Title: Walking Boots
Fandom: Facts of Life
Archiving: This will be at www.realmoftheshadow.com/harper.htm with the rest of my drivel. Kim is kind enough to house it.
Disclaimers: I do not own them. I’m not making any money from this, and I hope the creators don’t get overly offended at my hi-jacking of their creations.
A/N: This is un-beta’d, so please ignore all mistakes. It is also embarrassingly sappy. Comments are always welcome, no matter the flavor. I’ll be at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was a strangled voice. Weak… almost so weak that it wasn’t even audible at all, but despite that, the word resulted in a complete cessation of movement. There was a moan cut short, the abbreviated rustle of a bed sheet and then nothing but the harsh rasping pant of breath and three figures frozen in tableau.
And then, almost as if it was going to make more sense the second time she said it, Blair tried again. “Bootsie?”
This time the word prompted a flurry of motion, and when things finally calmed down, Blair had been pulled into the room, the door had been closed with a resolute slam, and Boots St. Claire was standing in the corner, her hastily donned shirt buttoned crookedly, golden Gamma Gamma pin shining in the dim light.
For a long time, Blair merely stared at her, dumbfounded. So dumbfounded that she was unable to speak, an affliction that rarely ever occurred to the blonde, though she was experiencing it in full force at that very moment. Boots, at the very least, had the good grace to blush before straightening her shoulders, lifting her nose in the air, and giving her haughtiest glare as if daring Blair to say anything.
Faltering under the force of that glare and her own confusion, Blair looked downward until a soft sound drew her attention to the figure on the bed, and so she swung her gaze around, catching the look of chagrin mixed with horror on the face of the body barely covered by a tangled sheet.
It didn’t make any sense to her when she said that either, and so Blair did the only thing she could think to do. She made her way blindly over to her bed and sank down on it wearily, eyes still tracing over the curve of her best friend’s shoulders. There was Jo and there was Boots, and though they had managed to move to the far corners of the room, Blair was well aware of the position they’d inhabited only minutes before. In fact, the image was burned into her corneas, and without effort she could easily recall the silhouette of Jo’s naked breasts as she loomed over the brunette sorority girl and the grin of satisfaction etched across Boots’ face.
“Blair?” Jo shot back, her voice tinged with a hint of impatience and irritation. “You just gonna sit there, or are you gonna work on forming a whole sentence?”
Shaking her head, hoping that the movement would clear away some of the confusion that had turned her normally sharp logical abilities into a sea of murky mush, Blair attempted to come up with something to say. There was nothing to say, though, and so she merely sat in silence, the tension in the room rising exponentially every second that she did so. And, were it up to Blair, they would have remained in silence indefinitely, because she wasn’t at all certain that she was ready to hear any explanations that might be offered.
Boots, however, wasn’t that patient, and so with a sigh of frustration, said breezily, “Well, girls, I’ve got to run. Jo, its been fun. Warnsie, you say a word about this and I’ll have you ostracized. Toodles.”
Watching with no little amazement as the girl strode haughtily from the room, well aware how hauteur could be thrown on as a defense with little to no prompting but not quite sure that she would have been able to manage it had the situation been reversed, Blair merely nodded. What she didn’t do was move, though, so when Bootsie made her way out into the hall, closing the door behind her, it left Blair alone with Jo. A very naked, very angry looking Jo, and Blair gulped, suddenly very nervous.
“You just gonna sit there?” Jo asked again after a few long seconds, uneasily hiking up the sheet covering her nudity. Blair was looking a bit shell-shocked, brown eyes dazed and unfocused, and Jo was growing increasingly uncomfortable.
Biting her lower lip, unable to keep the absolute confusion she was feeling from infusing her gaze, Blair said hazily, “I thought you hated Bootsie. I don’t understand. You’re always insulting her and saying that you can’t stand to be in her presence, but you were very obviously in her presence just a minute ago. I mean, I might not always be the most observant girl in the world, but I’m fairly certain that it requires some degree of like to wind up naked and in bed with someone. And you were, really, very naked and very much so in bed with her. Actually, you’re still naked and still in bed, and I think I need to sit down now.”
“You are sitting down,” Jo shot back irritably, yanking the sheet a bit higher, hoping against hope that the dimness of the room would hide the blush chasing its way up her cheeks. It was just like Blair to go and stay and not run from the room screaming with horror, which would have at the least allowed Jo the time to get dressed before chasing her down.
Unfazed, Blair continued on. “And again, I’d like to stress that I don’t feel completely comfortable with this turn of events. Not that I don’t understand, mind you, because we Warners are open-minded like that, but I just don’t see how you could wind up naked and in bed and…” here she whispered, “having sex… with Boots. St. Claire. Gamma Gamma, remember. Don’t you despise girls like her? And yet, there you were, naked and in bed and…”
“I GET IT ALREADY,” Jo nearly shouted in exasperation, not quite certain that she could listen to yet another rundown on her condition.
“And Boots,” Blair babbled, seemingly oblivious to the brunette’s outburst. “I mean, no offense, but she just doesn’t seem like someone who would, well… wind up naked and in bed having sex with you. Not that there’s anything wrong with you, Jo, just that she seems a bit too, I don’t know… shallow and preppy. And you? How did this happen? Did you need some advice on where to buy the best knee socks, happen to run into Bootsie, and then somehow end up here? Is this even the first time? Oh, my God. I can’t believe that I walked in on you naked and in bed and having sex with Bootsie St. Claire.”
Suddenly convinced that she’d been much happier when Blair had been in a silent, near-comatose state, Jo sighed. And, figuring that there wasn’t much chance of the blonde’s verbal meanderings coming to an end anytime soon, decided that she was at least going to get dressed for it. So, she threw off the sheet shielding her from Blair’s view, surprised when the movement resulted in the very same absolute silence that she’d been pining for moments earlier.
A quick glance revealed a stricken, shocked Blair, and as Jo shrugged into a pair of jeans and a shirt, not even bothering to pause long enough to snag her errant underwear from the floor, she asked irritably, “What?”
“I… you… You were just naked. Naked and standing there, and hello, did you forget that I was in the room? Honestly Jo, couldn’t you have… I mean…” And again, Blair trailed off, this time stuttering awkwardly into silence. It was inevitable, though, because her mouth had gone completely dry the second Jo had stood, her lean body shadowed in the dim room, surprisingly full breasts immediately catching the blonde’s eye. Not that she hadn’t surveyed the rest of the other girl’s body. In fact, it had been quite the automatic response, and Blair blinked, surprised that she could still see the outline of the brunette’s silhouette even with her eyes closed.
Rolling her eyes, plopping down uneasily on the bed, Jo said huffily, “What? It’s not like you haven’t seen it before.”
But she hadn’t, Blair wanted to scream. Sure, she’d caught glimpses of a toned back and of long thighs, but they’d all been fleeting and never once as comprehensive as the view she’d just been given.
“Well…” Blair started, then paused, realizing that she wasn’t quite sure what she was about to demand. But, carrying on despite that, she managed, “Well, I think I deserve some answers.”
Narrowing her eyes, Jo sneered, “Oh, you do? And why? Because you came home when you were supposed to be in class?”
“Because you were naked and in bed and having sex with Bootsie,” Blair cried plaintively, “and I don’t understand.”
“But you’ve obviously got the fundamentals down,” Jo replied caustically. “But if you want, I can break it down for you. Sometimes, girls like Bootsie like to play around with girls like me. You know, a little bit of fun on the side, something they can’t get from their frat boy boyfriends. And, sometimes I don’t mind giving it to them. Supply and demand. Simple economics. Surely even you can understand that.”
“But Bootsie?” Blair asked weakly, not at all sure that she was satisfied with that explanation.
Pursing her lips, Jo nodded. “Yes, Bootsie. She came in the shop one day looking for you. You weren’t there, I was there, and that was that.”
“Just like that?” Blair asked incredulously. “But how did you know?”
Laughing shortly, Jo murmured, “Because I just knew. You can spot them, you know. Or, at least I can.” Grinning slightly at Blair’s dumbfounded look, Jo pushed up off the bed, more than ready to flee the awkward situation she’d managed to find herself in. “But, enough sharing and caring time for me, blondie. Conversation’s over. I’ve gotta run.”
“But… but…” Blair sputtered, but it was too late. Jo was already out the door, leaving her sitting there on the bed, alone. “But what about me?”
The words echoed around the empty room, and Blair slumped down against the mattress, a sigh of despair chasing past her lips. If Jo was so incredibly good at just knowing these things, then did she know about Blair? Was she somehow aware of the blonde’s supposedly secret little crush on her, and if she was, then did that mean that she didn’t return it? Because, if Jo knew those kinds of things and she, Blair Warner, had never ended up naked and in bed and having sex with her, then that could only mean that Jo had no desire for that to ever come to pass. Maybe she saw Blair as just another one of those rich girls who wanted a little bit of wrong side of the tracks playtime on the side, but wasn’t even interested in having casual sex with her. That meant, of course, that she found Blair completely undesirable, because if someone had low enough standards as to actually pick Boots St. Claire over her, then they were obviously willing to scrape the very bottom of the barrel.
