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 14 of 16 Chapters. Quotes in italics are direct quotes from the Facts of Life Series, Season 2, Episode 14, Pretty Babies.
MEDIA LINK: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=192C5D50428674AB
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
THANKS: To Stacey for the Beta.
Beauty Crowds Me
14: Courting Jo
Jo watched as Blair sorted through dozens of Countess Calvert makeup kits.
"What are you going to do with those?"
"Mrs. Garrett talked to a social worker who organizes events and treats for the seniors at the Peekskill Retirement Center about donating the kits to their residents. I may do some makeovers if enough of the ladies are interested."
"Um, does that mean we'll have to wait another week or so before we can be alone with one another? We talked about going back up to Cooper's Rock, but you haven't had time to do anything else since you began selling cosmetics."
Blair smiled at her roommate, amazed that Jo was still clueless as to how much Blair cared for her.
"Don't worry, Jo, I want to spend time with you, too."
At Jo's thoughtful expression, Blair elaborated.
"Jo, you know that I want the same things you want, right?"
"Uh, does that mean you'll be able to get away sometime soon?"
Jo was shuffling her feet restlessly and Blair was delighted that Jo was so eager to spend more time with her. She and Jo had found very little time to be alone together since Blair's birthday. Blair often reflected on their visits to Cooper's Rock prior to Eddie's visit and the ensuing turmoil. She attributed Jo's anxiety to her own confusing behavior. Blair was as confused as Jo by her recent tendency to pull Jo toward her one minute only to push Jo away the next.
Blair's desire to be with Jo had been overshadowed by her fear of being hurt, but as she spoke to Natalie at the slumber party about what it was like to be in love, Blair realized that she was deeply, madly, hopelessly in love with Jo. Blair didn't fully trust that Jo wouldn't run away from her feelings again, but Blair wasn't going to let her own fear prevent her from being with Jo.
"How about today?"
"Yeah. Now is a good time. Would you like to go to Cooper's Rock or did you have something else in mind?"
"Yeah, I'd love to hike up to Cooper's Rock with you, Blair."
Blair laughed as she began removing her loafers in favor of sneakers.
"Am I going to have to hold your hand when we walk across the ledge?"
Jo bashfully lowered her head and looked away while answering.
Blair came to stand beside Jo and took her hand.
Jo looked down at their entwined hands, recalling the slumber party the night before. Blair was also gazing at their hands when Jo suddenly pulled her forcefully into her arms and twirled her around.
"Come on, Blair. I wanna do more than hold hands."
Laughing, she pulled Blair out the door and was practically pushing her down the hallway when they passed Mrs. Garrett.
"Where are you two going?"
"Cooper's Rock." Blair beamed.
"Oh, uh, um, when do you plan to return?"
"I'm not sure how long it will take. Jo is helping me look for arrowheads for an art project I'm planning. Do you need us to help with anything?"
Mrs. Garrett's expression returned to normal upon hearing Blair's explanation for their trip.
"No. I was only curious, you look so excited."
Jo nodded and grinned.
"Yeah, Blair's gonna show me all the best places to explore."
Mrs. Garrett turned her attention to Blair.
"Don't take Jo too far. She's new to the terrain."
"Oh, don't worry about me, Mrs. G. I can handle anything Blair throws at me."
Mrs. Garrett laughed.
"Don't underestimate Blair. She's a lot more adventurous than people realize."
Blair blushed under Jo's scrutiny.
"Um, we won't go too far, Mrs. Garrett."
Edna Garrett watched as the two girls started down the path toward the hillside leading to Cooper's Rock. She was pleased to see Blair and Jo getting along so well and curious about the sort of art project that would require arrowheads.
"Are you okay, Blair?"
Blair seemed uncharacteristically nervous as she led Jo across the narrow ledge to the landing where she and Jo spent most of their outings on Cooper's Rock.
"Don't worry about me, we're almost there."
As soon as they reached the landing, Jo's arms wrapped around Blair's waist.
"I've missed you, Blair. Don't be nervous."
Blair tilted her head toward Jo so that their lips met. Jo was mildly surprised at the shyness Blair exhibited during the kiss. Blair normally took the lead at the beginning of their kisses, playfully teasing Jo's tongue into a game of hide and seek. Jo pulled away briefly, concerned that Blair might be feeling pressured.
"Is something wrong? If you need more time, I can."
"Jo, I don't need more time."
"You're trembling again, Blair."
Blair looked deeply into Jo's eyes before initiating another kiss. She waited for Jo's tongue to seek entrance before meeting it with her own, continuing to allow Jo to direct their interaction.
"It's just me, Blair. It's Jo."
"I know, Joey."
Blair gently encouraged Jo's tongue deeper into her mouth, thrilled with Jo's eagerness to search further. Despite her denials, Blair had been nervous that her initial reluctance to forgive Jo and her subsequent indecision regarding physical contact may have caused Jo to lose interest. Relief swept through Blair with each of Jo's kisses. As her confidence in Jo's desire for her strengthened, Blair began to relax and enjoy the kiss.
Jo found herself leaning toward Blair so forcefully that she had to hold tightly to Blair to prevent her from falling backwards onto the ground. Suddenly, Blair pulled away, panting for breath. She sat down on the granite rocks and Jo soon followed, leaning over Blair and bracing herself by placing both hands on the ground on either side of Blair as the compliant blonde fell backwards.
Jo's tongue continued its assault, free to roam unimpeded. In previous visits to Cooper's Rock, Jo had been careful to position herself against the hard stone so that Blair's body was pressed against Jo. However, the urgency of this kiss wouldn't allow Jo to pull back or adjust positions. Blair's welcoming arms and trembling lips were too inviting for Jo to resist.
Since Blair had been so uncharacteristically shy when Jo first began kissing her, Jo often retreated, gazing into Blair's eyes for signs of approval or apprehension.
"You seem nervous, Blair. I'm not gonna."
"I'm not nervous, Joey. I've missed you, too."
Jo pressed her body firmly against the pliable blonde as she deepened their kiss. Her world was already reeling when she felt Blair's leg bend at the knee and then curl around her, pulling Jo closer.
They stayed that way for several minutes, enjoying the warmth and intimacy of their kisses. Blair's fingers softly outlined Jo's arms, her touches so soft that Jo sometimes wondered if she was imagining them. Jo molded her body as closely as she could to her receptive girlfriend, memorizing the soft curves pressed against her.
When Jo's lips traveled across Blair's cheek to begin nibbling on Blair's earlobe, she half expected Blair to turn away from her. Instead, Blair pulled Jo closer, angling her head to grant Jo easier access to the sensitive area below her ear.
Unlike Jo, Blair normally wore her uniform precisely as the school administration preferred, with her tie knotted neatly at the neck and a buttoned vest over her shirt. Jo tried to steady herself on one hand as she used the other to begin fumbling with Blair's tie. When Blair covered Jo's hand with her own, Jo was certain that she was about to be reprimanded, but Blair simply tugged once and the tie fell loose.
"How did you do that?"
Jo's voice reflected her astonishment and Blair couldn't restrain her laugh.
"If you ever bothered to tie yours properly, you'd know how easy it is to untie one of these."
Jo tilted her head and raised her eyebrows.
"I tried that once, but I never got the chance to practice untying it. Uh, someone else did that for me."
Blair grinned mischievously.
"I didn't think it suited you. I like it better when you wear it half tied."
"Uh, maybe I'd like your shirt better if you wore it half buttoned."
Jo stared dumbly at the two exposed buttons along the collar of Blair's shirt until Blair took pity on her and unbuttoned them herself.
"Is this how you like it, Joey?"
Jo swallowed hard and lowered her lips to Blair's neck, gently kissing and sucking.
"Yeah. I like this."
Blair reveled in Jo's kisses for several minutes before raising her head to impart feather soft kisses along Jo's neck and collarbone. Throughout the kissing, Blair continued to use her leg, wrapped around Jo's waist, to hold Jo close to her, reassuring Jo that she was enjoying the intimacy as much as Jo.
As the kiss intensified, Jo finally gave up the effort to hold most of her weight on her hands and allowed herself to rest against the soft blanket of Blair's body. Once she no longer needed her hands to brace herself, Jo found the inside of Blair's knee and began caressing Blair's outer thigh, pulling Blair's leg tighter around her.
At Jo's touch, Blair caught her breath, but quickly recovered, moaning her approval. Needing to steady her breathing, Blair stopped kissing Jo and nuzzled at her ear instead.
"Blair, are you okay? How are you feeling?"
Blair smiled confidently into Jo's eyes, but her voice was unsteady.
"I'm feeling adventurous, how about you?"
Jo grinned for a moment before becoming serious.
"You're not worried?"
Blair smiled reassuringly and ran her fingers along Jo's shoulders and arms.
"No, Joey, I'm not worried. I could kiss you all day and still want more."
Jo pressed her forehead to Blair's.
"I love the way you make me feel, Blair."
Blair kissed Jo lightly on the lips and then gazed into her eyes.
"You have no idea how beautiful you are, do you?"
"Joey, you are the strongest, most incredible girl I've ever known. I can hardly believe you're here with me, kissing me. I love everything about you."
Jo returned her attention to Blair's neck while pressing her thigh more forcefully against Blair's, eliciting another sigh.
Jo looked again into her girlfriend's eyes, searching for the disorientation and confusion she had seen at other times when Blair's arousal became acute. This time, all Jo saw was a welcoming smile. Blair didn't appear to be incapable of thought, she seemed to know exactly what was happening and didn't appear troubled by the fact that Jo's hand continued to expand the length of her caresses along Blair's thigh. Jo, however, grew more uncertain with each new barrier she crossed.
"Blair, I won't do anything you don't want me to do."
"I know. I'm not concerned, Joey. Kiss me again. I've missed you so much."
Jo didn't need further reassurance. She returned to her passionate assault, pouring herself into Blair.
As the sky began to darken, Jo rolled over to her side, still holding Blair in her arms, but slowing her kisses.
"You're such a sweet talker, Jo."
"Can you think of a better word for it?"
Blair ran her fingers over Jo's lips and grinned broadly.
"Hey, you aren't allowed to steal my most romantic line."
"I can be romantic, too."
"Blair, you don't have to romance me, I'm already kind of sweet on ya."
Blair leaned her head on Jo's shoulder and closed her eyes. 'Just because I don't have to romance her, doesn't mean that I can't', Blair reasoned. Jo had gone to great lengths to communicate the depth of her feelings toward Blair. Blair wanted to make Jo feel as special as Jo had made her feel. She felt that the least she should do was to treat Jo with the same degree of respect and tenderness that she had received, giving Jo an inkling of the depth of her affection.
"This is nice, Joey. I'm glad we came here."
"Yeah, so am I."
"Um, will you help me find some arrowheads before it gets too dark?"
"Come on, Blair. Mrs. G. won't ask to see them."
"Oh, that's not it. I really do need the arrowheads."
"What are you going to do with them?"
"I'm going to make something. I'll show it to you when it's finished."
Jo leaned forward for one last kiss before getting up and extending a helping hand to Blair. Blair spent the rest of the afternoon showing Jo all the places along the cliff where she or classmates had previously found arrowheads. Jo was disappointed that they were only able to locate one arrowhead, but Blair insisted that it was perfect and that she only needed one.
It was almost dark when they returned to their room above the cafeteria, where Tootie was working on math problems at her desk and Natalie was writing furiously in her diary.
The following weekend, all four girls accompanied Mrs. Garrett on her monthly visit to the Peekskill Retirement Center.
"Edna, it's great to have you and Blair back for another visit. I see you've brought some friends with you."
"Amy, this is Jo, Natalie, and Tootie. They're going to help us to pamper the senior ladies today. Girls, this is Amy Wilson. Mrs. Wilson is a social worker."
While Mrs. Garrett was introducing Amy, Jo was sharing a confused look with Blair. She wondered when Mrs. Wilson had met Blair before.
Amy Wilson extended her hand to each girl during the introductions and then turned to Blair.
"Blair, will you show your friends to the recreation hall where they can set things up? I want to show Edna our new kitchen renovations."
As Blair led the other girls toward the recreation hall, Jo found an opportunity to question her.
"How do you know Mrs. Wilson?"
"I've been here before. The Warner Foundation is one of the retirement center's benefactors. The residents here don't need constant medical attention, but they can't take care of themselves on their own so they need a well-trained staff. Even though it's expensive, the money barely covers the basic necessities. The foundation provides for some of the extras, like the recreation hall. Granddaddy Blair always used to say that feeding the spirit was just as important as feeding the stomach."
As they entered the recreation hall, Jo was immediately drawn to a large portrait of an elderly gentleman. She knew the man in the portrait before reading the engraved plaque below the painting, 'J. Carlton Blair'.
Natalie looked over Jo's shoulder at the portrait.
"Is there any organization in this town that doesn't have a building or a wing with your name stamped on it, Blair?"
Blair preened and flipped her hair obnoxiously.
"Granddaddy always said that it was our duty to help the less fortunate. He was particularly fond of Peekskill, since Mother attended Eastland."
Jo didn't like hearing Blair brag about her family. It was irritating and it only served to make the other girls jealous of Blair.
"Money isn't the answer to every problem, Blair."
Blair's arrogant smile soon vanished under Jo's criticism. As soon as Jo saw Blair's crestfallen expression, she regretted her insult. Jo was now beginning to admit to herself that her tendency to be overly critical of Blair's money and family was due to her own insecurities. Although Blair didn't seem to mind that Jo could barely treat her to Coke and popcorn, much less fancy dinners, flowers, chocolates, or any of the other things Blair's boyfriends lavished on the beautiful blonde, it was a sore spot for Jo.
"Maybe not, but that doesn't stop people from asking for it and it would be kind of hard for us to entertain the residents today without the recreation hall the Warner Foundation paid for. You act as if being generous was a crime."
Even before she spoke, Jo knew that she was wrong. She was angry with herself for picking a fight with Blair instead of telling Blair how impressed she had been that Blair was so willing to give up her free time to do something nice for others. Once again, Jo's anger spewed out in the wrong direction.
