By KG MacGregor
Downtown LA had been spared the brunt of the quake, but power was out over much of the city. Tony, Lauren and Pauline were in the Braxton Street Law Clinic, calling clients on their cell phones to check on their well-being and to let them know not to worry about their pending cases, that the courthouse was temporarily closed. "Did anybody reach Lily?" Lauren asked.
"Ive called her a half-dozen times. The only times Ive gotten through, its gone to voicemail," said Tony.
"I talked with Maria Esperanza," offered Pauline. "She said Lily dropped her off about 11:30 at her sisters house in Culver City."
"Im going to call my brother in San Diego," Lauren said. "Theyll have TV. They probably know more about everything than we do." Scrolling through the numbers in her Palm Pilot, she dialed her brother. "Damon Yeah, Im okay Jasons okay ," the latter reference to her husband. "Well, were a little worried about one of our lawyers, though Lilian Stuart, you know the cute lesbian you wanted me to fix you up with Listen, we were hoping you might know something. Our power is out " She listened a moment. "Are you sure ? Thanks, Damon. Hey, call Mom and Dad and tell them were okay."
She turned to her co-workers, her face drained of color. "Theyre saying that it was centered in Culver City. That a mall collapsed. People are dead."
Nervously, Tony asked, "Did she say anything about going to a mall?"
"No," answered Pauline. "She was supposed to come back to the office. She had a court appearance at one. But she called back to say she had an errand and to send her files to the courthouse."
Tonys stomach tightened and an ominous feeling came over him. "Im going down there." He grabbed his jacket and cell phone. "Call me if you hear anything."
Scott Rutherford stared into the traffic. His handsome face was set in an anxious combination of fear and concern. The muscles in his jaw tightened and he ran his right hand once more through his sandy brown hair in frustration. He glanced in the rearview mirror before signaling to move to the next lane. The brown eyes reflected back at him from the mirror were tired and masked the guilt which he now so keenly felt.
"Kim!" He spoke loudly into the speakerphone as he merged into the next lane. After hearing the obnoxious recording six previous times that "all circuits are busy", he had finally gotten through on his cell phone to his sister-in-law. "Has anyone heard from Anna?" he asked as he inched along the freeway towards Culver City,
"No, she called Carmen about 11:30 and said the meeting had run over and she would be in the office in about an hour. No ones heard from her since." Scott could hear the worry in her voice.
"Kim, I got a call at my office from our housekeeper." He took a breath and stared grimly into the traffic as he broke the news. "They found Annas car crushed in the garage of the Endicott Mall."
"Oh, my God!" she screamed. "Scott, was she ?"
"No, Kim. The police said she wasnt in the car. A lot of people have gone to the hospital, though." He paused. "They said that part of the mall has collapsed. Listen, I need you to see if you can find out if she was taken somewhere. And somebody has to stay by the phone. Im headed toward the mall. I dont think Ill be able to get all the way there, but Ill get as close as I can. Ill call you as soon as I know something and you do the same. Okay?"
Kim was frantic and she felt tears beginning to form. Her usually cheerful face was fractured by the deep creases which formed in her forehead. However, she knew this was no time to panic. She knew they needed to find out all they could before the news reached their father, George Kaklis. "Im on it. If you cant reach me, leave a message."
"Right." Scott ended the call and edged over to the exit for Endicott Avenue. Please let her be okay.
Scott loved his wife and was deeply committed to his marriage. But a careless one-night stand with his ex-girlfriend one month before his wedding had produced a child, a beautiful son, and had put his marriage at risk. Anna might never have learned of this breach had they not run into the woman three months ago, now carrying the two-month-old baby boy with Scotts brown eyes. As she had watched the awkward but knowing exchange between her husband and the woman, realization dawned. Anna moved her things into the guest room as soon as they got home and, as yet, refused his attempts to talk about it.
Ill do whatever I can to make it up to her, just let her be all right!
