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: Common Ground: Chapter 15. Quotes in italics are direct quotes from the Facts of Life Series, Season 3, Episode 5, Front Page.
THANKS: To Stacey for the Beta, assistance in story and character development, encouragement, and meticulous attention to detail.
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15: Absence of Malice
"Thank you for assisting in this matter, Gail. I find it much more desirable to have a female faculty member conduct this type of interview."
Miss Gallagher smiled compassionately at the embarrassed headmaster. Mr. Parker spent ninety percent of his time trying to avoid scandal of any kind and the current situation had thrown the normally complacent man into action. He stopped pacing when Mrs. King walked into his office with Annie Perkins.
Miss Gallagher immediately attempted to put the young student at ease.
"Hi, Annie, you're not in any trouble. Mr. Parker and I need some information and we were hoping that you might be able to help us. Do you mind answering a few questions for me?"
"I'm not in any trouble?"
Mr. Parker spoke up for the first time.
"No, Annie. Nothing you tell Miss Gallagher is going to get you into any trouble. I'm going to wait in the outer office with Mrs. King while the two of you talk."
Once in the outer office, Mr. Parker resumed pacing. He had been at Eastland for two years and had been the headmaster of another, less prestigious school, for six years before that. He had never encountered a situation where a teacher had acted inappropriately with a student and felt ill-equipped to handle it.
The contemplative headmaster was jarred from his thoughts by the loud banging sound created when someone entered the administrative offices and slammed the door behind them. Before turning to glare at whoever had made such a nuisance of themselves, Mr. Parker glanced toward his secretary. Mrs. King's physical injuries had healed, but loud noises sometimes caused his steadfast secretary to flinch. The look on Mrs. King's face indicated that she was more disturbed by the intruder than by the sound, so Mr. Parker painted on his most austere expression before turning to greet his guest.
As soon as Mr. Parker recognized Robert Gideon, he looked questioningly at his secretary, who shook her head, removing any possibility that Mr. Gideon had been invited.
"What are you doing here, Robert?"
Robert Gideon pulled back his shoulders in an attempt to increase his height.
"I want you to contact the disciplinary committee."
Mr. Parker's face remained placid, revealing nothing of his opinion.
"May I ask why?"
"Jo Polniaczek has been behaving disrespectfully in class. Earlier today, she slammed her books on her desk and mumbled profanities under her breath." Before Mr. Parker could respond, Miss Gallagher and Annie came into the outer office. Robert Gideon took one look at his student's tear-stained face and felt as if the floor had suddenly dropped twenty feet beneath him.
Mr. Gideon took one step toward the student before Miss Gallagher stepped in front of Annie. Unlike Mr. Parker, Gail made no effort to disguise her disdain. Mr. Parker lightly touched Robert's arm and drew the teacher's attention.
"Robert, go on into my office. We have some things we need to discuss."
Robert turned back toward Gail, his bright red face distorted with rage.
"You! I should have known that you were behind this!"
Before things could escalate further, Mrs. King wrapped her arm around Annie's trembling shoulders and led the student toward the hallway.
"Come with me, Annie. We can stop by the restroom where you can wash your face and then I'll call your dorm mother so that she can come and walk you back to your room."
Miss Gallagher was a tall, athletic woman, but she stepped back when Mr. Gideon leaned toward her. There was something maniacal in his eyes and Gail thought the man might be coming unhinged. Mr. Parker quickly inserted himself between the two teachers and extended his arm toward his private office. The headmaster released a sigh of relief when Mr. Gideon walked into the office.
Mr. Gideon threw the disciplinary report he had been carrying across the room and raised his voice toward Gail.
"So, this is it, right? You couldn't pin anything on me related to Polniaczek, so now you're going to use Annie against me. Nothing happened between us. If she said it did, she's lying."
Mr. Parker intervened.
"Socializing with students is against our rules here at Eastland, Mr. Gideon."
"What about Polniaczek and Gallagher? They practically hold hands when they walk around campus together. I don't see you doing anything about them."
Mr. Parker rarely lost his temper, but he'd had all he could take of Robert Gideon.
"Sit down and shut up, Robert, or I'll make you wish you had."
Mr. Parker looked at Gail, his question obvious. Gail shook her head. Annie had denied having any sexual contact with her teacher. Gail suspected that given enough time, Annie would be willing to be more truthful, but the young student was too terrified of her parents' reaction to the situation to confirm any of Gail's suspicions. Gail lowered her head, disappointed that she couldn't provide Mr. Parker with more ammunition to use against Mr. Gideon.
Mr. Parker reached for the intercom and pressed a button.
"Mrs. King, are you there?"
A moment later, Mrs. King popped her head inside the door.
"How may I help you, Mr. Parker?"
"Mr. Gideon needs a resignation letter."
Mrs. King didn't miss a beat before entering the office, a smug expression on her face and a clipboard in her hand.
"I took the liberty of preparing this earlier. You can sign at the bottom, Mr. Gideon."
Gail didn't smile, it wasn't a funny situation, but Mrs. King had forever gained the young teacher's admiration. Mrs. King's actions had the opposite effect on Mr. Gideon.
"You expect me to sign this?"
Mr. Parker leaned forward from behind his desk.
"This doesn't have to get ugly, Robert. If I didn't suspect that you'd try to ruin Miss Perkins' reputation, and that of Miss Polniaczek, I'd make it impossible for you to get any type of job, ever again. As it is, I promise you that I'll personally make as many phone calls as necessary to ensure that you never set foot in another classroom. Be grateful that you're getting off this easily."
Mr. Gideon gripped the pen so tightly when he signed his resignation letter that it broke, spilling ink over the irate teacher's fingers. Gideon threw the letter onto Mr. Parker's desk and turned to leave.
"Wait a minute, Robert. I need your keys."
Gideon's face contorted into an ugly mask as he turned on the headmaster.
"I have personal belongings in my classroom. I have a right to gather them."
"Very well. Pack up your things tomorrow morning before classes begin and then bring me your set of master keys."
Once Mr. Gideon was out of the office area, Mr. Parker shook his head.
"Good riddance. I'm glad that's over."
Gail nervously wrung her hands together.
"I hope so."
Tootie cringed as Jo threw another plate into the bin the young girl was holding.
"Mrs. Garrett, I oughta get combat pay for working with her."
Jo ignored Tootie's jab and continued to attack the dinnerware as she cleared the cafeteria tables. Her head was pounding with images of Gideon laughing at her.
"I'll mangle that creep. That slime. That ivy league sewer rat."
Mrs. Garrett winced at the sound of more plates clattering into the bin.
"Okay, okay, but what did those poor dishes ever do to you?"
Natalie, ignoring the advice she had given Blair that morning, tried to calm Jo down.
"Jo, don't be upset just because Mr. Gideon wasn't crazy about your story."
Jo almost growled in response, punctuating her feelings toward Mr. Gideon by forcefully throwing another plate toward the bin Tootie was carrying. Blair, who sometimes mixed up her words on the few occasions when she was extremely nervous, tried to explain part of the reason for Jo's anger.
"It isn't that. Jo's mad because he made her look stupid in front of the whole class. He should have done that in private."
