“Hey guys.” Tina, Malcolm, and I walk up to the table and take our regular seats.
Alice smiles excitedly and nearly falls out of her seat in her haste to open the bag at her feet. She pops back up beaming, and plops a paper on the table scooting towards Tina with a knowing look in her eyes. I can tell what it is before it’s even halfway across the table. It’s a donor.
Tina picks it up and her smile gets wider with each scan of her eyes. She finally turns to me with tears in her eyes and passes it over to me. The look of sheer joy on her face stops my heart and I’m concerned that I will disappoint her with this donor as well. I accept the paper with a patient smile and take a deep breath to steel my nerves. “5”9’, African, Italian, Swedish, BA in Graphic Design, Minor in Literature, Los Angeles Valley College, Enjoys anything athletic, working out, and loves animals.” This isn’t bad and it’s very close but, “Note: Family history of breast cancer.”
Fuck, one little note and I’m afraid to even look at my wife for fear this will shatter her. I don’t think it will get better than this. I gather my courage and set the donor sheet down as I turn to Tina. Her face falls and I close my eyes. “T…I’m sorry…he would be great, but breast cancer…”
“You just don’t want to do this yet, do you.” She says this as a statement of fact rather than a question. “No one’s going to be perfect Bette.”
The whole table is silent as they watch this exchange and I turn in my chair to face her fully, leaning down to try and meet her eyes. “T…I want nothing more than to have a family with you…”
She looks up to me with tears in her eyes. “Then why? He’s as perfect as we’re going to get…”
I take her hands in my own. “T…breast cancer is serious. It’s hereditary and it usually skips generations. I just don’t think it’s a good idea…”
She gazes into my eyes and she’s broken. I think she’s given up on this, and I hate myself because I’m the person who’s turned her down so many times that I’ve pushed her to this. “Okay T…let’s go with the other guy. The one from the first night…”
She shakes her head and collects herself. “No, that’s alright. We’ll just table this for right now. I don’t…I don’t think you’re ready Bette…”
I stare at her incredulously for long minutes. The tension in the room is so thick you could cut it with a knife. Alice pulls the donor sheet away and tucks it into her bag and I have no idea what to say. It’s not true, but she won’t believe me. I look to everyone’s faces and realize that no one does.
“What’s wrong with you people today? You look like someone died…” Kit eyes us all specutively and her expression turns worried. “…no one died did they?!”
Shane looks to Kit and shakes her head in warning and Kit throws her hands in the air, turns on her heel, and starts walking back to the counter mumbling, “Another day complete with crazy ass dyke drama.”
Malcolm clears his throat and meets my eyes and I turn to Kit. “Kit?”
She turns towards me and I smile sadly. “We got the test results this morning. We were waiting until we got here to open them with you.”
Her eyes sparkle and she walks back to us. I reach into my purse and pull them out, just staring at them for a moment. I’m not sure what I’m going to find in this envelope, but I almost don’t care anymore. I don’t have the deep connection to Malcolm that I know I could, not yet anyway. But I could. I think I’ve accepted that now.
I hand the envelope to Malcolm and say, “You read it first.” He smiles hesitantly and accepts the envelope as I pick up Tina’s hand and kiss it. I lean in close and whisper, “We’ll talk about this tonight. Please trust me.”
She smiles a sad smile and squeezes my hand but I can tell that there is no hope burning in her eyes. Malcolm clears his throat and I look up to realize that he’s read it. It’s written all over his face. He’s smiling brightly and tears are shining in his eyes as he looks to me and then Kit. His hand is trembling as he reaches them across to me and I accept them. I look down at the paper and it’s conclusive. He’s my brother. I smile back at him and pass the papers to Kit. She doesn’t accept them saying, “I really don’t care.” She walks over to Malcolm and gives him a kiss on the cheek. “You’re my family no matter what.”
He laughs so joyously that everyone around the table chuckles with him, even Tina who leans forward and hugs him tightly. He meets my eyes and I wink at him. I shouldn’t have doubted him, but I am who I am, and who I am is flawed just like everyone else.
