The L Word : Behind the Scenes

The L Word Bette Porter Tina Kennard


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Hotel California #23

hands bound by ropeHotel California

Whereabouts Unknown – Bette

I’ve had miserable nights and I’ve had really shitty nights. I’ve had nights with the flu when I was so damn sick I’d wished for death, but I don’t think I’ll ever wish for it again. Tonight, I wish for the opposite of death, I wish for freedom.

My kidnappers, the Gold-Toothed Man, who leers at me, the Tattooed SheBeast, who beats me, and Fake Doctor Perez, who lured me into their trap, all have paramilitary training in torture and kidnapping.  But from where, and why try to break me?

Unless this isn’t about me. Unless this is about my mother, who’s been hiding in WitSec for the better part of thirty years. But before I’d set foot anywhere near her, I’d looked into the cases that had hinged upon my Mother’s testimony.  The old mobsters, just like she’d said, were locked up in a supermax, somewhere outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Their sentences were for life, their crimes irrefutable.

What’s also irrefutable, and very urgently so, is that I’m at the end of being able to control my bladder. Another bad review I plan on lodging against Hotel-fucking-California.  That is, right after I burn this fucking place down.

“Hey! SheBeast? You out there? You fucking animal, I’m not pissing in this goddamn chair!”

The key turns in the lock and a shot of adrenaline courses through my body. My legs shake with it they’re so ready to run at the first opportunity. But instead, the Gold-toothed Man yawns and yanks me up from the chair and pushes me into the corner with the piss bucket.

“Untie my hands so I can do this, get my pants down – that sort of thing.” He grunts and obliges and leaves me alone for a few minutes. I rub my wrists where the rope’s been rubbing layers of my flesh away, and quickly unfasten my belt – in case he suddenly has a change of heart. I piss halfway standing up, hitting mostly inside the bucket, and call it a win.

Pressing my ear against my prison walls I listen for clues that will tell me anything. A slow mechanical whirring sound – ventilation? I study the ceiling, probably twelve feet above me. Typical low end industrial construction, but with newer up-to-code pipes bolted to it for utilities.  My hope falls a little. I could be in any one of a half a million warehouses in LA County.

On the other side of the bare room are dirt smeared windows, and through them I can make out a long trail of streetlights. Their perspective puts me on the first floor, an easy jump if I could find something – anything to break the windows with – but they’re very high, and finding nothing I run out of time.

The Gold-tooth man enters, and I ask for food and water, and plead with him not to tie my hands behind my back for the night. He squints at me through the smoke of his cigarette and ties my feet to the chair, my sore arms behind me, and the door slams and locks behind him.

Yet another grievance.  Bad Room Service.

Tina serious blue shirt cropped tight

The next morning –

The Planet – Tina

Angelica runs to meet her grandmother, and Mary catches her in the folds of her dress, and looking back at me – as her taxi from the airport pulls away – our eyes lock across a shaky chasm of worry.

“Have you slept at all?” Mary’s hand touches my cheek.

I roll her small bag toward the door. “Surely, we’ll get some news today.  People don’t just vanish.”

“Actually, they can and they do. But I don’t think that’s what’s happened here.”

The catch on my self control weakens.  “Then, please, tell me what has happened! We’ve been on the phone with everyone we can think of.”

“Finding out if the government scooped her up is the first thing I intend to rule out.”

“But why would they?!” I cry, a little more out of control.  “Mary, when I tell you who we’ve called . . .”

She interrupts me. “I know people that you never want to meet in your lifetime! Tell me what you do know, and I’ll do my thing.”

shebeast the next morning

Whereabouts Unknown – Bette

“You look like you slept well. Any chance you brought coffee?” I hide my fear from the SheBeast.

She slaps me letting me know today, I’m going without. A photographer enters the room and drops his gear on a table. “Is she ready?” He asks.

“Not yet. The boss wants her bloody for the pictures.”

“I’m leaving while you do that.” He taps out a smoke, while she smacks me harder.

