“Hey, how’d it go last night?” I slip into my chair, prop my elbow on the table, and rest my head in my palm as I give Shane an utterly dreamy expression. She throws her head back and laughs and I can’t help the huge smile that lights my face. “That good huh?”
My eyes get a bit watery just thinking about it. “Shane, there just…aren’t words. It wasn’t even the physical aspects of it. They were great, but…it was like…nothing stood between us. There were no walls, no boundaries, no insecurities, nothing. It was just us…to the very core. I’ve never…I’ve never experienced anything like it.”
Shane’s eyes go a little glassy and she lowers her head while clearing her throat. Wow. I think this is the most vulnerable that I have ever seen Shane. “Hey, are you okay? Was that an overshare?”
“No, no, I’m really glad for you.” I eye her questioningly. “Really Bette.”
“Shane…I don’t…” I let out a deep breath. “…I don’t want to overstep any bounds, but you’ve been there for me. I wouldn’t have my life back, Tina back, if it weren’t for your help.” She sets her paper down and gives me her full attention. “Do you…are you…afraid?”
She eyes me curiously. “Of what?”
I lower my head. “Loving someone…really loving someone.” I look up. Her eyes are piercing and I can actually see the usual warmth there disappear behind the protective shutters that are snapping closed. “Shane, I’m not trying to pry…I’m sorry, just forget I said anything.”
She picks up her coffee and holds it in her lap with both hands as she stares into the steaming liquid. “If you ever need anything though…you know I’d do anything to help you. I love you Shane. We all do…”
She looks up to me with the same piercing gaze but it softens with a tight smile before her face snaps into her regular ‘everything’s just peachy’ expression. Her smile turns crooked and warm and for a moment, I’m a little scared, scared for her. I know how it’s done. I used to do it often, but she did it so fast and easily that I wonder if anything will ever reach her. Her face is genuine as she says, “I know you would and I appreciate it, but I’m fine Bette, really.” I’d believe her if I didn’t know better, but I do and damn she’s good.
I smile a little sadly and decide to play along. I reached out for help, and she’ll have to do the same if she really wants it. I just hope she does. There is nothing good in this world if a person as loyal, trustworthy, and infinitely devoted as Shane doesn’t get to experience total love and trust. She truly deserves nothing less.
I clear my throat and get to the real reason I asked her to meet me here this morning. “Shane, the reason I asked you to come is because I’m worried about Dana and Alice. You noticed?”
She takes a sip of her coffee and sets it down. “Yeah, I noticed. It’s impossible not to see it.”
I snort. “Tell that to the people living it. Alice is probably clueless.”
She furrows her brows. “Well, it’s really not our place to do anything…”
Is that true? “I know it’s meddlesome, but if you saw someone you love about to get hit by a car, would you let it happen, even if they were standing in the street staring at what’s coming?”
She smiles at me with this and says, “I hadn’t thought of it like that, but hell no.”
I smile back and we just sort of fall into a long moment of awkward silence. Well shit, where’s Yoda when you need her? “Well, Yoda, bring on the inspiration.”
She laughs at this and shrugs her shoulders as she leans back to get comfortable. “What can we do? We tell Alice and she’ll do one of a few things: Stop it, explain herself, or leave Dana. None of those really fix anything.”
“What if her explanation is valid? At least Dana would stop worrying…”
Shane shakes her head. “Nope, even if it is valid, I don’t think an affair is the only problem. I don’t think Dana likes how Alice treats her sometimes.”
I nod my head. “And she told me some personal stuff yesterday that concerns me as well. Fuck…” I blow out an exasperated breath. “There’s really nothing we can do is there?”
Shane shakes her head slowly in a defeated way before stopping and tilting it to the side in thought. “Well, there is one thing, but it may not be pretty…” I look at her confused. “When we notice Dana get upset at something Alice says or does, we…I don’t know…scold her; kind of like training a puppy.”
I cover my mouth so I don’t laugh at this. “You want us to rub Al’s nose in it and spank her with a rolled up newspaper?”
She chuckles. “Yeah, I don’t see how else to modify behavior. We can only make her aware when it happens and hope it starts to stick.”
We both start to giggle, which turns into an evil chuckle. “God…Shane…Alice is going to hate us.” I start laughing again. “It’s brilliant though. Good job Yoda.”