"You act as if your grandfather didn't get anything out of it. Why do you think his name and picture show up on all the buildings he donated?"
Blair's eyes sparked as she sidled close to Jo, her face so close that Jo could feel Blair's breath as she confronted her.
"You are such a."
Before Blair could blast Jo, Mrs. Wilson reappeared with two elderly women.
"Blair! It's so wonderful to see you again. Did you bring your barbarian with you today?"
Jo immediately glared at Blair, her hands curling into fists at her side.
"No, I left him at home. We're going to make you beautiful today."
Blair avoided Jo's glare as she walked forward to receive hugs from the two ladies who seemed to know Blair so well.
"Jo, this is Mrs. Treadwell and Mrs. Thatcher. This is my roommate, Jo. She's helping me today."
"Oh, it's so nice to finally meet her. Is she an entertainer, too?"
Blair ignored Jo's confused expression as she smiled sweetly at the two women.
"No, Jo is helping to deliver your new Countess Calvert makeup kits to your rooms. Not that either of you need it, you are both such natural beauties."
The women laughed as they wrapped their arms around Blair.
"You don't have to flatter us all the time, Blair, but we do love it."
Blair finally turned her attention back to Jo.
"Mrs. Treadwell and Mrs. Thatcher also attended Eastland, Jo. They've been best friends longer than we've been alive."
Mrs. Treadwell extended her hand to Jo.
"It's nice to meet you, Jo. Blair's told us a lot about you."
Recalling the barbarian reference, Jo glared at Blair.
"Don't believe everything ya hear. I ain't as bad as she makes out."
Mrs. Treadwell grinned at her friend and both nodded in agreement.
"You see it, too?"
"Yes, now I understand the glares."
Blair was blushing profusely and Jo continued to frown in the midst of her confusion.
The ladies were still laughing in amusement as they walked to the other side of the recreation hall in order to give the girls more time to prepare. As soon as they were out of earshot, Blair punched Jo in the arm.
"Why were you so rude?"
"They called me a barbarian!"
"They weren't talking about you, but you're certainly acting like one. Would you please stop embarrassing me and bring in the rest of the makeup kits?"
"Embarrassing you? How did I embarrass you?"
Blair pushed Jo toward the door, obviously eager for her to leave the room. When Jo returned to the recreation hall, Blair was deep in conversation with the two cheerful ladies, who smiled knowingly toward Jo. Jo felt awkward under the scrutiny of the strangers who seemed to know a lot about her, but she made more of an effort to be polite.
Amy Wilson was thrilled with the effect the makeup party was having on the elderly residents of the Peekskill Retirement Center.
"Edna, this has been one of the best ideas anyone has suggested. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your support. Our ladies enjoyed your visits earlier this year, but I've never seen them as excited as they are today."
Edna Garrett was beaming with pride as she watched Blair, Jo, Tootie, and Natalie work. After Countess Calvert announced that her makeup products weren't appropriate for young girls, Blair had been stuck with dozens of makeup and skin care kits. When Edna suggested that Blair donate the kits to the residents of the local retirement center, Blair had jumped at the idea. At the end of their conversation with Amy Wilson about the products, both Mrs. Garrett and Blair had agreed to visit the center and treat the ladies to a "Spa Day".
The more Edna and Blair had discussed the project, the more interested the other roommates had become. Edna watched the assembly line in awe of the excitement it generated within the group of senior ladies who waited anxiously for their turn. Blair applied the makeup, Natalie utilized her cosmetology training to style each lady's hair, and Tootie photographed the results of each makeover. At the end of the process, Jo used the cleansers to remove the makeup.
As she watched the girls work, Edna was amazed at how well the girls worked as a team. All the time spent helping in the kitchen had paid off in ways Edna had never anticipated. She always encouraged the privileged girls at Eastland to participate in community service, but with the exception of Blair, she usually had to prod them along. At this event, the girls appeared to be enjoying the makeovers as much as the residents of the retirement center.
Edna was most surprised by Jo's interaction with the elderly residents. While Blair was the most accustomed to community service, having been brought up to participate in both fundraisers and service events sponsored by the Warner Foundation, it was clear that Jo had never had an opportunity to perform a service for someone less fortunate than herself. It was an enlightening experience for Jo, who had spent the past year surrounded by the most privileged members of society.
Jo seemed particularly happy assisting the more fragile ladies with their walkers and wheelchairs and Mrs. Garrett noticed Jo often speaking with Amy, asking questions about her job and all the services her department provided for the citizens of Peekskill.
Mrs. Garrett wasn't the only one carefully watching Jo. Both Natalie and Blair seemed preoccupied with Jo's activities, watching as Jo tenderly applied the cleansing cream while entertaining the ladies with stories about her cousins in the Bronx. 'Ha', thought Natalie, 'if Jo were a boy I'd think Blair had a crush on him.' Natalie laughed at the ludicrous thought before returning her attention to styling hair.
Every time Jo would assist another lady into the chair so that Blair could begin a makeover, Blair felt her heart flutter. She had often seen Jo's tender side when the two of them were alone, but Blair had never seen Jo be so gentle with others. She found herself wondering what Jo would look like holding a baby and quickly shook those thoughts from her head, glancing around the room as if anyone could read her mind. When her eyes fell on Natalie, Blair began to wonder if Natalie had read her mind. Their eyes locked for only a moment before both girls glanced away.
Everyone was having a wonderful time at the event until Father Grossman arrived. Jo recognized the Father immediately and smiled a greeting, but as she walked with him toward her roommates in order to make introductions, Blair suddenly excused herself and left the room. Mrs. Garrett extended her hand to Father Grossman and introduced herself as Jo stared numbly toward the door where Blair had made a hasty departure. Touching Mrs. Garrett's shoulder, Jo inclined her head toward the door and received a nod of approval before following Blair.
Jo found Blair in the administrator's office, sorting through the various lotions and creams.
"Blair, what are you doing in here?"
"I wanted to make sure that we had enough supplies for all of the makeovers. There are a lot more participants than I had expected."
"That's not why you're here."
Jo could see the defiance in Blair's eyes before the tense blonde turned away from her. Jo had felt a little awkward around Blair since their recent visit to Cooper's Rock. Blair had been exceptionally affectionate that day, following Jo's lead as to the length of time spent kissing and caressing as well as the intensity of the moment. In the weeks prior to their trip to the cliffs, Blair's conduct had been somewhat erratic, pulling Jo close one minute and pushing her away the next. Jo thought that Blair's behavior on Cooper's Rock might just be a momentary lapse. If it wasn't, then Jo had even more to ponder. Jo felt even more remorseful about her earlier treatment of the generous heiress, afraid that Blair would reject Jo's attempts to convince Blair to confide more in her.
"I think that you left because of Father Grossman. I've been thinking about the clinic you told me about."
Blair didn't respond as her lower lip disappeared into her mouth.
"You can tell me, Blair. I think I've figured most of it out anyway."
"Yes, I left because of Father Grossman."
"He's a good priest, Blair."
Blair's smile was bittersweet.
"I'm sure he is, Jo. It just brings back bad memories."
Jo walked forward to stand beside Blair and began sorting the lotions as Blair had been doing earlier.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"I know I'm being a pain, Jo. I know that the priests at the clinic don't represent the entire Catholic faith, but I still get angry sometimes when I remember what it felt like to be locked up like that. They wanted me to feel like a criminal. They tried to make me feel ashamed of who I am."
"I'm sorry, Blair."
"Don't be sorry, Jo. I am ashamed. I'm ashamed that I allowed them to convince me that there was something wrong with me. I know better now. I don't think anyone will ever be able to make me feel like that again."
Encouraged by Blair's most recent tendency to respond positively to any show of affection from her, Jo stopped sorting and held out her hand, which Blair gently clasped.
"It makes sense that you wouldn't want to be around a priest after that, Blair. I wish you had told me about this earlier."
"I was afraid that they might change you, but I'm not afraid of that anymore."
Jo smiled and squeezed Blair's hand.
"Good, because I'm not planning on changing. Now let's go make this world a little more beautiful."
As the girls were packing up the supplies they had used during the makeovers, Jo moved over to the corner of the room and whispered to Blair.
"Are you going to tell me why those women asked you if you were bringing 'your' barbarian with you today?"
"It had nothing to do with you, Jo."
"If you don't tell me, I guess I'll have to ask them."
Blair looked alarmed.
"No, don't bother them. I'll tell you later. Not now, okay?"
Jo looked around the room and saw that the two elderly women who had asked about the barbarian were watching them with amused expressions.
"Yeah, that's fine."
When Blair noticed the direction of Jo's stare and glanced in their direction, the ladies took that as an invitation to join the two girls. Mrs. Treadwell, the more social of the two, took Jo by the arm and started directing her away from Blair, which seemed to make Blair nervous.
"Jo, you seem like a strong young lady, would you mind coming down to our room and helping us move our chairs? Helen can't hear as well as she used to and we'd like to move our chairs closer to the television, but they're too heavy for us."
Jo allowed herself to be led to their room, but was aware of Blair's anxious countenance as the three left together. As soon as they were away from the recreation hall, the ladies began questioning Jo.
"You must enjoy rooming with Blair. How long have you known one another?"
"Uh, she's okay. This is my first year at Eastland."
"I heard you telling some of the ladies that you are from the Bronx?"
"Yeah. This is my first year attending a private school."
"Is it a big change?"
"Yeah. It took a while to get used to it, but I like it."
"Blair's such a sweet girl and so funny, she must keep you laughing all the time."
"Doesn't she entertain you and your friends?"
Noting Jo's confusion, the women smiled at one another conspiratorially.
"We thought it was odd that Blair never brought any of her friends with her on her visits."
"Uh, does she come here a lot?"
"Once a month, with Mrs. Garrett. She also visits Helen and me on our birthdays. She's such a sweet girl."
"Heh, what does she do, talk your ears off?"
Mrs. Treadwell started to speak, but Mrs. Thatcher stopped her.
"If Blair chooses not to let her roommates know about her visits, it's not our place to gossip."
"It's not gossip. Besides, it's obvious that Jo is the."
"Emily, that's your imagination. Jo might not see the humor in your assumptions."
Mrs. Treadwell looked apologetically at Jo.
"I'm afraid my friend is right. I tend to be a little nosy sometimes. Helen is constantly reminding me to mind my own business."
Jo easily maneuvered the chairs into their new locations and started toward the door, only to be stopped by Mrs. Treadwell, who looked cautiously over her shoulder at the other woman before whispering to Jo.
"Tell Blair how much we enjoyed our makeovers today, but remind her that we miss her barbarian."
Mrs. Thatcher shook her head and giggled in the background as Jo cocked her head to the side.
"Her barbarian? I don't know who."
"Oh, it's not a Who, it's a What."
Mrs. Treadwell wrapped her arm around Jo's shoulders.
"He's a puppet."
"Yes. He's a marvelous puppet. He's quite terrifying, but Blair's very fond of him. He's an obnoxious brute, but Blair is constantly kissing the little terror during her act."
Jo tried valiantly not to blush, knowing exactly who Blair had modeled her puppet after and why Blair was so reluctant to talk about it.
"So Blair does a little puppet show for you ladies once a month?"
"She's a ventriloquist. We know that she's the one speaking for the barbarian, but sometimes he seems so real that we think of him as a separate person."
Jo didn't know whether to be flattered or furious with Blair.
"I've never seen Blair's puppet. What does he look like?"
Both women burst into giggles.
"Oh, you must come with her next month to see her show. He's the most darling thing. He wears the cutest little caveman outfit and he even has a little club to swing around when he gets angry."
Jo decided that furious was the emotion called for in this situation, but she smiled politely at the two ladies who seemed to take a little more pleasure than was warranted in describing the puppet.
"You won't forget to tell her what we said?"
Jo gritted her teeth and forced a smile.
"No, I won't forget."
As soon as Jo left the room, Helen swatted her friend Emily on the arm.
"Emily Treadwell, you are a meddling busybody."
"I knew there was something between those two as soon as I saw young Jo's reaction to my question about Blair's barbarian. They are the cutest things. Did you see how they kept glancing at each other? Young love is so sweet."
"You think everyone is in love, Emily. I don't know how you managed to live so long without becoming jaded."
"Well, if I tend to see the world through rose-colored glasses, you can place most of the blame on yourself."
Helen grumbled as she began moving their chairs back to their original positions.
"I can't believe that kid thought I was too feeble to move our chairs. I could have kicked you in the shins when you asked her to do that."
"I had to think of a way to get her away from Blair. I wanted to find out if she knew that the heiress was in love with her."
Helen stopped moving the chairs and raised her eyes at her friend.
"Well, does she know?"
"I can't be sure, but I don't think she has a clue. Poor Blair."
"Don't look so worried, Em. I think Jo is smart enough to figure it out. After all, I did."
After their visit to the retirement center, Mrs. Garrett decided to reward the four girls by treating them to a movie.
Jo would have preferred some time alone with Blair in order to confront her about her puppet. Jo had no doubt that Blair used the puppet to make fun of her and was determined to seek out and destroy the vile creature Blair had created to mock her.
As they were riding to the theater, Natalie pulled out her diary and began writing. Upon noticing her younger roommate's curious behavior, Blair caught Jo's attention and nodded toward Natalie. Jo shrugged her confusion, but didn't comment while they were still in the car.
Once they arrived at the theater, Natalie and Jo immediately began arguing about which movie they should view. Jo insisted on seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark while Natalie, who was obsessed with John Travolta at the moment, wanted to watch Blow Out. When it became obvious that neither of the two girls was willing to compromise, Mrs. Garrett agreed to watch Blow Out with Natalie and Tootie while Jo and Blair went to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. Since one movie ended a half hour later than the other, Tootie and Natalie would ride home with Mrs. Garrett while Jo and Blair would either walk or ride the bus.
Once they were away from the other girls, Blair began questioning Jo about Natalie's behavior.
"Jo, did Natalie ask you a lot of questions about me at Debbie's slumber party?"
"No. I stayed as far away as possible from the spectacle you two created. Why?"
