May 1988: Her booted footsteps sounded loud as they echoed down the empty hallway. She paused when she got to the office she'd been looking for, the memories bringing a smile to her face. So much had happened in this place - so many things that had changed her life, created the person she was today. For a long moment she watched the woman at the desk - the woman who had been her best friend for years - frown and bite her lip in concentration as she studied the paperwork in front of her. She knocked on the doorframe; the woman at the desk jerked her head towards the sound, then the frown became a smile and she jumped up from the desk with her arms wide open.
"JO!!" Blair spun in a circle. "What do you think? I never thought I'd be back at Eastland as the head mistress."
Jo couldn't stop the smile that crossed her face, but she shoved her hands in her pockets to keep from reaching out. "Me either, princess, but for what it's worth, I think you did a good thing."
Blair preened. Jo was her best friend, but she had always been very sparing with compliments and Blair absorbed each one like a sponge. She held out her hand, but instead of accepting it, Jo turned to look around the office. Blair frowned; she didn't like the awkwardness she felt emanating from Jo. She stepped behind the desk and resumed her seat, watching as Jo prowled around the room.
Finally, Jo ended up in front of the desk and looked up at Blair from under dark lashes, causing Blair to catch her breath. "What is it, Jo?"
Jo bit her lip and looked away so Blair couldn't see the tears in her eyes. She took a deep breath and willed them away. "I decided to take Rick up on his proposal - we got married this afternoon," not mentioning the reason for the haste behind the ceremony. "We're leaving for the City shortly. I just came by to say goodbye."
Blair blinked and eventually released the breath she'd been holding. "I... I don't... I'm not...." She swallowed and shook her head to clear it. "I wish I had known, Jo. I'd have thrown you a party... or at least made time to attend the wedding," the last said with more than a little hurt in her voice.
"I'm sorry, princess. It really was a last minute decision. We stood in front of a JP - nothing special."
"That's wrong, Jo. You deserved better than that; you deserved special."
Jo shrugged. "Rick got a job at one of the studios in Manhattan and I've, um... I've been accepted into the police academy. We decided to go ahead and get it over with and make the move together. It's better this way."
Blair couldn't help it; she stood and walked around the desk to stand in front of Jo, though Jo still didn't meet her eyes. "Why, Jo? Why is it better? Why did you leave us all out of this... not allow us to celebrate with you? I thought we were friends."
That got Jo's attention focused on her all right and Blair found herself caught in a burning green gaze before Jo's head dropped. "You *are* my friends, Blair. This was just something I had to do."
"Do you love him, Joey?" Blair asked softly. Jo's head snapped up and Blair held up her hands in defense. "You're the one who had questions about it only a few weeks ago, Jo. I just want you to be happy."
"I loved him enough to marry him, Blair. It'll be all right. I gotta go," taking a step towards the door. Then she found her wrist caught in Blair's light grasp. She looked up to meet sad brown eyes.
"Could I get one more hug... for old time's sake?" knowing in her heart of hearts that this was a forever goodbye and Jo was walking out of her life for the last time,
Jo hesitated and felt Blair's pain as her own. She opened her arms and Blair stepped into them, wrapping around Jo tightly and holding on for a timeless moment. "I could have loved you, ya know," Jo whispered so softly, Blair's conscious mind didn't hear them; only in her dreams would she hear them for nights to come. She felt Jo brush the barest kiss on her hair and closed her eyes at the sensation. When she opened them, Jo was gone.
May 2001: Blair sat behind the same desk in the same office she had been sitting at some thirteen years prior. Though she and Tad had created a hotel empire in their ten years of marriage, Eastland still held a piece of her heart. And twice a year, at the beginning and the end of each term, Blair made the pilgrimage to Eastland, to meet and greet the students and to preside over graduation.
This year, however, she had another reason for being here. Natalie had called and asked for a get together... a reunion of the old gang. She'd even found Mrs. Garrett and convinced her to come back to Peekskill to join them. Only Jo was missing - Jo who had left without a backwards glance and disappeared into the city of New York. Blair knew where she was; with her resources it was easy to keep tabs on someone, especially one of New York City's finest and more decorated detectives.
But not once since Jo had left Peekskill with Rick had she been in touch with any of them - except for dropping the odd card into the mail with a generic 'the Bonner Family' when something momentous happened to one of them. It made Blair wonder why Jo had bothered to keep up with the Peekskill gang at all. She hadn't made any attempt to communicate otherwise and she hadn't accepted any contact from them, even though Blair knew they had all tried. She especially had... when she figured out exactly why Jo had been in such a hurry to marry Rick.
A knock sounded on her door and Blair looked up into the eyes of that reason, and realized that Jamie Bonner had her mother's green eyes. She smiled and motioned the girl into her office, standing and walking around the desk to meet her.
"Ms Warner?" The girl spoke, then a tall man followed right behind her and offered his hand to Blair who took it with a smile.
"Hello, Rick. And this beautiful girl must be...."
"This is my daughter, Jamie."
"Hi, Jamie," Blair said directing her smile towards the almost teenager. "It's nice to meet you."
Jamie smiled awkwardly but didn't respond otherwise. She was still a bit resentful of being sent here for this and didn't understand why her mother had insisted... especially since she refused to come herself. Jamie had heard the rather loud argument her parents had had about it. In the end her mother's argument had prevailed and Jamie and her father had come to Peekskill for a reunion of people that Rick had only known casually and Jamie had never met.
"Jo sent her regrets," Rick said when he realized Blair was looking for her. "She couldn't manage to get away from work, so she sent us in her stead."
"Well," Blair said, clearing her throat after an awkward pause. "I'm glad you two could make it. Come with me and we'll get you settled. I imagine the rest of the girls will be glad you're here as well."
Jamie did enjoy her time in Peekskill and decided her mother's friends were pretty cool for old people... not that she was going to share that information with anyone anytime soon. She still resented the hell out of her mother for not coming with them and it would be a huge factor into how things would play out in her very near future.
August 2001: Blair sat at the desk at Eastland signing the last of her divorce papers. It had been amiable enough and Tad hadn't contested any of her demands. Of course, having literally been caught with his pants down made it fairly easy for Blair to get rid of him with a minimum of fuss and cost *and* insured that he would never ask for more. He had too much to lose from that sort of exposure.
She didn't even have tears to cry anymore. She had long suspected him of cheating and having it confirmed had killed whatever feeling she'd had left. Now she was simply tired and thankful that they had decided not to have children.
When that paperwork was complete, she stuck it back in its envelope for her lawyer and focused her attention on the incoming students for the fall term at Eastland. Blair was very pleased; attendance was maxed out and the students were very bright. She was beginning to get students from parents who had been students at Eastland when she had. It was both funny and sad.
That made her thoughts turn to Jamie. Jamie had actually kept in touch with her after the reunion was over, calling almost every week; she was the reason Blair heard about Rick's unexpected death right after their trip to Peekskill. Jamie talked to Blair about things Jo should have been hearing, but didn't seem to be around for. Blair listened and only offered advice if Jamie asked for it. And everything Jamie shared with her Blair kept in the strictest confidence - even the things that disturbed her. She idly wondered if Jo might still decide to send Jamie to Eastland, remembering the first time she'd met Jo and wondering again what had happened to tear them so far apart.
Her musings were interrupted by a knock on the door and the headmistress came in at her beckon. They still had a couple things to discuss before the school year officially kicked off.
September 2001: Jamie had called her as soon as she was able and Blair had breathed a small sigh of relief in the midst of her tears. She had lost friends and employees when the towers crashed, but she was selfishly glad Jo had not been among the fatalities. It was devastating enough without having lost... who, Blair? Who exactly would you have lost if Jo had been killed? You haven't talked to the woman in thirteen years; you're not even friends anymore. You've had more conversation with her twelve-year-old daughter.
Rather than continue with the self flagellation over someone and something she had absolutely no control over, Blair focused her attention on helping where she could. There was plenty she could do and there would be for quite some time to come. Blair had always been a woman of private faith; it was time to put that faith into action.
October 2001: She put her Bible on the nightstand and closed her eyes in prayer. She seemed to need to rely on her faith more than ever these days and was quietly thankful to have what she considered to be a stable influence in her life during such troubled times. Blair reached for the light when she was done, ready to get some rest before tackling the challenges the day would bring once more. Just as her fingers touched the switch, a shrill ringing broke the silence.
Blair glanced at the clock. Who would be calling at eleven-thirty at night? Only a very few people had the number to her city penthouse. Her eyes turned to the caller-ID box and realized it was Jamie's number. Jamie hadn't called in almost a month - since right after the towers had collapsed and she'd let Blair know that she and Jo were all right. Had something happened to Jo?? Blair snatched the phone from the cradle.
Silence... followed by a soft intake of breath - almost a sniffle. Blair felt her heart race at the sound. Jamie never cried when she called... not even Rick's sudden death had garnered that reaction.
"Jamie, sweetheart? What's wrong, baby? Talk to me. Are you all right?" Blair's breathing hitched. "Is your mother...?"
"Princess?" This time Blair's breathing stopped completely. This was a voice she hadn't heard for thirteen years, four months, two weeks, five days, twelve hours, sixteen minutes and an odd number of seconds - not that she was keeping track - except in her dreams. It was a voice she had resigned herself to never hearing again. Blair reached for her robe, her hand shaking so badly she could hardly grasp it. She finally gave up and closed her eyes, hoping to gain a little control.
"Jo?" her voice so low it cracked. Blair cleared her throat and tried again a little louder. "Jo?"
"Hi, Princess." The voice was raspy and lower than it had been the last time she had heard it, but it still brought tears to Blair's eyes. She covered her mouth with a shaky hand and concentrated on breathing for a long moment. Then she took a deep breath and spoke.
Blair felt the gasp as a physical sensation, and wondered once more how she and Jo had slipped so far away from one another. Obviously the friendship and love they had known during their formative years was still very much a part of them.
"What's wrong, Joey?" Blair asked when the silence continued. "How can I help you?" knowing something must be dreadfully wrong for Jo to have contacted her directly after all this time. Blair offered her help so Jo wouldn't have to ask; she understood better than most how difficult it must have been for Jo to have initiated the call - especially since she had been the one who had cut them all off years before.
