The light streaming in from the patio doors is blinding, sending shocks of pain through my eyelids and straight into my brain, illuminating the stampede of sound already rattling around in there. Fuck me…why am I still alive? Blowing out a toxic breath that I’m sure would have been green had I the ability to see, I jerk myself lethargically into a sitting position and swing my feet over the edge of the bed. Putting my head in my hands I groan out an unintelligible, ”Fuck,” through my cotton filled mouth and try to use my controlling mindset to will the swimming away.
Without looking, I stand, with my arms out in front of me, and start feeling my way over to the patio doors to shut out the offending light, only to stub my toe and trip on something hard, and wooden, and…normally not there.
”Shit!” Landing gracelessly on my ass, I grab my throbbing appendage and crack open my right eye, only to shut it again immediately. Head back in my hands, I’m able to speak a little more clearly and irritably, ”Fuck, where did that come from?”
”Well, if you’re question is literal, the answer is Fred Segal. But, I’d like to think that it was karma.”
I sit up into a rigidly motionless position and regret the sudden movement instantly. That voice… Ok, I’m still drunk or still very much asleep. Or, maybe, I got up to shut out the light and hit my head when I fell. Squinting open my eyes, I rub them as if it will help with the pounding in my skull, and lift my aching head to the direction of where the sound came from. ”T?”
”Bette?” The voice is right but the tone is so…sharp, cruel even. Tina’s voice was always so warm and inviting, comforting. This is her voice, but none of the usual pleasantness is present, and I’m not referring to being angry or pissed off. No, this tone is from somewhere deeper.
Again, I rub my eyes and try to open them further. Grabbing the edge of the torture device that claimed a portion of my foot, I weakly haul myself up to a somewhat standing position. Again, I try to focus on her; to confirm what I hear and almost hope isn’t true. Okay, it’s been a year, let’s not jump to conclusions. Looking at her again, I now have visual confirmation that this is Tina. She looks the same, her hair longer, the warmth in her eyes a bit dulled, but still Tina. Maybe it’s just me. Why wouldn’t it be, that last time I saw her I tried to ra…
Grabbing my mouth and stomach, I run past her out the door. Slamming hard into the wall on the other side of the hallway, I spot an open bathroom door. Landing bonelessly in front of the toilet, I empty my guts, maybe even my heart, and what little sense I have left, into the capable hands of LA’s water purification technicians. Fuck this is too much. How did I get here? More importantly, why am I here?
Once I am fairly certain that I have nothing left in me, I again stumble to my feet and lean heavily on the counter in front of the sink. Turning the water to the coldest temperature possible, I splash some of it on my face and in my mouth, hoping it will clear my head enough to at least get a cab and get to the house. Running my hands over my face and through my hair, I look up into the mirror. My eyes are swollen, red rimmed, bloodshot, and sunken deep in the dark purple pools around them. My face is gaunt and my color pasty and sallow. There’s a light sheen of sweat on every inch of exposed skin…exposed skin?!
Looking down, I finally realize I’m entirely naked. What. The. Fuck. Did that bitch at the bar roofie me? Looking back up, I see Tina in the mirror watching me from the doorway, looking very much like an angel of retribution. Even smug and smirking, she’s wondrously beautiful. Wonderful, I haven’t seen her in a year and this is our first meeting. I always knew I’d run into her eventually but somehow thought it wouldn’t quite be like this. LA’s a big city, but it’s still a small world.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Standing to my full height, I pull myself the fuck together. Turning around, I see a pile of fresh towels in the cabinet on the far wall. Grabbing one, I wrap it securely around my breasts, and turn to face Tina.
She’s stands up from her leaning position, arms crossed over her chest in a very defensive manner. I soften my own stance and finally feel confident enough to speak. ”How did I get here?”
Un-tucking her arms, she places my favorite old pair of Levi’s and Yale sweatshirt on the counter and says, ”There’s a spare toothbrush in the cabinet. Why don’t you have a shower or freshen up and then meet me in the kitchen? I’ll put on a pot of coffee and make you some scrambled eggs. It should be ready by the time you’re done. We’ll talk then.” Before I can say anything, she’s gone, having shut the door behind her.
I allow myself a moment to lean against the counter for support and try to comprehend what’s happening but nothing makes sense. The last thing I can remember is crawling into a cab and a watery voice mumbling out some words before everything is utter blackness. Then it dawns on me: I’m at Tina’s house; I slept in her bed; she hasn’t cursed me out or kicked me out. Who the fuck cares how I got here? Ok Bette: get cleaned up, pull your shit together, get out there, and talk to Tina.
