Stirred 5 (Conclusion)

By KG MacGregor


Chapter 13


Lily raised her water glass to toast her two friends. "To friendship."

Sandy and Suzanne joined her. "To friendship," they replied in unison. They had picked up their friend today after four weeks in the alcohol rehab center, insisting that she would stay at their home until she sorted out more permanent arrangements.

Lily though, agreed to spend Saturday night, but implored her friends to take her back to the Waterways Lodge on Sunday. "No offense, guys, but I haven’t had a moment alone in a month."

Sandy knew her friend’s penchant for sorting things out in solitude, so she acquiesced, but with one condition: Saturday night sleepovers would be mandatory until Lily got a better offer. They had missed their friend.

"Look, I really want you guys to know how much I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. In fact, starting today I would like to show you by being a better friend to you both. I’ve been on the receiving end of things too long."

"You don’t owe us anything, Lil. That’s what we’re here for," Suzanne countered.

Lily groaned. "Just humor me, Suzanne. It’s part of my program, actually. I’m supposed to make amends to those I’ve harmed, and you guys are on my list."

Sandy put her hand on Lily’s arm. "You haven’t harmed us, Lily. But it’s good news if it means we’re going to be seeing more of you. So who else is on your list?"

Lily sat back and folded her arms. "Well, there’s Tony of course, and by extension everybody else in the office who cleaned up after me. I plan to call him on Monday to see if I can come back to work. But it’s possible he’ll say no. I really screwed up there."

"You’re one of the best at what you do," Sandy reassured. "There’s no way Tony won’t take you back."

"Well, let’s hope you’re right." Lily had no idea what she would do if she couldn’t go back to work at the clinic.

"So will you call Anna?"

Lily grew quiet for a moment at the mention of her lover’s name. "I will soon. But I’m just not sure I’m ready. I…I don’t know what I’m going to say."

"She loves you, you know," Sandy encouraged. She didn’t want to say too much.

"Yeah, I know. And I love her. I just don’t know if it’s enough anymore." As she had for the past eight weeks, Lily was still grappling with doubts about how they had parted.

"I’m sure you’ll work it out." Suzanne had seen them both enough to know that there was plenty of love between them to bring them back together, no matter what the chasm.

On Sunday morning, Sandy and Suzanne deposited Lily and her SUV at the Waterways Lodge, extracting a promise that she would call if she needed anything.

"Are you kidding? I won’t know what to do with all this freedom. I’ll walk on the beach, read, and eat junk food from vending machines."

"You don’t have to do that now, though. There are lots of places to eat within biking distance." Suzanne unloaded the bicycle she was lending the attorney so that she could expand her territory a bit. Lily had located a small Methodist church three miles away that hosted AA meetings at seven each morning. Ninety meetings in 90 days was her commitment to Redwood Hills. Only 61 days to go.


Fresh back from his tour of the Greek Isles with his wife, George Kaklis strolled into Premier VW on Monday morning, a man on a mission. At a hastily called general staff meeting, Anna introduced her father as the new president of the dealership, her own title now changed to CEO of Premier Motors, and president of Premier BMW. George’s job was to implement Anna’s business plan for increasing sales and service using resources already available at the other Premier lots. In under six weeks, Anna’s campaign in the LA Times had generated a 30 percent increase in traffic on all of the lots, and a corresponding increase in sales. In particular, used car sales had soared, as the BMW lots now had a lucrative outlet for their more downscale trade-ins.

An on occasion, a young man would relinquish his luxury sports car for a more practical vehicle….

"Say, I hear the Passat wagon is a pretty nice ride for a family car," a familiar voice shouted as Anna walked to her Z8.

"Scott!" There he stood, leaning against his soon-to-be-traded Z3, smiling broadly back. "What are you doing here?" Anna crossed the lot and gave her ex-husband a warm hug.

"I got my orders. Sara told me I needed a car that would hold two car seats." He couldn’t hide his proud grin.

"Two?" Anna exclaimed excitedly. She was genuinely happy for him. Despite his one-night stand with Sara, their split had never been malicious or vindictive.

Arm in arm, Anna walked him into the showroom to pull out a contract. She would handle this sale; that way, she could waive the commission, giving him the best deal he could get anywhere. Whipping out his wallet full of photos, Scott told her all about the joys of little Matt, and how they were looking forward to this next one, a girl. As he talked, her cell phone rang but she quickly muted it, making a mental note to check her voice mail later.

"So how about you, Anna? Are you seeing anyone seriously?" His tone was caring, but not patronizing.

"Yes, Scott. As a matter of fact, I am." The dark-haired woman reached into her own wallet and extracted the only photo she carried of her lover, a cropped version of the one taken at Yosemite Falls. She couldn’t help but be nervous as she waited for Scott’s reply.

His surprise evident, Scott took a deep breath and blew it out loudly. "Wow. I wasn’t prepared for that, Anna."

"Yeah, it kind of took me by surprise too," she said smiling softly. "Her name is Lily Stuart, and believe it or not, she’s the woman I was trapped with in the earthquake. We got to be good friends after that, and things just evolved."

Scott shook his head, still in disbelief. "Well, I…I wish you both all the happiness in the world." Afraid that she might have taken his surprise as judgment, he added, "I really mean that, Anna. I’m happy you’ve found someone that makes you feel that way."

"And I’m happy for you, Scott." The uncomfortable moment mostly over, she tugged him in the direction of the administrative offices. "Now if you’ll indulge me, I’d like you to say hello to someone who’s going to be very happy to see you."

Once she’d deposited the man in her father’s office and signed off on the sale of his new VW wagon, Anna walked back to her Z8, smiling to herself at Scott’s happiness. Suddenly remembering the muted phone call, she checked the new message:

"Hi Anna, Sandy Henke here. Thought you might be interested in knowing that there should be a familiar car back at the Waterways Lodge tonight. Suzanne and I dropped her off yesterday, and I have to tell you, she seems better than she has in a long time. Just thought you’d want to know. Bye."


Tony closed his office door and turned to face the blonde attorney standing before his desk. Both uncertain of what to say, their deep feelings of friendship won the moment as they embraced without a word. Lily was first to find her voice.

"I’ve gotten my act together, Tony, like you asked me to."

Her boss smiled. Anna had intimated that Lily was working on her problems, though he had no idea the extent of her efforts. Still, he knew Lily well, and if she said she had her act together, he believed her. "So I take it you’re ready to come back to work?"

The blonde nodded eagerly. "I am, Tony. And I promise to never again give you a reason to worry about my performance. I…truly want to apologize for putting this firm at risk. I hope you know how much this place means to me."

