I open the door to the Planet and let Tina walk in ahead of me. Things between us have been uncomfortably quiet and stilted since we woke. I guess the honeymoon’s truly over. Four months has to be a record somewhere. Well, no, Britney Spears was what…twenty-four hours? Still, I wasn’t ready for things to be like this. I guess somewhere inside, even though you know it’s futile, love makes you hope it will always be like that. It almost feels like love has us all threaded like puppets on strings, jerking us this way and that at high rates of speed. Either way, it’s fucking incredible and fucking miserable, all at once. And if it’s not love that is giving me these extreme ups and downs, then it’s either early menopause or I’m just bipolar.
I chuckle at this thought and Tina eyes me like I’ve forgotten to take my meds. I decide to go with it and smile at her while taking her hand. She links our fingers and smiles a half watt smile. I sigh. She hurt me and she knows it, but she hasn’t asked and most definitely hasn’t figured it out. I know she didn’t mean to. It’s just so hard to erase seven years of Stockholm syndrome. I programmed her well.
I decided during the quiet ride over this morning that I need to be more patient with her, and while I’m still following through with the plan, I’m going to let her figure this out on her own. My favorite art history professor, Danica Palmer, once told me that self-discovery is the highest form of learning. I understood what she was saying, but I didn’t fully understand what she meant, until now.
That’s precisely what art is. One piece can mean something completely different to any number of viewers, and none of those meanings are right or wrong because the meaning is subjective and entirely personal. Even if you can ask the artist what their intent was, their words won’t mean much. Your first thoughts will always be what you discovered on your own, and that’s what will really affect you. I need Tina to discover me as I am, not just know me for who I was, and be utterly affected. I draw hope from the fact that I’m the artist in this scenario; I get to choose how I affect her. I just need to be strong and help her get there, and that’s exactly what my intent is.
Alice looks up at Tina and me, and smiles as we both take off our jackets and sit in the seats across from her. She looks to Tina and answers her question. “She had to train earlier than usual this morning. I’ve never seen her so…focused. It’s kinda’…hot. She’s been working out like a fucking maniac…”
Tina looks to me with a sparkle in her eyes and sings softly under her breath. “She’s a maniac, maaaaaa-niac, on the court!” I’m not sure why, but I get this odd sense of…déjà vu? And water…
We all laugh at this and Alice continues in a rush. “Anywho…so, anything new with you two?”
I glare at Alice. Is she trying to make Tina suspicious? Tina gives her the same strange look she gave me by the door moments ago and replies, “Um, no…not since yesterday…” She looks to me questioningly and I innocently shrug my shoulders. Kit arrives with our usual coffee and this is all the distraction I need to swiftly kick Alice hard in the shin. She yelps and jumps, her knee hitting the bottom of the table and jarring it roughly. Everyone looks to her but I casually reach up and take my coffee from Kit with a calmly spoken, “Thanks.”
Kit pats me on the shoulder before heading back to the morning rush. Shane buries her head back into her LAWEEKLY but I can tell by her contorted face that she’s trying not to laugh. Alice sits back in her chair angrily, but properly chastised, and Tina is looking at all of us specutively. Surprisingly enough, it’s Helena that saves the day.
“Ahem, Tina, I know we’ve not arrived at work and I don’t wish to ruin your morning, but I have some bad news.” Tina doesn’t even flinch. She sets her coffee down and gives Helena her full attention. “With everything that’s happened on-set, I think it’s wise that we put in extra hours. As the lead producer, I want you to oversee everything to ensure things start to run smoothly. Once things settle down, you can go back to your normal schedule. I know it’s asking a lot of you to waste your talents babysitting everyone, but I think it’s necessary.”
I look to Helena in wonder. Wow. I’m blown away. Helena’s going to honor my request. Hell, I’m surprised she even remembers it. She smiles at me sadly and it’s all I can do not to shake her and make her tell me what the fuck is going on! I hate this love, hate dichotomy with her. I’m a fucking lover anymore.
I turn back to Tina. Her demeanor is professional, cool, and calm despite the weary frustration I know is lurking beneath the surface. I feel bad for doing this to her, but I need to keep her off balance and pre-occupied while I get the biggest of the obstacles out of the way. With any luck, by Christmas the house will be finished. That gives me about two months to do everything. I hope Wheezy can get it done. “No Helena, that’s fine. If that’s what you think we need, I’ll do it. This picture means a great deal to me.”
