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
It was nearly five in the afternoon when Bette returned home on Sunday. When she pulled into the driveway, the smile was still plastered on her face. It was the first time she had spent hours without contemplating her relationship with Tina since that fateful night. Eileen Strickland had kept her laughing and the gossip had been free flowing and juicy.
After getting out, Bette tilted the back of the seat forward. She reached behind and gingerly pulled out a large canvas. She had been surprised when Eileen had insisted that Bette walk her to her car to pick up a gift. When Eileen pulled the canvas out of the trunk, she commanded Bette to view the work only after she returned home. Bette was like a child barely able to contain herself before opening birthday presents. She walked the painting to the side door, her arms spread wide to handle the immense work. Placing the painting at the door, she unlocked it, then heaved the panting into her arms again and walked inside.
Bette carried it into the living room, kicked the coffee table aside, and leaned the painting against the sofa. The painting was wrapped in a thick, cotton blanket that Bette peeled away. Stepping back, Bette smiled and shook her head in amazement. No question, she would have to return this exquisite painting; it was a gift she simply couldn't accept. Bette took a seat in a chair opposite the painting and stared at it. Her mind fell into the lines and curves of the painting. The artist's choice of bright yellow and vibrant red showed bold and audacious. She wasn't the first person to see the great talent in the work.
The phone was ringing, but Bette was so lost in the work that she hadn't noticed at first. She ran to pick up, noticing that the number was Eileen's.
"Hello," she said. "Are you insane?"
Eileen laughed loudly. "So I take it you woke that little painting up, took its blankey off?"
"Seriously, are you nuts? There is no way in hell I'm accepting an original Alexander Calder from you. You've lost your mind."
"No, dear, I'm perfectly sane. Here's the thing: I had this very wealthy great aunt, I mean filthy, nasty rich. I know what you're thinking, hey Eileen, you said you were a starving artist. Well, I was back then. I'd ask my aunt to float me a few bucks now and then and she'd laugh and say 'you're no Picasso, Eileen. I knew Picasso. I slept with Picasso. Yeah, she slept with Picasso like I've been getting it on with George Clooney for the past four months. Okay, it's true that my battery-operated love toy is named George Clooney, but it's hardly the same. Anyway, you're no Picasso, no Gaughin. You're no Wyeth or Pollack or whomever came to mind. Constant criticism and no dough. So, all those years, I was doing my art, she'd make fun of me."
"That's too bad."
"Well, you were the one who made sure I had food in my stomach and kept me off of skid row. You did, Bette. My aunt was chowing down on filet mignon and pomme frites while I was hoping I could scrape together enough for Tito's Tacos."
"So, the old broad keels over. Drops dead. Next thing I know, the Gravy Train pulls up to my door and drops off about fifteen original paintings. All that time I was desperate and got nothin', then when I'm making it hand over fist, when the last thing I need is a handout, she bequeaths paintings that are worth a fortune."
"Bette, you saved my life. You believed in me when no one else did. You got me noticed, showed my work and now, I'm set. I have a practice that brings in over a million a year and it grows every year. And I make a bundle teaching at Columbia, UCLA, USC. Bette, I'd have nothing if it weren't for you. The other fourteen paintings are in storage. That Calder I knew I wanted you to have. I knew you'd love it. It's beautiful of course, but when I look at it, I see my aunt's scorn and hear her sarcasm. It doesn't make me particularly happy."
"Do you have any idea how much it's worth?" Bette asked incredulously.
"To me, not much. In the open market, a nice piece of change."
"Yeah, Sotheby's is asking nearly a quarter of a million for the companion piece at auction in a few weeks."
"You know your Calder."
"I'm really blown away, Eileen."
"Listen babe, I've got a hundred things to do before tomorrow morning. Do what you wish with the Calder. If you want to donate it to the CAC, that's cool. If you want to use it as your foundation piece when you re-open the Bette Porter gallery, that's tres cool."
"Whoa, no one said anything about that."
"Bette, you should. You're not the same person you were a few years ago. That spark is gone, that joie de vie is missing. Maybe the CAC is bringing you down. Maybe it's this thing with Tina. I know you don't want to talk about it, but if this separation is doing this to you, then you need to start working on getting that straight. Whatever it takes, babe, whatever it takes. That's my advice."
"Thank you, thank you for that," Bette said softly. "And for the Calder. You're precious to me, Eileen."
"Yeah, yeah. Like I haven't heard that before. The list I could give. So stay in touch, Bette. Bye."
The weekend had started off dreadfully, but by Sunday night, Bette was feeling better than she had in weeks. Perhaps she had survived the worst. She hadn't needed Zoloft to get through it. She was still in charge of her life. The prescription remained in her purse, however.
James slid the door to Bette's office open. His boss was sitting in a chair, leaning forward as she surveyed six small sculptures placed on the meeting table before her. Bette picked up one of the abstract sculptures and sat back, turning the small bronze piece in her hands. She shook her head and placed it back on the table.
"Excuse me, Bette."
She took off her glasses and held them in her hand when she looked up at James. "This sucks. What am I going to do? There's no restraint, no command of the bronze. Somehow I'm not surprised that Franklin loves this shit."
"Bette, I'm sorry, your father's on hold for you."
