By KG MacGregor
"Thats great news, Colleen! Congratulations!" Tonys new wife had gotten word last week that she had passed the bar exam. Lily remembered the excitement she had felt when she was admitted to the bar almost seven years ago.
"Well, wish me luck. I applied at the PDs office." The public defender had a backlog of applicants, but a high turnover rate. Public service was difficult work, and often unappreciated.
"By the way, thanks a million for taking care of all these cases for me. It was a real comfort not to have to worry about it while I was gone." Lily was relieved to find that Colleen had managed her casework, while Tony and Lauren had covered her court appearances. As a result, she could ease back into the grind, rather than having to hit the ground running.
"Im really glad I could help. You know, Tony thought the world of your mom. I really wish I could have known her."
"Thanks, Colleen. She was special."
"Lily, you have a delivery!" Pauline called down the narrow hallway.
"Great! Everybody in the conference room, now!" Tony, Colleen, Lauren and Pauline obediently made their way to the meeting room, curious about the aromatic box at the front door. Lily paid the young man and carried the box down the hall, unloading its contents in the center of the table. "Lets see, we have double cheeseburgers for the carnivores, a veggie burger for Pauline, French fries, onion rings, cokes, diet cokes and three flavors of milk shakes."
"How wonderfully decadent!" Lauren was salivating.
"I wanted to show you guys how much youve meant to me these last couple of weeks." Lilys voice cracked slightly. "I couldnt work with a better bunch of people."
"Well its mutual," Lauren proclaimed. "Now pass the food!"
Lily laughed at her friends deflection. She really loved these people. "I was going to order something special, like lobster or stone crab, but I thought What the hell? Get em something they really like. So now that its here, you have to eat it to be polite. That should alleviate your guilt."
An hour later, Lily plopped uncomfortably into her beloved Aeron chair. She had eaten more for lunch than her five previous meals combined. If she didnt throw up, it would be a miracle.
The attorney had spent the morning bringing herself up to speed on the status of eight cases whose proceedings were already underway. Pauline had updated her calendar to include court appearances tomorrow morning, and again on Thursday afternoon. Two new case files sat in her inbox, one involving a divorce, the other dealing with a child endangerment defendant. Lily hated the latter, but the right to competent legal representation was fundamental to the justice system. Besides, shed rather be in the middle of it so that she could advise her client than in a position where she couldnt do anything at all to help the child victims.
The clock on the wall said a quarter after two, far too early to consider packing it in for the day. Lily was distracted. She craved her solitude, no longer used to being around others for such an extended period of time. She wondered what Chester was doing on his first day alone in a new house.
The telephone interrupted her thoughts, its digital display announcing a call from Premier Motors. "If this is about my car payment, Im going to send the payoff in later this week."
The car dealer chuckled at the greeting. "Hi, darling. Hows your day?"
Lily loved it when Anna called her darling. "Its going fine. Its all still I dont know surreal. It just washes over me every now and then, and I have to pull myself together."
Annas heart went out to the little blonde, putting up a brave front as she grieved so. "How about we both slip out early and Ill take you to dinner somewhere nice?"
The attorneys stomach churned. "I just ate enough cholesterol to seal the Lincoln Tunnel. I cant possibly think about food right now."
That was good news, Anna thought. Lily hadnt been eating much lately. She amended her offer. "So how about we both slip out early and take a walk on the beach?"
Thats so sweet! Lily fought to stop the tears from spilling out. "Thatd be great, Amazon."
Two hours later, Anna, Lily and a very happy basset hound were romping in the sand at Will Rogers State Beach in Malibu. The blonde stood lookout for the ranger while her lover unclipped Chesters leash for a game of fetch the chewy. It was easily the most fun theyd had in weeks.
Eventually, Chester tired of that game and the tall woman hooked the 30-foot leash to his red leather collar. The hound continued his amusing antics, chasing the receding waves, then running like mad when they rushed ashore.
"This was a good idea," Lily said, hooking her arm through that of her lover as they walked along the shore. The mid-June sun was still relatively high, but at 5:30, the heat of the day was past, giving way to a cool wind blowing in from the sea.
"Its good to have you back home, sweetheart," Anna said tenderly. "I couldnt stop thinking about you all day, just sitting in your office not 10 miles away."
"Well, I like playing hooky. We should do this more often."
Anna hoped their afternoon together would cushion the blow of what she was about to say. "We should do it every chance we get, I think. But there may not be many more chances for awhile, at least not for me." Lily didnt respond, so she continued. "With the Sweeney acquisition sewn up, weve started negotiations for the two dealerships in Palm Springs. Im probably going to have to go down there tomorrow afternoon, maybe stay for a couple of days."
Lily had known this was part of Annas business plan for Premier Motors, but she wished it wasnt all happening now. "I dont suppose theres any way you could put this off for a couple of weeks, is there?"
"I wish. But now that weve tipped our hand, any delay could get us into a bidding war with somebody else, and we wont be able to go much higher."
"Itll be alright. Ive got a couple of appearances in court this week and preliminary motions on the docket for Monday. I wont have any time for you anyway, Miss Wheeler-Dealer." she said haughtily. "Hey, thats actually pretty funny. Youre a wheeler-dealer. Get it?"
The car dealer groaned and rolled her eyes dramatically. A change of subject was in order. "Oh, I meant to tell you. I collected your mail. Its on your desk, but I pulled out everything that looked like a bill and paid it so you wouldnt get late charges."
"Well, arent you handy to have around?"
"You just love me for my money," Anna pouted.
"Ive got money now, Amazon! I just love you for your body!"
The saga of Maria and Miguel Esperanza was never-ending. Over the past three years, the Braxton Street Clinic had handled two restraining orders, a divorce, and six different custody hearings for the couples children, Sophia and Roberto. Todays motion was a request to return the children from their aunt Serena to their mother, as she and Miguel were making plans to remarry. As she watched the once again happy couple leave the courtroom, Lily couldnt help but think that the reconciliation would only start the destructive cycle again.
"Lily!" The attorney stopped as she heard her name.
"Go ahead, Ill get the next one," she said to the man holding the elevator doors. "Sandy! Hi!"
"I wasnt sure you were back."
"Yeah, I got back on Sunday. Sorry I didnt call."
"Thats okay. I know youve been busy."
"Just trying to get caught up and back into the swing of things." That and I got really mellow last night on a $9 bottle of cabernet. "You know, I really appreciated you and Suzanne coming up for the funeral. I cant tell you how much it meant to have my friends there."
"We were glad to come, Lily." She placed her arm on her friends shoulder, wanting badly to ask how she was doing, but knowing that Lily would probably lie. "Say, would you and Anna like to come out for dinner? Ive got to stop at the store and get some fish to grill. Its just as easy to get four fillets as it is to get two."
"Thanks, but Annas down in Palm Springs on business, and I still have some work to catch up on." Lily loved her friends, but she didnt really want to be with anyone right now. Except Anna, of course. "Thanks for the invitation, though. How about a rain check?"
"Youve got it." Sandy could sense that her friend was still hurting, so letting her set the pace for social activities was important. "Call me if you need anything, okay?"
"Of course." As an afterthought, Lily added, "And youll call me if you need anything too, alright?"
Sandy smiled and nodded. That was how Lily would get back into things, by coming out of herself to help someone else.
