“Bette, it’s good to see you again.” I shut the door behind me and walk forward to shake Dan’s hand. He gestures to the loveseat across from him and settles into his own chair as I carefully situate myself. “So, what brings you here today?”
I release a deep sigh. “Have you seen the news recently?” He nods. “So then you know what’s happened?”
He crosses his legs and leans back in his chair. “Bette, at best the news is vague, and at worst it’s a sensationalized lie. Why don’t you tell me what’s happened in your own words?”
I gaze into his kind eyes and hesitantly find the nerve to just say it. “I killed her, Dan. She threatened my family, held a gun on Tina and our new babies… and I killed her…”
There’s a long moment of silence as my words hang heavily in the air, but nothing else is forthcoming from my tongue. Sensing my trepidation, Dan cuts through the silence. “How did that make you feel?”
I regard him incredulously, gaping as I try to form words from the incoherent mess of my jumbled emotions. “I killed someone… how do you think that made me feel?”
He lifts his hands as if he’s at a loss. “I don’t know, Bette. You tell me. How did you feel?”
I close my eyes and exhale heavily as the words come tumbling out of my mouth. “Angry, frustrated, guilty… confused…”
I snort indelicately. “Because…” I stare at him, knowing the answer but unable to bring myself to admit it to him. Only Tina knows this. She’s the only person I really trust. Would Dan have to turn me in to the authorities if I blatantly confess?
He folds his hands in his lap. “Bette, everything you say here is strictly confidential and protected by law. The only time I can break that oath is when I believe you are a danger to yourself or others, and I don’t believe that’s true.”
I let out a short, disbelieving laugh. “I just told you I killed someone and you don’t think I’m dangerous?”
He smiles. “You said you feel guilty. Dangerous people don’t feel remorse, Bette.”
I sigh as tears gather in my eyes. “That’s the problem. I am guilty. I killed her, there’s no denying that; and part of me is glad she’s gone, Dan. I killed a person, and part of me is happy about it. That doesn’t sound dangerous to you?”
“I guess that depends on why you’re happy about it.”
I sniff and wipe at my tears, and he leans forward, placing a box of tissues on the table in front of me. I pluck one out of the box and clean my face, smiling sadly as I say, “Thanks.” He sits back and waits patiently, and I close my eyes. “I was happy that it was over, that she wouldn’t be able to hurt us anymore, that my family was finally safe. It was just… relief… intense relief and intense guilt.” I shake my head. “But that relief isn’t real is it? My family will still be affected; maybe even worse than if she’d have lived. I’m going down, and by extension, they’re going down with me.” There’s a long moment of silence and I look at him with sad eyes. “Do you have a family, Dan?”
He smiles. “A wife, Anna, and sixteen year old daughter, Amanda.”
I lower my head as I twist the tissue in my hands. “And if someone were threatening to kill them?”
He releases a breath, his eyes intense as he genuinely considers my question. “I don’t know the whole of your circumstances or what it’s like to be in that situation, but if someone were to threaten my wife and daughter, I’d do what it takes to protect them. I imagine that I’d feel the same way you do. It’s natural to feel relief when something traumatic ends, Bette. It’s also natural to feel guilty, even when your rational mind knows that you did it for the right reasons.”
“Did I?” He furrows his brows and I clarify. “Did I do it for the right reasons?” He doesn’t say anything as he patiently waits for me to continue. “Dan, there was a moment, just before I stopped her, where something in me… I don’t know, snapped. I… I wanted her dead. I wanted to kill her… I wanted to, I wasn’t just forced…”
“Why? What was happening at that moment?”
I swallow the lump in my throat and push the words out. “Tina was huddled down over the twins on the couch and Candace was about to shoot her. I-I just… lost it… I wanted to kill her. So… I did.”
“What happened in that moment, Bette? How did you kill her?”