Another whole minute passed before Jo spoke again, and when she did it was so soft Blair had to sit still and concentrate to hear it. "Blair, it's Jaime."
Fear pierced Blair's heart. Despite herself, she thought of Jaime as more than Jo's daughter; she genuinely cared for Jamie as her own person... as the child she had never had.
"Jo, where are you? Are you home or at the hospital or...?"
"I'm at home now, but...."
"All right. I want you to stay put, Jo. I'll be there in half an hour." She didn't wait for Jo to respond, but hung up the phone and dialed her driver. By the time she was dressed and downstairs, he had pulled up and was waiting. She gave him Jo's address and they moved swiftly through the streets. Then she was standing on the steps of a brownstone ringing the bell.
Henry waited until the door opened and Blair turned and waved at him before he drove away. There was nowhere to leave the car here and she had instructed him to go back to the garage to wait in comfort. Blair suspected she would be here a while... if she could get inside; she still wasn't sure of her reception. So it was with relief that she was able to wave Henry away from the brownstone. Then she turned back and looked at the best friend she hadn't seen - except as the occasional sound bite or newspaper article - in more than thirteen years.
The hair was longer and straighter; the face was older, thinner than she remembered. But Blair would have recognized those green eyes anywhere. She couldn't stop the sad smile that crossed her face any more than she could keep the tears from rolling down her cheeks. There was a swirl of emotions in those eyes, but Jo dropped them before Blair could get a good read. Jo stepped back to allow Blair in to the brownstone and Blair crossed the threshold then simply opened her arms.
Jo hesitated; Blair saw her do it... felt the confusion run through Jo's body before she tentatively closed the space between them and walked into Blair's embrace. Then she held on for dear life and Blair held on just as tightly, rocking them slightly and stroking Jo's hair. After a minute, Jo pulled back, a little embarrassed.
"Um... sorry. C'mon in." Blair caught a hint of tears in Jo's eyes but decided not to push this early in their reunion. If Blair had her way, this was only the beginning of things for them again. She followed Jo over to the couch and sat at one end. "Uh... can I get you something to drink?"
Blair reached up and pulled Jo down onto the couch beside her, surprised at how little effort it took. "No, Jo. I want you to sit down and talk to me. I want to know why you walked away from everyone thirteen years ago; I want to know why you shut me out; but first I want to know what's wrong with Jamie, Jo. Why did you call me?"
Jo took a deep breath. She'd always been able to count on Blair for directness; nice to know that hadn't changed despite the time and distance between them now. Jo shifted on the couch, pulling her legs up under her and turning her face to the fire that burned low in the fireplace.
"I called you because I know Jamie has been in touch with you since she got back from Peekskill. I was hoping she might be willing to talk to you."
Blair waited but Jo didn't expound. She wanted to scream in frustration, but she sent up a prayer and felt a measure of peace come over her. Blair reached across the space separating them and grasped Jo's chin, turning it until they were gazing at one another.
"Joanna Marie Polniaczek Bonner! You're still my best friend, and I love you, but if you don't start talking, so help me God I am going to... well, I don't know what I'm going to do, but I promise it will be really big."
Jo couldn't stop the smile that crossed her face at Blair's words. Even after an eternity apart, it was good to know some things never changed. Blair scowled, though she was secretly pleased to see the smile, however fleeting a reaction it was.
"Are you laughing at me?"
"No," Jo said, shaking her head as the smile turned wistful. Blair dropped her hand from Jo's chin and took Jo's hand in hers instead. Jo looked at their linked hands and brushed her thumb over Blair's knuckles. "I never laughed at you - yank your chain, yes; laugh at you, no."
Blair smiled. That had always been true. Jo could drive her nuts - and generally did - but she had never allowed anyone else to... and that included making fun of Blair. She squeezed their linked hands. "Talk to me, Joey." She held up her free hand. "Just tell me about Jamie right now; we will talk about everything else later, I promise. But let's take care of this problem first."
Jo sighed and kept her eyes in their hands. "Jamie and I have been having problems for a long time... long before I sent her and Rick to Peekskill."
"I want to know why you did that, Jo, but we'll come back to it as well. Continue."
"The trip just made her angrier at me. Rick and I fought about it, but he finally agreed and went without me. He came home and had a massive heart attack. We didn't even have a chance to get him to the hospital before he died." She paused and wiped the tears off her cheeks. "Things escalated after that. She started staying out late when I was at work, hanging around the wrong crowd, getting into trouble. More than once she got picked up by my colleagues and I got a phone call before they booked her on criminal charges. Dammit, Blair - she's not even thirteen years old!!"
Blair shifted until she could pull Jo's head down onto her shoulder. Jo didn't resist, craving the comfort more than almost anything else in her life. She wrapped an arm around Blair's waist and felt Blair drape an arm over her shoulder and brush a kiss over the top of her head. She relaxed into the touch and focused on breathing, letting the familiarity of Blair's scent settle her.
"So what happened tonight, Jo? Why did you break thirteen years of silence to call me?"
The breath Jo took this time was shuddering as the hurt she could feel in that question washed over her. She knew she was going to have to explain everything to Blair eventually, but the discussion now was about Jamie.
"I got a call tonight from a buddy who works Vice. Jamie was caught in a prostitution ring round up. They think, and so do I, that it was probably a matter of wrong place, wrong time. BUT it doesn't change the fact that she was out and in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"Where is she now?"
"Lock-up. They didn't book her, but I'm running out of options. They're not gonna be able to keeping looking the other way; I'm hoping a night alone in lock-up will be a wake-up call for her."
"JO!!! She's a twelve year old child!!"
Jo jerked out of Blair's grasp and stood up, walking away from her and keeping her back turned when she got to the door. "I *know* she's a twelve year old child, Blair!!! I was there when she was born!!" She took a deep breath and her shoulders slumped, the anger draining out of her and her voice becoming a whisper. "I watched her grow up and become someone who hated me. I can't reach her anymore, Blair and I don't...."
Jo reached up and rubbed the back of her neck. Blair didn't move, waiting. She had a feeling they were finally getting to why Jo had called her, and she even had a sneaking suspicion what was coming next. But this time Jo was going to have to ask.
"Blair, I need your help," Jo said quietly. "I have no right to ask... not after the way I've acted - not after walking away. If it was just for me, I would never ask." She blew out a breath, hoping Blair couldn't hear the tears in her voice. "But this is for my kid, and I don't know what else to do. I don't know who else I can turn to."
"Jo, you know I'll do what I can for Jamie - I love her. But you have to know - I would do it just for you. Now what can I do?"
Jo blinked the tears from her eyes and turned around to face Blair. "Become Jamie's legal guardian and put her in Eastland."
Dead silence met her request and Jo looked up to see Blair only inches from her. Blair took Jo's hands in hers and drew them back over to the couch. Then she sat down and eased Jo's head onto her lap, settling them and waiting for Jo to relax. Jo didn't and held herself stiffly until Blair called her on it.
"Jo, relax. I'm not going to bite." Rather than explain, Jo opted to relax, using techniques she had learned during her time as a police officer. She slowed her breathing, relaxing even further when Blair began stroking her fingers through the soft, dark hair. "That's better. Now... I think we should go pick up Jamie tonight and tomorrow we'll go down to Peekskill and enroll her in Eastland." A beat. "I won't become her guardian, Jo. You're her mother and she needs you... no matter what it seems like right now. If I became her guardian, she would to see it as you abandoning her."
"You're right," Jo agreed. "I'm just... I want what's best for her, Blair, and that doesn't seem to be me."
"It will be, Jo... I promise. We'll work on it together."
Jo nodded, not trusting her voice to speak. She thought she had shut the door on all this thirteen years prior, but in asking Blair for help, she had opened the door to everything all over again. She prayed for the strength to survive it and the ability to walk away again when Jamie was taken care of. Then she pushed up from the couch, standing and giving Blair a weak smile before extending her hand.
"You're right. C'mon."
"Would you like me to call Henry?"
"Nah, I can drive. Let me grab my purse." It only took a minute and they were out the door heading for the police station.
"Hey, detective," the desk sergeant greeted Jo as she and Blair walked in the door. "Wondered if you were going to come in tonight."
"Hey, Jim. How's she doing?"
"Scared, mad, embarrassed. She's a good kid though, Jo. She's minded her p's and q's. I think she's figured out this is serious."
Jo nodded. "All right, Jim; thanks for keeping an eye on her. Have somebody bring her out, would ya? I'll take her home now."
He nodded and motioned to one of his subordinates. "It'll take a couple minutes. You and your friend want some coffee?"
Jo looked at Blair and then shook her head at Jim. Then she shoved her hands in her pockets and walked away from the desk to wait. Blair followed, taking a seat on the small bench, then tugging Jo down to sit beside her. A moment later, the clanging of iron bars alerted them and they stood up to greet Jamie as she emerged.
She couldn't hide the instant look of relief and gratitude that crossed her face when she saw her mother, but it quickly shifted to one of hatred and resentment. Then she spotted Blair and her expression changed; she smiled and walked over to her.
Jo didn't say a word, her face a stoic mask. Jamie didn't speak either, figuring greeting Blair with an enthusiasm she couldn't manage for her mother was probably not in her best interests. Blair bit her lip - this was worse than she thought.
"Would you like me to drop you at home?" Jo asked Blair when they settled into the car. Jamie opened her mouth to speak, but a look from Jo closed her lips before she could take a deep breath.
"If you've got room, I'd like to go home with the two of you. Maybe we can talk in the morning?" then she glanced at the clock. "Later in the morning," she added, seeing it was almost one-thirty.
Jo nodded and turned the car back towards her brownstone. She unlocked the door and ushered Jamie and Blair in ahead of her, then ran a hand through her hair as Jamie immediately headed for the stairs. "Can I trust that you will stay put for the night?" Jo tiredly asked in a sad, resigned tone. Blair had never seen her so defeated - even earlier.
Jamie had the decency to look contrite, but her answer was casual to the point of rude. "Yeah, whatever," continuing up the stairs.
"I don't think so, young lady," Blair said in a determined tone. "You don't speak to your mother like that. Now come back down here and show her a little respect, please."
Jaime flushed; she really liked Blair and was embarrassed to be called down by her like that because she knew Blair was right. Jaime wondered when and why things had gotten so bad with her mother. She knew her father would have been ashamed of her treatment of her mother and that upset her more than anything.
