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The Ramada
By Fayne


"Come on, Mrs. Garrett, this is such an amazing opportunity. You have to let me do it."

"Have to? Tootie, I don't think so. Do you really think your parents would be on board with me letting their sixteen year old daughter work as a lounge singer at the Tarrytown Ramada Inn for a week?"

"They will if you say it's OK. They trust you implicitly," Tootie assured the red-headed matron.

"Well that's nice of you to say," Mrs. Garrett replied, "But I'm just not sure. They do serve liquor. Would it be safe?"

"I wouldn't touch a drop. I promise," Tootie declared.

"That goes without saying, Miss Ramsey," Mrs. Garrett said sternly. "I was talking about the patrons."

"Oh come on, Mrs. G.," Jo Polniaczek interjected. "You know Mrs. Rysdale, the manager. She wouldn't let anything happen. And her husband is a cop."

"I suppose," Edna mused. "And it would be fun to see Tootie perform her cabaret act in front of paying customers."

"I know," Tootie agreed breathlessly. "What a story. Starting out at Iroquois Lounge at the Tarrytown Ramada, conveniently located off Exit 9 of the New York State Thruway," she added, repeating the billboard's motto. "A modest venue, where I struggle to make meal money until one day a Broadway producer whose car has broken down comes in for a drink and… the rest is history."

"All right Miss A Star is Born. I'll consider it on one condition," Mrs. Garrett stated.

"What's that?"

"You hire Jo as your accompanist."

"What?" Jo sputtered.

"It's the perfect solution, Jo," Mrs. Garrett replied. "You can make some extra money, show off your impressive piano playing skills and keep an eye on our little diva here."

"That's a fabulous idea!" Tootie cried. "Oh Jo, won't this be great. We'll be such a team. Oh my gosh, you can sing too. We can do a duet just like Paul McCartney and Stevie…"

"Tootie, I'll commit hari kari before I sing 'Ebony and Ivory' with you," Jo warned.

"Whatever," Tootie smiled. "But promise me you'll let me say "Play it again, Jo."

"Oh Jeez. Mrs. G? Do I really have to do this?" Jo implored.

"You'll have fun Jo. Consider it your contribution to the arts. You'll be helping launch a legendary career," Mrs. Garrett declared.

"Yeah. The Ramada cocktails napkins could be worth a fortune someday," Tootie fantasized.

"Oh, all right," Jo agreed reluctantly. "I guess it couldn't hurt. But you have to get me the sheet music for your set, Tootie. I need to practice."

"You know how to sight read music?" Tootie queried.

"Well, duh."

Tootie shook her head. "Such hidden talents, Jo. You never cease to amaze me."

Mrs. Garrett was secretly pleased. She often worried about Jo during school breaks. While the other girls went off to family vacations or trips with friends, the Bronx native was usually stuck in Peekskill, trying to pick up a little cash by working extra hours in the gourmet shop or taking on other odd jobs. It would be good for her to get out and break up the drudgery. It was just lucky that Tootie had spent the weeks before the mid-winter break doing a special musical theater workshop at the Peekskill Community Playhouse and had caught the eye of Mrs. Rysdale, the Ramada manager. Mrs. Rysdale was impressed enough to offer Tootie a job filling in for the regular singer, who was on vacation.

"I'm just sorry the other girls won't be here to see this," Mrs. Garrett said. Natalie was in Florida with her mother and grandmother and Blair was off with some of the Gammas, skiing in Vermont.

"We'll videotape it," Tootie announced. "Part of the historical archive."

"I think you need a career before you can have a career museum, Tootie," Jo pointed out.

"Details, details," Tootie laughed.

"That number really punched up the set, don't you think?" Tootie asked her accompanist, as they were sitting around the empty Iroquois Lounge, after their show.

"I suppose," Jo conceded. She had gone along with Tootie's desire to put in a few current pop hits in the repertoire to go along with the old standards and show tunes, but had put her foot down at 'Like A Virgin', telling Tootie that Mrs. G. would have a heart attack. They had compromised on 'Holiday'. It had gone over well.

"It was wonderful, Dorothy," the woman wiping down the bar interjected.

