Exterior – The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Tina
With my cellphone pressed up to my ear, I move my lips silently along with Kit’s, as she reads Angelica her favorite bedtime story. Putting the book away Kit asks, “How’re you and my Baby Sis getting along in Texas?”
I struggle to find the answer.
How can I describe my evening with a drug-addled bigot, and not press every one of Kit’s 12 Step buttons? Sue Ellen, and this glimpse into Shane’s past, has convinced me all over again that even though Bette’s mother wasn’t there for much of her childhood, my mother was in the beginning, mostly there for me, and we must do better for our daughter. We have to.
When we lived in the old house with the high cliffs behind it, I remember her reading, “Wind in the Willows” to me at night. There was an orchard I played in to the east, a creek I explored to the south, and to the west a gentle curve of cliffs topped by very tall trees that threw shadows over the whole house at sunset.
There were wolves back there, too, and one in particular who watched over me, but by then, it was too late. My sister had already found me.
The front door of the bar swings open, and Bette waves to me. “Odd as it may be, our family pictures are a hit. The dial is way down on her. I think it’s safe, you can come back inside.”
I hold the phone up to her ear, “Say goodnight to the baby.”
“Goodnight sweet baby, I miss you!”
“Shane, if you can believe it, was once chubby!” Alice greets our return. “Sue Ellen is telling me baby Shane stories.
“I was just asking, if she remembered that old pink blanket of hers?” Sue Ellen leans into Shane, “I couldn’t pry it away from you. It’s like you thought it was your own mother.”
“See. Lots better,” Bette whispers sarcastically in my ear.
“I remember, Blankie.”
Then, Alice just can’t leave well enough alone. “Sue Ellen, where’d you grow up?”
And Bette says, “Fuck,” under her breath. “Memory Lane with Sue Ellen.”
The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Bette
“Shane knows this. My coming up wasn’t easy.” Across the table, Sue Ellen shifts in her seat, hesitating whether to go on.
Then, with a deep inhale she begins, “My daddy was a circuit judge, any of you gals know what that is?”
But we all stay silent, should a wrong answer cause another outburst.
“Someone who covers a goodly piece of Texas territory, and decides whether or not to hang a man. That was my daddy,” Sue Ellen answers.
“A Hanging Judge?” Alice cries out. “You had a hanging judge for a father? Shane did you ever meet him?”
Shane shakes her head, as Sue Ellen laughs mostly to herself, “Oh, how he hated that name, too.”
Now, I find myself curious, “And did he actually hang people?”
“He sure did. Hung lots of people. Rustlers, murders, Mexicans…you name it.”
Behind her hand, Tina whispers to me, “Do not argue with her about capital punishment, Bette. Just let it be.”
Then, our steaks arrive, and sure enough, Sue Ellen had given in and ordered a cup of the healing chicken noodle soup Alice had recommended.
Dipping in her spoon, Sue Ellen continues. “But it meant he was gone a lot. You ever hear of laudanum?”
Cutting into our bloody steaks, we all shake our heads. No.
“The housewives back in my day got hooked on it. Hell, I don’t even know if there was an FDA back then, but out west we still had those roaming Medicine Men, and Indian cures that would pull up in wagons. Amplify a valium a thousand times, but with dreams, and that’s opium. That’s laudanum.”
Sue Ellen licks her lips, I guess at the memory of the taste of it. “A cure for being lonely, and my mother was hooked on it.”
“What’d my grandfather do about it?” Shane asks.
“Nothing. Kept on hanging people, I guess.”
“Now, I’m starting to worry about you.” Alice eyes Shane, who’s sipping away on her beer, the night before she’s to give liver tissue samples to save her dying mother’s diseased one.
Shane gives Alice her best, ‘Get Lost’ look, and continues chewing all the way down a long french fry.
“Still, I hope you take my point.” Alice warns her.
Tina looks over at me, suddenly very serious. “I don’t need a Mother’s Little Helper to care for our baby, do you?”
I look into Tina’s eyes, “You don’t think everything’s fine?”
“No, everything’s fine.”
I lift up her hand and kiss the engagement ring I gave her, “Now, that you’re back, my life is perfect. Everything’s fine.”
“Everything’s perfect. Absolutely everything,” she agrees, but I watch Tina for a moment more, just to make sure.
“And we used to keep a cooking fire going all the time, even in the summer.” Sue Ellen starts up again with her memories, and then, with a brittle sadness, “And I had one dolly, and I had an older sister, who’d lost hers.”
At that last line, Tina’s complete concentration on her dinner breaks, and lowering my fork, I begin to hope, with all my heart, that the moral of Sue Ellen’s story is about sisterhood and sharing.
“She’s dead, now – mean as she was, just like a snake – fitting it were them’s that got her.” Sue Ellen holds a momentarily satisfied look. “Rattlers. Different times back then, I can assure you.”
“Sounds like it.” Alice nods, very convinced she’d never survive.
“Bette, our Santa Fe party?”
“Mother says there’s a powder they can ring around the whole barn that keeps them away.”
“Oh, Jesus.” Tina’s head sinks into her hands.
