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: Chapter 4 of the series: Common Ground takes place between episodes 1 and 2 of season 3. Quotes in italics in the Post Series Fast Forward are direct quotes from the Facts of Life Series, Season 9, Episode 23, The Beginning of the End.
THANKS: To Stacey 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
4: Bad Omens

By Slave2Free


It was the first morning after Jo's three roommates had returned to Eastland and Edna Garrett entered the girls' bedroom bright and early with a cheerful wake up call.

"Rise and shine, ladies. Classes may not start until tomorrow, but you have work to do today."

Edna's voice was especially loud, adding to Tootie's discomfort. Natalie still felt queasy from the overabundance of fruit slices she'd consumed the night before and Jo could feel her stitches expanding every time she moved. Blair, however, was as cheerful as Mrs. Garrett. She smiled happily as she climbed from her bed and hugged her guardian. Despite Mrs. Garrett's irritation toward Blair for her behavior the night before, she couldn't help but respond positively to Blair's impulsive act of affection.

"I've missed your Sunday morning wake up calls, Mrs. Garrett. What will we be preparing for breakfast this morning?"

While Blair and Mrs. Garrett discussed the menu, Tootie pulled the covers back over her head trying to block out the sun.

"You can slice the grapefruit this morning, Blair. I bought a new jar of maraschino cherries, so you can place one in the center of each slice."

Natalie groaned and held her stomach.

"Uh, there may not be enough cherries for breakfast this morning, Mrs. Garrett. I, uh, borrowed some last night."

Mrs. Garrett glared at Natalie as the normally exuberant girl slowly rolled out of her bunk bed.


"Um, I'm sorry, Mrs. Garrett. It won't happen again."

"I'm getting tired of hearing that phrase, young lady."

Mrs. Garrett turned around abruptly, pausing at the door only long enough to call over her shoulder.

"I expect to see all four of you in the kitchen in twenty minutes."

Blair almost ran into Mrs. Garrett in her rush to the bathroom.

"Great", moaned Natalie, "Blair won't be out of the bathroom until three seconds before the deadline."

Jo finally stirred, carefully maneuvering so as not to flex her back muscles.

"Nah, Blair took a shower late last night. She shouldn't be in there long."

Natalie held her stomach and moaned again.

"She'd better not be. I think I'm going to be sick again."

As soon as Blair reappeared, Natalie ran toward the bathroom. Jo snickered as her friend rushed from the room.

"Nat won't be asking for maraschino cherries on her grapefruit slices for a long time to come."

Blair smiled at her chipper girlfriend and walked over to Tootie's bunk bed. She lightly touched Tootie's forehead and then gently pulled down the bed covers. Her voice was barely a whisper as she tugged on Tootie's arm.

"Come on, Tootie. It's time to go to work. We can't afford to get into any more trouble today, okay?"

"Ugh, my head hurts."

"I know. I'm sorry, Tootie. I never should have brought alcohol into the room. I'll get you something to wear from your closet, but you have to get out of bed now."

Jo should have been getting dressed as well, but she was captivated by Blair's soft voice and gentle demeanor with Tootie. She couldn't take her eyes off of the girl she had missed all summer. She watched as Blair gathered Tootie's things and then tied their younger friend's trademark ribbons in her hair.

Although Jo correctly assumed that Tootie wouldn't notice the bandage on her back if she changed tops in the bedroom, she hadn't anticipated that Natalie would return from the bathroom so soon. Natalie's gasp, upon entering the room, was loud enough to draw Tootie's attention.

"Jo, what happened to you?"

Blair immediately left Tootie's side and began helping Jo, who was having trouble getting into her shirt.

"Jo had an accident this summer."

Tootie joined Natalie at the foot of Jo's bed, staring at their roommate.

"It looks bad. What happened?"

Jo sighed. Telling Tootie would be like announcing it on the school's public address system, but she realized that she couldn't hide it forever.

"The Young Diablos had a run-in with some bad guys and I got caught in the middle of it. It's not as bad as it looks. I'm going to have the stitches removed later this week."

"Wow, you had to have stitches?"

Blair explained.

"Someone cut Jo with a knife."


Blair took Tootie's arm and pulled her toward the door, motioning for Natalie to follow them. She knew that the last thing Jo wanted was to be the center of attention for having been assaulted.

"Come on, Natalie, let Jo get dressed in peace. She doesn't need us gawking at her."

Jo smiled her appreciation as the sensitive blonde glanced back at her on her way out the door.

By the time students returned to the cafeteria for lunch, every girl at Eastland had heard about the gang war in the Bronx. As each minute of the day passed, the story of how Jo Polniaczek had been almost mortally wounded while leading her gang to victory had spread. The final version of the story was blown so far out of proportion that it rivaled anything the sheltered girls at Eastland had seen in West Side Story. While Jo had worried that her friends would belittle her for the stupidity of her actions, her classmates were in awe of the tough Bronx native.

"Did it really take over two hundred stitches to sew up your knife wound, Jo?"

Maggie was gushing and Jo inwardly groaned. "No, it didn't take that many."

While Natalie and Tootie were thrilled with the notoriety of their roommate, Jo felt uneasy. Many of the girls at Eastland were already intimidated by Jo's intense personality, the confirmation of her former gang affiliation was certain to make her classmates even more wary of the gruff brunette.

Noting Jo's embarrassment, Blair, who hated serving other students more than any other cafeteria duty, offered to switch tasks with Jo, sending Jo into the kitchen while she stood on the serving line with Natalie and Tootie.

Once lunch had been served, Blair returned to the kitchen to help Jo wash dishes.

"Are you feeling okay today, Jo? You look a little pale."

"I'm fine. Thanks for getting me away from my . . . fans."

Blair chuckled.

"If the story continues to grow at this rate, you'll be as famous as Nicky Cruz."

"You know about Nicky Cruz?"

"I've read The Cross and the Switchblade."

Jo smiled. She loved it when Blair surprised her.

"Did you know that Nicky Cruz also wrote a book?"

"I've heard about it, but I've never read it. Have you?"

"I'd like to, but the library at my old school didn't carry it. Maybe I'll check our library when I go to work tomorrow night."

"You're going to be working in the library again this year?"

Jo's chin lifted slightly as she smiled.

"Yeah. Mrs. Muldoon says she doesn't know how she made it without me."

"Miss Gallagher will be glad to hear that, since she recommended you so highly."

Jo pursed her lips and blew out a long breath.

"Hmm, I'd better stop by her house today before she gets wind of that rumor. The way they're telling it, I should be in a wheelchair."

Blair was surprised that Jo would be so concerned about what their teacher would think of her injury, but she attributed it to Jo's considerate nature.

