|Watchers & Dancers
Author: ArmarielRoZita PM
A modern-day take on Louisa May Alcott's beloved classic Little Women, that dares to ask the question: What would the March sisters have been like if they were living in the present time? Now complete!Rated: Fiction T - English - Family/Friendship - Jo & Meg - Chapters: 30 - Words: 108,631 - Reviews: 28 - Favs: 8 - Follows: 17 - Updated: 05-14-13 - Published: 11-17-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8712580
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
17. Cookies on the Dark Side
Ok, hormone fairy, you little sick-joke artist you. This isn't funny any more. What have you done with the real Jo? You know...the sensible Jo who was going to avoid romantic entanglements and embrace a life of independent spinsterhood, serving humanity by writing literary gothic novels and screenplays that would enrich and enlighten, and likely spawn a bajillion atrocious fanfics? The clever Jo who was content to be the gorgeous heroine's wise-ass sidekick, wistfully watching her waltz off into the sunset with the handsome hero at the end? The selfless Jo who was going to take care of her family in their sunset years? Where did you put her? Bring her out before I make a greasy spot out of you with my thumb.
Threaten all you like, sweetcheeks, cackled the hormone fairy with gleeful malice. That Jo is history. And this Jo has a zit on her forehead, just above her left eye. That's right, part your hair on the other side so your bangs will cover it up. Yes, much better. Heheh. You know what the best part is?
And that would be? Not that I care or anything. Just curious.
Someday you're gonna love my crazy ass. You wouldn't go back even if you could.
Heheh. Denial. It's not a river in Egypt, yanno.
Oh my, aren't we just dripping with originality? Sooo cute.
Snark off all you like, me darlin, but you know you can't win. You're my bitch now, and I own you.
Ok, that effing does it. Where's the fly swatter?
The dress. Time to put it on. She had done all with her hair that could be done, and it still wasn't right. Maybe she could borrow Beth's wig...
Time was when she would have run a comb through it a time or two, and been ready to rumble.
She watched herself sigh in the mirror. Great. You can't even sigh pretty.
"Jo, who are you talking to?" her mother asked as she cracked the bedroom door and peeked in, Meg and Beth close behind. "Why, you haven't even got your dress on."
"Just a sec." Jo lifted the dress from her bed and put it over her head.
"You've got it backwards," her mom said. She went and helped Jo straighten it out, and zip up the back. "There now. Let me comb your hair down in back. Now turn and let me see you."
Jo turned for her inspection, at the same time catching her reflection in the mirror. Well now, that wasn't so bad. Whatever her mom had done with her hair, it worked.
Beth and Meg timidly inched into the door way as though afraid Jo would bark at them.
"Jo, you look fabulous!" Beth exclaimed. "Doesn't she, Meg."
"She certainly does," Mrs. March said, although she was not the one addressed. Jo was about to say, "Does this skirt make my butt look big," when she suddenly got a gander at Meg.
She was in pink, no pale, insipid baby pink, or that god-awful bubble-gum Barbie-doll pink, or a garish hot pink, but a luscious soft rich pink that you could have gotten down and wallowed around in, pulling off bits and eating them. Jo couldn't recall ever seeing that dress before. She would surely have remembered it. No color could possibly have suited Meg better. She had never looked so...so Meg before.
"Woah," Jo said finally, "I thought you weren't going to get a new dress?"
"I wasn't," Meg said looking as sheepish as possible. "Hannah bought it for me. She said she was passing by the consignment shop this morning and there it was, just my size and only twenty dollars. Or so she said."
"She said Meg deserved that dress, after spending all her money on my book," Beth said. "She said Meg could have gotten me a cheap paperback edition of it and had plenty left over to buy her dress, but instead she wanted me to have a beautifully illustrated and new hardback copy. She got you something too, Jo. It's in the front room."
Jo was speechless. There it was again, ol' Green Eyes. And she could hear the hormone fairy snickering up its sleeve.
"You are both equally lovely in your own way," Mrs. March said, and her sincerity was unmistakable.
