Strained Part 2
By KG MacGregor
Anna sat in the waiting room, dreading the moment they actually called her name. This was one of those rare times she didnt mind waiting. In fact, if there were an emergency with someone else .
"Anna Kaklis?" A youthful technician in white pants and a floral top called her name.
The tall woman grimaced and returned the unread magazine to the table at the center of the small room. A root canal, she thought. No, a root canal without anesthetic, she bargained with an unseen entity. Anything but this.
"You can change in here," the woman handed her a soft blue top and a key, gesturing toward a small private changing room, "and lock your things in the closet. Ill knock in about five minutes to take you in. Dont forget, the ties go in front."
Slipping into the room, Anna pulled the door closed. Thankfully, theyd gotten rid of those flimsy cubicles, where the curtains didnt quite reach from one corner to the other. At least in this little room, she had privacy, and she wouldnt have to step out and wait in a room with three or four other women who were similarly underdressed.
The dark-haired woman removed her suit jacket and hung it carefully in the closet. The sleeveless shell followed, then her bra. Quickly slipping on the loose cotton wraparound, she laced the ties on the inside right, and then on the outside left. This too was an improvement, she thought. Last time, shed gotten a paper shift that gaped open in the front if she didnt hold it tightly closed. And if you wrapped it too tightly, you had to worry about the position of the armholes.
A soft knock signaled the technicians return. "Ms. Kaklis? Are you ready?"
Anna opened the door and stepped out. She detested this part, where she would be led down a busy hallway to a room at the far end. Why did there have to be so much indignity attached to this procedure? Because men probably run these clinics, she answered herself. To her surprise and delight, she was instead directed through a single doorway into a darkened room, lit only by two small spots above the imposing medical equipment. Relaxing new age music drifted softly through recessed speakers.
"Okay, could I have you step over here, please? Thats it, all the way against the tray. Were going to do the right side first, so just slip that side off your shoulder. You can leave the other one on."
This too was new. Usually, they just took her paper shift away as soon as she entered the room, leaving her awkwardly exposed for the duration of the procedure.
And its warm in here!
The technician gently positioned Annas right breast onto the tray and lowered the top slide gradually until the fatty flesh was uncomfortably flattened. "I need you to hold your breath and be perfectly still." Anna heard a soft buzz as soon as the woman disappeared behind what she assumed was a lead wall. Quickly, the technician returned. "Okay, now the left side." They repeated the procedure for Annas left breast.
"Youve changed a lot of things about this since last year."
"We sure have. Weve tried to get rid of as many of the unpleasant aspects as we could. No more bright lights; all the rooms are kept at 78 degrees; and weve tried to give women more privacy. Howd we do?"
"Much better," Anna enthused. "I wont dread this nearly as much next time."
"I have to do the side view now. Lets do the left side first this time." The technician skillfully turned the tray diagonally, this time to capture the breast tissue near Annas underarm. "This parts still pretty unpleasant, but well keep trying to fix what we can. I swear if men had to put their balls in this vise, theyd find a way to make it out of transparent cotton sponges."
Anna chortled at the image, certain the technician was right. A few minutes later they were finished, and the slides were checked for quality.
"Thats it. Were all done. One of the doctors will be in touch in a few days."
"Thank you. Really, I appreciate all the things youve done here to make this easier. It makes a huge difference."
"Yeah, I know. I have to get them once a year too."
Anna nodded, knowing exactly what that meant for the technician, since regular mammograms werent usually prescribed for women their age unless there was a known risk. Having lost her mother to breast cancer at age 35, Anna had been vigilant about self-exams, physician exams, and mammograms since her early twenties. The odds were highsome said one in fourthat she too would develop the disease.
Lily was delighted to find the Z8 already in the garage when she got home. The car dealer usually worked until seven unless they had plans, so this was a rare treat. A scrumptious aroma filled her nostrils as she entered the side door. "Anna?"
"In here," her lover called from the kitchen.
"Hey! This is a nice surprise. What are you cooking?"
"Nothing fancy. Just a roasted chicken. Its almost done."
