DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended.
SERIES: Part of the Post Peekskill Series; sequel to The Celebrity
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Blair Warner looked around the conference table. "The next item on the agenda is the community garden program. Ann, would you like to give us the update."
"Thank you. Well the interest has been very gratifying, particularly in some of the lower income areas "
"Excuse me, Ms. Warner." Blair's assistant Cesar entered the room and walked over to her. "I'm sorry to trouble you," he spoke softly into Blair's ear, "but there's an Inspector Samuels here to see you. He says it's important."
It was like a sucker punch to the stomach. The spasm of fear stopped Blair's breath and nearly doubled her over. It's come; it's finally come, she thought. Somehow she managed to stand up and speak to her staff. "Excuse me. I have to see about this. Let's pick it up tomorrow." She followed Cesar down the hallway and into her office, where she saw Jo's boss, short and unprepossessing as ever, looking at her grimly. Cesar left, closing the door behind him. "Just tell me," Blair said.
To his credit, Inspector Samuels knew enough to cut to the chase. "Blair, she's alive, seriously hurt, but still alive."
Blair, to her own surprise and embarrassment, simply fell to her knees. Inspector Samuels, again to his credit, knelt down with her and grabbed her hands. "Did you hear me? Jo's alive and they're doing all they can to keep her that way. Do you understand?"
Blair nodded but didn't get up. "What happened?" she got out.
Inspector Samuels took a breath. "She's been working for the past few months with the FBI to infiltrate a human trafficking ring. She was with the suspects in a tenement in Brooklyn this afternoon. We think someone tipped them off that Jo was a cop." He stopped.
Blair asked quietly. "What did they do to her; what did they do to Jo?"
"Blair," Inspector Samuels tightened his grip on her hands. "They threw her off the roof."
"What are the odds?" Jo asked of the hospital ceiling. "What are the odds that someone falls six stories twice in a lifetime and survives? Am I lucky or what?" She giggled slightly. The painkiller was kicking in.
"The really lucky ones don't fall in the first place," the nurse, a slender African American man, commented.
"A point, you have a point. Why is it called a point, by the way? Why not a circle or triangle? Good triangle, people could say." Jo giggled again.
Thank the lord for Percocet, the nurse thought. "All right Lieutenant, just try to relax. The doctor says everything seems pretty stable for the moment."
"Relax. I couldn't be more relaxed. 'Relax, don't do it,'" she sang in a hoarse voice. "Who did that -- Frankie Goes to Hollywood? Why did he go to Hollywood? Frankie goes to the Bronx. That would be better."
The nurse rolled his eyes. "OK Lieutenant, if you say so. Oh look, you have a visitor."
"Yo babe," Jo said cheerily.
Blair regarded her partner, lying in bed among the IV tubes, with her neck and one leg in braces, and torso bandaged to the hilt. Her face was mottled with cuts and bruises. "Jo."
Blair's expression wiped the silly grin off of Jo's face. "Hey, don't look like that, I'll be OK. I landed in a trash dumpster. Pretty fitting, huh?"
Blair, determined not to lose it, asked, "Was it a least a recyclable bin?"
"It must have been. I got recycled, didn't I?"
"Yes, my darling, you did. God only knows how." She leaned over and kissed Jo on the corner of her swollen lip.
"That's all right. It was worth it. Oh, hi Rach."
Blair stood up quickly as a short, intense looking woman with a mane of dark red frizzy hair entered the room and approached Jo's bed.
"Hello, I'm Dr. Levine. Let's just see how New York's finest is holding up," she said, forcing Blair to move aside. "How'ya doing Jo Po?" Blair's eyebrows rose. Jo Po?
"Not bad, all things considered."
"Good. Next time take the stairs, why don't you." Dr. Levine briefly caressed Jo's forehead. Blair's eyebrows rose another notch.
"So, it's Blair isn't it?" the physician asked
"Yes, how did you know?"
"Well apart from the emergency contact form, our little hero here has mentioned your name quite a few times."
"In a good way I hope," Blair said.
"For the most part," Dr. Levine replied with a thin smile. She turned to her patient. "Try to get some rest, Jo. I want to bring Blair up to date."
"Righto Rachel. See ya later Princess," Jo murmured, closing her eyes.
Blair and the doctor went into the hall.
"Well, Blair, here are the highlights, or lowlights would be more accurate. She had lost a lot of blood and it was touch and go for a while, but we got her stable. She smashed up her leg and cracked her collarbone. There are lacerations along her torso and we think some glass grazed a lung. There's evidence of internal bleeding but we can fix that when we go in."
"Yes, we're going to do surgery on the leg, repair the lung and just generally check things out. The good news is that there is no sign of head injury or paralysis. Assuming the surgery goes well, we're fairly hopeful that she'll recover."
"Fairly hopeful? That's the best you can do?" Blair asked, blinking back some tears.
"She fell six stories. She should be dead. Hopeful is nothing to sneeze at. Oh, and in case you were concerned, all the cuts on her face should heal without scar," Dr. Levine added.
Blair looked at the doctor quizzically. "That would seem to be the very least of our worries."
"I agree. I just thought .."
"Well Jo once told me that you were particularly troubled by facial scars."
Blair grimaced. "Well, that was when I was stupid. It couldn't matter less. Wait a minute, Jo once told you. Do we know you? Who are you?"
"Jo never mentioned me? Interesting. We go way back."
"Way back? Excuse me, I've been sleeping in the same room with Jo since she was fifteen. That's going way back," Blair declared, with some irritation.
