Kitchen – Bette – 7:45pm
Waving my potholders at the columns of steam rising from the large pots of boiling water, I warn Joyce. “We need to be careful with this.”
“Already stumped? I knew you were all bluster!” Joyce laughs at me.
“Ah hah! You wish.” I slide a playful sneer in her direction. “Just keep your hundred ready for when you lose, and keep your eyes open for my three-year old.”
Joyce nods, that she’ll be on the lookout for scalded children, then returns to concentrating on perfectly dicing, into pyramidal piles, the cloves of garlic and flat-shaped onions.
She stops her knife in mid air. “When you’re finished letting all the steam escape, Bette put the lids back on the pots, and come over here, and I’ll teach you a thing or two.”
I clank around a little more than necessary, then I lean against the counter.
From hunched over the chopping board, Joyce peers up at me. “You don’t strike me as a cooking class type, who taught you?”
“Self taught, actually. Try feeding a child, and then eating what they ask for. I think Tina must’ve let Ang eat dried raspberry roll-ups, and macaroni and cheese for dinner.” I throw up my hands, exasperated at the thought. “Leaving that trap unsprung – on who’s a better Mother – I bought the best illustrated cookbook I could find.” I emphasize so she’ll think I’m a dummy who needs meal plans and pictures.
Joyce takes the bait. “Self taught. Is that a fact? Just so you know, I’m winning this cookoff. You are so going down.” Joyce smirks her sense of certain victory.
Walking over to the bar to refill my glass, I taunt her back. “You talkin’ kitchen smack at me, Joyce?” We laugh. “Just so you know, Chef Wischnia, I’m getting ahead of you over here on the wine.”
“What’s the reason for it?” Joyce looks across the counter at me, as I set her refill down.
She takes a sip, we both do. It’s perfectly delicious. Soon, we need another. Fetching the bottle, I pour us some more.
“I’m a tiny little bit drunk, Joyce. The reason for it? Reason as analogous to what?”
We leave the hot kitchen for the garden, and standing on my deck, I flashback to my hours in the car to Santa Barbara, and the sound of the fountain in my garden, illuminated by bluer toned lights in the evening, catches my attention.
I remember an enormous splashing water display in the courtyard outside our hotel in Madrid. On the third floor, with a wall of tall windows open, the sudden winds had blown in the curtains, and they’d flown around us like old Spanish ghosts.
Tina had shivered a little in my arms, as we had danced to a tune I’d never heard before, but had instantly loved.
“Should we close them?” Tina had asked about the windows. There was a coming rain in the air. But I’d pressed my mouth against hers and we’d lost ourselves again in an impossible to stop kiss.
Her hips against mine – a slow building burn – her arms around me stroking my neck, then down my back, where she’d stop and scratch me every third time. I’d said, but only barely, because I couldn’t stop my lips from hers, “I want you tonight. Do you feel how much?” And I’d lifted her dress up her thigh, and had slipped my fingers past the strip of elastic that couldn’t hold me back.
“You’re so wet.” I’d panted as I felt inside her, then back around her clitoris again — that made her moan.
“I’ll go anywhere with you, doing this to me.”
I’d felt her tongue slide along mine, as she’d wrapped her leg around me. Sliding my fingers all the way inside, her breath had caught in a moan.
“Oooohhh . . . there you are.”
I’d backed out of her, a thing I knew that drove her crazy, and she’d ground against me. Rolling her lips with mine, in a harder kiss, I’d rimmed the edges of her with my fingers – making her beg me back inside.
She’d moaned again for me, and that was our rhythm. Three beats, three times and then, she’d moved my lips from hers, and opened up her dress giving me her nipple to suck. Her head tilted back, lost in arousal, she’d rocked me back inside her, and had whispered, “Stay. You know how much I want you.”
On my knees, pushing up her dress, I’d thrown her panties over my shoulder, and holding me to her, her legs opening more, I’d licked her in circles, and slipped my tongue inside her licking her deeper — I’d wanted everything.
