The L Word : Behind the Scenes

The L Word Bette Porter Tina Kennard


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Feeling Bound – Tina Kennard

TinaFABulousPortrait

I was raised to want a ring on my finger and to keep it there. It’s unheard of in my family of Virginia and North Carolina cousins for anyone to ever get divorced.  As proof, family marriages have survived a spouse losing all the tobacco crop money in a poker game at the club.  And I do mean all of it.

Does this make my family one of incredibly forgiving people, or is it solely their aversion to the shame they associate with divorce?  I wonder, more than I’d like to, what deep roots and archaic traditions of my upbringing are still buried way, way in the back of my mind.

I’m a wolf in sheep’s clothing whenever I go home to North Carolina, where no one suspects me of being anything other than their happy cousin, living all the way out here in California.  Where I’ve told them I have a job I love.

It’s a tale I’ve spun gladly. I date and go to the beach and from 9 to 5 everyday I work to save the environment, from all kinds of horrible people threatening the food we eat, the very air we breath.

It was so natural, as if running the scales on a piano, how I went from straight to bi to falling in love with Bette.

Is that why I’m still uncomfortable, all these days later, when the topic of bisexuals had entered our conversation with Shane?

“What Tina?  Your wool’s not completely dyed, yet?” Bette had asked, before moving onto another ridiculous topic.  Alice dating vampires.

As if…

So, why am I still in the closet?

I’d like a drink, but it’s too early and I’m riding my bike, getting much needed exercise.  Unsteadily, I turn into the parking lot of a coffee shop.  While locking my bike, I consider calling my cousin Susan or Meredith or my cousin Sam and saying – after the hellos and how’s the crop this year – Guess what?  Ten days ago I had a biracial baby with my lesbian biracial lover.

Then I imagine the line going dead or them taking the first Delta flight out of Raleigh to give me a good old fashioned talking to.  Or worse, trying some kind of Protestant intervention.

All I could withstand, but we’d never speak to each other again.

I push open the door to the cafe and the barista, with rings in her nose and a spike in her tongue – a being so foreign my family would turn heel, run and never order – pours me an iced mocha with a shot of espresso.  Am I hiding out in the land of ’anything goes,’  because for me, it’s more comfortable?

To her credit, Bette has never asked much about them.  Suspecting I guess, they’d be just as awful to her as her father had been to me, and when, she’d finally accepted the fact – that he really was dying – she’d made certain he was going to do it right in front of her.

Taking his last breaths, he’d said his final words, surprisingly to me, “Take care of my baby, Tina.  Take care of her.”  And then he was gone.

Leaving me to wonder how strange it was, living in the gayest part of West Hollywood, that we had these kinds of skeletons in our closet.

I take my phone out, daring myself to call North Carolina, but instead I pay for my coffee and slip my phone back into my purse and lean against a lamp post to people watch.

I know I didn’t come to California to hide who I was, did she?

Arriving here I was a twenty-something blond, who blended in with the millions of others my same age with similar looks.  I had an interest in the environment, as seen by my resume of working for NGOs.  I was single. I paid my taxes on time and I’d never been arrested.  Period.

I was comfortable living behind my mask of vanilla.

Bette, on the other hand, while I was pregnant with our first baby, had been pushed a mile too far down the road by the bigot-in-chief, Faye what’s her name.  It had unspooled itself – their final showdown – in a very public manner, with what felt like loaded pistols pointed at each other’s brains.

Bette’s final punch and the humiliation Faye had shot back, all captured by the glaring lights of television.  Afterwards, she never was the same.  It must feel very differently when the enemy’s blade is right against your throat, but Bette hadn’t choked.

I, on the other hand, had miscarried.

Her heart had broken too that night.  I’d felt it break with mine, while I’d lost my mind on the floor of our bedroom.  Where my howling grief had never caused her to flinch or loosen her hold on me one inch.

She’s changed since Faye tried but failed to do her in.  And after we lost the baby that horrible night, and now, last week when, my God, it felt too close. My life…so faint, as if I were no longer there.  I’m not going to push her to suit up and go back to work. No, not yet, I want her home with me, watching over us.

I’ve loved so many sides of her and now this gentle new one, who paints me and the baby as the most cherished beings on earth.  I want her again,  like that tonight…watching me carefully, waiting to see if I want the tingling feel of my milk flow while she kisses my lips and stirs me into wanting…and I do, slowing my bike, I bounce into our driveway.

I do want hers as the wedding ring on my finger and I want it soon.

Long ago, and I’ve not forgotten the lesson that was imprinted on me forever in a very, very private moment.  After I’d been dating her for six months, she’d invited me on a trip to New York.

My answer had been breezy, while inside I’d set off fireworks.  I’d told her I’d  check with the staff of people I worked with, but taking a few days off…I didn’t think it would be a problem.

That had been a Monday and by Wednesday I was opening the door of a hired town car and we’d whisked off to the airport.

On the way I’d imagined what flying with Bette would be like.  Either she’d be a great adventure planner,  the New Yorker and the Times spread out on our seat trays to decide what we were seeing on Broadway.

Or she might be one of those a too long-legged passengers who bitch and complain about  absolutely everything.

She was neither.

Two First Class seats had solved the leg room issue.  Then champagne that had bubbled somewhere over Utah and she’d threaded her fingers through mine and had announced she was going to close her eyes…for a minute, if that was okay?

Hours later in rough air over Pennsylvania, she’d bounced awake.

Looking over my paperback I’d welcomed her back with a smile.  A moment later, she’d stretched and to my surprise had unbuckled my seat belt.

“Bette! You’ve got to be kidding!” I distinctly remember saying crammed into the small toilet space with her near the front of the airplane.  “I won’t have sex here.”

“Any issues you have with these tight quarters, our suite at the Peninsula will make up for.”  One hand had unsnapped my shirt and the other had  tried to disappear my underwear.

“Or the smell,” I’d said just before she’d kicked closed the airline toilet seat.  Sitting on it she’d pulled me to her.

“I just had the sexiest dream about you, Baby and I have to have a taste.”

It had been rough sounding and I’d resisted, but my mistake had been not leaving.  That move had felt dicey to me, at the beginning of our first trip away.

She’d looked puzzled for about a split second, before the four inches she has on me, make that nearly seven when she’s in heels, which she was that day. She’d stood above me, taking my head in both her hands.

The closeness of her kissing me hard against the bathroom door.  The awareness that this was really happening.  The roaring of the jet engines I’d hoped would hide any sounds of us against the door, almost toppling into sink.

There she’d bent me over and I’d watched myself coming and coming in the mirror.

I may have had boundaries two thousand miles and some six hours ago, but they were becoming a memory, replaced by my first acting lesson in New York.  Pretending nothing was going on under the dinner table.  I’d sipped my wine and I had smiled to myself, especially when she’d whispered, “Move your hand down here and feel me taking you.”

Up in our suite the room service waiter had pushed in a cart with a double-sized piece of chocolate cake and together they’d conferred over a bottle of red wine, before uncorking it.  I’d excused myself to the shower, where she’d joined me with hands that had been soapy and we’d washed and touched each other in anticipation.

We’d stretched out on a couch,  our view overlooking the city.

“You ordered an enormous piece of cake, may I get you some?”  I’d asked.

“It smells good, doesn’t it?”

Returning with the cake,  I’d sliced off a piece and brought it up to her lips, where it had disappeared in an instant.  She’d licked her lips and our eyes had locked.

“Not yet, you and I have more cake to eat.” I remember saying, as I’d fed her another bite to keep her occupied.

“This is nice, Tina.  I’m glad you came.”

“Are you different out of town?  What is going on?”

“More cake, please,” she’d said.

“Okay, are you finished with me?”

“What do you mean?”  she had looked shocked.

“I just…ah, crazy thought,”  I’d stumbled, “that maybe this business of having sex with me in airplanes and under tables in restaurants is some kind  of last thrill fucking trip, because in your mind we’re over.”

“Put the cake away.  We need to talk.”  She’d sat up on the couch.

If I’d learned one thing in the six months I’d been dating her it was during her sensual moods, talking has very little interest to her yet, riled she’d prevailed.

“Why on earth would you think that?  Am I not being a good host to you in New York?”

I’d gone over to the tray with the wine and poured myself half a glass, keeping my back to her.

“Tina, bring me one, too, please and on the way over – do answer me.”

“You’re always going to be like this, aren’t you?  Highly sexed, always waiting to pounce, you can’t be that one dimensional.”

She’d laughed and had taken her wine. “You’re about to talk yourself out of something really fantastic later.”

“You realize you made my point?”

“Do you realize I have no intention of arguing with you?  About what?  That I’m crazy about you and brought you to New York to…well, I was going to wait until fucking later, but…” her voice had grown agitated, “do you want to live with me?”

“Huh?”

“Goddammit!  You’ve got me mad now.”  She’d started pacing the suite, her bathrobe flying open at times, showing me her shaved black patch that went straight down in a perfect black line.

I’d taken a huge swallow of wine realizing it was amazing and probably had cost a small fortune and maybe this suite, the First Class tickets, the entry into the Mile High Club, all were the staging for some kind of proposal.

“Bette the wine is delicious and I’m two things, really stupid and really sorry.”

By then she’d stopped in front of the cake and was fingering the icing, disappearing her long index finger into her mouth.  “Hmm, sorry.  You know Tina, that’s a very underused word between people. I rarely hear anyone ever say it.  Thank you.”

“I am sorry. Bette.  This room is beautiful, dinner with you was,” and I’d begun to laugh,  “fucking  unbelievable. Quite literally.”

A sly smile had flickered, as more chocolate icing had disappeared from the tip of her finger.  Sucking it off she’d looked at me. ”That wasn’t on the menu, but I’m glad you liked it.”

I’d walked past her and into the bedroom of the suite.

She’d followed. “Tina, I’m very high on wine and cake and completely yours for the evening.  To do with me whatever you’d like…I presume you have ideas of your own?”

I’d pulled back the sheets on the bed and tossing my robe away I’d motioned for her to come.  “Bring the wine.”

With two glasses she’d walked to the bed and handed me mine and had fluffed up the pillows.  Lying on her side of the bed, her robe belted closed,  she’d leaned back against the pillows and had taken a long sip.

“God that is fucking good,”  she’d said with a light smack of her lips.

I’d left mine on the bedside table and nude I’d tucked myself under her arm and settled against her.

“A story?” she’d asked, before taking another sip.

“Please.”

“First, a question, so I’ll know my audience.”

I’d laughed.

“Why’d you chose me?”

“How do you figure?  You’re the most unstoppable pursuer.”  I’d untied the knot on her robe and rubbed her belly in the way I knew would make her slowly growl.

The growl had come along with a series of deep sighs.  “I’ve satisfied two of my fantasies today, tell me yours?  I’m your sex slave for the night, let’s say.”

“Oh, hmm, pretend you’re the woman who sat next to me on the plane.  She’s a stranger, but I’ve brought her up to my room.”

“Daring of you.  Do you pick up a lot of strangers?”

“No, just you.”

“I hardly believe you.  But I’m here only for the night and then, I’m gone.”

“Have you ever tied a woman up?”

“Yes, is that what you’d like?”

“So I’m face down.”

“You want a blindfold to go with that?”

“Asked the stranger,”  I’d added, rolling onto my stomach.

Nearby suitcases had unzipped and coming back to bed, I’d felt her hands spread my legs out to each corner of the bed followed by scarves and belts that had held me fast.

“Tight enough?”  She’d asked checking the binding on my ankles and then running her tongue all the way up the inside of my leg.   “Is this your first time?” She’d asked tying my wrists to the bed.

“Yes.”

She’d kneeled behind me and with one arm under my waist she’d raised my hips off the bed and held my wetness against her.  “You’re so ready.”  She rubbed us together.

“You have no idea.”

Her hands had parted me and much more of her than I’d ever felt had come inside.

I’d cried and pulled against the scarves she’d bound around my wrists.

“You can’t get loose.  You wanted it this way.”  Her hand had gripped the back of my neck holding me down, but  inside she’d slowed and my knees had steadied.

“I’m not going to hurt you again, unless you ask for it.”

Raw is how I remember feeling, as I’d braced for being pierced to the other side.  “Not so hard this time.”

Spreading out inside me her knuckles had ribbed against me in growing friction.

“Touch yourself while you fuck me,” I’d said to the stranger.

She’d moaned as her pressure inside me had rolled back and forth and in and out and I’d begun to catch fire and burn.

”Jesus! Fuck!”  My whole body had vibrated and she’d knocked my legs out from under me and lying on top of my back, she’d bitten into my shoulder and fucked me with deep strokes.   A burning like I’d never felt consumed me.  I’d pulled tighter and tighter against the restraints.

”Take yourself there. Quit fighting what you want,” she’d said,  holding me down, as I’d struggled against the thing coiled inside me.  Crying, being leashed to it for so long.  Forever…finally it had snapped and freed itself and had come galloping out of me, taking part of me along with it.

I’d gone too far.

Minutes had passed, as I’d laid bare and spent on the bed, until I’d felt the silk untied from my wrists and the belts loosened around my ankles.

“Did you like that?”

“I don’t think we should do it again.”

“I agree.  I like you better this way, with your arms around me.”  She’d brushed my forehead with her lips. “So, I guess…is this moment to ask? Are you moving in with me?”


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My Last Nerve (25) – Bette Porter, The L Word

Bette & Tina's Remodeled bedroom

Bette and Tina’s Bedroom – Tina

Grief, and its disabling after effects, swim around me in this bedroom. A place where I’ve laid myself bare in ways only Bette will ever know.  Where is she?  Will she ever come home?  I stare across the room at our king-sized bed and collapsing forward, burying my face in Bette’s pillow, I sob into it until I hear the sounds of voices drifting in from the kitchen.

Ten minutes later –

Tina close up Cruise Montego Bay

The Kitchen – Tina

Shane opens the steaming containers of Thai food and fixes me with an worried but stony stare. “Tina,  you’re eating something. Sit down.”