"Thanks, Cherie," Tootie grinned. "It was a pretty good audience."

"Yeah, those accountants at IBM really know how to par-tay," the bartender, Cherie Thompson, an athletic looking woman in her late-thirties with short reddish-brown hair, replied with a chuckle. "So are you girls spending the night or heading back to Edna's?" The Ramada had provided Tootie and Jo with a room for the duration of the engagement. Mrs. Rysdale hadn't wanted them to have to make the thirty minute drive back to Peekskill in bad weather.

"I don't know Jo. What do you think? I don't mind staying here tonight," Tootie said.

"That's OK by me. I am pretty beat and the roads are icing up," Jo replied.

"Great. I'll go call Mrs. Garrett from the room. See you later, Cherie." Tootie departed.

"So Jo, do you want a nightcap? You're legal, right?" Cherie asked

"Yeah. Until they raise the drinking age like they're threatening. I could do with a beer. Thanks."

"Sure. I'll join you."

Jo climbed onto the barstool and sipped her brew. Cherie looked at her thoughtfully.

"That Dorothy, Tootie, whatever. She's a sweet kid," the bartender said.

"Yes, she is," Jo replied with a smile.

"A lot cuter than Harry the Hairpiece," Cherie noted, referring to the vacationing Harry Grimaldi, the hotel's usual attraction, an aging lounge singer with a bad wig. "She's talented too. Anyway, I like the way you look after her." On the few occasions when a customer had made a comment or song suggestion to Tootie that Jo felt was inappropriate, that customer had received a little Bronx-accented- talking- to at the break. There were no repeat incidents.

"She's my friend. I look after my friends," Jo declared.

"I bet you do." Cherie placed her hand over Jo's and squeezed meaningfully. "I wouldn't mind being your friend, Jo."

An odd combination of heat and chill flowed through Jo's body. She gulped. "Um. Sure. I mean. I'm not sure what you mean."

Cheri laughed. "Don't freak out, Jo. It's just that I've seen you a few times at the Purple Rooster on Route 9. I figured that you were family, if you get my drift."

Jo looked around anxiously. "You saw me there?"

"Yeah. Don't look so shocked. It is one of the few gay bars in the area. You tend to run into people."

"Listen, Cherie," Jo said earnestly. "I mean I admit I've gone there a couple of times, but no one knows about it. It's just something I do on my own sometimes. I haven't told my friends or anything."

"So Dorothy doesn't know?"

"No! God! Please don't mention it," Jo pleaded. "She would freak."

"Jo, will you relax? I'm not in the habit of outing people. Although from what I've seen, I'm guessing that Dorothy would be pretty accepting. She's devoted to you, I can tell."

"Well, I just don't want to complicate things. OK? I mean Tootie is just a kid."

"She's sixteen. Old enough," Cherie stated dryly.

"Wait a minute; you didn't think there was anything going on between Tootie and me, did you?" Jo asked, appalled.

"No, no, of course not. I've heard the way she talks about her boyfriend. And I can also tell that you aren't the type to seduce high school students. You're better off with someone more mature," Cherie added with a wink.

Jo blushed. "Um, you know... It's not like I don't still date guys. It's just that I've gone to the Rooster a few times. I mean, I was curious, I guess. I mean…."

The bartender chuckled. "I understand Jo. Don't worry about it. Your secret is safe with me; even if you aren't quite sure there is a secret."

Jo calmed a little and took another sip of her beer. "You must think I'm a coward. Keeping this all hidden."

"Hey, I'm not one to judge. I was married to a man for sixteen years before I found my way. Anyway, I don't want to make you uncomfortable. If you want to go out sometime, just let me know. If not, that's OK too. We can still be buddies."

Jo felt a mixture of trepidation and excitement. She had friends, great friends who were her life, but this was different. Someone she could open up to. Someone who offered possibilities other than unrequited yearning. "You know, I think I would like that," she said.

"Good." Cherie smiled broadly. "What do you say we go celebrate after your last show on Saturday?"

"OK. It's a date," Jo agreed, amazing herself. A date--with a woman--wow.

Jo opened the door of the hotel room and nodded to Tootie, who was lying in one of the two double beds, watching Carson.