Tony nodded his understanding. He was in a bad spot. In the six weeks Lily had been gone, his wife Colleen had taken over most of her caseload, and she’d turned down the recent offer from the public defender’s office. Given their small budget at the clinic, there was little for Lily to do without dislodging Colleen. He outlined the situation to the anxious attorney before finally offering a compromise. "How would you feel about coming back part time while we look for some additional funding? Maybe you could even look into writing a grant proposal or two."

"I’ll do anything, Tony," Lily answered with relief. "Mom left me in pretty good shape, so the part time thing is okay for now. Thanks."

"It’s good to have you back," he added sincerely. "Listen, till we get things sorted out, would you mind using this smaller office?" He gestured toward the converted closet.

Ouch! "Can I at least…have my chair?" She could stomach the loss of her windowed office, but she wouldn’t stand for losing her Aeron chair! Hmmm…not stand for losing a chair…there was something odd about that sentence.


Sure enough, the silver X-5 was back at the Waterways Lodge. Anna had left Chester at home tonight, thinking that she might get up the nerve to see Lily face to face. Her courage was slipping fast though, as she went over in her head what she’d say. She wanted Lily to come home.

Come on Amazon. Maybe she’s just waiting for an invitation. Her mind made up, Anna climbed out of the sports car and walked nervously inside to the front desk, where she found the clerk absorbed in his nightly paperwork. "I’m here to see Lilian Stuart please."

Getting no answer when he dialed the woman’s room, the helpful clerk volunteered, "She usually goes for a walk on the beach at night. I bet that’s where she is."

Anna grabbed her jacket from the car and headed toward the beach, looking carefully down side streets so as not to miss her lover. When she reached the water she scanned the beachgoers, looking for a distinct head of bright blonde hair. No such person in either direction, she lamented. With the sunlight quickly fading, Anna thought it best to wait on the path Lily would most likely take back to the hotel. After more than a half hour, she made out a familiar figure in the distance.

I should start to look for an apartment. I need to get the rest of my things from the house. What about Chester? I should probably stay here until I get my license back. In her head, Lily was turning over possibilities for where to go from here. In the last two hours of walking, she’d completely ruled out going back home. That decision followed what she thought was a pretty rational analysis of the facts: mainly that Anna hadn’t let her come home when she needed to, insisting that she "fix herself" on her own. That had marked a fundamental power shift in their relationship, with Lily losing all sense of equality. She couldn’t build a relationship with someone who unilaterally called the shots, and who had demonstrated that she wasn’t willing to work through their problems.

In her periphery, she saw a figure walking towards her, not just in her general direction but definitely on an intercept course. Lily’s stomach fluttered then sank as she found herself face to face with Anna Kaklis. Speak of the devil!

Even in the waning light, Anna saw the gamut of emotions in Lily’s eyes as recognition settled. There was apprehension, joy, anger, love–all but indifference, though it was clear that Lily was working hard to convey that now. Like a knife in the gut, Anna suddenly felt the fear of losing the one she loved.

"Lily." She wanted badly to reach out for a hug, but stopped herself. The green eyes definitely said no.

"Hello Anna." She fought it for a few seconds, but the urge was too powerful. Lily closed the distance between them and gestured for a hug. In moments, she was engulfed in long, loving arms.

"God, I’ve missed you," Anna murmured above the roar of the surf.

Lily was rapidly losing her resolve to keep her emotional distance as well. "I’ve missed you too," she confessed. It was true.

When they finally separated, Anna started, "Are you doing okay?"

"I’m good, Anna. Better every day." This is no time to go weak in the knees, she admonished herself. Lily steeled herself for the conversation she needed to have.

"Let’s go somewhere and talk. I want to hear everything." Anna turned them both back toward the street.

"Let’s just walk." The beach was Lily’s turf. She felt secure here. Turning back south toward the airport, the blonde pushed both of her hands in her pockets and stepped away a little, her body language saying ‘don’t get close.’ As they walked, she started her tale, beginning even with those hurts she’d dealt with before leaving home: her problems at work, running into Beverly, seeing Marga Alvarez through the death of her mother. It was important that Anna know how bad things had been so she would understand the depth of Lily’s hurt.

"Why didn’t you tell me these things, Lily?" Anna couldn’t believe her lover had kept all this hurt inside.

"You didn’t have time for them. You were too busy with work," she answered coldly.

The accusation stung for its bitter tone, but it didn’t ring true for Anna. She knew she would have made time for comforting her lover. She also knew that it wouldn’t have been enough. Still, if that was how Lily saw things, she’d have to work hard to overcome that.

Lily went on to describe her trip to San Jose with Sandy, relating how she’d found her natural mother. "When I realized that I had become a completely different person–thanks to Eleanor Stuart–I knew that door wasn’t open for my natural mother and me to have a relationship. With Mom gone, and with you pushing me away…." She chose those words to hurt the woman walking beside her. "I felt completely alone."

"You were never alone, Lily. I was always there. I never stopped loving you, not even for a moment." I love you right now more than I ever have!

"That may be how you see it, Anna, but it didn’t feel that way to me. Put yourself in my shoes. Your love had conditions. I had to go–what was it you said–‘work on myself’ so I’d be worthy of coming home." She couldn’t keep the resentment from her voice.

"It wasn’t like that, Lily."

"No? Let me tell you what it was like, Anna. I’ve been living in a goddamned motel room, eating out of vending machines. And walking everywhere I go. I don’t have all my clothes, my work things, none of my personal things. I’ve spent 28 days in a residential treatment center full of drunks. That house in Brentwood was my home too. You had no right to shut me out." She was practically shouting, her voice shaking with anger.

Anna weighed her lover’s words. Was she right? Had it been wrong for her to tell Lily that she couldn’t come home? I was the one who had the problem with her being there. "Maybe you’re right. Maybe I should have been the one to leave," she conceded.

"Or we could have worked on it together. Neither one of us had to leave. At the very least, we should have discussed it. But you made that decision all by yourself."

"Lily, you’re the one that left. I didn’t get a say in that. I came home from the hospital and you were gone."

"That’s right," the blonde retorted sarcastically. "Don’t forget to throw that night in my face."

"I’m not throwing anything in your face!" Anna caught herself shouting and struggled to calm down. "Lily, I talked to someone that night…a counselor. He told me that I needed to step back, that all I was doing was helping you drink, helping you hurt yourself."

"So you went behind my back to talk about my problems with somebody else!" Lily was past being rational. She’d made up her mind that Anna wasn’t going to say anything right.

"No, Lily. That night I talked to somebody about my problems, not yours."

"Of course. I should have known you’d see it as your problem. What an idiot I am! I threw Anna Kaklis’ universe out of balance."

