I throw away the trash from another wonderful lunch with my wife…my wife…I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that notion. Even now I know I’m smiling like a lunatic, but the staff seem to avoid me less and things with the gallery are coming back together. It’s been a week, and other than meeting with Kelly and starkly refusing her barely veiled advances every fucking day, it’s been good. Honestly, I think she’s being picky just to draw out our interactions with each other. And honestly, it feels good to know that the tables have turned so dramatically. I smile again. It’s nice to see her hear the word, ‘no.’ I’ve made it clear I’m not interested, but she seems to be determined, and I’ve been enjoying the power it gives me. I know it’s childish, but it just feels so fucking good to see her want me after everything I went through with her. Unlike her, at least I am refusing her for the right reasons.
I’m looking forward to Shane’s party. Tina has been less pushy about the donors, but I can tell she’s becoming increasingly frustrated as I keep turning them down for one reason or another, and I think it will be good for her to cut loose a little bit. She needs to relax. We both do, and what better way to achieve that than a party…hopefully followed by several orgasms.
I smile again as I sit down at my desk and look up at the knock on the door to see James. “Bette, sorry to disturb you…”
I smile at him. “James, you don’t have to apologize every time you need to tell me something.”
He quirks a grin at me. “Sure Bette. Your two o’clock is here.”
I furrow my brows and look at my calendar. Oh right… “Malcolm Young. He still hasn’t mentioned what this appointment is for?” James eyes me and shakes his head. I look at the clock and it’s a quarter ‘til two. At least he’s early. Something tells me this is just some idiot here to waste my time. That seems to happen often anymore. I sigh. “Okay, send him in.”
I stand from my desk and it’s only a moment before James returns with a casually dressed black man carrying a small duffle bag. His skin is two or three shades darker than my own and he’s tall, easily six feet, and looks strong and fit. His jet black hair is cropped close to his scalp, his forehead and chin broad. His nose is pointed and proudly perched above full, soft lips. His face is clean shaven and he has large, soulful light brown eyes that are warm and inviting, and set in a boyishly handsome face. He’s maybe in his mid-thirties, and for a moment I’m taken aback. He looks oddly familiar but I can’t place him.
There’s a moment of awkward silence as we look at each other before I finally snap out of it. “Um…sorry…” We both laugh a little awkwardly as we shake hands. “…I’m Bette Porter-Kennard.”
His smile is warm, gracious, and strong but he grimaces as he says his name. “I’m Malcolm…Young.”
I furrow my brows and eye him curiously; I’m a little shocked by his deep British accent. It’s just so…unexpected. He looks away for a moment before returning to my eyes and I remember my manners. “Please…have a seat.” I gesture to one of the chairs in front of my desk as I walk around to take my own. I fold my hands on the glass surface and sink into the comfortable alpha professionalism that epitomizes a large portion of my personality. He sets his bag down and settles rigidly into one of the chairs. “So how can I help you Mr. Young?”
He smiles warmly. “Please, call me Malcolm.” I smile back at him and nod my head. He seems kind, but anxious and unsure, and while normally when I sense weakness of any sort, I circle in for the kill, this time I feel nervous. He meets my gaze and I can literally see the determination set in his eyes and jaw. “This is going to sound strange, but I was wondering if you know or are related to Melvin Porter?”
I furrow my brows incredulously. “I don’t mean to be rude Malcolm, but this is a business meeting. I’m not sure why you’d be interested in my personal life.”
He blows out a long breath. “I apologize. That was forward of me. I’m visiting Los Angeles from Chelsea, an affluent district of London England. Two weeks ago, my mother, Rosa Young…died.”
I see the flash of fresh pain streak across his face. “I’m sorry for your loss Malcolm.”
He smiles a sad smile but continues. “Thank you. She was my only living relative aside from…Melvin Porter. I’ve never met him, but I wish to…and that’s why I’m here.”
My eyes go wide and stare at him flummoxed but manage to choke out. “How…are you related?”