So, then, what was wrong with her? She knew she was pretty enough. All of the boys told her so, and even without that all she had to do was look in the mirror for reassurance. Who wouldn’t want her, with her flawless skin and her delicately arched eyebrows and her thick, silky blonde hair? Normally Blair never worried overmuch about her level of desirability, but if Jo knew and hadn’t ever tried to be naked and in bed and having sex with her, then there had to be something wrong with her, didn’t there?
Not that she could ask Jo. No, that would be too much like admitting defeat, and Blair had absolutely no interest in doing anything like that. Because she didn’t need reassurance from some poor little nobody from the Bronx. She was a Warner and obviously far better than any Jo Polniaczek. There weren’t any Polniaczek’s in office, were there? No Polniaczek’s heading up Fortune 500 companies? There weren’t even any Polniaczek’s anywhere on the upper east side who weren’t wearing little orange vests and picking up trash. She did not need the approval of Jo Polniaczek she told herself emphatically, even as some small part of her acknowledged the anxious nausea settling into the pit of her stomach.
Of course, that didn’t really make her feel any better about the situation, and so Blair did the one thing that she thought might possibly help. She threw herself facedown onto the covers and sobbed.
She couldn’t stand it anymore. All her life she’d been watching Jo. Jo kissing some dorky Frenchman good-bye and crying because she was broken-hearted. Jo falling back in love with Eddie, even as he was lying to her. Jo looming over Bootsie St. Claire, of all people. And now, she had to see Jo with her little admirer. Kelly, little shoplifting, whiny brat cum number one Jo fan. Kelly, who got more than her fair share of indulgent Jo smiles now that the brunette wasn’t in the mood to kill the scamp any longer. Kelly, who was so obviously in the midst of a near debilitating crush, who was milking her sweet and innocent and sycophantic routine for all she could. Kelly, who would look perfectly lovely skewered on the end of Blair’s butcher knife.
Not that Blair often carried around a butcher knife, of course. Butchering was obviously not Warner caliber work, but recently she’d felt the desire to have one almost constantly at hand. Boots was always in and out, having found a new personal slave in the eager to please Natalie, and Blair had seen the stares. Sometimes she thought that perhaps Jo and Boots were still making good use of Blair’s afternoon class time, and the thought rankled her to no end. She didn’t want Jo to be sleeping with Boots. If she was going to be sleeping with any rich debutante, then it should be her. Not Boots St. Claire, but Blair Warner. But even that didn’t seem right. Jo shouldn’t be sleeping with anyone. She should be pure and virginal and just waiting for the day when Blair would notice her everlasting devotion and desire. When that day came, there would be candlelight and champagne and roses and declarations of love, and there would be tears shimmering in her eyes when Blair touched her. Touched her for the first time, because she certainly never would have been sleeping around with the likes of Bootsie St. Claire. And Blair didn’t even really want to think about that, because she had a sneaking suspicion that Boots wasn’t the first girl to have found herself one half of an afternoon tryst with Jo.
That thought only made her clutch her butcher knife more closely, visions of murderous rages splashing against the backs of her eyes. She could kill them all and get away with it. After all, her family had tons of money. She could take out Bootsie and all her pretentious Gamma Gamma rhetoric in one clean swipe. Kelly would be easy. She was small, probably not very strong. There were some other girls, too. Girls that hadn’t seemed out of place before but who did now in the paranoid confines of Blair’s mind. And after all of that? Why, she could simply flee the country. Paris was nice this time of year, and while she was there she could hunt down David as well. Jo might not have mentioned anything about sleeping with him, but she had been alone with him in the countryside for two whole days, and she’d been sleeping with Boots without divulging any info. If she could keep that a secret, she could keep anything a secret.
Oh, and he’d look so good, too, in a puddle of his smarmy little French blood. She knew where to find him, even, had a bookplate from the very same bookstore where he worked. And imagine that? Tough, no-nonsense Jo falling for some sensitive intellectual. Well, if that was what she was looking for, then Blair had it in spades, and as soon as she wiped out the competition, Jo would certainly realize that.
“Blair, are you even listening to me!”
Drawn from her homicidal musings, eyes struggling to focus on Natalie’s expectant face, Blair spiked the butcher knife down into the wooden chopping block before her, the fine steel blade still vibrating from the force of her movement even as she turned to stalk away, a dark scowl clouding her brow.
“Geez,” Natalie murmured, watching the other girl’s retreating form, “I don’t like making the strudel either, but I’ve learned to adapt.”
Blair slammed through the doors leading out of the kitchen and into the counter area of the shop, not even flinching when they impacted the wall with all of the force of her anger, the loud, sharp crack echoing through the room, drawing the confused attention of all the patrons lounging about. She did look up into Jo’s startled eyes though, vaguely registering the look of annoyance on the other girl’s face. But, she was tired of thinking about Jo, so she broke eye contact almost immediately, whipping off her apron and throwing the balled up fabric into a far corner with as much vehement rage as she could muster.
“I’m leaving,” she enunciated angrily, reaching the counter in two long strides. Before Jo could even comment, she’d ducked under the bar and was heading for the doorway, leaving a swath of outraged indignation in her wake.
Shaking her head, trying to clear away some of the confusion currently clogging her brain while simultaneously pushing down the anger she could feel creeping up her spine, Jo forced herself to grit her teeth and smile at the customer standing in front of her. Counting out the baffled woman’s change, she slid the register closed as gently as she could manage, then walked back to the kitchen.
“Tootie, run the register for a second for me, will ya?” she asked, though in truth it was more of a command than a request. Not even waiting for the other girl’s reply, she moved quickly out of the kitchen, taking the same path that she’d seen Blair walk moments before, the bell on the front door jingling nervously as she pushed her way outside.
A quick scan of the surrounding area found Blair crossing the street, and Jo broke into a light jog, easily catching up with the blonde. Falling calmly into step beside her, the brunette shoved her hands in her pockets, even white teeth chewing anxiously on her bottom lip.
“You gonna tell me what your problem is?” she asked after nearly a minute of silence, well aware that Blair hadn’t even bothered to glance at her. Jo had the sneaking suspicion that all of the other girl’s upset stemmed directly from the incident with Boots, causing a nervous, sick anticipation to well deeply in her stomach. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d encountered prejudice, but it would be the first time she’d seen it from someone who actually mattered to her.
Sniffing haughtily, Blair turned her head to the side for a moment, brown eyes tracing an assessing path down Jo’s form. “I don’t have a problem,” she said stiffly, jaw clenching tightly shut as soon as the words were out of her mouth.
Already defensive and on edge, Jo pounced on the words. “And what… I do?” she nearly snarled, body hunching in on itself protectively.
Annoyed, Blair shot back, “That’s not what I said.”
“But its what you meant,” Jo countered heatedly, brows lowering in a scowl. She could feel the beginnings of a headache forming at her temples, no doubt a sequelae to the intense pressure of her teeth grinding together with almost enough force to wear away the top coat of her enamel.
Stopping suddenly, Blair rounded on her companion, incensed. Nostrils flaring, she shot back, “Maybe you do have a problem, but it’s obviously of no concern to me, is it? Why don’t you go talk it over with Boots. I’m sure she’s a stunningly brilliant conversationalist. But then again, you’d know more about that than I would, wouldn’t you? Oh, but wait… you two don’t actually talk, do you? Just get together and… and…”
For a brief moment, a red haze clouded Jo’s vision, throwing everything askew, and she reacted from the deepest, most primitive part of herself. “Listen here you selfish, snobby, self-involved little bitch. I don’t care…”
Jo’s words were cut off by the sharp snap of skin meeting skin, and Blair stepped away, holding one hand protectively, its imprint outlined in vibrant red along the side of the brunette’s face.
“Don’t you ever talk to me like that again,” Blair hissed, face flushed with outrage. She was so mad she couldn’t even really remember why she’d been mad to start with, though she was quite certain she’d had a good reason.
Jo struggled to control her ragged breathing and the far too fast beating of her heart, but was only minimally successful. “If you ever lay a hand on me again, Princess, I’ll break it,” she spat, advancing on the blonde threateningly. “Do you understand?”
Almost before her eyes, Blair seemed to coalesce into an icy, blindingly sharp crystal, all steely resolve and brittle edges. “Oh, I understand. Trust me, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. I wouldn’t touch you if you were choking to death and I was the only person there to save you.”
“Fine,” Jo shot back, slightly shocked by the intense near hatred in Blair’s tone.
“Fine,” the blonde retorted, punctuating the exclamation with a fiercely indrawn breath.
Then, in concert, as if they’d rehearsed the move a hundred times before, the two turned at exactly the same time, each stalking off in a different direction, limbs rigid with anger.