"You really do look gorgeous, Jo," Beth said. "Mom's not just saying that. It's true. I didn't know you could look so stylish. That style and that color are just right on you."
"Yeah, Snow White and Rose Red," Jo said. "Well, maybe now it's Charcoal Grey and Camellia Pink...or whatever that shade is."
"Your necklace," Meg reminded her, and she picked it up herself and fastened it around Jo's neck. "Just the right touch, and it will go with... How do those shoes feel?"
"Fine," Jo said, fighting off an urge to get a handful of that pink. And damn it all, Meg was wearing makeup, never mind the small fact that she didn't need it. She had a touch of glittery blue stuff on her eyelids, and she was surely wearing mascara too, although her eyelashes were long and dark already. And blusher on her cheeks, although they were plenty pink enough, and lipstick a shade or two darker than her dress. It all looked done by a professional, although Jo knew Meg had put it on herself. Her hair was done up high in back with long curls coming down, with some kind of sparkly thingy holding it in place.
So Jo was just as lovely in her own way? Crap.
And to top it all off, Meg looked slightly embarrassed about the fact that she was a certifiable knockout. Not that she was about to ugly herself up on Jo's account, or anything.
Jo wondered if anybody would be fooled if she suddenly developed a migraine headache.
Where was Amy, by the way?
"Amy's in the front room with Emily," her mom said as if she had heard Jo's thought. "They're having a sleepover here tonight. They wanted to have it at Emily's, but with Beth the way she is...Well, the slightest injury could give her a nasty infection. So I'd just as soon have her where I could keep an eye out."
Beth was sitting on her bed now, petting Mimi, whom they'd had declawed for the reason their mother had just stated, even thought Mimi had never used her claws on Beth even when she was a kitten.
Amy had been acting so angelic that Jo was a trifle suspicious. What was she up to?
"Wait a minute," Meg said. "Your hair. Be right back." She flurried to her room and soon returned with her electric curling iron. "It's still hot. I don't even need to plug it in. Here..."
She approached Jo with the thing, and Jo did not even back away, but surrendered her head to the gleaming silver instrument, which Meg deftly applied to sundry locks of Jo's hair.
"There now!" she said as she fluffed up her handiwork with her skillfully manicured fingers. "Now look at yourself."
"Wow!" Beth said softly, with very round eyes.
Jo looked. Hmm. Her bangs sprang in graceful curls over her forehead with a jaunty effect that was actually becoming.
"Now your makeup," Meg said. "Let's play up those eyes a little. I think a bit of green. Goldy green. A teeny bit of shadow beneath. A bit of lipstick-yes, red to go with your necklace. There, that's what the beautician ordered, don't you think, guys?"
"Jo, you're gorgeous!" cried Beth with wide eyes. "Look at her, Marmee." That being the girls' childhood name for their mother, which Beth still used occasionally.
Jo stood transfixed, just looking at herself. She thought of the times when standing with their mom in the supermarket checkout and looking at the covers of the tabloids when they featured actresses without their makeup, thinking how plain and ordinary some of them looked, in contrast with the faces they presented to the public. Damn, she thought inelegantly. I'm not bad at all. Not. bad. at. all.
"Jo, I really didn't know you were so lovely," her mother said in wonder, reaching out to touch Jo's cheek. "Your eyes look bigger and darker, and there's a fleck of gold in them. They're like your father's eyes...except his don't have those flecks in them."
Now that should have made her feel better.
"Meg, you're a magician," Beth said smiling.
Jo could feel herself blushing furiously, and she didn't dare turn back to the mirror to look.
"Wait," she said, "shouldn't we cover up my freckles?"
She simply could not believe she had actually said that.
"Of course not," her mother said. "Your freckles are cute. They're like cinnamon sprinkled on creamy icing."
"I've noticed the only people who think freckles are cute are those who don't have them," Jo said, yet she smiled.
"I have them," her mother said smiling also, "in the summertime, when I used to go swimming. I should go more."
