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 welcome.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To zblitzreiter[at]gmail.com

The One That I Want
By Blitzreiter

 

Part 3

Mid September, 1984. Peekskill, New York.

Jo sat in the dark movie theater, crying silently into her popcorn.

Onscreen, Rob Lowe was being a fish-out-of-water at Oxford.

Jo wasn't crying for him. As far as she was concerned, his pretty-boy character was getting what he deserved for being an obnoxious jackass. Way to represent America, ya dork!

For the past week Jo had begun bursting into tears unexpectedly at the most inopportune moments. It was embarrassing as hell for the former Young Diablo. So for the last few days she'd taken to going to afternoon matinees at Peekskill's Majestic.

The quaint old theater was mostly deserted in the middle of the afternoon; Jo could sit in the dark in the back row while the movie flickered, and cry herself out.

The covert crying jags seemed to be helping. Sort of.

How did everythin get so screwed up so fast? It's like bein in a freakin nightmare, but we can't wake up …

Mona was recuperating at Peekskill Memorial Hospital. She'd had a severe stroke, and in her doctors' opinion she was still too weak to be moved to Manhattan Memorial. She seemed alert, but when she spoke her words were halting and scrambled. "They think there's some kind of neurological damage," Natalie had said tearfully …

Natalie's mother Evie was staying at the Fireside Inn so she could visit Mona every day. Evelyn Green was inordinately fond of her feisty little mother-in-law. Nat's father Syd came up every weekend. His specialty was cardiology, not neurology, and he felt helpless and ignorant about his mother's condition …

Jo had only visited Mona once, near the beginning of Mona's stay. One visit was all Jo could take.

I shoulda freakin been there! I just left Mona out there all alone in the sun. She acts so young, but she's so freakin old, really. How could I just leave her out there, catchin some rays, and never checked on her or, or freakin anythin …

"It's not your fault, darling," Blair told her ad nauseam. "Mona's one of the most independent people we know. Why would you have checked on her? Who could possibly have predicted she'd have a stroke?"

"I forgot about her," Jo said, angry with herself. "I was so wrapped up in my own stupid crap that day, I never even thought to look for Mona."

"Newsflash, Jo – we all forgot about her! Including her own granddaughter, who spent most of the day at Eastland making sure Tootie got that part. Nat's not beating herself up. Tootie's not beating herself up. Why do you always have to feel so, so damned responsible for everyone and everything?"

"I don't know, OK? I don't know. But I do! Just effin drop it – will ya, Blair?"

"Don't you use the 'f' word with me, Jo Polniaczek!" Blair bristled.

"I didn't use the 'f' word; I just used the 'f' letter!"

Mona's condition was depressing enough, but the bombshell that had knocked Jo for a complete loop was being kicked out of Langley.

Her first reaction when Blair showed her the telegram was to vomit. Jo had raced into their bathroom and been incredibly sick, although she'd hardly eaten that day. And since that night, she had eaten very little, yet her stomach seemed to hurt all the time.

In a way, Jo thought, it was like that other shoe had finally dropped. She remembered her first day at Langley last year, not being able to believe she belonged, waiting for them to give her the bum's rush ...

Well it took 'em freakin long enough, she thought bitterly.

She and Blair tried to make appointments with the Dean, of course.

And, of course, the Dean hadn't wanted to see them. His secretary put them off for several days. The Dean's calendar was full; he wouldn't be available for quite some time, the secretary told them, especially since, technically, they were no longer Langley students.

It was amazing how quickly it all fell apart, thought Jo, like dominoes tumbling.

Blair's tuition payment, minus her registration fee, was returned.

That same day Jo received a letter advising her, officially, that both her need-based scholarship and her Scholar-Athlete-of-the-Year Scholarship had been rescinded. A girl named Molly Finkelstein had been crowned Scholar-Athlete of the Year in Jo's place.

Nat was completely focused on Mona's recovery, but Tootie had leapt into Snoop Sister mode, happy to have something beside the play to distract her. Tootie uncovered everything she could about Molly Finkelstein. Molly was a hardship case, like Jo, but from Brooklyn instead of the Bronx, and she played lacrosse instead of field hockey. Her GPA was only half a point below Jo's.

"Well if they're gonna take away my scholarship, least it went to someone else who's deservin," Jo had muttered philosophically.

The next day a large crate was delivered to River Rock. Jo opened it with a crowbar from the garage. It was Blair's award-winning painting, "The Huntress". The massive gold frame, which belonged to the college, was missing. Only the canvas had been returned … the beautiful, lyrical painting.

"They transferred the award to the runner up," Tootie reported. "They already hung her painting in the gallery." Tootie pulled a face. "It's awful, Blair! It's the ugliest thing I've ever seen. It's these blue squares and some red streaks and who knows what it's supposed to be."

"I remember," Blair said dully. "It's supposed to be a celebration of abstract expressionism."

"Well it looks like a celebration of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz." Tootie did an excellent imitation of deep sleep.

Normally Blair and Jo would have laughed but not now; even Tootie's humor couldn't lighten the mood.

"I remember that piece-of-crap paintin," Jo said. "Shouldn't even have gotten second place, let alone now they're replacin 'The Huntress' with it! Dammit!"

Jo had kicked the now-empty crate, all but breaking her toe.

"Dammit!" she'd shouted again …

When Jo showed up at the Campus Grill for her first shift of the semester, her manager hemmed and hawed and fidgeted and finally told Jo she had to go home. He'd received a letter from the Dean's Office. Since Jo was no longer a Langley student, she wasn't entitled to a student job. The manager seemed as mystified as Jo was, and almost as unhappy. "But my hands are tied," he told her …

"What the hell happened?" Blair and Jo asked each other from time to time, especially as they lay in bed together at night, restless and unable to sleep. They didn't make love. They felt numb and wounded; all desire seemed to have been leached away by the gravity of their situation.

"It's BZ Becker," Jo kept saying. "Somehow it's that bastard. He's not gonna let go of it, Dina bein killed. He's gotta punish us. He, I don't know, he bribed the Langley board, or he threatened them … He freakin did somethin! We gotta see if Eduardo can do anythin about it."

"Perhaps," Blair always said, not quite convinced BZ Becker was the culprit. Becker was operatic in his machinations. Last spring he had bided his time, secretly maneuvering to sink his claws into the fortunes of New York's greatest families. He had invited the heads of those families to a fancy dinner party, and then, without warning, had annihilated their fortunes and positions less than a week later, fortunes and positions that had taken centuries to build.

Ruin on a grand scale – that seemed to be Becker's hallmark. Getting Jo and Blair kicked out of school, stripping their scholarships and awards … It was horrible and humiliating, but it seemed like comparatively small potatoes for a big operator like Becker.

The most painful blow for Jo came when she reported to the Lions' locker room for the next practice. Coach Anderson met her in the doorway with a hangdog expression. The tough old bastard actually had tears in his eyes.

Jo felt her own eyes burn with tears. She bit her lip so hard it bled, and didn't even notice.

"You don't gotta tell me," she said.

"Jo … Jo, I'm so damn sorry. I don't know what's going on."

"Yeah … Seems to be a lotta that goin around," Jo said bitterly.

"I received a letter from the Dean's Office," said Coach Anderson, "advising me that you're no longer a Langley student. Jo, if it's," he hesitated delicately, "if it's money or something –"

"Nah, it ain't money," Jo had managed to say, around the lump in her throat.

"Then what the hell is it?"

She shrugged eloquently. "You'll be one of the first to know, when someone freakin explains it to me," she said.

"I don't know what we're going to do without you," said Coach Anderson. "Christ on a crutch! Let's hope this gets straightened out. It's not just that I'm fond of you, Jo – and if anyone asks, I never said that, by the way. But your leadership, Polniaczek, that's something that comes along once in a decade. Maybe. You've got to get this straightened out."

"I'm workin on it, Coach. Workin on it."

He kicked a stone, watched it ricochet off the curb and tumble onto the grass. "So. Who do you want running the team until you're back?"

Until I'm back … The sick feeling in the pit of Jo's stomach intensified. It was like someone twisting a blade. Will I ever be back? Something, some deep instinct, told her that she wouldn't. So who could take over for me – permanently? Who could maybe guide the team to Nationals this season?

Jo cleared her throat. "Jackrabbit," she said hoarsely. "Put Jacqueline in charge."

Anderson nodded. "OK. That could work, maybe."

"She's a leader," said Jo. "She can make a decision. And she's fast as hell. And she wants to win."

"She's still no Jo-ster," he said bleakly.

Jo clapped him awkwardly on the shoulder. "Good luck, coach."

"Christ – Jo, don't say it like that. It's like, I mean –"

"Good luck," she said again.

That was the first time she felt them – the uncontrollable tears.

Jo had always teared up easily; she had a sentimental streak, deny it as she might.

But these tears were different. They were a torrent. They were frighteningly out of her control.

Jo had turned on her heel and walked rapidly away from Coach Anderson. She'd walked almost blindly into the woods bordering the gymnasium.

Notwithstanding a camping expedition when she was at Eastland, and a stroll through the forest surrounding Meg's religious retreat, Jo was not particularly woodsy. Blinded by tears, she'd stumbled over tree roots and thickly growing ferns; twigs and light branches had thwacked her in the face, on the shoulders and chest. She'd walked until she knew no one could hear her, and then she'd leaned against a birch tree and let go; she'd wept, and wept …

Eduardo finally got Jo and Blair into the Dean's Office. In his own soft-spoken way he could be menacing, even steely – particularly when Blair's interests were at stake.

Eduardo hadn't overtly threatened the Dean. But he had somehow communicated to the Dean's secretary, and to the Dean himself, that should Jo and Blair not be granted some sort of audience, the next step would involve attorneys crawling up the Dean's posterior with high-powered lights …

Jo and Blair and Eduardo were given a twenty-minute appointment with the Dean a week-and-a-half after the expulsion.

The Dean was a relatively young man for such a prestigious role. He was in his early fifties, Jo guessed. And they'd apparently been a pretty easy fifty years. He was sleek, well-fed, perfectly coiffed, smooth-faced. He wore a suit that cost as much, probably, as Charlie earned in a couple of months.

At the moment, though, the Dean looked nervous. It was as if his charmed life had taken a sudden wild turn, and he was both chagrined with the situation and eager to get back into the normal channel of his life. He toyed agitatedly with his gold cufflinks, and continually smoothed his tasteful silk tie.

"Why have these young women been expelled?" Eduardo asked quietly, in his elegant Mr. Roarke voice.

That's the way to do it, Jo thought approvingly. Get right down to it, Eduardo!

The Dean settled his tie for perhaps the tenth time in two minutes.

"It was brought to our attention," the Dean said smoothly, but with a fine patina of sweat breaking out on his pink forehead, "that Miss Warner and Miss Polniaczek are conducting their lives in a manner, er, that is to say, a manner completely at odds with the moral code of Langley College."

Jo's heart beat slowed. There was a ringing in her ears.

At odds with the moral code of Langley College … They know! They freakin know about me and Blair. Someone ratted us out … Dina knew about us … That romantic picnic basket she had Devon Abercrombie deliver to our suite at the Plaza … She knew … She coulda told her father before she died … And Devon must've figured it out … And he coulda told Mitzy Rutherford …

There was a ringing in her ears and there was a soft susurration, as if she could hear the ocean. Jo had never been big on biology but she understood that she was hearing her own blood pounding in her ears.

"Please," Eduardo said to the Dean, "we are all adults here. If you could state the accusations clearly. It is only fair, would you not say? These exemplary young students have the right to hear the accusations against them and the right to respond to those allegations."

"We've already gone into it all very, er, carefully," the Dean said. He smoothed his tie yet again.

"Not with us." Eduardo smiled. It was thin, dry little smile, sharp as a razor's edge. The Dean swallowed hard.

"It's such an unpleasant topic," the Dean complained. "Do we really want to dredge it all up?"

"It could not possibly be more unpleasant than these outstanding young women being bereft of their honors, their scholarships, their academic privileges," said Eduardo. "They have been ejected from Langley lock, stock and barrel. And no one has had the courtesy to tell them why."

The Dean fingered his collar again. It suddenly looked very tight around his plump neck. He looked like he would prefer anything else in the world than to have to be the one who mustered the fortitude to tell Jo and Blair why they had been expelled.

"It was suggested to our office," said the Dean, "that Miss Warner and Miss Polniaczek are engaged in an, er, unnatural relationship."

Blair blushed deeply. Jo folded her arms across her chest.

Eduardo's expression didn't change. It might have been carved of stone.

"I see," Eduardo said quietly. Somehow he managed to say it in such a way as to convey, I see that you are an incredibly asshole, Dean Pratt. The Dean caught the undertone. He fiddled with his cufflinks some more.

"We can't have students engaging in, ah, unnatural relations," said the Dean. "Especially students whom we have held up as examples to the campus and the community at large. An honored artist; a revered athlete and scholar; we simply can't, er, permit it."

Eduardo nodded. "Dean Pratt," he said quietly, "con permisso I have a question for you."

"Of course," said the Dean. He pulled a fine silk handkerchief from his breast pocket, and wiped his shining forehead. "Anything I can help to clarify – fire away."

"I am wondering," mused Eduardo, "if it is the practice of this office to accept as proven fact any wild accusations made by anyone who walks in off of the street."

Ha! Point to Eduardo! thought Jo. Ain't no way we can win this – but at least we'll go down swingin!

The Dean was blushing again. And there was something else in his eyes now – anger. Not at Eduardo, necessarily, but at being tangled in the whole ugly, impossible situation.

