I look up from my newest copy of art ltd to see Shane walking through the back gate. For a moment, the familiarity of it is a little startling. Ever since we got back from the hospital, Shane’s been a constant source of strength and support for over a month now. How and why I pushed her and the others away is still a constant source of shame for me. It’s just something more to add to the list of wrongs I need to right. The fact that she’s been so gracious in forgiving me without questions or hesitation is mind blowing. I have missed her company more than I can say, I’ve missed them all, but I know that re-assimilating back into the group won’t be easy, especially for Alice. I know that it is going to take a lot of convincing, and groveling, in order for her to accept me back into her good graces.
There’s also the added awkwardness of seeing Tina. I long to see her, to know her again, but given how we left things, I just don’t know how it will be. Will we become friends? I shudder at the thought. We’re not friends. She’s my wife…Tina…my life…sigh. Will everything feel disjointed when we’re in the others presence? The last thing I want to do is cause the group to suffer, or Tina for that matter. Or, will we have shared custody? That might be the only way this will work, but having people essentially pick a side will only further fuck up an already fucked up situation. No matter how it pans out, I am committed to doing whatever it takes to get my family back. Most importantly, I just have to accept that I can’t control the situation. The best I can do is tossing the chips, and let them land where they may.
”Hey Shane. What are you doing up this early?” She gives me a coy glance and crooked smile and all I can do is shake my head and answer with a smile of my own. Some things never change.
”Actually, I’m going to have a shower and head over to the Planet. You should come with…”
We’ve had this same discussion for a couple of weeks now, and it never ends any differently. She thinks it’s time to end the distance but I’m too much of a chicken shit to face them. Sigh. I set the magazine on the chaise and stand up, running my hand through my hair. After a bit of pacing, I look up to see Shane leaning against the side of the house, head tilted forward in that anxious way of hers, and smirking at my internal debate. Fuck you Yoda.
”Fuck you Yoda.”
At this she laughs. Standing up fully, she walks up closer to me. Hands in her jean pockets, she waits, again, staring at me like she can hear my very thoughts. I open my mouth to begin my usual list of why it’s not a good idea, but she puts her hands up and stops me before I can even start. ”Fine, fine…suit yourself…” She turns away to head back to her house. As she walks, she turns her head over her shoulder and mockingly adds, ”But that’s all horseshit and you know it. The Bette I knew, the Bette you are, wouldn’t run from anything in her life.”
Well fuck. ”Shane?”
She stops and turns with her most innocent expression firmly planted in place, bows a bit, and drawls out, ”Yes?”
”Be ready in half an hour. I’m driving.” Nodding her head once, and smiling her most winning smile, she jogs up the stairs, disappearing through the door.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck! I go inside and head to the bedroom, only to collapse on the bed and have a small panic attack. Fuck! Okay, don’t suppress your emotions, control them. There’s a difference. Yeah right, thanks for that Dan. It’s okay to be scared and unable to control the situation. I have no control over how this goes. And that’s okay. Just go with it. Taking a deep calming breath, I open my eyes and grab ahold of my resolve. Getting up, I go to the closet, and decide to make a hell of an entrance.
The ride to the Planet is progressing as smoothly as expected for Hollywood. It’s taking a bit longer than usual due to road construction and your general idiot asshole with road rage. Welcome to WeHo. Shane is still staring at me, with the same flummoxed look on her face from twenty minutes ago, and I can’t help but glance in her direction every so often with a serenely innocent look on my face. So I opted for casual, sue me. Truth be told, my insides are in knots but that has nothing to do with my attire. I’m glad I chose a white spaghetti string tank top and my favorite faded Levis. I think the most disconcerting items for her are the simple flip flops. The levity of Shane’s reaction is helping to calm me.
Turning again to face her at yet another forced stop, I just smile and pat her on the knee before the honking behind me forces my gaze forward. After another five minutes of this behavior, I look over at her again and can’t help the deep guffaw at her continued puzzlement. She starts laughing as well and finally says, ”Bette, don’t get me wrong, you look great, but what gives?” She waves her hand towards me in a general manner.
”I’m just letting my hair down a little. Besides, I’m trying to learn to just go with the flow, dressing the part will only help to perpetuate my new outlook.”
Her face instantly melts into a brilliant smile. ”Well, I know it doesn’t mean much, but I’m proud of you. You’ve made an enormous effort in the last six weeks, and an enormous amount of progress as well. I think it’s pretty awesome.”
Fighting what seem to be ever present tears, I just absorb the compliment with a brilliant smile of my own. ”I don’t know why you think that doesn’t mean much, but it truly does Shane. You have been a huge help to me, more than that, you’ve been nothing short of family. It means the world to me, truly.”
Flashing a coy smile over her shoulder, she tilts her head and says, ”Why Bette! That was a truly beautiful and heartfelt sentiment. Thanks mom.”