It was then Jo noticed how much older and more tired her mother was looking.
"The boys are here," Beth said as a sound outside the window attracted her attention. She went to look, picking Mimi up in her arms.
"Let's go," Jo said finally. "I'm not gonna turn into one of those irritating divas who likes to keep her dates waiting. I'm not that hot. Dang, where's my sweater? Here it is under the bed. Ratty old thing. I don't think I'll wear it, it's not very cold out anyway."
Actually it was rather chilly, or would be so later on, but that sweater was simply out of the question. She'd just tough it out.
"You won't need it," Meg said with a mysterious little smile. "Come on."
Amy and Emily were sitting on the couch looking at a photo album when the older girls came in. Emily was a chubby little girl of thirteen, who, like Beth, looked younger than her age. Before getting kicked out of school, Amy had made comments about Emily's weight, and said she'd get really fat soon, and then they should be embarrassed to be seen with her. How will she make US look? she'd asked with typical Amy logic. However, she did not seem to consider it such an issue now.
"Look at this one of Jo when she was a kid," she was saying as she pointed out one of the pictures in the album. "Don't you think she looks kinda like that creepy girl in The Orphan?"
"I haven't seen it," Emily said. "Why is she making that face?"
"Maybe she's thinking about her baby sister," Jo said as she and Meg entered the room. Emily started. Amy looked up blandly.
Emily actually made an attempt at a wolf-whistle. "Wow!" she said. "You guys look amazing!"
Jo wondered if she had been taking vocabulary lessons from Sally Gardiner.
"Look, Jo," Beth said. "Here's what Hannah got you."
She held up a sweater of a rich soft cranberry red. Jo's eyes widened.
"Wow," she said as she took it and caressed the sleeves. Angora, or Jo was Paris Hilton. "That's really spankin'. Where's Hannah?"
"Here," Hannah said appearing in the doorway. "Like it? I thought it had your name on it."
Jo looked at it as though expecting to see "Jo March" embroidered on it somewhere. It had tiny faux pearls stitched around the neck, and little pearly buttons up the front. She laid it over her shoulders.
"Thanks, Hannah," she said smiling.
"Well, look at you," Hannah said.
Theo and Michael came in just at that moment.
"Well, just look at you," was Theo's remark, even though he had not heard Hannah say it. There really was admiration in his eyes.
Michael was smitten speechless at the sight of Meg, which only went to show how stunning she really did look. All he could do was stand there staring goggle-eyed and open-mouthed at her. Yet somehow he was the sort of guy who could get away with that look. It was actually rather cute on him, kind of Jimmy Olson meets Justin Timberlake.
Then Theo noticed Meg. That wasn't so cute.
The nasty feelings came back all of a sudden. They must have missed Jo rather badly. She told herself she was the queen of the ingrates, when Meg had just made her look the best she'd ever looked. She didn't deserve to be Meg's sister.
She knew this, yet the feeling remained. It was all the hormone fairy's fault.
Welcome to the dark side, Jo March, he/she/whatever snickered in its worst Darth Vader imitation. Yes, we do indeed have cookies. But nobody ever said we'd share them.
"I wish I had sisters," Emily said wistfully, snapping Jo out of her fairy-imposed miasma. "Beautiful ones, like you guys. All I've got is a brother, and he's a pain in the you know what."
"Be careful what you wish for," Amy said, a split second before that exact sentiment popped into Jo's brain.
"This is Jeeves," Theo introduced his driver to Michael. "Well, actually his name is Douglas, but that sounds too much like some guy in a Hawaiian shirt who wears socks with his sandals, and thinks he looks sexy when he's eating an ice-cream cone. Everyone should have a Jeeves."
"We have one," Jo said. "Her name is Hannah."
The others laughed.
"So," Michael said as they rolled along, "is everybody geared up for The Music Man next weekend? I'm actually starting to get nervous. Got your costume ready, Meg?"
