The L Word : Behind the Scenes

The L Word Bette Porter Tina Kennard


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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


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#8 Blood Moon Rising

Tina_Phone sunglasses standing

Santa Fe – Saturday – Tina

It was luck really that Angelica and I had been sitting in the exact spot Nikki Stevens had walked past on her way to board a private jet to Santa Fe. She was hungover, her friends on board flying east with us were all hungover, and once the pilot had leveled off and pointed the nose of the plane due east as if on cue – all of its passengers had fallen into a deep slumber, including me.

It’s been a very long week.

When my eyes had opened hours earlier this morning the house around me had been quiet and still. I had fought off a nearly irresistible urge to roll over and fall back asleep again. But if I had closed my eyes for a second more I knew I would miss my flight to join Bette and meet her long lost mother. The horror of telling her that I had overslept and missed yet another plane had dragooned me to throw off the bedcovers and make haste for Santa Fe.

Now that I’m here I realize no distance was too far to have travelled to witness Bette rolling out from under Mary’s old Chevy with a wrench in her hand. For an instant, I had flashed on Kit’s former love interest, Ivan, scooting out from under one of his vintage trucks and squinting up at me. It had startled me and felt weird, but in a wonderful kind of way.

I pull out a breakfast room chair that has been set up all ready with a baby seat for us. I lean down and kiss Angelica. “I believe we’re going on an adventure with your Momma B and your new Grandmomma soon,” I say as she tugs on my hair. We smile at each other in love with the moment and the morning. “That was your first airplane ride, too. And you were such a good girl.”

The back door opens off the kitchen and Bette, free of her greasy coveralls, appears in jeans, a dark green shirt, and cowboy boots.

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

My eyes begin their drift up from the scuffed leather when I feel her hand on my shoulder.

“A proper welcome now,” she says reaching down and gently touching Angelica’s face before she folds her arms around me. Along the sides her neck I can smell traces of pinyon wood, sage and something else that reminds me of fire.

“What have you all been doing?” I ask Bette curiously as I hear her mother coming inside.

“Eating and drinking mostly.” Bette says as she pats her washboard stomach. “My Mother’s an interesting cook. But no worries! I have personally seen to lunch and we’re eating out tonight with Mary Windhorse – a bit of desert-styled potluck it sounds like. We’ll be fine.” She dismisses. “We are not required to eat the fried cactus.”

“Baby meals are un-spiky and very un-spicy. We’re all on the same page about that, right?” I ask.

“All reading from the same menu and prayer book. We are ready!” Bette reassures then claps her hands and picks up Angelica. They kiss each other playfully. “Now, do we need anything from this kitchen before I bring your suitcase back to our bedroom?”

Maxine guest room

Guest Room – Tina

“I do like a queen-size bed on vacation, don’t you, Bette?” I ask as we enter our quarters down a long hallway. I bounce the mattress and feel the wool of the old Indian blankets. “But where’s our daughter sleeping?”

“We have two options on that actually and they were Mother’s idea.” Bette says as Mary appears in our doorway.

“We set up a sweet little child’s bed in my room for tonight but we can take it down and put it right in here if you’d rather,” Mary says. “And I do appreciate you switching over to Mary and leaving Maxine in the past. Bette and I talked about it last night. It’s been nearly thirty years with the Feds and WitSec. I really am Mary Hardy now.”

”Without prying may I see it?” I ask from near the windows. “Where she’d be sleeping?”

”Tina, it’s very comfortable and I’ve been having a wonderful time.” Bette adds as she points to her new cowboy boots.

”Repairing old trucks and eating. I heard you.” I say as I study them for their familial resemblance.

“That, too, but we went out last night. And tonight there’s something called the Blood Moon we’re going to see.”

“A play in Santa Fe?” I ask.

“No, actually, The Moon.” She whirls her finger around in the air. “It turns really red tonight during a lunar eclipse.” Bette looks back to her mother who nods. “And Mother’s friend, Mary Windhorse, has a special place to watch eclipses apparently. Who knew? So, for dinner we’re going over there.”

“Whatever you both want to do – Blood Moons, Blue Moons – it’s fine with me,” I agree. “And Mary, this is your granddaughter, Angelica.” I walk them closer together, and Mary kneels and gently extends her hands.

“You have no idea how happy I am to meet you both.” Mary watches Angelica taking baby steps closer.  For a moment, Bette looks as if she might cry, but she smiles instead.

I put my arm around her waist. “A lot is happening.” Bette confesses, as Mary and Angelica’s voices drift up from the floor.

Bette close up. pensive look down

She takes a deep breath and points me toward another room. “We have a nice bath that’s through here. Come see.”

Maxine Home Bath

“The bathtub, and this view alone, makes me officially glad I came.” I lean back into her arms as we look out the window.

“But weren’t you always coming?” She asks suspiciously.

“Yes, I was always coming. But now I’m saying unequivocally – I’m now officially glad to be here.” I lean up and kiss her neck.

Her hands take mine around my waist. She whispers in my ear, “You know I’ve tried to rein myself back and not overload this weekend with expectation. Plus, we’ve had so much going on.” She lifts my engagement ring up to her lips. “I love you, T, and I’m so relieved, happy, and all of the above, that you’re both here.”

“Babe, I was always coming for the weekend you met your Mother.” I let her know.

“Back where you grew up, did you ever shoot beer cans off rocks or fence posts?”

I laugh softly as I sway gently with my back against her. “All the time with .22 rifles mostly. Why Bette?”

“We did it last night. Drank beer and shot cans off rocks with six-shooters. And we talked, of course, until pretty late.” She says as she walks over to the sink. She splashes water on her face and reaches for a towel. ”Completely could not have been further from how I ever would’ve pictured a reunion with my mother.” She pats her face dry and watches me for a reaction. ”I last saw her in Philly, remember?”

“Six-shooters? That sounds fun. Did you strap one on, Bette?”

“Absolutely, a big one, too. Very loud, just like I can be.” She smiles at our double entendre, and fires her finger pistols out the window. She looks back at me as she pretends to blow the smoke off the barrels.

“Bette, please don’t do that.”  I hook her fingers down. “You in those old cowboys boots, smelling like leather and wood smoke.”

She smiles slyly back at me. “I’ve missed you, too, Baby.  “She says before kissing me. “Mother has questions about our wedding that I can’t answer, but kiss me again first.”

Bette Tina Kiss Sepia.1

Ninety minutes later –

After lunch and a tour of Mary’s house and barns we slide into her old truck to drive to a pueblo nearby.

1957 Chevy Driver's side front

“You’ll enjoy this little community and the festival will be just locals and the tribe. ” Mary says as she and I slide across the seats of her truck with Angelica on her lap. Bette gets in behind the wheel and cranks the old Chevy to life.

1957 Interior

“Your boots match this great pick up truck, Bette,” I say as we bounce down a rural road through the desert.

“Honestly, I don’t ever want to take them off, ” she says as she smiles at her mother. “Phyllis had better get ready. There’s a new Dean Porter in the house.”

I laugh along with her. “Something happened, that’s for sure.” Then to her mother, “Mary, when you come to Los Angeles I’m sure you’ll meet, Phyllis, Bette’s boss. She’s off and on a real handful.”

“In more ways than one.” Bette sighs. “Mother, we have a host of characters for you to meet but I think we can all agree,  you’re rather offbeat and unusual yourself.” Bette smiles over at me. “She’ll fit right in, don’t you think, Tina?”

“Maybe Mary should come at Christmas time, Bette?” I ask as Angelica bounces happily in her grandmother’s lap. “I know our friends would love to have dinner at our house this year.”

“Let’s do it!”

“Will you come, Mary?” I smile at her.

“Wild horses could not keep me away!” She says before kissing the top of Angelica’s head.

CU Maxine

“So, you have these wedding planners who are friends of yours, Helena and Shane?” Mary asks.

“Shane?” Bette wonders suspiciously. “I thought it was Helena and Alice? How did Shane get in there? Don’t I have a vote?”

“She didn’t.” I pat Bette’s arm. “Mary, I threw a lot of names at you at lunch, I know.”

“I realize you’ve got to physically get married in Los Angeles County but couldn’t I have a party out here for you, too?”

Diablo Canyan Maxine studio

“That would be fun!” Bette says as she follows the arrow on a small dusty festival sign and turns off the highway and down a one lane dirt road.

“Tina, we can work out the details later and figure out how to house our friends without it getting extravagant.” She says then smacks her hand against the steering wheel. “Wait! I know! Those luxury RVs – they can sleep in there.”

“Are the marijuana laws strick here in New Mexico?” I ask Mary tentatively.

Mary rolls her window up as dust from the road blows in waves from under the tires. “Being in the position I’m in with WitSec I know a judge or two. In fact, I know three of them quite well. I’ll hire some great musicians and you smoke all the weed you want. Nobody’s going to jail.” She says confidently. “I’ll plan a BBQ and a party. We can do it in my big barn.”

Bette shifts the truck into fourth gear as the red dirt road evens out. She runs her hand along the wheel of the truck and then across the chevron on the dashboard before she says thoughtfully.”If anyone had said to me as recently as three weeks ago that I’d be speeding through a desert in an old truck with you, our daughter, and also my mother I would have said only in my dreams.”

1957 Chevy 3100 speedometer view

I touch the side of Bette’s face and stroke her cheek. “Well, Babe, you’ve got several things going for you if we have a party out here in Santa Fe.”

“That’s always good to hear.” She says and shoots me a sideways curious look. “Go on.”

“Well, of course, you’ll have me as your wife,” I stress, “plus the jump on everyone else with your cowgirl drag.”

“And I’m never taking these boots off.” Bette emphasizes as her mother looks out the window amused.

“Okay, I can’t keep it to myself any longer. What is it with you two wearing hunting knives on your belts out to this festival? Is there a competition you’re planning on entering? A Mother Daughter Deer Skinning contest or something?” I ask Mary as Bette makes a face.

“No contest. But you saw the knife she brought me as a present, didn’t you? With carved white wolves on it?” Mary asks.

“And I’ve seen this knife before.” I say as I tap the handle hilt of Bette’s Bowie knife. “I just brought a purse today, ladies.”

“And so did I.” Mary says.

“I have a knife, money and great sunglasses. That’s all I brought except my wonderful family.”

Mary stirs in her seat as we near the tribal festival grounds. “Tina, who in your family will I meet at your wedding?”

