DISCLAIMER: See Part 1
Questions or Comments: Feel free. firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. March smiled at the backside of a particularly eager intern. He was twenty years her senior, but she was still a little old for his tastes. Though, women in their twenties had their allure. They were much easier to break in than older self assured women, no longer handicapped by their daddy issues. He sat in his office ‘on top of the world'. All he had to do was sit back and play the role of Charles March genius, philanthropist, and all around nice guy. The persona got him Man of the Year in '88.
He wore privilege like a silk glove and didn't make any apologies for it. Apologies were a waste when there was so much of life left to live. Money bought everything, even the silence of a few choice players that could bury him alive. And when money didn't work little girls having fatal accidents on the stairs did the job too.
It was messy. The cop was getting too close to little Sophia. His toy had to go. He caught some of his staff giving him looks. He hadn't fired them for looks. He kept them on confident they wouldn't speak. And three months later they were still silent cleaning his floors, making his meals, and tending to his garden. People weren't by nature good or bad, they were self preserving.
“Is there anything else I can help you with Mr. March?” the redhead asked suggestively.
His day had barely started he thought with a grin. March slid back from his desk indicating with one downward finger, that there was one more thing she could do before she left for the evening. No one could ever really say that he wasn't a man of compromise.
After the driver knocked he heard hurried moving behind the door. Waiting patiently with his package the door opened to a young woman with swollen lips. He wasn't sure if it was because she caught him staring or shame, but she lowered her gaze, and it didn't take a genius to know why. Remy walked in and handed over the package in his hand when the intern was dismissed by a reluctant mathematician.
Red lingerie hung from the arm of his chair. It wasn't like the man didn't know they were there. It took some effort on Remy's part not to fold his face in disgust. Jo hardly talked about him, but he read the papers and he had ears, putting two and two together bore duel sides of the computer genius. The drivers reflected on how strange it was for people to let go of their ‘surface face' in front of people they deemed inconsequential. If they were to meet again he knew from experience people with March's disposition of wealth wouldn't recognize him. That kind of invisibility had its advantages. When rich people were fascinated by things they liked to toy with it.
“The darkest hour of any man's life is when he sits down to plan how to get money without earning it,” he opened his drawer lifting out two yellow envelopes. “Horace Greeley,” he offered before relinquishing his own package. Remy took them with carrying himself neutrally even though he could firmly state he was disgusted.
“Do you eat stupid for breakfast and let it digest through your day with the words that come out of your mouth?” Natalie was beyond offended. Max, a coworker, invaded her cubicle with the smell of after shave and coffee. The man was too much for her at the moment.
She had hardly slept the night before coddling Blair until she finally cried herself to sleep. Jo wasn't answering her phone calls to help and she was still working in a job she could safely now say she hated. She felt like a walking advertisement for creeps to shower her with below average pick up lines. She could be the ‘it' girl for what one's life she never end up being.
A few choice insults later and Max the melon head had finally caught on that her insults weren't a kinky play of words. Behind her back they would call her uptight, a prude, maybe even a lesbian, but there was no invention to their surface insults. Bruised boys, with bruised egos had no imagination and yet they were the one's writing the lead stories. She groaned inwardly at her predicament of life.
She started typing when her phone started ringing. She glared at it as if she had the power to intimidate the phone to stop.
“Greene speaking,” she tried not to sound too annoyed.
“Hey Nat it's me,” Tootie smiled on the other end.
“Do you have any idea what the heck is going on with your best friends?” Natalie had the habit of giving Tootie the credit for their decade long friendship with the impossible duo. Today she was at a loss. Blair did nothing but cry last night and when she did speak her words were barely intelligible outside of one word, Jo.
Tootie shrugged on the other end adding that she was just as confused, “we need a plan of action.”
Tootie and Natalie with the best intentions thought they could help. The very existence of either woman depended on the other. The codependent relationship that had first worried them warmed their hearts when they saw the love stemming from it. But now disaster was in the midst. It hung like a fog with no foreseeable end.
For the actress words were the only tools she'd need. Her friends would see reason eventually. They always had in the past. However, what Tootie wasn't taking in account were the years in between. There were variables on both ends that gradually took pieces of her friends, to be replaced by perceptions and beliefs that eroded the innocence of youth.
Everything was more complicated than stealing a van.
Natalie sighed when another coworker, Brian Himmel, strutted over with his hands resting coolly in his pants. He wore masculine clothes, dolled up his language to sound like some Casanova, but he was still the office slut.
He took liberties by shortening her name, a right reserved for people she liked. He leaned against the wall of her cubicle with one hand the other notoriously placed in his pants. She held her hand up to stop him, “I'm still not interested in having your cream in my coffee cup.”
“I can open your mind to a whole new world Greene,” he leaned in to whisper.
She followed suit, “I'd rather spend my evening tracing the outline of my iris with a toothpick.”
A stack of mail ended up on her desk. The clerk smirked hearing the last of the conversation. He knew there was a reason he liked the weird chick in the numbers section of the paper. Too many women were focused on the wrapping no matter how bad the stench emanating from it.
Two insults and a successfully dissuaded suitor later Natalie could get back on task. She looked at the stack grabbing the manila envelope first. Her eyes looked around automatically. She never knew whether it was because he was her secret or because she waited to see if she was being watched. The reaction became reflexive when she received her first envelope three weeks ago. They were always from a L.P. King with no return address. She began research on the name when she realized that she had been mailed damning evidence involving corrupt police officials.
In no exact pattern she'd receive mail some with pictures and some were copies of official documents. Her job didn't give her the luxury of being patient, but she abstained, it wasn't unheard of for a reporter's career to go down in flames because of misinformation. She'd been studying the case files and notes given to her and gradually she was becoming more and more comfortable with her snitches credibility. The first door slammed in her face inquiring about official actions involving the murder of a little girl made her incredibly curious.
When she opened today's present she recognized the two men in the photograph. From the absence of people besides themselves, the meeting looked to be invitation only and in all caps scrawled on a sticky note, ‘WHAT'S THE BIG SECRET?'
The men's bathroom had the same architectural design as the women's bathroom, it was a lazy observation only second to the first noticeable difference—the smell. Jo's nose twitched with the mixture of cologne and cleaning products. She sat on the counter waiting for March. She watched him walk confidently into his building after his lunch break. He spoke congenially to the people he passed. Their smiles gave away how little they knew about him. She could call herself paranoid, but following Remy was an impromptu decision. On happenstance she saw him in the street. A double take verified that the dressed down man who looked incredibly familiar was the driver. She had him checked out, but it was Dave she didn't trust. And by default Remy fell under questionable in Jo's mental catalogue of people she could and could not trust.
When she saw him disappear into the building she kept her distance, but it wasn't an applied science to conclude where he'd gone. Now she sat waiting. Frowning as the sounds of March relieving himself filled the otherwise quiet space. The click of the stall door unlocking triggered her into action. When he opened the door she rushed him pushing him back in, hitting him in the throat to muffle any sounds to warn someone of foul play. She grabbed his throat pushing him in the wall. He slid uncomfortably on the seat of the toilet eyes wide and scared. The part of Jo that enjoyed his fear pushed on his throat harder, but her reason wouldn't let her entertain it for long.
“De ja vu,” Jo whispered. There was one other time they had been this close the last time he ended up with a concussion.
He tried to speak, but his response came out strained and hoarse.
Blair watched Vesper's mouth move. She managed to nod and speak and answer accordingly. She listened noncommittally to her itinerary for that day. When the secretary handed it to her she looked it over not paying attention to what the words made up. She entertained the thought of not showing up for work. Then, she thought better of staying home alone left to her thoughts. If Bailey had been there she would have had something happy to distract her. She kept Natalie up for most of the night until she cried herself to sleep.
She scoffed at the memory. Vesper looked up from the notes she'd made thinking she had said something to upset her boss. When Blair noticed her assistant stopped talking she looked at her in question.
“The Mulrone meeting is at five today would you rather it be transferred to Roger?”
