DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Della Street
Blair checked her watch again. She really wanted to call Jo. Well, needed, actually, not wanted. It wasn't like calling Jo Polniaczek was something she would do were there not an immediate need.
She pictured the row of payphones located quite inconveniently, as she planned to inform airport personnel at the earliest opportunity halfway between Gate 11 and the women's restroom. But for Jo's endless lectures about survival in the urban jungle, Blair would simply have positioned her bags around her seat and walked to the phone, trusting that no one would dare disturb the Warner belongings.
But no, she could practically hear Jo growl, "Geez, why don't you just put a sign on it that says 'Steal me'?" They were about to begin boarding, though. If she didn't call Jo soon, she might
"Is this seat taken?"
Blair looked up into the open face of oh, my. Problem solved and quite handsomely. Tall, check. Blonde, check. Red Yale sweater over white polo shirt, check. "Definitely not," she said. She gathered up the bags to her right and crammed them onto the seat to her left with the others.
"Terrific," Hunk said. He gestured at the throng of unhappy travelers milling around the gate area. "It's a madhouse in here."
"Continental canceled its eight fifteen," Blair said. "They're hoping to catch the next flight. So it's your basic zoo." She glanced again at the attractive brunette in t-shirt and jeans who leaned casually against a nearby pillar, arms crossed impatiently, wearing a generally grouchy expression. Blair wondered what she would look like in a pony tail. But back to the immediate subject . . . . Airily, she proclaimed, "All I can say is, thank heavens for first class."
"Is there anything else?"
Blair smiled her approval. She wouldn't admit to that one horrible incident when she had to sit in the sardine section for an entire hour flying back from the Young Legislators finals because Miss Attitude refused to be civilized and sit up front, even though Blair was more than willing to pay for it. She eyed her new acquaintance. Just how good might her luck be? "I don't suppose . . . ," she said, retrieving a ticket from her purse. "2A?"
"2B," he confirmed.
Time would fly on this trip . . . . "Blair Warner." She held out a hand.
He brought it to his lips. "Tim Valentine."
Valentine? He had to be kidding. But first things first. "Would you mind watching my things for a minute?" Blair asked. "I need to call my roommate."
"Is she as pretty as you?"
Delighted, Blair flicked her hair. All that and excellent eyesight, she mused.
A minute later, she pressed the receiver to her ear.
Blair cringed. She hated it when Jo did that. "I'm glad you're there," she said. "But of course, where else would you be on a Saturday? It's not like"
"Whaddya want, Blair?'
"Well, that's a fine how-do-you-do for a best friend you haven't seen for a month," Blair chided her.
"I'm gettin' by," Jo said sarcastically.
Typical Jo, hiding her pleasure at getting a phone call from Blair. Poor thing. Probably hadn't had anyone to talk to all summer except her boss and Mrs. Garrett. She couldn't let Jo tie her up on the phone too long, though, not with a nice Valentine card back there waiting for her.
"So how's Florida?" Jo asked.
"Marvelous," Blair replied. "So much to do, so little time."
"What do you mean 'so little time'? It's not like you've got a job to get back to."
"Don't be petulant. My train gets in at two forty-five," Blair instructed. "See if you can borrow Mrs. Garrett's car to come get me. Otherwise, you'll have to make several trips."
"You're comin' to Peekskill?"
Hadn't she just said that? "Just for a few days," Blair said. "I need to organize my closet so it won't be a mess when my new things get there. After his disastrous line this year, I wouldn't be caught dead in a Giovanni de Marco, so you can have those."
"No thanks necessary," Blair said. "It was either that or the Salvation Army. Now, I can do a movie with you tonight, and I brought shorts in case you insist on hiking up Cooper's Rock or some other horrid 'nature' thing, but I'm not coming there for your entertainment, Jo Polniaczek. I have a lot of work to do, so you'll just have to"
"I won't be here," Jo interrupted.
"Won't be there?" Blair repeated. That's not what she planned. A lot of thought had gone into those plans. Not to mention a simply adorable set of Elizabeth Arden hiking shorts. She would look divine reclining atop Cooper's Rock at sunset. Not there?
"I didn't know you were coming," Jo said. "I made other plans for the weekend."