I stare ahead and feel the twinge of pain of saying probably none of them. Bette’s hand appears in my lap and I thread my fingers through hers. “I have two married brothers who are attorneys in the town we grew up in near the border of North Carolina and Virginia. They farm tobacco, too. Our family still has a lot of land and tobacco with the subsidies to grow it and sometimes not to plant it at all apparently both pay them pretty well.”

“Beautiful green country.” Maxine says, “I’ve been down there before. The people were very nice.”

“I might invite them. And then there is the sister I don’t speak to, my mother who’s deceased, and finally my father who I haven’t spoken to in ten years. He, my late mother, and my sister are definitely not coming.”

“He lives one state over. Right, T? In Yuma, Arizona?”

“I’ve been there, too.” Mary nods her head. “So, you don’t talk to him or your sister?” She asks as I shake my head, no.

“Changing the subject slightly.” I burst out with an idea. “I’m going to ask Shane to give me away, Bette!”

“No, no, no you don’t. Shane is my Best Man.”

“Have you discussed this with her?”

“Yes, we have an agreement.” Bette says absolutely.

“I’m not sure I think you’re really telling me the truth, Bette. And we made a promise about that very recently.” I chide her as Mary sighs next to me.

“Excuse me, Tina.” Mary says. “Bette park over there in that line with the other old, restored pick ups. The festival people make a nice row for those of us who have these sweet old horses.” Mary says as she pats her truck.

“And here’s a festival tip.” Mary continues, “They have a good apple-flavored cactus juice drink here that they add honey and a little desert root spice to. It’s very unusual and good. But stay away from all those melon and squash drinks and the dirt tasting teas they make. They are just dreadful.”

maxine festival canyon site

Ninety minutes later –

Enclosed by the tall stratified canyon walls the small Navajo festival has attracted several hundred Indian people and a sprinkling of white visitors from the nearby western towns. Families and couples drift in and out of the acre sized grounds that awhile ago we had walked around the tents and crafts stalls of before sitting around a ring to watch the Native American performers and their trickster, the Coyote, do his loping dance. A few young boys and girls who had gathered too close to the edge of the ring were good-naturedly chased away by him. We wait now for the Medicine Man and his dancers to appear.

I tap Bette’s arm and say, “Babe, it feels a little too hot in the sun for me. I’m going to walk back around back by the crafts. Okay?”

“We won’t be here much longer, I promise. But Mary says this Medicine Man has thirty-six, or something unreal like that, grandchildren and Angie will like them as his tiny Medicine Crows.” Bette shrugs her shoulders. “Look, it’s all new for me, too. I’m surprised Angelica’s not having bikini beach volleyball withdrawals because that’s what she sees on my weekends with her.”

I laugh at Bette. “Well, are you having bikini withdrawals, too?” I ask.

“I am, in fact.” She smiles. “And I want you to go into one of those tent over there and put yours on.” She winks at me. “Just saying.”

Then, she catches my wrist as I turn away. “T, I guess bring me back another one of those cactus drinks.  It’s not blistering hot but I know what you’re feeling – the sun does feel right on top of us.” She shields her eyes and stares up at the sky. “Since we’re going to be spending time in New Mexico I better get us all cowboy hats. Mother says she knows just where to go.”

“Of course, she does, Babe.” I say as I squeeze Bette’s hand before walking back toward the tents and the shade.

navajo rug design

It’s a question I’ll have to answer many more times I have no doubt. But who from my family will be coming to my wedding? I have an aunt and uncle and cousins. I have nephews and nieces. But inviting those people to my gay wedding? I give a resounding, “No” to that idea. If other people want to have a big Gay wedding with their big ole straight family looking at their big ole Gay one, then please do. I have my own quirks and neuroses that make me absolutely object to the thought. And no hopping into therapy between now and my wedding day I realize will release them from me. So why bother? I’ve resolved it in my mind: I’ll never be free of the weirdly defining things that shade me from the shadows.

People hang on to what deflects and distracts us from ourselves. I have masks I wear to work and I have different masks I put on sometimes to wear around Bette. And certainly, when we’re out as a family, and most definitely today in this ancient tribal setting where my walking any closer to her would have been taboo.

So, today it’s New Mexico, my soon to be mother-in-law, and lots and lots of cactus everywhere. Plus, I’m pretty sure I’m sunburned from sitting around the ring with them. I forget what it feels like to leave the bubble of West Hollywood sometimes until I do.

I slip inside an animal skin tent to look at the leather bags, Indian rugs, and colorful blankets the young Navajo woman is selling.  A group of children run past the tent. Stopping for a moment to peer inside stands a tomboy girl. Our eyes meet for an instant, and then she’s gone. My head begins to ache as an uneasy feeling sweeps over me and the Navajo designs begin to cross and blend together.

Tina Tomboy memory

After going to the Fortune Teller and the unintended consequences of having my sexual memories unearthed about my sister I had finally decided, she had been very shrewd with me. The imaginary plays she staged where I’d been a knight with a sword we’d cut from a cardboard box and she’d covered with aluminum foil. And now, in the claustrophobic swelter that has become this tent, I remember the times she had dressed me as an Indian boy.

Maybe it would’ve never started if we had not found the small cave in the woods that even our brothers hadn’t discovered. So twisted, too, was that she’d had me turn it into our “Fort” against all who would invade. Soon the privacy inside the earth became the focus of our playing together.

Hurriedly, I push through another tent flap hoping for fresh air but instead a pungent smell of sweat and earth make me nauseous and my eyes strain to see into the much dimmer light. A few feet away an older girl leans over one of the Medicine Crows and carefully paints her before her dance. Around my nipples I feel the cool sticky paint and my sister circling and circling the dark tinctures into me.

Indian girl being Painted STORY image

I open my eyes to the face of an elderly Indian woman standing over me and toeing me with her boot. “You must be Tina. Mary Windhorse,” she says as she leans down next to me. “I saw them by the ring and Bette said you’d taken a walk. Some walk. What are doing on the ground outside the Medicine Man’s tent?”

Mary Windhorse pink shirt turquoise pin

“I’m just not sure.” I say brushing myself off from sand and straw as stand up. “I felt too hot and then dizzy for a moment.”

“Can’t be menopause. You’re much too young for that.” Mary says as we walk back toward the ring together. “Sometimes people feel something different when they come to our ceremonial grounds and tonight’s the full Blood Moon followed by an eclipse.”

“Well, those always do make me a little dizzy.” I laugh softly as Bette and Angelica wave at us from the ring.

Blood red clouds before Blood Moon

The desert air is cool finally and feels good against my skin. There’s been no time alone with Bette where I could lean into her and feel her body bringing me back from my upsetting memories with my sister. Since the festival there’s been one thing after another – a little last minute shopping in Santa Fe for Angelica, and the need for lotion for my skin that’s beginning to dry and change.

Soon, we’d stopped alongside the desert at a beautiful open spot and Bette had pulled off the road to watch the blood red clouds that were spreading out overhead. With a few too many looks between them Mary and Bette stayed close to the truck, not venturing off into the desert. I thought it odd after I’d taken a few steps with Angelica in my arms that Mary had quickly called me back and suggested we watch the sunset from the side of the road.

As the brilliant hues paint over the desert sky, the three of us sit along the rim of the truck bed as Angelica toddles back and forth between us.  “Incredible colors, Mother,” Bette sweeps her arm across the sky. “It must be so wonderful to paint out here.”

“It is. Within a half hour of my house the landscapes are all so different. The canyons, the open desert with brush and cactus, and always such incredible skies.” Mary catches Angelica, as she plops down against her boots then, crawls toward the closed tailgate.

Suddenly, I hear a rattle and watch as Bette twists around so quickly she slips off the side of the truck and skids in the loose gravel. She grabs the sides to fling herself back in, as we all look toward Angelica playing with the severed piece of a rattlesnake’s tail.

Rattle Close Up

“Oh my goodness!” Mary exclaims as Bette reaches slowly over to our daughter. “I thought I’d washed the truck out really good. My eyesight must really be going.”

“Apparently you need glasses.” Bette says to her mother, and then to Angelica. “You’ve found a little treasure there haven’t you?” She eases the snake’s rattle from our daughter’s hands.

Tina incredulous back up pick up truck Story Image

“Do I even want to know how that got in here?” I ask.

“The short answer is it must’ve fallen off a snake.” Mary summarizes.

“I’m going to have trouble with you, two. I can just feel it.” I shake my head. “As if your daughter weren’t enough.” I open my hand for Bette to hand over their secret.

Tina_Moon_silhouette

Mary Windhorse’s Ranch – Tina

Around a warm campfire behind Mary’s adobe house I sit in canvas chairs with the elder Marys as Bette makes a bed of quilts and Indian blankets for her and Angelica. She stretches out on the ground with our daughter and waves away the occasional spark that flies out from the burning sticks and flames. When I tune my ear to listen under the soft tones of the two older women talking I can hear Bette whispering to Angelica a children’s story we both know by heart.

“The Blood Moon must have a story I hope you’ll tell.” I say missing I suppose one of my own.

“Careful what you ask for, Tina.” Mary Hardy warns with humor. “All the Indian legends that have to do with blood are mostly gruesome and scary.”

“And that business with Jesus wasn’t?” Mary Windhorse barks a laugh.

“Of course it is. Nailing people up on crosses as punishment is barbaric and disgusting. And a few hundred miles from Jerusalem you can probably get your hand cut off tonight for stealing a piece of bread.” Mary Hardy vents.

“Or some fucker cuts your head off.” Bette says as she covers Angelica’s ears.

“As if that helps.” Mary shakes her head at Bette. “But she’s right it’s a story about murder,” Mary Windhorse admits. “Still want to hear it?”

“Tina, it’s very comfortable over here with all these blankets. Won’t you bring the wine and come over here with us?”

“Sure.” I pick up our wine bottle and kneel down next to Bette and Angelica lying by the fire.

Mary Windhorse begins. “Before the year 1900 Blood Moons were rare and our old calendars showed they hadn’t occurred in more than three hundred years. But when they did my people marked the legend of the White Painted Woman.”

Mary draws her calloused fingers down her own weathered cheeks and says, “She wore long red painted feathers like blood streaks down her face.” I close my eyes and imagine the White Painted Woman. Bette slides her arm across my waist and I rest my head on her shoulder as we watch the full moon rise.

