DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Beauty Crowds Me: Chapter 1 of 16 Chapters. Quotes in italics are direct quotes from the Facts of Life Series, Season 2, Episode 1, The New Girl.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Beauty Crowds Me
1: A New Face
No matter how much Blair Warner twisted and turned, she could not find a comfortable position. She could tell that the other girls in the room were becoming increasingly irritated with her noisy readjustments, but she couldn't help it. She had never slept on a hard floor before with nothing softer upon which to lay her pampered body than a sleeping bag, a borrowed one at that. "Hum", as soon as the sigh escaped her lips, she wanted to take it back, but it was too late.
"I'm warning ya, if ya sigh one more time I'm gonna stuff that sleeping bag down your throat."
Blair shivered in her sleeping bag, having no doubt that the new girl meant every word of her threat.
"If you two don't slide over, I'm going to squash little Tootie so bad she'll look like a pancake in the morning." Natalie complained.
Jo looked to her right, intending to glare at Natalie, until she noticed the pain being inflicted upon their smallest roommate pinned against the wall.
"Ok, Nat, when I roll over onto my side, you slide a little toward me. Don't worry about Princess Grace over there, I'll take care of her."
Blair was still rolling back and forth on the other side of Jo, trying to find a comfortable position in which to sleep, but her constant moving was taking up too much of the limited floor space and Jo was determined to free little Tootie from the fate of becoming a human pancake.
The next time Blair rolled over onto her side, away from Jo and toward an old bookcase, Jo rolled as well, pressing herself firmly against Blair's back and wrapping her right arm across Blair's waist to hold her tightly in place.
"Wha, what do you think you are doing?"
Blair practically squeaked out the words, half expecting her sleeping bag to be jammed down her throat any second.
"I'm helpin ya stay still."
Jo whispered the words softly, hoping that Blair wouldn't struggle against her hold.
Blair didn't even consider struggling against Jo's grip. She closed her eyes and tried to think of something she could say that would require a response from Jo, just so she could feel Jo's breath against her cheek once more. Blair could no longer dismiss the tingly feelings that had been rushing over her body all day. The first few times it happened, she had tried to ignore the way her heart pounded and her palms sweat whenever Jo was near. The feelings Jo caused in Blair were overwhelming.
Jo felt Blair's body tremble against her and berated herself for scaring the over privileged debutant.
"It's okay, I ain't gonna hurt ya. I'm just trying to keep ya still so little Tootie don't get squished to death."
Jo felt Blair's body relax in her arms and loosened her hold across Blair's waist. She was feeling pretty pleased with the success of her strategy until she felt her body responding to the feel of being pressed so closely against Blair. This was a bad idea, very bad. Jo had been fighting the attraction all day. The last thing she needed at a new school was to let on that she liked girls.
Sixteen year old Jo Polniaczek was aware that her attraction to other girls wasn't typical, nor was it going to go away. So far, she'd been able to ignore it, or at least control it. Jo had spent most of her early years feeling like an outsider, always looking in, but never invited inside. She wasn't going to remain an outsider forever, Eastland Academy was her big chance to make good for herself and Jo didn't plan to waste it.
Of course, it wasn't going to be easy to fit in at the exclusive boarding school. Jo realized that as soon as she arrived and Blair Warner, resident bitch, had criticized her style of jeans. It wasn't as if Jo didn't know the styles, but there was no way her mom could afford to update Jo's wardrobe every year to match the changing trends. Blair had embarrassed her, but Jo had only shown anger. Anger was the mask behind which all other emotions could hide. Jo had learned that lesson from her father. Later in the day, Blair had tried to apologize for her rude comments, but the one thing Jo hated worse than criticism was pity. Blair's apology had been full of pity and Jo had rejected it with her own hurtful words aimed back at Blair.
Once the girls learned that they had been assigned as roommates, they came to an awkward agreement.
"Look, I'm not saying that you are my idea of the perfect roommate. That'd be Prince Charles."
"Yeah, well you don't win any popularity contests with me either."
"Good. I see we agree on something."
"Yeah. That and I'm wearing last year's jeans."
"I apologize for that remark. I admit I do sometimes pay a bit too much attention to fashion."
"And me not enough."
"How about it? Want to try bunking together for awhile?"
"Well it wouldn't kill me, Okay."
Blair held her breath, trying to keep her body from trembling. She was going to have to tell her parents that they should demand a refund from the psychologist who had guaranteed them that he could straighten out their 'sexually confused' daughter. He was more of a psycho than a psychologist, in Blair's opinion, but she had played along. It didn't take her long to figure out that all she had to do was spend lots of time with lots of boys in order to satisfy both her shrink and her parents that she was cured of her 'lesbian tendencies'. It was tedious at times, always pretending to be boy crazy, but it kept her in school and away from 'psycho shrink'.
Blair knew she was in trouble within minutes of meeting Jo Polniaczek. Blair smiled at the memory of their earlier introduction.
