DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended.
SERIES: Part of the Post Peekskill Series; sequel to Gifts.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"This is the Captain speaking. I'm sorry to say that there's bad weather over the East Coast. Air Traffic Control has put us in a holding pattern."
Jo Polniaczek uttered a vivid curse, unfortunately audible to her row matea tastefully dressed older woman who gave her a scandalized look.
"Sorry," Jo said. "I'm just anxious to get home."
The woman, who appeared to be in her seventies, nodded. "Although I don't normally condone such language, I can understand the sentiment. So you live in New York City?" she uttered brightly.
Jo cursed again, this time internally. She had an aversion to chatting with strangers on airplanes. Her aura of slight menace was usually enough to keep people at bay. Still, the woman seemed harmless enough and Jo had always been taught to respect the elderly.
"Yes. In Manhattan."
"Married? Children?" The woman asked.
No beating around the bush here, Jo thought. "Uh no. But I have, um, a friend I really want to see. And a dog," she supplied. She had to come up with some excuse for the profanity.
"That's nice. Everybody needs a friend. So what were you doing in Arizona?"
What was this, twenty questions? "I was visiting my father. He and his wife live in Phoenix." For some unknown reason Jo felt compelled to add, "He's been sick."
"Oh, I'm so sorry."
Something about the woman's tone and the empathetic tilt to her head forcibly reminded Jo of Edna Garrett sitting at the foot of Jo's bed at Eastland, inviting her to confide her troubles.
"Yeah. He had a heart attack the day after Christmas."
"That's terrible. Well, I'm certain he appreciated your presence."
"I guess," Jo said. "His wife really doesn't like me much." She caught herself. "I have no idea why I just told you that."
The woman chuckled. "It's common. People frequently spill inappropriate confidences to strangers on planes. On the assumption that they'll never see them again. That's often wrong, of course. The seatmate to whom you've just disclosed your spouse's infidelity usually turns up as your new boss or something. I'm Maeve, by the way."
"Well, Jo, it's nice to meet you. It must have been very stressful with your father. Too bad you couldn't bring your friend along for moral support."
"You know, that's exactly what Bla my friend said," Jo admitted. "But I thought it would just add to Dad's anxiety level and that we shouldn't push it."
"I suppose you have a point," Maeve admitted, "but your friend sounds like she could have helped defend you from the wife."
Jo didn't even catch Maeve's casual use of the pronoun. "She would've eaten Carole--- that's the wife---for lunch. But I didn't want to put her through that so I told her to not to come. She wasn't happy about it. Anyway, Pops improved enough to get out of the hospital and Carole was driving me nuts. So I decided to come home a couple days early."
"To see your friend."
"Yeah," Jo said with a warm smile. "And the dog," she added hastily. "So, what takes you to the Big Apple," she inquired, in an effort to be polite and deflect the scrutiny.
The older woman gave her a sly look. "I'm going to see my nephew and his boyfriend. They're taking me to the theater, the opera, the Museum of Modern Art. I'm looking forward to it immensely."
"Your nephew and his boyfriend?" Jo repeated.
"Yes. They live in a charming apartment in Chelsea. I've stayed there often."
"Uh Maeve ," Jo interjected sheepishly.
The woman laughed. "I saw your ring, Jo. What's your partner's name?"
"Blair," Jo replied.
"So I'm deducing that perhaps that Carole doesn't approve of your and Blair's relationship?" Maeve asked.
"You got that right. She pretends it's for religious reasons. Which I could handle, if it were sincere. But she has the most selective view of Biblical rules. Proscriptions against homosexuality must be obeyed. But marrying a divorcee, coveting your neighbor's new Mercedes, gluttony, sloth. Those are no problem."
Maeve tut-tutted. "That kind of hypocrisy drives me insane. I'm a practicing Catholic myself but can't understand how anyone could view Jesus as condemning any kind of love. I have serious issues with the Church about it."
"Me too," Jo admitted. "So, are you from Phoenix?"
"Yes, I worked in the medical field there. I'm retired now, although I try to keep my hand in."
"Do you know Our Lady of Mercy hospital? That's where my dad was taken after the heart attack. They did a really good job. So I guess the Church does have its uses."
"I've heard of it," Maeve admitted. "Oh my" she uttered as the plane took a sudden drop.
