By KG MacGregor
The blonde attorney was fuming! Tony had just told her that they had lost the foundation grant for Kidz Kamp, a community program that sponsored camping trips for children in foster care. What had Lily hopping mad was that the foundation had increased funding for the Boy Scouts. As a volunteer for Kidz Kamp, she was jealous, pure and simple. And she took it personally that the Scouts excluded gays from their ranks.
"Lilian Stuart," the blonde barked into her phone.
Whoa! Somebodys having a bad day. "Hi, Lily. Its Anna."
The lawyer sighed with exasperation. "Im having such a shitty day!"
"Oh, Im fine, and thanks for asking." Gotcha! The line went quiet and Anna wondered if her joke had come at the wrong time.
"Sorry," Lily finally said sheepishly. "I just got some unpleasant news, and my mind was there."
"Unpleasant news? Whats wrong?"
"Oh, its just a funding cut. In our line of work you get used to it. I didnt mean to snap at you."
"Its okay. I was calling to see if youd be interested in an early lunch. Im downtown for the Chamber of Commerce meeting, and well be wrapping up a little after eleven."
"That would be great! I could use a friendly face." They firmed up their plans to meet at Lilys office and walk to a nearby deli.
Eating lunch on a park bench, Lily told Anna all about Kidz Kamp. She and Tony were regular volunteers, along with staff from the countys social services department and juvenile court. "The kids love it. The foster parents get a break. And all the volunteers get the chance to build trust and have fun with the kids we see on the job."
Anna was impressed that her friend was doing something so selfless and helpful to the community. Thinking back to the moving presentation she had seen, she felt shamed by the fact that she had failed to follow through. "Im sorry, what did you say?"
"I said weve got a trip planned for next weekend if youd like to join us. Right now, Im the only female chaperone and we have three girls on the list to go. Please, please, please!" she asked excitedly.
"No, no, no! I dont do sleeping on the ground. Or bugs. Or snakes." Anna was adamant. Camping was not her thing.
"But its fun!" pleaded Lily.
"Then I hope you have enough fun for both of us. Now if you ever need help taking them to a play or to a museum, sign me up. Im just not "
"Youre prissy," the lawyer teased.
"Im not prissy, Im refined."
The prissy Amazon had called later that day to invite Lily on a boat outing with Hal and Kim. Now Sunday morning, anxiety about her first boating trip weighed heavily on her mind as she waited for Anna to pick her up. When the long black car wheeled into the apartment complex, Lily stood to gather her things.
"Ready to go?" Anna asked cheerfully.
"You bet," was the excited reply. As Anna had instructed, Lily had filled her daypack with sunscreen, a warm jacket, and a change of clothes. At the bottom of the bag was a foiled-wrapped loaf of nut bread, her contribution to the food supply.
Hal and Kim had spent Saturday night on the boat, so they were ready for launch as soon as their passengers arrived. It was a little on the cool side as they set out, but it warmed up quickly as the sun climbed higher. The sisters sat on the cushions at the backor stern, as Lily learned it was calledwhile the first-time boater rode shotgun, getting a lesson from Hal on the boats features.
"Shes a lot of fun," Kim said, gesturing at the blonde. "Shes making Hals day, asking all those questions. Do you think shes just being nice, or is Hal really all that fascinating?"
"You think maybe weve misjudged the guy all these years?" the tall woman joked.
"Nah, couldnt be. I think shes just easily amused."
"Well, Id worry about anyone who found Hal interesting."
Lily chose that moment to glance their way. When she realized that she and Hal were the subject of their amusement, she stuck out her tongue and turned her back haughtily. Fifteen minutes later, she was proudly driving the boat on her own.
"So what was so funny?" Hal demanded as he slid in beside his wife.
"We were trying to decide if Lily was really interested in your boat lesson or if she was just being nice." Kim slipped her arm through her husbands to ease the potential blow to his ego.
"Well, I think it was both," he spouted indignantly.
Anna rose and moved to the tall "co-pilot" seat alongside her friend. The blonde was standing on her tiptoes, chin up, peering out over the shimmering blue plane.
"Having a little trouble seeing over the bow, Pygmy?"
"Will you still think youre funny when we run a sail up your neck, Amazon?" Lily turned and nearly choked at the sight. Anna had taken off her shirt and shorts to reveal a plum colored two-piece bathing suit and the most beautiful body the blonde had ever seen. Unable to look away, she took in Annas long shapely legs, well-toned shoulders and abs, and the curve of her figure.
