DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television. No infringement is intended. Original characters belong to the author. Historical characters belong to history.
SPOILERS: References and some spoilers FOL Seasons 1 5. Reader feedback is always appreciated.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To zblitzreiter[at]gmail.com

Two Hearts
By Blitzreiter

 

Part 1

June 1989. Manhattan. Penn Station.

The 4:30 train from Boston was on time. A crowd of people streamed from it and rolled through Penn Station. A young woman in jeans and a crimson Harvard polo shirt walked near the front of the pack, legs moving quickly with the grace of a natural athlete. She carried a dark duffle bag in one arm, swinging it as easily as if it contained bags of feathers. She carried a dark garment bag flung over the other shoulder.

She was attractive. Her dark hair, shoulder-length, was very slightly teased with mousse. A bit of mascara on her lashes, through which her blue-green eyes gleamed. She wore a dazzlingly happy—almost goofy, one might say—grin.

"You look happy," observed a handsome young man in a Yankees T shirt, falling into step beside her.

"Yeah. I am," Jo Polniaczek said cheerfully, not even glancing at the young man.

"You go to Harvard?" he asked, nudging his chin at her crimson polo shirt.

"Yeah. Sure do," she said absently. Her eyes were fixed on the exit doors in the distance.

"What do you study?"

"Law."

The young man whistled. "Impressive," he said. "What year?"

"Just finished Year 2," she said. She quickened her pace. Not, it appeared, to leave the young man in the dust; she hardly seemed aware of him. Rather, as the exit doors drew closer, her grin widened, and she seemed all the more excited to leave the station and get to her destination.

"Wow, you walk fast," said the young man, quickening his own pace to keep up. "You a runner?"

"Field hockey," Jo said absently. "And lacrosse."

"My roommate at Dartmouth plays lacrosse."

Jo made a polite noise, a civil acknowledgement that the young man had said something, but she hardly appeared to have been paying attention.

"I was on the train with you," the young man continued. "You from the city originally?"

"Born and raised," Jo agreed.

"Me too," he said. "Brooklyn Heights. You sound like maybe you're from the, uh, Bronx?" he hazarded.

"Yeah. The Bronx."

They were almost at the bank of exit doors. Sunlight shone in through the doors' glass panes. Knots of people—tourists, businesspeople, workers—clustered near the doors. Jo's eyes keenly swept the crowd.

Her smile dimmed, slightly.

"Someone s'posed to be waiting for you?" the young man asked sympathetically.

Jo nodded.

"Huhn," she said.

"I can give you a ride," the young man said quickly. "I mean, if you need a ride. My friends are picking me up. We could, you know, drop you somewhere."

Jo shook her head. "Nah," she said. "Thanks anyway. My friend's just a little late."

"You sure?" he persisted. "It wouldn't be any trouble. No trouble at all."

"Nah."

"Well I can wait with you," he said, rallying. "Chivalry's not dead—not totally, anyway." He laughed.

Jo glanced at him, as if noticing him for the first time. She quirked her lips.

"They teach you chivalry in Brooklyn Heights?" she asked.

"Sure," he laughed. "And at Dartmouth, too."

Jo kept moving toward the exit.

"You look like a nice guy," she said. And he did. A friendly, open face, a shock of dark hair, a faint scar on his upper lip probably picked up, Jo guessed, in some schoolyard scuffle back in Brooklyn Heights. Mostly he probably did his fighting with his mouth, she guessed—jokes and wisecracks. "You look like a nice guy," she repeated, "so I'll tell you flat out I'm taken. Engaged, even."

His cheeks flushed.

"Oh," he said sheepishly. "Well—it was worth a shot anyhow. You're quite a woman, Bronx."

"How could you know that," asked Jo, "from seein me on a train?"

"You just are," said the young man. "Your fiancée would know what I mean."

Jo shook her head. She had a healthy self-esteem and knew she was relatively easy on the eyes. The annoying thing was that ever since she'd cut her hair and had started wearing it a little more styled and "girlie," the level of unwanted male attention had gone up at least a hundred percent.

Maybe, she thought, I needa go back to my old ponytail … But, no. She couldn't. They hammered it home again and again in her law classes. In the courtroom, appearance mattered. It was shallow and stupid, but it was the way it was. You didn't want to lose your case, let your client or the prosecution down, because you insisted on the wrong hairdo …

"Yo—Izzy!" yelled a big palooka near one of the exits.

"Yo—Stan!" yelled the young man next to Jo. He waved to his friend.

"Gotta go," Izzy told Jo regretfully. "If your fiancée is ever stupid enough to ditch you, come find me. My pop runs the best deli in Brooklyn Heights. Izzy's—of the legendary egg creams."

"Yeah, uh … thanks," Jo said.

Izzy Jr. grinned at her, and then jogged off toward his friend Stan, the big palooka by the door.

Jo sighed.

Where was her greeting? Why wasn't someone waiting for her, waving an arm and smiling and calling "Yo—Jo!"

Of course, Blair wouldn't yell "Yo!" to anyone. Blair wouldn't yell at all. She would beam radiantly and gaze lovingly at her fiancée while Jo crossed the floor to join her. When Jo reached her, they would exchange a warm but strictly friendly hug. But it would feel so damn good to see Blair. And feel so damn good to hold her. And a more ardent and intense welcome would be exchanged once they were back in their little house …

Jo scanned the people waiting near the exits. No. Blair was not among them.

Jo waited a few minutes. Her duffle bag suddenly felt like it was full of bricks. Which it was, or near enough—all of her law books, plus jeans and shirts and her motorcycle boots and a bottle of classy perfume for Blair.

She set down the duffle bag for a moment. She shifted the garment bag she carried over her shoulder. Suddenly it felt heavy too. It contained her few dresses and a couple of skirt suits. She would need them for her internship at Creves, Creves & Sloan this summer.

Christ. Running around in a skirt and blazer all damn summer. And heels! That part she wasn't looking forward too. But shadowing real lawyers, getting more up into the grill of the justice system, getting under the hood and tinkering around—that she was excited about.

Jo shifted the garment bag, slung it over her other shoulder. She stretched, popped her back. She was stiff from the four-and-a-half hour ride from Boston's South Station. Her arms ached from carrying the luggage. She hadn't noticed these little aches and pains when she sailed off the train, because all she was thinking about was seeing Blair, her Blair, the love of her life, waiting for her, waiting to welcome Jo for a summer of much-needed loving. But now …

She must have got caught up in traffic, thought Jo. Sure. Traffic sucks in Manhattan. Always has. Even back in the freakin horse and buggy days. It's not like, you know, Blair would ever forget I was comin home.

Jo pictured her lover, the golden-blonde hair, the heart-stoppingly lovely face, the dark eyes, like chocolate, with tiny green-and-gold flecks swimming in them, the lush body, trim at the waist, generous, oh-so-generous, at the bosom and derriere …

Jo smiled.

"Yo—Jo!" called a voice.

Jo turned toward it.

Natalie, standing just inside the exit doors, wearing green scrubs and Nike sneakers. Nat waved her hand over her head, big waving motions, as if maybe Jo were all but blind.

Jo frowned.

She grabbed up her duffle bag and joined her old friend at the door.

"What gives?" Jo growled.

"Well that's a fine welcome," complained Natalie. Her forehead was perspiring under her green scrub cap, and she was slightly out of breath. "Just what a girl wants to hear when she runs—runs, mind you—seven blocks from her internship. That's seven, people. Seven blocks. And I'm going to be fired, by the way, from said internship—fired, Jo—because I'm supposed to be taking blood from Mrs. Gerskovitz and bringing it to the lab—not meeting you at the station."

"So why are you then?" crabbed Jo. "Who asked you to meet me here or run seven blocks or get fired? Huhn? Not me."

"Blair asked me," Natalie said.

"Oh, yeah? Well, what are you—her errand girl? And if I was you, I wouldn't complain so much about runnin seven blocks. Runnin doesn't seem to be doin you any damage."

Natalie's eyebrows lifted.

"Jo Polniaczek—are you saying I look like I've lost weight?"

"Yeah, so? What if I am? You gonna take freakin issue with that too?"

Natalie enfolded Jo in a crushing bear hug.

"Ooph," grunted Jo as the air was squeezed out of her.

"Bless you," Natalie said happily. "Bless you for noticing. I have been losing a bit of weight. It's all that running around at Manhattan Memorial. If I'm not running blood to the lab, I'm running results from the lab, and I—"

"Uh, look," said Jo, gingerly extricating herself from Natalie's grasp, "I'm glad you're losin some weight and you like your internship and all that, but where the hell is Blondie?"

Natalie shrugged.

"Beats me."

"But she sent you to get me. What did she tell ya? Why couldn't she meet me? She OK? She's not, she's not hurt or something, is she? Nothing happened, did it?"

Natalie's blue eyes twinkled.

"Wow. And people call me neurotic."

"Cause you are," said Jo.

"True," said Natalie, "but at this moment, you have me beat. The gold medal for neuroses is awarded to Joanne Marie Polniaczek."

"Nat, can you just answer my question?"

"Yes, Jo, Blair is fine. At least I assume she's fine. And I would have heard if she weren't. She was fine when we met for coffee a couple of days ago."

"Then why ain't she here?"

Nat spread her hands. "Don't know. She called me at the hospital, asked me to run over here and tell you to go to the house."

"That's it?"

"That's it."

"No explanation?"

"Nope."

"And you're telling me that you, Chief Snoop Sister, didn't ask for an explanation?"

"I would have, if she hadn't hung up on me. But she did. I think your manners are rubbing off on her, Jo. I really do."

"So she called ya and said to tell me to go to the house, and she hung up on you, end of story?"

"Now you've got it, Jo. By George, you've got it!"

Jo shook her head.

"Well that's a crummy how-do-ye-do."

"By which you mean 'Thank you, Natalie. Thank you. I'm so grateful.'"

"I'd be more grateful if you could actually tell me somethin useful."

Natalie smiled at her friend. "Jo, you are still a breath of fresh air. Never, never change. Please."

"I ain't plannin on it," Jo growled.

"Good." Natalie leaned forward and kissed her friend on the cheek, a quick, affectionate buss.

"Hey! What the hell?" Jo complained.

"I've got to run," said Natalie. "I'm only half-kidding about maybe getting fired. Three-quarters kidding, even."

"You're not getting fired, Nat. If you really thought you were getting fired, you'd be way more anxious right now."

Natalie shook her head. "I'm not quite as neurotic as I used to be, Jo. Snake's been helping me with that."

"I'll bet he has," snorted Jo.

Natalie blushed. "He's been teaching me a meditation technique," Natalie continued with dignity. "He uses it during his long hauls. It keeps you calm, yet alert. You focus on your breathing."

"Right."

"OK," said Natalie. "I'm out of here. There's no talking to you when you're in this mood."

"What mood? What does that mean? I don't have a 'mood'."

Natalie rolled her eyes.

"You know what," said Jo, "where is Tootie right now? Stretch'll be happy to see me. She'll actually spend some time with me."

"She's on the road," said Natalie.

"What road?"

"The road. Summer stock. She's been gone for months."

"Whaddya mean she's been gone for months? Doin summer stock? Summer just freakin started!"

"It's good to know," Natalie said drily, "that the hallowed halls of Harvard haven't smoothed away that Bronx accent."

"Freakin right," Jo said. "Now explain about the summer stock."

"Tootie hit the road a few months ago. The company perfects its repertoire on the road, apparently, and then when they officially open in the summer, they're at the top of their game."

"I still can't believe you let her drop out of Langley," Jo said darkly.

"Let her? Let her?"

"She's your soul sister," said Jo. "You shoulda done, I don't know, somethin."

"Like what? Tie her to a chair? Lock her in a classroom?"

"Somethin," Jo repeated stubbornly.

"Look, Jo, we can catch up on the blaming and browbeating later. I think Blair wants us all to get together this weekend. But for now, I've got an internship to save."

"Yeah, that's right. Hit the road. No worries."

Natalie spread her arms to the heaven. "Why me, God?" she asked the ceiling of Penn Station. "Why me?"

Before God could answer or Jo could retort, Natalie turned and sprinted out of the station.

It was a fine welcome, that was for sure, thought Jo. Blair not meeting her at the station. Blair God knew where. Natalie having to run back to work. And Tootie missing in action on the road.

Jo hefted her duffle bag. What the hell. She'd go to the house, unpack her duds, take a shower, and be ready and waiting whenever Blair deigned to make an appearance.

Unlike Blondie, thought Jo, I know how to give someone a proper welcome!


June 1989. Manhattan. Morningside Heights.

Just up the street from Blair's rental property, which had been gifted to her by her sister Meg when Meg entered a convent, Blair had purchased a small and homey house—a cottage, really—one of the few remaining old-old residences of Morningside Heights, a true relic.

The wooden slats were painted white, and the trim was red, and the shingles black. Out front was a tiny porch. There was no air-conditioning in summer and the heat was iffy in the winter, but it was home, Jo and Blair's first real home as a couple.

"Isn't this place a little, ah, corny for you two?" Natalie had asked during the housewarming.

"What kind of crum-bum insult is that to make on such a happy day?" Jo had demanded.

"I mean, it's just … It's not exactly either of your styles. Is it?"

"The house is simple," Blair had explained. "It's old-fashioned. It's cozy. That's what we need right now. Simplicity. Warmth."

"Exactly," Jo had agreed, fixing Natalie with a glare. In truth, Jo didn't give a damn about simplicity or coziness or any of that. If Blair had wanted to live in an igloo or in a tree house, that would've been equally fine with Jo. Just as long as they were together.

"And it's cheap," Blair had continued. "So if something happens to my recovered inheritance—"

"Which it won't," Jo had told her firmly. "Eduardo's taking great care of your money."

"But I've learned not to count on money," Blair had said. "So I've bought a place—we've bought a place, Jo, dear—that even if the money vanishes again, we can still muddle along under our own steam."

