DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television. No infringement is intended. Original characters belong to the author. Historical characters belong to history.
SPOILERS: References and some spoilers FOL Seasons 1 – 5. Reader feedback is always appreciated.
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FEEDBACK: To zblitzreiter[at]gmail.com
Early August, 1989. Manhattan. Midtown.
Anna held Jo for a long time as they kissed, tentative kisses, sweet and shy. Anna's arms encircled Jo's waist. Jo slipped one arm around Anna's torso, the other around her shoulder.
As they kissed their bodies pressed closer. Jo felt Anna's small, firm breasts against her breast bone, felt Anna's hips against her belly, Anna's thighs against her thighs.
When they finally broke apart, panting slightly, Anna took a couple of steps back, swaying. She put an arm on the back of a chair to steady herself. Jo leaned against the mantle. Her gaze raked the room, took it in at a glance. White walls hung with framed photographs. Hardwood floors. A bright red throw rug. A TV set in the corner. A few chairs. A red couch. Anna liked bright colors. Jo thought of the red dress Anna had worn on their first date.
On the mantle, a large wooden carved cross, flanked by triptychs of saints and the Virgin Mother. Of course. There would be icons in the apartmentwouldn't there? Anna was Catholic, like Jo.
The kitchen, Jo saw, was on the other side of a shuttered counter. The bathroomthat was probably the little door on the other side of the kitchen.
And the bedroomyeah. That would be the bedroom door.
Jo crossed to Anna, took her hands.
"C'mon," Jo said softly, pulling Anna toward the bedroom.
"Don't you wanna?"
"Of course. It's just I thought we were gonna shower."
Jo shook her head. "After," she said, voice still soft but the urgency plain in her voice. "After, Anna."
She tugged at Anna's hands again. Anna nodded. This time she followed Jo without hesitation.
The bedroom was like the living roomhardwood floors, white walls hung with framed pictured, vividly colored throw rugs.
Jo noted the décor absently, in passing, as she pulled Anna toward the bed.
Jo sat on the edge of the mattress. She pulled Anna down next to her. They wrapped their arms around each other. They kissed. They made their first shy tongue-touches, exploratory, uncertain.
The feeling of Anna's breasts against her was driving Jo wild. She felt a dampness between her legsnot just perspiration from the run, as the ache at her center told her. She was wet as hell. Yes. She could smell the musk of it. And another musk Anna's.
Jo lay back against the bed, pulling Anna down next to her. The continued to kiss. Jo rubbed her nose against Anna's.
Anna held Jo's waist tightly, as if it were somehow anchoring herto the bed, to the room, to reality.
Jo's hands slid up under Anna's tank top, under her sports bra.
Yes. There. The soft swell of Anna's breasts. Jo reached higher, felt Anna's nipples, both standing at attention. She stroked them gently, ran her fingers around them, pinched them lightly between her thumbs and index fingers. Anna made a sound in her throat. Her breath was coming in gasps.
"I'm not I'm not usually this kind of girl," Anna whispered.
"Me neither," said Jo.
She abandoned Anna's breasts for a second, just long enough to tug Anna's tank top up over her head and tear it clean off. She made short work of Anna's sports bra.
Jo bit her lip. Yeah. Anna had beautiful breasts. Golden, with proud brown nipples. Small, but firm. Jo bracketed them with her hands, leaned forward, captured first one nipple, and then the other, flicking them with her tongue.
Anna moaned as she lay back against the white coverlet.
While Jo pleasured Anna's nipples, each in turn, she tugged at the waist band of Anna's running shorts, pulling them down. Anna wore plain white Hanes panties. Clearly she hadn't been planning to get lucky this morning. Like Jo, she really wasn't "that kind of girl".
Jo tugged the panties down. She smelled Anna's musk, tarter than Blair's, and stronger. Anna's pubic hair curled thick and dark, her nether lips dark and glistening behind the curling hair.
Jo glanced up at Anna's face, which was flushed with bashfulness as much as arousal.
"You're beautiful," Jo told her.
"Sure," Anna mumbled, glancing away.
"You are," said Jo. She lowered her head, pressed her mouth to Anna's nether lips. Jo had seen women in various states of undress in team locker rooms, but she'd never been this close to a woman's sex before, except for Blair's. It was exciting, and a little frightening. Jo kissed the damp lips, tasted the tart musk. She heard Anna inhale sharply. Anna's long, slender fingers pushed through Jo's hair, gripped her head. Jo licked the lips, traced the leaves of Anna's sex with them, found the nub of the clit. Jo licked, and, after a moment, drank, sucking at the lips and the clitoris while her tongue darted inside.
"Oh Oh Goooooooooood," Anna moaned.
Jo wasn't sure if Anna was saying "God" or "Good" but either way Jo knew she was making Anna happy.
Jo sucked a little harder at the lips and clit, drove her tongue a little deeper. Anna moved her hips in tight, rhythmic circles. Her fingers gripped Jo's head, fingernails driving into Jo's scalp. That hurt, but Jo was too distracted to notice it much.
Jo sucked and licked. Anna bucked. After a moment, Anna shuddered, and shrieked, and then lay back still on the bed. Her hands fell away from Jo's head, flopped at her sides.
Jo leaned on her elbows. Anna appeared to be in a kind of swoon, head lolling to one side, eyes closed. Jo kissed her way up Anna's tight belly, and her ribs, and then Jo took the nipples into her mouth again, each by turn, her hands tenderly cupping the golden breasts. Anna had a small dark freckle below her right nipple. It was so interesting, seeing someone else's body this close. Jo kissed the freckle, then took the nipple in her mouth again
"Jo?" Anna asked weakly, eventually.
"What you just did, that was Heavenly. I've never been Tina would never do that."
"Tina never ate you?" Jo asked, baffled. "You're kiddin."
"I'm not. Tina said She said it wasn't proper. Or hygienic."
"Not hygienic? What the hell? You're a med student, for cryin out loud. Why didn't you tell her it's OK?"
"I didn't want to be pushy. Plus, there was the part about it not being proper."
"But you were together five years. She never I mean, never?"
"But she did other stuff. Right? Like," Jo slid one hand toward Anna's dark bush, found the clit, stroked it gently. "Like this, right?"
"Tina said she didn't like to to interact with that area."
"To 'interact' with it? What the hell? Was she for real?"
"Tina had issues with intimacy."
"No freakin kiddin," said Jo. She kissed Anna's belly. She continued to stroke the clitoris, gently at first, then faster. She leaned down and began licking the clit again.
"You don't have to Jo. That was so amazing "
"Shhhh," murmured Jo. "It sounds to me like you got some catchin up to do "
Slower this time, at a leisurely pace, Jo brought Anna to climax. Anna was so wet this time, her juices flowed over Jo's chin and neck.
Jo dried her face on the coverlet. She pillowed her head on Anna's taut belly. Anna gently stroked Jo's hair.
"So You don't find me horrifying down there?" Anna asked.
"Tina was a dipwit," said Jo. "Sorry. I don't even know anythin about her. But anyone who wouldn't want to go down on you A dipwit."
"With Tina, it was challenging at times," Anna sighed.
"I'm gonna go out on a limb here, Anna," said Jo. "I'm gonna guess that even though you're a brilliant, together future surgeon, with plenty of street smarts honed in Queens, you don't know too much about sex. Do you?"
"Not really. And I don't think I have the 'street smarts' you give me credit for."
"Tina was your first and only onehuh? Your only lover?"
"How did you know?"
"Cause if you ever did have a woman go down on you, like before you and Tina hooked up, you never woulda let Tina get away with not doin it."
"True," Anna said. She smiled down at Jo, traced Jo's forehead with one finger. "But you don't know how hardwell, cancel that. Of course you do. Of course you know how hard it is to find a female lover. When Tina came along, when she actually wanted me, after all my unrequited crushes in high school and college, well"
"You let her run roughshod over you."
"I think there's probably a nicer way you could put that."
"But you're right."
"Yeah. I know. So, that was your problem, huh? The last couple years? You said the first three were good, the last two were miserable?"
"I don't think I said 'miserable'."
"Words to that effect."
"The first three years I was in a daze, I think, from having a lover. A woman who loved me. Or so I thought. And then the last two years were me realizing that she didn't actually love me. Or, maybe she did. But not the way I needed. I'm not just talking about sex."
"I get that."
"Tina could be very withholding. She couldWhat am I doing? No. I'm not doing this. You're here right now, Jo. I'm focusing on you."
Jo rolled off of Anna. She kicked off her sneakers, which she had never removed. She peeled off her socks, her tank top, her bra, and her running shorts.
Anna leaned on one elbow, watching the somewhat awkward striptease appreciatively.
"You have a beautiful body."
"All of us jocks do," Jo said. "Including you."
She lay next to Anna, wearing only her panties.
"So, OK," said Jo. "What else didn't Tina do?"
"You're sort of loving thisaren't you?" asked Anna. "Being the most experienced lesbian in the bed."
"Yeah." Jo grinned. "I sorta am. But you didn't' answer the question. What else have you been missing out on?"
"Well if I've been missing out on it, I don't knowdo I?" Anna asked reasonably.
"Yeah, got it. But, like, what kind of stuff didn't you do, that you sometimes wished you did?"
"We never did this," said Anna, dragging a finger up and down Jo's naked torso, pausing appreciatively at one of Jo's breasts.
"Lie in bed naked."
"What the hell?"
"We always wore nightgowns. Or pajamas."
"Was this Tina by any freakin chance from Amish country? Like, Ohio or Pennsylvania?"
"I'm completely serious," said Jo.
"Tina is just Catholic," Anna explained. "Very Catholic. She carved that wooden cross on the mantle."
"I see. Huhn. So she wouldn't go down on you, but she was handy with the whittlin."
"It wasn't like we didn't do anything. We would, well," Anna flushed, "we slept in the same bed, and we kissed each other, and we touched each other. Through our nightclothes."
"We did shower together."
"OK. OK, so now we're gettin to the good stuff. What did you do in the shower?"
"We washed each other."
"We washed each other."
"But that must've Damn, Anna. That must've been so frustrating."
"It was. Moreso every year."
"You mean she washed your, your, uhn"
"But she wouldn't actually make love to you? She wouldn't make you come?"
"Not in the shower. In bed."
"When you touched through your pajamas?"
"Don't make funplease," she said. "I know I'm backward and pathetic. That's why this year, at the hospital, I finally started being more open about who I am. It's a big step."
"Hey. I won't make fun," Jo said sincerely. "Nat told me how open you are at the hospital, and I think you have the biggest, uh, I think you've got a lot of guts. I'm not that open outside my circle of friends. Not yet, anyhow. So you got nothing to be ashamed of. You just need a little instruction in the bedroom. That's all. And you'll be ready to handle any new lovers who come along."
Anna nuzzled Jo.
"I think I need a lot of instruction," she said.
"Well, then, you're lucky you got me here," Jo said cheerfully.
"Were you ever with anyone before Blair?" Anna asked.
"So, you've only been with one woman."
"But you did a lot of things with her. Sexually, I mean."
"Sexually, socially, spiritually, intellectuallythe whole nine yards."
"Do I look like her?"
"Nope. Not even a little bit. Which is good. She and I are separated. I'm supposed to be experiencing new things and new people."
"And I'm a new people."
"You are." Jo kissed Anna's jaw, her chin, her nose. "Damn. I love your nose."
"It's certainly big enough," Anna said drily.
"It's freakin royal," said Jo. "No. Imperial. When I was in Florence"
"You've been to Florence?" Anna asked.
"Sure. Back in What was it? Five years ago. Summer of '84."
"Were you studying there?"
"No. Just a vacation. With Blair and some friends." Jo decided this wasn't the time to share that her Blair was the fabulously wealthy Blair Warner, or that they had been invited to Florence by Alec's insanely rich and totally awesome Aunt Viv, or that Alec was a real live ducal heir who had ultimately inherited Viv's fortune.
"Florence. How romantic," Anna said dreamily. "I was such a small child when we left Italy. I remember so little of it."
"Florence was romantic," Jo agreed. "But, anyhow, point of my story, all the statues we saw there, they all had these big, beautiful, noble shnozzolas."
She nuzzled Anna's nose again.
"So I'm flattered. I think?" said Anna.
"I mean it in a flatterin way," Jo said.
They lay together a few moments, lazily stroking each other's bodies.
Anna tweaked Jo's left nipple.
"You have nice breasts," Anna said.
"Thanks." Jo turned toward her, so their breasts were pressed together. "Nice?"
"Mmn," Anna agreed.
Jo put her hands on Anna's hips, pulled them forward so that their hips were pressed together. Jo slid a thigh between Anna's legs, began to rock her thigh very, very slowly. Anna was wet as applesauce, and she grew wetter still as Jo rode her sex.
"Oh That Oh Wow," Anna breathed.
"Yes," Anna said fervently. "Are the instructions starting again?"
"Very OK. Only, why are you, ah, still wearing your panties?"
"You're going to take them off me. A little later. If you want to."
"I do. I will. Ioh, wow. That feels Oh "
"Just relax," said Jo. "And enjoy it."
Anna closed her eyes and Jo leaned in for a kiss
Mid August, 1989. Greenwich Village.
Blair lifted the spoon of chicken broth to the man's cracked lips.
He swallowed it in weak little gulps, his mouth and throat working.
"Thank you," he told her. "You're very kind."
"Is it good?" asked Blair. "Is it warm enough?"
He shook his head. "Lukewarm is best. Last week, one of the volunteers" He broke off for a moment as a coughing spasm raked him. Blair adjusted his pillow, helped him to sit up straight. "One of the volunteers heated it too much," he continued. "It burned my tongue."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Blair said sympathetically.
He grinned. It was a death's head grin, his flesh so spare, his skin lying close against his shaved skull. Purple lesions spotted the gray skin. But he was beautiful nonetheless, thought Blair. He had great bone structure, and beautiful blue eyes behind long dark lashes. Before he had fallen fatally ill, he might have been a model
"You know, with all the shit happening to my body," he said, "burning my tongue on chicken broth isn't such a big deal. Most stuff that I thought was such a big deal isn't a big deal anymore."
Blair fed him another spoonful of broth. And another, when he nodded.
He lay back against the pillows that propped him up.
"That's that's plenty," he said.
"But you've hardly eaten, Sam."
"I've eaten enough."
"You have to keep up your strength."
Sam shook his head.
"I need to gather another strength now. Spiritual. Not physical. I'm moving on soon. I can feel it."
