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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Shanghaied! –Touch Tones #11

Shane_reading paper serious look

The Planet – Shane

As I stare at the unknown number on the screen of my cell phone, Tina and Alice’s attention drifts back to discussing Molly Kroll’s unexpected appearance outside The Planet a few minutes ago, but more astonishingly, why she drove away with Bette.

The phone vibrates in my hand once more. It’s a Dallas area code, but my Mother never calls me this early.

First, a southern sounding woman’s voice, soft but direct asks, “May I speak with Shane McCutcheon?”

“I’m Shane.” I sip my expresso. Dammit, how quickly it grows cold.

“Ms. McCutcheon, I’m Dr. Matthews from St. Francis’ Hospital in Dallas. I’m calling about your mother. Is this a good time to talk?”

I wave my hands for Alice and Tina to look at me as I mouth the words, ‘hospital’ and ‘mother’, and we all wait as I hear the news: My mother, the on and then off again drug addict, needs a liver transplant, or she’ll die.

Alice breaks our frozen silence, “Wait a minute! Do they even know how dangerous that is?”

Tina comforts me, “It’s not dangerous for you, Shane. Painful to give the necessary tissue, sure. It’s surgery after all, but not dangerous per se.”

“Thank you, Meredith Grey,” Alice snaps. “but I was talking about for Shane’s mother. I mean, would you want Shane’s kidney?”

“Liver.” I correct.

For a second too long my best friends look doubtful. Quickly, Tina leans over and kisses my cheek. “Guys, I’ve got to get going. Shane, find me on set later if you want to talk.”

Stunned, I walk out of The Planet, and as I climb the hill back to my house my mind feels adrift and buzzy, when it should be clear and planning and my fingers tapping around online for a cheap plane ticket to Texas, but instead I listen the incessant humming in my head. A thousand bees circling again and again – a disturbed hive of thoughts.

Bette_PowerSuite.2king down

California University – Phyllis’ Office – Bette

After Molly Kroll’s unexpected ride to work with me, I had hoped to dash past James, and straight into my office, but Phyllis ‘Shanghaied’ me in the parking lot.  At this point, I’ve given up and settled in with her and Molly, and a morning tea tray for what I suspect will be an annoying conversion that will touch upon, “being a lesbian, being a mother”, and most dreaded of all: “What do I think about it?”

But instead, she wants to talk about the boots I’m wearing.

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

Suddenly, she grabs me by the tip of my slightly squared toe and fixes me with a stare of undeniable envy. “Bette, you both frustrate and fascinate me.” Followed by a long sigh I’m not sure I like the sound of coming from her.

Over the rim of my china cup, I stare back at Phyllis, and burn the holy crap out of my lip on the too hot tea. She pouts a little which is unnerving, and Molly, with lips of asbestos, takes a deep swallow, rolls her eyes, and stares up at the ceiling.

Like a pin prick into my forming blister, I suddenly spill out the whole story of my recent night in the moonlit canyons of New Mexico shooting off my mother’s Colt six-shooters at big fat rattlesnakes.

Phyllis - pink suit

For once in her life, Phyllis is speechless.

TinaSmilingPortriat

Beverly Hills Rooftop Pool & Bar – Late Afternoon – Tina

It was inevitable that sooner or later I was going to run into the director, Kate Arden, again. I’d had to fire her, after Jenny’s massive sucking up to William made it clear – an opinionated director like Kate was never going to work on Jenny’s story, Jenny’s story, Jenny’s story – I only wish.

Kate motions to me in that too cool way of hers. “So, how’s the picture coming?”

“We’re just starting principle. Any big news with you?” I breeze back at her.

“My big news? Hmm, I’m headed to Ireland in a few days to start a movie, but I think yours is probably more interesting.” Kate cocks her head, and stares at me from under her hipster cap.

“Mine?” I feel a dry patch starting at the back of my throat and creeping over my tongue. Industry people are horrible gossips, and William and Aaron have been slipping away everyday at lunchtime. I had guessed seeking more investors, but the way Kate says it unnerves me.

A pregnant pause, as she lights a cigarette. “I guess you could say, I was surprised when someone sent me a YouTube link of you and Bette and Gloria Steinem.”

“Oh, that.” I look around me for other possible ambushes.

Kate presses on, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were an actress.” A smoke ring exits her lips. “It was great theater, your surprise when she showed you the ring. And I mean that in best of possible ways.”

“Of course you do.” I lift it up for Kate, and we watch as it sparkles in the California sun.

CU Tina's ring

“Interesting, when you think about,” she rolls my ring finger between hers.”because two months ago you had a thing for me.”

Four Days Later –

flight attendants

Los Angeles to Dallas Flight – Alice

It didn’t take us long to make friends with the flight attendants, a Dallas based crew who were on their way home after flying God knows where all day long.  Frankly, I don’t know how they do it. Smile and smile and say the same things over and over, but drawl on they did, and I’ve never heard directions about seat beats and tray tables sound so sexy, but then again, I was in a rare mood.  It had felt good, very good, in fact, to send Tasha an email saying I was off to Dallas on business for a few days.  Really.  Screw her.

Shane, however, was not so brimming with cheer, and it was with some relief when I watched her across the aisle sprawl in her seat, take out her earphones, and close her eyes to the world.

Tina’s final words were, “Thank God, Nikki Stevens sprained her stupid ankle,” before she fell asleep on Bette’s shoulder, which made us look only slightly less like complete alcoholics, when we ordered a double vodka tonic for her, along with two for ourselves.

With our tray tables awash with cocktails and peanuts, and barely enough room for a game of gin rummy, I’m suddenly beginning to remember, Bette is very good at playing.

Competition.

I like to know it all. Bette likes to be absolutely right about everything, and Tina gets difficult when pushed too far, but today – with the control of our lives handed over for the next two and half hours to the pilot, and his lovely flight crew – we’ve given ourselves over to the inebriating effects of vodka, and matching wits at playing cards.

“I don’t know if I’d do it.” I blurt, and Bette flashes her eyes at me.

“What!?” I cry, causing Tina to stir.

“Dammit,” she hisses, “Are you looking at my cards, again, Alice?”

“Give my mother my kidney.” I set the record straight.

“Liver, Alice. Liver.” Bette corrects me as she snaps a card into her hand before laying down another fucking rummy. “Damn, I wish we were playing for money,” she smiles at me. “You shuffle, I can’t do it with her asleep on me like this.

“What’s up with her?” I nod toward Tina.

“Sleep deprived, I think.” Bette says as she cuts the cards.

“Newlyweds! Well, soon anyway.” I smile as I fan out my hand, and see that I have a fighting chance with this one. “Bette, drink up. The cart’s rolling back this way.”

“Not my fault,” Bette smirks in a rare form of sexual disclosure. “This time.”  Followed by a tender kiss on top of Tina’s head. “All week they’ve been shooting at night. Stupid movie. She’s exhausted.”

“It’s the redheaded flight attendant, again.” I lay down my discard. “I wouldn’t mind another round, you?”

“I’ll play you for it.”

“Okay,” I nod.

“Gin!” Bette announces, as she lifts up the Queen of Hearts I just discarded.

“God dammit! How do you keep doing that!”

“Skill. Sheer skill, Alice.” Bette pushes the cards at me to shuffle.

Tina’s hand drops into Bette’s lap, and begins to rub her thigh. “Babe, are you and Alice getting drunk?” Tina whispers into her neck.

“I think so. Is that okay with you?” Bette winks at me.

“I’m not driving.” Tina sighs.

“Okay, but right now we’re flying – so, we’re good.”

“Who’s winning?” Tina asks drowsily.

“As if you need to ask,” Bette drops a six of clubs on the table. “Eight to nothing. My favor.”

Eyeball sculpture Dallas hotel

Dallas, Texas – Outside the Hotel – Alice

Leave it to Bette to choose a hotel where a giant modern eye ball sculpture peers constantly into our windows. Awash with airplane vodka, I’m finding it particularly unnerving. That and the fact that Shane keeps visiting it, as she is doing now, and stroking the red vessels that crawl up its sides. But, we’ve got a silent, and as yet unbroken mantra going while we’re in Dallas. Let it Be. Let it Be. Let it Be.