My little pep talk gets my blood pumping with anxiety but I have a long way to go before I can function enough to face this morning. Ok, one thing at a time. Walking over to the shower, I put it on the coldest setting and let the spray fully soak and wake me before setting it to something more comfortable. I grab the nearest bottle of shampoo and recognize the label immediately. Opening the cap, I hold it up and breath in Tina’s smell as deeply as I can, trying to capture the familiar calm that the touch of lavender in her hair always inspired. God, how I missed that smell. This would be sweet torture, but I need to get done and get out there. The real thing is waiting on me, and my need for her is as strong now as it always was.
I shower as quickly as my hung over state will allow and wind up brushing my teeth twice to get the last vestiges of the latest binge out of my mouth. By the time I am dressed, I feel decidedly more human. Steeling my nerves, I walk to the kitchen in what I hope is a normal, relaxed posture and demeanor. The smell of eggs and coffee assault my senses, and while I am still a bit nauseated, it is markedly wonderful. As I enter the open, modern kitchen, Tina turns toward me and points to the bar where a plate is waiting. I sit down as she scoops the eggs onto the plate and pours two cups of coffee, placing one in front of me. She then offers me a bottle of ibuprofen, which I accept gratefully.
I can’t help it, so I look at her and smile in what must be an incredibly pathetic grin because her face softens, and for just a moment, I see the real Tina, my Tina. She’s still there. She’s just so hurt. I put that hurt there and I’d do anything to take it away, anything at all.
”How about you talk while I eat? I’d hate for your wonderful cooking to get cold.” She smiles a sad smile at this but nods her head, takes a deep sip of her coffee, and lets out a breath before she begins.
”Ok, well, at about 2:30 this morning a man was banging on my door. When I answered, he told me that there was a woman passed out in his cab and that she had given him my address. At first, I told him he was mistaken, but then I got a little worried that it was Sam. I came out and when I saw you, I considered just paying him to take you home, but knew you’d need help and wasn’t sure if your…if Cand…if someone would be there to help you. I thought of calling Shane, but as I’m still in touch with our friends, I know that you’re not.”
I swallow my bite of eggs and look up at her. The way she related all of this seemed so cold, distant, and clinical. And who’s Sam? I look at her with sad eyes and confirm, ”No, no one would have been there and you’re right, I don’t speak to them. I’m sorry. I don’t remember giving him your address but thank you for taking me in. I know that must have been…difficult for you.”
”Not really. I have avoided you for an entire year thinking that it would be, and maybe it would have been in the beginning while things were still fresh, but when I saw you last night, it wasn’t difficult at all. That’s why I decided to help you. How did you happen to have my address anyway?”
This bite of eggs goes down harshly and I start choking on them. Fuck. Taking a big sip of coffee, I try to buy a bit more time to answer. When I’m finally out of options, I steel myself and meet her gaze. Giving it up, I decide to be honest. It’s the least she deserves.
”A while ago, about a month after you moved out of Alice’s, I hired someone to find out your new address. I’m not really sure why I needed to know so badly. On one hand, I think I just wanted to make sure that your new…home…was comfortable and that you were taken care of. On the other, I think I just needed to know where you were because I missed you so much and wanted a way to be near you, even though it was completely unwelcome. That’s all I had checked into though. I didn’t want to know personal details. I was afraid I wouldn’t handle them well given what I’ve proven myself capable of…”
At this, Tina adopts a very perplexed look, like she’s trying to see right through me. Taking the last of my eggs and swallowing them down with some coffee and the ibuprofen, I am feeling remarkably better, both physically and spiritually. When I realize that she is still looking at me with that odd expression, I blurt out, ”What?”
”Um…nothing…I…I just didn’t expect you to be so…honest or forthcoming. Few people would admit to hiring someone to check up on you to your face.”
”Are you angry that I did?” I lower my head, feeling contrite.
”No, not angry. To my own surprise, I really have very little emotion when it comes to you Bette. I don’t think it’s appropriate necessarily, but it didn’t really harm anything if you weren’t trying to interfere with my moving on.”
Fuck. I wish I could interfere with that…and who’s Sam? ”Who’s Sam?” Well that was smooth and perfectly timed, with just the right amount of indifference and nonchalance.
Raising her eyebrow a bit and grinning a little too crookedly for my comfort, she rests her elbows on the counter, shrugs her shoulders, and raises her coffee to her lips. Oh c’mon T! Okay, okay, okay, two can play at this game. Mirroring her posture, I manage to adopt the most intimidating smile in my arsenal, the one that usually either scares people until they run away or scares women right out of their panties. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the same smile I gave Tina the first time we met before whispering in her ear and making a hasty exit. This Tina though, is wholly unaffected. Maybe even a little…insulted?
Ok, we need a neutral topic. ”Um, how did I wind up naked, and how do you happen to have my favorite jeans and Yale sweatshirt? I looked everywhere for these.”
