DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
A Merry Little Christmas
By Della Street
When the phone on her desk rang at 5:01 on the dot, Jo knew who it probably was.
"Do you know how inconvenient it is for me to wait until your shift is over in order to speak to you?"
Yes, she did, because Blair had provided her with that information several times.
"Blair, when I'm at work, I'm supposed to be working," she pointed out.
The statement was met with silence, which Jo took to mean that her friend was debating whether to restate her observations about Jo's career choices. But Jo really didn't feel like arguing with Blair right now. She kind of missed her.
"What time is it in Madrid?" she asked.
"Eleven o'clock," Blair replied, "but I happen to be in Manhattan."
That was a surprise. "How come?" Jo replied. "I thought you were doin' something with that World Bank guy. That's what the paper said."
"Yes," Blair replied primly. "He apparently thought I would be 'doing something' with him as well. I left him with ice down his pants."
"A Nancy special?" Jo said. As long as they lived, it would be Jo's goal in life to remind Blair of that teenage "misunderstanding" as often as possible.
Ignoring the gibe, Blair said, "So anyway, that puts me in New York three days early. Which presents something of a dilemma."
"That being . . . ?"
"The Warner Industries Christmas party."
"I didn't know you went to those," Jo said.
"I don't," Blair replied. "I've always been out of town" -- whether by coincidence or design, she didn't say. "Unfortunately, not having anything on my calendar, I came back to the office this afternoon."
And, knowing her friend, it was not an understated arrival, so the entire building was immediately aware that Princess Warner had returned.
"Our Vice President of Human Resources just came in and told me that the party is tonight and I should go," Blair continued. "He said my presence would be good for morale."
"So you can see the problem."
She probably could, but she decided to have some fun with her friend anyway. "Can't get a date, huh?" she said sympathetically.
"Oh, please," Blair scoffed.
Which left the more likely scenario: "Can't get ready?"
"Of course not!" she said. "In only two hours, when I'm still at the office?"
"Why don't you just go as you are?" Jo suggested. "You probably look fine." Spectacular, in fact. Blair at the end of the day usually looked far better than most people did at the beginning.
"After seven hours on a plane?" Blair replied incredulously. "I'm good, Jo, but not that good."
That's what Jo had thought once until, to her dismay, her friend had proved to indeed be that good. Not that she would admit that to Blair.
"On a private plane," Jo speculated. "Probably bigger than my whole apartment."
"It's out of the question," Blair said. "So, either I skip the Christmas party and potentially incur the wrath of Billy Jo or Bobbie Sue or whoever in the mail room"
Jo shook her head. You are such a snob.
"or I humiliate myself in front of my date by throwing myself together in an hour and a half instead of the three that I need."
The way her dates' tongues hung out, Jo didn't think they would really notice the missing effort, but she would never be able to convince Blair of that.
"Or . . . ."
The tone was disturbingly familiar. "Or what . . . .?" Jo asked suspiciously.
"Or I could go with an old friend," Blair finished.
Blindsided! "No way, Blair!" Jo replied. "Call up Biff or Randall Thorpe the Third or someone." No freaking way.
"I can't!" Blair exclaimed. "If I went with someone I liked, I wouldn't have time to get ready."
Jo held the phone away from her ear from a moment. If anyone ever overheard these bizarre conversations . . . .
"I don't have anything to wear," she pointed out. Not to one of Blair's starched dos.
"You can wear something of mine," Blair said. "You can keep it. Heaven knows you need something in your closet other than NYPD t-shirts."
"Blair, I don't"
"Try to be here by six thirty. I want to be fashionably late."
"You look good in black," Blair went on. "I have a new Ralph Lauren. Or what about green? No, I don't think so. We want to be seen, not noticed."
Actually, Jo didn't want to be seen or noticed at a damn Warner Industries Christmas party, especially on a Friday night when she could be getting blitzed with the guys or going bowling or carrying her hamper downstairs at the same time that pretty redhead from 14B happened to do her laundry.
"BLAIR,--" she tried again.
"Won't it be fun?" Blair said excitedly. "Oh, Jo, I won't forget this. You're such a good friend."
Trust Blair to play the mush card. With a sigh, she said, "Six thirty . . . ."
Blair was wrong, of course. It was not fun. Interesting, maybe, Jo allowed, watching Blair swan around doing her thing. As always, the beautiful blonde was the focal point for many in the room, including Jo. She wasn't staring, but it was kind of entertaining to watch people straighten or smile when Blair dropped a hand on a shoulder or greeted someone by name aided, presumably, by last-minute memorization of photos on the employee charts that Jo had seen on Blair's coffee table. For someone who had basically been forced into this thing, Blair was being a trooper.