Chester heard the car door first and lumbered to his feet, padding eagerly down the stairs to welcome the new arrival. Maybe it was the woman with the black hair!
Lily heard the back door open, and threw the covers back on the bed. Annas two days in Palm Springs had turned to four, but she was finally home, just in time to enjoy the weekend. Excitedly, the blonde headed for the commotion that always ensued when Anna greeted Chester. "You better save some of that for me."
Anna jumped up from the floor and grabbed the smaller woman, whipping her around and pulling her back into the strong arms. Now secured in a one-armed hold, Anna used her free hand to playfully scratch Lilys stomach. "Is this what you want?"
Lily screamed and tried to wriggle free. "Stop it!" she pleaded.
Instead, the scratching turned to merciless tickling, and the blonde dissolved into a heap on the floor. Chester always interpreted humans sitting on the floor as an invitation for his kisses, so he happily complied. Lily dragged Anna down by her shirttail, which was more than the frenzied Chesters poor bladder could stand. What might have been a simple hello was now all-out mayhem.
"Ewwww! Look what your dog did!" Lily shrieked.
"Hes your dog right now!" Chester knew he was the object of their disgust and he sulked away, obviously ashamed of his loss of control.
"Look, youve hurt his feelings."
"He peed in my lap!"
"Im upset!" Despite her hysterics, she couldnt keep a straight face. "Oh, alright! Come here, Chester. Its okay boy." The hound put on his best pitiful look and ambled back to the blonde womans lap. That got him a scratch behind the ears; he was obviously forgiven.
"Ill clean this up. You need a shower. Ewww!" Anna made a face and extricated her long limbs from the pile on the floor.
To her delight, Lily was joined in the walk-in shower by her sexy lover. Anna was usually all business in the shower, but once in a while she would linger as they soaped one another intimately. Tonight, though, was not one of those times, and Anna stepped out after only a couple of minutes. Lily finished up, and then hastily dried her hair so she wouldnt get her pillow wet. Finally reaching the bed, she found her lover sound asleep.
"You cant be serious! Youve been gone all week." Anna was rushing around to get ready for work.
"Thats the problem, sweetheart. Ive been gone all week. I need to go check on things at Sweeney today, and tomorrow, Ill probably have to be in my office at Premier all day."
Lily was trying desperately not to throw an absolute hissy fit. It had been a very long week alone in the big house. Her only salvation had been going to her office every day. Now it was Saturday, and Anna was leaving her alone again.
"Why dont you go hiking today like you usually do?" That was possibly the worst thing Anna could have said.
"You mean like I did with Mom the last time she was here?" Anna really hadnt deserved the biting response, but Lily was hurt and wanted to hurt back.
"Oh sweetheart, I ." Anna tried to think of something she could say to fix things, but there was no use talking to a retreating back. The car dealer picked up her purse and keys and walked through the family room. Chester sat mournfully at the closed office door. Anna started to open the door, but changed her mind and knocked. She would rather not know if her lover had locked the door. "Honey, Im sorry."
Slowly the door opened to reveal a somber blonde. "PMS?"
Anna reached out and hugged the smaller woman. "You want to come with me today and watch me kick some ass?"
That was a pretty tempting offer. Lily had never seen her lover "kick ass" before, but if she handled problem personnel the same way she handled jerks like Steve French, that would be a sight to see. "No, Im just being a baby."
"But youre my baby," Anna assured.
"Go on, sweetheart. Get your work done so you can hurry back home."
Anna kissed the top of the blonde head and pulled away. "Chester, be a good boy. No peeing on your mother." And she was off.
"I dont care who she is. Ive been working here 14 years and I dont need her telling me how to do my job!" Tommy Russell was the sales manager at Sweeney Volkswagen, a chain-smoking 51-year-old with a quick temper, a heart attack waiting to happen. Given his dedicated service to the Sweeney family, Tommy was understandably angry at being left out of the loop when the dealership changed hands.
"I hear shes done a pretty good job over at Premier," offered Ben Dunlap, the fleet manager. "Im sort of looking forward to the change. Weve only hit quotas once in the last two years." A little dig at the sales manager.
"That was her old man that kept everything running over there," Tommy argued. "Shes nothing more than a pretty face."
"Wow, you werent kidding about the pretty face!" Salesman Terry Smythe stood up and watched the dark-haired beauty unfold from the BMW roadster. "And pretty lots of other things!"
Three pairs of eyes followed the tall woman in the black pantsuit through the double doors, up the stairs and into the administrative offices. Moments later, the knell sounded. "Tommy Russell, please report to the conference room. Tommy Russell, report to the conference room."
Tommy lit a cigarette and strolled casually to the door. "Anybody want a coke?"
"You better get up there, Tommy. You dont want to get off on the wrong foot," Dunlap urged.
"I not worried about it. She needs me a hell of a lot more than I need her," Tommy said smugly. "I can get a job at any dealership in town."
Thirty minutes later, the sales manager walked into the conference room, taking a seat on the opposite end of the long table.
"Mr. Russell, glad you could make it," she began. It looked to Anna as though Tommy Russell was going to be a pain in the ass. "I have a number of charts Id like to go over with you this morning. Would you mind moving up to this end of the table, or would you have me bring all this down there?" She kept her tone light, but her temper was on hair-trigger at the moment.
Grudgingly, the sales manager moved down the table to take the seat to her right. Anna was overwhelmed by the stench of stale cigarette smoke that seemed to radiate from his pores.
"Mr. Russell, Ill get right to the point. One of the reasons I wanted to buy this dealership is because I believed I could improve the sales performance and the service revenues. Your sales staff has been missing quotas for much of the last two years. New car sales have fallen 31 percent since 1997. Used car sales are off too, probably because you dont bring as many cars in on trade when you miss your quotas."
Through the picture window, Anna and Tommy watched as a boom truck began disassembling the tacky yellow and green Sweeney Volkswagen marker. A nearby truck held the new beacon, a dignified black and white sign touting this dealership as Premier Volkswagen.
Tommy squirmed in his chair. "We havent had much support. A couple of years ago, Mr. Sweeney pulled all his advertising budget out of the paper and started putting it into cable TV. The only people that come in here are the folks that find us by accident, or the freaks who watch those weird infomercials at three oclock in the morning."
"An astute observation, Mr. Russell." Anna was indeed impressed that Tommy Russell had connected those particular dots, but she knew he didnt have the whole picture. "Im going to spend some money here to sell Volkswagens. I can increase the traffic on this lot, but Ill expect to see a sizable increase in closings, and in used car activity."
"You get em here, well sell em cars," he bragged.
Anna wasnt convinced. "I have a small problem, Mr. Russell. Your closing rate is much lower than the industry average, unusually low for cars of this caliber. Your sales staff is writing 15 contracts a week that dont close. Thats something Ill expect you to fix. I can send you for training, or I can get a trainer to come in here and pump up the whole staff. But Im going to expect results, and pretty quickly."
"We dont need a trainer! Just get the traffic. The guys are chomping at the bit to have people walking onto the lot."
"Why dont we come back to that issue in a moment? Youve just brought up another point I wanted to talk about. Ive noticed that there is not one single female on your sales staff, nor have I seen one single person of color. Id like to see that change immediately. I want the next eight hires to be women or ethnic minorities, and well discuss the distribution again after theyve been here a while."