"It smells great!" Lily wrapped her arms around her lovers waist, unable to resist reaching under the t-shirt to feel the warm skin. "Howd it go today?" Her lover had dreaded this annual exam, brooding about it for the last four days.
"It was alright, actually. Theyve changed a lot of things there that have always made it such an ordeal." The clinic near their home was the same one that hosted Lilys Wednesday night womens AA meeting. "You should think about having a mammogram sometime, you know, at least to get a baseline."
"Im only 32, Anna. Most women dont start getting them until theyre about 40."
"But how do you know youre not at risk? You really dont know that much about your real mother." That brought a quick frown to the blondes face, and Anna immediately corrected herself. "I mean your natural mother. Sorry."
Lily had made such a big deal about reinforcing her partner for her vigilance against the disease that shed left herself with no real arguments for not getting a mammogram herself. "Okay, Ill call the doctors office and see if I can get a referral."
The attorney was rarely sick, scheduling only sporadic visits to a gynecologist when she felt guilty about not getting a Pap smear for a couple of years.
"Why dont you call my doctor? Im sure shed see you."
"I seriously doubt your doctor is on our plan. My preferred providers are mostly these big groups where youre lucky if you see the same doctor more than once." Tony had chosen the basic benefits package for the law clinic with cost in mind. For more money each month, Lily could have chosen an option that let her have the same physician, but she couldnt see paying that extra money when she so seldom needed medical services.
"Thats ridiculous! Even Chester sees the same veterinarian. You need to be on my plan. Will you do that?"
"Why not? Premier has domestic partner benefits, so we might as well take advantage of them. Its a small co-pay, and no deductible. And we have dental and eye care too."
"But then youd be paying instead of Tony."
"So what? Id feel better knowing that you were covered, and that there was a doctor somewhere who cared about you, and not just a billing. And that way, we could see all the same doctors. Wouldnt that be better?"
Lily couldnt believe the verve with which Anna had taken on this "domestic partner" thing. Not that she minded at allit was thrilling to be reminded in so many ways that Anna viewed their commitment as seriously as she did.
"Okay, Ill make the switch. Tony will be pleased." Every dollar saved at the law clinic was a godsend.
"Good girl. Then youll make an appointment for a complete physical and give me peace of mind?"
Well I certainly walked right into that! "Fine. Just let me know when the coverage takes effect."
"Thats my girl. I plan on keeping you many years, you know."
"No trade-in on a newer model?"
"Nope. Im going to see that you get regular maintenance so youll last a long time."
"Gonna drive me into the ground, are you?"
"Sounds like fun." Lilys eyebrows went up. "So how soon can we get started?"
"I appreciate you doing this with me," Lily said, reaching across the center divide and taking her lovers hand. She had skipped her usual parody of the flight attendants safety message today.
"I wouldnt miss it," Anna answered softly.
"I wont ask you to do this every year, I promise. But since its the first year ."
"Its okay, sweetheart. Really."
Today was the first anniversary of Eleanors death, and the women were flying up to San Jose for the day to visit her grave. Bill Mueller had arranged to meet them for lunch downtown, and they would return early in the evening.
For Lily, the visit was both profoundly sad and at the same time cleansing. The last time shed been back in her hometown, her life had been in shambles. She and Anna were apart, shed lost her job, and she had yet to get treatment for her alcohol problem. Still, her mom had been a spiritual force in the fight back from the edge, and today Lily was eager to stand before the headstone and symbolically give her reassurance and thanks.
Arriving too early for lunch, Lily gave Anna the nickel tour in their rental car of her old high school and the outfitters store where she worked summers and after school. Although reluctant to drive by her former home, she finally got up the nerve, and was cheered by the sight of a newly erected swing set in the back yard. Briefly, the women stopped in to say hello to the neighbors, Ernie and Charlotte Beck, who were thinking too about Eleanor this day.
Lily spotted the handsome doctor as he entered The Grill and waved him to their table. Quickly standing, she reached up to give a heartfelt hug. "Its good to see you again. Thanks for making some time for us." She couldnt help the misty eyes at the sight of her mothers dear friend.
"Hi Bill," Anna chimed in, standing also to greet the man.
Bill walked around the table to hug Anna too. "I appreciate you asking me. Its a comfort to be able to share part of this day with people who understand what it means."