"I suppose," Dr. Levine replied. "But I knew Jo when she first joined the force and I was a resident at St Luke's. I don't think you were around much then," she added, a little smugly.
"Perhaps not," Blair admitted.
"Yes, Jo and I were involved for a time, but we decided we were better off as friends. I tell you, it was a shock when they brought her in today."
"You know, lovers," Dr. Levine crisply explained.
Blair was staggered. She closed her eyes. She would deal with that little piece of news later. "So are you going to perform the operation? Is that wise, being so personally interested and all? Perhaps I should call our doctor to get a second opinion."
"Dr. Bates, the chief of surgery, will be heading up the operation. Dr. Willis, the head of orthopedics will be doing her leg," Dr. Levine replied curtly. "She has the best medical team in New York. That's what we do for police officers hurt in the line of duty. But you're welcome to second guess with some fancy Park Avenue pill pusher if you want. Don't delay too long, though. We need to move quickly."
Quelling a sudden desire to slap the doctor's face, Blair took a breath. "In fact I have heard of Dr. Willis. You have my permission to proceed," she announced.
Dr. Levine looked at her. "You're pissed off, aren't you?"
"Hardly," Blair replied haughtily.
The frizzy-haired woman grinned. "I'm glad you're mad. Jo always said you got off on being mad at her. She would much rather have you angry than terrified. Don't worry. We'll get her through this." Dr Levine patted her on the shoulder and left.
Blair stared after her. "You better make sure of that," she called out. In a softer voice she added, "Jo has to recover so I can kill her myself."
Blair was sitting in the visitor's lounge, mechanically and unseeingly flipping the pages of an out of date Vogue, when the door to the room burst open.
"Oh god, Blair! How is she? Are you OK? Do you want us to call anyone? What can we do?"
Blair stood up. "Tootie, calm down." She gave her friend a gentle hug. "We don't need another patient, do we? She's in surgery now. She's pretty banged up but nothing that won't heal, they think."
Tootie, nearly eight months pregnant and very round, breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you Jesus." Aided by Natalie, she sank onto the couch.
Natalie came over and embraced Blair tightly. "So do they know what happened?"
"Natalie, they threw her off a roof," Blair said, voice breaking a little.
Natalie winced. "Ouch." After a moment she added, "I knew Jo hated elevators but this is ridiculous."
"Natalie!" Blair and Tootie both cried.
"Sorry, sorry. You know it's a defense mechanism. Sorry. "
"Have you talked to Jo's parents?" Tootie asked Blair, giving Nat a glare.
"Rose is visiting relatives in Sicily. She is trying to get a flight to New York but may not get out until tomorrow. Charlie is fishing in Mexico but we've left messages to call. Mother is in France and Daddy is in Asia. I told them to hold off coming back until we know more. So, for right now, Jo only has the three of us."
"Her family," Natalie stated firmly, grasping Blair's shoulders.
"Her family," Blair agreed.
The door to the lounge opened again and Dr. Levine entered to confront three anxious faces. She smiled. "You must be the Musketeers, or was it Mouseketeers, I always got confused. Anyway, good news. The surgery went well and Jo's in the recovery room. You're going to want to talk to Dr. Willis about rehab on the leg, but things are looking pretty good. That Jo Po is one tough cookie."
"Jo Po?" Natalie queried. "Musketeers? Who are you?"
"That's what I wanted to know," Blair exclaimed, vindicated.
"I'm Dr. Rachel Levine. I was the ER physician on duty when they brought her in. And, last but not least, I'm Jo's ex girlfriend."
Natalie recoiled in shock. "You're kidding!"
"Nope. You have a problem with that?" Dr. Levine asked.
"No, no. No problem. Wow, a Jewish doctor. My mother's dream," Natalie mused.
Blair gave an annoyed cough.
"Guys," Tootie interrupted. "Didn't you hear her? Jo got through the surgery. Isn't that wonderful?"
"Yeah, wonderful. So, how did you two meet? How long were you together? Did she move in?" Natalie pressed.
"Natalie, please," Blair muttered.
Dr. Levine chuckled. "I think I'll take the Fifth on that. Jo can give you the details if she wants. Go ahead and check up on her, although she will be pretty out of it, but then I would suggest you all go home and get some rest. Particularly you, mom," she added, pointing to Tootie. "What, another month to go?"
"Six weeks," Tootie replied with a grin.
"Nice. Looks like he or she will be a strapper. "
"We know it's a girl," Tootie admitted shyly.
"Well that's just great. Mazel Tov. OK I have to run. I'll send in Dr. Willis when he's free." She left the room.
"Well, well, well. Jo's ex, who knew?" Natalie wondered.
"I certainly didn't," Blair declared coldly.
"She seems really nice," Tootie pointed out.
Natalie laughed. "Oh Jo, please wake up soon," she said aloud to the room. "We have so, so much to talk about."
"Look at what the Mayor's office sent. Isn't it beautiful?" The nurse gushed.
Jo eyed the elaborate bouquet. "I'd rather have them spend the money on the pension fund," she said.
"Oh Lieutenant, don't be a kill joy. It's gorgeous."
