”Al’s staring at us again.” I look up from my laptop to see Shane staring over my shoulder. Turning my head, I see Tina relaxed into the corner of a sofa sipping her coffee and reading a magazine, looking for the entire world like she’s enjoying a relaxing afternoon by herself at the Planet; but that’s just not the case. Al flails her hands to get my attention and when I meet her eyes, she mouths the words, ’Help me.’
I can’t help but chuckle. Tina has been outlandishly evil with everyone. So far she’s dumped a smoothie on Alice’s laptop, by accident of course; convinced Dana to ride with her under the pretense of a truce before stranding her on Santa Monica Boulevard, better known as the meat rack, at night with no cash or phone; dosed Shane with so much ex-lax that she had to cancel a hair appointment with Pink; listed Helena’s private information on a personals website for notoriously desperate local lesbians, though she was as shocked and surprised as everyone else when told; and, well, I know all too well what she tried to do to me. Though now, she seems to have switched tactics. Instead of bullying us all away, she’s full out ignoring each of us.
I turn back to Shane with questioning eyes. The look on her face is so hesitant and weary that I can actually see the internal debate to determine whether or not it’s worth the risk. After a moment, she blows out a determined but frightened breath, slaps her hands on the table, nods her head, pushes up, and says, ”Let’s go.”
I gather my coffee, laptop, and purse and stand to follow her. Catching Kit’s eyes across the room, I point to Tina and she nods her head in understanding. As we approach the seating area Shane asks, ”Can we join you Tina?”
I swear I hear a chorus of crickets before Alice forcefully demands, ”Sit.”
Shane takes the only chair, forcing me into the space between Alice and Tina on the couch. Wonderful, will it be hot oil or the rack if she decides that I suddenly exist? I start to set my coffee on the low table in front of the couch when I hear Shane clear her throat. Looking to her, she eyes my coffee and shakes her head. I furrow my brow in confusion before realizing her warning. Looking in the cup, there’s not much left, so I gulp it down and set the empty glass on the table, placing my laptop next to it. Before my hands even leave the device, I hear Alice clear her throat. Oh, right, that’s not safe either. Is nothing fucking safe? I pick up the laptop and look around me but there’s really nowhere I can stow it safely. Putting it in its case, I take it to the counter and hand it to Kit.
”Can you store this in your office until I’m ready to go? Shane and I are braving the beast and it’s not safe near her.”
Kit starts to giggle and puts her hand to her mouth to stop herself, but she’s unsuccessful. In a bright voice she says, ”Sure baby sis. You just…let me know…before you leave.” I give her a look of warning but it does no good; in fact, it only further perpetuates her giggles into hysterics. She walks away shaking her head and I can’t help but stare at her back incredulously.
Looking back to the seating area, I consider how to approach this. Tina’s been decidedly good at pretending we don’t exist but that doesn’t mean we have to make it easy on her. Finding some of my notorious Porter resolve, I can’t help the maniacal smile that lights my face as a brilliant plan comes together in my mind. It’s humiliating, but at this point, nothing but my total public degradation is going to reach Tina, and I’m desperate. Ok, first things first. I walk behind the counter and grab a can of Perrier just as Kit returns.
Kit eyes the can in my hands and the crazed smile on my face speculatively before asking, ”What’s going on in that head of yours baby sis?” I turn up the wattage of my smile and Kit shakes her head disapprovingly before continuing. ”Hmm Mmm, whatever it is, it can’t be good by the looks of it.” Putting her hands on her hips she says, ”Now don’t you go hurtin’ Tina. She’s had enough hurt to last a lifet…” Just as the words leave her mouth, her face drops and she stutters apologetically. ”I…I’m sorry…I didn’t mean that like it sounded.”
I look at her with a sad smile and respond. ”It’s ok Kit. It’s true. I’m not going to hurt her though; I’ve had enough of that to last a lifetime. No, I’m just going to…shake things up a bit.” At this I raise the can and start to shake it lightly. I don’t want it to explode, just splash us a bit.
Kit shakes her head and starts to walk into the kitchen muttering, ’I’ll go get the mop and some towels,’ as she goes.
