Chapter 11 – Ladies, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room.

”Hey guys.” I stand to the side and let Alice, Dana, Helena, Kit, and Shane enter. ”Let’s go out back. I ordered out from Mandarette.” They all start for the back patio and I follow. We all take a seat and I start to dish some noodles onto my plate. ”This looks great.” And it really does. I reach for the salt and pepper shrimp only to realize the table is deathly quiet. I look up and find everyone staring at me. ”What?”

Alice becomes a bit agitated and says, ”Well?”

I lean back and let out a deep breath. ”Well what Al? We’ve been over this. Tina’s been gone for six days. She didn’t break her lease, her phone’s still connected, though she’s not answering it, and someone’s even coming by to take care of her plants. I don’t know where she is and the private investigator I hired says he hasn’t been able to locate her yet either. I don’t know what more I can do…”

”Shit Bette! We have to do something!” Dana grabs Alice shoulder only to be shrugged off. ”I mean, we have no idea what she’s capable of. The last time we saw her she wasn’t angry but she still wasn’t in her right frame of mind. You did this to her and you need to fix it!”

”Al, come on, it’s not Bette’s fault…”

Alice turns to Shane with barely contained fury. ”Like hell it isn’t. All of this was her idea. She planned it from the get go. Every single bit of this was her idea.”

I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Yes, I eventually came to agree with the plan, but only after Alice got the ball rolling and I had begged her stop. I even told her about…

”Wait, I thought you and I had started this.” Helena looks at Alice questioningly and that only infuriates Alice further.

She looks to Helena and rolls her eyes, letting out a short grunt of a laugh. ”Helena, for a woman with money, resources, and power, you’re a little naive.”

”Al, come on. That was uncalled for. We all had a hand in this. It’s no one person’s fault. We’re all worried about Tina too, but she’s a big girl and she can take care of herself. Until we find her, we need to calm down…”

Alice turns to Dana and the temperature drops several degrees. After a moment of silence so tense you could cut the air with a knife, Alice gets up and walks into the house. Dana turns to the rest of us with a sad expression. ”I’m sorry you guys, she’s just so worried and she’s blaming herself for Tina taking off. She didn’t mean any of that.” Dana stands and follows Alice into the house.

There are several long moments of silence before Helena breaks it. ”What did she mean by that?” Helena turns to me, her face indicating that she fully expects an answer.

I take a deep breath and decide to be honest, but not entirely forthcoming. She doesn’t need to know that we used her desire for Tina against her or that I’m still in love with Tina. I look her in the eye and say, ”Me, Dana, and Alice were talking about how to help Tina and decided we needed Sam out of the picture for a while. Dana worked it out that, as her employer, you could accomplish this, and that’s why Alice called you.”

Helena’s face flushes with angry indignation before she stands and roughly throws her napkin into her plate, addressing me directly. ”I see. Alice called and pretended to be a worried friend lamenting to another worried friend. Instead, the three of you used me…” How did all of this get so fucked up, and so fast? ”I do have one question though, why couldn’t you have just asked me directly instead of manipulating me to get what you wanted?”

She’s right. She and I don’t know each other and haven’t made any effort to because we’re rivals. But while I was sinking, she became a part of this family, and from what I understand, she’s been very good to them. This was wrong. I stand up and walk over to her. ”Helena, I don’t know. I think…maybe…Alice thought you’d say no because what we were planning was underhanded and sort of…wrong…in a way. I didn’t want to do this in the beginning. It’s not right for me to meddle in Tina’s life. I’ve hurt her enough…” She crosses her arms over her chest and snorts at this, a somehow dignified snort, and murmurs, ’You can say that again.’ I look her in the eye and clearly indicate that she’s crossing a boundary she has no business approaching in the first place. Looking appropriately repentant, she drops her head and I continue. ”We were just desperate. You weren’t here the night Tina truly lost it. Something had to be done. Though all of this has been underhanded, we did it for the right reasons, and it was the best we could come up with short of kidnapping her. We care about Tina, just like you do. Either way, we should have respected you enough to have been completely honest. For that, I’m sorry.”

She seems surprised by this response and I guess her shock is understandable. The old Bette, while capable of saying the words ’I’m sorry’, always managed to make them sound disingenuous or just avoid the blame altogether. I realize again just how much I have to make up for. But this apology is genuine and the look on her face indicates that she accepts it.

”I need to apologize as well Bette. The reason I was such a…bitch…when we first met, was because my mother had always spoken about you with such…great admiration. You know, you were the daughter I could never be, the woman I would always have to measure up against. It was like that with Tina as well.”