"I guess." Jo shifted in her bed. Her bandages itched and her leg ached. She sighed. At least, her head was clearer. Her memories of the last twenty four hours were a little jumbled. She remembered her dread as the gang had grabbed her and dragged her to the edge of the roof. She remembered struggling but still trying to get them to talk because she was wearing the wire. She winced at the memory of the fall and the pain. Then things got really blurry. For some reason she had seen Rachel Levine's face. Boy, that was a blast from the past. Where had she pulled that up from? She remembered Blair giving her a kiss and vaguely recalled Natalie and Tootie coming into the hospital room after the operation. Jo closed her eyes in an effort to bring it all back. Blair? Rachel? Jo's eyes flew open and the dread returned. Uh oh.
There was a commotion at the door of her room as a procession that looked like the Parade of Roses appeared. Three more gigantic flower arrangements entered, staggered to the window sill and dropped down to reveal Blair, Natalie and Tootie.
"Hey Tootie, you shouldn't be carrying that," Jo rasped.
Tootie started. "Jo, you're awake!"
"Awake and a little more aware. Hi guys. Good to see you."
The four former Eastlanders looked at each other. Lips trembled and eyes moistened.
Natalie swallowed. "Good to see you too, Jo."
"All right, no mush," Jo ordered. "How you holding up, Blondie?" she inquired of Blair. "I have a vague recollection of talking to you earlier. You kissed me."
"So I did," Blair said.
"Would you mind doing it again?"
"Uh, Blair, did you talk to any of my doctors?" Jo asked warily.
"Of course, Jo. I had a long consult with Dr. Willis about your leg and collarbone. I talked to Dr. Bates about your internal injuries. I even talked to the NYPD psychologist about the post traumatic stress syndrome you're likely to suffer. The bottom line is that you'll be in the hospital for about ten days and then you need to go somewhere where you can rest and heal."
"Can't I just go home?" Jo inquired. Maybe the Rachel thing was a dream, she thought hopefully to herself.
"Well they suggested that you get out of the City to avoid the media. And it's August so it will be hot and sticky. It would do you good to get away. Somewhere by the sea, I think," Blair declared.
"That actually sounds pretty nice," Jo admitted.
"It sure does," Tootie agreed. "I'm envious. I'll be sitting like an overheated watermelon in New Jersey, and I can't even take it out on Jeff because he's going to Australia for three weeks."
"He's leaving you in your condition?" Natalie objected.
"I can't get too mad. After all, he is taking four months of paternity leave when the baby is born. The University really wants him to deliver a paper at this conference before he goes. He'll be back well before the due date."
"So you'll come with us, Tootie," Blair announced.
"Sure, if your doctor says it's OK," Blair replied. "I'll hire nurses and masseurs and cooks and cleaners. You won't have to lift a finger. You and Jo can just lie by the ocean and eat bon- bons."
"Uh, guys? I can probably get a few weeks off," Natalie interjected. "I have about two years of accumulated vacation. And CNN wants me to lay low for a while after the King of Swaziland incident."
The girls nodded knowingly.
"It wouldn't be the same without you, Nat," Blair opined. "Of course you're invited."
"This sounds great," Tootie exclaimed. "So where did you have in mind, Blair?"
"My fabulous summer house on the coast of Maine."
"What fabulous summer house on the coast of Maine?" Jo interjected. "I never knew about that."
"We all have our little secrets, Jo Po," Blair rejoined.
"You must be looking forward to getting out of here, Jo," Rose said.
"You have no idea, Ma. I've memorized the cracks on the hospital room ceiling. It's been a long ten days. Thanks for being around so much. Blair really needed the breaks. "
"How's she doing?"
"I don't know. I think this really upset her."
"Well duh, honey," Rose supplied.
"No, I don't mean just me getting hurt. I mean her running into Rachel. I've tried to talk to her about it but she says as it was clearly a confidence I wished to keep myself, she has no desire or inclination to intrude on my privacy, particularly in light of my fragile condition. She says it in this fake hoity- toity accent that makes me want to strangle her."
"Well, you two will work it out. The time in Maine sounds like it will be wonderful."
"Are you sure you don't want to come? Blair has hired a staff of about thirty. Nurses and physical therapists for me, a Lamaze coach for Tootie and some hot tennis pro for Nat. It'll be better than the Poconos."
"No thanks. I want to get home for a while. But if you need me, just call." Rose stroked Jo's cheek. "I sure am glad you're OK, baby."
"Thanks, Ma. Me too. Oh hey Nat," she said, greeting the new visitor.
"Hi Jo. Hi Mrs. Polniaczek."
"Natalie, after all these years, you can call me Rose."
"Force of habit, Mrs. P. My father's voice in my head won't ever let me call a parent of a friend by their first name. With him it was 'Dr. Greene' or die."
"Well all right then," Rose laughed. "I need to go pack. I'll come back and say goodbye on the way to the airport, honey."
"OK, see you later Ma."
Natalie looked around. "Is Blair here?" she whispered.
"No," Jo whispered back. "She's finalizing the van arrangements. Why the spy voice?"
"Because Blair said she would rip out my tongue if she caught me asking you about Rachel. And I like my tongue. I use it a lot."
"I'm sure you do. I was wondering why you've been so reticent."
"Well, you were fighting for your life and all. I didn't want to distract you," Natalie explained.
Jo smiled. "I appreciate it. But it isn't that juicy, Nat. It was right after I got out of the Academy. We met at a bar and hit it off. Our schedules were both nuts but we got together when we could. It lasted about six months. The split was amicable. Then we just fell out of touch. Nothing too dramatic."
"So why didn't you tell us?"
"Natalie, have you told us about every single ex you have?" Jo queried.
"The ones I can remember. Except for the King of Swaziland, but that was a national security thing."
