The L Word : Behind the Scenes

The L Word Bette Porter Tina Kennard


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#6 Touch Tones: Meeting Maxine

Bette tea ColorCorrected_nice muscles

“Good morning, Baby.” I awaken Tina as I settle her coffee mug on the bedside table. She rubs the sleep from her eyes and smiles up at me.

“Hm, smells so good.” She scoots up on the headboard and lifts the cup to her lips. “What time is it, Bette? Did you let me oversleep?”

“Is eight oversleeping? How’s your head this morning?”

“I’ll be okay.” Tina smiles. “A few pinches here and there behind my eyes I’m noticing,” She shakes out two aspirin and then swallows them with her coffee.

I settle back into bed next to her. “But no throbbing?”

“No, you took care of all my throbbing last night.” Tina winks at me.

I smile. “There were a few but nothing I couldn’t handle.” I laugh softly and then stretch out next to her and yawn.

“So, we like the new bed, do we?” I ask hoping our christening has made it so.

“My foggy memories tell me we liked everything about it.” Tina agrees before closing her eyes again and wincing slightly.

I lift my arm so she’ll slide across next to me. “Come closer, T, I have something I need to talk to you about.”

“Babe, I promise you we can live our lives now. Claire did her job, Josh did his by spearing Jenny between the eyes, and you did yours masterfully.” Tina lists then leans against my shoulder. “I think we’ve done all we can do for the moment.”

“Tina, before you go to work today will you do something for me?”

“Anything but the pool,” she says as we both look out our bedroom windows to the garden and the water’s surface beyond. “I can never remember the right combinations for those tablets, Bette. I might turn it green again like last time.” She warns.

“It’s not the pool, Baby.” I kiss the top of her head. “I’d like for you to be here when I call Mary Windhorse this morning. Any questions you have let’s ask them together.”

“Okay,” Tina answers with a thoughtful tone. “When do you want to call her, Bette?”

“Soon.”

 

Mary Windhorse Home Ext

Home of Mary Windhorse

Skype Call – Bette

Tina’s morning routine has been the same as long as I’ve known her. While she has upon occasion caught me still sleeping and been the one to bring our first cup of coffee back to bed the rest of her movements between that cup and the breakfast table on any given weekday morning my guess are still the same.

Unlike me who showers and then goes into my closet still wet and dripping to figure out what to wear that day Tina does exactly the opposite. Before she baths she has in her mind exactly what she’s putting on. As I dial the Skype call I can tell by the sounds coming from our bedroom very nearly to the minute how long it’ll be before she appears behind me dressed for work. I don’t have long.

“Mary,” I say as the older Indian woman appears on screen. “Good morning, I hope it’s not too early to call.”

“Not at all, Bette. I have roosters,” she smiles when she sees my expression. “Don’t worry, your mother has much more sense than I do – no roosters at her place. You’ll sleep fine.” She laughs.

“About that.”

“Roosters?”

“Not unless that’s code for the Mafia.”

“Ah, so you know, then.”

“I know some. I couldn’t sleep last night and looked on the web. There was nothing the week Maxine disappeared, but the week before and after there were plenty of strange goings-on in Philadelphia.”

I continue. “First, a significant art heist from The Isadora Museum’s Rare Masters Collection followed six days later by the Feds raiding a farm owned by a Gambino Family Captain, Anthony Coccioni, south of Philly. Then nothing else in the papers. That was it.” I look into the screen for answers. “No more mentions of the FBI raid at the Gambino compound or the Fed’s ongoing search for the rare paintings either.”

“Bette, your mother wants to be the one to tell you her story.”

“Trust me when I tell you I want to hear every word of it, too, but I have a fiancée and we have a child. She needs to hear where the bad guys are now, and why you and my mother think it’s safe to poke your heads out now.”

I hear Tina coming down the hallway. “Tina are you ready? I have Mary Windhorse on the Skype call.”

 

Tina_redVneck_inKitchen listening

“I can hear you both from the kitchen.” Tina says as she slices peaches for breakfast. “Good morning, Mary, this is Tina.” She calls from behind the counter.

“I was telling Bette the new rooster woke me up earlier.”

“You live on a farm?” Tina asks.

“Ranches we call ‘em in the desert.” Mary corrects and then breezes on. “We have you flagged on Google and your names came up this morning. Your mother and I were just talking about you earlier.”

“So, she gets up with the birds, too?” I ask.

“It’s nearly ten here. We’re mountain time.” She points behind her out a window where a clear desert morning is in progress. “I talked to her a half hour ago. She was on her way out to the desert to paint.”

“Mountain time.” I acknowledge. “Yesterday was a long day.” I rub my forehead and reconnect my thoughts to the events at the soundstage. I look toward Tina busy in the kitchen. “I haven’t even looked at what eventually came out about us in the Press.”

“Your mother’s words were that you and Tina make a very attractive couple, and of course, she knew Gloria years ago.” Mary adjusts her seat and presses forward for a moment and elongates into the screen. “Another long story.”

“I’m pleased we’re favored, then. That’s a relief I hadn’t had the time frankly to be anxious about.” I look quickly up to the ceiling before focusing back to Mary with a big smile. “And I’m excited, really tell Maxine this please, that Angelica has a grandmother!” I finish in a hurry.

“Good! When are you coming?” Mary adjusts her long grey braid back over her shoulder and looks eagerly into the camera.

“We’d like to come on Friday, this Friday. But we have some questions, first,” I say as I look over at Tina who regards me with a curious look. I mouth silently at her, “It’s been thirty years.” She shrugs her shoulders and nods she gets it.

I focus back to Mary. “So, I searched the web for the rest of the year that Maxine disappeared but by then it was 2 AM and my brain was fried from pictures of mobsters I saw while searching for Gambinos and Philly’s major crimes in 1979.”

“I know the feeling.” Mary replies with a doleful expression. “For years the marshal’s kept a board in your mother’s home and updated it with the most dangerous ones still at large.”