Blair wanted to cry. She wanted to throw herself face down on her bed and weep, but it hadn’t helped before and she didn’t think it’d help this time either, so instead she merely sat back against her headboard, knees drawn up to her chest. Things had spiraled wildly out of control, and she wasn’t exactly sure how. If she hadn’t had to put up with those weeks of wondering, of seeing someone that she so desperately wanted practically spell out in terms that couldn’t be misread that she wasn’t wanted in return, then maybe she wouldn’t have reacted so violently. And, if Jo hadn’t verbally attacked her, if she hadn’t pushed the issue, then maybe Blair would have been able to move on. But, she’d been so very raw when Jo had chased her down, and she’d acted purely on instinct. If fact, it seemed as if the entire episode was actually just a surreal, undefined memory, with everything grossly distorted and disjointed, just a collection of feelings and spiteful words.
Oh, who was she kidding. She remembered every second in all of its gory, bloody and violently painful detail.
She still couldn’t quite believe that she’d slapped Jo. As mad as she’d gotten with the other girl in the past, she hadn’t ever resorted to physical violence. In fact, she hadn’t even retaliated the one time Jo struck her, back when the other girl had the crazy notion that she was going to go into the nunnery. No, she’d managed to restrain herself then, though whether it was shock or fear, she wasn’t sure.
This time, though, she’d really gone and done it. Jo hadn’t spoken with her in a week and a half. The tension in the house was growing to such an intolerable level that she’d actually seriously contemplated just simply moving out, if for no other reason than to make things bearable for everyone else once again. But, she did have reasons, had plenty of reasons. She wasn’t sure how much longer she’d be able to take seeing Jo every day and every night. Lying there, their beds only a scant few feet apart, she was almost preternaturally attuned to the patterns of the other girl’s breathing, and she’d lost so much sleep just staying up to hear the rhythmic in/out pattern that it was beginning to show in the bags under her eyes.
Jo hated her, and understandably. Short of actually spitting on the other girl, she wasn’t sure what she could have done that would have alienated the brunette any more so than implying that she was a deviant and then slapping her. She wanted desperately to apologize, but every time she even glanced in Jo’s direction, all she got was a stony wall of contempt and disregard. Snarky comments and searing disdain directed in her general direction but never specifically to her were growing a bit tedious, but thusfar Blair had put up with it, almost accepting it as her penance. Unfortunately, there didn’t appear to be an end in sight, and so, with trembling fingers, she reached over, snagging the phone off of the cradle and bringing it up. Eyes flicking back and forth between the advertisement that she’d spotted and the keypad, she punched in seven unfamiliar numbers, listening with nervous anticipation to the dull echo of the ringing.
“Hello?” The voice on the other end was sunny, and she pictured someone infernally happy and blonde and he immediately began to irk her. If there was some sort of irony there, she didn’t bother to pay attention to it.
After clearing her throat, Blair managed, “Yes, hello. I spotted your ad…”
“For the apartment?” the chipper voice broke in, sounding absurdly pleased, something that Blair couldn’t quite manage to understand.
“Have you already filled it?” she asked anxiously, some part of her hoping that it had been. She didn’t really want to move, even though she was going through the motions. But, if she made the effort and it didn’t pan out, then she could be satisfied with that. She would have made some attempt to better her living situation and that of her friends, and for a baby step, it would be sufficient.
There was the vague sound of shuffling papers in the background, and Blair frowned. She was certain the overly cheery man on the other end of the line knew without looking whether or not the apartment had been filled, and she didn’t like being manipulated. “Actually no,” he said finally, voice oozing officious charm. “I can’t promise it’ll remain that way for long, though.”
“I’m sure you can’t,” Blair replied, voice artificially sweet. She had actually been discounted over the phone. That much was clear from the man’s patronizing tone. At the very least, the property manager could have waited to meet her in person, to see the blonde hair and the charming smile, before writing her off as a brainless bimbo. “Look Mr…. I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Redburn. Chad Redburn,” came the prompt reply, and Blair rolled her eyes. For some reason, even his name annoyed her.
“Mr. Redburn. I’d like to see the apartment, preferably today. I’m anxious to kick-start my search,” Blair said coolly, fingers idly plucking at a piece of lint on her thigh.
There was another brief pause, another pretentious shuffling of papers, and then, “That’ll be fine. How’s two o’clock this afternoon for you?”
Blair took a moment to mentally review her calendar, then another just to stretch the silence out in some sort of pay-back for Chad’s antics. “That should be fine. I’d prefer to meet you at the address.”
“Normally I have people come by the office,” he edged hesitantly, a bit perplexed by his potential client’s suddenly cool demeanor.
“I’m sure you’ll make an exception for me, Mr. Redburn,” Blair said sweetly, her tone underlaced with steel, thoroughly determined to wrest control of the situation firmly out of his grasp.
The property manager cleared his throat, his voice more hesitant when he spoke, slightly cowed by the air of authority Blair had assumed. “Uhm, of course. Let me just get you the directions.”
Blair smiled in triumph, glad that at least one thing in the colossal mess she’d managed to make was going to go her way.
Jo looked up from her book with a scowl at the shrill ringing of the telephone, but upon seeing there wasn’t anyone in the vicinity aside from her there to answer it, put her book down with a sigh and made her way over to the offending object.
“Yeah?” she said, bringing the receiver to her ear. She’d been in far too bad of a mood for the past few weeks to actually bother with telephone pleasantries.
“Uh, I’m calling for Ms. Blair Warner,” the hesitant voice on the other end of the line said, and Jo’s scowl automatically deepened at the mention of the other girl’s name.
Sniffing lightly, heading tilting to the side to trap the phone between her ear and shoulder, she said roughly, “She’s not here. Can I take a message?”
Of course, she didn’t really want to take a message, and had no real intentions of writing anything down, but Jo figured it to be the best way to get the guy off the phone in a hurry. The last thing she wanted to do at the moment was document yet another date request for Blair from yet another smarmy rich boy. The blonde’s ego was massive enough as it was.
“Crap,” the guy muttered, and Jo snorted, trying to suppress a laugh.
With a bit of humor lacing her words, the brunette said, “She’ll be back eventually. It’s not the end of the world.”
“No… it’s just,” the man sighed, pausing for a moment to collect his thoughts. “My name is Chad Redburn. I spoke with Ms. Warner earlier today about an apartment I have for rent and we made plans to meet this afternoon and look it over. But, my wife just called to tell me that our water heater exploded and our basement flooded, and I’m fairly certain that she might divorce me if I don’t get home within the next ten minutes. I was hoping I could catch her before she left…”
Jo felt like she couldn’t breathe. Blair was looking at apartments? Blair was moving out? Sure, things had been a little tense, but Jo had assumed that everything would return to normal given a little time. Apparently, though, Blair couldn’t even stand the thought of living in the same house as her if this sudden desire to vacate the premises was any indication. She’d always thought that things would be different, if and when Blair found out about her bidirectional sexuality. Jo had never, not even in her wildest dreams, considered the possibility that the blonde would have such a negative reaction. Not that there hadn’t been clues, the most visible of which would have been the literal slap to her face that she’d received at Blair’s hands. Even with all of the metaphorical ones there to back that one up, though, she’d still assumed it was something that would pass. This, however, just drove home the point she’d apparently been missing. The other girl didn’t want to have anything to do with her any longer, their long years of friendship notwithstanding.
Well, she just wasn’t going to get away with it that easily.
“I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you just give me directions to wherever it is you were supposed to meet her, and I’ll go tell her that you couldn’t make it,” Jo said smoothly, already planning a confrontation with Blair in her mind.
There was a long pause, and then a half-hearted, “I really couldn’t ask you to do that. It would be too much trouble. And, I really wouldn’t want Ms. Warner to have to come back yet again if she’s already driven all the way out to the apartment.”
Rolling her eyes, Jo said sweetly, “Well, why don’t you tell me how to get to your office, and I’ll swing by and pick up the keys. That is, if you don’t mind her seeing it without you there.”
“You wouldn’t mind?” the man said hopefully, more than happy to have all of his problems solved for him.
“Trust me, I don’t mind at all.”
Jo knew the second Blair figured out just who was on the bike pulling into the driveway leading up to the small house that doubled as a set of private apartments. Her back stiffened and she pushed away from where she had been leaning against the side of her car, hands coming down to clench in tight fists at her sides. Deciding to take her time, to draw out the nervous anticipation of the meeting to come, Jo slowly pulled up beside the blonde, leisurely shutting her motorcycle down, flicking the kickstand into place and pulling off her helmet.
“Strangest thing,” she said idly as she slowly slid her leg over the bike’s seat, boots landing heavily in the gravel. “Some guy called the house looking for you. Said he wouldn’t be able to show you the apartment this afternoon. Naturally, I was a bit confused at first because as far as I knew, you already had a place to live. Seems like you’re not happy there anymore, though, if you’re looking for a new place.”
Blair’s jaw tightened, the other girl’s nonchalant attitude instantly setting her nerves on edge. “Well, we’ve all got to grow up sometime, don’t we? It’s not as if I could have gone on living in that same old room forever,” she said haughtily, chin inching up a few notches.
“Growing up? Is that what you’re doing? And here I thought you were just running away,” Jo challenged, icy blue eyes burning into Blair’s brown.
Turning her head to the side, uncomfortable under Jo’s gaze and unwilling to let her expression give away anything she didn’t want known, Blair said quietly, “Just leave me alone, Jo, and let me do what I have to do.”
