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: The character of Rickie is borrowed from "My So Called Life".
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
A Summer Story
Rose Polniaczek was getting annoyed. "Jo, would you at least consider it? Uncle Sal is doing you a big favor."
"Ma, there is no way I'm spending a month schlepping drinks and picking up after a bunch of rich twits. I get enough of that at school. And besides have you seen the pictures of this place? It's like 'the Shining'. It's in the mountains, Ma, I don't do mountains," Jo declared.
"It's a very good job, Jo. You'll make more money in a month than I do in three. Consider that."
Jo now felt bad. "I know, but I really wanted to spend the last part of the summer just kicking back. Doing some racing. Sneaking into the Stadium. Hanging at Orchard Beach."
"The Foxbrier has a lake. I'm sure you'll get a few afternoons off."
"Great, they probably have some separate swimming hole for the servants."
Jo was nothing if not practical, though. The money would come in handy for the final year at Eastland. It would mean that she wouldn't have to work the second job at the administration building with Miss Muldoon. Miss Muldoon's creepy eyeball, the one that wandered, haunted Jo's dreams sometimes.
Rose sighed. "I'm sorry Jo, but things are a little tight. That root canal set me back some."
That sealed it. "All right Ma, call Uncle Sal. I'll do it."
"Ladies and Gentlemen, the watchword of any Foxbrier employee is 'anticipation'." The word appeared on the slide show screen. It was yellow on black in foot high letters. The slide made Jo a little nauseous.
"We do not respond to our guests' needs, we anticipate them," the speaker continued, swiping his pointer across the screen with a flourish.
Jo was sitting in a large conference room with the other new hires. The speaker was a pudgy man in his forties, with thinning brown hair. He was wearing a blue blazer with an embroidered crest on the breast pocket. The same design was on the napkins under their water glasses.
"They look like they're humping."
"Sorry?" Jo said to the boy sitting next to her. He had light brown skin, dark curly hair, and unusually long eyelashes.
"These foxes on the napkins. They look like they're having hot fox sex. Hi, I'm Rickie, short for Enrique."
Looking at the napkin more closely Jo had to agree. She stifled a laugh. "Nice to meet ya Rickie, my name is Jo, short for...never mind."
"Cool name. Concise," Rickie said. "I detect an accent. Where are you from?"
"The Bronx, how 'bout you?"
"Never been," said Jo.
"It's OK. Your basic three rivers, or just one with two branches, I'm never quite sure."
"Excuse me Miss," the speaker looked at his clipboard, "Pol-ni-a -check", enunciating each syllable carefully, but accurately, "and Mr. Vasquez, is it? Is there something you two would rather be doing than paying attention to your orientation?"
Practically anything, Jo thought.
"Not at all, Mr. Ralston, sir. Your presentation is compelling. I'm loving the color scheme on the towel replacement flow chart." Rickie smiled charmingly.
Ralston narrowed his eyes. "All right, then. Let's move on to the next slide: Pool Locker Hygiene: Dos and Don'ts."
Take me now, lord, Jo pleaded silently.
Pool duty was OK, Jo conceded. You were outside, the view was great and the guests were pretty docile. From twelve to about three the order flags were flying but after that it calmed down, as people tended to nap. It didn't pick up again until cocktail hour.
Jo and Rickie were taking advantage of the lull to clean up the area and replace the towels.
"Rickie, Rickie, is Lionel Richie really your cousin?"
"Don't you see the resemblance, ladies? 'We're gonna parti, karamu, fiesta, forever,'" Rickie sang, swaying his hips. "Come on girls, join in." The four ten year olds giggled and ran off.
"Last week you told people you were related to Prince." Jo pointed out.
"Hey, whatever keeps the lynch mob at bay," Rickie declared. "Gelled hair, dark skin, hot dancer. We all look alike."
Working with Rickie was OK too, Jo mused. The kids and old ladies loved him and, despite his proclivity for snarky comments, he worked hard. Even Brian the lifeguard, who had the brain capacity of cheese, noticed that the tip jar, which they divvied up at the end of the shift, was always a little fuller when Rickie was on duty.
"Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please." Mr. Ralston clapped his hands sharply. Jo dumped the last of the dirty towels into the laundry cart and, along with the rest of the staff on shift, gathered around the manager.