As soon as she finished the sentence, Blair visibly scrunched her eyes in anguish - that wasn't the way she had intended her comment to come out. Jo, seeing her girlfriend's facial expression, slowly calmed, her voice softening slightly. As upset as Jo had been about Gideon's treatment of her, she was grateful that Blair had not also been a target of the abrasive teacher's bullying.
"He wants me to start from scratch with a new story."
Tootie, who wanted to participate in the conversation, but who didn't have anything to contribute, tried to be funny.
"He's so cute and yet so cruel."
Mrs. Garrett frowned at the younger girl and drew Jo's attention. The well-intentioned nutritionist never even considered the possibility that one of the teachers at the prestigious girls' academy would be capable of bullying a student.
"Jo, if you're having a problem with Mr. Gideon, go and talk to him about it."
"What's the point? He doesn't listen to me anyway."
Jo had given up on trying to impress Gideon.
Jo's thoughts were interrupted by Mrs. G., who was still trying to be encouraging.
"Then write that new story he asked for. Let that do the talking for you."
Jo inwardly groaned; Mrs. G. was only trying to help, but someone as nice as her house mother would never understand the hateful nature of someone like Gideon. While Jo continued to scrub at nonexistent stains on the tables, Tootie whispered to Mrs. Garrett.
"Mrs. Garrett, there's a little chip out of this one."
Edna Garrett glanced at the hot-headed brunette and then into the bin, noting the broken plates.
"I think we got off cheap."
Tootie nodded her agreement, grateful that all the plates had been cleared and that she had been unscathed by Jo's aggressive cleanup activities. Blair, who normally wouldn't have welcomed a visit from one of Jo's admirers, was relieved to see the cheerful delivery boy enter the cafeteria. After all, Roy was completely harmless and his positive mood might rub off on Jo.
"Hello lovelies . . . loveliest."
Natalie smiled at Blair and pointed her thumb toward Roy, who was shamelessly ogling Blair's girlfriend.
"Do you believe this guy?"
The possessive blonde decided to see if Roy could be tempted away from the object of his attention. She smiled sweetly as she sashayed over to the besotted young man.
"Isn't it a little late for one of your deliveries, Roy?"
Roy completely ignored the beautiful blonde's subtle overture and remained fixated on Jo.
"Oh, I'm not here on business. This visit is strictly social."
Jo had too much on her shoulders to worry about hurting Roy's feelings.
"Roy, I'm not in a good mood. I'm angry and I'm upset. Do you understand?"
Roy, who had already proven himself as someone who couldn't take a hint, continued the conversation as if Jo had welcomed him with open arms.
"It's just that I had some news that might interest you."
"Roy, a half price sale on Yamahas wouldn't interest me right now."
Jo turned and walked away from the irritating boy, intent on leaving the room, when Roy said something that stopped her in her tracks.
"It's about Mr. Gideon."
Jo's mood instantly changed. She was no longer lost in a fog of rage, her mind was clear and focused as she carefully questioned Roy.
"What about him?"
"I thought we could talk about it over pizza. It loosens my tongue."
Blair felt her heart crack when she saw the dangerous look on Jo's face. Roy might think Jo was kidding with him, but Blair knew that her girlfriend was deadly serious. Jo rarely used the death glare she was giving Roy.
"And I'm gonna loosen some teeth."
"All right. Your Mr. Gideon was caught at a raid at a coke party . . . and I don't mean the kind of coke that things go better with."
Roy snickered at his joke, but Jo remained stoic. Jo wasn't sure that she was going to be able to keep her scholarship once she failed Gideon's class, but she'd feel a hell of a lot better about leaving Eastland if she could take Gideon down with her.
"It happened last night. Look, my brother is a policeman at Woods Glen. He told me about it."
Roy filled Jo, Blair, and Natalie in on the details of Mr. Gideon's arrest. Natalie and Blair were shocked, neither quite sure she believed Roy's story, but Jo latched on to Roy's account of the drug raid as if she were clinging to a life raft.
"Look, Roy, keep this information to yourself. We wouldn't want it to get out."
After Jo gently pushed Roy out of the cafeteria, Blair smiled admiringly at her girlfriend. Jo wasn't reverting to her old ways after all. Her heroic girlfriend was going to take the high road.
"That was a very noble gesture, Jo, protecting Mr. Gideon like that. I'm impressed."
Natalie, who had witnessed the worst of Mr. Gideon's bullying the week Blair was away, found Jo's attitude incomprehensible.
Jo smirked at her roommates. This was the opportunity she'd been looking for.
"I'm not gonna let the Peekskill papers print a sensational, scandalous story like that."
Blair breathed a sigh of relief. Taking action against a teacher could do Jo more harm than good. Private schools didn't like to air their dirty laundry in public.
Jo's smirk turned into a sneer.
"Our paper's gonna print it."
Natalie, realizing the implications of Jo's plan on her own future at Eastland, balked.
"We can't do that."
"Yes, we can. We've got editorial control of the paper, remember? Gideon told me to find a new story, well I got one . . . and what's a better story than a teacher being busted for cocaine?"
Jo tapped her hockey stick against the sidewalk as she walked toward the gym. 'Maybe Blair's right. Maybe the system will take care of Gideon. Maybe things really are different here at Eastland. Maybe I don't have to be so hard in order to survive here.'
Jo Polniaczek was having a rough day and it didn't look like it was going to get any better. Her journalism teacher had humiliated her that morning. The one teacher Jo always looked forward to seeing each day, Gail Gallagher, was mysteriously absent, and Blair Warner had been avoiding Jo ever since they had returned from New York over a week ago.
Jo wasn't too concerned about Blair's behavior. She and Blair had recently connected on a level that made Jo feel more secure about her relationship with Blair than she had ever felt with anyone else, even her parents. She missed their visits to Cooper's Rock, but Jo was determined not to be clingy. If Blair needed space in order to sort through her feelings about her mother's illness, Jo was determined to give it to her.
Gideon was a different matter altogether. Jo had tried everything she knew to try in order to gain his approval, but nothing had worked. After his brutish behavior that morning, Jo had resolved to stop trying to win Gideon over and instead try to figure out a way to lash back. Jo considered it good fortune that Roy had stopped by the cafeteria and handed her all the information she needed to get Gideon off of her back once and for all.
Of all the things that had transpired that day, the thing that concerned Jo most was the look of disappointment on Blair's face as the naïve blonde had tried to convince Jo not to expose Gideon's arrest in the school newspaper. The idea that Blair would be repulsed by the darker side of Jo's nature gnawed at Jo's heart. Blair was like Mrs. G. Neither of them had been exposed to the type of men Jo had dealt with in her young life. Neither of them could possibly understand a man like Gideon.
Jo was glad that she had an excuse to leave the cafeteria after dinner. She needed time to sort through her thoughts and physical activity always made the star athlete feel better. Jo needed to let off some steam before making her decision about the newspaper article and there was no better way to do that than by playing field hockey. Jo stomped toward the gym locker room looking forward to pulverizing something with her hockey stick. One of her teammates, Marissa, was waiting by the door to the gym when Jo arrived. Cindy and Coach Cooper soon joined them and the coach unlocked the door. The girls were chatting about an upcoming scrimmage game when Marissa suddenly stopped, her face turning a ghostly shade of pale. Jo reached out a hand to steady her teammate.