1 white painted woman

“She was said to be an expert hunter, far better than any of her brothers and superior to the other hunters in the tribe. The men were jealous and envious of her skill and prowess. And said she was a shapeshifter and her hunting was no more than a trick and a dishonest lure.

“To these taunts and others she was said to have ignored them until one night when the party went out hunting, and time and time again her arrows were truer than theirs for the kill.

“Enraged and coming upon her alone one of the huntsmen had turned on her. Knocked her to the ground and tore at her clothes to rape her. All night she had fought fiercely and held him off. They had thrashed back and forth against each other as the full moon rose higher. Toward dawn his arm slicked with sweat he had finally slipped in her grip and his flint knife struck a cut deeply into her. Around her as she died slowly bleeding into the earth a perfect circle of blood had formed.” Mary says as she finishes her story.

The fire crackles back to life as Bette’s mother tosses on another log. Lying with my back against Bette I pull her arm closer around me. She lightly kisses my neck and whispers, “I love you.”

“I feel lucky I was never raped.” Mary Hardy points back and forth to her friend and shakes her head sadly, “We hear too many stories of rape and abuse from the women on the Res.”

“Well, for God’s sake, Mary, isn’t being shot up and nearly tossed in a mass grave enough torture for you in one lifetime?”

“Wait? What?” Bette had gasped behind me.

“Not now, Bette.” Her mother had warned.

“I was raped at the missionary boarding school back when I was a girl. During World War 2 a practice of moving us off the desert near Los Alamos began and I was sent away from my family to a mission school in Montana.”

“How long did it go on? Or was it just once?” I ask and feel Bette’s whole body tense behind me.

“Too long is, of course, the short answer, but for months when I was twelve the older son of the farmer who minded the sheep and milk cows for the nuns would stalk me when I was out on the farm doing my chores.

“Did you ever forget about it?” I ask. “Because for years and years I didn’t remember my abuse.”

“Of course, I did. Hell, I’m nearly ninety years old. I’ve forgotten a lot of things!”

“I had a vivid memory come back to me today at the fair.” I lean back and look into Bette’s eyes. “I remembered a role playing game with my sister. She used to dress me up as an Indian boy to have sex with me.”

“And you were always the boy to her girl?” Mary Hardy asks.

“Yes.”

“But that’s not how we do it.” Bette confides to her mother.

“Babe?” I ask not believing my ears as the older women’s laughter overtakes them.

“Well, what should I have said?” She asks before her kiss overtakes my lips.

Three Blood Moons Maxine

Guestroom – Tina

The air in the house had felt chilly when we’d put Angelica to bed in Bette’s mother’s room.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve had a baby sleep so close to me.” Mary had said as we stood around Angelica’s bed and I had adjusted her Indian baby blankets one final time.

“Mary, we didn’t give you much time at all to get ready for your granddaughter’s visit and yet, you’ve found all the things needed to make her comfortable.” I had said before Bette and I had walked down the stairs after saying a warm good night to her mother.

In bed now with Bette, I feel her hands against my back as I kiss her.

CU Bette Tina Kiss.T on top

“I feel incredibly happy and to be finally in bed alone with you. But how are you?” Bette asks.

“In some ways this day has felt like a year.” I say before kissing her again. “Touch me when I tell you to.” I kiss down her neck and inhale the lingering smoky scents from the fire.

“Okay.” She says tentatively before I kiss her again and close my lips around her tongue that slides against mine.

Her hand cradles my head as my leg moves between hers. The heat coming from her feels warm against my thigh before it spreads and then burns a place inside me.

“I need to feel just you and not any place else tonight.” I whisper to her as I rub her clitoris and feel it harden.

“Baby, I love you.” Her quickens, and my tongue circles around her.

Bette_passion in bed. Story image

I feel a fierceness rushing through me and my need to push inside her, and back and forth we rock harder and harder together.

The ranch bed creaks louder as she calls out to me. “Jesus Christ! We need to come to New Mexico more often. For the love of God, Tina, fuck me right there!”

Lunar eclipse

Guestroom – Bette

Outside the window the lunar eclipse is underway and far off in the desert come the unsettling cries and yelps of coyotes and the wind and noises in the trees outside our bedroom window rustle with movement and sounds. The shapes and cries of hawks and other night birds swing through sky.

I stroke Tina’s back as she lies on my shoulder. “I know you feel it, too. It’s strange here.”

“It is but I like the idea of Mary Hardy as my mother-in-law, and perhaps Mary Windhorse as Angelica’s godmother.” Tina says.

“Yes, or something akin to that name she would like.” I agree. “How are you? Aside from what just happened,” I ask as I kiss her forehead.

“It’s been a long, very different kind of day.” Tina says. “I had a moment of something that felt suffocating when I went into a tent at the festival. It caught me off guard. I don’t know when to expect them but the memories seem to be returning to me.”

“I have zero experience with this. What should I do?”

“I do have a request.” Tina says rising up slightly.

“Anything, Baby.” I kiss her slowly. “Just ask. Please just ask.”

“I get it that you love your cowboy boots, Bette.”

“I know they are pretty great aren’t they?” I say as I knock them together at the foot of the mattress.

“But when we get back to LA, Babe, you can’t wear them in bed.”

antler candles bedside Story Image

_____

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#7 Touch Tones: Flexibility

Bette_leather Jacket Smiling

Maxine’s House – Bette 7:15 PM

“Are you about ready to go, Bette?” My mother calls down the hallway as I pull on my leather jacket.

Five minutes earlier we had no sooner sat down in her comfortable living room for a drink by the fire than my mother had popped up out of her chair and announced that we should drive east into the desert to watch the moon rise over a canyon. This has required a wardrobe change on my part, a packed picnic basket on hers, and now we are just about ready to leave.

“Close, I’m lacing my boots now,” I rejoin loudly from the guest room. I honestly can’t ever recall driving somewhere to watch a moonrise but lately I’ve been practicing the art of flexibility with Tina, with myself, and I’m working up to everybody else – so tonight with no argument from me – moonrises are in.

I stand up and pat my pockets to see what’s in this jacket I haven’t worn since last Fall. I wonder if I should give her the present I brought her now or when we get back from our lunar gazing? Once again Mary Windhorse had been helpful and steered me away from mistakenly bringing Maxine objets d’art from LA that would have had no coherence in her beautiful New Mexico home.

“Tell me a little about her, Mary. Surely, you can do that.” I had coaxed a few days ago during one of our Skype calls.

“Well, what comes to mind because I just helped her child proof her place this morning, and had to move several dozen of them, are knives. Your mother has a large knife collection and pistols, too, but those were already up high.”

“That sounds promising,” I had perked up. “I have an interest in them, too. Did for awhile any way.” I had smiled up at the ceiling and imagined for a moment finding my mother a unique bone or antler handled knife as a gift.

I feel her presence at my door before she says. “You can’t wear those out to the desert, Bette.” She leans against the wall of my room but points toward the guest room closet.

“Why not? I wear these in the canyons all the time. That’s what they’re for. Hiking.” I point down to the ankle high leather boots I’d just finished double knotting.

“Out here we wear high boots out in the desert and I put a pair in the closet for you.” She opens the door to show me. “A present for you if you like them. I hope you do.” She smiles back at me.

I peer around where she’s standing and see the vintage pair of cowboy boots she’s offering.

Maxine's loaner pair cowboy boots

Surprised a tremendous smile breaks across my face. “Those are for me? And they look like the right size, too. I’ll definitely put them on! Are you kidding?”

Back at my suitcase I find her wrapped gift box down inside my leather overnight bag. I lean in to kiss her cheek as she unwraps the package and I slip my Bowie knife through my belt. “I hope you like it. I saw the carver’s work featured in the Smithsonian Cultural Arts catalogue not too long ago. Fortunately, I was able to get this for you in time.”

Bette's present to Maxine Wolf Knife

Pensively with a curious smile she examines the carvings on the hunting knife and runs her finger lightly down the edge of the blade testing its sharpness. “White wolf. This is extraordinary, Bette.” She returns a light, warm kiss on my cheek. “Thank you.”

“It’s beautifully carved, isn’t it?” I pull on my cowboy boots and watch her testing the balance of the knife as she grips it. “And I hope it’s the biggest hint in the world that after a few drinks you’ll tell me exactly how you got your WitSec code name, White Wolf.” I wink at her and she smiles knowingly as she flips the blade back and forth in her hand to examine the wolf engravings.

“I have a pistol collection, too. Did Mary tell you?”

“She did and that they’ve all been child proofed.” I look closely at her for confirmation. She nods they have.

My cowboy boots strike against the hardwood floor as I follow her down the hallway toward her kitchen.
Maxine kitchen

She calls over her shoulder, “We should load up a couple of my favorite pistols in case we want to shoot tonight.” And with that California disappears into the distance.

“Shoot? Tonight?” I finger the grip of the pistol she straps around my waist. Then another gun drops inside our picnic basket, and she tosses the keys to her truck toward me.
CU Maxine

“You know how to drive with a clutch, right?”

“Of course.” I open the back door for her. “What kind of pistol did you say this was? And you know I have very little idea how to shoot it, right?”

“The truck’s name is Queenie, and she likes it if you talk to her if she begins to act up. And the first lesson of pistols is this,” my mother begins as we walk out to her truck. “Whatever is beyond the sights and that barrel is getting a big hole put in it when you pull the trigger. If you don’t want to shoot that then move the barrel to what you do want to hit, and don’t ever squeeze your shot off ’til you see exactly what you want to kill,” she emphasizes.

“In a nutshell.” I look down at my gun again.

“Yes, in a nutshell.” She points to her old truck. “Queenie’s waiting. Let’s go.”

1957 Chevy Driver's side front

The Drive to the Desert – Bette

“So, tell me if you were at home in California tonight what would you and Tina be doing?”

“Hm.” I drum my fingers against the steering wheel. “Maxine, I admit that should be a simple question to answer.”
Bette Tina couch Close up color corrected
“Or not.” She pans and she pushes in the cigarette lighter. “Seriously though, I don’t know what to do about you calling me, Maxine.”

I shift up to third and turn onto a two lane highway that heads east out into the darkening desert. “You’d like me to call you, Mother, right?”

“Whatever you feel comfortable with, Bette, but I haven’t been Maxine in a long time.”

I register the reality. “What is your name, now?”

“Mary Hardy.”

“That’s very English and to the point, isn’t it?”