"As you know, here at the Foxbrier, every guest is considered a Very Important Person," Ralston intoned. "Occasionally however, we receive someone for whom a little extra effort is warranted. Someone for whom only the best will suffice. I am here to inform you that tomorrow, such a someone will honor us with their presence."
"Do you think it's the Pope?" Rickie whispered to Jo.
"This gentleman is visiting with his daughter and some friends," Ralston continued.
"Guess not," Jo whispered back.
"He is one of America's most important businessmen and has stayed with us quite a few times before. Some of his textile mills are nearby."
Daughter? Textiles? A tendril of dread snaked into Jo's stomach.
"The daughter is the same age as many of you, so, as our watchword mandates, you should have no trouble anticipating her needs."
The tendril became a river. Jo's ears started to pound.
"We will, of course, provide the same level of civilized service that they are accustomed to in Manhattan, which is their home."
Jo was now having trouble catching her breath. Please, Mother Mary, no.
"To sum up, I expect everyone to do his or her utmost to provide a flawless Foxbrier experience for David Warner and his daughter Blair."
Jo fainted dead away.
"Jo, Jo. Can you hear me? It's Rickie. Come on, girlfriend, wake up."
Jo opened her eyes to see the faces of Rickie and Mr. Ralston looking at her with concern.
She sat up shakily.
"Are you all right, Miss Polniaczek?" Mr. Ralston asked soberly.
"Yes sir, I'm sorry. I guess I should've had a bigger lunch."
"Very well. Mr. Vasquez, escort Miss Polniaczek back to the staff cabins. You both may have the rest of the afternoon off."
"You don't have to that, Mr. Ralston, I'll be OK." Jo said.
"No, Miss Polniaczek. I want everyone in top form for tomorrow."
Tomorrow. Blair. Oh god.
"So what's the deal, Jo?" Rickie asked as he brought her a soda from the vending machine in the staff lounge. "You never struck me as the fainting type. Oh Jesus, you're not pregnant are you? Have you and Brian been doing the nasty?"
"You're a real comedian, you know that Ric? You and my friend Natalie should get a talk show. No, I am not 'doing the nasty' with No Brain." Jo said irritably.
"He may be dumb but he's pretty hot," Rickie said. "I mean talk about a man and his Calvins. No, really Jo, are you sick?"
"It's that guest who's coming. Blair Warner. It just came as a little bit of shock."
"Wait a minute, that Blair is your Blair?" Rickie exclaimed.
"Whaddya mean, 'my Blair'? There is no 'my Blair'."
"I mean the Blair that you refer to, mention, insult, laugh over, bitch about and generally bring up about twenty seven times a day."
"I do not." Jo objected. "You're nuts."
"Whatever," Rickie replied. "I, for one, am looking forward to meeting her."
"It's going to be a friggin nightmare," Jo groaned. "She'll be sticking her nose in the air, ordering me around, expecting me to clean up after her, making me wait on her hand and foot and basically being a total pain."
"From what you've told me, that isn't too different from what she does at school." Rickie said. "Here, at least, you get paid for it."
Rickie had a point, Jo had to admit.
Jo had volunteered to sweep the shuffleboard courts, successfully avoiding the main building when the Warner entourage arrived. Rickie was giving her a report.
"You didn't exaggerate, Jo, sixteen matched pieces of Louis Vuitton! Three separate shoe trees. And who knew that tennis ball cans even came in mink?"
Jo's faint hope that it had all been some horrible mistake evaporated.
"So did you see Blair?" Jo asked.
"Yes, she's gorgeous."
Jo couldn't really disagree.
"Who else was with her?" Jo inquired.
"Her father, of course, some other old guy, who is apparently the dad's friend, and friend's hunky son."
Naturally, Jo thought sourly. The requisite hunk accessory; the seventeenth piece of Blair's matched luggage set.
"I checked the reservation book," Rickie said coyly. "They are having lunch poolside at 1:30. You and I are on duty then," he smirked.
"You're enjoying this, aren't you Vasquez?" Jo complained.
"You can't avoid her forever. Besides, I want a close up look at that cashmere sleeveless she's sporting. It's fabulous."
