I smile a goofy and lovesick smile at Tina as I open the door to the Planet for her. She smiles back with a raised eyebrow and continues through the door shaking her head. I just can’t help the feeling of utter contentment and elation that seems to have become my perpetual state of being. I have no doubts anymore, not after last night. Tina hasn’t doubted me since the night I got high, at least not vocally; and while I know that her faith is not yet fully restored, our only hindrance is time, and I’ve got nothing but that and determination.
As a result of all this, our lovemaking has become life altering, in both the physical and spiritual realms, and our connection is so strong that I could reach out now and pick up the steel reinforced cable hanging between us and pull her to a dead stop. I wouldn’t, but I’m sure I could, and it’s a hopeful and joyous feeling that I can’t even fully describe.
I feel pretty, oh so pretty. I feel pretty, and happy, and gay. I think I’ve lost what was left of my mind, and I think Tina agrees. But who cares? The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and there’s a happy tune on repeat whenever I’m with her. Life is good and it’s only going to get better, and as an added bonus, I get to kill Sam. I just can’t help it. I feel light and carefree. Nothing negative can touch me, and I plan to enjoy it for as long as it lasts.
Kit’s not at the counter this morning, so we stop and order our usual pastry and coffee before locating and making our way to the table. As we approach, I notice that all the regulars are here but we have a newcomer, Carmen. It’s about damn time. I invited her two weeks ago.
She and Shane are sitting very close together and I can’t help the megawatt smile I flash at them as I hold out a chair for Tina. She’s taking my extreme good mood in stride but she laughs at me in disbelief with this gesture. I’ve never been one for overt displays of chivalry or affection. I can hold my own doors and pull out my own chairs and I know Tina can as well. I also don’t need to be constantly reassured publically, but it’s an entirely selfish act with Tina, not a testament to her inability to take care of herself or a product of insecurities. I just can’t seem to stop wanting to touch her or do things for her.
Everyone else is staring at me as I take my seat with satisfied sigh and unintentionally smug smile. I scoot my chair tightly up to Tina’s, and their incredulity doesn’t faze me a bit as I cross my legs and lean back at an angle, resting my arm on the back of Tina’s chair. I turn to see her incredible face and wink. She laughs again and sighs with exasperation.
She’s a good sport, so she just goes with it and leans into me as she crosses her legs at the knee. I rest my other elbow in my lap and I take her nearest hand in mine as the hand behind her shoulders absently plays with a lock of her silken hair.
“You two are fucking disgusting this morning!” I smile at Alice as I lift Tina’s hand and kiss the back of it reverently, marveling at its smooth pale texture before putting it back in my lap.
Tina laughs and says, “She’s been like this all morning. You should have been in the car on the ride over. She was singing ‘I feel pretty’ all the way here.” She smiles at me adoringly and I crinkle my nose at her.
“Well, I for one think it’s pretty cute.” I look to Shane to see Carmen give her the same adoring expression. Shane smiles back and leans in to Carmen, whispering in her ear. Tina notices and looks to me knowingly. Yep, if I didn’t know any better, Shane’s got a girlfriend.
Alice rolls her eyes and leans back in her chair mumbling something that sounds like, ‘honeymoon’ and ‘started yet.’ I furrow my brows at her and ask, “What was that?” Our pastries and coffee arrive and I reluctantly turn away from Alice to retrieve them.
Just as I have my coffee, Alice jumps and it rattles the table so roughly I almost spill the coffee all over Tina. I turn back to her annoyed to find her rubbing her leg and glaring at Tina. She sees me watching and falls back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest and picking at imaginary lint on her arm. What the fuck is going on? I look to Tina and she’s eating her pastry like nothing happened while Shane is preoccupied with Carmen, who won’t even look my direction.
Helena waves to the departing waiter. “I’ll have a vodka tonic…two of them.” We all look to her.
Alice eyes her disbelievingly and it shows in her tone of voice. “Helena, it’s seven in the morning…”
“I know perfectly well what time it is Alice, but if I ever have any doubts, I now know who to ask.” Well that was cheerful. I snort a short laugh and take a sip of my coffee. I won’t be tugged off my cloud this morning, no way, no how.