"Hello!" Lily called out. Desperate to find the source of the voice she had heard, she asked again, "Where are you? Are you hurt?" Hearing nothing, she feared the worst for the woman who had cried out. The aftershock had brought the ceiling lower, but Lily was safely crouched at a low point in the bookstore. If the woman was at a higher point, she may have been hurt or worse. "Talk to me! Where are you?" she yelled. Still no response.
Lily understood the danger she was in. The next tremor might bring the ceiling all the way down, sealing her underground with no hope of rescue. But she couldnt forge ahead knowing that there was someone else trapped here, someone who likely had no chance at all without her help. Her mind made up, Lily started to scramble toward the direction of the sound.
After more than an hour of groping in the darkness and calling out, Lilys hand brushed upon a full head of thick hair, then a warm face. "There you are. I finally found you," she said with relief. Reaching out, Lily discovered that the woman was pinned underneath a bookshelf. The top shelf lay across her chest. She found a strong pulse in the womans neck, and gently patted the womans cheek until she felt her stir.
Annas eyes fluttered open, but in the darkness, she couldnt see who was touching her face. Nonetheless, she felt calmed by the presence of this other person. "Thank god," Anna murmured, shaking her head slowly from side to side. "Im the bookshelf is "
"Yeah, I can feel it across your chest. Can you move?"
"It hurts. My leg the whole weight of the shelf is on it. Every time I try to push it up off my chest, it presses harder into my knee," she explained. Taking a deep breath, she went on. "That last tremor made it even heavier. I think something fell on it." Lily could hear the relief in the womans voice, relief she assumed was because someone had come to help.
"Well, lets see if we can get you out of here." Lily crawled alongside the woman. The second shelf lay across the womans lower abdomen, just above her hips. She ran her hand underneath it, noting that it wasnt pressed tightly against the womans body.
"Under normal circumstances, Id buy you dinner first," Lily joked, hoping to ease the womans tension. "Im Lily, by the way. I thought youd like to know who was feeling you up."
Anna laughed at the joke, not minding at all the hands that brushed against her to help free her. "Im Anna, and I cant tell you how glad I am to meet you! Ive been screaming for hours."
"Yeah well, sorry. I was busy trying on a new top."
Anna was comforted by the womans gentle humor. She caught the small hand and squeezed it. "Thank you for coming to help me," she said sincerely.
"No problem," Lily reassured the woman, returning the squeeze. She then pulled her hand away and reached lower to gently touch Annas knee where the lower shelf pinched the swollen flesh. "I can see why this hurts so much. This shelf is digging into your knee. Lets see if we can take some of the pressure off."
Reaching around her in the dark, Lily began gathering books into two piles, one underneath the shelf that pinned Annas knee, the other beside the top shelf that pressed against her chest. When the piles were stacked even with the shelf, she told Anna of her plan. "I need you to get ready to push up on the shelf on your end. Im going to lift this one up at the same time and slip a couple of books under it. Then Ill put a couple of books under your shelf."
"Just say when," Anna said, gripping the shelf.
Lily double-checked the positions of her stacks of books, and kneeled next to Annas knee. There was barely enough headroom for her to straighten up. "Ready? Now."
Both women grunted as they lifted their respective shelves. Lily strained to hold the bookshelf with one hand while her other quickly slid two thin books onto the top of the stack. Next, she added one thick book to the stack next to the top shelf. When they released their loads, the shelf was still touching, but not pressing into Annas leg. The other shelf was no longer resting on the woman.
Anna was so relieved that she could have cried. Her foot began to tingle as the blood once again surged through her lower leg.
"Is that better?" Lily asked hopefully.
"Much better! Most of the pressure is off my leg now, and I cant feel the other shelf at all."
"Think you can do that again? One more time, and I think Ill be able to pull you out."
"Ready when you are," Anna replied eagerly.
They repeated the procedure, this time adding one thick hardback book to each stack. "Hows that?" Lily asked as she reached again to Annas knee.