So far, so good.

Tina pushes through the glass doors from the lobby. “We’re very close to St. Francis.” Tina says as the valet appears with our rental car, and she hands Shane the driving directions. “Are you sure you’re okay to drive?”

“Are you guys sure you want to come?” Shane looks at us one by one. “I can do this alone. They’re not sticking me with anything tonight. I’m just visiting her.”

“Unless you don’t want us to, I think we should all be there.” Bette says resolutely.

“I agree,” Tina adds, as Shane falls in line with us at the curb.

“Shotgun.” Bette calls as she opens the sedan’s back door for Tina.

Shane looks around the car before she turns into the early evening traffic. “Thanks, guys. I really mean it.”

“Dallas, Texas,” Tina muses from the back seat.  “Last time my father called me, an Easter or two ago, he said my sister lived here now.”

And I watch as Bette’s knuckles turn white as she grips the dashboard in front of her.

hospital logo Dallas

Outside the Hospital – Shane

I stare at the signage out front, “Presence? What the fuck does that even mean?”

“I wouldn’t think about it too much.” Bette offers, and then clears her throat, as Alice skips up beside me.

“When was the last time you saw your mother? I’ve known you for eight years and I don’t remember you ever going anywhere, except up to the vineyards in Ojai.”

“And that’s not far.” Tina adds.

“Today was the first time I’ve ever been in plane.”

“What?” We all shout at once from under the glowing Presence sign.

“Do you think the nuns who ran the foster homes I lived in had money for plane tickets? It was bus rides to the county fair, and only if the tickets were free.”

“Did you like flying?” Tina asks me.

“It was fast.”

Bette stands at the elevator in her cowboy boots as several couples walk past admiring them.

“Hey! We’re in Texas.” Alice spurts cheerfully as a family in ten gallon hats saunters past.

I press the button for the transplant floor, and as the elevator whooshes us upwards, I feel my liver, along with my stomach, staying somewhere two floors behind.

Shane's mother looking out windowThe Hospital Room – Bette

When Sue Ellen McCutcheon turns away from her wistful stare out the window, I feel a hammer of ache hit my chest when I think of all those missing years without my mother.  She opens her arms to her daughter, and for a moment our friend disappears as we watch tears stream down their cheeks. I begin to back out of the room, but Tina’s firm hand stops me. She whispers, “This is going to be okay.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. Keep walking.” Tina nudges me again, but I still feel trapped in something like a dream, as she gently pushes me farther inside.

“Lord, I must look nearly one foot in the grave.” Sue Ellen brushes her hands over her face. “Thank God, I put on my lips to meet you all.”

We all beam our best smiles back at her, as Shane begins to introduce us,

Tina’s the first to take Mrs. McCutcheon’s thin frail hand, and finally, it’s my turn.

“Bette Porter, nice to meet you.” I feel the papery texture of her skin.

“Bette?” She looks at her daughter, “The swimming pool, right?”

Shane nods as she looks out the window, and wipes the tears away with the back of her hand.

“Yes. The swimming pool.”

“There’s not too many places to sit.” Sue Ellen apologizes.

Alice drops down on the end of the hospital bed. “So, what’d she say about me? I’m her best friend.”

______

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.

The site doesn’t send you to this story following story when you click —–> Next Post. So, to read in order –

12. The New Mothers of Invention – Bette opens this story with a long windmill of thoughts and musings that was incredibly fun for me to write and imagine. Being in her head amuses me completely. Then, the story kicks off into a speedy sequence of events as Tina finds Bette in the hospital corridor and off they go into the humidity of a Dallas, Texas night.   http://wp.me/p4AUvc-lB8

P.S. To catch the thread of this four part series again you may want to read the very amusing story preceding this one, Alice Surmises found here: http://bit.ly/AliceAmuses

Writer’s love comments, please drop one if you’d like.

Enjoy, Blackbird

@Blackbirdwrite and on Facebook, L Word Behind the Scenes. Thanks to Jacky at LesFan.com who also hosts these stories there.

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The New Mothers of Invention – Touch Tones #12

Bette Close Up profile anticipation

Dallas, Texas – In a Hospital Corridor Near a Stairwell – Bette

I should’ve known better, but when has that old adage ever saved any fool from themselves? So now, here I am hanging out in the hallway being Alice and Shane’s lookout.

Tina has disappeared for the moment, wanting nothing at all to do with this plan, and as she walked away over her shoulder she threw back a look that was meant to wilt my resolve, but her heart wasn’t really it in, and I can take a lot, lot worse.

It’s always amazed me how life can appear to be moving in one direction, as certain as an ice floe, and then slide off a cliff you never saw coming. I wonder if that’s how Jodie feels, three weeks away from me?

And who was she in the mystifying game of cat and mouse Tina and I played with relish against each other? Strange as it sounds, because she truly hates my guts right now, Jodie was both the curse and the cure that changed my Fate. As I was disappearing over the horizon line, Tina woke up from the sleepwalking state of believing that dating around West Hollywood was the way to the Well of Happiness.

A folly of hangovers ten thousand before her had tried.

Bette_Tina_looking ahead, Powersuit

Art saved me.

There was a painting that hung in The Provocations show, and I had walked by it everyday for months, but when I call it up now – the image of The Wraith of Temptations’ canvas – I can see her face of duality.  Half vixen and the other half, not chaste, but one of serene delight – I finally have a whole picture of myself, in a way I’ve never had before.

I am both bliss and the hungry complications of human nature.

I know this deeply when Tina is sleeping next me.  Lying on my back, staring up at the ceiling I’ve edged right up to the duality of myself.  When the night outside is especially windy, and the chaotic reflections from my pool flash wildly across my ceiling, they entrance me.  The lavender scent of our sheets, her sometimes still sticky on my fingers, leads me to imagine myself as healed and golden, and not quite real.  In these transcendent moments, Tina has a body of quicksilver, and I can’t tear my eyes away from her beauty and nakedness.

I feel it as deeply as my own skeleton of interlocking bones.  Something terrible has been swept away from us, and Hell has been avoided.

SheBarKiss

As much as I detest Dawn Denbo, and to a lesser degree, My Girlfriend Cindy, I will always have reverence for the magic that happened in the SheBar, even though it was mostly my tongue that led me all the way Home.

It’s a well known fact, I had realized after Alice made me sit down, and read all the comments about me on her blog, that Tina and I are an Internet “kissing sensation”.

WITH FOLLOWERS.

“Is this one from the SheBar’s security cameras? This is unbelievable to me! Who the fuck posts all these things?” I had nearly spilled my beer all over the computer when the long tortured video of me, bereft of even a single word, had shown me desperately rolling my lips with Tina’s until finally my mind had broken.

It was then she had whispered, “Don’t, Babe. Please don’t cry anymore.” But still I hadn’t stopped, or maybe it was that I didn’t really believe her until she’d answered all my hows and whys with the only words I’d needed to hear, “Because I love you.”

Only then, did my breath return to my lungs, and my heart to its rightful place inside my chest, and finally her hand over its too fast beating, she had whispered in my ear, “Take me home, Bette. I’m ready to go.”

I feel it. The way the pieces that shattered have come back smooth and knowing their place, and how there’s a profound kind of peace in that.

In New Mexico, I’d seen it again most recently, when something old, and very fierce, had burned through my Mother, and her friend, Mary Windhorse’s eyes. When rape and attempted murder didn’t defeat them, they became Mothers of Re-Invention. It’s what we do.

Women transform.

Bette_Tina CU Atlanta Kiss

“How did this one get out on the Internet?  Jenny has cameras in my house! I’ve sworn to Tina they’re in here.”

Alice had convinced me Jenny was not to blame for this one, but Dana’s bizarre selection of wife material, the marketing girl with the thick thighs, Tonya-what’s-her-name, had probably snapped this one night when she was over.

What it all stacks up to, the Internet revelry about us when we kiss, is that we make women’s knees go weak when we get lost in each other.  And infamous or not, I’m just like every other lost and confused lovesick idiot, but perhaps with better shoes, and a permanent tan.  My thanks always to my black ancestors, who kindly tinted me so nicely.