"Goddamn it, Lily! Don’t you understand? It was my problem because you were hurting and I couldn’t help you. No matter what I did–coming home early, taking days off, spending time with you–it wasn’t enough to get you to stop drinking and start getting control of your life. I had to stop protecting you from the consequences of your behavior." Can’t you see what a difference it made? "And I had to stop pretending that it didn’t matter to me."

"Well I’d say you took care of your little problem then. Here I stand, Anna, sober now for 42 days. I promise not to cause you any more trouble."

Tears rushed to Anna’s eyes as she felt the force of her lover’s words. What could she say to make her understand that there was no other way? "If you’re sober now, that’s what matters. I knew it was a risk to pull away like that, but it was one I was willing to take. I wasn’t going to gamble on the alternative, Lily. No matter what happened between you and me, you needed help."

"I hope it was worth it to you, because what we had is gone. You weren’t there for me when I needed you, and I’ll never be able to trust you again." The finality of her own words brought a hard lump to her throat.

Anna stood quietly for a moment, absorbing the impact of Lily’s words. With nothing at all to lose, she added softly, "I did what I did because I loved you. So much that if I had it to do over again…" She took a deep breath. "…I’d do it exactly the same way." The tall woman straightened her shoulders and walked away, disappearing into the darkness.

Lily turned back toward the beach and sat down in the sand, folding her arms across her bent knees. What have I done? Recounting her own words, she realized with a panic that she had closed the book on Anna Kaklis. It occurred to her suddenly that if she managed not to have a drink tonight, she was home free.


It was a very bad week for the staff at Premier Motors. Even the affable Carmen had gotten her head handed to her when she joked about someone being grumpy. The boss had in fact been much grumpier than usual.

"Poor Chester," Holly consoled the dog. "You have to go home with the grouch." Holly wasn’t intimidated by her angry boss. She had kept Chester twice when Anna had gone overnight to Palm Springs, and was probably the only one at Premier who had figured out that Lily was gone. Even Hal didn’t know.

Anna looked up from her desk to see her sales manager scratching the hound’s upturned belly. "I can send him home with you if you’re worried about his well-being."

"You know I’ll take him if you need the space, Anna. Maybe you should head home and relax a little tonight." Her boss usually "relaxed" by covering herself with paperwork, triple-checking every detail, sometimes even finding problems where there were none.

Anna sighed and looked at the clock–half past seven. She had not slept well since her talk with Lily four days ago, so she’d given up trying and started her workday shortly after five in the morning. "Maybe you’re right. But poor Chester should have to come with me. He’s going to have to learn to take the bad with the good." And I don’t want to be home without him.

"Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help, Anna." It was a simple offer of friendship.

"Thanks, Holly. I’m sure it’ll all work out." Other than her brief talks with George and Sandy, that was all she’d said to anyone about her situation at home.

"Are you sure you don’t want to talk about…whatever it is that’s got you on edge? You know I can keep a confidence, and it’s bound to help to get it all out."

Talking with others was not Anna’s modus operandi. It never really had been. But she couldn’t help but remember how talking with Lily about Scott while they were trapped underground had helped her reach the decision to end their marriage. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to talk to Holly. "Okay. Would you mind closing the door? I’d hate to be the topic of discussion at the water cooler tomorrow."

"You already are," Holly jibed. "Only it’s all a great big mystery."

"Well as far as I’m concerned, it can stay that way." Anna quietly told Holly the gist of Lily’s tale, leaving out any details that might paint her lover in an unflattering light. "I went there the other night to tell her that I love her and that I want her to come home. I never even got a chance to say either of those things."

"Well then, you should call her."

"But she’s already said no to coming home, and from what she said about not trusting me anymore, I doubt seriously that she loves me either."

"So what? That shouldn’t keep you from telling her how you feel. Maybe she needs to know."

"You think I should call her?"

"No. I think you should go home first. You’re a wreck, boss. Relax and take this precious puppy for a walk." She reached down again to pet the adorable hound. "Then you should call her."

Maybe Holly was right. I should at least get my two cents in there.

Thirty minutes later, the car dealer was at home, reminding herself that eating dinner and walking Chester were not complementary tasks. Anna always got a kick out of Chester’s excitement each time she clipped on his leash and led him to the median of their street for his nightly romp. Thinking ahead to her call to Lily, Anna coaxed him impatiently; still the hound painstakingly identified each of the neighborhood dogs who had ‘gone’ before him and erased their mark. His trips to the median were merely status checks of these territorial signposts.

Now as relaxed as she was going to get, Anna looked at the clock and almost let herself off the hook for the night. It was after 10, and she told herself that Lily might be asleep already. Still, she knew she’d lose her nerve tomorrow, and Holly was right. She needed to tell Lily how she felt.

Dialing the Waterways Lodge on her cordless phone, she paced the bedroom anxiously. Just tell her. "I’d like to speak to Lilian Stuart, please."

"Hello." Anna could hear the TV in the background.

"Lily, it’s Anna. Listen, I’m sorry to bother you this late, but I left the other night before we really finished our talk. I apologize for that; just the heat of the moment I guess."

The blonde actually had fallen asleep and was startled first by the phone itself, then the realization that Anna Kaklis was on the line.

"Anyway, the reason I called was that I had two things I wanted to tell you that I never got around to saying. First is that I love you very much. And second is that I want you to come home."

Apparently, the dark-haired woman hadn’t been listening very well the other night. "Anna, I…."

"No, Lily. Those weren’t questions. They don’t need answers. That’s all I wanted to say."

The now wide awake blonde then found herself listening to a dial tone.


Back at Sandy and Suzanne’s on Saturday night after a full week out of the rehab center, Lily took stock of her progress. She’d done the required seven meetings in seven days, and made amends to Tony and the law clinic staff. On Thursday, she’d had the pleasure of appearing–as an attorney–in Judge Anston’s court, entering a not guilty plea for a client charged with resisting arrest. The judge had been pleased to see her; she could tell by the way he had said "good morning, counselor" before scolding her to wait for his question before answering.

"Have you talked to Anna this week?" Sandy asked.

"Yeah." Lily’s shoulders slumped. "She came by the motel on Monday night. I didn’t even know she knew where I was. Imagine that," she said suspiciously.

Sandy wouldn’t rise to the bait. "So how did it go?"

Lily groaned. "She asked me to come home."

Sandy and Suzanne exchanged looks, and Suzanne spoke. "So what are you doing still at the Waterways Lodge?"

"I can’t go back home," Lily sighed. "I’m going to have to start looking for a place to live."

Sandy didn’t like this at all. What was going one here? "What do you mean you can’t go back home? Why not?"