“Simple, too. I’ve really grown to like it over the years. Everyone can spell it. It fits on a name tag. Mary Windhorse and I are on committees and things so we’re always in the name tag business when organizing events for some cause or other.”

“I did a little research online. Your paintings are wonderful.”

She lights a cigarette and rolls the window down. “Did you pursue it or let it drop?”

“Once I left college, I began to sell art more than I made art.”

“I have a nice little studio.” She pats the dashboard of her 1957 Chevy truck. “It’s a very short hop in Queenie.”

“Love your truck, Mother. I’m game for a ride out in the desert, shoot pistols, and look at the moon.  And I’m really ready for a drink.”

“I’m dying for one actually.” She nods in agreement. “Bette, drive past those rocks and down into the canyon.”

Art. The Black Mesa Ceremony

Canyon Fireside – Bette

The dry desert tree limbs catch quickly and around a very old, perhaps ancient firepit my mother and I spread out blankets and our dinner picnic basket. The cool evening air begins to sink lower into the canyon as the moon my mother wanted us to watch crests at the eastern tip of the cliff. I have to agree, it is beautiful out here.

“This part of the desert is my favorite. Something feels comfortable to me here. Do you feel it?”

“Comfortable, very.” I add from my side of the campfire as I stretch out on the blanket. “This beer tastes fantastic. You’re here. I’m crazy about my new boots, and I’m strapped with weaponry.” I take a long swallow of cold Mexican beer. “What’s not to love?”

“How far along are you along on finishing that can?”

“Why? I was just starting to relax.”

“For target practice, Bette.” My mother hands me her can. “Put them on top of those rocks about twenty feet over there, and watch out for snakes when you get too far away from the fire.”

“Oh?” I stop dead in my tracks. “They don’t like fire?”

“Rattlesnakes have heat sensing pits above their eyes to track their warm blooded prey. They’ll sense this fire as a very large foe, and they won’t come too near it.”

I watch my step around the boulders and brush grass before placing our beer cans waist high on a rock.

My mother pats the blanket near her. “We’re going to shoot those cans off that rock. You watch me and then you go next.”

She takes a tissue out of her pocket, tears it in two, and motions for me into stuff it in my ears.

I pop open the beer and lean back so I can watch how she aims. “I understand the principle of the thing. You line up the sights and pull the trigger.”

“Aiming is very easy, Bette, once you get the hang of it. The other important thing is remembering the safety on the gun. You always have it on.” She flips a notch on the side of her long barrelled pistol to show me how she can’t pull the trigger now. Then, she slides the safety off, and shows me the little red marker that means the gun is hot.

“Now, my safety is On and now I’m flipping it Off because I’m ready to aim and shoot.”  A loud report echoes for a second or two around the canyon after she fires.

Past the curling grey muzzle smoke only one beer can remains.  “Jesus Christ! Mother! I don’t even know if I can hit that can at all.” I rise up from the blanket and shuffle my boots around in the gritty sand to get a balanced footing.

“Just take your time, sweetheart. If you miss on your first attempt, don’t worry about it. You’ll see what you did wrong. Just correct it the second time around.”

“Second chances. If you only knew how close to home all this sounds.” I close my left eye to concentrate my aim.

“So, I’m curious about so many things. I know you are, too, Bette but what’s with the hunting knife?” My mother asks without sarcasm.

“Have you ever felt a murderous rage?”

“Being the target of Mob hitmen most of my life, what do you think?” She laughs at herself. “That’s why I have so many knives and pistols. I don’t have one for every time I had the urge. That would be rather sick, wouldn’t it?”

I flash on Helena and back to Henry. I should have a switchblade with me, too. “Tina and I have had some problems over the years. I was in a very dark mood one day. I desperately needed a sippy cup for Angelica, and I went into a Wal Mart – if you can believe it – and came out with baby supplies and this huge skinning knife.” I sight back down the barrel of the gun.

My mother sighs with a laugh. “America is commercially diverse in the most uncanny of ways, isn’t it? Your safety is on, right?”

“Check.”  I close my left eye and sight squarely down the barrel. “I wanted to kill the man she left me for. I really did.” I pull the trigger and the can zings up into the air before falling back to earth.

“Just as I thought.” My mother says proudly. “You’re one of those rare people who can focus on new things with confidence.”

I holster my pistol and I walk back into the shadows to set the targets up again.

Maxine Bette Campfire

Twenty minutes later –

I lazily knock my pair of cowboy boots together, and stare into the flames. After drinking more beer and shooting more cans off rocks my mother and I grew quieter a few minutes ago.

Maxine, aka, Mary Hardy certainly is a very easy person to hang out with, but what would’ve happened if I’d been the hyper-citified type who wouldn’t leave the pickup truck for fear of … what I wonder exactly?

The dark?

Which is everything.

Darkness, I’ve finally realized is something that is inescapable. There’s no point in berating yourself when you flame out on the track. Endless inner recriminations are a waste of time. When the twisted paths that inevitably follow disappointment appear, and you get lost down those for awhile the wise thing is to roll with it.

I wince at the grimace, and grimace at the wince. Inner wisdom like this is so hard for me to practice. Bad Luck is. Carelessness is. Being blind to what’s right in front of me is, and happens far too often to me. It’s unstoppable.

I look up at the infinity of the stars, and think about ceaselessness. If I could figure out how to see far enough ahead to know when a calamity is just about to befall me I could change the world.

Foresight would be amazing. I wish I had more of it.

Across the campfire my mother stares into the flames. “Maxine? What was it like for you to become Mary? I’ve tried to imagine what it must’ve been like to lose your identity, to be one person one day, and then the next in a flash everything familiar is gone. That would freak me out.”

“My guess is it would. Are you getting hungry over there?”

Extreme CU BETTE fireside NM

“I could eat. Whatcha got?” I move around the fire to her blanket as she opens the picnic basket. “And if you don’t want to get into it I’ve waited nearly thirty years – another hour or day isn’t going to kill me.”

“I’ll fix you a plate, and while you eat I’ll tell you what I can. I might be up for all of it but it’s a horribly long story filled with such a load of assholes.” She laughs sardonically as she puts plates and silverware out on the blanket in front of me.

“Let’s start with the identity business, Bette. Who would you be tomorrow if you woke up all alone in WitSec? Your name wouldn’t be Bette any longer.” She whisks her hand between us. “Your name is gone and becomes a sound you’ll never hear anyone ever calling you again. But you’re corporeal. You have your thoughts, and you have your body, and you wake up alone in a strange bed only with those next day. So, what goes through your mind?”

“You don’t make things easy, do you?” I pick up a fork and bob it between my fingers.

“Fine. We’ll talk about me then.” Maxine brushes away my question as she looks down into the basket. “You’d understand better how it felt if you’d use your imagination and try to experience it with me.”

“No, wait! I understand. You’re not deflecting, then?”

With a steady gaze she looks back at me. “I wasn’t, no.”

I stare up at the stars then, close my eyes as I take a deep breath in and begin to imagine myself waking up in a place far, far away from my life and family.

There’s daylight behind the shades so I sense I’m in an open place, not closed in by other buildings or a forest of trees. I describe how I feel. “My eyes open and I notice how I want to look to my right, the side of the bed where Tina sleeps.”

My frown grows deeper as I continue. “She’s not there and next I realize my daughter is not down the hallway of this – wherever I am place – either, and I wonder: What’s the point of getting up? Nothing I know or love is outside that bedroom door, is there?”

“No, there isn’t. It’s unbelievably depressing. You cannot know how much I missed you. It crushed me.” My mother begins to cry softly, and I catch a tear and then another of my own. I wipe them away, again and again.

Finally she says, “As it turns out, identity is a very interesting thing, and to rebuild it I finally looked to my preference for things – opinions, likes, and dislikes.” Her silver bracelets jingle down her arm as she emphasizes this point of her journey. “Some of those I took with me. I had to. I had to have something familiar.

“As an example, I’ve always identified – and this drove your father crazy, by the way – with anyone who didn’t want to stomp the ever loving sparks out of life and consequently, of course, art.”

Her face searches mine for recognition and finds it. “So, one piece of my identity that I decided to cross over with was pretty much anything that appeared strange to everybody else I was for it one hundred percent. I felt so off, you see.” She laughs at herself. “If it was unusual, I was game.”

“Believe me when I say, I’ve been through that gauntlet quite a few times.”

“You mean several years ago? Bringing the Provocations show to your museum? Now, Bette that was very unsettling and bizarre. I saw the catalogue. Much of it made me cringe, and of course, that was the point.” She shudders as she drops little mounds of green salad onto my plate. “And I was so proud of you!”

“You were?” I spear a mound of lettuce with my fork. “But personally, too, Mother – I have a bad history of walking into traffic.” I feel my throat tighten. “You might not be so proud of me there.”

She laughs with me and then her tone grows serious. “But back to my leaving you and joining WitSec – there’s this nakedness that creeps over you when everything’s been stripped away. It’s a very painful feeling, Bette.” She dashes away a quick tear. “When it begins to dawn on you that your heart and all your guts have been removed.”

Maxine night canyon

“I walked around with an emptiness – from my throat down to my waist – for probably a decade after the Feds kind of captured me, I guess. They gave me so little choice in the matter – as in none really.” She says pensively then looks straight back into my eyes.

“The mob would have killed us, Sweetheart. We would have all died. Our throats cut or bullets to the head. I became very convinced of that.” She finishes with a regrettable sigh. “And for awhile, ten years or more, losing my identity as Maxine and your mother, as Mary Hardy I also lost a sense of time I once had.”

“I don’t understand what you mean.” I confess as the dry wood I put on the fire catches and crackles. A twisting swirl of orange sparks lifts up from the rising flames.

“You’ll understand this the longer you’re a mother. There’s another way of pegging time. For me, it started right around that the period between September and February. That was when you started school, and included Halloween, then Thanksgiving, followed by your birthday, then Christmas. And thinking farther ahead every year I’d wonder after the New Year celebrations were over – what does Bette need to start up school?

“When I didn’t have that to do in reality, make a list and take you to the department store, I did it anyway. Over and over again in my head, year after year as you grew up so far away from me, I’d count off the things I’d looked forward to doing with you – like carving pumpkins every Fall.”

“You were very good at that as I remember.” I take her hand with long fingers like mine. “To lose the connection to your family – it sounds shattering to me. Truly. What I’ve been through lately sounds similar, and it was horrible, and mostly self-inflicted.”