"Exemplary students like Miss Warner and Miss Polniaczek do not grow on trees," the Dean said stiffly. "We do not lightly discard such students. Naturally I was aghast at the accusation and demanded proof."

"I see. And, this mysterious accuser, this … coward," Eduardo imbued the word with infinite scorn, "provided you with proof?"

"Certainly. We would not have expelled Miss Warner or Miss Polniaczek if proofs, incontrovertible proofs, had not been presented."

Proofs? What damn proofs? wondered Jo.

Blair was wondering the same thing. Eduardo had told her and Jo not to speak during the meeting, to leave everything in his hands, but Blair spoke now.

"What proof?" she asked. "What are you talking about?"

The Dean sighed.

"If any of you three are familiar with, the, ah, trials of Oscar Wilde, you will quit while you are ahead. You don't want to see the proof. Trust me, girls. The proof is incontrovertible and the decision of this office and the Langley College Board stands. As a private college we reserve the right to admit or expel whomever we choose, based on our own rigorous criteria."

"Like a diner," Jo said sarcastically. "No shirt, no shoes, no service."

The Dean frowned. He intensely disliked the comparison between Langley College and some plebeian diner. "Miss Polniaczek –" he began, but Eduardo intervened.

"To me," Eduardo said with soft menace. "Address yourself to me, their lawyer, Dean Pratt. Do not speak directly to my clients."

"They're speaking directly to me," the Dean protested, but he realized as soon as he said it how childish he sounded. "Listen," he said to Eduardo, "there's no doubt that the charge is true. We understand that these, er, unusual relationships happen to some people in some places, but they will not be tolerated among our students or faculty here at Langley."

"The proof," prompted Eduardo.

The Dean sighed. He opened a shallow drawer on the right side of his desk, rifled through it, closed it, and then opened the next drawer over. "Yes," he said. "Here they are. Since you refuse to listen to reason."

He tossed a plain manila envelope onto his desk. Eduardo reached for it. Eduardo opened it, and shook several Polaroid photos into his hand. He reviewed them at a glance. At no point did Eduardo's expression change.

Jo extended her hand. "Can I?" she asked.

Eduardo handed her the snapshots.

Blair leaned toward Jo. The two young women studied the Polaroid photos together.

In one, Blair leaned against Jo; Jo's arm was wrapped comfortably around Blair's waist.

It had been snapped at the anniversary party. There was nothing racy about it; just two people very clearly in love, very clearly lovers rather than friends. It was in their posture, their bright faces, the way they leaned against each other. There was nothing racy about it – except that they were both women.

In the next snapshot, Jo still had her arm firmly wrapped around Blair's waist, and Blair was kissing Jo on the cheek. It was a charming photograph; Jo and Blair were only too clearly in love.

And the final snapshot was incontestable. It was a close-up of Jo and Blair, gazing at each other with such tenderness, so lost in each other's eyes …

"Boots," muttered Blair. Angry tears pricked her eyes. "Goddamned Boots. Or Mizu. Or both of them."

Jo slipped the Polaroids into the breast pocket of her blue blazer.

"Pardon me," protested the Dean, "but those are Langley College property."

"Nah," said Jo. "These were taken at a party thrown on the private property of a very dear friend of ours. These were taken without our permission at a private party and then given to you without our permission." She turned to Eduardo. "Whaddya think? Slander? Emotional trauma?"

Eduardo nodded. "To begin with," he said.

The Dean wrung his pudgy hands. He leaned back in his leather executive chair.

"Take them," he said with ill grace. "We've already seen the photographs. I have seen them and the Board has seen them. They tell us all we need to know."

"It occurs to me," said Eduardo, "that a case could be made that those are friendly photos. Friendly photos and nothing more."

"Ha!" said the Dean. "You saw their faces? You saw, this one," he nudged his chin at Jo, "with her arm around this one?" he nudged his chin at Blair.

Christ, thought Jo, shivering. The Dean's carefully masked contempt was naked now in his voice. It wasn't just that Langley College frowned on lesbianism; the Dean was personally repulsed.

"I saw two friends," Eduardo said calmly. "Of course, people see things differently. It would be interesting to put the question to a jury. It would be interesting to see, at the end of trial, who saw what in those photos."

The Dean looked from Eduardo to Jo to Blair and then back to Eduardo. The Dean's mouth seemed suddenly very dry; he licked his lips nervously.

And then some thought crossed his mind, and it comforted him.

The Dean looked keenly at Jo. "I've been told," he said, "that you don't lie. It's some kind of 'Law of the Bronx'."

"It's 'Code of the Bronx'," she corrected. And how the hell did you hear about that, Dean?

"Law, code – all rather the same thing, isn't it? But is it true – that you don't lie?"

Jo nodded shortly.

"Very well." He leaned back further in his leather chair, folding his plump pink hands over his pudgy stomach. "Miss Polniaczek – are you Miss Warner's lover?"

Jo blushed from her chin to the roots of her hair.

"Jo – silencio," Eduardo said intently, putting a fatherly hand on her shoulder.

The Dean smiled a rather nasty little smile.

"I think this conversation has concluded," said Dean Pratt.

Eduardo leaned forward slightly. The Dean shrank back into his chair, his smile evaporating.

"Do you think so?" Eduardo asked. "Because I for one believe there is much yet to discuss." He turned to the young women. "Jo. Blair. Por favor. This meeting appears to be at an end. For now."

Eduardo stood up, offering his hand first to Blair and then to Jo, assisting them, in a courtly manner, as they stood. Both girls looked shattered but they held it together. They didn't give Dean Pratt the satisfaction of crumbling.

"Can we really sue?" Jo asked Eduardo later.

The three of them sat in the ice cream parlor in the center of Peekskill. It was on old-fashioned place with marble-topped tables and delicate wrought iron chairs. The ice cream parlor was deserted. It was the middle of the day; townspeople were at home or at work; Eastland, Bates and Langley students were in class.

In class – where me and Blair should be, thought Jo.

Blair was devouring a hot fudge sundae, settling her nerves by feeding her sweet tooth. Jo sipped a ginger ale, hoping it would soothe her stomach ache. Eduardo nursed a Coca-Cola. He turned the glass between his hands and looked like he wished it was a rum-and-Coke.

"Anyone can sue anyone for anything," Eduardo said quietly. "The question I believe you are asking is, could we win."

Jo nodded. "That's what I'm askin."

"You heard the Dean mention Oscar Wilde," said Eduardo.

Jo nodded again.

"It was an apt comparison. You could lose the case; you could win the case and still lose. Public opinion can be hard to predict, miha. And the problem, particularly for you, Jo, is that you will not lie."

"Wilde got hard labor," Blair said around a mouthful of chocolate ice cream and hot fudge.

"I don't think they give people hard labor anymore," mused Jo. "Maybe way deep in the South, or out West or somethin. But I don't think they give hard labor in Peekskill."

"Honestly," Eduardo spread his hands, "I would not recommend trying to refute the allegations. They are, after all, true, and by now there are many people who know of your relationship. People both friendly and unfriendly to you."

"Mizu," Blair muttered darkly. She dug her long-handled spoon viciously into the sundae dish. "Mizu and Boots."

"Why did they do it?" Jo wondered aloud. She felt dazed. "I know Boots was sad, and Mizu was all in a huff, but who would ever freakin think they'd go to the Dean? It's crazy!"

"It's petty," said Blair. "And 'petty' is Boots' middle name."

"I don't think it was her," said Jo. "I bet Mizu took the photos, did it on her own."

"Of course, of course. Precious Boots couldn't possibly be involved," Blair said bitterly. "For heaven's sake, Jo – when are you going to see Boots for who she really is and stop romanticizing her?"

"Maybe around the same time you stop vilifyin her. I know she did a rotten thing but she's confused. Havin to move outta River Rock, she must be hatin that. She's payin."

"We're paying," Blair corrected her angrily.

"I'll bet ya a flippin dollar it was all Mizu," said Jo. "Wait and see."

Eduardo cleared his throat. "My dear girls," he said, "such arguments benefit neither of you. Now is the time to stand together. As to whether you should sue, I would recommend against it. As I said, since you are together, and since you are honest to a fault, I cannot see how you could win. Most likely it would be drawn-out, a very public and humiliating ordeal."

"So that's just friggin great," said Jo. "Once again, the rich freakin bigots of the world win. Ain't that typical!" She felt the tears threatening again, but by an extreme exertion of will power she pushed them down.

Eduardo saw a sort of spasm pass over Jo's face. He wanted to reach out to the young woman, but he still didn't know her well, and he sensed how uncomfortable she was with physical displays of affection.

"Why don't you go to River Rock now," he suggested kindly to both women. "Rest. This is very wearing, my dears. We will talk again tomorrow …"

Blair lay on the bed in their suite, holding her stomach.

"I don't feel well," she groaned.

"Course you don't." Jo was sitting on the edge of the bed. She knew she should lie down and try to rest, as Eduardo had suggested, but she felt so damn restless. "Course you don't feel well, after suckin down a freakin gallon of ice cream."

"What the hell is wrong with you today?" Blair flared.

"What's wrong with me? Our whole damn lives are fallin apart around our ears, Blair. What's wrong with me? You gotta be kiddin!"

Blair slipped out of her shoes, kicking them off the end of the bed.

"You're behaving like a child, Jo. A petulant child."

"Gimme a break! I'm sorry I don't know the etiquette of how to behave when my whole life is ruined. Guess I musta missed that chapter in Emily Post!"

"I can't talk to you when you're like this," said Blair. "You're impossible."

"Well you took me for better and worse! So here's some of the worse."

Blair closed her eyes. "I just want to wake up. It's like some nightmare. I wish …"

"Whaddaya wish?" asked Jo.

"Nothing."

"No. You brought it up. What do you wish, Blair?"

"Just … Jo, either lie down with me quietly or go ride your bike or blow off steam or something. I just want to rest for a while."

Jo took a deep breath, stung. Go ride my bike or somethin … Translation: "Leave me alone, Jo."

"Whatever," said Jo, standing up and crossing to the sitting room door. "I'm freakin outta here."

"Jo," called Blair. "Don't leave like this."

"Whaddaya mean? You just told me to go ride my bike! Make up your mind!" Jo called from the sitting room, sounding hurt and pissed off.

"I meant go ride your bike if it will, if it will make you feel better."

"Nothin can make me feel better," Jo called miserably.

Blair heard Jo's footsteps, heard the door to the suite opening and then slamming shut.

Blair turned on her side. She closed her eyes. Why can't I cry? she wondered. She felt so tired but underneath that so numb. Why can't I cry? And then, My God, I hope Jo doesn't drive like a maniac …

Why can't I stop cryin? wondered Jo.

She raced her beloved Kawasaki along the winding country roads of Peekskill. Big red barns and quaint white farmhouses streaked past as she gunned her engine. Field green and thick with the last of the summer corn flew by, and thick stretches of pines that grew right up to the edge of the road.

Tears streamed down Jo's face, but the helmet masked them.

Last year, thought Jo, it was all perfect. Last year me and Blondie were flyin along these roads in her truck. We were pullin off onto little side roads, we were makin out, we were makin love, we were talkin, we were holdin each other … We were just gettin to know each other. We had the whole freakin world ahead of us …

Jo didn't plan to drive to the Fireside Inn. Not consciously. But when she roared into the driveway on her Kawasaki, something clicked, and she realized that, underneath, this was where she'd been heading all along.

She parked her bike near the road, pointed away from the Inn. Just in case, she told herself. Just, you know, in case I need a quick getaway. Not that I will. I ain't gonna cause any trouble. Unless, you know, if Mizu happens to start somethin …

Jo was somewhat familiar with the Fireside Inn. It was a beautiful old colonial place, but the only occasion she'd had to visit it was when her father stayed there for her Eastland graduation more than a year ago.

Charlie had been so proud of Jo, he'd gone all out – renting a car, offering to take Jo's friends and their families for a fancy meal, and booking a room for himself and a separate room for Rose at the classy Fireside Inn. He was being a big spender, Rose said. She had opted to stay at the far less expensive Off Ramp Motel.

According to Mrs. Garrett, Mizu was tending bar in the Fireside Inn's lounge. If memory served, thought Jo, the lounge was on the ground floor, on the right side of the building, behind the dark framed old panes of glass.

Jo ghosted through the shrubs that partially obscured the lounge windows. Gotta check out the lay of the land. See what's what before I go bargin in there. Jo peered through the windows.

Mizu was behind the bar. She wore colonial breeches and blouse and vest and a tricorn hat. It was, no doubt, part of the Fireside Inn's old-time charm to make its employees dress in 18th-century garb.

For cryin out loud! Mizu's gotta be hatin that get-up! thought Jo.

Although it was still warm in the mid-September evenings, a fire crackled in the lounge hearth. The bar was largely deserted. A businessman in a brown suit and a businessman in a grey suit sat at one end of the bar, munching peanuts and watching a Red Sox game on the television set mounted above the long mirror. The television seemed jarringly anachronistic at the Fireside Inn.

Mizu was cleaning glasses in a sloppy, distracted manner. Mostly she was looking at the pretty, slender woman in black nursing some cocktail at the other end of the bar. It was Boots, Jo realized with some surprise. Boots wore very little makeup. She looked even paler than usual. She looked very unhappy, and very far away.

Every other moment Mizu's eyes flicked toward Boots. Mizu looked, Jo realized, miserable.

Well. That's what you get, ya witch! thought Jo. John Lennon would've called it "instant karma".