"Right. Oh, I don't know. I think I just compartmentalized that year and put it aside in my mind. It was such a tough time for me. I was dealing with the divorce, the job, coming out, and I was missing you all so much. Rachel was one of the few bright spots."
"Well, if she helped you get through it, Jo, she's OK by me," Natalie declared. "Speak of the devil," she added, welcoming Dr. Levine as she entered the room.
"Hello Natalie. Hey Jo. I just came to say goodbye. I know you're being discharged tomorrow and I'm going on vacation too."
"Somewhere nice?" Jo inquired.
"I hope so; I'm boating with friends up the coast. Here's my card with my cell number and ship radio info. Get a hold of me if there are any problems."
"Will do. Listen, Rachel. Thanks for everything. It was really good to see you again."
"Same here. I'm just sorry it was under these circumstances." She leaned over and gave Jo a kiss on the cheek. "Take care of yourself, OK, Jo Po?" Dr. Levine left the room.
"She gives bedside manner a whole new meaning, doesn't she?" Natalie remarked.
"Nat, please. Don't add fuel to the fire. Blair is freaked out enough," Jo objected.
"Well it is sort of earth-shattering."
"Why? No one thought that anyone besides Blair could be interested in me?" Jo asked, insulted.
"Don't be ridiculous, Polniaczek; the list of men and women who had the hots for you is a mile long," Natalie declared. "No, it's the fact that you had a life outside the aquarium."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"You remember that aquarium in Mrs. Lucas's science class."
"Well I've always thought the four of us were like those fish in the tank, circling around that little ceramic castle," Natalie explained. "Keeping an eye on each other. Knowing where we were. Occasionally new life forms would be dropped into the mix-- husbands, baby sisters, handymen-- but the basic structure was always the same. Now we find out that you spent time outside the tank that we knew nothing about. As I say, it changes our view of the universe."
"Wow," Jo replied. "That's either very touching or incredibly creepy. I can't decide. Anyway, didn't you kill all of Mrs. Lucas's fish by overfeeding them one time?"
"A minor detail, Jo," Natalie sniffed. "The metaphor remains valid. "
"If you say so, Nat," Jo laughed.
"I can't believe Blair never brought us here before. This place is fantastic," Tootie commented to Jo, who was resting on the adjacent chaise, cast-encased leg stretched out before her.
"She said that her Uncle Simon used it most of the time," Jo explained. "He had house parties that were supposedly not suitable for Blair or her friends."
"Really! What? Loose women? Demon rum?" Tootie speculated.
"Tootie, it wasn't 1890. No, I think it was that Simon's friends were confirmed bachelors, if you know what I mean."
Tootie laughed. "Blair's parents didn't want her hanging around with gay men? Have they met her?"
"Well, Blair said that it was mostly her dad that disapproved. I mean, c'mon, you know that Monica is the biggest hag on earth. But give David credit; he's evolved," Jo conceded. She looked around. The place was beautiful, she had to admit. The property, called Warner's Neck, was basically an island, connected to the mainland by a one lane road across a narrow causeway. The house, a rambling, gray-shingled Victorian was set on a bluff with a spectacular view of the Atlantic. Uncle Simon had done some subtle modernizing like putting in a pool, by which Tootie and Jo were lounging, and a tennis court, where Natalie was taking a lesson. Despite these additions, the house reeked of old Down East charm.
Jo looked out across the pool area and down to the ocean. She espied the figures of Blair and Bella the dog in the distance, walking next to the oncoming waves. "OK, Tootie, this is the day," Jo announced. "I'm doing the stairs by myself."
"Are you sure, Jo? Let me call the nurse," Tootie said with concern.
"Please Tootie, don't rat on me. I can do it." Jo pulled herself up onto her crutches and headed towards the thirty wooden steps that led down to the beach.
With her pregnant friend looking on anxiously, Jo eased herself down the stairs. A nerve racking fifteen minutes later, she collapsed onto one of the wooden Adirondack chairs that faced the water. She grinned as Blair and Bella came running up to her.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Jo?" Blair asked angrily. "You shouldn't have come down the stairs by yourself."
"Hey, I did it, didn't I?" Jo stated proudly.
"It was a stupid risk," Blair spat out. "I'm going to get Billy to bring the wheelchair and take you back."
Jo grabbed Blair's wrist. "Blair, stop."
"Babe, I'm about to utter four words that you never imagined you would hear from me. We need to talk."
Blair froze. "What about?"
"About what you're feeling. About Rachel. About how angry you are that I got hurt. About how sorry I am that I put you through this. About how much I want to get better so that I can sleep with you again. About whether we should have baked potatoes or corn with the fish tonight. There's a lot on our agenda."
"Of course we'll have the corn. It's high season," Blair declared curtly. "As for your ex-girlfriend, there is really nothing to discuss. As I said, I have no desire to intrude on your privacy."
"Since when have you ever cared about my privacy?" Jo retorted. "You've been messing in my stuff for two decades. By the way, here in America, its priv-- rhymes with eye --acy, not priv-- rhymes with shiv-- acy. Who are you, Princess Margaret?"
"I hardly think I need to take elocution lessons from you, Miss Dems and Dose," Blair replied coolly.
Jo laughed. "Good. This is the first time in weeks you've insulted me. It's a hopeful sign."
Blair sighed. She sat down in the adjoining chair and poured some water from the bottle she had been carrying into a large shell which she gave to Bella. The dog lapped up the liquid and then curled up in the shade next to Jo's Adirondack, panting happily.
