DISCLAIMER: In this story, there are scenes, bits of scenes, and dialogue taken from Season 2 and 3 of The L Word that both move the story along and explain events that unfolded. At the end of each chapter, I will identify what parts are directly from the television version.
SPOILERS: Spoilers for The L Word Seasons 2 and 3.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Laid Up: Another Season 3
By Portia Richardson


Chapter Eleven

Five weeks and two days after Angelica's birth

Tina Kennard's communication skills were progressing slowly, but steadily. The steps she had made were textbook in every way. For the first couple of days after coming out of the coma, Tina had merely blinked her eyes to communicate. Occasionally, she would say a particular syllable to identify people and objects. 'Beh' was Bette, 'Aaang' was Angelica, 'baht' meant baby bottle, 'Sheh-eh nee' was Tina's way of saying Stephanie. She seemed to know Kit and Shane and could say their names fairly well. She recognized Helena, but hadn't attempted to call her by name and Tina had clearly said 'Caw' for Carmen. For some inexplicable reason, whenever Dana came to visit, Tina would cry, shake her head repeatedly, and moan the word 'no.'

Bette faithfully visited with Tina in the morning and then returned early in the evening to chat about her day, Tina's improvement, and all of the things Angelica had done or discovered.

An hour or so before dinner, Bette would flip through her folder of takeaway/delivery restaurants and order something for her meal. She, Tina, and Angelica ate dinner together, Tina having whatever they were serving at the Center and Bette eating veal parmigiana from Marco's, Pad Thai from Sammy's Thai Barbecue, Moo Shu from Mandarette, or whatever Kit dropped off for her. Tina sat up in bed with her tray close to her. Bette fed her the soft foods that were easy for her to swallow, and then she'd take a bite of her dinner. This was their quiet time. All of Tina's visitors had come and gone and she was finished with all of her rehab and tests except for her EEG.

At the end of the day, Bette would head home with Dr. McPherson's five page report on Tina's progress and the next phase of treatment.

This particular early evening, Bette walked into Tina's room at the Center pushing Angelica in the stroller. They weren't dressed alike, but Bette and Angelica were coordinated. Bette was wearing beige DKNY stretch twill pants and jacket with a black top that had dozens of jade green and tan polka dots on it. Angelica had on a khaki-colored onesie with green dots. Tina's nurse smiled at them when they entered. "Don't you two look cute?"

"Thanks." Bette saw that the nurse was peeling electrode stickers off of a sheet and placing them on Tina's scalp. "Running late, huh?" Tina was about to have her daily EEG to measure the electrical activity of her brain. Tina looked so fragile connected to the machine. With her weight loss and the lost and confused look in her eyes, she looked breakable. All that Bette wanted was to hold her and make her strong and healthy, but there wasn't much Bette could do at this point.

"We had an emergency with another patient this afternoon. Everyone's fine, now."

"Hi, Tee." Bette pushed the stroller to the bed, picked up Angelica, and both the baby and Bette bent to kiss Tina hello.

"Whuh. . . hah. . . peh?" Tina asked.

"What, baby? What did you say?"

"Whuh. . . hah. . . peh?"

"What happened?"

Tina blinked once.

"What happened to you?"

She blinked again.

Bette smiled down at her. She had answered this question everyday including earlier this morning. "When you delivered Angelica, you were very ill. You had an infection, oxygen wasn't getting to your brain. You were in a coma, baby--for over a month."

Tina sighed.

"You're-you're doing great now. Dr. McPherson is arranging for you to go into the pool tomorrow for therapy. You can start using your legs and arms without too much pressure on them. You really love swimming. Remember?" Bette asked as she placed Angelica next to her other mother.


"Did you see Helena today?"

Tina blinked.

Bette bent Tina's arm and leaned Angelica against her, planting Tina's arm on the outside of the baby's body. "She told you about the job at the film studio, right?" Bette pulled up a chair and sat next to the bed.

Tina nodded. Without thought, but awkwardly Tina rubbed Angelica's tiny body with her arm.

"Well, I guess you'll be the breadwinner for a while. I hadn't planned it that way, but I just haven't found that special position yet," Bette said breezily and conversationally. She knew that they weren't in a hole. Their financial state would have been excellent had it not been for the unfortunate circumstance Tina was in. When she left the CAC, the Board had bought her out of the year and seven or eight months she had left on her contract and as part of their negotiations, health care coverage was included for herself and her domestic partner for a similar period. The CAC would also continue to make the employer contribution into her 401K and retirement plan for those 19 or 20 months. It was a sweet deal and Bette liked the idea that even though Franklin, Helena, and Leo had screwed her, she was getting in the last good fuck. Truth be told, Melvin had left her set and they could easily have made it without the CAC money.

Tina frowned, worried that Bette wasn't taking their financial situation seriously.

The nurse cleared her throat and glanced at Bette and then the EEG machine.


"Don't upset her," the nurse said flatly.

Bette's eyes enlarged and she stared at the healthcare professional. "I'm not." She looked at Tina, smiled, and then whispered to her lover, "Don't worry. We're fine." She turned back to the nurse. "Are you almost finished?"

The nurse answered professionally, "Not long. Another five minutes."

"Oh, Tee, guess what? I found another class for Angelica. We should definitely keep her in the sing-along class. She seems to really love that one. Next week, there's a new Infant Massage class starting. We learn how to give soothing massages to help this little boo relax and sleep through the night, and-and I think it will help you with-with the whole bonding process. I'll check with Dr. McPherson. It's a six week class, so you'll be able to go at some point, I hope."

Tina blinked.

Bette sniffed the air and then grinned. "Somebody's left us a gift?" Bette picked Angelica up and stuck her face against her daughter's diaper and sniffed again to be sure. "I bet you never thought you'd see me do that."

Tina smiled and Bette's heart melted.

"Let me take care of this." Bette put her daughter in the stroller and pushed it across the room. She put a quilted, white towel on the table, and then placed Angelica in the center of it. Quickly, Bette took off the dirty diaper, cleaned Angelica, powdered her, and put on a clean diaper. She was just finishing when her mobile rang. Bette held Angelica in place by gently rubbing her stomach while she removed her phone from a pocket of the stroller.


She listened.

"Julia, hi."

Bette listened while Julia, her art friend developing the exhibition, "The Art of Dissent" spoke. "You are fucking kidding me?" She listened. "The NEA grant. . ." Julia explained things to Bette. "But I don't. . . What does that mean? Because of the political content?" Julia explained that yes, in fact it was the political content that was the cause of their sudden financial woes. "What are they? You've got to be kidding?"

Bette was shaking her head in disbelief as she continued to listen. "You want me to go to Washington?" She was listening to Julia when Theresa and Stephanie walked into the room. Bette looked across at the clock, surprised to see them so late—probably because Stephanie was dropping off Theresa. She smiled at them as she continued to listen to Julia's rant.

"A Senate sub-committee hearing?" Julia told Bette more about the sub-committee Hearing and Bette responded, "Yes, I've dealt with these politicos before, but I'm not in a position to go to DC now. What about your assistant?" Bette's head nodded, her eyes widened, then she shook her head, before speaking, "Well, thank you for saying that, but-but I don't see how I can do it." She listened. "I agree with you that this is important. My God, the Bush administration seems to have free rein regarding what they are allowed to do. Whether it's defense and anti-terrorism, his gay marriage stance, this conservative right-wing shit, or what he's doing to the Arts."

Stephanie looked at Bette and rolled her eyes before turning to Theresa and whispering sotto voce, although Bette could hear her plainly, "What would she have? Al-Qaeda bomb more buildings? I guarantee if MoMA or the Whitney had a plane flown into it, she'd wanna call out the big guns."

"Give it a rest, Stephanie."

Bette glared at her and turned her back on them. "I don't know. You know I want to help, but I have a commitment here that is much more important to me." Bette turned to look at Tina and winked at her. Can I have until tomorrow morning to give you an answer?" She listened. "Senator Grisham requested me when you told her you couldn't make it? Wow." Julia said something else and Bette answered, "Well, I've wanted to meet Barbara Grisham for a while. She's a real ally, but for me to. . ." Bette listened. "It's possible that I can make some arrangements if it really is going to be only a day. I can fly to Washington and back within 24 hours?" Bette listened again. "All right. Let me think about it. I'll call you tonight." Bette listened to Julia. "No, not late."

Bette flipped the phone closed and exhaled deeply. "This administration is insane." Theresa stepped around Bette and picked up the newly cleaned, Angelica. She kissed her cheeks a few times while Bette continued, "Evidently, they've called in favors and the funding that we received, monies we've already allocated, was yanked. No one is even hiding the fact that it's because the exhibition portrays Bush and his cronies in a less than favorable light."

"Maybe it should have been taken from you," Stephanie suggested in what sounded reasonable. "He is our President and a certain amount of respect is due."

"One earns respect. You don't get respect when you lie about the reasons you're sending men and women to die in a false war. You don't get respect when you give up a CIA operative's name putting her and all of her contacts in jeopardy. You don't get respect when you try to trample on the Constitution or when you try to censor the public's right to know either through news or the Arts. It's really quite simple, Stephanie. It's rather basic."

"I'd appreciate you not talking down to me. Maybe Tina was used to that, but I'm not her. From what she's told me it's either your way or the highway. Just because I disagree with you and say it, doesn't mean I'm wrong."

"Well, it certainly doesn't mean you're right and I'm not talking down to you." Bette said, crossing her arms and stared long and hard at Stephanie.

"Bette, I'm in total agreement regarding the Hearing. You have to go. It is outrageous and you've got to get your voice out there as part of this debate. I'll happily take care of Angelica."

"Mom, we're not going to be out here indefinitely. You can't do it."

"Bette is talking one day. Stephanie, if you need to get back to North Carolina, just go. I've taken an extended leave from the Peace Corps to be with Tina and her family."

On the words, 'and her family,' Stephanie sighed and sucked her teeth. "We're Tina's family."

Bette shot daggers at her. "Look, I've had it. You can spout your hate, elsewhere, Stephanie. I've been polite to you because you're Tina's sister. You've just about used up all the polite I have left. If you can't be civil; if you are unable to respect Tina's relationship with me; if you have a problem with our biracial daughter, then you can get the hell out of here now. I don't want it and Tina doesn't want it."

"I don't have to leave."

"I'm Tina's Medical Power of Attorney and I say that you're upsetting her and jeopardizing her health. I want you fucking out."

Stephanie picked up her tote bag that she had dropped in the chair. "No problem." She stopped before she reached the door. "No, I don't think I will leave. I'm here to see my sister."

"Really? You haven't even looked her way. Tina sees that, Stephanie."

Stephanie turned to look at her sister. "Tina knows how much I care. You, you on the other hand are another story. Tina sees that you're thinking about going to Washington to spew your liberal agenda and you won't even get a job."

"Stephanie." Theresa shouted and Angelica began to cry. Bette moved over to her daughter and took her from Theresa. She bounced Angelica gently in her arms and slowly made her way to Tina.

"Baby," Bette whispered. "I'm going to leave. I am really fucking about to lose my temper. I'm sorry about dinner tonight. Do you understand?"