"What would be the point, Sandy? Anna wasn’t there when I needed her. She didn’t help me at all through this. What mattered to her was that goddamned dealership, and I shouldn’t have had to take a back seat to it. I was interfering with her work," she sneered. Now on a roll, she continued. "It didn’t matter to her that my mother had died, that I had my own problems at work, or even that I couldn’t drive myself anywhere. Basically she just said ‘Tough shit, Lily. Hit the road and come back when you’re all better.’ Why should I go back home to that? What if she decided one day that I ought to practice corporate law? Or that I should give up my friends because they aren’t fancy enough for her? I want a partner, not a boss."

Sandy couldn’t hold her tongue. She’d always liked Anna, and now she had a newfound respect for the woman’s strength. "You’re wrong about her. Lily. She was there for you all along, whether you knew it or not."

The blonde looked up, her eyes full of doubt. "Sandy, I begged her to let me come home. I promised to talk to somebody, to get some help with my depression about Mom. But she still said no."

"What exactly did she say, Lily?" Sandy knew she would have to lead Lily to the answers here, as Lily wasn’t seeing it on her own. She definitely noticed that Lily still hadn’t acknowledged a drinking problem.

"I asked her if I could come home, and she said she didn’t think that was a good idea. She said she didn’t want to be with me if I was going to drink. But then when I promised I wouldn’t, that wasn’t enough, so I have a little trouble believing it was ever about that. I think it was more about my not being the low-maintenance, happy girlfriend she wanted. But the real kicker was when she said I was making her feel guilty about working so much. That’s what it was really about." Lily was getting steamed at the retelling of the story, strengthening her resolve to end things with the beautiful woman who had let her down.

To her surprise, Sandy laughed and shook her head. "No, Lily. You’re missing everything here. You may not want to believe it, but it was always about your drinking; nothing else. Anna Kaklis never gave up on you, and she never turned her back on you."

"How can you be so sure of that?" In her heart, Lily harbored a wish that what her friend said was true, but she couldn’t see how.

Sandy eyed her friend silently for a long moment, contemplating whether to tell what she knew or to keep Anna’s confidence. Lily needed to know, she decided. "Lily, I don’t want you to get angry with Suzanne and me when I tell you this. We’re your friends and we want what’s best for you. Sometimes that means deciding what’s best for you when you can’t do that for yourself. And just so you know, Anna is that kind of friend too."

The blonde woman was already stiffening at the idea she had been manipulated. "So what are you saying, Sandy?"

"I’m saying that I’ve been in touch with Anna pretty much ever since the night we got back from San Jose. She came here frantic because your car wasn’t at the lodge anymore. She knew where you were almost from the beginning."

Lily couldn’t believe it. All that time hiding out and Anna had known all along. "She was watching me all that time?"


Lily suddenly remembered the glimpse of the car she’d seen just before she entered the treatment center. "But why would she just watch me? Why wouldn’t she try to talk to me?"

"Well it so happens that when she came by here looking for you, I gave her hell for not helping you, and she told me that she’d talked with a counselor at the hospital who told her that she had to walk away from you, or that everything would only get worse. She didn’t want to do it at first, but he convinced her–listen to me, Lily, this is important–he convinced her that you were in a lot of trouble. She didn’t want to abandon you, but he made her see that your relationship didn’t matter at all if you didn’t survive the spiral you were in. It may be hard for you to wrap your head around this, Lily, but what Anna did took more love than you can imagine."

"She could have told me that, Sandy."

"She did tell you that. But she told you in a way that made you do something about it. It made you take responsibility for your own actions." Lily was silent, but Sandy could see that her words were having an effect. "Lily, I’ve worked with alcoholics before. What she said was absolutely right. You needed to face the consequences."

"Maybe so," she conceded, "but I shouldn’t have had to face them by myself."

Sandy dreaded telling Lily the next part. "She was ready to find you and take you home that day, but I stopped her. You were about to enter the treatment center and I was worried you’d change your mind."

Lily couldn’t believe Sandy had kept this from her. "Why didn’t you tell me this? Do you have any idea how much it hurt me to think that she just disappeared!" She couldn’t stop the tears.

The social worker knew she was in trouble with her friend. Her explanation needed to be a good one. She reached out to put a hand on Lily’s arm, but the blonde woman pulled it away. "Lily, I’m sorry that I kept things from you. But you’d already made up your mind that you were going to get help, and you were doing it for yourself, not for Anna. And that’s the way it needed to be. Can you honestly say you’d have gone into Redwood Hills if you could have gone home instead?"

The answer to that question was obvious to everyone.


Chapter 14


Lily walked the bike out of the storage closet they were letting her use at the Waterways Lodge. It was an expensive mountain bike, and Suzanne had bought it at the urging of a friend who regularly rode the steep trails of the San Gabriel Mountains. Suzanne had ridden it three times on the street in front of their home, the last occasion over two years ago.

It had been a thought-filled week for Lily, first as she turned over in her head the things Sandy had told her a week ago about Anna. Lily now found herself deeply conflicted. She still harbored resentment over what she saw as a power play on Anna’s part and her own subsequent feelings of abandonment, but the events that Sandy described were a plausible explanation for her lover’s behavior. In fact, when she tried to see things from Anna’s point of view, things made more sense. The clandestine watchful eye and now the open plea to return home were all consistent with the woman she loved, while the one who had selfishly resisted her coming home was a stranger.

Besides the revelations from her friends, Lily found even more reasons to re-examine what she wanted with Anna from her AA program. Lily was still attending meetings at the Methodist church. Only 47 more to go. Once she’d honored her commitment, she’d set her schedule according to her own needs, attending meetings only when she felt she needed support.

At Tuesday’s meeting, they had spoken of amends. In those clear moments when she was honest with herself, Lily knew that she had wronged her lover with her drinking, and needed to make amends. Anna would forgive her, she was certain, but that wasn’t enough. She needed to make up for the hurt, for the disappointment, the betrayal, and the blame. No matter where their relationship was headed, Lily knew they needed to reconnect in order to set things right.

An early morning call to her lover went to voicemail, so Lily dialed the BMW dealership, only to learn that the car dealer had gone to Detroit for an auto show. She was due back on Monday night, Carmen had said. Lily had no idea of Carmen’s epiphany at realizing what was amiss with her boss.

Lily resolved that she would call her lover in a few days to talk again, but here on Sunday afternoon she found herself pedaling mindlessly toward the Spanish-style house in Brentwood that had been her home for almost a year. She had a right to be there, she told herself. Many of her things were still there; there was her mail, which she hadn’t collected in almost three months; there was her jewelry and heirlooms.

