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
The next morning, Bette passed James' desk on the way in to her office. "Good morning." She said without stopping. "Could you please pull my contract for me and bring it in? Also, James, I'd like for you to call a meeting of the Board. Schedule for the first available day that we have a quorum. Doesn't matter if everyone can't make it. First, see if you can reach Bert. I need to speak with him a.s.a.p."
James blinked. Bette had come in like a storm offshore, pounding down hard, fast, and without warning. "Ohh-kay." The writing was on the wall and James had been doing office work long enough to know that one of the first things he'd do after completing Bette's tasks would be to log on to the 'LA Times' site and click on 'Careers.' Bette was leaving and he could very well be out of a job.
Bette slid her door open and walked purposefully to her desk, dropping her briefcase onto the glass top. She was just sitting when James walked in holding the contract. "Ah, good. Thank you," she said reaching for it.
"Give me fifteen minutes before trying Bert. I just want to read through it before I talk to him. If he's going to be using a load of legalese, I'd best have some idea what he's talking about."
Twenty minutes later, Bette removed her glasses and flattened the papers when James informed her that Bert, the California Arts Center lawyer was on the line.
Bette took a deep breath and although he couldn't see her, she put on her game face before pressing the button to connect with him. "Bert, good morning. Hot enough for you?" She laughed.
"I'd rather be in Cancun. If I have to be in 90 degree temperatures, let it be on a beach with gorgeous bodies catering to my every whim," he responded cheerfully.
"Umm. That does sound nice." Bette wondered if Bert's idea of a gorgeous body came equipped with pecs and chest hair or breasts. "I know Franklin's probably keeping you busy on a dozen other tiny projects, so I'm calling to give you a heads up "
"When do you plan on leaving our little family?" Bert interrupted knowingly.
"How'd you know?"
"Do you have any concept of how long your new contract has remained unsigned? You only have a month or so left on the current one. I kind of assumed you wouldn't sign on for another year."
"Your ambition. Your drive. Let me guess. New York has seduced you away?"
"No, I'm staying right here in LA."
"I'm re-opening my gallery. I decided to go back to what I really love."
"Well, that's great, Bette. We're going to miss you. How much notice do you plan to give, if I may ask?"
"I won't leave the CAC in a lurch. A few months should give the Board time to put out feelers, short-list some people, get them in for interviews. Fall, maybe."
"Ah, that's smart. Get your gallery up and running just in time for the holidays, make a bundle right out of the gate."
"From your lips to God's ears." Bette smiled.
"So, when are you going to be telling Franklin and the gang?"
"James is arranging a meeting now."
"Franklin'll burst a gasket. That man always wants what he can't have and then takes what he does have for granted. No pleasing him."
"I think he'll be thrilled to see me go."
"You'd be surprised, Bette. Really."
Several times during the day Bette's hand hovered over the phone. She wanted to talk to Tina, to try to put things on track between them, but Tina was right. If she wouldn't believe her, then what was the point? The fact that Bette was lying was insignificant. Fact or fiction, Tina didn't care. Her pride wouldn't let her make that call.
It wasn't only Tina that she wanted to speak with. She wanted to talk to Suzanne, too, but it wasn't pride that stopped her, but a sense of self. Bette had heard about people who loved psychotherapy. They lived for it. They wouldn't make any life changing decisions without having at least one session devoted to it. These people wanted their therapists to be their life consultants who told them what to wear, what to eat, whom to associate with, and how to live. Bette wanted to call Suzanne to get advice, but she wasn't looking for a surrogate mother or best friend or lover. She knew what she wanted in life and how to get it. Bette had been raised to evaluate what life put in front of her, weigh her choices, and be steadfast in the final decision. This marital crisis was not going to raze her foundation. Her life, in spite of Tina's absence, had to continue and she had to keep up as she always had. A weaker woman would have called Suzanne and told her about the night at the Palms and how that evening ended; would have told her about the first meaningful conversation she and Tina had on the phone; maybe would have mentioned thoughts of re-opening her gallery and leaving her present job. A lesser woman would have pleaded for an earlier appointment to discuss how things were progressing with the partner she had separated from, but that wasn't Bette. A desperate woman would have called in crisis, kept Suzanne on the phone, cried endlessly about the latest kink in her future plans. Bette was determined. She would wait until Thursday and arrive at Suzanne's with decisions made and feeling strong.
That night she stopped at Blockbuster and rented a couple of movies. At home she made some microwave popcorn, unplugged the phone, and watched 'The Matrix' and 'The Others.' She had been looking for movies that weren't romantic or heady, and were different than those she might have seen with Tina. She wanted no reminders. She fell asleep before the end of 'The Others,' so never learned the great mystery.
On Thursday, she was told that the first available time for the Board to meet would be next Tuesday. That wasn't what she wanted to hear, but she accepted it. James was standing in her office, holding a pad.
"The problems were Eisenberg, Taft, and Smith-Kingston. If any one of them could have availed themselves on Friday, we could have done it tomorrow."
Bette lowered her eyes to look at the papers on her desk, but sensed that James was still there. She looked up and waited for him.
"Bette, I'm wondering not really wondering. You're planning on leaving, huh?"
Bette smiled warmly at her assistant. He was priceless. "Yes, I am. I was going to talk to you later today about it."
"Have you decided when?"
"Not until the Fall. Probably November."
"Okay, so I have some time. I just wanted to know so I could get all of my ducks in a row, too."
Bette walked across the room to her small meeting area and motioned for James to follow and take a seat. She sat down and looked at the nervous young man. "The reason I was going to talk with you is that I think you and I work well together and I'd like to continue that association. I'm opening a gallery and will still need the kind of assistance I have here. Would you be interested?"
"I'd jump at it, Bette. You're honestly the best boss I've had, but the salary the CAC pays me is nothing to walk away from. I'm making fine money here."
Bette nodded. "I'll meet it, of course."
"Then yes, I would love to follow you. Yes, sign me up."
"Okay," she said as she stood. "We've got a deal." She stretched out her arm to shake his hand, but he pulled her to him and hugged her awkwardly.
"Thank you, Bette. Thanks."
"James, what would I do without you? You're my main man."
He grinned so widely that practically all of his teeth showed. "Where is your space?"
"Hmm," she said, walking him to the door. "I thought we'd look for a place on the CAC's dime."
"Yeah, we'll look," James muttered as he left the office, excitement rolling off of him.
There was so much to tell Suzanne that Bette hardly knew where to start. They had spent last Monday talking about a 'current event,' Bette's strained father-daughter relationship. In just a few days, they had a lot more ground to cover, but not much time. She jumped on the first item that she knew would require some time. "So, we're getting along very well. We were really connected, kissing. Making out, actually, and our friends saw us together again. It was right and I had just said that to her when my half-sister, Kit called."
"How did Kit's call change things?"
"Kit was pissed that I had been less than kind to her Ivan, the person, woman she's seeing. We had gone out, they had been dancing, while they were on the dance floor, who should come up to me, but Candace. When Kit saw Candace, she thought she needed to save me from myself, so she concocted a way to distance me from Candace. I didn't want or need her chaperoning me, so I insulted Ivan. Then Candace, I guess, propositioned me "
"You guess? Surely, you've seen enough of the world to know if you've been propositioned."
"Okay, she did. But Suzanne, let me explain what happened earlier. I had eavesdropped on a conversation between Tina and my next-door neighbor, Tim. Tina was cruel, spiteful, hurtful. She just went for the jugular. Granted, she didn't know I was there, but itit made me just ache inside." Bette told Suzanne all that she had heard. "Candace was sitting there, propositioning me, telling me that I was wanted and my mind kept going back to what Tina had said, that I wasn't capable of love. I think I wanted to prove her wrong. I decided to leave with Candace."
"That's all that Tina heard from Kit's messagethat I left holding hands with Candace."
"Yeah, exactly. I mean that was really the last thing Tina needed to hear."
"How did you explain yourself?"
"Well, I told her it wasn't true, that Kit was mistaken."
"That was a lie. I lied. I did. I had to. Tina would never have understood what was going on in my mind. She would have seen that as my ongoing betrayal when it really wasn't." Bette explained that evening. She told Suzanne that she thought about what she had learned in therapy, realized that she was trying to re-channel her stress, was on the road to another error in judgment, and stopped it. "When Candace started kissing me, I knew it wasn't what I wanted. I told her to leave."
"The two of you kissed?"
"She was kissing me. I told her it was wrong and I wasn't interested. That was it. There is absolutely nothing else to that story. I haven't seen or heard from Candace since and don't plan to."
"So you told Tina that ?"
"That I left with Candace, we talked for a little while, then she left."
Bette exhaled deeply causing the wisps of hair on her forehead to waft around her head. "See, you don't get it. I momentarily let my anger get the best of me, then I checked it. That is all there is to it. Tina isn't even speaking to me because of Kit."
"Because of Kit?"
"Absolutely because of her. I'm so angry with my sister. I mean, her mouth has created something where there is nothing. She's caused this rift between Tina and me."
"Kit did this?"
"You can think what you want, Suzanne, but yeah, Kit is to blame for this. I'll take responsibility for my actions, I've done that all along, but if Kit hadn't left that sort of message on my voicemail On my voicemail, who does that ? Tina and I would be together. I wouldn't be sitting here right now."
"Do you think that's true?"
"That we'd be together?" Bette glared at her.
"I think Tina would have at least one foot back in our home. Yes."
"So what Kit has done is both irreversible and irreparable?"
"No, I wouldn't say that. If Tina calls me, I'm ready to keep going, but I'm not going to force the issue. You wouldn't believe all I've done this week. It's like it was seven and a half years ago when we first met and I was trying to win her away from this guy named Eric."
"You've been trying to impress her?"
"Yes. Show her that I'm serious about the two of us."
"But now, you're leaving the next move to her?"
"I would say that it's Tina's turn to step up to the plate. I'm not being a hard-ass about this. This is realistic; this has to be a two-way street. I've taken the blame for my infidelity, but frankly, isn't she culpable to a degree? I mean, I wasn't getting what I needed at home. All I was getting from Tina was this tension and neediness that was just cloying." Bette was shocked at her last statements. Her eyes opened wide in disbelief.
"This is the first time you've suggested that the problems in your relationship weren't all of your making. In previous sessions, you mentioned that you were bored, looking for an outlet "
Bette closed her eyes for a few beats. When she opened them, she said softly, "It takes two, Suzanne."
"So it wasn't just boredom, but Tina's reliance on you that caused you stress?"
Bette nodded. "I had to be the strong one constantly. Tina would get upset, almost hysterical, frightened, worried, pop a Xanax, make requests of me. Did I tell you that I had to leave a very important event in New York because she left some cryptic message for me on my cell? This event was vital to my career, my standing in my profession. First, she was supposed to attend with me, but she wasn't feeling well because of the pregnancy." Bette waved a hand in the air. "Understand. Get it. Not a problem. So, I went alone and then, on a night when I was supposed to be dining with these major players, getting my name and face out there, she ruined it." Bette nodded. The anger she had suppressed for so long now rose. "She ruined it. I flew home, worried sick about her and the baby only to discover that nothing was really wrong. When I got home, she was sleeping off poker night with our friends. And you know what? She had nothing to say in response except " Bette mimicked Tina using a whiny voice, "Thanks for coming home, baby."
"How did you deal with that disappointment?"
"I couldn't deal with it, Suzanne. She was pregnant, easily upset. My job was not to deal with my own disappointments and problems, it was to make Tina happy, to make sure our family was taken care of, to help her in every way I could to prepare for our baby. It was a role I took on happily. It was my contribution."
"But you're angry."
"I am, but I don't want to be. It's just that I was making all the concessions, yet her needs were the ones being met. It was like her life was being turned upside down and only the changes that she was going through mattered. The stress was killing me."
"And you had nowhere to turn?"
"I imprudently turned to Candace which pulled us apart."
"So this is a bit circular. You entered into a physical relationship with Candace because you couldn't relate to Tina and once you went outside of the marriage, your relationship with Tina became more fragmented, thus weakening your foundation further and creating in you a willingness to greater explore your needs outside of your primary relationship?"
"Right--because Tina wasn't there for me. I was there for her, but in so many ways, she was not there for me. From the donor business, to losing the baby, dealing with my father, understanding the pressures at work, all of it."
"You believe that you were there for her?"
"Both physically and emotionally?"
Bette stared at her therapist.
"Do you think that maybe you shut her out, tried to shield her from all of your pressures, thus not allowing her the opportunity to offer you support?"
Bette stared out into the bright afternoon sun and reflected on the question. She crossed her arms over her chest and inhaled deeply. She turned to Suzanne and said in a hushed tone, "Yeah, I probably did that."
Bette felt emotionally drained when she left therapy. Sometimes she hated Suzanne. She took the elevator down to the lobby and stepped out, bumping into Tina who had just exited the second elevator.
"Excuse me," Bette said without looking up.
