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
Sometime during the course of the night, Tina had ended up in her usual spot in bed. She lay next to Bette, her face just inches from her partner's. Tina stared at her in the early light of dawn as if she were seeing her for the first time. The night before, she had crawled in behind a distraught Bette and wrapped her in her arms. Her lover had never been as lost or vulnerable. It was a different side to her and though it was unexpected, it was very much welcomed. As she yawned quietly, Tina thought that this was what had been missing in their relationship. Bette had always worn a tough exterior, allowing no one to see the things that deeply troubled, worried, and bothered her. Not even Tina had been privy to the inner workings of Bette's mind and they had shared a bed and a life for seven years. It had been impossible to break the façade of a woman who was always together, who could show anger and frustration, but could never express doubt or insecurity. This crisis they were in demanded that the hard shell be broken. Tina wasn't sure what to make of everything she had learned.
Bette's mother, the parent Bette seldom mentioned had committed adultery. Apparently, Melvin had been devastated and poor Bette, a mere child had been obviously shaken by it. Now, Tina understood why Bette treated her father so tenderly despite his gruffness. Bette was a caretaker and had been doing it all of her life. Tina wondered what price that role had taken on Bette's psyche. She thought about how Bette was more of the older sister to Kit than vice versa, how she was the one in control in their own marriage, and how she was a force to be reckoned with at work. When had Bette ever allowed herself to be taken care of? Was that what drove her to that woman? Could Bette really not find what she needed with Tina?
Bette's face was no longer etched with worry, her brows relaxed in sleep, and her closed eyes didn't show the tears that, as Tina recalled were always present, but only twice shed in the past few months. Tina's hand moved to Bette's face and she lightly caressed the wavy tendrils that flowed over her forehead. Bette stirred, but didn't awaken letting Tina enjoy this quiet time of reflection. She rested her hand on the sheet between their faces and continued to stare. Bette was struggling with the adultery and not wanting to be the woman her mother had been. That was something Tina could forgive. But Bette still had to change. She had to free herself for them to start again.
Bette slowly awoke, but didn't open her eyes. She inched closer to Tina and placed her hand on Tina's bare thigh. The dress Tina had been wearing had climbed up her body in the night, revealing a muscular leg. Bette tenderly stroked her skin, not vocalizing the sigh in her mouth, but feeling it nonetheless. Holding Tina like this was something she missed. Tina's skin was soft and hot and Bette's hand was like a gentle feather floating on a breeze, lighting touching down on flesh before moving again. It took a moment or two before Tina realized that she was being touched so lovingly. She closed her eyes and felt the warmth of Bette's tentative, yet knowing hand on her thigh.
Bette moved closer still, her head mere inches from Tina's. She could feel Tina's gaze though she hadn't opened her eyes. Bette wasn't quite ready to give up the sensations of waking up next to her partner. It had been weeks since it had been that way and even longer since she had awakened without feeling conflicted and confused. This morning, Bette felt whole and happy. Slowly, her eyes blinked open and she smiled at Tina.
"Thank you for staying with me last night." Bette's hand moved up Tina's leg, over her torso to her arm. She fixed her eyes on her when she said, "You being here with me means so much, Tee. I've never told anyone the things I told you."
"I knew that you never liked talking about your mother, but I had no idea of the situation. You were so young when they divorced. And you didn't see her much?"
"I didn't see her at all. She packed up her bags and walked out in the middle of the night. My father and Kit told me the next day. Slowly I started putting the pieces together. Sometimes late at night Kit and Daddy would have these shouting matches. They thought I was sleeping, but I'd hear them. That's how I found out about my mother and the clerk at the bookstore."
"Did you ever talk to Melvin or Kit about it?"
"No. I'm serious, Tina. I've never spoken a word about it to anyone. I suppose I should have told you long ago." She paused before adding. "I was afraid." Bette's words were whispered but filled with genuine emotion.
"Bette Porter, afraid?" Tina said lightly. "That's hard to believe."
"Tina, I've been afraid all year." Bette rolled over and stared up at the ceiling. "The one person who could make me whole was you and I was too afraid to turn to you."
Tina leaned over and looked into Bette's eyes. "Why, Bette?"
"I don't know. I don't know."
"How do we begin to talk about all of this? How do we save this?"
Bette sighed and stated plainly, "I love you."
Tina looked at her. She repeated Bette's words, turning them over for evaluation. "I love you." Sighing, she looked at Bette whose face showed all the worry that had been hidden in sleep. "I love you, too, but things are really fucked up between us, Bette. Can we even come back from what happened the last time we were in this bed together?"
Bette wished that two things had been bad dreamsher brief, but lustful affair with Candace and the mutual sexual assault she and Tina committed against each other in this bed. She had been so desperate that she wasn't thinking and Tina, so fraught with despair that she was helpless against the wave of sexual violence that washed over her. Neither were dreams, though.
Taking a deep breath, Bette said, "Tee, I'm just so tired. I haven't had a good night's sleep in months, so much has been happening. Last night was the first time I've slept through in so long. And still still I'm just exhausted."
"Go back to sleep, Bette. Rest."
"Stay with me. Sleep next to me, Tina."
"Can I hold you, this time?"
The knocks on the front door were loud and persistent. Bette was pulled from her deep sleep after the fourth or fifth bang on the door. Alerted, she leapt from the bed in her wrinkled jeans and T-shirt. She glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand and saw that it was nearly ten in the morning. "Shit."