"Do you have something to say?" Blair prompted when Jamie remained silent. Jamie looked at Jo with tears in her eyes, shocked to find the same in Jo's. "I'm sorry, mom," she whispered. "I'll behave."
Jo nodded, then moved forward to hug Jamie at Blair's rather forceful encouragement. It didn't last long, but it was a start; it was the first real touch they had shared since Rick's death. Jamie looked at them both. "Could you come in and say goodnight before you go to bed?"
Jo was so amazed by the request, she could only nod and wonder at the difference having Blair in the house made for Jamie. Even Rick couldn't command as much respect as Blair did. There was just something about Blair....
Jo's attention came snapping back to the present when she felt Blair slip her hand into Jo's. Jo was almost embarrassed - Blair's skin was soft and smooth, and while Jo took care of herself, her hands were calloused from regular trips to the range. She looked into warm brown eyes that were smiling at her.
"Show me where I am sleeping, Jo. I don't know about you, but I am suddenly exhausted."
Jo nodded and locked up, then led Blair upstairs. She stopped at the first room and knocked, then opened the door and realized Jamie was already asleep. They went in anyway, Jo pulling the covers up and kissing her cheek while Blair leaned down and brushed a kiss over her head. Then they two women left as quietly as they had come.
Jo opened another door, skipping one between this one and Jamie's. This room was more masculine in design and tone but in a comfortable, relaxing way. Blair felt like she'd entered a hunting lodge without the animal heads; she liked it. She turned to Jo, who smiled weakly and gestured hesitantly.
"Be right back. I need to get you something to sleep in."
Jo left and entered what was obviously the master bedroom. Blair realized suddenly that Jo and Rick had done very, very well for themselves and determined to get that story out of her friend as well. She yawned broadly. But it would wait until they all got some sleep. Blair was fairly sure none of them were firing on all cylinders at the moment, though she was secretly glad at how well things had gone, after a fashion, all things considered.
Jo chose that moment to stumble back into the room, literally. "Sorry, princess. No silky nightgowns," she said with a smirk that got her slapped. "Ow. Don't damage the merchandise. Here," handing her a stack of clothing. "Your choice - men's pajamas, sweats, boxers and t-shirt; that's all I can offer you unless you sleep nude now."
Blair glared at Jo and took the boxers and t-shirt from the pile. "I'll get you, Polniaczek. Just you wait."
Jo's smile was bittersweet. The banter was so familiar and yet.... She cleared her throat. "You share a bathroom with Jamie and there are fresh towels and a new toothbrush for you to use. I...." She cleared her throat again. "Thank you, Blair. I'm not sure... well, anyway - thank you."
"You're welcome, Jo. I meant what I said earlier - even if I didn't love Jamie, I would do this just for you." She wrapped her arms around Jo's waist and squeezed, feeling - after a moment's hesitation - a tentative hug in return. Blair vowed silent to work on that later, but for now... "Goodnight, Jo."
"Night, Blair." Jo closed the door behind her before returning to her own room. Sheer exhaustion made sleep come faster than she expected, but when it came to Jo, it was filled with very odd dreams. Too bad all she remembered in the morning was impressions.
It was later than normal but still early when Jo got up the following morning. She checked on both Blair and Jamie, finding them both covered and sleeping soundly, before moving down to the kitchen to start some coffee. She yawned and blinked, measuring and pouring, then glaring at the coffee pot, hoping to make it work faster. Finally it was ready, and Jo sipped at it with a sense of relief.
By the time she finished her second cup, she heard movement upstairs and knew from the sound of things it was her daughter stirring around. Jo had hoped to talk to Jamie with Blair in the room, but figured she'd just have to take her chances.
Sure enough, two minutes later, Jamie walked into the kitchen and muttered good morning. Jo nodded and motioned her to the table, putting a plate down in front of her.
Jamie looked at the plate, then at the clock, then at her mother. "No school today?" knowing that meant serious trouble for her. Jo shook her head.
"No. I've decided... I'm gonna put you in Eastland. I think...." but she got no further when Jamie shot up from her seat in anger.
"You're sending me away! I always knew you didn't want me around, but...."
"WHAT?!? Jamie, what are you talking about?? That's not true!! Your dad and I talked about this before.... I just think the timing is right. You obviously need more than I can give you. Blair and I talked last night and she agreed...."
"Blair is NOT my father!"
"No, I'm not, Jamie, but your dad and I did talk about it when you were in Peekskill." That got Jo's attention, but Blair kept her focus on Jamie. "He'd brought some of your art and we went and talked to Mr. Siegel. Tom was excited about possibly having you as a student. He said you had real promise."
"Mr. Siegel... from MOMA - *that* Mr. Siegel?"
Anger melted and Blair smiled at the enthusiasm Jamie couldn't hide. "Yes, that Mr. Siegel. He's the art advisor at Eastland. He comes up and does several seminars throughout the year. His first one is next week as a matter of fact."
Jamie turned to look at Jo who had not moved from the stove since Blair had entered the kitchen. Jo felt the attention but kept her back turned. "Did you and dad really talk about me going to Eastland?" Jo nodded but didn't speak. Jamie stood stock still for a long moment simply looking at her mother. When she realized Jo was not going to turn from the stove, she moved to the doorway. "I'm sorry, mom. I seem to be saying that a lot to you lately. Maybe you're right... I'll go pack."
Jo waited until she heard steps on the stairs before she put a plate down in front of Blair, then turned back to prepare her own. A hand on her hip made her jump; Blair reached around her and took a cup from the cabinet, knowing where they were without having to ask. Jo looked at her and raised an eyebrow in question.
"Mine is arranged the same way," she confirmed, acknowledging the years spent with Edna Garrett. Blair poured her coffee and took a seat, then waited for Jo to sit down beside her before she started eating. She chewed and smiled happily. "I've missed your cooking."
Jo smirked, not believing Blair, but appreciating the compliment nonetheless. They ate in silence after that. There was a lot still between them that needed to be discussed, but first they needed to take care of Jamie; she was their priority. After that....
Blair pushed Jo out of the kitchen, volunteering to clean up so Jo could get her shower. She won her argument by reminding Jo they still had to stop at her penthouse before they could drive to Peekskill. "Besides," Blair added as she pushed Jo out of the kitchen. "I need to call Wanda and let her know Jamie is coming. She is going to kill me for springing this on her as it is." She chuckled at Jo's expression. "She will also get over it. Now, go!"
Jo knocked on Jamie's door as she went by, surprised when it opened almost immediately. "Can I help or...?"
Jamie opened the door wider and Jo walked in behind her. "How much stuff should I take?"
"You'll need to take your art supplies and enough that'll you'll be comfortable, but not so much it feels like you're moving out. This is still your home, Jamie." She smiled wryly, remembering that particular worry had never been an issue for her.
"I know." She paused. "You and Dad really did talk about this?" she asked again. "I'm not being sent away because I'm a fuck up?"
"We really did talk about it, Jamie, and you're not a fuck up. I just think you need more guidance than you're willing to accept from me right now. Besides, your dad and I wanted you to have the best we could provide, and Eastland is the best."
Jamie nodded, finally seeming to accept Jo's words for the truth. "All right. It's gonna be weird though."
"Yeah... I remember feeling the same way. But I made some wonderful friends there." As if realizing where that train of thought could lead, Jo turned back towards the door. "I need to go shower. You gonna be all right?"
Jamie nodded, and Jo walked out.
Less than half an hour later, the three of them were headed out of the brownstone and towards the penthouse. Jo had called her captain who had been very understanding about her needing the day off. She knew a little of what Jo had been going through with Jamie and until today, it hadn't interfered with work. And to tell the truth, she was glad Jo had decided to take the day; the captain figured more than anything, Jamie needed some attention and reassurance.
They didn't stay long at Blair's penthouse. One thing age had taught her was how to be beautiful quickly if she had to, and today she put that knowledge to good use. Then she overrode Jo's objections and called Henry to drive them to Peekskill.
Finally, they were off and headed out of the city, back to a place Jo had never expected to be again.
Blair watched Jo for her first reaction, anxious to know what Jo thought of the changes she'd wrought to their old alma mater. Jo focused on maintaining a stoic expression; so many memories were tied up in this place - some good, some bad, but all creating a dull ache in her chest.
"Hasn't changed much," Jo commented softly, "and yet it's completely different."
Blair nodded, feeling but not understanding Jo's withdrawal. "Bringing boys in changed a lot, but for the most part, the changes have been good ones." She waited but when Jo didn't say anything, Blair continued. "We need to go to Wanda's office first, then she'll take Jamie around to meet her teachers. I thought you might like to go around, take a look at the changes on the campus. Then we can have lunch and talk to the teachers and get Jamie settled before we head back to the city."
Jamie blinked; Jo just clenched her jaw. Blair had everything already planned and Jo couldn't even argue with any of it. It just made her feel a little more out of control. And the one thing she couldn't afford around Blair was any loss of control.
The car pulled up in front of the administration building and Henry opened the door, helping Jamie first as she started to climb out on her own. Blair looked at Jo in concern. "You all right?"
Jo nodded tightly. "Yeah," looking out the window. "Just a little overwhelmed, I think."
Blair let her gaze linger a moment longer then accepted Jo's answer. "All right. Let's go talk to Wanda and get Jamie settled in. At least we don't have to worry about her parking her motorcycle in anyone's flower bed."
That got her the smile she was looking for and Blair was grinning from ear to ear when she stepped from the limousine.
Wanda was exceedingly gracious, especially as she had personally been scrambling to get the details taken care of since Blair's phone call two hours earlier. But she had managed and welcomed them into her office with a marked sense of victory. The only thing she hadn't done was pick up Jamie's uniform as she'd had no idea what size to get. Otherwise, however, everything was set, including a dorm room with roommates as she'd been instructed.
Jaime seemed excited, if a little shy about being at Eastland, and Wanda's welcome made her glad she had come. Jo got the distinct impression that Wanda was unaware of the circumstances that had brought them to Eastland in the middle of a term, merely assuming that Jo was an old alum and friend of Blair's that wanted her daughter to attend her school.