"Hey, Marissa, are you okay?"
Jo followed Marissa's gaze to her locker and saw the reason for her teammate's pallor. Jo struggled to compose herself as Cindy and Coach Cooper entered the locker room and fell silent as soon as they saw Jo's locker.
Marissa placed her hand on Jo's shoulder.
"It's jealousy, Jo. You're a fantastic athlete and someone is jealous. That's the only explanation. No one is going to believe it's true."
Tears filled Cindy's eyes as she turned to her coach.
"Who would do such a thing?"
Coach Cooper glared at Jo's locker, placing her hand to her throat in shock. Coach Cooper stared back and forth between the keys in her hand and Jo's locker for several seconds, trying to come up with a logical explanation as to how something like this had happened.
Since Cindy and Jo both seemed too stunned to move, the coach turned to Marissa.
"Marissa, please meet the other girls at the door and tell them that practice has been cancelled."
"And Marissa ."
"I know, Coach. Not a word. I promise."
Marissa left and Coach Cooper placed a comforting hand on Jo's shoulder. The brunette hadn't spoken a word since seeing her locker with the word 'DYKE' painted across the front in huge gold letters.
"Jo, I want you and Cindy to go to my office while I take care of this."
"It's my locker, Coach. It's my responsibility."
"It wasn't a request, Jo. Look at Cindy, she can barely stand. Please take her to my office and see if you can calm her down. She's very upset."
Jo turned her attention from her locker to her teammate. Cindy looked sick. Jo walked over to the smaller blonde and placed her arm around Cindy's waist to help the other girl stand, but Cindy jerked away from her.
"Don't touch me, Jo. People might be watching."
"Aw, Cindy. Don't act this way, you need help."
Cindy began sobbing and Jo half carried her friend to the coach's office, deciding that helping Cindy was more important than helping Coach Cooper clean up the mess.
Several minutes later, Marissa joined Cindy and Jo in Coach Cooper's office.
"Look, Jo. When we find out who did this, we'll make them pay, won't we, Cindy?"
Cindy nodded her head as she continued to cry.
"Thanks, Marissa, but I can fight my own battles."
Marissa lightly punched Jo in the arm.
"We're a team, Polniaczek. We stick together. I'm going to do the same for you that you would do for me if that crap showed up on my locker."
Coach Cooper's voice boomed from the doorway.
"You're not going to do anything, Marissa. You are the only three students who know about this and I expect it to stay that way. Do you understand?"
All three girls nodded, but Marissa corrected her coach.
"There's one other student who knows about it, Coach, whoever did it."
Coach Cooper rubbed at her eyes, emotionally drained.
"Girls, it's important that you not say anything. It will make it easier for me to identify the culprit."
The coach sat down beside Jo and tried to make eye contact, but Jo kept her gaze focused firmly on the floor.
"Jo, I know this has been especially difficult for you. If you need ."
"I don't need anything, Coach. I'm not afraid of the coward who did this."
Coach Cooper sighed. She wasn't surprised by Jo's reaction, but she hoped that Jo had someone with whom she could talk about her feelings.
"Jo, when I said that I didn't want you girls to tell anyone about this, I didn't mean that you shouldn't talk to someone like Mrs. Garrett. She's one of the best listeners I know."
Jo nodded, but refused to look directly at her coach. Because Cindy was so distraught, Marissa agreed to walk the dazed blonde back to her dorm and Jo returned to the cafeteria alone. During the walk back to Mrs. Garrett's, Jo made up her mind about writing the newspaper article. She couldn't do anything about what had happened to her locker, but she could check out Roy's story as soon as she got back to the lounge, and if it checked out, Robert Gideon would be history.
Blair anxiously bit her nails as Jo spoke with the Woods Glen Police Sergeant. Although Jo hadn't elaborated as to why field hockey practice had been cancelled, Blair could tell that something was terribly wrong. Jo's temper had cooled before she left for practice, but upon returning her volatile girlfriend was more agitated than ever.
"Thanks a lot, Sergeant, that's all I needed to know."
Natalie held out little hope after Jo hung up the telephone.
"There's no mistake?"
Blair had literally been wringing her hands while Jo interviewed the Sergeant. She had good reason to worry. Jo was about to attack Mr. Gideon in a very public way, a way that would reflect very badly on Mr. Parker. If only Miss Gallagher had been able to get results sooner, Blair felt they could have avoided any scandal.
"I still say there's a simple explanation to this whole thing."
"Sure. He did it and he got caught. It's my sacred duty as a reporter to make a disgusting spectacle of him."
Blair was desperate. Not only was Jo furiously typing the story, the angry brunette appeared to be enjoying it.
"This has nothing to do with being a reporter, Jo. All you want is revenge."
Jo ignored Blair's complaints. Her over-privileged girlfriend had been born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Blair couldn't possibly understand that the only way to deal with a creep like Gideon was to beat him at his own game.
"All right, how does this sound as a headline? 'Teacher Busted in Cocaine Raid'."
Natalie was becoming more and more uncomfortable with the situation. Jo was smart, but Blair knew a lot more about how things worked at Eastland than Jo and the heiress appeared very distressed.
"I'm not exactly sure about this story. I mean, there may not be room for it in the paper this month. Maybe some other month? Maybe some other year?"
Blair immediately tried to take advantage of Natalie's indecision. If she couldn't get through to her hard-headed girlfriend, perhaps she could convince Natalie to postpone printing the story until Miss Gallagher and Mr. Parker had a chance to deal with Mr. Gideon privately.
"Natalie, you don't have to print it."
"Yes, she does. Remember the first amendment? We're talking about freedom of the press here. Think about it, Natalie."
"You'll be taking your place among the giants in journalism."
Completely frustrated, Blair voiced her greatest fear, for Jo and for Natalie.
"You'll be taking your place on a bus out of Eastland."
Natalie sat down, the weight of her roommates' opposing opinions weighing heavily on her shoulders. Blair pulled at Jo's elbow, hoping that she could influence Jo's decision better in private.
"Jo, I need to talk to you . . . alone."
As Jo and Blair walked up the stairs, Jo grumbled.
"You're not changing my mind, Princess. It's him or me. Can't you see that? One of us is going to have to leave Eastland. All I'm doing is improving my chances of staying."
Once they reached their bedroom, Blair closed and locked the door.
"You don't have to do this, Jo. Mr. Gideon isn't going to be able to fail you."
Jo's eyes narrowed as she considered her girlfriend's words. Jo hadn't told Blair that Gideon had been giving her failing grades. When Jo remained silent, Blair continued, her voice wavering with uncertainty.
"You don't have to do anything about Mr. Gideon, Jo, because . . . um, it's already being taken care of."
Although Jo didn't utter a sound, Blair could see the vein in the brunette's neck come to life.
"See . . . um, I knew he was being unfair and I ."
"That's not your call, Blair."
"Miss Gallagher agreed with me. She ."
"What the hell does Gail have to do with this?"
Blair stepped back, the vehemence in Jo's voice frightening her.
"I . . . I showed her your papers and she went to Mr. Parker and he's investigating Mr. Gideon's grading practices and once he finds out how you've been treated he'll force Mr. Gideon to ."
