DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television. No infringement is intended. Original characters belong to the author. Historical characters belong to history.
SPOILERS: References and some spoilers FOL Seasons 1 5. Reader feedback is always appreciated.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To zblitzreiter[at]gmail.com

Goddess on the Mountain Top
By Blitzreiter

 

Part 3

July, 1986. Manhattan. Manhattan Memorial Hospital.

It was 2 a.m.

Rose dozed in the chair next to Jo's hospital bed.

Jo lay unconscious under the snowy white sheet, tubes and wires hooked to her every which way.

"Darling," Blair murmured.

It had been weeks now. No change, for the better or – thank God – for the worse in Jo's condition. No plan to remove the bullet. No answers.

Rose had invited Blair into Intensive Care so frequently that the nurses knew Blair by her first name and had grown quite fond of her – all except the rather superior chief nurse.

Blair was supposed to be Jo's distant cousin. Rose had sinned, for once in her life, telling outright fibs about Blair and Jo being related. "I'll go to confession," Rose had told Blair. "It'll be worth it."

Blair tiptoed to the door.

The hallway was dim. She could hear the two night nurses talking quietly at the nurses' station down the hall.

It was chancy, Blair knew, but it had been so long since she'd held her lover …

Blair slipped onto the bed, next to Jo, careful not to disarrange any of the tubes or wires.

She gingerly put her arms around her lover. She pressed her cheek to Jo's face.

"Jo … My Joey …"

She hadn't expected to cry. She thought she'd gone tough, spending so much time at Jo's bedside.

But now, in the hush of the wee hours, holding Jo's slight frame, kissing the cold face …

The tears rolled down Blair's face.

Come back to me, darling. Come back …

The ward nurses wore shoes designed for comfort, shoes with thick rubber soles.

Blair heard rubber-soled shoes squeaking on the hall tiles.

Deftly as a ninja, Blair slid off the bed, and settled herself on the arm of Rose's chair.

A young nurse padded into the room.

She saw that Blair was awake, smiled at the young blonde. Then she checked Jo's monitors, and smoothed the white counterpane, and quietly adjusted the pillows.

I wish I could just say who I am, thought Blair. What my relationship with Jo truly is. This young nurse looks kind. And understanding. But you just never know. Most likely she'd be shocked. Run and tell the chief nurse all about me. They'd never allow me in Jo's room again. Blair Warner –predatory lesbian! Gasp!

After the nurse left, Blair took Jo's hand, and kissed it.

"My father's behind bars," she whispered to Jo. "And Alec's mother kept it out of the newspapers. My wound is healing well, darling. I've been given a clean bill of health. And Pauly's in rehab, two floors down, trying hard to walk. Everything's moving forward darling. You have to get better. You have to wake up."

She kissed Jo's hand again, released it …

Back in the hotel room Eduardo was renting for her, the room near the hospital, Blair showered and brushed out her long blonde hair and poured herself a glass of wine.

She'd learned about wines at her mother's knee. She knew this stuff was poisonously bad, some cheap stuff she'd picked up in the shop on the ground floor of the hotel, all she could afford. But the doctors were weaning her off the meds now that she was almost healed. And the fewer meds she took, the more she itched, the more she hurt. Not just her physical wounds, but the wound to her soul.

Jo wasn't getting any better. No one could help her. And now that Blair's father was in jail, it was rather anticlimactic. He was behind bars … But they were no closer to learning the identity of the Sensei, or finding her inheritance, or bringing down B.Z. Becker.

She was glad her father was behind bars. He deserved to be, for shooting Jo, and Pauly, and her. But with David Warner out of commission, it seemed that any takedown of Becker had been derailed — perhaps forever.

She lay on the bed and snapped on the radio and drank several glasses of wine and tried to wrap her head around next steps. If her father couldn't take down Becker, she wanted to do it. For herself, and her family, and for the St. Clairs and Messerschmitts and Von Schuylkills and all the other old families, all the "gods of New York".

It wasn't the money. It was vengeance. And it was something to distract her from thinking about Jo lying small and broken in that hospital bed.

She drank half the bottle of very bad wine and smoked several cigarettes. Alcohol was supposed to loosen the mind, and nicotine was supposed to sharpen the mind.

But no brilliant ideas occurred to her. All that happened was she felt a little woozy.

The telephone by the bedside rang.

She scooped up the receiver. It might be news about Jo. Jo might be better. Or she might be dead.

"Señorita Warren," said Eduardo, "your father's bail was posted not an hour ago."

Dammit. The good news just keeps rolling in, doesn't it?

But at least Jo was all right.

"It had to be the Sensei," continued Eduardo. "Bail for attempted murder and two assaults – it is not, as they say, 'chicken feed'."

"Do you know where Daddy went?" Blair asked tensely.

"I had operatives posted outside the jail, in case of just such an eventuality. They are following him. They will report soon."

"Thank you, Eduardo. Please keep me posted."

Her "esses" were a little sloppy in "please" and "posted".

"Pequeña," Eduardo said sharply, "strong drink, it does nothing to help in times such as this."

"It was only a glass or two," said Blair. "To take the edge off. And you're right — it didn't help. I thought it might relax my mind, give me an idea how to settle all this."

"Drink only muddles the mind," said Eduardo. "Consider your mother."

"Must I?"

"It is late," said Eduardo, his voice softening. "Sleep, pequeña. I will telephone you in the morning."

Sleep came more easily than Blair expected. It must be the wine. Her mind felt soft and unfocused. She sank into slumber …

She thought she was asleep. Everything was dark. But she could hear the radio. It seemed to be playing from a distance, as if the radio on the bedside table had floated away, yards and yards away, from the bed.

It was that new song. It was catchy. "Venus". It was all over the radio. Venus. Like Aphrodite.

Alec calls me Aphrodite ...

"Goddess on the mountain top,

Burnin like a silver flame,

The summit of beauty and love,

And Venus was her name …"

In her mind's eye, Blair saw a mountain top. Well … Not a mountain top, precisely, but a cliff top. The crest of the cliff bordering that blue Italian cove where she and Jo had swum. That perfect blue water and that perfect blue day.

Jo was nowhere to be found.

"Jo," called Blair, treading water. "Jo, darling. Come to me, Jo …"

No sign of her. But a silvery light on the cliff top. Pulsing steadily, and growing larger, then larger still.

"She's got it,
Yeah, baby, she's got it,
I'm your Venus, I'm your fire,
Your desire …"

The brilliant light lifted off of the cliff top and floated over the cove. It descended toward Blair.

Dazzling and undulating, it glided over the water, faster and faster, toward her.

Blair saw the goddess within the light. The same goddess of whom she'd dreamed when she was doped up in the hospital.

Nude, but for the fine links of chain mail. Dazzlingly bright and beautiful and radiating such wisdom …

"Her weapons were her crystal eyes,
Makin every man a man,
Black as the dark night she was,
Had what no one else had,
Wah!

She's got it,
Yeah, baby, she's got it,
I'm your Venus, I'm your fire,
Your desire …"

The goddess or symbol of inner wisdom — or whatever the hell she is, thought Blair — hovered over the water in front of the young heiress.

"You're so beautiful," said Blair. "Are you really part of me?"

"Yes. How may I help you in this, your time of need?"

"Jo," Blair said softly. "I need Jo. I'm not … whole without her."

The goddess nodded.

"It is natural. You love her. You are soul mates. But have you thought any more about your particular purpose?"

"No. I've been a little busy for spiritual navel-gazing. There's a lot happening here, in this world. I don't know if you've been following it where you come from."

"You brought your father to justice. You achieved the justice you sought."

"But he's been released."

"Of course. It was bound to happen – was it not? He has powerful allies. What matters is that he will stand trial. The evidence you collected should ensure that."

"Unless he flees. Unless his powerful allies help him flee. And then …"

The goddess tilted her head inquiringly.

"And then?" she asked Blair.