Jo stood at the window for several minutes. Which of them had done it? she wondered. Which of them had given the Polaroid snapshots to Dean Pratt and destroyed Jo and Blair's college careers?

Was it Mizu, crazy with jealousy because Boots preferred Jo? Or because Mizu believed that Jo had made a pass at the debutante?

Was it Boots, pissed off because Jo wouldn't leave Blair? Because Jo wouldn't even play around a little?

Was it both of them, in some miserable, angry scheme?

The longer Jo watched the pair, the more she felt her anger melt away. Once in a while, Boots glanced over at Mizu. It was a pitying glance. Mizu clearly cared far more about Boots than Boots cared about Mizu – and Boots knew it.

Mizu seemed to know it too. Her glances at Boots were full of an aching need, a need she seemed to realize would not be sated. As ridiculous as Mizu looked in the colonial costume, there was something so tragic in her dark eyes that it gifted her with an undeniable dignity.

Jo sighed.

She turned and slipped quietly to her Kawasaki. She turned the key and let the motor rev, and then she rocketed off along the wooded lane.

Jo drove very fast through Peekskill's woods. She felt tears slipping down her face again, but this time they weren't for her.

I'm so damn lucky. I'm the luckiest freakin woman alive, she thought. To love someone like Blair … and to know she loves me back …

And then, Poor damn Mizu, she thought. And, Poor damn Boots. How are they gonna work it out?

But that was their problem, Jo decided. Along the narrow lanes of Peekskill, Jo released that question to the universe. It wasn't her problem anymore. It wasn't Blair's. What was done was done and there was nothing for it but to move forward ...


When Jo went to the suite she shared with Blair, the door was unlocked. That was, she thought, a good sign. She gently pushed open the door. The sitting room was dim. The door to the bedroom was half open and warm light spilled into the sitting room.

Jo shucked out of her denim jacket. She dropped it on the love seat. She kicked off her motorcycle boots.

As she approached the bedroom door, she heard music playing faintly. R&B. Blair was listening to the "R&B Love Hour" on the Langley College radio station.

The song was Patti LaBelle and James Ingram singing "Baby Come To Me."

Jo smiled and a tear slipped down her cheek. She tentatively pushed open the bedroom door.

Blair lay on the bed. The bedside lamp was on and Blair had lit several candles. She wore her rose-colored silk nightie. Blair reclined on the pillows, smiling softly at her lover.

Jo hesitated. Blair held out her arms. Jo climbed onto the bed. She wrapped her arms around her fiancée, lay her head on Blair's stomach.

"I love you," said Jo.

"I love you too," said Blair. She stroked Jo's hair.

After a moment, Jo kissed Blair's stomach through the thin silk fabric.

"How can you do it?" Jo asked in a husky voice.

"Do what, darling?" Blair smoothed back the dark hair from Jo's forehead.

"How can you always take me back when I storm off like a freakin baby?" Jo asked wonderingly.

Blair smiled. Her cheeks dimpled prettily as she looked at her lover. "I suppose," she said, "the same way you keep coming back when I act like a childish brat."

Jo shook her head. "No, Blair, you're not –"

"Shh. Don't say nice things that aren't true. I can really run you through the mill, Jo. I know it. It's just, sometimes in the moment, I can't seem to stop myself."

"Well I ain't exactly a ball of sunshine and rainbows myself lotsa times," said Jo. "In case ya hadn't noticed."

Blair shifted slightly, pillowing Jo's head more comfortably on her belly.

"I can take whatever you dish out, Jo," said Blair. "And I know you can take whatever nonsense I say. And it's OK when you have to clear your head. I need you to know," she leaned down and softly kissed the top of Jo's head, "I need you to know that as long as you come back, I'll always take you back."

"Promise?"

"Yes, darling. I promise."

Jo sighed. "We're so lucky," she said. "No matter what freakin happens to us, as long as we got us …"

"We don't need anything else," Blair finished for her.

"Exactly."

They lay together contentedly for several moments. They listened to the radio and Jo listened to Blair's heart beating in her chest.

Baby come to me; let me put my arms around you; this was meant to me; and I'm oh so glad I found you …

Jo stirred. She moved up Blair's body, so that she and Blair were lying face to face.

Blair reached out slowly. She touched Jo's cheek. She kissed Jo with a slow tenderness.

"I hurt so … babe, I hurt so much lately," said Jo.

"I know."

"Babe, sometimes I can't … I can't stop cryin. You know? I feel like … such a creampuff."

Blair pulled Jo closer. She kissed her fiancée again.

"You're the strongest person I know, Jo. You can cry as much as you want, darling, and I'll hold you."

"You don't think I'm a wimp?"

Blair shook her head. "Never," she said.

Jo laced her fingers together at the small of Blair's back.

"You know who I think's the strongest person in the world?" asked Jo.

Blair raised her eyebrows. "Arnold Schwarzenegger?" she deadpanned.

Jo kissed the tip of Blair's tip-tilted nose.

"He ain't got nothin on you, babe," laughed Jo.

It felt so safe, Jo thought, being in Blair's arms. There wasn't anywhere safer on the planet. In the circle of Blair's arms, everything was perfect.

Blair was thinking much the same thing. She pulled Jo even closer.

"We need to get away for awhile," Blair said quietly. "Just us. To think what we're going to do. To feel what we need to feel."

Jo mulled that over. "The Amsterdam Avenue place," she suggested.

Blair shook her head. "No vacancies."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Even the penthouse?"

"I found a tenant. When I manage a property, darling, I manage a property."

"Well, 'scuse me, Donald Trump," teased Jo. She nuzzled Blair's neck. "Well, we can't go to the Plaza. No more credit till we know for sure your inheritance didn't go up in smoke thanks to BZ Becker. Jeez, we can't really afford any hotels right now."

"I had a thought," said Blair.

"Yeah?"

"They're releasing Mona tomorrow. She'll be going back to her apartment."

"For cryin out loud – all on her own? Are the doctors freakin nuts?"

"They're be a nurse looking in. But I thought …"

Jo nodded. "Got it. You want us to room with her for a little bit. Help her get back on her feet while we're gettin back on our feet."

Blair looked directly into Jo's eyes. She loved Jo's eyes. Just now they were a luminous green.

"What do you think, darling?"

"I like it. I mean, long as we ain't gonna be crowdin her or screwin up her recovery or whatever."

"We can ask the doctors tomorrow."

Jo snorted. "To hell with the doctors. We gotta ask Mona. Is she … I mean … Can she …"

"She's making more sense now," said Blair, correctly translating Jo's halting question. "She still gets some words scrambled, though, and sometimes she only speaks Russian."

"I know a little Russian," said Jo.

"You know a little bit of everything, darling."

"Well, I'm just kinda cosmopolitan that way," Jo said, eyes twinkling. "It's just part of my charm."

"Only part?"

"Yeah." Jo drew one finger slowly along Blair's perfectly chiseled jaw. "Babe?"

"Yes?"

"Don't take this wrong, but I don't want to make love tonight. I know usually, when we make up … But not tonight."

Blair nodded. "I know."

"It's crazy how things can make you feel," said Jo, burrowing into Blair's shoulder.

"Going through a horrible trauma dampens the sex drive," said Blair. "At least, that's what I heard on 'Donahue'."

"I know you only like girls, babe," said Jo, "but I got a suspicion if Phil Donahue made a move on you, I just might possibly lose you to him."

"He does have very twinkly blue eyes," Blair said thoughtfully. "And he's very sensitive. So thoughtful. And polite."

"We could be twins," joked Jo.

"You could," Blair agreed. "Except for the thoughtful part. And the sensitive part. And, of course, the polite part."

"You can only be so sensitive and polite in the Bronx," said Jo, "before someone feeds you to the lions in the zoo."

Blair kissed Jo's eyes. "I love my barbarian," she murmured. "I don't want some overeducated milquetoast. I want someone who throws me over her shoulder from time to time, and ravishes me when I least expect it. I want someone who can go toe-to-toe with me."

"Well … you got her."

"I know."

Jo nestled against the blonde. "Babe. You just used a boxing reference."

"I did?"

"You did."

"I guess you're still rubbing off on me."

"Guess so."

They lay quietly in each other's arms and then after a time they fell asleep …

Blair woke suddenly, blinking like a child. The candles had burned down but the bedside lamp was still on. Jo was snoring faintly in her arms.

Blair had had a bad dream. The room had grown chilly and Blair shivered. She pulled the coverlet up over her and Jo. She couldn't remember what the dream was about, and was glad she couldn't.


Mona had a spare room in her tiny but well-appointed apartment on the Upper East Side.

It was like living in a closet, or a cupboard, but it suited Jo and Blair.

At the Peekskill Hospital, when Jo and Blair asked Mona if she wanted the girls to stay with her for awhile, Mona had nodded vigorously and said "Toaster well water." The words were cryptic, part of Mona's ongoing neurological confusion thanks to the stroke. But the lopsided smile on Mona's face and the sparkle in her eyes couldn't have been more clear.

"She's my grandmother," Natalie had objected, feeling left out.

"Nat, you got classes," Jo had said reasonably. "You and Toot gotta go to class and hold down the fort here. Blair and me just need some time to figure stuff out. And we can help your gram while we do it. What's the problem?"

Natalie had sighed. "I just wish I could do something," she said. "Grandma and I don't always get along, but I love her. And I hate seeing her this way!"

Jo had put a comforting hand on Nat's shoulder. "You wanna do somethin for your gram, keep studyin and get all A's. And really pay attention in your biology class – right? So some day you can, you know, cure this kinda brain short-circuit …"

The left side of Mona's face pulled down slightly, and she had limited use of her left arm and left leg. Still, the feisty little old woman managed very well. Between her own fierce will and the frequent nurse visits, there was nothing that Jo or Blair needed to do to physically assist Mona, other than making sure she didn't fall when she walked around the apartment. But their presence seemed to be a great emotional comfort to the elderly woman.

Bit by bit, in the course of a week, her speech became more intelligible. Words might be out of order or backwards, but more and more they were the right words.

Mona loved to watch old movies. Every morning the girls sat with her in the compact, tastefully decorated living room and watched "Edna's Edibles" on local morning television, and then Mona would choose a videotape and Jo would pop it into Mona's RCA Video Cassette Recorder.

Jo was fascinated by the machine. "Who'd've freakin thunk it?" Jo marveled. "Now you don't gotta go to the movie theater. As long as it's on one of those tapes, you can see it in your own freakin apartment any time you want!"

Blair would catch Jo thoughtfully regarding the VCR.

"No, darling," Blair said.

"But if I just … It wouldn't hurt it or anythin."

"No, darling," Blair repeated firmly. "You cannot take apart Mona's VCR to see how it works."

"But don't you want to know?"

Blair laughed. "Jo, I could go the rest of my life and not know how it works, as long as it does work. But I know you have a burning desire to know. And I do feel for you." She patted Jo's cheek fondly.

"So, then –"

"No, darling."

Jo sighed.

In the afternoons they walked with Mona at a nearby park. Mona's step grew more assured every day, although she still needed to pause frequently, drop onto a bench and catch her breath.

Mona and Natalie's parents lived in an affluent part of the Upper East Side. Everything in the neighborhood was so well tended and clean and attractive – the brownstones, the sidewalks, the trees, and, of course, the parks.

One morning as they sat on a bench in companionable silence, watching other people walking their dogs and children playing in a sandbox, Jo had a sudden image of her and Blair, years in the future, sitting on a bench together.

This is so simple … And so perfect, thought Jo.

The only thing that would make it better would be if she could put her arm around her girl. She couldn't of course. Jo sat on one side of Mona and Blair sat on the other, bracketing the elderly woman as if to prevent her from toppling over.

"I'm … going … not … fall … to," Mona objected haltingly, her eyes twinkling.

Jo and Blair had become expert in translating Mona's scrambled speech.

"We know you ain't gonna fall, Gramma Green," said Jo. "But you're our buffer. Otherwise, if I'm sittin right next to Blair Warner, I'm gonna get overcome with love and hold her hand. Maybe even kiss her. And we'll all get arrested."

"Jo!" laughed Blair, slightly shocked. "Don't say outrageous things like that in front of Mona!"

But Mona's eyes twinkled as she wagged a reproachful finger at Jo. "Wisen … heimer," she managed.

"Yep. I sure am," Jo agreed cheerfully.

Natalie's father and mother dropped by every evening. Syd seemed pleased with his mother's progress.

"You're going to outlive us all," he told Mona. "We'll be in our graves and you'll be dancing in a conga line somewhere!"

"Rainbow … Room," suggested Mona.

Syd nodded. "That sounds right, Mom. In fact, I'll tell you what. You keep doing what the doctors and the nurses say, and you keep getting better, and Evie and I will take you to the Rainbow Room."

"That's a lovely idea!" said Evie.

"Our treat," Syd told his mother. "We haven't been there in years. About time we went again."

"Count … me … in," Mona agreed.

That night, as Blair and Jo lay entwined in the narrow bed in the narrow spare room, Blair nibbled at Jo's ear. She softly hummed an old tune; it took Jo a moment to place it, but then she knew – Blair was humming "It Had To Be You".

Jo lightly stroked Blair's side. "It had to be you, too," Jo whispered to her lover. "So … whaddaya think? How 'bout if sometime I take you to the Rainbow Room?"

"I think that's a lovely offer, darling. But I think on our present budget, we'll end up washing dishes to pay the bill."

"There's worse things than washin dishes," said Jo. "Think of all the thousands of dishes we washed at Eastland. Hell, I'd wash a million dishes if it meant I could twirl ya around the floor at the Rainbow Room a few times."