Her smile is bright and the warmth in her eyes returns. She looks at her phone and smiles sweetly before texting something and putting it back on the table. I eye her and wait for her to notice. It doesn’t take long. “What?”
“Oh, nothing.” She squints her eyes at me. “Who was that?”
She furrows her brow and eyes me shrewdly. I flutter eyeslashes at her and smile before setting my coffee on the table in finality. “It was Carmen.”
Her lips quirk into a crooked grin and I can literally feel my eyes widen with incredulity. “Shane! Please tell me you didn’t sleep with your roommate…”
She takes a sip of her coffee. “I’ll neither confirm nor deny…”
I lift my hands in defeat. “Fine. It’s a good thing I’m remodeling. You may need a place to stay when you find your house burned to the ground.” She smiles fully and again answers a text on her phone. “Shane, is Carmen working today?”
She finishes her text and eyes me as she takes a sip of her coffee. “No, why?”
“Does she have any plans?”
“She’s having some friends over to hang out at the house…”
I smile brightly. “Well, were you invited?”
“Well yeah, I live there…where is this going Bette?”
“You’re place.” I stand and grab my purse and jacket and start walking to the door. Turning over my shoulder I say, “Shane, are you coming?” She shakes her head and hastens to follow.
We arrive at the house at relatively the same time. For once my house is quiet, but just as promised, the outside is fully finished. I smile as I get out of my car and meet Shane at her jeep. I start to walk to her door but she grabs my arm to stop me. I face her confused and smile as I recognize her nervousness. “Um…Bette…”
I smile reassuringly at her. “Shane, don’t worry. I’ll be good.” I raise two fingers. “Scouts honor.”
She looks at me specutively and asks, “You were a girl scout?”
I smile and waggle the same two fingers. “I guess that all depends on your interpretation of the label.”
She tilts her head back in a knowing gesture and chuckles. “Ah, yes, I see.”
As we walk up the steps, I hear the muffled sounds of angry girl rock coming from inside. I turn to Shane and she shrugs saying, “This was your idea,” as she opens the door and walks in. There are four other young women besides Carmen lounging in various degrees of comfort on the furniture and in the floor, and they are already having a good time if the sickly sweet smell of cannabis and empty beer bottles littered everywhere are any indication.
They all stop and look up only to joyously chorus, “Shane!”
Shane walks into the middle of them saying, “Hey guys,” as she sits down on the sofa next to Carmen. Carmen turns towards Shane and tucks her knees up as she rests her head against the bent arm on the back of the sofa. She smiles flirtatiously and passes a make-shift water bong to Shane who sweetly says, “Thanks,” before taking a huge hit that puffs out her cheeks. She holds it up to me, her eyes heavily lidded and says, “Here Bette…,” in a tight voice before blowing out a long stream of smoke.
I suddenly feel very old. I haven’t been high in years. Ah, what the hell? You only live once and I probably have some time before I hear from Tina. I set my purse by the door and take the bong before settling into one of the chairs brought in from the kitchen.
It seems some things never change. I used something very similar in my college days. It’s a two liter bottle with a long straw running from the bowl into the four inches of water at the bottom. There’s another straw bent out from the side. I take the lighter one of the girls in the floor next to the coffee table holds out me and I spark the bowl as I suck on the bent straw. I hear the gurgling bubbles and watch the clear bottle fill with the grayish white smoke before pulling the bowl up a little and sucking again to clear it in one hit. It fills my lungs with its nostalgic taste and I hold it in for long minutes before breathing it out smoothly. I instantly feel fuzzy, warm, and tingly. I pass the bong to the left and say, “Wow, that’s good shit…”
Everyone laughs and claps and I give a mock bow from my seat. Shane smiles at me and resumes her intimate conversation of hushed whispers and loaded touches with Carmen while two of the other girls start making out.
I lean back in my seat and realize just how much I needed this. I’m still in a state of euphoria from last night, but leaving that box this morning had me nervous. I look down at my watch to see it’s just two o’clock. I hope Tina takes this for what it is, a gesture of infinite trust and vulnerability. And I hope she’s able to process it quickly. Necking sounds pretty damn good right about now. I hope…well that’s just it, I hope. I smile widely, from the sheer happiness of my thoughts or the marijuana I’m not sure, but I’m fairly certain it’s both. I feel utterly relaxed.
