By KG MacGregor
The channel 26 news crew was setting up for its live report from the scene for the 26 Noon News. Art Hanson picked up the scene report from the public information officer and scanned the crowd for an anguished face. He found many, including that of a young man in a crumpled suit.
Hanson approached the man. "Hello. Im Art Hanson with Channel 26 News. Would you mind answering a few questions so that our viewers can get an idea of how serious the situation is here at the mall?" he pleaded hopefully.
"Sure. But Im just waiting like everyone else."
"Thats okay." Turning, Hanson yelled "Janie, over here!" and a tall, forty-ish woman with curly brown hair trudged over to the tent, her camera already shouldered for the news spot. Hanson scribbled on a notepad. "Could you tell me your name?"
"Tony. Anthony LeFevre." He spelled his last name for the newsman.
"Who are you waiting for here?"
"Lilian Stuart. Shes a lawyer at our firm. We havent heard from her since yesterday. Her car was found in the garage by the part of the mall that fell."
Hanson briefed Tony on the questions he would ask, and gave instruction on where he should face and how he should use the microphone. As the taped interview was winding down, the reporter squared his shoulders and looked directly at Tony. "Mr. LeFevre its been twelve hours since any survivors were found. What do you think of your friends chances?" Hanson was hoping for an emotional response, and he was not disappointed.
"If I were trapped in there, Id want Lily with me. Lilys going to make it out. Shes that kind of person." Tony's words sounded stronger and more assured than he perhaps felt.
Scott Rutherford listened in to the final remarks. He wondered if Anna were that kind of person as well. How could I not know that about her?
As though reading his thoughts, Kim Philips placed her hand on her brother-in-laws shoulder. "Shell be all right, Scott. Shell fight to hold on."
"I certainly havent given her a reason to fight her way out of there," he said dejectedly. Turning to walk away, Kim pulled him back.
"Youre going to have to explain that comment, Scott."
The pair walked over to the Red Cross water truck and sat on the bumper in the shade. Scott was crying at the end of the awful tale, and Kim had listened intently to every word. It was all coming to light nowAnnas long hours, her moodiness, the way she had avoided the family. Kim wanted very much to slap her brother-in-law senseless, but knew that this was Annas call. Instead, she said, "Im in Annas corner, Scott. Whatever she wants is what I want." It was their Oath of Sisters, a pact they had made when Anna was fourteen and Kim thirteen. Kim pushed herself up and brushed off her dusty jeans. Looking down at Scott, she could see the anguish in his eyes. She patted him lightly on the back and then turned to head toward the public information tent to await the noon update.
"Damn! This thing is stubborn!" The women had been working more than an hour to loosen a ceiling panel near the wall that bordered the next store. The ceiling at this point was just low enough for Anna to stretch her arms up and reach it. Lily had located a standard plastic and metal chair on which to stand, though it teetered precariously on the crooked floor. Each time they pushed, pulled or pounded, it gave a little but always returned snugly to its place. On one occasion, Lily reached through the opening when it was pushed upward and determined that there was about a foot of space between the ceiling tile and the actual ceiling of the shoe store. That would be barely enough room to maneuver, but first they needed access.
Lily, still trying valiantly to keep their spirits up, had been jabbering on about how they could have picked up souvenirs along the way, emerging from the rubble in dirty white wedding gowns with tennis shoes and diamond earrings. "Just imagine what we could pick up in Fredricks of Hollywood!" she joked.
Her companion though, was quiet, lost in thought from their earlier conversation about who might greet them when they exited. "Pardon me, am I keeping you awake?" Lily noticed the womans extended silence and tried to inject some levity into the question.
"Sorry. I was thinking about something. What were you saying?"
"I was saying Why dont you tell me whats on your mind? It might help if you got it off your chest." Lily continued to tug at the ceiling tile.
Anna sighed, and plopped down on the sloping floor. It might help. And maybe it would be easier to talk about it in the dark. "Well, its you see I I learned recently that my husband had a baby with another woman. It happened before we were married, but we were engaged, and we had already been intimate." Well there, that wasnt so hard. She continued, "It was his old girlfriend, and both of them had been drinking. We ran into her and the baby last November, and Ive spent every night since then in the guest room."
Lily considered her companion. Anna's quiet strength and confidence were obvious and Lily realized it must have taken a lot of courage for Anna to admit this betrayal in her life, especially to someone she had known for such a short time. Lily wanted to kick Anna's son of a bitch husband, even though she didnt even know him. "Thats a pretty heavy load, Anna. I can see why youre upset." She didnt want to pry, but she sensed that the woman needed to talk about it. "What do you think youll do?"
"Well, it occurred to me more than once that disappearing under a pile of concrete would settle a lot," Anna laughed quietly.
"Dont even say that!" Lily countered angrily.
"No, no! Im not being serious," the tall woman backpedaled. "I told you already. Once you helped me out, I knew I wasnt meant to die in here. I plan on getting out of here. And when I do, I have to decide whats next. Im not going to keep beating Scott up about all of this, or myself for that matter. Well fix it."
Lily relaxed, relieved to see that Anna still had a fire in her. "Im sure you will, Anna. I bet you have no idea how strong you are. I can see it, and Ive known you less than a day."
With a strong jerk, Lily broke off a corner of the sturdy tile, and reached above it. A metal brace in the center was holding the tile each tile, probably firmly into place. To get through, they were going to have to break it apart piece by piece.
"What would you do if you were me?" Anna continued.
"I wouldnt touch that question with a ten-foot pole! I dont really know your history, or how you feel about each other. Besides, you definitely dont want to be taking advice on your love life from someone like me."
"Oh, right. I forgot I was in here with The Heartbreak Kid."
"Noooo. Youre in here with The Heartbroken Kid. I make bad decisions. Repeatedly."
"Why dont I take a turn on tearing that ceiling apart? While you rest, you can tell me your sordid tales."
"Youll think Im pathetic," Lily groaned.
"Me? Who am I to pick on you? Come on, tell me about your heartbreaks, Kid." Climbing up to take her turn at the ceiling, Anna added, "Besides, if youre that pathetic, maybe Ill feel better."
"Great. Im stuck in here with a comedienne."
"Youd have said the same thing and you know it." She was right.
"Okay, but youre going to think Im such a loser." She leaned back on the incline and told Anna the tales of Melanie, Becca and Beverly, leaving out the sex parts so she wouldnt embarrass her new friend.
Lily had never been with a man. Her first sexual experience was during her sophomore year in college, with Melanie, a woman she met at a lecture on lesbian health. The sex was fantastic and Lily was sure she had found her other half on the very first try. But it was not to be. The more experienced lesbian wasnt ready to settle down, and Lily was determined not to wear her heart on her sleeve next time.
Alas, the heart has a will of its own, and at the beginning of her senior year, she fell hard for Becca Silby, UCLAs All-American point guard. That lasted nearly two years, until Becca opted out of the WNBA draft in favor of a more lucrative European contract. It was pretty clear to Lily what that said regarding their future.
After she landed her job at the law cliniclanded is a funny word, since most young lawyers shunned this work in favor of a little prestige and having enough to eatshe met Beverly, a home health care consultant ten years her senior at 35, with a precocious five-year-old son. Lily moved into Beverlys three-bedroom home and immediately meshed her life with that of her new lover. She adored Josh, and the feeling was mutual. Beverly was definitely The One. That is, until two years into their relationship when Lily suggested that they trade rings or some other token of devotion. Beverly wasnt into commitment, but she didnt want to be the jerk here, especially since it might be difficult to explain to her son. So she began to complain about the things Lily did, little things at first, then eventually, most things. She would pick fights, then lambaste the younger woman for losing her temper. In a final act of cruelty, she asked Lily to move out so that her son would no longer be exposed to Lily's mood swings and unpredictable temper. It took a long time for Lily to stop blaming herself for the demise of the relationship and realize Beverly's game.