His expression becomes inscrutable and his eyes harden a little. “My full name is Malcolm Young Porter. He is my biological father, though he never…well, we’ve never met. I came to find him…to meet him…though I’m not exactly sure why. I…I just feel…compelled. I visited his home in Philadelphia but he’s no longer there, and you’d be surprised at how many Melvin Porter’s there are.” He gazes straight into my eyes and my heart stops. “I was hoping that you would know him. There aren’t as many Bette Porter’s, and I know that he had a daughter by that name. In fact, you are one of only two Bette Porter’s that have lived in Philadelphia, and the other is sixty years old.”
He looks deeply into my eyes and recognizes the knowing shock and disturbance that resides there. He seems to regret what he’s just said. “I apologize for being so…indelicate…with my response, but you seem to be a very straight forward person. After your initial response to my question, it seemed best to just come out with it, so to speak.” I collapse back in my chair and his expression seems troubled. “If…you are his daughter…well, I don’t expect anything from you. I only wish to meet him, and then I’ll leave you both in peace…”
Tears of incredulity and shock well in my eyes and there is a long awkward pause as I consider if this is possible. Is it possible that Kit and I have a brother, another half sibling? Considering my father’s history, I can’t help but deem it not only plausible, but probable. He had an affair on Kit’s mother with my own, then cheated on her as well. My mom never spoke of the ordeal, let alone the other woman, and daddy was single for the majority of my life. “I…um…yes, Melvin Porter is…was…my father…”
His eyes go wide with hope for a moment and then turn thoughtful. He swallows hard and croaks out, “Was…?”
A single tear escapes my watering eyes. “He died…about a year and a half ago. It…it was cancer.”
His face falls and I can see the glassy depths of his eyes water, only to be replaced with forced indifference. “I see…” He sits very rigid for a long moment as a slew of tumultuous emotions play across his handsome face. I flinch as he stands from his chair abruptly. “Well…it was a pleasure to have met you Bette. I appreciate your time and help. I’ll leave you to your work…”
He doesn’t reach to shake my hand or hesitate as he strides quickly from the room. I stare at his quickly retreating form in shock for a moment, before realizing my brother…my fucking brother…a brother I never knew I had…is disappearing as quickly as he appeared, and all I have is his name. Will I ever see him again? Do I want to see him again? Yes. If nothing else, I have far too many questions to let him drop this on me and just leave.
I stand quickly from my desk and power stride after him. I reach the front lobby just as the large glass doors are slowly closing behind him. “Malcolm?!” He falters for a moment but doesn’t turn and I race to meet him. “Malcolm…I…I don’t know what to say…” He tucks his hands in his pockets and rocks on his heels. “…I…I have so many questions…don’t you?” He finally meets my eyes and I smile awkwardly at him. “Please…come back inside…and let’s at least discuss this.”
He considers me for a moment before nodding his head once and following me back to the office where I close the door and we both sit in awkward silence. I pinch the bridge of my nose between my fore-finger and thumb. Okay Porter, pull it the fuck together. “Malcolm…” He looks up at me. “…can you start at the beginning? I’m still very confused…”
He blows out a long breath and leans back in a rigid attempt to force himself to feel comfortable. “I was born in London in 1979 to Rosa Young. She was a singer at a new jazz lounge called the 606 Club. It was owned by a well-known Jazz musician, Steve Rubie. Mum became very popular despite her malato heritage, even released a few records.” He smiles a brilliantly white smile and meets my eyes. “She was beautiful…my mum…and she could sing like Billy Holiday…” He closes his eyes and his expression becomes sad. “She worked there her whole life, in the beginning as a singer, and when she became too old and jazz started to decline in popularity, a waitress.”
His posture becomes rigid again. “She never spoke of my father, even on her death bed. When she died, I went through her things and found several letters from a Melvin Porter. Most of them were love letters. Apparently, he and Steve Rubie were good friends and he flew into England for the opening of the Club. He met my mother, and they started having an affair. It went on for about two years. He would fly in a few times a year for…a liaison…and then they’d stay in touch by mail.”