Roger was a capable attorney that thought her employment was a joke. But as the boss's daughter she expected her coworkers to be a little bitter. Despite his shortcomings regarding his perceptions of her she observed his work with respect. He was a proficient lawyer and her father trusted him. Still, he relished in trying to make her look bad, which put him a category the blonde reserved for the jerks in her life. That left the thought of unloading the work to Roger and its suggestion null.
When she shook her head in negative, Vesper continued none the wiser until Blair stood and picked up her coat.
“I'll be back in time for the meeting,” she heard herself say.
She nodded and smiled to passing coworkers and employees. She was astute keeping her real feelings far from the surface. If she showed a glimpse to the vultures, they would pick and prod and speculate. She wouldn't have an eloquent answer. Her normal witty ease had left her, replaced by awkward excuses and avoidance tactics that her mother would cringe to see. She was sure Natalie was full of questions after she came home last night distraught. Natalie was safe, a close friend whose shoulder was always willing to catch her tears.
But now, in the light of day, she had the reality of what happened the day before slamming into her at every turn. The pressure built up the evening before into the morning. The ringing in her ear informed her of an impending migraine. Her driver stood outside dutifully when she exited. She knew Vesper had probably arranged it. Like second nature she walked to the open door settling into the seat. Jo had wondered aloud how she could be so trusting of the people that drove her for a living. Jo's overactive imagination created scenarios where she was kidnapped for ransom. Scenarios, which Jo pointed out, could easily be avoided if Blair were more attentive to her surroundings.
The door closed behind her and then the driver asked where she wanted to go. It was a simple question she answered millions of times before with a cavalier certainty. Today, however, she was taken aback by the request and they sat there. The driver was anxious by her silence and Blair contemplated if the next words to come out of her mouth were wise.
Pushing her first response out of her head, she went with the second. The address didn't need to be repeated just the name of one of the most influential men in New York. The ride took longer than usual because of traffic. The city was doing more construction on the road. Everywhere one turned there was something or another being broken and built back up.
Blair's father owned several apartments in town. Her father was a calculating man. Each apartment had a purpose in the scheme of things. She often questioned if there was a purpose in his mind for her. As his daughter and heir to the Warner dynasty she considered her birth a necessity. She wasn't as naïve to think that she was a product of love and devotion. Her parents had stopped loving each other before she was born. It was paranoid to think like that, but they were thoughts she couldn't help indulge in.
Very few people were given access to the upper level apartments. Anyone with access was cleared through a rigorous security check. While Blair didn't visit her father regularly the concierge knew her face and name and immediately escorted her to elevator. She rode the top floor biting the inside of her lip. It was a nervous habit from childhood that revisited her in times of anxiety.
“Sweet heart,” she heard him say when she reached the apartment. He opened his arms wide to her for a hug and she fell into them. When she was younger when the same arms closed around her she thought he could solve anything if she just asked.
A question was on the tip of her tongue as he led her further into the apartment. It had crossed her mind to talk to Natalie and Tootie about what she was feeling, but she already knew what they would say. They would tell her to cool down and forgive, but she didn't want to. They knew her better than most and were privy to her capacity to forgive, especially when it came to Jo. The bad-tempered part of the debutante that had been dormant since school arose with a vengeance.
“What do I owe this surprise my darling?” David sat adjacent to his daughter on the plush off white couch.
“I just wanted to see you daddy,” she smiled, “we live in the same city, work in the same building and yet we hardly see much of each other.”
He grasped his daughter's hand nodding the sad truth. The world of business had never allowed him as much time as he wanted with his daughter. He didn't feel guilty for the time he spent elsewhere. David knew without his commitment to his work his daughter wouldn't be the woman she was today.
“Well I'm glad you came. You've been doing an excellent job Blair I'm very proud of you. I've heard nothing but good things about you since you've been taken on.”
“I'm your daughter daddy would you have expected any different?” Blair smiled. Her heart swelled at the praise giving her a boost of confidence, like air in her lungs.
David smiled quirking a brow, “no I suppose not,” he admitted. There weren't many things Blair couldn't accomplish once she put her mind to it.
Blair noticed her father, like her mother, reminisced about her childhood with memories that didn't quite match up with her own. They took privileges with the truth, and since Blair had always been daddy's girl she was always more altruistic of her father's truth. She accepted the bias keeping it her secret. If her mother found out she would latch onto it like a leech and hold it over her daughter's head all the way to her death bed. And even after she died the woman would probably bring it up weeks later in the will. She could even see her mother doing something melodramatic, like mailing her a letter designated to be sent when she least expected it months after.
“Randall's been asking about you.”
“Has he?” Her interested hadn't piqued at the sound of her ‘suitor', but she played the part. The look pleased her father, and even older and wiser she still needed and wanted his approval.
“He has princess so why are you avoiding him?” He didn't wait for her to reply. “I like him; I think you'd be good together a good match.”
“I like him too, but…”
“But?” he leaned into his daughter grasping her hand. He knew all too well what was on the other end of the ‘but'.
“He'll be at the party and the gala. Perhaps with the atmosphere and the company you can appreciate what he offers you,” David edged.
Blair obliged her father with a smile. Maybe she hadn't given him much of a chance.
She reminisced with her father. She sank into the familial banter between them. When he called her princess he meant it. She loved him for that. He gave her the confidence to take what she wanted and damn asking. This was why she came—to feel like her old self. The old Blair long before Jo Polniaczek showed her what it felt like to have a conscience, or look beyond the surface of things. She found solace in a superficial existence. While she knew it wouldn't last for long she would enjoy for as long as she could afford.
“You're a monster,” she seethed. Spit formed at the lip as he struggled against her hold. She watched his face turn different shades indifferent to the varying pigments. She pulled a photograph out of her pocket and placed it at eye level.
It didn't surprise the mathematician that Jo held onto mementos of the case that got away. The picture of the little girl would have been a nice touch if he wasn't a sociopath. Though he did know what fear was and as he felt it now, he hated giving up that power. He knew how intoxicating it could be, but it wasn't an ideal turn in his fantasies to play victim.
“I won't let you forget her,” Jo's pledge was barely above a whisper.
The older man tilted his head and Jo pushed harder on his throat.
“Ever,” she reiterated.
“I'm gonna kill her!” Jo yelled at the top her lungs.
A blank fragrant envelope with the impressions of lips in a dark red lipstick was taped to the door. There were no words, no hidden threats or promises. It left the owner of the apartment curious and then enraged when Jo opened the door and read it.
“Woman scorned?” Remy eyed Jo's reaction letter in hand.
Jo glared. She needed to control her breathing. She had just expected the Princess to feel bad lick her wounds and fight another day. It was juvenile and petty and quintessentially Blair. Remy thought it was hilarious.
“She put out an ad?” Tootie gasped.
“More like registered Jo's number and address as an open anytime up for anything type of deal if you get my drift.” Natalie's intonation said it all.
Natalie remembered when she had to spell everything out to Tootie. Her youth was a lot simpler than the others, but with age comes wisdom, for some. She didn't consider putting up a billboard with her ex's picture advertising all you can eat was mature. Of course because the billboard was in Natalie's overactive imagination didn't mean Blair wouldn't go that far.
“You know what we need to do right?” Tootie shook her head to the offer of donuts by an eager intern. She had had her share of crushes growing up so she tolerated Lester's attention with more patience than most.
“Make them share a cramped space and a bathroom, put them on kitchen detail make them cook and clean after us until they figure out the facts of life?”
Tootie laughed. Natalie was the comic relief, Blair and Jo was the old married couple, and she was the talent. They could have opened an act if they wanted to with the way things were going.
“I was thinking more along the lines of sitting them down like adults,” Tootie added with an air of maturity.
Natalie frowned. She liked the idea of Jo and Blair waiting on them hand and foot.
“Did you learn nothing from our meddling at school?”
Tootie didn't need Natalie reminding her of several failed attempts as mediator. She felt that earlier years had prepared her for what not to do when it came to them. Older and wiser with a practicality on her side she ventured to impress upon Natalie the wisdom of neutrality.
“Do you remember the fight's those two had? Now ones a cop and the other's a lawyer they can do some serious damage to the other if they put their mind to it.”