Tommy was flustered. "I wouldnt mind hiring a woman if I had one show up who knew the first thing about cars. All due respect, our customers would rather deal with men. They trust men more."
"Well, were going to try to broaden the customer base, so maybe well find a few out there who arent so narrow minded." Her implication was unmistakable. "You know, three of the top five sellers at Premier last year were women. Im sure once we get a little diversity in the sales staff well see the numbers go up."
Tommy was grinding his teeth. "So which one of us is going to be in charge of hiring the sales staff? Thats always been a part of my job." He reached into his pocket for a cigarette.
"Dont light that," she directed. "Hiring of the sales staff will still be your responsibility. But Ill expect you to do it according to my guidelines. In fact, Mr. Russell, Im going to expect everything at Premier Volkswagen to be done according to my guidelines."
"Is there more?" Tommy couldnt wait to get out of this room and tell his staff what a bitch they were now working for.
"Yes, theres much more, but I want to make sure I get the chance to talk with all of the senior staff today, so we can schedule another time next week to go over my specific guidelines. But there is one more thing Id like to take care of this morning." She looked at her watch. "Effective at 9:32 a.m. today, there is to be no smoking anywhere on the property by any of the staff."
"You cant be serious! Not even outside?"
"No, not even outside. Its my prerogative as owner, and Im exercising it. I dont want our staff and customers exposed to second-hand smoke. Furthermore, the sales staff who smoke will no longer be allowed to get inside the cars for any reason. Not for a test drive, not to show the features, not even to wipe the dashboard. One of the best features of a new car, Mr. Russell, is the way it smells, and I want to leverage that asset."
Tommy spun out the door. He was sorely tempted to light a cigarette right outside the door, but something about the womans warning tone stopped him. As he stormed down the stairs, the knell sounded again. "Ben Dunlap, please report to the conference room. Bill Dunlap, report to the conference room."
After closing at the end of the day, Anna called a general meeting of all available staff. She had managed to meet most of them, and assured them she would soon learn all their names. Tommy Russell failed to show. "Mr. Dunlap, would you please find Mr. Russell and let him know that his presence at this meeting is mandatory. Hed be well served not to test my patience." She liked Ben Dunlap, and was already seeing an expanded role for the team player.
Moments later, Ben returned to take a position near his new boss. Tommy strolled in nonchalantly and leaned against the wall at the back of the room. "Brown noser," he muttered.
"Thank you all for coming. Im not going to keep you long. I know youre all eager to get home to your families. I want to thank those of you who welcomed me today, and assure you that Im really glad to be here. As I told many of you today, youre going to see some changes here over the next few months as we complete the transition of ownership. Im excited about our opportunities, and Im confident that if we can work together as a team, well all share in the rewards." Applause broke out at that overture. It had been two years since anyone got a raise.
"At this time, Id like to meet briefly with all of the senior staff in the conference room. Goodnight to the rest of you, and Ill see you next week."
Anna followed the senior staff up to the conference room and closed the door. "Gentlemen, today was a good day for me. Today, I saw just how much potential there is for this dealership. However, the reason for that potential, Im afraid, is your current poor performance." She paused and made eye contact with each of the men around the table, with the exception of Tommy Russell, who had found something very interesting under the table. "I want each of you to understand that I am not dependent upon you to make this company successful. I am dependent on the competency of a sales manager, a fleet manager, a service manager and a finance manager, but who actually holds those positions is irrelevant to me. I will work with each of you as necessary to turn this dealership around, but I expect nothing short of your complete cooperation."
Tommy couldnt stand it any longer. "Look, I dont care if you do own the place. Threatening us with our jobs isnt exactly a brilliant motivating technique. If I did that with my staff, half of them would quit."
Anna looked coolly at Tommy, sweating him just a moment for effect. "Mr. Russell, let me tell you a little bit about management theory. I do own the place, and it is therefore not necessary for me to prove my abilities to you or to justify my means. Youre the one in the grace period right now. If you believe yourself to be incapable of working as a productive part of this management team, Ive already got two strong candidates on my other lot."
Tommy would not be humiliated by this bitch! He had some money saved, and now seemed like a pretty good time to sign on with his friend at that dealership in Palm Springs. Those guys didnt have hiring quotas for "people of color," he thought cynically. "Then you should call one of them." He lit a cigarette and calmly walked from the room.
Driving down Wilshire Boulevard, Anna was at a crossroads literally. A right at the next light would take to her to Premier BMW, a left would take her home. Shed been away from her desk for five days, and judging from the backlog of paperwork shed found upon returning from Eleanors funeral, she knew the mountain awaiting her attention would be high. It was almost nine oclock. Perhaps if she just stopped in to review her inbox, that would help her organize her Sunday.
Nah! Lily was a whole hell of a lot more tempting than a pile of paperwork. Ten minutes later, she was pulling into the driveway of the quiet house. A light at the side door guided her into the family room, where Chester greeted her enthusiastically. "Honey?" There was no response as Anna continued to play with the dog. "Lily?" she called, louder this time. Anna walked through the downstairs, finally spotting the unlocked patio door off the kitchen. With the light on inside, she couldnt make out where lover was.
Grabbing a bottle of water from the refrigerator, Anna walked out onto the patio. The underwater lights illuminated the perimeter of the pool, and she finally spotted Lily in a chaise lounge at the far end. "Hi babe. Everything okay?" Approaching the chair, she warily eyed the contents of the adjacent table: an ice bucket, a bowl of cut-up limes and a bottle of Grey Goose vodka, the latter of which was more than half empty. Lily was wrapped in a blanket, holding a glass in her lap.
"Anna. How nice of you to drop by." Despite her sarcastic words, her tone was low and flat.
The car dealer knew she would have to play this one carefully. It was not about Lily drinking; it was about her being gone all week. "Im sorry, hon." She made an uncharacteristic decision on the spot. "I stayed a little later tonight so I wouldnt have to go in tomorrow." Shed have to go in at the crack of dawn on Monday, and probably bring work home for two or three days, but Anna knew that Lily needed her more than the dealership did.
"So youre not going in tomorrow?" Then how am I going to make you feel guilty? "Itd be nice to have you home for a change." That last part was slipped in to make her point.
Anna sat down on the chaise and took her lovers icy hand. From this new vantage point, she could see that the woman was very drunk, her eyes closed and her chin dipping to her chest. "Have you eaten yet?"
Probably just as well. As it was, Lily was going to spend plenty of time hanging over the porcelain bowl. "Why dont we go upstairs then?" She stood and helped the woman slowly to her feet. Anna took the position closest to pool, thinking ahead to avoid that disaster.
Chester bounded about their feet as Anna walked Lily up the stairs. "Ill take you out in a minute, boy." He seemed to understand that, at least the O-U-T word, and ran back to the family room to wait. The dark-haired woman helped her lover undress and put her to bed, where she instantly passed out.
Anna was exhausted, but she needed to take care of several things before turning in. First on her list was a peanut butter sandwich, which she ate while walking the dog. "Eating dinner with you was a bad idea," she grumbled to Chester as she scooped up his business in the plastic bag. He was pleased, nonetheless, that the dark-haired woman thought enough of his accomplishment to collect it, and strutted all the way back to the big white house.
