Living with Choices
The party had been going on for hours and did not appear as if it would slow down anytime in the foreseeable future, a fact that really did not surprise the hostess, who stood on the balcony above and out of sight of her guests. Her events were known for lasting until the wee hours, bringing together a diverse mixture of people and being the place to be seen, all of which simply added to the mystique of a woman who had become increasingly elusive over the years.
Once an avid seeker of the limelight, Blair Warner now went out of her way to avoid it. She often gave these elaborate parties, but she seldom appeared for more than a few minutes at a time erratically throughout the night. For most of the time she was ensconced in her upstairs office continuing with the work that had kept Warner Industries solid in an increasingly unstable market.
Work had become her solace, the only constant in a life that had not turned out as she had imagined. She had craved the roles of wife and mother, envisioned herself as the adored spouse of a wealthy member of her social circle with two wonderful children, her perfect life the envy of her friends.
There was very little about her life that was perfect or worthy of envy. She had proven unable to bear children and her not-so-perfect husband had decided he preferred his mistress to his wife. The only saving grace in all of it was that he had been as image conscious as Blair was humiliated, so the divorce had been quick and quiet. She was thankful he had the good sense to keep his mistress tucked out of sight and unfertilized for an additional six months after the decree was made final. To Blair's knowledge very few people were privy to the true story behind that fiasco.
Determined not to let her life be overly affected, Blair wrapped the role of glittering divorcee around herself and created a social whirlwind that left her detractors too dizzy to comment. At the same time, she began to assume more duties at Warner Industries. Her family and friends watched in concern, convinced she would crash and burn from the impossibly hectic schedule, but Blair seemed to thrive on it.
No one knew what it had cost her to maintain the illusion that all was as it should be. She kept nineteen hour days, never stopping. There were no days off, no vacations. Periodically, she changed locations for a few days or weeks to create the appearance of leisure time but, with her laptop and cell phone always at hand, the work was ceaseless.
Blair Warner had become her job and in the process had become as cold and ruthless as was necessary to take Warner Industries into the top ten of the Fortune 500. She had also become a consummate actress so adept was she at not allowing anyone to see the changes in her personality. Her closest friends may have sensed something not quite right but it was easily explained away as tiredness from the latest party she had attended or the wonderful date that had run a bit late. Oh, she was still careful to date the most eligible men but no one got close. If she could not avoid becoming her mother by having the perfect marriage, she would do so by never repeating the mistake again.
There was only one person who might have seen through the façade she had erected, but Blair had made sure long ago that, that individual would no longer be part of her life. There were many nights, such as this one, when she regretted that decision. How was she to have known at 22, when she thought she had traded a life of potential heartache and regret for one of guaranteed security and happiness, she had actually been doing the opposite. She often wished she could go back to that day and change what she had done.
The day had started out no different than any other, she awoke, argued with Jo, dressed, ate breakfast, argued with Jo, and went off to class. The afternoon went similarly, especially the arguing with Jo part. If Blair had known then what the next 24 hours would hold she might have paid more attention to those exchanges.
Over the years things had changed between them, they no longer went after each other in anger. Where some relationships might have degenerated into nasty squabbles, theirs had elevated into an art form, a way of expressing their affection without the mushiness Jo so abhorred.
But that evening things had changed irrevocably. Jo had been dating Rick, as Blair had Casey, best friends dating best friends. There was a certain symmetry to it that the blonde liked. She knew Casey was not someone she would spend the rest of her life with, but he was sweet and attentive, more importantly he respected Blair's desire to not rush into intimacy.
She was sure Jo's relationship ran along similar lines, or at least, she assumed that until Jo came to her that evening. Jo seemed hesitant, uncomfortable, very unlike herself. She fidgeted, running her fingers through her hair.
"Jo, will you relax?" Grabbing the brunette by the hand she dragged her to the couch, pushing on broad shoulders until her friend sat. Joining her, Blair continued to hold Jo's hand. "Now, tell me what's bothering you."
"Nothing's bothering me, Blair. It's just that…well…Rick asked me to marry him," Jo finished in a rush, looking everywhere but at the blonde.
Blair froze. She couldn't have heard right, it sounded like Jo said Rick had proposed. She continued to stare, blinking slowly, as the words sank in. Finally, she forced a small laugh. Jo was obviously kidding, this had to be a joke. Didn't it? Jo would never leave her, would she?
"Be serious, Jo," she admonished pushing against her friend's shoulder with her free hand. Vaguely, she registered a small thrill that Jo was too strong to be moved.
"I am serious. He's leaving to go on tour and he wants us to get married before he goes." She raised her eyes to meet her friend's at last, attempting to read Blair's feelings on the matter, but the usually open expression was carefully guarded.
"What…what did you say?" The blonde asked, her voice almost too soft to hear. Calloused fingers tightened around her own.
"I haven't given him an answer. I thought…I wanted…Well, I needed to talk to you first," Jo shrugged as if to say that should be obvious.
"To me?" Blair licked dry lips. This was really happening. "Do you love him?"