Fourteen days and five hours later, after Gloria deftly coaxed us all the way across the studio stage to the delights of a cheering crowd, I’d have to be blind and dumb not to see that my soon-to-be-wife of forever is not pleased with me at the moment. Her aggravated arrival puts the sudden brakes on my windmill of thoughts.

Tina verticle arguing Brazil

“My guess is this is so illegal. Have you even considered we might all end up in jail?” Tina stomps up to me.

“I’m innocent!” I throw my hands up to show — I’m clean of most recently committed crimes. “I was standing there one minute, same as you, and it all happened, so fast.”

“But you didn’t try to stop it.” Tina points out as she blows away a piece of hair that has fallen across her eyes.

“What would you’ve had me do? Stick my leg out, and trip the old lady as she made for the door?” I consider walking away toward the elevator, but wisely I stay put. “What if she has osteoporosis? Then, what? We all pitch in tomorrow with our bone marrow?

Tina puts her hand on her hip to tell me: The Game’s Up. “Look me in the eyes, and swear to me – poor bone density was why you didn’t stop her.”

I paste a thoughtful, compassionate look on my face, but Tina sees right through me. “T, bone marrow harvesting hurts like a sonuvabitch, Baby. You really don’t want any part of that.”  I lean over and kiss her lightly on the lips, and then another kiss, and then we’re fine.

“I honestly don’t know sometimes why I put up with you,” but Tina squeezes my hand, as she says it.

I press the elevator button down for the Lobby. “I’m thinking whiskey first, then a ribeye, you?”

dallas steakhouse cowboy bar

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Alice

Real Girls with big hair, I’m not accustomed to.  Drag Queens, check.  But thirtysomething women, who actually teased their hair way up high before driving over here to drink all night – not so much.  Take Miss Laredo over there, who’s throwing her head back in peals of laughter, as if the brunette next to her has just told her the funniest joke in the world. I want some of that, shellacked finishes and all.

Life has been too sad, and far too weird lately with Tasha, who likes things regimented and marching forward with nice, neat squared off edges. I’m an oval person, and I’ve never met a hard angle that didn’t upset and later, offend me. I blame it all on Shane’s dying mother, who’s looking more and more slightly green around the gills, as the one who ignited my heroic sense of carpe diem – Texas style.

“Bette, I’ll buy the first round if you’ll come with me to the bar. Help me carry back our cocktails.” Her knee high cowboy boots, and sly smile are the perfect commodities I need to obliterate my urban footwear, Jewish ancestry, and catch me a much-needed date for the evening.

“Single malt or bourbon?” Bette calls back to Tina, as I lead her away.

Shane_Med_bluegreen bckgrd

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Shane

It’s true. I haven’t thought this whole thing through in all the ways I should have with my mother.

I forgave her leaving me for months with our neighbors, who finally put me into foster care, saving me from their teenage son, who looked like he was going to hop on me, and not get off.  Wrestling, he liked to call it.

I’m strangely bent when it comes to sex.  Turning hand job tricks on Sunset Blvd was my first chosen source of income when I blew into town. That, I realize, says something about me. Words like gender bender, and the hard rubber cocks I strapped on and slid down the tight legs of my jeans were things I never knew existed before I stuck my hand out, and hitchhiked myself as far away as I could get from the Great State of Texas. And now, I’m home.

My mother, who looks like she might be in need of a plastic bucket to vomit in, is reaching in her purse and taking out medicine and I hope not bad pills. Whatever they are, she’s washing them down with Coca-Cola, and Tina’s watching, too, as the pills disappear by the handful.

Tina’s eyes meet mine for a moment, as she sips her drink, and leans closer into Bette. They love each, it’s so obvious, and my mother looks beautiful, but dying – ever so slowly.

“Shane, should you be drinking tonight?” Tina looks at me with a warning. “Aren’t they taking tissue from your liver tomorrow to test for a good match?”

“What does testing my DNA, and something called gene panels, have to do with alcohol?” I punctuate with a swig of my Lone Star beer.

Alice barks a laugh, “You may be the only person in LA who’s never been to a 12 step meeting.

“I haven’t,” Bette offers proudly, “Although Kit’s invited me plenty of times.”

“Do what you want, I say,” my mother chimes in with what I can see on Tina’s face is registering as the kind of guardian she might have been had she stayed around, had a thousand things gone differently, had she not been a drug addict all my life.

“So, let me get you all straight, because my daughter’s postcards are usually just a few lines scrawled. You’re the ones she has breakfast with every morning? What does that make you? A book club, a coffee klatch, some kind of women’s group?”

Alice cocks her head up and stares into the antler chandelier above our table. “This is hardly the 50’s. Do you know anything about Shane’s, uh-mm, life?”

Antler Chandelier - Dallas

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Tina

“Bette,” I whisper, as the waitress hands around menus that are printed on the backs of Wild West Wanted Dead or Alive posters.

“They had the greatest outlaw names,” Bette says admiring the old photo of “Deadeye” Rick Malloy. “Look at this guy, damn! He’d scare me to death if he walked in here right now.”

“Most of them had syphilis, and the spirochetes had corkscrewed through them.” Alice taps the side of her head. “Swiss cheese. Gooey, mushy brains, if you can imagine.”

Sue Ellen looks a bit more ill, then a shiver jumps up her shoulders.

“Bette,” I repeat again, digging into her with my elbow.

“What, Baby? What?”

I whisper in a low voice very near her ear.  “Do you remember the Xanax and Valium pills I keep for whenever we have an earthquake?”

“Ah, ah, of course I do, but I certainly don’t have any.  What’s wrong? Are you suddenly nervous?”

“I’m not nervous, at all, but they’re both blue, but Valium can also be yellow.”

“And grass is green.  All good to know, but did you get a look at the size of that Porterhouse that just went by?!”

“You probably can’t eat, can you Mom?” Shane peers over her Wanted Dead or Alive poster.

Alice offers her medical advice. “My mother, who has the maternal instincts of a spider, would prescribe you Chicken Soup. It’s the Jewish cure all for anything.”

“But not Hitler,” says Sue Ellen, “Do you all really believe there was a holocaust?”

“What!?” Bette shouts way too forcefully.

Sue Ellen stares back at Bette. “Pee-ah-zec-ee, that ain’t Irish, sweetheart. I know from whence I speak.”

Alice, to her credit is taking none of this seriously, and she begins to smile, “Does everyone in your family have a double name, Sue Ellen? And how’d you escape Virginia and North Carolina without one, Tina?”

Shane leans across the table to Bette. “Guys, I can’t eat a whole one of these monster steaks, maybe, I am a little worried about the tests tomorrow.”

Alice comforts her, “Drink some milk, Shane, that will coat your stomach.”

“She can make up her own mind what to eat. I think that should be plenty obvious.” Sue Ellen snorts, and lolls her head back against the soft red leather banquette. “What do you know about it, anyway? Milk.”

“Pasteurized, or unpasteurized, or straight out of the teets? I freelanced for one of the farm co-ops back when everybody was on about making their own yogurt. You can’t stump me when it comes to dairy.”

”Right.” Shane says quickly. ”Mother, let’s go back to your room.”

Sue Ellen waves a Wanted Dead or Alive poster back at her daughter. ”Don’t-cha mean, Death Row? And here you are, after twenty years back in Texas, taking me to dinner with your LA friends, hiding their unnatural attraction for each other with lipstick and fake wedding rings.”  She looks disgusted as she stares at Alice, avoiding Bette’s and my eyes. ”You must think I’m blind. Trust me, I’m not.”

With a dead-eye lock into Shane’s, Bette tosses back her whiskey in one long disappearing swallow. “This is fucking ridiculous, and this has got to stop.”

“Tourette’s, maybe?” Shane looks oddly hopeful.

I shake my head, “Well, I’m just stunned she didn’t know.”

“Know what?” Sue Ellen leans in on her elbows.

“Something very hard to write on a postcard.” Shane defends herself.

Then, the waitress arrives. Thank God.

dead or alive poster

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Bette

The ample chested blonde waitress leans so far down, and comes so close to my face, that I can’t help myself so, I smile.