Jo winced. "Jeez, I hate turbulence." She closed her eyes and grasped the armrests in a death grip.
Maeve patted her hand. "No plane has ever crashed just because of bumpy air."
"Really? There's always a first time."
The sways and bounces reduced them both to a tense silence. A voice from the cockpit, in that Chuck Yeager drawl, came over the intercom. "Well folks, sorry it's a little rough back there. I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the turbulence will end soon. The bad news is that because of the weather and the back-ups we've been diverted to Cleveland. We'll be landing there in about twenty minutes."
"Mother fu . Oh sorry," Jo expelled.
"That's all right dear. You're entitled," Maeve assured her.
"Cleveland? What the hell am I going to do in Cleveland?"
"I've never been," Maeve said cheerily. "At my age it's always exciting to have a novel experience. Particularly when it's unexpected."
"Well that's a great attitude," Jo replied. "Not one I share, but great. You should meet my friend Tootie. You'd have a lot in common."
"A person named Tootie. Something else that's new," Maeve noted.
Jo looked around the crowded gate area, attempting to find a seat for her companion. As was always the case in these situations, there was an abundance of irritated people and whining children and a dearth of comfortable chairs and useful information. Jo approached three slackerish looking teens whose detritus filled an entire row of seats. "Excuse me, would one of you like to move your bags, so that this lady can sit down?" she asked.
They looked at her blankly. "Not really," one replied with a snigger.
Jo, already not in the best of moods, felt a surge of anger. She pulled out her wallet and flashed her badge. "You pond scum may not know that refusing to give up your seat to someone over seventy is a Class A misdemeanor. So unless you want to spend the night in the airport holding tank, you'll move your shit, and you'll do it now."
The slacker blinked. "OK, OK," he muttered as he and his friends gathered their stuff and retreated rapidly to the end of the row.
"Here, Maeve," she said, offering the vacated chair.
"Why thank you Jo. I can't say I've ever heard of that law before."
"Well if there isn't one, there should be," Jo replied. "Listen, if you don't mind watching my carry-on, I'll go get us some supplies. We may be here a while. Any particular magazines you like?"
"Actually, I wouldn't mind perusing the copy of Biker Monthly I saw you reading, if you're finished with it. I'm not familiar with the publication."
"Feel free," Jo said with a smile.
"Oh and would you mind just picking up some small trinket that will show I've been to Cleveland? I'll reimburse you, of course. Anything is fine. Just something to remember this by."
"All right." Jo walked down the concourse by the generic sports bars, newsstands and souvenir shops that adorned every airport in America. Why Maeve wanted to remember this interlude was beyond Jo. There was nothing unique about this nightmare.
Jo's homesickness had become almost physically painful. It had been a horrible ten days. Her worry over her father's condition, Carole's open distain for her "lifestyle", and Blair's absence, particularly at New Years, had worn her down. Adding to Jo's frustration was her current inability to get in touch with her partner. She kept getting the answering machine when she'd tried to call the blonde to tell her she was coming back early. Blair was probably on a spa weekend with her mother, Jo speculated, somewhat sourly.
Jo went into the sundries store and purchased bottled water, yogurt, granola bars, and a Cleveland Browns bobble head doll for Maeve. She was paying for her purchases, when, out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of golden hair and a stylish walk.
"I really need to get home," Jo said to the cashier. "I'm starting to see things; that almost looked like Blair." The cashier nodded dully, wondering silently, 'Blair who?' Jo left the store and walked towards a Taco Bell outlet where she observed a blonde in a striking full length cashmere coat looking at the menu board with puzzlement.
Jo's heart started to pound. This was the weirdest hallucination ever. Blair Warner at a Taco Bell stand in the Cleveland airport. Almost fearful, Jo approached the woman who turned her head and gave her a look of utter shock.
They were in each other's arms in a nanosecond.
"How when why," Jo murmured into Blair's neck. "Is it really you?" she added, tightening her embrace.
"And who else would be getting this kind of welcome?" Blair asked with a laugh. "You'd better hope it's me."
Jo gave a shuddering sigh. "I can't believe it," she said, "I just can't believe it. How did you get here?"
"I took an airplane, of course. I'm on my way to Phoenix to see you. I had to, what do they call it, 'change planes' in Cleveland." Blair enunciated the last phrase like it was an unknown tongue.