"Bette?" Tina was surprised to see her. She knew that Bette had therapy in the same building as Foxworthy, but they had never crossed paths there before.
She hadn't been crying, but Tina could see the strain in Bette's eyes. Her partner looked almost defeated and shaky. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I've got to get back to the office."
"Could you spare time for an ice cream cone?"
Bette smiled, Tina's invitation lifting her out of her funk. "I guess I could manage to devour a double scoop of rum raisin."
"It's a block away. I don't think we'll melt before we get there."
"Can you believe this heat?"
They walked in step toward the Haagen-Daz shop. As they passed the psychiatrists' building, Tina turned to Bette and said, "I'm in love with you, Bette. It would be so much easier if I weren't."
Bette stopped walking, turned, and stared at Tina. "I love you, too."
"I want to trust you. I want to be able to go through our life together without doubting you when you say you're preoccupied or working late or just in a bad mood. But right now, I think my reaction to any of those situations would be, 'is she seeing someone else.'"
"You mentioned couples counseling. I talked to Foxworthy about it."
Bette cringed. She wondered why Tina had to mention it to him.
"He didn't give me any advice except to think about what's best for me. I want you to be best for me, so I want to try to make it work. If the offer is still open, I'd like to go see your therapist with you."
Bette burst into a smile. Her shoulders that had been tight and holding tension, relaxed. She nodded several times. "When? I'll arrange it right away."
"Anytime. In five minutes, tomorrow, next week. It's time for us to stop shitting around. If we're going to be together, let's figure it out."
They reached the ice cream store and Bette asked Tina to order for her. While Tina stood at the counter staring up at the menu to make her own selection, Bette pulled out her cell and called Suzanne O'Brien.
Surprsingly, the psychiatrist answered immediately. "Bette?"
Bette was taken aback. "Uh, yeah."
"Caller I.D. I'm in between clients, just taking some notes. Did you forget something?"
"No, I ran into Tina on the way out. She'd like to come in with me next session."
"I'd like us to keep our individual session on Monday, but I can fit the two of you in tomorrow at eleven a.m."
"Hold just a sec," Bette's hand lowered so that the phone rested against her thigh. "Tina? Can you go tomorrow morning at eleven?"
Tina nodded. "Okay, Suzanne, we'll be there. Uh uh, I was wondering about some of the things we've discussed and how "
"Bette, the work that we do is confidential and private. The only things that are revealed from those individual sessions will come from you."
"Okay, thanks, Suzanne. We'll see you tomorrow."
The next morning, Bette drove to Tina's new place to pick her up. Bette hoped that if therapy went well, they'd have lunch together and not have a self-conscious goodbye in front of the building. Bette hoped that the session would be just the beginning for them. On the way, they made small talk about the weather, the traffic, and work. It was apparent that both women were anxious about what the next hour would hold.
After introductions, Bette took a seat on the sofa, a place she had never sat in the many sessions she had had with Suzanne. Tina hesitated only for a moment before sitting next to her.
"Tina, I believe I know what Bette's goals are for therapy and why she wanted to do couples counseling. Could you tell me what you hope to gain?"
Tina calmly asked, "I'm interested in knowing what Bette's goals are. Could she tell me?"
Suzanne looked at Bette who blinked in surprise at this instant confrontation, but she bucked up. "I want to learn how to make a better relationship with you, be a better partner, and make sure that both of our needs are met." She smiled lovingly.
"I'm sure Bette's mentioned to you her affair."
Suzanne looked blankly at Tina who continued, "Yeah. So, you know about that and maybe you know the reasons why. I haven't been made privy to that yet. Last week, she saw the woman again and they left a bar together. Do you know that?" She didn't wait for an answer, knowing she wouldn't get one. "What I want to know " She stared directly at Bette. "And this time I want the honest-to-God's truth, did you do more than talk?"
They had been sitting in therapy for less than five minutes and Tina had pulled out the big guns. She had no intentions of dancing around what she wanted to know. Bette winced. She felt on the spot and looked to Suzanne for guidance, but was offered none.
Cocking her head, Bette stared at her partner pleadingly. "Tee, I want to be with you. She means nothing to me."
"'We only talked' or 'there was more'--two choices, Bette. Just tell me the truth. Tell me the truth."
Bette's upper lip twitched nervously. It would have been easy to keep up the ruse if Bette hadn't confided in her psychiatrist. She couldn't lie knowing that at least one other person in the room did know the truth. Logically, she explained, "Tina, you were at Tim's and I heard you denigrate me. You might not have seen it that way, but to disparage me that way hurt more than I can say. What if you overheard me telling someone that you weren't capable of love? I have feelings, too," she accused.
"I left with her. I did take her hand. That's true. We came back to our place."
Tina nodded in confirmation. "Then? You did more than talk, didn't you?"
A tear flowed down Bette's cheek. "She kissed me, but I swear, I didn't kiss her back. She only kissed me."
"And what did you do?"
"Nothing. She kissed me, but I froze and did nothing."
Tina's eyes narrowed in loathing. "What are you, fucking Swiss? What? You remained neutral against her attack?"
Bette rolled her eyes and that sent Tina over the edge. She uncrossed her legs and stood, taking long strides to the door. "I'm gone. This was a huge mistake."
Bette was right behind her and made a quick sprint to the door, blocking Tina's exit. "No. No, you don't. Tina, I didn't know how to tell you. That's why I'm here, getting help in expressing myself and not acting out when I should be talking. I lied to you because I knew how you'd react. It didn't do me any good. You still left. You still didn't trust me."
"As if I should?" Tina said bitterly.
"I want to win your trust again. You deserve that. I might not deserve you, but I want to fight for you."
Suzanne watched with keen interest.
"All I'm asking is that you stay and we talk."
Tina's will began to falter, her shoulders slumped and the confidence she had in her beliefs wavered. Bette bent to look into the eyes of her partner who stared at the ground, "Tina, we have seven years together. We can have the rest of our lives if you forgive me. I'm so sorry."
Tina looked up at Bette and her body language changed again. "You keep telling me you're sorry." She pushed her index finger against Bette's chest. "You've said that hundreds of times, Bette, but not once " She paused and took a deep breath. "Not once have you said to me, it won't happen again. 'I promise it won't happen again.'"
Bette's lip quivered and twisted. "I " She shook her head. "Hasn't that been obvious, Tee? I would never do this to you again. I'd never hurt us like this. Never."
Bette pulled Tina into her arms. Tina's head rested on Bette's shoulder as both women cried. Suzanne watched as they had their private moment together.
Several minutes went by before Bette lightly directed Tina back to the sofa. Tina grabbed a Kleenex and blew her nose while Bette simply dabbed at her eyes. "Bette, I'm willing to try this, but you're gonna have to be open with me all the time, not just here. I don't want to learn the truth or find out what you're thinking only when we have therapy. You have to be forthcoming all of the time, Bette. I mean it."
Bette was busy at work. The Board wasn't surprised to learn that she was leaving, but they weren't pleased about it. She suspected that most members really wanted to sit on this Board because it would look good on their CVs. They weren't particularly interested in involving themselves so thoroughly in the decision-making processes for the CAC. This was probably why Franklin was so powerful on the Board. She had to give him that-- he was concerned about the Museum's reputation, standing, and success. Once she gave them the news of her departure, Board members scrambled to pack as much into the few short months as possible. They wanted to make many decisions and to go through it quickly. They hoped to have three years worth of exhibitions wrapped up before Bette left. In phone call after phone call, Bette tried to explain that while it was possible, it might not be the best movesomething could be hot in 2004, but passé in late 2007. When Franklin mentioned booking 'Impressions in Winter,' for 2005, Bette didn't negate the idea. At least that was one exhibit set for the not too distant future.
Bette called Jurgen in Geneva and reminded him of their agreement from his visit. He was putting together a show of Nordic designers that would definitely want to travel and be seen in the U.S. She arranged for that show for next summer. When everyone was sizlling from the stifling summer heat, people could come to the CAC and get Nordic cool with these edgy works.
In between arranging the major seasonal exhibitions for the next eight to ten seasons, a job that really should have been left up to her replacement, Bette was also writing her 500 words for Margaret Hannon. She had spoken on obscenity, pornography, and art numerous times, but she really wanted to talk about how the works weren't decadent, but censorship would undoubtedly lead to the general decay of art. Her text was a comparison of the darkness of censorship and the light of art. She was quite pleased with what she had written and faxed it to Margaret Hannon's office.
The last thing she did for the week was send a $5.00 check to Eileen Strickland. After she had spoken with Bert and the Porter family lawyer, she learned that she'd have nothing but problems and would be paying taxes through the nose on its actual value if she accepted the Calder as a gift. She had to buy it. Bette talked to Eileen and explained the predicament. Eileen kept laughing and saying she had no idea the value of that 'little picture.' They spent forty-five minutes haggling with Bette making an initial offer of $5,000, probably about a quarter of a million less than its worth and Eileen settling on $5.00.
Two and a half weeks had passed since their first session together. Between Tina's weekly individual counseling, Bette's twice a week therapy, and now couples' counseling, they were spending a fortune, but both agreed that it had been well worth the cost.
Bette and Tina were seated on the patio of a nearby Pan-Asian noodle restaurant. Bette held her bowl Chinese-style and used chopsticks to pull the contents from it. She chewed, then placed the bowl on the table. "Tina, I'm not ready for that."
"Don't you think it could be healing for you to come to terms with your mother and her abandonment?"
"There's nothing to heal. She wasn't missed in my life. Believe me. I wanted for nothing." Bette wiped her mouth with the napkin, folded it,and placed it back in her lap. She stared at Tina.
"I know what it's like to have an absent parent. As you know, my father wasn't around much and that was hard, but mothers and daughters, Bette--that relationship is intense. She abandoned you. Mothers don't normally do that."
Bette's lip quivered. "I've had nearly thirty years to deal with it, Tina. I have. If not for what I did in our marriage, I wouldn't have thought of her."
"You're telling me that you don't ever think about your mother?"
"Bette," she paused, looking for a delicate response. "I can't believe that's true. In all of these years, you haven't given your mother a thought? Not when you graduated high school or college, not when you received your MBA? When we had our ceremony, you never thought, I wonder what my mother would think? I wonder if my mom would like Tina?"
Bette was steadily shaking her head as Tina ran off her list. "No, Tina. My mother is a non-issue. Can we please drop it?"
"And you haven't mentioned Melvin, either."
"We've discussed Melvin in individual. I don't need nor have any desire to waste our time on him during our sessions I've dealt with him," Bette said bitterly.
This concerned Tina. Her partner was dedicated to her father, yet she hadn't spoken his name, hadn't mentioned calling him. "Are you not talking to him?"
Bette stared at her before answering. "What does that matter?"
"Well, you love him. If you're not talking to him, I'm curious as to why."
"I don't want to talk about Melvin or my mother, Tina. Let's keep that off limits for now. Please?"
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"I know you don't and maybe it isn't. It's not that I'm not willing to ever talk to you about this, I promise, I will. Frankly, I can only handle so much. My plate is full right nowtackling my parents and their failures are not topics I'm prepared to take on. Please understand, Tee. It's too much."
Tina nodded as she twirled a noodle around a chopstick. "There's something else I wanted to talk with you about. I'm in kind of a bind. One, I'm not sure how to ask and two, I don't know how we can do this logistically."
Bette's interest was piqued. "What?"
"Jared Jackoway, the guy at Alice's magazine, the one I'm subletting from is putting his big exposé on hold. He's coming back from San Diego over a month early."
Bette's eyes lit up. She knew that Tina hadn't really started hunting for an apartment of her own. "Uh-huh?"
"I'm wondering if I can move back in for a while."
It was all she could do not to burst into a huge grin. Instead, her face remained flat, revealing nothing. "Tina, you know you don't have to ask something like that. That house is ours. I'm not going to say you're welcome to move in because you're not a guest. You should be there."
"II just don't want to give you or anyone the wrong idea."
"I'm the only one who should matter in this, Tina. Honestly, how Shane or Dana or Alice or any of our friends feel about the two of us in the same house is irrelevant."
The waiter walked over to their table, interrupting their conversation. "Is there anything else you ladies would like? Another pot of tea?"
"We're fine," Bette said without looking at him. The waiter hustled away, realizing immediately that he was in the way.
"I was actually thinking Suzanne and Dan Foxworthy," Tina continued.
"It's our life, Tina, not theirs."
"Well, they might think it's not a good idea."
"So? So what if they don't like it? You need a place to stay; you have a home; you're moving back into it; I want you to move back in. This is what works for us. It's not their business."
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
"I'll pack up my stuff and move on Satur "
"Bette," a woman called out as she walked around a couple of tables on the patio to get to them. "I left a message with James." She bent to kiss first one cheek, than the other.
"Hi. What are you doing here?"
"Havin' lunch with a friend." Margaret casually touched Bette's forearm as she spoke.
Margaret Hannon turned to Tina, but spoke to Bette. "And you?"
