DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Della Street
When he entered her office, the boss was, not surprisingly, checking herself out in the full-length mirror inside her coat closet. No doubt she liked what she saw.
She didn't acknowledge his arrival, which was all right with Jeffries. The more time she spent looking at herself, the more time he could look at her without getting caught. A perq of the job.
In itself, the application of lipstick might not be out of the ordinary, but everything Blair Warner did was worth watching. She carefully drew a red line across her upper lip and then, satisfied with the result, repeated the action on the other, pressing them together for consistency.
Next up for review were her jacket and skirt, Warner originals that fit snugly in just the right places, as though they were custom made for her body. One of their better lines, although not the most popular, but only because the buying public did not share his boss's sophisticated, and impeccable, taste.
Blair paused in her inspection when she noticed that the lock of her necklace had obeyed the law of gravity and wandered down to join the small red charm resting against the swell of her cleavage. With a few tugs, she returned it to its rightful position at the back of her neck.
"What do you need, Andy?" she eventually asked. It was obvious that her mind was anywhere but on their conversation. Blair Warner never bothered to fake interest in anything. Him included.
"You need any help with your . . . thing . . . today?" Jeffries tried not to let it bother him that, once again, Blair had felt no need to include her assistant of four years in her plans, nor even to mention them. If it hadn't been for a casual sweep of an eye over her calendar last week, he wouldn't have even known about this meeting, whatever it was. Her calendar revealed nothing but a diagonal line from 8 a.m. until a meeting of department heads at three o'clock, and the carefully drawn initials JO. Jim O'Neal had immediately come to mind, the pompous dick, but inquiries had confirmed that the cloth supplier was still in Central America. Blair's rolodex revealed no other potential candidates.
One clue had presented itself yesterday when a secretary in New York called to confirm that so and so from Skadden Arps would be arriving tomorrow morning. So it was another merger, or, more suitable to the young CEO's temperament, a buyout. One of the new CEO's first moves had been to snatch up a "fun little design shop," as she called it. She must have found another one.
"Hmm?" Blair said distractedly. One hand was clasped around her thick, luscious mane while the other fished around in her makeup drawer. That hair . . . .
"You need me for anything today?" Jeffries asked.
She paid attention long enough to answer with a short, "No." Whatever she was looking for in the credenza wasn't there, apparently. Blair Warner even looked beautiful when she frowned. Letting loose her hair, she rifled around in the drawer with both hands.
The request for attention from a small metal box on her desk did not deter Blair from her search. She slammed the first drawer shut and moved on to another one. "What?" she responded irritably. "Where is it, damn it!" The last was to herself, and unusual. Daddy Warner's little girl rarely cussed. "I have a friend who swears for me," she once joked to him.
A short pause confirmed that Blair's secretary was equally surprised at the epithet. Then she announced in her professional voice, "The attorneys from Skadden Arps are here."
Jeffries refrained from rolling his eyes as he and other local staffers often did when east coast counsel rode into town. No attorneys in Missouri were qualified to handle a simple acquisition, of course. With respect to cars, Jeffries' father had often opined, "If it ain't Jap, it's crap." For Blair Warner, it was New York or nothing. It was amazing enough that she had consented to locate in the "boonies," as she blithely referred to Jeffries' home town. But then, why her father had decided to headquarter Warner Fashions in St. Louis in the first place was itself a mystery. To tap a growing midwest market, some speculated. To cut shipping costs, perhaps. To keep his flighty daughter as far away as possible.
Those who were in the meeting when the division's new CEO was announced had not received much in the way of edification. Jeffries remembered it well: David Warner, not striding into the conference room with his usual air of confidence, but instead taking one measured step at a time while one arm steadied the wow stunning blonde who limped along at his side. Skiing accident? Jeffries wondered briefly.
Jeffries had heard of but never met the famed Blair Warner. She had been at some elite girls' school upstate since she was twelve, he learned later. She had certainly grown up since then. The last few years had been at nearby Langley College.
As usual, the boss man got straight to the point: Effective immediately, the Warner Fashions division of Warner Textiles would be under the helm of his daughter. It was not unexpected. Donnie Harris's transfer to Outerwear a week earlier had been a hint.
"Daddy . . . ."
"Oh, yes," Warner added. "We're going to try something different. Warner Fashions will be headquartered in St. Louis for the indefinite future."
"Not that long," Blair said.
Some silent communication passed between them. Warner took her hand in his and kissed the back of it fondly. "I hope not, Honey," he said.
If Blair Warner was flighty, Jeffries figured out over time, it was largely on the surface. Beneath the shallow, self-absorbed, gorgeous exterior was a fairly shrewd businesswoman, beginning with the first of the "minor changes" announced at the organizational meeting four years ago. Over- and under-30 would be split into separate divisions with different designers. A new line would be developed for girls who wanted to look fashionable but could not pay fashionable prices. They would be putting out a line of culottes, experimenting with denim, and ditching that awful 'jungle' line. She wanted older models for the teen catalog ("girls don't want to look like girls, they want to look like women"), and she wanted more variety in the hair styles. A girl could be pretty in a pony tail.
More transitions were yet to come, as Blair sifted through the company's current employees, making rapid-fire management selections, transferring those who did not make the cut or who declined to relocate. Jeffries, who was more than happy to return to his old stomping ground, witnessed the transformation of Warner Fashions first-hand. He might have disagreed with some of David Warner's decisions over the years, but not about the woman he had placed in charge of what was now the company's fastest-growing division.
His interview had been shorter than most. A flicker of Blair's eye over him "that suit looks good on you" and a couple of questions about his vision of the company, and he was excused. If Jeffries had construed the woman's blatant appraisal of him, and his appointment as her top aide the next day, as signs of something more, he was gradually disabused of that notion.
Ah she had found what she was looking for, apparently, judging by the triumphant smile on her face. In her hand was an ornate ribbon, silk, presumably. He watched with a touch of curiosity as she expertly manipulated it into a rather ostentatious bow, then reached into a drawer for the hand mirror she kept nearby, the better for frequent consultation.
It was an unusual look for her. Not that it looked bad, but the accessory was a bit conspicuous, a brighter gold than her hair by several shades. An odd choice, but Blair had branched out in her tastes the past few years. Jeffries remembered the day his boss breezed in sporting a well-worn denim jacket adorned with patches of motorcycle brands. Her vague explanation "Just feeling a little nostalgic" only inflamed the speculation. Was it an old boyfriend's jacket? Or a souvenir, perhaps, from answering a little call of the wild on the other side of town.
Finally satisfied with her appearance, Blair set down the mirror. Then, to Jeffries' surprise, she gripped the edge of the desk with both hands, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. Was she worried about something?
After a moment, she pressed the intercom button. "Ask them to come in." As she turned to greet her visitors, she abruptly blurted to her aide, "This may be the most important day of my life."
What did that mean? Jeffries had no opportunity to ask before Bettina showed two men into the office wearing the typical lawyer's uniform, a dark wool three-piece suit over a starched cotton shirt.
"Miss Warner?" one addressed her politely. Considering that there were only two people in the room, one of whom was not female and the other who most definitely was, it seemed a safe bet.
But it was just a greeting, Jeffries deduced; the three of them had obviously met before. Offering the visitors a polite, "Gene, Paul, good to see you again," Blair steered them toward a couple of office chairs. "How were your accommodations?" she asked.
"Excellent," the elder man replied. Gene, probably, if Blair had greeted them by seniority. "Very generous."
"Well, I wanted you to get plenty of sleep."
The attorney chuckled. "We did, but it won't be necessary," he said. "You'll be doing the hard part."
Blair had decided to remain standing, Jeffries noticed. And pace. She truly was nervous.
Opening a black briefcase, the younger attorney piped up, "I know we went over the process last week"
Which explained Blair's trip home out of the blue.
"but we thought it would be helpful to review this outline during the drive," he said, tendering a multi-page document. "Sort of the pros and cons."
Blair snatched the paper from him. "There are no cons," she said irritably.
"Of course not," senior counsel hastened to assure her. Jeffries suspected that he would be doing most of the talking from now on. He wondered if Blair would ever get around to introducing them. This rather egregious breach of etiquette wasn't like her. "We meant from their perspective," the attorney said. Gently, he added, "We really don't have much control over this, Blair."
"I don't want to hear that." Of course not. Anyone who knew Blair knew that she did not like hearing things that she did not like hearing. Most of the time, anyway. No one could forget the legendary planning session when, an hour or so into listening to polite agreement with her ideas, Blair had suddenly blown a gasket. "I can't take this any more! Stop just agreeing with me! If you think I'm full of it, just tell me. I can handle it. I'm used to it." No one believed that, of course. Who would have the nerve to tell Blair Warner that she was full of shit?
Scanning the top sheet of the document that Junior had just handed her, Blair gave Jeffries an absent, "Thank you, Andy." Translation: You can go. "I'll be out all morning."
Whatever this was, it was important to her. With one hand on the doorknob, Jeffries voiced a sincere, "I hope everything works out for you, Blair."
Her smile was genuine. "Thank you," she said. "So do I."
In the back seat of the limousine, Blair ignored the scenery flying by. She had driven this road many times before, often finding it peaceful to look out at tall grass waving beside the highway or the occasional herd of cattle grazing. Today, though, she was agitated. "It sounds as though you've decided this isn't going to happen," she finally confronted her fellow passengers.
The silence was profound.
"I see," Blair said. She was too irritated to say anything else.
An hour later, Blair was pacing again, this time outside a set of double doors, the only imposing feature in this otherwise slightly run-down federal building. A woman with a clipboard emerged from the other side across the hall, and Blair halted.
"Joanna Poll-nya-suh-zek?" the woman read.
"Yes!" Blair confirmed, hurrying over. She followed the woman into the room, trailed by the lawyers.
Straight ahead of them were two people, a man and a woman, seated stiffly behind a table with armed personnel lurking at either side. Casting her gaze around the room, Blair spied the woman she was looking for at the end of a long table, wearing the same orange monstrosity to which Blair had been subjected once a week for the past four years.
