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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Bright Lights
By misty flores


Part IV

When all your love is gone
Who will save me
From all I'm up against in this world


It was a fight.

Blair and Jo had fights all the time. They couldn't go a day without having a fight. Hell, they couldn't go ten minutes without a fight.

Usually they blew over with no serious damage. Once in a while, when someone was really affronted, there was collateral damage, usually in the form of Tootie or Natalie, and in one particularly bizarre incident, Andy.

The worst it ever got was a couple years ago, when Jo had forgotten to leave Blair a message stating that the Helen of Troy competition had been rescheduled and Blair had gotten nearly mauled by the school mascot as a result. The series of revenge pranks that went on became so vicious that Jo had gone to a computer, of all things, in an attempt to figure out how to resolve it.

The computer stated, quite simply, that there was absolutely no merit in the friendship and the only real logical thing to do would be end the relationship.

Jo considered the idea for all of five seconds, before she got a glance of Blair animatedly talking to one of her admirers in the hallway.

That was all it took for her to trash the computer's analysis and dismiss the computer itself as a putz.

Just like that whole fiasco, this would blow over. Blair would steam and stew for a few days and then she would see reason, and Jo and Blair could dismiss the entire thing as a drunken mistake and no one would ever have to speak about it ever again.

It was a frivolous fight, and riding home on the train, Jo convinced herself that that was all it could be.

To think it could be anything else would invite a complete sexual identity crisis, the confrontation of a marriage she had committed herself to, and facing the idea of having some sort of… attraction to Blair Warner, of all the freaking people in the world.

There was no way.

None at all.

Jo would never admit it to anyone, but sometimes she hated her job.

Lately, those moments far outweighed any days with any sort of validation.

The television donated to the Center had been turned up by an elderly lady named Abigail who was hard of hearing, and it wasn't helping her mood any.

Had the culprit been the one of the gaggle of kids that haunted this place, Jo might have had less patience. She was used to barking at the kids, instructing them with warnings but never threats, and usually, unless they were feeling particularly stubborn, they obeyed her.

Abigail was, however, a sweet old lady volunteer, who forgot her hearing aid on a daily basis and didn't have her own television because she was deathly afraid of having such a large electronic 'gadget' plugged in all the time.

Despite the fact that Jo was battling a migraine, she dealt with the noise.

It wasn't the worst thing that had happened that day, at any rate.

She had reported another child to foster care – a sweet little girl who confessed to her that she had been molested by her step-father while her mother worked in a diner to try and pay the bills.

Her mother, blind to the follies of her live-in-lover, had crashed into the center, railed at Jo and had gone so far as to have thrown a punch, before Casey had been forced to push her out.

In these instances, Jo felt helpless.

It was becoming a feeling that seemed to consume everything else with this job, and itchy to try and make more of a difference, she felt lost with her powerlessness.

"Joanne," she heard, in a squeaky voice. "Look, it's Blair!"

Eyes lifting to the screen, she saw a news segment on Mr. Warner and his latest acquisition, and sure enough, by his side, was Blair, looking calm and collected and every inch her father's daughter.

The sight brought an unexpected lump into her throat, and Jo looked back down at her desk.

Tootie was never one to let things go, and when she discovered, on her return from her retreat that was to prepare her for summer stock, that Jo had returned from New York a full day before she was supposed to, she made her feelings on the subject known. Loudly.

"I can't believe it, Jo." Tootie had the extremely annoying trait of sounding like an extremely bossy version of her own mother when she wanted to. "You and Blair couldn't even make it one day before getting into a fight?"

Exchanging a cross glance with Natalie, Jo looked up from the Scrabble board. "Tootie, I said I didn't want to talk about it."

Tootie slumped down, staring down at her cubes, infinitely dramatic. "But I just don't get it. You and Blair have been best friends forever, Jo."

"And they'll stay best friends, Tootie," Natalie snapped, already losing patience with the subject. "One fight isn't going to change that. They're just fighting over a longer distance, now. It's still your turn, Jo."

The last thing she felt like doing was playing scrabble. "What did she tell you?" she asked Tootie.

"Nothing!" Tootie sighed, slumping in her chair. "I call her up after I hear you two have a fight and ask her about it and she says nothing about it. Absolutely nothing. That's how I knew it was serious," she said, as an aside to Natalie.

Jo sucked in a ragged, annoyed breath, and looked at her stupid little tiles.