"So Im a three-time loser," she finished. "If I ever do really fall in love, I seriously doubt if Ill be able to tell if its real. Now you see why I say you shouldnt ask me for love advice."
"Dont be silly. Youre not a loser. Sounds to me like you opened up your heart and some people just took advantage," Anna comforted. "Your turn again, okay? My arms feel like theyre going to fall off." Anna had successfully removed another portion of the tile.
"Sure," Lily said, scrambling up to the lowered ceiling. Taking turns, the women continued to break the tile apart bit by bit. When Anna found a metal shoe sizer in the pile of debris, they were able to make quicker work of their task, and soon, the hole was large enough for each to squeeze through.
Eleanor Stuart drove straight to her daughters apartment, hoping against hope that Lily had somehow made it home. She was met by Lilys two closest friends, Sandy, a social worker who collaborated often with Lily on some of her cases, and her partner Suzanne. Without a word, the three women embraced in the entryway, each shedding quiet tears.
Sandy and Suzanne had been partners for 11 years, and Eleanor loved that Lily had such strong successful role models in her life. Two years ago, she and Lily had vacationed with the pair in Mexico, and she got the chance to really get to know the two, individually and as a couple. There were never any secrets between Eleanor and Lily so Eleanor had known from Lilys high school days that she was gay. Though she would never have chosen such a difficult path for her daughter, Eleanor wanted the kind of happiness she saw between Sandy and Suzanne for Lily.
Those pleasant memories were far removed from the moment. The women saw the dark circles under Eleanors red-rimmed eyes, and knew how hard this was for her. They pulled her into Lilys apartment, and filled her in on what they had learned from Tony after the six oclock briefing.
Search crews using dogs had entered the mall shortly after ten this morning. As of six oclock, they had removed the bodies of nine victims. No survivors had been found. The search was continuing, though the FEMA task force was no longer optimistic.
Tony had been sickened by what he saw, but he was relieved to report that Lily was not among the dead. Eleanor knew Tony from having visited Lily several times over the five years that her daughter had worked at the clinic, and she had passed on through Lauren her appreciation for the role he was playing in learning Lilys fate.
"I need to go down there," said Eleanor, looking around to retrieve her car keys. "Its my job to wait, not Tonys. Hes done enough."
"Not now, Eleanor. You need to rest." Sandy put her hands on Eleanors shoulders. "Ill go down there with Tony. Suzanne will stay here, and you can come tomorrow morning." She searched Eleanors eyes for agreement. "Really, you need some rest."
Eleanor acquiesced, and walked out onto the small patio for a few moments of quiet contemplation. "You need to come back to me, baby," she said to the night, hoping Lily would somehow hear her.
Suzanne brought the womans bag in from the car and placed it in Lilys guest room. Hugging her partner, she instructed, "Call me on my cell phone if you hear anything. Ill have it on vibrate so it wont wake her up."
It was well past midnight, but the trapped women had no way of knowing. Both were tired, sore, hungry and thirsty, but they resolved to keep moving as long as they could. Dehydration was their biggest worry now.
Over an hour ago, they had climbed into the narrow crawlspace above the ceiling. The support structure, a series of metal frames and braces, was difficult to navigate, especially in the dark. Anna in particular was struggling, her long legs constantly scraping against the bolts that stuck out from the frames. Progress was slow in the limited space.
When they reached the wall, they were frustrated to find that the metal frames were laid out like a maze, preventing them from moving forward toward the gap in the ceiling. In fact, it seemed that the only avenue for moving from the back of the store to the front was along the row that held the light fixtures. That meant backing up about ten feet and crawling toward the front of the store. They would have to guess which alley led to the gap in the wall.
Two hours later, on the fifth try, Anna found the opening. "The wall is crumbling here, but it still isnt big enough for us to get through. I think were going to have to break it away like we did with the tile," she reported.
Lily was behind her in the narrow corridor which housed the light fixtures, and opted to return to the store for the shoe sizer. There was no way they could break through the wall with their bare hands.
The crawlspace was filled with dust, bugs and rodent droppings, though these elements were fortunately hidden from view by the darkness. For Lily, the stagnant air and exertion had combined to produce a tickling cough that was always bad news. Prone to asthma attacks when she exercised or encountered certain allergens, Lily carried her emergency inhaler wherever she went. Almost everywhere, she lamented, knowing it was in her briefcase under the drivers seat. Who knew?
Anna napped while Lily retrieved the tool. She awoke to the sound of violent coughing. "Lily! Are you all right?"
"Ill be fine," Lily wheezed as she crawled into the narrow space beside the tall woman. "Im having a little trouble with my asthma, but I dont think its going to get any worse."
Anna took the shoe sizer and began pounding at the edges of the crumbling drywall. Lily insisted on taking over after a few minutes, but it was obvious to both women that she was in acute distress.
"What can I do?" asked the tall woman anxiously.
"Nothing." She drew a shallow raspy breath. "I just need to get out of here and get some fresh air."
Anna took the sizer and began to work feverishly on the wall. She refused Lilys attempts to take a turn, sliding ahead of the smaller woman so that she blocked the wall from her reach. When the hole was finally large enough, she started through head first. Lily strained to hold her feet as Anna lowered herself to the floor of Lawsons Jewelry. Immediately, she noticed the broken glass. First her hand, then her bare foot met jagged shards that drew blood. Quickly, she turned and helped the blonde through the opening, guiding her up the sloping wall to avoid the danger. Lily was taking rapid shallow breaths and coughing profusely.
"Its okay, Lily. Were almost out. The airs better in here. Youll be okay." She desperately hoped that what she said was true.
"I need to prop up breathe better."
Anna hurriedly scooted behind her new friend, pulling the young woman onto her chest. She smoothed short strands of hair from Lilys face, and rocked her gently.
For Lily, this was familiar relief. When she was younger, Eleanor had held her close and rocked her while she wheezed. Lily knew she was in big trouble here. Without her inhaler, the attack could get worse. Anna needed to keep moving.
"You need to go on," she rasped. "Send someone back."
"Not a chance, Pygmy. Like you said, were going out together." Anna hugged her loosely. "Get some rest. Youll get better."
Eleanor arrived at the mall at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. Tony had brought his car to the family parking area, and was asleep in the back seat. He had been at the site since Thursday afternoon. Sandy led the woman to where he slept, opened the backdoor of the car and nudged him gently. "Tony, Eleanors here."
The young man sat up, shaking his head to clear the cobwebs. His sorrowful look as his eyes met Eleanors nearly broke the older womans heart. "Thank you, Tony. I appreciate what youve done more than you could ever know." She took the man in her arms as he broke down and sobbed.
The crowd had dwindled this morning to fewer than three dozen. At last count, searchers had removed 18 bodies from the rubble, and no survivors had been found since mid-afternoon on Thursday. The list of missing was down to 11, including the wife of the haggard young man who had come to the mall with Tony. All were concluded to have been in one of the six stores on the lower level, as every other inch of the structure had been searched.
At the seven oclock briefing, it was announced that engineers were going to come in today to determine the safest way to excavate the lower level. Sound technicians were setting up to scan for stray noises underground. "Ill be honest with you," the site coordinator said. "Were running out of time to help anyone who may be trapped underneath the structure. We dont know what kind of air pockets there might be, or whether there was any gas or hazardous materials in the area. And at this point, dehydration is going to be a problem."
The families looked at one another grimly.
"But be assured that were going to do everything we can."
Something was different. Anna awoke to Lilys vicious coughing spell. She helped the younger woman sit up and rubbed small circles on her back to comfort her as she gasped for breath. Anna looked around the jewelry store. There! A small but definite glow was evident at the back edge of the wall going into the next store.
"Lily! I can see daylight! Look!" Anna turned her friend in the direction of the patch of light. "Lets go!"
Lily was unable to move. Without treatment, her asthma attack had left her depleted of the oxygen needed to make her body work, her muscles move. Between rapid shallow breaths, she pleaded, "Go, Anna! I cant."
