DISCLAIMER: I don't own The Facts of Life or any of the characters represented in the show. They're owned by someone else who isn't me. No copyright infringement is implied/meant/deliberate in any way, shape or form, and no money is changing hands/no profit is being made, etc.
SEQUEL/SERIES: This story follows the events in You Take the Good, You Take the Bad, Who Watches The Watch Man? and A (Black and) Blue Christmas.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Del Robertson
"Jo?" Jo heard the voice behind her, didn't acknowledge it. "Jo - " the voice persisted. "Are you sure you're not coming down for the New Year's Eve party?"
Still, Jo didn't answer. She knew the party was tonight. Had seen the decorations being put up as she came into the house on her way in. Tootie had tried to enlist her help in hanging the Mardi Gras decor then, but Jo had waved her off, wearily retreating up the stairs.
She had taken up her customary position in the bedroom. At the north window, leaning against the frame, arms folded across her chest as she stared out. It had become a habit of hers, retreating to her little corner of the room, hibernating for hours. Natalie and Tootie would implore her to come down for dinner, but she steadfastly refused. Until, finally, Mrs. Garrett herself would come upstairs, carrying a plate with a sandwich or a bowl of soup or something else for her. Wordlessly, she'd leave Jo's dinner on the nightstand near the window, place a blanket over her shoulders, sometimes a kiss on her cheek, before retreating from the room again.
"Oh, give it up, Tootie! She's not going to answer you!" Natalie's eyes hurled daggers at her back. "She's been back from the hospital for three days and has hardly spoken a word to any of us! Maybe they should've checked her for brain damage while she was in there!"
Jo winced at the words, but refused to acknowledge Natalie's outburst. She had every right to be angry. Maybe they all did. But, she was afraid if she talked, she'd start crying and wouldn't be able to stop. She'd tried; That first night home with Mrs. Garrett. Natalie and Tootie hadn't arrived on the bus, yet. Mrs. Garrett hadn't said a word, just picked her up from the hospital and brought her straight home.
Down on the sofa, just the two of them in the dark. Mrs. Garrett had fixed Jo a blanket and pillow on the sofa, thinking she was still too weak to navigate the stairs. And, she'd made a makeshift bed for herself in the chair beside Jo. Mrs. Garrett fluffed her pillow, gave her some hot chocolate and pain meds, then sat down beside her. And, with that kindly red-haired lady with her matronly smile and her unobtrusive demeanor sitting on the sofa beside her, calmly sipping hot cocoa, Jo began her story.
Mrs. Garrett already knew about the Halloween dance. And, the mask. She knew that a nameless musketeer had saved Blair Warner from humiliation in front of the whole college that night. Had swept her off her feet, made her every fantasy come true, and ended the night with a single kiss. And, Mrs. Garrett also knew that mystery musketeer had been Jo.
Mrs. Garrett sat on the sofa, holding Jo's hands in hers as she related the events that unfolded after she'd left for her sister's house for Christmas. How Jo had come home and found the cards. How Blair's car wouldn't start. Blair running up the stairs to retrieve the extra helmet from beneath Jo's bed - and finding the mask.
"Oh, Jo!" Had been Mrs. Garrett's only response at that point.
That's when Jo found herself struggling with her story. She edited the fight, abbreviating the curse words - the kiss - the slap. She was afraid there were some things that even Mrs. G wouldn't be able to understand. She skipped over most of the drama, instead merely stating they had a fight.
She found the strength to tell Mrs. Garrett about leaving the house, taking off on her motorcycle to cool off. How she lost control on a slick curve. Waking up in a snowbank, then waking up again in the hospital.
That's when her words began to falter. She struggled to tell Mrs. G about waking up alone in the hospital room, surrounded by flowers and cards. In halting sentences, she told about how the nurse said Natalie and Tootie came to visit everyday until time for their buses back home for the holidays. It was when Mrs. G asked why she wasn't called and where was Blair that she completely lost the ability to speak.
The ache in her heart grew larger. A burning sensation overtook her vocal cords, paralyzing her, rendering her unable to form a single word. She felt the heat in her cheeks, her vision became blurry as moisture clouded her vision. She thought about showing the letter to Mrs. G, but her shaking hands refused to retrieve the crumpled paper from her pocket. And, as Mrs. Garrett sat on the sofa, holding Jo in her arms, rocking her against her upper body, she felt her heart shatter all over again.
Dimly, she heard Natalie stomp from the room. Normally a very understanding person, her patience had worn considerably thin at Jo's hermit-like behavior. She heard Tootie's feet shuffling on the floorboards with her approach, felt her arms go about her waist as she hugged her from behind. Her touch was gentle, mindful of Jo's broken ribs. As she felt Tootie's face against her upper back, her fingertips reflexively moved to stroke the backs of Tootie's hands.
