where they were headed."
"Probably not to bake cookies," Jo guessed, crestfallen. She was running out of ideas - and time. She glanced at her watch. The ceremony was due to start soon. They didn't have enough time to go home and get a spare set of clothes. Nobody she could call to bring any over; they were all in the audience. If Coach Wickham hadn't snuck off with the Home Ec teacher -
Jo snapped her fingers, yanked on Blair's hand, pulling her along behind her as she ran out of the locker room. "Come on, Blair! You've just given me another brilliant idea!"
"You have to stop using my line, Jo. It just doesn't sound right coming from you," protested Blair. "And, where are we going? And, why are you determined to yank my arm out of its socket?"
"If you would run a little faster, I wouldn't yank so hard!"
"You try running in two-hundred dollar pumps," Blair huffed. She caught Jo's expression as she skeptically eyed her white shoes. "They're for show, not for practicality."
"Yeah, well - " Jo let that one go. Her friend had been through enough for one night and insults from her weren't really necessary at this point. For once, she'd let it be. "We're here, Princess."
Jo tried the knob to the Home Economics room, silently praying that it wasn't locked. And that Coach wasn't in there with Ms. Smith. The knob turned. Taking a deep breath, clutching Blair's hand tight for reassurance, she pushed ahead.
Thankfully, the room was empty.
"What are we doing here?" Blair demanded.
"Picking you out an ensemble, Princess." Jo smiled, waving her arm in a sweeping motion at the dress dummies on display before her. Luckily, she'd remembered that the Home Ec class had recently finished up a sewing class, and the results were still on display for the rest of the month. "Go on," she nudged Blair forward, "pick one."
Hesitantly, Blair stepped forward, awkwardly approaching the mannequins. Jo folded her arms, patiently sat on the edge of the teacher's desk as she waited. Blair stopped in front of each design, looking it over from head to toe. Then, nose curled up in disdain, she approached the next outfit.
"We're running out of time," Jo reminded her. "Just pick one."
"I don't know what to do," Blair bit her bottom lip, looked over the outfits once again. "There's not a designer label in the lot!"
"Here!" Jo snapped, stepping forward, taking Blair by both shoulders. Blair cringed, thinking Jo was angry at her. She let out a sigh of relief as Jo pointed her in the direction of one mannequin, walked her towards it. "You've always looked good in red," she encouraged.
"I have, haven't I?" Blair asked, her nose crinkling up in pleasure. "Okay, this one, then." She reached out, unzipping the back of the dress, easing it off the mannequin.
Laying it across a nearby sewing table, she stepped back, admiring the fabric. Despite all her teasing, Jo did have good taste. When it came to picking out something for her, anyway. Smiling triumphantly, finally feeling like some semblance of her old self, she reached for the zipper on her gown and tugged. And tugged. And tugged.
Frowning, she jerked the zipper harder. "Jo," she pleaded, "Help me!"
"Oh, for crying out loud, Blair! Can't you work a zipper by yourself? Maybe we should call in one of your mother's professional dressers to help you!" She impatiently stalked over to the heiress, grabbed the zipper at the front of her gown and gave it a firm yank.
When it didn't give, she gave it a determined jerk, yanked again. Snarling in frustration, she tried again. Leaning in closer, she examined the zipper closely. "I don't see anything caught in the teeth," she declared.
She could feel Blair's breath on the top of her head, blowing her brunette locks out of place. Helplessly, she looked up. Her eyes fell on Blair's lips, focusing. They were full. And succulent. And tempting. Before Jo realized what she was doing, she leaned in, placing a kiss on those luscious lips.
To her surprise, Blair moaned into her mouth, opened her lips beneath Jo's. Jo's tongue took full advantage, snaking into Blair's open mouth, seeking, demanding Blair's tongue in return. She felt fingernails at the back of her neck, tangling in her ponytail, tugging her closer. Nails nipped into the flesh above her collar, biting hard.
Jo's hands roamed freely over the expanse of material, gliding over the fabric of Blair's graduation gown. Fingers splayed, feeling the contours of soft flesh beneath her digits. Her mind registered once again that Blair was naked beneath her gown. Heady with the thought, she pulled away, ending the kiss.