"Oh yes," Meg said. "Mrs. Gardiner is a genius at putting costumes together and improvising. She studies the periods and the years and gets the details just right, instead of assuming the audience is too dumb to know one era from the other. I've got three gorgeous outfits now, including a perfectly adorable hat."
"I can hardly wait to see you in them," Michael said. "Wait till you see mine. I put it together myself. It's pretty snappy if I do say so. Wish you were in it too, Theo. Meg says you can sing. Think you'll try out for Les Mis this summer?"
"Yeah," Theo said. "It'll give me something different to do at least. How about you?"
"Definitely. I want to be Enjolras, or Thenardier. Although I probably won't get either one. The older and more experienced ones will snag all the juicy parts, and us kids will get what's left over. Except Meg will get Cosette, she was made to play that role."
"Mr. Wexler will play Valjean, I know," Meg said. "He has before, and he's exactly right for it. He has that rugged, haunted look about him, yet hopeful and determined."
"That's what bein' a teacher'll do to ya," Michael said with a wink.
"Who's Mr. Wexler?" Theo asked.
"Our choir director at school," Meg said. "Theo, you should try out for Marius. I think you look the part, don't you, Jo?"
If he gets it, he'll be singing love duets with Meg, thought Jo. There it was again.
"I don't sing that good," Theo said. "I've had no voice training whatsoever. Besides, Brooke plans to try out for it. I think he'll get it."
"He is?" Meg said sitting up a little straighter. Jo stared at her. "I didn't know that."
"Maybe you should get him to give you voice lessons," Jo said.
"Who's Brooke?" Michael asked.
"My tutor," Theo said. "Jo, you should try out too. You could be in the chorus, at least."
"I'd like to be a revolutionary," Jo admitted, "but there's just one small problem, namely my inability to carry a tune in a paper sack. I'd end up getting shot for real."
"You're not that bad, Jo," Meg said. "You can sing in tune when you know the song well."
"Don't I have to sing to audition?" Jo said. "Errgh."
"I'll coach you," Meg said. "We can use something simple. Maybe Mr. Brooke could help too."
"Ummm," Jo said. "Wouldn't it be nice if I could sing? I could play Eponine. I really like her. Or even Madame Whatsername. She's so wonderfully ghastly. I wouldn't even have to be that good of a singer, would I?"
"What do you want to bet Lana Babcock will play Eponine?" Michael said. "I hear she's got her eye on the part. Last summer her sister would have played her, and stolen the whole show. Too bad she was the one that had to go and get herself killed."
"I heard she wanted to play Marian," Jo said. "Imagine that. That would be about like Ozzy Osbourne playing Jesus."
The others laughed.
"I take it you're not fond of her?" Theo said.
"I like cats on four legs," Jo said. "I can't abide cats on two legs."
It was a moment before the irony of what she had just said registered with her.
The theater was one that had been in the city for nearly two hundred years, with white columns and a little fountain out front, with benches flanking it. Plays, operas, ballets, concerts and fund raisers were all held there.
"Well, here we are," Theo said as the car pulled up before the theater. "Well Jeeves old man, thanks much," he said in his best Bertie Wooster imitation, which actually wasn't very good, but it usually made Jo laugh. "We should do this more often."
Jo saw the Moffat girls on the other end of the lobby with their dates, and lo and behold, there was Eddy, with Sally Gardiner yet. Yes, Meg had mentioned they were dating.
Guess she likes being used, huh, Jo had said.
What do you mean? Meg said frowning.
Why, he's using Sally to make you jealous, Jo said in surprise. I can't believe I even had to point that out to you.
Jo, must you be so cynical? People can change, you know.
Can, yes. Do...nope, don't think so. Not Eddy Moffat, at least.
Sally says he treats her really nice.
Does he? Now I'm really suspicious.
Meg had looked just a bit sad then. So she did like Eddy more than she would let on.
"Well well, speak of the devil," Michael muttered through his teeth as they stood in the lobby, glancing about to see who was there, Jo contemplating asking where the popcorn machine was. "If it isn't Lana Babcock, in all her glory. There's gonna be trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with B and that stands for Babcock."