I motion to Tina’s half-eaten ribeye. “The sooner you eat it, the faster we can get out of here.”
“Angry, I suppose for me taking what little attention came from our mother, once the dickens got into my sister real bad, and she threw my Dolly into the fire.”
Sue Ellen lifts up her right leg, and pulls off her boot. “I was just a small child, with a mother way off in LaLa Land, not a soul to stop me from crawling into the fire after it.”
At the sight of once melted toes, and a leg with a long goose leathered scar, Alice jumps up from the table crying, ”Holy fuck!”
Sue Ellen rocks her deformed leg back and forth on the seat next to me. ”Unlike you,” she stares at me, ”this is why I wear cowboy boots.”
“Jesus, Al, I’m sorry! She told it way too much like a ghost story tonight.”
Alice whimpers, “I think I peed a little on myself.” Shane throws a look over her shoulder back at me, as she walks with Alice to the Ladies Room.
Sue Ellen smiles with a queer satisfaction, and slides her boot back on. “So, what’s your story?”
I think Tina may still be speechless, so I begin. “I only recently reunited with my mother. She spent most of my life in federal custody.”
”I know it’s hard on kids when their parents get locked up. Don’t think too much about it, Bette. I was in jail a few times, when Shane was little.”
“It was a long stretch,” I play along with her thinking my mother was in prison. “I only recently caught up with her again.”
Tina pokes at her baked potato. “Babe, I’ve been thinking some more about the rattlesnakes.” Then, her face freezes in shock.
“Look! At this nearly identical twin of yours we met in the Ladies Room!” Alice waves her arm by way of an elaborate introduction.
Shane notices Tina’s reactions, and begins tugging on Alice’s arm. “Ah, Alice…”
Dead. Without feeling, “Tina,” is all the sister says.
“Janet,” Tina says very cooly.
“Who’s this cause of such a stir?” Pipes in Sue Ellen.
Tina scoots her chair back from the table, and walks toward her sister, “Our father said you lived here.”
“How is the old man?”
“No idea. He calls occasionally – on holidays.”
“Says he’s the Mayor of Yuma, Arizona, unless he’s lying.”
“That was more your thing, Janet.” Tina steps even closer to her.
“Or your imagination.” Janet doesn’t budge.
“So like you to twist things.” Tina spits back.
I point at Alice, “We should get the check. Go get the waitress, Alice.”
“And miss this?” Alice refuses to move.
“What are they going on about?” Sue Ellen wonders.
“I’ll do it.” Shane offers. “Come with me, Mom. Let’s get the bill.”
“Well, I don’t have any money.” Sue Ellen shouts, and stays put at the table.
“Nice company you keep,” Janet smirks.
Then, I step in and jab my finger in Janet’s face. “You know, what? Fuck you! You owe your sister, at-the-very-least, an apology.”
“Who’s this?” Janet looks me up and down degradingly. “I told her, it was you all along, and Mother should’ve punished you! Not me.”
Then, Tina slaps the shit out of Janet. Smack!
Followed by Janet’s strike back. Whack!
Now, we have the whole restaurant’s attention.
The reddish mark of Janet’s handprint appears on Tina’s face, and back again, I step between them. “Look, just apologize to her, and get the fuck out of here, or else.”
Sue Ellen claps her hands together. “Sounds like a dare, to me!”
“You! Keep your unclean hands off me.” Janet swats my finger away, but I point it right back into her face.
“But I insist. I said apologize to Tina. Now, do it!”
Tina tries to move me aside. “Bette, I can handle this.”
“Well, your girlfriend, I guess is who this is? She ought to thank me.” Janet stabs her finger right under my nose. “You should thank me!”
Alice looks at Shane. “I have no idea what’s going on. You?”
I supply them my answer, “This pretender is getting off her high holy horse, and apologizing. That’s what’s happening.”
Enraged Janet screams at me. “Okay! Here’s the Truth! She liked it! So, now you know! Is that what you wanted to hear?”
The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Alice
And fast as you can say, “You just pissed off the wrong person.” Bette’s hands are around Janet’s neck, and she’s squeezing the fucking life out of her.
“You crazy, miserable piece of human shit!” Bette hisses, as she clutches Janet by the throat.
“Bette! Stop it!” Tina shouts, “I’ll beat up my own sister, if I want to.”
Bette shakes her head, “No!” as Janet flails and gurgles. “I’m not fucking letting her go, until she says she’s sorry.”
“Hey! You gals need to take this outside!” Miss Laredo calls from the bar. Then, to her friends, “Come on!”
Shane sends her mother a warning look. “Mom, don’t bet against my friends.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it! Hand over your billfold, sweetheart, I’m betting whatever you’ve got, on the tall one.”
And then, just as quick, Bette lets out an, “Ooof!”
And my steak knife is sticking out of Bette’s stomach!
“God!” Tina cries at her sister, “What’d you just do?”
Miss Laredo shouts that she’s a nurse, and Bette staggers backwards in pain. Tina’s hands close around hers to stop Bette from pulling out the knife. “Don’t! You’ll bleed to death!”
