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”Normal,” Alice said in a fretful tone. ”Normal is BS.”
”Fuck!” Bette said to herself, sensing Alice was now upset.
”Normal is something invented to make people feel bad about themselves.” Alice paused, ”I’m fine. Everything is fine. You’ve been talking to Shane.” She spat out.
Bette let out a deep breath. ”She’s worried and so am I.” Bette paused, ”I’m just trying to be a friend.” Bette took a deep breath unsure of how to continue, ”Fuck… Just take care of yourself.”
”Really, I’m ok.” Alice paused taking a deep breath and then a loud, slow exhale. ”I’ll talk to you later. Maybe we can all have dinner when Tina gets back… Thanks Bette.”
Bette heard the click as Alice hung up. Sometimes being a friend is not solving a problem it is bearing witness, she thought as she continued to drive to work.
Later that day Bette found herself once again at the LA Peabody. James seemed to be as obsessed as Bette was with the hunt for the painting and called her earlier in the day asking her to come by. Bette smiled as she walked in seeing James leaning into a painting trying to adjust it. He nodded when he saw her and began to cough. James got the coughing under control and pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his mouth. ”I’m glad you’re here. I have a lot to catch you up on,” he said as he led her to the back room. He stopped in front of a door and pulled out some keys. ”I have been coughing my brains out for the last couple days. Julie wanted me to stay home, but I wanted to show you the new stuff I found. It’s just a bad cold.” James started coughing again as he opened the door and turned on the light. He pulled out his handkerchief once again and covered his mouth until the hacking subsided. He then reached for a bottle of water. He twisted the cap and took a long drink. ”I think your friend the professor was on to something.” He said as he wiped his mouth.
”What do you mean?” Bette said not stopping to correct James about the nature of hers and Laura’s relationship or the lack there of. She sat her purse on the table without taking her eyes off of James. She didn’t try to hide how keenly she was assessing him from head to toe. He looked fine, except for the cough. She shook her head, all this crazy talk about this thing they called COVID was making her imagine things, she thought. James walked over beside her and pulled over a file.