Gambino Org Chart Maxine's trial

“A constant frightening reminder,” I add grimly, as I watch Tina walking toward me. “The crux of our question, because it’s getting on toward 9 AM here, and we both have jobs,” I glance at my watch “is our family’s exposure to any danger.”

I feel Tina walk up behind me and rest her hand on my shoulder. “Mary, are they all dead? Or in prison? The men who wanted to kill Bette’s mother?”

“The captains were all older men at the time of the art theft, and that as you may have guessed led the Feds to raid that old farm you mentioned, Bette. That’s where they found your mother.”

“As what? An unwitting dinner guest at a mafia don’s shoot out?” I ask baffled.

“The specifics are for her to say. I can’t go into them. But she was an “unwilling guest” which matches the tone of your question.” Mary sighs heavily before she continues. “She got tangled up in all this at the liquor store.

“Out of the twenty-five that were very dangerous back then while in control of The Family there are only three left living. And they are very old men now locked up in a high max prison outside Lexington, Kentucky.”

I feel Tina squeeze my shoulder as she leans back down to the camera. “Mary, we have a two year old nearing three. She’s a very sweet girl but does four days give you all time to prepare and kid proof the coffee tables and low shelves before we come in for the weekend?”

Mary stares back at us seriously and crosses her arms. I nervously clear my throat as she transforms into a stern Native American elder. “I suppose I could convince your mother to remove the peyote buttons and pistols from her coffee tables.” She finally says and doesn’t blink.

Tina’s hand grips my shoulder as she whispers, “What the fuck?” into my ear.

Mary begins to laugh. “We’re a couple of old grandmothers. We know what to do. And I was kidding about your mother. Sort of.” Her voice trails mysteriously at the end.

“We live in the western desert now ladies. We have guns cause we have rattlesnakes and rabid coyote and wild dogs. Any number of dangerous things can run up on you out here.”

Tina rolls her eyes up to the ceiling as I continue, “Before we fly to …” I pause to hear our destination and know Tina is listening, too, with the ears of a mother.

We both exhale in relief when Mary finally says, “Santa Fe.”

I feel a tightness dropping from my face. “I’d like to run the remaining names of the mob by our attorney and if it all checks out to our satisfaction then we’ll be there in four days.”

“Write these four names down, Bette. Are you ready?” Mary asks. “Salvador Galliano, “Sammy the Bull” they called him. Anthony Cagionetti, “Tony The Cage”, and Lou Bangeleo, “The Hammer,” and the place your mother was when she got caught up in all this?”

“The farm, right?”

“No. Not at the beginning.”

“No?” I ask.

“She had gone to the corner liquor store to pick up a bottle of chianti when it got robbed. The place was called, Little Tony’s, who by the way was shot that night, and one last thing.”

I look up from my pad as Mary finishes. “We think the fourth Gambino captain is in WitSec but we’ve never been 100% sure.”

“Little Tony? You mean “dead” like Mother was dead?”

“No, I don’t mean Little Tony, at all. I mean the fourth one that the trial notes and the marshals never say anything about. The fourth main Capodecina, Jimmy the Stone. The Feds claim he was killed at the farm raid that saved your mother’s life.”

“Okay, shoot.” I wince. “Bad choice of words. What’s his full name? I’ll put Jimmy the Stone down, and then Joyce will run these four names on her end. Tina and I will talk about this tonight and I’ll call you by tomorrow, no later than the evening. It might be from the car though. What’s your cell phone number?”

“Service out here is off and on terrible, so be warned. And I don’t need or want a Sat phone so don’t even recommend it,” Mary says. “My number is, 505-799-0444 and your mother’s is, 505-799-8313.”

“Tina, Baby? Do you have anything else for Mary?” I turn my head and kiss her hand that still rests on my shoulder. She bites her lip but smiles it away. She shakes her head, “No” as she rubs my shoulder.

“Bette, I know you’re anxious to talk to your mother. You and Tina do what you’d like. Phone her, too, if you want to now that you have her number, but I know she’ll begin to plan it all out in her mind the second I tell her you’ll be here on Friday.”

Bette Dark blouse LOOKING down

“Let her know I’m thinking about her, too.” I say softly.

Mary continues, “Think about letting her surprise you, then. Call me back with the details about your flight. Maybe don’t call her just yet.”

I smile back at the screen before I sign off. “I understand but her number feels good to have. I’ll leave it at that.” I tuck the paper into the pocket of my jacket.

The screen changes back to the Skype logo as the call ends. Behind me Tina says, “I loved The Godfather films, and you know how we all were when The Sopranos were on HBO.”

I twist my chair around to face her. She rests her hands on both my shoulders. “And the poker games afterwards?” I add with a smile.

“But to hear those men’s street names just now, Sammy the Bull and Jimmy the Stone, creeped me out, Bette.” Tina puts her arms around me as I stand up to hold her.

“Baby, I agree. They’re monsters. Let me assure you, I know that.” I whisper to her.

“See what Joyce finds out, Bette. This is huge for you. I get that.”

I look down at my watch again. “I’ve got my next ninety minutes planned, Tina. I hope you’re nearly ready.” I point toward the front door.

“First, we go to The Planet and get our baby, then I drive you to work, and take Angelica to daycare at school where finally I’ll sit down at my desk just in time to get up again and attend a tedious Faculty Luncheon I stupidly scheduled the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month.”

“Does that mean you’ll see Jodie?”

“And Tom. Don’t forget about him. I’ll get double-daggered glares from them today, unless they do their other move.”

Tina laughs at me. “Which is?”

“Ignore me completely like I’m an uninteresting piece of stone.”

”She’s a sculptor, Bette, she probably has some kind of diamond-bladed rock saw for that.”

“Actually, the Art Department just bought her a laser for those stages of shaping but your point is taken. I’ll watch my back.” I lean in and we share a lovely kiss in the kitchen. “I love you and I’m so glad you’re here. Home with me.”

