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 18. Events take place between Season 3, Episode 6 and Episode 7.
THANKS: To Stacey (aka BetaPup) for the Beta, assistance in story and character development, encouragement, and meticulous attention to detail.
MEDIA LINK: http://www.youtube.com/user/FactsOfLifeMinutes#p/p
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To FOLfan[at]ymail.com

Common Ground
18: Fish Out Of Water (Part 1 of 2)

By Slave2Free


"I don't know why you packed so much stuff. I told you that Ma and I are very casual around the apartment. You look like you're going to a job interview."

Blair self-consciously smoothed the pleats of her dark purple skirt, perfectly coordinated with the light purple silk blouse she was wearing.

"I want your mother to like me, Jo."

"She already likes you, Blair."

"We've barely spoken to one another."

"Will you relax? It's not a big deal."

Despite her protestations, Jo was happy that Blair wanted to look nice for Jo's mother. Jo would have insisted that Blair wear something more appropriate for her visit to the Bronx, but she didn't want to make Blair more anxious. The fashion-conscious debutante had tried on at least ten different outfits before deciding on the purple. Jo suspected that the first ten outfits were inside one of the bags she was lugging up the stairs to her mother's apartment.

As Jo reached forward to open the door to the apartment, Blair suddenly stopped her.

"We have to go back, Jo. I have to change. I'm overdressed."

Jo agreed with Blair's assessment, but smiled reassuringly anyway. As soon as she opened the door, Jo realized her mistake. Blair wasn't the one dressed inappropriately, it was Jo. Jo's temper sparked, not only had her mother invited a large group of friends over to meet Jo's famous roommate, everyone was dressed in their finest clothes.

The sight of Jo's disapproving scowl made Rose Polniaczek apprehensive, but the heiress she had invited everyone to meet seemed thrilled by her surprise party. Jo glanced at Blair, telegraphing her silent apology and Blair smiled at her in return. Jo knew that Blair expected and tolerated the fact that people often used their acquaintance with Blair in an attempt to elevate themselves socially and she hoped that Blair didn't think her mother was doing that. Jo wasn't sure why her mother was behaving so uncharacteristically toward Blair and was confused as to why her mother continued to act awestruck around the heiress.

While Jo sulked in the background, Blair held court in the Polniaczek den like a fairy princess. She smiled and was respectful toward all of Jo's mother's friends, but Jo recognized the polite formality for what it was. What Jo found startling was the realization that one of the things Blair had been telling Jo all year was true. Jo often argued with Blair that Blair should be herself in social situations. She told Blair that people would like Blair for who she really was, not an untouchable princess on a pedestal. Blair, however, argued that people not only expected her to act like an heiress, they'd be disappointed if she didn't. As Jo listened to the excited chatter of her mother's friends, she could tell that they weren't there to meet Jo's ordinary friend, they'd come to meet the heiress. Blair was right; if she had attempted to fit in with Rose's friends, they would have been disappointed.

Jo's aunt, Evelyn, was playing hostess, carrying a tray of éclairs and drinks around the room while Rose sat prominently at Blair's side.

"Blair Warner, this is our building superintendent, Raymond Balducci."

"Building Superintendent? That sounds like an important job."

Jo snickered into her hand when Rose introduced Mr. Balducci to Blair.

'She has no idea that Mr. Balducci is a glorified janitor,' thought Jo.

Mr. Balducci's chest expanded as he shook the hand Blair offered. Rose explained further.

"Mr. Balducci is in charge of keeping everything in good working order in the building."

"You take care of the entire building?"

Jo was impressed by Blair's ability to appear so impressed by Mr. Balducci's job.

"Uh, yes. There's a lot of things that can go wrong in apartments."

Blair smiled sweetly.

"Did you teach Jo how to fix things?"

Turning to Rose, Blair continued.

"Jo can fix anything. Mrs. Garrett says that there isn't an appliance made that Jo can't fix."

If Mr. Balducci had been a rooster, Jo was certain he would have crowed.

"I took the kid under my wing and taught her a few things."

'Give me a break,' thought Jo, 'I had to teach him how to fix almost everything in this building.'


Jo spun around to face her accuser, her face flush with embarrassment.

"Pop, I didn't realize you were here."

"You were too busy having a temper tantrum. Are you angry about sharing the spotlight with your friend?"

Jo was offended.

"Of course not!"

"Then why are you standing in the corner scowling at everyone while Blair is being forced to entertain your mother's friends."

"It's not like that."

"That's how it looks to me."

Charlie Polniaczek's reprimand reminded Jo that Blair was the one who should have been angered by Rose's ambush. Jo felt remorseful about leaving Blair alone with Rose to make small talk with the neighbors while she had practically ignored Blair.

Jo felt even worse about her selfish behavior when she saw the extent of relief on Blair's face when the surrounded celebrity saw Jo walking in her direction. Blair immediately shifted on the sofa, making room for Jo to sit on the side opposite Rose.

"Mr. Balducci was just telling me how he likes to mentor the neighborhood children, like he did for you, Jo."

Mr. Balducci had the decency to blush as the heiress repeated his exaggeration, but Jo felt sorry for the guy and let him off the hook.

"Yeah, Mr. Balducci taught me everything I know about fixing stuff."

Knowing better, Rose smiled at her daughter's uncharacteristic display of manners. Rose was pleased that some of Blair Warner's etiquette was rubbing off on her abrasive daughter.

"Ma, you should have told me that you were planning a party."