I blow out a breath and raise my hands in frustration. “I don’t even know! It all happened so fast! I grabbed the gun and tried to turn it away from Tina. It went off and I thought she shot me. She didn’t; I just ripped my stitches, but I passed out. When I woke up, she was dead… and it’s been eating away at me since I was released on bail. I’m having these nightmares… vivid nightmares. They’re… fucking terrifying…”
“What’s happening in these nightmares?”
I meet his eyes. “Death… always death; it’s different every time but I always kill Candace and then either Tina or I… commit suicide.”
“Are you aware during your dream?
I furrow my brows and consider this. “I wasn’t at first. I would keep thinking I woke up but I hadn’t. Now, I’ve had so many of them that I realize it’s a dream while it’s happening, but I don’t have the ability to control myself or anything else.”
“Have you tried to control what’s happening?”
I shake my head. “No, I hadn’t even considered it.”
He nods slowly and I can see him piecing something together in his mind. “What do you think they mean?”
I lay my head against the back of the loveseat and blow out a breath. “I have no idea. I mean, this is all my fault. I assume I just feel guilty. I don’t know how to make them stop.” I gaze at him, my voice desperately pleading. “And I need them to stop, Dan. They have to…”
He sighs and considers me for a moment. “Bette… let’s play the blame game. I’m going to give you a scenario and then I want you to tell me who’s to blame, okay?” I furrow my brows at him and he smiles. “Just humor me.” I nod my head and he starts with his first question. “We have two men; let’s call them Tom and Jerry. Tom shoots Jerry, and Jerry dies. Who’s to blame?”
I sigh. “Tom.”
He nods his head. “What if Jerry had a gun pointed at Tom’s wife? Who’s to blame?”
I sigh again. “You don’t understand though. It’s my fault Candace was even there.”
He quirks a half-grin at me. “Okay, let’s say that Tom had an affair with Jerry’s wife. Who’s to blame for Jerry’s death?”
Well fuck. “Dan, it’s different…”
“I opened the door for Candace to be in our lives. It’s my fault…”
He sits forward in his chair. “So it’s okay for someone else to protect their family despite their past, but not you. Is that what you’re saying?” All I can do is stare at him incredulously. I feel like I’m paying for him to just scramble me up more. “Bette, you feel guilt for accidently taking a life when your only other choice was watch your wife die; you feel ashamed because you had a moment where you wanted a dangerous threat removed for good, and you blame yourself for this woman’s death when she put herself in the position to die. Don’t you feel like maybe you’re being irrational?”
I pinch the bridge of my nose. “You just said it’s natural to feel this way.”
He shrugs. “It is natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy. Nature isn’t always kind.” There’s a long moment of silence as I consider his words and he sits back in his chair. “Bette, you are not your past. You don’t owe your past anything. You don’t owe Candace anything, and you don’t owe society anything. She put herself in that situation. You may have had a part to play at one point, but not anymore. She attacked your wife and children; you protected them. It really is that simple.”
I hear him; I just can’t seem to believe him. He sighs. “Let’s say that after she pointed the gun at Tina she had a change of heart and ran away. Would you have chased her down and tried to murder her?”
My eyes go wide. “No! I’d have called the police and pressed charges.”
He spreads his arms as if it’s all so easy to see. “So, are you a murderer, or a good person that was in an impossible situation?”
I scrub at my face. “Dan, I understand what you’re saying. Fuck…” I groan in frustration. “…I even agree with you, but I can’t seem to… to…”
“To feel it… to realize it?”
I close my eyes and breath out, “Yes…”
He exhales and steeples his fingers, raising them to this chin and considering me for a long moment. “Okay, first, next time you realize you’re in the dream, I want you to try to control it, any part of it. See if you can bend it to your will until you’re able to stop them altogether.”
“Okay… I’ll try.”