"Beauty and brains," Jo had said admiringly, pulling Blair in for a kiss.

"Hey, hey—save that for your new bedroom," Natalie had objected.

"This is our housewarming," Jo had said, giving Blair another kiss. "I'm just makin sure the house is warm …"

Blair spent much more time in the house than Jo did. Jo had been accepted to Harvard Law School with a generous scholarship, and Blair had insisted that Jo attend.

"But it's so damn far away," Jo had objected, repeatedly. "Why can't I go to grad school at Columbia, like you?"

"Because Harvard Law is it, for law," Blair had said firmly. "Columbia is fine for my program."

"I still can't believe you're studyin Divinity. But if you gotta do it, why don't you do it at Harvard?"

"Because I want to be near Bailey," Blair had said, referring to her baby sister. "And I don't have the chops for Harvard."

"Babe—"

"I don't. You've always been the nerd-genius in this relationship. And I've chosen the Divinity program because, well, it's something. It's a focus. And it will let me help people, and raise money for the things I believe in."

"I still think it's kinda sacrilegious, you studyin to be a woman of the cloth when you're practically an atheist," Jo had said darkly.

"I am not practically an atheist. And it's an old tradition in old families. If you don't know what to do, you either join the military or the church. Do you want me to join the military?"

"No."

"There you are then."

"Though you'd make a hell of a general. You're bossy enough."

"Thank you," Blair had said a bit coolly.

"Why don't you just study art, babe? You're an amazin artist. Study art at Harvard, and then we'll be together all the time."

"Art is not a career," Blair had said patiently. "There are artists with ten times more talent than I have starving on the streets. I need to be qualified to do something practical to help people. If you work hard enough in the church, you gain influence. Over social programs, fundraising—there's no end of good that can be done."

Jo had shaken her head. "Not to rain on your do-goodin campaign, but … Cambridge is just so damn far, Blair. I can't put my head around it. Bein so far away from you, all the time."

"Four-and-a-half hours by train," Blair had said lightly. More lightly than she really felt—Jo could tell. "Not far at all. You'll come back to the city for weekends. And sometimes I'll go up for weekends. Cambridge is lovely. It will be our second home ..."

And it had actually worked that way. At first. Jo had come down to NYC most weekends, and sometimes Blair took the train up to Boston. They saw each other frequently, and when they were apart they were too consumed by studies and work to miss each other to the point of madness.

But as their classes and internships grew more challenging, as their workloads grew, as Blair made friends at Columbia and Jo made friends at Harvard, weekend visits grew less and less frequent.

Which made it all the more sweet, Jo thought, when they did see each other, when they reunited during holiday and summer breaks. Even on breaks they still took the odd class and had internships to complete, but there were the weekends, there were the evenings, when they took in a movie, when Blair cooked a simple meal, and they sat in front of the tiny hearth in their tiny living room sipping wine, when Jo carried Blair to their tiny bedroom and they talked and made love deep into the New York City nights …

Jo climbed the porch steps. She dropped her bags next to the door, fished her house key out of her jeans pocket. Slid the key in the lock. Turned it. Pushed the door.

"Hello," she called. "Hello. Blair? Anybody here but us chickens?"

Silence.

Jo sighed.

She grabbed her bags, lugged them into the house.

The place was a mess. Blair usually kept it neat as a pin, but there were ashes in the fireplace, there were ashes and cigarette butts in the ashtrays on the coffee table and end tables, copies of the Times lay about, as well as discarded fashion magazines, crumpled pages half-open. Empty wine glasses sat on the tables and mantle, Blair's lipstick staining their rims.

Not exactly an apocalyptic mess, but not the house-proud way Blair usually kept things.

The kitchen was worse. Unwashed dishes and glasses in the sink. Old Chinese food in the fridge—that, and half-empty bottles of wine, and not much else.

"What gives?" Jo muttered.

There was a ring around the tub in the bathroom, and bits of toothpaste in the sink, with perfume bottles and deodorant and cosmetics jumbled higgledy-piggledy on the sink's surround.

The bedroom was a war zone of Blair's clothing and shoes, tried on and then discarded and flung over the vanity, the vanity chair, the bed, the floor.

Jo unpacked her duffle bag and garment bag. She stowed her clothing neatly in the dresser drawers and closet. She stacked her law books neatly in the tiny bookcase on her side of the bed. In the bathroom she secured her soap and toothpaste and shampoo and toothbrush neatly in the mirrored cabinet.

She stood in the center of the house, the nexus of all the rooms in their little cottage.

Well, she thought, do I clean this place up, or leave it for Blair, or what?

She was tempted to leave the mess for her lover.

I mean, what the hell am I—Hazel the maid? Jo groused.

But the more she looked at the mess, the more she realized how busy Blair must have been this semester. So busy and so tired that she'd let the housework get away from her.

After all, Jo thought, my little place in Cambridge wouldn't exactly win the "Good Housekeepin" blue ribbon when I get busy.

She felt a stab of sympathy for Blair. Yeah. She musta had a hell of a semester ... Jo pushed her hair back from her face, and began to clean …

An hour and a half later all of the dishes and glasses had been gathered and washed, the ashtrays emptied, the floors vacuumed, the discarded clothes in the bedroom put away, the trash tossed into the bin outside, and the bathroom and kitchen tidied and cleaned to a sparkle.

Jo put her hands on her hips. Pretty damn good work, she thought, if I do say so myself.

She glanced thoughtfully at the bottle of expensive perfume she'd bought for Blair. She found a slip of white ribbon in the junk drawer, tied it around the bottle. Then Jo darted outside and snatched a wild rose from the hedge next door. She secured the stem to the bottle with the white ribbon. In the living room, the heady scent of wild rose filled the air. Jo placed the decorated bottle on the coffee table, so it would be the first thing Blair saw when she arrived home.

OK, thought Jo. Now … How 'bout somethin to eat besides ancient Chinese food?

She dashed out to a nearby deli. Bought an assortment of cheeses and cold cuts and cold chicken. Found a decent if inexpensive bottle of wine at the bodega next door.

Back to the little house she and Blair shared. Jo arranged the food on a tray and popped it into the fridge with. Put the wine on ice.

Jo felt pretty damn pleased with herself as she showered. Everything was in place for a romantic homecoming. She shampooed her hair twice, toweled dry, trailed subtle strokes of perfume over her flat stomach, between her small, firm breasts. She pulled on a white silk nightie and white silk robe, and touched her mouth with lip gloss.

She settled on the living room sofa, turned on the HiFi. A romantic radio station. Old-time crooners. She lit two white taper candles and bracketed the bottle of perfume with them. She leaned back against the pillows and waited for the love of her life.

And waited.

And finally dozed off …

It was full dark when Jo woke.

She blinked, confused for a moment.

This wasn't her little hole-in-the-wall apartment in Cambridge.

Oh. Right. She was home in Morningside Heights.

But where the hell was Blair?

The candles had burned down to half their height.

The wild rose twining the perfume bottle was already wilting.

Jo snapped on a lamp next to the sofa.

She stood, stretched, popped her back and neck.

The clock ticking on the shelf told her it was eight pm.

Jo shook her head.

Blair would never be out this late, without getting word to Jo, unless something was wrong. Very damn wrong.

Jo scooped up the phone and dialed Nat and Snake's number.

No answer. She let the phone ring a good long time, but no one picked up. Nat was probably still at the hospital. And Snake was probably away on a long haul.

She slammed the receiver down, gnawed at a nail.

Nat wasn't home, and there wasn't anyone else to call who might know where Blair was. Back in the days when they all lived at River Rock in Peekskill, Jo could've called the house. Alec or Mrs. Garrett or Nat or Tootie or Snake or even Drake would've answered, and everyone pretty much always knew where everyone else was.

"But now we're all scattered to the winds," thought Jo. Mrs. Garrett and Drake were in LA, taping the latest season of "Edna's Edibles". They wouldn't return to River Rock until autumn. Nat always seemed to be in classes or at her internship. Snake was always running long hauls. He had broken away from his father's corrupt trucking business, was running his own show, with a very small number of drivers, including himself. Alec was in England studying at Oxford and trying to patch things up with Jacqueline—yet again. "And now Tootie's on the road in some cockamamie summer stock production," Jo thought bitterly. "The gang's all broken up. And Blair is … where?"

Jo felt the throb of a headache beginning. She wanted a drink.

She didn't want to open the bottle of wine. That was for their romantic supper, whenever Blair finally got home.

Jo rummaged through the fridge, found a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in the very back, probably left over from her last visit home. She popped the cap, took a swig. Skunky. But still … beer.

She settled on the sofa again and snapped on the television set. She found the Yankees game. She sipped the skunky beer and watched the Yankees hammer triples and home runs.

When the game ended and the bottle was empty, Jo stood and paced up and down the living room. She ran a hand through her hair absently, making her carefully styled 'do stand up like a rooster's coxcomb.

Who could she call? Meg was at a convent upstate. Jacqueline was still in England. Portia and Gerald were in Maryland, teaching and researching at Johns Hopkins.

None of Blair's old "snobbo" friends would know where she was. Even after recovering her inheritance, Blair had remained removed from Society with a capital "S". Blair keenly remembered the many who had cut her out when the Warners lost their fortune to BZ Becker.

"We'll ease our way back into Society," Blair had told Jo. "Eventually. We'll need to, to get you the best connections once you're a lawyer, and to help me raise funds for good causes. But for now, darling, it's just you and me, in the real world."

Which suited Jo just fine. Usually. But now there was no one to call. Except …

Jo grimaced.

Hell. If I call Boots, and Blair finds out about the call, which somehow she always finds out stuff like that, there'll be hell to pay, and how! Even years after Boots' ill-advised passes at Jo, Blair felt rather frosty toward the ditsy if goodhearted debutante Boots St. Clair.

Anyhow, Jo thought, it's not like Boots would know where Blair is. It's not like they hang out all palsy-walsy. Although, somehow, Boots was always bumping into Blair.

"I think Boots is trying to find out how you're doing," Blair had told Jo after the last "accidental" run-in with Boots at the Columbia quad.

"Eh, it's just coincidence," Jo had said. "New York's a lot smaller than people think. People cross paths all the time."

"You don't have to tell me how small New York can be," Blair had said coolly. "I was born here. I was raised here, the same as you, Jo Polniaczek."

"Exactly," Jo had said, trying to keep the conversation on a rational tack—which wasn't easy to do where Boots and Blair were concerned. "Coincidence."

"Why would Boots be in Morningside Heights? She's not enrolled at Columbia. Her apartment is way down in the Village. She doesn't work around here."

"You don't know her whole life," Jo had said reasonably. "Maybe Boots was meetin someone, or had an errand, or, I mean, who knows?"

"And what was she doing outside the chapel last month?"

"What chapel?"

"The chapel where I had an internship."

"Well, I mean, maybe she had a meetin near there, or was runnin an errand—"

"Boots certain seems to have a lot of meetings and errands," Blair said drily. "And was she 'meetin' someone near St. Patrick's when I stopped in there a couple of months ago?"

"Maybe."

"Ha! You must be jesting!"

"Not jestin, babe. I just don't see why you're gettin all riled up about bumpin into Boots a few times."

"Because I think she's following me. Not me, per se, but arranging these 'accidental' encounters so she can ask about you."

"Does she ask about me?"

"Of course! Every time we run into each other she asks how you are. Your health, your studies, whether you and I are still together—"

"She's just bein polite."

"Ha!"

Jo had groaned. "Is this always gonna be a thing, babe? You bein suspicious of Boots? I mean, she's still with Mizu, ain't she? And she and Mizu were both pretty damn helpful when you went up against your father a couple years ago—weren't they? When do you cut 'em a break?"

"When hell freezes over."

Jo had groaned again …

Jo paced around the living room. Rubbed her chin thoughtfully.

Hmm. What if Boots was sort of keeping tabs on Blair, so she could bump into her from time to time? That meant Boots might know where Blair was tonight.

Jo lifted the telephone receiver. She flipped open the address book next to the phone. Blair didn't care for Boots, but they were acquaintances, so Boots' number in the Village was noted in the address book.

Jo dialed the number. Chewed at a nail while she waited for someone to answer the phone.

After six rings Jo decided to hang up, but—

"Hello?" Someone answered breathlessly on the seventh ring.

It was Boots' voice. Well educated, pleasant, rather ditsy. Jo knew that voice well.

Jo bit her lip. Huhn. Maybe this wasn't the best idea. Would Boots really know where Blair was? Was asking worth taking the chance of pissing off Blair?

"Hello? Is someone there?" Boots asked again. Yes. Her voice was rather breathless, as if she'd run to answer the telephone.

"Uh, hey Boots," Jo said awkwardly. "Long time no talk."

"Jo!" Boots squealed. "As I live and breathe! Jo Polniaczek. Well. Gravy! How are you?"

Jo blushed. It was disconcerting, how hard Boots was still crushing on her. It was both a little silly and a little touching.

"Eh, you know. I'm holdin my own," Jo said.

"More than that, I'm sure," Boots said warmly. "Much more. Harvard Law. Tres impressive, n'est ce pas?"

"Uh, sure. I guess. Um, Boots?"

"Yes, Jo?"

"You haven't maybe happened to, uh, see Blair lately. Have you?"

Boots clucked her tongue. "Not for some weeks, Jo, no. She didn't seem completely pleased to see me when last we crossed paths. So I've been giving her a wide berth."

"Oh."

"Why? Is she lost, Jo?"

"Nah. I mean, I don't think so. She must just be doin some extra-credit work for her program, or somethin. I'm sure she'll be home any minute."

"Are you back in the city, then, Jo?" asked Boots, sounding pleased. "For the summer?"

"Yeah."

"Then we'll have to meet for lunch."

"Boots," Jo began gently, but—

"Never fear, Jo," Boots said. "By 'we' I mean the four of us: You and Blair and me and Mizu."