"You should get some sleep, Tootie. You don't want to get sick."

"Thanks, Mom,"

Jo gave her a look. "I just want to make sure you don't lose your voice. We have two more nights, you know."

"As a professional, I am well aware of our schedule," Tootie said aloofly. She then giggled, "It's been fun, though, hasn't it?"

"Yeah, it actually has," Jo conceded.

"You know what I've liked best about it?"

"That Lou the bellhop has become your obsessive fan?"

"No, although his poems are sort of flattering. No, what I've liked best is that you and I have had a chance to spend some time together," Tootie stated.

"Tootie," Jo scoffed, "we've slept four feet apart from each other for the last five years. We work together. We eat together. We share a bathroom. We aren't exactly strangers."

"I know. But you know how things break down. It's usually Nat and me, which is great, and you and Blair, which is frightening, and then you and Nat have a bond because you are both so funny and smart and Blair and I have a connection because she has always been really kind to me, so it's sort of unusual for just you and me to hang together."

Jo pondered this. "You think I'm funny and smart?"

"Yes Jo, I do."

"You think Blair is kind?"

"I know she is."

"Cherie hasn't been slipping you cocktails, has she?"

"Oh, stop," Tootie laughed. "You know what I mean."

"Well Tootie, I've enjoyed this little interlude too," Jo said, as she went off to brush her teeth.

"So you wouldn't mind if this became a permanent gig."

Jo froze. "What!?"

Tootie smiled. "Don't look so horrified. Mrs. Rysdale said we could have the job if we wanted but I turned her down. We both have too much to do with school and the shop and all."

"That's very mature of you. I'm sort of surprised you could walk away from the glamorous life of the Iroquois Lounge. "

"Well, I would feel bad for Harry the Hairpiece. He has three kids and his wife has been sick, so he needs this more than me."

Jo looked at her. "Blair isn't the only one who's kind, Tootie."

Jo swept her hands across the keys in a flourish, drawing a smile from Tootie as she held the last note of "New York, New York." The crowd applauded. "Thank you," Tootie said. "Just a short break and we'll be back in a few."

"You're particularly frisky tonight, Jo," Tootie noted as they went to the bar to get some water.

"Well, it's our final show; we want to go out with a bang, don't we?"

"We sure do."

There was a commotion at the door of the lounge. A group of college students singing fight songs came in and planted themselves noisily at a table along the wall. Jo eyed them warily. There were three thick-necked frat boys and one woman bundled up in a designer parka and a cashmere scarf.

"Obnoxious preppies," Cherie declared. "Deciding to slum it for a night. "

"Yeah," Jo agreed, watching as the woman unwrapped her scarf and turned to one of the others for help getting out of her tight down coat. Blair?!? Her eyes widened as a dark haired frat boy pulled off the parka and proceeded to nuzzle the blonde's neck. What the…?

"Is that Blair?" Tootie exclaimed. "What is she doing here? Who's that guy? Whoa, what is he doing?" Blair's companion had her in a lip lock, causing his friends to hoot and cheer. Surprisingly, Blair didn't seem to mind.

Jo had seen enough. "Stay here, Tootie," she ordered. She strode up to the group. "Excuse me."

Blair looked up at the familiar, if chilly, tones. "Jo, you're here."

"Yeah, I'm here Blair. And so is Tootie. And so is this guy who is sucking your face. I don't think I caught your name, by the way," Jo turned to Blair's date with a glare.

"Mike. Could you get us three Michelobs and a margarita for the lovely lady?"

"I'll be sure to get right on that," Jo said sarcastically.

"No, silly," Blair interjected. "Jo's not a waitress. You aren't, are you?" she asked a little woozily.

Jo looked at her roommate with concern. She was acting even ditsier than usual. Her face was flushed and her eyes seemed artificially bright.

"Hi Blair." Tootie, ignoring Jo's directive, ran up to the group and gave her friend a hug. "I'm so glad you came to see us. Jo and I are the entertainment," she informed the rest of the party.

One of Mike's friends looked Tootie and Jo over appraisingly. "Entertainment, huh? Nice."

Jo turned and grabbed the speaker by his lapels. "Hey, buddy, what are you implying?"

