Lobby Bar – The Beverly Wilshire Hotel – Tina
I’m not sure what actually motivates Helena to be punctual, but right at 7 pm in she walks inside the lobby and waves.
Several weeks have gone by since I met Jodi Lerner, and as much as I may hate to admit it – she’s turned Bette’s head. I’m not sure what I want to do about it much less how or when. Bette and I exchange our child and go over Angelica’s schedule. We compare notes on this or that, and as the weeks have passed since I went to the Gypsy and quite suddenly, she began seeing Jodi, Kit’s been a welcome depot for our exchanges.
But I worry. The longer this passing in the night goes on I can’t stop myself from worrying. Did I already miss the fucking crossroads the Gypsy had warned me about – not missing?
My heart had sank, and then bounced miserably around my feet, when Angelica had started communicating in sign language. With that fear and panic, I’d called Helena.
Helena kisses both my cheeks before she takes a seat. “You look lovely, as always,” she says looking around the grand lobby filled with sophisticated, interesting looking people. “I do like taking cocktails in lobbies.”
“I’ve always loved this hotel.”
“I believe I may have shagged in all the nice ones, have you?” Helena’s eyes flash at me then, she catches the attentioin of a waiter. “Absolut martini please, mine dry with olives and Tina?”
“A French 75 for me, please.”
“I’d forgotten you love those. They’re delicious mini brain hammers. Make two of those. I change my order.”
The waiter takes leave.
“Are you really living in this hotel with Catherine Rothberg?”
“A wee step up from Alice’s couch, and yes.”
“As long as you know what you’re doing.” My voice sings up an octave. The waiter returns with our drinks.
“I’m trying to return to my former lifestyle.” Helena takes a sip. “At the moment, Catherine’s providing that.”
“With some negotiation?”
“Predictably, yes. You?”
“Lots of people around the studio lot, but no one really.”
“So, may we all breath a sigh of relief, and hope, you’re back batting for the right team?”
The tiny brain hammers of my strong French 75 begin to take effect. “No more men.”
Helena sends a “two more” signal to the waiter.
“Mummy always said, “Try to get at least two good ones in before dinner. Sometimes it can save your life. Especially if the dinner wine is bad.”
“I haven’t been going out much,” I confess.
“Is that good for you?” Helena fixes me with one of her inquisitive, but arrogant looking stares.
“Fine, just very different.”
“Hmm. Bette and Jodi have coffee most mornings with us. I guess, you know that?”
“Miles out of my way to go there for coffee before work.”
“We’re plagued daily by Jenny. You’ve created a monster.”
“Me? I don’t delight in it! A painful part of my job is her, but I will at The Planet tomorrow to meet her.”
“One more before dinner, don’t you think?” Helena motions discreetly for two more. “Did you end up finding the psychic you were looking for?”
“Yes! I went a few weeks ago.”
I start on my third French 75 and the room seems very shimmery and bright, and seeping into me are the strains of music from the jazz quintet. I look across at Helena’s beautiful inquisitive face, and feel the boozy-buzz taking me over.
Being in bed with her creeps into my mind. “Confidentially? I need to make a decision about, Bette,” I say instead.
“But you’re not considering? Are you? Hmm, . . . interesting.”
“Well, . . . what’d you think?” I try very hard not to slur my words.
Helena looks at me flabbergasted. “Tina, to me she’s a bit of a monster, you know? I mean she’s gorgeous and smart, but I despise the way she lords it over me. I fucking hate her, you know that, and you know why.”
“If it’s any consolation, your Mother just happens to like her. She didn’t chase after Peggy, but I do wonder how she’s doing at a university filled with faux intellectuals?”
“Having her pick of the scantily clad and very waxed students . . . would be my guess.” Helena sniffs. Her air of superiority having returned. “If I were you I’d worry about them.” She emphasizes.
“Aren’t there rules against. . .?” But Helena’s reality check stare stops me cold.
“Tina, if you were to come upstairs with me. . .”
“What? You’re kidding!” I look at her wondering if it’s so.
Helena shrugs – not such a terrible idea. “We did have our moments, Tina.” She twinkles her eyes at me. “Certainly you haven’t forgotten.”
Bette’s House – Midnight
If I had a big drooling dog this is absolutely the moment I would not think twice about unleashing it on the fucking idiot who just jumped into my pool. Wait! Another splash! Okay, that’s got to be Shane and a woman. But still! Fucking slide in if you going to invade my garden to swim in the middle-of-the-fucking night.
