By KG MacGregor
"It snowed last night in the Sierras." No response. "I know, Youre fine. Thanks for asking."
"Hello to you, too. Whats with the weather report?" Lily had finally accepted that Anna preferred to start her conversations in the middle. She would get around to the beginning eventually.
The car dealer cleared her throat and enunciated formally, "Im calling to request the pleasure of your company for Thanksgiving in Tahoe with the Kaklis clan."
Normally, this would have been a no-brainer for the attorney. An opportunity to spend a holiday with her beautiful friend was not something to be trifled with. "As tempting as that sounds, I always spend Thanksgiving with Mom." She was sorry to miss out on the fun at Tahoe, but Lily was a strong believer in family traditions. She hadnt missed Thanksgiving with Eleanor since she was seven years old.
"Sure," Anna goaded her friend. "Youre just afraid of Dad." The two friends had talked at length about Annas relationship with her father as they journeyed back to LA from visiting Eleanor two weeks ago. Lily surmised that her friend felt an acute need to win her fathers approval, though she couldnt imagine that any father would find fault with such a wonderful daughter. "So how far is Tahoe from San Jose?"
"Mmmmm about four hours. Why? You want to come down?"
"Well, I thought maybe you could drive up and spend a day or two with us. We could ski, maybe go to a show at one of the casinos "
"That sounds like a lot of fun, but Im really not much of a skier."
"That doesnt matter. Well find something to do."
I can think of a few things. "Sure, Id really like that. I probably should talk with Mom first, though. I wouldnt want to hurt her feelings if shes got something planned. When do you need to know?"
"No deadline really. Were all going anyway, and theres plenty of room. We can play it by ear."
Eleanor had practically shoved her daughter out the door on Friday morning. She wasnt going to stand in the way of advancing Lilys love life. "Stop it, Mom! I still havent said anything to her. Were just friends."
"Thats because youre here and shes there. Now go!"
The drive had taken almost five hours, as fresh snow had narrowed Interstate 80 traffic to one lane at the higher elevations. Lily was fearless in her go-anywhere X5, arriving at the rental cabin just after one in the afternoon. The surrounding woods were a beautiful white, and the smell of wood smoke filled her nostrils when she stepped from the SUV. Two other four-wheel drive vehicles, a Lincoln Navigator that looked like a rental and a Jeep Wrangler with a Cal-Berkeley alumni sticker, were already parked alongside the cabin.
"Lily!" George Kaklis booming voice could be heard through the door as she made her way up the steps to the broad wrap-around porch.
But it was a grinning Anna who opened the door and pulled her inside. "Get in here and shut the door before all the heat gets out!"
"I had a lovely trip. Thanks for asking," the blonde joked.
"Shhhhh! Whatd I tell you about raising peoples expectations?"
Lily greeted Martine, then George, who was friendly and polite. David was spending the holiday with his girlfriends family back in LA. Kim and Hal were on the slopes with their friend Todd, who had arrived earlier that day.
George was still tender from the rare scolding his family had given him about his comments to Lily at Annas birthday dinner. In truth, he didnt care at all if his salespeople were gay. He had just overreacted to the closeness he had seen between the attorney and his daughter. When Martine suggested privately that his heavy hand might lead Anna to rebel and do something she might not otherwise do, he realized that the sensible thing to do was back off and treat Lily like a family friend. After all, she had saved Annas life. "Lily, I feel that I really owe you an apology for my remarks at Annas birthday dinner. I hope youll forgive me for putting my foot in my mouth."
"Theres nothing to forgive, Mr. Kaklis. Reasonable people sometimes disagree. Its what makes the world interesting." Anna was impressed with both her father and her friend at this considerate exchange.
After lunch, Anna and Lily drove the elder couple to the airport in Reno. George was reluctant to be away from the business over the holiday weekend, though Martine would have enjoyed spending more time with her family. More than that, she wanted time with George when he wasnt so completely absorbed in his work.