"If you ladies will excuse us," Wanda said after introductions were made and she had laid out Jamie's schedule for them. "I would like to take Jamie around to meet her teachers and introduce her to her classmates. Perhaps we could meet back her around twelve-thirty for lunch?"
Jo didn't answer; Blair nodded and took Jo's hand, leading her out the door. Jo remained quiet as she donned her jacket and helped Blair with hers. Then she waited for Blair to take the lead; she had the feeling Blair already had an itinerary in mind for them. Jo only flinched slightly when Blair tucked a handing into the crook of her elbow and together they walked out into the crisp October air.
They were silent as they walked... for different reasons. Blair because she was busy enjoying the walk around the campus with Jo; Jo because she was trying to keep her mind focused on anything but where she was and who she was with. Once in a while, Blair would point out something new or a change that had been made and Jo would nod. But otherwise it was completely quiet.
They walked over to the first house they had shared as sixteen year old roommates, Blair chuckling softly as she remembered the motorcycle parked on the flowers. One glance in the direction she was looking in clued Jo in to where her memories were taking her, and she gave Blair a wry smile and shrugged.
From there they wandered over to what had been Edna's Edibles and into the once small town of Peekskill itself. That had changed a lot; Peekskill was a small city now and as they wandered around, Jo found most of it unrecognizable.
Shortly after noon, Blair took her cell phone from her purse and called Henry. She figured they had walked enough for now and Jo didn't seem too comfortable. Blair really hoped that when Jamie was settled, Jo would open up and talk to her. Regardless of why, Blair was thrilled Jo was back in her life once more. She just wanted to understand why she had left.
Lunch was actually a fun affair and for the first time Jo seemed to relax. Mostly it seemed to be in response to Jamie's obvious enthusiasm about being at Eastland. When the meal was over, Wanda led them over to the housing area and showed them into Jamie's room. It took Jo back in time and she was glad when the housemother Mrs. Morgan came in to be introduced.
"We'll be having our first parent-teacher meeting just before Thanksgiving." Wanda said as they made their way back to her office. "That will be a good time for you to meet Jamie's teachers and even though it will be abbreviated, it will also give us an idea of where she is academically... though her records up til this last year seem excellent."
"I'll do better, Mrs. Tipton. I want to stay here."
This statement from Jamie was so surprising to Jo that she simply stopped walking and looked at her daughter for a very long moment. Blair turned when she realized Jo was not beside her, but Jamie was quicker. She ran back to Jo's side and put her arms around her mother's waist. There was no hesitation this time and Jo wondered at the difference a few hours and a change of venue could make.
"I'm sorry I was being such an asshole. Thank you for doing this for me anyway."
Jo smiled and hugged Jamie to her briefly. "You're my kid, and I love you. I only want what's best for you. It may be tough, though... especially at first."
"I know. That's okay - I come from tough stock. Besides, if you can do it, *I* can do it."
Jo looked up and met Blair's eyes. "Well," she told Jamie softly, "if you get real lucky you'll find a friend or two to make it easier. Now c'mon. We need to go get your uniforms so you can get settled in. Besides, we've got to get back to the city soon. I've taken enough of Blair's time and I do have to go to work tomorrow."
"You'll be careful, right?" Another surprise. Jamie hadn't shown concern for her welfare since Rick's death. Obviously this had been a good decision for both of them. Already Jo felt better.
"Yeah." And they headed into Peekskill once more to outfit Jamie with uniforms.
Their leave taking wasn't a long, drawn-out affair; Jamie was too excited and a little nervous. Jo on the other hand was antsy. She knew once they left Eastland, Jamie would be settled for a while and though Blair might not push for answers tonight, she was going to want them soon. Grown woman or not, patience had never been something Blair was good at.
Jamie walked them out, hugging Blair for a long moment and exchanging a few whispered words with her. Blair then turned and climbed into the car to wait for Jo, but her goodbye took even less time. She and Jamie had already said the important stuff, and for now that was sufficient. Jamie waved and watched them out of sight, and then the limousine was out the gates and headed back to the bright lights of New York City.
The ride was quiet for the first few minutes, each of them lost in their own thoughts. It had been a good day and much more successful than either of them had imagined it would be. For the first time since before Rick's death, Jo had a sense of peace about Jamie and their relationship despite the fact that it had brought Blair back into her life. Blair was just happy Jo had called her and that she had been able to step in and help two people she cared about very much.
As the traffic became heavier and the lights of Manhattan grew closer, Blair finally turned to Jo and spoke. "You're not going to just try to disappear out of my life again, are you?" In fact, Jo had been contemplating that very idea, but didn't see the need to share. So she kept her eyes on the cityscape out the window and shook her head. She couldn't lie to Blair if she was looking at her. "Good answer," Blair said firmly. "Because I wouldn't let you get away with it this time."
That got Jo's attention and she jerked around to face Blair. Blair shrugged. "I've known where you were since you left Peekskill, Jo. I just never contacted you. I figured when you were ready, you would get in touch with me. And even though it took a crisis, I'm really glad it was me you came to when you needed help."
"I wish...." Jo broke off her whisper and shook her head, gazing out the window once more.
"What do you wish, Jo?"
"I wish I had done things differently."
"So do I," Blair said honestly. "And one day very soon we are going to sit down and talk through all this... but not tonight. We are both too tired, and I don't know about you, but I am starving."
Jo shook her head. "No, not really. I think everything in the past twenty-four hours or so has sorta settled in my stomach. It feels like a rock is sitting in there."
Blair reached over and put a hand on Jo's belly, feeling the muscles beneath her touch twitch and jump in response. She pushed the button on the intercom. "Change of plans, Henry. Take us directly to Mrs. Bonner's brownstone." She clicked it off. "We need to get you tucked into bed," to Jo.
Jo bit her lip to keep from saying something she would regret later, whether it was harsh or provocative. She was convinced that Blair really had no idea what she was doing to her and that she hadn't heard those whispered words so long ago. In a way it was a relief and in others it was sheer torture. For now Jo just made up her mind to endure.
They pulled up in front of the brownstone and Blair gave Henry some instructions before accompanying Jo up the steps. Jo tried to assure Blair that she would be all right alone, but Blair wouldn't even listen, and Jo was again reminded of their youth. As soon as they were inside, Blair took charge and Jo was left wondering how she'd lost control of everything... including her home.
Blair sent Jo upstairs to shower and change while she went into the kitchen to fix some chicken soup and hot tea. Jo was halfway down the stairs when Blair came out of the kitchen and sent her back up with a severe look and an admonishment. Jo decided to go with it in the hopes she might get a reprieve soon and climbed into bed.
Very shortly, she heard Blair's steps on the stairs and a gentle knock before the door opened. Blair didn't hesitate, but crossed the floor and draped the tray over Jo's lap, checking her head for fever before pulling away.
"I'm going to head out now, but I want you to finish everything and go straight to bed. No getting out of bed. And call me if you need anything. Please, Jo."
"I will, princess. I promise. I'm not sick, really; just a little...."
"I know, but I feel better now, all right?" She leaned in and brushed a kiss over Jo's forehead. "Call me tomorrow anyway and let me know you're okay. Humor me," she added before Jo could protest cupping her face. "I just got you back in my life. I don't want you disappearing again."
Jo took the hand from her face and squeezed the fingers gently in her strong grip. "I promise, princess. I will call you tomorrow. But I really am fine. Thank you for taking care of me... and for today. I'm not sure... well, anyway... thanks. You'll never now what it means to me...."
"I already do, Joey, because I know what it meant when you called me." She squeezed the hand she held and released it. "Goodnight, Jo."
"Blair, wait." Jo reached into the nightstand and drew out a set of keys, removing one and extending it to Blair. "If you really want me to keep my promise, I need you to lock up when you leave. Otherwise, I need to see you out."
Blair accepted the key, knowing it meant she would see Jo again. She was still half-afraid this was just a passing interlude - a dream she would wake up from tomorrow without Jo in her life again. And even if she never got explanations from Jo about why she left in the past, she wanted to keep Jo in her life in the present. She pointed the key in Jo's direction and put a haughty expression on her face.
"Straight to bed, Polniaczek!"
Jo listened as Blair walked downstairs and across the floor, closing the door and locking it behind her. Then there was only silence and too much space to think in. It was going to be a very long night.
Blair arrived home shortly thereafter, dinner already on the table. Henry was excellent about taking care of details like that. She sat down and said a short blessing then ate almost absently as she reviewed the last twenty-four hours. If someone had told her at dinner yesterday how her life would change because of a phone call a few hours later, she would have laughed them out of the room. As it was, she would spend a little more time counting her blessings this evening.
Jo was glad to get back to work the following morning. The house was silent in a way it never had been before and it was a little unnerving. At least there was always noise at work, even when she was just doing paperwork, and generally there was more significant work to do. One thing she had learned as a police officer was constant in the universe - man's inhumanity to man. It made Blair's ready acceptance and forgiveness of her all that more astounding.
She'd called as promised, but Blair had still been asleep, so Jo had simply left a message. Then she had gone to work, heading out into the gruesomeness of homicide before she could even get her first cup of coffee. Not a good omen for the remainder of the day.
It was late when Jo got home, finding two messages on her machine - one from Jamie, the other from Blair. Jamie was just assuring Jo that everything was all right and letting her know their regular call day would be on Saturday after cleaning chores were done. Jo smiled - whatever else, she had done right by Jamie when she enrolled her in Eastland.
Blair was just returning her call from earlier... checking in as Blaire referred to it as. Jo smiled and debated, then picked up the phone. It rang once before Blair picked it up.
"Hey, princess. I just called to say goodnight."
"Are you just now getting home? Have you had anything to eat yet?"
"Yeah, I am and no."
"But you're going to, right? Jo, you can't not eat," Blair continued before Jo had a chance to answer. "You'll make yourself sick doing that."
Jo chuckled. It was like old times, only these memories didn't bring a pang to her chest. Maybe she was beyond the reason that she had walked away? She shook her head - she tried to never lie to herself or Jamie. And she honestly didn't believe she would ever stop.... Jo let that thought trail off; there was nothing productive in it and she knew the truth without thinking it or saying it aloud.
"Don't make me have to come over there, Polniaczek!!" Blair's voice brought her back to the present.
