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 4 of 16 Chapters. Quotes in italics are direct quotes from Season 2, Episode 4, Who Am I.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Beauty Crowds Me
4: Joining the Gang

By Slave2Free


Blair closed her eyes as Jo's fingers tenderly caressed her injured lip. She could feel Jo's breath on her face and she could hear her own heart pounding in anticipation of the kiss. When Jo's fingers left her lip, Blair waiting expectantly for them to be replaced by Jo's lips, but she was greeted instead by the feel of Jo's tie slipping from her fingers. When Blair opened her eyes, Jo was walking, or more accurately running, from their room.

Blair's first instinct was to be offended. 'How dare she tease me that way?' As she studied the repairs Jo had made to their closet shelf, however, her mood changed. Earlier that morning, several boxes fell on Blair's head when the shelf tipped forward. The corner of one of the boxes landed on Blair's face, cutting her lip and leaving it swollen. It hadn't surprised Blair that Tootie and Natalie laughed at her misfortune. Although Blair was considered the most popular girl in school, her 'friends' always seemed to delight more in her misfortunes than in her accomplishments. Blair's parents had explained to her that other people were envious of all Warners and that Blair should expect it, but Blair suspected that her own behavior contributed to the shallow nature of her friendships.

It didn't surprise Blair that Jo had joined Natalie and Tootie when they made fun of Blair's fat lip. Jo was constantly finding something derogatory to say about Blair. What had surprised Blair that morning was to return from her shower to find Jo adding a brace to the closet shelf. Jo's toolbox was lying open beside the closet along with measuring tape and several small screws. By the time Blair entered the room, a new bracket preventing the shelf from tipping forward was securely in place.

"What did you do to it?"

"Oh, I just added another bracket to hold it up better. It was nothing."

Blair had beamed at the realization that Jo had fixed the shelf to prevent her from further injury. No matter how much they bickered, Jo was always doing nice things for Blair.

"Thank you Jo."

"Don't make a big deal over it, it's my closet too ya know."

Blair reached over and ran her fingers over Jo's tie.

"It was sweet of you to do it, Jo."

"What makes you think I did it for you?"

Blair loved it when Jo blushed and her face was quickly turning red from her embarrassment. Forgetting her injury, Blair allowed herself to smile too brightly and winced from the pain it caused.

Seeing Blair's discomfort, Jo's eyes lingered on her roommate's swollen lip. Her hand seemed to reach forward of its own volition to tenderly caress the injury. Blair's breathing changed immediately. Jo felt Blair pulling her toward her by tugging her tie. As Jo took a step closer, she watched Blair's eyes close and then returned her gaze to Blair's lips. Jo continued lightly running her fingers over the area as she leaned closer to Blair. Jo was amazed that Blair was so in awe of such a simple task. Although given Blair's total lack of mechanical skill, it was easy to understand. She was precariously close to kissing the grateful blonde. Jo had not expected such admiration from Blair, nor had she expected to find herself so aroused by it. The sheer magnitude of her desire was enough to frighten Jo out of giving in to her feelings. She ran from the room in frustration.

Blair sighed deeply as she tested the newly braced shelf. No matter how hard she pulled or pushed, the shelf didn't budge. Blair decided that Jo wasn't intentionally teasing her, but that the surly brunette must be genuinely conflicted about her feelings toward Blair. Blair continued to stare into her closet, seeking visual reassurance that Jo cared for her.

Blair Warner had a reputation for getting anything she wanted, but gaining the affection of the rough necked Bronx native was proving difficult. All Blair normally had to do in order to get what she wanted was to press the right buttons and she was very good at knowing exactly which buttons to press. The problem was that Blair had never before met anyone like Jo and her early attempts at manipulating Jo had all backfired with disastrous results. Flirting with Jo didn't seem to get Blair any closer to her goal than her attempts at manipulating the strong willed brunette, but Jo had almost kissed her again this morning.

