By KG MacGregor
"What did I tell you? Gorgeous, isnt it?" Kim held her arms wide in the foyer of the luxury condominium. Twenty-two hundred square feet, two bedrooms and a loft, a private patio, and covered parking. "Its gated, so you wont have to worry about unwelcome guests. The maintenance fees are only eight hundred a month. Thats a steal in this neighborhood."
"I dont know. Its okay, I guess." Anna couldnt seem to get enthused about any of the properties on Kims list. She knew it was time to give up the housethe one she had bought with Scott. She hadnt been comfortable there since the day she moved into the guest room. Come to think of it, she hadnt been all that comfortable in the master suite with Scott either.
"I wonder what Lily would think about it. Shes got a pretty good sense of things." Kim had been thinking for weeks how to bring up the subject of Lily with her sister. Anna was back to working long hours, losing weight and avoiding her family again. And she wasnt spending time with the attorney, who Kim thought had come to mean more to her than any friend she had ever had. "Why dont we call her and see if shell join us?"
Anna walked away from the realtor into the living room. "Does this fireplace work?" She needed to change the subject.
"Yes. Did you just ignore me?" Sister wasnt going to let it go.
Anna sighed and sat on the low hearth. "Lily and I arent doing much together these days. Shes been really busy at work." That was the party line.
"When was the last time you saw her?"
"We had dinner together a couple of weeks before Christmas." She was silent for almost a minute, staring at the floor. "Its like something happened at Tahoe, but I have no idea what it was." The tall womans voice was sad, but the words were deliberate, as though she had gone over them many times in her head. "It seemed like we all had a good time. Then she got asthma that night and left the next day without saying goodbye. When we got back, she ducked my calls. I must have done something or said something."
"Did something happen in the kitchen?"
"When you and Todd went to get drinks for everybody." Kim was straining to remember the details. She sensed that this was an important event. "Lily went in to help, then she came back and said she was sick. Come to think of it, thats the last time I saw her."
Annas eyes grew wide as she stood and started to pace the empty room. Clutching her head in her hands, the moment came back. "She came into the kitchen? Are you sure?"
"I was in the kitchen with Todd. He was telling me how much fun hed had and how good it was to see me again." She turned and looked out the window. "He asked if we could get together when he moved down here. Then he kissed me." Anna suddenly knew that Lily had witnessed that kiss.
Kim realized it too, and immediately understood the significance. "He kissed you?" She felt anger arise at the thought of Hals friend being so presumptuous.
"I stopped him, though. I pushed him back. I didnt get angry or anything, I just wasnt comfortable with it. I told him that I didnt think of him that way. He said he was sorry, and everything was okay after that."
"Did you ever see Lily in the kitchen at all?"
"Then I think we just figured out what changed." Kim put her hand on her sisters shoulder. She couldnt articulate the rest. Anna would have to do that. "Honey, Im here for you. You can talk to me if you want to."
"Thank you." Anna reached out both arms and hugged her sister. "I want to think about it all for awhile, but I promise Ill talk to you soon, okay?" She was glad to finally understand what had changed things between Lily and herself, but she had no idea what she would do about it.
The drunken blonde stumbled to the door to stop the incessant ringing and pounding. "Lay off, already. Im not fucking deaf!" Fumbling with the dead bolt, she flung the door back without checking through the peephole. There in her doorway stood two very angry women.
"What the hells going on with you?" Suzanne demanded. "You dont return our phone calls. You dont come by. You ignore our invitations without so much as a fuck you."
"Who the fuck do you think you are, coming into my house and yelling at me like that?" Oh yeah, really drunk. "Get the hell out of here!"
Sandy was shocked to hear the always gentle woman speaking to them in this manner. On the other hand, Suzannes language never surprised her. She took in the dirty apartment and her disheveled friend. Never in her life had Lily been more in need of a friend.
Without another word, Sandy stepped forward and embraced the woman. Lily resisted at first, trying to turn away, but Sandy was bigger and held on tight. The little blonde finally relaxed. She wanted to cry, but the tears were gone.