“You might actually want an early indulgence as well, Bette.”
I look at Helena questioningly as I chew a piece of my pastry. Tina looks up from her bite as well, and we both notice her smug demeanor. Alice answers for her. “Yeah, I hate to burst your rainbow bubble, but I have something really bad to show you guys.”
I set my coffee down and look at Alice. Her expression is tight and foreboding as she opens her laptop and pulls up OurChart. After a few clicks, she turns the screen to face us and I can’t believe what I’m seeing.
It’s me and Tina, last night. We’re kissing and leaning against the railing of the new balcony at the house and it’s obvious that Tina has her hand down my pants. The picture is excellent quality, which means it was a professional night vision camera. Those aren’t cheap. This picture rotates to another shot of the same scene only at a greater zoom and you can tell we’ve…progressed. It rotates again…it’s a fucking slideshow…literally.
I look to Tina to see her slack-jawed and wide-eyed, and I can almost hear the happy rays of sunshine in my mind whimper as icy tendrils of black clouds choke them. Where the fuck did this come from? I swipe the touchpad and scroll up to see that the profile name is ‘The Whore of Babylon and The Bitch in Heat’. I also see that it’s had more than one hundred thousand hits since just ten o’clock last night and there are all kinds of links that redirect to websites affiliated with either of us. The comments are everything from flattering to disgruntled lovers. I angrily snap the laptop shut and ask Alice, “Why haven’t you taken this down already?”
She pulls the computer back towards her and says, “I had it set to restricted access. No one can see it but me and the admin company who maintains the site. But I didn’t have it removed because I thought you’d want to see it first. I’m sorry you guys…”
Tina takes my hand and squeezes it, calming me as she says, “It’s okay Alice. It’s not your fault. We shouldn’t have been doing that out in the open.”
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly as I turn to Tina. “T, we were in our backyard, a fully gated, locked, and enclosed backyard on private property. We didn’t do anything wrong. Someone was trespassing and spying on us.” I turn to Alice. “Can you get me the email address and the profile information that was entered?”
Alice’s smile is apologetic. “I already have the guys at the firm working on it, but they said it looks like everything was complete bullshit, and the email account has been deleted. They’re trying to get the IP address so you can give it to the police and file a report, but without it, there’s really nothing that can be done.”
I take Tina’s hand and stroke the back of it with my thumb to calm myself. Really, nothing in those photos was very risqué; we were both completely covered. But it’s the violation of the intimacy of the moment, a moment that literally changed my life on a spiritual level, which is so egregious. And then there’s the compromised security of our home. Someone trespassed, in every way possible, and they could do it again. Is nothing sacred or safe?
I look to Tina and see the same thoughts reflected in her eyes and my heart breaks. I put my arm back around her shoulders and lean down to kiss her sweetly on the cheek before leaning my forehead against her temple and speaking softly in her ear. “It’s okay T. I’ll figure out who did this. I’ll take care of you and keep you safe, always. I promise.”
She looks up at me and gives me a gentle kiss and I have no idea how I’m going to do that. I look to Alice and Dana to see the fiery determination in their eyes. We have their help and together we’ll find a way. I let go of a deep breath and take another sip of my coffee.
The waiter arrives and sets Helena’s drinks in front of her with a cautious hand. I’d be nervous as well. Day drinkers can’t be the happiest customers or fairest tippers. Helena immediately reaches for one and takes a large gulp.
“Hi…” We all turn to see Dylan standing awkwardly near the table.
Helena chokes on her drink and stares at her in shock. “D…Dylan? Wha…what are you…”
I stand and smile, reaching out to shake Dylan’s hand. “Dylan, thanks so much for coming. I really appreciate it.” She’s been staring at Helena sadly this whole time but she finally takes my hand and grins at me. “Here, have a seat.” I pull a chair from the nearest neighboring table, placing it right next to Helena, and smile winningly at Dylan. She hesitates for a moment before sitting rigidly and looking down at her hands. Helena glares at me with squinting eyes and finishes off the first drink of what I’m sure will be many this day.
