“Hey, Dane.” I step back and open the door fully so Dana can come in. She enters a little hesitantly and the expression on her face is disconcerting. Something’s very wrong. I shut the door and put my hand on her shoulder. “Hey, are you okay?”
She closes her eyes for a moment, scrubbing her neck as she releases a heavy breath. “I was actually hoping to talk to you. I know you have a lot going on right now…”
I rub her shoulder. “No, it’s okay. I just put the twins down, Tina’s taking care of Angie, and the trial is more than six weeks away. I have nothing but time right now.”
She reaches up and squeezes my hand. “Thanks.” She releases me and we walk to the sectional where I gently settle myself. She quietly takes a seat next to me and I look her over. Her face is fuller, her color healthier, and she seems much stronger. She has about an quarter inch of new hair growth hidden under her head covering, her eyebrows have returned, and her eyelashes have started to grow in. If not for the emotional turmoil radiating off of her in waves, I’d say she’s looking more like herself today than she has in almost a year.
It’s amazing how resilient the human body is and how much it can accomplish in just two months. Her most recent test was clear of any of the cancer that did this to her, and she’s been healing and getting better every day. All that hope I had for her, all that will to fight… it paid off and it is life altering and humbling to witness.
She meets my eyes but I can tell that she’s not finding the words she came to say. It’s not hard to guess. “Dane, is it Alice?”
She nods her head and exhales so explosively that she must have been holding her breath. She clears her throat and picks at the imaginary lint on her jeans. “Um… I did what you suggested; I told Alice how I felt, what I want… everything, about two weeks ago.”
I look at her face and start to feel terrible. If her demeanor is any indication of how it went, I may have given her very bad advice. How can being honest be the wrong thing to do? It may not always end well, but it’s better than hiding or lying, right? She still hasn’t continued so I reach over and gently shake her knee. “So, how’d it go? What happened?”
She looks me in the eyes and smiles sadly. “We, um… we kissed. Like a lot. Like a whole lot…” I can feel the shock settle onto my face as my eyes widen. Please tell me I didn’t advise Dana to start an affair. That was my very last intention. Dana reads my face and hastens to reassure me. “Oh, no! No, no, no, nothing happened. We just kissed… until it got a little… very… intense.” Her bittersweet smile fades and her eyes glaze over in pain. “When she realized what was happening, she… she shoved me away, looked at me like she was… I don’t know, going to be sick, and then damn near ran from my fucking condo.”
I release a sad sigh as I take her hand. “I’m sorry, Dane. She didn’t say anything at all?”
She shakes her head. “She won’t return my calls and she’s avoiding me. I know I lost my girlfriend, but now I’m scared I’m going to lose my best friend.” I watch a single tear roll off her nose to fall into her lap and she sniffs as she swipes it away in frustration. I put my arm around her and she leans into me.
“Dana, I’m sorry. I didn’t think she’d avoid you. That doesn’t sound like Alice.”
She nods and sits up, blowing out a breath to gather herself. She raises a hand to indicate her confusion and lets it fall back to slap her thigh. “I know. I don’t understand. All she had to do was turn me down. It’s not like I’d have tailed her in my car or made things awkward for her and Tasha. I just wanted her to know that I was in love with her, that I am in love with her.” She snorts. “God knows I didn’t expect her to choose me, but I sure as fuck didn’t expect her to shut me out completely.”
I stroke her back soothingly as I try to piece together the insufferable puzzle that is Alice. “Maybe she just needed some time to be alone and think…”
“Bette, when she looked at me she seemed… terrified, like I was a freak or something. I know I’m not very attractive right now but-”
I gaze at her angrily as I cut her off. “That’s bullshit and you know it. This has nothing to do with your looks, Dana. You know Alice better than that and you know you’re beautiful. You always have been.”
She looks up at me with a sad smile. “Thanks, Bette, but I have a long way to go before I even look human again, let alone normal, and even then…” She stares down at her hands as she plays with the hem of her shirt. “…well, I’ll never look normal again, not really. I can’t blame her for being frightened.”
My heart hurts for her. She’s been through so much and she’s lost a part of herself, part of her identity as a woman. I can’t imagine the emotional ramifications of what she’s been through, and yes, she has a long way to go, but she’s already overcome so much. She can’t give up now.