This news is shocking and wholly unexpected, as well as the compliment. Maybe Helena isn’t so bad after all. Tears well in her eyes but she clears her throat and they vanish. I’m thankful that we’ve reached an understanding. I smile at her and she returns it before abruptly flinching as if she’s been pinched. Everyone looks at her questioningly. She giggles embarrassedly and says, ”My ass is buzzing.” Kit and Shane laugh as she pulls the cell from her back pocket, looking at the screen she says, ”Excuse me a moment, I have to take this.” She puts the phone to her ear, speaking into it as she walks over to the pool, and I return to my seat.

Kit leans into me and whispers in my ear, ”Good job baby sis,” as she pats my arm. I lean back, give her a warm grin, and cover her hand with my own, giving it a squeeze.

Suddenly, Helena runs passed the table calling out, ”Stay here, I’ll be right back,” over her shoulder before disappearing into the house.

The three of us that remain look to one another in confusion and I pour myself glass a wine. This night is starting to wear on my last nerve. As I am returning the bottle to its spot on the table, Shane intercepts it, pouring a glass for herself. Kit eyes us both jealously before reaching for one of the Perriers that I placed on the table specifically for her. Again, I squeeze her hand and say, ”I’m proud of you.” She smiles at me, opens the bottle and we all toast before taking a large sip.

We hear a commotion coming from the house and look up to see a very excited Alice coming running back to her seat, followed by a more subdued but smiling Helena and Dana. They all take a seat and Alice starts immediately. ”I’m sorry for what I said earlier Bette. I was just worried and angry and…feeling guilty.”

I smile at Alice and say, ”It’s okay. I understand Al.” Turning to Helena, I continue, ”So what was that all about…”

”Helena got a call from the staff at her house in Broadbeach. They wanted to know how long her friend was intending to stay.” I look back to Alice. Her words and the beaming smile on her face is a huge relief. It’s all I can do not to slap myself in the forehead. Of course, the house was a part of Helena’s bargaining. I lean back and roll my eyes before looking to Shane and Dana. Their chagrined faces mirror my own.

”Well then, now we have that solved, do we resume the schedule or what? What’s the next step?” I rest my elbows on the table and fold my hands, resting my chin on them, and contemplate this for a moment. Everyone else assumes a thinking pose as well.

Shane leans forward and says, ”I know it’s only about twenty miles away, but I’ve got a contract to do hair for a Slim Daddy video that’s every day for the next two weeks. With the traffic on the 405, there’s just no way.”

”Yeah, Dana’s got to train for the Division III so she can go kick Kornikova’s ass.” Al turns to Dana and pushes her on the shoulder. Dana’s returning smile is sickly sweet. Alice turns to Helena and continues. ”And Helena has to be at the studio nearly twelve hours a day, so she’s out as well.”

”I suppose I could helicopter in and out…” We all look at her. ”Or not…”

”I guess that just leaves you and me Alice. What do you say we meet for brunch at the Planet tomorrow and ride up together?” I start thinking about it and realize that this is the worst thing Tina could have done to escape us. The thought gives me a disarmingly wide grin and everyone looks at me before I continue. ”In fact, Tina may have just signed her own death warrant. Why don’t we just stay there at the house with Tina? I mean, it’s Helena’s house. Getting an invite shouldn’t be that hard.” With this I look to Helena who smiles and leans back in her chair crossing one leg over the other before looking to Alice whose face is already beaming.

A satisfied calm falls over the patio before Kit pipes in. ”Well, I don’t know ’bout y’all, but I’m starvin’.” We all laugh as I pick up my wine and raise my glass. Everyone quickly pours their own and mirrors the pose. We clink our glasses and one bottle of Perrier together and settle in for a somewhat cold but otherwise excellent meal.

”What the hell happened to you?”

Shane looks up and her eyes get as wide as my own. After the moment of shock is over, she stands and holds out a chair for Dana who hobbles over, hands her crutches to Alice, and flops ungracefully into the proffered chair, sighing a relieved, ’Thanks.’ Shane just smiles and returns to her own seat.

Alice props the crutches up against the nearby wall and takes a seat next to Dana who turns to me and opens her mouth to answer my question. ”Her stupidfuckinghomophobicdick of a manager; that’s what happened.” Dana glares at Alice disapprovingly, which is ignored, before letting out a weary sigh. Again, she opens her mouth to respond. ”That dick loving closet lounger put Dana in hiking boots…fucking hiking boots…and forced her to chase balls all over the court for some silly L.L. Bean ad!”

