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
"Since we've been apart, I've told her I love her so many times and that I'm sorry. I get nothing from Tina. She's never been so reserved with me," Bette commented to her psychiatrist, Suzanne O'Brien in her latest therapy session.
"Don't you think she's hurting still?"
"Of course she is. I'm perfectly capable of understanding Tina's pain. However, there's nothing I can do. I wish I hadn't slept with Candace. It's been six weeks." When she finished speaking, she chewed nervously on her lower lip, a habit she had picked up recently.
"Bette, you can't control this. You can't flip a switch and make Tina want to be with you. She might very well choose to continue life without you. That's a reality you'll need to think about," Suzanne posed a scenario that had yet to be broached in their sessions.
"I can't begin to consider that."
"Let's talk about control for a few minutes," Suzanne suggested thoughtfully.
"I'm well aware that I like order, like for things to move smoothly," Bette began as she lightly dusted an invisible bit of lint from her faded Frankie B vintage jeans. "Order has kept my life functioning. It's when I've strayed from order that everything goes awry. I need my closet color-coded, I need to know that my assistant, James is on top of the office and as aware of what's happening as I. I need to know when I get home from work that Tina is there, waiting for me."
"And what happens when those needs aren't met?"
"Look at me. I feel disjointed from myself, my world. I know you therapists are big on coping mechanisms and what people do to get through their day. Control is my coping mechanism. When there is control, then all is right with the world. It's my nature."
"And when you met Candace, how did you decide to give up that control?"
"I didn't decide. I fought it. It just happened," Bette corrected.
"There was this attraction and you made no conscious decision about pursuing it? You say that you fought this; that you went back and forth, weighing the consequences; you struggled with this moral dilemma, and in the end you were somehow overpowered?"
"I hear a touch of sarcasm in your voice, Suzanne." Bette arched an eyebrow daring Suzanne to deny it.
"Not my intention. Just trying to hear what you're saying. Bette, you talk about control as if it were this entity that makes choices on your behalf."
"It feels that way lately," she said wearily. Bette reflexively rubbed her left shoulder. A tension headache was making its presence known. She squeezed her shoulder while Suzanne continued her thought.
"This creature called control tells you that you have to be the decision maker at work and everyone must come to your way of thinking; later at home, the creature tells you that you must be the dominant one in your relationshipintellectually, perhaps emotionally, but definitely physically. You're older than Tina, more experienced in lesbian relationships than she. In many ways, Tina admired and looked up to you because of the worldliness that you possessed. That control must have felt powerful?"
Bette simply listened without answering.
"On one hand, you blame yourself for the failings in your relationship, while on the other, you're telling me that you had no choice in your decisions. Bette, spend a few minutes and think about it. Did you maintain control and choose to act on your attraction for Candace, did you relinquish control, or was it something you truly had no choice in?" Suzanne emphasized each part of the question by tapping the forefinger of her left hand against her smallest finger on the right.
Bette cocked her head, but was unable to answer. Choice had been more abstract to her until that moment. She had been unfaithful to Tina and had made some bad decisions, but in her heart, she felt that there had been this presence that had pushed her along. Her rationale for the past six weeks and those days leading up to her betrayal had been that it was really beyond her. The whole time she was in the situation with Candace, she regretted it. Even when she was going down on Candace, when she was pushing the carpenter's fingers against her, opening herself up, so that Candace could go deep inside of her, when she felt their tongues swirling against each other, she regretted it and wanted to stop. That's what she had wanted to believe.
"Bette?" Suzanne leaned forward. She could sense that Bette was about to round a corner.
As Bette spoke, she shook her head and frowned, accepting her statements into her heart and mind. "I made these choices, these decisions. I did. I have to take responsibility for them. There was this this weakness in me that made me not care. This started long before Tina caught me with Candace. I chose not to take Foxworthy seriously. I didn't want to go, thought it was ridiculous, and told Tee so. She knew something was wrong even then, but I brushed her and it aside. We thought a baby would solve the problems, save our relationship." Bette paused before speaking the one truth she had denied. "It was already falling apart, but we acted like we were still madly in love. I had doubts, too, but I suppressed them. Whenever I'd ask myself if I were still in love, I'd dismiss it. I knew I loved her and I tried to make that be enough. I did that for us, for our friends, but especially for us. Bette and Tina. Tina and Bette." Bette paused. "We were settled and I was able to just forget about the stuff I once craved."
"What did you crave?"
"My old life?" Bette wondered aloud.
"I don't know what you mean, Bette."
"Passion. Excitement. I was with artists all day. My undergraduate work was in art and I have an MBA. For several years, I ran my own gallery."
"Oh, yes, I know. It was a wonderful space in Venice. I stopped by a few times. In fact, you'll find two items from your gallery in here."
Bette glanced around the room, taking in the various small sculptures on the tables, the textile art on the wall, and two abstract paintings. Her eyes fell upon a ceramic bowl and pitcher set and an amber, hand blown glass vase. "Those are from my old gallery," Bette said with a proud grin.
Suzanne nodded and chuckled lightly. "You know, Bette, this is the most I've seen you smile since you've been coming here."
Bette's smile softened until it was just a slight upturn at the corners of her mouth. "Those artists are brilliant. That vase appears retro. Certainly it has its influence in Depression glass, but the artist is also making a statement about time. Depression glass was utilitarian, simple. It was what it was. The artist is showing that what was once necessary is now amusing as well. This piece suggests practicality, but adds this whimsy at the opening to the vase. It's both functional and sensual." Bette's eyes shifted to the ceramic bowl and pitcher, but Suzanne raised her hand to stop her.
"Bette, what about that life do you miss?"
"I breathe the art world, surrounding myself with creative minds night and day--at least I did. The past year and a half at the CAC, the creativity's been missing. I am the administrator. I have to force interactions with artistsacting as interviewer during lectures, sponsoring seminars, and that sort of thing. It is an art museum, so artists are in and out, but the spontaneity is missing. The job does have its upside. I don't have to worry about being in the black each month. Staff is paid regardless of the revenue taken in by the museum shop or the buzz about an exhibition. It fulfilled my financial requirements. My life was moving in a direction where I couldn't afford the financial uncertainty of being an entrepreneur."
