Disclaimer #1: My characters are of my own creation, though they bear physical resemblance to a couple you may recognize. Any references to XWP, Diet Coke or Depends should be considered uncompensated product placement.
Disclaimer #2: This story is about two women in love, and all that goes with it. If you find that idea offensive, if you arent old enough, or if you live where reading such depictions is not allowed, this isnt for you.
Disclaimer #3: Occasionally, my characters use bad language.
Disclaimer #4: Occasionally, my characters use bad grammar.
Disclaimer #5: Most of the places depicted in this story are real. However, I took poetic license in the creation of some specific venues and streets. If you happen to be from LA, dont bust a gut trying to figure out where these places are.
Disclaimer #6: There is no number 6.
Disclaimer #7: This is my first attempt at fan fiction. I apologize in advance if youre bugged by my writing style. I wanted to tell a story thats been cooking in my head for a while, and this is the best I can do for now. I welcome your feedback, as I sincerely want to get better at this.
Thanks to my beta readers, especially Tami, who spent a lot of her precious time reading my rewrites. She also served as my fashion advisor. Thanks also to Roz, TF & Linda for their feedback and encouragement.
This is for my Sweetcakes, cuz without her, I dont think I could write about love at all (or skyboxes).
The dark-haired driver of the black 745i puzzled over the words "rush hour." Nobody was rushing, and here in LA, this traffic lasted all day and half the night! Occasionally, the congestion broke up and all five lanes took off like the thoroughbreds at Hollywood Park. A half-mile later, the mass would slam on its collective brake and come to a standstill.
The snarled freeway, as germane to southern California as its poverty and pretense, caused Anna Kaklis Rutherford to dread the regular trips from her Bel Air home to the downtown convention center. But as the new treasurer of the Greater Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, her presence was a must at their monthly breakfast meetings.
This mornings meeting had featured a compelling presentation on community organizations involved with the areas "at-risk" youth. It was, of course, a thinly-veiled plea for businesses to support charities and causes that carried less prestige and opportunity for notoriety than those already in the public eye. The accompanying video had shown children and teenagers in a variety of settings, in classrooms, on sports fields, in hospitals, and even in their own homes. Many of those depicted were minorities or disabled, and all were being guided by caring adults.
For more than 40 years, Premier Motors of Beverly Hills, southern Californias top BMW dealer, had lent its support to LAs thriving symphony, its opera, three of its theaters, and no less than a half-dozen art museums. The company was a major underwriter for an afternoon business update that aired on the local public radio station. "After all," Annas father had reasoned, "those are the people who buy luxury cars." Anna, who at 31 served as vice president of the familys dealership, agreed that supporting the arts was good business, the best advertising their money could buy.
But the car dealer had been moved by todays program, especially by the teenaged girl who told a personal tale of how one organization had helped her overcome an abusive home, poor school performance, and a flirtation with drugs and alcohol to become a college-bound senior with hopes and dreams of one day being a leader in this very business organization. Despite losing her mother at an early age, Anna felt truly blessed by the hand dealt her, and she vowed today that she would do something to help LAs disadvantaged children and youth.
A blaring horn snapped her out of her reverie, and she hurriedly accelerated to close the 30-foot gap between herself and the red Honda Civic with the "Bush Cheated" bumper sticker. It wouldnt do to leave enough room for another car to squeeze in that might create good will in the world!, she thought to herself, rolling her eyes. Spotting the ramp for Endicott Avenue, she slowly picked her way to the exit lane. Endicott eventually dumped into Santa Monica Boulevard, and stoplights and surface streets were preferable to this creeping, growling mass of motorized inhumanity.
This mornings look at the struggles of troubled youth had ironically been a respite from the thoughts that had consumed the dark-haired woman like a cloud for the past three months no, make that 15 months, two months before she had married Scott Rutherford. Focusing on the plight of others was an effective ploy for getting her mind off her own problems, and Anna was determined to milk this mornings presentation for all it was worth. But the silver Z3 that stopped in the lane to her left brought that cloud back to bear on her consciousness. There was nothing special about the driver, a red-haired woman of about 20, gesturing animatedly as she talked on her cell phone. It was the car itself, the James Bond roadster, that started the depressive spiral. Her husband drove a Z3.
As days go, today was a bad one, even by Lilys standards.
She had started her day in the family courtroom at the Los Angeles County Courthouse with her client, Maria Esperanza. They were squaring off against ex-husband Miguel for primary custody of the couples two children.