“God, I can’t stand up any more . . . with what you’re doing to me.”
Falling back on the nearby bed, she’d left herself open and on the edge for me. I’d sucked her clitoris, until it had felt like a hard pearl in my mouth. She had breathed harder, and scratched me behind my neck, as I’d pushed my tongue inside her . . . and had heard another gasp.
She had cried a lovely moan. “I’ll lose my mind with you tonight. You know that.”
Rolling her over on her stomach, we’d made love, as fiercely as animals, letting something wild out. I’d moaned, “God, I love you!” and had pressed my hips, again and again, into her buttocks until she’d screamed, and released rolling orgasms, throbbing against me deep inside.
Finished now, she had stretched out under me, and had whispered, “I love you,” and taking my hands away from her, she’d drawn my arms over her head. Licking down to my hands, still sticky with her sex. “God, Bette, what you do to me.”
We’d looked into each other’s eyes. Hers with flecks of gold, but watery tonight, as if she were on the edge of tears. “I love you, T. So much.” I had said, then kissed her.
“Bette, you should see your eyes, still hunting for something? I’ve given you everything.”
“For the moment.” I had laid my body on top of hers, and licked deep inside her mouth. “We’ll see.”
Her hand had slipped down my belly and found my needing for her. She’d opened her legs to me again, and with no more teasing, I’d slid back inside her. She had let me know with a bite on my neck — take her again.
“Mmmm,” we had said together.
A slick patch of heat and sweat had appeared across our bellies, and moving me up toward her shoulders she’d rolled me over and taken control. “Spread your legs wider,” she’d whispered to me, not letting me answer, I’d felt her probing kiss.
The band downstairs had started up another tune, and the plaintive notes had floated up, as Tina had loved me and fucked me right up to the edge. It was then I’d heard – as I was about to let everything go – the singer’s sad wanting in her song. Tina had coiled around me, and moving back and forth inside me, at that very moment she had made me come with her.
The singer’s wailing need for passion had grown louder, and fast behind my storm of nearly feral need . . . finally . . . gasping at the soaring end of it — a tremendous wave of final release, we’d held each other, and the lover’s song had ended.
The wind had billowed in the curtains, and lying on my shoulder, as I drifted with the coming rain, Tina had told me stories of witches that she knew had lived in the ancestral woods behind her house, when she was very young.
I exhale a long deep breath that releases me from my memory, and walking closer to the water trickling down the granite rocks from la Costa de España, I think one last sweet, sexy thought about España.
“Spain. Such a beautiful country.” I say to Joyce, and she nods – that Spain was indeed very nice. A jet flew overhead, and Shane called from over my fence, “Hey! Bette are you home?”
In her cool drag, ripped jeans, draped with necklaces and a vintage rock and roll t-shirt, Shane appeared out of the shadows. “I didn’t know you had company.”
Joyce drinks her last swallow of wine. “I may be company tonight, but I’m their lawyer.”
“We’re out here having a drink. Tina’s gone to the store.”
Shane looks contrite. “Ah . . . ah, I don’t how to say this, and not interrupt your dinner, but my fucking mother just died.”
“She did what?!”
Shane lets out a long complicated exhale of what, I can only guess, is tinged with more than a little relief. I quickly hand my glass off to Joyce, and give Shane a hug.
We sway for a few moments, and I feel how very skinny she is. Her bones are sharp along her back. “I know. It’s hard.”
Into my neck she finally says, “I feel so guilty.”
“But you went through all those tests, and were going to do it! That’s crazy.”
“Oh . . . you have no fucking idea how many times I almost dialed that transplant number to say, I wasn’t coming.”
“How many times today, for example?”
Shane looks very guilty.
I nod my head. “It’ll be different going back for her funeral, I promise.” And as I say this, Shane has a frightened look.
Behind me in the house, I hear Tina coming in the door. “One more bag, Bette! Can you get it?”