Natalie grumbled. Far be it for her to have faith that either woman would eventually work it out. They were adults, sometimes. They agreed on a plan of action. They would convince Jo and Blair to join them both for lunch at Tootie's apartment. Tootie would start tearing up if either one of them decided to storm out like a child. Natalie would console and scold with scolding eyes and make them feel guilty enough to stay and hear them out. Then they will note off a list of reasons why they loved each other and why this fight wasn't worth the headache they were giving the other or them.
Being in love wasn't sane and Jo resigned to that idea when her mother fell for her father. The guy was a sweet talker. While he regularly took people on joy rides of bullshit, the woman he fell in love with were most affected. She didn't think she'd be that dumb until she woke up one day realizing she was in love with Blair Warner. She recited the long list of reasons not to be infatuated when she got up in the morning and went to bed at night. When that didn't help she relied on her sheer will power. She underestimated the Warner charm, and could fully understand why people risked breaking every bone in their body for a fall like love.
Jo spotted Blair when the thought crept up on her. Through the throng outside the glass doors of David Warner's penthouse she stood with her back turned. The party took up most of the floor for special occasions such as these, where the rich and exclusive could rub elbows. It was tradition to hold a special get together of who's who before the annual masquerade gala.
The dress Blair wore fell slightly but tastefully showing a seductive line of her spine. The dress was red and thigh length. She looked elegant and very much a part of the crowd of people eying her wardrobe distastefully. Jo knew she was sorely underdressed for David Warner's party, but she didn't care how he would respond. She didn't much care what strangers thought of it, even though she had a pretty good idea. Her private school days were over, but there were some things that still stuck, nothing haunting, just things that weren't easy to forget.
When she reached the glass opening the blonde still hadn't turned so Jo admired her silently. She loved Blair. Despite how she acted she never stopped. She figured Blair knew that and still held out hope, she was always hopelessly romantic and optimistic that way. While she could stare at her for hours and admire the way the blanket of light draped her in sexy mystique, she didn't want to lose track of herself.
She didn't know how long she stood there not saying anything. She gave herself a mental pep talk discouraging her more primal needs. Then the old Polniaczek charmed reared its head.
“Nice night for murder,” Jo growled from behind.
Blair turned her head slightly a smirk lifted the side of her mouth. She had felt eyes on her back. A part of her knew that it was Jo, but she wasn't brave enough to face the woman just yet. She didn't have to wait long for Jo to make the first move. Jo was always impulsive that way.
“Hello Jo,” Blair said smoothly taking a sip from her glass of champagne.
Pushing off the frame she'd been perching on she responded, “I suppose you're satisfied with yourself?”
Blair shrugged in answer. “You were looking for a whore Jo I didn't think you'd mind friendly support.”
“Since we're being friendly how bout I support you over,” Jo gestured toward the balcony.
Blair didn't look away from her view, “sarcasm, did you learn that trick all on your own?”
“Us Neanderthals are quick on our feet,” Jo leaned against the balcony with her hip eying the blonde.
“Hmmm fetch and roll over aren't doing it for you these days?” Blair's face folded in mock sympathy.
“Bite me princess,” she gnarled.
“Turn blue Goodwrench,” her ex countered in sing song.
Jo scoffed turning her back to her. Hands ran through her hair as she took a few paces away from the uncompromising woman. If she stood any closer she would be tempted to help the lawyer over. Her eyes trained on the inside with the guests of her David Warner's exclusive party. She came to deliver a package, but was sidetracked when she saw the vision outside.
They were relatively alone, but the muddled sounds of conversation kept her aware of witnesses. She couldn't kiss or kill her without being seen by at least one person from the party.
“There you are darling,” a masculine voice broke the tension only to feed a thicker cloud. He held a glass out for Blair that she took replacing her empty glass. She allowed his hand to wrap around her possessively. Randall was pleased that Blair had been more receptive to his silent advances. He hadn't considered that the woman at his side allowed it only as a message to Jo. Randall just enjoyed making the claim. Ignoring what the gesture meant she sipped from her glass looking smugly at Jo.
The brunette had gone silent. Her eyes were taking in the couple. He was just Blair's type, the kind of man her father would be proud to have in his daughter's company. The introductions were made true to Blair Warner's sophisticated flair for theatrics. One moment Jo was ruled by reason and logic and the next by impulse and anger. Ripping Blair away from him sounded like a self satisfying idea. She thought better of the idea doing the next best thing and walked away.
She stalked through the room saying ‘excuse me' and ‘pardon me'. Slipping a bottle off the refreshments table she disappeared in the back to wait for Dave. Remy had followed close behind. The form fitting black suit and gloves gave him an air of mystery.
Jo plopped down in a leather chair drinking from the bottle. Remy did his own plopping on the couch, watching the one woman show. He didn't dare say a word to her tonight. He knew she was packing and he was very much attached to his life. The sounds from the main room where the suits and gowns laughed as obnoxiously as they dressed were whispers behind the thick oak of the study door. She hadn't wanted to come tonight. David had insisted.
Riven Marsh was a stout man with expensive tastes for underage Asian girls. He frequented a popular massage shop to sample and eventually purchase. She saw herself pounding into him before her fist even connected with his face. She looked at her bruised hand. She wasn't a cop anymore. She smirked to herself. What was she then? Titles were always Blair's thing. She looked at her bottle no longer thirsty, just sad. Had this moment been the point all along? She hoped not. Too much of her life had been dedicated to being something more than a rich man's lap dog.
“What are you still doing here?” Blair glared when she opened the door to the study. She had followed Jo with her eyes not wanting to give her the satisfaction of a chase. Curiosity got the better of her unfortunately.
Jo's eyeballed the couch, “Remy.”
Remy's brows hiked. He looked from Jo to Blair and then back to Jo again. He knew it was a silent command to walk the debutante out. But she didn't appear like she was going anywhere with or without his help. Jo didn't sign his very generous paycheck either, David Warner did. He wasn't about to man handle his daughter over a lover's quarrel.
Blair observed him carefully. She hadn't noticed him when she walked in but she did recognize him. They had just never been formally introduced.
“Who are you?”
“He's just leaving,” Jo answered before he could. Her eyes were open now disappointed that Remy was smarter than he looked. Blair stood untouched glaring at her in a dress too sexy for words.
The Cajun was undecided whether they should be in a room together, alone. David Warner had given him a rough history on Jo and his daughter. From the little that Jo shared he filled in the blanks wherever he could. These women had history and Jo was in a dark place in her life. “Think that's a good idea boss?”
Blair had questions about who this man was. And Jo had questions on why he was still here. She laughed at the concern riddled on his face. Would she hurt Blair Warner? She already had. That ego cultivated to withstand natural disasters had been bruised by the actions of a lowly Bronx mechanic. She snorted that she of all people wielded so much power over a woman, who could have the world if she chose.
“Not a strand will be harmed on the delicate Warner heiress' head,” Jo held up her hand to salute. “Scouts honor,” she added.
Remy sat up standing his full height. He nodded to Blair then Jo and left. He strongly doubted she had found time to be a scout in the Bronx, but he could count on her word.
A pregnant silence settled between them. Jo thought about walking away, but Blair was in front of the door and she was certain the woman wouldn't let her pass. She contemplated the window behind her, but she wouldn't be coming back from that fall.
“Why are you here?” it was the first thing that made sense to ask. Jo wasn't dressed to impress and no one just sat in her father's office.
The brunette answered with a wiggle of her eyebrows, “enjoying the view.”
“Pig,” disdain rolled off her tongue.
Jo shook her head negatively, “not anymore they fired me.”
Blair frowned, “what?”
“The size of my balls made the department feel inadequate,” the former cop shrugged, “go figure.” They hadn't officially fired her yet, but she could read between the political lines.
“Jo,” Blair took a step toward her.
Before Blair could say another word the door opened. David Warner waltzed in masculine and graceful, “here you are darling Randall has been asking about you and here you are.” He smiled making a point not to acknowledge Jo.
Blair smiled at her father allowing him to embrace her at the shoulders. “Jo and I were just talking.”
His eyes landed on the young woman sitting in his chair. “Joanne hello I'm assuming everything went well this evening?”
She nodded in answer.