"Lana Balrog, eh?" Jo said. "She shall not pass."
Lana had just walked in with her date, with her usual Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair demeanor. She was about a year older than Meg. Her older sister, Diana, had been a beauty queen-gorgeous, talented, smart, popular, and with a million-dollar personality to top it all off. And last summer, just after being chosen to participate in the Miss USA pageant, this paragon had been killed in a car crash, and poor Lana was living in her shadow while desperately and defiantly pretending she was all her own woman. Not that she was any epic failure as to looks, brains, and talent, but when it came to personality... As far as Jo was concerned, she had all the charm of a root canal, and the charisma of a mad scientist's hunchbacked assistant on crack.
No...of course she wasn't jealous.
The look on Lana's face when she saw Meg was something to see. Jo had to suppress a grin at the thought of Lana's reaction when Meg had snagged the role of Marian, while Lana was assigned to play one of the snooty ladies. Mr. Wexler did know a little something about casting.
And then there was the fact that Lana was nuts about Eddy Moffat. Not that she had ever said so, in so many words, where the March girls could hear. But there was the way she kept bringing up the subject of him in such a carefully offhand manner, and the look in her eyes when someone asked Meg about him in Lana's presence. Like she'd love to get her hands around Meg's throat in half a heartbeat.
That's you in a couple of years, the hormone fairy whispered to Jo. You're already getting there.
Shut up, she told it through mentally clenched teeth.
Sally had mentioned that Eddy had dated Lana a time or two, although she couldn't have told what had passed between them. She was a natural-born gossip, but there was little malice in her.
"Why, Meg!" Lana exclaimed, recovering her composure with astonishing speed. "Fancy seeing you here! Hi, Michael."
She was wearing a dress that seemed composed of flashing gold and copper scales, with tiny shoulder straps. It might have been in good taste on a dance floor, but at a ballet it was rather like hanging a disco ball in the Oval Office. Her dark hair was chopped off in a funky razor cut that seemed an obvious act of defiance of her sister, who had worn hers down past her waist. Although she was tall already, she wore heels that had to be at least six inches high...because she could, Jo supposed.
"Hi, Lana," Meg and Michael chorused. The lack of enthusiasm in their voices tickled Jo.
"I guess you've met my sister Jo?" Meg said. "This is our friend Theo. Theo, Lana Babcock."
"Hi, Theo," Lana said. Her date, a guy Jo didn't recognize, nodded coolly at them. "This is my date, Ryan Meredith. Nice dress, Meg. It looks almost as good on you as it did on Diana."
Jo's eyebrows shot up. Hmm. This could get ugly.
"Thank you, Lana," Meg said with grave sweetness, just as Jo was set to suggest to Lana that mixing some olive oil into her food might prevent the formation of hairballs. "I didn't know it had belonged to her, but I shouldn't be surprised it did. It's an honor to wear it. She was a beautiful girl with excellent taste. I never really got to know her, but I greatly admired her from a distance."
Jo grinned. Leave it to Meg. She was something else.
The nasty little thing had taken leave, perhaps because of the presence of Lana, which brought out the solidarity between the sisters.
"She did have that quality about her," Lana said with an attempt to look all sad and everything. It might have been amusing if it hadn't been so...well, creepy. "Oh, look. There's Eddy Moffat with Sally Gardiner. Wow, I didn't know they were dating now. Guess he's finally over you, Meg."
"I hope so," Meg said softly, "for Sally's sake."
"I hope so too...for the same reason," Lana said. Right, thought Jo, and I bet you wish Diana was still alive too. "She is so not his type. Looks like she's gained a little weight. That dress is getting a bit snug on her. And you'd think her mother would tell her that teal is definitely not her color. That, and the fact that nobody is wearing it this year, but then again, you can hardly expect a mother to think of that."
"I bet to differ," Meg said stiffly. "And it's peacock, not teal. And I know for a fact that her mother strongly approved the dress."