Natalie's brow rose. "That's true, Jo. I mean… when you two have a fight you do everything you can to try to get us to pick a side."

"We do not."

"I remember a certain lawsuit over a broken watch that says otherwise." Natalie fiddled with her Scrabble pieces. "Maybe if you tell us what you fought about one of us can get through to Blair. She's been known to see reason. Not right away, but… she has her moments."

Exhausted, Jo closed her eyes and pushed away from the table.

"I don't have time for this. Rick is gonna be here tomorrow and I've got a ton of work to do so… I'm just not up for this."

"Jo, come on. We're your friends."

"Seriously, Jo. You can talk to us."

"No, I can't!" The outburst came before she could stop it. "And you know what? I don't want to. The only person who I should talk about this is Blair and she's not talking to me. So I'm gonna go and work on my bike and then I'm going to go to work and I'm going to concentrate on my husband coming home, all right?"

Twin sets of surprised expressions stared at her.

"Glad we're all on the same page," she managed hoarsely, and jogged upstairs.

When Rick came home, he, as usual, made a production out of it, including a man dressed up as a chicken, some cheesy poetry, and himself as a main event.

He was utterly familiar with his sandy blonde hair and megawatt smile, and when his lean body pressed against hers and long, muscular arms wrapped around her, Jo shut her eyes shut, dizzy with relief at the warm feeling that encompassed her.

"Just let me get these files," she said, leading him through the community center and heading for her desk. "And then we'll get out of here. Works been absolutely insane lately, and Casey's been leaving all the political stuff to me, now that Blair's not here to handle it."

"Fine," Rick said, rocking back on his heels, always enthusiastic. "Speaking of the debutante, how was your trip to New York?" he asked her, leaning against her desk. "How's Blair?"

He asked while jutting his hips out and pretending to toss his hair over his shoulder, a terrible imitation of her best friend.

Smile stalling, Jo simply looked away.

"Good," she said brusquely, sorting quickly through her files. "Back in New York where she belongs."

"Indeed." Taking a pencil from the desk, he began to balance the end of it on his thumb, eyes narrowing in concentration. "I gotta admit, I never understood what a girl like her was doing in a town like this."

Struck by the generalization of the statement, Jo paused mid-search, glancing up. "What do you mean?"

"I just mean… it's Blair," he answered, before the pencil clattered down onto her desk. He bent back down to retrieve it. "She's a big-city girl. She's got big-city money. And big-city dreams." He blinked, suddenly listening to himself. "I sound like a movie trailer."


"Just saying, what's in Peekskill that could have kept her around so long?"

Crossing her arms, Jo felt suddenly affronted. "Maybe her friends?"

"Or maybe Casey," Rick snorted, tossing a nod to the man in question, as he passed them by, a newspaper under his arm. On his way to the bathroom, probably. "I can see it. Spurned by her boyfriend – she leaves her small-town, on a train New York bound." His palms spread in emphasis. "Never to return." He smiled. "That really would make a good movie. Working Girl 2: The Debutante."

Crossing her arms, Jo found herself profoundly disturbed by the summation of her friend. "Blair wouldn't stick around here and then just leave because of a guy. Especially a guy like Casey."

"Blair isn't small town," he said, concentrating on his stupid pencil. "C'est la vie. She's back in her world. Where she belongs."

"You don't think she'd come back?"

He glanced at her quizzically. "Why would she?"

It was a good question.

Why would Blair ever come back?

"Oh, look at this," Rick mused, picking up a discarded newspaper. "Your old school is closing."


"Eastland," he said, flipping open the cover page to show her. "Apparently it's really in the red. That's gotta be a bummer for you girls."

Emotion clogging her throat, Jo stared at the large newspaper print.

"Things happen," she breathed, turning away. "We've all moved on."

Rick was the same as he had always been. Funny, handsome, sweet.

He was her husband, and took pride in pointing out her ring to everyone in the community center, making sure they knew it.

He was so happy.

It made Jo sick.

She had taken refuge in the bathroom, staring at herself in the mirror, taking in the bloodshot eyes, and the strained expression that haunted her.

What happened between Blair and her meant nothing, and she was determined to treat it at such.

Hell, she just missed Blair. It was an odd turn of affection, but that was what happened.

She had still betrayed Rick. She had still hurt Blair, though how she had done that, she didn't want to dwell on.

Now, she was faced with her own consequences, and like a coward, she was hiding from them.

Jo had to stop hiding.

