The world is spinning and I feel like the floor has been dropped out from beneath my feet. Guilty? Did they just say guilty? I pin my unfocused eyes on Corky’s face to see him smugly leaning back in his seat. They couldn’t have… I look over at Merle, her grin indicative of a cat licking its claws after a meal, her dark eyes swimming with cruel triumph. Compton’s voice tears through my psyche. “Bailiff, please remand the defendant into custody.”
What? They can’t be serious… A large, rough hand squeezes each of my biceps and I feel paralyzed as my hands are pulled behind my back where cold steel is snaps tight around my wrists and bites into my flesh. I’m tugged but my legs refuse to work. No… this isn’t right. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Tina… oh God… my family… The bailiff pulls harder and I stumble as he starts to lead me through the front of the room. I see two other bailiffs waiting at the threshold of the door about twenty-five feet ahead, and my mind starts to process this unthinkable information.
My stiff muscles shake with adrenaline, my tongue feels dry, my throat is closed, and my stomach is roiling as a rush of anger unlike anything I’ve ever experienced hits my veins, mixing with the adrenaline and making me feel irrational. It only gets worse as I hear Tina’s soft but panicked voice from the back of the utterly silent room. “Bette?!”
I turn to look at her but the bailiff won’t stop, in fact he starts pulling me faster. I struggle and pull myself away from his grasp, trying to slow him down as Tina quickly strides up the aisle towards me. I’m tugged again but I push forward, twisting to get away from him. Tina pushes through the low dividing wall and I feel an abrupt but searing pain explode on the base of my skull. My legs immediately release me and I drop hard to the linoleum floor, my vision blurry, my teeth rattling, and the cloying taste of blood welling up on my tongue.
I hear Tina’s shrill scream and try to find her with my eyes but it’s so hard to focus as I struggle to just remain conscious. I hear her crying out, the scuffling of feet dancing around me, the murmuring of a crowd somewhere far away, loud shouting, and the sharp banging of a hammer; but it’s the clearing vision of my wife, being slammed so hard to the floor in front of me that blood starts pouring from her nose and mouth, her eyes wet and anguished, and her body jerking convulsively as the man digging his knee into her back roughly cuffs her hands, that is my undoing.
”T… no…” Tears are streaming thickly down my cheeks, and I want to reach out to her, but my arms are pinned. Her lids start to flutter as my name bubbles wetly through her lips, “Bette…”
My eyes snap open and I see Tina looking down at me worriedly as she strokes the curls out of my eyes. “Bette… are you okay?” I nod and let my head fall back on the pillow as I blow out a relieved breath. A small, warm hand touches my chin, gently rolling my head until my eyes are again locked on hers. “Was it a nightmare?”
I nod and she exhales heavily. “God, Babe… you don’t think they’re going to start again, do you?”
I push myself up and brace on my elbows as she sits on the edge of the bed and casually leans over me. I smile at her. “No, I don’t think it’s like that. I think the verdict just hasn’t sunk in yet.” She nods and strokes my face before leaning forward and kissing me sweetly.
It’s only been two days since I received the not guilty verdict, and I have no idea what my psyche is trying to process with that dream, but whatever it is, I hope it does it soon. As Tina pulls back, I can tell that she’s still worried. I sit up fully and take her face in my hands, gaze deeply into the wonderful hazel eyes that give me so much comfort, and hasten to reassure her. “That’s the first one I’ve had, and if they continue, I’ll go see Dan.” I see the relief in the hazel pools try to further explain. “Honestly, I think we just need to take a break. Go somewhere for a while, get away…” I grin. “Maybe the cabin.”
She grins back at me and the joy on her face tells me that we’ll probably be heading back up to Big Bear as early as tomorrow morning. She rests her head on my shoulder and I secure my arms around her as I breathe in her lavender scent. Our connection still hasn’t fully snapped back into place, but it’s strengthening. There’s a light knock at the door and I furrow my brows at Tina. She grins as she says, “It’s funny you should say that, because I have a surprise for you tonight.”
She stands and holds her hands out to me as she calls over her shoulder. “Come on in, you guys.”
I take her hands and stand as Kit, Malcolm, Tom, and Ming enter. All but Malcolm are holding one of my children as he quickly fills his hands with the two bags by the bedroom door. I eye him curiously as he exits without a word before looking to Tina for answers. “T, what’s going on?”
Kit answers for her. “Tina, we’ve got this covered.” She looks me in the eyes, her expression serious. “Don’t argue, baby sis. I know it’s hard for you, but you’re going to do as you’re told right now.”