"What?" Bette leapt from the chair and jogged over to her phone and pushed the speaker button as she answered. "Daddy?" she said breathlessly and with real happiness.
"Hello, Bette. I thought you had forgotten about me."
"Never. I thought you were out of the country. Where are you?"
"I'm calling from the plane. I had a business meeting in Seattle and have a layover in Los Angeles. My plane lands just before Noon. Let's see at 11:58 to be precise. The Hilton on Century has a beautiful garden. Perhaps, we could take tea there and time permitting go to the café for a quick lunch before my flight out?"
"Of course, Daddy. Shall I pick you up at LAX?"
James smiled while listening to the exchange. Bette was such a Daddy's girl. She turned into a nine year old in front of his eyes.
"No, I'll just take a hotel shuttle over there. I would say to expect me around 12:45."
"Okay, Daddy. I'll be there."
When she hung up, James looked at her and said, "I'll cancel your afternoon appointments."
"Thank you. Hmm." She looked at her watch. "I don't have much time with the traffic."
"Do you want me to call for a car?"
"No, I'll make it if I leave now." She glanced up at James as she gathered items from her desk. "Funny, my Dad will probably beat me to LAX and he's barely out of Seattle."
Bette was early, so she stood in the garden admiring the lush, tropical landscaping. She was ecstatic about seeing her father. She hadn't told him about what had been happening the last few weeks and was looking forward to talking it all out with him. Bette was well aware that her father hadn't been pleased about the baby they had planned and he was always reserved with Tina, but she believed that he did care about Bette's happiness and would be supportive of her during this difficult time. He was old school and set in his ways, but he loved her and she knew it. There were times when he upset her, caused her frustration because he could be narrow in his thinking, but she worshiped him. She shook her head as she thought about her sister whose relationship with their father was strained at best. It was too bad that Kit couldn't see past their father's formality to the depth of love he had for his daughters.
Bette glanced around the garden, her eyes falling on the beautiful tropical jasmine and hibiscus flowers that emitted a pungently sweet fragrance throughout the space. The sound of birds chirping happily wasn't distracting, but pleasant. Bette noted that there were no birds to be seen, so the chirping was no doubt a nature sounds recording piped in through hidden speakers. She was bent over a small pond, looking at the waterlillies when she heard her father's voice thanking one of the staff for directing him to her location. Sparing a glance at her watch, Bette smiled knowing that it was just like her father to arrive precisely when he planned12:45. Melvin's daughter smiled broadly as she watched her father approach before breaking into a stride and meeting him halfway with arms extended.
"Daddy, Daddy. I'm so happy you could stop over to see me," Bette exclaimed as she embraced him.
"I always want to see my little girl."
"Come, sit. How was Rome?" The father and daughter sat on a beautifully carved wooden bench that was sculpted to mimic a tree trunk and its roots. In front and between them was a small table with a pitcher and two tall glasses. Bette poured an iced tea that she had ordered earlier for her father and said, "Did you get all that you wanted accomplished there?"
"Yes, Bette. The meetings proved to be beneficial to all involved. I had an opportunity to do a bit of sightseeing one afternoon and thought of you as I visited a church with outstanding murals from the 12th century. The images of Christ and the Madonna stirred me." Melvin brought his glass to his mouth and took a sip, smiling to himself at its delicate flavor.
While Bette filled her glass, she said, "Speaking of stirring, it's too bad that you only have a layover. 'Provocations,' the show I've had so much trouble getting up is on display at the CAC. It's fascinating, Daddy."
Melvin Porter made a sucking sound with his tongue against his teeth. "I've read all about it. I really don't think it's the kind of thing I'd enjoy much, Bette. I'm proud of you for making that happen, but I would have preferred that you fight for something with staying power."
Bette's face froze in puzzlement as her father continued, "What does this show truly offer other than the sensational and controversial? Will it stand the test of time? I don't think so. Will it be considered great art sixty years from now or even ten years from now? I doubt it. I read that the CAC usually goes with a very nice exhibit, "Impressions in Winter." Impressionism, that's art that's timeless. But that's not to say that what you did wasn't inspiring and extraordinary, it was."
Bette smiled. "Thanks, Daddy." She wasn't going to become upset with the way he said things. He was an older man who had a certain way of viewing life. She wouldn't fault him for that.
Bette set her glass on the table and looked at her father. She took a deep breath and said, "Daddy, there's something I need to tell you. It's..."
Melvin's face was etched with concern. "What is it, Bette?"
"Uh...first, I wanted to say that I know you weren't happy about the fact that Tina and I were planning on having a child together."
"Yes, I recall our discussion about Miss Kennard's condition. But go on."
Her father never made things easy. He was blunt, decisive, and opinionated, but Bette soldiered on. "Tina lost our baby, Daddy."
"Please give Miss Kennard my condolences."
"Daddy, we lost the baby. Not just Tina, I lost the baby, too." Bette tried to get him to understand.
"Then, please accept my sympathies, as well."
"It's been a hard time for us and a lot of things have been done and said. The result is that Tina and I have separated."
"Yes, I know."
"Yes, I had to speak with Katie about David. David had questions about his father's medical history. It was not in David's best interest to have another interaction with his mother, so I called for the information. In the process of that call, Katie told me that your friendship with Miss Kennard had ended."