Im free! "It still hurts, but at least I can move now." Anna squirmed, trying to no avail to slide out of her prison. "I need to get out from under this thing," the exasperation evident in her voice.
"Let me help." Lily moved up and slipped her hands underneath the womans arms. "Tell me when youre out." Slowly, she scooted backwards, extricating Anna from the vise that had held her for almost nine hours. It seemed to Lily that she had backed up ten feet. "Good God, woman! How tall are you?"
Lily threw her head back and laughed heartily. Anna joined her, and both women felt a little of the palpable tension of the past several hours start to lessen, perhaps simply from the knowledge that they were no longer in this alone.
Once Anna was free, the two women moved slowly to the lowest part of the room. The injured womans knee was throbbing, and she couldnt support her full weight on it. She followed Lily to the far wall, and sat while the shorter woman felt for a path to the next room.
"Is there a method to your madness, or do we just keep moving any way we can?" Anna asked.
"In the other rooms, Ive found a break between the wall and the ceiling right where the floor has sunk the most," Lily explained. "Im hoping well find an opening, maybe some light from the atrium or even outside. If we do, well work towards getting out that way. Theres no way out back the way I came."
"Sounds like a plan. What do you want me to do?"
"If you can crawl up to the front of the store, try feeling around the ceiling for a breeze, or even air thats a different temperature. If you find something, it might mean theres a way into the atrium."
Anna did as she was told, but after almost an hour, she had found no clue of a break in collapsed walls. Her leg was aching badly, but she kept it to herself. We have enough to worry about.
Lily, though, had located another pass-through halfway up the east wall. The weight of the store above them had pushed on the wall and forced it to buckle. A small hole had formed between the two sliding layers of wall and the two women pushed and pulled one another until they both fell from the gap into the adjacent bridal shop.
"God, I could sleep for a week!" Lily flopped down into the pile of lace and satin lining the crevasse that bisected the store. Racks of wedding gowns had rolled into the gaping hole and toppled, layering the earth which had broken through the store floor with a strange blanket of plush cloth.
"Maybe we should stop and rest few hours," Anna suggested casually, falling beside her savior.
"As tempting as that sounds, Im worried about the aftershocks. The ceiling dropped during the last one, and the next one could finish the job. If that happens, Id realize my worst fear."
"Whats that? Being buried alive?"
"No, being caught dead in a bridal shop," Lily deadpanned.
Anna laughed and reached across the darkness to elbow her companion jovially. After a moment, she said, "Look, I know its a risk. But my stomach tells me that its way after dark, and if we wait, well have a better chance of seeing an opening in the daylight."
Lily considered Annas point, but persisted, "I really think it would be best if we kept moving."
"I cant, Lily," Anna finally confessed. "My knee is killing me. Im going to have to rest it, at least for a couple of hours."
"Do you mind if I check your knee?" Lily reached toward Annas leg and ran her hand across the womans injured knee. She heard Annas breath catch in her throat as she anticipated the tenderness in the joint. Lily was shocked to discover how swollen it was. "Anna! Why didnt you say something? God, it must hurt like hell!" She groped around on the floor until she found what felt like a small display pedestal. Pulling it over to the tall woman, she piled several clothsprobably $3,000 wedding dresseson top to soften it, and gently lifted Annas leg to place it on the cushion.
Anna considered the gravity of their predicament for a moment and finally proposed, "I know its still dangerous in here. Maybe you should go ahead by yourself. When you get out, you can tell them where I am. Im only going to slow you down."
Lily didnt hesitate. "Were going out together, Anna. I think well be safe hereits a low point. Well rest a few hours and move out when your legs better. Besides, with two of us, we should make good time if were rested."
Both women leaned back and got as comfortable as they could. A minute or so passed and Anna asked into the darkness, "So why are you so afraid of bridal shops?" She was impressed that this woman could keep her sense of humor at a time like this. It was calming, and she knew somehow that the story behind that phobia would be a good one.
