I use my key to open the door to Tina’s apartment. It’s six o’clock but I wanted to give myself plenty of time to attempt to cook dinner, and to snoop around for one of the most pivotal pieces of my plan. Two hours ought to do it, especially when this recipe is supposed to only take thirty minutes. Still, with me, I’m not sure which of these endeavors will take longer.
I walk to the kitchen and set the grocery bag down on the counter. Okay, first things first. I look around me and realize the best place to start looking is probably the bedroom. I walk into the comfortable space that is a true testament to the style, elegance, and enchantment that is the very essence of Tina, and allow myself the simple pleasure of taking a moment to let it all in. God, how I’ve missed her. The depth of that pain isn’t close to what it used to be, everything still feels so new, but I still wish she were here now. In fact, I’d keep her with me every minute of the day if I could; but her job is important to her, and that makes it just as important to me.
I walk to the vanity and riffle through all the items, remembering how much it shocked her that I support her so fully in her work. I smile. I want her to have that freedom and comfort that only hard work and accomplishment can bring. I’ve had my moment. It’s truly Tina’s turn.
Sigh, it’s not here. I open the drawers as well, but it’s not there either. I stand and look around the room. Surely she didn’t just throw it away? I go to the nearest nightstand and pull out the drawer, only to find nothing of interest. Moving to the other side, I open this drawer and can’t stop myself as I take the extremely complicated dildo out, and hold it up to get a better look at it. I turn it slowly and feel my eyes widen. This wasn’t a smart move. It suddenly starts shaking, twisting, and thrusting so violently in my hand that I nearly send it across the room as I jump up startled. It lands on the floor, still twisting and groaning.
Well, this is an interesting development. Tina never expressed a desire to use these types of toys when we were together, and the thought never even crossed my mind. Our sex life was very fulfilling before, when it happened, and it’s incredible now. Isn’t it? I furrow my brows. Was something missing for Tina? Is it missing now? Tears well in my eyes as I check the rest of the drawer’s contents before picking the vibrator up, hastily switching it off, and placing it back inside. I think I found more than what I’m looking for. If there is something missing, I would hope she could talk to me about it. But then again, she didn’t tell me right away about Sam. Sigh. I swipe at my eyes and shut the drawer, hoping I don’t find anything else I’m not ready to deal with.
With a staggering sigh, I caress her pillow and make my way to the walk-in closet. My mood brightens as I enter the large and organized space that smells of lavender. I flip up the light switch and look around me. Everything’s neatly arranged but it’s mostly clothes and shoes. However, there are two large shoe boxes on the top shelf. Reaching up, I pull them both down to the floor and sit against the wall before opening the one closest to me.
Family photos, some trinkets I’m sure only have sentimental value, but not what I’m looking for. I pick up a picture of Tina and what I assume is her father. He certainly looks like a slick politician by the blue suit, red power tie, and sour expression. Tina is dressed in a cap and gown, and I assume that this is her high school graduation. I run my finger over her wonderfully young face and a smile lights my own. I wish I had known her then. She was a beautiful woman and she’s only become more beautiful with the passage of time.
She looks so sad in this photo, with her father’s arm awkwardly resting on her shoulder. She hasn’t spoken to her father since his affair. Her mother wouldn’t allow it. And now, none of them want anything to do with her because she’s gay.
How can someone so loving and kind come from such abysmal people? I toss the photo inside and place the lid back on the box bitterly before pulling the other box closer. This one is wrapped in packing tape, actually it appears to be an entire roll of packing tape, maybe two, and it’s wrapped so frantic and haphazardly that I wonder if the box is sound. I pick it up and take it into the kitchen, setting it gently on the counter. How the hell am I going to open this without Tina noticing? Pulling a small knife from the cutlery, I throw caution to the wind, and slit three of the edges; praying that she doesn’t notice. When I flip the lid open, what I see breaks my heart.
