Bette’s Office – Bette
“Tina, I need a goddamn name.” I pace back and forth behind my desk and shout into my cell phone. “Tell your publicity people I’m coming over there and ripping every goddamn tattoo I see off their fucking arms until they help me get those pictures off the Internet.”
I hear James’ voice on the intercom. “Bette, it’s that reporter again from the gay press in Austin.”
“Why don’t your PR people care? Gossip bloggers are framing Lez Girls as a lesbian wrestling movie with me as its star!” I vent in disbelief.
I slap the button on my desk phone. “James! For tenth Goddamn time tell him to fuck off!”
I continue my tirade with Tina. “Just because you’re unrecognizable face down in that woman’s crotch you and your movie aren’t exposed? That’s actually Shaolin’s position?” I ask incredulously.
“At least you had your shirt on.” Tina says over the phone.
“What? As if that matters!” I stop dead in my tracks and look at the phone in disbelief. “Tina, okay, sorry I’m shouting. You just cannot believe the looks I’m getting around here! First, it was the fucking snickers and leers when Jenny’s book came out. Now this! So much worse,” I say inconsolably, “much, much worse.”
“I know it looks bad for a dean, for you. I don’t know what to say.”
Outside my office the phone rings again. James engages our intercom. I beat him to the punch. “James, if it’s that She Beast bottom feeder from TMZ calling back tell her I’m on my over there with the lawyer who ruined her fucking father!”
“Bette, it’s Joyce Wishnia. She says she put Phyllis on the plane to Chicago. Do you want me to take a message?” James asks.
“God! No! James, find when and where I can meet her today, tonight, anywhere, anytime. Just get me a meeting with Joyce!”
“Bette, what are you doing with Joyce?” Tina asks with a note of suspicion in her tone. Little wonder, Joyce was either our hammer or the nails into each other before we came to our senses.
“What do you mean? Of course, I’m paying her to get the photos of me off the internet! Tina, are you not aware that I’m smack in the middle of a major fundraising campaign? The timing couldn’t be worse. It just couldn’t be worse.” I sigh wretchedly .
“I didn’t see anyone else at the club, did you?” Tina asks.
“I saw no one else while we were there except, Alice.” I stop pacing as a clammy chill creeps up my spine. “Tina,” I ask deadly serious, “Alice wouldn’t, would she?”
“Noooo! I can’t imagine it, Bette. And don’t call her up and accuse her, or even ask. There’s something called metadata linked to everything posted. Ask Joyce’s forensic guys. They’ll know what it is and how to understand it.”
“Well, I know what it means in Latin. It means “beyond the facts” and if it can lead me straight to the little motherfucker that’s doing this then it’ll be supra-data.” I lean over my desk and make a note, “metadata” and then stash it in my purse.
“Bette, I’m walking into a meeting, the first Table Read with the cast, and of course, Jenny’s here.”
“Does Kate come to things like that?” Bette asks forgetting her other concerns for the moment.
“Kate’s not here.”
“Good. Goddamn this mess. Okay, okay, bye.”
Shaolin Studio Back Lot – Tina
As I hang up the phone with Bette I see how many text messages and emails I’ve got to answer. Things are starting to pile up on me and it worries me that Angelica has had nothing but stressed out Moms for the last few days. Oh, I’m so fucking kidding myself. It’s been for her whole short life! It never stops and for the next thirty-three days of production I can’t see myself being chilled out anytime soon. Maybe when Bette goes to Big Bear with Jodie. Maybe then I’ll have a day with Angelica and can swim and lie out by the pool. Even two hours would be welcome. Just two hours of not being around nearly hysterical, overly stressed, head-tripping women. Jenny has taken me over and beyond my limit.
I see one of my texts is from her new assistant, Adele, who’ll be worth her weight in gold if she’ll keep Jenny from disrupting my life even more.
“Pls U be there in 15 with Jenny. C U South Lot conference room.” I text Adele as I walk down the long line of production trailers and nod and wave good morning to the growing numbers in our movie crew. I think about Bette taking off soon for Big Bear. A weekend trip I do and don’t want her to take.