"Coming," she shouted as she moved from the bedroom, down the short hall to the door. She looked out and saw Alice standing nervously at the door while Oscar paced at the bottom of the steps.
When Bette opened the door, Alice began, "Have you seen Tina?" but Oscar came charging up the stairs.
"You were with her last. What happened? She didn't come to work. I called Alice who went by her place. She didn't sleep there," he said breathlessly.
"Slow down, slow down. Tina's fine. She's here." She stepped out of the way and allowed Alice and Oscar to come through.
"She's here?" Oscar's tone was filled with doubt and perhaps a twinge of something else.
"Yeah," Bette glared at him, feeling her pique start to rise. "Is there something you don't like about that, Oscar?" The fact that Tina had only been with men before her always caused Bette to suffer from a mild case of insecurity whenever straight men spent time with or noticed her wife. Oscar seemed far too interested in Tina during their group therapy sessions and it bothered her.
"No, why would I care? She is supposed to be at work. I was concerned," he said defensively.
Tina walked down the hall to the living room. Her dress was also wrinkled and she had major bed hair, with strands sticking straight up on one side of her head. Alice arched an eyebrow as she looked at her friend. Tina absently scratched her shoulder before greeting them. "What are you guys doing here? What's up?"
"It's ten o'clock. When you weren't in the office by eight-thirty, I got worried. I didn't know if something had happened to you after you left yesterday." Oscar didn't look at Bette, only stared at Tina with the concern of someone who had more than platonic feelings for her.
"What is that supposed to mean? You know she left with me. Are you trying to say that you were worried about her safety?" Bette glared at him.
Oscar felt his face flush as he faced her and said in a warm voice, "Uh, no. Not at all, Bette. Please don't get me wrong, that is not what I meant. Tina's just always at work early."
"So you called Alice? Why didn't you try her cell?"
"Tina cancelled her service a few weeks ago," he said triumphantly, as if to say, 'I know something about her that you don't.'
Bette turned to Tina. "Why'd you cancel your service? What if there was an emergency?"
"I didn't need it, Bette. I only used it to call you and "
Bette nodded, letting Tina know she need not continue with an explanation. "So? Apparently, we've troubled both of you for no good reason. We're fine." She opened the door slightly.
"I should get going, too. I need to get home and changed for work," Tina suggested diplomatically.
"I'll drive you," Oscar volunteered.
Tina glanced quickly at Bette whose expression showed nothing, before smiling back at Oscar. "I'll see you at work, Oscar. Alice, do you mind?"
"No, no. Not a prob." There was no way that Alice was going to let Tina out of her sight. She was dying to know what had gone on last night.
This time when Tina looked at Bette, she sensed that Bette was none to happy about the lift from Alice. Tina cocked her head in inquiry, but Bette only smiled lightly, not divulging her thoughts. Tina reached for her purse on the counter and Bette grabbed her hand.
"Do you want to get together tonight? I've got a 6:30 appointment, but I can easily cancel it. It's not an issue. In fact, I'll tell James to re-schedule for some time during regular work hours. Are you free tonight?" Bette spoke softly, focusing entirely on Tina, ignoring or forgetting that Alice and Oscar were still in the room.
Tina nodded shyly.
"Then I'll pick you up again. All right?" Bette looked nervously at Alice again and that didn't go unnoticed by Tina.
Tina grabbed the straps of her purse and turned to her two friends, "Are you ready to go guys?"
"So I'll see you at the office?" Oscar could hear the wimpiness in his voice.
"Um-hmm," Tina replied distractedly.
Bette opened the door and held it for the three to pass through. Oscar walked out first, followed by Alice who assumed that Tina would be right behind her, but Tina hesitated and closed the space between she and Bette, hugging her goodbye.
Bette's hands ran down Tina's back, letting her know that she appreciated all that Tina had done for her the night before. While still embracing, Tina whispered in Bette's ear, "You can trust me with what you told me. This is just between us, baby." She lightly touched her cheek, letting her hand slide down the planes of Bette's face to her neck before she broke the contact. "See you tonight," she called out and left the house.
Bette closed the door and leaned her back against it. She called me baby, she thought.
Bette walked to the kitchen and picked up the phone and speed-dialed a number. She waited for the other end to pick up. "James, it's Bette," she said crisply.
He greeted her, but she cut him off. "What time is it, James?"
"About ten fifteen, ten twenty, Bette."
"I take it I don't have any meetings this morning. You know, you could have given me a call when I wasn't in the office an hour ago."
"I've been calling since nine. I phoned your cell. I left a couple of messages, but I called a few times and didn't bother."
"Why didn't you call the house?"
"I would have if I had something urgent to tell you. I thought maybe you had an appointment that wasn't on my schedule. Sorry."
"It's fine, James. I'll be in by Noon."
They disconnected and Bette immediately dialed another number. She waited for the voicemail to complete its instructions and said, "Hi, Suzanne. Bette Porter. I know I don't have an appointment scheduled until Thursday, but I wanted to find out if it would be possible to bring Tina to one of my sessions in the near future." Bette grinned widely. "We're talking." Her eyes began to tear as she repeated, "We're talking. And I think we're on the path to reconciliation. Something, as you know I want desperately. I'm not stupid. I know it's going to take a lot of work and I just wanted to clear it with you. I won't bring her in this week, but soon. We'll discuss it on Thursday. Thanks, bye."
Bette hung up the phone and walked back to the bedroom. Already, she could look at the bed without feeling an ache in her stomach and lump in her throat. She stared absently at the bed and thought about waking up this morning with Tina beside her and it made her smile.