Bette tilted her head. "When was this?"
"About a month or so ago."
"And you didn't call me? You didn't call to see how I was doing?"
"Why would I do that, dear? You're an adult; your private relationships aren't my business."
"Did Kit tell you what happened?"
"Only that Miss Kennard chose to move out of your house."
"Our house, Daddy. She moved out of our home," Bette emphasized.
"Again, I didn't realize that Miss Kennard was also on the deed. I have an associate who practices real estate law in Century City. I believe I have his card." Melvin reached into the inside of his jacket pocket for his wallet. "You'll have to get together with him and plot out how to proceed." He opened the leather wallet and searched through a number of business cards for the one he needed. "Here it is." He tried to hand the card to Bette, but she shook her head and refused it. "Bette, it's important that you get back at least what you put in. I suggest that you put the house on the market, get it sold, and you and Miss Kennard share in the profits." Melvin returned the card to his wallet.
"I'm not interested in selling our home. Daddy, I want Tina and I to work this out. We aren't selling our house," she repeated emphatically.
"No, you don't. Daddy, I love her. I know you don't like it, probably don't want to hear it, but you should be happy that I found love, and understand how I feel now that this love is in jeopardy. It's been tearing me apart."
"Bette, I don't like seeing you unhappy, however, I have never interfered in your personal life. I'm not planning on changing my policy. I want to see you and Katie rise to your potential. I expect it and I've been supportive of your professional endeavors. Remember, I gave you the seed money to start your gallery. I believed that you would do well on your own, I thought you had done your research, your prospectus was good, and I was more than willing to invest."
"You didn't invest, I borrowed the money from you and then paid you back with interest," Bette stated flatly.
"That was part of our contract, Bette. That's what business is about. I didn't think preferential treatment was a lesson you needed to learn. Did you?"
Bette stared at him, but didn't respond.
Melvin took at sip of tea, then continued, "And if I were to be honest, Bette, I'm relieved that it wasn't a true investment. Leaving your gallery was a misjudgment on your part. Taking a job where you don't have the final say in how you choose to do business is questionable. And then to learn a few months ago that you would be the sole financial support for yourself, Miss Kennard, and her child--well, I began to have serious doubts about your decision-making abilities. Your recent behavior is more like Katie's than what I expect from you. You're not a stupid woman, not naive, and I thought not easily influenced, but now I'm not so sure. This is not how a Yale graduate goes through her life. You're upset about your friendship. I see that, but I will not involve myself in whether or not your personal life is all that you want it to be. That is simply not my concern."
Bette's eyes welled with tears, but none fell. She wouldn't give her father the satisfaction nor would she allow him to see her lose control. "You don't care if I've found love? If some one loves me?"
"That is not my affair."
Bette shook her head. "That's unconscionable, Daddy."
"Be that as it may."
It had been a long day already. Before going to work, Bette had dug out her digital camera, taken several photographs of her new Calder, and then driven to a local storage facility to store the painting. On her way to work, she had contacted her insurance agent and procured extra insurance for her latest acquisition. She had an appointment to meet with the agent tomorrow at the storage locker to authenticate and examine the piece. Once at work, Bette had handed James a list of items to look intoartists, art galleries of interest, and articles on the business of art to photocopy and file appropriately. It was when she was examining the hideous bronze statues that her father had called and she drove to LAX to meet him. After leaving Melvin, Bette needed some downtime and drove to Redondo Beach and walked the boardwalk for an hour. The walk had not calmed her, but had served to put her on edge. She had played her father's words to her over and over. By the time she arrived back in LA, her disillusion with her father had reached a straining point that was ready to burst her wide open. She had just enough time to make her appointment.
Suzanne glanced at the small, beaded, Moroccan-inspired, saffron and terra cotta colored clock on the table beside Bette's chair. She shifted in her seat and continued to look at Bette. Her expression showed nothing. The psychiatrist was not going to force Bette to speak. When the museum director had walked in at 3:00pm, Suzanne had politely asked how she was doing. Bette barely opened her mouth when she responded monosyllabically, "fine." Now, ten minutes later, Bette sat with her legs crossed, her arms crossed over her breasts, and staring out the window. Suzanne had never seen her so tightly wound and she was curious as to what had happened, but it would be Bette's choice to share that in the therapy session.
Bette ran her fingers through her hair, pushing the few hairs that had fallen onto her forehead back. She sighed and turned to Suzanne, tried to speak, but got only as far as opening her mouth before she turned away again.
Suzanne watched this resistance to openness. Bette's lower lip trembled as she fought back the emotions that wanted to carry her away. Bette's shoulders began to shake and she suddenly gasped a mere second before the sobbing began.
The psychiatrist stood, walked over to Bette's chair and handed her a Kleenex from the table beside her. Bette accepted it without thinking. Suzanne walked to the water cooler stored inconspicuously in the back corner of the room. She grabbed a Dixie Cup and filled it with water. Returning to Bette, she put her arm around her shoulders and handed her the cup. "Have a drink, take a moment, and if you can, we can talk about it."
Bette wiped her eyes with the Kleenex, then blew her nose, but instead of speaking, she looked out of the window again. Suzanne had returned to her chair and now watched her client. It was 3:15. "Bette, I'm here for your use. You didn't cancel today's appointment, so I'm going to assume that you wanted to be here. We've got another 35 minutes to do work." Suzanne said all that she planned, so she crossed her leg and continued to wait.