This box is full of cards and photos of me and Tina. This is the Bette box. Everyone has one for the ex that matters. Seven years of our life litter the disheveled contents. There are even some pressed flowers, seven of them, in an album that says anniversaries. I smile at this. I had no idea she kept one of each of the bouquets I sent each year. I pick up the closest photo; it’s water stained, or tear stained maybe, and it’s a little worse for the wear. It’s me and Tina in India. A brilliant smile lights my face. We had a marvelous and miserable time. Everything was wonderful until I got so sick I lost ten pounds, and Tina had to practically carry me through Jashpur. This picture was a good day though. We’ll have to plan another trip soon, somewhere that doesn’t require a series of inoculations before boarding the plane. I put the photo in the inside pocket of my purse and zip it closed.
I sift through the rest of the contents but I still come up empty handed. She wouldn’t have thrown it out, she couldn’t. God, I hope not, but I can’t blame her. After what I did… Okay Bette, enough of this shit. It’s not here and you’re burning daylight. I grab my phone and look at the time. I have an hour. I close the lid on the box and take it back to the closet, placing both where they were on the shelf, and facing the Bette box so that the damaged seal is less noticeable. Turning off the light, I check the room to make sure there is nothing out of place. Satisfied, I shelf the disturbing thoughts rattling around in my head, and focus on dinner.
Tonight it’s Veggie Penne with Pesto. Even if I manage to fail at this simple task, Rachel Ray is at least easy on the eyes. I’m not a discriminate person; I’m an elitist, and there is a difference; but I’m fully aware that I have soft-spot for white girls, the paler the better. I just can’t help myself.
I have spent most of my nights here with Tina for the last four months, and I have been watching the food network diligently. Tina laughs when she catches me and always manages to distract me with other delicacies, but what she doesn’t know, is that I’ve been DVR’ing them. This is my chance to show her that I can cook for her, make a home for her, that I’m more than just an alpha breadwinner. I want her to know that I trust her ability to be the primary in our relationship, and more importantly, that I’m happy to be the secondary.
Don’t misunderstand, I enjoy working, or I used to, but after the last year, I’m ready to be a homemaker. I chuckle at this thought. If someone had told me then what I would be thinking now, I’d have called them a fucking heretic. But more and more, I find I like the idea of staying home and raising our family while Tina is at work. I’d start today if she were ready. But she’s nervous, more than that, I think she’s terrified. The only way I can help her through it is to show her. I have more than learned that words mean nothing when your actions don’t back them up.
I pick up the remote and find the desired recording. Just as I press play, my cell phone rings. I hit pause just as Rachel appears on the screen, and answer the unidentified number. “Bette Porter.”
“Yes, this is Wheezy.” The voice is female but very rough and throaty. Did she really just say Wheezy, or did she sneeze?
I frown at the phone before returning it to my ear. “I’m sorry, who?”
“Wheezy Mueller, the owner of Mueller Remodeling. You called about a remodel?”
Oh right… “Oh, yes, thank you for getting back with me so quickly. A friend of mine, an architect, Todd Conversario, recommended you.” Yeah, as a last resort. I’ve tried every contractor he suggested within fifty miles, but they can’t meet my time constraints. “I want to add a second story to my home as well as fully remodel it. The only problem is I need it started as soon as possible, literally tomorrow, if you can. It’s a lot of work, but money’s not an object…”
“Woah, honey, slow down there!” I pull the phone away from my ear and stare at it incredulously as the dulcet tones of a pregnant mule in labor blast out of the speaker in fast repetition. Was that a giggle, a chuckle, or was she choking? Meuller indeed.
I hesitantly place the phone back to my ear when I think it’s safe, and I’m just in time to hear her continue. “Okay, so you want me to do a full rimjob on your house, and you want it done fast. That’s no problem. It’ll cost, but me and my boys are worth every penny, if you catch my drift.” She ‘giggles’ again. I sigh. Todd did say that she’s a little difficult to work with, but the work is top notch.