Anna was accustomed to being admired, though she had never marveled at her own features. "Good genes," shed always told Scott. That changed however when she began working with Nikki, the personal trainer who took over after the physical therapy. Now as she stood beside the wheel, Anna was acutely aware that Lily was admiring her appearance. She was proud of her hard work, and liked knowing that her intense workouts had also earned her friends approval.
For her part, Lily more than approved. She knew shed been caught staring, so she just went with it. "Wow, youve really been working out! You look great!"
Suddenly shy, Anna could only smile and look away. "The sun feels good. Did you bring your suit too?"
Lily had hers on underneath as well, but in the presence of this goddess, she was having second thoughts about sunbathing. How stupid would that be? She quickly discarded her shirt and shorts, hoping that she would pass muster in her aquamarine tankini.
Now it was Annas turn to stare, though the dark sunglasses hid her appraisal. How was it possible that this woman were actually smaller than she appeared? Lily had muscular legs, tapering at her hips to a tiny waist. Her shoulders and arms looked strong and lithe, and she was more well-endowed than she appeared in her suits and casual clothes. Wonder what shed think if she knew I was looking at her breasts! For some reason, that realization amused more than embarrassed the tall woman, but she covered with a casual comment on Lilys suit, and a warning not to get burned.
They cruised north along Californias picturesque coastline, turning back at mid-afternoon. As the sun began to fade, the two friends donned their clothes and jackets and Anna wrapped herself in a wool blanket from the cabin below. Seeing Lily shiver as the wind blew through her lightweight fleece, she held her arms open and invited her friend to huddle inside. When the small woman stepped in front, Anna closed the blanket around them both, instantly sparking a memory of pulling Lily close as she struggled for breath in the collapsed mall. A sense of panic suddenly invaded her, and she squeezed Lily tightly to her chest.
The blonde was lost in the sensation. Her rational mind told her that Anna was simply seeking warmth in the embrace, but she enjoyed for the moment imagining that it meant something more. I could get so used to this.
Once docked, Lily thanked her hosts profusely as all four pitched in to clean up their mess and wash the sea spray from the boats surfaces. "Youre welcome any time," Kim replied sincerely. She hoped that Lilys interest would encourage her sister to come along more often. Kim couldnt put her finger on why, but she certainly had a feeling she would be seeing more of this blonde.
Pulling up in front of the apartment, Anna exited the black car to help Lily with her things. "Thanks for coming with us. I really had fun, and so did Kim and Hal." With that, the two friends shared a friendly hug.
Something subtle had passed between the women today. Lily knew as she walked into her darkened apartment that she needed to keep her feelings in check. Anna was turning out to be all the things she wanted in a partnerkind, smart, funny beautiful. Falling in love with a straight woman would get her heart broken for sure.
Driving toward her home in Bel Air, Anna pondered the unexpected feelings that surfaced when she held Lily close under the blanket. The moment had triggered some sort of protective instinct, and Anna enjoyed the sensation of warmth and closeness. It felt like something had clicked, whatever that meant. She liked Lily a lot, and she wanted to get to know her better. She decided then to do something totally out of character.
"Lilian Stuart," the attorney answered enthusiastically, recognizing the number on her display.
"Good morning, Lily. How are you?" came the syrupy sweet voice.
"Hey, good for you, Amazon! Youre social skills are really coming along," she praised playfully.
"Dont let it get out. We wouldnt want others to raise their expectations."
"Ill keep it just between us. Whats up? By the way, I really had a great time yesterday."
"Yeah, me too. I was wondering if hypothetically speaking, of course a person were to decide to go, say camping, what sorts of camping equipment might that person hypothetically require?"
Lily sat up, very excited at where this conversation seemed to be headed. "Well, one would probably need a sleeping bag, a mess kit, some good hiking boots, and a few odds and ends to enhance ones comfort." She paused and added, "Hypothetically, of course."
"Of course. So if one were to hypothetically decide that she needed this equipment, how difficult do you think it would be to get someones help in picking out the right things?"
"Oh, I think someone might be available on Wednesday night to escort such a person to a conveniently located REI store for said items."
"6:30 it is. And Ill spring for the pizza afterwards."
"Tony, you got a minute?" Lily stood in the doorway of the managing partners office.
"Anytime. Whats up?" Tony LeFevre was one of Lilys favorite people in the whole world. He and his brother Mike had started the Clinic ten years ago with a grant from the LA Minority Coalition. Lily never knew Mike, who died of AIDS the year before she joined the firm.
Tony was 36 years old, and a respected member of LAs legal community. He wasnt particularly handsome, but he had that charm that most women found irresistible. He treated everyone with respect, and he loved kids.
