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 6 of the series, Common Ground. Quotes in italics are direct quotes from the Facts of Life Series, Season 3, Episode 2, Fear Strikes Back.
THANKS: To Stacey for the Beta, assistance in story and character development, encouragement, and meticulous attention to detail.
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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To FOLfan[at]ymail.com
6: Fear Strikes
"Do we have to talk about it? Can't we just pretend it didn't happen?"
Jo, Blair, and Mrs. Garrett were setting up the cafeteria for dinner. Jo shook her head at the naïve attitude of her girlfriend while Mrs. Garrett sighed regretfully.
"Oh, I don't think we can do that, Blair."
"Face it, Pollyanna, there's a lot of crime around."
Blair made a silly face in response to Jo's rebuff.
"I know that, I watch Hill Street Blues."
Jo crooked her head toward Blair. Blair had made a point during the new school year of insisting that at least one night of each week Jo be given the option of selecting the television show the roommates would watch. Jo was fascinated by the hard-edged action of the television show while Blair was captivated by the evolving love story between the compassionate police captain and the tough-as-nails defense attorney. Therefore, watching the gritty crime drama had become a weekly event in Mrs. Garrett's lounge.
As concerned as she was about the event that occurred the previous day, Mrs. Garrett didn't want the girls to worry unnecessarily.
"I don't want you girls to panic about the situation. The school is taking every possible precaution."
Jo's tone projected the disgust she felt about the school's new security precautions.
"Yeah, that's why all those workmen were here this morning. They were installing alarms."
Blair didn't share her girlfriend's confidence.
"Will alarms be enough?"
Mrs. Garrett started telling Blair about the new security enhancements being installed at Eastland Academy for Girls.
"It's not just alarms, Blair. They're arranging for closed-circuit television, electric gates, ."
Jo interrupted, feeling that Blair needed to know what Jo considered the truth about security systems. Having spent most of her life on the outside of security gates, Jo's perspective was unique to most Eastland students. It didn't help Jo that the gates being installed reminded her of the gates surrounding the prison where she had visited her father the year before.
"I know all about these precautions. They may keep a few people out, but mostly they lock people in."
Everyone's mood brightened when Natalie waddled into the cafeteria, doing her best Charlie Chaplin impersonation. Their effervescent roommate had outdone herself this year, hoping to win the costume contest and take home the coveted first prize: two tickets to the upcoming Bruce Springsteen concert in New York. Natalie's hat, cane, and overcoat were perfect. She'd gone the extra mile by pasting a fake Chaplin style mustache to her upper lip.
Blair was the first to acknowledge Natalie's costume.
"Natalie, you look fabulous!"
"Heh heh, you're gonna bring that party to its knees."
Mrs. Garrett didn't want to dampen the celebration, but she needed to caution the girls that they shouldn't count on being able to attend the costume party.
"If there is a party."
"They're considering canceling the party."
While Mrs. Garrett was attempting to explain to the girls why the school administration might cancel the party, Tootie arrived with more news. In addition to the new security precautions being installed, Eastland's headmaster had also hired an instructor to offer a series of self-defense classes for Eastland students. Edna Garrett was obviously in favor of the classes.
Natalie rolled her eyes.
"Not me. I have this silly aversion to being hurled over someone's shoulders."
Mrs. Garrett continued to encourage the girls to participate in the classes.
"Who knows, maybe you'll get a chance to do some of the hurling!"
Mrs. Garrett's comment appealed to Jo.
"Aha, then count me in. I like to mix it up a little."
Blair watched as her girlfriend moved into a boxing stance and threw a few fake punches. The sudden rush of excitement that flashed through Blair's body had nothing to do with the prospect of learning self-defense and everything to do with the confident athlete's appearance.
Mrs. Garrett smiled as she watched the delicate blush flood Blair's cheeks. She'd long ago seen all the evidence she needed to convince herself that the two roommates were in love, but she wasn't yet certain of whether or not they were aware of their feelings for one another.
"How about you, Blair?"
Blair's smile grew as she considered the prospect of being hurled over her girlfriend's shoulder.
"I have the perfect thing to wear. You know that karate outfit I bought right after we saw Shogun?"
Jo remembered the outfit. She'd complained that it was silly for Blair to buy a karate outfit when she didn't know karate, but Blair had countered that she could wear the outfit as a robe. As a robe, the outfit would be revealing, so Jo's opinion of the wisdom of making such a purchase changed dramatically. She'd teased Blair, however, that the outfit was meant to be worn without any clothing underneath. Jo couldn't tell at the time whether or not Blair had believed her claim, but she was looking forward to finding out. Jo continued to tease Blair about the outfit.
"Yeah, the one with the little alligator on it committing hari-kari."
Not many of Blair's outfits had the alligator logo, but Jo was certain that it was a requirement for the boys at Bates Academy and often made fun of the logo.
"You should take the self-defense class more seriously, Blair."
Blair smiled teasingly at her girlfriend as they walked across campus.
"Be careful for what you wish for, Jo. I may wind up hurling you over my shoulder during our class."
"Give me a break. You can't even lift your own luggage. The only way you'll ever be able to pin me down is if I let ya."
Blair giggled and tossed her hair, enjoying the new direction of the conversation.
"Why would you ever let me pin you down?"
"You know why."
Jo stopped walking and turned to face Blair, her chin thrust forward in challenge.
"I'd rather show ya."
Blair scanned their surroundings. It was unusual for Jo to act so forward without verifying that they were alone and unseen. At first, Blair was tempted to take Jo up on her offer, but she was startled by the sound of a siren and immediately stepped closer to Jo for security.
"Those damn things will be worthless if they keep going off for no reason."
Blair glanced at her watch and held it up for Jo to see.
"No, they told us that they would be testing the sirens this afternoon at 3:00."
"I don't like it. Fences and alarms make me jumpy."
"If they'll keep men like the one who attacked Mrs. King out, then I'll happily adjust to them."
Jo nodded. She couldn't really complain about the fences if they made Blair feel safer. Blair had practically jumped on her when the alarm sounded. Jo wondered if Blair realized that she was still tightly holding Jo's arm with her right hand.