"Other plans?" But Blair thought about the new Louis Vuittons she bought for this trip but what about her plans? Recovering from her surprise, she asked, "What plans?"
"I'm goin' to an old car show in Buffalo with Tony," Jo said. "His folks are outta town, so we're gonna crash at his place."
"Tony from Bates Academy?" Blair raised her voice. "You're spending the night with Tony Westlake?"
"On the couch," Jo said defensively. "It ain't what you think."
"It better not be!" Blair said. It was bad enough as it was. Tony Westlake? Since when did Jo have an interest in Tony Westlake?
"If I'd known you were coming, I coulda"
"No need," Blair huffed. "I certainly wasn't coming to Peekskill to see you."
"Well, good, 'cause you're not gonna."
Fuming, Blair dropped back into her seat. What in the world could Jo see in someone like Tony Westlake? Would she really end up on the couch? Probably, Blair's brain told her, but what if
"How was she?"
"What?" The question startled her, and Blair looked over at the man seated beside her. "Oh. Fine, I guess," she said. "She'll be out of town when I get home."
"You room together in the City?"
"Hardly," Blair said. "We just graduated from the Eastland School in Peekskill. We're starting at Langley College this fall."
"Eastland?" he said. "Good school. My aunt went there."
Forgetting for a moment that she was annoyed with her roommate, Blair went on, "Jo's from the Bronx. She used to run with a gang called the 'Young Diablos,' if you can believe that." She shook her head disapprovingly. Thank goodness Jo was past all that nonsense. She was still a Neanderthal, but on the path to becoming a marginally productive citizen. All it had taken was the right role model.
He raised an eyebrow. "How did someone like that get into Eastland?"
"Scholarship," Blair said. Somewhat proudly, she added, "She won New Student of the Year under my tutelage, of course. She's actually quite smart when she's not rolling around in grease pits. And not bad looking," she admitted, "except when she's wearing that awful camouflage." Or those awful t-shirts. Or those awful
"So, if she's not going to be there, does that mean you'd have a few extra days in the City when we land?"
"And why do you ask?" Blair asked coyly. "Might you have a few extra days in the City?"
"More like a few weeks," he said. "I'm my own man until the fall semester."
Plans were meant to be changed, as her mother would say.
"The Rodin exhibit?" he asked, tapping one of the brochures sticking out of Blair's handbag. "I meant to catch that while I was in town, but my Red Cross training went long."
She stared at him. "Are you the perfect man?" she finally asked.
"I hope so," he said, "because you seem to be the perfect woman."
Let Jo have her Tony Westlakes. Blair had something much better of her own.
"Do you need to call Jo and let her know?"
Blair smiled seductively at him. "Jo? Jo who?"
Disgusted, Jo tossed her motorcycle helmet onto the couch. Three hours. Three hours sitting down there waiting for Princess Di to stagger off a train from New York City under the weight of her own conspicuous consumption. Not to mention half the morning straightening up their old room, and digging out the two shirts she owned that Blair could actually stand (in other words, the two shirts that Blair had bought her), and rubbing StainAway into the oil spot she got sharpening the mower blades last week, and buzzing into town for a new pair of shorts in case they did hike up to Cooper's Rock, which sounded kind of fun, especially with all the griping she was sure to hear from Her Royal Highness.
A quarter to three, Blair had said. Jo was sure of it.
She hated it when Blair was late, and Blair knew it. Rude, that's what it was, making Jo stew about the air brain for nothing. This was the first time that Blair hadn't shown up at all. Would she be getting even more inconsiderate when they started college? Jo wouldn't have thought it possible.
A note in Mrs. Garrett's handwriting lay on the counter. Lasagne in the fridge? Thank you, Mrs. G. The dietician didn't have to cook for her, not over the summer. The kitchen was closed, as Mrs. G declared happily on the last day of school. Jo was making some decent dough in Eastland's maintenance department these days, not stuck on KP for once.
She resumed grousing to herself as she peeled back the aluminum foil and popped the dish in the microwave. She drives me crazy! What was she thinking of, agreeing to room with Blair at Langley? Hadn't the last three years been hellish enough? Jo carried the plate and a soda back to the couch, stopping to switch on the TV to see how the Yankees had done without her.