Jo looked at her partner. "Blair, I'm sorry I never told you about Rachel, but it shouldn't be that big a deal. It was a long time ago. It doesn't affect us at all."
Blair made a snuffling sound.
"I really don't know why you are so upset," Jo admitted.
"I'm jealous, you moron," Blair snapped.
"Jealous?" Jo repeated, dumbfounded. "I thought you said that Warner women never got jealous. That there was never any need. Something about how it was impossible for the sun to be jealous of Pluto's moon or some such drivel. What could you possibly be jealous about?"
"Well it certainly isn't her hair," Blair declared waspishly. "What? Did you two have matching rakes on the vanity table? No, it's because you could open up to her. You could tell her things."
"What on earth are you talking about?" Jo asked.
"You told her about my car accident, about the Musketeers. About how I like to get mad at you. You confided in her, Jo. You never confide in people, except maybe Nat, when you're both really drunk. Even after all of these years, I can barely get you to say two words. So of course I'm jealous."
"Oh. Is that it?" Jo smiled. "Do you know why Rachel and I broke up?"
"Since I didn't know she existed, I can scarcely be expected to know that, can I?" Blair inquired archly.
"It was a rhetorical question, Blair, go with it. We broke up because she was tired of dating both of us."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I did talk to her about you-- and Nat and Tootie-- but mostly you. And that was pretty much all I talked about. She got bored with it. She told me that I was like someone in exile pining for their motherland. She told me that I needed to go back-- to go home. So I did."
"Oh." There was a pause. "Well that's OK then. But there's one other thing that's driving me insane," Blair added.
"She saved your life."
"And that's a bad thing?" Jo asked, startled.
"No. But I could never do that. I mean she stopped you from bleeding to death. I've hired you a good masseur. It makes me feel inadequate. I don't like feeling inadequate."
OK, time for the big guns. "Blair, you don't have to know how to save my life. You are my life," Jo said.
Blair stopped at that. After a moment she managed to choke out, "I thought you said no mush."
"Desperate times call for " Jo trailed off, reached over and took Blair's hand, linking their fingers together.
They sat in silence for a while, looking at the sea.
"So," Blair finally piped up. "You're now able to negotiate stairs on those things," pointing to Jo's crutches.
"Do you think you could make it up to the second floor of the house?"
Jo grinned. "I could if I was motivated." Jo was sleeping in a converted hospital bed in the first floor study. The other bedrooms, including Blair's, were all upstairs.
"We would have to be very careful. We couldn't really do that much," Blair cautioned.
"I have a few ideas," Jo offered.
"Do you really? I'd like to hear them." Blair reclined back in her chair and closed her eyes.
Talking dirty with Blondie on the beach, Jo thought. Life doesn't get much better than this. "Cover your ears, Bella," she instructed.
The dog barked in response.
"Blair, if I ever called you selfish and mean when we were kids, which I deny I ever did, I take it all back. This little retreat you provided has been just great. Thanks so much," Natalie said sincerely. Blair, Natalie and Tootie were all sitting on the porch, enjoying the last of the twilight.
"You are very welcome, Nat. I think it has done us all a world of good," Blair replied.
"Hear, hear," Tootie added. "I can't believe this is our last night. I am looking forward to getting home and seeing Jeff and I'm really, really looking forward to the baby coming out, but I'm going to miss this place a lot."
"You'll come back Tootie, with your daughter," Blair assured her. "Have you decided on a name yet?"
"We went with Tisha for the first name. Both of our mothers are lobbying for the middle name, so we may have to go with something completely different to avoid family warfare."
"Tisha. That's beautiful. I can't wait to meet her," Blair said. "Jo, will you please sign off?" She called through the windows into the study. "Dinner is almost ready."
"Jo is really into that thing, isn't she?" Natalie remarked.
"She certainly is," Blair agreed. "She went ballistic when she found out that we didn't have cable TV and she couldn't get the Yankees games, so the short wave radio has been a godsend. She has developed this intimate relationship with some dirt bike racer in Tasmania."
"I wonder if she could get in touch with Swaziland," Natalie said wistfully.
"Are you still pining for the King?" Tootie asked reproachfully. "The man is a brutal dictator who lives in luxury while his people starve."
"I know, but he had a certain je ne sais quoi," Natalie admitted. "He offered me my weight in gold-- which would have been a lot better deal if I looked like I did in high school---but it was still a nice gesture."
"Well, maybe you'll see him again one day," Tootie proffered, ever-sympathetic.
"Probably not. The brutal dictator thing was a problem and none of his eleven wives cared for me that much. No, I need to move on." Natalie sighed. After a minute, she smiled. "Maybe I have time for one more tennis lesson with Mark before we leave. I can work on my return of serve, if you get my drift."
"That's the spirit, Nat," Tootie laughed.
Jo rolled onto the porch in her wheelchair. "Hey guys, we should make sure all the windows are closed. A pretty big storm is supposed to hit tonight. I was talking to Cape Cod and they said the winds were really strong."
"Our own little Willard Scott. Isn't she something?" Natalie put forth, lifting her glass of wine in tribute.
"Yes she is," Blair murmured under her breath, recalling the remarkable ingenuity Jo had showed during their 'nap' that afternoon.
"Yeah, yeah," Jo grumbled. "Come on, let's eat."
They entered the large and cheery kitchen. Blair, Tootie and Natalie transferred various pots and dishes to the table. Jo wheeled herself to the place setting at the end.
