The Bette Porter Gallery, a simple enough name for a simple enough concept: an exclusive, discerning space where burgeoning and renowned artists alike could be discovered and/or appreciated by the most distinguished of celebrated intellectuals and critics. It was owned and operated by the world class art aficionado Bette Porter, a woman known to be smart, tough, and unbelievably beautiful.
”Excuse me Bette,” Eric smiled winningly as I turned to greet him. ”This is my girlfriend, Tina Kennard. She heads up development at Alphaville.”
I smiled warmly as my eyes followed Eric’s arm to the elegant blond nestled awkwardly beside him. When my eyes reached Tina’s, there was a moment of hesitancy as the air in the room got thick enough to cause me to take in a breath.
”Tina, Bette Porter,” he finished the introduction obliviously and I released the breath I’d just sucked in. I was astonished, really. I was famous for my impeccably managed emotions. Part of the reason I so easily managed them was because nothing really affected me, except art. But Tina was, truly, a wondrously beautiful masterpiece, and for just an instant, I was affected, and maybe even lost.
I reined myself back in and took Tina’s delicate hand in my own. ”Nice to meet you,” I stated with more confidence than I felt.
”Nice to meet you,” she replied shyly, though still managing to look me directly in the eyes. I released her hand but the simple and momentary touch was soft and deliciously warm as it lingered.
”Bette, we were wondering, um, how would Catherine Opie feel about us blowing up that print there to about five by six feet?” Eric interrupted, pointing to a print on the far wall.
”Well, why don’t you ask her yourself? She’s right over there.” I gestured to the group of people behind me, pulling up my most gracious voice to cover the worst of my befuddlement. Eric looked to Tina questioningly and she just smiled at him, saying, ”I think I’ll just stay here.”
”Okay, excellent,” he said over his shoulder, already headed towards to the artist in question. Tina’s eyes followed his retreating back as he crossed behind me until they finally met my own. She smiled and lowered her head and I was thankful for a break from the intensity of the moment though put off by having lost it at the same time.
I was clinging to my calm demeanor with extreme force. Tina’s face was open and unassuming, and so different from my own; smooth, perfect, creamy-white skin, with hair the color of spun gold silk, and shining mischievous hazel eyes that gave testament to a softly spoken but wild spirit. I needed some space to clear my head and collect myself, and fast.
That didn’t mean that I had to be rude. I smiled as I said, ”I’m having an artist dinner tomorrow night here at seven. I would be honored if you and Eric would attend.”
”I’ll talk to Eric. I’m sure he’d…we’d love to come.” Tina said this so shyly and enthusiastically that my smile grew bigger, if that were possible.
”Good, I’ll expect you both. If you’ll excuse me, one of my staff is signaling me for help. Be sure to come and say goodbye before you leave. It was a pleasure meeting you, Ms. Kennard.”
”Please, call me Tina.” She nervously tucked a lock of honey hair behind her right ear, looking away coyly before returning to my gaze. My smile faded as something decidedly more carnal charged through me before I moved close to the scandalously exposed lobe. Barely touching Tina’s arm, I turned my head and breathed into her ear, ”Only if you call me Bette.”
There you have it. I wasn’t always as selfish and cold as I am now. There was a time when I was just strong and confident, and it served my pursuits in both my work and personal lives. But it was never like that with T. Her pull was like a magnet for me from the very first time I laid eyes on her, and it was the first time that I felt truly compelled to know someone, truly know someone, not just tremulous shudders of afterglow and the rich musk of sex, but the connection of one soul with another, the very essence of what makes them laugh, sing, cry, and dance. Something in her spoke to me, and I answered the call without a moment’s hesitation. I had to have her. Therefore, I would. I’m Bette Porter, go big or go home.
I came into the dining area as the guests were arriving and taking their seats. Everything was coming together perfectly. The table was beautiful and elegantly set, and we were surrounded by brilliant art and brilliant minds about to have a masterfully prepared meal. Finding a way to improve the evening would be difficult, until I saw her. At the far end of the room, the blond waves cascading over her shoulders glowed in the gallery light, calling to me like a beacon. Taking a deep breath to steel my nerves, I managed not to run across the room to reach her. The simple black dress hugged her in all the right places, leaving just enough to the imagination to further entice without distracting from the beautiful items blatantly on display. I slowly and deliberately made my way through my guests, politely greeting them, until I reached her side. She was even more beautiful than I remembered, and I have a photographic memory. Pulling together all of my determination, I fully approached her.
”Are you coming to sit down?” It took all of my willpower to remain cool and aloof but warm and gracious. I wanted to lure her in. Yes, my motives were to have her, but I would keep her. She would be my very own, and I hers.
Turning to face me a bit startled, Tina smiled and coolly drew my attention to the piece she was viewing. ”Yeah, I just really like this one.”
As Tina turned again to look at the piece, I pretended to take notice with her. Once she was unaware, I turned to look at her instead. I wanted to touch her, to feel her skin and hair so badly that I’d have found any reason to satiate the fire in my lower abdomen. As luck would have it, her earing had fallen into her hair. Not wasting another moment, ”Oh, you lost your earring.”