I sigh and she smiles at me through our veils of sadness. “You turned out so beautifully. Do you know that about yourself? That you have a real warmth that radiates out from you?”

“Yes, I most definitely feel it. Sometimes it zooms away from me, too.”

I look at her curiously when she nods at me with complete understanding. “The wild horses inside? I know, I was the same way.

“To boil it down though, Bette, I guess identity isn’t what you think it is until you don’t have it anymore. Then your imagination – finally when you’ll let it – begins to fill in the gaps slowly and you create something else. Mary Hardy, for example, a painter and community activist who lives outside of Santa Fe.” My mother picks up her pistol and aims out into the dark open canyon.

“The imagination’s patchwork role is no doubt some kind of last-ditch-before-the-cliff coping strategy. After years of thinking about it that’s all I’ve come up with anyway.”
gun blast story image
She fires a single shot into the canyon. “Do you know who you are?”

With my ears still ringing a bit I lean back and look back up at the sky. “I know myself more lately in contrasts. I’m on a self-improvement kick these days.” I laugh out loud.

“My life Mother was a catastrophic mess until a month ago. You probably won’t have even liked me – I don’t know – as recently as two years ago, maybe?”

“That’s the first crazy thing you’ve said,” my mother shakes her head as she rises up from the blanket. “I’m going behind those rocks over there for a little privacy.”

I lean over and pick up a paper napkin. “I never thought about the origins of that, but you’re right – nature calls.”

I turn back to her as I’m walking away. “Mother are we planning on going back to your place and having dinner or should I eat more cheese and salad out here?”

“No, we’ve got a nice Mexican-styled stew for when we get home.”

I walk a few feet more looking up at the moon and stars, and then I hear a loud rattling sound. I look down to see the snake before I step on it.

CU rattlesnake

The feeling of needing to pee suddenly floods into my brain as I watch the big snake coiling to face me. It lifts its tail and rattles at me menacingly. God, I hope sound waves don’t set these things off more than those heat sensing pits of theirs. “Mother! Mary! Maxine! Dear God! There’s a big fucking snake over here.”

“Sweetheart, you’re catching me in kind of a mid-stream situation. I’ll be there in a minute. Just don’t move but if it strikes at you – you jump the instant it does. Okay?”

“Got it. Jump. But stay still.”

“Something like that. Damn, it’s hard to pee and worry about you at the same time.”

“Should I apologize?” I look up at the sky with a grimace of desperation and then fast back down to the snake still rattling at me.

“Okay, I’m coming. How many bullets do you have left?”

“You’re serious?” I glance behind me to see her picking up her pistol from the blanket.

“Can’t I just hop backwards and then take off running?”

“I tell you what I’d do if I had your Bowie knife and I was standing that close.”

“Arrgg.” I strangle out a breath of frustration as I unsheath my hunting knife. “This feels a bit more real to me Mother than my speculatively plotting to kill Tina’s boyfriend with it. Although I was convinced of its necessity at the time.” I add as I pat the knife against my palm and eye the snake rattling in front of me.

“That’s funny, Bette, but you should see yourself. Damn fine pair of my boots on, my favorite Colt six-shooter – all you need is a cowboy hat, kiddo, and we’re getting you one tomorrow.”

I roll my eyes up to the heavens and ignore her description. “Can’t you see well enough to shoot it from there? Please? Mom, Mary, Maxine? I’ll call you whatever you want. Better yet, all three of you come over here and take your best shots at this snake, or I’m jumping and hoping.”

“You’d risk all the pain that goes along with getting snake bit to spare its life?”

“How much pain are we talking about?” I begin to reconsider as the snake rattles furiously.

“I lost part of my right foot to snakebite about eight years ago. Toes just necrotized, died, and then, fell off. Well, were cut off but you get my point.”

“You’re convincing me.” I sheath my knife and take my pistol out of its holster. I pop open the chamber. “Not good news on this end, Mother. Only got one bullet left.” I bite my lip.

“One shot should do it, but I’ll throw you a few more bullets. It’s your job now to make sure it’s really dead. Got that?”

“I still don’t understand why you’re not so trigger happy anymore.” I try one last ploy. “Shooting cans can’t be as much fun as killing the cousin of the rattler that bit your toes off, can it?”

“How about you feel how it wants to sink it’s fangs into you now?”

“You have a very curious habit of always answering a question with another one. I remember this tactic of yours – imprinting curiosity on a young, impressionable child, but not now, Mother. Tell me you get the difference.”

“Behind you – between us and by that boulder – there’s another one, not as big as the one in front of you, but big, and it would hurt.”

I look between us as she points to the rocks nearby. “I didn’t want to alarm you, Bette, but we have to shoot at the same time. I’ll take care of the one by me and you do the same with yours. We can’t leave one of them wounded, unpredictable, and dangerous.  Here, catch these bullets. I’m throwing you three, one at a time. Then, we have to kill these rattlers and get the hell out of here.”

“I’m convinced. It’s been fun but…” my voice trails as I look away from the rattlesnake and back to Maxine for her pitch.

“Okay, sweetheart here comes a bullet. Now hand to eye coordination is key and you gotta be quick about loading up, too. I’m throwing right to the center of your chest. You won’t have to put your hands too far out to catch and alarm the snake.

“Go. I’m ready. I never peed by the way.” I look at her with a desperate expression. “And now, it’s killing me. Throw me the ammo.”

bowie knife rattlesnake

A minute later after the smoke clears, but the ringing in my ears hasn’t my mother says, “I’m really proud of you, Sweetheart.”

“Thanks, Mom.” I lift the lifeless rattlesnake a few inches off the ground with the toe of my boot. “Like you said, squeeze the trigger and on the other end of the barrel big holes appear in things. Looks like I hit it every time, too.”

“You’ve never killed anything before, have you?” She walks over to where I’m toeing my dead snake.

“No, I haven’t, but I’m not torn up about it. Believe me. These things are ugly, aren’t they?”

“Agreed. Rattlers are not pretty snakes at all. Now, we cut their heads off, and take them back home for our stew. You have to eat the meat of your first kill, Bette. It’s unlucky not to.”

“You think so? Why is that?” I insist not buying her idea. “And another thing – don’t suggest we stop and scoop up any road kill on the way back home to your place tonight, either.”

“First kill. It’s a ritual. A rule. You must do it.” She shrugs her shoulders that it’s a given. “I’m not saying you have to eat the whole damn snake, Bette, but definitely a bite or two.”

With a long stick she hands me I lift the bloody snake off the ground between us. “Mother, have you eaten one of these before?”

“People lie when they say it tastes like chicken but I smother rattlesnake meat with onions and chilis and other things. If you didn’t know better you’d think it was chicken, probably.” She explains, “I guess what I’m saying is – I could fool you into eating that snake for dinner tonight, but I’m not. It’s your choice, I’m simply strongly advising.”

“I couldn’t be more relieved, really for the lessons on the customs of the land.” I shoot her a look as I throw the dead rattler into the bed of her pick up truck. It lands with a lifeless thud. “Mother, an idea just came to me. Let’s get whatever “going native” initiations I seem to be having over with tonight. Tomorrow when my future wife gets here we can’t be having this kind of fun around her and the baby. If I eat part of this fucking snake, we can agree on that, right?”

“When she gets here tomorrow at noon we’ll act as right as rain.”

“And in a desert that sounds unusual, but fortuitous.” I side step to give her room. She drops her dead snake in the truck next to mine.

“Here’s what I’m thinking. Tina is a much more relaxed person than I am. She’s lovely and people adore her, but you’ve already spooked her with WitSec and the Gambinos.”

I continue as I lean against the truck, “Here’s my vision – an evening at home tomorrow night with no guns or knives to speak of, and no snake meat snuck into our tacos.” I look across at my mother for a promise. “What’d you say? I’d like for you to get to know my family, and I promise you we can’t do that if Tina gets rattled, so to speak.”

“I’m looking forward to being a grandmother tomorrow, Bette, and meeting Tina very much. Follow me. We have to put out the fire, and needless to say, both of us need to watch our step.”

Santa Fe mystery dinner

Rattlesnake Dreams

After dinner we had pulled off our boots and had sat by the fire sipping whiskey. My eyes had begun to feel heavy, and finally I had tossed back the remaining swallow, and had kissed my mother goodnight.

Lying in bed now I have visions of the stars, and the canyon behind my eyes. I feel the twisting, digesting snake inside me, too. It had been alive slithering in its canyon when I had landed in New Mexico earlier today.

Then, my mind drifts off into a dream that soon finds a doorway that lures me through it.

Maxine_painted Door way HOME

The clouds around me are rhythmic and scarlet, and sailing closer to earth I skim above a red desert, and I hear my mother’s voice reminding me how I was warm by the fire, and sleepy from adventure.  She had read aloud the Navajo legend, The Tale of Two Trees Twisted Together.

The air high up here in the Grandmother Wisdom Tree is sweet and warm and singing birds join me in the branches as I float into one of the leafy crowns and rest in the limbs where I dream on about journeys that take a lifetime to go from one place to the next, and what to do when you finally arrive.

Art. Grandparent Trees

A Dream Within a Dream

I slide down one of the rough and weathered trunks of the trees in my mother’s painting, and feel the depth of its root’s, and the strength Life requires of us.

A low desert wind brushes across my bare back as my dream settles me face down against the warm rocks and sand at the base of the Two Twisted Trees.

Bette_Back_in Bed

I see the snake that’s becoming a little part of me. It lies flat, warming its belly like me against the earth. Then past the one rattlesnake appear many more and we all stretch out and elongate and the rattlesnakes’ length of spine becomes mine. I feel bones.

A tongue flicks out of my mouth to taste the air and comes back with sensations that are familiar. I slide to the left and then back to the right, and feel the coarseness of the earth as it rubs back and forth against my new skin.

Ouroborous

Eight hours later –

Maxine’s House – Morning – Bette

“How’d you sleep?” My mother asks as she pours my tea.

“Grandmother Trees? I think I remember that much, plus I feel like I walked a great distance yesterday but that’s impossible.”I arch and crack a vertebra or two in my back. “Dreams.” I shake my head.

“Do you like to eat in the morning?” My mother asks.

CU Bette tank top JPEG

“I can eat but only something normal, Mother. I’m remembering. I had snake dreams last night. Remember, we’re not bringing up snakes again, okay?”

“If you can forget about it, then I can forget about it. It’s our secret. Fine.” My mother nods as she begins separating eggs into bowls.