"It's not a party, Jo. I just happened to mention that you were coming home this weekend and a few of my friends haven't seen you in so long that I thought it would be a good chance for you to catch up with them."

Jo squinted her eyes.

"Yeah, everyone's been practically falling over one another to get to me."

Rose smiled despite her daughter's sarcasm, unable to prevent herself from enjoying the party even though it was obviously making Jo uncomfortable.

Charlie stood in the doorway where he'd found Jo earlier, watching Rose and Blair as intently as Jo had been studying them earlier. Charlie liked everything about Blair Warner. He liked her flirtatious nature. He liked her megawatt smile. He liked how people reacted when he told them that his daughter's roommate was the daughter of the well-known entrepreneur, David Warner. He liked the way she stood up to Jo during an argument. He liked the way she was working her heart out to impress Rose. Most of all, Charlie liked the way Jo's eyes sparkled when his daughter looked at her.

Charlie felt that Jo had inherited the best of his and Rose's personalities. He knew that the fiery Polniaczek temper would serve Jo well, but was also pleased to see it tempered by Rose's gentler nature. What Charlie didn't like was that Jo, like Rose, didn't seem to know how to have fun. Rose was always carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders and worrying over things that couldn't be changed and she had apparently passed that trait down to their daughter. Jo needed someone in her life who could teach Jo to be more carefree and in Charlie's opinion, Blair Warner was the perfect person for the job.

'Rose likes the girl,' thought Charlie. He could tell when his ex-wife was pretending to like someone and when she truly enjoyed someone's company and Rose's easy smile and bright eyes told Charlie that Blair was everything Rose had expected and more.

Charlie grimaced when he noticed his least favorite neighbor. Mrs. Waldman hadn't immediately greeted the heiress like Rose's other neighbors. She considered herself too dignified to fawn over Rose's celebrity guest, but her curiosity finally got the better of her and she suspiciously approached the threesome.

"Hello, Jo, I hope you're still doing well at Eastpoint."

Jo scowled. Mrs. Waldman knew full well the name of Jo's school, but Jo wouldn't give the old biddy the satisfaction of correcting her again. Blair, noting Jo's shoulders tense as the older woman had approached them, immediately realized that the mispronunciation was intended as a slur, as if Eastland wasn't the most well-known, highly respected preparatory school in the country. The sound of Blair's giggle drifted softly across the room as she extended her hand toward Mrs. Waldman.

"It's nice to meet you, Mrs.—?"

Rose graciously made the introduction.

"Blair, this is my friend, Myrna Waldman."

"Are you by any chance related to Jay Waldman of Pennsylvania, the deputy assistant U.S. attorney general?"

Mr. Balducci, overhearing the conversation, snickered loudly and elbowed the gentleman standing beside him.

"The only relationship between the Bronx Waldmans and the Pennsylvania Waldmans would be if the attorney general had ever prosecuted Myrna's son-in-law."

Myrna Waldman turned on the man and gave him a withering glare, giving Jo an opportunity to grin appreciatively at her girlfriend.

From a distance, Charlie marveled at the fact that although he had been absent from Jo's life for over four years, he still understood his daughter better than Rose. If Rose noticed the quick smiles that passed back and forth between the girls, or the way Jo would stretch her leg out in front of her so that her knee would come into contact with Blair's, Jo's mother didn't attribute anything other than a close friendship to the behavior.

'It's deeper than I realized,' pondered Charlie. He knew that it was serious for Jo when he found out that Jo had agreed to have the heiress visit her home in the Bronx. Jo wasn't ashamed of her humble apartment, but she was intensely private and had seldom invited any of her friends, with the exception of Jessie, into her home.

Thinking of Jo's friends, Charlie scanned the room again, noting that Rose had not invited a single one of them to the party. It didn't surprise Charlie that Jo's neighborhood friends had been excluded; Rose didn't like any of Jo's friends. They weren't good enough to be her friends, just like Eddie Brennan wasn't good enough to be Jo's beau. Charlie didn't disagree when it came to Eddie, but he didn't dislike Eddie. Charlie's only problem with Eddie was that Jo didn't sparkle when she looked at him and Charlie Polniaczek felt that his daughter deserved to sparkle.

Charlie couldn't argue with Rose about Jo's other friends, either. Most of them were either high school dropouts or members of Jo's old gang. The only one Jo seemed to have maintained a friendship with after leaving for Eastland was Jessie and Charlie disliked Jessie most of all. He probably disliked the brash young woman even more than Rose did.

'Jessie, now that kid is a real piece of work. The kind of friend that can get a good kid like Jo into a whole lot of trouble,' reasoned Jo's pop. As soon as he found out that his daughter had been stabbed during her summer vacation, Charlie had a hunch that Jo's friend Jessie had something to do with it. Jo's dad knew that Jessie had a reputation for pursuing other young girls, but he had never worried that Jo might take that kind of interest in the fellow gang member. Regardless of Jo's former affiliation with the Young Diablos, Jo adhered to a strong ethical code and that code would always separate his daughter from people like Jessie. Charlie felt that Jo's friendship with Jessie must be grounded in a misplaced since of responsibility on Jo's part because Jo usually had little tolerance for mean-spirited people, and Jessie's spirit could be as mean as it gets whenever it suited the renegade girl.