Since the attack on the headmaster's secretary, Jo, who always kept a close eye on her girlfriend, had begun to think of herself as Blair's personal bodyguard. Blair wasn't aware of it, but Jo knew Blair's schedule well enough to shadow her girlfriend without being noticed. While she didn't want Blair to be afraid, Jo worried about Blair's reluctance to acknowledge that anything bad could happen to her on campus, thinking that it made the blonde more vulnerable to a potential assault. She was glad Blair had agreed to take the self-defense class.
As Jo and Blair continued to walk, they noticed the headmaster talking with a tall, broad-shouldered man and several workmen. When Blair turned to get a better look at the men, Jo felt sure that Blair recognized the man doing most of the talking, but when she asked Blair about it, the heiress hedged.
"Who's that guy with Mr. Parker?"
"How should I know?"
Jo raised her eyebrows.
"I don't know. He looked over at you as if he knew you. Y'know, he looks kind of familiar to me, too. I feel like I've seen him somewhere before, but I can't place him."
Blair was quick to change the topic.
"Whoever he is, Tootie will be able to give you his life history when we see her."
"Yeah, with the school newspaper editor and the school gossip as roommates, we don't miss much."
Blair joined Jo in laughing about the advantages of living with their younger roommates, happy to focus on anything other than the incident that precipitated the construction crews erecting fences around the borders of Eastland's sprawling campus.
Donald Riff surreptitiously watched the heiress he had been hired to protect as she walked across campus with her brunette friend. Donald was pleased when Mr. Warner had called him for the special assignment at Eastland Academy. He considered it a compliment that for the past few years, David Warner had entrusted the safety of his only daughter exclusively to Donald. Donald, having two young daughters of his own, knew that the often abrasive entrepreneur valued his daughter over any other person or possession.
While other bodyguards on Mr. Warner's payroll considered assignments involving the protection of the executive's ex-wives or his only child as fluff assignments, Donald enjoyed watching over the young heiress. He was especially pleased with his current assignment, his young client had seemed so sad when he had unobtrusively shadowed her in Paris. Donald suspected that Blair Warner may have noticed him on a couple of occasions during the summer, but she had pretended that he didn't exist, as she had been taught.
The trip to Paris was a wonderful opportunity for Donald's family, who accompanied him on the trip. He watched over the heiress from twilight until dawn while his family mostly slept. During the day, when another security officer followed Miss Warner, Donald had spent time touring cathedrals and museums with his wife and two daughters.
Trained to notice and properly interpret subtle behavior, Donald felt sure that Miss Warner's current state of delight had something to do with the confident brunette girl walking beside her. Donald had seen the brunette the previous year, the weekend he had followed Miss Warner during an Eastland field trip to New York.
Donald remembered the night fondly. He had parked his car near the entrance to the hotel where the students were staying and had settled in for a quiet night of reading when he saw Miss Warner and her friend apparently sneaking out of the hotel. At first, Donald attributed the debutante's uncharacteristic behavior to the brunette, but when the girls were picked up by the same limo service David Warner used, he knew that the heiress had arranged the transportation.
He'd been a little nervous when tailing the limousine. The line between providing protection and invading personal privacy was easily crossed and it was never more difficult to balance the two than when the client was a teenage girl. Donald had been immensely relieved upon realizing that the girls had slipped out of the hotel in order to attend the ballet.
Preceding the ballet, Donald had feared that Miss Warner's companion had spotted him because the brunette had constantly scanned the area. As he watched the brunette's behavior as she walked along the path with Blair Warner, Donald realized that the watchfulness was a natural habit and not a sign that the brunette sensed immediate danger.
He felt good, therefore, knowing that Miss Warner's friend was always alert. The heiress, like her mother, was usually oblivious to her surroundings, a characteristic which made her very vulnerable to predators.
Watching Miss Warner and her friend, Donald almost chuckled as he remembered the delightful woman he'd met the night he had followed the two girls to the ballet. He'd been concerned when he noticed that he was not the only adult following the girls. When he saw the blonde woman he had spotted following the girls' limousine walk into the coffee shop across the street from the theater, Donald had followed her inside.
Trying not to alarm the woman, but needing to determine whether or not she presented a danger to the heiress, Donald had cautiously approached her table. Fortunately for the bodyguard, the coffee shop was crowded, giving him an excuse to ask if he could sit at the table with the woman.
Holding up the novel he had planned to read that evening, he introduced himself and presented Gail Gallagher with what he hoped was a non-threatening smile. He needed to gather more information from the young woman and didn't want to frighten her.
"I see that you also brought reading material. Can I assume that you are also waiting for someone who is attending the ballet?"
Miss Gallagher was wary, but in the crowded coffee shop she didn't see the harm in allowing the gentleman to sit at her table and read his book. She smiled and nodded, but didn't engage him in conversation. Donald, however, persisted.
"My sister is in the theater across the street and I promised to give her a ride home, but I'm not a big fan of the ballet. I'm surprised, though, to see you on this side of the street. Weren't your friends able to get enough tickets so that all of you could see the performance?"
Gail sighed and placed her novel in her lap.
"I don't mean to be rude, but I'm not interested in discussing my reasons for being here. You seem like a nice man, but I have no way of knowing that."
When the woman stood up to leave, Donald made a decision. Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew his Warner Security Identification Card. He thought momentarily that he had misjudged the woman when she scowled at his credentials. He had expected her to be relieved once she realized that he worked for David Warner, but the information seemed to have the opposite effect on the woman.
"I find it appalling that Blair's father is spying on her."
"I'm not spying on her. I'm here to protect her. You, on the other hand, have been spying on her and I would like to know why."
The woman had blushed, cluing Donald in to the fact that the woman was not accustomed to hiding her emotions.
"I'm a teacher at Eastland Academy. It's part of my job to chaperone our students while we are in New York."
Donald motioned toward the chair that Gail had vacated and she willingly returned to her seat.
"The ballet is not on the field trip agenda."
To emphasize his point, Donald removed a copy of the agenda and handed it to Miss Gallagher.
"Blair's friend was able to get two tickets to the ballet at the last minute and I agreed to act as their chaperone. There's nothing noteworthy about that."
Donald smiled, believing that the young teacher was sincere.
"Please forgive me for intruding on your visit, Miss ?"
"My name is Gail Gallagher. Can I assume you'll be verifying that I am indeed a teacher at Eastland?"
Donald nodded affirmatively.
"I'm sorry, Miss Gallagher. Mr. Warner is very interested in the safety of his daughter. I'm simply keeping a watchful eye on her for him."
