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Bright Lights
By misty flores


Part II

I got a hole in me now.
I got a scar I can talk about
She keeps a picture of me
In her apartment in the city

Some things in this world
Man, they don't make sense
Some things you don't need
Until they leave you
And they're the things that you miss


"No, see... there's a nudist beach... and the saying, in Italian... if you understand Italian..."

Jo closed her eyes. "Rick," she interrupted, knowing full well her husband would go on forever. On days when she wasn't already grumpy, she usually found it endearing. "It's okay. I get it. It was hilarious."

"Well, now you're just being patronizing."

"Well, if it takes you ten minutes to explain the joke, maybe it's not worth telling," she sighed, leaning against the desk as she folded her arm, shaking her head in bemusement. "Next time, just send me a picture of a vineyard or something."

"But that's boring."

"Yeah, but thanks to Blair I've got about a hundred of those stupid postcards. I might as well give up and start calling it a collection."

Not that she would ever admit that to anyone else but Rick. Blair had been sending those things for years, postcards upon postcards of wherever she landed, filled with scribbles and little dotted x's and o's. Jo had learned to keep them, after throwing away the first batch and then having to face Blair's wrath when the princess returned and demanded to see them.

She now kept them in a shoebox underneath her bed, within easy reach. Just to shut Blair up.

"Ahh, Blair," Rick sighed, feigning affection. Jo found herself rolling her eyes as a result. "How is the Beauty Queen?"

Mouth pressing together, Jo sensed her opportunity. "Good," she began, casual and distant. "I'm actually going to visit her this weekend."

"Oh really? That's nice."

"So you're okay with it," she confirmed, and then clamped her mouth shut, flushing.

"You're asking my permission?" Rick sounded as amused as she was horrified. "Is that how we're doing things now?"

"No," she snarled, a little angrier than she intended, but mostly at herself for her idiotic descent into traditional patriarchy. "I don't know why that came out… like that. Don't think that's the norm," she warned.

"… okay then. So if I wasn't okay with it you wouldn't go?"

"Rick." Her tone was a near growl, warning him not to push it.

"I'm kidding! I'm kidding! I think it's good that you're getting out! I feel guilty, traveling around Europe and you there, missing your hubby…"

She sighed raggedly. "I've been allright."

"Well, have fun with Blair. And try not to miss me too much. And try not to think about what happens when I come back, and we finish what we started."

Was this him trying to talk dirty? Who knew he'd be so bad at it?

"Good-BYE, Rick," she finally said, shaking her head for what seemed like the fifteenth time since she had picked up the phone.

Blair Warner's office was located on the 57th floor in the legal department, the security guard told her, as he peeled the 'visitors' badge from the sticky sheet and gave it to her to press against her shirt. She would have to take the elevator that was reserved for floors 50-65 and check in with reception.

The whole thing smacked of pretension.

Around her, men and woman in suits swirled around her. High heels clicked on linoleum, and when she stepped into the crowded elevator, she sneezed from the overpowering stench of mingled cologne and perfume. Jo received a barrage of dirty looks instead of 'bless you's and as she sniffled, she stiffened and glared right back.

She stepped out onto the 57th floor, shouldering her overnight bag, boots sinking into the overly plush carpet as she stepped toward an older looking lady standing behind a monstrous black desk.

"May I help you?"

The receptionist, at least, was polite enough.

"Uh… yeah. I'm here to see Blair Warner."

"Do you have an appointment?"

Taken aback at the blunt request, Jo shifted the back, feeling oddly out of place in her jean skirt and long black coat. "Uh… no. But she's expecting me."

The receptionist looked suspicious. "And your name?"

"Jo Polniaczek."

Mouth turning into a frown, the reception pointed a long fingernail to the clipboard on the counter as she picked up the phone. "Sign in please and take a seat. I'll let Miss Warner's assistant know you are here."

Irately, Jo wondered if it would be too much to curtsy as she headed for the fluffy pile of chairs in a corner.

