DISCLAIMER: 1: All of the characters from "The L Word" belong to Showtime and Ilene Chaiken, et al. 2: M/F (mention of male private parts), F/F sex and love. 3: No spoilers for Season 2 because I haven't been spoiled. This is all in my head with no references to what is supposed to happen in the new season (except for what the S2 preview has shown). 4: This is an entry for the Bette's Coming Out Story Challenge and has nothing to do with my previous story.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Deepest thanks to my friend J.R. for not only editing and beta reading, but encouraging me when things worked, helping me where they didn't, and contributing ideas, thoughts, and dialogue to this story. You're ALL THAT!
SETTING: Several months after Season One's season finale.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Bette's Loss and Gain
By Portia Richardson
It was Thursday mid-morning and Bette was thinking she had to do something else with her weekend besides going to Milk or some other club. She wasn't sure if her mid-life crisis was coming to an end, but she was actually tired of meaningless, uncomplicated sex. That wasn't to say that it hadn't been good, but she was starting to see herself (and she suspected that others were beginning to see her in a similar light) in the same way people saw her friend, Shane. Bette was much more discreet than Shane, but for three months, she had been behaving in much the same fashion. She was in fact taking her cues from her player friendlove 'em (or at least in her case"let's be clear that this isn't about love") and leave 'em. Forty years old, out on the dating scene again, and there weren't many women her age who didn't seem desperate for a relationship. If she picked up on that desperation, and she always did, Bette walked past, not caring if the face was stunning or the body spectacular. At this point in her life, she didn't want a relationship or even a close friendship if it couldn't be with Tina. She found herself scoping out younger women at Milk. At first, she would talk to women in their mid to late-thirties, then she dated a couple of women in their early thirties. The last two women had been in their late twenties. Bette was feeling ridiculous. Her body was tight, she was fit, and could hold her own or even better in terms of physical attributes, but still she was forty. The last woman had just had her twenty-seventh birthday. When the woman was born, Bette was already in high school. Was she becoming as pathetic as those aging male movie stars who clung to youth by dating women who could be their daughters? Well, in her case, they could be her younger sisters.
*God, am I turning into Clint Eastwood?* Bette wondered aloud.
James had entered Bette's office and was slipping some art magazines back into the magazine pamphlet holders in Bette's bookcase. He hadn't disturbed her when he saw her pouring over an opened newspaper, but that kind of comment demanded something.
"What?" James turned to stare at his boss. "Clint Eastwood? Uh, no."
Bette rested her cheek and chin in her palm and shook her head. "I I said that out loud, didn't I?"
"Uh-huh. You're not packing a magnum in your bag are you?"
James laughed. "Well, do you want me to call Franklin?"
"What for?" Bette's brow furrowed in puzzlement. *What did Franklin have to do with their conversation?*
"He can go ahead and make your day." James laughed at his own joke, but Bette merely smiled.
"No, I'm always on the wrong end of the gun with Franklin."
"Not anymore. Not since 'Provocations.' Even if he wanted to do something to you, he wouldn't dare. The Board adores you. You're their golden child now, Bette. Don't forget what you did."
"Oh, I haven't forgotten." Bette sighed. Her breakup with Tina always hit her at the strangest time. Someone would say something so innocent or as far away from that subject as one could possibly get, yet suddenly, Bette would find herself caught in time, ripping Tina's dress, taking her, and then watching her walk out of her life. No, she wouldn't forget what she did for a long, long time. "That Clint Eastwood thing? I was thinking of something else." She brushed the thought aside dismissively with a wave.
James studied her. He rested his body weight on one leg as he gauged whether or not to get personal with his boss who seldom crossed the line between supervisor and subordinate. Bette was kind to him, even solicitous at times, but she was private and he respected her enough not to intrude. However, Bette seemed to need a friend today more than an assistant. "Any plans for the weekend?"
"Same as usual."
He had no idea what Bette's usual was. He knew that she and Tina were no longer together and that every Monday a sweet and tentative voice called on the phone for Bette. Obviously, she was dating and dating a lot, because each Monday, the voice was new. "Maybe you need a change from the usual."
"What do you have in mind?"
"I don't know. Camping? Hiking?"
Bette stared at him trying to figure out if he was serious. He had to be joking, so she laughed.
"Okay, not those. How about joining The Center or HRC and doing some activism work."
"Well, what do you like to do?"
Bette shrugged. What was she supposed to tell her assistant? *I've been taken in the bathroom of Milk, I fucked this totally strange woman's brains out while she was reclined in the passenger's seat of my Saab, I brought a woman back to the place I shared with Tina and let her go down on me for half an hour. I actually went to Candace's house and let her do what she wanted for several days. I've been looking for something to excite me for months now and nothing works. I don't feel better, I don't feel worse. I just don't feel.*
"Oh, I've got it. Just remembered. I'll be right back." James hurriedly left the room, leaving the sliding door open as he trotted down the hall. Bette returned to the Lesbian News that she had opened on her desk. There wasn't one damn thing she was interested in doing, but there was a weekend club in the Valley that looked promising. At least there would be different women there.
When James returned, he was holding a white sheet of paper. "You're on the UCLA Art and Architecture mailing list for lectures and exhibitions and there are a few good things coming up." He looked down at the paper and began reading. "An installation of the female nude is going up in the sculpture garden on campus. Twelve new pieces will be added to the permanent exhibit--that's tonight. There's a series of lectures by four people who have been short-listed for a position in the Art department. First one's tomorrow night beginning at 6:00pm in Royce Hall, then one on Wednesday in Perloff, and the last two next Fridayone at 4 o'clock and one at 7:30, both at the Art school."
Bette's ears perked up. Whenever she had a case of the blues, even if those blues were chronic, she could count on the subject of art to lift her spirits. "What's tomorrow's lecture?"
"It's called, "Collecting Imagery: Black Art of the 19th and 20th Centuries and the guy speaking is named Ashton Schwartz."
"Ashton Schwartz?" Bette's eyes brightened.
"Yeah. Says he's worked at two world-renown auction houses in New York and teaches at NYU."
"I know who he is." Bette casually moved her hair away from her face and worked to appear nonchalant. "That's tomorrow at 6, right?"
"I think I'll go to that opening tonight, too." She reached out her hand for the paper as James walked to her desk. "Thanks, James. You've saved my weekend."
"Glad to help. Anything else?"
"No, not right now."
This time when James left, his hand reached out and pulled the sliding door closed.
It was 4:45 and Bette still hadn't heard from Alice. She had invited her to accompany her to the opening of the sculpture exhibit, but Alice was working on her own time clock today. Soon, Bette would have to leave to get there on time. Heading west on Santa Monica Boulevard during rush hour was always a bear; then she had to get on campus and with the continuing construction, she was sure to get lost. Every time she went to UCLA, there was a new building and fewer and fewer parking spaces. She'd give Alice ten more minutes, but that was it.
Just then Bette's mobile phone vibrated on top of her desk. She flipped it open and saw Alice's work number. "No time like the present, Al."
"Sorry. I just got out of a staff meeting. Should I meet you there?"
Bette glanced at her watch. "Yeah, I guess so. The unveiling is at six and the reception begins at seven."
"All right, I'm on my way."
Bette disconnected. She had really wanted to share the drive with Alice. The only time she learned anything about Tina was when Alice gave up information. Tina wanted nothing to do with Bette and no amount of pleading, demanding, or groveling on Bette's part had changed her mind. Those seven years ended abruptly with any happy times they had shared seemingly lost forever. Why she still longed for Tina in spite of the clear message that she didn't stand a snowball's chance in hell was beyond Bette.
She was going to make every attempt not to think about Tina tonight; not to out-of-the-blue think of Tina's laugh or the half-smile Tina gave when she was only sort of listening. She wouldn't think of the softness of Tina's hand in hers. Tonight was about art. Bette packed up her Prada bag, grabbed her car keys, and headed from the CAC to the parking garage. She was going to enjoy the exhibition at UCLA. As she turned off of Santa Monica onto Westwood Boulevard, she was still telling herself that she was going to have a good time. It was imperative that she have a good time. She needed to have a good time.
At six-twenty, Alice breezed into the sculpture garden. It was a warm southern California evening and Alice wore a pair of hip-hugging red jeans, a rose-colored T-shirt that said 'Bad Ass' and a tan waist length leather jacket. She fit in well, looking like another college student on the prowl for a free wine and cheese reception. Bette saw her as Alice took the few steps two at a time and ran onto the level grass where most of the people mingled.
"The 10 was shit. Slow and go," Alice complained about the freeway that brought her to the Westside of town. "What'd I miss?"
"I'll show you around. Twelve new nudes."
Bette and Alice circled the garden, looking at the new art and discussing its merits on a technical level as well as a personal aesthetic one.
"What'd ya think of this one?" Alice asked.
"Grandiose. A little over the top."
"Cause of the boobs?"
"The proportion, Alice."
"The big ass?"
Bette rolled her eyes and moved to the next sculpture. "Let me show you this one. Now, this one speaks to me. There's a gentleness about it, like the eyes are reaching into your soul. Do you see that?"
Bette's face softened as she stared at the sculpture. She'd gone back to it a number of times before Alice had arrived. Something about it called to her.
"Even the way the artist has captured her stance. She's open, reaching out, but holding back at the same time. All of this conflict. Right?"
"What? Don't you see it?"
"Yeah, yeah, I see it."
"Look at her left hand, see how the palm is up, but the fingers are curving ever so slightly in. She wants you closer, but she's not giving up all her secrets."
"Well, her ass is hot, that's for damn sure. Don't you think?"
"Yes, Al, it's hot." Bette rolled her eyes.
Bette turned to the next sculpture and walked toward it, turning back once to take a final look at what she was already thinking of as 'her sculpture.' Alice trailed behind her and thought, *if that doesn't look like Tina, nothing does. Same body type, same pose. Bette, you idiot. Get a clue, girl. It's calling to you for a reason.*
"How's Tina?" Bette asked offhandedly as they moved in the direction of the next sculpture.
"She's doing okay."
"Does she ask about me?"
"Sort of. You know, 'have you seen Bette, lately? Is she doing okay?'"
"Wh - what's her tone? Is she still angry? Just asking to ask? Does she want to know anything else?"
"What else is there? I mean, it's not a secret that you're making your way through the women of West Hollywood."
"That's not true, Alice. It really isn't. I've gone out with a few women, but I'm not looking for anything permanent. Would Tina rather I jump into another long-term relationship as if ours didn't matter?"
"I don't know." Alice pursed her lips, unwilling to continue this conversation.
"The reason I'm dating is because I have to do something. You know you're the only one talking to me. Shane suddenly has this bizarre moral standardmarried women who stray outside of the marriage are evil incarnate, while the woman said married woman cheated with is beyond reproach. I really don't know what's going on with her, but she hasn't said a civil word to me since Tina left. Dana's on tour all the time "
"Don't I know it."
Bette didn't comment on Alice's last statement since she was on a roll, talking through her own situation, so it didn't much matter. "Marina? Well..."
"I know. And Kit is so wrapped up in Ivan that she can't think straight. Get it? Can't think straight?" Alice commented and then chuckled softly.
Bette smirked before continuing with the explanation for her bad behavior. "I'm just going out. I don't want a lover. I fucked up with Tina and I regret it."
"You have a strange way of punishing yourself, Bette."
"It wouldn't be so complicated if she'd just talk to me, but what am I supposed to do?"
"Maybe not go out with everyone you see at Milk--right in front of Tina, I might add. Are you trying to make her jealous?"
"No." Bette stared off past the metal and bronze sculptures. "Yeah, I guess I am."
"That's a bad idea, girlfriend. You saw her reaction to finding out about you and the carpenter."
"Yeah." Alice really felt for Tina. She refused to say the carpenter's name. "What you're doing now just makes it all a whole lot worse."
"I don't want it to be. I want to make it right. I don't know how. I don't know what I need to do to make this right. If she'd just talk to me."
"Bette," Alice started, pulling her to face her. "Tina is dating. She's going out every week. You've just been too busy to notice."
Bette was stunned. "What? She's dating? Who?"
"Different people, nothing serious"
"People? Men or women?"
Alice glared at her.
"She's moved on? She won't talk to me. She won't see me and now you tell me she's shit!"
"So Bette, that's what you think it means, huh? What do you think Tina thinks when she hears about you, when she sees you? You know you're not givin' her props when you do shit like that."
Bette didn't have an answer for her. She knew that her recent behavior was misguided at best, but she wanted to feel good. Life without Tina made her feel dreadful. This uncomplicated sex she'd been having wasn't producing the results she hoped. It didn't make her feel good, but it did help her forget. "So Tina's not really dating?"
"No," Alice said shaking her head at both Bette's stupidity and self-centeredness. Alice allowed Bette the time to mull over what she had said. She walked quietly beside her, looking at the art and people watching. Several sculptures later, Alice blurted out loudly, "Good God! Do you think the model had some work done or what? Granted, it's just a representation, but even under bronze and patina you can tell that silicone was involved."
Bette's eyes widened in embarrassment while a few people around them giggled at the comment. "I can't take you anywhere, can I?" Bette shook her head.
"Oh, you know I like this sort of thing." Joking aside. "Do you know any of the artists? Maybe I could do a short piece on the attraction of the female nude." Alice stopped and touched Bette's arm lightly. "I've got a great idea. Why don't I interview you for the story? You definitely have some insight with all the nude females you've been keeping yourself active with these days."
Alice apparently wasn't going to drop the topic of Bette and her weekend adventures. "Jealous, Al?"
"No way. I know how selfish you are in bed."
"What?" Bette was flabbergasted.
"I'm kidding." Alice moved closer, put her hand behind Bette's neck and pulled her down to her as she whispered, "I recall quite clearly how giving you are " She paused before adding, "When you're horizontal."
Bette believed her, but for a moment or two, she wondered if Alice's joke also held a bit of truth. No, not possible. No woman she had ever been with could say that they weren't satisfied sexually. She never quite grasped the rest of the implicationthat perhaps, Bette wasn't so giving in an upright position.
The Napa-produced wine went down smoothly and the Art Department had spared no expense with the scrumptious gourmet cheeses on tables around the grassy garden. The event was crowded and as Bette and Alice made their rounds, over and over, both women heard the whispered recognition. "That's Bette Porter from the CAC." "Did you hear, that Bette Porter is here with her partner--the woman that that bitch Fae Buckley talked about on TV." "Bette Porter's over there. I'm going to say hello." "Man, I'd love it if I could get a show at the CAC. I'm going to give her my website addy." "I'm not sure, but I think that's the woman from that museum who those religious freaks targeted last Spring." "Right, Bette Porter. That's her, isn't it?"
Soon, well-wishers and previously unbeknownst fans encircled Bette and she drew more attention than the sculptures they had come to see. She alternately accepted congratulations and words of encouragement, while introducing her oldest and closest friend, Alice to the dozens of art lovers on the lush strip of garden. Alice met two of the artists and she gave them her card, promising to get in touch with them early next week. Before the night was over, Bette had schmoozed with most of the students, artists and faculty at the event. Everyone wanted to rub elbows with her. Later, she found her way to that sculpture she loved and stood before it, taken in by its invitation. Warm, interested eyes watched her and thought, *she always did have a thing for the classic female form.*
Bette called it an early day on Friday afternoon and by 3:45 she was standing in front of her closet searching for appropriate attire for the evening. Alice was meeting her there again and she knew Alice would wear something casual and why not? It was UCLA, so there was no need to dress formally or even professionally. The campus was as informal as a school could get without classes being held on the beach. Faculty wore flip-flops, shorts, and t-shirts to teach classes. However, it was an evening lecture by Ashton Schwartz. She decided to go for casual chic with a DKNY tulip print silk black and white tank top, along with her latest Nordstrom's purchasea Jones NY pair of black trousers and a two-button, thigh length, matching jacket. She chose a pair of pumps by Lauren to finish off the outfit. Showered, dressed, and ready to hear a good lecture, Bette was out of her house by 5:15.
Bette wasn't sure she even wanted Alice there this particular evening, but her journalist friend wanted to make a few contacts for a possible series of articles she planned on writing on art and architecture in LA. She hoped Alice wouldn't get in the way of her impromptu reunion with an old friend.
Bette was really late. The traffic on the way to Westwood had been a nightmare. She had actually considered just returning home, but guessed she wouldn't be the only one arriving late. Apparently, everyone else was coming to UCLA from the west or was already on campus. When Bette walked into the lecture hall, she found the seats filled and the talk underway. She looked at the lectern and saw him standing behind it, commanding the audience. Her heart's beat changed and she literally shook her head out of the past. Bette scanned the room and noticed that Alice was seated near the front and no surprise, had failed to save a seat for her. Scanning a second time, she saw one vacant seat nearly in the middle of the room, in the middle of the row.
As unobtrusively as possible, Bette made her way to the seat, settled in comfortably, placed her purse on the cement floor and listen to Ashton Schwartz discuss his research in the homes of former slaves and their descendants. Bette smiled at the lecturer who stood with confidence and intellect oozing from him, his face abundantly expressive and dramatic. He was tall, handsome and slim. Ash wore a striped shirt that consisted of wide blue stripes with thin gray and white lines running through it. Shirttails were out under a gray jacket and matching pants that made him look hip and businesslike at the same time. His head was nearly shaved with a slight amount of peach fuzz showing through; a goatee and moustache covered his chin and upper lip. His hazel, thoughtful eyes skimmed the audience, making eye contact just long enough to make sure the person was interested in what he had to say and to let them know that he only cared about their reaction. Ash was good at that. He always had been. It seemed to Bette that Ash's eyes kept returning to the center of the room. Over and over, their eyes locked and then he'd move on, going left or right, but always returning to her.
"In conclusion, as historians working in the field, we have to define not only what it is or was to be African-American, but what is art. Choosing the methodology for this research is perhaps the most tedious aspect of collecting Black art of the 19th and 20th centuries or any art for that matter. Do we include the everyday tools of slaves on plantations, kitchen pottery baked by freemen and women in the North in the early and mid-1800s? Is there a place for hip-hop inspired art? Where do portrayals of African-American identities fit in to the collection? Do we collect only what is created by Blacks or do we include depictions of what is African-American? These are all questions that must be asked and answered before stepping off of a ferry onto an island filled with Gullah history in South Carolina or an old tenement in New York City, or a rural farmhouse in Georgia. To begin, you must begin with the answers. Thank you."