I hear the soft buzz of a hummingbird’s wings as Tina and I begin the last kiss before starting a very busy day. I open my eyes to see the tiny green bird hovering a few feet inside my kitchen door. He dips down a few inches then quickly rises higher before turning and zooming away.

Bette_Agent Porter AIRPLANE seat

Four days later –

Burbank Airport – Friday 6 PM – Bette

“What do you mean you’re not coming with me?” I ask astonished into my phone while pacing back and forth at the gate of the commuter airline that jumps from LA to Santa Fe every morning and afternoon.

Tina’s voice sounds tense at the other end of the line. “I can’t make it tonight and your head would explode if I told you why so don’t ask me. There’s a flight tomorrow morning at nine o’clock and Angie and I promise to be on it.” I hear as I continue to stare disbelieving into my phone.

When no words for my confused state of mind come to me Tina finally says. “Call me later, Bette. You know I’m sorry.” And then she hangs up.

Once on board I settle back into my seat and try to adjust myself mentally to the significant alteration of my evening’s plans. Arguably a key night, a peak experience in my life is now happening without her.

Unsuccessful at feeling remotely good about Tina staying tonight in Los Angeles while I fly eight hundred miles over a mountain range the dossiers of the four Mafia Captains begin to take over my thoughts, and the menacing pictures of them float across my mind.

Gambino Color Photo Mobsters Handcuffs

 

Gambino Hit_deadmobster

It was true just as Mary had said. All but three of the once formidable mobsters were all dead and those who remained were the old men locked away in Kentucky. I had been assured over and over again: They would die there as the Devil and the Feds had intended.

The fourth man neither the Devil nor Joyce or I ever could get a good run down on. He was the missing and presumably defanged, Jimmy the Stone. There had been no mention of him during the Grand Jury hearings or any of the dozens of racketeering and murder trials the Feds had rolled out over the next ten years.

Between the four of us we had discussed the possibilities during Wednesday’s lunchtime call. “But his whereabouts aren’t nailed down one hundred percent.” I had said before Mary and Joyce had thrown out their theories as Tina and I had listened.

“He could’ve been scooped up by the Feds and put far, far away like Maxine was. Hidden in WitSec after the FBI turned him as an informant.” Mary had suggested.

Joyce had wondered, too, if the Feds hadn’t kept him as their secret weapon in case anything happened to my mother. If her cover had been blown and the Mob had silenced her Jimmy the Stone would rise up to be the key witness against his former family.

“It’d take some wrangling with the Federal Court Judge,” Joyce had assured us, “but at least their cases wouldn’t have completely fallen apart if they had The Stone on ice somewhere to back up your mother’s testimony.”

“How long did these trials go on for, Mary?” I had asked.

“Over ten years if you count their requests for new trials. Maxine always had those hanging over her head, too, until the last of the old Gambino guard was locked away for good.”

“And Jimmy the Stone is Mother’s age, seventy-three,” I had concluded. “If he’s still alive he’s had thirty years to find her and he hasn’t yet.”

The coast Joyce, Mary and more importantly, Tina and I, had all agreed looked clear. Now I was on airplane flying to New Mexico without her.

 

Gambino Art Vermeer heist

 

To everyone’s aggravation and now that I know about it certainly to mine, The Isadora Museum’s rare masters art heist has remained a mystery.

Reading between the lines of the Grand Jury’s transcripts Joyce, Tina and I had surmised the Attorney General’s office and the FBI had tried “behind legal curtains” any tactics they could to turn key witnesses into mob informants. But no one could or would disclose the missing hiding places of the paintings. Incredible pieces painted by Vermeer and Rembrandt for Christ sake! Gone! I shake my head in dismay.

The newspapers had hinted that the Gambinos, with their connections to the wharves and docks, were likely hired only as the thieves and smugglers. And that behind them, and who they ultimately did their bidding for, was the unseen hand of the caper’s mastermind. The hope of any trail leading to him or her had vaporized a long time ago.

I worry about mobsters as I look out the window and watch the clouds that stream up here miles above the earth. I sip the green tea the flight attendant brought me a few minutes ago. The heist’s unanswered questions pester me. Very likely at their final destination taking possession of the treasured artworks had been as simple as paying off a corrupt Custom’s Agent in a foreign seaport thousands of miles away.

In the end, the RICO Task Force, started years before by Director J. Edgar Hoover, had rounded up the most dangerous and sadistic captains and lieutenants that ran the numbers, the docks, and heroin in and out of South Philly. Losing hope of ever tying the museum job to the Gambino’s the Feds had gotten lucky in other ways.

Over a remarkable ten year winning streak, and with the help of my mother, the government had made their cases stick against all of the Gambino’s for crimes that included their style of vicious gangland murder.

The Lucchesi Family became the beneficiaries of the weakened Gambino’s disassembly, and organized crime did continue but it was quieter and less bloody, and seemed to everyone’s satisfaction tolerable, and much more tame. But before things had quieted down whatever had happened that night inside Little Tony’s Liquor Store my mother had been the sole and only survivor.

Bette_tinapix_Headset

Earlier in the week Joyce had called me to share an odd snippet of news. “Bette, you know how paramilitary guys all love nicknames?” Joyce had asked.

“Okay, I follow you. Desert Storm or Operation Freedom’s Hammer, something like that?”

“No, those are mission names and are mostly propaganda. Look it up.” Joyce had admonished me slightly. “Anyway, the Marshal Service, the Secret Service, and the FBI all have code names for the people they protect.” Joyce had paused waiting for me to catch on. “You know Bette like, POTUS.”

“Oh! I get it. What was Maxine’s code name?”

“White Wolf.”

“White Wolf?” I had asked puzzled. “How’d you find that out? My mother had beautiful blonde, straw-colored hair by the way.”

“Well, what she saw go down at Lil’ Tony’s turned her hair completely white,” Joyce had said. “Earning her the code name, White Wolf.”