"Maybe Mrs. Garrett will give us permission to ride your motorcycle over to Miss Gallagher's. She'll be just as anxious as you to make sure Miss Gallagher doesn't get the wrong idea about what happened."

Jo grinned.

"And it'll give us a chance to go for a ride on my bike."

Blair wiped her hands on the dish cloth before tossing her hair.

"My ideas are often brilliant."

When Jo drove her bike into Miss Gallagher's driveway, there was a thin young man struggling to carry a large trunk from Miss Gallagher's car into her home. Jo's first instinct was to help the young man with the trunk, but Blair grabbed Jo's sleeve.

"Jo, you shouldn't be lifting something like that."

Jo grinned.

"I'm gonna use my arms, not my back, Blair. Unlike the wimp in Miss Gallagher's yard, I know how to lift things."

Jo stood in front of the man straining under the weight of the trunk, her feet spread apart and her hands on her hips.

"Could you use a hand with that trunk?"

The man glanced at the cocky teenager and grinned.

"It's not filled with air, y'know."

Jo frowned.

"I didn't think it was. I can hold up my end if you can keep up with me."

The man's grin grew wider as he inclined his head toward the other end of the trunk. Blair ran ahead of the two in order to open the door for them, amused by the magnitude of Jo's competitive streak. Miss Gallagher, hearing voices in her den, came from her bedroom in time to see Jo and Brad placing her large trunk by the sofa.

"Well, hello. Am I greeting a Jet or a Shark?"

Jo lowered her head while Blair giggled at the West Side Story reference.

"Jo was hoping we'd get here before you heard those rumors."

Miss Gallagher chuckled.

"It's amazing how these things get started. Obviously Jo is in top form. That trunk must weigh a ton."

Jo smirked at the man who had been unable to lift the trunk on his own.

"It ain't that heavy."

"Jo, Blair, this is my friend, Brad. Brad, Jo and Blair are students at Eastland Academy. They'll be in my senior English class this year."

Brad extended his hand to Jo, but when Jo grasped it, something caught her eye, causing her to turn her wrist in order to get a closer look at the man's arm. Jo's mood changed instantly and she glared disapprovingly at the man.

Blair, whose attention was still on Miss Gallagher and the massive amount of luggage that still needed to be moved, felt obligated to make Miss Gallagher aware that Jo shouldn't be helping.

"Mrs. Garrett would kill Jo if she knew she was lifting something like that before her stitches were removed, but Jo insisted."

Miss Gallagher's expression reflected a mood change as drastic as Jo's. She'd believed the rumors to be totally unfounded and was concerned to learn that Jo had been injured. She walked over to the scowling brunette and made eye contact.

"Tell me what happened, Jo. I didn't realize that the rumors had any truth to them."

Jo shuffled her feet and glanced toward Brad, who was trying unsuccessfully to be invisible. Gail remembered how difficult it was for Jo to discuss personal matters with friends, much less with a stranger in the room and politely asked Brad if he would mind unpacking some of the boxes he'd carried into her bedroom earlier. Brad seemed relieved to have a reason to leave the room and hastily made his exit.

Blair found it interesting that Jo's recounting of events for Miss Gallagher was much more detailed than the one she'd been given. Miss Gallagher's features didn't reveal anything about her opinion of the story as Jo told her teacher about her visit to the pool hall, the stabbing, the time she spent in the jail cell, and Mrs. Garrett's stellar performance at the police station.

When Jo finished, Miss Gallagher whistled softly.

"I'm sorry you had to experience something like that, Jo. Can I assume that you'll be avoiding your old gang in the future?"

Jo nodded and Blair was impressed that Miss Gallagher didn't embarrass Jo by reacting too strongly to the news.

"Good. Now go into the kitchen and help yourselves to a snack while I go get Brad. My mother packed enough cookies for the entire school."

As soon as Miss Gallagher and Brad left the room, Jo turned to Blair.

"That guy shouldn't be here."

"Why not?"

"He's a drug addict, Blair. Miss Gallagher shouldn't have let him into her house. He'll probably come back one day while she's teaching class and rob her."

"Come on, Jo. I'll admit that he looks a little shifty, but you can't assume that he takes drugs."

"I saw the tracks on his arm, Blair. He not only takes drugs, he shoots them directly into his bloodstream."

Blair was shocked. She whispered to Jo as they entered the kitchen.

"Do you think Miss Gallagher knows?"

Jo's scowl deepened.

"She knows."

When Brad entered the kitchen with his hand resting possessively on Miss Gallagher's back, Blair almost thought she heard Jo growl, her girlfriend's features were so twisted with anger. Blair touched Jo's arm, but Jo didn't take her eyes off of Brad, glaring at him as he walked into the kitchen with Miss Gallagher.

Blair tried to keep the conversation going while Jo and Brad snacked on homemade cookies, but Miss Gallagher seemed distracted, often glancing at Jo.

"Brad's a musician. He plays for an orchestra in Boston."

"Why isn't he in Boston?"

Jo didn't disguise her dislike for Brad when asking the question. Miss Gallagher was accustomed to Jo's abrasive behavior, but she'd rarely thought of Jo as rude. Deciding that perhaps Jo hadn't meant her question to sound like an accusation, Gail gave her a straight answer.

"He took some time off this summer to visit his parents. We grew up in the same neighborhood and I was thrilled to learn that he has a few more days of vacation before he has to return to Boston. It was very nice of his parents to share him with me, since they see him so seldom."

Miss Gallagher met Jo's challenging glare with one as equal in intensity and Jo refrained from saying anything more about Miss Gallagher's guest. Hoping to steer the conversation to a safer topic, Miss Gallagher questioned the girls about their class schedules.

"Jo, did you take my advice and sign up for Mr. Gideon's journalism class?"

"We both did," blurted Blair. She was thrilled that she would be taking all of her classes with Jo their senior year.

"I thought you always took an art class as your elective."

"I've taken all of them and Mrs. Michaels said that she had taught me all she knew. Mother wanted to hire a private tutor to give me lessons on the weekends, but I talked her out of it. I told her that she could teach me anything else I needed to learn. My mother is a very gifted artist. Have you seen any of her paintings?"

Gail smiled. It would be difficult for anyone at Eastland not to have seen some of Monica Warner's paintings. They graced the walls of almost every building.

"Yes, I have. I agree that your mother is gifted, but I like your paintings more. I loved the painting of the field hockey match that you entered into last year's fine arts competition."

Blair tilted her head back in forth in what she thought was a show of modesty, but it was obvious that she wasn't the least bit shy about receiving compliments on her artistic abilities.

"What made you decide to take a journalism class? I would have thought you'd want to take photography or even creative writing."