Blair searched her mind to find the key to gaining Jo's attention. Jo's first night at Eastland had ended with their first kiss, but both girls had been so surprised by the intensity of their attraction to one another that neither had been able to mentally process what was happening between them until it was too late. Subsequent to the initial kiss, Jo had done everything possible to discourage Blair's affection.

Blair understood Jo's reluctance to pursue the attraction. It wasn't as if Jo Polniaczek was the kind of girl Blair had dreamed of being with either. However, every day since she had arrived at Eastland, Jo had unwittingly won more and more of Blair's admiration. Beneath the rough exterior was a person Blair wanted desperately to know better, but since that first night she had been unable to motivate Jo to make the first move.

Blair rejected the notion that compassion for her injury had caused Jo to slip in her determination to stay away from the blonde because the excitement Blair had noticed in Jo's eyes had nothing to do with sympathy or pity. Blair continued to stare at the shelf Jo had repaired, knowing that she was missing something important. Jo had been so embarrassed by Blair's gratitude that she had almost refrained from commenting on the quality of Jo's work. Blair often acknowledged Jo's bright mind and athletic prowess, but Jo had shrugged those compliments off without the slightest acknowledgement.

Blair ran her fingers along the edges of the shelf noting that Jo had even used sand paper to smooth the edges of the wood. Why had Jo become so flustered by Blair's admiration of her handyman skills? It wasn't exactly a secret that Jo was as handy as she was bright. Two ideas settled into Blair's mind. First, Jo had fixed the shelf specifically for Blair's benefit whereas her schoolwork and athletic accomplishments had nothing to do with anyone else. Second, everyone acknowledged Jo's mental and athletic abilities, but Blair had never heard anyone comment on the skills Jo used when working on her motorcycle or a malfunctioning piece of kitchen equipment.

Blair took a deep breath and considered her newfound knowledge. Jo Polniaczek enjoyed fixing things and she wasn't accustomed to being praised for it. Blair's grin widened as she attributed Jo's blush to the fact that the gruff brunette might particularly enjoy fixing things for Blair.

Having left her room in such a rush caused Jo to be early for class. As she sat on a bench outside her classroom, she was grateful for the chilly morning air because it helped to clear her mind. How could she have allowed herself to come so close to kissing Blair – again? After a rocky start, Jo was finally becoming more comfortable in her new surroundings. The over privileged girls at Eastland had gone out of their way to be nice to Jo. She had expected resistance, perhaps even ridicule, but Jo found herself more popular among the spoiled debutantes at Eastland than she had been at her former school in the Bronx. Jo wasn't only popular at Eastland, she was admired. Students and teachers were consistently complimenting her, so why was Blair Warner able to rattle her speechless with the slightest recognition? Why had Blair caused her to blush that morning and why in the world had she been unable to keep her hands to herself despite Blair's appreciative gaze. Jo's only motivation in repairing the shelf had been to prevent Blair from being injured again. The last thing Jo wanted was to screw everything up by giving the persistent blonde any encouragement.

"Get a grip Polniaczek."

Jo didn't realize she had spoken the words out loud or that anyone else was in hearing distance until she heard her roommate's snide response.

"I hear that talking to yourself is the first sign of mental illness."

Jo turned to find Blair, Nancy, and Molly standing nearby.

Nancy smiled warmly at Jo. "Don't pay Blair any attention, Jo, she's having a 'bad lip' day."

"Yeah, and it looks like it's gettin worse by the minute."

Blair self consciously covered her lip, which had continued to swell as the morning progressed, and glared at Jo. Her glare soon found a new target when Nancy grabbed hold of Jo's arm and pulled her toward their classroom. Blair knew that Nancy wasn't interested in Jo but it still bothered her to see anyone touching the other girl.

Blair was distracted from her death stare by Molly.

"Hey, are we going to meet for snacks in the student center during break?"

"Don't we always?" Blair's curt reply was indication enough of her mood to send Molly scampering off toward her own classroom.