"Money wasn't good running the gallery?"
"I made money, but I put it all back into the business. I hosted elaborate dinner parties for artists, often used my own funding to secure art for the gallery, promote it, and bought plenty myself. I was keeping my head above water, but just."
"So you were looking for more security?"
"Tina and I wanted to start a family. We needed the security since she decided she'd be a stay-at-home mom for a while."
"How was that decision madethat she'd stay home?"
"Tina felt that in terms of development and confidence, a child does best when he or she gets that extra attention. I had no objections."
"So with that change in income to the household, you had to make some major adjustments. That must have been a loss for you. So much of your identity was wrapped up in the Bette Porter Gallery."
Bette again chose not to answer, but she was deep in thought. It was true. She was that gallery. It meant everything to her. She built it from nothing. It had been a constant high. Referring to herself as a gallerist made her happy. Since coming to the CAC, she had felt nothing close to the rush she had when she was running her gallery. "I don't know. It wasn't until 'Provocations,' that I missed it. When we were preparing for the show, something happened inside of me."
"Tell me about that, Bette?"
"Suzanne, 'Provocations' was all about cravings, desires, freedom, passion. The artists were passionate about there creations. The art was meant to make the viewer or audience feelhave intense feelings."
"Yes, of course. As I worked to get it together, dealing with shit from day one with the Board, the censorship, and boycott, I was stressed. Stressed, but I also started to feel alive for the first time in a very long time. I felt passionate about the show, but it was wearing me down, draining me. I needed an outlet for all of these emotions, but I couldn't go to Tina. How could I share my excitement when she was still reeling about the baby? 'Provocations' was like my baby. The baby I was having on my own was thriving despite the obstacles and almost losing it. What kind of partner would I have been if I had gloated about it?"
"Maybe Tina would have shared in your joy," Suzanne suggested.
"She was heartbroken."
"So were you, Bette. I saw the interview with Fae Buckley. I saw what you went throughyour honesty and your very real sorrow practically leapt through the television."
Bette stared at Suzanne suddenly feeling very much on display and like an open book.
"You found a way to transfer some of that sadness to something productive and feel good about it. It could have been an opportunity to include Tina. What do you think?"
"I needed that just for me. It was something I needed to hold on to and cherish on my own."
"But you shared your passion with Candace."
"It wasn't about Candace. That might sound strange, but it wasn't. There had been this inertia long before Candace came along, before 'Provocations.' I had been tired of the same thing, but over all, I had accepted it as my lot in life. The gallery days were behind me. I moved into the next phase of my lifepartner and mother. It was the obvious next step for me. To have continued as I had been didn't make sense. My college friends were married, settling down, raising families. It was time for me to do the same, but almost immediately, a bit of me died inside. That was okay. There was the bigger picture to think about."
"Bette, I'm a little surprised," Suzanne said while studying her.
"You just said a bit of you died. Do you really think that could be a good thing?"
"I wanted it."
"You've talked about cravings, passions, emotions, and desire. Those aren't words I would expect to hear from someone who is willing to let innermost parts of herself die."
"Compromises were made."
"And what spurred you on was that you were on some sort of timetable? Following a scripted life plan?"
"I wanted that," Bette responded defensively.
"Yes, of course I did. I absolutely did."
"Bette, we're out of time for today. I have a couple of homework assignments for you for the rest of the week and weekend." Bette's mouth was closed and Suzanne watched as the motion of Bette's tongue moved across her upper teeth. She also noted the way Bette's hand clenched when she heard the words 'homework assignment.' The museum director appeared on schedule to her therapy sessions and each appointment seemed to put another chink in the armor Bette wore, still she fought work outside this office. Suzanne was well aware that doing this between-session work could only enhance what she gained during the appointments. "I don't think you'll find these two assignments too difficult."
"That depends," Bette casually laughed.
"First, I'd like for you to contact one of the artists whose work you admired and showcased at your gallery. Go out for dinner and talk about art. This is not an assignment for the CAC; you're not to drum up business. It is purely non-work related for the simple joy of sharing your love of art with another. Not too tough, huh?"
"No, that's fine. I can do it."
"Secondly, I'd like to see you reach out to some of the friends you and Tina share. You really need to start working on strengthening those relationships."
"I don't want to spend an entire evening talking about what an asshole I am or hearing them tell me that. That's just too much."
"Bette, you can set boundaries. Give a callyou want to get together, but would prefer that you don't discuss the situation. Surely you have other things to talk about?"
Bette sat on the sofa, sorting through the mail that had arrived through the slot in the door. The envelopes were either thrown carelessly onto the table in one stack or placed lovingly in another stack. Bette's mail. Tina's mail. She sighed and stood.
Padding over to the kitchen, she opened the refrigerator and looked inside. The shelves were empty, but the door held several bottled salad dressings and a few bottles of Pellegrino sparkling mineral water. She pulled a water out and twisted the cap.
As she was leaving the kitchen, she stopped and opened the top drawer under the counter and pulled out her old address book. Placing the bottle on the countertop, Bette thumbed through the book until she came across a name.
Following Suzanne's request of her, Bette reached for the cordless landline phone and dialed the number. It had been a long time since she had had any contact with Eileen Strickland, her animated and self-deprecating artist chum.
"E. J. Strickland and Associates, how may I direct your call?"
"Eileen Strickland, please?"
"Is she expecting your call?" asked the perky receptionist on the other end.
"No, I'm a friend. Could you tell her Bette Porter is calling?"
"One moment, please."
Bette listened to the smooth jazz that played to her on the phone, but within a few short seconds it was interrupted by a cheery voice. "Bette Porter? The Bette Porter? The lesbian pervert, blasphemer? Is it really you?"
"Yes, it's me. Eileen, how are you?"
"I'm fine. I'm doing wonderfully," she said, but then paused and added somberly, "But I thought you were burning in hell or on the stinging end of some flagellation at the Church of the Holy Rollers."
