DISCLAIMER: I don't own The Facts of Life or any of
the characters represented in the show. They're owned by
someone else who isn't me. No copyright infringement is
implied/meant/deliberate in any way, shape or form, and no
money is changing hands/no profit is being made, etc.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Musty Memories and Passionate Kisses
By Del Robertson
"This is all your fault!" Blair huffed, dabbing at a suspicious spot of moisture pooling about her hairline with a monogrammed designer handkerchief.
Jo didn't even look up from the box she'd been sorting through. The cardboard had been painstakingly labeled by a child's hand in two-inch high blue magic marker, the lettering proclaiming "KEEP OUT". That alone necessitated the opening of and rummaging through of said box. She rifled through the contents, spreading a child's long-forgotten treasures on the hardwood floor as Blair continued to drone on in the background.
The Bronx native had given up trying to defend herself after the first thirty minutes or so of cussing and fussing. At that point, she figured no matter what she said or did, in Blair's world, she would always be at fault. Never mind that it took two of them to start that food fight in the cafeteria. Or, that Mrs. Garrett herself had yelled "GIRLS!" - which as anyone knew, was the plural of the word 'girl', meaning they were both equally at fault. Not to mention that she was distinctly yelling at the both of them when her face turned as red as her hair, then a deathly, pale white before she clutched at her chest with one hand and stumbled backwards.
It was sheer dumb luck that they'd had a CPR refresher course that semester and the memories of Resusci-Annie were still fresh in their minds. They'd immediately halted their bickering and worked together, doing exactly as they'd been instructed in their class. It wasn't until the ambulance was pulling out of the drive, leaving Blair and Jo shakily clinging together in each other's arms that reality set in.
They'd nearly killed Mrs. Garrett.
Of course, when they'd gone to visit the matronly caretaker in the hospital and confessed how sorry they were, she promptly reassured them. She could tell the roommates were genuinely upset about their actions and she somewhat let them off the hook, citing that she knew she was at risk and it was her own fault for letting her temper get the better of her. Somewhat, because even from her hospital bed, she still saw the chance to teach both the debutante and the delinquent a lesson.
And, as everyone knew, Mrs. Garrett was never one to pass up a golden opportunity to humble the roommates and make them work their differences out together. Even though they sensed it coming, neither one could find the strength to move their legs so they could escape. They were both rooted to the spot, hands clasped demurely in front of their bodies, heads bowed respectfully as their caregiver barked her instructions from the confines of her hospital bed.
So naturally, here they were. Forced to work together in the confines of the musty upstairs attic, sorting through and organizing junk. Mrs. Garrett had been in the middle of conducting her un-boxing, dusting and re-boxing spring cleaning spree when they'd caused her attack. At first, they'd both thought about just leaving everything as is and claiming they'd finished the job. After all, it's not like Mrs. G was in any kind of condition to trek up to the attic and check their progress.
Just like Mrs. G to see that one coming.
As if in anticipation of Jo's devious mind, the cunning caretaker had commanded they open each carton, assign a number to it and list an inventory of each box on a legal pad. Then, they were to bring her the compiled list so she could decide what should be donated to the annual bazaar and what should be saved for another year. And naturally, Jo and Blair would be the ones to climb back up into the attic and retrieve everything on Mrs. Garrett's revised list and personally deliver every item to the charity drive.
So, in Mrs. Garrett's own words: "You'd better do it right the first time."
And, that's where we are now, Jo huffed to herself, stuck in a musty, smelly, hot, stinkin' attic with hardly any ventilation goin' through box after ratty box with her Highness, freakin' Princess Blair!
Just getting into the attic had taken half the morning. First, they'd had to haul a ladder out of the garage and carry it up to the second floor and lean it against the wooden frame box that was built into the ceiling of the upstairs hallway. And, she meant 'they' as in she dug the ladder out, carried it all the way into the house, maneuvering it past the living room furniture and up the stairs with Blair trailing behind offering solicitous suggestions such as Careful of the lamp, Jo - Don't scratch the paint on the wall, Jo - Set it up there, Jo.
Then, she'd had to climb the ladder while Blair stood at the bottom, craning her neck as she watched her, one hand braced against the ladder frame in a show of support. Jo had nearly fallen off when she'd reached the top and had to use both hands to push the trapdoor up. Then, she'd scrambled through, pulling herself up. And, as she lay there on her side, getting her bearings, she'd heard Blair's plaintive wail to help her.
It had taken another half hour to get Princess Warner up the ladder and through the trapdoor. She didn't want to break a nail. She didn't want to dirty her spring cleaning outfit she'd picked out especially for this project. She was worried she'd muss her hair. Jo had to stifle a scream when after she'd pulled Blair through the opening and helped her to an overturned wooden crate, the heiress had produced an engraved compact mirror from her pocket and proceeded to touch up her lipstick.
Like there's anyone up here to touch up her makeup for.
Annoyed, Jo had immediately announced she was going back down to the kitchen to fix them some sandwiches for a snack. And, she'd ordered Blair to be done with her primping by the time she returned - or else.