The nerve of that spoiled brat, assuming that Jo would be stuck at home on a Saturday and desperate to see her. Desperate to avoid her, more like it. Jo wouldn't have been home at all if she hadn't shined Tony on, feeding him some b.s. about Blair needing her help on something. Granted, she hadn't really been all that keen on the trip, anyway. The car show would have been great; the company not so much. More important, though, was the need to stay home to keep Blair from making another land grab. Pricy junk already took up three-fourths of the darn closet. If Blair was coming home, Jo had to stick around to protect her own interests.
Oh, crum. Why weren't the sports on? Wasn't it twenty after?
"the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder," a blonde in a purple rain poncho was yapping into a mike. "The FAA's official position, however, is that the controversial theory of 'microbursts' remains unproven. We'll learn more when investigators complete their review of the 727's approach."
Mildly interested, Jo raised the fork to her lips.
Suddenly a picture of Blair, grinning confidently at the camera as always, flashed on the screen. What . . . .?
"More news from the scene, Jim," the woman continued. "Passenger records have confirmed earlier reports that eighteen-year-old Blair Warner, heir to the Warner Textiles fortune, was among the one hundred and twenty-two passengers on board Flight 897."
Flight? Jo laid her plate on the floor. What were they talking about?
Now the reporter was scurrying after some guy in a suit, walking through the debris of a
Jo's mouth fell open as her heart pounded wildly and she gasped for air. Oh, God. Oh, God. "What happened?" she yelled at the TV. Stupid TV!
The screen switched to a computer simulation of a passenger plane from Miami descending too fast as it approached Kennedy, skidding onto the runway and banking left before it crashed into the approach lights and burst into flames, scattering wreckage for half a mile.
Just what caused the accident was the subject of debate. Pilot error was the FAA's first guess. A freak wind thing, some scientists were claiming. Jo didn't really care.
There were no survivors, they said. That was crap. How would they know? Maybe there were. They didn't know. They shouldn't say things like that when they didn't really know. Blair's folks could be watching. They could be sick with worry. They shouldn't be showing all those bodies. They shouldn't be showing this.
In the same instant that a grieving David Warner waved off a row of microphones thrust into his face, the phone rang. Jo let it go. She had no desire to talk to anyone.
Tootie maneuvered past the cot and banged on the door again. "Come on, Robbie," she yelled. "I know you're done in there."
A knock drew her to the hotel room door to let her mother in. With a grin, her little brother popped his head out of the bathroom to see who was there.
"I knew it!" Tootie said. "Quit messing around!"
"Boys, your father is taking you downstairs for breakfast," Mrs. Ramsey said.
"You said we could go to McDonalds!" Robbie protested.
Pauline held up a hand to cut off the whining. "Not now, Robbie," she said. "Marshall, take your brothers next door. I need to talk to Tootie."
The boys recognized the gravity of her tone, and as they filed out of the room, Tootie looked up at her mother, wide-eyed. This didn't sound good. "What did I do?" She tried to remember.
"Sweetheart, I'm afraid I have some bad news."
Tootie sat down on the nearest bed. "What is it?" she asked fearfully.
"There was an accident," Pauline said. "A plane crash in New York." She caressed Tootie's hair. "Honey, Blair was on the plane."
"Blair? Is she okay?"
"I'm sorry, Honey." Pauline's heart broke at her daughter's distress. "She didn't make it."
"Didn't make it?" Tootie clambered to her feet. "What are you saying? You're not saying that Blair's . . . .?"
"I'm sorry, Baby."
Tootie buried her head in her mother's chest as she sobbed.
"I know." Mrs. Garrett sighed into the receiver. "I can't either."
Natalie's next question caught her off guard. "How's Jo taking it?"
Edna debated telling her the truth, but there was no point in worrying her until she got back to Peekskill. "It's hard on everyone," she said vaguely. Tootie and her mother were on their way from Hawaii, she said, changing the subject. They would be here by the time the Greens made it back from London.
As she hung up, Edna's mind turned to the one roommate she hadn't heard from, the one she was most concerned about. When the call came to Mr. Parker's house Saturday evening and brought a horrified end to a round of pinochle with the Parkers and Miss Muldoon, Edna had, after recovering from the initial shock, hurried home in the hope that Jo had not heard yet. Jo never handled bad news well.
