“Hey guys, thanks for getting here so quickly.” Alice, Dana, Kit, and Helena enter the wreckage that is my house, standing and staring in bewilderment. Everything is in boxes, stacked high against the walls. The artwork has been taken down, carefully wrapped for protection, and stacks of them are leaning against every available space. The furniture has been covered and pieces have been moved to clear a path, for what they have no idea, though they’re about to find out.
After a long moment, Alice’s bewilderment turns to knowing gratification. She walks to the center of the room, arms out at her sides and spins in a slow circle before saying, “It’s about fucking time!” Her excitement gets the best of her and she looks to me. “Tina’s finally moving in!” She says this as if it’s a statement of fact before realizing something. “Wait, if she’s moving in, why is all your stuff packed? And where is she? Doesn’t she want to be here when you tell us?”
I walk ahead of everyone calling out, “That’s why I had you rush over this afternoon. I have some things to discuss with you guys, and Tina can’t be here.” I quickly stride out to the back patio and turn to find no one has followed. Sigh. Just when I need them to be nosy, they’re reluctant. Reaching my head back into the door, I say, “Come on you guys, we haven’t got all day.”
I hear their hesitant footsteps indicating a slow but steady approach. Satisfied, I turn to Shane, who’s poured five glasses of wine and one Perrier. We smile at each other as she takes a sip of her own and makes her way to her seat. She’s as clueless as they are, and while I know it’s a little early to indulge, loosening everyone up can’t hurt. I need their help, now more than ever.
They file out and make their way to the table, settling into their chairs. Helena is sloppier than usual as she flops ungracefully into her own and immediately attacks her wine. She downs it in two huge gulps and greedily eyes the bottle resting on the table next to me. Okay… I stand and grab the bottle as I approach her reluctantly. I refill her glass but before I can get one step away, she grabs my forearm pulling me to a stop, and downs this glass as well. I roughly set the bottle in front of her with a disapproving look before returning to my seat. She smiles at me and raises the bottle saying, “Cheers,” before she pours a nearly overflowing glass and leans back in her chair to start sipping. What the fuck is this all about? Everyone has been quietly watching this exchange and I meet their worried gazes. After a few more moments of awkward silence, I decide to proceed.
“Okay…so, thank you all again for coming on such short notice…”
“Bette, did you two break up? What’s going on?”
“Alice, I was trying to explain. It’s a lot, but be patient with me.”
She takes a sip of her wine and links her fingers with Dana’s before crossing her legs and leaning back to stare at me.
Okay, here goes. “It’s been four months since Tina and I reconciled. I didn’t even think that was possible, but somehow, it was. I’m grateful, but I want more. I want my life back. But Tina’s not ready to…I don’t know…be serious, share space?”
Alice leans forward, her expression incredulous. “She still doesn’t trust you? Cuz fuck…”
I smile at her and say, “No, I don’t think she’s worried about that, but I think she doesn’t trust our relationship as a whole. I think she’s scared she’ll lose herself if she really lets go, and that we’ll wind up hurting each other again. Don’t get me wrong, everything’s been wonderful…” My eyes glaze over considering just how wonderful things got last night. My God, she’s a mind blowing lover…
“Bette…Bette? BETTE?!” I blink my eyes and see Alice’s fingers snapping in front of my face. She returns to her seat and quiet giggles echo around the table, even Helena. We all look to her again. Wow, this is awkward. Alice slowly turns back to me and impatiently drawls, “But…?”
I flush a little before continuing. “But it’s so…fragile…tentative. She wants to go slow, and that’s fine, but for two months now, slow has become stagnant. And I’m not going to lay back and let us become complacent again. That’s what fucked it all up to begin with. Hell, she’s still weird about staying here overnight with me because…well, I think it’s just all too…familiar? I mean, we lived here together for seven years…”
Alice’s expression turns thoughtful and she drawls out, “Okay…so…are you moving and selling the house?”