Blair was rushing through her words, blurting everything, until Jo screamed. Jo was deeply upset by the incident in the locker room and had been trying to suppress her anger and frustration, but all the bile that had built up inside of her that day came spilling out at once. Unfortunately for Blair, Jo's temper erupted toward her stunned girlfriend.
"How could you? How could you do this to me? How could you go behind my back and make a fool of me?"
"It's not like that, Jo."
"You lied to me!"
"No. I said I wouldn't go to Mrs. Garrett or Mr. Parker. I never said I wouldn't tell Miss Gallagher."
Jo shook her head, her eyes misting.
"You knew I didn't want you to say anything and you did it anyway. You didn't trust me to handle Gideon myself so you decided to do it for me."
"What? Jo, this has nothing to do with how much I trust you."
"It's not just that, Blair. You can't go around defending me all the time. People with think . . . they'll think . . . "
Jo didn't finish. She couldn't tell Blair all the reasons why Blair should stop interfering in her life. She wasn't ready to tell Blair about what had happened in the locker room.
The irrational brunette stormed past Blair, yanked her helmet from the closet, unlocked the door, and stormed out of the room.
'This is what she always does,' thought Blair, as she ran down the stairs after Jo. 'She runs away. She ran to Jessie when Sam hit her mother and wound up in a stupid gang. She ran to Eddie when she found out about Jack and almost married a boy she doesn't even love. She . . .'
An image of Jo sitting alone in Cynthia's empty dorm room crying for Gloria popped into Blair's mind.
'Not this time. No more running. Not from me. Not when she needs me.'
Blair raced out the front door and down the driveway. The road leading to Mrs. Garrett's driveway was bordered by large shrubbery, leaving only enough room for a single car to enter or exit the roadway. Blair could hear the tires of Jo's bike squeal as she placed herself in the center of the driveway and waited for Jo's motorcycle to exit the garage.
Jo clenched the hand brakes on her bike, sliding the rear wheel until the motorcycle was sideways. She glared at the frantic blonde blocking the driveway.
"Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
Blair grabbed the handlebars of Jo's bike and leaned forward to look Jo directly in the eyes.
"I have to talk to you."
Jo jerked her bike backwards and was shifting into first gear, ready to speed away when Blair raced around and jumped on the back of the motorcycle.
"I ain't in the mood to talk, Blair. Get off!"
Blair wrapped her arms around Jo's waist and held tight.
"No. I can't let you leave like this."
Jo turned her head just far enough so that her words could easily be heard.
"Blair, I'm warning you. Get off."
Blair placed her chin on Jo's shoulder, trying to increase the physical contact.
"I love you, Jo. I don't want to see you get hurt. Turn off the bike and talk to me. Please."
Jo glared ahead, refusing to look at Blair. Jo's feelings were too jumbled. She needed to get away. The last thing Jo wanted was for Blair to see her like this. Blair was already visibly shaken by Jo's earlier outburst. She needed to get as far away from Blair Warner as possible.
"I ain't in the mood for you, Blair. If you know what's good for you, you'll leave me alone."
"Jo, you aren't thinking clearly."
"There's nothing wrong with my thinking. Gideon is a scum-sucking sewer rat and I'm going to expose him to the world. You don't have to approve of it. You don't even have to know about it. You haven't been interested in anything else I've been doing, why are you so interested now?"
Blair was beginning to panic.
"Let me explain why I've been acting so distant. Please, Jo. Please give me a chance to explain."
Jo ignored Blair's pleas and revved the engine of her motorcycle.
"This is your last chance, Muffin Head."
Blair increased her grip moments before Jo gunned the bike, causing it to lurch forward. If Blair hadn't been holding so tightly to Jo's waist, she would have been thrown from the bike the instant Jo started. The frightened blonde closed her eyes and pressed her face against Jo's back as the bike swerved through Eastland's campus and toward the highway.
Jo raced the engine of her bike as her mind raced through the past few days. Not only had Blair deceived her, Gail had also hidden the truth. 'I must be a complete idiot,' thought Jo. 'Everyone here is trying to take care of me, Blair, Gail, Coach Cooper, even Cindy and Marissa feel sorry for me.'
Jo's thoughts were finally interrupted when, terrified that they were going to crash, Blair tried pleading with her girlfriend.
"Stop, Jo. You're frightening me."
Jo heard the fear in the debutante's voice and pulled over to the side of the road. Once the bike came to a complete stop, Jo growled out orders.
"Y'said you were scared. Get off."
"No. I won't leave you, Jo. I'll never leave you and I won't let you run away from me. If I have to break my neck on this stupid contraption in order for you to believe me, then that's what I'll do."
Jo closed her eyes. She knew that she was being unreasonable, but she couldn't help herself. After allowing Gideon to treat her like his personal punching bag for weeks, she finally had a way to get back at him and her girlfriend was acting as if Jo was the bully.
'She should be taking my side,' thought Jo. 'She should understand, but she can't. She'll never understand. She's too sweet to understand people like Gideon, or people who would anonymously attack someone the way I was blindsided in the locker room.'
Jo still didn't know why Blair had been avoiding her, but as her emotions calmed she knew it had nothing to do with how much Blair loved her. If there was one thing about which Jo felt certain, now that she was thinking more clearly, it was of her girlfriend's love. Jo tried once more to talk Blair into leaving her alone; the last thing the prideful brunette wanted was to wind up bawling her eyes out in front of Blair.
"You can't bear to be in the same room with me, Princess. Why are you still hanging on to me?"
Blair began to cry, but she never lessened her grip on Jo.
"I'm sorry. I've made a complete mess of everything. I thought I was helping you and now I've made everything worse."
Jo wanted to ignore the blonde, the same way Blair had ignored her, but she couldn't ignore someone who had latched themselves so firmly to her waist.
Jo drove her motorcycle back onto the road, this time driving slowly. Relief washed over Blair when she realized where Jo was taking them. As Jo drove up the half mile distance to the large oak tree that camouflaged the ledge beyond, she carefully weaved around the rough terrain, making the ride as smooth as possible. When she reached the top of the hill, Jo parked her bike in the shade of the oak tree at the top of Cooper's Rock and put down the kickstand before throwing her leg over the bike and walking away from the sniffling blonde.
Jo had calmed, but she was still angry. She was angry at Blair for going to Miss Gallagher behind her back, but she was furious at Gideon and the coward who had painted her locker. She kept her back to Blair as she jerked off her helmet and threw it to the ground. She didn't realize that the remorseful blonde was so close to her until she felt Blair's arms cradling her from behind. Jo tried to shrug loose, but Blair held tight.
"I gave both our journalism reports to Miss Gallagher and asked her if she thought the grades were fair."
Jo pushed Blair away and turned.
"Because he was giving me perfect scores for horrible reports and he was failing you. It's not fair."
Jo felt a tingle along her spine. 'How could I have forgotten about Blair's grades? Gideon's not giving her those scores outta the kindness of his heart. How could I have been so stupid?'
Jo balled her hand into a fist and struck the tree. The pain pulsing through her fingers felt so good that Jo considered hitting the tree again, but the sound of her girlfriend crying in the background brought her back to sanity.
The exhausted brunette turned and looked, really looked, at Blair for the first time since she had seen her girlfriend standing in Mrs. Garrett's driveway.