Jo was relieved when Mrs. Walters asked Blair to stay after class to discuss her science project. Science was Blair's weakest subject so it was important that she receive a good grade on her project. Jo usually had little patience for their friends when Blair wasn't present, but she was feeling particularly uneasy around Blair subsequent to the 'almost kiss' between the two girls that morning. Jo was, however, thrilled to see Natalie enter the student center shortly after she and her classmates arrived. Natalie and one of her younger friends were walking past Jo's table when Jo called out to the two girls. Natalie's friend looked shocked, no one had ever spoken to her from that particular table before, but Natalie took it all in stride, waving hello at Jo and then continuing on to find another table. Unfortunately for Natalie, all of the tables were taken, so she wasn't sure how to respond when Jo asked her and her friend to join Jo and her friends.

"Oh, well, I don't think that would be a good idea, Jo. We're underclassmen you know and so you and your friends probably don't want us hanging around."

Jo missed Nancy's nod of approval, and pressed the issue.

"No way, you're older than Molly, she's Tootie's age and she sits with us every day."

Molly was squirming in her chair, not certain what to say, Jo was obviously ignorant as to her social standing, an oversight she would certainly correct as soon as possible. Molly resented having to constantly explain things to Jo, but Blair wanted Jo to be included and Molly would never question Blair.

Nancy, who always took the leadership role in Blair's absence, intervened.

"Jo, it's not that we don't like your little friends, it's just that having them join us at our table would upset the social balance of the entire school."

The sincerity in Nancy's voice stunned Jo.

"What balance?"

"Come on, Jo. We know that you and Blair have been forced to room with a couple of the more common girls, not to mention work in that horrid cafeteria, but that doesn't mean that you have to socialize with them outside of work."

"Are you calling Natalie and her friend common?"

Jo's temper was beginning to show and Nancy was beginning to regret her intervention. Nancy found herself in a no win situation. First, Blair had made it clear to 'everyone who was anyone' at Eastland that anything less than full acceptance of Jo Polniaczek would constitute social suicide. Since Blair had the power to back up her threats, Jo was invited to every party and social event on campus. Although Nancy suspected that Natalie knew without having been told that only Blair Warner's influence could account for how well the tough talking Bronx girl was treated by the most snobbish group of girls on campus, she doubted Jo had any idea of Blair's influence.

Nancy's second problem was Jo's violent reputation. Although the girls at Eastland had never witnessed any of Jo's fist fights with local boys, every girl on campus had heard the rumors and seen the scraped knuckles on Jo's hands following many weekend outings into Peekskill.

Jo stood up at the table, glaring at the other three girls who seemed more confused than threatened by her anger.

"Come on, Nat, I'm not enjoying the conversation at this table anyway."

Before Jo could gather up her snacks and join Natalie and her friend, Natalie grabbed her arm and pulled her aside.

"Excuse us for just a second."

"Jo, you can't do this."

"Do what? I can't sit at a table with my friend?"

"No, you can't. Jo, think of it this way, what if you and the Young Dego's,"

"Diablos, Diablos."

"whatever, what if you were in a room full of similar gangs and you all had a table, and then someone that wasn't a member of your gang was asked to sit with you, making it look to everyone else in the room that you were recognizing that girl as a, uh, Young Diablo. Now, would your fellow gang members approve?"

"Give me a break, Nat. This is a fancy prep school, not a ghetto, and this is a student center, not a turf war."

"Look, Jo. The words we use to describe ourselves may be different and the weapons we use are not deadly like the ones from your old neighborhood, but if you think for one second that this room is not a war zone between the have's and the have more's, then you're as naïve as you accuse Tootie and me of being."

Jo looked behind her at the girls at her table, deep in conversation with one another, and then glanced at Natalie's friend, afraid to even make eye contact with any of those girls, and she felt hot anger turn into a cold rage. If what Natalie was saying was true, however, it was important that Jo conceal her rage - for now.