I furrow my brows and take a sip of wine. “Well, no…but sort of.”
Alice lets out an exasperated sigh. “Bette, a vague disclaimer is nobody’s friend…”
I blow out a breath and continue. “Actually, I have plans that I need your help with.” I look to everyone in tandem. “All of you.”
There’s a collective sigh from the table before Shane speaks up. “Bette, you’re success rate with planning has been decent, but why tempt the universe?”
“Yeah, besides, last time you made plans, we all went through hell. I, for one, don’t want to wake up naked in Tiajuana, slathered in honey, and sitting on an ant hill. Tina’s been almost normal, but I don’t want to piss her off. She’s fucking scary…”
We all laugh at the honesty, and dare I say truth, of Dana’s comment. The fire and brimstone that is an angry Tina Kennard was a lesson hard and well learned. I’m glad we can all look back on it with humor though.
After a few moments of silent reflection on the pains of the recent past, I start again. “Okay, look, this plan shouldn’t be painful because it’s not underhanded or controlling, or even interfering. I can’t see that Tina would get angry if she found out prematurely, and I’ll tell her…well, show her myself as things progress. She might reject it, but if anything, she’ll just get nervous and find a way to dance around the issue. Seriously, nothing will really change. I will never leave her again, regardless of the outcome, and I know she won’t leave me over this.”
As I say this last part, I look to Alice. She leans back with a relieved sigh and says, “Thank the fucking goddess. I don’t think my heart could take it if you two broke up…again.”
Her face turns thoughtful. “So…what’s with the destruction of casa de Porter in there?”
I can’t help the huge grin that splits my face as I lean back and cross my legs. “Well, that’s part of the plan. If I tell you, you’re in. Otherwise…I’m not breathing a word. You’ll find out as Tina does.”
Alice’s mouth drops open and she glares at me. She’s so predictable; she can’t control her desire to know everything, or tell everything for that matter. My gaze turns a bit stony. “It also means that if I tell you, you keep your mouth shut.” Alice sighs. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
I look at the faces around the table, gauging everyone’s thoughts. Shane’s leaning on her elbows and squinting her eyes as she considers me specutively. She may be nervous, but no matter the cost, if it helps a friend, she’ll do it. I could bet my life on that. I could bet Tina’s life on that. And that’s not a risk I’d take lightly.
Kit is shaking her head but otherwise completely relaxed. She doesn’t like to meddle, but she’d do anything within reason for me.
Dana looks scared shitless. I chuckle. If anyone should be scared it’s Shane. Twenty-four hours of gripping the toilet and literally spilling your guts out of your ass is worse than a midnight ride to the meat rack in my humble opinion.
Alice is twitching to know and it’s killing her. She’ll crack any minute. I sometimes miss the evil thrill of blackmail and I can’t help but chuckle.
And then, there’s Helena. We’re not good friends, but we reached an understanding four months ago. While our relationship is not very close, it is more than just civility or casual acquaintance. In the time since, Tina’s been more and more like her true self, just more emotional. Helena only knew the bitter, angry, and vindictive shell that remained after everything good had been hollowed out. Ultimately, she fell in love with a lie; a person who didn’t even exist, not really. And I can’t help but wonder if that’s why she loved her.
She seems to have a penchant for loving those who are utterly broken and untrustworthy users; it’s almost as if she seeks relationships that are sabotaged from the very start. She admitted that she knew Tina would never love her or anyone other than me, and that she was perfectly okay with it being one-sided. But the more I’ve seen, the more I’m convinced that she’s just scared of finding complete love; it would mean trusting someone implicitly.
Unfortunately, she’s incredibly proud. Admitting that she doesn’t love who Tina is now, the real Tina, would mean admitting that she never really did. And while I’ve seen the truth of this first-hand and know that she’s aware of it as well, she just doesn’t want to take the blow to her ego; admitting that she has a problem would mean she has to do something about it. Unfortunately, neither her words nor her actions have indicated a clear direction toward a conclusion. She’s utterly implacable, utterly exhausting, and after further observation, quickly becoming an alcoholic because of it. And while I don’t know if I can trust her, I need her help.