“Good. Second, I want you to keep a dream diary. Every time you have one of these night terrors, the minute you wake up, immediately write what you’re feeling down. And I mean that literally. Start all of your sentences with, ‘I feel a specific emotion because…’ It should read like a list and it will associate your feelings with the images you’re seeing. Then, the next morning, read your entry. It may help you identify how to find peace with those feelings. Bring the diary with you to our appointments and I’ll try to help you process everything. Getting those feelings out will help tremendously and hopefully processing them will help you accept that you are a good person, you are not your past, and you are not a cold-blooded murderer.”
I nod and release a heavy sigh. “And, Bette…” I meet his eyes. “…it may take time. There is no magic pill you can take or hypnotic suggestion that is going to fix this. When you feel overwhelmed, breathe deeply and try to relax through it. Set realistic goals. Right now, you just need to identify why you can’t accept what you know to be true. Don’t put limitations or expectations on yourself.”
I close my eyes and again nod my head. I don’t know if any of this will actually help, but at least it’s a plan, some tangible way to fight these demons. At the very least maybe, just maybe, I won’t feel so helpless…
Fuck, T… I stop mid-stride and gaze at my beautiful wife who’s floating face-down on a raft in the pool. Her arms are extended above her head, her fingers delicately skimming the surface of the water, and her bikini top has been unraveled, the navy blue strings falling to the side to reveal a smooth expanse of gloriously burnished, freckled skin. Soft swells of flesh gather at the sides hinting at the full, round breasts hidden beneath, and I feel like a common peeping Tom as a flush of arousal settles low in my hips with every inch of magnificent skin my eyes drink in.
Tina turns her head and pulls up to rest on her elbows. “They asleep?”
I clear my throat. “Yeah, all three of them are sound asleep.”
She eyes me curiously. “You okay, babe?”
I reluctantly tear my thoughts away from the baser instincts telling me to take her where she lay, and plaster a frustrated smile on my face as I approach the edge of the pool to settle on the chaise lounge. “I’m fine.” I lie back and close my eyes mumbling, “I just have an itch I can’t scratch.” I hear movement in the water and open my eyes just in time to see her finish sliding off the raft, grabbing her abandoned top and making her way towards me through the shallow end.
Heavy drops roll down her neck and breasts as they catch the light, and I feel very thirsty all of a sudden. She grins as she takes a towel and starts to pat herself dry. “I heard that, you know?”
I play innocent. “What?” Her grin grows wider and she raises an incredulous eyebrow at me. Apparently it didn’t work. “Oh, right…” I pat at my incision gently and she chuckles.
I glare at her as she drops the towel and sits on the edge of the chaise. Why, oh, why must she torment me? She gazes into my eyes, calling me on my bullshit. “Babe, you are one of the most talented women I’ve ever met…” She runs her hand up the inside of my leg, getting dangerously close to that itch. “…but I’m a producer, and you, my love, are no actress.”
I blow out a breath. “You don’t play fair do you?”
Her eyes gleam with mischief as she leans forward, her breasts on full display and tantalizingly close to a very ready mouth and hands. Her lips touch mine and we open our mouths in tandem, welcoming the steady give and take of tongue and soft moans. I reach up and take her breasts in my hands, kneading them with passionate desperation, her nipples so hard they’re sharp against my palms. A thick rush of hot passion spills from my sex as a deep fire burns in my stomach and grows out of control.
She pulls back and rests her forehead against my heaving chest, breathing hard as she nuzzles my breasts. “It’s torture for me too, like a slow burn…” She pulls up and runs her hand from my collarbone to pubic bone. “But when we can… it’s going to be that much more satisfying.”
I take her face in my hands and pull her to me again, demanding more of her mouth, her velvet tongue, her cool, smooth skin… “Hey, you gu–” Tina pulls back and grabs the towel as Carmen’s cheeks burn red with embarrassment. “Um… I’m so sorry, I’ll just be going…”
She starts to retreat through the back gate and Tina wraps a towel around herself as she calls out, “Carmen, get your ass back here.”
Carmen stops and turns, her eyes firmly affixed to the ground and a permanently wide grin plastered on her face as she approaches us again. Tina sits down next to me again and we both chuckle when Carmen finally meets our eyes. “Carmen, it’s okay. We couldn’t go much further anyway.”