Tootie intervened. "Now Jo, don't threaten the customers. C'mon, we have to get back."

"Just a sec." Jo dropped her grip from Mike's friend and turned to the blonde. "So Blair, how did you get here? I thought you were in Vermont."

"I was, but Mike and the rest of the Sigma Nu boys offered to chauffeur me back to Langley. How could I decline?" she giggled.

"How indeed?" proffered Mike.

"This isn't Langley," Jo pointed out.

"When I called Mrs. Garrett yesterday, she told me what you and Tootie were doing. I wanted to see my roomies perform. Mike and the boys agreed to be my escort." The last word was slightly slurred.

"Escort huh?" Jo eyed Mike darkly.

"Yeah, escort," he replied with a challenging grin.

"Jo, will you come on," Tootie urged.

"Oh all right." Jo stopped off by the bar on her way back to the piano. "Cherie, let me know if those guys drink too much. That woman is our roommate. I don't want her getting into a car with them if they're trashed."

"Will do," Cherie agreed.

To Jo's credit she managed to get through the set, even though increasingly distracted by the goings-on at Blair's table. There was one moment, when she saw Blair kissing one of Mike's other friends, when she did lose it, forcing Tootie to scat-sing in the middle of 'What I Did for Love.' Finally, though, she pounded out the last chords of their finale, jumped up from piano and headed to the bar.

"Well that was quite a final number," Cherie remarked. 'I've never heard 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' performed quite so, what's the word, angrily, before."

"Yeah, Jo," Tootie interjected as she joined them after taking her bow. "What was up with that? Your arrangement sounded like the Sex Pistols."

"Sorry," Jo muttered.

"It's OK," Tootie said. "I went with it. Judy Garland goes punk. Sort of interesting."

"Well, Jo. I'll be off shift in a few minutes and then we can go," Cherie declared.

"Yeah. Uh Tootie, Cherie and I are going to shoot some pool down the road. That's OK by you isn't it? You'll be all right? Mrs. Rysdale said she would pay for a taxi back to Peekskill if you want to go home."

"It's no problem. Have fun. I'm staying over, anyway. Lou wants to show me the tribute video he made of me. Don't worry," Tootie said, stopping Jo's protest. "Mrs. Rysdale will be there, too."

Jo looked over at Blair's table. The group seemed to be getting ready to leave.

"Cherie, how much did those guys drink?"

"I kept track. Only a beer a piece. And one margarita for your friend. Although it sure looks like she has been downing them," she noted, as Blair staggered into one of her companions. "She's a friendly girl, isn't she?" Cherie added, watching Blair fall onto Mike's neck

"No, no she's not. Not friendly like that," Jo exclaimed, agitated. "That's what's so weird. Blair doesn't normally do this kind of stuff. She's a tease, I admit, but nothing like this. Something is wrong."

Jo strode over to her roommate. "You're leaving, Blair? Without saying goodbye? What, you aren't even going to tell Tootie how well she did?"

"Jo. It's nice to see you. So, so, nice. Are you going to the party?" Blair mumbled.

Jo was now really worried. "Blair, do you know where you are?"

"Sigma Nu. I'm going to Sigma Nu."

"You sure are, honey," Mike declared. "C'mon lets go to the party."

Jo stepped up. "I don't think so." She looked into Blair's eyes. The green and gold flecks were gone, replaced by a black void. "What did you give her, you bastards?" she snarled.

"What are you talking about?" Mike asked.

"What was it fuckwads? GMH? Roofies? I was in a gang, you creeps. I know all about slipping things into women's drinks. They don't remember anything. They let you do what you want and don't remember anything. What? You can't get a date with anyone sober?"

"Fuck you, we're going."

"Not with Blair, you aren't."

"Says who?"

"Says me."

"Let me talk to the manager," Mike demanded.

"Sure. That would be Mrs. Rysdale. The wife of Officer Rysdale. Of the Tarrytown Police. I'm sure he will be happy to come over here and talk to Miss Warner. Maybe give her a blood test. Trust me boys. It won't turn out well for you."

Jo beckoned to Tootie, who came running. "Tootie, Blair isn't feeling well. I think she should stay here with us. Could you ask Lou to get her bags from their car?"