Lily nodded, working hard to keep her tears in check.
"So have you been to the cemetery yet?" he asked.
"Not yet. Well go as soon as we leave here. Our plane back to LA leaves around six-thirty."
Their small talk was awkward for awhile, until Anna asked how he liked his new car. She and her father had browbeaten the man into leasing a new BMW last year.
"Are you kidding? I love it!"
Anna beamed with pride. "Another satisfied customer!"
From that topic, it was easy to move into more casual conversation, as the women caught Bill up on the Kaklis family and its new addition. The doctor spoke of his recent golf trip to Palm Springs, and Anna reminded him to call the next time he was down, just in case she was visiting her two dealerships there during that time.
Warmed by the visit, the friends said their goodbyes and promised to stay in touch. They would surely drift apart over the years, but would always have fond memories of the special role each had played in Eleanor Stuarts too-short life.
It was a gorgeous day in the South Bay, a light wind having blown away the usual haze that hung over the valley. The smooth east hills boasted a few remaining patches of green from the spring rains and the white oleander bloomed brightly along the freeways.
Lily drove to the cemetery in silence. Parking along the designated drive, the women got out and walked hand in hand to Eleanors gravesite. It was Annas first visit since the service, but she had helped Lily with the inscription on the headstone. The grass was freshly mown, and someone had placed a bright bouquet on top.
"Its from her school," Lily explained as she read the small card. Her mother had been principal of a large elementary school. "One of the teachers must have come by this morning already."
"That was very sweet," Anna replied. She and Lily had brought three dried sunflowersone for each of them and a third for Chesterto crumble and sprinkle into the ground. Sunflowers had been Eleanors favorite, and she had always preached that decomposed plants "brought new life to the garden."
When theyd finished with their small ritual, Anna rose and placed her hand lovingly on her partners shoulder. "Im going to go wait by the car now. Take as long as you want."
Lily nodded, smiling softly in appreciation of the depth of Annas understanding about this day and what it meant to be able to commune with her mother like this. Turning back to the headstone as her partner walked away, Lily began.
"Hi Mom. I sure have missed you. Its hard to believe its already been a year." Lily was almost overcome with the sense of comfort and familiarity she felt at standing here before her mothers resting place. "I figure you somehow already know all of this, but everything I talked about the last time I was here is all better now.
"I havent had a drink in about eight months. Im back at workKatharine will like that part. Its still part-time but its just with kids, so its something I really like. And you can see that Anna and I have worked everything out. In fact, I wanted to show you this." Lily self-consciously held out her hand to show off the ring Anna had given her, as though her mother could see it from where she lay.
"Shes more than I ever dreamed, Mom. Im really glad you two had the chance to know each other, even if it was just for a while. Mostly, I wanted you to know that I have a family again. No one will ever take your placeyou know thatbut I dont want you to worry that Im alone. Thanks to Anna, I have in-laws, a nephew and now a new niece. Im going to be alright. I dont want you to worry about me.
"And I hope its okay with you, but I probably wont come be coming back here every year. Ill stop by when I can, but dont ever think that Ive forgotten you. Youre still in my heart every day. I love you, Mom."
Two hours later, their plane took off toward the San Francisco Bay, banking sharply to the right in its southward turn. Lily spotted the municipal cemetery from the sky, finally shedding her first full tear of the day.
Anna took the smaller hand and squeezed tightly as the jet climbed. She felt awful that she hadnt been with Lily on her difficult trip last year, and had been determined to come along on this visit. She would do whatever she could to make certain that her partner never felt alone again.
"Anna, where is your mother buried?"
Startled momentarily by the question, Anna had to think. "She isnt, actually. She was cremated. Dad and I scattered her ashes in the water off Catalina." The memory of that final sailing trip with her father rushed back at her. George had sold the boat soon after they got back, and had never sailed again. To a 10-year-old girl, that had severed an important connection.
"Why there?" Lily couldnt believe she was just hearing this story for the first time. How could she have been so self-centered not to even ask?
"We used to sail together. Mom and Dad both loved it."
"I thought George hated boats." He never went along with Hal.
"No, he just left it behind. I guess it made him sad."