Miss Gallagher frowned.
"David Warner should be interested in his daughter's total well-being, not just her physical safety."
Although Donald was adept at masking his expressions, Gail had stumbled upon one of his greatest regrets and his face must have communicated his distress. A few years earlier, Donald had the distasteful task of driving the car that had delivered a terrified Blair Warner to a sexual reorientation clinic.
The guilt of that day had gnawed at the protective security officer. He'd been distraught when he confided the details of what had happened to his wife. Donald had fought to refrain from openly defying his employer and rescuing the child. His wife had reminded him that getting fired wouldn't have helped the young girl and that perhaps by remaining in Mr. Warner's service he would one day be able to make it up to the girl.
Correctly reading the bodyguard's countenance, Miss Gallagher carefully worded her next question.
"Are you required to prepare a report for Mr. Warner each time you watch over his daughter?"
"You mean this is a date?"
The words were out of his mouth before he realized he was speaking out loud. Donald was not only humiliated by his lack of professionalism, he was afraid that he may have revealed more about Miss Warner than the teacher knew.
Miss Gallagher raised her chin defiantly. The man seemed nice, but things Jo had revealed made it clear to Miss Gallagher that it would be bad for Blair if her father got wind of the fact that she was dating Jo Polniaczek.
"It's an innocent trip to the ballet. That's what your report will say, right?"
Donald had smiled. His wife had been correct. It had taken years, but he had finally found himself in a position to help the heiress. He had never been able to forget the tear-stained face of the child as the attendants at the clinic had forcefully pulled her arms from her father. Although she didn't speak to him, Blair Warner's eyes had pleaded with Donald to help her. It was, after all, his job to keep her safe.
"That's ALL my report will say."
Donald's response had pleased the teacher. He and Gail Gallagher had spent the better part of the next two hours discussing literature and sharing amusing stories about the two young girls attending the ballet. As Donald returned his attention to the security diagram he was holding, he hoped he might run across the nice teacher again before he finished overseeing the implementation of Eastland's new security system.
"That's your costume?"
"What's wrong with it?"
Blair was wearing the gold silk blouse that Jo had told her was one of her favorites and a striped skirt.
"Nothing's wrong with it, but it looks like the kind of thing you'd wear to a regular party."
Blair rolled her eyes and held up the sign she was carrying.
"I wouldn't carry one of these to a regular party."
"So, that's it? All you're gonna do is dress like you always dress and carry a sign?"
"Jo, when you have worked as hard as I have to achieve a certain look, you don't modify it for a silly costume party."
Jo shook her head as she continued to complete her outfit, tying a red bandana around her neck after donning her leather jacket. When Blair started to leave the room, Jo stopped her.
"Aren't you forgetting something?"
Blair looked at herself in the mirror, unable to find anything missing from her ensemble. Jo grinned and removed Blair's helmet from their closet.
"We're riding your bike to the party?"
"Well, I'd look pretty silly as the Easy Rider without something to ride, wouldn't I?"
Blair took the helmet and feigned displeasure.
"I'll have to style my hair again in the parking lot."
Jo groaned, but her grin grew as she dangled her keychain in front of Blair as a signal that she was ready to leave for the party.
"Y'know, Blair, this might go down in the record books as the dullest costume party in the history of Eastland."
"I can't believe so many girls were afraid to come out tonight."
"Not to mention the boys. Do you suppose being a coward is a requirement for admittance to Bates?"
Blair glanced over at Jo, who hadn't left Blair's side all night. Blair considered Jo's confident attitude one of her most attractive qualities and Jo was at her most confident at the costume party. She liked Jo best when the willful brunette was at her cockiest and Jo was strutting around the party like a peacock. Jo was carrying her motorcycle helmet, wearing dark sunglasses, a red bandana around her neck, and a black leather jacket. The costume helped project the badass biker persona Jo was attempting to pull off, but the attitude was all Jo Polniaczek. Jo, as Peter Fonda, was indeed the most impressive guy at the party. In light of recent events, Blair decided that she wouldn't have felt nearly as safe walking home from the party with Michael Sampson as she was going to feel riding home on the back of Jo's motorcycle.
"Don't look now, but here comes Julie Sable. She probably wants to rub the fact that she won the costume contest in my face."
"I don't get it. Everyone here thought that Nat's Charlie Chaplin outfit was the best. Julie Sable doesn't even look like Sophia Loren."
"I know. I wish I knew Italian, I'll bet she's actually speaking gibberish and no one knows the language well enough to call her on it."
Jo was nodding her agreement with Blair's last complaint when Julie approached them.
"Well, if it isn't the Fonda twins. Have you seen my prize for best costume?"
Julie waved the Bruce Springsteen tickets she'd won in front of Blair's face and wrapped her arm around Michael Sampson as if he was the real prize of the night.
Jo didn't like seeing Julie flaunt Michael Sampson in front of Blair. Blair could have had Michael if Jo hadn't continued to intervene every time he got near her girlfriend. As much as Jo didn't want Blair messing around with Michael Sampson, she didn't want snotty Julie Sable thinking she had gotten anything over on Blair, either. As Michael left to refill Julie's glass with more punch, Jo leaned close to Blair and whispered into her ear.
"Have you ever noticed that Mike Sampson doesn't have a neck? I think he's built sort of like my thumb."
Jo held her thumb up for Blair to see and Blair burst into a fit of giggles. The amused debutante didn't attempt to whisper her reply, instead saying it loud enough for Julie to hear.
"You know, Jo, Michael does look a lot like your thumb."
Julie threw her nose into the air and stormed away from the other two girls as Nancy and Roger joined Blair and Jo.
"Why's Julie in such a snit? I thought she'd be thrilled about winning the contest."
"Yeah, she stole the prize from Natalie. Heh, if they'd had a prize for the best couple, though, you two would have won for sure."
Nancy and Blair giggled while Roger blushed and shifted uncomfortably within his costume.
"Cut it out, Jo. I can't believe I let her talk me into wearing this."
Blair laughed knowingly and raised her eyebrows at Nancy.
"You know I'm going to find out what you promised him in order to get him to dress like that so you may as well tell me."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Blair. Roger loves his costume. Don't you, pookey?"
Roger lowered his voice and glared at his girlfriend.
"I told you not to call me that in public."
