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
Early July 1989. Manhattan. Midtown.
"Pollock-o-chek!" yelled Creves Jr. "Where the hell are those documents?"
Jo clenched her fists. "Pollock-o-chek". Her marvelous new nickname, courtesy of the senior partner's tubby, pervert son. Creves Jr. was forty-five, red-faced from too much red meat and red wine, and completely effin useless, in Jo's opinion. The junior partners and law clerks and interns like Jo did all his work. Creves then took the documents into the courtroom, where he generally screwed up the case, whatever it might be.
Jo had only been at Creves, Creves & Sloan for a week when Creves Jr. made his first and last pass at her, groping her breast as she passed his desk to deliver a brief.
Without thinking, Jo had grabbed his hand and bent all of his fingers backnot breaking them, or even spraining them, but making him blubber like a baby.
"You can't do that," he whimpered, as if he were fourteen instead of forty-five. "I'll tell my father."
"Do that," Jo said with a wicked grin, "and next time I'll break them off. All of 'em. One. By. One."
Creves Jr. hadn't told his father. Not about him groping Jo, or Jo hurting his hand. Nevertheless, Junior found his revenge: His fun new nickname for Jo: "Pollock-o-chek".
Jo had gone to Creves Sr. to express concern about the nickname.
"Now, now," Senior had said cheerfully, waving a finger at her, "if you can't take a little hazing, a little nickname, Miss Polniaczek, you'll never be a lawyer. The law can be vicious. It's dog-eat-dog, Miss Polniaczek. If you can't handle being calledwhat is it?"
"If you can't handle being called 'Pollock-o-chek' this summer, I think you need to consider a different profession."
Jo had fumed. It was an oblivious WASP responsebut in a weird way, Jo knew, Creves Senior was right.
If she was going to be a lawyer, a notoriously old-boy profession, she was going to have to take her lumps. She was going to have to accept names like Pollock-o-check, and probably much worse, until she climbed high enough to start changing frat-boy shit like that.
"But it's outrageous!" Blair had flared when Jo told her about the nickname. It was a rare moment of pillow talk, just before Blair went to sleep after a long night at the hospice, just before Jo showered and went to work. They lay nude in their big new bed, arms wrapped about each other, not making love, but sharing war stories from their internships.
"Yup. Full-throttle outrage," Jo had agreed. "But if I fight it, I'm a crybaby. I gotta tough it out."
"I still think you should press criminal charges for assault," Blair had said. "For the groping."
"Sure. Yeah. That'll get my law career off to a brilliant freakin start. No one saw Junior grope me 'cept him and me, Blair. It's a classic 'he said, she said' scenario. And he's the boss' son. So, one guess how that ends."
Blair had cupped Jo's breast tenderly. "Only I can grope you."
"Yeah. You can, Blondie. Anytime, by the way."
"Duly noted. I just don't understand," Blair had mused, "why Eduardo would suggest you intern there."
"Oh, the firm is great. Really good cases. No lie. I'm learnin so freakin much."
"But with a perverted moron like Creves Jr. there"
"Junior just came on board last fall. Eduardo had no idea, I'm sure. Word is Junior got bounced from his own law firm for drunken lechery unbecoming an esquire."
"And Junior's father took him in."
"Family is family," sighed Jo.
"For better and for worse," Blair agreed.
"So About this groping I hear tell of " Jo kissed Blair's neck in a roguish manner.
"Can we just hold each other?" asked Blair. "I'm so tired, Jo."
"Of course," Jo said chivalrously.
June passed in the blink of an eye. Blair and Jo saw each other infrequently. They tried to listen to each other, and to be sensitive to each other, when their ships did meet, usually in the wee morning hours.
Jo kept up on the cleaning as best she couldbut with the hours she was working, it wasn't always easy. Sometimes she just walked in the door, dropped her house keys in the abalone shell, and poured herself a few fingers of Macallan. She vegged in front of a Yankees game, sometimes falling asleep in front of the TV set. Cleaning was the last thing she wanted to do.
Blair was supposed to keep up on the cooking, but most nights when Jo got home, she didn't find anything prepared and waiting for her. So they lived on wine and coffee, Scotch and sandwiches. Jo saw from the full ashtrays scattered everywhere that Blair was living on nicotine and nerves, too.
The pillow talk was goodwhen there was pillow talk. The lovemaking, when they had the energy, was good, too. They avoided any major fights in June. But, still
"It's not like it was," Blair confided in Natalie.
Blair had darted over to Manhattan Memorial during a break between her last class and her duties at the hospice in the Village. Natalie was on her supper break.
"Nothing ever is," Natalie said philosophically. "Life is change."
"That sound wise," said Blair, "but it isn't really helpful."
"Hey, what do you expect for a nickel? Sigmund Freud? And with criticism like that, the doctor is 'out'."
"But what's going to happen when I have a church?" mused Blair. "And when Jo has a practice? We'll be going in twenty different directions."
"You'll be old hands by then," Nat said breezily.
"Old hands at what?"
"The whole balancing act. Personal life. Career. Social life. The whole schmier."
"Will we?" Blair asked doubtfully.
"Of course. I meanyou're Jo and Blair. Jo and Blair."
Blair sipped the awful hospital coffee. "You make us sound like a vaudeville team."
"Sometimes you areyou two crazy kids." Natalie's blue eyes twinkled.
"Nat, I'm being serious."
"Listen, I already went through this whole routine with Jo. Is she being attentive to you? Is she living in the now? Is she appreciating the little things?"
"Well," Blair considered the questions, "Yes. And yes. And yes. When we see each other. Which isn't Often. And then there was an incident. The other night."
Natalie held up her hands.
"Does it have to do with sex? Because I don't deal with sex. That's why I'm going to be a neurosurgeon. Well, one reason, anyway."
"Disappointing for Snake," teased Blair.
"Allow me to clarify. I don't deal with other people's sex issues. Me and Snakewe're doing fine."
"It's not about sex," Blair assured her. "Jo was snoring."
"And, Jo was snoring."
"There has to be more to the story."
"Jo doesn't usually snore so loudly. Not like that. I think she's getting a summer cold."
"Well, she's probably not getting enough vitamins," said Natalie. "Are you two getting your vitamin C?"
"I was up studying all night," said Blair, not seeming to hear Natalie's question. "And then I had this very small window of time in which to sleep before I had to go to my board meeting at St. Patrick's. So I lay down next to Jo and"
"No sex talk," Natalie interjected. "You promised."
"Sex? All I wanted to do was sleep. But I couldn't. Because of the snoring. Jo sounded like a grizzly bear. And her breath smelled like Scotch."
"Blair, look, not to be unsympathetic, but you've been living with Jo for years now. A little halitosis, and a little snoringthis ought to be old hat by now."
"But it isn't. I've never seen her look so She looked sort of old, Nat. And ill. And she sounded terrible. I couldn't sleep. I tried, but I couldn't. And after a while, part of me wanted, you know, I actually thought about putting a pillow over her face."
"Hmm." Natalie stroked her chin. "I think we're getting well beyond my expertise here. This sounds like a Perry Mason situation."
"Not like that," Blair said hastily. "Just to muffle her snoring. But the fact that the thought even crossed my mindit was unnerving."
"Did you tell Jo?"
"Of course not! And hurt her feelings?"
"So how did you get to sleep?"
"I went to the sofa. It's new, and it's big. And very comfortable. But, still "
"Still, you're on the sofa, and Jo's in the bed. Snoring like a bear."
"Blair, you and Jo keep saying you're going to get married someday. If it's ever possible for two women to marry, which, frankly, I don't see on the horizon anytime soon, especially with another Republican in office. So how are you going to get married and stay married if you can't be honest about the little things?"
Blair pondered that.
"Maybe we can be honest about the big things and let the little things go," Blair said hopefully.
"But it's all about the little things," Natalie objected. "That's what I told Joand you. I've been very clear about that. I don't know why you two bend my ear when you don't even listen to my great advice."
"But does a relationship have to be about the little things?" asked Blair. "Because the little things are driving me crazy. Jo's supposed to clean the apartment, but she doesn't. And it's starting to look as messy as when I was not cleaning it. And, yes, I said I'd cook, but when am I supposed to have time? And Jo hasn't complained yet, but sometimes I get a look. You know? Her look where it's not the look, but it's still a look?"
"I don't think I know that one."
"It's very subtle."
"Then I definitely don't know that one."
"And it's not just the little things. It's the little things, and it's the big things. I'm watching people die, Nat. And I can't do anything but read to them, or hold their hand. Just be there. And Jo is getting groped at work. And they call her something about being a Pollock. And she can't do anything. She just has to take it. And there's a dust bunny the size of a Mercedes under the sink. And little bits of stubble in the tub, from when Jo shaves her legs. And I know Jo is giving me looks because I haven't cooked. And she's drinking too much Macallan. And I'm drinking too much wine. And why was she snoring like that, and why couldn't she just brush her damn teeth before she went to bed?"
Natalie took a deep breath. She folded her hands across her stomach.
"Blair, I want you to listen to me carefully. I've said it before, and I'll say it againyou two have problems way beyond my ken. You two are getting so neurotic, you're like a Woody Allen double-feature. I'm a neurotic Jewish girl from Manhattan and frankly your navel-gazing is even too much for me. So before I return to the lab, let me leave you with these words of wisdom: In the immortal words of Cher, 'Snap out of it!'"
Early July 1989. Manhattan. Morningside Heights.
When Blair arrived home that evening, she found Jo slumped comfortably on the sofa in silky blue boxers and a blue T shirt, a glass of Macallan in one hand, a Yankees game on the tube.
"Hey, babe," said Jo.
"Hi, darling," said Blair.
"Have a good day?"
"It was It was a day."
"Wanna talk about it?"
"What's for supper?"
Blair bit her lip. Her glance took in the overflowing ashtrays, the discarded clothes scattered over the living room furniture. She suspected the dust bunny the size of a Mercedes was still under the sink.
"I can make sandwiches," said Blair.
"I can help," Jo offered, hearing somethingshe wasn't sure quite what, but it wasn't goodin Blair's tone.
"No. You've got the game on. Darling. I'll bring you a sandwich and then I just want to soak in a hot bath for an hour."
"The game can bite me," said Jo. "I'd rather help you in the kitchen."
"That's very nice, darling, but I'd rather you watched the game. I won't be a minute."
Blair was pleased to see that Jo had washed the dishes, at least. Jo hadn't put them away, but they were neatly stacked on the drying rack.
Blair rummaged in the refrigerator. The cold cuts had gone bad, and the cheese was gone except for one fragment that had something green and furry growing on it. Plenty of booze in the kitchenbut precious little food.
Blair made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, sprinkled the plate with the dregs from the potato chip bag, and brought the plate out to Jo.
"Uhthanks," Jo said, looking dubiously at the PB&J. "That's, uh, real creative."
"That's all there is," Blair said shortly.
"Hey." Jo touched her hand. "It's fine. I said 'thanks'."
"It's the way you said it. Jo I thought you were going shopping yesterday."
"I was, but I had a chance to pick up some extra hours at the office. And we still had all that deli stuff in the fridge."
"All that deli stuff has gone bad."
"Are you sure?"
"Very sure. Unless you don't mind eating cheese that's wearing a fuzzy green sweater."
Jo made a face. "Uhthat's a negative. Jeez. Shit. I really thought the deli stuff would last longer than that."
"Well, it didn't," Blair said tartly. "And you might have noticed it had gone bad. If you poked your head into the fridge from time to time."
Jo took a deep breath. No. It was too stupid. She would not fight about a goddamned peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and expired deli food.
"OK, well, like I said, the sandwich looks good," Jo said tightly. "Thanks for makin it."
Blair stepped out of her skirt in front of the bathroom door, then shucked out of her blouse.
Jo glanced at the clothes lying on the carpet. Jo opened her mouth to say something, but took a bite of the sandwich, instead.
"I'll be in the bath if anyone calls," said Blair, massaging her neck. "Oh my God. I ache all over."
"Want a massage?" Jo offered hopefully. Blair looked dog tired but still sexy in her bra and panties.
"Later," said Blair. "If that's OK? In bed."
Jo nodded. She took another bite of sandwich. The peanut butter glued her tongue to the top of her mouth. She loosened it with a sip of Macallan.
She heard the bathroom door close.
She heard the water running into the tub.
Jo glanced at the carpet again, at Blair's skirt and blouse lying there.