I look back to Shane and Carmen and realize that Carmen is totally gone on Shane. She has that look in her wide clear eyes and her smile is bursting with genuine happiness. I don’t know whether to feel sad or happy for her. Shane is an amazing person, I just don’t know if she’s ready to settle down and open herself up to someone. She always finds a way to sabotage her relationships, primarily by infidelity, and honestly, I think she does it on purpose. Fuck that sounds familiar…
Her whole life she’s never been able to depend on anyone but herself, and I think it hurt her so deeply that she shuts people out before she gets to that point. Maybe Carmen is just what she needs. She’s beautiful and seems to be able to keep up with Shane, and something tells me that her fiery Mexican blood is just the ticket to keeping Shane in check.
I look to Shane and she seems to really like Carmen. Her body language is sexual, like usual, but she seems more reserved, almost shy. I smile. Before I leave I’ll need to make sure she starts coming for morning coffee. Hell, we need Dylan Moreland to start coming for morning coffee. That might just be the shove Helena needs to get her ass in gear.
I chuckle at this and it grows into a guffaw that lasts several minutes before turning into giggles. The other girls look at me and join in the laughter for no good fucking reason, and this only makes me laugh harder. I laugh until I can’t breathe and I literally fall out of my chair onto the floor, where I just lay back and let the laugher have me.
“Bette?” The voice of an angel, my angel, calls out to me and I feel myself get lighter. “Babe…come on. Wake up. It’s time to go home…” Home…my home? I didn’t have a home, not for a long time, but now I do, and she’s calling to me. I feel even lighter. Yes, I want to go home. “Bette, come on babe. Open your gorgeous eyes. I’ve missed you today.”
“T?” I crack my eyes open and see her beautifully warm face as she smiles and strokes my cheek lovingly.
“Yeah babe, it’s me.”
I can’t help the brilliant grin that comes straight from my heart. “Hey! When did you get here? Where are we?”
She laughs and I close my eyes to cherish the sound of it. Everything feels so alive, so vivid right now and this gorgeous creature is no exception. I feel an electric pulse travel down my arm to settle in my palm as my boneless arm is lifted and tries to pull the rest of me with it. “God Shane, what was in that pot? She’s completely blitzed…”
Shane? Pot? Oh right, now I remember. I’m at Shane’s, I got stoned, and…an angel called me? I laugh. Okay…okay, this is good. We won’t have to go far to get to the house… “THE HOUSE!” I sit up abruptly and stare at Tina incredulously. She leans back and gazes at me worriedly. “T! What are you doing here?! You can’t be here!” I turn to Shane and she smiles sadly.
“Bette, it’s okay. I got done reading and called you but you didn’t answer. I waited a couple hours but got worried and decided to try you at the house, which looks great by the way. Did you just add water?”
I put my face in my hands and groan. “T, you weren’t supposed to see that yet…”
She pulls my hands away from my face and holds them until I look up at her. She smiles at me so sweetly that I can’t help but return it. Well fuck. Okay, she doesn’t know everything. You knew this was going to be impossibly difficult Porter, but you just had to go and fuck it up by getting high. “Bette, it’s not like I’d get mad at you for remodeling your house. Why does it matter? It looks like it’s going to be beautiful.”
I groan again and stand awkwardly. Tina wraps her arms around my waist and I link my wrists behind her back as I tuck my face beneath her ear and breathe deeply of her calming lavender scent. I mumble pathetically, “You’re right, it doesn’t matter. It was just supposed to be a surprise for you.”
“For me?” She pulls back until she can see my face. My head is lowered and I feel defeated as I nod. “Bette…” She runs her hands through my hair settling them on either side of my face. “…what do you mean?” Her hazel eyes are gazing so deeply into my own that I start to drown. I track my eyes down to her mouth, her sweet full mouth, so sensual and enthralling. I want to kiss her, so I do.
I lean in and press my lips to hers as I close my eyes. It’s sweet and warm and unhurried. She’s surprised at first but then she responds and starts to reciprocate. I moan and pull her closer to me as I run my tongue across her bottom lip demanding entry. She opens for me and I take long, slow, sensual wipes at her tongue with my own. She tangles her hands in the hair at the nape of my neck and it sends jolts of electric tingles down my spine. She tastes like cinnamon and coffee and something intoxicatingly specific to her incredible essence and I feel emboldened.