I run my fingers through my hair and close my eyes. 1979. I was three years old when he was born, and mom had left daddy by the time I was four. Everything he says lines up with what I know, but why didn’t daddy take care of him like he did me and Kit? I look up and meet his eyes. “What happened?”
He reaches into his back pocket and pulls a folded, yellowed, and crumpled envelope from one of the inside slots of his wallet. He hands it out to me and I accept it hesitantly. “I found that. Based on the post mark and content, I believe it was his last letter.” I look down at the envelope and heave a frustrated sigh as I unfold it delicately and carefully remove the letter.
Please understand that I don’t wish to hurt you, but this will be my last correspondence. I have enjoyed our time together immensely, but we agreed from the beginning that there was no possibility for a future together. You knew that I already had a wife and daughter. My duty is to them. And while I don’t believe you would lie to me purposefully, I think you are reaching out to me because you are scared and confused. I am sorry, but you cannot rely on me to help you with these troubles. Considering how little we see one another, it’s just not possible that I could have fathered your child. I think it’s time we moved on. I have every confidence that you will be just fine. I wish you both the best, but please do not contact me again.
Well this is certainly daddy’s script. So not only was my father homophobic and rigidly conservative, he abandoned his child. How dare he sentence me to hell for my lifestyle? I fold the paper in frustration and reach it back out to Malcolm who accepts it with a sad smile and continues. “In the other letters, he spoke of you often. That’s how I had your name. I looked you up on the internet, and as I said, there were only two of you. The Porter-Kennard gallery showed a picture of you. I knew it was still a long shot, but we seemed to look very…similar.” He smiles boyishly and I can’t help but return it despite the raging flood of anger, disappointment, and skeptical mistrust assaulting me.
If any of this is true, it’s not Malcolm’s fault, it’s daddy’s. And if he were alive, I don’t know that I could look him in the eye ever again. For the first time since his passing, I’m almost glad he’s not here so I don’t have to face him with this knowledge. Then there is still the matter of Kit.
I let go of the frustration and focus on Malcolm. “Malcolm, I have a half-sister. Kit…”
His eyes go wide. “Your mother is not the first affair daddy…I mean Melvin…had. He was married and had a daughter, Kit, years before he met my mother, Maxine. He left his first wife and married my mother…but she left him when she found out he was cheating with, I assume, your mother. Neither Kit nor I knew about you though…”
He stares at me incredulously. I can tell exactly what he’s thinking…fuck. I’m right there with him. He leans forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his knees, and I think we’ve both learned enough for one day. As to what this all means, I have no idea. I’m not entirely sure, but I guess…I have a brother…and I have no idea who he really is.
There are long moments of awkward silence, so I attempt to break the tension. “So, how long are you here?”
He lifts his head and it takes a moment for the daze to clear from his eyes. “Oh…I…I don’t know. I just arrived this morning. I don’t have much…” He gestures to the duffle at his feet. “…I don’t even have a place to stay yet…” He scrubs his face and leans back in his chair. “I didn’t plan this well. I just wanted to get here, so as soon as I took care of mom’s affairs, I sold everything I had and boarded a plane…”
Fuck. Okay, if he were Kit, I’d offer to have her stay with me and Tina. Tina…fuck. I feel a headache twinge to life behind my eyes. I don’t know this man and I’m not sure how Tina’s going to take this new development. “Malcolm?”
He looks to me and I can tell he’s utterly weary. “Why don’t you come home with me for dinner? You can meet my wife…” His face seems shocked but then it melts into a warm smile. I return it with a sigh of relief.
“You’re married?” The way he says this is so warmly astonished and almost…proud…that it relieves a small portion of my doubt about him. I smile radiantly. “I am. I’ll just let her know you’re coming and we’ll help find you a suitable place to stay.” He beams at me and I can see the relief on his face. I stand and grab my purse. “Give me a few moments, and we’ll leave.”
He leans back in his chair and for the first time since he’s arrived, he seems genuinely relaxed. He nods his head and I smile at him as I exit and make my way to one of the empty board rooms. I take a seat and hesitantly dial Tina’s number, hoping that she’s ready for this. I’m sure as fuck not.