Roger blushed again and pulled at the green tights of the Peter Pan costume Nancy had made to match her Tinkerbell outfit. Nancy ignored her uncomfortable boyfriend and smiled sympathetically at Blair.
"Well, it's obvious that Julie Sable has her hooks into Michael. I told you that you should give Jimmy a chance. Have you seen his costume?"
Blair smiled pleasantly at Nancy.
"Whatever made you think that I would be interested in Michael Sampson? He doesn't even have a neck."
Roger laughed until Nancy elbowed him in the ribs.
"You seemed pretty interested in him the other day when he offered to carry your books to the joint student council meeting at Bates."
Nancy's eyes shifted briefly toward Jo and received the response she was expecting from the surly brunette. Blair, however, wasn't rattled by Nancy's revelation.
"Lots of boys offer to carry my books. If Jimmy wants a date with me, maybe he should try asking me himself. I've always known you did the talking for Roger, but I didn't realize that you also spoke for his roommate."
It took Roger a few seconds to catch Blair's meaning, but when he did, he balked.
"Hey, I'm standing right here."
Blair turned and smiled radiantly at Roger.
"Yes, you are, Peter, and have I told you how absolutely darling you look in those tights?"
"Go ahead and laugh, everyone else is. Come on, Nancy. Let's go, these tights are beginning to itch."
Jo and Blair continued to laugh as Roger picked at his tights while walking away.
"C'mon, Blair, let's blow this joint."
"What did you have in mind?"
"Why don't we jump on my 'hopper' and see where it takes us?"
"Great, but where are Tootie and Natalie?"
"Tootie left about a half hour ago."
"Of course not! You know I wouldn't let her do that. She was with Maggie and Brenda. They're in the same dorm so they'll drop Tootie off at Mrs. Garrett's and then they'll walk the rest of the way to their dorm together."
"You sound like you know that for a fact."
"I had a little talk with 'em before they left."
"What about Natalie?"
"Let's not spoil her fun. She's having a blast as Charlie Chaplin. Besides, Nat knows better than to walk home by herself."
Jo and Blair hadn't run into Harrison all night, but as they reached the exit, their luck ran out and they came face to face with Harrison and Margo. Harrison attempted to charm the two girls.
"Hi, ladies. Blair, you're looking especially beautiful tonight."
Blair smiled at Margo, but ignored Harrison.
"You're a fairly decent Statue of Liberty, Margo."
"You know me, always ready to welcome the huddled masses."
Jo grinned at Harrison.
"That's a very unique costume, Harrison."
Harrison's jaw tightened and Margo inwardly cringed. She'd spent half the night trying to calm Harrison down. Not only did he feel humiliated by the fact that someone else was wearing the same costume, he was enraged that everyone thought Natalie's Charlie Chaplin outfit was better than his. Margo had listened to Harrison complain all night about how Natalie had cost him two tickets to the Bruce Springsteen concert.
Harrison tipped his hat for Jo and smiled.
"Yes, everyone has had a good laugh about the fact that your roommate and I selected the same costume. Next year, I plan to dress as Diana Ross."
Blair couldn't help but laugh. There were at least ten girls at the party dressed as Diana Ross, including Tootie. Blair was reminded of why Harrison was able to seduce someone like Margo; he could be witty when he wanted.
Blair hugged Margo briefly and whispered.
"If he hurts you, I'll let Jo break his legs."
Margo laughed and playfully punched Blair in the arm. While Blair and Margo were laughing, Harrison cleared his throat to gain Jo's full attention.
"Jo, uh, did Blair mention that we ran into one another in Paris this summer?"
Jo nodded affirmatively, although Blair hadn't mentioned that Harrison had also spent the summer in Paris.
"Well, I apologized to her about what happened last year. She, um, said that you were the one who should get an apology. I'm sorry if I offended you at the cotillion. I hope we can put that incident behind us and be friends."
Harrison smiled at Margo and wrapped his arm around her waist.
"I'm a one-woman man now that Margo and I are officially going steady."
Jo's expression was unreadable. She'd initially been fooled by Harrison's polished manners, but once she saw beneath the veneer, the Bronx native saw in Harrison the same characteristics she'd seen in too many of her mother's boyfriends. Jo had seen men like Sam get down on their knees while apologizing to her mother for hitting her. Jo knew that apologies from abusive men were worthless.
"For Margo's sake, I hope you've changed, but you and I are never going to be friends."
Harrison's eyes narrowed briefly, but long enough for Jo to recognize the contempt in them. Margo, seeing that no good would come from the current conversation, pulled Harrison toward the dance floor.
"Come on, Harrison, you promised me the next dance."
Blair waved at Margo as her friend walked toward the dance floor with Harrison, then locked eyes for a moment with Jo before sighing deeply.
"I'm sorry, Jo. I wish I'd never brought Harrison to Mrs. Garrett's."
"You can't blame yourself for his actions, Blair. If it hadn't been me, he'd have tried that with some other girl. Maybe he'd have found one who couldn't defend herself. I'm not going to let Harrison Andrews spoil my night."
Once the girls were outside, walking toward Jo's bike, Blair slipped her hand into the back pocket of Jo's jeans.
"Oh, Miss Warner, I think you like my costume!"
Blair smiled seductively.
"I think it's adorable."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Puppies are adorable! Babies are adorable! I don't want to be adorable."
"Well, how would you describe your costume?"
Blair lifted her eyebrow and looked Jo over appraisingly.
"It's a little boyish, but you could make any outfit look sexy."
"Keep talkin' like that and you might be late for curfew tonight."
Jo waggled her eyebrows for emphasis and helped Blair onto the back of her bike. Once she was securely nestled against Jo, Blair reached for Jo's hand, preventing her from starting her motorcycle.
"Jo, you know that I'm not interested in Michael Sampson, don't you?"
"Yeah, I know."
Jo closed her eyes and enjoyed the feeling of Blair's warm body pressed against her.
"I thought it would get easier to see you going out with guys, Blair, but it's getting harder. The longer we hide how we feel about each other, the bigger a secret it becomes. Fooling everyone was kind of fun at first, but now it makes me feel like a jerk."
"I'm sorry, Jo."
"Hey, it's not your fault. I know it's just as hard for you."
Blair squeezed Jo's waist.
"It's worth it, Joey. You're worth it."