Slapping her arm in outrage, I squawk, ”Hey! I’m not that old…you little shit. I’ll show you mom. You’re not too old to take over my knee you know.” I pull into a space in the back next to Kit’s Cadillac and put the car in park.
Rubbing her arm in an overdramatic fashion, Shane waits until I look over at her before winking and saying, ”Don’t threaten me with a good time.”
All I can do is shake my head. ”Come on, you tramp. I’ve got a serious fucking mess to clean up in there. If Tina doesn’t kill me, Alice might.” I step out and shut the door, grabbing my purse out of the back before walking around to catch up with Shane.
Just as we get to the back entrance, she grabs my arm, pulling me to a stop. I furrow my brow at her questioningly as she says, ”It’ll be okay Bette. You’ll see.” Shaking my arm a little, she smiles and pushes me towards the door.
I walk in and immediately spy Kit in her office going through invoices. Steeling myself, I square my shoulders, readjust my purse, and knock on the doorframe. ”Hey, the bathroom is out of paper towels.”
Kit looks up and the shocked expression on her face nearly breaks my heart. She and I had come a long way in the last year before my extreme isolation. Just when I was starting to enjoy having a sober older sister, I was the one who went off the rails. The shocked expression stays firmly in place, but becomes happy surprise as well. Standing up and sputtering a bit, she finally utters, ”Baby sis?! Uh…I…well…get in here and give me a hug!”
With a watery grin, I walk into her open arms and hug her for all I’m worth. ”God, I missed you girl. We all have…”
She steps back and holds me at arms-length, giving me the once over. ”Well, look at you! You look happier and healthier than I’ve seen you in a while. I’m so, so glad you’re here.” She swipes at the tears looming in her eyes before looking over to Shane who is still outside the doorway.
Shane just smiles and says, ”I’ll let you two catch up.” Looking to me, she continues, ”Come join us when you’re ready.”
I put my arm around Kit’s shoulders. ”Okay, we’ll be out soon.”
As Shane walks away, Kit turns to me and grabs my hands. Shaking them a little in excitement, she leads me over to the couch and we sit facing each other. Adopting her ever knowing look, she says, ”Mmm Hmm, now spill.”
With a deep breath, I spill. ”I realized some things about myself that I don’t like and I’m working to change them.”
”Mmm hmm, and…”
Another deep sigh, ”I finally allowed myself to work through some of my problems and it’s been hard, but I’m feeling much better.”
”Mmm hmm, and…”
Throwing my hands up in surrender, I finally actually spill. ”I finally grieved, really grieved, for everything I’ve been through and everything I’ve done. I want to make amends, if that’s possible.”
”Well, it’s about damn time. I wanted so badly to be there for you this last year, to help you, but you just wouldn’t let anyone in.” Her expression becomes pained at this and my remorse is back ten-fold.
”I know. I’m so sorry Kit. I just couldn’t do it. It was just too much. I hope…you can forgive me?” I’ve never been truly hopeful of anything great from people, but I’ve always expected too much of them. It’s an insane dichotomy. For a while there, I thought it safer to always expect or assume the worst because then you can’t be disappointed. But, now, looking at her face, I realize just how backwards my thinking has been. I should have been expecting the best, knowing that sometimes the best people can do is the worst. We’re all just human and incredibly flawed.
”Are you kiddin’ me? Girl, you know me better than that. Of course I forgive you. You’re my baby sis. Good or bad, I love you no matter what.” The sincerity in her voice and the hug that follow can’t have come at a better time. Knowing that even if some can’t forgive, it will still be okay, is exactly what is going to get me through this day. I can’t control everything that might happen in this endeavor, but even if I am helpless to improve any part of it, the failure is not in the trying.
Breaking the hug, Kit grabs my hand and stands, pulling me with her. With a big sigh, she gives me a serious and matter-of-fact expression. ”Well come on. I’ll get you some breakfast. You’ve got a big day ahead of you and I’m gonna make sure you get the best start possible. I don’t envy you right now, but I’m in your corner, and you’re gonna need all the help you can get. Mmm hmm.”
Walking out behind Kit, I decide to step into the bathroom and take a moment to settle my nerves. I reach the door as Kit disappears around the corner and can’t help but take tally of what I’m about to face. Everyone is here: Shane, Alice, who’s very close and comfortable with Dana – that’s new, Helena fucking Peabody?, and Tina…who’s very close and comfortable with a dark haired woman wearing a bandana. Tina’s head starts to turn my way, so I quickly go into the bathroom seeking asylum.
Fuck. Okay, you knew this was a possibility. Tina did mention a woman named Sam and quickly avoided further discussion on the topic. That must be her. I turn on the cold water, close my eyes, and splash a bit in my face. Grabbing a paper towel, I turn off the tap and dry off. Okay, deep breath. You can’t control this situation, you can’t control Tina. As much as you’d like to storm in there and tell that bitch to get her hands off of her, that wouldn’t be fair. You didn’t lose Tina, you as much as gave her away. Just go with the fucking flow.