Returning his attention to Jo's current guest, Charlie concluded that Blair was as different from Jessie as sunshine was to darkness. Jo and Blair were opposites in the ways that attract one person to another, but at their core they were both good-hearted kids and that's why Charlie hoped that their differences wouldn't one day come between them. Charlie knew enough about his daughter's exceptional intelligence and versatility to be certain that Jo could fit into any social group or situation, and after watching Blair interact with Rose's friends that afternoon, he was beginning to believe that the heiress might be able to meet Jo halfway when it came to the inevitable compromises each would have to make.

Charlie's thoughts lightened when he saw Mrs. Malony's son approach Blair and accidentally spill some of his punch on the front of Blair's blouse in his excitement. Jo's pop almost choked on one of Evelyn's cookies when Jo practically knocked over her mother's best serving tray in order to intervene when Mickey Malony began awkwardly swiping at Blair's chest with a napkin.

'If my instincts are right,' and Charlie was convinced that they were, 'Jo is going to have her work cut out for her keeping the wolves away from her girlfriend.' Charlie chuckled to himself at the thought. He shouldn't think of the heiress as Jo's girlfriend when all his suspicions could easily be off the mark, but there was something between the two girls that Charlie couldn't explain in any other way and it pleased Jo's father to believe that the bond the girls shared was a romantic one.

Jo's dad was pondering the possibilities when the bubbly blonde passed him on her way to the kitchen to clean her blouse. He was pleased by Blair's innocently flirtatious greeting.

"Why, Mr. Polniaczek, you look absolutely dashing in that suit. The tie brings out the green in your eyes."

"You're looking very stylish as well, Miss Warner. If I didn't know that the welcoming party was a surprise, I'd think you had dressed specifically for the special occasion."

Blair laughed.

"Mother says that one should always dress as attractively as possible because you never know when you might run into a dashing prince."

Blair had intended the comment as a compliment, putting Charlie in the role of the prince, and was somewhat surprised by Charlie's response.

"But you're in the Bronx, Blair. What would be the point of attracting a young man from this area? Prince Charming wouldn't even visit this neighborhood."

If she'd been speaking with anyone else, Blair would have quickly determined that she was being accused of snobbery, but Charlie's expression wasn't one of contempt, it was one of concern. Blair's mother had not only taught her daughter to be fashionably prepared for any situation, she'd also given Blair a thousand retorts for any given situation, but Blair chose to reject any of the canned statements.

Surprised, and a bit concerned, by the lengthy pause, Charlie clumsily backed away from his earlier question.

"There I go again, using too many words when only a few would do the trick. I meant to say that you look like royalty, Blair."

It was the blush creeping up Charlie's face that told Blair that Jo's father may have been attempting, in a roundabout way, to discover Blair's attitude toward Jo. Having determined that Charlie was as astute as Jo, the only question in Blair's mind was whether or not Charlie had surmised the true nature of her friendship with his daughter.

"Mrs. Garrett says that the true measure of a man . . . or woman, lies in his or her character, not in where or to whom they were born. It wouldn't be unrealistic for me to stumble upon someone of exceptional character in the Bronx. For all we know, there may be a prince or princess in this very room."

Charlie's expression was serious and Blair maintained her solemn attitude, sensing the significance of the conversation.

"And if there were, Miss Warner, what would you do?"

Blair's expression changed into a megawatt smile.

"I'd pledge my lifelong allegiance, of course."

Charlie's eyes narrowed as he tried to determine whether or not the socialite was sincere or teasing. It was only when Blair astonished him by leaning forward and placing an affectionate kiss on his cheek that Charlie understood.

"Now, I need to clean off my blouse before another court jester decides to do it for me and Jo has him beheaded for his efforts."

Charlie laughed heartily.

'Yep, my little girl is gonna have her hands full with you.'

After allowing the cold water she had dabbed onto her top to dry enough to be presentable, Blair walked back toward the den, but paused in the doorway where she had encountered Charlie earlier. She quickly realized why Jo's father had spent most of the afternoon in that location. It gave her a perfect view of everyone in the room while shielding her presence from others. Within seconds her eyes found Jo and she watched admiringly as her modest girlfriend shrugged off one compliment after another.

Straightening her shoulders, Blair sighed before returning to the den to continue greeting the multitude of strangers.

"Blair, sweetheart, if you're tired from the trip, I can ask everyone to leave."

Blair was tired from the trip, but she shook her head and smiled at Rose.

"Not at all, Mrs. Polniaczek, I'm enjoying the company."

Rose nodded toward Jo in an 'I told you so' manner, but she had noticed the tiredness in Blair's tone that betrayed her polite response. Scanning the room to make sure that everyone had had an opportunity to speak with the heiress, Rose decided it was time to give her daughter and Blair a break. Gaining everyone's attention, Rose thanked her guests for visiting and reminded them to pick up another éclair on their way out.

Everyone left except for Aunt Evelyn, who stayed behind to help Rose clean up after her guests.

"Evelyn, will you show Blair to Jo's room while we finish cleaning up? I'm sure she'd like to rest and I'd like to have a few words with Jo."

Jo looked back and forth at the only two doors leading from the den. In a two bedroom apartment, it wouldn't have been difficult for Blair to find the bedroom herself. Jo reached past her aunt and picked up two of Blair's bags.

"I'll help Blair with her luggage and then you and I can talk."

Jo's comment to her mother sounded almost like a threat as she led Blair into her bedroom.

"Blair, I'm so sorry. I had no idea that she was planning something like this."

Blair smiled, honestly unruffled by the party.

"It's fine, Jo. I really did enjoy meeting everyone. I learned a little more about you, too."