For months, all she heard in her head was the ripping of Tina's dress. She still couldn't believe how savagely she had behaved when they had returned home after the opening night of 'Provocations.' She heard the dress ripping and Tina saying, 'no.' Her memories were staccato snippets of that nighthow she kept repeating the eight letters that summed up everything in her mind, 'I love you;' Tina biting her angrily on her face, her chest, her abdomen. She remembered begging Tina to stop, but Tina took control of a situation that had rocketed into the epitome of dysfunction. Bette had sobbed for days when she thought about how Tina had shoved Bette's fingers inside of her. Tina hadn't been aroused. She wasn't wet when it started, when she had forced Bette to take her. It was as if Tina wanted to punish herself for Bette's crimes, but by the time Tina had finished, her thighs were soaked with her juices. Bette had felt Tina's inner walls swell in desire, and when Tina received Bette, her muscles clenched and tightened around Bette's fingers as she collapsed on top of her. It was desire originating in desperation and anguish.
Bette hoped that they could some day put this time behind them completely. She unzipped her jeans and stepped out of them, pulled her T-shirt off and stood in front of her closet wearing yesterday's panties and bra looking for an outfit for today. She called me, baby. Bette grinned. She reached into the closet and selected a black Jones New York classic 2-button jacket, a pair of single pleated, matching black pants, and a thin striped V-neck blouse with buttons that began low on her chest, and tossed them onto the bed. She glanced at the suit that lay on Tina's side of the bed. Her mind went back to that night two months ago.
The adrenaline that had given Bette the strength to push Tina onto the bed and demand that Tina bend to her will had left her worn out. She was crashing hard as she lay breathless on the bed, watching Tina out of the corner of her eyes. Tina had turned away from her almost immediately. When Bette had reached out, an apology on her lips, Tina moved away, stood shakily, and muttered that she had to go to the bathroom. Bette had waited in bed, but Tina hadn't returned immediately.
When Bette got up to see what was taking Tina so long, she discovered the bathroom door locked. "Tee, are you all right?"
"Just a minute," Tina's voice was faint and strained.
Bette had stood in the hall, scared, wondering what was happening on the other side of the door. "Tee, open up."
Tina had gotten out of bed wearing her torn sea foam colored dress. Bette had guessed she was getting ready for bed, so unaware of the reality around her. It had never occurred to her that what they had just done was not makeup sex.
When Tina opened the door, she was wearing slacks and a T-shirt.
"What's going on?" Bette had asked.
Tina had paused in the hallway, looked at Bette and shook her head. "Bette, don't fight me now. Do the right thing this time, okay? Let me leave."
Bette had stood paralyzed between the bedroom and bathroom as she watched Tina grab her tan suede jacket and keys and walk out the door. Her mouth had opened as if to call out, but she said nothing. The door closed and she had remained standing there for a few moments. Finally, she had turned to order her life, accepting that Tina might need a bit of space. She noticed that the bathroom light was still on and walked to the door and reached in to flip the switch. Just as she was, she had seen what was on the shelf between the candles. Tina's wedding ring. Tina had cooked with that ring on, showered while wearing it, and as far as Bette knew, since the very second they had exchanged rings at their commitment ceremony Tina had never removed it. Bette had burst into tears. Reality had sunk in.
"We're going to get past this, Tee," Bette said aloud to herself as she slipped out of her panties and unhooked her bra, then headed for the bathroom.
Alice had turned left onto Santa Monica and joined the throng of ever-constant traffic. "Okay, give? What's going on with you and Bette? Did you get back together last night?"
Tina shook her head. "No, we were just talking and I fell asleep there." Alice had a way of badgering a person for information, but Tina didn't want to discuss it. She hoped that being as vague and as non-committal as possible would render continued questioning pointless.
"You guys seemed close this morning."
"We are close. We're closer. You know these past few weeks have not been the best for me. It was good to be with her."
Alice spared her a glance. "So are you getting back together?"
"I don't know. I know she wants that."
"What do you want?"
"I want Candace to have been a figment of my imagination." Tina could talk about her own feelings without revealing anything about Bette's life. She needed to talk with Alice because her friend was a good judge and she knew she'd be honest and forthright in her response.
"But you know she wasn't. Bette cheated, Tina. How are you going to deal with that?"
"What do you think I should do?"
"Hell, if I know. I couldn't make it work with her. That Type A personality of hers " Alice blew a lungful of air out. "Whew. Don't ask me."
Alice was third in line at a signal light and waited for it to change to green. "Bette changing? Tina, I love you and I love Bette. I've known you for a little over seven years. I've known her a lot longer and she has never been anything other than what she is."
"Did she ever cheat on you?"
"We didn't have that kind of relationship. We were always just dating, never real serious, just someone to hang with. But we had barely stopped when she started seeing you."
"But you weren't together?"
"Nope, we weren't. Just friends."
"Did you want more with her?" Tina turned to face her and the seat belt rubbed against her neck. She pulled on it, repositioning it a bit lower as she listened to Alice.
"I didn't. I met Bette's father and I thought, hey, I've got enough problems with my own family, I don't need this asshole breathing down my neck. Melvin is way over the top and when Bette was trying to please himwhich was always, by the way, she was a Type Double A. You know what I'm saying?"
"Yeah, I think."
The light changed and Alice drove toward Doheny where she made a right and headed in the direction of Sunset Boulevard.
"You don't have to question why Kit and Bette are the way they are. One answer--Melvin," Alice said, shaking her head. "Jeez, that guy."
