DISCLAIMER: The characters in this story belong to Showtime Television's "The L Word."
SPOILERS: There are spoilers for all of Season 1, particularly the season finale in this story.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: A big thank you to my beta readers: J.R. and Tia. You guys made the story read so much better. Thank you. A second big thank you to Jeannine who helped me to define character motivation and backstory.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Portia Richardson
Bette's eyes blinked open slowly as she pulled herself up into a sitting position in the bed she shared with Tina--that she had shared with Tina. Bette glanced over at the pillowno Tina, no dent where her head had lay. It had been a week. She had promised herself that she'd give Tina some time, that her partner had every right to be angry and hurt. Bette was angry with herself, why shouldn't Tina hate her?
It was nearly dawn, still dark outside, and West Hollywood wasn't nearly close to waking. It had just gone to sleep three hours earlier when the bars closed. Bette, on the other hand had spent countless hours in bed, asleep. Sleeping allowed her to forget her misery. Now, her body was sore. She had lingered in bed longer than was wise. It had been planned that following the opening night of Provocations she'd take some much needed time off. Bette recalled that she was going to surprise Tina with a trip to Hawaii. Instead, Tina got another surprise from her lover of seven years.
She combed her hand through her tousled hair, then bent her knees to her chest and rested her elbows on them, her face in her hands. Tina, I love you. I'm sorry. She said to no one. Again.
Her eyes closed and she lightly bumped her forehead against her knees. Why hadn't she used control? Why had she behaved so recklessly with Tina's heart and her own? Of course she tried to rationalize her behavior. Her personality told her there was a reason for everything, an explanation for every action, and life wasn't complicated once you ordered all of the pieces, played by the rules, and played fairly. She had done neither with Tina, with their relationship. She knew the rules and pulled them apart. She had done the unthinkable, something that went against everything she believed inhonesty, fidelity, a life based on commitment to another. Betrayal. It was a word that Bette hated. The word was loathsome to her ear. Betrayal. I betrayed you. Betrayed us. She faced the truth. Bette hadn't played fairly with anyone except maybe Candace. The one thing she had done right was not let Candace think there was anything to what they were doing but a lust and chemistry that was uncontrolled.
Just a few days ago, whenever she thought of that first kiss with Candace in her office, her eyes would go cloudy with desire; when she recalled the feeling she had when their hands accidentally touched, Bette quivered. The feel of Candace's pinky pressing her smallest finger made her heart skip a beat. She had replayed their time in the jail cell longingly in her mind. She had maintained some control, then. At the time, she thought it would take the edge off, to have this fantasy with Candace; to be close to her, imagining and pretending with her, taking each other without really doing it. It was like Internet sex or phone sex, harmless, really. Bette hadn't even made eye contact with her. She had faced the wall, slipped her hand between her legs, coated her long fingers with her own wetness and fantasized that she was slipping into Candace. It wasn't cheating. She hadn't been completely dishonest. Bette gave in to her lust in the cell, but she hadn't cheated on Tina. She couldn't fight the desire, though. She tried. She had really tried. Bette was used to being a winner, meeting her foe head-on and persevering. This desire of hers had been a strong foe. She hadn't wanted to falter, but when she did, she had landed hard and there had been no turning back. All thought, all reason flew out the window.
A little more than a week ago, she stopped fighting and allowed herself to be taken over the edge. Candace took her, again and again and again. Bette couldn't get enough. When her eyes played over the caramel colored skin of the carpenter, she pictured that caramel melting beneath her touch and she saw herself lapping hungrily at its sweetness. Then, without another thought, that's what she was doing, lapping, licking, sucking, unwilling to come up for air. She wanted to drain Candace, then fill her with all this lust she had forgotten existed in her. She and Tina had nice, loving sex. Not even sex, not often. They made love most times. Bette and Candace were hot and sexual and demanding together. Both women had been careful not to leave bite marks, but Bette wanted to bite her, eat her up, feel that kind of life pulsing through her veins again.
Bette sighed. Thinking about Candace's hands on her now made her nauseous. She felt like vomiting. In fact, she was positive that she would and jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom. Lifting the toilet seat, she let go of a nearly empty stomach. Bitter coffee and sour ice cream flooded her mouth as the contents poured into the toilet. Weak, Bette sank to the floor, hugging the toilet, and waiting for the queasiness to pass. As she sat there, she sniffed her armpit. When had she last showered, she wondered. She remembered that she fell apart in the shower the night of Provocations. Everything was closing in on her--CAC hadn't been behind her on this show. Her career was riding on the success of Provocations. If it failed, if the bad publicity became overwhelming, it would ruin her. If Tina found out that she had been untrue, a cheat, an adulteress, her world would cave in. That night in the shower, she had wanted to come clean figuratively. As she washed away the day and prepared for the evening, she thought she should wash away the film of deceit that covered her, too. Desperate was her feeling that night. Desperate to make things right again between them. Everything had been going fine, better than fine when Tina was pregnant, but when she lost the baby, something died between them, too. She was ready to tell Tina, but couldn't, wouldn't. Now, she didn't have to tell her. Tina knew. Tina knew.
Bette reached above her, to the coffee table and picked up her cell. She opened it with one hand and said, "Office." As the phone rang, Bette cleared her throat, licked her lips, and hoped that she sounded well, relaxed, and on solid ground. She hoped she sounded exactly how she didn't feel. "James, Bette. How are you?"
James was excited. He hadn't spoken to Bette in a week and he doubted she knew about all of the high praise Provocations was getting in the press. The LA Times had done a feature that ran in Sunday's Arts and Entertainment section, Los Angeles Magazine was planning a story on the CAC entitled, "The Little Museum That Could," and right now, tickets for Provocations were next to impossible to get. James had actually seen a scalper in front of the building, selling ten-dollar tickets for fifty.
Bette listened. She smiled, but she couldn't muster the enthusiasm that oozed from James.
"Bette, are you okay?"
"Yeah, sure. Just too much sun and surf, I guess."
"The staff wants to have a little thank you party for the success of the show. You put your neck on the line for us and it paid off. Will you be coming in Monday as scheduled?"
"Uh, no. James, I know that I have a Board meeting scheduled for first thing Monday morning. I'd like to make that a conference call, if possible. See if you can arrange that with members."
"Bette, I think some of the Board would love to congratulate you face-to-face and to rub Franklin's nose in it, too. Do you know how much we would have brought in with our old standby, 'Impressions in Winter?' Bupkis. Franklin wouldn't mind a teleconference though. Better that than having to eat his hat."
"As much as I'd love to see it, I can't. I have a wicked sunburn. The doctor has me on bedrest until this heals up. Either we do a conference call or hold off until I'm back in the office."
"We'll hold off. When do you think you'll be back in?"