She plops down on the neighboring chaise with a deep sigh and says, “Thanks.”
Tina rubs my leg soothingly as she meets my gaze, her lovesick expression mirrored on my own face. I sigh. By the time I get the physical go ahead, I’ll be on trial and I doubt we’ll be feeling very sexy. Right now I need to focus on getting through this. I can’t imagine only seeing her or the children through supervised visits. At that point, I’ll never make love to my wife again, and I’ll need to, just like I do now. Our connection is like the air to me. I need to feel it, that closeness that physical intimacy inspires, that emotional healing her touch brings. Tina is the only woman I’ve ever been with where the sex is as emotionally gratifying as it is physically.
Tina strokes the haphazard curls from my eyes, her hand lingering to stroke my cheek. I turn my head and kiss the palm of her hand, holding onto it as I lower it to my lap. Her hazel eyes are bursting with knowing gratification as she links our fingers, and I can see that her thoughts are on the same wavelength as my own. She feels this connection just as much I do, thrives on it just as much as I do, and craves it just as much as I do.
Carmen clears her throat and we both turn to her. She has tears in her wide eyes as she says, “God, you guys…” She laughs through her tears. “You two are as sickening as you are inspiring.” We smile at her and her expression falters a little bit. “It’s… I envy you.”
Tina sighs. It’s the same thing every time Carmen stops by to talk. She’s ready to have that one person, that right person, to be complete, and Tina always tries to help her, just like she does now. “Hey, you seem more down than usual. Is everything okay?”
Carmen swipes at her cheeks and sniffs. “Yeah, I’m just a little… confused.”
Tina’s voice falls into that warm timbre our children respond to so fully, and it’s little wonder. It radiates kindness and safety. “What are you confused about?”
She lifts her head and grimaces at the word forming on her tongue. “Shane.”
Tina sighs and I try not to chuckle. Carmen lamented Shane for months after that whole Niki fiasco. While Tina’s patient, I can tell that she’s frustrated. Honestly though, I think she’s knows as well as I do, as well as Carmen does, and even as well as Shane does… they belong together. Carmen is Shane’s Tina, but Shane just can’t seem to accept it. It boggles the mind. “Okay, is this because of what happened at Malcolm’s exhibit?”
Carmen nods but remains silent, confusion written all over her face. Tina waits a long moment before saying, “So what’s going on?”
Carmen sighs. “Well, you know what happened that night… obviously.” I wink at her and she grins. It falters as she continues. “Well, the night Bette got released, it happened again.” Tina pulls a leg up under her and waits patiently. “She um, she told me that she loves me, that she always has, and she wants to try again.”
Wow, I feel like I’ve just been slapped in the face. I was beginning to think that Shane just didn’t have it in her. My shock wears off and I want to do a little dance for my friend. All that hope and trying to get through to her may have paid off. Tina is more pragmatic in her response. “Can you forgive her and trust her? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I see how much you both love each other, but I know first-hand that if you can’t do those two things, it won’t work.”
Carmen smiles genuinely. “You know, I think I can. She’s so different now. She cried when we… you know, during. I’ve never seen her that emotionally involved. She was… open and available to me. It was… incredible and scary as fuck.”
I furrow my brows at Carmen. “So then what’s the problem?”
She runs a hand through her hair and exhales heavily. “I guess I just don’t trust that it’ll work. I mean, if we get through all of that just to wind up hating each other anyway, I don’t think I could handle it.” Tina looks to me and picks up my hand to kiss my knuckles and I can tell what she’s thinking. Even after all we went through to get to a place where we were together, trying so hard to repair things, it still took so much to get to a place where we’re no longer dysfunctional. It was a long, hard journey, but we got there, we are there.