"I was going to put you in the room Mom and Dad had, but I didnt know that Todd was coming up today." Todd, Anna explained, was Hals fraternity brother and best man at their wedding. He now lived in Sacramento, but was moving soon to take a city planning job in Orange County. "Youll be stuck with me, if thats okay." Lily followed her friend into a small room, smiling to herself with anticipation.
Twin beds. Rats! "Hey, you put up with me in a tent. I can suffer sharing a room," she winked.
The evening was relaxing and entertaining, as Hal and Todd traded memories of fraternity pranks. The three women simply shook their heads in disbelief. "You guys are so crude," Kim said in disgust. "Lilys got the right idea. Im surprised more women arent lesbians."
"Theres still time," Anna joked.
If only! "Well, you know what they say," Lily said in agreement. "Better latent than never!"
On Saturday morning, the five friends trudged along the path through the woods to the slopes. Compared to the stylish sisters, the blonde felt like a ragamuffin. The snow pants she wore were from her pudgy days, and they bagged around her hips. Struggling clumsily with her rented boots and skis, she more than once considered taking a pass, as she could stop short of making a complete fool of herself. But with Annas encouragement, she gamely joined in.
Lily did fine on her first two runs, picking her way slowly down the center of the trail as Anna and Todd crisscrossed one another playfully. On the third trip, just as she was sure that she had the hang of it, some demon child clipped her elbow as he raced past. Working desperately to keep her balance, the novice skier teetered first one way then the next, finally ending up sprawled face down in the snow bank at the side of the trail.
Anna gasped in alarm as she watched the accident unfold. Racing to her fallen friends side, she dropped down and turned the woman over. She was laughing? Lilys cheeks were red with the cold and her green eyes sparkled in the bright sunlight. Snowflakes clung to her eyelashes and golden hair. She looks adorable. Relieved that the woman was alright, Anna too began to laugh. Abruptly, their smiles faded as each recognized something unmistakable in the others eyes.
"Is everything okay here?" Todd threw a spray of powder as he abruptly came to a stop, shattering the moment.
Godamnedsonofamotherfuckingbitch! Lily had picked that up from Lauren, and it had never seemed more appropriate than right now. "Yeah, Im okay. Injured pride is all." She glanced back at her friend, who had looked away and was now intent on helping her to her feet. The three started slowly down the mountain.
"Well that was hardly your fault! That kid wasnt paying attention to what he was doing." Anna wanted to bolster her friends shaken confidence. "Are you sure youre alright?"
Lily wasnt hurt, but the familiar tickle in her chest told her that an asthma attack was on its way. "Actually, Im fine, but I think my asthma is kicking up. I get this way sometimes when I exercise in the cold. Laughing probably pushed me over the edge."
Anna suddenly panicked, as memories of the earthquake flooded back. "Did you remember your medicine? Do you need a doctor? What should I do?"
"No, no. Dont worry about me," Lily assured. They had reached the lodge and she began to remove her skis. "It isnt bad, and I have my medicine in my locker. As long as I dont do anything to make it worse, I should be fine."
"Then we should stop for the day. Well go back to the cabin and you can rest."
Going back to the cabin with this beautiful woman sure seemed like a pretty good idea, but Lily was cursed with a "put others first" quality that was annoying at times. "No way! You missed a whole day yesterday because you were waiting for me. Ill be fine. Ill sit in front of the window down there and watch you guys come down. Go on!" She gestured toward the lodge. "Ill be there."
The weary blonde turned in her boots and gathered her belongings from the rented locker. As usual, the medicine took effect right away and she already felt better. She laughed out loud when she spotted Anna, Todd, Kim and Hal skiing toward the bottom in a makeshift conga line.
"Were gonna kick your ass!" Hal hissed to Lily.
"Aw, you sissies couldnt score if we went home!" The football wars had begun in earnest, as the Cal Bears took the field in Berkeley against the UCLA Bruins for the final game of the season. Hal and Todd had dragged the TV to the center of the vaulted living room, arranging the sofa and loveseat close enough to yell at the refs.
Kim and Hal staked their claim to the couch, and snuggled together affectionately. Todd, wanting no part of the sickening display, took a seat opposite the pair on the loveseat. When Anna entered the room, he gestured to the open space beside him.
