Bette puts the phone down and looks to me with a brilliantly feral smile on her face, the first one of its kind I’ve seen in two months. I smile back at her as she takes me in her arms, picks me up, and twirls me in a circle exclaiming, “You are such a fucking rock star!” She sets me down and kisses me hard as we both laugh. “You…” she kisses me again, “…were…” she kisses me again, longer this time, “…absolutely right…”
She kisses me again, but I’m ready for her this time and reciprocate. Her hands are still tight around my waist as I tangle my fingers in her hair and stroke her tongue with my own. I hate to admit this, but I’ve been desperate for her, for our connection. It’s been two weeks since that night I tried and failed to reach her, and I haven’t pushed on the subject. There’s nothing more I can do but support her and hope that she comes back to me, and soon. But this Bette, the one in my arms right now, caressing my breasts and attacking my neck, is the Bette I’ve been craving and missing.
Her hands are sure, her mouth insatiable, and I don’t hesitate to respond and pull my top off to give her better access. She pushes me down against the couch and pulls her own top off, straddling my hips and holding my hands above my head with one of her own as she nips and licks along my neck and pulls my bra up to fully expose my engorged breasts. I can’t help the breathless cry of, “Fuck yes,” that escapes my throat as I feel her fingers fumble with the buttons of my jeans, delving her hand inside and stoking a fire that’s been raging for so long it was simply smoldering.
I cry out as I raise up to kiss her again only to have her eyes go wide and jerk away quickly. My chest is heaving as I gaze up at her now feet away on the couch. “Babe…what’s wrong?” Her eyes are wide in mortification as she stands and takes her top from the floor and puts it back on. What the fuck is happening here? Tears gather in my eyes as I look down at my scar, slightly sagging stomach, and leaking nipples. “I… I’m sorry, Bette. I’m trying to… well, I’m sorry…”
I reach for my own shirt and put it on quickly, feeling very exposed just now. I don’t blame her. I’m still not very sexy. I quickly button my pants and feel her hand stop me. I look up into her worried eyes and look away quickly. I don’t want to cry about this. It’s not important. I know she loves me. She’s proven that, and I’m not worried that she’ll go elsewhere. She’s proven that too. It’s not important. I’ll work harder with Alice and Shane. I’ll be desirable to her again eventually.
“Bette?!” We both turn to see Malcolm smiling maniacally as he walks into the room with a disk in his hand and set it on the coffee table. He hugs Bette fiercely and releases her chuckling. “We have them both right where we want them.” He turns to me and picks me up in his arms as he hugs me tightly. “And you…” He stops abruptly and sets me down, looking at Bette’s strong hand gripping his forearm. “…are bloody brilliant…” She releases him with a sigh of… relief?… and smiles at him. I gawp at her puzzled. What the fuck is happening here? I feel the flush of frustration course through me and start taking deep breaths as I sit down. I need to calm down. I don’t want another trip to the hospital.
I close my eyes and Bette rushes to my side, kneeling next to me. “Fuck, T, I’m so sorry. I got carried away…”
I look into her raw and agonized face and something clicks. She’s afraid to make love to me. Tears gather in my eyes and I put my arms around her neck and hold her to me. This is the last straw. She’s got to do something, I’ve got to do something. I’m fine. It’s all this bullshit that’s fucking up my world and that just scares her more.
“Um… I’ll just talk to you both tomorrow…”
I kiss Bette hard before I release her roughly. Her eyes go dazed and I smile. She’s going to get a taste of just how delicate I really am. I pull away and smile at Malcolm. “No, let’s look at it now. We need to take this to the police as soon as possible.”
Bette seems to snap out of it and eyes me warily. I smile ferally at her as I lean in and kiss her unabashedly. I don’t care who sees, so long as she does. I lean back abruptly and slap her on the ass. Malcolm has turned away and covered his mouth to stifle a chuckle. I grab the disk and shove it into his chest with a smile. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
We all turn to the knock at the front door and I open it to see Tom’s smiling face. He picks me up in his arms and the joy radiating off of him is incredible. He sets me down with a scowling tilted head at Bette who’s eyeing him disapprovingly. He looks at her for a long moment but jumps right back to joy as he meets my eyes. I’m a bit blown away. He doesn’t look a thing like my father now. He was letting his facial hair go a little crazy before he left, but now it’s a short, rugged beard, not long enough to grab but long enough to tickle instead of stab. His face is tan and lined with his smile, and his hazel eyes sparkle. His normally perfectly styled coif has been cut into a very chicly mussed and popular cut amongst the gay male crowd. He’s dressed casually, even wearing sandals. He looks like he should have a surfboard tucked under his arm.