Everyone chuckles and I frown as Tina takes my hand and tugs. I follow her, still slightly confused, but definitely inclined to heed Kit’s warning. Tina kisses each of our children, telling Angie we’ll call her before bed. I follow suit and kiss Kit on the cheek for good measure. They follow me and Tina down the stairs where she points to a pair of my flip-flops waiting by the open door. I slip them on and Malcolm comes up the steps grinning boyishly as he drops the keys into Tina’s outstretched hand.
Tina hands me my purse, hikes her own up onto her shoulder, and grabs my hand. “It’s just for the night. Come on. I want to get there before sunset.”
Malcolm shoves me gently from behind and I again follow Tina, giving him a scathing glance over my shoulder. He’s wholly unaffected, and I can’t help but smile as Tina and I settle into the Saab. I laugh as I see Tom and Kit holding up the babies’ hands and making them wave at us. Angie joins them and Tina and I both wave as we pull away. I watch them until they head back inside and finally face forward in my seat to contemplate what’s going on. The top is down and it’s warm, but the breeze feels amazing. Tina slips her sunglasses on and passes me my own. She certainly had this planned. I chuckle and she raises an eyebrow at me, glancing in my direction.
I lean my head back and smile at her as something occurs to me. “This reminds me of that night I kidnapped you from the Broadbeach house, only in reverse.” She chuckles, pursing her lips and my mouth drops open as I lean my head forward and stare at her incredulously. “You’re taking us to the Broadbeach house, aren’t you?”
She continues to fight the smile that wants to bloom on her face and shrugs unconvincingly. I start to laugh and she slaps me on the thigh, her voice scathing. “God, you’re impossible to surprise, you know that?”
I lean back in the seat and continue to gaze at her. “Yes, but you love me anyway.”
She glances at me, her expression serious. “I do… with all my heart.”
I feel my heart expand and relief floods my chest. Our connection is healing, and I’ve missed this feeling. The wind is whipping the loose, honey-hued tendrils wildly around Tina’s face, the sun outlining her silhouette and highlighting the burnished glow of her skin. I can’t help myself as I reach out to run my finger down the smooth, silky skin of her exposed right arm. Her beauty catches me completely by surprise sometimes, and I think part of it is how unaware of herself she is. I smile in remembrance. This too feels familiar. “Do you have any idea just how gorgeous you are?”
She chuckles and glances at me. “I’m surprised you can remember that day. I’d never seen you so blitzed.”
I run my fingers through the golden mane dancing about her shoulders completely enthralled. “Of course I remember. I made a promise to you that day.”
She nods, checking her blind-spot and the rearview mirror to switch lanes before again glancing at me. “Yes, you did.” She takes my wandering hand and links our fingers, kissing my knuckles before settling them in her lap. Her voice is strong with conviction. “I doubted you then, but I have no doubts now.” I feel the sting of tears in my eyes and she squeezes my hand. Her voice is tremulous as she asks, “Do you still doubt yourself?”
And that’s the heart of the issue isn’t it? That’s the last lingering shadow that’s been darkening our doorstep since Tina came out of the coma: my past. It takes different forms each time: Candace, Kelly, Merle… even Tina. But ultimately, it always comes back to me. It’s like that dream I just had. I was bound against my will, believing a lie, and watching helplessly as my choices ruined everything; but if I really search myself, look deep within and try to find a succinct answer to her succinct question, my problem has always been me. I was the monster because I believed I was the monster, and part of me had been clinging to the deeply engrained understanding that I would somehow manage to destroy the most precious things in my life, however inadvertently.
I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and let it go. I am not a monster, and I can… I will, believe it. Tears fall from my eyes as I reopen them and I look over at Tina. My answer is loaded with all the conviction of a saint as I simply say, “No, not anymore.”
She pulls my hand up to her lips, kissing it reverently, and I hear her low, satisfied voice reply, “Good.” Nothing more is said as the drive continues, and I settle deeper into my seat as the comfortable silence falls over us. I don’t know if it’s the late afternoon sun giving testament to the expansive ocean coming into view, the wind rushing past us, or the fact that while scarred, my heart feels whole; but I don’t just feel free, I know it and I believe it.
I smile as we pull through the Broadbeach house gate just in time to see Sandra heading out to her car. Her face splits into a grin as we step out of the Saab. She doesn’t stop her progress as she opens the door of her vehicle, meeting my eyes over the top as she says, “I won’t be back until Monday. I’m sure you two can take care of yourselves.”