"Hey, not fair!" Lily whined when she walked in and found that the only empty seat was at the end of the couch with Kim and Hal. "The Berkeley Bozos should have to sit together."
"Nice try," said Todd. "Im not getting near those two. The whole couch might spontaneously combust at any moment."
And youre not giving up the beautiful Amazon either, she thought dejectedly.
The game was one of the most exciting contests Lily could remember. The Bruins scored first. Thats good. The Bears answered back. Thats bad. The Bruins intercepted. Thats good. The Bears recovered a fumble. Thats bad. The Bruins blocked a punt. Thats good. Todd put his arm around Annas shoulder. Thats bad. Very bad.
At the end of the third quarter, the dark-haired beauty suddenly stood. "Does anyone want anything to drink?" She made her way to the kitchen to a chorus of orders.
Lily started to follow her, but stopped when Todd jumped to his feet and padded into the kitchen. An eternity passed in the next five minutes, and the anxious blonde could stand it no longer. "Ill go see if they need a hand." Full of apprehension, she walked quietly toward the kitchen.
The sight of Anna kissing the young man was like a blow to the gut.
Thank you so much for the invitation this weekend. I had a wonderful time.
Sorry I missed the end of the game last night. My asthma usually doesnt act up like that, but sometimes it happens when Im in a place Im not used to. Anyway, Im fine now.
I woke up really early and thought Id hit the road. Ive got a busy week in court, so I could use a head start on getting my cases ready. Ill probably be pretty busy for the next couple of weeks, but maybe we can get together after that.
I hope you guys have fun today. Have a safe trip home. Thanks again.
When Anna returned from the kitchen with the drinks, Lily had already gone to bed. "She said something about her asthma bothering her again," Kim said.
The dark-haired woman made her way up the stairs to the small room she shared with her friend. "Are you okay?" she asked softly, sitting on the edge of the bed. Lily was on her side, facing the wall.
"Yeah, I took some medicine. I just need to get some sleep. Ill be fine," she lied. She might never be fine again. Please just go away.
"What an idiot!" the woman exploded as she barreled south on Interstate 5 at 103 miles an hour. "What the fuck did you think you were doing? Why would you think there was a chance in hell that she might be interested in you? You idiot!" Through unchecked tears, Lily berated herself for letting her desires cloud her judgment. "You just saw what you wanted to see."
The X5 driver didnt much want to see those red and blue lights in her rearview mirror. "Fuck! Thats just fucking perfect!"
Anna was frustrated. Shed been back from Tahoe a week and a half and had yet to connect with her friend. Each call went to voicemail, and Lilys return calls seemed to come when she too was unavailable. She had no way of knowing that Lily had actually called the dealership five times, only staying on the line when she was assured of being put through to the womans voicemail.
The Christmas season was a busy time for the dealership. Anna and George worked hard to clear the lot of excess inventory before the taxman counted cars on December 31st. To help with their goal, Premier Motors had a contest each year, awarding the top seller for the month a Hawaiian vacation. Brad and Anna were clearing almost 15 cars a day.
It was never Lilys nature to seek consolation for disappointment of any kind. Rather, she tended to withdraw, by keeping her mind occupied with work, and her body with challenge and pain. The week after Thanksgiving, the attorney went to the weight room every night when she returned to her apartment complex, completing three reps at 80 percent of her max until her muscles burned.
The following weekend, she sought solace hiking deep into the San Gabriel Mountains, more than 17 miles on Saturday to the top of Mt. Disappointment. How appropriate. She followed that with a 12-mile climb to the observatory at Mt. Wilson on the following day. Though she carried her cell phone for work emergencies, Lily avoided calls from Anna, and from Sandy and Suzanne.
The attorney reached for the phone on her desk, but stopped short when she recognized the caller. "I need a better plan," she muttered, letting the call go to voicemail. It was after six on Thursday evening, and she was alone in the office. Lily had practiced in her head a hundred times the conversation she would have with Anna, if only the tall woman would read her part.
"Ive really had a lot of fun these last few months, but Im neglecting my work."
