“Hey, baby sis!” I look up from Chance’s wide brown eyes to see Kit come walking through the patio doors with Angie in her arms. She sits at the end of the chaise lounge, settling Angie next to her and smiles at me as she rests her hand on my shin, shaking my leg a little bit. “How ya holdin’ up?”
I smile sadly at her. It’s been a week, a very long, bittersweet week. So much has been so right, so perfect, and yet so much is still so very wrong. Each good moment has waiting heartache looming in the shadows. How can I explain the nightmares? How do I explain just how terrible this trial is going to be? I can’t. “I’m… you know… I’m overwhelmed but I’m keeping preoccupied.” I look back down to Chance and smile overdramatically at him. Whenever the negative thoughts encroach, I always look to my wife and my kids to help wash it away. It works; it’s just a momentary fix.
I look up into Kit’s disbelieving eyes and exhale in frustration. “You really want to know?” She nods her head. “Angie, will you go help Mama T, please?” My daughter looks up to me and rolls her eyes before Kit helps her down. She disappears into the house and I look back to Kit.
Kit looks at me and says, “Why’d you do that? Tina’s with Rory in the living ro–”
I interrupt her. “Kit…” She looks to me and I feel a flush of frustrated anger well up in my throat. “What did you want me to do, have my daughter hear me tell you that this trial is going to delve into a fucked up past I’ve worked very hard to set right; I’m going to be ‘exposed’ as a manipulative pervert and sexual deviant before the whole country; I’m fucking terrified that at best my children will get teased for having a killer for a mother and at worst I’m going to spend the rest of my life in jail where they’ll grow up without me; and, I’m having night terrors that make me sick? I mean, fuck, Kit… if you want to know how I’m really feeling then my three-year-old shouldn’t be present.”
She holds her hands up in surrender. “Okay, I’m sorry. I get it. I guess I didn’t realize just how bad things were.” I eye her like she’s off her meds. “Bette, I don’t know what you’re goin’ through here.”
I gaze down at Chance to get my bearings. His eyes are fluttering closed and feel a little lighter, humbled by his innocent trust. “Kit, I wait and make the most of the time I have, hoping that this won’t be it. But I’m… tormented…”
I hear her exhale. “Baby sis, do you remember that night when I showed up at your house out of my mind and sicker than a dog?”
I nod my head. That’s one of the worst memories I have. “How could I forget? You begged me not to call for help. God, Kit, I was so scared you were going to die.”
She nods her head. “I would have if you hadn’t called that ambulance.”
I take Chance’s hand and play with his perfect fingers. “You were so angry at me for calling that ambulance.”
“I was stupid. I didn’t want to get caught, but I did.” She snorts. “Boy, did I ever.” She looks to me and smiles. “Did I ever tell you that that night is what started my road to recovery?” I furrow my brows at her incredulously and she nods her head. “They put me in one of those junkie detention centers and forced me to get sober. When I got out, I still had issues with alcohol, obviously… but I haven’t touched another drug since.”
Tears gather in her eyes and she strokes my shin, her voice low and tremulous as she says, “You saved my life and you gave me a glimpse at a future that night, Bette. I never thanked you, so thank you.” Tears gather in my eyes as well and I gaze at my sister, my whole, healthy sister. She shakes my leg gently. “You… are a strong, beautiful woman, Bette, inside and out. Even at your worst, you weren’t malicious. You don’t enjoy hurting people, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. We all have our pasts, but they don’t own our future, even if they do sometimes push us off course or make us do things we’re not proud of. You’ve overcome yours; you may just have to keep overcoming it.” She reaches into her jacket pocket and pulls out a bronze chip, the number ‘5’ embossed on the surface. “I overcome mine every single day, and you helped me do that. If you can do it for me… well.”
She strokes the surface and stands. She comes up to me and Chance and strokes his unruly hair. “Your reminder is way better than mine.”
I laugh through my tears and take her hand. “Thank you, Kit. I just wish I could accept what you’re saying. I know it, but it’s just not…”
“You’ll get there. I have faith in you.” She leans down and kisses my forehead, clearing her throat as she pulls away. “Well, I better get back to the Planet. I brought lunch. It’s probably cold now, but it’s there when you’re ready.”
I squeeze her hand and she returns the gesture as she disappears through the patio doors. I look back down to my sleeping son and lift him to kiss his dark blond hair. “Your Mama B loves you so much, Chance.” I close my eyes and shut my mind off, allowing this tiny, perfect person in my arms to fill up my heart, for the moment at least.
Tina comes out of the bathroom in her pajamas, her hair clipped back as she rubs moisturizer onto her face. She sits on the bed beside me and I watch as she continues to smooth the lotion into her beautifully burnished skin. I can’t help but reach out to run my finger along an exposed forearm. She turns and meets my eyes, grinning as she leans in to kiss me gently. The kiss is open and sweet and quickly starts to become heated.
She pulls back and smiles against my lips, and I groan. “Soon, babe, but not just yet.” I reach down and gently scratch at the incision. It’s been itching fiercely. Tina slaps my hand and I glare at her. “Leave it alone. It’s healing. Ming will have your head if you mess it up now, and so will I.”
We have a short stand-off and I win of course. She’s the first to laugh. She leans in and kisses me again, stroking my face as she leans back and gazes into my eyes. I can see the deep worry in the glassy orbs and I have to admit, I feel the worry deep in my heart also. I’m scared to go to sleep, and she’s scared for me. I have no idea how to make these nightmares stop and she reads this on my face. “Would you consider going to see Dan?”