I wink at her and she winks back, her voice playfully stern as she says, “Don’t burn the place down,” gets into her car, and pulls away without a backward glance. Tina smiles and raises an incredulous eyebrow at me, and all I can do is grin at her. She shakes her head and removes her sandals. Her movements are slow and intentional as she kneels before me, gazes up into my eyes, and helps me remove my own. My heart could break with the knowledge of what such a subtle act entails, but it’s too full of joy at this moment. She stands and takes my hand, pulling me around to the side of the estate to access the private beach.
The sun is hovering just above the gentle rocking of the ocean, melting the blue of the sky into streaks of golden pink and deep lavender; and I can’t even notice the grandeur of it because of the beautiful creature leisurely keeping pace with me, her warm fingers loosely linked with mine.
The soft sand is warm and pliant under our bare soles and memories of our life together rush up to break over my heart, just like the surf that’s breaking low over our ankles: smiles that spoke of joy, gentle touches that soothed anguished souls, whispers of devotion that mended broken hearts, the incredible feeling of holding each of our children for the first time, the first day of my real life when, by some incredible miracle, Tina gave me her heart on a beach just like this one, a lifetime of unconditional love in a single labored breath, darkened places banished from healing minds, and the tangible link of one soul to another strengthened by trials.
We move up out of the water and make our way towards a small outcropping of rocks. I smile when I spy the thick comforter spread beneath the rocky canopy. She pulls me to a stop and settles her arms low on my hips as she tucks her head beneath my chin, and we watch as the sun starts to dip into the water. It’s fulfillment unlike anything I’ve ever known, just the simple joy of holding her this way. We linger here, absorbing each other as nature puts on this magnificent show, and it seems as though it’s all just for us.
The colors start to fade and the stars make their first appearance. Tina glances up and I smile as I reach out to her with my eyes, imploring her to see through me. It’s not a struggle anymore. I don’t have to push open the shutters that guard the most intimate parts of me to let her in. I’m no longer afraid of what she’ll see or what she’ll find. She’s already inhabited the darkest parts of me and she loves me anyway. And it’s incredible, but I want her there; I crave her there. I’ve been a fortress for so long. It was so much safer to be alone, despite the love that so fully surrounded me. But I was so, so very wrong. The safest place in the world is basking in the radiant light of her heart.
She doesn’t disappoint; she looks right through me, entering easily and stoking the fires that burn for only her with little more than a heated glance. It happens so fast that I don’t even comprehend the movement, but her warm, soft lips are caressing mine, her silken hair cascading around me like a golden net that catches the last rays of the late evening sun and throws fantastic prisms over our entwined bodies. I feel like all the secrets of the universe have been opened up to me and the limitless choices narrowed down to one obvious answer, one wonderful reason, one single word… Tina.
My soul craves more of her and I reach deeper within myself, deeper within her mouth, wrapping my arms around her and drawing her in with my tongue and hands. It’s incredible, this feeling of being utterly shattered and utterly mended. There is a deep yearning in the pit of my stomach that tugs and clenches at my center until it spasms, arousal spilling out to give testament to my need for her, to how much a part of me she is.
Gentle hands unbutton my shirt and the warm, salt-laden breeze caresses my skin as layer after layer of clothing and emotional armor is removed and discarded. I want to rejoice in the vulnerability of my surrender. There is nothing in me or about me that is not hers, and her eyes give witness to the love we share. All the spaces in-between, wherever they are housed somewhere deep inside… they have been hollowed out, they have been made new, and I can see that she’s with me every step of the way.
As if it’s been choreographed, without any conscious thought, a primal pull brings my hands forward to tug at the hem of her tank and watch as inch after inch of gloriously supple skin is exposed up the length of her beautiful body. The way my hands fit against the slightly sharp dips of her hips, the firm undersides of her heavy breasts, the delicate hollow of her throat as I drink her in, only reaffirms what I know in my very makeup to be true: something, someone, a wielder of life and perfection made her for me, for my hands, for my eyes, for my soul – and with an honorable sense of propriety, I know it was a gift for me and me alone, however undeserved.
Smooth but firm extremities slide up my arms and settle at the crux of my shoulders as even smaller digits tangle in my hair. Shocks of pleasure radiate throughout my scalp, along my spine, and across my hips to bloom out from my center and rock the foundation of every conviction I’ve ever held. I stand here, utterly exposed in those convictions, knowing I am safe because I have been tested by the righteous fires of love and held true to the responsibility entrusted to me. All of the impurities have melted away, leaving me with nothing but resolve and devotion and joy… nothing but Tina.