Gail was teasing Blair. She knew exactly why Blair had signed up for Mr. Gideon's class and the reason was currently sulking like a spoiled brat.

"She can do more than draw, you know. She's just as smart as anyone else taking Gideon's class, probably smarter."

Gail directed her apology to Blair.

"I'm sorry if I made it sound as if I didn't think you were capable of doing well in Mr. Gideon's class, Blair. I know you are a very accomplished scholar."

"Uh, I know you weren't implying anything like that, Miss Gallagher. Maybe Jo got the wrong idea because so many students have dropped out of the class."

Gail was surprised and disappointed to hear that the class wasn't as popular as she had hoped.

"I thought the class was full."

"It was, until everyone found out how hard it was. Mr. Gideon mailed his syllabus this summer. His expectations are very high."

"They are, but you'll learn a great deal. Mr. Gideon was an excellent correspondent."

"Then why'd he quit?"

Gail frowned at Jo's question.

"He wanted to share his experience and knowledge with a new generation of writers."

"Bull. He didn't give up a high paying correspondent's job to come teach a bunch of teenage girls how to write articles about the school play and the sports program."

"Jo, not everyone is working an angle."

Jo pointedly stared at Brad.

"Sure they are, you just can't see it because you're different."

Blair tried her best to lighten the mood, but Jo seemed determined to pick a fight with Miss Gallagher. As the uncomfortable pauses in the conversation became longer and more awkward, Brad excused himself. Sensing that his friend might need some time alone with her students, he told Gail that he had a few more pieces of luggage to bring in from the car. As soon as he left the room, Jo jumped to her feet and started pacing.

"How could you let that guy into your house?"

Shocked by Jo's harsh tone, Miss Gallagher responded forcefully.

"Who I choose to invite into my home is none of your business, Jo. However, I expect all of my guests to be civil to one another. If you can't treat Brad with the respect he deserves, I'll have to ask you to leave."

"Respect? Don't pretend you didn't see the needle marks on his arms. That guy's a hardcore intravenous drug user. You know as well as I do that someone like that is nothing but trouble."

Gail sighed, finally realizing the reason for Jo's attitude toward Brad.

"Jo, everyone makes mistakes. Brad stopped using drugs months ago. He's trying to put his life back together and I'm very proud of him."

"He doesn't look like he's stopped. He's skinny as a rail and he hardly touched those cookies."

"His loss of appetite has nothing to do with drugs, Jo. He caught the flu this past winter and it turned into pneumonia. You saw how weak he is, I've made an appointment for him with a specialist next week to make sure he doesn't have anything more serious."

Jo shook her head, still not convinced.

"You're just like my mom. You can't see what's right in front of you."

Jo turned and stormed out of the room, leaving Blair and Miss Gallagher to stare at one another in the wake of Jo's anger. Blair knew that Miss Gallagher and Mrs. Garrett were friends and that Jo liked to talk to the young teacher about growing up in the Bronx, but she doubted Jo or their guardian had shared any information about Jo's mother. Choosing her words carefully, Blair tried to explain why Jo was reacting so strongly toward Miss Gallagher's friend.

"Jo's just being protective, Miss Gallagher. She's not really angry, she's just afraid that Brad might . . . not treat you, uh, as well as he should."

Gail remembered her conversation with Jo after the volatile girl attacked Neil Richards. Although she insisted that she'd never been abused in any way, Jo confirmed that she'd been knocked around on more than one occasion. Miss Gallagher didn't have to be a genius to figure out that the source of Jo's familiarity with violence probably came from a male acquaintance of her mother.

"I think I understand, Blair. Jo's told me enough about her background for me to fill in the blanks. I want you to know, however, that I would never sacrifice my self-respect or my well-being for any man. Brad isn't taking drugs and he's never been the least bit threatening toward me or anyone else. He's actually a very gentle, creative man."

"He was your boyfriend, wasn't he? I mean, when you were younger."

Miss Gallagher smiled, Blair's intuitiveness continued to surprise her.

"Yes, but please don't tell Jo. She'll think I'm blinded to his faults by love."

"Are you?"

Gail was somewhat taken aback by the directness of Blair's question, but it had been voiced in such a gentle, concerned way that she wasn't annoyed.

"No. I ended my relationship with Brad when I first found out that he was using drugs. I wouldn't be with him now if I wasn't positive that he had left that part of his life behind him."

Blair nodded.

"I'll try to help Jo understand."

Miss Gallagher hoped that Blair would be successful. She had made so much progress in building a relationship with Jo. She didn't want to lose her young protégé's respect.

Blair found Jo sitting on the ground beside her motorcycle, her arms holding her knees firmly against her chest. Blair sat down beside Jo, leaning close enough so that their shoulders touched.

"He's going to hurt her, Blair, and there's nothing I can do to stop it."

"He has to go back to Boston soon."

Jo shook her head.

"I have a bad feeling."

There were tears in Jo's eyes when she turned to look at Blair.

"Maybe we should leave, Jo."

"I'm too upset to drive, but we could walk around the neighborhood. I think I need to work off some of this energy."

Blair stood and extended her hand to help Jo up. Once Jo was standing, Blair stared at their hands, wishing she didn't have to let go of Jo's hand while they walked. Jo sensed Blair's thoughts and stepped closer.

"Do you remember the night we walked from Cynthia's dorm to the athletic field, Blair?"

Blair nodded.

"That's what I think about when you walk beside me. I don't have to feel your hand to know that you're with me."

Blair released Jo's hand, only to slip her arm through Jo's.

"I'm always with you, Jo."

Pulling Jo along, Blair set a leisurely pace, entertaining Jo by sharing some of the juicier gossip her mother had gathered while in Paris. They walked for almost an hour before completing the circle that ended where they began, in front of Miss Gallagher's house. When they arrived, Brad was standing near Jo's bike, obviously waiting for them.

"That's a nice motorcycle. You must have worked a long time to pay for it."

Jo nodded, determined not to engage the man in conversation.

"Uh, Gail talks about you all the time. She says you're the most gifted writer she's ever met."

Both Blair and Jo were shocked by Gail's assessment of Jo's skills as a writer.

"I know you probably won't believe me, but I'm glad she has a friend like you. If I were you, I wouldn't want me to be anywhere near someone as good as Gail either. You're right about me, I don't deserve to walk on the same planet as Gail, but I'd never hurt her. She's the most important person in my life. I screwed up, Jo, but I'm going to prove to you and everyone else that I can be the person Gail thinks I can be."

Jo's response sounded too harsh, even to Blair.

"If you care about her, you'll stay as far away from her as possible."

Brad hung his head.

"I can't do that. I'm in love with her."