Blair felt a prick of tears, fought them. She maintained a "calm and hopeful" expression, as her mentor had instructed her.
"Are you are you frightened?" asked Blair.
Sam shook his head again.
"I was. Well. First I was pissed. For a long time. Drove my lover away, and most of my friends. And then I was sad for a long time. And now I'm ready. My body's so worn down and worn out. I'm tired. I'm ready," he grinned, "for a good long rest."
Another coughing spasm raked him. Blair held his hand and gently steadied his shoulder.
"Thank you," he said, when he recovered. "Can I, can I have some ice?"
She took an ice chip from a plastic bucket on the bedside table. She held it to Sam's mouth, and he sucked at it for a moment.
"Thanks," he said.
"You don't have to keep thanking me, Sam. I'm glad to do anything I can to help you."
Blair was startled by the question.
"Why?" She'd never put it into words before, why she was at the hospice. Technically she was fulfilling a volunteer requirement for her Divinity program. But it was more than that. "I'm here because you need help," Blair said simply, "and in some small ways, I can help you."
Sam gripped her hand.
"What's your name? I've seen you a few times now, and I don't know your name."
"Blair," she said.
"How old are you, Blair?"
"That's about what I figured. You're in grad school?"
"A lot of the volunteers are. They're people from some church or temple, or they're students studying theology." He chuckled, a rasping sound deep in his throat. "Studying to be professional do-gooders."
Blair smiled wryly. "That's one way of looking at it," she said.
"You're going to be a professor? Or a preacher?"
"An Episcopal priest," said Blair.
"So you're tight with God."
Blair bit her lip.
Sam laughed. The phlegm rattled in his throat.
"You don't look sure," he said. "I like that. It's honest."
"My relationship with God has always been complicated."
"Mine too," said Sam. "I grew up in Brooklyn. Oldest son. All kinds of expectations of me. The good Jewish boy. Have you ever known any good Jewish boys?"
Blair thought of Nat. "I know a good Jewish girl," she said.
"I'll bet she studied hard in school. And followed the rules."
"She still does. She's going to be a doctor."
Sam nodded. "I always wished I could be like that. Focused. Driven. The perfect Jewish son. I tried till I was seventeen. But that wasn't how It wasn't me. I was the creative type."
"You're an artist?"
"No. Dancer. And a fairy, to boot." He laughed. The rattling in his throat was awful to hear. "You can imagine how well that went down at home. I was supposed to be a Rabbi, you see. Not a fairy dancer."
"Don't call yourself a fairy," Blair snapped. "I mean I'm sorry, Sam. I didn't mean to bite your head off. I just don't like that word."
"Neither do I. But I figure if I call myself a fairy, it takes away the sting when someone else says it."
Blair smoothed the bedspread.
"Did your parents ever come around?"
"About my dancing? Or my liking men?"
"No. Neither. I ran off to the Village. Found a boyfriend. Well. More than one. Got some bit parts off-Broadway. Chorus line stuff. I never said," he flashed that death's head grin, "I never said I was a really good dancer."
"Do you know how old I am, Blair?"
"No," she said, studying the skin stretched taut over his shaved skull, the sunken cheeks, the blue eyes hectic with fever.
"I'm twenty-five, Blair. I'm your age."
She felt the tears prick again. She squeezed his hand.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"I packed a lot into twenty-five years. I don't have anything, see, that I regret. Except maybe," he touched his bare scalp, "I miss my hair. I had beautiful dark curls. I know that's vain and stupid, but I miss it," he said ruefully.
"It isn't stupid at all," said Blair. "How did you lose it?"
"I volunteered for an experimental treatment. It ravaged my gut pretty good, and the chemicals made my hair fall out. Like chemo does. All I can grow is fuzz now. So I just, I have the hospice barber shave it off. I'd rather be bald than look like, well, a damn baby chick."
"Sam," said Blair, "you are still beautiful. I know beauty. All right? And you are beautiful."
"I don't know about that. Can I, can I ask you something personal?"
"Do you have a guy? Or a girl, maybe?"
"I had a girl," she said quietly.
"But not now?"
"We had some issues. We're taking a break."
"So then you can be my date."
"Your date for what?"
"They're having music here Friday night, and punch, and, you know, corny shit like that. And it's so stupid, because none of us can even get out of our beds. But it's, I don't know. It's music. You can just come sit by my bed awhile. If you're free."
Blair was so moved that she couldn't speak for a moment.
"Of course," she said when she could speak. "What time should I be here?"
"Eight o'clock." Sam squeezed her hand again. His grasp was so weak. Blair could feel his pulse beating feebly in his wrist. He smiled up at her with his beautiful grin and his fever-bright eyes. "If I wasn't a fairy," he said, "and you weren't a dyke, I bet we could've tore up this town a little bit together."
"I'll bet we could have," said Blair
When she left St. Algon's Hospice an hour later, she ran into Rose just coming in.
Rose's face brightened.
"Blair!" she said happily.
She caught Blair's hands, and kissed the young woman's cheek.
"I haven't seen you in ages," said Rose. "How are you, Blair? And how is Jo? Is she eating? Is she getting enough sleep? Is she doing well at Creves, Creves & Sloan?"
Blair's face froze in a polite mask.
What the hell?
It had been a month since the separation started, and Jo obviously hadn't told Rose a damn thing about it!
Blair fumbled for words. She and Rose had come on a long, emotional journey together, and Blair had no idea how Rose would take Blair's separation from Jo.
"What's the matter?" Rose pounced. "Something's the matter. A mother knows."
Blair tried to release Rose's hands, but those petite, bony hands gripped her as tightly as iron vises.
"Is Jo hurt?" asked Rose. "She's not in the hospital, is she?"
"No," Blair assured her. "Jo is doing very well. As far as I know."
Rose let that sink in.
As far as I know
"You broke up," Rose said flatly. She sounded disappointed, but not particularly surprised. "Well. I knew you were having problems. But I didn't know it'd come to that."
Blair shifted uncomfortably. "It isn't that we're 'broken up'," she said. "We're separated. It's temporaryor so I hope."
"Did Jo leave the house?"
"Then where is she staying? Where is she calling me from when she calls me?"
"She's at Natalie's apartment," said Blair.
Rose shook her head. "Separated. Separated is bad," she said grimly. "I can't count the number of times Charlie and me 'separated'. I don't know that it helps anything, Blair. Either you can solve your problems together, or you can't."
Blair hung her head.
"Hey. Hey. Don't go looking all defeated, Blair." Rose squeezed the young woman's hands. "Don't just give up, or you're beaten before you start."
"I'm not giving up," Blair said softly. Other volunteers bustled past them in the hall. Blair lowered her voice. "We were fighting about the silliest things, Rose. But we couldn't seem to get past it. I thought if we separated for a month or two, if we dated other people, the way we never did when we were young, I thought we could come back together, and appreciate each other more, and, well, start fresh."
"You thought all that? Those are a lot of things to think," said Rose.
"And it's backfired," said Blair. "Because Jo met someone."
"Someone not you?" Rose sounded shocked. Her blue eyes widened. "But you're soul mates."
"I always thought so," Blair said dully.
"Oh, honeythis isn't good."
"But is Jo serious about her? Or him? Is it a him?"
"A her. A doctor. Well. Medical student."
"A medical student. Hmm."
"Focus, Rose," Blair said rather tartly.
"Right. Of course," Rose said hastily. "But like I saidis it serious?"
"Natalie knows the woman. So, I'm not spying on Jo, you understand, but I happen to know from talking with Natalie that Jo is spending, well, almost every spare minute with the woman."
Rose clucked her tongue.
"Blair. I'm so sorry. I don't know what to tell you. This is not good. This is not good."
I wish she would stop saying that, thought Blair. Not good. Not good. That certainly summed up how Blair had been feeling lately.
"Are you seeing anyone?" asked Rose.
"No. That is, I've been on a number of dates. But no one well "
"Jo's a tough act to follow," Rose said. "Even with her faults."
"A tougher act to follow than I am, apparently," Blair said bitterly.
"Now don't do that," said Rose. "I told you. You're not beaten till you're beaten. Never lie down. Make the world knock you down. Go out fighting."
"But how?" Blair asked helplessly. "This whole thing is my own idiotic idea."
"Can't you just go to Jo and ask her to come back? Tell her you made a mistake?"
"But I didn't make a mistake. Not completely. We did need time apart, to grow and reassess things and appreciate each other more. And I can't ask her back now, when she's in a relationship. I'd never know if she was coming back because she, because she wanted to, or out of guilt. What if she's, oh, I hate even to think of it, the selfish part of me, but what if she's happier with Anna than she is with me?"
"Anna? That's the girl's name?"
"Yes. She's Italian, and she likes motorcycles, and she's a jock like Jo, and, well What if she's better for Jo than I could ever be?"
"Now you listen," said Rose, releasing the young woman's hands and waving a finger under Blair's nose, "no one is ever gonna be better for Jo than you are. Are you kidding? You gave up everything for her. You went through hell and back for my daughter. And she did the same for you."
"Heyright on!" said a woman with a grizzled crew cut as she passed by. She saluted Blair with a fist pump.
"Do you mind?" asked Blair. "This is a private conversation."
"Whatever floats your boat, dyke sister." The woman disappeared into one of the offices.
"Maybe we should continue this over coffee sometime," she told Rose. "In a less public forum."
"I'm sorry," said Rose. "I know I get loud when I feel strongly about something. And there's nothing I feel more strong about than you and Jo."
"And I appreciate that, Rose. You have no idea how much. But I think I'm going to just have to, let this run its course. Either Jo will want to come back to me, or she'll stay with Anna. Right now it's just wait and see."
"You poor thing. You poor wonderful girl," said Rose. "We need to talk more about this. I have your address. I'll visit you sometime. OK. I know you're busy so I'll call ahead."
"That will be very nice," Blair said gratefully.
Rose hugged her, gave her a peck on the cheek. Then, with her quick, birdlike movements, Rose darted down the hall and into one of the hospice rooms.
Mid August, 1989. Manhattan. Midtown.
"Heregimme the ballpene hammer," said Jo.
She balanced on a chair in front of Anna's fireplace, hanging a picture they'd bought at a flea market in the Village.
"Which one is the ballpene?" Anna asked doubtfully, examining the assorted tools in the toolbox Jo had brought with her.
"That one. No. The other that one."
Anna handed up the hammer.
Jo pounded at the bracket which wouldn't hang quite straight.
"OK Yeah Got it," she said.
She handed the hammer down to Anna.
"So gimme the picture now. Easy does it."
A moment later, Jo had hung the painting and scrambled back down to stand next to Anna. She slipped an arm around Anna's shoulders. Anna's arm wound round her waist.
"Is it crooked? Whaddya think?" asked Jo.
"No. It's perfect."
It was a red canvas with blotches of orange and yellow floating across the red.
Jo didn't know what the hell it was supposed to representif it was supposed to represent anythingbut she liked the energy of it. Anna had fallen in love with it at first sight.
"Pretty good for six bucks," Jo said. "Maybe the artist'll get famous. Maybe it'll be worth, oh, who knows? Ten bucks, someday."
Anna smiled. She turned, leaned down, kissed Jo's mouth. It started as a casual kiss, but then it deepened.
Jo felt an ache between her legs, and a flush of heat from her stomach and breasts to her throat.
Jo put both arms around Anna's neck, crushed against her.
"I want you," Jo murmured against Jo's mouth. "Now."
"Yeah," mumbled Anna
An hour later, contentedly spent, Jo lay across Anna's bed, stroking Anna's face, kissing her hair.
"Happy?" Anna asked her.
"I was thinkin," said Jo, "maybe we could get out in the country Friday. There's this motocross place near Peekskill. Whaddya think? Let loose? Risk our necks? Get muddy?"
"Don't you work Friday?"
"Nah. Creves, Creves & Sloan is closin for the day. Some big audit of the files. So little old 'Pollock-o-chek' is footloose and fancy freakin free."
"I wish they didn't call you that," said Anna.
"They call the Irish intern 'Drunk Mickey'."
"They do. And they call the Italian internmaybe you don't want to hear that one."
"Thank you, no. I think I've probably heard whatever it is myself." Anna shook her head. "Why does anyone have to call anyone anything?"
"Oh, it's all in good fun," Jo said sarcastically. "Haven't you heard? If you don't let 'em call you a Mick or a Pollock, you ain't playin the game. You're not a good sport. You're takin it too serious."
"Same old song," Anna agreed.
"So," said Jo, "what about the motocross?"
"Would we be back by Friday evening?"
"We could be. Sure. Why? What's Friday evening?"
Anna kissed Jo's cheek. "I want you to come to dinner. Supper, that is. At my parents'."
Jo digested that.
"At your parents'. In Queens."
Jo continued to digest the request.
Anna turned away.
"It's too soon," she said. "Or maybe Maybe it'll always be too soon?"
Jo kissed Anna's shoulder, the back of her neck.
"I thought we weren't gettin serious," said Jo. "Supper with the parents That sounds pretty serious."
"It could just be a friendly thing," Anna said quietly. "It's not as if I could introduce you as my girlfriend, anyway."
"Your parents don't know about you?"
Anna shook her head. "I told youmy father's still pressuring me to marry Gianni Perlucci."
"Oh yeah. The guy with the shoe stores."
"That's the one."
"Does anybody in your family know?"
"No. That is, I think my brother Louie suspects. He used to tease me when I would bring teammates home for supper. Female teammates. In high school. Louie teased me the way little brothers tease older brothers. My parents didn't understand why he was riding me. But they just figured, well, it was an American thing."
"Where in Italy are your parents from?"
"Damn. So, I better not get you pissed off," teased Jo.
"It's not a good idea, no," Anna agreed.
"You're proud of bein Italian, huh?"
"So am I. And of bein Polish, too. 'Specially right now, with everythin happenin in Poland this yearhell, everythin happenin in Eastern Europe. People gotta speak up. People gotta stand up for things."
"Is that your way of saying I should come out to my parents?"
"Christ, no." Jo nuzzled Anna's shoulder. "That's your own business. I was just kinda off on a tangent there. So. Tell me. You say your parents didn't get what your little brother was sayin. They don't speak English?"
"They do. Very well. Educated English, though. They don't always understand slang and idioms."
"So when your bratty little brother was teasin you about bringing a teammate home"
"Mama and Papa just thought they were missing something in translation."
"What does your father do?" Jo asked curiously.
"Does it matter?"
"It doesn't matter. I'm just interested."