"Not as much as y-," Jo stopped, her face tightening. She sighed not sure how much more to say. She settled for a quiet, "Yes."
Brown eyes searched the depths of green, heart pounding at what they found. There was so much she wanted to say and nothing that she could. Her future was planned and while it might not include Casey, it could not include what she truly wanted. She needed the stability her childhood had not provided. She did not want her life to be a continual round of headlines and speculation, the way her mother's had, so Blair did the only thing she felt she could.
"Then marry him, Jo, and please, be happy." The words tore at her even as they passed her lips, but this was how it had to be.
Blair did not realize in the whirlwind that was Jo's wedding and Rick's departure that she was actually saying good-bye to her best friend. Within a few short months the four of them dispersed like seeds on the wind. Nat and Tootie stayed in touch as did the rest of their adopted family, but Jo was gone as if she had never been.
From time to time one of the other's would mention having spoken to or seen her in passing, but the information was sketchy and had not happened in the last five years. She supposed she could have hired someone to keep track of the brunette, but somehow it felt like an invasion of Jo's privacy.
Reunions and holidays came and went with different combinations of them gathering together but one tall presence was always missing. At first Tootie's wedding and then Blair's, only the three had stood together, with her sister, Bailey, as Blair's maid of honor occupying the place the blonde had always pictured her best friend in, though if she had faced the truth she kept so deeply hidden and guarded so carefully Jo would have stood to her right and not her left, but Blair had made her choice and now they must all live with it.
The sudden silence from downstairs drew the blonde's attention from musings about the past. The party was officially over. Blair's lips twisted wryly at the thought, for her it had been over for years. She wondered idly where Jo was right now, she supposed she could find out with a phone call but the habits of over a decade were hard to break. If the brunette wanted to see her friend, her own whereabouts were as easy to ascertain as the front page of the most recent tabloid could manage.
Blair's laugh was bitter. She had not managed to avoid the headlines, the best she had done was to control the reason why. Instead of speculating on her most recent bedmate, the talk centered around her most recent business success or charitable gesture. Yet, she knew she would call the papers herself for one chance to change the past.
Pushing the thought away, she made her way to her room. She needed to change and return to her desk. There was always more work to do when sleep proved elusive and long tedious reports kept other thoughts at bay. Sighing, Blair prepared herself to once again live with her choices.
As the breaking of dawn made the lamp on Blair's desk more and more unnecessary, a phone rang on the other side of the world. Natalie Greene looked up from her laptop, rolling her eyes at the interruption. It had to be Tootie, no one else had quite the same knack for calling just when the journalist was under a tight deadline. Absently reaching for her cell, she tucked it against her shoulder as she read over what she had just written.
"Yeah, Tootie, what's up?"
"How do you always know when it's me?" her friend laughed.
"I'm psychic and I have caller ID," Nat shot back. "Besides, I have less than an hour to finish and file this story, who else would it be?"
"I love you too, Nat," Tootie quipped. "Listen, when are you coming home?"
"I am home." It was not the first time they had had this conversation. Her best friend refused to accept that Natalie now lived in London and was not just on an extended visit.
"You know what I mean," the younger woman growled.
"I am not planning on being in New York any time soon." Natalie made a few corrections to her story and began typing again, only half listening.
"Well, change your plans," Tootie ordered brusquely.
The redhead stopped what she was doing, surprised at her friend's tone.
"What's going on, Tootie?"
"Check out your favorite blog," Tootie responded by way of explanation.
Sighing, Nat saved her story and opened a browser window, a quick click on a bookmark had the page in question loading.
"What am I looking for?" she asked.
"It'll find you."
The report had to admit her friend was right as a large image of Blair Warner loaded under a headline about the previous night's party. To the casual observer, the blonde was her usual sparkling self, but to someone who had lived, worked and slept in the same room for almost a decade the change was obvious in the brittleness of the smile that came no where near her eyes and the frighteningly thin lines of her body.
"Damn, Tootie, what happened?"
"Then you see it too?" The actress sounded relieved.
"Hell, yes, I see it. She's a shell."
"Come home, Nat. Blair's been avoiding me for almost a year. Maybe if we both try, ya know?"
"Let me rearrange a few things. I'll email my flight time to you." Natalie hesitated for a moment before continuing. "Have you called anyone else?"
"No. I'll call Mrs. G next. Somehow we've got to get through to Blair." The concern in Tootie's tone was evident.
"Tootie, she thinks she's got us all fooled. Blair's walls are almost as thick as Jo's were."
"The key word there is were, Nat. We got through to Jo."
"No, Tootie, Blair got through to Jo," Natalie was not about to let her friend avoid the truth. "That's why we have this mess. Blair got through and then rejected what she found."
"Nat, I don't believe-," Tootie started before Natalie cut her off.
"Yes, you do. You just don't want to accept it. Well, I have news for ya, Tootie There's no way I'm flying halfway around the world if you're not willing to do whatever it takes to fix this."