"Chill, princess - before you hurt yourself or others. I'll eat before I crash... promise," Jo added before Blair could insist. She paused and cleared her throat. "It's late, Blair. I need to let you go so we can both get some sleep before daylight comes."
"All right, Jo. Thank you for calling me. Try to take it easy, will you? I worry about you being out on the streets. I always have."
"I will, princess. Goodnight."
Several weeks passed and Jo and Blair stayed in regular touch, slowly slipping back into the easy rhythm that had always marked their friendship. Blair was no closer to learning why Jo had walked away all those years ago, but she was enjoying their renewed friendship so much she didn't mind too much, though it was always in the back of her mind. Jo was just happy Blair was not pushing her for answers. She knew sharing those reasons with Blair would change completely the dynamic of everything about their relationship and despite the heartache involved with having Blair back in her life, Jo wanted their friendship to remain as it was for as long as possible. The truth would likely kill the friendship.
November 2001: That Friday was insane and in Jo's line of work, that meant nothing good. She was glad to see the end of it and accepted the invitation of partner and colleagues for drinks when they were finally able to leave work behind them for the day. She wasn't drunk, but she did have a nice buzz going when she walked up the steps of the brownstone... probably why it took her a minute to realize Blair was waiting there for her. A frown crossed her face before it morphed into concern.
"Blair? Somethin' wrong?"
An angry expression settled on Blair's face and she managed to stomp down the stairs without making a sound. "You're drunk!" she accused.
"No, I'm not!" Jo replied indignantly. "I'm just a little relaxed is all." She frowned again. "Is everything all right? Why are you here? Why didn't you at least wait inside? You've got a key."
Blair blinked, her anger dissolved. She had been so worried when Jo hadn't answered her phone that she'd come over to check. Blair actually had gone inside, but she felt odd about waiting in Jo's home, especially since Jo hadn't extended that sort of freedom to her. She looked up when Jo's hands cupped her face, her expression a study in confusion. She took Jo's hands in hers and squeezed them lightly before releasing them.
"I'm sorry, Jo. I was just worried and I overreacted. I need to go."
Alcohol blunted reflexes allowed Blair to escape down the steps and into her waiting car before Jo could react to stop her. She watched the car's taillight disappear in the darkness, then shook her head and went into her home. She made a mental note to call Blair later. First she needed a little sleep to clear the fuzziness out of her brain.
Jo tried calling Blair throughout the day Saturday, but there was no answer. Finally, after her cleaning was done, she spoke to Jamie and made arrangements to be at Eastland a week from the following Wednesday for her meeting with Jamie's teachers. Then Jo decided to go see Blair. She thought maybe embarrassment about the previous night might have been keeping her from answering the phone and as hesitant as Jo was to open up to Blair, she didn't want Blair to feel badly about being concerned. Secretly she appreciated it, but Jo decided to be fair to Blair she would have to share at least a little of what her job was like. At least then Blair could make an honest choice about whether she really wanted to remain a part of Jo's life. Knowing and understanding were two different things.
It was late afternoon and Jo drove across town to Blair's penthouse. A flash of her badge got her inside and a buzz on the intercom got her into the private elevator. Jo drummed her fingers nervously against her legs as the elevator rose, then she was stepping out into Blair's home. Blair was waiting for her, an expectant expression on her face.
"Jo? Is everything all right?" both of them feeling a distinct sense of déjà vu.
"I didn't like the way you left yesterday."
Anger flared in brown eyes before Blair closed them briefly and offered up a brief prayer. When she opened them, Jo saw peace. And here was the largest obstacle between them. Though Jo felt the guilt of her feelings for Blair because of her Catholic upbringing, Blair had a personal faith that would never allow her to accept those feelings even with guilt.
"Please, come in, Jo. Can I get you something?"
"I thought maybe we could go get dinner somewhere? Maybe talk for a little while? I...."
"How about if I have something delivered? I'd like a little privacy to talk to you in and even being interrupted by wait staff is more interruption than I am willing to put up with tonight."
A feeling of dread settled into the pit of Jo's stomach, but she nodded her agreement. At least if things blew to hell tonight, Jo would know not to ask Blair about sharing Thanksgiving with her and Jamie at Eastland the following week.
Blair took her coat and hung it up before bringing back a handful of menus. "You have a preference?"
"Italian?" thinking Blair would order pizza. Jo should have known better.
"Do you trust me?"
"Always." A simple answer that meant so much and it brought a smile to Blair's face. "Can I get you something to drink?" she asked, picking up the phone.
"Whatever you're having," Jo said, clenching her hands together nervously. Blair nodded and headed into the kitchen, making her call and grabbing two bottles of water out of the fridge on her way back to the living room. Jo accepted a bottle with a small smile and shifted until she was comfortably ensconced in one corner of the couch. Blair took the other corner and they faced one another.
"I talked to Jamie today," Blair said when the silence threatened to become uncomfortable. "She asked if I was going to come up for Thanksgiving." She shrugged. "I told her I'd talk to you first. I don't want to insinuate myself into a family holiday."
"You wouldn't be insinuating yourself, princess. You are family. And I really don't like to think of you here alone for Thanksgiving," knowing Blair's parents had died in a plane crash three years earlier. And since Tad was no longer in Blair's life....
"But do you *want* me there, Jo?"
Jo scowled. "What kind of question is that, Blair?"
"An honest one, Jo. You walked away for a reason and you're still keeping your distance - you're holding yourself back. I can feel it." A buzz from the lobby interrupted the conversation and Blair would have cursed if she did that sort of thing. Instead she rose from the couch. "Excuse me; be right back," she muttered and stepped into the elevator. Jo closed her eyes, thankful for the brief reprieve.
It only took moments for Blair to return, loaded with enough food to feed a small army. Jo jumped up from her place to help, taking bags and following Blair into the kitchen. Soon they were seated at the table. Blair closed her eyes and offered grace and then they began to eat, but the silence was awkward with things still left unsaid.
Halfway through, Jo pushed her plate away from her and picked up her wine glass. She spared a moment's thankfulness that Blair's faith allowed her to partake of the fruit of the vine. She hoped it would give her a little courage.
Jo looked at Blair, who had resorted to pushing her food around her plate. She reached across the table, covering Blair's hand and waiting for those brown eyes to meet hers. Then she stood and tugged Blair to her feet. "C'mon, princess. Sooner we get this done, the better."
Blair wondered at Jo's sudden willingness to talk, but kept their hands linked and followed Jo willingly back to the couch. She allowed Jo to seat her but when Jo tried to separate their hands and move away, Blair shook her head and held on.
"No, Jo. No more running. Talk to me."
Instead of sitting next to Blair, Jo sat down on the expensive cocktail table across from her, keeping their hands linked. Then she took a deep breath and started to speak.
"I didn't mean to chase you off yesterday. I just... sometimes my job is ugly and I go out with the guys for a little while to unwind. It keeps me from bringing it home; it always has. Rick didn't always like it but he did understand... especially after being witness to a particularly gruesome scene." Jo shrugged. "I think he was glad I didn't bring it home after that."
A frown creased Blair's forehead and she looked down at their still joined hands. It was now or never. "Jo, you didn't... at least not for...." She blew out a breath. "I worry about you - I always have; it's just worse now that you're actually a part of my life again." Blair smiled weakly and closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them she looked up at Jo with tears in them.
"Tell me why you left me, Joey. I think I deserve to know."
Jo looked at their linked hands and rubbed her thumb over Blair's knuckles one more time before releasing her grip and standing. Blair was reluctant to let go, but she saw the need in Jo's eyes and did so, watching Jo walk around and taking her coat from the closet. But instead of leaving immediately, Jo laid it on the table near the open elevator door and came back around to sit on the table facing Blair once more.
"It's that bad?" Blair asked, referring to Jo's need to leave quickly.
Jo nodded and kept her eyes down. "I think you'll think so, yeah."
Blair reached down and lifted Jo's chin so their eyes could meet. "Nothing could change the way I feel about you, Jo. You're my best friend, and I love having you back in my life again. I'm not giving that up for anything."
"I wish that was true, princess. But the truth is that I not only could have loved you... I did love you - still do actually. I just have a little better tolerance for pain these days, I guess. But I had to walk away then. It hurt too much being so close and knowing it wasn't possible... would never be possible."
Blair swallowed and blinked at the implications, but she never lost eye contact with Jo as she processed her words. "You don't just mean that you feel love for me as a friend, do you, Jo? You're talking about being in love with me, aren't you?"
Jo stood and walked to the window, looking out unseeing at the city vista that surrounded them. Blair let her go, waiting patiently; Jo took a deep breath, then sighed in defeat before speaking again, a little more softly. "I'm sorry, princess - not for the love I feel for you. I couldn't help it really; I mean it wasn't planned or anything - it just sorta happened. But I am sorry about all this. I know what your faith means to you, Blair. I've felt guilt for falling in love with my best friend who happens to be a woman - just because I was raised Catholic, and I never wanted you to suffer a crisis of that faith because you felt the same - or worse... feel guilt over or anger at me because you didn't. I figured walking away was the best option for everyone. You could remain ignorant of the truth and at least then I could pretend that nothing had changed - that we were still best friends. I would have stayed away if it hadn't been for Jamie... just to spare us both this now."
Blair didn't respond and Jo turned back from the window to see the most enigmatic expression on Blair's face - not quite anger, not quite disbelief and several somethings she wasn't sure of.
"Don't get me wrong, princess... I loved Rick. I was just never *in love* with him and he knew that. He never asked who held that place in my heart, but I think he suspected if he didn't actually know. Still, he was a good husband and father and we had a long, mostly successful marriage."
"Were you happy together, Jo?" Blair spoke for the first time, her voice hoarse and introspective.
Jo looked up in surprise; it wasn't the reaction she had been anticipating. She nodded. "Yeah - we worked at our marriage, but we were always friends and we never lost that." Blair nodded her acceptance of the words, but she never met Jo's eyes. Jo let her shoulders slump in defeat; although Blair hadn't gotten angry and thrown her out, the silence and other lack of reaction told a story all its own. Jo studiously avoided touching Blair, walking around the far in of the couch to pick up her jacket.
