The van pulls up in front of Valentino’s estate and I don’t even wait until it’s come to a stop before I’m stumbling out of it. The front door is open and I see Tina and Kit standing there, Tina has tears in her eyes. We gaze at each other for a long moment and I feel tears well in my own eyes as I start to run up to her. She meets me halfway down the steps and I take her in my arms. It’s impossible not to crush her, the comfort of her warm and alive and willingly in my arms is just too much. She squeezes me back just as desperately and I bury my face into the hair at her neck. God how I’ve needed even a little bit of this comfort all day.
Carmen and Shane step up behind us as the van pulls away but I’m not letting her go, not yet. I meet Shane’s eyes and she tilts her head back knowingly as she says, “I’ll call Helena and Dylan. Come inside when you’re ready.” I smile a watery smile of thanks at her as she ushers everyone, even the reluctant Alice, into the house. Valentino smiles at me from the door before turning to Ricky. They walk in and shut the door behind them.
I close my eyes and breathe deeply of her lavender scent and relish this quiet moment in a day wrought with hell. I’m not sure how long we stay this way but I don’t care. I’m just not ready to relinquish her. I feel her full warm lips kiss my neck, then ear, then jaw, then mouth. I must taste terrible but she doesn’t seem to care. I kiss her back with desperate intensity. It’s not fevered or lustful, but comfortingly punctuating the fact that it’s real and it’s happening, that we’re here, that we’ve finally found one another.
This thought confuses me for a moment. She doesn’t want to get married. She cancelled it, but she still loves me. She must. Her tight grip and desperate kisses can’t be a lie. The tears fall from my eyes and she pulls back. The same watery trails are glistening on her alabaster face. If I have nothing else of her, I know that she loves me. I believe in it, believe in her. If she’s not ready, if she’s never really ready, I still get to have her on some level.
She finally breaks the silence. “Bette…I’ve been so worried! I’m so sorry that I left like that…I was just…” I furrow my brows at her and lean back, raising my hand to stroke her face and stop her.
Something isn’t right here, but I don’t know what it is; I can’t remember anything. We need to have a long talk. I look around me. I’m so weary, but this won’t wait. “T, let’s go sit down by the beach and talk. Something’s…not right here…”
She eyes me curiously. “What do you mean?” Fresh tears shine in her eyes again as recognition lights her face. “Bette, it’s okay that you’re not ready to get married. I’m not mad at you…” The sincerity in her voice and her eyes is undeniable and she drops her gaze as she plays with my fingers.
I’m a little slow after the day I’ve just had, so it takes a moment for what she just said to register. “What?!” She looks back up to me startled. My eyes are wide with incredulity. “I didn’t cancel the wedding! I thought you did…” She raises her eyebrow in shock and I don’t hesitate to reach up and touch it in wonder. She didn’t do it. Then who…CANDACE! I close my eyes and feel the bile rise in my throat. I hope Ramone gives her something very special to remember me by…
Tina’s been watching my face this whole time and she reaches up to stroke my cheek. “What? I open my eyes and gaze on her beautiful face. “What is it…?”
I let out a deep breath. “Candace…” Her eyes glaze over in pain for a moment and she nods her head in understanding. Candace cancelled everything last minute. That fucking cunt. When I fuck up, I fuck up well. I’m Bette fucking Porter, go big or go home.
I stroke down her left arm and take her hand in mine, pulling her around the manor towards the ocean. She comes with me without a word or hesitation and even the tiny insignificant trust of the action speaks volumes to my heart.
We stride down to the edge water and find a log situated about four hundred feet on the shore. I smile at her and sit in the sand against the log, spreading my legs and pulling her down between them. She returns my smile as she scoots her back up against my chest and I wrap my arms around her, pressing my face in the hair at her neck. I think that is my most favorite place on earth. The solid feel of her pressed against me as she entwines our fingers and turns her face into me is a balm for my weariness. I feel a flush of strength and surety run through me, breathe new life into me, and I know it’s entirely because of her. I loathe talking this out right now, but it’s just too important to put off any longer.
