Bette’s House – Tina
As I drift up from my dream I hear the co-mingling of familiar sounds from my past: The garden fountain’s pattering and splashing in the distance, the soft whirr of the pool pump as it kicks on, and Bette’s strong, steady breath as she sleeps next to me. The last thing I want to do is go to work today.
I disable my 6:15 alarm and push the creeping thoughts of Jenny’s revealing new script rewrites and the romantic calamities of Bev and Nina from my mind. Dissuaded they circle me unhurried from dismissal.
Bette stirs and wraps me in her arms. I wonder does she know she’s holding me?
“How’d you sleep?”
I sigh and feel like a fool.
“I’m listening.” She sweeps my hair back and watches me intently.
“Babe, I’ve missed you. There’s no other lover like you anywhere in the world. I’d bet millions on it.” I smile, and she begins to laugh softly with me.
“You know everything about me, don’t you?” Bette asks.
“Hardly, you’re too complicated.” I caress her face and slowly we kiss our good morning.
“I’m not really. I have beliefs and when challenged I. . .things get complicated.”
“Let’s leave it at predictable.” A little ache rises up inside me, as we kiss again.
“I’m so glad you’re home, Tina.”
The sheet travels down my body and the feelings of her mouth and hands spread over me and we come in slow waves together and hold each other until the clock forces us apart.
Ten minutes later –
Focused on coffee and Angelica in that order, I pad down the hallway barefoot toward the kitchen picking up the clothing Bette and I dropped last night in a straight line from the front door into the bedroom.
The sweet scents from the garden drift in through the open French doors before the morning smog begins, and as our morning coffee brews I rinse a bowl of blueberries and slice peaches for our breakfast.
In Angelica’s room now, leaning over to kiss our child awake – another part of morning our small family has so rarely had together. Bette’s shower cuts off, and before my mind can grasp at who’s to blame for so few of these ever before being enjoyed, I stop myself. This may be the most perfect morning.
Bette walks into the kitchen wearing her blue pin striped power suit and pours her coffee.
“Tina, I want you to move back home tonight. Will you come back home right now?” She fixes me with an intensity across the breakfast table.
“I have an unreal day ahead of me with Lez Girls but I’ll come over later with a big suitcase. How’s that?”
“How about two big suitcases? I’ll carry both of them inside.” She challenges me and smiles as Angelica pops blueberry after blueberry into her mouth and grins back.
“Bette, what makes you think that Jodie won’t come over here and that you can just invite me back to live here while you’re in a relationship with her?”
“It’s my house the last time I checked and I intend to be very cold when I break up with her later.” She says as she begins to eat her peaches. “I’m aiming for sub-zero.”
“And your inflammatory nature?”
She begins to laugh. “There are very complicated emotional thermodynamics involved in all this, Tina, I realize that. But here’s the best I can do to explain it to you.”
She points her finger at me and says, “You are “hot” feelings for me.” Then she makes a quick slice across her throat, “She equals “cold” feelings for me.” And she ends with a mouthful of fruit.
“I’ve seen you be cold before, Bette.” I shake my head and cut smaller bites of peaches for Angie.
“No, you haven’t. You’ve seen me steely, but trust me I’ve never felt this way before.”
Bette’s Office – 9:30 am
Before I left home to drop off Angelica at CU’s day care and begin my complicated moves for extraction I packed every little piece of Jodie Lerner I could find into a medium sized cardboard box and tied it closed with yellow Caution tape. I stare at it on the floor under my office printer.
What was I? Fucking desperate? I wonder as my power suit boosts my laser focus and I begin to feel incredibly pissed off the longer I stare at the box. I fucking tolerated so much shit from that woman. Jesus! I’ve been so lost and for so damn long. I put my head in my hands and think about rebound sex and how the inevitable happened: I remembered love and knew it was somewhere else entirely.
I open my desk drawer and take out a framed photograph of Tina that Shane gave me so long ago. It’s been out in every office I’ve had but this one and I recall very clearly why I shoved it in the back of this drawer when I moved in – Tina was with Henry.
I walk to my office door with Tina’s photograph in my hand and catch James’ attention.
“James, give me about ten minutes without interruption.” I smile to put him at ease. Poor man, I periodically beat the shit out of us both. “I’m closing my door. Ten minutes.” I hold up a little inch with my fingers.
One day I might change and not feel weird moods like this but I tend to doubt it. I look at the photograph of Tina and lean solidly back against my door until hear it catch. I thought for sure I had lost everything.