“Okay, so can you come by as early as tomorrow? I have movers coming at eight to take everything to storage. Todd’s already drawn everything up and called in a few favors for me, so most of the materials are just waiting for pick up.”
“Sure thing sugar tits. Remind me to thank Todd…personally. That’s one hot piece of ass if you know what I mean.” Sugar tits? Did she really just call me sugar tits? What the fuck is happening? I feel like I’ve stepped into an alternate universe. “So, what’s the address?”
I hesitate and consider if meeting and dealing with this woman is worth it, but what it really comes down to is whether or not Tina is worth it. Sigh. I can barely force the words out of my mouth as my body tries to stop me from giving my personal information to a psychopath, but I still manage to choke out, “1412 Harper Avenue, West Hollywood.”
“Alrighty then! I’ll see you in the morning.” She giggles again and disconnects the line. I stand for several moments just staring at the phone. What…the fuck…was that? Okay, Tina’s worth it. I just have to cling to that truth, and Todd had better be right or I’ll thank him personally.
I shake my head and store her number before I put the phone on the counter. Grabbing the remote and hitting play a second time, I reach for the bag and start to unload the vegetables just as Rachel starts to pull hers out of the fridge, and cling to my determination to show Tina that I can take care of her emotionally just as well as I used to financially.
“Babe? I’m home.” I look up from the two steaming plates of what I hope is edible pasta and smile brightly. She has impeccable timing. Tina takes her briefcase from her shoulder and puts her keys in the bowl on the stand in the entryway. I take the plates to the table and approach her, still beaming with joy, as she turns around.
“Hey, I’m glad you’re home.” I give her a warm but mostly chaste kiss before removing the blazer from her shoulders and tossing it into a nearby chair. She looks at me curiously while I stroke down her newly exposed arm to retrieve her hand and tug her along with me. I sit her down in one of the chairs at the table before crouching and taking her boot in my hand. Reaching up her pant leg, I pull the zipper down, stroking every inch of smooth, newly exposed flesh until the shoe is released.
Tina sputters a bit but she can’t seem to form words. I meet her gaze as I start the other side and smile warmly at her. “I just wanted to take care of you today. I know how stressful your job can be, so I’m just pampering you a little.” I finish with the second boot and lean up to give her sweet but lingering kiss on the mouth before whispering, “Just lay back and relax and let me love you. I’ve been looking forward to it all day.”
Tears well in her eyes but she still doesn’t know what to say so she breathes out, “Okay, I can’t really argue with that.”
My smile brightens as I pull away and I pour two glasses of wine for us before I take my seat. She looks down at the pasta in front of her and then gazes at me disbelievingly. “Bette, this looks…amazing.” Her voice turns playful as she continues. “Where did you order from?”
I laugh a little at this before I say, “Well, I haven’t tried it yet, but I hope it’s edible. Come on, I know you must be hungry. You rarely get a lunch.”
She lets out an exasperated breath at the topic of work as she picks up her fork to take a bite. I do the same, and if I do say so myself, it turned out well. Tina looks up and her eyes are bright as she says, “I underestimated you Porter. You’ve ruined me for other women.”
I wink slyly at her and reach across the table to stroke her hand as I swallow and say, “I know what you mean.”
Her face turns a bit serious as she turns her hand and takes mine in her own more firmly. She looks me in the eyes and says, “I really needed this today. Thank you for taking care of me.”
My smile is so bright that it should come with a UV warning label. That’s all I want in this world, to take care of this incredible woman, to be close to her, to share a full life with her. She smiles back before releasing me and we both dig into the pasta. The silence is comfortable but I can’t help but wonder about the Sam issue. I manage to make small talk as we eat, but she still hasn’t mentioned work. I can’t help but worry she’s avoiding the issue, but I wait until she’s finished and sitting back with her wine and a very pleased expression on her face, before I mirror her pose and ask as nonchalantly as possible, “So, how was your day?