There was silence for a moment as Natalie waited for her friend to work out what she wanted to say. A long sigh told the redhead her friend had given in.
"Okay, we'll do whatever it takes. I love Blair and Joe, all I want is for them to be happy and if that means accepting them as a couple then that's what I'll do."
"Good girl, Tootie. I knew you had it in you. I'll text you the flight info. Bye." Natalie ended the call before her friend had time to raise more objections.
An hour later Edna Garrett hung up the phone and turned to the visitor who sat on her couch.
"That was Tootie. She saw the picture of Blair that's circulating. She called to tell me Natalie is flying in and they want to do something to help Blair."
"And what if Blair doesn't want help?"
"Tootie said they were willing to do whatever it takes, including hunting down a certain wayward friend who hasn't spoken to any of them in years."
"What makes her think that would help?"
"Natalie believes all of this goes back to a choice Blair made a long time ago."
"I doubt that would have anything to do with whatever is happening today."
"It would if Blair realized she made a mistake." Mrs. G.'s tone was encouraging. After all, Blair was not the only one suffering right now.
"So what's their plan?"
"Natalie will be here in two days. Tootie is going to call Blair and arrange a reunion here this weekend. They should all arrive Friday."
"So we have three more days to visit. I'll take off early Friday morning."
Edna shook her head and sighed. It was not the decision she had hoped to hear. What was it with these girls and making the wrong choices?
"So you're going to run?"
Jo met her gaze, pain evident in her green eyes even after all the intervening years.
"I just…I can't see her. She made her choice; now we both have to live with it. I do a fine job of dealing if I keep my distance."
Crossing the room, Edna sat next to the brunette, taking the calloused hands into her own.
"That's not dealing, Jo. It's avoiding. I thought you were stronger than that," the older woman admonished.
The brunette looked down at the tips of her boots and shook her head slowly.
"Not when it comes to Blair," she admitted. "She's always been the exception for me."
"It would seem to me that if you still loved her, you'd want to help. Love isn't selfish, Jo. If you'd really felt that deeply then Blair's happiness would be more important than your own discomfort," Edna chided.
"Maybe that's true. All I know is everything in me tells me to be far away from here before she arrives. That instinct has kept me alive in some really tough spots. I'm not going to take the risk of ignoring it now," Jo's tone held a finality Edna knew not to challenge. The older woman had planted the seeds, now she needed to let them take root. She knew the brunette well enough to realize waiting would get her further than arguing. Jo's internal dialogue would handle the persuading for her.
For the next three days, they caught up, spending the days and evenings in quiet conversation. No one knew that Jo had been visiting her for a week once a year since the night the younger woman had showed up on her doorstep unannounced seven years ago. Her divorce had become final that day and Jo had turned to the woman who had been as much like a mother to her as the one who had given birth to her.
The last day they had done a fair amount of cooking and baking in preparation for the other three's arrival. Tootie had called once to confirm Blair's acceptance of the invitation and the time they would all arrive. Natalie and Tootie would be there just after lunch, though they were going to wait and eat with Mrs. G., but Blair would not arrive until the late evening as she had a business dinner to attend.
"I thought I'd hang around until Nat and Tootie got here. Maybe spend a couple of hours with them before heading home." Jo's hands tightened on her coffee cup as she prepared for the discussion her decision was sure to instigate.
"All right, Jo," Mrs. Garrett sighed and took a sip of her own coffee.
Jo stared at the older woman suspiciously.
"That's it? Just 'All right, Jo'?"
"Yes. There's little point in me debating this if your mind's made up."
"Oh." Disappointment colored the younger woman's voice.
Edna knew Jo wanted to be talked into staying, but she refused to do so. If the brunette stayed to face Blair, it had to be her own decision because she felt strong enough to deal with their past. Setting her cup down, the older woman rose from the table and began removing items from the pantry and refrigerator.
"I thought I'd make soup for lunch, that and sandwiches would be best, I think. Everyone can eat when they arrive without my having to worry about keeping things warm or avoiding them drying out. We can decide on dinner when everyone gets here. Don't you think, Jo?"
The brunette looked over to where the older woman was removing a large pot from under the counter.
"What? I mean, yeah, sounds good to me."
Rising, Jo took both their dishes over to the sink and began to wash them. The two worked together in silence, each caught up in her own thoughts, until at last the soup was simmering away and the kitchen had been returned to its normally pristine state. After that, Jo vacuumed while Edna dusted. For the younger woman, it was as much a routine instilled from almost a decade of being raised by the other woman, as it was a concern over the wellbeing of the 70 year old. Companionably, they worked their way through the already immaculate house until the older woman was satisfied. Last of all, Edna pulled three sets of sheets out of the linen closet. Shoving a set into Jo's arms, she sent the younger woman to remake the queen sized bed she had been using that week while Edna started on the second guest room's twin beds. Once that was completed and Jo had brought her suitcase downstairs and placed it in the trunk of her car, the older woman pronounced them finished.