“Jesus, Joyce.” I had exhaled into the phone. “Really? I’m getting on the plane with my family in two days.” Or so I had thought at the time.

Art. Maxine_redcliffs

 

Santa Fe – 6:14 PM

As the plane lowers taking us in for our high desert landing I look out the window at the brilliantly hued wilderness landscape. So much like a painting its beauty shocking and almost unreal to me. I do a quick inventory of my suitcase. I’ve got the right stuff to hang around a ranch for the weekend. A leather jacket, boots, a warm sweater for the desert at night – I’ll be fine.

What I don’t have with me is my fiancée. A name for her and myself I had liked the sound of saying over and over all week to people who had asked me about my engagement to Tina.

Phyllis had sent me flowers and an amusing card, and James, in particular, had seemed overly relieved to see me each day. Another blessing had been no uncongenial visits from Jodie.

Beginning late last Friday night in Malibu I had sensed myself flying through the air, a feeling similar to the flight of this airplane now as it lowers me closer and closer to the red desert racing below. I imagine the wind again on my face and arms as I lean back and close my eyes and spread my mind out to the wings of the plane.

I had felt during those nights at the beach that I had been sailing a hundred miles an hour over the ocean before circling back above the red tail lights of cars on the PCH. The dark canyon walls, the mighty Pacific Ocean, the shadowy cliff landscapes I had felt them all whistling by me.

Years ago someone at Berkeley might have suggested I’d astrally projected. Maybe I had. The astral plane as far as I can feel into it has just got bigger and weirder the older I’ve gotten. And sometimes while making love to Tina I do find myself out there in its wild wind streams.

I focus out my airplane window where the cliffs and sands are red and blood orange. So different from the sensations on Saturday night that had rolled over me with the blues of the ocean and deeper tones of midnight.

I know a part of me has set up a listening post inside this lovely mind bubble of mine. A place where feelings of gratitude sting my eyes sometimes no matter what I’m doing. But outside of it I’ve had to dually cope with the repeating and unanswerable daydreams of my childhood. They cycle back through my mind hour after hour to haunt me and now, as we descend to Earth, the mysterious answers to the only two prayers I may have ever honestly said are unfolding between me and Tina and soon with me and my mother.

The jet’s tires chirp to a stop on the tarmac in Santa Fe. My heart beats faster as the pilot stalls the left engine outside my window and the ailerons lift along the wing’s surface turning me toward a reunion I’d always dreamed of.

 

Maxine Blue window

 

Maxine’s House – 6:45 PM

The long Pueblo style home has a baked scent of sage around it I notice as I inhale deeply and walk with Mary up a dusty crushed rock path. I drop my bag in front of a weathered wooden door.

“We don’t lock up ‘til we go to bed. Knock on it hard and then push it open.” Mary says behind me.

No text back from Tina acknowledging my arrival or whereabouts I sigh as I knock and wish to God she were here with me at this moment. I mean, isn’t it part of the reason people bond together in relationships? So that at the moments our hearts beat to near explosion our partners, or lovers, or wives or whatever the right word is, may be here to touch us in that one way that always calms us down. For the love of God I know I’d beg her for it if she were only here with me.

As I push open the blue wooden door I hear her voice. “There you are, Bette.” My mother says as I step inside and see her waving at me.

Maxine_waving Interior

“Oh my God, I remember your eyes.” I say astonished, as I drop my bags for the second time in as many minutes.

“Please let me hug you close. And I’m so glad you turned out so tall.” She says as the smoke from her cigarette curls in the air as we embrace.

“And I keep waiting on Tina to walk in. Is she out by the barn looking at the early moon?” Maxine looks behind me.

“No, the movie business is haywire. She couldn’t leave early on Friday afternoon as it turns out, but she and the baby’ll be here by lunchtime tomorrow.”

“I had run a scenario such as this.” My mother smiles at me and motions to my bags. “Mary, won’t you come in and wash the day down with a drink?”

“Oh, thank God.” I blurt.

“Any other night but tonight I’d take you up on it.” Mary waves goodbye, as I turn around to thank her.

“Thank you for everything.” I drop my bags again and give her a big hug, too. “You’ve been my sure and steady guide through all this. I’m so grateful.”

Turning back to my mother “Maxine, you have the luck of a wonderful friend. I’m blessed that way, too. Most of the time.” I laugh softly as I pick up my bags and hear Mary closing the door behind me.

 

Maxine Home Interior fireplace

“This is my home and I want you to think of it as yours, Bette.” My mother and I stop at the entrance to a long hallway leading away from the living room. “Your bedroom is the third door and the bath connects. Wasn’t always so but over the years I’ve modernized this old place. I hope you like it.”

“Very much but I would’ve been happy meeting you in a trailer park.”

“Oh, what a relief!” She says to my surprise. “This house belongs to one of my wealthy art students and my old truck’s out back. Come on, let’s go to my little shack out from Taos.” My mother motions for me to follow her past the fireplace towards the side door.

“Wait! What?” I ask stunned.

“I’m kidding you, sweetheart.” My mother’s eyes flash a mischievous look I remember from years ago.

“What are you drinking?” She asks but ­her eyes tell me to get ready for an adventure. “Get settled, then come back, and we’ll sit by the fire.”

My perplexed look vanishes into a smile. I lift my suitcases and walk down the long hall toward my mother’s guest room.

Maxine guest room

 

______

 

The next chapter to the L Word inspired Season 7, Touch Tones, will post shortly. Thank you for reading and commenting.

You can find our links on Twitter @Blackbird_Write

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Thanks always to Jacky at LesFan who hosts us there.