"Your hair looks like you stuck your finger in a lamp socket."
Still sniffling, Blair ran her fingers through her hair trying to comb out some of the tangles. That's when the impact of what had just happened hit Jo.
"Are you fucking crazy? What made you jump on the back of my bike without a helmet?"
Blair was weary of being apologetic. She glared at Jo as she continued her attempts to get her hair under control.
"There's no reason to hurl obscenities, Jo. And are you just now noticing that I'm not wearing a helmet?"
Jo looked down at her hand, noting the scrapes along her knuckles. Her anger toward Blair had begun to fade as soon as she realized that Blair was also being targeted by Gideon, just in a different way. The realization of how dangerous it had been for Blair to climb on the back of her bike while Jo was in such an unreasonable state frightened any lingering anger toward her girlfriend out of Jo.
"You shouldn't get on the bike when I'm mad. Promise you won't do it again."
Blair lifted her chin defiantly.
"I won't if you won't."
Jo looked into her girlfriend's red-rimmed eyes, grateful that Blair's hair appeared to be the only casualty of her reckless driving.
"Why did you do that? You could have gotten hurt."
"I needed to talk to you, Jo. I needed to explain."
Jo was on the verge of tears and her voice wavered.
"You could have been hurt. Do you have any idea what would happen to me if I . . . if you had fallen off or if I'd wrecked my bike?"
Blair's voice softened.
"I'm not hurt, Jo. I'm only having a bad hair day."
Jo's fingers trembled as she gently stroked Blair's hair.
"I'm sorry that I scared you."
"I was afraid for you, Jo, not of you."
"I could have hurt you just the same."
"You were angry."
"That's not an excuse, Blair. There is no excuse. You were right to be scared. I was stupid and reckless and . . ."
Jo's fingers lingered in her girlfriend's hair as she struggled to understand why she had felt such an urgent need to run away from Blair. Jo hated to admit the real reason she had stormed out of her bedroom. She hadn't wanted Blair to see her so hurt.
Blair didn't know which was worse, Jo's anger toward her for interfering or Jo's guilt over having placed Blair in danger. She reached for Jo's hands, stilling the remorseful brunette's effort to untangle Blair's curls.
"Stop acting like this, Jo. Now you're frightening me. I'm fine. You weren't going that fast."
Jo shook her head again, talking to herself as much as to Blair.
"Ma used to do that. She used to make excuses for ."
Blair forcefully grabbed Jo's shoulders and forced her girlfriend to look at her as tears began to stream down Jo's face.
"Don't you dare compare yourself to those men who brutalized your mother! Listen to me, Joanna Marie, you acted like a jerk because I messed up, but you didn't hurt me. You aren't capable of hurting me and I'm going to be twice as angry as you are if you try to twist this around into something that it isn't. I forgot my helmet, not you. If you want to be upset about the motorcycle ride on top of everything else, then blame me."
Jo stopped crying and nodded, but kept her thoughts to herself.
"I was afraid that you'd be angry with me for going to Miss Gallagher. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep a secret that big from you unless . . . unless I avoided being alone with you. You know me too well, Joey. It's like you can see inside of me. That's why I've been staying away from you, but I couldn't let you run away from me. I got on your bike without my helmet because I love you. When you hurt, I hurt."
Jo considered Blair's words, but didn't respond. The anxious blonde tried again to explain while gently caressing her girlfriend's injured knuckles.
"I knew you would be angry, but I was afraid, Jo. You can be angry with me for being so afraid of losing you that I went to Miss Gallagher behind your back, but don't run away from me again."
Jo's voice was so soft that Blair could barely hear her, but the emotion filling her tone was so intense it stopped Blair in her tracks.
"Whoa, Princess. I never said I wanted to run away. I'm not like my pop. You can't worry that I'm gonna run out on ya every time I get mad because ."
"Because that's going to happen often?"
Jo's small smile was like water to Blair's thirsty heart.
"Yeah, it's gonna happen a lot."
Jo shook her head, trying to keep new tears at bay. Her voice was calmer; she was talking to Blair instead of yelling.
"You said you believed in me, Blair. You made me believe in US. Why couldn't you trust me to take care of myself? Why are you always interfering?"
The magnitude of the damage she'd caused by keeping secrets from her girlfriend hit Blair like a tidal wave.
"I don't do that."
"Yes, you do. You tell your friends to like me. You tell our teachers to give me better grades. You probably told Mrs. G. to treat me like . . . like I was . . . special."
"You are special, Jo. Mrs. Garrett figured that out all on her own. I do believe in you and I was wrong to go to Miss Gallagher without asking you first. I can see that now."
"You lied to me, Blair. You don't want to see it that way, but that's what you did."
Blair took a deep breath.
"We lie every day, Jo. We lie to our classmates, our teachers, even to Mrs. Garrett."
Jo's hands stilled. Blair was right; they lied about their relationship on a daily basis. 'How can I blame Blair for keeping secrets from me when I've been keeping a whopper from her?' Jo gazed at Blair for several moments, making up her mind about something before pointing to a grassy area beneath the oak tree.
"Sit down, Blair; I need to help you fix your hair. Seeing it just reminds me . . . I can't believe I was too upset to notice that you weren't wearing a helmet."
Blair sat down and began running her fingers through her hair, even though she considered it a futile effort. Jo sat behind her and began combing her fingers through each set of tangles, methodically working out the knots.
"This isn't going to help, Jo."
"Well, it ain't gonna make it any worse, either. Besides, I need time to think."
Gratified that Jo didn't seem as distraught as she had been earlier, Blair obediently allowed Jo to comb her hair.
"I've been keeping something from you, too, Blair. I don't have any right to yell at you for not telling me about the stuff you told Gail. I should have told you this sooner, but ."
"Just spit it out, Jo. You're scaring me to death."
"It's about Gail, uh, Miss Gallagher . . . she knows about us."
Blair's brow wrinkled as she tried to make sense of Jo's confession.
"What does she know?"
Jo leaned forward in order to see Blair's face.
"Geez, Blair, do I have to spell it out for ya? She knows about us, about you and me, about how we're . . . y'know . . . girlfriends."
Jo was shocked to see a small smile spread across Blair's face. She had anticipated a furious response.
Blair could barely contain her excitement. She had told multiple family members and household staff members about Jo, but this was the first indication that Jo was willing to share their secret with an outsider.
"When did you tell her?"
Jo frowned, confused by Blair's reaction.
"I didn't tell her, she figured it out. Uh, she accidentally read a poem I wrote for you. I thought you'd be upset with me for not telling you."
It wasn't as good as if Jo had divulged the information on purpose, but the fact that Jo didn't seem worried that her favorite teacher knew that they were a couple came as a great relief to Blair. Jo was a very private person and Blair had begun to wonder if Jo would ever be able to admit to anyone, other than her girlfriend, that she liked girls.
"Oh, I understand, Jo. I was so upset about Mother when we were in New York that it wouldn't have been the right time to bring it up. We really haven't had much time alone since we got back to Peekskill, so you haven't had a chance to tell me. I don't mind that you didn't tell me right away, but I wish you would have given me your new poem while we were in New York. I love reading your poems."
Jo pressed her fist to her forehead. 'Does it matter that she thinks Gail found out so recently?'