They had just settled at the kitchen table when they heard a car in the driveway. As car doors were slammed, Jo began to fidget.
"I'll get it," Edna's tone was reassuring. "Why don't you set the table?"
Rising, the older woman left the kitchen and crossed to open the front door.
"Mrs. G!" The two women exclaimed in unison as they both tried to get through the door at the same time to hug the older woman.
"Girls! Girls! One at a time," Edna laughed.
Finally, Natalie stepped back and let Tootie through the door first, though she hurried right behind her friend so they were hugging Mrs. G. together.
"It's so good to see you both!" Edna blinked back tears. She would see all her girls this weekend, just not at the same time, at least, not without a miracle.
"Oh, gosh, how have you been? I haven't seen you in almost two years," Natalie gushed. "I was so sorry to hear about your husband."
Edna's smile turned sad for a moment.
"He went quickly and that's what he would have wanted. I miss him but I'm thankful for the time we did have," Edna stepped back from their embraces. "Let's talk about happier things. Who's hungry??"
The older woman laughed as they each raised a hand.
"Well, take your bags to the second bedroom and meet me in the kitchen. I have a surprise for you." Edna was practically vibrating with excitement.
"I'll bet it's pot roast," Nat guessed.
"Better, though we can have that for dinner if you want," the older woman assured them.
"Better than your pot roast? I didn't think there was any such thing," Tootie teased.
"Hurry up, you two, and you'll get to find out," Edna laughed as she turned back to the kitchen.
Grabbing their bags from the front porch and running up the stairs, they barely paused as they tossed the luggage on the bed and raced back downstairs.
"So what's the surprise?" Tootie gasped as they shoved open the kitchen door.
"You two still sound like a herd of buffalo on the stairs," Jo quipped.
Tootie stopped short and Nat bumped into her which forced the smaller woman further into the room.
"Jo!" They shouted and hurried to embrace their friend. The two held on tight until the overt display of affection became too much for the brunette.
"Guys," she attempted only to get squeezed tighter. "Guys, breathing is good."
Nat jumped back first.
"Sorry, Jo. We're just so glad to see you."
"Glad to see you too. Um…Nat, ya think ya could peel Tootie off me?"
Laughing Natalie grabbed her friend by the shoulders and pulled her back. Knowing how emotional Tootie could be, the redhead grabbed a napkin off the table and pushed it into her hand. While Tootie brought herself under control, Mrs. Garrett got them all seated with bowls of soup in front of each and a platter of sandwiches in the center. They were all so content enjoying the elder woman's cooking that conversation was suspended for the duration of the meal.
Natalie made use of the time by studying her old friend. The long, dark hair was short now and shot through with silver. There was something in Jo's face that reminded the redhead of the first day they met, but, if possible, Jo was even harder now. Her green eyes glittered like ice in the sun and seemed just as cold. This Jo had her emotions under tight control and Natalie was willing to bet no one was allowed close to the brunette. Her reporter's instincts told her the changes were the result of Blair's choice so long ago. She could not help wondering, if the blonde could have seen the results of her decision, would she have chosen differently. Maybe they would have the opportunity to see in the next few days.
"So, Jo," she ventured, "when did you get here?
The brunette glanced at their former guardian before answering, not wanting to cause the other woman a problem with their friends.
"I got here last Sunday," she admitted.
Before the other two could comment, Edna clarified, "Jo spends this week with me every year. It gives us a chance to catch up."
"How long has this been going on?" Nat asked in full reporter mode.
"Almost a decade about covers it," Jo answered.
"And you didn't tell us, Mrs. Garrett," Tootie accused.
"I asked her not to," Jo broke in. "Before you both blow up, it was just better that way. After the divorce, I just didn't know what to say to you guys. It got easier and easier to just not have to explain."
Tootie reached out and rested her hand over the brunette's on the table.
"I was sorry to hear about your divorce," she comforted her friend. "Jeff ran into Rick right after you two broke up and he told him."
"Thanks, Tootie," Jo smiled at her. She had missed the warmth and caring that the five of them had always shared.
"So what happened?" Natalie queried unable to let it go until her curiosity was satisfied.
"And that's your business how?" Jo snarled. The nosiness she had not missed.
"Because it's us," the reporter responded as if the answer should be evident.
"And we love you," Tootie added.
The brunette sighed and pulling her hand out from under the younger woman's ran it through the side of her hair before clasping the other on the table in front of her. She really did not want to go over it all again, but Natalie would not stop until she had all the information she wanted.
"Things were great at first. He traveled a lot and then later when he was doing better, I'd travel with him some. He was getting ready for another tour and wanted me to go. We had a huge fight right before he left. I hadn't been well and didn't feel up to going. A few weeks later I was feeling better so I decided to surprise him, make the last venue and ride home together on the bike. Maybe take a long weekend and just spend some time without all the tour stuff going on. I spent half the day on my bike getting there. When I arrived, his tour manager tried to distract me, but I was exhausted and insisted he take me up to the room. Something wasn't right and I wasn't going to give him the chance to call and warn Rick. Long story short, he wasn't alone."