Jogging inside I tap Shane’s arm. “Sorry about your mother. Stay for dinner, we need another judge.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Joyce putting her arm around my friend’s shoulders, and speaking quietly to her, as they follow me inside.
Joyce and I realized that we were a pretty good match-up, and her forcing Tina and Shane to judge the tastings of our culinary prowess, has disappeared.
Tina seems happy there’s a larger, heading toward drunker, impromptu dinner party, but she’s slightly distracted, and I sense her waiting for the right moment to jump in so, I open the door.
“What’s your day been, T? Lots of actors, you know. . . acting?”
It’s then we hear the long strange story of Aaron and his enormous gambling debts and vengeful bookies. “Bette. I’ll lose my job, without a plan. The movie’s a fucking mess with Jenny as the director, and Aaron has lost his mind.”
“Someone has lost their mind.” I arch my eyebrow at her. “Let’s hear it, but first, why not just kill the miserable fucking movie, and be done with it?!”
Joyce clears her throat and pats Tina’s forearm, the lawyer in her. I remember her pats on Tina, when she was brain-washed, and convinced sueing me was some kind of answer. Truly, in my lifetime, who would’ve ever thought gay people would be seeking alimony?
Joyce lays a final pat on Tina. “This could make you both a lot of money.”
“What? Last time we talked – you were waxing on about pre-nups!” I shout back at Joyce.
“Bette!” Tina raises her voice, too. “Who the fuck said anything about pre-nups? I’m talking about taking over Shaolin. It’s my career, we’re discussing!”
I look at Joyce. “You know how much I hate this fucking movie.”
She leans into me. “Tina stands to make a whole lot than more than you, that’s if you stay in the state’s university system.”
That stings. I squint my eyes at them both. Shane leans back in her chair and stretches out her whole length, as if bracing for something.
“Don’t be mad, but Bette we’ll need to wait on the baby . . . just until I’ve gone into distribution . . . maybe a few months after that.”
“So, you’re not really sure?”
“I’m just guessing.”
Joyce slides in. “If the movie does well, I’ll make sure she’s covered.”
“It’s maybe one year, Bette.”
“It’s maybe a few million.” Joyce drums her fingers a few times, waiting on me. “Maybe more, if she’s made Studio Chief, and rights the ship.”
“Shane, lips sealed about my plan.” Tina twists at hers, and throws away a tiny imaginary key.
I press Tina back on the ropes. “Can’t you do anything at all? You say the movie’s a fucking mess. What about changes to the story?”
“Yes! And change their fucking names! Tomorrow!”
“Are those your terms?” Tina asks.
I shoot a quick look at Joyce, who in a micro-flash tells me – Press On!
“Do you even know what you look like after watching the dailies?”
Tina cradles her head in her hands. “Like I could puke?”
“Baby, do you really want this job?”
Tina nods her head, yes.
“And you can’t just kill the movie, and be done with it?”
“The movie IS the job, Bette. No movie, no paycheck, no half of Angelica’s tuition . . .”
“Wait! Now, what was that?” I’m really frowning.
Shane slides her arms across to me, and raps her knuckles on the table. “Let her do it, Bette. Remember when you were out of work, and in your pajamas?”
“I’d like to forget.” I get up from the table, in need of a drink. “I’m opening another bottle, anyone?” Everyone raises their hand.
Shane claps hers down and catches Tina’s attention. “Speaking of jobs . . . my mom died an hour ago. Anyway I can get mine back?”
“Ooof, that’s sad. Are you alright? I mean, you’re here. You’re fine?”
“Shane’s relieved.” I speak for her, now that I’m back at the table with a third bottle. “Also, we have fresh cantaloupe for dessert.” I wave over to the crate from Penny’s estate.
“That’s right. You went up to Santa Barbara today.” Tina picks up the plates to clear the table.
“I did! And I completely forgot!” I jump up , and opening the refrigerator for a bottle of champagne, I shout, “My announcement is . . .” I pop the cork on the bottle. “I picked up a check for twenty million dollars for the Art School’s building fund!”