Even with her hair tucked inside a motorcycle helmet and wearing a loose fitting denim jacket, Blair normally would not have mistaken Jo for a boy. It had been the way Jo walked, her stance, the casual way a chain dangled along the outside of her pocket that had been so misleading. Everything about Jo's body language and style of clothing indicated that she was a boy. Even her voice was misleading, though it was high enough to be a girl's voice, the tone was rough and stilted with a thick Bronx accent that made Jo seem edgy in comparison to the sheltered girls who attended Eastland. Blair had noticed Jo instantly.
Blair had decided early on after completing 'sexual reorientation therapy' that if she had to spend time with boys, she intended to do it with the pretty ones. Jo was the prettiest boy Blair had ever seen. Unfortunately, all the things that screamed that Jo was a boy also indicated that the boy was working class, blue collar, and therefore unacceptable dating material for the Warner heiress.
"Uh, is this where I'm supposed to be?"
"Delivery boys usually use the rear entrance."
"Delivery boy? Give me a break"
Jo took off her helmet and shook out her tied back hair.
"Is this where I'm supposed to check in?"
"I don't believe this."
Blair's disbelief was edged with excitement as her eyes danced over Jo.
"You don't, I was going to ask him to the fall dance.
Blair's friend Natalie deadpanned, but Blair could tell she was half serious.
Jo pulled back her arm as if to strike Natalie, but Mrs. Garrett, the Eastland dietician intervened.
Even when she thought Jo was only a delivery boy, Blair had entertained the idea of spending time with him. Natalie was the one who was thrown for a loop when Jo removed her helmet, revealing that she was a girl. Blair smiled as she imagined the brain freeze in Natalie's head as it dawned on her that the boy she had been so attracted to was really a girl.
Realizing that Jo was a girl had the opposite effect on Blair. She had only experienced a fleeting attraction toward the stranger she thought was a delivery boy, but her body tingled from head to toe when the new girl had removed her helmet. Jo's beauty couldn't be concealed by the grease smudged on her cheeks and chin. Her ragged jeans couldn't deflect from her well toned body and her arrogant swagger only added to her air of confidence and strength.
Their introduction, however, had been a disaster. Blair hadn't known what to do when she realized that she'd been openly staring at Jo's rear end the entire time the new girl had been speaking. Natalie had noticed the direction of Blair's stare. Blair cringed inside every time she remembered her first words to Jo, she'd criticized Jo's clothes.
Blair wasn't a cruel person, but her words had been rude and hurtful. It was obvious that Jo didn't have much money, and she was probably insecure about entering a school full of affluent snobs, 'like me', thought Blair. As much as Jo had tried to cover her embarrassment with her angry response, Blair had seen the initial hurt flash in piercing green eyes.
Blair had been unable to think of any other way to cover up the fact that she had been gawking at Jo other than to say something about Jo's jeans. At least that gave her some thin excuse for blatantly ogling the other girl's ass. As upset as she was with herself about what she'd said, Blair smiled as she remembered just how nicely those jeans had clung to Jo's body, not to mention those dazzling green eyes. Blair tried not to sigh as she thought of the most beautiful bright eyes she'd ever seen, set within the otherwise dark features of her intense new roommate.
Jo was also thinking about their first meeting, but her recollections of the day were interrupted when she felt Blair's hand slowly drifting across her forearm. Once Blair's hand arrived at Jo's, her fingers began gently stroking Jo's knuckles, moved to her wrist and back again. Jo's mind began to race, trying unsuccessfully to catch up to the blood pulsing through her body.
Had Blair seen the attraction Jo had tried so hard to veil behind angry words and glares? Was Blair trying to confirm her suspicions about Jo so that she could use the information against Jo?
Jo's body stiffened. Blair, noticing Jo's response, stopped touching her.
"I'm sorry. I thought. I mean, I hoped. I mean, I'm sorry. It won't happen again. Um, you won't tell, will you?"
Jo's head was spinning with indecision. Blair's voice didn't sound like she was trying to trick Jo. She didn't sound like the over confident girl Jo had met earlier that day. She didn't sound like the same girl who bragged about all her boyfriends. She sounded nervous and insecure.
"Don't worry bout it, I ain't gonna say nothin. I, uh, I didn't really mind it, I was just surprised is all."
Jo's mouth was so close to Blair's ear when she whispered that Blair felt her warm breath caress her ear lobe and neck as if it were a touch. When Jo leaned just a fraction of an inch closer, her cheek resting against Blair's ear, Blair's breath caught in her throat and she leaned her body back, pressing herself even tighter against the new girl.
Jo couldn't believe how responsive Blair was to her slightest touch, it made Jo feel reckless. It made her want more. Jo bent her knees so that her legs molded to the back of Blair's, bringing her entire body into contact with the blonde. The warmth Jo felt through the thin cotton of her pajama bottoms was a welcome contrast to the cold hard floor on which she lay. Jo lay as still as possible, waiting for Blair to move away or yell at her, but the uncomfortable blonde seemed to grow calmer with the contact.