"I wonder why he has such control over them. Why they feel a need to either please him or rub him the wrong way?"
Alice said knowingly, "Well, probably because he was the only parent they had after Bette's mom died."
Tina hesitated before answering, "Uh-huh, I guess."
They arrived at Tina's apartment and after Alice parked and they were headed up the walkway, Alice grabbed Tina's arm and turned her around. "Truth? Did you guys sleep together last night?"
"Truth? We slept."
"No, jumping of bones, no pressing of flesh, no dining at the Y, no driving the southern route, no
"My god, Alice. Are you working on a story about how many euphemisms there are for sex?"
Alice considered it. "Hey, that might be a good short piece, a little filler for the Winter holidays. I'll keep it in mind. But no, I'm not. You two didn't have sex?"
"No, we didn't."
Alice looked at her and determined that what she said was true. "Good. I don't think you should at this point."
"I'll keep that in mind," Tina said with a chuckle.
"Tina, one more question."
"What the hell is with Oscar?"
"He's just very sensitive and he worries a lot."
"Damn, if he wouldn't make a great partner for Lisa. Can you imagine those two lesbians processing their every conversation? We've got to set it up."
"Oscar isn't a lesbian-identified man." Tina turned the key in the lock and opened the door.
Alice followed her in and dropped her bag on the table next to where Tina had just placed hers.
"Okay, so he's totally het which leaves only one explanation. He is way hot for you."
"He is not."
"Yeah," she paused before adding, "He is."
"When did that ever stop anyone?" As soon as Alice had said it, she gritted her teeth. "Sorry, Tina. I didn't mean that."
"'S'okay. He's not hot for me, though. We're pals."
"Look, Tina," Alice trailed her into the bedroom and watched Tina pull the dress over her head. "Whoa, nice," she commented on the lavender thong.
"What? Oh, yeah."
Alice plopped onto the bed. "And you seriously want me to believe that you and Bette weren't doin' the boom, boom, boom, not diving for pearls, not "
"Jesus, Alice. Stop. No, we weren't, we didn't. We went to yoga, then Bette picked some clothes for me to wear while I showered before dinner. No big deal."
"She picked out a thong," Alice stated. "You realize that Bette had every intention of sampling from your honey pot."
"You sound like some crazed, toothless old man from the 1940s. Sampling from my honey pot?"
"That one came out of nowhere."
"Well, put it away."
Tina opened up the top drawer of her dresser and pulled out a bra and panties and threw them on the bed. In the next drawer she found a nicely folded, white V-neck stretch shell and then in the closet picked out a pair of linen pants and matching shirt jacket.
"Ooh, lavender. As we know--looks good on you, Tina."
"Funny. I'm taking a shower. Are you going to wait?"
"Yeah, we're not even finished talking? This Oscar thing. Have you lost all your sense of het-radar? He's packing major wood in his pants for you?"
"Oh, please," Tina slithered out of her thong and tossed it in the hamper. Alice smiled to herself, thinking that Tina surely had 'bush confidence,' because she was just perfect there.
"Mark my words."
"Yep, marking them." Tina strode off to the bathroom.
When Tina returned from her shower, she entered the bedroom where Alice sat comfortably on the bed, reading an especially naughty text message from Dana via her cell.
"Al, when you said that you were glad that Bette and I hadn't slept together, what'd you mean?" Tina asked timidly.
Alice was blushing when she looked up, embarrassed to have been caught reading such a dirty little note. Clearing her throat, she tilted her head thoughtfully. "Umm, Bette has a lot of explaining to do and she hasn't done it yet--at least not as far as I know. Unless you guys talked it out last night."
"No, not everything."
"Tina, I don't have the best track record when it comes to relationships, but I know that when I commit to someone it'll be full throttle. Stepping out like Bette did? No way. And if I were having problems with my woman or man, I wouldn't look elsewhere to solve them or hide from them. You know, that's the fear so many dykes have about dating a bisexual, that we'll go back, but I would say that when I'm with a woman, I'm with her completelynot looking for anyone else. I mean, it's okay to look, but it's not okay to 'look for.' You know what I mean?
"Uh-huh. I know exactly what you mean."
At 5:30, James checked off another item on his "to do" list and was just picking up the phone to schedule a meeting between Bette and a prominent and wealthy gay man who was a sucker for fabulous contemporary art. Bette knew that the man owned several pieces that the CAC might be interested in showing on loan. His boss had told James to turn on his masculine charms and get the appointment and that's what James intended to do. Before he could press the numbers, his intercom beeped, so he stood and walked to Bette's office.
"Bette, could I do something for you?"
"I'm leaving for the day. Why don't you call it a day, too? I'm sure you have other things to do this evening."
"You don't want me to reach Alex Kolb tonight?"
"Only if you're asking him out for dinner. Try to schedule it in the morning, but go home or wherever now."
Bette picked up her Prada bag and flung it on her shoulder. "Goodnight, James."
Tuesday was exceptionally warm in Los Angeles. The temperature had hit ninety-seven earlier in the day and now it was a cooler eighty-five degrees. Bette stopped at one of the gourmet shops and purchased one quart container of a mixed fruit salad, another quart container of grilled vegPortabello mushrooms, peppers, eggplant, and zucchini both of which the clerk carefully packed in a cold-carry bag. Along with the produce, Bette bought a baguette, Tina's favorite feta spread, and a bottle of their preferred French wine, Trimbach Pinot Gris. On the drive to pick up Tina, Bette thought about Kit and Ivan and her warning to her sister. She had to admit, she was courting Tina "Old School," too.