I sigh. The last time I refused help and tried to process on my own it just made matters worse. Right now, I have to get through this and fast if I’m going to have the emotional fortitude required to get through this fight alive, let alone come out of the other side with a future. I reach up and stroke her cheek, resigned to the fact that I need help. “I’ll set an appointment and go after my next meeting with Joyce.”
She kisses me again and hugs me tightly. “Thank you, babe. Thank you for trying.”
She pulls back and strokes the haphazard curls from my eyes and I smile sadly at her. “So how did your first meeting with Whit go?”
She exhales heavily. “I nearly lost it on him. I swear it’s an hour of getting pushed and harassed to the brink of hostility.” I gaze at her knowingly. I was ready to disembowel Joyce by the time our hour was up. “But, I’m glad that they’re preparing us. At least we won’t be blindsided when we get up there.”
I reach down and scratch at my incision and she slaps at my hand. I squint my eyes at her and she raises and eyebrow at me. Another short stand-off ensues but it’s a loss this time. She’s utterly serious about my health. She nods her head smugly and smiles as she switches off the lamp and crawls under the covers next to me, taking me in her arms. I tuck my head under chin and she plays with my hair for a while before her breathing starts to even out and her hand goes still.
My heavy eyes start to close but I catch them at the last moment, blinking them back open. I blow out a heavy breath, knowing that I can’t stay awake forever, but if I can put it off a little longer, enjoy the peace of her just a moment longer… My eyes flutter closed and I blink them open again, reaching up to rub at them. Tina’s sleepy voice says, “It’s okay, babe. I’m here. I’ll stay awake until you fall asleep if you want.”
I sigh. “Sorry, T. No, I’m fine. I just need some water. Go back to sleep.” She kisses my forehead and I pull out of her embrace, standing wearily from the bed, walking to the door, and shutting it quietly behind me. I walk slowly down the hall and notice that the bathroom light is on, the light shining out from under the closed door. “Angie, you up, babycakes?”
I reach my hand forward and grab the knob, turning it but it’s locked from within. “Angie, are you in there?” Small whimpers come from the other side and I furrow my brows as I jiggle the handle. “Angie, let me in, sweetie. Come on, unlock the door.”
The whimpers stop for a moment before a shrill scream sounds from behind the door. I instantly start to panic and jiggle the handle harder. There’s a rush of super intense heat as the edges of the door burst into flames and the handle glows red as it blisters my hand. I yank away, hitting hard against the wall behind me, the odor of scorched flesh tickling my nose as I lift a foot and start to kick at the door as hard as I can. “Angie, if you can hear me stand back, baby! Mama B’s coming!”
I kick again, and again, harder and harder each time. “TINA! FIRE!” I keep kicking and shouting until the door finally cracks and I hurl myself at it, bursting into the room and falling hard on my face against the destroyed door. I stumble to my feet and look around the master bedroom, the sight of two women on my bed tussling. It takes a moment before I realize it’s me and Tina, the night after Provocations. I’m on top of her, running my hand down her exposed chest and under her hip.
I stumble back in confused panic, and clutch at my chest. I can’t catch my breath and my heart feels like it’s being squeezed in a vice. Tina starts to cry out, flailing her legs and arms in desperation and I choke down the bile rising up in my throat. She gets onto her back and pushes me off of her. I go tumbling from the bed and land hard on the floor. I look down at the mirror image on myself at my feet as she starts to turn over and sit up. She looks up at me and I start to feel lightheaded. “Candace…”
She gets to her feet and pulls a gun from seemingly nowhere, aiming it at Tina on the bed. Tina looks her straight in the eye and shouts, “DO IT!” She points to me. “She already destroyed everything that meant anything to me!” Candace hesitates for a moment and drops the gun just a bit to stare at Tina incredulously. “DO IT!”
Candace raises the gun again and the bellow that tries to escape my breathless lungs is a raspy whisper at best as I reach forward and yank the gun hard from her hands. She tries to fight but I push her off and stumble to the area between me and Tina, turning to stare at Candace. Hatred and anger well in my veins and I start to shake with the intensity of it. Candace holds her hands out at her sides and smiles smugly. “You can’t do it can you? No matter what I do to you, your family, you just don’t have the–”
The recoil of the gun sends a jolt of pain through my blistered hand and I gaze at her face, watching the light snuff out in her eyes with a small puff of smoke as blood starts to drip from the hole in the center of her forehead. She reaches forward, taking a single step before falling face first to the floor and revealing the gaping hole in the back of her head. I turn to Tina who’s still on the bed, gazing at her sadly as I lift the gun to my temple and pull the trigger.
My eyes snap open and I feel Tina stroking the moist hair from my forehead. Her voice is worried and warm as she inquires, “That was a bad one, wasn’t it?”
I swallow hard and nod my head before clinging to her desperately, the tears coming in a haggard torrent. I can barely speak, but the words fall from my roughened voice. “I’m… so sorry… T…”
“Shh… Bette, you have nothing to be sorry for. You did what you had to do, that’s all.” I feel her start to cry with me before she kisses my hair. “You didn’t do anything wrong, baby. I love you, and I’m so sorry you’re going through this.”
It takes long moments but I start to calm down. “I’ll call Dan tomorrow.”
She nods her head and kisses me again. “We’re going to get you some help, Bette. It’s going to be okay.” I cling to her words just as hard as I cling to her. I have to get better. I don’t know if I can do this much longer. Two weeks has been more than enough.