"And then, well, he won't pay for what he did to Jo, and Pauly. And to me."

"There are many different ways to 'pay' for what one does in this universe."

"Are you saying that he'll –"

"I predict nothing," the goddess interrupted gently. "I ask you to look inside yourself. How do you want to respond to what has happened to you, to your loved ones? All of these events. What is your path in these matters?"

"That's just it. I don't know. I don't know what to do next," Blair said helplessly.

"You do know," said the goddess. "But you are not ready to know what you know."

The shining figure lifted a sword from a scabbard at her waist, a sword of pure and dazzling light.

She tapped Blair on each shoulder with the flat of the sword. Blair's shoulders burned where the blade touched them. The goddess then tapped Blair on the top of her head, and her scalp tingled.

"Are you a huntress?" the creature asked her.

"No. That's Jo," said Blair.

"Then who are you?"

"I'm … I'm Aphrodite."

"And what is your path?"

"Love."

"And what is your weapon?"

"Love."

"And what is your purpose?"

"Love."

"Therein," said the creature, "are your answers ..."


Alec shook his head in a mournful fashion as he regarded the half-empty bottle of cheap wine on Blair's bedside table. He had dropped in on her unexpectedly the morning after her dream.

"Artemis, dear, to think that I should ever see the day Blair Warner would stoop to drink such swill. This is a slender notch – a very slender notch – above paint thinner. I'm surprised you didn't dream about Leprechauns and dancing ponies, never mind this 'goddess of wisdom' creature."

"She's not the 'goddess of wisdom,'" Blair objected. "That would be Athena."

"Ta, dear. I know. I did study Greek mythology at dear old Eton. And Harrow. And several other institutions that requested my absence."

"She's not really a goddess. She's a sort of, you know that expression, 'the better angels of our nature'? She's symbolic of my own inner wisdom."

"Hmm," Alec said skeptically. "Whoever or whatever she represents, I don't know that I'd give her particularly high marks for 'wisdom'. She doesn't seem to have been helpful in the least. A Bananarama song and the rather naïve assertion that 'love' is the answer—where does that leave us? With all due respect to 'love' – and you know what a hopeless romantic I am, Aphrodite – I don't know how 'love' helps us with any of the crises in our lives."

Blair sighed. "I know. It seemed sort of profound while I was dreaming, but now that I look at it in the cold light of day, I guess it's rather thin."

"Like gossamer, love."

Blair rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. Her head ached, and her eyes felt gritty. She was not, as Alec had noted when he arrived, "in top form".

"How are Natalie and Tootie coping?" she asked Alec.

"They're managing," he said. "They've thrown themselves into summer semester with the greatest zeal. But they can't concentrate. We're all distracted and irritable. I don't hold out much hope for the summer dean's list."

"At least Natalie has Snake to comfort her."

"Indeed she does. Snake is all but living at River Rock now. Jo will no doubt want to 'knock his block off' when she regains her strength."

Blair squeezed his hand.

"Thank you," she said gratefully.

"For what?"

"For saying 'when'."

"Bollocks," Alec said with spirit. "Don't get maudlin on me, Aphrodite. Don't –" he covered his eyes with one hand, "don't let me get sentimental. I need to stay foolish and light. If I get too sentimental, thinking about Jo …"

"I know," said Blair. "I know."

He unscrewed the cap on the cheap wine, and took a swig straight from the bottle.

"Ye gods and little fishes," he rasped. "This is paint thinner."

"Pour it down the sink," advised Blair.

"Too right."

He disappeared into the tiny bathroom. Blair heard the gurgle of liquid swirling down the drain, and then the glassy "clink" as Alec dropped the empty bottle into the bathroom trash bin.

"There." He emerged from the bathroom, rubbing his hands together. "That's a mercy, anyway. No more wine-fueled magical mystery tours for you, Aphrodite dear. We need you coherent."

"Why?"

"Because with Jo lying in that damned hospital bed, you are the de facto leader of our ragtag band of Musketeers. You can't get crocked and hallucinate. That's not leadership."

"I don't know," said Blair, "what more any of us can do. You've engaged the best surgeons for Jo. Eduardo is still trying to run down where Daddy stashed my inheritance, and keeping Daddy under surveillance. It's all just," she bit absently at one fingernail, "it's a game of waiting. It's a game of nerves."

"Would that it was true," Alec said wistfully, "that all we need is love."

Blair glanced sharply at her friend.

"Say that again."

"What?"

"What you just said."

"'Would that it were true.'"

"No. About 'love'."

"'Would that it were true,'" said Alec, "'that all we need is love.'"

"That's a song, isn't it? 'All We Need is Love'? Isn't that a John Lennon song?"

"It's a Beatles song," said Alec.

"Are you sure?"

"Based on our long acquaintance, and deep friendship, I'll pretend you didn't ask that. 'All We Need is Love' is a Beatles song—but John Lennon wrote it."

Blair nodded thoughtfully.

"I see the cogs and gears turning behind those lovely, chocolate-velvet eyes," said Alec. "Would you care to share with the class?"

"Jo adores John Lennon," said Blair. "I wonder … if Rose played some of his music. In Jo's room, I mean. I wonder if somehow the music might reach her."

"Music is a powerful medium," mused Alec. "Look at how that Bananarama song wormed its way into your subconscious. Seems worth a try, any road."

"Alec, do you have any money?"

"Vaults of it."

"On you, I mean."

"Of course."

"Good." Blair extended one hand, and Alec took it. "We're going to the nearest record shop, milord. We're going to buy out the Beatles and John Lennon collections."

"I should be enchanted," said Alec, with a little bow.

"I only hope," said Blair, "that it works."


The chief ICU nurse at Manhattan Memorial was not enamored of the idea of playing Beatles and John Lennon records in Jo's room.

"Peace and quiet," the chief nurse explained to Rose and Blair, "are vital components of any patient's recovery."

"What recovery?" Rose demanded, sounding on the edge of hysteria. Blair squeezed her hand, a reassuring pressure. "My daughter hasn't improved at all. There's no sign of her regaining consciousness. What can it hurt to play some records?"

"Music can be disruptive," said the chief nurse. "Especially music of the rock and roll variety. Disruptive to your daughter's recovery, perhaps, and certainly to the recovery of other patients on this floor."

"We'll close the door to Jo's room," Rose said desperately. "We won't bother anyone."

"And this is music Jo likes," Blair said, flashing her most charming smile, dimples and all. "It might be therapeutic –not damaging – where her recovery is concerned."

The chief nurse glanced at Blair, and pursed her lips. The nurse was not a fan, it seemed, of charm and dimples.

"I'm afraid it's out of the question," said the chief nurse. "Now, if you'll excuse me …"

As soon as the chief nurse left, a couple of the junior nurses who had been hanging back in the hallway entered Jo's hospital room.

"I know where there's a record player," said one nurse. "There's one in the patient recreation room."

"We can bring it here," said the other nurse. "But you have to play your records quietly. And if you get caught –"

"You can't tell Nurse Ratched you got the record player from us," finished her colleague.

Rose laughed. "Nurse Ratched? You got that right!"

"Do you promise?" asked the first nurse. "You won't tell it was us?"

"Of course not," said Blair. She mimed crossing her heart.

A few moments later, one of the junior nurses returned pushing a medicine cart. Something wrapped in a pillow case was balanced on top of it.

The nurse handed the object to Blair, then fled the room with the cart.

"Close the door, please," Blair told Rose.

Blair carefully slid the record player out of the pillow case, and placed it on the table next to Jo's bed. She unwound the electrical cord and plugged it into a wall socket.

"Can I have a record?" Blair asked Rose.

Rose regarded the stack of records Blair and Alec had purchased that morning.

"Which one?"

"There's a song by John Lennon, it's called 'Love'."

"'Love'? Just 'Love'?"

"I think so."

"Do you know which album it's on?"