Shed called Maria the day before, reminding her of what to wear to court and what to tell the judge about her ex-husbands volatile behavior. "Whatever you do, dont get angry," she had advised Maria. "We want the judge to know that you want custody of your children because youre afraid of what Miguel might do, not because youre angry about what hes already done."
As Lily looked back with her near-perfect hindsight, Maria had seemed quite surprised by the call. "I had marked tomorrow on my calendar," her client had said. For a fleeting moment, the attorney too had recalled a Friday court date, thinking that she would have used today to go over next weeks filings and four scheduled court appearances. Nonetheless, Maria hurriedly agreed to be ready, and Lily had stayed late yesterday to prep her case.
Unfortunately, the case file that Pauline, the clinics newly-hired secretary, should have pulled was that of Maria Espinosa, Lauren Millers client, whose final divorce hearing was to have been today. It all came to light when Maria Esperanza looked across the aisle at Mr. Espinosa and asked her attorney simply "Who is that man and why does he want custody of my children?"
Begging opposing counsels forgivenessthey would tangle many times, so it was always a good idea for either side to be owed a favorshe threw herself upon the mercy of the court and Judge Evans fined her only $200. She forked over a personal check, and offered to drive her testy client home.
Once in the hallway, shed called Lauren to give her the bad news Judge Evans was fining her $200 too for not having her client in court this morning. Lily held the phone from her ear as Lauren spewed forth a stream of curses that would have had a New Yorker looking at his shoes. "Im going straight to Tony about this," she shrieked, her reference to the firms administrative partner. "Jesus H. Christ on a Raft! All we get at this salary are Murphy Brown rejects!"
Lily chuckled inwardly. Often the chief peacemaker in their office, she finally replied, "Lauren, its partly my fault, too. Its hard to keep all of these names straight and I didnt check it out before calling the client."
Climbing into one of the first RAV4s to come off Toyotas assembly line, Lily gathered up the pile of folders and law books on the front seat, making room for her passenger. "There you go. Sorry about that." She tried to make nice with Mariathey had to go through this again tomorrow. The day was usually warm for February, and without a working air conditioner, Lily thought it best to remove her suit jacket and fold it over the back seat. Sweat might be sexy, but its hell on silk.
Maria had finally seemed to accept Lilys profuse apologies, and it looked like they would have a peaceful ride to Culver City, where Maria was staying with her sister and brother-in-law until she got the custody of her children resolved. Rather than subject herself to yet another briefing on what tomorrow would bring, Maria opted instead to call the sister she would see in only a matter of minutes. Had Maria known that Lily had a pretty good working knowledge of Spanish, she probably would not have said anything to her sister about the "abogados tontos". Idiot lawyers. As she merged onto the crawling Santa Monica freeway, Lily decided to take her thoughts elsewhere.
Now racing from one stoplight to the next, Anna checked the digital clock on her instrument gauge. 11:40. Todays meeting had lasted until ten, then the officers met in closed session to discuss the new membership drive. Passing her hand over the infrared eye on the doorframe produced a dial tone. "Premier Motors," she stated succinctly. A few moments later, her call was answered with the same two words. "Carmen, would you let Dad know that things ran late this morning? Ill be in the office in about an hour." Thanking the receptionist, she started looking for a bookstore along Endicott.
Three months ago, Annas well-planned life was flung into doubt. Could she salvage her marriage? Could things ever be the same? Not yet ready to talk about this with her familynot even with her stepsister Kim, who was her closest friendshe had called her longtime friend and roommate at Cal Poly, Liz Patterson. Liz lived now with her husband and daughter in San Mateo. Anna recounted most of the tale, purposefully leaving out the details of the doubts she had harbored about her marriage even before the wedding. Strong and confident in most aspects of her life, especially in business, Anna had somehow always struggled with relationships and was particularly lost in this current dilemma. The situation left her feeling hurt but also angry that she didnt have complete control.
Liz had listened with love and concern, but was unwilling to guide her friend to a decision she could not reach on her own. She asked all the right questions to prompt Anna to explore her options, and finally recommended a book she had seen reviewed in the New York Times.
The distraction of the morning presentation now forgotten, Anna recalled her friends suggestion. Playing by Ear was a rising best-seller about a woman who had left her job and boyfriend to pursue her bliss as a concert cellist. Though she lived now from hand to mouth, the cellist had found her fulfillment in her lifelong dream. Anna wasnt looking to change careers. On the contrary, she loved selling cars. But she needed to find the nerve to make at least a change in her own personal life.
As long as she could remember, 29-year-old Lily Stuart had wanted to practice law. "They help people be happy" was the reason she gave as a young girl when teachers had asked her why. Katharine Fortier had certainly helped Lily and her mom find happiness, by seeing to it that they stayed together.