Feeling a bit of her anger give way at the blonde’s despondent tone, Jo murmured, “I wish you wouldn’t have made it this way between us. I thought our friendship was stronger than this, Blair. I didn’t think you were this kind of person.”
Gasping softly, hurt by the words, Blair turned back to face Jo, tears shimmering in her eyes. “I just can’t be around you right now, Jo. Why can’t you just accept that and let me be?”
Biting the inside of her lip to keep from screaming even though there was nothing she’d rather do, Jo managed to say quietly, “Why can’t you just accept me, Blair? I’m the same person I always was.”
Despite the relative calm of the words, Blair heard the underlying trickle of hurt. So, with a deep breath, she reached out, fingers coming to rest gently on the tense forearm of her long-time friend, hoping she could convey with that gesture what all of her words clearly could not. “It’s not that, Jo. It’s never been that.”
Looking up at the blonde in confusion, mind racing over the events of the past month, Jo asked, “Then what is it? Why’d you say all those things you said? Why go and sneak around behind everyone’s back like this? Why leave?”
Suddenly bitter, unwilling to open herself up for more pain than she already felt, Blair muttered, “You know why.”
“No, Blair, I don’t. Obviously I don’t, because I sure as hell have been convinced that you have a problem with me. Now you’re tell me you don’t, and I want to believe you, but if that’s not the case, then why have we been at each other’s throats for the past month? Why are you moving out?”
The other girl seemed genuinely perplexed, blue eyes narrowed in a combination of puzzlement and pain, and Blair sighed.
“Because I don’t want to stay there and watch you be with everyone but me,” she admitted wearily, eyes focused dully on the ground. She hadn’t wanted to say it, hadn’t wanted to bring her insecurities and failures into the bright light of day for examination and mocking, but if the only way to stop the pain of dancing around the issue was to do so, then she’d make that sacrifice.
Startled, not quite sure what to make of Blair’s admission, Jo blurted, “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Look, Jo, can’t we just forget about this and move on? I was going to have to move out eventually and now is as good a time as any. Everyone else will undoubtedly be happier, I’m sure. It’s not as if I haven’t contributed greatly to the general level of unpleasantness around the house lately,” Blair said wryly, her voice tired. She didn’t want to deal with it anymore, didn’t want to look into Jo’s eyes and see pity or scorn or just simply nothing at all.
Still in shock, barely able to breathe around the erratic beating of her heart, Jo asked weakly, “What did you mean when you said that? You know, before. About watching me be with everybody but you.”
Rolling her eyes, scorn tinting her tone now, Blair scoffed. “Oh, please. Don’t play the innocent routine with me. You had to have known that I was interested in you… that way. You told me yourself that you could tell.”
“Tell?” Jo echoed in question.
“Tell when a girl was interested in you,” Blair shot back sarcastically, unable to find a less virulent channel for her frustration and anger. “If you don’t want me, then fine. But, there’s absolutely no need for you to flaunt the fact, to practically shove my nose in it.”
It clicked into place slowly, the wheels in Jo’s head turning as she struggled to piece everything together. But it did click, she knew she had to be wrong. “So all that time you were mad at me because you wanted to sleep with me and thought that I didn’t want to sleep with you?” Jo asked incredulously. The concept was mind-boggling to her, defying any sense of normalcy or comprehension.
“Yes… no… I don’t know,” Blair waffled, well aware that she wanted far more than just a fling, but suddenly uncertain and far from willing to divulge the extent of her true desires. True she wanted to share physical intimacy with the other girl, but that was only one piece of the puzzle. Blair Warner was a whole puzzle kind of girl.
“But you’re not gay,” Jo said emphatically. In fact, she said it with so much conviction that Blair almost found herself agreeing automatically. Remembering the true nature of things, however, she stopped, narrowing her eyes at her erstwhile friend.
“Don’t you dare tell me what I am or am not, Jo Polniaczek. I think I’m more aware of who I am than you are,” she said indignantly, crossing her arms over her chest in a fit of pique.
“Come on, Blair,” Jo said tauntingly. “You can’t honestly expect me to believe that you’re anything other than straight as an arrow.”
Suddenly furious, anger rushing through her so quickly that she found herself unable to speak, Blair did the first thing that came to mind. In a move so swift that she would wonder later where the burst of speed had come from, she pulled Jo to her, shifting their places so that the brunette was trapped between Blair’s body and the cold metal frame of her Porsche, and kissed her. Far from a chaste kiss, she used her entire form to keep Jo in place, one slim thigh nestling between the brunette’s longer legs, her hands resting alongside the other girl’s cheeks, holding her face still.
There was a hint of resistance before Jo melted, her arms moving to encircle Blair’s waist and her lips parting beneath the probing pressure of the blonde’s tongue. For a prolonged moment, Blair simply let herself enjoy it, let herself fall into the fantasy that the kiss created. But, she couldn’t let herself get lost in it, so with all the strength she could muster, she put her hands on Jo’s shoulders and pushed herself away, instantly missing the heat of the other girl’s body. Hooded brown eyes fell to Jo’s lips, rubbed red and gleaming from the harsh contact, parted slightly as the brunette gasped for breath, and it took everything Blair had in her not to claim them again.
“I… I didn’t know,” Jo whispered, her voice faltering, fingers coming up to rest gingerly against her bottom lip, disbelief written clearly across her face. Blair watched those same fingers move, watched them reach toward her as if in slow-motion, and then they were brushing lightly against her own lips, just a whisper-soft, teasing touch. She allowed the contact for one agonizingly long moment, and then pulled away, head falling down and to the side, eyes focused without seeing on the rough gravel under her feet.
Pushing the fall of her hair behind her ears, features suddenly vulnerable and incredibly young, Blair murmured, “Well, now you do, and now you know why it’s important that you just let me do this, Jo. Just… just don’t argue with me, or put up a fight or throw a fit. Let me go with some little bit of my dignity left, and we’ll both move on and try to forget this ever happened. You can carry on with your belle de jour, and I’ll check a few more names off of my list of campus boys to be seen with, and everything will eventually return to normal.”
Swallowing, taking a deep breath in a vain effort to process what was going on, Jo scrambled to come up with the perfect retort, with something dazzling or witty or clever, something that would take away the awkwardness of the moment and return her world to equilibrium. But, no such statement existed. She was fatally off-balance, confused and hopeful and frightened all at the same time, and there were no words to fix things because she wasn’t sure she wanted them to be fixed. Blair had knocked her normally well-ordered life horribly askew, but suddenly that didn’t seem like such a bad prospect.
“What did you mean before?” she asked slowly, stumbling, cursing her suddenly uncooperative voice, the one that sounded weak and reed thin, nervous and scared.
Frustrated by the question, unwilling to cover territory she thought they’d already been over and not anxious to return there, Blair sighed. “Before when? Because really, Jo, there are a lot of befores you could be talking about, and I’m quite certain I don’t have the time to explain them all.”
Biting her lip nervously, embarrassed by both the situation and the appearance of a shy demeanor she hadn’t known she possessed, Jo struggled to find the words to ask what she desperately needed to know. The kiss had convinced her that Blair wasn’t playing around with her, because she doubted the normally outwardly somewhat shallow blonde could pull off a hoax of this magnitude and remained straight-faced. That meant, then, if what she had been saying was true, and that the tension that had been tearing them apart for the past weeks wasn’t due to any of the number of things Jo had imagined but instead sprang from some sort of jealousy on Blair’s part, then she had to know. Had to know what Blair wanted, and what it all meant for her.
So, clearing her throat, she looked up, trying to ignore the heat of the blush creeping up her cheeks. “When you said you were interested in me. What did you mean by that?”
Looking skyward, the tendons in her neck flexing as she struggled to come up with some sort of answer, Blair began to wish she’d never initiated the conversation at all. It surely hadn’t been the wisest move, as this nearly painful awkwardness could attest, and she suddenly found herself in the position of having to explain things she wasn’t at all sure she could explain. It was difficult and distinctly unpleasant, and reminded her why she generally tried to avoid messy emotional entanglements on the whole.
Watching the blonde do everything in her power to avoid looking at her, Jo felt herself become increasingly agitated, muscles tensing as if preparing for a fight. “Well?” she prodded, anxiety straining her tone.
Face pulling tight in a near grimace, Blair sighed. “I don’t know,” she said ruefully, inwardly amused with herself. She was being a coward, was running away while standing still, and couldn’t do anything to escape it. “I guess I just wanted things…”
Jo waited, anticipating more that what she’d been given, Blair’s answer garnering even more confusion than she’d been in before. “What things did you want?” she asked, vaguely aware she was holding her breath.
Eyes skittering nervously back and forth, focusing on the house, her car, Jo, the sky and the driveway in quick succession, Blair laughed. “Just things, Jo. I don’t know how to explain it. I wanted you, and I wanted you to want me, and I really don’t want to talk about this any more.”