Christ. It wasn't like they lived in a freakin mansion. It was only another few feet to their bedroom. If Blair had to throw her clothes around, couldn't she at least do it in the room where her closet was?
The phone rang. Jo scooped up the receiver.
"Hello," she said.
"Artemis!" boomed Alec's voice. "Artemis, as I live and breathe! I finally managed to telephone when one of you lovely dames was at home."
Jo grinned. Alec. Damn, it was good to hear his melodious baritone.
"Alec, old chump, old chimp! How's the Queen Mum doin?"
"Very well, very well indeed. Or so I hear. We don't see much of her, you understand, here at dear old Trinity. In fact, we don't see her at all. In fact, I've never met her. Only the Queen and her assorted young royals."
Alec sounded a little drunk; maybe more than a little. His "s" sounds were so soft as to be slurred.
Jo laughed. "Alec, old chum, old pal, I suspect you of bein pretty royally crocked."
Alec hiccupped softly.
"Artemis, old chum, old pal, I suspect you are correct in your suspicions."
"It must be after midnight there," said Jo. "You at a party?"
"It is well after midnight," Alec agreed. "But no, I am not at a party. Unless you count me as a party of one. I am sitting in my sitting rooma most appropro state of affairsand have just downed the largest glass of Macallan every known to man. I then poured another large glass, and with it I toast you, Artemisthe best pal a ne'er-do-well like me ever had!"
"Three cheers for me," laughed Jo. "It so happens I got some Macallan right here in a glass of my own. And I toast you, Alecthe best snobbo pal a gal from the Bronx every had!"
"Hear, hear!" laughed Alec.
Several beats of silence. Alec was drinking, Jo figured. She took a sip from her own glass.
"Well," Alec said at length. "Jo, dear, it does me no end of good to hear your voice. What have you been doing, dear, and how are you faring at Cleves and etcetera, and how is the ever-radiant Aphrodite?"
"It's Creves and etcetera," Jo corrected. "Not Cleves. You're thinkin of old Henry's wives. And I'm not doin much but workin, workin, workin like a galley slave. And the radiant Aphrodite is, well, she's workin hard too."
"Artemis," Alec said, "I detect a shadow in your voice. Come clean. What's wrong?"
"Eh, nothin," Jo said. "Nothin important, anyhow. Just life bein life."
"Is Aphrodite quite all right? She isn't ill, or anything?" he asked sharply.
"No. She's workin hard, but she's fine. She's takin a bath right now, or I'd put her on the phone."
"If anything is troubling Blair, you'll let me know? Won't you? You do know how much you both mean to me?"
"Eh, let's not get all sappy here," Jo complained. "Take another drink."
Several more beats of silence as Alec drank. Jo sipped her own drink again.
"And the fair Natalie?" Alec asked. "Are she and Snake still living in sin in that little cheese box near the hospital?"
"And are they happy together?"
"Yeah. I mean, when he's there. He's on the road a lot."
"And how is our Tootie?"
Jo hesitated. How the hell was their Tootie?
"She's in some crazy play," said Jo. "They're tourin all around the East Coast. She never calls us, but I'm sure she's OK, or we would've heard."
Alec sighed. "That's Mata Tootie. Her for adventure and the open road! What a glamorous life she'll be leading while we're toiling in our assorted drudgeries."
"Hey, milordwhat the hell? Way to bring down the mood," Jo complained.
"S'truth," said Alec. "I'll be slaving in some obscure ministry, you'll be buried under legal briefs, and Blair will be preaching to lepers on some god-forsaken isle."
"I don't think they banish lepers to god-forsaken isles anymore," said Jo. "And it's called Hansen's Disease now. Nat was talking about it the other day. And if you can't say more cheerful stuff than all that, you need to belt up."
"Indeed. Quite right!" Alec said approvingly. "Another cheer for Joyou always keep me on track!"
"Three cheers for me," called Jo. "Hurrah-freakin-hurrah!"
"And another cheer for me," said Alec.
"Three cheers for milord!"
The bathroom door creaked open.
Blair stood in the doorway, hair damp, a towel wrapped around her torso.
Jo saw dark red marks on Blair's shoulders where her bra straps had bit into the flesh supporting her large breasts.
"Is everything OK?" Blair asked Jo.
"Everything's great," grinned Jo. "Alec's toastin me. And I'm toastin me. And we're both toastin him."
Blair sighed. "Please tell Apollo 'Hello' from me," she said. "I'm pleased he called. But if you could try to keep it down to a dull roar while I'm trying to relax in the tub "
Blair disappeared into the bathroom, closing the door behind her.
"What happened? Jo? Are you there?" asked Alec. "What happened to the toasting? Ahoy! Ahoy the shore!"
"Yeah, I'm here," said Jo. "That was Madame Killjoy. I'm bein too loud."
"Too loud for what? Or whom? For Aphrodite?"
"Yeah. Like I told youshe's takin a bath. She's tryin to relax. I guess I'm gettin a little festive out here. Listen, Alechas Jack come around yet?"
"Alas," Alec said morosely, "the fair Jacqueline continues to rebuff my chivalrous advances. I have sent flowers. I have sent livestock."
"Her people are the grand squires of Angledun," said Alec. "Livestock is like gold in those parts."
"I've sent her livestock and flowers and chocolates and actual gold. But alas, alasJacqueline doth continueth to run cold."
"Alec," Jo said gently. "You know we all like Jack. Hellwe love her. But Jackrabbit just ain't gonna come around. And I mean, she's still married to that guy, isn't she? The local gentry guy, that you always call Lord Pratt?"
"Technically, yes, they are still married," Alec said. "However, she has sent him packing to London. A divorce might well be all but imminent."
"Or, you know, it might not," Jo said gently. "Alec, palhow many years are ya gonna throw away waitin for her to see the light, when she obviously wants to keep her blindfold on? You ain't gettin any younger, milord. You gotta take up with some dame who appreciates you."
"I did," Alec said sadly. "I did, but that didn't work, either. I was sent packing. Away with thee, Sir Alec! I'm always sent packing. Once I was back in England I hoped maybe Jack would, you understand, that perhaps enough time would have passed that she would be willing to, to give me another chance. But, nay. Driven off with fisticuffs, from every quarter! Sent packing again!"
Jo swirled the Macallan in her glass.
Through her fatigue and her slight buzz, it occurred to her that Alec sounded wretched. He was playing it off, as he always did But Alec was not in a good place.
"Now you listen to me, Alec Anviston, old chum, that's enough of that, that maudlin crap. You're a hell of a nice guy, and a good-lookin guy, and you're a freakin Duke, well, almost a Duke, for cryin out loud, and freakin richer than God. You get back on that horse and get out there and sweep some fair dame off her feet. You hear me? You find some dame that appreciates you and you live it up."
"What a heartening wench you are, dear Artemis."
"Yeah. I hear that a lot."
"But the heart wants what it wants. I've only loved, really loved, two women. And both of them have told me to drop dead."
"Not in so many words, you understand. With a great deal of civility. But it's what's meant, underneath. Drop ye dead, Sir Alec."
"Milord, there are freakin billions of women on the planet. You are gonna find someone."
"I like the conviction with which you say that."
"Because it's true. I mean, I don't wanna give you a swelled head, but you are a catch. Don't get so freakin down on yourself."
"Aye, aye, mon capitan."
"I know, Artemis, dear."
"So you hear what I'm sayin? It's sinkin in?"
"Dun and dusted, my dear."
"Never mind me," said Alec. "Tell me more about how you and Aphrodite are faring."
"There ain't much to tell. We're, you know It's an adjustment."
"Blair can be trying, I know," said Alec. "Even as a child she was . challenging. But she's so she's "
"Yeah," Jo said. "She is. I love her with all my damn heart, Alec. I really do."
"And she loves you, Artemis. I know you can weather any adjustments. They'll be well worth it."
"Yeah," Jo repeated softly. An image came to her then Blair's beautiful face Not just the beauty of her face, but the beauty of the woman behind it, her warmth, her kindness
"Jo, dear, I'm going to ring off now," said Alec. "You ought to do something usefullike scrub Blair's back."
"OK, old pal," said Jo. "You take care, and don't get too mopey. Or I'll fly over there and kick your royal ass."
"Noble, dear. Noble," Alec corrected gently. "You always elevate me to royalty. Listen, Jo."
"If you happen to hear from our Tootie, and you think of it, tell her I say 'Hello'. Will you? There's a good lass."
He hiccupped once, and before Jo could answer, he hung up.
Jo placed the receiver in its cradle.
The bathroom door opened again.
Blair emerged, still wrapped in a towel, her hair neatly brushed though still damp.
"Did you tell Alec I said 'hello'?" she asked.
"I Yeah. I think so."
"How is he?"
"I don't know. Not great. He was drinkin."
"Apollo usually is," Blair said ruefully.
"He was drinkin more than usual, I mean. Jack is still keepin her distance. And still married. And it sounds like there was some other girl who broke his heart recently."
"I know. But he'll be OK. I wish he'd come back here to study. I mean, it ain't like we don't have universities in the States! Harvard would take him. If Oxford took him, Harvard would too."
"Hmm. I don't know if I like the idea of you and Alec at Harvard together. I imagine there'd be a lot of drinking, and very little schoolwork."
"Are you kiddin? You know what a nerd I am when it comes to studies."
"But maybe not if Alec was around."
"That's a pretty crummy thing to say."
"I know he loves you, but he isn't always the best influence."
Jo turned away from Blair. Swirled the Macallan in her glass.
Jo heard Blair pad into the bedroom. Heard the closet door open and close. Heard drawers open and close.
After she drained the last of her Scotch, Jo turned off the TV set.
She went to the bedroom door, which Blair had closed half-way. Blair's skirt and blouse still lay on the floor near the bedroom door.
Jo picked up the skirt and blouse.
She went into the bedroom.
Blair lay under the sheets, wearing a rose-silk nightgown. She was stretched diagonally across the bed, leaning on one elbow and reading the latest issue of "Vogue".
"I brought in your clothes. That you left on the floor," said Jo.
"Mmn," Blair said, not looking up from the magazine.
Jo draped the clothing over the chair in front of Blair's vanity.
"So. I guess I'm takin the sofa tonight?"
"If you don't mind, Jo dear."
"As a matter of fact," said Jo, "I do mind."
"I just want to stretch out. I'm tired, Jo. I need my space tonight. And "
"And?" Jo prompted.
"And I need quiet. You've been snoring lately."
"Me? I don't snore," Jo said indignantly.
"Not usually, no. But lately you have been. Like a jackhammer."
"Well why don't you just put a pillow on your head? Or on my head? Christ, Blair. People been sleepin together and snorin for thousands of years."
"I'd just rather be alone tonight."
"So I'm on the sofa. Nice."
"I was on the sofa the other night," Blair said tartly. She turned a page of the magazine so sharply it crackled.
Jo took a deep breath.
"So The thing is," Jo said, keeping her voice steady, "we're both home tonight. Which doesn't always happen. So I thought, maybe We haven't made love in awhile."
"Oh, I see," said Blair, not looking up from the magazine. She turned another page. "You want to seduce me. That's why you were lounging around getting sloshed with the game on. Very attractive."
Jo scratched her ear. She could feel her chest and face flushing with anger, but she wasn't going to give into it. No. She was a civilized woman, and Blair was a civilized woman, and they loved each other, and they were going to talk this through like grown-ups.
"So, here's what it is," said Jo. "I know I ain't been cleanin like I said I would. I'm tired when I get in and I've been lettin it slide. I guess that's pissin you off, and you got a right. But you gotta see it from my end, too. You're s'posed to be cookin, but 'cept that PB&J, you haven't fixed me a damn thing in, hell, it must be a week now."
"How am I supposed to cook," asked Blair, "when you keep forgetting to go to the store?"
"It's not like it would kill you to go to the store," said Jo. "Or would it? I mean OK. Sorry. That's my stupid temper. Blair, I don't wanna fight. I love you. We love each other. Maybe we can, what about a chore wheel or somethin? Like we had at River Rock?"
"A chore wheel won't work with only the two of us. Our schedules are too unpredictable. If one of us has to work over or stay late, there's only the other one to pick up the slack."
"OK, well," Jo rubbed her face, "I guess we just gotta dig in and do it. Even if I'm tired, I'll clean whenever I get in. And even if you're tired, you'll cook."
"That's what we're supposed to be doing," said Blair. "But we aren't. It isn't working."
"Because we gotta try harder."
Blair closed her magazine with a "snap". She tossed it on her bedside table.