That was when she realized the ladder had fallen. It was fairly easy to figure out what had happened. When she'd helped princess up the last rung and Blair had stumbled, falling into her, one of her shoes must have knocked against the ladder. If her heart hadn't been beating so loudly she couldn't hear her own thoughts, she might have noticed it falling down earlier.
That's what happens when you're holding a gorgeous woman in your arms and she's looking up at you with those big, brown eyes. Apparently, for Jo, it meant that all her other basic motor skills - like hearing, thinking, breathing, stopped functioning. As Blair steadied herself and moved out of the impromptu embrace, Jo remembered vividly having to remind herself to inhale - exhale - inhale.
Blair, of course, had panicked, blaming Jo and demanding to know what she was going to do to get them out of this mess she'd caused. After the initial shouting and screaming match in which Jo reminded Blair that they were both here because their fighting led to Mrs. G's heart attack and that it was her big foot that had kicked the ladder and Blair had been suitably mortified then that she might have abnormally large feet . . . they'd both calmed down and agreed not to argue with each other. They'd simply have to wait until Natalie and Tootie got home from school to set the ladder up again. In the meantime, they'd make the best of their circumstances and work together to get as much done as possible. Jo kept holding out hope that if they hurried, they wouldn't have to spend another day in the musty attic.
"Oh, I remember this!" Blair cooed, holding up a bowler hat and a walking cane.
Jo blankly stared at the items until it dawned on her where she'd seen them before. "Nat's costume for that party we went to!" She snapped her fingers as she remembered. "You went as Jane Fonda."
Blair's eyes twinkled, pleased that Jo recalled. "And, you were," Blair giggled as she pulled a pair of sunglasses out of the box and put them on. They immediately slid down her elegant nose, "Peter Fonda." She laughed at the memory now, but at the time, "I could have killed you for going to the party dressed as him."
"Ah. You were just jealous cause more people were interested in me than you!"
"If you mean by people, you mean girls." Blair smirked at Jo's shocked expression. "I saw Cindy Jo copping a feel of your butt! At least all the people who showed an interest in me were of the opposite sex."
"Cindy thought I was a guy. I was dressed as Peter Fonda, remember?"
"Yeeeaaaah," Blair let the word drawl out. "But, even with that oversized tee and that leather jacket - " she pointedly let her gaze drift down towards Jo's breasts. "No one really believed for a minute you were a guy."
"Um - " Jo felt the heat rise to her cheeks.
She vividly remembered when Cindy came up to her, pressing into her as she reached about, sliding both hands into the back pockets of Jo's tight jeans. And, she heatedly whispered in her ear something about Jo taking her for a ride on her bike. Jo's legs had nearly given out when Cindy mentioned how much she liked to have something throbbing between her thighs. It wasn't until later at the house as she was pulling off her jeans that she discovered the folded note with Cindy's home number scrawled across it in blue ink.
She'd held onto that note for three weeks, wondering if it was a joke or not. Then, Mrs. G had gathered up the laundry and, inadvertently, the note that Jo had been transferring from pocket to pocket every time she changed clothes. She'd spent hours trying to unstick and unfold that mangled piece of notebook paper before she'd finally admitted defeat. She never did decipher the last three digits. And, she'd never had the courage to ask Cindy for her number again.
"Hey! Look at this!" Jo shouted, grabbing the first item her fingers touched and holding it up for Blair's inspection.
"Oh, Jo!" Blair reached out and snatched it from Jo's grasp.
The brunette blinked, suddenly realizing what she had blindly picked up. Really, she was just hoping to find something - anything - to distract Blair's attention away from the Cindy Jo butt-fondling story. She couldn't have picked better if she'd tried.
"The reviews from the school's production of South Pacific." Blair proudly held up the newspaper article and began reading it aloud. "A special nod should go to scenic designer Blair Warner. Not since - "
Jo let out a long-suffering sigh. Blair had snipped that article out of no fewer than twenty copies of the school paper. She'd personally sat beside her as Blair reread the section of the review pertaining to her each time she stuffed a clipping into an envelope. One for her mother. Her stepfather in Switzerland. Her father, David Warner, of Warner Textiles. Her other stepfather. Her nanny that took care of her on weekends when the regular nanny was off. Not to mention a copy for each of her three scrapbooks. All for the sake of prosperity, of course. Something to remind her of her humble beginnings amongst the little people once she was a renowned household name as an artiste.
" - Palm trees." Blair exhaled wistfully, picturing the scenery she had painstakingly hand-painted, throwing her artistic vision into each masterpiece. "Ah, the palm trees."
"Don't forget the coconuts."
"Oh, yeah. The coconuts . . . "
Blair tilted her head to the side, looking at her friend from a skewed angle. She was somewhat puzzled by the knowing smirk that curved the brunette's lips. "I painted the scenery. You were in charge of scraping the coco - " Blair's words died in her throat as Jo's grin widened and realization suddenly hit her like a ton of cashmere sweaters on clearance.
"The co - co - coco - " Try as she might, Blair couldn't finish the sentence.
"Nuts," supplied Jo, succinctly.