"She's been acting funny lately and she's always scribbling in her diary while she looks at me. I think she's writing about me."
"Maybe she's still mad about being used as a human billboard and she's taking out her anger in her diary. That's better than taking it out on your head."
"I guess you're right, but what could be so interesting that she can't wait to write about it until after the movie?"
"Maybe she's writing a script."
"A script? Why would she be writing a script in her diary?"
"Maybe she wants to help entertain the ladies at the retirement center with a skit. You know, put on a play or a puppet show, for example."
Blair swallowed hard and looked away as the theater lights dimmed.
As soon as the lights went down in the movie theater, Jo wrapped her jacket over their laps and reached for Blair's hand, which was eagerly waiting to be held. Blair was relieved that however mad Jo was about her barbarian puppet, it hadn't dampened her desire to hold hands during the movie. Blair watched Jo's profile as the normally reserved girl smiled and laughed throughout the movie. Raiders was exactly the type of adventure movie Jo loved best. It was filled with special effects, action, and humor. Occasionally Jo would glance over at Blair and squeeze her hand before returning her attention to the movie, leaving Blair's heart pounding.
Blair didn't see much of the movie. She was too busy studying Jo. Blair liked everything about Jo. She liked the way Jo would toss her popcorn slightly into the air one kernel at a time on its way to her mouth. She liked watching Jo's long nimble fingers tap the outer rim of the bucket of popcorn between bites. She liked the warmth of Jo's jacket covering her knees. Blair couldn't think of anything better than sharing popcorn with Jo at the movies. She tried to hide the huge smile that adorned her face throughout the movie, but it was useless.
After the movie, Jo and Blair decided to walk home since it was such a nice evening.
"Did you like the movie, Blair?"
"Yeah, it was fun."
As they walked along the darkened streets, Jo walked close beside Blair, allowing the top of her hand to touch Blair's. Blair continued walking, but set her pace to match Jo's and continued the contact. It wasn't the same as holding hands, but it had the same effect on both girls, leaving them giddy with the thrill of their growing relationship.
As they approached the cafeteria, Blair tugged Jo's sleeve, nodding toward the benches along the darkened path. Once they were seated, Blair took hold of Jo's hand and lowered her head.
"It's just a puppet, Jo."
"So far as I know, I'm the only one you call a barbarian."
"He's an exaggeration. The ladies love him. He's very charismatic."
"Mrs. Treadwell said he was an obnoxious brute."
"Uh, that was earlier. He's been very charming lately."
Jo sighed in exasperation. She was certain that no one considered Blair's puppet charming.
"I don't like being mocked, Blair."
Blair was horrified by Jo's accusation. She had never intended to make fun of Jo. She leaned forward to look into Jo's eyes as she spoke.
"I would never mock you, Jo. If the puppet resembles you it's because I like you so much. Please don't get angry. I don't want to fight with you anymore."
Jo sighed again, this time in resignation.
"I'm gonna be there the next time you do your act. I'll see if you're making fun of me."
"Would you really like to come to one of the shows? I'm not very good, but the seniors always have a good time. The men like the shows as much as the ladies."
Jo shook her head, wondering if Blair would ever cease to surprise her.
"I don't get you, Blair. You brag about your money and your family all the time, but you've never mentioned that you go to the senior center once a month to entertain the residents. That's something worthy of praise."
Blair's face wrinkled in confusion.
"It wouldn't be worthy of praise if that was the reason I did it."
Jo felt even worse about her earlier accusations about J. Carlton Blair's motives.
"I'm sorry about what I said about your grandfather. It wasn't my place to criticize him for doing something nice. I'm just not used to knowing anyone who did something nice without strings attached. Now that I know you, I guess I'll be less suspicious of other people's motives. I think what you do at the retirement center is fantastic."
As much as Blair normally craved recognition, she wasn't comfortable accepting accolades for her work at the senior center.
"It didn't take me long to realize how rewarding it can be to spend time with people who need the attention. I don't need recognition for that, the look on their faces is much better than any award I've ever received."
"I was serious about wanting to see your puppet show. I can't imagine you as a ventriloquist. It really doesn't fit the high society image most people have of you."
Blair carefully scanned Jo's eyes.
"You know there's more to me than my money and social status, don't you, Jo?"
"Of course I do. Even with my unique perspective, I wouldn't have pegged you as a ventriloquist. Not in a million years."
Blair shrugged, somewhat self-consciously.
"You know that I spent a lot of time alone as a child. I still spend most of my summer vacations by myself. Since I didn't have a friend to be with me, I suppose the next best thing was to invent one."
Jo shook her head.
"Most people's imaginary friends are invisible. Leave it to you to create an actual representation. The thing that I really don't get is the ventriloquist twist. It's one thing to put on a puppet show, but don't you have to have some skills to be a ventriloquist?"
"All you have to do is learn to throw your voice and not move your lips when you speak."
Jo couldn't resist teasing Blair about the hours she must have spent watching herself in the mirror in order to make sure her lips didn't move when speaking for the puppet.
"Um, and it's a clever way to have an excuse for looking at yourself in the mirror all the time."
Accustomed to being teased about looking at herself so often, Blair twirled her hair around her index finger and grinned.
"It seemed like a good way to take advantage of the amount of time I spent in front of a mirror."
"I don't think I want to wait an entire month before seeing a show. How about giving me a command performance?"
"I have lots of different skits. I have more puppets, too. The, uh, barbarian is only my latest creation."
"You're not getting out of this that easily. I want to see what you've been doing with my namesake that had those two nice ladies so giggly over him."
Blair blushed, thinking of how blatantly she flirted with the barbarian puppet during her skits. She agreed to give Jo a glimpse of her act, but secretly planned not to be as demonstrative with the puppet as she was in her performances at the retirement center.
Once Jo stopped being angry about the puppet, she began to feel a little flattered.
"I can't imagine what would possess you to create something like that anyway."
Blair chewed her lower lip and looked cautiously at Jo.
"I made him over Christmas break when I was in Monte Carlo. I didn't want to admit it, even to myself, but I missed you terribly. Having him was almost like having a part of you with me. He kept me company and entertained Alex. She absolutely adored him."
Jo finally laughed, realizing how absurd it was for her to have been angry with Blair because of a puppet. Jo was beginning to see why Blair called her a barbarian. Jo cocked her head to the side and pressed her lips together to keep from grinning.
"I think I need to have a talk with this puppet. I want to make sure he isn't trying to infringe on my turf. He does understand that you are taken, doesn't he?"
Blair scanned the area before hopping into Jo's lap and planting a sloppy kiss on her lips.
"What was that for?"
"I just felt like it. Is that okay?"
Jo playfully swatted Blair on her tush before looking up expectantly. She was not disappointed when Blair initiated another kiss. Seconds before leaping off of Jo's lap, Blair leaned over and whispered close into Jo's ear, allowing her lips to lightly caress the lobe as she spoke.
"I love kissing both of my barbarians."
Blair ran into the cafeteria lounge with Jo close on her heels. Mrs. Garrett was waiting anxiously for the two girls when they returned to the cafeteria.
"I was beginning to get worried, what took you so long?"
"We're sorry, Mrs. Garrett, Blair spilled her soda on my jacket and I had to wash up before walking home."
Blair rolled her eyes at Jo's lie and started for the stairs.
"Well, it's a good thing you got here when you did, Natalie's been pestering me to let her go outside and search for you."
Blair glanced apprehensively at Jo and whispered on her way up the stairs.
"I told you that Natalie was up to something."
Later that night, Jo shifted restlessly in her bed, often glancing over at the bed next to hers where Blair was sleeping peacefully. Jo kept thinking back to their visit to Cooper's Rock the week before. Their first visits to Cooper's Rock had always been exciting and often intense. Whether they were kissing or gazing at the scenery, every visit had stirred Jo's heart . . . and amplified her desire. Blair had always been flirtatious and affectionate at the beginning of those visits, but always pulled back when Jo became too amorous.
Jo thought about the turbulent months between their early visits to Cooper's Rock and their most recent excursion. She remembered the agonizing sense of loss when Blair had rejected her attempts to renew their relationship. She had been relieved when Blair seemed to forgive her betrayal, at least on a friendship level. She had missed the intimacy they had shared, but she had learned a lot about Blair during the weeks they had spent time together as friends.
Jo wondered how much longer it might have taken her to recognize Blair's goofy sense of humor if Blair had not placed strict boundaries on their physical relationship. When Blair flirted with Jo, it was difficult for Jo to focus on any other aspect of the seductive blonde's personality. Once Blair stopped flirting, Jo found it easier to share things about herself with Blair and Blair seemed more open with Jo as well.
The puzzle pieces were beginning to fall into place for Jo. Jo thought hard to remember every detail of the expression on Blair's face when she had seen the shoe rack Jo made for her as a Christmas gift. There was an unguarded moment, just before Blair regained her composure, when her delight with the gift was unmistakable. Jo recalled how vehemently Blair insisted that they should try to just be friends, and how confused Jo had felt when she saw the flash of hurt on Blair's face when Jo had agreed.
Jo continued to review Blair's behavior over the past couple of months. Blair's initial refusal to accept Jo's jacket when they were at the movies and her subsequent shudder as she slid her arms into the jacket all made sense. Blair had never stopped caring for Jo. She had only tried desperately not to show it.
Jo's eyes misted as she retraced the past semester. She thought about how often Blair had forgotten to be angry with Jo during their bus ride to New York. Jo had been shocked when Blair had reacted so unexpectedly to discovering that Jo was never included in the decision-making process on movie night. Blair later selected a science fiction movie on her birthday even though Blair didn't like science fiction movies. Jo's thoughts turned to the ballet and the way Blair's eyes had danced when she looked at Jo.
'The tears!' Jo smacked herself in the face, remembering how discouraged she'd been when she heard Blair crying in the bathroom the night of the ballet. She'd been discouraged by the tears, but in retrospect she knew for certain that the poem she'd given Blair had stirred up emotions too passionate for the strong-willed blonde to ignore.
The tears that had begun to well in Jo's eyes fell down her cheeks as she thought about the way Blair had treated her when she'd found Jo in Cynthia's empty dorm room. Blair had been infinitely tender, approaching Jo slowly, kneeling uncomfortably on the hard wooden floor in order to gently embrace her. Blair had accepted Jo's kiss, knowing it was the only way for Jo to communicate the wealth of emotions assaulting her. Finally, she remembered the sadness in Blair's eyes at the end of that night as Jo had confessed that she felt unable to make any promises to Blair. 'She loved me. Even then, she loved me.'
Memories came flooding back, forever changed in light of her revelation. She thought of the way Blair's half-open eyes would sleepily gaze at her early in the morning, before Blair had time to build her defenses. Jo smiled as she remembered the fierce look on Blair's face as they had arm-wrestled at Shakey's and Blair's subsequent declaration that she didn't give up easily. 'How could I have missed that? She was telling me that all she needed was a little more time. She couldn't have been clearer if she had tattooed it on my forehead.'
Jo sat up in bed and gazed at Blair. 'How could I have been so dense?' thought Jo. 'I was so upset that she wasn't flirting with me that I missed the important stuff. I've made myself miserable all this time, when she was showing me in a hundred different ways how much she still cared.'
In light of her new perspective, Jo began to reprimand herself. Blair had made so many overtures, but one thing had held her back. It struck Jo like a bolt of lightning. 'She didn't need more time to figure out how she felt about me. She needed more time to figure out how I feel about her. I kept telling her how much I missed holding her and kissing her, but I never actually admitted that I felt anything more than friendship toward her. No wonder she acted so weird, flirting with me and then suddenly pulling away from me as if she was frightened. She doesn't trust my feelings for her.'
Jo slumped back down in her bed and glanced longingly across the room. 'That's why you were so nice to my dad, wasn't it? You would have shown him the same amount of respect no matter how uncouth he had acted, so long as he was nice to me. You didn't even flinch when you found out that he had been in prison. How could I have ever mistaken your feelings for mere friendship?'
Finally, Jo remembered Blair's words to Natalie, when she described how it felt to be in love. Jo closed her eyes and smiled as she remembered how Blair's hand had trembled in hers later that night.
Free of the nagging confusion that had kept her awake, Jo began to relax. As her eyelids grew heavy, her heart grew lighter. 'You don't know it yet, Blair Warner, but I'm gonna turn your world upside down.'
The next morning, Tootie caught Natalie nosing around in Blair and Jo's closet.
"What are you looking for?"
"Evidence of what?"
"Blair has a new boyfriend. We had a long talk about him at the slumber party. You should have heard her telling me how it felt to be in love. She was practically gushing over him."
"Blair's in love? With who?"
"I don't know, that's why I'm looking for evidence. It's useless, there's nothing hidden in here but a silly little doll that looks like a caveman and an arrowhead like the ones at Cooper's Rock. I'm not going to find any clues in here."
"Did you find out any other juicy gossip at the slumber party?"
"Those girls don't know anything. I knew more than any of them. Every time someone started talking and I thought I was going to learn something new it turned out to be something you had told me about weeks ago."
"Yeah, your reputation as the Rona Barrett of Eastland is safe, Tootie."
"It's news to me that Blair has a new boyfriend. She hasn't been going out much lately. She spends almost all of her time with Jo."
"Yeah. I'll bet Jo knows who Blair's fallen for. Maybe I can find out more from her."
"Don't count on it. You know how Jo feels about blabbing secrets. Did you and Jo talk much at the party?"
"I didn't spend much time with Jo at the party and I was a little distracted by my fans, but I think she said that she was only at the party because Blair wanted to go."
"That's weird. Since when does Jo care what Blair wants?"
"It was weird, but Jo acted odd all night. She hardly spent any time with Blair and me."
"Well, you were selling cosmetics; it's not as if Jo would be interested in volunteering for a makeover. Ha ha, can you imagine? Jo letting Blair give her a makeover!"
"Oh, yeah, Jo as a glamour girl."
Tootie and Natalie were rolling on their beds in a fit of laughter at the mental image of Blair giving the gruff Bronx native a makeover. Neither noticed the two older girls entering the room until pillows hit them simultaneously.