Looking in the mirror and noticing the extreme panic in my eyes, I will the emotion to take a backseat by reminding myself that Shane and Kit are on my side. A third of the battle is already won, and no matter what, the war is already mine. Somehow, somewhere inside me I find the will to smile a genuine smile just as the door to the bathroom opens and Tina walks in.
Oh for fuck’s sake, thank God I was ready. Tina stands rigid at the door and crosses her arms over her chest. I look at her disapproving face and manage, somehow, to cling to the new laid back me. I pretend to wash my hands and maintain the smile I found just as she walked in. I can do this.
”Hey T. It’s good to see you ag…”
”Bette, what the fuck are you doing here?”
Okay, that was abrupt, and the seething hatred in her voice is promising. ”I’m not sure what you mean. I…”
”I thought I made it pretty damn clear that I didn’t want to see you again during our last conversation.”
Okay, let’s try this again. Turning and leaning against the counter, I get two whole words out, ”Well, T…”
”Stop calling me that. I’m not your ’T’ anymore. We’re not friends, and we’re sure as hell not partners. You don’t have the right to be so familiar with me.” I raise my eyebrow at her and wait patiently, hoping she’ll make it blatantly clear with her silence if she actually expects me to participate in this conversation, and I use that term loosely, or just get everything out so I can get, what I hope, is the hardest part of this day over with.
The silence is long and awkward. Assuming that she is finished, I try once again. ”T…ina…, I’m sorry if there was a misunderstanding. If you don’t want to see me, that’s perfectly fine, and I completely understand. I’m not here to mess anything up for you or hurt you…”
She snorts before mumbling what sounds like, ’That’s a first.’
I’m at a loss for what to do or say, not that words will matter. But, if I can’t at least try to soothe the situation, there’s truly nothing I can do. It’s completely out of my control. For some reason, the irony of this thought is genuinely funny to me and like an old shoe that slips on perfectly, I do what I’m best at: the worst fucking possible thing given the situation. I laugh, and it’s a full, hearty guffaw at that. It shocks her into silence though, so I cover my mouth and take the opportunity to choke out a few more words as best I can.
”T…Tina, I’m sorry.” Placing my hand to my throat, I try to clear it. ”Ahem. Okay, you’re very upset with me and I don’t expect anything less, but, like I’m discovering with most things, it’s beyond my control and the sheer irony of that is funny to me.” I laugh again, and for a moment, I think she’s going to laugh as well, but she suppresses it quickly.
”As I was saying, it’s beyond my control. So please, be as angry as you need to be, say whatever you need to say, I don’t delude myself into thinking there is anything I can do about it. However, what I can do is let you know about what I do have control over, and that’s me. I don’t wish to cause any harm. I just want my friends back, my family. I’m here to try to make amends, if that’s possible. What that means between us, I have no idea. You hold all the cards in that arena. If you’re able, I ask you to forgive me and help make this as easy as possible for both of us. If you’re not able, then we just have to reach some sort of agreement that’s amenable to all involved. I will not, in any way, accept the thought of staying away from anyone who wants me around just to please someone else.”
The look on her face is heart breaking, so, like the masochist I am, I try to reach out to her again. I step forward and reach my hand out to touch her. She goes stalk still, the stance a stark warning. I let my arm drop to my side and lower my head as I speak. ”T…Tina, you know how sorry I am for everything that happened. You know that I don’t think being sorry can change anything. Is there nothing I can do to make any part of the pain I’ve caused you better in the slightest degree?” There’s a pregnant pause as I center myself and raise my eyes to convey the sincerity in my words. ”Nothing at all?”
She un-tucks her arms and presses her hands to her temples, pacing a few steps in front of the door. She finally stops and looks up at me with a very defiant expression and says, ”You can…stay away.” As the last of this is uttered, her expression becomes pleading. ”Please?”
Fuck. My heart jumps into my throat and stops. This is Tina, my Tina, my T, and I have to refuse the only request she’s made of me to help set right some of the pain I’ve caused her. I have to refuse, not just because I need my family back, but because keeping me away won’t help anything, not in the long run. If she can’t forgive me, she’ll never be herself again, and I refuse to leave her as the person she is now, cold, angry, and untrusting, the person I helped to create. All of this is my fault, and my responsibility.
With a resigned sigh I look into her eyes and will her to see the regret and remorse that I feel for what I’ve done and what I’m about to do. ”I’m sorry Tina, I just can’t do that. I’m…I’m sorry…so sorry.”
The disgust on her face is palpable and heart rending. She shakes her head and breathes out a tired and disbelieving laugh as she opens the door and walks away.