She says to the camera guy, “Go get today’s paper for her ‘proof of life’ photograph.”

Ten minutes later –

With the SheBeast gone for the moment, I scan my body for places that don’t hurt. The top of my right leg isn’t killing me. I think about what an unbruised part of me might look like under the jeans I pulled on while in a mad dash to get Angelica – I’d thought – from her school’s infirmary.

A vibrating sound coming from the photographer’s camera bag suddenly has my full attention.

I hop in the chair over to the zipper pocket and pull it open with my teeth.  Next, I open the text app with my tongue and make a go at texting Tina.

A garbled, ‘heoiuioatme’ appears under the slick of my saliva.

I whisper in a coaxing way to my tongue. “Remember all the good times and delicate maneuvers we’ve ever done together? Don’t fail me now.”

My next attempt, even worse! Texting, I realize, is not tongue material.

With my nose leading the way, I dig back inside the gear bag searching for something to use as a stylus. My teeth clamp onto a ballpoint pen.

‘t. . .i. . .’  Pressing one character at a time into the phone, the pen gripped in my teeth, I hear them returning.

‘dont nowhere’  I speed through the rest and strike the tip of the pen on Send, and the whooshing sound tells me it’s gone.

I drop the phone back inside the pocket, hop across the floor – hiding the pen I found under my shoe – I sneer at them the minute they open the door.

“Go ahead assholes. Take my fucking picture.”

CU Maxine

The Planet – Tina

Knowing no words for what’s thick in the air, Angelica spins and spins, around and around in front of me losing herself in circles.

“Baby, Baby, Baby listen to Mommy for a second.” I gently grab her shoulders. “No school today, your grandmomma’s here to be with you.”

“Momma B’s sleeping?”

“I bet she is.”

“Can I wake her up now?”

“Not yet, Baby, not yet.”

My phone buzzes. A text arriving.  “t i dont nowhere”

“Oh God!” I sink into a chair next to Mary.  “She’s alive.”

Kit rushes over. “What?!”

“Anybody know how to do this? Trace numbers?”

Mary takes control of my computer next to my growing cold breakfast. “I’m sending it to my friend in Justice. Call the number out to me right now.”

I recite the unknown number, and Mary calls her friend in Washington. “Matt, I just sent you an urgent email. I would ask about your wife and kids, and how the boat you’re building with your dad’s coming along, but I don’t have the time. Just know I care, but my daughter’s missing.”

“From where?” Matt cuts to the chase.

“LA yesterday. Can you trace a number, a cell number? Right now?”

“Go.”

“Check your email.”

Kit puts her arm around me. “323-889-2104,” I call over Mary’s shoulder to a man she says I never want to meet.

My phone flashes again, and my screen fills with the image of Bette holding today’s LA Times, beaten and bloody, one eye swollen, her lip bleeding.

“Gaah!  They’re torturing her! Oh God! No!” I scream.

Horror on her face, too, Mary grabs my phone. “Matt, we’ve just been sent a picture.”

“Mary, there’s a note.” I cry.

“Send them to me,” Matt says, by way of the phone.

“Mary! God, please tell me this has nothing to do with you!”

“Matt? You still there?” Mary asks.

“I heard her.”

“And!?!” I blast back at him.

“Ma’am, I’ll ping towers for the phone, analyze the picture, and the note. I can’t comment on the rest.”

“Just read the note, Tina!”  Kit shouts.

empty tv graphic hotel story

“Who was killed and his show done away with because of lousy ratings?  You have two hours.”

I collapse in the chair moaning. “I can’t go into work today. I just can’t.”

Shane walks in and signals that she’s ready for me to give her a ride anyway. Dragging myself up from the chair I catch Mary’s attention. “Angelica’s not going to school today. She’s staying here with her Aunt Kit and with her grandmother.”

Cradling her phone on her shoulder, Mary sends off the very latest to her guy in Washington.  “We’ll take good care of her.”

