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: As always, thanks to the wonderful Debbie for the beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
If the Clothes Fit
A muffled voice came from underneath the large stack of colorful sweat tops. "Jeez, you'd think they'd keep these things sorted by size. I'm never going to find my size."
"It's a sale, Natalie; I'm sure the pile was in order when the store opened. People can be so messy when they're in a hurry." Tootie moved another stack of tops to the side; she hadn't been able to find Natalie's size either. Sighing, she glanced around the store, her eyes widening at the sight of a familiar blonde holding up different pairs of denim overalls, a look of intense concentration etched on the other woman's features.
"Hey, Nat; you've got to see this."
"What?" A head poked out from beneath a fluorescent pink top. "Did you find my size?"
"No, I found something else. Look." Tootie motioned across the store to where Blair Warner was frowning at the clothes she held in her hand. Discarding a faded pair of overalls, she held up a dark blue set and smiled.
"What's she doing?" Natalie eased out of the stack of clothing and moved to step next to her friend.
"I don't know." Tootie scrunched up her face in thought. "It's not Halloween, so she doesn't need to dress a scarecrow."
"Would you get a load of that shirt she's got tucked under her arm? Looks like Farmer Brown come to town." Natalie chuckled, clearly amused at her own words.
"And what about those boots?" Tootie pointed at the black boots, sitting on the floor next to Blair. She watched as the blonde looped the bottom of the overalls over the tops of the boots. "Farmer Brown must be in the army." Tootie snickered as an idea began to form. "Hey, let's hide behind the clothes racks and see what she's up to."
"I'm game." Natalie had already started across the aisle, her quest for the bargain sweat top abandoned for possible gossip fodder. She staked a prime location close to Blair and patiently waited to discover what the blonde was going to do next.
Thirty minutes later, Natalie and Tootie plopped down on the base of one of the mannequin displays. "She's got to have something up her sleeve," said Natalie, not allowing her confusion to cloud her curious mind. They'd followed Blair across the store and then back again. Both women were still clueless as to the reason for Blair's odd purchases.
"Overalls, long sleeve man's shirt, men's underwear and undershirt, black army boots with matching black socks, and mirrored sunglasses? I'd say she's definitely up to something," Tootie agreed, scratching her chin with the underside of her hand.
"Maybe they're for Jo." Natalie spoke her thoughts aloud, adding in her doubts as well. "Well, except for the underwear."
Tootie gazed off into the distance, her overactive imagination working overtime. "Maybe she's dating some guy who's from a small country town and just happens to be in the ROTC."
"Yeah, except for one small thing." Natalie turned to her friend and waited for Tootie to meet her gaze. She didn't have long to wait as Tootie's head swiveled around.
"Blair tried on every one of those items."
"I'm going out for a while," said Jo, stopping at the sink to rinse out her glass. "See ya later." Crossing the room, she'd just reached the door when Blair's question made its way to her.
"Don't you think it's a bit late to be going out?"
Natalie and Tootie settled in their chairs, placed their elbows on the table, and readied themselves to be entertained by the latest round of word sparring between their friends. Their gazes shifted to Jo, waiting for the comeback that would pretty much guarantee them a front row seat for the verbal war.
"What's it to you, Blair?" As expected, Jo turned on her heel and faced the blonde, her green eyes flashing with annoyance. "You're not my mother."
Blair lifted an eyebrow and took a moment to pass a critical eye over Jo. A camouflage-designed t-shirt mostly covered with a green oversized shirt and tucked into a matching pair of green pants made up her ensemble. Scuffed, black boots completed the picture.
"If I *were* your mother, you'd be wearing a coordinating outfit from Bloomingdale's instead of one from the Army surplus store." Blair's witty reply provided a nice cover for her true appreciation of Jo's choice of clothing. She couldn't quite figure out why her skin tingled every time Jo wore the camo-themed outfit.
Tootie and Natalie grinned as they scooted their chairs closer together, each resting her chin on a closed fist, unconsciously mirroring the other's position. Their eyes moved back to Jo; the battle of words was on.
Jo looked down at herself and then at Blair. "There's nothing wrong with what I've got on. Besides, I wouldn't be caught dead in any of those clothes you buy at that over-priced store. I can buy an entire wardrobe with what you spend on one of your outfits."
"Well, that's apparent." Blair gestured toward the choice of apparel from Jo's current wardrobe, her thoughts briefly moving to her own recent purchase. With a bit of mental math, she surmised that Jo had been absolutely correct with her correlation.