Throwing my used paper towel into the waste basket, I decide that there’s no need to delay the inevitable, and follow her at a short distance. My arrival at the table is met with silence and shocked stares. One in particular quickly diverts her eyes and settles back in her chair, appearing to believe that I’m not even here, if her blank look is any indication. I sigh. Come on Alice, throw me a bone here. Tina walks to the brunette at the end of the table, leans down, caresses her shoulder, and gives a short but intimate kiss before taking her seat and scooting decidedly closer. The brunette’s face shifts into a surprised, but lovesick smile as she moves her hand to Tina’s thigh, claiming her in a possessive manner.
Shane stands and walks to a neighboring table. She grabs a chair and quickly places it between herself and Dana. ”Bette, here, have a seat.” She pats the back of the chair and jerks her head, letting me know in one subtle move that I am welcome and it will be okay, before taking her own seat. As usual, Shane saves the moment. Thank God for Shane.
I walk to the chair and have a seat just as Kit shows up, placing my usual croissant and vanilla soy latte in front of me. ”Here you go baby sis.” She smiles and pats me on the shoulder, pausing a moment to catch Alice’s attention and give her a reprimanding look. Alice just rolls her eyes and picks up her smoothie before settling back, again willing me to disappear with her indifference.
The silence at the table is deafening, some unwilling to address me and others just not sure what to say. Kit puts her hands on her hips and in her usual blunt manner, addresses the elephant in the room. ”Come on now! This is ridiculous! You’re a family, you love each other! Start acting like it!” With a disgusted snort, she throws her hands up and starts walking back to the counter mumbling ’the day just wouldn’t be complete without some silly ass dyke drama.’
There are several long minutes of silence so I eat some of the croissant. There’s so much to say. Where do I start? I finally decide that it’s best to start by introducing myself to Sam and Helena. Maybe if I can make it clear that I won’t slaughter Tina’s girlfriend from the start, the biggest point of discomfort will go away. And being acquainted with everyone will level the playing field a bit. Deciding to start with the safer option, I look to Helena across from me and go into full art mogul mode.
”Helena, we’ve never met but I’m Bette Porter, owner of the Bette Porter Gallery. I know your mother. Your family has a stellar reputation in the art industry. It’s truly an honor to finally make your acquaintance.” I let my face fall into an all too familiar role as I smile warmly and reach my hand out to shake hers. She smiles back and accepts my hand graciously.
”Hello Bette. Mother speaks of you often. Your reputation precedes you as well.”
I’m not sure if I am imagining things, but while she is professional and impeccably courteous, her expression and demeanor indicate an extreme dislike for me. My reputation precedes me? That can’t be good. It’s a good thing that, at this point in time, she is the least of my worries.
Turning to the brunette, now nearly in Tina’s lap, I wait a moment for them to stop making sickly sweet moon eyes at each other. When I finally have her attention, I start again. ”Hi, Bette Porter.” I reach my hand across the table in a gesture of peace. ”I don’t believe we’ve met.”
Her eyes grow imperceptibly wider as my name finally settles in her subconscious. I can almost see the synapses connecting the dots. She refuses my hand by holding up her own and showing that it’s hard welded to Tina’s, before smiling and saying, ”I’m Sam.
That’s it. Nothing more, no ’it’s nice to meet you’, nothing.
Tina pipes in to cover her girlfriend’s poor manners, or just to satisfy the smug expression that seems to be a permanent fixture on her normally glorious face. ”Sam’s one of Helena’s DP’s, Director of Photography, at Shao Lin Studios.”
She turns back to Sam who is mirroring her smug expression. For a moment, Tina appears to roll her eyes before further accepting Sam’s attention. The instant was so small that it barely happened, but as I said before, you get to know someone very well in seven years. This is an act and I’m not falling for it. I allow myself a moment of petulant joy. Tina doesn’t love this woman. Hell, she seems to hardly tolerate her. Is this all for my benefit, hers, or Sam’s?
Helena clears her throat and I look over just in time to see her face contort in a brief display of distaste. Ah, she doesn’t like Tina’s display either. Does she just not approve of overt PDA? I’ll agree that it’s tacky, but…there’s something more. The way she’s playing with the condensation on her glass, the deep sigh, her irrational dislike of me…she wants Tina, just wonderful.
”So Bette…” I look up from Helena’s glass to see her looking at me intently, almost…worriedly. ”News around the dinner table is that you hired a successor to run your gallery about a month ago and retired. Forgive my forthrightness, but I can’t help but wonder if this is true.”
I look deep into her eyes trying to discern if she’s genuinely interested, just plain nosey, or has an ulterior motive in this line of questioning. Whatever the reason, I don’t trust her. I can only assume that her refined British accent comes in handy for covering a multitude of sharp tongued sins. ”I apologize if I was intruding…” This was said with so much fake chagrin that I can’t help but debate whether to answer her as I would a decent human or an IRS agent.