Anna was frozen with fear. She couldnt leave her friend. This woman had saved her life.
Lily made it clearer. "Get help." She gasped for breath, then coughed violently. "I have .to get .an inhaler " Lily stammered. Or Ill die.
With that, Anna squeezed Lilys hands and kissed her bloodied forehead. "Ill be back, Lily. Itll be okay, I promise." Anna stood and hurried toward the faintly lit crack in the wall.
The dividing wall had separated from the concrete blocks that lined the back of the store, but the opening was too narrow to get through. Anna retrieved the shoe sizer and pounded fiercely on the wall until it crumbled and tore away. She easily scrambled under the fallen ceiling into the lingerie store and was elated to see a solid beam of light coming in from a quarter-sized opening at the apex of the room, about nine feet above the floor.
"Help! Help!" She screamed louder than she ever had. Looking about, she spotted an extension rod that clerks used to reach items on the higher displays. Stretching it to its full length, Anna poked it through the hole to the outside. Up and down, side to side. She needed to get someones attention.
After fifteen minutes, there was no response. She yelled again, but still no one heard. No one came.
Her eyes had grown accustomed to the dim light, and she spotted a mannequin at her feet, dressed in a red satin teddy. Anna pulled the extension rod back inside, and tied the teddy to its end. Pushing it back through the hole, she again waved it up and down, side to side, screaming for all she was worth.
Scott had been staring dejectedly at the crumpled mall as the searchers went about their work. He had asked for the fourth time to accompany them, and was told for the fourth time that he was not properly trained.
Suddenly, a movement caught his eye. "What the hell?" He squinted and walked toward the mall, gradually making out what looked like a red cloth no, it was lingerie. It was definitely lingerie and it was waving back and forth. "Hey!" he yelled to the site manager, pointing to the spectacle. He started to run toward the spot, but was stopped by security.
By this time, a crowd had gathered around Scott and people were straining to see the first sign of life at the mall in almost 40 hours. Their view was obscured as rescuers rushed to the area.
The pole suddenly stopped moving as someone grabbed it from above. Anna pulled it back through, and yelled again. "Can you hear me?"
"Were here. Were going to get you out. Are you hurt?" the rescuer shouted.
"Im all right. My friend needs help. Shes having an asthma attack. Please hurry."
"You need to stand back. Were going to make the hole bigger. Get as far away as you can. Tell us when youre ready."
Anna hurried back to the passageway. "Go ahead! Im ready."
The next 15 minutes seemed like hours, but finally, the searchers had widened the hole enough to illuminate the entire room. "Its going to be a few more minutes. Well need to use some machinery to break through this asphalt," he assured.
"My friend cant wait," she pleaded desperately. "She needs an inhaler now for her asthma. She cant breathe."
A few minutes later, a head emerged through the hole. "Where is your friend?" the emergency medical technician asked.
"Shes in the next store, back there." Anna pointed toward the hole through which she had previously climbed.
He disappeared, but soon the hole in the ceiling was filled by another man. "We want you to stay here. Its too dangerous for you to go back there. When we get the hole widened, well pull you out and send in one of the firefighters."
Anna was incredulous. What part of she cant breathe dont they understand? "Give me the goddamned medicine!" she screamed. "Now! Shes dying!"
The man retreated and the EMT reappeared. "Im going to pass it to you in a pouch. Do you know how to use it?"
"Yes," she lied. She was certain Lily would know, and she didnt want to waste another second.
Moments later, a red pouch dropped through the hole to the floor below. Anna hurried to pick it up and shouted, "Im going back. You can work on the hole. I wont be in the way." With that, she was gone.
Lily was only vaguely aware of the commotion in the next room as she teetered on the brink of unconsciousness. She felt the tall woman scoot behind her and pull her into her lap. "Ive got it," she heard, "the medicine. I need your help Lily." The EMT had assembled the inhaler for immediate use, and Anna figured out how to hold it to her friends mouth. Lily wrapped her hand around the instrument, and pumping it once into her mouth, breathed deeply. The reprieve was instant. She took three or four deep breaths, and pumped the device again.
Anna smiled widely with relief when she felt Lily sit up. "Were about to get rescued. You ready?"
"You bet," whispered the blonde.
Together, they ambled to the passageway. As they crawled into the lingerie store from underneath the fallen ceiling, they were overjoyed to see a firefighter descending a ladder, carrying blankets and first aid equipment.
"Anna!" Scott shouted as he watched the tall dark-haired woman emerge from the hole in the ground. He pushed past the security guard and broke into a run. Half a minute later, he was holding the bruised and exhausted woman to his chest, feeling a convergence of emotions that threatened to overwhelm him completely. "Thank God, Anna. Oh, thank God!" was all he could say as tears streamed down his cheeks.
Anna returned the hug, crying as well, and raised her hand to take that of her sister, who joined them seconds later. "Im okay. Its all okay," she murmured.
Their joyful reunion was interrupted by the EMT, who was directing Anna to a waiting ambulance. She turned back to the rescuers to see them bring her friend through the opening on a stretcher, a ventilator affixed to her mouth and nose. Lily was slender and blonde, with cute features that belied her toughness. A nasty gash crossed her forehead above her left eye, which was swollen and black. "Scott, write my phone number down on something. Quick!" Anna ordered.
Anna crouched low to the stretcher and took her friends hand. Lily opened her eyes to behold the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. Annas sparkling blue eyes leapt out from her dirty face amidst a cascade of shoulder-length jet-black hair. She smiled down at Lily and it melted her heart. Lily reached for the mask and pulled it aside. "Thank you, Anna. I couldnt have made it without you."
"And I wouldnt have made it without you. You saved my life, Lily." Taking the paper scrap from Scott, she said, "Heres my number. Call me when youre better. Were going to be great friends, Pygmy." She stuffed the paper into Lilys skirt pocket.
"Is she going to be okay?" Anna asked anxiously as the EMT inserted a butterfly clip into Lilys forearm.
"Yeah, she looks good. Were just going to get some fluid into her as soon as possible. This is the best way to do it." His voice was reassuring. "You should probably have some too," he added.
"Will I see her again at the hospital?" she asked as she limped toward the waiting ambulance.
"Probably not," the EMT answered. "Youre going to Sinai and shes going to Central. Central is closer and they need to treat her asthma right away."
Anna turned back to watch Lilys departure. An older woman now crouched over her friend, crying and smiling, obviously joyous to have her loved one back. Anna liked knowing that Lily was loved.
"Scott, Kim? Will you meet me at Sinai?" Anna stepped up gingerly into the back of the ambulance. She had wanted Kim to ride with her, but she knew that such a request would have been hard on Scott, so she opted just to go alone.
"Of course!" they blurted, as they turned and ran for the car.
The radio crackled inside Lilys ambulance. "Change of plans, Dean. Were taking her to Valley. Centrals full."
When the ambulance arrived at Valley Hospital, the triage nurse carefully removed Lilys soiled clothing and tossed it in a trash bin. "She wont be wanting any reminders of this, I bet," she told her co-worker.
By KG MacGregor
"Im so proud of you Lionel! Everything you said was perfect. It was just the way we practiced." The blonde lawyer drew the shy four-year-old into her arms and hugged him fiercely. Turning to Sandy, at the courthouse today in her role as Lionels social worker, Lily went on, "I think Judge Evans will come back with what we want. This kind of stuff really gets to him." What they wanted was the boys removal from a drug-infested and violent home. Lionels grandmother had petitioned for custody, fearing he would suffer irreparable harm under her daughters care.
"You were great too, my friend. As usual, I might add," Sandy responded. Indeed, Lily was a powerful ally for families in trouble. It was as though she took each case personally, the social worker thought. She had seen her friend devastated last year when the attorney had failed to win a restraining order to protect a woman from her abusive boyfriend. The boyfriend subsequently killed the woman with a shotgun blast as she answered the door. Lily was sullen and withdrawn for days, second guessing her strategy and beating herself up mercilessly for failing the woman who had needed her.