“I know what I want,” Alice begins.

As I lean in closer to Tina, I hold up the menu to hide my face. “We don’t have to sit through this bullshit, Baby. Just say the word, and I’ll take you out of here.”

“She’s hopped up on something. Remember when I was asking you about blue pills?”

“I just know about Heroin, Kit’s drug of choice, if you don’t count Tequila, Rum, Gin, Vodka…”

“I get it, Bette, but something’s very wrong with her.”

“She’s a bigot, that’s mostly what’s wrong with her!” My attention flips back to the D cup waitress. “I’m going straight to the beef, no salad, no spinach, just a baked potato and straight to business with the steak, but I am definitely ordering another drink. What are you doing, T?”

“If Alice’s ever left California, and landed in a flyover state, she’s heard it all before, but I didn’t see this coming,”

“And Shane’s not, Out?” I begin to laugh. “Absolutely, so ridiculous.”

“Babe, have you forgotten that you didn’t exactly get on so well when this happened with your father?” That stops her laughter, and I wish I could take it back. Then, my phone rings.

“Hey, sweetheart, it’s Momma T. Are you all tucked in?”

“Who’s that calling during dinnertime?” Sue Ellen starts up again.

Alice flips through our family pictures on her iPhone, and  leans over to Sue Ellen, “Oh, and the fake straight women? They have a baby girl together. A cute little brown one. Wanna see?”

_____________

Part Three of this tale I hope you’re enjoying will post soon.

Love to hear from you, if you’d like to drop a comment.

Blackbird

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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.

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Thanks always to Jacky at LesFan who hosts us there.


19 Comments

#3 Touch Tones: The Ringer

 

Claire_with The Ringer
Sunday Night – The Sunset Grill

As I walk into the grill on Sunset I brush off the last bits of dust still clinging to me from my trip to the storage unit with Shane. Phase One of Claire’s plan is in motion and I hope to God she knows what the fuck she’s doing.

Before she notices my entrance I lean backwards slightly to stretch my muscles. After fighting with my unwieldy mattress and its swaying back and forth between me and Shane my back all the way up to my neck feels achy and tight. Shane was helpful and her body is very long, but it definitely took all my muscle to wrangle my bed into the van and then back out again. The door behind me opens and I step aside and hear Tina’s voice.

”So, how did it go after I left?” Tina asks as she slips her arm through mine.

”I counted to thirty at the bottom of the pool and as I was dripping into the house I caught Jenny out of the corner of my eye at her window. They definitely heard us.”

”And to think we used to talk to each other that way every day.” Tina sighs as she leads me to the meet the clean cut young man sitting in the booth with Claire.

”Bette, this is Josh Stanley from E News,” Claire introduces the reason I’m not under the head of a shower right now. ”Josh is also a blogger for Gay WeHo and PrideLA.com. We’ve worked on a few special projects together.”

”Special projects.” I repeat back with a lilting wonder if that’s PR code for Gay and Lesbian.

A waiter appears at the table. Tina looks at the chalkboard specials on the wall. ”Bette, what are you having?”

”We’re going to be here that long?”

”Babe, I’m hungry. Do you want anything?”

”Okay, Linguini and a glass of Chianti, really good Chianti.” The waiter nods. As Claire and Josh place their orders I whisper to Tina, ”Who is this guy? Can we trust him? I thought we were keeping a very tight ring around this plan.”

”Bette, you can absolutely trust him.” Claire says I suppose hearing me with her third ear. ”And what’s more we don’t want to try this without his help.”


13 Comments

#2 Touch Tones: The Handler

PR consultant for Tina

Malibu – Cocktail party – Bette

As Claire joins our impromptu announcement party, Helena and Shane do a slow orbit and rearrange themselves around her. Shane becomes a cool, attentive bartender while Helena finds the artwork nearest to the bar to feign interest in. Alice, always the extrovert, shakes Claire’s hand, and patters on about celebrities, and publicity as Claire nods and sips her champagne. The moment Alice stops to take a breath Claire’s attention drifts over to me. She extends her hand.
Bette_Tina_Happy_at restaurant

“So, this is who all the fuss is about. You.” Claire shoots me a look, letting me know she’s heard I can be the capital “T” in Trouble.

“Claire, Bette and I got engaged last night.” Tina beams at me again, then back to Claire.

“Bette Porter.” I shake Claire’s hand with something slightly warmer than my Dean Porter grip. “So happy you could join us, on such short notice.” I recall my delicious, but interrupted afternoon nap.

“Congratulations, to both of you.” Claire smiles genuinely. Then, straight to business. “But I gather some people might see this announcement as a time to burn you to the ground?”

I frown at the thought.

She looks at me. “Or is that too strongly phrased for you, Bette?”

“The situation is this,” Tina takes over. “The writer of the movie I’m producing for Shaolin Studios – that used to be Helena’s studio – well, that’s a long story. But parts of the movie – for your ears only – resemble parts of all of our lives.” Tina sweeps her hand to include everyone in the room. “And Bette and I are Jenny’s neighbors.”

I look down into my glass. “And we fought sometimes.”

“Did you hit each other?”

“God no!”

“That’s good to know, but there must be something you’re adamant about keeping buried.”

“It can’t be that daunting, can it?” I shout. “To give two people back their fucking privacy!” I throw my hands up in the air. “That’s all I want! Things back the way they were.”

Tina sends me a disbelieving stare.

Quickly, I try to course correct. “No! I take that back. Not the way they were.”

Claire looks confused.

Alice, sensing her moment, motions Claire over to a seating area. “You’re looking for a plan, right?”

Alice and Shane sitting livingroom

“Go on.” Claire sits across the couch from Alice and focuses on Shane. “Help me get the lay of the land.  What’d you think about your roommate? Do Bette and Tina have a problem with Jenny?”

“Well, there was that thing she did with Sounder, he died.” Shane offers.

Puzzled, Tina looks at me. “Died? Next door?”

I shrug. News to me. Then, I get furious. “How can Jenny know everything about us, and we remain clueless about even the smallest things?”

“He wasn’t small,” Shane adds.

I point my finger at Tina, “See! Now she’s back to men. Again! What do we know?! Nothing!”

Shane finishes her beer. “The dog, whatshisname, Jenny buried him in the flower bed.”

Tina’s mouth drops open slightly. All I can do is shake my head.

Alice rolls her eyes impatiently. “Aren’t we getting off topic? Maybe just a teeny bit?”

“Very far off.” Tina takes back the floor. “Claire, I’m the film’s producer and our studio PR people …”

“I know them, Byron and Sally.”

Tina presses her hands against her chest, and looks completely earnest. “And I like them both, I do. I’m just not getting good advice, or support from them.  I think they know the press are after any gossip or tidbits surrounding the cast or creators of Hollywood’s first big budget, lesbian movie, but I don’t get the feeling they’re working at all to protect me — only the stars, mainly Nikki Stephens.”

Claire adds it up. “And you got this very beautiful engagement ring last night, the press are showing up en masse on Monday afternoon. I get the timetable on all that completely, but what I’m missing is – what you two did, that you’re so embarrassed about?”

Alice butts in. “I suggest you start with how much fucking around you both did, and end with Angelica’s full blown custody battle.”

And with that outed, my eyes sail up to the ceiling.

“Anyone need a drink?” Shane pops up from the couch.

“God! Yes!” Helena answers for us all, and leaps to her feet.
Helena_HairLong_headcocked

But I look straight back into Claire’s eyes.” I had an affair – for like four days – and then Tina went off with her for awhile.” I point accusingly at Helena, who’s hovering by the bar. “Then Tina left her, thank God! Came to her senses, came home to me. Then, we had the baby we’d had planned for years.” I motion behind me down the hall. “She’s sleeping now, big day at the beach. Our daughter’s almost three.”

“I’m her Earth Mother.” Alice adds proudly and shows Claire a picture of Angelica. Claire flips through Alice’s phone.

Tina bites her lip. “Then, under the delusions of postpartum I had the crazy idea – I would be happier with a man, instead of Bette.”