Thunderous applause followed Ashton Schwartz's talk and within moments hands went up from eager and engrossed art history majors. One after one, Ash listened attentively and answered with his typically exuberant, yet academic response.
Bette was fascinated and raised her hand for a question. She waited for the microphone to reach her and stood, taking it in her hand. "Thank you. Mr. Schwartz ?"
"Yes, Ms. Porter," Ash said with a friendly smile.
Bette straightened her slacks and smiled nervously. He had addressed her with ease. There was no hint of what they had once meant to each other or how their ending had left him in despair. He was personable and waited with interest for her question.
"I I uh myI'm wondering about collecting. I understand your point about picking and choosing, but isn't the point of collection to get it all, as much as you can, and find places for it, so that it isn't destroyed or neglected? Don't you think it should be as all-encompassing as possible?"
"Good question, Bette. I would say that it might be a better use of one's research time and field work to limit one's subject of retrieval. When it's all-encompassing, you're bound to miss something and where does that leave you? You doubt yourself if you try to have it all because you know you can't."
Ash stared into her eyes and even from across the room and up into the seats, Bette could feel his eyes trying to delve into her soul. Something he had done many times in the past before she slammed the window and pulled the shade.
"Thank you," she said as she handed the microphone back to the young runner and sat down.
When the Q and A session ended, herds of students and sponsoring faculty charged the floor where Ashton Schwartz stood. His eyes never left Bette's as he winded his way through the crowd, up the stairs, and waited for her to reach the end of the row. As she stepped out onto the landing, Ash pulled her to him and hugged her tightly. "It is so wonderful to see you, Porter." He kissed her lightly on the lips, then pulled back, his hands still on her waist as he looked at her. "You've hardly changed. How long has it been?"
"Since the last time we saw each other or when we broke up?"
"Last time I saw you was about fifteen years ago. Your hair wasn't quite as long then. Other than that, exactly the same. Maybe even better."
"From your lips to God's ears," Bette said. Ash dropped his hands from her waist and took one of her hands in his. Bette smiled at him. "You've changed." She nodded as she took him in. "Speaking of hair, last time I saw you, you had a full head of it, Ash. In school, I believe you were sporting the famous Afro-mullet."
Ash winced. "God, I hope I've destroyed all of the pictures from that time."
"Oh I'm sure I have one or two somewhere."
"I've only seen you for five minutes and already you're blackmailing me? And I'll have you know that I still have all of my hair, I just keep it shaved." Ashton Schwartz's warm smooth hand held Bette's lovingly. "You still look beautiful, dear."
"It is so good to see you. So you're actually considering leaving the East Coast, huh? I thought you were a New Yorker for life."
"Professor Schwartz. Professor Schwartz." An eager student practically pulled at his sleeve.
Ashton glanced at the student and turned back to Bette. "I need a change. The Left Coast can't be as bad as they say," Ash said with a grin.
Alice had slowly made her way up the stairs, going against the crowd of students who were on the way down. She had just reached Bette and Ashton when she heard the comment.
"Hey, who's they?" she asked defensively. She didn't like East Coasters who came out to LA because they loved the weather, yet constantly criticized it.
Bette knew how Alice felt. Not many of her friends were long-time Californians or natives for that matter. Alice was and she embraced the California lifestyle with complete joie de vivre. A sandwich wasn't a sandwich if it didn't come with slices of avocado and a handful of sprouts. "Ash, I'd like you to meet my friend, Alice. Ashton Schwartz, Alice Pieszecki. She's very into Los Angeles and the LA scene, so watch what you say."
Looking directly into her eyes, he said with a kind smile, "I'm kidding, Alice. You might not have the culture we have in New York "
"Be careful, Ash. Now you're treading on my territory and you don't want to piss me off in the first five minutes, do you?"
"If you can blackmail me, I can piss you off." He paused before adding, "No, I usually can hold out for half an hour. I guess I was just rushing us along, trying to play catch up too fast. How long have you and Alice been together?"
"We're not. We're just friends."
"We dated several years ago, though."
"Right, but it was always very casual," Bette clarified honestly.
Ash was confused. "My brother told me you were in a relationship."
"That's Tina." Bette lowered her eyes and said softly, "she couldn't make it tonight."
Alice turned to face Bette. She wondered about the obvious deception.
"Oh, I see." Ash nodded and Alice glanced at him again. She detected an oddness in this comment and watched him as he continued. "Well, they've got me running around a lot, but maybe we can get together at some point. I'm here for a month."
"Professor Schwartz? Professor Schwartz," the student interrupted again, launching into her topic. "I'm a junior in Art and I'm working on an Art History project that I'd love to talk with you about." The driven student cared not one whit whether Ashton was preoccupied. He glared at the student who waned under such an expressive, professorial non-verbal reprimand.
"Okay." He looked at Bette. "Are you free tomorrow night? Some of the art faculty and grad students are taking me to dinner. Be my date?"
Alice's head whipped from Ashton to Bette at this turn of events.
"I don't know."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Maybe we should meet for lunch or something. You probably like to have dinner with your your friend."
"No, it's not that. I don't know if it's appropriate, Ash."
"Don't tell me you're still being careful with me nearly 20 years later. We got along fine when I ran in to you that one time."
"Well, th - that was brief and the circumstances..." Bette shrugged. "If you're comfortable with us going out."
"Oh, please, Bette. You know, I dated after you broke up with me. That sort of explains my two ex-wives. Life goes on. I even ran into... that friend of yours from then. I didn't try to kill her. She lives to see another day. I'm a calmer person these days," he said to her. "That temper I was so famous for? Meditation knocked that right out. That's right, I meditateso LA, right?" He glanced at Alice before turning back to Bette and taking her hand again. "My date? Dinner with me and twelve other people tomorrow?"
"We're meeting at 7:30 at Bombay Café on Pico. Do you know it?"
"Yes, I do."
"Good. We'll ditch dinner as early as possible and spend some time catching up. You promise you'll be there?"
"Promise. See you tomorrow."
She turned to leave, but Ash held onto her hand and pulled her to him again. "It is so good to see you," he said before making a dash down the stairs to meet with faculty.
"Who is he?" Alice demanded before Ashton had reached the bottom step.
"He was my college boyfriend."
"The guy you were going to marry until what's-her-name came along?"
"Yep, that's him." Bette smiled warmly in his direction.
"He's truly a hunk of burnin' love, Bette. He's totally hot."
"Some things are hotter," Bette answered mysteriously.
"So what's his story?"
"I don't know what you mean, Al."
"Oh, I'm sure you know exactly what I mean. You dated him back in the mid-80s that was like twenty years ago. He's obviously still in love with you or he hates your guts and is lulling you into a false sense of security. Whichever, it's been twenty years and that's way too long to be in love with you or to hate you."
"Again, another beautifully executed back-handed compliment coming from you."
"Thanks for noticing. And those ex-wives? Hundred bucks they either looked like you or reminded him of you. Anyway, I'd think long and hard about going on your date tomorrow."
"Dinner with his colleagues. Hardly a date."
"He said it, I didn't. You know, you've only told me dribs and drabs about what happened between you guys. Why'd you dump him for the woman? What was her name again?"
Bette's eyes seemed years away as she thought back wistfully on her first woman lover. "Her name was Gail. Gail Sturges. She changed my life in a big way."
"Duh. So, you're going to dish the whole coming out story? I've got all night."
"If you want to hear it, fine. We need to go back to my place and get loaded." She added, "It's a long, sordid tale filled with intrigue, passion, and "
"Bette? Please." Alice laughed.
"Seriously, it's kind of a sad story because I broke Ash's heart, but it's a good story because I fell in love for the first time. Nothing like what I feel for Tina, but for a first love, it was pretty good."
"Okay, let's go." Alice started moving toward the steps leading out of the sculpture garden when she turned to Bette and said, "Do you have Sambuca at home?"
"Yeah, and I've got Bailey's, too. Are you going to be making cocktails?"
"Why not?" Alice asked innocently. "We'll start with Slippery Nipples and work our way to Cosmos."
Bette shook her head. Alice's drinks had a way of turning your head upside-down and sideways the way she made them. Bette was going to talk and Alice was going to keep the drinks coming. "Oh, boy. I'm in for it, huh?" Bette was thrilled to be leaving with Alice. She hated being alone, but in the past few months she was growing used to it. Revisiting that special time in her life sounded like a fun cap to the evening and Bette put her arm in Alice's and led them out. "Okay, then. Let's go for it."
Bette had put on a white tank and her striped pajama bottoms. Alice was wearing another of Bette's tanks and a pair of pink panties as they sat on the floor, leaning against the sofa with a pitcher and two glasses between them.
"So you met Ashton by some painting, right? I remember something about that."
"It was a sculpture."
"Okay, spill." Alice asked as she poured the Sambuca and Bailey's mixture into Bette's glass.
"The day I met Ashton Schwartz, I was sitting in the art gallery, listening to my Walkman and looking at this beautiful sculpture. It was called Undine Rising from the Waters. It was created from the most exquisite, pure white, marble I had seen. I was in the fall semester of my sophomore year and had been going to the gallery nearly every day to check out all of the art, but I always sat in front of that one. It was a chilly afternoon, I remember that because I was bundled up still when this guy saunters up to me. He's white, but has this crazy Afro thing going on."
"This was what? '83? '84?"
"Yeah, around then." Bette sipped her drink and smiled as the liquid slid down her throat. "Slippery Nipple, indeed. It's excellent, Al."
"Everybody's hair was crazy then. Go on."
"So he sits next to me and says, 'Looks like you've got a real jones for Undine.' I looked at him like he was a total moron. What a stupid lineyou've got a real jones for Undine? Ass. So I turn up my Walkman and just give him this patronizing, totally fake smile that lasts all of half a second, but this guy isn't finished."
"What'd he do?"
"He lifts the headphone, so he can speak directly into my ear. Asshole. And he says, 'Do you know the story of Undine?' So I take off the headphones and just stare at him, totally non-committal, ya know? The sculpture had a detailed description next to it. Of course, I knew the story."
"So he tells me the story about how Undine was a mermaid and fell in love with this guy and left the water to be with him, but he cheated on her, so mermaid law required that she kill him. The sculpture captures Undine at the moment she rises from the water like this beautiful, welcoming fountain in order to possess him forever in death. It is literally the moment before she kills him."
"That couldn't have been a come-on line."
"Well, it might not have been with others, but the fact that he knew the story and he really told it skillfully worked on me. I mean in just a few lines, I could sense the mermaid's pain about all that she had given up for him and how he hurt and betrayed her love. I suddenly just wanted to hear the guy talk. He could have been reading New Haven restaurants' takeout menus to me and I would have been swept away. He could tell a story. That's the thing about Ash, he wears his heart on his sleeve. Whatever he's feelinganger, love, passion, hostility, it's all there. He can pull you into a story because he is so familiar with emotionsthey're his best friends."
"How in the world did you two get together? You're not like that at all."
"I am, Al, I'm just quieter about it. I feel a lot. I don't express it well," Bette spoke from her heart as she thought about all she could have and should have said to Tina over the past months and years. She shook her head, unwilling to get caught up in her newest, favorite emotional statemelancholia. "Did you hear Ash comment on his temper?"
"Let me tell you, he had a serious problem with it. He could rage and flare with a moment's notice, completely lose it over something. Even in class, his participation was always spirited and sometimes we, his classmates would just cower. But with me, as angry and as loud as he could be, he would be just as passionate. He absolutely loved me and showed me in so many ways. As far as boyfriends go, he was a good one."
"So you fucked him on the bench in front of the sculpture?"
"No, we started hanging out, then dating, and it started to get serious."
"And when did Gail come along?"
"Ash and I had been together from the fall of '83, through most of '85 when I met her. I had met his parents Thanksgiving and he met Melvin and Kit for Christmas the year before. We were pretty serious and I was actually considering converting to Judaism because his parents wanted it."
"Really?" Alice was very surprised by this.
"Yeah, we had discussed it. I mean, neither of us were religious anyway, so I didn't feel like I was giving up anything and it wouldn't have changed our lives much."
"No bacon, no ham. More importantly, no shrimp, no clams, no oysters."
"Ashton and his family ate pork every chance they got. They kept a Kosher house, but not Kosher mouths." Bette laughed. "I remember one summer we had pork ribs on their deck. Mrs. Schwartz brought the food up through the garage, you know, not taking it in the house, out the back, and up the deck stairs. She used a hose to rinse the meat, then marinated it in a disposable bowl, stuck it in the outside fridge and went on to tell me that they kept a Kosher kitchen and it was going to stay that way.
"Well, I know you celebrated Christmas last year and you're not Mrs. Ashton Schwartz, so cut to the chase."
"I was working at Beineckethat's the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale. I worked circulation and did shelving. Anyway, this was around late September and I'm ordering my books on the cart to distribute when this woman comes up to the desk."
"Gail?" Alice drank.
"Yes." Bette also took a few more sips of her drink. "Gail comes up and starts asking me some questions about a few books we might have " She recalled that day and the story as if it were a dream or happening to someone else. It was a lifetime ago. She had been both a different person and exactly who she had become. She was twenty-one year old Bette Porter, not the administrator of a successful museum, but an intelligent college student with eyes trained on her future. The story Bette began to tell Alice wasn't filled with the detail of that time, but Bette remembered it well.
"Excuse me? I understand you have a W. Somerset Maugham collection at this library?"
Bette turned from the cart to address the patron. "Yes, we do. We have quite a few items related to him in our collection. Are you interested in his letters? Manuscripts? We even have some contracts between Maugham and others?" Bette was surprised to see such a tall woman standing before her. Bette was tall and she had met few women who were taller. This woman was at least six feet, maybe taller, about 130 pounds and she couldn't help but notice that most of that weight was in her breasts. She had hair the color of a newborn fawn that was spiked and styled fashionably with bangs falling into her eyes, but not hiding them. The haircut reminded her of Prince when he was the hottest thing on the radio. Gail's eyes were hard to miss and were remarkable. They sparkled two different colorsher left eye was a crystal blue and her right, a gray the color of a Connecticut winter. Her skin was fair, almost porcelain in color, with several freckles sprinkled liberally on her nose and cheeks. She looked to be in her late twenties, maybe early thirties.
"Yes," was all that the woman said.
Bette marked the spot where she left off, lightly touched a co-worker on the arm and explained that she was helping a patron and came from around the desk.
"Okay, let me show you where you can find the Maugham."
As they walked to the collection, the woman explained her need for the materials. "My name's Gail Sturges. I'm a Ph.D. student in English Lit at Columbia and I've already done plenty of research for my dissertation, but I could use a bit more. I'm up here for the next six months to get what I can."
"Well, we don't have six months worth of research. It's not a large collection. Sorry."
"No, I'm mostly doing writing. I needed to get out of New York to get work done. New Haven seems quiet enough for me to write uninterrupted."
"It's not The City, but it's a college town, so there's always something to do." Bette paused at a glass door. "Here we are," she said while opening the door for the woman to go through.
Bette walked behind the counter to the file cabinets and let her fingers trail across the drawers until she located the one she was looking for. She opened the drawer and then grabbed a pair of cotton gloves on the top of the cabinet before she touched any of the contents.
"That was fast," the patron said when Bette walked back to the counter with the documents.
"I need you to leave your ID with me and you'll need to put on gloves, too." She handed the woman a pair of gloves and took the ID with the other hand, glancing at it. "Okay, Gail Sturges. You can sit anywhere in this room. Should you need anything else or when you're ready to leave there is a button right here." Bette touched the base of a small button that looked like a doorbell, "Just ring and I or someone else on staff will come up to assist you."
"It's like a tomb in here. Is it always this quiet?"
"Uh-hmm. It is."
"Would there be a problem with me working here all day, every day?"
"None. We like to see the library in use," Bette answered as if she were a full-time staff member who was devoted to the library. She believed in being professional, mature, and helpful even if she only worked there twenty hours a week for a little extra money to supplement what her father sent. Plus, she was counting on a good recommendation from her supervisors when she left.
"Great, I'll bring my things tomorrow. I won't be long today. Let me just glance at what's here and make some decisions. Is it okay if you're up here for an hour or so today? I might need you to collect more documents for me."
"Sure, not a problem." Bette had access to all of the university libraries from this room, so she could do her own research instead of spending time going back and forth in the stacks returning manuscripts downstairs. This hour would give her an opportunity to work on two assignments she hadn't started. She called the circulation desk and gave her co-worker a heads-up, then sat on a stool and began typing into the large computerized catalog.
By the time the hour ended, Bette had three handwritten pages worth of books she needed to peruse for her assignments. She was still writing when Gail walked up to the counter with her items. "These are great. Just what I'm looking for."
"Good. We're proud of our collections."
Bette put on her cotton gloves and started back to the files when Gail said, "I'll bet you'd know--is there a coffee shop around here? I'm craving a good coffee."
She turned and said, "A place just opened called Willoughby's. You might like it. I haven't been in, but I hear that they have good coffee."
"Join me? You're the first person I've said more than five words to in New Haven."
Bette cocked her head in surprise that this stranger would want her to tag along. "Thanks, but I can't. I have to work until five, then my boyfriend's coming to pick me up for dinner."
Bette wasn't positive, but it looked like Gail's face showed a brief hint of disappointment. Whether it was because Bette couldn't join her for coffee or that she had a boyfriend, she couldn't tell.
"Some other time. I'll be around."
Every day, for the first week and a half, Bette sat at the counter opposite Gail's table and did her own work on the days that she was working at the library. It made sense for her to stay in the room instead of leaving, then returning every time Gail buzzed for more material. She had started bringing her backpack with her and used the time to ostensibly assist the patron while in reality she studied for her class. On non-work days, she found herself, just stopping in to study with her because there were few distractions. Occasionally, when Gail just wanted to chat, they did that. Bette found the woman fascinating. It seemed like Gail knew about every book written with a preference for the Victorian period. Sometimes, she'd find a paragraph or phrase that moved her so that she had to share it with Bette. She'd trot over to the counter and say, "you've got to read this. Is that great writing or what? God, that's just awesome."
Alice poured another round of drinks. "Yeah, so you're getting to know each other, then what?"
"We became friends."
"And you eventually went for coffee with her which is a euphemism for...?"
"Coffee," Bette muttered between long sips of her cocktail.