Next, Anna went out to the pool to gather up Lilys carnage, storing the vodka on a high shelf above the refrigerator. She was astonished to see two unopened bottles in the back. They never kept that much liquor in the house.
When she turned off the lights in the family room, Anna noticed a light under the door to the office. Lilys desk was disheveled, an obvious sign that shed been going through the stack of mail that had arrived while she was gone. As Anna reached across the desk to pull the chain on the green globed bankers light, a manila envelope caught her eye.
Photos. Please do not bend. Anna noted the return address. "I cant believe I missed this!" she whispered to herself. Underneath the envelope was a card, appropriately, Monets Water-Lily Pond. A photo fell out as Anna opened the card, the bright smiling faces of Lily and her mom in their hiking clothes. The younger woman was sitting up high on a rock, both arms around the shoulders of her mother, who stood in front. Anna realized instantly that the picture had been taken only four days before Eleanor died.
Just had these developed and I wanted to send you this one right away. Arent we a pair! I have the negative, so Ill have one made for myself too maybe even a larger one that I can frame for my Lily Wall.
I had such a good time this weekend! I cant tell you how it warms me to see you so happy. Anna is a wonderful person, definitely "worth it," if you remember our talk of long ago.
Take care, sweetie. I look forward to seeing you soon at home.
Anna tried desperately to juggle her schedule over the next week so that she could be at home in the evenings. That meant leaving the house each day by 6:30 a.m., and on occasion, bringing work home at night. But it was good that she could be home with Lily. They spent many nights in the family room, buried in their respective work, but close enough to touch and trade occasional kisses. Anna felt like their ship had righted again.
Still, they hadnt made love since the day they went to the beach, their only time since Eleanor died over a month ago. Lilys kisses were loving, but she turned away from Anna on her side soon after they went to bed. Anna couldnt help but think that her lover harbored some resentment over her long hours. She was determined that Premier Motors would not come between them.
"This is Lilian Stuart." Lily had forwarded her calls to the conference room, where shed spread out index cards outlining the prosecutors case against her client.
"Two down, one to go!" Anna announced triumphantly.
"You made yourself watch Attack of the Clones!" Lily deadpanned.
"Never! I just got word from BMW of Palm Springs. Theyve accepted our offer. All were waiting for now is to hear from Potter VW, and our little empire is complete."
"Congratulations, doll. Its all coming together, just like you planned." The attorney truly admired her partners business savvy. "When do you think youll hear from Potter?"
"Hal thinks well hear later today, or first thing tomorrow. Once they get wind that BMW accepted, theyre going to worry that well pull our offer."
"I might have to take you out to dinner, Amazon. This calls for a celebration." Getting into Empyres on a Friday night could be difficult, unless your name was Kaklis.
"Ive got a better idea. How would you like to drive down to Palm Springs with me tonight? I want to be there when they make the announcement to their staff tomorrow so I can talk to them." Anna thought if Lily saw things firsthand, it might be easier to understand the need for all those extra hours. "I really need to win their support, or Ill have to replace people, and that would mean having to spend a lot time down there, which I dont want to do."
"Nor do I want you to," Lily groaned. "If I go, what will I do while youre at work?"
"You can come with me. You know, lurk in the back and make faces at me while Im trying to be a bad-ass. Then well go have some fun. Joshua Tree isnt far. Have you ever been there?"
Lily was quiet for a moment. "Yeah, Mom and I went there a few years ago but Id love to go see it with you. Its beautiful."
Lilys response reminded Anna that her lovers hurt was still very fresh. "Ill meet you at home, then. How soon can you get there?"
"Oooo, are we playing hooky again?"
"One hour. What about Chester?"
"Ill ask somebody here to look after him. Maybe Holly." In the past few weeks, Chester stories had taken the place of Jonah stories at the staff meetings. In response, several had encouraged her to bring the dog to work sometime. Surely Holly would look after him while they were gone.
Anna got the call on her car phone as they passed Riverside en route to the desert resort. "Woo-hoo!" they shouted. The car dealer was three for three.
After sleeping in on Saturday, the pair headed over to the BMW dealership after lunch. Lily was amazed as she watched her lover take charge of the full staff meeting in the showroom. The woman simply oozed confidence and authority. Lily would add this to her inventory of her multi-faceted lover.
There was the family Anna, with the happy girl-next-door persona. This Anna would do anything for her family members, or for the families of her close friends and coworkers. She was there for all of them, especially her sister, and she paraded Jonah around as though he were her own. Lily smiled as she recognized that it was the family girl in Anna who loved Chester so much.
Then there was the grease monkey, the one who donned the grimy jumpsuit to get her hands dirty under the hood of a classic car. Lily found this Anna totally irresistible. It wasnt just the stark contrast from the runway model chic that most people got to see. It was more that the grease monkey symbolized Annas fascination with all things mechanical. She loved knowing how things worked, and couldnt care less about the mess she made of herself. She had no idea she was so sexy!
Next, there was Anna the friend, one of the nicest, warmest people youd ever want to meet. It was this Anna that Lily had fallen in love with. The friend had gone for help when they were trapped underground, and returned at her own peril. The friend had helped out at Kidz Kamp, and spotted her a hell of a deal on a new X-5 when her resources were tight. It was also the friend who had been a constant source of strength throughout the ordeal of saying goodbye to her mother.
Ah, and there was the lover. Oh boy, was there ever the lover! Annas touch was as magical as her own response. Never could Lily have imagined connecting so deeply with another person.
And now, Lily was getting her first real glimpse of Anna the executive, a woman with vision and drive, and the know-how to reach her goal. No doubt it was these qualities that had first attracted Scott Rutherford, the business professor at Southern Cal. Lily too found the CEO Anna quite seductive, realizing with great satisfaction that half of the people Anna met in her workmen and women alikeprobably found themselves attracted to her. But shes mine. The private celebration they had shared in their hotel room last night assured her of that.
"Im very excited about this new opportunity here in Palm Springs. Over the next few weeks, youll see some unfamiliar faces in here, going over the books and procedures, meeting with people, generally being disruptive and annoying." Most of the people chuckled, but a few were skeptical. "Please forgive them, and get to know them if you can. Theyre all really good people and Ive asked them to get all of the Premier dealerships in sync." No one knew as yet that Premier was also acquiring the business next door. "Well probably make a few changes, but given your success, were just as likely to adopt some of your practices for the dealerships in LA."
Anna tried to make eye contact with as many people as possible as she worked the crowd. When her eyes met those of her lover, at the side of the room leaning against a sporty Z4, she was startled by a tingling that turned quickly to a blush. Lilys look clearly said love, admiration and lust? Looking away quickly to shake the welcome but distracting image, she continued. "Finally, I want everyone to know that at this time, I have no plans to make any personnel changes. Your positions and salaries will not be impacted, and with more employees now in our workforce, we expect to negotiate a better benefits package for all of you. Your work has brought about this companys success, and I sincerely hope that each of you will plan to stay on under new management. Thank you very much. I hope to meet each of you personally before I leave today. Right now, Id like to see the senior staff in the conference room."
Lily gave her lover a wink and slipped out the side door. Shed decided to tour The Living Desert, a nearby nature attraction, while Anna finished up. At 7:00 p.m., the CEO walked next door to Potter VW for a repeat performance.