"Jo If you don't mind, I just want to sleep."
"So scooch over and I'll lie down with you."
"I told you I'm not in the mood."
"Dammit," Jo felt her temper tearing free at last, "I can't even lie next to you now? What the hell, Blair?"
"If you lie down, you'll fall asleep, and you'll snore. And if you snore, I'm not responsible, Jo. I just might put a pillow over your face."
Jo threw her hands in the air.
"This is nuts. Pure nuts."
"Maybe if you didn't drink, you wouldn't snore. Maybe it's the Scotch," Blair said. "Maybe if you're sober tomorrow night, you can sleep with me."
"I am sober."
"You're buzzed, Jo."
"Says the lady who's always chugging down wine."
"I didn't chug down any wine tonight."
"Yeah, well, that's pretty unusual, you gotta admit. You didn't smoke tonight either, which is also unusual. And you know how I love smokin. So let's not go comparin vices, Blair, cause I don't think you can win that one."
Blair reached for the lamp on her bedside table, turned it off.
The room was suddenly plunged in darkness except for the triangle of light slanting in from the living room.
"Good night, Jo," said Blair.
"Whaddya mean, good night?"
"It's a self-explanatory term."
Jo stood quietly for a moment.
She knew Blair was still awake. Lying in bed, hogging the whole bed, and still awake. If Blair was asleep her nose would whistle, and her breath would slow. Blair's breath remained even.
"Babe," Jo said, suddenly tender, "let's go on a date tomorrow night. OK?"
"I don't know," said Blair. "Do you want to go on a date with a wino-nicotine fiend?"
"Yes. I do."
"I hear 'Batman' is really good," Jo said. "And the new 'Indiana Jones'. That' still playin at the Mystic."
"Superheroes," said Blair. "Superheroes and action movies. You know how I love superheroes and action movies."
"So, OK, maybe there's a romantic comedy playin. We can see that. I'll take a bullet for the team."
"Very noble of you."
"Christ, Blair." Jo felt tears welling in her eyes. "You're scarin me. What's wrong with us? We been through so much, how come, how come this is so hard?"
Blair shifted restlessly. Jo heard the sheets rustle, saw Blair's shadow, indistinct, move under the sheets.
"I love you, Jo. I don't know why it's so hard. Maybe "
"Maybe it's because it's just us. At River Rock "
"There were so many of us pitching in. We all did our bit, and Mrs. Garrett did all the cooking. It wasn't just you and me trying to do every damn little thing. And there were other people to talk with. It didn't feel so claustrophobic."
"Yeah. OK. I guess you're onto somethin."
Jo sat gingerly on the edge of the bed.
She fumbled for Blair's hand in the dark, found it, held it, squeezed it.
Blair squeezed back.
"How come we didn't have these problems at Ma's?" Jo wondered.
"I guess Because we were only playing at living together. It was Rose's place, really. And we were still so young and naïve in a lot of ways."
"But now we're really livin together. We're really doin it. And it ain't all a bed of roses."
"There was an article in 'Cosmo'"
"Oh, hell." Jo chuckled weakly. "We gonna live our lives based on 'Cosmo' now?"
"It was a good article," Blair said. "By a couples therapist. According to her, the first year a couple lives together is the most difficult. A lot of couples don't make it."
"But we will," Jo said. She squeezed Blair's hand again.
"Jo It might be best if, if"
Jo stood up, bounced right up off the bed like a jack-in-the-box.
"I'll let you rest," she said quickly.
"No, I've, I've overstayed my welcome as it is. You're tired and you need to rest and I gotta, I wanna be understandin about that. I'll take the sofa."
"Thank you, Jo."
"Sure. You're welcome. You know. Whatever you need."
"Good night, Jo."
Jo left the bedroom.
She shut the door behind her.
She flopped down on the sofa. Turned the TV set on again.
Watched the baseball game while numbness crept over her.
Jo It might be best if, if
Jo didn't want to know.
Blair woke to the scent of pancakesburnt pancakesand butter and bacon.
She opened her eyes. Stretched.
SomeoneJo, she assumedhad placed a breakfast tray on her bedside table.
A glass of orange juice. Pancakesonly charred black on one side. A dish of fresh butter. A little container of maple syrup. A plate of bacon, partly charred and partly raw.
Jo's cooking, well-intentioned and almost inedible. And a wild rose lying on the tray.
She reached for the orange juice, drank half of the glass at a gulp.
A soft knocking on the door.
Jo peeked in.
"Mornin," she said shyly.
"Good morning, Jo."
"Can I, uh, come in?"
Jo entered the room. She wore a dark pinstriped skirt and white blouse. She'd already moussed and teased her hair into the fashionable 'do she wore at work. She stood at the end of the bed, biting her lip a little anxiously.
"D'you get a good rest?"
"Yes," Blair lied. She hadn't. She'd tossed and turned most of the night, thinking about Jo, and her, and her and Jo as a unit. She hadn't fallen into a deep sleep until close to dawn.
"I, ah, know I ain't the best cook in the world, or anythin, but I figured you can eat around the burned parts. And the raw parts. There might actually be about half a good breakfast there." Jo grinnednot her megawatt dazzler. Her sheepish, shy grin, the one she flashed when she was uncertain of herself.
Blair felt a needle stab her heart.
Joher Jo. Brave as a lion. A proud warrior woman. Reduced to this, to standing so nervously and so, yes, frightened at the end of their bed.
Blair closed her eyes.
"Heythe food don't look that baddoes it?" Jo joked feebly.
"No. It's Jo, what a lovely surprise. I am grateful. But I've come to a decision."
Jo folded her arms across her chest. She feigned casualnessbut Blair saw through it.
"What, uh, decision would that be?" asked Jo. "You decided to go to a movie after all?"
"No. Jo " Blair sat up straight in bed, tried to steel herself. "Something happened last night, and we both felt it."
"We had a fight. Yeah, OK. We do that." Jo shrugged, still trying to play it casual. But her shoulders were tight, and she hugged herself tighter, preparing herself for whatever Blair was about to say.
"We can't keep fighting and making up," Blair said quietly. "We're in a cycle now It isn't healthy."
"So we'll work it out. We always do."
"We can't just say we'll work it out, Jo. We keep saying that, but we never do."
"So I mean, what are you saying?" asked Jo. She rocked up and down on her heels. She kept her arms folded, hugging her body. Her eyes looked skittish, Blair thought. Like a colt smelling smoke.
"What I'm saying, Jo " Blair took a deep breath. "This is hard. Harder than I thought it would be."
"Blairdon't," Jo said, suddenly pleading. "Don't say what I think you're gonna say. I'll do whatever you want. I will."
"I will. Young Diablo's honor."
"Don't break up with me, Blair. I just, I can't live without you." Jo's eyes welled with tears.
Blair's heart ached but she gazed evenly at her lover. "I'm not breaking up with you, Jo."
"Oh, Christ. You're not? You promise?"
"Cross my heart. But, Jo?"
Blair steeled herself, and said those six little words, "We need to take a break."
September, 2014. Manhattan. Blair and Jo's Apartment, Central Park West.
Jo was dreaming. She knewpart of her knew, anywaythat it was a dream, but it was so lovely she had no desire to wake.
Last summer Her and Blair's vow renewal Standing at the altar, knees knocking together, only managing to stand up straight because Alec's hand was under her elbow.
"Steady on, Artemis. It will all be over soon. Like a firing squad."
"Go to hell," she whispered to him.
The music swelled. The "Wedding March" played. Jo heard the guests stand up. So many guests, so many people, so many eyes to stare.
Jo didn't want to turn around. She didn't want to see all those eyes, and she didn't want to see Blair marching down the aisle. She knew she might faint if she did.
"You should have gotten me drunk," Jo hissed at Alec. "What kind of best man are you?"
"Ha! You're on the wagon, and I should have inebriated you?"
"This is a special occasion."
"True. And you're going to remember every glorious minute of it."
"Is Charlotte coming down the aisle?"
"Cute as a button," Alec said, smiling affectionately as he watched Blair and Jo's daughter walk with great solemnity down the grand center aisle of the church, a basket of pale white petals hanging from the crook of one arm.
"Is she scattering the petals?" Jo asked after a moment. "We showed her how to scatter the petals. We practiced it a lot."
"Well, dear, she isn't scattering the petals so much as throwing them. But she looks happy. And she has quite an arm. Like her Mama Jo. I didn't know Charlotte was a southpaw."
"Yep," Jo said proudly. "Like many great an amazing athletes through history."
A stunned gasp rippled through the crowd.
"That must be Blair," said Jo. "Is that Blair? Is it her? Can you see her?"
"Bloody hell," Alec breathed. "Sorry, Artemis, but Bloody hell. She's never looked lovelier."
"What's she wearing?"
"I believe it's a McQueen. Picture, well, the most elegant wedding cake you could imagine."
"Her dress looks like a cake?"
"A very regal, yet very sexy cake."
"Is there a veil?"
"Oh my God, I want to turn around. No. I can't. But I want to."
"You certainly are making an ass of yourself, our Jo," Alec said warmly. "I'm never going to let you forget this."
"Piss off. Hell. Should I turn around. Or wait? Is she almost here?"
"Yes. Almost. She's taking her time, of course. Milking the moment in pure Blair fashion."
"Does she look happy?"
"Radiantly. I say, old chum, your nerves are terribly entertaining, but don't really faintthere's a good chap."
Jo leaned on Alec's arm. Butterflies jumped in her stomach. Blair, sailing toward her in an Alexander McQueen concoction, radiant, and ready to renew their vows. It was so damn beautiful, it was almost too much to take in.
A tiny hand tugged at the sleeve of Jo's pure white, impeccably tailored tuxedo.
Jo glanced down.
Charlotte, looking like an angel in her white dress and white pillbox hat.
"Hi, Mama Jo," Charlotte said brightly. "Shar threw flowers."
"And you did a beautiful job," Jo said.
All her nerves melted away, looking down at that lovely little face, with Jo's dark hair and determined chin, with Blair's dimples and tip-tilted nose.
"You din't lookit me," complained Charlotte. "Mama's sick?"
"No, Charlie. Mama feels great. And I know you did a good job 'cause Uncle Alec told me."
Charlotte looked up at Uncle Alec and flashed a dazzling smile. "Uncle Alec pretty."
"He is," Jo agreed. "Now, go sit with Gramma Rose, Shar. K?"
"OK." Charlotte took her mother's hand briefly, and kissed it. She turned and scurried away toward the front pew on the "groom's" side of the church, where Rose was weeping joyfully into a handkerchief.
"And here comes your inamorata," Alec said quietly.
Jo tensed slightly, but her anxiety was gone. Charlotte's frank and cheerful disposition had slain the dragon of Jo's nerves.
Jo glanced to her left as Blair drew abreast of her. Blair handed off her bouquet to Jacqueline, the Matron of Honor, who retreated several steps behind the bride. Jack was a mere ghost to Jo, a flash of white dress and red hair. Blair held Jo's full attention.
Alec nudged Jo softly in the ribs.
"Don't gape, dear," he advised sotto voce.
But Jo couldn't help gaping. An Alexander McQueen sheath dress that fit Blair's voluptuous curves like a glovenot in a vulgar or tacky way, but elegantly. Blair was a bombshell. The dress was white and silver, with ornate patterns worked subtly throughout. There was a veil, very sheer and subtle, draped from a queen-like diamond tiara affixed to Blair's brow.
Blair turned to look at her wife, eyes sparkling, her smile, well, radiant, just as Alec had reported.
Jo didn't know how the diamond tiara was stuck to Blair's head, with its short-cropped mane of silvery hair. Some kind of magical hairpins, no doubt. But however the trick had been done, it was stunning. Blair was stunning from head-to-toe.
"You're perfect," Jo whispered.
"I know," Blair whispered back.
One of Blair's "cronies" as Jo put ita very dignified Episcopal bishop, with whom Blair sat on many charitable committeesofficiated the service.
Jo remembered very little of the actual ceremony. The bishop kept saying things. And, whenever Alec nudged her and whispered to her, Jo made the requisite responses. But the ceremony was a blur. It was Blair, all Blair. That was what Jo would never forget. And
Jo's dream was interrupted by a strange and uncomfortable sensation. Someone pressing a piece of bread against her mouth. Wet bread.
"Mama, wake up," warbled Charlotte. "Come on. I made you toast."
Jo peeled open one eyelid.