Tina was waiting for Bette outside the building. Bette watched as Tina gave Oscar a swift goodbye and ran to Bette's car. Tina's back was to Oscar, but Bette watched his expression with interest. He wasn't very good at hiding his attraction, so she stared at him pointedly to let him know that she wouldn't be rolling over any time soon.
Bette drove to their home, parked in the driveway, and entered the backyard through the side gate. Tina went into the house to use the bathroom, while Bette prepared their warm weather feast. When Tina returned, she saw an impressive layout of some of her favorite foods and the two glasses of wine Bette had poured. Bette picked up both glasses and closed the distance between she and Tina.
"Here, you go," Bette said as she handed her a glass. "A toast."
Both women lifted their glasses and faced each other. Bette said, "To change," and they clinked glasses. After their first sips, Bette added another toast, "To starting anew."
Tina blinked. Bette, she thought was moving at a hare's pace, while she was heading forward like the more tentative tortoise. But again, she clinked glasses with her and took another sip.
As they ate, they spoke of their jobs with Tina the more vocal about her work and plans for the rest of the week as she responded to Bette's questions.
Ending a short lull in the conversation, Tina looked out past the fence, toward Tim's house. "I guess Tim told you that he's putting his house up?"
Bette stopped. "No. Where's he going?"
"He's moving back to the Midwest. I think he's taking a position as a swim coach at the University of Chicago. His old coach is doing him a favor."
"I thought he liked what he was doing out here," Bette commented as she poured each of them a third glass.
"He told me that it's just too hard. Seeing Jenny's studio, passing by the Planet, thinking about how things didn't work out for him."
"That's too bad. He's a good neighbor."
"He's actually putting their engagement ring up on Ebay," Tina said with a laugh. Bette swallowed a mouthful of wine as she listened to Tina. "He's trying to recoup some of what it cost him," Tina added.
"What's that 'hmm,' about?"
Bette smiled lovingly at Tina. "Just thinking about rings. Tina, I want us to start over. The symbolism of leaving your ring in the bathroom doesn't escape me." Bette reached into her pants pocket and pulled out a folded piece of tissue paper and placed it on the table between them. She stared at the paper before beginning to gingerly unwrap it. Her hands were shaking. Tina's eyes were transfixed on the act as well.
"Tee, we're separated. I understand that. I know why that is. But not wearing this ring means you've walked away from us. You've given up on us and that I can't understand. You said yourself that it's not over between us."
"I didn't walk away from us, you did that."
"I did not walk away. I got lost. I should have stayed on our path. But I'm here now. I'm beside you, now and I want to keep walking it together." Bette's eyes were teary and her voice was filled with sincerity.
"Do you remember the vows at our commitment ceremony?" Tina asked pointedly.
Bette stood. She felt antsy and nervous, she felt on the spot, she felt exposed for the liar she was. Bette was tired of the incessant apologies. How many more until it would be enough? Bette placed her hands on the table so that she was leaning and facing Tina. "Of course, I remember our vows. We wrote them. I know I fucked up. What would you have me do to make it go away? It can't. It's there. It's out there, Tina. What do you want me to do? I love you. I want you back in our house. I want our life back. What do you want me to do? What do you want me to fucking do?"
Tina drew back, leaning against the back of the chair. "Nothing. Can I just take the ring?" she said to appease her angry partner. "Will you let me think about it?"
Bette realized that she had lost control. She sighed and shook her head. Standing erect, she pulled at the hem of her top, straightening it, before returning to her seat. Bette rubbed her forehead and temple and said, "I'm frustrated."
They sat quietly, each staring out at the swimming pool. Finally, Bette said, "I called my therapist this morning. I asked her if it would be okay if you join me for a session or two some time. I haven't had a chance to actually discuss it with her, but is that something you'd be amenable to? If I can set that up?"
"Uh-hmm. I think if we're going to try to make this work, couple's counseling is a good idea. And I know you really hate Foxworthy "
"I don't hate him."
"You hate him, Bette. You used to shoot daggers at him in couples and group."
"I think you'll like Suzanne."
"If I don't, would you be okay about going to Foxworthyat least on the short term?"
"Yeah, Tee. I would be okay with that."
The next day, James had set up an appointment for Bette to meet with a Ms. Margaret Hannon, an art historian and writer. Per Ms. Hannon's request, the CAC director's conference room had been prepped with an easel, a slide projector, and a laser light. James was very interested in what this woman would be presenting. Bette wasn't too thrilled about it, feeling that she had been caught off-guard when one of the Board members had told her that the meeting was not optional.
Bette was dressed smartly in a grey wool-blend jacket and slacks that were surprisingly cool in the unbearable heat and a white, silk blouse. She was working hard and felt that she was getting a lot accomplished that morning, so was annoyed when she had to break from her rhythm to head down to the conference room for this meeting.
The electronic shades had been turned on and the room was nearly dark when Bette walked in.
"Oh, you're here," a soft southern voice said from somewhere in the room. The overhead track lighting came on and Bette was looking at a cute, petite woman about 5'3" tall. Margaret Hannon had blonde hair that fell just below her shoulders and free flowing bangs that practically covered her eyes. Her skin was the color of cream with a hint of natural blush on her cheeks. "Margaret Hannon," she said and held out her hand to Bette. To Bette's ear, the name Margaret sounded more like 'Mah-gret' coming from the woman.