I stroke her back and wait for her to look at me. She finally meets my eyes and I can see the profound sadness lurking beneath the glassy orbs. “Dana, you…” Tears well in my eyes as I gaze at her with all the love and faith I have in her. I can barely choke the words out of my tight throat. “…you are even more beautiful now than you ever were, and do you know why?” She swallows the tears that are trying surface and shakes her head. “Because you and your body are living testaments to the strength it takes to fight and the hope it takes to triumph. You… are… fucking incredible… inside and out.”
She stares at me incredulously for a long moment as those words sink in and as they start to, a smile starts to bloom across her face, which turns in to a grin, which turns into a laugh despite the tears that stream down her cheeks. She wraps her arms around my neck, holding on tightly as she continues to laugh and cry and cleanse herself. She finally pulls back with a huge, toothy grin and looks me in the eyes. She puts her hands on my shoulders and pushes me playfully as she says, “You have helped me so much, Bette. Fuck, you’re just… impossible to contradict…”
I wink at her. “Don’t tell Tina that.”
She chuckles before her expression becomes serious. “You wouldn’t let me give up then and you won’t now. I’ll never be able to repay you for all that you’ve done for me, but there’s something I’d like to do for you.”
I swipe at my tears and smile at her. “Dane, you don’t owe me anything. All I did was tell you the truth.”
She rolls her eyes and releases me saying, “Fine, then do me a favor?”
I gaze at her curiously and shrug my shoulders. “Okay… what is it?”
Her eyes are warm as she asks, “Alice is Angie’s earth mother, but what about the twins?”
I feel my face open into a radiant, incredulous smile as her request registers. “You want to be their earth mother?” She nods and I release a short, incredulous laugh. “Of course… I mean, I have to ask Tina but I can’t imagine that she–”
“I think it’s a great idea.” I turn to see my wife leaning against the corner of the wall with her arms crossed over her chest. She’s been watching us this whole time. She pulls off the wall and comes up to us, sitting on the edge of the sofa on the other side of me. She takes Dana’s hand. “I can’t think of anyone better.” She smiles coyly at Dana. “We need all the help we can get with the cavalcade of Bette clones that will soon be running around this house.”
We all chuckle and Dana hugs Tina, her tears come harder and I know that this moment will be with me the rest of my life. They eventually pull apart and turn to me, smiling as they pull me in. We laugh as we cry and hold one another, and I send a prayer out into the universe that my friends will work through this and come back to each other. I feel bad for Tasha, but some things, some loves, supersede all others. Someone is going to get hurt, but there’s nothing anyone can do, and Alice will have to choose who it is. There’s really no perfect outcome here.
I have my own things to focus on right now, and while my needs aren’t always the most important, I can’t help but consider that just like Dana, I will fight this case, my past; I will cling to the hope that is there, and I will beat this, coming out stronger and better than before, just like she is. I will pay restitution to my past once and for all, and I will show it that it can’t have me because it doesn’t own me. I belong to Tina and Tina alone.
I step into Dan’s reception area and release a sigh. It was a hell of a meeting with Joyce today. I already feel emotionally drained and I don’t want to be here, but I know that he’s helping, and I need all the help I can get. It’s just so draining. The nightmares are still coming with a vengeance. I have more control of them, but I don’t always know what’s going to happen before I’ve fucked up my options. I’m just so tired. There is no solace in sleep and I’m breastfeeding two, four-week-old babies. I’m just so thankful I have Tina full-time right now. I don’t know what I’d do without her at home.
The receptionist looks up from her computer and greets me with a smile as she says, “Mr. Foxworthy is ready for you. You can go on in.” I offer a weary smile in return as I make my way to Dan’s office.
I step inside the office and shut the door behind me. Dan looks up from his notes and smiles. “Bette, have a seat.” He gestures to the loveseat and I settle myself gently and release a sigh. My incision is itching so badly today and it’s everything I can do not to dig at it. I push the irritating call to claw at my abdomen out of my mind and focus on Dan as he asks, “So how are you today?”
I sink a little further into the loveseat and sigh. “I’m exhausted, Dan.”
He hums in understanding and nods in a knowing manner. “Well, let’s get started then. Maybe we can have another breakthrough. What’s the most recent offering from the dream journal?”