Lily pulled the bike around back, parking it inside the gate next to the garage. The pool was sparkling, a sign that the pool service had been by in the last couple of days, and the landscaping was freshly clipped and groomed. The blonde dug out her key and walked back out to the side door, where she entered the house through the family room.

Lily was surprised by the strong emotional response she had to being inside the house. Something in the house told her that this was where she really lived; where she belonged.

The home was full of messages about how Anna had lived her life over these past few weeks. The table next to the couch was stacked high with Car & Driver–someone was behind in their reading. It appeared as though Anna had only used the office to collect Lily’s mail. A quick perusal through the box on the desk told her there were no unpaid bills; apparently, Anna had taken care of them, just as she had after the funeral.

Uneasily, Lily mounted the stairs to the master bedroom suite. Oddly, she felt a bit like a trespasser, even a voyeur looking in on Anna’s private life. Their room was unchanged from when she’d left, neat and clean from the housekeeper’s recent visit. She couldn’t help but smile as her eyes came upon the framed picture on the nightstand, the one from Yosemite. Lily was touched by the fact that Anna had brought the photo up from the family room to her bedside. What lay beside the photo moved her profoundly: a book she recognized from the library at Redwood Hills called Loving Gary, the story of a woman who had guided her husband into recovery after years of alcohol abuse, and how their love had flourished from the shared ordeal.


The last five days hadn’t been the respite Anna had sought from the worry and sadness that were now her constant companions. The annual event in Detroit was one of the highlights of the year for auto dealers, especially those like Anna who were as fascinated by the cars as they were with the business of selling them. But this year, not even the most stunning innovations in automotive engineering had held her interest. Instead, she found herself imagining the emptiness of a life without the beautiful blonde that completely owned her heart. She wondered what Lily was doing this week; if she had found a place to live. Soon she would come back to the house to claim her belongings, and Anna was pretty sure she didn’t want to be there when that happened.

"Would you like something to drink before we land?" The handsome and wonderfully gay flight attendant in the first-class cabin had been reluctant to disturb the somber woman, so absorbed in her worries that she had barely touched her dinner.

"No, thank you." She turned back to the window, searching the fading red desert below for signs of civilization. They would be in LA soon.

Bored with the auto show and preoccupied with thoughts of her lover, Anna had changed her travel plans to return a day before schedule. She smiled to herself as she acknowledged her penchant for coming home early, mostly engineered to surprise her lover. There would be no reward waiting this time.

At least there was Chester. She planned to call as soon as they landed to ask Holly to bring him to the house. It would be a very long night indeed without the pooch to keep her company.


Distracted by almost three months worth of mail, Lily lost track of time, realizing with irritation that she would be riding back to the lodge in the darkness. She considered leaving Anna a note, but worried that it might make the woman uneasy to realize that she’d been here without asking first. She’d let her know when they talked. Stashing a couple of cards she’d gotten from her mother’s friends into her small backpack, she headed out the side door, then through the gate to retrieve her bike.

Again in the back yard, Lily was overwhelmed with homesickness as she looked first at the pool then at the hot tub, where she and Anna spent many relaxing evenings, not to mention many…romantic moments.

It suddenly occurred to Lily that she didn’t actually have to go home tonight. Anna wasn’t due home until tomorrow night, and with her part-time work schedule, the attorney wasn’t due in the office until afternoon anyway. I could sleep on the couch, she reasoned, not really feeling comfortable making herself completely at home.

Letting herself back into the house, Lily went into the bathroom off the family room, depositing her backpack and trading her clothes for one of the guest towels. The back yard was dark and mostly private, visible only to any neighbor who was nosy enough to pierce the dense hedge that grew five feet above the half wall surrounding the property.

Wrapped only in her towel, the naked blonde waited in a nearby chair at the far end of the pool while the water in the hot tub was heated to her liking. When the steam started to rise, she slipped into the tub, rolling the towel to tuck behind her neck. She couldn’t help but call up those memories of the last time she was out here. It was the night she and Anna had gotten home from Yosemite. Their time together that weekend with Carolyn and Vicki–hmmm, wonder if they’re pregnant–had been special. It was one of the last occasions she could remember being happy.

The churning water was soothing, the lull of the pump relaxing. Still, it wasn’t wise to stay in the hot tub for more than 20 or 30 minutes at a time, and Lily was pushing that now. Stretching out, she threw the on-off levers for the heater and pump that were mounted discreetly under a nearby bush.

Out of nowhere, headlights appeared in the driveway, freezing the blonde in place, half in, half out of the circular tub. Who the hell…?

"Go ahead, Ms. Kaklis. I’ll bring your bag in," the businesslike tone indicating that this was a chauffer.

Fuck! Anna’s home! Fuck! Lily was too surprised to move, and not sure where she would go if she did. She couldn’t just waltz through the back door naked.

"Thank you, Henry."

Yep, that was definitely Anna. Fuck! Lily saw the light go on in the family room. She had intentionally turned out all but one light in the kitchen so as not to illuminate the patio. She could barely make out the figure through the French doors; Anna seemed to be fussing with her suitcase.

But the naked woman’s misery was incomplete. No sooner had the limo left than a second car appeared, this one parking next to the garage and turning off the lights.

"Come on, boy. Let’s go see mommy!" The woman’s voice was familiar, but Lily couldn’t place it. Whoever it was had obviously kept Chester while Anna was gone.

"There’s my boy!" It was Anna’s voice again at the side door. "Hey fella!"

"I’d say he missed you."

"I missed him too. Thanks for bringing him tonight, Holly. Come on in."

Holly Martin, the sales manager at the BMW place. Lily knew that Anna thought a lot of Holly’s work, but she had no idea that they were friends. With a panic, Lily wondered if they were more than friends.

Holly followed Chester into the kitchen, where he checked to see if anyone had thought to leave him a snack. Anna came in behind them and lifted the panel on the dog door so the hound could go check to see if another creature had invaded his territory while he was gone.

The tired traveler would certainly have noticed the unlocked deadbolt on the French doors leading to the patio, but Holly paid it no mind, assuming that Anna had already been through the house. "Look at him go. I wonder if he’ll find anything interesting," Holly said.

Oh fucking hell! They’re coming outside! Lily slid low into the hot tub, peering toward the house where she could make out two women now sitting at the umbrella table. The night was pretty warm for late October, so who knew how long they’d sit and talk. Fuck!

Lily was startled by the sudden arrival of Chester, who was thrilled to see his other mother in the hot tub. "Rrrrrrarf! Rrarf!" Fucking hell!

"Wonder what he’s found," asked Holly, standing up.

"No telling. Probably some rodent that will come running over here to be saved. Chester! Come here!"