"That guy is too old for her." Jo said to Rickie. They were both at the bussing station. They could see the Warner table but, as yet, hadn't had any contact. Philip, the head waiter, had taken it upon himself to serve the party personally.
Way too old. The hunk accessory must be close to thirty. What was this, some sort of business thing? Jo though angrily. David Warner wasn't the greatest of fathers but even he wasn't low enough to use his daughter to close some deal, was he? This was 20th century America for christssake, not some medieval fiefdom. Jesus, it was like white slavery. Jo was getting more agitated by the second.
"What?" Jo snapped.
"Philip is signaling to you," Rickie said. "He wants you to bring them iced tea."
Jo took a deep breath. All right, get it over with.
She approached the table with a pitcher. "Excuse me, miss, would you like some tea?"
Blair looked up in utter shock. "Jo?!?"
"Yeah, Blair, it's me," Jo sighed.
"What are you doing here?"
"Gee Blair, I don't know. I'm wearing a shirt with foxes on the chest. I'm holding a pitcher. I'm offering you tea. I must be here for a spa treatment."
"You work here?"
"Bingo! And Natalie calls you dense."
Philip appeared. "Excuse me, Miss Warner," he said, pulling Jo aside. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" the waiter whispered fiercely.
"We kinda know each other."
"I don't care. Pour the tea and be polite."
"Oh all right. Sorry."
Jo went around the table pouring, trying to avoid Blair's gaze. When she got to Blair's father, Mr. Warner looked up and said with a smile, "Nice to see you Jo, are you enjoying your summer?"
"Well this is a fine place for a summer job. They teach good habits. Good for you, Jo, good for you."
"Uh, thanks Mr. Warner." Jo said, taken aback at the complement. "OK, then, if that's all," she murmured as she started to leave the table.
"Will I see you later Jo?" Blair asked.
"I'm on duty all afternoon, Blair. Just flip up the order flag on your deck chair and you'll see me."
Whatever Jo had imagined her day waiting on Blair would be like, this wasn't it. She had thought that Blair would be pumping the order flag like a piston, demanding something every five seconds, complaining about the color of the umbrella, making Jo fetch and carry her lip gloss. Or, that Blair would ignore her completely, refusing to share the same airspace with one of the serving class, while she flirted with the aging hunk.
Instead, Blair spent the afternoon by the pool by herself, mainly reading. Her father and the others had gone to play golf. Blair ordered a Tab from Rickie once, but got the refill at the bar herself. She did some laps, managing to penetrate Brian's fog as she climbed, dripping, out of the water. Jo would have to speak to him about that later.
Blair didn't ignore Jo either, although she didn't approach her. If Jo caught her eye, she would give a smile or a little wave. She even helped Jo retrieve a kid's ball when it rolled under her chaise. In short, Blair was being kinda... what was the word... nice.
It was driving Jo nuts.
When she saw Blair packing up her pool bag and putting on her beach robe, she decided to bite the bullet and go talk to her. What was the worst that could happen?
"Hey Blair. Are you heading out?"
"Oh, hi Jo. Yes. I'm meeting Daddy, Mr. Miller and Brandon for drinks in the piano bar at 6:00."
"Who's Brandon, your boyfriend of the month?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Jo. He's too old. I've known Brandon since I was five. We are sometimes tennis partners at the club. That's it."
"So why is he here?" For some reason Jo had taken a dislike to Brandon.
"Mr. Miller and Daddy have some business at the mills in the area. Brandon would never pass up a free trip where there's golf and a bar involved." Blair grinned. "I can't believe you're working here. I thought you swore that you would never voluntarily go anywhere where you couldn't fall asleep to the sound of sirens."
"I know but I've kinda gotten used to it. I mean, it is pretty."
"What do you do when you get off work?" Blair asked.
"Well, the employees aren't allowed to use the guest facilities so we tend to hang out in staff lounge. It's OK though. There's a ping-pong table and a couple of video games. Sometimes Rickie and I will go sit on the bench by the lake and watch the moon come up over Mt. Vanderbilt. It's sorta cool." Jo said.
"Rickie, the boy with the long eyelashes who brought me my drink? He's a friend of yours?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"I approve," Blair said. "He knew that my Armani handbag was a limited edition. He can only be a good influence."