“What went well?” Blair queried curious as to why her father would be so chummy with her ex.
Jo was curious how David would explain.
“Jo works for me,” he stated simply, making the effort to pull her away from the room not look like an effort.
Blair turned fully to Jo and slightly away from her father's hold, “really?”
“She is a good friend of my favorite daughter, who needed a job. Her expertise as a cop is advantageous in security matters. Joanne's always been a sharp young woman.”
“Security? And neither of you thought this was worth mentioning?” her voice lowered. Her father wasn't telling her the whole truth and Jo was just sitting there letting him lie.
David gave Jo a deliberate look of trepidation before he sighed. He sounded like he was telling the truth. The lie was even plausible Jo acknowledged as David brought up Jo's suspension. It was a favor for a friend of his daughters. He didn't see the harm in keeping it between him and Joanne especially since she didn't want her friends to worry.
Blair looked between her father and her ex. It was on the tip of her tongue to mention Teodor's garage and the money. She knew her father well enough to know he would just explain it away, like he had done everything else just minutes ago. If she wanted the truth she wouldn't find it here with them.
“The truth will set you free,” David smiled at the last contract he needed. Joanne had proven herself more than capable over the last few months.
“Hypocrisy at its finest,” Jo intoned. She watched him from his desk.
David looked from the contract to Joanne, “what's that saying takes one to know one.”
The party goers had dispersed around one. Jo had watched from a discrete distance while Blair took her place at Randall's side. They were a perfect match in stature, money, and looks. Throughout their school days Blair yearned for the knight in shining armor. Jo knew enough about Randall that he was everything Blair could have wanted in a husband. David spoke highly of the man, as if he was already a part of the family. He did it on purpose knowing Jo broke up with Blair on her own volition. Now she sat by and watched the consequences of her actions.
She had the power to end her suffering and Blair's. She wanted to be clean for Blair, to hold her without damning thoughts. Their love was a living breathing entity that couldn't be killed by hurtful words, actions, or petty vengeance. She had that much faith in them. If she said it aloud she would wince at the romance of her words. It was so out of character of her to indulge in. It was something of Blair she kept.
Remy resumed his position on the couch studying the sparring pair. Jo attacked with open hostility and David parried using cold derision.
David trained his gaze on the contract again. “Blair looked lovely this evening don't you think Remy?”
The driver was apprehensive to answer and as if sensing this, David explained he meant on the arm of Randall Weller. “If you say so Mr. Warner,” he admitted impartially. Jo shook her head at the wimp of the man who worried too much about his paycheck.
“What do you think Joanne my daughter and one of the most eligible bachelors in business?” It grated her nerves when he called her Joanne. It pissed her off when he brought up Blair and a dime a dozen suitor from their circle. It wasn't in her to keep her mouth shut, even though her mouth was the root of things gone wrong in her life. David was daring her to challenge his match for his daughter. And when it came to challenges a Polniaczek didn't have the good sense to back down.
“They looked like paper board cut outs in expensive clothes.”
“Is that a hint of bitterness I hear Joanne?” David teased.
Remy knew no good was going to come of this conversation.
“I think your projecting I'm just callin' it how I see it,” her accent thickened slightly.
David turned his full attention to her, interested in how Joanne saw it. While Remy shifted uncomfortably from the couch.
Jo smiled smugly, “Your perfect daughter fell in love with the streetwise polish kid, you gave a rich kid education to. People ain't as cut and dry as one of your business deals. If it weren't for you, me and Blair never would've met.” The smile widened, “You gave her a world, but she'd give up in a heartbeat to be with me.”
When Remy saw David's face darken he knew Jo had struck a nerve. The woman had a skill, but Remy had only witnessed David at his most poised when she attacked. The man was infallible until it came to his daughter. He loved her enough to give her everything she'd ever asked so she would never know disappointment. As far as emotions were concerned David was at a loss to the pull of his daughter's heart to Joanne.
“What makes you smug? You were a pawn that forgot her place.”
Every fight, every feeling of displacement, all her rage toward the rich branched, but didn't originate, from a chance meeting with a man who thought he could wield fate.
“The princess and the pawn,” Jo stated whimsically, “sounds kinda romantic don't it?”
David Warner had chosen Jo. Her mother made the deal to have Jo shipped off to babysit a spoiled brat. To the casual onlooker the origin of Jo's dislike for Blair looked like it came from their first meeting. Others could even speculate that it was their personalities and station that immediately clashed. The truth, outside of their disastrous introduction, was that Jo had already been introduced to Blair Warner, or rather a file on her.
Rose encouraged her to see the bright side. While she was there the education she received could be used for a life her mother couldn't afford. Her mother asked with words, but pled with her eyes for Jo to make this sacrifice to her pride. Jo played along. But like Dave said, somewhere along the way she forgot. Beyond the spoiled, selfish, faux blonde debutante was a girl just as flawed and in dire need to be loved. They went beyond the shaky truce that opened the door to their friendship and fell in love. David Warner had to live with the fact that he was the reason for that.
The older man, with great care, put the contract he'd been admiring back into the yellow envelope. He strode over to his desk and opened it with a key placing it with the others. He paused beside her and Jo considered he might strike her, but that would be out of character. The man was an incurable control junkie.
“I would imagine unconditional love from someone like Blair is a comforting thought. She's infatuated with the idea of you but we know the truth Joanne. I paid for a playmate and you surpassed my expectations. Everything she is her noble, honest, trustworthy Joanne helped her become. Do you want that to come into question if it were ever found out why you were her friend?”
Jo fixed her gaze on him. He could be bluffing. David continued, “I would admit my culpability and be forgiven because I am her father. But honest and noble Joanne do you think you would be as easily pardoned?” He repeated honest and noble with ridicule.
Her secret was a decade old. No moment felt right for the truth. To be honest Jo had even forgotten about it until David Warner made it his mission to remind her. Would Blair love her after that? The blonde had romanticized their whole relationship. Jo helped break that fantasy with broken promises and her actions of late. Even still Blair was determined to love her. Was the truth strong enough to end them?
The consternation rolling off Joanne in waves was enough for David to be sated. Insecurity and uncertainty would fertilize the seed of doubt.
Jo didn't go home that night. Thanks to Blair she had all the perverts of New York camped out on her doorstep. Teodor had mechanics on rotation and she had two days of down time. She could have ignored the rules and went in without hassle. No, while tonight she knew it was very late, the door she headed to was always open to her.
After ringing the buzzer to 312 for over five minutes the owner finally buzzed Jo in. Climbing up the stairs the door was partially open for her. Jo shook her head. She always warned Tootie about doing that. What if some psycho happened to be roaming the halls and saw it open? What if some careless tenant let Cujo out and he attacked under the cover of night? Those kinds of macabre thoughts ran through Jo's mind with abandon. A hazard of the job was an overactive imagination in one's personal life.
She took off her jacket hanging it in the closet after she secured the door shut and locked it. She looked over at the counter facing the door and eyed the sleepy woman sitting on a stool. She didn't say anything. Jo took for granted her relationship with her friends of late. Their niceties transcended making words like ‘hello' and ‘how are you doing' unimportant when moods spoke volumes. Jo washed her hands then opened the fridge silently staking claim to leftovers. The box was still a quarter of the way full. The pizzeria had been a happy mistake they found near the studio of Tootie's set. The microwave was faster and more convenient but she liked the oven taste better.
Tootie yawned. Her hair was tied up in a multicolored wrap. Her striped pajama pants were stained from bleach and her white shirt was ripped at the shoulder hanging off. The paparazzi would have eaten up Dorothy Ramsey's down to earth alter ego.
Scratching the point of her nose she stared at Jo curiously. Jo hadn't been by this late, or rather this early, in a long time as she acknowledged it was two in the morning. Tootie asked what was up as if to not make a big deal of her presence. Jo's first response was on the tip of her tongue. Taking a second look at her young friend she thought better of it.
“I'm in love with a woman I don't deserve,” Jo stared in the direction of the oven as she spoke. She welcomed the smell of pizza warming.
“Do what you need to deserve her,” she answered simply through a yawn.