The ride home is quiet, not comfortable but not uncomfortable either. I’m thankful that Malcolm isn’t chattering or fidgeting nervously. If I were in his place, I don’t think I’d be as calm. I park in the drive and we exit the vehicle. He slings his duffle over his shoulder and looks to me over the roof of the Saab with a bright smile. I return it with a wary one of my own and head toward the house, locking the car behind us with the keyfob.
“T?” I open the door and Malcolm sets his duffle just inside as we both enter.
We hear soft footfalls as Tina comes down the stairs and she meets me at the door. She was shocked during our conversation, and I heard the word fuck several times. But once it wore off, she was insistent that I bring Malcolm home.
Tina gives me a chaste kiss and smiles brightly at Malcolm. He returns her smile. “T…Tina, this is Malcolm Young Porter.”
She reaches her hand out and he accepts it. “Malcolm, this is Tina Porter-Kennard, my wife.”
Malcolm looks to me and I can see the mischievous gleam in his eyes. I wink at him and he laughs as Tina leads us to the sectional sofa in the more open seating area of the room. I sit next to Tina and smile when I see the tray of light snacks and water already set out. The two of them start to chatter as she offers him something and I check my watch. It’s a little after six now.
I called Kit just after I hung up with Tina and she, surprisingly, wasn’t shocked at all. She didn’t say much, just that she’d bring dinner from the Planet and meet us here between six and seven. I pinch the bridge of my nose against the headache steadily increasing in intensity.
I feel a small, warm hand squeeze my thigh and look up into Tina’s gentle eyes. She smiles knowingly and excuses herself as she disappears into the kitchen. I smile at Malcolm and hear the doorbell before Kit pokes her head inside. “Anybody home?”
I stand to go help her with the food. “Hey Kit. Come on in.”
I take two of the bags from her hands and walk to the kitchen counter. Just as I set them down, Tina places a bottle of water and two excedrin in front of me. I smile at her gratefully as I swallow the caplets and she strokes my hair. “Are you okay…?”
I take her hand and kiss her knuckles. “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just a headache.”
She steps behind me and pulls my knee length blazer from my shoulders as Kit starts to unload dinner and set the table. She pulls me to a chair and I don’t fight her as she pushes me down into it. “Just rest okay. I’ll get Malcolm. Those pills should help.” I smile gratefully and again kiss her hand, holding onto it until the last minute as she makes her way back to the living room.
Kit sets a large salad in front of me and rubs at my neck. “Everything will be okay baby sis. Don’t you worry about a thing…”
I groan. God that feels good. My headache starts to loosen and I mumble. “How are you so calm about this?” She doesn’t say anything but releases a heavy sigh and stops massaging. I look up at her curiously. “Kit?”
The look on her face, the one where she knows something that she can’t seem to hide, tells me everything I need to know, everything she should have already told me. She knew. She’s known all along. My eyes widen and my headache’s back full force as I stare at her incredulously.
Tina and Malcolm walk up to the table and there’s a hesitant moment of tension as Malcolm stares at Kit. She reaches out her hand and he accepts the gesture. “I’m Kit Porter. You must be Malcolm Porter.”
He beams at her. “Yes ma’am. It’s nice to meet you.”
She puts her hand on her hip and scolds him, “Now don’t you be calling me ma’am.” She grins slyly.
He smiles back. “Yes Kit. It’s still nice to meet you.”
She smiles fully and eyes him from head to toe. “My goodness…you and Bette look a lot alike…”
I scowl at Kit and Tina starts to massage where Kit left off. I lower my head and close my eyes as the headache again starts to loosen. Unfortunately, I hear Malcolm say, “I’m lucky then. She’s a beautiful woman.”
I look to Tina with disbelieving eyes and she raises an incredulous eyebrow at me. I’m not sure I’m okay with that. I turn back to Malcolm to see his face flush and eyes grow huge. He hastily explains, “I didn’t mean that…like it sounded. I mean, she’s my…”
He gestures to me like he’s afraid to say the word so Kit helps him out. “Sister.” She puts her arm around his shoulders and leans conspiratorially as she says, “Welcome to the crazy ass club.” Tina giggles and Malcolm smiles before hiding it politely and sitting down across from me.