Blair couldn't remember anything in her entire life feeling as good as Jo pressed up against her. Her hands still ached to touch and Blair allowed her fingers to resume their exploration up and down Jo's arm. This time her fingers didn't stop at the wrist, they moved up Jo's arm to caress her bicep. Blair had wanted to touch the muscle ever since she had noticed the slight bulge.
Jo unconsciously flexed her arm under Blair soft caresses. Her mind went back and forth so quickly it was giving her a head ache. This was heaven, but it was the kind of heaven that could get her kicked out of the fancy prep school. She already had two strikes against her so she knew she couldn't afford any more mistakes. She'd been crazy to create fake ID's so that she and Blair could get into a bar. She'd been so caught up in showing Blair that she could be her equal and not some charity case to be pitied, that she'd lost all sense of reason.
Her mother had worked two jobs for as long as Jo could remember in order to provide the mere basics for Jo. When Jo's test scores qualified her for a scholarship to Eastland Academy, she had never seen her mother so happy. It was Jo's first day at the school of her mother's dreams, and she had not only forged ID's, she had hotwired the school's van, gotten herself and three other girls arrested, and been placed on probation, all in order to impress a girl. As much as Jo wanted to deny it, impressing Blair had been the motivation behind every stupid thing she had done that day. Now she and the three other girls were being punished. All of them would have to live and work together in the school cafeteria until they had earned enough money to pay for damage done to the van during their joy ride.
Blair turned her head so that she could look into Jo's eyes, needing to know if Jo was feeling the same things she felt. Allowing her fingers to wander back to Jo's bicep, Blair swallowed hard before trying to speak.
"Your body is so. ."
Blair swallowed again, her mouth dry, causing her voice to sound lower than usual.
"I can't seem to stop myself from touching you. I didn't think your skin would be so soft. Is this ok, Jo? I mean, touching you?"
Jo was lost. She was completely lost in the dark brown eyes searching her own. Everything she wanted, everything she had worked so hard for, it was all fading beneath the heat of Blair's gaze, the smell of Blair's hair against her cheek, and the feel of Blair's fingers gliding over her arm. Jo could feel Blair's gaze drift down to her lips. This was it, if they crossed this line, they couldn't pretend this was anything other than what it was.
Jo unconsciously licked her lips and moved slowly toward Blair's face. She was sure Blair could hear her heart pounding in her chest. She stopped just short of letting her lips touch Blair's, looking into Blair's eyes for approval. She couldn't ever remember being so nervous. Jo had never met anyone like Blair Warner. It hadn't taken long for Jo to find out that Blair was the most prominent student attending the fancy preparatory school. Jo wasn't intimidated by Blair's wealth or her prestigious family, but she found herself completely unnerved by Blair's beauty.
Everything about Blair's appearance captivated Jo. Blair's perfectly curled blonde hair cascaded around her adorable face. She wore the latest designer clothes, tailored to cling perfectly to Blair's body. When Jo looked into Blair's dark chestnut eyes, she felt like she was looking straight into the other girl's heart. Blair's eyes spoke words to Jo that she knew she would never hear Blair say. Although everything Blair was doing indicated that she wanted Jo to kiss her, Jo couldn't bring herself to believe that the other girl might truly be interested in her - until Blair turned her entire body toward Jo. Jo's body hummed with reciprocation as Blair snuggled closer.
Looking back, neither girl would even describe it as a real kiss. Their lips met. They exchanged ragged breaths that filtered across each other's lips and lingered on the tips of their tongues, which never actually touched. Jo pulled back to look again at the most beautiful face she'd ever seen. The wealthiest, most beautiful, most popular girl at Eastland Academy was lying beside her breathless with desire. This was wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The words were screaming in her head as Jo leaned forward a second time to press her lips gently to Blair's.
They stayed like that for several seconds, not taking the kiss further, just enjoying the sensation. It was Blair who pulled away from their second kiss, lifting her hand to caress Jo's face and running her fingers across Jo's lips.
"You are so beautiful."
Jo had been called 'pretty'. She had been called 'cute'. Some older ladies at church had once told her that she was 'striking'. No one had ever before gazed deeply into her eyes and told Jo that she was beautiful.
Blair hardly recognized her own voice, it was low and sultry, the kind of voice Blair had previously unsuccessfully attempted to cultivate. She pulled Jo closer.
The hunger in Jo's gleaming eyes scared Blair. Her brain kept warning her that she didn't even like Jo, not really. Jo had been critical of her all day, sometimes threatening physical violence if Blair didn't agree with her or go along with her. Blair could tell that her younger friends, Natalie and Tootie, were a little afraid of Jo. She knew she should probably be afraid as well, but she wasn't. Blair was intrigued by Jo.