"I can understand that. I didnt want to go hiking last year after Mom died. It took me until January to finally go back up into the mountains. And I thought about her a lot that day."
"Do you feel like shes with you?"
"Every day," Lily answered emphatically.
Anna nodded in understanding. "Sometimes, I still think my mother is with me too, even after almost 25 years."
This time, it was Lilys turn to squeeze her partners hand in comfort. If she spent the next 60 years with this woman, it would not be enough to know her.
Chester greeted their arrival with his usual exuberance, barking deeply and wagging his tail with enthusiasm. Lily dropped down to wrestle with him in the family room as Anna went off to the kitchen to prepare his nightly feast. The basset hound had adjusted well to his move to LA, thanks especially to Anna, who spoiled him absolutely rotten. The only thing he was denied was the opportunity to fall asleep alongside the two-legged humansas opposed to his own four-legged human selfin their bed. But they didnt seem to mind that he joined them in the night.
Overwhelmed with excitement at the arrival of these larger people, Chester detoured from his dinner out the doggie door into the side yard for quick relief. Though genuinely confused at first, he had finally understood after all that they didnt really like it when he peed in the kitchen.
"You know, Ill never get tired of being greeted like that," Anna said. She had bonded with Chester the first time they met in San Jose, and had since become his favorite tall person. "Listen, I have to go into work for a couple of hours tomorrow. What if afterwards we take Chester for a long walk at Topanga? Maybe even take a picnic."
"Are you kidding? Id love it!" Lily was used to fending for herself most Saturdays, sometimes stopping by the BMW lot just to see her girl in action.
"Then its a date. What do you want for dinner?"
It was already after nine, which would explain those hunger pangs. Lily scoured the refrigerator and cabinets for something appealing, finally settling on Annas favorite, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a glass of milk. "Want to take this upstairs and watch the news while we get ready for bed?"
"Sure. Let me take him for a quick W-A-L-K first, then Ill lock up and come on up."
Chester began his happy dance, running back and forth from Anna to the family room, where she kept his leash. Apparently, the dog had learned to spell.
Twenty minutes later, the dark-haired woman returned to find her lover already in bed, a blob of strawberry jam painting the nightshirt she wouldnt wear for long anyway. "Can I have the rest of that?" she asked, lowering her mouth to the stain just above the right breast.
"Mmm, why dont you hand me your sandwich and Ill smear that on me too?" Lily teased. This flirting was probably as close as theyd ever come to actually eating food from one anothers body.
"San Francisco police are reporting two arrests tonight in the murder of Peyton Graves. Details at eleven."
"Wow, did you hear that?"
"I hope they nail the bastards. That was awful."
Peyton Graves was a wealthy Bay Area publisher, and founder of the Open Lands Foundation, a group of philanthropists committed to buying up land to preserve for public use. He had briefly toyed with an independent gubernatorial run last year in order to force the Democratic incumbent back to his liberal roots. Both Anna and Lily had pledged their support during an LA fundraiser for the Foundation.
A decent man with a common touch, Graves had let down his guard, inviting a strike from societys worst element. The would-be politician had been killed two months ago, apparently surprising burglars in his South of Market loft upon returning from a Warriors basketball game. He had obviously done something to anger his killers, as he was stabbed more than 20 times.
Her sandwich finished, Anna went into the bathroom to brush her teeth as the news theme began to play. From her position in the doorway, she watched the story unfold on screen: the file footage of the smiling philanthropist, then the crime scene, and now the SFPD news conference. Two shackled and handcuffed suspectsa man and a woman in their mid-20swere shown at their arraignment.
"Gosh, put a short blonde wig on that woman, and she could be you," Anna said, barely loud enough for her partner to hear.
Lily watched in stunned fascination as the suspects names appeared on the screen: Kenneth McGinnis and Kristie Parker.
"Oh my god I bet shes my sister."
Immediately, the blonde jabbed the remote, hoping to find the story playing elsewhere. Anna raced downstairs to the family room, where their HDTV was equipped with a personal video recorder. In moments, she was tracking the story, taping first on one channel then switching quickly to tape another.
"Did you get it?" Lily asked anxiously, rushing into the room at the commercial break.