Jo had been to the New York headquarters of Warner Textile Industries exactly once. On a weekend trip to New York, she had been dragged there by Blair, her friend's fingers digging into her elbow as she led her through the cold lobby and up the elevator directly to her father's office. She remembered feeling small, huddling into her trenchcoat, standing absurdly still in Mr. Warner's immense office, while Blair sat on her father's shiny wood desktop, chattering away to her father, trying to make him see the immense need for the thousand dollar extension on her allowance because sales like the ones she had passed only happened once a year.

It was then that Jo realized Blair received an allowance of ten thousand dollars a month.

"Ten thousand dollars?!" she had burst, eyes going bug-eyed at the ridiculous sum. "Blair, that's enough to feed a family in Hell's Kitchen for a year! And you blew through that?! What's the matter with you!?"

Seconds later, upon remembering that Blair's father was actually IN the room, Jo had been mortified, but Blair later told her that after that incident, Jo had been his favorite of Blair's friends.

"He thinks you're a good influence on me," she grumbled in her own frivolous Blair way. "And gives me absolutely no credit for my ongoing efforts to make you less of a barbarian."

Jo remembered thinking Blair's father had some sense after all.

"Miss Polniaczek?"

Startled out of her thoughts, Jo looked up from the finance magazine she wasn't reading to gave upon a tall, dark-haired handsome man in a tie, looking down at her nervously.


"I'm Felipe, Miss Warner's assistant." He seemed to hesitate to stick out his hand to be shaken, almost as if he was afraid she would break it off instead. Sticking his palms in his pockets, he opted for a kind smile. "I'm sorry for the wait. Miss Warner's 3PM ran late, and you were early-"

"Is Blair here?" she asked, rising from her chair.

Stepping back, Felipe shot her another nervous smile. "Right this way."

Looking back every once in a while, to make sure she was still following, he lead her from the receptionist area into a place infested with cubicles and bordered with offices.

"It's nice to finally meet you," Felipe finally burst, and Jo blinked, steps faltering when she realized Felipe was talking to her, jerking his head back. "Miss Warner talks so much about you…"

"She does?" Brow's furrowing in concern, she finally managed a smile. "Well, then, take that, and take 98% of it away. The other 2% is the part that's actually true."

"Oh…" Felipe waited for her to catch up. "Actually, she's said nothing but nice things. One of the reasons she hired me was because she said I reminded her of you."

"That's weird."

"I hear you like motorcycles."

She blinked, surprised. "You like motorcycles?" He seemed a little too pretty to get involved in anything that dirty.

He smiled brightly. "It's my hobby. I race. Miss Warner even convinced one of our subsidiaries to sponsor me, providing I could improve my record on the speedway."

That seemed tremendously generous. "How the hell did you swing that?"

Once again, she was treated to perfectly polished teeth. "Miss Warner has been very good to me."

Of course she has, Jo thought, rolling her eyes, as Blair's Man-Candy led her past another office, and then turned toward a closed door, knocking slightly before turning the knob and peeking inside.

"Miss Warner? Miss Polniaczek is here for you."

He held the door open for her, and Jo could only nod at him, before she sucked in her breath and encountered a gorgeous blonde with a beautiful smile.

Blair held up her hand, obviously on the phone, and when Jo faltered, she simply waved her in, motioning to an empty seat on the other side of the desk.

Felipe gave her an encouraging smile, and then closed the door behind him, as Jo settled into her chair, and watched Blair as her friend continued her conversation.

Blair was talking about legal circumstances and some sort of clearance issues, and none of it really made any sense, but Jo had to admit, the view was impressive. Her best friend, dressed simply in a dark blue power suit, hair swept up elegantly, with bangs whisping along her forehead, looked… grown up.

Jo found herself fighting back a smile.

It was good to see her.