"Like you. Having lunch." Margaret tilted her head in question and Bette responded, "Oh, right. Tina Kennard, Margaret Hannon."
"Glad to meet you," Margaret said, but didn't hold out a hand, merely returned Tina's smile with a slight one of her own.
"I read your text." The southern woman's hand remained on Bette's arm, lightly rubbing it as she spoke. "Exquisite."
Listening to Margaret speak, Tina was reminded of the childhood vacations to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Margaret's voice lingered heavy in the air, waiting for a breeze, waiting for Bette to sweep her away.
"You cut to the chase and summed up what the issue is all about. I'll probably pull a couple of lines as the tag for the book. If you don't mind?"
"No, not at all."
Tina eyed Margaret Hannon. She was blonde, cutesy, energetic, and slightly flirtatious--just the kind of woman that Bette would go for. Then again, Candace wasn't playing type and Bette definitely went for her. Bette watched Tina as she spoke to Margaret and could tell that Tina was either jealous or upset about the interruption.
The writer had moved from Bette's forearm to lightly massage her shoulder while they carried on the conversation. "Now, I'm sure James has told you that we've scheduled the shoot for Monday mornin'. My photographer is pure talent and can cover up the worst flawsnot that you have any because you don't. Your face is perfection personified."
Bette blushed and said modestly, "Thanks."
"No, it'll be a great shoot. I can tell. I'll be there, of course. Assistin' as neededhair, getting' you in and out of your clothes "
Tina coughed, sending a mouthful of tea, spraying in Bette's direction.
"What?" Bette said.
Margaret seemed oblivious to the surprised reactions she had just received as she continued, "We'll try different looksthe power suit is a definite, but also maybe some low-rise jeans and something to show off your muscles. The whole point is to show that you're strong and don't take shit."
"Don't you worry 'bout a thing. I know what I'm doin', I've done it a hundred times already. I do want to get together with you sometime next week outside of the Monday shoot. Go over your text. I think there are a few minor points that need some tweakin'."
"So it wasn't exquisite?" Bette laughed a little too playfully for Tina's taste.
"Oh, it was. I just think it could be more exquisite. Why don't we get together for a workin' dinner and read over it next week?"
"No," Bette said immediately. "I'm leaving the office at 5:30 these daysanother commitment." She looked across the table at Tina and smiled. "I'll have James call you and schedule an appointment." Bette recalled where the last working dinner got herin the arms of Candace. She was not going to put herself in that situation again.
Disappointed, Margaret straightened. "Well, I'd better get back to my lunch date. I'll see you on Monday, Bette." She bent and kissed her again. "It was nice meetin' you Miss Kincaid."
"Kennard. Tina Kennard."
"Right. Bye, now."
Margaret Hannon was barely away from the table before Tina said, "What's up with her?"
"What do you mean?"
"She was practically hitting on you right in front of me."
"No she wasn't. She's friendly and southern. That's her way."
"Bette, I'm not blind. And you didn't help matters any. I mean I could have been anyonea client, a friend, anybody with that introduction of yours. It was I don't know--insignificant."
"Tee, I'm not sure how I should be introducing you. What should I have said? If one of your colleagues had come up to the table, how would you have introduced me."
"I would have said, 'this is Bette.'"
"And from that, they would have known the significance? Of course they would haveyou've probably given all of your co-workers a blow-by-blow about what an asshole I am." Bette played nervously with the ball of white rice in the bowl, separating the grains with her chopsticks.
"No," Tina answered, and then hinted at Bette's reasoning. "I just don't hide you."
"I've never been one to discuss my personal life at work. That's not who I am. The people who work the day-to-day at the CAC know about you, but in the workplace, it's about business for me. They know that my home life is not their concern. Now, Margaret has only been into the offices once or twice. There wouldn't have been any reason for her to know."
"So is that how you're getting your women. They come into the office and you "
Bette dropped the chopsticks and stared at Tina, her eyes penetrating her partner's. "Tina, I can't tell you how much I resent that?" Bette blinked several times while searching for the right words. "For you to--to paint me as--as some kind of predator, lying in wait for my prey to arrive in my office just goes beyond the pale. I really resent it." She rifled through her purse for her wallet, pulled it out, and searched for a credit card. As far as she was concerned lunch was over.
"I ripped apart the trust you had in me, but I'm trying to make amends. For us to move forward, you are going to have to meet me halfway. Doubting me at every turn is not going to get us anywhere. It's that simple."
"I know. I know."
The third and final trip between the sublet and their home was completed at midnight. Now that the clothes and boxes were back in the house, the question was where to put them. Bette immediately started placing clothes back in Tina's drawers and in her closet while Tina went through boxes and started unpacking.
When Bette re-entered the living room, Tina was on her knees rummaging through a box. Dressed in green khaki cargo shorts and a World Wildlife Federation T-shirt, Tina looked at home. Looking around, Bette noticed that some of Tina's books were back on shelves, stuck between her art history books and business admin texts. A prized-possession, a trinket box from her great grandmother was on the endtable next to a porcelain vase of Bette's. Perhaps it was easier to say that the move was temporary, but Bette could see that Tina was making herself at home once more.
Over the past months, Bette had experienced the lowest of lows. She suffered through and survived despair and anger. She had managed through fierce depression and a disconsolation that made her feel her heart was being held together by two or three thin, sinewy threads. Now, looking at her partner who was so involved in her task that she didn't notice she was the object of attention made her warm inside. She leaned against the wall between the living room and hallway and watched Tina. Her face was flushed from the move, her hair kind of wild, and she looked absolutely lovely to Bette. She wanted nothing more than to make love with her.
"I feel like we should have some kind of cleansing ritual before everything is unpacked. It's kind of anticlimactic, don't you think?"
Tina turned and cocked her head, not understanding.
"You're moving back in. Our things are intermingling again. It just seems that we should mark the occasion in some way. Even if we're not officially a couple again, it seems like we're back together on some level."
"You know what?" Bette said as she walked out of the room and down the hall to the closet.
"What?" Tina watched her move down the hall, appreciating the view of her butt in the black cargo pants and the cut biceps barely hidden under a tight black and white, 'West Hollywood Lesbian Visibility 1994' T-shirt.
Opening the closet, Bette rifled through the contents. "Do you remember that trip we took to Santa Fe a couple of years ago, when I went to see that Native artist?"
"We bought a few bundles of sage? We can burn them as part of a ceremonyyou know getting out all of the bad energy. A purification ceremony." She reached behind her and turned off the bedroom light.
"Do you know how to do it?" Tina said as she stood up.
"Not really, but we can wing it. I think we should just say what's important to us. You game?"
"Yeah, let's do it."
Bette brought out two bundles of sage, tied with cotton string. "The directions say not to blow on it directly after it's lit, but to just fan the smoke around. And it needs to burn completely."
She handed one bundle to Tina along with one of two large sea shells they had picked up on a walk in Malibu years ago. She grabbed the other shell from the counter display for herself. There were a few candles around the room that Bette quickly lit.
"Where shall we start?"
"At the front door, I think. We'll make our way through the house" she said as she turned off the lights.
Tina walked across the living room, pushing boxes out of the way to clear their path. Bette followed her and at the door, used a lighter to light both her bundle and Tina's, then flipped the switch to turn off the main lighting in the living room. They were using the shells as a holder for the sage. They stood in the soft light of the candles and watched as the sage began to burn. "Shall I start or you?"
"You go ahead, Bette."
Bette held the lit sage in front of her, then lifted it so that smoke swirled over her. Almost immediately, the smell was pungent and surprisingly both earthly and ethereal. Slowly, she lowered it and fanned her hands over the herb so that the wafting smoke moved around her entire body. She held it out and fanned the smoke toward Tina, before moving her hand behind Tina's back and fanning the smoke around her. Tina mimicked Bette's actions, first fanning the sage around her own body, then around Bette's.
Bette walked to the front door and started at the threshold and moved up and over, then down to the other side of the frame. As she did this, she said, "Let all the negativity that has built up in our home be replaced by what has always been herelove, caring, and trust."
She walked the perimeter of the living room with Tina trailing behind her. At the bookcase, Bette said, "Let us learn from each other and take knowledge from one another."
Tina stood at the sofa and spoke, "Help us to find common ground."
Bette walked into the kitchen and fanned the sage. "Just as this room is abundant with things that give us sustenance, let us find sustenance with each other."
Tina walked down the hallway. "Sometimes we will walk down a path alone, but we should always remember that doors have been left open by the other."
Tina was the first to reach the bathroom where she moved the shell up and down left and right, waving her hand over the bundle of sage. "Just as gentle water soothes us, let us soothe each other."
Bette stood at the doorway and added, "And just as water quenches our thirst, let us drink from the other." She turned and left the room, crossing the narrow hall to the bedroom. Bette stood at the door, waiting for Tina, and then they both entered the room. Bette went to one side of the bed and Tina, the other. They smiled and looked at each other.
"Let us always know that love will see us through."
"And in here, let it be heart to heart and always an act of love," Tina said sincerely.
Tina joined Bette at the door. Bette took the shell from Tina and passed the still burning sage onto her shell. The two bundles sparked and glowed before settling. Bette placed Tina's shell on a hall shelf and took her hand. They returned to the living room and just as Bette was about to place the sage on a table, Tina requested, "One more." She fanned the sage and said, "Help me to remember that you're unstoppable at work. That you love what you do and it is important to who you are."
Bette smiled, happy that Tina would offer up such a wish. She had one of her own. "Help me to see and acknowledge the good work you do for the community, our friends, and our home. Your contributions make everything and everyone better."
Bette placed the shell on the table in front of the sofa, then guided Tina beside her. Bette's arm was stretched out on the back of the sofa, but when she pulled Tina closer, she put her arm around her shoulders. The smell of the burning sage had left them both moving in slow motion and slightly slurring their words with a thick, drowsy tongue. "I don't know. Somehow I really feel at peace and safe; cleansed. What do you think?"
"Yeah, it's good."
Bette turned to her just as Tina moved her head to face Bette. Instantly, Tina leaned in and kissed her. Tina's tongue demanded entry and Bette parted her lips. She fell back onto the sofa, pulling Tina along with her. Tina grasped Bette's face in her hands, keeping her still, unmoving, while she pressed her mouth against hers, pushing her tongue deeper into her mouth, bruising their lips with the intensity of the kisses. Bette moaned beneath her. "Ohh."
Usually, it was Tina who was vocal during their lovemaking, but tonight, she was quiet, though her passion was steadily escalating, becoming bolder, and more insistent. She moved her hands from Bette's face. One hand slid down Bette's torso, then back up to her breast. Tina's hand stilled there, not a flinch, not a caress for long moments. Bette and Tina held their collective breaths. Then suddenly, her hand was in motionsqueezing, rubbing, and massaging the full breast through the T-shirt. Bette groaned. How she had missed this touch. She tried reaching for Tina's T-shirt, but Tina used her forearm to block the questing hand. Bette laughed at her and lay back with her head propped against the arm of the sofa. Inching her way down Bette's body, Tina's hand moved to the hem of the T-shirt and pushed it up. Both hands now were on Bette's bra-covered breasts. "Oh, God," Bette said in the middle of a long moan. With one forceful movement, Tina pushed the bra up and over the heavy breasts. She looked at them with hooded eyes, before bending to pull a nipple into her mouth. Finally, Tina groaned. "Oh, yesss," she hissed out. As Tina's mouth savored one than the other, Bette's head whipped from side to side. Tina felt Bette's hips rise, pressing into her, pushing against her leg while she moaned. Tina's eyes moved up to look at Bette's face and saw her lover smiling. It was the smile that Tina loved to see. Her mouth was parted, almost a look of surprise, but all of her teeth showed and the smile was one of a person lost in their own paradise. "I love your smile. When we make love, you look so happy," Tina said.
"I am." Bette made another grab for Tina's shirt. This time Tina didn't stand in her way and lifted, giving Bette the entrée she sought. She pulled the shirt up and unfastened the back hooks of Tina's bra in a way that only a long time lesbian couldquickly and erotically. The bra hung down between them inside the shirt and Bette's warm hands replaced the cotton cups. Her fingers played over Tina's erect nipples and Tina arched into Bette's hands, offering herself to her. Bette pulled the shirt up and lifted her head, pulling one of Tina's breasts into her mouth. Bette's mouth moved across to the other breast, then back. Back and forth, she moved, watching as Tina's nipples changed from pale pink to dusty rose to a dark merlot. Tina panted on top of her. Their bodies pushed and pressed against each other. For Bette, there was something about this act that represented the essentiality of Tina in her life. This feeling was as necessary, as elemental as breathing or needing water to survive.
"Tee, take me to bed."
Tina and Bette stared into one another's eyes. Tina lightly ran her index finger over Bette's full lips before bending again for another kiss. When she broke away, she said, "C'mon," as she stood and pulled Bette up.