Jo turned her head moving her gaze to the tiled floor. She could try to tell Tootie the truth. Would the young woman hate her afterwards like she knew Blair would? If she was making any confessions tonight she wouldn't be sober. She walked over to Tootie's stash. She had questioned whether the actress had a problem she failed to mention when she first discovered it. The younger woman laughed it off blaming her friends, who were self proclaimed lushes. They were determined to convert her hence the plethora of liquor.
Pulling down a bottle of vodka she looked to Tootie questioningly. The actress acquiesced. Her eyebrows shot up interest when Jo turned back to her an extra tumbler. Jo smirked sliding it towards her friend after pouring a modest amount with orange juice and ice.
“You wouldn't let one of your oldest friends drink alone would'ya?” Jo teased sipping from her glass.
Tootie rolled her eyes but obliged her friend taking a reserved sip.
Jo shook her head smiling endearingly at the woman she considered her little sister. The room filled with the smell of the warming pizza. Smiling to herself when she refilled Tootie's drink and hers she retrieved the food carefully. Tootie started giggling behind her.
“Something funny light weight?” the mechanic pulled off the burgundy gloves. She eyed the drink and then her friend.
“Give me a little more credit than that,” Tootie came around to fan the food. She was hungry too. “You remember when you moved into your place?”
The brunettes' eyes smiled in recognition—a chuckle followed. “Ugh that was a mess,” she shook her head in memory. “The first time we all had dinner together at my place.”
“Boxes everywhere nothing in the fridge, so we got the bright idea for…what was it?” She paused in thought.
“Her highness wanted the occasion to be very special. She ordered take out from her favorite Italian place.”
“You remember the look on the guy's face when you let him in?”
Jo bit into her pizza chewing carefully from the heat and around her laugh. Then she stopped mid chew imitating the lost look on the delivery boys face, “uh…Warner?”
Tootie, who had commandeered her own piece, was mid swallow when she choked at the hilarious memory. She doubled over choking until it graduated to a chortle. She leaned up holding onto the counter for support.
“It was the cake!” Tootie gasped between laughs.
The former rookie's home warming gift had been a cake made with love from Natalie and Tootie. Blair's schedule wouldn't allow her to partake in the cake making. She figured she could make up for her absence by paying for dinner. The cake had arrived innocuously enough and the friends were catching up with familiar banter and horror stories from work. In a series of strange events that could be disputed by either friend on how it started, a cake fight ensued. And the delivery boy, poor guy, walked into it all. No surface was left untouched and that included body parts and clothes.
Pizza and mixed drinks were the only provisions old friends needed for the long side-splitting road down memory lane. It was close to the morning hours for the sun to rise when they were sated with pizza and booze. “I love Blair,” Jo groaned aloud uninhibited and hurting. Tootie was sober enough to pull her friend into her arms and hold her. She didn't know the specifics of what was ailing Jo. Her friend had chosen a happy stupor to hide behind tonight and now after the last of the giggling had died down she crashed. Jo cried. She held onto Tootie and cried for love, Blair, her life and everything that had gone wrong in it. Jo fell asleep being held like a child and Tootie followed soon after lulled by Jo's breathing.
Six hours of sleep later keys jingled in the door.
Natalie pushed the door open and Blair followed behind. It was Tootie's day off and she and Natalie planned an intervention. Of course, it was under the guise of a homemade lunch. It hadn't occurred to her that all her calls earlier had gone unanswered because Tootie was passed out.
Following the trail of booze and pizza Jo lay on top of Tootie while the younger woman kept a protective arm around her sleeping companion. If Blair had been of sound mind and taken in consideration that Tootie was very straight and Jo considered her a sister her version of a wakeup call would have been different.
Michael Jackson's ‘Dirty Diana' rang from the stereo at full volume. Blair hadn't known what song was set next to play but she was pleased with the selection. Mr. Jackson's strong vocals and the strong rhythm wouldn't be kind to hangovers. Jo sprang to her knees alert. Tootie's eyes sprang open until they closed quickly. Her hands covered her ears to try to shut out the noise. Natalie jumped even though she saw Blair turn the knob to max before she pressed play.
“What the….” Jo groaned backing herself up against the couch trying to retreat from the music.
When they were fully awake writhing in pain she turned the stereo off. In a sickeningly sweet voice laced in venom she greeted them with a good morning.
Both sets of eyes squinted in her direction. “Blair,” Jo belched sitting on the couch only to lay back on it.
“I hope Natalie and I aren't interrupting,” the blonde growled. If either were less concerned about their throbbing heads they would have questioned the tone.
Natalie did some questioning of her own silently.
“Oh it's too bright,” Tootie put her arms over her eyes to thwart the sun.
“That happens in the middle of the day… the sun,” Natalie helped sardonically.
“Crap,” Jo groaned making no move to rise, “what time is it?”
“Around noon,” the columnist supplied. Jo groaned even louder.
“I can whip up my not yet patented Greene hangover remedy,” Natalie said over her shoulder heading collecting ingredients.
Tootie glared from her position on the floor, at the woman making too much noise in the kitchen. Jo was leaned back with her eyes closed. It looked like she'd gone back to sleeping, when it was actually a ploy to avoid Blair's gaze. A lot of things were left unsaid from last night and long before that.
Blair took off her coat becoming as comfortable as she could. The accusation in her head didn't make much sense to her, but she couldn't get the image of Tootie holding Jo out of her head. The scene had been so intimate. For a long time Blair prided herself in being the only one, who could hold Jo that way. And now, she sighed inwardly, now it seemed that she'd been replaced. She scanned the room and the leftovers from that night and the empty bottles and glasses.
“What were you guys celebrating last night?” She picked up the empty bottle.
“Yea and why weren't we invited,” Natalie returned bearing gifts. Natalie smiled proudly at her concoction. It had been her own personal project for a paper she was writing for her creative writing class in college. A simple survey of drinking college students turned into several in depth conversations about hangover remedy mixes. It would have been imprudent of her not to test each despite how questionable they were. Eventually her research led her to her own mix. From her project came her concoction she endearingly named Glenda.
The offending smell made Jo jerk away from it. Tootie eyed the color in the glass about to decline it on principle. “Drink up,” Natalie gestured with her hands with encouragement. “It helps if you just down it and don't think about the smell, or the taste, or the consistency, and….”
“We get it!” Jo groaned from her seat. Closing her eyes they folded deeper with the first swallow. “Ugh, what the hell Greene?” her hand went to her mouth and then at the horrendous beverage.
“Don't underestimate Glenda,” Natalie nodded towards her drink.
“Who?” Tootie frowned over the rim of her glass. Natalie grinned proudly at the container holding a large swallow that didn't fit in either of her friend's glasses.
“She would name the drink,” Jo shook her head stopping as soon as she felt the error of her ways.
“Really Nat?” Blair eyed the proud woman, “Glenda?”
“From the Wizard of Oz,” Natalie explained. “I thought it was clever.”
The drink was thick. If had been anyone but Natalie to make it they wouldn't have endured the taste.
Tootie had been holding Jo. Like they had…. She didn't want to finish the thought. To lose Jo to someone else was unbearable. To lose Jo to someone she loved like family that was beyond unbearable.
Blair took cursory looks at her watch as Jo and Tootie struggled with the drink. Natalie cheesed like a proud parent and didn't notice. Sighing heavily she stood up theatrically making a fuss of putting her coat back on.
“Where you going?” Natalie asked quickly. The reason for their being there forgotten until now.
“I came to have lunch not babysit drunk and drunker,” she left quickly. All three eyes looked after her. Jo almost got up to follow her, almost.
The magazine was guilty entertainment. The lives of the rich and the famous were fodder for lowly nine to five workers like him. Remy sat in the front seat of his employer's car reading, drawn into the drama of an article about an actress getting impregnated by aliens. Being privy to Mr. Warner's routine, he had thirty minutes left to finish up on the article. The man enjoyed his spa days almost as much as his daughter did hers.
He frowned with the thought of Blair Warner. He admired her from behind the safety of his shades. He knew any overt admiration wouldn't be appreciated by two certain people he happened to work with and for. He flipped aimlessly through the pages when he considered his predicament. His job for the most part required him to be deaf, dumb, and blind. He was good at that. Being in the type of home he grew up in with his dad and mom yelling only moments after they put him to bed, it was skill he needed if he ever wanted to sleep.