Jo looked at her in amazement. "Really? Where's the Warner jet."
"A board member took it to Aspen. So I had to book with an airline. It wasn't that easy to get a seat. There were no First Class or non-stop flights available."
Jo staggered backward. "You're flying commercial, changing planes, and sitting in coach? All to see me? Well, even if I'm imagining things, I couldn't imagine that. So it must be real. Thank god," she said, hugging Blair again.
"I missed you too much," Blair whispered into Jo's ear. "And you sounded so unhappy the last time we talked. I couldn't stand it anymore."
"You couldn't stand it." Jo swallowed. "Blair I made a mistake. I should have let you come. It was too hard without you. "
Blair ran her hands up and down Jo's back and smiled. "Well, live and learn. You won't make that error again. So how's Charlie?"
"He's better but he looks so, I don't know, fragile. It was tough to see. And I know I should be used to it after living with you all these years, but Carole's constant ragging kinda got to me. My clothes, my attitude, my eating habits, my hair. Nothing was right."
Blair's expression darkened in anger. "She she dared to criticize you?"
"Well babe, it's not exactly an alien concept," Jo noted wryly.
"I'm allowed; no one else is," the blonde replied firmly.
Jo felt a sudden wave of intense affection for her partner. "Good rule. C'mon, let's go back to the gate. I have to bring Maeve her snacks. Unless you actually wanted to try fast food Mexican?" she added doubtfully.
"I'm unfamiliar with--what is it--a tacorito? Is it palatable? The food on the airplane was terrible. Not at all up to standard."
"Welcome to the back of the bus, Princess," Jo replied. "Why don't I expose you to the joys of a Burrito Supreme some other time? You can share with Maeve and me."
"So who is this Maeve?" Blair asked suspiciously.
"Oh, someone I met on the plane. She's really nice."
Blair drew back. "You actually exchanged more than a growl with one of your fellow passengers? Things are definitely not normal. And, now that I'm focusing, why are you in Cleveland?"
"I was flying home early. We got diverted here because of the weather. The landing was really rough," Jo complained. "Maeve had to hold my hand," she added slyly, feeling like joking for the first time in ages.
"I'm looking forward to thanking her," Blair sniffed, as they walked with their arms around each other towards Jo's gate.
"Well there she is," Jo said, waving to Maeve who was deep in conversation with a girl of about six.
"Jo, here you are. This is my new friend Rashmi. She was explaining the intricacies of a group called the Powerpuff Girls? Do you know them? They seem like very resourceful young ladies."
"That's their rep," Jo confirmed, watching as Rashmi responded to her mother's call and ran over to her family. "So Maeve, I have your food and your souvenir."
Maeve looked at a smiling Blair. "Well Jo, I'm very flattered. She's an extremely beautiful young woman. But I don't think that, at my age, I can really take on a whole new life choice."
There was a brief pause and then Jo and Maeve both burst out laughing, while Blair blinked confusedly. "No, no, I got you something a lot smaller," Jo said. "You won't believe this, but this is my partner, Blair. She was flying to meet me in Phoenix and we just happened to run into each other. Isn't that amazing?"
Maeve grinned. "I've always said the Lord moves in mysterious ways. It's a pleasure to meet you, Blair."
"The pleasure is all mine," Blair replied politely.
"Jo," Maeve said. "They just made an announcement. We are supposed to reboard and leave for New York in about forty-five minutes.
"Blair when is your flight to Phoenix scheduled to take-off?" Jo asked
"In an hour. The gate's right over there. But, what's the protocol? There really isn't much point in me going to Arizona if you're going back to New York. Perhaps I could get on your flight."
Jo grimaced. "I don't know. They said it was full. We could talk to the gate agent, but Blair, is there any chance at all that you didn't check bags?"
"Jo, please. Don't be absurd."
The brunette groaned. "Well then you have to go to Phoenix. If you don't, they'll hold the plane until they screen all the bags and remove your luggage. It'll take hours."
"That's ridiculous. Maybe we can just explain things to the agent," Blair proposed.
"Babe, I would cut off my right arm to be able to sleep with you in our own bed tonight. But trying to change your flight now would cause chaos. We can't do that to all of these people. They want to get home too."
Blair looked around at the milling crowd. "I suppose. All right. It won't be so bad. I can spend the night in Phoenix and then come back the first thing in the morning. Don't they have these Holiday Inns right near airports? They sound kind of festive. Bing Crosby and all."