Conversationally, Eileen said, "Bette, it's so good to hear your voice. Congratulations on all your recent successes and I'm so sorry I missed your opening--in New York teaching a weeklong seminar. Anyway, I stopped by and saw it about three weeks ago. Powerful stuff. Two years ago, I had given the CAC about two years before it closed its doors. What you did for that place is nothing short of a miracle. I guess you can name your price now."
"Things are going well there. Truthfully, I was on the verge of losing my job, but Peggy Peabody went to bat for me. She saved my sorry ass."
"I'll guess that she did it with panache, too. She's all that."
"She's not a woman to be ignored. Eileen, I was calling to find out if you'd like to get together for lunch or dinner this weekend--spend some time catching up?"
"Yeah, that sounds great. I have this thing on Saturday night, but I'm free for brunch on Sunday. Is there anything special on your mind, Bette?"
"No, just wanting to say hello. It's been far too long."
"How about the Dandelion Café?"
"Good. Early brunch or late?"
"Early, please! After Saturday night, I'll be hungry. I'm determined to fit into the smallest, tightest little black wool crepe Vera Wang outfit known to man. That means I'll be positively starving myself for the next two days. On Sunday, I'll be ravenous."
Bette laughed heartily and it sounded unfamiliar to her. Suzanne was right; friends would do her good.
"Will Tina be coming with you?"
Bette brushed her hair out of her eyes and sighed into the phone. "Tina and I are separated."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear it. What happened?"
"You know, Eileen, I don't want to talk about it. It's just taken over my life. I really don't want to discuss it at brunch, okay?"
"Honey, I know how you feel. Since the last time I saw you, I've gone through three different men and a meal without having to drudge up those wounds is a digestible meal indeed."
"Is this like a date? Cause you know "
"Not a date. I'm hungry for a little intellectual stimulation is all."
"That I've got plenty of. I'll see you around eleven on Sunday."
"Bye, Eileen. Looking forward to it."
"We'll have a good time, drinking mimosas and forgetting the loves in our lives."
Bette drove to Fred Segal's to see what new outfits had come in since her last visit. Shopping was always a fun way to pass the time, but once she arrived, her heart wasn't in it. She spent a few minutes browsing the racks and shelves, but nothing caught her eye. There was grocery shopping to be done, too and Tina wasn't around to do it, so Bette got back into her car and drove to the local market determined to make a quick trip of it. She bought fresh vegetables and fruit, five prepackaged gourmet dinners, a package of water crackers and a tasty wedge of Havarti cheese, along with six bottles of Pellegrino to replenish the empties sitting in her recycling container at home.
Bette's eyes roamed across the checkout lanes at the front of the store. She saw Jenny moving people through her lane quickly and noted that the other lanes weren't moving at all and she muttered a curse to herself about shopping on a Saturday. As much as she didn't want to do it, Bette queued up behind the last person in Jenny's lane. While standing there, Jenny made eye contact with her twice and smiled. Bette returned the smile, but after Jenny glanced at her the second time, Bette pulled her sunglasses out of her bag and put them on. Placing her items on the conveyor belt, she walked parallel to it until she was face-to-face with Jenny.
"Hi, Bette," Jenny spoke softly and slowly. "How are you?"
"Fine," Bette responded brusquely.
"I'm having a get together next weekend. I found this really a really nice place on La Jolla near Santa Monica. It's a bachelor's apartmenta room with a hotplate, but that's all I need. Anyway, I can't have a lot of people over at once, but it'll be kind of cozy, I guess. I was going to invite Dana and Alice and a couple of other people."
Bette glanced away, showing her impatience. "I have plans next weekend. Thanks."
As Jenny scanned one item after another, she looked at Bette and bravely opened up a topic that was familiar to both. "You know, I didn't want to hurt Tim, but I couldn't deny my feelings. I needed to have that experience with Marina to know what I really wanted. I regret, you know, falling in love with her, but I am so glad I did it."
"Good for you, Jenny. That's admirable," she said sarcastically. "I'm kind of in a hurry."
Jenny nodded and finished scanning Bette's items. Once the transaction was complete, Bette pushed her cart toward the glass doors and out of the store without hearing Jenny's shy goodbye.
After the market, Bette returned home. She parked in the driveway, exited the car, and grabbed the two bags from the passenger's seat. Just as Bette slammed the door, she heard Tim's voice. He was having a loud conversation and his shouts were hard to ignore. Ever since Jenny had moved out of the shed, the noise level had decreased, so she was surprised to hear his angry tones.
"When we first got together, I dealt with her little infatuations with her professor, all the time she spent in her head, doing her thing. I accepted that we were very different and cut her some slack when she was so caught up in her work that she forgot I was sitting beside her. I didn't get pissed. That was who she was and it was okay with me. I paid for her to come out here. I set up that writing space just for her. I didn't need a fucking writing space, you know? Bought her that ring. I'm still paying for that. I did it all and for what? To be shit on like she did."
"I know, Tim. I left my career because we were going to raise a child together. I took care of Bette's every need. Picked up her dry cleaning, made her dinner, took care of our bills, cleaned the house "
It was Tina. Bette stood riveted in place for a moment, then slowly and quietly made her way to the top of the driveway where she could better hear Tim and Tina chatting inside.
"I don't think she made the bed once the whole time we were together. When I'd complain, she'd say Sonja could do it. We hired someone to make our bed? Wash our underwear? Give me a break."
"Both of 'em are fucking ingrates."
"Cheaters," Tina said bitterly. Bette was stunned to hear the word, though she knew that's what she was. "The funny thing is, she told me I was being blasé; that I wasn't outraged about Jenny and Marina. But Tim, I assure you; I didn't know what was going on. As far as I knew, you and Jenny wanted a relationship with Marina. I wasn't outraged because I thought you knew."
"It's water under the bridge, Tina."
"I know what you went through. It just tears out your soul."