Glaring at Blair, Jo placed her hand on the doorknob. "I don't have time for this. I'm outta here." Without another word, she stepped through the door, slamming it closed behind her. Blair hesitated for only a moment before she, too, turned and left the room, leaving a disappointed Tootie and Natalie alone in the kitchen.
Shaking her head, Natalie sighed loudly. "That had such potential, too."
"Yeah, Jo's not one to normally give up so easily. I guess she had somewhere she needed to be." Tootie leaned back in her chair. "Now what are we going to do?"
"We could see if there's something on the television." Natalie shrugged. "It won't be as good as a Jo/Blair argument, but at least it's something."
Tootie pushed to her feet and started for the door. "True; c'mon, I got dibs on the couch."
Natalie quickly stood and raced for the den. "Not if I get there before you do."
In their quest to be the first to reach the couch, the two completely forgot about the clothes discussion between Jo and Blair. Neither had thought to ask Blair about the strange purchase she'd made earlier that morning.
Blair stood in front of the bathroom's mirror, fiddling with the metal fasteners. Finally, she was able to hook the brass button through the appropriate hole and lift upward, successfully fastening one strap of the overalls. She struggled to gain purchase on the other strap.
"This is worse than putting on pantyhose," Blair mumbled, her contortions allowing her to grab hold of the elusive strap. Having figured out the mechanics of the fastening device, it only took a couple of minutes for her to buckle herself in. "I certainly hope I don't have to go to the bathroom anytime soon."
Looking up into the mirror, she made a face at her reflection. "You so better be in that bar, Jo."
Forty-five minutes later, Blair stepped from the car and glanced around nervously. It had been easy to sneak down the stairs and slip past Tootie and Natalie as the two had been engrossed in the movie they'd been watching. But now that she'd finally arrived at her destination, her confidence level was dropping by the second, and just as she'd decided not to go through with the last phase of her multi-faceted plan, she spied Jo's bike parked just down the block. Squaring her shoulders, she started for the door of the establishment.
The tall redhead stood just outside the door of the bar and watched as the blonde approached. She smiled inwardly, looking forward to scaring the boots off the newcomer. The slow night was just about to get a lot more interesting.
Taking one last drag of her cigarette, the woman flicked the butt onto the sidewalk and smothered it with the heel of her boot. She waited until Blair was within a few feet before she stepped in front of her, effectively blocking the entrance to the bar.
"I can't decide if you fell off a turnip truck, got booted out of the army, or," she gestured to the mirrored sunglasses which were looped over the top of the overalls, "don't have anything but those glasses to show from your motorcycle days." She chuckled and pointed toward the dark alley next to the building. "What do you say we go somewhere more private and solve this identity crisis of yours?"
Blair paused at the sound of the deep voice and took notice of the other woman's appearance - red hair, cut very short, and wearing a white t-shirt tucked into a pair of tight denim jeans. She looked down at the woman's motorcycle boots and slowly moved her gaze up the hard, firm, legs to spy a slight bulge where she thought there shouldn't be one. Tilting her head, Blair frowned; she'd heard this was a gay bar, but this guy was definitely coming on to her. Red-faced, she quickly bypassed the vee of the woman's jeans and moved her gaze upward, immediately spotting the slight protrusions that were straining to escape through the white cotton t-shirt.
"I don't understand," said Blair, her eyes staring at the other woman's chest.
Chuckling, the redhead stepped closer. "You really are a blonde, aren't you?" She pointed once again to the side alley. "Let's take this around the corner and find out for sure."
"What?" Blair was clearly out of her league, but a light had begun to flicker, and she took a step back. The redhead inched forward, mirroring Blair's move, but the words from a third party had her taking a step away from her target.
"Damn it, Marge; how many times do I have to tell you to quit harassing the customers?" A muscled brunette moved toward the other two women. "I step away for just a minute, and you're already starting in on someone else. Don't bother trying to get back in tonight, just go home."
"Aw Danny, I was just having a little fun with blondie here."
"You go home now, and I'll think about letting you back in tomorrow night." The bouncer held firm, widening her stance and crossing her arms over her chest. Blair couldn't help but stare at the mammoth-sized arms and quickly decided it might be best if she made a quick escape. Forcing a weak smile, she nodded at the bouncer.