"I don't, Rose, I'm sorry."

"Not to worry," said Jo's mother. "I'll just read the songs off the album backs. If it's here, I'll find it."

Blair removed the clear plastic dust cover from the top of the record player.

Please, God, she thought, let this work. Let something get through to my Jo.

"Found it," said Rose after a moment, holding up an album.

"The John Lennon Collection" read the cover, next to a photo of Lennon gazing soulfully at whoever might be viewing the album. "It's the, lemme see, the seventh song on the first side."

"Wonderful," said Blair.

"Please God, let's hope so," Rose said tensely.

Blair tipped the vinyl LP out of its cover, and carefully placed it on the spindle of the record player. She lowered the needled onto the groove of the seventh track.

Music filled the room. Slow music. Dreamy notes.

Blair and Rose sat on either side of Jo's bed, each taking one of her hands.

"Love is real … Real is love," sang Lennon. "Love is feeling … Feeling love. Love is wanting … to be loved."

Jo – can you hear the song? thought Blair. Can it reach you?

There was a dreamy quality to the tune. Could it merge with what whatever dreams Jo might be having?

"Love is touch … Touch is love. Love is reaching … Reaching love. Love is asking … to be loved."

Blair closed her eyes.

God, we haven't been on the greatest terms since you let my parents divorce each other, she thought. But I was a child then. And my parents' divorce is such a little thing, it seems, compared to everything we've all been through the last few years. Can you hear me, God? Are you listening? Never mind trying to help me. But Jo believes in you. Her mother believes in you. My sister Meg believes in you. Won't you help Jo wake up, and heal? We all love her so much. So many people who believe in you believe in her …

"Love is you … You and me," sang Lennon. "Love is knowing … We can be."

Blair felt a tear slide down her face. Love is you and me, Jo. And we can be, darling. We can … If you'll just wake up …

"Love is free … Free is love. Love is living … Living love. Love is needing … to be loved."

When the song stopped, Blair and Rose both had tears on their faces.

The song had been beautiful … They had both prayed, even Blair … But Jo lay as still as stone in her hospital bed.

Blair released Jo's hand.

She went to the record player, lifted the needle off the LP.

"I'm an idiot," said Blair. "I really thought, maybe that song … She'd just open her eyes …"

"Hey. You're not an idiot," said Rose, wiping her tears on her sleeve. "And neither am I. The music might do it. But nothing comes easy. We'll probably have to play the song again, and again. And other songs she likes too. Whatever it takes."

"Of course," agreed Blair.

"She likes 'Imagine'. Let's play that."

Blair nodded. She read the back of the album cover. "Imagine" was the first song on side two.

She lifted the LP, turned it over, placed it on the spindle again. She fitted the needle in the first groove.

"Imagine there's no heaven. It's easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky …"

Blair covered her face with her hand and sobbed.

"Blair!"

Rose was at her side in a moment, hugging her tightly.

"This was one of the songs," sobbed Blair, "At the tribute … Near the Dakota … When Jo and I … We sang this …"

Rose didn't quite follow the disjointed story, but she knew the song was reminding Blair of some powerful memory with Jo.

"It's all right," Rose said soothingly. "She's coming back to us. She is. She just needs to heal now, I guess. She needs all her rest now."

Blair nodded. She was too upset to speak; her throat had closed in the intensity of her emotion.

All she could see was that night in early December, her first Christmas season as Jo's lover, when she and Jo and Jesse and a group of strangers had joined hands near the Dakota, singing John Lennon songs, paying tribute to the slain singer and celebrating his message of love.

After a moment, Blair regained control of her emotions. She hugged Rose.

"Thank you," she said simply.

"You'd do the same for me," said Rose. "We have to stand by each other. What else is there but family?"

"Nothing," said Blair.

They played more songs, from different albums, quietly, so as not to disturb the ICU ward, but loud enough for Jo to hear if it were possible, in her present state, for her to hear anything.

Jo lay stock still.

They played her favorite songs over again.

The junior nurse who had smuggled in the record player arrived with a tray of Jell-O and juice.

"I thought you were feeding Jo intravenously," said Blair.

"We are," said the young nurse. "The food is for you."

"Thank you," said Blair, touched.

The nurse shrugged. "You're no good to Miss Polniaczek if either of you faints. And you'll just be more trouble for us."

"Well, we don't want to be any trouble," smiled Blair, taking the cup of cherry Jell-O.

"I don't want to rush you," said the junior nurse, "but we have to get that record player back soon. In about an hour? I'll pick it up, or Denise will."

"Of course," said Blair. "You've been lovely to help us."

The junior nurse shrugged modestly, and slipped out of the room.

Blair and Rose picked at the Jell-O and sipped the cups of juice. They had no appetite, but after the trouble the nurse had gone to, it would have been rude not to consume something.

They played more songs then. They played "Imagine" several times, and then played "Love" several times more.

As the hour drew to a close, it was Rose whose eyes filled with tears, Rose who began to sob now. Blair held her.

"Well," Blair said, trying to sound brisk and confident, "it was worth a try."

Rose nodded dumbly.

Rose gathered up the albums.

Blair placed the clear plastic dust cover on the record player. She unplugged the electrical cord, and neatly wound it. She slipped the pillowcase over the record player—and not a moment too soon, because the door swung open, suddenly, and the chief nurse entered the room.

Damn, thought Blair. We're busted. We're busted, and it didn't even work. If we could have borrowed the record player another day, could have tried again …

But the chief nurse didn't pay any attention to the "pillow" on top the table near Jo's bed.

"Pardon me," she said to Blair, "but you did say your name was 'Warner'?"

"Yes," Blair said warily, "I did."

Had the chief nurse made inquiries? Had she discovered that Blair was not even remotely related to the Polniaczeks? Was Blair about to be given the heave-ho from the ICU?

"Maternity just admitted a 'Monica Warner-Hammond'," said the chief nurse. "She's blonde, but there was a sort of resemblance in the face. I didn't know if you might be related."

"She's in labor?" asked Blair.

"Yes. So, you are related to her? To the Monica Warner-Hammond?"

"I am. I'm her daughter. Thank you for telling me."

"She's in the maternity wing, room 429. I should imagine the baby will arrive within the hour."

"That soon?"

"That soon. If you'd like to follow me?"

"I would." Blair turned to Rose. "You'll stay with Jo?" she asked.

"Of course. Tell your mother, well, tell her congratulations," said Rose.

"That's kind of you," said Blair, "after how horrid mother's always been to you. And to Jo."

Rose shrugged. "A new life," she said, "that's always a reason to celebrate."

"Would you call Alec?" Blair asked. "He should be back at River Rock by now. Ask him to drive back down, and to pick up some baby clothes, and to meet me in Maternity. I want to give something to the baby. It's, well, after all, it's my brother or sister."

Which was, she thought, a rather ridiculous thing, at her age.

"I'll call Alec," Rose promised, moving toward the phone near the window.

"If you'll follow me," the chief nurse repeated to Blair, politely masking her impatience.

"I'm sorry," said Blair. "I'm ready now."

Blair followed the chief nurse out of the room.

Rose lifted the receiver. She dialed the telephone number for River Rock, Mrs. Garrett's Peekskill house where Jo and Blair and their friends lived.

The phone rang. And rang. And rang.

Natalie and Tootie were probably in class at Langley.

Mrs. Garrett and her husband Drake were in L.A.

Alec probably hadn't arrived home yet. Maybe he'd stopped along the way.

Rose hung up the telephone. She'd try again in a few minutes.

The junior nurse appeared in the doorway, pushing the medicine cart.

"I'm here to pick up the, er, pillow," she said, in case anyone down the hall might be listening.

"Sure," said Rose, gesturing to the record player concealed by the pillow case.

"I'm sorry it didn't help," the nurse said sympathetically as she placed the record player on the medicine cart. "If I can, I'll bring it again tomorrow."