Charlotte stood at the side of Blair and Jo's bed, pushing a piece of buttered toast against Jo's mouth.
Jo took a bite. Chewed. "Mmn," she said. "That's pretty good, Shar."
"I know. Rory taught me. She says I'm gonna be a great cook."
"I think Rory's onto something," said Jo. "Here." She scooped up her two-and-a-half year-old daughter, lifted her high over her head. "You can be the flying chef. Like the 'Flying Nun'."
Charlotte laughed merrily. She stuck out her arms, as if she were flying, and wiggled her legs.
"I'm flying, Mama!"
"I know. Where are you flying today, Shar? Over the city? Over the ocean?"
"Over the park," Charlotte said delightedly. "I see the lake. And the bridge. And there's the duckies!"
After a moment Jo set Charlotte down on the edge of the bed. Charlotte seemed to be growing bigger every day, and Jo, for all that she worked out to keep in shape, had the back of a woman in her early fifties, and felt it more keenly in the morning hours.
"Where's Mommy?" asked Jo.
"She's in her study. Talkin to God."
"Oh, I see. Well, I hope she's putting in a good word for me."
"And for me," Charlotte said.
"Always for you, Shar." Jo ruffled her daughter's dark hair. "So what else did you cook for me? Mama Jo is starving this morning."
"I only cooked toast," said Charlotte. "That's all I know yet."
"Well I'll tell you what." Jo scooped up Charlotte. "Let's go see if Rory can teach you how to cook some eggs? K?"
"And maybe she can teach you to cook," Charlotte said happily.
"Are you kidding?" grinned Jo. "I can already cook eggs. I'm a pretty great scrambler, from way back."
"That's not what Mommy says," said Charlotte, shaking her head.
"Mommy says I can't cook eggs?"
"Mommy says you can't cook anything," Charlotte clarified gravely. "So you shouldn't say you can, Mama, if you can't. Lies are bad."
"Well, OK, then," said Jo. "Since Mommy threw me under the bus, I might as well admit that I am, in fact, a pretty crummy cookwith eggs, or anything else. So how about Rory shows us both how to make eggs? You and me?"
"Yay!" cried Charlotte.
She wriggled out of Jo's arms, scampered up Jo's back and folded her arms around Jo's neck as if Jo were a horse.
"Race track," said Charlotte. "Let's play race track to the kitchen."
"You got it, Shar," said Jo. "Hang on tight!"
Late July 1989. Manhattan. Midtown.
"Her name is Anna," said Natalie.
"She sounds like a dog," Jo said bitterly.
"She sounds 'like a dog' Jo? Based on her name? Which is a very pretty name, by the way. Can you sound more like a cranky, sexist"
"Hey, now, hold up," Jo said, lifting her hands. "Let's not say things that can't be unsaid."
"I never say things I don't mean," said Natalie. "Remember me? 'Just the Facts' Natalie Green? I calls it like I sees it. And when a woman calls another woman 'a dog'"
"Yeah, yeah, OK. So I'm cranky. I'm rotten company. I admit it. But I keep tellin ya, Nat, I don't wanna be set up. So forget it."
They were sitting in Natalie and Snake's surprisingly large living room. It was bigger than any other room in the place. A spiral staircase wound up to the loft bedroom Nat and Snake shared.
"Anna's very pretty. And intelligent. She's studying to be a heart surgeon, for Pete's sake."
"So why don't you date her?" Jo asked sourly.
"Um, besides my not being attracted to women, I think Snake might have a teensy problem with it."
"How do you even know she'd go out with me? How do you know she likes women?"
"She's fairly open about it."
"But I mean, don't the other students give her shit about it?"
"They tease her, yes. And the guys keep making sophomoric passes at her. They just can't get it through their head a woman might only want other women. Especially a pretty girl like Anna."
"But she just, she takes it?"
"Huhn. Sounds like she's got some sand."
"I don't know what that means, but, Jo, she's a great gal. Truly. You should take her out for coffee. What can that hurt? A cup of coffee. In the hospital cafeteria. That's about as safe and noncommittal as you can get for a first date."
"Christ, whaddaya think I am, some kind of bum? If I take her outwhich I'm not gonna, by the waybut say I did, it wouldn't be for crummy coffee in your crummy cafeteria."
"Do tell," said Natalie. "Well then. Where would you take her?"
"Some place with class. Some place nice. Like, what kind of food does she like?"
"She's Italian, so I would imagine she's probably fond of pasta. Not to stereotype," Natalie said hastily, remembering that Jo was part Italian, "but I've heard her rave about the spaghetti at Arellano's."
"Arellano's, huh? That's kind of, that's in the Village, I think."
"So, great. Take her there. Start with pasta, and if the date goes well, you two can go on to one of the gay bars in the Village."
Jo scowled at her friend.
"Why are you pushin so hard for this, Nat?"
"Who's pushing? I'm not pushing. I'm encouraging."
"C'mon, Nat, you been givin me the full court press tryin to get me out there datin, even though my head's still spinnin from Blair givin me the bum's rush. What's the hurry? Why can't I wallow a while?"
"Because you're wallowing here. In my apartment."
Jo shook her head. "That's cold, Nat. That's ice cold."
"I don't mean I mind you being here," said Natalie. "You're one of my oldest and dearest friends. And with Snake on the Alaska haul, it's nice having the company. But I can't take seeing you so, so "
"So what?" Jo asked dangerously.
"So pathetic," Natalie blurted.
"Pathetic? Who's pathetic?"
"You are," said Natalie. "There. I said it. I don't want to be mean, but you have officially become pathetic. And it's not a good look on you, Jo. You go to work looking all exhaustedyou can't be doing well at your internship. And then you come back looking exhausted, and depressed, and you curl up on the sofa and drink all the beer in the house and cry."
"I do not cry," said Jo.
"Hey. It's me. I've seen the tear stains on the sofa cushions."
"Those are beer stains. You know what a slob I am."
"If I'm not welcome here"
"You're welcome, Jo, you're welcome. You're always welcome. Mi couch is su couch."
"Your Spanish always did suck," Jo said cruelly.
"Wow. Hey. You were the one that was just talking about let's not say things we can't un-say."
"Well your Spanish does suck. And so does your timing. Blair only gave me the heave-ho a few weeks ago, and you're already tryin to push me into the 'Dating Game'? I mean, what gives?"
Natalie sighed. "Jehovah, give me strength," she said to the ceiling.
"Hey, God's on my side," said Jo. "Blair and I were practically married, and we just broke up. If I went on a date or somethin, I mean, it would be like infidelity. Adultery."
"Is that so?"
"Yeah. That's so."
"What religion are you referencing there, Jo? Because last time I checked, I hate to break this to you, but most religions give homosexuality the big thumbs-down. I wouldn't suggest going to the Bible to find a reason not to date again. Or the Torah. Or the Koran. Or"
"Yeah, yeah, the Book of Mormon. I got it. Hell. Is everyone against me?" Jo asked miserably.
"How am I against you when I'm trying to help you get back on the horse again? So to speak."
"I don't want to get back on the horse. I want my old horse. In my old corral. I just I want Blair." Jo hung her head.
"OK. Let's drop the 'horse' metaphor," said Natalie. "Mainly because Blair wouldn't like being compared to a horse, but also because it's starting to creep me out a little bit."
"Whatever," said Jo.
"It's been several weeks since Blair decided you two needed a break. A break, Jo. Not the end of life as we know it."
"She ditched me," said Jo. "I never coulda figured I never saw it comin."
"With all the fights you were having?"
"We've always fought."
"But not like this. Jo, there's every chance you and Blair will get back together. But she wants you both to, to spread your wings. To try other things. To grow up a little bit so you can be sure, be a hundred percent sure that you and Blair can make it work together."
Jo's eyes narrowed.
"How the hell do you know all that?"
"Because Blair told me. She's my friend, Jo. We have coffee. We talk. You know. Like friends do. Like people do."
Jo put her face in her hands. "Come off it, Nat. If Blair gave you the whole spiel, then you know. You know she broke up with me. She just couldn't bring herself to, to put it that way."
"I don't know any such thing. People separate, Jo. People step back and grow a little bit before they take that final plunge. It's very retro. It's very 1970's. Note to self: I need to rent you 'Starting Over'. No. 'It's My Turn'. They just opened a video store next to the bodega downstairs."
"Nat, I saw 'It's My Turn'. Blair made me watch it when we were first datin. It was on the 'Late Movie'. Newsflash, Einstein: The girl leaves her husband."
"I don't remember it that way."
"Well I can't help that. Nat, life is not a Jill Clayburgh movie."
"Maybe notbut it should be. And I think you're remembering it wrong. She goes back to her husband."
"Not in 'It's My Turn'."
"In the other one, then. In 'Starting Over'."
"Nah. That's the one where Burt Reynolds leaves his wife, and later, yeah, he goes back to her, but then he leaves her again cause he loves Jill Clayburgh. Only Clayburgh is all independent and on her own feet, so she doesn't really want him back."
"That's 'Starting Over'?"
"Blair made me watch that one too. Another 'Late Movie'. Christ. What I did for that woman!"
Natalie shook her head. "I can't believe I remembered those movies wrong. My world is spinning on its axis."
"Be strong, Nat. Clayburgh's still young. Maybe someday she'll make a move where the husband and wife really do get back together."
"Listen, never mind movies, then."
"My point still stands. Couples separate. They learn and grow and stand on their own two feet. And then they can get back together. And then it's, you know, a more mature love. A healthier love."
"Our love was plenty mature and healthy."
"Was it Jo?"
Jo shaded her eyes with one hand.
"I mean Ah, hell. It was comin apart at the seams," she muttered.
"Blair told me it broke her heart, how you made her that breakfast."
"It wasn't that crummy."
"Not the breakfast, Jo. The way you looked. She said you looked, you looked so frightened, and broken. Not like yourself at all. She said you're her lioness. She said you need to learn to be a lioness again. You need to go back to her because you want hernot because you need her."
"But I do need her! And I ain't ashamed of it."
"There's needing someone, and needing someone," Natalie said.
"What's that, from a fortune cookie? I just want my girl back. It's not complicated."
"It is, though, Jo. It is."
"Well how's my datin gonna un-complicate it? I mean, I can just see it, me out on the town with Anna the beautiful future heart surgeon."
"Pretty," Natalie interjected. "I'm not promising beautiful."
"Whatever. There I am, out on the town with Anna, pretty, beautiful, whatever, in the Village. And lo and behold, maybe we run into Blair. I mean, can you imagine how that would tear Blair up? Yeah, she broke up with me, yeah, she wants us to have this stupid space, but deep down, she's gotta be missin me like I miss her. She's gotta be. So Blair runs into me steppin out with Anna, how does that make anythin better? It just frigs everythin up even more."
Natalie cleared her throat. "So OK Possibly Unless "
"Unless what?" Jo asked impatiently.
"Unless Blair wants you to date. And experience life with other people. For the sake of comparison. And proportion. And growth."
Jo glared at Natalie.
"Are you tellin me Are you quotin Blair? Are those things she said to you over your famous little coffee klatches?"
"Son of a bitch," said Jo. "Blair told you she wants me to date other women?"
"Other people. Not necessarily women. Whoever floats your boat."
Jo ran her hands through her hair, mussing it. Strands of moussed hair corkscrewed in different directions.
"So, so Blair wants me to date. Towhat did you say?"
"Experience life with other people. For comparison. And proportion. And growth."
"And Blair actually wants me to do this?"
"Which is why you been givin me the strong-arm routine about takin out this Anna chick?"
"Well, I suppose you could put it that way. Yes. But Anna really is a great girl. You'll like her."
"So you and Blair are in cahoots!" Jo sounded outraged.
"'Cahoots' is too strong a word," objected Natalie. "It sounds like a plot."
"It's not a plot? You and Blair are meetin on the sly, discussin me and Blair's relationship, and Blair's gettin you to set me up with some med studentbut it's not a plot?"
"OK. When you put it like that, yes, it sounds a little like a plot. But I still don't like the term 'cahoots'. What about"
"What about nothin! Nat." Jo took Natalie's shoulders, gazed deep into her friends' eyes. "Level with me. No more cloak and dagger. You said Blair wants me to date other people. Does that mean You know Does that mean that "
Jo released her friend's arms.
"I'll take that sigh as a 'yes,'" Jo said miserably.
"Blair loves you," said Natalie.
"Sure she does."
"That's why she's gonna date someone else. Christ. I wonder I wonder if she'll actually be able to go through with it."