"It's okay, Jo," she heard Tootie's soft voice, full of tears. "Natalie doesn't understand. But, I do. Not all of your hurts are visible, that's all."
Jo blinked hard, willing herself not to cry. She wanted to turn around, catch her young friend in a hug. But, she couldn't move. And, the lump in her throat made it impossible to speak.
Tootie gave one final squeeze. Jo winced at the pressure. "I'll leave you a Mardi Gras mask on your bed if you change your mind." She felt Tootie disentangle herself, shuffle across the room. She heard a slight pause, then the shuffling continued. Softly, Tootie closed the bedroom door behind her as she left.
Music wafted up from the party below. Jo heard the unmistakable voice of Prince, wailing out "Let's Party Like It's Nineteen-Ninety-Nine". She shook her head, still not believing that Mrs. G had agreed to let Natalie and Tootie throw a New Year's bash. Then again, she could believe it. Mrs. Garrett was always putting the girls before herself. Even when they didn't appreciate - or deserve - it.
Like now. She had come upstairs, softly knocked on the bedroom door before opening it. Jo heard Mrs. G set a china plate on the nightstand beside her. Felt a warm blanket wrap around her shoulders. Mrs. Garrett wrapped both arms about her shoulders, silently holding her as they both stared out the window.
She couldn't see anything; Jo knew that. The sun had set a full hour ago. Even Jo wasn't able to see anything but car headlights coming and going. Some of the cars slowed, pulled into the circular drive, momentarily hidden from view as they approached the house. Then, as they made the curve, she watched their taillights as they jockeyed for parking. Even the make and models of the vehicles were impossible to distinguish in the dim lighting. She had taken notice when a car with the TAXI light on top pulled into the drive. But, it had barely pulled into the circular drive before it made its way out again, red taillights going back down the street in the direction it had come.
Jo stared at her reflection in the glass. She was looking haggard, no doubt about it. She was wearing a pair of black sweatpants, an oversized t-shirt hung loosely on her frame. Baggy clothes fit better, disguised the bulk of her bandages. Her hair was down, falling over her shoulders. She'd stopped wearing it in a ponytail, lacking the energy necessary to do more than run a brush through her ebony mane. A rather nasty bruise had formed beneath her left eye. A bandage ran above her eyebrow, where the doctors had stitched closed a severe gash. A set of hollow, blue eyes stared backed at her.
What caught her attention, though, was Mrs. Garrett's reflection. The kindly woman was looking years past her age. New worry lines creased her brow. Her usually vibrant red hair had taken on a duller cast. A frown replaced her usual smile. Mrs. Garrett looked up, spotted Jo watching her in the glass.
"Stop torturing yourself, Jo," she whispered. "Come to the party."
"Will it make you happy?" asked Jo, her own voice barely more than a whisper. Mrs. Garrett nodded, a huge smile appearing on her face. "I'll - try."
"That's all I ask." Mrs. Garrett leaned in, planting a kiss on Jo's cheek. She released Jo, moving across the room. Jo thought she heard her humming beneath her breath as she left, purposely leaving the door open so Jo would hear the sounds of the revelers downstairs.
Sighing deeply, Jo turned away from the window. She couldn't see anything. And, she couldn't concentrate with the beating of the drums echoing throughout the house. Honestly, she didn't know how Mrs. Garrett could stand it. A New Year's Eve party in her own house. A party you just told her you'd attend, Jo reminded herself.
Her gaze fell on her bed, settling on her blue downy comforter. A brightly colored festive Mardi Gras mask lay on the comforter. Hesitantly, Jo reached out, picking up the mask. Fingertips ran through the feathers, idly stroking them. Her mind flashed back to the last mask she'd worn. Blair's voice echoed in her head.
"You somehow came along just when I needed you most. I just wish I could do something - give you something."
Jo's entire world had shut down at that moment. The blood was pounding in her ears. Her heart was galloping in her chest. She couldn't breathe. She wasn't even sure how she'd found the strength to move. But, she had. She'd taken Blair into her arms - and kissed her.
She'd kissed her once that night. But, she'd kissed her a thousand times before in her head. And, after that kiss, she'd dreamed about kissing her a hundred more times. Every night in her dreams, she revealed herself to Blair. And, upon seeing her true identity, Blair swooned in her arms, professing her undying, everlasting love.
However, Jo soon learned that her dreams didn't mirror reality. Her mind flashed back to what Blair really did when she discovered Jo's deception.