Lilys birth certificate listed no father. Her birth mother, Lisa Parker, was little more than a child herself when Lily was born, far too immature to care for the demands of a baby. Rather, she left Lily unattended for long hours while she saw to her own social needs. On those occasions when Lily was actually taken along, it was often to places children shouldnt visit, such as bars, pool halls, and parties with alcohol and drugs. Social services stepped in twice to remove the child from her mothers care, once when Lisa was arrested for shoplifting, a second time when 2-year-old Lily was left unattended in a car for over an hour. Each time, Lily was returned after short stints in foster care.
On the third occasion, when Lisa faced certain jail time for assaulting a woman and stealing her car, social services began processing the papers to sever parental rights. Since Lisas mother had a record of her own, Lily was adjudicated dependent and placed up for adoption at four years old.
In the next two years, the little blonde lived in seven foster homes and attended four different elementary schools in kindergarten and first grade. She was uninterested in school, and very much a behavior problem. She rarely completed her work, and was constantly getting into fights with classmates who teased her about not having any real parents. Lily was small for her age, but she usually held her own in these playground tussles.
Something about this errant child tugged at the heartstrings of her first grade teacher, Eleanor Stuart, who began spending more time with Lily in the classroom. She stuck close at recess to protect the little girl from the other childrens cruel taunting. Eleanor saw past the tough exterior Lily tried so hard to create and knew that under this façade was a passionate, creative, and kind-hearted little girl. Suddenly, Lilys interest in school soared as she tried desperately to please the only adult who had ever seemed to care about her. Her foster parents, the Tomlinsons, reported to social services that she seemed to be adjusting finally, and all were hopeful that this would improve Lilys chances of being adopted.
Toward the end of that school year, social services requested her school records yet again, because the Tomlinsons had agreed to take in two brothers, and they would no longer have room for Lily in their small home. When the little girl learned that she would be changing both her home and school, she became hysterical. She had been content staying with the Tomlinsons, but where she lived was unimportant. What mattered was that she stay close to Miss Stuart. She was devastated.
So too was Eleanor, and she immediately contacted her friend Katharine, an attorney who specialized in family law. Katharine was one of the nicest women youd ever want to meet and she ate nails for breakfast. With Katharines help, Eleanor was granted interim custody of Lily. Four months later, as Lily entered second grade, Eleanor began adoption proceedings.
In late October of that year, a paroled Lisa Parker informed the court that she had had a change of heart. Out of prison only three months and already pregnant with her second child, she knew shed need seven-year-old Lilys help to keep an eye on the baby, lest she find herself back in trouble with the authorities. Of course, the story she offered the judge included none of those plans. Instead, she spoke tearfully of how heartbroken she was at the loss of her child, and how she thought of nothing more for the past two years than how she would make up for her past by doing right by her daughter.
Fortunately, Eleanor and Lily had Katharine Fortier in their corner again, and she was a bulldog in court. By the time she was finished with Lisa and her false promises, the miscreant was lucky not to be going back to jail for perjury. On November 15th of that year, Lilian Lisa Parker became simply Lilian Stuart.
Katharine remained close to the family, and it was she who suggested to Lily at age 17 that she study law at UCLA. Not that Lily needed any encouragement. On that day long ago when the three of them had walked triumphantly from the courthouse, Lily had vowed to be just like Katharine someday. It was Katharine who prepped her for the LSAT, who wrote her recommendation for law school, and who finally pushed her through the bar exam.
When she accepted the job at the Braxton Street Family Law Clinic, she was proud to tell her mentor that she had been her inspiration. "Dont do this for me, Lily," Katharine had said humbly. "Do it for the Eleanors and Lilys who will need you."
Eleanor and Lily were crushed two years ago when Katharines sightseeing plane crashed in Alaska, leaving no survivors.
Clutching the steering wheel of the RAV4 a little tighter, Lily fought back the emotions that memory always brought to surface. Even though the attractive young attorney now possessed an optimism which seemed to belie her rough start in life, it was this part of her life which had given her empathy for others. She pursed her lips a bit and sneaked a sidelong glance at her passenger. Maria Esperanza probably doesnt know it, but shes an Eleanor who needs me, Lily resolved, as they pulled up in front of the small stucco home. With an "adios" Maria dropped her phone into her handbag. She actually said goodbye to her sister and shell see her in about 10 seconds! Mentally rolling her eyes, Lily neatly executed a tight U-turn, and headed back to her office.
