Title: Bright Lights
Author: Misty Flores
Fandom: The Facts of Life
Teaser: When Blair moves to New York, newlywed Jo must figure out how to cope without the thorn-in-her-side she learned to need.
She got out of town
On a railway New York bound
"I have an announcement to make," Blair said, one night at dinner, as Jo looked through the apartment listings, and Beverly Ann fussed over Andy. Natalie and Tootie had been in the middle of bickering over the color of Natalie's maid-of-honor dress.
Jo, who had been sitting right next to Blair, fiddling with the new wedding ring on her finger and circling unappealing apartments that fit her and Rick's combined budget, didn't pay much attention. Blair always had an announcement of sorts. They were usually something silly and unimportant, and Jo, twenty-two, married (even if her husband had headed to Europe for two months) and an adult, had more important things to worry about.
"What is it, Blair?" she heard from Beverly Ann, who was always polite and considerate, trying to speak up over Natalie snapping at Tootie that she was not, under any circumstances, going to wear blue taffeta.
"I'm leaving Peekskill. I'm moving to New York."
Jo, in the middle of circling an ad, let her pen slip, and accidentally vandalized the dinner table.
Somewhere, in the middle of the chaotic squabbling that followed, Blair had managed to get out an explanation. Her father had offered her a job, low-stress, a window office, as an executive in the legal department. She said he figured it was time for Blair start learning the business - so he could move her up the ladder.
"What about school?" Jo had blurted, a little angrier than she had intended, because she had not worked her ass off studying with Blair to get her into law school just to have her quit on her.
"I'll transfer," Blair had answered. Her father had made a generous donation to NYU, and the transfer was already in the works. "He also set me up with an apartment - modest but expensive. He said the position opened up and he wants me to start right away."
Right away meant, literally, in a week.
Jo's newspaper had been cleared with the dishes, and discarded. Feeling uneasy, distracted, and for some reason angry, Jo hadn't noticed.
Jo knew, logically, that it would have been silly to expect Blair to stay forever. She was married, and moving out too. Natalie was working and going to school; she barely had time for her writing, much less her friends. Tootie was busy auditioning and going to school and planning her marriage to Jeff.
Hell, Jo had already tried to move out - she had left to California.
But she had also come back.
"What about the Center?" Jo said, as she sat on the bed, and watched Blair sort through her law books, mentally planning which she would need to take with her and which she could pack away for the movers.
"What about it?" Blair asked, palming a particularly brutal looking leather-bound volume.
It was just like Blair to be this self-involved. "Blair, you own it," Jo reminded her, crossing her arms and rolling her eyes. "You can't just abandon it. You're gonna leave Casey and me and everyone out of a job-"
"You know as well as I do that you don't need me at the Center," Blair responded condescendingly, dropping the selected books on her desk. "What is it you told me last week? 'Get your rich blonde useless butt out of my way, no one cares what color the curtains are'."
"They don't," she snapped, immediately defensive.
Blair offered her a surprisingly sweet smile. "Point taken." She glanced down at the title she had picked up. "Do you think I need this book on the Brown Amendment? I haven't used it since the elective last year."
"I don't own the Center, Jo," Blair interrupted, looking suddenly annoyed. "The Warner Foundation does. That won't change, of course I'll make sure of that. And you and Casey will manage without me."
Jo sighed, shifting on her bed. Something just seemed wrong about this. Blair had been threatening to move back to New York for years: she complained constantly that she felt like she was living in the dullest town known to man. But despite all her whining, Blair had never left. Jo had been trying to call her bluff forever.
"Is this because of Casey?" she asked, determined to try and get to the bottom of it. Dark eyes paused and locked intensely with hers, and Jo felt a small thrill of validation. "Is this like what happened when you and Cliff broke up, and you got all crazy and bitchy-"
"Jo - Casey and I breaking up has nothing to do with this."
Blair sighed heavily, burying her fingers into her bangs, eyes closing. "Okay, maybe it does." She glanced up. "But it's not the only reason. It just... it just feels like it's time."
Jo frowned. "What does that mean?"
"I mean... it's just time, Jo. You're married. You're moving out soon. Tootie is engaged - Natalie's got a job and going back to school. Casey and I have broken up... there's nothing keeping me here. It's time to move on. Everyone else has." Pausing, Blair's head tilted, blonde strands swaying as she shrugged. "That's all."
With that, Blair picked up another set of her books and moved around her, heading toward her shelf.