"Thank you. You're very kind," said Rose. "Are you a Catholic?"

"Baptist."

"Well, I'm sure God loves you anyway. Thank you for taking a chance to help us."

"I only wish it had worked."

The nurse pushed the cart out of the room. The door swung shut, very slowly, behind her.

Rose watched the door close.

So Monica Warner-Hammond was having her baby. Another child she could neglect, as she'd neglected Blair.

And what about my baby? wondered Rose. I'm at the frayed end of the rope, Lord. I don't know what else to do. They say you don't give us more than we can handle, but … I don't know how much longer I can hang on …

Behind her, there was a faint rustling of bedclothes.

Rose turned.

Jo was moving her arms, slightly. Jo was turning her head.

Rose was at the bedside in a moment.

She took Jo's hand and squeezed it.

Jo squeezed back. It was a weak pressure, but Jo had squeezed her hand!

"Jo. Honey? Can you hear me?"

Rose pressed her daughter's hand again.

"Jo, are you awake?"

Jo's eyelids fluttered. Her eyes opened slowly. She squinted against the sunlight and the fluorescent lights over her bed.

Her jaw moved as if she wanted to speak, but she couldn't. The oxygen mask taped to her face, and the damn tube in her throat, prevented her.

"Jo, don't try to speak," said Rose. Her eyes brimmed with joyful tears. "Just, if you can hear me, blink."

Jo blinked, slowly, once. It was more of a wince.

"Do you know who I am, Jo?"

Jo blinked again.

"Nurse!" shouted Rose. "Nurse! She's awake!"

Rubber-soled shoes squeaked in the hallway as the junior nurses raced to Jo's room.


July, 2013. Manhattan. Episcopal Church on 5th Avenue.

"Stop pacing," said Alec.

"Get bent," said Jo.

"Is that any way to talk to your best man, Artemis?"

"I'm the one getting married," said Jo, "not you. So if I want to pace, or tell you to 'Get bent,' or dance the damn 'hokey-pokey' then that's what I'm going to do."

"I've never really understood the 'hokey-pokey,'" mused Alec. "Why put your right foot in, only to immediately put it out? Why bother at all? And whatever is the point of 'shaking it all about'?"

"I hate you," said Jo.

Alec laughed.

"I'm trying to keep it light, dear. I'm trying to make you laugh."

"Miserable, epic fail."

"Why are you so nervous?"

"Who says I'm nervous?"

"No one has to say you're nervous. You're pacing, you're biting my head off, and you have a sort of wild look in your eyes. It's a vow renewal, my dear girl. It's not a firing squad."

"Tell that to my heart." Jo put a hand to her chest. "It's hammering like it's doing the samba. The rumba. One of those Latin dances."

"But why? You've been married for some years, you've been lovers for decades. You pledged your troth to Blair in spirit, if not legally, lo many years ago. Many, many years ago."

"Now is not the time for cracks about my age," Jo said darkly.

They were in the entrance hall of the 5th Avenue Episcopal Church, Jo pacing, Alec leaning nonchalantly, and rather irreverently, against a basin of holy water.

Church nothing, thought Jo. It's not just a church. It's like a damn cathedral!

She had been to this very church plenty of times in the past to hear Blair speak, officiate mass, and oversee confirmations.

It had always seemed like a pleasant, rather beautiful house of God.

Today, it seemed to have swelled to monstrous proportions. It looked like it wanted to swallow her up. She felt like a gnat about to fly into the mouth of a dinosaur.

"You look lovely," Alec said encouragingly.

And she did. She wore a pure white tuxedo, custom-cut, somehow feminine, glancing her curves in the right places, but not making her look like a "wimp" or a "girlie-girl", both of which had been on her "nix" list when she and Alec went tuxedo shopping.

Alec looked sleekly resplendent, as always, in a Saville Row tux he'd had tailored in London. He'd had his hair shorn recently, so the dark curls shot through with white lay flat against his noble skull.

Jo's hair had been arranged in a classic, elegant updo by a hair stylist who'd arrived at the Central Park West penthouse in the early hours of the morning. She'd done her own makeup: Light foundation, dark and lovely plum mouth to contrast with her green-blue eyes, and the faintest plum eye-shadow complementing both her eyes and the dark mascara.

"I wonder if Blair's nervous?" muttered Jo.

"I doubt it," said Alec. "She's in her element at these elaborate do's. But if you like," he retrieved his smart phone from within a vest pocket, "we can text her and ask."

"What the hell is wrong with you?" demanded Jo. "Text the bride? Right before the wedding? I thought you ambassadors knew proper etiquette!"

"We do," Alec said. "We know all the rules. But we break them all the time. I'm sure if Blair knew you were in this state, she'd want to reassure you."

"Forget it," said Jo. "Blair is never to know I was in this state. Do you hear me, Anviston? As far as she's going to know, I was calm and collected and suave, and etcetera."

"Calm, collected, suave – got it." His eyes twinkled.

"You're loving this," Jo accused.

"Guilty as charged."

"You really do look lovely," Alec said.

"Look, that doesn't help. OK? Blair's the one who likes to hear how she looks all the time. Me, I don't really give a damn. I just look how I look for how I need to look. Understand?"

"Amazingly, yes. After all these years, I finally speak Jo-ese."

"Boy, if there were something here I could throw at you," said Jo, "without messing up your tux or your hair, you'd better believe I'd toss it."

"If I'd known I'd be enduring all this abuse, I don't know if I would have signed on for this mission. It's much more dangerous than it sounded when you pitched it to me."

Jo ground her teeth. She walked up and down, up and down.

"You were at my side for the real wedding," she said, "so you're going to be at my side for the renewal. Deal with it."

"Well … If you're going to be sentimental about it."

The organist was warming up inside the church.

Notes drifted through the heavy doors of the church, and the slot windows, and echoed in the entrance hall.

"Sounds terrible," groused Jo.

"The phantom of the opera was already booked," Alec deadpanned.

"Keep it coming, milord. Keep it coming. I'm remembering this, every word, for when you want me to stand up at your vow renewal."

"Jacqueline and I shan't be having one of those," said Alec.

"Why not?"

"After all of our ups and downs? I'm not giving Jack an opportunity to change her mind about me again! Besides which, look at you. You're like a frightened rabbit. I'm not putting myself through that."

"Hey!"

"Well you do. The very image of a frightened rabbit. Pull yourself together, Artemis dear. Where is the calm, collected, suave Senator Jo Polniaczek who gave such an eloquent interview on 'Charlie Rose' last week?"

"She took a wrong turn at Albuquerque," Jo said miserably. She kicked the base of one of the marble pillars lining the hall.

"If you hobble yourself," said Alec, "I refuse to carry you up the aisle."

"You'll carry me and like it," snapped Jo. "What kind of best man are you, anyway?"

Inside the church, the organist began rehearsing "The Wedding March".

Jo groaned.

"It's almost time," she said. "I wish we had done a 'Star Wars' theme. I don't think I'd be so nervous. A 'Star Wars' theme, a bottle of champagne, and me and Blair at the Little White Chapel in Vegas."

Alec made "tisking" sounds.

"Artemis, you're better than that."

"I'm not. I'm not. Underneath this senatorial polish is a working-class, 'Star Wars'-loving schmoe. All I want is my woman and a glass of bubbly. And 'Episode 5'."

"There will be non-alcoholic champers," said Alec, "at the reception."

The heavy door the led into the nave swung open.

An elderly priest, one of Blair's mentors, peered into the hallway.

"Well," he said to Jo, "you look lovely, Senator."

"Yeah." She laughed politely, nervously. "That's what I hear."

"We're ready for you to take your place at the altar. You and his grace," he said, smiling at Alec.

"We'll be there in a tic," Alec told the priest.

"Wonderful. Wonderful."

The priest closed the door.

Jo folded her arms and rubbed them in an agitated fashion.