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#1 Touch Tones: After Midnight

Malibu Coastline_Night
 Malibu – After Midnight – Bette
 The moonlight casts a pale glow as it filters through the bedroom windows that overlook the Pacific.  I can count the beats of the tide as it steadily comes ashore.  My mind drifts out into the darkness of the dunes and then beyond them to feel between the waves.  Every moment a swell then a downward roll – my breath in sync with Tina’s, as she lies quietly on my shoulder.  I exhale a long sigh of relief.  An hour ago in front of the fire she had said she would marry me.

“Bette?” She stirs on my shoulder.

“Yes, right here.” I answer her the way I always do when I’ve flown off to the ceiling, and she gently calls me back.

Then, she catches my gaze with diamonds that flash. “I just opened my eyes, and there’s a beautiful ring from you on my finger.”

I hold her tighter to me for a moment.

“I can’t really believe it’s there.” Tina plays it back and forth on her finger.

“Baby, are you at all disappointed? I had planned to ask you to marry me so differently.  I don’t know what got into me.” I kiss the top of her head. “I just blurted it out in the middle of an orgasm.”

“Well, it wasn’t how I’d ever pictured you doing it. That I can promise you.”

“Do you want me to do it again?  Fly us somewhere? I’ll hold you in my arms, and ask you again on a mountain top?  I just can’t jump out of a plane.” I thread my hand through hers across my chest. “The dinner, the wine, the fire were all so perfect.”

Tina strokes my chest and settles back against my shoulder.  “Swept away?  But, in case you dream something else up, I’m keeping the ring. You’re not getting it back in the meantime.”
CartierRingStoryImage

Tina studies the ring on her finger.  “I was raised to want one of the these, you know, and for years I told myself I didn’t, but now I realize I’ve wanted to be married to you for a long time.”  Slowly, she kisses me.

Bette_Tina_in Bed_talking Story picture

“Really? Because it would be so embarrassing to return it.”

“Relax. You don’t have to.” Tina kisses my lips, again. “Did you have a date and a place in mind, Bette?”

“Hm.” I look in her eyes and wonder if I should know these answers. “I might.” I frown very slightly, as I try to think. “Why? T, do you?

“Not yet, mind if I think about it?”

“Be my guest.” I kiss her with a loving sense of my relief buried inside it.

Tina_Bette In bed Tina kissing Bette

Her leg slides between mine. “I’ve missed kissing you,” Tina says as she settles on top of me.

“You have no idea.” I moan, wanting her again.

“Have you given any thought to telling our friends?”

“Hm.” I kiss her longer and halfway think about our announcement. “Maybe. What thoughts do you have about it?”

“I see. This is another one of your big picture moves. One you’ll sort out the details of later?”

“Would that be so bad?” I ask and hope to God it’s not.

Tina stares at me for a second. “Bette, do not explode.” She places her finger across my lips. “Would you mind if I asked the advice of a PR consultant? I mentioned it at dinner. The hungry gossip writers are gnawing at the edges of Les Girls for anything that will drop out, and that means something like this.”

“Even if we have Alice abducted?” I offer.

Tina smiles at me. “Even with Alice abducted people are going to see this.”  She wiggles her ring in front of my eyes. “This is your timing after all.”

“Stories about us…hmm, will they help that fruitcake Jenny’s movie? Probably will, won’t they?”

Tina lets out a sigh. “It’s my movie, too. Everyone seems to forget that until it’s time to yell at someone. The best way to manage the press is to have someone get ahead of it, and craft a message about our engagement that is interesting to a point, but respects our privacy.

“Tina, if a media consultant will get the nauseating confusion of Bev and Nina away from us then, of course, I trust you to make the right call.”

A flash of aggravation sweeps across Tina’s face. “And frankly, that’s giving Jenny too much credit! She just journaled our lives and absorbed our most dismal moments like a nasty little black sponge that sat in a kitchen window next door to us.”

“I know you’re being paid to turn the most pathetic moments of our lives into a movie, but I can’t pretend to be happy about it.”

“Please don’t get pissed off.” She strokes the sides of my face.  “You’ve created such a beautiful evening for us.”  Her kiss rolls slowly across my lips, and up I float to the ceiling with the blue tones of midnight, wondering if we’ll make love again.

heart-shaped pancakes

Beach House – Saturday morning – Tina

As I lie back in bed with the coffee Bette and Angelica brought me a few minutes ago, I listen to a conversation between them occurring down the hall.

“You know I’ve brought you breakfast in bed many a morning, Angelica, and now we’re almost ready to take this tray into your Momma T for her turn.”

I hear more pans rattling, and finally the clink of china, and very soon Bette appears in the doorway with two red lacquered Chinese breakfast trays. Angelica runs from beside her, and climbs steadily up into the bed to sit with me.

“From us!”

I sprinkle the heart-shaped pancakes with blueberries and pour maple syrup over them, as Bette stretches her long body, and yawns contently next to me.

I’ve tried to block out so many regrets, and try not to think about the missing years, but one thought lingers with me this morning.  Is this the first time we’ve ever done this since our baby, now a small child was born?  Lazed around in bed on Saturday morning eating pancakes?

Bette leans in for a syrupy bite. “Very lucky finding the heart-shaped pancake maker in the kitchen. It determined everything.”

“I would’ve been just as happy with one of your famous omelets.”

“Baby, my Saturday morning omelets for you are about,” she lowers her voice to a whisper, “seduction. Hearts with syrup are from your family”  Bette points out the window to the seashore. “They mean we leave the bedroom today.”

“I’ll be ready for the beach, when you both are.” I make another baby pancake bite for Angelica.

“An article I read said when you make a list of things you want to do, and change don’t overload yourself with really hard things. With that advice I wrote, ‘Learn how to cook on my list’.”

“That I still am coming to grips with.”

“But you see how good I am it, don’t you?”  She smiles as she tastes a pancake. “You see, with cooking it’s planned out. It’s timing, it’s strategy. Oh, and most of all,” she points to the blueberry covered heart shaped pancakes, “it’s presentation. All things I’m very good at.”

“I’ve missed this, Babe.  Missed you.”