Anna had reached an important decision. She wasnt going to languish in this mess another day, just waiting to see what life would hand her next. She was going to take control, make the decisions that had to be made, and live with the consequences.
There was no easy answer. Anna knew that she and Scott would both have to work hard for their marriage to survive. Do I even want it to survive? She also knew that admitting the failure of her marriage and walking away would be humiliating and a disappointment to her family, especially her father. Can I do that?
It had been easy in some ways to retreat emotionally and act on the outside as though nothing were wrong. She went to work early, and stayed late most nights. She avoided spending time with friends, even her sister Kim. And it was so uncomfortable being at home with Scott. But she couldnt keep this up. People had begun to comment on her weight loss and tired features. In truth, though she masked her emotional turmoil from her friends and family fairly successfully, it wasnt hard for them to notice the physical changes. Anna was usually confident and upbeat, and her strikingly beautiful features were noticed by everyone, except perhaps by Anna herself.
What Anna realized she missed most over these past three months, even more than personal happiness in her marriage, was her confidence. She had quietly stepped back from the world, allowing things to proceed as she watched from the outside. Today, Anna resolved to come out of the safe corner she had willingly backed into.
Turning on her blinker, the dark-haired woman pulled into the parking garage of the Endicott Mall. She had decided that today would be the day she would begin dealing with this mess. Getting her hands on Playing by Ear was the first step.
Finding a space easily on the ground level, she pulled her long slender frame from her car and straightened her shoulders, as if physically demonstrating the resolve she now felt. She tapped her keychain to set her car alarm, and turned toward the breezeway leading into the stores. Out of nowhere, a battered RAV4 careened around the corner, and continued its rapid climb to the second floor. "Crazy driver," Anna muttered as she rolled her eyes.
At precisely 11:40, Lilys phone vibrated to announce a new text message, calling her to a one p.m. arraignment for another clients abusive boyfriend. These little gadgets sure were handy in court, but the attorney missed the good old days when she actually got to speak to people.
She just had time to pick up lunch at In-and-Out Burger on Endicott Avenue, and to stop by her office to gather the files she would need. Lily placed her order and proceeded to wait for what felt like an hour while the single man in the car in front of her retrieved seven bags of food. Hes obviously picking up lunch for the entire office. Why isnt there a two bag or less rule for the drive-thru? Lily sighed and pulled up next to the small window.
"$4.36, please," the woman in the window barked. Lily handed her a five dollar bill and watched in fascination as the woman stretched one arm across the small compartment to top off Lilys Diet Coke and with her other hand punched hurriedly at the cash register.
"Sixty-four cents is your change." Lily quickly put out her hand to catch the change but was a second too late as the rushed and oblivious employee opened her palm and deposited the money onto the ground. As Lily cracked her door open and leaned out to rescue at least the quarters from the pavement, the other woman stretched her arm out of her window with the Coke, bumping Lilys right shoulder with the beverage. As usual, the plastic lid on the cup was not secured. Oops, and that blouse was pure imported silk, the nicest one she owned. Lily had never understood the appeal of Coca-Cola clothes.
A right turn out of the drive-thru and four quickly-crossed lanes later, she turned into the Endicott Mall. Pealing around the corner to the second floor of the parking garage, the frenzied blonde barely missed a tall, beautiful woman with long dark hair exiting her fancy BMW. "Careful, gorgeous," she muttered.
Squeezing her mini-SUV into a narrow No Parking walkway by the elevator, Lily phoned Pauline to have a runner deliver the needed files to the courthouse. This time, she spelled her clients name, just to make sure there were no mistakes. Grabbing her wallet and jacket, and shoving her briefcase under the seat, she set out to find a cream-colored top to match her olive green suit. Thank goodness I had taken off the jacket otherwise, Id be looking for a suit too! Little victories were important on a day like today.
Entering the nearly deserted mall, Anna looked about for a bookstore. She scanned the directory at the entrance to the main concourse. "Come on, come on. Every mall has a bookstore," she pleaded with the silent sign. There! Binders Books on the lower level.
It was now a few minutes past the noon hour, and the only other person in the store was Skye, a friendly young clerk with orange hair and multiple piercings. Ah, youth!, Anna thought enviously. "Im looking for Playing by Ear. Do you have it?" she inquired.
The girl looked up from a copy of Rolling Stone, quickly swallowed a bite of what appeared to Anna to be a peanut butter and banana sandwich, and swiped the back of her hand across her mouth. "Sure, Ill show you where it is," Skye answered with a half-grin as she laid her sandwich on the opened magazine.