Bette goes for her steak knife on the table. “Goddammit! This shit just got serious.”
“Ugh. Wait a minute, Baby. This really hurts.” She drops down on one knee.
“Oh God, Bette!” Tina lunges at the table, and I have just enough time to grab my ribeye off my plate before Tina zings it into Janet’s forehead.
“You’ve always been crazy. You’ve always been such a liar!” Tina screams as she throws platters and dishes and ketchup bottles at her sister. Everything’s flying through the air, when overhead I see a wine bottle in Janet’s hand heading straight down for Tina.
“Look out!” I shout, and Bette springs up, and grabs Janet’s arm, holding it in mid air.
Nose to nose, they strain against each other. With my steak knife sticking out of Bette’s guts, she forces Janet’s hand back and back, looking like any minute she’s going to snap the woman’s wrist, and Tina, finally seeing only salt and pepper shakers left to throw, kicks Janet’s in the back of the knee.
And down Janet goes.
A cheer erupts!
Sinking into a chair, Bette shoots the crowd a thumbs-up, and with a grimace looks down at the stream of blood leaking out of her abdomen.
“I’m starting to understand you gals a whole lot better.” Sue Ellen looks at us with true appreciation.
With Tina hovering, Miss Laredo cleans Bette’s wound with whiskey.
“Ouch! Ouch! Give me some of that to drink if you’re going to do that to me.”
“Where’d Janet go?” I ask Tina, but she seems to have forgotten her lifelong foe completely. She strokes Bette’s face, and whispers to her. But I can hear things people say a mile away.
“You’re coming out of this with a scar, Bette, on that hard stomach of yours, you’re so vain about.”
Miss Laredo, with a sweet wink to Bette. “You’d be a tough one to cut through, Honey.”
Tina rolls her eyes, as she hands Bette a whiskey for her pain.
By now, a small crowd has gathered, and Miss Laredo offers her friends a peek at Bette’s enviable abs. “Meet Bette, Ladies, and her soon to be wife, Tina.”
Bette shoots Tina a sly smile. “Miss Laredo, can you stitch Tina’s name on me, like a tattoo?”
Tina threads her fingers through Bette’s. “You need to quit telling everybody what to do. When we’re alone, I’ll talk to you about this.”
“Guys, we’re going right to a hospital with my mother. Anybody thought of that?”
Miss Laredo calls out, “Okay, the wound’s lookin’ good, but stitching you back together is going to hurt. You up for this?”
Bette ignores Shane’s saner idea. “Are you really a nurse?”
“Is there any chance you’re operating on me sober?”
“Not a chance.”
“Is your name really, Miss Laredo?”
“Then, I say do it.”
And when the perfect look of pleasure and pain settles onto Bette’s face, I can’t help myself. I just have to take a picture.
Two hours later –
Bette and Tina’s Dallas Hotel Room – Bette
Whatever there’s left to talk about, Tina has decided it’s going to happen tomorrow, because once we hit the door of our hotel room, down I go on the bed. I can’t ask her if she’s glad she got to smack the shit out of her sister, or if she’s sorry the whole thing happened. I’ll never know the answer until whatever is happening between us plays itself out on this bed, and that’s fine with me.
I slip my tongue back and forth in her mouth, and she sucks on me, and rubs painfully on top of my bandage. I know she’s doing it on purpose – a lesson in here somewhere I’ll have to sort out later.
She moves my hand from her breast down between her legs. “Come inside me.” Is all I hear.
I roll her over, and begin to make love to her. Her legs wrap around me, and she rocks back against me, and blue shots of pain start to streak through my mind.
Down my back she digs into me with her fingernails, and I cover her mouth and her body with mine, and we blend like ocean waves, far out to sea, that don’t break, only rise and fall – over and over and over with each other.
I lift her up to hold her against me, and taste only the whiskey and want of sex in her mouth.
She begins to shake. “I’m so close, right on the edge.” And her muscles close tight on my fingers, and trembling more, she begins to come.
And for long, long moments, we’re falling over the edge of orgasm, and moaning, with our tongues sliding together, as a slick sweat breaks between our bodies, and…………we fall back into each other’s arms, the waves break slower and slower, and we breath together, and look again into each other’s eyes, and kiss softly.
Tina runs her fingers down my body, making little curves in my sweat between my breasts. “This is Texas, I do realize, but take a guess. Since we landed this morning, how many laws have you broken?
“Two, maybe?” I begin to laugh.
“Try ten.” She licks up my neck. “You’re very salty tonight.”
“You like it?”
“Hmm,” she settles against my chest, and plays her fingers around my long white bandage. “I like you.”
I rise up a little to look in her eyes. “I’d hold out as long as could, before I took a prison wife. I want you to know that.”
“And I want to believe you. I really do.” She licks me a few times inside my legs.
“Marry me, soon, won’t you? Why we do have to wait?” But her mouth on me is causing me to lose focus. “All the parties, can’t they come after we’re married?”
But no answer back is forthcoming, and soon, she’s taken all my concentration.
And then, I let myself go.
I hope you enjoyed the story!