By KG MacGregor
From her office on the second floor, Lily saw the beautiful woman exit the black car and walk briskly toward the entrance to her building. Im getting a surprise visitor for lunch, she thought with amused satisfaction. She quickly reached into her top drawer to check her appearance in the compact mirror. Three minutes later, she couldnt believe her eyesAnna was walking back to her car with Tony!
"How could he do that!" Lily demanded. Lauren hadnt seen Lily so mad since the Kidz Kamp funding cut. It was best not to answer, just to let the blonde attorney vent.
"Is something wrong?" Pauline had made her way down the hall to see what the yelling was about.
"It seems that Tony asked Lilys friend out, even though shed asked him not to," Lauren explained.
"Oh, no. Tony didnt ask her. She called him."
Lily thought she might be physically ill.
One hour later, the BMW with the beautiful driver dropped Tony at the sidewalk in front of the building. The smiling lawyer had a spring in his step as he made his way back inside. In his desk chair, he found a small, blonde, very angry attorney.
"You could have said no!" she growled.
"Not to this." Still smiling, he removed a check from his pocket and placed it on the desk in front of her.
From the account of Premier Motors, payable to Kidz Kamp, in the amount of ten thousand dollars. Signed, Anna M. Kaklis.
Pulling through the open gate at the Kaklis home, the woman in the battered SUV suddenly felt like "country come to town." She had been delighted when Kim called with the invitation to Annas thirty-second birthday dinner, but as she parked among the BMWs, she couldnt help but feel self-conscious.
"Surprise!" she said when Anna answered the door. The tall woman was thrilled to see her friend, and right away set off to introduce her to her parents and younger brother. She, and now Kim, had told everyone about the petite blonde attorney who had rescued her in the earthquake.
The birthday girlher actual birthday was the following Tuesdaywalked her friend through the majestic house toward the backyard patio. Lily took in the splendor of the fine home, lavishly decorated with art and antiques. Once outside, Anna dragged her to the umbrella table where George and Martine Kaklis sat with David, Kim and Hal. She wasnt surprised to see that the men in the Kaklis family were tall and handsome.
"Hows my favorite first mate?" Hal asked enthusiastically.
"Hey, fella! Im supposed to be your favorite first-mate," whined Kim, backhanding her husband playfully across his stomach. She reached out to hug the blonde, "Im glad you could come."
"Me too. Thanks for inviting me."
Anna moved beside her stepmother. "Lily, Id like to you meet my mother, Martine." When her father had married the widow, it had taken a couple of years before Anna felt comfortable calling Martine her mother. George had asked both of them to accept the label as an attempt to build family unity. The teenager had feared at the time that it would betray her own mothers memory, but she complied to please her father. At 32, Anna knew shed been lucky to have such a good relationship with the woman.
"Im pleased to meet you, Mrs. Kaklis," the blonde said politely.
"My brother, David." David was well over six feet tall, with his sisters black hair, but Martines hazel eyes.
"And this is my father, George."
Lily held out her hand. "Mr. Kaklis."
"Mom, Dad, David, I want you to meet somebody very special. This is my dear friend, Lily Stuart."
Somebody very special? Lily relished that thought.
George Kaklis reaction reminded the woman of her first meeting with Kim. The man stepped forward to embrace her, then stood back and said sincerely, "I cant tell you how happy I am to meet the woman who saved my daughters life."
"You know, she always says that, but Ive learned that she usually leaves out the part where she saved my life. I wouldnt be here if you hadnt raised such a courageous daughter."
Kim leaned over and butted in, "Hal and I call them both the mutual admiration society. Its nauseating."
On cue, the two women blushed slightly, and turned the tables on the always lovey-dovey captain and first-mate, teasing them about their own mutual admiration.
Dinner was lively, with lots of conversation and questions for their guest. "So Lily, I take it you arent married," Martine started.
"Thats right, Mrs. Kaklis."
David jumped in, "Anna told us about something funny that you said when you guys were in the bridal shop at the mall. What was that again?"
Anna repeated Lilys quip about her worst fear, and while everyone laughed, Martine didnt quite get it. Kim noticed the perplexed look and whispered loudly enough for everyone at the table to hear, "Lilys a lesbian, Mother."
A suddenly embarrassed Martine Kaklis looked at her guest with wide eyes. She too whispered loudly, "Oh, Im sorry." She had somehow been left out of the loop on this bit of information.
Lily just laughed and whispered back "Dont worry. Im cool with it." She winked conspiratorially.