He turns to the table and says, “Well, this is good news…” He turns to me and Tina and playfully says, “…at least for me.” We all chuckle again and he continues. “I was actually going to speak with you both this morning. Thanks to your generosity I’ve been able to save up enough money to start classes next month and afford a small place of my own. It won’t be much, but it will be mine.”
I smile brilliantly and wink at him. “That is good news.”
He laughs through his tears and Carmen pipes in. “Why don’t you rent the studio out back at our place?”
Shane smiles and nods her head. “I don’t know why that never occurred to me. We should talk.”
Malcolm’s eyes shine with gratitude. “That would be fantastic. It would make an excellent studio with all the natural light.”
Shane leans back. “Well, come by after work tonight and we’ll work out the details. It would really help us out with rent.”
I turn to Tina to see that she’s folded in to herself and close my eyes. I kiss her hand and wait for her to look at me. She finally meets my eyes and I can tell that she’s barely holding it together. “T…I’m going to stay home with you today.”
She shakes her head. “No, go to work.” I stare at her incredulously and tears gather in my own eyes. Her face finally softens and she strokes my cheek. “I think I just need to be alone for a little bit. Go to work, come home, and we’ll talk then. Okay?”
I start to protest but stop when I see her face. She says she needs to be alone, but what I think she’s saying is she needs to be away from me. If that’s what she needs, I won’t begrudge her, for a few hours anyway. My voice is hoarse as I concede with a nod and stand to gather my briefcase. Malcolm stands as well and we start to make our way toward the door. “Bette…?”
I turn to see Tina striding after us with a worried expression on her face. She reaches out to me hesitantly but pulls her hand back. What the fuck is this? She’s afraid to touch me now? Tears gather in her eyes and I step forward to take her in my arms. She tucks her head under my chin and releases a deep breath. “You didn’t even kiss me…you never leave without kissing me, not anymore…”
I close my eyes. I’m failing at every fucking turn this morning. I lean back and touch her lips in a sweet and lingering kiss. It last long moments and I hold her face in my hands, pouring all of my love for her in this simple ancient act. I feel her smile against my mouth and I can’t help but give her one of my own. “I’m sorry. I just thought you…it doesn’t matter. I’m sorry.”
She strokes the haphazard curls away from my eyes and says, “Try to come home early, okay?”
I smile radiantly. “Give me two hours.” She nods her head and I hold unto her hand until the last minute before Malcolm and I exit the building.
“Kelly, I’m glad you came.” Kelly strides through the door closing it firmly behind her, a smug smile on her face.
“I take it you’ve reconsidered?” It’s everything I can do not to laugh at the absurdity of this easy little path to redemption. This fixes the point of who’s lying, but it doesn’t fix the point of Tina not having faith in me. Oh well, I’ve given my life freely to proving myself to her.
“I’ve thought it over and I just want to be clear on the terms.” She sits and crosses her legs triumphantly. “You pursued me, attacked me here in this office without my consent, and made sure you had an eye witness to back up your claim.” She eyes me specutively. “You then made it clear that if I don’t sleep with you, you will tell Tina knowing that Malcolm will have no choice but to back you up. Once he’s corroborated your story that I’m a liar and a cheat, you’ll throw in a few bonus misdeeds for good measure.”
She nods her head. Well fuck. I sit down and stare at her. She has to say something or this easy out is useless. Long moments of silence pass before she gets irritated. “So…you agree?”
I smile a feral smile. “No, I don’t.”
She leans back and again that predatory smile falls across her face. “Bette…I never knew you to be this foolish, especially over what would be a…well, let’s face it, probably the best fuck of your life. Are you sure?” She snorts delicately. “I mean, I’ve met your wife. She can’t possibly satisfy your appetite.”
I stand abruptly and approach her with my own smug smile. I cross my arms over my chest as I lean against the desk. My smile morphs into a chuckle, which morphs into a full out laugh. “You have no…fucking…clue just how well she satisfies my appetites.” I chuckle again. “In fact, I doubt you could keep up with her.”
She eyes me balefully and smiles. “Well, once she finds out, something tells me she won’t want to satisfy you anymore.”
“Go ahead. Malcolm won’t back you up. But he will vouch for me…and so will this.” I pick up my cell phone from the back of the desk, hit the stop button, reset the track, and press play. The sounds of our conversation come over the small but sharp speakers clearly, and I smile radiantly at her.