Blair sighed.

"What?" asked Jo.

"It's only … Even if we could afford it, we could never dance together at the Rainbow Room."

"Oh. Yeah."

Jo slid a hand under Blair's silk pajama top.

"What are you doing?" asked Blair.

"What does it feel like I'm doin?" Jo cupped Blair's left breast, lightly squeezed it. She ran a thumb over the nipple.

"Jo …" Blair turned away, so that she faced the wall. "I'm not …"

"We won't bug Mona," Jo promised. "We'll be real quiet."

Blair chuckled. "Since when?"

"We'll be kinda quiet," Jo amended. "As quiet as we can be. Anyhow, Mona's sleeping like a log."

And, indeed, surprisingly deep snores were rolling down the hallway, penetrating Blair and Jo's tiny room.

"It's not just that we're in Gramma Green's apartment," said Blair. "I'm just not … in the mood. It isn't personal, darling," she said hastily.

Jo sighed. "I know." She released Blair's breast. "I'm not in the mood either. I just thought I'd give it a try. See if maybe we were ready yet. Which, I guess we ain't."

"This is so bizarre," said Blair. "I want you. I always want you. But I feel so numb, still, in here," she touched her chest, "and, down, well, you know."

"I know. It's the same with me."

Blair sighed. Her body went rigid for a moment, as if she were in the grip of some strong emotion.

"What is it?" Jo asked, concerned.

"That damn Boots! And that damn Mizu!"

"I feel sorry for them," said Jo.

"That's because you're a mushball, Miss Young Diablo. If we could only, if we could sue them or something!"

"They're both broke. You can't get blood out of a turnip."

"Stone, darling. You can't get blood out of a stone."

"Yeah, that too."

"It's not about money, Jo. It's about holding them accountable for basically destroying our lives!"

Jo squeezed Blair's hip. "Not destroyed, babe. Long as we got each other we ain't destroyed. We're gonna regroup. I don't know how, but we're gonna do it."

"I just hate the thought of them getting away with it!"

Jo pictured Mizu and Boots at the bar of the Fireside Inn. She pictured their faces: Mizu wanting Boots, and knowing Boots didn't love her; Boots not wanting Mizu, and knowing Mizu knew it …

"Whichever of 'em did it," Jo said quietly, "I don't think they're gettin away with anythin."

"It doesn't matter," Blair said morosely. "We could never sue them. And we can't sue the college either. The Dean was right. Any suit we bring just exposes our relationship. We could win and we'd still lose. Unless …"

"Unless what?" Jo asked.

Blair touched her forehead to Jo's. "I don't have anything to lose anymore, darling. With mother in Europe and father in Tokyo and all the Warner money and industries in Becker's pocket … All I have now is you, Jo. So if you want … if you wanted us to sue Langley, I'm in."

"Christ, you're brave," marveled Jo. She kissed her fiancée. "Ready to stand up to the bigots! I guess Miss Harvest Queen 1982 is really growin up!"

"Don't forget '81," said Blair. "And '83."

Jo laughed.

"So. What do you think?" asked Blair. "Do we take Langley to court?"

"No. Not now," said Jo. "I'm sorry, babe, but when I think about my folks, and all my family, and their neighbors …"

"I understand," Blair said.

"The Bronx ain't exactly Society with a big old capital 'S'," said Jo, "but it'd still be humiliatin for my family if you and me were splashed all over the newspapers. 'Lezzie Lovers Lash Langley'! And our faces everywhere."

"You're almost as good as Nat with those headlines," Blair said approvingly.

"Yeah. It's on account of how brilliant I am," Jo said with mock modesty. And then, growing serous again, "You understand, don't you, babe?"

"I do. I really do." She kissed Jo again. "Just think, Jo, how many people we've told in the last year. So many people know about us – and the sky hasn't fallen in yet."

"Well … I think maybe we got clonked by a few clouds," Jo said darkly.

"But for the most part our friends and family have learned to accept us. They've stood by us. And we've stood by each other, Jo. We have a lot to be happy about. And a lot to be proud of."

"A lot of which to be proud," Jo corrected, mimicking a strict English professor.

Blair tickled her lover.

"Hey!" laughed Jo. "Hey! C'mon! That's … not … fair!"

"Since when do I fight fair?" Blair asked, tickling Jo harder.

"Blair! Babe! I – hahahaha!"

Jo collapsed limply in Blair's arms, giggling helplessly.

Blair relented. She lay on top of her lover, pressing her cheek against Jo's chest.

"Your heart's beating so fast," she told Jo.

"On account of being viciously attacked," Jo said.

"No. On account of being in love," said Blair.

"Well. Maybe," Jo said. She drew her hand through Blair's long, silky hair. "Babe?"

"Yes?"

"You'd really do that if I wanted to? You'd really sue Langley? Be in all the papers, that you love me?"

"Of course."

A tear slipped down Jo's face. "You're amazin. Every day … you're even more amazin."

"True," Blair said nonchalantly. And then, "Ow!" as Jo lightly rapped her head.

"Don't be gettin all vain," teased Jo.

"'Gettin all vain'? Darling – have you met me?"

"I'm more than slightly familiar with you, yeah."

"That was completely abusive," Blair complained. Jo leaned down and kissed her head.

"Better?" asked Jo.

"Yes," said Blair. "Sort of. Again."

Jo leaned down and kissed the blonde head once more.

"Better now?"

"Yes." Blair snuggled against Jo's chest. "Tell me a story," she said, yawning.

"What am I – Mother Goose?" asked Jo.

"Tell me a funny story about when you were a kid."

Jo mulled that over. "Well … There was the time I almost got caught shopliftin at Grummer's Candies –"

"Funny story," Blair said sleepily.

"There was the time I mooned the principal."

"Ha! That sounds like a good one."

"I was in kindergarten. The principal was this really mean old grouch with a mustache."

"What was his name?"

"Her name. Principal Pterkaski. Jesse didn't have a snack one day, and she didn't have any dough to buy a snack, so I gave her some of my cheese doodles. And the teacher said there was no sharing. Either you hadda bring a snack for home or buy a snack at school. And I told her that was a bunch of crap. So she sent me to the principal's office."

"And you mooned the principal?"

"It just sorta came to me. You know? Like one of your brilliant ideas comes to you."

"What a little rebel you were, Jo Polniaczek! What did they do to you?"

"Detention. My parents were so pissed. That's how my brilliant freakin academic career started – kindergarten detention!"

"What made you think of it? Mooning the principal?"

Jo shrugged. "I was always such a skinny kid, ya know, my jeans were already real loose. And the principal was such a friggin sourpuss. It was just a simple act of civil disobedience."

"Like Thoreau."

"Exactly."

"Maybe we should moon Dean Pratt," said Blair. "Or, what is it you and Jesse used to do – put burning bags of dog refuse on his porch."

"And then ring the bell. You gotta ring the bell. But we can do better than that, babe. We'll think of somethin." She kissed Blair's forehead. "Thanks."

"For what?"

"Makin me laugh a little bit. Babe …" Jo felt the tears coming again, the wall of tears that overcame her sometimes. "Babe, I miss workin at the Grill. And I miss the Lions so much."

"I know, darling." Blair stroked her back.

"And I miss classes. I miss learnin stuff." The tears began to spill down Jo's face. She buried her face against Blair's bosom.

"My beautiful little nerd," Blair said fondly. "Let it out, darling. Let it out."

Jo sobbed. She held Blair tightly.

She hasn't cried this much since that day, Blair thought. That day I picked her up at the train station, and she thought we weren't going to be friends any longer …

"Let it out, darling."

"I feel … I feel like such a baby," Jo sobbed.

"Shh. Not at all, Jo."

"But you ain't all screwed up like this."

"You're not 'all screwed up', Jo. You're sad. Langley means so much more to you than it does to me. And you worked so hard to get there. It's not fair. It's just not fair. I'm not sad like you, Jo, but I'm pissed as hell. This isn't going to stand. If it takes the rest of our lives, we're going to make this right."

"Yeah?"

"Yes, Jo. Now just cry yourself out. I'm not going anywhere. And I love you."

Jo cried. Blair held her.


When Jo woke the next morning her eyes were swollen from weeping the night before, but she felt immeasurably better. Something had shifted in her.

Blair was already awake, watching her fiancée from beneath half-closed lids. There was so much love in Blair's eyes, in her sleepy smile.

"Good morning," Blair said.

"Mornin, babe."

"Do you know what I'm going to do for you?" Blair asked.

"What?" asked Jo. "Is it somethin sexy?" She waggled her eyebrows.

"I'm going to cook you some of my famous oatmeal."

Jo groaned. She pulled the sheet over her head. "What did I do," she asked in a muffled voice, "to deserve that?"

Blair nudged Jo's leg under the covers.

"I'm showing you how much I love you, darling."

"By tryin to kill me?"

But Blair's oatmeal was actually edible that morning. It was more than edible – it was actually pretty good.

Mona was still sleeping. Blair and Jo sat at the tiny breakfast table, Jo looking suspiciously at Blair.

"Did Mona help you with this?" Jo asked.

Blair blushed. "Well – that's a fine how-de-you-do!"

"But did she?" Jo persisted.

"No," Blair said with dignity. "I made the oatmeal all by myself."

"Well it's real damn good," Jo said approvingly. "Real damn good. I guess I will marry you. How come suddenly you're so good at makin oatmeal, babe?"

"It's possible," Blair admitted, "that Mona has been giving me lessons."

"Ah-ha! But when? How did I miss that?"

"She's been teaching me when you take your morning shower."

"Pretty sneaky," Jo said admiringly. She ate another heaping spoonful of oatmeal. "Whaddya got, some milk in here?"

"And just a touch of molasses," Blair said proudly. "Do you really like it?"

"I really, really do."

Sol Silverberg visited that afternoon. He and Mona had been dating since meeting at temple last Hanukah. This was the first time she'd let him see her since her stroke, now that she had more of her mobility back and could speak more clearly.

Sol turned out to be about Mona's age and about Mona's height, with suspiciously dark hair.

"Dye job – or toupee?" Jo whispered to Blair. Blair stepped on Jo's foot. "Ouch," mumbled Jo.

Sol was an importer-exporter and, judging by the cut of his suspiciously dark hair, and his expensive suit, and the diamond pinky ring flashing on his right hand, had done pretty well for himself. He had a magnificent set of false teeth that he flashed often when he smiled good-naturedly.

"Roebuckers," Jo whispered to Blair. Blair stepped on Jo's foot again.

"There she is!" Sol said ecstatically when Blair and Jo opened the pocket doors that led into the living room. Mona was sitting up very straight on the living room sofa, her left arm resting on a cushion.

Sol threw his arms wide dramatically. "There she is," he said again. "Greta Garbo! Ingrid Berman! Anna Sten!"

Mona laughed, clearly delighted. Her eyes sparkled.

"You … are … silly," she told Sol.

"Is a man in love silly?" Sol demanded. "You cut me to the quick, Mona. You really do. But that I can forgive. A beautiful woman, she has a God-given right to do as she pleases!"

He sat down next to her. He gazed at her with such tenderness and good humor that Jo and Blair, standing in the doorway, both turned away.

Jo coughed. "Do I look at you like that?" she whispered.

"Yes, darling," whispered Blair.

"Let's give 'em their privacy," suggested Jo. "It ain't like they need chaperones or nothin …"

Jo and Blair strolled through the nearby park. Nannies pushed babies in carriages and toddlers in strollers. Two small kids were playing catch; one of them threw too hard, and the ball flew toward Blair's head.

"Eep!" said Blair, seeing something flashing toward her out of the corner of her eye.

Jo caught the ball easily, bare-handed, and threw it back to the kids.

"Watch what you're doin, guys," Jo called amiably.

The two young lovers found a bench in a relatively secluded spot and sat close together without actually touching.

"Do Syd and Evie know about us?" Jo wondered aloud.

Blair shook her head. "I don't think so. I think we might be a little bit much for them to grasp. Natalie's parents are very sweet, but they're also very … conventional."

"Well they say stuff skips a generation," said Jo. "And Mona seems to have gotten enough original thinkin for about five generations."

"She's an amazing woman," Blair agreed. She watched a pair of nannies sitting on a bench at the opposite side of the park; the nannies chatted while they watched their little charges play. "Jo?"

"Yeah?"

"You like children – don't you?"

Jo put a hand to her chest, pantomiming shock. "Blair … babe … Are ya tryin to tell me that I got ya knocked up? That I impregnated you?"

"Har-har, darling."

Jo shrugged. "Yeah, of course I like kids. Kids are great. They're fun. And they're so damn honest. You want a totally honest answer in this world, only a kid's gonna give it."

"Would you … I mean, since I can't, after the, the stabbing … Would you be willing …"

Jo realized, finally, what Blair was asking. Jo's eyes softened.

"Babe … of course," she said quietly. "I would love to have our baby someday."

"You wouldn't mind about morning sickness, or gaining weight, or any of that?"

Jo waved away morning sickness and weight gain. "Piece of cake," she said confidently.

"Not right away or anything," Blair said hastily. "We need to finish our education somehow, and we need to be on a secure footing before we could imagine making such a commitment."

Jo grinned. "I don't know … Do you think we're ever gonna be on a 'secure footin'? We seem to kinda stumble into stuff. I think it's gonna have to be enough if we're not on a crazy-ass footin."

"All right." Blair nodded. "When we're finished with school, and our careers are in place, and we're not on a totally crazy-ass footing, you'll have our baby."