From his peripheral the door to the facility was opened and David Warner strode out casually. Any stress he shouldered before walking in looked to be properly relieved. Remy with practiced ease exited to open the door. The older man stopped to look up at the larger man. Remy kept his eyes forward until he noticed the curious gaze trained on him.
The wind blew gently, but the wisps of David's hair bent to its will. Outside of his unruly hair his five hundred dollar tailored suit and his concentrated gaze showed nothing but control.
“You've worked closely with Joanne,” David looked at him pointedly.
Remy nodded his head even though it wasn't a question.
“Do you like her?”
“As much as she allows anyone to like her, sir,” he answered carefully.
David smirked knowing how true that statement was. He settled into the back seat and Remy closed the door behind him wondering where that came from. David would protect his daughter from anything especially herself he felt that she wasn't making a wise decision. Remy shook his head walking around the car. Nothing set right with him of late, and that included his interest in Jo.
The record was thirty in the row. Green eyes stared at the target. Aiming and then releasing with a flick of his wrists he would have won if a shoe hadn't pushed it. The small crowd erupted in groans. Louie glared at the foot and then the shapely leg it belonged to, rising to the shit eating grin. Wary eyes tracked the blonde passed Jo's former desk to Louie's side.
“Miss Warner,” he stood quickly. He'd only been introduced to the heiress once or twice, so he kept it formal.
“Blair,” she corrected. She looked at the glances from the other officers at the desk. She was always too busy to visit Jo at work. And whenever they had lunch dates they would always meet up somewhere. Jo never wanted her there.
Her eyes raked over the room with an inquisitive gaze. Desks were littered around the room all piled high with papers. There weren't telling pictures of family. She supposed that safeguarded the numerous criminals from getting too close. The room was alive, but the room had a stark serious quality. It wasn't a room she would have wanted to spend five days out of a week in.
Some cops wore uniforms while others suits. She remembered how Jo looked in her uniform when she first became a cop. There was something about a woman in uniform that did things to her, but she preferred her laid back Jo. Her face softened and she was at her most unguarded in jeans and t-shirt.
“Blair,” the cop conceded, “Jo's not here,” he wasn't sure if his friend told her anything about the suspension so he kept it vague.
“I came to see you actually,” she smiled charmingly.
He found himself returning a smile that wasn't nearly as eloquent.
“Are you free for lunch?” Blair looked at his desk full of paper crumbled in balls.
He followed her eyes to his desk shrugging, “slow day.”
When he collected his jacket and they walked side by side out to Blair's car. He stopped to stare at it causing the heiress to stop in question. The last time he'd been in a limo he was burying his mother.
“Is there something wrong?”
He shook his head looking down the street. “You came here to talk about Jo, we can talk and walk. There's a deli two blocks down with a very tasty lemon pie.”
Blair's head reared in the direction of the deli and then the cop. She turned to the driver, who held the door patiently for her. She relayed that she wouldn't need his services and told him to wait.
Two steps into their uncertain silence Louie broke it, “my mother died and I haven't been able to look at a limo much less get in one.”
Blair's eyes widened, “oh…. I'm sorry I didn't know.”
“Yea,” he shrugged pushing his hands to the bottom of his pockets.
“Jo was great at the funeral and so was Dorothy,” he reminisced.
Blair frowned. She didn't remember Tootie ever mentioning that to her. Then her mind moved to the events of earlier today, the way they were laid out holding each other. It bothered her that Tootie and Jo had become so close.
“It's good that she has someone like Dorothy with what she's going through.”
“What do you mean?” Blair asked testily, “going through what?”
“Look Miss Warner,” he started slowly taking the woman in. His private musings on Jo and Blair as friends left him wedged between incredulity and impractical. Jo explained their dynamic once as a smoothie. He interpreted that in his own way because she hadn't explained further. He saw this woman on the arm of prominent men from the community. She was worth more than the guys at the precinct would ever make in their lifetimes combined.
Park Avenue, as Jo sometimes called her with an endearing lilt, eyed him curiously as he continued, “Jo should tell you this or at the least you could talk to Dorothy.”
“Why would I talk to Dorothy?”
“If you can't get the truth from the horse's mouth I figure the girlfriend's the next best thing.”
Usually he wasn't so callous with Jo's sexuality, but Blair grew up with Jo. He knew that despite their many differences Jo considered her family. He looked at her expression carefully but she didn't show a hint of shock. They stopped. Strangers passed them on the street. Some glanced in their direction and others passed by without a glance. Blair kept her face neutral of the surprise she felt. Tootie and Jo, the idea of the duo as a couple rang in her head like a bad headache.
“I suppose you're right,” she smiled. He reached for the handle of the deli door, but she shook her head. Whatever appetite she had when she left Tootie's apartment had long gone after this news. She declined graciously claiming she didn't want to keep him. Louie didn't think anything of it remaining polite and oblivious.
Blair strode calmly to the car that sat waiting. She settled into the seat grateful for the traffic. When she reached the office some time later and she closed the door gently. She felt comforted by the leather of her chair. When the clock informed her of the time she stood and walked down the hall to the conference room. Her movements were second nature and perfunctory. Two back to back meetings kept her undivided attention. Her ability to compartmentalize grew better as time passed. For hours she pushed Jo and Tootie to a corner of her mind she would revisit later.
Her colleague, Roger, took the lead with the meeting. It was an import/export deal with a new Asian client. Blair spoke the language fluently, but spoke only when she needed to. It was the strategy for Roger to take the lead on the meeting, since they were more comfortable with working with men. Usually that fact bothered her, but she didn't pay it any mind.
The second meeting she took on more of a responsibility. It was a long standing client that wanted more reassurances on security during shipments. The contracts would be drawn up new legal stipulations. Blair played charming well. No one had assumed that she was hurting on the inside.
She walked in her office with her head in files. Vesper smiled as she passed, but it went unnoticed.
“Hello sweetie,” a bouquet accompanied the greeting when Blair crossed the threshold into her office.
“Randall?” her mouth curved upward on cue. She walked by him with a peck to his cheek before she lay down her files.
“I wanted to surprise you,” he came up behind her smiling in her hair. “You look ravishing.”
She didn't feel ravishing, “I'm wearing a work suit.”
“You're the only woman I know that makes business formal look so….sexy,” he growled the last part. Dipping his head at the nape of her neck he let his hands rest languidly at her hip. The bouquet lay forgotten on the table.
She responded moving her neck to the side to give him better access. She closed her eyes feeling his lips, but an unwelcome face popped into her head. She opened her eyes. The reflection of both her and Randall met her gaze.
“I want to take you out tonight,” she felt his smile widen against her skin.
“I have a lot of work to do.”
He stiffened at the excuse. He pulled back enough to put distance in between their bodies. His hands were still firmly holding her waist. He brushed his thumb along the fabric, before he answered, “I'm sure can wait until tomorrow.”
She moved around the desk. He frowned at the added distance, “I wouldn't brush off your work Randall I expect the same courtesy.”
“Brush off?” he repeated curious. “Am I missing something?” She answered with silence. He pulled in a deep calming breath. He prided himself on his ability to be enduringly patient. Blair tested his resolve, but he always acted like a gentleman. Randall didn't know where her anger was coming from; he knew he hadn't initiated it.
“Is there something wrong?”
There was plenty wrong. Blair wouldn't say the words out loud, at least not to Randall. He wouldn't understand that she was in love with a woman. He wouldn't understand the rage that pulsed through her at the news of Jo's new relationship. They flaunted it in her face for lunch. And then she had to hear it confirmed from an old friend of Jo's. It shook her to her core to feel like her reality was being ripped from her. Jo was hers. Who was Tootie to waltz in and seduce the love of her life?
Different emotions played over her face. She'd almost forgotten Randall was there until her eyes focused again. He studied her with concern, but she shook off her trepidation.
“It's been a long trying day,” she said softly with her half truth.