"You're just talkin' sweet 'cause ya want to get your hand in my back pocket again."
Blair slid her hands beneath Jo's leather jacket and tugged at Jo's gray sweatshirt.
"I'd do more than that if it wasn't too dangerous. I wouldn't want you to crash your bike."
"Hey, I'm Easy Rider. Nothing's too dangerous for me."
Taking Jo at her word, Blair's fingers began to caress a small area of skin above the waistline of Jo's jeans. Although Jo hadn't started her motorcycle yet, she immediately lost her balance and almost sent both girls sprawling into the gravel.
Margo had intentionally attempted to keep Harrison away from Blair and Jo. She knew that putting Jo and Harrison together was a recipe for disaster. Harrison had been on his best behavior with Margo. He'd sent her flowers and gifts on a daily basis, telling her that he'd been crushed when she broke up with him the year before. Eventually, Margo had given in to his pursuit.
"You heard me apologize to her, didn't you?"
"Girls like Jo Polniaczek can't appreciate a proper apology. You saw how she threw it back in my face, didn't you?"
Margo sighed. She didn't want to get into an argument about Jo.
"Don't let her ruin our evening, Harrison."
Harrison glared at Natalie Greene.
"Our evening was ruined the minute that other Charlie Chaplin arrived. What's she trying to prove by dressing like a man anyway?"
The only person Margo had worked harder to avoid than Jo and Blair was Natalie, but Harrison's anger made it impossible for Margo to keep him from approaching the humorous, young yearbook editor.
Harrison extended his hand to Natalie's dance partner.
"Danny Mason, right?"
Danny smiled nervously. Upperclassmen, especially the most popular ones, rarely spoke to Danny.
"Yes, and you're Harrison Andrews."
Harrison smiled and placed his arm around Danny's shoulder.
"Danny boy, I'm going to give you some advice that might save you a trip to the emergency room."
Danny gawked at Harrison and glanced nervously at Natalie.
"Leave him alone, Harrison."
Harrison smirked at Natalie and continued talking to Danny.
"You should know that your dance partner's girlfriend has a nasty temper and she's insanely jealous of anyone who even talks to Natalie."
Natalie stepped forward to defend herself.
"Shut up, Harrison. That's not funny."
Harrison held up his hand and continued to speak calmly to Danny.
"Have you heard of Jo Polniaczek?"
Danny nodded. Jo's assault on Neil Richards the previous school year was legendary.
"So, you know what she did to Neil Richards. All he did was ask Natalie out on a date and Jo went ballistic. What do you think she'll do when she finds out you were dancing cheek to cheek with her girlfriend?"
The normally bubbly reporter was fuming as she moved toward Harrison, but Margo beat her to the punch. Margo didn't really care that Harrison was harassing Natalie, but he had promised Margo that he wouldn't say anything about Blair or Jo. Margo didn't care about Jo, but she knew that anything said about Jo could reflect on Blair, especially something that hinted at Jo's sexual orientation. As far as Margo was concerned, Harrison had just broken their agreement.
"You lying bastard!"
Harrison's body tensed with the effort it took not to strike Margo.
"Did you see any other girls dressed like men tonight?"
"That doesn't mean anything and you know it."
"All I know is that the biggest dyke on campus is rooming with a chick who came here tonight dressed like a man. I think Danny has a right to know what he's getting into."
When Natalie turned to reassure Danny that he had nothing to fear from Jo, she found herself alone. The young boy had slipped away unnoticed while Harrison and Margo fought. Turning her attention back to Harrison, Natalie saw Margo wrenching her wrist from Harrison's grip.
"You can walk home by yourself, Harrison."
As Margo stormed from the room, Harrison turned his rage on Natalie.
"See what you've done? You've made Margo angry."
"Me? Maybe Margo's angry because her boyfriend is a jerk."
Their argument had drawn a crowd and everyone giggled at Natalie's insult. Harrison blushed from embarrassment as the intuitive reporter took a shot in the dark, and scored a bullseye.
"I know why you left school in Switzerland, Harrison."
Harrison's face, which had been red, turned deathly pale. Natalie had no idea why Harrison had transferred to Bates, but by his reaction she concluded that he hadn't left his former school voluntarily. Harrison opened his mouth, but changed his mind about saying anything before turning and stomping away.
Natalie couldn't wait to get home and tell Jo and Blair how she had gotten the best of Harrison Andrews in front of everyone at the party. It almost made up for losing the costume contest. She found it especially amusing that Harrison's attempt to start rumors about Natalie and Jo had backfired and that everyone was instead speculating about why Harrison had left the school he'd been attending in Switzerland.
In her rush to tell her roommates about her encounter with Harrison, Natalie forgot that Lisa and Stephanie were supposed to walk back to the cafeteria with her.
Tootie was already filling Mrs. Garrett in on the party when Jo and Blair arrived. Blair immediately began complaining to Mrs. Garrett.
"That was absolutely, without question, the worst party I've ever been to."
Tootie nodded her head enthusiastically.
"Did I lie?"
Blair took some satisfaction in the fact that Tootie hadn't enjoyed the party any more than she had. Blair had, however, greatly enjoyed the ride home. She and Jo took a route that added fifteen miles to the quarter mile distance from the party to Mrs. Garrett's.
Tootie, remembering that Blair had hopes of attending the party with Michael Sampson, added.
"When I left, Mike was cheek to cheek with Julie Sable."
Jo grunted in disgust.
"That jerk. She came as Sophia Loren. She won first prize."
"All she did was stand around speaking Italian and acting dumb. I could never have done that."
Jo loved baiting Blair and she'd been handed the perfect opportunity.
"No, you would've had trouble with the Italian."
Blair playfully made a face at Jo, but as often happened, she couldn't think of an appropriate retort. Mrs. Garrett shook her head, saddened to learn that Natalie hadn't won the costume contest.
"Oh, I bet Natalie was disappointed. She was counting on winning."
"Actually, she took it pretty well."
Jo kept a straight face as she agreed.
"Yeah, after we pried her hands from the judge's throat she was fine."
Tootie grinned at Jo's rendition of events.
"She must have gotten over it. She was having a great time when I left."