Anna hesitated, and then, "He's a doctor," she said.
Jo whistled. "So. The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. He must be proud of you, followin in his footsteps."
"He is. In his way. He'd rather see me married to Gianni Perlucci, knocked up with three kids and hosting Sunday dinners every other weekend."
"So he's old-fashioned."
"Old-fashioned from the old country. Yes."
"My Pop's a runner," said Jo. "On Wall Street. He could be a broker, except he served a stretch in the joint. For stealin freakin typewriters, if you can believe it. He's not really a crook or anythin. He's a prince of a guy. He just let himself get caught up in a cockamamie scheme, thought it would mean a nice windfall for his wife and kidthe kid bein me."
"I'm sorry, Jo."
"Eh, he's fine. He and my Ma split awhile back, but he's remarried. Nice lady. Runs a coffee shop. He helps her run it on weekends. Her kids though, they're real pieces of work. They"
Anna stirred restlessly.
"Does it bug ya?" asked Jo. "Knowin my Pop served a stretch?"
"No," said Anna. "It bothers me that I know what you're doing."
"And what am I doin?"
"What you're doing," said Anna, "is evading my original question. Will you come to supper at my parents'as my friend, and only as my friend?"
Jo kissed the nape of Anna's neck again.
"No," Jo said gently. "No, I won't. Because we ain't just friends. And you don't want a serious commitment, and I don't want a serious commitment. Whereas, eatin supper at parents' houses usually indicates a serious commitment. Therefore and wherefore, all things considered, I'm gonna have to regretfully decline."
"Well said, counselor," Anna said, trying to sound light, as if the rejection didn't sting.
"Hey," said Jo. She turned Anna gently, so they lay face to face. "You know I like you. A lot."
"But meetin parents, that's not what this is about. Or did I miss a page?"
"It wasn't supposed to be about meeting parents," Anna agreed, gazing into Jo's eyes. "But relationship are, well, they're organic, Jo. Sometimes they grow in directions we don't expect them to. Or even want them to. But There it is."
Jo nuzzled Anna's nose.
"I get that," said Jo. "I'm very comfortable with you Anna, and I like you a lot. A lot. I liked you right off. But this is not, you and me"
"I know," said Anna. "I know."
She sat up suddenly. She swung her legs over the side of the bed.
"Where are my panties?" she asked.
"I think I chucked them over that-a-way," said Jo, pointing toward the doorway.
"There they are." Anna leaned down, stretched out a long arm and retrieved the panties. She pulled them on.
"Does this mean you're not up for thirds?" Jo asked.
"I have to be at the hospital this evening," said Anna.
"This evening," mused Jo. "That sounds like we have time for thirds. Fourths, even, if we don't take it too slow."
She pressed a hand to Anna's naked back, massaged it in lazy circles.
Anna stood up.
She turned and looked down at Jo, her expression almost comically serious, Jo thought, given that Anna was bare-breasted and wearing only panties.
"I'm going to stand by what I promised, Jo. If you don't want to get serious with me, we'll keep it casual. But I can't say I'm not disappointed. And a little hurt that, that you don't feel the same."
"I'm sorry," Jo said sincerely.
"Your Blair is a very lucky woman."
"I don't know that she's my Blair anymore," Jo said, looking away.
"Well she may not be your Blair, but you're her Jo."
Anna left the room.
A few seconds later, Jo heard the shower turn on.
She leaned on one elbow. She plucked idly at the stray threads on Anna's cotton sheets.
And here I go again, she thought. Disappointin women left and right. I can't make Blair happy. I can't get serious enough to suit Anna
Well there was one thing she knew she could do perfectly well.
Jo slipped out of the bed, and padded to the bathroom.
The bathroom door was half ajar.
Jo pushed it open.
Anna was standing in the shower, tall, lovely body visible through the translucent shower curtain.
Jo pulled the curtain back a little bit, stepped into the shower next to Anna.
"I really don't have time for thirds," Anna said, over the roar of the water.
"I'll be quick," said Jo.
"You can wash me," Anna said. She handed her washcloth to Jo. Jo grinned wickedly. She trailed the soapy cloth down Anna's torso, her hips, her thighs, and then slid the cloth between Anna's legs.
Jo moved the cloth rhythmically, back and forth, up and down. With her free hand she cupped Anna's left breast, stroked the nipple with her thumb.
"I wanna eat you," said Jo. "Can I eat ya?"
Anna nodded. She closed her eyes, tilted her head back under the running water.
Jo knelt, still thumbing Anna's nipple, dropped the washcloth, parted Anna's dark pubic hair with her free hand. Jo kissed the swollen nub, suckled it, drew her tongue over Anna's nether lips. She drove her tongue inside Anna.
Anna gasped again. She leaned back against the tiles, so she didn't fall.
For long moments, Jo's tongue worked. Anna's hips rocked in slow, delicious counterpoint to Jo's tonguing. Anna's breath came fast and ragged, until she cried out.
Jo grinned up at her.
"When do you have to be at the hospital?" Jo asked.
"S-s-seven," Anna managed to say, head lolling against the tiles.
"Then we've got lots of time," said Jo. "We're going back to bed. OK?"
"Yes," said Anna. "Yes, Jo."
Back at Nat's apartment, after walking Anna as far as Manhattan Memorial, Jo popped open a beer and settled in front of Natalie's TV. Nat and Snake had a remote control for their television. Jo skipped from channel to channel, not finding a ball game or a cop show. PBS was broadcasting a mystery program. It wasn't exactly Jo's cup of tea, but it was better than the crap on the other channels. Jo leaned her head on one hand, not trying to follow the mystery but rather dreamily remember her exertions with Anna that afternoon, especially when Anna had pulled down Jo's panties and
Natalie's phone shrilled, interrupting Jo's daydreams.
Jo grinned. Probably Anna calling before her shift started, calling to say "thanks for the memories."
Jo scooped up the receiver.
"Natalie Green's apartment," Jo said in a dreamy, silky voice.
"Jo? Is that you?"
Rose's voice. Her Ma. Her Ma sounding very, very pissed.
"Uh, hey," Jo said. "Hey, Ma. How's by you?"
"How's by me? Don't 'how's by me' me, Joanne Marie!"
"And don't 'Ma' me, either. When was I going to find out that you and Blair separated? Why did you let me find out about it on the street?"
"On the street?" Jo asked doubtfully. "Is that news even on the street?"
"You know what I mean, Jo. I only found out because I ran into Blair at St. Algon's Hospice. A month. You and Blair have been apart for a month, and I'm only learning it now, and from her, not you."
"It's complicated," said Jo.
"I'm sure it is. But when something like that happens, you pick up a phone, Jo. You call your mother. You tell me what's happening."
"Ma, look I don't even know what's happenin. I don't. I'm just muddlin through day to day."
"Muddling through? Blair says you've already taken up with some medical student."
Inwardly, Jo groaned. Christ. What hadn't Blair told Rose?
"It's not serious, Ma. It's just two people, ah, helpin each other get through some tough times. Anna just left someone, and Blair just gave me the heave-ho, so, we're comfortin each other."
"Hmm," Rose said skeptically.
"How is Blair?" Jo asked. "I miss her. Hell. I miss her so much, Ma. Tell her that if you see her. Ask her if I can come home."
"What am I, your messenger pigeon? What kind of way to make up is that? If you want to end the separation, you tell Blair. You're an adult now, Jo. You have to work these things through without interference from me."
"Without interference?" Jo demanded, sounding slightly outraged. "If you don't wanna interfere, why are you callin me and readin me the riot act? This ain't interferin?"
"No. This is me telling you how you've hurt my feelings. I'm your mother, Jo. I gave birth to you. Keep me in the loop. OK? Is that too much to ask?"
"Well no," Jo said grudgingly. "I'm sorry, Ma. I just I didn't know how to break it to you. It was easier to just kinda go along like everythin was normal."
"Well it's not normal. And you'd better keep me posted. I love you, Jo! Remember that."
Rose slammed down the phone.
Jo stared at the receiver, the dial tone droning.
She dropped the receiver into its cradle. Settled into the arm chair. Drank more beer.
She knew her Ma loved her, but Sometimes she sure has a hostile way of showin it, Jo thought.
Jo mulled over her mother's words. There had probably been some good advice tucked among the anger and recriminations.
Should she call Blair? Tell Blair she wanted to come home?
Would Blair want her back now? Was it time yet? Had they grown and matured enough?
Would Blair want her back nowor ever?
Jo pointed the remote control at the TV set, turned it off.
The apartment was suddenly silentunnervingly silent.
Jo finished off the beer, brought the empty bottle into the kitchen. She popped open another beer.
It was too goddamn quiet in the apartment. Jo paced around the kitchen.
Nat and Snake had a boom box on their kitchen counter, against the tiled backsplash.
Jo turned it on, spun the dial.
"Crap crap more crap," she said aloud. She continued to spin the dial.
There. Journey. Real music.
Jo paced and listened to Journey and drank her beer.
"It's been a mystery, and still they try to see, why something good can hurt so-o bad."
Jo shook her head. Amen to that!
"Caught on a one-way street, the taste of bittersweet, love will survive somehow, some way."
I hope so, thought Jo. Christ, I hope so.
"One love feeds the fire, one heart burns desire. Wonder who's crying now? Two hearts born to run. Who'll be the lonely one? Wonder who's cryin now?"
Jo felt tears welling up. Her and Blair. Journey could've written the damn song about her and Blair, it was so dead-on.
"So many stormy nights, so many wrong or rights, neither could change their headstrong ways."
Dammit. So true. So freakin true.
"And in a lover's rage, they turn another page; the fighting is worth the love they save."
Jo felt the tears fall.
"One love feeds the fire, one heart burns desire. Wonder who's crying now? Two hearts born to run. Who'll be the lonely one? Wonder who's cryin now?"
Jo turned off the radio. She couldn't take anymore. It was a classic song; she knew how it ended.
"Love will never die," she muttered, quoting one of the final lines. "And our love ain't gonna die. I want Blair back. I need her."
She bolted toward the door.
She was going to train it to Morningside Heights, to Blair's house, their house, and they were going to work this out. And if Blair wasn't there, Jo was going to St. Algon's Hospice. She wasn't going to rest until she found Blair. And if
The phone shrilled.
Jo hesitated, hand on the front doorknob.
Who was calling? Jo didn't want to get sucked into anything else right now, anything that distracted her from Blair. What if it was Rose calling back to yell at her some more? Or Anna calling to ask her to reconsider dinner in Queens?
Still There was just a chance it was Blair calling. Blair calling Natalie, or even calling Jo.
Jo made a little "Argh" sound.
She went to the phone, answered it.
"Yeah. What?" she asked ungraciously.
"Hey, Toot. I'm sorry, but I'm just headin out the door."
"That's OK, Jo. I need Nat."
"Nat's outta town tonight, Tootie. She went up to River Rock to take care of some stuff for Mrs. G, while Mrs. G's away."
Tootie's voice sounded very young, and a little lost.
"Is, ah, I mean, I'm right on my way out the door," said Jo, "but is there somethin I can do, a message I can get to someone?"
"Blair didn't answer when I called," said Tootie. "Do you know where Blair is?"
"Hey, what's with the weird pauses?" Jo asked anxiously. "You ain't high or somethinare you Toot? Did someone get you high?"
"I'm not high. I'm ow just ow."
"Whaddya mean'ow'? Are you hurt? Were you in a car accident?"
"Jo, why do you always think the worst? Ow!"
"Why do I think the worst? When you call me soundin all helpless and weird and sayin 'ow'? What the hell is goin on Tootie? Where are you?"
"Do you know how to call Blair?"
"No, I don't know how to call Blair," Jo mimicked. She didn't mean it cruelly; she was starting to get well and thoroughly freaked out by Tootie's strange demeanor. "And Mrs. G's in LA and Nat's up in Peekskill and Snake's on the road and Alec's in England and Blair could be anywhere. Not anywhere. She could be at the library or in a late class or at the hospice. Or on a date, even. Too many places to check. So what do you need, kid? It's me. You got me. Sorry you can't do better."
"I guess you'll have to do," Tootie said in a resigned voice. "Ow. Ow. Ow!"
"Tootie, what the hell is happening?" Jo demanded. "Are ya hurt?"
"Not exactly. Jo .. do you know ow! Do you know the YWCA near Midtown?"
"Yeah. That where you are?"
"Yes. I'm lying low here."
"Lying low? What're youon the lam from the law?"
"Jo, I haven't been on the road I mean, I was but not with a summer stock company. I've beenow!"
"Tootie, I'm calling an ambulance right freakin now and sendin it to the YWCA."
"No! No, Jo! You can't. It would make the papers, and my mother would Just come, Jo. You. Come to the Y W C A."
"What room are you in?"
Jo dropped the receiver, ran for the door.
It sounded like drugs. Some kind of bad trip. Or maybe Tootie was really, really drunk, and just needed to throw up. Of course Tootie wouldn't want anything to hit the news. Her mother, Justice Ramsey, a most formidable and severe woman, would really love that! "Ambulance Called to YWCA for Justice's Druggie Daughter". Hell!
Jo decided she'd jet over to the YWCA, see what was what, and bundle Tootie off quietly to Manhattan Memorial if it was necessary. Maybe Anna or Nat could find a way to keep it under wraps.
Hang on kid, thought Jo. The cavalry's on the way!
Blair lifted her napkin to her face, pretending to daub at the corners of her mouth, but in reality hiding an enormous yawn.
"And then," her date rambled on, "it finally hit me."
"Did it?" Blair asked politely. "Finally?"
"Yes. Finally. I realized it had been staring me in the face all the time. Forensic accounting! Not tax accounting. Forensic accounting. That's where the real excitement is."
"Oh, of course," Blair said politely. She managed to stifle another yawn.
"I'll be you've never been on a date with a forensic accountant," the woman said, smiling a little roguishly. Gloria was thirty, nicely built, with a pleasant, bespectacled face, and a triple-strand of pearls that was a tad much for the Midtown bistro where they were dining.
Gloria was also a crashing, crashing bore.
"No," Blair said, "I don't believe I have. An accountant, perhaps. But not a forensic accountant."
"Well, there aren't many of us," said Gloria. She stabbed a slice of tomato and lettuce with her fork, devoured the vegetables hungrily.
"I should imagine not," Blair said. "It's quite a specialized branch of accountingisn't it?"
"Yes. It is." Gloria positively preened.
Inwardly, Blair sighed.
Blair had been on eleven dates now, all of them not only disappointing, but frankly dreadful.