Jo swung Blair's luggage onto the bed and grinned at her girlfriend.

"Oh yeah? Well, don't believe everything you hear."

Blair giggled and flopped onto the bed.

"Would it be rude if I rested for a few minutes before dinner? The walk from the subway was longer than I expected."

Jo felt bad again. Blair had wanted to rent a car to take her things to Jo's, but Jo wouldn't hear of it. Although Jo carried the bulk of Blair's luggage on the train, subway, and subsequent three block hike to the apartment, Blair had carried two bags as well and her knee-length fashion boots were made for style and not comfort.

Jo placed her hands on Blair's shoulders and nudged her girlfriend further onto the bed. Once Blair was in position, Jo bent down on one knee and tugged off one of Blair's boots, followed by the other. Placing the boots to the side, Jo ran her fingers up and down the calf of Blair's leg. Jo was enchanted by the blush that crept up Blair's neck and face as she began gently massaging Blair's toes, careful to avoid Blair's ticklish feet.

"I would have carried my luggage more often if I'd known I'd get this kind of attention."

Jo waggled her eyebrows.

"This is nothing compared to the attention you're gonna get tonight."

Blair giggled, half from nervousness and half from excitement. She was one second away from pulling Jo onto the bed with her when Rose called for Jo. Jo sighed and blew Blair a kiss as she left the room.

Dinner was a dramatic contrast to the welcome Blair received earlier that afternoon. It was a simple affair, with Rose's sister Evelyn as the only additional guest. Jo's temper had cooled and she was beginning to relax as her normally introverted mother dominated the conversation. It wasn't until Jo's aunt Evelyn brought up Eddie Brennan's name that Jo reverted to her former sour mood.

"So, Blair, have you had a chance to meet Jo's boyfriend?"

Blair didn't miss a beat.

"Which one?"

Rose laughed, a little too loud in Jo's opinion.

"Y'know who she's talkin' about, Blair. She means Eddie."

Blair smiled good-humouredly at Rose and Evelyn, ignoring Jo's surly comment.

"Jo's very popular with the boys from Bates Academy, our sister school."

Jo slumped in her chair, glaring at her girlfriend.

"I ain't given any of them the time of day and y'know it, Blair."

Once again, Blair ignored Jo's mood, crossing her eyes and making a face at Jo.

"It's true that Jo hasn't met a boy who particularly interests her, but I wouldn't be surprised if she met her real true love while attending Eastland."

Evelyn eyed the young heiress suspiciously. It had been less than a year since the bartender where Rose worked confirmed that Eddie Brennan's name was mentioned in the message he delivered to Rose shortly before she ran out of the bar in a panic. After that incident, rumors about the couple were rampant. Evelyn had never understood her sister's abhorrence of the nice young sailor. From what Evelyn could tell, Eddie Brennan had been a good influence on Jo and there had been much less speculation about the preferences of her tomboyish niece after Jo began dating Eddie. Evelyn worded her next question in a way that she hoped would prevent Jo's friend from answering for her niece.

"Well, I seem to be in the minority here, but I happen to like the young man. I'd like to hear from the horse's mouth on the subject, so to speak. Jo, are you and Eddie still seeing one another?"

"Eddie's still my only boyfriend, if that's what you're asking."

Blair's smile didn't fade the way Rose's did. Blair had stopped fretting so much over Eddie the night Jo carried her down the side of Cooper's Rock on her back. The naturally possessive debutante didn't like that Eddie Brennan would forever reside in a corner of Jo's heart, but Blair wasn't going to try to rip Jo's heart apart in a selfish effort to exclude him. In some ways, Blair found Jo's steadfast refusal to break ties with anyone she had ever loved reassuring. Jo had promised Blair that she was going to break up with Eddie soon and Blair trusted her honorable girlfriend to keep her promise.

Rose's mood had dropped as swiftly as her smile when Jo had confirmed that she was continuing to see Eddie. Jo hated arguing with her mother over anything, but she especially hated arguing with Rose about Eddie. She sighed deeply, sinking lower in her seat.

Evelyn hadn't intended to dampen the evening. She loved her sister, but she wanted to demonstrate to Jo that at least some members of their family supported her relationship with Eddie. Evelyn tried hard to improve the atmosphere in the kitchen.

"Rose, I don't know how you manage to make your pizza taste so much better than mine. Mother gave both of us the recipe, but mine never compares to yours."

Rose half smiled.

"It's because I actually follow the original recipe without taking shortcuts, Evelyn. You should try it sometime."

Evelyn shrugged.

"Who has time to hand grate three different kinds of cheese?"

Blair gave Rose one of her most brilliant smiles.

"May I have another slice, Mrs. Polniaczek? I've dined at some of the finest restaurants in Italy and this really is the best pizza I've ever tasted."

Jo couldn't help the grin that crept onto her face. Blair could be so damned charming when she wanted and it was working, Rose perked up instantly after receiving the compliment.

"Thank you, Blair. The recipe has been in my family for generations, but the artichoke hearts are my own special addition. I wish Jo would take an interest in cooking. I have hundreds of wonderful recipes, but she avoids the kitchen like the plague."

Blair raised her eyebrows and looked questioningly at Jo.

"I think Jo has been holding out on you, Mrs. Polniaczek. She's a great cook. She's a terrible dishwasher, but aren't we all?"

Evelyn was confused.

"Doesn't Eastland have a cafeteria?"