Tears flooded the bottom edges of Bette's eyes and soon flowed freely down the planes of her face. She turned to face her psychiatrist with such an expression of despair that Suzanne's own heart ached for her client. Bette closed her eyes and when she opened them, she was somehow able to begin. "Do you know what it's like to have a hero? To have someone whom you believe in with every beat of your heart? Someone you know won't let you down, someone you know loves you completely?" Bette sucked in her lips and took a deep breath. She shook her head, recalling her conversation with her father. "And how it feels when your hero tells you that you don't really matter, that your happiness is irrelevant? I'll tell you, it just kills me."
"This hero? Who is it?"
"I see. You mentioned that you have an excellent relationship with him, but you hadn't had the opportunity to tell him about the recent events in your life."
"No, I hadn't. Today, I saw him. Briefly. He was in between flights and we met for iced teas at a hotel." Bette filled her in on the conversation, no longer crying as she told her just how devastated she was by his words, by his behavior.
"It's unfortunate that he treated you this way. I'm sorry, Bette."
My...my sister can't get along with my Dad. They're like oil and water," Bette said in a whisper. "According to Kit, he's judgmental; that it's his way or the highway. But I love Daddy."
"He's been judgmental with you. His response today was judgmental. Have you had other situations like this with him in your past?"
"A few. He treated Tina badly the last time he was in town. The three of us went out for dinner. Tina told him about the baby and the donor and he just got weird. He implied that she was racist, saying that she thought all African-Americans were interchangeable. He said he wouldn't accept our child as his grandchild because it was biologically impossible."
"How did that make you feel?"
"She excused herself. Went home."
"And what did you do?"
Bette stared at the floor. "I stayed with Daddy." She looked up and into Suzanne's eyes. "My father was in his forties when I was born. He's from a different time. I don't expect him to understand everything. He's come a long way; he accepted Tina and me as a couple."
"He was as comfortable with it as he could be. We didn't flaunt our relationship around him." Bette remembered how she had easily and without thought taken Tina's hand at dinner, but her father's look of disapproval caused her to slink away from the minor display of affection.
"So Tina tells him that the two of you are enlarging your family and he insults her. After she left, what happened?"
"We talked about my job, his job, travel, art."
"And no discussion on what had taken place earlier?"
Bette shook her head. "No. I couldn't do it."
"You were upset, though?"
"How long did you dine with your father?"
"A couple of hours."
"And when you returned home, what did you say to Tina?"
"She was asleep. I just changed and went to bed."
"The next morning, did you talk about what had taken place?"
Bette answered quietly, "No."
"She didn't mention it, so I didn't."
"Why did Tina have to mention it first, Bette?"
"Well, she took the worst of it from him. In fact, after she left, Daddy and I got along fine."
"Bette, let's move on from that for a second. I'm interested in your description of your father as hero. What makes him a hero? What do you admire about him?"
There was so much in Bette's life that she never talked about. Memories were like snapshots in her mind of places long ago and events past. Her childhood had been one of privilege in Philadelphia. That was her father's doing. He had been successful and sent his daughters to the best private schools, but there were also memories of name-calling, hatred, threats, and confrontations. She remembered her father standing tall and proud as he dealt with insults hurled at him by strangers. Mostly, Bette remembered how Melvin stood up to any and everyone who threatened his family. "You'd think that in the late 60s, early 70s, people would be enlightened, but they weren't. My first recollection that we were different was when I was eight."
"Different--a Black father, a white mother, a chocolate-colored daughter, and me. Once, we went to this restaurant and waited for service. We waited about 40 minutes and people who had come in after us were being served. My father asked for the manager and when he arrived at our table, the manager smiled at the whole family. I smiled back and even tried to grab his hand. I was only eight or so. He seemed so friendly as he leaned on the table to talk to my father. Daddy told him the problem and the manager nodded and said that someone would be with us shortly." Bette rubbed her eyes with her thumb and forefinger. "The manager said, "We'll get to you after all the White people have been served. That's the way we do it here. If you, your nigger loving wife, and your half white kids want to go somewhere else you know where the door is."
Suzanne tried not to show her shock. "What did your father do?"
"He got the manager's name, noted the day and time on the notepad he kept with him and we left. The next day, he called a friend at the NAACP and they did a boycott of the restaurant that made local news in Philadelphia. My father made people pay the price for mistreatment. He told me, always get them where it hurts the most, Bette. Get them in the wallet or purse."
"And your mother? What was her reaction to the bigotry?"
"Mother used to be there beside my father, but it became too much. There was far more unhappiness than joy between them. I think she got tired. You shouldn't have to fight strangers and explain your choices to people you don't know. There are enough problems. Who needs that extra burden? She got to the point where she just wanted it to go away." Bette was far away, looking beyond Suzanne, beyond the room, far back into the past. "When it didn't go away, she decided she would."
"Your mother divorced your father?"
"Divorced my father, Kit, and me, moved away. Kit was just leaving home and I desperately wanted to stay with Daddy. It was my choice. She asked me where I wanted to be. I knew it was with him. She understood."