Chester bounded back to his main mistress, the one who took him for rides in the convertible so that his ears flapped.

There was indeed a god, Lily was sure.

"I should be going. Are you going to come in tomorrow, or should I pretend I haven’t seen you?"

"Hmmm…Let’s play it by ear. If I don’t come in, you didn’t see me."

"It’s a deal. Welcome home, boss. So long, Chester." Holly patted the dog’s head and walked out through the back gate.

Lily relaxed for a moment, still not knowing how she was going to get into the house to retrieve her clothes. Even if Anna went back inside, she’d have to wait until both the woman and dog were asleep upstairs. To both her dismay and delight, her strategizing was interrupted when the beautiful woman stood and in one fluid motion, peeled her shirt over her head. Oh fuck! Oh fuck! Oh fuck! She’s coming into the hot tub!

But she wasn’t. Anna completely disrobed, and then stepped slowly into the shallow end of the heated pool. Lily craned her neck to watch as the shapely form disappeared inch by inch beneath the surface. Sliding slowly around the rim of the hot tub, she positioned herself where she could watch with a low risk of being seen.

What a gorgeous woman! Lily was mesmerized by the sight of her once-lover gliding through the water. Sometimes they would swim together late at night, or even play and tease one another in the water until things turned suddenly serious. More than anything, Lily wished tonight was one of those nights. Just as she was getting up her nerve to boldly slip over the small waterfall that divided the pool from the hot tub, Anna stood at the shallow end and stepped out of the water. What a magnificent sight!

The tall woman–the tall naked woman–gathered up her clothing and walked back toward the house. "Come on, boy. Let’s go to bed." Chester padded eagerly alongside to the kitchen door.

Oh shit! Oh no! Oh shit! I am so fucked! Lily’s house key was in her backpack, inside the now locked house. Gradually, the lights downstairs gave way to those in the master suite. The now very pruned blonde climbed out of the hot tub, retrieving her towel from underneath the bush where she’d thrown it earlier. Tiptoeing to the house, she verified that the kitchen door was indeed bolted, as was the French door leading to the family room.

On the off chance that Anna had left the side door open, Lily slipped outside the gate into the driveway. To her horror, the motion detector on the porch light illuminated her presence for the neighbors or anyone who might be driving down the street. Lily didn’t care though, so long as Anna didn’t happen to look out her window at that moment. Fuck! That door was locked too.

Returning to the back yard, Lily weighed her options. She could start pounding on the door, but then she’d have to explain what she was doing out there without her clothes. And worse, she’d be hard pressed to come up with a good reason for not announcing herself earlier.

The kitchen window was a possibility. Anna usually left it cracked to allow the fresh air in. Lily slinked around the side of the house to test her theory. Shit! The place was Fort Knox! The kitchen windows were the only ones on that side, and there were none in the back of the house. Her only other options were the windows along the well-lit driveway or those in the front yard. Fuck! Out of choices, Lily started toward the front of the house.

Wait a minute! There along the ground was exactly what she needed: Chester’s doggie door! Lily stooped down to feel the opening. Anna had left the panel open so the dog could go in and out at night. It was small, but then so was she.

Tucking the towel in front so that it was tightly wrapped, Lily kneeled down and poked her head through the opening. The house was completely dark downstairs, and she could barely make out the sound of the hair dryer running in the master bath. Perfect!

She tried next to get her shoulders through, but it was too tight. Backing out, she started through again with her arms straight ahead. The door was taller than it was wide, so she turned on her side to make it easier. Pushing with her feet, Lily made slow progress. The towel was part of the problem, bunching up and creating a logjam just underneath her shoulders. Again, she backed out.

Pulling off the towel and shoving it through the hole, Lily started again. Arms first, then head, then shoulders…once she got both shoulders all the way through, she would be home free.

"Grrrrrrr! Rrrraaaarff! Rrrraarrff!"

Fuck me! Could this night get any more bizarre?

Chester was upset at first, but calmed immediately when he recognized the woman who used to sneak him food from the table. Still, he was perplexed at the idea of someone coming in through his door. It was exclusively for the four-legged people such as himself; the two-legged people always used the other doors. Always.

Lily’s heart stopped about the same time as the hair dryer.

"Chester!" Anna called from upstairs.

Fuck! Oh fuck! Lily squirmed, not sure whether to go forward or backward. Not that it mattered. She couldn’t seem to move either way.

"Rrrarff! Rrraarrf!" It was that unwritten rule again. When they’re on the floor, it’s play time.

"Chester!" Anna remembered the panel on the doggie door. The installer had told her that it was a good idea to close it at night, just in case any raccoons or stray pets wandered up. She could hear the struggle in the kitchen. Whatever it was, Chester obviously had it cornered. Filled with apprehension, Anna grabbed her robe and headed back down the stairs. From the hall closet between the kitchen and family room, the tall woman retrieved a broom. Shaking with anticipation, she reached for the light switch.

Nothing on earth could have prepared her for the sight that greeted her. Chester was sitting in the middle of the floor, wagging his tail with glee, barking excitedly at half of a naked red-faced Lily Stuart.

Oh. My. God. "This isn’t what it looks like," the woman on the floor quickly explained.

For the life of her, Anna couldn’t imagine what it was if it wasn’t what it looked like. "It looks like you’re crawling in the doggie door naked." She wasn’t angry. She wasn’t laughing. She was simply flabbergasted.

"Well, see? That’s exactly what I mean. I am not crawling in the doggie door. I’m actually stuck in the goddamned doggie door, so I’m not crawling anywhere." Lily knew her face was beet red. If this were a 10 on the Humiliation Scale, she probably never had anything else higher than a two.

"And the naked part?"

"Well…that is actually what it looks like." Lily stretched out for the towel to cover herself. "I can sort of explain all this."

"Should I go get a chair?" She couldn’t help herself. Whatever explanation there could possibly be for Lily crawling naked through the doggie door would be forgotten someday, but this image was forever.

"Very funny. Do you think you could trouble yourself to pull me out of here?"

Anna thought about it for a second or two. If she pulled the naked woman all the way through, she’d wrap up in the towel, tell her story, then presumably get dressed and leave. At least this way she was captive. On the other hand, there was probably a naked butt on the other side of that door that Anna wanted to see, and soon. "Well since you asked so nicely," she exaggerated the sarcasm for its comic effect, "do you wish to be pulled into the house, or out of the house?"

Lily squirmed a little to gauge her stuck-edness. "In, I think."

Yes! Here comes the butt! Anna reached down and took hold of Lily’s forearms and pulled her gently until she finally cleared the opening. Her left side was scraped a little from the door’s edge, but she was otherwise no worse for the wear.

