By KG MacGregor
Anna flinched as the doctor on call efficiently tied off another stitch. It wasnt the painher right hand was loaded with a local anestheticbut the sight of the open wound that unnerved her. More than two inches long, the gash had split the meaty part of her palm below the thumb. They were up to 21 now, including nine dissolvable stitches deep inside to reconnect the tissue near the bone. Glass cuts were particularly nasty, leaving jagged tears in the skin that were tedious to close.
Her hand had throbbed all the way to the UCLA Medical Center, more so when she used it to change the gears on her Z8. She was certain it would throb tomorrow as well, and probably several days after. The scarlet towel drew quick attention when she entered the emergency room, where a nurse immediately applied pressure to the wound to stop the profuse bleeding.
"Ms. Kaklis, are you sure there isnt someone we could call to come pick you up?" The nurse had seen the dark-haired woman come in alone. The odor of alcohol was unmistakable.
"No, I can manage, thank you." I will manage. Anna couldnt call Lily, and she wouldnt call anyone else. As far as she was concerned, the fewer people who knew about this night, the better.
Dr. Christiansen spoke up. "If theres no one to call, Im going to recommend that you rest here for a couple of hours. Your blood pressure dropped a bit from the loss of blood, so I dont think it would be wise for you to drive just yet."
"Whatever you think," Anna muttered. She hated not having choices.
"Just for a couple of hours," he assured. Before leaving, he prescribed a mild painkiller, but cautioned her to wait until she arrived home before taking one.
Anna sat alone in the curtained room, unbelieving that things had gone so bad. What misery Lily must feel to have all that anger and need for escape. Anna wondered how on earth she could fix it.
"I need to bandage that." The nurse returned with gauze and tape.
Anna held out her hand.
"You were lucky this time, you know," the nurse volunteered. Her tone was sympathetic, not accusatory.
"I beg your pardon?"
"You got some stitches in your hand. Whatll it be next time? Broken teeth? A ruptured spleen?"
Anna was genuinely confused. "What on earth are you talking about?"
"Ms. Kaklis, Im not trying to intrude. We see things like this all the time in here, people coming in after fights with their boyfriends and husbands." She wrapped neat figure eights around Annas thumb and wrist. "If thats whats going on here, you should know that theres help available."
"It isnt whats going on." Her voice was clipped and defensive.
The nurse sighed. She was accustomed to the denial. "Look, I can smell the alcohol on your clothes, but Im pretty sure you havent been drinking. I figure theres a drinker in the house, and youre the punching bag."
"No, Im not a punching bag. We were having a disagreement and I tripped over the dog." She met the nurses skeptical eye. It was important to defend Lily. "Really. It wasnt a fight. More like tug of war over a vodka bottle," she conceded. "Shed ." Anna caught herself. How much should she say? "Shed never hurt me."
If the nurse was surprised that the other party was a woman, she didnt let on. "Are you really sure of that? These things have a way of escalating."
"Yes, of course." Things already had escalated, Anna thought, but she was certain that it had all been an accident, and that Lily felt awful about it. Perhaps it would be enough to convince her that she shouldnt drink anymore. "Shes been under a lot of stress lately," she trailed off. She didnt want the nurse to think her gentle Lily was a brute.
To the nurse, the injured womans response was typical. It wasnt at all unusual for friends and family members to make excuses for those who drank too much. "Have you talked to your friend about her drinking and how it hurts you?"
"Weve talked. But its hard for her right now. She lost her mother recently, and Ive been too busy at work to be with her." She was starting to feel more comfortable talking to this compassionate nurse.
The woman finished wrapping the bandage, taping the ends securely around Annas wrist. "Youre going to need to change this bandage every couple of days, and keep it dry until the stitches come out." Placing her bandaging materials back in the plastic container, she added, "You know, theres somebody here at the hospital that you could talk with, somebody who might be able to help."
"I I dont know. I think well be able to work this out." Anna hated to talk about personal things.
"Look, Im sure youre both trying very hard. But whatever it is youre doing right now isnt working. Not for you, and apparently not for her either." The dark-haired woman looked reluctant, almost embarrassed. "Having all this happen is nothing to be ashamed about. But not doing everything you can to fix it would be a shame."
Anna thought about the nurses words. What if she was going about this all wrong? "Is there someone here now? Or would I have to come back?" She was pretty sure that once she left, shed talk herself out of following up.
"Dr. Christiansen says you need to stay a couple of hours. I can have somebody here before then." Her gentle smile was encouraging. Talking to someone was a very big step.
The hospitals on-call SAC, or substance abuse counselor, stopped by the examining room 45 minutes later to talk. Anna told him all she could remember about Lilys drinking behavior and the things that had been going on in her life. To demonstrate her own support, she also related the things she had done to help ease her partners sorrow, like taking Lily along with her to the office and trying to be at home more. She almost mentioned the trip they were taking to Maui, but that was for something different, something not related at all to the events of tonight.
Anna learned from the counselor that she was what they called an "enabler," because she accepted Lilys heartbreak as a valid excuse to drink to excess, even going so far as to take on blame herself for her long hours. Lily was exhibiting classic alcoholic symptoms, the counselor told her, and would probably continue until she was forced to face the consequences of her behavior.
"If you truly care about her," he said, "youre going to have to do something very difficult. In fact, it may be the hardest thing youve ever done." He had no idea of the inner strength of the woman sitting across from him. "Youre going to have to step back and let her fall. When she bottoms out, only then will she have to take responsibility for her actions, and only she can decide whether or not to do something about it."
"What do you mean let her fall? I cant just kick her out into the street. Shes already lost so much."
"Thats why I said this would be hard," he explained. "Its painful to see loved ones struggle; especially when we think we can help. But she doesnt need your help right now. She needs your support, but only to help her fight this, not to help her keep it up."
Anna couldnt believe what he was asking of her. Tears filled her eyes as she thought of how hurt Lily would be to face yet another abandonment in her life. "I dont know if I can do that. How will she ever trust me again? Why would she even want to?"
These were old arguments, the counselor knew. His training had prepared him to answer. For a successful outcome, it was vital that people understand exactly what was at stake. "I dont mean to trivialize your relationship with Lily, but it isnt whats important here. Lilys in a battle for her very soul. Stepping back may cost you her love; not stepping back may cost you both everything."
The crimson blood on the white tile floor stunned the panicked blonde into sobriety. What have I done? Shaking uncontrollably, she cleaned up the mess, shooing a confused Chester away to protect him from the broken glass. Though she scrubbed the floor as best she could, the blood had stained the grout, leaving the awful image in her minds eye.
It had been over an hour since Anna left for the hospital. Lily wanted desperately to follow, but her restricted license limited her to work travel only. She wasnt afraid of being caught by the authorities, but of further raising the ire of her lover.
Anna had every right to be angry, Lily thought. In fact, she realized with alarm, Anna had every right to ask her to leave. Shed been nothing but a pain in the ass, always depressed, losing her license, going on and on about how much time Anna spent at the dealership. And now this.
But Anna wouldnt ask her to leave. No, Anna was far too kind, far too generous, far too forgiving . For weeks now, shed been taking all the blame for being gone so much, when all the time, Lily knew that shed been hiding things from her. She didnt tell Anna about her trouble at work, or about seeing Beverly the other day. Hell, speaking of hiding, there were two bottles of Grey Goose in the garage right now, behind their camping gear on the second shelf.