Bette walked into Willoughby's around three o'clock on one of the days she wasn't working and was finished with her classes for the day. The menu was fairly extensive for 1985. There were four types of coffee to choose from and about ten kinds of tea. She was staring at the chalked menu on the blackboard when someone tapped her shoulder.
"Hi," Gail said.
"Hi, Gail. What are you doing here?" Bette grinned at her.
"I'm always here at this time as you know. The question is what are you doing here?" Gail had been keeping to the same schedule for nearly three weeks. She arrived at the library every day just as it opened, went to the rare collections room, and made herself at home in her makeshift office for several hours. At exactly noon, Gail took a break for lunch where she'd sit on a bench outside, eat a homemade sandwich, a cup of yogurt, and a handful of trail mix before returning inside. At three o'clock, she'd pack up her things, return any reference items and make her way to Willoughby's for a cup of French Roast or an espresso before retiring to her rented guest cottage behind one of New Haven's many mansions. Bette absolutely knew her schedule.
Bette's face warmed; embarrassed that she had been caught. She wanted to run into Gail Sturges and Gail knew it. "I - I was just passing by and thought I'd, you know, try it. You've given it such high marks."
"I recommend the espresso if you want a good hit, otherwise, go with the Colombian."
Gail smiled at the server behind the counter. "Hi, Dave."
"Yeah and I think she should have a regular coffee." Gail giggled.
"The espresso's too much for her?" Dave spoke directly to Gail as if they were in a secret club.
Bette chimed in to the server, "I'll have an espresso, too and a banana nut muffin, please," and then turned to Gail and said, "I do drink coffee, Gail."
"I won't presume again," she said with a smile. "Can you sit with me?"
Bette nodded and after they paid, walked over to a small table in the counter and waited for their orders.
"How's your work going?"
"I'm like a madwoman. The words are just pouring from me. I've got hundreds of pages of material and I need to start paring it down. I wish I had this rare collections library in New York, though."
"Why? I thought you liked the quiet."
"I do. That's why I wish it was there. I'm getting so much done, but it's terribly lonely here. Really, the only people I know in the whole city are you and Dave over there."
"You should get out more."
"I don't know."
Bette understood. The times she was away from Ash left her a little depressed. "Do you have a boyfriend in The City?" Though they had probably racked up a full day's worth of hours together, they never were particularly personal. Gail knew that Bette had a boyfriend, but Bette knew very little about the private life of the Ph.D. student.
Gail looked at her as if she had asked the silliest, most absurd question ever. She laughed and was just about to answer when Dave walked up with the beverages and muffin. "Thanks, Dave," she said as he placed the items on the table. "God, that muffin looks good."
"Would you like one, Gail?" he asked.
Bette quickly said, "We can share. This one is just gigantic."
Gail tore a piece from the muffin and popped it in her mouth. Bette guessed that they were sharing.
"So, I take it you don't have a boyfriend in The City?"
"No, not in The City or a boyfriend anywhere else for that matter."
Nodding, Bette replied, "Too dedicated to school now? No time?"
Gail sat back in her chair and gazed at Bette, losing herself in the liquid chocolate orbs. "No, that's not it. I don't have a boyfriend because I had a girlfriend. We broke up over a year ago."
Bette blinked several times as she tried to wrap her mind around what was just said. "Girlfriend? Girlfriend?"
"As in lesbian. I'm lesbian. So was my ex."
Bette's head moved up and down quickly and she continued to blink and stare at Gail Sturges. "That's neat. Really, that's cool. I don't have a problem with that."
"Why would you?" Her blue eye and gray eye pierced her in just the way Ash's did when he wanted to know more of her.
"I don't." Bette shrugged.
"Yeah, but why would you?"
"I don't. It's cool." Bette's eyes lowered slightly as she took a long, slow look at her friend.
"I can't say that it's cool, but it is."
"Yeah, fine." Bette picked up her tiny cup of espresso and took a long swallow that left her body shaking. She was close to spraying it straight out in front of her. She frowned as she finished what was in her mouth. "I'm such an airhead."
"That, you're not. It's powerful, huh? Got a real kick. I guess I'll make that number 73 on my list."
"My list of when not to come out to someone. Never come out to anyone when they're drinking espresso--the look on your face."
Bette didn't know what to say. When she had arrived at Willoughby's it was in the hopes of inviting Gail out for an evening with her and Ash and maybe one of Ash's friends. She mentioned it in passing to her boyfriend, thinking it would be fun for him to get to know this woman whom she was spending a significant amount of time with. If Gail had had a boyfriend, it would have been just four friends hanging out. If she had been single, it would have been a possible blind date. Gail was single, but this put an entirely different spin on it. "I'm sorry, Gail. I had no idea. I'm just a little surprised."
"No reason to be sorry. You wouldn't have known. I don't wear a sign around my neck, you know."
"Yeah, but you don't look like a " Bette froze, knowing how that sounded. She had heard comments like that leveled at her many times. 'Gee, you don't look black or half-black' or the word she hated most, mulatto, because it sounded like she should be on some plantation, hiding from the mistress of the house who hated her because she looked too much like her husband and one of their slaves. Why people couldn't get their mouths to produce the word 'biracial' was beyond her. "Sorry, I didn't mean that. I - I I'm sorry."
"We're not all diesel dykes. Some of us are, but not all of us. You probably think you don't know other gay people "
Bette interrupted, "Oh, no, not at all. I'm an art history major. I know dozens of gay men."
"But how many women?"
Shaking her head, Bette responded in the negative.
"You work in a library. Librarians and those working in the library are known far and wide to be lesbian."
"Is that true?"
"No, just a myth. You're straight." Gail paused and looked at Bette whose eyes traveled the art hanging on the wall. "Right?"
"Oh, yeah," Bette said and looked at Gail. "Yeah, I am."
Gail sipped her espresso and Bette sat there awkwardly, so very unsure as to what to say. She pulled a small piece from her muffin and began to chew, but her mouth suddenly felt like cotton inside and she choked down the bread.
"My girlfriend's name was Elaine. We were together for about six years, had a place on Central Park West--barely on it. You'd have to stand at exactly the right spot in the living room to actually see the park from the window. But, basically, it was a good life. One day she came home and said she was sick of New York and was going home to Hot Springs. Hot Springs, Arkansas. She asked me if I'd join her, knowing I wouldn't. Me? In Arkansas? I doubt I could even find it on a map. It was her way of leaving without feeling too bad about it. I was the one who said I wouldn't go, so I must have been the one to want out of the relationship. For a while, I even believed it. It was a bad time because I had just had my birthday a few days before. I was totally feeling over-the-hill and to make it all the worse, my lover was dumping me."
"That's sad, I'm sorry."
"I'm over it. We had been dead together for a long time and she had the guts to do something about it. You know how long she lasted in Hot Springs?"
"She was back in New York ten days later, but she never even contacted me. She just wanted out."
"What was wrong with the relationship?"
"Boring, boring, maddeningly boring. She taught at one of the local P.S.s and I was the director of New York City's literacy program. We were busy with our lives and no time for each other. We talked just enough to get together in bed, then we stopped having sex, then stopped sharing any of our lives. We went out with our own separate friends; we were barely roommates, only passing each other in the apartment. The thing is that we had been so connected and so wild for each other when we first got together. I'm convinced that humans aren't meant to be mated permanently. Serial monogamy works because we need some sort of rule, but that forever after stuff is a pile of shit. If I can be honest with you?"
"Yeah, I hear what you're saying, but I don't agree."
"How long have you and the boyfriend been together?"
"Ash and I met in early October of '83. We started dating exclusively in January '84, so it's been nearly two years."
"And it's still just as magical?"
"We didn't really start off with magic and fireworks. We were friends and it just evolved into more."
"So you're still having this really awesome sex and you're constantly hot and bothered when he walks into the room? Must be nice. I miss that. I'm nearly climbing the walls here. A woman has needs, you know what I mean?" Gail laughed, embarrassed that she spoke so frankly.
Bette's heart skipped a beat and she didn't know why. She was unable to respond.
"So, the sex is awesome?"
"We're in school now. We're very busy, but I love him and he loves me. You see, Ash and I are both driven people and have some long-range goals. Sexually and in every way, we're right for each other." Bette was nervous. She never talked about sex with anyone. Her sister, Kit would occasionally pop in her life to ask her if she had any questions. There was no way Bette would ask Kit anything no matter how curious she was. Last Christmas, Kit had gotten Bette alone in the upstairs guest room and had asked if she and Ash were doing it. Bette was appalled and refused to answer, yet here she was in this public coffee shop with someone that was close to being a stranger and telling her so much more.
"Ash does it for you?" Gail was interested in this young woman who was just so sexy that she didn't mind hearing details of heterosexual sex. Ever since the first day she had walked in the library and gotten the woman to assist her, Gail's eyes had been on Bette's. It was almost a month now. She didn't care if it appeared inappropriate; she wanted to hear about Bette's sex life. She imagined that this woman who was so passionate about art, so motivated about the career she'd one day have as the owner of an art gallery, who walked through life with elegance and determination, must be incredibly sexual. "The sex is good, you say? How? I know it sounds odd, but I've never been with a man. What's it like?"
"Never? Wow. I don't know. Regular." Bette wondered if Dave, the server could hear them.
"What do you guys do? Man on top, missionary stuff? Do you ride him? Do you guys go down on each other?"
Bette turned bright red and began stuffing the muffin into her mouth. "You've got to be kidding me. I can't talk about this."
"I'm sorry if I embarrassed you. I don't want you to feel uncomfortable. I'm just so curious about relationships and what makes them work. That's why I like doing research, I'm basically just a nosey person." Gail laughed hoping it would lighten the conversation.
Bette kept chewing and adding more and more muffin into her mouth. The sooner she could leave Willoughby's the better. She was truly mortified.
"Changing the subject entirely..." Gail cocked her head and said, "Did I just hear a loud sigh of relief?" She laughed heartily. "I'll get that information out of you eventually, ya know...?
"Big deal, Bette. She told you she was a lezzie and that she was in her thirties. As usual, you gave up virtually nothing about yourself."
"As friggin' usual," Alice said as she stood, collected the pitcher and glasses and walked back into the kitchen. "What I want to know is how she finally wormed her way into your jeans and what did you do about your man?"
"I was getting to that, Alice. You've never known patience." She heard Alice fill the glasses with ice and pour equal parts Sambuca and Bailey's into the large shaker.
"Patience-schmatience. Don't make me make these more potent. Just tell the damn story."
"They couldn't be more potent. Okay," Bette said, stretching her arms over her head and resting them on the sofa seat. "What happened after that?"
Ash had accepted an invitation for he and Bette to attend a friend's Halloween party a couple of weeks later. The thought of dressing up and getting wasted at a college party didn't appeal to Bette at all and she saw this latest event as another in what was becoming a long list of obligatory couple occasions she wanted no part of. Since she had chosen to put virtually no effort into finding a costume, they had decided to go as Miami detectives, choosing sunny pastels from their closets. That night, Ash came over dressed in a white sports jacket and slacks and an aqua button down shirt. The sleeves of his jacket and shirt were pushed up to just below his elbows. He had a pair of sunglasses setting atop his head and thick soled sandals on his feet. He looked out of place in New England, but he was true to his character. Bette was in bed and she didn't look well at all. She explained that she simply wasn't up to going to a party, that she was coming down with something, but it would be fun. She felt bad enough and would feel even worse if he didn't go, so she pleaded with him to have a good time with their friends. Reluctantly, Ash left, but promised to stop by on his way home. Again, she told him that she'd just be asleep and didn't want to put him out.
"I love you, Bette."
"I love you, too, Ash. Have fun for me, okay? You look like Don Johnson. You'll be a big hit." She sniffled and did her best to give him a smile.
When he bent to kiss her, she turned so all he got was cheek and muttered, "I don't want you to get sick."
Bette lay underneath the covers for a few minutes before picking up the newspaper on the floor beside the bed. She sat up and scanned the pages, then swung her legs around so that she was seated on edge of her bed. Bette took a deep breath and walked to her desk and picked up the phone and dialed.
Two rings later, Gail picked up. "Hullo."
"Hi, Gail. Bette Porter."
"Bette, what a surprise. How's it going?"
"Fine," Bette said clearly with not a trace of being under the weather. "Hey, Gail, I was wondering if you'd like to get together this evening and take in a movie and dinner."
"Sounds good. You don't have plans with your boyfriend this evening? Didn't you mention some party or something?"
"Oh, that was cancelled and he wasn't much in to going out. So, is there anything special you want to see?"
"No, you can choose."
Bette grabbed the paper from her bed and opened it onto the desk. "I was thinking maybe 'Jagged Edge.' It came out a couple of weeks ago and sounds good. What d'ya think?"
"Good. Glenn Close is in that. I saw her a couple of years ago in 'The Big Chill' and thought she was great."
"Okay, so there's a 7:10 showing and a 9:30 show. Do you want dinner before or after?"
"After, if that's all right."
"Sure, I'll pick you up in about 30 minutes?"
Gail laughed. "Sure." She paused before adding, "You're going to pick me up to take me to the movies and dinner? Bette, is this a date?"
Flustered, Bette could barely respond. "Uh, no...I I was just, uh..."
"Joking. See you soon."
Bette dropped into her desk chair and shook her head. "Is it?" she wondered aloud.
They were seated in the dark theatre watching previews and sharing a large popcorn. Meryl Streep and Robert Redford's images lit up the screen and the emotional announcer gave a voice over synopsis of their movie. Bette watched the screen and turned to Gail just as Gail leaned to whisper something in her ear. Gail's lips practically grazed Bette's forehead.
"Sorry," they both whispered. Bette shifted in her chair as did Gail.
Gail finally leaned in and said, "Have you read any Isak Dinesen?"
"No," Bette whispered back.
"You'd like her. Despite growing up in Denmark--not the most emotional people on earth, her writing is very erotic and artsy."
"What were you going to say?"
"Seems romantic," Bette answered ostensibly commenting on what was on screen, but very well could have been commenting on their 'non-date.'
"It does." For a moment or two Gail and Bette stared into each other's eyes, then each pulled away, feeling awkward and a bit exposed.
When the 'Out of Africa' preview ended, it was followed by a preview of 'The Color Purple.' "Great book," Gail said. "I bet Steven Spielberg ruins it."
The theatre's directional lighting dimmed and "Jagged Edge" began. During the movie, Bette handed the bucket of popcorn to Gail and accidentally brushed across the front of her top, definitely skimming over her breast. Bette cleared her throat and slunk deeper into her seat. As the movie was coming to an end, the killer leapt out at the attorney in a way that insured the audience would react with one loud gasp and scream. Gail jumped in her seat, cried out, and dug her fingers into Bette's thigh. Bette laughed, throwing her head back and placing her hand on top of Gail's. "I guess you didn't expect that."
After the movie, they walked the few blocks to Mamoun's Falafel Restaurant. Gail looked up at the awning in surprise. "You guys have a Mamourn's up here."
Bette blinked, not understanding.
"There's one in the Village in the City. Wow. I love this place. Totally excellent choice."
Inside, Bette steered them to the back of the restaurant. She didn't want Ash to see her sitting there when she was supposed to be in her dorm room asleep.
The two women shared a combination platter of Middle Eastern appetizers, they both ordered sandwichesBette, a Shawerma and Gail a falafel.
When the two of them looked up again, Mamoun's crew of clean up workers were placing chairs upside down on tables and mopping the floor. It was after midnight and their time together had flown by. Bette couldn't think of a way of extending the night, though she tried.
Bette drove Gail home in her chocolate milk colored 4-door Volvo, a boxy, safe, and responsible gift from her father for her twenty-first birthday. She let her out at the main entrance to the driveway because in the dark, she'd never be able to manage the width of the drive nor see all of the trees and shrubbery that grew on either side of it. Gail got out of the car, went around to the driver's side and when Bette lowered the window, she bent in and kissed her very gently on the lips. "I had a great time, Bette. Thank you. It's just the kind of break I needed."
Back in New Haven, Bette called Ash to ask about the party. He had left a few messages and she explained that she had slept through them.
"I'm feeling a lot better now."
"Really? Is it okay if I come over?"
"Definitely. I missed you tonight."
That night, Bette made guilty love with him. She should have just told him she didn't want to go to the party; she should have said she preferred the movies that night and to hang out with a friend. She couldn't understand her secrecy. Gail was a buddy, so why shouldn't they get together? She and Ash did have many friends they saw as a couple, but each of them had their own set of friends. Spending time with one of them wasn't odd. It was perfectly normal. She wouldn't lie to him again. If she wanted to see Gail or any of her friends, she'd tell him. Tonight was the exception, but she planned on making things right between them and promised herself to work harder at their relationship. Maybe she and Ash could connect once they were away from school. They needed a break, alone, together.
A few days later, Bette arrived at Beinecke library to study. Bette felt at ease in a pair of worn and fashionably torn 501 jeans, a peach long-sleeved Polo shirt, and a pair of duck shoes that kept her feet warm and dry during those cold days. These were clothes that had an endless appeal to Yale preppies.
She thought about her constantly and told herself it was just curiosity. She'd never known a gay woman. Bette couldn't bring herself to say lesbian or even think it. She didn't know why, but it did. She preferred to use the term gay woman. She shook her head, thinking that she'd blown her chance to learn what two women do together. If she had only been brave enough to follow through with their conversation.
Bette was talking to her boss when Gail walked in and requested time in the Rare Book Collections with the work-study student seated at the circulation desk. Bette surreptitiously watched her. Gail was quite attractive in an understated way. She seemed like a guy's best female friend and the close friend a woman could count on giving her the truth, even if it hurtthere wouldn't be any of the biting and backstabbing, none of the double-talk that Bette hated. Gail appeared strong, confident, intensely brainy, and ready to take on any project, while being soft and open to the world around her. Feeling eyes on her, Gail looked up and smiled at Bette and just that smile caused Bette's heart to beat a tad faster. Bette shook herself from the reverie and volunteered to chaperone the patron. Her supervisor was relieved since she didn't have to pull someone else from their position.
Around eleven a.m., Gail walked over to the counter where Bette sat reading, a book on Gender in American Art.
Looking up, Bette smiled at Gail as if she hadn't known the woman was approaching. She had, in fact, been staring at her all morning. "Yeah, what's up? Do you need something?"
"I'm actually wondering something."
"What's that?" Bette slipped a bookmark into the text and closed it.
"Whenever I've looked up, you've been looking at me. It's made it impossible to concentrate."
"No, I haven't."
