DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended.
CHALLENGE: Written for the second 24 Hour Challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Stark Realization
By Ann


An excited Natalie raced into the den, holding four tickets high above her head. "Hey guys, you won't believe…" Her words trailed off when she found only Tootie. Her friend swiveled around on the sofa and smiled.

"What, Nat?" Her eyes immediately fell on the hand that had fallen almost lifelessly at Natalie's side. "What've you got there?"

Shuffling over, Natalie plopped down in the wing chair. "Tickets to see 'Back to the Future'." Natalie sighed one of those Blair sighs Jo always found so annoying. "I won them."

Tootie jumped from the couch. "That's great, Nat!" She looked down at her morose friend. "Hey, what's wrong? You should be excited; kind of like you were when you came in."

"Yeah, I know, but I thought Jo and Blair would be here, too. I wanted to surprise everyone, instead I just surprised you."

"Gee, thanks, Nat." Tootie put her hands on her hips and glared.

Natalie slumped further into the chair. "I'm sorry, Tootie, it's just that Jo and Blair are never around anymore. I miss our time together. We don't even study together anymore."

Tootie moved back on the couch and sat at the end nearest Natalie. "I know what you mean. Take this afternoon, for example; I was sitting in the chair," she gestured towards the chair Natalie was currently residing in, "and, Jo and Blair were on the couch. We were all studying for our tests tomorrow, and then the two of them started acting weird."

Natalie frowned. "Weird? In what way?"

"I can't really put my finger on it." Tootie shrugged. "They were just weird, and then they suddenly decided that they needed to go to the library."

"Hmm," Natalie looked away in thought. "Now that you mention it, they've been acting weird for several weeks now. Usually, they can barely tolerate staying in the same room with each other for too long, but now, they're wandering off together."

"You're right." Tootie agreed, adding, "Have you noticed how they never seem to fight anymore?"

"Oh, c'mon, Tootie, why just last week, Blair knocked over one of Jo's autographed baseballs from the shelf, and Jo …" Natalie's words trailed off, "Jo just smiled and picked it up." She furrowed her brow, and then broke out in a grin. "Wait, I've got one! Yesterday, Jo was folding clothes, and she rolled up one of Blair's cashmere sweaters like she does her sweatshirts."

Tootie grinned. "I bet Blair blasted her for that. She hates it when her clothes are mistreated."

Natalie laughed aloud. "Blair turned to Jo and said …" Natalie's face went slack, "here, Jo, let me do that." Worried, she exclaimed, "Oh my God, Tootie! Jo and Blair have been taken over by the pod people!"

"See, I told you they've been acting weird." Tootie nodded in total agreement.

"Okay, let's not panic." Natalie leaned forward in her chair and wrung her hands. "We need to figure out when the two of them started acting strangely. If we can figure out how the weirdness began, then maybe we can do something to fix it."

"Good idea, Nat. The weirdness definitely started after the fender bender incident last month; remember that's when Blair bumped Jo's motorcycle with her car, and Jo went ballistic."

"Oh yeah, I definitely remember that; I thought for sure Blair wouldn't live to see another day. Hmm, why don't we backtrack from today?"

"Alright, um, yesterday, Jo opened the door for Blair, voluntarily, too; so weird."

"For sure, and the day before that, Blair cleared Jo's plate from the table, and she smiled at her. A real Blair smile, too, not one of those fake ones."

Tootie nodded in memory. "And we know for certain last week wasn't normal; you've already mentioned the baseball incident." Recalling another instance of the weird and unusual, Tootie said, "Remember a couple of weeks ago when Jo asked Blair to go to the library to study? You asked how come they wanted to go to the library when there was a perfectly good couch here. Jo turned beet red and said she needed to use the reference section. Blair just smiled and said she did, too. We didn't think anything of it at the time, but I'm pretty sure that's when things changed."

Natalie tilted her head. "You know, you may be onto something, Tootie. From then on, Jo and Blair have been leaving us out of their plans. I can't remember the last time we all sat down and had a meal together, much less had one of our study sessions."

"What do you think is going on? Are they tired of us or something?"

"I have no idea, Tootie." A look of determination crossed Natalie's face. "Let's go to the library and see what they're up to."

"You're on, Nat. I'll go ask Mrs. Garrett if we can borrow her car." Tootie leapt from the couch and headed for the kitchen.

An hour later, Tootie pulled the car back into the drive. "I don't understand it. Where could they have gone?"

"Not the library, that's for sure." Natalie turned in the seat to face her friend. "First, they start acting all weird, then they leave us out of their plans, and now, they're lying to us. When they get home, we're going to get to the bottom of this, once and for all."

Climbing from the car, Tootie slammed the door. "Yeah, I say we wait for them on the couch and jump them the minute they walk in the door.

"That's the spirit, Tootie." Natalie walked around the car and joined her friend as they headed for the house.

"You know, Nat, I could've sworn that was Jo's motorcycle outside that hotel."

"Get real, Tootie, Blair wouldn't set foot in a place like that. Besides, why would they go to a hotel to study?"

"You're right, Nat. The library would've been the obvious choice; there's hardly any furniture in a hotel room, and there's no way Blair would tolerate the hideous bedspread. She wouldn't get near a bed that wasn't in a five-star hotel."

Natalie nodded and opened the door. "Yep; that definitely wasn't Jo's bike."

Across town, Blair stretched out and sighed a sigh that was no longer considered annoying. "You think of everything, Jo."

Jo kissed the top of the blonde head and smiled as she slid her hand down the sheet to pull her lover closer. "Nothing but the best for you, Blair."

Blair sighed again and closed her eyes. Burrowing closer to Jo, she reveled in the feel of soft skin and silky sheets as the two lovers drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

In the far corner of the room, a dingy bedspread and a set of mismatched sheets lay in a rumpled heap.

The End

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