If Princess Warner could put on a happy face, Jo decided that she could, too, so she made nice, trying to find something to b.s. about with the V.P.s and such seated across from them at the Warner table. They seemed intrigued with her, or at least with the idea that Blair knew well enough to bring to this shindig an actual member of the boys in blue. For an instant, Jo wondered whether she had been invited in order for Blair to show off her eclectic social circle "Look at me, I'm a rebel!" but she knew better.
Fortunately, Jo had moved up the food chain over the last year, and now had a few cases she could talk about that didn't involve bodily fluids.
"Forgery?" Blair asked as she returned from the ladies room. "Art?"
"Kinda," Jo said, if passports and fake IDs counted. Was the princess actually taking an interest in one of her cases? "You met our expert," she said.
Blair fluffed her napkin across her lap. "I did?"
"George Crew," Jo reminded her. "I introduced you at the station last month."
The heiress had never been good with names, probably because most people's names weren't important to her. Jo could see her trying to place him, and she tried to think of something to trigger Blair's recollection that wouldn't gag her. "Gray hair, about my height?" she tried.
No, she still didn't remember . . . .
"He asked you out."
That didn't narrow it down, either . . . .
"He said you could have posed for Botticelli," Jo forced herself to say.
"Oh, yes!" Blair smiled. That she remembered. Another one smitten at first sight. "He's an art expert?" she asked with some interest.
He's too old for you, Jo immediately thought, but, after years of working on her self-discipline, she had managed to stop instantly pointing out the flaws in men who caught Blair's fancy. Jo wasn't sure why she always found herself tempted to do that. Mostly because Blair was too clueless to notice them herself, she figured.
This time, though, she had a better response. "Art forger," she clarified, laughing at the dismay on Blair's face.
The second course of their endless dinner arrived and was damn good, Jo had to admit. Taking a quick count -- there were at least 500 people here -- she wondered how much this smorgasbord was costing Warner Industries. Watching Blair dip her fork into a round saucy thing, Jo said casually, "So, what's bothering you?"
Blair looked over at her, and then away again. "Nothing."
That cinched it. If there wasn't something bothering her, Blair would have interrogated Jo about why she thought there was.
"Something's bugging you, Blair."
Blair took a sip of her wine, not even pretending it was for a purpose other than stalling. That piqued Jo's interest. Blondie was always more than willing to share whatever problems she had, real or imagined, whether Jo wanted to hear them or not. Blair didn't know whether to serve peach flambé or something more elaborate for a brunch (like Jo knew). She didn't know whether to accept William's dinner invitation even though Robert had asked first (like Jo cared). So this was either embarrassing, or Blair thought Jo would make fun of her, or both.
One of those bubbly Party Committee women tugged at Blair's arm again, urging her out of her chair to greet the Accounting Department or the European Operations Division or who knew what this time.
Another one of the chirpies was hovering beside her own seat, Jo noticed. As the woman started to ask her something, Jo reached out a hand across Blair's dessert plate. "You got something other than mousse?" she asked the server. "Blair's not big on that."
"Would she prefer a fruit plate?" the party planner asked quickly. "We didn't know she was coming, or we would have asked someone about her preferences."
A fruit plate at a formal dinner? The idea was tempting, if only to see Blair's face. "Nah," Jo said. "You got anything with a lethal amount of chocolate?"
"Chocolate Decadence?" the server suggested.
"She'll love you forever."
"So . . . ," Party Patty asked, "you and Blair were roommates?"
"Ten years," Jo said. "With time off for good behavior."
"You must know her pretty well."
Breathlessly, the woman asked, "Did you ever see The Newlywed Game?"
What? That was out of the blue. "I might have," Jo replied. "Years ago."
"The object is to"
She held up a hand. "I remember." Newlywed couples had to guess each other's answers to questions, showing how well, or, at times, how little they knew each other. As a kid, Jo had always gotten a kick out of the squabbles that erupted from some of the answers.
"We're putting one on here," the employee said, pointing at a makeshift stage at the front of the room. "Do you want to do it with Blair?"
Uh . . . . "We're not a couple," Jo pointed out.
The woman laughed. "Of course not," she said. "We can change the wording. I think people would really enjoy learning more about her."
This sounded risky. "I don't know . . . ."
The woman leaned closer. "This is the first time a Warner has ever attended the Christmas party," she said.