Dylan turns to Helena and says, “It’s good to see you. I…I was…actually…hoping for a chance to talk with you, if you could, maybe this evening?”
Helena’s green eyes are wounded and frightened and I almost feel bad for doing this to her. Almost. I know she’s been petulant and impossible to deal with, but she did still help me. I really wish I could just figure her out and either love her or hate her for good.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea Dylan, but thank you for the offer.” She says this in such a loaded way that it’s utterly indiscernible just like everything else about her. Fuck, poor Dylan must be the most patient soul on earth.
I decide to interrupt. “Dylan, this is Alice, Dana, Carmen, and Shane.” I point to each person in tandem and they all greet Dylan. “Everyone, this is Dylan Moreland, the director of Lez Girls.”
Shane, Dana, and Alice look to each other and sit back in their seats with self-satisfied grins and I smile as I address Dylan. “I take it that you are agreeable to my offer from yesterday?”
Her eyes are still sad but her response is enthusiastic. “Yes. I thought about it last night. I don’t really have anything better to do with my spare time…” She glances at Helena before continuing. “…and I think it would be good for the movie. So, I’m in. You said I have a month?”
I nod my head and take another sip of coffee. “Yes, I’ll need it by December 24th. The exhibit is sort of a Christmas eve party. It’s invitation only. I have all the materials you’ll need so you can start piecing the opening together. When are you available to meet so we can discuss the details?”
Dylan looks down at her smartphone and after a few clicks of the touchscreen confirms, “I can meet you for lunch tomorrow. Is one o’clock good?”
I don’t need to check my calendar. I smile brightly. “That’s perfect.”
“Wait…you and Dylan are working together?!”
I look to Helena’s shocked and terrified face and smile smugly. “Yes, she’s helping the gallery put together the show piece video that opens the Core retrospective. It’s a beautiful collection and you’ve all been invited.” I glance at everyone around the table. “You’ll all receive formal invitations by the end of next week.”
Helena downs the other drink and stands abruptly. “I’m going to head over to the set early.” She turns to Tina. “Did you need a ride this morning?”
I look to Tina and her beautiful eyes are bright with understanding. She’s on to my little game. I almost want to laugh because she may have figured this part of it out, but she still has no clue. I lean in and kiss her luscious mouth, letting her know that she should go with Helena and do damage control. She pulls back, strokes my cheek softly, and stands. Collecting her things, I watch her leave with Helena before remembering something.
“Helena?” She stops and turns to me with questioning eyes. “Unless you actually need Tina for long hours, she obviously knows about the remodeling…” She nods her head and looks to Dylan, hesitating a moment before abruptly turning and leaving. Tina gives Alice warning look before following her. What the fuck is happening?
I watch them leave, and so does Dylan. Her expression is as sad as it is awkward. After a moment of heavy silence, she sighs and stands wearily before she addresses the table. “I should probably go too. It was nice to meet all of you.”
She looks to me with dejected eyes but I smile winningly at her. “Oh, that’s too bad. You’re welcome to join us any morning. I know some of us can be moody but don’t let that stop you from being where you want, or having what you want.” I load the last part of the statement with so much innuendo that it’s impossible for Dylan to misunderstand. She doesn’t disappoint. “Besides, we’re going to be working together and I’d like to be friends. This project is very important to me.”
She grins crookedly at me and plays with the keys in her hands before saying, “I’ll keep that in mind. I really should get going though.” Her expression changes to stony determination. “I’ll see you tomorrow…and the rest of you Monday.”
It’s all I can do not to fist pump in victory as everyone wishes her well. She walks away with a confident stride and I turn back to the table. Shane, Dana, and Alice are eyeing me specutively. I sigh. No point in playing innocent. “Yes, I want her here to get Helena out of this funk…and out of mine and Tina’s ass.” They all laugh a little and Carmen looks completely lost. I meet her eyes and say, “Shane can fill you in on everything later.” She smiles at me but Shane’s beaming smile warms my heart.