"Oh, shit," Tommy Russell thought as he realized what todays staff meeting was about. Last Monday, hed called his friend John Turgeon, the sales manager at Potter, saying that he needed a change. Hed been on the staff at Potter for two days when Anna Kaklis showed up to make his life miserable. Like 114 degrees wasnt miserable enough.
When Sunday morning came, the two women headed to the national park at Joshua Tree, stopping to see the Barker Dam, and hiking more than three miles to visit the oases. It was certainly beautiful, but difficult to enjoy in the overbearing heat, so they vowed to return sometime in the cooler months. Both women had enjoyed the rare opportunity to spend time together doing something completely different from their daily grind.
Settling into the sports car for the ride back to LA, they fell into a comfortable, quiet calm. Anna felt reconnected to her lover, even closer these days after sharing Lilys loss. These were the hard times Carolyn had spoken of, and she was grateful that she and Lily had been able to talk throughout the ordeal. More than ever, she wanted Lily to know that she would always be there. Things were going to be very busy for the next couple of months, but she needed to look for another opportunity to make the Maui trip.
Lily too felt closer to Anna. It had been a good decision to go with her to Palm Springs to see how important this was to her lovers sense of accomplishment. Anna was definitely in her element as a CEO, and Lily had to confess, the womans commanding nature was one of the things that had attracted her in the first place. Seeing how well things had gone in Palm Springs, she was hopeful that things were getting back on track for them.
"We find the defendant not guilty, your honor."
"Mr. Foreman, in accordance with California law, was the verdict unanimous?"
"Yes, it was, your honor."
Lily had performed her job nicely, getting her client acquitted of charges of reckless endangerment of a child. She felt like shit. She had demonstrated to the jury probable doubt that Mr. Thuy was aware that his children had access to his gun. The family had narrowly avoided a tragedy when their four-year-old son fired the gun into their mattress as he rushed to place it back under the bed. She wanted to take Mr. Thuy down to the morgue, where on any given day, he could see firsthand the damage a gun could do. Then perhaps hed trouble himself to get a gun lock, or better still, get rid of the goddamned thing! Lily hated guns.
The attorney spoke briefly with the prosecutor, accepting his congratulations and assuring him that she had already taken steps to educate Mr. Thuy on gun safety and children. Both were hopeful theyd seen the last of the careless father.
Lily trudged back to her office and closed the door. She hated criminal trials, but Tony had assigned her this one when he and Lauren were covered up. They were both behind in their own work, having split her workload while she was gone. With the trial over quickly, she could get back into the divorces, adoption filings and custody hearings that comprised the majority of her cases.
There was a light knock, and her door was opened a crack. "Lily, you got a minute?"
Lily looked up to see Tony in her doorway. "Of course. Anytime." She gestured to a chair across from her desk.
Tony stepped into her office and closed the door. Taking a seat, he began, "So how are you doing, my friend?" Lily was still hurting, he could see.
"Its hard sometimes, Tony." Lily turned and picked up the newly framed picture from Strawberry Peak. "I still miss her. I guess I always will." She couldnt stop the misty eyes, but she held the tears in check.
"Im sorry, Lily. If we can help you with anything, youll let us know?"
Lily nodded. After a few quiet moments, she asked, "Is there something else, Tony?"
The lawyer shifted his feet from back to front and leaned forward in the chair. This was going to be difficult. "I wanted to talk to you about your workload. I was wondering if maybe weve pushed you back into things too quickly."
"I dont think so. Is there a problem with my work?" she asked testily.
"Ive gotten a couple of calls, Lily. Marty Huffstetlers father said you missed his arraignment. Silvia Flores said you were ill-prepared for her preliminary custody hearing, and she was worried it was going to cost her the kids." He looked across the desk at the blonde attorney, but she wouldnt meet his eye. "Its not like you, Lily."
"It was the Thuy trial, Tony, which by the way, ended this afternoon with an acquittal. You know how I hate criminal stuff. It just takes me longer to slog through it all."
Tony wanted to give his friend the benefit of the doubt. "Okay, Lil. If you need any help, youve got to let me know. Colleen still hasnt heard anything from the PDs office, so shes available to help."
Lily bit her tongue. So you want Colleen to have my job, is that it? "If I need any help, Tony, Ill be sure to ask," she said crisply.
Tony returned to his office, leaving Lily to stew.
Not quite four oclock on a Friday afternoon. Quitting time.
Anna had run into trouble with the senior staff at Premier VW of LA. Three weeks after the takeover, only Ben Dunlap remained, the service and finance managers summarily dismissed for failing to follow Annas new guidelines. She had replaced Tommy Russell with Marco Gonzalez, a 31-year-old dynamo who loved Volkswagens. She desperately needed Hals help with the books, but was reluctant to add to his workload, especially since he was already spending two days a week in Palm Springs. So here she was on a Friday night, pouring over printouts in the conference room, trying to reconcile the inventory with the revenue.
Realizing she wouldnt make it home for dinner, Anna called Lily with a plan. "Hey darling! How was your day?"
"Well, I won my case, but all things being equal, Id rather have seen my client do a little jail time," she said cynically.
"So, its too bad youre so good at what you do."
Hows that for irony? Lily had already decided that she was not going to tell Anna of her conversation with Tony. No sense in calling attention to your fuckups.
"Listen, babe. Im going to be stuck here at the VW place for awhile. I was wondering if maybe youd maybe pretty please pick up a pizza and come by." She listened hopefully for her partners response.
Dont be stubborn. Its better than being at home alone. "Hmm Will I get a tip?"
"Veggie okay?" Lily drained her glass and stretched to put the vodka bottle back on the top shelf.
An hour later, Anna saw the X-5 pull onto the lot, slipping into the space beside her own Z8. To her delight, Lily first removed the happy hound from his crate, then a large pizza box. Anna met her lover at the side door, taking the leash and the pizza box as Lily returned to the car for their drinks. Once they were all inside, Anna threw the deadbolt to lock them in.
All alone in the darkened showroom, Anna quickly stole a kiss. As their lips met, she was immediately aware of the overpowering taste and smell of alcohol, and of the breath mints her lover had obviously used to cover it up. This realization that Lily had been drinking set off a few alarms. First and foremost was Annas worry that something had happened again to trigger her lovers depression about losing her mother. She was also very concerned that Lily had driven herself to the dealership when she likely had no business driving, but she wouldnt bring that up unless she was certain. The last thing on earth she wanted was a fight, acutely aware that her long hours would somehow play into their argument.
As the women ate and played with the dog, Anna watched for any of the telltale signs that her lover was drunk. Lily seemed to be in complete control, but the smell of alcohol was really pronounced on her breath, even as she masked it with the pizza and coke. There was no way around the awkward exchange.
"You know, I dont feel like working anymore tonight. Why dont we head home?"
"Thats the spirit! Well race you home! Come on Chester!"
"Whoa! Why dont we ride home together? Would you bring me back in the morning?" Anna tried to sound casual.
"Thats silly. Why dont you just follow me?"
Anna sighed. "Lily, Im sure youre fine to drive, but I can smell the alcohol on your breath from all the way over here."
Lily bristled. "Yes, I had a drink this afternoon when I got home from work. No, I am not drunk."
"I know youre not. Its just that ."