"I think I'll just go inside now. Thank you for your help." Blair scooted past the two women and stumbled across the threshold. Quickly regaining her balance and in typical Warner fashion, she sashayed toward the bar area as if she was wearing a ball gown instead of her rather odd idea of lesbian-wear. Taking a seat on the end stool, she took advantage of her perch to glance around the bar, her eyes searching for a brunette dressed in camo. She couldn't help but notice that she was the only one dressed in overalls.
"Honey, can I get you a club soda or something?" The bartender swiped a rag across the bar in front of Blair and waited for the newcomer's reply. She'd spotted Blair the minute the blonde had stumbled, literally, into the bar and had immediately pegged her as a fish out of water.
"Huh?" Blair turned toward the kind-sounding voice and smiled. "That would be wonderful, thank you." As an afterthought, she added, "But I could have a beer if I wanted, I turned twenty-one last month." For some reason, it was important to Blair that the other woman knew she was of age even if she'd never had any intention of imbibing. She needed to keep her wits about her.
"Oh, I'm not doubting your age, Honey; I just thought it would be best to get your feet back under you before you drank anything." The bartender winked and reached for a glass. Pouring the liquid three quarters of the way to the rim, she slid the glass across the bar. "Let me know if you need anything else."
Blair just nodded her reply and waited for the bartender to move to the next customer before she resumed her search for Jo. Mindlessly, she lifted the glass to her lips but halted her hand mid-way to her mouth. She gently placed the glass back on the bar, careful not to spill the liquid - an amazing feat seeing as how her eyes were glued to the dance floor and the two women who were practically having sex while surrounded by other couples. Mesmerized, Blair forgot about Jo, forgot where she was and why she'd come, and instead, concentrated on the scene playing out in front of her. At the song's end, Blair swallowed hard and again reached for her drink, downing it in one big gulp. The erotic display had awakened more than just her curiosity.
"Whoa, slow down there, Honey." The bartender chuckled and refilled Blair's glass. She glanced around the seating area, and noting that her customers seemed to be temporarily satisfied, decided to find out the blonde's story. "So, what brings you here?"
Taking a sip from her newly filled glass, Blair looked across at the bartender, finding nothing but sincerity and kindness. She guessed the old cliché about people spilling their guts to the man, or in this case woman, who filled their glasses with drink was true. This woman was a stranger, and yet, Blair seemed to trust her. Looking around to make sure they were alone, she leaned forward and confessed her sins.
"Okay, let me get this straight," the bartender chuckled at her choice of words but gamely continued, "You've been following your roommate for the past two weeks to this particular bar, you researched the area and discovered that the bar caters to a gay clientele, and then you decided to go undercover to see what all the fuss is about?"
Blair shook her head and said, "No, I wanted to see what she does when she comes here."
"That's what I said. It just seems to me that you've gone to great lengths when you could've just asked your friend."
"I didn't want her to know that I know." Blair glanced around the bar once again, still not spying Jo among the patrons.
"Honey, I think she'll get the picture when she sees you here in that get-up."
"Well, I guess it doesn't really matter. Jo isn't even here. I could have sworn that was her bike just outside." Blair took another sip of her drink, swallowing the sigh that threatened to escape right along with the club soda.
"Jo? Jo Polniaczek?" The bartender stood to her full height. "She's in the back room."
"Back room?" Blair squeaked, her mind whirling with different scenarios of Jo and another woman. She gulped down the rest of her drink.
Unaware of what Blair was thinking, the bartender explained, "Yeah, she's a regular. Always orders a coke and then heads directly to the back room. Same goes for the other five."
"Other five?" Blair added a full-fledged orgy to her scenarios as she held out her empty glass for a refill. Here she was hoping to finally catch Jo's eye and five other women had already beat her to the punch.
"Yeah, you need six people to make a really good poker game." The bartender grabbed the bottle of club soda and started to pour when Blair suddenly yanked the glass out from under the flowing liquid. The club soda splashed across the front of her overalls before the bartender could react fast enough to right the bottle.
"Poker game? Jo's back there playing poker?"
"Of course, what did you . . ." The bartender laughed aloud. "There's none of that going on here; if someone wants to get it on, they have to take it off the premises. Why just the other night . . ." Her words were cut off by a voice that was very familiar to Blair.
"Blair? What are you doing here?" Jo had left the game for another coke when she'd spied the bartender deep in conversation with a blonde. She'd immediately spotted the rather unusual clothes the blonde was wearing and hadn't actually looked at her face.
"Well, I, um, was in the neighborhood and decided to stop off to get something to drink."