Lily chuckled. "Lets just say that walking down the aisle in a white dress has never been on my list of dreams."
"Wish Id had that foresight," Anna mumbled. "How did you get to be so wise?"
"Well, it isnt wisdom, exactly." Lily wavered. She was usually up front about her sexuality, but finding herself trapped with a homophobe would be the icing on the cake for a day like today. "It just isnt for me."
Anna heard the hesitation and regretted putting her new friend on the spot. "Sorry, I didnt mean get personal."
"No, its okay I just " Oh, what the hell. "Im gay."
Silence. More silence. Shit! Should have kept my big fat mouth shut!
"Oh so you really were feeling me up?" Anna threw another elbow into Lilys rib, and the young woman let out the breath shed been holding.
I like this lady! Lily thought with relief as she laughed out loud.
Tony reached the mall long after dark. Between the emergency vehicles and the traffic restrictions, he was forced to park in a residential area off Endicott and walk the last mile to the site. Others had the same idea, and soon Tony fell into step with a tall, sandy-haired man who had left his Z3 on the sidewalk.
"Have you heard anything?" he asked the man.
"Just that the mall has collapsed," the other man responded grimly, not losing his stride.
"Yeah, the radio said it was the north side. I think we can get there quicker if we cut through here," Tony said, indicating a side street that ran parallel to the malls fenced parking area.
The two men helped each other scale the fence and soon emerged behind the parking garage. By approaching from the north, they had bypassed the police tape that restricted foot traffic in the area.
"One of the lawyers from my office is missing. She was in Culver City when she called in, but no one knows exactly where. We havent heard from her since just before the quake," Tony related to the man, who seemed extremely focused on getting as close as he could.
"My wife is missing," was all the man said as he began to jog to the rescue site.
"Well, good luck! Hope you find her!" Tony shouted to the receding figure.
Tony was taken aback at the devastation before him. On the lower level of the south wing, the mall opened directly onto the parking lot. But the site sloped upward to the north, thus the lower level stores on one side of the north wing were effectively underground. When the second level collapsed, the new roofline dropped to ground level, making it appear as though half of the north wing had been bulldozed.
Tony scanned the parking lot for Lilys RAV4. Not finding it, he slipped into the restricted garage. He ducked to walk through the lower level, checking carefully the crushed vehicles. When he reached the second level, his breath caught. There sat Lilys small SUV, its What Would Xena Do? bumper sticker confirming its owner.
The lawyer backtracked his route to exit the garage. By the time he reached the parking lot, his eyes were full of tears. Pulling his phone from his pocket, he called Lauren. He got through on the fourth attempt.
"Tony! What did you find out?" Lauren immediately asked, recognizing the number on her caller ID. She stood up from her kitchen table and clutched her husbands hand.
"She was in the mall, Lauren. I found her car."
"Oh God, no!" Lauren gasped. Jason stood and wrapped his arms around his wife. When she calmed, she said simply, "Im going to call her mom, Tony. She needs to be here." They talked a few more moments and hung up.
At 6:15 a.m. on Friday morning, the second aftershock woke the women from their exhausted sleep. Without thought, they reached in the dark for each other and clasped hands while the earth shook. What previously was the ceiling above them groaned under the weight of the collapsed building. Both women uttered silent prayers that what was left of the walls and supports would hold. They could hear the sound of metal scraping and twisting and smelled the fresh dust and debris loosened by the jolt.
"You okay?" Anna asked.
"All things being equal, Id prefer to wake to Morning Edition," Lily quipped when the shaking stopped. She drew in a deep breath, and stretched her arms and shoulders as she sat upright. "Wed better get a move on. I dont know about you, but Im ready to get out of here." She pulled the taller woman to her feet. "Hows the knee?"
"Its still pretty sore. But I can walk. Lets go."
They repeated the drill from the bookstore. Anna crawled to the front of the bridal shop and checked along the ceiling for a draft. Lily found another gap at the top of the south wall or the bridal shop, and soon they were squeezing through into the shoe store.