Blair felt the blush creeping up her neck, bowed her head, letting her blonde hair fall about her face to hide her bout of embarrassment. She thought she'd been alone. Tootie, the piano player, the drama teacher . . . they'd all left for the evening. And, Jo had gone off to have a talk with Natalie about this senseless fight she was having with Tootie over not getting the lead in the school play. She'd been alone in the theatre. Painting her scenes. Putting the finishing touches on her masterpiece of a hibiscus bush.
And, as she'd crossed the room to rinse her brushes off, her eyes had fallen on the unfinished job that Jo had been assigned. She was in charge of scraping out the coconuts. Most of them were going to be used in the scenes where the sailors had to drink from the coconuts. But, some were for the background players who were going to be filling in the roles of the dancing girls.
She reached out, fingers lightly running over the coarse surface of the nearest coconut before jerking back as if the touch had scalded her flesh. Then, glancing about, making sure she was still alone, she tentatively reached out and ran her fingers over it again. Then, it was a hand closing about the coconut. And then, both hands closing about two halves of an identically scraped out coconut.
Blair selected one of the sets that Jo had already finished up. She had somehow managed to rig up an elastic tie that stretched about the back and secured the two halves in place. Looking around again, feeling a sense of giddiness wash over her, Blair quickly divested herself of her button-down blouse and front closure bra. Tossing them both across the work table, she slipped the native-style bra on, securing it in place. Using both hands, she adjusted the coconuts over her breasts. Then, as she'd gotten used to the feel, she did a little shimmy. Then, another. And, before long, her eyes were closed and she was performing her own tribal dance on the darkened stage.
Her eyes flew open and her head shot up. "You were there - "
"I've never seen a lovelier set of coconuts, Blair." Jo was laughing so hard, she was in danger of falling off the box she was perched on.
"You! You!" Blair wadded up the newspaper page, threw it as hard as she could at Jo, hitting her squarely in the knee with the paper projectile. "You can . . . just turn blue!"
Those had been the last words Blair had spoken to her. In over three hours. Normally, Jo might be pleased with that. But, for some reason, she always felt bad about the silence when Blair was truly mad at her. Oh sure, she often teased Blair about wanting to permanently shut her up with a roll of well-placed duct tape. But, that was just teasing.
No, this went beyond teasing. She initially thought that was what was going on. She'd imagined they were on even footing. Blair had teased her about the whole Cindy Jo thing. And, she'd made a comment about Blair's coconut fetish. It was all just harmless fun, right?
It didn't take a genius to figure that one out. Jo had done everything she could think of to get Blair out of her funk. She'd held up Natalie's old study cap; the one that was a baseball cap with lightning bolts coming out of the sides. Nat used to claim the brainwaves were conducted into her brain through the lightning bolts through the air currents or some crap like that. And, she reminded Blair of the time they'd had the all-night cram session and one of Natalie's lightning bolts was drooping. And, the way Nat had been so exasperated as she claimed, "I'm working at half-wattage here, people!"
That night, they'd been laughing so hard, they were nearly rolling on the floor. Not so much as a snicker out of Blair today. Jo sighed in resignation, letting the cap fall from her fingertips and back into the box she was inventorying. She'd done everything she could think of. Short of apologizing. And, that's just not gonna happen. Not unless she apologizes first.
Out of her peripheral vision, she caught sight of the blonde heiress daintily lifting a dusty vinyl record jacket with her fingertips. Holding it with an air of disdain, she lightly brushed at it with a feather duster before delicately placing it in the box she was filling. Then, she ever-so-painstakingly wrote the name of the artist and the album on her legal pad in big, flowing letters that Jo could make out even from where she was seated. Disbelievingly, she watched as Blair picked up the corner of another record jacket and reenacted the process all over again. Then, her gaze fell on the stack of fifty-odd albums stacked up before Blair.
Feeling her frustration rise, Jo off-handedly tossed one half of a pair of skates into her box. Briefly, she looked around for the other one, pretty sure she had seen it earlier when she'd dumped the contents. Ah, well - she mumbled, writing 'one skate' on her legal pad as item number eighteen.
A lone trail of sweat made its way past her neck and down the center of her back beneath the lightweight cotton tee she was wearing. A covert eye-roll confirmed that Blair had just settled the second record album into her box. What a waste! Bet she doesn't know the difference between The Stones and The Police! Haphazardly tossing a Rubik's cube into her box, Jo leveled another glare at the bane of her existence.
Geez, look at her! She's so perfect she's not even hardly sweating! Oh, pardon me. A grease monkey sweats, a lady perspires - Jo mentally corrected herself in a perfect imitation of Blair's haughty tones. At least in her mind, they sounded haughty.
That first year, everything that came out of Blair's mouth sounded condescending. Even when she wasn't trying to be. Looking back, Jo realized there were times when Blair really did try to get along with her.
Blair was just too snobbish. And, Jo was just too angry at the world. It was like locking Gloria Vanderbilt in a room with Rebel Without A Cause and not coming back to let them out until six or seven hours later. By that point it didn't matter who was left standing and who wasn't, you just knew when that door was unlocked again, it was going to be all kinds of ugly.