“I’m certain that you will, and Mary?  We’ve brought in security.  You see those two men over there in polo shirts?”

“I noticed them coming in. Yours, I presumed.”

“Correct. One’s coming with me now,  and you’re not to go anywhere without his friend, especially anywhere with my daughter.”

Denbo Cindy at railing shebar

The SheBar – Denbo

Miami I had wired.  My food and beverage guys slipped me extra cases during the holidays, my wait staff wasn’t always late, and tearful over failed auditions for some fucking movie.  I should’ve bought a strip club, and stayed out of the high maintenance lesbian business, but like a know-it-all dumbass, I didn’t, and now, I’m in deep with the Vegas moneylenders.

Two days ago, my brother had called from a hotel in Palm Springs, with a lifesaving tip. Tomorrow, the Dinah Shore party planners will be scouting clubs in LA for a seven day blowout event at New Years.

Spitting out of the printer at my elbow are color ads promoting the event I’ve organized for tomorrow night to Wow! Dinah Shore’s people. ‘The ‘SheBar’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Competition with Cash Prizes!’ posters are stacking up one by one in the printer tray.

Cindy walks in. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you! The swimsuit models are waiting downstairs.”

“You ordered the chocolate fountain, right?”

“Dawn, I’ve done everything on your list.”

“I’m finishing up now.” I write my final line of instructions to Margarita and her crew, and attach a picture of Bette I found online. ‘ASAP!  Leak this picture to the media: University Art School Dean Missing”

I’m an evil genius. I’m certain of it.

Bette Great smile microphone stage

As the news travels around West Hollywood, and far out into Los Angeles, I have two scenarios I’ve imagined in detail. One, is that the Dinah Shore party planners do drop in at Kit’s tomorrow night, and see a club full of distraught women, all wringing their hands over WeHo’s missing heartthrob.

Or two, the Dinah Shore gals stay all night at my swimsuit competition and avoid The Planet’s nightmarish scene completely. Either way, Bette Porter, the fretted over missing woman, wreaks havoc on her sister’s business, while spending day after miserable day locked inside my dungeon.

cup of coffee top view

The Planet – Joyce

There’s a jittery nervousness inside The Planet. Where I normally feel a sunny chaos whenever I come in, today Kit’s on the edge vibe is understandable, but uncomfortable. She’s exhausted and I’m frustrated from dealing with the LAPD.  Like it or not, until the twenty-four period of Bette’s disappearance expires, LAPD will not consider her a missing person.

I find Kit pacing near where Bette’s mother is busy on a computer. “Kit, in a few hours they’ll classify her officially as missing, the news stations will follow up with their “Tip Lines”, you should be ready here, too.”

“Ready? How ready do you want me to be?” Kit hyperventilates. “I’m ’bout to jump outa my skin waiting on news about the cell phone number.”

Mary motions to me from her table. “Joyce, am I right? You were described perfectly to me. I’m Mary, Bette’s mother.”

“I wish it were under different circumstances.” I grip her stronger than expected handshake with my own.  “Where’s this mysterious riddle they sent?”

Mary picks up the paper scribbled with notes and her guesses. “Who was killed and his show done away with because of lousy ratings?  You have two hours.” She finishes reading aloud and hands me the paper.

Alice storms in from outside, her hair seeming to stand up on her head. “I can’t have another cup of coffee or I will freak out!”

“Alice sit down, I have a Xanax.” I dig in my briefcase to Mary’s amusement. “Every good lawyer travels with them.” I say to her.

“Alice, try to focus. Who was killed and his show done away with because of lousy ratings?”

“Dunaway with? Very clever! You know Faye Dunaway is taping a special with Charlie Rose tonight in LA?”

“The thirtieth anniversary of Peter Finch’s death! She’s right!” I shout.

Kit appears. “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore! That guy?”

“Why on Earth him? What time are they taping Charlie’s show?” Mary asks.

“At six.” Alice says.

Mary dials the police with our decipher of the tip.