“You did!” Tina hops into my arms. “Bette! That’s fantastic.”
“Holy Mother of God! Who is this person?” Joyce calls to me from the table.
Reaching up, I take down the champagne flutes. “I’m going to have a fucking hangover tomorrow, and I don’t even care!”
“You say that now, Bette.” Tina pours herself only half a glass. “But in the morning, you’re going to roll over with a big bad headache, and ask me, ‘why didn’t you stop me?'”
I hand off the bottle to Shane to pour, and pick up my phone. “I’m texting Phyllis right now, and telling her she’s not seeing me until noon.”
“You’re determined to get drunk, aren’t you?”
“I haven’t forgotten your decision. But did you hear me?”
TEXT to Phyllis:
P – Drinking champagne toasts to the 20 Mil. Not coming in early. -BP
“Put your phone down, Bette, I get it. Now, we’ll toast you. I’ll start.” Tina clears her throat and lifts her glass to me.
“To the most beautiful woman in my life. You are incredible at everything you try and take on. Anyone would be lucky to have you behind them, like I am, Baby.” She kisses me and strokes my cheek.
I know she’s pleased for me. Then, I begin to wonder – why did she buy those extremely expensive bottles of wine? And I certainly didn’t invite Joyce over. Tonight – it dawns on me – was about Tina’s announcement.
Our glasses clink in merry tones of crystal, and the champagne slipping down my throat is crisp, cold, and delicious. I hold my glass up for my toast, and I scan past their faces. Joyce always with a tie at work, a killer attitude, and a mean streak when it comes to law.
Shane, what a great friend to have – even though she’s periodically in terrible trouble with women – blowing up her shit, or ending up half naked on Sunset Blvd billboards. Yet, as dangerous as she lets things get, and as unwrung and unspooling as her stability can be, I’d want her in my lifeboat. That’s a fact.
Then, there’s my girlfriend. Always pretty and with a smile for people. You meet her, and you feel the sweetness of her personality. I did. I was struck by how open she always felt to me. That, and a willingness to open even more.
“I have a toast,” I announce, and once again our circle lifts their glasses. “To my soon to be wife, I love you. I know I should support you, be one hundred percent behind anything you ask of me, because we’re always going to do that for each other, am I right, T?”
Tina nods her head, and whispers, “Yes.”
“If what you want is this new job, and without a doubt you’ll be great at it, then, you should go for it.”
“I should? I really should, shouldn’t I?”
I put my arm around her and draw her close. “That’s a lot of shoulds. Do you want it or not? You made it all sound so, ‘do or die’ a minute ago.”
“A few things need to happen fast.”
“Any allies over there in management?”
Joyce clears her throat, and draws up to her full height. “I know Linda Zurnich very well.”
Tina’s eyes light up. “Bette, Linda is way at the top of Shaolin Studio Partners, basically, Aaron’s bosses, our Overlords,”
“I get it. She’s important. Do you want Joyce to put in a call?”
“Joyce?” Tina asks, “What would you say to Linda?”
Joyce rubs her chin a few times before she answers. “I’d tell her that you’re willing to step in and fix this mess, so her people and their people will make money. That you know the project, inside and out . . .,” Joyce pauses for my moaning.
“. . . and you have a very sound production plan, and when can she meet with you?” Joyce finishes and looks pleased with her recitation. “And, if you need to meet out of sight, you can use my office. How’s that for tying it up in a bow!”
“Very generous of you, Joyce.”
“Do you want her to do it? I’m not taking this dilemma into the bedroom, or figuring it out with a slamming headache tomorrow. T, ‘the deciding hour’ is upon us.”
Tina bites her lip, but for just an instant. “Bette, I think I want it. Yes, Joyce, please call her.”
Tina leans into me again, and I kiss the top of her head, and hope I don’t regret saying, “It’ll all be fine. We’ll make it work.”
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