I stepped off the plane into the crisp New York air, shuddering at the change of temperature. After almost six months of California sun, the chill of April seeped through my thin sweater and into my lungs, the sting waking me, reminding me why I was there.
I thought briefly of stopping by my hotel, of unpacking and taking a leisurely bath, but my purpose could not be forgotten, even for an hour, so I arranged for my belongings to be delivered before hailing a cab. Once settled in the backseat, I slipped the postcard from my pocket, the paper dog-eared and the handwriting faded. It didn’t matter. I had the message memorized, knew the curve of every letter. The invitation had been a surprise but was an offer I could not refuse.
Stopping in front of the concert hall, a familiar place full of memories, I paid the driver and went inside. She was sitting offstage reading a script when I saw her, her hair pulled back with a loose piece of pink ribbon and her legs stretched out in front of her. Perfectly Bebe. I hesitated, not wanting to disturb her, yet my wish to be in her presence was stronger than my trepidation. Drawing nearer, I could hear she was humming softly, the tune common and comforting, an old melody complementing her persona.
“Hello, Be,” I said quietly, my confidence a well-played act.
Bebe looked up, her smile growing into a full-fledged grin as her eyes met mine.
“Amy!” Her arms were around me before I even realized she had stood up. I hugged her close to me, burying my nose in her hair, enjoying the familiar feeling of her curls tickling my cheek. I had missed the sensation. “What are you doing here?” she asked as she pulled from my embrace, staying within my personal space.
“I was in the neighborhood,” I said. Shrugging, I added, “I got your invitation.”
An easily recognizable sly grin appeared, and I prepared for the mischief in her gaze. “I was getting worried you wouldn’t make it.” What she really meant was she was worried I wouldn’t come.
“You knew I’d be here,” I reprimanded good-naturedly, hiding my hurt. “I was filming in L.A. up into yesterday. I jumped on a plane as soon as I was released from the set last night.”
The playfully accusatory look in her eyes softened immediately and a tender smile graced her lips.
“I’m glad you’re here. What are your plans? How long are you staying?”
“A few days,” I began slowly, relaxing, teasing, “I could possibly be persuaded to stay awhile longer given the right incentive.”
She looped one arm through mine as she guided me to her dressing room, her script laying forgotten on the producer’s chair, her attention only on me.
“I think I might be able to come up with something to convince you,” she said flirtatiously, and I laughed, the feeling good as it permeated my bones, my nervousness vanishing. “How about lunch? We could go to Charlotte’s?”
“Sounds good to me,” I answered as she grabbed her jacket. Slipping her arm through mine once again, she flashed me another smile as we made our way out of the studio to flag a cab, the noise of the city easing us into silence.
By the time we reached the restaurant, she’d charmed the taxi driver, a Cheers fan too young to know how to ignore his guests.
“Should we have called?” she asked as we walked into Charlotte’s, the crowd already thinning from the midday rush.
I just grinned as I spotted Paul, the manager, approaching us, his arms out ready to greet us.
“Bebe, Amy! Two of my favorite customers! It’s so good to see you,” he said as he hugged us one at a time. “I have your table ready. I knew you’d come back!”
We laughed but followed him, sliding into our often-used booth in the rear of the restaurant. Paul handed us both a menu, smiling as he called for a waitress, already ordering our drinks before we had the chance to tell him what we wanted.
He disappeared as suddenly as he appeared, and Bebe glanced at me with raised eyebrows and a smirk.
“He acts like he hasn’t seen either of us in years,” I commented cautiously.
“Unless you’ve been here without me, he hasn’t.”
I tried to hide my surprise. “You mean you haven’t…” She just shook her head, and I took a breath, letting it out slowly, deliberately switching attitudes. “Why not?” I finally asked casually, pretending to read the menu, pretending to ignore how desperately I wanted to hear her answer.
“Amy, you know why. There’s no point in denying it.”
I sighed. She was still as direct as always. “I should have known better than to hide from you.”
“Is that what you were doing?” she questioned, never taking her eyes from the menu, giving me the opportunity to lie.
I considered taking it, telling her I was happier now than when I left New York, that I had left for reasons which had nothing to do with her, but then she glanced up, saw the truth in my hesitancy.
“You never called,” I said, almost choking on the words, on the loss.
“Neither did you.”
“But you kissed me.”
“And you left,” she challenged, her voice soft and deceiving. We sat there in silence, neither breaking the eye contact we had just formed, neither wanting to offer an explanation in fear of what would happen next. Uncertainty was winning in our tug of war.
Paul arrived at our table, presenting a bottle of wine, chatting amiably, animatedly. I ignored him until I heard my name.
“So, Amy, what have you been working on in L.A.?” he asked as he busied himself with the wine.
I had to force myself to meet his eyes, only briefly, not wanting to lose the connection Bebe and I had finally found.
“I was doing a movie called Psychedelic Rainbow with Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith,” I answered cautiously, offering no other analysis. “It’s not due out until next year.”
“Ah! Well, I can’t wait to see it, and I’m glad to see you! But I knew you wouldn’t miss Bebe’s concert. What a treat!”
Glancing at Bebe, I smiled. “Yes, it is a treat. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, and I’m happy to be back in New York.”
She smiled in response, it turning into a smirk as she called Paul’s attention to herself.
“I think we’re ready to order,” she said. “But we’d like to get it to go.” I knew I looked surprised, and Paul looked disappointed. “Don’t worry,” she said placidly. “We’ll be back for the full service meal soon. Amy, the usual?”