When she arrived at the house, the teen was nowhere to be found. An untouched plate of lasagne on the living room floor and the television set tuned to a New York City station told Edna that she was too late. She hadn't seen Jo since yesterday morning.
Jo was, at the moment, surrounded by dead silence atop Cooper's Rock. Staring up at the stars with her head cradled in her hands, she tried to concentrate on the work that she could do today. New caulking in the science lab. Maybe start taping the dorm windows for painting. The tool shed needed serious organization.
That was better. No hitch this time.
She had thought they might spend the day in the park. The paper said there was going to be a frisbee contest and some live bands. Blair might have wanted to hang out there, if they put a blanket down or something. Or they could have gone to the City. Mr. Hauser had said it was okay to take Monday off if she wanted. They could have found something to do. Jo could have stood around rolling her eyes while Blair admired herself from every angle in a Bloomingdale's mirror, or worse, gotten dragged into a dressing room again, sitting there like a lump while Blair stripped off over and over, demanding her opinion and then ignoring it.
There's nothing you can do about it. It doesn't matter. None of it matters. Blair would have moved on eventually anyway. In a few years, they would have hugged goodbye and promised to write and that would have been the last she saw of Blair Warner. None of this mattered in the long run.
Almost normal now. Maybe she could manage . . . .
The final word caught in her throat. No, not yet.
Late the next morning, she walked into the house, hoping to avoid
"Jo! There you are!"
She wasn't ready for this. Jo brushed past the older woman and started up the stairs. Mrs. Garrett followed close behind, hurrying through the doorway as Jo rifled through dresser drawers.
"Jo, we should talk," she said.
"There's nothing to talk about."
"Oh, Jo." She sounded sad. "Blair was"
A bit louder, Jo said, "I don't wanna talk about it." Get it?
"I'm not talking about it," Mrs. Garrett said. "I'm talking about Blair. Someone you lived with for three years. Someone you cared about."
Why was she harping on about this? Jo tore through her shirt drawer, not caring any more what she came up with.
"The funeral is Tuesday," Edna said. "Blair wouldn't mind if you borrowed something of hers."
"I'm not going."
"What's the point?" Jo strode into the bathroom and shut the door between them. "I gotta get to work."
"You don't work Sundays," Edna pointed out.
"There's a lot of work to do," Jo said. "I'm gettin' behind."
Edna called through the door, "Natalie and Tootie will be here tonight."
"Good for them."
"Jo, please," Edna begged, "just talk to me for a minute."
Jo turned on the faucet and checked the temperature. "There's nothing to talk about," she said. "Blair's dead." There. She'd gotten it out. "We're born, we die, we move on." She stepped into the shower and pulled back the curtain.
When she emerged from the bathroom fifteen minutes later, she wasn't surprised to see the persistent woman sitting on Blair's bed. "Is there anything I can say to change your mind?" Mrs. Garrett said.
"All right." Edna nodded her acquiescence. "It'll be a little awkward, but I'll tell Mr. Parker."
"Mr. Parker?" Jo asked. "What's he got to do with it?"
"The Warners asked Eastland to designate someone to speak on behalf of Blair's friends. Mr. Parker chose you."
"You're listed in the program," Mrs. G said. "Friends of Blair Warner, represented by Joanna Marie Polniaczek."
"He had no right!" Jo exclaimed.
Tiredly, Edna got to her feet. "Think about how humiliating it would be for Blair, her best friend not showing up at her funeral," she said.
"We weren't best friends."
Mrs. Garrett shrugged. "Well, I guess it doesn't matter now anyway."
"He had no right," Jo said again.
"Maybe not," Edna agreed. "He thought you cared about Blair."
"I do care!" Jo said. "I mean what would I say, anyway? That she was a stuck up air-brained snob who drove me nuts? Is that what he wants to hear?"
There was no reply.
Storming across the room, Jo continued, "We never got along for more than five minutes! I'm the last person Blair would want talking about her."
Edna watched her pace.
Finally, Jo closed her eyes. "He had no right," she sighed.
Edna made her way down the stairs to the phone, where she dialed a number by heart. "Mr. Parker?" she said. "Edna Garrett. Go ahead and give them Jo's name. She'll do it."
Jo re-read the last few lines she had scribbled. Blair always looked great. Girls wanted to be her. Guys wanted to do her.