Jo shook her head. Christ! What a lunch that would be! Blair glaring daggers at Boots, and Mizu glaring daggers at Jo, and Boots gazing all limpid-eyed and goofy at Jo, and Jo wanting to sink under the freakin table!

"Yeah, Boots, see, that's a nice idea," Jo said. "But if you think it through, if you kind of picture how it would be, you know …" She trailed off, letting the concept sink in.

Boots sighed. "Of course. You're right, Jo dear. As usual. I'm not so very good, you understand, at thinking things through."

"Yeah, well, that's what I'm here for." Jo chuckled awkwardly.

"Never mind lunch, then," Boots said. "But we have to get together somehow, some way. I miss you, Jo. I really do."

"You're a good egg," Jo said.

"I know. I am. I am a good egg," Boots agreed. "I only hope someday Warner will appreciate that."

"Boots, uh, are you sure you don't have any idea where Blair might be. I mean, I know you ain't close with each other, but you wouldn't happen to know maybe where she might be at night, if she has some kinda special class meetin or assignment, or, you know."

Boots was silent for a moment.

Jo could picture the debutante's brow furrowing as she thought deeply about the question, as gears and cogs wound slowly behind the great dark doe's eyes and the pretty face.

"Well," Boots said finally, "Warner has her classes at Columbia, and there's a chapel she visits quite frequently, and she's on a charity board at St. Patrick's. The 'Art for the Children' charity board."

"Anywhere else you know about?" asked Jo.

"No. Well, except …" Boots trailed off, sounding hesitant.

"Except where?" Jo prompted.

"Except sometimes Blair's in the Village. With a brunette woman."

Jo was silent. She digested that.

"Is she, I mean—is she there to visit you or somethin?" Jo asked finally.

"Oh, gravy, no! Blair never visits me. And doesn't know I've seen her, I'm sure."

"Who's the brunette?"

"An older woman. Not old, you understand, but older than us."

"How old?"

"Thirty-something, maybe. Early thirties. Very neatly dressed, like a professional woman."

"What, like a banker, or a real estate dame, or like that?"

"I'm not sure, Jo. I'm not familiar enough with the working set to be able to distinguish their fashions. She might be a banker, yes, or a realtor, or a lawyer. She's very attractive."

"Huhn."

"Oh, I'm sure there isn't anything wrong in it, Jo. They don't hold hands or anything. And in some parts of the Village, you can now. Hold hands with a girlfriend. If you have the, the, what is it you always say? Yes. If you have the 'sand'."

"Where do they go?" Jo pressed, not interested in the mating and dating rituals of the Village. "Blair and the brunette dame?"

"Well, I don't follow them, Jo dear. I'm not James Bond or anything."

"But when you see them, like, are they goin into anyplace, or comin out of anyplace?" Jo pressed.

"Well, they always seem to be coming in and out of a hotel."

"A hotel?" Jo asked sharply. "You sure it was a hotel?"

"Jo, I told you—I'm sure there's nothing wrong in it. They don't have that air that lovers have. That je ne sais quois."

"I ain't sayin there's any sais quois," said Jo. "But I wanna know about this hotel. What's it called? Where is it?"

"Goodness, Jo. You sound very fierce."

"Never mind if I sound fierce. The hotel."

"Well, it's at the corner of Bierce and Wendlon."

"The name, Boots."

"I didn't remark the name. Something like the Algonquin."

"It can't be the Algonquin. That's midtown."

"I said like the Algonquin. The name starts with an 'A' and it's sort of like Algonquin. But not."

"Eh, that's not too helpful, Boots."

"There's only one hotel at Bierce and Wendlon, Jo. You can't miss it. It's a nice enough building, but run to seed a tad bit."

Jo sighed. "All right. All right. Thanks, Boots."

"I hope I haven't caused any trouble in paradise," Boots said. Jo thought the young woman sounded sincere. Mostly sincere, anyway. "And I want you to know that I think it's top-drawer, absolutely top-drawer, that Blair has decided to devote her life to do-goodery. Blair always was someone that we girls turned to for advice. And she's always been, well, let's face it, rather bossy. In the nicest way. Bossy and ready to share her opinion with everyone, even if they haven't asked for it. That's rather a signature of the clerical class—isn't it?"

"Sure," Jo said. "Whatever you say. Don't take any wooden nickels, Boots."

Jo ended the call.

She stood in the middle of the living room for a minute, not quite sure what she was feeling, or thinking, only that it wasn't good.

A hotel. In the Village, notorious for being one of the only spots in the city where it was kinda-sorta safe and accepted to be of the lesbianic persuasion.

What the hell was Blair doin there? And who was she with?

It prob'ly has to do with her religious trainin, Jo thought. It's prob'ly a flophouse. Blair's prob'ly ministerin to the poor there. Some unfortunate person. Or, or somethin like that. The brunette chick is prob'ly her professor.

There were more "probablies" in her mind than Jo liked to deal with. A lot of probablies and not many certainties.

If Blair were ministering at a flophouse in the Village, was this a good time of night for her to be out doing that? And why hadn't she called Jo, let her know she'd be home late? And why—

There was the rattle of a key in the front door lock.

Jo's head swiveled to face the front door.

She clenched her hands, heart beating hard.

Blair. Her babe was finally home!

Either that, or the burglars in Morningside Heights had started using keys.

The door opened.

And it was Blair standing in the doorway. Blair in jeans and a Columbia sweatshirt, her moussed and teased hair, usually a vision of style, now tousled and deflated.

Blair carried a paper bag of groceries in her arms.

She grinned rather shyly.

"Hello, darling," she said. "I'm sorry I'm late."

Jo swept toward the love of her life, relieved her of the bag of groceries.

"No worries, babe. I'm just, you know, I'm glad you're safe."

Blair cocked one golden eyebrow.

"You were worried," she said.

"Nah. Come on. Me worry? I was just, you know, I'm just glad you're here."

Blair's glance took in Jo's carefully arranged hair, her white silk nightgown and white silk robe. She looked past Jo, took in the bottle of perfume twined with white ribbon and a wild rose, and the candles.

"This is a nice way to be welcomed home," Blair said softly.

"Then come in and thank me properly," murmured Jo. She didn't want to kiss Blair with the front door wide open and bright street lamps right outside, making twilight of the dark night. If a rowdy group of frat boys happened to pass at the wrong moment, see her kissing Blair, an ugly incident could ensue.

Jo walked backward, carrying the groceries, and as if magnetically drawn, Blair closed the front door and followed her lover into the kitchen.

Jo placed the bag of groceries on the kitchen counter, pulled out a carton of eggs and a carton of milk. She opened the fridge, tucked the eggs and milk inside.

"You cleaned the kitchen," Blair said appreciatively.

"The whole house," Jo said nonchalantly.

"It's lovely to come home to a clean house. Here," said Blair. "Let me help."

"'K."

Blair removed lettuce and tomatoes and cucumbers and cheese from the bag, handed them to Jo. Jo secured all of the items in the fridge. Blair handed Jo a loaf of French bread, and Jo stowed it in the bread box on the counter.

"Well," said Jo.

"Well," said Blair.

"I guess that's all the groceries," said Jo. "I got us some stuff too. Like, some deli plate stuff. And some wine."

"Sounds wonderful," said Blair. "That was thoughtful of you."

"Well I could see you were livin in nicotine and chow mein."

Blair grimaced. "You're righter than you know, darling. It was a rather … stressful semester."

"Then I'm glad I'm here," said Jo. "I'll get you back on track, babe. I'll make sure you're eatin healthy and not smokin so much."

"Good." Blair smiled. Her cheeks dimpled in that fetching way Jo loved.

Jo's heart beat hard again. Her breath caught in her throat.

Blair can always do that to me. She's just … She's the most beautiful, perfect thing …

Blair's pulse quickened too. The way Jo was looking at her. So tender and sweet and goofy and underneath that, so hungrily.

Blair cleared her throat. She pushed a stray blonde tendril out of her face.

"So," she said.

"So," said Jo.

Jo shifted from foot to foot.

Blair bit her lip.

Inside, Blair wanted to leap at Jo, make love to her right there, on the kitchen floor. But it had been months since they'd seen each other, and she felt suddenly shy.

This is ridiculous. This is Jo, for God's sake! My Jo. There's no need to be bashful.

Yet she was.

And as Blair watched Jo shift from foot to foot, she realized Jo was a little bashful, too.

This is nuts, thought Jo. I should just jump her beautiful bones right here. Take her on the linoleum. That's what she wants me to do. I think. I should just, uh …

Blair cleared her throat again.

"I really am sorry I was late," she told Jo. "I should have been home hours ago. But Bailey's nanny called."

"Bailey OK?" Jo asked quickly.

"Yes," Blair assured her. "She was just missing mother. Crying for her. Mother's been gone for a week now. At first the nanny thought mother was on a bender at a Hampton's house party she attended last weekend. But then she found out mother has jetted to the south of France."

Jo frowned.

"For ten cents, I'd—"

"I know," said Blair. "I know, darling. So would I. But we can't do anything. We have no legal standing. That's why I bribe mother's household. At least we can keep tabs on Bailey and intervene when anything upsetting transpires."

Jo snorted. "With your mommie dearest, upsettin things prob'ly transpire every other damn day!"

"Jo."

"Well it's true! So your mother's in the south of France? For how long?"

"For the season."

"Leavin Bailey all alone with her nanny?"

"She's a very good nanny. Not a particularly warm person, but quite competent and civil."

"Oh, competent and civil! Sounds like a barrel of fun for little Bailey the Fourth!"

"With mother out of the country, we'll be able to visit Bailey," Blair said, smiling. "It'll be nice to visit Bailey in the open instead of having to sneak in through the servant's hall."

"How is the kid?" Jo asked. "I mean, you said she was crying."

"She was better after I visited," said Blair. "I brought her a stuffed elephant. She named it 'Fluffy'. I told her it would take care of her with nanny until you and I can visit."

Jo nodded. She felt a sudden prick of tears, thinking of the neglected child. It didn't just upset her, thinking of Bailey; it also made her think about Blair's lonely childhood.

"I swear to God," Jo said huskily, "if we could ever get, you know, custody of your sister—"

"Oh, of course," Blair drawled. "The courts will hand over little Bailey to a lesbian couple without batting an eyelash."

"Stupid freakin laws," muttered Jo. "Stupid freakin ignorance and prejudice."

"But we're going to help change that, darling," said Blair. "We will. You in the halls of justice, me in the clerical sphere."

"The halls of justice," Jo said bitterly. "You make me sound like a superhero. Prob'ly I'll end up clerking for some friggin no-name law firm, barely bringin home any bacon, let alone changin the world."

"That's defeatist talk," Blair said. "And you are a superhero. To me, darling. You're my, my Green Lighthouse and Batlady and Superwoman all rolled into one."

Blair took a tentative step toward her lover.

"It's Green Lantern," Jo corrected, taking a step toward her lover. "And Batwoman." Taking another step. "And Supergirl." She closed the distance. She slipped her arms around Blair's waist.

"Oh, Jo. Joey," murmured Blair, closing her eyes. She tilted her head to be kissed.

Jo obliged her.

It was a long, lingering kiss, hesitant at first, then deepening and growing more sure. Blair's arms slipped around Jo's shoulders.

Their lips worked against each other, and their tongues slid into each other's mouths, touching, glancing, exploring. They held each other tight, swaying slightly.

Blair could hardly believe Jo was in her arms again. It was almost too good to be true. The feeling of Jo's leanly muscled frame under the silk robe and nightgown was intoxicating.

Jo sighed into her lover's mouth, so damn relieved, so damn content. It was heaven holding Blair. She squeezed Blair's waist as they kissed. Blair had lost some weight—too much. It was the nicotine and all the running around helping people. But Blair still felt damn good. Jo's hands dropped down, cupped Blair's generous rear, squeezed again.

Blair giggled into Jo's mouth.

They broke the kiss.

They tilted their foreheads together, gazed into each other's eyes.

"I've missed you," Jo said huskily. "I've missed you so much it drives me crazy."

"I've missed you, Jo," murmured Blair. She lightly kissed Jo's mouth, then Jo's cheek, her jaw, her throat where the pulse was jumping. "Darling?"

"Yeah?"

"Carry me to our bed?"

Blair didn't have to ask twice.

Jo scooped Blair into her arms. Blair was unusually light. Yeah—she's lost too much weight, thought Jo. Jo carried her fiancée through the kitchen and the hall into their bedroom. She lowered Blair gingerly onto the bed.

Above the bed hung Blair's portrait of Artemis the Huntress, a glorious nude for which Jo had posed and for which Blair had won Langley's prestigious art contest. Way back in the early 80's. Way back in their undergraduate "glory days" before Langley had expelled them for being lovers.

Jo knelt on the bed next to Blair. Blair lay half propped against the pillows, eyes shining with love and need.

"It's been too long," Blair murmured.

"I know, babe," said Jo. "Christ. I know." Her hands and arms were trembling. Her heart was beating fast, like a bird trying to fly free of its cage. Adrenalin, she thought. She hadn't been so adrenalized since the very first time she and Blair made love.

And, just like the first time they'd made love, Jo half-choked Blair removing her shirt. Blair laughed, the sound muffled by the Columbia sweatshirt bunched around her face. Jo chuckled sheepishly. Together they untangled Blair from the mummy-like folds of cloth. Jo hurled the sweatshirt into the corner.

Jo raked gentle fingers up and down Blair's sides, coyly circling the bra cups and straps. She leaned down and kissed Blair's ribs, her belly, the dark scar from Dina Becker's attack so long ago. Then Jo trailed kisses along Blair's collar bone, pressed hungry lips to the hollow of Blair's throat, where beads of perspiration were gathering.

"Jo," whispered Blair. "Aren't you neglecting something? Two somethings?"

"Shhh. Let's take it slow," whispered Jo.

Blair made a rather strangled, dissatisfied sound.