I look back to Dana, who still hasn’t gotten a word out edgewise and ask. ”Are you ok?”

”Yeah, the doctor says it’s just a sprained ankle and she should be good to go in a couple weeks, but I still couldn’t believe the nerve of that guy! They’d have had better luck putting a moose in a tutu and expecting a perfect rendition of La Bohem! I mean, who plays tennis in big ass clunky boots?!”

We all pause and Dana turns to Alice with an insulted expression and says, ”Thanks Al…”

She finally looks to Dana and says, ”Well? It’s true!” She turns back to me and Shane. ”Oh, and that wasn’t the worst of it. Then…” She throws her hands in the air. ”…he said that he thought all dykes knew how to do athletic stuff in hiking boots!”

Dana gives up and leans back, perfectly resigned to not speaking. For a moment I wonder if they’re having trouble. Alice can be very overwhelming in long intervals. But my worry fades away when Alice turns to Dana, grabs her hand, and says, ”I’m sorry, I’m just so pissed. I mean, he got you hurt and he could have ended your career if it had been more serious. I just love you…”

Dana’s smile is bright and toothy and crinkles her nose. Alice, mirroring her expression leans forward and kisses Dana sweetly on the lips and then the nose before taking her hand and holding it in her lap. They turn back to us and Dana finally speaks. ”Yeah, I sorta…fired him. And, it felt pretty good. He was bad enough when he tried to keep me in the closet, but it was getting pretty ridiculous.” She giggles at something and says, ”Alice threatened to have him trussed up by some big daddy diesel dykes and delivered to Ricky at the Body Shop if he ever says anything about gay people or the gay community again.” At this, both she and Alice start to laugh.

Shane and I look at her questioningly before chorusing, ”Who’s Ricky?”

She looks at us confused and stops laughing. ”Oh! Yeah! That night Tina stranded me on Santa Monica, Ricky’s the one who took care of me and called Alice. He…sorta…owns a…shop there. He’s a really nice guy. Alice and I have gone there to…um…just to browse and stuff.”

Shane gives me a coy look, leans back in her chair, and we both bust out in laughter. Once I get ahold of myself, I turn back to Alice and Dana. Dane is blushing and hiding slightly behind Alice’s shoulder, whose arms are folded over her chest, her expression not amused.

”Ha ha, you guys. Seriously though…” Alice looks to me. ”…this means I can’t go with you Bette.”

I consider this for a moment. I’m a little nervous to be alone with Tina but…I get to be alone with Tina. It could go very well or very wrong, but either way this is the real chance I need. I know I have a snowball’s chance in hell but any chance is a chance I’ll take. A small imperceptible grin quirks the corner of my mouth and I look up to see Shane smiling at me. Fuck you Yoda.

I turn to Alice who’s looking to me and Shane trying to figure everything out. Fixing my face into a nonchalant expression I say, ”That’s fine Al, I’ll just go alone. She seems to like it when I humiliate myself. I’ll give it my best shot.” I have to look down into my coffee to keep the smile from my face. I’m excited to spend this time alone with Tina. Now I’ve just got to find a way to get her to allow it.

Alice leans back in her seat and again eyes me and Shane speculatively. Shane goes about business as usual, sipping her coffee, occasionally checking her phone, and reading her ’LAWeekly’, but Alice isn’t buying it. ”You two know something and I will figure it out.”

Shane and I look to her innocently and Shane says, ”What?”

Alice replies, ”I don’t know…yet. Why don’t you just spill it,” before crossing her legs and staring at Shane uncomfortably.

Shane looks her in the eyes and says, ”Alice, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Shane’s blue eyes are so open and honest and she doesn’t even flinch when the false words leave her mouth. Damn, she’s good.

I stand and put my laptop in its case, shouldering both items I say, ”I’ll text you guys when I arrive. If you haven’t heard from me within twenty-four hours, I’m probably dead.”

They all laugh at this and I walk around to Alice and lean down, speaking quietly but where both she and Dana can hear, I say, ”This will give me alone time with Tina oh nosey one. Think about it.” Kissing her on the cheek, I stand, wave to everyone and make my way to the exit.

Alice smiles brightly and watches me leave before abruptly turning to Shane and smacking her on the thigh. Shane doesn’t move or say anything, just smiles and sips her coffee, completely absorbed in her reading.

Continued in Chapter 12 – I fucked up. I did not fuck off. I did not leave. I am still here!

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