Kit_concerned

Mary asks Alice, “How far away was Bette’s car?”

“Oooh, to East LA? Maybe an hour? Maybe more with traffic.”

Mary picks up her purse. ” Alice, will you watch Angelica until I get back?”

Kit takes my hand, and pulls me aside. “Joyce, I don’t know if I can take much more of this.”

“Let’s eat something. Soup maybe? But, Kit, I don’t mean to change the subject, but I’ve been thinking some more about the SheBar girls. Investigating them on possible labor violations would bring them into court.”

Kit’s attention seems to focus. “They do seem like natural born cheaters. How soon can you start?”

Penny walks in, and slides into a seat at the bar. “Any news on Bette?”

Penny at bar worried

“You don’t want to see the picture of her. Remember her. . .” Kit begins to choke up, “like she was.”

“I meant any good news?” Penny adds.

Kit steps behind the bar to take Penny’s order. “You’ve got lots of immigrants working on your cantaloupe farm. Joyce’s plan is to solve my SheBar problems with labor law infringements.”

alan cummings

Billy Blakely, Kit’s off and on again drug addled former club manager, saunters in.

“Kit! What are you doing? Why aren’t you getting ready?” He demands.

“What’doyoumean, what am I doin’?  I’m standing in my club ’bout to have a nervous breakdown!”

“So, you know then? Good! I flew over here to make sure.”

Penny, Kit and I all say at once. “They’ve found her?!”

Billy stares at them blank as a stone.

Kit snaps her fingers in front of his face. “Bette’s missing. Never mind. The news hasn’t officially released, yet.”

Billy shakes off the confusion. “I’ll handle everything for you here on out.”

Penny and I stare into his dilated pupils and exchange very doubtful looks. “Joyce Wischnia,” I introduce myself. “What makes you think you’re qualified to run a search and rescue?”

“Ha! Good one! I could cater one though!” Billy nervously drums his fingers on the bar.  “Kit, wake up, baby. The Dinah Shore party planners are coming here tomorrow night!”

“Here? For what?”

“Scouting for a venue for their New Year’s Eve Party! It’s the biggest, nastiest, most fucking wall to wall lesbian show you’ve ever seen.”

“Watch yourself Buster!” I warn Billy.

“Kit, they’ll be going to the SheBar.” Penny adds it up. “I think I have a plan.”

“Will I lose my law license if I hear this?”

“Absolutely not!” Penny says.

“Waiter! Double rum and coke over here please?” Billy rubs his hands together. “Go on!”

“You mentioned my cantaloupe farm, which is actually a lot more than that, but the point is – I have hundreds of Latino workers I could bring over. Listen, Kit we’ll stage a very noisy ‘Workers Rights!’ demonstration in front of the SheBar tomorrow night.”

I scoot onto a bar stool next to Penny. “That would very bad publicity for the SheBar.”

“Dinah Shore’s people will hate it.” Penny beams a devilish smile that looks quite natural on her.

“I’m seeing the picket sign slogans now!” Billy claps his hands.

Alice joins us with Angelica in tow. “What’s all the excitement brewing over here?”

“Where’s Bette’s mother?” Kit looks past Alice to where Mary was sitting at a table.

“Bette’s mother? This I’ve got to see!” Billy spins his barstool around, and with his bloodshot eyes he searches for Mary .

Alice points toward the door. “She took off to see where the police found Bette’s car.”

I’m astonished. “Alice! You didn’t try to stop her?”

“Oh no, no, no! She’s as scary as Bette. Have you met her?”

Billy gives up scanning the room and focuses on Alice. “The Dinah Shore’s scouts are in town. Get this eblast ready for your Alice in LesboLand blog. Hit ’em with this tomorrow night!”

“Scoop me, Baby.” Alice flashes her hands at him to give it up.

“West Hollywood Club Scene News!” Billy mimics the headline’s splash with a sweep of his hand. “Labor Rights Workers Demonstrate outside the SheBar. The Planet holds a candlelight vigil for ‘Missing Women and Children’s Awareness Week’.”