She crumpled the sheet and tossed it on the ground next to the others.
"This isn't going to work," she announced.
Mrs. Garrett paused in her ironing. "Well, what would you say to Blair if she were here now?"
"Get your stuff outta my space."
A familiar refrain. "Is that really what you'd say?" the older woman asked gently.
Jo did not reply.
Two days later, she reached behind her to draw up the zipper on her formal dress. The Warners had been real nice, telling Jo to take any of Blair's stuff that she liked. "She would have wanted you to have it," Monica Warner had said, which almost made Jo laugh. She couldn't deny the truth of that statement. Blair's dying wish probably would have been for Jo to replace her entire wardrobe.
But Jo did not want to spend the next few years looking at herself in the mirror and seeing Blair Warner. One exception was this black knee-length. Blair had offered to let her wear it before, and Jo couldn't really afford something classy on her own. She was speaking as Blair's friend. Blair would expect her to look nice. Jo picked up a gold necklace that Blair liked with a little heart on it and hooked it behind her neck.
According to the Times, the Secretary of State was going to be there. Lee Iacocca. John DeLorean. Everyone who was anyone in the business world would be paying respects to David Warner and his only daughter. Jo wasn't there for that bunch, though. She was there to talk to Blair's schoolmates. Her friends.
As each memorial ended, Jo grew more nervous. Were these guys professionals or something? They were used to big audiences, she supposed. She wasn't. And worse, she was second-guessing her whole speech. It seemed okay when she did the outline, but now it seemed a little . . . .
Oh, well. She was through with Eastland, and, she had decided, Langley as well. She might apply at some other places, but not the college she had planned to attend with Blair, that she and Blair had spent a couple of afternoons touring together. Jo was seeing most of these people for the last time today. Who cared.
Too soon, it was her turn. Tootie squeezed the back of Jo's hand as she started toward the platform.
Gripping the podium with both hands, Jo cleared her throat. "Uh, yeah," she said. "Those of you who knew me and Blair probably wonder what I'm doin' up here. Heck if I know." She scanned the crowd, spotting dozens of familiar faces from the past three years. "You've already heard about Blair's accomplishments, the awards she won and all that. I didn't know about a lot of that stuff she did for charity. Go figure."
"Anyway, I'm not here to talk about that stuff."
Just get it over with.
"Blair and I were from different planets, and we didn't always get along," Jo said. "I said a lot of things to her over the years that I wish I hadn't. So today I've decided to say some things I wish I had."
This was tougher than she thought. Jo tried to pretend she was talking to herself in an empty room.
"I never told you that I was the one who wrote that in the men's room at Bates," she said. "I wouldn't have done it if I'd known how many guys were going to call. If it helps, I did beat up that one guy. I was just a little steamed 'cause you put jelly on my handlebars. After I soaked bolt assemblies in your face cream. After you short-sheeted my bed. Anyway, sorry about all that."
Edna remembered it well, especially the mysterious little grin on Blair's face as she strolled back inside the house with a jar of grape jelly and a butter knife. How many of those little tiffs had the other housemates endured over the years? Life would be missing something without them.
"I never told you thanks for not blabbin' to Mr. Parker about you-know-what." Jo's gaze flickered over to the headmaster. "You don't wanna know," she said.
Jo moved on to the next item on her list. "I never told you that you're smart. I might even have called you 'air brain' a few times--"
"A few hundred times," Natalie whispered to Tootie.
"but ya know, I was just tryin' to push your buttons."
"Mission accomplished," Tootie whispered back.
"'cause pushin' your buttons was fun," Jo said. "You were fun. A lot, really. I never told you that."
She looked down at her outline, although she already knew what it said. "I never told you that you're pretty." Jo fingered the necklace. "But you didn't need to hear that from me. Every guy in New York broke his neck when you walked into a room."
Tootie nodded her agreement.
"I never told you that you're a good roommate," Jo went on. "Yeah, you took up the whole closet, and you left your stuff out on my bed, and you melted my toothpaste with your hair dryer, but you made things interesting."
"Amen," Natalie murmured.
"I never told you that you're a good friend. My best friend." Jo looked out at the Eastland section. "And it wasn't just me. I don't know how many times girls came to see you, wantin' advice about clothes, and boyfriends, and just about everything else. A lot of girls looked up to you."