"What did she say?"
"Miss Gallagher, how did she take the news?"
"She thinks it's great."
"And she knows that I'm your girlfriend?"
"And she approves?"
"I told ya, Blair. Gail isn't hung up on the fact that I'm with another girl."
"I mean, does she approve of me? She likes you a lot, Jo, and I have a reputation as being somewhat boy crazy so she might think ."
"She thinks you're great, Blair. She thinks we're great."
For Blair, it was almost as if she had the stamp of approval from a member of Jo's family. The debutante beamed.
"Miss Gallagher knows. Hum, she didn't act any differently when I gave her our assignments. I never would have guessed that she knew anything about us."
Jo shifted uncomfortably.
"You really don't care that she knows you're a lesbian, do ya?"
Blair kissed her girlfriend on the cheek.
"I care that she thinks I'm good enough for you, Jo."
"You're a goofy girl, do you know that?"
"Stop saying that. I'm not goofy, I'm in love."
"So, does that mean you're goofy, too?"
"I guess it does, Princess."
Blair closed her eyes and enjoyed the sensation of Jo's fingers combing through her hair. Jo's mood had shifted, but Blair sensed that her intense girlfriend was still struggling with something internally.
"Are you still trying to make up your mind about printing the article, Jo?"
Jo leaned forward and placed her chin on Blair's shoulder, her lips close to Blair's ear. Blair could hear the emotion layering Jo's voice as the brunette whispered softly.
"Every time I drop my guard, someone stabs me in the back, Blair. Every fucking time I think I can finally relax, I get blindsided."
Jo's declaration was so raw and vulnerable that Blair didn't make an effort at correcting Jo's language.
"Jo, I'm so sorry. I didn't ."
"Shhh. I'm not talkin' about that. I understand why you went to Gail and I even understand why you hid it from me. It's hard for me to admit this, but sometimes I let my pride keep me from doing what's best."
Blair almost verbalized the witty comeback that was on the tip of her tongue, but she instinctively held back, wary of the seriousness of Jo's tone. Jo placed a fleeting kiss on Blair's cheek before continuing.
"The reason hockey practice was canceled was because someone wrote the word 'dyke' on my gym locker."
Blair turned and searched Jo's eyes. It was similar to the moment they had shared in New York, after they'd been dancing. For Jo, emotions which had been jumbled and erratic were soothed by her girlfriend's mutual understanding. Jo had previously considered the impact of the locker room incident on her girlfriend, but until that moment she hadn't perceived the attack as having been toward both of them. As they gazed into one another's eyes, the message that passed between them was crystal clear. They were a couple. Anything that happened to one of them happened to both of them.
Once she trusted her voice not to crack with emotion, Blair spoke softly.
"I hate that word. My daddy used that word when he walked in on . . . well, it brings back bad memories. It made me feel ashamed, like what I was doing was dirty. Is that how it made you feel, Jo?"
"I'm feeling a lot of things, Blair. Mostly I feel like I want to chop someone's head off."
Jo wrapped her arms around Blair's waist and rested her cheek against Blair's. She gently swayed left and right, almost rocking her girlfriend.
"What do you think we should do, Jo?"
"Yes, we, as in the two of us, you and me, we."
"Is this where you tell me that we're in this together? That we're a team? Us against them?"
Blair smiled. She continued to be amazed by Jo's ability to repeat an entire conversation word for word. She remembered the last time Jo used those words, when she was packing to run away from Eastland after Blair had hit Margo in the face with a pie.
"Not if you're going to tell me that you're not interested in teams."
"I'm not gonna say that. I'm not gonna try to run away again, either. I've got a lot of faults, Blair, more than you know, but I'm not gonna run out on ya. That's happened to me too many times, I'm not gonna do it to you. I didn't know that until we were in New York together, but now that I've figured it out, I don't want you to worry about it anymore, okay?"
Jo couldn't see Blair's face, but she could hear the tears in her girlfriend's voice.
"I felt it, too, Jo, in New York, I mean. I already knew that I'd never leave you, but that's the first time I really believed that you'd stay with me. Do you feel like telling me more about what happened at practice? I don't have to know, but if we're going to be honest with one another, we can't keep trying to protect each other by hiding things."
"Marissa and I saw it first, then Cindy and Coach Cooper came into the locker room and they saw it, too. The coach didn't let anyone else inside. She canceled practice and told us not to tell anyone about what happened."
Blair had been stunned by the incident for more than one reason. Not much happened at Eastland Academy that Blair and her friends didn't know about ahead of time, so it was highly unusual for her to be so completely blindsided. Discovering that her friends had ostracized Jo in her absence was a surprise, but it wasn't that shocking. Every student at Eastland knew that Jo was part of Blair's inner circle of friends and few would have the courage to defy Blair by attacking one of her friends. Even though Margo and the others were being chilly toward Jo at the moment, no one would interpret that as permanent. Members of Blair's social circle were often on the outs with one another; it didn't mean that they wouldn't rally to one another's defense if anyone dared insult one of them.
Other than Harrison's feeble attempt to spread rumors about Jo and Natalie, Blair didn't have an inkling that Jo's sexual orientation was a blip on anyone's radar. After realizing that Blair's social influence extended beyond the gates of Eastland and into Bates Academy, Harrison had stopped his smear campaign and that alone should have served as a warning for anyone else who might be interested in slandering Jo.
"Coach Cooper's nice, but most students are intimidated by her. Honestly, Margo is the only person on campus that I know of who would do something so hateful, but she avoids gym class like the plague. I think she's afraid of Coach Cooper."
Jo was intrigued by Blair's reasoning.
"I thought you trusted Margo."
"Oh, I do. Margo would never hurt me, but anyone else is fair game as far as she is concerned. She knows that if she did something like this to you, it would be the end of my friendship with her, but sometimes she can't help herself from lashing out at people she doesn't like. I don't think she's behind this, though."
"It's not her style?"
"It is her style, but Margo wouldn't want to do it herself and no one else would do it for her. Not something like this."
"I'm glad we can talk about this, but I don't want you trying to find out who did it. Okay?"
"You're asking a lot, Jo."
Jo tightened her grip.
"Yeah, I know, us being a team and all that, but I don't want you getting involved in this."
"I'll stay out of it if you will, Jo, at least until Coach Cooper has time to look into it. Coach Cooper gets bent out of shape if anyone brings a soda into her gym, so this will be personal for her. She's going to consider it as much an attack on her as it was on us. There's a reason Margo is afraid of the coach, she has ways of making people tell her whatever it is she wants to know. If you let her, Coach Cooper will find out who's responsible."
This time Jo's laughter was full.
"Yeah, I've noticed that about her. Marissa won't say anything to anyone, either. What do you think about Cindy? She was really torn up over it."
"Cindy will eventually tell Sue Ann, but she'll hold it in as long as she can. She doesn't want to cross Coach Cooper and . . . well . . . she won't want to tell Sue Ann anything that could hurt you. Cindy's still overly fond of you, Jo, and she knows how much Sue Ann dislikes you."
When Jo teased Blair about Sue Ann, the socialite knew that her girlfriend was feeling better.
"Sue Ann doesn't like me? I'm crushed. I thought she and Margo were in a competition to see which one of them would get to be my 'best-est' friend."