"I have a favor to ask," she started awkwardly. "You remember my friend Anna, the woman from the earthquake who came by for lunch last week?"
"Are you kidding? A man doesnt forget someone like that." Tony had considered asking his co-worker how she would feel about him asking her friend out.
"Yeah, thats kind of where I was going." The blonde paused to consider her words. "Shes going to be coming along this weekend on the Kidz Kamp trip. I was wondering if youd mind not flirting with her, or asking her out or anything."
That settles that, he thought. "Of course, if thats what you want. Are you interested in her?"
"Oh no, it isnt that," Lily quickly assured. "Its just that were getting to be really good friends, and I wouldnt want anything to complicate that."
"No problem, my friend."
"Thanks." She returned to her office, knowing that if she had been straight, Tony would definitely have been her type.
The RAV4 picked its way along the wooded road until they reached the campsite. Tony and two other men were working with the boys to unload the tents and set up the cooking supplies. They moved hurriedly, as darkness was falling, and it was important to everyones sense of comfort to have a hot meal on the first night in camp.
The trip to Silverwood Lake, north of San Bernardino, had taken nearly three hours, most of that spent navigating LA traffic to exit the city. This was their favorite site. It had all of the things kids liked to dofishing, swimming, hiking, and canoeing. To Annas relief, there were even restrooms close to the campsite.
The dark-haired woman had grown more and more apprehensive as they drove further from the city. After the shopping trip with Lily, she had come to terms with leaving behind the comforts of home. What had her on edge today were the three girls in the back seat. Rosa and Carlotta were 11-year-old twins who giggled and whispered to each other in Spanish. Lateisha, a nine-year-old African-American girl, kept to herself, staring out the window lost in thought. Lily engaged all of the girls in occasional dialogue, asking about school, their friends, and things they liked to do. Anna, the mechanical engineer who lived in Bel Air and sold luxury cars, couldnt think of how to relate, so like Lateisha, she too retreated in silence.
Sensing her friends nervousness, Lily suggested that Anna and Lateisha unload the supplies from the back of the SUV while she and the twins set up the tent the five would share for the next two nights. Though hesitant to be alone with this quiet child, Anna was glad to be doing something other than just sitting. "Have you ever been camping before?" she asked the little girl.
Lateisha simply shook her head no.
"Well, this is my first time too. I guess we both have a lot to learn this weekend." When the girl didnt reply, Anna knew she would have to think of something more engaging. "How about giving me a hand with this cooler? Its pretty heavy for just one person." Together, they hauled their load to where Tony had stacked the cooking supplies.
"Whos your helper there?" Tony asked.
"This is Lateisha. Shes pretty strong for a nine-year-old. Its a good thing, too, because I couldnt lift this by myself," Anna praised. The small girl finally gave a shy smile, and the woman hoped she might break through after all.
"I can see how strong she is. If you need any extra help from me, just let me know."
"Oh, I think well manage," said Anna. They headed back to the RAV4 to finish their task.
Anna met the other leaders, Jack and Matthew, while she worked to organize the cooking gear. Jack was an intake officer from the juvenile detention facility. Four of the six boys on this trip had darkened Jacks door, having gotten in trouble over shoplifting, vandalism or fighting in school. The other man, Matthew, was Jacks brother-in-law. Lily loved it when these two came along, because they always brought canoes.
Tonys two charges, like the twins who came with Lily, were in foster placement, waiting for their parents to grow up. Lateisha was a special case.
Two hours after they arrived at their campsite, all the campers were relaxing around an open fire. Though their bellies were full with Tonys excellent spaghetti, the allure of roasted marshmallows was too strong to resist. Two years ago, Lauren had insisted that the men share the cooking chores to set a positive example for the boys in the group. Grumbling, they conceded that she had a point. Lily and Anna were charged with breakfast for the next two days.
Shortly after ten, the children were sent into the tents to find their sleeping bags and settle down. The five adults planned the next day. Jack and Matthew wanted to take their boys fishing first thing, then hiking in the afternoon. The others opted to explore the nature trail in the morning, and swim in the afternoon if it warmed up. In mid-October, the temperature could go either way.
Crawling into their tent, Lily and Anna discovered that the twins had moved their sleeping bags to right side, while Lateisha had moved hers to the left. That left them to squeeze into the middle, side by side. Lily surprised her friend with a gift of a self-inflating air mattress. It wasnt Grandmas feather bed, but Anna found that the cushion took the edge off the hard ground.
As they settled in, Carlotta spilled her sisters secret. "Rosas afraid of the dark."