Randall wasn't a fool. When he was approached by Blair's father to instigate a relationship he relished the blessing. Women fawned over him and Blair was a rude awakening. At first her aloofness was a challenge he enjoyed. The pleasure of the chase only heightened by the pedigree of a woman that most found unattainable. There was more to Blair's long trying day, but she wouldn't share it. She always shared just enough and then shut down.
Sighing heavily he followed the same path she took to distance herself. He grabbed her hand, but left her ample space.
“I'm here for you.”
She looked at their interlocked fingers. His hands were considerably larger than hers. There was a thin row of hair on the outside of his hand leading to his palm. His hands were manicured. Jo's were harder from working with them so much. There was no threat that would get the headstrong brunette into a nail salon. Caught off guard by the raw emotion of pleasure she smiled at the memory. Blair didn't realize how Randall might have interpreted the smile. A hand reached under her chin and coaxed her head upward until their eyes met.
“I'm here for you,” he repeated with more conviction.
Jo slammed the door behind her. The couple at the other end of the room jumped. Blair didn't seem pleased to see her, but she knew better than to make a scene in front of Randall. Randall spoke first turning fully to acknowledge Jo.
“Jo isn't it?” he smiled thinly, irritated at the interruption. Blair visibly stiffened when she walked in the room.
“Randy,” she never took her eyes off of Blair; she shoved her hands in her jacket pockets ignoring his outstretched hand.
“Randall,” he corrected.
Jo grinned looking at him for the first time since she walked in, “Randy, you think me and Blair could talk alone for a sec?”
“We were headed out for dinner,” Blair interrupted.
Randall smiled at the news while Jo's stomach dropped. It wasn't new for her to announce that she would be going out with a beau, but Jo was out of practice to brushing it off. She was either never around or too absorbed with her own thoughts to care. Unfortunately when Blair left that morning, it meant that she had to face off with Tootie and Natalie alone—with a hangover. It wasn't her ideal afternoon.
“We need to talk,” Jo countered planting her feet as if she thought Blair would resort to shoving her out.
Clenching her jaw, she turned a kinder gaze to Randall, “could you give us a minute.”
He replied with the brush of his lips on her cheek and moved to leave the room. Jo watched him close the door more gently than she had when she first came in. She shook her head.
“He's dashing,” she stated sarcastically motioning with her thumb.
“Among other things,” Blair smiled too sweetly for Jo's taste.
“Does he know about your extracurricular activities at my apartment?”
Blair's face flushed, a hand rested on her hip while the other played with the stems of her bouquet. “Did you come here for a reason Jo?”
Jo was smiling inside, this is exactly what she wanted, confrontation. It was as sweet as the hum of the engine of 76 Corvette. She stepped towards Blair. Her eyes traced the line of Blair's stance until they landed on her lips.
“You left so quickly this afternoon you missed all the fun.”
“Well I'm sure you and Tootie were having enough fun for all of us last night.” Her inflection was unmistakable and Jo was left with a less than intelligent response.
Blair pinched the bridge of her nose turning away from her.
Jo continued. “I don't know what kind of high priced drug your own but you're definitely getting your money's worth.”
Blair whirled around quickly. Caught off guard when she realized Jo stood within inches of her reach. And while it was just that comforting to be this close again, memories from their last confrontation were still raw.
“I know,” Blair's accusation was ground out through clenched teeth.
Jo took an unconscious step back, she often enjoyed the blondes rage, but this was different. She tilted her head going over in her head what Blair was talking about. There was a long list that Jo didn't want to dwell on that Blair didn't know. Since ‘Columbo' claimed to know whatever it is that she knew Jo wasn't going to give anything until she found out.
“And what's that Blair?”
Jo could see how much of a chore this seemed for Blair to say, “You're sleeping with Tootie.”
The mechanic's brows jumped, “….Tootie?” Jo looked dumbly at the lawyer.
“Tootie,” Blair repeated solemnly hoping she didn't sound as hurt as she felt.
Jo would have laughed. She would have laughed hard. Instead, she was interrupted by Blair's latest love interest reminding her they needed to hurry before they ruined their reservations.
Blair couldn't be reasoned with when she was like this. Jo didn't have a level head. She watched him take liberties while putting her jacket on, and Blair let him. Sucking in her first reaction she turned on her heel. Blair watched her go from the corner of her eye. Jo hadn't denied it, she would have rather Jo denied it.
The brunette had come to rant after she spent the remainder of her afternoon stewing. She didn't have anything specific, just a general idea of what she'd yell about. This was how they communicated in their best and worst moments. But Blair was dismissing her for a dinner. Dismissing her like some common servant she owned. And to top it off she thought she was sleeping with Tootie. Tootie of all people, she stopped a sardonic chuckle from erupting at the notion. She watched the doors to the elevator closed and used the back wall to hold most of her weight. What was happening to her? What was going on with her life? Question such as these spun in her head left her ungrounded.
Blair would be having dinner with some handpicked David Warner look acolyte. What would her life have been like if she had never met David? It was a question to mull over while contemplating the meaning of life. If she hadn't met him then she would have never met her friends. If she hadn't met him she'd probably be dead. If he wasn't so smug about all the good he had been the cause of then she could grin and bear it. Though, David's specialty of late was getting on Jo's nerves with his stance of superiority.
“What's with everybody thinking me and Tootie have a thing?” Jo growled pushing passed her former partner.
Louie closed the door behind her following her with his eyes. She went in the kitchen where he heard her open the refrigerator. She glared at him and settled on her couch like a patient would in their shrink's office. He chuckled at the idea of him as a shrink.
“I think you make a cute couple,” Louie shrugged.
“She's like my kid sister!” Jo yelled with reproach.
Louie kept his mouth shut. Jo lay on his couch and he took the arm chair his mom liked when she watched her soaps. Now months since she passed he could still smell her perfume when he sat in it. Another sigh signaled a request for another beer. The one she had in her hand rested on her stomach as she looked up at the ceiling as if it had the answers.
“Your kid sister's hot,” he handed her a bottle. The smirk on his face dropped, “what?” Jo just left it at a glare. “So who's everybody?”
“Blair,” Jo groaned petulantly.
“Oh,” he said a little too guiltily.
“Not just oh,” Louie confessed, “when she came by the job I thought she knew and told her type ‘oh'.”
“You what? You told her me and Tootie were….” She trailed off, “great,” she breathed.
She wasn't worried that Blair knew she was into women. Jo was focused on the fact that he shared that he thought she was dating Tootie. Relying on his powers of deduction when he spoke next, “how was I supposed to know Blair was the one?” He settled his drink on his knee. What he was asking didn't escape him.
“You didn't,” Jo clipped then after a pause, “she's not.”
Words were easy. I hate you. I love you. When the emotion strikes they roll off the tongue. That's where actions came into to clear the confusion the fogs of words rouse. When the emotional high dies down from the declaration the only thing left is the show. She had a key to his place she rarely used especially in the last few months. But today out of the blue Jo was here ready to rant about her day or rather a part of her day that involved a woman she claimed not to love. While he fetched her beer, because she was too depressed to move, he was amazed at how intelligently slow his friend could be.
“No….” Jo drawled lazily, as if she wondered if she actually believed her own words
Jo sat up suddenly, “you gonna play parrot or am I gonna get a little intelligent conversation here?”
He held up his hands “I'm flattered you think I'm capable.”
“Keep up,” Jo blew out dropping back on the couch. Beer sloshed on her shirt and she mumbled, but didn't get up to clean up the slight spill.
The doorbell rang.
“You expecting anybody?” she hadn't bothered to move when she asked.
Louie stood ignoring her question to answer his door. She heard a familiar voice and growled when she heard an additional set of footsteps head into the den. She closed her eyes intentionally.
“Hey Jo Po,” Senior's nasal voice greeted her annoyingly. “King Louie didn't tell me you were here.”
She opened them enough to eye him through slits. She lifted her drink in acknowledgement it was more polite than ignoring him. Senior and Louie were around the same age. They knew each other for over fifteen years roughly since their academy days. Senior rarely if never left off the King with Louie. The older man had explained one night that Senior's Sicilian roots explained the name. His love of Louis Prima had inspired the name. The famed trumpeter voiced The Jungle Book orangutan King Louie. The older man felt like the name was meant to be.
