Chapter 6 – If you can’t sleep, it isn’t the coffee; it’s the bunk.

The tears in my eyes swirl so violently across the dark lenses that I can’t even see her anymore. It’s just as well. Sitting here, worrying and wondering, and clinging to the last vestiges of hope is doing no good. I close my eyes. Maybe it’s time to just go home and recharge a little bit. But what if something happens while I’m gone? What if she wakes up and I’m not here? Fuck…

I scrub my face and open the nightstand to retrieve pen and paper, finding a plain black bible. I pick it up and try my luck, flipping the book open to a random location. ”For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known; and now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” I shut the bible and place it back in the drawer and I have to take a moment to get my wits about me. Is that how it always is? Nothing is ever clear, but murky at best? No matter how well you polish the glass, the best you can hope for is faith, hope, and charity…with no understanding or reason involved?

I release a deep sigh and my thoughts with it. I need to focus on Tina. I don’t want her to think that I’ve left her here. Once the tears subside, I grab the pen and paper from the drawer and try to focus.

Tina,

If you wake and I’m not here, I know this note is a poor substitute. I’ve been here five days and need to go home for an hour and shower. I’ll be back right after. Please call me. I need to hear your voice, to know you’re alive and okay. I love you so much…and I miss you terribly.

Bette

I don’t like this at all, but what am I to do? I need out of this room for even just an hour. I’m going mad with memories and worry. I hope she can understand. I chuckle. Hell, I hope she wakes and tears my ass open for not being here. Anything would be better than this…this…nothingness…

I fold the note and tuck it into her lifeless hand as I blow out a shaky breath. ”T…I’m going home for a little bit, but I’ll be right back. I…I love you…” I stroke her hand one last time as I stand and sleepwalk from the room.


 

I unlock the door and walk into the dark house, shutting the door behind me. It clicks shut with an almost eerie and ominous finality. I don’t bother with lights. Honestly, I could use a dark space to shelter in just now and lick my angry wounds. I look around me into the dark shadows and it feels so utterly empty…like something’s missing, just like it did when we got home from our honeymoon. And it hits me like solid kick to my solar plexus. Of course it’s missing Tina, but that’s not all. It’s missing our children, our family…the family we we’ve only just begun to start, a family that just won’t work without her.

Where’s the laughter and joy and fulfillment of a life that was hard fought to obtain? We’ve worked so hard to get here and it’s like it just never ends. Just a little peace and quiet…is that so much to ask for? I close my eyes and sigh, trying my best to release the bitterness of this homecoming. I walk to the counter in the kitchen and set the unopened mail in my hand on the counter before removing my blazer and making my way up the stairs.

The hollow thuds of my shoes on the stairs echo through the empty house, further reminding me of the nightmarish solitude I may have to face, as a single parent no less. She is the one shining hope in all of this, my baby girl, our baby girl. She needs us both so much right now. If for nothing and no one else, I hope Tina’s spirit recognizes the call of her child and fights to stay here.

I walk into the bathroom and I’m forced to turn on the light. I undress and shower in such a dazed state that I almost don’t know how I got to be wet, standing in a towel, and looking for comfortable clothes in the closet. I pull out my favorite pair of levis and Yale sweater and dress quickly. I don’t want to be gone long.

I turn off the light and look to our bed. It’s unmade and Tina’s pillow is askew on its downy surface. I walk over to it and sit on the end as I pull the soft lump into my lap and breathe deeply of the lavender that clings to it. I can’t help the tears that fall from my eyes and tarnish its surface as I cling to it and weep piteously. The tears don’t want to stop and I give myself over to their cleansing torment for what feels like an exhausting eternity.


 

I see the sharp rays of warm sunlight that glow red behind my eyelids and blink them open. I look around our room and smile as I turn to Tina only to find I’m on her side of the bed. I sit up in a panic and finally realize where she is. I grab my head at the temples for a moment and then hasten to get up. I need to get back to Tina. I was only supposed to be gone an hour. I quickly use the restroom, brush my teeth, and pack my overnight bag for several days, as well as grab a comfortable not hospital pillow. For upholders of the Hippocratic Oath, they certainly seem to appreciate torture devices of vast varieties.