I run my hands around to the front of her hips before trailing my palms up to cup her wonderful, full breasts, running my thumbs across the hard points beneath the smooth fabric of her shirt. She puts her hands over mine and breaks the kiss. I whimper at the loss of contact and open my eyes to see her flushed and grinning, mischief sparkling in her eyes. She whispers, “Bette, we’re not alone…” I feel her warm breath wash over me and go to lean in for another kiss just as her comment registers. My eyes snap open and I turn to see Shane looking towards the kitchen smirking and Carmen clinging to the arm at her side, both trying hard not to laugh.
Tina turns to Shane questioningly, who looks to Carmen, who blushes and says, “I think…it was laced with a little ecstasy…”
“Well that explains it. I’ve seen her high before but this is a whole new monosyllabic level. It’s kind of…cute.” They all three giggle and I join them. They look to me incredulously and I laugh harder. “Okay…it’s definitely time to go home.” She takes my hand and pulls me with her as picks up my purse and jacket by the front door. She opens it and turns back to Shane with a serious expression. “From now on, marijuana only…”
Shane smirks again and says, “Sorry TK.”
She smiles. “It’s okay.
She tugs at me and I start to follow. Wait! “Wait!” They all look at me a little shocked. I point to Carmen and say, “The Planet, before work, every day, be there.” She and Shane chuckle as I turn back to Tina who is pulling on me to follow.
“What was that about?” I smile and kiss the hand linked with my own.
“Oh, they like each other, and it seems more…just more.”
Tina smiles at me as we get in her car. She puts my purse and jacket in the back floorboard. It’s much warmer out today and everything seems so bright. I reach back and grab my purse, pulling out my sunglasses and settling them on face. Tina giggles and starts the car as I roll down the window. The cool light breeze that picks up as we start to move is glorious.
I look over to Tina and reach out to run my hand down the smooth, silky skin of her exposed right arm. “T, I want you so badly right now…” She glances at me with a raised eyebrow and a smile so perfect I wonder if it’s even humanly possible. Her hair is waving slightly with the breeze and I reach up to run my fingers through the silky strands. Tina laughs and takes my hand in her own, linking our fingers and placing them in her lap. I start a continuous circle of brushing strokes against her thigh with my thumb and marvel at her. “Do you have any idea just how gorgeous you are?” She giggles and squeezes my hand.
“Babe, you’re incredibly sweet…but you’re also really high…”
“No, that’s not it.” She snorts out a small laugh and glances at me with a disbelievingly raised eyebrow. “No, I mean, I am high, but that’s not why I think you’re so beautiful. You just…are. I see it all the time. You’re stunning Tina. So much so that it’s overwhelming sometimes…” She eyes me for a moment, her expression flummoxed, before returning her gaze to the road. Tears well in my eyes. “I wish, for just one moment, that you could see you the way I do. You wouldn’t doubt my words…not for an instant.”
She glances at me again and checks her blind spot before pulling to the side of the road and coming to a stop. She puts the car in park and turns to face me more fully, removing her seatbelt as she again takes my hand. Tears well in her hazel eyes and she raises it to her lips for a tender, almost reverent kiss. “Bette, I believe you…”
I look into her eyes and smile so radiantly my chest could burst. She reaches forward and pulls the sunglasses from my face to wipe at the tear streaking down my cheek. I wipe her matching one away with my thumb before asking, “Really? You believe me?”
Her face opens with her smile as she says, “How could I not? After everything I read today, what happened last night, and the conviction in your voice just now…I…I’m…blown away Bette. You blow me away. And you just keep doing it…” My smile is so wide my cheeks start to ache. “I’m so glad you let me read them. It helped me to understand so many things that I blamed myself for. For so long I thought that you just didn’t love me like I wanted you to, like I needed you to. I thought that I just didn’t deserve it.”
She lowers her head and plays with my hand for a moment before beaming a radiant smile at me. “Really, I think you loved me, so much so that you had to shut me out because somewhere deep inside of you, I truly believe you thought I’d leave you, just like everyone else you had ever relied on. That was so freeing Bette. You freed me of so much today, and I utterly love you for it.”