Kit sits down next to him and I glare at her as we settle into long moments of tense silence. Kit rolls her eyes and sighs before addressing the elephant in the room in her usual direct manner. “Alright, I guess I’ll start. All those years in AA are not for the faint of heart.” She turns to Malcolm. “Daddy knocked up your mama and left her, just like he did with mine and Bette’s. I guess it was kind of his…thing. Bette didn’t know until you showed up today, but I did.” She turns to me. “I found the letters in daddy’s stuff when he died and I kept them from you.”
I close my eyes and pinch the bridge of my nose. “Don’t you go gettin’ angry with me baby sis. You were already upset with daddy because he wouldn’t acknowledge who you are and then with…well…everything…and his death…I just wanted to wait until I thought you were feelin’ better.” I look at her and feel the angry antagonism drip from my expression. “I’d have told you by now but I’ll be honest, I spent most of my life high, or drunk, or both…and I’m not gettin’ any younger. I just forgot…and for that, I’m sorry.”
I close my eyes. I can’t be angry with her. Hell, I had pushed everyone away and then daddy’s death was just another blow I didn’t need. This information might have just sent me off an edge I couldn’t pull myself back up from. I release a weary breath, hoping it will take the swirling emotions with it, and feel Tina rub soothing circles on my back. I turn and smile a half watt smile at her and she caresses my cheek. “Now, I don’t know bout’ y’all, but I’m hungry.”
Everyone smiles and we start to eat. The salad is good, just what I need. My stomach is not very agreeable just now. Tina swallows her own bite and looks to Malcolm. “So, Malcolm, what do you do for work?”
He seems embarrassed but his answer is honest. “I’m an artist, primarily paints, but when I have the money, I love sculpture.” Malcolm gets the same gleam in his eyes as he says this as I do when I’m particularly excited about an exhibit or requisition or Tina. Fuck daddy…Kit’s mom was a singer, Kit’s a singer, Malcolm’s mom was a singer, Malcolm’s a painter, mom was a painter, and I’m a curator. The chain of similarities in daddy’s habits is disturbing, but I can’t help but smile. At least he chose his paramours well.
I look to Malcolm and grin. “Oh? I’m surprised I haven’t run into you before then. I’ve requisitioned several pieces from the UK, even pushed some artists into the spotlight.” Not going to mention Alex Reed, even though he’s one of them.
His embarrassment burns hotter as he says, “I doubt you would have. I’ve been in a couple local shows, even won some local awards, but I haven’t had my break yet.” He smiles despite his embarrassment. “Ever hear the expression ‘starving artist?’” We all chuckle and I worry. He might be family, maybe, but if his work is garbage, I won’t be able to help him, even if it’s expected. He seems to read these thoughts on my face and while I can tell he’s insulted, he remains calm and says, “I don’t expect your help Bette. Just meeting you…” He turns to Kit. “…and Kit…” He looks to Tina. “…and even Tina…” He clears his throat. “…knowing that I have some family left, is more than I had hoped to find here.”
Well fuck. I look to Tina who raises an eyebrow at me and I can tell she’s pensive, but I can’t tell what she’s thinking. Kit looks at me with the same expression and I’m at a loss for how to feel. He seems so kind and pathetic and supposedly family. His story and the letter should be proof enough, but honestly, I have my doubts. Even with daddy’s penchant for sleeping around with artists, he never turned me or Kit away. Why Malcolm? Would it be insolent to ask for a DNA test?
“Malcolm?” He looks up into my eyes. “What if all of it is just coincidence? What if you have the wrong Melvin Porter?” He considers this for a moment and I see Kit and Tina roll their eyes at each other. Fuck. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to insult you. It’s just…difficult…to believe…”
He smiles sadly at me. “It’s okay. I understand. I would be skeptical as well, but outside of the letter and his last name, all I have is one photo of him and my mother. It was tucked in with her letters. But then, you may not believe she is my mother, and I have no way to prove it.” Fuck he seems sad and Tina and Kit are eyeing me like I just strangled a puppy with my bare hands. “But if you’d like, I’d be happy to have a DNA test.” He perks up a little bit. “Actually, I think I’d like to know conclusively as well…”
I look to Tina and Kit and they’ve softened a little. If he’s not my brother, then I owe him for not overreacting to my skepticism. If he is, well, if he’s half as good a brother as Kit is a sister, then our family grows for the better, and that’s a good thing, right?