"Everyone's going to be looking at me," she said.

"Yes, well, people do look at the happy couple during matrimonial ceremonies," said Alec. "But you're used to people looking at you, dear. People look at you all the time. On the senate floor, on the campaign trail, at debates, on television. Don't tell me you have stage fright?"

"I don't mind if people look at me," said Jo, "when I'm debating, or making a speech, or what have you. I'm focused on issues then. I'm not thinking about me. But when I stand up there, at the front of the church, I mean—there's nothing to focus on."

"Of course there is," Alec said kindly. "All you have to focus on is Blair. Can you imagine how lovely she'll be? How radiant?"

"Well … True," Jo conceded.

Blair would be lovely. Lovelier than lovely. She had kept the dress secret from Jo, had kept, in fact, all of her bridal preparations, secret from Jo – not that Jo had been that curious. Jo had never been much interested in frills and frippery.

But now that Jo thought about it, yes, Blair was sure to look stunning. She would've looked stunning in a potato sack, let alone whatever creation she'd had whipped up for today's ceremony. Blair's hair would be perfect, and her makeup.

Blair had spent the night at Tootie's palatial apartment, and had engaged a team of professional fashion consultants and hair dressers and makeup artists, some of them actually recommended by Tootie, who still had plenty of Hollywood connections, despite having dropped out of the limelight to serve as a "cultural ambassador" for Britain.

"When you're at the altar," Alec told Jo, "just think about Blair. Never mind the church and the music and the flowers and all of us gawking at you. It's her day, and your day. That's all. Two beautiful women reaffirming their mythic love."

"When you put it like that," said Jo. She took a deep breath. She squared her shoulders. "Lead on, MacDuff."

"It's 'Lay on, MacDuff,'" Alec corrected.

"Get bent, MacDuff."

"That's my girl," he laughed.

He pushed the door open with one perfectly manicured hand. "Come, Artemis dear. It is a far, far better thing you do than you have ever done …"


July 1986, Manhattan. Manhattan Memorial Hospital.

"She's so little," Jo said wonderingly.

Bundled into a hospital bathrobe and slippers, Jo sat in a wheelchair in the waiting room in the Maternity wing. She watched Blair, who was holding her tiny sister.

"Of course she's little," said Blair. She cooed at the child, lightly shook its tiny hand. "She's only two days old."

"What's her name again?"

"Bailey Jackson Jones Arthur Hammond V."

"Holy hell."

"Jo," Blair said reproachfully, "don't swear around the baby."

"She doesn't know what I'm sayin'," Jo said reasonably.

"That's not the point."

"But—"

"Jo."

Jo sighed. "Well, I guess everythin's back to normal. Couple days after I wake up from my coma, you're bossin' me around again."

"Any objections?" asked Blair.

Jo grinned – one of her dazzlers.

"Not a single one," she said.

Blair looked up from the tiny life she cradled in her arms, and smiled at her soul mate.

God, how I love you, she told Jo with her eyes.

I know, said Jo's eyes. Love you too, babe. Forever and back.

Aloud, "You look good with a kid in your arms," said Jo.

"I can't believe I have a baby sister. I'm so long-in-the-tooth for it."

"I can't believe the kid is named – what the hell is she named, again?"

"Don't swear, Jo."

"Sorry."

"She's named Bailey Jackson Jones Arthur Hammond V."

"Poor kid. The name is bigger than she is."

"I suppose we'll call her 'Bailey,'" mused Blair.

"It's got a ring to it," said Jo.

"We'll literally be a generation apart," said Blair. "When I'm fifty, she'll still be in her twenties."

"Well you're not gonna be fifty for a long, long time," said Jo. "The kid just turned two days old. Let's not go flashing forward a quarter century all of a sudden. Enjoy the ride."

"You're right," said Blair.

"As usual," grinned Jo.

Blair didn't dignify that comment with a response.

She gazed wonderingly at the tiny infant wrapped in its pure white swaddling cloth. The baby girl was so pink and minute and new. Everything was ahead of her – literally, her whole life.

If only … Blair thought of the ugly scar above her navel. First the knife wound, now a gunshot wound. No. She would never be able to bear a child. That would be a joy denied to her, and by extension, to Jo.

"You're a gift," Blair said to the little life in her arms. "You're a gift to us. When we're starting to get old, you'll keep us young."

"What's this obsession today," asked Jo, "with gettin' old?"

"It's hardly an obsession," Blair said mildly.

"You are kinda harpin' on it."

"I suppose children do that."

"Do what?"

"Make one ponder one's mortality."

Jo put a hand to her heart.

"All it took for me to ponder my mortality," she said wryly, "was a little bullet to the chest."

Blair's breath caught in her throat. She was trying so hard to block it out, to move on, to get past it. She had almost lost Jo. But Jo had survived. Jo was sitting here, swearing, and being funny, and sweet, and just, just living. But it was too soon. It was too soon to make light of what had happened.

"I'm sorry," Jo said quietly. "Bad joke."

"It's all right," said Blair.

"It's not," said Jo. "I'm an idiot. I was getting my beauty sleep, but you were all worried as hell. I shouldn't make a joke of it. I won't do it again."

"Jo, I'm just … Thank God you're here. If you want to be an idiot, that's OK with me."

"Ouch!"

"You know what I mean."

"I do," Jo assured her.

There was an excited squeal from the doorway of the waiting room. Two excited squeals.

Natalie and Tootie burst into the room, gravitating instantly to Blair and Bailey.

"She's so little!" squealed Natalie.

"She's perfect!" squealed Tootie.

"What's her name?" asked Natalie.

"Oh, it's a pip," said Jo. "It's Bailey J.P. Morgan Rockefeller Moneybags the tenth."

"But just call her 'Bailey'," said Blair. She cooed to the child. "These are my friends, Bailey. These are two of the Musketeers. This is your Aunt Natalie, and this is your Aunt Tootie."

"Hi, Bailey," said Natalie.

"Hi, Bailey," said Tootie.

Jo leaned back in her wheelchair. She grinned at her friends, and her lover, and the kid. She'd almost lost all this. She'd almost lost everything.

A strident voice floated down the hallway.

"Where's my child? Where's my precious Bailey?"

Jo shook her head. Christ. Monica's got a gift for ruinin' any good moment.

Monica appeared at the door of the waiting room, perfectly made up, wearing a thousand-dollar silk bathrobe – no hospital robe for her! – and feathered mules. Her platinum blonde hair was perfectly arranged. Her long, claw-like nails were scarlet.

"Who said you could take my child?" she demanded, glaring at Blair.

"The nurse," Blair said calmly. "You were unconscious."

"I don't care for your tone," snapped Monica. "I wasn't 'unconscious'. I was sleeping."

"Is there a difference?" asked Natalie.

"'Unconscious,' sounds like I was passed out," complained Monica. "Like I was in some drug or alcohol-induced stupor. It was a dig. Blair's always digging at me."

"It was a simple comment, mother," said Blair.

"Ha! Hand me my baby!"

"Of course."

Blair carefully handed the infant to its mother.

Monica took the baby gingerly, as if it might explode in her arms.

"It's not a bomb," growled Jo.

Monica shot Jo a poisonous glare.

"Naturally I'm a tad bit rusty. It's been some time," Monica said in a hard voice, "since I've been a mother."

"Let's be honest," said Jo. "You never really were."

"Jo," said Blair.

"You know it's true," Jo told her lover. "Nobody knows better than you."

"There is a time and place," said Blair. "This is neither."

Jo shrugged. "Whatever you say."

"Don't touch this child again," Monica told Blair. "She's my child. Mine and J.J.'s."

"J.J.?" asked Natalie.

"Her sugar-daddy husband," Jo said helpfully. "He's Hammond the fourth. Baby Bailey is old Monica here's ticket to the good life."