"I never told you that . . . ." Jo swallowed. She stalled for a moment, taking a deep breath and shuffling her notes until she could continue. ". . . that I love you. And I'm gonna miss ya, Princess."
She made her way back to her seat as quickly as she could, not really listening to the rest of the proceedings. Against her wishes, she let Tootie drag her into the respects line, and, after brief hugs with David and Monica and Blair's half-sister Meg, Jo laid her hands against the dark wooden lid. "Damn it, Blair," she said. She walked away.
The last remaining box of Blair's belongings was still sitting on the dining room table when Jo kicked off her shoes that evening. Once again, she was drawn to it, but this time she wouldn't put it off. Pulling up a chair, she reached in and drew out a diary. Blair Warner, Age 12.
What would Blair want her to do with these? She hadn't given them to the Warners, in case there was stuff in there that Blair didn't want her folks to know. Should she throw them away? Should she read them? On the one hand, it was personal. On the other hand, Blair loved talking about herself she might relish one last opportunity.
A few pages into her reading, Jo wasn't surprised to hear the door open and a suitcase land on the floor behind her. She hadn't really expected Mrs. Garrett to stay in one of the Warner suites after Nat and Tootie left. Jo had seen the looks, the whispers when Mrs. G was talking to her mom or the girls. That's why she skipped out on the reception, sparing everyone pointless chatter and awkward goodbyes. They didn't seem to get it: There was nothing wrong with her. She didn't need that grief counseling bullshit the school nurse was pushing. She didn't want to talk about Blair or her death for the simple reason that there was nothing to talk about. Life goes on.
"I knew you'd look good in that, but it's not the best season."
Jo whirled around at the familiar voice.
"Looks like I got here just in time, but I'll need help with my bags." Blair pointed behind her toward the porch. "I have a new two-piece that'll work with your hair. Or at least draw attention away from it."
In utter shock, Jo gaped at the woman standing inside the door.
Blair broke the silence with a tart, "Earth to Jo . . . My bags?"
Finally able to move, Jo raced across the room and threw her arms around her friend. Blair, in the flesh. Alive.
Trapped in a bear hug, the blonde laughed. "Bored, were we?"
Jo kept a firm grip on Blair's arms as she stepped back. "What the hell happened to you?" she asked.
"Well, if I'd known you were going to be that worried, I would have called," Blair said. "I decided to stay in Miami a few more days with a new friend. A gorgeous friend, I might add. We saw Rodin, and went scuba diving, and"
"You said you were flying up here."
An expensive Gucci bag dropped onto the table. "I was, but since you weren't going to be here, I figured it didn't matter. As you pointed out, it's not like I had a job to get back to."
"The airline said you were on the plane," Jo persisted. "What did you do with your ticket?"
"I gave it to a rather obnoxious young woman." She added with a smirk, "She reminded me of someone."
"Have you been watching the news?"
"Are you kidding?" Blair scoffed. "Didn't you hear me say that he was gorgeous?"
Jo took hold of the blonde's shoulders. "Blair," she said, "the plane crashed."
Blair seemed confused. "What?"
"It crashed," Jo repeated. "Everyone was killed." She gestured toward the black dress. "I just got back from your funeral."
"What?" The color drained from Blair's face. "All those people?"
"On impact, they said."
"That girl . . . ." Blair seemed shaken up. "She's . . . ?"
Jo squeezed her arms. "Don't beat yourself up, Blair. I'm sure she was happy when you gave her the ticket."
"She was," Blair said. "I didn't know . . . ."
"Of course not."
Perplexed, Blair asked, "They thought she was me? We didn't look anything alike."
"The plane exploded, Blair," Jo said. "Most of the bodies were . . . ." Charred, the TV reporters liked to call it. She spared Blair the details.
"I need to sit down."
Good idea, Jo decided.
"We will . . . we will . . . I know . . . ." Blair rolled her eyes at Jo. ". . . I know . . . I love you, too . . . okay . . . ." Hanging up the phone, she said, "If we're not down there first thing in the morning, they're sending the national guard."
Jo didn't blame them. If she'd been the one to get the call, she would have been on her bike already to see for herself. Affection or relief or whatever it was surged through her, and Jo reached out impulsively to hug Blair again. "You tell anyone about this and you're dead," she said into Blair's throat. She pulled back abruptly. "Crap I didn't mean that."