Before rejoining her new 'friends', Jo took the time to ask Natalie one more piercing question.

"So, what about when a new girl enters the neighborhood. How is she supposed to know which gang to join?"

Natalie thought for only a second before answering.

"Well, I guess it works here the same way it works in your old neighborhood, Jo. The new girl doesn't choose a gang, they choose her."

"I'm guessing the leader of the gang has a lot to do with that."

Natalie didn't have to answer, her nervous expression said more than words. Jo suddenly knew why she had been singled out for acceptance and she knew who had arranged it. All this time Jo had believed that she was genuinely accepted and liked by her new friends. She felt stupid for not having realized that Blair was responsible. She turned slowly and walked back to her table, without a backward glance at Natalie.

Later that day, when Natalie and Tootie were downstairs watching a movie and Jo and Blair were playing backgammon in their room, Jo eased into the conversation she had been dreading all day.

Blair had been expecting it, Natalie had told her about the incident in the student center. At first Blair had hoped to avoid a confrontation, but then she decided that complete honesty was the only way to lessen the criticism Jo was certain to throw at her. She had been thrilled when Jo fixed the shelf for her, but her silly friends had blurted out too much information and now she wondered if Jo would even want to remain friends with any of them, including her.

"Your friends are snobs. They think they're too good for 'regular' people like Natalie and Tootie."

"I know."

Blair's lack of denial irritated Jo.

"Do you think that's right?"


Blair answered honestly. She didn't like the way most of her friends treated other students, but she was just as guilty. It would be hypocritical for her to complain, but she wasn't going to pretend that she didn't know right from wrong.

"But you go along with it?"

"That's the way it is, Jo."

"That's a convenient excuse, Blair."

"So, is it right to join a gang? Is it right to attack someone just because they took a wrong turn and wound up in the wrong neighborhood?"

"You talked to Natalie, that's her weird analogy and it doesn't apply."

"It may be different, but it's still wrong and you went along with it."

"I didn't have a choice."

"You think I do?"

"Yeah. I think you do. For crying out loud, Blair, you're they're leader."

"That's only because Tumpy and every other member of the group were expelled last year. Sue Ann and I were the only ones left and Sue Ann couldn't lead a horse to water."

"Expelled? What did they do?"

"Um, they got caught with drugs."

"So, you and Sue Ann were the only members of the group who didn't get caught, or you and Sue Ann were the only members of the group who didn't do drugs? Which is it?"

Blair didn't answer for a long time, choosing to continue playing backgammon instead.

"I ain't judging you Blair. I never thought you'd be interested in anything like that, but it's not my place to say anything about it."

"Listen, I can't speak for Sue Ann, but I never smoked anything. I came close, but at the last minute I didn't go through with it. I was around it a lot though and I felt plenty guilty about bringing Sue Ann into the group, they were too fast a crowd for her."

"Is that why you try to keep Nat and Tootie away from them? I've been around that group long enough to know that they move in pretty fast circles and I'm not talking just about drugs."

"Yeah. You can handle yourself Jo. No one is going to talk you into doing anything you don't want to do, but Natalie and Tootie are still impressionable. Tootie went out and bought a bong after seeing one in Tumpy's room, I don't want her hanging around with that crowd. You've seen what's it's done to Molly. She used to be a very sweet little girl."

"Well, if Molly is an example of what could happen to Tootie, I'm glad you've kept them out, even though I don't think either of them will ever understand or appreciate it."

"Hum, so who was the leader of the Young Diablos?"

"Why would you ask me that?"

"Because I know the answer, Jo. There is no way you could be in a gang and not become their leader. You were born to lead."

"I'm not a leader here."

"You will be."

"With your help, you mean."

"With or without my help."

Jo was stunned by the amount of confidence Blair seemed to place in her ability to fit in with the socially elite girls of Eastland Academy. It wasn't the first time during their first semester of school that Blair had surprised Jo with her unrealistic expectations of the tough Bronx girl.