Jo felt her pulse quicken at the admission, and took a small step forward, invading Blair’s personal space once more. “How did you want me?” she asked huskily, one slim-fingered hand reaching out to wrap around Blair’s wrist, trapping the blonde when she might have run.
Looking down at the grip on her arm, Blair shook her head, trying to arrange her thoughts back into some semblance of order. “I just… I don’t know, Jo. I guess I wanted all of you.”
“You want me… physically?” Jo asked, drawing the question out, one brow cocked as she looked up at Blair from under lowered lashes, eyes full of mischief. She didn’t even notice the change in tense, the automatic assumption that whatever feelings Blair had for her were still vividly present.
Blushing bright red at the implication, Blair looked off to the side. Anything, really, to avoid the allure of the girl standing in front of her. “Not to wind up one more notch on your bedpost. I want more than that,” she said softly, smiling wryly at the admission.
“Want?” Jo asked quickly, catching the resulting shift in verb tense on Blair’s part and pouncing on it. “Meaning you still want more than that?”
Chagrined at the slip, Blair tugged at her wrist, needing a little space. She had to figure some things out, least of which was what to do with this suddenly very friendly Jo, and couldn’t do so when all she could see and hear and smell was the brunette. “Don’t put words in my mouth,” she muttered, brows drawing together in frustration as she tried once more to pull her wrist free, only to find it held tight.
Using the hold to draw Blair closer to her, Jo husked, “I didn’t, Princess. You’re the one who said it.”
For once, the nickname, so often said in derision or anger, didn’t sound quite so bad on Jo’s lips. In fact, it sounded almost like an endearment, and Blair looked up shyly, a small smile tugging at her lips. “What if I said yes?” she asked, eyes searching Jo’s face for any hint of reaction. “What if I said I still want it? Want you?”
Jo released Blair’s wrist, her hand coming up to tuck a stray lock of wind-blown blonde hair behind the delicate shell of an ear. “Then I guess I’d have to tell you I want you too,” she said softly, ducking her head at the last second, unable to watch the reaction her words caused.
“Want me how?” Blair asked gently, teasingly, enchanted by Jo’s blush, and happy to shift the burden of answering questions onto the brunette’s shoulders.
Not quite as amused with the conversation now that it was focused on her, Jo hesitated. Drawing confessions and admissions from Blair was quite different from making them herself, and she wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to open up to the other girl, especially after the weeks of tension that had preceded the moment. She might have been wrong about the origin of their dispute, but that didn’t make it disappear, and after having doubted herself for so long, after having spent hours wondering if it was worth it for her to insist on being who she was if it would only result in the loss of all her friends, Jo was a little gunshy.
So, throwing on bravado like a familiar suit of armor, she smirked. “How do you think, Princess?” she asked, tone distinctly suggestive, and Blair felt her heart fall, the illusion shattering.
Feeling slightly disgusted, Blair tried to jerk free once more, succeeding this time. Spinning around quickly to hide the tears blurring her vision, she took in a deep breath, searching for fortification. Jo was instantly aware that it was the wrong thing to have said, and she reached out, hand hovering centimeters above the stiff line of Blair’s shoulders. But, unable to bring herself to touch the other girl, to offer her comfort and to admit to some type of weakness, she pulled her hand back, eyes falling down to study the scuffed toes of her boots.
“I should have known,” Blair said finally, voice bright with faux cheeriness, jarringly out of place in the midst of the frozen tableau their words and actions had created. “It was foolish of me to entertain the notion that you’d ever be interested in anything more than an afternoon dalliance.”
Jo knew she was in trouble when Blair’s words became stiffly formal, the habit one she’d long ago recognized for the defense mechanism it was. Sensing that the situation was quickly decompensating into something with the potential to be quite ugly, Jo growled out her frustration. “That’s not what I meant, Blair. I was… I don’t know. I was just being stupid.”
Feeling slightly placated by the apology, Blair turned slightly, profile visible over the line of her shoulders. “And?” she prompted.
Swallowing, closing her eyes as she said the words, amazed that they were even being spoken at all considering the history she shared with Blair, Jo said softly, “And I want to give us a try.”
Blair was giddy. There was no other word for it, the euphoria she felt almost enough to levitate her a few feet into the air. After Jo’s declaration, they’d both laughed, the release of tension almost vital after the scene they’d been through. The laughter had quickly turned into kisses, though, and Blair could still feel the warmth of Jo’s lips against her own. It was marvelous, really, better than anything she’d experienced before then, and she was nearly aching to do it again. But, they’d decided not to rush, to keep things low key for a while, and so now any kisses were quick, stolen affairs, still quite lovely but not nearly as satisfying.
All of which was about to change, she hoped. She’d taken the apartment over Jo’s protests, just as uncertain she’d be able to remain in a house where the brunette was possibly available to her as she had been when she’d thought living with an indifferent Jo would provide her own little hell on earth. Besides, if something really was going to develop between them, she wanted to provide them with a sanctuary where they could be themselves without having to worry about prying eyes and loose lips.
After nearly two weeks of meetings in various coffee shops and lunches together in the Student Union, they were finally going to have what Blair considered their official first date. She’d cooked for the occasion, though it was really nothing more fancy than simple spaghetti marinara and bakery fresh bread with a bottle of wine on the side. There were candles everywhere, though, and soft music piping through the stereo system she’d had installed. Instead of insisting on sitting in the formal dining room, she’d arranged everything in the living room, the coffee table serving as their eating surface and the floor as their chairs. She thought it might make Jo more comfortable, the informal air far more suitable to the brunette’s usual style.
Of course, the shift had necessitated a complete outfit revision, but Blair was more than ready for the challenge. The chocolate brown silk jumpsuit she’d picked up in Nice worked well with her hair and her complexion while still setting off her eyes. It wasn’t too uncomfortable or awkward for floor dining, and if she did say so herself, she looked quite ravishing in it.
The sharp rap of someone knocking on her door almost made Blair jump, and as she glanced at the clock, suddenly aware that the time for Jo’s arrival had come without her notice, she tried to calm the rapid beating of her heart. She was almost unbearably nervous, which if looked at objectively, was quite ridiculous. After having known Jo for most of her life, the mere prospect of dinner shouldn’t have been so unsettling. Then again, it wasn’t just dinner. It was a date, and it wasn’t just with her friend Jo. Having recently been elevated to the more than friend status made Jo almost an entirely new entity, someone to be looked at through a brand new set of eyes.
Smoothing the front of her outfit nervously, checking her hair one last time in the hallway mirror, Blair made her way to the door, a quick look through the peephole enough to assure her that it was, indeed, time for the date to begin. Throwing open the door, she smiled, blushing as Jo held out a single red rose with an embarrassed grin.
“Come in,” Blair said breathlessly, graciously accepting the proffered flower. “You look fabulous tonight.”
The comment earned an even deeper blush from Jo, who looked down at her simple combination of black slacks and black turtleneck sweater. “I wasn’t sure what to wear, but figured I couldn’t go wrong it if was all the same color,” she admitted ruefully, shyly tracing her eyes up Blair’s figure. “You’re the one who looks fabulous.”
Smiling broadly, well used to compliments but thrilled at this one because of the source, Blair murmured, “I’ve got everything ready. Are you hungry?”
“Uh, yeah,” Jo said, nodding as she shrugged out of her worn black leather motorcycle jacket. Blair took it, hanging it in her hall closet, and Jo smirked.
“What?” Blair questioned teasingly, catching the look.
Shaking her head as if in bemusement, Jo said, “This is a house, not an apartment. You’ve got more room here than the four of us had all combined at Mrs. G’s.”
Shrugging her shoulders, Blair admitted, “It is huge, but I’ve got to confess that I love it. I’ll give you the full tour later. Now, though, we’re going to eat.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jo said smartly, grinning when Blair fixed her with a faux scowl. “Lead on, Captain.”
Brows wriggling, eyes glinting with mischief, Blair teased, “So, does that mean I’m in charge here? Because, you know I’m somewhat fond of being in control.”
Closing the distance between them with a large step, Jo backed Blair into the wall behind her, not stopping until she was pressed firmly against the other woman’s lean body, arms on either side of her shoulders. “You should at least wait until after dinner to start throwing around the innuendo,” she whispered, blue eyes mere inches away from brown, watching with interest as Blair’s pupils dilated at the soft rasp of her voice.
Licking her lips in nervous anticipation, Blair leaned forward slightly, putting herself well within reach. “I wasn’t throwing anything around,” she challenged, eyes dropping to focus on Jo’s mouth with almost searing intensity.
Breathing increasing rapidly in the span of a few seconds, Jo struggled to draw oxygen into her suddenly airless lungs. Unable to stop herself, she leaned forward, closing the last remaining distance between herself and Blair, a relieved moan vibrating through her throat as she finally met soft lips with her own. Cool fingertips immediately found their way under the hem of her sweater, teasing sensitive skin, and Jo lost herself in the sensations. Two slim thighs were straddling one of her own, putting her in contact with blazingly hot flesh barely separated from her own by a mere two thin layers of cloth, and she thought she might melt.