Jo had also noticed that Natalie was having a great time at the party. She'd spent most of the night dancing with Danny Mason and Jo could tell that Natalie really liked the shy boy. When she and Blair left the party, Jo had expected that Natalie, an upperclassman with a sensible head on her shoulders, would know to walk the short distance home with a friend. After all, Mrs. Garrett had reminded all four girls to stick to the buddy system. Unfortunately for Natalie, Jo was wrong. The three roommates and Mrs. Garrett were stunned at Natalie's condition when she walked into the lounge shaken and afraid.
It could have been much worse. If other students hadn't stumbled upon the scene, the attack on Natalie could have turned into a full blown sexual assault. Fortunately for Natalie, another group of students walked by in time to scare away Natalie's assailant.
As Jo, Blair, and Tootie stood by in shock, Mrs. Garrett comforted their distraught young roommate who had just suffered the worst experience of her life.
Post Series Flash Forward: Tootie Returns to Peekskill
Dorothy and Jeff ran into Natalie and Beverly on their way downstairs to breakfast. The inquisitive reporter couldn't wait to spend more time with her younger friend's daughter. Jo and Blair's children considered Natalie an integral part of their family and Natalie had high hopes of developing the same type of relationship with Beverly.
When the guests entered the kitchen, everyone except Natalie was surprised to find Jo serving breakfast to the stable manager and one of the hired hands while Blair discussed arrangements for their guests to go horseback riding that afternoon.
Jeff's reaction to the scene in the kitchen reminded Natalie of the former athlete's elitist attitude toward Snake, Natalie's first significant boyfriend.
"We, uh, didn't realize you were meeting with your staff. We'll come back at a more appropriate time."
Jo was confused by Jeff's formal attitude, but Blair instantly noted the condescension that laced Jeff's voice.
"Are you kidding? We could feed an entire football team in this kitchen."
Jo began placing additional plates around the table as Natalie made a beeline toward the coffeepot. Natalie Greene had been outspoken as a teen and didn't hold back as an adult either. However, the discord between Jeff Williams and Natalie's truck driver boyfriend had created a great deal of tension between the two roommates years earlier. Natalie had worked hard to get her former best friend back to Peekskill for an extended length of time and she didn't want to do anything to hinder the renewal of their friendship.
"Do you still take a little coffee with your cream, Dorothy?"
Before Dorothy could answer, Jeff tried to excuse himself again.
"I think it would be best if we allow you to finish conducting business before joining you."
Ben Brooks awkwardly stood and looked down at his sweat-stained shirt.
"No, we're finished. Thank you for breakfast, Jo."
Ben and the stable hand had been working since dawn and their appearance reflected it. Blair and Jo often invited Ben to eat breakfast with them when they could fit it into their schedule. Although his official title was that of a stable manager, Ben Brooks was involved in many aspects of the couple's lives. Ben smiled when he felt Blair Warner's hand as she gently touched his forearm to draw his attention.
"Thank you for transporting the extra horses, Ben. I don't know how Jo and I ever managed without you."
"It was my pleasure, Miss Warner. I'll have the horses saddled and ready for your guests at two o'clock this afternoon."
Blair turned to face the Williams family and smiled sweetly at Jeff.
"It's a shame Ben can't stay. If Beverly is as serious about riding as you have indicated, she'd have benefited from his wealth of knowledge. I've never met anyone as good with horses as our stable manager. Our trophy case is full of awards that Bailey and E.J. would never have won without his guidance."
Ben shuffled his mud-caked feet in embarrassment.
"Would the young lady like to come to the stables early to pick out the steed she'd like to ride?"
Blair looked at Beverly who smiled and nodded.
"That settles it; Beverly gets the horse of her choice."
Jo was quick to correct Blair.
"Any horse except Buttercup."
Ben grinned and held up his hand to keep Jo from continuing.
"That's understood, Jo."
Beverly frowned, insulted.
"I'm an excellent rider. I'm sure I can handle any horse in your stables."
"Oh, it's not a reflection on your abilities, Beverly. Buttercup is Bailey's horse. She's the only one who gets to decide who rides her."
After Ben and the ranch hand left the kitchen, Dorothy finally sat down at the table. Jeff continued to hesitate until Jo began filling Dorothy's plate with a tantalizing combination of fruit and pastries.
"Are they always like that?"
"What do you mean?"
"Aw, you know what people say about Jo Polniaczek. I didn't expect her to be so nice, or, um, so pretty."
Ben's laugh was full and hearty. He could understand the young man's confusion. Ben had hired Randy a few weeks earlier and it was the first time the young Peekskill native had met the couple. Ben had been just as surprised several years earlier when he had met Jo and Blair.
"Jo's just as tough as people say she is, Randy, but only when it's called for. You'll find that out if you ever do anything to hurt her family."
"I can see why everyone likes Jo. She's very down to earth. Is Miss Warner really as rich as everyone says?"
Ben spoke softly, but firmly to the young man.
"Look, Randy, people in town are always going to talk about those two, but if I ever hear you gossiping about them, you'll be out of here. I don't just work for them, I care about them."
Randy nodded as Ben continued.
"All you have to do is look around you to see that they have money. When people ask you that, they're leading up to asking more, you'll have to be careful about that."
"The first time I drove up their driveway, I'd never met a lesbian. Well, not one I knew about. I'd heard all the same stories you've heard, but I'd think by now that people would know better."
"It's not like that, Ben. People speak highly of Jo. My aunt works at the pizza shop and she told me that I'd be lucky to work for Jo. Any cop who was shot in the line of duty is going to have a reputation for being tough."
Ben smiled sadly, knowing that it wasn't just Jo's law enforcement background that people talked about. Jo was one of the most tender-hearted women Ben had ever met, but people would rather talk about the temper she displayed as a teenager than acknowledge the pleasant woman she'd become. Ben knew better than most what it was like to be judged according to past mistakes.
Before meeting Jo and Blair, Ben Brooks had heard a lot about the couple who had recently built a home atop Cooper's Rock. At that time, he had been unemployed for over two years. His wife was working two jobs and his inability to find work was causing a strain on more than their finances. When he heard that the couple who had made headlines in the local paper when they moved to Peekskill was looking for a part-time stable manager, Ben jumped at the opportunity.
"When I came here looking for a job, I had worked with horses my entire life, but no one would hire me full-time because of my bum leg."
Ben lifted his cane and tapped his leg for emphasis.
"When Jo walked out of the stables to meet me, she hadn't fully recovered from the shooting so she was limping, too. We kind of smiled at one another and I could tell she knew exactly what I'd been through."