"Especially when you're told that what you've witnessed isn't what's happening. Like you're a fucking idiot. I mean I busted Jenny and Marina in the act and still, they were like, oh, this just happened. Then Bette tells me the truth and when I confront them, they still deny it." The rage in Tim was bubbling and Bette knew without seeing him the expression he wore on his face as he recalled learning about his fiancée and the owner of The Planet.
"Yeah, Tim. Bette and I had this huge fight because I hired Candace to work with Oscar and me. It was such bullshit the way she responded. She accused me of not thinking of her, showing her a lack of respect, and using Candace. My God, what she meant was, 'don't be hiring Candace for outside work. She needs to be doin' me on her off time.'" Tina tried to make light of it, but her voice cracked with emotion.
Bette's eyes widened in disbelief that Tina was both so crass and that she was interpreting their argument in such a way.
"You just never know. I never would have guessed that Jenny and I wouldn't spend the rest of our lives together. I never would have guessed that she'd turn from me into the arms of a woman. All of my dreams were friggin' shattered."
Tina and Tim were allies in the war of love. "I feel like I wasted seven years on a woman I never really knew. The truth is, Bette was never able to give me what I most needed. She was loving, but I don't know if she ever really loved me or even if she was capable of it."
Bette was staggered to hear this and her hand shot out to brace herself against the fence.
"The past couple of months haven't been the first time I've wondered if I was more than just a glorified servant to her. She didn't need me per se, but she needed a personal assistant at home. She had James at work and me at home. That was what I was for her."
Bette's shoulders slumped and her lip began to quiver in an attempt to fight back the sadness coursing through her.
"Tina, you don't mean that?"
"I really don't know, Tim. I've dissected our relationship. I mean, these past few weeks, I've gone over every conversation, every glance trying to pinpoint where and when it fell apart. Trying to figure out when it started with Candace. I'm clueless. I thought we were happy, but there were problems. And as I thought about it, even in the first year, I saw how things were between us. We were never equals in the marriage. Bette was the one in control and I went along. I didn't want to fight, so I just agreed. I was the one who was supportivetaking an interest in her job, asking her about work, trying to soothe her when she was restless or angry. She didn't do that for me."
Now, Bette felt like Tina was in the midst of some sort of revisionist history. Bette had changed so much of her life to accommodate Tina and those actions had never been acknowledged.
"I should have stopped it back then. I should have said we should share in the shopping; we should pay bills together, my idea for the weekend should be considered, too. It wasn't like that. Bette was the one with the cultural expertise and I always deferred to her, always indulged her. I should have at least demanded equal time for support and tenderness. I just gave in, became her yes-woman, made sure she was happy."
Bette's eyes narrowed in anger.
"You had other things to offer. I don't feel it now, but I'd like to believe that I was more than just Jenny's patron who made sure she had food, a place to sleep, clean clothes, and all that while she created. But now, that's how I feellike the schmuck taking care of the starving artist."
"Tim, don't think I'm putting all of this on Bette, I'm not. In a way, I can understand why she did what she did. She must have found me boring. I think three years ago, things started going downhill, but we both tried to say that it was normal. Bette was bored. I was bored. Then, two years ago, we decided that what we really needed was a baby. We spent the last two years talking about that. Should we, shouldn't we, tying up things at work so I could quit, preparing for the insemination, finding a donor, issues around the donor, getting pregnant and the changes in my body, and then, losing the baby. You know, all of our friends had told us we were boring, but I think it was me. Bette just traveled on that path with me, but I was the boring one and she couldn't take it anymore."
Bette shook her head.
"If that's true and Tina, I gotta say, I don't think it is, it's no excuse for what she did. Bette should have talked to you. If she had been unsure about anything, bored, or whatever, she should have said it. Sneaking around behind your back, making you a laughingstock, that's just so fucked up."
"Yeah, Tim. It is so totally fucked up."
Bette remained rooted to that spot, but Tim and Tina weren't talking. They were both lost in their own thoughts--quiet, thinking, reflecting, and remembering. Bette shook her head in anguish. She was so sadsad because her partner felt so little worth in their relationship, sad for the way she had acted all along with Tina, and sad with the realization that Tina's truth was something very different from Bette's. But with that sadness was, perhaps an unhealthy dose of anger. It infuriated her that Tina dismissed Bette's feelings--to say that she wasn't capable of love when Bette knew that her love was strong pained her. If her lover really believed this, was there any hope for them?
Tina sucked in air through her nose and cleared her throat. "But Tim, this isn't why I'm here. Maybe we should have met somewhere else. Looking out and seeing our front yard, the herb garden we planted, it's too sad. I felt such happiness here once."
"Do you want to go for a walk and talk about the Center?"
"No, I need to get going anyway. I'm really happy to get your support. To have a bona fide former Olympic swim team member and university coach coming in twice a week to help the at-risk kids who come to the Center is ideal."
"It's a great opportunity for me, too, Tina. Getting these kids while they're young and training them is going to be fun. Who knows, I might be working with a little five year old Greg Lougainis."
Bette could hear Tim and Tina stand and move toward the front door. "Thanks so much. You'll find that working with these kids can be very healing. It's good for what's in here and in here." Bette guessed that Tina had pointed to her head and her heart.
"Just get the paperwork to me and I'll be there with my trunks and whistle."
"Thank you, Tim. Thank you so much."
Bette stepped behind the trunk of a tall Palm tree and hid from view, awkwardly holding her two grocery bags. She watched Tina walk down the three steps leading to the sidewalk from Tim's home and stood stock-still as Tina headed toward her silver Mini Cooper down the street.
Spending time in bed seemed to be Bette's favorite escape. Once she was inside and had put the groceries away, she climbed into their bed. When she first put her head down, all she could think of were Tina's words. She'd be lying if she said Tina's words didn't hurt, didn't sting, didn't eat away at her. She had been sure that the two of them would in time come to find the love they had lost or rather, misplaced. She had been confident that's what she wanted, but hearing her lover talk tonight, she wondered. Tina doubted and dismissed Bette's feelings for her. It wasn't just anger she heard in Tina's voice. It was dislike. Perhaps the damage was irreversible.