"She's really not as moronic as she seems," Jo explained to Maeve. "She's just used to traveling in a particular fashion."
"Understood," Maeve replied. "Jo, I had a thought. The only thing they check at this point is the boarding pass, right? You don't have to show a picture ID?"
"That's right. As long as the boarding pass matches the checked luggage, they're good to go."
"So why don't Blair and I just switch flights. I'll go to Phoenix on her pass and she can go to New York on mine. Assuming, of course, that you trust me to pick up her luggage."
"Of course we do, although you'll have to rent a fork-lift. But your trip, your plans," Jo protested.
"I can fly back to New York tomorrow. My nephew is flexible," Maeve assured her.
"What about your bags?"
"I just have this carry on. I always travel light."
"Are you human?" Blair cut in.
"Maeve, that's really nice of you but I can't ask you fly across the country three times in twenty four hours just to give Blair and me a night together."
"Jo, I haven't known you for that long but it's been time enough to realize that you're a brave and compassionate woman who's been through a lot. You deserve a break. Please let me give it to you."
"I don't know what to say," Jo replied, overwhelmed. "Naturally we'll pay for your hotel and flight back to the City."
"First Class of course," Blair interjected.
"Something else I've never done," Maeve announced. "All right. I'll accept that as long I can take you both out to dinner when I get back to New York."
"That would be lovely," Blair agreed.
"And perhaps you two would like to come with us to the opera on Saturday? My nephew always tries to get the standing room seats they sell on the day of the performance."
Blair Warner, Opera Guild Member, Lifetime Patron, and owner of a Diamond Level box in the center of the First Tier of the Metropolitan Opera House, simply smiled. "We would love to join you, but I would be happy to take care of the tickets."
"Well this will be exciting," Maeve averred. "It's why I like traveling. You can have such interesting adventures, even at the Cleveland airport. So, Jo, let me see my souvenir."
Jo showed her the Browns bobble head doll.
"You got her a football player with a bouncing head?" Blair sputtered. "That's your idea of an appropriate gift for an elegant woman like Maeve? A nice pin? A scarf? Those never crossed your mind?"
"Um, Maeve?" Jo inquired. "Is there any chance you'd like to switch back?"
"What a marvelous week and what a wonderful woman," Blair declared to Jo as they watched Maeve's taxi pull away. Blair and Jo had hosted a farewell lunch for the Arizonian on the last day of her vacation in New York.
"She is great," Jo agreed. "Funny, smart, caring. Able to hold her liquor. A lot like Mrs. G., in a way. You know, Blair, I was really losing it on the flight back from seeing Dad. Maeve was like a godsend."
"A godsend. That's a nice idea. It's strange, though; Maeve's so interested in other people but we really didn't learn that much about her. There was no mention of a husband or children, so I just assumed she never married."
"So did I," Jo confirmed. "Although she sure is great with kids. I thought Bailey was going to bust a gut at her jokes. But now that I think about it, she was also sort of vague about her old job. I never quite understood what she did before she retired, although I'm sure she was good at it."
"Well it doesn't matter. We'll definitely look her up when we--and I do mean we-- go back to Phoenix to visit your dad."
"You got that right, gorgeous," Jo said, giving Blair's shoulders a friendly squeeze.
A few days later, Jo was talking to her father on the phone. "So Dad, how did the tests go at the hospital yesterday?"
"Jo, you can't believe it," Charlie exclaimed. "They treated me like a king. They moved me to the front of the line for all of the procedures. Every doctor in the place reviewed my charts. They gave me this fantastic room. Then this nun in a full habit comes in and starts talking to me. Asking me how I feel, saying that she's been praying for me. And get this, the nun starts in on Carole. Telling her that God's greatest gift is family. How Christ said to honor your children as much as your parents. How love was love no matter what form it took. How the worst sin of all was intolerance. She's waving the cross and beads around and Carole's looking like she wants to crawl under the bed. It was great."
"Wow, that's strange," Jo wondered. "So who was this nun?"
"The doctor said she was Our Lady of Mercy's chief administrator for thirty years until she retired last March. She's a legend. According to the doctor, people around here consider her practically a saint."
"Really? What was her name?"
"Maeve. Her name was Sister Maeve."
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