"How old were you, Bette?"
"I think about ten then."
"And you got to decide with whom you'd live?"
"Yes, of course." Bette said as if that couldn't be a problem.
Suzanne nodded, knowing that this would be a topic they'd discuss later. Right now, she wanted to be able to send Bette home with some closure regarding her father and if not closure, at least not feeling more abandoned than she did.
There was no need to direct Bette back to the discussion as she recalled another story. "We moved into this neighborhood with a public school my father had researched. He thought it would be good for us. We didn't stay long. People would call all night and when my parents answered, they'd hang up--two in the morning, three, fourevery night for months. I would cry and Daddy would rock me back to sleep. In the morning, when we'd go outside, there would be broken eggs dripping from the door, eggshells on the ground."
"My father would clean it up and tell Kit and me not to let anyone get the best of us, to stay strong, and show that we could take the higher ground. My mom complained, shouted, made demands. She didn't like it, but she had lost her fight, at least her fight outside of our home."
"So you saw your father be strong for you and show his love by trying to give you everything, protecting and defending you?"
"Bette, as an adult how has your father shown his love?"
Bette's brow furrowed as she thought. Suzanne, as was her way, was patient and didn't coax or encourage an answer. Finally, Bette said, "He tells me that he's proud of me."
"What is he proud of?"
"My success, my career."
"No, nothing," Bette hadn't needed to consider the question. It wasn't a surprise, but saying it aloud seemed to deepen the wound.
"So, is he your hero for what he did when you and your sister were children?"
"And if he hadn't been that kind of father to you, what would your relationship be now?"
"I doubt we'd have one. I watched Daddy get cursed out, spit on twice, deal with remarks about my mother and us, and he just let it wash off of him. I know it must have been hard. And, I empathize with that. I like showing him that he's special to me because I saw so many treat him like he was dirt."
"So you're trying to somehow make up for past mistreatments to your father. Do you think that being permissive as he demeaned you, Tina, and the relationship you two had built as a couple in some way evens the score?"
"I hadn't thought of it that way, but I suppose that's true. I guess that's what I thought. I didn't want to add more anguish and grief to a heart that had been through so much already."
"How does that feel?"
"Ridiculous. Daddy is driven, demanding, forceful, and headstrong. My father knows how to get things done and doesn't have the time or inclination for interpersonal relationships. I'm sure he sees what happened when I was a child as the acts of ignorant and angry people. The way he has treated me now, he sees that as offering pragmatic advice and personal condemnation against what he deems unacceptable. He thinks he has the right." Bette paused, thought about her feelings for her father, and said, "Kit is right. He's judgmental; he likes to have his way. He likes to be in charge."
"Do you see any similarities between your father and anyone else?"
"Me," she whispered. "I see me."
Bette finished her grande mocha latte that she had carried out in a takeaway cup. She was leaning against the hood of her Saab, wearing drawstring navy blue cropped pants that were low-rising and slightly flared at the ankle and a light blue capsleeve t-shirt. Glancing at her watch, she stared at the façade of the building. It was quitting time for many people in the area and Bette observed friends talking as they walked to their cars, singles running for the bus, and businessmen and women still connected to their mobile phones. She searched for that last swallow of coffee, practically turning the cup on end, as she emptied it. The convertible top was down and she tossed the depleted cup into the back seat, just as Oscar and Tina walked out of the building. Both were dressed in paint splattered Levis and t-shirts. Bette looked up at them and smiled. Oscar wore an expression of concern while Tina's was one of surprise.
"Bette, what are you doing here?"
"I was driving by and wondered if you were still doing yoga. I was on my way over there and remembered that you go on Mondays, too."
"Yeah." Tina was skeptical.
"I was just going to give Tina a ride home," Oscar stated protectively.
"I can do that," Bette answered with just as much force. "Tee, I brought some exercise clothes for you, too, in case you needed them."
Tina's eyes shifted back and forth between Oscar and Bette. She didn't want to appear indecisive, or easily manipulated but she wanted to spend time with her. After their phone conversation, Bette had been all that she'd been able to think about. "Oscar, why don't you go ahead? Bette's got me covered."
Oscar nodded to both women and continued down the street, looking back once to confirm that he had made the right decision.
Bette opened the passenger's side door for Tina and helped her in, taking her stack of papers and small briefcase from her hand and placing them in the back seat.
Bette hurried to the other side and jumped into the driver's seat. "So, we're off to the Yoga Center," Bette said nervously.
"Are you all right, Bette? Your eyes look a little swollen and red."
"Oh, I went for a swim earlier today," she lied, dismissing Tina's concern.
They drove in silence. Tina wasn't sure what she should say and Bette was so riddled with anxiety that she chose to concentrate on navigating the Saab through the streets of Los Angeles.
It became deafening, so Tina asked about work.
"Everything's the same. It's like working at the Post Office, Tee. The mail never goes away. As soon as we finish one exhibit, there are three more to plan. They're pressuring me to sign that new contract, too. Peggy Peabody got them to make the offer. I've had it for several months, but I'm not sure. I've been ducking the lawyer's calls."
"What's holding you back?"
"I'm thinking that I might want to go back to my gallery." Bette glanced quickly at her to catch her reaction.
"Wow. That might be a good thing for you."
