Snow dropped like falling flower petals outside the window. But no one inside felt the cold. The apartments were always kept warm, and it was only helped by the fire roaring in the party room.
The amount of people present may have also added to the heat. It was Kelsey Kirk's Annual Christmas Party after all, which Professor Bhaer had said was pretty much obligatory for all tenants. Jo didn't care too much though, she actually was having a great time.
Half of the reason may have been watching all her neighbors being drunk. Jo herself didn't like drinking and neither did the Professor so they always got to watch the others and laugh.
Her neighbors all had defined personalities.
There was Annie St. Clair who was determined to make a name for herself of broadway. There was Mrs. Elven, an old woman who had a strange collection of owl statues in her room. There was also the Malone family, the Dalaway sisters, and the older man who's name she didn't know.
Then there was Professor Bhaer. He was her best friend of all, though she was never sure if he felt the same. Most of the times she felt like she was a nuisance to him, barging into his apartment every day. But he was a very good listener and she always had a lot to say, being an aspiring writer and all.
He taught at a high school. One of those more traditional ones where teachers are called Professors and dances are called socials. He was quite a straight laced man. Only thirty, but he acted much older than that.
Maybe that was why Jo liked him. He was so very, very unlike her.
Out of all her neighbors, she talked to him the most. Sometimes she hung out with Annie, but Annie liked to talk about her latest sexual prowess quite often and it just made Jo uncomfortable.
Then their was Kelsey Kirk, who's party they were all at. Kelsey's mom owned the building and made it her business to know everyone's lives. In fact, Kelsey was under the impression that Jo and Professor where very much in love and pushed them together at every possible chance.
Every time Kelsey talked about that it made Jo's cheeks feel a flame. She didn't know why exactly. Maybe it was just because it was ridiculous. Jo knew very well that she wasn't very attractive to other people. Her mother told her that she was just strong willed and intimidated people. Whatever it was, making friends wasn't her expertise.
"Annie just asked Mr. Malone out on a date," the Professor said, nudging Jo's arm.
Jo snorted, "She's knows he's married, right?"
"I don't think she cares. Anyway, Kelsey wants us all to play truth or dare."
"What are we, eleven year old girls at a sleepover?"
Professor Bhaer smiled, "Maybe we should just appease her. It's Christmas."
Jo narrowed her eyes, "You just don't want your rent doubled."
He shrugged, setting down his glass of water and joining the small circle sitting on the floor. Kelsey was talking quickly, using her hands excessively to explain the rules to the Dalaway sisters.
"I shall start!" Kelsey said in her loud, drinker tone. "Fritz! Truth or dare!"
Fritz was Professor Bhaer's first name. Everyone called him that except for Jo. He'd introduced himself to her as Professor Bhaer nine months ago and it just stuck.
"Truth," he said quickly.
Kelsey pouted, "Boring. Whatever. How far have you gone with a woman?"
Some of the other people giggled nervously, watching him anxiously for an answer.
He was serene, "I went to Germany with my mother once." Jo burst into a fit of laughter which seemed to please him.
It didn't please Kelsey.
"Not funny," she crossed her arms. "You know that's not what I meant." He just shrugged, which made her even more livid. "Fine. Jo, since you thought it was so funny, you're next. Truth or dare?"
"Dare," Jo said eagerly.
Kelsey smiled devilishly, "Kiss Fritz."
The crowd hushed again. Obviously Kelsey's rumor had gotten to them all.
Jo felt that familiar flame rising in her cheeks but wasn't about to let Kelsey win. No, that was most certainly not going to happen.
"Fine," Jo spat. She grabbed the Professor's tie, yanked him towards her and kissed him for an instant on the lips. "Happy?"
"That wasn't a real kiss, Jo," Kelsey said, though she giggled like a school girl. "I mean, like, really kiss."
Out of the corner of her eye, Jo noticed the Professor trying to recompose himself. Something in her liked seeing him so frazzled.
But then Jo realized something: she didn't know how to 'really kiss'. She'd never done it before. And she most certainly wasn't going to do it in front of all these people.
"Not part of the rules," Jo stood up, "Anyway, I have to use the bathroom."
She snatched up her purse and left the group, trying to block out Kelsey's cries for her to come back.
Jo was happy to make it out into the cool hallway, away from the people and the fire.
She grabbed her phone from her bag, checking the time.
There was a call from her mom.
And a voicemail.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Jo's younger sister, Beth, had cancer. Horrible, horrible really bad cancer. Beth was stable though and told Jo to go back to New York after she had come to visit her. It had been a month.
And now there was a phone call.
She pressed the phone to her ear.
"Jo, it's Marmee. Beth is...you need to come home. She says she doesn't want to bother you but...Jo, she needs you here. Please come and...and soon. I love you. Be safe."
Her mother's voice cracked just as the message ended.
Jo felt her vision swirl out. She felt as though the ground had shifted underneath her, leaving he behind. She felt like crying and screaming but not making a sound.
Beth was hers. Beth was her special sister. Meg and Amy were her other sisters, but Beth was more. Beth was everything.
It had been stupid of her to go back to New York. She should've stayed. She could've helped.
And now this.
Get back home. Get back home.
Home was four hours away. Four precious hours.
She had to go now.
Jo burst back into the room where all the drunken people were laughing, all unaware that four hours away a sixteen year old was dying of cancer.
"Jo, come back for the kiss?" Kelsey said when she saw her. Jo didn't say anything. She just kept walking, cursing the stupid dress she was wearing. Wishing she'd worn something warmer.
"Jo?" Professor Bhaer said, following her to the exit.
The tear wallowed in her eyes, "It's Beth. She's...I have to go. Marmee says there not much time for her...and I," Jo sniffed loudly and her emotions betrayed her, tears pouring our of her eyes like the snow pouring outside.
Professor Bhaer took her in his arms, something he hardly ever did. Her face nuzzled on top of his shoulder as she tried to calm herself back down.
"I've got to get back home. I'm leaving now," she said but he wouldn't let go of her. Jo pulled out of his arms.
Kelsey emerged from behind him and hugged her quickly, "I'm so sorry, Jo. I'll make sure mom keeps up your room for you. It'll be here when you get back."
Jo sniffed, "You don't have to-"
"Yes, I do."
Jo tried to smile but it didn't seem worth the effort. She just nodded, "I'll be off now I guess."
"I'll drive you," Professor Bhaer felt around in his coat pocket and pulled out some keys.
"You don't ha-"
"Jo, it's the middle of the night, it's pouring snow, and you're sobbing.
You're aren't in any state to drive alone."
It took a moment, but she nodded, "Alright. Thank you."
He took her hand and they walked outside together.
Normal Jo would been freaked out about the whole holding hands thing, but she didn't care now.
Nothing mattered except Beth.
At some point he put his coat around her shoulders before they got in the car.
Normal Jo would've know that these were romantic gestures.
Normal Jo would've started to piece things together.
He always did stuff like this for her. He always did things that those leading men in old movies did. He listened to her. He covered her with a blanket when he fell asleep on his couch one time. He took her out to see shows and for dinner.
He drove her four hours in the middle of the night.
He'd said it was just because they were friends.
Normal Jo probably would've figure that maybe he didn't think of her as just a friend.
But Jo wasn't normal now.
Nothing mattered except Beth.