Tina blinked and slowly said, "Ye-ah."

"I love you, baby. So much." She bent and kissed her goodnight. "So much, Tee." She walked back to the stroller and put a calmed Angelica in it.

"Bette, I'm goin' to stay and have dinner with Tina. I'll see ya tonight."

Bette nodded. She was in no mood to talk to the Kennards. She lifted the brake on the stroller and started to push her out of the room. Just as she got to the door, Stephanie said, "Let me tell you this, Bette—just because you say it, doesn't make it so. I know you want to orchestrate Tina's life, but things aren't always going to go your way."

"Is that supposed to be some kind of threat?"

"Stephanie! Stop it."

"Bye, Tina." Bette walked out.

Helena was taking a special interest in Dylan Moreland. Dylan hadn't agreed to join Shaolin Film Studios, but when Helena wanted something, she turned into a steamroller. Already, Helena could see that Dylan was enjoying her company. Helena knew how to flirt, how to make a woman feel needed, and how to make herself indispensable to the woman she sought.

They had shared at least one meal together every day for the past few days and each one had been without that albatross Dylan wore around her neck, Danny. When they ate, they discussed film, the seedier sides of life, and the possibility of steady income and no worries about film financing for Dylan's next films. Dylan didn't bring up Danny's name and Helena certainly wasn't.

Today was a busy day for both Helena and Dylan. Both women had prior commitments around lunch time and Dylan had editing to do in the evening while Helena had a dinner party to attend at Ang Lee's. She and Ang knew each other from New York-- not friends, but more than acquaintances. He had rented a house in the Hollywood Hills for a few months and she was looking forward to visiting with him. Helena wanted to see Dylan, though. Her mind was filled with the tall, short-haired brunette. Helena couldn't recall a time she felt so lustful for a woman when she didn't have an ulterior motive. She didn't want Dylan working for Shaolin to make Dylan's dreams come true and thus possess her, but she did want her close. She wanted to be around her. She had felt awkward, school girl-like and had even been fearful that Dylan would decline, but she'd called anyway. When Dylan said yes to a late afternoon meet for tea, Helena wondered if Dylan might be feeling the same things.

Helena had arrived at the Chado Tea Room on 3rd Street just before 5 and knew that at the most they'd have an hour together. She was standing at the counter, her head tilted up, looking at the array of choice given her. Every tea was intriguing, but she finally chose a green tea with hibiscus, berries and citrus.

Helena saw Dylan crossing the street. The filmmaker was dressed in tight, black Levis, a clinging white T-shirt, and a black leather motorcycle jacket that was only zipped halfway. Helena's breath was taken away as she watched her jog across, dodging traffic. "Oh, god," she said breathily.

Dylan pushed open the white-framed, window-paned door and moved into the tea room. It was cool and smelled fresh—citrus scents like lemons and oranges, herbs like rosemary and mint, flowers like roses and marigolds, and spices like cinnamon and cloves assailed her olfactory sense. Dylan was feeling rushed until she walked into the tea house. Seeing Helena's attentive smile, inhaling the multitude of fragrances, hearing only the slightest sounds of tea being brewed by the tea master, the ethereal silence even though several people sat at tables, and the visual of beautiful bone china, delicate teapots from England, the rustic pots from China and India, and the unusual modern tea services designed by artists from Scandinavian countries brought peace to her active and jumpy mind. She sighed when she looked at Helena and thought she really was a beauty. It was just too bad she was a Peabody.

"Dylan, I'm glad you were willing to take a break from your work and have tea with me."

"The pleasure is mine, Helena. I'd love to see how you Brits do tea time."

"Ah, we won't have time for that today. A true English tea is much more complicated than what we're having. We'll have to make a date for that another day.

Dylan quizzically looked at her on the word 'date,' not sure how to take it. Helena noticed, but played it off.

"So, what do you think you'll have?"

Dylan chose an Earl Grey and both women decided on orange scones before they took a table in the small and simple dining room. They sat across from each other at a table with a white table cloth and a glass top over it. When the waitress came with their drink orders—each getting their own teapot, Dylan said, "Since you bought, I'll pour." She picked up the green tea with flowers and spices that Helena had ordered and began to pour the already brewed drink into her cup. For some unknown reason, Dylan was unable to get a steady grasp on the handle and her hand shook as she poured. Helena reached out, put her hand around Dylan's and held it steady. Both Dylan and Helena felt the surge of power run between them. Dylan hadn't stopped pouring and Helena had to break their connection.

"That's enough, Dylan. Thank you." The tea was an eighth of an inch from the rim of the cup.

"I'm so sorry."

"It's okay, love. No worries."

Dylan smiled and poured from her teapot with much more ease. "I guess you're excited about going to Ang Lee's house?"

"I've spent time with him in New York. It'll be good to see him and perhaps make some contacts out here." Helena sipped carefully from her well-filled cup. "Dylan, if you'd like to come to the dinner with me, I'd quite enjoy that. I think you and Ang will have a lot in common."


"Oh, yes, it wouldn't be a problem for me to bring you along."

"No, I mean, you think that Ang Lee and I would have something in common. I don't see that. He did 'The Wedding Banquet' and 'Eat Drink Man Woman.' I find his work kind of superficial."

"You found 'Crouching Tiger' superficial."

"Well, maybe not that one."

"I do know that he's just completed a film that will be out soon. It's about two gay cowboys in the 1960s."

"I've been hearing the buzz about it. That does sound promising."

"Would you like to go with me?"

Dylan looked at her, eyes narrowed and she asked, "Would it be okay if Danny joined us?"

Helena didn't pause to think about it. "No. I'm sure my invitation extends to a guest, but I doubt two. If you can't go, I understand." She'd rather have no Dylan than Dylan with that boring man she calls a boyfriend at her side.

"I think he'd be pissed if he didn't get this opportunity."

"Let me tell you something, Dylan. In this business, it's everyone for herself. Don't you know that Danny wouldn't think twice about an offer like this? He'd call you and tell you he'd see you at home. He wouldn't pass it up."

"You really don't know us, Helena."

Helena put her hand up. "Please, accept my apology. I had no right to say something like that. It's just that I wish the best for you. I'm taken by your work and I know that if you joined Shaolin, everyone would be impressed. Danny is not part of this package."

"Tell me about this package, Helena. What is it that you're so eager to give me?" she said seductively.

Helena sipped her tea, looking at her from over the rim of her cup. She wanted this woman.

Kit was in her office at the Planet. Angus was seated on the sofa staring at Kit who was sitting behind her desk going through paperwork. She sighed and looked up at him.

"Don't you have anything to do, Angus?"

"My band canceled practice tonight. My bills are paid, my bathroom's been cleaned, I flossed about forty minutes ago. Got nothin' goin' on, Kit."

"So you're going to. . ."

"Look at you. Do you know how beautiful you are?"

"Angus, please."

The young man laughed. "Do you have any idea how much I really want to hear you moan exactly that someday—'Angus, please.'"

"Oh, god."

"That, too." He laughed harder. "Kit, why don't you come over here and sit next to me. I want to talk to you."

Kit shook her head. She loved his scruffy, scratchy five o'clock shadow. He was so laid back and easygoing and he was wowed by her. Kit's resolve was crumbling. "I think you want to do more than talk."

"No, don't come over here. I'll come to you." Angus stood up and walked across the room, around her desk, and dropped one hip on the edge of her desk, sitting in front of her with a big grin on his face."

"What are you doing?"

Angus took her hand in his and brought it to his lips to kiss it softly. He stood, bent and leaned in to her, and kissed her on her lips. As the kiss deepened, Kit's hand ran up Angus' thigh and slid around to grasp his tiny behind. Angus lifted Kit from her chair, then turned so that Kit was the one leaning against the desk. His hand was rubbing Kit's breast through her red tunic.

"Ah, Kit," he moaned.

Kit was nearly horizontal when the office door flung open.

Bette gasped and that pulled Angus and Kit from their pleasure.

Kit looked around Angus. "Bette!" she exclaimed as she stood up, straightened her blouse and stared at her younger sister.

"Okay. Okay. Jesus."

"Bette, Angus and I were just talkin'."

Bette shook her head.

"I just stopped by to say hello," Angus explained.

"Bette, what's wrong?" Kit's embarrassment was put on hold when she looked at her sister's face.

She shook her head again and Angus understood that it was his cue to give the siblings some space.

"How about I take Angelica out to the front to listen to some of the music? It's pretty mellow tonight."

Bette smiled faintly. Even though Angelica was a baby and didn't have the intellectual capacity to understand the world of adults, she really didn't want to poison her daughter with more negativity. On the way to The Planet, Bette had done breathing exercises in the car, becoming one with her breaths, pushing out the negative energy that was threatening to consume her. That was one thing that Buddhism had taught her: to be mindful, to stay in the moment—things had improved; Tina was better, financially they were still in the black, she had an opportunity to voice her opinion to the nation at a Congressional Hearing, her friends had been remarkably dependable with their visits with Tina, her relationship with Kit had never been better, and Angelica was her heart and soul. She repeated these things as she breathed, reminding herself of all the good. She had thought about these things and said, "At this moment, I am not depressed. At this moment, things are very good," yet when Stephanie and her anger pushed into her head, Bette felt herself fuming.

Angus pushed the stroller out of the room with one final smile at Kit.

"Sit down. What's goin' on Baby sis?"

Bette fell onto the sofa, leaning her elbow on the side of it and with that same arm, rubbed her forehead with her hand. "What do I do about a sister-in-law who hates my daughter?

"Stephanie hates Angelica? That's impossible. How could anyone hate her? One, she's adorable and beautiful and two, she's a baby."

Bette's lip quivered, but she didn't cry. She took a few deep breaths before answering. "She won't touch her. She-she won't even touch her. She doesn't say her name."

"Good God. What's wrong with her? Why does she have to be such a hater?" Kit recalled what Theresa had shared with her. She had promised Tina's mom that she wouldn't tell Bette, but thought Bette should know just how dangerous this woman could be. Stephanie wanted to file an injunction with the courts and remove Bette as Tina's legal guardian and Medical Power of Attorney. Nothing had happened yet and Kit prayed that Stephanie had lost interest in that process and had moved on to other ways of emotional torture like dissing Angelica.

"Stephanie is everything her mother and sister aren't. It's like she rebelled in the opposite direction—her mother is a liberal--Theresa's a hippie for Chrissake. She thinks it's 1968. Stephanie must have hated everything she saw growing up because she's this conservative bigot. She didn't learn that from Theresa and their Dad was hardly around."

"You only have a few days left to deal with them, right? When are they leaving?"

"They're supposed to leave in a few days."

"Just keep that bitch away from Angie if you think she'd do something to her."

"The thing is, Kit, I have to go to Washington."

"Washington? What for?"

"That project I'm working on had its grant pulled. No good reason other than Bush and the Republican Congress hate us."


"Yeah, it is. Anyway, I need to go to Washington for a day and Theresa has agreed to watch Angelica, but I really don't want the baby near Stephanie."