She'd been hoping to find one of the women attractive enough to sleep with. Jo was broadening her horizons by sleeping with someone else. And what was good for the goose was good for the other goose, Blair reasoned. Why should Jo have all of the sexual horizon broadening?
But Blair hadn't been attracted to any of her dates. Not even enough for a one-night stand.
After about fifteen minutes, all Blair ever wanted was for the dates to end so she could go home and crawl into bed and miss Jo.
Which was pathetic, she told herself. Absolutely pathetic.
Jo had risen to the occasion. Why couldn't she?
Of course, Jo had found someone good. Someone hand-picked for her by Natalie.
Whereas Blair was still using the G&L center dating board, which was proving to be, apparently, incapable of properly matching two people. Any two people.
"What else would you like to know about me?" Gloria asked. "I could talk about myself and my work for hours. I have a million stories."
"Do you know, I, uh," Blair put a hand to her stomach, "I'm not feeling very well, Gloria. A bad lettuce leaf, maybe. Ooh. No. Not well at all." Blair grasped her clutch bag and stood. "I'm sorry, but I'll have to call it a night."
Blair made her escape
She didn't hail a cab. She walked for blocks. She wandered past the window displays of Manhattan's most famous department stores. The stores were closed now.
"That bracelet would look so lovely on Jo," she thought, gazing at a band of diamonds and sapphires and white gold gleaming under the display lights.
Jo. Always Jo.
Blair leaned her forehead against the cool surface of the plate glass window.
Here she was, twenty-five, attractive, wealthy, and on the verge of a promising career. The US branch of the Episcopal Church had confirmed its first female bishop in February. It wasn't inconceivable, Blair knew, that she could be a bishop some day. All the things she could do if she were a bishop. All the wrongs she could help to right
But without Jo, she realized, she would never feel completely fulfilled.
I mean, just look at me. Out on the town. Beautiful, rich, and charming. I could have my pick of women if I really wanted to. So why do I keep using that stupid dating system that doesn't work? Because because I don't really want to find anyone else ...
The separation had been a success, Blair realized. It had been a success because it had been a failure.
She knew, now, once and for all, that she wanted Jo, and only Jo, for the rest of her life.
Blair squared her shoulders.
There was only one thing to do.
She had to tough it out until Jo, her Jo, came back to her.
The YWCA where Tootie was staying smelled of sweat sock, floor wax, cabbage, and Lemon Pledge.
Jo bounded up the steps two at a time.
"Two-oh-seven, two-oh-seven," she repeated, glancing at room numbers as she jogged down the second-floor hallway.
A muffled scream split the air.
Jo ran toward the door.
Jo grabbed the doorknob, tried to turn it, but it was locked.
"Tootie," she called through the door. "Let me in!"
Another muffled scream. And then
"Jo?" Tootie's voice, muffled by the door, weak. "Is that you?"
"Let me in! For cryin out loud!" Jo called through the door, sounding angry, but only because she was scared as hell.
"I'm I'm coming," called Tootie.
The next door down the hallway popped open. A woman in curlers poked her head into the hall.
"She's been doin that for an hour," complained the woman. "You her friend? Make her stop, or I'm gonna call the cops."
"Get bent," Jo snarled at the woman. "You want the cops? I'll give you the freakin cops!"
"What in the hell does that mean?" the woman asked indignantly.
Jo scowled. She didn't know what it meant. It didn't mean anything. Jo was just scared and anxious and popping off because she didn't like anyone threatening to call the cops on Tootie.
"It means get your curlers back in your room," Jo snarled, "and shut the hell up. That's what it means."
"You're as crazy as the broad in 207," said the woman, stepping back into her room and slamming the door.
A sort of terrible groan, and a rattling sound as Tootie unlocked the door, and then the knob turned under Jo's hand and she pushed it open.
As it happened she pushed it opened so fast she almost flattened Tootie, but Tootie stepped aside just in the nick of time.
"Hi, Jo," Tootie said quietly. "Ioh my gosh. Oh. Ooooooooow!" she moaned.
Jo gaped at her young friend.
Tootie stood in the middle of the small, cell-like chamber, wearing a pretty but tent-like white-and-black sun dress, hands clutching her enormous belly.
"Shut the door, Jo," said Tootie. "Please."
Jo slammed the door shut, never taking her eyes off Tootie.
Tootie sat down awkwardly on the narrow, Spartan bed. Tootie was so petite that her belly was almost half as large as she was.
"Tootie. Tootie, you're, uh, you're, uh"
"Yes, Jo. I'm pregnant."
"But When? When did you get pregnant?"
"The usual 'when', Jo. About nine months ago," Tootie said drily. She held her belly with both hands, groaning and lying back on the bed. "You have to help me, Jo."
Tootie lifted an eyebrow. "Jo, please, please don't say you 'don't know nothin 'bout birthin no babies'. It's so cliché."
"Are you kiddin? I would never say that. I'm too freakin freaked out to try to be funny. But I don't, Tootie. I don't know anythin about deliverin a kid. We need to get you to a hospital."
"Oooooooow, oooooooooh," cried Tootie, closing her eyes and grimacing. "Jo. I told you," she panted when the contraction passed, "no hospitals. My mother's up for a Supreme Court appointment, and and . there isn't time to get me to a hospital, anyway."
"Then we, we freakin need to get a doctor to you," said Jo. She glanced wildly around the room. "Where's your phone?"
"You can't call anyone," said Tootie. "No one can know except the Musketeers. And Mrs. G. But none of themow!are around. It's just you, Jo. I know this isn't yourow! Oh my God!I know this isn't your kind of gig. It's not like fixing a motorcycle. But you're all I have."
"I can't be all you have," said Jo. "You need a lot more than me, kid. A lot more!"
Jo finally saw the phone, one of the heavy old Bakelite models, on the floor next to Tootie's bed.
Jo scooped it up, dialed "0".
"Jo! Don't!" cried Tootie.
"I'm sorry, Tootie, I gotta get you some help."
"Women have been having babies without doctors for thousands ofow!years," Tootie protested. "It's the most natural thing in theow! ow!world."
"Yeah, right," said Jo. "You're soundin terrific there. Real natural. YouHello? Operator? I need to talk to Manhattan Memorial. Yeah. Of course the hospital. Gimme the main number."
"I'll never forgive you for this, Jo," Tootie groaned.
"You'll never forgive me? Hey. I didn't knock you up! Which, by the way, who did? So I know who to murder."
"It doesn't matter who," said Tootie. "I'm an adult now. An adult, Jo. I knocked myself up. It's my responsibility. I don't know why you allooooooooooow!why you insist on treating me like a dimwitted child."
"Tootie, you can't lie there, a billion months pregnant, and convince me you're a responsible adult. It ain't gonna work. Do you have any common sense? Do you"
"Don't yell at me! What a sorehead! Why can't Natalie be here?"
"I wish she was! At least she has medical trainin. If sheOh, hello? Manhattan Memorial? Yeah, can you page Anna Vitrina for me? She's one of your students. Yeah. She's s'posed to be on duty tonight. Her shift started at seven. Yeah. Yeah, it's an emergency. Yeah, I'll hold."
"I'll never forgive you for this, Jo," Tootie repeated, mournfully shaking her head.
"Maybe you won't," said Jo, "but I'll bet your kid will. Your kid! What the hell? Tootie, how can you be having a kid?"
"For the last time, I'm anow! ow! oooooow!an adult now!"
"You weren't even in summer stock. Were you?"
"Of course not. What part could I play? Except, well Agnes Gooch in the final act of Mame, I guess."
"I don't know who that is. But I knew it! I knew there was somethin fishy about that summer stock story. Summer stock doesn't start in the spring. And Natalie calls herself a Snoop Sister! Hello? Anna? Yeah, it's me. No, I'm not OK," Jo said into the phone. "I need a huge favor and I need it now. I need you to run over the YWCA. Room 207. But you can't tell anyone where you're goin. No. It's an emergency, yeah. Bring any medical supplies you can grab. Someone's havin a baby. Yeah. Room 207. 207. Thank you. Christ. I owe you, Anna. I owe you big."
Jo hung up the phone.
"Who's Anna?" asked Tootie.
"Never mind, that's who Anna is," snapped Jo. "Tootie. Hell. Are you, I mean, are you comfortable?"
"I'm having a baby, Jo. A baby is literally trying to push its way out of me, even as we speak. So, no, I'm not comfortable. But I didn't expect to be. Ioooooooooooooooow! Ooooooooooooh, Jo, this is a bad one. Take my hand. Take my hand!"
"Tootie!" cried Jo. She knelt by her friend's bed, grabbed one of Tootie's hands. "Squeeze," she told Tootie. "Squeeze as hard as you need."
"It's, it's coming now, Jo," said Tootie, breath ragged.
"It can't," said Jo. "Not now. Now is bad. Anna won't be here for ten minutes. At least."
"The baby doesn't know that. It" Tootie shrieked then, a long, drawn-out cry of pain. "Jo, it's coming out now. I feel her head. You have to catch her."
"Whaddya mean, catch her?" Jo asked, wild-eyed. "What is she, a football? And whaddya mean 'her'? How do you know it's a girl?"
"I just know. Jo Just She's coming, Jo. Catch her."
Jo looked frantically around the room, saw a couple of towels hanging from a hook near the sink.
She grabbed a towel and draped it over Tootie's thighs. She pushed up the skirt of the sun dress.
"K," Jo said. "The towel'll give you a little privacy. It's like those sheet things you see in the movies, when people have babies."
"Never mind my privacy," panted Tootie. "Just be ready to catch her."
"Stop sayin that! It's makin me nervous. I'm gonna drop it."
"You better not. Just be ready. I ooooooooooooooohhhhh!"
"What's happenin? What happened? Is it comin now?" Jo asked. Her breath quickened and her head started to spin.
Get ahold of yourself, Polniaczek, she thought. You can't faint. This is Tootie. Little Toot. You gotta take care of her. You gotta
Jo took a deep breath, held it, let it out. She took another deep breath.
Tootie shrieked again.
"Jo! You were ow! Oh my God! You were right. I need a hospital. I do. Can we can you "
Jo shook her head gently.
"It's, nah, it's too late for that now, Toot."
"You could carry me, Jo. You're really strong," Tootie pleaded. She closed her eyes in agony. "This is this is the worst pain ever. I can feel her she's she's coming but she's taking her time."
"Just like you, when it's time to get ready for somethin," Jo joked feebly. "Heyyour kid is makin an entrance, like you do. Her first big entrance. Go figure."
Tootie shrieked, and then shrieked again. The sweat stood out on her forehead.
Jo smelled blood suddenly, coppery and strong. She'd never delivered a baby, but growin up in a sketchy part of the Bronx, having been shot and knifed, she knew all too well what blood smelled like.
Jo peered under the towel. Tootie was bleeding, heavily. The baby was crowning.
"Oh, Jo It hurts!"
"I know," Jo said, as calmly as she could. She took another deep breath. "But it's gonna be worth it."
"Pinky swear. Toot, I can see the baby's head. I can see it."
"What does she look like?"
"Like a head. I mean, the head is kinda a deep red color, but that might partly be the blood. But she has dark hair. Little dark curls. Wait till you see her, Tootie. Everythin's gonna fall right into place," Jo assured her friend.
"Yeah. It will."
Jo turned toward the sink.
"Don't leave!" Tootie said, panicked.
"I ain't leavin. Just gettin another towel." Jo grabbed another towel off the hook near the sink. She placed it on the bed, between Tootie's legs, under the privacy towel. "So the kid has a soft landin," Jo said.
"Jo, she's moving. I feel She's moving again. And I'm pushing. I'm pushing, Jo!"
"I know." Jo watched with wonder as the head emerged, and then the tiny shoulders, the arms, the torso. And then the baby was lying on the towel, the umbilical cordlike something out of a monster movie, Jo thoughtwinding from its belly back to its mother.
Jo wrapped the baby in the bottom towel, swabbed at the blood and placenta with infinite gentleness.
"She's beautiful," breathed Jo.
"She's a girl? She is?"
"She is," said Jo. "Here." She brought the baby to Tootie, handed the child to its mother. "She's kinda messy, and we gotta cut the cord, still, but, jeezain't she somethin?"
Tootie's eyes welled with tears as she held her daughter.
"She is beautiful," Tootie whispered. "She's Jo, she's perfect."
"I know. I know. Look at all those little curls. And that little dimple in her chin."
Tootie pressed her nose to the minute tip of her daughter's nose.
"How do you feel, Tootie?" asked Jo.
"It it hurts," Tootie said absently, gazing in wonder at her child. "But you called someone. I'll be OK."
As if on cue, someone rapped on the door and then burst in. Anna, in her scrubs, sweating from her run through Midtown, medical bag clutched in one sweaty hand.
She took in the scene at a glance.
Jo grinned at her.
"You missed the main event," she told Anna. "But you can make sure the mom and kid are OK."
Anna nodded, leaned forward to catch her breath, then crossed to the bed.
She let Tootie hold the baby while she examined it.
"Ten fingers, ten toes, heart and lungs sound good," Anna announced.
"Thank God," said Tootie. "Thank God."
"How do you feel?" Anna asked Tootie.
"Wonderful," Tootie said dreamily.
"I mean, physically."
"Sort of weak. And it still hurts."
Anna went to the end of the bed, peered under the privacy towel.
"I'm not ma'am. I'm Tootie," said Tootie.
"She's one of my oldest friends," Jo told Anna.
"Then I'll take extra good care of her. Tootie, we need to make sure all the placenta has cleared. And then you're going to need stitches. We need to have you admitted at Manhattan Memorial."
Tootie grimaced, then smiled again as her tiny daughter made a funny little sound with her mouth.
"I think she's already hungry, Tootie," said Anna.
Jo took Anna aside.
"Look," she said, "if Tootie needs to be admitted, greatall I want is for her and the kid to be OK. But Tootie's mother is a really well-known, really powerful, really cranky judge. And if the papers get ahold of this, or the TV news"
"I can check her in without any media attention," Anna said confidently.
"Yeah? I mean, I know you can try, but you can't exactly guarantee it, can you?"
"Of course I can."
"Jo," Anna took Jo's hand, "I told you my father was a doctor?"
"Well he's actually a little more than a doctor. He's the head of Manhattan Memorial."
"Oh." Jo chewed on that.
"I'll make sure Tootie's admission is completely confidential."
"Thank you." Jo pressed Anna's hand. "I really do owe you, Anna. Big-time. The biggest."