"Jo?" Blair's voice was thick with need.
Slowly, Jo blinked her eyes open, focusing on Blair. Blair audibly gasped at the look of longing, the intense gaze that stared at her from crystal blue eyes.
"Jo?" Trembling fingers reached out, tenderly tracing the Bronx native's jaw. "What's wrong?"
"Y - You're - " Jo's voice cracked. " - gorgeous."
"Oh, that." Blair flipped her hair, crinkled her nose as she smiled. "Comes from superior genes."
Jo bit her bottom lip tentatively, exhaled loudly. "Do ya wanna stop?" she asked, even though she never removed her hands from their position on Blair's hips.
Blair leaned forward, placing a feather-light kiss on Jo's lips. As she pulled back, she caught Jo's bottom lip between her teeth, purposefully nipping. "I don't - " She breathed into Jo's mouth " - want you to ever stop."
Jo's large hands splayed over Blair's supple hips, subtlety tightening her grip. She moaned deeply, closing her eyes as she invaded Blair's personal space. Tongue plunging repeatedly, plumbing the depths of Blair's mouth, she crushed their bodies together.
Blair felt herself being driven determinedly backwards. Jo was guiding them, seemingly directing their movements with a specific destination in mind. Only Jo. The thought briefly flashed across her psyche even as her body responded to Jo's deepening caresses. Wrapping her arms tightly about Jo's neck, she allowed herself to be swept away by the sensation.
All her life, she had been in control. Of everything. No one ever told her no. What she could and could not do. What she said went. Always. No one ever questioned her authority as one of the elite. Even her dates deferred to her wishes, following her pace, her lead. Until Jo.
From the very first day she'd stormed into Blair's life, parking her motorcycle on Ms. Garrett's 'weeds', as she termed them, she'd been a challenge like no other. Her undaunted, almost irreverent attitude had immediately caught her off-guard. And, Jo's determination and tenacity had continued to keep her off-balance over the course of the years. Even the nickname Jo had stuck her with - first, as a condescending term - then, over the years, mellowing the moniker into a term of endearment. Even that was succinctly Jo. No one else would even think of calling her Princess.
Blair felt the backs of her legs collide with something, knees begin to buckle. She momentarily felt a sensation of weightlessness as she was lifted, deposited on Ms. Smith's desk. The solid hardwood felt sturdy beneath her. One hand reached back, bracing herself, fingers crinkling the pages of Ms. Smith's desk calendar as they sought purchase.
Jo was kissing her earlobe, sucking the tender flesh into her mouth, softly whispering reassurances. Hands on her knees pressed firmly, opening her legs. Jo stepped into the 'v' she'd created, leaned closer into Blair's personal space. Blair heard a rustling sound, felt cool air swirl around her heated flesh as her gown was lifted. She sucked in a breath, feeling Jo's large, calloused hand sliding up her inner thigh.
There was a suckling sensation at her neck. Her fingers curled into Jo's ponytail. Fingers stroked at the juncture between her legs, grazing downy fine hairs. Blair felt her body arch into the caress.
Jo stopped her suckling, pulled back. Blue eyes locked with hazel, holding their gaze. Blair felt Jo's finger move, sliding over her, coating itself in her wetness. Jo brought her hand from beneath Blair's gown. Still holding Blair's steady gaze, she brought her index finger to her mouth, licking Blair's moisture from her digit.
Blair was the first to look away. She gasped, arching her back. Letting loose Jo's ponytail, she brought her arm back, using it to brace herself on the desk. Sinking to her elbows, she propped herself up, meeting Jo's gaze again. From this angle, she had more leverage. She arched, bringing her legs up, momentarily bracing her heels on the edge of the hardwood desk. Subtlety, she began to rock her hips.
A sly grin spread over Jo's face. Both hands disappeared beneath the Warner heiress' gown. One snaked beneath Blair's buttocks, repositioning her, holding her at just the right angle. The other glided expertly over what Jo could tell was a decidedly well-groomed and recently trimmed thatch. Her thumb unerringly flicked over the tiny nubbin hidden there.