Jo usually avoided hanging out with Louie with Senior around. He was tall and meaty, with a mustache and a gap that everyone saw with his overly friendly smile. “I wish I could lay on my ass twenty four seven now,” he joked.
Jo opened her eyes, “some of us have jobs and others of us get suspended for doing our jobs,” her jaw clenched. She wondered if she could take him, then she wondered if he would take her in for assault of an officer if she gave into to urge to punch him. In effort to not tempt fate she mumbled an excuse that she had to leave.
He reached out to her arm in a half grab, she looked down at it and he pulled away. He held up the first flag. “The captain's head is so far up bureaucratic ass it wouldn't matter if you were a skirt or not,” he spoke.
It was strange. When she pursued the case all she heard was that she was letting her feminine sentiment cloud her judgment. She took being the precinct punch line in stride, because she knew she was right, unfortunately a child had to pay for an investigation that hadn't mattered until she ended up dead. And even after that her killer was never held accountable.
“What's that supposed to mean?” she found herself saying. Her faith in the law was waning. The reason she had stopped the social work, was to help people beyond the limitations of a desk. As idealistic as that was for her in her early twenties she sought it out. She took scum in and had encouraged a few kids to make small changes to their lives to do better. But when it came to money and power what did her badge mean when people like March saw it as no more than an accessory.
“He would throw any one under a bus to keep his position. Don't take it personal its politics,” he shrugged.
“I didn't wear a badge for politics,” Jo didn't like being a toy.
He scoffed, “justice?” he finished the thought in her head. “That's a wet dream you gotta let go of. The real difference between the rest of us and you,” Jo looked at Louie who had yet to say anything to the contrary. “Is that while we were thinking of bashing March's head in you actually did it. Damn the consequences you put a big dick in his place, but now you have all the time in the world to drink beer and play mechanic and he's not even in prison or dead for your trouble.”
Jo lowered her gaze. She felt like child for asking, and a part of her hated herself needing to ask, “Then what's the point? A paycheck?”
Senior shrugged, “everybody's got their own reasons.”
She nodded absently. She never thought that anything Senior said would be worth mulling over, but she was wrong. She told them goodbye and headed into the chill of the evening. It was a bit windy, but she decided to walk. She thought of everywhere she could go. She discarded each option as she thought of them. She didn't want to be around anyone, but she wasn't too psyched about being left alone with her thoughts. Going over to Louie's should have been more relaxing, but it hadn't.
She thought about Blair. At that same moment she happened to be passing a phone booth. She looked at it and then jingled the coins in her pocket. She could make a call. Her interactions with Blair made her feel bad afterward. Though hearing her voice seeing her were comforts that Jo anticipated despite the aftermath.
Coins fell into the slot and she dialed the number she knew by heart. Blair had looked busy with her new beau. She pulled the phone away from her ear on the third ring. It was then inches away from being placed back on the receiver that she heard someone answer.
“Hello?” she heard the voice again.
She let Blair wait for an answer until she heard another voice in the background. Jo closed her eyes slamming the phone down with force. She fled from the phone nauseated by her jealousy. She was living in a dizzying stupor that held nothing but questions for her. Questions she couldn't answer just yet.
Randall smiled into Blair's neck. He didn't see the troubled look she wore. When the phone rang they were on a pleasing path. Clothes were being pulled gently, but not insistently, not yet anyway. Randall was genuinely eager to see the body that clothes hugged so well. Although outside of sleeping with him to spite Jo there was no more fervor in her to meet Randall's genuine passion. Her attraction was shallow, and if there was a future for them it would be made from artificial affection and nothing more. During the dinner he brought up her father, the company, books, movies, and community gossip. He wasn't lax when it came to conversation.
Now he was kissing her. In the same intimate way that Jo had kissed her. The familial technique was pleasurable. But his hands bothered her. Randall and she had chemistry, but she had fireworks with Jo. She smiled and giggled and Randall, not for the first time, mistook himself as the cause. Sometimes Blair let him think that. And other times like tonight she pulled away and brought work up as an excuse to end the night early.
His exasperation was obvious, “what are we doing?”
“Enjoying each other's company,” Blair answered simply, because that was how she saw it.
“But always to a point,” he countered. He knew Blair knew what she did to him. Her reputation painted her as an infamous tease. But he took the information for what it was—gossip. Randall underestimated her resolve. Advancing their romance both reasonable and pleasure seemed elusive.
“A point that I am more than happy to indulge until I'm ready,” she reasoned. His frowned deepened at the news. “Unless you would want to rush me into something I wasn't ready for?” she studied him.
When he sighed his chest rose from the long breath deflating with its release. “You're right,” he had let his frustrations get the best of him.
She reached out to place her hands on his chest in a gesture of comfort. His hands were quicker and grasped her wrist gently, before placing a kiss on the inside of each hand. “I don't think that would be a good idea,” he pointed out weakly.
The blush that followed was uncontrollable. She knew what she did to men, but Randall was overt in his appreciation for her attentions in a way no other man had been.
“Goodnight,” she smiled at him and he returned it not trusting his voice. She watched him leave. Blair let him have his distance to calm down and strode to the kitchen when she heard the door close from his departure.
She pulled out a refrigerated bottle of wine to pour a glass. She stared into the den at the hearth. Cuddling beside it when the weather was chilled was something she often enjoyed. She couldn't wait until the fall.
“Romantic lighting,” she heard Natalie's voice and immediately turned a light on in the kitchen. “Mood music,” Blair rolled her eyes at the way that Natalie exaggerated the syllables of the words. Natalie and Tootie rounded the corner met by a glaring debutante holding a glass of wine menacingly.
“Are you done?” her lips pursed.
Tootie shook her head making herself at home. Blair followed the younger woman with her eyes. Tootie looked up to meet Blair's gaze and paused at the look. She didn't have enough time to question it when Natalie barreled through the quiet with a tirade about work. Her tone changed hinging on excitement when she brought up a new columnist from Chicago.
“I suppose one could say he was handsome if one were into that type of thing,” she ended after sharing how her colleagues had herded in the break room just to talk about Daryl.
“Is that right one?” Tootie leaned in looking at Natalie pointedly.
“What?” her friend squeaked. Daryl had been useful because of his background as a criminal journalist. He helped her with her new project at the behest of her editor when Daryl had made it clear that he wasn't interested in taking over Natalie's story. She respected him for that. Her own smooth talking and her boss's aggravation at losing stories with potential kept her on the trail.
“You want to take this Blair or should I?” she asked turning to Blair to catch that look again.
Blair jumped then took a sip from her glass to play off being caught again. She could acknowledge that Tootie's transformation to Dorothy had been an interesting childhood. She had grown up from a brace faced kid to an attractive woman. Though she had never contemplated her beauty beyond a passing appreciation, now she was practically studying her. What had Jo so wrapped up in her? Was it her eyes? Jo always admired her eyes. They were the gateway to the soul. Had she seen something more in Tootie's? And if she did what was it?
“Tootie's only pointing out that this columnist is the only person you've actually mentioned without making the stink face.”
Said face made an appearance when she started to deny Blair's accusation. Tootie began laughing and Blair noticed that her face lit up attractively when she did. To move the conversation away from her undetermined attraction to her boss she frowned at Blair then her friend. With unsubtle grace befitting Natalie she pointed out Blair's staring startling the blonde.
“What, I'm just admiring an attractive woman of another ethnicity,” she defended lamely.
Natalie and Tootie shared a look then simultaneously returned their gazes to Blair, “Blair,” Natalie started slowly, “Are you putting the moves on Tootie?”
“No,” she answered quickly and a lot louder than she planned.
Natalie looked unconvinced and Tootie just frowned, but kept quiet. She shook her head turning to the sink to wash her glass after she gulped the last of it down. When she turned back their expressions had become pensive even after she announced she was tired and going to bed. While they could have executed part two of mission intervention with Blair, they thought better of it. Part one hadn't gone over well with Jo. She had basically run out the room when she found she could move without the world spinning.
Concluded in Part 3
Return to the Annex