DISCLAIMER: I'm not sure who owns them, but it sure isn't me. I do like playing with them, though, and promise not to make any money at it.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"I was mad as hell too when my friend Gloria killed herself. I mean, one minute we were splittin' a tunafish sandwich and the next thing I knew, she was all over Columbia Avenue. No reason, no goodbye, no nothin'. They don't talk about it. They just wake up one morning and say ok, that's it, I'm checkin' out." Jo Polniaczek, Breaking Point
The third time Jo got out of bed, Blair watched her leave the room. She had an idea about what was bothering Jo, and didn't want her to get any deeper into those thoughts. Jo always took responsibility for the results of her actions or inaction. The younger girls were finally asleep, after what seemed like forever talking back and forth. Blair joined the conversation occasionally, but Jo didn't say anything, and kept her back to all of them. Listening to them talk about Cynthia, and suicide, and how they didn't understand made both her stomach and her thoughts churn. After they were asleep, Jo tried to sleep, too, but couldn't.
Blair got up and put on her robe. Jo was in her pajamas, so Blair knew she was staying inside, and she suspected the other girl would be easy to find. There weren't many rooms downstairs. It wasn't as easy as Blair initially thought. She found Jo in the lounge, staring out the window. "Hey," Blair said quietly, so she wouldn't startle Jo as she approached.
Jo shook her head.
"Me either. Wanna talk about it?"
"Nothin' to talk about."
Blair waited a few seconds. "Why didn't you tell me about your friend?"
"Why would I?"
"Friends share things."
"We ain't friends, Blondie."
Blair smiled. "There's no one here but us, Jo."
"I don't wanna talk about it."
"This is why. You wanna ask a million questions and analyze my feelings. It won't change anything."
"You might feel better."
Blair put her hand on Jo's shoulder, and Jo shrugged it off. "I'm going to make some cocoa. Do you want some?"
"I'll be in the kitchen if you change your mind."
Jo didn't answer. She listened to Blair's soft footfalls. Her pace reminded her of Gloria's. All that was missing was the crunch of gravel under sneaker soles. Jo remembered wondering why Gloria wanted to look over the edge of the roof, and her incomprehension at her sudden disappearance. Screaming started seconds later, but it wasn't Gloria's, and it wasn't Jo's.
She still didn't understand why, or how Gloria could be so calm. She thought they had things worked out, at least for a while. She'd stayed on the roof until the cops took her down to the counselor's office, and Ms. Wainright stayed with her while the EMTs checked Jo over, and stayed once her mother arrived and the police officers returned to ask a thousand questions. Jo said, "I don't know," over and over. She didn't have any answers then, and she didn't have any now.
She knew that part of her was still on that roof, and might always be. People couldn't always pinpoint the moment their lives changed, but Jo could. She was numb through the viewing and funeral, but when she thought about it later, she was furious. Gloria promised she would talk to Jo before she did any of the stupid things she fantasized about to escape her misery, and Jo promised she would be there to listen. She kept her promise, listening to everything Gloria said and holding it all inside, before and after.
As hard as she tried, Jo couldn't find an outlet for the anger she was left with. Rage carried her into the Young Diablos. When she told them she wanted to join, they laughed and beat her up, and she went back for more the next day, and every day after that until she was in. The things she did in the gang let her release some of her anguish and confusion, but she vowed to never let anyone be as close as Gloria had, that she would always hold back, and for more than three years, she had.
It was harder here to do that. The other girls didn't automatically leave her alone, especially when she was obviously troubled. Blair always came to her, even after she'd run everyone else off with attitude and threats. Jo knew that despite what she said, she and Blair were friends. But she'd never said as much about Gloria as she had in the past hours. Adults tried to get her to talk then, but Jo wasn't about to say anything to them. Tonight, all of her memories and all of those feelings were at the forefront of her thoughts, and they kept her agitated. She wanted to throw rocks through windows to hear the glass break and cause mayhem that matched the way she felt.
Jo smelled cocoa and debated joining Blair in the kitchen. The warmth and light were antithesis to her feelings, but maybe that was a good thing. Maybe if she drank some cocoa and listened to Blair prattle for a while, she'd be able to sleep.