I can’t help myself. I start to weep. She leans across the console, wraps her arms around my neck, and we cry together. It’s a deep and cleansing moment. It’s working. It’s really working, and I cling to that truth just as hard as I cling to her now. I don’t want her to, but she pulls away, and we gaze at each other as we stroke away the tears, wiping away years of needless anguish with them.
“I’m so glad that you understand that T. It was never you. I tried to explain that before, but it’s just so hard to put into words…”
“I know babe, I know. It’s okay now. I get it. I regret not understanding it sooner. Things might have been so different…”
I stroke her cheek. “No T. Don’t think like that. Even if you had known, I’d have still been me. There’s nothing you could have done.” I smile sadly. “This may sound bad, but I think what happened was the best, worst thing that could.” She furrows her brows in confusion and I reach up to smooth them. “It was heart wrenching torment, but I think we needed to go through it to get here…” I start to chortle. “…and here is pretty fucking incredible.” She chuckles with me as she nods her head in agreement and while I know I’ve said a lot, there’s still so much I need to say.
I play with her fingers as tears well in my eyes and gaze at her, waiting until she looks up at me. When I can finally see into the deep and open hazel pools, I let my face turn serious. “I need you to know that I’m sorry.”
Her brows furrow again but our eyes remain locked. “For what?”
I let out a deep breath. “Given my past, I know that I sent all the wrong messages, and I just…I don’t want to be…casual, about the promise that I made to you.”
She raises and eyebrow and says, “I didn’t know that you made any promises…”
I lower my gaze, breaking the connection for a moment, and shake my head sadly before returning to her eyes. There is still so much to do, so much to convince her of. “Well I’m making a promise to you now…” She turns her head and laughs a little incredulously, and it hurts, but I touch her chin and turn her face back to mine, unwilling to let this go. My voice is thick but I’m able to choke the words out. “I promise…that I share your values…about family, and faithfulness…and commitment.” Again she turns away and breaths out a short an almost disbelieving chuckle. I lean over to get into her line of site and force her to see me, to hear me. My voice is weak with emotion but infinitely strong with conviction. “…and that I will never…EVER…cheat on you again.”
She leans back a bit at the intensity of the declaration but her eyes are bright, and while I don’t believe that’s she feels she can rely on this promise, I know for certain that I have placed doubt in the strength of her belief otherwise. “Wow…that’s…big…”
“I love you…” I lower my head and feel her reach up to brush back the haphazard curls that have fallen into my eyes, unsuccessfully tucking them behind my ear.
“I love you too, Bette.” I smile a watery smile and kiss the back of her flawless hand. The silence is so thick with the words I left hanging in the air, that I could cut it with a knife. I just hope she will let the doubt I planted grow deep and strong roots in her heart. Her heart, I look to its safe haven behind the sinewy flesh and bone of her breast and lean forward to leave a tender kiss on it before turning my head and resting my ear against it. Its rhythm is steady and strong and fills me with a sense of sheer contentment and relief. She wraps her arms around my shoulder and head and holds me to her.
After several long moments pass, she finally breaks the silence. “Babe…tell me about the house. You never did answer my question.”
I stay nestled in my safe haven but furrow my brow, trying to recall what she asked. “You said you were remodeling for me. What did you mean?”
Sigh. This part of the plan is over. I might as well let her have it now. I sit up and reach for my purse, pulling the zipper on the side open to retrieve a thick, white envelope. I hold it in my lap and stare at it for a moment, considering how to break this to her. Just speak from the heart. That’s Tina’s domain. She’ll understand me if I do.
I look up and offer it to her. She accepts it hesitantly and stares at it for a moment. It’s plain and nondescript and she finally meets my eyes with the question. I gaze back with a smile and explain. “It’s not done yet…I had planned to have it ready first…but, it’s yours.”
She raises her eyebrow and I smile. I love that expression. It’s just so…her. She stutters. “Wh…what?”
She almost looks panicked. I soothingly stroke the hand I’m still holding with my thumb and meet her eyes with all the seriousness I can muster. “It’s not my home…it never was. You’re my home…and I don’t want it without you.”
“No, Bette, you can’t do this…I won’t accept it…I can’t…”
I expected this, and she hasn’t even received the biggest of my gifts yet. This is going to be a struggle, but she’s worth it. I’d crawl through hot, jagged glass on my naked ass for her. She just needs to realize how serious I am. “I’m sorry T, but there’s nothing you can really do about it. I owned it free and clear, and I’m gifting it to you. It’s already legal. The papers are in your hands. You don’t even have to sign them. California recognizes you as the legal owner of that house.”