"I think I got it on two stations, but only the last part. They were on it both times, though."
Lily hurried into the adjoining office, booting up the computer for an internet search. After what seemed an eternity, they finally logged into the web site for the San Francisco Chronicle. Sure enough, the story was there, along with mug shots of the suspects, including one Kristie Lynn Parker, age 24, last address unknown.
"What do you think?" Lily asked her partner nervously. It was certainly possible that she was overreacting.
"I dont know. Was there anything about a sister in any of your adoption papers?"
"No, but according to this, shes only 24. I was already seven when I was adopted, so she would have been born a year after that."
Anna shook her head, bemused by this incredible coincidence. "I dont know, hon. There must be thousands of Parkers out there."
"Yeah, but this one lives in the Bay Area near my birth mother, and she happens to look just like me," she added grimly.
"Not just like you similar, maybe. And Parker was probably her fathers last name." Anna could see how this was upsetting her lover. "Is there any way you could find out?"
Lily was already working on that in her head. She had lots of friends in law enforcement that might be able to help her track down information on the suspects, but it wasnt likely any of that information would include a parents name. "Ill try to call Andrew Shively tomorrow and see if he can help. If she got a drivers license when she turned 16, theres a chance she lived at the same address as Lisa Parker. Thats a long shot, though."
"What about Sandy?" Anna suggested.
"How would ? Anna, youre a genius!" Given her own mothers atrocious parenting skills, it was likely that any child of hers would have had a social worker somewhere along the way. "I cant believe I didnt think of that."
Anna was immensely pleased at her contribution. They needed to get to the bottom of this soon, or Lily would go nuts. "Can you call her tomorrow?"
"No, she and Suzanne were going to Vegas this weekend with Pam and Tina. They wont be back until Sunday night."
"Then I guess well have to wait." She reached over and wrapped an arm around the blonde womans shoulder. "You think you can last till then?"
"Guess Ill have to," she said, still in disbelief at the possibilities. "Wouldnt that be something if it turned out shes really my sister? And shes a murderer."
"You dont know any of that yet. Shes just a suspect."
"Right." Maybe it all was a mistake. "I suppose we should go on to bed. Are we still on for a picnic tomorrow?" Lily knew shed need lots of distractions to last until Sunday night when she could talk with her friend.
"Sure." Anna started turning off the lights while Lily shut down the computer.
Hours later, Lily lay awake, the picture of the green-eyed girl in the orange jumpsuit filling her thoughts.
"Lily? Its Sandy. We just got in. Whats up?"
"Sandy Anna, its Sandy!" she called excitedly to her lover. Lily had spent much of the weekend downloading and studying all of the stories from the weekend newspapers, even going to the airport both days to buy a Chronicle. Quickly, she related to her friend the story of the woman charged with Peyton Graves murder and asked if there was a way to go back several years in the system to trace any past interventions. "I think she may be my sister, Sandy. Her last names Parker, and I swear she looks just like me."
"Your sister? You mean Lisa Parker had another child?" Sandy had gone with her friend to Oakland last year on a clandestine mission to see what had become of Lilys mother. They had found her working as a cocktail waitress at a Holiday Inn near the airport.
"Im not sure. Thats what I need you to find out. Can you look in the system and see if theres anything for a Kristie Lynn Parker?" Lily spelled the name as it appeared in the news reports. "I dont know how far back to tell you to go. Shes 24 now."
"Ill give it a shot, but I cant monitor it while Im out of the office. It may take a few days to get the results."
"Thats okay. Ill appreciate anything at all you can do, Sandy."
Lily resisted the urge to call her friend on Monday, but early Tuesday morning she had left a message with more detail on the Parker woman: her date of birth, which Andrew Shively had gotten from a friend in San Francisco who had a copy of her arrest report, and the correct spelling of her first name, K-r-i-s-t-y. That might possibly narrow Sandys search.
By Wednesday Lily was beside herself, unable to concentrate on her work. "Sandy Henke please I see Has she been in the office today?" She knew it was too much to expect that Sandy would forego her regular duties in the field just to check on her computer output. For all Lily knew, the social worker hadnt even had a chance to run the request yet.