Anna would say "I know how important your job is to you. Youre one of the most conscientious people Ive ever met."
"I wish I had more time to do things with my friends, but my clients really need more of my attention."
Anna would say "I understand. Maybe we can get together sometime when you get caught up with your work."
"Id really like that. Thanks for being so understanding."
It was a silly scenario, and about as likely as Cher having drinks with the Pope. The hardest part would be facing the woman in the first place. Lily knew in her rational mind that Anna had done nothing wrong. She had no legitimate reason to feel angry or betrayed. How on earth could she explain her withdrawal in a way that was even remotely credible without spilling her secret?
The phone rang again, this time announcing a local pay phone. It wasnt unusual for the clinics clients to call from a pay phone, so the attorney quickly picked it up.
"Lilian Stuart," she announced.
"Should I be hurt that the calls from my cell phone are getting bounced?"
The blonde froze in her chair as her stomach did "that thing" again, fluttering, then sinking. "I just walked in," she lied. "Have you been calling?"
Anna let it slide. Her friends voice sounded cool and strained. "Yeah, just a few minutes ago." And about a hundred other times this week. "You must be awfully busy. How are you holding up?"
Lily was genuinely touched at her friends concern. Anna didnt deserve the cold shoulder she was getting. "Ill manage, thanks. My clients have a hard time around the holidays, and we all usually have too much to do." She relaxed in her chair, beginning to enjoy the exchange. She had really missed this.
"Why are the holidays so hard? I would think it would be a happy time." The car dealer wanted her friend to open up.
"Well, its kind of stressful for people who dont have money. The kids act out because theyre jonesing for things they cant have. Everybody argues. The stress level goes up, and eventually, somebody starts hitting."
"I guess that makes your job pretty hard. I hope youre taking care of yourself." Anna couldnt put her finger on what it was, but she knew something was amiss. The only thing she knew to do was comfort and support her friend. "Would you want to get together for dinner? It sounds like you could use a break."
You are so fucking irresistible. Lily had to buy some more time. She couldnt see Anna in this weakened state. "Sure, but not tonight. Ive got tons of stuff to do. Maybe next week Wednesday?" That was almost a week to strengthen her resolve.
The week passed all too quickly for the anxious blonde. She and Anna had arranged to meet at the Starfish, a casual seafood restaurant in Marina del Rey. Lily had suggested including Hal and Kim to deflect the conversation from her own withdrawn behavior, but her tall friend was having none of that. The lawyer arrived ten minutes late to find Anna already seated by the window overlooking the marina. She looks tired.
The site of the attorney walking toward her table brought an immediate smile to Annas face. She looks tired. "Its good to see you finally! Youre working yourself to death."
"Im fine. But Ive been neglecting my work a bit over the past few months. Its time to get caught up." This is the part where youre supposed to say how conscientious I am and how you understand my need to work.
"Look, youre one of most dedicated people I know. But youre going to have to find a balance. It cant be good for you to work so hard."
That wasnt your line! "Look, what I do is important. If you slack up at work, thats a few thousand dollars less in your pocket at the end of the month. If I do, women get slapped around, and kids get molested by their mothers boyfriends. Thats why I work my ass off!" She wanted the words back. She hadnt meant for that to come out so forcefully, and the part about the money in Annas pocket had never before been a conscious thought in Lilys mind. Now, there was a look of hurt in those beautiful blue eyes, and she had put it there.
Anna was pure class. She gathered herself and went on, "I know that what I do doesnt hold a candle to your work. It shames me sometimes to think about it. Youre a real hero to me."
If the earth had opened again and swallowed the humbled blonde, it would have been a fitting ending to the moment. With misty eyes, she reached her hand across the table and covered that of her dignified friend. "Im sorry. I didnt mean to Thats the nicest thing anyones ever said to me."
The rest of dinner was an awkward affair, the conversation stilted and superficial. Lily insisted on paying the check this time, and the pair parted with no plans to see each other again.
On December 21st, a florist delivered to the clinic a gorgeous basket of wildflowers in a Christmas arrangement.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday. Please give my best to Eleanor.
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