Again, I am blown away. I have been looking at Tina this whole time but I take a moment to let my eyes travel the length of her. She’s wearing a black pinstripe Armani suit. The blazer doesn’t require an undershirt, and I can just barely see the lacy black lingerie peeking out of the top of her cleavage from this angle. Everything about her: her wavy corn silk hair, pulled up to expose a small portion of her slender neck, the delicate brushed silver that adorns her creamy skin, her perfect posture and elegantly folded legs, the sweet, clean lavender aura around her, and her professionally cool and casual demeanor is so breathtakingly sexy that I feel a throb twitch low between my hips. I place my hand on her thigh and stroke her leg through the thin fabric with my thumb. It’s everything I can do not to throw her on the table and make love to her this very moment.
She looks down at my hand and then catches my gaze, and I can see her flush at the lusty intent she finds there. Last night was the first night since we’ve reconciled that we haven’t made love, and that was my fault. While I realize that the hope of making love every night just isn’t realistically sustainable, it doesn’t hurt to let her know as often as possible just how much she’s desired. In fact, maybe that’s the key. Making love is important; it keeps you intimate, honest, and hungry. But knowing that the desire is there even when the actions aren’t possible is life sustaining.
Helena stands quickly checking the clock on her phone and puts her jacket on. She turns to the table saying, “It’s getting late and I need to get to the lot.” She looks to Tina and continues. “We have that meeting at eight with Dylan.” Is her face going to sour every time she says that name?
Tina checks her phone and, realizing how late it is, she stands as well. I can’t help but smirk and again I want to shake Helena. One minute she’s helping, the next she’s uncomfortable with me and Tina being affectionate and still lamenting a probably healthy affair. Sigh. I stand to help Tina into her jacket, and then help secure her briefcase on her shoulder. “Do you want me to give you a ride?”
She looks at me and smiles knowingly. Ride has so many connotations in the English language. She kisses me sweetly and says, “No, I’ll ride with Helena so we can talk before the meeting, but since I rode with you this morning, if you can pick me up…?”
I pick up her coffee and hand it to her. “I’ll be there, just let me know when.” I lean in and kiss her again as she strokes my cheek. I kiss her palm and hold onto her hand until the last minute before watching her retreating form walk with Helena out the door. When she’s out of sight, I sit down and let out a satisfied sigh and reach for my coffee.
I realize the table is deathly quiet and look up to find Shane and Alice staring at me in astonishment. Alice finally lets out a low whistle and drawls, “Damn,” as if the word were three syllables.
I pick up my coffee and rest my elbows on the table as I raise it to my lips, innocently asking, “What…,” before taking a deep sip to hide my smile.
Alice’s expression turns to knowing incredulity before she grins and says, “Oh, nothing. Just don’t expect me to hose you down when you burn a hole through that seat and burst into flames.” I laugh and wink at her.
Shane shakes her head and puts her paper down on the table. “Okay you guys, I have to go soon. Helena told you guys that Carmen, the girl from yesterday, is a PA?” I nod my head at her. “Okay, well, she’s also my roommate now.” Alice and I shake our heads at Shane and she hastens to continue. “I’m not going to sleep with her.” Alice snorts and we both start to laugh. Shane glares at us coyly and gives up. “Anyway, she got me an interview to do hair for the movie.”
I smile at her and say, “That’s great Shane. Does Tina know?”
She shakes her head. “No, not yet, but I’ll be interviewing with her.” She smiles a satisfied smile.
I wink at her. “Somehow, I think you’ll be a shoe-in.”
She quirks a crooked grin at me before continuing. “Well, this is pretty good money and I can help keep an eye on Tina. Have you found a contractor yet?”
I set my coffee down and nod before saying. “Actually, I secured one yesterday. I’m meeting her at eight. She’ll be starting today and hopefully it’ll be done by Christmas.”
Shane smiles and leans back as Alice jumps in excitedly. “Oh! So, did you find it?”
I sigh. “No, I don’t think it’s there Al. I found Tina’s Bette box though. I checked her vanity, closet, and the nightstands…” I flush with chagrin and Alice, of course, notices.
“What?! What did you find?!”
She’s far too excited for someone who’s not going to learn anything from this line of questioning. “I’m not going to tell you that Alice. That would be an invasion of Tina’s privacy.”
I shake my head. I don’t know if it would hurt Tina to say something but I’m not going to take that risk. Hell, she doesn’t even know I found it. I still just don’t understand why Tina needs…that. I know she’s not faking it… “Bette…if you won’t talk about what you found, at least talk about why it upset you so much. I mean, you look like you’ve been kicked in the cunt.”