Jo seemed shocked to see her. As if one argument would make a difference after all they had been through together. Or maybe Jo was surprised that Blair had found out about this, since she hadn't bothered to tell her.
Blair saw the beginnings of a smirk when Jo's gaze landed on the wad of silk knotted around her hair. Blair fiddled casually with the ribbon, sending her friend a message. I still want you. More than anything in the world.
"Ms. Polniaczek," the woman began, "We are here today to consider your eligibility for parole. We are familiar with your file. This is your opportunity to speak on your own behalf."
Please, Jo. Blair waited for the words that might set them free after all this time . . . .
The dispute about which television show to watch might soon turn into a full-blown fist fight, Jo suspected. Personally, she didn't care what they watched. She would have preferred the five o'clock news, but it wasn't worth arguing about.
When the matron came in for afternoon announcements, Jo ignored her. She wasn't expecting any mail for a while, not since her mom's letter had arrived just a few days ago. Tootie, Nat, and Mrs. G had all written recently, too. That didn't leave anyone else she expected to hear from, except her dad, maybe.
"Adams, Chan, Garcia, Kinsey, Lopez, McIntyre, Polniaczek, Rollyvisitors."
Jo wasn't sure she had heard correctly. "Did you say Polniaczek?"
"Visitor," the woman confirmed. "You know the drill."
Actually, she didn't. No one had been to see her in the two months since she had arrived at the luxurious United States Federal Correctional Institution in Greenville, Illinois. She followed the other women into the staging area.
After a pat down ("Wouldn't it make more sense to do this after we go in there?" "Don't worry, Honey; you'll get another chance then"), Jo stepped into the pocketless, snap-cuff, tangerine-colored jumper, zipped it up to her neck as instructed, and marched single-file into the visiting area, where attorneys, husbands, and oh, my God former best friends in the world waited on the other side of thick plexiglass. From the lack of contact, Jo had assumed that Blair had given up on her.
Smiling up at her, Blair picked up the telephone on her side of the divider. When Jo remained standing, staring in disbelief at the apparition, the blonde tapped impatiently at the glass. "Sit down," she mouthed.
Oh, yeah. Jo dropped into the chair and picked up her receiver. "Blair I don't believe it!"
Her friend's smug grin was familiar. "In the flesh."
"How are you?" Jo asked.
"How do I look?" Blair countered saucily.
Opting for the truth instead of some juvenile retort, Jo said, "You look fantastic. Is everything . . . you know, all right?"
"I'm fine," Blair said. She leaned forward, even though proximity was irrelevant to their electronic connection. "How are you?"
"Well, I ain't been Linda Blaired yet," Jo replied wryly.
Blair did not find the remark humorous. "Don't joke about that," she said.
"Sorry," Jo apologized. She should have known better, remembering how Blair had buried her face in Jo's shoulder during the more excruciating parts of that movie. "I'm doin' okay here. Basically I eat, read, watch TV, and argue with my roommate. Seems kinda familiar."
None of her jokes were going over well today. But just because she was stuck in here didn't mean she wasn't the same Jo Polniaczek who preferred to make fun of things she couldn't do anything about. Blair needed to understand that.
"You have a roommate?"
"I think the actual term is cell mate," Jo replied.
"What's she like?"
Kinda boring. But then, compared to what Jo had put up with for six years, anyone would be dull. "She's OK," Jo said. "She's from Detroit. She was her boyfriend's bag man, so of course he's out there while she's in here."
This was all a little out of the debutante's sphere, Jo realized when Blair asked, "Bag man? You mean like a bookie?"
"Dope," Jo explained. "Most of the girls are in here on drug charges."
"Oh." Blair seemed unsure how to respond. "Is she nice?"
That thought amused Jo. "What would I do with a nice roommate?" she joked.
Again no smile. Tough crowd. Okay, if Blair wanted to be serious, Jo could play it that way. After mentally poking fun at the other woman for doing the same thing, she leaned forward until she was only a few inches from the fake glass. "Blair, I'm sorry," she said. "That nightI should have"
"Mrs. Garrett and the girls send their love," Blair interrupted.
Off limits, huh? Jo would accept that for now. "That's great," she said. "How's Mrs. G doin'?"
"Excellent. She's applying for the assistant headmaster position at Eastland." In more good news, Tootie was destined for stardom after her latest role, Blair opined, and Natalie was having a busy year as editor-in-chief of the Langley Clarion. "Already creating a stir, from what I hear," she said.
Jo grinned at the notion. "That's my girl."
"She decided the Clarion should cover more hard news," Blair said. "'Investigative journalism.'"
"Gee, it'll be hard to top last year's exposè on how they make pom pons," Jo said.
Blair's laugh was warm. Oddly, Jo felt none of the competitiveness that had driven much of their interaction since their first day together as sixteen-year-olds from different universes. She could have felt self-conscious, she supposed, sitting here looking like a damn giraffe while Blair oozed class in her Navy jacket and skirt, but something seemed different about her friend. Jo would not be hearing any lofty "I told you sos" about ending up behind bars one day, maybe because it wasn't funny any more.
Rounding off her update, Blair announced, "And you are looking at the new CEO of Warner Fashions."
"You're kidding!" Jo said. "I thought you were goin' to law school."
"And I was going to be a ballerina," Blair shrugged. "Things change. Everything has been crazy the first few months; that's why I couldn't get here sooner." She held up a magazine. "See?"
On the cover of last month's Savvy was her friend's smiling face. "Is She Ready?" the headline read.
"As if they need to ask," Blair said. "Do you want to see the rest?"
In spite of herself, Jo eyed each of the black and white photographs closely as Blair pressed them against the glass. Her friend had always been disgustingly photogenic.
"Listen, is that an extra copy?" Jo asked casually. "All we get in here is stuff that's too old for the dentist's office. I just read this morning that Reagan might get elected."
Blair laughed again, then beckoned to Darren, the male guard standing just inside the door. Jo couldn't hear their exchange, but she knew a full-on Blair when she saw one, and it wasn't long before his shy nod confirmed another kill. Just like old times.
When Blair's attention returned to her, Jo listened as her former roommate described her new role at the company. New lines, new marketing strategy, new demographics. New everything.
With each half-finished task that Blair rattled off, Jo's conscience tweaked at her. "Geez, Blair, you were too busy to come out here," she finally said. "I really appreciate it, but"
"But nothing," Blair cut her off. "For some reason, I've missed you, Polniaczek. Sort of like one might miss a splinter when it's removed." The buzzer abruptly announced the end of their reunion, causing Blair to whirl around in her chair. "Not yet," she pleaded, but the guard shook his head regretfully.
"Blair, it was great to see you," Jo said honestly. "If you get a chance, send me a card once in a while. Let me know how you're doin'."
"I can do that in person," Blair said.
As much as she wanted that, Jo couldn't let her do it. "Blair, you can't fly out here again," she protested.
The buzzer warned Jo again to hang up or face discipline. Blair remained seated, waving as the brunette trailed after the other prisoners. But not having said goodbye or thanks, or maybe what she really wanted to say "I love you" weighed on Jo. In spite of her best intentions, Blair probably would not be back. This could be her only chance.
Turning to one of the friendlier guards, Jo begged another ten seconds to say goodbye to her best friend. But when she stepped back into the room, she was immobilized by the sight of Blair clutching the guard's forearm, the two of them making their way slowly toward the entrance, where Darren handed her a wooden cane that he had confiscated or that Blair hid from you, her brain supplied.
That night, when Jo finally slept, she dreamt of Blair and Natalie and Tootie and Mrs. Garrett in happier times.
As Jo expected, her name was not on the next Visitors' List. That was all right. She couldn't expect Blair to sacrifice the momentum of a new career just to come see her. Jo was the one who had screwed everything up. She re-read a letter from Nat and Tootie that had come in the mail that morning.
The following Tuesday, Jo was dabbing at her brow with one of the ratty prison towels when veteran officer Weston poked her head into the weight room. "Polniaczek," she said, "Get your ass out here. You've got a visitor."
A visitor? Glancing at the mirror above the water fountain, Jo cringed at her reflection. Red faced, hair clinging to a sweaty neckjust great. "Do I have time for a shower?" she asked.
"You're late already," Weston said. "And you don't want to miss this one." She didn't point out that, since Jo had been absent from the rec room at the appointed hour, some guards would not have come looking for her at all. Jo knew that, and appreciated it.
Amazingly, Blair was waiting on the other side of plexiglass. She picked up the phone when Jo reached for hers.
"Blair, you shouldn't be takin' your time like this," Jo said.
It was probably the wrong thing to say, Jo realized when her friend lost her smile. "I thought you'd like having a visitor," Blair said.
"I do," Jo assured her. I love it. "I just know how busy you are back home."
"Actually, this is home," Blair said. "The division relocated to St. Louis. I'm only an hour away."
Blair lived out here now? It was hard to imagine.
"We finally wrapped up the remodeling, so now I can come every week," Blair said. Suddenly, she seemed unsure. "I mean, if you're not busy."
Busy? Jo passed up the retort that sprang to mind. Too easy. Instead, she said simply, "That'd be great, whatever time you have." As Blair launched into an account of her latest whirlwind activities, Jo made herself comfortable to listen to the other woman's plans. Her own plans, for the next seven to ten years anyway, would consist of four gray walls.
When Blair finally came up for air, she asked politely, "How was your week?"
"Oh, terrific," Jo said sarcastically. "Venice on Thursday and the Louvre on Fridayor was it Saturday?"
Blair didn't bite. "I brought you some more magazines," she said.
"You on the cover?" Jo actually hoped she was. She had read every word of that Savvy article three times before carefully tucking it into her locker for safekeeping.
The question seemed to amuse Blair. "Not on these," she said. She held up a Sports Illustrated, Popular Mechanic, and Psychology Today. Leafing through the psychology publication, she said, "I read this from front to back and still couldn't figure you out."