Bette had been sleeping for hours and it was nearly 9:00 pm when she awoke. Sleep might have been an escape, but it hadn't taken away her sorrow. She woke up lonely and depressed. A shower didn't help, a glass of wine had done nothing for her, and browsing art sites on the Internet hadn't soothed her in anyway. Everything seemed gloomy and dark and she felt a pain in her heart that was deep down. Bette was sitting in the living room, channel surfing, and there wasn't anything on that caught her eye. With legs were curled under her on the sofa, she monotonously pressed the 'channel up' button on the remote control. Suddenly she felt a wetness on her face and realized she was crying. She wondered how long she had been and thought that she simply couldn't do this any longer. She had cried more in the past six weeks than she had in the past ten years. Bette sat up, reached for her purse on the chair, and placed it in her lap. She rummaged through it, looking for the small, white paper. Something had to give and she knew it. Bette stood, picked up her keys, clutching them in her hand, and walked out of the house. She didn't want this, but she made a decisionshe would go to the 24-hour pharmacy.
There was a knock on Apartment 202's door. A moment later, Kit Porter opened the door with a huge smile on her face. "Ivan?" Kit stared at her sister in surprise. "Bette?"
"Hi, Kit. What's up?"
"Nothin'. What's going on with you?"
"Haven't heard from you in a while and thought I'd stop by, see how you're doing?"
Kit opened the door fully and invited her sister inside. She closed the door behind her and then stared at her sister, summing up her state of mind. "I'm good. Real good, Bette. I can't think of a time I've been happier in my life."
Bette glanced around the room and craned her head to see into the kitchen.
"You won't find any booze. I'm close to 90 days sober now." Kit walked into the living room and Bette followed her. In the middle of the room, she turned to look at her younger sister. "All my life I was searching for something and didn't have a clue. Melvin hated that I wasn't the perfect daughter like you. The one thing I could do right was be a straight girl. I thought that at least came naturally to me. Now, I know like you, that isn't who I am."
"You've given up over thirty years of being an active heterosexual to play with a woman who wants to be a man? That's ridiculous, Kit."
Angry, Kit responded, "First off, Ivan is all woman and I feel more like a woman than I ever did with any man. Ivan is exactly the person I've been looking for all of my life. You should be happy that Ivan treats me so well. But as usual, you can only look for the negative."
Bette shook her head. "I'm not looking for anything negative. It's just a little hard to wrap my mind around. Until a few weeks ago, did you ever, even for one moment think, hey, I'm lesbian?"
Kit frowned uncomfortably. "I'm not saying I'm gay. What I do know is I'm very happy with Ivan."
"I worry about you, Kit. You're doing great with your sobriety. Your music career is taking off. Let's say things really get hot for you--how is it going to look that you're associating with this big ole stone butch dyke, drag king? Why would you jeopardize your dreams that way, just when they're reaching fruition?" Bette's arms were folded across her breasts, staring at Kit while shaking her head like the mother of a mischievous five-year-old.
"Girl, you need to get a hold of yourself. You're out of line. There is no pleasing you and Melvin, is there?
Another knock at the apartment door sent Kit scurrying to answer. She let Ivan in, but before she could return to the living room, Ivan had pulled her close, bent her dramatically, then bent over her to drop a long and passionate kiss on her lips that left Kit dizzy and with a hungry look in her eyes. When Kit straightened, she stared into Ivan's eyes a long time, focusing entirely on her new lover. "We've got company."
Ivan turned, saw Bette and gave a sheepish grin. "Sorry, I didn't know anyone was here." She nodded in Bette's direction. "How's it going, Bette? Are you going with us?"
"Umm, no. I didn't realize you had plans, Kit. I'll just go."
"Why don't you go with us?"
"Where are you going?"
"The Palms. Saturday night, it's going to be packed."
Bette looked at her sister and sister's lover. The Palms was just so predictable. A bigger butch/femme bar didn't exist. "That's okay."
"No, no, Bette. Come on out. Please." Kit pleaded and Bette knew her sister meant it.
Bette had been nursing a sparkling water for two hours while she watched Ivan and Kit alternate between a series of hard-driving dance rhythms and a string of slow, seductive songs meant to be the foreplay for an evening of hot sex. Bette found herself wallowing in loneliness. She watched them laugh, gaze into each other's eyes, and touch each other intimately as they swayed to the music. The club was filled with couples in various stages of love or lust. Some couples like Kit and Ivan couldn't keep their hands off of each other. Other women lost themselves in the eyes of their partners, while others just sat quietly, held hands, drank, and soaked in the atmosphere.
"Did not expect to see you here?" a voice whispered into Bette's ear causing Bette to jump and spill some of her water.
Candace picked up a napkin and wiped the table, and then sat next to Bette. "What are you doing here?" Bette said.
Candace laughed. "Sometimes, I like to dance, meet people, hang out. You know regular stuff. I don't spend all of my time hammering nails, you know."
"Yes, I know," Bette said, then blushed considering the innuendo.
Candace shrugged it off and leaned in to talk to Bette since the volume of the music increased as a Britney Spears' dance tune filled the club. "You look a lot better than you did last time I saw you. Are you and Tina back together?" Candace asked without a trace of the eagerness she felt, desperate to know the answer.
"No, not yet. Well, if ever."
"So you're out on your own this evening?"
"No, I'm with my sister, Kit and her lover?"
"Sort of, for the time being, not really."
Bette's heartbeat had quickened and she felt beads of perspiration popping up on her forehead. Every time Candace leaned in, she smelled the woman's natural scent mixed with the delicate woodsy fragrance she used. Bette bit her lip and thought about what she was learning with Suzanne.
Bette turned to face her. "So, what?"
"I'm here by myself. Do you want to dance?"
"Okay. Do you mind if I sit with you?"
"Candace really, I don't want to go there with you."
"Wherever you want to take me. Not this time. I can't do it this time," Bette whispered in spite of the music that was well over the legal decibel level. Her whispered tone only made Candace move closer, lean in a bit more, and her thigh press against Bette's.