Funny thing was, Blair managed to come out on top just as often as Jo did. Sure, when they were verbally sparring and things got too heated, Blair always fell back on her favored "Turn Blue" phrase. The first few times Blair had used that particular comeback, Jo had been so stunned, she wasn't sure how to respond. It was just so absolutely - well, absurd. Tough girl from the Bronx fighting it out with pampered Park Avenue girl, ready to punch her into next week. And, Park Avenue comes up with such a ridiculous comeback that all she could do was stop and laugh. Even now, several years - and many more fights - later, and that phrase could still bring out fits of uncontrollable laughter.
Blair was barely on her third lp. And, Jo could hardly stand it. She wanted nothing more than to leap to her feet and push Blair out of the way and rapidly file every album into the box and write on the cardboard 'RECORDS' and seal it up. Her clenched fist beat out a staccato rhythm on her denim clad thigh as she fought down the barely controlled impulse.
By the time she heard the fourth album being delicately lowered into the box, Jo had jumped to her feet and was stomping about the attic. Dragging a hand through her hair, she shoved the sweat-soaked locks away from her neck. Kicking boxes this way and that, she fought her way to a darkened, long-forgotten window, covered over with years of dirt and grime.
Mrs. G must not have known this was here, Jo reasoned, using her thigh to nudge several precariously balanced boxes out of her way. Otherwise, Lord knows she would have dusted it. Fishing a mechanic's rag from her jeans pocket, she wrapped it about the iron handle centered at the bottom of the wooden frame and gave a sharp tug.
"Jo, what are you doing?" Blair asked, looking up from her task as she heard the sharp growl.
"Trying to get this blasted window open so we can get some freakin' air in here!" Jo yelled, punching at the glass in frustration.
"Well," Blair drawled in that distinct accent of hers as she dabbed at the moisture on her upper lip with a designer handkerchief, "You might have thought of that hours ago. Before I nearly passed out from heat exhaustion."
"I should be so lucky," Jo grumbled beneath her breath.
"What was that?"
Jo hid a sharp grin as she pointedly turned her back on the princess. If there was one thing she'd learned in all their years together, it was that if Blair Warner didn't hear you the first time, don't repeat the insult. It drove her nuts. Even better than if she'd heard the insult to start with.
She felt a sharp pain in her arm as she continued to yank and pull. Placing one sneaker up on the wall, she braced herself, using both hands to grasp the handle and pulled for all she was worth.
The wood had dry-rot. It had to. There was no other explanation for the handle unexpectedly coming right out of the wooden frame and sending her falling backwards as it was jerked free. As she stumbled, her foot landed awkwardly on something and one leg was suddenly sliding backwards at an accelerated rate. Her equilibrium was completely shattered then.
"Jo! Jo! Can you hear me?"
She felt a hand lightly slapping her across the cheek. Cautiously, she opened one eye, blearily staring up into concerned chocolate brown eyes. Just as Blair's hand was about to come down again, Jo reached up, fingers closing about a delicate wrist.
"Word of advice, Blair. When you're trying to rouse someone from unconsciousness, you should try slapping them a little harder!"
Blair look offended. "I didn't want to bruise you."
She didn't want to bruise me? Jo was stunned. Not "I couldn't risk breaking a nail?" She shook her head to clear the cobwebs, certain she couldn't have heard right.
"Thanks for the concern, Blair." She tried to shoo Blair's hands away from her. "But, as you can see, I'm fine."
She didn't know why she had snapped at Blair. It wasn't her fault the handle had broken off the window and she'd stumbled backwards. At least I landed against that stack of boxes. She tried to sit up, felt a sharp stabbing sensation in her shoulder. Ignoring it, she rolled to her side, then discovered the pain had migrated to her ankle.
"What did I fall over, anyways?" she grimaced, eyes darting all about the floor.
"Um - " Blair looked about, trying to answer that question, as well. Reaching over, grabbing the likeliest culprit, she announced, "I think it was this." She bit her bottom lip, waiting for Jo's temper to explode as she reluctantly held up the skate.
"Oh." Was all Jo muttered before laying back on the dust-covered floor and staring up at the single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. "Tootie's other skate."
Tootie's other - Blair hastily covered her mouth with her hand, trying to stifle her laughter as she quickly realized that Jo must have already boxed up its mate. She almost succeeded, too . . . until Jo lolled her head in her direction and gave this cute, little whimper. Then, despite her mortification at doing so, she smirked. Then, snickered. And finally, guffawed. And, snorted.
That's when even Jo had to chuckle. Despite laying flat on her back. Well, mostly flat. In a hot, dusty attic. With little or no ventilation. No food. No drink. At the very least, a sprained ankle and a pulled muscle in her shoulder. No way down. And, stuck with the most pampered debutante she'd ever met.
Who was kneeling on that same dust-covered floor in her designer work clothes. Leaning over her, clasping one of her hands. And, looking so cute and adorable. Heck, downright beautiful with her long, blonde hair falling about her face and a smudge of dirt smeared on the tip of her nose.