The women held hands as they walked to the bedroom. Tina turned to kiss Bette again, dragging her across the room to the bed. She sat down while Bette remained standing above her. Once again, Tina lifted Bette's T-shirt and kissed her belly, then pulled her down on top of her. The women kissed with unbridled desire now, moving faster and more frantically against the other. Bette's mouth was hot. Her tongue ran circles over Tina's earlobe, narrowed and followed the pattern of the shell-shaped ear, licked along the ridges and lines, lapped at the smooth skin near the opening of the ear canal. Tina moaned loudly. She loved the feel of Bette's mouth on her ears, she always had. But suddenly, Bette became motionless.
"Baby, whawhat is it?" Tina turned to look up at the face that was contorted in confusion and dismay.
Bette rolled over. "I'm sorry II can't "
Bette stood. "This is going to sound ridiculous, but "
"I know." Tina sighed. "I was trying to hold it at bay."
"Tina, I've apologized for my infidelity, but I've never told you how sorry I am about that night. I was not myself. I can't believe what happened here. I was afraid of losing you and I just I forced myselfI forced you. I know we just did that ceremony and I do feel better, butthis bed."
"You acted in desperation. I know that. That was one of the first things I talked with Foxworthy about. You didn't know how to show me what you were feeling and I wouldn't have accepted it any way. And what I did was bad, too. The way I hurt you." Tina pulled Bette back to the bed and they sat next to each other. Tina gently rubbed Bette's cheek. "I wanted to physically hurt you the way you had hurt me. I wish it hadn't gotten that out of control. What really bothers me is that it was based in violence and angerI've never been that angry in my life about anything or anyone. But what bothers me, sickens me is " She shook her head. "I was inexplicably turned on by it. I don't like that feeling. It's sick."
"To know that I had that kind of beast lurking inside me. It's regrettable. That's all I can say."
Their passion was squelched and the two women sat on the bed with the top of Tina's head resting on Bette's cheek. For the longest time they sat that way until finally, they crawled into bed. Bette pulled Tina to her, her arm around Tina's shoulder. Tina turned, cozied up to Bette and relaxed. Bette stared up at the ceiling, thinking that it was all so very regrettable before she dozed off.
About half an hour later, Bette stretched and awoke. She was surprised to find Tina wide awake and staring at her with such tenderness.
"Hey. What's up?" Bette whispered
"Just thinking," Tina replied softly.
"Remember that morning when we first woke up and turned on the radio? We heard what had happened and couldn't believe it. A few minutes later Alice called and asked if we wanted to meet the group at The Planet so that we could all be together. We begged off and stayed home. I was thinking about how we held each other on the sofa as we watched the news on TV. In spite of all the tragedy, despite all the hatred, I felt like we were okay." Tina sniffed at the recollection. "I didn't even take a Xanax. I wanted to, but I didn't. You just held me so tight and although the world was collapsing onto itself, I knew we'd be okay. I don't know, I'm just reminded of that night."
Bette smiled and Tina felt Bette's arms reach out to hold her. This time when Tina snuggled in, she fell asleep immediately.
The next morning, Bette walked down the hall in her light blue robe. "Tina?" she called out.
"In here, babe."
Bette walked into the kitchen to find Tina sitting at the kitchen table staring at the laptop monitor and scribbling something on a pad of paper.
"What are you doing?"
"I think I solved our problem."
"Really? Let me call Suzanne and Dan and cancel our appointments." Bette laughed, then asked seriously, "What problem is that?"
"That big elephant in the bedroom. Our bed. This morning when I got up, I got online and 'googled' furniture and bed. I think I found some good ones. Take a look."
Bette walked over and stood behind her. She bent down and kissed her cheek, then nuzzled her neck.
Tina turned to kiss her. "Ooh, cool mint."
Bette marveled at the softness of Tina's lips, but she was distracted when her eyes landed on the monitor. "That's nice."
"Yeah, but it isn't my first choice. Take a look at this one," she said, going back to the keyboard and clicking to the site. "What'd you think?"
"Furniture for Environmentalists. They're kidding, right?"
"No, read the description."
"Solid mahogany frame. Adjustable headboards, very edgy. Asian-influenced. Very cool." She furrowed her brows in puzzlement. "Why do these people have a picture of our bed?" She laughed again. "Let's order it."
"Well, I was thinking we might go look at it. There's a furniture store on LaBrea that carries it."
"All right. The store probably opens at Noon. What do you say we do breakfast or brunch, then go over and take a look?"
"Sounds like a plan. Do you want to eat at the Planet?"
Bette walked over to the Senseo coffee maker and turned it on for a cup. She leaned against the counter, facing Tina. "Umm, no, not really. For now, Tina, if you don't mind, I'd rather keep our process to ourselves. I'm just not comfortable with everyone knowing or speculating about every little detail of our lives."
"That's fine. Speaking of everyone, how are you feeling about our friends?"
Bette shrugged. "I'm not sure. Everybody seemed to have a good time here the other week at the pool party, but there's still this tension. I guess I feel abandoned by them. I understand why they might take sides and certainly why they'd choose to stick with you, but it's still strange. I mean they know that what I did was so out of character that something must have been going on with me. Right? So, for them to just forget about me hurts. The only one who reached out at all was Shane and then she backed off. Alice. Alice and I have known each other for a long time and for her to completely ignore me "
"Well, that's definitely because of me. I mean I went to her first. She pretty much had to take sides since I was living with her. And Dana couldn't very well go against Alice. That would probably put a strain in whatever they've got going. What about Kit?"
"Kit's too busy with Ivan," Bette said with disdain.
"Ivan's okay. You should get to know her."
"I'd rather not."
"Bette, your sister seems very happy."
"It is nonsensical, Tee. Kit is a straight woman. She has been straight all of her life. All this time she's known about me, she never said, 'you know I've wondered what it might be like to be with a woman.' She's never experimented, never expressed a desire to, and you can be assured the opportunities have been abundant."
"You don't know what she's fantasized about. Maybe Ivan is just what Kit's been wanting."
"My sister has given me far more detail than I've ever wanted on her sexual exploits," Bette began as the buzzer went off for her coffee. She walked over and pulled the now filled cup from the pad. She poured cream into the cup "Believe me, Kit was into zee penis and zee pussy," she said imitating her artist friend who couldn't quite grasp the idea of artificial insemination, preferring instead the traditional means of conception between a man and a woman.
Tina laughed. Bette walked over to the table and sat next to Tina. "Maybe Ivan knows exactly how to take care of her in just that way, too," Tina suggested with a smile.
"Eww." She frowned. "I so do not want to think about my sister getting it on with that mullet-wearing dyke with a strap-on buckled around her waist."
"I don't know why you're getting all grossed out. As I recall, you've had a past that included some sex toys and I believe one of them came with a strap."
Bette smirked. "That's different."
"Hey, I was a straight woman until I met you." Sitting there with hot looking bed hair and wearing that sexy robe with next to nothing under it had Tina thinking that Bette sure looked like a cool, tall glass of water. She gave her the once-over. "All it takes is the right woman."
Bette smiled and sipped from her cup.
Asian Inspirations was an airy warehouse size furniture store filled with a few pieces spread throughout the space. The whole effect was the epitome of minimalism and it played to the sensibilities of Tina and Bette. There were examples of bedroom, dining and living room suites with one or two oversized armoires, chests, and dressers. There were Japanese Kotatsu tables, Indian jali bookcases, and antique red lacquered Chinese hope chests. Bette glanced around the store, finding many of the items appealing.
"Look, there it is." Tina grabbed Bette's hand and guided her to the bed just as the salesman appeared from nowhere.
"Good afternoon ladies. My name is Junichi Narahara." He nodded his head imperceptibly. "Is there anything I can assist you with today?"
"Yeah, this bed. We're interested in it."
"Oh, yes. This is one of our finest pieces. The frame is solid mahogany taken from a certified sustainably-harvested forest. This means that the craftsperson did not use old growth wood, destroying our much needed forests "
"Right, can we take a look," Bette cut him off.
"Of course. Well, let's see. There is no need for a box spring. The solid mahogany and rosewood slats are super strong. The stain used on this particular product is the very best out there at this time."
Bette sat on the bed and bounced lightly. "I like it. It's comfortable." She reached across and moved one of the two separate headboards up and down and then tilted them forward and back. She nodded her approval.
"Go ahead and stretch out. Lie in it and tell me that it's not the best." Tina stood next to Mr. Narahara and watched as Bette pulled her legs up and stretched out on the bed. Tina smiled warmly at her and the salesman seemed to notice for the first time that these two women weren't in there to buy a gift for their ailing grandmother.
"Oh," he started suggestively. "Why don't you go ahead and dive in? You can only imagine how it feels to press against it and feel the warmth just envelope you." Narahara was looking at either the bed or Bette, Tina wasn't quite sure.
"Come here, Tina. Lie down."
Tina walked to the other side and fell easily into the bed. "Ahh, that is nice."
"Yes, yes, it is. Don't you just want to sink in there? Go deeper and deeper."
"Uh-huh," Tina responded automatically. Narahara might not be talking about Bette, but Tina was definitely thinking about her.
"I'm telling you that you will be so satisfied after one night that you won't want to get up. You'll feel exhilarated in the a.m."
"I believe it," she said.
Bette sat up, looked at the two of them, and shook her head. "We'll take it."
"Great, great. You won't be sorry."
Bette stood and said, "First, do you have this bed in stock?"
"We sure do. We have two left in our warehouse."
"We live in West Hollywood. How soon can we get it delivered? We'd like to get it today."
"Oh, that's impossible. I'm the only one in the showroom and we have no trucks available or deliverymen on staff today."
"The soonest I can get it out to you is later in the week. We only do deliveries on Saturday and I'm afraid you missed the one for yesterday."
"Mr. Narahara," Bette began. "May I call you Junichi?"
Bette had put on her bargaining hat and Tina sat up and watched the scene unfold. "Junichi," she said as she patted his hand. "We really want this bed, but we don't have to get it here. We're ready to buy this bed today and we're very much aware of the price. Along with the bed, we were going to buy a Tempur Pedic mattress. We can walk out of here today with nothing and you lose what potentially would be a sizeable commission or you figure out how you can get that bed to us by 5:00pm tomorrow and have two very happy people who would undoubtedly become returning customers to your fine store. I'll let you decide what the best alternative is for you." Bette clasped her hands in front of her face, bouncing her thumbs lightly against her lips while Narahara made his decision.
"I see. Well, I'll make some calls. I'm positive that it could be arranged for tomorrow."
"That's excellent. Don't let us down."
"Okay. Well, why don't you ladies come over here and we'll write up the ticket." He pointed to his desk in the middle of the store.
Tina took Bette's hand and whispered, "You're amazing."
Bette winked and bent her head to Tina's ear. "You ain't seen nothin' yet."
Back on the sidewalk, the two women started down the street toward Bette's Saab. On the way, Bette looked at Tina and said, "You were flirting with him."
"No-oh," Tina said in a tone that admitted she'd been busted. She waited a beat, then said, "I was flirting with you."
"Oh." Bette continued down the street. "I knew that."
Sunday night was spent outdoors or on out-of-the-house activities. Their hormones had taken on a life of their own the night before and they each decided individually that it would be best not to provide temptation for those feelings. They went to the movies, then out for dinner at one of their favorite restaurants, Lucque's on Melrose. Bette ordered the chickpea soup to start and her entrée was the fabulously flaky grilled King Salmon with white asparagus. Tina got her usuala shaved porcini salad with herbs and the tender Veal Milanese with English peas. The dinner conversation was light with both women talking about their jobs. Bette focused more on her upcoming career change with an emphasis on location. Bette thought she might go back to Venice or look for something in Santa Monica. Tina thought that Santa Monica might be pricey, but LaBrea around the same area as the furniture store, might be a perfect location. Bette asked about the Center and Tina explained that it was all up and running and the first batch of kids were already at home in the computer lab, on the basketball court, and in the reading tutorials. A couple of volunteers were teaching arts and crafts as well. In mere days, the Center was showing the value of having activities for at-risk youth.
There was one topic of conversation that had not been explored, though it weighed heavy on Bette's mind. Tina had yet to slide her wedding ring back on her finger. Bette didn't know what to make of it. Things seemed to be going well, but maybe she was reading more into the situation than she should. Tina had said when she first broached the subject of moving back in that it would be 'just for a while.' Bette wondered if she still believed that. Maybe things were still temporary in Tina's mind. Too afraid to hear the truth, she kept mum.
Bette was not the only one managing to hold up her side of a casual conversation while thinking of something else. There were images that Tina tried to expunge from her mind, but they continued to pop up. This happened at the oddest times with nothing being said or specifically done to bring them on, yet there they were. Bette's long, slim fingers broke open a crusty roll and Tina watched as she dipped a small piece in the puddle of olive oil on the plate. Tina wondered about those fingers and Candace. Had Bette topped Candace as she had almost always done with her or was Candace the one in control? Did Bette use her fingers to get Candace off? What did they do together? What was it about that carpenter that made Bette change her way of life?