Shaolin Studios – Tina
Every time a delivery courier’s scooter appears in the window of my office trailer I wonder if Bette will send me flowers this morning. Then I wonder what kind, and then my phone interrupts me before I can fantasize anymore about her romantic floral signatures.
“Alice, hi.” I say finally after she calls my cell phone three times.
“Well, so you really are starting Jenny’s crazy movie about us, huh?” Alice begins. “Shooting in two days? Right?”
“Alice, really for your own good, for the good of all of us please talk about this movie as a work of fiction. Nothing is real.”
“Tina, I can’t get metaphysical with you before one or two in the morning but, yeah, I hear what you’re saying. And I need a press pass to the set while you’re shooting, okay?”
“Alice, I can’t give you an all access anything. This is a closed set. I’ll ask you on days when we’re outside or you know when I can Alice, but we’re not making press passes to the set.”
“Okay, I get it – lesbians, movie secrecy and all that.” I roll my eyes as I hear Alice begin her interpretations.
“Marketing and mystique. Good thinking. So, I’m dropping it for now, but remember me.”
“You’re unforgettable.” I watch as another courier gets off his scooter without bringing me flowers. I turn back to my desk and bring up my daily meeting calendar.
“I think Shane broke her “sex fast” last night at the SheBar.” Alice laughs into the phone conspiratorially.
“That business had a very short half life. But it was amusing to watch while it lasted.” I acknowledge.
“It was, wasn’t it? So, the movie biz and all – surely you see someone interesting out your window if not two or three. Right?”
“Alice, I’ll invite you to the set as soon as I can but I have to go.” I say as I look up to into the face of a wrinkled Asian man who hands me a bouquet of my favorite roses mixed with Stargazer lilies.
We watch as a lady bug crawls out of the petals, cocks its spotted back and flies away.
“Those mean good luck and for women fertility, too.” He smiles and bows at me as he waits for me to sign for my delivery. I slip one rose out of the vase and smell its sweet scent. As I walk to my ten o’clock meeting I call Carol Goldman’s leasing agency in Malibu.
“Hi, this is Tina Kennard, is Carol in? Sure, I’ll hold.”
“Tina, back in the movie biz, I hear. I’m so happy you called!” Carol says as I hear her printer churning out documents in the background.
“Please tell me you have a pretty beach house for this weekend? I’d love to come out there tonight, listen to the ocean and leave late Sunday.”
Bette’s office – 3 pm
I take out a sheet of my personal blue linen stationary, uncap my fountain pen and with the unbroken concentration of a calligrapher I exhale slowly and write:
I know I promised you I would not do this but by breaking that promise to you I’m able to keep so many more. It’s complicated and it’s not. I’ve always loved Tina and she’s come home to me.
I soften the focus of my single-pointedness as I lift up my pen. I read the three sentences over, fold the paper twice and drop it into the cardboard box.
“James, I’m going to the security office to go over the details for the media center. I’ve got my phone.” I close my office door and walk down the hallway with the box for Jodie.
I unlock the door to the faculty mailboxes and leave Jodie’s box on the mail room table. I lock the door behind me.
Text to Tom from Bette,
“Tom, Please tell Jodie I’ve put a box with all her things from my house in the faculty mail room, and a note inside that explains why. Bette”
Without hesitation I hit send, and let out a tremendous sigh, as I open the door to the security office, and walk into the room filled with the campus’ video camera displays. I note above me, and slightly to my left are the two I’m interested in watching. The guard and the tech guy I’m there to meet tear their eyes away from a shiny metal box with lots of colored wires curling out of it.
“Hi, guys this won’t take long.” I say as I watch the hallway camera feed outside the door to the faculty mail room.
“Those three dark screens at the end of the video array are for the new cameras for the media center and theater?” I ask reminding them of the purpose of my three o’clock visit.
“Yes,” says the tech guy, “they’ll come online when we’re finished wiring the place for AV.”
“My two cents, you guys made a mistake not putting a camera backstage.” The guard offers as he looks up at me.
“You can’t do that to actors. They are so spooky already.” I say as I see Tom and Jodie walking quickly down the hallway toward the mail room. Her face is not very clear in the black and white image, but her stamping pace and arm gestures leave me no doubt to how she’s feeling. I point to the box of circuits and wires the men were engrossed in moments before I arrived.
“What piece of equipment were you geniuses working on when I interrupted you?” I distract them from the scene I anticipate unfolding in moments. They take the bait, and the tech guy hands the mystery box to the guard who begins to take it apart with a tiny green screwdriver.