"Hey, what's that for?"
Blair and Jo smiled at their younger roommates and shrugged.
"You two were having too much fun. What's so funny anyway?"
Natalie got up from her bed and sauntered over toward Blair.
"You aren't the only ones with secrets."
Natalie and Tootie continued to giggle as they swept by their confused roommates.
"Are you sure we weren't followed?"
Jo lifted her head from Blair's neck long enough to mumble an answer.
"Relax, Blair. No one is following us around. You're acting paranoid."
"I'm not paranoid. Natalie has been watching me like a hawk. She's up to something."
Jo continued nibbling at Blair's neck until she could feel the apprehensive blonde begin to relax. Jo had been thrilled when Blair suggested another trip to Cooper's Rock that afternoon, but the two girls seemed to have different ideas as to how their time could best be spent on the cliff. Blair was in an unusually talkative mood, while Jo was intent on continuing her exploration of Blair's ears.
Blair looked over at Jo anxiously, she was still uncertain as to whether or not she and Jo had been followed to Cooper's Rock.
"Did you hear something?"
Jo gave up on her efforts to distract Blair from her paranoia and rolled over to Blair's side. Her hand, however, continued to caress the excruciatingly short distance between Blair's knee and the hem of her skirt.
"What did you hear?"
"I thought I heard someone talking, but I was mistaken."
"Blair, calm down. I'd know if anyone had followed us, I'm good at that sort of thing."
Blair smiled appreciatively at Jo. Jo was good at many things.
"Jo, did you by any chance find my puppet in the back of our closet?"
Jo immediately took offense.
"Give me a break. I wouldn't sneak into the closet like a criminal. You promised to show it to me, so why would I go behind your back to take a peek?"
"I know. It's just that someone moved it and I'm not imagining it."
"Who do you think moved it?"
"Why would Natalie want to move your puppet?"
"I think she's curious. I can't remember everything we talked about the night of Debbie's party, but Natalie's been watching me a lot lately."
"Uh, what do you do with those notes I've left you? Do you tear them up?"
Blair sat up and stared at Jo, shocked that Jo would think such a thing.
"I would never throw away your notes. I keep them in my keepsake box."
"Where is the box?"
"Oh. You don't think Natalie would open it, do you? I mean, it's one thing to look around in my closet, but my keepsake box is as personal to me as her diary is to her."
Jo was concerned. The last thing she needed was for anyone to read the mushy letters and poems she often gave to Blair.
"Nah, she wouldn't do that, but . . . how would you feel about putting your box inside my toolbox? Natalie would never look in there."
"I'd love it. I'd have to open it sometimes to put in something new. I mean, you might not want me looking in your toolbox."
"You can open it. There's nothing in there but my tools. I know you won't hurt them."
Blair's heart ached at the realization of the value Jo placed on her small number of tools. Jo was obsessive about her toolbox. Blair always assumed that Jo kept something personal in the box; it never occurred to her that Jo was protecting her most valuable possessions.
"Thanks, Jo. I'll be very careful with your tools. I don't know what I said that has Natalie so curious."
"Maybe someone else said something that made her curious. I mean, I heard a lot of things that night that made me curious."
"What did you hear about me?"
"I heard that you had a crush on the former headmaster, but that can't possibly be true."
Blair sighed and turned dreamy eyes toward Jo.
"Ah, Steven Bradley."
Jo had been teasing Blair, but grew concerned by the sincerity in Blair's expression.
"Give me a break! You fell for an old man?"
"Steven was not an old man like Mr. Parker. He was like a knight in shining armor."
"Jo, did they tell you that Mr. Bradley saved my life? He rescued Tootie and me during the flood last year."
"Uh, no, they didn't mention that."
Jo's concern multiplied with Blair's revelation.
"I've heard about the flood, but I didn't know that anyone was in danger."
"It was my fault. Tootie and I went down to the stables to check on my horse, Chestnut."
"I didn't know Eastland had stables."
"They closed off that part of campus after the flood. The stables were ruined and the bridge across the creek was destroyed. We had to send Chestnut back to Daddy's ranch in Texas."
"Are you telling me that you risked your life to check on a stupid animal?"
"Jo! How could you say that? I love Chestnut."
"Blair, it's a horse."
"He's my friend. He loves me, too. I'm the only one he lets ride him. I couldn't abandon him, Jo."
Jo sighed. As self-centered as Blair often seemed, it didn't surprise Jo that the tender-hearted girl would risk her life for the horse she loved. However, she didn't like the idea of Blair being so careless.
"The bridge washed out before Tootie and I could get across it and Mr. Bradley came and got us. Tootie and I rode on Chestnut's back while Mr. Bradley led him across the creek. It was very scary and I may have confused gratitude with love, for a day or two."
Blair smiled at Jo's shocked expression.
"He was a handsome man, Jo, even my mother flirted with him."
"Your mother flirted with the headmaster?"
Blair shrugged, but continued to smile.
"Mother is a little flirtatious, but it's not as if she doesn't get encouragement. It's not her fault that men throw themselves at her. Even Mr. Bradley couldn't resist making a pass at Mother."
"I guess it's hard having a mother who's so popular."
"I asked Mrs. Garrett once if she thought my mother came on to men too much. She said not, but I think she was just trying to make me feel better. A lot of people tell me that I'm like my mother."
"Does it bother you when they say that?"
"Sometimes. She likes to date a lot of men, but I only want to date you."
"Is that what we're doing, dating?"
"It is if that's what you want it to be."
Blair leaned forward and drew Jo into another passionate kiss.
"I'm not fickle, Jo. I know who I want to be with and I'm not going to get bored or change my mind."
"You don't hear me complaining, do ya? Besides, I know I'm irresistible."
"When you look at me like that you are."
Jo didn't need further encouragement to return her attention to Blair's neck, delighting Blair.
Natalie was bouncing on the balls of her feet as she hopped into the room.
"Someone is downstairs waiting to see Blair."
Blair looked up from her sketchpad while Jo glanced over at Blair.
"Well, are you going to tell me who it is or do I have to guess?"
"He brought roses."
Blair smiled and lifted her eyebrows.
"A full dozen. He's wearing a suit."
Blair's expression shifted quickly from flattered to horrified to panicked.
"Oh no! I forgot! Scott is taking me to the dance at the country club tonight. Natalie, pleeeaase stall him while I get dressed."
Jo was frowning her displeasure at Blair's predicament. 'She has so many dates she can't even keep up with them. She needs a score card.'
Blair was throwing clothes out of her closet and onto her bed until she came across the dress she wanted.
"Jo, will you look in our closet and find my black heels?"
"Why should I help you get dressed up to go out with that twerp?"
Jo groaned, but she went to their closet and located the shoes, which were easy to find now that Blair was using the shoe rack Jo had built for her. Jo grimaced at the irony.
"Zip me up, quick, and look in my jewelry box for my diamond necklace."
Jo wasn't happy with the demands, but she was happy to help Blair with her zipper. Unfortunately for Blair, Jo took her time with the zipper, allowing her fingers to caress Blair's back as she moved it upward and secured the small latch at the top of Blair's dress. The resulting chill bumps forming along her arms didn't help Blair's predicament.
An instant later, Jo disappeared to find Blair's necklace as Blair continued to curl her hair. When Jo returned with the necklace, she carefully reached around Blair's neck and began working with the clasp, her fingers spending several seconds caressing Blair's neck before performing their task. Jo grinned when Blair moaned and closed her eyes, then she reached for Blair's hairbrush, earning a questioning stare from Blair.
"You can start on your makeup. I'll finish your hair."
Blair tried to focus on applying her makeup as Jo expertly brushed and curled Blair's hair. Jo had watched Blair often enough to know exactly how Blair liked to style her blonde locks. After only a few minutes, Blair gave up on her efforts and closed her eyes to enjoy Jo's attention.
"Joey, that's wonderful. How?"
"I'm very observant. I'm not hurting you, am I?"
"No, I could sit and let you do this all night."
Jo leaned in close to Blair's ear and whispered.
"Why don't you?"
"Jo, you know that I have to date. I have to make my parents think that I'm interested in boys. I know you hate it, but I don't know what else to do. You don't want them to send me back to that clinic, do you?"
Jo continued brushing and styling Blair's hair before responding.
"Blair, your parents wouldn't necessarily think you were gay just because you weren't dating anyone."
"You don't know my mother, Jo. She's already suspicious because I haven't refilled the prescription for the pills she gave me."
"Birth control pills."
Jo was shocked.
"When did your mother give you birth control pills?"
"On my thirteenth birthday. She was only trying to take care of me, Jo. She didn't want me getting into trouble."
"Why would she think you might get into trouble?"
"That's kind of obvious, don't you think? She thought I was having sex."
"Did you tell her that you weren't?"
Blair began applying her makeup while Jo continued brushing her hair. Blair's hair was perfect, but Jo was enjoying the process too much to stop.
"Yes. At first I thought that she was a little disappointed, but then I realized that she was only surprised. Two weeks after she found out that I was still a virgin she gave me a book about masturbation, 'My Body and Me'. It was her way of trying to be a good mother. She wasn't really prepared to have kids when I came along. I guess she assumed that all girls start experimenting with sex at the same age she did. Sometimes she acts more like a playmate than a mother, but she loves me."
Jo couldn't think of anything more embarrassing than if her mother had tried to talk to her about something so personal. Jo was somewhat embarrassed talking about it with Blair.
"Oh, sorry, Blair, I was just trying to figure out what to say to you."
"Can I tell you something really personal? I don't want to embarrass you."
Jo put down the brush and placed her hands on Blair's shoulders, gently massaging them.
"I guess that if I want you to be able to talk to me about stuff, I'd better learn not to be so easily embarrassed."
"It's about the book that Mother gave me."
"It wasn't a bad book, Jo. It's not like it had pictures or anything. Well, it had some drawings, but just the kind you'd see in a biology class. You know, explaining all our parts and how they work."
"Blair, just spill it."
"I just don't want you to think I'm weird."
Jo laughed, "I already know you're weird. So fess up, what's on your mind?"
"Well, the book said that it was normal and natural to be curious about our bodies and that we shouldn't feel awkward about exploring them."
"Well, you know what that means, right?"
"Yes. I know what you're getting at. Listen, Blair, that book was right. There's nothing wrong with, uh, exploring."
Blair continued to chew on her lip while cautiously glancing at Jo's reflection in the mirror.
"Well, it's just that I never was able to 'feel' the kinds of things the book said I should feel. Not until I met you. I don't know if my body hadn't developed enough or if I just lacked enough imagination."
Blair paused to apply her eyeliner before continuing in a very serious tone.
"My imagination has gotten much better since meeting you."
Jo's laugh usually consisted of a grudgingly released 'ha ha' that sounded more like 'heh heh'. This time, her laugh was full and hearty, exploding in a combination of relief and joy.
"Don't laugh at me! It's not funny!"
"I'm not laughing at you, Blair. I'm laughing because you make me so happy."
At Jo's confession, Blair's breath caught and she touched Jo's hand, which was still gently massaging Blair's shoulder.
"Do I really make you happy, Jo? In spite of all the silly dates I go on with boys?"
Jo's eyes locked onto Blair's reflection in the mirror.
"Yes, Blair. You make me very happy."
Blair got up to examine herself in the full length mirror. When Jo walked up behind her and placed her hands on Blair's hips, Blair closed her eyes and moaned.
"You're driving me crazy. You know that, don't you, Jo?"
Jo cocked her head to the side and slightly lifted her chin, mannerisms Blair had noticed when Jo was feeling especially self-satisfied.
"Sure. It's only natural that you'd start daydreamin' 'bout me. I guess you're just reacting to my animal magnetism."
Blair grinned, glad that Jo's mood hadn't soured.
'I make Jo happy,' thought Blair. From Blair's perspective, Jo had never said anything more romantic.
"So, do I look okay, considering I got dressed in less than the amount of time it usually takes me to decide which shoes to wear?"
"You're always beautiful, Blair."
Blair turned to stare at Jo because Jo seldom commented on her looks.
"Thank you, Jo."
Jo's face turned solemn as she released her girlfriend so that Blair could go to her date. Blair stopped at the door and turned toward Jo.
"It's okay. Go on downstairs. You don't want to keep Scott waiting."
The following week sped by for the two lovesick teenagers. Despite her concerns about her parents, Blair cut back on her social calendar and she and Jo began visiting Cooper's Rock almost every afternoon before reporting to Mrs. Garrett for the dinner shift in the cafeteria.
"You're late, girls. How many times do I have to remind you that you must be here on time? Tootie and Natalie can't serve all these girls by themselves."
"We're sorry, Mrs. G., I asked Blair to help me research my science project and we lost track of time at the library. I tried to hurry Blair, but you know how she is."
Jo grinned at Blair and made a face.
"Me? She's the reason we're late, Mrs. Garrett. The grease monkey couldn't resist stopping by the garage to tinker with her hopper."
Jo raised her chin in defiance and nudged Blair in the shoulder.
"It's not a hopper and if it was it would be called a chopper."
"Now, girls, don't get in a fight over it."
"Just look at her hands, Mrs. Garrett, that's all the evidence you need."
Blair had been enjoying the combative play with Jo until she noticed Jo quickly tuck her hands inside her jacket. She hadn't meant to make Jo feel self-conscious about her hands. Jo's hands were always stained with grease or oil, but Blair had grown so accustomed to the smudges that she didn't even notice them. Blair knew that Jo carefully washed her hands after working on her bike, but the stains remained.
Blair wasn't the only one who noticed Jo's response to Blair's slur, Natalie and Mrs. Garrett both glared at the insensitive debutante.
"The only evidence you'll find on Jo's hands is evidence of honest hard work."
Blair lowered her head.
Mrs. Garrett could easily hear the remorse in Blair's voice and felt that drawing additional attention to the slur would only increase Jo's embarrassment.
"Well, come into the kitchen and help Tootie. She can't clean up by herself."