When the other two women returned to the table a few minutes later, Jo could hear her former roommate saying, "it sounds delightful, but I don't know if Jo would be willing to--"
Grinning at her, Jo held up a stack of blank cardboard squares.
As they were escorted to the stage at the center of the room, Blair grabbed Jo's arm. "Don't embarrass me," she whispered.
Jo flashed her the Polniaczek teeth. "Are you kidding?" she said. "They wanna hear allllll about you."
But the CEO's daughter wasn't joking. "Please don't," she begged.
"I promise not to use the word Airbrain."
Blair shot her a glare.
There would be seven questions, the emcee announced, all focused on the Warner Industries half of the couple, of course, since they were the only participants the audience knew.
"What is your spouse's -- or your friend's -- all-time favorite Christmas present?"
This was easy. "Her sister," Jo scribbled.
On cue, the four Warner employees turned over their cards. "My sister Bailey," Blair's card read in her flowery cursive.
Blair's strangest Christmas? That required a little more thought. Granted, she might have had some weird experiences before the two of them met, but Jo had a pretty good guess on this one. "Christmas in the Big House," she wrote.
"The State Prison," Blair's card confirmed.
"Uh . . . ," the emcee hemmed.
"Long story," Blair said.
Blair's favorite Christmas song? These were getting tougher. Jo knew what her own answer would be. Years ago, her heart had swelled when Blair, overcoming her fear at being front and center in a room full of convicts, had launched quietly into the ballad she knew to be Charlie Polniaczek's favorite from his years in prison.
She looked over and saw Blair smiling fondly at her.
"I'll Be Home for Christmas," they both wrote.
Three for three so far, and she hadn't had to lie yet. This wasn't so bad, Jo decided . . . .
"A husband?" Blair erupted from across the stage a few minutes later. "That's what you think I want for Christmas?"
"A new job for me?" Jo yelled back. "That's what you want? I like being a cop, Blair! I'm good at it."
"And I like being single," Blair fumed. "I'm good at it."
"Oh, we know that!"
"Okaaaay," the emcee broke in. "Well, six for seven, still pretty impressive for our college roommates."
"Have you been talking with my mother?" Blair demanded.
"Have you been talking with mine?"
Jo's view of the spoiled brat was suddenly cut off by a woman holding two items out to her, a small trophy and a gift certificate. Still angry, she glanced at the prizes. "Newlyweds Forever" was scratched on the trophy. Just what she needed. Now the certificate, that was something else; she could get her mother a whole new VCR with this. She slipped it into her pocket.
Blair managed to contribute her certificate to the door prize pool without offending anybody, sending some employee ironically, Bobbie Sue from the mail room home with a gleeful shriek.
"A husband?" Blair hissed again the moment they resumed their seats.
"What was I supposed to say?" Jo defended herself. "I didn't know what you want."
"So you just assumed it was a husband."
"Yeah, I did," Jo said. "I thought you might like being married."
"But I wouldn't like being divorced," she countered.
"Why do you assume you would be?"
By way of reply, Blair launched into a passable imitation of a Bronx accent. "'You're impossible to live with, Blair,'" she said.
"Well, obviously that's not technically true," Jo backpedaled. "I managed it for ten years."
"'You're going to drive your husband insane, Blair.' 'You're worse than your mother, Blair.'"
"That's not what I meant," Jo said. She tried a different angle. "Your mom likes being divorced."
"Yes, well, she didn't grow up with it," Blair said. "Her parents were married for 43 years."
"Is that why you're not married, Blair?"
"Why aren't you?"
"Been there, divorced that," Jo reminded her. "Not my bag." That was an understatement.
"Not mine either," Blair said. Her eyes lit up as the most luxurious slice of Chocolate Decadence that Jo had ever seen was placed in front of her. "Oh, my word."
Jo smiled at the uninhibited lust on her friend's face, but she hadn't forgotten their earlier aborted discussion. "So, what's up?" she asked again as they both eagerly jabbed their forks into the moist goodness.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Blair replied. "Mmm . . . . My heavens, this is fabulous."
Yeah, it was, but Blair wasn't ducking the question this time. Jo waved the trophy at her. "I know you, Blair."
Blair licked some frosting from her lips, then said, "It's nothing, really."
"It's something, really," Jo disagreed.
After another respectable-sized bite was lovingly consumed, Blair said, "I'm supposed to receive the NAACP Harriet Tubman Award on Tuesday."
"And . . . ."
"And I got a call yesterday from a Post writer, asking how I felt about the irony."