"I'll let you know." She ended the call. Keeping it together had been a chore and that was work related. What would happen when she finally ventured out, walked to the Planet, had breakfast there, again? By now, everyone knew. Tina had gone to Alice's place and Alice was like an Internet browserall information was sorted and channeled to and from her. Bette shook her head. She guessed that Shane, Dana, and Marina knew by now, but none of them had come by or called. They've chosen sides. I'm the bad guy, Bette reasoned. I am the bad guy.
She considered a shower, but realized that she didn't have the energy to stand. Instead, she grabbed a throw from the back of the sofa, curled up on the floor and fell asleep.
"I can't stop myself. You're so unbelievable, so sexy," Candace smiled at her. She was wearing her usual blue jean overalls and a tank top that skimmed just below her breasts.
"Don't do this. I don't want to hurt, Tina, Candace. Please understand."
"You need this, Bette. It isn't about Tina. She doesn't have to know. I'm not asking for anything except you against this wall, right now." Candace moved in, pushing forward, her breasts pressing against Bette's silk blouse.
"It's too tempting. I can't keep saying no, I just can't."
"Don't say no. Don't say anything. Just go where you want to go, Bette."
Bette bit her bottom lip and stared out into the room while Candace moved closer still. The carpenter's warm mouth latched onto Bette's neck and she slowly tongued the flesh and smiled when gooseflesh rose over Bette's skin. When Bette moaned, so did she. Bette's hand reached up, maneuvered between the strap of the overalls and the tank top to knead Candace's breast. "We've got to stop this," Bette said weakly in response to the weight of Candace breast in her hand and the strain on her resolve.
"Don't stop, yet." Candace pulled Bette's face down to meet hers. She pressed her lips against Bette's trembling ones, then gently pried them open and slipped her tongue inside.
Candace's hand moved down to the waistband of Bette's Armani slacks and popped the button through its hole and unzipped them halfway. That was all the space she needed for her hand. Pushing in and moving down, Candace's eyes closed at the heat she found there. "Oh, you don't want me to stop. Not when you're in this condition." Candace knew how to make Bette squirm. Bette lifted a leg and placed her foot on the arm of her chair, giving Candace greater access to the warmth between her legs. Candace slipped two fingers easily into Bette and began pumping inside her.
"Fuck me. Fuck me," Bette whispered as Candace's rhythm both demanded and seduced her. "Fuck me," she screamed and awoke.
Bette was on the floor, the throw covering only her leg. She was perspiring and pale and her breathing was erratic. She felt sick. As she crawled onto her hands and knees, a sharp jabbing pain seared in her abdomen and she screamed out in agony. Next came the dry heaves. She was too weak to get to the bathroom, not that it mattered. All she was doing was making disgusting vomiting sounds, but nothing was coming out. She had tossed every ounce of sustenance that had been in her stomach. She coughed and gulped, smacked her lips and panted, then coughed some more as she heaved nothing but air into her living room.
Bette had taken a seat on the patio of the Planet just behind the glass door separating the indoor restaurant from outside seating. A sprawling ficus hid her from view. She wanted to be away from everything and everyone. It was the first time she had been out in eight days and it was at her sister, Kit's insistence. Kit was late, of course, leaving Bette to stare at the door every time it openedexpecting Kit, hoping for Tina.
"How are you feeling, Bette?" Bette jumped when she felt Marina's hand on her shoulder. She didn't realize that Marina was out on the patio serving coffee.
"Hi. Fine. Thanks."
"Can I get you anything?"
"No, I'm waiting for Kit."
Marina squatted to talk to her. "Bette, I understand what happened. There is this compulsion sometimes that needs to be sated. Seven years with one person without variety is difficult."
"No, it isn't--not when you love the person. I'm not you and Tina's not Francesca."
A bit taken aback, Marina stood and looked down at Bette. "That's true. I hope things work out for you, Bette. You express yourself well. I remember how you spoke with me about my relationship with Jenny a few months ago. I know you're not proud of yourself right now."
Marina quickly turned and headed back toward the counter. Bette sighed. Well, in case I'd forgotten, I'm also a first class hypocrite. Bette reached into her Prada Messenger's Bag and pulled out her Palm. It was time to plan how she'd open up the door to communication with Tina. She tapped on Memo Pad and began laying out the framework.
"Hey, girl." Kit took a seat opposite Bette. "How you doin'?"
"I could be better."
"I'm glad you finally answered your phone. I didn't want to just barge in on you, but I was going to call the police if you hadn't picked up."
"I'm fine, Kit. Really."
"You've got dark circles under your eyes, doesn't look like you've had any sun in days, your eyes are red, your hair is well, you don't look like yourself, Bette."
"It's been a difficult week."
"What are you wearing?"
"I'm not that far gone. I believe they're called sweats and a tank top."
"In the middle of the day. Aren't you going to work?" Kit was concerned. Her sister was a workaholic and if she was skipping out on the job, then things were much worse than she suspected.
"Scheduled vacation. Have you talked to Tina?"
"How is she? Does she hate me?"
Kit stared at Bette. She was in no mood to break her heart further, but she was hesitant to spill all of the truth. "I don't think hate. She's disappointed. She doesn't feel that she's a good judge of character. I think she held back cause you're my sister and all."
"Was Alice there?"
"What did she say?"
"Again, Bette. I'm your sister. Alice called you out of your name a few times. Man, you'd think that you had slaughtered babies the way she was talking."
"Do you think Tina will talk to me?"
"I know she wonders why you haven't called."
"I was giving her space."
"We've got that gene, don't we?"
"What gene is that, Kit?" Bette said sardonically.
"Fear of rejection. You're not worried about giving Tina space, you're worried about what she'll say to you," Kit suggested knowingly.
Bette took a sip of her cooled off coffee. She was terrified and couldn't deny it. "I've done some bad things."
"The affair "
"It wasn't an affair, it was a thing."
"You considered yourself married to Tina, didn't you?"
"You cheated on her, didn't you?"
She hated to nod again, but she did. "It had barely started. I slept with her once well twice, I guess. A couple of times, that's it."
"Let me ask you, Bette, if Tina hadn't found out, how many more times would you have slept with Candace? Girl, you've got to own it all and own the reasons why before you can move forward. That's one thing I learned in rehab."
"This isn't rehab."
"Oh, yes it is. You've got to take responsibility before you can get her back."
Kit was sitting with her back to the main door, but tilting left in her seat, Bette could see everyone entering. The door opened and she didn't think much of it, but a moment or two later, she picked up a vibe. She glanced around Kit and saw Alice and Tina taking a seat. Marina stood over them, making small talk, but occasionally peeking out to the patio at Bette. Alice must have noticed because she looked over, too. She and Bette made eye contact, but Alice turned away quickly.