Maybe I should add 'concussion' to that list of injuries.
Jo couldn't lie to herself. That wasn't a head injury talking. Blair was beautiful. She'd always been attracted to her. In spite of the bickering and taunting and everything else they put each other through. Oh, she couldn't stand Blair when they'd first met. As a matter of fact, she'd wanted to chain the spoiled princess to the back of her bike and drag her through downtown Peekskill. Twice. But, once she'd gotten to know her - the real her and not the obnoxious primadonna she put on display for everyone else - she realized there was a real caring, vulnerable person underneath all that makeup and haughtiness.
"Jo," Blair's laughter suddenly died on her lips. "I am so sorry."
"Why are you sorry?" Jo grimaced as she managed to squirm her way around until she could reach an overturned box. "You throw Tootie's skate on the floor, knowing I would fall over it?"
"Of course not!" Blair couldn't have placed more indignation in those three words if she'd been a paid soap opera star. "I would never do anything to intentionally harm you!"
"Then, you've got nothing to apologize for, Princess. Accidents happen."
"Mmmm." Blair got this playful look as she asked, "Like when you accidentally forgot the pep rally was scheduled for the same night as my play rehearsal as Helen of Troy?"
Despite the pain she was in, Jo had to smile at the memory of an indignant Blair dressed in the best-fitting toga she'd ever seen storm into the house, part of their mascot's costume tightly clutched in her fist, looking angrier than Jo had ever seen her. "Still can't believe you pulled the tail off the Langley Lion." Grasping the edge of the box she'd reached with her fingertips, she struggled to pull herself up into a sitting position. "Crap!" she hissed as she slipped, feeling a sharp pain arc through her shoulder.
"Jo!" Blair was immediately scurrying back beside her. "What are you trying to do; hurt yourself?"
Breathing through the pain, the Bronx native shot the princess an exasperated look. "What's it look like I'm tryin' to do? I'm trying to sit up here!"
"Then, quit being so stubborn and let me help you!" Blair admonished, shifting around until she was at Jo's side and back, helping her into a semi-upright position.
After the shuffling and the squirming and the grunting and the arguing was done, Jo found herself in one of the most disconcerting positions of her life. Somehow, she had ended up with Blair pressed up against her back, cradling her in her arms, her head resting on that spot between Blair's collarbone and her neck. That spot she always watched Blair spray her perfume on in the mornings. That spot that Jo would stare at as the ends of Blair's hair would fall about her face, brushing against her flesh with every little movement she made. That spot that Jo had often fantasized about just putting her mouth against and licking - and suckling - and biting.
"Blair!" Suddenly uncomfortable with her own feelings, Jo struggled to extricate herself from the embrace. "I've been laying on the floor. You'll get your clothes all dirty."
"Don't be silly, Jo." With a determined strength few would suspect she had, Blair kept her arms locked about Jo's body and tugged her back against her frame. Bending her head, she commented in Jo's ear, "I'm going to donate this outfit to charity after today."
There were no words for several minutes as both girls contemplated their own thoughts. Normally, Jo might levy some insult about how Blair was spoiled and pampered and she shouldn't be donating designer clothes that she'd only worn once. But, her heart just wasn't into fighting right now. There were too many other things on her mind. And, laying in Blair's arms as she was, too many rampant emotions to try to sort out.
Blair wasn't faring much better. She'd long been fascinated by Jo. From the very first time they'd met when Jo rambled in on her motorcycle, parking it on Mrs. Garrett's flowerbed. She was intrigued. After all, she'd never seen a girl that could handle a motorcycle before. And, the tomboyish look, the confident walk, those pale, blue eyes . . . and then, she'd shattered the image by threatening to park her motorcycle on Blair's face.
After that first initial blowup, Blair had learned to keep her thoughts carefully guarded and her words censured. Not that she didn't still speak her mind. But, she'd figured out she needed to downplay her interest in the new girl. And, she'd been honest with herself. Eventually. She realized that she didn't hate the grease monkey's guts. And, that all the bickering and fighting and name calling was nothing more than her defensive reflexes masking her true feelings of attraction.
Defensive reflexives - How many sessions and how much of daddy's money did it take for my psychiatrist to come up with that phrase? And even though I can admit it to someone who's being paid to listen, what good does it really do me to have someone else know of my secret attraction?
Lost in her thoughts, Blair shifted against Jo's back, let out a long-suffering sigh of resignation. Idly, her fingers stroked through soft brunette locks falling about solid shoulders. Her other hand was looped beneath Jo's arm, encircling her waist, her fingers splayed over a flat abdomen as she provided a cushion for the Bronx native's upper body.
How's she do that? Blair had always had a special talent for pushing Jo's buttons. In the early days, the heiress had been all about getting beneath her skin and getting her temper riled up. No doubt about it, years later and Blair was still able to get beneath her skin. The only difference now was that the blonde debutante didn't elicit strictly angry emotions.