Blair sighed deeply.

"Jo, I only wanted to make things a little easier for you here. Is that so wrong?"

"You should have told me."

"Yes, I should have told you but then you would have never even given my friends a chance."

"It's wrong to look down on people because they don't have as much money or social standing as you."

"Do you think I do that?"

"I know you do."

Blair couldn't help but be disappointed in Jo's opinion of her. Since the first day they met, Jo was constantly challenging Blair to re-evaluate her opinions and behavior and Blair consistently felt like she would never be able to measure up to Jo's expectations. Blair wanted to please Jo, but she couldn't change who she was. They kept playing their backgammon game, refusing to look at one another during their conversation.

"Jo, if some tragedy happened and I wound up at your old school, in your old neighborhood, how would I be treated?"

"You'd be dead before you ever made it to the school house, Princess."

Jo couldn't suppress the snarky laugh that accompanied her assessment.

"Would I?"

"Yeah, you would. You'd walk around with your five hundred dollar watch and your three hundred dollar boots and smile at someone you had no business even looking at and you'd be dead before you even knew you were in trouble."

"Not if I were a Young Diablo."

Jo snorted.

"You're not exactly Young Diablo material, Blair."

"But if I wore a Young Diablo jacket and had a certain type of tattoo, I'd stay alive?"

Jo didn't like the direction of the conversation.

"Maybe, but you could never be a Young Diablo."

"So, if our situations were different and I was the new girl in your school, you couldn't, or wouldn't help me?"

"Blair, this is ridiculous. You can't possibly compare this school to my old school. The worst thing that can happen here is that someone hurts your feelings by saying something not altogether nice to you. In my old neighborhood, you could be killed, for real, if you walked down the wrong street or offended the wrong person."

"So you joined a gang for physical protection only, it didn't have anything to do with you wanting to feel like you were a part of a group. You didn't have any type of social connection to those other girls; it was all business for you?"

Jo wasn't anywhere near close enough to Blair to confide in her the reasons behind her decision to join the Young Diablos. Some things were better left unsaid.

"It's more complicated than that."

"So is the social order at Eastland."

Jo continued to roll the dice, focusing her attention on the game.

"You didn't answer my question. If I were the new girl at your old school, what would you do? Would you ignore me?"

"No one can ignore a pain in the ass. No, I could never ignore you, Blair. You know that."

Blair couldn't resist smiling; Jo couldn't admit that Blair was special without prefacing it with a slur.

"Would you let the other members of your gang hurt me?"

For the first time, Jo looked up and waited for Blair to return her gaze.

"I would never let anyone hurt you, but this is different. Those girls can't hurt me."

"Yes, they can, Jo. They can hurt you in ways you can't even imagine and they could hurt Natalie and Tootie just for being your friends."

"I guess you would know this because you've helped them to hurt other girls, right?"

Blair's voice was weak as she answered, but Blair was totally honest.

"I'm ashamed to say that I have."

Jo and Blair sat on either side of Jo's bed, with the backgammon game between them. Jo stood up and walked over to the other side of the bed, sitting down beside Blair.

"I've hurt people too, when I was in the gang. As part of the initiation, you have to target a stranger and beat them up, for no reason at all except the gang tells you to do it. I have no right to judge you, Blair."

Blair reached out and took Jo's hand. They usually went out of their way to avoid any physical contact, so Blair was relieved when Jo didn't pull away.

"Aren't those high society girls a little suspicious as to why you invited me into your, um gang?"

The question was serious, but Jo couldn't refrain from flashing a grin at the use of the term gang to describe Blair's social circle.

"I let them come to their own conclusions about that and well . . um . . they seem to have decided that I'm afraid of you."

"Afraid of me?"

"It's crazy, I know."

"It's not that crazy. I just told you that I beat up on innocent people to jump into my gang, aren't you a little worried about rooming with someone who would do that?"