With Angelica bathed and ready for bed, Mary enters the kitchen. “I could eat,” she says as Angelica drops from Mary’s arms and runs toward me.

“Is she still. . .asking?” I whisper to Mary, who shakes her head, no.

“We’re planning a horseback ride on my ranch and soon.” Mary emphasizes. “And after dinner, with no more questions asked, we’re reading “Black Beauty” at bedtime.”

“I love that book!” Kit says, “Maybe I’ll come read it with you?”

“Momma B rides horses!” Angelica barks.

Kit rolls her eyes. “Your Momma B rides mostly on my last nerve.”

“I wish, Kit. . .” Mary says, while setting the table around me, “that I’d met you all sooner.”

“It would’ve changed Bette’s life.”  Kit says as a matter of fact.  “Your “death” changed her.” Her voice becoming a bitter hiss.  “Melvyn.”

“Mary, If she’d known you were still alive. . .”

Kit embraces me and Angelica in a Momma Bear hug. “Always angry, until these two came along.”

“Chopsticks?” Shane breaks the room’s uneasy tension.

Mary clears her throat of emotion. “Fork for me.”

“Horseback riding!”  Angela says gleefully, as we take our places around the table.

Kit and Shane place bowls of soupy noodles and fried rice around the table.  Leaning across to Bette’s mother she asks, “Mary, has anyone told you that Bette wears the boots you gave her every single day”

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

Suddenly, there’s a rapid knock on the front door then, it flies open.  Alice barges in. “Full confession! I have a crush on Our Enforcer!”

Mary turns toward Alice. “You mean, Simone?”

Alice answers dreamily, “See moan.”

“Oh! Good Lord! Again!?” Kit shouts.

I push over a plate for her to join us. “Alice, you’re hardly serious enough for her.”

“That’s what you think she wants?” Alice shakes her head – not a chance. “That’s not it at all. She wants a sub. Plain and simple.”

simone red dress black chair

Mary looks mystified.  “She believes Bette’s offshore?”

Shane nudges Mary away from Alice’s S&M fantasy. “I rode horses when I lived in Texas.”

“Simone’s coming to the Labor Rights Rally.” Alice shutters pleasurably. “We need the muscle.”

I sigh, and wish Bette were here, amused by this.  Then, I wonder — what rally?

Kit douses her food with the Thai restaurant’s notorious hot sauce.  “That plan I like, cuz ‘dis bid’ness with the SheBar bitches is ’bout to get serious.”

Shane looks back and forth between me and Kit. “But that’s the point, isn’t it?”

“The point is finding Bette!  What’d I miss?”

Everyone stops eating for a moment and stares at me.

Kit explains, “Penny’s bringing her cantaloupe workers to the Labor Rights rally.  We’re protesting the SheBar bitches exploitin’ immigrant workers.”

“In Spanish?” I ask, trying to catch the new thread.

Alice bridge story

“Hmm,” Alice thinks before answering. “Does it matter?”

“Isn’t Simone’s focus supposed to be on finding…”

Mary cuts me off and points to Angelica sitting in my lap. “Soon as there’s a school break she’s coming to New Mexico to ride horses.”

“Comin’ to Mexico!” My child shouts.

“How many more hints can I possibly drop!?!  I want an invitation to Santa Fe!”

“I’m having a party before their wedding.  Of course, you’ll be there.”

Again, the table grows silent.

After a few moments, Kit says, “Surprise her when she gets home, Tina.”

“I know, I should set the date.”

Tears fall down my face, and taking my hands in hers Kit searches my eyes. “She’s coming home to you, Tina, and when she does, you should inject her with a tracking chip, like the dogs have. We’ll all feel better the minute she has one.”

homeless couple under bridge

Under the Bridge – Bette

In the thirty minutes since escaping, a plan has emerged for my survival. Put as much real estate between me and the SheBeast as I can, and two, whenever possible, stay in the shadows, and three, make it to the bridge – alive.

After walking nearly a mile, we approach the homeless encampment, and the woman slows her squeaking grocery cart. “I’ll vouch for you, as much as my word’s worth anything, but they don’t let just anyone in, especially after dark.”

“What’d you say your name was?”

“I didn’t, but it’s Danielle.”

“Danielle, I’ve got this,” I assure her.  And with one cowboot on and my other one missing, I limp past the gauntlet of bearded men at the entrance and enter the homeless camp, as if I belong.

homeless reading in tent

In the semi darkness, I thread my way past wood and twisted metal makeshift shelters that are straight out of a Jodi Lerner sculpture.  A baby cries nearby, a mother sings a lullaby, and the unsettling feeling of my nightmare breaks when Danielle stops near a woman reading in her tent.

She points to a faded piece of red carpet. “This is us. Make yourself comfortable.”

Sensing the irony, I ease my bruised body down on the rug covered concrete. “How long’ve you been here?”

“Under this bridge, three months.”

“Before that?”

“Down San Diego way.”

“How many miles to West Hollywood?”

“Maybe fifteen.”

“Eleven point three.”  The woman in the tent looks up from her book.

Mixed with the thrumming sound of cars passing across the bridge, I hear the muffled roar of jet engines overhead.  “And LAX is. . .?”

The woman in the tent points off to the right. “Three miles that way.”

Twinkie

Danielle tosses me a package of Hostess Twinkies. “Have you eaten?”

Tearing open the cellophane with my teeth, I imagine my three mile walk tomorrow to the Inglewood Mercedes dealership where – right after I call Tina and let her know I’m still alive – I’m phoning my banker and driving away in a misty silver Roadster, exactly like the one I’d envied speeding past me recently on the PCH.

Another wolfing bite and my entire Twinkie is gone. I lick the last of the sugar from my fingers. “I owe you dinner and more. How about supper at my place tomorrow?”

She sends me a disbelieving look. “You cook? But. . .”  she yawns out the distance in her answer, “. . .e l e v e n  m i l e s?”

“Eleven point three,” I correct.  “But once we hit Inglewood, I’m getting us a ride.”

Denbo pissed

The SheBar – Denbo

Slamming shut tomorrow’s run of show folder, eight by ten photos of swimsuit models sail toward the kidnappers.  “What the fuck you do you mean Porter’s gone!?!  She was tied to a chair! You were guarding her 24/7!  So, how the fuck. . .?”

“We’ve brought in more men tonight to find her, but it’s a desolate area,” Perez answers.  “Lots of places to hide.”

My Girlfriend Cindy states the obvious. “Which is why she was there in the first place!”

I pound my fists on the table. “You drugged her to capture her!  Why not keep her that way, until this was all over?”

Perez looks at a beastly pierced and tattooed woman, who’s straight out of an addict’s DT nightmare.  Coldly, they stare back at me.  Unapologetic and unblinking.

bikini close up ocean background

Miami!  Full of party girls spending Daddy’s ill gotten money. I wish I’d never left!

With a barely controllable rage, my eyes lock with the beastly tattooed woman’s still glued on me. “Once you find her, you’ll get your fucking money.” I slam my fist on the table again. “I need Bette Porter out of the picture, and her sister freaked out until tomorrow night. Not before!”

fake dr perez shebar

With stirrings of hatred, Perez glares back at me. “We know the men you owe. Never forget that. You pay us for the job, you pay us when we tell you to pay us, or worse things – for you – begin to happen.”

I don’t flinch. “You’re right, Perez, word will get back to people we both know – that you lost a fucking Art professor!”

My Girlfriend Cindy adds, “Until Dinah Shore’s LA venue goes to the SheBar, not The Planet, they’ll be hell to pay, but not to you.”

I dismiss my villainous brood. “Now, get the fuck out of my bar and go find her.”

Tina gesturing INDOORS lking up

7 am the next morning – Tina

I open the medicine cabinet and take out the Xanax I keep only for earthquakes, because all around me – it feels likes one. I gulp down the pill and surrender to Big Pharma. I’m done snapping at my daughter who keeps asking – The Question of the Hour –  which is why I need a tranquilizer, that I wish were the same as swallowing a clue, that I don’t have – along with any idea about when Bette is coming home – I just know: She must.

All that, and three urgent phone calls I must make before 8 am.

Then, a text hits my iPhone.

From Simone –

I’m at your front door.

This stops me in my tracks. I didn’t hear a thing. No car, no footsteps, no sound of her approaching. I peek through the spyhole, and see her holding a paper sack, but also looking gorgeous and mysterious, whereas I look and feel like a wreck.

I yank open the door.  “Good morning.”

Simone replacement Front Door Rescue story

“I figured it out!” Simone dumps the contents of mostly paper and spent matchbooks on the table.  Quickly, she divides them into piles.  Nearby, Angelica plays with her cereal.

At the table, I hold my breath.

Mary comes in wearing Bette’s bathrobe.

I pace back and forth in the kitchen. “How long is this going to take? What’ve you found?”

“Kit gave these bits and pieces of the SheBar’s trash to Joyce – Tuesday, when Bette was taken, but nobody knew it then.”

Mary leans over the receipts, studying them closely. “I’ve got to see this place, before we burn it down.”

“That might be weird.” My voice drifts, as I walk outside. I dial Joyce’s cell phone. It’s 7 am.

She answers on the second ring. “Any news?”

“Maybe onto something.  Did you call Linda Zurnich. . .about my taking over as studio chief?”

“Fuck! I forgot! With everything. . .”

“I know, believe me, I know, but tomorrow’s Friday.”

“I’ll do it and call you back.” Joyce’s line goes dead.

I dial my friend at Paramount, who plays tennis with Shaolin’s top guy.  “Marcus, Tina Kennard, I know it’s early, but you have children.”

“You’re not kidding. Twins and teenagers.  I hope you’re calling about an early drink. Like around ten?”

I smile despite myself. “The movie I’m producing, have you heard about it? Our chief’s in trouble.”

“And you want his job?”

“I would be better at it, and production would be seamless.”

“But only if they hire inside.” Marcus puts two and two together. “I like you for it.  I’ll make some calls.”

receipts from trash

Back inside the kitchen –

I stare down at my table stacked with sticky shopping receipts. Simone taps under the dingy pile in the center. “A gas station near the airport. Twice, in the last week, they’ve filled up there.” Then, Simone gives up a satisfied smile. “This bigger pile is from a Mexican place, three miles from LAX.”

“They’re operating somewhere right in that circle.” Mary agrees.

I grab my purse.  “I’m ready!”

“Wait!” Mary points toward Angelica, and her half-eaten bowl of cereal. “I’m coming to!”

“My car has a baby seat.” I toss Simone the keys.

In five seconds, foggy from Xanax, now shot through with adrenaline – with Mary wearing Bette’s blue bathrobe, and Angelica trailing in her bib – the four of us are out the door.

corner store rescue site

An hour later –

Industrial area near LAX – Tina

After driving around blighted neighborhoods for an hour, it dawns on me how ill prepared I am for danger, and shockingly, that I’ve brought my child along for the ride. From the back seat I call to the front, “Is it possible to make a carseat bullet proof?”

“You really should’ve thought of that.  Like an hour ago.”  Simone reminds me, from behind the wheel.

“Pull over. This is the first habitable place we’ve seen for miles. I need coffee and cigarettes.”  Mary waves us over toward the curb, when the door to the food mart swings open, and a homeless woman waving a sign runs in front of our car.

“Look out!” Mary braces her hand on the dash. Simone slams on the brakes, and next to me – with an ear piercing squeal – Angelica screams, “Eeeeeeeeeee!”

My head whacks against Simone’s seat in front of me, and out of my right ear I cannot hear a fucking thing.

The homeless woman’s sign scratches slowly across my window, then drops out of sight.

“Did we hit her? I cry from the backseat.

“Jesus! Is she under the car?” Mary asks.

Followed by shouting – that even mostly deaf I recognize.  “Watch where you’re going!” A pissed off Bette barges out of the store, and skidding to a stop – on one boot – she lands with her hands planted on my window.

“Tina? Mother? Is that my bathrobe?”

I leap from the car and into Bette’s arms. Simone helps the woman with the sign up from the pavement.  Mary lights a cigarette and exhales – exhausted.

“How the fuck did you find me? I’m still not sure where I am.”

“The airport’s that way.” Dusting herself off the homeless woman points east.  “Don’t you remember?”

“She saved my life.  You wanna come with us?  Get some breakfast? Get a shower?”

“Get a job?” The Homeless Woman suggests.

“Absolutely!” I offer her.  “We’ll definitely find you something.”

After another kiss with Bette, I lick my lips.  “Babe, have you been drinking?”

“Just a little eye-opener.” She points to her swollen socket.  “Did it work?”

Angelica fusses inside the car, calling Bette’s name.

“Oh my God! You brought the baby!” She picks up Angelica.

Simone’s arms wave us toward the Lexus. “Everyone back inside.  Time to go.”

“We haven’t met, but thank you.  I guess, you know who I am.”

“I do,” Simone says, while gently touching Bette’s eye.  “I have a cream for that swelling.”

“On you? I could really use it.” Bette wedges in the backseat with Angelica, followed by me, and the Homeless Woman.

“T, how much was my ransom?”

No one in the car says a word.

Then, Mary turns around in her seat and takes Bette’s hand. “You see dear, it never was about you.”

“Really?  You could have fooled me, Mother! It got very personal.”

Flicking her rearview mirror, Simone shoots a quick look to the back.  “We’re ninety percent sure this leads back to the SheBar.”

For an instant, Bette’s mouth drops open, then her jaw clenches shut. “The SheBar bitches?” She hisses.

Mary fixes her with concern. “How bad was it? Scale of one to ten.  Ten being excruciating.”

The car hits a bump and we all jostle together.  Bette plays with Angelica’s small hand in hers. “I can see why that matters, Mother, especially to you.”

“Just call out a number.  Simone and I need to hear it.”

“Give me the eye cream. I want in on what you’re planning.”  Bette demands.

“Just a minute!” I shout.  “Bette, you’re either going home, or to the vet.”

“What?” She looks at me, as if I’ve lost my mind. “You mean the doctor?”