"Go to DC if you need to, girl. I'll spend my time with Theresa and believe me, Ms. Stephanie ain't gonna wanna mess with me."

"You're going to take care of it, huh?" Bette chuckled at her sister. "Thanks, Kit. Thank you for your help. I don't want Angelica to ever feel she's not wanted and loved."

"She never will, Bette. As long as I'm her aunt, she'll know how loved she is." Kit contemplated her sister. "Lemme ask you. . . how are you feelin'? You doin' all right?"


"This trip is what you need and not just because of that Congress thing. Bette, you gotta take care of yourself, girl. Go to DC, do your hearing, go back to the hotel, order some room service, get a massage, sleep."

"I just might."

Carmen and Shane were just a tiny bit drunk. They had partied from mid-afternoon until this evening in Eagle Rock, a small community east of Los Angeles. Eagle Rock celebrated founders' day with arts and crafts, an abundance of Mexican food from street vendors, and games like dunk tank and ring toss, plus a few rides. Shane and Carmen had eaten chimichangas and flautus, and each had had two long churros for their desserts. For hours they had been drinking Coronas under the warm afternoon sun.

Now, Carmen stood at the door to a single family Spanish-style home above Eagle Rock in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Carmen reached up, stretching to grasp the top of the door frame where she knew a key was hidden. When she stretched, Shane grabbed her around the waist for a moment before running her hands up her front to find a home on her breasts.

"Shane, wait 'til we get inside. They're all sorts of homophobic men around here who've probably had more to drink than us.

"Sorry, babe." Shane was properly chastised and stood with her arms at her side while Carmen got the key and unlocked the door. "Are you sure your friend won't mind us being here?"

"Yeah, she won't even know. I'm glad I thought of this place. I haven't seen Maritza much in the last couple of years, but we talk. I know she's away now." She looked at Shane and pushed the door open. "Okay, now you can take me."

This time, it was Shane who was being cautious. "It's really all right to be up here?"

"Yeah, I'm welcome here any day, anytime. Maritza and I had a good break up. We're friends. She loves for me to visit. I wanna show you the place. The views are awesome."

They walked inside holding hands. Carmen continued, "Maritza is in Arizona doing work at on the Mojave Rez."

"What kind of work?"

"She's a nurse. Four times a year she goes there with a group to do immunizations, check sanitary conditions, stuff like that."

"How did you guys hook up?"

"I broke my ankle cheerleading in high school."

"You were a cheerleader?"

Carmen turned and grinned at Shane. She patted Shane's cheek with her palm. "Of course I was, baby. You know how flexible I am."

Laughing, Shane said, "Yes, I get to witness your amazing flexibility every day and night."

"Anyway, Maritza was the nurse who set my ankle. I totally forgot my pain when I looked at her—tall, lean, with dark hair, dark eyes, a mestiza with a mother from Guadalajara and an Anglo father. Her regular voice was husky like she was just waking up and her accent was so sexy."

"Sexier than yours?"

"I don't have an accent." Carmen said with an exaggerated East LA, Chicana accent.

"Okay. So she's a lot older?"

"I met her when I was seventeen and she was. . . twenty-six. Yeah, nine years. We were only together off and on for about a year, but we stayed tight. She's really cool. What do you think of her place?"

The main floor was open with the living room blending into the dining room and kitchen fluidly and without walls or borders. The furniture was all Mexican or Mexican-style with Equipale chairs, a love seat, sofa, and coffee table all in camel-colored leather. On the coffee table was a large, but shallow, ocean blue bowl with a blue and white Talavera vase next to it. On the end tables were books about art and artistry in Mexico, Mexican pottery, a large book on Mexican-born architect Ricardo Legorreta, and a book on the sterling silver jewelry manufacturers of Taxco, Mexico. They walked into the kitchen that was large and vibrant in bright primary colors of yellow and blue.

"It's great. You don't wake up in a bad mood here."

"No, Maritza is happy, even when she's dumping a girlfriend."

"Did she dump you?"

"Ummm, no, not really. It was mutual."

Carmen opened the refrigerator and peered in. She was about to grab two Corona bottles, but Shane turned her around and looked at her with concern about Carmen ever feeling sad. "Did she hurt you?"

"No. Maritza was not into monogamy at all and when I started getting too serious, she cut me off." Carmen paused and looked at Shane. She wondered about this pattern, hooking up with an elusive, player lover. She hadn't realized she'd done it again. "She broke up with me and I acted like it didn't matter, but it did. I hooked up with other girls—to make her jealous, but instead of her being pissed, she told me to bring them over. There was this girl my junior year named Elena Velasquez. We couldn't go to my mom's place and I couldn't go over to her parents', so Maritza let us come up here. The same with Josefina Marco. I think I probably used Maritza's bed and Jacuzzi more than she did. The rule was if she was home, no knockin' boots."

"That shoulda worked."

"Yeah, it should have, but it didn't. The first time, Josefina and I were here, seriously getting' into it, I heard Maritza come home and instead of stopping, I got all nasty with it."

"What do you mean?"

"Trying to make Maritza jealous. I worked Josefina. She didn't know Maritza was home and she was in the bedroom screamin' 'Eat my wet pussy, Carmen' and all this stuff." Carmen laughed. "You could hear the bed banging against the wall. And I knew Maritza--she wasn't going to leave. She was going to wait and then go off on me about it. So I enjoyed it figuring it might be my last time and thinking it might change her mind about me."

"What did she do?"

"I walked out of the bedroom with just my long, white button down, uniform shirt on and she was sitting on that couch over there flipping through a magazine. I knew she'd be right there. My hair was a mess, I smelled like sex, I was showing everything but nipple, you know what I'm sayin'?"

Shane nodded as Carmen moved closer to her. "I knew I looked hot and I still had all of this sex energy flying off of me and Maritza sighed. You know, this long, dramatic, parent sigh like she was disappointed in me. She looked at me and said, 'I told you not to do this when I'm in my home. We need to talk. Tell your little friend, whoever she is in my bedroom that it's time for her to go. We need to talk.' I told her to just tell me whatever it was she had to say and then we'd leave, but she wanted to play it her way. I told Maritza that I had driven Josefina up here and it would take her hours to make her way down the hill and she'd get lost. So she said, 'tell her to wait in your car. This won't take long, Carmen.' God, she sounded so cold. I was really getting scared that she'd call my mom or somethin'."

"What'd you do?"

"I went back in to her bedroom told Josefina to hurry and get dressed that I was about to catch all kinds of shit and I had to deal with it. I gave her the car keys, told her I'd be out in a few, walked her to the door. She gave me a good luck smile and walked down the steps to my car. I closed the door, but before I could turn around, Maritza was on me. I was facing the door and she came up behind me, grabbed me around my waist, pulled me into her, grabbed my hair, pulled my head back, and whispered in my ear, 'I heard her asking for you to eat her out.' I said I was sorry about that. She said, 'Did she eat your snatch, baby? I know how you like a warm mouth all over your stuff. Did she do that?' That's all she said and I was throbbing, but I was like, 'hey, whatever.' She asked me again. 'Did she?' So I told her that she was about to but I came out to get a drink for us to share. She was still whispering in my ear, 'I bet you need it now.' She reached down, spread the front of my shirt and pushed her fingers between my legs."

"Wow," Shane said mesmerized.

"She said, 'Hmmm. You can't drive her home like this. I'm a nurse, I know. You could have an accident in that car in this condition.' She pulled me over to the couch, spread that throw onto the seat. . ." Carmen pointed at the hand-woven Mojave throw of gamboge yellow and forest green. "And then she lay on it. Maritza grabbed my hand, pulled me down on top of her, lifted my body as she scooted into position and while I sat on her face, she ate me. My entire body was shaking and she looked at me and stopped for a second to say, 'Play with your titties for me.' I was out of that shirt in a breath and was rubbin' all over my mangoes and all I could hear was my moanin' and her smacking sounds and I was sliding up and back. Shane, it felt so good. I totally remember it. She ate me and ate me and would say, 'squeeze those titties for me, pull your nipples, pull 'em hard. I came so hard I thought I was going to faint."

"I'm about to come now." Shane said in a deadpan, but was quite serious.

"Really, baby. Did that story turn you on?"

"You know it did, Carm."

"Can I see?"

"You know you can." Shane smiled. Shane stood stock-still while Carmen unzipped her fly and slipped her hand in.

"Umm, that is very nice." Carmen stroked her a few times before pulling her hand out of her pants.

"So what happened to Josefina? She just waited in the car?"

"Yeah. Maritza made me come twice and I told her I had to leave 'cause Josefina was sitting in the car and it was hot and my air conditioner wasn't working. Maritza didn't care. She looked at me and said, 'you need some more. I'm not going to let you walk out of here with your clit so purple and hard.' I'm telling you, Shane, a woman who knows anatomy is a woman who knows what it takes. She sat up, pushed me back to the opposite side of the couch until I was on my back and she was on top. She slid off the couch, pulled me forward until I was sitting up with my feet on the floor and my ass on the edge of the couch and she fucked me. I was barely hanging on and she had pushed the coffee table about a foot behind her with her back giving both of us more room. She was pushing into me so hard and my butt was hanging off the edge by that point and that was so where she wanted me cause the next thing I knew, Maritza had her thumb up my ass and three fingers in my coochie and I could feel her thumb and fingers rubbing against each other and I fucking exploded. I am so not kidding. I fell off the couch, hurt my knees, her thumb had slipped out, but her fingers were still in me and I was still tightening around them. It just wasn't ending. She finally pushed me off of her, stood up, and told me I'd better get dressed and leave because Josefina was in that hot car waiting. I got up and I swear I could hardly walk. As I was getting dressed, she told me that I'd better not have sex with some little high school girl when she was there again. I was bumping into furniture when I walked out in my little, plaid, Catholic school skirt.

Carmen was rubbing her hands all over Shane. She had unbuttoned her blue shirt and had slipped one hand inside. Shane threw her head back and let Carmen have her way. "So did you do what she said? Only when she was gone?"

"Hell, no. If Maritza was going to do me like that, the only time I was going to be getting busy at her place was when I knew she was due home. Every time, my girlfriends had to wait in the car while Maritza did what a good nurse does—takes care of those in need."

Carmen placed her hands on the waistband of Shane's jeans and pulled them down.

Alice and Dana were seated in a quiet corner of the Planet having dinner. They had spent forty-five minutes at Alice's place debating where they would go. For Alice, The Planet was nearby, the food was good, the ambience was to her liking, and most important, she could show Dana off in front of Lara. Dana had managed to avoid The Planet for days, but this night, Alice put her foot down. Alice wanted it to be perfectly clear that she and Dana were solidly and happily a couple and that the brief separation was already forgotten. If only Alice could believe it. It had taken Dana twenty-five minutes to dress. It didn't go unnoticed by Alice that Dana had chosen her favorite jeans—the ones that looked painted on and a white peasant top with an Empire cut that accentuated her breasts. Alice thought Dana looked great. She wondered whom Dana dressed for—her or Lara and was glad that she had chosen an outfit that was equally becoming—Kelly green linen pants and a top with a several small buttons that went up the front. They looked like they belonged together.