Jo and Blair both laughed, but Rose shifted uncomfortably in her chair. The last thing she wanted was for Evelyn to know about the trouble Jo got into on her first day at Eastland. Jo started to spill the beans, but Blair quickly interrupted her roommate.

"Heh, well, you see, Aunt Evelyn, it's kind of a funny story. It was either —."

"Jo, don't bore your aunt with all the details."

Smiling sweetly at Jo's aunt, Blair continued.

"We take turns working in the cafeteria. It's supposed to build character. I'm personally terrible at it, as Jo can tell you, but Jo knows her way around the kitchen very well. I still find all those dials a little confusing. That's why Mrs. Garrett doesn't allow me to operate any of the appliances that actually cook things. My expertise is in the area of frozen foods. I can operate a refrigerator with the best of them. I'm also allowed to grate cheese, so I'd be more than happy to assist with pizza preparation if I ever have another opportunity to visit."

Evelyn and Jo laughed, giving Rose an opportunity to release the air she'd been holding in her lungs. Not only did Blair have impeccable manners, she could think fast on her feet. Rose was glad that her first impression of the socialite was correct. Blair Warner was the perfect friend for her daughter.

Jo snickered as she sat up and leaned across the table.

"You should see Princess Grace in the kitchen. She's not even allowed to toast bread because she tried to remove the bread slices with a fork one day and almost electrocuted herself."

Jo spent the rest of the dinner entertaining her mother and aunt with stories of Blair's many mishaps in the kitchen. By the time dinner was over, Rose was in high spirits.

After dinner, Rose insisted on helping Blair get settled into Jo's bedroom, disappointing both girls by telling Blair that Jo would sleep on the sofa so that Blair could have some privacy. Blair initially argued that she didn't mind sharing the room with Jo, but a subtle shake of the head from Jo ended the matter.

Jo placed her hand over her face to hide the giggles as she watched her mother's looks of dismay at both the quantity and quality of Blair's apparel and accessories. When Rose showed particular interest in Blair's cosmetics, hair products, and nail polishes, Blair seized the opportunity to get to know her girlfriend's mother better.

"Jo told me about Vidal Sassoon night. Perhaps we could have a beauty party, like we do at our pajama parties at Eastland?"

Rose's surprise was evident as she smiled affectionately at Jo.

"It's been years since we had one of those, Jo, I didn't think you'd even remember."

Jo shrugged, embarrassed by the emotional tone of her mother's voice.

"Course I do, Ma. I remember all the fun times we've had."

Rose's eyes were moist as she considered how seldom she had taken time over the years to do anything fun with her daughter.

"Well, then, tonight will definitely be one of the most memorable. It appears that Blair has come prepared to beautify the entire neighborhood."

Blair and Rose laughed as Jo moaned, not at all pleased with the prospect of allowing Blair to make her over.

"Okay, but Ma gets the beauty treatment, not me. I'm as beautiful as I intend to get. Besides, people are already beginning to think that Eastland has turned me into a prissy debutante; I don't want to give them any more fuel for that flame."

Blair and Rose both burst into laughter at Jo's assumption that anyone in the neighborhood might apply either of those two adjectives to Jo. Jo wasn't insulted by their reaction, but rolled her eyes to mock offense.

"Come on, Farrah, let's get the rest of the beauty parlor unpacked or we'll be at this all night."

Blair ignored the reference to the Charlie's Angels star. She had never understood why Jo considered the comparison an insult.

"Oh, let's start by giving your mother a manicure. Look at this shade, Mrs. Polniaczek; don't you think it would go well with your complexion?"

Rose took the small bottle Blair offered and studied the shade.

"It's lovely, but I really don't think a manicure . . . I mean . . . I've never . . . it's just not something I would —."

Jo hadn't thought it odd that she was the only girl at Eastland who had never had a manicure before attending the preparatory school, but the realization that her mother had never experienced something Jo had begun to take for granted, given the number of times Blair insisted on 'practicing' her skills on Jo, sent a pang of guilt through the adoring daughter.

"I know, I know, it's not anything you'd want, but it'll make Blair happy if you let her do it and she is our guest."

"What about Evelyn?"

"We'll do both of you."

Jo nodded enthusiastically as she watched her mother's eyes sparkle with anticipation.

"It really doesn't seem fair to allow Blair to give us manicures. As you said, she's our guest."

Jo rolled her eyes again and sneaked a wink at Blair.

"Don't worry about Blair, she loves this stuff. Just take a bunch of these bottles into the den so that Aunt Evelyn can pick a color while Blair and I get the rest of the goop ready."

Blair sighed at Jo's reference to her beauty products as goop and shared a commiserating glance with Rose.

"A prissy debutante, indeed!"

Rose laughed and gazed at the bottle of polish Blair had given her earlier.

"This one is very pretty. Do you really think it suits me?"

Blair touched Rose's hand and almost tingled with joy as Jo's mother smiled at her.

"It's called 'Mother Rose' and I think it's perfect for you."

While her fingers were soaking in the soothing solution Blair had mixed, Evelyn frowned skeptically at her niece.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

Blair smiled over at Jo, who was laying out an assortment of clippers as if she were preparing to perform surgery on her aunt's hand.

"Don't worry. Jo's had plenty of practice giving manicures."

Evelyn was beginning to find Blair's habit of answering for Jo not only irritating, but indicative of a degree of familiarity that Evelyn found unsettling.

"Oh, really?"

There was something about Evelyn's tone that made Blair regret the comment and not knowing what direction Evelyn's thoughts may have taken, Blair covered her mistake quickly. It wasn't entirely the truth, but there was enough truth in it to make it believable.