Brown eyes locked with hers, and her friend bit back a smirk, glancing away, as she finally interrupted whoever was on the other line, "John, my 5PM is in my office. Do you mind if we continue this later?" she waited, eyes rolling back expressively. "Yes, John, I realize that, but considering our deadline is three weeks away, you can give me 24 hours to come up with a solution. Fine, schedule that time with my assistant. Thank you."

"Look at you," Jo said, voice raspy with her unexpected joy. "I'm almost impressed."

"Jo," Blair grinned, looking absolutely thrilled, and the freedom of her expression touched Jo. Blair had never been shy with public affection, and Jo found herself welcoming the hug that her friend gave her, as Blair threw her arms around her shoulders, and pressed her lips against Jo's jaw, giving Jo a whiff of her designer perfume.

The snuggle left Blair almost sitting in her lap, and when Blair squeezed harder, it put her off balance, and suddenly she WAS in Jo's lap, which was admittedly closer than she had been in a long time.

"What the hell are you doing?!" Jo grumbled, suddenly choking, as Blair paid no attention to her, fingers threading lovingly through her hair.

"Look at you!" Blair squealed, eyes misty with emotion. "You cut your hair?!"

"Oh…" Suddenly self-conscious at the feel of fingernails scratching lightly through her scalp, and the not altogether unpleasant shiver it caused, she batted at Blair's hands. "Would you stop?! I'm not a carnival ride."

Still settled firmly (and warmly) in Jo's lap, her friend seemed too giddy to care. "Jo, I've missed you."

Okay, Blair was always a mush ball, but this was ridiculous.

Unsure what else to do with her hands, Jo finally settled for Blair's waist, fully intending to push her friend off before she got any warmer.

The door opened suddenly. "Sweetheart, I'm leaving for the day-"

The words died in Mr. Warner's mouth, and Jo immediately understood why, as she blinked and discovered that instead of actually pushing Blair off her lap, her hands had betrayed her and curled around her friend's waist.

"Mr. Warner!"

"Daddy!" Blair said happily, taking her time to rise from her happy perch, to reach for his arms and kiss him lightly on both cheeks. "Jo's here."

"I can see that," he stuttered, looking a really odd shade of red as he stared in her direction. "Jo."

Rising immediately, Jo smoothed out her rumbled jean jacket and smiled as politely as she could. "Good afternoon, Mr. Warner. It's always a pleasure to see you."

The look he gave her was calculating. "Congratulations on your wedding."

She hesitated, the large fingers wrapping around her palm tighter and stronger than she remembered. "Thanks. We're very happy."

"Sorry I couldn't be there for the happy day. Blair tells me this Rick fellow is quite a character."

"Well…" Jo sucked in an uneasy breath when Mr. Warner finally let go of her hand. "That's one way to put him."

Daring to send a glance in Blair's direction, Jo felt unexpectedly light-headed when her friend offered an oblivious grin.

Suddenly Jo remembered why she had stayed away from Blair.

The girl made her friggin' crazy.

"It's not much," Blair warned her, as she fumbled with the lock as they both stood in the hallway of her expensive apartment in Manhattan. "Daddy says that part of this learning experience is to 'rough it' a bit. As if living with you wasn't rough enough!"

Thinking back to the suited doorman who greeted them in the lobby and taking in the pristine, modern hallway she was now standing in, Jo realized that her and Mr. Warner had very different ideas about 'roughing it'.

"Yeah," she drawled, as Blair turned the knob and pushed the door open. "You really are living in squalor here."

Casting a good-natured glare behind her, Blair held the door open and flicked on the light. "It's not our house in Peekskill, but I think I've made it home."

Shifting the weight of her overnight bag, Jo followed her friend in and inspected the small, but expensive, apartment. Despite her friend's exclamations that the place was 'tiny', it was bigger than the apartment Jo had shared with her mom growing up. It was loft style, with shiny hard wood floors covered in stylish shrug rugs and a pristine kitchen that had quite obviously never been used. The couch looked surprisingly comfy, despite it being an 'asking to be soiled' white.