There was a tension that flowed off of Jo which should have served as a warning signal. Jo had a dark side, a dangerous side. She knew how to fake ID's and hotwire vans. When they had been arrested for underage drinking and stealing the school van, not to mention resisting a police officer, Jo acted as if being in jail was no big deal. Blair's brain continued to assault her. Jo had verbally made it clear over and over that day that she didn't like Blair, but her actions had communicated a different message, as had her eyes.
Jo had defended Blair during their short stay in jail. Blair shivered at the memory of the fear she experienced under the close scrutiny of the huge girl who had attempted to take her watch. Jo had practically leapt from her bunk to confront the girl who stood threateningly near Blair. The tingle Blair had felt when she first met Jo was nothing compared to the desire she felt when Jo made it clear that she would fight the jail house bully if she didn't leave Blair alone.
Even a girl twice her size had been intimidated by Jo's confident assertion that she would rearrange the bully's face if she didn't leave Blair alone. Blair loved the way Jo made her feel. She felt safe with Jo, even in such an unfamiliar and potentially dangerous place. Blair wanted to believe that Jo's motivation was to protect her, but when she tried to thank Jo the surly brunette had brushed her off.
There had been moments, however, throughout the night, when Jo's eyes had locked with Blair's. Neither girl had been able to turn away, both incapable of resisting the other's gaze.
Still searching Jo's eyes for some sign that Jo wasn't just playing with her feelings, Blair reached behind Jo and slid her hands along Jo's back where she could feel the heat radiating from the other girl. Jo narrowed her eyes at the feel of Blair's fingernails tracing her skin through the thin material of her pajamas. Finding the intensity within those eyes intoxicating, Blair applied more pressure, digging her nails into Jo and continuing to rake them up and down her back. Jo's body almost jerked with pleasure, her eyes closed, and her lips slightly parted.
Blair was fascinated by the feel of the muscles contracting in Jo's back as the young girl shifted under Blair's caresses. Blair loved the way gliding her nails over those muscles would cause them to flex and twist.
"Harder." Jo bit out the single word, barely audible.
Blair was uncertain, any deeper and her nails might scratch through Jo's skin, leaving marks. As if she could read Blair's mind, Jo repeated her request, her voice raw with desire.
A shot of adrenaline coursed through Blair at the thought of leaving a visible reminder of the intimacy she and Jo shared. Without taking the time to consider the consequences of such a reminder, Blair began to drag her nails down Jo's back, digging deeply into the fabric of Jo's pajama top and pulling Jo toward her until their bodies molded together, sending another jolt of arousal through both girls.
Jo, who had been mostly restrained until then, couldn't contain the moan that slipped from her lips as Blair's nails raked across her back and as Blair's breasts moved up and down to the rhythm of Blair's rapid breathing.
After taking a few minutes to enjoy the feel of her body melded to Jo's, Blair gently ran her fingertips over the whelps which were already forming along Jo's back.
"Did I hurt you?"
Blair's whisper was thick with concern.
"Nah, I liked it."
Blair pressed her lips to Jo's, seeking reassurance. Jo smiled into the soft contact, once again refraining from deepening the kiss. Jo gently guided Blair's head to rest against her shoulder and drew her into a hug. The next time she spoke, Jo's voice held a tenderness Blair had never before heard from the gruff girl.
"Blair, we have to stop this. Nat and Tootie are lying right beside us. You gotta turn back around and try to sleep."
The tenderness of her voice reflected her concern for Blair and she immediately rolled over so that she was no longer facing Jo. Jo slipped her arm back around Blair's waist, but didn't pull Blair toward her this time, only resting her arm lightly against Blair.
Blair resisted the urge to touch Jo again and satisfied herself instead with the feel of Jo's arm lightly embracing her. She could hear Jo straining to slow her breathing so Blair began to match Jo's rhythm. Eventually, they both relaxed enough to fall into a deep sleep.
Thirteen year old Natalie Green was experiencing a bad end to an even worse day.
She had been relieved when Jo created enough space so that her best friend Tootie was no longer pinned to the wall, but Natalie was still wary of the new girl. Natalie's youngest friend Tootie had fallen asleep almost instantly once she had enough floor space upon which to rest her exhausted little body. Natalie, on the other hand, was finding it much more difficult to fall asleep. She was glad Jo had moved, but she was afraid that by helping Tootie, she had inadvertently hurt her older friend Blair.
Natalie couldn't tell what Jo was doing to Blair and she couldn't make out the whispers between them, but Blair had stopped tossing and turning as soon as Jo had rolled over in order to give Tootie more room. Natalie leaned up a couple of times to make sure Blair was still breathing, but didn't want to disturb Tootie's sleep or draw Jo's attention, so she was only able to sit up enough to confirm that Jo hadn't killed their prissy older roommate.