"Whats this about, Lily? Is it Anna?"
The drunken girl nodded. "You were right about her. And about me. Shes straight, and I should have left her alone. But I didnt. I was under some grand illusion that she could fall in love me. Just like I fell in love with her."
"We told you that was going to happen. We could see it coming a mile away." Suzanne would rather be right than president.
"Shut up, Suzanne," Sandy stopped her partner.
Holy shit! That was worth letting them in!
"This is our fault," Sandy continued.
"What do you mean our fault?" Suzanne was stunned. In 12 years, her partner had never told her to shut up. She was certain she should do just that.
"Yeah, what do you mean your fault," slurred the little drunk.
"I mean that Lily has been ignoring us because she didnt want to hear us say I told you so." Lifting up Lilys chin, she said sincerely, "We didnt ever mean to give the impression that we wouldnt be here for you."
"Even if I decided to wreck my own life?"
The revelation that Lily had pulled away from her because of Todd made Anna want to simply pick up the phone and tell the woman that it was all a misunderstanding. However, there were several problems with that approach, not the least of which was the fact that Lily wasnt taking her calls. Besides, it was a pretty vulnerable spot for Anna to crawl into willingly, especially if Lily had already moved on. But the main thing that stopped her was the realization that she wasnt prepared for Lilys response, no matter what it was.
"Are you getting excited about our trip?" George Kaklis entered his daughters office. On Monday morning, the two of them would leave for Germany where they would tour the BMW design center and meet with the engineers. It was something the father and daughter had done every three years since Anna was 17.
"Of course," she replied, but without her usual enthusiasm. "How about you?"
"I always look forward to these trips. Not because were going to hear about the cars, but because I get to spend time with one of my very favorite people." George hadnt seen much of his daughter lately, and he wasnt sure why. She seemed withdrawn, much as she did before she announced her decision to divorce Scott. "Listen, sweetheart. I know youre working on something in your head. If you want to talk, Ill listen. Who knows? Maybe I can help."
"Thanks. I appreciate that. I look forward to being with you too." She hated being such an open book, but she sure wasnt ready to dump this melodrama on her father. "I love you, Dad," she added sincerely.
When her father retreated, Anna stood and closed the door to her office. Pulling from her wallet the business card she had located last night, she dialed the Seattle number. It was time to take a step.
"Carolyn Bunting please." Anna drummed her fingers nervously as she waited on the line for the familiar voice.
"This is Carolyn."
"Hi stranger. Its Anna Kaklis. How are you?" Lilys lessons in social skills were really paying off.
A brief moment passed as the programmer registered the name and voice. It really was her. "Anna? Wow, what a surprise! Im fine. How are you?" Carolyn was genuinely excited to be hearing from her long lost friend.
"Im fine too. And Vicki?" Anna was glad she was in the habit of writing things down. When Carolyn had given her the Microsoft business card at the reunion, she had scribbled Vickis name on the back.
Carolyn was very impressed. She had been pleasantly surprised four years ago when Anna had responded so warmly to meeting her partner. She wasnt sure how the beautiful woman would react to learning that someone who had been so close to her was gay. She neednt have worried. Anna was still the kind and authentic person she had fallen for so hard in college. "Shes fine. Gosh, I hope youre calling because youre in Seattle."
"No, Im in LA. I wondered if we could talk about something, but its personal, so I thought we could set a time to talk later tonight."
Personal? Carolyn would explode if she had to wait to hear this. She gave Anna a cell phone number and grabbed her coat. "Im going for a walk. Be back later," she told the co-worker in the next cubicle. This open corporate culture certainly had its perks.
"Now, what was it you wanted to talk about?" the programmer asked as she slowly walked the grounds of the business campus.
Where to start? How much should I say? "I Ive met somebody, Carolyn." Here goes. Deep breath. "Her name is Lily. Shes smart, funny, and sweet. Shes one of the finest, most decent people Ive ever known."