Lily steered the boy to his grandmothers side. "Look, you two should get some lunch at the café downstairs. We need to be back here by one. I think well get a decision then." She turned to her friend. "Ive got to make a couple of calls. Any chance I could talk you into grabbing me a tuna sandwich and a bottle of water? She hadnt had a Diet Coke since the In-and-Out server had doused her silk top on that fateful day last February. Ill be outside on one of those benches." she indicated the exit.
"Sure, Ill be right there." With that, the social worker and her clients turned for the stairs.
Looking up, Lily caught a glimpse of a tall dark-haired woman. It had been seven months since the earthquake, and still, when she saw the familiar features on women she encountered it triggered her memory of the remarkable woman she had met. Automatically dialing her voicemail, her eyes followed the woman as she walked in her direction, the face obscured by the people in the crowded hallway.
Its her! The sapphire eyes suddenly looked up and locked with her own. Its really her!
Oh my God! Its Lily! Anna realized at the same instant, her heart skipping a beat.
Both women stood frozen for a long moment as the recognition settled. Without thought, Lily turned off and pocketed her cell phone. She was the first to find her voice. "Anna?" Please let it be her!
"Lily?" the woman returned, her lips turning up into a broad grin.
Both women rushed the final few steps to come together in a tight hug. Neither spoke as they held the other close, each awash in memories of their ordeal. They relished the sensation of holding one another in the here and now, almost unbelieving that the moment was actually happening. Lily finally pulled back to take in the smiling face of the tall woman, but she didnt relinquish her grip.
"Id almost given up hope of ever seeing you again." Lily was elated, but she couldnt stop the tears that welled up at seeing her friend again.
Anna saw the sparkling green eyes, and knew that her own were shining as well. "I waited for you to call. I figured you didnt want to you know, that maybe you wanted to put it all behind you." The blonde discerned the slightest hint of hurt in Annas statement.
"No, I wanted to call you. I tried, but I didnt know how." She went on to explain how shed lost her clothes at the hospital, and how shed tried in vain to track Anna through the Red Cross and the hospital. "They didnt have any records of anyone named Anna."
"Well, that makes sense. My full name is Christianna. Thats probably what the records said." Anna then recounted her own frustrations about trying to learn what she could about her friend. "Central Hospital had no record of a Lily or a Lilian, or even a Lilliputian."
"Stop it already with the short jokes! I didnt go to Central. I went to Valley."
"I dont believe it!" said a third voice. Not letting go of one another, the women turned to find Sandy holding two bottles of water and a brown bag lunch. "You have to be the one and only Anna the Amazon that Lily here has been talking about for months."
Still beaming, Lily reached out and pulled the social worker closer. "Sandy, Id like to officially introduce you to Anna the Amazon. Anna, meet one of my dearest friends, Sandy Henke. Sandys a social worker and she and I are here today to argue a custody case," she explained.
"Hi Sandy. Im Anna Ru " she caught herself. "Kaklis. Anna Kaklis. Pleased to meet you."
"Its great to finally meet you too. I tell you, Lily described you perfectly. I think I would have known you anywhere," she said, remembering how often her friend had used the word beautiful. Anna was dressed in a tailored navy suit, the cropped jacket accentuating her trim waist. A strand of ivory pearls with matching earrings finished the look. Stunning would have been more appropriate, she thought.
The little blonde blushed and panicked. She shot her friend a look that said, "Oh God, Sandy! Please dont tell her how I went on and on about how beautiful she was!"
Anna unknowingly saved her with a quick reply. "Well, I almost cant believe she could remember what I looked like. We only saw each other for a minute, and she was kind of on the edge there."
How could I ever forget you? "Well, you made quite an impression, saving my life and all. What brings you to the courthouse?" Lily asked, hoping to move away from the potentially dangerous subject.
"I came for my final divorce decree," Anna stated with a confidence she didnt quite feel. Her eyes met and held those of the attorney as if waiting for judgment.
They were quiet for a moment until Sandy spoke up, "Listen, Im going to head outside and look for a bench. Come out whenever youre ready, Lily." Turning to Anna, she added, "Very nice to meet you. I hope to see you again."
"Same here. The pleasure was mine." Anna held her hand out to the social worker, who took it in hers. Sandy was pleasantly surprised by the firm handshake. She had expected the grip to be more well, prissy.
Lily watched her friend and turned again to face the dark-haired woman. She remembered how troubled Anna had been when they were trapped, how determined she was to work through it, and how she had vowed to "stop beating up" both her husband and herself. What could have gone wrong? Taking Annas hands in her own, Lily tried to find the right words to support her friend. "Im so sorry things didnt work out."
"Who says they didnt?" Anna straightened to her full height and smiled. "Ive always believed that things happen as they should. This is better for everyone." All of this was true, she was certain.
"Sweetheart, you cant mean this! Youre emotional. This has been a horrible ordeal," Scott had argued, when his wife had stated her intentions to divorce him. The handwriting had been on the wall, though. He had been hopeful that this trial would bring them back together, and was bitterly disappointed when Anna returned to the guest room upon arriving home from the hospital.
Anna had called her lawyer as soon as Scott left for his office the following day. By that afternoon, the details were settled, and shed announced her decision and presented Scott with an equitable financial settlement. Defeated, Scott refused a scenario that involved Anna moving out, so she requested that he remove his belongings as soon as was feasible. She would stay with her sister until he was relocated.
"I know it seems trite to say this, Scott, but a part of me will always love you. I have forgiven you for Sarah. I dont want you to carry that burden. Your son is a precious gift, not a mistake. I believe in my heart that you belong with him, and perhaps even with his mother, but thats up to you to decide. I only know that I dont belong with you. It just isnt what I want. Im sorry."
Scott was gone by the end of the week. The large four-bedroom house was quiet, but no more so than it had been for the past few months. Anna slowly reclaimed her life, still working long hours, but spending more time now with her family. Breaking the news to acquaintances and business associates was sometimes uncomfortable, but it wasnt humiliating, as she had feared.
"Then Im glad its worked out for you," Lily said sincerely. Anyone who would let you get away is an idiot.
Anna studied her friends face and found no sign of reproach. "Listen, Im joining my sister and her husband tonight for dinner to sort of well, to celebrate a fresh start. How about coming with us? I really want them to meet you."
"Sure! Id love to," the blonde said eagerly. I hope that wasnt too eager.
"Thats wonderful! They can finally put a face on the woman Ive talked so much about." Anna reached into her Gucci purse and retrieved a business card and a pen. "Heres my number. Dont lose it this time!" she teased, as she jotted her cell phone number on the back.
Lily reached into her own briefcase and passed Anna a card, also scribbling her home number. "Here, my cell phone is on here. So, what are the plans for dinner?"
"We have eight oclock reservations at Empyres in Beverly Hills. Its a Greek place, one of my favorite restaurants. If you want, we can pick you up."
"No, thats okay. It would probably be easier if I met you there."
"If youre sure?" Lily nodded. "The reservation is under Philips. Thats my brother-in-law."
"Okay, then Ill see you at eight," Lily said. She looked at Anna again, and without a trace of awkwardness, took her again in a mighty hug. "Ive got to go. Ive got to be back in court soon, and I need to eat first so they dont fine me for making too much noise with my stomach," she joked. Pausing for a moment, she looked happily at her friend and added, "Its really good to see you again, Anna."
"I feel the same way."
"I dont have anything to wear to a place like that!" Lily shrieked. "Ill make a fool of myself. Id like you to meet my friend Lily from Hooterville," she mocked herself. Lily had visited Empyres web site and explored the menu. Entrees started at forty bucks, and there was that condescending footnote, Proper attire required.
Lauren watched her co-worker pace back and forth in the cramped office. "You know, youre really getting yourself worked up. Its just dinner with a friend. Its not like its a date or anything." She waited "Is it?"