"Yeah, you have. Maybe you don't know it. Look, Bette you've been acting different since I told you that I'm lesbian. Little things, but I've noticed. If you have a problem with that, if you need me to work elsewhere, I can. I've pretty much finished with the letters I was reviewing here."
"No, no, no. No. I certainly didn't mean to stare at you. I have zero problem with you being here. I think I think that since you told me about yourself, about being gay, I've just been curious."
"Curious?" Gail's eyebrow arched noticeably.
"I don't mean like curious as in I want to try it, but curious about that particular way of living."
"You asked me what Ash and I do together. I'm wondering about you with women. What's that like?--out of regular curiosity."
"Like you said I asked you first. You tell me and I'll tell you."
Bette glanced at the door. No one ever came into this room, but she didn't want to risk being overheard if someone walked in during this discussion. "I'll sit over at your table where we can talk privately."
Bette came around the counter, reached and grabbed her bookbag, then followed Gail back to the large table where she had spread out her work.
"All right, what do you want to know?" Bette figured the sooner they got started with this question and answer session, the sooner they'd finish.
"What's it like? I've heard that men just stick it in and then go in and out a couple of times and that's it."
Bette giggled. "If it were just like that, more women would turn gay. There's more to it."
"Well, I've only been with three guys and Ash for the longest. The first guy and I were both virgins. It lasted about five minutes the first time and about six minutes the second time. Not very good, but the point was just to get it over with so we could both say we'd done it. I was seventeen. Then, my freshman year, I met this really cute guy who was a grad student and evidently, he hit on every piece of fresh girl meat entering the history of art program. He was okay in bed, just really full of himself and that didn't last too long, either. Finally, I met Ashton and we worked up to it. We were good friends only for the longest. He's brilliant. I mean..." She shrugged. "I've never met a man so creatively intellectual. He doesn't see things as everyone else. He's incredibly intelligent. I don't have to dumb down for him. I can pretty much be myself because he can keep up."
Gail giggled at Bette's high opinion of herself.
"What I'm trying to say is that a lot of us just regurgitate what we hear in class. Ash loves art. He likes talking about color and texture, and his thoughts and ideas are his own. He's not afraid of expressing that. We have great discussions."
"So how did you get from these important, mind-bending discussions to being lovers?"
"It just happened. Foreplay, ya know?"
"You don't know what foreplay is?"
"Yes, of course, I do. What do you mean by foreplay?"
Bette's olive skin warmed and she knew that a pink hue had blossomed across her face. She didn't want to talk about Ash. She especially didn't want to discuss her sex life, but if she wanted to get answers to her questions, she'd just have to get through it.
Gail whispered, "If you really can't talk about..."
Returning her whisper, Bette said, "No, that's okay. It's okay. We - we just did stuff. We touched each other."
Gail smiled. She suddenly had a vision of the lovely Bette Porter naked on a dorm room bed. She pictured fingers between Bette's tanned legs, opening her up, but they weren't the fingers of a man. "Go on. How?"
"Uh. God, this is ludicrous. The way people touch, Gail. I - I think you really do know what I'm talking about. You're just winding me up."
"All right. Since you're refusing to give any information, I'm forced to tell you. I can't imagine ever being with a man. Women feel so good to me. I love their softness. Do you want to know what is really erotic?"
Bette's eyes didn't blink. "What?"
"A woman's inner thighs. It is so soft there. There's a lot I miss about not dating now, but I especially miss that spot. It's such a tease right there. You know what I mean?"
"No, not really," Bette's voice cracked when she spoke.
"Like you're just inches away from where she really wants you to be and it's intoxicating. Your lips are on her inner thighs and you're kissing her right there and she's starting to guide you with her body because she wants you to move up just a little, push closer just a little, open your mouth just a little. The build up always has my heart pounding. And being on the receiving end of that is awesome, too. But you know about that."
Bette didn't answer.
"You've had oral sex before, right, Bette?"
"Of course," Bette replied flippantly. She knew she sounded like a naïve prude because she hadn't divulged much, but she was far from a prude. She gave great head according to Ash. "I give great head," Bette blurted out.
Gail's eyes widened. "Really? Do tell?"
Bette sighed. Why had she said that? "Ash likes it."
"Is he big?"
"He's average to above average I guess."
"And you can take it all?"
Bette nodded. She decided that she'd only answer direct questions.
"Wow. Lucky man. I think I'd gag and maybe barf."
Okay, so she'd give more details. "No, it's not like that. It's not bad. You just have to relax and start slowly." Bette was as red as a boiled lobster, but she went on. "You take in a little at a time and he sort of moves with me, not holding my head or pushing me down or anything. Some guys do that and that's when you gag and want to get away. Ash isn't like that. He loves me so much and I love him and I know he likes it, so I enjoy doing it for him."
"Does he come in your mouth?"
What a question, Bette thought. "If you take him deep enough, you barely taste it. I just swallow it."
Gail said in a voice above a whisper, "You swallow it. Ewww, gross. No, I couldn't do it."
"But you can do the other?" Bette looked at her intently.
Lifting an eyebrow, Gail leaned in and said quietly, "Eat a woman out? Oh, yeah, I can do that. So, what's it like to be on the receiving end. Is he as good at diving as you are?" She held a pencil like a baton between her fingers, gently tapping it on the table.
"I - I...well, I'm not in to that."
"He doesn't go down on you?" Gail's cup hit the saucer with a loud clink. "Hasn't he ever tried it?"
"I think he finds it repulsive."
"You stick his dick in your mouth; you swallow his jis. You let him get away with that, Bette?" Gail was outraged.
"I don't mind."
"That's cause you've never had it."
"It's just that I can tell Ash isn't interested in that and I don't know... like you said, maybe it's gross...to him."
"It's not." Gail said quietly, while shaking her head gently.
"Anyway, it's no big deal."
"Does he satisfy you sexually?"
"I told you that already."
Gail whispered, "Do you come?"
This was the most personal thing anyone had ever asked her. Her head told her to keep her secrets safe, but she needed to talk about this. She wanted to know why she wasn't normal that way. "Not with him. Only alone." She was on the verge of tears.
Gail reached out and took her hand and the older woman felt Bette tense immediately. She slid her hand away from Bette's and said, "It's okay. That's not unusual. There are lots of reasons women aren't able to achieve orgasm with a partner. Usually, the mind takes too much of a role in what's going on, but there are lots of reasons. I've got books on it if you're interested."
"No, I don't want to read about it."
Gail stared across at Bette thoughtfully. "I suspect that you might have trust issues. You don't like giving up or losing control to anyone. You like order and things to be compartmentalized in a particular way."
"That's not true. You're making me sound rigid, and I'm not. I'm quite liberal. Progressive, even."
"I'm talking the personal, not the political. You order your books, a different color ink for every notebook; the way you dress-you're always really put together. Most of the people on campus that I see just throw on yesterday's sweats and get on with it. You're in jeans and Polo shirts that really flatter your body or dress trousers with those sexy button down men's shirts you wear, you're always stylin'." Gail rushed through that last part almost embarrassed and Bette blushed. "Even the careful way you put on and take off the archival gloves. In all this time, you have, not once, picked up a document without wearing gloves. You're cautious and controlled and obviously that works for you. As much as you like or love your boyfriend, it's probably hard for you to give up that much of yourself."
"Do you think that's why?"
"That's my guess. I'm no authority in the matters of heterosexual sex, but men tend to control that more. You probably like blowing him because it gives you power."
Gail knew her. That was absolutely true. Bette may have been in a submissive position on her knees in front of him or resting on her forearm beside him when she sucked him off, but she determined how much of herself she'd give and when he'd shoot. Ash didn't dare coax her by putting his hands behind her head and forcing her down. That would have gotten him no where fast. "Yeah, I think you might be right."
"You have to trust completely to really be satisfied, Bette. If you're going to hold back and fear that your man is going to discover too much or take something you don't want to give, you're never going to enjoy it."
"I enjoy it," Bette replied defensively.
"But it can be so much more. Believe me. I've had a few girlfriends in my life and some of them were really good and others were dreadful. It all came down to freeing myself with that person. Elaine and I were good together for years but that's because we put all of our trust in each other. The last few times we made love, it was a struggle to get through it. I'm not saying that you can't have sex without love, because you can. You don't have to be in love, but I'd say that you do have to trust that this person beside you wants to please you, fulfill your desires. Elaine and I lost that trust, that most basic trust. Do you trust him?"
"Implicitly. I trust Ash."
"It's...you're right. I can't lose control."
"It's not natural for me."
"You'd be surprised what's natural once you experience it."
Bette had been flirted with a million times on campus and in high school, so that innuendo didn't slip past her. She also knew that this conversation had her aching in a way she'd never felt. She was at a loss about what to do or say.
Gail gave her an out. "Look at the time? I didn't bring lunch today. I'm going back home for a turkey sandwich. Are you working this afternoon?" Gail stretched.
Bette smiled and said, "Until five o'clock." Bette watched as Gail stacked her materials.
"Okay. I'll see you when I get back."
Bette smiled as she watched Gail leave. She slowly gathered her things hoping that by the time she finished she'd be able to stand. By 12:30, Bette had left the library and didn't return that day. She felt too bare.
The night of the Halloween party turned out not to be so exceptional for Bette. The majority of November she spent lying to Ash about her schedule. She claimed she was putting in extra work hours to afford a good Hanukkah gift for him; she was meeting her study group; there was always something in her life that kept them apart. Something compelled her to spend any free time she had with Gail Sturges.
Thanksgiving was quickly approaching and Bette was dreading going off to Philadelphia and then on to upstate New York on Saturday and Sunday. Gail was spending Thanksgiving in Manhattan with her sister, brother-in-law, and nephews. Bette found herself pouting that Gail seemed eager to get into New York, not caring that they wouldn't have their lunches together, or hours of study time, or occasional dinners. She told herself to pull it together over those upcoming days in Pennsylvania.
Thanksgiving was uneventful. In front of her father, Ashton was charming. His quick temper that could flare with little provocation was kept in check. Bette had reminded him to steer away from politics and Ashton behaved in Melvin Porter's company. Many, many months ago, Melvin had looked into his background and liked what he saw. Ash's parents were the right people. Robert Schwartz was a successful internist in the Syracuse area. Rosalie Schwartz was the head of administration at SUNY's university hospital in Syracuse. They lived in the right part of town, belonged to the proper organizations, and were long-time supporters of civil rights groups in New York. Ashton Schwartz was the one Melvin would have picked for Bette if he had been the one looking for the perfect boyfriend for his daughter. Why Kit couldn't manage to have the taste and brains of his youngest was a question he had no answer for. This second Thanksgiving, Ashton had sneaked away with Melvin several times over the few hours they were in Philadelphia and Bette smiled knowing that Ashton had asked Melvin if he'd give his permission for them to marry after they finished school. Bette was equally sure that her father had given his unequivocal consent. She knew she should be thinking about the new life she'd be leading in just a few short months. She was finishing up the first term of her senior year and by this time next year, would be a married woman. But somehow, her mind kept drifting to Gail Sturges.
Alice grabbed a bag of Trader Joe's Veggie Fries from the cabinet and tossed them to Bette who didn't come close to catching it. She returned to the living room with a dark, pink concoction in the glass pitcher and two clean glasses. "Movin' on to Cosmos, babe." She placed the tray on the coffee table, then slid to the floor.
"I think I'm a tiny bit drunk, Al."
"Lucky you're not leaving the house, then. Okay, on with the story. I know you eat pussy, so get to it. I mean the story, not the eating. This belongs to Dana," she said patting her lap.
"Been there," Bette answered.
Alice rolled her eyes. "Gail? Oral sex? Jumping teams?"
Bette drifted into the past, remembering the poster of Prince on her dorm door and the photo taped to the inside door of her closet of the androgynous pop group 'Ah-ha,' with their hairless faces and long, flowing manes. She recalled how her twenty-one year old self felt back then.
Throughout November, Ash had tried to get Bette to join him for a session of lovemaking, but Bette begged off each time. Once she had too much studying to do, another time she was re-writing her Statement of Purpose for school, and twice she claimed to have a splitting headache. Over their long weekend together in Philadelphia and New York they had not been intimate. Suddenly, Bette had decided she wasn't comfortable doing it in her father or his parents' homes. Back at school, when he finally was successful at getting her in bed, she had scooted away from his hand that rested on her thigh and when he had pushed her down between his legs, she only gave him a brief, obligatory handjob that she didn't even see through to completion. He ended up beating off by himself that night when she got up and went home to study. Her excuses were piling up and they were the same--studying, the stress of senior year, no time. The truth was she preferred to spend those short minutes with Gail having espressos and pastries. They were getting to know each other and slowly, Gail had become Bette's closest friend.
Every day the two women took breaks together for a short walk around the library and talked literature and music, turning books into movies, the passion in words; they argued their points on feminism while agreeing to the overall tenets of what it is to be a feminist; they discussed art galleries in New York City, and Bette's plan to go to Business School while the cold air rejuvenated them. Inside, Gail would continue her work while Bette told herself to get those papers written. Gail was a huge distraction.
At the beginning of the semester, Bette was sure she'd breeze through the term with only papers to write instead of tests. It was nearing finals' week, and she'd barely made a dent in those papers. She'd spent the last two weeks thinking only of Gail. They'd sit as they had for the past few weeks in the Rare Book Collections room alone. Gail would write and write and write while Bette watched her. Gail had the habit of placing the tip of her finger in her mouth when she was thinking and Bette was drawn to that digit. She couldn't stop thinking about what kind of lover Gail might be or how her face looked when as Gail had said, she 'ate out a woman.' Soon, Bette was fantasizing about that touch and how she wanted to experience it, but it was not Ash's masterful fingers and tongue that made her surrender, but Gail's.
It had turned into a strange December. Bette was dreaming about Gail and would wake up flushed and excited. She continued to turn Ash down several times when he tried to get physical. Ash told himself that she was rightit was finishing term papers and applying to grad schools that were taking their toll on her.
While Bette was soaking up this new knowledge and hanging on Gail's every comment about writing and authors, Ash was trying to decide how he'd proposesomething public, something private. Bette was private, but he was outgoing. He loved attention and the more people involved in his proposal, the more fun it would be. He knew Bette wouldn't see it that way. She could be cool, somewhat remote. He assumed that she'd want candlelight at a romantic restaurant or at their favorite park or maybe in front of Undine Rising from the Waters, the sculpture where they first met. He opted for the traditional. He'd drop to his knee and ask if she'd be his wife.
Bette remained preoccupied.
It was a bit after 3:00 on Friday. Gail and Bette sat at the coffee shop at what had become their table sipping espressos and sharing a large muffin as they often did now.
"I don't think you've been studying the way you should," Gail commented almost maternally.
"What do you mean?"
"You're spending way too much time with me."
"That's when I'm studying."
"Again, I have to tell you that you're easy to read. I'm surprised I don't have laser burns in my skin the way you look at me. Why don't you tell me what's on your mind?"
Bette stared down at the miniature cup filled with the rich, black brew. "Gail, Ash is about to ask me to marry him. I know that." She paused. "I don't want to marry. We had this plan, but I don't want it any longer. I'm not ready to be a wife and the thought of being a mother " She blew out a breath of air and sighed. "Not anywhere near my radar screen. I know what everyone expects of me and I do love him."
"So tell him what you're thinking"
"I don't want to hurt him and Daddy would be devastated."
"What does your father have to do with it?"
Bette looked up, gazing at Gail, imploring her to understand her predicament. "He wants this marriage. He thinks that Ash is the perfect man for me. Daddy'll go ballistic and I just don't want to deal with that."
Gail frowned. "So you'd rather saddle yourself down in a marriage you already know isn't for you? That's stupid."
Wincing, Bette felt like she had been slammed against a wall. Gail couldn't possibly understand her issues. Angering Melvin was something she didn't want to do. She had always lived a life outside of Melvin Porter's wrath and she wanted to keep it that way. Not marrying Ash, taking time to figure out what she wanted would cause him to blow a gasket. Bette sucked in her lips as she thought about expressing what she really wanted. Finally, she spoke in a decibel that was barely audible. "If my father knew what I wanted " She blew out a breath. "If he knew where my mind's been going lately, he'd be beyond disappointment. He'd disown me."
"Where has your mind been going, Bette?"
"Towards you. Straight towards you," she choked out. She shook her head in confusion.
Gail placed the hard, laminated menu upright on the table, so that Bette's hand was behind it, and then Gail placed her hand on top of Bette's. She didn't say anything as she mulled over the beginning of Bette's awareness.
Finally, "What do you plan on doing about it?"
"What I'm thinking and feeling, my father would find utterly disgusting."
Gail was offended. She knew it wasn't Bette's intention, but Gail had to get a dig in anyway. "More so than you swallowing some guy's come?"
"My father doesn't know what I do in bed."
"So why would you tell him about this? You don't have to. This can be between us. I won't lie to you. I want to be with you. You're all I've been thinking of for some time."
Bette's eyes cleared. Could this woman who had lived a gay life for years and years really want her? Gail was in her mid-thirties and though Bette was a legal adult, she could easily remember the trials of high school and her teen years. Did they even have anything in common? And what about Ashton? What was she going to do about her boyfriend?
"Bette, I think you're well beyond your years. Most girls your age would be thinking about the next kegger at the sorority house or planning their weddings to the college boyfriend they snagged. You don't hang all over Ashton. I think I've seen you with him once. You hardly talk about him. You're different. I won't push you in any direction. This has to be your decision."
"Okay. My decision, of course."
Bette had arrived at the library at 9:30, but it took her a good fifteen minutes to rid herself of the many layers she wore to ward off the cold and early morning steady snow that was falling. She shook out her hair and greeted the circulation desk assistant who handed her an envelope.
"This was left for you," he said.
Sighing from the recent exertion of de-layering, Bette took the business size envelope from him. The white envelope simply said, 'Bette Porter' in what she knew to be Gail's handwriting. Her heart fell. Inside, she knew that she'd read that Gail wanted nothing to do with her; that it had all been a bit of a laugh; that after she had a chance to think about it, Gail knew that the feelings Bette might have for her weren't reciprocated. Bette walked over to one of the benches upholstered in durable, blue vinyl and dropped down. She slid her thumb across the seal and opened the envelope.
Pulling the several pages out, Bette noticed a small sheet of paper from a tablet paperclipped to the stack.