"I see. Do you owe me enough to go to supper at my parents' Friday night?"
"See, you walked right into that one," Anna said a little smugly. She turned away from Jo. "Where's the phone? I need to call an ambulance ..."
Mid August, 1989. Manhattan. Greenwich Village.
Blair's wandering eventually took her to a station where the trains ran to the Village.
So it was that not long after her epiphany about not wanting anyone but Jo, Blair found herself standing in front of St. Algon's Hospice.
I might as well be useful to someone tonight, she thought. Instead of brooding about Jo.
The hall light was dimmed in deference to the hour, which was growing late.
"Hello," said Blair. "Is there anyone awake, still, who wants someone to sit with them? Or read to them?"
The woman on duty at the front desk stood up when she recognized Blair.
"Blair. Thank God," she said. "We tried to call you."
Hmm. That doesn't sound good, thought Blair. This night just keeps getting better.
"Is everything all right?" she asked, knowing the answer would be "no".
"Sam was asking for you," the woman explained. "We don't usually call volunteers just because a patient asks for them by name, but Sam's taken a bad turn, and we know you're fond of him."
Blair's hand went to her chest.
"A bad turn? What does that mean?"
"What it always means," the woman said, with a rueful smile.
Blair felt the tears coming, but pushed them back.
If this was Sam's last night, he didn't need to see her weeping like a child.
"Is he still in B Ward?"
"No. We moved his bed to a private room. So he can be more comfortable at the end."
At the end. What a stark way to put it. But it is, after all, the end
Blair walked to Sam's new room, a small private chamber at the very end of the hall.
She stepped softly so as not to wake up patients sleeping in the wards and rooms she passed.
A lamp turned low burned on Sam's night table.
He grinned at Blair when he saw her in the doorway.
His cheeks were so sunken, his blue eyes so hectically bright.
"You made it," he said. "Good. I wanted to say goodbye."
The words "Don't say that," rose to her lips. The words, "You're going to be fine. You're going to pull through." All of the encouraging things that the living are taught to tell to the dying, a desperately cheerful and hopeless optimism that denies the dead the dignity of their final hours.
"Are you sure it's tonight?" Blair asked simply, pulling up a straight-backed chair next to his bed.
Sam nodded. "Any time now," he said. His voice was so ragged, it sounded like he'd been gargling with carbolic acid. His chest rose and fell feebly, and Blair heard the whistle and rattle of fluid in his lungs. "Hey You look beautiful. You didn't have to get all all dolled up for me."
She took one of his hands in both of hers.
"I was on a date," she said.
He chuckled. "Must've been some shitty date if you ended up here."
"Do you want me to call your parents?" she asked kindly.
"Is there anyone I can call?"
"No. There's no one. It's down to me, and God, and your friendly face."
"Do you want me to have the desk call a Rabbi?"
Sam shook his head. "God, no. I can't think of anything more useless at this point. Just sit with me, Blair. Pray with me, before the light comes. Do you know the Psalms?"
"Some of them," said Blair. "I think I know the ones you mean." She had studied Jewish traditions of death and dying in her "Hebrew Rituals" seminar.
"Do you know the Song of Ascents?"
"Yes." She knew it. Psalm 130.
"Will you pray with me?"
"I'm not a Rabbi, Sam. I don't even have my Divinity degree yet."
Sam shook his head.
"It doesn't matter. Not to me. Can you recite it?"
She bowed her head, squeezed his hands.
"Out of the depths I call to you, O Lord."
Sam repeated the verse, haltingly, in Hebrew.
They continued that way, Blair saying a verse in English, Sam repeating the words in Hebrew.
Sam spoke slowly, haltingly, but Blair waited patiently for him to finish each verse before she said the next one.
"My Lord, hearken to my voice. Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas. God, if you were to preserve iniquities, my Lord, who could survive? But forgiveness is with you, that you may be feared. I hope in the Lord, my soul hopes, and I long for his Word. My soul years for the Lord more than the watchmen wait for the morning. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is kindness; with him there is abounding deliverance. And he will redeem Israel from all its iniquities ..."
Sam closed his eyes for a moment after they finished.
He opened them. He smiled.
"An abounding deliverance. I'm going to to need that."
"We all will," said Blair. "None of us is close to perfect."
"Do you know Adon Olam, Blair?"
"Let's say that one."
"Lord of the universe," said Blair, "who reigned before anything was created "
They recited Adon Olam, Sam's voice growing slower and feebler as they went along. His respirations were so shallow, Blair wondered that he could speak at all.
When they finished Sam closed his eyes again.
Blair lowered her head, pressing her forehead against the frail hand she held.
"I'm not gone yet," he whispered, with a gurgling little laugh.
She looked up. He smiled at her. She smiled at him.
"It's time," he said. "You're getting kind of far away. Blair?"
"You know the Shema? And you know the the"
"I know," she said. "For the final moments." She bowed her head, clasping his hand as tightly as she could without hurting him. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One."
Sam's lips moved, but she couldn't hear what he was saying. He was reciting the Hebrew verse, no doubt. His eyes closed. She continued.
"Blessed be the name of the glory of his kingdom forever and ever," she said softly. Sam's mouth moved. She repeated the verse twice more. And then, "God is the Lord. The Lord is King, the Lord was King, the Lord will be King forever and ever."
Sam's lips mouthed a final word, and then fell still. There was a little gasp, an intake of breath, and a liquid rattle in his throat.
His hand relaxed.
He was gone.
Blair drew a deep breath.
He had been there, and now he was gone.
She pressed her forehead against his hand again.
Waited, although she knew it was futile, for him to open his blue eyes and say "Still here, Blair. You're not getting rid of me that easy."
After a moment, when Sam remained still and quiet, she kissed his hand, and released it. She sat up straight in the chair.
Why are these men being taken? she asked God. So young. So far ahead of their time
"Sam is gone," she told the volunteer night nurse.
The nurse merely nodded. She had coped with dozens of deaths in the last few weeks alone. She wasn't past caring, but she was past showing any particular emotion.
"Do you know," Blair asked the woman staffing the front desk, "what arrangements will be made for Sam?"
"For the body?"
"Yes," Blair said tightly. He had literally just died. She wasn't ready to refer to him as "the body". He was still Sam to her. She could see that the volunteer didn't mean anything unkind by it. It was just procedure. This was a hospice. People died left and right. They were up to the rafters in bodies.
"He doesn't have any family to speak of," said the woman, flipping through a cloth-bound record book. "No. No, he has no one down as 'next of kin'."
"Did he have any friends who"
"No. He kept himself to himself, except with you."
"Which means what, in terms of his final resting place?''
The woman grimaced. "Potters field, I'm afraid. It's unfortunate, but we simply don't have the funds to bury the unwanted ones."
"I know. Some of the men have friendsquite a lot of friendsin the Village. Most of them have been disowned by their parents, but friends and lovers fill the gap. But the ones like Sam There isn't much we can do."
Blair opened her clutch purse. She removed her checkbook and a ballpoint pen.
"What is Sam's name? His full name?" she asked.
The woman consulted the cloth-bound book. "Samuel Elijah Benjamin."
Blair wrote the date on the dateline of the top check, and "St. Algon's Hospice" on the payee line, and "Burial Expenses, Samuel Elijah Benjamin" on the memo line.
She signed the check, tore the check out of her checkbook. Handed it to the volunteer.
"What's this?" asked the woman.
"For Sam. For his final arrangements," said Blair. "Please use any amount necessary. Make sure he receives the very best care. Have the Temple make the arrangements."
"The Temple. Temple Emanu-El, on East 65th."
"Blair, you're talking about a lot of money."
Blair waved dismissively.
"Use however much you need."
"But this is going to run into the thousands."
"I hope so."
The volunteer shook her head. "This is incredibly generous of you, Blair."
"No. It isn't. It's only money, and I have plenty of that. What mattered to Sam was that I was with him at the end. The rest is for me. I just can't bear to think of him in a potter's field. Sam could care less now."
Blair turned on her heel.
"Good night," the volunteer called after her, fluttering the check over her head.
"Good night," Blair called back.
She walked out into the dark summer night.
Hailed a cab.
Sat in the back of the cab, tears pricking her eyes while the taxi drove north to Morningside Heights.
The lights of the Village and Midtown and Central Park flashed past her window.
Damn, she thought, damn and damn
The cab driver was listening to a sappy romantic radio station.
Gloria Estefan sang "I Don't Wanna Lose You" in a lovely and mournful voice.
Sometimes it's hard to make things clear, or know when to face the truth. And I know that the moment is here. I'll open my heart and show you inside
Blair rapped on the glass separating her from the driver.
"Can you change the station? Please?" she demanded.
She knew she was being rude, but she didn't give a damn.
"Whatyou don't like this?" The driver sounded almost indignant. "This song, this song is a good song."
I don't wanna lose you now, sang Estefan, We're gonna get through somehow. I don't wanna lose you now, or ever
"This song," the cab driver continued, "is climbing up the chart. The Billboard chart. This song is going to be number one."
"I know it's a good song," Blair said through clenched teeth. "I'm just not in the mood for it."
"How you can not like this song? I do not understand."
"Oh my goodness, did you write the song yourself?" asked Blair. "Just, just change it. Here." She pushed a twenty dollar bill through the window in the glass through which passengers paid their fares.
Keeping one hand on the wheel, the driver pushed her money back through the window. It dropped onto the seat next to the young heiress.
"This song, this song is my wife's favorite song," the driver said. "I not will change it. You are a very rude lady. Very rude."
Blair stuffed the twenty into her clutch bag. She leaned back against the seat.
The driver was right, and she knew it, and was embarrassed, and, oh my God, would the song ever end? It made her think of Sam, and Jo, and her parents, and everyone Blair had ever lost, one way or another, in her lifetime.
I don't wanna lose you now. We're gonna get through somehow. I don't wanna lose you now, or ever
Blair let her tears fall thick and fast.
Mid August, 1989. Midtown Manhattan. Manhattan Memorial Hospital.
Tootie slept deeply in the hospital bed in the private room to which she'd been assigned.
Anna had been as good as her word, instructing the ambulance to bring Tootie to a special back entrance used for celebrities and members of New York's legendary 400anyone whose arrival might cause a media frenzy.
Tootie was whisked into a special ER examination off the public ER. The doctor and nurse on duty examined her and the baby, declared them healthy, administered the stitches Tootie needed, and gave her a mild pain pill, an IV drip, and a sedative. Tootie was admitted under the code name "Tootie Doe".
The baby was whisked off to the nursery, given the code name "Tootie Doe Jr.".
Jo and Anna accompanied the now-unconscious Tootie to her private room in a back wing of the hospital.
"So," said Jo, when the nurses had finished fussing over Tootiethey didn't know who she was, but they knew she was somebody, given her mysterious arrival and her code nameand had left Jo and Anna alone in the room. "Your Pop runs this place. Pretty swank."
Anna shrugged. "It's tiresome to tell you the truth. People assume I get special treatment and special privileges. So I prefer to keep it quiet. I use my mother's maiden name. No one in the student program knows my father is Dr. Santorino, the big boss."
Jo glanced around the private room, then grinned at Anna.
"All right," said Anna, "A few people not in the student program know who I am. And I can invoke special treatment and special privileges. This being an example. But I don't like to. This is the first time I've done anything like this. Usually I keep my head down and my mouth shut. I'm doing this for youyou and your friend."
Jo nodded. "And I appreciate it, Anna. No kiddin. You have no idea how much. I've known this kid," she nodded at Tootie, "since she was, well, a kid. We were at school at Eastland."
"With you, and Natalie, and, um"
"Blair," said Jo. "Yeah. The four Musketeers."
"It must be nice," Anna said rather wistfully, "to have friends like that."
"It is." Jo took Anna's wrist, shook it gently. "So, OK, you don't tell the other students here that Daddy's the head honcho, but why didn't you tell me? You think I'm a fortune-hunter, or somethin?"
Anna shook her head. "I'm just a very private person. I don't tell anyone until I'm sure about them, until I know them a bit. Jo, I don't think you understand. When we, well, slept together that first time. I don't do that. If I didn't trust you"
"OK," Jo said softly. "Duly noted. Thank you."
Anna shrugged. "Anyway, the family dinner Friday nightthat was when I was going to unveil my family. My father, the world-famous international heart-surgeon-slash-hospital administrator. My mother, the international bank director."
Jo laughed. "The way you talked about your folks comin over from the old country, it sounded like you all landed on Ellis Island. Like you came over here in steerage on the Titanic."
"The Titanic never made it to New York," Anna objected.
"Eh, you know what I mean. One of those old tubs."
"I don't try to mislead anyone," said Anna. "I just keep my family situation vague. People fill in the blanks however they see fit."
"Well, you did tell me your parents speak great formal English. No kiddin! No wonder they don't get slang!"
Anna turned her wrist, captured Jo's hand with her hand.
"I do want you to come to supper Friday night. Will you?"
Jo nodded. "I said I owed you. I really am grateful."
Anna glanced away.
"I don't just want it to be a favor."
"Hey," Jo said quickly, "I really do want to meet your parents. But Anna, I was serious this afternoon. We can be friends. OK? But that's all we should be."
Anna released Jo's hand.
"I wonder if Blair knows," said Anna, "what a lucky woman she is?"
"Well, obviously not," said Jo, "or she wouldn't have come up with this separation thing. But I hope she figures it out. I hope to hell she does."
"Were you able to reach her?" Anna asked, trying to sound light. "To tell her about the baby?"
"Nah. I called the house twice while they were stitchin up poor Tootie. Blair's out somewhere. I guess, well, there's this hospice she volunteers at. But prob'ly, from what Nat's been tellin me, Blair's prob'ly out on a date. She might even," Jo fingered her shirt collar, which suddenly felt as if it were strangling her, "she's prob'ly gettin lucky with someone even as we speak."
"Hmm," said Anna.
"Hmm what?" asked Jo.
"Nothing. Just nothing."
"Hey, now. You don't know me too well yet, but I can tell you I can't stand that, when someone says 'Hmm' or 'Hmph' or somethin and then they're all, 'Oh, never mind'. You got somethin to say, you oughta say it."
"I don't," said Anna. "I don't have anything to say."
Jo tilted her head, gave the woman a skeptical look.
"What about Natalie?" asked Anna. "Were you able to reach her?"
"No. I should try again." Jo gestured to the phone on Tootie's night table. "That'll get me an outside line? Or not?"
"It will," said Anna. "Just tell the operator what number you're trying to reach. Jo?"