"Only two more to go and well be at the end," the small woman declared. Left unsaid was the hope that at the end would be a way out. "Theres a jewelry store next, then a lingerie store." They sat for a moment and rested against the slanted floor. Out of habit, Lily reached to straighten her skirt. She caught the irony and laughed. "I picked a great day to wear my favorite suit, huh?"
"Yeah, me too. I had a fancy meeting first thing, so I got out one of my best."
"What kind of work do you do?" Lily inquired.
"I sell cars. What about you?"
Annas response surprised the blonde. This woman sounded well-educated, cultured. "Im a lawyer." She paused, anticipating a lawyer joke.
"That figures. You strike me as someone who could be pretty argumentative." Another elbow to Lilys rib followed. Since the darkness prevented either woman from seeing the others expression, Annas elbow let Lily know she was only teasing the young attorney.
"Hey, watch it! You ever been sued for personal injury?"
The banter quieted for a moment, each woman mentally sizing up the other. After a few minutes, Lily asked, "Are you afraid, Anna? Afraid that we wont get out of here?"
Anna was quiet for so long that Lily wondered if she hadnt heard the question. Finally, the tall woman spoke. "Ive considered that. I thought about it a lot during those hours I was trapped and alone. But ever since you helped me out from under that bookshelf, I havent doubted for a moment that were going to get out of here. I just dont think youd have pulled me out if I had been meant to die in here."
"I hope youre right, Amazon."
Friday morning, Scott attended the briefing for family members at FEMAs Public Information Office, a tent set up near the entrance to the mall. No additional damage was reported after the morning aftershock, and rescue workers were hopeful that they could re-enter the building to search for survivors and victims.
Reaching Kims voicemail, he passed on the update.
Meanwhile, Kim was consoling her step-father, George Kaklis. She and her husband Hal had driven to her parents home to let them know what they had learned about Anna.
The patriarch of the Kaklis family was visibly distraught. George Tydeus Kaklis was a first generation American. Born in 1937, shortly after his parents left Greece for the United States, he had been raised during tumultuous times. Though too young to remember the war itself, the values of the World War II generationloyalty toward his country and a firm belief in hard workwere deeply ingrained in him. Anna was his beloved daughter, the only remaining link to his first wife, Christia. It was Christias father who had founded Premier Motors as an Oldsmobile dealership in 1951. Working with his wife, George had acquired the BMW franchise in the mid-1960s, and built it into the success it was. Annas beautiful mother had died of breast cancer when the child was only ten. Three years later, George married Kims mother, Martine, a widow of six years. Together, they had one son, David, now a high school junior.
The entire family, with the exception of Scott, was gathered at the Kaklis home in Beverly Hills. Everyone understood the special bond between the old man and his daughter, and it was important that they offer their support. As blended families go, theirs was unusually devoted.
Martine had always taken in stride her husbands doting on Anna, as she herself was particularly close to Kim. Over the years, Anna had forged a very loving relationship with her stepmother, made much easier by the fact that she had bonded instantly with her stepsister, only one year younger than herself. Since the first day they met, the girls had been best friends and confidantes.
As the family comforted George, Kim walked out to the patio alone and began to sob. She had spent the entire day feigning optimism. A full day had passed since the earthquake and the fears she had worked so hard to bury had begun to simmer to the surface. Knowing she couldnt just sit by the phone and wait for news from Scott any longer, she hurriedly wiped the remaining tears and went back into the house and grabbed her sweater. "Hal, will you drive me to the Endicott Mall? One of us should be there, and Scott shouldnt be by himself. Im going to sit with him until we learn something."
"It was probably bad luck for me to say anything about not getting out of here. In fact, the earthquake was probably my fault too." Lily and Anna had been searching the room by hand for more than two hours when they concluded that they were trapped. The shorter woman had found a gap at the top of the wall, but when Anna had scoped it out, she determined that it was only about two inches high and four inches across.