“Sure,” I answered, my surprise controlling my tone. “Yeah, that sounds great.”
She had something in mind, a plan I could not yet decipher. She was always one step ahead of me, even on television, so I decided to trust her. I knew our previous discussion was not over and felt the tinge of excitement of the prospect. I refused to be afraid.
“Alright, ladies, I will put a rush on your order but only because it’s you and because you promise to return. Don’t wait so long next time.”
Bebe graced him with a full-fledged grin, and I watched as Paul’s displeasure melted into a look of adoration.
“We won’t,” she said graciously. “Hopefully, we’ll have even more to celebrate when we return.”
He half bowed to her, reaching for her hand, kissing her knuckles before turning to me to do the same.
“I will see to your meals. I hope your evening’s plans are as exciting as a meal at Charlotte’s.”
He winked at me and left, disappearing into the back, leaving us to ourselves once more.
“So,” I began.
“We need to talk. If we’re going to be friends, we can’t just dismiss what happened between us. And, frankly, I don’t want to. But we do need to discuss what it all means.”
I shook my head, the matter seemingly so easy for her, but I could tell by her lack of eye contact how uncertain she was. I felt lightheaded from the knowledge.
“We can have a picnic on your terrace. I’ve missed the view.”
She laughed. “Is that all you’ve missed?”
“No,” I said somberly. “I’ve missed you, too.”
A waiter approached our table and waited until Bebe acknowledged him, made more difficult by my smile.
“Ladies, Paul asked us to prepare your meals first. We’ve packed them, along with a bottle of wine, and Paul wanted you to know it has all been taken care of and he has called you a cab.”
“Thank you, and please tell Paul thank you. We’ll see him soon. Shall we?” she asked, turning to me, the waiter following us out of the restaurant, waiting at the corner until the cab arrived. Once we were safely ensconced inside with enough food to last us several days, I felt my confidence slipping. Our ride was silent, the view familiar. Upon arriving at her apartment, I followed her automatically, hoping not to run into any of her neighbors. Though there were a few I would have liked seeing, I was in a rush to have her all to myself.
She disappeared into the kitchen, and I immediately made myself comfortable, forcing myself to relax, to remember this was Bebe. We had spent many late nights at her apartment rehearsing lines and eating takeout from Charlotte’s during the filming of Trial By Jury. I stopped, the memory of our show slowing my movements. I couldn’t believe it had been six months since it ended, that it had only been a year and a half ago since I had met Bebe for the first time.
Shaking myself free of the memories, I went into the kitchen and pulled out plates from her cabinets, getting us glasses and utensils to use on the terrace, pausing once I was outside to marvel at the view. This was our routine, and it felt as natural now as it had the first time.
“We have an assortment of food here,” she called from the kitchen.
“Just bring a little of everything,” I yelled from outside. She expected the answer, already bringing a platter of food, putting it on the table in front of us.
“It’s been so long,” I said, popping a chocolate muffin into my mouth. It melted on my tongue and I closed my eyes at the taste.
“Amy,” she said, almost whispered, so softly I barely heard her. I opened my eyes to look at her, an unguarded moment of honesty on her face. I swallowed hard.
“What do you want, Bebe?” I asked, my voice matching hers, throaty and velvet.
“The last time you asked me that, you left when I gave you my answer.”
“You scared me. I wanted…I wanted more, but I wasn’t ready for any of it.”
“You think I was?”
There was no malice in her tone, just disappointment.
“Bebe, I…I’m not sure what to do. We were so close, and I was starting to feel…I was starting to feel things I have never felt for anyone, much less another woman. I was scared, especially when the show was cancelled. The idea of not seeing you every day…” I trailed off and shook my head, breaking her gaze.
“I know,” she agreed solemnly. “But I thought we had something. That night...that night something changed in our relationship. When you acknowledged this attraction between us, I thought we could finally explore it. Instead, you left, sending me an email telling me about your new life in California.”
I felt shame wash over me, and I looked out over the city below us for strength.
“I wanted you too much,” I finally confessed. “All at once, I was kissing you, and I felt myself falling even harder. I was scared.” I turned to face her. “We don’t exactly work in a bottom line business. Our job depends as much on our popularity as it does our talent. I love what we do. I love my job. I’ve worked hard for a long time to reach this point, but I realized that night…” I sighed. “I realized I would give it up to follow you, to be with you, and it scared me.”
“You think you’re the only who’s afraid of what could happen? I never asked you to give anything up. I never expected you to. I just wanted us to explore what we were feeling.”
“Were?” I asked, panic settling in my chest.
“Are,” she clarified with a smirk. “Why did you come back here?”
“You invited me.” A pointed glare from her caused me to elaborate. “And because I missed you, because I wanted to kiss you again.”
“What’s stopping you?”
I pushed myself from the ledge I had been leaning against and moved slowly to stand before her. I had forgotten how tiny she was. Her personality always made me forget. She looked up at me, her brown eyes intense, her lips curled into her customary smirk. I had always wanted to kiss that expression from her face, and I smiled as I realized I finally could. Stepping close to her, well within her personal space, I could feel her breath tickling my collarbone. Soon, I hoped, I would feel her everywhere. As I bent my head to taste her lips, I knew uncertainty had never been my downfall. It was her. All she had to do was be herself and I would fall in love every time. Perfectly Bebe.