"That bastard," Natalie snapped and then cringed. "Sorry, Mrs. Garrett."
Edna laughed and waved it off.
"I said the same thing when Jo told me," she assured them. "We're all a bit old to be censoring our language when the situation warrants."
"So what did you do, Jo?" Tootie asked.
"I turned around and got out of there. I got on my bike and just rode. The next thing I knew I was here. Mrs. G. took me in and let me stay until I figured out what to do. I've come back this same week every year since," Jo finished her story.
Natalie had been doing some thinking while listening to the brunette. Something did not add up.
"Hang on a minute. You said 'almost a decade'. It's been longer than that since your divorce."
"Jo stayed with me for over a year, until she was better able to handle things on her own," Edna explained.
"You must have taken the breakup hard," Tootie reasoned.
"I admit it wasn't easy, but that wasn't the reason I stayed so long." Jo's smile was a bit too secretive for Natalie's taste.
"Okay, Jo, spill." The redhead cut to the point. The look she got from Jo had her backpedaling. "Or not. Whatever you want is good."
"It's not all that complicated. I told you I hadn't been feeling well then. It took Mrs. G to point out the obvious reason," Jo shook her head at her own naiveté in those days.
They heard a car pull up in the drive and Jo rose to go open the back door. Nat and Tootie stared as a miniature blonde version of their friend bounded up and wrapped her arms around the brunette's waist.
"Mommy!" the little one squealed. "Did you miss me?"
"Hey, baby girl," Jo leaned down and kissed her daughter's upturned face. Standing straight she waved at the car that was backing out. "I missed you something awful. Did you have a good time?"
"It was great! We swam and played softball and rowed canoes and ate hotdogs and beans, which was yucky. Then Sue threw hers up on our counselor's sneakers. That was cool. And then-"
"Whoa. It sounds very exciting and you can tell me all about it on the way home. Right now, I want you to meet some friends of mine."
Jo herded her daughter further into the kitchen until they stood in front of her friends.
"Nat, Tootie, this is my daughter. Bee, this is Nat and Tootie. I told you about them, remember?"
Bee looked up at them, her green eyes peaking out from under her unruly bangs. Her grin was huge.
"You grew up with my mommy. You're the mouse skeeters," she informed them importantly.
"Mouse skeeters?" Tootie asked looking at Jo over the child's head.
"When she was smaller she couldn't say musketeers," Jo explained her pride in her child apparent.
"Face it, Tootie," Nat grinned. "You'll always be a mouse skeeter. Just hope the tabloids don't pick up on your new nickname."
"If they do, I'll know exactly who told them." Tootie reached out and poked her friend in the side sharing the laughter.
"Where's the name lady?" Bee interrupted looking around the kitchen.
"Name lady?" Nat questioned. "I can't imagine what that's a mispronunciation of."
Jo dropped to one knee and turned the little blonde to face her. Trust Bee to advertise all her secrets.
"She won't be here 'til much later and we'll be gone by then, sweetie," she explained, her tone gentle.
Natalie could see glimpses of the old Jo when the brunette interacted with her child. At least her walls weren't completely solid.
"You're not staying?" Tootie accused, frowning and making it sound like a betrayal.
"No," Jo stood up and rested her hands on her daughter's shoulders. "I was just waiting for Rick to drop Bee off. She spent the last week at camp. We need to get going soon so I can get her home before bedtime."
"Don't give us that bull. That's not why you're leaving and you know it," Natalie challenged her. She forgot to be leery of Jo's temper when her own showed up.
"Now isn't a good time, Nat," Jo glanced down at her daughter, who was watching the adults with wide eyes. She did not need Bee overhearing more than she had already managed to, the little scamp.
"Well, when would be a good time?" Tootie jumped in her voice rising steadily. "In another 13 years? I assume that's when we'll see you again!"
"Don't yell at my mommy!"
They all looked down at the little girl who stood with feet apart, hands fisted on her hips and green eyes blazing. Tootie took an involuntary step backwards. The kid was definitely her mother's child. Give Bee a motorcycle helmet and a denim jacket and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
"Leave it to you to take a perfectly lovely little girl and raise her to be a miniature barbarian." The soft cultured voice came from the interior kitchen door. "Sorry, Mrs. G. I knocked but evidently, no one heard me. Tootie, Nat, it's good to see you. Hello, Jo." Blair's voice got impossibly softer almost caressing the brunette's name.
"Blair," Jo whispered, shock evident in her tone. She's not supposed to be here for hours.
Two blonde heads turned to look at the brunette. Seeing her mom staring at the other blonde, Bee turned to study her, realizing she knew her from the pictures her mom had in her bedroom.
"You're the name lady," she stated, crossing her arms and sizing Blair up as her mother winced.
Raising a questioning eyebrow at Jo, the older blonde walked further into the kitchen. Except for the hair, she looks just like Jo.
"I'm Blair Warner," she introduced herself to the child.