"Well just have to think of something else," Anna said reassuringly.
Guessing that Anna would be reluctant to complain about her knee, Lily spoke up. "What do you say we rest a few minutes?"
The tall woman was instantly relieved. They sat down to rest and regroup. Anna closed her eyes and soon, her thoughts wandered to the life that awaited her if and when she escaped this tomb. "So whos waiting for you out there?" Anna asked.
"Probably no one," Lily replied. "Im sure my friends from work have missed me by now, but I didnt tell anyone that I was stopping by the mall."
"So no girlfriend?" Anna tried to imagine what kind of girlfriend Lily might have.
"No. Im between heartbreaks," Lily joked.
"Yeah, I bet. I suspect that youre the heartbreaker. You seem so confident and in charge of everything else."
"Its a ruse." Lily was quiet for a moment. "Is anyone waiting for you?"
"My husband, I guess."
"No, Im sure hes there." Anna grew pensive. She didnt want Lily to think shed married an ogre, but their current situation was depressing enough without adding to the misery by pouring her heart out to a virtual stranger in the dark. "I I didnt mean to give you the wrong impression. Hes a good man. Its just that we may have rushed a bit in getting married." She paused, and said aloud for the first time, "Im not sure were right for each other."
"How long have you been married?" Lily inquired.
"A little over a year."
Lily placed a hand on Annas shoulder. "If you want to talk about it, Im not going anywhere. Literally."
"No, thats okay." Anna paused, then added, "Ive had a lot of trouble talking about it. Its just one of those things Im going to have to work out on my own. And with my husband."
Just thirteen months ago, Anna and Scott had stood before their family and friends saying those words everyone hopes to utter only once in a lifetime. Now those promises stood in shambles, and neither was sure their marriage could be saved.
Anna had desperately wanted to hide her situation from her family. If we can work it out somehow, no one need ever know that this happened. She had waited so long to find the man with whom she thought she could spend the rest of her life, enduring gentle criticism from her father about her so-called perfectionist standards for men. For years, she had written off dates that she deemed too dim, too self-centered, or too focused on ending up between the sheets.
Scott was none of those. A professor in the business school at Southern Cal, he had been eager to hear how she applied her MBA coursework to the operations of the BMW dealership. He picked her brain for ideas on how to make his classes more practical to build in his students the enthusiasm for business that she so clearly manifested. As they shared coffee and conversation over several weeks, Anna grew to like the handsome 40-year-old with the gentle brown eyes. Coffee became dinner, and dinner became romance. Four months after their first meeting, Scott proposed.
Anna had never been so comfortable with a man in all the years she had dated. Memories of her firstand only othersexual experience always brought an involuntary shudder. Victor was a grad student at Cal Poly with whom she had gone out only casually for a few months. She hadnt even told the young man that she was a virgin, because that would be acknowledging that he was somehow special, and he really wasnt. To this day, she regretted sharing that intimacy just to satisfy a curiosity. The experience was fine. "Fine" was really the only word to describe it. The lack of "fireworks" made sense, she reasoned, since in the absence of love, sex itself seemed an empty act.
Scott was an experienced lover, and the physical aspect of their relationship was pleasing. But to Anna, it seemed that sex wasnt exactly living up to its reputation as the be-all-end-all, though she convinced herself that it would get better as they grew closer. But after only a few months of marriage, their lovemaking seemed strained and mechanical, and no matter how hard either of them tried, they couldnt seem to connect on an emotional level when they shared their bodies. Despite the fact that she truly loved Scott, she just didnt feel the passion for him she thought she eventually would.
After eight months of marriage, Scott suggested they start a family. "Im not getting any younger," he had stated, "and neither are you," he teased. Anna knew Scott would be a wonderful father, and decided that a baby might be just the ticket to bring them closer. Then they ran into Sarah.
Anna was returned to the here and now when a hand grabbed her wrist and pulled her to her feet. "Lets see if theres a way to go through the ceiling!"
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