I leave the master bedroom, shutting the door behind me, and make my way toward the stairs only to stop at the door adjacent to ours. We just finished the nursery only a month ago. I step into the open space and see the glint of the glass sculpture above the crib as the multi-colored baubles catch the sunlight and scatter it around the room in strangely beautiful and complicated patterns. I can’t help but smile through the tears. I can’t wait for Angie to see this…


 

”Babe…the last piece is here!” I looked up from the latest edition of artltd to see Tina excitedly bound through the open patio doors, leading with her wonderfully swollen stomach.

Her face was bright and cheerful and I couldn’t help but smile back at her as I set the magazine on the chaise. ”The Leigh Ostin’s here?” She nodded her head as she reached her hand out to me and I accepted it with equal enthusiasm. We walked hand-in-hand to the living room as she led me to the just delivered package. We smiled at each other and I crouched to pick it up before following her slowly moving trundle up the stairs to the baby’s new nursery.

The faint smell of wallpaper adhesive was still clinging to the air, but it was finally safe for Tina to be here. She chose the sage green wallpaper with small golden diamonds and I felt that it was perfect: childlike, but still sophisticated. The mahogany crib against the far wall was simple but warm and functional, and it offset the textured creams of the soft fabrics ideally. Of course, I hung small but original art befitting my daughter with nothing but the best to capture and catapult her wonderfully burgeoning imagination.

I set the box in the center of the room and knelt to pull the tape and release the opening. Tina sidled up next to me and stroked my hair as I pulled open the flaps to reveal a sea of foam popcorn and one small metal hook in the middle. I smiled up at her and leaned forward to kiss our baby before standing and pulling up carefully.

The dangling pieces of the glass trinkets slid up smoothly through the popcorn, revealing tier after tier of eye catching blown glass and vibrant colors. Tina’s beautiful face was radiant and I handed it off to her before I walked over to the wall and pulled the small step ladder to the middle of the room, situating it so I could reach the already prepared hanger. Once I reached the top, I reached down and carefully lifted the metal hook, setting it gently on the hanger, and climbed down to put my arm around Tina and gaze at the fully completed nursery.

All the loving and hoping and dreaming had finally paid off, and the torrent of emotions gathered in my eyes as I looked to Tina’s glowing face. The baby had fleshed her out more and her skin and hair were luminous, like silken velvet, her aura radiant and warm. Truly motherhood looked incredible on her. She grinned knowingly at me and I took her in my arms, leaning in for an intimately devoted kiss. She tasted like warm peppermint tea and strawberries, and something entirely unique to her make-up, and I felt the surge of complete satisfaction settle low in my chest.

She stroked my face, watching the path of her hand as if in awe and my heart burst with love for her and our child. I turned my face and kissed her palm before walking behind her and wrapping my hands around our child. She put her hands over my own and we both released a contented sigh as we gazed at the finally finished nursery; ready, waiting, and prepared to bring our dauther into this world with wide open arms.

 


 

I step out of the nursery and shut the door. I shouldn’t have gone in there. The sucking void that has become my home may as well be centered on that room. I look down at the large teddy bear that I bought for her on a whim, and hold it too me as I descend the stairs. I walk over to the counter and set the items in my arms down, picking up the mail and stuffing large chunks inside the bag. One of the letters falls to the floor and I bend to pick it up and put it in the bag, but stop when I read the return address on it.

Thomas Kennard…Tina’s brother? I pull it to me and consider whether Tina would be angry if I opened it. What if something happened? Or what if they know that Tina’s… I throw caution to the wind and open the letter, pulling it out and reading it carefully.

Christina,

I know it’s been a long time since we’ve spoken, and I know that is my fault, but a lot has changed in the last several months, and I felt it was time. I received the invitation to your wedding. Thank you for inviting me. I regret not coming more than you’ll ever know, but it opened my eyes and gave me the strength and courage to not only say what I’m about to say, but live my life, truly live it, for the first time in my forty years.

I know it’s too late, and I know that it won’t mean much, but I wanted to say that I’m sorry for shutting you out. I’m not making excuses for myself, but I didn’t do it because I wanted to, I did it because father told me that he would shut me out as well if I didn’t; and of course Katherine backed him up. I was afraid I’d lose my entire family, and what I really lost was any semblance of a life worth living, and of course, you.