__________

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.

Stayed tuned and if you’re just joining the story, here’s the link to previous chapter where the mystery began. “Whereabouts Unknown” #23  http://bit.ly/WhereaboutsUnknown

A shout out to Collins for her wonderful ability to listen and offer excellent insights!

Thank you for reading, Blackbird


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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.”

______

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

Bette Tina with Alice

The Planet – Monday morning – Alice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenny smooching camera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Set actors Lez Girls

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

Kit Vertical standing at window smile

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

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

Bette frustrated Hand on Chest color corrected

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

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

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

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

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

I’m just saying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bette Laughing with2 woman

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

CU Tina's ring

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

Tina_small_picture CU

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maxine's barn wedding party - before

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bette_Planet Jpeg

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

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

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

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

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

Tina winking Bette color corrected

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

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

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

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

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

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

Exterior – The Planet – Bette

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mind if I ride with you?”

“With me? To the university?”

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

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

Shane_reading paper serious look

The Planet – Tina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Cienega Boulevard – Bette

Molly looking seductive

“Angie, are you alright back there?”

“Momma B, go fast again to school!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, I’m right.”

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

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

Molly interrupts, “That I can understand.”

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

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

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

“But Shane’s in it?”

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

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

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

“Gossip about my mother?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___________

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#9 Touch Tones: Radar Love

Tina sleeping

Santa Fe Guest Room – Bette

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

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

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

Rattlesnakes on the Grill

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I pause.

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

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

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

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

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

Bette Garden thinking white sweater

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

Bette drinking outside alone

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

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

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

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

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

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

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

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

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

Bette Phyllis party story image

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

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

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

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

Tina bedroom Santa Fe

Ten minutes later – Tina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bette_Tina Season 5 06kiss

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

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

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

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

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

Bette_Lick_Tina's neck

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

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

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

Bette's Tongue.2 on top

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

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

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

“I know. I smell it, too.”

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

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

Maxine breakfast room

Mary Hardy’s Breakfast Room – Bette

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

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

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

Our Dinner Party. Theme was breakfast.

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

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

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

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

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

Maxine_Adoring w:Son

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

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

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

saints int santa fe church

Church – Tina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The one that has the answers.”

Loretto Chapel santa fe staircase

Forty-five minutes later – Tina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

santa fe staircase spiral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sarah Wilson?”

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

Tia CU torquoise necklace

Sanctuary – Bette

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Most of it.” I laugh with Sarah.

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

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

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

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

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

Maxine Blue window

Mary Hardy’s Art Studio – Bette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maxine Painting RedWineBlueChairs

One hour later –

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

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

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

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

“Bette?”

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

Maxine self portrait.2 rear shot smoking

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

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

“Didn’t he try it with you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you got shot.”

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

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

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

“I take it you couldn’t escape?”

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

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

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

Spooky GraveYard Gambino Family

“Survival springs to mind.”

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

“So the Inside Man literally called the FBI?”

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

“I imagine so!”

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

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

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

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

“And then you went away.”

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

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

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

____

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#4 Touch Tones: Kryptonite

Kit_Bette big smiles_ seated

Soundstage – Kit – 3PM

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

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

You blink and you can miss a year around here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone really should sell tickets to this shit.

Bette_GREAT Kiss_Handbehind her headKiss

Limousine – Tina – 3 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TheChariot

 

The Chariot

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

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

 

Bette_sincere_studio w:brother

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

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

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

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

Alice_Lesbo Land

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

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

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

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

Claire Vertical DarkGrey dress

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

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

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

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

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

TinaBarebackKiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bette_Tina Early KIss for flashback

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

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

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

Bette_Laughing studio brother

Engagement Announcement – Alice – 3:06 PM

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

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

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

“Well, I can see that!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gloria.2 red curtain stage

Stage – Bette – 3:08 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

@ModernLWord  has a hilarious Twitter feed.

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


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#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.”