Natalie watched as Blair and Jo followed Mrs. Garrett to the kitchen. 'Do they always walk side by side like that?' she wondered. Natalie had been noticing a lot of things lately. She wasn't sure if Blair and Jo had changed or if she had only recently started noticing things, but those two were definitely keeping secrets. Natalie didn't believe for one second that they had been in the library. Science was Blair's worst subject. If Jo needed assistance in Science, Blair was the last person she would ask.
Natalie shook herself from her musings and joined her three friends at work in the kitchen, where she continued to surreptitiously observe the two older roommates.
Jo moved to the sink as soon as she arrived in the kitchen, washing her hands thoroughly before beginning to slice the vegetables Mrs. Garrett had left for her on the counter. Blair's remorse over her earlier insult grew as she noticed Jo examining her fingernails several times during dinner preparation, often returning to the sink to wash her hands. Blair wanted to apologize to Jo and explain that she was only trying to distract Mrs. Garrett from becoming suspicious about why she and Jo were so often late, but Natalie was watching her so carefully that she couldn't risk a private word to Jo.
As they were finishing up in the kitchen, Natalie left for a meeting with the newspaper staff. Blair hoped to pull Jo aside after Natalie left, but she noticed that Tootie was watching Jo with as much interest as Natalie had watched Blair. It broke her heart to see Jo so sullen after she had been so happy when they first returned from their visit to Cooper's Rock.
After cleaning up the kitchen, Tootie, Jo, and Blair went to the lounge to relax with Mrs. Garrett. When Natalie returned from her newspaper meeting, she had big news for the group. Natalie enjoyed being on the Eastlander staff. It placed her in a position to be the first person to know and deliver all the inside news.
It was particularly satisfying to deliver the news today, because it gave Natalie another opportunity to gauge reactions from Blair and Jo. It seemed like every time she was in the room with the two girls lately she noticed something new. As she was delivering the news that Jonathan Dutton was coming to Eastland, she noticed Jo sitting on the armrest of the sofa beside Blair. 'Do they always sit that close together? Where have I been? Three empty chairs and half a sofa available, but Jo decides to sit on the sofa armrest where she and Blair can read the same magazine? Where have I been?'
Blair immediately recognized the famous photographer's name.
"Jonathan Dutton? Here?"
Blair's excitement was evident, but Jo didn't recognize the name.
"Who's Jonathan Dutton?"
Blair pointed to a photograph of a beautiful model on the front of her magazine.
"That is Jonathan Dutton."
Jo raised her eyebrows and quirked a mischievous smile toward Blair.
"He looks like he's had an important operation."
Blair shook her head slightly, but continued to keep her gaze focused on Jo.
"Not the model, the photograph. Jonathan Dutton is the hottest fashion photographer in New York."
Natalie watched as Blair enthusiastically explained who Jonathan Dutton was. 'Does she always look at Jo when she's talking to everyone? Mrs. Garrett and Tootie don't know who Jonathan Dutton is either. Does Blair even know the rest of us are in the room?'
"He's going to be interviewing girls from two to four. Is it okay if he uses the cafeteria, Mrs. Garrett?"
"Oh, why not? I just love high fashion. Especially now that I can get into it."
"I'm putting a signup sheet in the cafeteria. I'll schedule people every five minutes."
"Who died and left you boss?"
Natalie ignored Jo's snarky remark, wondering why Jo's mood had soured. Natalie couldn't think of any reason Jo should be angry with her. She would understand if Blair was irritated, since Natalie was certain that Blair was aware that she'd been following her and looking through her things, but Natalie couldn't think of anything she'd done to offend Jo.
'When did Jo become so possessive? She acts like I was making a move on her gir', Natalie's brain froze in mid-thought. Backpedaling over the past few weeks, Natalie's mind zeroed in on fragments of interactions and conversations. Jo carrying Blair's books to class. Jo admitting during Debbie's party that she didn't like going to slumber parties, but that she went because Blair liked them. The vein in Jo's neck practically popping through her skin when she agreed to let Natalie place her sleeping bag beside Blair's. Blair telling her that Eddie wasn't good enough for Jo. Blair telling her that she didn't find Steve attractive. Steve! The guy who had every girl at Eastland drooling every time he walked into the dorm. Blair gushing about being in love, but unwilling to tell Natalie who made her so giddy. 'No. It couldn't be. My life just couldn't be that much fun, could it?'
Natalie wasn't surprised that Blair was already planning her wardrobe for when she would meet the photographer only minutes after learning of his visit. More surprising was Jo's angry reaction to Blair's plan to interview for the modeling assignment. 'Oh, my diary is going to love this!'
That evening, as Natalie giggled to herself while writing in her diary, Jo tossed and turned in her bed. Jo was worried about her relationship with Blair. She knew that Blair loved her. Blair had demonstrated her love very well that afternoon while they were perched on Cooper's Rock. Jo wondered, however, how long it would take before Blair began to be embarrassed by Jo's rough accent and appearance, lack of manners, and lack of money. If her earlier comments were any indication, Blair was already becoming irritated with Jo's unkempt appearance. Jo was beginning to feel uncultured, uncouth, and worst of all, unworthy of her stylish girlfriend.
'She'll never be able to tell her parents about me. She may find the courage to tell them about herself, but she could never bring home a street urchin like me.' Jo groaned as she looked over at Blair, who always dressed in the latest fashions and who would never be caught wearing anything torn or stained. It was no wonder Blair thought she would win the upcoming modeling contest; she always looked as if she had just stepped from the pages of a magazine. 'Why did I have to fall in love with a girl who places so much importance on appearances?'
Two days later, Jo looked across the cafeteria at the object of her affection, wondering how she had ever managed to fall for such a vain girl. She loved the way Blair looked. She loved looking at Blair in her nightgown, curlers, and cleanly scrubbed face. She loved looking at Blair after she had spent hours primping in front of a mirror to attain the perfect hairstyle and makeup. Jo could care less about designer labels, but she loved the soft, luxurious texture of Blair's clothes on those occasions when she got to hold the attractive blonde. She loved the soft, luxurious texture of Blair's skin even more.
Jo turned her eyes away from Blair and back to the floor she was mopping. Blair had spent hours primping that morning in preparation for her modeling interview with the famous photographer, Jonathan Dutton. Jo had spent the morning sulking, pretending not to notice how nice Blair looked. It wasn't that Jo didn't appreciate Blair's efforts; the problem was that so many other boys and girls seemed to appreciate them as well. It didn't help Jo's mood that she felt woefully inadequate in comparison. Jo felt that it was more than clothes that differentiated her from Blair; her calloused hands, stained fingers, and even her muscles, which Blair seemed to appreciate, identified her as someone who didn't belong in the company of debutantes.
Jo knew the moment Blair approached. She didn't have to look up to know how close Blair was standing to her, the specialty fragrance Blair wore telegraphed her presence.
Jo loved the fragrance of Blair's expensive perfumes and shampoos. She loved the way Blair's earrings and jewelry would sparkle and shine in the light. She loved the way Blair's legs looked in her three-hundred-dollar high-heeled boots and she especially loved the way Blair's custom designed clothes fit just right in all the right places. Everything she cautioned Blair not to value too highly appealed to Jo when wrapped around the beautiful blonde for whom Jo would sacrifice anything.
The last thing Jo needed was for Jonathan Dutton to put Blair's picture on the cover of a fashion magazine. It was all Jo could do to put up with the constant string of male admirers who came in and out of Blair's life as if through a revolving door. She didn't want to think about all the new admirers who would chase after Blair once her picture began appearing in magazines. Blair had significantly curtailed her dating as she and Jo had grown closer, but it still bothered Jo that the boys who pursued Blair could treat her to romantic evenings at nice restaurants while Jo couldn't afford to do those things even if she didn't have to keep her relationship with Blair a secret.
Jo needed an excuse to stay close to the interview area because she didn't want Blair to know how interested she was in Dutton's interview. She'd mopped the same section of floor a hundred times in the last hour, waiting for Blair to take her turn in front of the photographer. Jo couldn't help feeling a little insecure. She didn't understand why Blair needed approval from a sleazy creep like Dutton. Jo had seen the way he 'evaluated' the other girls and she wasn't looking forward to watching him undress Blair with his eyes.
Jo tried to be as inconspicuous as possible as she moved closer to Blair and Dutton while pretending to mop the floor. His interview with Blair was taking longer than the previous interviews and Jo didn't like it. If anyone was going to be using their imagination to undress Blair, it was going to be Jo and no one else. Jo grinned as she recalled the conversation she'd had with Blair before her date with Scott the week before. At least Jo wasn't the only one whose mind wandered more often than it should. Jo's greatest concern while joyriding with Blair was that one day she would get so distracted by the soft, warm body pressed up against her that she'd wind up driving into a ditch. Jo said another prayer of gratitude for her bike, right before she asked God to strike Dutton too blind to notice the beautiful girl sitting in front of him.
Jo's prayers were answered when Jonathan Dutton failed to recognize the beauty that Jo held so dear. Jo was ecstatic. Not only because it meant she won a bet with Blair which would get Jo out of kitchen duty for a week, not to mention put a crimp in Blair's already abbreviated dating schedule, but because it meant that Blair wouldn't be on magazine covers attracting a whole new group of male suitors.
The famous photographer selected Tootie as the face of the future, but hadn't counted on the fact that Tootie was very happy experiencing her childhood of the present. Jonathan Dutton was in for a huge surprise if he thought he was going to railroad little Tootie into a career in high fashion.
When the day of the photo shoot arrived, Mrs. Garrett came bursting into the girls' bedroom to make sure they were packed and ready for their trip.
"Hey, gang, you just about ready? The train leaves in an hour."
Natalie was browsing through a magazine, deciding which sites to visit in New York.
"Thanks for letting us go to New York, Mrs. Garrett."
"Well, a Saturday outing will do us all some good. While Tootie and I are at the photo session, you girls can take in the Guggenheim museum."
Natalie was thrilled.
"I can't wait. I've always wanted to go into a building that looks like a cupcake."
Mrs. Garrett turned her attention to helping Tootie pack for the photo shoot while Natalie continued to peruse her magazine and Jo oiled the wheels on her skateboard. Jo smiled when Blair entered the room. All in all, Jo felt that Blair had handled losing the modeling competition to Tootie very well. Jo thought it was a sure sign of maturity that Blair assisted Tootie in picking out her wardrobe for her trip to New York for her photo shoot.
"Blair, you know everything about fashion. I could really use you at that photo session. Mrs. Garrett, can she come along?"
"Sure. Your mom and dad asked me to be your chaperone. You asked Blair to be your dresser."
Blair rolled her eyes as she corrected Mrs. Garrett, but Jo saw them sparkle as Blair agreed to help Tootie.
Seeing Blair behave so supportively toward Tootie only increased Jo's admiration of the girl who had captured her heart. Jo smiled at the group, spinning the wheels on her skateboard.
"Great! I'll show Natalie the museum."
Although Natalie had also traveled to New York for the cultural field trip earlier that year, she hadn't spent much time with her older roommates and was unaware that Blair had given Jo an extensive tour of the Guggenheim. Therefore, she was surprised by Jo's offer to take her to the museum.
"You've been to the Guggenheim museum?"
"Are you kidding? It's my favorite culture spot."
Glancing at Blair and smiling, Jo continued.
"There's a ramp from the fourth floor to the lobby that's the longest uninterrupted skateboard run in New York."
She gave the wheels on her skateboard one last spin before standing with her back to the other girls and winking mischievously at her girlfriend.
One they arrived at Grand Central Station, Jo and Natalie headed toward the museum while Blair and Mrs. Garrett accompanied Tootie to her modeling appointment.
As exciting as it was to be in a real fashion photographer's studio, Blair had other things on her mind while Tootie was being photographed. When Mr. Dutton sent Tootie into the dressing room to change into another outfit, Blair asked Mrs. Garrett if she could run a few errands while Tootie changed clothes. Mrs. Garrett gave her approval, once again in awe of how happy it made Blair to spend money. Mrs. Garrett had no doubt that Blair's errands consisted of nothing more than an impromptu shopping spree, but the girl was so excited that Mrs. Garrett couldn't refuse her request.
Blair practically skipped down the street. She had been looking for an opportunity to visit New York ever since she'd thought of surprising Jo with a special gift. Tootie's invitation to travel with her to New York couldn't have come at a better time. Within minutes, Blair stood in a custom chocolate shop studying all of the various designs.
"Would you like some help deciding on a theme for your candy?"
The saleslady smiled at Blair. Most of her customers were men and it was a nice change to see a young girl interested in buying chocolate for her boyfriend.
"I'm going to invite someone to an antique car show and I wanted to buy some car-shaped chocolate. Can you do something like that?"
"Oh yes, we can make chocolate in all shapes and sizes. Of course, the more varied the shapes, the more expensive the candy. We have several different molds for cars, would you like to select one?"
"Really? I didn't think anyone else would want something like that."
"Oh, you'd be surprised by some of the requests we receive. I think car-shaped chocolates will be a big hit with your boyfriend."
"Oh, it's not . . ."
Blair frowned, upset with herself. If she couldn't even tell a stranger about Jo, how was she ever going to tell her family and friends?
"I'd like as many different shapes as you have. Do you have custom boxes as well?"
"We do, but it's more of a surprise if the box the candy arrives in appears to contain standard chocolates."
"I want it to be a surprise. The tickets to the car show are a surprise, too. It's going to be our first date."
Blair beamed at the saleslady and the woman hoped things worked out well for the enthusiastic girl.
"Do you want these delivered or would you like to pick them up and deliver them in person?"
"If they can be ready later today, I'll deliver them in person."
"We can have them ready in a couple of hours."
Blair smiled happily as she raced back to the photographer's studio where Tootie and Mrs. Garrett were waiting.
That night, as they returned from Tootie's modeling appointment in New York, Jo caught herself practically drooling at Blair on the train ride home. Jo hung her head in disgust, not at Blair, but at herself, because she had fallen for the most spoiled girl on the planet. Although every minute of their trip had been planned, Blair had somehow found time to shop. Blair had spent the entire train ride cradling a new package in her arms.