"I know that," Blair chuckled. She sat on the couch and patted the seat beside her. "Are you going to treat me with kid gloves now?"
"I don't know," Jo sighed. "It's just been so weird."
Blair brightened. "Let's talk about something else," she said. "How was your weekend with Tony? I want details, starting with where you slept."
"I didn't go."
"I thought you were coming, so I canceled."
"You canceled Tony to be with me?"
Had her emotions been on even keel, Jo would have let loose some stinging retort. Instead, she leaned back into Blair and admitted, "I was even kinda looking forward to it."
"Really?" Her roommate was pleased, Jo could tell. She felt Blair's fingers toy lightly with her hair. "Well, since we're being honest," Blair said, "my closet didn't really need organizing. I was coming to Peekskill to see you."
Wending their fingers together, the women lapsed into a comfortable silence. Eventually, Blair said, "We have to be up early. My parents and Mrs. Garrett expect us at the crack of dawn." She maneuvered herself out from behind Jo.
Jo grinned to herself. Typical Blair, assuming that Jo would be available simply because Blair wanted her to be. "You know, I do work," she said. "And I missed today for a funeral."
Blair gasped. "Does that mean you can't go?"
"Nah, Hauser'll let me go," Jo relented. "He liked you for some reason. Senility, maybe."
Later, in their old room, Jo could tell that Blair wasn't asleep either. After sleeping next to her for three years, she knew her roommate's breathing patterns intimately.
"Blair?" she said quietly.
Now what? Jo debated what to say, finally chickening out with a bland, "Nothing." But too much had built up over the past few days to leave it at that, and after another silence, she said, "I thought you were dead."
"Did you ever feel like you got a second chance on something?"
"Yes," Blair said. "I was almost on that plane."
Jo hadn't thought of it that way. "There's some things I wanna say, but . . . ."
Blair rolled onto her side, although without Tootie's nightlight it was too dark to see each other. "But what?"
"But I don't want to be laughed at," Jo said. "This isn't funny to me."
"It hurt," Jo said simply. "I felt empty."
True to her promise, no derision came from the other bed.
"I love you, Blair."
A moment passed, and then Blair got up and walked over to Jo's bed. Instinctively, Jo raised the sheet. Blair crawled in and lay her head on Jo's shoulder.
"Now I won't wake up and think it was a dream," Jo said.
Blair slid a palm across Jo's chest, sighing contentedly. "This won't last," she said.
"Nope," Jo agreed.
"Tomorrow we'll be back to the way we were."
Jo grinned. "Yep."
"With one big difference."
"We got schmaltzy?"
"And we will have done this." Blair raised herself until her face was directly above Jo's.
Jo's heart thudded as she realized what Blair was contemplating. Oh, man! she thought. Oh, yeah . . . .
An eternity later, Blair's lips met hers. Jo closed her eyes to savor the experience. So sweet . . . so hot. She curled a hand behind Blair's neck and pressed their mouths together.
Jo panicked for an instant when she awoke the next morning to find the bed beside her empty. But no, Blair's bed was messed up, and there were her clothes. She was back. They had spent the night holding each other and kissing. Things were as they were supposed to be.
She found her missing roommate in the kitchen.
"I was just about to call you," Blair said. "I made my specialty. Grab the milk."
Jo complied with the order, grateful for the reprieve in having to say anything. She wasn't sure what she would say.
"Warner Oatmeal I should market this!" The blonde spooned sugar into her bowl.
"With or without fingernails?"
Blair smiled sweetly at her roommate. "Whichever you prefer, Miss Long Memory. But today you'll have to settle for raisins."
There was no other banter as Blair caught upon her stocks in the Times and Jo tried to concentrate on events in Beirut. It could have been any other morning, Jo mused, except that it wasn't.
Blair carried their bowls over to the sink for a quick rinse. Over her shoulder, she said, "I'll shower first. It might take me longer to get ready."
"Well, if all I did was throw a random t-shirt over my head, I suppose I could be ready in three minutes, too," Blair countered.
Jo trailed after her. "Sounds good to me."
"Unfortunately, I suffer from that pesky little 'self-pride' problem that has never afflicted you," Blair said.