“Here for your eye.” Simone hands over a silver dollar sized container.  “Won’t help though, if your retina’s detached.”

“Oh God! Bette, can you see? Are you blind? Where were you anyway?” I thread my hands through her hair, and pull her close to me.  “Have you slept? Have you eaten? Are you hurt?  I can put the vet off, until tomorrow.”

Bette frowns, then checks my forehead for a fever. “Are you alright?”

“Oh Babe, just barely.”

“And the coup at the studio? Have you pulled that off?”

Quickly, I glance at my watch. It’s eight-thirty. “After I get you settled, I have things I must do.”

Bette leans into the front seat between Simone and Mary.  “Mother, they know I’ve escaped.  I’ve put Tina and Angelica in danger, haven’t I?”

“I’m Danielle, and I’ve worked at a small town newspaper, and in an eye doctor’s office, too.”

Mary holds out her hand to her.  “Danielle, forgive us. We’re excited she’s home.”

“Let’s do resumes after pancakes. Can we start there?” Bette suggests.

Simone warns. “We can’t go anywhere near The Planet. Denbo will have eyes in there. Especially now.”

“Let’s play what they think they know back on ’em.” Mary schemes.

“A misinformation campaign. Good thinking, but can I go home?”  Bette lets out a yawn.

“No. I’m taking you to a safe house.  Danielle, you’re going with Mary.”

“As soon as I get out of Bette’s bathrobe, dear.”

“Tina, you show up at work, look distressed, pretend none of this is over.”

“I promise I won’t tell a soul.” Danielle volunteers.

“I had to get out of there.  I just had to.” Then, with a heavy sigh, Bette closes her eyes, and in ten seconds she’s sound asleep against my shoulder.

Billy with blonde hair

The Planet – Billy

I loved Kit Porter the first time I ever saw her do a number on stage, and from that moment forward, we’ve grown together and apart so many times, we know all the dance steps from Hell to addiction and back again. But today, I’m sober, taking one hour at a time, and along with being a bipolar evil genius – it’s just another sunny day in West Hollywood, when Kit walks in with bags under her eyes.

“You look like a meat truck hit you,” I tell her.

“Don’t start with me, Billy!”

“Sit down, I’ll be nice. Have some coffee.”

“Is this immigrant demonstration going to work?”

“Oh, it’ll work alright. By the way, that Claire is a genius. Where’d you find her?”

“The Clintons.”

“Well, we know how that turned out.”

“Again, don’t start with me. You know I love me some Hill and Bill.”

“I’m more of a Nader-man, flying the flag of Lost Causes.”

Helena walks in dressed for a safari. I pull a chair out for her. “Where’ve you been?”

“In the bush. . .figuratively and literally.” She smiles.

Kit puts her head in her hands. “Please don’t tell me.”

“I’m all ears,” I say to Helena, then Kit moans some more. “Sister, pull it together.  Here’s what I know.  I’ve ordered you a Food Truck for outside. Beans and rice, and pork “surprise” – I’m a Jew, I don’t get into that – but the cantaloupe people stay out there, after the rally.”

“No, we’re not segregating people!”

Helena calls to a passing waiter. “May I have a pot of tea?” Then, to me. “I heard your messages, is she still missing?”

“No time for that!” Billy slices his hand between us. “Salsa, calypso, and cantaloupes – all stay outside.”

“I’m too tired to fight with you, Billy.”

“Me, too, I’ve very jet-lagged.”  Helena sympathizes, in that way she has of missing everyone else’s apparent pain.

“In here,” I whisper with anticipation, spreading out my arms and setting the scene for tonight, “is where the signature moment that defines The Planet to Dinah Shore and to the world happens! The candlelight vigil for missing women and children.”

“You’re telling me, I just do my hair and show up?”

“I’ve planned it perfectly. Down to the Kleenex with aloe.”

“How much is this costing me?”

“Forty percent of net.”

“Fifteen.”

“You’ve got to be kidding! Thirty-eight.”

“Twenty.”

“Thirty?”

“No!”

“Twenty-two! Final offer, Kit, or I’m walking!”

“Done.”

Helena looks up from her phone. “Glad that’s bloody over. Now, how’s Tina?”

“Unlike me,” Kit groans, “she’s lost ten pounds.”

Five hours later –

Alice_Lesbo Land

The Planet – Alice

Max, my transgendering cameraman, who washed up in our midst drug here by Jenny, back when Max was a lesbian – I’m still not clear on all that – but the point is – Max is moody today, of all days, and I suspect hormones. A woman with a full beard doesn’t just get that way without consequences.

Finally, he focuses the camera for my live podcast and says, “Rolling.”

“It’s four o’clock, Lesbians!  Time to roll out of bed, and walk the dog, and get over to the rally at The SheBar, where our super hot Latino friends are demonstrating for fair treatment and equal pay!”

“Now! Some of you may like fair treatment, and many of you may like it rough, but first, you have to get here to enjoy it!”

SheBar sign

Max cuts to the SheBar graphic.

Wrapping up my live segment, he’s back to me. “The excitement is in the streets this afternoon people, and tonight at The Planet, with an open bar during the candlelight vigil for Missing Women and Children – featuring special musical guests – and The Planet’s very own Kit Porter!”

“A question to think about, until I see you lesbians later, who doesn’t look better in candlelight after a few drinks?”

Followed by a brief pause. “Everyone! This is Alice in LesboLand signing off with a kiss!”

The red recording light on the camera goes out, and Max fiddles with our equipment. “The kiss bit was new,” he monotones.

I unhook the microphone from my blouse. “That was for Simone!”

He laughs in disbelief. “You think she listens to your show?”

As the whooshing sound of my text to her flies into the ethers, I wave my iPhone at him. “She does now that she has the link.”

To Be Continued —

If you enjoyed this story, please give me a little tip here at paypal.me/blackbirdwrites.  For $3.00 you’ll be buying me a cup of coffee, $7 is a cold drink I’ll enjoy and $10 and up is dinner.  A comment back from you I’d love, too.

 

Just joining the story? Here’s the first in this series – “Whereabouts Unknown” http://bit.ly/WhereaboutsUnknown, followed by, “Hotel California” http://bit.ly/BetteHotelCalifornia, then, “Ensnared by Guilt”  http://bit.ly/ensnared and now you’re up to date.


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Whereabouts Unknown #22 Touch Tones

Bette Alarmed on Land Line Phone

Bette’s House – Bette

It wasn’t that I physically could not get out of bed this morning – when my alarm first went off at seven – it was more that Tina was babying me after yesterday. Letting me know – I’d done a lot of heavy emotional lifting lately, and if I’d wanted an extra half hour to sleep, by all means — take it.

With that tactic encouragement, I’d smacked the top of my alarm clock to not bother me again, dug myself down into a well of soft pillows, and fallen back to sleep.

The phone’s ringing had awakened me, and reaching for it I see the time. What?!  Nine- the-fuck-o’clock!  Now, I’m late for everything.  My hand knocks the landline from its cradle – a clattering of everything against itself on my bedside table begins.

Diving down onto the floor for the ringing phone, I wonder why on earth Tina left without telling me?  Aggravated, I snap at the caller. “Yes! Hello?! Bette Porter speaking.”

A Hispanic woman’s voice, rough but sexy says, “This is Doctor Sophia Perez. Your daughter, Angelica’s in my infirmary.”

“I’m on my way. I can be there in thirty minutes. Is she alright? Is she hurt? What happened?” All the while leaping around my bedroom for clothes to put on.

“Mostly, Ms. Porter, she just needs her mother. Her wrist’s had a bad sprain, and she should come home for the day.”

“Of course!” Backing out of my driveway, I realize I’m talking to the school on my landline. Shit! Should I stop? Go back inside?  “Dr. Perez, I’m going to lose reception any minute.”  Frantically, I paw through my purse. Don’t tell me I left my cell phone. . .

“Angelica’s arm will need to elevated. We’ll go over the. . .” Then, the line goes dead.

Tina Movie scripts

Shaolin Studio – Tina

My meeting with Claire, my hired gun PR whiz and her network of not so above board spies, is going well.  Aaron’s demise is certain, her sources say he’s ruined – as well as being kneecapped by the Bookie’s Enforcer – come this Friday.

Claire drops a stack of dossiers on my desk she’s put together for me. “How’s your rock ’em sock ’em management proposal coming?  You’ll be ready to pounce, won’t you?”

“Good. It’s getting solid. I’ll work on it more tonight. Way too busy today.” I slide behind my desk.

“You know, I almost didn’t go into Crisis Management with my father. My big dream in school?  Was cleaning up the oceans.”

I flip through the dossiers of the studio execs far above me in the Food Chain, and draw her back to our task at hand. “LA’s swimming with big nasty fish, you should feel right at home.”

“I take your point.”

“You’re a Fixer, Claire, and a very good one. If I didn’t have ten important calls to make before eleven, I’d lock myself in an empty production trailer, and devour these dossiers like M&Ms.”

“I won’t spoil your fun, then.  If pressure needs to be applied –  the dirt’s in there.”

Engrossed in dirty secrets, I barely look up.  “I prefer the word: Innuendo.”

“Innuendo, leverage . . .persuasion, pressure, I believe you’ll get promoted without them.”

“The first rule of winning? And I learned this from my father during his days in southern politics – never go into battle without great intel.”

“Smart man.” Claire stands up to leave.  “One last thing.  Friday night.”

“What about it?” I ask.

“Don’t appear too overly happy, after poor Aaron’s dragged away.”

“I suppose you’re right. We’ll do something at home.  You’ll come?”

“Let me plan a small party. Hors d’oeuvres, drinks, some place nice to toast you in as new chief.”

“But with low visibility, sounds perfect! Bette and I would love something like that.”

Shane good portrait Green background

Soundstage – Shane

Nikki, the star of the movie, has been cruising me all morning, and I’m so not going there. I’ve got other girl trouble, a stalker I’ve picked up called, Molly.

I screw around on my phone for a while looking up what the real name Molly’s a nickname for. I’m stalling really. I need to call the morgue back in Dallas, and tell them what to do with my mother’s body. Yesterday, I didn’t know the answer, and I don’t know the answer today.

Do I cremate her and bring her back to sit in a box on the floor of my closet to feel uneasy about whenever I’m reaching in for my shoes? Or do I bury her in a graveyard by a church near where she grew up, out on the west Texas plains?

I’m barely thirty, and I’m fucked.  For the little money I make, I’m overspent.  What I need is a sugar mamma. Someone’s gold card to pay for my mom’s funeral, but that’s not what sugar mammas like to buy me.

A gaffer walks by and looks too sniffly for the dry weather we’ve been having. Cocaine? Now, that has a certain irony to it. Me selling drugs to pay for my drug addicted mother’s funeral.

The beginning of a plan. I keep thinking.

Kit_listening

The Planet – Kit

Lunchtime in this place is always a mad house, no less chaos than a Friday night, but still lots of fussy people to feed, and no matter how many times I say it – Goat cheese stinks. I don’t know why you want that shit on your salads – eat some Feta, and get over it. I’m not putting that crap on the menu.

A striking East Indian woman walks over to me. “Hello, Kit. I’m meeting Bette here for lunch. Have you seen her?”

“Not yet.  Have we met?”

Penny verticle black jacket

“Kit! You don’t remember me? Do you?”

“Wait a minute. Step back and let me get a better look.”

Penny steps a pace back, and patiently waits. “You came up to hear me sing one time in Boston with her, didn’t you?”

“That’s me!  We were just remembering those days when I saw her in Santa Barbara recently.”

“So, that was you!”

“Now, here in the flesh, where is she? I’ve been calling her phone.” Penny dials Bette’s number again, and it rings and rings.  “See no answer. Goes straight to voicemail.”

“Eating, I promise you, is something she hates to miss.  Let me get a friend of hers on the line, see what’s going on.”

hands bound by rope

Somewhere the fuck –

The back of my head hurts, pounds really, and it feels like my skull’s been cracked open. I know I’ve been bleeding, maybe still am. I struggle with the ropes that have bound my hands behind me. No luck there. I twist my neck to look around the gloomy room where I’m somebody’s prisoner, and drops of blood splatter on the scarred wooden floor.

“Ackcht!” I try to spit out the bitter taste in my mouth. Drugged. That’s how they must’ve taken me, but why? I’m not someone you kidnap for money. Goddammit! I’m not someone you kidnap, period!

“Hey! Motherfucker! I know someone’s watching me! If you’ve got my daughter, if you’ve done anything to her I will fucking kill you!” I scream at the walls. “I will fucking kill you! I will fucking kill you! I will fucking kill you!”

A key turns in a lock, and a rough looking Hispanic man circles me tied to a chair.  “No one’s dying today, señorita. Not me, not you.” Then, he leers at me, “Well, maybe you, so shut the fuck up.”

“What’d you want from me? There’s no ransom for a fucking college dean! And goddammit, where’s my child?”

penelope cruz Dr Perez

A woman enters the room. “Do I look like a doctor?” It’s the same voice from earlier.

Squinting my eyes at her suspiciously, I make up my mind – at least on that point – she’s telling me truth. “Your call was a ruse? You were never at her school?”

The woman blows out a long stream of smoke, and says nothing – further infuriating me.  I struggle mightly against my ropes. “I don’t suppose you’d prove that to me?”

“Twist in the wind and rub your wrists raw.  You’re not going anywhere, any time soon.”  Her power over me complete, she turns to leave.

The ugly man grins at me, his gold tooth incisor glistens with saliva.  The woman beats against a metal door and shouts, “Llevar agua para la mujer prisionera!”

I glare at her with the full force of my hatred. “Wait a minute! Don’t you fucking leave me in here!”  But they lock the door behind them without saying another word.

Jenny Tina in conference room

Shaolin Conference Room – Tina

Jenny is losing her mind, and very nearly hysterical over the changes I’m suggesting we make for tomorrow’s shooting script. Aaron, who either knows I know, or is so preoccupied with his own misery he’s siding with Jenny just so her shrillness will die down, ramps up again, and I put my ideas back on the table, as The Plan.