All in all, it was a nice, modern apartment, but Jo wasn't sure it said 'Blair'.

A hand placed itself warmly on her shoulder. "Well? What do you think?"

"I think I'm afraid to move in case I break something."

"Oh, please." Blair walked around her, shedding her dark black trenchcoat as she headed toward the kitchen. "I had this place child-proofed when I thought you were coming with Tootie and Natalie. Wine?"

Standing still, Jo watched her curiously. Her old friend was now inspecting a bottle from the small collection in a wine rack on the counter. Brown eyes glanced up, met hers, and then darted away, as firm lips pulled into a secret smile.

Sighing raggedly, Jo shrugged off her jacket, and placed it on the polished cherry wood coat rack that now held Blair's obscenely expensive coat.

"Jo, can you do me a favor and get a couple of wine glasses? They're in the cabinet right over there."

Turning, Jo took a moment to absorb her friend, expertly uncorking her bottle of wine. "Sure." She moved, feeling oddly warm, and found the cabinet with glass windows, holding wine glasses by their stems and a few frames in the shelf beneath.

It was the pictures that caught her attention, as she opened the doors with a dignified squeak, and found two pictures side by side. Jo herself smiled back at her from the pictures, an arm slung tightly around Blair in each, each girls wearing matching graduation gowns: maroon in one, blue in the other.

With her back to her former nemesis, she allowed one smile, embarrassed by the small thrill inside of her when she saw the frames.

"How's Rick? Have you heard from him?"

Feeling self conscious, Jo put the pictures back, and fumbled with the glasses, producing a clang that made her wince.

"He's fine," she called out, heading back with the glasses. "Having a blast in Europe."

"Poor musicians usually do," Blair mused, and then grinned, taking the glasses from Jo.

Leaning her hands against the counter, Jo eyed her suspiciously. "So what's the deal with you and your assistant?"

Pausing as she tilted the wine bottle into her glasses, Blair looked surprised. "What do you mean?"

"Since when have you been interested in motorcycle racing?"

Blair smiled, a secret sort of smile that looked a lot like guilt. "I don't know what you're insinuating."

"Yes you do, Blair."

"Felipe and I have a strictly professional relationship," Blair retorting, handing her a glass of red wine. "He was looking for a strong mentor and I was more than happy to fill that role."

"Oh, I bet you were."

At this, Blair actually looked bothered. "Jo, really. Do you really think I would be idiotic enough to date my assistant in my own father's company?"

Well… when she put it that way.

Wine glass rising to her lips, Blair thought better of it, and brought it down. "Jo, I have enough to prove what with all the other executives and assistants calling me 'Daddy's Girl' behind my back. I wouldn't do anything to shame my father. Not when the stakes are this high."

Jo sighed, ashamed at her own conclusions. "I'm sorry."

Blair shook her head, staring at her with clear brown eyes. "You really don't think I've changed, do you?"

And that's how she knew Blair was really upset. "Blair, I'm sorry!" she said again, setting the glass of wine against the counter. "I wasn't trying to imply anything, I'm just… you know… he's gorgeous and … you're… Blair."

Blair's eyes narrowed. "Thanks," she said dryly.

"I wasn't trying to insult you."

Blonde hair fell forward as Blair stared into her wine glass, swishing the liquid around delicately. "Well… that's new," she muttered, and Jo was suddenly relieved when she saw the hint of a smile light up the delicate features. "I'm not his type, anyway," she answered, somewhat dismissively, an odd acceptance of her apology, as she turned away and headed to her couch.

Grabbing hold of her own glass, Jo followed, watching as her friend kicked off her heels, fingers finding the color of her shirt, nimbly pulling buttons out of holes.

"I thought you said you were everyone's type."

Blair's smile again was muted, as if Blair was holding something back from her. It was an odd expression to see, from the girl who was always so unusually transparent.

"Well, I am," she conceded, "But there are variables."

"Such as?" Jo asked, sinking down on the couch beside her.