"So if youre sure Im fine to drive, then whats the problem?"
"Sweetheart, anything could happen, and if it does youd be the one in trouble, so matter whose fault it was." Anna didnt want to plead, but she needed to make her point. "Its no big deal."
Her words were followed by a long awkward silence. Lily wore an angry look, her eyes dark and piercing. Finally, she tossed her keys onto the table and they noisily slid across. "Fine. Lets just go."
Lily grabbed Chesters leash and walked quickly to the side door while Anna tidied up their mess.
Anna kept up her casual demeanor at home that night, and especially when Lily accompanied her to the VW lot on Saturday morning, though her lover was cool and distant. Kim had called earlier, inviting Lily to join her on her walk today through Topanga Park. The car dealer had put the bug in her sisters ear last week that Lily seemed to be avoiding the trails that she had always loved, and hoped that walking with Kim and Jonah would ease her lover back into her weekend routine.
"Im sure youre getting really tired of this question, but how are you doing, Lily?"
Kim was right. Lily was tired of the question, but she had only briefly seen Kim once since the funeral, so it was fair. Lily lowered her sunglasses into place to cover any tears that might spring up and looked out across the hills. "Im doing okay, most of the time. Its hard sometimes though, like putting on these boots today. The last time I went out, it was with Mom."
"Im glad you came with me today. I know how much you like hiking. Youre welcome to join Jonah and me any weekend. The other ladies dont walk with me then, because their husbands have normal jobs." She sneered the word, knowing that Lily would understand.
"I hear you. I get to watch Anna come home in time to fall into bed exhausted, and shes going out the door again when I get up."
Kim was still having difficulty with Hals work schedule. "Thats exactly like Hal, and now hes gone one night a week to Palm Springs. How do you deal with it, Lily?"
I drink. I pout. I get whiney. "I dont always deal with it, Kim. Sometimes it gets to be frustrating and the next thing I know, were fighting about it." Lily wasnt altogether sure she should be confiding their problems to Annas sister, but it would be nice to hear from someone who at least understood what she was going through.
"Hal and I had a few fights at first. But you know, hes really happy with this new job and all the responsibility. And hes really pushing himself to do a good job for Anna."
"Anna says it will calm down soon. What do you think?"
"I think my sister will work herself to death to take the load off everybody else. I hope youre making her come home sometimes and relax a little."
"I This is important to her. I cant take it away from her. I catch myself making little comments every now and then to make her feel guilty about being gone so much, but I always apologize. I cant deny its there, though."
Kim understood. "Well, call me if you get lonely in that big old house. Jonah doesnt have a pool, you know."
These days, it seemed to Lily that she was lonely all the time. The loss of her mother had left her feeling like a family of one, especially with Anna working so much. She wasnt even sure that having her lover home in the evenings or on the weekends was the answer. She needed more from Anna than just her presence. She needed to know what Anna saw for their future. Otherwise, there would be no end to the misery she felt.
"Hey, baby. Did you and Kim have a good walk?" Anna found her lover in the kitchen, fresh from her shower. Lily looked adorable. As usual, she was barefooted, wearing one of Annas large gray polo shirts with the BMW emblem over long baggy shorts.
"It was nice. Im glad she called." Lily set aside the salad she had been tossing. "Come here, Amazon." She held her arms open.
What a beautiful sight! Anna walked into the smaller womans arms, surprised by the ferocity of the hug, which she returned with equal strength. "I love you, Lily." There was more going on here than a simple greeting.
"I love you back." That was all she wanted to say about her behavior last night and this morning. She hated having things between them, but dredging through the details would serve no purpose. She hoped Anna would let her leave it at that.
Walking with Kim today, Lily had reached a very difficult decision. Though she had vowed early in their relationship that she wouldnt repeat her past mistakes by pressing the issue again, it was time to ask Anna where she stood. More now than ever, Lily needed a constant in her life. The love she shared with Anna was strong and still growing, but Lily wanted a promise. She wanted to dream, to look ahead as she grew old, and to know that Anna would always be by her side.
Eleanor Stuart was the only person on earth who had ever made a promise to her, and that vow of love and commitment had always been her anchor. If Anna couldnt do this, Lily knew shed have to plant her own stake in the ground. Her heart knew that Anna Kaklis would be her last chance.
But this wasnt a good time. She certainly didnt want Anna having doubts just because shed been such a brat lately. They needed some time away from all the things that pulled at them, time just for one another.
"Sweetheart, whatever happened with the Maui thing? I mean, did we lose that or can we reschedule for another time?"
Great minds! If only she could find the time. "Ive still got the tickets. I think all wed have to do is call the travel agent and try to pick another time we could go." Anna was thrilled that Lily still wanted to go. She had worried that her lover would associate the trip with her mothers death, but apparently she hadnt. "What if we tried for Labor Day?"
That was more than six weeks away. Lily was certain she would be psychotic by then. "Any chance we could go before that? I could really use a getaway," she asked hopefully. "You know, weve never had a real vacation. What if we planned something for longer, like to Fiji?"
"Id love to, but I dont think I can commit to something like that right now."
Her choice of words was certainly ironic. "Well then Maui would be okay. Do you think we could squeeze in a long weekend a little sooner?" Theres a very fine line between asking and begging.
"Im sorry, babe. The VW place is a mess. Everything else is running fine, thank god, but every time I put a fire out over there, another one breaks out. If we dont stop hemorrhaging money in the next two months, were going to lose our shirts." Anna had slipped seamlessly into her CEO persona.
"Okay, lets shoot for Labor Day."
Lily wheeled the X-5 into the narrow driveway of the simple house in Hispanic East LA. Maria Esperanzas old neighborhood, Lily remembered, thinking of the night she had rushed out to protect her client from her violent ex-husband, now her loving current husband.
Beside her in the front seat was 13-year-old Marga Alvarez, a foster child who had deeply touched Lilys heart. Inside the house, Margas 33-year-old mother lay dying, in the final stages of liver cancer. Too soon, Lily knew, Marga Alvarez would be all alone. Sandy had called last week asking Lily to represent the Alvarez family, both as the executor of Mrs. Alvarez estate and as the guardian ad litem for Marga.
As guardian ad litem, Lily made the decisions about Margas placement. It was an enormous responsibility, but one she knew she couldnt refuse. Lily had comforted the girl about her ordeal, even talking about the loss of her own mother. She couldnt help but recall how Anna had reached out to Lateisha, the Kidz Kamp girl whose mother had died.
The teenager jumped from the car almost before it had stopped, running eagerly into the house to see her mother. The child had been in foster care since last week, when Lily had deemed the home situation unsafe, the only adult present now almost fully incapacitated, the house teeming with home health care workers, whose job duties did not include caring for a 13-year-old. Fortunately, Mrs. Alvarez had relatives in Chicago, and Marga was welcome in their home. But for these last few days, Lily stood by the girls decision to stay close to her mother.
Lily carried her briefcase into the house, thinking she might get some work done in the kitchen while Marga visited with her mother in the back bedroom. Just as she settled down with her files, the front screen squeaked, announcing a new arrival.
"Mrs. Alvarez? Its Bev Adams, from HHC."
Beverly. Lily tasted her lunch in the back of her throat. She had not seen her ex-lover in over six years, since the day she had packed her few belongings and left their home, hurt and bewildered about how things had gone so horribly wrong.