She sucks on her teeth and eyes me ruefully before standing and clapping insolently. “I have to hand it to you Porter. That was so easy that it’s almost pathetic.” She lifts her hands in surrender. “But, it works.”
I smile and walk around my desk to the phone and hit the intercom. “James…now would be good time.” Several security guards enter the room and grab her by the arms without a word and escort her off the premises. She doesn’t struggle or even say anything but the look in her eyes makes me wonder if she’s completely snapped. Deke and his money did a number on her psyche. Malcolm enters the room with a big grin and I walk around to hug him. It’s short, it’s quick, but it’s progress.
“T…we’re home.” Malcolm and I step into the house and it’s eerily quiet. I walk further in, set my briefcase down, and remove my blazer. Her car was here. “T?” There’s no response but the back patio doors are open so I make my way back toward them. Just as I pass the laundry room I hear quiet sobs and turn to see Tina huddled on the floor and crying hysterically. I rush over to her, settle on my knees, and take her in my arms. “T, what’s wrong?”
She clings to me and cries so hard that I’m reminded of that night…that terrible night when I found her crying in our room because we lost our son. I squeeze her tighter and let her get it out and my eyes track to the object on the floor at her feet. I close my eyes. Fuck, how careless am I? The ultrasound photo is lying there plain as day and I can’t help the quiet tears that escape my own eyes.
I hold her and she clings to me for long moments until she starts to quiet down. I look up to see Malcolm enter the room and bend down to pick up the photo. I want to snatch it from his hands. It’s personal, and it’s private, and he can’t possibly comprehend this grief. He gazes at the photo and I can see the dark knowledge of loss and pain flash in his soulful eyes. I reach up and take it from him, hiding it behind Tina as she finally calms.
He crouches down in front of us and reaches out to stroke the hair out of Tina’s eyes. “Tina…” When she leans back a little and gives him her attention, he then looks to me. “…Bette…I um…would you…I would like to…be your donor…”
Tina goes deathly quiet and still and I stare at him with shocked and wide eyes. This goes on for long moments before Tina’s quiet, hesitant, and pain soaked voice asks, “What?”
He lowers his head. “I know that I’m not well educated, and my art is lacking…honestly, I’m lacking…but I’d be honored to give you both a child…and I can think of nothing better than becoming an uncle…” He smiles shyly and my heart breaks. I close my eyes and realize just how terrible I’ve been to this man. Not only has he been kind, and consistent, but he’s been generous despite the meager cards that life dealt him. And Tina’s child, my child, would be blood relation, share my makeup just as it shares Tina’s.
I release the breath I’ve been holding and look to Tina whose hopeful face is waiting to be crushed as she reaches out to me with her heart. I smile a watery smile and stroke her face and she raises and incredulous eyebrow.
BANG! The sound is so loud through the open patio doors that it almost sounds like a gunshot. “How could you do that Shane?!”
Hurried footsteps walk quickly past the back gate and we all get to our feet and walk to the side windows of the house to peer out. “Carmen, I’m sorry…Carmen, just listen to me!”
“NO!” Carmen stops and turns to Shane who skids to a halt a few feet from her. “No, I don’t want to hear excuses. It’s over…”
Carmen has angry tears in her eyes and a large bag in her hands as she turns and resumes her hurried stride to her car. Shane follows at a run. “Carmen…I…I love you…”
Carmen throws her bag in the backseat and opens the driver’s side door before her broken eyes meets Shane’s gaze. She snorts an incredulous laugh and says, “Fuck you…” before entering her car and skidding away. Shane stands there in stunned silence and something I’ve never seen before happens. She puts one hand to her stomach and bends her knees like she’s going to collapse, as tears fall freely and openly from her eyes.
I look to Tina and we gaze at each other for long moments. When I look back out the window, Shane is crouched down fully, barely holding herself together. I make my way out the back of the house, through the gate and approach Shane from behind. She doesn’t look up as she feels my hand on her shoulder, so I crouch down next to her and wrap my arms around her. She lets me hold her for a few moments but it doesn’t last long. She stands abruptly, adopting her everything is peachy expression, and I sigh as I watch her retreat to her house. Fuck.