She takes a long sip of coffee but it doesn’t hide the emotion in her voice. “There were so many bad things happening.  So many things I had no idea how to stop.” Her eyes drift out over the ocean.

I reach over Angelica’s head and stroke the side of Bette’s cheek.  She turns back from gazing out at the sea and looks at me with so much love in her eyes.

Malibu_;iquor store

Four hours later – Bette

Tina shook me awake from my pleasant post luncheon nap, pushed me under the shower, pulled me out again, and sent me up the coast a mile to the liquor store. Apparently, we’re having a cocktail party in an hour. Jesus! I was only asleep for ninety minutes at most!  When did we decide to throw a party? We didn’t.

My cart squeaks along the vibrantly colored aisles of Malibu Mike’s Liquor Store, and Frank Sinatra croons a romantic tune through the speakers. Row after row of bottles, their sherbert colored labels next to the blood red waxed necks, make me feel woozy for a moment. I stop my cart in front of shelves of vodka, and stare across at the clear but mind-altering liquid, and contemplate: How quickly things change.

Last weekend I was in Big Bear being tossed into a freezing lake, and wishing I could take the nail gun, I saw in Michelangelo’s mudroom, to everyone – including myself. I cannot reconcile the vast dimensional shift, so I put two bottles of Absolut vodka in my cart instead.

Aside from the hangover I know I’ll have tomorrow, the thought of getting a little drunk tonight begins to amuse me as I drive back down the coast. I inhale the rich sea air. If Tina wants to announce our good news, and share part of our evening with our friends, I should be happy about it, and then suddenly I am.

Charlie's Angels spoof

“Where’s Tina? I felt summoned, man.”  Shane looks around the beach house.  “And I have plans at ten, but I’m cool for a few hours. What’s up?” She leans into the refrigerator in search of a beer.

I open my mouth to speak, but Alice cuts in, “There’s no broken furniture, no bruises, no one’s crying –  I’m curious, too.” Alice shoots me a quizzical look.

“Helena is anyone – I don’t know – maybe like the Feds looking for you? What are you out on bail, an escapee?”

She smiles obliquely.  “There was money exchanged, and I’m somewhat reformed.”

I laugh to myself and sip my martini.  Before she got sent away Helena was a very good spy for me with news of Tina visiting a Gypsy Fortune Teller, or buying a vibrator in my absence, and speak of the devil.

Tina sweeps into the room, picks up the martini I made for her, and leans into me for a kiss.

Bette_Tina_Happy_at restaurant

Alice stops talking, Helena turns away from a Warhol print on the wall, and Shane looks up from stoking the fire, when they see us so happily back together. Then, with a lovely sense of fanfare, Tina holds out her left hand, and shows off her engagement ring.

“I have literally dreamed of this night! I know that sounds stalkery and crazy.” Alice picks up the martini shaker, and gives herself one last good splash.

“Congratulations, guys.” Shane puts her arm across my shoulder as Helena joins us to admire Tina’s ring.

“It is so beautiful, Tina.” Helena shoots me a sly smile.

“I’m marrying her as soon as I can.”

“Whoa, wait a minute!” Alice looks at Tina. “Not as soon as you can.” Then, back to me again. “Bette, there are plans to be made.”

Shane and I walk over to the fireplace together, and lean against the mantel. “This is right for both of you, especially you.”

“You saw too many of my close calls.” Shane nods her head and looks away into the fire.  “I am so ready.” I look behind at Tina smiling at me over Alice’s shoulder as they embrace.

The doorbell rings, and Shane leaves to let our next guest in.  “You’re expecting Kit, right?”

PR consultant for Tina

“Hi. Tina called me.”  A blonde woman standing in the doorway smiles at Shane and past her into the room where she catches my eye. “I was on my way out to a party, but Tina begged me to stop by. Something about she’d make it worth my while, and you’d uncork my favorite champagne?”

“So not Kit.” Shane walks backwards away from the door. “Come in, and I can definitely help you with that drink. I’m Shane, by the way.”

“Tina?” I look at her for answers.

“Everybody, this is Claire Reilly, and she’s here to help us.” Tina raises up two fingers to count them off. “First, she’s going to blaze a clear trail from one side of our wedding announcement, all the way to the other. And two,” Tina points her second finger toward me, “Claire’s being given whatever access I can provide to keep an eye on Jenny Schecter should she try to leak anything and steal our moment.”

Alice looks skeptical. “The press conference announcing the first day of shooting is Monday, right? That’s two days from now.”

Claire takes a flute of champagne from Shane. “My father did press relations for the Clinton’s when I was young, and I started out handling rock musicians.”

Leaning against the mantel, I begin to form a picture of what’s ahead.  “Well, just wait until you meet, Jenny Schecter.” .

_________________

Stay tuned for more of my L Word inspired vision of Season 7.
The story collection preceding this one, _WeHo: Behind the Scenes_, has the chapter, “Malibu” that this story, “After Midnight” comes immediately after. “Touch Tones” picks up immediately after I finished the last chapter in WeHo.

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

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


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17 Reasons Why! Not – Bette Porter

silo_with_tree

Somewhere the fuck! – Upstate New York – Alice

I like the countryside, I do. I like to see cows in a field and a silo next to a well-cared for barn. I like the chirping sounds of crickets, as long as they stay over there and don’t jump on me. But I’m not happy at the moment. I have a little bit of a hangover still and I’ve still not seen any of my favorite black and white cows.

After picking up Bette’s grand gesture from LaGuardia’s American Airlines freight and cargo terminal this morning we’ve been driving northwest for about three hours. Shane and I fell for Bette’s all expenses paid trip to New York coercion to reassemble the fucking ’17 Reasons Why!’ sign. It sure sounded like a great idea two days ago, but now? As Bette’s anxiety coils tighter and tighter the closer she gets to seeing Jodie again, the more unsure I am that our coming here was actually a good idea at all.