All of my desires are pure of heart and pure of spirit. I want nothing more than to put joy on her face. I want nothing more than to engrave fulfillment on her heart. I want nothing more than to stand with her while she makes this world and this life lush, and alive… so very alive, just as she has made me. She… she is life, and I drink of her greedily.
Even her tender lips taste of it – life, love and devotion, passion and desire, the highest reaching pinnacles of joy, and a beacon of hope in the lowest depths of despair. No matter where I go, she is like a small flame held in the palm of my hand, warmly guiding the way to healing. And it is healing; and it is complete. As every remaining garment and layer are expertly removed with knowing hands and knowing souls, I am healed by the light of her beauty as all is exposed, inside and out.
Her tongue strokes smoothly against mine and there’s another aftershock in the deepest regions of my being. It’s audible, this groaning and breaking apart, and it’s met with a soft gasp. Whatever plane we have reached, we have reached it together.
Life-giving blood starts pounding through my muscles, sped along by an organ that keeps time with hers. Arteries expand, muscles quiver, and I am turned inside out as everything shifts and unsteady steps rock us back to fall onto a soft cloud of comforting down.
The full-length contact is indescribably delicious as we shift against one another, aided by the call of one soul, one life, and one love. How well her touch knows me inside and out; how unerringly her lips find the most tender places to soothe and excite; the fruits of her labor rich and sweet as she drinks the nectar directly from the source. I am spread out, splayed open to her questing tongue that pushes through me, only to retreat and pull me into her.
The delicious sounds of a sumptuous feast, groans of fulfillment, breathless shudders of overanxious lungs, the gentle shatter of waves on a shore, they are the only sounds that fill this place that we share here together, this place we’ve created here together. This miraculous woman, wonderfully and beautifully made, pulls away from her reward, the glistening trails of sticky, sweet sap dripping off of coral lips only to be smoothly gathered and savored by a soft tongue. The naked eroticism in her enthralling gaze tugs up at my chest until I’m pressed tightly against the sanctuary of her breasts, laving her, suckling her, pulling more of her in.
I run my tongue along the thin membrane of her slender neck, my sensitive buds gathering the salty treks of clean sweat as they arch over the delicate edge of her chin to share in the remnants of musky delight that still lingers on her full lips. Straining legs surround my own and press the hot center of her desire firmly against the already sticky curls at the apex of my sex.
The heady musk of her offering is thick and nearly scalding as it leaks from her into me, sealing us together and aiding the gentle friction of her steadily circling hips. The over-sensitized nerves that layer my muscles open to receive her touch, a perfect touch that alternates between the pleasure-pain of scraping nails and the soothing heat of open palms. Her movements are steady and fluid, and air is not coming easily, but I refuse to release her luscious mouth. The dips and valleys of starkly straining muscles in my arms work to aid her motion, to grab and tease, to increase her pleasure, and to selfishly try to pull her further into me.
I feel the first tendrils of intense pleasure radiate out from the nerves in my center as they twist and coil steadily tighter. A vortex of passion picks up around us. Her frantic motion increases and my soul almost buckles under the intense emotions that spill forth from each of us. The feel of her, the taste of her, it all swirls together, stirring something supernatural inside of me as I add the vision of her lithe body cleaving to me, her soul bared to me, her heart gently laid open for me to cradle in my arms.
All of it is about to tear through us; but I refuse to combust without her, choosing instead to linger in the center of the storm as the hard, exposed length of her clit glides smoothly around mine like a maelstrom. The walls of this beautiful storm start to close in around us and our nerves swell until finally that one small moment we’ve been waiting for, that perfect instant of bittersweet torture arrives and gathers us up as it rages through our trembling bodies.
The intensity of my gratitude is unfathomable. It is my privilege to cling to her as we fall apart in each other’s arms. I know how it feels to be hers. I know what I’ve been living for all along. The tyrannical ruling of my past, the vast kingdom of my stubborn heart, they bow before her in awe. They fall to their knees to go out in a blinding light of peace and happiness that I would have never thought possible. And even now, as all the intensity subsides, as the love of my life arches an incredulous eyebrow at me, as the last dregs of devotion well in our eyes to snuff out the all-consuming fire for just a moment, I realize that I could leave this life at this very instant a fulfilled and supremely wealthy woman.
I smile at her through my tears as I stroke that beautiful eyebrow. Of course I have no intention of leaving just yet, but if I had to… oh, what a way to go out.