Next to my elbow my phone keeps flashing calls coming in from Kit. After the sixth one, and with my key points all agreed to – I duck out of the conference room.

“What’s up? And can it possibly wait?”

“My sister’s missing her lunch date, with the big donor. You know where she is?”

“Oh God! I left her asleep.” I glance at my watch. “But Kit, there’s no way she’d still be out.”

“You mind if I go over there? After this lunch crowd thins out, I think I’ll go over there.”

“She was getting Angelica at three, taking her back to CU with her, and then over to the park.”

“I’ll cover, if need be, Tina.  I betcha she’s in the pool, and forgot all about lunch with her friend.”

But both of us know – that doesn’t sound right at all.

Joyce her office

Joyce’s Office – Kit

“It’s an annoying habit of your family’s to come in here repeatedly trying to stump me.”  Joyce wags her finger at me, before taking another perfect shot with her ping pong ball at the ovary fabric art on her wall.

“How’d you do that? Glue on them, or something?”

Joyce ignores me.  “Everyone of you confuses my powers with the police. I can’t lock up the SheBar’s owners up, and keep them from harassing you!”

“Trust me, this ain’t no police thing.”

“Okay, then, how’s it escalating? I’m listening. That I can do.”

“Saturday night my power kept getting cut off.  Try live music with that kinda shit going on.”

“Right, we know it’s harassment.  What else?”

“Same kind of stuff.  All my garbage bins are jammed full of crap that ain’t mine, and ‘course, they’re trying to run me outa business, and killing me with sumthin’ called – Internet Banner Ads.”

“So business was good, now it’s not. That’s gotta be tough, but do eyewitnesses tell you most of your business has gone down the street?”

“Joyce, you know I’ve got loyal customers!  I’m not losing all them to a pinked-up new place like the SheBar, but it’s Wednesday and Friday and Saturday nights – that’s when they’re killing me! Hot Oil wrestling contests and gimmicks like – ‘Drink for Free All Night! If your name is Heather.”

“Oh God!  The rise of The Heathers!  Seeded during years of drug addled wife-swapping orgies!”  Joyce begins to laugh. “Not an auspicious start, but nevertheless, the origins of the Beverly Hills blonde plague known as, The Heathers.”

I’m not sure what being fucked on coke twenty years ago has to do with my SheBar problems right now, but having neared the end of my rope, I pick up a paper sack from the floor next to my feet.

Dropping the crumpled brown bag on her desk, I give her my last bit of news. “This’s all I’ve got. I did what you asked. Sent my dishwasher going through their trash for whatever he could find. It’s all in there.”

“I’ll make sure my PI gets it.” Joyce presses her intercom.  “Is Simone still here?  If she is, tell her to see me before my four o’clock.”

“Look, I gotta go get my niece from preschool.  Bette’s AWOL today. No one can find her.”

“You want me to call Phyllis?  She can be hard to get on the line during the day, but I can insist.  They’ll put me through.”

“You know I’m sure Tina’s tried calling James.  I don’t want to get Bette in trouble.”

“Are you kidding? You heard about the big donation she just reeled in, right?  Twenty million dollars!”

“Go on, I guess, but I don’t think she ever made it into the office.”

strange tattooed woman

Whereabouts Unknown – Bette

The room I’m held captive in suddenly turns a blazing white, and gratingly loud metal music blares from speakers I’d never noticed above me. I squeeze my eyes shut and wish they were my ears, when a hard black leather boot belonging to a freakish looking tattooed woman kicks me.

“What the fuck do you want?” I snarl at the strange she-beast, looking every bit of muscle as strong as me.

She slaps me hard across my face.  No, she’s real, they haven’t drugged me again – yet.  “Good someone else to talk some sense into. So, I’m telling you – like I told the others – show me my daughter, un-fucking-tie me, and let me go!”

“You keep thinking this is a negotiation.”  She smacks me with the back of her hand, but not as hard.

I spit blood out of my mouth, and wish for a gun that I don’t own.  “You seem to want to fight.  Untie me then, and let’s do it!”

“No.  I just like hitting you.”

“What is that you want?”  I scream over the music that continues to blast.  “My fucking PIN number? Ever since I got here, it’s just been one fucking asshole after the . . .”

She draws her hand back poised to slap me. “You were saying?”

“. . . but you strike me as someone different.” But she hits me again.  A smarting whack that proves me wrong.

The longer she beats me, the more my jaw aches and my nose bleeds and my last blurry thoughts – before she knocks me unconscious.

Will I ever see them?  Ever, ever, ever again?

Tina verticle arguing Brazil

Bette and Tina’s House – Tina

Six hours later –

Kit and Angelica had come home right after school, and since that time we’ve turned my house upside down looking for clues. Bette’s cell phone we’d found on her bedside table, and the calls she’s received were from James, over and over, then Penny and Kit, and finally the hundred – growing more and more frantic – ones from me.

I’d made Angelica a bowl of cereal for dinner, and Kit and I are picking at a plate of cheese and crackers, but I can’t tell you what it tastes like.

My desire is for the strong taste of Scotch, and for the door to fly open suddenly, and Bette – perfectly fine –  spilling out a wild story, and everything turning out alright; but as the hours wear on and on, nothing like that seems very likely to happen.

A hard lump in my throat, makes it impossible for me to swallow.  I will forgive you for being late for the rest of your life, if you’ll just burst through that door!

Turning away from my daughter and Kit at the table, I put the milk back in the refrigerator and stare blankly inside it. Wanting nothing but answers, wanting her to come back home.

Wanting. . .my cell phone rings jarring me back. “The police,” I mouth to Kit. “They’ve found Bette’s car.” Then, I hear strange, unsettling news. It’s been wrecked and set on fire in East L A.

Kit’s face falls at the news, but her eyes stays glued to me for anything more. Writing the address of a crime riddled part of LA I push the paper over for her to read. “No signs of her – anywhere.” I’d written below the scribbled location.

The officer drones on about police procedure, and crime scene teams examining the car for evidence – once the flames have died down.

Hearing that grim description, I hand the phone to Kit, who’s now a permanent fixture at my kitchen table, worrying about Bette just as much as I am.   “Kit, listen to the rest of it.”  I pick up my keys and head for the door.  “I’ve got to go look for her.”

Two hours later –

This is the third Emergency Room I’ve searched, and still no sign. I’m exhausted and edging toward desperation.

Helena calls. “We’ve finished the Doc in the Boxes over this way.  Any news on your end?”

“I’m waiting on the detectives possibly sharing street camera footage with me.  Any news from them, takes incredibly long!”

“I have zero cred with the police to speed things up.” Helena confesses.

“Kit’s got some people she knows on the force. She’s been reaching out to them. No word, yet.”

“Alice wants to talk to you.”

Sneaking one more look behind another ER patient’s curtain, in a part of the hospital I’m certain I’m not supposed to be in – my heart starts its sinking feeling again.  I’m completely out of ideas.

Alice comes on the call. “What happened to her yesterday that made her so upset? The thing you guys wouldn’t talk about at dinner?” Alice demands.

“Nothing to do with this.”  My voice rises in a frantic pitch, and flies out of control. “Alice, where is she?” I plead.

“Tina?” Alice hears my hysteria.

“I just want to know where she is, Alice.” I begin to cry. “I just really, really need to find her.”

“I know you do.  Let’s keep looking. None of us can sleep. Where should we search next?  Tell us, and we’ll go.”

Rushing out of the doors of the hospital – gulping for air – I pace in front of the idling ambulances. “But she’s not shown up anywhere for help, Alice!  She’s just gone.”

_________________________

If you enjoyed this story, please give me a little tip here at paypal.me/blackbirdwrites.  For $3.00 you’ll be buying me a cup of coffee, $7 is a cold drink I’ll enjoy and $10 and up is dinner.  A comment back from you I’d love, too.

This order of the stories in the unfolding mystery are  #22 “Whereabouts Unknown” http://bit.ly/WhereaboutsUnknown  then to #23 “Hotel California” Hotel California  and #24 “Ensnared by Guilt” Ensnared by Guilt

 

Blackbird


9 Comments

Secrets I Keep – #TheLWord – (19) Touch Tones

Tina_Phone_ArmLifted_MovietrailersStudio City — Tina

Being neurotic in broad daylight takes energy and resolve and a certain focus to keep moving in order to hide it. Falling into a heap – which I’m teetering on doing now, and continually reminding myself to breathe to keep from freaking – means I’m done, means I never was worthy, means I never got my turn to go for The Brass Ring. Means I never make it to the top of . . .

Hollywood sign - clouds

Hollywood.

I pray that’s not me. A washed out one-race-streaker, who’s let horse’s asses – like Jenny, Aaron, and William – fuck me at the starting gate.

I bite my lip, a facial tic I know I have that betrays my lack of confidence. I need more days to maneuver before Aaron gets his knees broken – one by one – by a giant scary man, The Enforcer for The Bookie, who I hear is coming by on Friday.

On my end of grabbing onto Aaron’s woes, I’d like to catch my Studio Chief sneaking money for himself out of the free-flowing catering accounts, or from transpo, or locations. All places I’ve flagged and know to watch . . . but I want someone to ride shotgun with me. A partner to test my strategies, and run my five-steps-ahead-of-the-game theories by.

I need someone borderline crazy, and evilly smart. I need Bette, but I know she’ll never agree.

Helena_HairBackHeadTilt

It might be Helena.

Recently out of Federal custody, and away from exotic fruit plantations, and Dusty, her jailhouse lover — Helena’s very possibly a wise casting choice for my Hollywood Mobster drama.

My mind dials three lovers back, and Helena’s fuck-out-of-doors, in the most barely hidden, and unusual kinds of places, returns to me in a body memory, I blush at remembering.

Leaving Peggy’s hotel suite in San Francisco one night, instead of the spacious rooftop garden – where I thought we were headed – Helena took me to the edges of the bay, then into a park where a labyrinth was glowing threaded through the trees.

labyrinth - Secrets story

In the maze under the cliffs, at first I’d thought I’d be chilled by the breezes coming off the water. The lights surrounding us had flickered and seemed to swim out in all directions.  My dress had disappeared over my head, and my eyes had closed to the possibilities of hidden onlookers, and I’d given myself over to the rolling spasms of my rawest desires.

Those were the months I’d seen Bette as the most perplexed. Her hating me, but fighting for me anyway, had sent Helena into overdrive, and anything I could dream up – even things I didn’t want – were mine, regardless of the hour.

Maybe Bette and I had gotten what we came for, out of the bloodsport of trying to conquer each other willfully, and as painful as it was, living alone now I had sometimes wondered, if the consuming chaos of Helena, and my elliptical trip to another land with Henry, weren’t spotlights on how my loneliness had replaced our intimacy?  How dinnertime had become TV, how bestsellers by my bedside had replaced sex, and that I’d had about all that I could take, when I’d seen the cracks first appearing between her and Jodi.

First, I’d glossed over any offhanded mentions or any gripes that things weren’t going well between them. Next, I’d gathered intel, and Alice had plotted Jodi’s relationships on The Chart, so we could see the names of her exes fanned out around her own.  Those we’d interviewed for clues.

After a few emails, Alice had compiled our notes, and a picture had emerged, along with a timetable that I knew I could exploit.  Jodi’s, set your clock to it wanderlust – always about six months in – had been confirmed by the many women she’d left behind.  By my calculations, the suggestion to keep their relationship open would be ‘Coming Soon’ to a volcano near me, and I’d laughed out loud all the way home — just thinking about it.

Bette Power suit unhappy NEW image

To have been a fly on Bette’s wall, as Jodi’s sign language and hand gestures had insinuated . . . that her necessary infidelities were coming soon . . . and to have seen Bette’s face, as it had dawned on her that Jodi – the also Alpha-lover – by way of signing with her fingers and otherwise,  intended to fuck someone else . . . to this day, I’m still sorry that I missed.

Yet, I’d worried anyway that maybe they did have great chemistry in bed, or that unbeknownst to me Bette had somehow changed, and possessiveness wasn’t her ‘go to’ leach any longer for control. Maybe, they’d get into threesomes to liven things up, and that image had unnerved me.

They were an interesting couple to be sure. They could’ve certainly pulled it off, and drawn in lots of takers for the sex, and the nude skinny dipping in what I’d still thought of – as my and Angelica’s swimming pool.  Their ménage à trois could’ve gone on for years, with Bette having the time of her life, with her tongue that I had wanted back with me.

Nighttime sky spiral

In my own fog of possessiveness, I’d returned to doubting how the many women, coming and going and coming again – but mostly her sharing them all with Jodi – was really possible in the closed universe of her being The Star, and the only one who could ring her lovers far out past the farthest moons of Saturn, before bringing them shivering back to Earth again.

When my haze had lifted, I was able to see this scenario as never working, and I’d consoled myself that she’d never endanger her sexual prowess, but I’d gone to the Gypsy’s house in Hancock Park, and I’d left there with a Love Charm — just to be sure.

It’s not that I wanted Bette returned to me twisted off and wracked with pain and confusion, but that she would be miserable was step four, and step five would be her home with me.  My plotting – alongside her swings from certain to uncertain behavior – had made me trust in my readings with the Gypsy more and more.

Gypsy's Love Charm Spell

When the spell had been cast, and a piece of silk had been wound around the magical ingredients and tightened, to draw in the magnetism I’d been assured still existed, but was yet to come; I’d secreted the Love Charm behind a zipper in her luggage packed for Big Bear, and had waved so-long with utter confidence, as she drove away.

Since then, I’ve wondered more than a few times, if I should tell her about the Gypsy. Let her know – in words – that I’d wanted her back, just as much as she did in the end? Or if I should let it be, and let it go, and let us roll on with my secret kept for a little while longer?

As I walk myself back through my treacherous steps, and how I’d waited for the right combinations of things to appear in my love life, I’m convinced I have the same cunningness for the movie business. My takeover of Shaolin feels imminent, and I need Joyce for a new contract, and me, and everybody else? Needs to have a little faith.