Gathering together all her willpower, Jo pulled free, almost forsaking the entire notion when she caught sight of Blair’s kiss-reddened lips. “Dinner,” she rasped, eyes fluttering shut for a moment, desperate to block out the stimuli in front of her.
The gentle nip of sharp teeth along her jawline was her only answer, and Jo groaned, torn. On the one hand, she wanted nothing more than what was happening, and knew she’d be crazy to call a stop to it. But, on the other, she really wanted to follow the evening to whatever its conclusion might be without by-passing any of the steps in between. To do that, though, she was going to have to make it out of the hallway, a prospect that seemed rather daunting and fairly impossible in face of the feel of Blair softly sucking the skin over her pulse point.
Blair. Kissing Blair. Dating Blair. Was she insane?
Granted, it had always been a fantasy, one she’d carried with her from almost the first time she’d met the snooty socialite. One that embarrassed her even as she reveled in it, the notion of the poor kid from the streets sweeping the rich heiress off her feet full of storybook cliches. Well, storybooks done Sappho-style, at least.
Blair had stood for everything she’d always told herself she hated. The girl was privileged and shallow, barely in touch with the real world and more concerned with the contents of her closet than the problems plaguing society. Jo had assumed that if she ever did fall for someone, that he or she would be as driven and visionary as she was. In some ways, Blair was the antithesis of her ideal. There were, of course, hidden layers, ones the blonde tried her best to hide, and Jo took solace in the fact that she hadn’t betrayed herself completely. Almost, though, because she had certainly fallen for Blair years before. It was one of the reasons why their earlier feud had bothered her so badly. She was fine with little spats and arguments, enjoying the interplay too much to worry about them, but when faced with the prospect of being rejected for something so fundamentally her, Jo’s confidence and self-image had been badly shaken. That it was Blair doing the shaking made things nearly unbearable, and she acknowledge wryly that it was a miracle they were there at all, and not laying dead with twin butcher knives in their chests. After all, Blair had seemed awfully fond of the implements for a while…
But, back to the task at hand, which was separating herself from a quite happy and quite amorous Blair. Some might have called it stupidity, but Jo wanted to do things right. Allowing herself to be ravished in the front hallway just simply wasn’t right, at least not according to her view of how things were supposed to progress, so with all the strength she could muster, she wrenched herself away from the other girl’s grasp, yelping slightly as overly sharp teeth lost purchase with her skin with a suddenness for which they weren’t prepared.
“Jo…” Blair moaned suggestively, pouting, watching as the other girl gingerly massaged the side of her now tender throat.
Voice perilously close to whining, Jo said, “Blair, let’s eat dinner first, alright. Just, you know, have a real date. I want to do this the right way.”
For a moment, Blair seriously considered protesting. She felt wonderfully free in her own home, away from the prying eyes of all of Eastland. There were things she’d wanted for a very long time, things she’d been afraid to pursue, but now it appeared they were in reach, and she didn’t want to wait any longer. But, Jo was looking at her with pleading dark eyes, beautiful in her anxious vulnerability, and Blair couldn’t help but acquiesce.
“Right then. Dinner it is. I thought we’d eat in the living room, and not stand on ceremony tonight,” Blair said, moving to smooth back her hair and finding, much to her surprise, that she was still clutching that single rose. It was a bit worse for wear, as would only be expected of a flower that found itself in the midst of an amorous attack, but beautiful nonetheless, and the blonde felt an unbidden smile come to her face.
Ducking her head slightly, catching the soft smile and divining it’s origin, Jo couldn’t help but blush. “I didn’t want to overdo it, you know,” she said hesitantly, eyes flicking over to the flower. “I just, you know…”
“Jo,” Blair interrupted softly, laying a soft hand on the brunette’s forearm, eyes liquid and luminous, “it’s beautiful. You’re beautiful. Hopefully, dinner will be beautiful. So just come on before I get any more nervous than I already am.”
Grinning at the reprieve, cursing her inability to express herself in anything remotely resembling a coherent manner, Jo followed along docilely as Blair led them into the living room. “You’re nervous?” she murmured, slightly incredulous.
Rolling her eyes, Blair scoffed, “Of course I’m nervous. It’s a big night for me. My first date with someone I very much so want to impress,” she finished with an amused drawl, surprised at her own candor.
“Blair, I’ve known you for five years. If I’m not impressed already, then I don’t think it’s gonna happen,” Jo replied wryly, shaking her head as she took in the set-up before her. Luxurious pillows were scattered around the floor, and twin candles were already burning atop what she knew to be the blonde’s coffee table. It didn’t much look like one at the moment, though, with its white linen tablecloth covering. There were plates already in place, devoid of food for the moment, and a bottle of wine already opened and breathing.
“It’s perfect,” Jo said quietly, thrilled by the blush of pleasure she saw rush up the other girl’s cheeks at the words.
Delighted by the brunette’s response, Blair grinned widely, feeling slightly more at ease. “Why don’t you settle in, and I’ll find a vase for this and bring out the food,” she said easily, nerves no longer making her speech hurried.
“I can help,” Jo protested, already heading in the direction of what she knew to be the kitchen before Blair stopped her.
“No,” the blonde said strongly, a hand on the other girl’s wrist. “Let me do this my way.”
Nodding, retreating back, Jo let Blair by, surprised to note just how comfortable she felt. She’d been afraid it would be awkward. Five years of borderline antagonistic friendship didn’t necessarily ensure a smooth transition into a more intimate relationship, and her mind had conjured up any number of scenarios. She’d pictured them picking listlessly at their food, all attempts at conversation unwieldy and unproductive. Then, of course, she’d imagined them fighting, falling into the same pattern that had dominated their interactions for years, and she didn’t want that. The acknowledgement of an attraction between them, and a mutual desire to explore that attraction, meant there was a decidedly adult component to their relationship, and she didn’t want to spoil that by reverting back to childish behaviors. If anything, Jo wanted to treat this much as she would any other first date, and no matter how embarrassing it might be to contemplate being on her best date behavior with a girl who’d seen her brush her teeth every morning for years, she was going to try.
“I hope you’re here for something other than my cooking,” Blair said ruefully, backing out of the kitchen with a large bowl of steaming pasta, a cloth-wrapped loaf of bread tucked under her arm. “I only have a few specialties, but I don’t think the special part of the word guarantees you anything.”
Smiling, stepping forward to help Blair with her burden despite the blonde’s protests, Jo said lightly, “Then I guess it’s a good thing I ate before I came. I had a feeling it was the right thing to do.”
Looking outraged, Blair glanced up, eyes wide. “Jo, you didn’t dare,” the blonde protested, a slight scowl curling at her lips.
Unable to help herself, Jo laughed. “I’m just kidding, Princess. Whatever this is, I’m sure it’ll be absolutely spectacular, and if it’s not, then I know a few places that are open 24 hours.”
Feeling herself gearing up for another mini-outburst, Blair managed to rein herself in when she caught sight of the other girl’s eyes twinkling in amusement, a suppressed smile pulling at her mouth. “Of course, we could always call Mrs. Garrett and ask her to fix something,” Blair added blithely, secretly amused by the slightly horrified look that ghosted over Jo’s features.
“Mrs. Garrett isn’t getting anywhere near our date,” Jo said emphatically, nodding with no small amount of decisiveness. “Third parties are definitely not invited.”
Chuckling, Blair eased the bowl down onto the table, flipping her hair back over her shoulder as she headed toward the kitchen once more. “I’m not the one who brought it up,” she teased, disappearing for a moment, leaving a smirking Jo.
“I don’t know. Actually, the more I think about it, the better it seems. We could eat in the kitchen, just like old times, with Natalie and Tootie eavesdropping at the door, and Mrs. Garrett just waiting until the very second when we really don’t want her there to walk in,” Jo mused reflectively, thoroughly entertained by the gasp of outrage directed her way from the kitchen.
“Now you’ve gone and taken the imagery much too far,” Blair mumbled, moving back into the room, a bowl of freshly grated parmesan in one hand, and butter in the other.
Smiling confidently, Jo drawled, “I’ll consider that your concession and declare myself the winner, then.”
Dark blonde brow arching in amusement, Blair said sweetly, “Just what do you think you’ve won?”
It was a warning tone if Jo had ever heard one, predicting nothing good for her should the answer not be the right one, and she sighed. “A fabulous dinner?” the brunette offered up hopefully, blue eyes wide with innocence.
Eyes rolling, Blair settled down onto the floor, immediately leaning forward to distribute food onto their plates as she mused humorously, “I don’t know how much longer I can handle us getting along together, Jo. We’ve been fighting for so long that this little foray into normal conversation seems somehow doomed. And now, with the compliments? I think you’re definitely trying to jinx us.”
“It’s just a first date, Blair,” Jo observed sagely, idly picking up her fork. “There’s plenty of time for fighting later.”
“So you think there’s going to be a second date,” Blair asked nonchalantly, brown eyes wide and innocent, and it took Jo a moment to realize that the other woman wasn’t teasing so much as she was subtly trying to ascertain the status of their relationship.