Continuing to shake, I look back to the group, Alice specifically. Shane is far enough away to be spared the worst of it but Alice will be pissed if any of her nice clothes get damaged. Good, she’s comfortable today in a red athletic hoodie and jeans. I look down at my black button up linen shirt and charcoal slacks with black heeled Louis Vuitton boots that Tina bought for me a few years back and decide that the drycleaners should have no problem fixing the clothes, and even if they can’t, she’s worth it. The boots, well, they’re leather. She’s still worth it. I check Tina. She’s in jeans and a casual blouse. Good, this shouldn’t cause too much damage to anyone else involved.
Squaring my shoulders, I use my most determined and confident stride to make my way back to the seating area. Just as I turn to sit, I pretend to slip and fall gracelessly onto the couch, dropping the Perrier and landing against Tina.
The Perrier clanks to the floor and rolls to a stop at Shane’s feet. I look up to find all eyes on me, except Tina, who merely pulls herself as far away from me as she can, readjusts her collar, and continues to read. ”Watch yourselves. It’s slippery right there.”
Shane and Alice bust up laughing and I join them. We start to settle down but Alice looks at me and says, ”Walk much?” This sends us into another fit of giggles. Once we’ve collected ourselves, Shane shakes her head, leans down, picks up the Perrier, and starts to hand it to me. I reach for it but she doesn’t let go. I meet her gaze and realize she’s on to me. I wink at her and she lets go, leans back in her chair, and says, ”I’d have never believed that if I hadn’t seen it.”
I lift the can, smile at her, and say, ”The bigger they are…” I pull the ring at the top. ”…the harder they fall.”
A pop sound is heard and a cold spray hits me squarely in the face, dousing me. It was a little more shook up than I had intended. I wipe my eyes, looking every bit the drowned rat, and look up to find the room deathly quiet and all eyes on me, even the unknown patrons. Oh sure, the old Bette would have had a volcanic eruption at something as humiliating as this, unless it was someone else of course, but to the surprise of everyone, I start to laugh uncontrollably. The whole room joins in and a round of clapping pops up in waves, even a few wolf whistles.
I look at the shocked but joyous faces of my friends before turning to Tina. She was hit with a small amount, but I took the brunt of it. Good, I just want to get her attention. I see her laughing face and realize it worked. My smile becomes so bright that it’s blinding.
It was a short-lived happiness though. As soon as our eyes meet, she realizes what she’s just done: allowed me to exist. Hell, I even made her laugh. That’s got to hurt the old ego. I watch her expression abruptly change. Fuck. Assume crash positions. I hold my breath but the fire and anger that’s expected never comes. Instead her face becomes increasingly sad and disappointed. She stands, grabs her purse and magazine, and walks away saying, ”Fuck you guys,” in a defeated tone.
Alice gets up to follow her since she’s scheduled but I grab her hand and stop her. ”No, let her have some time alone.”
Alice looks down to me and starts to protest. ”But if we lose her, we may not find her again until Lez Girls starts shooting, I have to…”
”Al, no. You don’t understand. Think about it. She didn’t blow up or get angry. She was just…”
”Defeated,” Shane finishes.
I look to her and nod with a sad smile. Looking back to Alice, I say, ”She’s lost the cold bitch battle and the push them away battle; now she’s lost the treat them like their furniture battle, but she laughed, truly laughed Al, like the old Tina would have. It’s progress. Give her some room to breathe.”
She looks at me and I can tell that she’s still nervous about letting her leave and losing her. ”Look if we smother her completely, she won’t have time to work through anything because her guard has to be up. Right now, she’s unguarded. Let her be alone so she feels safe to let her barriers be down. Otherwise, she’ll begin to resent us. Give her some space Al. We’ll catch up with her tomorrow.”
With a deep sigh, she flops bonelessly onto the couch. ”Okay, I hope you’re right, well, at least about giving her the rest of the day. I think you are right about the progress.”
”I agree with Bette,” Shane pipes in. I look at her and wink.
Standing, I say, ”Well, I need to go have a shower and drop these at the cleaners.” I tug at my shirt as I say this. Both Alice and Shane start to laugh again and I look at them disapprovingly. ”You know I did all that on purpose…right?”
They start to laugh harder and I shake my head as I walk away, only to see Kit sit down and start laughing with the others. I’ll get my laptop later.