The irony? Oh, no . . . . Jo's stomach clenched.
"About getting an award like this when my grandfather . . . ." Blair trailed off, still uncomfortable saying it after all these years.
"How'd he find out?" Jo asked. Most coverage of the Honorable J. Carlton Blair's affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan had been discreetly buried years before the old man was.
"From Natalie's article, ironically. This particular reporter has taken quite an interest in me," she went on, unsuccessfully pretending that it didn't bother her. "He actually went to Peekskill and got copies of every Eastland Gazette from my years there. And the Peekskill Press."
"What?" Jo was shocked. "Who is this guy?"
"His name is Darren Shapiro."
Shapiro? That sounded familiar. "Is he the one who wrote that thing last summer?"
"Oh, yes," Blair said. "All about OSHA violations in our North Carolina factory after Money put us on its Best Places to Work list. We had already fired that manager, you know," she added.
"I know." Jo had heard all about it from an upset Blair the day the story ran.
"Two months before Shapiro even called us," she emphasized. "But did he mention that?"
Before Jo could murmur a supportive "No," Blair did it for her. "No! Instead, he implied that that we only did it because he caught us."
He hadn't just implied it, Jo didn't say; he had pretty much said it outright. Jo had wanted to pound the fucker into dust.
"Why does this guy have a hard on for you?" Oops. Sometimes she forgot to tone down the shop talk when she was with classier company. "Sorry." But something about Blair's expression suggested that the choice of words, while crude, was still accurate. "Wait," Jo said. "Does he have a"
"Grudge?" Blair interjected. "You could say that. I invited him to dinner after his first story about Daddy." She looked at Jo. "You remember, the one about"
"Yeah, I remember." A full-page dissection of David Warner, alleged inside trader.
"Apparently Mr. Shapiro misinterpreted my intentions," Blair said.
As had a thousand males before. Blair couldn't help it; the flirting came so naturally to her that she didn't even realize she was doing it until men were falling at her feet.
"As if I would even consider . . . with a reporter . . ." Blair shuddered.
Almost as bad as a cop, Jo supposed.
"Anyway, now I have become his life's ambition."
"You're every guy's life ambition," Jo said, but Blair wouldn't be flattered out of this one.
She leaned forward and whispered, "This KKK thing is going to be just as bad. I just know it."
Jo hoped she was wrong; after all, it was Blair's grandfather, not Blair. Ancient history. But two days later when she picked up the phone, she was greeted with a distraught, "Did you see it?"
There was no sense lying. "Yeah," Jo said. "Sorry."
"I went ahead and built the library with Grandfather's money after I found out," Blair said. "That was his focus."
"He's a dickhead," Jo said. "The thing was halfway built already. You had the only Black Studies section within a two-hundred mile radius." Not to mention that she was seventeen years old at the time -- which, in fact, Shapiro had not mentioned. Oh, he had covered his ass by mentioning the year, but unless a reader happened to know how old Blair was, the fact that she was struggling with all this while still in high school would go unnoticed.
"Well, that's just your perspective, isn't it?" Blair said. "According to Shapiro, I knew all about Grandfather's . . . situation, and I went ahead and honored him anyway."
"You didn't call it the Blair Library," Jo said. Shapiro couldn't have known what a letdown that was to Blair, who had not-so-secretly enjoyed the fact that this fabulous facility would bear her name, sort of.
She heard a noise, and then a muffled "Thank you." Then Blair said, "The Times wants a comment."
George Crew approached, and she waved him into the seat beside her desk. "I'm sorry, Blair," she said. She really was.
"How is the lovely Miss Warner?" Crew asked when the call ended.
"Screwed," Jo said bluntly. "This reporter has it out for her." She wadded up Section A of the paper and threw it into the trash basket. "I'm gonna get that guy."
"Need some help?"
Two pairs of eyes peered into the punch bowl, until finally Natalie dipped an experimental ladle into the bowl. She poured its contents into her cup, sniffed it, and took a sip. "Nope," she said, shaking her head.
"I don't get it," Tootie said.
She was sufficiently distracted that she failed to notice when her fiance strolled up until he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "What's up, Babe?" he asked.
"We're solving a mystery," Tootie replied absently.
Before she could elaborate, Nat grabbed her sleeve. "There she goes again," she said.
Jeff followed their gaze over to the girls' friend Jo, who was making nice with one of the stock brokers whose brain Jeff had picked earlier about potential investments. Polniaczek moved closer to him, then smiled invitingly and pointed up at -- mistletoe?