"Tina's here," Bette said softly to Kit. "I've got to "
She stood awkwardly, straightened her shoulders, and moved around the ficus plant and through the door to the main restaurant. Bette kept her face neutral, though she was both exhilarated and nervous about seeing Tina after so many days. As she advanced into the room, Alice's eyes never left hers and when she was a couple of tables away, Alice shook her head imperceptibly. Bette didn't care. If she could talk to Tina, then they could begin to pull through this crisis. She was standing behind Tina when Tina felt her presence. She turned and stared into her partner's eyes. Neither woman said a word. Bette wore a hopeful expression. Her eyes were bright and pleading, while Tina's were flat and cool. Tina shook her head and stood.
"No," she whispered and walked out.
Bette was crushed. Her mouth quivered and she stood uncomfortably before Alice.
"Why would you come over here, Bette?"
"I wanted to talk to Tina."
"She doesn't want to see you." Alice stood, waved to Marina and started out, but Bette grabbed her arm.
Alice glared at her old friend. "You wanna move that?"
Bette dropped her hand away, but held Alice's gaze. "How is she?"
"How do you think? You let her down. You let all of us down," Alice replied and walked out.
Bette stared at the closed door, pouting slightly before looking up to catch Marina's eye. Marina also turned away and Bette returned to her sister, swiping away a tear on her cheek before she reached the table.
Bette had written out everything she wanted to say, leaving plenty of space and time in her planned and written discussion for Tina to insert her expletives, vent her anger, and begin a dialogue again. She picked up her cell, flipped it open and said, "Alice." As the phone rang, she took a deep breath.
"Hey, you've reached Alice. I'm probably out working on a story right now. Leave a message and I'll get back to you today, tomorrow, soon. Promise. Bye."
"Hi, Alice. Tina, if you're there, please pick up," Bette said and waited. "Tina, I need to talk to you." She waited and waited until the voice mail clicked off after two minutes.
Bette was sitting at the kitchen table. An opened bottle of wine and one glass with only a few swallows left in it were in front of her. Bette closed the phone and pressed her forehead against it as she considered what she should do. Once more, she flipped the phone open and pressed redial.
"Hey, you've reached Alice. I'm probably " Bette waited patiently for the notice to leave a message and then began. "Tee, it's Bette. If you're there, could you pick up? Please, baby, I need "
Bette heard a click and she sat up. "Hello," came the lackluster voice through the phone.
Relief flooded her. "Tina. Hi. I wanted to call you and "
"Bette, please never call me baby again. You can save that for someone else. Not me, okay. Not anymore," Tina said and then lightly placed the phone in the receiver.
Bette stared at her cell in disbelief before shutting it. Almost immediately, it rang and she picked it up, knowing that once they spoke, they could start to mend. "Hi. Hi, bab I mean, hi."
"Hi, Bette. I was just calling to see how you're doing. I know you've had some downtime this week. I've been to the show every evening and it's a triumph."
Bette was confused, this wasn't Tina, but Candace. "Candace?"
"Yeah, how are you?"
"I I haven't been at work."
"Yeah, I know. You're on vacation. I've been thinking about you every day and " She added with emphasis, "every night. I can't wait to see you. When can you get away? I'm not being clingy, I swear. I just want to check in and see how you're doing and let you know how much I'm looking forward to tasting you again."
Bette tried to stifle a sob, but she couldn't.
"Bette, what is it? What's going on?"
"Tina left me. She found out about us on opening night."
"How? Did you tell her?"
"No, of course not. She left me because she saw us together. It didn't take a genius."
"Are you okay? Have you been in town this whole time?"
"Yes." She truly cried now. She couldn't contain it.
"I'm so sorry. I never meant for that to happen. We were just having fun and I "
"I shouldn't have been having that kind of fun. She won't talk to me. It's hard. It's so hard without her."
"Is anyone with you? Your sister? Friends?" Candace liked the physical part of her relationship with Bette, but she also liked her as a person and friend. It hurt her to hear the anguish in her voice.
"No, I'm alone. Everyone hates me."
"Bette, these things happen in our community all the time. You know they do. In time this will all be forgotten," she said tenderly.
"Not by Tina. I messed up. I really messed up."
"Can I come over?"
"No," she said too quickly.
Candace hid her own hurt and explained. "Bette, I don't want to put you in a compromising position. I don't want to push you into anything you don't want. I want to come over solely as a friend, to talk, be a shoulder for you to cry on."
"It's not a good idea, Candace. I'd rather be alone."
"That's not a good idea. I'll be there in half an hour. If I'm lucky I can catch all green lights on Santa Monica. Trust me, Bette. We won't end up in bed. I know you love Tina. See you in a bit." She hung up before Bette could talk her out of it.
It was almost 7:30 when the doorbell rang. When she opened it, Candace stood before her in a pair of tight 501 Levi jeans and a coral colored muscle shirt. In her arms was a large white bag of fast food. "Hi," she said sadly.
Bette knew she looked like shit, but she didn't care. The last thing she wanted to do was look appealing in any way to her ex-fling. Not that it mattered. Any attempt Candace might make would fall flat this night and always. What had started was over and would never be repeated. "Hi. Thanks for coming over. It helps to see a friendly face." Just as Candace was walking in past Bette, Bette glanced out and saw Tim. She smiled at him, but he looked at her and Candace, then shook his head in disgust. Bette closed the door.
"I brought a couple of fish tacos, some chips and salsa. These chips are great by the way, like crunchy air and the salsa, ummm. If you don't like fish, I have a couple of chicken tacos, too. I'll eat either."
"I'm not hungry."
"When was the last time you ate?"
"I don't know."
"Bette, you're a thin woman. Right now, you look like a skeleton. Show me the kitchen and we'll eat and try to figure out what you should do."
Candace had put the Mexican fast food on real dishes thinking it might help Bette out of her funk. Eating out of a paper bag on paper sheets was depressing and there was no need to add to the gray haze in the house. Bette sat and played with her fish tacos, picking out the fish bit-by-bit and chewing slowly.
"For what it's worth, I regret my pursuit. I knew you were fighting it."
Bette stared reflectively at Candace. "Then why?"
"The game. Bette, you were in a relationship, I wasn't looking for one. I pursued, but the chemistry was there. You've gotta admit that you could have cut the sexual tension when we were together with a knife."
Bette agreed, nodding absently.
"It was a turn on to watch you struggle, then finally give in. If I had thought that things would have ended this way, I never would have started. I figured we'd have a few stolen moments together, I'd leave CAC and move on to my next gig and it would be forgotten. I didn't see it as anything long term."
"Thanks," Bette sounded offended
Candace was surprised. "Did you?"
"No no I didn't. I guess I was just so self-absorbed that I thought I really don't know what I thought."
"Well, what's done is done, Bette? Do you want Tina back?"
"Yes, of course. With everything I am, I want her back."
"Have you talked to her?"
"I called a few hours ago for the first time. It didn't go well. I was trying to give her time and space, but I saw her today at this neighborhood place we go. I tried to talk to her there, but she walked out. This afternoon, I called. She cut me off before I could get anything out."