"It's a deal!" said Jo …

Natalie and Tootie visited Mona that weekend. They arrived on an early train; Jo and Blair were still in their pajamas when they answered the door.

"How is Grandma?" Nat asked, bursting into the apartment and almost trampling over Jo, who was holding open the front door.

"She's great," said Jo, closing the door behind Tootie. "We've been givin her bread and water, and we hardly been chainin her in the cellar at all."

"You're a riot, Polniaczek," said Natalie. "A laugh-a-minute."

"Yeah, I'm a hoot," Jo agreed.

"See, if you picked up this thing called a telephone – a real handy invention, by the way – and called every once in awhile, maybe I wouldn't be so worried," Natalie said. She looked around the tiny foyer. "So where is she? Is she in her room? Is she resting?"

"She's out sky divin," said Jo. "And we did try to call a coupla times, but you were in class and Tootie was at rehearsal."

"So it would've killed you to leave a message? A simple 'Hey, we're still breathing?'"

"We did leave a message, ya wisenheimer. We left a coupla messages with Petal, who seems to be the only person at River Rock that answers the damn phone these days."

"Oh." Natalie turned away. "OK. That explains it."

"Well explain it me," Jo crabbed. "Why wouldn't Petal give you the messages?"

"Petal's been … She's not herself these days," Tootie explained. "With Boots gone, and Portia married and off at Johns Hopkins, and Jacqueline always in class or at field hockey practice … Petal's not herself."

"So who is she?" asked Jo. "Is she OK? She sounded fine when I talked to her."

"She was probably happy to hear from you," said Tootie. "You know how much Petal looks up to you."

"Me?" Jo considered that, both surprised and pleased by the thought of the Langley graduate and former Lions captain looking up to her, Jo Polniaczek from the Bronx. "You serious?"

Tootie rolled her eyes. "Jo … sometimes you're completely out to lunch."

"Well you don't gotta get insultin," complained Jo. "Just askin a question here."

Blair put a hand on Jo's shoulder. "Petal thinks very highly of you, darling. You've always had a bit of a hero-worship crush on her; and I think it cuts both ways."

"No kiddin. Huhn." Jo chewed on that.

"Nat," said Blair in a serious voice, "how bad is it now? The rumors about me and Jo? Be honest."

Natalie took a deep breath and then blew it out. "Tactfully honest or brutally honest?"

"Brutally," said Blair.

"It's all over the Langley campus," said Natalie. "I'm sorry, but that's the brutal truth."

"What's all over the Langley campus?" asked Jo.

"That we're lovers," said Blair.

"What? How the hell?"

"It was bound to happen," said Blair. "Langley's golden girls can't just vanish without the rumor mill starting to grind." She looked to Tootie. "Who's the source?"

"It seems to be your old pal Mitzi Rutherford," said Tootie.

Blair nodded. "Of course. She was in Dina and Devon's circle. Her family was on board with Becker's coup. And, most importantly of all, she's always been jealous of my hair."

Jo looked like she was going to pop a vein. "Bitchy Rutherford is jealous of your hair, so she trashes our reps all over campus?"

"People are petty, dear. When a lion falls, the little jackals come creeping out of the rocks."

"Mitzy seems to be behind it," said Tootie, "with help from Devon Abercrombie's little sister Delia. And now it's taken on a life of its own – urban legends left and right. Some freshmen even said they saw you making out at the art gallery."

Jo groaned. "I knew somebody was gonna see us," she murmured. "We got sloppy, babe."

"Water under the bridge," Blair said firmly.

"It's not that I don't feel badly for you two, but where is my grandmother?" Natalie demanded.

"For heaven's sake," said Blair, "you'd think we were holding her captive! Mona's in the living room watching 'Grease' and she's doing fine."

"'Grease'? How is she watching 'Grease' in the living room?"

"She's got one of those VRC's," Blair explained.

"VCR's," Jo corrected.

"She's got what now?" asked Natalie.

Tootie took her best friend's elbow and steered her toward the living room. "It's this really cool machine," Tootie said. "My father got one so he can tape football games. You can record shows, and you can play movies. It's going to revolutionize entertainment …"

Blair took Jo's hands. She kissed the brunette, tenderly at first and then with a deepening hunger.

"Wow," said Jo when they came up for air. "What's the occasion for that scorcher?"

"I've just been thinking," Blair said innocently, "that with Natalie and Tootie here, Mona's in good hands. And that leaves us at loose ends. And it's been awhile, darling, since we've been together."

"What're you talkin about, babe? We been together, like, twenty-four-seven."

Blair lifted her dark eyebrows.

"Oh," said Jo. She flushed as she realized what Blair meant.

"Jo Polniaczek, are your blushing?" teased Blair.

"Eh, possibly. Babe, are you, you're sayin that you wanna, ah –"

"Only if you're ready," Blair said solicitously.

Jo felt a heat and tingling between her legs that she hadn't felt in what seemed like forever. She slid her hands down Blair's back and squeezed the blonde's generous posterior.

"I'll take that as a 'yes'," laughed Blair.

"It's a 'yes, yes, a thousand times yes,'" Jo said huskily. She lifted Blair into her arms.

"Not the bedroom," said Blair. "You need a shower, Jo. You've been showering all alone, lately."

"It has been real freakin lonely," Jo observed. "I could do with a little company maybe."

Blair lay back in Jo's arms, loving the feeling of Jo holding her, carrying her. When they reached the bathroom door Blair pushed it open.

Jo locked and bolted the door behind them. Blair was already tearing at Jo's robe and pajamas when she turned around.

"We gotta be quiet," Jo cautioned as Blair tore off her pajama top. "We don't wanna be tacky. We're guests in this house, right? You're always teachin me manners like that, right?"

"To hell with manners," Blair growled, hands roaming over Jo's torso, her stomach, her pert breasts.

"But … ah … babe." Jo tried to remonstrate, but Blair's hands had found her pale pink nipples and were doing extraordinarily pleasant things.

"Nat and Tootie haven't seen Mona all week. And 'Grease' is blasting," said Blair. She took one of Jo's nipples into her mouth. Jo gasped. Blair tugged down Jo's pajama pants. "I'm going to take you, Jo. I've wanted you so badly, but we haven't been able … but now … now we can …" Blair tugged down Jo's panties. "Let's make love, Jo."

Jo moaned as Blair's mouth trailed kisses from her breasts down her stomach to her damp sex. Jo's head swam.

"Blair, you do … you know that … even though they're blastin 'Grease' …"

"Why is there all this talking?" Blair complained. She flicked her tongue along Jo's nether lips, pulling Jo hard against her. Jo made a little cry.

God, it's been so long, thought Jo as Blair's tongue did magical things. And that feels so … so damn good …

As Jo's hips began to rock, Blair lay back on the fluffy white throw rug, pulling Jo down with her, at no point losing her rhythm as she pleasured her beautiful fiancée.

"Harder," moaned Jo. "Faster, babe …"

It was funny, Tootie thought a few moments later, as Natalie talked a mile-a-minute to Mona, how you thought you knew a song. Tootie didn't remember any of that extra backup singing in "Greased Lightning". It was almost like screaming. Maybe, she thought, there was a flaw in the tape …


"Grease" had ended by the time that Jo and Blair, clean and fresh and beaming beatifically joined Natalie and Tootie and Mona in the living room.

"We're taking Grandma for a walk in the park," Natalie said. "We'll give you guys a little break."

"Sure," said Jo. "Whatever you want." She slipped an arm around Blair's shoulders. Blair leaned contentedly against her.

"Ah, you will behave like civilized human beings while we're gone – won't you?" Natalie asked significantly.

"Us?" Blair asked innocently. "Of course. Whatever do you mean?"

"Hmm. Just try to remember this is the Upper East Side – not the Tenderloin."

"Didn't they rip that down?" asked Jo. "I mean, it doesn't still exist, does it? Except in the history books."

"What's the Tenderloin?" Blair asked curiously.

"I'll explain it to you later," Jo promised.

At that moment the doorbell rang.

Everyone looked at everyone else.

"Are you expecting anyone?" Natalie asked Mona. The elderly woman shook her head.

Natalie looked to Jo and Blair.

"We're not expecting anyone," said Blair.

"I'll answer the door," said Tootie. "Nat, you keep catching up with Grandma Green. Jo and Blair – you catch your breath." Tootie's eyes twinkled.

Jo and Blair looked at each other.

"Did she mean what I think she meant?" asked Blair.

"I think so," said Jo, blushing and laughing at the same time. "That little wisenheimer!"

Tootie was back in what seemed like only a few seconds. Eduardo was with her. He made an elegant little half-bow to each of the girls. He looked sadly at Mona.

"You are feeling better, I have heard," he said kindly to Mona. "And that is a good thing. You will need all your strength, Señora."

Jo took a deep breath. It felt like all of the air had been squeezed out of her body. She drew Blair closer to her.

"Eduardo," Jo said quietly, "is this it?"

Eduardo nodded. "I am so sorry," he said.

"What's happening?" Natalie asked shrilly. Tootie took her best friend's hand. "What are you talking about? Somebody say something that's not cryptic! Somebody tell me what the hell is happening!"

Mona stood up. She leaned a little bit to the left; she was slightly wobbly on her feet, but the tiny woman lifted her chin with great dignity.

"Natalie," she said, "my bookbank … bankbook … top … left … drawer. Of the bureau."

"Your bankbook? What do I need with your bankbook?" Natalie knew what was wrong. It was in her frightened voice. She knew in her gut what had happened but her mind wasn't ready to accept it yet.

"So you can bail her out," Blair said quietly.

"Bail her out? What are you people talking about?" Natalie demanded. "Have you all gone nuts?"

Eduardo held out one hand, a courtly gesture. Mona went to him and took his hand, leaned on him.

"BZ Becker," Eduardo told Natalie kindly, "has finally prevailed upon the District Attorney's office to bring a charge of murder against your grandmother."

"Murder?" Blair asked quickly. "Not manslaughter?"

Eduardo shook his head.

"Mona has been charged with the murder of Dina Eunice Becker."

"Now?" Natalie demanded, eyes blazing. "Now, when she's just had a stroke? This is insane!"

"Jackals like Becker," said Eduardo, "often strike when someone is at their weakest. But I think in this case," the courtly old man smiled at Mona, "Becker has gravely miscalculated."

Mona smiled at him. "Damn … right," she said.


Late September, 2011. Manhattan, New York.

The Right Reverend Blair Polniaczek was having a lovely morning.

She'd awakened at dawn, made a cup of chamomile tea with honey, and was sitting on the balcony of her modest penthouse checking her e-mail messages.

It was chilly but not cold. She wore a rose-colored silk robe over her pink silk peignoir and was perfectly comfortable. She loved watching dawn slowly light Central Park. The trees were still a deep, late-summer green. In another month they would be red and gold.

Blair wore her half-glasses. She needed a new, stronger pair of lenses – hell, what she really needed were bifocals, and she knew it, but a vain corner of her mind didn't want to acknowledge that frailty. She'd put off several appointments with the eye doctor in the last few months, and now, as she checked her email, she squinted slightly.

Birds sang in the park below. There were few vehicles on the streets at this early hour; the noise of automobiles passing far below was like the faint murmur of the ocean; the occasional honking horn was like a distant trumpet note.

Blair handled diocesan matters first. Would she approve a new organ for St. David's in the Bronx? Of course. Would she approve a new wing for the interfaith Children's Center? Of course – and what was the budget impact going to be? And would the Fillaci Brothers be the contractors? Would she confirm her attendance at the upcoming Religious Relevance Conference? Naturally … And, smiling radiantly, she checked the "Plus One" box. Name? "Joanne Marie Polniaczek". Relationship? "Wife".

Blair sipped her tea. She felt so contented. She couldn't remember having felt so contented in a long, long time. One's contentment, she knew, came from within, and from God. But it was only human to be influenced by outside things. Like Jo deciding not to run for another senate term. Jo was going to be in Manhattan full-time in a couple of years! And Jo was home now, for the week, taking some well-deserved R&R with her wife …

Remembering the night before, Blair blushed. She was forty-seven, and a highly respected official of the Episcopal Church, but the way Jo had dove between her legs when she arrived last night … and the way Blair had retaliated in kind … It had been like making up for lost time, all those years of nights apart, all the demands of both their careers that had whittled away their time spent as wife-and-wife …

Jo had promised to cut back on the Scotch. Blair had quit smoking and had stopped drinking Chablis altogether, had quit, even, before Jo's visit. Jo thought it was part of their new health kick … but it had a lot more to do with an e-mail Blair had received from Doctor Tikrit three weeks ago.

"Morning, babe," Jo said, dropping into the chair next to her wife. Jo wore a blue silk robe open over blue silk pajama pants and nothing else.

Blair laughed. "I didn't know we were having a topless breakfast."

Jo eyed Blair's primly fastened peignoir significantly. "So I see, babe – so I see. Guess you didn't receive the memo. 'Dear Right Reverend Polniaczek, In honor of your beloved wife playing hooky from the senate, please dispense with clothing at the conjugal breakfast. Sincerely, your freaky, beloved wife.'"

Blair rolled her eyes.

"C'mon," laughed Jo, "that was pretty good."

"Not one of your best, though, darling."

"Well," Jo stretched and yawned, "my brain's still on half power. Quarter power, maybe. Didn't get a lot of sleep, you see. This gorgeous blonde kept pawing at me all night."

"'Pawing at you'?" Blair quoted disapprovingly.