She stared directly into Bette's eyes and Bette's heart skipped at the intensity of the stare. She wasn't looking into her soul, but it felt like Margaret knew more about her than she should. "Bette Porter."
"Oh, I know you." She laughed. "I know you're probably rushin' about, so I've set up my presentation and we can get started."
James walked in with two Starbucks' cups. "Bette, I got you a Grande Sumatra," he said as he handed it to her. "And Ms. Hannon, here's the hot Chai latte you requested."
"Umm. Thank you, James. You're perfect." She took a sip and sighed in appreciation. "You remembered to get somethin' for yourself, right?" Margaret asked.
"Yeah, I'm a sucker for the lemon bars. Thanks."
Bette was staring at the two of them, waiting impatiently to begin.
"All righty, then. Ms. Porter, I don't know how familiar you are with my work or if you are at all."
"I'm afraid not."
"Figured as much. I write novels about the art world usually. Mysteries, suspense, romance. I know Dan Brown's got that market saturated, but I've been doin' it a lot longer and better I might add. But I'm not bitter. Nope, no bitterness at all," Margaret said with a smile.
Bette liked Margaret's self-deprecating humor as she compared herself to the author of 'The DaVinci Code.' "So what brings you here exactly? Research for a new novel?"
"No, no nothing like that. I've been working for the past two years on a work of non-fiction. It is a book of stories, testimonials, if you will, about particular women and their battle with censorship. When I read what was goin' on here at the CAC and how Fae Buckley was tryin' to shut you down, I knew I wanted to include you in this book"
"Here let me show you. James, can you handle the slide projector for me?"
"Sure, whenever you're ready."
"Let's do it," Margaret said as she cut the lights.
Bette blinked, became accustomed to the dark again as the first slide popped up onto the white wall.
"My editor wants to call the book "Naughty Girls "
Bette sucked air into her nostrils in irritation.
"'That dog don't hunt' as my granddaddy used to say. It is definitely not goin' to be titled somethin' so crass. My workin' title is, 'No Indecencies." That's part of a quote from Mark Twain. The full quote is, 'Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.' I think it fits what we're tryin' to do. Next."
James clicked the button and the next slide was a picture of Josephine Baker completely nude except for two fansone across her breasts and the other just below her waist. "Women fightin' to express themselves, their art, their personal stories is nothin' new. Next."
The seductress, Mae West dressed in a bawdy western outfit smiled out at Bette. "We are sexual bein's, we have desires and needs. These are women who couldn't or wouldn't back away from their very essence. It was wrong to like sex, to give in to desire, and there were consequences when women did what was wrong. They were banned. Next." Bette swallowed uncomfortably, and nervously fiddled with the gold wedding band on her ring finger.
The famous photograph from Madonna's 'Sex' book of the pop superstar standing nude in the street flashed onto the wall, then a picture of Madonna faking masturbation on stage while wearing a wedding dress, and finally a picture of Madonna kissing Britney Spears at the MTV Awards. "Sexuality is beautiful, sensational, titillating, and perverse all at the same time. Once shrouded in mystery, hidden from view, it is now out in the open and must be discussed. Next." The CAC Director kept her eyes lowered, suddenly fascinated with her hands that rested in her lap as she listened to Margaret's words.
"But women are willin' to rise to the challenge, darin' to create, darin' to exhibit, and darin' to express." The next slides were well-known women from all walks of artdance, music, literature, there were photographs of patrons next to art, record producers, and filmmakers. The presentation contained slides of Judy Chicago and her master art piece, 'The Dinner Party,' Margaret Atwood holding, 'A Handmaid's Tale,' Patricia Ridenour standing next to one of her well-endowed models of her series of photographs, "The Well Hung Man," Alma Lopez standing in front of a cross with a screen capture of her religious, computer-generated collage, 'Our Lady' in the background, Nancy Friday, dressed in a delicate floral print and fondling a massive flesh-colored dildo, Erica Jong dressed as a flight attendant carrying her book 'Fear of Flying,' Janet Jackson with a red sash over her right breast, and Tami Silico saluting the flag juxtaposed with a gigantic photograph of her flag covered caskets in the belly of a military cargo plane.
Margaret flipped turned the dimmer for the track lighting to low before flipping the switch. Low light gave the room a sepia-tone that slowly brightened. Green eyes stared at Bette's brown. "Ms. Porter "
"Bette, please." Bette was moved by what she saw. She had nothing but admiration for these women and what they went through to bring art and images to people.
"Bette, I would love to include you in this book. The backdrop? The doors to the CAC. You, in your power suit, perhaps holdin' a large branch. The caption? 'Walk softly and carry a big stick.' Then, you tell your story in your own words."
"I don't know," Bette was proud of what she had accomplished, but putting herself in the same category as an African-American woman who had to go to Europe to make a name for herself in the 1920s or being challenged by the Supreme Court as Judy Chicago was seemed absurd. "Tami Silico lost her job at the Pentagon for releasing those photographs. Judy Chicago and Madonna were both threatened with serious jail time. I don't think I'm in that category."
"You went to jail, didn't ya?"
Bette's eyes closed at the memory of it. She responded softly, "Yes, I did. I don't want to do that again."
"You're wrong about not bein' in the same category. The conviction you had to go up against the Coalition for Concerned Citizens took guts especially when you had to fight your Board to get the exhibition. Those had to be stressful times for you."