"Trust me, babe. It'll be worth it."

"It better be, Polniaczek."

"It will be." Jo kissed the cords of Blair's throat, then bit lightly at her pulse point. "Let's get your motor revving a little faster," murmured Jo. "Let's see what I can do about that …"

Jo kissed and stroked every square inch of Blair's torso except for the generous breasts, which seemed to strain longingly against their satin prison.

"Jo," Blair finally groaned, "they, they ache. Please, darling …"

Jo kissed the top swell of Blair's breasts. "Almost," Jo promised. She nuzzled the space between the large breasts. She dropped kisses between them, quick, nearly chaste pecks.

And then, very slowly, she unfastened the front of Blair's bra with her teeth.

The cups fell open, one to each side.

Jo paused, gazing with wonder at Blair's beautiful full breasts. They were pale, with large dark nipples. Just now the nipples were indeed diamond-hard and swollen.

"Please," Blair pleaded again. "Please, Joey."

Jo kissed the soft pale flesh of the breasts, their outer circumference, circling in slowly, slowly toward the aureoles. Her kisses grew sharper and more intense as they drew closer to the nipples. She licked the aureoles with maddening patience, and then bit lightly at them.

"Now," Blair whimpered. "Now."

Jo lowered her mouth over Blair's left nipple. She flicked her tongue over the hard nub. Blair made a little squeal. Jo flicked the nipple several more times, then closed her mouth around it, suckling it, hard, in greedy little gulps.

Blair collapsed against the pillows. She sighed and her body went limp. Jo knew her lover well enough to know that Blair had come.

Jo smiled—a rather self-satisfied smile—as she continued to suck at the large dark nipple.

She sucked more softly. One of her hands found Blair's right breast and kneaded it gently. After a time, her fingers plucked softly at the right nipple, while she continued to pleasures the left breast with her tongue.

Her other hand dropped to Blair's waist, unbuttoned and unzipped Blair's jeans. Here she fumbled a bit. She lived a monastic life at Harvard. She hadn't unbuttoned or unzipped anyone's pants in a long time.

Eventually she got the job done. Half-dozing, half-swooning, Blair instinctively lifted her hips so Jo could tug her jeans down. Jo smelled the heady-sweet scent of Blair's arousal. Jo slid her fingers under the front panel of Blair's panties, teasing the curls of brown ("pale blonde" Blair would always insist) hair, then grazing the nub of Blair's clitoris.

Blair smiled—a wicked little smile.

"Oh, Jo—inside," she whispered. "I need you inside."

Jo pressed a thumb to the clit, massaging it with small circular strokes while she knit her fingers and slipped them inside her lover, inside the wet, warm channel that only she was privileged to touch.

Blair rocked her hips, riding Jo's fingers. Jo moved her hand in deliciously lazy, slow strokes, still massaging the rock-hard clit. Jo continued to suck at Blair's left nipple, and stroke the right nipple. Blair began making the most wonderful sounds of pleasure, almost singing, and they grew louder, and louder, and Blair's hips gained momentum.

This, Jo thought with a chuckle, is why we needed a detached house!

Blair cried out in pleasure, louder and louder and more and more insistently as her lover pleased her. Jo moved her hands and mouth faster and harder. Finally Blair shouted her orgasm. She fell back against the pillows as if felled by lightning.

Jo grinned. She came quietly in the aftermath of her lover's coming. Blair's pleasure was her pleasure. Sometime Jo came just thinking about making love to Blair. To actually have Blair in her arms again, to have her under her hands, in her mouth … It was heaven.

Jo felt Blair's nipples soften, and released them. She kept her fingers inside her lover until the afterquakes of orgasm receded, then gently withdrew her hand.

"That was … beautiful," Blair mumbled sleepily. She turned her head to one side. Within a moment, her breath was whistling through her nose, always a sure sign that she was asleep.

Jo lay her head against Blair's breasts, using them as a pillow. She dried her damp fingers on the sheet, and then fell into her own happy slumber …

When Jo woke, Blair was running her fingers through Jo's hair.

"Your hair is different," Blair remarked.

"I had it cut," Jo said. She yawned contentedly.

"Where?"

"Some place in Harvard Square."

"Well it's lovely. It softens your face."

Jo grimaced, eyes still closed. "What—you're sayin it makes me look like a wimp?"

"Not at all. It just … It brings out your inner princess."

"For cryin out loud! That's a terrible thing to say."

Blair leaned down and kissed the top of Jo's head. "Your inner goddess, then. Is that better?"

"I guess. If you mean, like, an ass-kickin goddess. Like Artemis."

"That's exactly what I mean. A beautiful, ass-kicking goddess."

"Well … All right, then," Jo said grudgingly.

"You know you're going to kick ass at Creves, Creves & Sloan. You do know that—don't you?"

"I mean, yeah. I s'pose."

"Eduardo assures me they're a very reputable firm. He says you made a fine choice of internships."

"Yeah, well, I'm sure I only got it cause of Eduardo's recommendation. He's good people."

"He is," Blair agreed. "But you got the internship, Jo," she traced the brunette's face, "all on your own merit. Will you ever realize, darling, how brilliant you are?"

"I'm not sayin I'm a dunce," Jo said, uncomfortable, as usual, with praise. "But I mean … Let's not get carried away. It's not like I'm gonna be the next Supreme Court Justice."

"One never knows," Blair said lightly. "You can do anything, Jo. Anything you want to do, and set your mind to."

"I think that's girlfriend talk," said Jo. "Girlfriends always think their lover can do anything. Especially if said thing will keep the girlfriend in diamonds and furs."

"That's a terribly cynical attitude."

Jo shrugged, eyes still closed. She turned her head and dropped a kiss on Blair's sternum. "Studyin the law, it can make you a little jaded. Specially since I didn't exactly start out as part of the rose-colored glasses crowd in the first place."

"To put it mildly," Blair agreed. She twirled a strand of Jo's dark hair between her fingers. "So you think I'm encouraging your law career to keep myself in diamonds and furs?" she teased.

"Nah. I was speaking generally. You don't need me to keep you in anythin. You can get your own diamonds and furs and whatnots. Though I sure wouldn't mind bein the one to give them to you. Only, of course," she opened her eyes and grinned, "so I can have the pleasure of tearin 'em off of you."

Blair lifted her eyebrows in mock alarm. "That sounds rather brutish. Excitingly so."

"Yeah?"

"Yes." Blair kissed the strand of hair she was twirling between her fingers. "Are you still taking your elocution classes, darling? I'm glad you aren't affecting a patrician Hahvahd accent, but there still seems to be an awful lot of Bronx in your voice."

Jo laughed. She caught Blair's wrists, kissed the heiress's lovely hands.

"So I'm too rough around the edges for ya—am I?" she teased. "Too Bronx for the Park Avenue debutante?"

"I'm used to your rough-and-ready style," Blair smiled. "In fact, you might have noticed I rather like it."

"I had kinda noticed that," said Jo, eyes twinkling.

"But you only have one year left at Harvard," said Blair. "And while I have magnanimously overlooked your dems, deses and doses, the world is a cruel, elitist place. That includes law firms, by the way."

"Shockin," said Jo, shaking her head. "You don't say."

"It's the way of the world, Jo. The more smoothly you speak, the more value the world places on what you're saying."

"Which explains why there's so much bullshit happenin in the world," laughed Jo. "Bullshit sounds like freakin rocket science if one of the richies runnin the world says it in their freakin smooth tones."

"Very true," said Blair. "And, all kidding aside, you haven't answered my question about your elocution classes."

"I been takin 'em," Jo assured her. "All appearances to the contrary. I can talk like a richie when I need to—like in practice court sessions. But when it's just me, you know, or just us—"

"You can talk to me any way you like," Blair said intently. "You don't even have to talk at all …"

She pulled Jo gently up her body, so they lay face to face, Jo straddling her body. They kissed, long and slow and hard.

Jo felt a warmth gathering between her legs.

"It suddenly occurs to me," said Blair, "that you are wearing way, way, way too many clothes, Jo."

"Yeah?"

"Yes."

"So, you look like a pretty resourceful girl. Maybe you can, you know, think of a way to help me out of 'em. You think?"

Blair nodded enthusiastically.

Jo released Blair's wrists.

Blair wrapped one arm around Jo's waist. Her other hand caught Jo's small, firm breast through the silk of her nightgown. Blair rubbed gently, felt Jo's nipple stiffen under her thumb.

"Take me, babe," said Jo, eyes closing. "I need you to take me. I've been, I've been missing you so much. I miss feelin your hands on me."

"Don't you ever …" Blair paused delicately.

Jo could follow Blair's line of thought.

She flushed prettily. "I mean, yeah, of course, Blair. Sometimes. Everybody does. But it's not like feelin your hands on me. It ain't even close."

"Well prepare to feel my hands, darling. All over you."

Blair pinched Jo's nipple through the silk, ran her other hand over Jo's hip.

Jo smiled …


Jo was in the shower the next morning when the phone rang.

For a long time after Jo would wonder how her life might have been different if she hadn't been in the shower, if she had been in the living room next to the phone and able to intercept the call before Blair answered it.

But that wasn't how it happened. And as Jo was wont to say, "It is what it is". You had to take life as it came at you, no matter how much it sucked.

Jo exited the shower and toweled dry in front of the mirror over the sink. She grinned at her reflection. Blair had left some very visible tokens of her affection when she took Jo last night, in the form of hickeys and fingermarks and bruises.

It had been like magic being with Blair again. It had been incredible. Not just the physical part, though that was always magnificent. No, it was more than that. Lying in each other's arms all night. Feeling the warmth of Blair next to her. Talking deep into the night about their plans, their dreams …

We're good together, thought Jo. No. Not good. The best. They were so very different but they complemented each other. And they kept each other's pasts, their demons, at bay.

Like, take for one example, Jo thought, Blair didn't smoke a single cigarette last night. Or touch a freakin sip of wine. Yeah. They were good influences on each other. Once they were together, the world was right.

Jo's stomach growled. Come to think of it, they hadn't eaten a damn thing last night. Well … Not food. Jo patted her belly. Well, they'd have a good breakfast now. A deli breakfast, while they shared the newspaper. And then Jo would take her lover again … and again …

The bathroom door was flung open unexpectedly.

Jo jumped about a foot off the ground, started to pull her towel up over her naked body, then burst out laughing.

It was just Blair.

"Hold on there, Tiger," teased Jo. "Jeez Louise! If you want me, you got me. No need to be dramatic." She grinned at her lover, all goofy joy.

But she saw in an instant that Blair was about as far from passion, or goofy joy, as a person could be.

Blair, wrapped in a lavender silk robe, glared at Jo. The kind of thoroughly pissed-off glare Jo hadn't seen in a long time. Not since she, uh … Come to think of it, Jo couldn't remember the last time she'd made Blair so angry.

Jo dropped the towel and raised her hands high above her head.

"I surrender, pilgrim," she said, in a really terrible John Wayne voice.

She was hoping to disarm Blair with nudity and corny humor, make the debutante laugh.

Instead of which, Blair got that line between her eyebrows, and those pinched nostrils, that she only got when she was enraged.

Jo suddenly felt exposed. She folded her arms across her breasts, taking a stab at dignity, which was not easy given that she was nude.

"Blair, Christ—what gives? Do I needa call an exorcist or somethin? You look like your head's gonna spin around any minute."

"Why would I be angry?" Blair asked through gritted teeth, jaw taut.

Oh, shit, thought Jo. Blair's patrician "Smith" voice—even though she hadn't gone to Smith. A very, very bad sign.

"Babe, listen," said Jo, "I don't know what I did, but I am sorry. I am so completely sorry, you have no idea."

"I'm sure that I don't have any idea," said Blair. "I don't seem to have any idea about a lot of things. For example, perhaps you didn't hear the phone ring just now. Being in the shower, as you were. But the phone did ring just now."

Dammit, thought Jo, finally understanding where this was headed. Dammit, dammit, DAMMIT!

"Can you imagine my surprise," grated Blair, "when I answered the telephone, and the breathless tones of Boots St. Clair told me—and I quote—'Jo, I haven't been able to figure out where Blair is. Do you want me to pop over and keep you company?'"

Jo lifted her hands again. "Now, babe, look, it's not what that sounds like."

"And what does it sound like?" Blair asked dangerously—daring Jo to try to answer that in a way that wouldn't make it all worse.

Jo groaned.

"Precisely," said Blair. "There is no way that you can explain a call like that. Dammit, Jo!" Blair clenched her hands. Her shoulders slumped, and suddenly she looked more sad than angry. Tears welled in her eyes. "When am I going to be able to trust you when it comes to Boots?"

"I didn't want her to come over," Jo said desperately. "I didn't, and I don't. It's, that stuff is in her head, thinkin I'd want her to 'pop over'. Right now, all I wanna do is pop her in the mouth."

"But there must have been some conversation," said Blair. "Clearly she was following up on some discussion you two had, involving me, and my whereabouts, and you two getting together."

"So, OK, that's true, but not the way you're thinkin. It was just I was so worried about where you were, and I remembered you said Boots was keepin tabs on you, so it was a long shot but I thought maybe she'd know where you were, which she didn't, and then she was kinda, she was tryin to get us to go to lunch with her and Mizu, and I was like, 'No effin way'—"

"Stop!" Blair's voice cracked like lightning. She rubbed her temples. "You called Boots to find out where I was? Seriously? You seriously did that?"

"Uh … yeah."

"When you know I don't want any contact with her? And you know I haven't fully forgiven her for the passes she made at you, and you know I don't fully trust her around you? And even though I told you I suspected she might be stalking me? You called her?"

"Well, see, my reasonin bein that if she was stalkin you she would know where you were. I was really worried babe. I mean, truly, deeply worried. You didn't call me or leave a message or anythin."

"So … This is really my fault."