The little one nodded once, stepped forward and stuck out her hand like her mom had showed her. "I'm Blair too. Blair Rose Bonner, but you can call me Bee."
Blair shook the small hand as amazed at the confidence of one so young as she was at what the child had said.
"Your name is Blair?" she questioned sure she had not heard right. She looked quickly to Jo who was staring at the ceiling as if praying the floor would open under her.
"Yes, ma'am," Bee answered unaware of the consternation she had caused in all the adults except Edna.
"You named your daughter Blair?" This time the question was addressed to the brunette.
"Yeah, what of it?" Jo's tone was belligerent.
A smile ghosted over Blair's lips at the remembered tone. She also noticed Bee give her a fierce look. Protective of her mother, how cute."
"Why?" Blair wanted to know. "I hurt you so badly, Jo. Why would you do that?"
"My nanna says its cause I'm a perfect Warner-Polniaczek," Bee spoke up. "But don't say that around my daddy. It makes him mad," she advised in all seriousness.
Blair raised a trembling hand to cover her mouth as she studied the child. With her blonde hair and green eyes, Bee looked exactly as Blair had always imagined a child of her's and Jo's would.
"I'll bet it makes him mad," Nat muttered. "Oooph. Watch the elbows, Tootie."
Tootie smiled innocently as if she had not just poked her best friend in the side.
"Bee, who's your nanna?" Tootie shifted the conversation away from the older Blair who kept shifting her gaze between Jo and her daughter, and Jo who just stared at Blair.
The small blonde grinned and pointed across the room to Edna. "That's my nanna. She's the only one I have now." The grin faded. "My Granma Rose is in heaven now."
Jo crossed her arms over Bee's shoulders and hugged her little girl close.
"Yes, but you still have Nanna G and she loves you very much," Edna reassured Bee. She crossed to take one little hand in her own. "Why don't you come with me? We can let the girls talk while you and I go see what I may have gotten for you."
"Presents?" Bee breathed in awe.
"Yes, I think there's something for you on the dresser in my room. Shall we go see?"
"Mrs. G," Jo broke in. "We were just leaving."
"Nonsense, Jo." Edna laughed. "No way to avoid what's landed in your lap. You girls visit while Bee and I check into the present situation." She hurried the little girl out of the kitchen before Jo could raise any more objections.
"You were trying to avoid me." Blair stated after the door swung shut on the other two.
"I just didn't see the point in staying," Jo hedged, her expression giving nothing away.
"Your three best friends in the whole world who you haven't seen in 13 years are here and you can't think of a reason to stay." Natalie chided.
Tootie crossed her arms and nodded her agreement while Blair just raised an eyebrow at the brunette. As much as she wanted to turn around and walk out herself, the blonde would never let it be said that a Warner backed down from a confrontation.
Jo heaved a sigh and pressed the palms of her hands against her temples. She was going to live to regret this decision, but that seemed to be the norm for her where Blair Warner was concerned.
"Fine, we'll stay. Bee has her sleeping bag and I can take the couch."
"That child is not sleeping on the floor," Blair spoke up.
"Listen, Warner, she's my kid and she'll sleep where I tell her to," Jo snapped back.
Dropping her bag in a kitchen chair, Blair advanced on her old roommate.
"Just because her mother is a Neanderthal doesn't mean that little girl has to sleep in a sack," she came back in her best snooty voice knowing exactly what it would do to the brunette.
"It's not a sack," Jo snarled pushing into the blonde's personal space until they were nose to nose.
"Well, it's not a bed," the blonde responded.
"What would you know about it, princess? Your royal ass has never slept on anything but silk in your life," Jo clenched her fists to try to hold her temper at bay. Blair just made her so furious some times.
"Damn, you are so hot when you're angry," Blair exclaimed throwing her arms around Jo's neck and kissing her with all the pent up passion of decades of longing. Neither woman noticed as Tootie dragged a reluctant Natalie out of the room by her arm.
The brunette slid her arms around the woman she had always loved and angled her head to make firmer contact between their mouths. She slid her tongue into wet heat and shivered at the moan Blair answered her with. The princess, her princess, was in her arms, kissing and being kissed. Strong hands began to move over the blonde's body, stroking and caressing, touching everywhere. Soft, so soft and warm, Jo thought hazily. She tore her mouth from Blair's only to work her way down a silken neck, kissing and nipping as she went. The blonde tasted unbelievably good.
Blair shivered and threaded her fingers in short dark locks, pulling the brunette's head closer. A rough tongue licked behind her ear causing the blonde to bite her own lips to keep from groaning loudly. Long fingers slid down her back, cupping her buttocks and pulling her tighter against the woman who was ravishing her neck. Mouth open, gasping for breath, it was all the blonde could do not to scream at Jo to take her, to slide those wonderful fingers deep inside her until nothing existed but this woman she loved so desperately.
"Joey," Blair gasped. "Please."