Now, they sat at a table that was somewhat secluded, off in a corner, but with a view of the area behind the pastry counter. More than occasionally, Lara ventured out of the kitchen with some task that she had no business carrying out just to get a glimpse of Dana and Alice.

The server walked over to the table carrying their meals.

"Avocado-Crab Terrine?" the server asked and Alice motioned to her place setting.

Alice's food looked great. It was a bottom layer of chunk blue crab, the next layer was avocado, then chopped mango, with gourmet salad greens on the side served on a white rectangular plate.

"The mahi-mahi and shrimp plate with the chunky roasted red pepper and fruit salsa and a mild jalapeno sauce."


She put both meals down and smiled at them. "Anything else I can get you?"

"No, we're fine," Dana said while looking at the woman behind the pastry counter. "Could you please tell the chef, thank you for us?"

The server nodded and walked away, but no doubt heard Alice light into Dana immediately. "Do you want Lara to come over here to thank her yourself?"

"Huh? What?"

"Could you please tell the chef, thank you for us?" Alice mimicked. "What was that about?"

"It's not unusual, Al."

"Yeah, how many people do you think sitting here thanked the chef?"

Dana shrugged. "I don't know."

Alice stood up, scraping her chair across the hardwood floor and walked to the next table. She waited to get the attention of the man and woman seated there.

"Yes?" The man said.

"Excuse me for interrupting your meal. I was wondering if either of you thanked the chef for your food?"

The couple looked at each other and Alice in embarrassment. "Uh, no-no we didn't. The food is excellent. We've never been here before." The man stared at the woman in confusion. "That's the custom here? I guess we shoulda thanked him, huh?" the man said.

"No, no. You're fine. Totally not necessary. Thank you for your time."

Alice moved counter clockwise to the next table—four lesbians in their sixties eating slices from a cheesecake sampler. "Hi ladies. How's it going?"

"The taller lesbian with the deep voice said, "Can we help you?"

"I was wondering if you thanked the chef for the cheesecake?"

The timid blonde looked at her friends and said, "I told you we should have gone over to say something to the cook. Where I'm from, we always did that. I remember at Bjorn's Diner and Dried Cod shop we never walked out of the door without thanking him for the wonderful lunch."

The third woman, perky and sexual with a load of natural looking make up on her face answered with a syrupy southern accent, "It never occurred to us to say anythin'. I suppose we should have. Why I'll walk over there and thank her right now with a big kiss on the lips." She applied her lipstick.

"Hold on there, Romeo. Let's just have our cheesecake," the first woman said while grasping the arm of her friend. She looked at Alice. "Could you thank her for us?"

Alice smiled. "Sure thing."

"Alice. Al. Al. Alice," Dana said behind gritted teeth. This was embarrassing for everyone. Alice was probably going to cost The Planet customers.

"I have nevah in my life had someone approach me at a restaurant askin' if I'd thanked the chef. That's just so uncouth. Is she gonna come 'round again and ask if we applauded our waitress?" the southern woman criticized loudly.

Alice wasn't finished, but Dana jumped up from her seat, went to her, and pulled her back to their table. "What is wrong with you?" Dana whispered as they both sat down.

"I was making a point. You obviously want to talk to Lara. You want her to know that you're around and thinking of her. Why don't you just talk to her?"

"I don't want to talk to her," Dana whined.

"Yeah, you do. You won't because I'm here. Dana, I don't care if you talk to her."

"Yeah, you do. Just forget it, Al. It's not a big deal."

"You're still not sure you want to be with me, are you? Still can't decide between her and me? That is so fucked, Dana. Tell me? Are we together or not."

"We're together, Alice. Totally. Totally."

"Then call her over when she comes out again and tell her. I mean it."

Dana looked like she wanted to be anywhere but at The Planet. She nodded her head and picked up her fork. Normally, Dana loved this seafood plate, but tonight she could barely stomach it. Alice on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying her avocado and crab terrine with delight.

They ate in silence for long moments. Lara stepped out of the kitchen and looked over at the two women. When Dana looked up, Lara smiled at her and Dana returned the vibrant smile with a pathetic upturn of her lips that a blind man could see carried no weight. Alice glanced over at Dana and followed the track of her eyes to Lara.

"Lara? Come 'ere a sec, okay?" Alice called out to her.

Lara walked over as if she had weights on her ankles. She loved Dana and she could see that the feeling wasn't mutual. She was obviously with Alice again.

"Hey, Alice. Dana. How are you guys doing?" Lara said nonchalantly.

"Good, good." Dana giggled either in embarrassment or annoyance.

"Dana has something to tell you," Alice coaxed.

Lara looked at Dana inquisitively and waited.

"Uh, I wanted to tell you that the. . . uh. . .food is great. Really, really spectacular." She looked at Alice who simply lifted her eyebrows guiding her to continue. "And. . .uh. . . well, umm, Lara?"

Lara shifted from one foot to the other. She didn't want to hear it. "Dane?" she interrupted.


"I'm giving Kit my notice on Saturday. I've decided to go to Paris." She sounded calm, but her eyes looked sad to Alice and Alice suddenly felt sad for her. "I think I'll learn so much at the school and I want to do this French immersion course, too. I'll leave in a couple of weeks."

"You're going to Paris?"

Lara was going to have a hard time getting through this-- looking at Dana with her heart loving the tennis player so deeply. It would take a long time to get over Dana Fairbanks. "Maybe I'll see you around before I leave. Take care, you guys." She walked away quickly and never left the kitchen for the rest of the night.

Dana and Alice said nothing. Alice turned her fork sideways and pushed through her terrine, speared it, and put it in her mouth.

"Uh, Al. I have to go to the restroom. I'll be right back," Dana said while fidgeting.

"I'll go with you."

"No, no. Stay here. Eat. I'll be right back."

Dana stood up and pushed her chair under the table. Alice watched her and just as she turned to go, Alice said, "Dana, a few days ago, you said you were in love with both of us. I know that probably hasn't changed. Let me plead my case." She stood up, walked to her, stood close, and put her hand on Dana's forearm. "We're best friends and in love. When you were with Tonya, I didn't care, I put it on the line cause I wanted you to know how much I love you. When you came out in that Subaru ad that was the time for Lara to at least call you if she still had feelings. She didn't. She let you go. I couldn't let you go. When you came out, that was when you could have called Lara, but you didn't. We're so good together. Please don't hurt me again."

Dana had nothing to say. She left and as she walked to the restroom to void her stomach of the sickly mahi-mahi, she thought, who's not hurt, Alice? Which one of us isn't hurting?

Theresa and Stephanie had eaten Subway sandwiches for their dinner with Tina. Theresa gathered their food wrappers and drinks and walked down the hall with their trash and Tina's food tray. She liked walking through the facility and saying hello to the workers there. She knew many of them by name and didn't like the idea of anyone cleaning up after them. Theresa made her way to the cafeteria while Stephanie sat with Tina.

"Tina, what do you think of Bette going off to Washington?"

"Oh-kay," she said slowly as if she were just learning the word and not quite sure it was the right one.

Stephanie stared at her, judging her, making assumptions about Tina's state and just how much she could push her. "I don't know. Like I've been saying, she doesn't have her priorities straight. She should be making every effort to find work not churning out liberal rhetoric for the liberal media to eat up. I think that if I were in her place, all of my attention would be focused on you, not my passion projects as she calls them. It seems so wrong."

Tina blinked twice.

And did you hear her say that Senator Grisham asked for her specifically. Duh, you know. I have a couple of friends who work for Senator Dole and they told me that Grisham is the biggest gay in Washington. Liddy Dole makes jokes about not being alone in a room with Grisham. It's an open secret. Barney Frank is gay-lite compared to her. God, my friends on The Hill told me that she only hires women interns and staff and that she makes her rounds with them. You're guaranteed a job if you put out to her."

"No-oh," Tina said and shook her head.

"It's true."

Tina stared at her sister.

"You know, you sent me those emails about Bette. I'm not trying to start anything, really, I'm not. But you mentioned how she has this big sex drive and you sort of blamed yourself for her affair. Remember? Because you weren't there for her physically? She hasn't had any—as far as I know—since before you delivered. If Grisham hits on her, which I'm sure she will—Bette is attractive and the kind of woman someone like Grisham would go for—Bette won't say no. She'll sleep with her Tina, just proving that you aren't first in her mind. Maybe I'm making a mistake even saying anything to you about this. Here you are, trying to recover from your coma. I hope I'm not upsetting you. I just don't want to see Bette hurt you. You're my sister. I love you."

Tina began to cry. Tears fell from the outer corners of her eyes down the sides of her face and Theresa returned to the room just in time to see it.

"Tina? Why is Tina crying?" Theresa rushed to Tina's side.

"I don't know, Mom. We were talking. I think she doesn't want Bette to go to Washington and can't understand why she's going when she's stuck here." Stephanie leaned back in her chair.

"Stephanie? Why? Why do this?" Theresa pulled a facial tissue from the box and wiped away Tina's tears. "It's all right, honey. Everything's good. Bette doesn't want to go and she's comin' right back to be with you. She's sad about leavin' you. I know that for certain."

Tina bit her lip.

"Okay? You know that. You know Bette." Theresa wiped the planes of Tina's face. "Are you okay, now, honey?"

Tina nodded.

Dr. McPherson walked in dressed in a pair of jeans and a pale blue Polo shirt.

"Hi, Tina."

Tina looked at him and blinked. "Heh. . . ree."

He smiled, pleased with her verbalizations. "Good, Tina. Very good." He looked at Stephanie, but didn't say anything.

Stephanie stood up and put her chair in the corner. She cleared her throat and looked at her mother. "Here's the key to my rental car, Mom. You can get back to Bette's on your own, right?"

"Why? What are you doing?"

"Oh, Henry wants to show me some of the sights of Los Angeles."

"Right. I thought Stephanie might like to see the billboards on Sunset, the Beverly Center, a drive down Rodeo Drive, and through Beverly Hills." Henry McPherson looked at Stephanie like he couldn't wait to get her alone in a car. "We could even take a drive to the beach."

"I see. Well, sure, that's fine." Theresa took the key. "You remembered to call Peter and let him know your plans or at least inform his family where you're staying, right?"

Stephanie heard the reprimand in Theresa's voice and she gritted her teeth to prevent her lashing out in front of Henry. "I told them to expect me late; that I was going to be going out with Tina's doctor this evening."

Theresa wasn't alarmed, but she made it sound so to prove a point. "Because he's Tina's doctor? Is there something I should know?" Dr. McPherson didn't understand the dynamics going on, but Stephanie wasn't fooled by her mother.

"Mother, we just told you it's social."

"I'll see you tomorrow, Mrs. Kennard. Your daughter's doing very well." He turned to Tina. "See you in the morning, Tina. Remember we're back in the pool. Don't forget your sunscreen." He laughed and stood at the door waiting for Stephanie.