“Do you need me to chop anything? Do anything?”

“After breakfast I have some chores around the place. Doing those with me would help.”

“Yes, count me in and I’m pretty good at anything up high, too.” I smile.

“And you don’t have to eat it but I’m frying some more rattlesnake with the bacon this morning. It’d be good for you to eat it once more.” She nods at me, as I smile guardedly across the stove at her. “Make you strong, like milk used to.”

Maxine HOME

Maxine’s House – Tina

I hear the muffled tunes of a Country and Western song coming from beyond the wall as my taxi stops in front of the address Bette gave me a half hour ago when I called her from the airport. I call her name as I push open the gate, and look off to the side where I see a beautifully restored 1957 Chevy truck, and hear her voice.

Before our commercial flight Angelica and I had been biding our time people watching in the Burbank airport when out of blue Nikki Stevens had walked up and offered us a lift to Santa Fe.

As we walk toward the rear of the house, I hold Angelica’s hand and breath in the heat baked scents of desert sage that wafts around me

Tina_Maxine Story Picture

Bette had seemed happy on the phone. All had been forgotten about my delayed arrival. “Bette. We’re here.” I call again, as I near the old truck and more plainly hear the radio.

1957 Chevy Driver's side front

In a moment out from under it rolls Bette and Maxine zipped into faded khaki shop coveralls. Bette holds a wrench in her hand and smiles up at me. “Takes two people to bleed a brake line, Tina. Did you know that?” She pulls off her greasy gloves and gets up off the ground.

“Tina, I’m Mary Hardy, not Maxine anymore, if that’s okay?” Bette’s mother says with a wave. “And I’m dying to meet you, too, Angelica, just as soon as I clean up.”

Bette knocks a wrench against her thigh. “We thought we’d be through before you got here. Great you got an earlier flight.” She takes Angelica’s other hand. “I’ve missed you.” She kisses me quickly on the lips. “And now! It’s perfect that you’re here.”

“How greasy are you? I know you want to pick up your daughter.”

“Tina? Are you two hungry? How was your flight?” Mary calls from back under the truck.

“Aren’t we through? We aren’t? Are we?” Bette kneels down next to the big front wheel where Mary is working.

“Tina, excuse us. This is the worst welcome! I have the best lunch prepared, and a great afternoon planned, but we’re going nowhere unless I get my daughter back under Queenie for another minute or two.”

I sit down on the driveway with Angelica in my lap. We watch Bette and her mother scoot around on their sleds under the big blue truck.

“I guess it was dumb of me to attempt this little brake job the day we needed the truck. You’re probably thinking that, aren’t you?” Mary asks.

“Not really. I admit to being a little thunder struck seeing Bette repair a car. Mary, our toolbox in Los Angeles is the telephone.”

She laughs. “She understands she’s not to try this at home.”

“Trust me!” Bette calls back.

“We’re going to walk around a little.” I get up and let loose of Angelica’s hand to explore around me.

“Okay! We’re done.” Bette’s mother exclaims as they both roll out from under the truck. “Meet us there in the breakfast room. She’ll get your bags. And I’m sorry! We have a sink we wash up in out here in the barn.”

“Inside this door is the breakfast room?” I ask as Mary nods. “See you inside. And Babe?” I say to Bette who turns back, and flashes me a great big smile. “You look really good in that mechanic’s suit.” I give her a wink. “And I’ve missed you, too.”

Maxine breakfast room

Stay tuned for Chapter 8 of Touch Tones, The L Word inspired Season 7. It will post shortly.

Thank you for reading and commenting if you enjoyed the story.

You can find our links on Twitter @Blackbird_Write

@ModernLWord  has a hilarious Twitter feed.

@thelword_FPAGE & @foreverthelword each have great pics, links and amusing thoughts.

Thanks always to Jacky at LesFan who hosts us there.


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#4 Touch Tones: Kryptonite

Kit_Bette big smiles_ seated

Soundstage – Kit – 3PM

As I hurry behind the taillights of a limousine I’m nearly out of breath by the time I finally get inside the party. I do a quick 360 to look around me. Good Lord, when Bette came to see me earlier with news she was marrying Tina, and at three o’clock they were telling everybody, she didn’t describe anything like the size of this place. Not a word was mentioned about the scale of this venue, the movie stars I see standing by the side of the stage, or the hundreds of people all waving rainbow flags at one another. Little announcement, my ass. Sometimes I need a lie detector and a seatbelt to roll with these people.

Their sudden rises in altitude followed by their equally dramatic falls is what my sister and her friends do best. That or resemble a mangled freight train burning up at the crossroads. And unless I’ve just snapped out of a three-year coma, Bette and Tina act most days like they hate each other.

You blink and you can miss a year around here.

Coma or not, and daily it remains debatable if I’m losing my mind, I do know that my sister and Tina are crazy about their child, and as parents they’ll always be loving and unconventional. And every bit of that is good news to me. You just never know how some folks are going to be with their kids.

Just look at us. The human race is so fucked up. Eon after eon dumbass folk keep doing the same stupid things. And I’m plenty self-destructive. I’ll cop to that. Once, if you played me a real good sad song I’d finish the bottle with you. Fuck, who said anything about tomorrow?

When Bette was still young I had hit the road for the R&B Clubs between Kansas City, Detroit and Chicago. It was selfish of me, I admit it. But I swear to God I couldn’t take another second of Daddy’s stodginess. So, I left Bette motherless to grow up with the Methodists, and The Ten Commandments, and our overbearing father. I know it was complicated for her still brokenhearted over losing her mom. I saw it with my own eyes whenever I did drift back home.

And then for better or worse it became just how she was. Bette approached every one of her romantic relationships saddled with our Daddy’s wandering eye. Like the gallery owner she became she acquired the next one and then the next – each woman more interesting than the one before.

And that went on for years when finally after going through women like popcorn at a movie Tina had miraculously stayed. And it wasn’t too long after that I began to notice something: Tina was Bette’s Kryptonite.

At first I thought it was amusing as hell, and I had hidden behind faked fits of coughing just to cover over my trails. After a screed of over amped righteousness Bette would begin to feel the whammy of Tina’s Kryptonite. It was a switch only Tina had, and thank God, she wasn’t afraid to use it.

They’d exchange a look and something I never found the words for would pass between them. Then, they’d kiss each other like nobody’s business – whether anybody else was around them or not.

Someone really should sell tickets to this shit.

Bette_GREAT Kiss_Handbehind her headKiss

Limousine – Tina – 3 PM

I take another swallow of the brandy Claire poured me a moment ago. I know she hopes it will ease the gnawing uneasiness I can’t seem to shake. A nervousness that feels old, and clingy, and just won’t go away.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t had to manage Bette’s nerves that I’m feeling aware of my own so fragile and jangled. Until we drove inside the soundstage, and Bette got a look at the so-called, “wedding announcement” surprise Claire had in store for her, Bette had been uncommonly calm.

This staged event, in what I hope is not an overreaching of Claire’s, is brilliant from a PR point of view. My movie, our wedding announcement, historic gay marriage legislation, and the feminist icon, Gloria Steinem, all rolled into one. If I can get my shit together Bette and I will look nothing like the spoofs and impersonations of us in the movie. But now, even though I’m the one who started it, I’m finding it practically impossible to leave the bubble of this limousine.

What if I go up on stage with Bette and take her beautiful ring? Then like having a baby, something that was life changing and forever with her, it makes me lose my mind all over again?

Until recently, my life saving grace has always been my extraordinary ability to compartmentalize. In a box way, way down was where I’d kept the memories of those nights with my sister. When the seal to my secrets had been broken I’d fainted and whacked my head against the side of The Fortune Teller’s table.

I remember the last card I had drawn and turned over to her.

 

TheChariot

 

The Chariot

“There will come a time very soon with you, and the one you love, when neither of you can look away anymore,” the Gypsy had said. “You’ll know it because you’ll feel a great tension and a hundred things will be swirling around you.” And then, she had looked across at me with a warning. “To go forward together this is the moment for your union, Tina, and you can’t miss it.”

I let out an audible sigh inside the limousine and finish the last of my drink.

 

Bette_sincere_studio w:brother

I tune back into the conversation going on around me and hear Claire employing a well-placed piece of leverage with Bette who’s been having her own version of, “Do I stay or do I go?”

I smile at her reaction to Gloria’s personal message. With her on the stage with us, and Bette’s father looking down from a wiser place, Melvyn will absolutely bless this union of ours.

“God! She is so fucking right!” Bette exclaims before kissing me and throwing open the limo door.

Camera flashes temporarily blind me. There’s so much more I want to say.

Alice_Lesbo Land

Engagement Announcement – Alice in Lesbo Land – 3:05 pm

“Hey everybody! Whew! You’ll have to excuse me while I catch my breath. I’ve been running because the press conference for Les Girls,” I stop and pant a little as I point off to camera right, “we just shot for you outside. Now, we’ve set up again in a completely different spot. We’re actually coming to you from inside the big soundstage where shooting for the lesbian themed feature movie, Les Girls, began today. That’s right! The producer, Tina Kennard, confirmed that with me earlier.”

I stop and take a quick sip of water. “And so the excitement continues people because just wait for what I’ve got for you next.”

A beat in time passes before I continue. “Is Gloria Steinem someone you might like to hear comments from? About gay rights and human rights, and California’s freedom to marry legislation?” I shake my fists in a cheer.

Claire Vertical DarkGrey dress

Off camera Claire sends a signal for my attention. “Max is going to walk around with the camera and show you guys the movie sets and the crowd that’s gathered, and I’ll be back in a flash.” I unclip my mic and Claire whispers in my ear.

“I’ve been told they want to stop and talk to you before anyone else. As a thanks for what you did at Jenny’s yesterday, they insist that you are first.” Claire winks at me.

“Finally! And double friggin’ finally someone believes I can keep a secret.” I exhale with great relief.

“Okay, Alice. Bear in mind they have spent a considerable amount of money setting this into play, and the last thing they need is for this to go sideways.” Claire gives me her, “sexy but still plotting moves ahead” smile.

“But I’m still vetting you, Alice. What are your questions? Two minutes and two questions is what you get on their way to the stage.” Claire punctuates her fingers in a V for my two questions.

TinaBarebackKiss

Between the Limo and the Rope Line – Tina – 3:06 pm

“Babe, does my hand feel too sweaty for you?” I slow my pace and pull Bette back a little from walking toward the crowd.