"No, not at all. I know that you won't hurt me, Jo. As a matter of fact, you would protect me, if it ever came to it, just like you said you would."

"And just how do you know that, you've only known me for a couple of months? In that time I haven't done much to convince you that I'm anything more than the barbarian you like to say that I am."

Blair took a deep breath to steady herself and then looked straight into Jo's eyes. Blair had waited for Jo to initiate a third kiss, but realized that Jo needed a little more prompting. If she were patient, she felt sure that she would eventually be able to encourage Jo to initiate the kiss, but Blair Warner was not a patient girl. When Blair leaned forward, Jo didn't back away. Soon, their lips met and held. Both girls closed their eyes, relishing the feel of one another's lips, sharing the same air. It was much like their first kiss, tentative and innocent. After a few seconds, Blair pulled back and continued to look into Jo's eyes.

"That's how I know."

Just then, Natalie and Tootie walked into the room as a red faced Jo stormed out.

"Oh, she's just a sore loser." Blair explained as she gathered up the backgammon board.

During the following weeks Jo didn't embarrass Blair by shunning her social circle, but she didn't limit her friendships to only the girls who were considered popular. It gave Jo an air of independence that all of the students at Eastland admired. Jo was beginning to make her own way at Eastland, separate from Blair, and was finding that most of the girls who had offered her friendship were sincere.

Jo was trying to concentrate on the book she was reading, irritated that Blair was humming and smiling while she doodled on her large sketch pad.

"What ya doin?"

"Drawing. What are you doing?"

"Gee, the light only gets so bright in that head of yours, doesn't it? I think it's pretty obvious that I'm reading."

"I can see that you're reading, what are you reading?"

"Les Misérables."

"I thought you turned in your report last week."

"I did, I'm just reading it again."

As usual, Natalie and Tootie had been listening to the older girls' conversation. Tootie couldn't get over the fact that Jo would want to read the same book twice, especially something as thick and boring as Les Misérables.

"Why would you want to read that thing twice?"

Natalie was in complete agreement.

"Yeah, I'm planning on reading the Cliff Note version only once."

Both younger girls giggled.

"Well, it'll be your loss if you don't read this particular book."

"What's it about?"

"It's about right and wrong, law and grace and religion, the family you're born with and the family you make, good and evil, war and peace, it's got everything."

Jo's excitement about the book was evident, but it didn't persuade Natalie to alter her opinion.

"Uh, I think I'll stick to the Cliff Notes," Natalie smirked.

"Yeah, we already know right from wrong, don't we Nat?"

"We sure do, Tootie."

"So, Nat. Is murder always wrong?" Jo glared at Natalie as she asked the question.

"Of course."

Blair smiled to herself, pretending not to pay attention to the conversation. Natalie and Tootie were about to take a trip on the Jo Polniaczek train of logic and Blair found the prospect amusing.

"Did you know that during World War II, there were a group of Nazi soldiers who tried to murder Hitler?"


"So, if they had succeeded in murdering Hitler, you think it would have been wrong?"

"Okay. Okay. I'll read the stupid book."

The two younger girls left the room in search of activities which didn't require any brain power.

"What are you drawing?"

"Oh, I'm drawing a tree."

"Wow, that sounds exciting. That art class of yours must be awfully difficult."

"Well, if you must know, it is difficult for most, but not for me, I'm very good."

"Good at drawing trees, hurray."

"I don't recall asking you for your opinion. And for your information, drawing trees is just an exercise, I draw other things."

"Like what?" Jo's eyes were getting tired and she needed a distraction so she closed her book and looked over at Blair.

"Well," Blair chewed on her lower lip, trying to make a decision.

"Well what?"

"Well, you can see for yourself, if you're really interested."

Jo's interest perked up. Her beautiful blonde roommate was drawing more often than not during her free time, but she kept her drawings tucked away in her closet. She had always seemed reluctant to share them with Jo, until now.

"I may be interested, a little." Jo hedged.