Natalie cleared her throat. "The thing is, well " She trailed off.
"You're kiddin," said Jo as understanding dawned. "No. Come on."
"I'm sorry, Jo."
"The 'who' I don't know. The 'when' was last night."
"Where'd they go?"
"I don't know if you're ready to"
"They went to a movie."
"What freakin movie?"
"Are you freakin kiddin me? Are you freakin kiddin me? I asked her to see 'Batman'. I asked her!"
"Calm down, Jo."
"I'm totally calm. Christ. The nerve! She made a snotty comment about how she doesn't like superhero movies. Then she goes withwho? I needa know who she went out with?"
"It's a moot point," said Natalie. "Because Blair didn't have a good time. She won't be seeing the woman again."
"Damn right! 'Batman'. Christ! Who would be stupid enough to take Blair to see 'Batman'?"
"You said you asked her to"
"Besides me. Blair and I were a couple. Couple go see stuff they don't really wanna see because the other one wants to see it. Right? But a first date? You take a girl who hates superhero movies to see 'Batman' on a first date? What a dipwit!"
"Blair didn't use the phrase 'dipwit' but that seemed to be her overall reaction," Natalie agreed.
"So, good," said Jo. "It was a bust. Blair'll prob'ly be callin me any minute now."
Natalie made "tisking" sounds.
"Jo. Jo, Jo, Jo."
"Don't 'Jo' me. I know Blair. Her little theory about datin other people was a bust, so she'll be seein the light anytime now."
"Jo, Blair has more dates lined up," Natalie said gently.
Jo's face fell.
"Like How many dates?"
"She didn't give me a number, but it sounds like she's taking this very seriously. She wants to broaden her horizons. She has quite a few dates lined up. Someone is taking her to the Fever tonight."
"The Fever? In the Bronx? My Bronx?"
"I know you love the Bronx, Jo, but you don't, technically, own them."
"The hell I don't!" Jo swore a blue streak, dropping multiple F-bombs. The next intelligible thing she said was "Where is she findin these women? I mean, did Blair subscribe to some lesbian hotline or somethin?"
"Is there a lesbian hotline?" Natalie asked curiously.
"Apparently! I guess you just call up and say 'Send me a dipwit lesbian for a date,' and there you freakin go!"
"And here Blair was worried you wouldn't handle this rationally and maturely," Natalie deadpanned.
"Oh, I'll handle it rationally. I'll show Blair 'maturely'. She wants to date? She wants me to date? Fine. Let the freakin datin games begin!"
Jo shook her fist in the air, as if at an imaginary opponent.
"And, yes This will end well," Natalie said.
"You," Jo jabbed her finger at Natalie, "you, old friend, are goin ta find out where the hell Blair's findin her harem."
"It doesn't sound like a 'harem'. It sounds more like in high school, when girls dated lots of different boys, to make sure they ended up with Mr. Right. You knowlike I did. Whereas you and Blair fell into each other's arms and never really played the field."
"Never mind the editorial. I need intelligence. I need you to put on your Snoop Sister hat and your Scoops hat and dig up the dirt on where Blair's findin these losers."
"I can't spy on Blair."
"Why not? You were all on board to plot against me."
"For the last time, it wasn't a plot."
"And since when have you passed up a chance to do a little investigative research?"
"Hmm." Jo could see the cogs turning behind Natalie's blue eyes. "Investigative research, eh? Well When you put it like that "
"I put it exactly like that. You're Blair's friend, right? What if she's bein cheated, you know, by some unscrupulous datin service? You said her first date sucked, right?"
"Well True. I suppose I really should use my incredible investigative skills to be sure no one's taking advantage of Blair."
"But that doesn't mean I'm going to share what I find out with you, Jo. You are what is called an 'interested party'. You're biased."
"You're damn right I'm biased. Blair's my girl."
"But you're separated," Natalie said gently. "Jo Listen. I'll look into how Blair's finding her dates, just to be sure it's on the level, and that's she's OK. But Blair is dating now, Jo. This is happening. I know it's painful for you, but this is the way it is. And I believe the healthiest thing for you is to start dating too."
Jo looked away.
Suddenly tears were spilling down her face.
Natalie put a hand on her friend's shoulder.
"If Alec were here, he'd tell you 'Steady on' or something British like that," Natalie said kindly. "And he'd say something to make you laughor to piss you off. Either way, it'd lift your spirits."
"Well Alec ain't here," said Jo, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. "No one's here. Except you."
"Sorry," Nat said drily.
"You know what I mean."
"Yes, Jo. I do."
"I can't believe she's datin, Nat. Datin. It's like It's nuts."
"Maybe Blair would think it's nuts too," Natalie said significantly, "if she knew you were dating too."
"But that's what she wants me to do."
"Or so she thinks. What people think and what they feel don't always turn out to be the same thing."
Jo looked up at Natalie through teary eyes. She sniffed.
"NatWhat the hell. Are you playin both sides against the center?"
"I admit nothing," said Natalie. "But, yes. Yes I am. Only because both sides are idiotsbut I love them anyway."
"You really think if I start datin someone, and Blair hears about it"
"I would have to tell her about it," Natalie said innocently, "during our coffee klatches."
"So maybe she'd, she'd"
"Maybe," said Natalie. "But even if not, I mean, Jo. This is happening. Blair is dating. So you should be dating too."
Jo nodded. "OK. OK, so, tell me more about this Anna chick. You say she's gonna be a heart surgeon?"
"And she likes Italian food?"
"How can I meet her?"
"I can set it up. Do you really want to start with dinner?"
"Sure. I told you. I'm no bum. Why don't you find out her favorite Italian restaurant, if it's Arellano's or wherever. And what kinda movie she likes. I'll take her out Saturday night. Dinner and a movie."
"Jo, even if you're doing this to win Blair back, you still have to treat Anna right. OK? She is a nice woman."
"Of course. You know, I still don't know too many women of the Sapphic persuasion. Worse case scenario, maybe I make a new friend. And the way Alec and I get bashed up, the more doctors I know, the better."
"You have something there," Natalie said wryly.
"So you'll set it up? Saturday night? And you'll say nice things about me?"
"Of course," said Natalie. "I'll lie through my teeth."
Natalie worked a late shift at the hospital lab on Saturday night, but she had arranged everything between Anna and Jo.
Jo showered twice, and used so much deodorant it overpowered her light spritz of perfume.
Well At least I smell good, she thought.
Anna had agreed to meet her at Arellano's on 5th, near 30 Rock.
Arellano's was apparently a fairly ritzy place, so Jo wore a dark blue dress, nylons, stylish blue flats, and a touch of lipstick and mascara.
She spent a long time turning around in front of the full-length mirror in the bathroom.
She looked good. Sure. Even her hair had come out good, and it had only taken half a can of mousse.
This is dumb, she thought. Why am I bothering? I love Blair. I don't even want this Anna chick.
But if you were gonna ask someone on a date, you might as well make an effort. And if Jo was gonna make Blair jealous, she definitely wanted to give it her best shot.
Jo had spun around in front of the mirror for the tenth time (or so) when the phone rang.
It might be Anna calling to cancel or change the date.
Or it might be Natalie calling with news about Blair.
Or it might be, hell, it might be Blair calling to say she'd been a total idiot and asking how fast could Jo get home.
Jo scooped up the receiver.
"Green residence," she said politely, heart beating a little fast in her chest. Who was it? Who was a calling?
A pause. Then
"Jo? is that you?"
"Tootie! Holy hell, Stretch," said Jo, face breaking into a big smile. "How are you, you little lug? And where are you? You finally back in the Big Apple?"
"Um Kind of," Tootie said slowly.
"How can you 'kind of' be back in the city?" teased Jo. "Oh. I get it. You're in Jersey."
"No. I'm in Manhattan," said Tootie.
"Where are you performin? Christ, Tootare you guys gonna be on Broadway?"
"Off-Broadway," said Tootie. "Off-off-off-Broadway."
"Well, that's OK. Everyone's gotta start somewhere. How was your tour?"
"It was interesting."
"Nat said you guys went all over the East Coast. Did you get to Philly?"
"How 'bout Baltimore? Or DC? Did your parents get to see you?"
"No, I didn't, we didn't get that far south."
"What's it like on the road? Nobody got fresh with youdid they?" Jo asked in her most protective, big sister manner.
"Get fresh with me? No," Tootie said. "Not even once."
"Well good. So I don't gotta remove anybody's head from their shoulders."
"Nope. Nope, you sure don't, Jo."
Jo frowned. Tootie didn't sound like Tootiedramatic, vivacious, Tootie.
"You OK, kid? You aren't sick or somethinare ya?"
"Not sick," Tootie assured her friend. "But not quite myself."
"Well where are you playin in town? I don't care how far off Broadway it is. Nat and I will get tickets. When's the next show?"
"The show's being retooled," said Tootie. "It had some problems."
"Aw, jeez. I'm sorry to hear that."
"That's OK. I mean, that's what it's for, going on the road. We had to find the bugs before we open in New York City."
"Sure. That makes sense."
And it did. But Tootie definitely sounded odd. Tired. Bone tired.
"Is Natalie there?"
"Nah, I'm sorry. She's workin. But you can reach her at the lab. Manhattan Memorial. If you hold on a sec, I can get you the number."
"Oh, I have the number memorized." Tootie laughed. For the first time, she sounded like herself. "All the time you and Blair have spent thereand, and Alec. I don't think I could forget the number if I tried."
"Well call the number, then, and ask for the blood lab. Even if Nat's runnin around the hospital they can take a message for her when she gets back to the lab."
"How's she doing?"
"Really well," said Jo. "She misses Snake, but, I mean, they got it down to a science, seems like. Yeah. They're solid."
"Is he there?"
"No. Alaska. A real long haul."
"What are you doing there? I mean, if Nat's at work, and Snake's in Alaska?"
"I'm keepin Nat company," Jo said. "While Snake's away."
"Is Blair there too?"
Jo bit her lip.
Suddenly they welled up, the tears in her eyes, the lump in her throat.
It was so lame, and stupid, and
She swallowed. She brushed at her eyes.
"Jo?" asked Tootie. "Are you there?"
I gotta get used to it, thought Jo. I gotta get used to tellin people me and Blair ain't, well, me and Blair anymore. At least until Blair sees sense
"Yeah, Stretch. I'm here," Jo said huskily. "Look, you might as well hear it from me. Blair and me, we kinda, we decided to take a break."
Jo held the phone away from her ear.
"Hey, yoturn down the volume a little bit, Toot."
"Sorry. But what does that mean? Taking a break?"
"It means, you know, we tried, we tried to live together this summer, and we were gettin on each other's nerves, and, you know"
"But you always get on each other's nerves. It's part of the Jo-Blair charm."
"There was somethin different about it this summer, kid. And it wasn't so charmin. So Blair got this idea, she thinks if we take a break, and, like, if we see other people"
"See other people?" Tootie sounded as outraged as if Blair had broken up with her.
"It's not the apocalypse or anythin, Tootie. It's just a temporary thing. It's supposed to help us grow as people."
"What a line of bull!"
Jo chuckled sadly. Yeah. Yeah, she had to agree with Tootie on that one.
"You and Blair were meant for each other! Honestly! I go out of town for a few months, and this is what I come back to? What else is going on?"
"Not much. Everyone else seems to be doin OK. Well. 'Cept Alec. He's still in jolly old England. Drinkin too much. And tryin to win Jack backwhich, just between you and me and Alec and the lamppost, I think that's pretty much a lost cause. Poor guy."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Tootie said finally. But Jo, I really don't want to talk about Alec or Jack right now. Or anyone else. Let's get back to you and Blair. I meanis this for real? Really for real?"
"Honestly? I don't know. I keep hopin it's a dream and I'm gonna wake up from it. But I don't."
"I'm so sorry to hear that Jo. So sorry. I know love isn't always what it's cracked up to be, but I thought you and Blair, wellI thought you two would be the ones to go the distance."
"And we might be," Jo said stubbornly. "Once she, you know, wises up. But in the meantime "
"So you're actually going to do it? Date other people?"
"She's already gone on some dates," Jo said, trying not to sound as miserable as she felt.
"No, I'm serious. But, I'm happy to report none of them have gone too well."
"Well how could they? Who could compare to the Jo Polniaczek."
"I'm serious. And what about you? Are you dating?"
"I'm goin on my first date tonight."
"A doctor. Well. Med student. Nat set it up."
"This is insane."