She slipped the jacket over her arms as she stepped into the elevator. She turned to look around the penthouse one last time, her eyes finally focusing on the woman who had been part of her heart for more than twenty years. "Goodbye, Blair," Jo whispered as she pushed the button. "I'm sorry," said as the doors closed, hoping Blair understood Jo was not sorry for loving Blair - only sorry for the pain and confusion that love was now causing.
Blair heard the doors close, and that sound prompted her to move. A word to the security people in the lobby caused the elevator to shut down, and after thirty seconds or so, it restarted, heading back up to the penthouse. Blair stood in front of the doors with her arms crossed over her chest and a fierce, angry smile on her face.
Jo had her head down and her eyes closed when the door opened, and she refused to look up or move even when the motion of the elevator had ceased. She should have guessed that Blair wouldn't allow her to leave without a fight. One thing they had always excelled at was arguing.
Blair took in the lines of defeat that shrouded Jo's body, and while her anger did not dissipate, it did mellow into something a little less furious. When she made no effort to move, Blair dropped her arms and stepped forward, grabbing Jo by the jacket sleeve and pulling her off the elevator. This time, Blair locked the car in place and put the key in her pocket. She didn't want Jo to run away again, and she certainly didn't want interruptions.
Jo threw herself into the single chair that sat at an angle to the fireplace. It also gave her a decent view out the floor to ceiling windows, which would keep her attention off the woman now standing inches from her knees with her hand extended.
"Give me your coat, Jo. You're going to be here for a while, and I'm not going to have you catching pneumonia or worse on my account."
Jo looked up to judge the seriousness of Blair's words, then complied without argument. But she was careful not to touch Blair in any way; she was completely exhausted from the soul baring she'd already done. She wasn't about to suffer more if she could avoid it.
Blair accepted the heavy leather, the scent that wafted from her making her smile involuntarily. It reminded her of so many good times she and Jo had shared. No matter what happened between them now, she would always have those memories - only now there was an added dimension to them because Blair understood that behind everything, there had always been Jo's love for her.
She thought about that as she slowly re-hung the coat in the closet. Did that change how she felt? Maybe... but that didn't mean the change was going to be bad. She did love Jo - nothing was going to change *that*. The real question now was *how* did she love Jo.
Blair turned her attention to the still figure in the chair, gazing pensively into the flames of the fire. She couldn't see Jo's eyes, but the tension and discomfort were an easy read in the taut lines of Jo's body, like a condemned man on his way to the gallows. Blair walked back into the kitchen and grabbed their wine glasses and the remaining wine, then she moved over to sit in the corner of the couch closest to Jo. She poured two healthy portions of wine putting one in front of Jo and taking a large gulp of her own before setting it on the table.
"Jo, how long have you known about this? How long have you felt this way?"
Jo let her eyes slide over Blair's figure, half hidden in the firelight. Then she returned her focus to the fire. She shrugged diffidently, though her whisper told a different story. "Forever?" she said softly. "I don't know exactly. It was so gradual, I just woke up one day and there it was."
"But it's been a while, yes? Since sometime in college?"
"That was when I finally accepted it, yeah... but I think I started falling in love with you before we graduated from Eastland."
Blair blinked, wanting to press for details, but needing to make a point. She cleared her throat. "All right... but you've known how you felt for years - had some time to come to terms with those feelings. You don't get to come in here and announce that to me and then just leave. I think I deserve more than thirty seconds to consider the implications of what you said to me."
"No, Jo," cutting off her defense. "You said goodbye. You were running away from me again," Blair's anger becoming evident once more. "You don't get to do that. You don't get to keep making these life-altering decisions for me and then just walking away without giving me a chance to make my own choice."
It was silent for a time, save the odd popping and snicking of the fire. "But what about God?"
Blair turned at the question, facing Jo whose attention was still on the fire. "What about God, Jo?"
Now Jo finally looked at Blair and Blair could see for the first time the pain and confusion Jo had been struggling with for her entire adult life. "Blair," Jo said, unwilling to use the more personal address of 'princess' until she knew the new rules of engagement. "I know what my religion says about gays and lesbians; I know the condemnation I face simply for loving you without ever having acted on those feelings. Are you telling me yours is different?" the last asked so hoarsely her voice cracked.
This time Blair moved to kneel at Jo's feet, intent on making Jo focus on her and not the mesmerizing flames. She reached out and took Jo's hands in her own, ignoring the flinch at her touch to wrap her fingers around Jo's cold ones.
"Jo, my relationship with God is based on my personal faith and belief in Him, not the mandates of a bunch of men who need to be in control of others by the use of manipulation and extortion. If religion were right, we would all be going to hell - condemned by someone else's beliefs. I don't accept that, and I have never accepted that God condemns people for loving someone else - no matter who it is."
Jo stared into Blair's brown eyes, gauging her sincerity and willing Blair to make her believe. Blair held her eyes, not wanting any more misunderstandings.
"Jo, I'll be honest with you - I need a little time to consider this development. I never thought...." She bit her lip. "At least not consciously," she added truthfully. "Can you give me the time to do that - without running away again? I don't want you to disappear out of my life again, Jo, and I don't want you to be miserable anymore. You've lived with this for a long time, but I need some time. Can you stick with me - give me a chance?"
Jo cleared her throat. "I'm not sure I have a choice, princess," she said wryly. "I let you back into my life. If you decide you still want me here, I'm not sure I'd have the strength to walk away from you again. I just... I never wanted to put you into this position. Hell, who am I kidding?" she adding, looking away to hide the tears in her eyes. "I never wanted to put *me* into this position."
"But what if it makes us both deliriously happy?"
"And what if it doesn't? What if you decide you don't love me... that you can't love me that way? Then what, Blair? No matter what, this is going to change us. Even if you decide not to... and we are able to remain friends, this will always be between us."
"You're so sure I'm not going to choose you, aren't you? Jo, I already love you... I think I always have - even when you were driving me nuts. And you'll always be my best friend - I never gave that up... even when you weren't in my life. Will this change us? Yes, that's what life's about, Jo. But it's up to us to determine what those changes are." She paused. "Give me a chance?"
Jo looked at their hands then back at Blair with aching openness. "Do I have one?"
Blair smiled gently. "A chance? Honey, the odds are in your favor." Jo blew out a soft breath and closed her eyes, unable to keep a single tear from rolling down her face. Blair caught it on her thumb and let her hand cup Jo's face, holding it there until Jo slowly blinked green eyes open. "Have a little faith in us, Jo... I do."
Jo didn't speak, but she gave Blair a small smile. She was too drained to offer anything more.
Blair gazed at her compassionately, then removed her hand from Jo's cheek. She stood and extended the hand to her instead. "Come on. You look exhausted."
"Where are we going?"
"I'm going to take you to my guest room and tuck you in for the night. We can worry about the rest tomorrow."
Jo didn't even thing about it - she was too tired to argue. She nodded her agreement and followed Blair down the hall to a well-appointed, but very feminine guest room. "Let me go get you something to change into. The bathroom is right through that door; just make yourself at home. I'll be right back."
When she left the room, Blair took a moment to collect herself. She closed her eyes and breathed a prayer, her emotions a jumble of confusion and wonder. Then she walked more calmly to her room to collect some clothing for Jo to wear. She knocked on the door when she returned, but hearing no answer knocked again as she slowly pushed it open.
"Jo?" said softly, sticking her head around the door and smiling when she saw Jo spread across the bed, a pillow curled under her head sound asleep. Blair placed the clothing she'd brought on the chair near the door and crossed the room. She looked down on the face of the woman she had known more than half her life, reminded again of the years they had spent together.
Her attention was caught by the reflection of the gold shield that rested on the small bedside table. Blair reached over and picked it up reverently, realizing there was a lot about Jo she had yet to understand - a lot she had to share with Jo about herself. Blair smiled to herself this time - she was looking forward to it.
Blair put the shield back on the table and crossed over to the closet to pull out a blanket. Then she walked back over to the bed and covered Jo carefully. She brushed a kiss over the dark hair and without a sound turned of the light and left the room, closing the door behind her.
Jo was gone in the morning when Blair got up, the blanket folded neatly and a note left on top of it.
Dear Blair, (it read)
It's 2:30 and I just got called in to work. That never means anything good in my business, but I have to go anyway. I'll call you later if it's not too late. We still have a lot to talk about. Thanks for the bed... and the blanket.
Blair smiled secretly to herself and tucked the note away. Then she went to get ready for church.
They spoke briefly by phone a few times during the next ten days. 'The holiday rush' as Jo called it had hit the city early and she was swamped. They just managed to make arrangements to travel to Eastland together on the following Wednesday afternoon, and Jo only escaped work on time to leave because she had scheduled the time off with her captain.
Blair didn't spend her time simply waiting. She attended to her regular work, wrapping things up to be gone for the holiday weekend; she had also spent a great deal of time in thought and prayer. And she was waiting to talk to Jo again when they could finally find a bit of uninterrupted time alone together to sit and talk. For now though, she was simply waiting for Jo so they could leave for Eastland together. Then a low rumbling caught her attention and Blair closed her eyes.
She wouldn't. A call came from security. Oh yes, she most certainly would. She couldn't stop the wistful smile that crossed her face just before the elevator door slid apart and a memory stepped from its hold... only this memory was a grown woman who wore leather.
Jo looked up at Blair shyly through dark lashes, a hint of mischief in the glinting green. "You ready?"
The smile turned to shock at the question. "You have got to be kidding me! Jo, are you out of your mind?? You were honestly thinking of riding that... that... monstrosity... to Eastland... in this weather?? Whatever happened to putting it away for the winter? Is it even safe??"
Jo chuckled, unable to hold the laughter back any longer. Blair slapped her without even fully understanding the reason why. That just made Jo laugh harder.
"Princess, you haven't even seen the monstrosity, as you call it; it's perfectly safe."
"And it will sit perfectly safe in the garage while Henry drives us to Eastland. Let's go. I'll call him on the way down." Blair pushed Jo back into the elevator and followed her, glaring when Jo stuck her hand between the doors and prevented them from closing.
"Were you planning to bring a bag with you, princess, or you gonna wear the same outfit for the next few days?" The question earned her a glare, a slap and a growl. Jo smiled smugly. She had missed this between them; now her weekend suddenly looked promising. "Where is it, princess? I'll go get it."