"So what do you do now? Pick at your food, drink wine, wallow in self-pity? What's the plan? Don't consider taking up cigarettes, it's a disgusting habit. You want her back, what do you need to do?"
"Apologize. Tell her it won't happen again." Bette paused and stared deeply into Candace's eyes. "It can never, ever happen again. You understand that, right?"
"Yeah, I do. If you and Tina can make a go of it, I won't stand in the way of that. If you can't, well, all bets are off, Bette." Candace smiled at her. "I find you extremely attractive. I'd be lying if I said I didn't like the way we are together."
"Please, Candace. Don't do this."
"I'm just saying. C'mon, let's make a To Do List to Win Tina's Heart Again." She grabbed a pen from the pen and pencil holder and picked up a pad of paper. She scribbled the title of the list and looked at Bette. "Okay, what'd ya got?"
"Apologize for ?"
"My infidelity when I told her that she could trust me with her heart. Apologize for not keeping her feelings close at hand. Apologize for what I did to her what she and I did on her last night."
Candace wrote as Bette spoke, but she looked up and jutted her chin out in question. "What do you mean?"
Bette wiped her hand over her forehead and cheek, then held her face in the palm of her hand. "When Tina confronted me, I tried to explain. She slapped me, she hit me, and I grabbed her. I pulled her onto the bed and I don't know For the past few weeks, Candace, I've lived a life outside of my own body. Everything I've done has taken me by surprise. My sister, Kit, God love her, but she's the flighty one, does what she wants, when she wants, doesn't think about consequences. I'm the opposite. Every angle I examine. I prepare for every major event in my life. And the not so major one's? I prepare for those, too. But you walked into my organized and compartmentalized world and shifted it all around. I forgot myself, then I lost myself. I fucked you because I wanted to. I let you fuck me because I knew I'd enjoy it. I forced myself on Tina that night to prove to both of us that I still wanted her."
The pen fell from Candace's hand as she stared at Bette. "You raped her?"
Bette nodded at first, then shook her head. "We had very confusing sex that night. It was all anger and emotion. It was the best sex I've ever had and the worst. She wanted me just as badly, but as she when she came, she was sobbing. She was on top of me, my fingers were buried inside of her and I wanted to just climb inside her and stay there forever. I've never felt more connected. I wanted to hold on to her forever, let her know that it was forever. And just as she was going over, our eyes met and I saw all the hurt and how she was trying to make it go away and I saw that she didn't feel protected and safe with me anymore. All of it showed in her eyes."
"She rolled off of me, changed clothes, and left. That was it. Seven years and that's how it ended."
"It doesn't have to be the end."
"I don't want it to be."
"Then keep going What else?
"I don't know. That's what I did. I lied to her, I cheated on her, and then I tried to make it up to her in a really sick way."
Candace wrote a few words and stopped. She looked contemplatively at Bette and wondered aloud, "Do you suppose that's really all there is to it? Don't you have to figure out why it happened so if you get back with her it won't happen again."
"It won't happen again," Bette said definitively. "It will never happen again."
"Why, Bette? How do you know that? What made it happen this time?"
"You. You seduced me when I was weak."
"Okay, why were you weak?"
"I don't know."
The two women stared quietly at each other; both lost in their thoughtsthe friend wondering what it would take for Bette to free her mind. Physically, Bette possessed incredible strength, probably from her daily regimental exercise routines of Pilates, cardio work, running, and weight lifting. Intellectually, not many could compare with her. She was brilliant, manipulative, agile, and always prepared. But emotionally, Bette could be cold, withholding, and unaware of how her cool demeanor was perceived. She was fragile, but she didn't like fragility in others. She could be moody and judgmental. Candace had witnessed Bette interact with co-workers while working at the CAC. She was a woman who didn't suffer fools gladly. If she didn't like it, didn't like you, or your behavior, Bette was the kind of woman who let you know. Candace had seen her pout when Franklin or other members of the Board and even some of the Museum staff questioned her. Her word was law as far as Bette Porter was concerned. Such a strong presence, but looking at her now, she was also vulnerable and weak, frightened, lonely, and lost. What would it take for her to look inside her own soul and mind and deal with those demons? "You must have some idea."
"I was busy and there were a lot of demands placed on me." Bette had been thinking about it. She had a dozen explanations, but each one sounded like an excuse. She couldn't rationalize the things she had done.
"Mostly myself, I think. I've been thinking about "
Bette and Candace turned to face the front door when they heard voices outside and then a key turn in the lock. When the door opened and Tina walked in with Alice behind her, Bette jumped to her feet and moved into the living room to greet her partner, forgetting that her fling was sitting at the kitchen table, too. Whatever hope Tina had mustered in her eyes, disappeared when she looked at Candace. She slowly turned to Bette who still was unaware of how things might look.
"Tina, thank God. I'm so glad you're here."
"I'm not staying, Bette. I came to pick up some clothes and my mail." She brushed past Bette who had continued toward her and walked across the room to the bedroom.
"Tee? Can we talk?"
"She's just here for her stuff. You're Candace, right?" Alice stared at the woman with both intrigue and disdain.
Candace stood and nodded, smiling faintly.
"Yeah, I thought so." Alice turned to Bette with a piercing gaze that was nerve wracking. "This is just great."
Bette twirled to face Candace, almost surprised to see her standing there. "It's not what you think. We were just talking." The three women could hear Tina in the bedroom, opening and slamming drawers and crying. Alice had become used to the sound of such abject misery that she didn't blink an eye. Candace's eyes widened at what she was hearing and Bette's eyes remained pleading and concerned.
"It doesn't matter what I think. You're making your decisions, Bette. I'm sure you're living with them just fine."
Tina re-entered the room carrying a small gym bag. "I I can't do this."
Bette smiled softly and said, "Good. Good. I don't want you to, Tina."
"No, I mean, I can't be here. Just let Alice know when you won't be here and she'll come by and pick up the rest of my things, okay?"
"No," Bette whined. "No, it's not okay." She walked over to her, faced her, put her hands on her shoulders and said, "Please don't leave me."
Tina pressed her lips into her mouth, shutting it as she bit down to stop tears that were on the verge of falling. "Let's not do this in front of her." She gave Candace a sidelong glance. "I'm so tired, Bette. Let me just go."
"No, I love you," she pleaded.
The words seemed to awaken the beast in Tina. She lifted her face so that she and Bette were staring into each other's eyes. "Stop saying that. It's not true. You're a liar."
"I am not. It's the truth. I swear, I love you."
"Bette, let Tina leave."
"Stay out of this, Alice. It's not your business," Bette said bitingly.
"Oh, excuse me." Alice put her finger up, wagging it, and daring Bette to stop her. "It became my business when your lover fled to my place because she couldn't be with you. It is so my business."
Alice's indignation calmed Tina, who took a deep breath and said, "Alice, that's okay. Could you wait for me outside? I'll be out in a minute. I have something to say to Bette and Candace."