"I'm happy to have been able to help you smuggle Tootie and the baby in here, but there's something you're going to have to think about. Wellthat Tootie will have to think about it. The hospital can keep her presence quiet, but she will have to pay for the room and the doctors and everything down to the stitches. It's going to be very expensive. You say her mother's a judge?"
"Her mother," Jo said grimly, "is actually under consideration for a Supreme Court appointment. Last Tootie heard her Ma was on the short list of conservative candidates whenever another vacancy opens up. Justice Ramsey's already pissed at Tootie for dropping out of college. The last thing Justice Ramsey would want is word to leak out that Tootie got knocked up and gave birth at ye old Manhattan YWCA! That kinda publicity could kill her chances for the Supreme Court pretty quick."
"I would imagine," Anna said, shaking her head. "But Not to be indelicate, but eventually, Tootie's mother or someone in her family could pay the bill here? Yeah?"
"Oh. I see. Well, yeah, but who knows when Tootie's gonna be ready to break this blessed news to them. They're all pretty conservative, not just her Ma. Her dad's a lawyerused to play pro football. And her older brother's a corporate lawyerhe's kind of a douche. And her younger brother's at Harvard now, and he's kind of a self-satisfied little, wellDamn, I don't know how or when Tootie's gonna be able to tell any of 'em!"
Anna chewed a fingernail.
"I'd cover it myself," Anna said, "but my father stopped my allowance the last time I refused Gianni Perlucci."
"What kind of guy is your pop, anyway? He cuts off your dough but still invites you to family supper?"
"He's not a monster," said Anna. "He refuses to fund my education, because he doesn't approve of it. But I'm still his daughter. He loves me."
"Well, Tootie's bill ain't your responsibility, anyhow" said Jo. "You already did so much, comin runnin when I called, gettin her in here without any publicity. I'll take care of the bill."
Jo smiled. "You don't have to sound that skeptical, ya know."
"I'm sorry, Jo. I didn't mean to insult you."
"I'm not insulted. It was sort of funny."
"But, I mean You're a law student. From the Bronx. Working as an intern."
"You make it sound like I'm dancin for nickels in the Bowery," laughed Jo.
"With what they pay law interns, and with what law school costs, maybe you should be. And I'm only half-kidding, by the way."
"I have money put aside," Jo assured the medical student. "And so does Blairand Tootie is as much Blair's friend as my friend. More, even. Tootie and Blair have always had a special bond. Kinda like me and Nat."
Anna shrugged. "If you say so."
"I do. Have any bills sent to me. Care of Nat's address. OK? I'll pay up, and Blair can kick in whenever, well, whenever I run her down." Jo said it lightly enough, but the image was in her head again, the image of Blair maybe getting lucky with someone, right at that very moment. Someone who was not Jo.
"You miss her," Anna said.
"Who?" asked Jo.
"Right," said Anna, shaking her head. "OK. I'll have the bill sent out the way you want. And I'll expect you Friday evening at my place. We'll go on to my parents' place together. Right now, I have to get back to work."
Jo pulled Anna close, hugged her.
Anna kissed her cheek, and then slipped away
After Anna left, Jo crossed to the phone next to Tootie's bedside.
Dialed Blair's place in Morningside Heights. Still no answer.
She didn't want to call the hospice. It was latereally damn late, now. The patients were probably sleeping. Not even patientsthe dying. Last thing they need is a freakin phone ringin in the middle of the night
Blair probably wasn't there anyhow. She was probably with someone. Well, hell. Blair could find out about Tootie's baby whenever she decided to roll in from her big night out
Jo dialed River Rock. Natalie had to be back in the house now. Nothing in Peekskill stayed open after midnight!
Natalie answered the phone on the fourth ring.
"Rivrrrk, Nat speekn," she mumbled fairly unintelligibly around a giant yawn.
"Nat? Were you sleepin?" teased Jo, speaking quietly, so as not to wake Tootie.
"Jo? Why are you calling? What's wrong? Who's dead?" Natalie was instantly awake, her trademark anxiety shooting adrenalin through her veins.
"Nobody's dead," said Jo. "And nothin's wrong."
"Then why are you calling? And why do you sound quietly triumphant."
"Quietly triumphant? What the hell is that?"
"It's just how you sound. OK. Something good happened. Something good, and I wasn't there. Dammit. I had a feeling I should put off my trip till the weekend. But no. I had to go today. I was worried about the toilet gaskets. If they aren't flushed every once in awhile, everything can go kerflooey. And I wanted to go through some of those old boxes in the attic. Which reminds me, JoI found something I'm going to bring you. You're really going to"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm sure you're doin a bang-up job takin care of River Rock for Mrs. G. But shut up for a minuteK?"
"What happened? It's good, right?" asked Nat, sounding excited. "It's something goodisn't it?"
"It's real good," Jo confirmed. "But you have to be sittin down to hear it."
"Why? If it's good, why do I have to be sitting down?"
"Because, you just do. Are you sittin down?"
A pause, and then, "Yes. I'm sitting."
"Where are you sitting?"
"Where do you think? At the kitchen counter."
"On one of the stools?"
"No, Jo. On the throne of England. Of course on one of the stools! Where else is there to sit?"
"It's just, the stools are kind of tall, and kind of tippy. And I don't want you falling off."
"Well there isn't anywhere else to sit here. So, sitting or standing, which should it be?"
"Sittin, I guess. But just, hang onto the table. K?"
River Rock's kitchen had a large butcher block table at its center. Jo figured Natalie would be safe enough if she held onto it.
"Jo Polniaczek, if you don't tell me right now what the news is"
"OK. OK. It's about Tootie."
"What about Tootie? Oh my God! Is she going to be on Broadway? Is she going to be Fantine in Les Miz?"
"I don't know who that is, but, no. The news is much better than a stupid Broadway show."
"Oh my God! A movie! Tootie got a movie! I knew she could do it! When does it start shooting? Do they need extras?"
"Nat, for cryin out loud, it doesn't have anythin to do with actin or singin or whatever."
"So, then, Tootie's going back to college?" Nat asked hopefully. "And, oh my Godshe's going to NYU! Isn't she? Oh my God, that's so great. She and I can room together again. We can kick you out and Tootie can stay on the couch!"
"Uh, first of all, no, that ain't the news, and second of all, wow, that's cold."
"Oh, you're going to end up going back to Blair anyway," Natalie said dismissively. "I can't believe it. My soul sister, at NYU. Rooming with me again. Oh, the times we'll have!"
"Don't get too excited about it," said Jo, a little sourly, "cause that ain't it either."
"Then what is it? What's the news?" Natalie sounded exasperated. "Why am I sitting down and holding onto a table?"
"I'm tryin to tell ya. If you can keep from interruptin me for a few seconds"
"Who's interrupting? Spill! Spill!"
"Tootie had a baby!" Jo blurted.
Dead silence at the other end of the line.
"Nat? Did ya hear me?"
"Um I don't think I could have. Did you say Did you say "
"Tootie had a baby," Jo said happily. "A little girl. She's so cute! Well, she was once they got all the blood and ick off her. And I delivered her. And the kid is fine, and Tootie's fine, and wait till you see the little baby lug!"
"Nat. Hey. Nat? Did you fall off the stool?"
"No. I'm still hanging in here. Jo Is this some kind of crazy practical joke?"
"Of course not! What kind of dork do you think I am?"
"Tootie had a baby?"
"Without me there?"
"Oh. OK, I get it. Nat, you should knowTootie tried to call you. But you were all the way up at River Rock."
"I know. I know. She wanted you to be there. And then she tried to get Blair. But Blair's, well, out somewhere. So it was me. Last choice. You were totally a hundred percent there in spirit, Nat."
"In spirit? What good does that do me?"
"Uh, none at all. But it sounded like somethin that might calm you down a little."
"Calm me down? Calm me down?"
"Yeah. That's not happenin. Is it?"
"No, Jo. No, that is not going to happen. Not until I'm back in New York, with my soul sister and her brand new baby which was born without me. Where are you?"
"Are you kidding? Are you kidding? If I hadn't come up to River Rock, I would have been there tonight, pulling an extra shift. I would've been there when Tootie was admitted!"
"Yeah, wellthat's life. Sorry, Nat."
"What room are you in?"
"One of the private rooms, in the back wing, fourth floor. And don't ask for Tootie RamseyOK? Tootie's family doesn't know, and she doesn't want 'em to know yet, and her Ma's up for the Supreme Court"
"Pauline's up for the Supreme Court?" Natalie asked incredulously. "I am completely out of the loop."
"That's how Tootie wanted it. That's why she dropped outta school and came up with this cockamamie summer stock story and barely checked in with us. See? She didn't want anyone to know till it was time. And she still ain't ready to tell her mother, and if it gets on the news"
"Got it. So, who's she checked in as?"
"Tootie Doe. And the kid is Tootie Doe Jr."
"Tell me that's not actually what she named the baby."
"Are you crazy? Course not! She says she ain't namin the baby till you're here."
"OK. OK, I already packed the car for the drive tomorrow. So I'm jumping into some scrubs, popping a caffeine pill, and flooring it back to the city."
"Christ, Nat, don't wrap your car around a tree or somethin."
"Jo, I'm a trucker's old lady. I know how to break the speed limit safely."
Jo snorted. "Just be careful, Nat. You hear me? You gotta be in one piece to meet the kid. OK? OK?"
But Tootie had already hung up.
Jo flopped in the chair next to Tootie's bed.
Hell, I hate hospitals, she thought. The freakin linoleum and the smell of disinfectant and the sneaky little squeak of the nurses' shoes. And this particular hospital had a lot of mixed memories for her. It was where Blair had recovered from a knifing, where Jo had recovered from a shooting, where Blair's baby sister Bailey had been born
Should I be worried about Nat crackin up her car? wondered Jo. Nah.
Natalie's version of breaking the speed limit was still turtle-like compared to how Jo drove. Or Snake. Or even Blair.
Jo drummed her fingers on the arm of the chair.
I guess I should try Blair again. Maybe she's home by now.
Of course, if she wasn't, Jo didn't really want to know that she wasn't.
But for Tootie's sake, she had to see.
Jo crossed to the phone again, dialed the little house in Morningside Heights.
The phone was snatched up after one ring.
"Hello?" Blair's voice, sounding rather depressed, but not sleepy.
I guess her date didn't go so great after all, thought Jo. She felt a little smug about it. She wished she were a better human being, and didn't feel smugbut there it was.
"Blair?" Jo said gently.
"Oh. Hi, Jo."
"Are you all right?" asked Blair.
"Well Good. But if you're 'great' why are you calling at this time of the morning, darling?"
The word went to Jo's heart like, like, well, something mushy and sappy. She was too tired to think of a clever metaphor.
"I'm callin about Tootie," said Jo.
"Is she all right?" Blair asked, instantly concerned.
"She's fine. We're at Manhattan Memorial. In the back wing. Tootie's checked in under 'Tootie Doe'."
"To avoid publicity."
"Publicity about what? If she's 'fine' why is she in the hospital, Jo? Under a pseudonym?"
"Can you come now?"
"Of course. My God. I'll come this minute. What's that name again?"
"Tootie Doe. Like Jane Doe. We're on the fourth floor, the back wing. The private wing."
"Should I bring anything?"
"Bring the little bear. The one on the night table."
"The bear? Jo, I know Tootie's the baby of our group, but I think she's outgrown Teddy bears."
"Eh, you never know. Just bring it," said Jo. "I mean, please."
"If you say so," Blair said dubiously. "You're sure she's all right, Jo?"
"Are you fine? You sound a little strange."
"Do I?" laughed Jo. It felt so good to know Tootie and the kid were going to be OK, to know that Natalie was on her way, to know that Blair was coming. If only Alec could be part of it. If only he weren't way the hell over in England at stupid stuffy Oxford.
"Are you drunk, Jo?" Blair asked reproachfully.
"No. Young Diablo's honor. Listen. You don't wanna miss this. You wanna be here."
"I'm in my night things," said Blair, "but I can dress quickly."
"Don't worry about how you look," Jo said kindly. "It won't matter."
"Don't worry about how I look?" Blair repeated. "Joyou are drunk."
"No, I ain't," laughed Jo. "Pinky swear, hope to die, all that. Just get here. We'll be waitin."
Jo hung up the phone before Blair could ask more questions.
Blair's eyes filled with tears for what felt like the millionth time in the last twenty-four hours.
She gazed in wonder through the nursery window at the little cradle holding "Tootie Doe Jr."
The skin, still red from the birth, but a sort of pale cocoa color underneath. The beautiful tiny face with the button nose and dimpled chin. The cap of adorable dark curls. The wrinkled little arms and legs, the minute fingers and toes that curled and uncurled.
"She's she's amazing " Blair breathed.
They stood in front of the nursery window. The lights in the nursery were dimmed, in deference to the face that it was the wee hours of the morning. The night nurses on duty moved quietly behind the glass, changing and bottle-feeding the babies that were fussy and very much awake.
If the nursed hadn't been there, Jo would've slipped her arm around Blair's waist. As it was, she touched Blair's shoulder, once, gently.
"I wish you coulda been there," Jo said. "Mainly cause you woulda known what to do better than me."
"Me? Are you kidding?"
"What do I know about childbirth?"
"Aren't you studyin, I mean, someday you're gonna be baptizin babies and stuff."
"And stuff," Blair agreed. "But the babies will already be born when they're presented to me. Or so I hope, darling."
There it was again. That single word. Over the years, Jo had grown so used to hearing it. It was Blair's standard term of endearment for Jo. But since they'd been apart Hearing "Darling" now was like a sip of cool water in a desert.
Jo was acutely aware of Blair's body heat, of the faint fragrance of her perfume and her shampoo.
OK, Jo told herself. Focus. This is about the kid. And Tootie. And us Musketeers. Blair and me can work things out later. I hope ...
"You must've been terrified," Blair said to Jo.
"When you realized you'd have to deliver the child."
"Oh. Yeah. Completely," Jo agreed.
"But you did it."
"Well, to be fair," Jo said magnanimously, "Tootie had a little bit to do with it."
"What was it like? I mean, to see a baby born?"
"I can't At first it was terrifyin, like you said. But then Tootie got scared, so I kinda had to get calm. And then when it happened It's like magic, Blair. There isn't a person there. And then there is."
It's the reverse of death, she thought. With death, someone was there, and then they weren't. Like a curtain being pulled. The way Sam had been there, and then gone.