Blair was encouraged by Jo's attempt at banter, but she hadn't forgotten how her friends had been treating Jo.
"Everyone else likes you, Jo. You know that, right? When they ignored you, they were just going along with Margo."
"Well, I did push Sue Ann a little."
"I'm sorry, Jo, but that has little to do with it. For some reason, Margo has it in her head that our friendship will make it more difficult for me to win the Harvest Queen competition this year. She's being completely ridiculous and I told her so."
"You always win Harvest Queen, Blair. You're the prettiest girl at Eastland. You don't need Margo campaigning for you."
Blair smiled. She knew her appearance at that moment was less than perfect, but she appreciated the compliment.
"Julie Sable is campaigning and Margo thinks she has a chance of winning."
Jo grunted her disagreement.
"You have more class in your little finger than Julie Sable has in her whole body, Princess."
"Why, thank you, Jo. That's why I'm not going to let Margo make me nervous about the competition."
Jo visualized her locker and wondered if Margo had good reasons for cautioning Blair about her friendship with Jo.
"Maybe Margo has a point."
Blair turned. She hadn't seen such sadness in Jo's eyes since Jo had told her about Gloria.
"I don't believe that, Jo. Even if I did believe it, you are far more important to me than being Harvest Queen."
Jo tried to smile again, but she wasn't able to pull it off.
"You love being Harvest Queen, Blair."
"I love you more."
"Turn back around, Blair. I can't comb your hair if you're looking at me."
Blair turned, knowing that having her back turned to Jo would help her girlfriend say whatever she needed to say.
"After what happened in the locker room, maybe it would be a good idea if people didn't think we were such good friends. It's been several weeks since we've yelled at one another in front of everyone."
Blair began chewing her lower lip.
"Do you think that's why someone wrote that on your locker, Jo? I mean, do you think it's because of how I act around you? I know I haven't been as careful as I should be, but ."
"It's not your fault, Blair. It's me. I told you last year, people get ideas about me because of how I dress and how I act."
Blair quickly rejected Jo's logic.
"Did someone accuse you of being a tacky dresser, Jo?"
Jo loved how Blair would often insert a ridiculous comment into the conversation in order to lighten the mood. The fact that Blair's humor usually revolved around Jo's wardrobe or manners made it difficult for Jo to acclimate to it at first, but she had grown to appreciate Blair's ability to break the tension when Jo turned somber.
"Heh, that woulda been devastating."
"So, we've agreed that we aren't going to do anything? We'll let Miss Gallagher and Mr. Parker deal with Mr. Gideon and we'll let Coach Cooper find out who vandalized your locker?"
Jo removed her hands from Blair's hair.
"You're asking a lot, Princess."
"So are you, Joey."
"I ain't promising that I won't get Natalie to print the article, but I'll think about it some more. Is that enough?"
"You know that I don't care about what happens to Mr. Gideon, don't you, Jo? Even if he's guilty of having cocaine, Mr. Parker won't appreciate you making it public. I'm worried about what might happen to you if Nat prints the article."
"I know that, but stuff like this gets swept under the rug all the time, Blair. I ain't gonna let Gideon get away with this just because Mr. Parker doesn't want to cause a stink with the school board."
Blair turned around again and smiled at the brunette.
"Thank you, Jo. Just promise me that you won't ask Natalie to publish the article without discussing it with me first."
Jo picked up her helmet and handed it to Blair, who smiled at her reflection in the mirror once they had walked over to Jo's motorcycle.
"Wow, I can't believe how great I look."
Jo chuckled before mounting her bike and waiting for Blair to join her.
"Yeah, maybe I should comb your hair every day."
Blair squeezed Jo's waist once she was on the back of the bike.
"Maybe you should, Joey."
Jo started the bike and carefully drove her girlfriend back to the cafeteria in silence.
When Jo and Blair entered their bedroom, they changed into their pajamas and prepared for bed. Neither of them noticed that the article Jo had written was no longer in Tootie's typewriter. In their absence, Natalie had made her decision. Unbeknownst to her roommates, the student editor had already printed the next day's special edition of the Eastlander newspaper.
Post Series Flash Forward: Tootie Returns to Peekskill
Edna Gains plopped into the nearest chair, exhausted.
"Every time we do this I'm reminded of how old I am. I could never keep up this pace on a regular basis."
Garrett grinned up at the older woman as he knelt to place a footstool in front of her chair.
"You could run circles around all of us, Mrs. G."
"Well, I'm just glad I had my family close by today when that scoundrel showed up. I should have let Jo break his kneecaps back in 1983 when Pete's Deli first tried to put me out of business."
Dorothy grinned impishly at Edna's comment.
"That's what I told him."
Garrett nodded his approval before heading back to the kitchen to help Bailey and E.J. clean up.
"I have to hand it to you, Tootie. I was proud of you then and I'm proud of you now."
Mrs. G. laughed along with Natalie and looked encouragingly toward Blair. Whatever wedge had inserted itself into Blair's relationship with Dorothy, it hadn't stopped Dorothy from jumping to Blair's defense when she sensed that her friend was uncomfortable. Edna wished that the two women had more time to spend with one another. She was certain that their friendship would be as strong as it had ever been, if they only had more opportunities to spend time together.
It was late in the afternoon when Edna Gains and her extended family disbanded after a full day of working at Edna's Edibles. Jo drove Alex and the children home while Mrs. G., Natalie, and Dorothy rode with Blair.
As the women rode through downtown Peekskill, Dorothy noticed a sign and squealed for Blair to stop the car.
"Next time you want to get my attention while I'm driving, Tootie, you don't have to scream so loud that I almost crash the car."
"Oh, don't be a sour puss, Blair. Turn around. Why didn't you tell me that the old Peekskill Playhouse was closing?"
Blair smiled to herself as she turned the car around and parked in front of the old playhouse.
"Contrary to popular opinion, I do not keep abreast of everything going on in downtown Peekskill."
Natalie cleared her throat.
"Since Jo isn't here to say it . . . give me a break. A squirrel doesn't cross the street in Peekskill without Blair Warner knowing about it."
"Well, I try to stay informed, but I didn't know they planned to shut down the playhouse. It doesn't surprise me though; they haven't produced a play in years. The realtor must have placed that sign up after the reunion started or I would have noticed it earlier."
As Blair assisted Edna out of the car, Dorothy stood in front of the old playhouse, mesmerized by the beauty of the building where she had performed while attending Langley University. Edna placed a comforting arm around Dorothy's shoulder and also admired the old theater.
"I'm sure you have a lot of memories of this old place, Dorothy. It's a shame it's been allowed to go downhill."
Dorothy's voice was barely a whisper as her eyes misted.
"I hate to see it like this, Mrs. G. I learned so much here. I know that it's only a short trip to New York City, but this playhouse was the only opportunity some people in this town, especially the children, had to see a live performance."
Blair and Natalie briefly locked eyes, neither wanting to acknowledge their hopes. Dorothy closed her eyes as Edna continued to squeeze the younger woman's shoulder.
"I . . . I've been asked to audition for a play in New York. The show is excellent and I think it could run for several months. The performances would run Thursday through Sunday and if Beverly attended Eastland . . . I'd be so close."