Monica made a hissing sound. She was so lovely – especially after her recent plastic surgery. She could almost have been Blair's sister now. Blair's thinner, older, platinum blonde sister. But there was an ugliness to Monica, inside, that radiated outward. You could sense it, even if you couldn't see it.

"This child is very dear to me," Monica told her daughter. "I'm not letting her out of my sight. If you want to see her, contact Consuela. She's handling my appointments now."

Blair took a deep breath.

Natalie glanced at Tootie, and Tootie glanced at Natalie. Was Blair going to rip into her cold-hearted mother? Give the old bat a piece of her mind?

Jo inched forward a couple of feet in her wheelchair. She didn't want to miss a minute.

But instead of giving her mother hell, Blair said, "I love you, mother."

Natalie and Tootie's faces fell.

Jo sighed.

Monica looked startled.

"What's the angle?" she asked suspiciously.

"No angle, mother. I just want you to know that no matter what you've done, or will do, you will always be my mother, and I will always love you. Just like part of me will always love Daddy, no matter how horrible he becomes."

"Don't you lump me in with that criminal," said Monica. "The very idea! I have nothing to do with him." Her eyes narrowed shrewdly. "I know what you have up your sleeve," she said. "Eduardo hasn't been able to recover your inheritance, and your father won't tell you anything about it. So you think you're going to fasten onto J.J. and me. Well, it won't work, Blair. You wanted your independence? You've got it. Now that I have Bailey, and she's healthy, and J.J. seems to like her, I don't need your inheritance. I don't need anything from you, or want anything from you."

Jo started up out of her wheelchair at this incredible speech, but she was too weak to stand. She sank back into the chair.

Blair went to her lover, knelt by her side.

"Are you all right, darling?" she asked quietly.

"Fine," grimaced Jo. "Just, I shouldn't have stood up so quick."

"There's no need to defend me," said Blair. "I can hold my own."

"You disgust me," Monica snarled at the young lovers. She held Bailey awkwardly against her chest. "Come on, Bailey."

She turned on her heel. Her feathered mules clattered on the gray and lime linoleum tires as she stormed away.

Natalie gaped at Tootie. Tootie gaped at Natalie.

"That," Tootie said finally, "is one stone cold mamma. She makes Lady Macbeth look like 'Mother of the Year'."

"I don't think Lady Macbeth had kids," objected Natalie.

"Don't over-think it," said Tootie. "You get the point – right?"

"Right," agreed Natalie.

"Why did you say all that?" Tootie asked Blair curiously. "About loving your mother?"

"Because it's true," said Blair.

"But, I mean, what was the point of it?"

"Are you asking me what my angle was? Et tu, Tootie?"

"Blair doesn't have any angle," said Jo. "She's just Blair. Too damn nice, and loving, and forgiving for her own good."

"Thank you, darling."

"You're welcome, babe."

Blair and Jo gazed into each other's eyes. They wanted to embrace, so badly, they wanted to hold each other, and never let go …

Natalie cleared her throat.

"I think you should get Jo back to her room," Tootie told Blair.

"Tootie's right. You should," Jo told her lover. "You should get me back to my room and tuck me in."

Natalie put her hands over her ears.

"Not needing to hear the sex code," she objected.

"It's not a code," said Jo. "I mean it literally. I'm not up to anythin' more than bein' tucked in. I'm weak as a freakin' kitten."

"Then it's lucky you have someone as caring, and compassionate, and considerate as me," smiled Blair, "to take care of you."

Natalie and Tootie went to the hospital cafeteria, and Blair pushed Jo's wheelchair back to her room.

They had moved Jo out of Intensive Care. Jo had demanded it, and Eduardo, as her attorney, had supported her position.

"The bullet stays," Jo had told the doctors once she was conscious. "No one can freakin' figure out how to get it out of me without killin' me, so it stays."

The hospital doctors, and the fancy specialists Alec had hired, had demurred. It was dangerous they said. Jo would be a ticking time bomb they said. She needed to have the bullet out, they said.

"Then why haven't you done it?" Jo had demanded. No one had an answer for that. "Exactly," Jo had said. "You don't know how to do it without croakin' me. Like I said. So it stays."

"Are you sure about this?" Blair had asked her lover. "If it's really dangerous –"

"Balducci has a bullet in his heart," Jo had said, referring to the super in her mother's Bronx apartment building. "Balducci's had a bullet in his ticker since World War II. And he's fine."

Blair frowned. She had met Balducci on numerous occasions when she stayed in Rose's apartment in the Bronx. While the old man wasn't a bad sort, he was constitutionally lazy, incompetent, and rather dim-witted.

Jo had laughed. "OK, Blair, I know what you're thinkin'. Maybe Balducci wasn't the best example. But his bad qualities, you know, he musta had those before he got the bullet in his chest. Alls I'm sayin' is, he's physically OK. And he's had a bullet in his heart forty freakin' years."

Blair had remained concerned. Jo had named other people in her neighborhood, veterans of World War II, or Korea, or Viet Nam, who had bullets lodged in sensitive parts of their anatomy.

"And I've got that bullet in my glute," Jo had finished triumphantly.

"True," Blair had said. She always forgot about that. Jo had already been walking around with a bullet in her body. But a bullet in the heart … That seemed a lot more dangerous than a bullet in the ass.

"Alec's fancy-pants heart surgeons just wanna fat payday," Jo had said. "That's all. To hell with them. I'll be fine."

Blair had put the Snoop Sisters on the case that evening. Natalie, in particular, with her cardio specialist father, would be sure to uncover the truth.

"So what's the word?" Blair had asked when the Snoop Sisters called her the next day.

"Jo seems to be right," Tootie had told her. "Nat's father says there are a lot of people with bullets in their hearts. They live twenty, thirty, forty years."

"Jo's barely in her twenties," Blair had pointed out. "I'd like her around more than forty years."

"And she probably will be," Tootie had said. "Dr. Green said that if some of the doctors we named were afraid to operate, no one could operate. So, this whole debate is sort of a moot point. It's not so much whether Jo should leave the bullet in her heart as much as, she pretty much has to."

So Alec had sent the expensive specialists packing. And after it was determined that Jo's coma had been healing and restful, rather than giving her brain damage, she was moved out of the ICU.

Alec arranged for a private room. At first Jo had objected.

"Jeez, Anviston, I appreciate you callin' in the egghead doctors to try to save me, but puttin' me in a private room – What am I, Eva Gabor? I don't need anythin' fancy. A good old, el cheapo semi-private room is good enough for me."

"It's not about being fancy," Alec had told her. "My dear Artemis, you are a bit slow on the uptake at times. I arranged for a private room so that you and your inamorata can have a modicum of privacy for your tender reunion."

Jo's eyebrows had lifted. "Ah," she'd said. She'd blushed.

Alec had laughed. "I see that you're finally following my subtle-as-an-anvil innuendo …"

After they reached Jo's room, Blair closed the door and fastened the latch. She helped Jo out of the wheelchair and into the bed. She rearranged Jo's pillows, and poured her lover a glass of water from the carafe on the bedside table.

"Christ," said Jo. "I guess this is what it'll be like when I'm an old bag and you're takin' care of me."

"I won't touch dentures," Blair said, shuddering delicately. "Just the thought of touching someone's false teeth …" She shuddered again.

"So, I'll make sure to go to the dentist," said Jo. "Problem solved."

Blair climbed onto the bed, and snuggled against Jo. The folded their arms around each other.

Blair pressed her cheek against Jo's chest. She listened to her lover's heart beat.

"It sounds normal," said Blair.

"Because it's fine," said Jo. "I'm a freakin' ox. I'm Polish, babe. I'm Italian. You think a stupid little piece of metal's gonna stop me?"

"It almost," Blair swallowed hard, "it almost did."

"The hell it did," scoffed Jo. "Babe, I don't remember too much after it started to go black in that hotel room, but I do remember you were in a bad way. But you're OK now. All better. To see you here, takin' care of me now …" Jo's eyes welled with tears.