The geek's eyes lit up, and he leaned forward for a kiss. And what a kiss! The woman took her mistletoe obligations seriously.
"Wow!" Jeff muttered. He wondered briefly whether Tootie would mind if . . . It was a party, after all, and they were all friends . . . .
From his elbow, he heard a low, "Don't even think about it."
She eyed him.
"I might let you kiss Jo," Tootie said. She held out a hand -- "might. But not tonight. We think she's been hitting the eggnog."
"Not this eggnog," Natalie said, setting down a cup of beige liquid and wiping her lip with her pinky. "Are you sure this is the only table she's been to?"
"Positive," Tootie replied. The "enhanced" punch was over in the corner -- "as you know, Natalie," she said pointedly -- and Jo hadn't been over there all evening. "But she's let at least six guys kiss her," she explained to Jeff. "It's not like her."
They watched as Blair walked over to her former roommate and said something they couldn't hear, then turned around with an insta-smile when the podiatrist from Blair's apartment building tapped her on the shoulder and pointed up at the leafy sprig. Blair grabbed him by the arms and swung him around, then planted a passionate kiss on him until he finally staggered off in a daze. Blair and Jo exchanged a glance.
"I know!" Tootie said. "It's a competition, who can get the most mistletoe action."
"Poor Jo," Natalie said. To avoid any misunderstanding, she added, "Not that she's unattractive. She just doesn't have that 'kiss-me' vibe."
Tootie narrowed her eyes at her boyfriend, who was watching Jo smooch with yet another virtual stranger. "I guess it depends on who you ask," she said with a frown. "Come on, Nat." She shoved Jeff toward the dance floor.
Hours later, the last of the revelers scooted off with a "Fab bash, Warnsey," and for the first time all evening, Jo and Blair found themselves alone. For the moment, anyway. They were quickly joined by a third individual, who held up a high-tech camera. "You ready?" he asked.
When Blair didn't answer, Jo said, "Yeah, I guess."
"You're off your mark," he said to Blair, holding the camera up to one eye. "You too, Jo."
The women moved toward the small pieces of tape and positioned the balls of their feet on them, as they had a dozen times earlier that evening. Blair looked over at the man. "Um, listen . . . ," she began.
Jo suspected she knew what might follow, but this was all up to Blair and so she kept silent.
"I'm not sure I can go through with this."
Greg seemed surprised. "You look terrific," he said.
"Of course I do," Blair replied. "It's not that."
No, it wasn't. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to, Blair," Jo said.
"I know," Blair replied. "And I want to, I really do. He's a horrid creature. It's just . . . ."
"I gotta use the can," Greg announced abruptly. "Let me know."
Whether his declaration was true or not, Jo was grateful for the privacy. "You don't have to do this, Blair," she asked. "I just wanted to get him off your back."
"No, I really do want to," Blair said. "It's just the . . . ." She waved a hand between the two of them. "It's awkward."
"You did this with a dozen guys you barely know tonight," Jo pointed out, although she was experiencing the same odd feeling. "Just think of me as one of the guys. Business."
Blair laughed. "Business," she repeated. "All right."
"Do you want to try one before he comes back?"
"I guess so."
Summoning her courage, Jo placed her left hand on Blair's waist. Blair, in turn, placed both hands on Jo's shoulders, and, after checking their marks, they leaned in toward each other. Their lips met for an instant, and they quickly drew back.
"That wasn't so bad," Jo said encouragingly.
"No, I guess not," Blair said. They went for another try, this time letting their lips explore a little. Jo's arm tightened around her waist, and she tugged Blair closer to her.
"Perfect!" The exclamation startled them, and they instinctively stepped back from each other as if they had been caught in the cookie jar. The man referred discreetly to them by Mr. George Crew clicked away on his camera. "Tilt your head up a bit, Blair."
As they followed his instructions, their discomfort eased, and the kisses became more convincing. Jo hoped so, anyway. They would know soon enough.
Two days later, a reporter pulled up a chair across from an individual in a diner a few blocks from the Post.
"Shapiro?" the man said.
He nodded skeptically. This was likely a waste of time, which was why he had scheduled it over the noon hour. He had to eat anyway. "You said you had information regarding Blair Warner," he prompted.
The guy ran a finger down the menu.
"I'm not buying your lunch," Shapiro made clear.
"I worked Warner's private Christmas party," the man said. "Thought this might be of interest." He drew out an envelope and laid it on the table.