No, shell just come home and not say anything. Shell be angry for a day or two, and then everything will be back to normal. Shell try to be home even more than she already is, and shell constantly try to run interference or smooth everything over. In two weeks, theyd go to Maui and spend three days together acting like nothing had happened. Hell, shell probably still have her stitches. Shell be nice to me, and sweet, and well make love.
And then Ill do something like this again.
Still under the alcohols influence, Lilys reasoning seemed perfect to her. She needed to leave. Anna wouldnt want her to, and would ask her to stay. For that reason, she needed to be gone when Anna got back. She couldnt risk another incident like this. What if it got worse?
The blonde retrieved the suitcases from the hall closet and hurriedly packed. Underwear, shoes, belts, jeans, shorts, t-shirts, nightshirts all were crammed haphazardly into the rollerboard. Cosmetics went in the smaller bag, and all of her essential papers and books were stuffed into her briefcase. Once these were loaded in the X-5, Lily made three trips to her closet, collecting suits and tops for work, and slacks and sweaters for going out. Like Ill be going anywhere. These were laid across the back of the SUV. Finally, she jammed as much of her hiking gear as would fit in her backpack, throwing it onto the back seat.
"Chester," she called the hound. He needs to stay with Anna. "You be a good boy, you hear? Anna needs you to be a good boy." Lily had noticed as a child that when people spoke to babies or to animals, they always said things twice. But then she was a redundancy aficionado.
She remembered the hidden vodka as she turned on her headlights to pull out of the garage. Once it was stowed under the seat, she was off.
It wont happen again, Anna. I promise.
As soon as she tapped the automatic garage door opener, Anna realized that Lily had gone. What she didnt yet know was how gone. Anna walked warily through the house, finally reaching the open bare closet. Suddenly overwhelmed with sadness, she sat on their bed and began to cry.
"Here are the invoices you asked for, Anna." Marco Gonzalez startled his boss as he dropped the papers on the conference table. "You know, well find you an office if you want. You dont have to work in here every time you come."
"If you really want to make me happy, find out where these six cars went," Anna snapped at her VW sales manager.
Whoa! Marco took the list from his obviously angry boss and stepped back. "Ill see what I can do."
"Marco, wait." Anna sighed and looked away, ashamed of her behavior. "I didnt mean to snap at you. I think youre doing a great job, and I really appreciate it."
"Thanks, Anna. Ill get on this now."
Anna pressed her fingers against her brow, nursing a small migraine that had loomed for the last two days. Since Wednesday night. Since Lily left. She hadnt heard from the woman, and she had no idea where shed gone.
"Anna, theres a call for you on three." Wanda, the receptionist at the VW lot, was an Alabama native and one of the friendliest people Anna had encountered at this new dealership.
"This is Anna Kaklis." Her stomach knotted as the silence told her that her lover was on the phone.
"Hi." Eight miles away near Playa del Rey, Lily sat in a quiet, darkened hotel room, where shed been since Wednesday night. She had called in sick the past two days, unable to face her work, her coworkers, or the world in general.
"Hello, Lily." Are you alright, baby? Relieved to hear her lovers voice, Anna was tempted just to ask her to come home. Surely they could work through this. But the counselors warning stopped her. Lilys very soul was at stake, he said. Anna needed to step back and let Lily be responsible for herself. And like he said, it was hard. But its the only way.
"Anna, Im so sorry about the other night." When Lily had sobered up yesterday, shed immediately had second thoughts about leaving her home. It was cowardly. Worse, it gave the impression that she didnt want to be there, that she didnt want Anna anymore. "Is is your hand okay?"
"Its fine," Anna lied. It hurt like hell. Anna had bumped or strained her sore appendage repeatedly. It was amazing how many times a day a person needed to use her dominant hand.
Shes going to make me do all the talking. "I thought maybe we should talk. You know, sort of clear the air about the other night?" Anna was quiet. "Anna, I cant believe I acted like that. I feel awful about it; especially that you got hurt because of my irresponsible behavior. Id give anything to take it all back." Lily meant every word.
"Its okay, Lily. It was an accident."
Lily sighed with relief. There was more she had to say, but for now, she only want to hold her lover and be held by her. Then theyd be able to start the healing part. "Im sorry I left. I just thought it would be easier if you didnt have to put up with me for a couple of days."
"I understand." Anna fought the tears that were now clouding her eyes. "Its probably a good thing that we not be together while we work on things."
Lily was sure that her heart had stopped, if only for an instant. "What do you mean work on things? How can we work on things if were not together?" Her lovers silence was frightening.
Anna took a moment to compose herself, fearing her voice would crack any moment and she would dissolve in tears. Lily didnt need that, and neither did she. They needed reason to guide them, not emotion. Her instructions had been clear: Give no support for anything other than getting Lily help. "You have to work on your drinking problem, Lily. Ill do anything I can to help you, but its best for us both right now if were not together." Her heart was breaking.
"Anna thats ridiculous! I dont need help with a drinking problem! Im not some drunk who keeps a bottle hidden in my desk!" Hiding vodka in the garage shouldnt count, she reasoned. "I dont drink every day. Not even every week! I dont even have to drink at all!"
Anna recognized many of these arguments as those in the pamphlet the counselor had given her. Stick to the message. "Lily, your drinking has become a problem for me. We argue, we hurt each others feelings. We never used to do that. When I cant be home, I feel guilty. And I worry about you and whether or not youre out driving drunk."
"Anna, if you feel guilty about not being home, maybe you should ask yourself why." Lily needed to make Anna see that always putting her working first was the real problem here.
But Anna wasnt going to be derailed this time. "Honey, there are all kinds of programs and services out there for alcoholism. Even if its just going to AA meetings. Ill support you in any way I can to get help for this, but youre the one who has to do it." Please say yes, Lily!
"So now Im an alcoholic, am I?" Fuck! Im losing it here! She took a deep breath to calm herself. "Look, if you want me to stop, say the word. I wont ever drink again. I swear it, Anna."
Anna desperately wanted to believe her lover, but there was too much at stake. She simply couldnt risk a broken promise, and another incident like this weeks might rip them apart forever. If it were going to last, Lily needed to make this decision for herself, not as a promise to her lover. "It isnt enough, Lily. You have to get some help."
Oh god, this was going from bad to worse. "Anna, you know me! You know Im perfectly capable of quitting on my own. I dont need some goddamned treatment program!" Her pleas had turned to anger. Anna was being unreasonable. "Do you really think I belong in a roomful of people with the shakes, guys who come home drunk and beat the hell out of their wives and kids?"
Lily was making this incredibly difficult, but she had known that her lover would resist, especially if it meant she would have to talk about things that bothered her. Lily usually kept those things to herself. "Sweetheart, Ill help you look for the right kind of program. Maybe there are places for people like you."
"And just what kind of people are people like me, Anna?" she practically shouted. God, am I some kind of monster?
This was the anger that she had only recently come to know. It was not her gentle lover. "Honey, youre just a normal person who has gone through difficult times." She recalled the nurses words. "You dont have to feel ashamed about it. People shouldnt be embarrassed about needing help."
Defeated, Lily finally surrendered. "If I promise to get help, can I come back home?"
You have to let her feel the consequences. "I dont think thats a good idea right now."
"Then why should I bother?" It was a rhetorical question, so Lily didnt wait for the answer.
Staring at the now silent phone, Anna pressed her throbbing hand to her throbbing temple. She had never felt more helpless in all her life. After all the words theyd exchanged, she sadly realized that she still had no idea where Lily was, and if she was alright. Foregoing the intercom, she dialed Wandas extension. "Wanda? Its Anna. Do we have a record of incoming calls? Id like to know where that last one came from."