"The only place I was suggesting we go is onto the dance floor. You don't want to do that, cool." She sat back. "How's the CAC? Anything new coming up?"
"Not right now," Bette said firmly.
"Thanks to you I got a great gig at LACMA. I'm working on an enormous installation for them. They've decided to re-do the South and Southeast Asian permanent collection. They really liked the shoji screens we used in 'Provocations, but hey, that's been done. I have some new ideas for them."
"Congratulations, LACMA is quite a step up from the CAC," Bette said tightly.
"How can you say that? The CAC is edgy. Do you think LA County Museum of Art would ever have had the vision to pull off a show like 'Provocations'? Not on its most unconventional day. I can't believe LACMA was even in the running for it. So, the job is just different, but not a step up. Anyway, LACMA doesn't have a Director that's a piece of art in herself like the CAC."
"Candace?" Bette warned.
Laughing. "I'm joking around with you, Bette. Lighten up."
As the song ended, Kit noticed that Bette was no longer alone at the table. When she saw who it was, she made a beeline to her sister. "I am as hot as can be out there. Bette, would you mind going up to the bar and getting us a couple of cranberry juice and waters?"
Bette stared at her sister. "Isn't that Ivan's role?"
Kit's eyes narrowed in anger. "Whatever. It's your bed " She pulled Ivan across the room and over to the bar.
Candace watched Ivan and Kit for a moment or two, then turned to Bette, smiled seductively and said, "Your sister's right. It's your bed." Her warm breath sent chills down Bette's spine and she was frustrated that she was having this visceral reaction. The carpenter placed her surprisingly small hand on Bette's thigh and leaned in to Bette's ear. "It's been over six weeks, Bette. Shouldn't you be getting on with your life? My offer is still open. I'd like to see you."
Bette stared down at her half empty glass on the dark and sticky table. She recalled Tina's words overheard earlier in the day and an overwhelming sense of loss and an ache as deep as her soul surrounded her.
"Bette?" Candace moved her hand from her thigh to her forearm. "What is it?"
Bette turned to look at Candace and shrugged. She hurt so badly. "Let's go," Bette said, standing. She took Candace's hand and led her to the door.
Kit and Ivan watched Bette walked confidently out of the Palms.
Bette put the car in park and turned the key in the ignition to off. Candace jumped out of the passenger's side and trotted around to the driver's side to open the door for Bette. They hadn't spoken on the short drive from the Palms to Bette's house and Candace hoped that Bette wouldn't have second thoughts.
Showing much more resolve than she felt, Bette took Candace's hand and stepped out of her car. It happened quickly--Candace closed the door and then pushed Bette against the car, pinning her with her entire body covering Bette's. The carpenter's kisses were frenziedpecks to her cheek, tender bites against her neck, warm tongue on her shoulders. Bette allowed her to explore freely, though her own arms had yet to embrace the woman. They dangled beside her, offering nothing to Candace who had once again in their interactions been given control.
Candace pulled back and looked into Bette's eyes as one finger slid down her neck. "You have the most beautiful necksleek and sexy." Candace's tongue replaced her finger and Bette sighed deeply. "Don't you wanna take this inside? Inside is good."
As Candace's mouth sucked on Bette's neck, Bette turned away. When she did, Bette's eyes fell onto the façade of her home, the home she had made with Tina.
It took only a moment or two before Candace noticed the change. "What's wrong? What is it?" She drew back and stared at Bette.
"I am so sorry. This is just not going to happen."
Ever so slightly, Candace rolled her eyes and then she sighed with exasperation. "Why, Bette? I don't think you have any reason to feel guilty. Tina's gone and from what you said, you're not all that sure that she'll be back. For all you know, Tina's dating, too."
Bette stared at Candace in disbelief. The idea of Tina dating anyone was both absurd and frightening. "Too? I'm not dating. Candace, I don't feel guilty," Bette said, shaking her head. "It's not guilt, it's anger. Tina said something today that really pissed me off. I was trying to get even with her for hurting me by doing this. This is not what I want."
Candace shoved her hands in her pocket and began a short, tight pace in front of Bette. "You know what this is? This is so bogus. Look, don't tell me you're not hot. My God, Bette, we are so good together. You can't tell me that you're not turned on."
"Candace, I'm being honest. I don't want to take this further. I mean it. Look, I'll give you a ride back to the Palms to pick up your car."
"Come on. Get real."
"I'm being real. This is as real as it gets. Do you want the ride?" Bette didn't wait for an answer. Instead, she opened her car door and plopped into the driver's seat, waiting for Candace to go around to the other side.
"It's not that far. I'll walk. Forget it. Forget it all, Bette."
Candace strode off into the darkness leaving Bette to sit in her car. "Goddamnit," was all she said as she contemplated her solitary life.
Bette dog-eared a third article in ArtNews magazine. On Monday, she would have James do a bit more research on the artists for her. She was reading in bed and had been for over an hour. Next to her, in the place where Tina had once slept, Bette had her notebook computer, her Palm, a legal pad and pen, and the small sheet of paper that stated she could purchase a month's supply of Zoloft at 50 milligrams. Bette glanced at the paper, but then turned back to her work. Diving into work took her mind off of Tina and Candace.
Much later, she yawned and took off her glasses, placing them on the nightstand. She pushed the computer and accessories further across the bed, away from her, reached and turned off the light, and snuggled down under the duvet. After plumping her pillow and tossing left and right, Bette sighed. She couldn't get comfortable. Her mind raced from the words Tina had spoken to the irritation she felt regarding them. She thought about how she had decided to deal with her anger by sleeping with Candace. Yes, she was terribly attracted to her, but Candace wasn't the person she wanted in her life as a lover. Was she? How had her life become such a mess?
Bette sat up, but didn't turn on the light. She patted the area next to her, searching the top of the duvet for her mobile phone and once she found it, flipped it open revealing an indigo light that illuminated the darkness. Her fingers pressed the buttons and as she did, she thought she could hang up at any time if she really didn't want to go through with it.
"H'llo," came the voice thick with sleep.