Alice crossed her arms over her breasts and stared at the women. Tina shrugged. "Whatever. Stay."
Tina walked across the room into the kitchen/breakfast nook and stood beside the table in front of Candace. "A couple of questions, just so I understand.
Candace looked like she wanted to be anywhere but there. The saying 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' ran through her head and she lowered her eyes to avoid the menacing glare.
"Let me ask you this. Why would you accept a job working with me when you were fucking my girlfriend? Can you answer me that one? Was it to rub my nose in it? I know you and Bette weren't getting together to laugh at me. I'll give her that. She was pissed about it. So how come? What was your point?"
Bette stared slack jawed at both Candace and Tina. Candace tried to stick her hands in her jeans pockets, but they were far too tight for that. Her fingertips were pushed as far into the pockets as possible as she stood there waiting for Bette to save her.
"Come on, Candace, making that choice must have taken some thought on your part or was it just for kicks?"
Candace rolled her eyes. She wished she hadn't come over to console Bette. She disliked scenes like this immensely and had been in enough of them to know they never turned out with everyone sharing a hug. "No, not kicks. I wanted to see for myself the woman who held Bette's heart; wanted to know what made you tick. Bette had nothing to do with it and I used poor judgment. I shouldn't have accepted the job."
Alice's eyebrow arched in appreciation of the good answer, but Tina simply shook her head and turned to her ex-lover. "Bette, you love me?"
"Yes, Tina. Completely. One hundred percent."
"You love me." She processed this and nodded. "So is it that you just don't like me?" she whispered.
"Tee, don't be ridiculous. I like you more than I've ever liked anyone. You're my rock, my sounding board, my comfort, my other half, my best friend "
"Best friend? Who does this to a best friend? Who likes someone so much that they destroy everything that person believes in? Jesus, Bette. Jesus."
Tina walked to the door and pulled Alice's arm as she walked past. "Let's go." She flipped her head to give Candace one last look and said to her, "She's all yours, Candace. She's your other half. You guys are one in the same."
The door slammed closed and a minute later, Candace and Bette heard the car start and pull away.
Candace walked over to Bette who stood weeping in the center of the living room. "It's okay, Bette. It'll be okay."
"I doubt that," she sobbed.
"What can I do?"
"Go. Please, just go."
Bette had returned to the office. By throwing herself into work, she could push aside her personal troubles. Bette was not going to be a one-hit wonder at the Museum. Now that CAC was a leader in the art community, she had every intention of staying there. She perused every European art magazine to learn what was hot on the other side of the pond. She had calls out to Berlin, Paris, London, and Madrid trying to book cutting edge shows. Provocations would be just the beginning of a long and successful ride for her at the CAC.
She didn't discuss her personal life and her assistant seemed to know not to ask about Tina even though he wondered why there had been no phone calls. He didn't ask why Bette was staying late every evening, either. It could have been work-related after all, she had always put in at least a ten-hour day. He decided not to pry.
Bette was standing behind her desk on her phone, talking into the mouthpiece that appeared to be connected to her mouth. She nervously adjusted the headphone in her ear. "What dates will you be in L.A.? I'd love to get together with you and discuss this further. Our museums are basically the same size, same audience. A partnership would be ideal, sharing our locals, working as a team to bring in the bigger showsan exhibition in Geneva and one in L.A. It's a great marketing tool, Jurgen. I need to run it by the CAC Board, but I'll tell you right now, I'm going to push for it. Can I count on you?"
Bette was listening to Jurgen's reply when James slid open her door and walked across the room holding a telephone message slip. When Bette looked up from her desk, he handed it to her and mouthed, "Dan Foxworthy." James tilted his head in question. Did she want to take the call? Call him back? Want him to make up an excuse?
Bette nodded and covered her mouthpiece. "I'll take it, then hold all my calls."
James slipped out just as quietly as Bette ended her conversation. "I've got an urgent call, Jurgen. Go ahead and fax your flight information to me and let me know what your schedule is like while you're here. Great."
She smiled and added, "That is great. Bye."
She pushed the button on her phone, disengaging her Switzerland call and took a very deep breath. She had placed the call to Doctor Dan Foxworthy, shrink to the stars at seven o'clock that morning. She didn't really want to talk to him, but she knew that she needed to.
Still standing, she pressed the button and spoke into her attached mouthpiece. "Doctor Foxworthy, sorry to keep you waiting. Thank you so much for calling back."
"What can I do for you, Bette?"
"Uh I was hoping that I might be able to come in and talk with you this week. Well, today if possible. I'm going through a very bad time and I need to get some things worked out before I can start moving forward. I Doctor Foxworthy, I know you probably don't have the best impression of me. I was late for our sessions, I took a call during it, maybe when you saw Tina and me, maybe I came across as negative or I think I just need to talk to someone about what's been going on in my life and "
"Bette," he said gently. "I'm afraid that I can't see you. I'm seeing Tina individually and it would be a conflict."
Bette dropped into her chair and sighed. "I see. Then you know what happened?"
"Bette, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to discuss anything that Tina and I have addressed in therapy. If you'd like, I can give you a few names of people you might consider seeing. Brandt Chapel is in Venice. I highly recommend him as I do Suzanne O'Brien. They're both psychiatrists. Suzanne is in my building on the sixth floor. There's Lucy Abreu. She focuses on lesbian couple issues and she's an LCSW. She's in Marina del Rey."
"Could you give me O'Brien's number?"
"Sure. I know that she's taking on new clients now. She was away on maternity leave for a few months and had dropped a few people. Certainly, I'll put in a word for you. Here's her number: 555-9362."
"Thank you, Doctor Foxworthy."
"Glad to help, Bette, and best of luck. I think this a very positive move you're making."
"Yeah, I hope so. I hope it works out."
She disengaged that call and stared at the number before her. Bette dialed the number and waited as the voicemail directed her to leave a message with all the pertinent information. She did, with an urgent request for an appointment in Dr. O'Brien's first open slot.
The next time James walked into the office about two hours later, Bette's head was down, resting on her crossed arms on top of her desk
"Bette, you all right?"
"Yeah, fine," she said as she sat up. "Just tired. Trying to get back into the swing of things. Vacations will do that to you every time. What's up?"
"Tina's on the line. Do you want to take it?"
"Yes," she said too eagerly for a woman whose partner of seven years was on the phone.
"Okay, there she is, line one."
As James walked out, he thought, so things aren't good at home. Sunburn? Tan? She looks like she vacationed in the morgue.
Bette waited for James to slide the door closed before connecting, this time without the headset. "Hi, Tina."
"Hi, Bette. How are you?"
"I'm not well. I miss you. Can we talk? Just tonight, can we meet? Dinner? Even over drinks?" She sounded desperate, but didn't care.
"Bette, the reason I'm calling is to ask permission and a favor."