"Hey, whoa. Not what I said. What I'm sayin," Jo said carefully, "is that it isn't anyone's fault. I mean, yeah, you shoulda called me, but I get it. You were helpin Bailey. Bailey's a kid. I'm a grown-up. Talkin to me could wait. I forgive you. And I understand you're real busy and under pressure, so I didn't say anythin about how the house looked like a tornado hit it when I got in. But, you gotta admit, you can forgive me for callin Boots. Cause I was so worried, I was ready to talk to Jack the Ripper if I thought he would know where you might be."

Blair turned that over. She nodded.

"So you get what I'm sayin?" Jo asked hopefully.

"What I get," said Blair, "is that you are an ass. You forgive me for not calling you? You forgive me for keeping a messy house?"

"You know what I mean."

"Do I?"

Jo felt a warmth in her face and chest. The warmth of anger. Damn Boots to hell for calling! Yeah, it was dumb of Jo to call Boots. Jo knew at the time it was dumb. And sure, Jo accepted she was gonna have to pay a little hell for it. But still, Blair was taking this too far. She was making a whole big thing of it, way out of proportion. Was Blair ever going to outgrow her drama queen side?

"Blair, I was worried," Jo said tightly. "I made a dumb decision, and if you wanna be pissed, have at it. But let's not make this World War III. And don't even try to act like this place didn't look like the freakin Wreck of the Hesperus. And don't even try to act like you think I would ever be with Boots."

"I may know that," Blair fumed. "And you may know that. But Boots doesn't know that. Boots' brains turn to oatmeal when it comes to you. That's even when you don't encourage her."

"I didn't encourage her! The whole call was about you! Did she know where you were, since you think she's stalking you."

"She is following me. And it does have to do with you somehow. I know it. You and her asinine crush on you."

"So someone has to be asinine to have a crush on me?"

"It's beginning to appear so. And don't turn the subject."

"I thought that was the subject. Boots and her crush on me, which, by the way, I can't freakin control, and isn't my fault."

"It isn't your fault if you stay away from her. But when you call her—"

"About you. You, you, you Blair. You. Your favorite subject."

Blair lowered her head. Her glare became almost a laser beam.

"Jo Polniaczek, you take that back."

Jo wanted to take it back the second she said it. It was hurtful and childish, something she would've said to Blair when they were teens arguing at Eastland. But, no. She wouldn't give Blair the satisfaction.

"Why should I take it back?" Jo asked defiantly. "It's true. Blair Warner, center of the universe. Somehow everythin has to do with you."

"I didn't call Boots. I didn't tell you to call Boots. You set all this in motion all on your lonesome, Jo."

"Set what in motion? This is so stupid. If you had just called me from Bailey's—"

"I'm not going to apologize for that again. And that still doesn't justify—"

"I was worried. Don't you get that? And I couldn't get ahold of Nat, and no one else is in town, not who'd know where you are. Everyone's scattered to the effin winds. Boots was like, she was a last resort. I was startin to worry, I mean, what if somethin really bad happened to you? Considerin the places you been hangin out."

Blair's eyes narrowed. "So … You picked Boots' birdbrain about my movements."

"Not like that. Not like I was spyin. I just wanted to know where you might be."

"Where I am is my business. I'm a big girl, Jo. If you want to know where I go, just ask me."

"But you weren't here to ask. That was the point."

"You know what I mean."

Jo rubbed her eyes. "No. No, I don't know that I do. You got my head runnin in circles now, Blair. I just know I love you and I would never hurt you. And I was worried. That's all. I'm not even gonna ask you about the chick you been hangin around with. The older dame. Cause I trust you. I know you wouldn't cheat on me, just like you oughta know if I call Boots, it's nothin to, to freakin fight the main event about."

Blair's eyes narrowed to slits. "The chick I've been 'hangin around with'? Was that part of Boots' report?"

"It wasn't a report. She just mentioned, you know, you've been in the Village, and at that hotel, with a brunette dame. That's all. But I trust you. I totally trust you. And you should trust me, babe."

"Ha!"

Blair stormed out of the bathroom, slamming the door behind her so hard that it rattled on its hinges.

Jo stood stock still for a moment.

Jo realized she was still naked. Her body was flushed, especially her chest, a sure sign of her anger. Her breath was coming fast through her nose, like Blair's did when Blair was pissed.

What the hell just happened? Was that for real?

She felt the need to break something.

Instead, she made a little cry, like "Argh!", and swept the toothpaste tube and floss off the sink.

"Oh, very mature!" Blair's voice called through the door. It sounded like she was in the living room.

Jo yanked open the bathroom door, stormed into the living room.

Blair was closing the latch on a small suitcase. She had shrugged into jeans and a Columbia T shirt and a light jacket. She wore two different sneakers on her feet.

Jo's heart sank even as her blood pressure rose. She was so angry and so scared at the same time, she thought she might explode.

"What the hell?" demanded Jo, trying to sound more angry than terrified. "Are you goin home to mother?"

"I wish I could!" snapped Blair. "But no. It's a hospice day. I sit with the terminally ill. All day and all night. I'll be back tomorrow morning. If you need me you can call St. Algon's Hospice. The number's in the book. Or just call Boots, and she'll give you a full report."

"Dammit, Blair—"

"I have to go, Jo. I'm already late."

"We aren't done talkin about this. We ain't even close!"

"Then tomorrow should be a fun morning! That 'brunette dame,' just for your information, is one of my professors. Goodbye, Jo."

"You can't go like that," Jo objected. "You got two different shoes on."

"I have extra shoes in my bag," said Blair.

"But we're not, babe, come on. I can't leave it like this."

"Well you have to, Jo. People with real problems, dying people, are waiting for me."

There wasn't much to say to that. Jo kicked the coffee table with her bare foot. Her big toe made a cracking sound.

"Shit!" yelled Jo.

"Tell Boots I said 'go to hell'," Blair said.

She banged out of the house, the front door rattling on its hinges behind her.


After Jo bandaged her sprained big toe, and dressed, and ate about a pound of turkey and ham and provolone from the deli plate in the fridge, she opened the phone book and leafed through it until she found the name and address for St. Algon's Hospice.

She'd never heard of St. Algon. He probably wasn't a real saint, she figured. Not a Roman Catholic saint. One of those Church of England guys.

According to the phone book, St. Algon's Hospice was located at Bierce and Wendlon.

"Boots, for cryin out loud—can't you get anythin right?" fumed Jo.

Boots hadn't seen Blair going in and out of a hotel. It was a hospice—a place for people to be comfortable before they kicked the bucket and went to the big eternal Hospice in the sky.

No wonder Blair's so stressed out, thought Jo. Now that Jo had some food in her, she felt a little more rational—even charitable. Sittin up all night with dyin people at some rundown place in the Village. Talk about depressin! No wonder Blair's all on edge and bein totally impossible.

Jo wasn't due at Cleves, Cleves & Sloan for another couple days. She decided she would pay a visit to St. Algon's this evening, bringing Blair a peace offering of some kind—maybe some pastries from Blair's favorite bakery in the Bronx. They would patch up this stupid argument, and when Blair got home tomorrow morning, they would spend the entire day in bed, a marathon makeup session.

Jo thought it was an excellent plan, if she did say so herself. All she had to do was get Blair on board. And a penitent surprise visit, armed with cannoli from Madonia Brothers on Arthur Avenue, would do the trick …


June 1989. The Bronx.

As Jo rode the train out to the Bronx, she felt her grasp of the situation getting clearer and clearer. It was nerves. Sure. She and Blair hadn't seen each other for months. Talking on the phone—it wasn't the same thing as being face to face. Not by half. And they hadn't been talking much on the phone, either. Nah. That was it. Nerves. Seeing each other again, getting reacquainted, making love for the first time in a long time. Of course Blair was a little rattled. Of course she overreacted when Boots called.

And, to be fair, Jo admitted to herself that she had overreacted about Blair being late. Of course Jo shouldn't have worried. Blair was a grown woman, used to taking care of herself and being out at all hours while Jo was way the hell up in Cambridge. Jo shouldn't have called Boots. It was a lame, stupid thing to do. And Jo regretted it, and was willing to eat all the crow and humble pie Blair fed her.

What we got here, thought Jo, is a failure to communicate. Like that line from that movie. This ain't like when Blair and me were roommates—not at Eastland, and not at River Rock. Blair ain't used to me bein around now, about havin to check in with me and let me know where she is. And I'm not used to that house. I'm kinda, I gotta get used to that space, and figure out how I fit into it. Me and Blair gotta treat each other like grownups now. Real grownups. But we can do this. Yeah. We got this …

Jo picked out an assortment of pastries at Madonia Brothers, including Blair's kryptonite, cannoli, and then turned her steps toward her mother's apartment.

After Blair had recovered her enormous inheritance, she and Jo had made several offers to move Rose to a safer and posher neighborhood. Rose had steadfastly refused.

"You're still in school," she'd told them. "And you just got the money back. Easy come, easy go. A lot can happen that you don't expect. You hang onto that money. You finish your schooling. If you want to help me move when you're established, when the floor can't get pulled out from under you … We'll talk then."

It was a typical reaction from humble and pragmatic Rose. They hadn't pressed her, but every once in awhile they brought it up again. Rose still demurred.

"When you're settled," she told them. "When you're in practice," she told Jo. "When you have a church," she told Blair.

Since Rose refused to move, Blair and Jo had quietly made a donation to the building's handyman and de facto manager, old Mr. Balducci. Balducci had used the money—most of the money; Jo knew he would drink away a portion of it—to paint the apartments and halls, to repair broken stairs, to install new washers and dryers in the laundry room, to fix outlets that had been burnt out seemingly since Edison had invented the light bulb.

And because Blair was going to be busy at Columbia, and Jo was going to be way the hell up in Cambridge, Jo had asked her cousin Pauly and her friend Jesse to look in on Rose frequently. Pauly and Jesse were getting their teaching degrees at Bronx University.

"Anything happens to Ma, it's curtains for you two," Jo had told her cousin and her friend. Jo had glared darkly at them, and drew one finger across her throat in a threatening manner.

"Yeah, that's sweet," Jesse had deadpanned. "Son of a bitch, Polniaczek. You gonna use that charm on your classmates at la-di-freakin-Harvard? You're gonna scare the shit outta those egghead creampuffs!"

"Alls I'm sayin is, I can't check in on Ma, so you two better check in on Ma. Or else," said Jo.

"Yeah, we got that. Calm the hell down. Whaddya think's gonna happen to her now that ain't never happened to her before? Rose can take care of herself. She's got more sand than I used to think."

"Never mind thinkin. Just be sure to check in on her. She needs anythin, you tell me or Blair, we'll get it to her. Anyone's hasslin her, you kick their ass."

Pauly had grinned at his cousin. He understood the love underneath Jo's brusque Young Diablo manner.

"Rose is gonna be OK, cuz," he told her kindly. "And so are you."

"Me? Course I'm gonna be OK," Jo said defensively. "What're you—nuts?"

And Jo had been OK … Even though being at Harvard scared the hell out of her at first. Although it had been hell those first months, missing Blair, missing Nat and Tootie and Alec and Mrs. Garrett, missing Rose …

Balducci was sitting on the front stoop of the building, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer.

When he saw Jo approaching he squinted. His eyesight was going. His eyesight and everything else.

"Hey, there she is!" he called to Jo when he was sure it was her. "There's the Harvard lawyer! Hey—I'm innocent. You can't pin nothing on me, counselor, haha!"

Jo grinned at him. She slapped his shoulder and shook his hand, which was greasy with motor oil and WD40.

"How's by you, Mr. Balducci?" she asked.

"Oh, same old, you know. Gonna be workin on a busted fan in Unit D. You wanna give me a hand for old time's sake?"

"Maybe I will. Knock on my Ma's door. Is she home?"

"Yeah, she's home."

"Good. Catch you later, Mr. Balducci."

Jo climbed the stoop, then climbed the steps to her mother's apartment. Her apartment when she was a kid. The first home Jo ever remembered.

Yeah, Balducci had put the money to good use. The stairs were in good shape, and the bright paint in the halls and stairwells made the place so damn cheerful and civilized looking you might have thought you were in Manhattan, thought Jo.

She knocked on the door of her mother's apartment. Silence for a moment, and then light, quick steps approaching the door, and then the door opened.

"Jo! I was hoping you'd drop by," said Rose.

"Course I dropped by," said Jo. "I missed you, Ma."

She hugged her mother tightly, careful not to crush the petite woman.

When Jo released her, Rose peeked over Jo's shoulder.

"Blair not with you?" she asked, sounding disappointed.

"She's on hospice duty," Jo said regretfully. "Heavy-duty stuff."

"That girl has a heart of gold," Rose said. "Nothing's too much trouble for her."

Jo bit back a smile, thinking of how much Rose used to dislike Blair—both before and after Rose learned that Jo and Blair were lovers. What a difference a few years could make. A few years, and some drama, and some bonding experiences.

"Come on in, come on in," said Rose, shooing Jo into the small apartment, where a microscopic living room flowed into a minute kitchen. One bedroom and the bathroom opened off a tiny hall.

The apartment was spic-and-span as usual, and smelled of lemon furniture polish.

"Did you bring laundry?" Rose asked.

"Ma—I've been doin my own laundry for years now."

"But you can bring your laundry, Jo. If you ever want to. You know that."

"Yeah, OK. I know that," said Jo.

"You must be starving. What can I get you? How about boloney? A boloney sandwich?"

"I just ate a bunch of sandwiches at the house."

"Joanne Marie, I know you. You're still hungry. A mother knows."

And darned if Jo's stomach didn't feel a little bit empty, after traveling all the way out to the Bronx, and walking over to her mother's apartment from the bakery.

"Exactly," said Rose, reading Jo's expression. "Go sit. Turn on the TV or the radio or something. I won't be a minute."

Jo sat down on the living room sofa. She snapped on the TV set. Twirled the dial until she found a soap opera.