"Don't worry – I liked it. I liked it so much, I'd kind of like her to do it again."

"And she just might, if you eat your grapefruit and oatmeal."

Jo made a face. "That sounds extremely unappetizing."

"Nevertheless. You'll notice I'm not smoking. You'll notice I'm drinking a healthy cup of tea."

"Well bully for you, babe. You'll notice I'm not slugging down any MacAllan. That's my part of the bargain. Do I need to eat obscenely healthy food on top of everything else?"

"It was your idea for us to start eating healthy," Blair pointed out. "You remember. When you called that night."

"Yeah, about that … Remember how I was drunk out of my mind?"

"Yes. I do remember. But drunk or not, you had an excellent point."

"I did?"

"You did," Blair said firmly.

Jo tried another tack. "You know what would give me a lot of stamina today? Stamina and energy? If I ate an omelet and some bacon. Maybe a little steak."

"That would make you all logy," Blair objected. "And I want you to be on your toes, darling. Literally." She smiled a wicked little smile.

"Why, your worshipfulness," said Jo, pretending to be shocked, "the things you say!"

"And the things I do. The things we'll do … after your healthy breakfast."

Jo glanced significantly at her empty place setting. "So where are these alleged healthy foods?"

"You have to prepare them," said Blair.

"What do you mean?"

Blair sighed. "You," she pointed at Jo, "have to prepare," she made little stirring motions, "your food."

Jo looked over her shoulder through the sliding door and into the kitchen. "But don't … I thought … Babe, don't we have a cook?"

"Not since 2009," said Blair. "Remember the massive economic meltdown? That thing you and your friends on the Hill still haven't fixed?"

"Ouch!" said Jo. "And … ouch!"

"When Gretel's contract ended in 2009 I didn't renew it. We're economizing, dear. And believe it or not, I think we can survive cooking our own food."

"Babe, I haven't cooked in years – unless you count pushing the buttons on the microwave. I always eat out in D.C., or I just zap something."

"Darling, are you trying to tell me, with a straight face, that you cannot prepare a grapefruit and a bowl of oatmeal?"

"I guess I could nuke the oatmeal," Jo said grudgingly.

"Yes, Jo – you could. And you can slice a grapefruit."

"Probably slice my finger off," Jo grumbled. "You know, in this economy, we ought to be doing our part to create jobs, not eliminate them. We ought to hire Greta back."

"It's Gretel, and we can't afford her. Her annual salary's in the low six figures – just about what we lost investing with Bernie."

"That rat bastard!"

"Yes. That rat bastard. But the money's gone and that's all there is to it."

"But it's not like we're destitute, Blair. We can't dig up measly hundred thou? Can't we sell one of the houses? Not even one of the houses – a cottage would probably do it."

"Ha! Listen to you! Where is the girl that roared up to Eastland wearing last year's jeans?"

"She got too damn busy to cook. Look, this Gretel, she's probably wandering the streets since you laid her off. Why don't you think of her? Isn't your life supposed to be dedicated to everybody's welfare?"

"For heaven's sake – do you think I would ruin someone? Gretel is working for the Templetons. And with what they're paying her, there's no way we'll woo her back."

"Lousy turncoat," Jo grumbled. "But come on, babe, this Greta –""

"Gretel."

"– Gretel can't be the only private cook in Manhattan. If you think about it, there must have been a lot of cooks laid off after the scam Bernie pulled. Why don't we give someone a job?"

Blair's eyes narrowed. "I know you're being tremendously lazy, darling … But you do have a point."

Jo grinned. "So you'll do it?"

"I'll make some calls," Blair said reluctantly. "But in the meantime –"

"Sure, sure – I know." Jo stood up and pushed back her chair. "I'm going to zap some oatmeal and chop up some grapefruit. You want me to make you something while I'm in there?"

"After the way you just described your cooking skills – or lack thereof? Perish the thought!"

"You know," Jo said, flashing her sweet, crooked grin, "nobody makes oatmeal like you, babe. Doesn't it seem silly for me to go into the kitchen and make a big mess and probably burn something up, when you could drift in there, like the angel that you are, and, you know," Jo made little stirring motions, "create a culinary masterpiece?"

Blair tilted her head and gave Jo a look. It was a real Blair Warner glare – a look Jo had seen on a very few occasions since they graduated from Eastland almost thirty years ago.

"Or," Jo said, "conversely, just thinking off the top of my head here, but maybe I could go into the kitchen and make my own breakfast."

"What a lovely idea," said Blair.

"Yes, well, that's me, babe – all about the lovely ideas."

Jo did make a mess in the kitchen, and she made faces while she ate her dry, overcooked oatmeal and ate her shredded slices of grapefruit, and she made a lot of sighs and pathetic faces when she washed the breakfast dishes and cleaned the counters.

"Well – I'm glad that's over," said Jo, dropping into the chair next to Blair's.

Blair peered at Jo over her half glasses. "Darling – you are a lock for the 'Martyr of the Year Award'. I don't understand how you help to run the most complicated nation on the planet when you have to make such a fuss over a simple breakfast."

"It's all about proportion," Jo explained. "See – I'm good with the big stuff, babe. The life-and-death, make-or-break stuff."

And that, Blair reflected, was actually true …

Jo leaned back in her chair and laced her fingers behind her head while Blair finished with her email correspondence.

"You might want to put a top on," Blair suggested.

"We're a million floors up," Jo said nonchalantly.

"Do you hear that?" asked Blair.

Jo listened. There was a faint whirring sound … and it seemed to be getting closer.

"Christ! Helicopter!" said Jo, pulling her robe closed across her chest.

"The Channel 15 News Chopper usually makes a few passes over Central Park West every morning."

"Good to know," said Jo. "All we need is a photo of us lounging on the balcony with our, ah, private thingamabobs hanging out. Can you imagine?"

Blair smoothed the front of her rose-colored peignoir. "My private thingamabobs are all properly covered," she said demurely.

"What would the headline say, I wonder? 'Archbishop Polniaczek And Smoking Hot Mystery Gal Pal Soak Up Gotham Sun', maybe."

"First," said Blair, "the headline's way too long. Second, there's no alliteration. Third, your face is better known than mine, so you couldn't be my 'mystery gal pal'. Fourth – all right – you are smoking hot. I don't know how you keep so trim. And your breasts are still so perky."

"Hours are the gym," said Jo.

"Hours well spent," Blair said approvingly.

Jo waggled her eyebrows. "Is this conversation giving you any ideas?"

"Well …" Blair slipped off her glasses. She closed her laptop computer, folded her glasses and set them on the table top. "You did eat your breakfast. And it's eight a.m. and you're still sober."

"As a judge."

"And I did promise you sex."

"You did. And it would be a mortal sin if you went back on your promise."

"It wouldn't actually be a mortal sin. But it would be a shame." Blair stood up. She extended one hand to her wife. "Can you still carry me, darling?"

"Hours in the gym – remember?"

Jo led Blair into the kitchen. The Senator lifted her plump wife into her arms. Jo grunted.

"Light … as … a bag … of feathers," Jo panted.

"Put me down, darling," said Blair.

"Forget it! The bedroom's just … around … the …"

Jo staggered a bit.

"Jo," Blair said gently, "put me down. I know I'm no stick figure. And if I've put on some pounds over the years, I have managed to shed a little vanity."

Jo set Blair on the kitchen counter.

"It's me," Jo said gallantly. "I need to work out more."

"Jo." Blair lifted Jo's chin with two fingers. She leaned down and kissed her wife. "You are without a doubt the most loyal, loving, wonderful wife in the world."

"True," Jo said. "And right back at you, babe."

Jo put her hands on Blair's hips. She glanced over her shoulder, through the balcony doors. "Blair, you don't think one of those news copters could see in here, could they?"

Blair lifted a saucy eyebrow.

"What did you have in mind, Senator?"

"When's the last time we made love on a kitchen counter?"

"I can't remember, so – quite a while."

"That's what I thought." Jo dexterously unfastened the ties of Blair's peignoir. She deftly opened the silky garment. "Hello – what have we here?" asked Jo. She kissed the swell of Blair's breasts where they peeked out above the low-cut nightgown. "Wow. Babe, don't think I'm some kind of perv or something, but – wow."

"I know," said Blair.

"So … I'm not imagining it?"

"They're bigger," Blair confirmed.

"Did you fly out to L.A. or something and get a presto-change-o boob job? Cause it really would be nice, me being your wife and all, if you would've discussed it with me. Not that, ah, I have any objections, if these are the results."

"Don't get too attached to them, darling."

"I don't know. I'm already kind of attached. A love-at-first-site kind of thing. How come I didn't notice these last night?"

Blair arched one eyebrow. "Well, Jo, you were rather fixated on another part of my anatomy."

"Oh. Yeah."

Jo slowly reached out and ran a finger over the swell of Blair's right breast and then her left.

"They feel … real," said Jo.

"Because they are, darling."

"Come on," Jo scoffed gently. "It's not like I've been this close to a lot of breasts in my time, but I do know they don't suddenly start growing."

"Unless," said Blair.

"Unless what?" asked Jo, confused.

"Unless," Blair prompted again. "They don't suddenly start growing unless – what?"

Jo thought it over. "Well … I guess maybe you've been hitting the crème brûlé pretty hard lately."

Blair rolled her eyes. "Jo, I'd have to be eating gallons of crème brûlé every day."

"Well, there is more of you to love since July," said Jo. "But it's not like you're getting all huge, babe. Just your belly's a little bigger, I guess, and now, uh, these beautiful works of art."

"And?"

"And what?"

Blair sighed. "Again, I am forced to wonder aloud how it is that you are partly responsible for running this country."

"Well we don't solve riddles all day," crabbed Jo. "You know I suck at riddles. Why don't you just tell me why your breasts are super-sized?"

"Jo …" Blair trailed off.

"Hey." Jo pushed her hands into Blair's mane of blonde hair. She kissed the tip of Blair's nose. "I'm sorry I'm being such a crab. Maybe I'm missing the whiskey a little. Maybe you were smart to ask me to rein it in, if this is how I'm going to talk to the light of my life."

"I suppose I shouldn't make a game out of this," said Blair. "I just thought … I wanted to see you face when you guessed it. Jo … Do you remember last June? The end of June, when Lexi woke up and I came up to Peekskill?"

Jo made a moronic face. "What? When was that?"

Blair swatted Jo's shoulder with the ties of her peignoir.

"Of course I remember," said Jo. "Have I had amnesia or something? Are we characters on a soap opera now?"

"Mona was always right," said Blair. "You are a wisenheimer."

"Yep."

"Well, since you have such a photographic memory, smartass, do you remember what we discussed that night?"

Jo tilted her head, thinking. "Hmm. We talked about that summer in Italy, and then we made love a few times."

"And what else?"

"Uh … How your conference went well, and how you found the Manhattan site for the Children's Center, but you needed a few million dollars to buy it. And congratulations, by the way. I saw on the news last night that you've already broken ground."

"Thank you," said Blair. "But that night, in June … What else did we talk about?"

"Jeez … Honest, babe, that's all I remember. That's the best my amazing memory can do."

Blair put her arms around Jo's neck. "You asked me if I wanted you to have our baby," Blair said softly.

"Oh. Yeah." Jo grimaced. "And I upset you."

Blair's eyebrows lifted in surprise. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, I upset you. We were talking, and it was funny at first, about whether the kid would have colic like I did – which I did not have it that bad, by the way – and then you got all serious and said you'd rather not talk about it. I upset you." Jo turned her head and kissed Blair's hand. "Which is why," Jo said softly, "I never brought it up again."

"Oh, Jo," Blair said tenderly. She pulled Jo's head toward her large breasts, pillowed Jo's head there.

"Um … this is really nice," Jo observed.

"Jo, you didn't upset me that night," said Blair.

"I didn't?"

"No. We were actually … We were thinking along the same lines, without knowing it. But I wanted to surprise you if things worked out. And you know I can't keep a secret from you for long. And I didn't want to get your hopes up if it didn't work. So I didn't want to talk about it."

"You wanted to surprise me if what worked out?" asked Jo, voice somewhat muffled by Blair's breasts.

"You know how I can't have children?"

"Yes."

"Because Dina stabbed me all those years ago?"

"Yes." Jo's eyes widened. "Oh my God – babe! That time you've been talking about, at the Fireside Inn last June, that next morning, when I thought you bit me – don't tell me you injected me with some hormones or something!"

"Darling … I didn't inject you with anything. As you just said yourself, we're not on a soap opera."

"You didn't inject me with hormones or eggs or something?" Jo asked suspiciously.

"For heaven's sake, darling. You make me sound like Doctor Frankenstein. I bit you, Jo. I was making love to you –"

"While I was out cold!"

"Yes. While you were out cold. And I bit you. That's all that happened." Blair seemed to struggle with some thought, and then released it. "Jo, we've always accepted that I couldn't get pregnant because that's what the doctors told us in 1984. I never pursued it with my gynecologists because, well, it was too depressing to dwell on. Because I wanted to have our baby, darling. When we first started dating I talked a big game about how I didn't want a child because it might distract you from me, but after we got serious, early on … that's what I really, really wanted."

"I know," Jo said gently. "I know, babe. It just wasn't meant to be."

"Bullshit," Blair said with spirit.

"Hey – no need to get all profane, your worship."

"But it was bullshit, Jo. It occurred to me this spring that we've been hiding our heads in the sand all these years. I decided to get a second opinion, and a third, and a fourth. And then I found Doctor Tikrit. Portia recommended him. And he thought I might be able to get pregnant."