“T?” I feel a contented hum of question and smile into her hair. “What happened at the club?” She turns and looks at me curiously. “I…none of us…remember anything past the drums.” Her eyes go wide in disbelief. “I’m serious. We woke up in jail and had no idea why.”
She takes a deep breath and I feel some of the strength she’s lending me return to her. “We were having an incredible time, but you drank too much…” She looks at me playfully disapproving before smiling and continuing. “…I stopped when we got to the club, but the alcohol finally caught up to you. You got sick, so I took you into the bathroom and took care of you while you…” She smiles at me again. “…you know.” I smile back and shake my head. “Anyway, someone opened the stall door and when I looked up it was Candace…” I squeeze her to let her know it’s okay and she readjusts her grasp on my hand more firmly.
“I…I was shocked…but decided to just ignore her. I stroked your back and held your hair and finally you seemed to be done. She didn’t want to be ignored, so she started saying how you’ll just hurt me and use me again, that you did the same thing to her, that she’s not my enemy, you are.” I close my eyes and she squeezes my hand. “I know…with all that I am that, that’s just not true.” I open my eyes to see her gazing deeply into my own, the conviction of her words like a ray of light breaking through dark and menacing clouds. I stand in it, bask in it. “You leaned back against the wall and I thought you were going to pass out. She pulled out her phone and started to play something. At first, I didn’t listen to it…but then…well…”
I squeeze her to stop her. “You don’t have to say what it was. I heard it.” She furrows her brows at me. “I’ll explain everything on my end once you’re done.”
She nods her head sadly and sighs as she continues. “Well, when I realized what it was, I just felt…angry, so angry. You started to come around and I saw you look at her, and your face…I’ve never you that angry. I think that’s what pushed me over the edge, she was hurting you. So…I hit her, as hard as I could, and it felt…so, so good.”
We both chuckle at this and I kiss her just below her ear. “You have no idea how much I wish I could remember that.”
I squeeze her to encourage her to continue. “Honestly, it’s not the high point of my life. She ran and I chased her and…sort of…tackled her…on the dance floor…and we took a bunch of people with us.” I chuckle again but she doesn’t chuckle with me and I gaze at her seriously. “I stood up and realized what I was doing, but by that time, you and everyone else had arrived, and all the other people got involved.” She meets my eyes. “Honestly, I felt bad. I felt bad for hurting her. She may be demented, but she’s just been hurt, and she’s angry. I understand how she feels, just not how she’s reacting to those feelings.”
I close my eyes against the tears that well there. She’s right, like usual. I hurt Candace and she may be acting crazy, but I started this. I feel Tina turn in my arms and a small, warm hand stroke my face. I open my eyes and gaze into her compassionate ones. She smiles at me. “I know you…to your very core…and I know babe, I know you wish you could undo it, but you can’t. I believe in you though, in us. That’s the one good thing that’s come from this.”
I furrow my brows at her. “I was hurt and angry, and yes, some of that was at you, so I left and went back to the hotel. I even forgot my purse at the club.” She settles herself fully on her knees in front of me. “I sat there, alone, considering if I could really be with you. I mean, even after everything I’ve seen, after everything you’ve done, Candace could still knock away all of my faith with a simple photo, or recording, or any number of useless, innocuous drivel at her disposal. But I realized…” She looks at me and her smile is so peacefully hopeful that I can’t help but return it. “It’s like that song in the core video that you made for me, ‘With a whisper, we will tame the vicious scenes, like a feather, bringing kingdoms to their knees.’” Her smile turns impossibly brighter and her glassy eyes are clear and honest. “I finally realized, that this time, even just an hour later, my faith in you is stronger than anything she could ever show me…”
I smile through my tears and reach out to run my fingers through the silken spun gold lighting her face like a halo. “I fell asleep, and when I woke up late this afternoon and realized you weren’t there, I tried to call you. That’s when I realized I left my purse at the club. So I used the room phone, but you didn’t answer. I tried three times, but still no answer and I couldn’t remember anyone else’s number.”