A sharp hiss escaped from between clenched teeth as Blair felt large fingers slip between delicate folds, through her moisture, coating her hypersensitive flesh. Legs came up, wrapping about Jo's torso, ankles locking together behind her strong back, at that spot just above the waistband of her shorts.
She moved rhythmically, undulating her hips, feeling her elbows sliding back and forth on the Home Economics teacher's desk. Jo moved with her, rocking their bodies at a frantic pace. Eyes screwed tightly shut, she threw her head back, strained her throat muscles. Blair arched, her entire lower body lifting off the desk as she met Jo moan for moan.
At last, she felt the rigidity leave her body. Languidly, she allowed her backside to fall against the hardwood surface of the desk once again. Slowly, she opened her eyes, focusing on Jo still standing between her legs.
"Jo?" Blair's voice sounded like it must have dropped three decibels. "I hear music."
"I know," Jo agreed, eyes still closed, a lazy smile spread across her face. "Give me a second, Princess, and I'll see if I can make you see stars, too."
"No. I mean, I hear music, Jo." Blair struggled to sit up. "Real music."
Jo's eyes flew open. "Shit! Our graduation!" She scrambled backwards, adjusting her disheveled gown. Reaching out, she helped Blair off the desk. "We've gotta get you dressed!"
"We've missed it, Jo."
Jo cocked her head to one side, listening to the tune being played over the loudspeakers. "That's the band playing the opening number, Princess. We can still make it."
"There's not enough time!"
"There is, Blair! Remember the rehearsals? After the band plays, Principal Bailey takes the podium and delivers his standard speech. That'll run about twenty, twenty-five minutes. Then, he'll introduce this year's class valedictorian. We've plenty of time to get you dressed and to the stage."
"How?" wailed Blair. "My zipper's still stuck."
"Here," Jo resolutely moved forward, grabbed the hem of Blair's gown. "I'll hold this up and you can slip into the dress and I'll zip it from behind."
"Okay." Blair reached for the dress, turned around. Seeing Jo staring at her, she tentatively bit her bottom lip. "Close your eyes first."
"You heard me; close your eyes."
"Blair! Have you lost your freaking mind? You want me to close my eyes? After we just - " Jo's face suddenly blushed beet red. " - Well, just did what we did."
"Yes," stated matter-of-factly, nodding her head.
"But, I just had my hand - "
"That was different. When we do that again, you'll get to see me. I promise. But, this is different." She saw the look of confusion still firmly planted on Jo's face. "This is dressing and - " Blair hesitated, realizing how crazy this must all sound to her new lover. "Please, Jo?"
Jo relented, unable to deny her princess anything. Resolutely closing her eyes, she lifted the hem, holding it up. She could feel Blair moving, hear the dress rustling as she moved to put it on.
"Okay, zip me," Blair commanded, turning around.
Jo opened her eyes. Allowing her gaze to slowly caress Blair's bare back, she slowly lifted the zipper. As soon as it was in place, she dropped the hem of Blair's gown. Blair stepped to the mirror, checking herself over.
"Let's go, Blair." Jo checked her watch, moved to the door.
She disappeared into the hallway, was gone about fifteen seconds before she came back, marched up to Blair, grabbed her by the wrist and yanked her away from the mirror. Resolutely, she dragged her down the hall, hurrying at a breakneck pace; all the while, Blair protesting about the cruelty of making her run in heels.
Jo slid into the fourth row, taking her seat between Terry Poland and Mary Sue Quinn. She wiped the perspiration from her brow with the back of her hand, donned her cap. Mary Sue leaned over, reaching for Jo's tassel, flipping it to the other side of her cap for her. Jo smiled her thanks.
Her gaze shifted towards the podium. Principal Bailey was just wrapping up. Faculty and parents alike clapped, showing their approval. He held up both hands, urging them to hold back their applause.
"And, now, I'd like to introduce this graduating class' valedictorian, Ms. Blair Warner!"
Another round of applause erupted as Blair appeared on stage, striding confidently to stand beside the podium. The spotlight swept the stage, settling, focusing on Blair. Principal Bailey congratulated her, shaking her hand, before moving off and allowing her to stand behind the podium. As Blair adjusted the microphone for her height, Jo sneaked a look in the direction of Boots and Muffy. Their faces were seething red and they were huddled close, whispering frantically to each other.
