DISCLAIMER: Story © 2006, The characters are borrowed from The Facts of Life, but I plan to treat them gently.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a prequel to my story "The Impossible Dream", but may be read as a stand alone. No sex. Sorry.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By JS Stephens
"Blair, you can't possibly mean for me to wear that awful dress, can't we find something better?" Jo Polniaczek asked as she warily eyed the awful green dress, complete with huge puffy arms. "I mean, I'll look like the Jolly Green Giant or something. You don't want to look at your wedding pictures twenty years later and say, 'My goodness, Jo looked like a green bean.' Just think about it."
The bride-to-be smiled at her maid-of-honor. "For once, Jo, I agree. I just wanted to see what you would say. Mrs. Berg, would you please bring in the real attendant dresses?" The shop owner left and came back almost immediately with beautiful golden brown dresses, cut simply, yet flatteringly, for each of Blair's chosen attendants. "Happy?" Blair smirked as Jo stood stunned, feeling the dress puddling in her hands. "I had Mrs. Berg design them to be similar, yet flatter each girl. Go ahead, try yours on."
Still wary, Jo slipped the dress over her head, wariness turning into awe as Mrs. Berg helped her zip up the back, then gently turned Jo to face the three way mirror. "Mother Mary," Jo whispered as she stared at her reflection in the mirrors. The dress flowed smoothly over her body, subtly accenting her best attributes, the color blending well with her hair as well as with Blair's. "I'm sorry I doubted you," Jo finally choked out, turning to face her friend and tormentor. "What do you think?"
Blair walked over to the other woman, stunned at her beauty. She knew that this style and color would flatter Jo, but had no idea just how lovely she would be. Sudden tears stung her eyes as she ran light fingers down Jo's arm, feeling the whisper of the silk under her fingertips. "You're beautiful, Jo," Blair whispered. Clearing her throat and backing up, she said, "Wait until you see Natalie and Tootie in their dresses."
Jo turned to her reflection again, seeing Blair join her in the mirror. It looked so natural for Blair to be standing there, looking proud and pleased. Jo suddenly frowned, asking, "So, of all the girls who presumably fought to be at your side during this circus, why did you choose me?"
Blair turned to face Jo, waiting until she was absolutely sure that Jo was listening. "Because, Joanna Marie, you are the one true friend I have, the one woman who is not afraid to tell me what I should hear. You have been through so much with me since you burst into Eastland, and there's no one else who I'd rather have at my side." She reached for Jo's hands, squeezing them lightly.
Jo coughed, squeezing Blair's hands back before dropping them. "I didn't know you felt that way," she replied simply. "Despite our legendary fights, I'm honored."
"Thank you." Blair leaned forward, kissing her friend on the cheek. "Now, I have some more shopping to do to complete your outfit. Get that dress off so we can go look for shoes and gloves." Jo rolled her eyes, but obeyed.
Jo had never seen a wedding with brown and gold as the primary colors, but it went with the season of autumn. She nervously stood at the front of the church, glad that she didn't trip on the way up the aisle, and that Natalie and Tootie, sorry, Dorothy, also didn't trip. Her friends were beautiful, just glowing. She felt like she was glowing too; glowing with sweat. Why was she so nervous about Blair getting married? She glanced over at the groom's side, watching Scott McNair standing so calmly, waiting for his bride to come down the aisle. Typical of Blair to choose a husband with money, manners, pedigree, and similar coloring. His dark blonde hair was perfectly combed, his tan setting off his perfect white teeth. She had an unreasonable feeling of disgust.
The quintet struck up the musical cue and the audience rose majestically as Blair and her parents appeared at the back of the sanctuary. Jo almost dropped her jaw in shock, Blair was always beautiful, but tonight she was stunning. She practically floated down the aisle, daring anyone to think poorly of her having both parents escort her. If they were still married, perhaps, but they had been divorced for years! Jo then had to stifle a chuckle at the thought of Blair managing to challenge convention to do exactly what she pleased.
The ceremony was over and the party had begun. Jo stood quietly chatting with fellow attendants, sipping punch as she watched Scott and Blair feed each other cake, then go through the rest of the post-wedding hoops. Jo didn't remember stepping up for the bouquet, but somehow she was suddenly in the middle of the floor, flowers arching down at her. She reflexively caught the bouquet, blushing as the crowd reacted. Mrs. Garrett, their old housemother from Eastland, came over to congratulate Jo on catching the bouquet. "Is there anyone special in your life, Joanna?" the kindly woman asked.