The silence drags on…and on…and on…as everyone weighs the pros and cons. I look to Alice and grin at her. She glares at me angrily before throwing her hands up and blurting, “Fine! I’m in.” She collapses in her chair and blows out a weary breath. “Fuck me.” Suddenly, she snaps to attention. “But…” Her gaze turns deathly serious as she raises her hand and starts counting off points on her fingers. “…loss of property…” First finger lifts only to be bent back nearly to her wrist by her other hand. “…life…” Second finger lifts and joins the other. “…or limb…” Half her hand is now contorted at an un-natural angle. “…and you pay for it Porter. One way or the other…”
I smile and nod my head. “Done.” Looking to the others, I say, “Are you in…any stipulations before we proceed?”
Kit just sips from her Perrier and says, “So long as no one gets hurt, you know I’ll help you any way I can.”
My smile is watery and brilliant. Fucking tears. They’re irritating. Tina’s been worse, but it’s been refreshing to see her mostly normal.
Shane says, “I’m with Kit. If no one gets hurt, I’m in.” I look to her and wink. She shakes her head and leans back in her chair with a playfully exasperated grin.
Dana looks to Alice with huge pouty eyes and says, “Al, I don’t know…I don’t want to lose property, life, or limb. I just…don’t.”
Alice pats her on the leg and reassures her. “Dane, it’ll be okay. I’m your dyke in shining armor. Remember last night…” I clear my throat and they turn to our smirking faces, remembering they’re not alone.
I shake my head and jump in before Alice can speak again. “Dana, I promise you, it’s a good plan. We aren’t manipulating Tina. If anything, I’m the one who has the most to lose. I just need your help to surprise her with everything.” Come on Dane, have some faith in me. “I promise.”
She seems to relax at these words and nods her head with a tentative grin. Dana’s always been so sheltered, perhaps even naïve, but she’s one of the best friends I could possibly hope for and she proves it as she says, “Okay. I’ll do it, whatever it is.”
I turn to Helena who is gazing into the sky at nothing. Why does this have to be so difficult? She knows she doesn’t love Tina. Is it really so hard to just let it the fuck go? I sigh. Unfortunately, as Tina’s employer, I need her. “Helena?”
She eyes me with a bored expression saying, “Sure, whatever…”
I frown at her, but as I reach down and pull the box at me feet up to the table, placing it where all can see it clearly, my frown becomes a bright smile. This box contains a good portion of my life and my very soul. It is my past. I open it and pull out the first item. “Alright then, here’s the deal…”
“Okay, so any questions?”
Everyone is speechless, or at least I assume they are by their lack of response. Alice’s face slowly morphs into an incredibly bright smile, and I can’t help but match it in intensity. She finally says, “Are you shitting me right now?”
I can’t help but tease her. “Is that a rhetorical question?”
Her gaze softens and I see tears well in her eyes. “Bette, this fucking awesome, but…are you sure? It’s just…a lot of trust. I mean, you could wind up destit…”
“Hello?” We all turn to see a girl standing at the back entrance, her head peering around the corner. Once she has our attention, she comes fully into view. She’s petite but curvaceous, with long wavy ebony hair and mocha colored skin. Her clothing is feminine but not overtly so, with strategically placed rips, fades, and alternative flare.
“I’m sorry to interrupt but no one answered the door and I heard voices back here. I noticed the gate was open and figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. I’m looking for…” She looks down to the smartphone in her hands before snapping her head back up and continuing. “Shane? He’s renting a room in the house next door.” She turns and points to Shane’s house before looking back to us. “I don’t have an appointment, but I just…I need a place to stay right away. I tried to call but he didn’t answer. Do you know where I can find him? It’s really important that I find a place today.”