“Are you serious? You actually have a joint with you? You smuggled this all the way here?” I turn around in my seat as marijuana smoke drifts past me.

Shane holds in her breath before she answers, “I just found it looking for Chapstick.”

As I lean behind me and take a hit from her, the van’s cargo door next to us groans open.

Bette looks stressed. “Here guys, Moosehead Ale is the best they had. Holy fuck!” She waves at the reefer smoke that floats in front of her face.

“And Little Debbie’s snack cakes!” Shane tears the cellophane with her teeth.

“I think smoking grass is actually legal here now, Bette, so don’t worry.”

“What? Are you serious?” She looks at me suspiciously.

“Well, I know they’re talking about it.” I add defensively as I apply Shane’s chapstick to my desiccating lips. “It’s freezing out there! Shut the door, please.”

“Oh, Christ!” Bette pushes inside with our beer, junk food, and other groceries. “Scoot over Shane so I can get this door closed because I think you’re full of shit, Alice.” She crawls past us and over to the driver’s seat.

“Well, they should. I mean it’s so dumb.” I take another affirming hit of pot and a snack cake from Shane.

“People don’t do a lot of things they should do, Alice.” Bette opens the lid to her steaming cup of tea.

“You’ll be back in plenty of time to help Tina with Angelica’s birthday party, Bette.” Shane adds.

“I know. I know I will. I just feel sometimes like I …” her voice drifts. Momentarily distracted, she takes a sip and burns her lips.

“Jesus Christ! That’s scalding hot!”

“Quick! Use this, Bette, or you’ll have a blister.” I hand over the chapstick.

Bette knits her forehead as she dabs on the scalded places along her lips. Sitting outside of Big Buddy’s Bait and Beer somewhere the fuck outside of Woodstock, New York I come to a conclusion – as I take another puff of marijuana – there are probably sixteen more reasons why our coming here is ill fated.

If they were so great together then why is this trip, this sign, this cargo van – really why is any of this necessary? Grand gestures are great! You gotta love ’em, but at the core of this nonsensical declaration that Bette knows ’17 reasons why!’ – or how she can mend her romantic relationships – leaves me with a definite “as if” feeling, and sixteen too many more questions.

Could Jodie and Bette’s communications misses be possibly any worse than Bette and Tina’s? Could anyone’s be that abysmal? Their dilemmas are a constant source of mystery to me because I’m a talker. I can’t keep anything inside. If they ever do get back together – either grouping of them – I’m not going to sit idly by or recommend therapy to them. Nope! I’m going to insist that Tina and Bette take Italian lessons and read poetry to each other. Maybe then they’ll see the tragic parts of themselves and understand their misaligned feelings for each other.

And if Jodie loves Bette, and vice versa, then please find some common ground in a subject other than art and give us all a break! I mean, really. Lisa the Lesbian had more self awareness than these three put together. And that is not a compliment.

As much as I’ve tried over the years to pry personal information out of Bette she can be a master of deflection. She’s both enigmatic and quixotic. The disassembled sign that has incessantly rattled and gotten on my nerves for the last three hours is certainly a result of that.

windmill

Tilting at Windmills

I suppose we would all be the poorer for it if we every once in a while we didn’t go off in mad pursuit of something we’d convinced ourselves it was impossible to live without. Take me and Dana. She was the greatest best friend, and I ruined my health trying to force her back to me as a lover. Or Shane, who despite all tendencies, odds, and a mountain of evidence to the contrary pursued marriage with Carmen to the very bitter end. Today, yesterday, and tomorrow I will seriously question the sanity of her upcoming move in with Paige. It’s as if we’re all blind to ourselves, our follies and fallacies. The jury is out whether to sentence us to more rock breaking repetitions. I understand their reasons. It’s true – we might never rehabilitate and learn our life lessons.

“You forgot to blow the steam off it first, Bette.” Shane hands her the joint. “Hey, we’ve all done it.”

 

Shane EXT CU

Outside Big Buddy’s Bait and Beer – Shane

Growing up the way I did as a ward of the State of Texas I never traveled much. Offer me a trip to most anywhere and I’m in. The only traveling I ever did was when the nuns would pile us into battered old buses and take us to the circus, or the county fair if the tickets were free. One thing we could always count on though was the Friday night rodeos. Whenever I hear the phrase, ‘a roll in the hay,’ my many assignations in rodeo horse trailers send buzzing memories shooting right through me.

I liked heavily tooled cowboy boots back then, too. The ones with stitching and snake skins, and I didn’t mind if they had a little bit of wear on ’em either. But my favorites by far were the turquoise tinted cowboy boots of Rhonda, my Rodeo Queen. Our timing was or wasn’t perfect – I’m fairly bad about gauging these things – but I’d met Rhonda shortly before I’d hitchhiked myself right out of the State of Texas.

People, who grow up with families and Sunday dinners and real Christmas stockings and a tree, have no idea what it meant for me to have my brother, Shay, here with me. No, I take that back. My family with Tina and Bette at the head, or the center, and now off to the side of it understood. But me have a clue about their problems? I admit, they confuse the fuck out of me.

The more grass I smoke in the enclosed space of this chilly cargo van the more I wonder why I go along on these descents into Hell with them? Loyalty is my only clue.

I put the joint out and try to imagine what’s going on inside Bette’s mind as we sit together sharing sugary snack cakes outside of Big Buddy’s.

I don’t think she’s really thought her “Hail Mary” thing with Jodie all the way through. If she had surely she would’ve flown ahead in her mind, as I have, and imagined the holidays with all of us ahead. Does Bette actually think she sees a day in the future when Jodie and Tom, and Tina and whoever she eventually ends up with sitting together around a holiday table for dinner?

Because I’ve imagined it! And in my mind there’s nothing about that Christmas dinner that seems festive to me. I want what Carmen’s family had in spades – something noisy and full of happy commotion. But the pictures in my mind of the holidays looming on the horizon of my future, strained by Bette and Tina’s tension, makes me want to follow all the Jews to the movie theater on Christmas Day instead.