The day Blair left for New York; there had been no fanfare, no mushy admissions or declarations. Blair didn't want a party, and despite Tootie and Natalie's insistence that Blair was just bluffing, Jo knew her best friend well enough to know she meant it. It was just New York, after all, Blair insisted, she told them she'd visit as soon as she could, and of course they were all welcome to visit her as soon as she settled in.
All good points, true, but Jo suspected Blair wasn't nearly that blasé. She just didn't want a repeat of her 21st birthday, in which she had insinuated she wanted to go to the Wonderland Café, and Tootie mistook it for Blair wanting an 'Alice in Wonderland' themed party. Somehow Jo been talked into dressing up in a bunny suit. She still hated Tootie a little for that, especially when Blair teasingly tugged her whiskers and called her her own little 'greasebunny'.
To say Blair could get on her nerves would be a severe understatement. The girl drove her plain crazy.
Jo waited all week for Blair to break down in a syrupy monologue, go on for hours about how this was an end of an era, and she and Jo would stay best friends no matter what. She cringed every time she and Blair were in a room alone, body tense, anticipating Blair's typical arm slung around her neck and sniffles of affection.
But Blair had been so involved with packing and arranging her move and talking on the phone with her new secretary, she only came in the room to sleep or pack. The day she left, she simply curled her arms around Jo like she did with the others, and held her for one long moment.
"I love you, Jo," she heard warmly, before she was released and Blair was gone, heading for the train, on her way to New York.
An envelope was thrown across her desk.
"Paycheck," Casey said, in his typically brusque way.
More annoyed with her curly haired boss than she remembered being, Jo shot him a polite smile. "Thanks." She opened the envelope, and pulled out the standardized check the Center was now being issued directly from the Warner Foundation.
Unfolding it, Jo caught sight of a familiar scrawl, printed the bottom of the check. Exhaling, she found herself tracing the signature with her fingertip, shaking her head in admired bemusement.
She couldn't believe Blair was still signing these herself. It was just like Blair to remind her even after she was gone that she was still in control of her life, and her money.
"Have you heard from Blair, Jo?"
The realization that Casey was still there, staring down at her, caused a hot flush that coursed down her body, and awkwardly, she folded the check, shoving it into her back pocket.
"What are you talkin' about?" she grumbled, pushing away roughly from her second hand desk and reaching for her jean jacket. "I'm her best friend. Of course I've heard from her. I talk to her all the time."
That was a lie, but Casey didn't need to know that. He also didn't need to know that Jo had waited in the house like an idiot the week after Blair left, thinking Blair would call her as soon as she had gotten settled, to talk Jo's ear off about her New York adventures, and what all the other girls in the office were wearing. Casey didn't need to know that without a best friend and without a husband, Jo's evenings were now filled with playing Nintendo with Andy and listening to Beverly Ann ramble on about some memory or another.
All Casey really needed to know was that he could have married Blair and he didn't and now she was in fucking New York instead of Peekskill.
She suddenly really didn't want to be around Casey right now.
Looking away, Jo shrugged on her jacket and turned around her desk, determined to get to work. A large hand grabbed her elbow, keeping her from moving. "Listen... when you talk to her... let her know I miss her, okay?"
Jo stared at him, looked into his handsome face, and saw regret.
Yeah, Jo decided, she really couldn't stand him.
Shaking him off, she offered her husband's best man a glare. "Tell her yourself."
When Tootie and Natalie moved into their own room, Blair had declared that it was only fitting she decorate the room the way she wanted it, because she claimed she was the only one who had any sort of taste.
"If I leave it up to you, you'll ply the walls with motorcycle posters and put a stack of engines in the corner," Blair sniffled haughtily, and Jo remembered rolling her eyes and telling Blair that if she saw one pink ruffle she was going to use it to choke her.
Blair had not heeded her warning, and so of course there were pink ruffles, and frilly pieces of lace and so many candles and little cups of potpourri that Jo's nose clogged on her each and every time she entered the room.
Her complaints to Blair about the stench came dangerously close to whining, and even then Blair wouldn't give in. All Jo got after three months of yelling and whining and driving Natalie and Tootie crazy with her rants about the stupid smelly wood chips and foofy fire hazards was Blair not talking to her for a week.
Coming into the room now, Jo fingered her paycheck and eyed the barren room.
A disassembled motor engine lay on an open piece of newspaper where Blair's bed used to be.
There wasn't a pink frill in the place.
Jo hated to admit it, but she had kinda gotten used to that stupid potpourri.
"JO!" Tootie's voice was loud, too loud, thanks to years of theater training that had taught the girl to project using her diaphragm.