"Are you going to spill your soup on her, or do something to mess up the date?"
"Tootie, I've kinda grown outta hijinx like that. At least, I hope so. Nat says she's a nice lady. I'm gonna take the woman out, be nice to her, and then walk her home. Or put her in a cab, or something polite like that. And then, well "
"Yeah? Then what?"
"Nat's gonna kinda, you know, naturally when she talks to Blair again she'll fill in Blair on how I went on a great date with a med student."
"Ahhhhh!" Tootie said appreciatively. "So. There's a method to your madness. I approve."
"Me too. I know it's kinda sneaky, but"
"Desperate times call for sneaky measures," Tootie said. "That's just how it is."
"Jeez, kid, it's great to hear your voice," said Jo. "Whyncha stop by tomorrow? I'm off and I think Nat's off too."
"Sorry. No can do."
"But if your play's down for the count, bein retooled"
"I still have responsibilities," said Tootie. "To the company. It's a very low-budget operation. There's schlepping and arranging and, well, all sorts of things."
"Well when can we see you?"
"Soon," Tootie promised. "Tell Nat I'll call her."
"As soon as I can."
"Do you have a number we can"
But Jo was talking to a dial tone.
Tootie had rung off.
Arellano's was very understated, very elegant, and very dark.
Aside from the drippy candles on each table, there was very little light.
Jo had met Anna in front, as arranged, at eight o'clock. Anna was very pretty, Jo had to agree, with large dark eyes, like the Italian Madonnas, and curly dark hair swept up on her head in an elegant updo. She wore a dark red dress and red heels and a black pashmina.
"Nice to meet you," Jo had said politely, extending her hand.
Anna had shaken her hand. "Nice to meet you too. Natalie never stops raving about you."
Jo noted approvingly that Anna's accent, while educated, still had a noticeable New York accent.
"Don't tell me," said Jo. "Queens."
Anna grinned. She had, Jo thought grudgingly, a really beautiful smile.
"Yeah," said Anna. "Queens. I don't need to ask where you're from. You have 'Bronx' stamped all over you. Plus, Natalie's always saying you're from the Bronx."
"Nat talks a lot," Jo observed. She wasn't sure if that was a good thing.
"I know all about how you used to run with the Young Diablosand about the 'Code of the Bronx'. And how you were expelled from Langley because of, well. You know."
Thanks a million, Nat, Jo thought sourly.
But she kept her polite "company" grin fixed on her face.
"Well then," said Jo, with a little laugh, "there go those ice breakers. Nataliewhat a card!"
Anna's smile broadened.
"After you," Jo said politely.
She followed Anna into the restaurant
No one knew they were on a date of course. They couldn't hold hands or flirt or use the body language of people on a date. The wait staff and other diners would assume they were best friends, or cousins, or even sisters.
The waiter seated them near the back, but not, Jo was glad to see, near the kitchen. They ordered breadsticks and a bottle of decent wine.
They sat across from each other, exchanging glances, a bit uncomfortably, over the dim, drippy candle.
Italian music played over speakers, classy stuff, and not too loudthey could still hear each other speak.
It was too dark for Jo to read the menu properly. She finally closed it with a snap.
"Nat tells me you've been here before," said Jo, "so you tell mewhat should I order?"
"The Linguini with Clams is very good," said Anna. "But so is the Chicken Alfredo. And the Chicken Parmesan."
"Why don't we get two or three dishes," suggested Jo, "and share."
"That' sound wonderful," said Anna.
When the waiter came to their table, Jo ordered Linguini with Claims and Chicken Parmesan. Anna ordered the veal.
"And some meatballs," Jo added. "And keep the breadsticks coming."
A sommelier arrived a minute later, uncorking the bottle and running through the whole routine, giving both women the cork the sniff, and pouring them sample glasses to taste.
Jo was very glad, then, for Blair's tutelage. Jo had learned to taste wine at the Plaza's Palm Court. At Arellano's, Jo handled herself as perfectly as Anna did.
Once the ritual of ordering and tasting the wine was over, once the sommelier had disappeared into the elegant gloom, and Jo and Anna were sipping their wine over the drippy candle, an awkward silence fell over the table.
"So," Anna said finally.
"Yeah," said Jo. "So."
They both laughed nervously.
Wow, thought Jo. Not exactly coverin myself with glory here.
"I just want to tell you," said Anna, "that I don't expect anything from you. You seem lovely, but I just ended a, well, a very serious relationship. And I'm not ready, not even close to ready, to start another relationship."
Jo breathed a sigh of relief.
"Anna You don't know how great it is to hear that. I don't know how much Nat told you about me and my, well, the woman I've been dating forever"
"Nothing, really," said Anna. "Just that you're separated from someone, and Nat thought it would be healthy for you to have a night on the town with someone nice."
"And you do seem nice," said Jo.
"Thank you. So do you, Jo."
They smiled at each other over their wine glasses.
It was a nice moment.
"I hope you won't think I'm prying, Jo"
"Ask away. I'm an open bookfor better and for worse."
"I was wonderingare you Italian? Part Italian, I mean. I know 'Polniaczek' is Polish."
"I am part Italian," said Jo.
"I knew it. And your Italian side, they're Italian-Italian, aren't they? The whole deal?"
"Are you kiddin?" Without noticing it, Jo dropped the civilized "end gs" she'd been so careful to add up to now. "I have an uncle named Sal, a cousin named Pauly, and an aunt can whip up a chicken cacciatore that makes the angels sing."
"Natalie said you were funny. Intentionally funny, I mean."
"Is your family Italian-Italian?"
"Oh, yes. Very Italian. My father still doesn't understand why I'm studying medicine instead of marrying a nice boy from the neighborhood. He had someone all lined up for me. Gianni Perlucci. He owns three shoe stores in Queens."
"So why are you?" Jo asked curiously, biting into a breadstick. "Studying medicine, I mean. I know why you ain't, ah, aren't marryin Gianni Perlucci."
"I like medicine," said Anna. "I love surgery."
"But why? Is it about savin people?"
Anna nodded. "In part. And part of it is just the thrill of it. I'm an adrenalin junkie. Like when I ride my bike"
"Get out," Jo interrupted. "You ride a motorcycle?"
"She's my baby. Do you ride?"
"I mean, not for awhile. But I used to live on my baby. Man, you just hop aboard, you gun it, you rocket off wherever you wanna go. Wherever, whenever."
"Your face just lit up," she said. "Talking about your bike. Why did you stop riding?"
Jo shrugged. "I mean Life happens. You know?"
Anna shook her head. "No. I can't imagine not riding."
"Other stuff takes precedence," said Jo. "It just It stopped fitting into my life. My everyday life. I still have my bike."
"She's in a garage. Up in Peekskill. Where I used to live."
Under a dust sheet, thought Jo. In River Rock's garage
Anna seemed to notice Jo's faintly troubled, rather faraway expression. She turned the subject.
"Natalie tells me you're studying law," said Anna. "So. Why law?"
"So I can change things," Jo said without hesitation. "Not right away, of course. But when I'm older."
"What sorts of things?"
"Like the way the poor get treated. And kids. And old people. And how the fat cats are always findin ways to make themselves fatter."
"That's a fairly ambitious agenda."
"And, you know," Jo lowered her voice, "so women like us, if we wanna meet somewhere, and, well We won't have to pretend like we're friends or coworkers or somethin just to be on a date."
Anna nodded. "That," she said, "is a very beautiful agenda."
"Oh, who knows." Jo shrugged modestly. "I'm always tltin at windmills. Who knows if I'll ever get anything changed. But someone's gotta try. Right?"
"I think so."
The smiled at each other over their wine. Another nice moment.
What the hell ? Thought Jo. I'm not s'posed to be enjoyin this. I'm s'posed to be endurin it
The food came, and as they ate, their conversation stopped. They concentrated on the food, which was very good, and paired nicely with the next bottles of wine they ordered, the veal with the red wine, and the chicken and clam dishes with the white.
As they ate, they stole glances at each other, and each seemed to like what she saweven though it was too damn dark to see much.
She has a nice nose, thought Jo. Kinda noble. It went well with Anna's large dark eyes.
Jo liked that Anna didn't make a lot of phony chatter while they ate. She was all about getting down to the eating, savoring every bite.
When the plates had been cleared and they were sipping their coffee and eating their dessert pastry, Anna leaned slightly across the table.
"Jo I have a confession to make."
"Shoot," Jo said cheerfully.
"I really didn't want to come here tonight. I only did it as a favor to Natalie. She painted a picture, well, she made it sound as if you were practically suicidal."
Jo shook her head. "Yeah, that Natalie. What a card!"
NatI'm gonna kill ya! Jo thought.
"I had no idea you would be so well so much like this," Anna continued. "It's been a long time since I liked someone so much so fast."
Jo shifted in her chair.
"And now I've made you uncomfortable," said Anna. "For which I apologize. But I would've kicked myself if we said goodnight and I hadn't told you that, well, I would like to see you again. If you're interested. Which you probably aren't"
"OK," said Jo.
Anna's dark eyebrows lifted.
"Yeah. OK," Jo repeated.
What the hell am I doin? she thought. Why am I sayin OK?
It was like another part of her had hijacked control of her vocal cords. The part of her that couldn't stop stealing glances at Anna's eyes and nose and smile. The part of her that said,
"I like you too, Anna. And it's been, wow. Years, I guess, since I liked someone so much, so fast."
"Well." Anna stirred her coffee, looking pleased but suddenly shy. "I guess Natalie is a better matchmaker than we gave her credit for. Not," Anna said hastily, "that I'm saying she made a match with us. I mean, I'm not ready for anything serious. Not at all."
"Me neither," agreed Jo.
"But I feel a connection with you, and if you feel a connection with me"
"Which I do."
"And since we both like motorcycles, and kind of want to save the world, in our own ways, and things like that I'm sorry. I'm rambling." Anna pushed a dark curl away for her temple. Her fingers were long and slender, Jo noted. Of course. Anna had classic surgeon's hands.
"First dates are always awkward," said Jo. "I mean, look at me. I'm a total mess."
"You don't look like a mess."
"Well I feel like a mess."
"But you aren't."
"Well, soneither are you."
"But I really am. The whole thing with, with Tina. I'm sorry. I wasn't going to mention her name. Talk about a buzz-kill, on a first date."
"It is, kinda," said Jo, laughing softly. "But you been, you've been up front about where your head is. I'm the same way. I can't stop thinkin about Blair."
"That was your girlfriend?"
"Is. Was. It's very confusin."
"Natalie told me you were separated."
"Yeah. Which, what does that mean? 'Separated'?"
"Damned if I know," Anna said, shaking her head. "Tina and I tried it for a little while. Neither of us figured out what it meant."
"I finally called it. That's medical jargon, meaning the patient has expired. Stop all resuscitative measures. There's no hope."
"I'm sorry," Jo repeated. She didn't know what else to say.
"So what happened with you andwhat was her name again?"
"'Blair'. I'm guessing she's not Italian."
Jo grinned. "Pure WASP, to her perfectly manicured nails."
"And that was a problem?" asked Anna. "The whole ethnic-cultural thing?"
"Actually, no. Not so much," Jo said.
"Was it a socio-economic thing? Money, I mean. I guess I'm making assumptions, but"
"No, you're right," said Jo. "Blair's a lot richer than me. Richer than my family could ever have dreamed of. But that wasn't She gave up everythin, once, to be with me. Her whole fortune."
Anna's eyebrows lifted.
"That's That's beautiful."
"So if it wasn't a culture clash, or a money thing" Anna took a bite of her pastry, let the question hang.
Jo leaned back in her chair.
"Honestly, Anna? That's why Blair and me are separated. If we knew"
"You'd still be together. Got it."
Jo nodded. She pushed her pastry around her plate with her fork.
"And now I've brought down the mood," Anna said regretfully.
"It's just still so fresh. I like you, Anna. A damn lot more than I expected. But I'm still completely, madly, insanely in love with Blair," Jo confessed.
Anna took another bite of her pastry. And another.
"I'm not madly in love with Tina," she said finally. "Not anymore. But I'm sad. I'm grieving the loss of what we had."
"I think you're a couple steps ahead of me, there," said Jo. "I'm still in the denial stage, to be honest."
"Still want to see me again, then?"
No, thought Jo.
"Yes," said her mouth.
Absolutely not, thought Jo.
"One hundred percent sure," said her mouth.
Anna opened her purse, removed a ballpoint pen. She wrote a telephone number on one of the linen napkins, and handed it to Jo.