"There's no need to rush into it. I'll sleep on it a few more days. I miss being a gallerist, though." Bette gave a driver that cut her off, the finger before asking, "How's the Center? Is everything in order to get started? I'd like to support it with a check."
"That's not necessary."
"I want to show it and you my support."
"Okay. Everything's going well there. We've got pretty much a full, professional staff now. It's going to be amazing."
Bette turned her head to look at her lover whom she'd been separated from for weeks and grinned happily. "I'm glad it's going so well."
They drove in silence again. Bette turned off Larchmont Avenue onto one of the side streets and started looking for parking. It took a few passes around the block, but a space did open up and she snagged it. As she turned off the car, Tina reached into the back seat and grabbed the small gym bag that contained the clothes Bette had picked out. She turned and was just about to open the car door when Bette stopped her by lightly touching her thigh and holding her hand there.
"Tee, I need to say something."
Tina faced Bette, her face a study in concern and interest. "Yes." Tina was certain that another Candace apology was forthcoming.
"Tina, I should never have indulged my father's bigotry. He was rude to us, especially to you. He's my father and I've grown used to the way he is, but I never, ever should have catered to that behavior. You deserve better than that."
"Wow, Bette. I know how you feel about Melvin. I've got to admit, I'm a bit taken aback by this."
"It's a shame that you are. This is how I should have dealt with him all along. You are far too important to me and I do respect you too much to have let you suffer my father's veiled and not so hidden insults. I regret it. And to think that I permitted that while you were overstressed and tired from the pregnancy. You must have been very angry."
"I was," Tina said, but waved a dismissive hand as if to lessen her feelings. "But he's your Dad. We behave differently with our parents. It's natural."
Bette moved her hand from Tina's thigh to her arm and stared directly into her eyes. "It is intolerable that your lover would pander to backward thinking and cruel comments launched at you and then insist that you rationalize it as natural. I promise you that my father will not speak to or about you in that manner again. Not in my presence he won't." This truth couldn't have been clearer. Tina felt Bette reach out with this vow to her soul and did what seemed natural at that momentshe took Bette's hand, raised it to her lips and kissed it, holding the connection there for a few moments.
Bette smiled a smile of devotion, but she broke away and said, "We're going to be late," as she leapt from her side and ran to the sidewalk.
As Bette and Tina progressed through their yoga class, fluidly shifting from posture to posture, they continued to make eye contact. Whenever Tina looked up, Bette would be staring at her and then suddenly lower her gaze. Bette noticed the same thing with Tina. Bette slid from "dog" posture to "cat" posture and when her head rose, Tina's eyes held Bette's. There wasn't sexual tension between them, but there was an undeniable connection that was intimate and energizing.
After class Bette and Tina exited the Yoga Center and started down the street and around the corner to the car. On the way, Bette asked, "Do you want to get a bite to eat?"
"I need a shower. I should just get back to my place," Tina said unconvincingly.
"Why don't you shower at the house and then we can go somewhere for dinner. My treat."
"Your treat, huh?"
In the car, Bette breathed a deep sigh of bliss.
Tina hadn't been in their home while Bette was present in weeks. She thought she'd feel like an intruder, but she was as comfortable as ever. There was something about the way this day was ending that reminded her of their beginning. Bette was solicitous, outgoing, and interested. When they entered, the house, Bette walked to the kitchen and poured a glass of Pellegrino into a goblet that had been given to them as a gift when they'd had their commitment ceremony. She only poured one glass and when she handed it to Tina, she said, "Can we share?"
Tina suspected that there were other clean glasses in the house and that there was plenty of water, so it was a gesture of closeness and she liked it. She really liked how she was feeling. She'd been despondent or verging on catatonic when she thought of the two of them for weeks. Tonight, she felt happy and optimistic.
She took a sip of water and handed the glass to Bette. "Could you find something for me to wear while I shower?"
"Sure, no problem. You have plenty of clothes here."
Tina started toward the back to the bathroom with Bette trailing behind her. The blonde turned and looked back at her and smiled faintly. She prayed that Bette wasn't going to follow here into the shower. She was not emotionally prepared for that kind of scene. But when Tina turned left into the bathroom, Bette went right.
A few minutes had passed in the shower when Tina heard a soft knock a second before the door opened. Quickly, Bette said, "I've brought you something to wear."
"Thanks," Tina said as she watched Bette place some clothing on the shelf.
When she stepped out of the shower, she was more than surprised.
Tina opened the bathroom door and stepped out into the cool evening air that circulated so well through the house. Bette walked up the hall, meeting her with the glass of sparkling water. "Shower, okay?"
"Perfect. I miss those showerheads."
Bette smiled faintly. "I'm going just give me a few minutes." She passed by, then turned and said, "Tina, you look great in that."
"I always liked that outfit on you. You know, I found it balled up in the back of the closet. When I was going to the cleaners, I took it in, too."
"Bette, don't you remember the last time I had it on?"
"When we were going to meet Melvin. You walked in, saw me wearing it and demanded that I change."
"Why? That dress really shows off your curves." Bette was truly stumped as to why she'd insisted on a change of clothing. Her eyes trailed down the dress, admiring her in a way that had Tina feeling both modestly embarrassed and pleasantly stimulated. "It just clings to you." Bette appreciated her the way she might a beautiful painting, but she pulled back, looked up at Tina and smiled. "Okay, I won't be long."