*Dear Bette, I brought you some pages. Sometimes the most passionate literature comes from an unexpected source. This was written by a man who would soon be our third president, Thomas Jefferson. When he wrote this, he was a widower who had promised his wife on her deathbed that he'd never remarry. So, he spent years on his intellectual pursuits, being an avid reader, writing endless articles, philosophies, and thought, interpreting art, and analyzing architecture--caught up in study. Like someone else we know, huh? But guess what happened to Jefferson? No, he didn't marry again. He fell in lovewith a married woman, no less. They met in France when he lived there. Mrs. Cosway loved him, too. Ole T.J. was smack-dab in the middle of a dilemma. Should he ignore his promise to his wife? Should he pursue a woman who belonged to another? Should he go against all he knew, what he believed was right and moral or should he listen to his heart?
Please read it. You might discover that you're not alone when it comes to issues of the heart and head.*
Bette turned the tablet back and saw that Gail had photocopied the title page from the book that the text appeared as well as the copyright page. She laughed that her friend was always a researcher first, always able to verify her sources. She turned those two pages over as well, leaned back against the cool wall and began to read:
THE HEAD AND HEART LETTER
written by Thomas Jefferson
October 12 and 13, 1786
The letter started out with Jefferson sitting by a warm fire in his home away from home in Paris. He had just spent days with Maria Cosway, a married artist and he couldn't get his mind off of her. His head told him one thing, his heart spoke other words.
Bette lifted her legs and curled them onto the bench as she read Jefferson's lament and delight:
*Head: Thou art the most incorrigible of all the beings that ever sinned! I reminded you of the follies of the first day, intending to deduce from thence some useful lessons for you; but instead of listening to them, you kindle at the recollection, you retrace the whole series with a fondness, which shows you want nothing, but the opportunity, to act it over again. I often told you, during its course, that you were imprudently engaging your affections, under circumstances that must have cost you a great deal of pain.*
Bette had read several pages and found herself nodding in empathy for the poor heart as the head reprimanded it. The head's last statement she had heard in her own mind many times in the last few days. Ash should have been her focus, especially on those evenings they spent together, but that wasn't the case. Her only thoughts were of Gail and that's when her head would tell her to stop being so foolish, to think about what she was pushing herself toward, to be careful. Yes, her head had called her incorrigible.
The Head spoke again: *This is not a world to live at random in, as you do. To avoid those eternal distresses, to which you are forever exposing us, you must learn to look forward, before you take a step which may interest our peace. Everything in this world is matter of calculation. Advance then with caution, the balance in your hand. Put into one scale the pleasures which any object may offer; but put fairly into the other, the pains which are to follow, and see which preponderates.*
Bette hated how the head had spoken to her with such logic, such pure understanding without any insight about her as a loving, passionate woman. In her head, she heard only her father's voice speaking those same words: imprudent, foolish, and random. And her head spoke to her, too about what it made her if she loved a gay woman, a lesbian; if she wanted to make love with one. What would society call her? How would this affect the future she had obsessed over and cultivated these last four years?
Heart: *Every moment was filled with something agreeable. The wheels of time moved on with a rapidity, of which those of our carriage gave but a faint idea. And yet, in the evening, when one took a retrospect of the day, what a mass of happiness had we traveled over! Retrace all those scenes to me, my good companion, and I will forgive the unkindness with which you were chiding me.*
Bette thought of the day she met Gail. She had immediately found her attractive; they had an instant rapport. As they became friends, Bette's world opened up. Gail knew art, but so much more. She was fascinating. Whether she was talking pointedly about Ronald Reagan's voodoo economics or offering her opinion on the importance of musicians getting together to record 'We Are the World,' to fight hunger in Africa. Gail spoke with conviction, honesty, and always excitement.
Heart: *But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life; and thanks to a benevolent arrangement of things, the greater part of life is sunshine. I will recur for proof to the days we have lately passed. On these, indeed, the sun shone brightly. How gay did the face of nature appear! Hills, valleys, chateaux, gardens, rivers, every object wore its liveliest hue! Whence did they borrow it? From the presence of our charming companion. They were pleasing, because she seemed pleased. Alone, the scene would have been dull and insipid: the participation of it with her gave it relish.*
Bette had convinced herself that Willoughby's served the best coffee and muffins in the nation. Everything tasted better around Gail. The Connecticut winter didn't seem dull and gloomy, leaving her cold to the bone, but a sultriness settled in her heart. Bette felt not only warm, but aglow. It wasn't about sex. She had, she thought most likely, fallen in love with her best friend.
Bette read and re-read 'The Head and Heart' Letter. Gail had been right. One hundred and ninety-nine years and two months earlier, Thomas Jefferson was feeling what she felt nowtorn apart, wretched with longing, desperate to find the right answer to calm the ardor that burned within.
Bette slowly got back into sweaters and hooded L.L. Bean tan parka and left the library.
Bette walked around campus all day. She was freezing, but it didn't seem to matter. She knew that Ash was probably looking for her. That didn't matter, either. Bette guessed that Gail was wondering why she hadn't seen her today. That mattered, only because she didn't really want Gail to worry, but she couldn't face her. Thomas Jefferson, a forty-something year old man living in Colonial times had been all fucked up when it came to love, too. So what? It didn't help to know that they were two fools together. What was she going to do? What was she going to do?
At 4:30, she moved in the direction of her dormitory, but instead of going inside, she walked to the parking lot. She bit her bottom lip as she turned the key in the lock and slipped into the driver's seat of her Volvo.
At ten minutes to five, she drove down the narrow, gravel driveway and pulled up to the rustic guest house. Somehow, she couldn't bring herself to exit the car. Bette stared at the small house for the longest time hoping it would disappear and she wouldn't have to follow through on the things that her heart demanded. She closed her eyes and when she opened them again, the cottage was still there--quiet, innocent, homey.
Long moments passed and Bette heard the front door open. Gail came out, never looking up and moved to the garbage bins on the side of the house. When she turned, she noticed the Volvo. She stood there, not coming out to the car, not returning to the warmth of her home. Gail stood and watched and when Bette's eyes met hers, Bette was graced with the softest smile, before she turned and walked inside. The door didn't close. Second after second ticked by and the door didn't close. Bette continued to stare. In her mind's eye, she pictured herself there with Gail. The house beckoned to her, calling out, telling her that there is where she'd find what she'd been missing. It wasn't just a small guest house, but a dream of days to come. She bit her lip. Could she ever be ready for this step? Could this ever be part of the life she had planned for herself? And did Gail want what she wanted. What if Bette was being a fool? Bette exhaled deeply and when she pulled her gloves off, she felt how clammy her hands were. She listened to the sounds of naturethe geese calling to each other, the wind whistling above her, the leaves cracking in the wind. Another deep breath and she heard her heart; her heart that was pushing her forward while suddenly her head no longer put up a fight.
Stepping out of the car, Bette's duck shoes crunched against the gravel and hardening snow. Her mind jumped to some unknown scene in a movie where the protagonist had to make one long, last journey to reach her fate. She could hear the music swelling and tension building as the heroine made her approach, but then she was back in Guilford, Connecticut, just outside of New Haven. Bette Porter, a heterosexual art history major and soon-to-be, married, business school student was walking toward another life. *I am in deep shit, here. Deep shit to the max,* she thought. She told herself that it wasn't about Ash; not about Daddy. She was doing this for her. She had to go inside this house.
When she reached the front of the house, Gail was standing at the door, her hand resting on the brass knob. She watched Bette, but said nothing. Bette held the business envelope in her hand.
"Thank you for this. It's extraordinary. Thomas Jefferson was...I - I don't know. Poetic?"
"He was passionate. He spoke everything he was feeling and that's why it sounds as fresh today as it did two hundred years ago; that's why the appeal is universal."
Bette stepped closer. "He did a hard thing."
"I doubt that he knew back then that people would be holding it and sharing it well beyond his future. I think he probably thought he was just writing to himself or perhaps Mrs. Cosway."
"It's so hard to be out there like that." Bette stared at her. To Gail, she seemed lost. "I feel ridiculous."
"I don't see that. Not in the least."
Bette moved inside the house and looked around nervously. The entire cottage was nautical-themed with ship's portholes for windows, a large eight-spoke ship's wheel was attached to one wallnavigating nothing, on another wall was a rusted anchor. Also on the wall were professionally crafted boards that had nautical terms written on them: drifter, sea worthy, starboard, port, aweigh. In the bay window at the far side of the guest house was an old ship's bell, a navigator's telescope, and a small lifeboat's binnacle. The family who owned the space had gone way over the point of tasteful to create this ship on land. But Bette wasn't there to look at the interior design.
She stood directly in front of Gail. Bette, whose thin body was hidden under ten pounds of clothing, shook from the cold and the moment. Slowly, slowly her eyes closed, her arm stretched out and her hand rested on Gail's lower back. She pulled her toward her and still, without opening her eyes, she pulled her closer and pressed her lips to hers. Her hand moved from Gail's waist to her shoulder, then the back of her head and her kiss deepened. Gail's mouth opened, her tongue pressed against Bette's lips and then Bette's lips parted. Both hands came up to hold Gail's head. Bette's hands captured Gail's face, holding her in place as Bette kissed her the way she had dreamed. Never had a kiss meant so much, been so dear, carried with it such truth. When they finally stepped back, Gail sighed softly and her eyes were warm and filled with desire. Bette, on the other hand looked like she had the fright of her life. She was positively terrified.
"I've gotta go take care of some stuff. I'll be back. Is that okay?--if I come back?"
"Yes. I'll be here."
"It might be kind of late."
"I'll still be here."
Bette left and drove back to New Haven. She turned the radio on and heard George Michael croon, *'Guilty feet have got no rhythm. Though it's easy to pretend, I know you're not a fool.'* She turned the dial on her radio off, puffing her cheeks as she exhaled deeply. At a signal light, she dropped the visor to look in the mirror. She wondered if she looked different, like a woman who was making the biggest mistake of her life or a woman who was about to experience something her subconscious mind had always longed for. Nothing showed. Her eyes were large and damp, her lips, two straight, tight lines across her face, her brow tense, but no one could tell that she'd kissed a friend and her smooth skin gave away no knowledge of what the next few hours held.
She drove to Ash's apartment and dragged herself up the stairs, holding her keys. At the door, she slowly removed his key from the ring and used it to open the door. Ash was eating a slice of Sara Lee pumpkin pie as he walked into the living room from the kitchen. He had just bit off a large piece of pie and was chewing when the door opened.
"Hi. You caught me," Ash said between a mouthful of silky pumpkin. "I'm eating dessert before dinner." He was wearing a pair of Levi's straight cut jeans and a white t-shirt.
He walked to the door and kissed her lightly on the lips. "Where have you been all day? I left a few messages on your answering machine."
"I've been kinda busy."
Bette didn't remove her coat nor did she leave the doorway. "Uh, no. Do you want to take a walk? I just need to walk." Bette had been walking all day. Her feet were surely blistered.
"Okay, let me get some clothes on." Placing the plate of pie on the table, Ashton grabbed his socks and shoes from the floor next to the sofa. Bette watched him put on his gray, thermal socks and thought this would be the last time she'd see him do that; the same with the shoes. Everything seemed so ordinary in every way, yet significant. He tossed a thick, Navy blue crewneck sweater over his t-shirt as she stood beside the door, leaning on a small table, her palm laying flat against it, hiding the door key she had placed there. She was so quiet that Ash looked up at her and she smiled at him as he slipped an arm into his black down jacket. He returned her smile.
They walked toward campus hand-in-hand and again Bette thought that today would most likely be the last day for that act, an act she was as used to now as brushing her teeth or showering. For almost two years they had been a couple, not two people, but a couple; they had been one.
"You seem so tense."
She squeezed his gloved hand in hers.
"Do you think the gallery's open?" she asked.
"Let's check." They walked to the main entrance and Ash pulled on the handle. The door swung open. "We lucked out, huh? We can thaw."
Bette gravitated to the sculpture of *Undine.* She sat on the bench in front of the art and lowered the hood of her jacket. The synthetic fur that had framed her face, now surrounded her neck and as always, Ash was captivated by her model's face. But Bette wasn't looking happy. Ash removed his gloves, unzipped his jacket and sat beside her. "You don't look right. Are you sick?"
Bette shook her head and stared at the sculpture. She still found it enchanting. The nearly nude mermaid was veiled in translucent marble that draped around her body. How the artist had managed it was beyond Bette's comprehension. The look on the mermaid's face was resigned and sorrowful. It matched Bette's.
Ash, also stared at the sculpture with the eye of someone who appreciated beauty. If not for the depressing story behind the sculpture of a woman betrayed and then commanded to kill her husband, it would be the perfect spot for his proposal. As soon as finals ended, he promised himself that he'd walk the gallery's floors and find something more suitable.
Bette pulled on the fingers of each glove and removed them. As soon as they were off, Ash took her hand, but Bette slipped out of his touch. She turned to him, shrugged. Her eyes filled with tears when she said with a pained frown, "I'm sorry."
"Ash, I know you're going to be upset. I don't want to make this worse than it already is. I think...no, I know, I... I - I don't want to see you any longer."
Ash blinked. "Huh? Cause of your papers? You know I'll help you if I can. What's the problem?" He winked at her. "Writer's block?"
"No, that's not what I mean. I mean, I want to break up."
"What?" he said, then repeated a bit louder. "What?"
"I know. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," she said remorsefully.
"What are you talking about? What's going on?"
A few tears began to fall from her eyes and she quickly wiped them away. She didn't want to be an emotional mess in front of him. She needed to be strong now because she was still uncertain that this was the right decision. It was possible that Ash could still talk her out of it. Bette cleared her throat. "I'm sorry, Ash. I know that you've got our future in mind, that you have a plan..."
"We have a plan. We have a plan together."
"It's just that some things have changed for me. I can't commit to you. I'm not ready to be a wife."
"Okay," Ash pulled back toward the other end of the bench and curled his right leg up between them. He leaned toward her, lightly touched her parka covered shoulder. "Okay. Bette, we don't have to rush into it. You want to put it off a year or two? That's fine. We can wait until you're finished with B-School and I'm out of grad school. We weren't planning on having kids right away. There's no need to panic and make some rash decision because you aren't looking at other options. Let's pull back and look. All right?" He scooted closer to her, but when she shook her head again, he understood that the problem went deeper.
"I want something else."
"What's that mean?" He blinked several times as he nervously rubbed his index and middle fingers over his cheek, his chin, his eye. "I have no idea what that means."
"You know that woman I told you about? Gail Sturges, the Ph.D. student from Columbia?"
"Right," Ash said tightly. "We were going to fix her up with Tony."
"She doesn't want to be fixed up. The thing is Ash, I want her."
"What the hell are you talking about?" He stood and she looked at him with terror in her eyes, but the terror wasn't about him.
"I want to be with her. I fell in love with her."
"You have got to be fucking kidding me. You're joking, right?"
She shook her head. "I'm sorry. I am painfully aware that you had your heart set on us..."
"Have you slept with her?"
"Not yet, but I want to."
"Does she know how you feel about her?"
"I think so."
"And she wants you? Is she gay?"
"Isn't she like fucking middle-aged? Have you lost your mind? This is just meshuggah."
Bette knew a few Yiddish words and this one she had heard dozens of times at the Schwartz's home. "I feel that way. Sometimes I feel stark raving mad."
"Let me tell you, you are. You're fucking crazy." Ash paced in front of the bench. "You brought me out in the cold to tell me that you're breaking up with me and that you're going to go off and fuck some old lesbo."
Bette took a deep breath and stared at the sculpture. Ash was never one to hold back. They were opposites that wayBette usually simmered, letting things settle in, mulling over problems and concerns while Ashton jumped into the fire, sent everything up in blazes and then let the smoke clear on its own. He seemed to always be able to cut to his deepest emotions instantly. The same anger he'd feel hours or days from now was what he presented now. She had witnessed many an explosive scene at Ash's parents' house. With Communist grandparents, leftist parents, and two siblings who were liberal, the discussions that went on between Ash and his family were always heated. Meals were somehow ingested between shouts, pounding fists, and hands waving in the air as they made point after point about the downfall of the countryfrom Mondale losing the election, to Tipper Gore's 'Parents Music Resource Center' that sought censorship of popular music. Bette always sat quietly and listened. The Porter home and Schwartz couldn't have been more different. Bette had never been on the wrong end of one of these outbursts, though. That's not to say that they didn't argue. Ash was emotional about things he loved, his causes, and beliefs. And when he was talking in those terms, he'd badger and yell. They often ended up in bed after one of these rantings, both being stimulated beyond reason. That would not be the result this night.
"What are you doing? Are you doing your own goddamn version of Undine? Well I didn't betray you, but you're sure as hell killing me."
"Not so loud, Ash."
"Fuck you." He continued to pace. "Fuckin' A. This is just incredible. So you haven't slept with her?"
Bette shook her head again.
"Then how do you know it's what you want? You wanna be with a woman? Un-fucking believable, Bette. Totally and completely. God. Two years. Two years we've been together and you want to leave me for something you know nothing about? Hello? You're straight."
"Maybe not as much as I thought," she whispered.
He shook his head condescendingly, his hands fisted on his hips, staring down at her. "And what happens when she doesn't want you? When she just boinks you and then tells you to get lost? Are you gonna come running back here? Let me tell you, that's how they are. They can't get enough of it. We know tons of gay people, Bette. Look at Michael. Look at Kevin or Sterling. They do it with every man they see. They don't want commitments. They want sex..."
"They're not women."
"Well, how the hell would you know what gay women want and do? You've run an analysis of what? One? And from whatever the hell is that she's told you, you've determined that gay women and gay men aren't the same? Please."
"I'm not thinking about whether or not my analysis of this - this situation is accurate. I haven't run a program. It's just what I feel."
"You just up and decide that this is what you feel?"
"I've agonized over this. Do you know how difficult this is for me? Don't you know if I could come up with a a different ending to this - this thing I'm in, that I would? I can't help it. I can't."
"This is your plan? It's not about just sex," he mimicked. "What is it? You want a relationship with her? You want to have...what do they call it?--a commitment fucking ceremony with her? This is your plan? Where are you going to be in twenty years?"
"I don't know. With someone I love. I hope," Bette answered weakly. She wasn't thinking about the future. For once in her life, she was thinking of what she wanted, no, needed now.
"When she's done with you or when you're sick of your experimentwhich ever comes first, don't come crawling back to me. I'm not going to be your damn fall back. You understand that? You know where I stand. I thought we shared the same values. Fidelity is the most important thing to me in a relationship."