Everyone then laughed, but Martine went on, still whispering. "No, I mean why am I whispering?" In her normal voice, she continued, "I mean Im sorry for being so presumptuous. Now that I think of it, I believe Anna did mention it. I just forgot."
From there, Lily regaled the group with tales from Annas first outing with Kidz Kamp. Everyone in the room would have given their eye teeth to have seen the usually chic Anna cooking and serving breakfast to the campers, negotiating a sleeping bag, or especially tumbling into the lake. All were especially proudsurprised evenas Lily told of how Anna had broken through to the quiet Lateisha. None had ever imagined that the serious woman who stood out among LAs business leaders would so easily connect with a troubled child.
Lily was enjoying herself thoroughly. The Kaklis family was fun, and they obviously were extremely devoted to one another. Being raised by a single mother, the blonde had never experienced this type of family life. Not that she was complaininglife with Eleanor had been perfect as far as Lily was concernedbut it was interesting to see the sibling dynamics, as well as the familial interchange between George and Martine. This was the life the young attorney wanted for all of the children she worked with in the foster care system.
George was fascinated by their guest, but troubled by something he saw in his own daughters face when he watched the two interact. It was unsettling, and he had seen it before when, at 20 years old, Anna had brought home her friend Carolyn from college. George had been certain at the time that Carolyn was a lesbian, and he was glad to learn that Anna and she had drifted apart during the following school year. All of this scrutiny of Lily notwithstanding, George couldnt help but like the young woman, and he could never dismiss his gratitude for her role in their earthquake rescue. Still, he felt the need to send a subtle message to both of the young women. "So Lily, Im curious. Do you ever encounter discrimination in your work?"
"You mean because Im so short?" she quipped, knowing well that he was talking about her sexual orientation.
He chuckled, then went on, "No, I was just wondering if prejudice against gays was as bad in the court system as it is in the business world. I dont consider myself prejudiced, but I have to confess that Ive always been reluctant to hire people who were open about their sexual preferences because I think our potential customers would rather not deal with someone gay."
Lily bristled slightly, but tried to keep in mind that most people who "didnt consider themselves prejudiced" were simply ignorant of what constituted bigotry. For some reason, it wasnt taboo to be "open about your sexual preferences" if you were straight. She didnt want to offend her friends father, so she tried not to take it personally. "So are you saying that BMWs arent appealing to gays?" Lily glanced at her friend to see if she was stepping over any lines with her question. To her displeasure, Anna seemed to be considering the argument on its face, rather than dismissing out of hand the notion of discrimination against gay sales staff.
George was a great businessman and he was certain that his position was best for the dealership. "No, not at all. Im just saying that it makes better business sense to sacrifice the business of a minority than to risk alienating a majority. Its just a matter of numbers."
For Lily, the worst part of this was the seeming acceptance by Anna to this Neanderthal point of view. Furthermore, that George had mentioned it at all seemed purposive to Lily, but she couldnt quite put her finger on what his motivation might have been.
To Anna, it was all a moot point, since she did all the hiring at the dealership. It had never occurred to her to consider someones sexual orientation as relevant to the job. She resolved to talk to her father in private, missing the fact that the conversation had left her friend uneasy.
Abruptly standing, the uncomfortable blonde looked across the table to her friend as though she were a total stranger. "I hope youve had a nice birthday, Anna. I should be going. Ive got three cases scheduled for court next week, and I need to prepare." Turning to Kim and Hal, she added, "Thanks for including me in your plans. I know the way out." With that, she turned and left.
The front door closed before Anna could react. As realization dawned on what Lily must have thought, she immediately scampered to the front door to see the RAV4 disappear beyond the hedge. "Dad, that was rude!" she said, returning to the dining room. In all her life, she had never spoken to her father that way, and the shock was clearly registered on all the faces of the Kaklis family.
"Anna, Im sorry. I didnt mean for it to come out that way. If you want, Ill call her and apologize." George was indeed contrite. He had not intended to insult the woman, though it was clear that he had.
"No, Ill talk to her. I should go too. Thank you all for the party."
"Wait up, Anna." Kim rose to follow her sister to the door. "Are you going to Lilys?"
"I think I should, dont you? I just sat there, Kim. I had no idea that she was taking Dads words to heart, and I didnt stick up for her."
"You need to talk to her. I dont know whats up with Dad, but she surely knows that you dont feel that way." She took her sisters shoulders and looked her squarely in the eye. "You and Lily care about each other, and you need to see what thats about. Dont let Dad decide this."