There was a whole array that Blair was responsible for now. And, when it came to Blair, it seemed like Jo's emotions were all over the map. With just a look and a bat of her eyes, she could make Jo's heart threaten to pound out of her chest. A single, softly spoken word could make the hardened delinquent turn all shy and bashful. Then, in the very next moment, a witty remark or a droll attempt at humor had Jo chuckling in spite of herself.
The good emotions were the best. But, as with all things in life, Jo had learned that they came with a price. It also meant that when Blair was angry with her, the words cut deeper. When she was dating some creep that wasn't good enough for her, Jo's protective streak ran a mile wide. And, when one of those creeps hurt Blair and made her cry . . . well, her tears had the ability to wound Jo, too.
The exasperated sigh, the ensuing silence was like torture for Jo. She lay there in Blair's arms, determinedly biting her bottom lip, her fingertips drumming out an anxious beat on her thigh. The silence was always the worst. She could take the name calling, the heated words, the thinly veiled insults. What she couldn't stand, though, was the angry quiet.
"Blair, look," Jo began, interpreting the silence as Blair's displeasure with her, "I may have been a little - " audible swallow as she searched for the word " - gruff with you before. I'm sorry I hurt your feelings."
"Hmmm?" The apology had pulled Blair out of her reverie and caught her decidedly off-guard. Her fingers stilled as she looked down to see pale blue blinking back up at her. "Whatever makes you think you hurt my feelings?"
"I - I don't know," an inarticulate shrug of the one shoulder she hadn't landed on, "I guess cause you got quiet, I just assumed - "
"Don't assume, okay?" A wicked smile adorned Blair's lips as she added, "When you assume, you make a donkey's hindquarters out of yourself."
Jo rolled her eyes. "You mean you make an ass out of you and me, Blair."
"JO!" Blair let out a shocked gasp. "I can't believe you would be so uncouth as to call a lady by that - that - "
"Blair, I wasn't calling you - I just meant - I mean, I was - "
In a near-panic, Jo struggled to get up. When she felt the arms tighten about waist, effectively holding her in place and saw the cheeky grin break out on Blair's face, she knew she'd been had.
"Ya didn't get me."
"Oh, I got you good."
Blair's nose crinkled up in that way Jo found to be completely adorable and she suddenly folded. "Yeah, ya got me."
"I got you good," repeated Blair. "I got you so good."
"I really got you."
"I got you so good."
"You, Jo Polniachek, were got."
"Blair. Do you really wanna be so proud of yourself because you got me to think I called ya a name?"
"Mmmm." Blair tapped her finger against her chin as if she was actually giving the question serious thought. "Yes."
"Keep it up and I really will call you a name."
"Wouldn't be the first time." Blair looked almost wistful. "We've certainly called each other some things over the years, haven't we?"
"I'm sure you deserved every one of them."
A well-manicured hand playfully slapped at Jo's shoulder. "I can't believe you called me Malibu Barbie."
"Yeah?" Incredulous dark brows crawled up a forehead. "How about you calling me Thug-For-Hire?"
"Hoodlum," Jo responded by jerking a thumb at herself.
"Princess Peroxide," was uttered with a regal air and a haughty sniff.
That was countered with, "Grungy greasemonkey."
"Rich bi - " Blair's voice suddenly broke off, her playful smile fell.
"Aw, Hell. I never should of called ya that, Blair," admitted Jo.
"Hey, no biggie, right?" Blair tried to wave off the long ago insult with one of her trademarked mega-watt smiles, but couldn't quite seem to bring off. "I'm sure I've called you worse."
"Nah, not really." Sensing they were precarious ground . . . touchy-feely, let's share our emotions ground . . . Jo tried to cover with a gruff tease. "Your comebacks have always been lame." She added in a more somber tone. "Nothin' you could have said called for me saying that."
"I must have said or done something to provoke you."
"No." Jo's voice was harsher. "No matter what happened, I never had a right to call you that." With renewed determination, Jo found the strength to sit completely upright. She turned until she was staring directly into dark brown eyes. Unwaveringly, she held the heiress' gaze as she demanded, "Don't you ever let anyone call you that, Blair." Voice noticeably thick with emotion, she added, "Especially not me."
"Why did you call me that?" Blair's voice trailed off, her eyes held a faraway cast as she tried to recall the argument that had sparked that particular insult. She was having problems remembering the exact circumstances. She remembered the yelling, the familiar taunting and hurled insults. Then, Jo grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her, their faces mere inches apart, Jo's breath hot upon her flesh as she shouted at her. The sharp pain as the hastily hurled words cleaved her heart in two. The stinging in her hand as she slapped Jo across the face in retaliation. Blair's stomach churned as the memories came rushing back. "You were furious that I was going out with Biff Wellington."
Jo swallowed audibly, mutely nodded her head. They'd never spoken about this since it'd happened. Blair's mother had a cancer scare right after that and Jo had atoned for her earlier actions by faithfully remaining at Blair's side the entire time her mother was in the hospital. She'd sat with her, listened to her ramble on and on about her childhood, never making one smart-assed, sarcastic remark the entire time and even held her when she needed a shoulder to cry on. By the time Blair's mom was well enough to go home, the incident had been pushed to the back of their minds and had never been brought up again.