"No, go ahead with your lunch. Im sure you dont get many breaks. Just point in the general direction and Ill find it." From her perch at the register by the shop entrance, Skye directed the dark-haired woman to the Bestsellers shelf located along the left wall.
A few moments later, Skye once again looked up from the magazine. "Are you sure I cant help you find what you need? Those are all mysteries," she called, noticing that her customer had wandered from the left side to the very back of the store.
"Yes, I know. Actually, Ive already found what I need. Now Im looking for what I want."
Anna loved a good action or mystery book. Her eyes immediately fell on the cover of Case of the Orphaned Bassoonists: A Cassandra Reilly Mystery. Though she hadnt played in years, the bassoon might have been Annas first love. Unlike other bassoonists, she didnt "start" on another instrument and "work up to" the skill required to play the strange instrument. She just picked it up instinctively. A mystery and bassoons cool!, she thought. She flipped open the front cover and skimmed the reviews.
The very slow elevator emptied Lily onto the malls main concourse. She scanned the directory and located the Casual Corner, a womens apparel store, on the lower level at the far end of the building. She could not possibly have been further from the store than where she currently stood. Naturally.
Lily headed for the escalator and got her bearings for a hasty retreat once she found what she needed. She charged past Fredricks of Hollywood--Wow! Check out that slinky red number!Lawsons Jewelry, Rack Room Shoes, Peggys Bridal Shop, Binders Books, Foot Locker, and finally entered the Casual Corner.
An online and catalog shopper, Lily rarely set foot in a mall. Though she usually only hated shopping, she absolutely despised it when she needed something in particular and was short on time. Not believing her luck, there was a rack near the door holding the perfect style blouse in a variety of colors, and on sale! But there was none of any color in her size. "Naturally."
Her size was available however among a new shipment in a slightly different style, and at a much higher price. Out of options, she handed over her debit card and dashed to the fitting room to change. A good yank on the stuck louvered door caught her knee with a sharp crack, and a splinter in the wood neatly pierced her hose. "How could this day get any worse?" she asked the ceiling of the small room rhetorically.
Art Hanson scribbled a few additional comments into his small notebook. He had just finished an interview with tenants at Casa Del Sol, an apartment building on the edge of Culver City. The story was a public interest piece about the dangerous health risks related to the level of lead in miniblinds. God, how can I make this story not put people to sleep?, he mused.
"Hey, Janie! Watch the potholes, will you? I just want to get a few more comments down," he said to the driver of the white and blue News 26 van.
"Mr. Hanson, were at a stoplight!"
The van began to violently shake and suddenly lurched forward. Both passengers were pushed hard against their seatbelts. Arts coffee toppled out of the holder and splashed onto the dashboard. Camera equipment and video from the back of the van broke their bindings and crashed to the floor. The van continued to tremble and shudder and it seemed to the pair that some unknown force had picked up the back end of the van, thrusting their end vertically downward at a nearly 45 degree angle.
Forty-six seconds later, the news team found themselves still suspended by their seatbelts, though the shaking had stopped.
"Shit! That was a big fucking quake!" Jane excitedly shouted to the reporter. Art knew that a bigger story than leaded miniblinds had just broken, and was already radioing back to the station.
"This is Hanson in van 4. Janie and I are at Endicott and Spruce in Culver City and there was just an earthquake here. Hang on .Im going to check and see if theres anything big here to report the van feels like were sitting on a cliff ." Art put his phone in his shirt pocket momentarily and carefully extricated himself from the seatbelt, pushing against the dashboard for balance. He carefully opened the passenger side door of the van and hopped down.
"Oh my God! That must have been a pretty big one, Dennis," he commented anxiously into the phone to the station manager. Looking around, he continued, "The road looks like someone was kicking it from underneath. The stoplight is lying on the street in front of us. There arent a lot of people around just one other car and the driver looks fine." Looking off to his left, Art audibly gasped and his voice was grave as he said, "Holy shit, Dennis. The north end of the Endicott Mall looks like it was bulldozed. Janie get the camera! Dennis, Ill call you back when we get closer to the mall and have good position."
The reporter slipped the phone into his pocket and looked across what had been the west parking garage of the mall. Cars and concrete were sandwiched together and one entire side of the garage had completely toppled. The pair had been traveling on Spruce Street, which ran along the west side of the mall. The north end of the mall was actually built into the side of a hill, so people parking in this garage on the west side entered the mall on the top floor. What made Arts stomach flip over was this realization that the mall was supposed to be two stories. The north end had completely collapsed.
The inevitable sound of police sirens and emergency vehicles were already invading the eerily silent landscape.
Take me to Part 2 Now!
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