"Oh, leave that on, leave that on!" Rose called from the kitchen. "Cliff and Nina are supposed to get married soon."

"I don't know how you and Blair can watch this soap opera crap," said Jo, shaking her head.

"It's romantic," said Rose. "Leave it on."

"It's on, it's on. I won't touch the dial."

Her mother bustled from the kitchen, handled Jo a paper plate bearing a boloney and cheese sandwich with mayo on white, and a heaping handful of potato chips.

"Dig in," said Rose. "And if you're still hungry I'll make you another one."

It was on Jo's lips to say, "Jeez, Ma—I'm not a kid anymore." But instead she said, "Thanks, Ma," and she dug in.

"So tell me about your classes last semester," said Rose. "What was your favorite class? What were your teachers like?"

"Professors, Ma."

"Your professors, then. Tell me everything."

"Eh, you know—there's not a lot to tell," Jo said around a mouthful of boloney and cheese. "I still like criminal law best."

"My daughter—a future DA," Rose said proudly.

"Eh, well—let's not get carried away," Jo said modestly.

Rose glanced at her watch. "Oh, wouldn't you know it," she said. "Where do the days go? I'm sorry, Jo, but I have to leave in about a half hour."

"For what?"

"For my shift at the Coffee Spot."

Jo groaned. "For cryin out loud, Ma—when are you gonna quit that crum-bum joint? If you won't move outta the neighborhood, you should at least let me and Blair take care of your bills and your rent."

Rose shook her head. "Never mind that," she said.

"But Ma—you shouldn't still be workin. Not when your future daughter-in-law is Miss Moneybags Galore."

"That's her money. And your money."

"Ma—"

"Polniaczeks pay their own way," Rose said sternly. "Am I right?"

"Yeah," Jo said. "Yeah, Ma—you're right."

"Darn straight. Listen, Jo. I'm really impressed. With all you're achieving, with all you're going to achieve. Both of you. But that's your life. I have my life. And it suits me just fine."

"But, I mean—the Coffee Spot. Don't you get tired of it?"

"Not these days! Do you know my favorite part of going to work now?"

"What?"

"Every time a new customer comes in I find a way to drop into the conversation, really casual, of course, how my daughter goes to Harvard. Harvard Law, thank you very much, Lord. Do you know how proud I am?" Rose hugged her daughter. "I'm just about fit to burst! And you earned it. You got in on your merit, Jo, your studies. And you earned those scholarships. All on your own."

Jo wriggled, pleased but embarrassed, as usual, by praise.

"I mean, yeah, I'm doin OK," Jo said. "But Eduardo wrote me that recommendation. His word carries a lot of weight in legal circles."

"Not that much weight," Rose said. "You're a winner, Jo. A winner, and a worker. There's nothing you and Blair can't have in this life. Well …"

She trailed off.

"Almost anything," Jo said drily. "'Cept an actual weddin."

Rose patted her hand. "Someday," said Rose, "the world will catch up and find its Christian conscience."

"Speakin of which," said Jo, glancing at her own watch, a lovely second-hand thing, a gift from her father years ago when she started Langley, "I'm gonna go drop in on Blair at the hospice. I guess I'll go when you go to work."

Rose frowned. "Jo … I'm sure that's a very nice thought, but is it really a good idea to drop in on Blair at St. Algon's? It's a very … intense atmosphere."

"How do you know?"

"I volunteer there."

"In the Village?" Jo was surprised.

"I do occasionally get out of the Bronx, Jo," said Rose. "Peggy told me about the hospice," she continued, referring to a childhood friend, now the director of the Gay and Lesbian Center in the Village. "St. Algon's isn't a Catholic hospice, but it is Christian, and they've had trouble finding volunteers."

"Why? What's wrong with it?"

"Nothing's 'wrong' with it," Rose explained patiently. "It can be a challenge, that's all, finding people to sit with the dying. Especially when people are afraid of catching things. Most of the dying at St. Algon's have AIDS."

Jo spit out her potato chips.

"Honestly," said Rose, shaking her head. She brushed up the potato chip crumbs with a paper napkin. "I raised you with better manners than that, Joanne Marie."

"AIDS," said Jo. "How do you know about AIDS?"

"Of course I know about AIDS! It's been all over the news the last couple years. It's hit epidemic proportions."

"But how do you know about it?"

Rose rolled her eyes. "Jo, what do you think happens to me when you leave? Do you think I hop into a little cellophane box and float in, in some kind of suspended animation until you knock on my door again? I watch the news, I read the papers. I saw 'The Ryan White Story'. That poor family. That poor mother!"

Jo pondered that. "I mean … OK," she said. "But you're my Ma. You're not s'posed to know about AIDS and sex and, you know, that kind of stuff."

"Well I do," she said grimly. "Peggy told me over coffee one day how it's decimating the Village. The men, mostly. The men get sick, and the dykes nurse them."

Jo spit out more potato chips.

"Ma—please!"

"Well that's the word, isn't it? One of them. If it wasn't for the dykes—"

"The, uh, lesbians," Jo interjected. "Please say 'lesbians'. I can handle that."

"The lesbians, then," said Rose, brushing up the potato chip crumbs. "If it wasn't for the lesbians volunteering in droves, not just at hospitals and hospices, but in the sick men's homes, well, I don't know where the sick men would be."

"And you're OK?" Jo asked wonderingly. "You're not worried about catchin anything?"

"You know me and germs," Rose said, waving the paper napkin airily. "Germs have never stood much of a chance against me."

And that was true enough, Jo reflected. Her mother had always had an iron constitution.

"Anyway, AIDS isn't a germ," Rose continued. "The dy—um the lesbians gave us volunteers a crash course about AIDS. It isn't passed like you would spread a cold. The Surgeon General put out a report. As long as there isn't an exchange of bodily fluids, you're perfectly safe."

Jo managed not to spit out her chips at the phrase "bodily fluids"—but she decided it was time to hit the road.

She handed the paper plate to her mother.

"You didn't finish all your chips," Rose protested.

"That's OK. The sandwich was great, Ma. Aces. Topnotch."

"Better than the sandwiches you ate this morning?"

"A hundred percent," Jo said truthfully.

"I thought Blair was getting better in the kitchen," mused Rose.

"Oh, she is. I made the sandwiches. She had to, well, you know, we …" Jo trailed off.

Rose pounced.

"I knew it!" she said.

"Knew what?" asked Jo, startled. "Jeez, Ma. Warn me before you do that!"

"I knew there was something up with you and Blair."

"Whaddya mean, somethin up? What's that s'posed to mean?"

"You tell me. There was a shadow on your face when you arrived, Jo."

"Eh, that's just the crummy light in the hallway."

"Balducci put fresh bulbs in the hall last week. And there's still a shadow on your face. You're down about something."

"There's no shadow on my face. Or if there is, must be where I'm sittin or somethin."

"Jo Polniaczek, you just arrived home yesterday afternoon. Blair would not leave for the hospice this morning without making you a meal."

"Sure she would."

"No she wouldn't."

"Well, she did. So there."

"So there, nothing. What did you do to Blair?"

"What did I do to Blair?"

"You heard me, Joanne Marie."

"She yelled at me. And walked out of the house on me."

"Why?"

"Whaddya mean, 'why'?"

"It's a simple enough question, Jo. You have that shadow on your face, and you're carrying a box of cannoli from Madonia Brothers. Clearly a peace offering for whatever you did."

"I thought you were s'posed to take my side," complained Jo. "You're, like, Blair's mother-in-law. You're s'posed to stand with me."

"When I had coffee with Blair a few days ago, she was glowing like an expectant mother. She couldn't wait to see you. So if you had a blow-up less than 24 hours after getting home, and you're bringing her cannoli, I put my money on you as the guilty party."

"Why is there a guilty party? Huh? Sometimes, you know, people just don't get along so good."

"So what happened?"

Jo shrugged. "I mean, I get in off the train, and she's not there to meet me. She sent Nat to meet me."

"Well, she sent someone. Didn't she? That sounds fair enough."

"And then when I got home, the house was a total mess. It looked like a tornado went through."

Rose pursed her lips. "You know I believe in keeping a clean house—" she began.

"Exactly!" said Jo.

"But I don't think you understand how many hours Blair is working, and how much time her classes take. She confided in me, over coffee, that she feels terrible about how she's let things go."

"Oh," said Jo.

"Oh," agreed Rose. "So what other grievances do you have?"

"It's not, they aren't 'grievances'. I'm just, you asked so I'm tellin you what happened. Is that OK?"

"Don't smart-mouth me. And continue."

"So I cleaned up the place. The whole place. And there was barely any food in the house, so I went and got food. And I had this nice bottle of perfume I got Blair at Filene's, you know, last weekend, and I put that on the table, and I put a ribbon on it. And a flower."

"That part sounds very nice," Rose said approvingly.

"And then she doesn't get home. For hours. So I got, you know, kinda worried."

Rose shook her head. "What did you do, Jo?"

"Why do you keep asking that?"

"Because I know you. You don't handle being worried very well. You must have done something, well …"

"Stupid," said Jo. She put her face in her hands. "OK. OK, it was stupid. I admit that. That's why the cannoli. But it wasn't the crime of the century, either."

"What did you do?"

"I couldn't think of who to call who might know where Blair was. So I, you know … So I called Boots."

"That Beets person?"

"Boots, Ma. Boots."

"I'm sorry. I always think of her as 'Beets'. I guess because she brought a can of beets to Thanksgiving that time."

"Well it's Boots."

"But Blair can't stand her. Boots made passes at you."

"That's the part where I was 'stupid,' Ma."

Rose made a "tisking" sound.

"Well, you certainly weren't thinking," she said.

"But it's ancient history, the whole thing where Boots made passes at me."

"Is it really?" Rose asked shrewdly. "Beets, I mean, Boots, doesn't still have designs on you?"

"I mean, I guess. Kind of. But I would never—"

"It doesn't matter if you would never, or ever, or what. Blair is right. You need to stay well away from that girl."

"Are you serious? You're s'posed to be all full of Christian charity, and Blair's gonna be a woman of the cloth, and you two can't see your way to forgivin Boots for some dumb mistakes?"

"It's not a matter of forgiveness. It's the law of the jungle, Jo. The concrete jungle, too. If another woman wants your mate, she's poison. Plain and simple. It doesn't matter how nice she is, or whether your mate would go along with it or not. If a woman with designs on Charlie came around, I would've hit her with a skillet! And if Charlie called her, I would've hit him with a skillet too!"

Jo shook her head.

"I just don't get it."

"You don't have to get it," said Rose. "You just have to stay away from that Boots. And why on earth would she know where Blair was, anyway? Why didn't you call me? You know I see Blair at least once a week."

"Well, you know, I guess … I didn't think of it," Jo said lamely.

Rose shook her head.

"The cannoli isn't enough," she told Jo. "A dozen roses, too."

"A dozen? D'you know how much that'll cost?"

"Your wallet can stand the hit," Rose said firmly. "A dozen roses. Less won't be enough. More will be overdoing it. Red roses. And don't drop in at the hospice. When Blair is volunteering there, she's working. And it's a very, well, stressful environment. You need to be waiting for her, when she gets home. With the pastries and the roses and a very repentant attitude."

Jo scowled.

"Do what you please," said Rose, making a gesture that indicated she was washing her hands of the matter—which Jo didn't believe for a minute. "All I can do is advise you. If you won't listen to your own Ma, after asking me for my opinion—"

"I never asked you," objected Jo.

"And that," said Rose, "was just one of your mistakes. Jo, beautiful relationships don't grow on trees. They don't. You know that by now. You knew that growing up, with me and Charlie fighting every other minute. What you and Blair have, I still don't really understand it, and it took me a long, long time even to acknowledge it, but it's real, Jo. And it's beautiful. And it's going to take work to make it last."

Jo bit her lip. Hell. Why was her Ma right so often—and usually at the most inconvenient times?

"So I just go put the cannoli in the fridge and cool my heels till tomorrow morning?"

"No," said Rose. "You'll just brood, and get yourself worked up to where you think this isn't your fault again. I think you should call one of your friends. Have a nice night out."

"You do, huhn?"

"Yes, Jo."

"Well, maybe your crystal ball is right about that one," Jo said grudgingly.

Maybe Nat would be free tonight. Jo felt the need, very strongly, to talk to one of the Musketeers. The Musketeer that was most likely to be on her side. And if Nat wasn't off-duty, maybe Jesse and Pauly could hang out. Jesse would definitely take Jo's side in any argument with Blair.

Jo hugged her mother, gingerly, so as not to break her.

"All right, Ma. All right. I'll go out tonight."

"Good. If you think that's best."

"Oh, sure." Jo's eyes twinkled. "If I think that's best."

"I'm just your mother," said Rose. "What do I know?"

"A lot, I guess," said Jo. "A real lot, Ma."


June 1989. Midtown Manhattan.

"This isn't exactly what I had in mind," groused Jo, "when I said we should hang out tonight."

"Do you have any idea how much I need this?" asked Nat. "Do you know how thinly I'm stretched these days, between work and studies? And no cracks about my weight, please. I know that despite dropping a few pounds, I am still pleasingly plump. As I famously said at Eastland, I'd rather be a chunky magic marker than—"

"Than a skinny pencil," snapped Jo. "Yeah, yeah. We've all heard you say it a million times. It's gotten pretty stale, you ask me."

"Well I didn't ask you," said Natalie. "So put that in your pipe and smoke it. Boy. What a grump."

"I'm a grump? I'm not the grump. You're the grump."

"Not tonight. You should be falling all over yourself thanking me for giving you my other ticket."

"You only gave it to me," Jo accused, "because Snake is on the road."

"True. But I could've tossed the other ticket and come here alone. It would have been much quieter, and more peaceful."

"Believe me," said Jo, "this is the last place for peace and quiet."

As if on cue, the tuxedoed musicians in the orchestra pit began to warm up. Violins squealed and kettle drums thundered.