Stephanie picked up her tote and headed for the door. "Bye, Tina," she called out. As she and Henry McPherson stepped into the hall, Stephanie said, "God, I was wondering when you were going to finish up. I feel positively claustrophobic. I've been looking at the same four walls for hours. Whew, it's good to get some fresh air and a new scene to look at." Tina easily heard Stephanie's comments. She turned her head away from the door and stared at one of the same four walls.

Theresa looked at her daughter. "Goodnight, honey. You sleep well. I love ya and am so happy you're gettin' better." She bent and kissed Tina's forehead and then said secretively, "Ya think your sister's gonna get into a whole heap a trouble with this doctor?"

Tina blinked once.

"Yeah, I do, too. That girl has the worst judgment in all of North Carolina. She's gonna lose Peter if she keeps playin' with fire the way she does." Theresa smiled at Tina again, touched her arm and said goodnight. At the door she dimmed the lights. "Close your eyes, little girl. Winken, Blinken and Nod one night sailed off in a wooden shoe," Theresa softly began the nursery rhyme she had read to Tina every night for the first ten years of her daughter's life.

Helena was standing beside Dylan's car. They had made a circuit of a few blocks, just walking and talking. It felt more like a date than any date Helena could recall in the past few years. She wasn't pushing Dylan to do or act in a way that made her uncomfortable, pushed her buttons or forced her to take a risk she didn't want. She had learned a lesson with Tina. She thought she could bring Tina out of her shell and then own her. It hadn't worked that way. Once, she had been amused to know that dating Tina pissed off Bette, but at the end, Helena was the one pissed and feeling like second best. She didn't like those feelings.

"I really do have to get back to my editing table, Helena. I had a really good time. Thanks for suggesting it."

"You don't have to thank me. I enjoyed your company." She was standing close to Dylan, ostensibly to avoid the oncoming traffic on 3rd Street, but in actuality because she didn't want whatever was happening between them to end. Screw Ang Lee. She wasn't wedded to his dinner party.

The close proximity was too much for Dylan. She had no where to go as she was leaning against her car. "I'd better get going."

"How do you feel about someone watching you work? I'd love to see how the entire editing process happens. If it's not putting you out, I'd very much like to go back to your studio and watch you edit."

"What about your engagement?"

"It's not the first engagement I've broken and it won't be the last."

Dylan smiled, but remained cool. "I'd like that. I'll wait for you to come around with your car and then just follow me. All right?"


Helena crossed the street and slid into her Mercedes while Dylan unlocked her Toyota. Dylan got behind the wheel and said aloud to herself, "I'd like that very much Helena Peabody."

Shane and Carmen were seated in Maritza's hot tub. A string of colorful Tiki lights burned overhead and surrounding the hot tub, six lit Tiki torches made their bodies glow golden-brown in the water. Up that high, overlooking Eagle Rock, Glendale, and parts of Pasadena, the two women felt like goddesses surveying the world they had created. The night was warm and breezy and the energy from the street fair had somehow reached up into the hills.

Shane yawned, slowly exhaling the smoke from her cigarette. Carmen looked over at her. "Are you getting tired, baby?"

"Too much beer, too relaxed. I could sleep." Shane moved her arm back to place the cigarette in the ashtray.

"Nah, you're not going to fall asleep."

"I'm not?" Shane put her arm around Carmen's shoulders, tightening her hold on the woman. "What do you have in mind?"

"Not me. Look at the stars."

"Awesome, huh?" It was a treat to see stars in the sky. LA was an electric city and with all the man-made bright lights, she never saw stars in the skies of West Hollywood. The night sky was filled with them tonight. Suddenly, Shane and Carmen heard a boom and Carmen moved closer to her lover as the sky lit up with a gigantic star of tan rays drooping down to earth with green tips, a moment later, orange fireworks, then red, green, yellow; boom, boom, boom, three fireworks burst into the sky one right after the other. Carmen moved in front of Shane, her back to the fireworks and her front pressing against Shane's naked body. They had made love twice already, but Carmen loved Shane's body and their physical connection as lovers. She wanted her again.

Shane spread her legs to welcome Carmen in between them, but Carmen said, "Can you lift yourself up and out of the water?"

Shane did and sat on the wood frame of the hot tub, her feet dangling in the water. She picked up the dwindling cigarette and took a long drag of it as she waited for Carmen to situate herself. Carmen began by rubbing Shane's feet, pressing on the arch of one foot, twisting the foot in her hands while she used her thumbs to rub up and down the sole. Her hands moved up Shane's calf and Carmen gave her thin legs a deep massage, paying close attention to the inner leg as she moved up to her thigh. Shane's legs spread more and Carmen was probably an inch from her center. Shane's pubic hair was wet from the water in the hot tub and droplets of water still clung to her. Carmen playfully nuzzled her face there. Shane took a puff from the cigarette as she watched her and the fireworks above.

"You smell so good down here, baby."

Carmen shifted her attention back to Shane's legs. She slid her hand down the other leg and massaged her left foot, performing the same actions until she had made her way up, and then at the apex of her legs again.

Shane looked down at her, watching to see what her next move would be. Carmen held Shane's legs open with her open palmed hands against her inner thighs. She dipped her head and pointed her tongue, sliding it up the slit of her vulva, separating her labia with her tongue. Shane took a deep breath.

Carmen moved her hands from Shane's thigh to her pussy. She used her thumbs and fingers to spread Shane open. Her tongue went to work, sliding up and down and around Shane's lips, against her clit, to her hole. Carmen licked around the hole, watching as it twitched in the dim light.

"Ah, that's good," Shane encouraged.

Carmen buried her face, pressing it hard against Shane's center, loving the feel of Shane's slickness covering her cheeks and nose. Carmen began to eat her out in earnest. Diving in, licking, sucking, dancing her tongue in Shane's wetness. Shane began to pant, her abdomen quivering as Carmen worked her into a frenzy. Her hips came up to meet Carmen's mouth, then moved down, back up, down, up, down, rotating, undulating, gyrating beneath the heat of Carmen's tongue.

"Ah, fuck." Shane stared at the sky, listened to the boom, boom and rat-a-tat of the fireworks being set off, listened to Carmen moaning between her legs, watching Carmen's firm breasts rising and falling in the water as she moved her body to keep up with Shane's motion. "Ah, goddamn it. That's it, baby. Right, fucking, there. Carmen reached up with one hand and squeezed Shane's breast with pure sexual intensity. Shane's nipple was hard under Carmen's hand, puckered, and begging beneath her palm. Carmen circled the nipple, then pinched down hard, then squeezed again. "Oh, fuck. Baby. Yeah." Shane turned her head, looked at the tiki lights, then up into the sky.

Her hips were moving frantically her feet splashed in the water, then her legs came up and her feet ran up and down Carmen's back. Shane threw her head back and as the fireworks' were building to a finish, so was she. She bit down hard on her bottom lip, grabbed Carmen's head and pressed her into her pussy. Carmen's nose was smashed against Shane's clitoris and it was the perfect spot as far as Shane was concerned. She used Carmen's nose to flick her clit. "I'm coming." Shane gnashed her teeth and Carmen's tongue was her undoing. She came long.

Dana sighed in exasperation. She had been trying to get close to Alice since leaving the Planet two hours ago, but Alice was being distant, unresponsive, and unwilling to talk. Dana had gone into the restroom at The Planet, taken a long look at herself in the mirror, and realized that Alice was right. Dana had a good thing in the woman. She knew it and she was being ridiculously possessive to have thought about having both of them. She was one hundred percent sure she had made the right decision. Lara was not the woman for her and never had been. The sex was great, but they talked at each other more than to each other. With Alice, she didn't talk to her, but with her. Dana was a lucky woman. Lesbians were coming together and breaking up all the time because they hopped into an infatuation and called it love. She and Alice hadn't moved from a friendship to love, but the love was an extension of that friendship, a bonus, a prize on the shelf that she had won. They should never have broken up. Even when she had dumped her last week, Dana knew that she wasn't feeling the break up. She wished she could express these feelings to Alice, but she became tongue-tied when she tried.

Now, Dana sat on the sofa and stared straight ahead. If Alice was going to give her the silent treatment, she'd do the same.

Being ignored was worse than a knockdown, drag-out fight in Alice's opinion. She eyed Dana from across the room, standing in the kitchen, looking at the back of Dana's head. Alice sipped from her bottled water and thought about what she might say. There was nothing to say; it was up to Dana now. She had given her an ultimatum, now Dana had to answer it. She wondered if she should just walk home, walk out, walk away.

Dana could feel Alice's eyes burning into her back, but still the words wouldn't come. She stood, walked over to her iPod resting in its cradle and thumbed through her playlist. Alice couldn't believe that they were just going to continue occupying space in the room and not speak. She watched Dana hit play and they both heard the first guitar chords of Ever the Same and then Rob Thomas' voice came in clearly:

We were drawn from the weeds

We were brave like soldiers

Falling down under the pale moonlight

You were holding me

Like someone broken

And I couldn't tell you but I'm telling you now.

Just let me hold you while you're falling apart

Just let me hold you and we'll both fall down

Fall on me

Tell me everything you want me to be

Forever with you, forever in me

Ever the same

Dana turned to Alice as Rob Thomas continued his plea, and her love was looking back, her head cocked to the side, questioning the song choice, possibly understanding it, but wanting confirmation.

"We were free like water
Flowing down
Under the warmth of the sun
Now it's cold and we're scared
And we've both been shaken
Yeah, look at us man,
This doesn't need to be the end. . . ."



Rob Thomas continued, "Call on me
and I'll be there for you and you'll be there for me
Forever it's you
Forever in me
Ever the same

You may need me there
To carry all your weight
But you're no burden I assure
You tide me over
With a warmth I'll not forget
But I can only give you love. . . ."

Alice smiled at her from across the room. "Dana, do you want me?"

Dana crossed over quickly, sliding across the hardwood floors in her socks as she ran from the living room to the kitchen and pulled Alice into an embrace. She was in tears, allowing herself to come to terms with what could have been the biggest mistake of her life. "I want you, Al. I think I'll want you forever. I love you."

"I love you, too." Alice ran her hand up Dana's back as they sealed the newest incarnation of their relationship with a passionate kiss.

Bette had called Julia and accepted the invitation to speak in front of the Senate Hearing in two days. She'd leave tomorrow evening, appear first thing the next morning, and back that afternoon to have dinner with Tina and Angelica.

She couldn't bear to be away from Angelica for a moment more than she had to, so Bette had placed her baby in bed beside her instead of her crib in the other room. Angelica had fallen asleep long ago and now Bette was propped up in bed practicing her opening statement before Grisham and her colleagues.

"In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, when hearing a case on pornography tried to define obscenity. He couldn't. His answer wasn't meant to be funny, but an honest explanation of his view on something abstract and subjective. He said, 'I can't define obscenity, but I know it when I see it.' (PAUSE). Here we are, over forty years later and we're still trying to define something without definition. It is indefinable because it is inherently subjective. You might as well ask someone to define love. It can't be done. You can tell someone what love feels like to you, what one might do to express love, but you can't define it.