Once again the earliest arrival at the officeit was a quarter to seven on Monday morningLily made the days first pot of coffee and set the bag of warm bagels on the counter. Eating breakfast out every goddamned day meant she could easily bring extras for the others, but she had only done that a couple of times, not wanting to have to explain her change in routine. She had spent 12 nights at the Waterways Lodge, a small hotel near the beach, frequented mostly by vacationing fisherman on the front or back end of their outing. Her small room was pretty basic, but only $79 a night, and the hotel was within walking distance of the beach that bordered busy LAX.
It had been 10 days since she had talked with Anna. It had been 12 days since her last drink.
A flurry of new clients and filings had mercifully kept her distracted from the anguish that consumed her each night when she returned to her room. Even her long nightly walks along the beach had offered little solace, though the wind and cool air seemed to clear her head somewhat. The walks grew longer each night, as she dreaded the sleeplessness and solitude that caused her to dwell on her misery.
She planned to call Anna again on Wednesday to announce that it had been two full weeks since her last drink, hoping that would prove her resolve. She would even agree to talk with someone about her feelings of depression over the loss of her mother. That was the key, she was certain. Making Anna feel badly about her work schedule wasnt likely to get her invited back home. Besides, if she could just go back home, she was willing to settle for anything Anna would give her. And shed spend the rest of her life making up for these last few months.
This weekend was the Labor Day holiday. She wondered if they still had reservations for the Maui flight on Friday night at seven.
"Lily, can we talk?" Tony had already entered her office and closed the door.
"Its seven oclock on a Monday morning. Its too early for me to have done something wrong already," she joked nervously. She hoped Tony hadnt found out about her troubles with Anna. The fewer people that knew about that, the better.
"Look, I dont know how to tell you this, so Im just going to say it straight out. Im pulling you off the Esperanza case. Id like for you to gather up all your files and notes and bring them to my office."
Surely she had heard wrong. "Tony, Ive been working that case for more than two years. Why the fuck are you pulling it now?"
Her reaction was exactly what Tony had expected, and feared. "Lily, Ive talked with Mrs. Esperanza. She feels that youre resisting her wishes."
"Goddamn right I am! You know as well as I do that its all going to start all over again, and its the kids who are going to pay!"
"We arent social workers, Lily," he admonished. "Were lawyers, and were supposed to serve our clients."
"Whos serving the kids, Tony? Tell me that!" She was fuming. "Two years, Tony! Two goddamn years! Those kids have been pulled out of their home four different times, twice because of their crazy father, and twice because of their careless mother. Neither one of them deserves to have those children!"
"Youre not the judge, either! Its not for you to decide. If they want their children back, its our job to deliver the best legal services we possibly can. Not to throw roadblocks in their way."
The two glared angrily at each other. Until this very moment, there had never been a day when Lily had questioned her decision to become a lawyer. If she couldnt help Sofia and Roberto, what was the point?
Calmed by his own outburst, Tony finished. "Try to have the files in my office by the end of the day."
For the next hour and a half, Lily meticulously extracted each file, each note, each record; every single scrap of paper or electronic data byte that documented the Esperanza saga. When shed gotten it all together, she boxed it up and dropped it wordlessly on the corner of her bosss desk.
The next two hours were spent stewing, occasionally turning back to the case she and Tony would handle first thing tomorrow morning, that of Lon Phan, a Vietnamese immigrant seeking a stay of deportation for her ailing mother. Immigration law was complicated, and too often, it swung one way or the other based on political grandstanding or the news of the day. Lily felt certain that they could make their case. Her preparation was solid, and Tony had some experience with immigration hearings.
Satisfied that there was no more she could do with the case in her office, Lily called Lon Phan, scheduling one last briefing for this afternoon. She needed to get out of the office for a while, but she couldnt take her car unless it was work-related.
Lily pressed her intercom button. "Pauline, would you let Tony know that Ive gone to do a final briefing with Lon Phan."
The secretary was perplexed that Lily had not simply buzzed through to Tonys office. Nonetheless, she relayed the message as she watched the blonde attorney emerge from the hallway, just as Colleen exited Tonys office.
Anger roiled inside Lily when she saw Colleen enter the closet-sized office she had commandeered in her part-time role. She was carrying the Esperanza box. "Well that certainly explains a lot," she muttered, flinging open then banging the door on the way out.
"I dont think shes walking tonight, boy. Maybe shes watching the Dodgers, eh?" Anna scratched the hound behind his ears as he peered over the dashboard. From their parking space half a block away, theyd spotted Lily on her late-night stroll from the beach six times in the past 10 days. It was always too dark to see her face, but Anna could tell from the hanging head and slumped shoulders that her lover was sad.
Still, it was always heartening to see that Lily was at least safe and evidently sober. Anna missed her terribly, and worried every day that passed without a call that the distance between them would become insurmountable. Lily needed to know that Anna still loved her very much, and wanted nothing more than for them to be together again and happy. Peering at the silver X-5 as she drove slowly by the lodge, she resolved to call her lover at the law clinic the next day.
Inside the hotel room tonight, the attorney was already asleep. Rather, she was passed out, having given in to the sirens call of the smoky gray bottle.
Fuck! Goddamn it! "Get out of the fucking way!" Lily screamed at the crawling line of cars in front of her. She had fallen asleep without setting the alarm, waking up only 15 minutes before she was due in court. Thank god Tony was co-chairing! But boy, was he going to be pissed!
The attorney lost another 20 minutes looking for a parking space, finally finding a surface lot three blocks from the courthouse. "Sorry Im late. How are we doing?" she asked her boss as she slipped into the seat beside him.
Tony ignored her question and continued taking notes. The governments immigration attorney was wrapping up her arguments about why Lon Phans mother should be deported immediately, so that meant Tony had already presented their side. She was supposed to have done that. Yep, hes pissed.
"Counsel, is this a good time for the court to take a break?" Judge Witherspoons court was considered one of the most relaxed.
"Yes, your honor. Were prepared to call our first witness upon return."
"Very well. We will take a break of 15 minutes, after which the petitioners will call their first witness. The parties are admonished ." His instructions droned on while Lily assembled her own notes for their upcoming witness.
Tony, Lily and Lon Phan exited the courtroom and headed for one of the small attorney-client conference rooms. "Mrs. Phan, I need a word with Ms. Stuart in private. Will you excuse us? You can go get something to drink if you want; just be sure to avoid everybody from the courtroom." He closed the door and turned to his very nervous co-counsel.
"Sorry I was late. Traffic was awful today, and then I couldnt find a place to park."
"Lily, have a seat. We need to talk." The ever gallant man held her chair as she slowly sat. "We were lucky today, because both of us had planned to be here. I dont have to tell you what could have happened if this had been your case alone." They most certainly would have been fined. She may have been disciplined by the bar. The worse case scenario was that their clients case could have been tossed out and Lon Phans ailing mother deported.
"Yes Tony, I know. Im really sorry. It was just one of those days. I appreciate you carrying the ball. Did it go okay?" Im sorry! Lets move on!
"And also you smell like liquor," he added softly.
Lily leaned back in her chair and looked away. She hadnt realized that others could tell. "Tony, I admit that I had a couple of drinks last night. Losing the Esperanza case to Colleen was kind of hard to swallow." No reason Tony shouldnt know his own role in this.
"Lily, I know youve been through a lot. And I know the Esperanza kids mean a lot to you. What you need to know is that the Braxton Street Law Clinic means a lot to me. I wont have it tainted by shoddy work or by a drunken attorney." He let his words sink in then delivered the final blow. "As of right now, Lily Im putting you on indefinite suspension. You need to get your act together. I cant take a chance of letting this continue."