Jo had discovered that there were two sides to Blair Warner. Yes, Blair could be shallow, but Jo had seen Blair go out of her way to be considerate toward other girls when the situation called for it. The time she spent entertaining at the retirement center was all the evidence Jo needed to confirm her girlfriend's generous spirit. Blair's vanity was another matter altogether. It amazed Jo that Blair had been able to be so gracious toward Tootie after their younger friend had won the modeling contest.
Jo had often caught Blair admiring her own reflection in the mirror and had marveled at the arrogance of the flirtatious blonde. There were times, however, when Jo would catch Blair looking at her with an even greater level of admiration. After Blair's recent confession about her imagination, the attention made Jo's heart beat a little faster. She still wondered, however, if Blair would get bored with looking at a girl who wore the same few outfits week after week.
Jo felt silly mooning over Blair, but she'd only recently begun to think of the gorgeous heiress as her girlfriend. The fact would sometimes boggle Jo's mind, but there was no denying that they were a couple. They went to the movies together, holding hands underneath the jackets spread across their laps. They rode the train into New York City together to go to museums, concerts, plays, and restaurants. They spent hours riding through the nearby mountains on Jo's motorcycle, stopping for picnics and shy glances. They sat side by side on the sofa in the lounge while they ate popcorn and watched television into the wee hours of the morning. They whispered to one another about their hopes and dreams as they lay on separate beds within a few feet of one another each night. They also took many trips up to Cooper's Rock, where they would share lunch and talk about everything and anything that came to mind, when they weren't gazing into one another's eyes or sitting close to one another as they surveyed the awesome beauty of the landscape below them.
Jo knew that it was the emotional bond that kept her close to Blair, but it was the sexual tension between them that prompted Jo to admit that their relationship should never have been categorized as just friends. Jo was amazed that the sexual chemistry between them had not only failed to wane, it had grown stronger.
At least Jo could console herself with the knowledge that she wasn't the only one susceptible to the seductive blonde's charms. Even Jo's father seemed besotted with the heiress. Blair had a way of looking at a person when she asked for a special favor that made them feel special just for being asked. At first, Jo had wanted to change Blair. Despite the fact that Blair was always eager to use her wealth to help others, Jo had initially been embarrassed by Blair's affluence and her willingness to lord it over others. Jo couldn't help the nagging suspicion that some things about Jo might also embarrass Blair.
As Blair drifted off to sleep in the seat next to Jo, her head fell against Jo's shoulder. Pleased that Blair felt secure in Jo's ability to watch over her, Jo scanned the train, happy to act as Blair's protector while her girlfriend slept.
The day after the trip to New York, Blair began phase two of her plan to romance Jo. Blair felt like a jewel thief, taking one of Jo's magazines without permission, but she needed to study some of the pictures if her invitation was going to impress Jo. Blair smiled to herself as she sketched the outlines of a few of the antique cars featured in articles in Jo's magazines. She wanted her invitation to be perfect.
Blair had written so many formal invitations and thank you cards in her life that it didn't take her long to complete the artwork and calligraphy for Jo's card. 'Miss Blair Warner requests the honor of escorting Miss Jo Polniaczek to the '1981 Peekskill Antique Car Show.' Jo had been hinting about attending the car show for weeks, leaving flyers around the lounge and cafeteria. Neither Jo nor Blair ever asked one another to go places; they simply decided what they would do each weekend. Blair wanted to make sure that Jo had no doubt that attending the car show together was a date.
Blair folded the two tickets she had purchased weeks earlier into the envelope with the card and placed the envelope in the box of car-shaped chocolates. 'Jo is going to love this!'
In Mrs. Garrett's garage, Jo cursed under her breath as she examined the state of her rear tire. The tread was almost completely worn away. Jo was willing to risk driving the bike to her Uncle Sal's garage on her way home for summer break, but there was no way she would allow Blair to ride with her until she was able to afford to replace the tire.
Once again Jo was going to have to come up with a new way to make money. As much as she hated working at Harrison's, she would have kept working there if they would have allowed her to keep her job once she had earned enough to pay for Mrs. Garrett's blouse. She had tried to get a job at every garage and motorcycle shop in town, but no one wanted to hire a sixteen-year-old girl to work on cars and motorcycles.
Jo was lamenting her situation when Blair startled her. Blair must have been walking on air for Jo not to have heard her enter the garage.
Blair was giddy with excitement as she quietly observed Jo working on her motorcycle. The weather was warm, so Jo was wearing a sleeveless t-shirt while working. Blair loved Jo's arms. Well, she loved everything about Jo, but she especially liked Jo's arms. As quietly as possible, she eased up behind Jo and touched her bicep to gain her attention.
Jo jerked at the contact, causing her to drop several little silver thingies, but Blair knew that once Jo saw her surprise, she would no longer mind being startled.
"Blair, what are you trying to do, give me a heart attack?"
"Don't be so bratty. I brought you something."
Blair sat down on the floor beside Jo and began lightly caressing Jo's arm while Jo worked to find all the bolts she had dropped. Blair scooted closer to Jo and looked at her with a huge grin on her face. Jo glanced over at Blair only long enough to wonder why her girlfriend was acting so goofy. As Jo returned to her task, Blair became impatient.
"Don't you want to know what I brought for you?"
"Blair, I'm working. Let me finish and once I get cleaned up we can do something together."
Blair couldn't wait any longer. She pulled the box of chocolates from behind her back and presented it to Jo.
"Chocolates, the chewy kind that you like so much."
Jo was miserable enough about not being able to take Blair on any more rides through the countryside. She didn't need another reminder of the kind of presents Blair's endless supply of boyfriends was always giving her. Jo wanted to be the one to give Blair chocolates. It wasn't fair that some dumb boy that Blair didn't even like could give Blair more than she could.
"I'm not in the mood for your castoffs, Blair."
"Castoffs! Jo, what are?"
"Can't you tell when you're not wanted? I don't have time for this now. Go bug Tootie and Natalie. I'm sure they'll like your crummy chocolates."
Jo didn't want Blair to see her covered with dirt and grime after having been working on her bike for hours. Especially if she had just come from seeing one of her freshly scrubbed suitors who could afford to give her fancy gifts.
Blair was stunned. She had spent hours planning exactly how she would ask Jo out on an official date. It never occurred to Blair that she would be turned down. She'd never asked anyone for a date before, so she had no experience with that kind of rejection. Blair sat for a while saying nothing while Jo continued to work on her bike.
It took a couple of minutes for Blair to regain her senses. When she did, all she could see was red. Blair stood up before flinging the box of chocolates at the back of Jo's head.
"Ouch, that hurt!"
By the time Jo turned to yell at Blair, the furious blonde had stormed out of the garage. Jo sat back and blew the air from her lungs. She felt completely deflated. Nothing she did was going to make her bike any safer. Jo wished that she could afford to send Blair flowers and chocolates, but Saturday afternoon rides were all she had to offer.
As Jo began gathering her tools, she also picked up the box of candy Blair had unceremoniously thrown at her. Jo had seen what seemed like hundreds of boxes of candy delivered to Blair, but she'd never seen a box so elaborately decorated. The box was also much heavier than a standard box of candy. Jo's temper was beginning to flare as she began to wonder which boy had given Blair such an extravagant gift. Jo turned the box over, looking for a card, but there wasn't one.
'The card must be inside,' thought Jo. She fought the impulse to open the box just to see who had sent it, but ultimately lost out to her curiosity. 'She gave it to me, so I have a right to open it. I'll bet Scott gave it to her, the jerk.'
Instead of untying the ribbons, Jo used her pocket knife to cut them from around the box. 'How could she think that I'd want candy from some guy who has the hots for her? She must think I'm pathetic.'
The first thing Jo noticed when she opened the box was the card on top. As soon as Jo opened the card, her fingers began to tremble. The trembling became worse when she picked up a piece of chocolate and realized that it was molded into the shape of a Corvette. She picked up another piece of chocolate and recognized it as a classic Mustang. Jo continued to pull out and examine each car, identifying all the various models. 'Cars! Little chocolate cars!' Jo closed her eyes and slapped herself in the forehead.
Natalie saw Jo racing up the stairs to their room, which wasn't all that unusual, but the fact that she was hiding something underneath her jacket seemed odd to Natalie. In fact, on such a warm day it seemed odd that Jo would be wearing a jacket. Natalie's curiosity had been on high alert lately. Her instincts told her that something interesting was happening in their room, and Natalie always followed her instincts.
Blair was lounging on her bed, pretending to read a fashion magazine when Jo came running into their room.
Blair ignored Jo, which wasn't unexpected. Jo could count on one hand the number of times in her life that she had apologized to anyone. However, since meeting Blair it felt like she was apologizing every other day for one thing or another. Jo sighed, trying to gauge Blair's level of anger.
"Blair, can I ask you something?"
"No, I'm too busy to talk to you. Can't you tell when you're not wanted?"
Natalie, listening outside their door, was disappointed. 'Geez, I have such a weird imagination. I can't believe that I thought those two even got along with one another.'
"You said that I could talk to you any time something was bothering me. Something is bothering me now, but if you have other things to do I'll just go ask Mrs. G. for her advice instead."
Blair looked at Jo suspiciously, but at least Jo had her attention. Jo also, unknowingly, had the attention of one of her younger roommates, whose ear was pressed firmly to the door.
"Well, I need your advice about my girlfriend. We're having a little trouble because we are so different. See, she's wonderful and I'm an idiot. It's a lot to overcome in a relationship."
Jo watched as Blair fought back a smile. Natalie accidentally swallowed her chewing gum and wondered if she should silently choke to death or try to make some noise to draw attention to herself. She stepped back toward the bathroom and tried to swallow, hoping that the gum wasn't lodged in her windpipe. Natalie was thankful when a gulp of fresh air entered her lungs, but she went to the bathroom to get a glass of water just to make sure she could swallow it.
"Tell me more about your girlfriend."
"Oh, she's beautiful, talented, intelligent, funny, and she has great taste in clothes."
"She sounds too good for you."
"She is. I'm an idiot."
"I wanted today to be special and you ruined it."
"I thought that someone else had given you the candy and I was jealous."
"It's the first time I've ever asked anyone for a, uh ."
"It was a stupid idea."
"No, it wasn't. It was a brilliant idea."
Blair smiled; she did consider many of her ideas to be brilliant.
"It would have been, if you hadn't been so mean. Why were you acting like that?"
"I didn't know that you got the candy for me."
"You were acting rude even before I mentioned the candy."
"I was upset about my bike. I need a new tire and until I can afford to get one, you and I can't go on any more rides."
"Oh. I could."
"No, you couldn't!"
"Okay, I'm not offering."
"Are you still offering to take me to the antique car show?"
"Will you let me pay for your ticket and buy you a hot dog at the show?"
Jo shifted uncomfortably.
"Yes, you'll go on a date with me?"
"Yes, I'd love to go on a date with you."
"Did you taste the chocolates?"
Jo grinned and pulled the box from behind her toolbox.
"These are so neat! I didn't want to mess them up by eating them."
"Jo, you have to eat them or they'll get old."
"I don't care. I want to keep them."
"Well, at least eat one."
"Okay, I'll eat one of the little foreign cars. Will you try one, too?"
Jo and Blair peered into the box, looking through the chocolate assortment.
"Which one do you want, Blair?"
"The Porsche, of course!"
By the time Natalie had recovered from her choking spell and exited the bathroom, Tootie was coming down the hall. Natalie was almost too excited to form words as she grabbed Tootie's arm and pulled her into the bathroom.
"You will not believe what I just overheard!"
"You couldn't guess in a million years!"
"I suspected something, but I didn't really think I could be right. Well, I was only half right, but my journalistic instincts are sharper than I realized. You're not going to believe what I just heard Jo ask Blair!"
"Am I going to grow old and gray waiting for you to tell me?"
"Okay. Jo told Blair that she needed advice about her girlfriend."
"Is that all? I'll admit that Blair can be a little hard to take sometimes, but she knows more about attracting boys than any girl I've ever met."
Natalie continued to press her lips into a tight smirk, roll her eyes, and bob her head back and forth while she waited for Tootie's brain to catch up with her mouth.
"I've seen Blair get a guy's attention just by looking at him. I don't know how she does it. We studied endorphins in biology class and I think that Blair must have gotten more than most people because guys just flock to her like. Did you say girlfriend?"
Natalie was nodding her head so hard Tootie thought it might fall off.
"You're making this up. You're teasing me."
"Why would I make it up?"
"What about Eddie?"
"Would you forget about Eddie for two seconds? Jo asked Blair for advice about her girlfriend and Blair didn't seem a bit surprised that Jo had a girlfriend."
"But. . Eddie?"
"Enough about Eddie. Haven't you been listening to me? Is it really that hard to believe that Jo is gay?"
"No. I guess not, but why would she tell Blair? Blair's not exactly the most accepting person when it comes to being different."
"I don't know. At first I thought that Blair might be gay, too, but then. . . Oh, no."
"What if I was right about Blair and she likes Jo, but Jo has another girlfriend? That would be terrible for Blair."
"You're making all this up. I'm telling Jo."
"NO! Jo will kill me."
"No, for eavesdropping."
Tootie considered her options. She couldn't tell Jo about the things Natalie had said. Jo would kill Natalie whether what she told Tootie was true or not. Either way, her best friend would wind up at the bottom of the pond.
"You expect me to believe that Jo has a girlfriend and that Blair is secretly in love with Jo?"
"Yes. Yes. Now you understand!"
After dinner that night, Natalie explained that she had an important meeting with the newspaper staff and left the other three girls to clean up the cafeteria. Once their tasks were completed, Jo and Tootie went up to their room while Blair and Mrs. Garrett called Amy Wilson to see if she would like them to plan more events at the retirement center.
When Blair went up to their bedroom much later, Jo was missing.
"She's still in the bathroom."
"She's been in there ever since we came up from dinner."
"What could be taking so long? Is she sick?"
"I don't think so, she seemed fine earlier."
Blair sighed, exasperated by her roommate's lack of information. She checked the bathroom door and found it locked, so she knocked.
"I'll be out in a few minutes."