"It's people like you who give artists the break they need to open a vein and bleed for us. Without someone with your integrity and fervor for art, we'd have nothin'. I wouldn't be here. This museum wouldn't exist and so many artists would be waitin' tables, teachin' primary colors in elementary school, and sittin' in dark attics depressed and unmotivated."
"When you put it that way " Bette laughed. Margaret Hannon had a way with people. She was bright, jovial, and that warm, honeyed accent added a little bit of sex appeal.
"Plus, you might take this into consideration--you get paid for it--500 words at $50,000. Fifty thou for you, not the CAC. And I don't need to tell you who my patron is for this projectnone other than Peggy Peabody. She's taken a real interest in you, Bette. I think you must remind her of herself back in the day. You've got that take-no-prisoners attiude that she just loves. Peggy really wants you included. She spoke with me directly about it."
"Ah. Well, if Peggy is asking."
Margaret laughed. "Peggy ask? I'm sure in her own way it was a request."
"Okay, when do you want to shoot this?"
"I'll make arrangements with James."
Bette was walking on clouds and wanted to share that feeling. A few minutes after four o'clock that afternoon, Bette called Tina and invited her to the house for a swim. She suggested that they make a party of it and invite the whole gangAlice, Shane, Dana, Kit, and now Ivan.
Tina listened to Bette's proposal, then said, "Sounds great. It's stifling outside, but Bette, let's not give anyone the wrong idea. This is just you having friends over including me. We are not putting on party for them, right?"
"Understood. Is seven good for you?"
Bette had changed into a comfortable pair of khaki shorts and peach tank top and a pair of orange 'Ellie' thongs. Her sunglasses rested on top of her head. The air was so hot and dry that the majority of the party took place in the pool. Bette had made drinks and placed a few on platters and sat them on the ground beside the pool. Everyone had only to reach for her margarita or daiquiri. Since Bette was hosting, she spent most of her time hustling from the kitchen, to the grill where she had pre-cooked steaks and chicken warming, to the pool and back. When she came out again, she was holding a fresh pitcher of a pink frothy liquid and a serving bowl of tortilla chips and salsa. She placed the chips on a table, then walked around the pool refilling glasses. Much later, she had a chance to relax and took a seat in the lounge chair, dropping her sunglasses onto her face, and watched her guests having a good time. She was glad that most everyone was able to come on such short notice. All of them had asked if Tina would be there. Bette suspected that they would have begged off if Tina hadn't joined them. Shane brought three friends and two of her roommates, Dana brought her new doubles partner who also happened to be lesbian, but Dana was spending far more time with Alice. Shane was making up for Dana's neglect by giving the other tennis player her undivided attention. Tina was having a good time socializing with their friends. Bette noted that the wedding ring was still absent from Tina's finger, but it wasn't upsetting to her. When Tina placed it on her finger again, Bette would know that all was forgiven. Tina was moving between small groups, spending time with Shane and the athlete, treading water while laughing with Alice and Dana, having a serious conversation on feminism and Iraq with Shane's friends and roommates. She behaved as a guest and made one obligatory offer to help as did the others. That was fine with Bette. She wanted Tina to be comfortable. Kit and Ivan were the only no-shows, but she supposed Kit was still angry with her about the night at the Palms when she insulted Ivan. Bette made a mental note to call her sister in the morning.
Her mind drifted to Margaret Hannon and the book on censorship. This could be beneficial in a number of waysthe money was a given, but there was also the acclaim. To be included in a list with the likes of some of the most famous contemporary women in history would be remarkable. Then there was the publicity that went with it. She could hold a seminar specifically on women artists and censorship and invite many of the women from the book, featuring those artists at the CAC or her own gallery. The thought of her own gallery seemed to grow brighter each day. She didn't like the Board members of the CAC, generally, she wasn't pleased with the art chosen for exhibition, feeling she had to give in more times than not, and the museum was small. In LA, the California Arts Center was really a small fish in a big pond. If it hadn't been for that lunatic, right-winged, repressed, Fae Buckley, her name would be as obscure as some of the artists the museum highlighted.
And it seemed that the planets were aligning correctly for her to make the move back into entrepreneurship. The Calder could be sold and the hefty price it would undoubtedly ask would be the perfect down payment on a new spacea space she'd own, as well as enough for some minor but significant acquisitions. Easily, she could come up with 500 words to talk about her censorship trials and tribulations and that would put another fifty grand at the ready. Everything seemed to point her in this direction.
"You look lost in thought," Tina said as she sat in the chair next to Bette's lounge.
Tina took her hand and held it while looking at Bette's face. "What's on your mind?"
Bette didn't question the gesture. Tina's hand in hers seemed perfectly natural and right. "I've made a tentative decision about work. I don't want to renew my contract with the CAC."
"So you're going to re-open the Bette Porter Gallery?"
Both women watched their friends playing in the water.
"I want to
"Well, do you think this is something we should do?" Bette had previously told Tina about the Calder painting from Eileen Strickland and what she could get for it if it went up for auction.
"It's your decision, Bette. You have to do what feels right for you."
"I want it to be our decision, Tee."
"I'm all for it. I think it's a great idea. The sooner the better."
Bette nodded. Behind her glasses, she squinted and then lifted them to get a closer look at the distorted play underwater. It looked like Alice and Dana were locked in a passionate embrace. "What are Alice and Dana doing?"
Tina leaned in and whispered in Bette's ear, "I think they've become fuck buddies, but they don't want anyone to know about it." She chuckled in Bette's ear. "They think that somehow being four feet underwater hides their hands. Look at them."