Jo winced.

The opera. The freakin opera! Natalie had conned her into coming to the opera, only mentioning "music," telling Jo to wear a dress, and giving Jo a midtown address. Jo had expected a nightclub, some nice jazz or pop music, maybe even some classical. That, she could live with. But it turned out to be the address of an amateur—amateur!—opera company.

"Jo," said Natalie, "I just want to unwind. I need to melt into the music. Do you know what Snake would be doing if he could be here?"

"Um, shootin himself in the head?"

"I'll have you know Snake loves opera."

"Or so he tells you."

"He loves operas. He plays operas on tape during his long hauls."

"Prob'ly during the midnight runs, to keep from fallin asleep," Jo said skeptically. "Who could fall asleep listenin to a bunch of screechin divas?"

Natalie rolled her eyes. "What a Philistine thou art," she complained.

"Look, I been to operas. I get the concept. I just don't like operas," said Jo. "That doesn't make me a Philistine."

Natalie glanced at her watch. "OK, Jo. Shoot."

"Whaddya mean, shoot?"

"We have ten minutes before curtain—after which I don't want to hear a peep out of you, Jo. Not … a … single … peep. So whatever's bothering you, spill it now. Snoop Sister-slash-eminent-amateur-psychologist Natalie Green is all ears."

Jo bit at a hangnail.

"Well, as a matter of fact—"

"Aha!" said Natalie. "I knew it. What did you do?"

"Why do people keep askin me that?"

"Because you obviously did something. You have an air of guilt about you."

"What the hell is an air of guilt? What does that mean?"

Natalie shook her head. "We don't have time to go into all that. Although as a law student, you should already be familiar with airs of guilt. Jo … What did you do?"

Jo gave an abbreviated version of the tale she'd told her mother that afternoon.

When Jo finished, Natalie shook her head with a woeful air.

"I almost feel like I should refer you to my grandmother for this one."

"Har-har."

"I mean it. I don't think I have the worldly wisdom to help you on this one. You should call Gramma. I'll give you her new number in Miami."

"Eh, never mind that. Mona's livin it up as the new Mrs. Sol Silverberg. Life is good for her. What does she need with my problems?"

"You're her vnooshka too, every bit as much as I am. You know she loves to help people with their problems."

"I ain't gonna bother her. And it ain't a problem. It's more of, you know, a situation."

"Oh, I see. Well, that's a completely different thing," Natalie said sarcastically.

"Why is everyone makin a big deal about this? Blair and I have had fights before. A little cannoli, a dozen red roses, my patented Polniaczek charm, and everything snaps back to normal tomorrow morning. Badabing, badaboom."

"Bada-what bada-how?" asked Natalie.

"Look, there's stuff I can't share with you," said Jo, "because even though you're shacked up with Snake in that apartment—"

"We're cohabiting," Natalie said with dignity.

"Whatever. Even though you're a med student and shacked up and all, you're still my little sister. So there's details I ain't sharin. But let's just say I have a few moves in store for Miss Blair Warner. Moves that are gonna to seal the deal."

Natalie made a face.

"In addition to not sharing details," said Nat, "can you also refrain from using phrases like 'seal the deal'?"

"What's wrong with 'seal the deal'?"

"I don't know—but something."

"So, anyway, that's it. I kinda messed up, but I'm gonna make it up to Blair when she gets home tomorrow mornin, and everythin's gonna be great."

Natalie gave Jo a pitying look.

"Isn't it?" asked Jo.

"If you say so."

"Hey. I know when you do that tone. You're sayin it's not gonna be OK."

"I'm saying you need to talk to my Gramma."

"Why isn't it gonna be OK?"

"Because you involved Boots. Boots St. Clair! That's like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Boots being the red flag—"

"And Blair being the bull. Yeah. I get it."

"Blair's going to need to cool off. You can't just win her back with delicious pastry and flowers and whatever 'moves' you're supposed to have."

"S'posed to? What does that mean? Did Blair say somethin about my moves?"

"No. Thank God."

"So are you sayin I got the cannoli and roses for nothin?"

"No. They're a good start. What I'm saying is, they won't be enough. Blair will need a cooling off period, as well as gifts and penitence. Don't forget: In addition to dragging Boots back into your lives, you also criticized Blair's housework."

"But I forgave her."

"Yeah. About that. Don't forgive her."

"But—"

"It just doesn't sound good. Sometimes," Natalie steepled her fingers under chin, nodding sagely, "sometimes the secret of communication is minimalism. You don't want to say too much. Just the facts. You love her. You messed up. Say that and then, you know …"

"Then?" Jo prompted.

"Then clam up. It's all about minimalism, Jo. Minimalism."

Jo grunted. She sounded distinctly unsatisfied with Natalie's advice.

"You got so much to say about me and Blair," said Jo, "what about you and Snake? How's that goin?"

"Extremely well," said Natalie. She smiled a dreamy smile.

"So you guys are gettin along, even though you're cohabitin?"

"What's not to get along? I'm always in classes or at the hospital. He's always on the road. When we are home at the same time, well …. We're getting along extremely well."

Jo shook her head. "That don't sound so great," she said. "You're not really livin together. You're barely seein each other."

"Says the woman who lives in Cambridge three-quarters of the year."

"Still. When I'm home, I'm home. Blair's gonna get my full attention this summer."

"Except when you're at work. And when she's at work. And when she's in class."

"Yeah, well … We'll still have a lot of time together."

"If you say so. Live is a roller coaster, Jo. People are shooting past each other like rockets. You just have to grab the moments you can. And enjoy them."

Jo chewed on that for a minute. "So tell me, Nat—How'd you get your parents to accept you livin with Snake? That musta been a tough sell."

Natalie flushed. She cocked her head, as if hearing a sound that eluded Jo.

"Well, what do you know," Natalie said brightly. "The opera's starting."

"No it's not."

"Don't you hear the overture?"

"That's just the orchestra warmin up."

"Are you sure? It sounds like the overture to me."

Jo gaped. "No way. Nat—Your parents don't know you and Snake are livin together?"

"Cohabiting. Please. We're cohabiting."

"And your parents don't know."

"They know we're dating now."

"Are you serious?"

"Hey, that was a big deal. It took my parents some time to absorb that their youngest daughter is dating an Irish truck driver. They're not ready to know Snake and I are living together. I mean, that we're cohabiting. And they rarely drop by. I go to them. I go to Shabbat dinner whenever my schedule permits."

"But how does that work? I mean, when they do drop by?"

"Like I said, Snake's usually on the road."

"But when he's home?"

"I handle all communications in our apartment," Natalie said smoothly. "I answer all phone calls and answer the door."

"So what you're sayin is, if your parents drop by, Snake hides in the closet?"

"Or under the bed. Or on the little balcony. Ours is a very flexible response system."

"It sounds like a freakin nutso system. Straight outta the 'Three Stooges'. Nat—your parents are gonna catch on. You need to tell 'em."

"And we will. Eventually. Baby steps, Jo. It's all about baby steps."

"I thought it was all about minimalism."

"And baby steps. Which are, by definition, very minimal."

Jo gave Natalie the look.

"You know, I think I should call Mona," said Jo. "What's that number in Miami? At least she'd give me a real answer instead of the bull you're slingin."

"What I really wish," signed Natalie, "was that you could talk to Tootie. I sure do miss my souls sister."

"Eh, you know—Tootie's still a kid," said Jo. "I wouldn't bother her with me and Blair's love life."

"She's not a kid," said Natalie. "We just see her that way because she's the youngest Musketeer. Tootie is, in the words of the immortal film 'Tammy,' a 'full-growed woman now'."

"But she's still, I mean, she hasn't found a steady guy yet. She's not settled, like me and Blair, or you and Snake. She wouldn't get this stuff."

"You know what Tootie gets? She gets Blair. She's always looked up to Blair, and she might have some insight into Blair that you seem to be lacking."

"Touché," Jo agreed ruefully. "And, OK, Tootie can be, sometimes, you know, kinda wise beyond her years. Where the hell is she, anyway?"

"I told you. Summer stock."

"But where?"

"All over. New York state, Pennsylvania, all over New England, of course. They're seeing what flies, and what doesn't. Cause if it won't fly in the sticks, it won't fly on the Great White Way."

"Hmm," Jo said dubiously. "Does she call you? Check in?"

"Sure. Well. Once in a while."

"And she sounds OK?"

"Of course. What do you think—she was kidnapped by a rogue summer stock company?"

"Well how do I know? I'm all out of it up in Cambridge. Jeez. I'm away for a few months, and everythin changes. Everyone's growin up and scattered to the winds and it's just, you know …"

Jo gnawed at the hangnail again.

"It's really sweet," said Natalie, "how you're completely unable to intelligently express your softer emotions."

"Get bent," snarled Jo.

"Like that," smiled Natalie. "Jo … We've all been scattered for a while. You're just starting to notice it. It's just starting to affect you."

"Well it stinks."

"Parts of it. I sure wish Mrs. Garrett was around during the summers. And I wish Tootie was around more. I miss my soul sister. I wish Alec didn't suddenly rush off to study in England. I miss having my 'big brother' around to tease me, and call me a 'fair dame'. And I wish I could see Snake more often. And I wish my parents could handle knowing Snake's living with me. And I wish you and Blair, well …"

"Me and Blair what?" Jo asked curiously.

"I wish you and Blair could just enjoy how epically beautiful you are together, without your epically stupid fights."

"Stupid?"

"Hey. I said 'epically stupid'."

"That makes it better?"

Natalie shrugged. "Jo, ever since I was a young newswoman in the ivy-covered halls of Eastland, I've called it like I see it. And now, as a young med student, I still call it like I see it. And the way I see you and Blair, well …"

"Yeah?"

"You both still have a lot of growing up to do."

"Ha!"

"You do. You and Blair have been through a lot of drama, but life isn't about the big moments. Or the drama. How do you two do together in the quiet moments? In day-to-day life? That's what counts."

"Said the woman hidin her boyfriend under her bed!"

"Hey. Like I said. I call it like I see it. Minimalism, Jo. Minimalism."

Jo had a priceless retort for that remark, but at that moment the orchestra swelled and launched into the operatic overture.

Natalie saw Jo's mouth moving, but, "I can't hear you," Nat mouthed to Jo.


June 1989. Manhattan. Morningside Heights.

Jo yawned. She'd had a mostly sleepless night. Snatches of the stupid opera kept blaring in her head while she tried to sleep. And she kept thinking about Blair. And the more Jo thought about Blair, the more nervous she became. And it was so stupid to be nervous. She'd know Blair since they were young teens. Roomed with her. Fought with her. Lived with her. Loved her. They'd been to hell and back. It was like Nat said last night: Theirs was an epic love. Jo and Blair had survived knifings, shootings, prejudice, and poverty. Whatever life threw at them, they could handle. Except …

Jo's mind kept darting back to what Natalie had said. 'The quiet moments'. Now that Jo and Blair were growing older, and they were close to starting their careers, life was getting more serious, yet more mundane. No gangsters, no big parties, no stolen fortunes, no drama. Just plain old real life.

How would she and Blair handle that?

Jo yawned again. It was six am. Blair was supposed to be home any minute. Jo sat on the living room sofa, freshly showered and clad in a very flimsy black peignoir. Her hair was piled atop her head in a fetching updo—a look she knew Blair favored. Arranged on the coffee table in front of her were the bottle of perfume Blair had never actually opened (Jo had discarded the now-wilted wild rose), and the box of cannoli and assorted pastries (which had cooled in the fridge all night), and the bottle of chilled wine in a bucket of ice, and two glasses, and a vase holding a dozen red roses.

Hell, thought Jo. If this doesn't show Blair I freakin love her and want to make my life with her, I don't know what will!

The key rattled in the front door lock.

Jo's heart pounded.

She leaned against the sofa cushions in what she hoped was a provocative manner.

The door opened.

Blair stood in the doorway, carrying her small overnight back, yawning, hair mussed, jeans and jacket creased as if she'd sat up in them all night—which, of course, she had.

"Welcome home, babe," Jo said softly.

Blair smiled. It was a sleepy smile, but it was a smile, Jo was happy to see.

Blair closed the front door behind her, and locked it. She tossed her house keys into an abalone shell on the front table.

Jo wasn't sure what to say. A lot of words came crowding to her lips, but she remembered Natalie's advice. Be minimalist. OK. Just about everything Jo had said yesterday morning had landed her in trouble. So, this morning … Silence was golden.

Jo opened her arms.

Blair shrugged out of her jacket and dropped it where she stood.

She went to Jo, lay on the sofa next to her, snuggled against her lover.

Blair's hair smelled of cigarette smoke and some kind of disinfectant—a medicinal smell, probably absorbed from spending all night at the hospice. Jo's nose wrinkled.

"I'm sorry," Blair said simply. "I overreacted yesterday."

"I was an idiot," Jo said.

"Yes, but," Blair yawned hugely, "you always have been, where Boots is concerned."

"True."

"Hold me," murmured Blair. "While I sleep. Will you? I just …"

Blair's nose whistled faintly as she tumbled into a deep sleep.

Jo held her lover. She held her for a long while, until her arm, wedged under Blair's left side, fell asleep and began to prickle and burn like hell.

Jo shifted Blair gently, just so she could pull her arm out from under the sleeping woman. However, she shifted Blair just a fraction too much, and Blair slid off the side of the sofa, cracking her head smartly on the coffee table.

"Ow!" mumbled Blair, eyelids fluttering.

"Shit," said Jo. "Babe … Here … Lemme help you up."

She took Blair's hands, pulled her back onto the sofa.

Blair glared at her lover through sleep-dazed eyes.

"You pushed me off the couch."

"I didn't push you. I adjusted you."

"You adjusted me off the couch?"

"It was an accident. Your weight was crushin my arm."

Blair raised an eyebrow.

"That didn't sound the way I meant it," Jo said hastily.

"I hope not," said Blair.