Are you kidding me? Canon balls! That does it. Then, I hear Helena’s voice mixed with Shane’s, as they yell simultaneously, “Bette! Get your ass out here.”
“Oh, for the love of God!” I throw the sheets back, and pull on my yoga pants and a tank top. As my hand hits the back door knob I hear Shane calling to me.
“Hey! Bring a lighter. I think mine got wet.”
I roll my eyes and find a box of matches from The Polo Club.
“Hey! I’ve got to be at a faculty breakfast in less than seven hours.”
“Seven hours. That should give you plenty of time, don’t you think, Helena?” Shane answers before she dips down to smooth the hair back from her face.
“Do you even own a bathing suit?” Helena asks her although nude herself.
“Helena, what are you doing in my pool the middle of the fucking night?”
“Well, I’m a bit drunk, but you’ll like this – I spent the evening with Tina.”
Shane dives down underwater and swims towards the deep end.
“Whisper!” I jerk my head towards Jenny’s house.
“Even tried to pick her up but she was having none of it,” Helena whispers her confession.
“Well, thanks for that at least. I guess.” I roll my eyes at her logic.
“Take one for the team, you know.”
“Helena. Go easy.” I say almost in a growl.
“Is this bit you’ve got going with Jodie serious? I’m starting to wonder.”
“Might be. Everything we talk about – art, her design work for three dimensional space – it couldn’t be further from what I’m used to debating and arguing about.”
“And you sign all this?” Helena asks incredulously.
I frown at her.
“And sculpture and such is getting you off then, is it?”
“Fuck off. I’m going back to bed. You guys keep it down.”
“Bette, I guess I should have told you.”
“What? What!” I lean back down to her. “Imagine my mood tomorrow after five hours of sleep. That’s if you leave soon.”
“Maybe Mummy should fill you in.”
“Fill me in about what?”
“Not just the Peabody Foundation, but other donors’ve had problems with Jodi Lerner’s grants over the years.”
“That’s not how this is going to happen. We’re not going to call your Mother, Helena. You’re going to get out of my fucking pool right now, and tell me everything. Every last detail you know.”
“May I at least have a towel? Please?”
“Sorry! Let me get my midnight cabana service ramped up.” I dig in a cedar chest under the umbrella. “Here, a nice fluffy one.”
She pushes up out of the pool and drips naked next to me with probably fifty thousand dollars worth of jewelry on her.
Wrapping the towel around herself, she says, “This is going to sound insensitive to her disability and I don’t mean it that way at all, but whether you sign it, or write it, or say it to her face – Jodi Lerner doesn’t know how to listen. She does what she wants, and everybody best bloody well get on board with it.”
“I’ve come up against it. In fact, I’ve got to get up at 0-dark thirty tomorrow morning for an emergency departmental breakfast meeting about her, and one of her students. Phyllis’ hands are around my neck to do something about it.”
“Have you tried giving Jodie one of your withering looks.” Helena shivers a bit, as she wraps the towel around her.
“Would that have any effect?” I ask curiously.
“In my experience, when she’s being told something she doesn’t want to hear or doesn’t agree with, Tom says some version of ‘fuck you,’ and she packs her bags and leaves.”
“We’ll see,” I say, but without conviction.
Shaolin Studio – Tina’s office – Tina
Opening my office door I search desperately for my missing secretary. “I’m sorry, Bette, just hold your thought for another minute. Mickey? Has anybody seen her?” I ask a room of busy people. Everyone shakes their head, ‘No’.
“Bette take a walk out on the lot. That way we can get away from this phone that won’t stop interrupting.” Picking up my purse I open the door for her.
“James would never leave me in such a fucking mess. What’s going on around here?”
“We’re making a lesbian movie that’s what’s going on.” I lean over my secretary’s desk to write her a note, and sense my busy production office slowing down and suddenly become still. Dozens of people have stopped talking, texting, typing, walking and working to look at us.
Finishing my note, I leave it on my missing secretary’s desk. “By the way, you look really great in that suit.” I tell her.
“Like my little lavender handkerchief?” She flicks it and smiles at me.
“I gave it to you.”
“So strange. . .you gave me two of them, right? One was a white linen, and I can’t find it anywhere.”
“I’ll look, Bette, I promise I will.” I reach inside my purse for my sunglasses and pretend to search for her.
As we walk out into the daylight, I feel the Gypsy’s charm inside an inner pocket of my handbag.
“I have my own version of work Hell. A student of Jodi’s – doing a performance piece freaked everyone out – when he put a gun he’d carved out of soap to his head.”