I decide that setting the record straight is the most beneficial course of action. It will also allow me the pleasure of knocking her down a peg or two. ”There is a certain amount of truth to the speculation and rumors you’ve been…hearing. I did hire someone to fill my shoes for an indefinite amount of time, but it’s not retirement. I decided to take an extended hiatus, but I still have final say in most manners. This way, the gallery is still healthy and I can focus on the more important aspects of life. I am not just my job.”
My insinuation to her lust for intrigue and grist for the rumor mill did not escape her. She recognized it for the thinly veiled insult it was. The table is deathly quiet and still as they watch our exchange with bated breath, though part of their shocked muteness is probably from my last declaration. Even Tina and Sam have their attention on us, Tina’s face showing utter bewilderment. Alice is looking at me like I’ve grown a second head.
Remaining pleasant but hardening her features a little, Helena steps up to play the game. ”With all due respect, that seems a bit counterproductive, don’t you think? I mean, you’ve been at the height of your career since you left the CAC and re-opened your gallery only a year ago. In that short amount of time, you’ve skyrocketed several very…talented…artists and garnered a tremendous amount of…respect…among your peers. Look at Alex Reed alone.” She pauses here to allow me to fully comprehend the weight of her words.
Why is it that when someone says, ’with all due respect’, what they really mean is ’kiss my ass?’ And bringing up Alex fucking Reed is a low blow. Somehow, I managed to sell an entire collection of his overgrown napkins with what appeared to be coffee stains on them. He was only the first of the huge line of talentless dribble I sold out to for money, sullying my ’reputation’ for exceptional standards. No, Helena’s ’compliments’ are not lost on me. ”Won’t leaving it in someone else’s care be detrimental?”
Okay, time to end this. I’m angry, and that’s okay. I can’t control the way this is panning out, but that’s okay as well. I can feel angry but the anger doesn’t have to own me.
Adopting my notorious feral grin, that’s both bright and frightening, I blind her with the intensity of it while leaning back in my chair in a very casually relaxed pose. ”Your genuine concern is greatly appreciated Helena, as well as what I’m sure is…sound…business advice. I mean, look at Shao Lin.” Just like her, I pause here to let her know that two can play at this game. Shao Lin Studios isn’t even breaking even, let alone making a profit. I am pleased to see the vein in her neck bulge a little. ”But, like you said, I’ve reached a great height in my career. I’ve made enough money in the last year to last me a lifetime, maybe two, living very well. But, again, I am not my job. Even if I couldn’t afford to take the time off, which I assure you I can, despite what some may believe, money isn’t everything. If my reputation suffers because of it, well again, despite what some believe, outside opinions are wholly inconsequential. Well, except for a select few.” At this I make sure to look at Alice specifically, but she doesn’t meet my gaze.
Turning back to Helena, I finish. ”No, money, prestige, power, none of these things are a lasting legacy. Love, friendship, family, that is what I wish to reap from this life. So, the answer to your question is, no, it’s not detrimental. If the gallery starts to suffer, I sell and retire. If people don’t like me, well their opinions are of no consequence. It’s a win/win situation for me no matter which way it goes. I want to settle down and start a family. That’s really all that matters to me as a lasting legacy.” I can’t help but to look to Tina while this is said.
”Live the life you love and love the life you live. Mmm hmm. You got that right baby sis.” Kit leans over me and grabs my empty plate, giving me a heartwarming smile that is beaming with pride. The table watches Kit leave, the silence of the moment deafening, almost incapacitating. I can’t help but revel in it. Nothing could be going better than if I had been controlling it myself. For once in my life, I just sat back, let whatever was going to happen run its course, and handled it with the grace and fortitude of someone I had forgotten how to be. Today is the first day that I am truly me, and I’m starting to like myself.
I drink the last of my coffee and let the others around me absorb this new information as awkwardly as they choose. Me, I plan to go about my day. Looking at my phone, I notice it’s midafternoon. Looking to the table as a whole, I set my phone down and speak so everyone can hear.
”If you are all free this evening, I’d like to invite you over for dinner. I plan to stop by Sushi Park on the way home. I know that it’s last minute, but it would mean a lot to me if I could see you all this evening. There is so much time that I need to make up for and so much of your lives to catch up on. Will you all join me?”
I look to Alice to see her looking down into her lap, playing with an invisible spec of lint. Dana takes her hand and links their fingers. When Alice looks up, Dana gives her a sympathetic but encouraging smile as she jerks her head towards me and mouths the words ’come on’, in what I’m sure is Dana’s attempt at subtlety. Alice rolls her eyes and gives Dana an eternally patient look as Dana drawls out, ”Please,” in a truly pathetic voice. Blowing out a breath, Alice rolls her eyes up before looking to me and saying, ”Oh, alright.” She looks back to Dana and sharply says, ”Happy?” Dana just beams at her and kisses her sweetly on the lips until Alice finally smiles. God, how I’ve missed them. It’s so wonderful to see them together and happy. I’ve missed so much and the weight of my guilt is tremendous. I have some serious explaining to do.