"I thought honesty was," Bette said softly.
"Honesty and fidelity! Okay?!" He glared at her.
Bette stood. "I'm being so honest with you. It's tearing me apart cause I love you. I love you. I love you, Ash."
"That kind of love I can do without. Fuck it, Bette and fuck you. Don't call me, don't come by. You're history with me."
Ash grabbed his gloves off the bench and stuffed them in his pocket as he made for the exit, leaving his ex-girlfriend standing next to their favorite sculpture, and staring sadly at the slowly closing door.
Bette's hand covered her mouth and she stared at Alice.
"I keep repeating the same mistakes." Bette sighed.
Bette drove back to Guilford. She was crying all the way over there and in the driveway she spent some time trying to pull herself together. She dabbed her eyes with a facial tissue, reached into her purse and found her lipstick and reapplied it. Still, she didn't feel that she was presentable. Bette pushed the seat back, then engaged the tilt switch, lowering the seat to nearly flat. She closed her eyes and fell asleep.
An hour later, she was startled awake by someone knocking at the fogged over window.
"Whu..." Bette jerked up.
"Bette, how long have you been out here?" Gail said over the wind. "Bette, are you all right? Bette? Open the door," she said frantically.
Instead of opening the door, Bette wiped her jacket sleeve across the window so she could see out.
"You, okay?" Gail's hands rested on her knees and she was bent over, peering into the car. "Do you want to come in?"
Bette nodded and opened the door. Gail helped her out. "How long have you been out here?"
"I don't know. Not long. When I get nervous or scared or sad, I sleep. I fell asleep."
"No need to be scared or sad and we all get nervous from time to time. Let's get you inside and warmed up."
Still a bit out of it, Bette leaned on Gail as they moved toward the house. At the door, Bette blew air from her mouth and crossed the threshold.
"Get out of your jacket and make yourself comfortable. I'm going to make a couple of mugs of tea. Is Earl Grey okay with you or would you rather have coffee?"
"Have you eaten? Do you want a sandwich?"
"No, I'm not hungry. I'm - I'm.... Whew." Bette dropped her jacket onto an empty branch of the coat tree.
"Take off your shoes, too. I just made a fire. Go ahead and get warm."
Gail busied herself in the tiny kitchen that was separated from the living area by a too small counter. "Where'd you go off to today after you left here?"
"I - I had to go talk to Ash. I broke up with him tonight."
"What?" Gail set the teakettle back on the burner. "Why? Why'd you do that?"
"I want to be with you. I can't do both."
"But...You know you didn't need to tell him."
"I did. I needed to be truthful with him."
Gail nodded imperceptibly. She grasped the kettle again and filled the two 'I'd rather be sailing' mugs with the hot water and dropped a tea bag in each one. She started to carry the tray with tea, sweetener, and cream to the small end table by the one oversized chair in the room, but remembered that Bette wanted coffee. She turned around, entered the kitchen and dumped the water. She waited for the Mr. Coffee Machine she had switched on to complete its brewing while she looked at Bette who was stretched out on the floor with her feet practically in the hearth of the fireplace.
"I respect him. We had something together. I didn't want to just do this and then pretend nothing was happening--carrying on with both of you. I can't do that. He is so incredibly angry with me now. I think I've done irreparable damagewe won't ever be able to be friends."
"Bette, what if there turns out to be only friendship between us? It's possible. I was in a long-term relationship and I'm not sure I'm ready to give my heart away again. This last time I hurt badly. If you have deeper feelings for me and I don't feel the same, I don't want you ticked off because I forced you to change your life."
"You haven't dictated my actions. That's all on me. This is for me. If the most I do is sit here and have a cup of coffee with you, nothing changes." Bette's face registered disappointment at that thought, but she continued, "I just knew that if I had these other feelings, I couldn't masquerade as a happy couple with him. And I do have these other feelings."
*God,* Bette thought. *Why couldn't I have been that honest with Tina?* "Back then, I had such high ideals and standards for myself. I didn't cheat on him, but look what I did to the love of my life, Alice. How did I lose who I was? If I had just done the right thing a few months ago with Tina. Damn, damn, damn."
Alice had heard this numerous times from Bette, yet her friend continued to date these women. Alice wasn't sure if Bette wanted to change and she wasn't going to re-hash this with her.
"Bette, I swear to God." Alice was exasperated. "Did you and Gail hook up or not?" Alice and Bette had moved the coffee table off to the side and were now stretched out on the floor. Alice was on her stomach; one hand lay on top of the other and were under her head. She was looking up with blurred eyes.
Bette still leaned against the sofa. She held a veggie fry between her lips like a cigarette which she spoke through. "Not that night. She made dinnerpesto and salad. We talked all nighther coming out stories to her friends and family, a little about her ex. We listened to music." Bette's mind slid back to that night. She chucked and said to Alice, "Have you ever heard that song by Sheena Easton called "Sugar Walls?"
"Yeah, I sort of remember that."
Bette laughed as if she had heard the funniest joke ever. She sat up and laughed and laughed. "Ohhhh, god. That song had come out that year. We were having dinner and Gail had turned the radio on. They were doing the top one hundred songs of 1985 and we were only halfway listening. We're quietly having dinner, right? And this song comes on. God, what a laugh."
"Wasn't it kinda a dirty song?" Alice squinted, trying to remember.
Bette pulled her knees up and dropped her face into her hands that rested on her knees. "Oh, yeah. Totally."
They were lost in private thoughts about how things might be for them. In the background, the radio deejay announced the next song in the list of highlights for that year. Bette and Gail barely noticed, but suddenly, Gail smiled broadly and when Bette cocked her head in question, Gail motioned to the stereo with her fork. Bette began to listen and heard, Sheena Easton carrying on about what she had for her lover:
*...Where I come from there's a place called heaven
That's the place where all the good children go.
The houses are of silver
the streets of gold.
But there's more where you come from - my sugar walls.
My sugar walls
my sugar walls.
Blood races to your private spots
let's me know there's a fire.
You can't fight passion when passion is hot
Temperatures rise inside my sugar walls.
Let me take you somewhere you've never been
I could show you things you've never seen.
I could make you never wanna fall in love again
Come spend the night inside my sugar walls.
it's all right
I feel so alive when I'm with you!
Come and feel my presence
it's reigning tonight.
Heaven on earth inside my sugar walls.
Let me take you somewhere you've never been
I can tell you want me - my sugar walls -
it's impossible to hide.
Your body's on fire
admit it! Come inside.
My sugar walls*
Gail hid her laughter behind a napkin as she watched Bette's face turn from creamy mocha to a light coral. The undergraduate's mouth was agape. Gail tossed the napkin onto the table and straightened her expression as best she could. Tilting her head, she asked in a serious tone, "Is that destiny I hear at the door?"
Bette braced her forehead in the span between her thumb and fingers and lowered her eyes. "That's - uh, bizarre. I've heard that song hundreds of times, but never thought anything of it."
"Always unexpected places for unexpected parallels."
Later, when Gail started to wash dishes, Bette leaned against a stool and watched her. The radio's deejay was still trying to make it through his top songs of the year and music played softly behind them.
Bette stood, her feet carrying her to Gail. She put an arm around her waist, and pulled her to her. Bette's arms encircled the woman and she could feel the weight of Gail's full breasts press into her. It was exciting.
When she finally let go of the powerful embrace she held Gail in, Bette helped with the remaining dishes in the tiny kitchen. It was good that they had both had plenty of garlicky pesto because when Bette turned to hand Gail a dish, she pulled her to her and kissed her. Gail, without looking pushed the plate onto the counter and wrapped her arms around Bette's neck. Bette continually caressed Gail's cheek, still surprised at the smoothness of her skin. There was no scratchy stubble, no roughness, just soft and supple flesh under her fingers. Bette's tongue slipped into Gail's mouth and Gail sucked on the pink organ until Bette nearly collapsed against the farmer's style kitchen sink.
"Gnarly," Bette said breathlessly in an imitation of a surfer dude when they stopped kissing. She grinned wide and toothily.
Bette leaned against the sink and pulled Gail to her again. That last kiss was just enough to make her want more. Gail allowed this inexperienced woman to take the lead and simply let her kiss anyway she liked for as long as she wanted. Gail enjoyed it regardlessbeing the initiator was of no importance. Bette continued on, zealously pushing Gail into her. Gail was now half standing, half leaning between Bette's legs. Her thigh pressed against Bette's center and Bette whipped her head away from Gail's lips. "Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God."
She grabbed the older woman again and kissed her harder, her hand moving from Gail's hair, down her back and landing at her waist, but slowly creeping up.
"Bette?" Gail drew back. "You just broke up with your boyfriend tonight. This isn't right."
"No, you need to digest what's gone down."
"I don't have the slightest hesitation, Gail." She stared at Gail with incredible desire.
Gail stepped away from her and moved to the other side of the counter where she looked at Bette who was breathing heavily and whose eyes had darkened with lust. "It's not cool, Bette. I don't want to be this rebound thing. I'm not sure where we're going with this, but I know I don't want to be a new, fresh rebound."
Bette's eyes cleared and she walked a step to the counter where she grasped Gail's hand. "You're not a re-bound, you're the rea-son. It's different."
"I don't want to be the reason for you changing your life," Gail replied.
"That can't be helped. Maybe I would have gone the way I had been forever if you hadn't come along, but you did. Now, I'm ready to deal with it."
"I'm not...yet. Can I have some time?"
Looking into her eyes, Bette wondered if Gail was yanking her chain. Instantly, Gail saw that. "Just a little time?"
"Gail, I want you to know that I'm actually quite decisive in my life. I tend to research and weigh the alternatives and options. Once I've done that and made a decision, I generally stick with it. I've always lived that way. I don't stray from my plan, but sometimes I change it because I've changed. Case in point."
"A little," Gail repeated, holding her hand up, her finger and thumb half an inch apart.
Later in the evening, the deejay had reached the top five in the ongoing countdown. 'Crazy for You,' by Madonna came on and Bette who was only half reading an art history text turned to Gail and said, "Do you dance?"
"Not well, but I can slow dance, if that's what you're asking."
"I love this song."
Gail walked over to where Bette sat on the sofa and with an outstretched arm, offered her hand to her. Bette, slipped her hand in Gail's and was lifted from the sofa into her arms.
They held each other close, fitting quite well together. Bette's hand slid up Gail's body, a hand lightly touching her ass, then up to her hip, further to her waist, and then the outer edges of her breast. Holding her like this felt so different from holding Ash. Not that the way Ash felt against her was bad, because it wasn't. She was just never moved the way she was now. It hadn't been bad, but it certainly hadn't been right, now that she knew what right felt like.
Bette wrapped her arms around Gail's neck and swayed with Gail who moved them easily around the room. Gail chuckled.
Pushing back, but refusing to let go of the contact, Bette looked at Gail. "What's so funny?"
Gail pulled Bette back against her body and whispered in her ear. "You are. You keep telling me how you need control, but guess who's leading this dance?"
Bette stopped moving. "Uh I I you're leading?"
"Yeah, I am."
"I'm used to it, I guess. I've only danced with men before."
"That's fine, Bette. Don't change." Gail smiled down at her. "There should be one thing that you're willing to let someone else take charge of. It's good for the soul."
"How do women decide?"
"What feels right, I suppose."
"I was thinking, this feels right."
"So it does."
Bette's head tilted up and she kissed Gail passionately, her tongue sliding across Gail's closed lips until she finally allowed entrance. Then her tongue moved across her teeth, then changing course and plunging into her mouth, and swirling around. Bette's leg, which was innocently positioned between Gail's legs, now was grinding against her in a most playfully provocative way. Their tongues performed a heated duet together, back and forth, trying to swallow the other, pressing and pushing against the other's tongue, teeth biting down on lips, and then Bette pulled away, her arms coming down to encircle Gail's waist, her mouth latching onto Gail's neck. She greedily sucked at it until Gail pushed back. "Slow down, Bette. Please. Let's take this a little slower."
Bette took a deep breath. She knew she needed to rein in her feelings. Gail had told her several times to slow down. It was wrong to push her into something she wasn't ready for. Bette worried that Gail was progressing at a snail's pace because of her. If that were the case, Bette would have to take some sort of action. She knew what she wanted and she wanted it soon.
Her overcharged mind finally fizzled out and Bette fell asleep in front of the fire. Many hours later, Gail closed Maugham's 'The Razor's Edge,' slid onto the floor from her chair and snuggled up behind her.
Alice yawned. "This had to be your first time because I know for a fact that you don't waste time gettin' busy."
"Sorry, don't mean to break the flow. Continue."
The next morning, Bette drove to campus with Gail. She dropped her off at Beinecke and headed straight to her dorm. At her door, taking up half the corridor was a box of her belongings that had been at Ash's apartment. She unlocked her dorm room and pushed the box in with her foot. Inside, she rummaged through the box to look for a note from her former boyfriend, but there was none. She sat on the bed and stared down into the box remembering how each item came to be at his place. She wasn't sad, but she conceded defeat. She had tried somethingan intimate relationship with Ashton Schwartz and she had failed at it. He had done nothing wrong, but she had failed. It was something she wasn't used to and she didn't like the way it made her feel. But then she thought of Gail, of their kisses, of how it felt to wake up in her arms and that sunshine that Thomas Jefferson had written about so eloquently lit up the very corners of her room and heart. Bette leaned back on her elbows and smiled, picturing the bright, playful blue and gray eyes of Gail. It was then that she noticed the tiny, rectangular light blinking red on her answering machine. She got up, pushed the button and waited for the whir of the tape to cease and the message to begin.
"Hello, Bette. This is your father. I received a call this evening from Ashton. He's simply wounded and I am very concerned. Call me immediately."
"Bette, this is your father." *Like I wouldn't know your voice, Daddy,* Bette thought. "I demand to know what is going on. I cannot, will not believe the things that I'm hearing from Ashton. What he's told me is illogical, absurd. Call me as soon as you get this message, Bette Porter."
"Bette. It is 5:30 in the morning. I've just completed my exercises and am trying to reach you. What is going on up there in New Haven? I've sent you to Yale to get one of the finest educations that this country has to offer and you're doing--God knows what. Ashton is beside himself. I don't know if you're aware of this, Bette, but your young man was planning to propose marriage to you in just two weeks. What has gotten into your head? I expect to hear from you before Noon today. If not, I will arrive at Yale this evening. Do you understand?"
"Shit," Bette said.
Bette paced her small, single-occupancy dorm room. She spent so little time here that it didn't seem much like her space. A few items she loved were on her deska picture of her father standing between she and Kit (whom she was still calling Katy), a photograph taken about three years ago of Kit with her infant son and Bette, several photographs of Bette and Ash laughing happily. She picked up the small bowl she had made in a pottery class and felt its smoothness. Bette stared at the phone. She had to call her father. She didn't want him in New Haven. She stared at the phone until it rang. It was either Ashton or her Dad. Inhaling deeply through her nose, she grabbed the receiver. "Hello?"
"Bette, this is your father."
"Hi, Daddy," she said cheerfully. "I was just about to call you."
"So you received my messages?"
"Excuse me?" he said, expecting an immediate correction.
"Yes. Yes I did."
"And and what? I you don't have to come up here. There isn't a problem."
"That's certainly not what I've been told."
Bette's hand was shaking as she held the receiver a bit tighter in her hand. "Yeah yes. Ash and I broke up last night. It's not his fault..."
"I am well aware of that, Bette. What is this he's saying about you and some woman?"
Bette saw the life that she knew slipping away. The favoritism she had always garnered and taken for granted with Kit taking on the role of the bad seed was about to vanish. "I'm not sure what Ash told you, but I have met someone and she is a woman and my feelings for her are standing in the way of me continuing a relationship with Ash." She knew it was vague and close to sterile, but there weren't any details to tell.
Bette said nothing. When her father spoke to her in that tone, she knew he did in fact 'see' or he didn't see at all, but wanted no further clarification. She waited for something more from him.
After long moments he said, "You're in your dorm room. That's good. I don't think it's wise nor does it look good, Bette, for a young woman to be out all night."
"When do you plan on arriving in Philadelphia for the holiday break?"
"I'm not sure. I still have papers to finish and at the rate I'm going, I don't think I'll make it by the end of finals' week. I'm going to talk to my professors about incompletes..."
"I know I didn't hear that," Melvin bellowed into the phone.
"I can't get them done. I'm under a lot of stress."
"All of your making, apparently. This woman has not only destroyed your relationship with one of New York's most upstanding young men, but she's the force behind your inability to keep up in school. This is not acceptable. You have promise. I don't expect this fumbling and faltering. You are a Porter. I expect no less than your very best, Bette. Incompletes are not your best. I don't know what you're doing and I certainly don't understand why, but if you expect ongoing support in graduate school, you'd best remember why you're there and continue on the track you've been on. This woman has become an obstacle for you "
"She hasn't. She's not like that. She's very studious herself. Daddy, I have to go. I'm fine. Everything's fine. Ash will be okay, too."
"My concern certainly isn't with Ashton. How he does in school at this point is no longer of interest to me. Your success is. I will not involve myself with what goes on between the two of you. You should know that he's asked me to step in, talk to you. I won't. That's not my place. I will tell you that he was on the phone with me in tears. It was very awkward, Bette. I didn't appreciate the position you placed me in."
"I anticipate your arrival next week."
"I'll try. That's the best I can do." Bette paced with the phone. "It's a really stressful time for me and I'm doing my best to get things taken care of. I can't promise."
Bette quickly hung up the phone not wanting to hear his response and knowing she'd catch hell when she did see him for hanging up on him. She dropped into her desk chair and put her head in her hands. "Oh, Christ, this is so royally fucked up."
Bette arrived at Beinecke freshly showered and unexpectedly happy. She walked into the Collections room where Gail was busily scratching word after word onto notebook paper. Bette's smile blossomed. Her friend looked scholarly beautiful or beautifully scholarly. She couldn't decide which. Bette surprised herself when she walked up behind her and kissed the top of her head. "Hi."
Gail turned and Bette saw the same sense of happiness. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah, fine." Bette pulled a chair out beside her. "Let me ask you? If I cram, I mean, really do some major cramming, do you think I can get three papers written by Friday. It's not like I have a choice. I have to get them done." Bette's anxiety over her class work was pouring from her. She had to finish these papers not just for her, but for her father. More importantly, she wouldn't get into a good Business School if she had incompletes or anything less than As in her senior classes. She had to make this happen.