Tina doesn’t take her eyes off of mine as she says, “It’s hard to make it work even without all the extra baggage you two will have, Carmen. But it is possible. You just have to want it enough to fight for it, maybe even go through hell for it, and it takes a lot of time and a lot of failures.” I smile at my wife and stroke the back of the small, warm hand resting in my own. We did literally go through hell to get here and now… now we’re facing hell but we’re together, a united force to brave the torments of life as one bigger, stronger, impossible to destroy entity.
And in an instant, a random moment of clarity, a blinding ray of hope bursts through my heart, shrinking the darkness into the corners where they belong to cower in fear. Tears gather on my lashes as I pull her forward and kiss her reverently, pulling back to whisper, “Thank you.”
She kisses me again and strokes my hair as she replies, “I should thank you. I love you… so much, Bette.”
The grin splitting my face hurts it’s so wide, and I allow this brilliant light pouring into me to shine out through my eyes as I say, “I love you, T. You’re my life, my wife… my world…”
She scoots closer and wraps her arms around my neck, and I bury my face in her lavender-scented hair. I close my eyes for a moment to breathe her in, adding this moment to the bursting catalog of memories that make this a life worth living, all them filled with images and moments with her and our family.
I open my eyes just in time to see Carmen stand. She excitedly says, “Thank you,” before taking off at a quick pace for the back gate. I furrow my brows and Tina releases me to watch her leave in confusion as well. We lock perplexed gazes and she raises a delicate eyebrow.
She stands quickly and helps me up. We walk hand-in-hand to the gate to watch Carmen storm up the back steps of Shane’s house and pound on the door. It takes a moment before Shane answers. “Carm… what’s wrong?” She reaches a hand out to wipe at Carmen’s tears and Carmen starts to laugh. She throws her arms around Shane’s neck and starts to kiss her all over her face.
Shane is shocked at first but quickly puts her arms around Carmen’s waist and willingly receives the barrage. Carmen finally stops and pulls back. Shane puts her hands on either side of Carmen’s face and asks, “Is that a yes?” Carmen laughs through her tears and nods her head. Shane’s grin is huge, blinding, and genuine as she picks her up and spins her around.
They both start to laugh and Shane finally puts her down, holding her tightly as they rock from side to side. Shane’s eyes meet my own over Carmen’s shoulder and I put my arm around Tina’s shoulders, pulling her close to me as Shane mouths the words, ‘Thank you.’ I wink at her and she smiles before burying her face in Carmen’s neck.
I look down at my wife and lean in for a kiss. Yes, it’s possible to heal, to forgive, to trust, and to make it through this life as a united front. I’m beginning to think that all things are possible, maybe even winning this trial. I’ve come too far to give up on the life I’ve worked so hard to build with my family now. I was resigned to fight out of necessity, but now, now I actually have hope.
Tina pushes my shoulder and I open my eyes. “Bette… wake up. Do you hear that?” Her panicked voice and words frighten me and I lean up on my elbows to listen. There’s a loud bumping sound coming from the kitchen as if someone is rummaging through the cabinets, and I feel my eyes widen as a chill crawls up my spine. I sit up carefully in the bed and reach for the nightstand, frantically fumbling around on the surface in the dark for my cellphone. My fingers bump into the device and wrap my hand around it, pulling it to me so we can call for help.
The charging cable pulls tight from the other side and knocks the lamp off the table to land on the hardwood floor with a loud crash. I freeze and the noise downstairs stops. I turn to where Tina is and feel around for her hands, placing the phone in them as I whisper, “Call for help, I need to get to Angie and the babies and–”
The sound of footsteps coming up the stairs reaches my ears and a flush of worry races through me as I get to my feet. My heart starts pounding in my chest and I hold my hands out in front of me as I feel my way through the pitch black darkness, moving softly in the direction I know the closet to be. I reach the door and open it as quietly as I can, fumbling my hand around the corner and instantly finding the cold metal of our baseball bat. The footsteps get louder as they come down the hall and I grab the bat, using the wall to quickly make my way to the door and wait.