"I have to say, Blair, as much as I've enjoyed being waited on hand and foot these past couple of weeks, it is sort of nice that it's just the four of us making dinner on our last night," Natalie remarked, as she sat down.
"And it was really sweet of you to throw everyone a party," Tootie added. Blair had given the entire staff the night off and arranged for an appreciation dinner at a restaurant in the village on the mainland a few miles away from the house.
"Well, it's always important to keep up the servants' morale," Blair pronounced.
Jo snorted. "Excuse me, Czarina; you were once a 'servant' in a way."
"And that's why I know this, Polniaczek," Blair replied complacently.
Jo grinned. "Touché. Yum, linguini with fresh clams. I'm psyched," she announced, as she spooned a large portion onto her plate and dug in with enthusiasm.
Watching and listening to Jo slurp up the pasta, Blair was suddenly overcome. She could have lost this. Tears of gratitude sprang to her eyes and she tried to blink them away. Out of the blue, a handkerchief was discreetly slipped into her hand. She looked over at Natalie, who mouthed silently, 'I know '.
While Blair surreptitiously dabbed at her eyes, Natalie distracted Jo by asking, "So, Polniaczek, up for some more gin rummy tonight? You must have some spare change I haven't taken from you yet."
"You are on, Greene. Revenge will be sweet."
Mrs. Garrett's former charges finished dinner, did the dishes and retired to the living room. Jo and Nat sat at the card table. '"Do you want to play three handed?" Natalie asked Tootie.
"No thanks, I'm going to just lie on the couch and read. I shouldn't have had that third helping. I feel a little stuffed."
"Let me know if you need some Alka Seltzer," Blair offered, turning to her needlepoint. Bella jumped on the couch and lay down at the bottom of Tootie's feet. "Thanks, Bella," Tootie said, "my own personal hot water bottle."
The peace of the room was broken only by the sound of the wind and the rain and occasional chuckles from the card table. About an hour had passed when there was a sudden crack of thunder and the house went dark.
"Whoa. That was close," Natalie exclaimed.
"All right," Jo ordered, "Let's get out the flashlights and lanterns." The house was well-equipped for the power failures that occurred with some frequency. Blair and Natalie obeyed and soon the room was bathed in a pale yellow gas light.
"I should call the restaurant to see how the staff is doing," Blair stated, as she picked up the receiver. "Oh dear, the phone has been knocked out too."
"And our cells have never worked up here," Jo pointed out.
"Oooh. It is just like one of those slasher films, right Tootie?" Natalie grinned. When her friend didn't reply, she added, "Tootie, are you all right?"
Tootie looked at her with wide eyes. "Natalie, I think my water just broke."
"Two weeks! You aren't due for another two weeks! And how does water just break? Aren't you supposed to have some kind of warning?"
"Nat, stop yelling. I was feeling some pains but I didn't want to say anything," Tootie explained.
"You didn't want to say anything?" Natalie sputtered.
"I thought it was just indigestion and everyone looked so content. I didn't want to ruin the scene."
"Ruin the scene?!? Oh my god," Natalie cried. "You are unbelievable!"
"All right," Jo interjected. "Calm down everyone. Blair's getting the van and we should be in the hospital in Bar Harbor in a half an hour tops."
Blair, dressed in a hooded rain slicker, came through the door. "I'm afraid I have bad news," she announced. "That crack we heard was lightning hitting a tree that has fallen across the road. I can't get the van around. And even if we could, it looks like the causeway is flooded."
"Oh my," Tootie uttered.
"How about the boat?" Natalie asked nervously.
"Not in this weather," Jo replied.
Tootie doubled over in pain. "Ooh, I really think things are starting to happen."
"OK," Natalie declared breathlessly. "Don't panic. Jo's a cop New York City cops deliver babies in taxi cabs all of the time. Right Jo?"
"That would be taxi drivers. I've never delivered a baby."
"Then what the hell good are you?" Natalie yelled.
"Nat, chill. Everything will be all right," Jo assured her. "Let's put Tootie on my bed in the study. I have an idea."
Blair and Natalie helped Tootie to the bed while Jo wheeled herself to the short wave radio and turned on the battery power. She adjusted the frequency and spoke into the microphone. "Siren Song, Siren Song, this is Warner's neck. We have a Mayday, repeat, Mayday, over?"
"Who are you calling, the Coast Guard?" Blair inquired.
"No. I'm calling Rachel Levine's boat."
"This is no time for a jealous tiff, Blair," Jo declared. "We need someone who knows what she's doing to talk us through this. OK?"
Blair started to object and then looked at Tootie who was gasping on the bed. "OK."
The radio crackled. "Warner's Neck, this is Siren Song, what's the Mayday?"
"Rachel, it's Jo."
"Jo, are you all right?" Dr. Levine's voice came through the radio speakers with surprising clarity. "Did you reinjure your leg?"
"No, I'm fine. But we have a problem. We're stranded on an island, the power is out and Tootie is about to give birth."
"You ladies are like a bad TV movie," the voice remarked. "OK what do you need me to do?"
"Help us through it I guess," Jo replied. "She's two weeks early. Is that an issue?"
"It shouldn't be. She looked like she was further along than she said, so the baby probably developed fast," Rachel opined.
"Funny, that's what my doctor told me," Tootie interjected from the bed. "But I know the exact day when we conceived. It was a romantic weekend in Connecticut. It was at this wonderful inn. It was perfect," she smiled reminiscently.