Ah, there was a bit of the old Princess. "You should have tried one of the others," Jo replied. "Or I've got a couple of books here you can borrow."
"'Mr. Goodwrench, the Unauthorized Autobiography?'" Blair guessed.
Smartass. "'My Life in Hell: Living With a Warner,'" Jo retorted.
"My lawyers will be in touch. So, what have you been reading?"
Jo leaned against the side of the cubicle. "A real page-turner: Understanding the Sources of Rage."
"I read that one," Blair said. "The butler did it."
"Oh, good. Maybe I can skip class this week."
"Controlling Anger," Jo said. "It's a real barrel of laughs. Last week, we got to talk about why we're in here."
It wasn't the fluff that Blair obviously preferred to stick to, but Jo did not want to dodge the issue any longer, especially if her friend was going to keep visiting.
"I got to tell 'em about bashin' a guy's brains in for tryin' to rape my best friend and then throwin' her out a fourth-story window."
Blair did not respond.
"They want me to say I'm sorry I did it."
Blair exploded, "I needed you. I couldn't get out of bed. I couldn't feed myself or bathe myself. I wanted to die."
The bitter tone was jolting. Jo said tentatively, "Mrs. G took that leave of absence . . . ."
"Yes, and I will always be grateful to her. But I needed you." Blair was furious. "And where were you? In jail. And then before I can even see you, I find out that you've pled guilty and you're on your way to some prison halfway across the country."
"Well, I didn't do it to spite you, Blair," Jo snapped.
"I know that," Blair replied. "I just . . . ." She sighed, then pasted on one of those fake smiles of hers. "Harper's Bazaar called; they're doing a piece on me in their November issue. Do you want a copy when it comes out?"
Not sure whether to feel relieved or perturbed by the change of subject, Jo shrugged. "I got lots of free time . . . ."
"So, what do you think of this?" Blair eased back her chair and stood up, resting her hands on the small table for support.
"Nice," Jo said. "You're lookin' great."
"Of course I am. But I meant the suit."
Jo looked at her blankly. "It's nice, too."
"It's a prototype for our new line affordable fashion for the college girl."
"Affordable fashion?" Jo said. "Isn't that a contradiction in terms in your family?"
"Yes," Blair admitted, "but for every Blair Warner, there are five Tootie Ramseys or Natalie Greens, girls who want to look like me but can't."
Try a hundred, Jo thought. A million.
"We're still concentrating on our high-end lines, of course," Blair said. "But I think some markets are under-served."
Now that she knew what she was supposed to be looking for, Jo decided that she did kind of like it. "It's nice," she said. "I might even wear it myself if the collar wasn't so girly."
Blair fingered the rounded neck. "Girly?"
"Ya know, maybe somethin' a little pointier. That curvy stuff just ain't my style. It looks great on you, though," she hastened to add.
Unable to see her reflection in the dull plexigless, Blair asked, "Do you have a mirror?"
"Do I look like I have a mirror on me?" Jo said. "I'm in a damn prison, Blair."
Blair's expression was hard to read. "I'm well aware of that," she said. She was still gripping the table for support. For some perverse reason, Jo wanted to call her on the deception.
"Let me see the back," she said.
"Yeah." Jo made a spinning motion with her finger. "Give it a whirl."
The blonde paused, deciding how to respond, obviously. To Jo's surprise, she settled on the truth. "I'll have to give you a rain check on that," she said. "I'm not a hundred percent yet." When Jo began to question her further, Blair cut her off with a curt, "My rehab is going well. There's no need to dwell on it."
Had they been anywhere but where they were, Jo would have dwelled on it plenty. But as her only lifeline to the outside, Blair was in control. Jo would not risk driving her away as long as she was willing to come.
And she did come, every Tuesday afternoon, except for rare instances when she was out of town, or, occasionally, out of the country. Over time, her limp disappeared, and one day Blair celebrated her last day of rehabilitation with a giddy, "I'm free!" The irony of the announcement did not occur to her, Jo suspected, but she was thrilled for her friend nonetheless.
She would no longer require a chauffeur everywhere she went, Blair raved. Except when she didn't feel like driving, of course. She intended to celebrate her new freedom by what else a shopping spree. "Do you want anything?" she asked.
Like Jo was going to ask Blair Warner to buy her something. That would be the day. "Yeah, a hacksaw," she replied.
"I'll bake it into a cake," Blair offered sweetly.
"Forget it," Jo said. "It ain't worth it if I gotta eat another one of your scratch cakes."
Blair sucked in her cheeks. "One little mixup"
"baking powder, baking soda"
"and I hear about it for the rest of my life," Blair finished. "Why don't we talk about that so-called pumpkin pie you made for Mrs. Garrett's birthday?"
"You ate it."
"Yes, and now I can check 'stomach pump' off my list of life experiences."
In unison, both women smiled and, imitating their former mentor, exclaimed, "Jolanguage!"
The next week, Blair carried in a small bag with her, waving at whichever guard was on door duty. Jo couldn't see him. They all knew Blair, though.
"Well, I shopped til I dropped," Blair said. "They were out of hacksaws at Bloomingdale's, so I got you something else along the same theme."
Suspiciously, Jo asked, "What?"
Whipping out a couple of cassettes from her bag, Blair held one up against the plexiglass.
"Johnny Cash?" Jo said. "Oh, you're friggin' hilarious."
"And . . . ." The next cassette went up.
Jo groaned, "No . . . ."
"'I'll stay on the bus, forget about us, put the blame on me,'" Blair sang.
"I hate that song!"
"I know," Blair said smugly. Somberly, she leaned in toward the glass. "When your time comes, Jo, where do you want me to tie the ribbon?"
"Around your neck," Jo said. "Make it real tight."
"Some people have no gratitude," Blair tsked. "Is this better?" She drew three more cassettes out of her bag.
The Bangles, U2, Pat Benatar. Yeah, that was better. If she were out of here, she would never let Blair spend money on her like this, but it was mostly little things, and Jo didn't have much choice. New tunes were good for morale on the block. Blair was popular by proxy in here.
"Thanks, Blair," Jo said. "I'm keepin' track of this stuff. I'll pay you back." She pointed at the Tony Orlando tape. "Except that."
The familiar debate began. "Don't be silly."
"It ain't negotiable."
"That's not fair," Blair said. "You learned that from me."
"Yeah, well, somethin' had to rub off after eight years," Jo said. "Besides 'I look fabulous,' I mean."
In some ways, nothing had changed since high school. The women never ran out of things to talk about, even though they had less in common now than when they first met, if that were possible. Insults and sarcasm, a little less barbed, perhaps, than in their early days together, were nice fillers if they ran low on substantive material.
Most of the interesting information came from Blair. Nothing new thereBlair had always been happy to talk about herself and, for a change, Jo didn't mind listening.
When Jo talked about the new warden, or one of the girls who just got out, or other goings on in the joint, Blair managed to seem interested, but Jo spared her the juiciest details. Blair was enough of a worry wart.
By contrast, Blair did not hold back. For years, the prissy blonde had prattled on about this boyfriend and that boyfriend; Jo wasn't sure why it was bothering her more these days. Maybe because, stuck in here, her own future was on hold. Maybe because they were older now. When they were seventeen, the string of boys was like Jo's bike, something to tinker with. But now, in the real world, one of these guys would eventually turn out to be The One for Blair. Staring up at the unpainted ceiling above her bunk, Jo let that thought linger, instead of switching gears as she usually did.
Blair would get married, maybe even while Jo was still in here. She couldn't expect her to put something like that off just so an ex-con could be her maid of honor, if Blair even wanted that any more. Jo felt the stirrings of discomfort in her gut. Her real fear, she decided to admit, was that a serious relationship would cut into Blair's time with her. Let's see, should I have a romantic dinner with the boyfriend, or spend three hours on the road visiting some loser at a run-down prison?
Miraculously, though, Blair kept coming back, week after week, and through her eyes, Jo experienced the tribulations of being a major player in the cutthroat fashion industry. Jo was honest with her opinions when Blair offered previews of Warner Fashions' latest lines, amazed that Blair even bothered to ask, considering the Bronx native's "taste problem," as Blair called it. Maybe Blair didn't really care what Jo thought; maybe it was just a way to kill time. That was okay. There were worse ways to spend an hour than watching a pretty blonde model clothes.
Eventually, Jo knew, Blair would get too busy, too successful, and Jo would be back to the occasional postcard like most of the other prisoners. For now, though, the passage of time was infinitely more bearable than it had been.
"I'm thinking about a new bra," Blair said one day.
Warners and their small talk. How did one respond to something like that? "Well, you can afford it," Jo mumbled.
"Not for me, Silly," Blair said. "For Warner Fashions. It's a front-hook. Tell me what you think." Leaning forward, she began to unbutton her blouse.
Oh, for--"What are you doing?" Jo asked. When only two buttons remained, she yelled into the phone, "Blair, stop!"
Brown eyes blinked at her.
"You can't do that here," Jo said.
"It'll just take a second," Blair replied. Nodding toward the male guard standing inside the door, she said, "He can't see anything."
"Blair, they'll think we're . . . ." Craphow to say this? Jo settled for, "They'll think you're breakin' the rules."
The rules against sexual interaction with inmates, but Jo was not about to say those words to Blair Warner. "You gotta keep your clothes on," Jo said. She gestured for Blair to re-button her blouse before they both got into trouble. From Blair's expression, Jo concluded unhappily that she would have to elaborate. "They might think you're . . . you know, givin' me a show."
"Showin' me your . . . ." Jo waved vaguely in the direction of Blair's chest.
The concept finally sank in. "Showing you my . . . ."
Reddening slightly, Jo nodded. "You know." 'Breasts' would be the polite word; 'tits' was more common here.
"So that you . . . ?"
"Can picture it." Later, after lights out. But please do not figure that out.
"Well, that's silly," Blair declared. "You've seen me in my bra a thousand times."