"Jo and I sometimes give manicures to the ladies at the senior center in Peekskill. We volunteer there once a month."

Evelyn's mouth fell open, pleasing Rose to no end, having also noted the snide tone with which Evelyn had asked the question.

"Jo volunteers to work at an old folks' home without getting paid?"

Rose pointed out the obvious.

"She wouldn't be volunteering is she were paid, Evelyn. What's so surprising about Jo wanting to help others?"

Evelyn laughed, good-naturedly.

"Forgive me, Rose, it's just going to take me a little while to imagine our Jo volunteering to help the less fortunate. I'm very proud of her, I always have been."

Rose smiled back at her sister, instantly forgiving the earlier slight.

"What other things do you do at the center, Jo?"

Jo shifted uncomfortably and lifted her aunt's fingers from the bowl.

"It's no big deal. We mostly just hang around and talk to them."

Blair beamed at Rose, thrilled with the opportunity to compliment Jo in front of Evelyn.

"We also entertain them. Jo plays the piano and sings. Everyone loves to hear Jo perform."

Rose shone with pride, offering her hand to Blair, while Evelyn almost broke her neck craning it toward Rose.

"Rose Polniaczek, you've been holding out on me!"

"Don't pretend I haven't told you how well Jo plays the piano, Evelyn."

"Yes, but I thought you were exaggerating. I didn't expect that Jo could have learned anything beyond playing Chop Sticks. I mean, she did learn to play at the bar, right?"

Blair's response was softer than her usual tone. She was so focused on being gentle with Rose's fingernails that she could barely think of anything else.

"Jo plays by ear. She's musically gifted. In fact, I can't think of anything at which Jo isn't gifted."

Blair didn't notice the stares she received from both Evelyn and Rose because she was focused on Rose's hand, mentally comparing it to Jo's. Jo, on the other hand, hadn't missed a single glance that had passed between Evelyn and Rose all night. Jo had been embarrassed by Blair's praise, but her emotions were complicated by guilt over having humiliated her mother by joining the Young Diablos and acting like a gangster before going to Eastland. Jo supposed that her mother had been forced to defend Jo so often that she deserved to hear someone boast about Jo's accomplishments.

As happy as Jo was to see her mother's pride, she felt the need to distract Aunt Evelyn from her close scrutiny of Blair, thus the intentional mishap.

"Ouch! I hope you aren't this rough on the old ladies at that center."

"Um, sorry, it won't happen again."

Jo expected to receive a scolding glare from Blair, but her girlfriend was completely absorbed in the task of giving Rose Polniaczek a manicure fit for a princess.

Rose's attention also seemed to be on her hand, but it was concentrated on the hand within which her fingers rested. She couldn't recall having ever met anyone with such delicate hands. Although Blair's nails appeared to have been professionally done, Rose could tell that the heiress had often taken time to file and polish her own nails. The young blonde's touch was so soothing that Rose found her eyes involuntarily closing in relaxation.

While Rose had studied Blair's hands, Evelyn had been even more intrigued by Jo's. She wasn't surprised to feel the calluses on her niece's hands, but she had been surprised to note the softness of Jo's skin and the cleanliness of Jo's nails. Although Jo's nails were only coated in a clear polish, it was obvious that they were well maintained on a regular basis. Evelyn began to think that perhaps Rose was right. Perhaps Eastland was providing Jo with more than an education. Perhaps Jo really was becoming a 'real' woman. Evelyn shuddered at the thought of how much it would break Rose's heart if Jo turned out to be anything less than the woman Rose imagined.

"I didn't hurt ya, did I, Aunt Ev?"

"No, Jo. You're every bit as skilled as your friend promised."

Jo nodded and returned to her task, risking only a few glances toward Rose and Blair. What little she saw of the interaction between her mother and her girlfriend almost brought tears to Jo's eyes. Rose had always had trouble relaxing and Jo had rarely seen her mother so tranquil.

'It shouldn't surprise me that she has such a calming effect on Ma. After all, she can make me feel peaceful just by looking at me. Of course, she can have the opposite effect on me when she wants to stir me up.'

Jo smiled to herself as her thoughts drifted to some of the tactics Blair used in order to stir up the passionate brunette. She was enjoying her reflections so well that she was disappointed when she realized that she'd finished her task.

Evelyn held her hands out in front of her and whistled.

"The ladies at the beauty parlor are going to have a fit when they see me tomorrow. Rose, why don't you come with me? We can tell them all about our day at the spa."

When no response was forthcoming, Evelyn looked over at her sister. One of Rose's hands was resting on a towel while her nails dried. Blair was gently rubbing lotion into the palm of the other hand, using her thumb to form small circles over the most worn areas. Rose's eyes were closed and her breathing was steady. Evelyn couldn't recall having ever seen her sister look so peaceful.

"Don't wake her up, Jo. I'll show myself out. Blair, it was a pleasure meeting you. I hope you'll visit again soon."

Blair gave Jo's aunt a farewell smile while she continued to massage lotion onto Rose's hand. Once Evelyn was gone, Jo knelt at her mother's knees, beside Blair. Everything about Rose's countenance indicated that the woman was sleeping, but Jo couldn't take the chance of being overheard. She gently placed her fingers on top of Blair's hand, stilling her girlfriend's actions. For a long moment, they gazed into one another's eyes. Then Jo mouthed the words she'd been holding back all day. 'I love you.'