When Jo went into the kitchen, a mug waited in front of the chair beside Blair's, and a napkin held some cookies between the places.
"Change your mind?" Blair asked.
Jo shrugged. Blair gestured to the seat, and Jo sat down. "I'm sorry about your friend," Blair said.
"I still miss her."
"What was she like?"
Jo shrugged, sipped her drink, and put the mug down. "We had the same birthday. We knew each other forever." Jo stopped and stood up suddenly, sending her chair to the floor. Remembering felt like choking, like sitting on the roof with part of a tuna sandwich in her hand, thinking that cartoons got it all wrong because gravity waited for no one.
She left the kitchen quickly, her socks muffling her footsteps. Blair watched, then picked up the chair. A few minutes later Jo came back down in jeans and a sweatshirt, boots in her hands. Blair followed her to the door. "Where are you going?"
"Out." Jo jerked it open.
Blair stood in the doorway and watched Jo sit on the step to put on her boots. She made a decision, closed the door, and raced upstairs. She dressed without worrying about fashion or appearances, and hurried downstairs with sneakers untied.
As she thought, Jo was wheeling her bike down the drive, and Blair went toward her. "Wait," she said quietly.
Jo stopped. "Go to bed, Blair."
"I'm not letting you go who knows where by yourself."
"You can't stop me."
"I'm going with you."
They looked at each other for several seconds before Jo chose the path of least resistance. "At least tie your shoes so the laces don't get hung in the chain."
Blair did as instructed, and caught up to Jo again when she finished. They pushed the bike toward the Eastland's entrance. Jo got on first, and waited for Blair to settle behind her before starting the engine.
As soon as she was out of Peekskill, Jo opened up the throttle. Blair held on a little tighter, but said nothing. Conversation wasn't possible, but she could get Jo's attention in other ways if she needed to.
Even with the throttle wide open, Jo couldn't lose the memories she was trying to outrun. Entire conversations replayed in her head, heavy with emotions. She kept her friend's secrets while she was alive, and wondered whether she had the same obligation to the dead, especially since Gloria broke the promise she made to Jo, broke all of them with a few steps.
"My dad, he hits my mom. He hits my brother. He hits me. And he does other things."
"I hate him, Jo. I wish he were dead. I want to kill him."
"I just want it to stop. I don't want to feel like this any more."
In Jo's bedroom, door closed and radio on although her mother wasn't home, wouldn't be for hours. On the bed, Gloria sobbing and holding on so tight, Jo running one hand through her friend's hair, rubbing circles on her back with the other. She had no idea what to say or do, except be there.
When Gloria didn't show up for school, Jo skipped out and went to her house. She had an illicit key, just like Gloria had a key to her home, and Jo knocked before she unlocked the door. She went through the apartment cautiously, wondering why all the rooms were empty and where her friend could be. Jo found her in the bathroom, a trio of false starts dripping blood into the sink, and she yelled, "What the hell are you doin'?" because she was so scared, and grabbed the hand towel to press against the cuts. Gloria dropped the razor blade into the sink and looked at Jo in a way Jo didn't understand. Jo cleaned and bandaged the cuts, and forced Gloria to talk. No tears this time, just resignation, and an exchange of promises, that Jo would always be there, that Gloria wouldn't try anything like that again without talking to Jo before.
Things seemed a little better after that, and winter wore away into spring, and they were able to eat lunch up on the roof, where it was quiet and they could talk or read, or hold hands. There were some good days, when they joked around and laughed, but mostly they were quiet. The roof wasn't a place for talking. It was a break from all the crap associated with school. They shared their bag lunches, each taking half of the other's sandwich, dividing whatever else was in the worn paper bags.
Jo came to hate Gloria's father almost as much as Gloria did. She could tell by the way her friend moved that she'd been beaten, tell by her body language and the despair in her eyes that he'd been in her bedroom the night before. She hated Gloria's mother, too, because she'd called Gloria a liar and hit her when Gloria told what was happening while her mother worked the night shift. But Jo promised she wouldn't tell anyone what happened at Gloria's house, and she didn't. She did the best she could to help her, but mostly she felt impotent.