Lily knew what that was like, and she tried to think of ways to reassure the girl. Anna nudged her and whispered into her ear. "Thats a good idea," Lily said to her friend. And so it was that Anna and Lily told the fascinated children their story of being trapped together in the mall, and finding their way out in the darkness. "I used to sleep with a light on at night, but since the earthquake, I havent needed it anymore," she finished.
Getting no reply, the pair realized that all three girls had fallen asleep. "Well, I certainly enjoyed hearing the story again," Anna whispered.
In the night, a small hand shook the tall woman awake. "I have to go the bathroom," Lateisha squeaked.
"So do I," Anna replied. "Will you go with me?"
"Okay," the little girl agreed.
Finding the flashlight and their shoes, the two walked quietly to the nearby restroom. Without a word, they took care of their business and made their way back to the tent. "Goodnight, Lateisha."
Several moments later, Anna heard a quiet "goodnight."
Lily awoke to voices outside the tent. She sat up to discover that she was alone, and the light streaming in through the flapping zipper told her it was morning whether she liked it or not. The sleepy camper tugged on her boots and crawled to the opening. She couldnt believe the sight. Nine children and three grown men were lined up with their mess kits, each getting a heaping dose of oatmeal and brown sugar from the Amazon Chef. She hurriedly grabbed her kit and scrambled to the back of the line.
"Wow! Who does your hair?" Anna teased.
The suddenly self-conscious blonde reached up to flatten her locks as her friend presented her with a piping hot cup of coffee. "I suppose you crawl out of bed looking like Cinderella every morning," she challenged.
"Hardly more like Sleeping Beauty." She winked at the blonde, who stuck out her tongue and looked for a place to sit.
Anna filled her own plate last, and sat next to Lateisha on a fallen log near the edge of the campsite. "Youre quiet this morning. What are you thinking about?"
The little girl shrugged. "Nothin."
"Sometimes when somethings bothering me, it helps if I talk about it with somebody else. If you want to do that, Ill be happy to listen, Lateisha."
The woman expected no response, so she was surprised when a small voice said, "My mama died." With that, the child broke down in sobs.
Anna set her plate down and took Lateisha in her arms. She stroked the girls braided hair as she rocked her slightly back and forth. "Im so sorry, honey. It must be so hard for you." From her own experience, Anna knew exactly how lost the little girl felt. She was determined to ease the hurt in whatever small way she could. She encouraged Lateisha to talk about her mom, and soon began talking about her own.
The others had noticed that the quiet little girl was finally opening up, and they gave the two a wide berth. Lily was glad that Lateisha had found a friend, but she knew that Anna too would be richly rewarded for reaching this troubled child. These were the treasures that Lily pursued when she worked with children and families in trouble. No amount of monetary compensation was worth the feeling she got when she knew that she was making a difference in someones life. She was proud that her friend had reached out to this child, and impressed that she had broken through. She doubted that many others from Annas opulent world could have done that. When the group set out on their nature hike, the sight of the tall woman holding the small childs hand triggered in Lily an emotional groundswell. Anna Kaklis is a very special woman.
Lunch that day was hotdogs, chips and cookies, always a hit with the kids. If Lily had worried that Anna might not like the outdoor cuisine, she neednt have bothered. She and Lateisha had piled their plates high and retreated to their fallen log. In fact, Anna was coming off like an old hand with this camping stuff. This is my world, Anna. What do you think?
In the afternoon, the boyswho apparently had lost their mindsdecided to go swimming, even though the water temperature was more suited to otters and Russian submarines. Lily and Anna commandeered the two canoes for a trip across the lake.
"This isnt as easy as it looks, Lateisha." The pair was struggling to avoid several low branches that hung over the water directly in their path. When Anna paddled one way, Lateisha paddled the other, and now they were hopelessly trapped. From the other canoe, Lily and the twins were howling with laughter at their predicament, and that made the tall woman more determined to get out of this mess. She stood gingerly, reaching for a branch to push them away from the shoreline. Unfortunately, Lateisha chose that instant to drop her oar in the water and push off from the sandy bottom. With a scream, Anna toppled head first into the freezing water.
Lilys first instinct was to laugh. She fought it, however, and rowed quickly to her fallen friend. Barely containing a grin as she watched Anna splash around to find her footing, the blonde asked, "Are you hurt?"
"N-n-n-no!" Anna shivered, as she stood waist-deep in the water.
Lily rowed still closer and leaned over the side, asking in a voice so low that only her friend could hear, "Are you cold, or just glad to see me?"