"Right," Tootie said. Lou immediately materialized.

Mike looked like he was about to protest but the stony faces of Jo, Tootie, and Lou, who was quite a large man, convinced him otherwise. "Fine," he said. "She's a frigid snob anyway." He and his buddies left, followed by Tootie and the bellhop.

Jo sat Blair down on a banquette. "Blair, just sit here. I'll take you to your room in a sec."

"OK Jo. Is Mrs. Garrett here? I think she might get mad at me," Blair uttered worriedly.

"No she's not here. Just relax. I'll be right back."

"OK Jo."

Jo went back to the bar. "Cherie, I'm sorry. I need to stay here with Blair. I think she's been slipped a mickey."

"All right Jo. I understand." Cherie sighed resignedly.

"Do you? I mean she's my roommate. I can't just abandon her."

"Jo, I do understand, but let me just say one thing. I saw the way you looked at her during the show. But if she's straight, and by what I was saw tonight, she is, you will never really have her. OK? I've been there. You will never have her. I know that's tough to hear, but that's the way it is."

Jo closed her eyes. "I know," she said softly.

The look on Jo's face made Cherie wince in sympathy. "Hey, maybe I'm wrong about her. Anyway, it's all too dramatic for me. If you want something a little more casual, here's my number." Cherie wrote it out on a napkin and gave it to Jo. "Give me a call sometime."

"Cherie, I really did want to go out with you tonight."

"It's all right. As you said, you take care of your friends." Cherie reached under the bar and pulled out a bottle. "Listen, here's some ipecac syrup. It might be good for her to get rid of the stuff in her stomach."

"Thanks." Jo turned away and went back to Blair, who was sprawled, with uncharacteristic sloppiness, across the banquette.

"OK Warner, let's get you out of here." Jo lifted her to her feet and they staggered out of the lounge and down the hall to Jo and Tootie's room.

"Are we going to the party? I'm supposed to go to the party," Blair slurred insistently.

"Sure. It'll be great."

"Do I look OK? I think I should redo my hair."

"It's fine." Amazing. Drugged and nearly comatose, she's still worried about her coiffure, Jo thought. She's going to be checking her mascara on her deathbed.

Jo opened the room door and brought Blair over to the bed where she promptly collapsed. Jo poured some ipecac syrup into a glass of water. "C'mon Blair sit up. Here, drink this."

"All right." Blair sipped gingerly. "It isn't very good," she complained.

"So now you're particular about what you're drinking? It's a little late, don't ya think? Finish it; it's good for you." Blair obeyed.

Her expression changed. "I don't feel very well."

"I know; come on, let's hit the john." Jo helped Blair to the toilet and held her hair while Blair emptied the contents of her stomach into the bowl. The blonde started to cry. "I hate throwing up. It's so undignified," she sniffed. Not as undignified as date rape, Jo thought.

"You'll be glad you did it. You'll feel a lot better in the morning." Jo assured her. "Now let's wash your face and get you to bed." Jo cleaned her up and gave her some mouthwash and then led her back to the bedroom where Tootie had arrived with Blair's bags.

"Is she OK?" Tootie inquired with concern, looking at the blonde, who had fallen back on the bed, groaning.

"She will be. Can you get me her nightgown?" Tootie rummaged through the bags and emerged with a frilly, floor-length concoction of white lace.

"She took that on a ski trip?" Jo laughed. "Marie Antoinette hits the slopes. Give it here." Jo managed to get her roommate out of her street clothes and into the nightgown. She pulled back the covers and guided Blair under the sheets.

"Do you think she needs a doctor?" Tootie asked.

"No. She'll sleep it off. Just like you did that time you drank all that French wine."

"Don't remind me. But I've never seen Blair so drunk."

"It's more than booze, Tootie. Those guys drugged her."

"You're kidding. You mean they were going to…" Tootie trailed off, too shocked to put it into words.

"Take her back to the frat and have at it, I guess. It's a good lesson for you, Tootie. Don't ever take a drink from strangers. And if you go to a party, always bring along someone you trust."

"Like you?"

"Like me or Nat or any of your buddies. Just be careful."