Dorothy turned anxiously toward Blair.
"I mean, if the offer still stands after the way she's behaved."
Blair practically ran into her friend's arms.
"Of course it still stands. Beverly is part of our family, too."
Dorothy held Blair longer than she had intended, but being around her old friends in familiar surroundings brought out her sentimental nature. She'd felt as if she had lost an important part of herself over the past few years, even her passion for acting had dwindled. She remembered how hard she had fought with her parents to convince them to accept her decision to become an actress and wondered if she could still win that fight if she had to defend her choice now. It had been too long since she had fought for anything.
"How much do you think they'll ask for this place?"
Natalie excitedly yanked her cell phone from her purse.
"Only one way to find out. Who owns the theater, Blair?"
"Jason Mason inherited it several years ago when his mother passed away."
"The Masons named their son Jason? Jason Mason?"
Blair shrugged and rolled her eyes. Natalie found humor in everything.
"Just call the local realtor and . . . um, use Jeff's name, the realtor might try to raise the price if he knows he's dealing with a famous actress."
Dorothy shook her head.
"Not everyone keeps up with my career as well as my friends, Blair."
"That's not true. You're a huge celebrity in Peekskill. Your picture is in the lobby of this playhouse."
"Yes, really. Oh, it would be a real boost for Peekskill if the legendary Dorothy Ramsey Williams were to renovate this old place. People would stand in line for hours to get tickets for a show you produced."
"Yes, Dot. Even if you are performing in New York, you could still produce plays here. I mean, I don't know what producers do, but I suppose the director and the actors do all the work."
"You suppose correctly. The only problem will be if . . . well, I'd have to discuss spending this much money with Jeff."
Blair's expression sobered.
"What about Eastland? Do you think that Jeff will object to sending Beverly to our school?"
Dorothy sighed; there was no point in trying to cover for her husband. Blair had spent enough time with Jeff to notice the tension.
"Jeff comes from a very traditional family."
Blair nodded as if she understood, but Natalie pursed her lips.
"What the hell does that have to do with anything?"
Blair gently touched Natalie's arm.
"You've never been married, Natalie, so it's hard for you to understand how both partners have to agree on some decisions. I assume that when Dorothy uses the word 'traditional' she may be talking about a family history where the men have the final word on decisions."
Natalie shook her head defiantly.
"No one tells Tootie Ramsey where she can live or where she sends her kid to school. That's medieval."
Dorothy frowned, taking Natalie's hand.
"My name is Williams now, Nat. Blair's right. Married couples have to agree on some things."
"Okay, buying the playhouse should be up for discussion, but how could anyone object to sending their kid to one of the most prestigious prep schools in the nation? Jeff travels as often as you do and Beverly obviously needs a lot more guidance than she's getting."
Natalie's criticism of her daughter hit a sensitive nerve with Dorothy.
"Wait a minute, Nat. I admit that Beverly behaved badly toward Jo and Blair's children and she may have been cool toward Jo and Blair, but she has been perfectly nice to you."
Natalie's head bobbed up and down in frustration, hoping Dorothy would finally get it.
"Yes, that's the problem. Don't you see it?"
Dorothy started to respond in anger, but stopped when she saw the expression on Blair's face.
"You don't think? You couldn't possibly think . . . that Beverly acted that way because . . . you can't, can you?"
Once they became adults, Edna Gains tried not to interfere in the lives of her girls, but she almost always failed.
"Dorothy, no one is accusing Beverly of anything. Natalie was only pointing out that for some reason Beverly seems to resent Jo and Blair. She could be jealous of the close relationship you have with them. You've been reminiscing about the old days so much that she may feel a little left out. Natalie has visited you before, but this is the first time Beverly has met Jo and Blair."
Blair and Natalie hastily nodded in agreement with Edna, but Dorothy continued to be defensive.
"It's only natural that Jeff's family would want to spend as much time as possible with Beverly while Jeff and I are traveling. Jeff and I may be having some . . . issues, but he loves our daughter and only wants the best for her."
Natalie stepped forward and smiled timidly, something the boisterous woman seldom did.
"I didn't mean to imply otherwise, Dot. I'm sorry. The idea of you moving to New York got me so excited that I couldn't stand the thought of anything standing in the way of having my best friend so close. Don't you see? You could stay with me while you're in the city. I have tons of room and I'm hardly ever home. It would be perfect."
Dorothy's mouth dropped open in surprise.
"You want me to stay with you if I get the part?"
"Yes, yes! We could be roomies again."
"Wha . . . what about Alex?"
"Alex? What does he have to do with it?"
Blair and Edna gazed sadly at one another; they'd both refused to admit how much they wanted Alex and Natalie to settle down with one another.
"I thought that you and Alex were serious?"
Natalie looked at her circle of friends and came close to blushing. If she hadn't promised Alex that they'd make the announcement together, she would have blurted their plans at that moment. Instead, she tried to soothe the disappointed looks on Mrs. G. and Blair's faces without spilling the beans about her engagement.
"Alex and I are . . . um, fairly . . . serious, but Alex lives in Peekskill and that wouldn't change if we ever . . . um, became more serious."
Blair and Edna knew instantly that Natalie was trying to conceal something. Even Dorothy was distracted from her concerns about her friend's opinions of her daughter and stared questioningly at her lifelong friend.
"What are you hiding?"
"Me? Hiding? Nothing, nothing. What would I be hiding?"
Dorothy continued to eye her former roommate suspiciously while Blair stepped forward, arms folded across her chest with her head tilted sideways.
"You, Natalie Greene, are hiding something from us."
"No. No, I'm not."
In desperation, Natalie lunged at the entrance to the old playhouse and gratefully found that the door was unlocked.
"Look, we don't have to call a realtor in order to check the place out. Come on, Dorothy, I'm sure you're dying to see the stage where you first performed in The Wizard of Oz."
Natalie eagerly pushed open the door and entered the theater while Edna, Blair, and Dorothy continued to stare at one another.
"What was that?"
Blair smiled at her friend, thankful for the mood change created by Natalie's behavior.
"Natalie was babbling."
"Natalie only babbles when she's hiding something BIG."
The younger women turned their eyes toward Edna Gains.
"I don't know anything, girls. If I did, I'd tell you. Well, I . . . have caught Alex and Bailey at the dinner table looking over some drawings, but I didn't dare hope . . . I assumed they were looking at house plans, but ."
Dorothy gleefully clapped her hands together and grinned.
"Alex is building a house for Natalie, just like Jo did for Blair. That's so romantic. That's why she offered to let me stay in her apartment in New York. Natalie is getting married and moving to Peekskill!"
Edna was quick to caution her excited friends.
"Shhh. We don't know that the house is for both of them. We don't even know if the papers I saw were house plans."
Edna looked cautiously at Blair. Both women knew how much the other wanted Alex and Natalie to get married, but neither wanted the other to be disappointed if there was a different explanation for Natalie's behavior.
Blair fought hard to mask her excitement while Dorothy rolled her eyes at the other two women.
"Wake up and smell the coffee, ladies. We have a wedding to plan."
As Blair's mask fell and a smile filled her face, Edna reached for the other women's hands and squeezed enthusiastically.
"We have a wedding to plan!"
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