The stunned blonde attorney sat in disbelief as he picked up his briefcase and disappeared into the hallway.
Lily was in court today, Pauline had said. The receptionist was her usual cheery self when Anna had called, leading the car dealer to guess that her lover had probably not told her coworkers that she had moved out of their home for the time being. Anna hoped they would be back together before others found out about their troubles. She hadnt mentioned anything at all to her own family, declining invitations over the past two weeks to avoid having to explain where Lily was. She had done the same when things had started to fall apart with Scott. The difference here, Anna knew, was that she wanted to work through this with Lily, no matter how difficult it was.
"Anna, Ive got something youre going to want to see," Marco interrupted her thoughts, dropping a folder on the table. "Remember those six cars you asked me about? I asked the LAPD to track the VINs and youll never guess what I found."
The car dealer sat in fascination for the next 20 minutes as her sales manager took her through his findings. The vehicle identification numbers had shown up in the states database as registered vehicles, confirming that they had been imported and delivered. The original invoices had obviously been purged from the companys database, but the VINs had shown up on the annual aggregate report from VW. Yet, the Sweeney books had no records of their sales, so by all accounts, the vehicles should still be on the lot. A closer look showed that all six vehicles were at one time registered to the same person, a Sherilyn Richardson, identified by Wanda as Gordon Sweeneys youngest daughter. Mrs. Richardsonand probably someone else from within the companyhad simply stolen six cars over the last two years. Anna directed Marco to turn the information over to their attorney for follow-up. Someone may be headed to jail; at the very least, Gordon Sweeney would compensate Premier VW for the six vehicles.
Marcos discovery was a tipping point for the CEO of this new auto empire. For the first time since she had taken over the business, Anna took stock of all the headaches and problems the ambitious moves had cost her. Besides these looming criminal charges, there was the tax fiasco in Palm Springs. The personnel moves throughout the company had led to ongoing difficulties that arose while people learned new jobs. There were the problems between Kim and Hal that hadnt been there before Anna placed so many demands on her brother-in-law. Then, of course, there were the long, long hours she had logged between all the businesses trying to bring them into sync. The latter she knew was the one that had extracted the biggest price. She was terrified to think that it may have cost her Lily, but even that was incidental compared to the price Lily was now paying.
Anna picked up the phone to call her brother-in-law. "Hal? Listen, something very important has come up this weekend. I need for you and Kim and Jonah to get on a plane Friday night and fly to Maui thats for three days and three nights on the beach No, its very important If you dont go, youre fired Thank you Hal. Ill send the tickets over, and have a great time."
That night from her car, she and Chester watched from their vantage point up the street as Lily entered the Waterways Lodge. If possible, she appeared even sadder than she ever had before. Consumed with guilt from her realizations earlier that day, Anna made a move to exit the car and go to her lover. It was the sight of the tall brown bag in the blonde womans hand that stopped her. Why am I doing this? Why do I keep coming down here to check on her when she doesnt give a damn about herself?
Lily couldnt call Anna now, at least not to boast that she had been two weeks without a drink. Fresh off the disaster in court yesterday, shed picked up a bottle of tonic to wash down another half-bottle of vodka, but when she reached her room, she was no longer interested in the escape. Instead, shed simply donned her mothers heavy sweater and returned to the beach, where she sat watching the planes roar over the ocean until the wee hours of the morning.
When she exited the hotel, she glimpsed what looked like Annas car as it rounded the corner and spun out of sight. There were only a handful of Z8s in LA, as they were only available via direct order from the factory in Munich. But it couldnt have been her. Nah. What would she have been doing down here?
Lily spent the next dayher first day of unemploymentsleeping in, the Do not disturb sign warding off the housekeeper. Her combination breakfast/lunch came again from the vending machines, mostly those so-called empty caloriespeanut butter crackers, a chocolate bar and a mysterious fruit punch. She knew that one day the god whose name she so often took in vain would show mercy and deliver her from this hell on earth, and she would never again eat peanut butter crackers or chocolate bars or drink that mysterious fruit punch.
The beach was too crowded for her tastes in the daytime, so she opted instead to kill the time until it thinned out by finally going through the box she had brought from her mothers house after the funeral. For reasons Lily couldnt explain, Lisa Parker had been on her mind a lot these last few days. Perhaps it was the aloneness she felt, like she wasnt connected to a living soul.
Her adoption file was moderately thick, as Eleanor had saved the court report in which Katharine Fortier had itemized the reasons the child should not be returned to her natural mother. Lily sat transfixed as she pored over the testimony and arguments. Growing up, she had talked with Eleanor from time to time about her fleeting memories of living with her mother. She vaguely recalled parties, with smoking and drinking, and even naked people from time to time. More vividly, she remembered the nasty taste and smell of beer on the breath of one of her mothers boyfriends who had kissed her on the mouth. To this day, she hated beer.
Reading the file today gave her a much fuller picture of who her biological mother really was. She had always somehow known the tale of how shed come to be declared a permanent ward of the state. There was the shoplifting arrest; then the time when Lisa had left her by herself in the car for so long; and the final incident, in which her mother had hit a woman with a bottle and stolen her car. But Lily hadnt really known the extent of her mothers encounters with law enforcement. There among the charges shed remembered were several others for forgery and writing bad checks, and skipping out on restaurant and hotel charges. But the thing that shocked her most was the discovery of three arrests on public drunkenness. I am like her.
Lily rummaged through her briefcase for her Palm Pilot, scanning the directory for Andrew Shively, the police sergeant from Kidz Kamp who had introduced her to kamikazes. Thanks a lot, Andrew! She would forgive him, though. She needed a favor.
Lily needed to go to the Bay Area. Andrew Shively had called her back the next day with the information she wanted: Lisa Ann Parker, now Lisa Parker Haney, had a current drivers license that showed her living in Oakland.
Given the path she was currently on, Lily needed desperately to see what her mother had become. But only six weeks into her four-month suspension, Lily was still unable to drive to anywhere other than work. Which now means I cant drive at all, she thought miserably.
"Sandy? Hi, its Lily." It was the first time they had connected outside of work since the funeral. "Listen, I know that I am probably by far the shittiest friend you have, but I need to ask a favor. A big favor."
"What do you mean probably, dearie? Remove all doubt. Youre definitely the shittiest friend I have." Her tone was teasing, though. The social worker had waited patiently for her friend to come out of her depression and ease back into her friends. She was glad to finally be hearing from her, even if it was for a favor.
Lily told her about losing her license, and about the overwhelming need to find her natural mother. She did not offer that she was living in a hotel. Unless Sandy agreed to make the trip, she wouldnt need to know.
"Lily, why on earth dont you trust me enough to tell me whats going on in your life?" She was hurt that her friend had kept things to herself while dealing with the sadness of losing her mother, a sadness so deep it had led her to uncharacteristic behavior behind the wheel. "Of course Ill take you. We can go tomorrow night after work, or we can leave Saturday morning."
"Thank you, my friend. I appreciate it more than I can say." Lily knew she didnt deserve to have a friend like Sandy. She hadnt really given anything of herself to anyone in months. "I guess there are a couple of other things you should know. One, that Ive been suspended at work for missing a court date." Here goesSandy would be the first to know. "And two, Ive moved out of the house and Im staying at a hotel near Playa del Rey."
"Oh Lily." The news of how bad things really were for her friend brought a tear to Sandys eye, and instantly raised her ire against Anna, who was obviously was not willing to be part of the solution.