"Maybe you should consider wearing that color, Lana," Jo suggested wickedly. "Eddy seems to like it. And if nobody is wearing it this year, all the more reason to do so. You'd stand out instead of blending in the woodwork."
"Well, aren't you just a barrel of funsies tonight," Lana said looking at Jo as if she had toilet paper on her shoe, while Theo went off into a spasm of laughter. Jo fairly expected to see slitted pupils in her eyes. "To think for a moment there I thought you'd finally decided to grow up. It was pretty scary."
"It was, wasn't it," Jo agreed airily. "I scared myself, in fact. I hate when that happens."
"Got your line memorized yet, Lana?" Michael said with a fiendish grin. Jo found herself warming up to him dramatically.
But she suddenly feared for him, and for Meg also, when she saw the look on Lana's face. Whew, if looks could cut throats, there'd be blood everywhere, she thought.
"Don't be silly, Michael," Meg said with a gracious smile. "Lana plays Mayor Shinn's wife, she has lots of lines. Shall we go take our seats while we can still get through? I think the ballet is about to begin."
"Come on, Lana," Ryan spoke up, tossing away the butt of the cigarette he had been smoking. "I see somebody I know over there. Let's go talk to them."
"Pick a little, talk a little," Michael said as the couple took their leave. Lana gave no indication that she had heard him, although Jo knew she had.
After they took their seats, Jo glanced all around her, and saw Lana and Ryan standing in the doorway.
"Is it just me," she said, "or did she creep anybody else out big time? I mean, big time."
"She reminds me of the girlfriends of some of the guys I used to go to school with, back in my pre-juvie days," Theo said. "Positively toxic."
"Funny, I bet I'd love her bitchy ass if she were a fictional character," Jo said. "She's a walking soap opera. What do you want to bet she killed her sister?"
She could hardly believe she had just let that slip. The others looked at her as though they couldn't believe she had either.
"Jo, be careful what you say," Meg said after a moment.
"Sorry," Jo said, and she actually meant it. "Guess I watch too many movies, or something. Overactive imagination in full gear. Message deleted."
"I don't like her either," Meg said, "but...well, that was crossing the line."
"Maybe she did, at that," Michael said, as Jo felt her face get hot, and hoped nobody noticed. "What Jo said, I mean. I do remember hearing that Diana's brake lines were broken, and the cops said something about foul play, but no one was ever arrested. My mother talked about it for weeks. She just loves a nice juicy scandal, even more than shoes and cigarettes."
"I remember the same thing," Jo said, "but I'd nearly forgotten about it...until now."
"Oh wow," Theo said snapping his fingers a little, "this is getting interesting. A real, genuine murder mystery right here in our very own sleepy little home town. The plot thickens, and no, I'm not lisping. So Jo, are you going to go all Nancy Drew and do some serious sleuthing?"
"I don't believe it for a minute," Meg said, "and we shouldn't be talking about it, at least not here. Somebody might hear us."
The curtain rose just then, and the subject was dropped.
Jo enjoyed the ballet for the most part, although at times she had a hard time following the story, and had to ask Meg what was going on. During intermission they talked more about who would play whom in the summer musical, then Theo and Michael pretended to be ballet critics, tossing out such comments as "I found the pas de deux in the last scene decidedly lacking in repricicosity" and "The prima ballerina had a certain Ballanchinesque aloofness in her tours jetés...but boy did she had some hot gams," etc. A few well-dressed bystanders thought they were in earnest, and turned to look at them quizzically, which would have tickled Jo immensely under different circumstances. Yet there was a darkness overall, and their laughter was a little strained and shrill, their remarks too carefully witty, and no one seemed to be really listening to the other. Jo sincerely wished she had kept her mouth shut. What had started out as an innocent little lark among friends had a pall cast over it.
And when it was over, they did not go out for ice cream as originally planned. No one seemed in the mood.
Much later in the night, Jo found she could not sleep, so she decided to work on putting the rest of her novel up on the computer. Yet when she opened her sock drawer where she kept her notebook, she found it was not there.