Carolyn was astounded. She had once hoped that this woman would have those feelings for her, but she had accepted then that it wasnt possible. She had never given Annas sexuality another thought. It seemed perfectly normal when shed gotten the wedding invitation "What about Anna, arent you married?"
"Im divorced. Its kind of a long story, but its not especially ugly. Some things just werent meant to be."
"So whats the problem?" Carolyn couldnt complete this puzzle on her own.
Anna sighed deeply on the other end of the phone. "Carolyn, I dont know where to go from here. There was only one other time in my life where I felt anything close to what I feel for Lily and that was what I felt for you."
The rush of emotions threatened to overwhelm the woman as she walked, and she made her way to a bench. Her love for this beautiful woman had faded years ago, but the memory of how strong it was had not. Giving up Anna without ever knowing if there was a chance for them was one of the hardest things she had ever done. "I dont know what to say, Anna. I take it you know now that I loved you back then."
"I had dinner with Liz in San Francisco a couple of months ago. I talked to her about Lily and she said I needed to see it through. And she told me about talking to you that summer. Looking back on it now, I think she wishes she hadnt warned you away."
In a magnanimous gesture she didnt really feel, Carolyn smoothed things over for the benefit of her friend. "Well, who knows if you and I could have made anything work. Besides, things have a way of working out. I cant imagine my life without Vicki." That much was true. She and the sports communication director were a perfect match.
"Carolyn, I have so many questions. Some about me, some about Lily. Were in a mess right now, and I need to fix it before I lose my sanity."
"Look, why dont you come up to Seattle for a couple of days? Id love to see you, and so would Vicki. Well talk. I promise you wont leave more confused than you are now."
It was already late Friday afternoon. "I leave Monday morning for Germany. Ill be gone nine days." That seemed like an eternity to Anna. She wasnt sure how much longer she could take the uncertainty.
"Why dont you come up tonight or tomorrow? Go make some arrangements and call me back. Ill pick you up at the airport. You can go home on Sunday."
And so it was done. Anna would fly to Seattle at 9:31 a.m. Saturday morning. She desperately hoped she would find her answers there.
There was always something instinctively frightening about the phone ringing in the middle of the night. 1:31 read the digital clock. Lily grabbed the receiver as she groped for the lamp on the nightstand. "Hello."
"Miss Stuart! Help me! Hes outside and he says hes coming in. I think he has a gun!" The frantic woman spoke with a heavy Spanish accent.
"Whoa, slow down. Is this Maria?"
"Yes, its Miguel. Hes been drinking. He called me and said he wanted to see his kids."
"Listen, Maria. You need to call the police. Im coming over right now, but you need to call the police. Can you do that?" The blonde tumbled from the bed and started to dress. "Ill be there soon. Call the police now, and whatever you do, dont let him in."
Thirty minutes later, the silver X5 stopped in front of a small white house in East LA. There were already two police cruisers on the scene, lights flashing and radios blaring. Neighbors watched the action from their yards. Lily ran toward the house to see Maria Esperanza being led away in handcuffs. The front door was torn from its frame.
"Whoa! Whats going on here? Where are you taking her?" she demanded to the officer holding Marias elbow.
"Who are you?" he scowled, pushing the woman roughly into the back seat of the cruiser.
"Im Lilian Stuart, Mrs. Esperanzas attorney. And Id like to advise you that I dont like the way you just shoved my client into the car," she said angrily. At that point, another officer emerged from the house with a handcuffed Miguel, whose face was bloodied badly.
"Look, Mrs. Stuart. We have our rules. If theyre both fighting, we haul em both in. The judge can sort it out."
"This is her home! She didnt just rip her own door off! She has a right to defend herself!" This was ridiculous!
"Like I said, it isnt for me to sort out. If you want to help your client, you should come to the station with her." Resigned to wait, she cooled her heels while the officers finished collecting their evidence.
A familiar car pulled into the driveway, and Sandy got out, flashing her credentials to the waiting officer. The social worker had gotten the call only moments after the police arrived to come and collect the children, who would go into protective custody until the incident was resolved and the home deemed safe. "Lily! Is everything alright? What happened?"