"Um Tootie, is there any chance that you had sex two weeks earlier?" Natalie asked.
"Our usual pre-church Sunday morning quickie. No big deal," Tootie affirmed.
"You miscalculated the due date, you idiot," Natalie shouted. "Did you even open a biology book at Eastland?"
"Whoops," Tootie said apologetically.
"Never mind, Tootie, we'll deal," Jo stated calmly, giving Nat a look. "Natalie, you stay with Tootie and help her breathe. I'll be on the radio with Rachel and hold the lantern. Which means, Blair, that you're going to have to do the heavy lifting. Are you up to it?"
Aware that Rachel was listening, Blair quelled her panic and replied, "Of course. I was there when Bailey was born. I have experience."
"Good for you, babe. Rachel, can we give Tootie any of my painkillers?" Jo said to the radio.
"No, I don't want them," Tootie interrupted. "I don't want to take the risk that they'll hurt the baby. I'll just squeeze Nat really hard."
"Great," Natalie muttered.
"Safer not to," Dr. Levine agreed. "OK, Blair, are you able to boil water without the power? If so sterilize some rubber gloves and put them on. Natalie, try to time the contractions. Tootie, remember your breathing."
"Fuck!" Tootie suddenly blurted. Three jaws dropped. Bella, who had been lurking at the door of the room, dove under the couch.
"T-T-Tootie," Natalie whispered in awe. "You swore."
"What, only Jo's entitled? It hurt."
There was a flurry of activity as Blair and Jo got out the camp stove and boiled pots of water while Natalie and Tootie engaged in breathing exercises between periodic curses. Blair put on her sterilized gloves and positioned herself between Tootie's legs. Jo rolled up next to her, holding the lantern and the radio microphone.
"OK. Can you see how much she is dilated?" Rachel's voice asked.
"A lot," Blair reported. "In fact-- bring the light closer Jo-- I think I see the baby's head."
"Good, she's not breach, then," Rachel said. "All right, Tootie, time to push."
"Come on, roomie, you can do it," Natalie encouraged.
Tootie closed her eyes and strained with the effort. "Aggh," she cried crushing Natalie's hand.
Natalie winced but kept silent as she wiped her friend's brow.
"Do it again, Tootie. Little Tisha is anxious to get here, I can tell," Blair said. "Push!"
"Easy for you to say, Blair," Tootie gasped, as she took a deep breath and tried again.
"Here she comes!" Jo exclaimed. Blair put her hand under the baby's head. Tootie uttered a final shriek and the infant slipped out into Blair's arms.
"She's out," Jo cried. "What do we do?"
The voice from the radio replied, "Clear her mouth and nose of mucus. If she isn't breathing, give her a little pat on the back." Blair obeyed. Suddenly the child uttered a wail that rattled the windows of the room and sent Bella burrowing deeper under the couch.
"I guess she's breathing," Rachel said.
"She sure is!" Jo yelled. "We did it!"
"Wait a minute," Dr. Levine warned. "Watch out for the " The placenta shot out of Tootie and splattered onto Jo's lap.
"Yuck," Jo grimaced in disgust.
Blair stifled a laugh.
Rachel's voice continued, "OK you can cut the cord now. Tie it off first."
Blair held the baby while Jo performed the procedure and then tried to clear the mess off her wheelchair. "All right, Rach, now what?" Jo asked.
"Well count her fingers and toes and then give her to mom," the doctor directed.
"Here Tootie, here she is," Blair said placing the baby on Tootie's chest.
Tootie, eyes moist, cradled her daughter, whose cries subsided to contented murmurings as she nestled against her mother's breast. "Look at her Nat. Isn't she beautiful?"
"The most beautiful thing I have ever seen," an equally teary Natalie opined. "Welcome to the world kid. With the four of us in your life, it's going to be a wild ride."
The baby gurgled in agreement.
The storm had passed and the seas were calm when a small motor boat approached Warner's Neck, a little after dawn. The boat landed at the dock and a man got out carrying a black medical bag. He walked up to the house and knocked on the door. "Hello? Hello? Is everyone all right?"
The door opened and a handsome brunette woman on crutches appeared through the screen. "Keep it down will ya? They're trying to sleep."
"Sorry. I'm Dr. Goldman. I'm from the Bar Harbor Hospital. I'm a friend of Dr. Levine's. She called and asked me to check up on you."
"Hey, that was nice of you. Come on in. It's OK, Bella," she said to the tiny dog who was growling at him. "Don't mind her; she's just especially protective today. Follow me." He walked into a spacious study, where he saw two figures asleep on a pull out couch and a woman lying in a hospital bed nursing a baby, with skin the color of mocha.
"Hello," the nursing mother said in a friendly tone. "Who are you? Not a slasher, I hope?"
"No," the visitor replied with a chuckle. "I'm Dr. Aaron Goldman. I'm a post natal pediatric specialist or, as I like to say, a baby doctor. Dr. Levine said I should stop by to see how things were going. Do you mind?"
"Isn't that sweet? Sure go ahead." Dr. Goldman gently pried the baby away from Tootie's chest and put a stethoscope to her heart. The infant whimpered in protest. He proceeded to examine her as Jo and Tootie looked on. "Interesting diapers," he said, noticing the semi- obscene saying printed on the material.
"One of our friend Natalie's tee shirts," Jo explained. "It's a tradition."