Jo couldn't breathe for a second. Her heart seemed to stop beating for an instant. And then she drew a deep, ragged breath and bracketed Blair's face with her hands. She looked deep into Blair's eyes.

"Are you telling me … You've been trying to get pregnant? That's why you're getting a little heavier? That's why your breasts are growing? It's … It's hormones?"

"Darling, you seem to have hormones on the brain."

"Don't duck the question, babe. Blair … love of my life … are you telling me you're trying to get pregnant?"

"No, Jo."

"Then what are you saying?"

Blair kissed Jo's fingers. "I'm saying, darling, that I am pregnant."

Jo kept looking deeply into her wife's eyes … But the room seemed to spin around her … And the floor felt like it was slipping out from under her.

Blair caught Jo by the shoulders.

"Darling!" she cried.

Jo clutched at Blair. She steadied herself.

"I'm … OK. I'm … wow. More than OK." She held Blair tight against her. She kissed the blonde's long hair. "You're pregnant?" she asked.

"I'm pregnant."

"You're gonna have a baby?"

"Yes, Jo. Our baby."

"But … I mean, you were smoking, and you were drinking your Chablis –"

"Doctor Tikrit thought it didn't take at first," Blair explained. "I was so disappointed. But then … He sent me an email at the end of August. We are pregnant, darling."

"We're pregnant. We're really, really pregnant?"

"Yes, Jo. We're going to be mothers."

"How many semesters, I mean, trimesters, I mean, how far along are you?"

"Seven weeks, darling."

"Seven weeks. Seven weeks? The kid … It's in here?" She pressed a gentle hand to Blair's belly.

"Yes."

"And it's, the kid is OK?"

"They think so. The first sonogram is tomorrow, Jo."

"Yeah?"

"Yes."

Jo took a deep breath. She realized that she was crying. Blair brushed her tears away.

"My beautiful sap," Blair said fondly.

"I'm gonna be a mother," said Jo. "A mother. A mom. We're gonna be moms!"

"When you said you weren't going to run again," Blair said, "that you wanted to stop drinking, that you wanted to spend more time with me, and for both of us to get healthy … It just seemed like we were on the same frequency without even realizing it."

"We've always been on the same frequency," Jo said fervently. "That's what makes us work. Even when we're apart, somehow we're together, babe. But I don't want to be apart from you anymore. I don't want to miss a minute of this pregnancy."

"Jo, you have to serve out your term."

"I'll quit," Jo said rashly. "I'll step down."

"Darling, you can't do that to your constituents, any more than I could abandon my flock and move down to D.C. right now. But you'll come up here on weekends. And I'll go down there. And we'll take more time off than we usually would. And then after the baby comes, there's maternity leave. We'll make this work, Jo."

Jo kissed her belly. "It's really in there – our kid," she said wonderingly.

"Already listening to our drama," laughed Blair. "And we can meet it when I get my first ultrasound tomorrow."

"Babe, ah, I don't mean this in any kind of, you know, critical or judgmental kind of way, but when you thought it didn't take, and you had the smokes and the wine –"

"Doctor Tikrit isn't worried. That happens sometimes early in unexpected pregnancies, the mother goes to a party or a bender in Cabo San Lucas and then, surprise, she finds out she's expecting. It's not ideal, or course, but in my case it was just a few cigarettes, a few glasses of wine – as long as I stay clean now we should be all right."

"Good. OK. Good. Thank God the church cancelled that drunken orgy you had planned for Fire Island."

"Yes," Blair said drily. "We decided it wasn't quite the image we wanted to project."

Jo kissed Blair's belly again. "Hey, little kid," she whispered. "I'm one of your moms. I'm the mechanical, scholarly jock-type mom."

"What mom am I?" Blair asked curiously.

"You're the beautiful, spiritual, bossy-type mom."

"I'm bossy?"

"OK – we're both the bossy-type mom."

"Fair enough," Blair nodded. She stroked Jo's hair.

Through the haze of her euphoria, several thoughts began to nag at Jo.

"Babe?"

"Yes, darling?"

"I should be really, really pissed at you, shouldn't I?"

"Yes. But you aren't – are you?"

"No. I'm not. Even though this is a huge, life-changing thing. And you should have consulted me."

"I should have," Blair said. "But I know how much you've always wanted a child. And if it didn't work … If I got your hopes up …"

"I understand."

"You do?"

"I really do, babe. You were ready to take the secret bullet of disappointment for our team."

"Well … that sounds a little more butch and James Bondish than I would put it, but … yes."

"My other question, babe – who's the father?"

"The father?"

"Yeah. You know – as in it takes two to tango?"

"Jo!" Blair actually sounded a little shocked. "You don't think I actually, that I, that I would –"

Jo laughed. "No, your worshipfulness. I do not think that my lesbian wife had sexual congress with a man. But, always remembering that I suck at biology, even I know that you don't get a bun in the oven without some guy's little guys."

"Someday that will be possible," Blair said. "It's called parthenogenesis. Doctor Tikrit explained it to me. Two female eggs combine, somehow, without any male material, and create an offspring. It's like something out of your science fiction movies. Plants do it."

"Oh … kaaaaaay," Jo said, drawing out the word. "But since we're not in a science fiction movie, and we aren't plants – who's the father? That's the part I really would've liked to have some say in, babe."

"I know. I know. And I thought really hard about that before I decided to go through with it."

"And what did you decide? Was there, I mean, was it like a catalog or something? Like the Neiman Marcus wish book of awesome sperm? Only royals and geniuses and Fortune 500 CEOs need donate?"

Blair laughed. "You're such a goof, darling."

"Can't argue that. But it's a serious question, babe. I know you're the unchallenged queen of catalog shopping, so I'm sure you made a great choice, but what kind of dad did you choose?"

"I don't know who he is," said Blair. "It was a sort of catalog. What I did … I matched it as close as I could. He's in his forties. He's of Polish and Italian extraction. He has dark hair and blue-green eyes. He's healthy. He's an athlete. He likes to fix things. He has a high IQ and attended an Ivy League university. He's a leader; I know you were half-kidding, but according to his profile he is the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And he's kind. He was in the Peace Corps for several years. He's very active in children's charities."

Jo nodded. She swallowed around the lump in her throat, and realized her eyes were welling up. "Well. I can tell you gave a lot of thought to this, babe."

"I did, Jo. I really did."

"Odds are, the baby's gonna have a lot of stuff like me," Jo said huskily. She squeezed Blair's hand. "Thank you, babe. That was really … thank you."

"I haven't told you the best part," said Blair. Her voice was throaty; she sounded a little choked up herself. "I haven't told you the donor's favorite movie."

Jo laughed and sniffled at the same time. "You're kidding! Not … Really?"

"I wish I were kidding," said Blair. "But I thought maybe it won't be the end of the world if our child has some of your dorky sensibilities."

"'Star Wars' – for real? His favorite movie is 'Star Wars'?"

"And," Blair shuddered delicately, "he was vice president of the 'Star Wars' fan club at his school."

Jo threw her arms around Blair and hugged her fiercely. "Thank you, babe! Thank you!"

"It only seemed right," Blair said.

"That you would … that you'd do that for me … It shows you love me, babe, all of me …"

"Well of course I do, Jo! The good, the bad … All of you, darling."

Jo stroked Blair's stomach reverently. "The ultrasound's tomorrow?"

"Yes."

"I can't freaking wait. We're gonna see it. Her. Him. Him or her. And when is it due?"

"Tentatively? May first, 2012."

"May first – May Day," Jo said, nodding. "I like that. It's like new beginnings and all that."

Blair leaned her forehead against Jo's. "We're going to be parents, Jo."

"Christ! It's like a miracle. I mean, literally. This doctor, he says you're gonna be safe? Our baby's gonna be safe?"

"There are never any guarantees, Jo – but he believes we'll be fine."

"Well I've got to shake this doctor's hand, give him a cigar! Son of a bitch! We're gonna be parents, Blair!"

Jo carried Blair to the bedroom, where they both collapsed, winded, Jo from carrying Blair, Blair from hanging on so tightly to Jo.

"That was the end of that," Blair said decisively. "No more carrying me. You're going to pull a muscle, or you're going to drop us."

"Say that again," beamed Jo.

"'That was the end of that?'"

"No. 'You're going to drop us.' 'Us'. Babe, you're, you're two people now. And we're three people. We're a family!"

Blair smiled indulgently. "Yes, darling."

Jo's so happy. Thank God! She's so happy, and I'm so happy …

Blair closed her eyes. "Jo, I think I'm going to take a nap. I'm a little bit tired."

"Of course. Whatever you need, Blair." Jo pulled the coverlet up, almost smothering her wife. "Oops. Sorry. OK. How about that?"

"You know what would be very helpful?" Blair asked patiently. "If you could make a reservation for us tonight."

"Of course! We should celebrate! Where do you want to eat?"

"Wherever you like, darling. Some place nice."

"You don't …" Jo hesitated. "You don't want us to invite anyone else tonight, do you?"

"No." Blair shook her head. "Tonight is for us. Don't you think?"

"Yes. I agree." Jo kissed her wife. "Tonight is for us – the three of us."


Late September, 2011. Manhattan's Upper East Side.

"Tell me a story, Mom," said Syd.

Natalie drew the covers up under his chin. She snapped off the lamp on his bedside table. The cool blue glow of his moon nightlight suffused the room. Syd was ten but still afraid of the dark. Natalie knew, clinically, that she should take his nightlight away, make him tough it out; but somehow she couldn't' bear to do it, not yet. He'll grow out of it. And it's better if he grows out of it on his own …

Nat smoothed his unruly brown curls back from his forehead.

"Go to sleep, Syd. You have that math test tomorrow."

"Aw, I'm not tired," he said. He yawned hugely. "C'mon. Tell me about when you and Dad."

"When we got married?"

"Nah. Way back. The story when you first, first met him. When you were Brenda's age."

"I was a little bit older than your sister when I met him," Natalie corrected. "Although I was a lot more naïve than Brenda is. We were all more naïve back then. We grew up slower. We didn't have ShowTime and HBO and YouTube to teach us the facts of life."

"Brenda says it was boring back then and everyone was square."

"Oh she does, does she?" Natalie asked grimly.

"Uh-huh."

"Were you square, Mom?"

Nat laughed. "Ha! I guess I was. Yeah. I was really square, until I met your father. He blew into my life like a breath of fresh air. No … A tornado. A typhoon!"

Syd nestled closer to his mother. He half-closed his eyes. He looked so sweet, Natalie thought, like a little cherub. She still couldn't believe how different her children were, such polar opposites. Syd was more like her – bright, hungry to learn, slightly neurotic, funny, civilized. Brenda was her father all over – restless, intuitive, rebellious, always, somehow, a little wild and untamed.

Natalie glanced around Syd's room. On his desk stood the battered old typewriter she'd used when she was at Eastland, back when she planned to be a journalist and she was managing editor of the Eastland Gazette.

On a peg on Syd's wall hung the big white Panama hat that had once belonged to Hemingway; he had forgotten it at Duchess Uxbridge's palazzo in Florence one summer, and half a century later, the Duchess had left it to Natalie …

"Did you love Dad right away?" asked Syd.

Natalie laughed. "No!"

"Did you ever think you'd marry him and have kids like Brenda and me?"

"No. Not for a long time."

"Dad was really cool – right?"

"Yes." Natalie nodded. "Your father was very cool. Cool enough for ten guys. That was the first thing I noticed about him."

"Did you like his tattoos?"

Natalie considered that question. Had she liked his tattoos when she first saw him?

"Yes," she told her son, "and no. Your father and his tattoos were a little much for a well-bred Jewish girl from the Upper East Side."

"Dad says you were kind of uptight."

"Does he now?"

"But don't tell him I told you that," Syd said hastily.

"I won't." But I might just crack him with a frying pan, Natalie thought grimly.

"Dad says he saved you when you were stranded," Syd continued. "He said he was like the white knight, and you were the damsel-in-distress."

"Well. Huhn." Natalie smiled. Maybe she wouldn't crack her husband with a frying pan after all. 'Damsel-in-distress.' She and Tootie had been in distress. New York City's "Trial of the Decade" – so the New York Comet had dubbed it – was about to start, with Mona Green as plaintiff, and Natalie and Tootie had borrowed Alec's little blue coupe to drive into the city.

The coupe had stalled on the edge of Manhattan, in a particularly dicey neighborhood, and Natalie and Tootie had two dollars and thirteen cents between them.

"If this were 'It Happened One Night'," Tootie had said, "we could get a car to stop by flashing our legs. But my legs are too skinny, and your legs are too fat, and let's face it: neither of us is Claudette Colbert!"

"O ye of little faith," Natalie had countered. "This is New York City. There are millions of men driving into this city every day. One of them will like your skinny little bird legs, or my big turkey legs."

"Maybe," Tootie had said dubiously. "Let's just hope he's not another 'Son of Sam'!"

Syd interrupted his mother's story. "Why didn't you just call someone on your cell phone?"

"We didn't have cell phones back then, Syd."

"That must have been crazy. How did you function, Mom?"

"People functioned just fine – well, except if their car broke down in a bad neighborhood."

"Were you scared?"

"Me? Neurotic Natalie Green? I was terrified! That's why I was willing to show some ankle to get a ride!"

"And Dad stopped his truck."

"Dad stopped his truck," Natalie agreed. "His eighteen-wheeler."

"What was he hauling?"