I couldn’t believe my luck when she told me over the phone yesterday that she was staying in a house built by Jodie’s best friend, Michelangelo, whose sobriquet had gotten on Bette’s nerves already. And it should because – and I didn’t tell her – but I’ve met the apish grinning, Michelangelo before. There can’t be two of them, even in Los Angeles.
It was years ago when I lived in Santa Monica and he used to bounce into the arts center off Michigan Ave when he was in town. His facile friendly way and cheesy anti-urbane manner of speaking Bette will see through and hate on sight. And if he’s still not bathing regularly that wind will waft unpleasantly around her, too. I laugh to myself. Bette has a nightmare weekend ahead of her and just when she could use some clean mountain air and a few good long walks along with all the other things we used to do whenever we went up there. Nope, instead she’s got Michelangelo and Jodie.
I hop up the three short steps into an unassigned production trailer and kneel down to check the small fridge for cold water. It’s unseasonably hot and it feels like earthquake weather. Even thinking that makes me nervous. I push the thoughts of tremors and wanting a Xanax from my mind.
I take a long sip of cool water and scroll through my messages. In Big Bear we always stayed in log houses with incredible views from the master suite’s bedroom windows. I shake my head and smile at the memory. It was late one afternoon way up a mountain pass, miles away from easy restaurant take out, when I first realized Bette had no idea how to cook.
We’d been lazing by the fire drinking wine when my stomach had growled.
“Did you like the omelet I made you for breakfast? Say the word and I’ll make you another one for dinner.” It was then I realized: If I didn’t want more eggs I was done for.
I sit down on the couch inside the empty trailer and put my head in my hands. How many times can I fall in love with her? Two, three, or four times? And which one is this? Two or three? Or is it the same one and now my head is clearer? Or is it?
The sharp edges of the trailer’s counter tops catch my attention and my Gypsy scar itches. I rub it against the cushions behind me. Going in and out of trailers all day long I can’t help myself. I think about Allsweld. And wouldn’t you know it? Nikki Stevens, the film’s star? A dead fucking ringer for my long dead cousin, Lucy. It’s just right in my face again and again all day long. But I had to cast Nikki. There was no way around it. Every time I look at her I control my urge to vomit. I let out a jagged sigh. Bette doesn’t know about Nikki either.
I remember a time during a winter holiday that I had lied to Bette about my jagged scar. We were by the fire on quilts and Indian blankets in that incredible big log house up on Big Bear. And it’s not that she hadn’t mentioned it as she’d licked past before, but I’d always been quick to deflect the need for an answer with a sigh or a lick of my own, but that afternoon – with the stillness around us, the quiet mountain air outside dampened by the snowfall, the long stream of delicious red wine she had poured into crystal goblets – she had lulled and enraptured me. I’d hesitated when she’d asked.
I remember deeply loving her, and the fire, and her body everywhere all over me and so warm against my skin. I’d almost told her the truth but that horrible story – it would have completely broken our beautiful moment. That’s what that cursed scar does. It kidnaps me.
I’d distracted her and fed her grapes and told her I loved her until I’d put the bowl away and had shown her instead.
I don’t mind a good blow-by-blow recap after a particularly great night in bed. Maybe finish off the wine and get in the mood all over again. And she’s absolutely used it with great effect to do exactly that. But every once in awhile she’ll become obsessed with talking about orgasms. I don’t know what the fuck gets into her. But more than once I’ve had to blow out the candles and put the pillow over my head and yell, “Quit! I can’t talk about this anymore. You’re wearing my fucking mind out!”
And now, in my first movie in a long time I’ve got Nikki Stevens who’ll forever remind me of Lucy’s death and now, Bette knows almost everything.
I wonder if I know all her secrets? Oh God, I don’t want to hear anything else, swallow anything I can’t take. It’s as if this next time with her if we ever do try again feels mined with dynamite and front loaded with angst and what’s beneath it all – the dark potential has dawned on her, too. I see it in her eyes all the time now: The fear that if we ever fail each other again how could we continue on as a family?