Putting her fork down, suddenly serious, Jo shifted until she was facing Blair. “Yes, I think there’s going to be a second date, and a third and a fourth until we stop counting,” she said softly, leaning forward slightly to tuck a lock of errant blonde hair behind the other girl’s ear. Then suddenly, insecurities rising to the fore despite what she thought she knew about the situation, Jo pulled back, eyes falling down to focus intently on the carpet as she murmured, “Unless that’s not the set-up you’re looking for here.”
For a moment, she felt like the proverbial poor kid, invited up to the mansion but only to entertain. She felt like she did when girls like Bootsie approached her, arrogant eyes already assuming too much.
Immediately feeling like an ass, Blair leaned her elbows on the table, sighing as she rubbed at the bridge of her nose. “No, it’s definitely what I’m looking for. I guess I just can’t help but doubt this, though. Sometimes it feels like I’m only imagining it, and that when I wake up, everything will be just like it’s always been. With you much more interested in clawing my eyes out than in gazing into them, that is,” she added with a smirk, trying to alleviate some of the seriousness her earlier words might have caused.
“Since when do I gaze into your eyes?” Jo scoffed, leaning forward slightly so she was only about six inches away from Blair, a soft smile tempering her words.
Closing the distance between them until it was negligible, Blair whispered, “Since now.”
Chuckling, Jo pulled back, diffusing the sudden tension that had arisen. “I guess I do. Now, are you gonna let me eat in peace, or do I have to take this to the kitchen and eat alone?”
“What?” Blair questioned innocently. “Can’t handle a little flirting? Is that it, Polniaczek?”
Pointing her fork in the blonde’s direction, Jo muttered, “You would be in so much trouble if I wasn’t on my best behavior.”
“Maybe I want to be in trouble,” Blair murmured seductively, pouting.
The look went straight to Jo’s belly, and she could almost physically feel her pupils dilating with arousal. But, pushing that down, she said softly, “Blair, I want to take this slow. I want it to be different, you know. Like, I don’t know, like a real relationship. Like real dating.”
For some inexplicable reason, Blair felt unshed tears gather in the corners of her eyes at the other woman’s shyly voiced admission. Maybe it the way Jo had blushed and ducked her head after speaking, almost as if afraid of what the response to her statement would be, or maybe it was because the words implied she was looking for something a lot more special than some rush to the bedroom. Whatever it was, Blair was touched, and couldn’t help nearly melting into a puddle.
“Okay,” she replied, voice quiet in deference to the mood of the moment. “We’ll do this however you want, Jo. We’ll take things as slowly as you need.”
Blushing an even darker shade of red, Jo cut her gaze over to the couch, eyes focusing blindly on the fabric’s print. “It’s not that I’m afraid or anything, I just think you deserve better,” she muttered, chagrined she’d even brought it up in the first place. Some things were just better left unsaid, she mused sourly.
“Maybe you think you deserve better too,” Blair said gently, reaching over to entwine her fingers with Jo’s, giving the other girl’s hand a tug. “I understand what you’re saying, Jo. I want it too.”
Chancing a hesitant glance at Blair, Jo realized she was telling the truth, the open and honest set of her features free from mocking. “You probably think I sound like a moron,” she huffed, rolling her eyes at herself. “I mean, we haven’t even had dinner yet, and here I am, going on about taking things slow.”
Chuckling softly, Blair leaned over, placing a sweet, soft kiss on the brunette’s cheek. “Actually, I think it’s kind of sweet,” she said wryly, nose wrinkling with amusement.
Muttering lowly under her breath, Jo said, “Sweet. That’s all I need… to be sweet.”
The first date had ended with a sweet kiss and a blushing Jo. Almost as if time had repositioned itself, that first date seemed to flow seamlessly into the second and the second into the third, and Blair couldn’t quite figure out how nearly three months had passed her by. Not that it hadn’t been wonderful, because it most certainly had been. Dating Jo was, conversely, just like being best friends with her, only somehow drastically different. It was almost like there were new rules, and new ways to behave, and boundaries that had been pushed back so far they were close to being demolished.
As a result, Blair had come to realize two very important things. The first was that she was hopelessly, madly, deeply in love with Jo Polniaczek. The second, and far more distressing, was that taking things slowly was far more difficult than she’d ever imagined it could be.
Oh, they’d kissed and they’d touched and they’d explored, but just when she thought things would finally move from the fooling around stage up to the full-blown intimacy stage, Jo would call a halt. She’d pull away, panting and slightly sweaty and gorgeous, and leave Blair in a boneless, limp, liquid puddle. And Blair would try to coax her back, would promise she was ready for the inevitable next step, but Jo would shake her head and smile and say that this time, she was going to do things right.
The only thing that Blair could determine was that doing things right apparently meant inducing severe sexual frustration.
So, it wasn’t that Blair was intentionally planning on maneuvering her way around whatever mental barrier Jo had set up, but she had done some fairly meticulous scheming. She’d chosen Jo’s birthday as a target date. Having already done the groundwork, everything was ready, just waiting for her girlfriend to fall in line. Mrs. Garrett was well aware of the surprise party she was throwing, just for the two of them of course, and seemed to be fine with the idea and more than amenable to not interfering with a soiree of her own. After all, as she’d said, they’d been so close the past few months, and Jo never had been one to enjoy a lot of fuss so something low key seemed right on par. And, they could always have a little party for her on Saturday evening, even if it was a day late. And, if Blair thought Mrs. Garrett suspected something more than she was letting on, she didn’t let it bother her.
She hadn’t cooked, leaving dinner to the devices of Jo’s favorite restaurant. It was one they rarely went to, not because they both didn’t absolutely adore it, but because Jo balked at being taken to places only Blair could afford. It was something they’d argued about, only coming to a compromise after a temper tantrum the likes of which hadn’t been seen for years, and an apologetic Jo admitting that she really was being selfish by denying Blair the opportunity to enjoy going somewhere she truly wanted to go, and with the one person she really wanted to go with. In fact, if it hadn’t been an in-house kind of night, she would have made reservations.
But, she hadn’t made reservations. Instead she’d given in to her self-indulgent side and ordered a little bit of almost everything on the menu, even though she knew Jo was going to throw a fit. It was her money, though, and her prerogative, and if she wanted to spend it all on the recalcitrant brunette, then she’d do so. To be honest, though, she was really rather hoping they never actually got around to eating dinner… at least not until it had grown quite cold.
Gift shopping had, of course, necessitated a trip into New York. In deference to the fit she knew Jo would throw if she went as overboard on presents as she had on dinner, Blair managed to limit herself to an absolutely gorgeous black leather motorcycle jacket she was dying to see on the brunette, tickets to the upcoming concept cars expo, and lingerie. Lots and lots of lingerie, in almost every shade imaginable. Some of it was for her, of course. Well, if she were being honest, all of it was for her. If it meant that Jo had to wear it for her to receive the true benefit, then all the better.
She wouldn’t have bought so much, but she honestly couldn’t decide. After all, there were shades that she knew would look gorgeous with the brunette’s eyes, others she couldn’t wait to see against that skin, and still others bought for more hedonistic, self-indulgent reasons. It had crossed her mind that Jo didn’t necessarily seem like the lingerie kind of girl, but sacrifices had to be made in all relationships. Looking sexy as hell while wearing little more than a barely there concoction of scant lace and silk was simply one sacrifice Blair had decided her girlfriend was going to have to make.
It wasn’t as if she weren’t prepared to do the same. Her bedroom was quite literally filled with candles, their soft glow filling the room and their gentle, slightly salty scent perfuming the air. Blair herself was wearing black. She’d thought about white, but hadn’t wanted to give the wrong impression. She was in a black kind of mood, and no white evening was going to do it for her. For a moment, she’d considered soft background music, but figured she was pushing things as it was, what with all of the candles and the fact that she was quite clearly dressed for seduction, and so had nixed the idea.
Jo had her own key, had in fact had it for quite some time, and so Blair lay propped up in her bed, ears straining to hear the rasp of it in her lock, barely remembering to breathe she was so nervous. That she was anxious wasn’t at all surprising… after all, if she finally succeeded in wrangling Jo into bed, it would be, for her, the first time.
Ever. With anyone. At all.
After what seemed like half of eternity, though was really probably closer to about ten minutes, she heard the soft snick of the door, and a muffled, confused, “Blair? You here?”
Clearing her throat, wondering if she should try to shoot for seductive and deciding she’d only fail miserably, Blair called out, “In my bedroom. Come on back.”
Despite her best efforts, her voice was a little high and slightly wobbly, and she rolled her eyes at herself and blushed as she heard Jo make her way through the hallway. The footsteps grew slower and slower as the other girl approached the opened bedroom door, almost as if she knew what was waiting on her, and when the brunette finally peeked around the doorframe, she looked almost hesitant.
“Happy birthday,” Blair husked, surprised at the low timbre her voice appeared to have adopted without warning at the mere sight of her girlfriend’s tentative face.
Swallowing visibly, Jo clung to the doorframe as if unable to move from it, blue eyes wide as she took in the sight in front of her. “What… what’re you doing, Blair?” she asked weakly, taking in the candles, the silk sheets on the bed, and most importantly, the little black something Blair was almost wearing.