Shane stands awkwardly and walks up to the girl. Wiping her palms on the thigh of her jeans, she extends her hand saying, “Yeah, hi, I’m Shane.”
The girl stares at Shane in shock before blushing embarrassedly and giggling nervously. She finally accepts Shane’s hand, giving it a dazedly hardy shake and smiling brightly. “Dios mio…I…I’m sorry. I’m Carmen de la Pica Morales. I didn’t mean to presume…I mean…I just wasn’t expecting…”
Shane smiles patiently and says, “That’s fine. It happens a lot. Um, here…” Shane turns to me and I wink knowingly as I wave her away. She glares at me for a moment before she points at me and says, “Let me know when everything’s set.”
“Don’t worry, I will.”
She smiles before turning back to Carmen. Gesturing in front of her in a sickeningly gallant manner, she says, “Ladies first.” Carmen smiles back and they exit through the gate. I can’t help chuckle and roll my eyes. The sentiment is chorused around the table.
Alice shakes her head and says, “If anyone can flip a straight girl, it’s Shane.”
Dana turns to her and asks, “What makes you think she’s straight Al?”
Alice snorts indelicately. “Come on Dana. Did you see her hair and make-up?
I nod my agreement. “And her nails were perfectly manicured.”
Alice grins mischievously. “Maybe she’s spaghetti lesbian.” We all look to her confused before she continues. “You know…straight until wet.” We snort out a giggle and there’s even an ‘Ugh, Alice…’ at the absurdity of the term.
Helena finally speaks up. “Actually, I think she’s gay. I remember her crazy ass name from the new W-2’s Tina buried me in today. She’s a…PA, I think…for Lez Girls…” Her voice turns mocking. “…should be called Le Shit…” She laughs at her own joke in that carefree way that only too much alcohol can inspire. “I never should have hired Dylan Moreland.” Tina’s mentioned the director before with admiration, but Helena says the name as if leaves a putrid taste in her mouth before becoming very sad.
Slouching down in her chair, she continues. “You know, she lies to me, tells me that we’re ‘meant to be’…blah fuckity blah blah…” She sits up a little straighter and addresses the table as seriously as her drunken state will allow. “…she doesn’t even know me! Yet, she insists that I must feel it too…” She puts air quotes around the last three words. “…well I don’t damnit! I don’t! I swear I don’t!” She defiantly crosses her arms over her chest and tears well in her eyes.
Everyone is staring at her utterly confused, so Alice decides to try for clarification. “Helena…you’re a hot fucking mess right now and I’ve seen Ozzy Osbourne interviews that make more sense. What the fuck are you talking about?”
She glares at Alice like she’s touched in the head before shouting, “That stupid fucking movie and its stupid fucking director and that stupid fucking DP that Tina and I had no fucking choice but to fly back up here because…”
“WHAT?!” Alice and I look to each other before pinning Helena with a harsh gaze.
She waves her arms out and Dana has to grab the empty wine bottle before it shatters to the ground. “Aren’t you listening?! Fucking Dylan Moreland…”
“HELENA…who’s the DP you’re flying up here?”
She stares at Alice as if she’s simple. “You say I’m drunk?! Tina and I have to fly Sam back up to DP Le Shit because Dylan fired the other one!” I can feel my anger pique. Why didn’t Tina call me immediately? I check my phone and find I have no messages. Fuck. Okay, just breathe. Everything will be okay. Just…breathe… “Ask Bette! She’s with Tina…she should know…”
Alice looks to me and I shake my head. She turns back to Helena. “Why the fuck didn’t you say something earlier?!” It’s all I can do to stop myself from shouting, ‘YEAH,’ and giving Alice a high five in thanks. I’d also like to high five Helena…in the face.
She sways a bit and it seems to cause all of the indignation to leave her. “We only found out at about nine this morning. Everything is always about Bette and Tina. I didn’t really have a chance to say much until now, did I?”