"Hi," Bette responded fully alert.
"Bette?" the voice questioned.
Bette heard the woman on the other end drop the phone, then heard the sound of it brushing against the sheets, and the click of a lamp probably being turned on before the familiar voice returned. "Bette, it's after two-thirty in the morning. Has something happened?"
She wanted to ask what hadn't happened. Her lips trembled and so did her voice when she said, "No, I wanted to hear your voice, Tee. I I didn't think. It's late, huh?"
Tina was awake now, too. "Bette, have you been drinking?"
"Why are you calling at this hour?"
Bette's eyes closed and she slid further into bed, turning on her side so that the phone rested against the pillow and her ear lay on top of the phone. "I was about to go to sleep and I I don't know why I called. I'm sorry." Bette rushed her words and was just about to hang up.
"Wait," Tina said. "Bette, you must have something you want to say. Go ahead. Please. What's on your mind?"
"Well." Bette sucked in her lips, pressing them tightly together. When she felt like she could speak with her usual assurance, she said, "Well, I just wanted to tell you that you're wrong about me. I know what you're thinking and, I would never deny your right to those feelings, but it hurts to know those are the thoughts going through your mind."
"What are you talking about?" Tina asked slowly.
Bette turned in bed and lay on her back, staring up at the ceiling as she spoke. "I know you think I never loved you, but I did and do. Just like you, I can think of a list of things I didn't do right, things that would make you think I didn't care, but I always cared."
"Bette, it is way too late at night or I should say, early in the morning for this discussion "
"No. No " her voice trailed off, muttering something before she spoke to Tina again. "I'm a big ass. God knows I've shown that in the past few months, years even. I'll admit that I can be self-involved."
Tina let out a short laugh.
Bette knew that laugh well. It was Tina's sarcastic, 'you've got to be kidding' chuckle and Bette suddenly resented it. She was being vulnerable, attempting self-awareness and where was it getting her, a good laugh at her expense and ridicule. Just a moment before, she had been ready to apologizeagain, but now, she felt like she had to defend herself. "You knew what you were getting when we hooked up, Tina. You knew I was focused and could have tunnel vision," Bette said sharply.
"And I accepted that part of you, Bette."
"Did you? Really? I think you thought less of me because of it. Ego-tripping? Materialistic? I always sensed that." Bette questioned, challenging Tina to say she was incorrect about that assessment.
"Bette, what's this about?"
"I heard you at Tim's. I heard everything you said. Fuck, Tina, how could you say that you doubt I ever truly loved you? And what do you mean you don't think I'm capable of love. Do you know what it's like to hear that? How could you say that and that I was never able to give you what you needed most? What didn't I give? What did you need that I failed to provide? How could you say something like that? What did I do that was so horribleother than what happened with Candace? What did I do?"
"Tell me the truth," she requested softly. "I want to know."
Tina sighed. "You know, I understood that you were this go-getter. I was attracted to that in you. I liked that you saw something and went after it and I came to realize that sometimes I would have to take a backseat to whatever was your focus at the moment. When you worked at your gallery I understood the late hours, the long meetings with your accountant, the fights with artists, even with the CAC, I knew that it took a lot of work on your part to be in charge, so I'd wait for you to get home, wait for my turn with you, but once you were there, it was still about you, not us."
"That is so untrue."
"That's not what I felt. Okay, okay for example, when I found out I was pregnant "
"And you told every one of our friends and my sister before telling me," Bette interrupted, still a bit miffed about it.
"Do you want to know why?" Tina's voice rose in frustration. "You knew I wanted to take the home pregnancy test, but you had to go to work. You didn't go get the test, Alice brought it over for me. Bette, it was like my first pee of the morning. You could have waited twenty minutes, but you didn't." Tina finished with more than a hint of censure in her tone, "You could have waited, but you had pressing things at the CAC. I guess that would be Candace"
"No," Bette said quickly. "Trying to find an exhibition."
"Anyway, Alice was there with me. I was in the kitchen reading and she's the one who brought the results to me. Immediately after that, your sister walked in. Alice and I were standing there, jumping for joy, laughing, so happy. What was I suppose to do, tell Kit that this wonderful news wasn't her business? I shared the moment with Alice and then Kit. Jesus, do you remember what your response was that morning when I called you?"
Bette thought for a few moments, but she recalled nothing. "No."
"I asked you to come home on time for dinner; that I'd make something special, that I'd take care of you, and you were rushing me off the phone and said that you couldn't be counted on, you'd try, but not to count on it. That's it, Bette. I stopped being able to count on you. Your work, your shows, your everything was more important than us."
"Everything I was doing was for us. Everything. I took the job at the CAC, so we could raise a family together."
"And you slept with Candace so we could what?"
"There is no excuse for what I did--none at all, Tina. You know how I feel about that sort of thing. All I know is that something sort of snapped in me. The pressure of the show, of knowing that I wasn't making you happy, of losing the baby just boiled over and Shit, I have been trying to explain it to myself. I can't. I'm miserable about it. I needed to just forget about all my troubles, lose myself for a little while and I did that in such a stupid way." Bette rubbed her forehead absently and then twirled a curl around her finger. She hesitated, asking herself if she really wanted to share everything with Tina. She decided that opening up to her might help them both to heal. "I'm wondering if if I had a nervous breakdown." This wasn't a line Bette was feeding Tina, she had actually speculated that it might be an explanation for her behavior. She hadn't discussed it with Suzanne, but it was on her mind. Something had to account for her to stray so far off the course she had laid out for herself.
"And you couldn't have lost yourself with me? Found comfort with me? We couldn't have done that together?" Tina queried softly. "I needed someone, too."
"I didn't think I could. I was wrong. But Tee, what you said at Tim's is just about killing me. Do you really believe that?"
Tina sighed before answering. "No. I was angry and swept up in Tim's rage. Almost immediately after saying it, I regretted it. I spent all evening thinking about that and wondering why I said those things. I'm sorry you heard them and I know how that must have felt for you. I hope you didn't let those words consume your evening."