The friends worked it out that Suzanne would drop Sandy at the Waterways Lodge on Friday afternoon, and the two women would head north in the X-5, probably returning on Sunday afternoon. In her current state, it simply didnt matter to Lily that she was missing another trip to Maui. Anna wouldnt want her to go anyway.
Swinging by the Waterways Lodge on her way home from the VW dealership where she now spent most of her time, Anna was alarmed to find the familiar X-5 gone from the lot. Lily wasnt supposed to drive anywhere besides work, and there was no way she was still working at 10 on a Friday night. No longer caring about her cover, Anna parked at a meter directly across the street from the hotels entrance. She would wait for Lilys return and they would talk.
After more than an hour, Anna decided to abandon her efforts for the night. Chester still hadnt taken to his doggie door, and would likely pee in the kitchen floor. While Anna was willing to deal with it, it wasnt good for the dogs esteem. The little fellow obviously missed the blonde woman, and had come to depend on their nightly rides in the sports car. She would come back tomorrow, knocking on the door if she had to. It was time to talk.
"Do you think Im an alcoholic, Sandy?" On the way to Oakland, Lily had told her friend all of the gory details about how she had come to call the Waterways Lodge home, unemployed and all alone.
Sandy looked at her friend out of the corner of her eye. The instrument gauge gave off enough glow for her to make out Lilys expression. Hell, what are friends for if they cant tell you the truth? She hoped Lily could handle it. "Yes sweetheart, I think you are." She placed her hand over that of her friend and squeezed.
Lily immediately turned to look out the window, not able to face such a pronouncement from her friend. "I dont ever have to worry about sugarcoating from you, do I?"
"Sorry, you know how I am about saying what I think. Suzannes never forgiven me for going off like I did on that mullet-head haircut of hers."
Despite herself Lily laughed at the memory. Suzannes hair had looked awful, but Suzanne had liked it. Nevertheless, Sandys relentless harping and ridicule had prompted another cut and a curly perm to remove all traces of the offensive style.
"Lily, as long as Ive known you, youve turned to alcohol when things bothered you. Remember after you left Beverly? You went through a bottle of wine every night in your room."
Lily remembered. Well, sort of. She had stayed with Suzanne and Sandy briefly while she saved enough money for deposits on an apartment and the utilities. When she left Beverly, she just left. "Oh, that reminds me ." She went on to add the tale of running into Beverly Adams to her list of recent woes.
"God, when it rains, it pours! You are such a misery magnet, little one." Sandy always had a way of lightening Lilys mood, either with her humor or with her heart of gold. Tonight, she was using both.
"Beverly was a long time ago, Sandy. I eventually stopped with the nightly wine bottle. Doesnt that say that I have control over my drinking?" she asked hopefully. "Which means I might not really be an alcoholic?"
"It wasnt just that, Lil. You drank again when things went south after the Tahoe incident."
Oh yeah. Lily remembered how devastated shed been when shed seen Anna kissing Hals friend in the kitchen.
"And how many times have you gotten drunk since Anna started working so much? Or since your mother died?"
"I get your point, Sandy. Youre piling on."
That was Sandys cue to back off. Lily needed to digest these facts and answer the question for herself.
The two friends shared a double room at the Hampton Inn in Hayward that night. On Saturday, they would set out to find Lisa Parker Haney. Lily had no idea on earth what she would do when they did.
Sandy located and pressed the button for the X-5s automatic door locks. Though her work often took her to the less desirable neighborhoods of LA County, something about this Oakland neighborhood had her spooked, even in broad daylight. Using a detailed street map, the two women had found the apartment complex listed on Lisa Parker Haneys license. Realizing that they wouldnt be able to get as close as they wanted, the pair found a Target store where Lily bought binoculars. They needed to determine which apartment was F, and neither was willing to simply get out of the car and go see.
Andrew had run a vehicle check as well, and determined that Charles Haney at the same address owned a 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass, even providing Lily the tag number. No such vehicle was parked at the complex, but the women resolved to watch and wait. And no thank you to the nice young man who knocked on their window, offering to sell them something that was really really good.
The Cutlass appeared at 4:45 in the afternoon and a tall thin man of about 60, wearing jeans and an Oakland Raiders t-shirt proclaiming Fuck the Niners, exited and went into the upstairs apartment on the right. "So I guess weve found the place. I wonder if she still lives there," Lily said nervously.
An hour later, the door opened again and a woman came out and headed to the car. From the way she was dressedblack stiletto heels, black stockings, a mini-skirt with a white tuxedo shirtshe obviously was a cocktail waitress, on her way to work. Lily knew at once that it was her mother.
"Follow her, Sandy."
Sandy did as she was told, and soon they were circling the Holiday Inn at the Oakland Airport, driving on so as not to be recognized as having followed the woman. As soon as Lisa disappeared inside the building, Sandy parked near the entrance of the lounge.
"So what do you want to do now? Looks like your mother lives in a dump with an old guy who prefers the Raiders to the 49ers, and she works here in the evenings slinging drinks." Sandy had a real gift for the big picture.
Lily was quiet for a long moment, unsure what more she wanted to know. What is she like?
"Thirsty? I mean for a coke or something," Lily amended quickly. Both women got out and walked toward the door. "I might just go for something exotic like a Perrier and water." She winked at her friend.
When they entered the darkened lounge, Lily immediately spotted a table from where both of them could view the whole room. Lisa was serving two men in a corner booth. Turning back to the bar, the waitress shouted in their direction "Be with you ladies in just a minute." Men always tipped better than women, so she wasnt in any big hurry to get their order.
Sandy watched her friend watch the woman with fascination. "What are you thinking?"
"Right then, I was wondering if shell recognize me. I sure recognized her."
"You recognized her because you expected to see her. I bet youre probably the last person on earth she ever expects to see again."
"Well, Im not going to introduce myself, thats for sure!"
Sandy was actually relieved to hear that. Lily didnt need another negative force in her life, and the social worker couldnt help but think that Lisa was just that.
"Okay, what can I get you?"
Sandy started, "Ill have a coke, diet coke if you have it." She looked at her friend, who was staring at the womans nametag: LISA. Well, now they were sure. "And my friend will have a diet coke also."
The cocktail waitress shook her head with was that disgust? In a moment she was back with their drinks, foregoing the bowl of goldfish that appeared on the other occupied tables. Shed be lucky to get a dollar out of them combined. Some women just didnt know how to drink.
"Think she likes us?" Sandy deadpanned.
"Funny. No, I think she resents us taking up space. If were not drinking, then were not running up a tab. And if were not running up a tab, were probably not going to leave much of a tip." This all made perfect sense to Lily.
"Well, were not drinking, right?"
"Right," she assured. "But I dont think the way were being treated is necessarily a sign that shes a bad person." Lily wasnt sure why she felt so defensive of the total stranger who had neglected her terribly 25 years ago. "On the other hand, I should be used to being ignored by her." It was meant as a joke, but it triggered something she couldnt stop. "I mean, what can she do? Would she lock me in the cooler so I wouldnt make trouble while she waited on the other tables? Or would she just pull my chair up to one of the tables and ask the men there to look after me?" The memories were rushing at her now. "Or maybe shell just slap me and dare me to move."
"Im sorry I brought you all the way up here for this. I dont even know why I wanted to come here." Even in the darkened lounge, Sandy could see the mist in her friends green eyes.