Quickly Lily stood and wrapped the towel tightly around herself. "Thanks." Still red in the face, she started for the family room so she could put on her clothes.

"Oh no you don’t! I get an explanation now." This was going to be very interesting.

The blonde woman sighed deeply and leaned against the kitchen counter. "I tried to call you last week, but you were gone to Detroit. They told me you would be back on Monday, but I should have known that meant Sunday to you. It always does." Lily couldn’t suppress a small smile; she knew the woman well. "Anyway, I came by this afternoon on my bike. This is the first time I’ve been here, I swear."

Anna nodded her understanding. So she’d called last week. "Go ahead."

"So I went through my mail and it got late. I thought about going home, but it meant riding my bike in the dark, and that’s not exactly the safest thing in the world. So I decided to stay the night. I was going to leave you a note or call or something to tell you I’d been by. I’ve been wanting to talk to you again anyway."

She was planning to get in touch again. And she doesn’t seem to be angry anymore.

"Anyway, I was out in the hot tub when you got home. I started to come in when I saw it was you, but then Holly got here. So I stayed down low in the tub waiting for her to leave."

"And then I went swimming."

"And then you went swimming," Lily conceded, looking away guiltily.

"So why didn’t you join me then?" She took a step toward the nervous blonde.

"I…I thought about it. But I didn’t want to scare you. When you came back in, I just wanted to get my clothes and get out of here. But you locked all the doors."

"I always lock all the doors when I go to bed, Lily. Why didn’t you just knock?" Another step closer.

"I was sort of hoping I could get away without having you know I was here," she admitted. "I didn’t really want to have to explain why I hid. I’m not really sure why…." Anna was coming toward her and her stomach had started to flutter.

Now close enough to share a breath, the tall beauty whispered, "If you had gone, you would have missed this." The hungry lips closed over those of the blonde woman, and the long arms wrapped around the waist and pulled her tight. This kiss had to say everything, as Anna wasn’t sure she’d ever get another chance. Slowly, she slid her mouth against Lily’s, pressing with her tongue for entry.

Lily was lost. For this moment, there was nothing else in the universe other than what was going on where their mouths were joined. Parting her lips, she took in the probing tongue which began to dance with her own. Anna Kaklis was kissing her!

We’re kissing! She’s kissing me back! Anna’s own heart was racing as she excitedly noted that Lily was not resisting her. But in spite of the seeming acceptance, she feared the blonde woman would suddenly push her away, still angry about all that had transpired between them. Her body language still said hesitant: she had not stepped closer and her arms hung loosely at her sides.

When their kiss finally broke, Anna ran her hands lovingly across Lily’s back. Only then did she feel the smaller woman return the gesture, lifting her hands to rest on Anna’s sides. It was a start.

Resting her cheek against the blonde hair, Anna struggled for the right words to ease her lover’s pain over their time apart. "I’m so sorry I hurt you, Lily. I only did what I thought was best. Please forgive me and come home."

A long moment–a really long moment–passed before Lily gave a hint of her response. She dropped her hands from the robed waist, only to tug at the terrycloth ties that held the garment closed. In no time, the robe fell open and Lily released the tuck that held her towel in place, letting it drop to the floor.

Anna answered by pulling her lover inside the robe, wrapping it around both of them as they burrowed naked underneath. Heart to heart, they reveled in the sensations of warmth and belonging. For Anna, it was a return to stasis, that place where all her world was balanced. The familiar stillness crept over her as her mind slowly emptied of the turmoil that had plagued her for months.

For Lily, it was balm for her broken soul. This was all she really needed in the world. "I love you, Anna."

"I love you too," the tall woman murmured. For the longest time, they simply stood together, awash in the familiar feelings.

"Show me," Lily asked, almost shyly.

Anna turned out the light and led her lover through the darkened house to the master suite upstairs. The robe fell to the floor as the women moved to the bed, already turned down by Anna when she’d come upstairs earlier.

Unlike most of the times when they made love, there was no battle for the top. Tonight, Lily needed to feel her lover’s hands and mouth, needed to be held, needed desperately to hear the sweet words from Anna that would connect them at a higher plane. She lay back against the pillows and pulled her lover on top, staring intently into the blue eyes darkened with desire.

Anna lowered her body against the smaller form, brushing her breasts across Lily’s as her hips pressed into the top of the thigh that had risen to meet her. Supporting herself on her left forearm, her right hand began a path of feather light touches across her lover’s cheeks, chin and mouth. Anna’s lips soon followed her fingertips on their route. The trail then moved to the slender neck and across the prominent collarbones, again with the soft lips in pursuit.

"You belong here, Lily. Right here in my arms." Anna kissed the parted lips as her hand drifted lower to softly circle a hardened nipple.

Lily’s eyes shot open at the sensation and met again the intense azure gaze of her beautiful lover. Her arms could reach only as far as the curved waist, but she pulled the woman higher.

Anna complied; bending at the waist to bring her hips toward Lily’s outstretched hands. Shifting forward, her own breasts were almost even with her lover’s face.

That was too much for Lily to resist, and she raised her head to take a full breast into her mouth. Her hands stroked the smooth curves of Anna’s hips and thighs, while her teeth teased the taut nipple.

Anna closed her eyes to concentrate on her body’s sublime reaction. When she recognized only her own arousal, she pulled away. Tonight wasn’t simply for pleasure. It was about connection, retracing the familiar path to Lily’s body and soul. She lowered herself out of reach of the searching lips, only to place her own once again over the waiting mouth. Her hand reached lower, trailing through the soft curls at the apex of her lover’s thighs. With her fingertips pressed against the inside of a soft thigh, she gently urged Lily to open herself. Anna slipped into the wetness, breaking their prolonged kiss to gasp with pleasure.

Lily fought for breath, shuddering as she drew air deeply into her lungs. If Anna didn’t enter her soon, she would die.

As if reading her thoughts, two long fingers probed gently for entry, then spread apart as they were pushed inside. Both women opened their eyes again, reading the deep connection as an unbreakable bond. "Oh god, Lily. You feel so good inside. I want this to be mine."

Lily could only nod, feeling the searing heat begin to build deep within as her lover stroked rhythmically in and out. With each steady thrust, it grew larger, reaching forth from her center. She tried hard to focus on the piercing blue eyes, but she was rapidly losing all control of her senses. Tears came from nowhere to overwhelm her as she exploded in her lover’s arms. "Yes! Oh God Anna…."

"That’s it, baby. I can feel you coming…so deep." Tears now poured also down Anna’s cheeks, her own body climaxing as she rocked her center against the woman beneath her.