They kissed, softly. Blair gently dried Jo's tears with her sleeve.

"Alls I'm sayin'," said Jo, "is you healed up, and now I'm healin' up. And it's all gonna be right as rain. I don't know what that stupid expression means, but we'll be as right as the best freakin' rain ever."

They kissed some more.

"So … I need to go now," Blair said regretfully.

Jo tugged at the hem of Blair's shirt. "Are you sure, babe? A hundred percent sure?"

Blair slapped Jo's hands.

"I can see," said Blair, "that you're recovering rapidly."

"I'm a damn miracle of modern medicine," said Jo.

Blair managed to make her escape a few moments later, though Jo made several valiant attempts to seduce her and ravish her right in the hospital bed.

The young heiress took the elevator down to the cafeteria, where Natalie and Tootie were finishing limp, unappetizing-looking salads and anemic-looking burgers.

"Don't eat here," Natalie advised Blair, "or they'll have to admit you again."

"I've eaten here before," shuddered Blair. "I know exactly what you mean."

Tootie put a hand to her belly. "I don't feel so good," she said.

"Here." Natalie pushed her carton of milk across the Formica tabletop. "Milk coats the stomach. Good for what ails you, Toot."

Tootie drank a swig of milk.

"So," Natalie said to Blair, "Jo's still determined? The bullet stays in?"

Blair nodded.

"Good," said Natalie. "My father says it's for the best."

Blair absently plucked a leaf of lettuce from Natalie's half-eaten salad, popped it into her mouth. A second later Blair made a face.

"We warned you," said Tootie, taking another swig of milk.

"I wasn't thinking," said Blair.

"So Jo's on the mend," said Natalie, "and you're doing well. Your father's out on bail, but formally charged with his crimes – well, his crimes in that hotel room, anyway. Eduardo's still investigating the Sensei and your inheritance. Your mother had the kid. Am I missing anything? Any crazy loose ends?"

"The Musketeers are all about 'crazy loose ends,'" said Tootie, "so there have to be."

"It's not a crazy loose end," Blair said quietly. "It's a rather important point. Pauly."

"Damn," said Natalie. "You're right. I forgot."

"He's that quiet, gallant type," said Tootie, "who gets forgotten."

"Is he able to walk at all?" asked Natalie.

"Yes," said Blair. "He can walk with the brace, and the walker. But when you live in the Bronx – "

"You don't want to be shuffling along the street with a walker," said Tootie. "Got it."

"Jesse's been at his side night and day," said Blair.

"Like you with Jo," said Tootie.

"Jesse's better than a drill sergeant," Natalie said admiringly. "If anyone can get Pauly walking again, it's Jesse."

Blair and Tootie looked at her.

"What?" asked Natalie. "Jesse and I bonded. At the St. Angelo. Our men were in peril."

Blair covered Nat's hand with her own. "I'm glad Snake is OK. Did I ever ask you tell him 'Thank you'? For putting himself in danger, and everything he did when we were wounded?"

"You didn't officially ask me to tell him 'thanks'," said Natalie, "but it was understood. And I – uh-oh."

"Uh-oh what?" asked Blair.

"I just realized," said Natalie. "Jo's going to be coming home to River Rock soon."

"Is that a problem? It is her home."

"I know. But it's just … Jo was all upset because Snake's father is Robby Robinson. Even though Snake isn't involved in his family's organization. Jo's going to make a really big deal about it when she gets to River Rock. I can tell. She's going to break Snake's chops."

"Snake is a pretty tough guy," said Blair. "I think he can handle Jo breaking his chops a little."

Tootie tapped her chin thoughtfully with one finger. "And could there be anything else?" she asked Natalie, with an air of mock innocence. "Anything else Jo might not like?"

"What else?" asked Blair.

"Well, Snake, has, ah," Natalie blushed, "Snake has been spending a lot of time at River Rock."

"But that's a good thing," said Blair. "He can protect you girls. And Alec."

Tootie laughed. "Oh, Blair – if Alec could hear you say that!"

"It's great that Snake is protecting us," said Natalie, still beet red. "But he's not just visiting River Rock. He's actually, well, he's living at River Rock. Full time. And he's paying rent," she said hastily. "He got a job at the Peekskill Trucking Company. He says he's through with Robinson Trucking. Forever."

"Well, he's paying rent, he's protecting you – what's the issue?" asked Blair.

Natalie squirmed in her chair. "Jo isn't going to like that Snake is, well, Snake is rooming with me."

Blair raised her eyebrows.

"Rooming with you? Rooming with you like we all roomed together at Eastland? Or rooming with you like Jo and I room together?"

"The latter," Tootie said, eyes twinkling. "Definitely the latter."

Natalie tugged at her collar. "Is it getting warm in here? Did they turn up the furnace?"

"They don't have the furnace going in July," said Tootie.

"Are you sure? 'Cause it suddenly feels like I'm in Miami, visiting my uncle Morris."

"You're just on the hot seat," teased Tootie. "That's the heat you're feeling."

"Well you just wait until it's your turn, Tootie Ramsey," said Natalie. "You just wait 'till you try to cohabitate with a, with a, with a …"

"You can't even finish that sentence – can you?" teased Tootie.

Blair smiled at Natalie, a sisterly, commiserating smile.

"Are you happy, Nat?"

Natalie blushed even deeper, which hardly seemed possible. But she smiled.

"I am happy. With Snake … It's like I always say. Fish gotta swim, and birds gotta fly, and I'm gonna love my big lug 'till he dies."

"A beautiful, if slightly morbid, sentiment," Tootie said approvingly.

"Hear, hear," said Blair.


August, 1986. Peekskill.

The Peekskill Tea House was very pink, and lacy, and fragrant with many different varieties of tea.

The proprietress had fired Blair in June when Blair was a no-show for several shifts.

But once Blair returned to Peekskill in July, recovering from being shot during "a mugging" (as she described it to her boss), the proprietress immediately relented.

"A mugging? How dreadful! But that, you know, is why I never go to the city. Never. Peekskill has everything I could possibly need right here. And it's safe."

The Peekskill Tea House closed at 6 p.m.

At 5:55 p.m. exactly on this August evening, Blair's father sat down at an empty table in her station.

Blair had never seen her father dressed so casually. He wore neatly pressed jeans and a white polo shirt, sunglasses and a fishing hat.

He was trying to look like a summer tourist, she thought. But the look was wrong, if you really examined his ensemble. Everything was brand new. The jeans, the shirt. Even the fishing hat. It had clearly never been out of the haberdashery before. This was the hat's maiden voyage.

He didn't smell like a tourist either. That expensive cologne he favored. And his natty ponytail. Weekend fishermen didn't wear Wall Street – or Samurai – ponytails.

The biggest "tell" of all? Since when did fishermen drop into the Peekskill Tea House? The proprietress could've answered: Never. The only men who frequented the tea house were dragged there by wives, sisters, and lovers.

"I'm sorry sir," Blair told her father, with her best, phoniest, glued-on, toothy grin. "We're closing."

"That's a shame," David said in his deep, well-bred voice. "I had my heart set on a cup of tea."

"There's a bar down the street," Blair said, "that might be more to your taste. Their whiskey and cheeseburgers are legendary."

"How charming. But I don't drink," he said. "Or smoke. And I'm a vegetarian."

"Right," said Blair. "That's why you're so fit. Thanks for the health tips. Goodbye."

David stood up. He pushed his chair neatly under the frilly pink table.

He lowered his sunglasses slightly, and looked his daughter in the eye.

"I saw a park," he said quietly, "a block from here. Do you know the one?"

"It's Peekskill," said Blair. "How many different parks do you think are a block away from here?"

He nodded. "Good. Can you meet me in twenty minutes?"

"Why?"

He shrugged. "If you don't meet me, you'll never know."

He dropped a five dollar bill on the table, and left the tea house.