Wincing dramatically, Jo narrowed her eyes angrily, glancing up from her stack of papers she was currently working through. "What, Tootie?"
Ducking into the kitchen, Tootie wore an almost idiotically cheery smile. "Telephone!" she teased in a sing-song girly voice, bobbing her head excitedly.
"Who is it?"
"Who do you think?" With a wink, Tootie motioned toward the living room.
Jo blinked, feeling a sudden knot form in the pit of her stomach that was instantly relieved when she had focused enough to get good and annoyed, for no other reason than it was Blair and getting annoyed was an instinctive reaction.
Shoulders straightening, she headed for the living room, ignoring Tootie's exaggerated grin, managing to keep her voice nice and neutral as she grabbed the receiver.
"Took you long enough! What the hell have you been doing?"
A masculine laugh filled her senses. "Well, I'm sorry honey! I've been working on the other side of the world!"
Blinking, Jo was stunned, so taken by surprise she was actually rendered speechless.
"Rick!" she finally stuttered, flushing intensely. "Hi!"
Her long distance husband was cheery and funny and flirty, and made a dirty but charming reference to their wedding night.
Jo listened, and smiled and laughed, and hung up as quickly as she could.
"I talked to Blair today," Natalie said, three weeks after Blair had left. "Got a phone call from her at the office."
Buried in the midst of a budget from hell, Jo glanced up, eyes narrowing suddenly. "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah," Natalie said, flopping down beside her on the couch. "She says she has a corner office and a hot male secretary named Felipe. I asked her if he was any good and she said and I quote 'Who cares? He has a body like Mel Gibson!'"
"That Blair," Tootie giggled, crossing her legs and contemplating the thought. "Who knew she'd turn into such a feminist?"
"Blair called you?" Jo had blurted that out before she could stop it. Both friends glanced at her oddly, and Jo blinked, suddenly aware of what she had said.
"Well, sure," Natalie answered, brow arching into her forehead. "You know she can't call here because Tootie will complain that Jeff is trying to call in. Besides, I called her earlier this week because I heard something about a merger with Warner Textiles. I thought I could get a scoop."
"You know, I should call her!" Tootie said brightly. "I got that audition in New York in a couple weeks. I could use her help to get a good deal on a wedding dress. It's about time I start looking."
"What makes you think her highness will have time for you?" Jo growled, pencil scribbling violently against her page.
"Oh, Blair will make time for me," Tootie said confidently, and then frowned. "Well, at any rate, she'll make time for shopping!"
"Ooh, if you go, I'll go with you!" Natalie squealed. "It'd be nice to look around again when I make the move to SoHo. The Warner Textiles Corporation has some sort of leasing program, Blair told me about. If I get a job there, maybe I can get in on that."
Lifting her head up, Jo's eyes narrowed at her friends. "So, you're saying you don't want to see Blair as much as you want to see her connections."
"You know, I never thought I'd say this?" Natalie continued, ignoring her, head leaning back against the couch. "But I miss her. It's not the same around here with Blair."
"I know," Tootie sniffled. "She was so great about lending me her stuff whenever I had an audition or something."
The mood had gotten absurdly nostalgic, and for some reason, it annoyed the crap out of Jo. "Geez, listen to you two! She's been gone for three weeks! She's not dead! Good riddance!"
"Oh, come on, Jo. You must miss her a little bit," Natalie said, reaching over the couch to chuck a first gently against Jo's shoulder.
The little patronizing action was just enough to send Jo flying off the handle.
"Of course I do," she blurted, pushing up off the couch. "Because now, there's no one here to drown the two of you out! Seriously, do the two of you ever stop talkin'? Some of us are working here!"
It was unnecessarily harsh, but Jo wasn't in the mood for kindness. Something about the entire conversation just ticked her off.
"You know why else I miss Blair?" Tootie responded, eyes narrowed in her direction, louder now. "Because when she's not here, Jo gets so stir crazy she takes to torturing the rest of us as a replacement."
"What?" Eyes rolling heavenwards, Jo began to gather up her papers. "Shut up. I do not."
"Jo, Freddy Krueger would be nicer company than you," Natalie snapped, rising off the couch. "Listen - you gotta ease up. We don't have Blair's tolerance. She's built up immunity to your insults. She's had ten years of practice!"
"Oh, come on. I'm not being mean to you!" Jo insisted. "You guys just gotta…" she sighed, suddenly agitated. "Okay, look you build into a rhythm, you know? I've insulted her for ten years. I'm in detox. If it helps…" Rubbing at her head, Jo tried to think of a good compromise, "I'll try to tone it down to two good insults a day."