I stop by the studio canteen for an iced latte, and taking a deep breath I call James. When seven had been inked into Bette’s calendar, Joyce’s battle-hardened gatekeeper, Jean, was my next call.

“Joyce Wischnia’s office, Jean Rawlins speaking.”

“Ms. Rawlins, Tina Kennard calling. It’s last minute I know, but is Joyce free for dinner tonight?”

“Oh, let’s see Tina. She doesn’t tell me everything.” I hear Jean tapping keys, and I have a hard time believing she’s in the dark – for even one minute – when it comes to Joyce’s billable time. “What did you have in mind?”

“Joyce loves which red wine again?”

“Oof! Tina that stuff’s hard to find, and very expensive,” Jean emphasizes.

“Consider me warned. What’s her favorite though?”

“They’re two of them actually. From consecutive years, 1968 and 69.”

Joyce's favorite wine

“Any clue who carries it?”

“At two hundred and fifty dollars a bottle? The Wine Shoppe on Beverly.”

“I’m on it. I have an account there. Can you get her to my house by seven?”

“Yours and Bette’s place, right?”

“God, yes! I’m back home!” I realize I’m shouting. ”Can she come? At seven?”

Jean’s voice sounds amused. “She’s nodding her head, yes, Tina.  So, looks like she’ll see you then.”

Joyce garden - dinner party

Bette and Tina’s House – 7:15 pm – Tina

The closer to three hundred dollar bottle of wine is breathing, Bette is late, and Joyce and I are touring the garden with Angelica. ”Did you know I have a house in Santa Fe?” Joyce asks.

”Did I? No.”

”I was there last month, and I gotta ask you . . . what was Bette’s mother like?  I can’t imagine.”

”Lovely, really. A very talented, interesting woman with, as you know, a very unusual story.”

”No signs of shadowy gangsters disguised as Indians?” Joyce smiles down at Angelica who spins streams of bubbles out of a wand.

Soap bubble - Secrets story

Then one lands inches from me, and I stare into it amazed and whisper, ”Bette’s mother’s an older lady painting in the desert, and friendly with the Native Americans. She fits in.”

”A perfect camouflage!” Joyce booms, which makes Angelica rush up to her, and the bubble bursts.

”Alligator!”

”I don’t know about that.” Joyce laughs. ”Can’t you think of something scarier?”

”Alley-ga-tor! Alley gator took a bite out of Mommy.” Angelica pats her stomach three times.

Inside the house Bette throws open the front door, and Joyce looks at me puzzled. ”That sounds impossible,” Joyce muses, “even for her.”

I wave away my daughter’s indiscretions. ”Should we try the wine?”

”I’m home! God! I’m so sorry I’m late!” Bette calls from somewhere inside.

”Let’s go in.” I motion Joyce toward the French doors that lead into the kitchen.

”The wine’s not the only reason I came tonight.” Joyce lifts up her goblet for a sip.  ”But this is very nice of you. I’m curious what’s up? Wasn’t that her coming in?”

”Actually, I need to talk to you both about . . .”

Bette_Tina CU Atlanta Kiss

From around the corner, Bette zooms into the kitchen with a vase full of flowers for me, and placing them on the counter, after a warm hello to Joyce, she sweeps me into a kiss.

”How are you?! I had the most incredible day! I got a Building Fund check for so much money! ”  Then, she lets me loose, and over her shoulder calls, ”Hang on, there’s more, but wait!  There’s a crate of cantaloupes in the car.”

”Why a crate?” My voice sails out after her.

Leaning against my kitchen counter, with a look of amusement on her face, Joyce asks, ”What’s for dinner? I don’t smell anything cooking.”

Bette kicks back open the front door, and sure enough, she’s hauling in a crate of cantaloupes. ”Joyce, please take some home.” Then to me, ”Baby, I’m thirsty, and I’m starved. What’s for dinner?”

Joyce pours her a glass of wine, and then winks toward the label. ”Take it slow, not your speed I know, but try to savor it.”

Bette blows back a lock of hair from her face, then locks her eyes onto Joyce. ”You do not need to lecture me about how to drink wine.”

”We’re ordering in from Puccini’s. I hope that’s alright.” I fetch the menus from the drawer.

”Puccini’s?”  Joyce opens the refrigerator, and sticks her head inside. ”Do you mind if I see what you’ve got in here? I’m a great cook.”

”Actually, so am I.” Bette opens the door wider, and standing side by side, I can sense between them a developing competition. Joyce tosses a package of uncooked pasta onto the counter, while Bette unloads produce from the drawer.

”What are you thinking Porter?”

”Hmm.” Bette takes a sip of wine. ”I challenge you to a linguine. You can make any kind you want, but mine is clams. What’s yours?”

”I’ll run get whatever you guys want,” I offer.

”You’re on, and you’re going down.” Joyce rolls up her sleeves. ”Tina, one second before you go.  I’ve got a few things for your list.”

________

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My New Vodka – 18 – Touch Tones #TheLWord

Kit seated suspcious, not pleased

The Planet – Kit

Backstage one night at The Blue Rose in Detroit, I remember looking out at the audience, a mostly union working class crowd, and thinking how musicians – all coked up, and smacked out on stage – we’re not even the same kinds of people, as those cleaned-up folk who plow through snow and traffic, and suffer God knows what else to work for The Man.

They’re safe, we’re not, but who’s happy?

I mean, who the fuck is happy? I’ve got Miami’s oiled-up white trash so far up my ass. . . meanwhile, across the table from me, Bette steers the drilling I was giving her ’bout getting gut-stabbed by Tina’s psycho sister, to how indignant she is there’s a betting pool on her.

As if I hadn’t put a twenty on that one, a long time ago!

The irritated resident of the planet called, In My Own World, Bette blows out a long, exhausted sounding sigh, and then her phone rings.

Bette_Agent Porter Unhappy on Phone

Betting on them, back in their getting-to-be-besties again stage, was a no-brainer. When Jodi had scooted outa here for New York, and Bette and Tina were exchanging Baby Girl, back and forth across my doorway, I’d watched them hit a smooth gear – and on their best behavior – they’d slid right back into each other.

Yet, there was — that ticking time bomb Bette had gone and lit.

time bomb

Called Jodi Lerner.

It’s as if we’re all impatient to bring about our next crisis and demise, and I for one, have had more than enough of the treachery of it, and how like a madman it’ll take your life.

But continuing on toward stranger and stranger shit, that just happens around here, comes Jenny’s movie that everyone knows is this place. Followed immediately by those two skanky bitches from Miami, just when my liquor sales were startin’ to skyrocket and it was fun goin’ to the bank on Mondays.

high wire cocktail The Planet

Alice had said it, showing off her new bruises from that ill fated adventure with Bette and the fucking sign, “We need something to ride this out, a new drink . . . something with a mindfuck kick . . .  something with vodka.”  And an hour later we’d named it, Altitude Disorder, after Bette and Tina’s highwire act, and I’d sold about eight hundred of them.

The new vodka, Bette and Tina falling back in love, everybody crazy about their sweet baby, and Alice seeding the speculation about the odds of betting this way or that — everybody losing weight but me, and Jenny’s movie and movie stars in here every weekend — we had all held our breath and waited, for the final countdown of Jodi being home. To see who would fall from the heights and into the sawdust of the circus tent, our never ending carnival — the place we insanely refer to as, Home.

The waiter slides a plate of cantaloupe in front of Bette, who’s still arguing over the phone with Phyllis, when I realize something else about my sister.

cantaloupe serving The Planet

She’s one of the fortunate folk. She can turn heads and get speeding tickets and run fast along the edges of whatever she pleases, always with a slightly fuck-off quality about her.

“You want me to drive up to Santa Barbara this morning?” She says into the phone, obviously not too keen on the idea. “Phyllis, are you listening to me?  I vet my funding contacts carefully – who to approach as major donors for the plum spots –  especially for the naming right’s on the art school.”

Phyllis argues back, vigorously.  Then, Bette stabs her fork right into the cantaloupe, and it sticks straight up with a twang, and she shouts, “I need to know a whole lot more than you had a lovely conversation with someone on your flight back from Sacramento!”

With a dramatic roll of her eyes, Bette holds out her phone for me to listen to Phyllis’ answer, which leads me to the other half of her being so fortunate, but so fucking stupid. Who else, on a sunny Monday morning, would argue about riding up the coast, and being entertained by rich people?

Someone from the planet of In My Own World, and a city called, So Not My Idea.

She ends her call abruptly, and the cantaloup begins to disappear. Between bites she says, “Honestly, I know all about the East Indian woman, Penelope de Souza, Phyllis is going on and fucking on about. She’s loaded, she’s generous, she’s gorgeous.”

Then, Bette stops chewing for a moment, and her eyes go into a softer, out-of-focus look.  “Before I met Tina, Penny and I dated for awhile.”

“Who is she?”

“Nothing short of amazing.”

“How’d it end?”

“Not badly. She had to leave for the Far East.  We had an amazing goodbye dinner, and she left.” Bette brushes her hands together.  “Done!”

“Use that.”

A sly smile. “I think I will.”

She leans down and kisses my cheek. “And did I tell you? We want to have another baby. Have I told you that?”

“You thinkin’ ’bout doing it this time?”

“God no! I’ve got my part down pat.”

I frown for a moment, not unhappy about a new baby, but from the memory of Tina’s undertow of postpartum depression.

“I thought you’d be happy with the news.” Bette stares down at me, her purse tucked under her arm, she’s all power suited up and raring for a tangle. “What’s wrong?”

“I told you five minutes ago! I’ve got bad white trash trouble, but I’ll deal with it. You go on.”

“I’ll be back on the road by three. Call you then?”

“Yeah, call me from the road. Now, you go on and get outa here. I’ll think of something.”

Penny profile golden hued background

Santa Barbara – the de Souza Estate – Bette

“You look well. It’s been awhile.” Penny presses the button for the elevator.

“Are we going up, down?”

“This elevator takes us down into my offices. Sensitive stuff, private matters.  Upstairs, we entertain here a lot.”

“I remember.”

“Of course, you do.”

She leads me into warren of rooms, far below the main estate’s mansion. Penny turns to look back at me. “You should’ve come seen me in Hong Kong, Bette. I had this amazing flat that overlooked the bay.”

“I probably should have . . .” my voice trails off as we walk into her office, and I see a very familiar painting from my past.

Penny's office

“You bought it?”

“I did. I sent for it later.” She reaches up and straightens the frame on the nude, that wasn’t hanging crooked at all. “That was such a romantic time.”

“It was.”

Penny leans against the edge of her desk, and motions me to a chair. “It’s ten-thirty, kind of an in between time, don’t you think? Should we have coffee, should we have tea? Should we start on Bloody Marys? Although, I have a lot of work to do today.”

“Did you enjoy living in Asia?”

“Are you asking, if I’m sorry I left you?”

“No, that wasn’t . . .”

But she doesn’t let me finish. Into her phone she orders our tea tray and lifting her eyebrow to me. “Fruit?  Biscuits?”

“Cantaloupe, if you’ve got it.”

“We grow thousands of them here. You must take some.” Penny hangs up the phone. “Where is home now, Bette?”

“This will surprise you!” I hand her my iPhone to see my family’s pictures. “Home is with my fiancée and daughter.”

She sends me a delightful smile.  “Yours?”

“Funny, how that keeps coming up today. No, Tina gave birth to her. I do all the other parts, as best I can.”

“I know what you mean.” Penny flips through more pictures. “I have children. A boy and a girl. Five and three.  He’s like a small tiger.  She’s quiet, with big dark eyes.  They’re both intense.”

“Mine is still blissfully playful.”

“Children change you.”

“Immensely.  Did you ever marry?”

“Two times.” Penny looks sheepishly at me. “It would’ve been three, but I came to my senses, and just walked away –  moved to another country – and that was that.”

“Very much your MO, as I recall.”

“I’m sorry, if I hurt you.”

“I’ve thought of you over the years, wondered how you’ve been.”

“Making money.” She moves around her desk and opens a drawer. “Let’s take the sting out of how we left it.” She flips open her checkbook.  Her pen poised, she sends me a quizzical look. “How bad was it?”

I look up at the nude painting of me hanging on her wall, and send her a sad, but sexy smile. “Oh, very.”

Bette_Painted nails red blouse

____________________

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#10 Alice Surmises – Touch Tones – The L Word S07

Bette Tina with Alice

The Planet – Monday morning – Alice

When I look up from the Alice in Lesbo Land blog post I’m struggling to finish before nine I notice how surprised I am to see Bette and Tina walking through the doorway of The Planet on their way in for breakfast. This scene, on the one hand so familiar, and before the unpredictability of their Big Wars years, had happened like clockwork every Monday morning – usually on the nose of 8 am – today feels unusual.

It’s sad but true how their break up and ensuing battles decimated my morning coffee routine, and our poker night “set your watch to it” rituals. And that their “divorce” tore into everything I’d mistakenly thought of as “always and forever”.  I had guilelessly trusted Bette and Tina with the things that were the most important. The fucking wishes I had had. The ones I didn’t even know lived in my dreams – that we could be in love with each other for our whole lives, wear great shoes, and look fabulous doing it.

Add to that it was happening in LA. My hometown! Where I grew up too nervous, and bad at sports, and until I learned how to bang on a guitar I was THE terribly weird looking nerd-girl with glasses. So, yeah I resent that I’m an untreated co-dependent mess, and that their dynamite blew away so many special things for me. Didn’t they think for a minute what the fuck they were doing? To any of us, and to all of us?

For Shane though it was the holidays that left her the saddest. Without all of us seated around a long table, and the predictability that something would always burn up and catch on fire in Bette’s kitchen during Christmas dinner were especially hard on her.

But remarkably, as if back from Lourdes, or in a more exact geographical match: Santa Fe, yet, here they are, as if DEFCON 2 had never happened, and striding in like Lesbian versions of Lazarus fresh out of relationship triage.

I have to admit it: I’m cautiously optimistic about their chances.