Bette popped the bit of bread into her mouth and looked at Tina. "What?"
Tina felt the tears welling in her eyes. "Bette?" She knew she had to say something, but was uncertain if she could get through it. "Why Candace? Why did you choose her?"
Bette drew back in surprise. She didn't see that coming at all. She blinked several times. "Whatwhat do you mean?"
Tina began to cry. She leaned forward so that Bette could hear her. "Why her? I'm just wondering."
"Tee, I don't know. No reason. We were having major problems. I was pissed off, stressed out. I didn't want to do it. I kept saying no " Bette paused, shook her head. "No, that's not true. I made feeble attempts at no, but I wanted to. I wanted that escape and she was there."
"But was there something special about her? Was she able to give you something that I was never going to be able to give you?"
A red flag went up. Bette didn't know what Tina meant by that comment. "Are you asking if it was a race thing? Are you really going to bring race into this?" Bette's mouth was closed, her jaws clenched as she stared across the table.
"No," Tina said much to quickly. She bit her lower lip and asked softly, "Should I?"
"Not at all. That didn't play into it at all." Bette accepted what Tina said, but doubted her nonetheless. There had been few times in their seven years that the race issue had ever come up. In fact, the only other time she could remember it was with Marcus as the sperm donor. She angled her head, evaluating just how much to tell her partner. "Tina, what do you want to know?"
"Everything. I wish I didn't want to know, but I do."
"Well, when you discovered it, it had barely started. The first time we had ever been together that way was less than a week before the opening night. I think three days, maybe. I wanted to stop it, but I couldn't seem to. It was like this speeding train that was moving faster and faster and all I could do was hope for the best. I couldn't stop, so I guess I wanted you to stop me. I was miserable." Bette reached for Tina's hand and held it only for a moment before Tina slid it from under Bette's grasp and onto her lap. "I don't know how you figured it out. I can only think of one time that Candace and I were even alone together. We were talking in one of the smaller galleries."
"Yes, that's where I saw you."
Bette exhaled air through her nose. "I know the CAC inside and out, every nook and cranny in the whole Museum. I could have taken her anywhereto my office, to the restroom, a more secluded spot, but I chose a semi-private gallery where anyone could see us, where you could see us. I'm convinced I wanted to be caught. But, I don't recall us doing anything we were just talking, I remember that."
Tina began as if she were giving a report. "She was leaning against a post and you were standing in front of her, playing with her necklace, smiling at her, and then you started to walk away and as you did, you took her hand and even as you were walking, you held on to her, letting her hand slide from yours." Tina began to weep steadily. "Like you really didn't want to let go. You turned to her and smiled one last time. You guys looked so intimate. Bette, my heart hit the floor. You were supposed to love only me."
"I do, Tina. Please don't cry." Bette reached across the table and grasped her other hand, this time holding it tightly, refusing to let it go. "I never promised her anything, didn't give her any false hope about anything other than what it was. I didn't feel anything for her. She meant nothing to me. Tee, I'm sorry I was dishonest with my body, but my heart never strayed."
"It still hurts, Bette."
"I know, baby. I know it hurts. I was vulnerable and weak and she jumped on that weakness."
"But what happens when you feel weak and vulnerable again. Whom will you go to then?"
"My wife. I'd come to you to get me through it. Believe me. I'm monogamous, Tina. "
The rest of the evening was spent window-shopping up and down Melrose and Fairfax. The sidewalks were filled with hip people hanging on to those last vestiges of the weekend before going home to prepare for Monday. As people walked past them, many smiled at them. Tina and Bette were walking down the street, holding hands, talking, occasionally glancing at each other. They looked like a good looking, happy couple who were going through life worry-free.
"You know, Suzanne, I'm not asking for your permission." Bette and her therapist were in the middle of a discussion about Tina's move back into the house. She looked at her, then stared out of the window.
"I wasn't giving it, Bette."
"Well, it certainly sounded that way. Your tone was very disapproving. To ask if I think that we've made the right decision isI don't know, it just smacks of a parental judgment," Bette folded her arms across her chest and glared at Suzanne.
"You think I'm judging you? Like your father?"
"It has nothing to do with my father." Bette cut her off immediately. Suzanne had been baiting her, trying to draw her into a discussion about her father that would undoubtedly lead to a greater discussion about her mother and childhood. Bette was too smart for that. She would not be goaded into it. If that was Suzanne's plan, she needed to come up with a new one. "Yes, I do think you're making a judgment call."
"Bette, I apologize if that's what you gleaned from my tone. I asked you if you had any concerns about the move that you'd like to address realizing that it is a big change and step for the two of you. Considering how your lives have been in upheaval for the past few months, I would expect some worries or uncertainties. I have no opinion on whether you should or shouldn't."
"That last part I don't believe. You might not give your opinion, but I'm sure you have one " She said tightly.
"Bette, where is this coming from?" Suzanne wasn't going to jump on the defensive because Bette wanted her there.
Bette shook her head. "I don't know. Yes." She waved her hand. "You didn't do anything. I'm feeling a little anxious," she confessed.
"Why is that?"
She wiped her hand across her mouth and then nervously moved her hand to her temple where she twirled a few flyaway strands of hair. "Tina had an appointment with Foxworthy today. I haven't heard from her. I can guarantee that once she told him our news he told her it was a mistake. This isn't a mistake. This is absolutely the right decision for us. We're both happier, ready to start over. Foxworthy likes to get things brewing. He knows that he can influence her. He's too controlling." Suzanne listened, thinking that Bette was also describing her personality and powers of persuasion with Tina. "He probably gave her that look of his, just enough of that all-knowing smirk, and some glib, typical Foxworthy one-liner like, 'Tina, you're still angry. Living with the subject of your anger will only frustrate you. Your frustration will lead to self-destruction. You don't want that.'" Bette massaged her forehead with her thumb. She was getting a headache thinking about Tina with Foxworthy.
"Is that what you think he'd say?" Suzanne shook her head letting Bette know that an answer wasn't necessary. "Bette, do you think this is a good use of your timecreating scenarios based on your feelings with not one trace of evidence to support these scenarios?"
"I think pattern substantiates this fear. I've worked with Foxworthy, too. He's not like you, Suzanne. He's argumentative; he isn't particularly compassionate; he thinks he has all of the answers. Tina trusts him because of his so-called reputation. I'm afraid that all that we've been striving for with you, at home together, will be tossed away when he puts forward the idea of backsliding."
"Do you feel that Tina's backsliding?"
"No," she answered too quickly.
"Are you fearful that Tina believes that she's moving too fast?"
"Yes, no. Yes, I am. I think this is something to bring up with Tina present. I won't second guess her."
"Are you conflicted about being forgiven?"
"You've owned what you didthat you were unfaithful and broke a promise to Tina; you've sought her forgiveness, but have you forgiven yourself and are you truly ready to move on?"
"On the way to work this morning, I was thinking about how I had jeopardized it all for no more than three hours of guilty pleasure and definitely more guilt than pleasure. When I added up the time I spent having sex with Candace, it was barely three hours, yet it nearly cost me everything."
"Not everything. It might have cost you your relationship, but you maintained your physical health, worked through the emotional toll it had taken, you had your work, and there were still people you cared about and who cared about you. It might have cost you Tina."
"She is everything."
Suzanne nodded and waited for Bette.
"Three hours. It seems remarkable that so little time could cause this much damage."
"That's how it is, Bette. A guy has that one last beer that takes him to a point where he's impaired and then he plows into someone and kills them; a mother turns away from her toddler at the pool to wipe ice cream off her six year old's shirt, the shirt is hopeless, so she finds a clean one, puts that one on, two minutes later, she doesn't see her toddler, one minute later, she discovers him at the bottom of the pool; trying to unplug a clog on his chipper, the gardener sticks his arm in just as his co-worker flips it on."
"Those are all accidents, Suzanne. What I did was no accident."
"True. What I was pointing out is that sometimes, when one is in a situation, they think they're the only one; the fact is this is the way life goes. One decision--turning left at the second light instead of the first, choosing one college over another, having unprotected sexall of those things have consequences. Consequences that can be positive, that might turn out to be rather unfortunate, that perhaps will alter a life. But, every day, we make those decisions and learn to deal with them. You're dealing with it, Bette. I applaud the way you've handled yourself these past few weeks.
"But my question is still on the tablehave you forgiven yourself?"
"Because it's unforgiveable. I've known cheaters and have seen what they do to the people they love. This will be hanging over us forever. And I know I can look at her today and say you don't have to worry; I won't do this again; you can trust me, but what if I'm wrong?" Bette's eyes teared.
"Bette, part of therapy is to learn your trigger points, identify them, and find ways to deal and cope with them in a mature, rational, and healthy way," Suzanne stated calmly. Her client was on edge, busily twirling her hair, biting her lip, blinking her eyes repeatedly, and so obviously trying to hold back tears. "You're over halfway there. One thing you might try is to let things happen without writing your own script. Dr. Foxworthy might have said to Tina, 'That sounds like a positive step, like you're moving in the right direction.' He might have said, 'You need to slow down and determine if this is the best thing for you in the long run.' He probably offered no opinion, but suggested numerous options. Why prepare for one, any, or all of those possibilities? Why not wait for Tina to come home and tell you if she wants to? Or ask her?"
Bette nodded. "You're right. I do know that. It's not the easiest route for me. I like to be prepared."
Suzanne barely acknowledged that bit of insight. Instead, she looked at her watch and said, "I know you told me you needed to leave a little early today."
"Yeah," Bette smiled and her face warmed. "We ordered a new bed and it's arriving later this afternoon. I need to be home when the truck arrives."
"We haven't slept together yet. We will tonight."
"Well, good luck with that."
Bette and Suzanne stood and as Suzanne walked her client to the door, Bette turned to her and said, "I feel like it's going to be our first time."
"In a way, it is." Suzanne lightly patted Bette's back as she guided her out the door.
"Bye." As the outer door to her offices closed, Suzanne stood at the entrance to her private office and thought that Tina and Bette did actually make a good couple. They were as different as night and day, but in session, it was evident that they felt so much love for each other.
At home, Bette examined the wine choices in the rack before deciding on one that they had purchased some time ago. The 1998 Penfolds 'Bin 389' Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz was a special occasion wine and tonight would definitely be special. She placed the bottle in the fridge and checked her watch. The Asian Inspirations people should be pulling up any time. At least they'd better, she thought.
Bette walked to the bedroom. It was strange to see the room so empty. She and Tina had taken the bed apart last night, putting the frame and mattress out in the back for a women's shelter to pick up. They had slept on the floor. Tonight, they'd have their new bed.
Bette scoped out the outfits in her closet. Nothing jumped out at her. At the dresser, she rummaged through her pants and shirts until she found a pair of drawstring pale blue cotton pants. She remembered that she had a cute top in the closet that she'd only worn once, but Tina had complimented her on it. The top was white and billowy. The sleeves were blousy and full, the collar rounded and it tied in front with three strips of cloth at equal intervals up and down the blouse. The whole outfit had an Asian feel to it.
Bette returned to the dresser and opened her top drawer. She found one of her favorite lingerie outfits--a cobalt blue thong and matching bra. She took all of the clothes into the bathroom and placed them on the shelf before returning to the kitchen. Picking up the landline, she dialed the Center's number.
"May I speak with Tina Kennard, please?" she said to the person who picked up.
"Hold a second. I'll see if she's around."
Bette leaned against the counter and stared out at the pool while she waited. She had been on hold at least two minutes and wondered if the person had forgotten about her. She was just about to hang up and call back when the doorbell rang. She shrugged and placed the phone in the cradle.
At the door, three guys who looked like they'd rather be anywhere else stood at the door. One guy held a clipboard and he looked her up and down. "Porter?"
"We got your bed. Bringin' it out on Monday. You must have pulled some strings."
She held the door open and they came barreling in. As they passed her, she wondered if it would be rude to light aromatic candles now. These guys reeked of old sweat and stale beer. "Down the hall to the right."
When the first guy reached the bedroom he said, "So you live here alone?"
"Excuse me?" Bette tensed as all three men turned to look at her.
"Boyfriend? Husband?" He looked at his co-workers and said as if he just remembered, "Man, this is West Hollyweird. You must be in to chicks."
"In to chicks? Get it? Into?" the second guy said to the third quieter man.
"Excuse me?" Bette was incredulous.
The three men laughed and the leader said, "Never mind."
They marched back out to the truck to get their load. As soon as they walked out, Bette went back to the kitchen, searched the counter for the invoice, and called Asian Inspirations. "Mr. Narahara, please."
"This is Junichi Narahara."
"Ah, Ms. Porter. My men just called to let me know they've arrived at your home. I'm sure you'll be very happy with the bed "
"Look, you need to get on the phone and call your crewwho are unloading my bed as we speak--and tell them that when they come back in here, they'd better not insult the customer, make jokes with the customer, or even talk to the customer. They need to bring in my bed, set it up, and leave. I don't want any problems today or in the future from these people."