And that kinda hurts me, and I see a mounting, growing list of inescapable problems ahead.

Maybe more than anybody I’ve watched Bette since it all came apart years ago. Living next door to her I probably “see” her more than anybody, and I’ve watched how her mind’s begun to eat itself alive the longer she lives alone.

And Tina used to take care of all that, and now Jodie really doesn’t.

And I like Jodie, I do. But she lives practicing broad jumps from place to place, and from what I’ve gathered so far – she’s had no bad falls. But deep down inside herself I don’t think Bette really trusts her. And the other really fucked up thing? The one that’s propelled us three thousand miles, and up into these pretty mountains and countryside, is Tina’s own fucking fault.

Tina, who’s now officially single, but possibly dating has her own unique hang ups. For awhile she fussed over keeping sprigs of grass alive in her apartment so she could squeeze them with a mashing pressing thing whenever she wanted into a dark green colored juice. So, I’ve seen her weirdness and how she gets way dug in, and is too intractable and especially stupid about “Bette” things.

She starts the van and checks her mirrors to see behind us. I wonder as I see her reflection: Do any of the women around me – who seem to get their eye shadow on right – actually ever really look at themselves while staring into mirrors? I mean really look and not turn away? Because one night I did for hours when I was high on Dilaudid and cocaine. That mirror shit was freaky and I quit doing drugs for awhile after that. I get the avoidance of it. But as we back up, and the huge metal sign behind me in the van’s cargo bay begins to rattle,  Bette flashes me a cheery look, also filled with trepidation look that I read as: For better or worse here we go.

Alice holds up her iPhone with GPS. “Looks like we’ll be there in twenty minutes, maybe less.”

Bette_stern_CU large

Route 28 – Bette

Twenty minutes later –

As the chilly air rushes in from the window I sense Alice fidgeting in the seat next to me, and whatever Shane’s last thought was has left her with a ragged sigh, and the need to go prone on the long seat behind me.

I think about turning back. I could pull into the farm road I see ahead and turn us all around by that lonesome looking silo then, driving straight back southeast we could be back in the city by six. New York is fun at night.

It’s fun anytime as long as you’ve got money you don’t mind literally disappearing from your hands every minute you’re there. Everything, everything, everything costs and the tab for this scheme of mine to get back Jodie is going to run me every bit of five thousand dollars and probably then some.

Transporting the sign alone was nearly three! But I pulled the pin on this and I’m going to fall on it as it drops, or explodes, and if it blows me into a million bits then, I’ll drown my sorrows tonight in a bar in Manhattan.

There’s no grey for me anymore and even if there were? I’ve been told I probably wouldn’t see it. And her with not so much as a, ‘Fuck you!’ leaving me like that. Then, I knew better, but I kept reaching for my phone to call her and then I’d remember: Jodie can’t hear, so that won’t work.

Every fucking miserable detail of my ridiculous wreck of a love life I’d first have to say to Tom, and then hear him repeat it all over again to her. It was bad enough hearing myself say it, much less his tone of voice interpreting me. So, imagining that ridiculous make up assisted scenario really just pissed me off even more. What choice did I have but to tell Jodie face to face? And with a five thousand dollar to be screwed together steel and aluminum gesture that I hope to God doesn’t fall flat?

Pushing up into my thoughts is my share of a sizable private preschool enrollment expense that comes up pretty soon. Oh my God, my credit cards! Christ! They’ll be the ruin of me.

I pull into a gravel road when Alice says, “Turn right here.”

silo_with_tree

“Wait! Go left. Didn’t you see me pointing left?” Alice snaps her hand toward me.

“I saw you waving your hand around, Alice, but you were saying turn right, so I did.” I sigh and stare up at the greying winter sky above the grain silo, and roll the window down.

Shane asks from the back. “Do you mind if I get out and stretch for a minute before you meet your fate in the field over there?”

“Oh, and I want to take a picture of this silo, too.” Alice opens her door and walks the short distance to the grey stones towering above us.

“Isn’t that Jodie way over there across the road in that field?” Shane points as she puts her hand above her eyes to shield the winter glare.

“Hey, guys! Look what I found. There’s a shed with a nice little tractor and trailer back here.” I hear Alice’s voice from behind the silo. “Bette, instead of you bumping up in a van with us smelling like beer and reefer and your grand gesture, ’17 Reasons Why!’ sign trussed up like a hostage in the back – I mean if you really want to make your point – we should assemble the thing together. Then, you drive it over there and see what happens.” Alice ends with emphasis and crosses her arms in what looks like a dare. “And Shane and I will wait here.”

I put my binoculars up to my eyes and slowly draw Jodie into focus as she walks with a group of men all dressed for high grasses and muddy terrain. I watch as Jodie looks towards the pasture’s boundary and treeline, and then up and over across the road toward the silo and me. She points up to the sky above the towering silo, and then down again. I can tell she’s thinking about something she’s not quite seeing yet, only imagining.

I shift my weight and wonder what to do. Steal the tractor to take the stolen sign? See if she’ll make up with me and kiss my blistering, fucked up lips?

Or not?

Jodie shifts in the frame of my field glasses. I follow her slowly across far hillside when she stops and does something that seems like a signal even though she hasn’t seen me.

Is it a sign to come over there? I press the binoculars together and give myself one single field of telescopic vision and watch Jodie as she lifts her hands to frame exactly where I’m standing on a hillside a thousand feet away. Her fingers squarely and exactly surround us. She looks through the box and I see it all very clearly.

I must go through this imaginary window between us because I must see what’s on the other side.

_______________

The next chapter is titled, “The Weather Report.”

http://wp.me/p4AUvc-bJ

Alice senses earthquake weather, and that anything could happen in this unusual environment when she witnesses a confrontation between Tina, Bette, Dawn Denbo and My Girlfriend Cindy.