I pinch the bridge of my nose. As Shane would say, ‘This sucks.’ Alice turns to me. “Well fuck. Okay, Sam’s coming back. Tina’s with you so that’s no big deal right?” She looks to everyone else for help. “Right?”
I hasten to reassure her with all the false confidence I can muster. “Right Al. Tina’s never been love with anyone but me. It’s really no big deal.” So then why the fuck didn’t she tell me? Helena glares at me before snatching what remains of Shane’s abandoned wine and gulping it down. She sulks deeper into her seat and mutters, “I am not in love with Dylan…we fucked, that’s all…” She stares off into space with dazed, watery eyes.
Alice’s face is disbelievingly exasperated and I can’t help but mirror her thoughts. So that’s why she’s been so damn awkward. Not only does she not want Tina, but she’s falling for someone who actually wants her and she’s scared out of her mind…literally…
Hell, I’m scared out of my mind…and angry. Why didn’t Tina call? I muster my courage but I can’t say who these next words are meant to benefit most. “Okay Alice, look. I’m meeting Tina at her apartment this evening. I’ll talk to her about it then, but it really doesn’t matter. If Sam has a problem, then it’s her problem. I’m really more worried about how Tina’s feeling. From what I understand, things were pretty bad the night they broke up. I don’t really know what Sam is actually capable of but from what little I do understand, it’s pretty bad. I’ll make sure Tina’s okay, and follow through with my plan. If I have to murder Sam, then I’ll call you and you can help me bury the body. Nothing’s really changed.”
Alice eyes me specutively but then fully agrees. “Okay, after all, a friend will help you move, but a best friend will help you move a body.” She smiles brightly at me and I chuckle, but the levity of the moment is broken when her face turns pensive and she leans into me to whisper, “Why didn’t Tina tell you?”
I frown and lean back in my chair with a sigh before responding quietly. “I have no idea…”
She nods sadly at me and squeezes my arm in a gesture of comfort. “Okay, Dana and I will get Helena home and I’ll let Shane know what’s going on. We’ll talk more tomorrow at the Planet.” Her face brightens a little. “You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to this…I mean, it’s really fucking romantic Bette, and it shows a lot of trust on your part.” She grins at me satisfied before she stands and pulls Dana up with her. They go over to Helena and Dana helps lift her up while Alice grabs her purse.
“Al, she’s drunk and knows way too much…”
They get Helena mostly stable and she turns to me. “It’s okay. I’ll make sure she’s passed out before we leave her. I’ll even confiscate her phone for the night.”
I smile gratefully at her saying, “Thanks guys,” as they stumble out the back gate. I turn to Kit who’s still casually reposed in her seat. I mirror her pose and let out a huge breath. Eying her for a long moment, I almost accusingly say, “You’ve been very quiet…”
Her expression is warm and open as she replies. “I just sit back and observe. You know that.” She smiles at me with shining eyes. “That was some crazy shit. Mmm Hmm.”
I laugh and my own eyes brighten. “It also means that she may be good and over Tina if she’ll just swallow her pride.”
She squeezes my hand and says, “I’m so happy for you and Tina, Bette. And I am so, so proud of you. You’re really turnin’ things around. I just hope you don’t get hurt in this. I mean, I don’t think Tina would try to hurt you but…well, this is big stuff Bette, big stuff. I hope you know what you’re doing.”
I smile gratefully at her. “I trust Tina…with everything. I just plan to prove it for once.”
Kit leans back in her chair with a satisfied sigh. “Well, as always, you know I’m in your corner.”
And, again, the tears that never stop make an appearance. I grip her hand tighter and just hold on to it as I check the time on my phone. “Well, I have about four hours before I need to be at Tina’s.” Adopting my best 1970’s soul sista timbre, I ask, “You wanna’ chill to the max for a while whit yo baby sis?” I’m terrible at it and we both chuckle, but her smile is bright as she replies. “I can dig.”