I laugh at this and it breaks the tension before I frown. “Al, I just don’t want to hurt Tina. Remember, that’s the most important part in all of this. I didn’t find what I was looking for and have no idea where else to look, and…”
“Don’t change the subject…”
Sigh. “Al, please. I don’t want to embarrass Tina. Can we just drop it?”
She raises her hands defensively and says, “Okay, fine, but something’s botched your crotch. You seem really…I don’t know…all over the place. One minute you’re eye fucking Tina in front of the whole table and the next you’re just…sad…”
She’s right. I look into Alice’s eyes and she seems genuinely concerned. I sigh. I don’t know if it will help but there has to be a way to say what I’m worried about without giving up Tina’s privacy. “Okay. I…I’m concerned that Tina might be…dissatisfied…with our…sex life.”
Alice’s eyes light with the gleam of knowing experience. “Ah, you found a toy. Was it a vibrator or a dildo?” I eye her, not willing to give anything away and consider if she truly knows or is just guessing. She sighs exasperatedly and says, “Bette, I know Tina has been using toys for a while now. Hell, she didn’t consider her sex life personal at all. We compared notes all the time. It was the feelings she avoided. So you can drop the bullshit and let me help you. I mean for fucks sake, it’s a toy. It’s not going to bite you! Well, unless you want it to…”
She smiles mischievously and I give up the ghost with an aggitated sigh. “Fine! Yes, it was a toy.”
She nods and asks, “Vibrator, dildo, strap-on, thigh harness…what?”
I look at her in disbelief. “Does it really matter?”
She leans back and takes a sip of her coffee. “Yep, if you want to me help you work out why it bothers you so much, it does.”
I blurt out defensively, “The toy doesn’t bother me…”
She snorts and crosses her arms over her chest and stares at me incredulously. I look to Shane who is politely pretending we don’t exist. Why aren’t more people like that? I sigh in frustration and just let it all out. “This fucking dick is God’s gift to vaginas. I’ve seen fewer moving parts on the girls in Beverly Hills! Okay?!”
She smirks and picks up her coffee, adopting a demeanor like that of a therapist. “Ah, it was a dick. So, she’s not just fulfilling the biological need to have an orgasm as a simple vibrator would imply; you’re worried she may miss certain aspects of heterosexual sex and that’s scary for you, well…because…” She waves her hands at me in a general fashion to punctuate the fact that I’m decidedly not male.
I pinch the bridge of my nose. Okay, so the type of toy does matter; that’s not the whole problem though. I look up and quietly admit, “Yes, that scares me, but more than that, it hurts that she doesn’t feel she can come to me with her sexual needs. If she needs that sort of…stimulation…well, there’s nothing a man has that a woman can’t buy and there’s nothing she needs that I’m not willing to give her, nothing. Why would she be afraid to tell me what she needs?”
Alice sets her coffee down in a huff and I palpably feel the sarcasm dripping from her words as she says, “Uh, well, I don’t know, maybe because she’s afraid you’ll take it the way you are now?”
Fuck. You know something’s wrong with the world when: one, Alice is giving you sex advice, and two, that advice actually makes sense. I stare at her for a moment before I blow out a frustrated breath and nod my head. She quirks a grin at me continues. “Look, Bette, if you think Tina wants more than you’re giving her, try giving it to her without being asked. The worst that can happen is she’ll shoot you down and you’ll have orgasms the old fashioned way. But, the best that can happen is that she loves it and feels like you knew what she needed without being told. That would earn you MAJOR brownie points.”
I look at Shane to find she’s nodding her head slowly at the paper. I throw my hands up, “Alright, you’re right. I’ll think about it; but that doesn’t fix the problem of her being scared to talk to me about important things.”
Alice sighs exasperatedly. “Um, yeah it does. You’ll show her that you’re open to new ideas without judgment, and she’ll remember that next time she needs something.”
I blink a few times to make sure that the mouth saying all these useful things is indeed attached to Alice. “Well, on that note…” Shane stands and sets her paper down before putting on her blazer. “…I’m going to meet Carmen at the lot.”
Alice and I grin coyly at Shane. “I’m not going to sleep with her…”
We both giggle and Shane squints her eyes at us. “Okay, well wish me luck with the interview. I’m sure I’ll need it.”