Blair motioned with a jerk of her head, even as she spoke to Henry. Jo chuckled again, crossing the threshold to pick up Blair's bag. By the time she stepped back into the elevator, Jo had her chuckling under control and Blair was off the phone. Henry was waiting out front by the time they reached the lobby, and Blair got her first look at Jo's bike. She looked at it, then at a smirking Jo, then at the bike once more before shaking her head and climbing into the limousine.
Jo handed Blair's case to Henry, then sat down on the motorcycle that, aside from Jamie, was her pride and joy. She and Rick had splurged and gotten motorcycles as soon as they could afford them. They spent numerous weekends riding the countryside together when they could; it was one hobby they both loved and enjoyed sharing together. And it had given Jo something to tinker on when she needed stress relief from her work. She started the engine and revved the motor, counting the seconds before Blair's head popped back out the open door.
She got to 'two-miss' when blonde hair and outraged brown eyes reappeared. "I have to drive it into the garage," was her only comment, but she could see reluctant agreement and well-hidden worry in Blair's expression. Carefully, Jo edged around the car and down into the parking area that normally held the much larger car. Then she walked back up to the waiting car, chiding Henry for waiting out in the weather for her. Then she was snuggly settled into the seat, and the car pulled into traffic, headed to Eastland.
Blair glared; Jo chuckled. "That was mean."
"No, it was funny. Besides, I never made you ride; I certainly wouldn't choose your first time to be in the ice and snow. I just like yanking your chain. You respond so well."
"You know, I oughta...."
"What? Whatcha gonna do, princess?" Jo wondered at the sudden return of their banter; it was so much like the old days and yet.... She wondered if they had both been holding back because of the secret between them. Whatever the reason, she was going to enjoy the byplay between them for as long as it lasted. She had sorely missed it.
"Careful there, Polniaczek. I'll think of something, and when I do...."
"Let me know before you start thinking, Warner. I wanna buckle up my seatbelt."
"I've been doing a lot of thinking, lately. If you haven't felt it by now, I doubt it will start bothering you any time soon." She hadn't meant to bring this up now... here... but Blair's words turned the conversation a little more serious; they both felt the shift in the atmosphere. Jo cleared her throat.
"Have they been good thoughts?"
"Yes, they have. They have made me very happy."
"Care to share?"
Blair held out her hand and Jo took it, crawling across the small space separating them until they were sitting side by side on the same seat. "I know that I love you; I know that I want you in my life and I know that I am never happier or more complete than I am when we are together. I know that I am at peace with my faith and with God, and no matter what, He is going to love me... love us both. There is no condemnation in love, Jo - I won't believe there is."
Jo waited, suspecting there was more. She was right.
"I love you because of who you are, Jo, and what you mean to me... what you have always meant. The fact that we are women never entered into the equation for me. I just never realized we could be together... as a couple, I mean. I wasn't raised that way and I've never been attracted to any other woman - just you - so I never even considered it as a possibility between us. I just figured it was because we were always together... best friends... but it didn't change how I felt about you when you left. I wish I had known though - I'd never have let you walk away from me."
Jo's eyes widened. Blair watched the emotions chase across Jo's face as she digested the world of possibilities suddenly open to her at Blair's words. "Princess? Does that mean...? Are you saying...?"
Blair smiled. Very rarely did she ever managed to turn the tables on Jo and have her completely off-balance like she was right now. But this was too important to both of them to play games. She lifted one shaking hand to Jo's face, gently tracing the planes that had become sharper with age. Jo closer her eyes and absorbed the sensations Blair's touch was causing to cascade through her body.
"Jo?" Blair's voice was soft, willing Jo to open her eyes, then gasping when desire darkened green orbs met her almost black ones. She traced well-shaped lips, watching Jo's nostrils flare in response and feeling her body tremble. "I'm saying that I want to get to know the woman who holds my heart, Jo. I remember the girl she was, but I want to know what makes the woman smile, what makes her cry, what scares her or hurts her and what makes her stronger. I want to comfort her when she is sad, laugh with her when she is happy, and love her for as long as she'll let me."
There, in plain-spoken, simple words, Blair laid her heart bare for Jo to see. And Jo found it beautiful to look upon. She released Blair's hands and leaned forward, kissing Blair on the forehead and sliding her arms around Blair in a full body hug; then grinning when Blair snuggled into her and reciprocated with a firm embrace.
"This isn't gonna be easy, princess." Jo broke the silence with a quiet, painful observation. "We are very different people - not just from who we were as kids, but also from each other. And that's without having to worry about Jamie and the rest of the world."
Blair twisted to look up into Jo's face. "Do you want this, Jo? Are you willing to work to make it happen?"
"More than anything, I want this, Blair. I want a life with you. And I am willing to work at it... for as long as it takes."
"Then we'll take things slowly, focus on making us a couple, and worry about the rest later."
"That's up to you, sweetheart. What do you want to do?"
"I dunno," Jo said honestly. "I've never been in a situation like this before." A beat. "Sweetheart?" a shy grin on her face.
"Sweetheart," Blair confirmed with a smile. "Let's play it by ear, Joey. This is still very new for us. Who knows... maybe she'll figure it out on her own. She's a very bright child."
"Yeah, she is pretty smart. And Eastland seems to have really changed her outlook. Just the six weeks she's been there have made a difference already. She's not the same kid."
Blair smiled and stroked Jo's cheek. "Kind of like you."
Jo nodded, catching the fingers and kissing them lightly, just hearing the intake of breath from Blair. "Kinda like me." She looked down and caught Blair's eyes - seeing desire, love and a hint of fear reflected back at her. Jo wondered what was behind the fear, then watched it recede as she let the love she felt for Blair show plainly in her eyes. Jo shifted her grip, allowing one hand to trail lightly up Blair's torso to cup Blair's face while the other curled around her neck. Blair was aware of what was happening between them and licked her lips, eyes flickering between Jo's eyes and her lips. Her hand slid up Jo's body til it rest on the curve of Jo's neck and then she was tilting her head to meet Jo's lips with her own.
The first brush was light, barely felt by either of them; the second a little more definite. The third touch was firm and allowed Jo to trace the outline of Blair's lips with her tongue. She swallowed the moan Blair made as she opened her mouth in response, then groaned when their tongues touched for the first time. It was gentle - an unhurried exploration that went on until they were breathless. They separated just long enough to draw air in, then returned for more.
Finally, when hands started to roam, they pulled apart - a little dizzy from the lack of air. They spent a moment trying to memorize one another. And then Blair smiled and tucked her head into the crook of Jo's neck. "Wow," she murmured softly. "That was...."
"Yeah," Jo agreed with a smile of her own. "It sure was." Then they were pulling through the gates of Eastland and it was time to focus on Jamie, though that was a surprising encounter in and of itself.
Jo went to the parent/teacher conference alone; Jamie wasn't supposed to be there and bringing Blair in was definitely a case of too much, too soon - for everyone. So Blair and Jamie went into Peekskill together to find ice cream.
Talk between them was easy, as it had always been. Jamie confided in Blair about school - how she was doing, the things she enjoyed and disliked, the people she'd met and the friends she'd made. She was excited and clearly happy to be at Eastland and Blair smiled at her joy. Then Jamie came around a blind corner at her and Blair wasn't prepared for Jamie's sense of perception.
"Blair, how do you feel about my mom?" She met Blair's surprised eyes. "No bullshit. You know what I am asking you." Blair blinked, not expecting such candor or maturity from a twelve year old. She fought the need to check her lipstick or smooth her hair, having done both before she and Jo had exited the limousine.
"I love her, Jamie," Blair replied honestly. "She's my best friend. She always has been," wondering if that would be enough to satisfy this child turned woman before her eyes.
"And?" Jamie pushed. "Blair, my dad's heart attack wasn't entirely unexpected. He'd had heart problems for several years. He was on a waiting list for a transplant, but...." She shrugged. "My dad was around a lot more than my mom was, but he made me understand that was because of her job and I believed him. I still do. But it meant I was a lot closer to him... able to talk to him about stuff that I never could with my mom. And he shared some things with me too."
Blair nodded but stayed quiet, sure that Jamie was going somewhere with this.
"My parents loved one another, and they were always good to each other and to me. And despite my asshole attitude towards my mom lately, I loved them both very much. I was just so angry at her when my dad died. I know it wasn't her fault but...." Jamie took a deep breath and large draught of her coke float before continuing. "Anyway, I think my dad knew something was wrong when the invitation for the reunion came. He argued to come and mom fought tooth and nail against it. In the end, she insisted that he and I go; she completely refused."
Jamie looked down into her drink, swirling it with a straw. Then she lifted her eyes and met Blair's with fierce intent. "On our way home, dad asked me to look out for my mom and keep in touch with you. He said you were the key to her heart and to keeping her whole if anything happened to him."
Blair's eyes widened and she covered her mouth with her hand. Jamie reached out and covered Blair's other hand with hers. "Blair, I know she loves you. And given what my dad said, I'm pretty sure I understand how she loves you. Do you love her back or are you just friends?"
Well, nothing quite like putting it right out there. Blair had never felt more put on the spot, but she refused to break eye contact with Jamie. She was not ashamed of Jo or the love they were just discovering together, and she wasn't going to let Jamie think she was. Blair shifted their hands until her hand was wrapped around Jamie's.
"I love your mom, Jamie. I am only just learning how much, but I really do love her, Jamie... with all my heart."
Jamie held her eyes, green searching brown for a very long moment. Blair returned the stare without flinching, letting Jamie see the truth. Jamie finally smiled and nodded her acceptance. Blair returned the smile with a relieved grin of her own. Then she bit her lip, needing to ask... needing to give Jamie the chance to answer, but a little afraid of what the outcome could be.
"Jamie, is this going to be a problem for you? Your mom and me together, I mean."
Jamie thought about it for a few minutes, finishing her coke float and sitting back in the booth before she spoke. "I don't know," she said honestly. "I don't think so, but I've never been in a situation like this before."
"Neither have I, Jamie, and neither has your mom. This is really new to all of us."
"I do know I like you, Blair, and if you make my mom happy like my dad thought you would.... Did my mom love my dad less than she loves you? Did she only marry him because of me?"