"Sandy, thank god youre here. I think everyones okay. Except Miguel. Hes going to have a headache. Couldnt happen to a nicer guy," she muttered sarcastically. "It looks like he broke the door down and Maria greeted him with a two-by-four. The bad news is that shes been arrested too."
"Why dont you come with me inside? The kids know you and they wont be as scared." The two women entered the small home to find two small children sitting with a police officer in a back room. Each was holding a brand new teddy bear, courtesy of the LAPD. Every cruiser on the force held at least one of the stuffed animals to be distributed in moments just like this one. The children lit up when they saw the familiar faces.
"Hi there," Sandy started. "It was pretty scary tonight, wasnt it?" Lily admired her friend for her professional skill and dedication, but especially for the way she interacted with the children in her care. "Lilys going to go help your mom tonight, but I need you guys to come with me for now. Can you do that?"
The girl nodded, and pulled her younger brother by the hand. "Is mommy hurt?"
"No," Lily answered. "Your mother is fine, and Im going to bring her back soon." She held her anger in check while she was with the children.
Central Booking was the social hub of LA at three in the morning. Prostitutes and their johns, drug dealers, burglars, barroom brawlers and all their lawyers filled the hallways awaiting their turn. It was going to be a very long night.
Lily and her client were called in at 4:15, along with Miguel and his lawyer, Pete Simpkins. "I dont want my client spending the night here," Lily said firmly to the booking officer.
"Its out of my hands. The statutes are there to cool everyone off. You can get her out in the morning." The booking officer prepared the forms, and the Esperanzas were escorted through the secure gate where they would be searched and given color-coded jumpsuits, then taken by elevator to the jails secure upper floors.
Lily knew the statutes well. "Look, this is an open and shut case of self defense. That lunatic broke down the front door. Mrs. Esperanza had a right to defend herself against someone entering her home." Her voice rose, but she was not yet shouting. However, all she was getting was a blank look. "You know as well as I do that the officers had discretion here. They only brought her in because they were too goddamned lazy to do the work on the scene to settle it." Now she was fuming.
"Lily, can we go somewhere and talk?" Simpkins motioned toward the door.
"Not unless youre going to drop the charges and give that bastard up!" she retorted angrily. With that, she gathered her briefcase and jacket and stormed back into the busy hallway.
"Wait! We need to talk or this is going to happen again and next time, somebodys really going to get hurt," he pleaded.
She turned and poked a finger into Simpkins chest. "Then you need to explain to your client that he blew it big time! He lost custody in the first place because he cant control his goddamned temper. Now he shows up drunk and breaks the door down. What does he expect?" The diminutive attorney stepped back and glared at her opposing counsel. "Talk to me when youve gotten your client into an anger management class. Im getting a fucking restraining order first thing in the morning, and if he shows up again within a hundred yards of their house, hes going to jail!"
Pete was taken aback by the veracity of the lawyers threats. He and Lily had always enjoyed a respectful working relationship, but this was not the professional level-headed woman he was used to seeing in court. "Lily, I dont know whats gotten into you, but it wouldnt hurt if you sat in on a couple of those seminars too." He waited to gauge her response before continuing. A moment passed, and the woman physically slumped, as if absorbing his words.
"Im sorry, Pete," she finally said, almost too low to hear. "I What can we do? Im listening."
The tall attorney let out a breath. "Miguel tells me that Maria hasnt been letting him have visitation. She leaves and takes the kids when its time for him to come over. He hasnt seen them since before Christmas."
"Why didnt he come to the court?"
"He didnt understand that he could. He thought since she was granted custody, it was up to her. Thats my fault for not making it clear."
"Ill talk to her tomorrow," she promised. "Can you see about getting him into a class? I really think it will help."
Lily turned to walk away, but Pete stopped her. "Whatever it is, Lily, good luck with it."
"Thanks. I Im sorry for being such a jerk."