Hearing Tina say it, still makes me mad.  “And at that point I went to WalMart, bought a six inch Bowie knife, and planned out — to the last detail — exactly how I was going to murder the guy.”

Claire studies me carefully. “Is that in the movie?”

No, Tina shakes her head.

Claire appears to calculate our sins so far. There’s cheating, but no slapping each other around. Well, there was that one time. There’s homicidal thoughts, at least on my end. There’s a hard to conceive baby that finally came, and a mostly dried up ocean of bitter feelings about who would’ve been a better parent to Angelica. The Court’s choice being: a sometimes bi-leaning toward gay film producer, or an outspoken, dyed in the wool, lesbian university dean.

And all of it sounds so stupid, and yet, if layered with sexy-sounding twists and turns, we could run for weeks — even months — as movie magazine headlines.

Suddenly, I feel sad and guilty, but mostly, ashamed all over again.

Alice wags her finger at me and Tina, “But the way they armed themselves for their child custody battle, you’d have thought oil royalties and Beverly Hills real estate was at stake.”

Joyce

“Joyce Wishnia sanely talked us down from that ledge,” I add.

Claire looks at me and Tina. “And why is all this is in the movie?”

“Excellent question!” I look at Tina. “Is it? Is Angelica’s custody battle in there, too? And weren’t you trying to get Bev and Nina renamed?”

“Those are her character’s names?” Claire looks astonished.

Tina answers, “It’s almost like….”

“She did it on purpose!” I fume.  “Are you kidding!”

“Why would a writer do such a thing?  On so many levels, it just seems wrong.” Claire looks at Shane and Alice for answers. Finding only shrugs she looks back at me. “What’d you think, Bette?”

“Me?” I leave the couch for the martini shaker. “She’s obsessed with us. Her life’s a constant wreck of ‘straight girl turning gay’ experimentation,  and she’s miserable. She can’t find love, and never will find love because she’s still at the stage of thinking: Fucking a lot means Love.”  I down half my drink and refill it. “She doesn’t have the first clue what it means to be with somebody.”

Then, I feel a gear, deep inside me shift, and I articulate much more calmly. “Jenny knows I deeply love, Tina. She knows we’ve always been in love with each other. She saw, apparently through her fucking windows, how torn apart we were for years.”

Then, Tina begins to cry.

“Would you excuse us for a moment?” I pick up two glasses, crook the neck of a champagne bottle between my fingers, and open the French doors to the deck. “T, put on a sweater and walk outside with me for a minute.”

“Excuse us, please, just for a second.” Tina follows me out to the deck.

Malibu Waves Night

The Beach – Saturday night – Bette

As I open the French doors nearest the ocean, Tina pulls her sweater tightly around her. Silently we walk down the steps to the beach. The sounds of the surf and the cool breezes coming off the sea revive me momentarily.

“I need to talk to you.” We simultaneously admit the same urgency.

Tina loops her arm around my waist and we walk closer to the water. “I’ll go first if that’s okay?” I nod in agreement as she continues. “I know I emotionally left you at least twice, and during some really, really shitty times for you, Bette.”

“It doesn’t excuse what I did though.”

“No, but I understand it, now. When I went temporarily nuts after the baby came, I didn’t come to you, either. I thought I needed someone else.”

“How could we have been so stupid?”

“Over and over.” Tina shakes her head.

“You know what?” I ask.

“What?”

“We have to get Jenny, and her dreadful characters away from us. I mean, for Christ sake we’ve spent enough time in hell, haven’t we?” I pour us each a glass of champagne. “I want to marry you, and be happy. That’s all I want. And I know we can make that happen.” I clink glasses with hers and take a delicious, long cold swallow.

Tina turns toward the ocean and leans back against me. I wrap my arms around her. “I love you so much right this minute,” Tina says. “Please promise me that if I ever go insane again you’ll be just as crazy? And lose your mind, and fight for me to come home? Will you promise me that?”

“A pledge to go bat shit? I can manage that.” I laugh with her. “I think you can count me in, T.”

“What should we do, Babe? You’ve just heard the recounting of what fucking assholes we can be.”

“But you know, Tina, it’s Jenny’s version that makes me want to eat broken glass. The way her story reads we sound so pathetic. Bev and Nina lack that heart wrenching pathos we had going.” I pull at my chest, and speak louder so the wind can’t whip my words away so quickly.

“I mean, that’s what made me so fucking miserable. So much so, that even though you were the cause of it,” I kiss her neck. “All I wanted was to be back in your arms.”

Ouroborous

“Like the Ouroborous.”

“Exactly, the Ouroborous.” I kiss her neck some more, and wrap my arms around her. “There was an inescapable nature to it. But I’ll never do it again.”

“Me either. Dating alone was enough of a penalty for being such a bitch to you.”

“T, you want to know what mine was?” I laugh as we turn to walk back to the beach house and our guests.

“Come clean, Bette. It’s only fair, don’t you think?”

“Jodie Lerner kissed like a Labrador retriever.” I laugh sadly. “I kid you not. Kissing her was unbelievably bad.”

“Babe, I find that astonishing.” Tina shakes her head. “How could anyone fuck up a kiss with you? You’re like The Kissing Grail.”

“Oh, well, that’s kind of you. But it must be us, and not just me, because I swear to God it was like slurping from a dog’s water bowl.”

“Okay, I’ve heard enough explanation! I honestly only halfway liked her, and she’s wasn’t into Angelica at all, was she?”

“Tiny bit. But she’s very hung up on herself. Very preachy, too.”

“Well, that was doomed not to work then.” Tina smiles at me as I push open the door.

“Oh, good. You guys are back. It’s time for a toast.” Alice says as she pops open a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.

Alice_Lesbo Land

Sunday – 6 pm – Alice

As I pull up to the curb in front of Bette’s house. I hope that after a day or two – and hopefully while the movie is still hot and on everyone’s mind – that Bette will to do a podcast with me, and that both of them will answer my growing list of burning questions.  Well, I am their wedding planner after all! But that interesting bit of news is still under wraps until Claire says, “Go.”

I see Bette out in front of her house wrestling with a long garden hose. “I know we’re suppose to be digging up our gardens and putting in freaky looking rocks that resemble meteorites instead of wasting water on plants, but I can’t stand it any longer. Everything is dying.” Bette turns on the nozzle spray and a halo of small rainbows appear as she waters her roses. Jenny comes into view for a moment next door in her window.

“Did you come to swim?”

“Sure, if that’s okay but I wanted to ask you about scheduling a podcast with me. How about tomorrow, Wednesday at the latest.” I follow Bette around the side of her house where we see more withering roses that need watering.  Next door, I hear a window slide open. “Are you alone?” I ask.

“Tina’s not dropped Angelica off, yet.” Bette jerks her head toward Jenny’s. “But she’s home. No idea where Shane is.”

“Special offer. I’ll buy you lunch at The Planet, and you do a quick podcast with me for my new blog.”

“Alice! How many times do I have to tell you! I’m not doing a fucking podcast with you, and talking about me and Tina and Jenny’s fucking movie. I’m furious about all of it. So, absolutely, no!”

Bette points her finger toward Jenny’s living room. “She can go fuck herself. And you,” she says as her finger suddenly stabs me back a step, then two, “and you are about to cross the line with me, Alice.”

“Well, Jesus! We’re friends for God’s sake! And it’s a movie kinda about all of us.” I raise my voice, and argue back with Bette. “You know that I’m trying to make Our Chart and Lesbo Land into something great and “Alice in Lesbo Land” is in need of a lot of hits. Please.” I plead my case.

“Is Jenny doing an interview with you tomorrow? Are you actually promoting that poorly conceived bullshit of hers?” Bette fumes at me. “That really pisses me off, Alice. Don’t give that bitch an audience for her hack job on all of us.”

Bette drums a jet stream against the glass of one of Jenny’s windows. “Have you lost your fucking mind, Alice? I think you should come back another time to swim. Just give me a break. Tina is coming over with Angelica at any moment. I’m tired. I have a headache, and a child to feed. Just go. Go somewhere else.”