Tina's warm breath against her ear caused Bette to shiver. Slowly she turned to look at her, cocked her head to the side, and pulled Tina's head to her. Her kiss started slow and uncertain, but once Tina's hand made its way behind Bette's head, pulling her closer, Bette's kiss grew strong and powerful. Bette fell out of the lounge chair and onto the ground, but she didn't let go of Tina. She righted herself by kneeling beside Tina's chair and continued the kiss. Her hands traveled up and down Tina's back. The position turned out to be awkward for Tina, so she slid out of the chair and joined Bette on the ground. Kneeling was replaced by the two of them stretched out on the cement. Bette was half on Tina's body, one long, slim leg resting on top of hers. Their tongues swirled and danced inside each other's mouths. Tina or Bette moaned, maybe both. Their breathing heightened as they lost themselves in the other's kiss. Both women could taste the margaritas on the other. Bette forced her mouth away and latched onto Tina's neck, kissing the delicate flesh tenderly, then moving across to her bare shoulder.
Someone cleared her throat, but Bette and Tina continued to kiss. Soon, there was a cacophony of throat clearing that pulled the engrossed twosome apart. Alice, Dana, Shane, Shane's pals, and Dana's tennis partner were standing between Bette and Tina and the pool.
Bette's eyes were hooded as she looked up at the group. "Yes?" She said with playful annoyance.
"We we decided we were going to get going. We're cooled off now, you know," Dana stumbled through the explanation. "You're heated up," she muttered just loud enough for Alice and Shane to hear.
"Yeah, Bette, thanks for a really nice time. You make awesome daiquiris, man," Shane added.
"I can't believe we're leaving. I was just getting " one of Shane's roommates started, but was elbowed in the rib before she could continue.
Tina was hiding her face behind Bette's shoulder.
"Okay, so you know your way out, right?" Bette had no intention of taking one step away from Tina. "Bye." She turned away from the group of women and stared at Tina, a smile broad on her face. Their friends were forgotten and their goodbyes ignored.
"See ya, bye."
"I'll call you," Alice said to Tina. She planned on being the first to know if they did it again.
It wasn't because they had lost their audience that the kissing stopped. Being mature women, they decided to clean up the aftermath of the impromptu party. Bette picked up glasses and threw soiled napkins onto the platter as she walked around the pool surveying for trash. Tina organized the table of snacks, piling empty plates on top of each other and carried them into the house. Bette trailed behind her. She was pleased that the evening had gone well and was sure that it would continue in much the same fashion.
In the kitchen, Tina tossed paper products into the trash while Bette scraped food into the garbage disposal, rinsed the dishes, and packed the dishwasher. Whenever Tina passed, Bette reached out and touched her arm, clung to her hand, caressed her waist. Bette moved to the cupboard to put away a few glasses. As she stretched, she felt Tina's eyes on her, more specifically on her ass, and she quickly turned and caught her. "I'm so glad we're here together, Tina. Doesn't this seem right to you?"
"It's really good, Bette."
There were several glasses and platters that weren't used that Bette stacked to return to the cupboard. She noticed that her voicemail light was blinking and absently pressed play as she stepped up onto a footstool to put the dishes away. Kit's voice filled the room, "Hi, Bette. It's your sister--Kit--returning your call." Kit could be so obnoxious sometimes, Bette thought.
"Thanks for inviting Ivan and me to your little pool party, but I don't know if I want to see you. I've been waiting for you to call with an apology, but I guess I'll be waiting for that forever. You were rude to Ivan and she's been nothing but nice to you, Bette. I don't know what bug you have up your ass, but I don't want you treatin' her like that. You understand? And you need to really check yourself and the things that you're doing." Bette was holding two pieces of fine crystal as the message played. Tina had paused in the kitchen and was listening to Kit's angry diatribe. "You're bitchin' on and on about Tina and how you miss her, want her back, that you made your damn mistakes, and then the first time you see Miss Candace, you're leaving the bar with her "
Tina gasped. Bette leapt from the stool and went to the phone, ready to press stop or erase, but Tina's hand was already there. "I want to hear it."
" so that's how you're playin' it, little sis?--you can't get any from one, you go to another? You're about as wrong as wrong can be. Why you want to burn all those bridges we talked about? Why you want to mess up your life for that carpenter? She ain't all that, Bette. You've got a nerve talking about me and Ivan when you leave holding that woman's hand. And no, we're not going to be able to make your damn pool party." Kit hung up with plenty of righteous indignation.
Bette turned to Tina and saw that her partner was crushed. "Tee, it is so not like that."
Softly, Tina asked, "Did you leave the bar with her?"
"Yes, but nothing happened." Bette placed the dishes on the counter and faced Tina.
"Where did you go?"
"We came back here, talked outside for a few minutes, then she left. Baby, nothing happened."
Tina stared at her.
"Nothing. We talked, she left."
"Were you holding hands with her when you left the bar?"
Bette sniffed and frowned. "Please. I seriously doubt that."
"Were you or weren't you?"
She shook her head. "No, Tina, we weren't," she said with as much sincerity as she could muster.
Tina dried her hands on a towel and tossed it onto the counter. "Bette, I want to believe you, but I can't. I don't know if you're telling me the truth, but doubting you the way I do isn't good. It almost doesn't matter if it's true. I just don't believe you. There's nowhere we can go when that's how I feel. Let's just I don't know. We'll talk."
Tina picked up her shoulder bag and left the house.
Bette pounded her fist on the counter and glared at the telephone. "Fuck you, Kit. Fuck you!"
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