"Of course not!" Lily plopped down in her treasured Aeron armchair and sighed. "I just want to make a good impression." She fingered the embossed business card. "Anna Kaklis. Vice-President, Premier Motors." She was starting to get a grip on who Anna was. "She doesnt just sell cars. Her family probably owns the place. BMWs, for crying out loud!"
It wasnt that Lily was a stranger to people who had money. After all, shed grown up in the Silicon Valley, where even teenagers drove expensive foreign cars. But as the daughter of a school teacher, Lily was unaccustomed to such opulence. It was just another thing that separated her from her peers. That said, she wouldnt have traded her comfortable life with Eleanor for all the money in the world. When Lily finished law school near the top of her class, she was recruited by several firms who promised high earnings and a great potential for partnership. Still, she couldnt see herself living that kind of lifetaking cases based solely on the amount of revenue they generated for the partners. This young attorney, mentored by Katharine Fortier, "champion of the downtrodden," wanted to give something back, and the Braxton Street Law Clinic was a perfect match. It wasnt that she scorned those who made a better living; she just didnt aspire to that for herself.
So why am I feeling so inadequate all of a sudden? "Id like to think we could be friends some day," she said to Lauren. "Really good friends. But Im not sure we have all that much in common." Lilys friends didnt drive Beamers. They were social workers, teachers, nurses, therapists, and other young lawyers like herself.
"Look, its just dinner, right?" Lauren asked. Lily nodded. "So why dont you go out and splurge a little on a new dress? Its not like youre going to break the bank. Its just one dress. I say go for it."
Lily voiced her doubt but she had already decided that Lauren was right. She really wanted to look good tonight. She talked her fellow attorney into getting a head start on the weekend by taking a side trip to Bloomingdales on the way home. A mere $1,312 dollars later, she was slipping on the brand new black heels that matched her new black bag, that matched the simple black sleeveless shimmery dress that she wore under the lightweight black and tan wool jacket. She withdrew from a box under her bed the small diamond earrings she had received from Katharines estate upon her death. She smiled wryly at the image that stared back from the full-length mirror. Okay, so I look good!
Lily almost laughed at the incongruity between her attire and her ride. When she spotted the parking valet at the restaurant, she decided to park the battered SUV in a public garage and walk the remaining two blocks.
It was 8:02 when she entered the restaurant. An attendant traded a small blue claim check for her wrap, and the maitre d directed her to the bar where her companions were already waiting. Suddenly very nervous, the blonde checked her reflection once again in the foyers mirror. Taking a deep breath, she walked tentatively through the entry. Its not like its a date, she reminded herself.
The tall woman was seated facing the doorway so that she could easily spot her friend. The three were nursing their first round, having arrived early at Annas suggestion so that Lily wouldnt have to wait for them in an unfamiliar place. She was taken aback by the elegant sight of the attorney as she entered the dimly lit room. She looks lovely, Anna thought. She rose from her chair and waved her friend to their table.
"Im so glad you could come. I love that dress!" Anna said excitedly.
Worth every penny and then some! Lily thought fleetingly about pilfering the money she had been saving for a down payment on a house and spending every last dime on cocktail dresses at Bloomingdales. "Thank you. Im glad I could make it too. Thanks again for asking me."
Lily had expected Anna to be beautiful in her evening attire, but she wasnt ready for the sight that beheld her. The stunning woman wore a deep burgundy strapless cocktail dress, the lines of her collarbone prominent against the creamy white skin. She had swept her thick raven hair into a French twist, and her ears sparkled with diamonds that made Lilys earrings look like chips.
"Kim, Hal, Id like for you to meet my dear friend, Lily Stuart. Lily, this is my sister Kim Philips, and her wonderful-but-stilted husband, Hal." Whenever they were together, the sisters teased the good-natured bean counter about his conservative demeanor, often referring to him as "Hal Gore." He and Kim had been high school sweethearts and had eloped during their junior year at Berkeley. He was the perfect foil to Kims vivacious personality, and Anna loved him like a brother.
Hal stood to take Lilys outstretched hand, shooting an accusatory glare at his sister-in-law before breaking into a broad grin. "Nice to meet you, Lily. Annas been talking about you ever since the earthquake."
She has, has she? Lily stored this tidbit to relish later.
"Indeed she has," Kim joined in. The attractive red-head surprised everyone by drawing Lily into a fierce hug. "Thank you for saving my sister," she whispered, her voice filled with emotion.
The blonde nearly lost her own composure when she pulled back and noticed tears brimming in the hazel eyes. "I can see that Im going to have to set the record straight on who saved whom. Your sister was my hero that day, too."
Dinner was the most fun Lily had had in ages. Following Annas lead, she ordered the swordfish and a small salad, noting that her entire food budget for the week was going into this meal. Ill worry about that tomorrow at Tara.
The two friends took turns recalling details about their ordeal, each giving credit to the other at every opportunity. Both of them blushed when Kim dubbed the pair "the mutual admiration society." Embarrassed a bit at this obvious truth, Anna redirected the discussion to fill them in on her day in court.
It was the first time she had seen Scott since he had moved out, though they had talked on the phone a few times. It was awkward for a moment, but Anna had initiated a light hug that brought a small smile to the mans face. "I wish you all the best, Scott. I mean that," she had said. He returned the sentiment, sincerely she thought, and the rest was lawyer business. "So if you dont mind, Id like to ask you to join me in a toast to a really nice guy."
"To Scott," Hal said, raising his wine glass. He had genuinely liked his brother-in-law. The glasses clinked, and the foursome took a sip in unison.
"To Anna," Kim added, "for knowing when to look forward instead of back," raising her glass again.
Anna gave her sister an unmistakable look of love. "Thank you," she said quietly, touching her sisters glass and pressing against it for a long thoughtful moment. Though not related by blood, the two were as close as twins, each seeming to know the soul of the other. As strong as Anna appeared on the outside, Kim knew that her sister struggled with important decisions, afraid of making mistakes that others would scrutinize. Without continuing support from the people who loved her, Kim feared that Annas failed marriage might seriously undermine her confidence in matters of the heart. She so wanted her sister to find the kind of love she shared with Hal. Kim had kept to herself the fact that she saw no such devotion between Anna and Scott. As painful as the parting was for Anna, Kim was glad to see her sister starting anew.
"To Anna," Lily and Hal chimed in, ending the poignant moment.
As the tuxedoed waiter began clearing their plates, Lilys thoughts were invaded by the irrational fear that she had lettuce stuck in her teeth. Excusing herself, she made her way to the ladies room.
"Your friend certainly doesnt look like a lesbian," Hal started.
Both women stared at the man incredulously, then at one another to see who would bop him first. Kim won, and she smacked her husbands shoulder. "Im surprised at you, Hal. Just because people could make you as an accountant from across the room doesnt meant that everyone else should fit a stereotype."
Hal realized his gaffe and knew he would soon be getting a second dose of discipline from his sister-in-law. She did not disappoint. "You know Hal, I have several friends who are gay, and I wouldnt have known at all if they hadnt told me. My hairdresser is probably the most flamboyant man on the face of the earth, and hes married with two children. Ive heard it said that if all the gay people in the world were to turn blue tomorrow, wed be surprised to find that those stereotypes dont fit at all," she scolded.
"Stereotypes?" The three were startled that Lily had returned so quickly. Clean teeth.
"Yeah, it happens to me all the time at work," Anna covered quickly. "I was telling them about an incident on the lot yesterday. The sales staff was in at 6:30 in the morning for training on next years features. Just after seven, this guy drove up in a 97 Mitsubishi Eclipse, Special Edition and started looking at the 530i." Anna knew cars. "I walked out and asked if he had any questions, and he said No, I already know probably as much as you do about the car." Her voice deepened and her head bobbed back and forth as she mocked him.
"Right, like he knows more than my sister with the mechanical engineering degree," Kim interjected.