"Wow," said Tina, one of the other waitresses. "Five dollars? For nothing? He looked rich. I'll bet he's a rich New Yorker."

I'll bet you're right, thought Blair.

She ignored the five dollar bill.

Tina eyed it hungrily.

"Take it," Blair told her colleague.

"Oh, I couldn't," said Tina. "I didn't earn it."

"Neither did I. Take it. Please."

"If you're sure?"

"I'm positive."

Blair and Tina and the other waitresses brushed the crumbs off the tables and brought all of the empty cups and plates and utensils to the kitchen and ran carpet sweepers over the floor.

"Thank you girls," the proprietress said when they finished. "Have a nice evening."

Blair's father was pacing near the Civil War Memorial.

He looks so damn conspicuous, thought Blair.

She fell into step beside him.

"Let's walk," she said.

He followed her into a grove of trees along the northern edge of the park. It was August, so it was still daylight. But Blair hoped no one she knew would happen by and recognize her walking with a stranger among the oaks and maples.

"What do you want?" she asked her father. "You told me at the coffee shop that if I was out, I was out. Well I'm out. You must know that I was the one who collected the evidence against you. You must know I had you videotaped – our entire conversation."

He nodded curtly. "Of course."

"And you know that when you're on trial, I'll take the stand and testify to everything that happened in Room 606? Everything that I saw. And everything you told me in the coffee shop."

"Blair … Your betrayal …"

"No crocodile tears," she said.

"Cry about it? Blair – I'm incredibly proud of you. The way you set me up. And you were so cool about it, Princess."

Blair felt slightly nauseated.

"I'm glad I could make you proud," she said coldly.

But the sarcasm was lost on David.

"You're still young and naïve," he said. "You still believe in things like 'right' and 'wrong'. You're misguided; that's part of youth. But I wanted you to know, Princess, that you're not out. I'll take you on as a junior partner any time you finally see sense."

"Daddy –"

"Don't answer now. I know you're not ready. When you are ready to join me, go to the Tokama Club in Greenwich Village. Can you remember that? The Tokama Club. Ask for Buredo. He'll know how to contact me. And don't bother having the police raid the place. They won't find anything worth finding. It's just a place where my associates can get a message to me. Now. About that tea house," David shook his head, "as far as your working there? That must stop. I'm a great believer in a modicum of manual labor, to build character, but you paid those dues working in the Eastland kitchen. Your days of manual labor are at an end. You can have your inheritance, Princess."

"And I will have it, Daddy. Eduardo will see to that. He'll find it, wherever you've concealed it."

David grimaced. "The gallant Eduardo. I never could compete with him – could I? He filled your head full of fairy tales; he has you tilting at windmills too. But I'll tell you something. The man worked for me for decades, so I know he's brilliant. But he won't ever find your inheritance. Not without my help."

Blair shrugged. "If he doesn't, he doesn't. I don't need the money. I don't want it."

"I know you don't need it. You've proven your resourcefulness, your self-reliance. Blair … You're more my daughter than I'd ever hoped. But you'll want the money. When you really consider all the things you could do for your plebian friends. That's it, isn't it? That's why you've had Eduardo trying to find the money. Not for you – for them. So why not take it, when I offer it to you on a silver platter?"

David turned suddenly. He dropped something in her palm, and closed her fingers over it.

"Hey!"

"Give this to Eduardo," said David. "And he'll recover your inheritance."

"Even if he did," said Blair. "It doesn't change anything. It doesn't change anything between us, Daddy."

"Not now," David said confidently, "but in time, you'll see the light."

"In time, you'll be in prison," said Blair.

David shook his head. "I'll never be convicted," he said. "That I can promise you. The evidence you collected, the case the police are building – it's all very cute. But none of you understand the scope of what you're dealing with."

"Is Tokama the Sensei?" asked Blair.

"That's a question I could answer if it was asked by a junior partner," said David.

And without warning he turned on his heel and walked through the park, very fast.

Blair didn't try to follow him.

She hadn't wanted to meet with him in the first place. But he was her father. There was something about that, a gravitational pull. She had had to meet him. She always would.

She opened her hand, to examine what David had given her.

It was a neatly folded piece of lined paper. On it were listed the names of her old pets, from when she was a child.

She and Eduardo had already considered the possibility that David might have hidden some of her inheritance assets in accounts under names related to her childhood pets. But nothing had come of it.

Now, staring at the paper David had pressed upon her, Blair understood why.

It wasn't just the pets' names. There were dates next to the names. The dates the animals had been born, or had died, or had been given their rabies shots – she wasn't sure. It had all happened so long ago. But the dates, whatever they signified – they were the missing piece. To find the accounts where David had hidden Blair's inheritance, Eduardo would need the names and the dates.


Jo was in the kitchen when Blair got home, breaking Snake's chops about something.

Blair was deep in thought. She didn't follow their argument.

"Come on, Blair," said Jo. "Back me up here."

"Hmm?"

"She can't back you up," rumbled Snake. "She's not even paying attention."

"Sure she is. Besides which, Blair knows I'm always right about this stuff. Right, babe?"

"Hmm?"

"Like I said," laughed Snake, "Blair doesn't even know what we're talking about."

Jo put an arm around Blair's waist and hugged her, gingerly, of course, since they were both still recovering from their wounds. Blair was almost completely healed, but Jo had torn open some stitches the night before when she'd tried a particularly athletic move during their lovemaking.

"Are you OK?" Jo asked solicitously. "You look a little woozy."

"Not woozy," said Blair. "Just shocked. Daddy paid me a visit at the tea house."

"That son of a bitch," swore Jo.

"He still in town?" rumbled Snake. "Cause he needs an ass-kicking if anyone ever did. And my boot toe is just itching for it."

"Mine too," said Jo.

Blair sighed.

"Have we learned nothing from the last couple of months? Calm down, Rambo. Calm down, Terminator."

"Uh, the Terminator is a bad guy," said Jo. "But, points for tryin'."

"No one is kicking anyone's ass," Blair said firmly.

She unfolded a little piece of paper, and placed it on the counter.

"What's that?" Jo asked suspiciously. "Is that a threat? A warning? Did David threaten you?"

"It's supposed to be the key," said Blair, "to my inheritance."

Jo and Snake were silent, digesting that statement.

"Is he – what?" Jo asked finally. "Is he trying to atone for all the stuff he's pulled?"

"No. Atonement isn't his style. He's convinced he's right, and that I'm an idealistic babe in the woods."

"Then why's he giving in?"

"He's not 'giving in'. The inheritance money is a bribe. A bribe, and bait."

Understanding spread across Snake's face. He nodded sagely.

"Been there," he said. "You're the Warner 'dauphine'."

"If you're the Lost Prince," agreed Blair, "I guess I'm the Lost Princess."

"David wants you to join him?" Jo asked Blair incredulously, "in all his deadly criminal shenanigans?"

"Yes. The inheritance is a sign of good will. Of faith in me. And a taste of wealth, I suppose, so I'll be more likely to become his junior partner."

"Babe … This is not good," said Jo. "You know how in 'Star Wars' there was Darth Vader, but then there was the Emperor?"

Blair smiled at her lover's worried expression. She kissed Jo's nose.

Snake coughed and looked away.

"Jo, darling," Blair said affectionately, "I hate that I know this, but as I recently reminded one of your fellow 'Star Wars' geeks, Vader killed the Emperor."

"Well, true. He did," Jo conceded. "But – "

"Never mind the objections," said Blair. "If we've learned anything this summer, it's that life is short, and unpredictable, and precious. For once we're going to get the break we deserve. And we're going to enjoy it."

She tapped the scrap of paper with one fingernail.

"I'm giving this to Eduardo. And he'll do his level best to recover the money and assets my grandparents left me."

"Whatever you say, babe," said Jo. "It's about time we had a break …"

The End

Return to The Facts of Life Fiction

Return to Main Page