It wasn't fair to Rick, who thought he had come back to a loving and (more or less) patient wife, ready to start their new life together.

Straightening her shoulders, Jo sucked in her breath, and after one last look at her own guilt-stricken expression, unlatched the door and moving forward, ready to rejoin Rick.

Unexpectedly, her heart dropped, her breath quickened.

Rick smiled sunnily at her. "Jo! Speak of the devil! Look who it is."

Standing beside Rick, wearing a pleasant smile and dressed in a tailored blue power suit was her friend Blair.

"She's lost for words," Blair said, a hint of a chuckle behind her voice. "How uncharacteristic."

"Well, you know the wifey," Rick joked as Jo came forward, throwing an arm around her shoulder. "We weren't expecting you at all."

"Well, to be perfectly frank, I wasn't expecting you either. Casey told me you were off today, Jo. I figured with Rick back you'd be getting reacquainted."

Rick snorted, and puffed up like a peacock. "Oh, we're saving the good stuff for later."

"I'm just picking up some paper work," she mumbled.


"We were just about to head out to dinner," Rick responded, squeezing Jo again, making her feel dangerously close to suffocating. "Why don't you come with us?"

Hesitating, Blair once again locked eyes with Jo.

For her own part, Jo found herself unable to look anywhere else. Her heart had graduated from stuttering to a really odd pounding, and as her palms were beginning to sweat, she could feel herself dangerously close to fainting.

"Thank you but no. I'm on my way to Eastland," Blair's tone was polite, distant, and was being far sweeter to Rick than Jo had ever remembered. "My father is on the board, and when we heard about it closing, I asked him as a personal favor to let me come down for a weekend and see if there was anything I could do. I'm very fond of our Alma Mater."

"So if you're supposed to help at Eastland, what are you doing here?" Immediately, she winced at the tone. But this was, after all, her domain, and in the middle of a fight, Blair wasn't supposed to come down here and knock the wind out of her and stand in a room and make nice with her and her husband when he had no idea they had made out.

Hell, that really was such a damned 'BLAIR' thing to do.

Blair stared at her for one long moment, and then looked away. "Casey asked me to stop by to look over some matters with the Center," she answered lightly, and sure enough, there he was, in his curly-headed greasy wonder, looking at Blair like she was a prime steak he had been salivating after. "Hi."

"Hey," he answered, looking almost nervous as he smiled at her. "Ready to go over those books?"

Blair smiled, that sweet smile she had always given Casey, and for some reason, it now made Jo sick.


Casey was now looking at Jo rather expectantly, and unsure why, Jo narrowed her eyes. "What?"

"I need those."

He pointed, at the very files Jo was carrying, and of course Casey would pull that sort of shit. He didn't know a damned thing about the budget, and of course it didn't matter, because he was using this to get some alone time with Blair.

"She's seeing someone," she blurted out, shoving the books so hard in his gut he nearly doubled over. "Don't get any ideas."

Witnessing the exchange, Blair's mouth opened in surprise, and smoothly, she reached for Casey's elbow. "Come on, I don't have a lot of time."

"See you at the house, Blair?" Rick asked, polite and happy.

Once again, Blair hesitated. "No, actually. I'll be staying at a hotel. That place isn't my home anymore."

This time, she didn't look at Jo.

Rick was disappointed she hadn't found an apartment yet, she knew that. They were a married couple, and deserved to be together, and that didn't mean upstairs together in a house inhabited by nosy best friends, two teenagers, and Beverly Ann, who was something in between.

It wasn't Jo's first choice, either. Stepping into the room and changing into her nightgown, having to deal with Tootie and Natalie's knowing grins and Beverly Ann's nervous gestures as she and Rick made their way upstairs somehow paled in comparison to actually being there, in a room she still considered hers and Blair's.

In his actual presence, she felt the guilt associated with her drunken actions, and now, there was a tension inside of her, as she stepped barefoot into the room and caught a phantom image of Blair, lounging on her bed, carefully perusing her law books.

Jo wasn't used to sharing her bed. The closest she ever came to it was Blair's periodic nighttime hostile takeovers of her bed, and that was because Blair once in a while got it in her big dumb fake blonde head of hers that it was perfectly all right to cuddle when it was too cold and the heater was broken. It never seemed to matter that Jo would complain about icy feet and stolen blankets. Blair had absolutely no problem ignoring her barbs and wrapping her arms around Jo, insisting that Jo was nothing more than a living hot water bottle and it was really her fault anyway – because Jo always insisted she could fix the heater instead of calling an actual electrician.