After all two words: New Mexico, and another two: Lez Girls, and throw in that it was a trip I still know zero about, but more to the point: There’s nothing like the ongoing production of a movie written by a nutcase, and veiled in its depiction of your regurgitated love life that a weekend away might lead to something meaty, but poisoned that they could stew over while hiking around some godforsaken canyon.

Yet, here they are, the quasi-starring couple,  seemingly unfazed by the movie’s menacing gestalt. Maybe Claire’s strategy, and the part I expertly played in it, really has run Jenny into the ditch for a while. When she crawls back out of it I hope she’ll give us all a fucking break and get her own fucking life.

But lingering are the threats Kit got while Bette was away. Another ramp up in the territorial disputes let loose by those trashy girls from the SheBar.

Jenny smooching camera

You know, if I could figure out how to sic Schecter onto Denbo, which would insure me a ringside seat, the ensuing blog posts and traffic on my website would take off! The Steinem/Porter/Kennard clip soared past a hundred thousand hits last week. I know I could get really top notch sponsors with millions of hits. All I need is for Jenny, The Serpent, to coil around Dawn, The Lezzie Mobster’s neck, and Alice in Lesbo Land will chronicle the drama and hilarity of them killing each other.

While lacking merit in the classical sense, I think it has interesting possibilities.

But truthfully, it’s odd how those pre-Bette and Tina nuclear war days feel like their own special era now. A time when things felt more predictable, back when we all knew Iraq was total bullshit, and that with certainly someone high up in Bush’s Cabinet would go off to jail. And yet, we were mistaken.

Back when there were happier times, and we knew that Dana would win all her tennis matches, but in the meantime between tournaments keep us wildly amused with her sexual confusion, and her notoriously impotent GayDar. And on those mornings, too, just like clockwork, we could count on it: Shane coming in close to death until a triple expresso shocked away most of the roughness from her nights before.

Hand to God! I don’t know how we all survived much less remained friends. Their ongoing hostilities, all our disappointments, Dana’s death, Shane and Carmen, everyone’s lies, and the plentiful fuck you’s we vehemently traded with each other – they all seem gone now, forgotten, or miraculously healed.

Maybe we’re all chiseled together in some – as yet to be discovered – magical rock formation that’s mysteriously fated us all cosmically together. Or is it Jenny’s movie, aka Tina’s movie, aka Bette’s nightmare and ulcer that will enshrine us, and make us all legendary?

I’m just like everybody else in Tinseltown. I’m somebody waiting to be famous.

But Lez Girls might be a hit! The story has all the earmarks, signs, and red light signals of an eruption waiting to happen. The movie could go straight up like a rocket or fall into the Bermuda Triangle – never to be seen or heard from again.

Set actors Lez Girls

But I’d like it to succeed, and I also wouldn’t mind a walk-on part. But mostly, I need to find a way to sneak onto Tina’s closed sets so I can make damn sure Elise, my character, isn’t bombing as Alice.

Kit Vertical standing at window smile

Back up front I see that Kit has joined Bette and Tina now, and is making a fuss over missing Angelica for the two days she was away with her parents in Santa Fe. Kit takes her hand and they walk slowly behind the counter back to Kit’s office for a visit. Bette orders her and Tina’s breakfast – the likes of which she knows by heart – and Tina’s attention is taken up by a couple who have approached. Lawyers, I guess by their dark tailored suits.

Bette’s amperage begins, and I feel it as far away as my table. I wonder about my carping away at her for so many years. I did it with so little mercy. Prodded at her bear-like fury knowing soon the veins would pop out of her neck, and get up and dance with the scary blue curvy ones that pound at her temple.

Bette frustrated Hand on Chest color corrected

After all, to most everyone Bette Porter is kind of a legion, and they’d love to be her friend, swim in her pool, get drunk on her sex appeal, and laugh at her wit and sophisticated sarcasm.

No, better strike that – in her own field she’s too young to be legendary, but in the OurChart underground universe I can attest to the fact: She’s discussed. Tina, too, of course – they each have devoted fans.

For awhile the fact that they blindly ignored my fascinating new experiment into West Hollywood independent “Current Happenings” journalism used to irritate the crap out of me. It wasn’t until one of their semi-public flame-outs, and I stayed up half the night reading the hundreds of comments about them, that I knew other people had been hurt and confused, too. As once perfect symbols of something other gay women aspired to, I came to realize: Bette and Tina had disappointed far more than just me.

Somehow the details of their latest debacle would always get out, and almost to the word I knew if I were ever challenged I could blame all the leaks and mischief about them on Jenny, my god-gifted scapegoat. It helped me sleep at night anyway.

Jenny has, and no doubt will continue to be, very good for business. Not that Bette’s stopped her incessant ire long enough to think about it, but Jenny’s script turned into Tina’s movie will likely bring her well over a million dollars. That is if it doesn’t sink, but can swim. Or better yet – like the wild motherfucker “we” need it to be – takeoff and fly into the box office. Because if it does that we might all get rich.

I’m just saying.

It’s not my fault they make great copy, or that Tina used to sleep with a beguiling heiress named Helena, after her “to die for” Bette, to quote a frequent poster, had slipped off with the carpenter. That single, and I’m sure in Bette’s mind far from a class-oriented sexual decision, has ignited my blog with years and years of false hopes that Bette might once again lose her mind, and her morals, and slip down to lie again – amongst the lesbian proletariat.

At times I could have sworn I was more upset by their separation than they were, but I wasn’t dating a Peabody heiress, or a renown sculptor, or an Ad Man named Henry, or a carpenter known as Candace, who was sometimes referred to in code between me and Shane simply as Hell’s Beginnings.

I sigh sadly. It’s so true. The sight of them together again makes me miss the good old days. The ones I had no idea were even happening when my morning’s fleeting nostalgia suddenly dissipates, and I feel once more how incredibly pissed off I am at Tasha. Going on for three days now it’s unbelievable to me! Tasha and her over righteous, loftier than mine ethics can go fuck themselves in some faux ethical faux fuck-fucking place.

And just like a fool I’d bought into it! Nodded yes that her “core values” were so much better than mine. Then, it hits me. Tasha’s a Republican. She’s going to “earnestly” fuck me over.

God! I feel my eyes burning and then, they suddenly water and relax because here are Tina and Bette ordering breakfast, and I realize I’m dying to hear all about their mysterious weekend in Santa Fe. My gloomy depression immediately lifts.

“Alice!” Bette starts toward me before Tina catches her attention, again.

“Babe, Lis and Marilyn saw us on stage with Gloria, and have decided to get married, too. They’ve been together twenty years.”

And of course, up comes Tina’s hand so they can all admire her enormous engagement ring, and Bette beams another thousand watt smile at their new friends. It’s then that I realize – she’s either a masterful or very lucky sailor who’s managed to swing their bow back around, and once again, skillfully catch the sails with the wind.

Bette Laughing with2 woman

I find myself in awe as Tina’s ring flashes, and I witness their complete transformation from a month ago. I am mystified. How does anyone make any relationship work? I was certain they were done for.

CU Tina's ring

Finally, Tina makes her way over to me as the “order ready” bell dings, and Bette goes back to the counter to pick up their breakfast. “Alice! You look great this morning.” Tina smiles and looks incredibly relaxed.

Tina_small_picture CU

“Thanks! And you’re good after your weekend in Santa Fe? I love Santa Fe. I mean I really love Santa Fe. Maybe next time when you …” I drift when I realize I’m being too needy.

“Oh! They’ll definitely be a next time. We’re having a wedding party in a barn at the place we stayed. Bette took pictures.”

“A barn?!” I start off cross. “But Helena and I are planning your party!”

“Different party, Alice. At this one, you don’t have to do a thing. Just come and have a good time. Bette’s getting everyone Winnebagos to stay in – something like the movie trailers.”

“Winnebagos? Seriously? And here I imagined you all weekend in a great posada. Getting spa treatments or whatever.”

Tina calls over her shoulder, “Bette, come tell Alice about the barn and show her the pictures you took.”

Maxine's barn wedding party - before

“Hey, Bette.” I smile at her, take her iPhone, and begin to flip through pictures of a decrepit barn.

Tina leans into my shoulder and points, “Along the wall that you can’t see are nailed up rattlesnake skins – that I don’t even want to think about – and we’re definitely throwing a big piece of drapery over that whole area.”

“Okay, I’ve seen enough. This won’t work.”

“No, it will, Alice,” Bette takes her phone back, “as long as it’s not raining. There are a few pretty big holes in the roof of my mother’s barn, but in the desert they get maybe a thimble full of rainfall a year, if that.”

“We’re having a party in a barn.” Tina agrees.

“Thimbles of rain, huh? Sounds like a bad song title, but that’s not the only problem.” Resolute I look over my coffee cup and try to stare them down. Then, I frown. “Wait. Who’s barn did you say that was? And what were you two doing in Santa Fe, anyway?”

“Alice, something unexpected has happened.” Bette manages between wolfing big bites of her spinach omelet. I honestly don’t know how she does it and stays so slim.

“Like what?” I ask skeptically, unsure if I can take any more big surprises.

“We had to check it out first, Alice. Before we told anyone.” Bette cautions.

“Oh God! No! You’re moving away to Santa Fe, aren’t you?” I cry back at them, “Tasha dumped me – I know you called it – the third wheel thingy with Jamie. Fuck it, fuck it!”

“Jesus Christ! Alice! Calm down, I’m sorry about you and Tasha. I liked her.” Bette looks at Tina for her read, “We liked her, didn’t we?”

“Yes, the until recently reconvened “We” did.” Tina assures her. “Alice, I’m sorry. When did this happen?”

“Friday night that bled into a very fucked up Saturday.” I feel Bette studying me while she eats, and I look away from them for a moment. I know they wanted to institutionalize me the last time I had a nasty break-up. I realize I was saved from being tied to a bed and shot up with blue-colored drugs because with a new baby they simply didn’t have the time to commit me.

But they have time now. Unless, of course, they’re moving to Santa Fe. Dammit, I would really hate that, but I really don’t want to go into the psych hospital either.

“Well, I take back all my liking of Tasha. She’s persona non grata to me now.” Bette slices her hand to show me: Tasha’s toast.

“Babe, Alice is probably still in love with her.” Tina shakes her head at Bette, and then with a probing look to me. “But Alice, are you, okay? You look fine, but are you?”

“I’ll be fine. I’m fine today. Actually, when you came in I became fine. How long can you stay? God, I hate it that you’re moving to New Mexico.”

“Moving?” Bette looks quizzically at me before finishing off her bagel. “I’m lost.”

“Alice, are you mixing anxiety and depression-type pills again?” Tina looks down inside my purse, but doesn’t reach for it.

“I took a sleeping pill last night. I’m not the problem! Who came up with the idea of this barn Hoedown, anyway?”

Bette_Planet Jpeg

“Alice, don’t be negative. And I can’t talk to you about this if you’re on the verge of going crazy.” Bette looks away from me and locks eyes with Tina, “Too risky.”

“Don’t shut me out! Wait! What?” I object as Bette gets up from the table.

She tucks a five-dollar bill under her plate. “Alice, I’ll check in on you later. I’m headed to work.” She leans into kiss Tina. “T, I’m going back to Kit’s office. Time to pry her away from our daughter, who I know I’m taking her to daycare, but are you picking her up, or am I?”

“You’re picking her up because I’ve got a long shoot day. We could wrap by six, but then again.”

“No problem. I don’t even want to think about it.” She walks away then turns back to Tina, “But I know you’ll do a great job, and I want you to enjoy making your movie. I really do.”

Tina winking Bette color corrected

They share a look before Tina focuses back to me. “Alice, we’re not moving anywhere. You jumped the gun on that, as well as the barn. With some festive attention it’s going to be a cool place for a party. And a word of advice?”

“Go ahead.” I drop my chin and stare into my lap.

“On the topics of Santa Fe and Winnebagoes, Hoedowns and Barbecues, remain positive or expect trouble.” Tina jerks her head toward Bette turning the corner that leads back to Kit’s office.

“Okay. I got it.” I nod as Tina’s frown softens.

I lean in closer to her. “Forget all that though – what’s the story with Bette’s boots?”

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

Exterior – The Planet – Bette

As Angelica and I amble to my car I hear a woman’s voice calling my name. It sounds far enough away that if I’m quick about buckling Angelica into her carseat I can probably speed away before another morning entanglement begins. My need to get to work – to a place where the thoughts of my unusual weekend with my mother will run quieter in the background of my mind – is beginning to enter the Red Zone.

It was an incredible weekend. One that I’m beginning to pick apart for more and more hidden meanings and this can only mean one thing. I’m heading into obsession. Never a good place for me.

“Bette!” The woman’s voice is now much closer. I turn around to see Phyllis’ daughter, Molly Kroll, nearly on top of me. God, she’s nearly as tall as I am.

“Molly!” I fake my enthusiasm. “What finds you in this part of town, or even in town? Why aren’t you in school?”

“Something my Dad asked me to go to with him is later tonight. Normally, Mother would go.” Molly says dismissively. “I was hoping to ask you a question. Your sister owns the place across the street, right?”

“Kit does, yes.” Relieved mine was such an easy answer. “Glad I could clear that up. Now, I’m on my way to work.”

“Mind if I ride with you?”

“With me? To the university?”

“Yes, I mean if you don’t mind. I should probably see my mother while I’m in town.”

“Hop in.” I say as steady as I can. “I drop Angelica off near campus.”

Shane_reading paper serious look

The Planet – Tina

Shane slides into an empty seat at the table with me and Alice, and opens her paper. “How was Santa Fe? You and Bette have a good time?”

“Did you think we were moving to Santa Fe?” I ask.

“No, why? Are you moving to Santa Fe? That’s kind of sudden, isn’t it?”

“Not moving to Santa Fe. Alice said something. I’m just taking a poll.”

“Poll away, I guess. Any other questions?” Shane drifts back to her paper.

“Why would Phyllis’ daughter be getting into Bette’s car?”