Falling together, they hugged desperately as each woman sobbed her emotional release, their connection at this moment the strongest it had ever been. There had been many times over the last three months when they thought they would never share this closeness again.

"I almost lost you," Lily choked.

"No, baby. I never left you. And I never will."

Lily loved it when Anna called her baby.




"Lily? Sweetheart, wake up."


"Come on, honey. Let’s go watch the sun come up."

The blonde head burrowed against the pillow, willing the persistent voice away.

"Sweetheart, you promised."

Lily groaned. "Not fair…." Anna had extracted the promise during a critical moment in their lovemaking last night.

"Come on, Lily. It’s our last day here," she pleaded.

Very reluctantly, Lily pushed herself up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Anna was there with baggy shorts and a pullover shirt. "I hope you appreciate how difficult this is for me, Amazon."

"I do, Pygmy. I appreciate everything about you." She helped Lily get the shirt over her head. "Ready?"

Lily fell back on the bed, but Anna grabbed her wrists and pulled her to a wobbly standing position. "Okay, okay." The sleepy woman fell in behind her lover, shuffling her feet as they walked to the door.

"Do you want your sandals?"

Lily shook her head. She had resigned herself to open one eye slightly so as not to trip over anything. She closed it to a mere slit when they stepped into the brightly lit hallway. Anna led them down the hall to the stairway, and two flights down they emerged onto a path that ran directly to the beach.

The sky was getting its first light, sunrise only about 15 minutes away. When they reached the end of the path, Anna dragged a lounge chair to a secluded spot just beyond the palms that lined the beach. Leaning against the back, she opened her legs for her lover to lie back against her. Lily did so immediately, and closed her eyes in slumber as Anna wrapped her long arms around her middle.

"Lily? Do you know what today is?"

It was still mostly dark, which meant to Lily that it wasn’t day at all. "Is this a trick question?"

"No. I’ll give you a hint. It’s February 6th. Do you remember what happened on February 6th?"

Against her will, Lily was slowly waking up. "The earthquake," she said somberly.

"That’s right. Three years ago today," Anna reminded her.

Lily smiled softly and squeezed her lover’s hands. "And the day we met."

Anna pulled a hand free to retrieve something from her pocket. "It’s a very special day to me, sweetheart. I want us to remember it always."

Lily felt something sliding against the ring finger on her left hand. As she opened her eyes, the sight nearly stole her breath. In the glint of the sunrise, she saw the Cartier tri-colored twist that adorned her finger. Of course, she didn’t know it was a Cartier; only that it was the most beautiful ring she had ever seen. And Anna Kaklis had just put it there!

"Lily, I want you to wear this so that you’ll always remember the promises I’m about to make." Anna sat up straight and leaned over the smaller woman’s shoulder. "Lily Stuart, I promise to be there for you always, whatever you may need. I promise to put my love for you in front of everything else in my life. And I promise that my heart will always be your home."

Lily’s unbelieving smile took up her whole face. Anna Kaklis had just committed to her forever.

"And I promise not to let even the most appealing automotive designs distract me from your blinding beauty."

Lily laughed with delight. Anna always had to be Anna.

"And I promise to never, ever tell my father the story about you and the doggie door."

Now fully awake, the grinning blonde pulled her feet up and turned around in the chair to face her partner. Scooting closer, she draped her legs off the sides of the chair so that she was now straddling Anna’s lap. "You have no idea what this means to me." Suddenly serious, she looked directly into the smiling blue eyes, now sparkling as the sun peeked slowly over the horizon. "Anna, until this very moment, Mom was the only one who ever said she’d always be there for me. I can’t tell you how much I treasure what you’ve promised me today."

Anna answered with a deep kiss that for her sealed their future.

"Will you wear a ring from me?" Lily asked hopefully. Anna seldom wore jewelry other than earrings and her Rolex wristwatch.

"I would love to wear your ring."

"What kind of ring would you want?"

"I’ll wear whatever you like. It’s a gift from you; it should say you."

Some people thought matching rings were kind of hokey, but Lily had always dreamed of a shared symbol. "How would you feel about wearing one just like this one?"

"I think that would be perfect. In fact, I sort of hoped you’d say that. Now I won’t have to take this one back." Anna reached again into her pocket, extracting an identical twisted band and placing it in her partner’s hand.

"You are sooooo good."

Yeah, I know.

Lily held the ring alongside her own, confirming that they were exactly the same. "I haven’t practiced any words, but I know what I’ve dreamed of saying to you since the first time I realized I was in love with you."

Taking Anna’s left hand in her own trembling hands, she slipped the band onto the long slender finger. "Anna Kaklis, I promise to love you always, and to support you in everything you do. I promise to accept all of you, and to work through everything that life throws at us, just to be with you. I promise to do my best to never let you down." Both women understood that coded reference to Lily’s struggle with alcohol.

Anna looked at their hands together. We’re married.

"And I promise to change the oil every 3,000 miles, no matter what."

Anna chuckled. She had asked for that.

"And you know that picture I took of you in the bathtub when Chester jumped in? I promise not to put that one on our Christmas cards."


Binders Books now occupied space on the brand new single level east wing of the Endicott Mall. At 12:02 p.m., Skye Steinberg announced to her customers that it was time to step out of the store and into the concourse. Having seen the posters throughout the mall today, everyone expected this pause in their shopping day.

The mall’s public address system was wired to a receiver at the nearby Presbyterian Church, where at 12:04 the church’s colossal bell rang 27 times, once each for every person who lost their life at the mall three years ago in the Culver City Quake.

A moment of silence followed as Skye remembered the beautiful dark-haired woman who had visited their store that day. Anna was her name, she learned, and she had stopped by the mall a month ago to say hello and check out the new store. She was with a blonde woman, whom she introduced as the only other trapped survivor of that day’s devastation. The two women were clearly in love.

Seven thousand miles away in Fiji, the two survivors shared a lounge chair as they silently watched the beach come to life. The year behind them had been personally devastating, especially for Lily, but somehow they had found their way home. Today, their hearts had opened wide for the comfort and security only a lifetime commitment could bring.



The End.

Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think. If you liked it, I’ll probably save your note and read it over and over again. If not, I’ll change a few words here and there and send your note to LA Tucker. ;-)

Author’s note: Just because I didn’t write it in excruciating detail, don’t assume that Lily simply breezed through a 28-day program and came out cured. If you or someone you love has a problem with alcohol or other substances, help is everywhere but it’s going to take an honest commitment every day to win back control. Pick up the phone book, ask your doctor, or ask your minister. Don’t screw around; the stakes are very high. And recovery is nothing short of salvation.

KG MacGregor, sober 18 years

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