"I cant believe youre really here." Carolyn looked across the table at her friend. The face was still beautiful, but the stress was evident in the firm set of her mouth and the serious blue eyes. Carolyn had brought Anna to the harbor for lunch, thinking they both could talk more candidly without Vicki around.
"Thanks for letting me come. I I didnt know who else to turn to. I regret that we didnt stay close. We really shared so much." The years fell away as they talked, each realizing that the other had changed little from the friend they had known in school.
"So why dont you tell me about this woman youve met," Carolyn prodded as they left the restaurant for a walk along the waterfront.
Anna took her friend through the dramatic story of the earthquake, and of finding Lily after her divorce. She recounted the baseball game and the ride from San Diego, the boat trip, "the first time I ever consciously realized I was looking at another womans breasts! Now I think I probably always have, but the sight of hers in that bathing suit just pushed a button in me or something!"
"I used to look at your breasts all the time," Carolyn laughed.
Anna blushed slightly, but took the comment in stride. "Well, if I had known that at the time, I might have stood up straighter, and worn something skimpier. Who knows?"
Who knows indeed? Though it was gnawing at the programmer that there might have been a chance for them long ago, this was about the here and now. Vicki was the here and now for Carolyn, and Lily was the same for Anna. "So go on. What else?"
Anna told her of the camping trip
"You? I dont believe you! Youre making this up."
Ignoring her friends sarcastic response, Anna continued with the story of her fathers rude remarks, the trip to San Jose, and Thanksgiving in Tahoe, emphasizing the looks they exchanged on the slope when Lily fell. "I swear, if Todd hadnt come over right at that moment, I think I might have just kissed her!" She finished with the story of Todd in the kitchen. "And now, she doesnt want to get together any more. She doesnt say no, she just says shes too busy, or she ducks my calls altogether. I want to talk to her about whats really going on, but I need to be prepared for her answer."
Carolyn was quiet as she digested the tale. Finally, she began. "Well, I agree that she probably has feelings for you that go beyond friendship. You have sort of an irresistible quality about you." She winked at the dark-haired woman. "But if she saw you kissing Todd "
"I wasnt kissing Todd. He was kissing me!" she said indignantly.
"Lily has no way of knowing that. What she saw was the two of you kissing. As long as she had hope that you might be interested in her, she was going to stay close and be your best friend. As soon as that possibility disappeared, she needed to run away to protect herself." The familiar feelings washed over Carolyn. She was certain that she was reading Lily perfectly. "Im the voice of experience here, Anna. I know exactly how she feels." She waited for her words to register, then continued. "Lily is a lesbian. Lesbians run the risk all the time of falling in love with straight women. Its not something we can help. But once we see the handwriting on the wall, that self-preservation thing kicks in and theres nothing to do but run."
"She doesnt need to run from me. Im not going to hurt her," Anna protested. "And Im not all that certain that Im straight," she added, almost inaudibly. "But thats an issue for another day. Right now, I just need to fix things with Lily."
Carolyn thought hard about what Anna was saying, pretty sure that the woman had never before considered the possibility of being gay. "Anna, whether or not youre straight is more important than you think. It would be devastating for Lily if you were to wake up someday and decide that you need something else that she cant give you. And if she has to live with that possibility every day, it will be pretty unhealthy for both of you. Theres nothing but pain in that." She let the words settle. "You need to think about whether or not youre ready for a relationship with Lily on her terms. She wants to hold you and kiss you and touch you. If youre going to go forward with her, youre going to have to want that too."
Anna grew very quiet as she processed her friends words. She understood what Lily needed, but she hadnt let herself dwell on those thoughts. It was just too overwhelming. "You know, I really loved you a lot back in college, Carolyn. I might even have been in love with you, but I was pretty naïve about things like that. I probably would have done anything you asked, just to please you."
"Is that how you feel about Lily? That you want to be physical with her just to please her? Just to keep her as a friend?"
"No Carolyn. I want it for me too," she admitted it for the first time. "Ive never wanted anyone this much in my whole life." It was true. The idea of making love with Lily was more exciting than anything she had ever felt.