"I'm not going into that with you. I expect professionalism Mr. Narahara and I'm sure you do as well. Make that happen." Bette hung up the phone. She peeked out of the window and saw one of the men on the phone. He flipped the cell closed and said something to the other two and all three glared at the door. When they returned, carrying the bed, they said not a word to Bette. Quietly, they put the bed together. It wasn't until Bette was signing off on the delivery of the bed frame and Tempur Pedic mattress that the leader spoke. "Uh we were told that you had a little something for us for making this Monday delivery."
She walked them to the door. "You were told incorrectly. Thank you and goodbye."
The three men shouted, bitched, muttered, and complained all the way to the truck. "That bitch."
"You can tell she needs a nice big dick to get her to chill out," one of them said.
"Yeah, well where are you going to find a big dick?" the quiet one joked.
Bette rolled her eyes and turned from the door. Dealing with those guys and Narahara, Bette felt in total control and self-assured. This night had her nervous and trying to force some false self-confidence since her anxiety level was about to reach a new high. She glanced at her watch again. It was nearly six o'clock. Tina would be home within the half hour.
Before she hopped in the shower, she opened the windows in the bedroom to air out the space and hoped the smell of the sweaty deliverymen would dissipate. She lit two sandalwood candles.
By the time she was showered, perfumed, dressed and had made the bed, it was nearly seven o'clock. Tina should have been home by now and she hadn't heard from her yet. She grabbed her cell and tried the Center, but the janitor said that everyone left at six o'clock. Bette figured Tina was stuck in traffic. She grabbed the latest InStyle magazine and flipped through it. Another fifteen minutes passed and Bette couldn't concentrate on the reading. While she was turning page after page, not taking in any information, her mind kept going back to Dan Foxworthy. Was Tina not coming home because of something he had said? Had Tina changed her mind about them?
Bette had planned to have Tina order something for the two of them for dinner, but she was getting hungry. She opened the refrigerator and took out an apple and some cheddar cheese. She quartered the apple and sliced a few shavings of cheese to munch on. At the counter, she noticed the light on the voicemail blinking. She pushed the button.
The voicemail automaton announced, "You have one message. Monday, 6:20 p.m."
"Hi Bette. It's Tina." She sounded overwrought. "I am so sorry, but we've had an emergency at work. This kid decided to see how far he could fly off the swing. He missed the padding by about four inches and uh now I'm at Emergency with him. I don't know how long it'll take. They need to run some tests to see if he sustained any head injury. I've borrowed someone's cell. I'll try to call again, but I have to stay with the boy and might not be able to get away again. Can't use cells in the E.R. If you want to do something else tonighthang out at the Planet or something, go ahead. I'll see you later."
Bette sighed. She walked through the house blowing out candles before going back to the kitchen for her snack and a cold bottle of beer. She made herself cozy in one of the oversized chairs in the living room and opened up the book she'd been trying to get through for over a year. The book, 'The Art of History: African American Women Artists Engage the Past,' was far more academic than any book Bette would normally read on her favorite subject, but it was something she needed to get through. She wanted to understand the world of art completely including why some things found an audience while others only captured dust in forgotten rooms. This book dealt with black art on the fringe of the art world, unable to push itself in to mainstream.
Perhaps it wasn't the best book to read because Bette found herself either dozing off and waking when her head fell forward enough to bounce back up or she blanked out on the words, instead thinking about Dan Foxworthy and Tina. Maybe there wasn't an emergency at all; perhaps Tina was just using that as an excuse to stay away from the house. Bette swallowed the last bit of beer and got up to get another. She returned to her chair, opened the book and tried to read a few pages more, but her mind wandered again. When Tina got home, Bette decided she'd ask her point blank. She wanted and needed to know where she stood. If Tina didn't want a reconciliation, then they would sell the house as Melvin had suggested. What was the point of buying a new bed? What was the point in spending time in couples counseling? Why was Bette working so hard to hold onto a relationship that was dead? If Tina didn't want her, that was fine. There were many other women out there. Candace wanted her. God, what was she thinking? She wanted Candace as much as she wanted an STD. She didn't even know where that came from. Candace! But there had been other women who showed an interest. In New York, that woman at the MOMA opening definitely hit on her. And she knew that Margaret Hannon was being a lot more than friendly. Bette wouldn't have a problem finding a lover. She was 40, currently had a good director's job, soon to be entrepreneur, made excellent money, had a smokin' body that she worked hard on, there was no doubt in her mind whatsoever that she rocked in bed, and she had an excellent sense of humor. Tina used to be able to see what Bette had to offer, now, Bette felt like an afterthought. Okay, maybe it was true that Tina was sitting in some Emergency Room in East LA, but it had been hours and not a word. There had to be some moment she could have gotten away to call her. She figured Tina wanted her to wait, to have her squirm, to be disappointed, as she had been disappointed. Not once did it occur to Bette as she sat and drank her beer and stared at the pages of the book that she was doing exactly what Suzanne had warned against--creating another scenario. She never stopped to question what was going on in her head. Somehow she had decided that she knew the truth, had the answers, and understood the facts.
Bette closed the book and walked down the hall to the bedroom. One long day plus two beers, and a need to hide from reality turned out to be the ideal formula for sleep. She fell onto the bed and was out within seconds.
Bette slept soundly, turning in her sleep only once. She turned and punched her pillow as she moved from her back to her side. Behind the closed lids, Tina could see Bette's rapid eye movement. It was 1:15 in the morning and it had been a long evening and night, but Tina was glad to be home. When she arrived, she saw slices of apple that had gone brown and hardened slivers of cheese on a small cheese plate on the table next to the chair. She walked into the bedroom to find Bette asleep, still dressed in pants and white top, an almost empty bottle of beer on the nightstand. She looked adorable curled up in their new bed.
Tina tiptoed to the dresser and found a lime green, T-shirt material DKNY nightgown for bed. Slowly, she closed the bedroom door and walked across the hall to the bathroom. She showered, washed her hair, and tapped some Giorgio Armani's 'Emporio She' on her pulse points. Bette loved the fragrance and Tina laughed when she recalled how Bette followed her around the room telling her how good she smelled when they were awaiting guests for their 'sperm-catching' party.
Before going back to the bedroom, Tina stopped off in the kitchen and got out the bottle of wine. She nodded her approval when she saw that Bette had chilled the expensive bottle they'd been holding onto for the right occasion. She sliced an apple, too and placed it, the bottle and corkscrew, and two glasses on a tray. Gingerly, she made her way back to the bedroom and set the tray on the nightstand. The streetlight from outside gave off just enough illumination for her to see what she was doing, but kept the room ostensibly dark and romantic. She climbed in beside Bette and knelt next to her. The new mattress barely moved as Tina straddled Bette's body. She leaned down and kissed her cheek.
"Baby, I'm home," she whispered.
Bette moved her head and moaned sleepily. "Tee?"
Bette tried to turn, but she was trapped between Tina's thighs. "What are you doing?" she asked groggily.
"Letting you know I'm home."
Bette took her time, holding Tina's waist as she lifted her enough to turn onto her back. Tina leaned down and kissed her hello. "Do you know what time it is?"
"No, eleven? Twelve?" Bette looked up at her.
"It's quarter to two."
"You're just getting home?"
"No." Tina reached across the bed to the nightstand and plucked an apple slice from the plate. "Bite, beer breath." Bette munched the apple while Tina continued. "I've been home half an hour. Showered, brought you a little snack."
"Put on 'Emporio She'. You know what that does to me." Bette pulled Tina down for a proper kiss.
"It makes me crazy for you." Bette reached for her again, but Tina pulled back.
"Ah, you are awake."
"I am that."
"You look so good in our new bed in your little outfit."
"Tina, what took so long?" Bette wanted to find out what had happened and ease her mind.
"The kid fell on his head. He had to have tests, x-rays, but before all that, we had to wait our turn. It took forever. Then when we finally finished at 11:30, I had to spend an hour convincing his mother that he was going to be fine. This sort of job I'll be leaving to Oscar from now on."
"You were there for hours. I was worried that that you were " Bette bit her lip and didn't finish her thought.
"You knew where I was, babe." Tina looked down at her. She saw something in Bette's eyesfear, sadness. "Are you doing okay?"
"I just wanted you here tonight and thought you forgot our plans."
"How could I forget? If I hadn't been concerned about the kid's noggin, I would have just sent him home and let his mother deal with it." Tina stared into Bette's eyes. "I know it's late, but can I make it up to you now?"
Tina moved her legs and kneeled beside Bette so she could more easily reach the nightstand. "First, we should toast our new bed, hmmm? It looks good, don't you think?"
"I love it, Tee. Good choice." Bette sat up and leaned against the headboard. "I have to go to the bathroom. I'll be right back."
"Okay." She held the bottle. "I'll get this open."
Bette leapt from the bed, moving rather quickly for someone who had been dead to the world a few minutes ago.
When she returned, a sole candle burned on the dresser, the bottle had been opened, and two glasses poured. Bette grabbed another bite of apple hoping the taste would weaken the minty flavor lingering in her mouth. She wanted to enjoy this wine to its fullest. Tina was leaning against one of the two headboards looking quite alert and ready to play.
"Hi, baby," Bette said. "You know, this is what I kind of had planned for you when you got home. I wanted to be waiting for you in bed, the wine, the glasses, the music "
"Do you want music?" Tina started to rise.
Bette shook her head. "Uh-uh. Just you, right there." Bette crawled into bed and straddled Tina. She picked up one glass and handed it to Tina and then grabbed the other for herself.
"To our new bed, may you know nothing but good times."
"To good times," Tina echoed.
They clinked glasses and drank the wine.
"My god, are we dead?" Bette exclaimed. "That is heavenly."
Tina smacked her lips. "It tastes like well, extraordinary."
"Are we being just the tiniest bit hedonistic to be here together on this new bed, sipping some fine wine at two in the morning? We're so decadent." Bette said the word 'decadent' in a way that made it sound like three separate words. "Shouldn't we be asleep?"
"The last thing I'm interested in is sleeping, babe."
"That makes two of us." Bette gulped one last time from her glass and reached across to place it back on the table. She took Tina's, too and was preparing to devour her when Tina flipped Bette onto her back and she was on top and held her down by the wrists.
Sighing, Bette looked at Tina. "Obviously, I'm slightly impaired from the beers and that wine is tremendously potent, and I just woke up, plus, I really didn't have my balance, and "
"Doesn't fly, Porter. This mattress doesn't move. Your balance should be perfect. I think you've just lost your touch."
"Humph. Have not."
Tina leaned over her and whispered directly into her face. "Do you really want to fight about it?" Her grin was broad and toothy and Bette answered by simply shaking her head. "Didn't think so."
Bette's heart was pounding hard. Tina looked at her with such love, such desire and Bette didn't think she could take it. Suddenly, she felt overwhelmed. Her voice quivered as she said, "Tee, thank you for loving me still."
"I do love you, Bette. I love you so much."
Easily, the moment could have become reflective and sad. She could have let contrition and guilty feelings take over their first time, but Tina laid a scorcher on her that rocked her down to her toes. Tina bent over her, briefly moved her hands from Bette's wrist and caressed her face. Her mouth moved closer and closer to Bette's and ever so gently, but only for a moment, she pressed her lips against her partner's. Then, with her tongue and the pressure of those soft lips, she pried Bette's mouth open and moved her warm tongue inside it. Her kiss was strong and urgent. Her tongue pushed deep inside of Bette's mouth, her nose rubbing and bumping against Bette's, her hand warmly and lightly running over Bette's cheek and down her neck. Her mouth moved away, leaving Bette reaching out with her tongue for any of Tina. Tina licked Bette's face, her tongue slid up and down from temple to chin, then came right back to that hungry, lonely mouth for more kisses. Bette moaned.
Tina's hands traveled to Bette's hair and her fingers tangled in the wavy locks, curled around fistfuls of the long brown strands, massaged and tickled her head while kisses rained down on her. Bette's arms went around Tina's neck, then slid down her back, and back up. Tina slowly lowered her body, moving ever so smoothly down Bette's legs.
Pushing back and sitting on her heels, Tina angled her head. "I want you desperately." Tina reached for the top tie of the blouse. It was tied about two and a half inches below the rounded collar. She pulled the fabric and it unknotted exposing a bit of skin. Tina changed positions and sat cross-legged on the bed beside Bette. She bent and kissed her chest lightly before moving to the next tie that fell just between her breasts. Again, Tina pulled and it untied. "You look beautiful, Bette." Bette grinned at her.
Tina bent and placed a tiny kiss on the exposed part of each of Bette's breasts before she moved lower to pull the last tie. When she did, Tina opened the top fully with both front panels lying on the bed, framing Bette's upper body. The cobalt blue bra looked stunning on her. Her breasts virtually spilled out of it. Tina bent, but before she could do anything at all, Bette rose, leaned forward, and grabbed Tina by the shoulders, pulling her to her mouth.