Blair was glad a baby had been born the night Sam passed. A very special baby.
Blair smiled through the glass at Tootie's child.
"She has Tootie's mouth," Blair observed.
"How can you tell?"
"Because I have eyes, Jo. Don't you see it?"
"It's so little. How can you tell?"
"It might be little, but it's the same shape as Tootie's. Honestly. You can't see it, darling?"
"Nope." Jo leaned closer to the glass. "Or, well, maybe. I guess. A little bit."
"Did Tootie say anything about the father?" Blair asked curiously.
"She kept pretty mum on that score," said Jo.
"It must've been another student," mused Blair. "Another theater student, perhaps? Someone dramatic and flighty and not the type to take on the responsibility of a child, perhaps."
"I have no idea," said Jo. "Tootie'll tell us when she's ready, and then I'll go kick his ass."
"Hey, he must be a loser, or why wouldn't he be with her now? Why's she sneakin around havin the baby herself? But never mind that now. Speakin of responsibility, Tootie and the kid's bill is gonna be pretty damn big. And I already told Anna I'd take care of it. I would, or you and I would together."
Anna. Blair almost flinched hearing the name from Jo's lips. Anna. Jo's girlfriend. Of course. Jo's young surgeon. Anna must have helped arrange Tootie's care somehow
"I'll pay the bill," Blair said shortly.
"I can cover it," Jo said hastily. "I just figured you'd want in on it, since, you know, it's Tootie."
"Of course I want in on it. I'll pay it all."
"No, I want to pay half."
Blair made a dismissive gesture. "Fine. Half or alljust let me know what we, what I owe."
Jo sighed. "Blair. About Anna, you ought to know"
Blair held up one perfectly manicured hand.
"It's your life, Jo. I have no right to pry into your life at this juncture, just as you have been very considerate about not prying into my life."
"Sure." Jo felt a little stung. "Like, for example, I haven't asked you at all how your date went last night. Or if you were even on a date."
"Exactly," said Blair. "You're a model of consideration."
An awkward silence fell between them.
Blair took a single step to the left, away from Jo.
"So," said Jo.
"Mmn?" asked Blair.
"So Were you on a date last night?" Jo asked, trying to sound casual.
Blair pictured Gloria the forensic accountant stabbing the salad with her fork.
"I was," said Blair. "But we aren't going to pry into each other's lives. Right, Jo?"
"I mean, I don't know if it's pryin," said Jo. "It's just, kind of, a simple question."
"Which I answered," Blair said sweetly.
Jo knew that tone.
She held up her hands.
"Whatever," said Jo.
Blair ignored the comment.
She gazed through the glass at the baby, trying not to think about Jo and the tall, attractive medical student, whom she still had yet to meetnot formally. Not that Blair wanted to meet her.
Why are you being such a baby? Blair asked herself. What about your epiphany this evening? About how you only want Jo? And you won't know a moment's peace till she comes back to you?
But of course, that was the problem. Here was Jo talking about Anna, and somehow Anna had wormed her way into Tootie's delivery! Anna was important to Jo. Jo clearly wasn't ready to come back to Blair. Who knew when or if she would be? And that
"What color are the baby's eyes?" Blair asked, turning the subject.
"The baby's eyes, Jo. What color are they?"
"Oh, I haven't seen the eyes yet. They were closed when I looked at the baby. I don't think they open 'em for a week or so."
Blair shook her head. "Jo. Jo, Jo, Jo. That's puppiesnot babies."
"Well, maybe the baby opened its eyes, but I didn't see it happen."
"It doesn't matter. Most babies have blue eyes the first couple of weeks, anyway. The permanent color develops later. So even if you had seen her eyes, it wouldn't mean anything yet."
"For someone who says she doesn't know about babies, you sure seem to know a lot."
"I know some things," said Blair. "But not how to deliver them."
Another awkward silence.
Jo cleared her throat.
"So," she said. "Does the baby have Tootie's nose?"
"I'm not sure yet," Blair said thoughtfully. "She definitely doesn't have Tootie's jaw. What a straight little jawvery proud. And that cute little dimple in the chin."
"That must be from the father," said Jo.
"I would imagine so."
Something nagged at Jo.
The straight, aristocratic jaw. The "cute little dimple in the chin".
She looked from the baby's chin to its cap of charming little dark curls.
Charming little dark curls. Just like just like
Jo put out a hand to steady herself.
"Darling? Are you all right?" asked Blair.
She put a hand under Jo's elbow.
"I guess. I'm just Blair?"
"You know how Tootie and Alec get along so great? How they rehearse together, and sing together, and he plays piano when she auditions, and like that?"
"Of course. He's very protective of her. He's going to kick himself that he wasn't here for this. And he'll probably help you hunt down whoever the .. . father is " Blair trailed off. Her eyes widened. She stared at Jo. "No!"
"Maybe," Jo said, shrugging.
"No. It couldn't be," said Blair.
"But, you knowmaybe it is," Jo said.
"Alec," said Jo.
"ButAlec? And Tootie?"
"Why not?" It had staggered Jo a bit, when the idea first hit her, but the more she turned it over, the more it made sense. "They've been close for years. They can practically finish each other's sentences. And there they were, all alone, up in Peekskill"
"They weren't alone," Blair objected.
"Of course they were," scoffed Jo. "I was off at Harvard, you and Nat were down here in the city, Mrs. G's always flyin off workin on her show and her specials, and, I mean Who else did they have up there? Tootie and Alec. Alec and Tootie."
"But, I mean To have a baby together? And why isn't he here? I don't mean the hospital, I mean the country."
"He doesn't know," said Jo. "He called recently, and there's no way he knew."
"Tootie didn't tell him?"
"She didn't tell us."
"But if he's the father"
"I think Tootie played it close to the vest with all of us," Jo said. She snapped her fingers. "Of course. Alec was tellin me when he called, he was all drunk and mopey, and he said how he loved two women in his life, and they both 'sent him packin'. We know one of 'em's Jack. I guess the other one was"
"Our little Tootie?" Blair asked incredulously.
"Our little Tootie," Jo said. "I mean, how she's gonna tell us about being with child from Alec, when she didn't even tell us they were datin? And then how's she gonna tell him, when he's back in jolly old England trying to patch it up with Jackwhen Tootie sent him to England to patch it up with Jack? What's Toot gonna say? 'Oh, hey, there, Alec, you knocked me up. Even though I gave you the heave-ho, forget about Jacqueline and come back here.'"
Blair shook her head.
"My head is spinning," she said.
"Oh yeah? Well mine's doing flips," said Jo. "I don't know if I'm right side up, or upside down. But I think we're right, Blair."
"You mean you think you're right, darling. I remain unconvinced without additional evidence."
"Evidence? Take a gander at that little chin dimple again! And take a gander at those fetchin little curls."
"They they do resemble Alec's," Blair conceded. "But that could be mere coincidence."
"Coincidence? Are you for real, babe?"
At that moment, Tootie's daughter stirred. Her tiny hands flopped around and her tiny feet pushed their way further out of the swaddling cloth, and the minute little eyelids lifted.
"Aha!" Jo cried. "There! You see? You see that?"
"All babies have blue eyes," Blair said. "I told you. It's they all have blue eyes."
"Not like that," Jo said triumphantly.
Tootie's child had the clearest, most lovely sapphire-blue eyes that Blair or Jo had ever seen, with the exception of Alec and Alec's late Aunt Vivienne. Sapphire eyes were an Anviston family trait.
"All right, Jo. I give up. With those eyes She must be Alec's. Tootie's and Alec's. Alec's and Tootie's."
"Holy freakin crow," said Jo, shaking her head. "A little baby Tootie-Alec."
"Do you know what this means?" asked Blair.
"It means a lot of damn trouble, that's for sure," said Jo. "Justice Ramsey's gonna be pissed enough Tootie had a kid, let alone that it's Alec's. You know how the Justice feels about Alec. And that cuts both ways. Can you imagine what Alec's mater's gonna think about him havin a kid with a commoner? Wow. Do they still send people to the Tower over there?"
"All true," said Blair. "Except, no, they don't still send people to the Tower. But you're missing the most obvious point."
"Being that Alec is a ducal heir."
"Yeah. True. Hear that, kid?" Jo told the baby through the glass. "Your Pop is gonna be one of the most powerful guys in England one day." Jo chuckled. "Those nurses better take good care of the kid, or heads are gonna roll!"
Blair shook her head.
"You're still not getting it, darling."
"If Alec and Tootie were married"
"Wait, waithold the phone! What do you mean, married?"
"Well we don't know, do we? But I know Tootie, and I've known Alec since I was a little girl. And if they were serious enough to create a child together, they might have been married."
"OK, so, I totally am not on board with this crackpot theory. But say they were marriedwhat does that mean?"
"It means this baby is a countess. A countess, and a lady."
"Alec is the ducal heir," Blair explained patiently. "The heir apparent. The Georges, being bastards, can't inherit and aren't titled. So until the Duke dies, Alec is a Marquis."
"A what now?"
"It's the title below Duke. Alec is a Marquis, and that would make his daughter a Countessthe next title down."
"So, what you're sayin " Jo chewed on that. "So this baby is Alec's heir."
"If Alec and Tootie were married. Which, again, I find likely if the baby is Alec's. In his own way he's a very honorable man."
"Meanin you don't think he and Tootie would just shack up. Well, sure. I agree with that."
Blair shook her head.
"Do you know what this means, Jo?"
"I thought you just explained what it meant. The kid might be a Countess."
"And Alec and Tootie might be married."
"Oh. Yeah. Yeah, that's a crazy thought. I hafta I hafta kinda process all this."
Jo wriggled her fingers at the baby. Jo didn't want to think about titles and family feuds and all the fallout that was surely on the horizon. She just wanted to appreciate the new little life that she had helped bring into the world.
"Whoever the baby turns out to be, she's awful cute," said Jo. "And you know what? You and me and Natwe're aunts!"
"Being an aunt is a much better title than Marquand," said Jo.
"Marquis," Blair corrected.
"Eh, whatever. Do you think me and you and Nat should get tiaras?"
"I suppose we should hold off on that." Blair yawned. "Well I think I'll go sit with Tootie awhile. Be there when she wakes."
"Do you want me to, ah, come with?" Jo asked. "I think there's a coupla chairs in there."
"You know, you've already been here for hours, Jo. If you wanted to head home to Nat's, or, or to Anna's, or something "
Blair let the thought hang.
"About Anna," Jo started, but
"Please," said Blair, holding up one hand. "It's your business. That is, she's your business. I'd really rather not know, if you don't mind. Honestly, Jo, you delivered the baby. You deserve a little rest and, well, celebration."
Jo turned away.
Her heart thudded in her chest.
So. Blair wasn't ready to talk yet. Not ready to ask Jo back into her life. And Jo wasn't going to push her.
"OK," she said. "I'll go catch some shuteye. I'm sure, ah, we'll be seein each other soon. Since we're both aunts, and all."
"I'm sure we will, Jo," said Blair.
Blair opened her arms, as if for a hug, then changed her mind at the last minute. Unfortunately Jo was already stepping into the hug when Blair dropped her arms. They ended up awkwardly bumping shoulders and breasts. Blair flushed. Jo flushed. They each took a big step back.
"So OK," said Jo. "If you need anything, call me."
"You too," said Blair.
"Good night, I guess. Or, good mornin."
"Good mornin, Jo."
Jo turned, walked a few paces down the hall.
All she wanted to do was turn around and take Blair in her arms. Damn the consequences. It was like that phrase she'd read in one of her history courses: "Damn the torpedoes, and full speed ahead!
Jo kept walking, then almost turned, then kept walking, then almost turned, and the next thing she knew she was in the elevator and then she was out on the street behind Manhattan Memorial.
Blair, she thought, babe, I hope you get your head together soon. Your head and your heart.
Jo turned her steps toward Natalie's empty apartment.
"So, this is where you can be a total idiot," said Natalie.
It was the following evening.
Jo lay on the sofa in Nat and Snake's apartment, where she had collapsed when she got home from work. She had kicked off her heels and loosened her thin black necktie, but she still wore her dark pinstriped skirt and blazer, and her crisp white shirt.
"Nat, I'm not in the mood," Jo groused.
"For crying out loud, Jowhy didn't you call in sick this morning?"
"I did," scowled Jo. "My supervisor said, and I quote, 'You can't call in sick because some chick had a baby, Pollock-o-chek. You didn't have the babydid you?'"
"Harsh," Natalie said sympathetically. "Really harsh."
"Yeah, well," Jo rubbed her eyes, "that's how it is. I gotta admit, even though he's a dick, he's right. I mean, there's gonna be times I'm up all night preparin for a case. What am I gonna docall in sick to trial?"
"You're amazing, Jo," said Natalie. "I can see it now. Even if you were having a baby, you'd probably go to court. There you are, summarizing your case. The baby pops out, presto-hello world, you tuck it under your arm and keep addressing the jury."
"Sure," yawned Jo. "A regular legal superhero. A kind of Wonder Woman of truth and justice. That's" she yawned again, "that's me." She closed her eyes and settled back against the cushions.
"Soback to why you're an idiot," said Natalie.
"Why does everyone hate me?" she asked the world at large.
"Blair looked terrible."
"How is that my fault? She was up all night. She wanted to stay by Tootie's bedside. I didn't exactly put a gun to her head."
"That's not why she looked terrible. She looked terrible because she's pining after you."
Jo snorted. "Not noticeably."
"Not noticeably to an idiot, like you, Jo. But to a perceptive person, such as myself"
"Look, Blair wanted us to date other people, and that's what you told me, right? That she wanted us to date other people. So, I did. But, I decided I only want Blair. But Blair's still datin. She was on a date last night. She told me."
"Did she tell you it was a horrible date? A train wreck?"
"No. Was it?"
"So Bair told you her date sucked, but she didn't tell me. Meanin, she doesn't want me to know. Meanin she's not ready to get back with me yet."
"Did you tell her you're breaking up with Anna?"
"I tried to. But she didn't want to hear about Anna. You know how Blair can get frosty? It was like, sub-zero whenever I tried to toss Anna into the conversation."
"Because Blair probably thought you were going to say how happy you and Anna are. Or how amazing Anna is in bed. Which I don't want or need to know about, by the way, since I run into Anna at work all the time. I'll never get that out of my head."
"All I know is, I tried to talk with Blair, and I got shut down. Which tells me Blair's not ready for a reconciliation yet. Which is disappointing, but OK, since I love her and I will literally wait until the end of time for her."