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The Weather Report

Alice_with Paperwork

The Planet – Alice

Even though every once in awhile I’m proven wrong I can honestly say without fear of argument: Today, the news around me is not good. Helena’s in jail! Shane’s business is toast! Those SheBar freaks? Miami coconut-oiled mobsters! And that’s just my list of pending financial crimes!

However, the many relationship fronts around me are unusually and eerily calm and that naturally means an eruption at any moment. It’s earthquake weather in California and anything can happen.

For weeks now since our trip to New York I’ve watched a battle weary Bette as she waits for Jodie’s certain return. And while she waits I’ve clocked the overly friendly amounts of time she spends with the ever present, always a phone call away, co-Mom of Angelica’s, Tina, who in her free time away from her new bff, Bette, is dating a heart doctor named Brenda, a blonde who is always happy. It’s only a matter of time before Brenda’s verve wears thin on all of us.

While Tina is mostly a balanced person she longs to be needed and is completely unaccustomed to being around cheerful, uncomplicated women who lack the craving for lots and lots of fawning attention. That’s my opinion anyway. Over the years I’ve seen it over and over between her and Bette. As smart as Tina is as a movie executive she completely misreads her romantic situations.

Take now as an example. If Tina had sent Bette signals that weren’t obtuse and riddled with double meanings and escape hatches and tunnels that lead safely to the sea Bette would’ve stopped Tina dead in her tracks, and backwards they would’ve bent in their forever tango, and set themselves on fire again. But she didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t and while smoldering may be fun for some – it gets very, very old very, very fast for me.

And for Bette it appears to have burned straight through and into her spleen. And for Tina, who’s just now starting to miss Bette all over again, I fear she has an endless supply of patience for it, however; she was unusually cross and snappy with me when I got home from my trip with Bette and Shane. And as their High Noon approaches, for whatever Goddamn reasons, Tina can’t or won’t send the final necessary signals, and I’m confused and undecided as Jodie’s arrival date approaches as to why.

What is the reason? I look around The Planet and drink my afternoon coffee and tap my favorite green pen and wonder if I shouldn’t just bag the whole caffeine thing and give my body and mind what it truly craves: Liquor. As I decide whether I want rum or vodka in this hotter than usual early summertime weather I wonder about people’s addictions.

Helena’s are for money and Peggy’s love. Shane’s are complicated but at her core it’s about connection. Bette’s are about being right and never failing her family again. And mine I admit are for attention, which leaves Tina.

Tina and Alice looking at computer

I think I know her so well sometimes I can say the words and think her thoughts before she does. But then they are the other times Shane has to nudge me to close my mouth from its astonished gaping.

Tina’s a southern woman, cultured and well educated who escaped without the confinements and baggage of debuts, and endless family weddings or Christenings that normally she’d fly home to attend. Something must have happened before she joined our cabal that made her feel so distant from her family and the South. To my knowledge none of us have ever asked and Tina’s never volunteered, an early sign she kept secrets about herself. Bette must know, but like so many confidences and private moments they hold between them they’ll never share, and none of us will ever be the wiser. And that has nagged at me, too, I admit.

When Tina first appeared in our lives ten years ago she’d fit right in. And next came their chemistry that everyone could feel. It was palpable, dynamic,  unmistakable, and it annoyed the crap out of me until I finally realized how stupid I was being. I thought I’d let all of my jealousy go -it’d been years after all -but there it was as a hot lash to whip Bette with when she went off with Candace, the carpenter.

She may never fully forgive me for blistering her the way I did. But as the years have passed and especially recently, every time I add more connections to Our Chart and see the names and dashes grow between Bette and Tina, I wish Tina would ask me and Shane to do something for her before Jodie gets back. Because by then I’m afraid it’ll be too late.

The longer I sit here dreaming of rum or vodka and getting drunk by three the more this whole day feels odd, suspended in time and very much like earthquake weather. I’m sure of it now. I have a sense the ground is just about to shake.