Fingers threaded at the nape of her neck, in that typical Blair way, unconsciously flirtatious, her friend considered the idea. "Such as… having the right equipment."

Jo's eyes narrowed in contemplation. "Equipment? What, you mean like a bike? Cause you can afford like… thirty of those."

"Jo, I'm not talking about auto equipment," Blair said, tone subdued, bringing the glass of wine to her lips. She was clearly enjoying Jo's ignorance, and for once, Jo didn't mind the amusement at her expense.

"So? You gonna tell me or what?"

Stretching comfortably on her couch, Blair looked older than Jo had ever seen her. No, that was the wrong word for it. Her friend seemed… matured.

It was an odd reflection to make. Blair had only been gone for a little over a month.

Sighing, Blair's eyes flickered up to meet her own. "Felipe has a significant other, Jo."


"A lovely and quite handsome waiter by the name of John."

Mid-sip, Jo suddenly slurped, and felt the wine slip down the wrong passage way as a result. She snorted, then choked, and had the glass of wine immediately taken away from her.


Her eyes stinging from the alcohol burning down her throat, she shook her head, warding off Blair's concerned hands.

"I'm fine," she croaked. "I just… I wasn't…"

"Take your time," she heard Blair mutter dryly.

"Oh, come on," she wheezed, and pounded a fist into her chest, managing to finally clear her throat. "You just sprung that on me."

"With wonderful results," Blair twittered.

Her eyes narrowed, weakly spent from her brief moment of embarrassment. "So you're saying he's gay."

"I'm saying he's gay," Blair repeated solemnly. "Wonderfully, handsomely gay. And his boyfriend is prettier than he is, if you can believe it. The office doesn't know, of course. He told me in confidence, but I support him. I think he's going to go on and do amazing things. Provided you don't keep scaring him, that is."

"Excuse me?"

"After you yelled at him the last time, he turns pale every time I ask him to put me through to you."

"Well, you know…" Jo reached forward, and gently took hold of Blair's hand, inspecting the slender digits. "Nothing's wrong with those fingers, Blair."

"Jo, between my job and law school, I need every second I can get."

There was a moment of silence, as dark eyes met her own, and after an oddly charged moment, Jo released her hand.

"So, no Felipe," Jo managed, suddenly needing her glass of wine. "Are you saying you're alone, Blair?"

"Am I ever?" Blair sighed, fingers once again digging into the nape of her hair, exposing her collarbone within the delicate v-neck of her shirt as she stretched out her neck in the process. "No, of course there are a few, but like I said, between law school and work – there's not much time for my social agenda."

"Sounds lonely."

Blair stilled, and suddenly offered a gentle smile. "Actually, it's kind of nice. For the first time ever, I feel… focused. There's no distraction. There's simply me, and my goals."

It was a surprisingly complex comment, coming from Blair.

"You mean, without Casey around."

Her friend frowned at the mention. "I guess," she hedged, "But also… Natalie and her stories and Tootie and her dramatics and Andy and his constantly trying to steal my romance novels. I thought I would be lonely out here, and to a point, I am, but… I guess I'm too busy to get that lonely. And when I'm not…"

"There's always someone there to fil the void," Jo said, oddly concerned at the thought.

Bright orbs shifted to meet her own. "Well, we can't all find the love of our lives at twenty-two."

There was talk of going out on the town and painting it red, or pink, or whatever color Blair would paint a town if they were into vandalism.

Jo wasn't in the mood to get dragged to a stuffy five star restaurant, or fight the crowds on Broadway.

Blair was never in the mood to get dragged to a seedy Bronx bar, or to brave a subway.

As usual, there was a compromise.

It involved wine and delivered pizza, and settling on the large shag rug in the middle of Blair's living room, the television blaring and subsequently ignored.

They drank more than they should have, because unlike Peekskill, there was no impressionable Andy or worried Beverly Ann lurking about. There was no nosy Natalie or judgmental Tootie, repeated over and over how they needed to limit themselves because of said Andy.