I have known since the time I was very young that I am gay, and I think father knew it as well, though I never told him until about two months ago. When I received your invitation, I was both elated for you and saddened for myself. I have spent the whole of my life pretending to be something I’m not, putting off marriage and starting a family, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. Thank you. You gave me the strength to be who I am, no matter the cost, and for that I am eternally grateful.

When I told him and Katherine they reacted as you’d expect, as you know all too well; so I moved to San Francisco and I’m starting my life, finally, forty years too late. I’m even dating a wonderful man named Greg. I told him about my family and my past, and about you, and he convinced me to write you. I don’t expect anything from you, but I just want you to know how sorry I am, how much I’ve missed you these last seventeen years, and ask that if you can forgive me, to please call me. I am, at the very least, forever in your debt for helping me find the courage to be free.

If I never hear from you, please know I wish you all the best, to your spouse as well. She must be an incredible woman to have been chosen by you. And while I haven’t shown it as I should, I love you. You’re my baby sister, you always will be. No matter what, if you ever need anything, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’ve listed my information below and hope to hear from you, but I understand if you just can’t. Thank you again.

Sincerely,

Thomas

501-286-6944

I pull out one of the stools at the counter and sit dazedly. Just…wow. Should I call him to tell him? God I need Tina on this one. If I were in Tina’s position and Malcolm and I were estranged, and she received this letter, would I want her to call him. Yes…without a doubt…just in case… just in case something unthinkable happened.

I get up and hesitantly grab my cell phone, staring at it as I consider if this is what Tina would really want. I guess what it really comes down to is that I can only do the best I can with what knowledge available to me, and she did invite him to the wedding. I sigh and quickly dial the number before my courage leaves me.

”Hello?”

Fuck. Who am I calling and why? ”Hello…um…I’m sorry to disturb you, but I’m looking for Thomas Kennard.”

”This is Thomas…”

Pull your shit together Porter. ”Thomas, this is Bette Porter-Kennard, Tina…I mean, Christina’s wife…your sister-in-law.”

There’s a long awkward pause and for a moment I wonder if he’s hung up. ”Wow…um…wow, thank you so much for calling. Is…can I speak to Christina?”

I close my eyes and sit back down. Here comes the fun part. ”Actually Thomas, she and I had a child…a daughter, but Tina…Christina…she’s not well. There were complications and the pregnancy was premature. She’s…she’s in a coma. She has been now for six days…” Long moments of silence pass and I find the courage to choke the worst of it out. ”I’ll be honest Thomas, I have no idea if she’s going to be okay and the doctors won’t know either until she wakes up.” I feel the tears well up in my eyes. My throat is tight and I swallow. ”I got your letter…and thought I’d call you to let you know…”

There’s another long moment of silence. ”Thomas?”

I look down at the phone to make sure the line is still live and I hear him clear this throat. ”I…I had no idea…”

I release a sigh. ”That’s why I called. Given the content of your letter, I thought you might like to know, and I’m fairly certain Tina would want you to.”

I hear him release a ragged sigh. ”Thank you for letting me know…” I can tell he struggles to get this out. ”Bette…would it be…would I be…welcome…if I wanted to come there to see her?”

I hadn’t even considered that. Is he welcome? I don’t have any problem with it…unless… ”Thomas, I’m going to ask you a question and I’d appreciate an honest answer.”

”O…okay…” He drawled the word as if it were three syllables.

I don’t mean to overstep any boundaries here, but he’ll never be welcome in this house, and five hours away from Angelica may be too close, if he had anything to do with it. ”Did you know of anything that was going on between Katherine and Tina…Christina?”

I can almost hear the grinding of gears in his mind. ”I know that Kathy hates gay people and disowned Christina like father did because of it…but other than that and the regular sibling fighting, I can’t think of anything…”

I furrow my brows. ”You’re sure?”

”Bette, I’m sorry, I really have no idea what you’re looking for…”

I close my eyes. ”Listen Thomas, I don’t know you and I don’t trust easily. I don’t know what Tina would really want in this situation because she can’t speak for herself. But until she wakes up, I have no problem with you being here so long as you don’t try to hurt anyone. I don’t know that you would, but I don’t know that you wouldn’t. I do know that I will do whatever I have to do to protect my family. You understand?”