Ben couldn't help but smile when recalling their first meeting. The woman he'd met was nothing like the quick-tempered former cop he'd been told to expect. She was physically fit and appeared to be strong, but she walked with a significant limp and leaned heavily on a cane. Ben had immediately liked the straightforward woman who'd talked to him on the phone about caring for her horses.
"They didn't have as many horses back then so the job was only part time, but I needed the money and was willing to take any job I could get."
Ben eyed Randy carefully.
"Jo's a smart businesswoman. She never makes a move without knowing all the facts. When she told me that she'd checked my background I figured I may as well turn around and drive away."
"Because of my arrest record."
"Oh, I, uh, forgot."
"Yeah, I'm sure you've heard as much of an earful about me as you have about them. I liked to blame it on my leg, but it wasn't that hard for me to find work until people around Peekskill found out that I'd served time in prison."
"No offense, Ben, but it's always surprised me that you were able to get this job in light of your past. They don't call this house Fort Knox without a reason. There are so many security cameras you'd think the president lived here and I hear that the school's locked up pretty tight as well."
"It wasn't always like this. Jo has her reasons for taking so many precautions. That's why I was so impressed that she took the time to talk to the ranchers I'd worked with in the past, even after finding out about my record."
Ben didn't think most people knew that Jo's father was also an ex-convict and they weren't going to hear it from him so he left that part out of his story. He'd been shocked when Jo told him about her father during his job interview, explaining how hard it had been for Mr. Polniaczek to find people willing to give him a second chance, but that he'd worked twice as hard for those who did.
Ben wasn't surprised to hear that everyone he had worked for spoke highly of him. He'd worked hard to make up for the mistake he'd made so many years earlier. He was grateful that the former NYPD detective had taken the time to interview his former employers despite his criminal record. A ten year prison sentence for grand theft auto was a high price to pay for a two hour joyride and Ben had led an exemplary life since being released from prison.
Ben grinned at the young man who had begun to groom one of the horses.
"Can you believe that Jo and I have never signed a contract? She offered me a job and we sealed the deal with a handshake. There aren't many people around these days who still consider a handshake a binding agreement, but Jo isn't like most people."
"Do you see a lot of Miss Warner? She's the one who rides, right?"
"Yes, she rides regularly, but they bought the horses primarily for their oldest daughter. She's one hell of a cowgirl."
Randy laughed. He'd seen the girl demonstrate her considerable riding skills in the local rodeo.
"I'm not nosy, Ben, but I'd like to ask you one more thing, if that's okay?"
"Sure. You're going to be spending time with the entire family. You'll get to know them well enough yourself, but I'm happy to answer your questions, as long as they're not intrusive."
"Why don't you call Miss Warner by her first name? No one ever sees her except at their kids' sporting events. People say she's spoiled, but no one believes someone like Jo would tolerate snobbery."
Ben chuckled good-naturedly.
"To be honest, I don't exactly know why I call her that. When I first met Jo, I called her Miss Polniaczek once and she corrected me, insisting that I call her Jo. I don't think I was pronouncing her last name right anyway, so I was happy to oblige. Miss Warner had just had her baby when I started work and Jo had given me the idea that the birth hadn't gone very well. Jo and the little girl were the only ones who came to the stables the first few months I was here."
Ben stared into the distance as he spoke, as if he was looking into the past.
"One of the horses had gotten sick and I went up to the house to tell Jo that I thought we should call the vet. Jo wasn't there, but the lady who answered the door invited me inside and introduced me to Miss Warner. As soon as I saw her, I recognized her. Um, not from the society pages or gossip magazines, I'd met her in person over ten years earlier, but I hadn't known she was the Warner heiress at the time."
"I thought you were in prison back then."
Ben's smile grew.
"I was. I didn't make the connection when I first met Jo. She'd been wearing a silly hat that day, but as soon as I saw Blair Warner I knew I'd met both of them before. They had come to the prison one Christmas to entertain us. Can you imagine what kind of people would care enough about a bunch of convicts to spend their Christmas visiting a prison? It meant a lot to me to know that there were people out there who still cared about guys like me. It was the last Christmas I spent in the state prison. I was released a few weeks after they did their show. I'll never forget hearing Miss Warner sing I'll Be Home for Christmas and knowing I'd be going home soon."
"Wow. I've never heard that story before."
"Well, that's one I don't mind you repeating. It probably doesn't make sense to you, but I'd feel funny calling the woman who sang that song for us by her first name. Anyway, the lady who introduced us called her Miss Warner. While I was talking with her about the horse, a limo driver came in and he also called her Miss Warner. When I called her Miss Warner, she seemed to expect it."
Randy could see how much Ben admired and respected the two women by the look in his eyes when he talked about them.
"Miss Warner said some really nice things about you to her friends."
"Yeah, we talk a lot now. It wasn't like that when we first met though. I was a little tongue-tied, not sure whether or not I should tell her that we'd met before. I guess she thought I was shy because she didn't say much to me either. She was nice, but she wasn't like Jo. Miss Warner's a lot different now. Not that she was haughty before. She was always polite, but she kept a professional distance."
"Why do you think she changed?"
Ben's features darkened briefly. He'd never forget the day Jo brought Blair and their little girl back from New York. The little girl would run and hide every time Ben or anyone else entered the house. Miss Warner couldn't even take a short trip to town without the child becoming hysterical. Even Jo couldn't coax the young girl away from her mother.
When Chestnut's colt was born, Ben suggested to Jo that caring for the horse might be good for E.J. The sensitive girl had bonded with the sickly little horse immediately. Ben looked over at the healthy mare E.J. had tended so well. He chuckled to himself remembering the look on her parents' faces when the child proudly announced that she had named the horse Princess.
Remembering that Randy was still waiting on an answer, Ben picked up a saddle and began walking away, casually commenting as he left.
"Look at the time. We're not going to get anything done gabbing with one another all day. Let's get to work."
Dorothy felt odd sitting at the table with Jeff and Beverly while Jo and Natalie waited on them. Blair had left the room earlier when she'd gotten a phone call.
"Where's Mrs. G.?"
"She has a house full of guests of her own. For a skinny guy, Alex eats more than our horses. Poor Andy will be so happy to eat anything that wasn't cooked by Beverly Ann or Pippa that he'll probably match Alex's appetite. I suppose Mrs. G. has her hands full this morning."