Anna was struck dumb by her sisters words. See what its about? Did she mean
The dark-haired woman finally found her voice. "I it isnt like that, Kim." Is it? With that, she was gone.
Lily was furious with herself. I should have kept my mouth shut! She was angry at herself for stomping off like a spoiled child. "I ruined dinner. I ruined her party. Ive ruined everything. Way to go, Lilian," she said aloud, pounding on the steering wheel.
The RAV4 responded with a sputter, and slowed dramatically of its own volition. Lily slid one lane to the right and exited the freeway. To her relief, she spotted a Chevron station ahead as the car continued to slow, but it was clear she wasnt going to make it. "Damn it! What else could " She stopped herself suddenly, remembering that the last time she had asked a question like that, the earth had opened up and swallowed her. The RAV4 finally died against the curb, about 30 feet shy of the busy station.
Just great. Shes probably gone to tell her buddies what a shitty friend I turned out to be. Anna sat in her car staring at Lilys empty parking space, furious with herself for not voicing her disagreement to what her father had said. Gathering her nerve, she waved her hand across the infrared beam. "Lilys cell phone," she enunciated clearly.
"Three hundred dollars!" The blonde was incredulous. This was not the estimate for fixing the car, but the offering to take it off her hands. "The tires alone are worth a hundred and fifty apiece!"
The mechanic shrugged. He had a friend who would buy the car for parts, but neither was going to make a fortune on the ancient SUV. "Take it or leave it."
Lily groped for her phone when she heard the familiar chime. Anna! She would face the music first for her rash behavior. Then, she would deal with her car.
"Hi, Anna," she answered contritely. "Im sorry I stormed out. I lost my head."
Anna was shocked. Shes apologizing to me? "No, Lily. You did nothing wrong. What Dad said was wrong, and I should have corrected him. I do all the hiring at the dealership, and I couldnt figure out what on earth he was talking about. Im the one who needs to be forgiven."
"No, youre not. I was at a party in his house. He has a right to his opinions. I should have just controlled my temper. I ruined your party."
"No you didnt. It wasnt your fault." Immensely relieved that they were back on solid footing, Anna asked, "Where are you? I drove to your house."
"Im on Henderson Avenue at a Chevron station with a dead car."
"Ill be right there."
"Yes, its a great vehicle. I have no doubt at all that its the best one on the road, by far. Its just a little out of my price range. A lot, actually." It was after hours on a Saturday night in the showroom of Premier Motors, but Lily was getting the VIP treatment, looking over the brand new X5. BMWs entry in the SUV market was sweetleathered appointed, powerful, loaded with bells and whistles. When you tacked on taxes and dealer fees, the price of the lower end model was nearly 43 thousand dollars.
"I can get you a good deal. I know the owner," Anna winked at her friend.
"Im sure you can. But even with a good deal, its more than Ive saved for my house. I need to be looking at the Suzuki or the Ford Escape."
Anna blanched. "Look, Lily. What if you could get the X5 for the same price as one of those other cars? Say, twenty-two thousand. Which would you rather have?"
"The X5, of course. Im not an idiot. But I cant let you drop the price on this car that much. This is business." Lily was adamant.
"Its more than business, though." Lily turned to interrupt, but Anna held up her hand. "Hear me out." She paused to choose her words carefully. She didnt want to offend her friend. "I have a little trouble with my leg when I cant stretch it out all the way. If Im going to spend as much time in your new car as I did in your old car, then I would like to help you get something thats comfortable to me." Lily was almost sold; she could see it in her eyes. She went on, "If you really like it, that is. And if were going to keep doing things together."
Lily was quiet as her head processed all the things Anna had just said. Keep doing things together. Yes, we are going to keep doing things together. She gestured at her friends knee. "It still bothers you?"
She thought about the long trips from San Diego, and to and from Silverwood Lake. She felt awful that the woman had probably been in agony the whole time, but was too nice to say anything. "Okay, Ill do it. But well compromise. I can go as high as thirty."
The car dealer smiled triumphantly. This sale was her best one ever, and she was taking a $21,000 hit. "Well see." Anna grinned and dragged the blonde through the glass door to the lot. "White, black, silver, or blue?"
"You should probably slow down a little bit," the dark-haired woman suggested.