Shapiro gaped at photos of Blair Warner and another woman kissing passionately, their hands all over each other. Holy . . . . He fished around in his pouch for his magnifying glass, and brought one of the photos up to study. No wonder Warner had blown him off -- she was a damned dyke!
"A hundred bucks," he said.
The man sneered at him. "Right," he replied. "I'm gonna put my career at risk for that. Fuck you." He grabbed the envelope and got to his feet.
Shapiro quickly upped his offer. "A thousand."
"I can get ten times that from Warner."
That was probably true. "So why don't you?" he asked.
"Bitch was rude to me," he said. "Thinks she's better than everyone else."
That was Blair Warner, all right.
The photographer turned toward the door, and Shapiro blurted, "Five grand! That's all I can do." The paper wasn't likely to go that high, even for a Warner, but he would just have to make up the difference.
At their next -- and, as Shapiro emphasized, last -- rendezvous, the two men exchanged envelopes, and the photographer watched as, after a passing glance at the contents, the reporter strode eagerly toward his office, envelope clutched possessively in one hand. Once the other man was out of sight, Greg walked over to the public phone.
On the other end of the line, Blair Warner hung up thoughtfully, then made a call of her own. "Natalie," she greeted her friend warmly. "Are we still on for lunch tomorrow?"
She was not surprised when the budding news producer arrived long before noon the next day, a copy of that morning's Post tucked under her arm.
"Don't ask," Blair said.
Natalie ignored the request. "You and Jo?" she asked. She set the paper down on Blair's desk and gawked at the largest photo, which featured two of her closest friends in a heated embrace. "I mean, I always wondered, but . . . ."
"No," Blair said. Then she frowned. "Wondered what?"
"What are you saying, Blair?"
"I'm saying that Jo and I are not . . . that." She pointed toward the paper.
"Were you guys just fooling around?" Realizing how that sounded, Natalie amended the question. "I mean goofing around?"
"I'm meeting with the lawyers at 3 o'clock," Blair dodged. "I fully expect a retraction."
"Retraction?" Natalie repeated. "Are you saying these are fake?"
"Natalie, if you want an exclusive, I think you should send someone else down," Blair said.
"This is a conflict of interest." More important, Blair was not willing to lie to her long-time friend. "You have consultants for this kind of thing, don't you?"
"An exclusive?" Nat echoed, and then realized what Blair was saying. "Oh--an exclusive!"
Innocently, Blair said, "You don't have to cover it if you don't think it's newsworthy . . . ."
"Right," Natalie scoffed. "'Heiress sues Post over hot lesbian photos' -- that won't draw any viewers."
"Hardly 'hot,'" Blair said.
"You're gorgeous, Jo's gorgeous, these are hot," Nat declared, pointing at the photos. "Hell, I'm straight and I can't keep my eyes off them."
"That's because you know us."
"I thought I did," Nat quipped, raising an eyebrow at a photo with Blair's arms draped snugly around Jo's neck.
Blair swatted her. "Go make your call," she said.
She did, and Cable News Network became the first organization to not only identify the other woman in the photographs -- New York City Police detective Joanna M. Polniaczek, a former roommate of Miss Warner's -- but also to have an expert declare the Warner-Polniaczek photos fakes, and not particularly skillful ones, if one examined them closely.
He had examined them closely, insisted Post reporter Darren Shapiro, under whose byline the lesbian allegations had appeared. He wasn't an idiot; he had studied the contrast, the grain, the backgrounds carefully, he said, and the photos that he saw were not fake. Throwing his informant under the bus to save his own skin, he identified the man with whom he had met on December 18 and 19 as the photographer hired for the Blair Warner Christmas party.
Not so, said seventy-two-year-old Alan Worthington of Worthington Portraits, the Warners' personal photographer for the past fourteen years. He had never heard of Darren Shapiro, and he had been in New Jersey with David Warner that entire week.
How the pictures were created was resolved by the discovery of certain negatives in an empty office, likely abandoned by a nervous blackmailer in the glare of unexpected publicity, police speculated. On the roll were dozens of photographs from the party -- all of Warner and Polniaczek kissing various men under the mistletoe. It would have been a relatively simple process for an experienced forger to excise the men from the photograph and superimpose the women, Post spokesman Ron Baker admitted.
That explained the how. As for the why, hoax victim Blair Warner had no comment, other than to note that "Mr. Shapiro seems to have taken an extraordinary interest in my family in recent years . . . ."
She sat with her legs tucked under her, glancing again at the 48-point APOLOGY headline that had saved the paper a lawsuit. She set down her wine when the housekeeper announced Jo's arrival and her own imminent departure. "Good night, Angie," she said. "Merry Christmas."