Blair closed her sketch pad and then opened it again to the first page. She looked over at Jo, still sitting on her own bed and asked, "Do you want to see them or not?"

Catching on, Jo went over to Blair's bed and sat down beside her friend. As always, the physical tension between them increased according to their proximity to one another, but Blair was focused on her sketch pad and didn't seem to notice that Jo's eyes were more focused on Blair than on the pictures she had drawn.

"I have to pick some to enter in this year's fine arts festival competition. So, what do you think of this one?"


Jo was oblivious, having spent the last few minutes thinking about the fragrance of Blair's hair and what it would feel like to run her hands through it. Something Jo had been thinking about ever since the girls had shared an intimate dance in Mrs. Garrett's parlor a few weeks earlier. Blair's question jarred her out of her wayward thoughts.

"This drawing depicting a field hockey game, what do you think of it? I'd like your opinion since you play."

"Oh, sure." Jo was embarrassed to be caught staring at Blair, but the blonde smiled, happy to have been the object of Jo's attention.

Once Jo looked at the drawing, however, her mood totally changed.

"Blair." The name was spoken in awe.

"I've never seen anything so good, you are a real artist. I can't believe this."

"So, you like it?"

"Like it, it's beautiful."

"It's a field hockey game, Jo; it's not supposed to be beautiful."

"It's beautiful all the same. All the details of the field and the score board are great, but the way you capture the strength of the players, the strain in their leg muscles, the focus and passion in their eyes, it's beyond words. Just looking at it makes me feel like I'm about to score the winning point in a game."

Jo's enthusiasm for the drawing encouraged Blair to show more of her work. The two girls spent the next hour going through a variety of drawings. Between the pages of sketches was a thicker page of parchment on which Blair had created a water color painting, Jo was especially curious about the painting.

"Blair, did you dream this up or is there really a place around here high enough that you can see all of Peekskill, including Eastland?"

"It's a place, alright. Would you like for me to take you there someday?"

"Wow, if it's half as breathtaking as your picture, I need to see it."

Blair's smile was radiant, Jo never used words like breathtaking. She would consider such terms unnecessarily 'flowery' and generally described everything as good or bad with little distinction for anything in between. It was a rare compliment, and Blair was thrilled.

"What about tomorrow? Everyone else will want to sleep in late after the dance contest tonight."

"I don't know, how far away is this place? It looks like you'd have to be awfully high up."

"Oh no, that's just an artistic illusion. It's not that high, and it's only a short hike from here."

"Ok, so long as it's not too far and not too high, I don't want to have to sit around all day waiting on you to follow me up a steep trail."

"Very funny. I'd entertain you more, but I have to get ready for the dance."

"Are you really going to wear that African thing Tootie made for you?"

"Yes, I was being honest when I said I liked it. It's different, but then again I am a trend setter. Everyone will be wearing one at the next dance."

Blair flipped her hair and sashayed over to her closet to gather her things. Jo rolled her eyes. It amazed her how Blair could be so sweet one minute and then so unbelievably arrogant and self absorbed the next.

"And Jo, you do know the dress code for these Bates dances, right?"

"What do you mean dress code?"

"As in, the girls all have to wear dresses."

"What is this, the dark ages?"

"Don't let Tootie hear you say that, it could be interpreted as a racial slur." Blair's tone was sarcastic. She was getting fed up with Tootie's recent sensitivity about her race.

Jo groaned her disapproval while Blair giggled. Tootie's sudden awareness of her race had caught both Blair and Jo off guard. They thought of Tootie as a friend and hadn't really given much thought to the fact that she was of a different race. Obviously they couldn't share all of Tootie's experiences, but they were beginning to resent their friend's growing attachment to a boy who felt strongly that whites and blacks should not be friends with one another.

"No need to worry about that, I don't think she considers it good form to hang out up here with us white folk anymore. I'd like to perform a little attitude adjustment on this Fred boy tonight."