Pushing up off the bed, silk sliding against silk as she shimmied down until she was standing, Blair grinned. She felt a little victorious, triumphant even, at the obvious desire and muted nervous energy she could see in Jo’s eyes. “Well,” she drawled, slinking across the space between them, coming to a halt mere inches away from her prey, “I think I’m trying to take things fast.”
Nostrils flaring, Jo reached out, tracing a single finger from Blair’s shoulder to her waist, teasing past the curve of a full breast. “Are you doing this for me?” she asked, voice rough as she finally edged fully into the room, shoulder still propped on the doorframe as she lounged there, body almost indolent with sudden seductive intent.
Distracted gaze falling to focus intently on Jo’s lips, Blair shook her head from side to side slowly. Now that her plan was in action, she found herself too scattered to speak coherently, words that would have normally flowed past her tongue now stuck somewhere half-way up her throat. “No,” she finally managed to get out, sucking in her lower lip after the word had passed, tongue wetting the suddenly dry skin there as she searched for something else to say. “I’m doing this because I want you. I want you, I love you, I want to be with you.”
It was the first time she’d said it, burying her declaration of love between statements of desire, but Jo heard it. Sucking in a tiny breath, almost as if she’d been delivered a physical blow, she leaned forward, lips ghosting up the line of Blair’s jaw to tease against the shell of her ear.
“You love me?” she whispered, teeth nipping softly at a delicate lobe, tongue coming behind to soothe the hurt.
Heart rate skyrocketing, Blair moaned, eyes fluttering closed. “Uh-huh,” she murmured absently, a chill racing up her spine at the knowledge that she’d said it. She’d wanted to before, on more occasions than she could count, but she’d more often than not been on the receiving end of those words. Not quite comfortable in her role as a deliverer, she’d waited, never quite sure she’d found the right time, or losing her nerve at the last second. It had just felt so right, though, with the weight of Jo’s stare on her and the glow of candlelight behind her, and now that she’d said it, she wondered why she hadn’t before, because it felt so very, very good.
“For how long?” Jo asked, voice insistent, eyes heavy with the weight of her intense gaze.
The question startled Blair, and she stilled, brow furrowed. “I want to say since the first moment I saw you,” the blonde said slowly, “but I couldn’t. I don’t know how long I’ve loved you, just that I do and that it feels like it’s been this way forever.”
Thrilled yet puzzled, Jo asked cautiously, “So why didn’t you tell me before now?”
Mouth opening, then slamming shut once more, Blair looked up, a hesitant and shy smile curling at her lips. “Maybe because you’ve never told me,” she said softly, shrugging her shoulders innocently, and Jo nearly groaned at the unexpected jolt of arousal that shot through her at the move.
“Well then, just so you know, I love you too,” she said gruffly, free, now, to say the words. She’d been bound by fear before, afraid of being the only one who felt that way, though objectively she’d known it’d been a silly thought. Blair’s feelings were obvious in almost every move she made, even if she’d been slightly more hesitant about expressing herself verbally.
Grin sliding easily into a broad smile, Blair said happily, “I do now. And, I’m ready for you to show me you love me, Jo. I promise I am.”
Jo felt her mouth go as dry as cotton quite suddenly. “Before dinner?” she squeaked, blushing bright red as she heard the words. She sounded afraid, which she consciously admitted she was. But, Jo Polniaczek wasn’t supposed to be afraid. She was supposed to be confident and smooth and self-assured. She certainly wasn’t supposed to be the one left breathless in the doorway as her girlfriend pressed tight against her, predatory look in her eyes.
Twining her fingers with Jo’s tugging the other girl behind her as she seemed to almost float over to the bed, Blair turned her head, fixing Jo with a searing look. “Yes, before dinner. It can wait. I can’t.”
“Oh my God,” Jo blurted, the arousal evoked by those words almost bringing her to her knees. Almost whimpering, she said, “Blair…”
“Shut-up, Jo,” Blair said, the seductive smile she sent the other girl’s way taking any sting out of the words. And then Blair was kissing her, was sliding her jacket back over her shoulders, and Jo gave up all attempts at rational thought. She wondered vaguely what was wrong with her, because normally she never would have let Blair push her down onto the bed. Normally it would be the other way around, but looking up at the blonde, the sheer silk of her robe seeming to swirl around her as she straddled her waist, Jo realized she didn’t at all care exactly how this happened so long as it did.
Sliding her hands up Blair’s side, her fingers slipping against silk, she eased the robe off of the blonde’s shoulders, reverently tossing the material to the side. Blair was staring down at her with a hint of amusement in dark brown eyes, and Jo reached up, trailing a single finger over the other girl’s lips. “So beautiful,” she murmured, unable to stifle a groan as Blair sucked her finger into her mouth. It was warm and wet and soft, and she was intensely aware of other places with those same qualities that she was dying to explore. So, with a grin, she pushed up on her elbow.
“Enough teasing,” she husked, replacing her finger with her lips.
Jo tried to bring her breathing back under control, but realized within moments it was virtually impossible. She was overwhelmed. Blair had been unfettered and gorgeous, blonde hair a wild mess against the pillow as her hands grasped at any part of Jo she could reach. She’d vocalized everything she was feeling, the whimpers and moans and hisses and gasps nearly driving Jo crazy, and the look of absolute love in her eyes when Jo had finally touched her intimately had almost brought the brunette to tears.
And then Blair had nearly finished the job, pouncing mere moments after she screamed her way through her climax. She’d teased, she’d tortured, she’d covered every square inch of Jo with kisses, and then had done it again. By the time she finally did kiss the one tiny patch of skin she’d previously ignored, Jo was fairly certain she was crying with a mixture of relief and frustration.
“I want to do that again,” Blair said drowsily, snuggling in closer to Jo. She was half draped over the brunette, one leg thrown over Jo’s abdomen and her head resting comfortably on the other girl’s shoulder. “But first, we’re going to have dinner. I’m not letting all of that fabulous food go to waste.”
Chuckling gently, bending down to press a light kiss to the top of Blair’s head, Jo murmured, “I’m not sure I can move.”
“I’ll give you another five minutes,” Blair warned playfully, nuzzling her nose against the curve of Jo’s neck. Then, blissfully, she added, “Do you think it would be possible to move you in here as a full time sex slave?”
The words drew a startled burst of laughter from the brunette. “As appealing as the offer sounds, I think I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t get my degree.”
“What about just moving in, then?” Blair asked wistfully, eyes fluttering closed as a bolt of nervousness shot through her. She hadn’t been planning on making the invitation, nor even really been aware that she was ready to do so, but she felt so completely perfect in that moment that it seemed like the only appropriate thing to do.
Jo stilled, heart rate suddenly increasing. “Are you really asking what I think you’re asking?”
Nodding shyly, the gesture almost so small as to be unnoticeable, Blair whispered, “Yes.”
Taking a deep, fortifying breath, Jo said slowly, “That’s a big step, Blair. If I move in here, people might start to talk.”
“People already talk,” Blair said starkly, knowing it was the truth. She had heard a few of the rumors. People weren’t stupid. They could see how close the two of them were, could see that extra something in their interactions that wasn’t there between girls who were just friends. Initially, she’d just brushed it off, but recently, she’d found herself oddly delighted by the speculation. Even as she knew she risked social ruin and possible ostracization, part of her desperately wanted the world to know that Jo belonged to her.
Lips pursed, Jo said, somewhat surprised, “I didn’t think you knew about that.”
Pushing up on her elbow, meeting Jo’s blue eyes with her own serious gaze, Blair said softly, “I say let them talk.”
Unable to help herself, Jo stretched up, catching Blair’s lips in a soft, sweet kiss. “You continue to surprise me,” she murmured, on the verge of veering off into sappiness.
“I have layers. Who knew?” Blair replied, a hint of humor in her tone.
“Do you think your layers are capable of sharing closet space?” Jo asked in mock seriousness.
“Is it going to be an unfortunate side-effect of having you live here?” Blair asked, unable to keep the hint of hope out of her tone.
Barely suppressing a wide grin, Jo nodded. “I think it is.”
“Then I may have to give this more thought,” Blair replied primly, laughing at Jo’s immediate look of shock.
Scowling, Jo huffed, “That was seriously wrong.”
“Aw, baby. I’m sorry,” Blair cooed with amusement, bending to pepper Jo’s face with kisses. “I didn’t mean it.”
Hand wrapping into soft blonde hair, Jo pulled Blair down for a long, searing kiss. Parting reluctantly long moments later, she said huskily, “Despite the teasing, I accept.”
“Good,” Blair replied arrogantly. “It’s about time people knew that Jo Polniaczek is officially off the market.”
“Are you going to be all possessive now?” Jo asked with a devilish grin. “Because I think I might like that.”
“I can be anything you want,” Blair murmured, easing herself down so she was pressed tightly against Jo once more.
Wrapping her arms around the blonde, reveling in the feel of all that soft flesh against her own, Jo said fiercely, “All I want is for you to be you. I love you, Blair.”
“I love you, too.”