"Holy shit! Im doing ninety-five!" The blonde eased up on the accelerator and dropped her speed to a respectable eighty. She was still speeding, but no longer leading the pack on the Grapevine, that infamous twisting, climbing stretch of Interstate 5 north of LA. "I cant believe how powerful this thing is. I love it!" A driver had delivered the brand new silver X5 to her apartment on Sunday afternoon. The paperwork on the front seat told her that Anna had ignored her gesture of compromise, fixing the final price at $22,000, financed over four years at 0.9 percent annual percentage rate. No one on earth had ever gotten such a good deal.
"Im not carrying enough cash to get you out of jail," Anna warned, her eyes smiling. "Youll have to spend the night."
Traffic was pretty light for a Friday night. They had left work early to get a head start north to San Jose. Lily was thrilled that Anna agreed to go with her. She hadnt seen her mom since September, and even though shed be back in three weeks for Thanksgiving, this was a chance to introduce her two favorite people to one another.
Anna was looking forward to meeting Eleanor. It would be fun to hear stories of Lily as a little girl. This also was a chance to see her friend Liz in San Mateo, whom she hadnt seen since the wedding. Theyd talked on the phone several times, but that didnt compare to seeing each other face to face. Anna planned to drive up Saturday for dinner in the city while Lily visited with her mom.
The drive to San Jose was a little over five hours. Anna had suggested they hit the drive-thru at McDonalds in Kettleman City, but Lily overruled. "Youre not eating in my new car!" Their quick stop cost them only 20 minutes.
Just before ten, Lily pulled to the curb in front of a small, two-story Victorian. The ladies grabbed their overnight bags and made their way up the sidewalk to the lighted porch. The front door opened, and an unassuming woman of about 60 stepped out. From somewhere in the corner of her brain, Anna remembered the image of this woman standing over Lilys stretcher as she was loaded into the ambulance at the Endicott Mall.
"Hi baby! Im so glad youre here!" The two embraced and hugged fiercely. Their devotion was unmistakable. A long moment passed before they broke apart.
"Mom, I want you to meet someone very special." She intentionally recalled the words Anna had used when introducing her to her father. "This is Anna Kaklis. Anna, this is my mom, Eleanor Stuart."
Anna reached out her hand to the older woman, but Eleanor was having none of that. She pulled the tall woman close and hugged her tightly. "Thank you for saving my daughter."
In a now familiar scene, Anna answered, "Youre welcome. But I couldnt have done that if she hadnt saved me first."
They entered the cozy house and were met at once by a handsome basset hound. "This is my boy Chester. Hes never met a stranger, so hell probably follow you around the house. If he gets on your nerves, just push him away."
The women set their bags beside the staircase, following Eleanor into the small living room. The comfortable room held a stuffed swivel rocker and loveseat for the houses human occupants, and a sprawling flannel beanbag for the adorable hound. Chester took his place in the center of the room, as the travelers made their way to the loveseat. The pup then changed his mind and came to sit at Annas feet, locking his droopy brown eyes onto her blue ones. "Hi there, fella. I hear youre easy," she said, reaching out to scratch behind the happy dogs ears.
"Do you want something to eat or drink?" Eleanor asked.
"No, were fine, Mom. Go ahead and sit. I know where things are if we change our mind."
For the next half-hour, Lilys friend and mother exchanged pleasantries and talked about the attorney as though she werent in the room. Anna had heard the story of how Lily had come to live with her first grade teacher. She was surprised to learn that Eleanor was now principal of a large elementary school.
Eleanor was excited to hear that Lily was driving a new car. She peered out the window, but promised to get a closer look the next day. Seeing the tired looks on the faces of her visitors, she turned to her daughter. "Why dont you show Anna to your old room, and you take the futon in the office?"
"No, no. Ill be fine on the futon," the tall lady protested. "You should sleep in your own room."
Eleanor and Lily both laughed. Lily explained the house rules. "First of all, your comfort is my reason for living. Second, I dont have a room here anymore. Mom threw my old furniture out ages ago. And third, the futons barely big enough for me, Amazon. Chester would be licking your feet all night."
"Well, lead the way, Pygmy."
"Wow! You look fabulous! Do you mind me saying that divorce agrees with you?" Liz was astounded at the difference in her friend since the wedding. Anna had always been beautiful, but way too thin in Lizs mind. Even dressed in slacks and a sweater, it was obvious that Anna had put on weight through her shoulders and middle, and the muscles in her neck were evidence of her workout regimen.