"Look, Lily. Im glad you brought me here. And Im glad were both sitting here together watching the woman who let you go work like a dog for the tips she can hustle by flirting with strange men. Because you have a choice, Lily. You get to go home and be somebody else." She waited while her friend watched the woman cross the room again, smiling and laughing while she served the men at the next table. "Thats what it is, Lily. A choice. You can go home and emulate Lisa Parker. Or you can go home and be like Eleanor Stuart."
Lily nodded. Sandy was right. "Will you take me by the cemetery tomorrow on the way home?" She reached in her wallet and pulled out a 100 dollar bill to pay for their drinks.
"Of course. Are you ready to go?"
"You got anything smaller than that?" The waitress practically snarled. "I just got on. I cant break that yet."
"Keep it," Lily said, locking eyes with Lisa for the first time. The faintest hint of recognition crossed the womans face as she watched the green-eyed blonde stand. Lily didnt give her time to respond, turning on her heel and heading out into the night.
"Excuse me, do you have a guest by the name of Lilian Stuart?" Finding the X-5 gone again on Saturday night, Anna concluded that Lily had found a more permanent place to live and had left the hotel. But she hoped that her lover had left a forwarding address on file.
"Yes, we do. Would you like me to ring her room?"
Anna was startled by the reply. "No, thats alright. Tell me, have you seen Ms. Stuart today?" Please say yes.
"I cant say as I have. But Im not surprised. Her car wasnt here when I got in this afternoon."
No shit, Sherlock. It wasnt Annas nature to be ill-mannered when she dealt with clerks and service workers. And shed always thought very little of people who were.
"Thank you." Returning to her car, she fished her PDA from the console and located the number for Sandy and Suzanne. Suzanne was working double shifts at the hospital over the holiday weekend to build up vacation time for their upcoming trip to Europe. With Sandy in Oakland, the phone went to voicemail, and Anna left her number.
Anna held out hope that Lily wouldnt drive somewhere in defiance of the court order. Maybe she had to go out of town to take a deposition. That would explain why her car was gone. When she got home, she booted up the attorneys computer in the office to gain access to her contact information. Prompted for a password, Anna couldnt help but smile. When theyd returned from their trip to Yosemite, Lily had changed her password to ohbaby to commemorate her outburst when they were making love. That seemed so long ago.
There it is: Tony LeFevres home number.
"Tony, its Anna Kaklis."
"Hello Anna." Tony sounded rather stiff and formal. "What can I do for you?"
This was the hard part. If Lily hadnt told him about moving out, it would come as a surprise that she didnt know where her lover was. Still, their privacy mattered nothing next to the growing worry she felt over Lilys whereabouts.
"Tony, do you have any idea where Lily is?" That launched them into a brief conversation in which they traded crucial information about the missing womanthat she had been suspended from her job and that she was no longer living in her home. Both promised the other that they would get in touch if they heard something.
Her anxiety raging, Anna calmed herself with the only scenario that made sense. Lily had gone away with Sandy and Suzanne for the Labor Day weekend. Perhaps Lily hadnt wanted to leave her BMW at the hotel, and moved it instead to her friends Sherman Oaks home. Anna resolved to drive out there tomorrow to see.
Sandy watched her friend from afar as she picked at the unruly blades of grass that surrounded her mothers headstone. They had gone together to the gravesite, but she had walked away to give Lily the private time she needed with her mom. Sandy hadnt gone to the graveside service, and was deeply moved when she saw the headstone for the first time:
Eleanor R. Stuart
"Hi Mom. Told you Id be back." It was almost surreal to see her mothers name on the granite slab. This really happened.
"Anyway, I wanted to stop in and tell you how much I miss you. I had no idea it would be this hard but I guess I should have known. The one thing Ive always known is how important your promise to me was, that youd always love me and always be there for me, no matter what. I could sure use some of that right now, because Im really not very lovable these days."
She was ashamed of what she would say next, but the bloodletting was necessary. "I sort of lost control of myself, and started drinking too much. Ive been suspended from my job, which by the way, I havent been doing very well lately. Dont tell Katharine, though." She smiled when she thought of the card she had found in the safety deposit box.
"But the worst part is that I think things are pretty much finished with Anna and me. I did something she probably wont be able to forgive, and she doesnt want me around. I had hoped she was the kind of person who would have been able to work through things with me, but I think this may been too much for her to handle. Well be lucky if we can just salvage a friendship from it." The hard lump nearly pierced her throat as she fathomed her loss of the two most precious people in her life.
"But thats not why I stopped by today. I sort of figured you already knew all that stuff. It makes me ashamed to think youre watching me screw up like this. I stopped by today to tell you that Ive decided that I dont want to be like that anymore. Im probably going to need your help more now than ever, because I want to get control of my life again. Youve always been my anchor, so I hope I can call on you from time to time when I need help."
Lily stood and brushed the grass and dirt from her jeans. "Thank you for everything, Mom. I love you and I really miss you."
Anna sighed with relief when she spotted the X-5 in Sandy and Suzannes driveway. The first good news was that Lily was safe; the second good news was that she was with friends. Anna really admired Sandys strength and maturity, and was sure that Suzannes direct approach would help guide Lily to the right place.
She needed to see her lover. She needed to hug her, to kiss her, to hold her. She needed to promise her love. Parking behind the X-5, Anna gathered her courage. Lily might not want to see herher lovers last words had been angry. Still, Anna would make it right, no matter what it took.
Sandy met her at the front door. "Anna, I ."
"Sandy, Im looking for Lily. I need to see her." Please, Sandy.
"She isnt here, Anna. I just dropped her at her place." Sandy was wary of the dark-haired woman and she wasnt willing just yet to give away her friends hiding place. She needed to know what Anna was up to.
"So shes okay?"
"What do you mean okay Anna? After all shes been through, Lilys far from okay. How can you of all people not know that?" Despite the harsh words, there was no anger in Sandys tone, just reproach.
Anna stood on the front porch and stared down Lilys stalwart friend. "I do know how hard it is for her, Sandy. Its hard for both of us, but I wont stay away if shes in any danger. Her car was gone and I got worried."
"What do you mean her car was gone? How do you know where her cars supposed to be?"
"She called me a couple of days after she left the house and I tracked down the number. Ive been driving by there every night, you know, just to check on her," she added wistfully. "But then her car disappeared on Friday and Ive been a nervous wreck ever since. Didnt you get my message?"
"No, I just got in." So Annas been with her all along. That realization warmed the woman and she stepped aside and gestured Anna into the living room. "Lily said she thought things were over for you two."
Annas stomach dropped. "Is that what she wants, Sandy?"
"Are you kidding? Thats the last thing she wants, but she says you wont let her come home." Sandy knew from her social work experience that families of alcoholics were often advised to disassociate themselves from the drinker to force the drinker to take responsibility. She hoped that was the case with Anna.
"Look, Sandy. I love that woman now more than Ive ever loved her before. But whether I love her or not isnt what matters here. What matters is her getting help."
"Well, pardon me for being stupid, but how exactly are you helping? Youve left her out there to do this all by herself."
Anna knew how it must look to Sandy, but she was more afraid that Lily had taken it all to mean that things were over between them. "Im just doing what the counselor told me at the hospital, Sandy. He said I have to let her fall, let her feel all the consequences of her behavior. Until she does, she wont do anything to help herself. He says I enabled her to drink by taking the blame, and making it easy for her to keep it up."
Right answer, Amazon! Sandy sighed with relief in knowing that Anna was still in Lilys corner. What the counselor said was rightit really was the only way for an alcoholic to turn around. She reached over and put her hand on Annas shoulder. "Well shes certainly fallen, Anna. But I think shes ready to start back up."