"So Blair," Jo said, "I was a little surprised that you didn't...
"Didn't what, Jo?"
"Didn't have more, I don't know, demands today."
Blair got irritated. "You thought that I was going to harass you, didn't you? You expected me to make your life miserable by ordering you around all day."
"Well, you do at school."
"That's different, Jo. You can stand up for yourself at school. You give as good as you get. Here, this is your job. If you annoy me like you normally do, you could get fired. It's not a fair fight. I would never do that to you," Blair declared.
For some reason, Blair's words caused a lump to form in Jo's throat and a tightness in her chest. She swallowed. "Right. Thanks. I'd better be going. Have a nice evening."
Blair cocked her head and looked at Jo quizzically. "You too."
"Stay away from the oxtail soup. It's repulsive."
Blair laughed. "Thanks for the tip."
Jo didn't see Blair at all the next morning because Brandon and Blair were playing in the mixed doubles tennis tournament. Rickie, however, was bringing Jo fully up to date as they set the pool side tables for lunch. He had apparently bonded with Blair during his shift at the piano bar. Or, more particularly, with Blair's wardrobe.
"She has this brooch with a pattern of jewels in the shape of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs." Rickie enthused. "And get this, the hieroglyphs spell out her name."
"There were ancient Egyptians named Blair?"
"I don't know. It was beautiful though. And you would not believe her shoes. They were custom made in Italy. Rich brown, three inch heels, and a wide strap with a buckle that has these green and gold flecks in it."
Those goddamn flecks. "Jesus, Rickie, enough already!" Jo spat out. "And you said that I talked about her too much. It's like you are in love with her or something."
Rickie looked hurt. "I'm not in love with her, I'm in love with her accessories. There's only one person around here who's in love with her," Rickie said angrily.
"Sure, Brian, right."
Jo and Rickie stared at each other for a long moment, both breathing hard. Jo blinked first. She sighed deeply and said, "I'm sorry Rickie. I didn't mean to yell at you."
Rickie relaxed and smiled. "Don't worry about it, girlfriend."
The Warner party arrived a little while later. Blair, her father and Mr. Miller sat at a table playing cards. Brandon hit the bar.
"Excuse me sir, you can't take that glass into the pool," Rickie said politely as Brandon stepped towards the water with his fourth Jack Daniels and coke in hand.
"I'm sorry sir; you can't take glassware into the pool." Rickie repeated, pointing to the sign. "I'd be happy to get you a plastic cup."
"Get out of my way," Brandon snarled.
Jo, who was nearby filling the water pitchers, looked up.
"Please sir, there are kids. The glass could break," Rickie pointed out.
Jo moved a little closer to her friend. Brandon, who had been in bad mood since their mixed doubles loss, snorted, "Fuck off."
Rickie stood his ground. "No really sir..."
"I said get out of my way, you little faggot." Brandon pushed Rickie aside. Unfortunately, Rickie slipped on a section of wet tile and went down hard.
Jo saw red. Without thinking, she took the two pitchers of ice water she had in either hand and threw them in Brandon's face.
"You bitch!" Brandon cried, dripping.
"Fuck you, you prick," Jo replied.
Mr. Ralston appeared out of nowhere.
"Is there a problem here?"
"There sure as hell is!" said Brandon. "This little dyke and her faggot friend assaulted me!"
"He pushed Rickie, Mr. Ralston. I threw water on him."
"And I believe I heard you call him, what, a 'prick'?"
"Yes sir," Jo admitted.
"See?" said Brandon. "You should fire these queers."
Jo's guts were in turmoil. Please don't fire me in front of Blair, she thought. Do it later, please.
Mr. Ralston looked at Brandon and said, "I am sorry for your inconvenience, Mr. Miller."
"You should be."
"No, I mean the inconvenience you will suffer by having to leave the premises within the hour," Ralston explained.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"The bellman will help you with your bags. The complementary station car will pick you up at three," the manager said calmly.
"You're kicking me out? You can't do that! I'll sue!" Brandon threatened.
"I will make sure that the name of our legal counsel is appended to your bill. We take great pride in our service here at the Foxbrier, Mr. Miller. However that does not include allowing our guests to assault and insult two valued employees. Good day."