"You look great too," Anna said sincerely. Liz had always been on the heavy side, but her Italian features were striking. The olive complexion, the large brown eyes, and jet black hair always earned her a second look. In addition to her usual look, Elizabeth Leandro Patterson had a glow.
"Thats because Im pregnant." Her smile grew wider and wider.
"Congratulations!" Anna was truly happy for her longtime friend. "When are you due?"
"Not until the middle of May. I just found out yesterday. Ricks walking around on Cloud Nine."
"How is Rick? And Chloe?"
"Theyre fine. They wanted to see you, but I wanted you all to myself." The two women had decided to meet at Stellas, a trendy neighborhood place in San Franciscos Mission District. Through dinner, they caught up on one another, including the story of the earthquake and the remarkable woman Anna had met.
"Do you ever hear from Carolyn?" Liz asked casually. Carolyn Bunting had been one of Annas closest friends at Cal Poly. During their sophomore year, they were practically inseparable. But when they returned for their junior year, Carolyn was distant, always busy with other things, other people. Anna had been deeply hurt, but assumed simply that Carolyn had developed other interests.
"Not recently. Did I tell you that I saw her about four years ago at the reunion? You and Rick were in Europe, I think."
"How was she?" Liz was fishing. Something about the way Anna had talked about her new friend made Liz think this was the finally the time to have that conversation with her friend that she had avoided more than ten years ago.
"She was great. Shes living in Seattle working for God. I mean, Bill Gates," she corrected herself, laughing. "She introduced me to her partner, a woman who works in the Seahawks front office." Anna let the words settle a moment. "Did you know back in college that Carolyn was gay?"
"Yes, I did Did you know she was in love with you?"
The tall woman froze. A flood of emotions long buried crept into her consciousness. "How do you know that?" she asked quietly.
"She told me. She called me in Sacramento after sophomore year. She asked me if I thought it was possible that you felt the same way about her." Liz took a deep breath. Her friend deserved to know the whole story. "I should have told her the truth, that I really didnt know how you would feel. Instead, I told her that I didnt think it was possible. That you never talked about her that way. She asked me if she should break off your friendship." Liz was so ashamed of what she was about to say. "I told her yes."
Anna sighed deeply, then leaned back in her chair. "Well, that explains a lot. I never really understood why she didnt want to do things together anymore when we came back in the fall."
Liz reached across the table and took her friends hand. "Anna, Ive always regretted my hand in that. Ive wondered from time to time if you might have found what you were looking for in Carolyn after all."
A look of sadness crossed the tall womans face as she processed what Liz had said. "I dont know what to say, Liz. Im sure you did what you thought was best at the time."
In for a penny, in for a pound. "No, Anna. Youre not letting me off the hook that easily. Not until I tell you that I think you ought to step back and take a look at where things might be headed with your new friend."
"You should hear yourself talk about her. You should see the look on your face. What is she to you, Anna?" What was it Kim had said? You need to see what this is about.
The tall woman grew quiet as she turned the question over in her mind. "Lily is one of the most important people in my life. Weve shared something extraordinary, and that will probably bond us forever."
"How would you feel if Lily met someone and fell in love?"
"I dont know, Liz." She knew, but she wasnt ready to say. Shed be devastated.
"Have you told her?" Eleanor joined her daughter on the loveseat to watch for Annas return.
"Told her what?" Lily was nothing if not evasive.
"That youre in love with her." Eleanor was nothing if not persistent.
The young woman sighed and turned toward the window. "No, I havent. Im afraid it would freak her out."
The older woman was worried for her daughter. There was no easy way a mother could protect a child from a broken heart. "She might, Lily. And it might make her so uncomfortable that she wouldnt want to be friends anymore."
Lily nodded in agreement. She could feel the tears starting to form. Eleanor was going to warn her off, just as Sandy and Suzanne had.
Eleanor placed her palm on the side of her daughters face. With her thumb, she touched the tear that threatened to fall. "But some things may be worth the risk, sweetheart."
The drive back to LA started out quietly. Both women were absorbed in the mental recounting of their respective conversations, each wondering if the other had a hint of her true feelings. Anna leaned back into the plush leather, draping her arm over the console.
Lily looked at the hand near her side. Finally, she reached out and took it in her own. "Thanks for coming with me this weekend. It really meant a lot to Mom. And to me." Anna squeezed the small hand, but didnt release it. They rode in silence like that for more than an hour, both acutely aware of their closeness.
So now youre interested, eh? Part 9
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