Jenny Best White backgrd

Jenny’s House – Alice

After a few knocks I pace back and forth on Jenny’s small porch, and I wait for her to open the door. “Where’s Shane, Jenny? I really need to talk to her. And do you have a glass of water?” I push past her inside, and head for the kitchen. Through Jenny’s open windows I can see Bette continuing to water her garden.

“What’s wrong, Alice?” Jenny hands me a cold bottle from the fridge. “You’re hyperventilating.”

“What’s wrong is fucking Bette Porter. That’s what’s wrong.” I fume at Jenny. “I mean, I think everyone in your movie should be in a podcast with me. Why not try to make it fun? I mean it’s a movie for crying out loud! Entertainment! Hello?”

“She hates me doesn’t she? I think they both do.” Jenny rises up on her tip toes, and looks past me to Bette in her garden. “Tina tries to fake it with me at work, but I think she hates me, too.” Jenny pouts a little.

“Tina just pulled up.” I tell Jenny, as I hear a car door slam. We watch Tina walk into Bette’s living room. Geez, from here you really can see nearly everything that goes on over there.

“Don’t tell me you left her at The Planet again.” I hear Bette complaining to Tina.

“I had some shopping to do, and Kit was glad to see her.”

“Listen, my phone blew up an hour ago with interview requests about your fucking movie. I thought you were taking care of all that.” Bette walks out by her pool with a container of fertilizer. “Alice was just over here, too. Wanting a podcast! Listen! Tell everybody to leave me alone!”

“Ignore the calls. Just do what you always do.”

“Oh? And what’s that exactly?” Bette looks up at Tina as she measures plant food for her flowers.

“I know you have a problem with what I do for a living, and more specifically with Jenny’s fucking movie, but it’s my job, Bette. And it’s paying half of Angelica’s pre-K tuition at that place you insisted on in Beverly Hills – that costs a fucking fortune.”

“Oh, please, Tina. Not the money thing again.” Bette walks away from her. “So bourgeois, so bourgeois.”

“Bette, don’t talk to me like that.” Tina warns. “And listen, after the press conference at five I’m having drinks with a group from WME. The new VPs from Endeavor are flying into town. So, I need you to watch Angelica.

“Sounds tedious. All those William Morris types do is sell flesh. It’s repulsive to me.”

“Bette, can you be more fucking elitist? Jenny should have captured more of this snarky side of your personality instead of …” Tina stops as Bette dumps a gallon of fertilizer on her garden and falls backwards into her pool. Waves and bubbles break the surface above her and the red bucket bobs, and then begins to sink in the pool.

Tina waits for a ten seconds, then some more as Bette sits on the bottom.

“Jesus!” Tina exclaims and then storms back inside the house.

Jenny rolls her eyes up and says, “Ooops. But seriously, nothing new.”

“I’m texting Shane, now. I really need someone to drink with me tonight. Tasha is on some weekend long scrimmage training, or something or other.”

Jenny and I watch as Tina drives away, and slowly Bette walks across her patio dripping wet and then disappears inside her house.

Text from Alice to Shane:
“Where R U? I’m thirsty.”

Text from Shane to Alice:
“Burbank.”

Text from Alice to Shane:
“Why? Nvrmind.”

Text from Shane to Alice:
“Long story.”

Text from Alice to Shane:
“K. Call later.”

I jerk my head up when I hear a crash coming from inside Bette’s house. Jenny and I look at each other as Bette yells, “Fuck!”

“Yeah, right. Well, Alice about my interview with you tomorrow.” Jenny skips into her front room, and drapes herself dramatically across the couch. “My agents will have this special area roped off for me after the studio’s presser is over, so, can we do ours maybe, after they all leave?”

“You mean me last?” I squint at her ever so slightly. “How many are you doing tomorrow?”

“Maybe four maybe eight, not sure.” Jenny says as she twirls her hair.

“Uh huh.” I peer out to the garden apartment where Max lives. “I guess I can talk to Max, and see how long he can hang out with the camera. So, we’ll shoot your statements from the stage and then cut in your interview.”

“I’m not speaking on the stage. It’s a studio event and just Aaron and Tina are giving remarks. You know how studios are about writers. They treat us like shit, Alice.”

“Uh huh. Shitty enough so you bought a Porsche.” I walk over to the window. “Okay, finally!  Wait. What? Shane’s pulling up in some kind of moving van?” I watch as Shane trots up to Bette’s front door.

“What the fuck! I’m dying for alcohol over here.”

Jenny motions to the refrigerator, “There’s some wine in there, and a bottle of rum on top of the refrigerator. It’s Max’s, but go ahead.”

I take down the rum and put ice cubes and lime in a glass. “What the hell are they doing?” I ask as Jenny and I watch Bette and Shane struggle to push her king sized mattress and box springs into a moving van. With a mighty heave from Bette her bed finally slides into the truck. They disappear back inside.

“God, I never thought of that.” Jenny says as she goes over to her computer, and begins to type. I sip my drink and wait for the next phase of the unfolding show next door. Absorbed, Jenny taps away on her keyboard.

I hear a second crash and then more glass breaking as Bette throws the pieces of her bedside lamps into the trash bin, winks up at me, and walks back inside.

Text from Alice to Shane:
“WTF is going on? I’m @ur house watching Bette destroy her bedroom. What r u doing over there?”

“Tell Alice to mind her own Goddamn business.” I hear Bette calling through the windows, as she drops her blinds one by one around her living room. And before the last one falls she glares through the glass at me and says, “It’s called redecorating, Alice.”

“Wow.” Jenny looks up at me, her eyes somewhat glassy. “Their love nest is really no more. I know it’s a cliche but I have to make it a U-Haul.”

“Of course, you do.” I say before I swallow the rest of my drink and head for the door.

__________

Following very soon will be Chapter 3 of _TOUCH TONES_ The L Word inspired Season 7.

@ModernLWord is a very amusing Twitter Feed. I mean laugh out loud funny.

@thelword_FPAGE is another site for photos, news and other amusements.

 

#TheLWord, #tinakennard, #betteporter, The L Word Bette Porter, Tina Kennard, The L Word Bette Porter, The L Word Bette Porter, Tina Kennard,


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Coming Home

DreamSequence_Garden

Bette’s House – Tina

As I drift up from my dream I hear the co-mingling of familiar sounds from my past: The garden fountain’s pattering and splashing in the distance, the soft whirr of the pool pump as it kicks on, and Bette’s strong, steady breath as she sleeps next to me. The last thing I want to do is go to work today.

I disable my 6:15 alarm and push the creeping thoughts of Jenny’s revealing new script rewrites and the romantic calamities of Bev and Nina from my mind. Dissuaded they circle me unhurried from dismissal.

Bette stirs and wraps me in her arms. I wonder does she know she’s holding me?

“How’d you sleep?”

I sigh and feel like a fool.

“I’m listening.” She sweeps my hair back and watches me intently.

“Babe, I’ve missed you. There’s no other lover like you anywhere in the world. I’d bet millions on it.” I smile, and she begins to laugh softly with me.

“You know everything about me, don’t you?” Bette asks.

“Hardly, you’re too complicated.” I caress her face and slowly we kiss our good morning.

“I’m not really. I have beliefs and when challenged I. . .things get complicated.”

“Let’s leave it at predictable.” A little ache rises up inside me, as we kiss again.

“I’m so glad you’re home, Tina.”

The sheet travels down my body and the feelings of her mouth and hands spread over me and we come in slow waves together and hold each other until the clock forces us apart.

Ten minutes later –

Focused on coffee and Angelica in that order, I pad down the hallway barefoot toward the kitchen picking up the clothing Bette and I dropped last night in a straight line from the front door into the bedroom.

The sweet scents from the garden drift in through the open French doors  before the morning smog begins, and as our morning coffee brews I rinse a bowl of blueberries and slice peaches for our breakfast.

In Angelica’s room now, leaning over to kiss our child awake – another part of morning  our small family has so rarely had together. Bette’s shower cuts off, and before my mind can grasp at who’s to blame for so few of these ever before being enjoyed, I stop myself. This may be the most perfect morning.

peaches_blueberries

Bette walks into the kitchen wearing her blue pin striped power suit and pours her coffee.