Now was not a good time to bring that up. Much to her dismay, Jo had briefly found herself tempted to let Blair undo those last two buttons and thinking about that front hook, too.
You're in a women's prison, she told herself. Any woman who hasn't committed a major felony looks good to you right now. She had never had those feelings toward Blair, and never would. She wasn't sure how Blair felt about her these days she hadn't asked but she still thought of the other woman as her closest and most infuriating friend in the world since she was sixteen years old. She watched with mixed emotions as Blair re-fastened her blouse.
"I'm a little worried about stepping on Lingerie's toes anyway," Blair said. "I'll have to talk to Daddy." Checking her watch, she frowned at the lateness.
Yeah, time flewfor one hour a week, anyway. The rest of the days were interminable.
"This one-hour limit is ridiculous," Blair huffed. "I'm going to have my lawyers look into it." Before Jo could beg her not to stir up too much trouble, she added, "I can't be here next week."
Jo tried not to let her disappointment show.
"I have to go to a show in Paris," Blair went on. "I tried to get someone else to cover it, but Andy is going to his sister's wedding or something like that."
"Andy?" Jo asked. Was this yet another guy in Blair's life? Come to think of it, why hadn't she mentioned what's-his-name recently? "What happened to Eric?"
The question seemed unexpected. "Eric?" Blair repeated. "He's history."
That was rather big news. Why hadn't Blair said anything?
Answering the other part of Jo's question, she added, "Andy is my assistant."
"'Assistant', huh?" Jo cracked. "Is that what they're calling it now?"
Blair laughed at the notion. "Good heavens," she guffawed. "Andy and Iwhat a hoot . . . ."
Jo knew her friend wouldn't be coming, but out of habit, she wandered into the common area at 5 o'clock the following Tuesday anyway. When her name was among the lucky ones called, her heart thudded. Had Blair's schedule changed? Maneuvering to the front of the line, she stepped into the visitors' room, passing by a row of strangers until an astonished smile lit up her face. "Ma!" Dropping quickly into her seat, she picked up the phone.
"Hello, Jo," Rose said, fixing a loving smile on her daughter.
There was so much to catch up on. As best she could, Jo rattled off answers to her mother's questions, and fired off a string of her own. Things were going well at the restaurant, Rose confirmed. She was getting plenty of hours in. The owner had retired, and Frank Junior had taken over.
"I don't think I ever met him," Jo said, trying to recall.
"You haven't," Rose replied. "He's been away a few years."
He sounded like a good boss, anyway. "It's great that he let you take a vacation," Jo said.
"Junior spent time in Attica," Rose said. "He understands."
Delicately, Jo asked, "Listen, how much did this set you back?" She earned a little money each week as a trustee. It wasn't much, but it wasn't like she needed it.
Hesitating, Rose said, "Don't worry about that."
"I know you don't have the dough, Ma," Jo said. "I want to help."
Rose wrestled with a response, then finally said, "You don't need to. A friend helped us out."
A new boyfriend? Her mother shouldn't be reluctant to say. Jo was older now and definitely wiser; she wouldn't freak out like she had when she was sixteen. As she thought about it, though, a more likely scenario popped into her head. "Was it Blair?"
"Would it really make any difference?" Rose hedged.
That confirmed it. "Aw, Ma," Jo said irritably. Her mother knew how she felt about leeching off the Warners. It was bad enough that she was letting Blair buy her stuff all the time.
"Blair is a dear and loving friend," Rose said. "She didn't want you to be lonely. You shouldn't criticize someone for wanting to make you happy."
There was some wisdom in that, Jo supposed, and she forced herself to offer a brusk "Thanks" to Blair the next time she saw her.
"I spoke to your mother," Blair said. "She enjoyed her visit. Except that you're too thin."
Gesturing toward her ill-fitting jumpsuit, Jo asked, "How would she know with this damn thing?"
"Mothers always know."
Speaking of which, it was time to get something off her chest. "Ma says you're a dear and loving friend," Jo said.
"Well . . . ." Now Jo wished she hadn't started this. "You know, I guess I love you and all that."
Blair placed her left palm against the glass. "I love you too, Jo."
When she'd seen other inmates do this, Jo had been disdainful. But she felt none of the foolishness she would have expected as she raised her own right hand to match Blair's. An instant later, she snatched it away. "If you tell anyone about this, you're dead," she growled.
"Oh, please," Blair said. "I do have some self respect."
"Self-esteem, you mean."
"Says the orange banana."
Both women smiled. This was familiar territory.
While Blair examined some enlargements under natural light from her office window, a male voice answered the telephone on her desk. "Blair Warner's office. . . . Yes, Mr. Warner, she's right here. She's just looking at some ad copy."
Enough talking about her. No one was better qualified to do that than Blair herself. She tossed the blow-ups on her desk and held out her hand for the receiver. "Hi, Daddy."
Whatever she heard next sent her rushing back to the window. Brad had already spied the spanking new Porsche in the parking lot on his way into the building, and the enormous red bow on the roof would easily be visible from Blair's office. "Oh, Daddy, it's wonderful!" she enthused. "Thank you!" She nodded. "I know'lots of room in the trunk.'" Evidently she had heard that before. "Some day," she said. "When I drive Jo home. Not that I'm letting any of her greasy things within a mile of my car."
Wow, a new recordonly twenty seconds before mentioning the great and mighty Polniaczek.
"Pretty well," Blair went on. "She's taking a pottery class."
Absently, she ran a palm down the length of the gray-blue vase that held her weekly array of fresh flowers. So that's where she'd gotten it. He had wondered when no expensive artist's name was etched into the bottom. Guess Greenville Federal Prison wouldn't fit.
"I'm trying to talk her into French next. I told her she's got a head start alreadyI certainly heard plenty of her French in high school." Blair laughed with her father. "She can already offend people in Polish, Spanish, and, of course, the universal language."
Your father does not want to hear about Jo Polniaczek for the entire conversation.
"Who? . . . No, that wasn't Andy, that was Brad. . . . No, he doesn't work here. We've sort of been dating." 'Sort of been dating'? Was she worried that her father would object if she told him they were a steady item? "Yes, very." Blair smiled at Brad to let him know they were talking about him. "I should have, I know, but, you know how it goes . . . it just wasn't" She glanced at Brad. "You know."
What question was she answering now?
Her next words "Not really; it's Tuesday" raised a red flag. She wasn't heading to Illinois tonight of all nights, was she?
"I'll tell her you said that."
This was ridiculous.
"What's that noise?" Blair raised her voice. "Oh, they're calling your flight. You'd better go." She smiled into the phone. "Me, too. See you next month." At the quarterly get-together of division CEOs, presumably, including the evening social to which Brad had never been invited, even the time it was held in St. Louis.
When Blair hung up, he called her on it. "You're not going to Greenville tonight, are you?"
"Of course," she replied.
"Well, I thought . . . ." So much for keeping it a secret. "I got us reservations for dinner and a show tonight at La Caille."
Wangling invitations to the most exclusive restaurant in town did not compare to driving out to a damn prison, apparently. Blair looked at him in confusion. "You know what I do on Tuesdays, Brad."
"It's your birthday." He watched her move into her end-of-day routine: check calendar, clean off desk, ignore boyfriend. The sight of Blair Warner wiping her own desktop had surprised Brad the first time he witnessed it, but every once in a while she exhibited quaint flashes of practicality, like getting down on her knees to tackle a stain in the carpet. "She's not going to mind if you skip a week."
"Why don't we go tomorrow?" Blair countered.
"I'm out of town the rest of the week, remember?" he replied. "Why don't you go out there tomorrow?"
"Jo has her pottery class on Wednesday."
Who the hell cared about pottery? "You think she'd rather make some stupid bowl than visit with you? Doesn't that tell you something?"
She had at least stopped fussing with her damn desk. He was glad of that, even if it was because she was annoyed. "Her social worker told me that perfect attendance in her classes would look good on her record," Blair said.
"All right," he conceded. "What about Thursday?"
"She teaches basic auto on Thursday," Blair said. "How to change a tire, change spark plugs, whatever it is people do with cars."
As if he cared. Exasperated, he said, "Friday, then."
"The buyers are coming Friday," Blair reminded him. "Besides, I don't want to wait that long to see her."
"But you'll wait that long to go out with me?"
"Don't be dramatic, Brad," Blair said. "They're not the same thing."
"I'm not," he said. "Blair, this isn't healthy."
She set down her purse. "What isn't healthy?"
Considering what he planned to ask Blair tonight, it would be good to clear the air on the one sore point in their relationship, he decided. "I'm sorry, but you're practically obsessed with this woman." He plunged ahead, although she had not requested elaboration. "You're out there every visitor's day, rain or shine."
"Once a week," she said drily. "Some obsession."
"You write each other during the week."
"Sometimes things can't wait a week."
"Right," Brad said, quoting a recent one he remembered, "'I thought I'd waste some of your time, since you wasted so much of mine when I was sixteen. (And seventeen, and eighteen, and etc.) I was thinking about the time that Tootie drank that bottle of wine you brought back from France, and we'"
"You read my mail?" Blair said coolly.
He was on a roll now. This had been brewing for months. "You talk them into letting you sponsor a sewing class, so then you can drive out there twice a week."
"It was my class," she said. "It might have been slightly rude not to show up."
"You couldn't sew on a button if the Queen asked you to," he scoffed. "One of your crews was teaching it. You went because you wanted to. And let me guess Jo had perfect attendance."
This time, she did not answer. Instead, she crossed her arms and gestured for him to continue, by all means.
"We go to a store, you can't leave until you've found something you think they'll let her have." How many times had he stood there, tapping his foot, while she prattled on with some sales clerk about how good her friend would look in this color or that? "We take my car in for an oil change, you ask for spare parts catalogs."
"She likes those."
Which was exactly his point. "They cut off visiting privileges for her cell block, you hire half the lawyers in New York to file a class action."
"Injunction," Blair corrected him.
"You don't owe this woman your whole life."