I watch the monitor and see the mail room door fly open and Tom stand with his hands on his hips as Jodie peels the tape off her box. She quickly fishes out my note, and after a very short read she turns the page over to see it’s blank.
She signs to Tom. “I should never have trusted her.” She pitches the note back inside the box, puts her hands against her temples, and rubs them furiously. Then she begins to sign some more.
“After all that monogamy crap she gave me about Amy, and other women – she’s gone back to Tina. How long have they been seeing each other behind my back?” I watch Tom shrug, and shake his head quickly.
Jodie points to the side of her head and wheels her fingers around by her ear. I feel twinges of lousiness, and the pain of a liar, as she carries her box back toward the artist’s studios, and away from the corridor that would lead to my office.
“Okay, guys. Call me when the theater cameras come in.”
As I walk down the hallway I text James.
Text from Bette to James:
Text from James to Bette:
“There’s a Skype call that keeps trying to connect to your computer.”
Text from Bette to James:
I stop at the coffee stand between the buildings for a late afternoon latte as a group of students with brass instruments pour out of the Music Department. A riff of notes between the sax and the rippling clarinet drift by. My phone buzzes with a text. I juggle the coffee and read.
Text from Tina to Bette:
“B, Flowers r wonderful. You shouldn’t have. 😉 Crazy day so far. Pls say, “Yes,” you’ll come to Malibu with me tonight, and stay the weekend.”
Text from Bette to Tina:
“Yes! In 30 minutes can U talk then?”
Text from Tina to Bette:
“I’ll try. But def c u around 6. Love you, T.”
I’m grinning when I walk up to James’ desk.
“Okay, I’ll see about the Skype call, now. And James stay if you want to, but it’s four, and I’m going to Malibu for the weekend with Tina so, you can …” I stop, and look at James’ expression of shock. Hm, I begin to realize I’m going to get this a lot for the next few weeks .
“Long story, James, too long for four on Friday. I’m making this call then, I’m going home to pack.” I point my trigger finger at him, “Have a good weekend.” I close my door and flip the lock. Jodie is unpredictable.
I click the option for Skype to redial the last call in and in a few seconds an elderly Native American woman’s face fills my screen. Her hair is braided, and snow white, and she wears a blue denim shirt with a cherry red kerchief around her neck. I frown slightly because I have no idea who she is.
“I could have left a video message I realize but what I need to tell you is best interactive.” She leans slightly into the camera as she adjusts in her seat. I catch glimpses of a well stocked bookcase, and squash colored walls behind her.
“Technology. Amazing. Have we met?” I ask as I sip my latte.
“Briefly. I was just about to introduce you to someone who had come a long way that day to see you when we watched you get fired from your job and your friends…,” she puts her hand up to her mouth as she laughs softly, “well, they had to subdue you and drag you out of your father’s wake.”
I pinch in between my eyebrows as I remember fucking Franklin and Leo. Then I focus on her Skype ID, Mary_WindHorse. Who is this lady who is recalling one of the worst days of my life on arguably what may be one of my best?
I clear my throat from the feeling of strangulation at the bad memory, “Mary Windhorse. Mary, I can’t remember, and you were there for Melvyn’s wake? Thank you for coming. I’m sorry, I don’t remember. And you came with another friend of my father’s?”
“Bette, I was there with your Mother.”
“You what?” I yell into the screen. “That’s impossible! My mother’s dead. She died when I was a child.”
“She left one day, and never came home again, am I right?”
“Yes,” I exhale hotly.
“She’s been in Witness Protection for twenty-six years because of a terrible gang murder she saw that afternoon.”
“Murders? Wait! Is that even possible? That she could go missing without my father ever knowing?”
“Bette, you need to think about that for a bit. Do you want to call me back?”
“He knew?” I blow out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding.
“Oh, of course, he knew. She pleaded with him to let you come with her into protection, and grow up as her daughter. But he refused to come in with her, or to let you go.”
“Oh my fucking God! I can’t … excuse me, I shouldn’t have said that out loud.” I wince into the screen, and watch the old Indian woman’s eyes wrinkle in a smile.
“She’s my neighbor out here in the desert.”
“Good question. She does want to meet you, very much.”
“It’s been two, nearly three years since Melvyn died. And she came to LA and then disappeared again? I don’t know. Can I trust this?” I pinch my arm to make sure I’m awake. It hurts. I am.
“She had a heart attack, Bette when we got back home. But her friends have been taking good care of her, and for the last year she’s been back out in the canyons painting again.”
I tally up my mother’s age again for the tenth time in my head. If lucky we have a good ten years left before she falls into the more critical margins. Mary’s voice snaps me back.