"What the Hell were you thinking? You made a fool of me! Took advantage of me!"
Jo rapidly blinked back the tears.
"I don't want to see you ever again!"
She slowly slid to the floor beside the bed, hugging the feathered mask to her chest.
"I don't like you. I'm not sure I can ever forgive you. I may not be back."
Jo curled up on the hardwood floor, one hand clutching at the downy comforter, clenching and unclenching the blue material in her grasp. Tears rolled unchecked down her face as she sobbed uncontrollably into the thick bedding.
Carefully, Jo picked her way down the stairs. She still wore her black sweats, but she had managed to slip a leather jacket over her baggy tee. The feathered mask gave her some anonymity as she joined the partygoers.
She was careful to not engage in any heavy conversations. She nodded politely as people smiled and waved at her. Natalie was in the middle of the room, the center of attention as she related her plans for her next epic adventure story for the school paper. Jo steered clear of the group, skirting the outside ring of the bodies circling her creative friend.
Tootie spotted her, waved her over. Reluctantly, Jo came to stand by her side. She was dressed to the nines, wearing a festive vest over a bright red silk blouse. Her Mardi Gras mask sported bright red and green feathers that blended with her outfit.
Thankfully, Tootie was glad just for her presence. She didn't demand Jo join in the conversation she was having with her drama group. She seemed pleased just to have Jo nearby, one arm wrapped protectively around the brunette's waist. If Tootie's friends considered her behavior odd, they had the courtesy not to comment on it.
Mrs. Garrett's face lit up as soon as she saw Jo. She circled the room, offering pigs-in-blankets to each guest. Her tray quickly emptied, and she was off with a big grin towards the kitchen. If there was one thing that made Mrs. Garrett happy, it was knowing that others were enjoying her food.
As soon as she saw Mrs. Garrett enter the kitchen, Jo took the opportunity to slip away from Tootie. She nonchalantly made her way towards the sliding glass doors. Zipping up her jacket, she slipped out into the cold night.
The sounds of the party were still audible, even in the garage. The drums weren't quite as intrusive on Jo's thoughts, though. She found that by concentrating, she was able to block out all but the loudest of tunes selected by Natalie and Tootie. Reaching up, she adjusted the overhead shop light.
Her bike was bound to be a mess. She knew it would be bad, but this was the first time she'd been able to actually work up the nerve to come look at it. Some friends had been kind enough to pick it up while she'd been in the hospital. They'd had to tow it to the house on a flatbed truck. Once there, they had laid it out, covered it with a blue tarp.
Jo looked at the heap covered by the blue tarp. Its shape no longer even resembled a motorcycle. She knelt down on the concrete floor, feeling the cold through her sweatpants. Hesitantly, she reached out a hand, shaking fingers drawing up one corner of the tarp.
"How bad is it?"
Jo froze at the sound of the voice behind her. A lump formed in her throat. She struggled to breathe as her heart raced in her chest.
"Pretty bad," Jo answered at length. "I can't believe how badly broken up her framework is."
"Actually, I was referring to you, not your stupid bike."
Classic Blair. Jo hid the little smile as she turned around, stood up. She let the blue tarp fall back into place. Her breath caught as she focused on Blair Warner.
She was standing in front of the shop light, the fluorescent reflecting off her blonde hair, causing it to shimmer about her face almost like a halo. She wore a white, full-length coat. Black slacks were visible beneath the all-white coat. Black boots completed the look.
"Pretty much in the same shape as my bike," admitted Jo.
Blair nodded slowly, biting her bottom lip as she looked around the garage. Hazel eyes returned to Jo, openly appraising her. Jo flinched beneath her stare.
"Blair, I'm sorry - "
" - Don't." It sounded for all the world like a warning. "I've just gotten back and we're not going to do this tonight."
"You're back?" Jo couldn't keep the hopeful lilt out of her voice. Blair had come back to her. Dimly, she registered the sound of the partygoers from the main house beginning the countdown to the new year.
"I thought it was only fair to warn you."
"You've decided to stay, then?"
"Believe me, it wasn't my intention." A brief pause. "Part of Daddy's new plan to make me responsible; I have to finish the school year before I transfer to Harvard."
"But, you're staying here until then?"
"I spoke with Mrs. Garrett. She said she'll move into the room with you and the girls. I can have her room for the semester."
"You can't kick Mrs. Garrett out of her bed."
"It's already done. We arranged it over the phone."
"Be reasonable, Blair. She has a bad back. She needs her privacy."
"I won't stay in a room with you, Jo. I can't."
"You won't have to." Jo took a deep breath, steadied her voice. "I'll move out of the house."
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
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