The light in the hallway comes on, casting a bright beam under the door and I can see the shadow of two feet as they linger just outside of the entrance. Nothing moves, nothing makes a sound, and I hold my breath as I wait for the intruder to step in. I poise the bat up over my right arm, trembling with anxiety. The click of the doorknob as the catch releases is so loud in the utter silence that it may as well be a gunshot, and the door squeaks eerily as it slowly swings towards me.
The outline of something decidedly female finally steps into my field of vision and I swing out hard, crashing the bat into her skull from behind with a resounding wet crunch. The intruder drops to the floor whimpering before she shakily rolls onto her back and gazes at me. “T…?” I lower my shaking arm and drop the bat as tears well in my eyes. “Tina?”
I drop to my knees next to her and take her in my arms. She stares at me as she shudders and asks, “Why…,” before going limp in my arms, her unseeing eyes still gazing at me. I cry out as the anguish of what I’ve just done sinks into my stomach to curdle and spoil and make me heave. I rock her back and forth as my soul withers inside of me, leaving me trembling but otherwise numb. I hear movement from the bed and look up to see Candace come stalking towards me with the phone.
I close my eyes and start to repeat the only words that make any sense at this moment. “This is a dream and I can control it. This is a dream and I can control it.” I keep mumbling my mantra as I open my eyes to see Candace pointing a gun at me. “This is a dream and I can control it.” I look down at Tina’s lifeless body and stroke her face. “You’re not dead, T. This is a dream and I can control it.” I stroke her face again, willing her to wake up and prove that I’m not insane.
Candace laughs at me and I feel movement in my arms. I look back down to see Tina blinking her eyes in a dazed state. I smile at her through my tears. “T…?”
She reaches up and strokes my face, smiling. “You saved me…”
I furrow my brows at her. “Of course, of course I saved you…”
“You didn’t want to, though.” I stare at her incredulously as she says. “You regretted saving me. Why would you regret saving me, Bette?” Candace cries out in anger and I see the butt of the gun come swinging at me. I hunker down over Tina but the sharp explosion of pain never comes as Tina shouts, “BETTE,” and a huge explosion echoes through the room, leaving my ears ringing.
My vision begins to tunnel as I look up to see Candace grabbing at the wound in her chest in confusion, blood gushing from the opening. I look down to my hands and see I’m holding the gun, the blood covering my own hands still warm. I drop the gun and it clatters to the floor. Tina picks it up and holds it to her trembling chin. “Tina, no, please… not this time…”
Tears leak from her eyes as she says, “I have to…”
My voice is pleading for answers as I get to my feet and start to walk slowly toward her. “Why? Why can’t you just stay with me?”
She looks to Candace who’s lying on the floor, lifeless in a pool of her own blood. “Because she’s not dead, not really, and one of us has to die.” She gazes at me and I can see the terror in the hazel pools I love so much as her gentle voice chokes out. “I’m so sorry… I don’t have a choice…” The gun goes off again, the deafening sound accompanied by a warm spray of her blood and grey matter hitting me in the face.
My eyes snap open and Tina strokes my hair. “It’s okay, babe.” There are tears in her eyes as she cleans the tracks from my cheeks and I stare at her warily. “You were crying so hard I was starting to get scared… well, more scared than usual.” I look into her eyes and I can see the glow of real life there, and release a sigh of relief.
I pull her to me and hold her close, clinging to her. “I’m so sorry, T.”
She strokes my hair. “Hey, you didn’t do anything wrong. But you need to write this stuff down now. I’ll sit up with you.” I pull back and gaze into her beautiful face, smiling through my tears. I can’t find the words to speak, to tell her that I have been released from one of the pieces of my irrationally guilty conscience, so I nod my head instead. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, not anymore. She sits up and turns on the lamp and I pull myself into a sitting position, grabbing the pad and pen on the nightstand to write it all out, to hopefully pull up other pieces of this puzzle and eventually destroy them one by one.