Looking a bit contrite, Tina blushes a little. Assuming a less intimidating posture and tucking a lock of honey hair behind her ear, she finally says, ”You had an accident and your clothes had to come off. It was hard enough to get you undressed, so I just left you as you were. They’re over there in a bag by the couch.” She points to a bag by my shoes and I have to close my eyes against the humility. Clearing her throat, she quickly adds, ”I um…found your stuff packed in with my things.” Before I can really even process her response, she says, ”So, can I ask you a couple questions now?”
Moving back into a normal posture, I try not to let my panic show. Fuck, my emotions are all over the place this morning. Okay, I can do this. ”Sure, what do you want to know?”
”Well, for starters, why would you give a cabby my address?”
There’s that smug smile again. Okay, honesty has worked thus far, might as well stick with it. ”I honestly don’t know or remember doing it. As you could tell, I wasn’t exactly in my right mind last night.”
”Why weren’t you in your right mind?”
”I…”…have no idea how to respond. ’Oh, you know, I’ve never gotten over you or the loss of our child, so life has been unbearable. Oh, don’t forget that last night was the anniversary of the night you left me. No, these are just normal everyday occurrences T, normal every damn fucking day shit! But hey, you seem to have moved on just fucking fine.’ Moving right along to anger, my therapist would be so proud.
Taking a deep breath, I realize that she’s been watching me intently the whole time. Fuck, how much of that did she read on my face? Stumbling a bit, I finally manage, ”I don’t think I should answer that T. I don’t want to lie to you but I don’t want to lay all of that out there when I don’t think you’re ready or interested in hearing it.” There, that was very diplomatic and still honest. I’m not Proust, but I kept things neutral. I deserve a pat on the back.
Looking back at Tina from my self-congratulatory moment, I watch her expression become a bit frightening. While cold and distant, she has been entirely civil up until this point. The anger radiating off of her in waves is testament to the fact that, that, is about to change.
Her eyes harden and her lips purse as she sits up into a very rigid posture. ”Look, if you don’t want to answer a question, you don’t have to. However, who do you think you are to determine what I’m ’ready’ or ’interested’ in hearing? Same old fucking Bette; she knows just what everyone needs, so let her control everything down to what should or should not be heard. You know, for a small shining moment, I thought maybe you could just be honest and open. Your answer before was exactly that, and it surprised the fuck out of me. But this…this just shows what a fucking fool I am to believe that you might be capable of two wholly natural concepts for most people. I think it’s time for you to leave Bette.”
With that she stands up and starts for the door, obviously expecting me to follow her. I can’t move, so I just sit in shock for a moment, trying to get my bearings. And, for my final emotion of the hour, intense sadness, utterly defeated sadness, now reigns supreme.
Standing up, I walk over to my clothes and shoes from the night before, gathering them up in my arms. Walking over to where Tina is holding the door open, I stop just before I am completely through, and turn to her. She is still so angry that she isn’t even looking in my direction and I can see her jaw clench and unclench with barely contained fury. Deciding that since this is most likely the last time I will ever see her, I figure there is absolutely nothing to lose. Taking a deep breath, I just let it all out.
”Tina, I wasn’t trying to control what you heard or even censor it, but I understand why you would assume that was my intention. It’s honestly not a stretch of the imagination. The real answer to your question is very simple: how is it possible to be in my right mind with the guilt I carry? Not to mention that the loss of you and our son is everywhere I turn, in everything I see. I’m not over you T. I’ll never be over you. And what’s worse is that I have to live with the knowledge that I lost you because I threw you away for no good fucking reason.”
”I took everything for granted, your love, your support, your faithfulness, your warmth…you, just you. There are not words for how much I hate what I did to us. I was wrong T. Everything I did was wrong, to the very core, and there is nothing I can do or say to fix it, though I swear to you that if I could, I’d risk everything, including my very life, to make that possible.”
”I didn’t always fully understand the words when I used to say them, but I do now. Love is about sacrifice. I can say with all the conviction of a saint that I love you, I will always love you, and my only true hope in this world is that the joy I once promised you will be yours again, with or without my help.”
”I’m sorry for showing up here like that last night. Fuck, I’m sorry for everything and so much more, but sorry doesn’t cut it. I understand that better than you could ever know. Thank you for helping me when you had every reason to turn me away. Thank you for being my spouse for seven years, even…no, especially when I didn’t nearly deserve you. Thank you for the very best years of my life. They, you, are indescribably precious to me.”
Reaching up with all the hesitation of approaching a frightened animal, I touch her face in a whisper soft caress. Just as it registers, she jerks her face further away from me, still refusing to make eye contact. With all the composure I can muster, I hold back the emotions from the last two years that are trying to spill out. I hadn’t lost it yet, and I wasn’t going to start here, but if I can get to the house, I will lose it. I will finally allow, no force, myself to lose it. Walking to the curb, I start walking towards home, all the while keeping a tight hold on myself and an eye out for a cab, the dull thud of a slammed door and the sharp click of a deadbolt my only company.