Jo knelt beside her bike and unlocked the helmets. She handed one to Blair and placed the other one on her head without acknowledging Brad's declaration of love for Miss Gallagher. Once she and Blair were seated on her motorcycle, Jo stared at the young man who lingered nearby.

"I don't think you'll hurt her on purpose, but that won't make it hurt any less."

Brad shook his head.

"You're wrong, Jo. I'm going to do everything in my power to make Gail's life better."

Jo felt Blair's arms tighten around her waist and took it as a reminder of how forgiving Blair had been toward her.

"If Gail trusts you, then I'll have to trust you, too."

It was the first time Blair had heard Jo use Miss Gallagher's given name, but considering the topic of discussion, it seemed appropriate.

"I won't let you down, Jo. I won't let her down."

Jo kick-started her bike and drove away from Miss Gallagher's house. Having Blair's arms around her was a great comfort, but she still had a bad feeling about the benevolent teacher's friend Brad.

Jo didn't drive back to Mrs. Garrett's, instead she veered toward the mountains, enjoying the way Blair's hands would tighten on her waist as they rounded each turn. Jo could feel Blair relaxing against her, trusting Jo's skill as Jo increased the speed at which she was driving. Maneuvering her bike along the winding roads helped restore Jo's sense of control. She focused on the wind in her face and the warm body pressed intimately against her back, wanting to enjoy being back at Eastland without having to think about anyone but Blair.

Jo and Blair returned to the cafeteria just in time to begin dinner preparations. When Mrs. Garrett asked about Miss Gallagher, Jo barely grunted. Blair, fearing that Mrs. Garrett might call Miss Gallagher and discover that she and Jo had taken a joy ride through the mountains instead of returning directly home, explained Jo's mood.

"Miss Gallagher's boyfriend was at her house when we arrived. Jo doesn't like him."

Mrs. Garrett chuckled.

"Hmm, Jo doesn't like any of the boys you date either, Blair. I'm sure Miss Gallagher didn't take Jo's surly attitude too seriously."

Blair wanted to explain that Jo's attitude toward Miss Gallagher's boyfriend was different, but it was time to get to work and she couldn't very well tell Mrs. Garrett everything without revealing her relationship with Jo. Blair sighed. Pretending that she wasn't in love with Jo was going to be much harder this year.

After dinner had been served and the cafeteria cleaned, Blair approached Mrs. Garrett for another favor.

"Mrs. Garrett, I know that we're grounded, but I was hoping you'd let me go to the retirement center this weekend. I promised Mrs. Treadwell that I'd bring my newest puppet as soon as summer break was over."

Edna Garrett couldn't resist Blair when she was being sweet and she was never sweeter than when she was entertaining the senior citizens at the retirement center.

"That's a lovely idea, Blair."

"Great. Um, can Jo come, too? She's helping me with my ventriloquist act."

Edna didn't understand how Jo could possibly help with Blair's act, unless she was carrying some background scenery, but she wouldn't prevent any of the girls from volunteering at the retirement center.

"That's fine. Jo seemed to enjoy our earlier visit and I know the ladies enjoyed hearing Jo tell them stories about growing up in the Bronx."

Blair was thrilled. Only one day into their punishment and she felt like she would go crazy if she had to spend every night listening to Natalie and Tootie. As soon as she had Mrs. Garrett's permission, Blair sought out Jo, finding her in the lounge playing Monopoly with Tootie and Natalie.

Blair almost laughed at the scene in front of her. Jo, the terror of Eastland, was giddily making 'ruff' sounds as she marched the dog-shaped Monopoly piece around the board.

"Who's winning?"

It was nice to see Jo smiling. She'd been in a dark mood ever since their visit to Miss Gallagher's home that morning.

"I am. I already own Park Place and Boardwalk. I almost have enough houses to build a hotel. If anyone lands on my property, I'm gonna have more money than you, Blair."

"You do understand that you're playing with fake money, right?"

"You mean they won't accept my gold five hundred dollar bill at Harrison's Department Store?"

Blair rolled her eyes and turned to leave, not wanting to interrupt the game while Jo was enjoying herself so much. The ringing of the telephone stopped the popular socialite in her tracks, certain that she would have to explain to another suitor that she couldn't accept any dates because Mrs. Garrett had grounded her.

Blair answered the phone, but it wasn't another Bates student asking for a date, it was her mother. As Blair chatted with her mother, Tootie, Natalie, and Jo listened to Blair's side of the conversation while they continued their game.

Natalie sighed.

"I wish I could talk to my mom like that. Blair and Monica talk to one another more like best friends than mother and daughter."

Tootie agreed.

"Yeah, I can't imagine talking to my mom about the things Blair and Monica discuss."

Jo remained quiet, trying to hear as much of the conversation as possible.

After hanging up the phone, Blair walked over to where her friends were still playing.

"Well, my mother has done it again."

Natalie could never resist being the first to ask a question.

"What has Monica done this time, Blair?"

Blair nodded her head in a matter-of-fact manner.

"She's getting a face lift."

Blair delivered the line as if she was complimenting her mother on being the first in her neighborhood to own a Ferrari. Jo was not only confused by Blair's reaction to her mother's news, she was confused as to why a woman as beautiful as Blair's mother would even consider plastic surgery.

"Why would your mother get a face lift? She has a beautiful face."

Blair's expression oozed her pleasure in hearing Jo's opinion of her mother's attractiveness. Blair and her mother often disagreed, but Blair was extremely proud to be Monica's daughter.

"Mother always says that you can never be too rich, too thin, or too beautiful. She's already as rich and thin as possible. I guess she believes a face lift will make her look younger."

Jo pursed her lips, deep in thought.

"Don't they have to put you to sleep for that kind of operation?"

The light emanating from Blair's face dimmed dramatically. She hadn't thought about the risks involved in her mother's surgery.

"People do it all the time, don't they? I'm sure Mother is going to the best surgeon in the country. She wouldn't do it if there was any chance that something might happen to her."

Seeing the level of her girlfriend's distress, Jo felt bad about bringing up her own concerns about the surgery.

"Of course not, Blair. I didn't mean to make you worry. Heh, Monica probably won't let them put her to sleep anyway, she'll be too busy telling the doctors how to perform the surgery."

Natalie laughed.

"Yeah. I can hear Blair's mom telling the surgeon that she was paying so much she should walk out of there with two noses."

This time Blair joined the other girls in their laughter, certain that her mother wouldn't do anything to risk her health. Jo laughed as well, but it wasn't genuine. Jo attributed Blair's willingness to constantly make excuses for her parents to the depth of her girlfriend's love for her mother and father. Jo hoped for Blair's sake that Monica wasn't going to do anything foolish.

The girls were still laughing about Natalie's joke when Mrs. Garrett came into the lounge looking for Jo.