"What'd you do tonight?" Tina asked in between a yawn as she attempted conversation.
"Nothing of any consequence," Bette hoped she didn't sound guilty.
There were a few moments of silence before Tina said, "I just can't believe you of all people would do what you did. I meant it when I said that I admired your conviction. For you to travel down that path shocked me. It bent me completely out of shape. Bette, we were lovers, partners, friends. We used to be able to talk about any and everything. And didn't we have a good sex life? Hadn't I pleased you? I mean, I know that maybe the sex had become more occasional than you liked, but didn't you like making love with me? Why did you go to her?'
"I am so confused," Bette sighed deeply. "I have no idea what to say or do anymore. There is nothing in my experiences that can explain my actions."
"The sex wasn't good?" Tina noticed that Bette hadn't answered her questions.
"Oh, Tee. You shouldn't have to ask that question at all. It was wonderful. I'm so lonely without you. I need you so much. This bed is empty without you beside me and my heart and soul are empty, too." Tina sighed, but said nothing. Bette waited and finally she felt compelled to ask, "Aren't you lonely? Don't you miss me?"
"I've been trying not to think about it, Bette. It hurts so much when I do. I've been spending long hours at the Center with Oscar, getting that ready, hiring staff, making sure our tax-exempt status is processed. When I start thinking about us, I become immobile and shut down. I'd rather keep busy."
"I've got to ask. It's been over a month. Is this the end for us? Should we be getting together to split up our things?" Bette was trying to hold things together. Her throat constricted and she couldn't breathe. Before Tina could answer, Bette started to cough, then gag. She sat up, throwing her legs over the edge of the bed as she coughed and hiccupped until she was able to get her breath again.
"Are you all right?" Tina sounded anxious.
"Yes, fine." Bette paused, but she hadn't forgotten her question. "Tina, is this the end?"
"No, Bette, it's not for me. I do still love you."
"I always will. It's just that I'm so scared. It scares me that your life became mine and my life faded away. I've got to find myself again, take my voice back."
"I understand. I'm changing, too. The past few weeks have been enlightening. I want to prove to you that I can be different, more of what you want and need."
"For how long, Bette? How long could you maintain such a change?"
"Forever, Tee. I could be what you need forever." Bette heard Tina sniff and knew she was crying. "Tina, I could be the woman you want forever. I swear. I want to hold and love you always."
"It's late. I can't even think straight," Tina said stifling a yawn. "We'll talk later when we're both awake and sober."
"I'm completely sober," Bette corrected. "I'll let you go. I'm sorry for calling so late." Bette was quiet for a few moments and Tina waited, sensing there was more that her estranged lover wanted to say. "Tee, when you close your eyes tonight, see me smiling at you and see all the love I feel for you in my eyes."
"I will, Bette."
"Goodnight." Bette's voice was low and husky from the late hour. "I wish I could turn and kiss your soft cheek goodnight. I love you."
"I love you, too," Tina said without the anxiety that had been in Bette's voice, but the emotion was there and Bette was encouraged by that.
Tina was the first to disconnect. Bette held the phone to her ear for long moments before flipping the phone back into darkness.
She curled her legs back into bed and turned on her side. This was the best conversation she and Tina had had. Nothing had been settled, but things were looking up.
She struggled to fall asleep, but scrutinizing every word of their conversation took energy. Bette couldn't relax. She fluffed her pillow, then grabbed Tina's and squeezed it against her face. Sleep wouldn't come. On the nightstand, Bette saw the clock brightly announcing the time. It was 3:03 am.
Turning onto her back, Bette tried to still her racing mind, but to no avail. She heard Tina's soft voice telling her that she still cared for her. She smiled when she thought of Tina asking if Bette had thought the sex was good. Tina had been a responsive and open-minded lover from the very beginning. When they first got together, Bette wondered if she'd be able to keep up with her. Tina had wanted to try and do everything, perhaps making up for those lost years she had dallied with men. The thought of Tina wrapped in her arms filled her mind. Tonight was the first night in weeks that Bette felt any type of arousal and it was Tina she was thinking of, not Candace. That was a relief. Bette's eyes closed as she imagined a scene from many years ago.
Alone, now, Bette thought of that day. Her eyes fluttered closed as her own hand moved up her body. She thought of how it felt to kiss Tina, the way that Tina had approached her that day and bent to capture Bette's lips. Bette's hand slid across the sapphire colored, silk, men's styled pajama top she wore. Her hand squeezed her breast through the top, feeling the nipple already erect and beginning to ache as she used an open palm in a circular motion against it. She moaned softly as her memory went back to that day.
Bette unbuttoned the top button of the pajamas and slid her hand inside to massage her breasts. She licked her lips and swallowed as her expert touch lifted her lust higher. Sitting up, Bette pulled the top off and threw it onto the floor. Completely nude now, she sank back into the soft sheet. Both hands caressed her body, starting with her breasts and moving lowerup and down her torso, fingers teased the triangle of dark hair, then back up to hold her breasts. She felt the weight, the firmness and roundness of them, and the pebbling of her areola as she squeezed her nipples between her fingers.
In bed alone, Bette's heart rate had picked up as her fingers opened up her swollen labia. She thought of Tina's smile, the little groans she made when they loved each other, and how on that afternoon long ago, both of them had been insatiable in their need to devour one another. Bette slid her index finger up and down her inner folds, feeling the slickness of the flesh. She began to stroke her clit with one finger while her other hand moved back up to roughly squeeze first one breast than the other.
Bette's finger was tickling and flicking her clitoris, moving faster and faster over the hard button as she pictured that afternoon.
For years it had been like that for them. They had been so connected to each other that their orgasms simply flowed back and forth between them as if they shared one prolonged and satisfying climax.
As she lay in bed alone, touching herself, wanting and wishing for Tina, and remembering how good it had been, Bette climbed higher. As she reached her peak, her legs shot out, became rigid, as her finger stroked once, twice, then she was there. Her body lifted, she panted, and called out to her absent lover, "Oh, Tee. Tina, baby. Baby."
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