And she did not want to see her today. Lily heard voices in the bedroom, and knew that Marga would soon give her presence away. Quickly, she ducked into the small bathroom off the living room and locked the door. She was perfectly content to ride out Beverlys visit counting the small octagonal floor tiles as she sat on the covered toilet seat.
It was not to be. "Are you okay in there?" the home health care nurse asked.
Of all the home health care professionals in LA, Beverly Adams had to be the one seeing Mrs. Alvarez. "Fine," Lily answered, lifting her voice an octave in disguise. "Just something I ate, I guess." I cant believe I fucking said that!
"Look, Im a nurse. Ive got something that will settle your stomach," Beverly offered.
"No thanks, Im sure Ill be fine. I just need to sit here awhile." Could this possibly be more humiliating?
"Okay, but let me know when youre out. I need to get something from the cabinet in there."
Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck! Where was Lauren when she needed bad words?
Lily waited until she was certain that she heard Beverly talking to the sick woman. Slipping out of the bathroom door, she made a beeline back to the kitchen. "All done! Marga, can I see you in the kitchen a minute?" Hurry, child!
The girl walked in to find the lawyer shoving things frantically into her briefcase. "Listen, Marga. Im going to wait outside in the car. Maybe Ill pull over across the street. Just enjoy your visit with your mom, and come on out when youre ."
Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck! "Oh, my goodness. Look who it is." Beverly looked older. Much older. She had never really been what most people would call attractive, but something about this womans charisma was intoxicating. Still, Lily was surprised the see the physical changes that had taken place in only six years.
"I thought there was something familiar about that voice."
"How are you, Bev? And hows Josh? What is he now, 11 years old?" Josh was Beverlys son, whom Lily had adored.
"Im fine. Were both fine. How about you?"
"Mostly okay, I guess. I lost my mom a couple of months ago. That was hard." Eleanor had always treated Beverly warmly, though she confessed later to her daughter that they hadnt really seemed a good match.
"Im really sorry to hear that. I always liked Eleanor."
Unable to just let it go, Beverlys eyes drifted to Lilys left hand. Her own sported a simple band of hammered gold. "I see you still havent found the one, Lily. I hope someday you do."
"Thanks, Beverly." Lily thought she might throw up, getting well wishes from the likes of Beverly Adams. "Marga, Ill be in the car," she shouted to the other room. With that, she pushed past Beverly and went to wait it out in the X-5.
A sense of panic gripped Anna as she pulled into the darkened drive. Lilys car was gone, and the house was still dark, save the outside light by the side door, which came on when it detected her presence in the drive. She had been calling the house off and on all evening, but assumed that Lily was working late also. It was when she failed to reach the woman on her cell phone that she became concerned.
A rude surprise awaited the dark-haired woman in the kitchen, where Chester huddled against the back door, anxious about the scolding he was sure to get. The puddle in the floor confirmed that Lily hadnt been home at all.
"Its okay, boy. Not your fault." Adding this forgiving response to that he had gotten the other night, the hound unfortunately processed the information that peeing on the floor was not such a bad thing to do after all.
Anna called Sandy, then Lauren, but still had no clue of her lovers whereabouts. Next, she retrieved voicemail from every possible source. As she wandered the house in search of a note, the phone mercifully rang.
"Hello." Please be Lily!
It was. "Anna, I need you to come get me."
"Sweetheart, where are you? Are you alright?"
"Im fine. Im at the jail downtown."
It wasnt unusual for Lily to be at the jail. Sometimes, her clients got into trouble and she had to bail them out. A little voice told Anna that this time was different. "Wheres your car? Should I send someone to pick it up?"
Lily took a deep breath and blew it out. "Its impounded, Anna. I was driving drunk."
Forty minutes later, a furious Anna Kaklis pulled to the curb and her waiting partner got in beside her.
"Thanks for coming. I Im sorry."
Anna didnt answer, eyes straight ahead as the excess adrenalin from her unchanneled anger caused her to push the tachometer higher than usual. The sports car responded with power, lurching as she cycled through the gears.
"Take it easy, now. It wouldnt do for both of get arrested on the same night." It was a pathetic remark and Lily knew it.
"Please dont talk, Lily."
For the remainder of the trip, the blonde stared quietly out the window. Dont you even want to know what happened? When they reached their home, the dejected blonde went straight to bed.
Though she was relieved that Lily was alright, Anna was still furious. She had warned Lily about this, and couldnt imagine why on earth her lover would be so careless. Taking Chester for his nightly walk, she stewed about how they would get through this.
Entering their bedroom, Anna found the blonde already asleep. For a fleeting momenta nanosecond reallyshe considered staying the night in the guest room. For her, that single act had been the beginning of the end of her marriage to Scott. She would never do that again. Foregoing their usual intimacy, Anna followed Lilys lead and donned a nightshirt. To be naked was to be vulnerable. Taking her place beside her lover in the king-sized bed, she slowly let her hand drift across the bed, coming to rest on her lovers hip.
Lily needed to stop drinking. And I need to be home with her more.
Lily was very fortunate to have landed in Judge Anstons court, as he remembered with sadness her recent loss. Lauren represented her fellow attorney at the arraignment, where she pleaded no contest in exchange for a 120-day suspension of her driving privileges. Lauren had negotiated an exception for any driving related to her work, so only her home, social and recreational activities would be impacted.
She and Anna had finally cleared the air. Though they barely spoke the day after her arrest, the car dealer had surprised her by staying home the following day. Anna rarely missed a Saturday on the lot, and Lily couldnt help but wonder if trust was the issue.
"If youre worried about me needing to drive somewhere while youre at work, I wont. I have some reading to do."
Anna lowered her paper and reached across the table to take her lovers hand. It was time for them to talk. "Lily, Im just worried about you in general. I know this had been an awful time, and I havent exactly been very supportive."
"Thats ridiculous. Youve been perfect." It was ironic how words meant to soothe could carry such bite. On top of the misery Lily already felt about her spiraling loss of control, Anna was adding guilt by taking the blame herself. "I I dont know whats gotten into me. I never used to be like this." Briefly, she considered telling Anna about her meeting with Beverly, but even she knew it was no excuse for drinking and driving.
"Honey, you lost your mother," Anna said softly. "And it hasnt helped things that Ive been gone so much. I know if I were in your shoes, I wouldnt want to be left by myself all the time." The tall woman stood and walked around the table, her arms encircling the blonde head against her stomach. "Im going to try very hard to be home a lot more. Ive offered Brad and Holly extra incentives to work the weekends so I dont have to. Well get through this, baby."
Lily just loved it when Anna called her baby. "Im so sorry Ive been such a pain in the ass."
"Ah, but youre my pain in the ass."
So why do I feel so miserable? Lily lifted up in the chair to tuck a leg underneath. It was almost 10 oclock on a Tuesday night, and here she was, prepping a case in Annas office while the car dealer methodically processed the work in her inbox. The hound lay under the desk, sound asleep.
Lily looked around her lovers office. True to her word, she had thrown out her fathers cherry desk, with those god awful green leather wingback chairs, replacing them with a Scandinavian motif. Annas numerous awards and plaques from BMW and the business community hung hidden behind her door, which was closed to keep Chester from wandering around. He had recently developed a very bad habit regarding the tile floors. And he hadnt yet acclimated to the new doggie door at home.