"Uh, not at the moment," Jo answered, still dazed. She involuntarily looked at Blair, who smirked and blew kisses at her. She blushed, unsure what to do, feeling like she was trying to figure out the proper reactions. Finally, she tucked the flowers under her arm and wandered over to the buffet table.
Hours later, Blair found Jo hiding in a corner behind some large potted palms. "Honey, what's wrong?" she asked.
"Nothing, Princess." Jo sighed. "Guess this took me by surprise. Anyway, have a nice life with Ken."
"Ken? Oh, you brat," Blair laughed, "I guess we do look a bit like Barbie and Ken. Jo, I wanted to thank you for standing up with me. When you find that special man, let me know, and I'll attend your wedding."
Jo's eyes started sparkling mischievously. "Even if we're on motorcycles?"
Blair laughed, then turned serious. "Yes."
Jo, overwhelmed, just reached for the other woman, holding her close for several minutes, her light perfume tickling her nose, the warmth of her body penetrating the strange chill she felt. "I'll miss you," she whispered in Blair's ear, "but don't you dare tell anyone or I'll have to beat you up." She finally stepped back, dropping her arms. "You tell Scott he'd better treat you like a princess or I'll knock him into the next century!"
"Understood," Blair laughed. "Jo, I do love you," she said, smiling broadly, "what would I do without you?"
"Not have anyone to argue with," Jo riposted quickly. She watched as Blair drifted back to the party, her heart strangely heavy. Her best friend's wedding. She should be happy. Pushing away from the wall, Jo forced herself to rejoin the party.
"Natalie, how nice to see you, what brings you to my house?" Blair asked as the butler closed the doors behind him.
Natalie smiled hugely, savoring her secret before giving it up. "Our Jo is very serious about a man, and I predict wedding bells in the near future."
Stunned, Blair sat down heavily in her armchair. "Jo? Married?"
"Yeah, why is that so strange?"
"I don't know," Blair confessed as she stared at Natalie. "Why didn't she tell me she was getting married? We still exchange letters several times a year, and she usually comes by at Thanksgiving or Christmas. And where did you see her?"
"Wow, you are surprised. Where was in Houston, Texas, where she's an accountant, and who is a fellow accountant by the name of John Eagle. I was in Houston on assignment and called her on a whim, and she invited me to lunch. She showed me John's picture and said that they'd been dating for a while." Natalie suddenly frowned. "I think I was supposed to let her tell you herself. Oops." Blair recovered her poise as her friend chattered on, describing the man, who she did get to meet before she came back to New York. "John seems pretty nice. He says he probably has some American Indian ancestry, but not enough to bother with, his exact words. He's very handsome, dark and tan, and acts gaga over Jo."
"And how does Jo react?"
Natalie pondered the question before answering, "I can't put my finger on it, Blair. She is relaxed around John, and seems very fond of him, but I'm not sensing fireworks here. But they speak the same language and can finish each other's sentences. I guess I'm surprised about Jo being low key about being in love, she's usually so, oh, what's the word, volatile and emotional. It's almost like she had a checklist in her head and he fit the requirements, so she's hooked up with him. She's really matured into a handsome woman, Blair. It's so funny, though, to hear John's slow Southern accent mingling with her rough Bronx cadence."
"Well, all I can say is that if he pops the question, she'd better call me first," Blair said, flouncing her hair like a teenager. Natalie laughed, and started to ask about the children when the phone shrilled. Blair grabbed it, and talked to the person for a few seconds before mouthing to Natalie, "It's Jo." Natalie took the hint and wandered to the other side of the room, hearing bits and pieces of the conversation drifting her way, filing it away for future reference. Suddenly she heard, "Me? Your matron of honor? Why, of course, Jo, I'd be proud to be. Small wedding, I know what you want, but you must have Natalie and Dorothy as your other attendants, I insist. Tell you what, if you want to have it at the country club here, I'd be more than happy to make the arrangements and pay for the hotel for your out of town guests. Yes, I insist." Natalie grinned to herself, hearing Blair's imperial tone, just like high school. She wondered what Jo was scorching the air with in reply.