"I remember what a terrible cook Beverly Ann was. Pippa couldn't be as bad."
"Who do you think taught Pippa to cook?"
Jeff and Beverly looked bored while the former roommates began sharing stories about the two years they had lived with Edna's sister, Beverly Ann. The time passed quickly for the four women who shared so many joyful memories. Blair returned at the same time Jeff stood to leave.
"Thank you for inviting us to stay an extra week while I attend the conference in New York. I wasn't looking forward to spending the week in a lonely hotel. It will be very nice to come back here and see Dorothy and Beverly every night. Our schedules don't allow us many nights together."
Jo and Blair nodded, both remembering how little time they had to spend with one another when Jo was working long hours as a detective and Blair was working just as many hours in the law department of a fashion magazine.
"We're thrilled to have you here, Jeff. We've missed Dorothy terribly."
Jeff smiled again as he excused himself.
"I have a little time before I have to catch the train into New York. I could take Beverly down to the stables so she can pick out the horse she wants to ride while you ladies visit."
Dorothy smiled at her daughter.
"That'd be great, Jeff."
As soon as Jeff and Beverly left the kitchen, Dorothy apologized for blurting the details of their upcoming ride while Nancy and Roger were visiting the night before.
"I'm sorry, Jo. I had no idea Nancy and Roger would assume that Tiffany was also invited."
"That's okay. Blair's the one who'll have to deal with her. Roger and I are going to play golf this afternoon."
Blair looked up in surprise.
"Oh, no you're not."
Jo grinned and jumped up from the table.
"Oh, yes I am. I'm gonna go find my clubs."
"You have to find your clubs?"
"Blair hides them, but I always find them."
Jo was still chuckling as she ran from the room, wanting to avoid arguing with Blair about her afternoon plans.
"Doesn't Jo ride?"
Blair rolled her eyes at Dorothy's question.
"I can't get Jo to ride anything that doesn't come with a motor."
Bailey's voice, coming from the doorway, was filled with mischief.
"That must be so frustrating for you, Mother."
Natalie choked on the juice she'd been drinking, only adding to Bailey's enjoyment. Blair, however, was not amused. She was moments away from reprimanding Bailey when Jo returned to the kitchen.
"Whoa, what's tickling Nat's funny bone?"
Upon seeing Jo, Bailey sobered instantly. However much Blair protested, Bailey knew that her mother didn't mind her teasing. Jo was entirely different. It wasn't so much that Jo didn't like to be teased, which she didn't, it was also that Jo didn't like to think of Bailey as a grown woman. In Jo's mind, Bailey was still her little girl, and little girls didn't make provocative jokes about their mothers' sex lives.
Blair smiled at Jo as innocently as she could.
"I was just explaining to Dorothy that you prefer riding motorcycles to riding horses."
Jo looked at Natalie, who was still somewhat strangled.
"That's nothing to get choked up about."
Blair shrugged and Natalie pointed at her throat, using her cough as an excuse not to explain her behavior.
"She won't admit it, but I think Blair loves racing her motorcycle as much as she loves riding Muffin. We ride our bikes together often, but I leave the horseback riding to Bailey and E.J."
"Don't you like horses, Jo?"
Unfortunately for Natalie, she chose that moment to try to take another swallow, right before Jo answered Dorothy's question. Extending her hands as if she were placing them on the handlebars of a motorcycle, Jo explained.
"Of course I do, but I don't like riding anything I can't control."
The juice Natalie had tried to swallow spurted out both her mouth and nose as she bent over in laughter. She knew she shouldn't say anything because she would be getting Bailey into as much trouble as herself, but the humorous reporter wasn't wired to overlook opportunity when it smacked her in the face.
"That must be doubly frustrating for you, Blair."
Blair blushed while Bailey turned on the garbage disposal, hoping that neither of her parents would hear her giggles. Natalie, on the other hand, gleefully cackled.
Jo looked back and forth between Tootie and Natalie, trying to figure out the reason for both women's reactions. Once she got the gist of their laughter, Jo turned abruptly and strode out of the kitchen, mumbling something about how some people never change.
Blair glared at Natalie, who continued to giggle while Blair scolded her. Natalie tried her best to stop laughing but Bailey was standing behind Blair's back pointing her finger accusingly at Natalie and grinning throughout Blair's admonishment.
"I blame you for this, Natalie. You're a bad influence on Bailey. She only says things like that when you're around."
Blair sighed in frustration and left the kitchen in search of Jo.
"You're a bad influence on me, Aunt Natalie. You should be ashamed of yourself for corrupting an innocent little girl like me."
Natalie raised her eyebrows and turned to Dorothy.
"Don't fall for her sweet and innocent act, Dot. Bailey could teach both of us a lot more than the newest dance steps."
Bailey tossed her hair and giggled in true Blair Warner fashion.
"Don't you wish!"
Blair found Jo in her study polishing her golf clubs.
"Natalie isn't going to change, Jo. Her humor is one of the things we love most about her."
"I know, Blair, but it irritates me when she insinuates things about us in front of Bailey. Kids don't like to think about their parents' sex lives. It's icky."
Blair kept her face from showing her amusement, but her eyes smiled for her. She tried to make her point without telling Jo that Bailey was the one who had gotten Natalie started.
"Don't forget that Bailey spent the first four years of her life with my mother, Jo. She isn't going to be embarrassed by Natalie's raunchy humor."
"I just don't want Bailey to get a casual attitude about sex, Blair. Sex is serious."
Blair found the depth of Jo's sincerity more amusing than Natalie's jokes. She knelt down beside Jo's golf bag to gain her partner's full attention.
"Sex doesn't always have to be serious, Jo. Sometimes . . ."
Blair began playfully twirling her hair.
"Sometimes, it can be . . ."
Blair scanned the room, looking for something, then got up and opened Jo's storage closet. Removing an old leather jacket, she held it up for Jo to see.
"Sometimes, it can be playful."
"What's flying around in that air head of yours, Princess?"
Blair removed a dark pair of sunglasses from the jacket pocket and put them on.
"Don't call me Princess."
Jo tossed her golf clubs away and grinned.
"No? What should I call you?"
Blair put on Jo's jacket, tugged at the collar, snapped her fingers and strutted toward Jo.
To Be Continued
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