"Three papers? Sure, you can knock those out in no time. I told you that you should have been buckling down weeks ago and..."
Bette pulled out a notepad. "No lectures, okay? I've had a few of those in the past 24 hours."
"Did you talk to Ash again?"
"No, my father. He left a bunch of messages on my machine, then he called while I was in my room. Ash told him." Bette didn't want to begin that discussion. She removed several paperbacks and one cloth-covered book from her backpack and placed them on the table. "These papers are three-quarters of my grade. I've got to get going on them." All Bette wanted to do was grab this woman and kiss her senseless, but her father had put the fear of failure into her and above all else, that was something Bette responded toshe wouldn't allow herself to fail or accept mediocrity. Success was engrained in her and even this budding passion that had her changing her entire view of life, could not penetrate her basic foundation to achieve and take top honors in all her endeavors. "Gail, I'm going to pretend that you're not here until lunch time. Forgive me."
"Who are you talking to? There's no one here but you." She chortled.
Bette got down to work, writing feverishly for a good twenty minutes before she looked up and pulled Gail's arm to her. She kissed her hand and then scooted her chair so that there was little space between them and kissed her soundly on the mouth. When Bette finally unlocked her lips from Gail's, Gail said, "It seems that somehow my Cone of Silence has malfunctioned."
"Damn spy technology." Bette grinned. She had watched 'Get Smart' in re-runs as a kid with Kit and knew what Gail referenced. She kissed her again, not caring if any of her co-workers walked in on them, but figuring they wouldn't. Few people spent time in that part of the library.
"Back to work, kid."
"It's woman, to you."
"Oh, I know. I definitely know."
Bette flushed at this comment, but shook her head, shaking off the desire she was feeling and made a show of standing and moving her chair back to its place and settling in again. She snarled at Gail. "Could you please leave me alone?"
The day ended quickly. Bette had far more information and direction for her papers than she had believed. She was nearly finished with paper number one when five o'clock rolled around. Gail had left two hours earlier and Bette agreed to return to her house that night with her overnight bag.
Alice had changed positions again. She was leaning against the opposite chair and she threw her head back, stretching her neck and held her hands in front of her in lighthearted subjugation. "Please tell me this is where the sex comes in," she begged.
"You were never very good with foreplay," Bette answered. "You always rushed."
"No sex for you," Bette said sternly.
"Bette, Bette, c'mon. Please."
"Oh, all right."
That night, Bette was as relaxed as she could be for someone whose life had been turned upside down in just a day. She was positive her father wouldn't show up in New Haven. Ash had no intention of trying to reach her because he had said his peace and no matter how much he wanted her, he would not reach out at this point. She either had to go pleading for forgiveness and accept his verbal flogging or get on with life. She was joyfully choosing to get on with it. In the recesses of her brain, she couldn't quite understand why it had been so easy to let go of him, but she didn't want to think about it.
Bette was taken aback that this avowed lesbian didn't make any overtures toward her. If Bette kissed Gail, Gail was responsive, but the older woman had shown not a hint of her own assertion. Something about that pleased Bette to no end.
Bette followed Gail into the kitchen. "Oh, are you going to help me?"
"Help you what?"
Bette looked around the kitchen as if she were expecting mice to come flying out of cupboards and baseboards. "Uh..."
"You don't know how to cook, do you?"
Grinning stupidly, Bette answered that she didn't.
"Then we won't really cook tonight. Tonight..." Gail proclaimed, "We have salad!"
"I like salad."
"Okay, so you'll do the slicing and dicing." She reached into the refrigerator to pull out some cheeses and Italian cold cuts along with vegetables.
Bette sliced two types of cheese, julienned a red pepper and an organically grown carrot, diced two tomatoes, and stacked prosciutto and salami to make thin strips. Gail had boiled a couple of eggs and just as she was cracking them open, she explained, "You'll need to know this in life. If there's one thing that you need to carry with you, it's how to boil a perfect creamy egg. Boil the water, set the timer for 13 minutes exactly, then put the eggs in and boil. The second that timer goes off, get them out." As she peeled the eggs, Bette glanced around her shoulder.
"The outside looks good."
Gail sliced through one and held it up. "And the inside?"
"Creamy. I can't wait to taste the inside."
"Are you flirting with me?"
"I think I am," Bette admitted and pulled her close, running her hand up her arm, and kissing her with enthusiasm.
"You're as randy as a twenty-one year old guy."
"And you'd know that how? Anyway, all twenty-one year olds are randy."
Gail mixed all the ingredients in with the butter lettuce in the large bowl. "Really, you never acted that way when you talked about Ash."
Bette shrugged, but had no comment. She had been thinking about that this evening. Bette had thought of herself as pragmatic in love. She dated men who shared her interests and who were intelligent. She had been fortunate that they had been handsome, too. But good looks weren't important. She had to be able to communicate with them, talk to them, argue and laugh. Most men hadn't done that for her, but a few had. Ash certainly had, but with all of them, the sex At best she could say that she liked it. Tonight, she was aroused in a way she couldn't measure. She had been all day next to Gail. She hoped that more might happen tonight.
The women ate their salads and after dishes were washed, Gail picked up 'The Razor's Edge' again and settled in her chair. Bette sat on the floor and worked on her paper. Several times, Gail glanced over at her and watched as Bette fidgeted. She had to keep telling herself that Bette needed control. Even if she were unsure of how to proceed, she would have to take the initiative to feel free enough to explore.
"I I think I'm going to get ready for bed."
Bette walked over to her overnight bag that was beside the chair and bent to pick it up. Gail glanced up at her and once more as always, Bette was enthralled by those two eyes of different colors. "Ah," she sighed. Her hands let go of the handle of her bag and she knelt beside the chair and pulled Gail toward her with a hand on her shoulder, guiding her to her hungry mouth. They kissed, but Bette wanted more than that. She was emboldened and wrapped her long fingers around Gail's wrist and pushed Gail's arm underneath her Polo shirt. Beneath the shirt, Bette's hand let go of Gail's wrist and grabbed her bra in the center, pulling it up and over her breasts. Gail's hand closed over Bette's breast and Bette groaned. Although, Gail couldn't see what she was doing, she could feel the reaction it had on Bette. Her nipple was getting harder and harder as Gail caressed it. Gail turned in her seat and once she had, she slipped her other hand under the shirt. Bette's chest rose into her hands, her breasts, young and firm. Gail gathered those full breasts and squeezed them hard and Bette moaned as she moved forward to claim her mouth again.
Every pinch of her nipple, every full circle that Gail's finger made around Bette's areola sent Bette soaring. Her nipples ached and that ache shot straight to the core between her legs. She heard and felt Gail's moan in her mouth and the thought that this was a woman sitting before her, a woman touching her in such an intimate way, a lesbian making those sounds in response to her body kept Bette climbing higher. Bette reached down, grabbed the bottom of her Polo shirt and yanked it over her head. Once she threw it onto the floor next to her, her eyes landed on Gail. The blue eye and gray eye were now the same color indigo. Dark, lustful, heated eyes stared at her, then moved down to stare at the bra resting disorderly, just below Bette's neck. Gail reached behind her and slipped the hooks from their catch, pulling the bra away from its owner.
"God, your breasts are gorgeous." Gail stared down at them and licked her lips. Bette pulled her from the chair onto the floor. They were a few feet from the softer rug in from the fireplace, but the flesh wasn't willing to take those few steps. The two women fell onto the hardwood floor with Gail landing on top of Bette. As they kissed, Bette quickly unbuttoned Gail's pink button down shirt, once open, she left it on her, the soft fabric of the front panels dancing lightly against Bette's skin. Her hands sneaked between them and for the first time in her life she held another woman's breasts in her hands. "Uuuh." Bette's head was virtually spinning; she was so light-headed as all blood rushed to one spot and one spot only. Gail's head bent as her body moved down Bette's. Her eyes closed as her hand wrapped around the outside of Bette's breast and her mouth lowered to take it into her mouth. "Oh, shit fuck," Bette cried as her body began to move under Gail's. Bette's hands flew into Gail's hair, her fingers grasping and slipping through the strands, at once holding her in place and encouraging her to continue. Bette never knew all of the ways a woman's breasts could be loved. Ash and her high school and college boyfriends had always sort of played with her nipples like they were tuning the car radio. It felt okay until it became annoying. Gail on the other hand used a technique that was knowing and electrifying. While her mouth was focused on one breast, her hand caressed the other. Her hand pulled and squeezed, rubbed, and pinched. Her mouth soothed with long, easy tongue swirls and gentle sucking, then became intentionally flame-inducing when she tenderly bit down, sucking more of her breast into her mouth, practically swallowing it. Bette groaned loudly and discovered that the most she could do was to tilt her head back and grin at the overpowering sensations. Her hands ran up Gail's back and torso, loving the feel of the inward curve of waist and the womanly shape of hips. She could feel Gail's rigid nipples and the weight of her large breasts bump and slide across her abdomen and she wanted them in her mouth. Bette pulled her up and Gail gazed at her before lowering her breasts to Bette's welcoming lips. She gasped. She hadn't expected that this act would seem so right to her. Her lips closed around the hard pink point while her hands played with both breasts. What she was doing must have felt very good to Gail, too because without realizing it, she was pressing down, her thigh rubbing against Bette's center, the seam of Bette's jeans providing more pressure against her throbbing clitoris. Bette, unceremoniously and eagerly, pushed Gail off of her. She sat up and unbuttoned her 501s, pulling them down quickly, trying to get them off in spite of her Topsider boat shoes that prevented easy removal. Gail watched her with amusement, but Bette looked at her seriously and said, "Take your clothes off. Take 'em off."
Standing, Gail kicked her little, black Chinese Mary Jane single strap shoes off and slid her khakis and panties down her legs. While Bette struggled with her jeans and underwear, she lustfully scrutinized Gail out of the corner of her eye. Her heart pounded and thumped as she saw more and more long creamy leg revealed to her. She was breathing hard and furious when she finally got the jeans off with the shoes still stuck in the legs of them. Gail flung the opened shirt off her body and Bette's pounding heart caught in her throat when she saw the full picture. Gail's hair was mostly auburn at her triangle with little more than a hint of blonde. Bette's mouth went dry a moment before she started to salivate. Gail dropped to the floor. "Let's move over."
Bette crab-crawled backward, never taking her eyes off of the woman who followed behind her on her knees. Once they were on the soft, plush rug, Bette reached out to Gail and pulled her down beside her. Gail rested her head in her hand as she lay stretched out next to Bette. Bette gulped. Everything about this was shocking. She really couldn't believe this was where she was, what she was doing, but quitting wasn't something she was going to do. Bette's eyes never left Gail's when shaking hands grabbed Gail's wrist, moving her hand between her legs. Bette knew she was ready, beyond ready. She could feel the wetness on her thighs, dripping from her, tickling her folds. Never had she needed a touch more. She had to have it and when Gail's eyes closed in response to what she felt and when she sighed so very deeply, Bette thought she'd collapse with that need.
"Oh, you're so...so wet. Are you ready for this?"
"God, yes. Please." Bette actually didn't know what she was ready for or what she was begging for, other than a relief for this ache that reached well beyond her body; the ache was in her very soul. She had no idea what Gail would dofinger her as Ash had done many times; push her fingers into her or use something else.
She soon found out. Gail's fingers slid into her folds, her thumb sliding up and down the soft, slick space between her outer and inner lips. Bette's heart raced, pumped, screamed out so that her brain heard. Gail's thumb caressed the sensitized, swelling labia. "Ahhh. Oh, yes." Bette moaned. Reaching up, she squeezed Gail's breast nonchalantly. It was hard to concentrate on anything other than what was happening between her legs.
Gail's hand moved away from Bette, but before the younger woman could complain, Gail was on top of her, kissing her, then lifting slightly so their breasts connected, nipples rubbed against each other's, and then she dropped so that one strong thigh slipped between Bette's trembling legs. Gail slowly began to rock up and forward against Bette and when Bette came to understand the rhythm she joined in, her own thigh pressing into Gail's center, instantly getting coated with Gail's juice. Bette bit her bottom lip, holding back the cry in her chest. They rocked together and stared into each other's eyes. Gail looked down between them and whispered, "Look what we're doing. This feels so good. I love the way you move with me. You're making me feel so good. You're doing it just right."
Gail slowed her rocking and suddenly Bette tensed. Only for a moment or two, Bette felt that she was losing control and it made her uneasy. She swallowed, tried to calm and distance herself from this rising passion. Gail detected that anxiety and lifted her body, leaning back to get a good view of Bette's deep brown eyes. "Bette? Bette?" She waited until Bette was looking at her and giving her full attention. "Bette, remember when we talked about trust? Trust me. Trust that I want you to experience wonderful things tonight and will try my best to make that happen. Trust that I won't let you go. I'll take care of you, okay?"
Bette nodded as Gail moved her fingers back to Bette's hot center. Slowly, her body started moving lower. Bette stared down at the journey, watching as Gail's upper body moved between wide opened legs. She lightly kissed Bette's inner thighs and said, almost to herself, "So soft. So warm," then, "If I do anything you don't like or don't want, just tap me," she said with a smile, just as she lifted Bette's hips and buried her face in Bette's delectably fragrant womanhood.
"Oh, fuck!" Bette's fingers dug into the pile of thick carpeting as Gail's tongue started at her hole and with the smallest, tightest circular motions moved up her vulva, then back down. She did this numerous timesswirling that hard tongue over Bette's thin petals. This was such a new feeling. Bette had never expected it would feel this glorious. Her abdomen jerked and contracted as she breathed deeply and moaned loudly. "Oh, yeah. Gail, oh, baby, right there," she said when Gail's nose brushed against Bette's clit. Bette listened to the slurping and smacking sounds that Gail was making and those sounds caused a head rush.
"Is this good?" her question came out muffled
"Yeah, yeah, yes."
Gail fingered her while she spoke, "You taste great. Everything about this is so good, Bette. Everything." She dove back in.
"Oh," Bette's eyes closed and she tried desperately to re-open them, to watch what this woman was doing to her, but she couldn't. One long leg rested casually over Gail's shoulder and down her back. She opened wider and Gail spread Bette's labia, holding her open. "Trust me," Gail whispered.
Gail applied pressure with her hands as she applied a different pressure with her mouth.
Bette smiled and panted as Gail kept lapping away. Bette's hips jerked and moved with her. She was letting go in a way she never had before.
She whispered, "Trust me. Trust me."
Bette listened and she did.
"Your clit's really hard. Want me to suck it, don't you?"
"Oh, please." Bette groaned. "Please, do it."
"Ooh," was the last thing she said before Bette felt the spark that shot through her entire body. Bette rose from the rug and thrust herself forward. Her head was thrown back and when she fell back onto the floor, her head whipped from side to side.
"Could stay here all night, love you all night long, love," Gail's muted voice carried to Bette's ears.
"Oh, don't stop. That feels so good. Feels so... God!" Her voice was husky and sounded like a woman getting exactly what she wanted.
As she ate her, Gail reached up and massaged Bette's breast, pulling and squeezing, tweaking and rolling the nipple between her fingers. Bette's nipple was ripebig, dark, bursting. Gail's palm opened and she directed all of her hand's focus on the nipple, moving ever so lightly against it in circles. Between that and the amazing clit-sucking, Bette was seconds away from experiencing her first orgasm with anyone, with a woman.
"All night. Let me stay here and love you like this." Bette didn't know if the words or the act were driving her. It was so much all at once. Every part of her body demanded to be part of her release and pleaded with her. Bette tried to pull back and maintain control, but then, the thought that this woman wanted to be there, pleasing her for as long as she wanted and needed is what propelled her over. Her abdomen twitched while her clit throbbed as it was being alternately sucked deeply into Gail's warm mouth, then licked gently by her skilled tongue. "God, God!" Bette came with a cry, but before Gail could move her mouth, rise to kiss her new lover, do anything, Bette had grabbed her wrist with an urgency that was born out of a hunger that possessed her. She pressed Gail's hand into her still flowing center, pushing slender digits inside.
She guided that hand, making Gail pump into her. Bette could no longer hold on. Another orgasm was tearing through her the moment that Gail rubbed a certain spot inside of her. Her head fell back onto her shoulders, her eyes rolled back into her head; Bette groaned as her mouth fell open and she lost herself in this newfound desire. She'd never felt anything like it. "Oh. Oh. Oh, please. I I Oh." She hissed in air, gasped out sigh after sigh. Her entire body moved from side to side, holding Gail's hand captive. Inside she felt waves of pleasure move on top of each other, building, reaching a crescendo, falling back and then rolling over her again and again while her body rocked left and right, bouncing on the throw rug in front of the fire.
"That's it, Bette. This is how women love each other. This is how it feels, love." Gail continued to lightly push inside her, not searching out another orgasm, but savoring the feel of the young Bette Porter surrounding her fingers, trembling and twitching. Gail probably meant to merely comfort, but Bette was as stimulated as she'd ever been. She gently rocked her hips, relaxing into Gail's motion, but that rocking and those long fingers the color of fine porcelain that never stilled had her climbing again. Her climax jolted her into a sitting position and in that same swift motion, she pulled Gail up to straddle her. Gail's legs were open and she knelt over Bette, her knees rested beside Bette's thighs. Bette's hand slithered between them and for the very first time, but certainly not the last, Bette experienced what it was like to touch and give pleasure to a woman. It was a heady moment for her. As her fingers slipped and slid in Gail's wetness, Bette's heart raced along. She was amazed that all of this desire and need mixed and blended, jumped and danced between them. Bette caressed Gail in two different waysthe same long, teasing strokes Gail had used on her and the quicker, more forceful manipulation she used on herself when alone. Gail liked both touches and moaned into Bette's ear while hugging Bette close. "Oh, that's how I like it. Just like that. Do you like how wet I am for you?"
"Uh-huh," Bette could barely answer as she had leaned back to use her mouth on Gail's breasts. "Uh-huh."
"I'm so wet right now, but everyday at the library I've been like this. Wanting you so much."
"That time we went to see Jagged Edge I was wet for you, Bette. Sitting at dinner that night, when we have lunch togetherI'm like this."
Bette's eyes closed at the very image of it and the knowledge of what she was doing. Bette Porter, a woman who hadn't considered sex with another woman before she met this one was having the experience of her life. It was her fingers sliding and slipping over silky wetness, pushing against another woman's hard clitoris, teasing another woman's entrance. It was unreal, surreal, unbelievable, and just perfect. Simply perfect.