"You know, I've been staying at Alice's, but I really can't continue imposing on her like this. I mean, she's not complaining, but you know, she lives alone for a reason. I'm like the guest who won't leave."
"Are you coming home?" she asked hopefully.
"No, Bette. I can't do that. I was calling because Alice has a co-worker who needs to be down in San Diego to work on a story for the next couple of months. He's looking for someone to sublet his place. I'd like to, but I don't really have the money and was wondering if I could take it out of the account."
"Two months?" Bette asked a few mental steps behind Tina.
"Yes. I would need close to $2,000. Could you let me borrow that?"
"Tina, the money in that account is ours, together. You don't need permission or to ask me. But ba Tina, don't you think two months is a long time?"
"Not really. I'll need at least that to find suitable housing that's affordable in this area."
"Come home," Bette pleaded.
"I won't. I can't be around you, now. It's hard enough having this conversation over the telephone. Bette, I can't begin to tell you the many levels of hurt I feel. I know you're sorry, but I don't think it'll ever be enough." Tina cleared her throat. "So, I've got to get going. So, the money? That's okay?"
"It's okay," Bette whispered. "It's okay."
Surprising, but true, Bette actually liked Suzanne O'Brien. She didn't have that smug, 'aren't you lucky to be getting my advice' smirk that Foxworthy had in the couple's counseling she did with Tina.
Suzanne was perky with clear skin the color of fresh cream and reddish-blonde hair that hung freely, but not necessarily fashionably to her shoulders. She had a new mom look to herslightly overwhelmed, completely overjoyed. Her breasts were full from having just given birth and her top seemed to cling uncomfortably and tightly to her skin. She wore slacks and hard-soled clogs. When they first talked on the phone, Bette ended the call with a new sense of hope.
What Bette liked about her was that she was smart, confident, and a good listener. Their first session had gone well. Suzanne had asked her a simple question, "Tell me the story of you and Tina." Bette bubbled over as she recounted their first meeting, their dating, their first intimacy. Bette laughed when she said, "Tina was a virgin with women, but she got the hang of it quickly." Bette talked about when they both declared their love at exactly the same time while watching the sun set into the ocean off of Point Magu one evening. She explained how they found a house together, loved together, and planned for a family. The fifty-minute session ended just when Bette was recounting that fateful visit to the doctor's office when she learned that they had lost the baby.
Now she was seated in the waiting room. The waiting room was decorated with small ornamental objects from developing countries. Nice art that could be picked up at Pier One, Bette thought. The art on the walls were of goddesses in their many incarnationsGreek and Roman goddesses, Celtic goddesses, and Chinese ones. There was also a four-panel work of the earth goddess in various positions. The room was definitely woman-centered.
Bette was anticipating her second session. Today, she had come with an agenda. She didn't want to spend the rest of her life in therapy. Her goal was to work out the issues that caused her to do what she did, fix whatever the problem was, and get her life back the way it had been.
Suzanne, wearing a red polo shirt and khaki Dockers greeted her at the inner door and showed her into the office. Bette sat in a cushiony chair that resembled the work of an artist, Garo Romses, she had met and befriended years ago who had gone on to greatness in the furniture design community. She wondered if it was his work. It was a good copy, if not, and she found it somehow reassuring. Bette never went for the psychiatrist's long sofa. It seemed too much like a stereotype, like she should stretch out and get her head examined. She'd take her head shrinking, sitting up, thank you very much.
Immediately, Bette launched into the topic of this session's discussion. "I told you that I cheated on my lover and that's why she left me. That's why I'm here."
"Is that why, Bette?"
"Yes, I told you that. I want to get her back, put this behind us."
"I recall you saying that you wanted to know why you cheated. And I agree that's a good point to start. Last time, you told me about all of the joy in the relationship. Tell me about the conflict."
"There wasn't any. Not really. Nothing we couldn't handle. Just little things."
"Things were fine until she we decided to start a family. We didn't fight about anything. We both worked hard during the week and had a good time together in the evenings and on weekends. We share the same politics, her love for art isn't close to mine, but she has an appreciation. She's more open to new ideas, different ways of thinking. I know that Dan Foxworthy is a friend of yours, but I thought he was a big ass who thought he knew more about us than we did. Tina liked him. She's still seeing him."
"Doctor Foxworthy and I know each other in business situations. How are you relating to me, are you comfortable?"
"I don't expect comfort. In fact, I find this whole process " Bette waved her hand searching for the word. " off-putting."
"I'm sharing my every thought with you."
"Bette, you haven't done that. You've been careful about what you've said so far. I want you to relax."
"Don't hold your breath. I haven't relaxed in months. I can't remember when I didn't feel like I was walking a tightrope."
"How are you sleeping?"
"When I remember."
"Do you think you've lost any weight?"
"Yes, my suits seem a bit loose, my blouses are baggy I've noticed."
"Do you drink?"
"I have wine occasionally, but no one could perceive my intake as a problem. And no, I don't use recreational drugs."
"I'm busy as always. There's a lot of pressure on all of us."
"Do you find that you're restless at work or do you tire easily?"
"I do get tired. I've napped twice this week. I'm working and something just comes over me. I put my head down for five minutes and wake up an hour later. It's the stress."
"How's your social life?"
"My social life is all with Tina. I'm persona non grata within my circle of friends."
"How does that make you feel?"
"You know, I care, but I don't. My concern is for Tina. If our friends all desert me forever and I get Tina back, then that's fine with me."
"So you're telling me that since you broke up. And it's been about three weeks now, that you haven't seen any of your friends."
"And what activities have you done, let's say in the past week that you've found pleasurable?"
"I've had my fill of pleasure."
"Do you find yourself crying at night before you go to bed?"
"Suzanne, I cry before I go to bed, when I wake up, while I'm making coffee, driving to work, at work, on my way here, watching the Comedy Channel. That's normal. That's who I am now. I'm most likely dehydrated from all the crying."
"It's interesting that you've been here twice and haven't cried. In fact, you told me a rather painful story last week about losing your baby and you were almost matter-of-fact."
Bette glared at her. How dare this woman say something like that. The loss of their baby pained Bette tremendously. It was one of the worst experiences she'd had to live through.
"Did I say something wrong?"
"I wasn't matter-of-fact," Bette hissed at her. "No, I most defnitely wasn't."
"Perhaps I should have said that you didn't show the depth of your emotion."
Bette refused to respond. All of her life, people had told her that she was a cool number, never letting people know how deeply she felt. What did people expect? Melvin Porter whom she adored raised her and her Dad had those same attributes. It was important to keep a stiff upper lip to succeed. It wasn't wise to just open floodgates for the world to see. Lately she had opened them on several occasions and the result had been a sense of uneasiness and failure.
"This is a safe place for you. You don't have to hide your feelings. There is nothing I want to do with what you share with me other than to help you. I'm not here to judge, but assist you. That's what doctors do."