“You would not believe the things done with the props around here.”
“I work in a weird bubble. Fumes catch fire unusually fast. People lack perspective.”
“If we go right up here we’ll be on a film set doing a nineteenth century piece. Except for the horses it’s pretty quiet. Look, turn here.” As we walk down the dusty facade of an abandoned main street I wonder where to start.
“I feel…” We both say at the same time.
“You go first.” Bette smiles.
“I haven’t talked to you in a while.” I look at her quickly.
“School, end of the semester, and Phyllis! Absolutely driving me crazy now that she’s a lesbian.”
“Trust me, I’ve got you beat. There’s an all out lesbian drama going on around me.”
“And Kate Arden?” Her tone has a catch of aggression.
We approach the catering truck. “The picture’s director?” I tap my studio credit card. “I’m having a mocha frappe.”
“I can’t get enough ice cream lately. I’ll have a strawberry cone.”
“I’m putting this on my studio card. Anything else?”
She takes her ice cream and begins to lick. “This is delicious.”
“You want a taste of this? It’s pretty great, too.” I hand my frozen chocolate drink to her.
“Sure.” She sips, then offers me a taste of strawberries.
Studio Lot – Bette
Early this morning, as my hand had reached for the snooze button – a third time – I’d heard a text alert on my phone.
TEXT from Phyllis –
“Due to a scheduling conflict with Professor Lerner be advised our meeting will not take place at 7 am.”
Two thoughts had sprung to mind as I had read it: Unbelievable and Thank God. Actually, three: Turn off your fucking ringer, and I’d put the pillow back over my head and gone back to sleep.
When the meeting had finally convened, the circular logic and ludicrous rhetoric I’d heard had irritated the fucking hell out of me, and I’d chewed into the discussion with an articulate chainsaw, and Phyllis had called a recess.
“What were you doing to me in there?” Jodi had caught me in the hallway.
“What do you mean – to you? I don’t sense you’re really grasping the concepts I’ve been trying to drive home to you. Your students, their actions in classes with you, the work they do under your instruction – you’re accountable for that, Jodi. For them!”
“Reality, Jodie. Really the concept of Reality! Try to fucking grasp where the rest of us live. Try to cast your mind back to when we first met.” I press my hands beseechingly against my chest to implore her understanding. “I needed that man’s donation. I needed his money and it’s my job to get his money to finance this department. And what did you do?”
My finger has left trying to sign anything to her, and is now pointing menacingly. “You intentionally positioned a sculpture of George Bush’s mother with a vacuum cleaner’s hose for a vagina right where he’d come across it.”
I had felt one of my withering looks forming. “For what? Your principles! Damn what I may have needed!”
Jodi’s face turns stormy, but with a full wind behind me I don’t stop. “Inconceivably, you seem oblivious to the fucking political climate around guns in schools. Bottom line is this. You seem oblivious to the problems you’re causing this department, me professionally, and me personally.” I had glared at her. “Any of this registering, at all?”
“You’ve lost yourself. The power – you think you have – has gone to your head.” Jodi had smacked the side of her head, disgusted with me, and had walked away.
I’d caught her arm and signed, and said, as firmly as I could, “When you’re ready to listen, I’ll be in my office.”
Six hours later, still no sign of her, and apparently free from the annoyances of work – and with no plans whatsoever to get together with her tonight – I’d called Tina from the car on my way home.
Now, as she leans in to taste the ice cream, I catch a scent of something hard to describe. Is it on her skin or in her hair? I pull on the straw of her frozen coffee drink, and my tongue freezes a little and aches. I look at her earrings, and then down her neck, and past her shirt collar. I remember how her skin tastes salty along her throat in the summertime, and how she always feels warm, when suddenly my lips crave her kiss.
Not the kind she’d give me to say goodbye, but the kind that begins and sometimes takes hours for us to finish. I want one of those kisses, her matching my desire because now it’s turning deeper between us.
“Something’s different about you. I can’t put my finger on it.” I finally say to break the spell on me.
“Not really.” She hands me back my ice cream.
“No, you’re kind of glowing or something. Are you having a secret love affair that no one knows about?”
“And why would that matter? Aren’t you with someone?”
I bark a laugh at her nonsense. “Oh, it would matter plenty, Tina. Absolutely everything about that would matter.”
The next chapter is titled, The Cooking Lesson. http://wp.me/p4AUvc-7w
Bette is anxious as Jodi’s return is fraught with tension, and Tina’s love charm has its effect.