"So then he said he wanted to make an offer on the car, and asked me to go get the manager. I explained to him that the manager was in a meeting, and assured him that I could handle the transaction. But he insisted, so I dragged Bradhes our sales managerout of the meeting to talk to him. They hammered out a price, but Brad said he needed the owners okaywhich wasnt true, but Brad wanted to jerk his chainthen he paged me to his office to look over the deal. You should have seen the look on the mans face when I walked back in."
Lily processed this wealth of information on her new friend, mechanical engineering degree, owner. "So what did you do?"
"Oh, I approved it. Brad doesnt give cars away. But we both had quite a laugh about it when the guy left. And I met the guy again and gave him the overview when he came back to pick up his new car. But the fun part was that I told him everything about the engine in excruciating detail, and told him to stop me if he already knew it. Of course, he didnt." Her companions laughed at the image, all wishing they could have been flies on the wall.
The waiter returned at that moment to offer coffee and dessert. He was back soon with four baklava, two black decafs and two espressos.
"So what part of town do you live in, Lily?" Kim inquired.
"Do you have a house? A condo?"
"Uh-oh! Kims putting on her real estate hat." Hal chided his wife.
"I am not! I just wanted to know," she whined.
"Actually, I live in an apartment. Its in a prime location, convenient to public transportation. I learned after moving in that that means its directly underneath the flight path for Burbank," she joked. "Ive been saving for a down payment on a house, but every time I get ready to look, prices jump again, and I have to save a little more."
"Well, at the risk of being accused of doing business at dinner," she shot a sidelong glance at her husband, "give me a call if you want some help on finding something. I sometimes get a heads-up on new listings before they go on the market." She fished a business card from her purse and passed it across the table.
"Wow, thanks! I will. Hal, I dont suppose you have any ideas for making my modest savings account explode into a fortune in a few short weeks, do you?"
"I wish!" Hal reached over and covered his wifes hand with his own. "I hate to be a party pooper, but Im about ready to call it a night."
"He has a date with his boat in the morning," Kim whispered conspiratorially.
Neither Anna nor Lily was ready for the evening to end, but both stood and gathered their things. It was then that the party discovered that the car dealer had already discreetly paid their check. She declined their offers to pitch in, so they thanked her for her generosity.
While the women waited for their wraps, Hal exited to order their car. Kim offered, "Lily, you should give Hal your ticket too. Hell get your car while we wait."
"Mines in the garage around the corner. There was a line for the valet, and I was worried about being late, so I just parked it myself," she lied.
"How would you feel about dropping me at home?" Anna asked suddenly. "I live pretty close. That way, you wont have to walk to the garage by yourself."
Do I let this beautiful woman see the piece of shit I drive, or do I want this night to be over? Wishing she had time to buy a new car first, Lily answered, "Id be happy to."
Bidding goodnight to Kim and Hal, the pair began the short walk to the garage. Noticing a slight limp in her companion, Lily gestured toward Annas leg and asked, "So is that a souvenir from the earthquake?"
"Yeah, it was in pretty bad shape for a while, but I worked with a physical therapist and then a personal trainer. Its so much better now than it was. In fact, Im probably stronger now all over than I was back in February." Lily concurred, noting the sinewy muscles in the womans shoulders and arms. "But Im not the only one with a souvenir." Anna reached out and gently traced the small red scar above the attorneys left eye.
"Well, thats getting better too. It was bright red for a long time."
"All in all, we were both pretty lucky, Id say," the tall woman said.
"Definitely." Meeting you was the lucky part.
Approaching the worn out RAV4, Lily prepared her passenger for the sight. "When I was in the hospital after the earthquake, one of my comforts was that I had heard that the parking garage had collapsed. I was looking forward to collecting the insurance money and getting a new car." Lily unlocked and opened the drivers door, then reached across the front seat to roll down the passenger window. "But as luck would have it," she continued, "mine was one of only three cars that escaped unscathed." She then walked around the car and reached through the window giving the door handle a hard yank as she leaned back. Anna stepped up into the passenger seat, and Lily slammed the door.
"Well, at the risk of sounding a lot like my sister, I sell cars." Anna winked at her, and Lily thought she would melt.
By KG MacGregor
"I couldnt believe it either! Mom, she is so nice. And shes smart and successful. I hope you have the chance to meet her the next time you come down." Lily had been going on about the car dealer for nearly thirty minutes, recounting as many details as she could remember of her meeting with Anna at the courthouse and at dinner last night. "No, we havent really made any plans to get together again, but I think we will. I think we just sort of clicked." Lily walked from her bedroom out to her balcony and sat down in the sun. "No, not that way. Arent you listening, Mom? Shes straight. But I think well be great friends."
Eleanor had always been both mother and best friend to her daughter. Though she had warded off the cruelty of the younger schoolchildren, she had been powerless to stop the heartbreak when a supposed friend from Lilys high school had broken a confidence and told their classmates that Lily was gay. The vicious taunting that followed had driven a wedge between Lily and her peers and the teenager simply withdrew from social activities. She concentrated on her studies and spent more time with adult friends, like Katharine. It was then that Katharine first told Lily that she too was a lesbian. That revelation was a godsend to the confused young girl as she learned by example to accept and love herself without guilt or shame. And over the years, Eleanor could not have been more supportive, offering her shoulder each time Lily had her heart torn in two.
"Ill come up to see you soon, I promise." Lily stood to return the phone to its cradle for recharging. "Love you too. Goodbye."
Lily loved her work, but weekends were a guilty pleasure. She usually managed to take care of things like cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping and errands by mid-afternoon on Saturday. That left Saturday night for socializing, often dinner with Sandy and Suzanne or with Lauren and her husband, Jason. On Sundays, Lily was outside as much as possible. Her favorite pastime was hiking, and though she preferred long walks alone, she wisely adhered to the adage of safety in numbers. When she couldnt find a companion, she usually opted to hit the popular trails in the San Gabriel Mountains, where she encountered dozens of hikers, bikers and cross-country runners.
Sandy had called first thing this morning to invite her to a cookout tonight at their Sherman Oaks home. She and Suzanne were eager to hear about her evening with Anna and her family, and she was looking forward to the retelling.
Lily was running out the door when her phone rang. Her heart skipped a beat as she recognized on her caller ID the number she had memorized from Annas business card. "Hello, this is Lily," she answered nervously.
"Hi, its Anna." Such a nice voice!
"Well hi yourself, Amazon. What are you up to? Six feet?"
"Funny girl." Anna didnt mind at all the teasing from her diminutive friend. "Im still at work. What about you?"
"Im heading out to dinner at Sandys. You remember my friend from the courthouse?"
"Of course, the social worker. She seems like a nice person."
"Yeah, weve been good friends for about five years."
"Listen, the reason I was calling was to see if you had any interest in going to the Dodgers game tomorrow. My account manager at the LA Times sent me two tickets to their skybox."
"The skybox?" Lily asked, working hard to contain her eagerness.
"Yes, you know. Their corporate suite. We spend a lot of money on advertising, and they pass on tickets to things from time to time."
"Are you kidding? Id love to!"
"Great! It starts at one. What if I come by and pick you up about 12:15?"
"Are you sure you dont mind? I could meet you somewhere, or I could come by and get you."
"No, thats okay. Just give me your address. I have a GPS in the car, Ill just punch it in." Anna wasnt eager to fold her long frame into the mini-SUV again. If they encountered heavy traffic, her injured knee would protest vehemently at the cramped position.
"A GPS? Cool! If youre sure." Lily gave her address, and told Anna where she should park at the complex to avoid the wrath of the Parking Lot Nazi, the elderly neighbor in the adjacent building who didnt even own a car. "Listen, Ive never been in a skybox before. What should I wear?"
"Well, theyre a little stiff. Hal would fit right in," the car dealer joked. "I usually wear slacks or khakis and a nice shirt."
Lilys mind immediately went to her wardrobe as she mentally dressed herself six times. This exercise always saved her at least two rounds of tossing clothes about the room as she ruled things out. "I cant wait. See you at 12:15. Oh, and Anna?"