"Jo, it's me. Let me in."
"I'll be out in a minute."
"Let me in. Are you feeling okay?"
Jo opened the door and went back to her task at the sink.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm just washing up. I've been working on my bike."
Blair sniffed at the strong odor and looked over Jo's shoulder into the sink.
"What is that?"
"It's just soap."
"It's not your usual soap."
"It's better for cleaning up motor oil and stuff."
"Jo, if this is about what I said the other night, I didn't mean anything by it. I was just trying to divert Mrs. Garrett's curiosity. I never meant to criticize your hands."
"It's not about that. I serve food in the cafeteria and I don't want people getting the idea that my hands are dirty, that's all."
Blair reached over and took hold of one of Jo's hands. She almost gasped at the red blotches left by the abrasive liquid Jo was using to scrub her hands.
"No. I won't let you do this to your hands."
"I didn't ask for your permission, Blair. This is none of your business."
Jo continued scrubbing her hands, ignoring Blair until Blair took Jo's face into her hands and forced Jo to look at her. Blair could barely contain her emotions. Jo was the most beautiful girl Blair had ever seen. Her heart ached to see the normally confident brunette so insecure about her appearance. It devastated Blair to know that she was the one who had caused Jo's insecurity.
Jo was shocked to see tears rolling down Blair's cheeks.
"Aw, Blair, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."
"I'm not crying because of that, Jo. Will you please rinse that stuff off of your hands? Please?"
Jo rinsed her hands and grabbed a towel beside the sink to dry them. She tried to shove her hands quickly into her pockets, but Blair grabbed hold and wouldn't let go. Blair sniffled as she felt the cracks in Jo's hands.
"Come over here and sit down on the side of the tub."
"Don't be a brat, just do it."
Jo groaned, but complied with Blair's request while Blair busied herself gathering supplies from her drawer in the vanity. Blair frantically looked through all of her beauty products, trying to find something gentle enough to moisten Jo's dry hands without further damaging or stinging them. She returned to kneel in front of Jo and began scooping cream into her hands. When she reached for Jo's hands, Jo quickly pulled away.
"What are you doing?"
"Relax, Jo, it'll help."
Blair treated Jo's hands as if they were as fragile and delicate as a child's. She fought to hold back the tears that continued to threaten as she tenderly began applying the cream she had found in her beauty kit.
Jo continued to frown, but allowed Blair to rub the cream into her hands. The cream did feel good and it soothed the cracks in Jo's skin caused by the harsh chemicals in the soap she had been using. Jo was just as soothed by the sight of Blair tending to her fingers as she was by the cream. It reminded Jo of when Blair had knelt to replace Jo's shoes after the cotillion. Jo recalled how shocked she had been to see the heiress humble herself by placing Jo's shoes on her feet. Seeing the depth of Blair's concern so clearly reflected in the compassionate blonde's face made Jo feel dense for not having recognized much earlier how much she meant to Blair.
Blair applied the cream in small increments, lightly rubbing it onto each of Jo's fingers. Jo recognized the determined focus on Blair's face. She had seen it many times when Blair would be drawing a particularly intricate picture in her sketchpad.
"That's not helping to clean my hands, Blair."
Blair looked up at Jo, her eyes still filled with tears.
"I know. I don't care about that. Jo, sometimes I say stupid things without thinking. I thought you liked it when I teased you, but I could tell you were upset the other night. I should have apologized to you right then. I shouldn't have said anything in the first place. I promise that I'll never call you a grease monkey or a barbarian again. I know it's silly, but I considered them terms of endearment, like a pet name."
Jo swallowed hard, feeling very vulnerable.
"I got mad when you came to the garage tonight because I didn't want you to see me like that. I don't want you to be embarrassed to be with me."
Blair stopped what she was doing to look up into Jo's eyes.
"You could never embarrass me, Jo. I thought you looked sexy tonight. I always feel that way when I see you working on your bike or taking an appliance apart and putting it back together. I love looking at your hands when you work; it makes me think about . . . how they feel when . . . we're together. I love your hands. Please, promise me that you won't use those dreadful chemicals anymore."
Jo watched as Blair continued to gently work the cream into each finger before massaging it into Jo's palm. Jo had no choice but to agree to Blair's request.
"What is this stuff?"
Jo reached for the bottle as Blair tried unsuccessfully to hide it.
"Blair, this isn't hand lotion, it's facial cream. This crap must have cost a fortune."
Blair continued to lavish the cream onto Jo's hands. Taking a deep breath, she leaned forward and pressed her lips to Jo's fingers.
"I don't care."
"Blair, I don't want you using."
Blair interrupted Jo before she could finish.
"Please, don't argue with me about this, Jo. This is my fault. I can't tell you how sorry I am about what I said."
Blair's voice was so thick with emotion that Jo felt bad about having been so abrupt with her about using the expensive cream.
"Do you really like watching me work on my bike?"
Blair tried to smile, but her lips still quivered.
"I love watching you work. I stupidly thought I was flirting with you when I called you those names. I'd feel silly calling you Sweetheart."
"Like when I call you Princess or Goofy. I feel like it's something special . . . just between the two of us. I don't want you to stop teasing me, Blair."
Blair was skeptical, but she didn't argue. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and then returned to her task.
"Why are you doing this, Blair?"
"Your hands are hurt and ."
"No. I mean, why are you doing this . . . for me?
Blair closed her eyes and held onto Jo's hands for several long seconds before opening them to gaze up into Jo's equally intense stare.
"Don't you know?"
Jo felt her heart pounding in her chest, knowing that it wasn't due to excitement or arousal. She realized that the manicured lawns and intellectual stimulation she'd found at Eastland weren't the reasons she felt so at home in a place which should have seemed so foreign. Not even the maternal wisdom she received from Mrs. G. was responsible for the comfort she'd found at the preparatory school. It wasn't Eastland that made Jo feel at home, it was Blair.
Jo had realized earlier that Blair loved her, but she'd had no idea how much.
Jo lifted one of her hands from her lap and touched Blair's face. She couldn't give Blair fancy dinners or expensive gifts, but she could give Blair something far more valuable her heart. In an overwhelming rush of love, Jo pulled Blair up from the floor and onto her knee, cradling her in her lap. Jo wrapped her arms around Blair's waist and pulled her close, resting her head over Blair's heart.
"I can hear your heart beating."
Blair gently massaged the nape of Jo's neck as Jo tightened her grip. After several minutes Jo released Blair from her embrace and stared down at her hands. Blair slowly moved her hands down Jo's arms to entwine their hands together.
"Your hands are so soft, Blair."
"So are yours, Jo."
"No, mine have calluses."
"They feel soft when I hold them. They feel soft when you . . . touch me."
Jo looked up into dark, troubled eyes.
"I thought maybe you didn't . . .um, that you wouldn't."
"Your hands are perfect, Jo. They're beautiful. The entire time we were at the movies the other night, all I did was look at your hands."
"When I touch you?"
"I tingle all over when you touch me, Jo. I tingle when I think about you touching me. Please believe me, Joey."
Jo closed her eyes as she pulled Blair close to her again.
"I do believe you, Blair. Does your heart beat like this all the time?"
"It does when I'm with you."
"I didn't know."
Blair kissed the top of Jo's head and began gently running her fingers through Jo's ponytail.
"Now you know."
Jo felt as if her heart were going to explode. She had been attracted to Blair since the day they'd met, but she had never allowed herself to completely trust her feelings toward the flirtatious girl who was so different from anyone she had ever known.
"You love me."
It wasn't a question, but Blair answered anyway.
"Yes, Joey. I love you."
"I . . .I love you, too."
As Blair's heart quickly responded, she chose to remain silent, placing her hand over Jo's heart, which was beating as rapidly as her own.
"I'm sorry about the luncheon, Jo."
Jo looked up from her task of combing Blair's hair and frowned at her lover's reflection in the mirror.
"There's nothing to be sorry about."
"I don't understand why they acted that way."
"I don't know why you're surprised. They acted the same way when you had that mini-reunion when we were still living with Beverly Ann."
"I know. I thought it would be different this time."
Jo leaned forward, nuzzling Blair's neck.
"Because I'm a successful writer now?"
"I hope my motives were purer than that."
"Face it, Blair. That crowd is never going to forgive me for taking you away from them."
"That's silly. We were both their friends."
"They tolerated me because of you, but that changed when they figured out that you and I were more than best friends. I guess they think I turned you into a lesbian."
"If they only knew how shamelessly I pursued you."
"You didn't pursue me."
"That's not how I remember it."
Jo kissed her partner on the cheek before returning to the task of brushing her hair.
"I won't be having any more luncheons with that group. I don't think we have anything in common with them anymore."
"Blair, we don't have to share all the same friends."
"I know, but those women aren't really my friends. I hardly know them anymore."
"Sue Ann asked me to autograph a copy of my book for her."
Jo loved the look of satisfaction on her lover's face. Blair wasn't the condescending debutante she had been when Jo met her, but Jo knew she enjoyed Jo's success. Sensing Jo's good mood, Blair ventured into another discussion.
"Nancy's daughter seems . . . nice."
"I don't think we met the same kid, Blair."
Jo's ego still stung from her first encounter with Nancy's daughter. Nancy had told Blair that her daughter, Tiffany, loved riding horses, so Jo went to their stables the morning of the teenager's arrival to groom and saddle Buttercup and Gingersnap. Jo was making an effort to be nice to Blair's former friends from Eastland, for Blair. At one time, Jo had thought the girls had been her friends as well, but after attending Eastland with them for two years, Nancy, Sue Ann, and Molly acted as if they'd hardly known Jo. Even Cindy seemed to have forgotten that she and Jo were not only friends, but teammates on the field hockey team.
Upon arriving at their home, Blair sent Nancy and her daughter to the stables while she checked on the preparations for the luncheon she was hosting that afternoon. Nancy's daughter mistook Jo for a stable hand. It was easy to understand why the arrogant teenager had made the mistake, given the way Nancy treated Jo. Unlike her daughter, Nancy wasn't rude, but she definitely gave Jo the cold shoulder.
When Jo and Blair first moved to New York, business associates and friends of the Warner family who visited Blair at their apartment often mistook Jo for hired help. Even the visitors who knew who Jo was sometimes treated her with the same condescension that they afforded household help. Jo had shrugged it off, but Blair would become incensed, making it clear that anyone who didn't treat Jo with the same level of respect they afforded Blair wasn't welcome in their home. One of the reasons Blair had gravitated toward the fashion industry was that she had expected a greater level of acceptance toward Jo as part of a same sex couple. She hadn't anticipated, however, the excessive degree of snobbery rampant among members of the industry.
Jo suspected, but had never been able to confirm, that one of the reasons Blair left a lucrative position in the legal department of a high profile fashion magazine was her refusal to socialize with clients and co-workers who looked down on Jo's profession as a uniformed police officer. It had been years, however, since Jo had been so arbitrarily dismissed by someone and it had irritated the well-educated, well-mannered, and well-dressed brunette to be treated so rudely by an arrogant teenager. Jo did not allow her children to treat others based on social or economic status and she certainly didn't like being ordered around in a tone her own children would never use with a member of their staff.
Blair half smiled at Jo's reflection, trying unsuccessfully to find something good to say about her friend's daughter. Blair had been more upset by Tiffany's attitude toward Jo than Jo had been. One of the things Blair loved most about Peekskill was that the Polniaczek name carried as much or more weight among Peekskill citizens as did the Warner name.
Jo was widely recognized and well-liked in the small community. While Blair's responsibilities with the Warner Foundation required her to travel to New York City on a regular basis, Jo spent most of her days working at one of their local businesses or volunteering at the community center, earning the respect and admiration of the local business community. Even among Eastland students, Jo was more visible than Blair. Although the new headmaster had to obtain Blair's approval for major decisions related to the school, Blair had very little contact with the students, other than attending sporting events and awards ceremonies involving her children. Since Jo taught a class at Eastland, students considered her to be more approachable than the school's owner.
Blair hadn't had to deal with the constant pressure she had faced in New York City when Jo's circle of law enforcement friends had clashed so glaringly with Blair's business and social acquaintances. Blair had watched Jo hold her temper on many occasions at the rude behavior when one of Blair's associates would stop by to deliver legal documents that needed Blair's immediate attention. Although it led to a confrontational meeting with the head of the legal department where she had worked, Blair never regretted her refusal to work with associates from her firm who treated Jo poorly.
The jokes and innuendos Blair had to endure whenever her associates would meet Jo in uniform were even worse than their rude behavior toward Jo. The rigorous physical training Jo began while attending the police academy only enhanced her athletic appearance and Blair's colleagues often made the mistake of assuming Blair's interest in Jo was merely sexual.
The incident with Tiffany brought up some painful memories for Blair about the arguments she and Jo had when Garrett was born. Blair had wanted their child to have Jo's name, but Jo had insisted that their son be named Garrett Warner. Upon reflection, Blair realized that Jo was right; the Warner name not only opened doors for their son, it guaranteed him a financial inheritance he would have been denied if Jo had allowed him to carry her name instead. By the time E.J. was born, there was no longer any question as to her full name.
As often happened, Blair had allowed her thoughts to wander as Jo brushed her hair. Realizing that she had been silent for a long time, enjoying Jo's attention, Blair brightened her smile before diverting Jo's attention from Tiffany.
"Bailey will be here tomorrow. She has a surprise for you."
Blair found it interesting that people were always comparing her to Bailey. The striking physical resemblance aside, even Natalie often commented on the similarities in their personalities, overlooking the many qualities Bailey had inherited from Jo. Blair attributed Bailey's strong sense of justice, integrity, and social responsibility to Jo. Those were the characteristics that led Bailey to ask for their permission to change her last name from Hockwood to Polniaczek once Jo's adoption of Blair's biological half sister was complete. Bailey had never met her father, who died in a plane crash when she was five, and she felt no connection to his family. Blair was the only relative who had ever spent any time with the child and Bailey had always considered Jo and Blair her real parents.