Blair bit her lip and blinked her eyes several times to hold back the flood of emotions. She finally placed Rose's hand on the towel and intertwined her fingers with Jo's. Taking her cue from Jo, she didn't vocalize her feelings, but rather she conveyed them with the slightest movement of her lips.

'I love you, too.'

Post Series Flash Forward: Tootie Returns to Peekskill

"You look especially nice this morning, Blair."

Blair smiled at the compliment and fingered the single strand of pearls around her neck.

"Thank you, Dorothy. It's not, you know, too much? I was aiming for simple elegance."

Dorothy laughed agreeably as she scanned the exquisite navy dress Blair was wearing.

"Then you're right on target."

Blair was noticeably less anxious after her friend's reassurance and greeted Edna Gains with a kiss to the cheek.

"Breakfast smells divine, Edna. I apologize for being so late; it took longer than I expected to dress this morning."

Edna hugged the young woman sympathetically and returned the kiss.

"I understand, Blair. You look lovely."

Dorothy glanced at Natalie to verify that she wasn't the only one in the dark as Natalie shrugged and opened her mouth to speak but before she could question Blair or Edna, Jo arrived, confirming Natalie and Dorothy's suspicions that something was amiss.

Natalie silently frowned in confusion, but Dorothy couldn't withhold a gasp of appreciation. The actress who had spent the majority of the past fifteen years abroad had seen photographs of Jo as an NYPD officer, but the pictures hadn't captured the powerful presence her friend exuded when wearing her finest dress uniform.

Jo had always projected a strong physical presence, but the uniform added an extra element of authority. While Dorothy gazed mutely at the former detective, Natalie questioned Jo.

"Well, this is a sight I thought I'd never see again. What's the occasion, Detective Polniaczek?"

Jo's gaze never left Blair's as she held out her hand, palm up, and Blair retrieved several ribbons and pins. As Blair began carefully pinning the decorations onto Jo's uniform, she answered Natalie's question for her lover. The softness of Blair's voice belied the subject matter.

"Jo and I are flying to Miami this morning for Richard Edmond's parole hearing. Jo is going to speak to the parole board on behalf of Rose's family."

Natalie's face sobered at the mention of the man who had killed Jo's mother. Other than Blair, Natalie was the person Jo had leaned on most in the aftermath of Rose's death and the subsequent criminal investigation.

"So soon?"

Again, it was Blair who answered Natalie.

"It's been eleven years, Natalie."

After Blair completed her task, Jo finally turned her attention to her friends.

"Blair thinks that the uniform will make a good impression on the parole board. She thinks that it will set me apart from the families of other victims and give me a better chance of convincing them to make the bastard complete the entire length of his original sentence."

For once, Blair didn't attempt to reprimand Jo for her language. The anxious blonde was working valiantly to mask her own trepidation about their trip to Miami. Truthfully, Blair had every reason to be confident in the outcome of the meeting, having contacted every politician in the state of Florida in order to make sure that any member of the parole board remotely associated with any candidate for public office knew exactly how important it was that Richard Edmond not be granted an early release from prison. Blair worried regardless, knowing how excruciating it would be for Jo to relive the circumstances of Rose's death. Although the nightmares had become less frequent over the years, Blair worried that having to recount the event in front of the parole board would reopen wounds that would never completely heal.

Blair managed a tremulous smile when Edna placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

"Wearing your uniform was a good idea, Jo. Let those board members see what a fine daughter Rose raised."

Jo looked back and forth between the concerned gazes of Blair and Edna as her two greatest supporters stood shoulder to shoulder.

"Well, I hope Ma would agree, Mrs. G. She'd be upset by all this attention. She never realized how important she was, but I'll make sure the parole board knows about all the sacrifices she made for me."

Dorothy impulsively jumped to her feet and hugged Jo.

"I'm so sorry, Jo."

Attempting to lighten the somber mood, Jo looked over Dorothy's shoulder and winked at Blair and Edna.

"It's the uniform. It makes all the ladies go crazy for me."

Catching on to Jo's intent, Natalie chuckled as she walked to Jo's side and swung her arm around Jo's shoulder.

"Imagine what kind of reaction you'd get from her if you wore your pirate outfit, Jo."

Dorothy pulled away from their embrace and raised her eyebrows at Jo while Blair lifted a single eyebrow in protest. Not realizing that the joke was on her, Dorothy stared at Jo in stunned disbelief.

"You have a pirate suit?"

Jo's laughter broke the tension, allowing the other women to join in without feeling disrespectful of the circumstances. Jo was still chuckling when Blair cleared her throat and spoke teasingly.

"If Jo did have a pirate costume, and I'm not saying that she does, but if she did, how on earth would you know about it and why in the world be Dorothy be interested in seeing it?"

Dorothy pinched Natalie hard and mouthed 'don't you dare', causing Natalie to cough and stutter.

"Well, it's just that sometimes Jo can look, well, I mean . . . Tootie, stop pinching me!"

Jo had wanted to lighten the mood, but hadn't considered how Natalie always found a way to drag sex into every conversation.

"Give me a break!"

Blair, always happy to encourage Natalie's naughty streak, leaned over to her friend and spoke confidentially.

"You'd better not tease Jo, Nat, or she might force you to walk the plank."

Mrs. Gains rolled her eyes and walked over to Jo while the three younger women continued to giggle, until they were interrupted by a man Dorothy had not met, but who was dressed as a limo driver.

"The car is ready, Miss Warner, and I've checked to make sure that the jet has been cleared to take off within the hour."