I wink at Shane as she walks away and I turn back to Alice to find her smirking smugly. We both laugh and shake our heads. I just hope Shane doesn’t come home one night to find it burning to the ground. Sigh. What am I going to do about Tina? It seems so hopeless… “Al, she thinks I’m angry and unfeeling.” She waves her hand at me dismissively and I continue. “Seriously Al…she doesn’t realize it, but that’s why she’s scared to move forward. I’m really not sure that it’s possible for her to think better of me…”
Alice leans forward and puts her hand on mine across the table. “Bette, think about everything you’re about to do. I mean seriously…” I think about it. After this is all over, I won’t have anything more to offer her. I’m literally giving her the world as known to Bette Porter. I smile a sad smile and look back up to Alice’s eyes. “It’ll work. Trust me.”
I blow out a cleansing breath and I do actually feel much better. I turn my hand and squeeze hers in thanks. She leans back and says, “So what do we do now that we know it’s not at her apartment?”
I smile at her, “Well, I was hoping you could get that information out of her. I’m sure it’s not at the house. I just don’t see her tucking it away in the bathroom or kitchen.”
Her eyes brighten and somehow I know I’ve made her day with this request. Alice can’t resist a good intrigue. “Don’t you worry about a thing; I’ve got all the toys necessary to make Tina scream anything I want her to.” I snort at this and then realize she actually might. We laugh. Alice swipes at her eyes and says, “Hey, didn’t you say you needed to be at the house by eight?”
I look down at my watch and I’ve got ten minutes. Fuck. I jump up from the table, grab my jacket and purse, and hurriedly make my way for the door saying, “Thanks Al,” over my shoulder.
Just before the door shuts behind me I hear a quiet, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…”
I pull up to the house just as the movers and an old pick-up truck park on the street. I get out of the car and rush to meet the movers at the door, unlocking it to grant them entry. “Okay, you can take everything guys. And there are two more rooms and a bathroom down there.” I point down the hallway. “Everything goes. It’s all packed and ready for transit.” I look at the two large, prepubescent boys and hasten to add, “Just be exceedingly careful. All of the artwork is priceless originals and the items in the boxes are extremely fragile.”
The chorused response is, “Yes ma’am,” and I watch worriedly to be sure that they follow my instructions, only to see them lift the items very gently. I breathe a sigh of relief and walk to the squat, heavyset woman with a mullet that ends in a rat tail, standing in the doorway. She’s dressed in a black, faded Van Halen tee shirt tucked into very dirty jeans and clunky boots that are caked in mud. There’s a silver travel mug in her hand and she takes a hardy sip. I look around my pristine house and consciously decide to let go. Todd said she does exceptional work; I’m going to have to trust him and by extension trust her. I don’t really have a choice if I want this done in time.
“Hey there! You must be Bette! I’m Wheezy!” She reaches her hand out to shake mine. I hesitate but accept the gesture with a cringe and then a wince as she nearly breaks my fingers with her grip. Okay Bette, pull it together. Don’t judge her. Fuck that’s hard for me. I remind myself that she’s here to help and she does good work. This will be my mantra for the duration, I’m sure.
“Hello Wheezy. It’s nice to meet you. The plans and permits are on the counter in the kitch…”
“Oh don’t worry your pretty little head about that.” She waves her arm dismissively and I have to lean back to avoid being slapped. “I called Todd last night to thank him and he emailed everything. In fact, the boys are pulling up now.”
I lean and look over her head out the door to see a large truck pull up and park on the street in front of the movers. Two large, Latino men get out and start to unload materials into neat stacks on the front lawn. I smile. She certainly seems to understand my need for urgency.
She takes a long sip of from her travel mug and says, “Mmm mmm mmm, ain’t they somethin’?” I furrow my brow in confusion and she continues. “I mean, look at the arms on Juan…” She points to the taller of the two. “…makes you hungry for a nice hot beef injection, am I right?” I can’t help but gape at her like I would someone who’s wearing a helmet and licking the windows. She’s joking right? I mean she practically screams dyke…I’m so very confused…“Well, anyway, we’re going to get started. We didn’t set a figure, but now that I’ve seen the plans, I think…”
I put my hand up and reach into my purse to retrieve the check. I hand it to her and she eyes it with shrewd disappointment. “Todd told me what was reasonable for the timeframe and labor, and I’ve already paid for the materials. This is half. You’ll get the other half when you finish.”
She tucks the check into her back pocket and eyes me in exactly the same shrewd manner as she takes another long pull from her travel mug. After a long moment of nervous tension passes, she lets out a rumbling giggle. It’s even more frightening in person. She slaps me so hard on the arm that I nearly fall over and then turns to walk out to help with the heavy lifting, only to slap Juan on the ass. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding and roll my shoulder to relieve the stinging throb. This is going to be a rough couple of months, literally.