There were a couple of times during the night, when Natalie was drifting in and out of sleep, that she would feel a movement beside her. She couldn't tell if it was only Jo or if Blair was so close to Jo that her movements caused both girls to jerk. Either way, it gave Natalie a weird feeling. Curious by nature, it was odd that she didn't want to know what was happening between the two girls sleeping next to her in Mrs. Garrett's old storage room.
Natalie hoped they would be able to finish cleaning out the cluttered room the next day. She wanted to move her bed into the room as soon as possible so that this would be the only night she had to sleep on the floor. It had seemed like a grand idea when Tootie had suggested the Chug a Lug Bar as a great place for Blair and Jo to compete to see who could attract the most college men. Natalie had experienced a queasy feeling in her stomach when Jo started hotwiring the school van. If she had only paid attention to her stomach, it would have saved her from a world of trouble.
Despite other conditions of their probation, things hadn't turned out all bad for Natalie. If rooming with Blair and Jo had not been a condition of their probation, Natalie would never have been allowed to room with older girls. Even if the rules had permitted it, Blair Warner was far too popular to ever consider someone like Natalie as a potential roommate. Natalie looked forward to rooming with Blair, if for no other reason than to be around all the excitement that the socially active debutante seemed to attract. The best thing, however, about rooming with Blair Warner was going to be the increased exposure to boys. Wherever Blair went, a trail of boys would inevitably follow. Natalie was looking forward to meeting some of the Bates Academy boys who consistently pursued Blair.
Natalie cast one last glance over toward Jo before finally going to sleep. She could hear the two older girls whispering again, but still couldn't understand anything being said. For two people who refused to speak to one another during the entire trip home from the police station, those two had certainly found a lot to talk about in the middle of the night. Natalie found herself inexplicably irritated with both girls before she finally allowed sleep to overtake her, half expecting to find her friend Blair wearing cement boots at the bottom of a lake in the morning.
Natalie was the first to wake the following day. She moved as quietly as possible around the room, gathering her things to take to the bathroom they would all have to share. Glancing back at the three girls still sleeping soundly, Natalie made a mental note to avoid Blair that day. The blonde was wedged between an old bookcase and Jo. Obviously Jo had held Blair in place the entire night, since her arm was still wrapped around Blair's waist. Natalie could only imagine how outraged Blair was going to be at having been practically held prisoner by the gruff new girl. As Tootie had said the prior day, it really was going to be an interesting year.
Jo woke up just as Natalie was leaving the room. She carefully extricated her arm from around Blair's waist and leaned back onto the floor to stretch her cramped body. As soon as her back made contact with the hard floor, Jo winced. There was no doubt that the soreness she felt would serve as a constant reminder of Blair's attention for days to come. Not that she would need reminding. Looking down at the girl sleeping beside her, Jo was surprised to realize the genuine affection she felt for the surprisingly affectionate girl. She felt a fondness that went far beyond her intense physical attraction.
Jo had known that she would have to pay a price for having allowed herself to get so close to Blair the night before. She felt the frustration building in her as she continued to admire the girl she felt could never have. Girls like Blair Warner might fool around with girls like Jo Polniaczek for one night, but Jo knew that there was no chance of a real friendship between the two. The tears were already forming in her eyes and she prayed that Natalie wouldn't notice them when she returned from the bathroom. Jo wanted Blair Warner. She wanted Blair more than she had ever wanted anything or anyone in her life, but she knew it was impossible. She was utterly disgusted with herself. If she had to find herself attracted to another girl, did it have to be a girl like Blair. She and Blair came from two different worlds and Jo was determined never to allow herself to forget it.
Jo walked over to her duffle bag and retrieved Eddie's photograph. Jo's boyfriend Eddie had enlisted in the Navy after Jo had won the scholarship to Eastland. Eddie wouldn't tell her she was beautiful the way Blair had. He wasn't much for fancy words, but he would treat her like a princess. Jo would simply have to get over the fact that she didn't want to BE a princess, she wanted to be WITH a princess. Putting thoughts of Blair away and placing the picture of Eddie on her bedside table, Jo headed for the bathroom.
By the time Blair woke, Mrs. Garrett had taken Jo to pick up her school uniform. Classes started the next day, so Mrs. Garrett also gave Jo a tour of the campus and made sure the new student knew how to find all of her classes. Normally, Mrs. Garrett would have asked one of the other girls to show Jo around campus, but the arguments she'd overheard the night before convinced her that it would be best if the new student spent most of her first full day at Eastland with the nutritionist house mother.
That afternoon, all four girls were required to report to the cafeteria to begin working to pay for the van repairs. As manager of the cafeteria, Mrs. Garrett explained their responsibilities. At first, Blair believed that everything Mrs. Garrett told her was a joke. The spoiled debutante had no idea what it took to cook for and serve others, nor had she ever expected to perform such tasks herself. Although Blair excelled in the classroom, she felt like an idiot in the kitchen. She was completely out of her element while Mrs. Garrett explained their duties. Blair didn't want Jo to think she was stupid, but her performance in Mrs. Garrett's kitchen was dismal.