In a lightening quick moment, Anna reached into the other canoe and grabbed the taunting woman by her waistband and collar. "Oh, Im glad to see you alright!" Rosa and Carlotta watched in shock as their leader was thrown end over end into the lake. In the next breath, Anna pulled her canoe from the overhanging trees and aimed it toward the campsite. "Row for your life, Lateisha!" She jumped into the back of the canoe and the two paddled feverishly to put distance between themselves and their pursuers. The three girls cried with laughter as Lily screamed her threats for revenge across the lake.
Once they reached the shore, Anna jumped out and dragged the boat up onto the sand. "Youd better hide," she told the delighted Lateisha, expecting the game to continue once their adversaries reached the camp. The little girl ran to stand behind Tony as Anna disappeared inside the tent.
"Where is that Amazon?" Lily bellowed as she raced from their abandoned canoe. Rushing into the tent, she found Anna kneeling topless with her back to the zippered entry. Oddly speechless, Lily stopped dead in her tracks.
"Gotcha, funny girl," the woman said without turning, pulling a sweatshirt over her head.
The game momentarily forgotten, Lily blushed as she recognized the lustful sensations that overwhelmed her as she glimpsed the muscled expanse of the womans back. Without a word, she moved to her bag to find some dry clothes.
"Youre not angry, are you?" Anna asked, suddenly concerned about her friends silence.
"Are you kidding? I bet those girls havent had that much fun in years." Talking about the children took the exchange to safe ground. Im in such trouble here.
The ride back into the city on Sunday afternoon took a little over two hours. They dropped the twins at their foster home, and made their way toward the temporary shelter where Lateisha was staying until her father returned from military service overseas. Anna hopped out of the car to help the girl with her things, and they shared a long hug that brought a tear to Lilys eye.
"You were great with Lateisha, you know. Your being with us on this trip was the best thing that could have happened to her." Lilys praise was genuine.
"I liked her. Shes a sweetheart, and I understand what shes going through."
"You mean because you lost your mother around her age?"
The woman nodded, a sad look crossing her face. Lily placed her hand on Annas knee to comfort her, "Thanks for spending so much time with her. Youre going to make a great mother one of these days. If thats what you want, that is." She dismissed the unbidden image of the two of them fussing over a baby.
"Id really like to have children some day. I just hate the whole trial and error thing of marrying a suitable father." Anna went on to tell Lily about the call she had received from Scott last week. He wanted her to know that he and Sarah had gotten married in a civil ceremony. This came as no surprise, as Anna knew that Scott had moved in with Sarah shortly after they had separated. According to his lawyer, this had been under the auspices of being close to his son. "Im happy for them. Really, I am. But I cant help but envy them both, and I wonder if Sarah has something that was meant for me."
"I think you know the real answer to that," Lily said. "You know, more and more single women are choosing to have children. Have you ruled that out?"
"I havent really thought about it, but I suppose its an option."
Lily was in trouble and she knew it. What she now felt for the tall dark-haired woman had slipped past friendship, and she was sure to have her heart brokenit was only a matter of time. She and Anna had gotten together twice during the week following Silverwood Lake, once for dinner at Empyres and once at Lilys house. Anna knew that her friend lived on a budget, so she always paid when she invited Lily out. They were increasingly comfortable together, poking fun at each other at times, and baring their souls at others.
On Saturday night, Lily picked up Chinese food and made her way to Sherman Oaks to have dinner with her friends. She had reluctantly turned down a movie offer with Anna because she had neglected Sandy and Suzanne for weeks.
"Are you insane?" Suzanne erupted when Lily had confessed that she was falling for Anna. The woman knew she would get an earful of admonition from both her friends, but she hadnt expected this outburst.
"The heart has a will of its own, Suzanne. Its not like I can help liking her. Shes smart and interesting. She makes me laugh. Shes kind and generous." Lily wanted to add "beautiful" to the list, but knew that would really set Suzanne off on a tirade. "You should have seen her last week with one of our foster children. That girl had hardly said a word in six months, and by the time we dropped her off at home, they were best friends. Anna even gave the girl her phone number, and theyve already talked two or three times this week."
Sandy crossed the room and sat down next to her friend. "Suzannes right, Lily. Annas going to break your heart all to pieces." Sandy looked at her forlorn friend and added softly, "Its not that she cant be a good friend to you. She obviously already is. Its just that she is straight and that means she cant return the feelings you have for her. Youre only going to hurt yourself by pursuing this, Lily. "
Lily nodded her head slowly as she looked at the floor. On the inside, it was her friends that she wanted to back away from. A few minutes later, she did just that, grabbing her jacket and heading for home.
"I think were too late," Suzanne said to her partner.
"I think so too. All we can do is be there for her to help pick up the pieces."
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