"OK, I will," Tootie vowed. As she and Jo got ready for bed, she asked, "Do you want to share with me?"

"That's all right. I want to keep an eye on her. Move over Warner." Jo pushed the muttering Blair over to one side and crawled in beside her. The unconscious roommate immediately turned over and nestled her head against Jo's shoulder. Jo sighed. "Sleep well, blondie," she murmured, lightly rubbing Blair's back.

Tootie turned out the light. "Goodnight Jo."

"Hey Tootie," Jo said into the darkness. "I don't think we need to bother Mrs. G. or Natalie with this. It would really embarrass Blair."

"You don't usually mind embarrassing Blair."

"Not with something like this. This is too serious."

"OK. I'll keep my mouth shut. She's lucky to have you as a friend, Jo. We all are."

It was a quiet group that headed back to Peekskill the next morning. Jo was driving and Blair was in the passenger seat, pale and subdued. Tootie, wedged in the back of the Volkswagen, finally piped up, "So Blair do you want to tell us what…"

She caught Jo's eye in the rearview mirror and saw the subtle shake of her head.

"Tell you what, Tootie?" Blair replied.

"Tell us what the snow was like," Tootie recovered quickly.

"It was good."

"Oh. That's nice." Silence reigned the rest of the trip.

A few days later, after Natalie returned from Florida and classes started, the four girls and Mrs. Garrett were gathered around the VCR watching Lou's video: 'Birth of a Legend: Dorothy Ramsey at the Ramada, February 1985.'

"Well, Lou's narration is a little over the top," Natalie remarked, "but I have to say you guys were really good. I wish I could have seen it live."

"Thanks, Nat," Tootie said. "We may still do an occasional gig or two. Right, Jo?"

"Maybe. Occasional being the operative word. I'm going to make some popcorn. Any takers?"

"You bet," Mrs. Garrett replied.

Jo went into the kitchen. Blair followed her.

"I could probably get you and Tootie a job at Delta Phi's cocktail reception," Blair said.

"A frat party, Blair? You can't be serious."

Blair sighed. "Jo, I haven't wanted to talk about it but I'm really grateful to you. I mean I could have been in a lot of trouble. So here." She handed Jo an envelope.

"What's this?" Jo opened it up. "Wow, two Joan Jett tickets! That's great."

"Yeah. She's playing at Vassar next Saturday. I know you like her. You can take a friend."

Jo hesitated but took the plunge. "Um, would you like to go?"

"I don't know Jo; she really isn't my taste."

"Of course not," Jo said quickly, covering up her embarrassment.

"But I would have liked to have gone with you, except I have a date that night. Reggie Simpson. He's a Delta." Catching Jo's look, Blair added, "It's a respectable and high class frat, Jo. Not low–lifes like the Sigma Nus. That was my mistake, consorting with third-tier Greeks."

"If you say so."

"Anyway, don't worry. We're going to Antoine's. The sommelier will pour the wine so there's no opportunity for Reggie to spike my drink."

"I'm glad you think this is funny, Blair," Jo said bitterly.

"I don't think it's funny at all. But I can't go around thinking that every guy is out for date rape. I have to get back on the horse, otherwise….."

"Otherwise what?"

"Otherwise I'll never find that special someone."

She's right in front of you, you airbrain. Why can't you see that? Jo nearly spoke her thought aloud.

"Anyway, enjoy the concert," Blair said.

"Thanks, although you didn't have to do this."

"Hey, I owe you."

Jo smiled. "Someone once told me that you owe the gas company, you owe Bloomingdales, you don't owe your friends."

"Did someone really?" Blair grinned and chucked Jo on the shoulder. "They were very wise." She turned and went back to the living room to join the others.

Jo stood still for a moment and then dialed the phone on the kitchen wall. "Hey Cherie? It's Jo. Listen, do you think you could get off Saturday? I have tickets to Joan Jett. Yeah that's right. I love Rock 'N Roll. Great. I'll meet you at the Rooster and we can go from there. Yeah, I'm looking forward to it too. So, how ya been…" Jo held the phone close, and, as Blair's laughter rang from the other room, pressed her finger to her ear to block out the sound.

The End

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