"No, honey," Blair hastened to reassure Jamie. "Jo loved Rick very much, and they were happy together - don't ever doubt that. And they were especially glad that you came into their lives. Don't let what your mom and I share together take away from the family you shared with your mom and dad. What Jo and I have with each other is completely separate from that."
"Are you going to become family too?"
Blair bit her bottom lip and her eyes welled with tears. "I hope so," she whispered. "I'd really like to." The tears spilled when she blinked and Jamie reached across the table and wiped them off Blair's cheeks. Blair looked up at the touch and smiled nervously.
"I'd like that too, I think. C'mon. Let's go find my mom; her meetings with my teachers should be about over and I think it is mostly good."
"Yeah, I'm not real crazy about home ec."
Blair couldn't help it; she started laughing and the chuckles didn't stop for a long time after that.
December 2003: Jamie sat calmly looking out the window, watching the snow as it fell softly outside the window. She was waiting for Henry to come around to take her to a holiday party at her best friend Dylan's. A lot of her classmates from Eastland would be there, but more importantly, Dylan's older brother Ryan would be there, and he was just so cute. Jamie was enjoying her first crush, and Ryan at least was nice enough about it. Jamie was just glad to be getting out of the house. Her mother and Blair had been driving her nuts since Thanksgiving. She would just be thrilled when it was all over and they could settle down to being a family again.
They were exchanging rings for Christmas, though neither had the first clue that the other planned to propose tonight. In a way, Jamie was sad to be missing what was sure to be a funny evening, given the circumstances, but mostly she was thrilled to be out of the house for what she was fairly certain would be hot and heavy sex once the confusion was over. Thankfully, Dylan had asked her to spend the night and she had been happy to say yes - even without Ryan.
Life had been interesting over the past two years. Jo and Blair had taken their relationship very slowly, dating and getting to know one another all over again. They found some things had changed, and other things required compromises from both of them. But for the most part, they were still fundamentally the same two people who had attended Eastland and Langley College all those years before. So there were plenty of lively discussions to keep things interesting as well.
As much as possible, they had included Jamie, forming a solid family unit. Blair never tried to take Rick's place, but she and Jamie had become good friends. They didn't advertise their relationship either, though they did nothing to hide it either. Jo went to church with Blair when she could and Blair attended the odd unit picnic or get together. A few of their closest friends knew... and Tad... though he had merely shrugged. He had long since moved past his relationship with Blair.
This exchanging of rings would be the first official public acknowledgment of the life Jo and Blair shared now. Even their moving in together over the summer wasn't widely known. Both women had consulted with Jamie, asking her permission and opinion before taking the final step of commitment to one another. Jamie was afraid they were both going to be sick before they got engaged. She didn't even want to think about wedding nerves.
She saw the car pull up in front of the brownstone and called out her goodbyes before rushing out the door. Jo and Blair met outside the landing of the stairs just as the front door closed behind Jamie. Then they just stared at one another for a long moment.
"Wow... you look fabulous!" Jo said shyly, taking in the low cut red cocktail dress Blair was wearing.
Blair didn't say a word; she let her hands do the talking for her, sliding up the green sheath silk dress Jo had on. She traced from hips, across strong abs, up ribs, circling still full breasts and drawing a shudder from Jo with her touch. When Blair reached the collarbone, she let her hand wander to the back of Jo's neck, bringing her lips within reach and pulling their bodies into the same space. Then she let her lips and tongue convey the rest of her thoughts without words.
They finally separated, breathing heavily and gazing at one anther silently. They had easily slipped into the silent communication they had shared as young women, expanding it to include the silent conversation of lovers. It drove Jamie nuts when they used it, which was often, but Jo and Blair found a sense of intimate belonging with it.
Without a word, Jo offered Blair her hand and together they walked down the stairs to the table Jamie had arranged for them to one side of the lit fireplace. Each place setting had a small, beribboned jewelry box and Jo and Blair exchanged surprised looks before opening them simultaneously. Their gasps were identical as well as they lost eye contact briefly to observe what they had received. Jamie had done well - the rings matched and were even inscribed the same... 'Forever is our beginning.'
Jo stood and took the ring she'd bought for Blair and slipped it on her finger, sealing the unspoken vow with a kiss. Blair did the same, then wrapped her arms around Jo's neck and with the push of a button filled the room with music they could dance to, though it was less dancing than foreplay.
Their lips met with unhurried familiarity, tongues exploring and caressing. Hands slid across slick material, gently teasing the contours hidden beneath. Slowly, clothing was pushed aside and removed, gladly trading the silk cloth for the smooth silkiness of skin. They continued to dance naked together, barely moving in place as hands teased, stoking fires already burning.
They broke their kiss, content for a moment just to touch along their lengths. Then Blair's attentions shifted to Jo's breasts, suckling with an intensity that made Jo's back arch in reaction. It also caused the nails that had been scratching up and down Blair's bare ass to clench convulsively, drawing a deep moan from her throat and forcing her to release the suction hold she had on Jo's nipple.
Instead, Blair grabbed hold with finger and thumb, a light tugging encouraging Jo to follow her, and another moment later they were tumbling into the nest of pillows that had been arranged there.
"Do you know how much I love you?" Jo asked in a hushed voice, unwilling to break the spell between them. Her eyes wandered Blair's naked body. "How beautiful I find you?" She let her fingertips trace curves and contours from hip to shoulder, watching goosebumps follow in their wake. "How wet you make me with a single look, a single kiss? She pressed her lips to the valley between Blair's breasts. "How often I count my blessings because you are in my life?"
Blair pulled Jo down into her body, groaning when Jo's weight settled comfortably onto her. Then she proceeded to answer each of Jo's questions in turn with her touch, making slow, passionate love to her until Jo cried out in release. Jo's reciprocal touch was maddening, determinedly evoking responses from the depths of her soul until Blair was left shaking in the aftermath of orgasm.
They lay quietly curled up together in the afterglow, the fire drying the light sheen of sweat that covered them. Jo's fingers were lightly stroking Blair's belly in a comforting, relaxing motion until Blair shifted to face her, cupping Jo's face in her hands and kissing her with fierce passion.
"I want to make this official," Blair said quietly. "I want to stand before God and our friends and make promises of forever to you."
"All right," Jo agreed amicably. "When?"
Blair blinked, not quite expecting Jo's sudden capitulation. Not that she'd expected argument, given the fact that they had just exchanged rings privately, but it was something else again to make a formal declaration publicly.
"How about Valentine's Day? We should be able to get everything together for a ceremony by then."
Jo smiled. "All I need there is you, babe. Anything else is just gravy."
The mention of food reminded both of them they had yet to eat and they had already expended large quantities of energy. Two stomachs rumbled loudly in protest of this treatment and Blair and Jo exchanged looks before breaking into laughter.
Jo eased off of Blair's body and offered her a hand up. "C'mon, sweetheart. Let's eat. I have plans for you later and you're gonna need all your strength."
"Guarantee it. This is gonna be an all night affair."
Blair couldn't control the shiver that raced across her skin at the low, vibrant voice in her ear and the promise it held. Never in her wildest dreams had she ever imagined loving Jo would be so intense and so fulfilling. They still had arguments - sometimes just so they could enjoy the make-up sex that went with them - and it wasn't always easy. Life had been a series of adjustments and they had both lost friends because of the love they shared. But looking into those brilliant green eyes, seeing the love and desire she knew were reflected in her brown ones, Blair knew she had finally come home.
May 2006: Blair straightened the honor sash on Jamie's graduation gown. How appropriate that she should be graduating from Eastland with top honors at the same time her mothers were celebrating their twentieth college class reunion. Though Blair had never formally adopted Jamie, out of respect for her feelings for Rick, they privately considered themselves mother and daughter.
Jo had been a little surprised when Jamie asked to see Blair alone before she walked down the aisle, but she'd been understanding about it. She had watched the strong bond Jamie and Blair had formed between them before her marriage to Blair grow stronger as time passed. It could have made her jealous, since she and Jamie still had their run-ins; but she knew it was good for them and good for her that they had one another. It gave her a bit of extra comfort when she put on her gun and shield everyday, knowing neither wife nor child would be completely alone if something happened to her.
She didn't go very far though. Her nature wouldn't let her, but Blair and Jamie knew that. Blair looked at her office door, then looked a question at Jamie. Jamie shook her head; she figured her mom needed to hear this at least once.
"I just wanted to say thank you, Blair. You're coming into our lives was the best thing that could have happened to mom and me... especially after dad died. Thank you for being my friend and for loving mom and me so much. It has been so wonderful having you in our lives; you make mom happy and I know dad would approve if he was able to." Then she leaned forward and kissed Blair.
Blair didn't know what she'd expected Jamie to say, but her words took Blair completely by surprise and caused her to catch her breath. It didn't stop the tears from forming, though, and Blair just let them slide down her cheeks. Jamie smiled and wiped them away with a gentle touch. Blair caught her hand and held it a moment before examining it.
"You're going to be a great doctor, Jamie. You have a healer's touch."
"She's not gonna be much of anything if we don't get her out there and graduated! Do you two know how late it is?" Jo's voice was strong and her tone one of loving exasperation, but she couldn't hide the telltale redness of tears in her eyes. "C'mon!" she scolded, clapping her hands together in an effort to promote a little action. "Chop, chop!! It wouldn't do for the valedictorian to miss her own graduation and her chance to give that speech... especially not after having spent the last few days practicing. Besides, no graduation, no graduation party, and isn't Ryan supposed to take you?"
Jamie moved into her mom's arms hugging for all she was worth. "I love you, mom, but don't give up your day job." She brushed a kiss over Jo's cheek and headed out the door to line up with the rest of her class.
Blair walked up to stand beside Jo, wrapping an arm around her waist and leaning her head on Jo's shoulder. "She's got you pegged, baby." Jo wiped her eyes and dropped her arm around Blair's shoulder.
"Yeah, but I forgive her; she brought you back into my life. I'm glad we got a second chance."
"Me too... even if you had to be a friend in need first for it to happen." Blair waited a beat and then tugged Jo towards the door that would lead them to the commencement ceremony. "Let's go, sweetheart. This is an ending for Jamie, but it is just the beginning of something new for us."
Jo brushed a kiss across blonde hair before walking out the door with Blair at her side. That was all the new beginning she ever wanted... every day for the rest of their lives together.