“So what about this OurChart attack?”
I turn to Alice. “Well, it has to be Helena or Sam, and I don’t think it’s Helena. She wouldn’t do that to Tina. But Sam…given what I saw yesterday…”
“What did you see?” I look to Dana. Alice didn’t tell her? Alice can’t keep a secret, let alone one this juicy, to save her life. Alice turns to her with a regretful expression. Fuck. Did she tell Shane? I look to Shane and she doesn’t seem even the slightest bit confused. Fuck, Alice…
“Dane, I’m sorry…I…I forgot to tell you…” Dana looks to Shane and then me, her expression hurt. “Sam has Tina’s ring.” Her expression turns from hurt to angry. “Bette saw it accidently when Sam bent over.” Dana’s face is becoming darker and darker as Alice continues. “She’s wearing it around her neck…” She finally stands and walks away from the table without a word. I look to Alice to see her expression stunned.
After the shock wears off, she panics and starts to go after Dana but Shane stops her by grabbing her forearm. “Give her some time to cool off Al.”
Alice looks to me and her eyes are so despondent that I don’t have the heart to scold her. Besides, she knows she hurt Dana. I just hope that she can fix it. How could she tell everyone but Dana? She reads this on my face and hastens to defend herself. “We were arguing yesterday! I was distracted!”
I will my features to soften and respond. “I know Al. She’s just hurt. She’s been trying so hard to help find it. She probably just feels…”
“Left out, expendable…”
We all look to Shane. Fucking Yoda. It’s frightening just how well she understands emotions, or women for that matter. “She’s not though…she’s everything to me…”
I look to Alice with anguished eyes because of how much my next words will hurt. “Al, I’ve learned a lot in the past year and half, but probably the most important thing I’ve learned is that words mean nothing when your actions don’t back them up.” Fuck, that really did hurt her. “I know you love Dana, I believe that, but you need to show it, show her.”
She sniffs as she plays with an imaginary piece of lint on her skirt. Suddenly, her head snaps up and she smiles brightly. I’m scared for a moment. This situation isn’t one of the happiest I’ve ever been a part of, but as I study her more closely, I can actually see the gears cranking out a plan in her mind. I smile knowingly at her. I don’t know what the plan is, but it must be good. She’s Alice…
“Bette, I’m going to need your help.”
I nod at her with a genuine smile and seriously say, “Anything.”
Her smile turns brighter. “Can I meet you at the gallery tomorrow?”
I furrow my brows. “Of course…”
She leans back and seems completely relaxed. I wait but she doesn’t say anything else. “So…what did you have in mind?”
She grins. “I may just take a page from your book.”
That’s a little scary…“Al, could you be any creepier right now?”
Her grin turns sinister. “Actually, yes I could. I have an idea on how to get Tina’s ring back and get back at Sam.” The satisfied mischief in her eyes is palpable.
Shane lays her head on the back of her chair with a thud and laments, “Why me…?” Carmen is still very confused and Shane meets her eyes before giving her a gentle kiss.
I smile at Alice who beams back at me. There’s a long moment of silence and I finally blurt out, “Well?!”
“Dylan, thanks for coming over. I thought it would be best to meet away from the lot. Come in and have a seat.” Dylan smiles and walks in to my large corner office. She goes to take a seat but stops when she sees Alice in one of the chairs facing the modern desk and looks back to me curiously. “Oh, I apologize. Alice and I had business here today and I didn’t think you’d mind.”
She smiles a bit awkwardly and says, “No, no…of course not.” She finally sits down and looks to me to start the meeting.
“Okay, it might be easier if you just have a look at this.” I open the manila envelope on my desk and pull out a small stack of papers. Sorting through them, I find the one she needs and hand it out to her. She takes it hesitantly before settling back and reading the first few lines. Her head snaps up and she says, “Okay…wow…that’s big. I take it Tina doesn’t know?”
I smile at her and accept the paper back from her. “No, and that’s why I want this video made. I want it to be a surprise. I will be showing it the night of the Core retrospective. I want it to be the card on the gift so to speak.”