"Hey," Jo greeted her. She held up a square box wrapped nicely by the Saks giftwrapping department. "Merry Christmas."
Blair smiled at her. "Shall we unwrap after drinks?" she suggested.
"Sounds good." Jo walked over to the miniature white tree and laid the box on the ground next to the only other item beneath it, a smaller box adorned with a card that said "Jo" in shiny gold handwriting.
Returning to stand beside the couch, Jo nodded toward the newspaper. "Any regrets?"
No, not really, Blair told her truthfully. "He was already making things up about me," she said. "I shudder to think how low he would have sunk. I don't know why he was so obsessed with me."
"Yeah, you do. It's your specialty." She wandered over to the fridge, grabbed a soda, and popped the top. "Heck, you got me to plaster my face all over New York City making out with a rich broad."
"It was your idea," Blair reminded her, "but I guess I should have thought about the consequences to you. Have you had any problems?"
"Nah," she replied. "Once I got Ma calmed down, all I had to do was take down all the copies pinned on the bulletin board at work."
"Your mother was upset?"
"Eh, you know, Catholic and all that," Jo said. "She likes you, but . . . ." Changing the subject, she said, "Dad asked if I knew what I was doing. I told him I hoped so 'cause we were gettin' a lot of practice."
"Just kidding," Jo replied. "It's been okay. Most of the guys thought it was hot."
"That's what Natalie said," Blair mused.
"Why do you think they ran the photo again with the retraction?" Jo pointed out. "Probably sold another ten thousand copies." She plopped down on the end of the couch. "So listen, do you want the pictures of us makin' out with the guys?"
"The men at the party? Good grief, no."
Jo reached toward the floor and pulled an envelope out of her jacket pocket. "How about these?"
"Oh, are those the . . . ?" Blair scooted closer for a look. In the first photograph, her hand was wrapped around the back of Jo's neck as the two of them kissed. "These are what Greg showed Darren?"
"At the first meeting," Jo confirmed. As expected, Shapiro hadn't noticed the slightly different versions he had been handed at the second. "That's the last time a paper in this town will be stupid enough to buy incriminating photos of you." She set down the picture and looked at the next one, a similar pose.
"Quite a memorable evening," Blair said.
"Are you in therapy yet?"
"It wasn't that bad," Blair said. "You're actually not that bad . . . . I mean, I'd rather have you than Theo Stevens."
Jo sneered at the memory of that recent toyboy.
"In terms of him being a bad kisser, I mean."
"Well, you're pretty good yourself," Jo admitted. "'course, you've had a lot more practice."
"Oh, don't get high and mighty with me," Jo said. "How many guys have you kissed? A hundred? A thousand?"
"Don't be insulting," Blair replied.
"I'm not," Jo said. "Kissing isn't a big deal to you. It's what you snooty types do."
"What about Eddie? What about Doug? What about Roy? What about Professor Too-Old-For-You-Hall? And that was before you were twenty. You've had plenty."
"Roy?" Jo protested. "He kissed me."
"It still counts."
"Okay, fine, then," Jo said. "Maybe twenty guys."
"Twenty men and one woman," Blair said. She started to comment about the next photo, but when Jo didn't reply, she looked over at her. "What?"
"Nothing," Jo said uncomfortably.
"What did I say?"
"Nothing." But Blair wasn't going to let it go, of course, and eventually Jo muttered, "Twenty men and four women."
Blair's eyes widened. "Four women?" She held up the photo that was in her hand, which depicted the two of them in a heated liplock. "Like this?"
"Give me a break, Blair," Jo said. "You know, New Year's Eve, mistletoe . . . ."
"So, all these women were just impromptu?"
"'All these women?'" Jo repeated. "Slight exaggeration, Blair. Should we burn these?"
Blair didn't reply, still digesting the fact that Jo had kissed other women. She stared down at the photo, and remembered how she had felt when Jo's hand slid down from her waist to her hip. It had been . . . interesting. Her mind had wandered back to it a few times since then, including the moment when her lips had trailed across Jo's throat until Greg had reminded her that none of the men had been allowed to stray like that in the pictures they were attempting to recreate.
If she were honest, Blair thought, she had to admit that, in a weird way, she had almost been sorry when the session ended. She held up another photo for Jo to see.
"This was when he told you to 'get your hand off my ass,'" she said, knowing that her friend would be amused by her vulgarity.