I reach into my purse and pull out the small steno pad, pulling the pen from the metal bindings at the top and opening it to the most recent page. “I feel angry because no matter how many times I kill Candace, she won’t go away and I feel like a bad person because I want her gone.” There’s a long moment of silence as the sentence hangs in the air. I know what he wants from me, it’s the same thing he always wants, but I’m at a loss with this one. “I can’t seem to figure this one out, Dan. I have nothing…”
“Okay… you feel angry because killing her isn’t getting rid of her.”
I nod my head in exasperation. “Right.”
“Do you always kill her in your dreams?”
I rest my head back and think about this for a moment. “Yes. I don’t even know how sometimes. It just happens. And even when I save Tina, she still kills herself.”
“Have you killed yourself since you gained some control?”
I shake my head. “No, I tried to once but I was able to stop myself. It’s always Tina now.”
“Why do you think that one of you has to kill yourself?”
I think hard on this and remember Tina’s words. “Once, the first time that I was able to save Tina, I asked her why she was going to kill herself before she did it. She told me that she has to, that Candace isn’t really dead, and that it’s basically one or the other.”
He nods his head and I can tell he’s again puzzling something out that I’m completely missing. “Why do you think that even when you kill Candace, she’s not really gone?”
I exhale heavily. “I don’t know, Dan. Maybe…” I gaze into his eyes and I see encouragement, but I really just don’t know.
This goes on long moments before I lift my hands in surrender. He crosses his legs as he asks, “Do you think that maybe you aren’t letting her die?”
I furrow my brows at him. “What do you mean?”
“Have you really let yourself believe that you’ve killed her? Have you come to terms with it? Have you grieved?”
“Why would I grieve over her? I wasn’t in love with her.”
He smiles sadly. “When you hear of people dying in Syria, do you feel compassion for them and their families?”
I gaze at him incredulously. “Of course I do. I don’t want people to suffer or die, especially when it’s so sense… less…” I could slap myself in the forehead and he smiles at me. I fucking hate this man on so many levels for torturing me, but I’m grateful to him. I sigh. “No, I haven’t grieved for her.”
“How can she be gone if you haven’t let her go?”
I blow out a breath. “Okay, so how do I do that?”
He folds his hands in his lap. “How do you normally process death or trauma?”
I know the answer to this one. “Escapism and pushing emotions away. I’m not sure I ever really grieved the death of my parents, and I had to force myself to grieve for Tina and our son.”
He lifts his hands. “Maybe it’s time to force yourself to confront this.”
Fuck. I don’t relish the thought of going through something like that again. “I don’t even know where to start, Dan.”
“I don’t think we ever really get over things, Bette. I think some things are with us forever, and with those cases, the best we can do is to get through them. You’ll never truly be free of what happened that day as if it didn’t exist, but you can learn to cope enough to let her be at rest and in turn, let yourself be at rest. You’re making progress. It will come.” I nod my head and hope that he’s right… and that it comes soon.
I snap my eyes open and Tina strokes my hair. “It’s okay, baby. You’re awake. I promise.” It takes a moment for me to trust her, to believe her, but I start to relax as the most recent images of her death start to fade from my sight. Fuck, that dream was… there are not words. I bury my face in her chest and let the tears come.
She continues to soothe me and I feel entirely helpless to find my way through this. “I don’t know what to do, T.”
“I know, babe. I know. You will, and I’m here. We’ll get through this together, just like we always do.” I let the quiet tears have their reign. It’s not grief, just helplessness, but as the tears escape me I do feel a small bit of release. “I hate to do this, but you need to write it down while it’s fresh. We have to keep trying.” I squeeze her before I release her and she turns on the lamp, sitting up to hold me as I take the pen and pad and start to put my feelings down.
I feel helpless when Tina kills herself.
That’s all there is this night, just helplessness as I watch the love of my life, my wife, my Tina destroy herself, again and again and again. Tina reads this over my shoulder and squeezes me. “I know it’s little comfort while you’re going through that, but I’m here… I’m here and I would never do that. I’d never leave you willingly. I love you, Bette… so much.”
I turn my face into her neck and breathe in the soothing lavender scent of her hair, feel the warmth of her smooth skin against my cheek, and soak up her words as much as my soul will let me. “I love you too, T, and it does mean something. It means everything.”