"In the neighborhood? Blair, Peekskill is two towns over; this isn't the neighborhood." Jo moved closer to the blonde. "And what in the world do you have on?"
"Official lesbian apparel," said Terry, the bartender, with a huge smile on her face. She'd meant to ask Blair about the clothing but had focused on Blair's infiltration of the bar.
"What? Did you hit your head, Blair? What gave you the idea that lesbians wear overalls and army boots?" Jo zeroed in on the sunglasses. "And those had better not be mine."
"Hey, Jo, I've got a break coming. Why don't I sit in on the next few hands and you take Blair into the office and talk this out?" Terry tossed her bar towel to the side and walked around the bar. "Come get me when you're ready to be dealt back in." With a nod, she headed for the back room.
Blowing out a frustrated breath, Jo reached out for Blair's hand and pulled her protesting friend away from the bar and toward a side door. Turning the knob, she flipped the switch and tugged Blair the rest of the way inside before closing the door behind them.
"You've gone too far this time, Blair. I can't believe you followed me." Jo released Blair's hand and stomped over to the couch.
Blair opened her mouth to deny Jo's claim but quickly slammed it closed. She couldn't very well expect Jo to believe that she'd just happened upon the bar, so instead, she quietly moved to a nearby chair and took a seat. She had no defense.
Jo glared at her roommate, waiting for Blair's reply. When none was forthcoming, she waited a bit longer, but as the silence continued, the wind went out of her sails. It wasn't any fun arguing with Blair if she wasn't going to fight back.
"Look, Blair. I don't know why you got the wild hair to follow me, and I certainly don't know where you got the idea that lesbians dressed like that, but we need to talk." Jo would rather have had her motorcycle run over by an eighteen wheeler than have this particular discussion but decided to go ahead and get it over with, even though she knew it would be very much like ripping a band-aid off a sore wound.
"Why here, Jo? Why do you come to play poker here?" Blair finally found her voice. She hadn't come all this way not to find out why Jo had been sneaking away to the gay bar for the past who knows how long.
Jo ran her hand through her hair, a sure sign that she was at odds with what to say. The secret she'd thought she'd hidden so well had been discovered. There was no reason to avoid the subject any longer.
"Because I fit in, Blair; people here are just like me, having to hide who they really are from those closest to them. We can't afford for our friends and family to know."
"How do you know that you won't be accepted?"
"I just can't take that chance. I've worked hard to get where I am, Blair. I can't risk it."
Blair looked down at her hands folded in her lap, not able to look Jo in the eye when she asked her next question. "How do you know there aren't others just like you amongst your friends?"
"Because I . . ." Jo stopped mid-sentence, suddenly taking note of the way Blair was wringing her hands together. She only did that when . . .
"Blair, are you saying . . ."
"Um, well, I think so; I'm not really sure."
Those three words almost brought Jo to her knees - I think so. All this time she could have had someone to talk to, someone to confide in, someone to love; problem was she'd already accomplished the last bit. She was already in love with Blair.
Jo gentled her tone, making sure to keep things in general terms. "What makes you think that you might be?"
"Well," Blair started, trying to put order to her thoughts, to pinpoint the moment when she'd begun to look at Jo as something other than a friend, the times when she would rather be with Jo than anyone else. For the past year, she couldn't name a single time when she hadn't wanted to be with Jo. "I guess for a while now."
"A while?" Jo eased closer. "How long is a while?"
Blair never looked up. She simply shrugged her shoulders and whispered, "A year."
Kneeling down next to Blair, Jo slowly reached out a hand, placing it over the blonde's worrying ones. She squeezed lightly and asked the question she was almost afraid to hear the answer to. "Is there someone in particular that you've been thinking about?"
Blair's eyes focused on the strong hand which held hers as her mind flashed to the different times she'd watched and admired the same hand Jo gripping a wrench and tightening some kind of thing-a-ma-jiggie on her motorcycle, Jo rolling her eyes and grabbing the tightly sealed jar out of Natalie's hand and then easily popping the lid open, Jo taking hold of the pantry doorknob and yanking with all her might whenever it got stuck, Jo holding her pen firmly as she wrote lines and lines of text of whatever the homework of the day happened to be. The images all ran together as she slowly lifted her head and met Jo's gaze. Everything had come down to this one moment, and Blair wasn't about to let it slip away.
"You," Blair replied softly as she squeezed Jo's hand and smiled.
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