Jo laughed. "Right after he told you less tongue," she countered. She studied the photo for a moment. "I'm surprised the Post didn't use this. I would have."
"Well, it is a little . . . ," Blair wasn't sure how to describe it. "Personal."
"Yeah, I'm sure they would have worried about that."
Suddenly, Blair was very aware of their proximity. Sitting beside Jo, close enough that the sleeves of their sweaters were nearly touching, staring down at a photo of themselves locked in a sensual embrace. She felt quite warm.
Uncomfortably, she recognized the feeling she was experiencing as tension, a kind never experienced with Jo before. What was going through Jo's head? She was still staring at the photo, too.
After a moment, Blair laid a hand on her thigh. Jo turned to her, and whatever she saw on Blair's face prompted her to toss the photos wordlessly onto the table and stare at her.
"Well?" Blair asked, issuing a challenge.
Jo tossed it back at her. "Well, what?"
Damn that Polish pride! "Well, are you going to kiss me or not?" she said.
She got her answer and more, sinking back into the sectional as Jo crawled on top of her. Long minutes later, she looked up into green eyes as clouded with desire as her own.
"What do you say we unwrap after breakfast?" she said.
"Well?" Blair asked, issuing a challenge.
Jo tossed it back at her. "Well, what?"
Damn that Polish pride! "Well, are you going to kiss me or not?" she said.
She got her answer and more, sinking back into the sectional as Jo crawled on top of her. Long minutes later, she looked up into green eyes as clouded with desire as her own.
"What do you say we unwrap after breakfast?" she said.
Miss Warner thanked the bank teller and sat down at the table. Waiting until she was sure she was alone, she unlocked the safety deposit box, then reached into her purse for the videotape and placed it inside, next to an envelope with four-year-old photographs of two women kissing at a Christmas party.
The tape starred the same two women, a brunette and a blonde. The brunette's face could not be seen for much of the film because it was buried between the blonde's thighs. The blonde was in heaven, hands caressing the other woman's hair until the moment when her body went stiff, her back arched, and her lips parted in a cry. And there was more, enough to fill the entire VHS.
At first Blair had refused, finding Jo's suggestion of videotaping themselves 'doing it' crass, to say the least, but, as always, she had eventually relented, on two conditions: Jo didn't expect her to look at it, and it was kept in a secure location. A safety deposit box in her own bank would be fine.
Yesterday, she had returned home from a three-week business trip to New Zealand, but instead of Jo waiting for her in the apartment as planned -- preferably nude and in bed -- she had found a hastily scribbled apology informing her that Jo had been called in on an emergency. She hoped to be home for dinner.
Disappointed, Blair had puttered around the apartment, but the staff had been given the day off in anticipation of her reunion with Jo, the place was spotless, the mail had been sorted, and she wasn't in the mood for the stack of fashion magazines awaiting her perusal.
Perhaps some television, she decided. Reaching for the remote, she turned on the set and saw herself on the screen, naked, moving sensuously on top of another naked body. Her hand wasn't visible, but from the steady motions of her arm and the sheer pleasure on Jo's face there was no question as to what she was doing.
"Oh, yeah, Blair . . . yeah . . . ."
For a moment, she was angry. This was why she insisted that Jo not try to make her watch this. Her hair was a fright, she was sweating, and she was grunting inarticulately into Jo's neck like some Neanderthal. Now she was shifting, adding her thigh to the motions of her arm. It was so embarrassing, so . . . so . . . . She watched for a moment, then remembered her irritation.
Jo had promised to keep this in the safety deposit box! But maybe she had; there was a recent Chase Manhattan receipt on the TV stand. So Jo had gone to the bank last week to get this - why? She reddened as one explanation occurred to her, and she glanced back at the bed, still crumpled from Jo's hurried departure this morning.
Jo had been in that bed last week, alone, and had . . . while she watched the film. Maybe other nights, too. Blair could picture Jo's hand beneath the blanket as it . . . . And the sounds she would have been hearing . . . .
"Harder. . . ."
She felt quite flushed. She had certainly missed Jo, too, so much so that she nearly flown home last weekend even though she would only have been able to stay for a few hours. A few hours would have been enough. Her frustration that Jo had been called into work today had been more than mental. She was seriously on edge, and Jo would be gone for who knew how many hours.
"Do you like this, Jo?"
"Oh, yeah . . . yeah, Blair . . . , I love you, Blair . . ."
Blair kicked off her shoes, carefully removed her clothing and laid it neatly on the footboard, then slipped under the sheets and hit Rewind.
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