Blair almost envied Natalie, Tootie, and Jo as they easily navigated the kitchen area. Although Natalie and Tootie were both from wealthy families, they had at least been taught how to operate primary kitchen appliances. Jo seemed in awe of the quality of the appliances, reminding Blair of a kid with a new set of toys at Christmas. It was the first time, but certainly not the last over the coming years, that Blair would note Jo's strong attraction to shinny chrome things. It reminded Blair of a nature show she'd watched about raccoons, but she decided that those thoughts must definitely be kept to herself, especially when Jo nudged her to find out why she was snickering.
It wasn't until later that evening that Blair found an opportunity to speak privately with Jo about the night before.
"Jo, don't you think we should talk about what happened?"
"You know. What happened last night."
"Oh, that. Hey, I really am sorry about all of that. I should have known better than to take the van. I'm not usually that careless."
"I wasn't talking about that. Besides, we all had a choice last night. Natalie, Tootie, and I could have backed out at any time. It wasn't fair of us to blame it all on you."
"No sweat. I'm used to taking the heat for stuff like that, don't worry about it."
"What I really wanted to talk to you about was what happened later?"
"I don't think there's anything to talk about."
"I just thought, well, I hope I didn't make you uncomfortable. It was your first day here, I shouldn't have . . ."
"Whatever, Blair. It was no big deal."
Jo hadn't expected to see such a downcast expression as she made light of the cuddling and kissing she and Blair had shared the night before.
"Wait, don't look like that. I didn't mean to make ya feel bad. I just don't think we should make such a big deal out of something that's never going to happen again."
"Oh. I apologize for my behavior. I'm sorry-"
Jo was surprised, and inexplicably upset, by the suddenly formal tone in Blair's voice.
"Sorry? What are you talking about now, why should you be sorry?"
Jo's voice was loud and angry. Blair sighed, flustered and embarrassed.
"I'm sorry that you regret what happened. You're right, we should forget it ever happened."
"Give me a break. I didn't say I regretted anything."
Blair's confusion was also turning to anger. She could tell that Jo wasn't comfortable talking about what happened between them, but it wasn't easy for her either and Jo wasn't helping by sending out so many mixed signals.
"Look, Jo, you may go around kissing girls all the time, but I don't. You'll have to forgive me if it's a big deal to me. I can't be as casual about these things as you can. Don't worry though, I won't bother you that way again."
"Hey, what ya getting so mad about? I'm just trying to make sure you understand that I don't have girlfriends. So what if something happened? I can't afford for anyone to know about it and I can't afford to get caught doing anything like that again. I could lose my scholarship for even thinking about kissing another girl, much less one whose family name is stamped on half the buildings on campus. I ain't no Gloria Vanderbilt, Blair. I can't just switch from one school to the other once the rumors start. For the record, though, I don't go around kissin girls either. I don't go around kissin anyone for that matter."
"Do you really think I'd tell anyone else about what happened?"
"I don't know you well enough to know. For all I know, everyone at Eastland already knows that you're gay."
"Shh. Don't talk so loud. No one at Eastland knows anything about anything. I only wanted you to know that I'm not usually so forward, I just got carried away last night."
"I guess I got a little carried away myself."
"So you're gay too?"
"Hell no, I ain't gay! I've got a boyfriend."
"Right and I'm Evel Knievel."
"What's so funny?"
"I can't believe you know who Evel Knievel is, are you a closet motorbike fan?"
"I'm not a closet anything, Jo Polniaczek. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. I don't even know why I thought I could have an intelligent conversation with you about this. You act like a Neanderthal."
Jo stepped closer to Blair.
"I didn't hear you complaining 'bout my Neanderthal ways last night, Princess Grace."
"Last night I was under the illusion that you possessed a modicum of social skills, Evel K."
"Oh, bring out the big words and hope the Neanderthal is too ignorant to understand."
Jo was inches from Blair's face, when both girls started blushing. Blair reached out and touched Jo's cheek, then just as quickly jerked her hand away as if she had been burned.
"What the hell was that?"
"I don't know. I'm sorry. I can't believe. I mean. Jo, really, I don't know why I touched you?"
"No, I mean what the hell was that feeling."
"Oh, so you're not mad at me for . . . it just happened. I was so angry and you were so close and then it was all . . . different."
"Yeah. I mean, no, I'm not mad at ya. Yeah, I know what you mean. You were making me angry and gettin me all worked up and then . . . wow."
"Blair, you have to understand something. People get ideas about me because I don't act like most girls. You need to be real careful around me. I've been called a dyke before. I never give anyone reason to call me names, except for how I dress and how I talk. I can't help that, I had to be tough in order to survive in my neighborhood, not to mention in my . . . Well, none of that matters here, except that it's no fun being called a queer. You can't be touching me, especially in front of other people, even Natalie and Tootie."