Heading for the shower, Jo couldn't help sneaking peeks at the curvy blonde as she stood in front of her closet in bra and panties, mulling over her options. Jo tossed the paper and the latest Newsweek on her bed. She'd have plenty of time to get through both of them while Blair went through her morning ritual.
When the phone rang, Jo answered it in Mrs. G's room, then carried the cordless into the bedroom to check on Blair's status.
"Noon? Noon tomorrow, maybe," she told Mrs. G. "Blair's got another five layers to put on."
"Pardon me for wanting to look my best," Blair said as she skillfully manipulated an eyeliner pencil.
"Blair, your folks thought you were dead," Jo pointed out. "You can't look worse than that."
"Why, thank you," Blair replied. "I look better than a corpse. How kind."
On the other end of the line, Mrs. Garrett chuckled. "Everything back to normal, I see."
Jo watched Blair's motions. She'd never realized before that putting makeup on could be sexy. "Sort of," she equivocated.
Blair studied the row of lipsticks in front of her. She twisted first one container and then another, finally choosing a shade. "Jo, come here," she called over.
"Gotta go," Jo said. "I've been summoned."
Blair laid the silver tube on the counter as Jo approached.
"Just this." She leaned in and gave Jo a quick kiss. "There. Now I won't have to redo my lipstick."
Okay, that was it. They had to talk about this. "Blair . . . ."
"Mm?" Blair pursed her lips in the mirror as she drew rose-colored lines across them.
"What's going on?"
"What was last night?"
Pressing her lips together, Blair slid the lid back onto the tube. "A first date, I'd say."
After three years of living together? Jo tried to assess the implications. "You mean we're, like, gonna start dating?" she asked.
"I think that would be best," Blair said. "Discreetly, of course."
Jo frowned. Keeping it quiet she didn't mind. But after all these years, she knew what Blair's idea of dating was: Two hours of guys getting all hot and bothered, then leaving with just a few kisses on the doorstep. Jo was very aware of how her body had responded to her friend's softness last night, especially when, without conscious intent, she had rolled Blair onto her back and moved on top of her to deepen their kisses. Blair's hands caressing her back through her pajama top had just about driven her wild.
"Okay," she agreed. Jo wondered if she would get in trouble for asking the question. "So . . . ."
"Yesssss?" Blair asked impishly.
Stalling, Jo asked, "How long you gonna stick around?"
"A few days at least," Blair said. "I would stay longer, but Mrs. Garrett might wonder."
Mrs. Garrett would most definitely wonder.
"So . . . ," Jo said again. She pictured the two of them alone in their room the next few nights, no light sleepers nearby.
"Jo Polniaczek, are you suggesting something?"
"No, I just" What the heckyes, she was. By her calculations, they'd had about seven hundred dates. "Yeah, actually, I am." Jo walked over and grabbed Blair around the waist, capturing her mouth in a passionate kiss. As Blair's arms draped around her neck, Jo pressed their bodies together. "Your bed tonight," she said. She liked the idea of doing dirty things to Blair under that flowery comforter.
When the embrace ended, Blair rested her head against Jo's chest for a moment. "Well!" she finally said. "Now I'll have to do my lipstick again." She stepped back, trying to calm her breathing. "Barbarian."
"Get used to it," Jo growled. "Go fix your face, Princess." A thought occurred to her, and she added, "If you want to. You look just fine without it, you know." Boldly, she ran a palm across Blair's hip. "And if you put that stuff on, I can't follow you into the bathroom when we get there and kiss your brains out."
"Well, someone certainly has sex on the brain," Blair declared. As Jo grinned at her, she reached for a tissue and wiped off her mouth. "But if you expect more kissing, we'll just have to see if you can behave yourself in front of my parents."
"I thought we were supposed to act normal," Jo said.
Blair considered her words. "Good point," she said. "You act boorish and uncivilized, and I'll be long-suffering and disturbed."
"You're disturbed, all right," Jo said.
"And you won't be acting."
They smiled at each other and started for the door. As she passed her roommate's bed, Jo reached down and pressed against it with her palm, waggling her eyebrows at Blair as the bedsprings squeaked.
Blair swatted her shoulder. "Pervert."
"Just you wait . . . ."
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