"Its seven oclock on Saturday night. Go home."
"Funny girl. Have a good time tonight. Tell Sandy I said hello."
"I will. Thanks for calling." She hung up and dashed out the door, giddy with excitement.
Twenty minutes later, she was pulling into the driveway of her friends California ranch home. She could smell the burning charcoal as soon as she stepped from her car, so she followed the path around the garage to the redwood deck. Suzanne was tending the grill, and she could hear Sandy in the kitchen. "I brought wine!" she announced, holding up Sandys favorite Coppola merlot. Lily greeted her friends in the usual manner, like they hadnt seen each other in months.
As expected, Lilys report on her dinner at Empyres dominated the dinner conversation. Sandy and Suzanne had lots of questions, and they were genuinely glad that their friend had reconnected with the woman she met during her earthquake ordeal.
When dinner and dishes were done, they returned to the deck for a soak in the Jacuzzi. In the darkness, the three friends shed their clothes and slipped into the warm churning water. "Lily, I sure wish you could meet a lesbian that lit your fire like Anna has," Sandy started.
"You and me both, my friend," Lily replied, realizing too late what she had just admitted.
"Shes straight, Lily," Suzanne warned. "You need to be careful, or shell break your heart."
"Shes my friend, Suzanne," the blonde said defensively. "I dont have any expectations that shell be anything else. Its just that we went through something together that changed our lives. I feel a very special bond with her, and I want to know her better. Does that automatically have to mean a sexual attraction?"
"No, of course not," Sandy reassured. "We just dont want to see you hurt, but it sounds like youve got the right perspective. Neither of us meant any offense."
"Thats okay. None taken." Lily was grateful for her two friends, even when they were overprotective. "Thanks for worrying about me."
Soon after they toweled off and dressed, Lily bade her friends goodnight and went home to try on clothes.
The two women showed their tickets at the gate and made their way to the escalator that would take them to the concourse for the lower level suites. As promised, Anna was wearing black tailored slacks and a light blue sleeveless silk shirt. Her hair was pulled back and tied with a thin strip of black leather, and a lightweight cream-colored sweater hung loosely around her shoulders to ward off the chill of the air conditioner in the suite. A native to southern California, Anna hated to be cold.
Lily wore Gap khakis with a short-sleeved forest green sweater. It was the sixteenth combination that she had tried. It wasnt that this one was the best; rather it was the one she had on when her doorbell rang at 12:10.
Lily was duly impressed with Annas luxurious black 745i, especially the global positioning system. From her passenger seat, she assessed the multitude of gauges that gave the appearance that the car drove itself. "Youd have to be pretty smart to drive a car like this," she joked.
"Not a problem," the dark-haired woman replied dryly.
When they entered the suite, they were greeted by a handsome man in gray slacks and a starched white shirt. "Anna! Its great to see you. Glad you could make it!"
"Thank you. Steve, Id like you to meet my friend, Lilian Stuart. Lily, this is Steve French. Steve is my account manager at the Times, and our host for today."
"Im really pleased to meet you. Thanks so much for the invitation." Lily couldnt help but notice that Steve had hardly glanced her way, his eyes glued to her beautiful friend.
"So Anna, where is Scott today?" Were the rumors true?
"That I wouldnt know, Steve. Scott and I have divorced," she said unceremoniously.
Bingo! "Im sorry to hear that, Anna." He wasnt really. In fact, it was all he could do not to blurt out You seeing anyone?
"Thank you, Steve. I appreciate that. It was a friendly parting." She had learned that sharing that with acquaintances usually put them at ease. Steve led them to their seats on the front row of the suite just in time for the National Anthem.
Anna has a beautiful voice, Lily thought when the song finished. The blonde resisted the urge to pinch herself. Here she was in a luxury suite at Dodger Stadium, sitting beside the most beautiful woman in LA. Her friends words of caution from the night before crept into her head for a moment, but she reminded herself that she and Anna were just getting to know each other, on their way to a deep, lasting friendship.
Lily was pleasantly surprised to find that Anna knew her stuff when it came to the Dodgers. They talked about players, trades, strategies and statistics, all to the consternation of Steve French, who badly wanted Annas attention.
"I think someone has his eye on you," Lily whispered.
"Oh yeah? Hes a handsome guy, dont you think?"
"Yeah, I guess," Lily shrugged, feigning exaggerated boredom. "If you go for that trim and muscular, square jaw with deep set eyes thing. Not really my type, though."
"So what is your type, Ms. Stuart?" Anna wasnt sure why shed asked, but she found herself profoundly interested in Lilys response.
You areGod, please dont let me have said that out loud! "You mean apart from my gender specifications?"
"Well, Id say thats a given, unless youve decided to swing back the other way."
"Not a chance. I go for smart first, then a sense of humor. Outer beauty means little to me," Lily said haughtily.
"Yeah, and I like ugly cars too."
"Lilian Stuart," the lawyer said, picking up the phone on her desk.
"So how did you know he was going to call?"
"Anna! Im fine. Thank you for asking," Lily ragged on her friend.
"Funny girl. I just got a call from Steve French inviting me to go to San Diego next Saturday for the first game of the Dodgers road trip."
Lily knew this was going to happen, and she didnt like it one bit. She had overheard the arrogant prick bragging to his buddy at the game that he could get Anna to go out with him. Something about his tone suggested that he was definitely interested in more than just a date. But who wouldnt be? Anna is irresistible. "So what was your reply? I suppose you fell for the line about having the chance to get to know each other better on the drive down." It was meant to be teasing, but it came out as sarcasm.
Anna was taken aback at her friends response. "Whats that about, Lily? It sounds like you dont like Steve much."
Im so screwed! Lily thought about coming clean about what she had overheard, but it occurred to her that Anna might well be interested in Steves advances. "No, Steve is very nice. I was just teasing. Welcome back to the world of dating. I always keep my ears open for what lines work best on women," she kidded, hoping that would cover her faux pas.
The women tried to work out getting together one night during the week for a quick dinner, but their schedules wouldnt meet. Lily usually prepped for court appearances the night before and this was a particularly busy week with three cases on the docket. Anna would be with her family celebrating her fathers 58th birthday on the only night the lawyer was available. They agreed to reconnect after the weekend to see if they could get together next week.
For his 58th birthday, George Kaklis asked to have his birthday dinner outside on the patio. His very best memories were of the times the family had eaten, laughed and played around the pool in the backyard. He wanted "something simple, like we used to do when the kids were all at home." Trouble was, "simple" to his wife, Martine, was having a caterer shop, prepare, serve and clean up. Even so, she was always happy to do things for her family, and especially glad to help make Georges birthday a special one.
The second Mrs. Kaklis now stood in the kitchen, dutifully sorting ingredients for Turkish pilaf and stuffed baked tomatoes. Six top sirloin steaks marinated on the top rack of the industrial model refrigerator in the expansive kitchen. Hal and David had agreed to do the honors at the grill, while Kim and Anna would prepare the dinner salad. Martine had picked up the large, elaborately decorated cake earlier in the day.
When they finished dinner, Hal and Anna cleared the table and returned to the patio for birthday cake and presents. "So what is everyone doing this weekend?" the patriarch asked. He was genuinely interested in the lives of his family members.
"Going out on the boat," said Hal cheerfully.
"Going out on the boat," Kim groaned.
"Going out on the boat?" David pleaded for an invitation.
"Going out on the boat!" Hal extended it, nodding at his teenage brother-in-law.
"Going out on the boat?" begged Kim, turning to her sister.
"Sorry. Not going out on the boat. Im going with Steve French to the Dodgers game in San Diego."
"Youre going out with Steve French?" George asked, obviously surprised. "I dont think hes for you, dear. Maybe you should consider waiting a while before you start dating again." The elder Kaklis had always been protective of Anna, even overprotective when it came to her dates or friends. He had thought Scott the perfect match for his daughter, and was distressed when they divorced, unaware of his son-in-laws breach.