Besides the numerous model cars, two framed photographs were the only obvious personal touches. One was Jonah at six months, smiling and posed in his infant BMW wear. The other was of Anna with Lily, the one taken at the base of Yosemite Falls. Lily too had that photo on her desk. Happier times.
"You bout ready to call it a night?" Annas voice startled her.
"Whenever you are." Without a drivers license, Lily was completely at Annas mercy. For reasons she couldnt understand, she hadnt wanted to stay home alone. Something inside her was disjointed.
Dressed in her black suit for the somber occasion, the blonde attorney directed her youthful charge to the front row of the church, where she would sit with her mothers cousin during the service. Taking a seat at the side several rows back, she noted with relief that Beverly was not among the mourners.
Marga Alvarez was a remarkable young woman. Watching the girl absorb the priests parting words, Lily marveled at the teenagers maturity and poise in the face of her loss. She couldnt help but wonder where a 13-year old got that kind of strength. She herself had come apart when Eleanor had died. A painful lump formed in her throat as she looked upon this child and saw herself sitting with Anna in the front pew of the church in San Jose. Had it already been two months?
Lily had signed all the paperwork earlier this morning to transfer custody of Marga to her relatives in Chicago. The girl was packed and ready, and would leave first thing tomorrow to start her new life. As they walked down the steps from the church, Lily sought out Marga one last time to say goodbye.
"Good luck to you, sweetheart. Ill be thinking about you." The hug they shared was soothing to both.
"Good luck to you too, Miss Stuart. I bet our moms are watching over both of us right now."
That did it for Lily. She turned quickly towards her car as the tears burst forth. It was still so raw. Is it ever going to stop feeling like this?
The attorney composed herself in the car for more than 20 minutes before starting back to her office. Digging absently in her purse for her cell phone, she called Annas direct line. She really needed a friendly voice.
"This is Anna Kaklis." Anna didnt have caller ID on her office phone.
"Sweetheart," Anna sighed, knowing from the small voice that her lover had had a difficult time at the funeral. "How are you feeling?"
"Im okay, I guess. I just needed to hear your voice."
"You want to have lunch with me? Ill come downtown," she offered. It would be tricky to work that in, but Anna was willing.
Lily would have loved that, but she didnt feel right about asking the car dealer to drop everything and rush down, especially since Anna had been so good about being at home in the evenings. "No, thats okay. Thanks though. Ill probably just grab something at the deli and eat at my desk."
"You sound down, sweetheart. Is everything alright?"
Lily didnt want to get into the business about the funeral over the phone. She had only just gotten her emotions under control. "Yeah, its fine. Itll be okay when I get home and can see you."
Anna dreaded what she had to say. "Honey, I was going to call you this afternoon. Somethings come up at the BMW lot in Palm Springs. Hal found a couple of irregularities in their accounting, and he needs me to come take a look."
"Cant you just fax some things, or send the documents by email? This is the electronic age." Lily was trying desperately not to sound whiney, but she really didnt want to be alone tonight.
"I would, hon, but this is really sensitive. Hals found a six-figure discrepancy, and we really dont know if its just a mistake or an intentional cover-up." Her voice was hushed in case others in the hallway might be listening. "I have to leave right after lunch, but I should only be gone overnight. Hal thinks we can clear it up by noon tomorrow."
Lily was quiet. She could hear from Annas tone that the CEO was very worried about the situation in Palm Springs. It was childish of her to expect her lover to stay in LA when something that serious loomed at her business. "Then you really need to take care of that. Ill be okay. Call me tonight if you get time."
"Ill make time. Love you."
"Love you, too."
Not at all eager to head home to the empty house, Lily worked on her cases until after six, calling clients to get status reports and to schedule appointments. Only her obligation to Chester, who needed a regular walk in the early evening, propelled her from her office. She really dreaded the darkened house.
Anna wont be home. With that realization, Lily detoured slightly from her direct route, stopping less than a mile from her home to purchase a fifth of Grey Goose. She knew she shouldnt, but the idea of being home alone tonight was too much. A few drinks would take the edge off, numb the ache she felt in her bones, and bring her merciful sleep. She and Anna had never actually had the "not drinking anymore" conversation, so it wasnt like she was breaking a promise or anything, and she wasnt going to drive anywhere. Beside, Anna would never know.
At 6:35 that evening, Hal found itthe first evidence that the errors they were looking at were not the result of human deception. But a simple programming glitch in the way their contract forms had computed sales tax meant that they now owed the IRS and the state of California more than $100,000. Most likely, they could recover at least part of that cost from the previous owner, who had banked the surplus as profits.
With the matter now settled Anna and Hal caravanned back to their LA homes. The CEO tried to call Lily from the car, but the satellite network was apparently down in their area. Rather than waste time by stopping to find a phone, she decided to push ahead and get home as quickly as she could, maybe even before her lover had gone to bed.
Seeing the kitchen lights on, Anna opted to enter through that door rather than her usual route through the family room. As she approached the kitchen, she was taken aback by the sight. Lily was standing at the counter, calmly pouring a drink. A flood of emotions surged through the dark-haired woman as she watched her lover drink from the glass and fill it again. None of these emotions were good.
"Hello, Lily," she announced herself brusquely.
Oh shit. Lilys stomach lurched as she realized she was no longer alone. "Youre back early." Nonchalance might work.
"What the hell are you doing?" Anna demanded angrily.
Nope, nonchalance wouldnt work. "What the hell does it look like?" Lily thought it should have been obvious.
"Goddamn it, Lily! It looks like you couldnt wait to have me out of your hair for a night so you could get drunk again," Anna charged. She was angrier at the apparent deception than at the act itself.
"And you were more than happy to oblige," Lily shot back. Whoever said the best offense was a good defense had it backwards.
"I had to go! You know that! This was my mothers business, Lily. Its all I have left of her." Anna grabbed the bottle and began pouring its contents down the sink.
"Goddamn it, thats mine!" Lily screamed, lunging across the counter.
What happened in the next few moments would shake their very core. Anna pulled back, sloshing the vodka over herself and the floor as Lily grabbed for the bottle. A nervous Chester had positioned himself behind the feet of his taller mistress, and she tumbled backwards as Lily watched the horror unfold. The bottled shattered and Anna cried out, blood spurting instantly from a deep gash across her palm.
"Oh my god, Anna! Oh my god!" was all Lily could say as she hurried to the drawer for a clean dish towel.
Anna looked in shock at her injured hand, suddenly pulling it back from Lilys view as she snatched the towel and began to wrap the wound.
"You need stitches. We have to go to the hospital." Lily was starting to panic as she realized what had transpired. It was an accident, right?
"No! Im not going anywhere with you. Youre drunk!"
"Anna?" She cant go by herself! "At least let me ride with you. Ill keep the pressure on it." She reached out to hold the bandaged hand.
"Ill do it myself, Lily!"
"Please let me help," the drunken blonde whimpered, tears now pouring from her sad green eyes.
"Just just see if you can manage to clean up this mess before Chester gets hurt." Pushing past her lover, Anna was gone.
Pretty pissed at old KG right now, arent you? Better keep reading part 4.Return to the Academy