Jo bit into the tendons of the blonde's neck in response to the breathless plea, receiving a soft scream and the feeling of nails digging into her shoulders for her efforts. She'd waited her whole life to hear Blair begging her, Jo Polniaczek, to take her, to love her. Right now, this moment, she could have Blair. Forcing the sexual haze from her mind, Jo pushed Blair away and stumbled backwards into the counter. Turning away, she braced her palms on the cool laminate struggling to get control of her body, one thought clear in her mind, There is no tomorrow in this. Just having Blair right now, today, was not enough and for Bee's sake, Jo could not do that to herself. She could not get over Blair Warner again. It just was not possible.
The brunette could feel the heat from the other woman's body as she came close behind her.
"Don't, Blair," she warned. "Tell the others I went for a walk. Bee is fine with Mrs. G. I'll be back soon." She walked stiffly to the door and let herself out of the kitchen.
Blair turned and leaned back into the space the brunette had just vacated, crossing her arms over her abdomen. It felt as if something had torn inside of her. There was nothing now but blinding pain and a hollow, empty feeling that seemed to suck the life out of her.
Slowly she slid to the floor and huddled there as the walls she had built so carefully over the years crumbled around her. Blair Warner found the last of her protection gone and she was unable to stop the one thing she had never allowed herself to do. She screamed out in pain over all she had lost, sobbing over wasted years and shattered lives. She cried until she struggled to breathe, rocking on the floor, nails scratching at the tile as if to pass the torment she was feeling on to someone or something else. She felt nothing outside of the anguish that consumed her, not the nails she broke, the arms that came to encircle her nor the softly whispered words of comfort.
Nat and Tootie lifted her from the floor and half carried her to living room couch where they cradled her between them feeding her tissues and concern until she lay quiescent against the redhead, shivering from the heat of her emotions.
"Blair," Tootie's voice was soft and caring, "sweetie, where's Jo?"
The blonde just shook her head and pressed her sodden face into Natalie's neck, crying softly to herself.
The slamming of the front door drew the two younger women's attention, while the blonde just flinched and cried harder.
"What the hell did you two do to her?!" Jo snarled charging across the room.
"Us?" Tootie snapped rising to face the older woman. "We found her in the kitchenlike this. You did this, not us."
Jo just stood there gaping, mouth opening and closing. Blair looked exactly the way the brunette had the night before her wedding. Dropping into the seat Tootie had just vacated, she reached to pull Blair into her arms.
"Blair? Baby? Please don't cry." She rocked the blonde gently side to side. "It kills me when you cry. Please, Blair."
Slender arms curled around the brunette's neck and a hot, wet face pressed into her neck as a trembling body pressed closer.
"I'm sorry, Jo. I'm so sorry," the blonde mumbled over and over. "I never should have let you go. I was scared and I was stupid. I'm so sorry."
Tootie cast a meaningful glance at Natalie. With a sigh, the redhead stood up and stuck her arm out for her friend to grab.
"I know, I know. I just want to know why you always drag me away just when it gets good," Nat grumbled.
Rolling her eyes, Tootie yanked on her arm.
"Come on. Someday I'll make it up to you and let you watch me and Jeff argue."
"Promise?" Natalie grinned as Tootie dragged her into the kitchen.
Jo slipped her forefinger under Blair's chin and lifted the tear stained face so she could look into the drenched brown eyes.
"It's okay, Blair. I was scared too. If I hadn't been, I never would have let you push me away. I knew how you felt, how we both felt, but I let us take the easy way out. I can't regret it because I never would have had Bee otherwise and she's the most precious thing in my life."
"What about now?" Blair whispered. "Is it too late?"
"What about tomorrow?" Jo challenged. "What will you want then?"
Doe eyes explored green, searching for answers to questions that were not yet formed until, at last, Blair understood. The problems that had scared her away 13 years ago would still be there tomorrow. She would still be Blair Warner and Jo would still be Jo. Society might be a bit more accepting but nothing else had changed. The blonde closed her eyes for a moment and thought about tomorrow without Jo and all the tomorrows beyond it. Her life had become nothing but work, every minute of every day. But if Jo were part of it, if every day included this stubborn Neanderthal, it would make her crazy…and happier than she had ever been. To be with Jo, to live with the grease monkey and raise a mini-barbarian child together, was the closest thing to heaven Blair could think of.
Slowly her lips spread into a smile, that stunning Blair smile that always sent shivers down Jo's spine to curl seductively in her belly.
"I love you, Jo." She punctuated her words with little tender kisses around the corners of Jo's lips. "I've always loved you and I'll love you tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, every day for the rest of my life."
Jo caught her lips and kissed her slowly, making love to Blair's mouth with her own. Neither was sure exactly how long they stayed that way, perfecting the art of kissing each other, until the sound of a throat clearing rather loudly from the top of the stairs brought them to their senses. They separated just as Mrs. G and Bee came into sight.
"Hello, girls. Everything all right?" The older woman looked anxiously from one to the other. It was obvious Blair had been crying and Edna only hoped they had worked it out.