I’ve been there. I know how it feels when we hate each other. One of us would have to move and far, far away and that would be a disaster for Angelica. A snow globe image suddenly pops into my head of us frozen in time. My mind shakes it and a blizzard swirls around us. For just a few minutes more I want to remember the snowfall at Big Bear, the snaps and fizz of the fire, and her body all over me.
Joyce’s Office – Bette
I sit across from her polished wooden desk. “Are those little red T Rex dinosaurs on your tie, Joyce? That’s a little aggressive even for you, don’t you think?”
“T Rex? No, I don’t think so. Kangaroos, little tiny kangaroos I think Phyllis said. She just gave it to me earlier before she flew off to Chicago.” Joyce flips the yellow gold tie back down to her chest. “And she knows about the hot oil wrestling pictures, Bette.” Joyce shakes her head, sad for me.
“And what have you thought of? How can we stop this?”
Her voice gets cautious and serious. “Well, I made some calls on the way back from the airport and there’s the long way, that’s the legal way -all the ‘i’s’ dotted and all the rest to end up in court and sue them for lots of money – that’s if they have any.”
“And there’s an article in this magazine you might want to read to yourself while I pour us a drink.”
I open the Tech Today magazine and see a note, “Hacker. Very fast. $6000 everything wiped clean” and a phone number. I let out a lilting whistle at the price. I don’t have time for a second job! Christ! My expenses are endless stairs to a roof I can eventually jump off as a broken woman!
“If you want to read the magazine Bette take it with you and here’s a phone. Only use it to call. If you don’t want to “read” the magazine put it back on my desk and I’ll explain our route through the courts. Meanwhile your picture stays up.”
“This is your best Scotch, Joyce. What other fees aren’t you telling me?”
“Bette, we’re just having a drink together. I’m in love. Your constant missteps for some reason this afternoon amuse the hell out of me, and I want you to kick your heels off and tell me how lucky I am to be madly in love with your boss, Vice-Chancellor Phyllis Kroll.” Joyce leans back in her leather chair and drinks deeply.
“I can do that for you, Joyce.”
“Thanks, Bette, and you’re coming to my party for Phyllis tomorrow night, I hope?”
“Yes, Kit’s planned a beautiful party. Great big flower arrangements, all of Phyllis’ favorites and we’re all coming – even Alice.”
“That’s no surprise. Alice, I take it, hates to be left out. But I gotta hand it to her, I heard how she handled Phyllis’ whimpering, crying husband.”
“The one you were suing for her but now you’re not?”
“That’s the one! And all because of you, Bette. Never took you for a matchmaker, though. Don’t know why. Well, actually I do.”
“What do you mean?”
“Take a long end of the dusty trail drink with me, Bette.” Joyce winks and waits as I lift my glass. I swallow a burning stream of Scotch and feel the tingle and buzz along little arcs of nerves under my eyes.
“What you and Tina had was a match, Bette. You saw it, but it was my job to break you into a million pieces and take the money from your bank. You should have hired me first!”
“Between my recent trip to New York and Angelica’s tuition, now these pictures of me all over the web! I’m looking at a second mortgage all of a sudden.”
“If you were single? Bette, I know you want them down but…” Joyce looks at me with amazement and then whistles, “Has your phone been ringing off the hook all day?”
“Journalists or the barest definition of the word. I’m not answering any numbers I don’t recognize.” I look at my phone and see forty-three missed calls and way over fifty percentage from LA area codes.
“I’ll bet you a thousand dollars right this minute if you play your voice messages that over half of them are going to be women with all kinds of other questions and trouble for you.” She tops off our drinks and winks at me as she spins around her computer screen with a picture of me leaning over an oil slicked blonde in a gold bikini taking pleasure in twisting her wrists back in pain.
Joyce slaps an affirming smack against her desk. “As I said, Bette, you amuse the hell of me this afternoon. Everyone of those women who called you.” Joyce lets out a huge and boisterous laugh. “They want you and will fucking beg you tie them up. Thank God for you Bette! I’m in such a fantastic mood!”
The next chapter is titled, The Lucky Ones. Bette goes to Big Bear with Jodie and dreams of escaping. Kit is robbed at The Planet and Bette arrives home. At the SheBar opening she and Tina have a powerful reuniting moment.
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