"My clit ached for your fingers."
Bette cried out, "It's big." She captured Gail's clitoris between her finger and thumb and rubbed it gently, giving it her best fingerjob.
"Hard for you. For you, Bette. I've wanted you." Gail rocked against Bette's hand. "Oh, God. I knew...." She groaned loudly unable to continue her thought.
Bette's hips rocked left and right, dancing against Gail's body while her hand kept dancing all around her swollen lips, near her hole, and against her clit.
"I've wanted you so much."
"Wanted you, too."
"That's it. Aaaaah. Oh, yeah."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Whatever you want? I'll take whatever you give me."
Bette plunged two fingers inside of Gail. "Okay?"
"Perfect." She moaned and whispered into Bette's ear, "Fuck me." Gail's rocking increased until she was virtually bouncing up and down on Bette's fingers. "How's it feel?" She rasped out between groans.
"You're so tight. This feels incredible."
They moved together and apart repeatedly with Gail talking to her the whole time. Gail was so hot inside and so soft. Bette's fingers caressed and moved against those heated walls and Bette's mind flitted to that song by Sheena Easton. It was heaven, just as Sheena had described it.
Gail's fair complexion was now a hot pink. Perspiration dotted her chest. Her back was damp and her spiked bangs lay flat against her forehead, sticking to her skin. She pulled back to look at Bette, staring into her eyes before bending to offer her mouth and lips to her. Their kiss was raw and needy and they bruised each other with their passion. Gail jerked from their contact and said breathlessly, "Ask me."
Somehow Bette understood the question. "Harder?"
"Yes, yes, yes. Harder. Harder."
Bette pushed in deeper, then moved forward. Something told her to curl her fingers and massage the spongy patch she discovered. When she did, Gail's fluid poured down Bette's fingers and Gail grasped Bette tightly, holding on as her rocking increased. Briefly Bette thought, *so this is sex; this is lovemaking.*
Not long after, Gail's climax shook their bodies and it was all Bette could do to hang on. Slowly, Gail pushed herself off of Bette's legs and collapsed beside her. "Jesus, Joseph, and Mary."
Alice stared at Bette dumbfounded.
"You never tell me anything and then you hit me with all of this." Alice rolled over onto her back and stared at the ceiling. "Jeez, I don't know anyone who had a teacher. Bette, she was your friggin' lesbian mentor. Nobody gets that lucky."
"I know. Funny, huh?" Bette yawned and stood up. She was going to get sober if it meant staying up all night and drinking coffee. She wasn't going to fall asleep drunk and wake up with a hangover. "I'm making some coffee. Want some?"
Alice stretched. "No, thanks. So, that was your first time? No wonder you're queer."
"She was awesome."
"Damn. Me and the bass player were just totally winging it the whole time. I think she even put her fingers in the wrong hole a couple of times."
"Spare me, that, Al." Bette started the coffeemaker.
"Yeah, but Bette. You've spent the last few hours talking about eating pussy. I mean, she did you, but when did you gain your unbelievable proficiency?"
Bette laughed while pulling a mug from the cupboard. Alice had been a fun lover, but that's all she had been. Both women knew that their physical relationship wouldn't last because outside of the bedroom, they were just better friends than lovers. Al was far too ditzy for Bette and Alice thought Bette needed to bring her intensity level down a few notches. "I didn't tell you?" Bette paused to look at Alice before adding, "About two minutes later."
Bette bent over her and kissed her. This kiss was different from the last and all of those previously. This was a kiss of gratitude. Bette kissed her with tenderness and sweetness, so happy, so utterly relieved that she was finally free. Gail smiled up at her and laughed. "Bette, you do know I have a bedroom, right?"
"No, I didn't. You do? I thought this was a studio."
"Somehow I got that feeling."
"We could take this upstairs to the loftit's a nice bed, but you can't really sit up in it without bumping the ceiling.
"Well, maybe not," Bette said after consideration.
Gail took Bette's hand. "I think we can be in comfort and still enjoy each other." The way Gail said 'enjoy' had Bette licking her lips at the possibilities.
Gail stood and pulled Bette up with her. "Right over there, see that ladder against the wall?"
"What'd you think?"
The two naked women moved across the room and at the ladder, Gail said, "After you." Bette started up the ladder and by the time she reached the fifth rung, Gail was running a hand up and down her ass as she climbed with the other. "Your ass is so firm and round and just " She grunted. "Tight. God, your butt is a rock."
Her warm hands felt tremendous to Bette. For a moment, she wondered if she'd make it all the way up. Right now, she wanted to turn around and throw them both to the floor and pick up where they left off.
Bette moaned, but steeled herself and continued the short climb.
The bedroom was just big enough for the bed and a very tiny nightstand. Bette could see sweater boxes under the bed and guessed that was where Gail kept her clothing. She couldn't stand erect in the space. "It's a tight squeeze up here."
"Don't worry, you don't need to stand." She pushed her onto the bed and leapt on top of her. They rolled around in bed and laughed until Bette slipped onto the floor."
"Are you okay?" Gail asked as she tried to sit up. Bette knelt beside the bed and used the palm of her hand to push Gail into the fluffy sheets. Confident that Gail would want this, Bette took complete control and pulled Gail's long legs over the edge of the bed, so that they draped down the wooden sideboard, her feet planted on the floor. Bette grabbed her hips and pulled her closer.
Bette opened her up and Gail helped by scooting closer to the edge and spreading her legs more. Gail's clit was still engorged and the pink tip of it was visible between her puffy labia. Bette used her fingers to simply open her and peek at what was somewhat hidden. Bette slid her fingers in the wetness that was now sticky. She stared at Gail's vulva, examining it in a way she had never looked at her own with a mirror. Her hand skimmed down the swollen lips, inside to caress the many petaled folds. She looked closely and saw Gail's hole contract and open, a new flow creeping out of her. "You smell so good."
Gail reclined on her elbows, watching Bette take the lead. She was ready for Bette to do something.
Bette bent her head and did what felt perfectly right. She was unrestrained for the first time in her life, nothing felt clinical or calculated. Her tongue narrowed and worked her way from bottom to top, teasing Gail so easily. Gail reached down and opened herself up and held herself taut. Bette's tongue swirled around the twitching hole, but she greatly wanted to purse her lips and wrap them around the almost purple clit. So she did. She sucked the hard nub into her mouth, while her chin bumped against her folds. Bette transitioned from sucking to licking as her tongue now circled Gail's clitoris and she knew that she was doing it right. Gail moaned and squeezed Bette's shoulder, fisted her hand in Bette's hair, and then moved that hand to rub up and down Bette's forearm. "Oh, you're good at that. So good," she said hoarsely and then moaned loudly.
Bette's nose moved back and forth over Gail's clit while her tongue licked her labia and lapped at the liquid oozing from her hole. Bette never realized what a necessary tool her nose was in the act of lovemaking. Now, Gail was crying out with every flick of Bette's long slender nose against her swollen core. "Oh, yes. Yes."
Bette's face was truly buried between Gail's legs. Nothing else was going on in the world that wasn't at that spot. Everything else was insignificant. The only thing that mattered to her was that her new lover found as much satisfaction in this act as Bette found performing it. Bette loved the taste and how Gail reacted. The whole time she was between her legs, Bette also moaned, humming against Gail's overheated sex, managing a vibrating touch that sent the older woman sailing, floating, and then exploding. "Ah, fuck. Yes. I'm coming." Bette thought she'd cry. She felt like she had discovered something that the world needed or had solved the answer to all questions. She was responsible for a woman's orgasm. It was her mouth, tongue, technique that had given her such pleasure. She felt honored and excited. A man's climax was easy and as far as Bette was concerned took no special skill, but Gail had proven to her that a woman could experience such a high from both the receiving end and giving end. Bette ran her hands up Gail's thighs, rubbed her calves, kissed her inner thighs.
"You're right, Gail, this is an awesome piece of real estate."
"Location, location, location, love." Gail panted as she tried to regain all the composure that had been pulled from her body. She tried to drag Bette back into the bed, but she was too weak, so she merely patted the space next to her and said, "Get up here."
Bette crawled in next to her and they slid over to lie comfortably in bed. Gail turned to her and kissed her face. She pulled back and chuckled. "You should see how you look right now. You're all slick with me." She lightly touched Bette's long lashes. "You know, your eyelashes are even wet."
"It's my new mascara."
"Do you think there's a market for it? Will it sell?" She laughed.
"It sold me," Bette answered with all sincerity.
"I refuse to get turned on. I refuse to get turned on. I refuse to get turned on. I think I'll have some coffee, after all," Alice said. Alice was seated at the kitchen table, her head propped in her hand while Bette put another pod in the coffee maker.
"That's what I meant, some things are hotter."
"You got that right. So, OT., when did you finally make it back into the real world of school and papers?"
Bette walked over to the table and took a seat and continued with her memory of those special first nights.
"We made love the rest of the night and the next morning. The following afternoon, she proved that she was thirteen years older because she actually made me study. I have never, ever acted like such a baby. I was begging to get back in bed with her. It was like she opened this dam." Bette laughed. "I was working on my paper and kept looking at her, sort of pointing with my eyes up to the loft and she'd shake her head. We were showered and dressed, but I wanted to get out of my clothes and start again. She looked at me, grabbed one of her breasts, you know, a big handful of it and said, I kid you not, 'No treats for girls who don't study.' Al, I swear. I groaned." Bette rolled her eyes. "But it was great incentive to finish my work."
"What happened to Ash? Did you guys ever re-connect?"
"We did. As horrible as it sounds, all of my thoughts were of one person. I felt so liberated. I mean, I knew what I had done to Ash, but I wouldn't think about it. I was in complete denial about him and us. I walked around with this shit-eating grin "
"Oh, Bette. Analingus. She was quite the teacher, wasn't she?"
"The story's finished Alice. You disgusting "
"Oh, please. Remember, I know you. What happened?"
Bette had completed her final papers with days to spare, but the papers still needed to be typed. Marie Claire did excellent work, but she usually had seven to ten days from start to finish. Bette needed to get all of her papers in by the end of the week. She called Marie Claire and negotiated double what she normally paid for the typing of papers with the typist's promise to complete them on time.
After dropping Gail off on campus, Bette headed over to Marie Claire's apartment. She raced up the stairs, smiling broadly, thinking about being with Gail again within the hour. It had been all that she could do to pull herself out of Gail's bed that morning and she was running hours behind. She had tried to leave her twice, but kept turning around for one more kiss. Gail's last touches still burned on her body and she craved more. As soon as she gave Marie Claire the papers, she was going to pick Gail up from campus. After all, they had cause to celebrateBette had completed her assignments.
When she reached Marie Claire's apartment door, she knocked and waited.
"It's open," Marie Claire called from inside.
Just as Bette turned the knob, the door opened and there was Ash. Her smile froze, then dissolved as he stared at her with a rage so apparent on his face.
"Hi," she said softly.
"I hate you," he whispered with a bitter venom as he pushed past her.
"Al, I knew I had fucked up with him, but to think that he hated me." She shook her head. "I was beyond crushed. It tore me up. I knew he was mad, but for him to say that "
"What did you expect?"
"Just anger. Not hatred." Bette paused, stared into her coffee cup, then looked up. "Do you think Tee hates me?"
"I couldn't answer that."
"It would kill me if she did. I'd rather die than have her hate me. Why couldn't I have just told Tina what was going on with me? Why didn't I do the right thing like I did with Ash?"
"Right thing? You dumped him when he was about to propose."
"But I didn't cheat. I wasn't unfaithful. I honored our relationship that way. I did. I don't want Tina to hate me."
"It's a thin line, Bette."
Bette shook her head. "I am such a fuck up. Such a total and complete fuck up. I guess I could live with Ash hating me. I did live with it. But Tina hating me I couldn't live with that. I couldn't go on knowing that the only emotion she had left for me was hatred."
Alice nodded. What could she say?
Bette's elbow was on the table and she leaned her mouth against her fist, holding it there in thought. "I've got to start doing something right in my life," she said mostly to herself.
"So you didn't see him on campus again?"
"Somehow we managed to travel different paths that last semester. I was so into Gail and spending time with her that I was hardly on campus. I had two independent studies and an internship at the top gallery in Hartford. I wasn't around much. I moved in with Gail and stayed there until I graduated. Funny cause Ash had asked me to move into his apartment many times and I said no. I wanted my space. With Gail, I couldn't stand being away from her. I was so in love with her. I had absolutely no doubt in my mind about that. Young love. I had my choice of schools. I was accepted to each one I had applied and none of them held an interest for Gail. She didn't want to go to Boston or London. Los Angeles was out of the question for her. And she kept telling me it was my decision. When I did choose, she wished me luck with all of my future plans. It was kinda the 'I'm moving to Hot Springs,' thing. We were breaking up, but it seemed like we weren't. The last time we were together was graduation weekend. Gail met Dad who was actually pleasant to her. The fact that I graduated *summa cum laude* I'm sure had something to do with it. If I hadn't, he probably would have found a way to sue her for leading me astray. There was this one moment during the ceremony, though. I had just received my degree with a separate certificate for my honors status. Gail was thrilled and had to share the moment with me. I was just elated, it felt like I was literally floating across the stage. She met me at the steps and when I was down, she threw her arms around me and we laughed and hugged. I turned and saw Daddy and he was glaring at me with such abhorrence. I pulled away from her and then felt guilty that I did, but you know, my father was there Gail noticed all of it and I felt bad. She didn't say anything, but it showed on her face. Anyway, that weekend, I packed up my things and my father had the movers take my stuff back to Philly. I spent a couple of nights with Gail and it was kind of, I don't know, bittersweet. It was ending and we were both being grown up about it. We made love and it wasn't with the frenzy we'd done it with for the past six months. It was gentle and kind and just so loving, ya know? It was a great way to end, I suppose. We went on with our lives separately. Daddy was so sick of me moping around that he sent me to Europe that summer. By late July, I had met an art student named Monica de Santorio and we had a hot affair."
"So you never went back to men? You know, just to make sure?"
"Nope, never did."
"Did you ever see Ash again before tonight?"
"Yeah, about fifteen years ago. Coming out of another door."
Bette had been going through her finances one more time, wondering if she could swing the purchase of this beautiful painting she had seen at this tiny, tiny gallery in Venice. She figured that if she took cash advances on three of her credit cards and dipped into her savings, she could make the purchase. It was expensive, but she was convinced it was worth it. Just as she was punching in numbers on her pocket calculator, the phone rang.
When she answered, she heard stunning news. Her college friend, Michael was on the other end and he had terrible news for her. Their close friend, Sterling was on his death bed. This was the first time someone she had been close to had been diagnosed with HIV, then went on to have full blown AIDS. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the last time. Michael explained that Sterling wanted to say goodbye to all of his friends, but that he'd understand if she couldn't or wouldn't come. Bette promised to be in New York City the next morning. That trip was much more important than the painting. Making the trip to see him one last time had no price in her mind.
Sterling had been a good friend to both Bette and Ash. He was an exceptionally talented artist, able to work in all media with flair and sophistication. Bette had two treasures that Sterling had createdan oil on canvas self-portrait that was both judgmental and mischievously teasing and a charcoal drawing of a little boy looking up at a mounted policeman and his horse. She had carried both pieces of art with her from city to city and state to state.
The following afternoon, she arrived at the hospital and had just suited up in a yellow, hospital gown, matching, elastic hat that resembled a shower cap, and white, paper slippers. She lifted the mask over her face, covering her mouth and moved to the door where Sterling lay on the other side. Just as she was about to push the door open, it opened and Ashton Schwartz, dressed in the same outfit came walking out. His mask was still covering his mouth, but his eyes were visible and it was obvious that he had been crying. His eyes were puffy and red, his mask was damp at the nostrils area. She was shocked to see him and to see him in such a state.
He pulled the mask down and looked at her. "Bette," he said so quietly.
"Are you going in?"
She pulled her mask down again, too. It was as if no time had passed between them. They were not hugging and telling each other how good it was to see the other. "Yeah."
"I I think I should go in with you. It's bad, Bette. Really bad. Sterling doesn't even look like himself. It is so sad." Ash's shoulders started to shake and Bette moved to embrace him, but he stepped away. "I'll go in with you."
"No, you don't have to."
"I should. He's not the same guy, Bette. Not at all. God, this thing this AIDs Shit."
He pulled the mask back up to cover his mouth and nose and she did the same and they entered the room together.
"Sterling died two days later. He didn't even know us when we were there, but at least we got to say goodbye," Bette told Alice.
"Did you and Ash talk?"
"No. He sat with me in the hospital room, then as it was winding down, he said he had to rush off to the train station, that he couldn't miss his connection. I know that if he had wanted to talk with me, he would have rearranged his schedule. Maybe then it was still too fresh."
"Well, like you said, it's been nearly twenty and there's still something there."
Bette stared off, looking out the back window onto the pool area.
"What are you thinking?" Alice asked.
Bette sighed. "Hmm. That I need to really talk to him. We never had real closure. I just walked away and he let me. We never talked about what I was feeling and why and we never grieved together."
"So you're going on your date tomorrow, then?"
"Yeah, but before that, I have something else to do."
"Talk to Tina. I love her. If we're not going to somehow work this out; if she wants nothing to do with me, then I want to give us that closure, too. I don't wanna be sixty years old and still have this unresolved between us. I want us back together. I want her in my life, in my bed. And if we can't have that...If we can't have that " Bette's eyes drifted back outdoors.
Music: "Sugar Walls," by Sheena Easton, "Careless Whisper," by Wham, and "Crazy for You," by Madonna
Footage from "Out of Africa," "The Color Purple," and "Jagged Edge" used without permission from Universal Pictures, Warner Brothers, and Columbia Tri-Star respectively.
Poster of Prince furnished by Warner Brothers Music
Poster of Ah-Ha furnished by Wea International Music
Clothing and shoes furnished by Nordstrom's (West Side Pavilion Los Angeles, CA), LL Bean, Lands End, and Macy's (1985New Haven, CT)
Special thanks to UCLA's School of Art and Architecture for use of the sculpture garden and lecture hall
Special thanks to Willoughby's Coffee House and Mamoun's Falafel Restaurant for use of their establishments
Special thanks to the staff at Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Yale Art Gallery for use of their spaces.
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