Bette stared at the floor.
"Your friends aren't available to you. Your partner who is also your best friend isn't speaking to you. Your family, according to you aren't helping you at this time. This is the one place where you can be Bette Porter fully. You don't have to control what goes on here. In fact, I won't allow it. You can be angry Bette, confused Bette, loving Bette, enigmatic Bette. I just need you to be fully present and express it all, so we can get to the root of these issues you have. Can you do that?"
"If you need to cry, this is a good place for it. See," she said as she pointed to the three tables in her office, "I have loads of Kleenex. You know what they say, to be a good therapist all you need are four walls and a box of Kleenex." She laughed and hoped to get a smile from Bette which she did. "It's a good place not to be guarded."
"That's funny. Tina is the open one and I've always been the guarded one as you say. She opens her arms and smiles and just gives so much and sees all the good. I see the ulterior motives most times, especially lately."
"So that's another difference in how the two of you go through life. We were talking about the differences between you and Tina."
"She's much more forgiving of people and accepts them for who they are more than I "
"Do you resent that she hasn't forgiven you?"
"No, I don't. Frankly, I can't forgive me. Why should she?"
"What are your other differences?"
"Many more similarities. Very few differences. We both have a head for business. I'm probably just a bit more focused when performing a task than Tina. At work, I give all that I have and because of that don't take care of things at home. Even when Tina was working, she did both. She was responsible for the day-to-day at home, spent more time on the relationship. I guess that's a big difference."
"I want to change."
"You've labeled yourself a Type A personality. Knowing that, what ideas do you have for making the kind of changes you want?"
"Well, I could put as much energy into what's going on between us. I mean, it's been three weeks since she left and I've had to take care of things. I've made dinner."
"That's good. What did you make?"
Bette's head lowered and she looked up at Suzanne guiltily. "A telephone call one night for delivery and microwave popcorn a few nights."
"Bette," she chastised.
"I plan on doing better. I just haven't had the interest."
"We'll try to take care of that," Suzanne stated. "So Tina was the logistics person in the relationship. Any other differences?"
"No. That's it."
"Bette, what's your ethnicity?"
"I'm biracialwhite and African-American."
"Oh, and Tina is too, interesting. Do you think that was an attraction for you?"
"No, Tina's White. WASP through and through."
"Oh, I see."
"You didn't mention that difference. Has the difference in ethnicity played any role in your relationship? With your parents? Friends? The two of you."
"No," Bette answered quickly. "Well, yes. Recently when we were looking for a sperm donor. We seemed to only be looking at White men and when I found the perfect donor who was willing to do it, I signed him up. Tina was surprised to learn that he was African-American and at first didn't want to use Marcus as the donor. She changed her mind, though."
"That must have been difficult. What went through your mind when she declined his offer?"
"I was hurt, obviously. Tina and I had discussed it. She had been in agreement when we first made plans to start a family. It was important to me to have a child that represented us. Not just White, but biracial. I guess I felt like she had just agreed to it and then forgot about it. Minimized that request, maybe ." Bette paused. She didn't want to portray Tina in a bad light or show a particular vulnerability of her own.
It took a few moments, while Bette sorted out her feelings, but finally she answered. "Made me feel invisible? Unimportant?" Bette said awkwardly. She had never voiced these feelings aloud to anyone. In fact, she had never expressed it quite this way in her own mind.
"Oh. How did you address these issues?"
"Tina and I discussed it."
"You talked about how she had made you feel 'less than?'"
"No, not that. Not really. That was on me. Tina isn't the kind who would do something like that intentionally. She had worries, but we talked it out and it was Marcus' sperm that got her pregnant. She was totally behind it. The race thing wasn't an issue. We were excited about the baby."
"Do you think Tina understands your issues as a biracial woman?"
"I don't have issues."
"That's good," Suzanne looked skeptical. "I'd rather keep my personal situations away from my therapy sessions, but I think I might have a special insight here. My wife is African-American and the child that we just had is half African-American. We used a Black donor. And before you ask, his name isn't Marcus. The donor is my wife's brother. Like you, it was important to her and me that, especially since I was carrying our child that she feel a special connection, too. This is all to say that I do understand where you're coming from and it's import in your life."
Bette was amazed that her therapist had shared so much. Because of it, Bette felt an instant camaraderie with her.
"Bette, our session is just about over." Suzanne stood and walked over to her desk, took a seat at the chair there and opened up a drawer. She extracted a prescription pad and looked up at her client. "We haven't discussed any medication for you "
"Medication? For what?"
"You have all the classic signs for depressionsleep deprivation, not eating, weight loss, avoiding or dismissing friends and family with a desire to be alone, fatigue. I'm going to prescribe Zoloft. It will treat your symptoms of depression. I'm going to prescribe 50 milligrams once a day ."
"I don't want to take anything."
"Bette, if you really feel that you want to try to see this through without medication, we can do that. You're losing too much weight and that's a concern. Your eating habits are troubling. Let me give you the prescription and you make the decision. I've read your history that you filled out when you first came in. You're not allergic to any medications and you're not on anything that would interfere with this drug. Is that still the case? Have you taken any prescription drugs in the past 14 days?"
"No." Bette chewed on her upper lip. God, I'm sicker than I thought. Anti-depressants? I don't want this. But I am depressed. I've never been so depressed.
"Okay," Suzanne finished writing the prescription. "Take some time and decide if you want to try this. If you do, call me because I'd like to monitor that. I'm giving you a dosage right down the middle. It's neither the mildest nor the strongest, but I think you'll see some relief. If you start it, don't stop. It needs time to get in your system, all right?"
"I don't think I will," Bette said as she reached for the white square sheet.
Suzanne stood and walked Bette to the door. "I'll see you on Thursday. But if you need to talk to me, don't hesitate to call. Are you feeling good about the way things are going, Bette?"
"I'm not sure. I guess."
The final act before leaving for work this particular Monday was to slip a handwritten note on a stack of mail that sat on the table. Tina had started coming around when Bette was in the office to pick up her maila few catalogs, a student loan statement, and what Bette considered junk mail (letters begging for support to this cause and that one). All of that mail was either addressed to Tina Kennard or to Tina Kennard and Bette Porter. Bette had never given a dime on her own to any of these organizations, but she didn't mind that Tina took the time to financially assist groups she believed in. The junk mail was much higher than the rest of the mail, but Bette made sure that Tina would see it all.
She placed her note on top of the mail, picked it up again, kissed it, then returned it to the stack. She patted the note lovingly before she grabbed her keys and walked out.