“Tina, I want you to move back home tonight. Will you come back home right now?” She fixes me with an intensity across the breakfast table.

“I have an unreal day ahead of me with Lez Girls but I’ll come over later with a big suitcase. How’s that?”

“How about two big suitcases? I’ll carry both of them inside.” She challenges me and smiles as Angelica pops blueberry after blueberry into her mouth and grins back.

“Bette, what makes you think that Jodie won’t come over here and that you can just invite me back to live here while you’re in a relationship with her?”

“It’s my house the last time I checked and I intend to be very cold when I break up with her later.” She says as she begins to eat her peaches. “I’m aiming for sub-zero.”

“And your inflammatory nature?”

She begins to laugh. “There are very complicated emotional thermodynamics involved in all this, Tina, I realize that. But here’s the best I can do to explain it to you.”

She points her finger at me and says, “You are “hot” feelings for me.” Then she makes a quick slice across her throat, “She equals “cold” feelings for me.” And she ends with a mouthful of fruit.

“I’ve seen you be cold before, Bette.” I shake my head and cut smaller bites of peaches for Angie.

“No, you haven’t. You’ve seen me steely, but trust me I’ve never felt this way before.”

 

caution tape

Bette’s Office – 9:30 am

Before I left home to drop off Angelica at CU’s day care and begin my complicated moves for extraction I packed every little piece of Jodie Lerner I could find into a medium sized cardboard box and tied it closed with yellow Caution tape. I stare at it on the floor under my office printer.

What was I? Fucking desperate? I wonder as my power suit boosts my laser focus and I begin to feel incredibly pissed off the longer I stare at the box. I fucking tolerated so much shit from that woman. Jesus! I’ve been so lost and for so damn long. I put my head in my hands and think about rebound sex and how the inevitable happened: I remembered love and knew it was somewhere else entirely.

I open my desk drawer and take out a framed photograph of Tina that Shane gave me so long ago. It’s been out in every office I’ve had but this one and I recall very clearly why I shoved it in the back of this drawer when I moved in – Tina was with Henry.

Tina_wooden bench behind her

I walk to my office door with Tina’s photograph in my hand and catch James’ attention.

“James, give me about ten minutes without interruption.” I smile to put him at ease. Poor man, I periodically beat the shit out of us both. “I’m closing my door. Ten minutes.” I hold up a little inch with my fingers.

One day I might change and not feel weird moods like this but I tend to doubt it. I look at the photograph of Tina and lean solidly back against my door until hear it catch. I thought for sure I had lost everything.

Shaolin Studios – Tina

Every time a delivery courier’s scooter appears in the window of my office trailer I wonder if Bette will send me flowers this morning. Then I wonder what kind, and then my phone interrupts me before I can fantasize anymore about her romantic floral signatures.

“Alice, hi.” I say finally after she calls my cell phone three times.

“Well, so you really are starting Jenny’s crazy movie about us, huh?” Alice begins. “Shooting in two days? Right?”

“Alice, really for your own good, for the good of all of us please talk about this movie as a work of fiction. Nothing is real.”

“Tina, I can’t get metaphysical with you before one or two in the morning but, yeah, I hear what you’re saying. And I need a press pass to the set while you’re shooting, okay?”

“Alice, I can’t give you an all access anything. This is a closed set. I’ll ask you on days when we’re outside or you know when I can Alice, but we’re not making press passes to the set.”

“Okay, I get it – lesbians, movie secrecy and all that.” I roll my eyes as I hear Alice begin her interpretations.

“Marketing and mystique. Good thinking. So, I’m dropping it for now, but remember me.”

“You’re unforgettable.” I watch as another courier gets off his scooter without bringing me flowers. I turn back to my desk and bring up my daily meeting calendar.

“I think Shane broke her “sex fast” last night at the SheBar.” Alice laughs into the phone conspiratorially.

“That business had a very short half life. But it was amusing to watch while it lasted.” I acknowledge.

“It was, wasn’t it? So, the movie biz and all – surely you see someone interesting out your window if not two or three. Right?”

“Alice, I’ll invite you to the set as soon as I can but I have to go.” I say as I look up to into the face of a wrinkled Asian man who hands me a bouquet of my favorite roses mixed with Stargazer lilies.

We watch as a lady bug crawls out of the petals, cocks its spotted back and flies away.

Pink_Yellow Roses

 

“Those mean good luck and for women fertility, too.” He smiles and bows at me as he waits for me to sign for my delivery. I slip one rose out of the vase and smell its sweet scent. As I walk to my ten o’clock meeting I call Carol Goldman’s leasing agency in Malibu.

“Hi, this is Tina Kennard, is Carol in? Sure, I’ll hold.”

“Tina, back in the movie biz, I hear. I’m so happy you called!” Carol says as I hear her printer churning out documents in the background.

“Please tell me you have a pretty beach house for this weekend? I’d love to come out there tonight, listen to the ocean and leave late Sunday.”

Bette’s office – 3 pm

I take out a sheet of my personal blue linen stationary, uncap my fountain pen and with the unbroken concentration of a calligrapher I exhale slowly and write:

Dear Jodie,

I know I promised you I would not do this but by breaking that promise to you I’m able to keep so many more. It’s complicated and it’s not. I’ve always loved Tina and she’s come home to me.

Bette

I soften the focus of my single-pointedness as I lift up my pen. I read the three sentences over, fold the paper twice and drop it into the cardboard box.

“James, I’m going to the security office to go over the details for the media center. I’ve got my phone.” I close my office door and walk down the hallway with the box for Jodie.

I unlock the door to the faculty mailboxes and leave Jodie’s box on the mail room table.  I lock the door behind me.

Text to Tom from Bette,

“Tom, Please tell Jodie I’ve put a box with all her things from my house in the faculty mail room, and a note inside that explains why. Bette”

Without hesitation I hit send, and let out a tremendous sigh, as I open the door to the security office, and walk into the room filled with the campus’ video camera displays. I note above me, and slightly to my left are the two I’m interested in watching. The guard and the tech guy I’m there to meet tear their eyes away from a shiny metal box with lots of colored wires curling out of it.

“Hi, guys this won’t take long.” I say as I watch the hallway camera feed outside the door to the faculty mail room.

“Those three dark screens at the end of the video array are for the new cameras for the media center and theater?” I ask reminding them of the purpose of my three o’clock visit.

“Yes,” says the tech guy, “they’ll come online when we’re finished wiring the place for AV.”

“My two cents, you guys made a mistake not putting a camera backstage.” The guard offers as he looks up at me.

“You can’t do that to actors. They are so spooky already.” I say as I see Tom and Jodie walking quickly down the hallway toward the mail room. Her face is not very clear in the black and white image, but her stamping pace and arm gestures leave me no doubt to how she’s feeling. I point to the box of circuits and wires the men were engrossed in moments before I arrived.

“What piece of equipment were you geniuses working on when I interrupted you?” I distract them from the scene I anticipate unfolding in moments. They take the bait, and the tech guy hands the mystery box to the guard who begins to take it apart with a tiny green screwdriver.

I watch the monitor and see the mail room door fly open and Tom stand with his hands on his hips as Jodie peels the tape off her box. She quickly fishes out my note, and after a very short read she turns the page over to see it’s blank.

She signs to Tom. “I should never have trusted her.” She pitches the note back inside the box, puts her hands against her temples, and rubs them furiously. Then she begins to sign some more.

“After all that monogamy crap she gave me about Amy, and other women – she’s gone back to Tina. How long have they been seeing each other behind my back?” I watch Tom shrug, and shake his head quickly.

Jodie points to the side of her head and wheels her fingers around by her ear. I feel twinges of lousiness, and the pain of a liar, as she carries her box back toward the artist’s studios, and away from the corridor that would lead to my office.

“Okay, guys. Call me when the theater cameras come in.”

As I walk down the hallway I text James.

Text from Bette to James:

“Anything?”

Text from James to Bette:

“There’s a Skype call that keeps trying to connect to your computer.”

Text from Bette to James:

“3 mins.”