I can hear the smile in his voice. ”Bette, I don’t know what Christina’s told you, and I’m not under any illusions that I will be receiving a brother of the year award from her, but I’d never hurt anyone intentionally, let alone someone I care about. I know I was weak and let her down, but I’d never seek to hurt her, her child, or you.”

Sigh. ”Okay then. You obviously have the address. She’s at the Cedars-Sinai Hospital, room 5412. I have my cell phone and I’ve been staying there with her and the baby, so you should be able to reach me there at any time in person or by phone. You have the number in your caller ID now?”

”Yes, I have the number. Thank you. Bette…” There’s a long moment of silence. ”…is the baby…okay?”

”She’s small; she weighs about five pounds. She’s in an incubator. She was just thirty-four weeks but she’s developing and the doctor says she’ll be just fine.”

I can hear his relieved sigh. ”Good, I’m so relieved. Thank you, Bette. I’ll call you when I get there. It’ll probably be about six pm.”

”That should be fine. I’ll be there.”

”Okay, I guess I’ll see you soon. Bye Bette.”

”Bye Thomas.” I click the phone off and pinch the bridge of my nose as I rest my elbows on the counter. I hope I’ve made the right decision. Is this how life is going to be from now on; always wondering if one decision or another is what an absent Tina would have wanted? I stand in frustration and make my way over to the cabinet, retrieving two ibuprofen caplets and swallow them down at the sink. Watching the water suck down the drain, I cannot help but marvel at the irony of it. God I miss her. I splash some of the water on my face and stare at the water for a moment, smiling as I remember better days.


 

”Conditioning the tissues around the vaginal opening prepares the perineum to perform.” The older red-headed woman at the head of the class paced in front of the room full of nervous, first time parents with a confident smile, and Tina grinned up at me from her sitting position in front of me. ”So partners, make sure you scrub your hands and keep your thumb nails trimmed.”

I looked down at my manicured nails and wondered if I needed to clip them back. ”Propping her against the pillow, spread her legs apart.” The instructor started making her way around the room as all the partners started to fluff the pillows behind their spouses. I reached down and helped Tina sit more forward, tucking the pillow up tightly behind her. She leaned back gently with a sigh and a smile laced with gratitude.

”Go on. Try the position right now.” I walked around in front of her and knelt, placing my hands on her knees and pushing them apart. She smiled that radiantly glowing smile as she reached up and linked our fingers on one of her knees. We all looked back to the instructor as she finished her circle around the room and stepped back up to the front.

”So, you can use…” She picked up a small bottle of vegetable oil. ”…pure vegetable oil, or…” She reached behind her and picked up a tube. ”…or a water soluble lubricant like KY jelly, not a petroleum based oil.” She set them both down and Tina squeezed my hand. I smiled back at her before turning to see the instructor had picked up an incredibly life-like mock vagina.

”Insert your thumb or finger, whichever you prefer, as deeply as you can inside her vagina.” She demonstrated with a strangely enjoyable expression on her face, closing her eyes and letting her voice become almost euphoric. ”And, while you massage, gently pull the tissues down and forward.” She started pacing again so everyone could get a good look at her molesting the prop in her hands. When she got closer to us, the item in her hands became disconcerting in its realism; it was even making sloppy noises. ”Just like this.” She winked at me before she continued. ”Some of you might already know how much pleasure this can give her.”

I looked to Tina as a chuckle echoed throughout the room and winked. Oh I’m fully aware. Once Tina got through the first trimester, she became insatiable. It decreased as the pregnancy progressed, but definitely didn’t disappear. Making love to her while carrying our child was probably one of the most sensual experiences of my life.

I smiled as I gazed into her brilliant face, leaning forward to kiss our linked fingers. I heard a genuinely whispered, ”I love you Bette…” and my smile grew infinitely wider before we returned our attention back to the instructor who was now holding up a replica of the internal view of the womb, complete with growing child. I grinned again as I looked down at Tina’s swollen belly. I just couldn’t wait to meet her…


Continued in Chapter 7 – Where’s the rest of me?

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