"Jo, it's time to change your bandage. Why don't you let Blair take your place in the game for a few minutes while you come upstairs with me?"

Jo frowned at Blair as she handed the spoiled blonde her Monopoly money. Blair was the worst Monopoly player at Eastland. Everyone knew that Blair didn't play the game to win. She was only interested in buying railroads and building hotels.

"Don't buy anything. Don't sell anything. Try to land in jail until I get back."

Less than ten minutes later, Jo returned to the lounge as Natalie was speculating about what it would be like to be attacked with a knife.

"I'm just glad that Jo is back at Eastland where it's safe. I can't imagine going through something like that. They wouldn't need to stab me; I'd die of a heart attack if anyone hit me."

Jo cleared her throat to draw her friend's attention.

"Don't fool yourself, Natalie. Bad guys come in all shapes, sizes, and economic brackets. What happened to me in the Bronx could happen anywhere."

Natalie shrugged. She wasn't convinced, but didn't want to argue with Jo. She much preferred to watch Jo argue with Blair, which was about to happen in – 'three, two, one'.

"Blair! I asked you to do one thing!"

Blair smiled at her furious girlfriend.

"I wanted you to have a railroad. Natalie sold me one of hers."

"No! You can't go around spending Monopoly money like you spend real money."

Tootie and Natalie laughed at the absurdity of Jo's argument while Blair sighed dramatically and flounced out of the room.

"Go to jail, then, but don't call me to bail you out."

As the irritated blonde was leaving the room, Jo yelled again.

"I'd rather be in jail than riding on stupid Reading Railroad."

After the Monopoly game, Jo went upstairs while Tootie and Natalie stayed in the lounge to watch television.

"Who won?"

Jo grinned, not having to answer Blair's question.

"I don't know why they are always pestering you to play when you always win."

"Face it, Blair. I have great business savvy."

Blair, who had been drawing, got up from her bed and moved to Jo's.

"I'm glad to see you in a better mood."

Jo lowered her head and gazed at Blair's hand for a few seconds before entwining their fingers.

"I'm sorry I lost my temper at Gail's."

"Jo . . . um, can we talk about that?"

Jo frowned and withdrew her hand.

"I don't think there's anything to talk about."

Blair walked over to Jo's toolbox and withdrew an envelope.

"I didn't know of a safer place to keep this. I hope you don't mind that I used your toolbox."

Jo nodded her consent.

"I told you that you could put your keepsakes in it. Is that a letter?"

Blair sat beside Jo and handed her the envelope.

"It's one of the letters you sent to me when I was in Paris."

Jo opened the envelope, curious as to which of her letters Blair wanted to discuss.

"Out of all those letters, you want to talk about this one?"

Jo had expected Blair to present her with one of the numerous love letters she'd mailed during the summer, but the letter she held in her hands wasn't romantic.

"I didn't understand it."

"Oh. I guess it was a little weird."

Blair touched Jo's forearm as Jo was refreshing her memory by reviewing the letter.

"No, it was beautiful. I love it. I just . . . I think I'm beginning to see what you were saying."

Jo's heart began to beat faster and she began to feel queasy.

"Because of how I acted toward Brad?"

"Yes, but I'm not sure how to . . . I want to understand more."

Jo stood up and began pacing between their beds.

"I get it. I shouldn't have expected us to pick back up where we left off last year. You don't have to explain why we can't be together anymore."

Blair leapt from the bed and grabbed her girlfriend.

"Why would you think that? Why are you always saying things like that when you know how much I love you?"

Jo was both relieved and embarrassed. Her voice was much higher than usual when she tried to explain.

"Well . . . I know that. You're the one who said I was weird."

"I didn't say you were weird. I said I wanted to understand your letter. I want to understand you."

Jo took Blair's hand and returned to the bed.

"It doesn't mean anything. It was a dream. Dreams don't have to mean anything."

"They do if you have them more than once and you must think this one is important or you wouldn't have written about it."

"Well, when you put it like that."

Jo glanced down at the letter and frowned as Blair continued.

"When you write about going back and forth in time, between being here at Eastland and being in the Bronx, you weren't talking about where you were, right?"

Jo fell backwards on her bed, glancing around her bedroom.

"I thought I had changed, Blair. I thought the person you knew was . . . really me. Sometimes I feel like I've changed so much and at other times I feel like I haven't changed at all."

Blair leaned on her elbow, gazing at the unsettled brunette.

"Things around us change. The way we look at things change. Who we are? That doesn't change all that much. It probably looks to most people as if I changed a lot last year, too, but that's because I was pretending to be someone I'm not. I was miserable in Paris. Everyone expected me to behave the way I always have, and I did. I smiled at all the right jokes and pretended to be interested in who was doing what with whom, but all I could think about was how silly it was to waste so much time talking about people I hardly knew."

"It's more than that, Blair. When you went to Paris, you were still you. When I went back to the Bronx, I didn't know who I was anymore. I couldn't figure out what people expected of me. Jessie accused me of selling out. Even my mom looked at me odd when I tried to talk to her about . . . how I feel about . . . things. Now, I come back here and I can't act the way I'm supposed to act around you, either."

Blair ran her fingers lightly over Jo's hand.

"You don't have to act around me, Jo."

Jo rolled off her bed and yanked Blair's sketchbook from the end table where Blair had placed it. Normally, Jo treated Blair's sketches as if they were priceless works of art, but the irritated brunette carelessly riffled through the pages until she found what she was looked for and flung it at her concerned girlfriend.

"This ain't me. I'm suspicious and pushy and —."


Blair shook her head as Jo lifted the hem of her t-shirt and half turned to reveal her bandage.

"This is who I am, Blair. I'm nothing like the girl in that picture."

Blair gripped Jo's shoulders, turning Jo around to face her.

"That happened TO you, Jo. It's not who you are and you have a right to be angry, but not at yourself."

"I was stupid."

"You were courageous. You probably saved Jessie's life."

The two girls stood facing one another. Their eyes were locked, their expressions completely open and honest. Blair reached for Jo's hand, just as the door to their room swung open.

Blair, who was already in her pajamas, immediately slid under the covers of her bed as soon as Tootie and Natalie bounded into the room. Jo quickly changed, careful to keep her back to the wall and was in bed within minutes, as were Natalie and Tootie. A short time after everyone had retired for the evening, Natalie turned on the overhead light, agitating Blair.

"Natalie, please turn off the light. Tomorrow is the first day of classes and I don't want to show up without my beauty sleep. When I don't get my full eight hours, I get these little lines on my forehead. You don't want me to go to class with little lines on my forehead, do you?"

Natalie shrugged off Blair's complaint.

"How am I supposed to find my bedtime snack in the dark? You don't want me to faint from malnutrition on the first day of class, do you?"