Several awkward minutes pass, so again Shane saves the day. ”Well, you can count me in.” Her reassuring grin and sincerity that borders on naivety further bolsters my confidence. Grabbing on to it as tightly as I can, I turn to Tina and Sam.
Tina meets my gaze and doesn’t hesitate to speak. ”Sorry but we have other pla…”
”We’d love to.” Tina looks to Sam with barely contained fury. Sam looks back at her with a stern, no nonsense, ’Don’t argue with me,’ expression, and it’s all I can do not to reach across Shane and break the hand resting around Tina’s shoulders. You have got to be kidding me. She went from me to worse? Is that possible?
Deciding I wouldn’t allow this to happen if I could stop it, I address Tina directly. ”T…ina. I truly want you both there but if you can’t, I understand.” Tina doesn’t look at me or respond, she just keeps her head down, clenching and unclenching her jaw, the skin around her throat flushed with anger.
Further insisting that I address her and that she speaks for Tina, Sam leans into my line of sight and says, ”No, no, it sounds…interesting. We’ll be there.” Her smile would be disconcerting if I didn’t possess the knowledge that I could, would, rearrange her ass into a brand new shape at the slightest opportunity.
I’m an idiot, I know, but I won’t stand for this. Looking to Sam with barely disguised disgust, I say, ”Tina’s a big girl. She can speak for herself.” Looking again to Tina, yes I’m an idiot, I try again. ”T…ina, I’d really like for you to be there tonight but if you can’t, it’s okay to speak up. No one here will let anyone stop you, at least not on this side of the table.”
Tina says nothing but abruptly stands, the force of her quick movement nearly knocking both her chair and Sam over. After a moment, she addresses me directly, her words clipped. ”You’re giving me permission to answer for myself? Well thanks, I appreciate it.”
Sputtering a little with incredulity, I blurt out, ”You can’t seriously be okay with her speaking for you. Fuck T…Tina…she treated you like you weren’t even here. Should I do the same and speak directly to Sam from now on?”
She smiles and it’s painfully bitter. ”Why not? You treated me like I was invisible for seven years.”
That’s a low blow. This conversation is going nowhere and definitely not improving my standing with her, but while I’m trying to be a better person, more in touch with my feelings, kinder, freer, I am still me. Nobody walks on me or those I love without losing an appendage.
Her eyes soften a little…with remorse?…before she addresses the table, ”I need to go take care of a few errands. I’ll see you all tonight.”
Tina looks to me with barely contained annoyance and a question in her demeanor. I look to Sam and say, ”Oh, seven is fine. You don’t need to bring anything. And let Tina know that while I want to make amends and I regret a lot of my actions, I won’t live the rest of my life on probation.” Tina’s face falls into a mask of shock as the temperature in the room drops several degrees. She looms over Sam for several long moments but the brunette doesn’t take the hint.
”Sam, you should leave…with Tina…” Alice gestures to the blond waiting for her. Looking up, Sam finally understands. Giving me a cold but winning grin, she stands and says, ”See you all tonight.” Just as Sam turns, Alice mumbles, ’and stay gone,’ under her breath. Tina and Sam hesitate for only a moment before continuing like they hadn’t heard anything at all.
Everyone at the table releases a breath they didn’t know they were holding. I close my eyes and barely contain myself from running after Tina, when I feel a cool hand settle on my shoulder. I look over to see Shane looking at me with a sad smile. Over the past six weeks, aside from helping me, we had an unspoken agreement: she wouldn’t divulge any confidences or talk about people who weren’t present, and I wouldn’t ask. She’s always been a private and trustworthy friend. I knew this well enough not to even bring it up. But, even if she had told me, I’d have never believed what I just saw here today anyway.
Helena clears her throat and says, ”Well that was…delightful.”
Everyone looks to her and we all start to laugh a little nervously. The tension broken, I ask, ”Will you be there this evening?”
She looks at me a little perplexed before shrugging her shoulders and saying, ”I don’t see why not. This day has been full of surprises, might as well go out with a bang.” Standing she excuses herself, ”Well, I need to run down to the studio and breathe down the neck of one of our new directors. She’s brilliant, and a lesbian, but she just doesn’t know it yet. It was a pleasure to finally meet you Bette. See you all this evening.”
There is a chorus of farewells from the table. Once she is out of earshot, Shane stands and says, ”I’m going to go see if Kit needs anything before we leave. Come and get me when you’re ready.” She points to Alice and Dana as she rounds the table and finishes with, ”See you both later.” her face making it very clear that she expects Alice to follow through with the arrangement.