Tina felt a tightness in her stomach. She was not going to let anything happen tonight. This was going to be dinner and dinner only. No matter how aroused Tina was, she was not going to linger on the way Bette's gaze had skimmed down her body or the open compliments from her. And she certainly wasn't going to tackle the reason why Bette had picked a sexy, lavender thong to go with the dress when she probably had a dozen other types of underwear to choose from.
When Bette exited the bathroom fifteen minutes later, she was wearing a pair of faded Earl Jean low-rise jeans and a white C and C classic T under her zip front black leather jacket. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail. The once over that Bette had given Tina was nothing compared to the way Tina looked at her. Both women turned away, not able to comprehend exactly what was happening between them.
Bette picked up two baseball caps an eggplant purple one and the other, an olive green, both with yellow equal sign logos emblazoned at the front. "Gonna keep the top down. It's nice out."
Tina put on her cap and playfully yanked the bill on Bette's as she ran to the door. "Come on, let's go."
Bette followed Tina's directions and turned from Santa Monica onto La Brea, then a right onto a side street. The restaurant Tina had chosen was a former single-family residence. The owner, Miguel Cardoza had been a marketing and production guy at the film studio when Tina was there. His dream had been to open a restaurant of his own and after fifteen years in entertainment, that's what he had done. LA Weekly proclaimed it the new, hot restaurant to look out for. Tina called Miguel on his mobile and he explained that even though they were packed solid, he'd squeeze a table in for her.
"What is the name of this place again?"
"You know what I said. Tina laughed.
"It is not seriously called 'I Like Fish.'"
"Yes, it is. The only problem is that he said we might be practically sitting on top of peoplenot a lot of room and they're totally booked for the night."
"You might want to practice your most grumpy expression so people will know to stay away. What do you think of this sneer?" Bette spared a quick turn to show Tina her upturned lip."
"You've got it, Billy Idol. I'd stay away."
"The last thing I'd want," Bette mumbled to herself.
Bette found a space just barely long enough for the Saab and parallel parked with a bit of effort. The restaurant was located between two identical residential homes, but this house, in bright pink and green neon lights declared "I Like Fish."
"Jeez, look at this place." The women laughed as they got out of the car and walked toward the door.
Tina's friend had placed them in a corner, but it was by no means secluded. The restaurant's dining area was once a large living room. It looked like the regular living room furniture had been cleared and 15 small tables for two and four brought in for the night. But in the background, patrons could hear the chatter and clatter of kitchen workers in the back, the din of couples and small parties laughing and talking, and the sound of pewter flatware making contact against the brightly colored dishes. The restaurant was a hodge-podge of fish-related artmen in rubber overalls holding their catch, abstract paintings of fish, pastel clay art of a school of fish crossing the wall, and a photograph of a row of vacated fishing poles hanging over a pier entitled, 'The Fish Don't Catch Themselves.' Bette and Tina ordered two fresh tuna dinners and an appetizer of oysters on the half shell.
"Why do you keep staring at me?" Bette asked as they ate.
"Am I?" Tina's mouth was full, but she managed a smile.
"You know you are. What's up?"
"Am I? Good or bad?" Bette held her fork between her plate and mouth as her eyes fixed on Tina.
Tina shook her head and grinned. "It's a good difference. You don't seem as tense as you have in the past year or two."
"You know how much I was against it, but I have to say, therapy has done me a world of good."
Tina's eyes blinked, leaned forward, and said softly,. "What? Therapy?"
"Yeah, I told you."
"Uh no you didn't."
"I'm positive I did, Tee."
"Bette, don't you think I would have remembered if you told me that?"
"When did you start?"
"A couple of weeks after you know. I badly needed someone to talk to. I was sure I told you. I'm not trying to hide it." Bette sipped her Diet Pepsi.
"Who are you seeing? A woman? Man? Straight?"
"She's in the same building as Foxworthy. Her name's Suzanne O'Brien. She's White, lesbian, new mom."
Tina's expression was nothing short of baffled. "How how did you find her?"
"Foxworthy gave me her name. He couldn't see me for obvious reasons." Bette glanced up at Tina. She knew Tina was spilling her guts to Foxworthy and she was equally certain that the good Doctor probably wasn't encouraging a reconciliation of the two women.
"Do you like her? Has it been good?"
"Yeah, I do. I'm on the twice a week, intensive program." Bette laughed before adding, "Therapy has helped me learn a lot about myself. When I leave, there are times when I feel absolutely raw to the world, but it's been worth it."
"So, is that why you said that stuff earlier about Melvin? Is that something that came up at therapy?"
"Uh-huh. I don't like what I see sometimes. I look at my father's behavior and I'm appalled--not so much at him, but at me; that I would allow it. I think it will take a while to come to terms with all of that and to accept what I've taken in from watching him and emulating him to a degreethe way I judge, that black and white conviction I'm known for, wanting to control every aspect of my life, that my behavior sometimes is that of an asshole."
Tina nodded in understanding.
"Maybe I should just get a red Sharpie and print the letter 'A' on my forehead." As soon as it was said, Bette and Tina looked at each other uncomfortably, both bowing their heads to ignore the obvious. Asshole was not the A-word that came to either woman's mind, but Adulterer did.