"We never did talk about that." Blair studied Jo's reaction, hoping that she wasn't setting herself up to be pushed away. "Why, Jo?"
A shrug of broad shoulders. Blair knew she had to dig deeper - or Jo would never tell her.
"Were you jealous?"
"Of Biff Wellington?" A derisive snort. "That weenie!"
"That weenie was quarterback of the football team, captain of the basketball team and had a full scholastic scholarship to Harvard."
"That he didn't need."
"Oh, please." Blair's eyes narrowed. "I thought we'd moved beyond the pettiness of you being put off by people with more money than you getting everything they wanted just because they could afford the price tag."
"I have!" At Blair's eye roll, she added, "It wasn't about the scholarship. Blair, he had this big reputation, ya know? They didn't call him "Stiff" Wellington because of his great throwing arm." Jo tried to deliver the next part as tactfully as she could. "And, he'd been goin' around claiming he was gonna . . . make a touchdown in your end zone."
"That's why you threatened to hit him in the family jewels with your field hockey stick if he ever came near me again?"
"Yeah. I guess I just kind of lost it when I walked in and saw you wearing his letterman jacket and your lipstick was all smeared and he had this shit-eating grin all over his face. I guess I thought you were just one more price tag for him." She lowered her head, unable to maintain eye contact as she confessed in a hushed whisper, "And, I knew a poor girl from Bronx would never be able to afford even the down payment."
"Wait a minute." There was a edge of suspicion in Blair's voice as she began to match Jo's confession with the events that had transpired that night. "You said you were jealous of Biff Wellington." At Jo's blank look, she rationalized, "Of. Not over. I'd thought you were angry because you wanted Biff for yourself. All this time, though, you . . . " Her eyes widened with realization " . . . wanted me?"
Jo's head shot up. Her mouth was dry, her tongue felt swollen three times its size in her mouth. And, she had that deer-caught-in-the-headlights stare. "Um - " She wet her lips. Swallowed. Repeatedly. "Blair, I - "
Then, without thinking, she was suddenly leaning forward, her lips landing on Blair's. Softly, tentatively at first. Then, pressing a little more firmly. Her hand came up, catching the back of Blair's neck. And, Blair's mouth was opening beneath hers.
She pulled back, opening her eyes. Heart beating rapidly, breath coming out in a heated rush, she waited. Ever so slowly, brown eyes blinked open.
"Blair, I'm sorry," she began a hasty apology. "I must've got my bell rung pretty hard. It won't happen again."
Jo thought she picked up a hint of remorse in that one little word. "Oh?" she prodded.
"Oh, then I guess that means you didn't enjoy it?"
"I enjoyed it." Jo rushed to reassure her. "I enjoyed it very much."
"Then, you wouldn't mind doing it again?"
Jo caught the coy grin, the come-hither look. And, that's exactly what she found herself doing. Come-hithering. If that's even a real word, she thought as she moved into Blair's waiting arms, pressing her lips against those succulent lips for a second kiss. And a third. Forget grammar; I always was better at math.
For a math whiz, Jo should have been ashamed to have lost count before ten. But, then again, it was difficult to even breathe - let alone think - when she was being kissed senseless by Blair Warner. The same Blair Warner she'd been in love with for years. The Blair Warner she thought she didn't stand a chance with. The same Blair Warner who now had her expensive French-manicured nails raking a trail across her skin beneath her t-shirt.
Jo broke off the kiss, coming up for air with a gasp. "Blair, wait," she huskily breathed, catching Blair's hand, stilling it.
"Please don't tell me you've changed your mind," Blair plaintively wailed, burying her face in Jo's collarbone in sheer frustration.
"No!" Then, realizing how desperate that sounded, Jo lowered her voice, "No way. I just wanted to make sure you were okay with this - "
"Of course I'm okay with it. I've been okay with it since the first time you walked in on me in the shower and got an eyeful."
"Really?" Dual eyebrows shot up. "I thought you were mad at me."
"I was mad because you peeked and ran," Blair confessed with a giggle. "I was secretly hoping you would've offered to wash my back."
"Yeah?" Jo's entire face lit up.
"Oh, yeah." Blair's voice dropped to a sultry whisper. "I used to lay awake in my bed at night and fantasize about you coming in after a day at working on your bike, hot and greasy and sweaty, only to find me using up all the hot water in the shower. And, in typical Jo fashion, you shove the shower curtain aside and climb in with me."
"Wow." Jo's eyes grew wide. "You've spent a lot of time working on that scenario, huh?"
"Mmmm-hmm." Sharp teeth bit at a nearby earlobe. "Maybe we can reenact that little fantasy of mine later, hmmm?"
Jo's eyes nearly rolled back in her head as a tongue licked at her collarbone. "Oh, yeah. My bike's in bad shape, you know. Might need to work on it a lot."
"And, it's . . . " Blair sucked hard at a pulse point " . . . hot, sweaty work."
"Ohhh." At the feel of Blair's fingers working at her belt and the button on her jeans, it took all of Jo's strength to be able to find the words, "Gonna need lots and lots of showers."