"You'd better not call him a boy or you may start a race riot!"

"Maybe I should just stop talking to Tootie altogether. Everything I say makes her think I'm prejudiced."

"I know I've been complaining about it too Jo, but try to give Tootie a break. She's trying to figure out who she is."

"Who she is hasn't changed. The only thing that changed is that Fred has her convinced that her race matters to us when it doesn't."

"I think it's more complicated than that. If Tootie and Natalie ever found out that I'm gay, I'd suspect that it might change their opinion of me even though I know it wouldn't change who I am."

Jo wondered if she would ever be comfortable with Blair's openness in discussing her sexual orientation with Jo.

"That's different. We've always known that Tootie was black, she's the only one who seems to have recently discovered the fact."

"I'm just saying that we all struggle with our identity. The importance she is placing on race probably doesn't seem as relevant to us because we're not black. In much the same way, I suppose that some straight people may wonder why being a lesbian impacts so much more about me than my sexuality."

Blair could easily see Jo's discomfort when she spoke about her preference for girls, but Blair wasn't going to censor her conversations with the only person at Eastland who knew she was gay.

As reluctant as she was to ponder her own sexual preferences, Jo wasn't about to make Blair feel bad about herself.

"I wouldn't change anything about ya, Blair. Anyone who would let that change how they feel about you isn't worth your time."

"Thanks for saying that Jo, maybe we should say something like that to Tootie instead of just expecting her to know that race doesn't enter into our opinion of her as our friend."

"Some things shouldn't need to be said out loud."

"It's nice to hear them all the same."

Although she would never admit it to Jo, Blair liked the way Jo looked when she dressed up for special occasions. As usual, Jo tried to dress modestly for the dance, attempting to draw as little attention to herself as possible. On the other hand, Blair made a point of making a grand entrance in the dress Tootie designed for her, all the while paying close attention to Jo, who chose to sit off in a corner scowling throughout most of the event.

Despite Jo's lack of interest, the number of boys who approached Jo did not escape Blair's attention. It was comical to watch them walk up to Jo, only to be shot down, sometimes before they even had a chance to speak.

"Hi." Jo's first suitor of the night stood expectantly before her.

"What are you smilin at?" Jo practically growled at the poor boy.

The second young man didn't even get a chance to speak. As soon as he caught Jo's eye and smiled down at her, she brushed him off.

"Just keep walkin, nerd."

Blair couldn't have been happier to see Jo act so surly at the dance. She didn't want to go through another night like the one she suffered when Jo was out with Harrison. She was also being careful not to cause Jo to suffer from her constant flirting. For the first time ever, Blair Warner attended an Eastland dance dateless.

When Carl approached Tootie and Fred, attempting to convince Tootie to partner with him in the dance contest, Blair wasn't surprised to see Jo front and center. That girl could find trouble anywhere and if there was a fight brewing, Jo was going to be in the middle of the action.

As the conversation between Fred and Carl became more heated, Blair made her way over, standing close behind Carl. Jo's protective instincts kicked in and it was only seconds until she was standing beside Blair. If anything happened, Jo was going to make sure that Blair didn't get hurt. Jo's protection, however, proved unnecessary when Tootie was able to cool Fred's temper.

Once the dance music started up again, Blair took the opportunity to begin dancing right in front of Jo, pretending to pull the frowning girl toward the dance floor.

Blair couldn't help herself from dancing up close to Jo, acting as it she actually expected Jo to join her. Sometimes Jo was too easy to tease. However, being subtle, Blair's version of it anyway, wasn't getting Blair anywhere with Jo. Jo required a more direct approach and Blair had devised the perfect plan while she and Jo had looked over Blair's sketches earlier in the day.

Blair bit her lower lip thinking of ways she might tease the brooding brunette the following morning, when Blair planned to introduce Jo to Cooper's Rock, otherwise known as 'Make Out Mountain', the most notorious make out spot in town.

5: Make out Mountain

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