“Stay just like that for a second more. I told your mother I’d take a screenshot for her.”
“For an old lady you know a lot about technology. Is there a story behind that, Mary?”
“One very long story and best told over dinner. Call me back when you’ve decided to come out here. We’re not far away. Just a state or two over, but too far to walk.” She laughs. “And they’re rattlesnakes.”
I feel my eyes shoot up to the ceiling. “Okay, too far to walk. I can take a plane.” My eyes drift back down to the screen. “And tell my mother for me will you? She has a beautiful, beautiful grand daughter.”
I see the elderly woman’s eyebrows rise slightly then settle back down. “It’s a long story, also best told over dinner. I’ll figure out when I can come see you, two, soon.”
Malibu – Bette – 8 pm
I stand on the deck and feel the rapidly cooling wind whip off the Pacific Ocean as the colors from the sky turn an amazing purple before they begin to fade. I feel Tina’s arm slip around me as she leans her head against my shoulder. I reach down for Angelica and lift her to watch the brilliant sky change.
“A purple ocean is very rare, Angelica, my wonderful baby girl. You need to get an eye on this.” I point her fist out to the sea. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before, have you, Tina?”
“Never. I’ll take a picture.” Tina clicks one with her iPhone, and slips it back in her pocket.
“Let’s go back to the water’s edge one more time before it’s dark.” I wag Angelica’s arm toward the beach.
“You can’t get enough of those sand crabs can you? Why do you love them so much do you think?”
“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be an animal? Just for a day?” I ask Tina as we walk across the sand and I carry Angelica in my arms. Her head bobs sleepily against my neck as the waves lull and crash with the tide.
“I think of flying sometimes when I watch birds.” Tina says.
“Flying does seem nice.” I agree.
“But you probably want something with teeth and a big tail, too.” Tina laughs at me.
I kneel down and watch a half dozen crabs scoot sideways, and run along the lines of foam.
“I don’t see you as one of those little crabs, Bette, although you do zigzag sometimes very dramatically.”
“A close friend of my mother’s called me today. Skype’d me actually. An old Indian lady. Just out of the blue.”
“Could today get any odder?” Tina asks.
“Oh, yes. Very.”
“Are you upset? You don’t seem upset though.” Tina stops me and holds my arms as the light grows a deeper purple around us.
“She’s not dead, Tina. She’s been in Wit Sec for twenty-six years, and was at Melvyn’s wake!”
“What the fuck?” Tina asks as she stares over at me.
I begin to laugh and then I can’t stop. I hand the baby to Tina.
“Bette, what’s wrong with you. You’re scaring me a little.”
A wind gust picks up, and I hold Tina against me as I try to calm my gasps of laughter. “All day long I’ve wondered if waking up with you was a mirage, and perhaps I’d orbited into another sphere entirely. Just snapped, you know? Then the Mother Phone Call.”
“Is that why you sent me flowers?”
“No! Don’t be crazy! I sent you flowers because I love you.”
“But if I’d texted you, “WTF,” instead of inviting you to Malibu?” Tina asks.
“I was going to call the ambulance. Sad for you though, you’re still my emergency contact.” I laugh at myself before I kiss Tina’s lips.
“Dear God. What about your mother?”
“I want you with me when I go to meet her. Will you come?” I ask.
“When? Jesus! Yes, of course, I will. But the timing of everything…”
“It couldn’t be stranger.” I put my arm around her as we walk back to the beach house.
“I’m not sure where she lives, more will be revealed. She’s in witness protection so there are secrets to be aware of.”
“So, someone wants to kill her still?” Tina presses.
“That much we can guess, or did anyway. She must feel the threat is over, or she wouldn’t be calling, or have her emissary call me.” I surmise.
“Bette, you have to look into this before we get too involved.” Tina warns as she looks at me, and then Angelica asleep in her arms.
“I know. I will. We’ll be careful.” I walk up the steps to the deck of the house. “Let’s say we’re starting dinner so at least we can open the wine.”
“And to think, yesterday I had such an uncomplicated life, and was dating a heart surgeon.” Tina smiles at me and shakes her head.
The next chapter is titled, Malibu. The couple arrive at the beach house. Bette surprises Tina with an unusual request.
After Malibu this book that I hope you have enjoyed will conclude and a new book, my version of The L Word Season 7, a long awaited return of the characters will begin. It is titled, Touch Tones. I will post chapters here shortly.
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Writers love comments. Please leave one! Thanks for reading! Blackbird