“Molly?” Shane looks up. “Is outside?”

“Was. Now they’re gone. What’s she doing way over here in West Hollywood at eight-thirty in the morning? Did you sleep with her last night?”

“Ha! Now, that’s funny.” Shane dips her paper down to peer at me.

“Maybe not sleeping with, but spying on Shane is my guess,” Alice suggests. “And you really should not encourage her, Shane, or you’ll get a very mean phone call from Bette like I did when I “dated” Phyllis.

“Or from Phyllis – no make that both of them,” I add my warning.

“Or both them and Joyce,” Alice emphasizes with a scary tone.

“Honestly, guys I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve barely talked to the girl. She’s a college student, right?”

“A straight Graduate student to be exact.” I nod at Alice, and we look expectantly over at Shane.

She shrugs nonchalantly. “Look, I’ve just seen her around the set with you guys. No biggie.”

La Cienega Boulevard – Bette

Molly looking seductive

“Angie, are you alright back there?”

“Momma B, go fast again to school!”

“Ah,” I stammer and look over at Molly. “We don’t ever go over the speed limit.”

She smiles. “Mother’s completely not expecting me. I’m in no rush.”

“And we’re in no rush.” I stress as I look back at Angelica who’s innocently gazing out the window now.

Molly clears her throat as I pull into traffic. “So, I saw somewhere that you’re getting married, but not to Jodie Lerner I take it.”

“No, definitely not to Jodie, but to Tina. You met her on the movie set a few weeks ago.”

“I did. She seemed nice. How long have you known her? I take it longer than a few weeks.”

“A respectable length of time. Trust me.” I think how much more to tell her. “Angelica is our baby. We were together back … well, Angelica’s almost three, and for years before she was born.”

“So, Jodie was what? An intermission? Mother talked like you two were serious.”

“Oh, Molly. I really can’t talk about that. It’s over. Pick another topic.”

“Okay, here’s one. Tell me about Shane. She’s working on the picture that’s apparently about you, and I’m putting it together now, you and Tina?”

I can’t stop an exasperated sigh before it escapes for Molly’s amusement.

“So, I’m right.”

I feel the sides of my neck growing warmer then hotter. “No! You’re not right!” I vent. “A foolish neighbor of ours wrote it. The script is about a couple. Yes!” I make a checkmark in the air between us. “Who live in West Hollywood – like tens of thousands of others gay women do – and the couple is trying to have a baby. That’s it for similarities.” I dash my hand toward Molly.

Then I guide my tone of voice down off the ledge. “The story is about a young straight woman who gets seduced by an older European woman, and she breaks up with her midwestern boyfriend…”

Molly interrupts, “That I can understand.”

When we stop at a traffic light I continue, “…thinking she’s found her Great Love in the alternate universe of gay West Hollywood. That’s absolutely not my story. I would have never done such a thing.”

“But it’s set in The Planet that your sister owns. You go there all the time, and it’s Shane’s roommate’s script? And they live next door to you.”

“What is this? Lesbian GPS? Look, I told you already. It’s a story about Jenny.” I press my hands earnestly against my chest to emphasize. “That’s what I’m explaining.”

“But Shane’s in it?”

“Molly, listen to me. Shane’s not an actress. Shane’s working on the movie.”

“The movie Tina is producing. Yeah, I got that much. So you and Shane and Tina are not in this movie?”

“Correct. Don’t believe everything you hear, Molly.  Especially at CU, but especially CU. It’s is an  fetid little place for rumors, and …” I stop myself suddenly.

“Gossip about my mother?”

“Molly, probably. Yes. People are probably talking about your mother – now that she’s come out.”

“Is that typically what lesbians do Bette, when you guys come out? I mean, Mother throws a big party, and her guests respond by taking off their bras in a conga line around our pool. Is that normal? I mean is that coming out?”

“Molly, I was only there a short time.” I flashback to my grateful reunion with Tina, and how we sped away from Phyllis’ fireworks for some long awaited ones of our own.

Molly jars me back to the present. “Well, obfuscate all you want, Bette. I’m certain you’ve seen plenty of women come out.”

I sigh feeling cornered. “It’s painful mostly. But unavoidable if you don’t want to go insane.”

“Full disclosure for this line of questioning – I’m rethinking my mother’s coming out. That’s all. We left it … actually, I left things very raw between us.”

“I’m sure Phyllis will welcome a calmer discussion about it.”

“Hopefully, there will be no more yelling.” Molly raps her knuckles against the window and gazes outside. “Mother has a high flashpoint.”

“That I’ve noticed, too.” We smile in agreement. The mood in the car lifts.

Then, out of the blue Molly says, “Bette, I’m interested in Shane. Tell me about her.”

“What?! Oh, God, you can’t be serious! Your boyfriend’s in law school, like you are, too. Right?”

“A boring boyfriend who’s going into corporate law with his father in Maryland. They just bought a massive golf course. Think about that for a second.”

“I am.” We ride along for a few more minutes. Molly shifts in her seat. I prepare myself for more probing.

“Shane’s a friend of yours, an old friend, right?”

I pull over in front of Angelica’s daycare, “Molly, let me think of how to say this as clearly as I can, because I’ve already read between the lines of what you are insinuating.”

The car jolts as I throw it into park. “Do not pursue this. It’s a very bad idea. Shane is categorically not a beginner’s Starter Kit.”

I open the door to fetch Angelica out of her car seat. “In fact, for a nice girl like you, she’d be a catastrophe.” And then with horror I watch as a sly smile creeps across Molly’s face.

___________

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#9 Touch Tones: Radar Love

Tina sleeping

Santa Fe Guest Room – Bette

The early morning light streams through the windows of my mother’s house, and as I stretch my lingering dreaminess disappears and I realize suddenly: Everyone missing has been found. My long lost mother is upstairs with Angelica and Tina is lying next to me. The inner searcher inside me with no place left to look, and no where else to go vibrates restlessly under my skin.

Then I wonder, was blasting away at rattlesnakes with my mother’s six-shooter an initiation of sorts? Was cutting their heads off with the Bowie knife I’d bought to stab into Henry the real threshold I had to cross to find peace instead of prison?

I wonder for a moment if it could possibly be true. I’d happily grill snake every day if I have to. Just point me to flames.

Rattlesnakes on the Grill

A semi-delectable transformative host, an unbelievably coincidental crossroads, or a strange mystical fact? I stare up at the ceiling in wonder and soon the rattlesnakes disappear, and the blankness mirrors back my father’s face as he had gripped my small shoulders and told me, “Bette, your mother has died.”

But she hadn’t, and this morning I playback the events over and over again in my mind. It had been just another day at school. Classroom lessons and a chill in the air at recess before the news that afternoon. Before I’d smelled the lies on him.

That must have been its origin. When the part of me that unconsciously believed had remained vigilant, but always anxious had split off and been born.

This is why I wake up first. This is why Tina always gets her coffee in bed. And this is who’s been sending out those endless radar pings that eventually melded into my mind.

And now that I’ve prevailed? Found my mother and won Tina back? I’ve no clue whatsoever how to turn this uneasy inner watcher inside me off.

“Un-fucking-believable.” I mutter under my breath, as Tina stirs next to me. Everything about my life would’ve been different. It all would’ve changed if only he’d told me the truth that day instead of lying.

And then I pause.

What if I had spent my whole life in WitSec with my mother? How likely is it that while hiding and on the run from the murderous Gambino Crime Family I would’ve ever ended up at Yale? Ergo, no exotic artistic lovers; ergo, no lust for the fairer sex; ergo, no women whatsoever. That last bit is impossible, isn’t it?

Well, almost certainly in this scenario I never made it to LA, so no Tina. And that thought depresses me. But wait a fucking second! If I’m in WitSec with my mother then there’s no Bette Porter. Because Bette Porter has disappeared.

I swallow hard and taste the dry panic in my mouth. I don’t ever recall wanting a drink quite so early in the morning, and I need to be very careful about what I wish for.

I rub my face and try to crawl down from the ledge and back into the sheets where it should feel safe but doesn’t. Other paths, alternative destinies, different fates. These words feel perilous to me and impossibly hard to define, and I’m not sure I really want to anymore.

After Tina had left me the second fucking time I’d tried to make sense of things. Hours I’d spent staring at the reflections in my pool, drinking old Scotch, and wondering why the woman I loved had left me.

Bette Garden thinking white sweater

In this tortured reverie I was a beautifully tragic vision of my self pity. Broken but incredibly talented with a sly charismatic look that could net anyone for awhile, yet I remained incurable and fatally flawed. And the more Scotch I drank on those nights the more my outcomes never changed, and I’d fall into bed pissed off and usually alone. Unless I wasn’t.

Bette drinking outside alone

That would the same bed Tina had insisted two weeks ago I throw out to further perpetuate our ruse with Jenny, when the truth was for both of us – it was an important symbol of our starting over.

I look away from the ceiling and out through the windows and think of soft new mattresses, and then the rough prickly landscapes of snakes and cactus plants that thrive outside my mother’s home.

Everything is different here and it all started with these boots. I swing them out from under the covers and knock them together a few times and wonder which do I prefer? Long leather sheaths of protection from this unpredictable environment, or my expertly tailored power suits that do the same things in a very different setting? And what could possibly be next?

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

Then an answer springs forth. I’m definitely wearing these to faculty meetings. One look at me striding in with these on will definitely snap the infuriating and willowy-spined art professors in my department into submission, and then, uncontested my plans for the new building and my department can definitely unfold!

Or not, I realize grimly. As long as Jodie Lerner is in my department’s nearby studio space screwing society’s discarded debris into disquieting sculptures there’s an obstacle with very powerful friends on my faculty. And this is why I should never sleep with people at work! And yet, I knew this gem of wisdom at the time. Still, I did it anyway.

I look over at Tina sleeping next me and wonder if Phyllis is playing power games with me? Is it a control thing with her that she keeps Jodie on, or is it that Phyllis is simply a woman who adores her drama?

My mood had been so dark and desperate the night of her “Coming Out” party. When I had heard my name whispered along with the susurrant title of Jenny’s movie I had cringed and headed for the shadows. On my way to the edge a waitress had brushed past me carrying a tray of champagne and Phyllis’ black brassiere had begun to spin over her head where it became the quantum wings of the butterfly that caused the tsunami. An hour later my clothes were in a heap on the floor by Tina’s bed.

But what if Phyllis had never stripped off her blouse and flagrantly waved her brassiere over her head? What if she’d never stood half naked at the end of her diving board whooping and crying up to the stars for her freedom? What if I hadn’t caught Tina’s eye just as she’d turned away smiling from Phyllis’ amusing spectacle? And if I’d never had the chance to ask, “Do you want to get out of here?”

Bette Phyllis party story image

Thinking back on it – it was more of a plea really. And what if she’d said no?

I tiptoe in my boots from rug to rug toward the closet and my bathrobe, and then silently behind me I close the bedroom door.

Time had stopped for a moment when we’d made love that night after Phyllis’ party. For the second time that day – after months and years apart – we’d found each other, and desperately at times – we couldn’t get enough.

I pour her coffee and make my tea. For the love of God how quickly can I marry her and be with her forever?

Tina bedroom Santa Fe

Ten minutes later – Tina

“Oh, Bette, thank you for this,” I smile at her as we lean back against the rustic headboard and I take my first sip of coffee.

“It’s good isn’t it? I had a taste to be sure I was doing it right. They like it out here with the smoky flavor of roasted chocolate in it.”

“How’d you sleep, Babe? Did you stay up and watch more of the Blood Moon?”

“Not too much. Once the animals had quieted down outside, and you were asleep I drifted off.”

“I don’t hear our child. While you were up did you look in on her?”

“Peaked in. I wasn’t quite ready for them yet. In a few minutes I’ll send up a flare that we’re awake, if that’s what you want.” Bette’s voice drifts as she looks over at me.

I smile before I blow on my coffee and take another sip. “I could say good morning to you if you’d like.” I lean into her kiss.

“I might. It’s awfully hard to turn down vacation sex, don’t you think?”

Bette_Tina Season 5 06kiss

“And you’ve barely debriefed me. How’s reuniting with your mother been?”

“Fine. No more than fine. And she obviously likes you, whereas, I obviously love you.”

I place my cup carefully on the bedside table when I feel her hands begin to search me. Her head disappears under the sheet and rolling over my nipples I feel her tongue. I hold behind her neck as more and more pleasure comes from her mouth and then another long lick deepens my burning for her.

“You are so good at this,” I sigh and lie back.

She comes up from the sheet and rolls me on my side. Her tongue slides along my ear and she whispers, “I love you, Tina and I really want to marry you. Let’s do it soon.”

Bette_Lick_Tina's neck

“You woke up hungry and stared at the ceiling for a long time, didn’t you?”

“It’s true. I’ve been all over the map this morning.”

I slide under her. “Obviously someplace interesting.” I manage before she opens my mouth to her again.

Bette's Tongue.2 on top

“I can’t live without you. Being away from you unravels me, and drives me a little crazy. You came back to me at the perfect time, and just before I lost my mind.”

“Babe, I was miserable, too.” I hold her close to me as we make love.

“Are we in heaven?” Bette asks after several minutes.

“I know. I smell it, too.”

“Bacon,” she says before she disappears again below the sheet.

“Babe, I don’t mind if you want to make it fast. It wouldn’t bother me at all if you did.” And without words she begins to answer me.

Maxine breakfast room

Mary Hardy’s Breakfast Room – Bette

“Mother, we’d like another ride out in the desert before we go to the airport this afternoon. Do we have time to drive up in the canyon and see your art studio?”

“After church we’ll go. It’s not far but dusty out there. And it doesn’t matter what we wear to church.” She turns away and opens her oven. “Put on whatever you want.”

“Church?” I ask as she places a tray of bacon wrapped poached eggs on the table in front of me. I look across at Tina who steadies Angelica’s cereal spoon.

Our Dinner Party. Theme was breakfast.

“Yes, it’s what I do on Sunday mornings. You don’t?”