"Or maybe we could get a poster of Blair," Natalie drawled. "And you can just yell at that."
Crumbling her papers together, Jo offered Natalie a good glare.
"Jo," Uncurling her legs, Tootie came around the couch, one palm on her shoulder. "If you miss her so much, why don't you just call her!"
"I do not miss Blair!" she answered hotly. "Allright? I've never been happier! Now that she's gotten rid of her aerosol cans I actually have room for something in the bathroom other than toothpaste!"
Natalie and Tootie exchanged a glance, and for some reason that just infuriated her more.
"What?!" she growled, palm now erratically rubbing along her neck. "Okay, look maybe I do miss her. Deep… DEEP down. Like a dog misses its fleas," she added, unable to help herself. "I miss Rick!" she finally sputtered. "You remember Rick, right? My husband? Who's away for two months?"
Clapping her hand on Jo's shoulder, Natalie offered, "Too bad. She misses you. Good night, Grump."
Four days later, after Jo had accidentally made the mail man cry when she sniped at him about forgetting Blair's forwarding address, she called Blair.
It hadn't been her decision. Natalie just hadn't stopped nagging, and after spending an hour handing the postal worker tissues and listening to his blubbering, she felt she was due a penance.
She stared hard at the phone, eyes narrowing in an angry glare, as if by extension, she could glare at Blair, but of course, it didn't seem to have the same effect.
Sighing, she finally began to press the numbers into the dialpad, waiting for the click and the ring, before she heard, "Blair Warner's office."
"Hi," she began, suddenly awkward. "Is Blair there?"
"May I ask who's calling?" The male voice was politely distant.
She blinked. "It's Jo."
Jo who? Seriously?
"Jo Polniaczek," she managed through gritted teeth.
"And your reason for calling?"
"Look, just tell her it's Jo from Peekskill and if she doesn't pick up I'm going to come down there and throw her obnoxious assistant out the window."
There was a moment of silence, before she heard a startled, "One moment please."
And then there was aggravating hold music over which some pompous-y baritone guy said stuff like, "Quality. And that's why Warner Textiles is the number one brand for your textile needs-"
The sappy music cut-off and with a sharp inhalation, she heard a distinctly familiar voice begin, "Honestly, Jo you couldn't have a five minute conversation without digressing into a barbarian and threatening my assistant?"
She smiled in spite of herself. "He was being rude."
"He was being thorough," Blair insisted. "I hardly expect you to understand, but in corporate America, there is this thing called 'protocol'."
"And there's also a thing called 'being a pompous ass'," she complained, getting into the spirit of things. "But what am I saying? He learned from the best."
"Bluster all you want Jo," Blair shot back, "But at the moment, I'm seated in my corner office in my plush leather custom-designed cushy chair and you're seated in one that snaps in two when you lean back too hard."
She should have never told Blair about the thing breaking on her and her nearly cracking her head open as a result.
"Yeah, well, that's your fault, boss. When are you going to get some decent office furniture in here? I swear, you're keepin' us one trashbag away from a slum."
"Well, you would know. Besides, I've been insanely busy," Blair exhaled sadly. "Can you believe that I haven't even had a moment to breathe, let alone shop?"
"Oh, how do you live?" Jo asked, mock horror tainting her voice.
"I know you're being sarcastic, but I'll take any sympathy I can get," Blair sighed. "I've missed you, Jo."
There it was. Blair's characteristic mushiness that usually aggravated the hell out of her.
Strangely, she wasn't annoyed.
"You have, huh?"
"Oh, don't sound so skeptical. I know you miss me too."
This was Blair getting mushy. In her right mind, Jo would have squashed that mood rather quickly.
"Oh, I do."
"You called me, remember?" Dammit. Jo had hoped Blair would have gone against convention and not mentioned that part. "I hear you've been tormenting Natalie and Tootie," Blair continued a beat later, letting her off the hook.
"They've been annoying me."
"Everyone annoys you."
"Well, that's because they're annoying."
"Oh, Jo. I worry for Rick sometimes. I don't know how he's going to make it through even a week living with you. He's surprisingly thin-skinned. Are you coming down to visit with Natalie and Tootie?" Before she could respond, Blair said quickly, "Oh wait that's one of the VP's coming in on the other line. I need to take that. Jo, it was lovely talking with you. You are coming with Natalie and Tootie, right? I'll see you then?"
Before Jo could get in another word in, the line had clicked in her ear and she heard a dial tone.