I stop at the coffee stand between the buildings for a late afternoon latte as a group of students with brass instruments pour out of the Music Department. A riff of notes between the sax and the rippling clarinet drift by. My phone buzzes with a text. I juggle the coffee and read.

Text from Tina to Bette:

“B, Flowers r wonderful. You shouldn’t have. 😉 Crazy day so far. Pls say, “Yes,” you’ll come to Malibu with me tonight, and stay the weekend.”

Text from Bette to Tina:

“Yes! In 30 minutes can U talk then?”

Text from Tina to Bette:

“I’ll try. But def c u around 6. Love you, T.”

I’m grinning when I walk up to James’ desk.

“Okay, I’ll see about the Skype call, now. And James stay if you want to, but it’s four, and I’m going to Malibu for the weekend with Tina so, you can …” I stop, and look at James’ expression of shock. Hm, I begin to realize I’m going to get this a lot for the next few weeks .

“Long story, James, too long for four on Friday. I’m making this call then, I’m going home to pack.” I point my trigger finger at him, “Have a good weekend.” I close my door and flip the lock. Jodie is unpredictable.

I click the option for Skype to redial the last call in and in a few seconds an elderly Native American woman’s face fills my screen. Her hair is braided, and snow white, and she wears a blue denim shirt with a cherry red kerchief around her neck. I frown slightly because I have no idea who she is.

“I could have left a video message I realize but what I need to tell you is best interactive.” She leans slightly into the camera as she adjusts in her seat. I catch glimpses of a well stocked bookcase, and squash colored walls behind her.

“Technology. Amazing. Have we met?” I ask as I sip my latte.

“Briefly. I was just about to introduce you to someone who had come a long way that day to see you when we watched you get fired from your job and your friends…,” she puts her hand up to her mouth as she laughs softly, “well, they had to subdue you and drag you out of your father’s wake.”

I pinch in between my eyebrows as I remember fucking Franklin and Leo. Then I focus on her Skype ID, Mary_WindHorse. Who is this lady who is recalling one of the worst days of my life on arguably what may be one of my best?

I clear my throat from the feeling of strangulation at the bad memory, “Mary Windhorse. Mary, I can’t remember, and you were there for Melvyn’s wake? Thank you for coming. I’m sorry, I don’t remember. And you came with another friend of my father’s?”

“Bette,  I was there with your Mother.”

“You what?” I yell into the screen. “That’s impossible! My mother’s dead. She died when I was a child.”

“She left one day, and never came home again, am I right?”

“Yes,” I exhale hotly.

“She’s been in Witness Protection for twenty-six years because of a terrible gang murder she saw that afternoon.”

“Murders? Wait! Is that even possible? That she could go missing without my father ever knowing?”

“Bette, you need to think about that for a bit. Do you want to call me back?”

“He knew?” I blow out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding.

“Oh, of course, he knew. She pleaded with him to let you come with her into protection, and grow up as her daughter. But he refused to come in with her, or to let you go.”

“Oh my fucking God! I can’t … excuse me, I shouldn’t have said that out loud.” I wince into the screen, and watch the old Indian woman’s eyes wrinkle in a smile.

“She’s my neighbor out here in the desert.”

“Which desert?”

“Good question. She does want to meet you, very much.”

“It’s been two, nearly three years since Melvyn died. And she came to LA and then disappeared again? I don’t know. Can I trust this?” I pinch my arm to make sure I’m awake. It hurts. I am.

“She had a heart attack, Bette when we got back home. But her friends have been taking good care of her, and for the last year she’s been back out in the canyons painting again.”

I tally up my mother’s age again for the tenth time in my head. If lucky we have a good ten years left before she falls into the more critical margins. Mary’s voice snaps me back.

“Stay just like that for a second more. I told your mother I’d take a screenshot for her.”

“For an old lady you know a lot about technology. Is there a story behind that, Mary?”

“One very long story and best told over dinner. Call me back when you’ve decided to come out here. We’re not far away. Just a state or two over, but too far to walk.” She laughs. “And they’re rattlesnakes.”

I feel my eyes shoot up to the ceiling. “Okay, too far to walk. I can take a plane.” My eyes drift back down to the screen. “And tell my mother for me will you? She has a beautiful, beautiful grand daughter.”

I see the elderly woman’s eyebrows rise slightly then settle back down. “It’s a long story, also best told over dinner. I’ll figure out when I can come see you, two, soon.”

 

Malibu_sunset

Malibu – Bette – 8 pm

I stand on the deck and feel the rapidly cooling wind whip off the Pacific Ocean as the colors from the sky turn an amazing purple before they begin to fade. I feel Tina’s arm slip around me as she leans her head against my shoulder. I reach down for Angelica and lift her to watch the brilliant sky change.

“A purple ocean is very rare, Angelica, my wonderful baby girl. You need to get an eye on this.” I point her fist out to the sea. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before, have you, Tina?”

“Never. I’ll take a picture.” Tina clicks one with her iPhone, and slips it back in her pocket.

“Let’s go back to the water’s edge one more time before it’s dark.” I wag Angelica’s arm toward the beach.

“You can’t get enough of those sand crabs can you? Why do you love them so much do you think?”

“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be an animal? Just for a day?” I ask Tina as we walk across the sand and I carry Angelica in my arms. Her head bobs sleepily against my neck as the waves lull and crash with the tide.

“I think of flying sometimes when I watch birds.” Tina says.

“Flying does seem nice.” I agree.

“But you probably want something with teeth and a big tail, too.” Tina laughs at me.

I kneel down and watch a half dozen crabs scoot sideways, and run along the lines of foam.

“I don’t see you as one of those little crabs, Bette, although you do zigzag sometimes very dramatically.”

“A close friend of my mother’s called me today. Skype’d me actually. An old Indian lady. Just out of the blue.”

“Could today get any odder?” Tina asks.

“Oh, yes. Very.”

“Are you upset? You don’t seem upset though.” Tina stops me and holds my arms as the light grows a deeper purple around us.

“She’s not dead, Tina. She’s been in Wit Sec for twenty-six years, and was at Melvyn’s wake!”

“What the fuck?” Tina asks as she stares over at me.

I begin to laugh and then I can’t stop. I hand the baby to Tina.

“Bette, what’s wrong with you. You’re scaring me a little.”

A wind gust picks up, and I hold Tina against me as I try to calm my gasps of laughter. “All day long I’ve wondered if waking up with you was a mirage, and perhaps I’d orbited into another sphere entirely. Just snapped, you know? Then the Mother Phone Call.”

“Is that why you sent me flowers?”

“No! Don’t be crazy! I sent you flowers because I love you.”

“But if I’d texted you, “WTF,” instead of inviting you to Malibu?” Tina asks.

“I was going to call the ambulance. Sad for you though, you’re still my emergency contact.” I laugh at myself before I kiss Tina’s lips.

“Dear God. What about your mother?”

“I want you with me when I go to meet her. Will you come?” I ask.

“When? Jesus! Yes, of course, I will. But the timing of everything…”

“It couldn’t be stranger.” I put my arm around her as we walk back to the beach house.

“I’m not sure where she lives, more will be revealed. She’s in witness protection so there are secrets to be aware of.”

“So, someone wants to kill her still?” Tina presses.

“That much we can guess, or did anyway. She must feel the threat is over, or she wouldn’t be calling, or have her emissary call me.” I surmise.

“Bette, you have to look into this before we get too involved.” Tina warns as she looks at me, and then Angelica asleep in her arms.

“I know. I will. We’ll be careful.” I walk up the steps to the deck of the house. “Let’s say we’re starting dinner so at least we can open the wine.”

“And to think, yesterday I had such an uncomplicated life, and was dating a heart surgeon.” Tina smiles at me and shakes her head.

 

__________

The next chapter is titled, Malibu. The couple arrive at the beach house. Bette surprises Tina with an unusual request.

After Malibu this book that I hope you have enjoyed will conclude and a new book, my version of The L Word Season 7, a long awaited return of the characters will begin. It is titled, Touch Tones. I will post chapters here shortly.

@Blackbird_Write has my story twitter feed.

Writers love comments. Please leave one! Thanks for reading! Blackbird

 

 

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