"And bubble baths," Blair suggested, working down the zipper on Jo's jeans.
"And bubble baths," Jo readily agreed, her mouth searching and finding Blair's, her tongue licking along swollen lips.
"Tootie?" Blair called out, recognizing the voice.
"Blair!" Natalie's voice was added to mix. "Where are you?"
"In the attic!"
"In the attic." Even though Natalie wasn't talking all that loud, her voice carried up to Blair's ears. "That's the first place I would've looked for a princess."
Blair punched Jo's thigh as the Bronx native grinned. "See what you've started?" she shot a glare at Jo. "They're beginning to call me that. Just like you do."
"As long as they don't start thinking they can do everything I do with you." Jo bit back her grin as she ran a hand up the inside of Blair's thigh.
"Stop that," Blair admonished, moving out of Jo's grasp, buttoning closed her designer coveralls, "They'll hear you."
"Good. Maybe they'll go away."
"Blair!" came Tootie's voice again. "We asked if you're okay?"
"I'm fine!" Blair yelled back, even as she slapped Jo's wandering hands away again. "But, the ladder fell! And, Jo's hurt her ankle!" She added a meaningful look for Jo's benefit and whispered, "But, there's certainly nothing wrong with your libido."
"Hey!" Jo protested, struggling to keep her voice lowered. "You had your fun already. Can I help it if I want mine?"
"Hang on!" Natalie's voice drifted up to them. "We'll go get some help!"
"Take your time," Jo muttered beneath her breath.
"You're too kind!" Blair covered, sending a glare at Jo. "We'll hang tight until you get back!"
On the second floor, standing beneath the opening leading to the attic, Natalie and Tootie stared at each other with confused expressions.
"We're too kind?" Natalie asked. "They're stuck in an attic and we're too kind for offering to go get help?"
"That girl's just too polite sometimes." Tootie shook her head. "Come on, Nat. Let's get moving before the heat fries their brains the rest of the way."
Two weeks later -
Jo is laying on the sofa in the living room, legs stretched out, one bandaged foot propped up on a cushion. One arm is tucked behind her head, a motorcycle magazine flipped open, spread across her chest. Her other arm is in a sling and she's having to hold her head at an awkward angle to be able to read the article she's flipped open to.
Mrs. Garrett is reclining in another chair, her feet propped up on a footstool, a blanket draped over her waist. Her glasses are perched on the tip of her nose and her attention's torn between watching her soaps on TV and the needlepoint project spread across her lap.
Blair comes in from the kitchen, carrying a tray of snacks. She sets it up between the sofa and Mrs. Garrett's chair. She offers a mug of tea to Mrs. Garrett, then sits on the edge of the edge of the sofa. Jo smiles up at her as she holds a glass of milk up to her lips.
"Oh, Jo!" Mrs. Garrett can't help but exclaim as she sees the normally self-reliant Jo forced to accept help from Blair just to drink her beverage. "I can't tell you again how sorry I am."
"It's not your fault, Mrs. G.," Jo turned her head to look at the older woman. "You didn't know I was gonna get hurt."
"If anything, Jo and I should be apologizing to you," chimed in Blair. "After all, it's because of us that you had your heart attack in the first place."
"Don't blame yourselves for that, girls." Mrs. Garrett's voice was kind, but her words were stern. "I knew I was at risk. I could have done a better job of watching my diet. It's no one's fault but my own."
"Still, we feel responsible."
"That's why I gave you that chore of cleaning out the attic," admitted Mrs. Garrett. "Girls, there was no charity drive. It didn't really need to be cleaned out. It was just a punishment I thought up to keep you two out of trouble. I thought maybe if I put you two up in the attic together, you might figure something out."
Jo and Blair exchanged looks.
"You mean something like we might start digging stuff out of those boxes and start reminiscing over the good times we've had together?"
"Or, we might learn that we have more in common that we thought?"
"And that if we work together, we might find out we even like each other." Jo grinned, then quickly added, "A little bit."
"You learned all that from a few hours trapped together in a musty attic?" Mrs. Garrett asked, surprise clearly etched in her tone.
"Well, yeah," Jo admitted. "Once we stopped fighting, that is."
Blair playfully slapped Jo's stomach. It was a move that didn't go unnoticed by Mrs. Garrett. Neither did the fact that Jo didn't retaliate with anything more than a mischievous grin.
"And," Blair added with a pointed look, "We've even learned how to compromise."
"Yeah," Jo shrugged. "I've agreed to go shopping with Princess once I'm all healed up."
"And, I've offered to lend a hand helping Jo tune up her bike until that shoulder's better."
"Well, I must say, girls. I'm certainly impressed." Mrs. Garrett couldn't believe that her plan had worked out so splendidly. Now if their newfound cooperation manages to last. "You've both seemed to have matured from your experience."
"Mmm," responded Blair, meeting Jo's look with a twinkle in her eyes. "All it took was a few keepsakes packed away in a box and a couple of shared memories."
Jo offered up a shy smile. "And, realizing that there are things - like friendship - that you just can't put a price tag on."
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