"Then tell her." Those three words summed it all up, as far as Carolyn was concerned.
"What if she doesnt feel the same way? And how can I make her trust me not to hurt her?"
"Believe me, she feels the same way. But the trust thing is going to take time. What you have to understandand this is the hard partis that everything has to come from you. Lily wont act on her feelings. Theres too much at risk. Shes worried that youll reject her, and despise her for having those feelings about you. She cant bear that." She saw the confused look on her friends face. "I know this, Anna. Its the truth. You have to be the one to move this relationship forward."
Anna had thoroughly enjoyed the evening with Carolyn and Vicki. The pair talked about how they met and what they felt for each other. Each told a heart-wrenching tale of coming out, the problems it caused with their families, the friends they lost along the way. Nonetheless, both would go through it all again a hundred times to reach the happiness they now had with one another.
Anna wanted that kind of happiness, and now more than ever, she was certain that Lily was the key. On the flight home, her thoughts strayed to the problems this might cause for her father, but she knew that Kim and Hal would be there for her. David was a pretty cool kid, but it was bound to be weird for him. Martines acceptance would be crucial to smoothing things at home. Without her support, this could drive a permanent wedge between them all.
Arriving home after seven, Anna double-checked her tickets and travel documents. She unpacked her small bag from the Seattle trip, then began the task of packing for nine days abroad. When she had finished, the exhausted woman set her bags by the door and went to bed. The car would come for her at six in the morning.
Anna had hoped to have this situation with Lily resolved before they left, but it was now after midnight. She had put off thinking about it as she took care of the final details for her trip, but now as she lay in bed, thoughts of the beautiful blonde filled her head.
"Im coming!" Who on earth is knocking at this hour? Looking through the peephole, Lily saw the most beautifuland unsettlingsite she could have imagined. She had already turned on the lights and yelled through the door, so it was too late to pretend she wasnt home. As she opened the door, the dark-haired woman pushed through without waiting for an invitation. Even in a sweatshirt and jeans, the woman was stunning. Lily suddenly worried that something had happened to bring her friend out so late. "Anna? Is everything alright?"
Anna took in the sight of her rumpled friend, dressed for bed in flannel boxers and a tank top. "No, its not alright, Lily." She wanted just to reach out and pull the little blonde to her, but she held back, fearful that Lily would push her away again. Her confidence now wavering, she said what she had rehearsed in the car on the way over. "I cant stand whats happened between us. Wed gotten to be such good friends, and now everythings changed. I want us to be close again."
Lilys own need to be close to the dark-haired woman was almost overpowering. She wanted desperately to give in, to accept on Annas terms the simple offer of friendship. But self-preservation was a powerful instinct. She needed to guard her own heart. Meeting the blue eyes with a steel resolve, the smaller woman answered, "I cant, Anna. I just cant." Please dont push this.
But Anna wouldnt let it go. "What cant you do? Please talk to me, Lily. Doesnt this hurt you like it hurts me?" the tall woman pleaded.
"Yes, of course it does. But some things are out of our control. I want very much to be your friend again, but I just cant right now."
Anna remembered again Carolyns counsel that only she could move things forward. It was time to take a step. "Is it because of Todd?"
She knows! The tears that Lily had been holding back since the day she left Tahoe returned unbidden, not from her eyes, but from her heart. She sank to the arm of the couch and looked blankly into the dark room, unable to meet her friends eyes. "Yes," she whispered. There. Its out. "I know that youll never think of me that way or want me the way I want you. But I cant stand by you as a friend and watch you fall in love with somebody else. Im just not a big enough person to do that." Lily only hoped that Anna would be able to respect her finally for telling the truth.
The dark-haired woman strode silently to couch. Grasping the small hands, she drew the heartbroken girl to her feet. Locking blue eyes onto green, Anna searched her heart for the right words. "Youre wrong, Lily. Its you that I want." Ever so slowly, she lowered her head and captured the waiting lips with her own.
Finally! On to Part 11
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