Her face turns a bit sour and my insecurities grow a bit deeper. Finally, she lets out a worried breath and rattles off, “Bette, Sam has to come back and DP for Lez Girls. I wasn’t sure how to tell you because I thought you’d be angry with me. We’ve been doing so well…I just didn’t want anything to ruin it. I swear I didn’t have a choice…”
“T?” She looks at me and her expression is so frightened it’s heartbreaking. I realize that I failed her at this. I should have had more faith in her. She should never be scared of telling me something, but, as usual, she’s right. I was angry. “I knew that Sam has to come back; Helena told everyone today.”
She eyes me incredulously and sits forward placing her glass on the table. “If you knew what happened, why did you ask?”
I get up from the table and sit in the chair beside her, taking her hands in my own. “T, I was angry with you, but not because Sam is coming back. That’s a little scary, but I wasn’t angry about it. I got angry because you didn’t tell me and I found out through Helena.”
She sighs deeply and shakes my hands to force me meet her eyes. “Bette, I’m sorry, I should have told you. I was just scared…”
I kiss her hands before placing them back in my lap. “I know; I got scared too. You can tell me anything T. I promise I won’t get angry, no matter what it is.”
She giggles a little as something occurs to her and I furrow my brows. What’s funny? This is fucking sad, not funny. She sees my face and calms down saying, “I’m sorry, but since when are you scared of anything, let alone someone I dated, and I use that term loosely, for six months?”
My whole body feels crestfallen. She still doesn’t understand that I’m not just same big bad alpha, burn the village, let their heads roll, queen bitch Bette. She’s still a part of me, but she’s not everything and she gets to sit in an indefinite timeout somewhere in my psyche. What’s worse is that Tina was so scared of my reaction that she was afraid to even speak to me. It’s little wonder she hides dildos.
My God, I have so much to prove to her. The weight of just how much is daunting. Is it even possible? For a moment I could cry piteously with the utter despair of it all, but I won’t. I decide to channel this hurt into my resolve to prove that I’m just not a monster anymore. After it’s all over, if she still can’t think better of me, then I guess I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to prove otherwise.
Tina sees the hurt on my face and I can tell she’s not only surprised but contrite. She lifts my chin, and with a disbelieving voice asks, “Bette, did I…hurt your feelings?”
Wow, that’s like a knife to the heart. It’s so painful I can actually feel it twisting as a jolting ache shoots through me. Do I not have feelings T? Oh fuck, I need to be alone right now. I don’t want to break down in front of her or hurt her, but if she says anything else, I don’t know that I’ll be able to stop myself. I notice that’s she’s starting to get very worried and about to say something more, so I put my finger to her lips to stop her and give myself just a moment longer to try and pull it together.
Finally, I’m able to choke it back and respond, but my voice is tight around the lump in my throat, and I have no idea how to say this without hurting her. “Um…I…I’m just very emotional right now. I think I’m getting my period.” Wow. What the fuck was that? Did I really just say that? I meant to be open and honest with her…but…I’m scared. No, I’m fucking terrified; I’m terrified to say what I really feel because she won’t believe differently anyway, and that hurts even more.
Maybe we just won’t make it as a couple. Maybe it’s just too ruined. This sends a current of icy doubt from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. It’s so intense that I can feel my heart burst in my chest, and I have to wrap my arms around my torso to hold myself together as I double over at the waist.
Tina, misinterpreting the action, squats down in front of me and rubs soothing circles on my lower back before saying, “Hey, I didn’t know you were due. I’ll get you some ibuprofen and we can go to bed early okay?”
I nod my head as the tears start to leak out against my will. It’s the best I can do. She takes my hand and we stop in the kitchen to make sure I swallow some caplets before she leads me to the bedroom where we doff our clothes. I curl up in a ball under the covers and continue to cry. I can tell that she knows something’s wrong, but she just can’t seem to puzzle it out, so she holds me until we both eventually fall into a fitful sleep.