"Well I have some in my bag if you need them. Everything looks just fine," Dr. Goldman announced. "And how are you doing?" he asked Tootie. "Any bleeding? Discomfort?"
"I've never felt better in my life," Tootie responded with a radiant smile.
"Good. What's her name?" Dr. Goldman asked.
"Tisha J. Johnson," Tootie said proudly.
"Wha? A voice from the couch murmured. "Who is that?"
"It's Dr. Aaron Goldman," Jo smirked to the figure under the covers. "I repeat, Doctor Aaron Goldman. He is about six two, blue eyes, curly brown hair, and no ring on his finger."
Natalie bolted upright. "That's not funny Jo; you're just being cruel. Oh, hi."
"Hello," Dr. Goldman replied, grinning. "Well I'm told the causeway is going to reopen soon, so help is on the way. I would say come by the hospital but I don't think there is any need. You really did a wonderful job, all of you. You should be proud. I have to get back but it was nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too," Natalie called from the couch, as Dr. Goldman left the room. She shook her head. "Was that a dream?"
Next to her, Blair stirred. "Umm good morning. What's going on? Is the baby OK?"
"You've been with Jo too long, Blair," Natalie declared. "An incredibly handsome and highly educated man was just here and you didn't even twitch."
"What?" Blair asked, confused.
"Never mind," Jo said. "Everything is fine. So it's 'Tisha J' is it?" she asked Tootie. "What's the J stand for?"
"Jonab," Tootie replied.
"Jonah, like the whale guy?" Jo queried.
"No, Jonab. Jo, Natalie, Blair. Jonab."
There was silence.
"I'm seeing some serious teasing in this child's future," Jo predicted.
"Nonsense Jo. It 's beautiful," Blair declaimed. "We are very touched. Thank you Tootie."
"Tisha Jonab. Well it doesn't just trip off the tongue, does it?" Natalie mused. "TJ, on the other hand. May I?" She held out her arms.
Tootie gave her the infant who stared at Natalie with wide-eyed interest.
"Hey TJ, it's your Aunt Nat. You and I are going to have such a good time. I'll sneak you candy when your mother isn't looking. Take you to movies your parents won't let you see. Tell you about the birds and the bees, because apparently Mom has some gaps in her knowledge. Romantic inn-- geez."
"And then when you are about fifteen, and can't stand the sight of her," Natalie continued, "you can run away and come live with me for a while until I convince you she isn't so bad. Doesn't that sound great, TJ?"
Tootie looked at her best friend holding her daughter and her throat tightened. "It sure does," she said softly. "But Nat," she added in a stronger tone. "I'm not going to let you stick her with a nickname she can't get rid of no matter how hard she tries. I've been there."
"Oh come on, Do-ro-thy," Nat urged, deliberately accentuating each syllable. "TJ is perfect. Pithy, easy to say, gender neutral-- which is always good for job applications-- and one other wonderful attribute."
"It can stand for Tootie Junior."
TJ's mother sighed in resignation.
"This will work. You and TJ, I mean Tisha, will be in the far back; Jo can stretch out in the second row with Bella's carrier and Natalie and I will be in the front, sharing the driving." Blair was overseeing the loading of the van for the eight hour trip back to New York. Once the causeway had opened and the phone service was restored, a worried house staff had descended, cleared away the tree, and delivered enough baby supplies for octuplets.
Tootie, with her baby nestled in a carrier on her chest, put her arm around Blair. "Isn't my daughter lucky? Less than 24 hours old and she gets to go on a road trip."
"We can stop as often as you like, Tootie; I've made reservations at hotels every 40 miles down the coast."
"Thanks, but I don't think we'll need them. I can tell that TJyes, TJ, why fight it?is anxious to get home and see her daddy."
"Were you able to contact Jeff?"
"No. His plane had already taken off from Sydney. It's a fourteen hour flight. We'll be home before he lands."
"And won't be he be surprised by the souvenir you're bringing back? A lot better than lobster shaped salt shakers," Natalie interjected.
"I'm just sorry Jeff missed it," Blair said sympathetically.
"He'll be a little disappointed," Tootie conceded. "He had this whole video production set up for the birth. But mostly he'll be happy and grateful that TJ and I are fine. Thanks to you guys."
"Anytime kiddo," Natalie proffered as she helped Tootie transfer the baby to the car seat, loaded Bella's carrier into the van, and got behind the wheel.
"Blair, can I talk to you a minute?" Jo called from the porch.
Blair joined her. "Yes?"
"Blair, I want to formally apologize for something insulting I said to you a long time ago," Jo announced.
"And which of the 875,000 of your insults would that be?" Blair inquired.
"I once said you were bad in a crisis. I couldn't have been more wrong. You were awesome last night. And not just last night. This whole month. You've taken care of me, Tootie, the baby, all of us, under some pretty stressful circumstances. I just wanted to let you know that I noticed."
Blair's hand flew to her chest. "Why Jo, I'm touched. Does this mean you're not going to call me air brain any more?"
"Let's not go overboard. Of course I will, but in a good way," Jo asserted, green eyes sparkling.
Blair smiled and gave her a kiss. "Well thank you. Shall we go?"
Blair helped Jo maneuver with her crutches into the back seat and then joined Natalie in the front. Natalie started the engine. "Are we ready to cruise, ladies?" she inquired.
"We sure are," Jo confirmed. "Crank up the tunes, Nat. Hey TJ," she called out to the seat behind her. "How's your doo-wap? You and Bella can do the harmony."
Excited squeals were the only reply.
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