Today, I sit before this committee of honorable senators and hope to learn, listen, inform, and educate. This is a discourse that is important, but once we express our various points of view, I am confident that as a committee, as part of the citizenry of the United States that we will continue to protect our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, that we will grasp the import of our forefathers' desire to allow each of us Freedom of Speech and not just those artists, musicians, theorists, professors, etcetera who tow the line. . . ." Bette shook her head, used her pen to scratch out what was written and then said, "not just those artists, musicians, theorists, professors, etcetera who are in agreement with popular opinion."

She rehearsed her speech, made many changes, fine-tuned it, and finally drifted off to sleep with the lamp bright behind her shoulder and her reading glasses on.

Sometime later, Theresa Kennard returned to Bette and Tina's house after spending several hours at the Barnes and Noble on Fairfax. She wasn't eager to get home, afraid that her agitated state might have Bette asking questions. If she could stop Stephanie from her mission regarding Medical Power of Attorney, Bette would be none the wiser. That would be good.

Theresa walked down the hall and saw Bette's light on. She looked in and saw both Angelica and her mommy sound asleep. She entered the bedroom that Bette shared with her daughter and looked around. Photographs of Bette and Tina from years ago were on the dresser and table. A recent photo of Tina's pregnant belly was shot in silhouette with strong Rembrandt-style backlighting to highlight the pregnancy was on one of the nightstands. Several pictures of a newborn Angelica were randomly placed around the room.

She moved across the room, to the side of the bed, and started to remove Bette's reading glasses from her face, waking up Bette in the process. "Hi, Theresa," Bette said groggily.

Theresa took the glasses, folded them down, and placed them on the nightstand. "Hi, dear."

Bette pushed herself up in the bed and sighed. "You know, Tina always does that—always takes my glasses off if I fall asleep wearing them. Always. Even if we're fighting, she does that," Bette said with a trace of melancholy.

"I'm sure you'll fall asleep with 'em on again and she'll take 'em off for ya." Theresa said cheerfully.

"You're so much like her. I see where Tina gets her spirit, her sense of fair play, her kindness."

"Well, I don't know about that, but we all have bits of our parents in us. I'm sure you do, too."

"I don't know if that's a good thing or not."

Theresa paused. "It's late. Do you want Angelica to stay in here with ya or do you want me to put her down in her crib?"

Bette turned her head to look at her sleeping daughter. "I want her to stay. Goodnight, Theresa. Thank you for tomorrow. I really appreciate your willingness to watch Angelica while I go off to Washington for this."

"She's my granddaughter. I can't stand being away from her. It is all pleasure for me, Bette. Really. You don't have to worry." Theresa bent and kissed her common law, daughter-in-law on the cheek. "Sleep well."

The monitors that Dylan used to edit her raw footage were on and the editing equipment's lights were green letting the editor that everything was up and ready for use, however Dylan didn't notice those lights. Danny hadn't been home and what started as Dylan showing Helena some of her most recent 'urban life' video had turned into a makeout session. Helena was seated in one of the editing chairs and Dylan was straddling her. Dylan had had many experiences, but nothing like touching and being touched by Helena. The heiress had lifted the white T-shirt so that it was bunched at Dylan's chest. Her arms had encircled Dylan and now her hands were at her back, unhooking the black bra Dylan was wearing. Dylan felt like her breasts were going to burst. She thought of literary euphemisms for the condition she was in, but none did justice to what she was feeling. The bra was opened and Helena moved from her back to her front, slipping her hand under the loosened binding of the bra. Helena's hands were soft, warm, and the way she caressed her was not what Dylan had expected. The touch was caring, a desire to please imprinted on her hands. Dylan's head lolled back and she hissed her pleasure while Helena moaned with the same bliss.

Helena wanted to ask her if she liked her touch, but was afraid she might break the spell, that Dylan would remember Danny, and cut her off. She wouldn't have been able to stand it. Helena leaned in, put her mouth over her breast, kissing it, licking it, biting all over it. She sucked her nipple into her mouth and Dylan's hands combed through Helena's hair. Dylan's breathing became erratic. Helena ran a finger up the seam of Dylan's tight black Levi's and the response was everything Helena wanted. Dylan bucked into her. Helena pushed off the floor, sending the wheeled editing chair across the room and bumping into the sofa. Immediately, she moved Dylan from her lap and tossed her onto the sofa. Helena took a deep breath trying to control the insatiable hunger she felt for the filmmaker. Dylan looked into her eyes. To Helena, she seemed frightened, unsure, and needy. She wanted to pull Dylan into her world, life, and arms. Helena wanted to move against her, enter her, fill her completely. She bent to kiss her, their tongues entwining, Dylan's lips soft against hers, Dylan's mouth sweet from tea and the citrus gum she had chewed in her car.

Dylan's mind was mixed up. She didn't want to like Helena Peabody. Helena Peabody stood for everything she resented—women of entitlement, women of means who stepped on the necks of others without a thought. Yet, Helena wasn't that person. At times, she was shy, definitely nervous around her, and girlish. Her invitation for tea this afternoon had been given in a shaky voice and an uncertain stammer. And now, this--this was just incredible. Dylan's body was ablaze with need. As they kissed, she rocked up and back against Helena and when Helena bent to her breasts again, Dylan wanted to scream out. When they kissed, Helena's eyes closed, but when they broke away, Helena's eyes never left Dylan's. Her eyes watched for signals, expressed her yearning, and made her feel special. Helena's hand glided down from Dylan's neck, lower to her chest, breast, abdomen, and with a quick push with her thumb and finger, unbuttoned the top button of Dylan's 501s and then her hand slipped in. Dylan might have called herself heterosexual and might have claimed to want only friendship with Helena, but the truth was out and all over Helena's fingers now. Dylan wanted Helena as much as Helena wanted her. Helena's heart was going to pop out of her chest. Her breath was shallow and she was ready to rip those 501s off.

"Dylan, I'm back," Danny called up to her as he entered their apartment.

Shit, Helena thought. Shit, shit, shit.

The night in the hills had gone from hot to warm, to cool, to quite cold. Shane and Carmen had kept themselves warm, though and now were in need of a power nap after their marathon sex session. Shane was on her back on a blanketed chaise longue and Carmen was on top of her, still panting from her last climax. Shane's leg was sticky from Carmen's juices drying on her thigh. "Fuck, Shane. For a skinny girl, you're sure strong." Shane laughed and pressed into her with her thigh. "Oh, God," Carmen moaned. I can't take another one. I can't move, baby. You. . . ."

Both women hesitated. They heard a noise in the living room. The door between the living room and deck was open and they stopped to listen. No lights came on and there was nothing but silence. Carmen looked at Shane. "She's not here. She's in Arizona. I know her schedule."


"I am."

"Then. . ." Shane grabbed Carmen's round ass, pulled her into her, spreading her cheeks and she moved her up and down her leg.

"Oh, my baby. I can't, Shane. You're good." Carmen paused to kiss Shane's lips lightly. "You know that. But I don't want to have to go to Kaiser and explain how my pussy was so abused. I think I need ice."

"I want you to be satisfied."

"Which orgasm do you think wasn't satisfying?"

Shane persisted and it made Carmen leap from the chaise. "I can't."

Shane reached out for her, but Carmen was quick and away from her grasp in a second. Shane jumped up and Carmen took off running. Shane took a few moments to just take in the sight of that most perfect ass swaying as she ran into the house. "I'm gonna getcha," Shane finally said and ran after her.

When Shane entered the living room, a woman who could only be Maritza sat on the sofa, a sole candle lighting just the area where she sat. Carmen stood beside the sofa, stunned to find her there.

"Carmen? This is a pleasant surprise."

"Maritza, what are you doing here? I thought you were supposed to be on the Mojave Rez."

"That's next week, chica." Maritza eyed Carmen and Shane thought she might have to go over and rip Maritza's eyes out of her head. "You're looking well."

Carmen grabbed another throw that was on the chair and covered some of her body. Shane walked back to the deck, picked up their clothes and came back into the living room.

"What are you doing here?" Carmen asked again.

"It is my house, querida." Maritza tossed the magazine she was flipping through onto the sofa. "It has been a long time, Carmen and you know you're always welcomed here. . ."

"Here are your clothes." Shane handed Carmen her shorts and top and it was clear to Carmen that Shane wanted those clothes on her immediately.

"However, our one rule still applies. You can treat my home as yours as long as I'm not here, but when I am, Carmen, well, you know the rule."

Shane looked at her and knew Maritza's game. She understood why Carmen had once been enthralled by it. Maritza was a player. She was cool, calm, and used her voice and eyes to seduce. If Shane weren't with Carmen, she would have been all over that and taught Maritza a lesson she wouldn't forget.

Maritza could read Shane, too. The thin woman took her time getting dressed and the way she moved her body was with self-assurance and a cockiness that came from always getting the woman she desired.

"I feel terrible, Carmen. It's been so long since we've seen each other and it has to be under these circumstances. We need to talk."

"I'm sorry, 'ritza. I really thought you'd be gone. Shane and I will leave."

"After we talk. I don't want to embarrass you in front of your friend."

"Carmen has nothing to be embarrassed about. I'm sorry if you feel that we didn't respect you or your home." Shane wanted to laugh. God, Maritza thought she was going to suck and fuck Carmen tonight. That was so not going to happen.

"Well, I don't know about that, Shane. We won't be long. Why don't you wait in the car?"

Shane tucked her shirt loosely in her pants while Carmen fully buttoned her top, not revealing any skin. "I can call you tomorrow and we'll talk," Carmen suggested.

"No, we'll talk tonight."

"No, we're going to leave now." Shane was adamant.

"What is your name? Sheryl?" Maritza glared at Shane.

"Shane. McCutcheon. I'm Shane, Carmen's girlfriend and I hate to have to tell you this, Maritza, but even though you have a lovely home, and you've done Carmen many times before in it, you're not doin' her again."

Maritza looked shocked.

"I told Shane about you."

"Oh." Maritza pouted. "You shouldn't have Carmen. That was our game. I see you don't want to play any more. That's. . . disappointing."

Carmen was holding her sandals in her right hand. Shane reached for Carmen's left hand, took it in hers and they headed for the front door.

"We had a really good time. A great time. With the fireworks and everything, it was. . . climatic," Shane said and smiled at Maritza. "Now we both have to go to the car and leave. Nice meeting you."

Carmen turned and looked back at Maritza, but Shane pulled her out of the house before she could say anything.

As they made their way down the stairs to the car, Shane wondered just who was being made jealous—Maritza who wasn't going to be munching on a Carmen taco or Shane who knew just what a memorable lay Maritza was and how easily it could have happened again. Shane's hand dropped from Carmen's hand and she reached out and grabbed a handful of ass. "When we get back to West Hollywood, I'm gonna hit it again."

They stood in the kitchen. Dana's arms remained around Alice, but her upper body leaned back and looked at the woman in front of her. "I'm so sorry for everything I put you through in these last two weeks. You are such a gift to me and I acted like such a stupid idiot. How could I be so dumb?"

Alice didn't answer. She thought that Dana had been dumb.

"I know you're the one for me. I love what we have together. It's not too late to make it right, is it?"

"You were confused, honey."

"So, we can start over? I mean seriously start again?"