There was no one but Jo and Blair, and Jo was always eternally surprised when she realized, she liked it this way.

Stretched out beside her friend, feeling lazy and dizzy and with a warm, full feeling settled in her stomach, she watched her former roommate, clad in her silky night slip that only reached to her thighs (because it was Jo and according to Blair, didn't count), happily tilt the last drops of her wine from her glass into her mouth.

"Do you have any idea how hung over we're gonna be tomorrow?" she breathed, eyeing Johnny Carson idly on the television.

"Mmm… it's a Saturday. No class and no work. I'm not caring." Lips pressed together in a happy smack, Blair flopped onto her back, blonde strands smacking Jo in the face in the process.

"Hey!" she groused, flinging the hair back.

Blair giggled, and shimmied closer to her, until their shoulders were brushing. "So… we never talked about this. And I feel entitled to know."

Arching a brow, Jo waited.

"What was your wedding night like?"

The unexpected question caused a moment of suddenly sobriety, and her eyes rose up into the back of her head. "Oh, come on, Blair."

"Oh, Jo, please! I'm the best friend!" Drunk and affectionate, her friend slung an arm around Jo's shoulder, turning over until she was snuggled into Jo's side. The intimate position didn't help her case, but Jo found herself too embarrassed to fight it. "You have to tell me," Blair mumbled, digits smoothing up and down her forearm, as if in afterthought. The light touch caused a tingle, that made Jo want to scratch at the area. "We never got to bond about that."

Jo found herself smiling morosely. "That's because there was nothing to bond about."

The feel of fingernails dragging lightly against her sensitive forearm paused, and the warmness underneath her chin lifted when Blair shifted, half splayed on top of her as she eyed her curiously.

"What do you mean?"

Jo sighed, the warmth that came from the alcohol and the softness of her affectionate friend making it easier, somehow, to slip an arm around Blair's waist, and rub at the base of her spine idly.

"I mean I wasn't ready," Jo finally managed. "He wanted it, and… I knew he did, but… I wasn't there yet, you know? And I didn't want it to be something I had to do just because that's what you do on a wedding night. Not when he was leaving the next day." She couldn't look at Blair, at the moment, oddly ashamed at the ugly reality of what was supposed to be night of her dreams.

Not that Jo had been looking forward to that particular moment. She had never shaken her anxiety, and felt inadequate as a result.

A warm hand pressed against her cheek, thumb rubbing lovingly against the side of her mouth.

"How'd Rick take it?" came the quiet question.

She managed a grim smile. "He was nice. He said we should do it right and that night shouldn't really count. We should do it when we were really ready to commit to each other, and be together for the rest of our lives. And you know… I mean… we did… stuff. Just not… just not that. I don't know."

She wasn't aware there were tears in her eyes until she felt the pads of Blair's thumbs wiping them gently away. Her fingers curled into the satin of Blair's night gown and she found herself suddenly shuddering, eyes closing at her own nakedness.

"Jo… there's no shame in not being ready. There's nothing wrong with you."

She smiled morosely, jeweled eyes opening to look upon her best friend, the warmth of her body pressed into Jo's curves, Blair's flawless features inches away.

"I miss you, Blair," she finally admitted, voice hoarse in her emotion.

In her drunkenness, her inhibitions dissolved, and before she knew quite what she was doing, her head lifted, and her lips clung softly to Blair's mouth.

There was a moment, just a moment, when Jo's stomach sank within her, and she realized with some shock what it was she had done.

She lay completely still, pulling away from the kiss she had given Blair to stare into startled brown eyes.

And then she watched those eyes darken, and bare, smooth legs slid between hers, and there was Blair's mouth, pressed against hers. Her eyes shut with a whimper, the sensation flowing through her to the pit of her abdomen and with a furious pant, lower. Hips arching involuntarily, her fingers fisted in handfuls of Blair's nightgown, as she opened her mouth to her best friend, and to what she herself had initiated.

Part 3

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