Brandon turned to his father who had arrived on the scene with Mr. Warner. "Dad, Mr. Warner? Are you going to let him do that?"
"We sure are," the elder Mr. Miller replied. "Come on, son, lets get you dried off and out of here. We have a deadline."
Mr. Ralston turned to Blair's dad. "I regret that I have to break up your party, Mr. Warner."
"Perfectly understandable, Ralston, perfectly understandable." As Mr. Warner was leaving to follow the Millers, he put a hand on Jo's shoulder and when she looked up, he winked.
Jo went to Rickie, who was being helped up off the ground by Brian. Rickie had a small cut under his lip, which was bleeding slightly.
"Are you all right?" Jo asked.
"I think so," Rickie said. "That sure was impressive, Jo. You getting all dark, hulking and protective. It's enough to make a boy swoon."
"Go get your mouth fixed, Rickie," Jo retorted. "Tell the nurse to sew it shut, while she's at it."
Jo couldn't face Blair right now. Not after what Brandon had called her. It was too much. To her horror, she felt the tears start to come and tried to blink them away.
"Blair, I'll see you later, OK. I have to go check on something at the squash courts. OK?"
"All right Jo."
A few hours later Jo sat by herself on the bench by the lake, watching the setting sun reflected on the slopes of Mt. Vanderbilt. She hadn't seen either Rickie or Blair the rest of the afternoon as she had decided to get away by volunteering to supervise the kids' hay ride.
She heard someone approach. Rickie appeared and flopped down on the bench beside her.
"Enrique," Jo said in greeting.
"Joanna," Rickie replied.
Jo blanched. "How did you find that out?"
"Blair told me. She came to visit me at the nurse's office to make sure I was OK and to apologize for Brandon."
"So how did my name come up?" Jo wondered.
"I asked. I've always wanted to know," Rickie said. "Jo, I'm sorry if I was a little snide before. I really do appreciate what you did."
"Anytime. But what about Ralston? Who knew that he was going to be so, I dunno, cool?"
"Mr. Ralston is cool," Rickie agreed. "He also came to see me and offered me a job for the whole summer next year. He even said that he would consider my idea about giving salsa lessons."
"So you're gonna come back?" Jo asked.
"Yeah, I like it here. What about you?"
"Probably not. I'm graduating so I'll try to get a job in the City."
"You'll be back someday," Rickie predicted.
"Yeah, you and Blair will come back in say ten, fifteen years when I'm running the place."
"Me and Blair?" Jo repeated incredulously.
"Sure, we'll give you the Penrose Suite."
"Rickie, the Penrose Suite is for honeymooners," Jo pointed out.
Rickie simply smiled and then got up to leave.
"Rickie, about what Brandon called you..."
"I've heard it before, Jo. See you tomorrow."
Jo leaned back and closed her eyes. She heard someone else approach.
What is this, the Carson show? Introduce the next guest, Ed.
Blair sat down beside her. "Hi"
"Hey," Jo said. She looked at Blair. "Is your father really mad?"
"Are you kidding? He couldn't stop laughing all afternoon. He said it was the fastest he had ever seen Brandon sober up."
"That's good, I guess."
"He likes and respects you, Jo. He always has."
They were silent for a moment.
Don't ask, don't ask, don't ask, Jo prayed.
"Do you think you'll take Mr. Bristol's history class next term?"
"What? Sure, maybe, I don't know."
"I think it's going to be a good year," Blair said confidently.
"I hope so."
"You know, Jo," Blair gave her a sideways grin. "Once you get back to Eastland, the gloves come off."
"Right, and if I see those furry tennis ball cans within a hundred yards of our room, they are turning into oil rags."
Blair stood up. "We're leaving early tomorrow. Say goodbye to Rickie for me."
"I will. Goodnight Blair, see you in a couple of weeks."
Jo turned back to look at the mountain. Suddenly she felt Blair's hands on her shoulders and, to her complete shock, a kiss was dropped on the top of her head.
Before Jo could say anything, Blair was gone.
Jo leaned back on the bench. The Penrose Suite, huh, she thought with a smile.
The moon rose over Mt. Vanderbilt and bathed it in a silvery light.
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