“Warmer than usual more than anything, but I already know you’re nervous, T.” Bette whispers back through her unwavering smile.

“Do you remember how when I was trying to get pregnant? You would come home after work and sex me up?”

“Sex you up? Oh for the love of God, Tina, really? Are you fucking serious? You’re going to put that in my mind as we head into this thing.” She flashes me a stunned look.

“Well, it’s when we should’ve gotten married, Bette. I should’ve flown to Boston with you like you asked, and not been stubborn about it.”

“Maybe, but we’re doing it finally, and I hope really soon.”

I tug on her arm a little more to slow her down again. “Babe, I need to focus on something other than all these people looking at me. You stand in front of a classroom or a big lecture hall three times a week.”

“Trust me. This really couldn’t be more different.” Bette answers almost in a hiss.

“You have to kiss me like you would on those afternoons, Bette, because I can’t take another step without you.” I squeeze her hand and put her arm around me. “I love you so much, and also I’m a little afraid.”

Bette_Tina Early KIss for flashback

“About marrying me?” Bette asks with an anxiety that creeps in at the corners of her eyes.

“We are going to do it, aren’t we? I mean nothing is going to stop us. Is there?” I ask her.

“No, Baby, nothing is going to stop us,” she whispers before our lips meet and we fly back through the years.

Bette_Laughing studio brother

Engagement Announcement – Alice – 3:06 PM

We all have Rock star fantasies I realize as I watch Bette and Tina step out of their limousine and wave to the crowd. As camera flashes flicker on their faces I know I’d like to be exiting a limo right about now, and taking the stage with Gloria Steinem and her lovely smile. As I push Max with our camera toward Bette and Tina making their turn for the stage, I can absolutely picture it.

“You guys! What’s happening? I was out there at the press conference stage with the camera waiting for you.”

“Change of plans. Claire texted you and all the Press,” Tina answers as the crowd pushes closer. “Everything is moving a little fast for us right now, Alice.”

“Well, I can see that!”

“Hey, Max, are you guys rolling?” Bette asks and he nods that we are.

She turns up the wattage of her smile and holds Tina even closer. “Hello! Everybody we’re joining Alice in Lesbo Land inside the soundstage of Les Girls. I’m Bette Porter, Dean of Arts at California University, and this is Tina Kennard, the movie’s producer. I’m sure you’ve heard about her and the movie, Les Girls, from Alice.” Bette smiles as she looks at Tina.

“Tina’s my fiancée! And we’ve been invited by Alice to make a little Lesbo Land history and announce our wedding engagement to you before anyone else knows about it.” Bette shoots the camera an intriguing look.

Bette turns to Tina again. “Tina’s surprised me with a special guest. The pretty amazing Gloria Steinem is here!”

“Because I know how much you like surprises.” Tina beams back convincingly. “Gloria’s waiting for us, Babe.”

“Alice, no time for questions right now, but come on stage with us.” Bette reaches over and hugs me.

I honestly don’t know what to say to them at this moment so I stammer finally, “I really love you guys.”

Gloria.2 red curtain stage

Stage – Bette – 3:08 PM

As Tina and I wait in the wings by the stairs Gloria begins her speech.

“You know we may feel sometimes that good things take too long in coming. That we wait all too often and far too long for the meaningful changes we work so hard for. That’s so true, isn’t it? We do get weary of waiting, don’t we?” Gloria asks a crowd that responds with whoops and whistles.

She continues, “And yet we can never lose sight of days and moments like this one when we can all come together in celebration of something that’s so right! Legalizing same sex marriages in the State of California!” Gloria’s voice rises as the crowd rejoices and cheers.

“How many couples here this afternoon will get married now that you can?” Gloria asks as the crowd’s noise begins to die down. Then, a unifying cheer comes up as fifty couples raise their hands clasped together. Gloria turns to me and Tina and opens her arms in a warm welcome.

“Bette Porter and Tina Kennard, everyone!” Gloria signals our introductions. “Really great to see you both, and what an exciting day for you, Tina. Your movie sounds like a winner and now you can marry your longtime partner, Bette.” Gloria shakes Tina’s hand and then puts her arm around my waist.

“Bette’s father and I met during the Civil Rights Movement. We did some good behind the scenes work together back then.” Gloria nods at me.

“Daddy was very fond of you, Gloria.” I say not having the slightest idea if it’s true.

“Thank you for having us on stage with you.” I continue. “I was at Tina’s press conference, and I’m so excited for her. And now here you are!” I throw out my hands to present Gloria again to the crowd.

A wave of applause comes back to me. “They tell me that while you’re in town this afternoon you’ve volunteered to help me with something.” I intro our segue.

“As an old friend of your father’s, I’ll do anything I can to help you.” Gloria smiles at me and Tina.

I reach into my jacket pocket and take out the red leather Cartier box with Tina’s engagement ring. I crack it open so only Gloria and the people closest behind her can get a peek inside. She raises her eyebrows and mimes her approval. A collective swell of anticipation sweeps back to us as Tina acts her part – shielding her eyes from the ring, and playfully looking away.

“Tina,” I say seriously to draw her attention back to me while I hide the ring behind my back. “I know as Les Girls’ producer this is a wonderful day for you and the talented cast and crew of people you’ve assembled. And I want to say to you, and Gloria, and everyone out there that I’m so proud of you, and all you’ve done, and will do with your life, and your talent.”

Tina looks shy for a moment and the room grows quieter and much more still. I flash the ring in its box out at the audience again and they cheer me on. Taking a step closer to Tina I show her the ring inside.

“I bought this engagement ring for you, Baby. You do know that I love you with all my heart, don’t you?” I ask with the first catch of tightness and emotion in my voice.

Tina nods her head. I see the love she has for me in her eyes. “Then will you say, “Yes,” that you’ll marry me?” I take her left hand and I slip the ring on her finger. Her chin begins to quiver.

Gloria steps closer to us. “So beautiful, both of you,” she says softly. “And where your father is now, Bette, I’m sure is a place of greater wisdom, and that he’s happy for you both. Especially so for you, Bette.”

“I believe you. I think, I can even feel it.” I whisper back to her then raise my voice. “But Gloria and everybody wait! Tina hasn’t answered me yet.”

I look out at the hundreds of people who now begin to hold their collective breath. Max pans his camera slowly over the crowd. Me, them, Alice, Gloria, the mice that I’m sure live in here somewhere – we all take a deep breath and wait for Tina.

Her chin quivers a second or two more before she lifts up her ring to the crowd and says to me, “Yes, Bette Porter! I absolutely will!”

I send out a big smile of relief, and the crowd celebrates with me. “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss her!” They begin to chant and Gloria nods that she agrees. It just has to be.

I hold Tina close and whisper in her ear. “Baby, you start. Whatever kind of kiss you want I’ll follow. But for the love of God, don’t show them how much we both want a babysitter and to get the hell out of here.”

 

Chapter 5 of TOUCH TONES, the L Word inspired Season 7 will follow shortly. Thank you for reading and let me know how you liked this story.

Thanks always to Jacky at LesFan who hosts us there! You can follow them @LesFan.

@ModernLWord  has a hilarious Twitter feed.

@thelword_FPAGE & @foreverthelword each have great pics, links and amusing thoughts.
You can follow me @Blackbird_Write


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Malibu

Malibu_sunset

Malibu – 8:20 pm

I rustle inside the grocery sacks from my raid through Whole Food for our spur of the moment beach weekend. Finally, I locate the bag that holds the wine. Just outside the door on the deck Tina holds Angelica in her lap and brushes the coarse sand off her feet.

“Tina, do you want to put her to bed while I cook the salmon?”

“You’re cooking?” She looks curiously at me.

“Oh, you’re getting a much improved version in our relationship redux. I cook now. And your salmon fillet is with tomatoes and shallots and something else that will come to me in a minute.” I look up as I drop an armful of vegetables on the counter.

“Astonishing.” Tina closes the door with Angelica in her arms. “Kiss your daughter, then by all means, please cook.” I bury my face in Tina’s neck for a moment, and then cradle Angelica’s chin in my hand, and kiss her good night.

“I’d like to start with a red wine, and then switch to white with the fish. But a nice glass of something red and wonderful when I get back?”

“So ordered.” I lift up several bottles of reds to choose from as I hear them moving down the hallway.

 

Fireplace StoryImage

Malibu – 9pm

“Nice fire and you selected an excellent wine. Other pluses to add to your growing list of improvements.” Tina joins me on the couch with a tray of red grapes and cheeses. She puts a square of soft cheese on a cracker and pops it into my mouth. I chew. Delicious. We smile.

I’m in one of those moods where I could talk all night, or I could be happily mute and listen to the ocean surf outside the window, the fire snapping in front of me, and whatever Tina wants to say. I take a long sip of wine, and watch her as she settles into the cushions. She’s beautiful and I’m completely in love with her. We smile again.

“Are you being strange tonight, Bette? Or am I just completely exhausted from not much sleep and movie people all day long?”

“I have two years of things to say, or I have nothing but a blank slate with the next moment on it for you.” I lean in for another bite of cheese and cracker, and I make one for Tina.

“So, you are being weird.” Tina cocks her head at me.

“A little but not intentionally. But weird in a very, very friendly way.” I look seductively at her, and she smiles, and folds back into my arms. We stretch out on the couch and watch the fire. We sip wine.

“Do you remember why you fell in love with me? Is it the same reason that you’re back? That you rented us this wonderful house in Malibu?” I whisper in Tina’s ear as she settles across my chest.

“Honestly, the main reason I asked you to come here? I think Jodie is a little crazy, Bette. I didn’t want to worry the minute I got into bed with you that she wouldn’t show up, and beat on the door, or stalk us in the garden over the weekend.”

“And fucking Jenny with her ear always out the window.”

“This is going to sound so LA creepy that you have to promise me you won’t blast off and hit the ceiling.”

“I can’t think what would rile me from my near love coma with you but try, I guess.” I laugh and kiss the top of her head. I pop a red grape into my mouth.

“We should hire a media strategist to announce our getting back together.” Tina says seriously.

“A fucking media strategist? We aren’t famous!” I vent. “I never have understood why people are so obsessed with us.”

“Bette, your hot oil wrestling clip on YouTube?”

“Oh God.”

“Before Joyce’s people finally got it blocked? In the two days it was live it had forty thousand hits – something insane like that.”

I groan.