It had been a good week. The weather was nice, and Gloria seemed...not happy, because she was never happy, but less like she was drowning in darkness. She laughed at Jo's jokes, and teased her back, and Jo was relieved. But when she called Gloria's on Saturday and Sunday, her parents wouldn't let her come to the phone. Gloria seemed all right on Monday morning as they walked to school. She seemed all right when they went up on the roof to have lunch. She took half of Jo's sandwich because she forgot her lunch, and took a couple bites before she put it on the plastic sandwich bag and stood up. Jo didn't think anything of it. They ate and walked and paced and talked up there all the time. She didn't think anything of it when Gloria stood on top of the low retaining wall surrounding the roof. They did that sometimes, too. And then she wasn't there. Jo heard screams over the traffic and realized what Gloria did, and couldn't make herself move. She didn't want to see her friend in a broken, bloody sprawl. What she'd eaten of her lunch came up when she heard the sirens. She knew what they meant, and she closed her eyes and stayed hunched over her thighs, ignoring the mess between her feet and the remains of their lunch.
The tears she'd been holding back broke through, and Jo let go of the throttle.
The bike slowed, and they drifted onto the shoulder. Just before it fell over, Jo put her feet down to catch it, and leaned forward. She brought her left arm into her body and used it to muffle the sobs she couldn't keep in.
Blair leaned forward, too, and kept her grip on Jo. She had a good idea what brought on the unusual display of emotion, but said nothing. If she'd learned nothing else about Jo in the time they'd known each other, it was that pushing Jo accomplished nothing.
Neither of them knew how long they were there before headlights came up behind them. Moments later, red and blue flashed around them, and they were square in the headlights of a New York state trooper.
"Everything all right?" he asked once he was close to the girls.
"My friend got something in her eye," Blair answered while Jo hastily swiped her face with her sleeve.
Jo sat up. "Yes sir."
"Let me see your license and registration."
Jo closed her eyes and suppressed a sigh. In her hurry to get away, she didn't bring anything. "Sorry. I don't have it with me."
"What about you, miss?"
"I don't have my license, either."
The trooper looked them over while he debated what to do. "We can do this a couple ways. Why don't we start with you telling me who you are and what you're doing out here at two-thirty in the morning."
"I'm Blair Warner. This is Jo Polniaczek. We attend Eastland Academy."
"No, sir," Blair answered. "We had a really difficult day, and couldn't sleep." She hesitated for a second. "A friend of ours died yesterday."
"I'm sorry to hear that. If I run this tag, is it going to come back stolen or lost?"
"No," Jo said firmly. "It's registered to my mom, Rose Polniaczek." Jo recited her home address.
The trooper nodded. "Don't go anywhere."
When Blair heard his car door close, she asked Jo, "Are you all right?"
"Sure. I love bein' interrogated by the cops in the middle of the night."
"That's not what I mean and you know it."
"I didn't want to talk about it before, and I sure don't wanna talk about it now."
"What do you think he'll do?"
"Don't know. Hope he'll just let us go."
"Mrs. Garrett will ground us forever if she finds out."
"I ain't tellin' her."
"I mean him."
Jo heard the car door opening and didn't answer.
"You turn around and get back to school before somebody misses you," the trooper said.
"Thank you," Blair said.
"Next time, pick up your wallet. And get helmets," he added sternly.
Jo nodded again. She checked for traffic and u-turned. As they began to move, Blair resettled herself. Jo drove closer to the speed limit this time, and Blair began to drift off, arms tight around Jo's waist, cheek on her shoulder.
The show of trust surprised Jo, even though she knew it shouldn't. Blair took for granted that Jo would keep them safe. Although she wouldn't admit it to anyone else, Jo trusted Blair, too. No one else would know about tonight. Blair would probably ask her again about her feelings, and Jo would find a way to avoid the discussion. If there was ever a day when the memories weren't so raw, she might tell Blair about it, but it wouldn't be tonight. Tonight, she would get them back to school and in their room without anyone else knowing what happened. Tomorrow, they would argue and annoy each other, and keep between them the secrets they shared.
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