Jo hadn't wanted to share so much information with Blair, but she was reeling from the sexual electricity between them and couldn't continue to pretend it didn't exist.
"Jo, I'm sorry that happened to you, but you don't have to worry about that sort of thing here at Eastland. I am a lesbian, but no one at Eastland would ever suspect. I could throw you down in the middle of the cafeteria and have my way with you and they'd all think it was an optical illusion. See, I've spent years cultivating my boy crazy image. You haven't been here long enough to know it yet, but I haven't been without a date on a Friday or a Saturday night since I came to this school. All I'm saying is that you won't have to worry about anyone calling you those names here, but I'll be extra careful around you even though nothing else is ever going to happen between us."
Jo was stunned by Blair's honesty and she grudgingly admitted that she admired Blair's bravery. Blair had said something out loud that Jo had never even admitted to herself.
"Look, maybe I shouldn't have told you all that. You're right, no one is going to believe that a girl like you could possibly be gay, but you can't guarantee that they won't say stuff like that about me. I don't have to do nothin for them to start that crap."
Blair knew that it wouldn't do any good to offer Jo more reassurances. It would take time for Jo to understand the kind of influence Blair wielded at Eastland. There were a lot of things Blair couldn't control in her life, one of them being the need for her to continue to pretend an attraction for boys that didn't exist, all for the benefit of her parents. However, one thing she could control was how Jo was treated by their classmates. Jo would never be called names as long as she attended Eastland Academy; Blair Warner was going to make sure of it.
"I'm glad we talked, Jo. I feel better. You're right, it can't happen again, but I'm glad you know that it happened because you are special and not because I'm fast."
Jo laughed at Blair's fear that she would consider Blair fast. Jo could tell from their first meeting, when Blair was bragging about all her male conquests, that she was all talk and no action.
"I guess I'm glad we talked too. I wouldn't want you to think that I can't be with you like that because I didn't like it or something, cause I did. For the record, I'm not fast either. I've never let anyone touch me like you did, Blair, and I could tell that you don't get that physical either. This is going to work out fine. All we have to do is keep from arguing with one another and gettin each other worked up into a lather - that should be easy."
The following day was Sunday. It was Jo's first Sunday at Eastland and half way through the breakfast hour, she interrupted Mrs. Garrett in the kitchen.
"Hey, Mrs. G, can I go get ready now?"
"Of course, Jo."
Tootie was the first to acknowledge the lack of fairness in letting Jo leave breakfast duties early. Cleaning up was the worst part of their job.
"Hey, why does Jo get to leave early?"
"Because she needs to get dressed for church."
Blair said the word as if she were speaking a foreign language.
"Yes, Blair. Jo attends church services on Sunday mornings and I told her that I'd take her to Saint Ann's this morning as soon as I get all the meals cooked. I'm going to leave you in charge while I am away. You'll be responsible for making sure the other girls finish serving breakfast. I should be back in time to supervise cleaning up."
Twelve year old Tootie still didn't understand why Jo got to skip her morning duties.
"Well, I want to go to church too."
"That's fine with me Tootie. Now Jo won't have to clean up after the dinner crowd all by herself this evening, like we have pre-arranged."
Nothing was as bad as cleaning up after dinner, so Tootie quickly decided that she didn't want to go to church after all.
While listening to the conversation between Mrs. Garrett and Tootie, Blair threw her dish rag into the sink more forcefully than necessary.
"Something wrong, Blair?"
"I just don't get it. You don't get to hear how Jo talks when you're not around. I know she's dating a sailor, but by the way she talks you'd think she was one. And you wouldn't believe some of the off color jokes she tells."
Mrs. Garrett smiled. She'd overheard enough of Jo's language to know how shocking it was to the more refined girls who normally walked the halls of Eastland Academy.
"And what exactly is the point you are trying to make, Blair?"
Mrs. Garrett was patient. She knew why Blair was confused, but she needed to hear Blair say the words out loud in order to help her understand.
"I hadn't pegged Jo for being such a phony."
"Oh, Blair. I can assure you that there is nothing phony about Jo's religious beliefs. Her faith is extremely important to her."
"But how can she act the way she does and use such filthy language and then go to church and pretend that she's goody two shoes?"
"Blair, Jo's not pretending that she is anything other than herself. Jo doesn't think of going to church as something that only good girls do."
"Saint Ann's is a Catholic church, right?"
"Yes, Blair. Jo is Catholic."
Blair contemplated what Mrs. Garrett had told her. She had seen Mrs. Garrett's Bible out on her desk on several occasions, but she had never asked Mrs. Garrett about her religious views.
"Are you a Catholic too?"
"No, I'm a protestant."
"But you don't go to church."
"Oh, but I do. Because of my duties here, I usually attend the interdenominational service at the Eastland Chapel instead of going to a church in town, but I attend services fairly regularly."