Bailey had approached Blair with her request first, not wanting to offend her half sister with her desire to share Jo's name. Blair, who was always more easily recognized as E.J. and Garrett's mother because of their shared last name, despite the fact that both children more closely resembled Jo in appearance, was thrilled that Bailey wanted to share Jo's name. In Blair's mind, it made poetic sense that the child who most resembled Blair would share Jo's name and vice versa. It was even more rewarding that the decision had been Bailey's, solidifying the relationship between the child and Jo. As much as Blair would argue that Bailey possessed more of Jo's personality traits, she could readily see why people attributed Blair's personality to Bailey when they saw the child interact with Jo. When it came to Jo Polniaczek, Bailey's adoration of her more reserved parent made her remarkable resemblance to Blair all the more apparent. Bailey had been eleven years old when Monica died, naming Jo as Bailey's legal guardian. It was three years later when Jo finally agreed to Bailey's request to have her last name changed. Jo and Blair had waited until they felt the teenager was mature enough to understand the importance of her decision before making the change permanent.
"You couldn't think of anything nice to say about Tiffany either, could you?"
"I'm sure she'll grow on us. Aren't you curious about Bailey's surprise?"
"Don't make me guess. You know I'm no good at it and I know she hasn't told you what it is either or else you would have told me by now."
"I'm curious, Jo."
"I don't know why you have such a hard time figuring out what Bailey's up to, she's just like you."
Jo could denote the disapproval in Blair's sigh. She didn't know why Blair kept insisting that Bailey was more like Jo when Jo couldn't look into Bailey's soft brown eyes without seeing Blair's gentle nature. Jo tried not to smile so brightly when Blair mentioned Bailey. She knew it was a ploy to distract her from her irritation toward Nancy and the other girls Blair had counted among her best friends prior to Jo's arrival at Eastland, but her awareness of Blair's motives didn't prevent her strategy from being effective. Just the mention of Bailey's name never failed to lighten Jo's mood.
"Okay, I can admit that I'm curious, too. It's just like Bailey to think of a surprise that will make our reunion even more special. Can you imagine Bailey ever behaving the way Nancy's and Sue Ann's kids have? It's bad enough that Tiffany was rude to me; Sue Ann's kids don't even give their parents the least bit of respect. "
"We've been very lucky with our children, Jo."
"Luck had nothing to do with it. Our kids turned out great because of the way we raised them."
"They are pretty spectacular, aren't they?"
"Even other people tell me that they're great, so it must be true."
As they spoke, Jo placed the brush on the vanity and began gently nudging Blair closer to the bed.
"It's been another busy day. Thanks for helping with the luncheon today. I know you didn't really want to be there. I guess you're, um, pretty tired after helping me host reunion activities all week."
Jo grinned as she eased Blair onto the bed.
"I'm never that tired."
Blair rolled her eyes and playfully tugged at the top button of Jo's pajama top.
"I wouldn't have blamed you if you had thrown the little twerp into the pond."
"That's what I should have done! Why didn't I think of that?"
"Because you've become civilized."
"Hmmm. I don't think I'm completely civilized, yet. Do you?"
Blair tilted back her head, presenting Jo with more of her neck to kiss and suckle.
"Oh, definitely not. There's still just the right amount of barbarian left in you, Joey."
"I'm glad someone is still impressed with me."
"Oh, I'm impressed. If you're really not that sleepy, I'll spend the next hour or more showing you just how impressed I am."
Jo knew every inch of Blair's body. She knew the most sensitive areas, where she could elicit a deep moan with the slightest touch, and she knew how to caress and coax less sensitive areas to fuel Blair's desire for more. Having relieved Blair of her pajamas, Jo expertly stroked and nibbled her way toward the places where her lover would experience the most exquisite pleasure.
Blair continued to moan her approval as her hands began to caress Jo's back. Just as Blair's hands teased under the waistband of Jo's pajama bottoms, the women heard a loud crash across the hall, followed by a squeal and a second crash.
"That would be our spectacular children demonstrating their perfect manners."
"Thank you, Joey. I'm not really in any condition to get out of bed right now."
"That's okay, Sweetie. You'd be in there half the night talking about their feelings and trying to convince them that brothers and sisters don't fight. You stay here and rest. You'll need it because I'm gonna come right back and do some very uncivilized things to you."
"If you get any more uncivilized, I'm not going to be able to host brunch tomorrow morning."
Jo waggled her eyebrows as she leapt from bed, eager to resolve the dispute between their children and return to Blair. She stopped briefly at the door, making sure all her buttons were in place before stepping into the hallway. Several minutes later, Jo reappeared, an amused expression on her face.
"What was it this time?"
"Tell me, Blair. Of all our kids, why did Garrett have to be the one to inherit your love of fashion? I can't even pronounce the names I see on the tags in his closet and I don't even want to know what you spend on them. What I would like to know is why Bailey and E.J. keep stealing his clothes. He caught E.J. sleeping in his soccer jersey tonight and tried to take it back. She threw a pillow at him and broke her nightlight - that was the sound we heard. I'm sorry I took so long, I wanted to make sure I got up all the glass."
Blair smiled indulgently. Garrett liked to look nice and feel comfortable, resulting in a taste for expensive clothes. Blair didn't have the heart to tell Jo that she attributed Garrett's picky attitude toward clothing to Jo's obsession with soft fabrics. If Jo didn't want to know what Blair spent on Garrett's clothes, she'd rather die than know what Blair spent on Jo's clothes.
Blair knew that Jo would eventually figure out why Garrett's sisters loved to wear his things, so she kept silent on the issue. Not only did E.J. enjoy sleeping in Garrett's sports jerseys, Bailey seemed particularly fond of wearing Garrett's shorts, especially over her bathing suit when she was hanging around the swimming pool. It was a constant battle to keep the peace when Garrett would catch one of his sisters wearing an article of his clothing.
Jo slipped back into bed and Blair immediately began working to undo Jo's buttons, longing to feel her lover next to her.
"They get that from you, y'know. They see you walking around here in my flannel shirts and they think it's okay for them to just reach into Garrett's closet and take what they want since you do it to me."
Realizing that Jo's mind was still on their children, Blair stopped fooling with Jo's buttons and roughly pulled Jo's pajama top toward her.
"Oh, poor Joey. You talk as if I've torn the shirts right off of your back."
Jo tilted her head and arched her brows, pointedly looking at the two remaining buttons, straining to hold the fabric together. Blair watched as her lover's eyes sparkled with anticipation, signally that Jo was no longer distracted and that Blair had her lover's complete attention.
"Well, maybe I did tear some of them right off of your back, but I didn't hear you complaining."
Jo swallowed hard, wondering if Blair would go through with her obvious threat.
"Hey, and you call me a barbarian."
"Mmmm. I'll call you anything you want as long as you keep doing that."
"You like this?"
Blair swiftly turned the tables on her lover, shifting Jo deftly onto her side.
"You tell me, Joey."
Jo tried to keep her voice steady when she responded, knowing that Blair would sometimes get tickled if Jo's voice cracked during a passionate moment. She had almost regained her composure when the burglar alarm sounded.
Although Jo's body no longer remained in a constant state of alert, as it had when she was a police officer and detective, her reflexes were still lightning fast. Before Blair realized that the alarm was sounding, Jo had retrieved her revolver from the lockbox beside their bed and was checking the notification code of the alarm system. Without taking time to button her shirt, Jo moved quickly into the hallway.
Blair often joked about Jo's elaborate security measures, but she was grateful that Jo understood the dangers associated with being a member of one of the wealthiest families in the world and appreciated Jo's efforts to keep their family safe. By the time Blair had hastily grabbed a robe and tied the sash, the alarm stopped. Moments later Jo was nudging a very sleepy Garrett and an anxious E.J. into the bedroom with Blair.
"Wait here. I'll be back as soon as I know what set off the alarm."
Blair spoke softly to her daughter while they waited for Jo to return. Several minutes later, a very irritated Jo returned to their bedroom.
"Nat set off the alarm."
"We'll talk after I take the kids back to their bedrooms."
"Hey, I can find my own bed."
"Fine. I'll carry E.J. back to her room."
When Jo returned for a second time, Blair was pacing.
"Alex Garrett is in town. He and Nat made plans to meet with one another tonight. She forgot that we had changed the code a few months ago and the alarm went off when she opened the door for him."
"She was going to let him spend the night with her? Here?"
Jo nodded her head.
"You're going to have to talk with her, Jo. I don't want Natalie bringing her boyfriends here, even if this one is Edna's son."
Jo ran her hands through her hair.
"I know. I'll take care of it tomorrow. I promise. Um, I think E.J. was a little upset by the alarm. I thought it might be best if you went to her. You're the only one who can calm her down when she gets like this. "
Blair was already walking out the door before Jo could finish. Their youngest daughter had been traumatized several years earlier when she and Blair happened to be with Blair's father during an attempt to kidnap the powerful executive. Although E.J. was coming out of the shell into which she had hidden after the incident, she was still easily frightened.
Jo waited almost half an hour before checking on Blair and E.J. Much of E.J.'s distress during the kidnapping attempt had been caused by seeing her mother injured, so Blair's presence alone was often all that was needed to calm the child when she was afraid or upset.
Jo quietly opened the door to E.J.'s room, finding her daughter applying polish to Blair's fingernails.
"Mother and I are doing our nails, would you like for me to do yours next?"
Jo inwardly groaned, but didn't reveal her lack of enthusiasm.
"I'd love it. What color do you suggest?"
E.J. looked through the vast assortment of nail polish at her disposal and picked a surprisingly appropriate shade for her mom. After painting Blair's and Jo's fingernails, E.J. listened as Blair read a chapter from one of her favorite books. When Blair finished, E.J. hugged her parents and told them good-night, waiting expectantly for them to leave her room. When Blair and Jo shared an apprehensive look, E.J. scolded them.
"I enjoyed painting your nails. It was almost like having a pajama party, but you don't have to stay with me. I'm not afraid."
When Blair leaned down to kiss her daughter, she whispered in her ear.
"Would you like for me to get JoJo?"
E.J. nodded, somewhat embarrassed by her attachment to the puppet that so closely resembled her mom. After placing the leather jacket-clad ventriloquist dummy in their daughter's arms, Blair and Jo kissed E.J. and said their good-nights.
When they returned to their own room, Jo was still wearing her pajamas, with two of the six buttons missing, and Blair was wearing only the robe she had hastily grabbed when the alarm had sounded.
"Blair, do you think that the precautions I take make her more fearful that something bad might happen to her?"
Blair removed her robe and slipped into bed, holding back the covers for Jo to join her.
"I think that E.J. feels very safe, Jo. I don't even think she needs to remain in therapy, except that she seems to enjoy our 'after therapy' shopping excursions so much."
Blair snuggled close to Jo, somberly unbuttoning the four remaining buttons of her top. Jo rested her head on Blair's chest, listening for the familiar sound of Blair's heartbeat. Hearing it, she was able to relax for the first time since the alarm had sounded.
"Mrs. G. thinks that I'm overly security-conscious. I don't want our kids to feel like they need to always be looking over their shoulder."
"I don't think your security measures are extravagant, Jo. Perhaps if my father had taken more precautions . . . E.J. would never have had to experience something like that."
Jo released a long breath and smiled over at Blair.
"I just want to keep you safe. I don't want to lose anyone else to ."
"Shhhh. What happened to Rose was a terrible tragedy. I'd give anything to spare you that pain, but there was nothing you could have done to help her."
"I know, but it still hurts. I tried so hard to protect her."
Jo pressed her body closer, entwining her legs with Blair's in a more intimate embrace.
"Joey, your mother wouldn't accept your help. She made some bad choices near the end, don't dwell on those. Try to think about the good choices she made and how proud she was of you."
"I just don't want my kids to feel afraid."
"The way you felt?"
Blair gently stroked Jo's hair while she spoke, soothing her lover's anxiety.
"Joey, you are the reason our children feel so safe. They know that you would give your life to protect them. E.J. told her therapist that her mom was not only a former cop, but that you were a hero cop. She said that you had personally invented the most effective security system in the world for her school so that she could go anywhere on campus without being afraid. According to her, you watch over the entire town of Peekskill, sort of like Batman."
"Garrett was already in her room when I checked on her tonight. Was he still there when you went to her?"
"Yes. He was wonderful with her. He learned that from you."
"I need to take him to a ballgame once this reunion is over and tell him how proud we are of him."
"I'm sure it will mean a lot to him, Jo. Why don't you ask Charlie to join you?"
"Charlie would jump at the chance. Are you sure you want my dad filling Garrett's head with stories about how wild and irresponsible he was when he was Garrett's age?"
"Yes, I'm sure. You and I are a little stuffy compared to Charlie. The children love his sense of humor."
Jo stretched as she grew more relaxed within Blair's arms.
"Would you mind very much if I skip the brunch you're hosting tomorrow morning?"
Blair shifted their weight, pinning Jo beneath her.
"Will you make it up to me tomorrow night?"
"Uh, that depends. What would I have to do?"
Blair leaned forward, demonstrating how Jo could earn her forgiveness for missing the brunch. Jo didn't attempt to keep her voice from cracking when she moaned her response.
"Would you like a down payment on that, Ms. Warner? I think an advance deposit could be arranged."
"Mmm, I love it when you romance me with your high finance lingo."
"Yeah? All you want is a little sweet talk?"
"Don't get shifty with me, Joanna Marie, I want that deposit tonight."
"Uh, what would it take to get you to skip the brunch?"
Blair captured her lover's gaze and bit her lower lip.
"What excuse could I make?"
"Pampered heiresses don't need to make excuses for their frivolous behavior. It's one of the advantages of being a self-indulgent socialite."
"What excuse could you make?"
"Heh, you can't claim to be a pampered heiress unless someone is around to pamper you."
"If I skip the brunch, are you going to pamper me?"
Jo grinned as she pressed her lips to Blair's neck.
"I'm gonna spoil you so bad you'll reek of satisfaction."
When Blair responded by leaping from their bed, Jo grumbled in confusion.
"Hey, what are you doing?"
Blair held up her cell phone for Jo to see.
15: The Family We Choose
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