I can’t say this enough lately, but thank God for Shane. Once she’s gone, I stand and walk to the seat directly next to Alice. She doesn’t look at me. In fact, she turns towards Dana to further shun me. Letting out a big sigh, I touch her knee and shake it a bit. ”Al?”
She doesn’t respond, just maintains her rigid posture. ”Come on Al, give me a chance to explain…”
”Explain what exactly Bette? You don’t answer my calls or texts or even your door, for almost a full year, and now that you want to talk, we’re all supposed to just forgive and forget? Fuck Bette! I’m your best friend…excuse me, was your best friend. No, it’s not right, and I won’t cater to your whims.” She takes a moment to breath and tracks her eyes up the full length of my body, landing on my face with amazement. ”Fuck, just look at you. Almost a full year and you just waltz in here, dressed like a beach bum and spouting about life and love and happiness and lack of control, when in reality, you’re trying to control all of us by expecting us to just open our arms and let you back in. Fuck that Bette and fuck you.”
Al tries to stand but Dana puts her hand on her shoulder holding her in place. Alice looks at her with astonishment and barely controlled fury. ”Dana, let me leave. If you want to sit here and listen to this shit, that’s your choice, but I don’t and won’t.”
Dana grabs Alice’s hands and holds them gently before pulling her to face her fully and looking her squarely in the eyes. ”Al, I love you. That’s why I won’t let you do this. Bette has a lot to make up for with all of us, but I’ve been with you this year. Hell, I practically live with you. How many times have you told me how much you miss her? How many times did you cry when she shut you out?” A few tears well in Alice’s eyes and she sniffs, softening her posture. ”Al, if I really thought you wanted to leave and never talk to Bette again, I wouldn’t try to stop you, but I know that’s just not the case. So do you…”
Linking their fingers, Dana smiles at Alice and lifts her hand to kiss it gently. ”Al, she’s here, she’s sorry, and she’s trying. That’s all she can do. At least hear her out.” With this, Dana looks to me over Alice’s shoulder and continues. ”Is that true Bette? Because I’ll tell you now, I forgive you, but if you pull any shit like this again, if you hurt Alice again, I’m done.”
The strength of conviction in her voice is surprising, but that’s always been Dana, surprisingly strong and forthright. I look into her eyes and try to return some of her conviction. ”It truly is. I’m so sorry for pushing you away Al, you too, Dane. There aren’t any excuses. But if you want to hear them, there are reasons, things that I was processing, that contributed to the bad choices I made. I’d be more than happy to try and explain it to you if you want me to. Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter. If I could do it differently, there are so many things that would be so much better for a lot of the people I love. I can’t, but I want to make it right. I’m sorry Al…”
Dana seems satisfied with this and smiles that warm enthusiastic smile that was always so present and welcome before. Looking to Alice, she turns and faces me. Her eyes are red and her cheeks are tear stained, but I can tell that she’s listening, maybe even hearing me. She leans back in her chair, wipes at face and nose, and looks me in the eye. ”I know what happened Bette. You became a self-absorbed bitch, you lost the baby, you cheated on Tina, you lost Tina because of it, and life and everyone else in it ceased to matter. Did I forget anything?”
Letting out a deep breath, I respond. ”There are other things, but that sums up most of my problems. I just couldn’t handle it all Al, so I didn’t. I pretended none of it existed and made a huge mess of everything. I’m just now climbing out of it. I need you, I always did, I just didn’t realize it, I couldn’t…” There’s really nothing more to say. Okay, maybe one thing. ”Can you please forgive me?”
Al leans her head back and blows out an exhausted breath. Sitting forward, she hugs me hard and says one of the best things I’ve heard all day, ”I’ll try.”
I beam a smile at Dana and she returns one of matching force. Leaning back, I look at Alice’s face and hold her by her shoulders, happier than I’ve felt in a long time. She looks at me astonished and blurts out, ”Bette, you’re crying! You don’t cry…”
We all laugh at this. ”Yeah, that was part of the problem Al. I’m more in touch with my emotions now. Six weeks ago I finally grieved over…well, everything.”
She pushes me on the shoulder, looking a bit sadder but more aware of what was really the worst of my situation, and beams a smile at me. ”I’m glad you’re back Bette.”
I beam a watery smile and swipe at my eyes, ”Yeah, me too Al, me too.” After a few moments of quiet, comfortable silence, I finally ask about the one thing that’s been killing me. ”When did you two get together?”
Al laughs and looks to Dana who grins and says, ”About six months ago.”
I give them a satisfied grin of my own. ”I’m really glad for you both. You seem so happy…” My mood gets a bit darker with this last comment and they both notice.
Al touches my forearm and quietly says, ”Bette, you’re still in love with Tina…aren’t you?”