Through the years, Anna had found it easier to defer to her fathers judgment than to deal with his disappointment. Her fathers approval of Scott had been the deciding factor when she accepted his marriage proposal. "Its not really a date, Dad. I went last week to their skybox for the Reds game, and he knows what a Dodgers fan I am." Fine, I just wont think of it as a date.
He would try a new tack. "I dont know, darling. After all, he is our account manager. You dont want to mix business and pleasure."
"Oh for goodness sakes, Dad! Anna isnt going to run off and elope." Like Hal and I did, she left unsaid. "I swear, youd have us both still living at home if you had your way." Kim rescued her sister with a little levity.
Anna laughed and stood up quickly to gather the cake plates. Kim had created a slim opening and she wasnt going to miss it. "Mother, could you grab those two plates?" Anna disappeared into the kitchen with Martine. "Dont let him worry too much, okay?"
"Ill deal with him if he brings it up again. You just go have fun. Itll do you good to get out." Martine was used to running interference for the girls. She only wished George would pay as much attention to her as he did to the children and that goddamned dealership.
Lily stretched across the couch to grab the phone, not taking her eyes off UCLAs gridiron battle with the Stanford Cardinal. Fresh from her shower after cleaning the house and washing her pathetic car, she now wore an oversized long blue and yellow jersey that boasted her alma mater. Her beloved Bruins were already up 7-0 in the first quarter.
"So how did you know that Steve French was a creep?"
Football flew right out of her head as she recognized her friends voice. "Hi Anna. Im fine. Thanks for asking."
"Funny girl." It had become her standard reply. "Let me be your tour guide for the landmark Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. Were here in the mahogany trimmed ladies room off the Dels main lobby, admiring the polished brass fixtures adorning the ornately carved marble sinks."
"What on earth are you doing in the bathroom at the Del?"
"Such a personal question!" Anna said with mock indignation. "Steve suggested the Del for dinner, and I stopped in here to wash up." The rest of her tale left the lawyer in disbelief.
Anna exited the washroom to find Steve standing with his back to her at the hotels registration desk. Pocketing something from the desk clerk, he walked out to the balcony to wait for her.
With a queasy feeling, Anna approached the counter and asked the clerk, "That gentleman who was just here, did he register for the night?"
"Im sorry, maam. I cant give out that information."
Drawing a fifty dollar bill from her purse and passing it discreetly across the counter, she explained to the young woman, "Im here with that man on our first date, and I would like to know what he has in mind."
A look of understanding crossed the clerks face, and she gently pushed Annas hand back across the counter, not taking the bill. "Yes, he got a single room with a king-sized bed. And a bottle of champagne."
Anna lurched on the last remark. "Thank you."
Though already jaded regarding Steve French, Lily couldnt believe how pompous the guy actually was. "What an arrogant jerk!" she exclaimed.
"Yeah. I was going to fake a migraine, but I may not have to fake it after all. Im thinking about renting a car and driving home."
"You get migraines?"
Lily imagined her friend hiding out at the Del. "What if I drove down and picked you up? I could be there in about two and a half hours."
Anna protested, but secretly, she loved the idea of riding back to LA with the woman who always made her laugh. Even in the tiny RAV4. Lily further prodded her friend to think about it, even as she walked upstairs to pull on her jeans and change into a rust-colored knit sweater.
"Well, I cant stay in the restroom for two and half hours." Anna had decided what she would do. "So Ill be in the lobby at nine oclock. Are you sure, Lily? Thats a lot of driving."
Lily confirmed her offer, telling Anna that she was ready now to head out the door. The dark-haired woman exited the restroom in search of her date. The direct approach, right between the eyes, she decided. Finding the man on the breezy balcony above the restaurant, she began, "Steve, when I was coming out of the ladies room earlier, I saw you picking up a room key."
Busted! "Oh," he stammered, "I thought you might want to freshen up after dinner." That could work, he thought stupidly.
Four hundred dollars a night to freshen up? "I have to tell you Steve, that makes me very uncomfortable. Ive already called someone to pick me up. And Im going to be having dinner alone tonight." He protested at first, but when it suddenly occurred to him that he had just offended one of the papers most important advertisers, he managed to voice a humble apology. It was too soon to tell if this would damage their working relationship.
Lily pulled into the valet circle at 8:50. "Im just here to pick someone up," she told the young man in the pith helmet who had moved to take her keys. Less than a minute later, she emerged with her tall friend in tow.
On the ride home, Anna confessed that she was nursing a small headache, and requested that Lily carry the conversation. She reclined her seat slightly and asked to hear all about the attorneys family, her friends, her work, and the things she liked to do. Lily answered with the story of her precarious start in life. With the love evident in her voice, she described how Eleanor and Katharine had helped her to become the person she was today. She then went on to talk about the Braxton Street Law Clinic, about Tony and Lauren, and the work they did with underprivileged families.
Anna was fascinated and intrigued by the tale. She understood now that the grit and determination she had seen in this remarkable woman during their underground ordeal was not something Lily had called up to answer their desperate need. Rather, it was an integral part of who she was.
She began to tell Lily about the presentation on youth programs she had seen at the Chamber of Commerce meeting the morning of the earthquake, and about her desire to do something for kids. As she spoke, though, she realized that her small headache was indeed turning into a full-blown migraine and she begged off the rest of the conversation until another time. The last hour was logged in companionable silence, Anna dozing when she could, and Lily lost in thought about the feelings she knew were growing for the beautiful woman. When she realized where her thoughts were headed, she mentally cautioned herself.
"Anna? Were here." Lily gently shook her friends arm. Her arm feels so clammy. "Are you okay? What can I do?"
Anna sat up and pressed two fingers from her right hand onto her right eyebrow, directly above her eye where her worst migraines formed. She barely noticed her aching leg as she stepped from the car. "Its a big one. I think Im going to be sick," was all she said.
Lily helped the tall woman into the house, sticking close by all the way to her bedroom. As she had predicted, Anna was sick as soon as entered the adjoining bathroom. Lily wet a cloth and tenderly wiped her friends face as she slumped on the cool tile floor. "How can I help, Anna? Do you have medicine?"
Anna nodded slowly. "Theres a plastic jar on the door of the refrigerator. Can you bring it?"
"Of course." Lily found the medicine and returned to the bathroom with a small glass of water. "Here," she said, handing the jar to her friend.
Anna unscrewed the cap and removed one of the yellow capsules. Despite the awful headache, she couldnt stop the smile that formed when she saw the offered glass. "Um these are suppositories. They work faster."
"Oh." Lily could feel the heat rush up her chest to her face, and she knew that she was bright red with embarrassment. "Ill just uh, Ill wait out here." She left the room, closing the door behind her.
When Anna emerged a few minutes later, she sat beside the blonde on the queen-sized bed. "I need to lie down now. The medicine will knock me out cold in about ten minutes."
"Do you want me to stay a while, until youre asleep?"
"No, Ill be okay." Anna withdrew a blue silk nightshirt from the bottom drawer of the nightstand. "Theres an extra key in the kitchen drawer under the phone. Take it, and lock up for me, okay?"
Lily nodded. "Can I give you a call tomorrow?" Anna agreed and began to unbutton her blouse. Lily felt her face go red again, and stood. "I hope you feel better." Nervously, she leaned forward and lightly kissed her friends forehead."
"Thank you, Lily. For everything." It was all she could do to get the words out, but she needed to show the attorney her gratitude for her friendship. It was indeed special, and Anna knew with a certainty that it would get stronger.
Alone in her car, Lily tried to recall if she had ever been more embarrassed in her entire life. She must have thought I was waiting around to watch her put it in! The image brought the deep blush back to her face and neck.
Her thoughts turned again to the attraction she was feeling for Anna, but she couldnt bring herself to imagine closeness beyond that of best friends. She indeed wanted to be Annas very best friend, and to protect her from jerks like Steve French. That didnt mean it was sexual attraction. They were just friends. .
Still with me? Part 7-11
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