"Just fine, Mrs. G," Blair smiled. "If you'll excuse me, I think I'll freshen up." She squeezed Jo's hand before rising, getting her suitcase from beside the front door and heading upstairs.
"Blair, you're in the first guest room," Edna called after her.
The blonde nodded to acknowledge hearing the older woman before she disappeared from sight.
"Jo?" Edna was not sure how much she should ask in front of Bee.
"It's good," Jo smiled at her. "I need to talk to Bee for a minute, if you don't mind?"
"Of course not. I suppose Natalie and Tootie are in the kitchen," At the brunette's nod, she headed that way. "I'll join them and we can get dinner started."
"We'll be out to help in a minute," Jo assured her. "Come 'ere, baby girl."
She held her arms out to her daughter who came over and curled up in her mom's lap. Resting her blonde curls against a strong shoulder, the little one breathed in the scent that meant safety and security to her.
"You smell just like my mommy," she commented.
"That's good, since I am your mommy," Jo laughed softly. Cuddling the little girl in her arms, the brunette kissed the top of her head.
"Why was the name lady crying?" Bee asked quietly. Though she was not old enough to know what it all meant, she knew the other blonde was important to her mommy, that's why there were pictures of the name lady in her mommy's room.
"Blair was just upset for a while, but she's okay now. Bee, Blair is my friend…my best friend and she's going to be spending more time with you and me."
Catching sight of the woman in question coming silently down the stairs, Bee leaned over to whisper in her mother's ear.
"It's okay to love big Blair, Mommy."
Pulling back Jo searched her daughter's eyes.
"Who told you I loved Blair, baby girl?"
"I heard Daddy tell Uncle Casey that you always loved her and he should have leaved that alone."
Jo blinked back tears.
"No, baby, if Daddy had left that alone then I wouldn't have you," she corrected her daughter gently.
Bee gave a huge grin as a thought occurred to her.
"Now you get to have us both. You got two Blairs."
"Yeah, I do," Jo laughed. "I guess that makes me just about the luckiest person in the world." She looked up as Blair moved around the couch to join them. Jo held up an arm and indicated for the blonde to sit with them. Raising an eyebrow in question, Blair curled against Jo's side and lifted Bee's legs to drape across her own.
"Hey, Blair," the little girl grinned.
"Hey, Blair," the blonde grinned back at her.
"Wanna be in our family?" Bee asked, the picture of innocence, though her mother could feel the little body practically vibrating.
"I'd like to very much, if it's okay with you."
"Yesssss!" Bee jumped up and pumped her arm before taking off for the kitchen yelling all the way. "Nannnnna! I gots two mommies and a daddy!!! That's better than Sue's two daddies!!"
Blair laughed until she almost fell off the couch.
"Oh, damn, that is definitely your child," she teased Jo.
Jo just looked at her with a smirk.
"My child? More like your child the way she's collecting parents."
Blair looked away and blinked back tears. Jo was quick to spot the movement.
"Blair? What's wrong?"
The blonde smiled gently and reached out to stroke the other woman's cheek.
"I know you were just kidding, but that was really sweet of you to say." She pressed a finger to Jo's lips before she could respond. "Joey, I can't have children. Blair Warner isn't all that perfect after all."
Jo kissed the fingertip against her lips.
"Close enough for me, Blair," the brunette reassured her. "Besides there's no way you could be part of my life without being part of Bee's too. How much is up to you."
"I'm all in, Jo. We've wasted too many years as it is." Blair snuggled against Jo's chest.
"In that case, I think Bee should sleep with Mrs. G tonight," Jo's grin was pure deviltry.
"Hmmm. That would leave you down here on the couch by yourself, wouldn't it?" Blair pretended obliviousness.
"Not exactly," Jo smirked pulling the blonde into her lap. "I was thinking more about sharing that big bed you'll be sleeping in, but if you'd rather…"
Blair kissed her before she could continue.
"No way, grease monkey. You're mine now. I don't think you should ever sleep anywhere else but beside me."
Jo pressed her lips to the corner of Blair's mouth.
"You don't think we're going too fast?" she asked.
Blair linked her arms around Jo's neck.
"Joey, it's taken me 13 years to get you in my bed. Fast doesn't even enter into it."
"Good point," Jo laughed capturing soft lips again. "This is very nice, but we're supposed to help with dinner. And unless I miss my guess, there are three people in that kitchen dying to find out if Bee really does have two mommies."
"Jo, do we really have to call her Bee, Blair is such a nice name."
"No problem, we'll just call you Big Blair and her Little Blair."
The blonde wrinkled her nose in distaste.
"That's all right. Bee is a lovely name."
Jo's grin was pure smug.
"I thought you might say that. Come on, let's get this over with."
Jo wrapped an arm around the blonde's shoulders, who curled one around the brunette's waist as they walked to the doorway. Releasing her new girlfriend, Jo pushed open the door and let Blair precede her into the room to a chorus of 'What happened's.'
She threw back her head and laughed. She had a new family and her old family back, but most of all she had Blair, both of them. She really was the luckiest person alive.