Dorothy walked down the aisle first, setting a dignified pace for the others to follow. She loved the pomp and drama of weddings, and secretly longed for her own wedding. Maybe that nice Thornton fellow that she met at the local community theatre the other day. She pushed Thornton out of her head (a difficult task at best), and concentrated on the wedding at hand. Natalie next, then Blair, then finally Jo. She had been surprised that Jo picked out a beautiful light mauve color for her attendants, with simple Empire style dresses. John Eagle was dashingly handsome with his dark skin, black hair and eyes, high cheekbones, and beautifully fitted tux.
She heard Blair gasp quietly as Jo walked up the aisle on her father's arm. Jo was stunning in a traditional white gown with lots of lace and trimmings, something none of them would have expected. Jo's face was radiant as she approached the altar, her father beaming proudly as they stood before the priest. She had never been to a Catholic wedding, but was caught up in the beauty and dignity of the ceremony, and was almost sad when the priest pronounced them husband and wife, ending the wedding.
"Say, aren't they handsome together?" Dorothy asked Natalie at the reception, watching Jo and John take to the floor for their first dance.
"Yes, they are. You know, Blair surprised me, she was barely able to keep her composure during the entire ceremony. I've never known the bride to be so calm and the matron of honor to be the one to almost cry. But I'm glad they were able to be in each other's weddings."
Dorothy watched the couple finish their dance, then grinned as Blair went out on the floor with Scott. "Has to show Jo up," she commented as the graceful couple twirled about the floor. "Jo and John looked good, but you can tell that Scott and Blair took dance lessons for years. Well, Nat, will you be ready for the tossing of the bouquet?"
"Nah, I think I'll sit that out. I'm having too much fun traveling now, and don't want to be tied down to one man. Maybe you'll catch it."
"Yeah, right," Dorothy said. She suddenly stood up straighter and whispered, "Look, it's that actor I was telling you about! Thornton Stiles! Isn't he handsome?"
Natalie turned as the tall, dark man was bearing down on them, a smile flitting across his face. "Well, I think I'll be leaving," she said, giving her friend a quick hug.
As the party wound down, Jo searched for Blair with two glasses of wine in her hands. She found Blair standing out on the patio, looking pensively at the garden below, not hearing Jo's footfalls until the other woman was almost next to her. "Joanna, congratulations," she said, "and why aren't you in with your new husband?"
"I came looking for you," Jo answered simply, handing Blair a glass. "I know, we've had our ups and downs and arguments over the years, but I wanted a minute alone with you to propose a toast."
Intrigued, Blair asked, "A toast? To what?"
"To us. To friendship." She gently clinked her glass against Blair's and sipped, Blair following suit after a brief hesitation. "Hey, you looked pretty good out on the dance floor. Scott's a natural dancer."
"He should be, we both had enough lessons as children. Every summer, we'd both see each other at this very club, taking lessons in how to live properly. Dance, table manners, general etiquette..." Her voice trailed off as she set her glass on the tile floor, reaching for Jo's glass to set it down. "I know this is unusual, but would you dance with me?" Jo simply nodded and held out her arms. The friends started moving to the faint strains of the waltz coming through the open doors, shyly, then holding each other closely as they relaxed to the music. Neither spoke a word as they found their rhythm, feet moving lightly on the floor. As the dance ended, they pulled apart, staying close, hands still on each other's arms, each seeking the other's eyes, looking for something. Jo finally broke the spell by murmuring, "I hate to admit this, Warner, but you're my best friend, and I'm happy that you were part of my wedding. If you ever need me, I'll be there for you."
"Thank you," Blair whispered, emotion surging through, choking her. She cleared her throat and said in a normal voice, "Of course, I have it all, you know that. Fine husband, cute son and daughter, and millions in the bank. What more could I need?"
"I dunno, you tell me," Jo bantered back, reaching for the wine glasses. She grinned. "Bottoms up, Princess."
"Back at you," Blair replied, draining her glass. She watched as Jo started grinning in her old shit-eating way, wondering what the future held for them. Would Jo ever move back? Would her babies play with Blair's children? She followed Jo back into the reception hall, watching John reach out and kiss Jo as she slid her arms around him. She hoped they would be happy.
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