"Well you aren't sacking out on my couch until the end of time," Natalie said flatly. "Tootie and the baby need somewhere to go until she can sort things out with her family."
"Aha!" said Jo, her eyes flying open, "that's why you're so gung-ho to get me and Blair back together. So you can free up your precious sofa. Which, by the way, has bad springs. I might have to sue you guys for friggin up my back. Just givin you a heads-up."
"The springs were fine until you started camping out here," Natalie said. "And, yes, I do want you to move on so Tootie and the baby can stay here, but I really do want you and Blair to patch things up just because, well, I love you two. Both of you. And I want you to be happy. Happy, and out of this apartment."
"The quality of mercy is not Natalie," Jo said sourly. "At least I'm chippin in on rent while I'm here. How are Toot and the kid gonna chip in?"
"We'll figure something out. Snake and I are doing well enough to carry the rent without anyone chipping in."
"You are such a baby, Jo."
"Thank you for helping to make my point."
Jo pulled one of the sofa cushions over her face.
"I'll go back to Blair when she asks me to go back. Until then, I'm leavin her alone. It's too, it's friggin painful to see her."
"Has it ever occurred to you that she might be waiting for you to say that you want to come back?"
"What am Ipsychic? How do I know? All I do know is that when Blair Warner wants something, she goes after it. That's her nature. When she really wants me back, she'll let me know."
Natalie opened her mouth, but then closed it.
Jo had a point there. It was hard to argue with the fact that Blair Warner did, indeed, generally go after whatever she wanted.
"So," said Natalie. "I'll let that go. For now. I won't kick you out yet. Tootie and the baby are still in the hospital for a couple of days."
"Oh, thank you kindly, dear landlord," Jo muttered. "Jeez. Talk about feelin unwanted!"
"Now, about who's going to call Alec. Blair and I nominated you."
Jo's eyes flew open again.
"You need to call Alec and tell him he's a father."
"So, Tootie confirmed it? Alec is the dad?"
"Are you kidding? Yes, she confirmed it, but that baby couldn't look more like Alec unless it was waving a little British flag. She has Alec's hair, Alec's eyes, Alec's chin. I can't believe you and Blair couldn't tell right away."
"Well, the baby was still kinda squished when we saw it," Jo said defensively. "And it was all bloody when I first saw it."
"The baby even lounges like Alec," said Natalie.
"Well, yeah It does have a kind of relaxed, loafin quality like Alec," Jo agreed, casting her mind back to how the baby lounged in its little cradle. "But look, why do I have to call Alec?"
"Because you're his best friend," Natalie said reasonably.
"But Tootie had the baby. Tootie's the mater. She needs to call him. Case closed."
"Tootie needs to talk with him, yes," said Natalie. "They have a lot to talk about. Oy! I don't even want to think about how much. But you should be the one to break the news to him. Initially."
"You three have already made up your minds. I'm totally outvoted on thisaren't I?"
"Yes you are."
"So did Tootie tell you if they're married?"
"Yes. They were married. It was very quiet. A Peekskill justice of the peace. And about a month later, Tootie told Alec he should go England, and make things right with Jacqueline."
"Because Jacqueline is Alec's soul mate. At least, Tootie thinks so. She said the marriage wasn't really working, because there were three people in it. The third one being Jacquelineor, rather, Alec's unresolved, unrequited feelings for Jacqueline."
"So Tootie gives Alec the push, sends him to England, and then Jack won't give him the time of day. Poor guy. No wonder he's drinkin like a fish."
"Tootie told Alec she'd get an annulment. But, you know"
"She didn't get around to it. And when she found out she was preggers"
"She decided against an annulment."
"So I'm s'posed to call Alec and tell him he's still married to Tootie and they have a daughter. And, since they're still married, they actually have a little Countess."
"Really?" Natalie sounded startled.
"Blair didn't go into the whole nobility chart with you?"
"No. We were mainly talking about Alec, and how to break it to him. A countess. What do you know? I changed a countess' diaper today!"
Jo shook her head. "I can understand why Tootie didn't tell her family about the marriage and the kidboy, can I understandor his familysame dealand even why she kept it from me and Blair. But why didn't Tootie tell you? You're her soul sister. The more I think it over, the less I get it."
"You and me both, Jo," Natalie said grimly. "But the thing about being a soul sister is you're a soul sister for life. Even if you do something unexplainable. Inexplicable? Whichever. Even then. I don't know why she didn't tell me anything. But she's Tootie and I love her and I'm standing by her."
"Well, just so's you know, Tootie really wanted you there last night. I was her last pick."
"I know," said Natalie. "Tootie explained that part. So. About calling Alec. When do you think you can call him?"
"Gosh, I don't know. Can I have one freakin hour of sleep before I call him? Maybe two?"
"Boy, what a crab," Natalie observed.
Jo pulled the cushion over her head again. "Wake me in a couple hours," said Jo. "And I'll call him."
"Oh," said Natalie. "Before I forgetI brought something back for you."
"From River Rock. Remember, when you called me, I said I found some things in the attic?"
"Well, I did."
"Some things you've forgotten about," said Natalie. "But I think you need to remember them."
"What is thata fortune cookie? What are they Nat?"
"You'll see," she said cryptically.
Jo peeked out from under the cushion.
Natalie had placed a cardboard box on the floor near the foot of the couch.
"Did you check that box for moths?" Jo asked dubiously, and then, "Wait. This is your apartment. I don't care if it has moths or not."
She pulled the cushion over her head again.
"Just check it out," said Natalie, "when you wake up. Wellafter you call Alec."
"I'll call him, I'll call him. Hell."
"Good. Thank you."
"Like I had a choice."
"I'm going to grab a shower," said Natalie, "and then head back to the hospital. I have a shift tonight. I'll pop in and tell Tootie you're calling Alec."
"You do that," Jo mumbled through the cushion
Natalie blew on her coffee.
"Jo wants back in," she told Blair.
"Ha," said Blair. And then, ruefully, "I wish that were true."
"Believe me. It's true." Natalie sipped the coffee. She and Blair sat at their usual table in the cafeteria of Manhattan Memorial. Nat was on a break.
"Jo kept trying to talk to me about Anna."
"Right," said Natalie. "About how she broke up with Anna."
Blair's eyes widened. "She Really?"
"Why didn't she tell me?"
"Because you kept shutting her down every time she tried to talk about Anna."
"Jo wants you, Blair. And you want her. And I want out of the middle of this angsty romance. I've got lab results to document. I've got a soul sister and soul niece to focus on."
"Understood," Blair said. "But "
"What if it just goes back to the way it was? What if Jo and I go right back to sniping at each other, and not making time for each other, with me leaving toothpaste in the sink and Jo leaving stubble in the tub?"
"Right. Sounds like the sixth circle of hell," Natalie said drily. "Blairdo you understand how many people would kill to have the relationship you and Jo have? And, for the record, Jo does not leave stubble in the tubnot at my place, anyway."
"Of course notnot at your place. She's a guest in your apartment. For you she makes an effort. At home with me, the old-ball-and-chain, it's a blizzard of stubble."
"And you always make an effort with Jo?" Natalie asked skeptically. "You never take her for granted?"
"Well, I mean," Bair flushed slightly.
"Exactly," said Natalie. "Blair, I find it hard to believe that you and Jo can't work out some sort of toothpaste-and-stubble-free zone."
"But it's not the little things. It's what they symbolize."
Natalie sighed. "Blairyou don't have to sell me on the importance of the little things. I'm a regular 'little things' evangelical. But do you love Jo, with all of your crazy debutante's heart?"
"And do you understand that Jo loves you, with all of her grease monkey's heart?"
"Well. Yes. I do."
"Then by the power vested in me at my bat mitzvah, I hereby pronounce you each other's problemnot mine."
Blair bit her lip.
"I know I sound ridiculous, Natalie. But do you understand how terrifying it is to find the one person you'll ever love, really loveand not know if you can make it work?"
"Yes. I do. Snake and I haven't been playing canasta the last few years. I love my big lug. And he loves me. And we have our own share of drama. We just don't broadcast it. We work it out. And you and Jo can work it out too."
"If she could just, if she could try to be a little more attentive. To follow through on promiseslike doing the cleaning."
"She says you were supposed to do the cooking. Since you didn't do the cooking, why should she do the cleaning?"
"The old 'she started it' defense," Blair mused.
"Correct. Popular on playgrounds everywhere. It would be nice," said Natalie, "if you both could grow out of that. Since you both love each other insanely."
"Maybe you should go by my apartment tonight," suggested Natalie. "Jo will probably need a little commiserating after dropping the baby bombshell on Alec. Excuse methe baby and wife bombshell."
"You think I should go to your apartment? To see how Jo is?"
"But won't that look like I'm as if I'm "
"Giving in? I don't think Jo will see it that way. Blair, I know Jo can be a hard-headed lunk of a barbarian, but do you know what I really think she's waiting for you to do?"
"I think she's waiting for you to claim her."
Blair's eyes widened.
"Let her know you want her. Demand that she come back to you."
"Hmm," Blair said. "So instead of me giving in It would be more like me telling her what to do."
"Exactly. By George, I think you've got it! So Go claim her, Blair. Go claim the love of your life. Except, in the figurative sense only," Natalie added hastily. "If you two decide to do some actual claiming, please take it back to your house."
Blair's eyes danced with a joyful light Natalie hadn't seen in them for quite some time.
"Thank you, Natalie."
"Anytime," Nat said. "Now, get thee hence, Blair. Go claim your woman ..."
When Jo answered the door to Natalie's apartment, Jo looked reasonably rested, Blair thought. Dark circles under the eyes, yes, but freshly showered and holding a cup of fragrant teaEarl Grey, Blair noted, using her wine-taster's impeccable sense of smell.
Jo sported a pink button down shirt, open at the collar, neatly pressed jeans, and bare feet. She smelled like Irish Spring soap and Breck shampoo. Her hair was neatly brushed and moussed, still drying.
"Oh. Hey," Jo said, a little shyly. "You here to make sure that I call Alec?"
"I'm supposed to be providing moral support in the aftermath of the call."
Jo grimaced. "I still haven't called him. I thought a cuppa Earl Grey," she lifted the tea cup, "might fortify my resolve, which, frankly, is crap. My resolve is crap, I meannot the tea. Though, the tea is kinda crap, too."
"Earl Grey is delicious," said Blair. "But it's an acquired taste. Why don't you give me the tea. I'll drink it while you make the call. Perhaps my, ah, presence will fortify your resolve."
Jo smiled. "It, you know, it already has."
Blair smiled. "So May I come in?"
"Oh. Yeah. Sure."
Jo stepped aside. Blair entered the apartment. Jo closed and chained the front door.
"Here." Jo handed Blair the tea cup. "All yours, babe."
"Thank you." Blair sat on the sofa. She pulled Jo down next to her without warning.
"Ooph," said Jo.
Blair put an arm around Jo's shoulders, leaned her head against Jo's neck, without spilling a single drop of the Earl Grey.
"You have to come back to me. I love you. The separation is over, starting Now."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
A megawatt grin broke over Jo's face.
"Well halle-freakin-luja," she said.
"After you call Alec, I'll help you pack," said Blair. "And we'll go home and make love. Several times, I think."
"Double halle-freakin-luja," laughed Jo. "Where's the phone?"
"On the table, darling. Where Natalie always keeps it."
"Oh, yeah." Jo reached for the receiver, then paused. She gazed happily but earnestly at her lover. "So we're good? If we're a little messy sometimes, or we don't feel like cookin, or we're tiredwe ain't gonna launch into World War III?"
Blair kissed Jo's mouth, once, very softly.
"If we're messy, we're messy, and if we starve, we starve. But I love you, Jo. I can't live without you. And I don't believe you can live without me."
"I can't, Blair. I can't. I just," Jo kissed Blair's mouth tenderly, kissed her forehead, and her eyes. "I love you Blair. I love you more than anythin."
Jo pulled back slightly. With one bare foot she nudged a cardboard box on the floor at the end of the couch.
"We have to bring these with us," said Jo. "To the house."
"What are they?"
"Viv's journals. You remember? She left them to me."
"I remember," Blair said quietly, thinking of Alec's formidable and lovely aunt.
"Nat brought 'em down from River Rock. I only ever read half of them," said Jo. "I kept getting caught up in other things. We're gonna read them all, Blair. They're beautiful. They'll help us remember, well," Jo cleared her throat, "'Whatever the world may do to me,'" she quoted, "'and whatever I may do to the world, in your arms I will find my shelter. In your arms I will be your shelter.'"
"Viv wrote that?" Blair asked, moved by the words.
Jo nodded. "In your arms I will find my shelter, Blair." She kissed her lover. "In your arms I will be your shelter."
Blair swooned a little. It was so heady, so intoxicating to have her arm around Jo again, to feel Jo's mouth against her mouth. However
I'm supposed to be claiming her, Blair thought. Not getting the vapors like a mid-Victorian maiden!
Blair cleared her throat.
"Well," she told Jo rather archly, "that phone call won't make itself."
"No it won't," Jo smiled. "I'm on it."
Jo lifted the receiver.
Blair sipped the Earl Grey.
"Um, just one more thing," Jo said. "I'm supposed to have dinner at Anna's parents Friday night. I promised I wouldsince she made sure Tootie and the baby were safe."
"That won't be happening," said Blair.
"Right," said Jo. "But I am gonna to have to cancel. And it's somethin I have to do in person."
"We're sure to run into her in the hospital," Blair said, voice a little tight. She didn't like thinking about Anna. About Jo and Anna being together. About Anna kissing Jo's mouth. "Of course you need to tell her in person. It would be rude, otherwise."
Jo almost said, "Anna's a nice person, babe. She helped me get through a tough time. She helped me see there's no one in the world for me but you."
Jo almost said those things. But looking at Blair's face, which was suddenly tense, Jo realized those were not the right things to say. Jo knew what Anna had meant to her. And Anna knew. Blairshe didn't want to know those things, to hear them. And she didn't need to. Anna was nothing to do with Blair.
Tentatively, Jo stretched a hand toward Blair's face. She stroked Blair's cheek with her fingertips, so gently, with such reverence.
Blair closed her eyes.
"In my whole life," Jo said, "it's you Blair. You're my one and only. We're we're two hearts, one person."
Blair turned her head, let Jo's hand cup her face.
"Call Alec," Blair said. "Please. I need to hold you soon, Jo. I need to hold you for a long time."
"We have all night, Blair. We have forever."
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