"Okay, but could you please hurry?"

Tootie was snuggled in her bunk bed and Jo was feigning sleep while watching her girlfriend toss and turn when Natalie started crunching a bag of chips.

"Natalie, please."

"I can't help it, Blair. The first day of class always makes me nervous and I always eat when I'm nervous."

Jo wasn't very sleepy. Like Natalie, she was nervous about the first day of class. She was especially nervous about seeing Miss Gallagher again after she'd stuck her nose into her favorite teacher's private business. What agitated Jo most was that Natalie seemed to be intentionally making noise in an effort to keep Blair awake.

"Nat, if ya don't turn off the light and stop rattling that bag, I'm gonna give you something to really be nervous about."

Natalie pouted, but did so silently and turned off the lights. As she lay in her bed trying not to make too much noise and thus draw the attention of her tough roommate, Natalie was reminded of their first night together. 'Well, it's not as bad as the first time I slept in a room with Jo Polniaczek,' thought the exuberant young girl.

The next morning, Blair awoke to an empty room. It didn't surprise her that Natalie and Tootie would rise early on the first day of classes and Jo was always the first to shower and change into her uniform. As she prepared for class, Blair's thoughts were exclusively on Jo and their conversation the night before. Noticing that the edge of the sketch Jo had hastily jammed back into Blair's book was sticking out of the pages, Blair opened the book to straighten her drawings. What she saw brought tears to her eyes.

"Oh, Joey," she whispered, to no one but herself as she read the small slip of paper Jo had slipped into her sketchbook.

I stared at the drawings

The ones in your book

Of that beautiful girl

Honest features

Tender lips

Gentle smile

She's the kind of girl that I'd like to be

The girl you see . . . when you look at me


Post Series Flash Forward: Tootie Returns to Peekskill

"Mmmm. Joey, we can't do this. We have a room full of guests downstairs."

"Heh heh, your voice says no, but every other part of you is screaming yes."

Jo was sitting in a chair beside their bed, refusing to release Blair from her lap.

"I don't think anyone bought the excuse that you had to help me change out of my soiled blouse. By the way, you're eventually going to have to tell me how that happened."

Jo groaned.

"Blair, you're killing the mood. I'm doing everything I can think of to make your toes curl and you're talking about the people downstairs and soiled clothes."

Blair moaned as Jo's fingers stroked her hair.

"I'm not the one who invited everyone to come home with us, Jo."

Jo buried her head in Blair's neck and sighed.

"I was double-teamed. Nancy confused me with kindness. The next thing I knew, Roger was squirming an invitation out of me to come see my newest classic car. I couldn't invite them and not invite everyone else."

Blair laughed.

"All the more reason why we shouldn't dawdle up here."

"Dawdling? Are you seriously going to define what I've been doing to you as dawdling? You're crushing my ego, Blair."

"It serves you right for following me up here and getting me excited when you know we don't have time to finish what you started."

"Give me a break. You started this the first time you walked out on that dance floor tonight. I thought I was going to have to go into the kitchen and splash cold water on my face. You know how I get when you move like that."

Blair tossed her head back and twirled her hair, thrilled that her dancing had the intended effect on her lover.

"I wasn't sure you noticed."

"How could I miss you? Every time someone asked you to dance you managed to maneuver your way to within two feet of our dinner table."

"I only dance for you, Jo. The other partner is irrelevant."

Jo shifted in her chair, pulling Blair against her more intimately.

"I like watching you, Blair. How can I go look at a bunch of old cars tonight when I have something far more interesting to look at here?"

Blair placed her hands on Jo's cheeks and tilted her partner's head upward to meet her eyes.

"Just how long do your eyes plan to ogle me before you allow me to put on a clean blouse?"

Jo nodded her head from side to side and grinned.

"I plan to spend my whole life ogling you, Blair Warner, and you wouldn't have it any other way."

Blair finally gave in to the inevitable, gently massaging the nape of Jo's neck as she pulled her lover toward her. She'd given up any hopes of being a good hostess when she chose Jo Polniaczek as her partner in life. Blair didn't consider it a sacrifice.

Almost an hour later, Jo and Blair were giving their guests a tour of Jo's garage. Beverly, who had surprisingly announced that she was also interested in classic cars, joined her parents on the tour as Jo gave a detailed description of each vehicle.

Roger Butler worked for the company that published Jo's novels. He often traveled with Jo on her book tours and they had become good friends. Although Roger had been to their home on several occasions, the luncheon a few days earlier was the first time Nancy had visited the Polniaczek-Warner household.

Roger, who had seen Jo's car collection several times, obviously knew his way around the garage. Nancy, however, had no idea that Jo was such an avid collector. She turned to Blair in amazement.

"Roger thinks that by bringing me here to see all of Jo's cars, I'll be more receptive to the idea of the Jaguar he wants to buy. I suppose I should feel silly for giving him a hard time about wanting two cars when Jo has so many."

Jeff Williams was also surprised, and somewhat bewildered, by Jo's collection.

"I have to admit, Jo. I never would have thought you would indulge in such an expensive hobby."


"I know you married money, but you always seemed too levelheaded to be so extravagant."

Jo was both confused and insulted by Jeff's assumption. Just as Blair was about to provide Jeff with a much needed explanation, Roger started laughing.

"That's hilarious, Jeff. You're a funny guy. Jo is the only woman on the planet who is tighter with money than my wife."

Blair playfully punched Roger in the arm and turned her attention to Jeff and Dorothy, who didn't understand what Roger found so funny.

"Jo's automotive collection isn't a hobby. Did you think she paid for our house on a detective's salary alone?"

Jeff stuttered.

"I, um, I guess I thought you used your inheritance, Blair."

Blair bit her lower lip, trying to prevent herself from losing her temper. She and Jo had grown accustomed to outsiders contributing their wealth to Blair's fortune, but Blair still bristled when anyone voiced the assumption.

"Jo built our home as a gift for me; she certainly didn't need any Warner money to pay for it."

It was only after Blair's response that Jeff noticed his wife glaring at him.

"I'm sorry. I guess I wasn't aware of the level of Jo's success as a writer."

Jo grinned shyly.

"Uh, any success I've had as a writer is mostly due to Blair's inspiration and Roger's expertise. I'm happy people like my books, but I'm most passionate about cars and bikes. It kind of started after Blair and I went to an auto show my first year at Eastland. A few years later when we went to another show, Blair was impressed that I had been right about which cars would increase in value and which ones wouldn't."

Jo turned her attention toward Dorothy.

"Do you remember Mrs. Thornwell? The lady who said she was going to put me in her will, but then changed her mind?"

Dorothy nodded, wondering if Marie Thornwell had left Jo her fortune after all.