"You know what? I don't remember. We'll have to ask him. But I do remember it was the biggest darn truck I'd ever seen. And he had this long, long hair. You'd never find a Bates boy with hair that long! And he hadn't shaved in a couple days, and he had this denim vest and all those tattoos."

"But you got in his truck."

"Aunt Tootie and I were quaking in our penny loafers! But yes, we got in. Which, by the way, kid – 'Don't try this at home'. We shouldn't have done that, and I don't ever want to hear that you took a ride with a stranger."

Syd rolled his eyes. "Mom," he complained. 'It's not like I'm five years old. I would never take a ride with a stranger. You and Aunt Tootie were crazy."

"It's funny," said Tootie. "There was something in his eyes. Something … dreamy."

"Ick!" said Syd.

"Well, mister, you asked me to tell the story," said Natalie. "Your Dad had dreamy eyes. They were … warm. Somehow even though he looked like he was on the lam from somewhere, I knew we'd be safe with him."

"And he drove you to the courthouse."

"Yeah. But, more important, he parked his truck and then he got us into the courtroom. It was a madhouse, all the reporters and the news trucks and the security guards. Even though I was Mona Green's granddaughter, I think I would've ended up stuck on the curb outside. But your Dad was better than ten bodyguards. I grabbed one arm and Tootie grabbed the other and he walked us through that crowd like Moses parting the Red Sea. No one messes with your father. One look at him and everyone just melted away and let us through."

"Dad kind of has the effect," Syd agreed.

"The thing about your father that I knew right away," said Nat, "was that he wasn't a loser. The man knew who he was, and what he wanted, and how to get what he wanted."

"Did you date a lot of losers before Dad?"

"Are you kidding? When I was at Eastland? Hundreds of them!"

"But Dad was different, huh?"

"He sure was! 'Different' is the word."

"Did he ask you out right away?"

"That," said Natalie, glancing at the clock on Syd's nightstand, "is a story for another night."

"Aw, c'mon."

Natalie ruffled her son's hair. "Another night," she repeated. She kissed his forehead. "Now get some rest. I want you to ace that math test."

"I will, Mom."

And he would, she knew. Syd was the scholar. Now with Brenda … if they didn't get a call that Brenda had lit the classroom trash can on fire, that was a good day, never mind how Brenda did on the test, or if Brenda even took the test at all …

Natalie was in the living room with her feet up on the coffee table and a bottle of Michelob and a mildly trashy romance novel when the phone rang.

She hated Michelob but it reminded her of her husband when he was on the road. And she should have been reading Manning Marable's "Malcolm X" for her book club. But it had been a week of back-to-back surgeries; she was tired and missing her husband and just wanted to sink temporarily into a world of pirates and princes and damsels-in-distress.

Natalie let the phone ring a couple of times. Probably another telemarketer! But it could be Snake. Or it could be Brenda. Or the police calling to tell her Brenda needed bail money, Natalie thought darkly. She took a sip of Michelob, made a face, and lifted the receiver.

"Green-Robinson residence, Dr. Green speaking."

"Natalie, when are you going to get Caller ID?" asked Tootie.

Natalie sighed. She could always tell when Tootie was in a mood.

"Tootie, you know that's one of my weird cheap things. Why am I going to pay extra to see who's calling when I can just pick up the phone and find out?"

"But how do you screen your calls?"

"I don't need to screen my calls. I'm not superstar Dorothy Ramsey. I'm plain old Dr. Natalie Green, thank you very much."

Tootie sighed. "Lexi's being impossible."

"How's she settling in?"

"Did you not hear what I just said? Do you need me to define 'impossible'?"

"What is she doing?"

"She paces up and down. She's in her room, then she's out of her room. She cooks herself all this food and then she doesn't eat it. She channel surfs and never actually stops at a show."

"She just sounds bored," said Natalie.

"That's what she told me! She's bored. She wants to go out. Out, Natalie!"

"Well, the kid's twenty-two. Let her go out."

"So she can do what – crash her motorcycle again?" Tootie demanded, outraged.

Natalie sighed. She took another sip of Michelob and grimaced at the taste. "I thought Hellraiser was totaled."

"Jo had it rebuilt. Thank you very much, Senator Buttinsky Polniaczek! It was delivered yesterday."

"Did Lexi ever tell you why?" Natalie asked curiously. "I mean, why she was speeding like that when she crashed?"

"Lexi doesn't tell me anything, except that I'm crowding her and I'm too protective and that I don't understand her!"

"Well, she's got a point."

"Natalie!"

"Hey, soul sister, if you think I'm going to start candy-coating it after thirty-something years, you haven't been paying attention."

"So I'm a horrible mother. Great! Let's call the 'National Enquirer'."

"You're not a horrible mother, Tootie. But you don't understand Lexi, and you do smother her when you're around her. It's like you're trying to make up for all the time you're on the road. And then you have to dramatize everything, and of course, Lexi dramatizes everything too, and frankly I can't understand how you two haven't killed each other yet."

"What kind of pep talk is this?" Tootie demanded.

"It's not a pep talk; it's straight talk. But if you want a pep talk, try this on for size: Lexi loves you and you love her and it's all going to work out if you give her some space."

Tootie sniffled at the other end of the line. She blew her nose.

"We're like oil and water," said Tootie.

"No, you're like oil and oil," Natalie corrected. "You and Lexi are two very big personalities and neither of you like sharing the stage. Frankly it's a good thing that you're both workaholics. It doesn't hurt you to go off and do your own things. You appreciate each other more when you do see each other."

"She wants to go on tour," said Tootie. "Her managers want her to – of course! All they see is dollar signs. But I don't think she's ready."

"Tootie – you're never going to think she's ready. You're her mother. Lexi was in a coma for six months. We still don't know exactly how she came out of the coma or why she's not vegetative. Right now all you want to do is lock her up and keep her safe. But that's just not how Lexi is wired."

"But so many things can happen on the road! It's so exhausting to tour. She could collapse on stage. The tour bus could crash. And there are always drugs on the road – always! You can't get away from them."

"Since when has Lexi done drugs?"

"Since never. But there's always that temptation. It'll be there."

"Look, Ramsey, you've got to pull it together. I'm not saying it's easy but Lexi's a grown woman and she seems to have recovered and you've got to let her live her life. Don't get all neurotic."

"Neurotic? Natalie Green is telling me not to get neurotic?"

Natalie laughed. "That should tell you something about the state you're whipping yourself into!"

Tootie sniffled again. "I guess maybe I'm being a little bit over-the-top."

"That's all I'm saying. Relax a little bit. Let Lexi do what she feels she needs to do."

"Great. She goes out tonight, and I'll sit around climbing the walls until she decides to come home!"

"Why don't you come over here?" asked Natalie. "Syd's asleep, Brenda's probably out knocking over a liquor store and Snake's on a long-haul. I could use the company."

"Yeah?"

"Of course. You know mi casa is su casa. Even though mi casa could actually fit into su casa about twenty times over."

"Do you have Oreos?"

"Please! Do we have Oreos? This family is founded on the principle of always having Oreos in the cupboard!"

"All right. All right, I'll tell Lexi she should go out and then I'll have my car pick me up. I'll be there in about an hour."

"Take your time. I'm right in the middle of 'Bride of the Pirate'. Countess Bianca's ship was just captured."

"Huhn. I think Lifetime's developing a movie based on that book."

"On this book?"

"I think that's the book. I'm reading for the countess' mother."

"Tootie, my dear friend, you don't want to touch this claptrap with a ten-foot pole."

"The script was kind of interesting. And, to be honest, offers have sort of dwindled since I went off the grid."

"Well you're back on the grid now, Tootie! I'll let you read some of the book and judge for yourself."

"Thanks, Nat."

"Hey, if I don't have your back, who does? Am I right?"

"You're right, Green. You're right. I'll see you in an hour."

"Great! I'll pop the Jiffy Pop ..."

Natalie sat for a moment, thinking way back to the little kid on roller skates who had made Natalie laugh so hard that chocolate milk squirted out of her nose. That was the moment, Tootie always said, when she knew she was meant to be an entertainer.

Hang in there, kid, thought Natalie. You and Lexi are going to figure this out.


Late September, 2011. Manhattan Memorial Hospital.

"Wow," breathed Jo. "Wow, wow, holy wow!"

She watched in awe as the doctor slowly drew the 3D ultrasound device over the sticky gel that coated Blair's belly; onscreen an amber 3D image materialized.

"That's our kid?" Jo asked excitedly. "That kind of orange blob thing there?"

The doctor nodded.

"Where's the head?"

"There." The doctor pointed. "And that," she moved her finger marginally, "is the heart."

"And it looks OK?"

The doctor nodded.

Jo squeezed Blair's hand.

"It's OK, Blair. The kid's OK."

"Yes, darling," Blair said gently. "I heard Doctor Faline."

"And what is that thing?" asked Jo, pointing. "Is that the butt?"

Blair rolled her eyes.

"That's the yolk sack," said Doctor Faline. "That," she moved her finger, "is the tail bone."

"Can we get printouts?" asked Jo. "And a DVD?"

"Darling," said Blair, "this isn't a Fotomat."

"Actually we will be giving you several stills," said the doctor. "And we can email you images as well."

"Modern technology." Jo shook her head. "Gotta love it. Gotta love it."

"Because of Bishop Polniaczek's past injury we'll be doing more 2D and 3D scans than we would with a typical pregnancy," the doctor explained. "If you'd like, we can send you stills and digital images at every stage that we capture. You'll have an ongoing prenatal scrap book."

"Gotta love it!" Jo said again, beaming. "We've got to email the kid's picture to everybody, Blair! Mrs. G, and Nat, and Tootie, and Alec and Jack, and Portia and Gerald, and my Ma – "

"Now let's just take a deep breath," said Blair. "We need to coordinate this. How are we going to announce this? And when are we going to announce it? And who do we tell first? We have to do this thoughtfully."

"Babe, I just want to run up to the top of the hospital and shout it across the rooftops of New York!"

"OK. Very good. I'll coordinate the announcements."

Jo stared at the ultrasound image, fascinated. "Are you sure that's not the butt?" she asked Doctor Faline.

"Reasonably sure, Senator," the doctor said politely.

"And is it a boy or a girl?" asked Jo.

"We won't be able to tell that definitively until after the twentieth week of pregnancy."

"Fair enough," said Jo nodding. "Fair enough. But, like, how about a ballpark guess? If we were talking Vegas odds?"

Blair sighed. "Please excuse my wife, doctor. She's just a little bit insane today."

Doctor Faline smiled. "Believe me, Bishop Polniaczek, the Senator isn't asking anything that most new parents don't ask."

"You're very kind, doctor," said Blair.

There was a discrete tapping at the door and a moment later it was opened by a lovely young woman with gorgeous mocha skin and a bun of glossy dark hair. She was about thirty; in her perfectly tailored grey suit Jo's chief-of-staff exuded efficiency from her sensible heels to her minimalist makeup.

Just past her, two of Jo's dark-suited security staffers stood like statues flanking the door.

"Senator," said the young woman, "the Speaker of House is on the line."

"Paramita, you can tell the Speaker of the House to kiss my ass. I'm becoming a mother here!"

"Jo," Blair said reproachfully.

"I don't want to talk to that jackass right now," said Jo, still staring at the screen. "I'm getting acquainted with our kid."

Paramita looked at Blair, and lifted her eyebrows interrogatively.

"Tell the Speaker that Senator Polniaczek is indisposed," said Blair, "and that she'll call him in a few minutes."

"Thank you," said Paramita. She stepped back into the hallway, closing the door behind her.

"It's perfect," said Jo, grinning at the image of their child. "It looks kind of like you, babe."

Blair regarded the tiny orange blob onscreen. "Hmm. I'll take that as a compliment."

"Let me show you another angle," said Doctor Faline, finger skating over a touch pad on the console. The image shifted. "This is a front view," said the doctor.

"Is that … Oh my God, is that the eye?" asked Jo, awe-struck.

"The eyes are closed," said the doctor, "but that's one eyelid. And that," she pointed, "is the other."

"So that must be the forehead. Son of a gun!" said Jo. "What a brain! The kid has our brains, babe."

Blair smiled.

I love seeing Jo like this. It's been … I don't think I've seen her like this since the wedding …

Another tap at the door. Paramita popped her head and shoulders into the room.

"I'm sorry, Senator, but the Speaker is insisting."

"Has nuclear war broken out? Cause anything short of that –"

"Take it, darling," said Blair. "The baby isn't going anywhere for awhile. I promise we'll be here after you take the call. And I hope you know that when you're saying things like 'jackass' and 'nuclear war' those sound waves are going right through my belly and into our child's ears."

"Technically," said the doctor, "the ears are still developing. It's very early days."

"But the principle," said Blair, looking hard at Jo, "remains."

Jo sighed. "For crying out – all right, I'll take it, I'll take it."

Jo stepped into the hall with Paramita.

Blair smiled up at Doctor Faline.

"Can I see that first angle again?" Blair asked.

"Of course." Once again the doctor's finger glided over the touch pad. "There."

Blair took a deep breath as she gazed at her child. Their child. Growing inside her, so petite and perfect.

Hello, little person, she thought. We've been wanting you for a long, long time. I hope you're ready for an adventure … Because that's what you're going to get!

… After Jo finished talking with the Speaker of the House, she called Mrs. Garrett. The elderly woman picked up after several rings.

"Hey, Mrs. G," Jo said joyfully. "I've got something to tell you. I can't actually tell you yet; I have to wait until Blair and I can tell you together. But I want you to start packing a suitcase, if you can. We need you, Mrs. G. We need you here in the city …"

The End

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