My iPhone signals a text from Tina.

“Need an eyewitness. U free?”

I text back, “Sure! What’s up?”

Text from Tina, “Can U meet me @SheBar in 10?”

“Eww. Okay. I’ll bring garlic.” I motion to the waiter.

The SheBar – Alice

Walking up the steps to the SheBar I drink deeply from the smuggled vodka and grapefruit juice cocktail I sneakily poured into my travel mug before I left The Planet. Man, am I glad I told the bartender to make it a double, I hate these tacky lesbians from Miami.

Now that I’m inside I hear the shrillness of Tina’s voice as it begins its dangerous rise into higher altitudes. This makes me smile. Thank God! Something interesting! Wasn’t I just lamenting that it was all too quiet? I smile to myself as I hurry down the hallway toward the commotion. When Tina gets unnerved like this someone always leaves the plane without their parachute. Oh Good! I think until I open the final door.

What the fuck is that thing? And then a poster on the wall tells all: Lesbian Hot Oil Wrestling! Every Thursday Night at LA’s Hottest New Girl Club – The SheBar. My eyes blink three times real fast then I hear Tina.

“What I’m fucking telling you is that you need to quit interfering with my movie! But you don’t seem to hear me because you’re either too stupid, or too idiotically self destructive to listen to me.” Tina stabs her finger toward Denbo who remarkably keeps her cool. My Girlfriend Cindy walks from the back toward the wrestling ring.

Please a gold bikini? So Miami Beach! But damn she looks good in it. I push salacious thoughts of My Girlfriend Cindy’s bikini from my mind.

But still…

Then Tina’s voice snaps me out of my fantasy.

“One last time, Denbo and you, too – whatever the fuck your name is – I’m warning you. Stay away from our locations! Stay away from my set, leave my employees alone, and fuck off! Fuck way off from my movie! Do you hear me?” Tina yells furiously at them both.

Denbo smirks as she walks toward her. “Listen! I’ve got a Grand Opening to plan and this ring for our weekly wrestling contests to put together. You’re interfering with my business and standing right where I need to tie off the last cable. Do you mind?” Denbo leans to pick up the rope laying at Tina’s feet and the next thing I know Tina’s flying through the air and across the hot oil wrestling ring. Then Denbo gives a whistle and My Girlfriend Cindy pounces.

Cindy_SheBar

I take a picture just before Cindy splashes full force into Tina who goes down with an, ompft! It’s time for back-up. I send a text to Bette.

“Stop What Ur doin come 2 SheBar ASAP!”

Text from Bette, “At Gym. Fucking hate them, fucking hate bars. No Thx.”

I duck behind a post and attach the photo in a text to Bette. “This fucking idiot on top of Tina in wrestling ring! And Now??!!” I hear the whoosh sound of it fly away to wreak havoc in Bette’s mind as I take stock around me.

Oh! Nice move! I watch as Tina strips off her shirt and flips My Girlfriend Cindy over and attempts to tie up her arms. Denbo watches ringside as the tables turn. I wonder where Tina got this trussing skill? The foothills of the Smokey Mountains?

Five minutes later I check my watch and then look around the room for a good seat. Three, Two, One!

The door flies open and nearly off its hinges.

CU_Bette_Surprised

A string of Bette’s belongings begin to drop to the floor as she tugs off her gym bag, then her warm up jacket in a hurry toward the ring.

“Tina! Goddammit!” She cries out as Tina gets flipped and quickly scissor locked by My Girlfriend Cindy. Damn, Tina’s losing valuable ground. I have a dawning suspicion that Denbo and My Girlfriend Cindy have done this routine before.

“Just what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Bette yells at everyone but mostly at Denbo as she kicks off her shoes by me. I take a satisfying swallow of vodka as a new match up begins and Bette, in her white tank top and dark gym shorts, jumps onto the platform and ducks inside the ropes by Tina.

“I fucking got this, Bette.” Tina in only a black brassiere and green shorts chokes out between Cindy’s tanned thighs.