“And Jodie’s podcast with Alice?” Tina reminds me.

“No! It, too?”

“You’re great looking, Babe. Women were all over you, weren’t they when you were single? Me? I could hardly get a date.”

“That I never understood. But really that little freak director with the hat? You were wasting your time, Tina. She was an idiot.” I add flatly.

“And Jenny’s script.”

“What about Jenny’s script?” I roll off the couch to put another log on the fire. “Or should I ask, what else has our personal, Dark Tormentress done?”

“Jenny has written a scene, and this is going to hurt you to remember, and I’m sorry, but it ties into the other thing I want to talk to you about.” Tina says from the couch.

“I’m going to start dinner. Keep going.” I walk into the kitchen and begin by flipping on the oven and prepping a skillet to saute the shallots.

“We need to trust each other. We need to quit lying to each other.” Tina’s tone is firm as she locks eyes with mine.

“Tina, I know lying is terrible. I hear myself do it all the time. But I agree between us,” I look back at her on the couch, “we should always tell each other the truth.”

“Bette, we have to.” Tina exhales emphatically. “Babe, if we believe we are strong enough to move forward, and have a family together then, we have to believe that our relationship can take the truth. If not, we shouldn’t do this. It’s just an affair.”

“That’s not what I want with you, Tina.” I lean against the counter and look at her, “Years ago, I did things to protect you. Lied. Kept things from you, but you’ve changed. Your naiveté, it’s gone. And that’s fine. You’ve grown up.”

“I found a picture of us the other day. It was between the pages of a book I was reading. I know what you mean.” Tina says wistfully from the couch. “I was very young back then.”

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“And very lovely, too. But Tina? A media strategist?”

“Bette, the movie starts shooting on Monday. They’ll be media buzz. Trust me. What if Jodie decides to get with Alice this weekend, and uses her unwittingly for a little revenge against you? I can’t imagine she’s very happy with you right about now.”

“Forty thousand hits? Goddammit! Who the fuck was there that day to shoot that? For the love of God! Hot oil wrestling! I paid so much money to get that video off the internet.” I splash tap water on my face to wash away the nightmare. “Joyce thought it was a fucking scream. I got over two hundred emails from women.” I shake my head sadly.

“I’ll pay for this weekend. Really, all along I have intended that this be my treat.”

“I accept. Trust me. I appreciate it. And we have some hefty tuition bill coming up soon, too, right?” I ask as I begin to prepare the salmon.

“An eight thousand dollar deposit. Yikes, I know.”

“God! Can we afford another child? Really!”

“We’re okay. I’m making lots of money. You’re fine. Yes, we can afford another baby.” Tina assures me.

“I really want one.” I look over at Tina, and give her a huge smile.

“Me, too. Right after the movie is finished in a month or two we can start planning.”

 

salmon

Dinner table – Bette

“Bette, this salmon is delicious. I’m very impressed.”

“I’m telling you, T, you are coming back at the right time. I’m much better – all around.” I accentuate.

“I can see that.” Tina smiles across the table at me.

“I was staring at the ceiling the other night thinking about you. I was alone up at Big Bear. Jodie was downstairs doing shots, or some shit with her friends, anyway, I was missing you terribly. And I thought of how I used to come home after work, and toss my briefcase down, and start yelling. Or worse charge out again after kissing you on the head, and treating you like a pet dog I’d put fresh food and water down for before I’d take off again to meet some museum director, or put out a fire somewhere.”

“I remember. I grew to resent it. But you know what?”

“No, wait! Really let me finish. That’s not who I am anymore. I will never do that to you again. You are the most important thing in my world. You and our daughter. But tonight, right now, I’m talking about you being the most important person in my world. I know that now.”

Tina leans slightly across the table, and threads her fingers through mine. She puts my hand up to her cheek. “You know what? I signed up for being with a person who thinks the world rotates around them, and bursts into a room like a comet.” She plays with my long curls as she speaks softly to me. “You think I want boring? I went there. It was very homogenized. I woke up and ran back to you.”

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“Well, it’s true I haven’t had a lobotomy, but I’ve re-calibrated somewhat, and especially there. I love you, and I know what you mean to me.”

Tina kisses my palm.

“And you were going to tell me about Jenny’s script?” I ask her.

“There was an argument we had when I told you that Henry and I were thinking of starting a family.”

I wipe my hands on my napkin, and look at Tina. “And you said you weren’t going to let me adopt Angelica.” I feel a mixture of fear edging around me, and the sizzle of anger flashing up my neck.

“There were a lot of explosions that happened that afternoon around the subject of me, and men, and family, and what my plans were with Henry.”

“Tina, that shit with Henry, and the bitter taste that it left was so negating of everything that we were after years and years of being together.” I stare at her, and can’t keep the emotion from my voice.

“Goddammit, I felt you cut my heart out,” I press my hands against my chest and look at her entreatingly, “and that some how you were buying into the whole line that Gay People Can’t Be Parents. It truly freaked me out.”

“Well, Jenny’s story is that Bev and Nina after years together suddenly fall apart because of the plumber. Nina secretly hides her pregnancy, has an affair with an heiress, dumps her and then you again. Then she goes off with a man, Harry, and then throws everything in Bev’s face.” Tina pauses, and rubs her hand across her forehead, “And this is the new part  that wasn’t in the New Yorker serialized editions – that she’s going to marry him, and take away Bev’s rights to their child because Nina realizes she’s not gay.”

“God, I fucking hate Jenny’s movie. And I swear to God, I hated my fucking life back then.” I exhale bitterly.

“The actress, Isabella, who plays Bev, she doesn’t have your range – trust me – but the line when I hear is you shouting, “Have you just been fucking brainwashed, Tina? How could you do this? Did nothing about the last eight years between us mean anything? Anything at all?”

“Baby, you have to answer that right now for me. You want a promise about lying. I raise my hand up and promise it to you. But you please, you have to look at me and tell me for the love of God, Tina, are you back? Are you in love with me? Is a family? Is a whole life with me what you want?”

 

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“Yes, and I want you right now.” Tina says as she lifts off her sweater, and throws it on the couch a few feet away. I lift her up in my arms and we waltz backwards to the fireside and lie down on a bear skin rug. I unbuckle her pants and pull them free. They disappear somewhere over my shoulder. She pulls my shirt over my head, and unzips my pants. I feel her find me immediately and we kiss deeply.

“Take them off.” She says as she unclasps my brassiere. “I want you right now.”

“I hear you!” I lean back and wiggle out of my clothes and lie back on top of her. “Better?”

“You’re very warm on top of me, and the fire feels so good.”

“Kiss me, Tina and listen to how loud the surf has become.” Our lips meet, and Tina slides my leg between hers, and bites my tongue a little at the end of our kiss.

“Baby, take care of me tonight. This is where I want you to do that for me.”

“I will, I want to.” I move inside her as we kiss some more.

“Bette, I’ve felt you in me all morning, and then all afternoon after I booked this beach house. I’ve wanted you for hours.”

“I know how you get, baby.” I take her in my mouth, and she runs her hands through my hair, and holds the back of my neck pressing me to her.

“It’s not just that you’re a good lover, you are. Or how beautiful you are, and sometimes how you go off and act crazy.”

I lift up from making love to her, “Baby, I can’t really talk right now, but I’m going to need your attention in a minute, and if you don’t give it to me, I’m going to take it.”

“You should take it. And yes, to all your questions. I want only you, and only our family, and only us.” She lies back and sighs as her hands pull through my hair.

“Tina, last night when we were making love after the club and I had that strange feeling in my chest.” I lie on top of her and we move together in a steady rhythm as we slowly make love.

She rubs her hand down the muscles of my back, and begins to scratch me slowly just below my waist.

“It’s back but it’s not scaring me tonight.” I whisper in her ear.

“Good, because you’ve carried me right up to the edge.”

“I just do know how to do that, don’t I?”

“Flawlessly,” Tina whispers and then rolls our lips together.

“Here touch me, I need you, too.”

We lie in front of the fire and race each other along the edges, and then pull away.

“It’s my heart bursting, that’s what it feels like. Baby, God, I want you to marry me. Do you want to marry me?”

“Jesus! Bette! You’re proposing on the edge of an orgasm?”

“Here, let’s see? Am I?” I put my hand behind her head and lift her into my lap.”

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“I really like fucking you this way. I like the way your thighs begin to shake when you can’t stop waiting anymore.” I bury my head in her neck as we make love. “Tina, I want babies, and trust with you, and a home. And I want to take care of you, and I want to stop, and slow down.”

“Baby, don’t stop now.” Tina cries softly into my ear.

“Sorry, I misspoke. I’ve got you. You feel it.”

“I definitely feel it.”

“Please marry me. It’s you I want for the rest of my life.”

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“I will. Please let us go.”

“Not yet. I bought your engagement ring this afternoon.”

“An engagement ring? You’re not serious.”

“Where are my pants?”

“Christ! Behind me I think.” Tina kisses me. “Bette, I’m this close.”

“I’ve seen you multitask. Lean back and open my pocket. There’s a box inside for you.” I smile as Tina wraps her legs around my waist and leans back for the jewelry box.

“Cartier? No, you didn’t!”

“I know you love Tiffany. But this didn’t feel like a little blue box moment. I wanted something deep and red and …” Tina opens up the box, and sees her ring.

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“You can’t be serious.” Her eyes open wide in amazement as she puts the ring on her finger. It catches the fire light and flashes.

“I will never, ever take this off.”

“Put your hand on my heart. Do you feel how strange it’s beating?”

Tina puts her hand with her ring over my heart, and kisses me deeply. “Your heart feels just like mine. Exploding.”

I take her in my arms, and in a moment we connect again. Through the west-facing windows I hear the beating ocean surf, and on my skin her breath coming harder and harder against my neck. My own heart, mixed with the sound of the rising tide, is loud and pounding in my ears. Inside her I focus on that one place I know she’s waiting for – that last pulse and ring of fire we always do together that pushes us over the edge.

“There’s only us.” I whisper to her as we let go in each other’s arms.

_________________

Click here for the L Word inspired Season 7 book’s first chapter, _Touch Tones: After Midnight 

“Touch Tones’s” chapter one picks up an hour after this story, “Malibu’s” conclusion. “After Midnight” begins as the couple begins to envision their life together post engagement. Tina senses trouble ahead as the film, Les Girls, begins production and Jenny’s vindictive and unpredictable nature lurks.

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