"Actually, I do," Blair said, "but that's beside the point." She shoved her makeup mirror into her purse without caring that it had fallen into the wrong pocket, he noticed. So he was getting through to her, at some level, anyway. "Jo is my best friend. She is not something to 'skip' when it's not convenient."
"It's never 'not convenient' for you." He moved on to a larger, not entirely unrelated, topic. "Your father didn't know who I was, did he?"
Her expression gave her away.
"We've been going out eight months, and you haven't mentioned me. But you go on for ten minutes about Jo's class or Jo's socks or Jo's tattoo."
"Jo doesn't have a tattoo," she said. "Thank God I talked her out of that." She shuddered at some memory.
He shook his head. "Do you even understand my point?"
"I'm not sure if I do," Blair said. "But here's mine: Jo has been my best friend for ten years. She is non-negotiable. Now, I really need to go, or I'll be late."
He wasn't sure what he had hoped for, but it wasn't this, an outright dismissal of his concerns. Blair had not considered changing her plans for a single instant. "She'll always be non-negotiable, won't she?" he asked.
Blair stared at him quizzically. "She'll always be a good friend, if that's what you mean."
"What do you mean?"
"How good a friend has she been to you?" To forestall a profession of ignorance, he made it more explicit. "How close were the two of you, really?"
He had never seen that expression on her face before. He couldn't tell if it was fury, or shock, or something else.
"Is that what it takes to get your attention? A muscle shirt and a bad attitude?"
"I wouldn't say it's her attitude that's bad," Blair said. "Jo is my friend, nothing more. She encourages me. She insults me. She keeps me grounded. I never have to wonder if she's telling me the truth." Brad started to respond, but she wasn't through yet. "Don't ever ask me to choose between you."
"I think you already have."
Eight months. Eight months of his life wasted because this woman, this perfect woman, he had thought, would never care as much about him as she did about some crass felon from the Bronx. It would almost be funny if it weren't so pathetic. He picked up his suit jacket from the arm of her sofa. He would have to go by the La Caille and retrieve the ring that Blair was supposed to find on her plate tonight along with le choix des hors d'oeuvre. Well, if he was going to be humiliated, he wouldn't be the only one.
"Tell me, Blair, when you put on that class, did you take Jo's measurements personally?" He would regret the nastiness later, he knew, but it felt good now. "Did you fit her bra yourself?"
Blair calmly pressed the intercom button. "Bettina, Mr. Wilkins is leaving now, and he'll be dropping off his pass and ID badge on his way out. Will you take care of that?" Turning back to him, she said, "And as for buttons . . . ." She folded back the sleeve on her jacket and showed him her cuff. "Flawless Blair Warner stitching, Edna-Garrett style. You don't know me at all."
The argument rattled Blair, and she replayed it in her mind on the long drive to Greenville. Could she have handled it better? Should she have tried harder? She was still a bit numb when she picked up the olive green (or "puke green," as Jo said) phone that smelled faintly of Mr. Clean. She smiled her thanks to the guard who had remembered to wipe down the receiver in anticipation of her visit.
"Whatsa matter?" Jo asked immediately.
"Yeah, there is," Jo insisted.
"Why do you say that?"
"I know you, Blair. I could tell the minute you walked in the door."
Contrary to the past hour of firm instructions to herself, Blair began to cry. Not because she had lost Brad, but because he would never have noticed a problem the moment she walked in the door.
"Ah, damn, Blair, what's wrong?"
Now she was upsetting Jo, too. "Maybe I should go," she said. "I'm not good company today."
"You're never good company," Jo said. "That's no reason to leave."
The insult helped a little, but, as Jo had once told her, Blair hated to face facts. She hadn't loved Brad. He was convenient but unnecessary. There had been too many Brads.
"I broke up with Brad today," she said casually.
Jo was stunned. "Oh, hell," she said.
"You needn't pretend to be sorry," Blair said. "You wouldn't have liked him anyway."
"You never like any of my boyfriends."
"Yeah, well, I gotta question their judgment," Jo said. "And, you know, I just ain't into all that, 'Hi, Sweetie, did you miss me' stuff. It makes me gag."
"True," Blair agreed. "You're more of a 'Hey, get your butt off the couch' romanticist."
"That can be romantic, if you say it right," Jo protested. She leaned toward the glass. "Sometimes you gotta listen for what ain't bein' said."
That was unusually Zen for Jo, Blair thought. "The silence speaks loudly, Grasshopper," she joked.
"Sometimes it does," Jo replied. "Sometimes people can't say how they feel, so they gotta say other things. Like makin' fun of people."
"I see," Blair said. "So, 'Can you fit a duplex into that hair' means what, exactly?"
Jo seemed uncomfortable. "It means you got big hair," she said.
"I figured that much."
"Aw, forget it," Jo declared. "So, what happened with Brad? He find out you're not a natural blonde? I woulda thought he knew that already."
A question was in there, Blair understood, and she decided to answer it. She had never held anything back from Jo, whether she wanted to or not. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said. "Of course I'm a natural blonde. And he wouldn't know otherwise."
"You're a natural blonde like I'm a natural blonde." Which reminded Jo . . . . "You do remember what I look like as a blonde, don't you?" she asked menacingly.
From behind the glass, Blair drew back slightly. "I told you that was an accident."
"Yeah, you accidentally dyed half my hair blonde while I'm sleeping."
"Not half your hair," Blair chided. "Just a few streaks." Going on the offensive, she said, "And if I remember correctly, I was traumatized at the time over that little incident in which you 'accidentally' nudged me with your bike into Tommy Morris."
"You said you wanted to meet him."
"At a party," Blair said. "In the hall, perhaps. Not flat on the sidewalk with my face in his lap."
"Hey, don't knock it; that's probably why he asked you out," Jo said.
"Must we be crude?"
"I must," Jo replied. "It's optional for you."
With an exaggerated sigh, Blair asked herself, "Why do I come out here?"
"'cause I take your mind off dumb boyfriends."
"So, do you want to talk about it, Blair?"
Not really, and especially not considering Brad's accusations about the two of them. "It was pretty ugly," was all she could bring herself to say.
"Did he do anything . . . ?"
"No." Blair fastened her eyes on her friend's. "And even if he had . . . ." She wagged a finger at her friend.
The buzzer sounded, and Jo began to rise. Before hanging up, she said, "Cracks about your hair mean that you ain't bad looking, Blair," she said. "But you already know that, so I'm never gonna say it."
"Well, since we're tossing out compliments, you're not bad looking, either," Blair said. "In a Neanderthalian sort of way."
"Neanderthalian? Is that a word?"
Another warning from the buzzer ended the debate. As always, Blair waited until Jo turned back for a final look, and waved goodbye.
A week later, Blair was back to her annoyingly perky self, Jo noticed. She hadn't moped about that Brad for long. Jo ran an eye over the blonde's flattering pink sweater and jeans. "No new WF today, huh?" she asked.
"Actually, we do have something new, but I didn't think it would be appropriate in here," Blair said.
"Oh, yeah?" Considering the time last summer when Blair flounced in here in those ultra-short shorts, showing them off with some nice poses for Jo (and the half dozen other inmates ogling her), this had to be good. "What is it?"
"A see-through nightie," Blair cooed. "It barely reaches my thighs. And talk about softit just begs for someone's hands to"
"Uh, yeah, good decision not to wear that," Jo interrupted. She cleared her throat. "You wouldn't wanna be that popular."
"You mean with the guards or some of the women?" Blair asked casually.
The question was more direct than usual. "Both," Jo answered.
Blair hesitated, and then asked a question that was even more inappropriate. "Are you popular, Jo?"
No way was she going to answer that one. "You know me," Jo dodged. "Ms. Popularity, wherever I go."
Blair pressed on. "With the women?" she asked.
"If you're askin' what I think you're askin', why are you askin'?" Jo said with some dismay. It was something they had never talked about, and Jo would be perfectly content keeping it that way.
"I want to know about your life."
"Well, here it is," Jo said angrily. "My life is waking up in a 12 by 12 cell, eating garbage that Mrs. G would have tossed out the back, lifting weights, reading, cleaning up after my cell mate, and going back to bed and it'll be the same damn thing every day for the next three to six years." The description was true, more or less. So what if she was leaving out a few details?
"You don't socialize with other prisoners?"
Why was Blair bringing this up? She had probably seen some special on televison about women in prison, and now her narrow little mind was working overtime. "Look, Blair, I don't think you really want to talk about this," Jo warned. Once it was out in the open, there would be no going back.
While Jo waited, hoping for a change of subject, Blair seemed to gather her thoughts. Had she figured things out from what Jo was saying? Was this going to tank their friendship? Snooty background aside, the heiress wasn't usually that judgmental of others. Not any more.
Blair began, "I only asked because . . . ."
"Promise you won't give me a hard time?" Blair said. "I mean it this time."
Their whole relationship was built on giving each other hard times, Jo almost pointed out, but Blair seemed serious about this. "I won't give you a hard time," she promised.
"Well, I was telling one of our models about breaking up with Brad . . . ." She looked down at the phone cord, looking for something to untangle. "And . . . she asked me out."
Jo's mind went blank.
"On a date."
"Yeah, I figured that," Jo said. She shouldn't be surprised that a woman had finally hit on Blair. Jo had seen plenty of them eying her just like the men when the princess swanned into a room.
"I haven't given her my answer yet."
Jo was speechless again. Blair was actually considering it?
"Sometimes I wonder . . . ."
Wonder what? Spit it out, damn it! Jo couldn't bring herself to ask. The fact that she cared so much about the answer scared her.
Blair was still giving the phone cord a thorough inspection. "Every once in a while, I wonder if women might be more . . . compatible," she said.
Jo hoped she wasn't expecting a response. No way was she going to stick her nose into this one. She had a conflict of interest.
"Not 'that way,' of course," Blair said. "I mean, I'm heterosexual. At least, I always have been. But . . . ."
But what? This was excruciating.