Jo had spent countless hours in the past ten years praying for the moment when Blair Warner would pack up her mountain of clothes and head back to New York.
She infuriated her. She drove her crazy. When Blair was around, Jo's face was set in a permanent exasperated frown. Naturally, Blair would take every opportunity to remind Jo that such an expression caused wrinkles, and Goodness knew, Jo would look enough like a hag as it was.
Blair did stupid things like sue her for a plastic watch that played disco or print pizza boxes with her mother's picture on it. She would buy her obscenely expensive gifts for Christmas and for weeks before gloat about it; dropping hints to Jo about what it could be and squeal when Jo finally opened them.
She would circle outfits in big black felt pen from her Bloomingdales catalogues and then leave them on Jo's bed for Jo to find.
Jo couldn't take her anywhere. Everywhere they went Blair's blue-blood ignorance got them into trouble. They nearly got jumped at the wrestling match when the burly guy in the ring accidentally spit in Blair's direction and Blair called him a cretin. At the drive-in Blair had managed to start a near riot in the bathroom and then spent the entire evening hanging on Jo, afraid of the little thug who had threatened Blair's life. They nearly got kicked out of the grocery store everytime they went because Blair would spent hours digging through the produce, disrupting the entire pile to find the only potato or tomato or apple that was without blemish.
Hell, even in California, Blair's coming to town had triggered a series of events that left her flooding an actor's house with water and putting the rest of their friends in jail.
Blair was vacuous and ditzy and insensitive and greedy and all the bleach she put in her hair had clearly seeped in and damaged her brain.
Jo was annoyed enough at herself when she realized that she really missed her.
"Oh, Beverly Ann, you should see it! The office is so glamorous!"
Lingering as she stepped into the doorway, Jo held a stack of bills and a bag of groceries as she laid eyes on Tootie and Natalie, apparently in the middle of regaling Beverly Ann with details of their trip.
"Is it!" Natalie agreed with Tootie. "And her assistant, Felipe? Delicious! And he's looking for a roommate!"
"Oh…" Beverly Ann looked nervous at that suggestion. "Well… Natalie…"
"Can you believe that Blair actually convinced the designer to only charge me the cost of materials for my wedding dress? It's part of a deal for Warner Textiles! The dress will be a featured couture gown for their new bridal line. I'll get to model it!" Tootie squealed in excitement.
Jo let the letters fall to the table behind the couch. The movement caused her friends to glance up.
"Oh, hey Jo!"
"Hey yourself," she mumbled, shrugging out of her jacket. "How was your trip?"
"Oh, it was amazing! Blair took us to 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat'. Blasphemy was never so rocking!"
"She asked where you were." Tootie's voice was almost judgmental.
"She should know I have to work, with what she pays me," she managed to grumble, keeping her eyes on the bills she was now sorting. "What'd she say?"
"She said, 'Where's Jo?'" Natalie responded, deadpan. When Jo glanced up at her, she shrugged. "What did you want, a sonnet?"
Her phone rang, cutting through the loud clutter of the children rushing through the room.
"HEY!" she barked, eyes narrowing at the scene. "Take the basketball outside, Travis!"
Reaching for the phone with a tired sigh, she kept her watch on the troublesome boys. "Community Center, this is Jo."
"Miss Polniaczek, I've got Blair Warner for you."
"I have Blair Warner for you."
She blinked, confused. "So where the hell is she?"
There was another pregnant pause. "Just one moment…"
"Hello?" she asked, when the line seemed to sink into nothingness.
"Jo?" she heard suddenly. "You PROMISED you'd come to New York with Natalie and Tootie."
Blair. "I did not," she said immediately, defensives rising on pure instinct. "What's wrong with you? You can't even dial a phone on your own now?"
"I've been in meetings."
"And forgot how to use your fingers?"
"I asked you a question, Jo."
"No you didn't."
"You made a promise. You can't renege on a promise. It's unethical."
"I didn't promise anything!" Jo narrowed her eyes. "You're going senile, aren't you?"
"I had plans, Jo!'
"Blair, you dragged them to a musical about a guy from the Bible and went shopping for wedding dresses. What part of that would be fun for me?"
"Oh, I've dragged you to worse."
That at least, as true. Fingers on her desk, Jo found herself smiling in spite of herself. "Well, at least you admit it."
She received a postcard from Italy, with Rick's familiar scrawl. It was of an overweight woman tanning on the beach and it said 'Greetings from Italy' with some Italian punchline scribbled on it.
Sometimes Jo really did not understand Rick's humor.
-- end chapter one