I put my hand up and cover my mouth to stifle the tears. I was missing him all this time and I never even knew him; none of us did. He didn’t even know himself. I’m proud of him. He’s really grabbing ahold of this opportunity to live freely and openly. He’s handsome, and alert, and wonderful, and I’m proud to be his sister.
Tears gather in his own eyes and he hugs me tightly, tickling me with his grizzled face as he leans in and whispers, “Thank you.” He can’t seem to say that enough.
I pull back and he hugs Bette a little cautiously. She strokes his shoulder to make amends. She wasn’t trying to stop him so much as protect me. He just doesn’t know that. “Come on in, Tom. We were about to watch a movie.” Malcolm smiles brightly as he cuffs Tom on the shoulder, and we all settle in front of the television in the media room to watch a short autobiography on America’s dumbest criminal.
“Sergeant Duffy?” Bette’s eyes are wide with disbelief as we stroll into the police station. A gorgeous woman who’s strong aura reminds me of Bette, only more butch, turns and tilts her head at Bette. Her blue eyes light with recognition and she smirks. “What are you doing here? You were in New York…”
She steps towards us and smiles. “I put in a transfer request about a year ago. I’m Lieutenant Duffy now.”
Her smirk turns smug and Bette smiles at her as she says, “Well, I never thought I’d say this, but I’m glad to see you.”
She smirks again. “Having trouble?” Bette chuckles and nods her head, and the lieutenant’s smile seems more genuine. “Come on. We can talk in my office.” We follow her into a medium sized corner office with a wall of windows to the station and the L.A. cityscape behind her. She has a seat at her file covered desk and gestures to the chairs in front of it. “So, how can I help you?”
“Well, first, let me introduce my wife, Tina Porter-Kennard.” I smile at Duffy and she grins back, folding her hands over the files in front of her as she leans on them with a gleam in her eye as we both take a seat. ”And this precious little one is our daughter, Angelica Porter-Kennard.” She gazes down at Angie before meeting my gaze. ”Sarg…Lietenant Duffy helped me in New York when I got arrested. She took out the guy robbing the ’Pump N’ Munch.” A mischievous grin lights my face and Bette grins at me playfully.
“I thought you were family.” We look back to Duffy as she grins and leans back in her chair. ”You have a beautiful family.”
Bette smiles knowingly and says, ”Thank you.” She stands, giving Duffy a DVD in a clear plastic case from her purse. She rifles around a little more before pulling out a thumb drive and handing that to the detective as well and re-taking a seat. Duffy eyes the drive and disk and gives Bette her full attention. “I… we…” she points to me and I smile at her, “…own the Porter-Kennard Gallery.”
Duffy smirks. “I’ve heard of it.”
Bette smiles and continues. “I hired a General Manager, Leo Herrera, to take care of the day-to-day operations in my absence so I could take care of some things at home. He manages most of the journal postings for the monthly closings as well as curating and sales. On the thumb drive you’ll find two years of journal entries dating back to when I first hired him. I didn’t notice that small amounts were missing at first, but recently, Tina gave birth to Angie and… well, I was in the hospital with her while she struggled through complications. Angie was premature as well…”
Duffy’s face goes dark, so dark that I can almost see black thundering clouds streak across her irises, and I hasten to reassure her. “We’re both fine now, but it was a rough week for Bette.”
She nods her head and it seems to clear her mind as Bette continues. “Anyway, I checked the mail while in the hospital and looked over the monthly statement, finding ten thousand dollars missing. When Tina and the baby got better, we looked it over together and found that Leo’s been embezzling since the day he started, taking small amounts on an entry titled, ‘cash discount.’ We offer no such discount. I believe he pushed his luck while he knew I was at my most distracted.”
Duffy smirks. “But something tells me that you don’t miss much, even under extenuating circumstances.”
I raise an incredulous eyebrow at the lieutenant and stroke Bette’s back posessively. She’s right, Bette’s an incredibly intelligent woman, but she’s not available. Duffy smiles at me and it puts me at ease. She’s an impossible person to read. She must make an excellent undercover detective. “No, not normally. I’m surprised I missed the small amounts previously, but I’ve been distracted since I hired him. That’s why I hired him.” We all chuckle and she continues. “Anyway, I still couldn’t prove anything by the records alone, so on the disk, you’ll find a recorded conversation taken during company hours. I had the lines and computers tapped. You’ll also find a video of Leo posting one of the entries from his work computer. And…” Duffy shakes her head with a smirk. “You can contact Weisenberg and Company. They did an internal audit at my request and came back with the same conclusion.”