Jo turned to Roger and Nancy, explaining that at the time they were seniors at Eastland, Marie Thornwell was the oldest living Eastland graduate. The elderly lady took an interest in Jo when Jo interviewed her for the Eastlander newspaper. Instead of naming Eastland as the primary benefactor of her will as she had announced earlier, Mrs. Thornwell decided to leave her fortune to Jo.

After unsuccessfully trying to change Jo into a socialite, Mrs. Thornwell changed her mind about leaving her estate to Jo. Mrs. Thornwell was surprised, however, when Jo continued to visit her even though she knew that she would never benefit monetarily from their friendship.

"Marie was complaining to Blair and me about her losses in the stock market and Blair, as usual, came up with one of her brilliant ideas."

Everyone except Jeff and Beverly chuckled, having also been treated to many of Blair's brilliant ideas.

"I laughed, too, but when it comes to money, Blair's ideas usually are as brilliant as advertised. Anyway, Blair started bragging about what she called my expertise in identifying marketable classic cars and Mrs. Thornwell asked me to take her to an auto auction for fun. I had no idea that she was planning to buy a car, but she bought two of the ones that I thought had the most potential. Two years later, when pretty much every other investment she'd made had tanked, the cars had more than tripled in value. She was so happy that she paid me a commission when she sold the cars. I used the commission to invest in a classic car of my own and the rest is history."

Dorothy was shocked.

"When did you start this, Jo? You never owned a car while we lived together in Peekskill."

"I bought my first car a short time after Blair bought Eastland. You had already moved to London by then. It was a real piece of junk, but I knew that if I fixed it up, I could make some quick money and we really needed the cash that year."

Blair walked over to Jo and wrapped her arms around the modest brunette.

"Jo didn't want me to drop out of law school, but after I put all of my money into buying Eastland and Daddy decided that it was time for me to begin paying my own way, I didn't have enough for my last year's tuition. "

Blair beamed at Jo, thrilled with the opportunity to acknowledge how much Jo had contributed financially when Blair had struggled to keep Eastland from going bankrupt.

"Jo not only helped me run Eastland, she made it possible for me to finish law school."

Although Natalie, Alex, and Roger had already heard Blair tell the story of how Jo's keen investment strategies had supported them during the first few years after graduation, it was news to Jeff, Dorothy, and Nancy, all of whom looked at Jo with a sense of awe.

"Wow, Jo. You really are a renaissance woman."

Nancy was almost swooning, which embarrassed Jo and delighted Blair.

Dorothy, however, was terribly confused.

"I don't understand. Why would you need financial help from Jo? You can't expect me to believe that your father cut you off for no reason. He doted on you, Blair."

Jo and Blair locked eyes for several seconds in silent communication before Blair continued.

"He had a reason, Tootie."

The mere fact that Blair, who had always tried harder than any of her other friends to refrain from using Dorothy's childhood nickname had reverted to calling her Tootie, revealed the seriousness of Blair's brief explanation. While Dorothy took time to grasp why Blair's father would deny his daughter anything, Blair recalled the conversation she had with her father at the end of her first year of law school.

"Princess, I'm going to use a word you've never heard before. No."


"It means —."

"I know what it means. Daddy, saving Eastland is really important to me."

"Then you should be the one to do something about it."

Misunderstanding her father's intention, Blair smiled and removed a pen from the desk and handed it to her father.

"I will. I will take full responsibility. Just write me a check."


Blair was stunned. There was only one other time in her entire life when her father had used that word where his daughter was concerned. Preferring not to dwell on what she considered ancient history, Blair communicated her disbelief with her tone.

"Twice in one day?"

"Taking full responsibility means using your own money."

"I don't have any."

When her father remained silent, it dawned on Blair where her father thought she could get the money. Her voice was barely a whisper, as if she were absently speaking her thoughts instead of talking to her father.

"Just Grandmother's trust fund."

"Ooh, I think we just struck money."

Blair knew that her grandmother had specifically wanted Blair to use the trust fund to follow in her grandfather, Judge Blair's, footsteps.

I was saving that to open my own law firm."

"Fine, then forget about saving the school."

Ignoring her father's harsh reply, Blair continued to plead.

"Eastland is more than a school. It's been a part of our family for five generations. It's been a part of me."

"Princess, you have to decide what matters to you more. Starting your own law firm or saving the school."

It was an impossible choice for the pampered heiress.

"I want to do both."

"Well, that's the trouble with being an adult. You have to make some rough choices."

It was the reference to Blair being an adult that confirmed Blair's suspicion as to why her father had suddenly decided to withdraw his financial support. Earlier in the week, while defending her relationship with Jo for the hundredth time, Blair had complained that she should be treated like an adult, capable of choosing the partner best suited for her. Clinging to the hope that perhaps her father overestimated the value of her trust fund, Blair continued.

"Buying Eastland would clean out my entire trust fund."


"It's my security blanket."

"I know."

"And you won't help me a little bit?"

"Not a cent."

Blair was at a loss as to what to do.

"Would pouting help?"

Reverting to old habits, Blair shamelessly extended her lower lip. After all, it always worked with Jo.

"I'm pouting."

"I'm still shaking my head."

"You really mean that?"

"Yes, I do."

It wasn't a devastating experience for the affluent law student; not at all like the trauma she felt when her father had institutionalized her at age thirteen. However, it hurt for Blair to realize that her father was still trying to control her. It was verification of his continued condemnation of what he referred to as her 'inappropriate lifestyle'. The withholding of money was secondary to the oppression Blair felt. For the young woman who had continued to adore her father, regardless of his shortcomings, it was the point at which she stopped seeking the approval of a man who would never approve of her.

Nancy's next question broke both Blair and Dorothy out of their respective memories.

"What about Mrs. Thornwell? Did she leave Jo part of her estate?"

Jo grinned.

"No, Nancy. Nary a dime."

Dorothy looked back and forth between Blair and Jo, confused once again.

"Well, who inherited her fortune?"

Blair snickered, finding humor in the fact that Jo's benefactor had contributed so much to Eastland's success while Blair's father had contributed nothing.

"She went with her original idea and left it all to Eastland Academy."

Dorothy's mouth sagged open.

"Which you own!"

'Like Blair Warner needed the extra money', thought Tootie.

Jo continued to laugh at the expression on Dorothy's face, but Blair felt the need to clarify.

"It's not as if the money came directly to me, Dorothy. We set up an account and the interest from the principal Mrs. Thornwell gave the school is used to fund Eastland scholarships. In a way, Mrs. Thornwell did include Jo in her will since she requested that one of the scholarships be named for Jo. The Polniaczek Scholarship is the only scholarship that covers not only room, board, and tuition, but related field trips and any other incidentals those students may need."