With all the strength I can muster and absolutely no hesitation, I turn to Alice and confirm, ”She’s the love of my life. God, Al, it’s all such a mess. She’s so…”
”Yeah, we know,” they chorus together in an exasperated tone.
”Do you think…that maybe…there’s even the slightest chance?”
”I really don’t know Bette. I know that she’s not in love with Sam and she’s been a whole new level of bitch since you broke up, but she doesn’t talk about anything really personal or emotional anymore. And believe me, I’ve tried.”
There is a long moment of silence, all of us lost in our own thoughts, when Dana chimes in, ”Yeah, it’s been the ninth circle of hell around here since you’ve been gone. I’m not trying to be mean, but it’s almost like Tina has become just like you…ah, like you were. I mean…she’s here, but she’s not really here. You know?” There’s another long pause where Dana folds her arms on the table and rests her chin on them, before letting out a snort and voicing her thoughts aloud again, ”You know, I bet if we could get her away from Sam, we could run an intervention.”
Alice and I are both staring at Dana as this internal monologue happens externally. Dana is completely oblivious to this fact as she lays her head on one arm; she picks at the edges of a napkin with a bored expression on her face and soldiers on. ”I’m sure we could get Helena to fire Sam, but we’d need a way to get her out of LA…HEY! Helena has a project running in Africa or Malaysia or something like that. Just have her ship Sam over there. She’d be gone for like, a year, I think.” Dana starts giggling at the fanciful images of Sam hacking it in the far wild reaches of the most miserable parts of the world running through her head. I almost want to giggle with her at the prospect.
Al and I look to each other, and the insane smile on her face as her mind starts filling in all the blanks in Dana’s plan, scares me in its intensity.
”Al, you can’t.”
Fluttering her eyelashes at me, she says, ”I have no idea what on earth you’re talking about.”
”What’s going on?” Dana looks to both of us, confusion clearly etched in her lowered brows. We both ignore her and have a staring contest.
Her innocence rivals that of mother fucking Teresa I’m sure. Not. ”Al, if Tina finds out, she’ll think I was trying to control her, and I can’t, no, I won’t do that to her. If I have any chance of regaining her trust, I can’t do that Al.”
”Guys, what’s going on?” We ignore the question again, poor Dane.
”Bette, don’t you worry about a thing. I really have no idea what you’re talking about. In fact, I remember Helena mentioning sending Sam to DP one of her foreign films.”
”Alice, this is insane. Besides, what makes you think Helena would help me by sending Sam away? After the conversation we just had…”
”Helena wouldn’t be helping you, she’d be helping Helena. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice that she wants Tina too? Jeez, you must really be slowing down.”
”Yes, of course I noticed. She was obvious about it.”
”Well, she wants T, and sending Sam away for a year gives her another chance at her. She’ll jump at it!”
I look at Alice completely bewildered. Another? ”Another?”
Alice stares at me blankly with her mouth open. ”You don’t know?”
”Shit Bette! Did you live under a rock? Tina and Helena were together for about two months. In fact, Helena was Tina’s first after you, well, and now there’s Sam.”
”Okay, okay, I don’t want to hear this. Why’d they break up?”
Alice thinks for a moment before responding. ”I can only speculate because T won’t talk about any of this stuff anymore, but I think it’s because Helena is controlling. I think that’s why she got out quickly, she just couldn’t handle it. Then, six months later she’s with Sam, another controlling bitch, no offense. I think she’s stopped trying to run away from controllers but instead, use them to, I don’t know…vent, or something. I think that’s why she’s with Sam, just to piss her off all the time.”
Alice pauses before continuing, ”Well, anyway, that’s just what I think but it’s unconfirmed. If I’m wrong, then none of this shit makes any fucking sense to me. Either way, doing this will help Tina. She’s flailing Bette. She’s miserable. We have to do something…”
I close my eyes and accept my fate. This is Alice and I can’t control her either. ”Fine Alice. If you do this, I want no part of it. I don’t agree with it and I don’t want it coming back to bite me in the ass. Do you understand?”
Placing a hand on my shoulder, Alice looks at me like I’m mentally challenged and says, ”Bette, you worry too much. Maybe that’s one of those things the new you should work on as well. Come on Dane, we have work to do.” She stands abruptly and grabs Dana’s hand, nearly dislocating her arm as she tries to jog from the café. The pair stumbles right into Shane and Kit who are making their way towards the table, nearly plowing them over.
Dana grabs Alice to help steady her before asking again, ”Alice, what is going on?”
Regaining her footing, Alice yells, ”See you tonight Bette,” before disappearing through the door with a flummoxed Dana in tow.
Kit and Shane stand stalk still and stare at the door in disbelieving confusion before looking to me. Holding eye contact, I stand up and shake my head. Striding up to Kit, she says, ”What was that all about?”
All I can do is shake my head again and utter, ”Trust me. You don’t want to know.”