“Malcolm, Bette said you don’t have a place to stay yet and given what you said, I take it you don’t have a lot of money…”
I turn to Tina incredulously and she gives me a warning glance. She has to be joking. We know nothing about him. Malcolm nods his head but smiles charmingly as he says, “I do need to find a place for the night. After dinner is finished, I’ll look up a hostel.”
I close my eyes. He just sealed the deal and I can’t determine if that was his goal. Tina reaches across the table and touches his hand. “No, that won’t be necessary. We have plenty of space and a fully stocked guest room. You can stay with us until you find work.” Tina looks to me again and apparently the quality of his work will have no bearing on my helping him. My headache is taking a turn for the worse. Sigh. If he wipes us out and disappears while we’re asleep…
Malcolm shakes his head as he swallows a bite. “Thank you, but I couldn’t impose…”
I squint my eyes at him. I can’t tell if he’s genuine or not. Partly because I just don’t trust him. He seems genuine, but people are rarely what they seem. I hate it when I can’t read people. “It’s no trouble at all. I insist.” I take a deep breath as he nods his head and I start to eat my dinner. The sooner I’m done the sooner I can lie down and let blissful oblivion have me.
“T, I just don’t trust him yet. Is that so hard to understand?” We’re keeping our voices down as we lie in bed and hash this out. We seem to argue in bed a lot anymore, mostly about donors, and now the added pressure of Malcolm.
She sighs and rolls her head to face me before settling on her side and gazing at me fully in the eyes. She strokes my face. “Babe…I understand. He’s a stranger, but he’s your brother.”
“Maybe, we don’t know that for sure…”
“Well, you can go into the clinic tomorrow and they can send away for the results. They shouldn’t take more than a couple weeks. In the meantime, look at his stuff and try to help him.”
I close my eyes and sigh. “T, what if he’s terrible? I don’t want to have to tell him that I can’t help him after getting his hopes up…”
“Bette…” I open my eyes and gaze at her. “Even if he is terrible, he can’t be as bad as Alex Reed…”
Her face sours and I match her expression. “That was low T…”
She laughs quietly and I glare at her. “Babe…just give him a chance. I’d give anything to have family like you do, to have my brother care…”
Sigh. How the fuck do you argue with that? And now she’s sad. I snuggle up close to her and rest my head against her chest as she tangles a hand in my hair and drapes her arm around me. “I know T…and I’m sorry. It’s his loss…”
I feel her chest expand as she takes a deep breath that slows her heart. “I’m sorry. That’s not even the point. The point is that you’ll find out soon if he really is your brother. If he is, then you’ve done the right thing. If he’s not, then you’ve still helped someone who’s struggling and done the right thing. If something goes missing when he leaves, then we won’t have anything to do with him again. Does it really matter?”
I close my eyes and sigh as she strokes my hair. “I don’t like it…at all…but I guess we’ll wait and see what happens. I just can’t tell if he’s genuine…”
She giggles and I can hear the warm sound of it echo in her chest. “No, you just have a hard time trusting people or letting them in. It will be okay though. You told me that we’re all learning as we go and it’s a never ending process. We both have our own issues that we still struggle with. This is yours. Take him to work with you tomorrow after you visit the clinic and if nothing else, get to know him a little bit. It’s a small risk Bette.” Sigh. She hugs me tightly and I release some of my worry to her comforting warmth.
”T?” I hear the low hum of question in her chest. ”I know we’re not blood, but you do have family, family who loves you very much.” I feel her smile against my hair. ”I’m your family. Don’t ever forget that.” She kisses the crown of my head and I sigh contentedly as we fall asleep.