"I do." Sandy told Anna the story of finding Lisa Parker, and of her subsequent visit to the cemetery. But she didnt share their conversation on the way home, in which Lily told her that shed decided she was tired of letting everybody down, especially herself.
Annas blue eyes grew misty as she imagined the anguish Lily must have felt when she saw her natural mother again after all these years, and especially when she stopped at the cemetery to see Eleanors grave. "I need to see her. I need to go over there and tell her how I feel."
"No, Anna. I think you should wait." Now that Sandy had all the pieces, she could see the big picture in a way that neither Anna nor Lily could. Annas love was still strong, but she wasnt as certain of Lilys resolve. "I think your plan worked Anna." It took not being able to come home, losing her job, and now seeing the hard woman her mother turned out to be. "Lilys having to face the consequences and she doesnt like it. I think shes ready to do something."
"What makes you think that? Did she say something about getting help?"
"Not exactly, but I think shes hit the bottom. I know this is going to be hard, but I think you should hold off seeing her. She needs to do this for herself, not for you. If she finds out everythings alright with you, she might decide that she doesnt need help after all."
"Redwood Hills. Sounds like a retirement home," Lily groused.
"Or a ski resort," Sandy added optimistically.
"Yeah, a ski resort for really old people."
Sandy helped Lily stow the last of her things in the small closet. The plain look of the Waterways Lodge was positively gaudy compared to her new digs. The tiny second floor room to which shed been assigned had a small bathroom and closet on one side, built-in drawers and a writers desk on the other. Opposite from the door beneath the window was a simple twin bed with a bedspread in institutional green.
"The only thing missing is a cross over the bed," Lily muttered.
Okay, so it did look a little like Sister Bernadettes room. "Lily, youve been living in a motel for a month eating out of vending machines. Surely this is an improvement."
"At least I didnt have to talk to anybody there." The blonde walked over to the window and peered out. "Great. A room with a view. Of a tree."
Using Sandys computer, Lily had found two day programs for drug and alcohol treatment that she thought might be a good fit. Unfortunately, Judge Anston denied her petition for extended driving privileges, suggesting in chambers that she look into residential treatment.
"Ms. Stuart, I know how difficult this is for you. But in my days on the bench, Ive sent a lot of people into treatment programs for drug or alcohol problems. For some reason, the residential programs always seem to get the best results."
"With all due respect, Your Honor, Ive read about these programs. Day programs can be successful too. The key is that the person being treated has to be committed, and I am."
"Ms. Stuart, I believe you. And to be honest, Id grant a petition like yours in an instant if I thought it was a choice between day treatment and no treatment. But if youre as committed as you say, you shouldnt be looking for the easy way out."
Lilys shoulders slumped in defeat. She couldnt help but wonder if what he said was true, that she really was looking for the path of least resistance.
"Counselor," he continued, "you can stand anything for 28 days. The next time I see you in my courtroom, I want it to be as an attorney. You have a gift for the law, and I dont want to see you waste it."
With her comprehensive health insurance, there were literally dozens of options for residential treatment. She chose Redwood Hills for its setting in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains above Pasadena. On a clear dayif she should happen to be here on that dayone could see the entire LA basin from the front lawn.
Since her admission was voluntary, she was technically free to leave the grounds should she choose to go hiking on the hillside. But in the interest of her treatment, she had signed an agreement to limit her outings, as well as her visitors and telephone contacts. Lily couldnt help but feel as though she were being led to the gallows. "Sandy, promise me that youll come get me if I call you."
Sandy chuckled and hugged her friend. "Youre going to be fine here, Lily."
"Promise me!" the miserable blonde insisted.
"Okay, sweetheart, if thats what you really want. But you promise me that youre going to try as hard as you possibly can to finish this program, all 28 days. I dont want you calling me the first time it gets hard, or the first time you get bored, or the first time ."
"Alright, I get your point already. I promise to try," Lily said meekly.
"I love you, Lil."
"I love you, too. I dont think Id stand a chance in this world without a friend like you."
"Youre tougher than you think, Lily." One last hug and Sandy was gone.
And Lily was all alone. Again.
"I cant tell you. She made me promise." Sandy knew shed get a call from Anna as soon as Lilys car went missing again.
"Sandy, why is she hiding from me? Why hasnt she called?" More and more each day, Anna worried that the distance between Lily and herself was growing too vast to overcome.
"Anna, look. You did the right thing not letting Lily come home. Its up to her now. We all need to step back and let her fix it. It doesnt matter whether shes still your lover at the end, or if shes still my friend. What matters is that Lily loves herself. And believe me, thats not the case right now. And Im pretty sure thats why she hasnt called you."
"Did you tell her that Ive been asking about her? That I was coming by every night?" Anna at least wanted Lily to know that she loved her.
"No, I havent told her anything. You need to be patient, Anna, for Lilys sake. I promise Ill call you if she needs you, but youre going to have to trust me."
Anna didnt have any choice, but she was comforted by the fact that Lily had a friend like Sandy. "I trust you, Sandy. Can you at least tell me if shes alright?"
"Shes pretty sad, Anna. But I think shes going to be fine. And in my heart of hearts, I think youre going to get her back once she beats this."
That was the best news Anna had heard since the day Lily left. "I hope youre right, Sandy. Shes everything to me."
Sandy smiled to herself. She didnt know exactly how it was all going to come together, but she knew somehow that things would work out for her friends.
If it werent for a vicious caffeine addiction, Lily would have skipped breakfast. She wasnt yet ready to meet her fellow patients, the other "inmates" as she called them. Shed had no idea how difficult this first step would be.
The information packet in her room contained her daily schedule for the first week:
8:00 General meeting
9:30 Free time
10:00 Individual therapy
11:00 Chapel (optional)
1:30 Step meeting
2:30 Free time
3:00 Group therapy
4:30 Peer counseling
7:00 General meeting
9:00 Free time
10:30 Lights out
Thats 12 hours a day I have to spend with other people! Lily wasnt sure shed make it through Sunday, let alone 27 more days. Hearing voices in the hallway, she peered out to see what the others were wearing. Shed hate to start off underdressed. Comfortable that she wouldnt stand out in her jeans and t-shirt, Lily headed out for coffee.
The dining hall was the largest room at Redwood Hills, doubling as the site of the general meetings. Four long tables, each seating eight diners on each side, were lined up perpendicular to the buffet line on one side and an elevated speakers platform on the other.
The first person to enter her personal space was a 40-ish man, tall and barrel-chested, sporting a thinly sculpted beard with no mustache. Lily had always thought that particular look odd. "Good morning," he said, placing an arm around her shoulder with undue familiarity. "Welcome to Redwood Hills. My names Randy. And you are ?"
Lily lifted the large hand from her shoulder, letting it drop behind her where it brushed against her rear. Great start! "Good morning, Randy. My name is Lily, and Im not really a morning person." Or afternoon or evening for that matter.
Spotting the industrial sized percolator on a table at the side, Lily navigated her way around the groups of chatting inmates to grab a cup from the stack. As the line formed for bacon, eggs, toast, hotcakes the usual menu for a breakfast buffet, Lily opted out just to avoid having to interact. Taking a seat at the table farthest from the door, she could see the entire room. Gradually, all of the tables began to fill with diners and soon, she was joined by a beautiful woman of about 50, her long black hair just showing the first tinges of gray. As the woman briefly flashed startling blue eyes in her direction, Lily couldnt help but imagine that Anna would be as lovely as she aged.
"Hi, my names Virginia. I couldnt help but notice that you have that what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here look that says its your first day."