Duffy leans back in her chair and smirks smugly. “Didn’t want to make this too easy on me, did you?” She chuckles maniacally. “If everything you say is here, all you need to do is press charges and we’ll arrest him.”
Bette adopts her own smirk. “Actually, there are two people working in collusion. One is outside of the gallery. Have you heard the name Kelly Wentworth?”
Duffy’s face falls and the dark shadows cross it again. “You could say that.” Bette and I furrow our brows at her and she continues. “Let me go through what you have and I’ll call you tomorrow. I don’t want to wait if she’s involved.” Duffy’s harsh gaze softens into polite professionalism as she stands. “Just trust me. If she’s involved, it will be my pleasure to bring her in.” She gazes down at the items in her hands. “And if you have just given me what I need to do that… well…” she looks back up to us, “…then I owe you one.”
We sit in silent shock for a moment before Bette stands and pulls me up with her. “All right, thank you, Lieutenant. I guess we’ll talk to you tomorrow.” I follow Bette out and she looks to me with puzzled eyes. I have no idea why Duffy has it out for Kelly, but honestly, I don’t care. I’m just glad.
There’s a quiet knock at the door before Doctor House steps in. Bette’s been shuffling nervously with the baby as we wait and I’ve been stroking soothing circles on her back to calm her. He smiles brilliantly as he shuts the door. “All right ladies, I have good news.” Bette visibly relaxes and I smile as I continue to stroke her. “The electrocardiogram results came back and it looks like you have a mild supraventricular arrhythmia.” Bette goes rigid again and even I panic a little bit.
“How is that good news?”
The doctor smiles. “Because it’s so mild that she doesn’t need an ablation…” We both furrow our brows and he chuckles. “…it’s a small catheter placed in the heart to correct the issue. You don’t need one, or even medication. What this means is that you may or may not have slight episodes once or twice a year, but you’ll live a long and healthy life. More than 90% of patients that need daily treatment survive it just fine. Tina’s is so mild, that I really don’t see any cause for alarm. It’s just been exasperated by the pregnancy and recovery process. She may stop having them all together when things settle down.”
Bette relaxes again and I breathe a sigh of relief. “Are you positive she’s okay?”
Doctor House sighs and leans against the counter crossing his arms over his chest and eyeing Bette specutively for a long moment. “Bette, can I speak frankly with you?”
Bette squares her shoulders. “I’d prefer it.”
He confirms again. “You’re not going to like what I want to say and I don’t want to overstep any bounds. Are you sure you want to hear it?”
She nods her head and he sighs as he says, “The truth is everyone is born dying. There is, quite honestly, nothing I can do to fix that.” He looks her right in the eyes with confident compassion as her face morphs into a mask of worry. “Everyone dies, Bette. Sometimes too young, sometimes for no good reason, sometimes one hundred years old, safe in their bed. But the ratio never changes. One out of one dies. Tina will die…” he looks to Angie, “…Angelica will die…” he looks to Bette, “…you and I will die. It’s inevitable. The only consolation anyone can take from this world is that they lived while they were here.” He grins sadly. “Tina’s not going to die from an arrhythmia, but frankly, I’m more worried about you. You haven’t died yet, but you’re already dead. Just enjoy everyone you love while they’re here, while you’re here, and there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Bette leans back against the bed and I take Angelica from her arms to put her into her car seat. I look to Doctor House. I don’t know whether to slap him or kiss him just now, but either way, he nods his head and walks quietly to the door. “Just think about it, Bette. I know it’s hard to lose the people you love, but you haven’t, not yet. I can guarantee you that if you stop acting like you have, when you do, it’s a hurt you can survive.” He smiles one last time and shuts the door softly behind him.
I take Bette in my arms and something happens that I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to or stop appreciating. She doesn’t swallow her fear; she doesn’t hide it behind the tower of strength. She lets me in and buries her head in my neck as she cries. I hold her and stroke her and feel connected to her again. Don’t get me wrong, I hate that she hurts. I just want to be there to help her through it. And it’s so nice to be let inside.
Long minutes pass before she’s able to contain herself and she leans back gazing at me. I stroke the curls from her eyes and the tears from her face and smile at her. “Bette, I don’t like it either. Neither of us knows how long the other will be here, but I want to live my life with you while I can. And I will fight tooth and nail to stay with you for as long as possible.”
She laughs through her tears and leans in to kiss me. Tears gather in my own eyes and I hold onto her. I’d be lost without her. I know that. But I’m not going to waste the time I actually have fearing a time I may not have to face at all, or at least not for a very long time. I’m just going to love her my whole life, no matter how long or short that is.