"Because you're not heavy. If anything, you're too thin now. Kind of scraggy, even."

Jo tried to pull Blair to her, take the blonde in her arms again, but Blair slipped out of her grasp and stood up.

"I think we'll both be more comfortable if I take the bed," said Blair.

She headed toward the bedroom, stretching and yawning. Her feet shuffled as if she were sleepwalking.

Jo stood, and made as if to follow her lover to the bedroom.

But Blair cast a look over her shoulder.

"You take the sofa," said Blair.

Jo froze.

You take the sofa? What … the … hell?

It was like something from a stupid sitcom. The wife sends the husband packing to the sofa. Well. At least Blair hadn't pegged a pillow or blanket at Jo's head, which usually happened in the sitcoms.

Jo paced up and down the living room for a minute.

She didn't want to take the sofa. She was wide the hell awake. She wanted to talk with Blair, and make love with her. At the very least, if Blair was too tired for either, Jo wanted to hold her lover and murmur sweet nothings as Blair dropped into sleep.

Jo's chin set defiantly. Take the sofa? Like hell.

She padded quietly into the bedroom on bare feet.

Blair had pulled off her jeans and shirt and kicked off her shoes.

The blonde lay sprawled across the bed diagonally, hugging one of the pillows against her. Blair wore only her bra and panties, but there was something ungainly in the way she was sprawled. It wasn't her sexiest look ever, Jo thought.

Jo crawled onto the bed, behind Blair, and tried to spoon with her, but there wasn't enough room. Jo's long legs hung half off the edge of the bed. She slipped one arm around Blair's waist. She pushed one hand into Blair's mussed, moussed stack of hair, and stroked it. Her fingers caught between several heavily moussed strands.

"Ow!" mumbled Blair. "Jo … What are you doing?"

"I'm holding you," Jo said, managing to untangle her fingers without pulling out Blair's hair. "You wanted me to hold you. Right?"

"Why does holding me involve pulling my hair?"

"It was, I think you got a little too much mousse or hairspray or somethin goin on here. But, it's all good now."

Blair wriggled on the bed, her derriere pushing Jo half off the mattress.

"Jo, I thought … I thought you were taking the sofa."

"You really meant that?"

"I need to sleep, darling. I need to be dead to the world for five or six hours."

"You can be dead to the world while I hold you."

"I need to stretch out, Jo."

"But you asked me to hold you. When you came in. You asked me."

"I thought it would be nice. It just …" Blair yawned enormously. "We have to learn how to fit together again, Jo."

Blair closed her eyes. In mere seconds her nose was whistling.

Jo tried again to spoon with Blair, but there was just no room, the way Blair was stretched diagonally across the bed, her behind pushed out.

Jo climbed off the bed.

She folded her arms across her chest, gazing down at her sleeping lover.

We have to learn how to fit together again, Jo.

Well maybe that was true. But how the hell was that gonna happen with Jo banished to the sofa?

And what right did Blair have to banish her, anyhow? It was supposed to be their place. They were supposed to be cohabiting. Blair wasn't the lady of the manor, and Jo wasn't the freakin scullery maid. Just because Jo lived in Cambridge most of the year didn't make her a freakin peasant in her own freakin home …

Jo tore off her peignoir and pulled on panties, jeans, and a fresh Harvard polo shirt, slamming drawers and the closet door, making plenty of noise. But Blair slept through the cacophony. She wasn't faking it, either. Her nose continued to whistle, and her back rose in fell in that slow, regular rhythm that meant she was deep asleep.

Fine, thought Jo. If Lady Chatterly's gonna be out cold for five or six hours, I'm going to go out and do something. My internship starts tomorrow. I'm gonna go have a little fun today!

Which sounded better than it turned out to be.

Jo took the train south to Midtown Manhattan, and wandered among the shops and restaurants. But where was she gonna go? What was she gonna do? None of it seemed fun without Blair in tow. That had been the whole point—to spend the day with Blair, first in their apartment, then maybe out on the town.

Jo looked in the windows at Saks—one of Blair's favorite stores. Those diamonds would look great gleaming around Blair's throat, Jo thought. Jo had a Saks charge—not that she used it, except when she ran out of decent panties and socks. If Jo wanted she could sail in and put that diamond necklace on charge and go home and hang it around Blair's neck. But when and where would Blair wear it? To classes at Columbia? To the hospice where people were dying of AIDS?

Jo found her steps turning almost automatically north toward Central Park West. She walked and walked. She wasn't completely surprised when she found herself standing in front of the world-famous Plaza Hotel. Johnson was on duty—the doorman Blair had known since she was a little girl.

Since Blair and Eduardo had finally untangled Blair's hidden inheritances, Blair now owned a third of the Plaza, the whole damn beautiful old pile of marble and stone. Just like her grandparents had always intended.

And what's Blair's is mine, and what's mine is Blair's. Like we always said. Except … Jo thought of Blair stretched diagonally across the entire bed, telling Jo to "take the sofa" … Except, was that really how it was going to be?

Johnson tipped his cap to Jo. "Very nice to see you, Miss Polniaczek."

"Very nice to see you, Johnson. How is the family?"

"Very well. Thank you for asking. And Miss Warner? How is she?"

"Very well," Jo lied easily. Over the years she was getting better at them, the little social lies that had to slide glibly off the tongue in Society.

But Johnson wasn't just anybody. He'd known Blair for too long, and he had been observing Jo, off and on, for years now.

"Are you sure?" Johnson asked, still polite, but obviously skeptical.

"Well, you know, she's taking up the cloth," said Jo. "So, it's very draining. Spiritually draining. She's always helping sick people," Jo explained.

Johnson nodded. His eyes twinkled, and Jo suspected there were tears there. "That's Blair," he said quietly. "Always thinking of others."

Sure, thought Jo. Except when she's shovin me off our bed.

Jo unobtrusively pressed a ten dollar bill into Johnson's gloved hands. Blair had taught Jo how to do it subtly, like a magic trick—not in the vulgar, obvious way of the nouveau riche.

"I'll see you soon, Johnson," she said. "I hope."

"Thank you, miss."

Jo went inside, and wandered through the magnificent lobby and circled the elegant Palm Court.

If she wanted, she could book any room in the place—including the suite where she originally proposed to Blair. She could book a room and pick up Blair later and surprise her with a romantic night at one of their favorite places in New York City.

But … no.

Minimalist. Minimalist.

Jo wandered out again.

She strolled into the park.

Nat had nailed it. She really had. Anyone could be deliriously happy making love in a suite at the Plaza. But Jo and Blair were in it for the long road. Amid everyday tasks and everyday stresses, among the mundane, they could be happy. They could be. They had to be.

They had been happy in the Bronx, in Rose's apartment, when they lost everything—school, money, glory, everything. Everything but friends and family and each other. Blair had worked as a waitress, Jo as a plumber's apprentice. They worked long shifts and slept in Jo's cramped childhood bedroom. But they'd been happy. Effortlessly happy.

So why was it so damn hard now? They had an entire house all to themselves. They had friends and family and more money than they could ever spend and a future so bright they needed sunglasses to look into the distance. But they were missing … What?

The little day-to-day things.

Jo set her chin. She paused at a pond, picked up a flat rock and skipped it across the water. That was it. The day-to-day things. It was her being away in Cambridge. She and Blair were missing all those little things that bonded one. That was what was missing. The little day-to-day junk. Blair was like a stranger to her. And she was a stranger to Blair.

To hell with roses and perfume and pastry. I need to give Blair my full attention. I need to get to know her again. And I need to share who I've freakin become with Blair.

Jo skipped another rock across the water.

"Hey—you're pretty good," a small boy said admiringly.

"Eh, it's in the wrist," said Jo. "And the release. Anyone can do it."

The boy took in her stylish haircut and her Harvard shirt and her carefully pressed jeans.

"Are you somebody?" he asked, cocking his head.

"Nah," said Jo. "I'm nobody. I'm Betty Kerplotnik from the Bronx."

"Well you throw stones real good," said the kid.

Sure, thought Jo. The little things. If you could do them, you were OK.


June 1989. Manhattan. Morningside Heights.

When Jo returned to the apartment, Blair was awake. She had bathed and sat on the sofa in a pair of shorts and old Langley T shirt, watching a soap opera. It looked like the same show Rose had been watching the day before.

Blair had taken the tray of cheese and cold cuts from the fridge, set it on the coffee table and picked at it. She had opened the wine and poured herself a glass.

Blair gave Jo a quick smile.

Jo smiled back.

She sat next to Blair on the sofa, slipped an arm around Blair's waist. Blair leaned back against Jo companionably.

"So … How are old Biff and Lena doin?" Jo asked, nudging her chin at the TV screen.

"I think you mean Cliff and Nina, Jo."

"Oh, yeah. Cliff and Nina. I hear they're gonna be gettin married."

Blair nodded. "For the fourth time," she said.

Jo whistled.

Blair sipped her wine. She handed the glass back to Jo. Jo sipped it, then set it on the table. She took a slice of provolone and rolled it around a slice of turkey. She took a couple bites, then fed the rest of it to Blair, who devoured it hungrily.

"You eat yesterday?" asked Jo.

Blair shook her head. "I mean, just a few bites before I went on duty at the hospice."

Jo kissed her hair.

"Tell me about it. The hospice. I mean, if you want to."

Blair settled more comfortably against Jo's chest, felt Jo's small, firm breasts pressing against her back.

"A man I was sitting with died last night."

"I'm sorry."

"Me too. He liked Tolstoy. I was reading to him—from 'Anna Karenina'. And then … He was gone."

Jo nuzzled Blair's hair. Comfortingly, not provocatively.

"You've seen people die," said Blair.

"Yeah."

"It's so strange. They make death so dramatic on the stage, on television. In real life …"

"It's kinda anticlimactic," said Jo. "It's … quiet. They're there. And then they aren't."

"Where do they go?" Blair wondered aloud. "Or do they go anywhere?"

"I don't know. I like to think they go to heaven. Or hell, if they were an a-hole. No. Actually I don't wish hell on anyone. Purgatory. Where the a-holes can think about what they did to people here."

Blair lifted the glass, sipped more wine. She handed the glass to Jo.

"This is good," said Blair. "Inexpensive, but good."

"There's this beautiful blonde," said Jo. "She's been tutoring me the last decade in what makes a good wine."

"Well, the beautiful blonde has excellent taste. And not only in wines."

Blair turned, tilting her head back. Jo kissed her softly.

"You taste like wine," Blair murmured.

"You too," murmured Jo. She stroked Blair's hair, careful not to tangle her fingers in the tresses. "Tell me what it's like now. Your life. I feel like … I kinda stormed in here with all kinda plans, and you know I meant well, but I don't even know anythin about what your life is now. I been like a bull in a china shop the last couple days."

"Not quite like that," said Blair. "And I've been shutting you down. Treating you like a guest instead of, well, my lover. I've been spoiled living here alone. Not that I haven't missed you, Jo." She kissed her lover again. "Jo, I've missed you so much. But I've gotten into a routine. The way I want to keep the house—or not keep it. The way I want to sleep. The way I want to eat. I'm so tired, sometimes, Jo. It's not like last year. There's more and more class work, and so much to do in the field, and the people I'm trying to help, some of them you can't help. It's so fulfilling but some days … Some days it breaks your heart."

"You can always talk to me," said Jo. "I'll listen."

"You can talk to me too, darling. And once your internship starts tomorrow, I'm sure you'll have a lot to talk about. But sometimes … Sometimes we might need to just be alone for awhile. To decompress. And that has to be OK."

"It is," Jo assured her. "I'm sorry I was so pushy. I get pushy when I'm scared—you know that."

"But what would you be scared of?" Blair sounded confused.

"I don't know. I guess … That maybe I am just a guest. That maybe I'm not going to fit your life anymore."

"Jo, you will always fit my life," Blair said earnestly. She turned in the circle of Jo's arms, slipped her arms around Jo's shoulders. "We're both on the threshold of very demanding, very serious careers. I think what we're going through now, being so busy and stressed—I think this is a just a taste of what's to come. But we will always fit. Even if we can't see each other as much. We belong together Jo. We always have. We always will."

Jo felt the tears running down her face.

Blair kissed them away.

"My mother thinks you're practically a saint," Jo said huskily. "I think maybe she's right."

"A saint? Anything but," said Blair. "I'm selfish, I know, and petty, and bossy, and vain, and a million little things. But I love you Jo. And I know you love me. You do love me. Say you love me."

"I love you," said Jo, nuzzling Blair's face. "Blair … I love you so damn much."

"I love you, Jo."

They held each other tightly.

It was awkward, with Blair half-turned in Jo's arms, but they made it work.

Until Jo suddenly leaned too far to the left, and they both toppled off the sofa.

Blair banged her elbow on the coffee table. "Ow!"

Jo banged her head. "Son of a goddamn ow!"

They rolled on the floor together, and started laughing as they rubbed their wounded parts.

"I think I blame the furniture," said Jo, only half-kidding. "We need furniture we can really cuddle on. OK? Can we get a bigger sofa? Can we get a bigger bed?"

"Yes, darling. We can. It's in our budget."

"Halle-freakin-lujah."

"And if I cook, Jo, darling, will you clean? Because I really, really dislike cleaning."

"Yeah. Yeah, that sounds like a square deal."

Blair rolled on top of Jo. She leaned down and kissed Jo sensuously on the mouth.

"Miss Warner, are you trying to take advantage of my disabling head wound?"

"I am."

"And you practically a woman of the cloth."

"Shocking—isn't it?"

"Shockin," Jo echoed.

She rolled on top of Blair, and tickled her, and they both giggled madly until they knocked their heads on the table.

"Can we go shopping for new furniture now?" suggested Jo, wincing.

"Yes. We can," said Blair, rubbing the lump on her head.

Jo helped her wounded lover to her feet.

Part 2

Return to The Facts of Life Fiction

Return to Main Page