Fumbling for the right words to say, Bette looked at Tina and mumbled, "Jesus, Tina. What did I do to us?"
"Bette, I'm not saying that I'll ever forget about what happened, but I'm ready to forgive. I need and want to forgive you. It's going to be an ongoing process. Our problems resulted in you reaching out to someone else, but she wasn't the cause."
Bette started to interrupt, but Tina continued on, "And I thought about what you told me the other night; how you thought you might have had a nervous breakdown, that you weren't yourself. I believe that, Bette. That affair just isn't you. It isn't in your nature."
Bette grimaced and massaged her forehead. She turned away to stare at the door leading to the kitchen. Looking off, she shook her head and Tina watched as Bette's lips trembled. Needing to comfort her, Tina reached out, grasping Bette's forearm. She slid her fingers up and down her arm until Bette finally turned back to face her. Bette's shrug never went beyond her eyes and lips to her shoulders. Her eyes had always been expressive and to Tina's experienced observation, she knew that Bette was holding back something that she didn't particularly want to share.
"It's not my nature? Isn't it?"
"What do you mean?" Tina wondered if there had been other affairs during their seven years together. She had missed the signs of this one, would she have picked up on others?
Whispering, Bette began to tell her dirty little secret. "I know I'm so much like my father. We talked about it in therapy and that's something I will work on. He is not the person I want to use as the template for living my life. What I haven't told Suzanne, what I haven't told anyone is that I'm not just his daughter. I'm my mother's daughter, Tina. I'm the daughter of a woman who had an affair, cheated on my father, left Daddy, moved to Boston and began a new life with her new man." Bette began to weep.
"Let me pay the check. Let's get out of here." Just as she said this, she noticed Miguel making the rounds at the tables, chatting up his clientele. Tina walked over to him, interrupting his conversation.
While Bette pulled herself together, wiping away tears and taking long gulps of water, Tina spoke with Miguel. Bette watched her, saw Miguel nod and look over at her, smile, and then embrace Tina, kissing her on each cheek. Tina returned to the table and offered her hand to Bette who took it and stood. "Let's go," Tina said.
Tina's arm went around Bette's small waist as she guided her out of the house. "I'll drive." She took the keys from Bette's hand and walked down the steps to the parked car.
Tina turned in the seat to face Bette while Bette sat in the passenger's seat and told her story, staring out of the window with the weight of the family's past etched on her face. "I knew that there was one thing I would never tolerate in a long term relationshipinfidelity. I never wanted to feel the way Mother had made Daddy feel. I knew I wouldn't be able to bear it. And I thought that I could never do that to someone. But look at me. Monogamy has always meant something to me. When a person says I love you and want to spend their life with you, it has to mean something. It has to be the truth. It meant nothing to Mother. My father traveled, tried to make a living for his family, gave her and us everything we wanted, but because he wouldn't roll over for racists, she grew tired of him. She used to fight back, too. Liberal, strong-minded, earnest and iron-willed regarding social causes. She changed. Because he wouldn't, because he couldn't just stay calm and quiet, she started fucking a bookstore clerk who was nearly ten years younger. Kit was the one who caught them."
"Bette, why didn't you ever tell me?"
"I don't talk about it. I want to forget it. Mother destroyed us. She said that she was leaving and asked me if I wanted to stay with Daddy. Kit was old enough to be on her own. I stayed with Daddy; he needed someone with him. Kit was around every now and then, and Mother, I didn't see for years. She'd call on my birthday and holidays and sometimes talk about me visiting Boston, but that never materialized. Selfish. Self-absorbed. Self-centered. Self-involved. Mother. Me. It might very well be my nature."
Tina reached across the seat and stroked Bette's face, smoothing out the tension, and offering what she could to the distraught woman. "It's not who you are. All along, as much as it hurt me to see and think about you and Candace, deep down, I know that's not you."
"I don't want it to be me, Tee. If there's something inside me that made me do that, I want to remove it. I never want to hurt you."
"Let me take you home."
"It seems like I got all of the bad genes my parents heldcontrolling, demanding, forceful, cheater."
It wasn't a long drive and in a few minutes, Tina was pulling into the driveway. Bette stepped out of the car, but Tina came around to guide her inside.
Tim was pruning the shrubbery in his front yard when he saw the two women enter their house. He stared at them, trying to understand lesbians, but when he couldn't, he turned back to clipping wayward branches.
With a fatigue that was unfamiliar to her, Bette walked down the hall to the bedroom and fell into bed. Tina walked in right after her. She was holding two Advil and a glass of water.
"Bette, do you want to take this Advil?"
"No," she moaned sadly.
"Do you want me to do anything for you?"
"Whatever you want, Tina."
"Are you going to be okay?" Tina stood over the bed, looking down at Bette.
"I don't know. Tina, could you stay with me, just tonight?" Bette looked up with an expression of sorrow, but no hope. She dared not hope that Tina would once again lie beside her.
Tina kicked off her shoes, "Sure, I can do that." Tina slipped into bed, her front pressing against Bette's back. Bette took hold of Tina's hand and brought her arm around her so that Bette was engulfed in Tina's embrace.
"Thank you," she whispered.
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