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 Lily was sullen and withdrawn for days, second guessing her strategy and beating herself up mercilessly for failing the woman who had needed her.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.
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