Jo had come to see Blair's periodic invasions as a necessary evil, and had even come to see Blair's logic, because Blair would mold herself to her side and didn't even snore, making for a rather cuddly and comfortable companion.

Rick was tall and large, and Jo found herself openly squirming, as she tired to settle against the broad chest of her lean husband.

She felt oddly possessive of her small amount of space, and she hesitated against Rick, because as much as she could mouth off to Blair, she highly doubted her own husband would react in the same way.

"I have something to tell you," he said, fingers rubbing through her scalp, as they huddled together on the twin bid, Jo's head resting against his chest, hearing the rhythmic thumps of his heart beat.

"What is it?" she asked, distracted and uneasy to the binds of marriage. Her breath had quickened despite herself; she was nervous, and in a burst of misplaced logic, she hated Blair for it.

Somehow, this was all Blair's fault, because if it just hadn't HAPPENED, maybe she wouldn't have to tell him about it.

If Blair hadn't decided to come on some frivolous excuse like their damned school closing, Jo wouldn't be completely absorbed with the wounded look in those brown eyes as they stared at her.

Maybe she wouldn't be thinking about Blair at all.

"I impressed some amazing people," he whispered, lips brushing against her ear. Raggedly, her eyes fluttered closed. He was possessive and gentle, because as her husband, he had every right to be. "And they want me for another tour."

"That's good, right?" she asked, voice a soft squeak.

"Yes, and no." Pressing a kiss against her temple, he leaned back, tilting her chin so that she was forced to look into his eyes. "It means leaving again. Soon."

"How soon?"

"Two days," he answered, remarkably serious, and Jo's lips pressed together, chest tightening as a result, caught between relief and guilt at the reaction.

"You should take it," she managed in a rough voice. "It's good for your career, right?"

"I'm sorry, Jo," he said, apologetically angry at himself. "This isn't how a married couple should start their life together."

Married wives weren't normally apt to making out with their best friends either, she thought silently to herself, and bit back her nausea.

"Well," she answered unsteadily, "It's not like anything we've done so far is normal, right?"

He seemed amused at that. "I wouldn't want to be normal anyway."

And that was where they differed. Jo wanted to be normal. She wanted it desperately.

A normal newlywed. A normal woman.

When Rick's lips slanted over hers, she shut her eyes, sucking in a trembling breath as she smoothed her palm up his jaw and over his cheek.

Rick had always been careful, respectful. But he was a passionate man. His broad hands smoothed over her shoulders possessively, and when slanted over her body and thrust his tongue into her mouth, she shuddered, broken with the sudden flash of another body tented over her, a sweeter tongue gliding through her parted lips.

The differences were tangible. The differences were consuming.

Jo fisted her fingers in Rick's hair, but it was short and there was almost nothing to hold on to.

Her eyes shot open, and she arched her hips, waiting for that feeling, that crazy, overwhelming feeling, to overtake her, like it had with Blair.

His hips pressed against hers, and she felt the hardness of his arousal, blatant and proud and… THERE.

"Jo, I've missed you," he whispered thickly, his rough voice burning into her brain. A possessive palm settled on her breast, and kneaded as his body moved, clearly ready. "I love you."

The words, meant to excite, created the worst possible reaction, and with an enraged moan, Jo tore her lips away from her husbands, pushing at his chest, suddenly pleading with him to stop.

"Jo?" he managed, moments later, dense with lust and surprise, and of course he would be surprised, because he had no idea what she had done – what he was being measured against.

"Rick, stop-" she managed, and with a burst of strength, shoved him off, so quickly he lost his balance and teetered off the bed.

"Jo!" Rick looked too stunned to be angry.

Wiping hotly at her tears, hating herself suddenly, Jo lifted her knees to her chest and stared down at him.

"I'm sorry," she managed thickly. "But there's something I gotta tell ya."

She had rarely seen Rick angry.

He wasn't the type.

When he did get angry, he was never loud. He was never violent. He was quiet and intense, without humor at all.

At the moment, the laughter and humor that usually bubbled up in her newlywed husband had gone quiet, and it left a angry, somber man in it's wake.

But what really was the appropriate reaction to learning your new wife cheated on you? To learn that she not only took your vows and stomped on them, but she had done so with her best friend, another woman?

He stared at his hands, as if at the moment he couldn't bear to look at her.