Reminded of the reason for Jo's apparel, the laughter quickly faded.

"Thank you, Marcus."

Jo sighed deeply and frowned at Blair.

"You don't have to come, y'know? I told you that I can handle it on my own and they ain't gonna let ya come in with me anyway."

Jo was the only one in the kitchen who didn't notice the return of Jo's thick Bronx accent, so no one was surprised by Blair's continued insistence on going to Miami with Jo. The adamant blonde placed the palms of her hands on Jo's cheeks, causing the brunette's lips to pucker, giving Blair a perfect target for a gently placed kiss.

"We settled this last night, Jo. Edna is taking care of the children and I'm sure Natalie and Dorothy will assist Edna if needed."

Jo took both Blair's hands into her own to release her partner's grip on her face and stared at the expertly manicured nails.

"Mother Rose?"

"I wanted to feel close to her, too."

Jo nodded toward the door, anxious to put the day behind her as quickly as possible, and she and Blair hastily said their goodbyes.

Once the couple left the kitchen area, Dorothy folded her hands under her chin and reflected.

"Poor Rose, she did everything for Jo."

Natalie grunted derisively.

"Poor Rose? Poor Jo."

"Natalie, that's enough."

Dorothy was just as startled by the sternness of Mrs. Gains' reprimand as she had been by Natalie's disrespectful tone.

"Why would you say that, Nat?"

"Nothing, Tootie. Who am I to taint the memory of the dear departed Saint Rose?"

One look from Edna and Natalie sighed in defeat while Mrs. Gains sat down beside Dorothy and took her hand.

"Rose was a wonderful woman, Dorothy, but she wasn't perfect, no one is. I think it bothers Natalie that Jo continues to cling to a somewhat immature image of her mother."

Natalie nodded, already feeling remorseful.

"Rose was always really nice to me, Dot. It's the constant reference to all the sacrifices Rose made for Jo that gets under my skin. Jo made sacrifices for Rose, too. That's all I meant."

Jo squeezed Blair's hand during takeoff, still wary of air travel.

"We should get a smaller jet. Look at all the extra seats on this thing."

"Would you like to stretch out on the sofa after takeoff?"

"Huh? No, I was just saying that it seems like a waste to have all this space when we almost always fly by ourselves."

"We should take another family vacation. E.J. hasn't been to Italy since she was a toddler. We'll invite Edna along as well."

"What? I didn't mean . . . um, do you want to go to Italy?"

"You have family there. I'd like to meet them."

Jo smiled, recalling the summer she took her mother to Italy to reunite with some of Rose's cousins.

"I think Ma came close to staying there. She loved it, Blair. Maybe if she'd stayed, things would have been different."

Until Rose's death, Jo had never been someone to waste her time asking 'what if' questions. Hoping to turn Jo's thoughts elsewhere, Blair teased her lover.

"Perhaps we should stop by Fort Lauderdale on our way home and say hello to Mosquito Boy?"

"Fly Man, Blair, and you know full well that he doesn't use that stage name anymore."

Blair grunted her disapproval of the name and the dreamy look in Jo's eyes.

"He looked more like a gnat than a fly."

"He sang love songs to me."

"The term you're looking for is 'lounge lizard'."

"He fell in love with me the first time he saw me."

"He was infatuated with your foreign accent. He thought English was your second language."

Jo chuckled, amused by Blair's ability to lighten her mood so effectively.

"Fly Man and I had a lot in common. We both fell in love with a beautiful girl on first sight. Neither of us could understand half of what our beloved was saying and we both used our musical talents to court the object of our affection."

Blair's smile broadened and she licked her lips seductively.

"And was his courtship as successful as yours?"

Jo leaned over and captured moist lips with her own, drawing Blair into a long, languid kiss.

"He never even made it out of the dugout, Princess. Ma didn't raise me to be fickle."

Blair sighed softly and caressed Jo's cheek, Jo's reference to Rose causing her to give up on her efforts to divert Jo's attention.

"Rose was a wonderful mother, Jo. The parole board will take one look at you and know how special she was."

Jo shook her head as tears welled in her eyes.

"Why did she stay with him, Blair?"

Blair shook her head sympathetically.

"Jo, you have to stop blaming yourself."

"I don't blame myself, Blair, but I can't stop myself from wondering why she would rather live with someone who treated her like that than to live with me."

Blair squeezed her partner's hand and smiled softly.

"You did everything you could, Jo."

"Not everything."

Blair steadied her voice, unsure of how far Jo would take the conversation.

"No, not everything."


"Yes, Jo?"

"I think . . . I only blamed myself for part of it. I . . . I blamed Ma for most of it. I shouldn't have done that."

Blair unsnapped her seatbelt and slid into Jo's lap, pulling the brunette's head against her chest and stroking the back of Jo's neck. It was the first time Jo had admitted to Blair, perhaps even to herself, that she had held her mother responsible for her death.

"I know it doesn't help, but . . . I love you, Joey. That's all I can say."

Jo sighed deeply, breathing in the fragrance of her lover.

"It helps, Princess. It always helps."

After several minutes of holding one another, Blair extricated herself from Jo's lap and returned to her seat, but she continued to hold Jo's hand in silence for the remainder of the flight. Neither woman spoke again until the jet had landed.

"Thanks for coming with me, Blair."

Blair gently dabbed at Jo's cheek with a tissue to wipe away fresh tears.

"Thank you for letting me."

To Be Continued

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