On the way to work, she went over what she had written. It had now been a month since opening night of Provocations. She hadn't spoken to Tina lately, but she had heard her voice a number of times on the home voicemail. Messages were left while Bette was at CAC. Tina was making it clear where they stood with each other. Tina called to remind Bette about a utility bill that needed to be paid or that the gardeners would expect a check taped to the side door that afternoon or because it had been windy to clean the pool of leaves. Bette didn't resent any of those calls. Yes, the reminders made it seem that Bette was hopeless around the house, but truth be told, she didn't know to leave the check or pay Department of Water and Power, and she hadn't realized that it had been particularly windy. She was just becoming aware of all the things that Tina did to make their house a home. She wondered if Tina would respond to the note. It wasn't pushy, nothing more than friendly, but she wanted to see her.
No, she had decided not to say that last part. What had she written?
As she waited at the signal light, Bette briefly closed her eyes. She wasn't praying, but hoping and wishing that a corner could be turned. Her eyes blinked open and when the light changed, she drove on.
"Hi, Marina," Bette called out as she entered the Planet. She was on her way to work, but stopped in for a quick bite and to take a last look at some work in her briefcase before her morning meetings. She was dressed in a classic navy blue single-breasted Brooks Brothers blazer and matching gabardine slacks made from Italian wool. Her sky blue silk blouse showed just enough cleavage to be sexy, but not over the top. Bette picked out a cheese Danish from the pastry table on the counter and poured a French Roast coffee into her mug.
Bette walked to a table in the center of the restaurant and sat down. It had been two days since her note to Tina and there had been no reply when she returned home, no phone call, no accidental meeting. Bette was struggling more with the depression, but she didn't want to give in to Zoloft. Not yet. She could hold out. Suzanne had questioned her about her weight loss the afternoon before. She couldn't hide it, but didn't know how to stop it. The therapist and client had spent twenty minutes discussing the side effects of the medication and Bette was certain that if she could, she would work through this time drug-free. In the meantime, she could eat Danishes every morning and Ensure at lunch to get a few of the pounds that were melting off of her back on.
Today, she had her black, leather Dolce & Gabbana briefcase filled with information about a budding folk artist living in Birmingham, Alabama. He used found materials and the work was both complex in its vision and understated in its approach. She was fascinated by the photographs of the work and thought a summer exhibit would be an appropriate slot for him. Bette pulled out photo after photo as she sipped her coffee and made notes into her voice recorder.
Pressing the stop button on the voice recorder, Bette hesitated before looking up. She wanted this to be real, to be Tina, and not someone who sounded like her asking if she was using the other chair. She looked up and saw her partner. Tina looked so lovely and Bette did nothing to hide the grin that filled her face. "Tina, hi. Are you alone?"
"Yeah, I thought you might be here." She took a seat without waiting for an invitation. "Thanks for the note the other day. It was sweet."
"I thought maybe you didn't see it," Bette said quickly while she pushed the photographs into her case, and cleared the table for Tina. "Do you want anything?"
"I just placed an order. They're going to bring it over."
"'kay. Good. You look great, Tina. Really, really great."
"Are you meeting someone or going somewhere?" Tina was wearing a dress Bette hadn't seen before. It was a cream-colored batik, A-line dress with hand painted geometric designs on it. The three buttons at the neck were casually opened. It was simple, natural, and pretty, like Tina, Bette thought.
"No, I'm working again. Oscar had applied for this grant and it came through. He had enough to hire an office manager and I jumped at it. I need to bring in some money and pay you back the two thousand I withdrew and "
"Tina, you don't have to think about that. How can your money be a loan? How are you living? You haven't made any withdrawals except that one."
"My family's helping me."
"You told them?" Bette was even more ashamed.
"Not all of the gory details. Just that we're not together." Tina's coffee and scone arrived and she added sweetener and cream as they conversed.
"I'm sure they blame me."
Tina looked at Bette as if to say, 'you are to blame.'
Bette said it aloud. "I am to blame. I know you're sick to death of hearing it, but I feel like I need to say it for the rest of my lifeI'm sorry."
Neither woman noticed Dana, Alice, and Shane enter the restaurant. The three friends glanced at each other when they saw Bette and Tina together, but they fell silent as they quickly grabbed a table as close to the scene as possible without being intrusive.
Bette reached out to take Tina's hand and Tina didn't flinch. Tina placed her other hand on top of Bette's as Bette continued. "I love you. Will you accept my apology?"
A tear ran down one side of Tina's face and then others followed, running down her face quickly and lingering at the tip of her chin. She moved her hand away and wiped under her nose, then wiped her hand with one of the napkins.
Dana and Alice held hands under the table, still not willing to reveal their new budding romance to Shane. Dana lightly rubbed the skin between Alice's thumb and forefinger. Watching their once-favorite couple falling apart was heart wrenching for both of them. Shane pretended she wasn't listening, but she couldn't help but think of Cherie. More and more, Shane was accepting that her 'let no moss grow under her" life was the right one. Relationships sucked.
Bette gripped Tina's other hand and leaned in toward her. She held their joined hands to her cheek that was also tear stained. "Tee, without you, I'm nothing. I'm trying to do better. If you'll let me. I'm recognizing all of the things I've done wrong and I'm working on them. Please come home. Please, baby."
Tina whispered as she stared into her eyes, "It's too soon. I'm not ready. I need to start over with my life. I was too wrapped up in what was good for you and forgot about the things I needed, the things that made me happy. Bette, I don't know if we can go back to where we were. I'm sure I don't want to."
"It can be different."
"Maybe. I don't know. Not now, though." Tina pulled away from Bette's handhold. "I've got to get going. Oscar is expecting me." She stood up, wrapped her scone in a paper napkin and started away. She turned back and said, "I'll see you around, Bette. Take care of yourself."
Bette sat at the table and watched the door close. Her hopes were dashed again and the elation she had felt only ten minutes earlier was replaced by a sinking feeling that had her nearly gulping for air. With her thumb and forefinger, she wiped the wetness from her eyes. When she looked up and around the restaurant, she saw Dana, Alice, and Shane staring at her. The public humiliation was distressing. Quickly, Bette gathered her belongings, looked at the women who were once her friends and walked swiftly out of the restaurant.
In her car, she fell apart. She sat inside, never vacating her parking space even though an irate driver was waiting behind her car in the next lane to pull in. His horn honks went unnoticed as her body convulsed in heartache. So inattentive, she didn't take in that someone had opened the passenger's side of her car and slipped into the seat.
"Bette? It'll be okay," Shane murmured.
"No, I don't think so," Bette answered between sobs.
"Your friends are here. We're all worried and behind you."
"No, you hate me. It's okay to hate me. I I "
Shane pulled Bette to her and held her awkwardly as Bette surrendered to her stress.
"I need Tina. I love Tina."
"When I was on the street, turning tricks for a meal, I used to say, 'this too shall pass.' I don't know where I first heard that expression, but it was what I said everyday. It became my mantra. Every time I gave a handjob to some guy who would reach for what he thought was my dick, I would say, 'this too shall pass.' That kept me going, Bette. You love Tina. I believe in you guys. It'll pass. You'll be back together. I guarantee that's true."
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