Alice slipped out of Dana's embrace and looked for something to do. She picked up the bottled water and took a sip. Their relationship was always so fun and sweet. There was so little pressure even when they were trying not to pursue each other sexually, when Dana was still with Tonya. Being with Dana was so easy, but tonight, they were going to have this serious conversation that would make or break them for good. Alice put the bottle back on the counter. "I can't do it again, Dana. I've told you that, but I really mean it."

"You can't give us another chance?" Dana was devastated.

Alice shook her head. "No. No, I mean, I can't go back and have you leave me again." Alice's eyes rolled up to the ceiling, then back down to look at Dana. "It's funny, I'm sure all of your tennis buddies warned you against getting involved with a bisexual. I bet you and Tonya had a lot of laughs about bi women always leaving their lesbian lover for a guy."

"Yeah, maybe. What's funny about that?"

"I'm the bisexual, but you're the one who can't decide and you're the one who left, then told me you were confused. Nobody warned me. . . ."

"Wait. Wait. Stop. You said I can't decide. Wrong, Al. I couldn't decide, because I wasn't even thinking. I was just. . ." Dana searched for the words as if they'd somehow show up on the fridge or on the teakettle or on the microwave oven. ". . .just. . . Alice, here's the thing – I've been with very few women and most of them have been in the last year." Dana laughed. "When I saw Lara again and she wanted me, I liked that. I was happy to be wanted and that's all I thought about—that Lara still wanted me. I made myself believe that I wanted her and loved her, too. You were right, sweetheart." Dana rubbed Alice's upper arm. "I could have called her if I had wanted right after the ad came out, before I met Tonya, you know? But I didn't. I can decide. I am for sure that I so want to be with you, Al. You're it. You're the one. You're all I want. I won't screw around with your head, okay? I totally love you, Alice Pieszecki."

"Do you really mean it?"

"I couldn't mean it more."

"Okay," Alice said shyly.

"Okay." Dana grinned and leaned in and kissed her.

"Can we go to bed?"

Dana took Alice's hand and led her around the bar counter separating the kitchen from the living room. She led Alice upstairs, focusing only on getting her lover into the bedroom. Alice's heart was beating faster. What they were about to do wasn't like their evening on the beach. She felt that this would be thoroughly about love and not what good lays they both were.

In Dana's bedroom, Dana turned off the overhead light and walked to her nightstand and turned on the small bedside lamp that shed a muted pink glow over the room. Alice stood uncomfortably beside the bed. She didn't know if she should just strip down and jump in bed or wait for Dana to take her clothes off. Alice was never awkward or uncertain in the bedroom. Whether she was with a man, a woman, or a lesbian-identified man, Alice always knew what she wanted and how to get it. Suddenly, she was timid.

Dana walked to her, stood before her, and smiled. "Can I undress you, sweetie?"

"Yeah, please."

Dana moved a step closer, reached up with both hands, and pushed the first button through the button hole. Slowly she made her way down Alice's top, pushing button after button. Once the shirt was undone, Dana's hands went to Alice's shoulders and slid the shirt off. Alice wore a blue embroidered plunge bra that Dana had admired at Victoria's secret weeks ago. This was the first time she had seen Alice in it. "This looks so beautiful on you."

"Thanks." Alice was feeling so emotional that she didn't think she could speak.

Dana pressed Alice to her, hugging her tightly, loving the feeling of Alice's perfect breasts against her. Dana kissed her hard, opening her mouth and demanding that Alice surrender to her. Alice felt Dana's tongue push forward, pressing against her lips, and then she heard the gasp when Dana's tongue hit paydirt--Alice's opened mouth. Their tongues danced together, sliding and rising, twirling and falling against the other. Alice moaned into Dana's mouth. Dana held Alice's head between her hands, holding her in place while she did everything she could to make Alice's knees buckle. Her hands slid behind Alice's back, and unhooked the back closure of the bra and pulled it off of her, letting it drop to the floor. Her hands came back to Alice's front and massaged her breasts. "Your nipples are so hard," she said with a sigh. "Oh, Al, you feel good."

Alice arched her back, offering herself to Dana while moaning her pleasure. Her head was thrown back and her eyes rolled back into her head as her face contorted when Dana's mouth surrounded her breast. She felt Dana's tongue encircling her nipple while her lips sucked on it. "Oh, oh, oh." Alice ran her fingers through Dana's hair. Alice's leg settled between Dana's legs, pressing hard against her. Dana moaned. "Bed. Bed," Alice pleaded.

They fell into bed and situated themselves so that their heads were on the pillows. Things slowed, Dana and Alice looked into each other's eyes. Their eyes spoke volumes; their smiles told the truth of their love. Alice rolled over and on top of Dana. Dana whispered, "Al, let me make love to you."

Alice smiled and turned so that she was on her back again, looking at Dana.

"I don't have to ask twice, you old pillow queen," Dana said with a laugh. Before their lovemaking could turn into the fun, silliness that it always did, Dana said soberly, "I don't care if you are. I love you whether you're on the bottom or the top." Dana was over her, bracing herself on opened palms beside Alice's shoulders. "You. . .are. . .my very best friend. You are the nicest, kindest, most loving person I've ever known. Only an idiot wouldn't know how great you are." She kissed her again. "Only a dumbass would think she could find someone better." Dana sat back on her heels and pulled her peasant top over her head. She was wearing a strapless white bra and she reached behind her and unhooked it. Alice grabbed her and pulled her down against her.

"We do feel good together, don't we? God, you're so warm, Dane."

Alice positioned her hand between their bodies and popped the button on Dana's Seven for All Mankind blue jeans. Her fingers grasped the tongue of the zipper and slid it down, then her hand slithered between Dana's skin and her white panties. "Dana," Alice breathed.

Dana pushed back, removed Alice's hand and with hers reached for the four translucent buttons of Alice's linen pants. She took her time unbuttoning them, then gave the pants a yank as Alice lifted, and Dana pulled them down. Alice had on a pair of ultrasmooth, lowrise, boy shorts and Alice rubbed her face against them before pulling those down, too.

"Please take your jeans off, baby."

Dana smiled at her as if to tell her that she was willing to humor her. She got on her knees and pulled her panties off with her jeans. They were bunched against the sheets, so she dropped onto her ass and pulled her legs out of them.

Now, they were both naked and without another word, they were moving together—first Dana was on top, then they were side by side, then Alice changed places so she was on top. They grinded themselves into each other, breast to breast, pubis to pubis, legs entwined, pressing and pushing, then moving away, and coming back together. Over and over they moved, hanging on to each other's shoulders, squeezing the other's firm and muscled ass, holding on as they felt themselves rising together. "Oh, God," they grunted in unison. "Oh, God, Dana." Again, they were side by side, Dana's long, strong fingers between Alice's legs, stroking her clitoris, faster and faster while Alice did the same. Alice knew she was seconds away and pushed her fingers deep into Dana, feeling her clench around them. Alice's body rose and a powerful orgasm shook her, but before she could come down, she was on her knees, pushing two thin fingers into Dana. Alice's arm was weak and she was shaking from her climax, but she thrust and plunged into Dana. She popped her index and middle fingers into her mouth and wet the fingers, then moved them between Dana's legs. While her right hand fucked Dana, the fingers on her left hand slid up and down the sides of her clit. "Ah, ah, oh, awwwww. Alice. Alice! Alice!"

Hours later, Dana and Alice lay naked in Dana's queen-size bed. Alice was cuddled against Dana, her head on Dana's chest. "I've never felt this good in my life." Alice sighed.

"Have you ever felt this loved?" Dana asked sincerely.

"I don't think so."

"How could you? Nobody's ever felt this. I feel completely satisfied in every way, Alice. Not just the sex. But as friends. As…God, I don't know. Shit. I just feel so complete."


"Goodnight, Al. I love you," Dana said sincerely. She took Alice's hand and held it against her chest over her heart.

After Theresa Kennard left Tina's room, the night nurse came in and gave Tina her anti-seizure medication. Tina's mind wandered from thought to thought until she started tp feel woozy. She didn't know how to verbalize to Dr. McPherson that the meds made her feel queasy and everything seemed blurred and fuzzy. She felt best when the medication had worn off and prior to having her next dosage. Her mind started to mix up thoughts that were already confusing to her. She wasn't sure what was reality and what was her imagination; she couldn't remember things she had just been told. Tina wasn't positive about time—how much time had gone by—days, weeks, or months. Angelica's age was an unknown, but she believed that she was 6 months old. She felt overworked. Tina loved her job at the studio, but Helena was demanding and the hours were long. If Bette worked too and money wasn't tight, she could probably work less, but Bette had no interest in getting a job. She thought that Angus was Angelica's nanny and music teacher, but she had seen Angus here in her room, but maybe that was a hallucination. Tina hadn't seen Alice in a while, so she guessed that she still grieved over her breakup with poor Dana who she understood was dying of breast cancer. Tina recalled conversations with her sister who was really looking out for her welfare. One thing Tina didn't understand was why she was in this hospital bed. Everything was confusing when she was awake, but in sleep, things came together.

When Tina came home from a long day in Burbank at Shaolin, she was surprised to see Angus playing with Angelica in the living room. Angus had sat with Angelica for the last two days and they never had a sitter three days in a row. She moved quickly into the bedroom to find Bette packing clothes in an overnight, carry-on bag.

"Why are you packing?"

"I'm going to Washington. Julia was supposed to testify at a Senate hearing, but she hurt her back. . . surfing."

Bette kept packing, her entire focus on what she was doing and apparently not noticing how this little trip was affecting Tina. Well, Tina was annoyed. Bette had promised that she would be the stay-at-home mom while Tina worked the long hours, but Bette refused to live up to her end. As usual, it was all about Bette. She wanted to go to Washington to make a political statement. Now was not the time to make political statements, Bette couldn't afford to do that. She needed to be home taking care of business. God, it pissed her off. And Barbara Grisham? It wouldn't surprise her if Bette had sex with her. Given the opportunity, Bette would do it. Damnit. First Candace, now this. Maybe she was wrong to even care. She loved Bette, but her devil-may-care attitude was ruining everything they were trying to build. What if Bette only cared about Angelica and she was just a means to an end. Bette had to deal with Tina because Tina was the birth mother. God, god! She had this viewing to go to with Helena, she had to worry about the baby having a sitter for 3 days in a row, and she had to think about Bette screwing Senator Lesbian Grisham. Why couldn't Bette just think of her for once?

"I'll miss you."

Tina was putting the breast pumping machine together. Couldn't Bette see how Tina was being pulled from both ends? She couldn't keep up. How could Bette think that a simple 'I'll miss you,' would somehow make everything better. When Bette said it a second time, Tina felt like screaming.

Bette walked down the marbled corridors of the Hart Senate Building looking for Room 522, Barbara Grisham's office. She was surprised that an aide hadn't come down to the security gate to meet her. The guard simply pointed her to the elevator and sent her to the fifth floor. Bette was sure she had walked down this hallway before. Just when she thought she had found the right wing of the building, she'd turn and be at Room 501, a few moments later she was at 531, and a right turn brought her to Room 555. She tried to get the attention of people in the corridor, but everyone seemed to be in a big rush. She wasn't late, she'd find it. Her thin-heeled pumps clicked down the hall as she searched the room numbers. A door opened and bright light poured from the office. A tall man exited the room dressed in a dark suit, turned in the opposite direction of Bette and walked down the hall in front of her with a purpose. Bette thought he might be able to help her, so she called out to him.