Jo's attention returned to the stage. Blair was smiling, just beginning her speech. Her voice was confident and sure, carrying no trace of the self-doubt that had wracked her previously in the locker room. Jo grinned broadly as she heard Blair launch into her speech exactly as she'd rehearsed.
Ms. Smith and Coach Wickham were seated almost directly behind Blair. Ms. Smith was leaning in close, whispering to Coach about something. Coach's eyes narrowed, her gaze scrutinized the audience, finally settling on Jo. She saw Coach Wickham elbow Ms. Smith, whisper something to her without ever taking her eyes off Jo. A wicked smile and a wink from Ms. Smith was sent her way. Feeling a blush settling over herself, Jo slumped down lower in her chair.
Jo's gaze shifted back to the podium. Blair had her yellow sheet of legal paper, was looking down at it. She paused mid-sentence, frowning. Snickering could be heard coming from Boots and Muffy. Purposefully, Blair folded the piece of paper in half, tucked it into the pocket of her gown. Determinedly, she looked out at the sea of faces expectantly staring at her.
"When I first learned that I would be giving the valedictorian speech this year," Blair spoke up, directing her gaze out among the entire crowd. "I was so very proud. I had my speech prepared weeks ago. I've been rehearsing everyday since then, making sure I had every word memorized, every gesture meticulously scripted."
Jo frowned. She hadn't rehearsed those lines. Where was Blair going with this?
"What I learned today, however, was that life can't always be scripted and planned out. Sometimes, things come along that throw you off track. Things you couldn't have possibly predicted or planned for. When things went awry today," Blair's gaze imperceptibly landed on Boots and Muffy, "I was left with two options. I could admit defeat and run like a coward or risk being mortifyingly humiliated in front of my peers." An uncomfortable, stunned silence hung over the crowd as Blair seemingly looked at each person in turn. "I'm glad there was a third option that I hadn't considered. That was to stand my ground and lean on my friend, trusting in her to support me. Standing here, before all of you, I've suddenly realized how good it is to have a friend like that. Someone who will always be there for you, guide you, support you, help you when it all seems so hopeless. And, as we graduate and go forth to seek our individual paths, I hope everyone will be fortunate to find someone like that in their own lives."
Blair smiled at the crowd through her suddenly blurry vision. She had seen Jo in the crowd, silently offering her support. And, she felt so moved by her presence. She just wanted to communicate to Jo in some small way just how much she appreciated her and treasured her. Stepping from behind the podium, she basked in the claps and whistles from the audience before stepping off the stage. Making her way up the aisle, she paused at the end of the third row, flicking a disinterested look at Boots and Muffy. Holding her head high, she marched past them, pausing at the next row to flash a smile at Jo before continuing back to her place with the rest of the 'W's in the sixth row.
"And so, as we go forward," Natalie's voice echoed from the loudspeakers, "I'm reminded of those who have gone before us and their enduring legacy of hard work, dedication and friendship above all. And, I hope that this graduating class lives up to that standard."
A chorus of applause greeted Natalie as she stepped out from behind the podium, bowed, before moving off the stage. Blair and Jo clapped as loud as they could, Jo whistling sharply at her friend. As she settled back in her chair, she felt Blair's hand close about hers. She leaned in, listening as Blair talked into her ear.
"She was great, wasn't she?" Blair beamed.
"Yeah. You really helped her write a great speech," Jo admitted.
She glanced towards the stage as the Principal appeared, calling out the class names in alphabetical order. Each graduate went up to the stage as his or her name was called, shook hands with the Principal and moved off to stand in a cordoned off section on the football field.
"Look," she said, pointing to where Ms. Smith and Coach Wickham were seated near the edge of the stage.
Blair squinted, narrowing her eyes. She was just barely able to make out the two women seated inches apart, their hands clasped together between their bodies. She leaned in, whispering in Jo's ear. "Let's go check out the Home Economics room." A wicked grin impishly appeared. "I've just had another brilliant idea!"
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