Bette's legs bent and she was on her knees instantly. She pushed Tina onto the bed and sat astride her. "Nuh-uh." She leaned down and kissed Tina who was surprised to be back in this position. Bette's shirt hung open and in the way. When she broke from the kiss, she pulled her arms through the sleeves and threw the top across the room. Tina was panting, her eyes gone dark and hidden behind heavy lids. She stared at Bette who bent again and pressed her tongue that was hard and wide against Tina's neck, pushing against the vein before she began to lick up and down it. Bette was eager to move on and lower. One hand traveled swiftly down Tina's green nightgown to the hem that fell just at her calf, the other hand moved just as fast, but didn't travel as far. This hand massaged Tina's shoulder, then moved inward. Bette's hand covered Tina's breast through the gown. The nipple was hard and stood tall, pressing against the material. Bette's fingers spread and she captured the nipple between her fore and middle fingers, bringing the fingers together to pinch and roll the hardened point. "Oh." Tina groaned.
Bette's other hand slid under the hem of the nightgown and up Tina's skin. "Your skin is so soft, baby. Feels so nice." Her hand slithered up her leg, moving across the outer thigh, past the curve of her hips and waist, further up her body until she reached her breast. There, Bette squeezed the full flesh and with one finger, circled the tight nipple, pushing down hard, pressing the nipple into the breast. This sent Tina soaring. "Oh, oh."
Bette struggled to raise the nightgown. Tina lifted her ass and Bette slid it up, leaving the material resting on Tina's chest while she bent to her breasts. Her touch started off gently with tender kisses all over the creamy flesh, but soon, Tina was arching up, trying to get Bette to do more. Bette followed instruction and as her mouth captured much of her breast, Bette's tongue licked her nipple, then began an earnest sucking. Bette pressed Tina's breasts together, pressing them toward each other. She licked the nipples simultaneously and opened her mouth and bit down on each one. Tina's legs bent and she spread them for Bette. Bette paused and looked at her. She said, "I love you," and then scraped her teeth across the heavy breasts. She tweaked her nipples and licked all around the mounds of flesh.
"Oh, Bette, this feels so good," Tina whispered.
Bette moved up and kissed her mouth. Again and again, Bette would suck Tina's breasts and then move to her mouth and suck on Tina's tongue. When Bette kissed her, her hands took the place of her mouth, rubbing and caressing her breasts until her mouth grew jealous and had to return for more. Tina's back arched dramatically, her legs spread more, and her heat began to rise. Bette's body and hands moved down between Tina's legs, her fingers played lightly against the remarkably smooth skin of Tina's inner thighs and acted disinterested in the secret that lay between her legs. Her fingers came close to the triangle of hair, but moved away. "Please, baby?" Tina pleaded.
Bette lay beside Tina so that her head was next to Tina's breast. Tina turned on her side with one leg on the bed, the other akimbo with her foot on the bed and her leg bent at the knee. Bette tenderly sucked on her breast while her other hand teased and taunted Tina, always coming so close to where she wanted it, but not quite. "Bette? Baby? Touch me."
Once the request was made in such a nice way, Bette felt compelled to respond. Her entire hand cupped Tina between her legs, but her middle finger moved between the outer lips. Bette moaned.
Slowly, Bette began long, luxurious strokes against Tina's clit. She looked up at her lover, watching her face as she experienced the pleasure of her touch. Tina sighed deeply and her eyes slowly closed as her face turned to look at Bette. Before her eyes completely closed, she saw Bette smiling at her as she moved rhythmically against her finger. "Aaaaah."
Tina needed Bette's mouth more than she could say. Instead of pushing Bette down the bed, she moved up a little, hinting to her what she wanted. Bette laughed and crawled down the bed and between Tina's legs. One hand came up to caress Tina's breast while the other hand assisted Bette's mouth in giving pleasure. Bette bent to the task, moving her tongue against the coarse hairs of Tina's magnificent bush and then using her tongue to open her up. When Bette's expert mouth began to seriously eat her, Tina nearly howled. Her body leapt from the bed and then gained control and settled in to enjoy what Bette did better than anything. Tina's hand grabbed the headboard and tilted it forward enough that she could watch Bette make love to her. It was so hot to see those long, brown wavy locks moving back and forth and up and down between her legs. And the way Bette's mouth movedshe put everything she had into it. Bette's tongue was on one side of Tina's clit licking the slick nub while her fingers moved up and down her swollen labia, then just as quickly her tongue was biting and nipping at the outer lips and her fingers were flicking over her hard clitoris. Tina was moaning continuously. Her hands were in Bette's hair holding her in place, encouraging her, and bracing herself for the orgasm that wasn't far off. Bette teased Tina's hole, circling the entrance with her finger, then with her tongue, but not entering. Instead, returning again and again to her clitoris that had grown incredibly harder. Bette sucked Tina's clit into her mouth and gently pulled on it while her tongue swirled around the sensitive base of it. Bette used her hand to open Tina fully, pulling back the lips, making her taut and completely exposed. Every nerve ending was awake, demanding attention and getting it. "Oh, oh, oh. Oh, God. Oh." Tina's body was a moment away from quivering in wicked release, but she pushed Bette away, then pulled her up to her so that Bette lay on top of her. Bette pressed her lithe body against Tina's and kissed her mouth, trying to swallow her or be swallowed by her.
Tina reached for the string of Bette's pants and pulled the simple tie loose. As soon as she did, her hand found its way inside the pants, inside the thong. She gasped. "Oh my God. I don't remember you ever being so wet. My God, you're dripping."
Bette bit her bottom lip, then released it. Her mouth opened wide as her head fell back. She groaned loudly. She bared her teeth, her mouth contorting and twisting in a grimace that showed a total loss of control. Bette panted and moaned as Tina's fingers slid through Bette's juices, stroking her wildly. Tina flipped Bette onto her back and yanked the pants down leaving on the little blue thong that was soaked through, the very center of it much darker now than the tiny string and widest part of the cloth. She stared down at Bette for a moment, overcome with the desire to love her, fuck her, eat her, kiss her, have her, take her. With one hand, Tina popped the front close of Bette's bra and her breasts were released from their supportive covering. Bette's breasts were perfectly round and firm. Dark brown nipples stood erect and inviting on top of the toffee-colored mounds. Tina bent and sucked hard and long while her fingers tried to caress her clit. But Bette was so wet that Tina's fingers kept sliding off. Needing just a little more room to maneuver, Bette was stripped of her thong, too. While Tina alternated breasts, laving one with her wet mouth than moving to the other side to taste that one, she used her middle finger and forefinger on either side of Bette's clit and rhythmically stroked her. She looked up at her lover who was lost in the passionate heat. Bette's head was hitting the mattress bouncing up and down on it.
"You feel so good, Bette. I missed you."
"What do you want?"
"Fuck me. Fuck me, please," she answered in a low, deep voice.
Tina easily slid two fingers inside of her lover. Bette grunted in pleasure. Bette grabbed two pillows and stuck them behind her back giving her those few extra inches she needed to reach Tina's center with her hand. While Tina pushed deep inside of her, pushing against the thick patch of hot flesh, feeling Bette swell there and everywhere, Bette brought Tina closer to climax by fingering her clit.
"Jeez, Bette. I can't believe how wet you are."
"Gimme another, Tee. One more."
"Are you sure? I don't want to hurt you."
"I need it baby. More. Just more."
Tina pushed a third finger inside of her and Bette groaned, grunted, moaned, sighed as those three fingers moved her closer and closer to the edge. Bette was never one to talk in bed. She seemed to get lost in the sensations, unable to come up with words, but her face showed all the pleasure and delight of Tina's touch. Her mouth was parted, her upper lip curled, her tongue sliding across her lips and she wore a look of utter surrender and sheer passion
It was Tina who needed more. She needed to know that Bette was hers. "Say my name," Tina pleaded. "Say it."
"Tina. I love you, baby. I love you, Tee."
Tina trembled when she heard the yearning in Bette's voice. She was a teetering on the edge, moments from submitting completely to Bette's expert fingers. Tina pushed in a little harder and faster as she fell.
"Ah. Oh, yes. Yes. Bette. Fuck. Baby, yeah."
Bette's fingers didn't stop until she too went rigid. The sound of Tina's fingers inside of her moving in and out rapidly, the sound of Tina coming, her own panting and grunting were the encouragement Bette needed to join her partner. Her orgasm tore through her. As always, Tina was still falling when Bette rose to meet with her. Bette climbed to her peak quickly and cried out in delicious helplessness. She couldn't have stopped it if she had tried. Tina pulled everything from her. Bette felt her clit pulsing as the orgasm showed no intentions of subsiding. Tina's fingers kept moving inside of Bette, tickling the walls. Tina's head dropped to Bette's breasts and sucked her nipple hard bringing forth a loud groan from Bette. Finally, she grabbed Tina's hand and stopped all movement. Tina smiled down at her and Bette was able to catch her off guard. Tina was now on her back and Bette glided down her slick body, pushed her legs open and dove in. This time she was going to stay right where she was until she had finished her off.
Bette's hands rubbed Tina's thighs, squeezed her ass, pushed down on her abdomen the way Tina liked it, clutched her breasts. Tina's nipples were still so very hard and Bette knew she liked a little bit of roughness at this point in their lovemaking. She paid close attention to her nipples, massaging each one between her forefinger and thumb, sometimes pinching it hard. She smiled into Tina's wetness when she heard Tina grunt in response. Bette used her other hand to open Tina again. Her tongue moved up and down the length of her. She sucked Tina's throbbing clitoris into her mouth, using her lower lip to extract every bit of excitement from her sensitized core. "Oh, Bette. Oh, Bette. Bette. Oh, oh, oh. Oh, God, Bette." Tina sighed deeply, her head tossed and turned and her bent legs began to shake as she watched Bette's head move in a tight circular motion between her legs. Suddenly, her left leg straightened and Bette knew that Tina was there. She slipped one finger inside of her and pushed deep and then stilled. Bette closed her eyes as she lapped at Tina's clit and swam in the juices that seemed to be flowing non-stop. Tina tightened around Bette's finger, then she was up, sitting, grabbing Bette's head, pushing it hard into her, then pushing her entire body away from her lover. She grabbed Bette under her arms and pulled her up her body, kissing any and every part of her that she could reach. When they were finally face-to-face, Tina kissed her passionately. Bette's face was wet with Tina and wet with tears. Pushing her hair out of the way, Bette stared into Tina's eyes. "You are the best thing about my life."
Both women cried. They drifted off a few minutes later, but Tina was awakened by something warm and wet between her legs. She opened an eye to see Bette about one inch from her dark blonde triangle pouring wine a tiny bit at a time onto her. "Baby, you'd better be careful. You don't want to ruin the sheets."
"Don't move. No one will be hurt." These were 1000 thread Egyptian cotton sheets and they were Bette's favorite linens, but right then, she was concentrating on her number one favorite of favorites. "I don't want to waste one trickle of this wine, so I'm going to have to make sure I drink every tiny drop. Be still. I don't want to miss any."
Tina's eyes crossed when Bette's mouth was on her again. "Kill me now." She moaned and tenderly ran her hand through Bette's hair.
Two Weeks Later
Bette was sitting in her office reading another memo from the Board requesting an update on upcoming exhibitions. She had just met with them last week and had given them the latest information. She felt like saying, 'screw you. I'm outta here,' but her work ethic wouldn't allow it. Her head was pounding and she didn't know why. She hadn't had much sleep the night before, but she hadn't had much in close to fourteen days. She and Tina had been insatiable. The sex had never, ever been this good. And it wasn't just after-work arousal, but during the day, Tina would call to say something suggestive, make a request for the night, drive her wild. Bette loved it. She felt free and alive. Today, though, she couldn't hear herself think. The pounding was more than just in her head. She buzzed for James who came in directly.
"James, what the hell is going on out there?"
"The movers are here."
Bette blinked, not understanding.
"Adam's Fine Art Movers are packing up the 'Provocations' exhibit for shipping. Last night was the last night of the show, Bette. Remember?"
"Oh, yes." After the initial month of the run, 'Provocations' had become another exhibit in a line of exhibits that had come in and out of the museum. Funny that. She had worked so hard to get it; it had cost her so much to display it; now she barely noticed it when she walked into the building. "How's it going?"
"They're practically finished and the carpentry crew should be here late this morning to break the installation down."
Bette tilted her head; her lower lip was clutched by her upper teeth giving her the look of an overbite. She said, "The carpenters are coming."
"Yeah, I arranged for parking in the garage for them. Candace Jewell and her crew will arrive around 11-11:30. Do you want me to let you know when she's here?"
"No," she nearly yelled at him. She softened. "No, James. In fact, I'm going to be tied up with things in here all day. If you could order an early lunch for me and bring it in, that would be great. I don't want to be disturbed for any reason whatsoever. If anyone needs help either you or Annie take care of it. Not me, not today."