"Excuse me? Excuse me?

The man slowed, turned, and looked at her. "Bette?"

"Daddy?" Bette stared up at her father. His dark skin and handsome looks were undeniable. He smiled lovingly at her the way he always did. "Daddy? Wh-what?"

Melvin Porter walked back toward her and took her hands in his squeezing them. "My baby. I heard you were going to be here today."

"Daddy?" Bette looked up at him. She didn't understand what was going on. "Daddy, what are you doing here?" She dared not remind him that he was dead. Maybe he wasn't; maybe she had been wrong; maybe she had dreamed the past two and a half months. This seemed real.

"I have business, but first I want to talk with you. Is that all right?"

"Of course, Daddy."

"I want you to be honest with me, Bette." Melvin walked to a bench that was on the right wall and sat. "I'm an old man and tired. Sit with me."

Bette followed him. She refused to let go of his hand. It felt so wonderful to hold that strong hand in hers. It seemed to give her strength.

"Bette, you're angry," he commented without judging.

"Angry? Daddy, I'm not angry."

"I know you, my girl."

Bette thought about it. "May-maybe it's-it's having to testify before the Senate sub-committee today. It's an issue I feel strongly about. It is. . ." She shook her head in disdain. ". . .disturbing that this country has gotten so off. . . "

Melvin shook his head and stared across the hall before turning to her. "Are you still angry with me?"

Bette's eyes opened wide. "About? About the things you said in the hospital? No, I understand." She smiled at him. "You're Old School."

Melvin sounded apologetic. "I wasn't talking about the hospital, but I will say this about that—I was wrong to treat you and Miss Kenn. . . Tina as I did. She was always kind to me and I disliked her for no other reason than I thought you deserved more—a man, children, happiness."

Bette sighed. His crazy heterosexual dream for her was not her life. "I have my daughter, now." She hesitated. "Ummm, thank you for what you did regarding her future?" Bette made the statement a question because she honestly was uncertain that he had financially provided for her or if it was a dream she was living.

"It was the least I could do at the last moments," Melvin explained. "But Bette, I want you to let go of your anger. It is a waste of your life."

"What anger, Daddy? I'm confused."

"You're still angry with me."

"No, never, at least not for long." She chuckled.

"You're still angry with me about Maxine. That's been a long time that you've carried around that anger. You're angry with me; you're angry with your mother."

Bette shook her head.

"You're so much like me. You've always wanted things to go your way; you've craved control as much as a man about to be executed craves that one last meal. And when things don't work out as you'd like, you don't know what to do, how to deal with it, and the emotion that dominates your psyche is anger."

Bette frowned. That wasn't true. "I-I might be disappointed and yes, I might express some anger, but-but it's short-lived, Daddy. For example, when you were dy. . . .sick at my house and recovering my former boss showed up and said some things that angered me. I said what I needed to say and moved on."

"But you didn't, Bette. His comments and then his later comments at the memorial service. . .at a most. . .inappropriate time for you; how he went behind your back, how they collectively plotted a destruction of your career has eaten away at you. . ."

Bette interrupted, whispering to him as visitors to the Hart Senate Building stared at her, "I got over it. I'm not angry. It's just that I don't trust them. I don't trust any of them and never will. It was a lesson learned and that's something you taught me, Daddy."

"I want you to learn from me, not follow in my footsteps."

"I can do both."

"Stop trying to control everything."

Bette's voice went up. "I-I don't." She shook her head. "I don't." She paused to consider what she wanted to say. "Tina is sick. She's getting better, but every day she asks me the same question—'what happened?' Sometimes she's lucid, other times, she doesn't say a word for hours. It's hard, but I have no control."

"Because it would be impossible for you to control that situation. If you could, you would."

"Yes, I want to see her well and back to normal."

"And she might never get there. What will you do if she never comes back fully or if she is a changed person when her health returns or if she dies? You pretend that death and abandonment mean nothing. You get up and go on without it seeming to affect you."

"My God. You don't know me." Bette let go of his hand. She turned away from her father, stared down the hall, breathed, and tried to calm herself before turning back to him. "When my mother left, I was heartbroken. Not only didn't she want to be near you, she didn't want me. How do you think that made me feel?"

"I wouldn't know. You never talked about it."

"What would you have had me say or do? What did I hear growing up? It was always the same—'no tears. No time for tears, Bette.' You taught me to look ahead, to never look back, to be strong. You did that," she said angrily.

Melvin, instead of being taken aback by what he heard, smiled at her. "This is what I need to see."

"And then. . ." Bette knew this wasn't real, no matter how she hoped. "You left. The only con-constant in my life and you left me. You could have gotten better, but you wouldn't even try to make yourself well for me. You abandoned me, too, Daddy. The only person who was always there for me and you gave me no time to prepare; you gave me no additional time to tell you everything I always wanted and needed to say. You could have taken treatments, but you gave up like I didn't matter."

Melvin grabbed Bette and hugged her to him. He held her tight while she sobbed on her shoulder. "You're my girl. There wasn't a moment you didn't matter. Don't ever think that. I lived my life, Bette."

"Your leaving hurt me.

"And I bet it still does. But you won't let yourself feel it."

"Yes. Yes, it hurts. Just last week, I lost it, I broke down, I cried for hours, Daddy. For hours and hours I wept for you and Mommy and Tina."

"And for yourself?"

Bette reared back and glared at him. "I sometimes need to hear your voice, but I can't. On Sundays at four o'clock I reach for the phone to call you and realize I have no one to call." She held him again. "Daddy." Bette sobbed. "Daddy."

"This is what you've needed. You've needed to tell me these things and I'm here to listen. Don't be afraid to express the hurt, Bette. You show anger with your acerbic sarcasm and your biting debate style. Oh, that's not something you should lose, my daughter. You'll need those things at the Senate hearing today; you'll need them occasionally in your work life, but in private, you have to learn to be vulnerable."

"I've been told," Bette said, thinking of Benjamin Bradshaw's lecture.

"And you have to learn to accept your anger and more importantly, accept that you're actually in pain and the hurt won't go away if you throw yourself into something else."

"I don't need anymore psychotherapy, Daddy. I've had it. It doesn't work for me."

"Then tell me about your relationship with God."


"Your spirituality, Bette?"

Bette sat back on the bench, sighed, the corner of her mouth going up in a smirk. "I know where you stand. We're not in the same place."

Melvin laughed. "I'd never dream of asking you to embrace God in the way I have." He nodded, remembering. "When I was your age, I had no time or interest in the Holy Trinity. I had walked away from the Baptist Church long before moving to Philadelphia. My mother and my aunts were Pentecostals—they spoke in tongues and shouted that they had the Holy Ghost in them. My father was a more practical Baptist—no drinking, no gambling, no smoking, and a lot of prayer. Their faiths took the fun out of life, so I slipped away. They could never find me on Sunday for Church." Melvin threw his head back and laughed heartily.

"I didn't know that."

"Well, you know that we weren't churchgoers when you were a child."

Bette nodded.

"But at some point, not too long ago, I came to understand that I wasn't whole."

"And the Baptist Church made you whole."

"I was a convert, let me put it that way. And you know what they say about converts. I am not advocating that you spend your time in a church, Bette, but do you remember what I told that artist friend of yours, Ms. Barnes?"

"Yes, we were looking at the Dosso Dossi painting, Allegory of Fortune."

"Right. Your friend compared me to John Ashcroft, I believe," Melvin added to place that moment in time.

"Because you said that the man in the painting was spiritually void; that the only true abundance was a harmony with God."

Melvin smiled at his daughter. "That's right, my girl. You remembered. I was trying to tell you something. For years, you've spent money on art, on the best clothes, at fancy restaurants, on very expensive gifts like that tie you bought me. You've worked hard to accumulate things and I could see that everything you desired, you managed to achieve."

"Isn't that how you taught me to live? To strive for the best, to work hard, do my best, that no one else would fulfill my needs, so I should do that myself?

"I suppose that's what you saw. I lived like that and for many years I thought it was enough. The big house, the housekeepers, the extravagant vacations, even the love affairs outside of marriage were done to fill a void I didn't know existed. None of these things completed me. I would want and want, achieve it, and then, I still wasn't happy. I moved on to the next desire, the next craving."

"That's what life is about, Daddy. You have a goal and you try to reach it. Life is over when you have nothing else to attain."

"Life is over when you believe that possessing things or people will lead to ultimate fulfillment."

Bette stared at her father. This was not the lesson he had taught her for forty years. She didn't know what to make of it. "What are you telling me to do?"

"You have so much, but when I looked at you as we looked at the Allegory of Fortune, I saw the strain in your eyes."

"Tina had left me. I wanted her back."

"Exactly-- because you didn't like being left, because you were competing for her affection with another, because you felt like a failure, and because she completed you. You believed she could make you whole, but evidently that wasn't true otherwise the two of you wouldn't have separated. She couldn't and can't make you whole. You are lost, Bette, and you need to find a way to find yourself."

"Daddy, I've always known my path."

"Career-wise, yes. What you're doing here today is right and good. Your mother would be proud of you as I am."

"Thank you."

He turned and kissed her on the lips as he had so many times to welcome her or say goodbye over the years. "I came here today to the place of our nation's leaders where at one time great minds made decisions that would change the course of history. There are few great minds in this Hall today, but I know I'm looking at one right now." He squeezed her hand. "You are my brilliant, girl. Always use your intellect, but I beg of you, don't forget your soul. Whatever it is that you need to bring out your spirituality, the spirituality that we each hold within us, do it. You may never see Jesus as your Savior as I do. I'm certain that you disagree with me about Judgment Day, but there is something that touches you, Bette."


Melvin nodded. "A wise philosophy that suits you, if you can follow its tenents. Perhaps you should go on an extended meditation."

"I don't have time with Tina ill and the baby. . ."

"Make the time." A door across the hall opened and the afternoon sun seemed to be blinding in the corridor as it beamed onto the marbled floor, the large pillars, and against paintings of Congressional leaders long dead. Melvin stood. "I guess I must be on my way."

A few tears rolled in a stream down Bette's face. "Don't leave me, Daddy."

"Bette, when haven't I been here with you? I'm always here; just open your heart to me." He started toward the door, then turned back to look at his daughter who remained on the bench, anxiety etching her face. "Don't delay, my sweet girl. Don't wait as I did. Your soul is an urgent matter and in all probability your child will grow into a lost woman having watched you as her example. She won't be unscathed by what you choose to do with your life. You were touched by my every action."

He walked into the room and she called to him.

"Daddy!" Bette turned over and awoke. She breathed deep, her chest heaving as she sat up, looked at Angelica sleeping beside her, and realized that for the sake of her daughter's psychological and spiritual health she needed to make some changes.

Part 12

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