I smile impishly at her. “We were all in jail…”
She looks at me with her eyebrow raised and says, “I know…” I eye her curiously and she continues. “When I couldn’t reach you, I called the club to see if they had my purse. They didn’t, but they told me that everything was such a mess last night, that they still hadn’t even fully cleaned up. They said bunch of people got arrested. So I called the police and they confirmed that you were all there. So, I went to Kit’s room and told her what was going on. She had money and we took a cab to the station only to find that you guys were gone already.”
I grimace. “What time was it?”
She thinks for a moment. “Around two fifteen…I think…” I close my eyes. She was right fucking there while we were in the diner. “So, I told them about my purse and they helped me file a report while they let me use the phone to call on all our credit cards and let them know. I called you again first, and a man answered your phone and screamed, ‘The bitch who owns this phone can’t take your fucking calls anymore,’ and then hung up.”
She raises her eyebrow and we both laugh. “We were mugged. That must have been him.” She face falls in horror and I smile reassuringly as I hasten to continue. “It’s okay, that’s not even the worst of it. He held up a convenience store twenty minutes later but Sargent Duffy came in for coffee and foiled his master plan. We got our stuff back.” Her eyes are wide with disbelief and I can’t help but laugh. “It’s okay T. Now come on, what happened next?”
She takes a deep breath. “It took about four hours to do everything. They’re pretty slow.” We both laugh at this and I nod my head in vehement agreement. “When I called Amex, they told me that there was a charge for a place called The Rowdy Beaver…” We both laugh at this. “And, someone had just swiped the card at a Holiday Inn. They put a hold on all the charges and I told the policemen. They were going to go and see if she was still there and just be done with this. Kit and I went with them to get her. She was there, they arrested her, and I got my purse back.” We smile brightly at each other but then she lowers her head as something more occurs to her. “Amex also said that there was a credit posting from Southampton Inn. I thought that you had cancelled the wedding.”
I lean forward and take her face in my hands as I place a sweet, chastely devoted kiss on her lips and whisper, “Never…”
She grabs my hands and kisses my palms in tandem, holding my them in her lap. “Good…because, I was devastated.” The tears well in her eyes and I pick up her hands, kissing them reverently to reassure her. “But it was Candace.” She tilts her head thoughtfully and smiles through her tears. “It’s strange, but I’m glad it was her.”
She smiles and I smile back at her as I run my hand down her cheek, caressing it with my thumb. “Me too…”
She stares at our hands as she plays with my fingers. “So…you still want to get married tomorrow?”
I take my hand from hers and raise her chin, looking her squarely in the eyes. “If you’ll have me, I’ll go through hell itself to get to that alter…” I smile. “In fact, I think I already have…”
She smiles sadly through her tears and kisses my hand. “Everything’s cancelled…”
I smile my own watery smile and gaze at the setting around us. The sun is almost completely submerged in the ocean. It’s private, it’s beautiful, and it’s worthy of Tina. She watches my face and when I return to her gaze, she smiles radiantly. “I think I know a guy…” She laughs and I close my eyes to absorb the beauty of it. It’s revitalizing and I chuckle. I reopen my eyes to see hers are closed, only to flutter open and gaze at me. “Tomorrow then?”
She smiles a beatific smile. “Tomorrow…”
I blow out a relieved breath and grin. “So, what happened when they arrested your thief?”
She kisses my hand and holds it over her heart. “I got my stuff back and I had the police drop us at Valentino’s. I turned my cell on, and called you, only this time you answered.” She smiles and raises that eyebrow. “And here we are…” I smile back at her and lean in for another kiss. She returns it sweetly and gazes into my eyes. “So…what happened to you after the police station?”
I laugh a fully and hardy guffaw and she laughs with me. Once I’ve collected myself, I release a weary breath and say, “Well, we went into the diner across the street…”