She smiles brightly. “Wow, okay, so you have everything for me to piece together?”
I rest my elbows on the desk and fold my hands together. “Actually, I have most of it, but I was hoping that you could get some footage of her while on the set or when she’s not aware. I’d do it myself, but it might raise suspicions for me to be cavorting around the lot or the apartment with a camera attached to my hand all the time. The piece doesn’t need to be long, just as long as this song.”
I grab the disk case on the desk and reach it out to her. She accepts the case and strokes the cover smiling as if she remembers something, and whispers, “Turning Page…Sleeping at Last…”
Her smile is sweetly sad and I consider her for a moment. I don’t know her but she seems to be very straight forward and open, like she wears her heart on her sleeve, so unlike Helena. In fact, she’s her polar opposite. Just like Tina and me. I smile at this. Helena’s met her match. When someone completes you, there’s not a force in the world that can keep you apart, not even your very self.
“This is a beautiful song, and what you’re doing…it’s inspired. I…envy you Bette.” She looks up to me. “You’re a lucky woman.” She holds up the disk. “And so is Tina. It’s…hard enough to find love like this without willingly placing obstacles in your way; it’s hard to love someone who…doesn’t…” She sighs and tears well in all of our eyes, even Alice’s. I look to her and smile. Dana will see soon enough just what Alice thinks of her. Allyn Barnes will see to that. If Dana can hang in there that long…
After a long moment, we all collect ourselves and I turn back to Dylan. “Dylan, don’t give up. I’m living proof that if you’re determined, no obstacle will stop you. Keep going…”
She smiles at me and it’s much brighter and Alice seems to brighten as well. “So, do you want this to be done in a specific way?”
I lean back in my chair and say, “Well, I thought we could meet in two weeks and collaborate. That would give us almost two weeks to just master it. Is that enough time to get some extra footage?”
“Oh sure. Two weeks and I’ll have plenty to draw from.” She smiles at me and turns to the calendar on her phone. “How is two thirty on December 22nd? You can come by my place. I have everything, all the hardware and software set up there, and I leave the lot at one o’clock on that day. It’s a short day.”
I put the information on my calendar so I don’t forget. “Sounds great.” I stand and walk up to her. She stands as well and I reach my hand out to shake hers. “Thanks so much for helping Dylan. Oh! I almost forgot…” I turn back to the desk and retrieve a check, one of the last ones I’ll be writing. I smile at this thought as I turn and hand it to her. She takes it and her eyes widen a little bit.
She looks up and takes my hand shaking it enthusiastically as she stutters. “No…thanks…thank you.” I chuckle at her and she smiles. “Okay then, I need to grab something to eat and head back to the lot, but I’ll see you at Monday breakfast.” I smile the most encouraging smile I can and show her to the door.
She leaves and I turn back to Alice who is very quiet and thoughtful. I sit in the chair Dylan just vacated and touch her knee in a soothing gesture. She looks up and asks, “This will work right?”
I can tell she doubts it, but I have faith in her…and Dana. I smile and muster all the courage I can lend her. “No matter what, she’ll know you love her, and that will mean something.” She nods her head and blows out a breath as she collapses wearily against the chair. “Al?” I wait for her to look at me and say, “When you get sad, just think about next Friday.” She sits up and smiles sadistically. I match her smile and we both start to chuckle maniacally. This is going to be fun.
There’s a hesitant knock at the door and James peaks his head inside as if he’s afraid he’ll lose it. Alice and I laugh harder at his expression but I pull myself together and address him. “Yes, James, what is it?”
He steps into the doorway more fully and wipes his hands on the thighs of his slacks nervously before stuttering, “Um…Sorry to interrupt…I just want to let you know the men are here to start working on the sign out front.”
I smile and nod at him. “That’s great news, thank you.” He smiles nervously and starts to step away. “Oh James?” He peeks his head back inside. “If they need anything, just reach me by cell. I won’t be here unless I’m needed.” He smiles and nods again before walking away. I turn back to Alice and we smile at each other. Oh yes, this will be fun.