Shrugging her shoulders, Jo added.

"By the time Mrs. Thornwell passed away, Eastland was already thriving and Blair and I haven't done too badly for ourselves. I don't have to buy the old clunkers and fix them up anymore, but I like doing it. So, I guess it was okay for Jeff to call that part of it a hobby, but the cars on the far end of the garage are pure investments."

"Jo likes muscular cars. Those comprise the largest part of her collection." Blair explained to the group.

"Geez, Blair. They're called muscle cars."

"That's what I was telling everyone. Pay attention, Jo."

Blair was enjoying the evening immensely. She loved hearing her friends speak so admirably of Jo and she was having fun demonstrating her own knowledge of classic cars.

Looking at Dorothy, Blair dangled a set of keys in front of her.

"How about it, Dorothy? Would you like to cruise downtown Peekskill in this one?"

Jo began to shuffle her feet nervously.

"Blair, I'm not sure that would be a very good idea."

"Don't be silly, Jo. Don't you recall how much fun we had the night we went cruising with Natalie and Dorothy? Besides, it's been ages since we taught Dorothy to drive. I want to see if she's improved."

"Uh, do you really want to find that out in this car, Blair?"

As Jeff and Roger looked on in disbelief, Dorothy enthusiastically accepted the keys from Blair and jumped into the driver's seat while Blair sat on the passenger side of Jo's convertible.

"Why not? What good are they if we can't have a little fun with them once in a while? It's not as if I gave her the keys to your precious Ferrari. Who wants to drive a car named after a bug?"

"It's S P Y D E R, Blair, with a Y, not an I. It's not named after a bug. Why do I bother explaining these things to you? You never listen."

Ignoring Jo, Blair turned excitedly to Dorothy.

"I gave this one to Jo for her birthday. It's named after a snake."

Winking at Natalie, Blair continued.

"It's a Super Snake, to be exact."

Jo frowned, trying to think of a way to get Blair and Dorothy out of her 1966 Shelby Cobra.

"Yeah, it's too bad this one only seats two people. Otherwise, we could all go for a ride."

"We can take turns," reasoned Blair.

"It's also a stick shift," argued Jo.

"Oh," Dorothy's disappointment was evident.

"I could never drive a stick. That's why I couldn't drive Blair's Porsche."

"Yeah," Natalie finally joined the conversation. "I always found it odd that Jo and Blair both preferred driving a stick shift."

Natalie tried to keep a straight face, but when Alex, Jeff, and Roger broke into laughter and started elbowing one another she couldn't hold back the smile.

"Some jokes just never get old for ya, do they, Nat?"

"Ignore the barbarians. Perhaps we'll find more civilized men when we cruise Main Street."

Jo winked at Blair.

"I do have another convertible that I bought a few weeks ago. It's big enough for all five of us."

Blair groaned.

"You can't be serious?"

"Why not?"

Blair rolled her eyes as if the answer was obvious, then explained to Dorothy.

"It's a Barracuda. Do we really want to ride around Peekskill in something referred to as a Barracuda?"

Jo moaned.

"It's a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda Convertible and you'd be the coolest girls on the strip if you took it cruising."

Beverly couldn't remain silent any longer.

"Mother, you can't possibly intend to go cruising in this hick town. Everyone will laugh at you."

Jo grinned.

"See, Blair. Not only will you be cool, you'll get to humiliate our children."

Roger laughed as he turned to Nancy.

"Tiffany would have a cow if she saw you cruising the streets in that thing."

Blair and Jo were surprised to see the smile spreading across Nancy's face.

"Be sure to get a picture of us, Roger. We can show it to her when she's entertaining that ridiculously arrogant boyfriend of hers."

Beverly wasn't happy with the way the conversation was going.

"Mother! You can't be serious."

Dorothy giggled as she exited the Cobra and walked over to the lime green Barracuda.

"Let's take it for a test run now and discuss how we can mortify our children later."

Dorothy, Blair, and Nancy piled into the beat up Barracuda. Dorothy didn't have to wait for Beverly to be mortified. The teenager's face was already covered by her hands. The sight of her mother and her mother's older friends sitting in the Barracuda was too horrifying a site for the teen to view.

Blair smiled at Jo, who was still standing with the men, perfectly content to remain behind.

"Come on, Jo, you know you want to cruise. You pretended you didn't want to go when we were in school, but you had more fun than anyone."

"I don't know, Blair. I have a reputation to maintain in this town."

"I'm risking having my name permanently removed from the Social Register. Surely you can risk your reputation as a serious-minded businesswoman."

"Princess, they erased your name from the Social Register the minute you hooked up with me."

Blair giggled, feeling foolishly young.

"We'll stop by Edna's and toot the horn."

"Heh, heh. Yeah, Tootie can toot the horn."

Dorothy rolled her eyes.

"Like I've never heard that before."

As soon as Jo stepped away from the men and toward the car, Blair opened the passenger door to exit, confusing Dorothy.

"Jo has to ride up front. She gets car sick when she has to ride in the backseat."

Jo chuckled and closed her considerate partner's door.

"We're not going that far, Blair. It's only a test drive. I think I'll be okay."

When Dorothy started the car, Jeff became concerned.

"Hey, wait a minute. Jo, are you sure this car is safe? It looks like it's about to fall apart."

Jo laughed.

"That's why I bought it. It'll be less difficult to take it apart if pieces are already dropping off of it."

"You're not going to restore it?"

Jo shook her head while Dorothy gunned the engine.

"No way. I'm going to harvest the parts."

Jo pointed to the wall on the far side of the garage where row upon row of sparking metal parts were neatly labeled.

"I make more money selling original parts to collectors who like to restore cars than I make off the cars I restore myself. See, if you have a car with all original parts and one of those parts breaks, it can reduce the value of the car by thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. A person with a car like that will pay a lot of money to someone with original parts."

Jeff looked imploringly at Dorothy.

"Don't drive too fast, Dot. I don't want this death trap to fall apart while you're inside it."

For a moment, Dorothy simply stared at her husband, surprised by his show of concern. Roger, seeing Jeff's anxiety, became nervous as well.

"Jo, are you sure this is safe? It doesn't even have seat belts."

Jo laughed.

"We're not going to need them. Trust me, Roger. Would I let Blair sit in this car if it wasn't one hundred percent safe?"

That answer seemed to satisfy Roger, who ran to press the button to open the garage door for the women. Unfortunately, the car lurched forward for only a few feet before sputtering to a stop.

Jo got out of the car, raised the hood for a few seconds and then lowered it. Looking sheepishly around the garage at her friends, the successful investor shrugged.

"I said it was safe to sit in it, I didn't say it was operational."

5: A Tale of Two Classes

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