“We’d love to,” Tina answers quickly. “How will you introduce us? Does your disguise after all these years include a family?”

“It does and Bette I need to tell you two things before you leave.”

I slice into my eggs. “Now or later? And this breakfast is delicious. Thank you so much.”

“First, I want to tell you about your brother.”

Maxine_Adoring w:Son

“My what?” I blurt and a few crumbs spew out of my mouth. I drag my napkin quickly across my lips and stare in disbelief at Tina and then my mother. Tina sends me a warning look as Angelica stops eating and begins to fidget.

“He’s a good boy, Bette. Well, he’s thirty years old now, and a journalist. He travels a lot. He was here just last month to see me.” My mother hands me a photograph.

“His name is Sam. Handsome, isn’t he?” My mother smiles at Tina as I hand her the picture to see. “I may have had a screwy, screwy life but God blessed me with beautiful children.”

saints int santa fe church

Church – Tina

As we enter the spacious church on the site of an old Spanish mission Bette’s mother stops inside the doors of the sanctuary and we take in the pinyon scented beauty of the place. “Thank you both for hurrying so we could get here early. There are friends of mine I want you to meet before we all sit down.”

“Take Angelica ahead, Mary. There’s a candle Bette and I want to light for someone first.” Then, I add in a whisper, “My first baby didn’t come to term. May we catch up with you?” I let loose of Angelica as Bette turns away.

Her mother’s face shows a stab of pain at my news. “I always sit in the seventh row on the left. Come find me when you’re ready.”

“We will.” I tap Bette’s arm and guide her toward the prayer candles by a shrine to the saints. “Babe, I appreciate the self control you showed after hearing you have a brother and not upsetting our daughter and your mother at breakfast.”

“Was she blasé about telling me this mind-altering news? Or was it my imagination that for her it was a “pass me the eggs and bacon, and by the way, you have a brother” kind of moment?”

“It was a soft bomb, Bette. No doubt about it. But I don’t think your mother has had much practice telling her secrets. She hasn’t been allowed to, don’t forget.”

“I’m in shock.” Bette shakes her head as she puts a wooden stick next to mine against the flame of a tall devotional candle.

“I know. I can see it on your face. And brace yourself, too, Babe, she apparently has another shoe to drop.” I fold up a dollar bill and slip it through the iron slit for our offering. “She said there were two things she wanted to talk to you about before we flew home.”

“Look, I’m not against the idea of having a brother. I mean it makes perfect sense that she had other children. She was your age when she left after all. Plenty of time to start another family.” But I hear a slight catch in Bette’s voice when she says it.

I slip my arm around her waist as we stare down at the rows of candles flickering up at the faces of saints. “Which candle should we light for the baby, Bette?”

“The one that has the answers.”

Loretto Chapel santa fe staircase

Forty-five minutes later – Tina

After the service Mary Windhorse walks me toward an incomparable spiral staircase where a number of women have gathered. “We have a group that meets here once a week. Knowing them and having a group when I needed one over the years has been helpful.”

“For so long, years really, I’ve barely thought about my sister. But now, the memories are coming back.”

“It happens for many reasons. We block things out and then, mysteriously something opens the door and it can be overwhelming. Knock you right off your horse because you never saw it coming.”

“Bette and I, we’ve been separated for a few years, and very recently we got back together.”

“And now, you’re getting married. Big changes stir up things. You’re old enough to know that.”

“I just don’t need disturbing, inner reflections right now. I’m in the middle of a movie, things are finally going so well with my family.” I stop and look in Mary’s wizened face. “I know that no one ever schedules themselves for prolonged periods of mental meltdowns, and I’m sure this denial is one of the great faults of modern society.”

“Do you feel unsteady still, Tina? Because yesterday I found you on the ground outside the Medicine Man’s tent and picked your ass up out of the dirt.”

“You’ve heard stories from the women in your group. You’ve been around women who remember, haven’t you? What happens to them when their memories start to rush back and return? Am I headed for something – I’m telling you in no uncertain terms – I don’t have time for?”

“How much of my help and advice do you want? I was all set to forget about it but you talked about your sex abuse last night around my campfire.” She stops and looks up the staircase. “You’re in Mary’s family now and she’s in mine.

santa fe staircase spiral

“I’m an old Indian woman who believes in the power of the memories and dreams. The Sweat Lodge, for example, it’s a very sacred special place to hear from the Spirits.”

“Yes, I’ll do that with you.” I find myself saying too quickly before my reasoning can catch up.

Mary nods her head and looks at me, “It’s a way in and I will do it with you, be as much of a guide for you in the beginning as I can.”

“There’s another favor I want to ask of you.”

“Go ahead, I can see you’re on a roll.” She smiles at me before her wrinkled face returns to its usual sternness.

“We’ll be spending a lot more time here; I can see how much Angelica is over the moon with her new grandmother, and we’ve given her zero spiritual training or insight. We think it’s time, and yesterday I asked Bette if we should ask you to be our daughter’s Godmother, or whatever your elder term of stature is for what I’m asking you to consider. What is the word I’m looking for? I honestly don’t know, but we’d like to extend this to you as a honored person in our daughter’s life, in our lives, too.”

“She’s a beautiful little soul, isn’t she?” Mary Windhorse and I look across the church at Angelica. Bette holds her in her arms and from here, I can see their playful love for each other as something makes them both laugh.

Mary Windhorse turns back to me. “Godmother is fine. I know what you’re asking and I’ll do it, and I take this seriously even though you haven’t thought it all out. I see what’s needed. Now, come meet my friends. You don’t have to say or explain anything. Just say, Hello, and then, I think you’re headed out for the art studio.”

“We are and then we’re flying …” I’m interrupted when a woman’s voice calls from across the church, “Bette Porter is that you?” I turn to see Bette’s expression of utter surprise as she spins around toward an attractive woman walking swiftly toward her.

“Sarah Wilson?”

“Yes! Sarah MacPherson now, but yeah, it’s me! What on earth are you doing here? And is this your child?” She reaches up to Angelica. “Wow! I would have never imagined.” Sarah looks quizzically at Bette.

Tia CU torquoise necklace

Sanctuary – Bette

My mother’s eye catches mine before I answer my old friend from Yale. “Vacation with my daughter and my fiancée, Tina. She’s walking over there by the staircase.” Sarah and I wave at Tina.

“Pretty, but of course, she would be.” Sarah smiles as Tina waves back. “I’m in DC now. Part of my job is dealing with tribal land rights and the bureaucracy in our “overly happy to study the matter further” government.”

“Hmm.” I mummer as I wonder what land mines await as she encounters my mother and Mary Windhorse some where down the line on this issue. “Have you been doing this for years? Do you come out here often?”

“My second trip. It’s a new job and my first tribe was the Crow and sometimes the Apache came to the table. North and west of here but God, it feels nice to able to fly into a nice little city and stay in a good hotel for a change. But what about you? Where are you living?”

“LA. I’m a dean at CU and Tina’s making a movie. We’re busy, and you remember my sister, Kit?”

“Impossible to forget. And that the night we had? When we took the train up to Boston, and Kit was on stage in a cherry red dress.”

“Most of it.” I laugh with Sarah.

“I have no idea how I got out of college.”

“Funny you mention it. I was just thinking about Yale this morning.” I look up into the arches of the church ceiling before I continue, “I’m getting married soon. I should be thinking more about the future, I suppose.”

“My work on the land rights – all those old claims with the territories and the tribes – it’s all about the past. Who said what, and when, and what they traded it for. Sometimes, you have to go all the way back before you can take the right way forward.” Then she laughs. “In theory, anyway.”

“Exactly. Well, look give me your card, do you have one on you?” I pat my pockets as I balance Angelica in my arms. “I don’t have mine with me today, but LA, Bette Porter, CU – Google that and you’ll find me.”

“Here, I have one. Let’s email or something and when, or if, you come back to Santa Fe in the next six months please look me up. That’s how long I expect to be in and out of here.”

Maxine Blue window

Mary Hardy’s Art Studio – Bette

On the drive out into the desert I notice that Tina is unusually quiet. She doesn’t seem upset just pensive, and as I steer my mother’s old truck up through the canyon I wonder what she’s thinking about. I feel a twinge of sadness, too, that I’ll be leaving New Mexico soon, and rejoining my somewhat erratic life in LA.

“Mother, after our little picnic at your studio is there a place we can put Angelica down for her nap? I want her to sleep on the plane, but we should talk a little before I leave.”

“We should. It’s been on my mind for awhile how to tell you the story about what happened.”

“The medium long version is all I need. Or really, whatever you want to tell me is fine.”

“Any questions about your brother? I know I sprung that on you.”

“You spring a lot of things, Mother. Most of my first night here I was hyperventilating.” I laugh as I look across the bouncing truck seat at her. “But I haven’t formulated my thoughts on the bombshell that I have a brother.”

“Well, think about it, and I need to some more, as well. When you’re ready to meet him I need to break it to him, too.”

“He has no idea about me, either?” I asked shocked.

“None.” She shakes her head. “To keep my sanity I had to become very good at compartmentalizing, but everyday I thought about you.” She lifts her hand up to my cheek. “I really want you to know that.”

“Likewise,” I nod my head. “I can say the same.”

Maxine Painting RedWineBlueChairs

One hour later –

As Tina packs up the picnic basket from lunch and my mother talks softly with Angelica who’s fighting a little with falling asleep, I look through more of my mother’s paintings stacked against a wall. “This one I like, too, Mother. When did you do this?”

“Last spring it stayed cold, too cold for my hands, and I hate to say it, my arthritis, to paint much outdoors. So, I started some still lifes. Quasi-still lifes, anyway. That’s the only one left from that series, and I definitely could’ve sold it.”

“I can take a walk if you’d like me to, Mary.” Tina says as she snaps the picnic basket shut.

“No, you’re to hear this, too. If you want to that is, I’m not forcing this story on anyone.”

“Bette?”

“Of course, I want you here with me.” I slide down on the leather couch and hold my hand out for Tina’s.

Maxine self portrait.2 rear shot smoking

“Of all the things I had to bury that afternoon how much your father irritated me has never been one I successfully put to rest.” She adds with a deep sigh, “You did know your father and I didn’t always get along, or did you know that?”

“I think I did, but I’ve papered over a lot. After knowing you a few days I can only imagine he must’ve been attracted to your free spirit and then tried to crush it.”

“Didn’t he try it with you?”

“Repeatedly, but I got better at it as I got older.” I glance at Tina when she clears her throat. “Well, maybe I didn’t after all.” I admit as my mother and Tina laugh with me.

“I had a great friend, Wendy was her name, and she had a place down by the river with a great big chaotic kitchen where we’d make dinners, and then later drink wine, bitch about our husbands, and try to beat the crap out of each other at Gin Rummy. She was a great card player and she never cheated.”

“Commendable but that should go without saying, don’t you think?”

Tina leans forward. “True, but you know how it gets sometimes with our poker group?”

“No, you’re right. You hate to think your good friends are cheating.”

“Well, mine didn’t and that was one of the reasons I really liked her. So, I was on my way there and I stopped in this liquor store, and it got robbed.”

“And you got shot.”

“And I got shot along with everyone else. I was the only one who survived and I did because I played dead.”

“What was the mob doing robbing a liquor store? That doesn’t make sense to me.”

“It was the younger son of a Capitano who was high up in the family. The kid was trying to prove himself, so, he robbed the place, and then started shooting everybody. It all went to hell real fast! One minute they were yelling about money, and the next minute he flipped, and starting gunning everyone down. Wine bottles were breaking all around me and a bullet zipped into my shoulder.” She points up to her right and her thin fingers pat her old wound, “Just up here.”

“I take it you couldn’t escape?”

“Word travelled very fast about what this kid had done and within minutes some very serious men came in to clean up his mess. And that meant, of course, dispose of our bodies. I hid under this poor man who wasn’t so lucky. I let the red wine that had spilled along with the blood all over the floor sink into my clothes, and I crawled under a dead man. Then, I smeared his blood and a lot of mine all over me, and they dumped me in the back of a laundry truck with the four dead bodies. We drove around for what seemed like hours. I was sure I was done for.”

“Jesus Christ! How long were you in that truck with them? Bleeding the whole time?”

“No, definitely not bleeding the whole time. When they slammed the door shut I took the belt off the man who’d been behind the register and made a tourniquet for myself, and then I didn’t know what I was going to do when the doors opened again.”

Spooky GraveYard Gambino Family

“Survival springs to mind.”

“That was definitely on the list. Luckily for me, the FBI had a man inside the family. When we got out to their farm where the plans were to bury us – he decided when a laundry van full of dead bodies showed up – it was time to break his cover.”

“So the Inside Man literally called the FBI?”

“He did and I don’t know how much longer I could’ve lasted. They were going to bury me, and I was very much alive. I kinda panicked about that.”

“I imagine so!”

“But this inside man, I think he knew I was still breathing. I must’ve looked different to him when he opened the door.”

“As in not turning grey, I’m sure.” I put my head in my hands. “All this I can’t imagine, but what was so important about your testimony? It was some kid, right?”

“And that’s called leverage. The Feds got his father to flip and inform on the Family for a few productive years while the Feds built an even bigger case. But they knew pretty quick they needed me, if they were going to twist him.

“Maybe I could’ve escaped into the arms of the Feds unnoticed, but when the Coroner came, and I was discovered still alive – it wasn’t handled so well. The Gambinos knew I was still kicking after lots of shouting from the Coroner’s staff, “We’ve got a live one here!” And then, an ambulance came. By then everyone had seen me.”

“And then you went away.”

“Yes, and then I went away. And I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry I had to do that to you, Bette, and that I’ve missed so much of your life.”

“I know. I know you are.” I take my mother’s thin hands and we cry together for a minute before she wipes away my tears. “And I’ve missed you everyday since, Bette. And you and Tina, along with this little one that you’ve brought into my life, I can’t tell you what it means to me.”

I lean back on the couch and look over at Tina. “I have some idea. There’s a grace to starting over, and this is ours.”

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