"Okay. Do you want turkey on whole wheat with sprouts, lettuce, tomato and Dijon?"
"Yeah, good," she said distractedly. She wasn't looking at James, but focused on something on her desk.
James closed the door and Bette stared at the object. She picked it up, looked at it more closely, and then placed it back in the tray with the paperclips.
Bette had been picking at her sandwich for a good hour and a half as she worked. She scanned the Internet keeping two running listsone for possible exhibitions at the CAC and one with work she was interested in procuring for her own gallery. She was so involved with what she was doing that she didn't hear her door slide open. It wasn't until she started to hear the noises from the outer galleries that she looked up. Candace was standing at the opened door staring at her. She was dressed in overalls and a red baby Tee. Her hair was braided in one long braid that fell down the center of her back.
When Bette looked up, Candace said softly, "Hi."
Bette set her pen down and looked at the woman, but didn't speak.
"I'm here taking down the construction from the installation," Candace explained.
Bette continued to stare at her.
"Look, I know I sort of just walked out on you that night after we left the Palms. I just came to apologize for that. You're angry with me for walking like thatI can tell. I know that you were going through your own stuff and I should have been a little understanding of that. I know breaking up is tough."
"So I was right, he was guarding your office? He went to lunch."
Bette stood. Her expression was one Candace had seen beforeguilty, puzzled, and conflicted. As Bette walked across the room, Candace stretched out her arm behind her and slid the door closed. Once Bette was directly in front of her, Candace looked up into her eyes. Her smile brightened when she got a whiff of Bette's signature fragrance and recalled how her own body had smelled of it after their morning at the hotel. Bette was standing very close and Candace waited for the embrace. Instead, Bette's arm came around Candace's waist and her hand reached out and opened the door.
"You--you need to leave. I am not going to play this scene with you. It's not appropriate and it's certainly unwelcomed," Bette said, standing erect and sure in front of her.
"What? Can't we talk?"
"No, you're on the clock, Candace. We both have work to do." Bette walked around her and opened the door fully. Her eyebrows lifted as a way to offer guidance out.
"Can I just talk to you for a second? Just a few seconds. There's something I want no need to say."
Bette acquiesced. "What is it?"
Candace grabbed the door and closed it. "I'm in love with you," she stated.
"What? You don't even know me. You know nothing about me. What do you mean you're in love with me? That's laughable."
"I'm not laughing. I mean it."
"We haven't spoken in weeks. Before that hardly at all. We had a business relationship and briefly, not even totaling an afternoon, we had a sexual affair."
"I know that. I want to know you better. Okay, you were with Tina when we met, but that doesn't mean that Tina's the one for you. I could be. I've never felt this way about anyone. I've been with a lot of women, Bettea lot."
"You said yourself that our little thing was just fun."
"It was supposed to be. I didn't expect to fall in love with you. I didn't expect anything from you, but something changed in me. Every moment I worked here I wanted to touch you, be near you. You can't fault me for this. It's not like I can help it."
Bette stared at her dumbfounded as Candace continued, "These past weeks have been so hard. I've wanted to call you just to hear your voice, but I know you have caller I.D. I've wanted to follow you." She paused before confessing, "I did once."
Bette's eyes widened in surprise and fear. "You followed me?"
"I've never stalked anyone before." Candace shrugged. "I'm not going to start now. I followed you from the CAC one time, that's it. Bette, you've done something to me. I can't see anyone else. I can't think of anyone else. My friend, Michaela wants to hook up, but I haven't given her the time of day. I don't want her."
Bette lowered her gaze, unable to look at Candace.
Quickly Candace spoke, certain that she was losing her audience. "Maybe listen a sec maybe Tina isn't the one. Maybe it's me. There has to be a reason why you went with me when you hadn't been with anyone other than Tina since you got together with her. There had to be a reason that we could please each other so easily. That doesn't usually happen to people. Maybe we're meant to be together."
Candace's eyes watered. Her eyes clouded in memory. "You came all over my fingers. I pleased you. I got you off." Candace finished with a whisper, "I fucked you."
"Fucking is not a relationship. Fucking doesn't mean love." Bette glared at her. Her hand still held the door. "Time's up, Candace. Go."
"Bette, eventually, you're going to see what I already know."
Bette held up her left hand showing off the gold band. "See this? This means something to me. It always has. I love my wife. Period. Go back to work or get someone on your crew to finish it if you can't handle it. I mean it. There is nothing between us. We don't even have 'Provocations' anymore. It is over, Candace. Over."
Bette actually pushed her out the door, closed, and locked it.
"Jesus," she said as she walked back to her desk. "Jesus."
Five weeks later
Bette was on the telephone. She was standing behind her desk, pacing casually back and forth for the exercise and to relieve the constant stress she felt at work. She was talking to Jose Elmer Guerrera, the director of the Miami Latino Arts and Artists Association. "What I'm trying to organize is an entire series on folk art. I'm looking for artists who are using different found objects. The exhibition will feature artists of all ethnicities--all inclusive, Jose."
"Yes, white artists, too." Bette rolled her eyes while Jose rattled on.
"Well, I disagree. You know where I'm coming from. If Latino artists only show at Latino exhibits, so many people whose minds could be opened to the work, if they only saw it, might miss out. A patron who loves folk art, but only purchases African artists like Tando Mama gets to see some of the Mexican folk art of Felipe Gomez or Nereida Garcia-Ferraz's Havana series. What I'm trying to put together gives the people coming into the CAC an opportunity to get a taste of many cultures, how they perceive life, our similarities and our differences. You know that's a good thing Jose. Am I right?"
"Of course, I'm right."
James slid Bette's office door open. "Tina on your private line."
Bette nodded and her assistant disappeared as quickly as he had arrived. "Okay, Jose, I'll tell you what--let me jot down some artists that I'm considering for this. You can present it to your artists at your next meeting. I have a feeling that they're going to be behind it. You'll be hearing from me. Ciao."
Sitting, Bette removed her headset and picked up the phone. "Hi, baby."
"Hi, Bette. How's work going?"
"Not bad. What's up?" Bette looked at the telephone display screen. "You're still at home. It's late." She smiled and added, "Did I really wear you out last night? You said that you wouldn't be able to "
"No. Well, yes, you did. I can hardly walk, but that's not why I'm still home."
"What's the problem?"
Tina sighed loudly. "Oh, Bette. I'm so sorry, but I can't find my ring anywhere."
"Your ring?" Bette looked at the gold band that sat in her small office supplies tray with the paper clips. "What ring?" She inquired with false bewilderment.
"My wedding ring." Tina was nearly in tears.
"You haven't worn it in a long time. You've probably just misplaced it. I'm sure we can find it." Bette picked up the band and held it up so she could read the inscription inside, vous et nul autre, toujours, Bette. You and no other, Always, Bette. The ring Bette wore on her finger was inscribed the same, except it was Tina's name at the end. Bette could understand why Tina hadn't put the ring back on, but the grief of it twisted and stomped on her heart nonetheless. Her mind flashed back to the wee morning after the opening night of 'Provocations,' when she saw that Tina had left the ring on the bathroom shelf. That declaration blew her mind.
"I've looked everywhere. What could I have done with it?"
"When was the last time you saw it, Tee?" Bette asked. She knew she had taken the ring the morning after they got their new bed.
The night before had been earth shaking. Their lovemaking had been erotic, playful, intensely intimate, romantic, passionate, barrier-breaking, and often breathless. During more than one interlude that night, they had both cried in each other's arms. When Bette awoke from a mere twenty minutes of sleep, she felt like she was walking on air. This life, this life that had been turned upside-down, was now on track and perfect in everyway. It was mad, new love she felt and she was euphoric.
Bette had found the ring in Tina's trinket box and had placed it on the dresser earlier the night before. She had hoped that Tina would wear it again. The next morning while she had been in the bathroom preparing for work, humming happily, Tina was still in bed, refusing to get up. Bette had come out to grab a towel from the closet and peeked into the bedroom. She saw Tina standing in front of the dresser holding the ring. Tina held it like it might melt in her hand and her expression could only be described as mystified. She seemed confused by the ring, unsure of its significance. Her brow furrowed as she stared at it, then read the inscription. Bette watched as Tina weakened and grabbed the edge of the dresser for support. She heard her sniffle, but didn't go to her. She watched Tina place the ring in Bette's jewelry box on the dresser and quietly say, "Bette. Oh, Bette."
Bette had surreptitiously sneaked back into the bathroom and started the shower. She stayed within those glass and tiled walls for fifteen minutes, her skin pruning while she tried to halt the non-stop tears she shed. While Tina showered, Bette slipped the ring in her purse.
"When did you first notice it was missing?" she said evenly.
"About two weeks ago. I thought I'd run across it by now. I didn't want to tell you that I couldn't find it."
"Because you'd think that I didn't want it; that I'd lost it on purpose and I didn't."
"So what happened a couple of weeks ago to make you look for it?" Bette was thinking back on what they had done two weeks ago, if something special had taken place. She couldn't think of anything. For a moment she wondered if Tina had found out about Candace coming to the CAC and their conversation, but that was impossible.
" Nothing," Tina said rather quickly.
"That for no reason at all you'd look for the ring."
Tina could hear the skepticism in Bette's voice. She wanted to be angry about it, but it was another example of how well Bette knew her. She could discern a partial truth, an unsaid comment, a dodging of subject matter. After seven years, in spite of the recent turmoil, Bette knew how she thought. "It's just that well, at the Center, Oscar and I were talking and he asked me how things were going with us."
"Uh-huh?" Bette was very interested in this topic. She wondered if Oscar had finally put his cards on the table. Tina had told her that he had separated from his wife, Alma several weeks ago. Maybe Oscar was ready to make up for lost time. He couldn't hide his longing for Tina if he tried. Bette was positive that Alma had picked up on it, too. Oscar had told Tina that Alma didn't like that he spent so much time focused on the Center instead of the family. What Alma didn't like was that he spent so much time at the Center with Tina. If she were being honest, Bette didn't like it, either.
"He said he recalled that I used to wear a wedding ring, but I don't any more."
"And I told him that I had it, but I hadn't " Tina stopped. She didn't know what to say.
"Just tell me the rest, Tina," Bette said patiently. "It's okay."
"I told him that I was very happy and very much in love, but I hadn't put it back on because the words engraved on it weren't really true anymore."
"I know that." Bette responded to Tina's last statement. "I know they aren't true." Bette's elbow was on her glass desk and she rested her cheek on her fisted hand. "I don't expect you to wear it."
"I can't even find it."
"I meant, when you find it, you don't have to put it on."
"I want to."
"We'll talk about it tonight."
"Will you help me look for it?"
"Of course," Bette agreed, but she knew that the ring was lost forever.
One Month Later
Bette and Tina could hardly contain themselves. They had worked with Mary Beth Wells of Wells Fine Jewelry Design to create rings. It was important to both that they had new symbols that represented their new beginning. Tonight, Wells had arrived with the rings and now they watched as she ceremoniously removed them from velvet pouches.
"Bette, this is the ring you'll give Tina." Wells took Bette's hand and uncurled her own to drop the ring in Bette's palm. She turned to Tina and said, "Tina, this ring is the one we designed for Bette," and she placed the ring in Tina's palm. "I'll give the two of you some privacy. I'm only staying to see if you're pleased with them. Is there somewhere I can go to check my cell?"
Bette's eyes teared as she looked at Tina. "Umm, why don't you stay here? Tee, could I see you in the bedroom?"
Tina and Bette walked into their bedroom. Bette guided Tina to the bed and they sat side by side. "Give me your hand, baby."
Tina held out her hand, placing her fingers in Bette's palm. The women stared into each other's eyes. "Simply--I love you," Bette said. "With this ring, I promise you my heart and body forever." She slipped the ring on Tina's left hand, ring finger.
Tina held onto Bette's hand and turned it palmside down. "Bette, this ring represents my dedication to you, my love for you, and our dreams. I place this on your finger so that you can carry with you all that I feel for you. When you have doubts and when you feel troubled look to this ring and know that I will take care of you, always. I love you." Bette's new ring rested on top of the first one. The words on her original ring were still trueTina had chosen her and there had never been another. Bette still cherished that ring.
These two new rings were not the simple gold bands they had exchanged seven years ago. The stones inset in the gold band were meaningful to them and they had spent hours with the jeweler deciding on exactly which ones they wanted and where. On both bands, Mary Beth Wells had embedded miniscule bits of stone all the way around itemerald to represent pure love and faithfulness, multi-colored jasper to give the marriage stability and positive energy, turquoise for friendship and peace within the home, rose quartz for an abundance of love. All of these stones surrounded the small ideal cut diamond that sparkled in its brilliance against the gold and rainbow of color. The band was busy, but not overpowering. It was delicate, yet grounded.
The inscription on the ring Tina gave Bette said, "To Bette, Through love's eternity, I will still be yours, Tina," and Tina's ring said, "My Tina--My whole life long, my whole life's song--You. Forever, Bette."
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