"Hey," said Jo. "That's, I mean, it's linen. It's the restaurants."
"Jo," said Anna, "I have a feeling about you. I have a feeling you're the kind of girl who used to lift fancy linen just for the hell of it. Weren't you?"
"Yeah, well I guess."
"The system is rigged," Anna said. "Isn't that what we're going to fight? To hell with fancy linen!"
"I don't know that Arellano's is part of the 'system' or whatever," said Jo, "but I do want your number."
She tucked the napkin with Anna's number into her dark blue clutch.
"So," said Anna.
"So," said Jo.
"Can I walk you somewhere? Are you staying around here?"
"I'm actually staying at Nat's place."
"Is it far?"
"It's up in Midtown. Pretty close to the hospital."
"Close enough where, possibly, we could meet for lunch sometime. Or meet after work, for another date?"
"Yeah," said Jo. "About that close. Yeah."
"But you don't want me to drop you tonight. I can tell by the way you've managed not to actually mention a street, let alone a street number."
"You're pretty sharp," Jo said.
"Reasonably," Anna agreed.
"But, I mean, if you'd like, I'd be happy to drop you," Jo said chivalrously.
No you wouldn't, she thought. Abort! Abort!
But it was too late.
Anna was smiling.
"Since you don't seem to be a psychopath," she said, "and since you seem too hung up on your Blair to stalk me, I don't mind telling you where I live. Just around the corner from the hospital. Verner and Astoria. It's a pink apartment buildinghard to miss. I'm in 3C."
"And can I drop you home?"
Anna shook her head.
"Not tonight, Jo. You've been a surprise."
"You can trust me," Jo said earnestly. "I'll be a perfect lady. Or, the Bronx version thereof."
"I know you will. I trust you, Jo. I don't quite trust myself."
"That's flatterin," said Jo. "But you don't have to worry. If you got too, well I can fend for myself."
"I don't know about that," said Anna.
Neither do I, thought Jo. What the hell is wrong with me? Who am I, suddenlyHugh Heffner or somethin?
Jo paid the check. She insisted. She and Blair were separated, but Jo had an account Blair had set up a few years back, after she and Eduardo had recovered Blair's lost inheritances. Jo and Blair were so used to sharingWhat was one's belonged to the other, in the lean times as well as the fat times. And they were going to get back together. They were. So Jo had no qualms about using the account for most things.
But for this meal, Jo paid with her law office earnings.
It was just She couldn't bear to pay this bill with money that came from Blair.
Jo walked Anna out of the restaurant, watched Anna hail a cab.
"I'm too tired to walk tonight," Anna told Jo. "Even though it's a fine night. That meal It drained the blood from my brain."
"I know what you mean," Jo said.
A cab pulled up to the curb.
Jo wanted to hand Anna into it, but that was out of the question. She might as well have shouted to everyone else standing on the curb, waiting for taxis and valet service, "I am a lesbian, and this is my date, who is also a lesbian. We are lesbians. We were just on a date. As lesbians."
Anna darted into the cab, closed the door, rolled down the window.
"Thank you again, Jo," she said. "The next meal is on me."
"I won't argue," grinned Jo. "Night."
Anna rolled up the window.
The taxi pulled away and in a moment it was a little yellow blotch on the horizon, under the street lamps.
Jo turned her steps toward Nat's apartment.
Late July 1989. Manhattan. Midtown.
"Wait," said Blair, holding up one perfectly manicured hand. Even in the midst of her hospice duties, she kept her nails impeccably. "I'm not understanding this. You said she Jo smiling. What does that mean? What kind of smile?"
"It was a smile," said Natalie. "I don't know how else to describe it."
She and Blair sat in the cafeteria at Manhattan Memorial, drinking the terrible hospital coffee. Natalie was chomping on celery sticks, her evening meal. Blair was nibbling at a stale glazed donut.
"There are smiles, Nat, and there are smiles," said Blair.
"Yeah. Still not getting it. Jo was smiling. When Jo came home from her date, she was smiling. I can't describe it any better than that."
"But was she really smiling? I mean, was she smiling bravely through her tearsthat kind of smile? Or was it the other end of the spectrum? Was it a smile like the cat that ate the canary?"
"I don't think cats smile," Natalie said dubiously.
"It's a metaphor. Work with it."
"Jo was smiling like, like she had a nice time. That kind of smile."
"A nice time? Or a wonderful time?"
"Nice, I guess. Not quite wonderful. It was " Natalie thought back, picturing Jo's face when she returned from her meal with Anna at Arellano's. "It was a quiet sort of smile," said Natalie. "A quietly happy sort of smile."
Blair bit her lower lip in a troubled fashion.
"Natalie, smiles can't be quiet."
"If cats can smile, then smiles can be quiet," Natalie said flatly. "Take it or leave it, Blair. That's all I've got."
Blair nibbled more of the glazed donut.
"So, OKshe was smiling when she came in. In a quietly happy mannerwhatever that means. But what did she say about the date?"
"She wasn't out late enough to have sex," Natalie said bluntly, "if that's what you're worried about."
"I'm not worried about anything. I'm merely curious," Blair said with dignity. "And I thought you didn't like to talk about other people's sex lives."
"Oh, I don't. But like I saidJo wasn't out late enough. Nothing to tell."
"And Jo saidWhat? About the date?"
"Nothing at all?"
"She just curled up on the couch and went to sleep."
"Without saying anything?"
"She did say 'Good night'."
"What about the next morning?"
"Well, she didn't say much."
"But what did she say?" Blair asked. "Honestly, Nataliethis is like pulling teeth."
"I just feel a little funny about reporting her conversation. I mean, you're my friend, Blair, you know that. One of my dearest friends. But Jo's my friend too."
"I'm not asking you to betray a confidence."
"Not really. Not if you look at it in the proper light."
"Which is what?"
"Damn it, Nat," said Blair, finally losing patience, "just tell me what she said."
Natalie sighed. "I guess you'll worm it out of me sooner or later anyway."
"I will. So spill it."
"Sometimes you sound an awful lot like Jo."
"Thank you. Now. Back to the spilling. What did Jo say?"
"I asked her if she had a nice time with Anna. And she smiled."
"Again. Again with the smile," Blair said, sounding troubled.
"And Jo said that, yeah, she had a nice time."
"And she said I was a better matchmaker than she would've figured."
"Matchmaker? She used that phrase?"
"Yes. I was flattered. Jo can be a little stingy with praisein case you never noticed."
"And then what?"
"I asked something like, isn't Anna a neat person. And Jo said, yes, definitely."
"That was her word? 'Definitely'? You're not paraphrasing?"
"No. I mean, yes. Yes that was her word, no I'm not paraphrasing."
"So you're a great matchmaker, and this Anna person is definitely a neat person."
Blair popped the last bit of glazed donut into her mouth.
"That sweet stuff is going to kill you someday," said Natalie. "Here. Have some celery."
Blair shook her head.
"What else did Jo say?"
"She asked me what Anna likes, besides pasta and motorcycles. So Jo can plan something nice for the next date."
"The next date?"
"Yeah. Uh Didn't I mention that before?"
"You most certainly did not. They're going on a second date?"
"Natalie You set up Jo with a woman who likes motorcycles?"
"Sure. That's how I knew they'd have something in common. They're both Italian"
"She's Italian? And she likes motorcycles?"
Natalie glanced around the cafeteria. "There's the darndest echo in here," she deadpanned.
"How could you do that, Natalie? What if, what if"
"Hey, now." Natalie held up her hands. "You've been dating other people. Right? And you told me I should encourage Jo to date. Right? So, I did. And she is."
"Other people, Natalie. People. Plural. I didn't ask you to find her someone better than me!"
"I give up," said Natalie. "I do. I really do."
"So when is this next date supposed to be? And where are they going? And what are they supposed to do?"
"I don't know. And frankly, if I did, I don't know that I would tell you."
"Does Jo know I'm dating?"
"Of course. You're both my friends. I told you. She knows you're dating, and she knows I'm not going to keep it from you that she's dating."
"Does she understand why I'm dating different people? You told her the thing I said, about high school, and seeing different people, to better appreciate your soul mate?"
"I paraphrased," said Natalie, "but, yeah, she got the gist."
"And then you set her up with a pasta-eating motorcycle mamma!" Blair said accusingly.
Natalie raised one hand. She pantomimed pulling on a cord.
"What are you doing?" asked Blair.
"I'm stopping the train," said Natalie. "The crazy train. I can't do this anymore. I love you both, but you're both driving me crazy. Either split up, or make up, or whatever, but I cannot be caught in the middle of this."
Blair leaned her chin on her hands. She looked miserable.
"I love her, Nat. I love her so much," she said softly.
"And she loves you. So you probably shouldn't have kicked her out."
"It wasn't working, Natalie. It was getting ugly. We need this. Time apart and time to consider all our options."
"Well congratulations. Jo definitely seems to be considering her options."
"You don't think," Blair said hopefully, "that maybe Jo's just trying to make me jealous? Do you?"
"Honestly? It started out that way. But Jo really had a good time on the date. And she's really inviting Anna out again."
"What does Anna like?" Blair asked. "Aside from pasta and motorcycles?"
"Oh no. I mean it, Blair. I'm removing myself from the middle of this soap opera. I hereby declare myself Switzerland."
"So, you can help Jo get in good with this Anna person, but you can't tell me what Anna likes?"
"I'll tell you what I told JoI don't know what else Anna likes. We're not that close. I told Jo it's up to her to find out what Anna likes."
"You didn't!" Blair sounded scandalized.
"I didn't mean anything like that," said Natalie, sounding scandalized herself.
Blair groaned. She lay her head down on the table.
"You reap what you sow, Blair," said Natalie. "Some things, once you set them in motion, they take on a life of their own."
"I get it, Natalie," said Blair, voice muffled by her hair. "You don't have to twist the knife. Just tell me," she lifted her head, "where do you think Jo will take her? On their next date?"
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
"I don't know. I don't. But if you ask me, you're better off concentrating on your own love life."
Blair groaned again.
"They've all been duds."
"All of them?"
"Yes," Blair said.
"Where are you finding your dates, anyway," Natalie asked curiously. "If they're all duds, I mean, are you sure it isn't some sort of scam?"
"I went to the Gay & Lesbian Center," said Blair, lowering her voice. "In the Village. They have a dating board. It's all very discretely handled. It just doesn't seem to work. At least not yet. And I ran into Mizu at the center. That was a joy!"
"Did you tell her about you and Jo separating?"
"Are you insane? If Mizu mentioned the separation to Boots, Boots would be sniffing around Jo in three-point-two seconds."
"Jo doesn't want Boots," Natalie said decisively. "Not even a little."
"But it would add another complication. And Jo and I don't need more complications. We need fewer complications."
"If you're name is on a dating board," Natalie said thoughtfully, "what's to say Mizu or Boots won't notice it?"
"My name isn't on the board," said Blair. "It's all very confidential. We meet with a staff memberso they can screen out anyone psychotic, or any gay-bashers who want to use the board to find victims."
"Oh my God," said Natalie. "I never thought of that. How awful would that be?"
"Pretty awful," Blair agreed. "So, once you pass the screening, you're given a nickname and a P.O. Box. And a profile. So, if anyone is interested, they send their profile to your P.O. Box. Or you send your profile to their P.O. Box. And if you're interested in each other, you set up a date."
"It sounds kind of complicated."
"It is. A little. But it's to protect everyone's identity, and their safety."
"How many dates have you been on so far?"
"And they were all duds?"
"Every single one."
"What was wrong with them?"
"Nothing in particular. They were just duds. Dull."
"You mean they weren't Jo," Natalie said shrewdly.
"Maybe. No. I That's beside the point."
"Yes. What am I going to do about this Anna person?"
"For starters, you can stop calling her 'this Anna person'. She's Anna. She's very nice. She's not some designing woman."
"But what am I going to do about her?"
"There isn't anything to do, Blair. You just have to let nature take its course. If Jo doesn't click with her, she doesn't click. And if she does, well "
"That's the part I'm afraid of," said Blair.
"Listen, who was giving me a whole line about how she needs to grow, and spread her wings, and develop as a person before she can commit to anyone? That was youright?"
"That was my insane twin."
"Well, she shares your face, so you share her fate. Get out there, girl. Follow through on your plan. Stick to your guns."
"I don't think I can go on another awful date. It's so depressing."