"But sometimes when I'm around Eliana"
"Eliana the model?" Jo burst out. The drop-dead-gorgeous model who showed off Warner Fashion's last two lines, according to the New Yorker that Blair had dropped off? "Eli-fucking-ana asked you out?" Holy cow, that babe was hot. The idea of her hitting the sheets with another beautiful woman would have fueled Jo's fantasies for days, if the other woman were anyone but Blair.
"Jo," Blair chided her for the four-letter exclamation, but then added curiously, "Why do you say it like that?"
"No reason," Jo said. "She's just really I mean, I didn't know she was gay."
"She isn't," Blair said. "I mean, not exclusively. She had a boyfriend, but she 'doesn't like to confine herself,' as she puts it." She seemed uncomfortable with the subject that she had brought up. "I don't really have anyone to talk to about this. I thought maybe . . . ."
Time for a tough decision. Blair seemed sincere. Their friendship had survived against all odds before. Reluctantly, Jo said, "Look, Blair . . . ." How to say this? "I don't like to confine myself, either." Unless it was to women. Sheesh, this was awkward.
"Were you that way in high school?"
"I wasn't sitting there ogling you, if that's what you're implying," Jo lashed out.
"I wasn't implying anything," Blair shot back. "I just wondered."
"Well, I wasn't," Jo lied. She hadn't ogled Blair, she really hadn't, but she had noticed her. Who wouldn't? Jo was no different from all those other guys, except that she got to see Blair naked once in a while. Damn she didn't need that thought right now. She tried to erase from her brain the image of Blair stepping into the shower, or dropping her bra onto the bed before reaching for her nightgown.
All those other guys . . . .
For the whole time they'd known each other, a string of guys had trailed after Blair, grateful for whatever little crumbs of attention she bestowed upon them. "Blair, have you ever felt truly passionate about any of the guys you've dated?" Jo said.
The fact that the other woman had to think about it for so long told her something. Eventually, Blair asked, "Passionate in what sense?"
"As in you think about him all the time. You want to spend all of your time with him. That kind of thing."
"Well, I haven't really had the opportunity," Blair said. "Until now, I spent all my time with you. I did think about boys on the rare occasion when you weren't driving me insane."
Of all the conversations she could have with Blair Warner, this was one Jo would never have expected. "I don't know what to tell you," she said. "You gotta figure this out on your own."
"Frankly, none of this had ever occurred to me before," Blair said. "First Brad, and then"
"Brad's gay?" Jo erupted.
"No," Blair replied, "he just said some things . . . ."
"He accused you of being gay?"
"I wouldn't say 'gay,' so much as 'in love with a woman.'"
"In love?" Holy crap, Blair had been holding out on her. "With who?"
Jo was stunned. "I don't even know this guy," she said stupidly.
"I told him it was ridiculous," Blair laughed. "I mean, I've learned to tolerate you barely but I don't think about you constantly or want to spend every minute of the day with you. Do you?"
This time, the buzzer was a relief. The next seven days, though, were torture. Many of Jo's waking hours were occupied by mental images of her friend making out with that Eliana broad, who, now that Jo had examined her photos again, was way too skinny and had an obvious nose job.
A spacial anomaly at Greenville Prison caused time to move at one-tenth of its normal speed Monday night and all day Tuesday, and by the time five o'clock rolled around, Jo's fidgeting had gotten her kicked out of most of the common areas.
Blair was again wearing an attractive sweater and jeans. After the initial greetings, she started in on her usual report. "We're launching our new intimate apparel line next week," she said.
"Is Eliana modeling it?" If so, Jo would be chucking her Warner catalog in the bin this time.
"No," Blair said. "I decided that wasn't the best idea for me."
Thank you, God. Jo could handle Boyfriend of the Month, but for some reason the idea of Blair with a girlfriend had driven her crazy.
"It was an interesting revelation, though," Blair said, "that I am the kind of woman other women might find attractive." She tossed up her hands helplessly. "But then, why wouldn't I bethey have eyes, don't they?"
"If they can see past your big head," Jo said. Involuntarily, her glance landed on twin mounds framed nicely by clingy angora.
"Oh, I think they can," Blair said. "Eliana was always looking at my breasts when I wore this sweater."
Shit! Had she just been caught?
Blair's next words were hesitant. "Jo, I have to ask you something," she said. "Maybe I'm just paranoid now. I mean tuned in. Just now . . . were you looking at my"
"No, I was not lookin' at your tits!" Jo blew up. She had never been so embarrassed. "I don't have the hots for you. I'm not sitting here pining away for you. OK?"
She was about to throw up with the humiliation. For the first time, Jo announced her readiness to return to general population before their time was up. Storming out, she did not look back.
Blair was a no-show the next week.
So it was over. All because Jo couldn't keep it in her pants, or, more precisely, keep her eyes above shoulder level. She was just like every other sleazy guy who had copped a visual feel of her friend. In high school, Jo had secretly smacked more than one guy for staring too long at the wrong places on the blonde's anatomy. She was no better.
It was probably for the best now anyway. From what the other girls were saying, Blair would have been history anyway before the month was over.
When the guard read her name aloud from the next Visitors List, Jo almost remained on the couch. But, as had been the case since she was sixteen years old, she couldn't stay away from Blair Warner.
"I'm sorry I missed last week," Blair said. "One of our factories caught fire and two employees were killed. We were looking at a major p.r. problem, so Daddy thought I should go out there." It probably sounded as though she was rambling, Blair realized, and she probably was. She hadn't been sure what kind of reception she would get after bungling her attempt to discuss things with Jo. "I told Bettina to call and let you know that I couldn't make it, but she thought I had written the number down wrong when the prison answered and I was already on the plane so I just found out today that she hadn't left the message," she concluded breathlessly.
"Whatever," Jo muttered. "I don't live or die on whether you come visit me."
Blair didn't let the outburst faze her. She'd had worse from her Bronx Pole. "Listen, I'm sorry for what I said last time," she said. "It was all just so new to me. Please don't be angry with me."
There was a distinct ring of untruth in her tone, but Blair chose to believe her. "Then why are you in a bad mood?" she asked.
"Oh, I don't know," Jo snapped. "Maybe because I'm stuck in a goddamn prison?"
"Well, let's see," Blair said. "You've been in a 'damn prison' every other time I came here in the past four years, and you've always been in a good mood," she pointed out. "Or as close as you come, anyway."
A sarcastic rejoinder did not follow as she had hoped. Instead, Jo just rolled her eyes and uttered another,"Whatever."
With a sigh, Blair asked, "Do you want me to go?"
"I want you to get on with your life."
The outburst startled her. Get on . . . ?
"I am getting on with my life," Blair said, slightly irritated. Perhaps not in the normal way, but in the only way she could for now.
"Funny, you never mentioned wanting to settle down in Missouri," Jo sneered.
"I'm not ready to settle down yet," Blair said. "I have a great job, and I'm good at it."
"A job you could be doing in New York."
"I don't want to be Blair Warner's charity project," Jo suddenly announced.
Where was all this coming from? Charity project?
"I made my own decisions," Jo said. "You've got nothing to feel guilty about. Go do your thing."
Before the blonde could speak, the guard was unlocking the door early again at Jo's insistence, and her long-time friend was sweeping through it and away from her.
For long minutes, Blair remained in her seat, dazed, wondering what had just happened. Could Jo really not forgive her for her error in judgment last time? Eventually, she rose and walked the few steps toward the door, waiting for the corrections officer to open it for her. She vaguely recalled Jo musing one day that the guards afforded such courtesies to Blair but not to anyone else's visitors. "Well, of course," Blair had replied. "They know breeding when they see it." That, and perhaps the expensive chocolates that Blair occasionally dropped off on her way in, and the gift certificates, and the new television in the guards' lounge, and certain other reminders that Jo's well being was in everyone's best interests.
"Thank you, Ranae," she said absently.
When the corrections officer offered her usual, "See you next week," Blair shook her head.
"I don't know," she said. "I don't think she wants to see me."
"Don't listen to that," Ranae advised. "Some of them get that way before the hearing. It's a defense mechanism."
"Hearing?" Was Jo in some sort of trouble?
"Parole hearing," the guard said, as if Blair should know all about it. "Next Wednesday?"
Blair was trying to process the words.
"A lot of times, when the girls don't make it their honeys give up on 'em. They all know it happens, so picking a fight makes it easier." She smiled at Blair. "But Jo don't need to worry about you, does she, kid?"
Parole? As in "Oh, my God!" Blair exclaimed. "Jo's being paroled?"
"Not necessarily," the guard said. "Just because she's eligible don't mean she gets it. It's just a hearing for them to consider it."
Blair felt dizzy.
"Listen, Honey, don't get your hopes up," Ranae said gently. "Jo's been a good girl here, but a lot of the violent ones don't make it out the first time. There's a scale they use to rate the girls."
Grateful for the information, Blair reached for the guard's hand. "Thank you. I'll have my lawyers look into it," she said. "She has to get out."
Jumping into her car, she dialed the phone and rattled off instructions. "Bettina, clear my calendar through next Wednesday. Get hold of Gene Elder; tell him we have an emergency and I need to see him right away. Book me a flight to New York tonight. I'm about an hour out, so give me enough time to stop by my apartment." Her mind raced as she thought of everything she needed to do. "Get hold of my parents and let them know I'm coming, and also Edna Garrett in Peeksville. She'll know who else to call."
Jo might be getting out.
"Oh, my God," she whispered. From the front seat of her car, Blair stared vacantly at a row of cars. Eventually, she realized that she had missed whatever her secretary was saying. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Is something wrong, Blair?" Bettina sounded worried. Blair hoped the loyal employee would be willing to rejoin her in New York when this was all over and she and Jo were back where they belonged.
"No," Blair replied. "Something may finally be set right."
The following Tuesday, Jo glanced up again from the magazine she was reading to the clock in the rec room. Five o'clock. When the matron barreled in, she listened to the list.
"Evans, Franco, Garcia, Howard, Humphreys, Porter, Reese, Stoudamire, Townsend, Williams, visitors."