"I didn't know."
"Blair, not everyone talks about their religious beliefs as openly as Jo, it doesn't mean that we don't have them."
"I wonder if they have confession on Sunday morning."
"I don't know. Why don't you ask Jo about it later?"
"She probably has a lot of things she needs to confess. I mean, with all the cursing and stuff she does, the priests must have their jobs cut out for them when they have to hear her confession."
"Uh, I don't think that's exactly how it works in the Catholic Church, Blair. Perhaps you should ask Jo."
"Yeah. I'll ask Jo."
Mrs. Garrett left Blair in charge while she drove Jo to church, thrilling Blair and irritating both Natalie and Tootie. Blair was the least qualified of any of the girls when it came to cooking, serving, or cleaning. Although Natalie and Tootie felt that Blair gave them the more demanding assignments, everything went well in Mrs. Garrett's absence.
After breakfast, Natalie and Tootie began working on the newspaper crossword puzzle while Blair drew in her sketchpad. After Tootie noticed Blair checking her watch for the tenth time, she couldn't hold back the tiny bit of information she knew about Jo's whereabouts.
"Jo told Mrs. Garrett that the church was close enough for her to walk back, that's probably why she's not here yet."
"I didn't say anything."
Tootie rolled her eyes and continued working on her puzzle. It was only a few minutes later when Jo walked in. From Blair's perspective, Jo looked as if she'd just stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting. She was wearing one of her burgundy school skirts with a plain white shirt and she was carrying a small white Bible. All three girls stopped what they were doing and stared at Jo when she entered the bedroom.
"You didn't tell us that you were Catholic?"
"Well, Blair, you didn't ask."
"I'm Jewish." Natalie offered.
"I'm Protestant." Tootie added.
Jo turned to Blair and raised her eyebrows.
"You don't have anything more to say, Blair."
Jo quickly began changing into a t-shirt and jeans.
"Is Eddie Catholic too?"
Blair couldn't believe that Tootie was once again bringing up Popeye the Sailor Man, as she so 'unlovingly' thought of Eddie. Blair couldn't conceive of any reason why the two younger roommates found the sailor so enthralling.
Mrs. Garrett was at the door within minutes of Jo's return from church.
"Hurry up and change Jo, we have to get ready for the lunch crowd. That's the thing about serving meals at a boarding school, the girls have to eat every day, weekends are no exception."
"I'll be down in just a second Mrs. G."
Tootie and Natalie left with Mrs. Garrett to start preparing for lunch, but Blair lingered behind with Jo.
"Did you go to confession?"
"Confession. Isn't that what Catholic's do, confess?"
"Uh, sometimes. You don't know many Catholic's, do you Blair?"
"I don't think I know any Catholics, but I've met a priest."
"Priests ARE Catholic. Is he a friend of your family?"
"No, he's not a friend."
"I see. No, I didn't go to confession."
"Don't you need to confess stuff?"
"Maybe, but today wasn't about that. Look, I can go to confession anytime."
"You can go in the middle of the week?"
"Yes, if I want to."
"Are you going this week?"
"Blair, why are you so interested in whether or not I go to confession?"
"Well, I guess I was kind of wondering what kinds of things you might talk about?"
"Private enough that I ain't gonna talk about em with you."
"But you'd tell a priest about private things?"
Jo was getting irritated, unsure of whether or not Blair was trying to make fun of her faith.
"Would you tell a priest about something as private as, let's say, for example, kissing another girl?"
"What? No. No way!"
Jo looked out the door to make sure that no one was in the hallway.
"Is that what all these questions are about?"
"Well, I wanted to know."
"Blair, that's personal between you and me and nobody else. Besides, you only confess things that you need to be forgiven for and we didn't do anything wrong."
"Well, I don't think so, do you?"
"Uh, no, I don't think so. I mean, I thought you did?"
Blair couldn't possibly explain to Jo why she felt so uneasy about Jo's faith or her dedication to the Catholic Church. She wondered if she would ever be able to confide those reasons to anyone.
"Why would you think that?"
"Don't all Catholics think that homosexuality is an abomination?"
Jo started to brush Blair off, but then decided it was best to be honest.
"First of all, I don't necessarily agree with everything the church says and does. The Church is made up of people, and people aren't perfect so the Church isn't perfect either. Second, you and I didn't have sex. Third, if homosexuality was a sin, and I ain't saying that it is, but if it was, then it'd be no worse than any other sin. All sin is the same in the eyes of God."
"That doesn't make sense."
"Well, it does to me. Listen, we have to get to work now, but we can talk more later. If you want to know anything else, that is."
"Yeah. I think it's interesting."
"Yeah. You're a very complicated person, Jo."
"Uh, is that a good thing?"
"Yeah, it's definitely good."
Jo and Blair stood at the door, staring into one another's eyes.
"I'm glad you came to Eastland."
2: A New Country
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