I reached up and delicately pulled the earring from her wavy gold mane, lingering just a moment longer than necessary in the soft strands to prolong the contact. Holding it out to her in the palm of my hand, it allowed for a little bit more of the delicious contact with her skin. This was enough. I needed to slow down or I’d scare her away. I was charming and women were drawn to me, but that wouldn’t be enough with Tina. If I scared her away, I’d lose her. She was straight for fuck’s sake! No, I needed to make sure she would fully reciprocate before making any move that could have lasting effects. Normally, I wouldn’t care if I was rejected, it’s never happened, but with Tina, I not only cared, the thought of rejection was unthinkable.
”Thank you,” she said in a gentle and trusting voice that only further strengthened my resolve. Watching her put the earring back in, I quickly made my way to the table and my other guests, and to a moment of clear headedness.
Everyone was seated and the meal was perfect. Conversation and wine were flowing and I had the most magnificent view of Tina the entire night. Stealing surreptitious glances as often as possible, I caught her looking at me a couple of times before she realized I noticed and looked away. She felt it to, now I was sure of it. My confidence bolstered, I was in an exceedingly delightful mood until I looked at Tina and immediately could tell something was very wrong. I couldn’t hear their conversation, but Tina and Eric were whispering to each other and it seemed…heated.
Just as dessert appeared, Eric stood up and walked over to me. As I tried to stand, he put his hand on my shoulder, ”No, don’t get up. I apologize, but there’s been an emergency and we must leave. It was a lovely dinner and we had a wonderful time. I’ll be contact for that print. Thanks for an excellent night Bette.”
Slightly confused, I just looked up at him and smiled. ”I look forward to hearing from you Eric. Thank you for joining us. Let me walk you both out.”
”No, no, that’s not necessary Bette,” he insisted and continued so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to protest, ”Stay. We can show ourselves out. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
I looked over to see Tina starting to stand. Just as Eric put his hand on her back and led her away, she stole a brief glance in my direction. Her beautiful eyes were apologetic and aggrieved, and it truly broke my heart to see such a conflicting emotion play out on her normally, exquisitely warm features. Unbeknownst to me, at that very moment, I decided that her face would know only joy if I had any say in the matter. But, just like that, they were gone, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever see her again. Then I realized that I had Eric’s number, money, and connections. I’d find a way.
The rest of the meal was a complete success and I put the issue with Tina and Eric from my mind for the moment as best I could. After pouring Alice into a cab, I went back in to make sure the staff could clean up without assistance before leaving, and shut most everything down. Just as I grabbed my purse and jacket, one of the waiters walked up and handed me Tina’s earring, the same one that I pulled from her hair earlier in the evening. I held it in my hand and could not help the large smile that lit my face in what, I am sure, was the most maniacal of ways. The waiter just looked at me like I had lost all good sense and excused himself. Little did he know that I had exactly what I needed, a way to see Tina Kennard again.
I was so gone on her. Even in my current predicament, the sheer thought of it brings an impossible smile to my face. Clumsily hailing the bartender for a refill, I sink into one of the best nights of my life.
Two o’clock couldn’t arrive soon enough. Tina would be getting out of a late lunch with one of her directors and stopping by to pick up her earring. I was anxious and exhilarated. Not only would I see her, I would secure a foothold in her future. I had never been a lie down and let life happen sort of woman, but for the first time, I experienced true, unadulterated hope and optimism. There is nothing like it in the world. I was falling in love and I didn’t even know why or how. Tina Kennard, the name roles off the tongue in the most sensual of ways. It’s only fitting for such a sensual woman, a woman due to grace my visage at any minute.
Little to no work was getting done due to the distraction of her expected visit so I gave up and just allowed my mind a flight of fancy. Picking up the simple white envelope holding her earring and turning it over in my hand, I almost, almost, didn’t hear her step into my open office door. Taking the earring out, I stood and looked at her. She was wearing a simple white cotton oxford shirt and form fitting blue jeans. So simple and so elegant, just like the woman herself. I decided then and there she’d be desirable in a burlap sack.
Stepping around the desk, I approached her slowly. I wanted to prolong her visit as much as possible. Stepping as close to her as I dared, I held out the jewelry and looked into her eyes. I was in such a fantastic mood at just the sight of her; I couldn’t help but tease her.
”I could have sworn I watched you put this back on.”
Tina seemed to notice the lack of distance between us and after a moment of hesitation, she seemed to not only accept it, but to welcome it. With a sweet, girlish giggle, she reached up her delicate hand and reached into my palm, but I wasn’t about to give up the contact that easily. I enclosed my long fingers around her warm skin and pulled her arm across me, closing what little distance there was between us. Slowly, I leaned in to her and every so delicately kissed her full, sweet mouth. The feel and taste of her for the first time…I don’t have words descriptive enough.
She looked at me tentatively, almost shocked, and as I slowly released her hand and the earring, we both smiled at each other.