"Ditch the Village board," Natalie advised. "The best way to meet people is always through other people. People who know you. Look how great I did setting up Jo."
"Er, OKnot the best example at the moment," Natalie said hastily. "But, without going into painful details, I clearly do have a proven track record when it comes to matchmaking."
"Isn't Anna, like, the only lesbian you know?"
"OK, yes, that is a stumbling block," Natalie conceded. "But I'm Scoops Green. Remember? With the nose for news! Investigative reporter extraordinaire. If it can be found, I'll find it!"
"Hmm," Blair said doubtfully. "No offense, Nat, but these days you're more Natalie Green, the overworked med student."
"Oh ye of little faithand major insults," sniffed Natalie. "Now a gauntlet has been thrown down."
"It hasn't," said Blair. "Really."
"It has," said Natalie. "I'm going to find you someone, Blair. A good date, like the date Jo had."
"What about the part where you're stopping the crazy train? Where you're not going to be involved anymore?"
"The crazy train," said Nat, "hasn't even left the station yet. Fasten your seatbelt, Blair! I'm going to find you someone unforgettable."
"That," said Blair, "sounds terrifying."
Early August 1989. Manhattan. Central Park West.
Jo and Anna strolled along one of the paved paths that wound through Central Park's west side.
It was a rare day off for both of them.
They wore shorts and tank tops and running shoes, their hair secured with headbands. They glowed with perspiration. They were walking off a three-mile run.
"That was great," Anna said.
"Yeah," said Jo.
"How did you know I like to run?"
"It was a shot in the dark," Jo admitted. "I just figured, I mean, you like speed, like I do. And with your, ah, your body type You look like you take care of yourself," she finished.
Jo darted a glance at Anna. Anna darted a glance at Jo.
Both their faces were pinkand it wasn't all from the run.
They walked in silence for a moment. A little boy ran past them, trailing a kite that he couldn't quite get off the ground.
"I was with Tina for five years," Anna said suddenly.
Jo's eyebrows rose.
"I'm sorry," said Anna. "I don't know why I just blurted that out. It isn't a 'blurt' kind of thing."
"Or maybe it is," said Jo. "It's, you know, not the kinda thing you introduce in the course of casual conversation. If you don't blurt it, I mean, maybe it doesn't get said."
"You're very kind."
"Not so much," Jo demurred. "Not always. So. Five years, huh?"
"Five years. Three good years. Two just holding on for the sake of the memories. Hoping it could be that way again."
"Me and Blair," she said, "we got together when we started college. Freshman year. And we knew each other three years before that."
"Yeah," said Jo. "You wanna talk about memories, good and bad? Well. Me and Blair, we got memories."
"You'd have to, after all that time. Most of them good?"
"Nearly all of them good."
They came to a bridge arching over a brook that fed a lake deeper in the park.
Jo wished they were alone. She had a sudden desire to hold Anna's hand. To hold her hand and stroll slowly across the bridge with her.
They couldn't hold hands of course. Well, they couldif they wanted to chance getting jumped.
Jo moved a little closer to Anna. They walked side by side, hands almost, almost touching as their arms swung. They almost grazed pinkies.
"I'm glad you called me," Anna said quietly.
"I'm glad you had Sunday off."
"To tell you the truth I didn't. I traded shifts with a friend."
Jo extended her pinky, stroked Anna's hand. It was a brief gesture, almost subliminal.
"Good," said Jo.
"Do you remember what I told you at the restaurant, Jo? About not being ready for a committed relationship?"
"Well I'm not. But I I don't know how to say this "
"You don't have to say anythin," said Jo. "I know."
"I know. Because, that's how I'm feelin too."
"But what about about her?"
"Yes. I don't like to say her name. It's your name. She's your girl."
"Not anymore she isn't," Jo said grimly. "She made that crystal clear. AnnaI don't wanna talk about her. OK?"
"That's all right with me."
They stopped at the midpoint of the bridge, the highest point.
They leaned on the rail. Joggers and bicyclists flashed past below them, on the trail that passed under the bridge.
Jo was acutely aware of Anna's presence. She could smell Anna's perfumea light, citrusy fragranceand her shampoo, and the sweat cooling on Anna's skin. She felt Anna's warmth near her. She sensed Anna's contours, her height, her length. Anna was taller than Jo, but had a similar leanly muscled body typean athlete.
I love Blair, thought Jo. I love her. Why did she hafta
No. She let the thought go. It was what it was.
Jo was getting too old to believe in love at first sight. But she liked Anna. She'd liked Ann right off. And she was intrigued by Anna. She wanted to know more about her. And she was attracted to Anna.
Yeah. That was the elephant in the room. Or, rather, the elephant on the bridge.
Jo wanted Anna as she hadn't wanted anyone but Blair in a long, long time. Maybe ever.
It wasn't something she could reason away, or wish away. It was a physical yearning. She could act on it, or not. But she couldn't make it not be.
"You You smell really good," Anna said quietly.
"You too," said Jo.
"You do." Jo stepped ever so slightly closer to Anna. "You smell like limes."
"I need a shower."
"So do I."
They let it hang in the air between them.
Anna cleared her throat.
"I think, ah, I live closer than you do. Closer to here, I mean. Where we are. If you want to use my shower."
"That would be good," said Jo.
No it won't! shouted her brain. It won't be good at all!
"Do you want to go now?" asked Anna.
"Yeah," said Jo.
They walked to the other side of the bridge. Anna led Jo down a path that led toward Midtown
This is the point of no return, said the voice in Jo's brain. You can't undo this if you go through with it.
Shut up, brain, said Jo's body.
Anna had a long, athletic stride, and the farther they walked, the faster she walked, as if she couldn't wait to be alone with Jo. Jo loped along next to her with the easy grace of a college athlete.
"You never told me where you study law," Anna said, eventually, as they turned onto Verner Street.
Jo saw a pink building about a block away. That had to be it. Yeah. Verner and Astoria.
"Didn't Nat tell you?" asked Jo.
"Does it matter to you?"
"Not really. I mean, I'm interested, but it wouldn't make a difference to me whether you're at Stanford or NYU. To tell you the truth," Anna took a deep breath, "I'm making small talk. I'm nervous. Are you nervous?"
"Yeah," said Jo.
Anna extended one long, graceful arm and pointed a long graceful finger at the block of pink stone they were rapidly approaching.
"That's it," she said. "That's me."
The doorman didn't give them a second glance. It was a nice building, but it wasn't the Plaza. He held the door open for them and they crossed through the lobby and entered one of three old cast iron elevators.
Anna pressed the button for the third floor.
"They say Diamond Jim Brady used to live in this building," she said.
"Well, maybe he didn't. I don't know if the building is old enough. It's just what they say."
Beads of sweat were rolling down Anna's face. She scraped an arm across her forehead.
"You have cameras in these elevators?" asked Jo. She glanced around the small cast iron cage. She didn't see anything that looked even vaguely modern, except for the elevator buttons.
"Cameras? No," said Anna. "This is such an old building, we"
Jo pressed her mouth lightly against Anna's.
Anna's lips tasted salty and very faintly like strawberries. She'd probably put on strawberry lip gloss, Jo thought absently, before their run.
Anna returned the light kiss.
After a few seconds, Jo pulled away.
The bell dinged, and the doors slid open on the third floor.
"It's, ah, down here," said Anna, gesturing vaguely toward the hall before them.
"OK," said Jo. "I guess, we should get out of the elevator, then?"
"Yeah. Yes. We should."
Jo gestured for Anna to walk ahead of her, then followed Anna down the hallway.
It was a nice old building, but nothing fancy. It hadn't been painted or plastered in awhile, Jo noted. The kind of place a med student with a little money put aside could manage. If her parents were kicking in. Anna's parents must've had more bucks than Anna liked to let on.
Anna turned a corner, walked down another hallway. She stopped in front of a door marked "3C".
"This is it," she said.
"Yup," said Jo.
Anna fumbled at the pockets of her running shorts.
Her eyes widened.
"Shit," she said.
"What is it?"
"Shit. I mean, I'm sorry. I forgot my key."
Jo studied Anna's large dark eyes.
Had Anna gotten cold feet? Was this a last minute "Hail Mary"a way for Anna to turn down Jo while saving face for both of them? "SorryI'm locked out. Why don't you head home and I'll get the super to let me in "
No. Anna really had forgotten her key. She looked embarrassed. And disappointed.
"Gimme a sec," said Jo.
She plucked a hairpin from Anna's dark curls, one of the hairpins that, along with the sweatband, was keeping Anna's hair out of her eyes.
"What are you doing?" Anna asked curiously.
"Just a little B&E. With your permission, of course."
"You have it," said Anna. "But can you really get in?"
Jo slipped the hairpin into the keyhole. Turned it slightly to the left. Slightly to the right. Jiggled it. Turned it slightly to the left again.
"It's all in the touch," Jo explained. "You gotta kinda feel Yeah. There it is."
There was a loud clicking noise.
Jo turned the handle, pushed the door. It swung open.
"Who are you, Jo Polniaczek?" asked Anna.
"Me?" Jo stood. She dropped the hairpin on the palm of Anna's hand. "Just a girl from the Bronx."
Jo glanced up and down the hall. They were alone. Everyone was probably either still asleep, or at church, or visiting family for Sunday brunch.
Jo put a hand on the small of Anna's back, felt the warm dampness of Anna's tank top, guided her gently toward the door.
The touch seemed to electrify Anna. She made a little sound in her throat.
"If you really want me to come in," Jo said quietly.
"Then let's go in."
Anna walked inside, Jo's hand still pressing the small of her back.
Inside, she turned quickly, slipped her arms around Jo's waist.
Jo kicked the door shut behind them so hard it slammed.
Down on the corner of Verner and Astoria, Blair sat in car she had borrowed from a fellow Divinity student. It was a nondescript black sedan with slightly tinted windows, the kind of car people saw everywhere and therefore never really noticedall the better for a stealth mission like this.
Wearing a black T shirt and dark slacks and Jackie O sunglasses and a black bandana covering her blonde hair, Blair sat slouched down in the driver's seat.
Blair's fingers were at her mouth. She bit her nails ragged as she waited and waited and waited for Jo to emerge from the pink apartment building.
Blair had wormed it out of Natalie that Jo and Anna were going jogging this morningwhere they were going to meet, and when, and how far they planned to run.
Blair had also wormed Anna's address out of Natunder heavy protest.
"You're borrowing trouble," Natalie had said. "And no good ever comes of that."
"I just have to see," Blair told her.
"If Jo goes back to her place."
"So what if she does? Maybe they'll go back for lemonade. Or to talk. Or maybe they will have sex. Why do you want to see them together? Why do you want to put yourself through that?"
"Because I started this," said Blair. "I set it in motion."
"That's no reason to torture yourself."
"I don't want to torture myself. I just I need to know if it's getting serious "
Blair had felt tortured when she saw Anna and Jo strolling down Verner, practically hand in hand, looking so so happy. And so nervous, too.
It was like Natalie had said. Jo was quietly happy. But, yes, nervous. A little shy. A little excited.
Blair knew her lover. She knew what Jo's expression, what her body language meant.
She was going to make love to Anna.
They passed Blair's car as they approached Anna's building. Blair hunkered down lower in the driver's seat, adjusted her dark glasses. She needn't have worried, she realized. They never even glanced at the car. They were only aware of each other.
The bored-looking doorman opened the front door for them, and they sailed inside.
That was when Blair started biting her nails.
Don't do it, darling, she thought. This Anna person is attractive and, dammit, yes, she looks intelligent. And nice. But don't do it. Turn around, Jo. Come downstairs. Don't do it
Blair bit her nails to the quick. She drummed on the steering wheel. She shifted her position several times, staying hunkered down behind the dashboard, but trying to keep her legs from cramping.
She waited fifteen minutes. A half hour. An hour.
She pictured Jo's quietly happy, nervously excited face
She laid her head against the steering wheel. It was over. There was no way Jo had held out for an hour. Jo was still upstairs. And that meant That meant Jo had slept with Anna.
Well what did you expect? Blair asked herself harshly. You pushed her into dating. You know what a physical person Jo is. What a loving person. Did you think she'd only ever make love to you in her life? Did you?
She felt a single tear slide down her cheek. She brushed it away.
We had to separate. I know we did. We were in a rut. We have to, we have to find our way back to each other again. But Jo. Oh, Jo
Another tear slid down her cheek.
She laid her head against the steering wheel again and wept.
Return to The Facts of Life Fiction
Return to Main Page