“Are you out of your fucking mind, Tina? What are you doing in here?” Bette grabs Cindy by the wrists and slipping slightly in the oil drags her along with Tina making gagging sounds across the mat.

“You! Let go of her! Or I swear to God!” Bette snarls.

“Hey! No fair, Porter! No, two against one!” Denbo cries out as she edges closer to the action inside the ring.

“Tina, Goddammit! Grab her little toe! Twist it to the side really hard. Do it now!” Bette yells as she watches Denbo’s approach.

“Okay! I give!” Cindy releases Tina’s head from her scissor lock but Bette keeps her grip.

“If you try any shit like this again I’m going to break your wrists.” She twists Cindy’s backwards far enough to make her cry out, “And I won’t hesitate.” She drops her captive’s arms as Denbo slips into the ring.

“So, now that our girls have had their fun, and by the ways ladies, you were really great to watch.” Denbo bows toward Tina who wipes oil off her face and glares back deeply pissed.

“Tina, where the fuck’s your shirt? For Christ sake!” Bette holds her hand up for Denbo to stop as all eyes watch Tina panting angrily a few feet away.

“Pretty hot one, Porter. Or should I say hot one you had. And yeah, I was real fucking sorry to hear all about your cheating ways when I asked around about you two. Sad, sad story about how you fucked all that up.” Denbo sneers at Bette.

From my ringside seat I’m not sure if it’s real or if my overly active imagination and the perfect amount of vodka have blended but I’m pretty sure Bette’s boxing muscles -the ones I see every other day at the gym -have changed into pumped up knots along her arms. Denbo, to her credit takes notice and backs up a few steps, too. Okay! Whew, I thought I was hallucinating for a minute.

“Tina, really are you okay?” Bette looks quickly at her before pointing her finger back at Denbo. “And you, I can’t even box with because all I’d have is some little bitch to slap around. Now, get out of our way because this is over and we’re leaving.”

Denbo stands her ground, “This isn’t over, Porter. Tell your sister I’m coming for her next and I’m not through with your stupid, little lesbian movie either.” She spits at Tina.

“As much as I’d like to see you get your ass kicked I have to get back to the production office.” A much calmer Tina adjusts her brassiere and puts her arm around Bette.

I lift my camera to take their picture but Bette and Tina send a, ‘don’t you dare’ look at me. I imprint them in my mind as they walk across the ring together. Tina shining with oil and clingy in all the right places and Bette, finally smiling now as they hold the ropes for each other to exit the ring. She looks like any other over adrenalized fighter who only got to halfway kick some ass while a woman in her lingerie looked on.

I imagine them for a moment forgetting about any of us around them, or where they are, and that they don’t sleep together any more. I see them coming together in one of their minutes too long if you’re waiting on them to go somewhere rolling into each other kisses.

But instead Bette hands Tina a towel from her gym bag. “It’s hardly been used. I didn’t get a shower before I came over here. Use it to wipe the goo off your arms and your face.”

“Thanks. I appreciate it.” Tina lifts the towel up to her nose and breathes in as she looks around for her clothes and shoes.

“Baby, you’ve got to get dressed. Let’s get the fuck out of here.” Bette puts her warm up jacket around Tina.

“Alice, please look around for her shirt.”

“You looked scary in there, Bette.” Tina laughs as she wipes her hair and arms then hands Bette back the towel.

“I’ve been in a mood lately.” Bette zips it into a side bag as Tina takes her shirt from me and wrings out a long stream of oil.

“Those girls…there’s something very off about them.” Bette looks up as golden droplets splash between us.

Tina bites her lip, “And from the looks of it they’re not going away anytime soon, either.”

 

 

The next chapter is titled, Fit for Battle. Bette and Tina draw closer to rekindling the romance.

has a great twitter feed with pictures and clips of our favorite characters.

@ModernLWord  is a hilarious feed that has imaginative ideas about what our favorite characters would be saying or doing in present day.