A lump formed in her throat. No Blair. Well, good. She was glad the airhead had actually listened to her for once. She should have put a stop to the charade years ago, but she'd been too selfish. The fact was that Jo looked forward to seeing her friend every week. Pathetically, she often tossed and turned through long Monday nights, anticipating her visit the next day.
Blair got more glamorous each time Jo saw her. She liked it when Blair was on one about some trip or something, because then she would chatter on forever while Jo just marveled at her. Over time, most of the other prisoners had noticed and commented about her. Some were kind ("What a devoted friend"), others crass ("Nice piece of ass you got there"). Who would have thought their relationship would ever evolve into this, whatever it was?
She gazed at Blair again now, here in the Parole Board hearing room, with that dumbass ribbon in her hair. Hadn't she told Blair how much she disliked that song? Which, of course, was why Blair was wearing it. Jo had not missed the little half-grin.
"Ms. Polniaczek," the woman said, "We are here today to consider your eligibility for parole. We are familiar with your file. This is your opportunity to speak on your own behalf."
"Uh, yeah," Jo said. She had tried to think of reasons she should be let back into society, but she hadn't been able to come up with any. None that she could put into words, anyway. "I've tried to be a good inmate. I don't think I'm dangerous to anyone any more."
"Do you regret what you did?"
She had been warned that they would ask this. Did she regret going after that bastard? She couldn't honestly say that she did. But there were other considerations. Did she regret that it went as far as it did? That it had cost Jo the final semester she needed to graduate? That she hadn't been there to help Blair through long, painful months of rehab? That, except for Blair, she hadn't been able to see her parents and friends more than a couple of times in the past four years?
"Yeah," Jo said sincerely. "I do."
From across the room, Blair waited, but nothing more came out of her friend's mouth. That was it? What happened to Jo Polniaczek the great debater? "Say something!" she whispered urgently to the attorney.
He patted her hand to calm her down. "May I address the panel?" Elder said. "Gene Elder with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. We're here on Ms. Polniaczek's behalf. We submitted a supplemental character report yesterday morning with a number of affidavits from acquaintances in New York."
"Yes," the woman said. She held up a thick document. "And they are consistent with favorable evaluations from prison personnel. I don't think her character is at issue. Our principal concern is recidivism."
"Of course," Elder said smoothly, "which is why we have also adduced affidavits from Dr. Soltz, head of the Criminal Psychology Department at NYU, and Dr. Hedron at UCLA, a leading expert in the United States on the study of criminal behavior."
Jo gaped at him.
"As you will note, both Dr. Soltz and Dr. Hedron opine that Ms. Polniaczek poses a low risk of future violence in light of her psychological profile and the circumstances of the original offense."
"Her attack on the victim was premeditated," the woman said.
Blair held her tongue. She had never entirely agreed with that characterization.
"The second-degree murder charges were dismissed," the lawyer countered.
"In exchange for a plea on the lesser included offense," the woman pointed out. "She went back to her vehicle to retrieve a tire iron, which she used to beat the victim to death."
That wasn't fair, Blair wanted to shout, but she remembered Gene's warning. Don't react to anything you hear.
"Mr. Cobb also armed himself during the confrontation," he said respectfully. "Ms. Polniaczek suffered lacerations on her arms and side from the broken beer bottle. The transcript confirms that the incident was essentially a fight that got out of hand, and that Ms. Polniaczek attempted to withdraw at one point."
"But she did not."
The lawyer changed tacts. "Ms. Polniaczek has completed extensive anger management therapy while in prison," he said. "Her record here has been exemplary."
Scanning a document of some sort, the woman said, "She was involved in a serious altercation less than three months ago at the prison."
Did this witch have it in for Jo? Why was she only focusing on the negative?
"I believe you'll find that she was exonerated," Elder said smoothly. Granted, he was relying on what Blair told him that Jo told her, but Blair had insisted it must be true. "As I understand it, Ms. Polniaczek was attempting to break up a fight between two other inmates."
"Mm," the woman said noncommitally.
"Ms. Polniaczek has a solid social structure outside of prison," Elder said. "I would refer you to the affidavits of Miss Green with CNN, Miss Ramsey at Langley College, and others in Exhibit C. She will also transition immediately into a productive situation upon her release." He signaled for his client to speak.
"Hi," Blair said a bit nervously. "My name is Blair Warner."
"Warner?" the woman said.
"Yes," Blair said. "I'm with Warner Fashions." As in that nice two-piece Warner you're wearing.
Her name seemed to trigger recognition in the second panel member as well. "Warner," he said, leafing through the file. "Are you the same?"
They would have a description of the offense, the attorneys had told her, including a general understanding of Jo's motive. But if Blair was willing, it might help to give them another side of it, to remind them there was more than one victim that night.
"I've known Jo for ten years," Blair said. "We were roommates in high school and college. Jo was, and is, my best friend."
She paused to sip from a cup that Elder had filled with cold water from the fountain outside when they first took their seats.
"One night, we went to a function with two ROTC boys men whom I had met at a fund raiser a few weeks earlier." She smiled humorlessly. "The dance was on a federal base. That's why she ended up here." Instead of a state prison, where she would have been close enough to see her family. "I was with John Cobb."
The man that Jo killed, she didn't add. They would know that.
"John offered me a tour of the base," Blair said. "I told Jo where we were going, and I left with him. After a while, he led me into a building on the outskirts of the base. I didn't know until too late that it was abandoned." Some of the horror that had enveloped her at that realization washed through her again. "He tore my dress and knocked me to the floor. I managed to get free" thanks to a move Jo had once showed her called 'crushing plums' "and I ran to the window to yell for help." With shaking hands, she took another sip of water. She hadn't talked about this with anyone since that single visit from the police at the hospital. Not with her parents, not with Mrs. Garrett, not even with Jo. Least of all with Jo.
"John picked me up and threw me out of the window onto the street below," Blair went on. She could sense her friend staring intently at her. "When Jo found me, I was badly injured. I couldn't talk. I couldn't walk for months. Jo stayed with me that night until I went into surgery."
Holding her hand, letting Blair clutch it mindlessly like Linus's security blanket.
"And then," Blair continued, "she went looking for John."
Who, along with her hot-tempered friend, had been arrested for beating each other to a pulp in the parking lot, but who had died two days later from undetected swelling of the brain.
"It was wrong," Blair said. "Jo knows that. But she was under extreme stress. It truly was a unique situation."
Jo pondered the words. Extreme? Yes. Unique? She hoped so. Because in her heart, Jo knew she would not hesitate to lay hands again on anyone who hurt Blair. As she had once explained to Mrs. G, where she came from, a guy who slandered a girl's reputation got both his legs broken. The severity of the response should fit the gravity of the offense. When she went after Cobb, she thought Blair had been raped, but she would have done the same thing to him anyway for what he did to her.
She thought often about that night, after deciding that Blair had been gone a little too long and dumping her date to go looking for her. Like Jo had wanted to go with that guy anyway. She just hadn't wanted Blair to go alone to a strange place. Some protector she turned out to be.
She'd been in shock for the first few hours. Did Ms. Polniaczek want to donate blood? Did she have phone numbers for next of kin? Jo let the hospital make the calls.
Mrs. Garrett arrived first with Nat and Tootie. That's what Jo heard, anyway. She was long gone by then. The surgery would take several hours, she had been told. Several hours to sit there and think about what that bastard had done to Blairor several hours to go do something about it.
Blair leaned forward, eager to talk about something more positive. "Jo has a good job waiting for her at Warner," she said excitedly.
A job? They hadn't talked about that.
"She has already served as an unpaid consultant for the past four years," she said, directing her comments to the female panelist. "For example, she's the one who suggested adding the pinstripe to our gray flare." Like the one that you're wearing. "And I've made arrangements for us both to enroll at Langley as soon as Jo is released," she added. "We just need one semester to finish our degrees."
Blair hadn't gotten her degree? Why hadn't she gone back when she recovered? Because she was out here with you, dumbass.
"We'll be staying with an old friend who is now assistant headmaster at the Eastland School for Girls, which was recently featured in Forbes and People magazines."
Jo nearly laughed. Together again under Mrs. Garrett's roof? She could just see it.
It wouldn't be any time soon, though. They were sorry, the examiners said; Jo's rating did not support a parole recommendation at this time. Character witnesses and good behavior did not overcome the high degree of violence in the underlying offense, and the fact that it was only four years ago.
Damn. Jo glanced over at her friend, who was staring at the board members in disbelief. That's why I didn't want you here, Blair.
"We will re-evaluate the rating in light of the supplemental reports and Ms. Warner's testimony," the woman said. "Assuming that it does not change, you will be eligible for review again a year from now."
Blair looked as though she were about to be sick.
Sorry, Jo mouthed. There was more to say, but it would have to wait until Tuesday. If Blair came.
As various department heads filed out of the conference room, Bettina maneuvered around them to the table where her boss sat was slipping a set of reports into a folder. "John Callender is here with the samples you ordered," she reported. She handed Blair a message "Miss Durrant in Personnel wants to run something by you" another message "Your accountant would like you to call. And there's a woman waiting for you in the lobby who doesn't have an appointment."
"Then you know what to do," Blair said tiredly. Uninvited sales people were to be unceremoniously shown the door. She glanced at her watch. She needed to get on the road soon, or she would be late.
"She says she's a friend of yours," Bettina replied. "She's been waiting for two hours."
"A friend of mine?"
"Pole . . . ." The secretary reached into her pocket for the notepad on which she had jotted the unusual name, but two pink message slips were already floating toward the floor as Blair raced down the hall. Through the open door, she could see the beautiful brunette seated in one of the chairs, leafing half-heartedly through a Harper's Bazaar.
"Jo!" Blair shouted.
Dropping the magazine, Jo rose just in time for Blair to hurl herself madly into her embrace.
"I don't believe it," Blair mumbled into a dark leather jacket. "Why didn't you call? When did you find out? Oh, my God!"