Despite her anxiety about the growing crowd, Lily couldnt help but be warmed by the womans smile and disarming nature. "Yeah, its my first day. Im Lily. Nice to meet you." She held out her hand shyly and Virginia took it.
"Lily. My grandmothers name was Lily. I even considered naming my oldest child after her, but I doubt hed have liked that much as he got older." That brought a smile to the young womans face. Sometimes, it was best to talk about anything except why they were all here. Virginia had noticed that many of the newcomers avoided eating, probably because they were unfamiliar with the routine. "Say, why dont we hit the line and grab some breakfast? Its a long time before lunch, and theres no guarantee itll be something you like," she said with a wink.
She really was hungry, especially after staying in her room through dinner the night before. Lily and her new friend joined the line, and soon both were back at the table eating heartily and chatting about familiar ground: the food, the rooms, the facilities. Neither was forthcoming with personal information, and that was just fine with Lily.
At eight sharp, two men and a woman moved to take chairs on the platform. The younger man, seemingly no more than 25 years old, took the podium and announced: "Good morning. My name is Tyler, and Im an alcoholic."
"Good morning, Tyler," the crowd responded in unison.
Lilys road back had officially begun.
"God, what a day!" Lily collapsed on her small bed. She had counted 51 other inmates at each of the general meetings, concluding that general was a euphemism for mandatory. Between those two meetings, the step meeting, and the group therapy session, she had heard 19 testimonials, some more than once. For the most part, Lily didnt think her own story was as dismal as those related by others. Alcohol abuse had been a way of life for them, causing them to lose their families, their jobs oh fuck! Well, her story was different. Not one of them had told about losing their mother, or of walking through life sober feeling like you didnt belong to anybody.
She had shared a lot about her mom with Hillary in the individual therapy session, but she didnt feel much like talking about Anna. In fact, the counselor had asked her a couple of times if there was someone she would like to invite on the weekends to take part in family therapy, but Lily had declined. "I really have no family," she had said, more matter of fact than sad.
Tyler, the young man who started off the morning meeting, was her peer counselor for the week. He was starting his third week in the program, and today was his first day as the more experienced of the two. In her second week, Lily would be paired with someone in their final week of treatment; and by the third week, she would be assigned to a newcomer. Basically, Tyler had spent their hour together talking about the program, about the things he had learned and how he had come to accept who he was and what he must do to turn his life around. "If youre anything like most of us, youre probably thinking you really dont belong here," he had told her. He was definitely reading her mind, or she really didnt belong here and he could tell.
At the evening meeting, all of the newcomers were asked to stand. An older guy named William walked around the room handing out white poker chips. The chip, she learned, was to commemorate her first day of sobriety. Counting back to the night before she was placed on leave, Lily noted that today was in fact her 11th day without a drink.
George appeared in Annas doorway with an invitation. "Hey, any chance a busy CEO could make some time to have lunch with her old man?"
"I think I could arrange that," she grinned. Not wanting to have to explain Lilys absence, Anna had turned down their invitations to dinner over the last three weeks, citing her overwhelming work load. This would be a good chance to talk with her father again, and to hear how he was enjoying his semi-retirement.
"So hows the golf game?" she asked, knowing that her father had been spending quite a bit of his newfound free time on the links.
"Its getting there, I think. But Im still kind of rusty, you know. Cant seem to remember all the swear words," he joked.
"Well you should hang out in the service area sometime. Its quite a refresher."
"Im sure it is." George had a couple of things on his mind. He was enjoying his freedom from work, especially the time with Martine, but it had given him a perspective on how he should have better balanced home and work during his tenure as company president. He didnt want to see his daughter make the same mistake, and he wondered if she would allow him to have another go, this time to do it right. He missed his work terribly.
When theyd placed their orders at Visage, a French restaurant near the dealership where they often ate, Anna tried to guide the conversation to comfortable territory. "So what do you and Mom have planned for vacations?"
"Well, if you had come to dinner last week, you would have heard. Were leaving Monday for two weeks in the Greek Isles," he said smugly.
"Wow! Thats fantastic!" It suddenly occurred to Anna that she and Lily had not taken a vacation together. Their only trips out of town in the year they had been together were camping in Yosemite and a weekend in Palm Springs, and the latter had been for work.
"And thats one of the reasons I wanted to have lunch with you today. Well be gone next week, so your mother and I would like everyone to come over this weekend to celebrate your birthday."
Damn! "You know, this birthday stuff sort of loses its charm as you climb up that ladder."
George thought he saw a hint of hesitation in his daughters face at the mention of a birthday party. "Nonsense! You never get too old for birthdays. Martine suggested Sunday at two oclock. Does that work? I know, you have to check with whats-her-name first," he teased. He was bewildered to see the tears rush suddenly to his daughters eyes. "Anna, what is it? I was only teasing, sweetheart." He was devastated to think that his playfulness had hurt her.
Anna shook her head, not knowing what to say, or if she should even answer at all. The worried look on her fathers face tipped the scales, though she dreaded giving him ammunition for his arguments against the woman she loved. "Lily and I are having some problems right now. Shes staying somewhere else until we can get things worked out."
"Anna, darling, why didnt you say something?"
"So youd have another excuse to put her down, Dad?" Her tone was quiet, conveying hurt rather than anger at his persistent opposition to their relationship.
"Oh, Anna," he sighed. The joke had gone on too long. "I thought you knew how I felt about Lily. Not how I put on when Im with her, but how I really feel. Sweetheart, Lily knows its all for laughs. Im sure of it."
It was true, Anna realized, that Lily had stopped complaining about her father long ago, and that she seemed to seek him out for conversation and laughs when they were all together. "I wanted you to tell me, Dad. I wanted to know that you thought Id made a good choice." She had finally stopped needing her fathers approval, but that didnt mean she didnt welcome it.
"Sweetheart, Im so sorry. You did make a good choice. You made a wonderful choice. Ive come to love Lily every bit as much as I love Hal. Theyre both part of our family as far as Im concerned." George felt awful that hed withheld his approval for so long. He hoped his lack of candor hadnt played a part in his daughters problems with Lily. "Can your mother or I do anything at all to help, darling?"
Anna told her father a little about their troubles, leaving out the incident where shed gotten hurt, as she was still somewhat wary of his convictions about Lily. Mostly, shed laid the blame for Lilys drinking on losing her mother, and Annas long hours at the dealerships.
That was the opening George wanted, and he shocked his daughter with a request to take over Premium VW when he returned from Greece. Between the two of them, he assured, they could smooth out all of the operations at the four dealerships, and still have plenty of time for their families.
After four days of casual conversation, Lily had begun to talk to Tyler about the series of incidents that had brought her to Redwood Hills. Despite herself, she had found herself listening to the testimonials of her fellow captivesshe no longer thought of them as inmates, but the idea was the samenoting with chagrin the similarities between their stories and her own.
The step meetings had been the most agonizing, especially all the God parts. It wasnt that she didnt believe in a higher spiritual power; it was more that she couldnt bring herself to place expectations on how that power might intervene in her life. These afflictions were her own, she reasoned, and it was unrealistic to think some spiritual being might just take them away. Lying in her bed on Friday night, Lily recalled the "talk" she had had at her mothers gravesite two weeks ago. Hadnt she called on her mother for help? Wasnt it irrational to believe that Eleanor could help her when a higher power could not?
On her seventh day at Redwood Hills, Lily stood at the morning general meeting, speaking to the group for the first time.
"Good morning. My name is Lily, and Im an alcoholic."
Okay, lets see if KG can fix this mess Conclusion.Return to the Academy