She grips my hands and puts the papers back into them before leaning back with an almost angry expression. “Bette, I don’t want it. That’s your house; I won’t take it.”
I drop the envelope into my lap and gently grip the sides of her face, stroking the high cheekbones with my thumbs. “Tina, aren’t you listening to me at all?” I make sure to meet her eyes. “You’re my home, you. I don’t want anything in this world without you. That place has been a depressing, cold, and empty shell without you. I just don’t want it. Where you are, is where I want to be. I had hoped…that you’d want to live there…together…once it’s done. But it’s yours to do with what you want.”
She lets out a loaded breath. I knew she wouldn’t give up easily. “Bette, no, I just won’t. I’m sorry, but I won’t.”
“Tina…” I stop and wait for her to look at me. She needs to understand what her options are. “…if you don’t want it, it’s simple to get rid of. Sell it or burn it to the ground for all I care. But it’s yours, and I won’t take it back. It’s done.”
Her voice turns pleading. “Bette, you don’t understand. I can’t…I don’t think I can live there…”
I smile at her reassuringly. “Tina, I do understand. That’s why I wanted it fully remodeled before I gave it to you. It will be new inside. It won’t hold so much negative nostalgia.” She shakes her head. “Tina, the house is yours. That’s not going to change. Just wait until it’s remodeled and then decide what you want. I won’t hold anything against you. It’s truly yours. You can decorate it how you want and live there, or get rid of it. It doesn’t matter. I just want to be with you. Nothing else does.”
She sighs. “Why are you doing this? It just doesn’t make sense. We practically live together as it is and I don’t want that to change. Do you just want me at the house…?”
Tina, for fuck’s sake; listen to me. “Tina you’re not hearing me. I…don’t…want…it…without…you. I don’t want anything without you. I’m giving it to you because I want you to have it. There is no ulterior motive here. It’s a gift, a heartfelt gift, a part of me that I’m giving you, just like the journals. Truly, you can do what you want with it. I just want to be where you are. If you want to live in a cardboard box on Sunset, I’ll be there with you…if you’ll have me.”
She’s in shock, and this is just a small gift. I pick up the envelope and place it in her glove compartment. “I love you T. I want you to have it. I want to see it become a home, where everywhere I look I see you. I would love to live there with you. But those desires do not even come close to being in the same realm of how much I just want to be with you. Take it or leave it, the house is yours, I’m yours, and that’s just not going to change.”
“I need some time to absorb this Bette…it’s a huge deal.”
She’s losing and she knows it, and I know it. I smile brightly at her. “Take all the time you need to absorb it, but it’s really not a big deal. It’s a just house T. They’re on every corner. There’s only one you. I know where my priorities lie. It’s replaceable…you’re not.”
She grips the steering wheel, blows out a long breath, and starts to cry. I reach over and take her in my arms. This is going to be exceedingly hard but I’m going to help her. She cries for long moments and I start to worry that I’ve hurt her. When she finally starts to calm, I hesitantly ask, “Did I hurt you Tina? I wasn’t trying to…I swear…”
She leans back, covers my mouth with her hand, and smiles a bright, tearful smile. “Stop talking. You’ve said enough. I heard you.” She removes her hand and continues. “You didn’t hurt me. I’m just so…shocked…I’m fucking flabbergasted. You just keep blowing me away…sometimes it’s just…a lot.”
She leans back over to her side of the car and takes a moment to clean her face and pull herself together before she straps in and turns over the engine. I take her hand in mine. “Are you okay to drive right now?”
She smiles at me. “Yes, I’ll be okay. I just want to get home and, if you wouldn’t mind, could we just…cuddle? I just need to feel quiet and safe right now.”
My heart could burst. Quiet and safe. I’m quiet and safe for her. I close my eyes and allow myself a moment to really feel the thrill of this knowledge before saying, “I’d love nothing more…I could use a refill myself.”
She blows out a breath and smiles at me. I can tell she’s still overwhelmed, but I’m reaching her. I’m really reaching her, and everything looks so much more vibrant and vivid. The sheer hope of the moment is more intoxicating than any drug I’ve ever tried.