"I tried to call yesterday when I heard," Jo said. "Your office doesn't accept collect calls."
The CEO's expression darkened.
"It was no big deal," Jo said into her ear. "They gave me a few bucks and a bus ticket."
Blair had not released her grip yet. Nor did she plan to. Finally, after all these yearsJo Polniaczek in her arms. She tightened her embrace, leaning wordlessly into her friend until her thoughts finally became practical. "Have you eaten?" she asked.
That wouldn't do. It was almost four o'clock. "We have to celebrate!" Blair announced. "What sounds good? Italian? French?"
"You know what?" Jo said. "I'd kill for some decent pizza. That stuff I've been eatin', the cook shoulda been in there with me."
"Pizza it is," Blair said. "We're leaving," she announced bluntly.
"Will you be back to review the samples?" her secretary asked, a polite reminder of her responsibilities.
Blair couldn't keep her eyes off Jo. "No," she said. "Have Andy do it."
The nearest pizza joint, nearly deserted at this time of day, was less than a mile from Warner headquarters. The two women slipped into a corner booth.
"You're staring again," Jo teased.
"I can't help it," Blair said. "I'm just so happy."
"You're happy?" Jo said. "I'm the one who won't have to sleep in a bunk tonight. Although the place I'll be rentin', that might be a step up."
"Renting?" Blair said. "Don't be silly. You can stay with me."
"I don't want to be a pain, Blair," Jo said. "I didn't tell you, but I'm in home custody for the first two months."
"Home custody? You have to stay home all day?"
Jo nodded. "They make random calls," she said. "If I don't answer, I go back."
"Oh, my God," Blair said. She checked her watch. "You've been out four hours already."
"It kicks in tomorrow," Jo said. "They give you time to get settled. A motel's the only place that doesn't require first month's rent."
"I don't require it," Blair said. She reached for Jo's hand. "Jo, please stay with me," she begged. "I want to spend time with you. We have so much catching up to do."
"Listen, that fight we had," Jo began, "I didn't mean any of that." She thought about it a second, and then added, "Well, I did mean it about you getting on with your life. I don't know how I could have gotten through the past four years without you. Now that I'm out, you should move on."
"To what I want out of life?" Blair asked.
"All right." Boldly, Blair laid a hand across Jo's. When Jo just stared at it, she suddenly felt insecure. Stupid. "Sorry," she said. Affecting a too-cheery expression, she withdrew her hand and examined her menu. "Mushroom and green pepper for me, I think."
"The Supreme looks good."
This time, she couldn't ignore it. She met an expressive blue gaze.
"What are you thinking?" Jo asked.
"Green pepper," Blair replied.
"You know what I mean," Jo said. "Why won't you say?"
Because I just got you back and now you won't want to stay with me, or you might hate me, or you might feel sorry for me. Take your pick. Fortunately, the waitress arrived to take their orders, giving Blair a little time to recover. "I'm sorry, Jo," she said. "I guess I'm just so happy to have you back," she said. "My emotions are going wild."
"Mine, too," Jo replied. "Or maybe it's hormones. You know what they say about ex-cons."
Blair nibbled on a slice of pepperoni until curiosity overcame her. "What do they say?"
Jo just grinned at her. "So, you find a replacement for old Brad yet?" she finally said.
"I haven't looked."
Reaching for her soda, Jo asked casually, "You still thinkin' about trying' something new?"
Just the mention of it made Blair's heart race. "Yes."
"You got anyone in mind?"
"Depends," Blair said. She picked up the menu again to give her something to look at other than the woman across the table. "Do you know anyone who might be interested?"
"Depends," Jo said. "What are you looking for?"
That was easy. "Someone smart, adventurous, sarcastic, and annoying."
"Sounds like you're describing yourself."
"I'm hardly adventurous," Blair disagreed.
"Well, considering what we're sitting here talking about, I might beg to differ," Jo said.
Still pretending to assess her dessert options, Blair asked, "What are you looking for in a date?"
"Someone smart, adventurous, sarcastic, and annoying," Jo said. "I like arguing."
"There's nothin' like a good jab to get the blood going."
"Then your blood must have been going the whole time we were at Eastland," Blair said. And Langley.
"It was," Jo said. "Ok, Blair, I'm gonna say something once, and then I'll deny it. You're a fox. Anyone would give their right arm to go out with you. I'd want to go out with you if we didn't drive each other nuts."
She set down the menu. "What does driving each other nuts have to do with anything?"
"Well, I mean, you wouldn't . . . ."
"Jo, I'm thinking about going out with a woman for the first time," Blair said. "Why wouldn't I want it to be my best friend? I already know all your faults, and you're used to the fact that I have none."
"Your ex-con best friend?" Jo pointed out.
"Well, you know what they say about ex-cons," Blair smirked. Suddenly, she burst out, "Why don't we try a kiss and see if we like it?"
"Oh, man . . . ."
"Let's go to my place."
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea," Jo hedged. "I'm kinda . . . high-strung right now."
"Don't you want to kiss me?"
"Yeah," Jo said. "All over."
"That's the problem," Jo added.
"Well, it's not insurmountable," Blair said. "I mean, we can just start with one kiss."
Which quickly led to another, and another, and from there to a heavy makeout session on Blair's Parisian loveseat. Flustered, the blonde finally scrambled to her feet.
"Well, that answers one question," she panted.
Jo dropped from the soft cushions onto the floor. "Oh, yeah."
"I think that's enough for one evening," Blair said. "Otherwise . . . ."
"Mm," Jo grunted. "Cold water time."
There was Perrier in the refrigerator, Blair volunteered.
"I'm thinking more like shower."
Blair dispatched Jo to the spare bedroom for the night with a cotton nightshirt and a fresh pillow case and a string of kisses that left her unable to sleep for hours, and unable to concentrate the next day, either. Shortly before lunch, she picked up the phone.
Amused, Blair said, "Very professional. I may have just hit on a new position for you."
"I got a couple of positions I could suggest," Jo leered.
Telling her friend to hold on, Blair walked to the office door and closed it. "I've been thinking about that," she said.
"I keep picturing us on the couch," Blair went on. "I was so turned on."
"Tell me about it."
"I wanted to touch you."
"Geez, Blair, did you call just to talk dirty?" Jo groaned. "'cause you're getting me all hot and bothered here."
"No, I'm trying to tell you what I want to do." With her free hand, Blair reached for her purse on the floor. "I'm coming home."
"Damn . . . ."
The instant she crossed the threshold, Blair found herself pressed against the wall. Jo's mouth found hers, and then her neck, while Jo's hands caressed the blonde's breasts through the thin material of her blouse. Pulling away, Blair gasped, "Waitnot here. This isn't"
Midway through another heated kiss, Jo jerked back. "This isn't what?" she said. "Prison?"
Blair laid a palm on her cheek. "This isn't what I fantasized about all morning," she said lovingly.
"Oh." Jo seemed embarrassed by her defensiveness. "You've been fantasizing, too?"
"Yes," Blair said, giving Jo a quick peck. "You." Another kiss. "Me." A kiss. "And silk sheets."
"Sounds good," Jo agreed. "You know anyone with silk sheets?"
Blair took her by the hand and began backing into her bedroom. "As it just so happens, I do . . . ."
She didn't know what they said about ex-cons, but if Jo's performance in bed was anything to go by, it must be good, Blair decided. Jo was everywhere, doing everything to her, until Blair honestly thought she might pass out. Jo's hands, Jo's mouth, Jo's scent, they all overwhelmed her as Blair reached down in her ecstasy to clasp the back of Jo's head.
Her own efforts felt inept by comparison, but they got the job done, and Jo claimed it was good. "How could you tell?" Blair teased her. Accompanied by a stream of four-letter words, the brunette had come hard on Blair's hand mere seconds after the blonde slid it between her thighs. "A little pent up energy there?"
"A little," Jo acknowledged. "And you're just so damn hot."
"True." Blair ran her eyes down Jo's lanky frame, then scooted over to press her lips against the swell of Jo's breast. "So much skin, so little time . . . "
Making love with her best friend for most of the night threw off her internal clock, so Blair had no idea what time it was when she was awakened by the press of teeth against her collar bone, and then against her throat, and then Jo's delicious weight settling on top of her. Blair spread her thighs apart to accommodate her, clutching at a muscular back as Jo began moving against her, enjoying the protest of bedsprings and the rasp of Jo's breath in her ear.
"Fuck me," she begged, words she never thought she would say, but that had been so exciting last night when she heard them the first time she went inside Jo.
The headboard banged lightly against the wall with the force of Jo's thrusts until, with a strained, "Oh, God," Jo arched into Blair a final time before collapsing on top of her.
Blair smoothed her hands across Jo's back, slightly damp from her exertions. "That was fun," she murmured. She listened as Jo's breath gradually calmed, protesting mildly as Jo rolled off of her. When her decorator telephone rang, Blair reached lazily over to the bed stand to answer it.
"Hi, Blair," Andy greeted her. "Are you coming in today? Marco wants a meet."
"You handle it," Blair said with a sigh of satisfaction. "I'm in love." She cradled the receiver.
Jo flipped onto her side to face the CEO. "Are you nuts?" she said. "They're gonna figure it out."
"I imagine so, since I plan to introduce you as my sexy girlfriend at the Christmas party."
"Do you really think that's a good idea?"
Blair's eyes remained closed. "I'm 'stinking rich,' as you would put it, and I'm quite good at my job," she said contentedly. "I don't have to care what people think."
"What about your dad?"
"My father let me move an entire division to St. Louis so that I could be near you," Blair pointed out. "I don't think he's going to be too surprised. Besides, he's always liked you, at least since the head injury."
Jo did not seem convinced. "Liking me as his daughter's roommate is one thing," she said. "Liking me as his daughter's girlfriend"
"is another." Jo grinned when Blair's little comment registered. "Sex slave, huh? Maybe I wouldn't mind working for you after all."
Blair raised her hands above her head and gripped the headboard. "So get to work . . . ."
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