Crossing her arms, trying her best to hold the tears stinging in her eyes at bay, Jo didn't particularly blame him.

Her heart throbbed.

"So … I'm a little confused, here," he finally began, blue eyes dark and stormy. "What exactly do you want me to say, Jo? What was the point in telling me?"

"I don't know," she managed, behind a raw and thick throat. "I don't know what I'm trying to say. It was a mistake, Rick. But I couldn't be with you and … and just lie about it. Not after those vows we took."

"You mean the vows you had taken, when you decided to stuff your tongue down Blair's throat?"

There was the anger, and she shuddered, an uncharacteristic wince at the crude description. "That's not how it happened."

"And that's supposed to make me feel better?"

"No." Coming forward, she tried to reach for his hand. "Look, Rick – it was a stupid mistake – I don't know what it meant-"

"Well then maybe you should have figured it out before you told me!" he snapped, lifting off the bed and reaching for his pants. "Because it sounds like to me that what it meant was pretty damned important!"


"So important that you obviously had to tell me-" His movements were jerky, voice thick in his emotion. "So… what is it? Are you telling me that you're… that you're…" he palmed his hand down his face, trying to make sense of it. "Is that why you couldn't be with me?"

"No, that's not what I'm saying, Rick!" She sounded angry, and she knew she had no right. But it was in her nature, like a wounded animal, to snap when snapped at, to bite right back. "Look, I didn't have to tell ya, okay? I could have just let it go and forgotten about it, but I wanted to be honest."

"Okay, be honest." Fully dressed, his hands were on his hips, eyes narrowed and sharp, like a hawk's. "Who started it?"


"Who started it? Did Blair come on to you? Get you drunk and have her way with you?"

Her eyes snapped shut, and she ground out the truth. "I did."

"Right. And who stopped it?'

"Blair did."

"And if she hadn't?"

Suddenly dizzy, she sucked in a lungful of air, trying to keep her head. "I don't know."

Maybe if they had already slept together, he wouldn't have gotten so upset. Maybe if she hadn't just alluded to the fact that maybe, just maybe, she might have taken that step with Blair when she couldn't take it with him, he might have dismissed it as a careless fumble between best friends.

But to his credit, Rick wasn't just a guy. He was smart and considerate and despite the funny man demeanor, was capable of truly looking at a person and seeing the damning truth.

"You weren't ready for this," he said hoarsely, and grabbed his jacket. "I shouldn't have pushed you."

"Where are you going?'

"To Casey's," he snapped, heading for the door. "I need somewhere to crash tonight. And you need to figure out what you want."

"I do know what I want."

He paused, and stared at her. "If you did, you wouldn't have had to tell me."

Her door opened at 3AM.

She expected Tootie or Natalie, or even Beverly Ann, on another misguided quest to give her motherly advice.

She didn't expect Blair, slender hand resting on the doorknob, face expressionless as she took in Jo's pathetic figure, sitting cross legged on the bed, fingering her ring.

"Natalie and Tootie called me," she announced firmly, voice level and secure, as she closed the door behind her and walked forward, heels clicking on the dark wood. "They heard Rick and you fighting and were too afraid to come in here."

"And what, since you were in town you got the short end of the stick?" she managed, throat clogged as she looked at a beautiful, neutral expression.

Blair crossed her arms and sighed. "Don't I always? Besides, they said that you've become an insufferable jerk every time they try to help. 'Worse than the Grinch' was Natalie's term."

The sentence wasn't particularly funny, but it made her smile miserably, and she snorted unattractively, wiping at her eyes and shaking her head, as she felt the mattress bob with the weight of her friend. "I told him what happened."

She heard a hiss beside her. "Jo, why would you do a thing like that?"

"I don't know," she whispered, staring at the ring as it glimmered in the moonlight.

There was a pause, then a soft exhalation. "You knew he wouldn't understand."

"Maybe I still don't understand," she managed, nakedly honest at this late hour. "I don't know why I missed you more than I missed him. And I don't understand why I could feel the things I felt with you that I never felt with him. I don't understand how I can marry a guy that's so damned perfect and instead of being excited about that, be driven crazy by the fact that you left me for New York."

It was said. It was out there, and in the face of it, there was no right way for Blair to react.

Jo was too tired to be terrified, but when she felt a soft, supportive arm wind its way around her shoulders, and felt the pull of a friend drawing her in, she choked on a sob of relief and lay her head on Blair's shoulder, grieving for her broken marriage.

Part 5

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