At five oclock, she said goodnight to her coworkers and headed to her AA meeting at the womens clinic. Lost in thought in the stop and go traffic of the Santa Monica Freeway, Lily was startled by the beeping of her cell phone. Anna.
Anna was worried about her partner. Lily had been totally absorbed in the news out of San Francisco, not eating as she should, and unable to sleep through the night. They needed some resolution to this soon, one way or another.
"Hey baby," she answered.
"Hey yourself. Are you going to your meeting?"
"As we speak. Though judging by all the Easy Does It and One Day at a Time bumper stickers Ive seen, there are probably enough of us out here on this freeway to have a meeting on our own."
"What time do you think youll be home?"
"Probably a little after seven. How about you?"
"Ill try to get there sooner. You want me to pick up Chinese?"
"Thatd be great."
"Okay, babe. See ya then."
Lily loved it when Anna called her babe.
Lily booted up the computer as soon as she walked in the door, eager to search for todays news about the Peyton Graves murder case. "Anna?"
"In here. I have dinner."
"Okay. Ill be there in a minute. I just want to check to see if there are any updates."
Anna came into the office and stood in the doorway. There was no distracting Lily from this obsession. Though she hadnt been direct .
"How about you come in and have dinner with me first this time? Then I can go on upstairs with a book and you can stay down here half the night again."
Lily froze. That was a tone she hadnt heard in a really long time. Her first instinct was to bristle and fire off a snippy reply. But better judgment ruled the moment, and instead she simply nodded and followed her partner into the kitchen.
"Anna, Im sorry Ive been so crazy this week. I just wish I knew something."
"Its okay. I understand how important all this is to you, but you need to eat and you need to rest." Anna dished out the shrimp and snow peas onto mounds of steaming rice and set them on the small table in the breakfast nook. "And I was hoping we could spend a little time together tonight."
Lily couldnt help but smile at her partners admission. She was lucky to have this woman in her life. Reaching across the table, she covered the larger hand with her own. "Tell you what. When were done here, give me 10 minutes to check the Chronicle site, and Ill come upstairs."
Anna smiled as her mind raced ahead. "Deal."
Two quick rings announced a call on Lilys line. "Whats your guess? Telemarketer or a survey?" The Laws of Annoyance said if you were eating dinner, it had to be one or the other.
"Uh survey," Anna guessed. The telemarketers had already called three nights in a row.
Anna got up and went to stand beside her lover at the phone. Though both had been eager for news, now she found herself nervous at actually knowing for sure.
Lily drew in a deep breath and covered the mouthpiece. "Kristys mom is Lisa Parker," she confirmed flatly, without giving away her state of mind.
Anna put her hand on her partners back, not knowing at all what to expect when she got off the phone.
"Can I come get them now?" she asked. "Great! Ill be there in half an hour. Youre the best, Sandy."
"What is it, Lily?"
"She got the match with the date of birth. Then she found some of the old reports. Thats what she printed out, so Im going to drive over and get them," she stated, her voice now shaking with tension.
"You want some company?"
Lily nodded, relieved that Anna wouldnt make her go alone. She had worried earlier that her partner wasnt going to indulge this obsession much longer.
"Lets go, then. Ill drive."
Sandy had spread all 11 reports across their dining room table. The record of Kristy Parkers childhood was stark evidence of what might have happened to her friend had social services not aggressively intervened. That someone dropped the ball on the younger sister was evident, but it was clear that Lisa Parker hadnt stood in the way of a better placement. In fact, it appeared as though she hadnt been particularly interested in holding on to this second child at all.
"Theyre here," Suzanne called, spotting the sports car turning into the drive. Stepping out onto the front porch, she greeted the women as they charged up the steps.
"Hi Suzanne," Anna remembered her manners even if Lily did not. The attorney barreled directly through the door in search of her friend.
"Here it is," Sandy announced. "Pretty classic neglect and abuse. Weve got five different interventions where Kristy was removed from the home. Two of them were neglect, two were physical abuse, and the other was suspected sexual abuse by Lisa Parkers boyfriend, but none resulted in any criminal charges."
Lily shuddered at the news, knowing well that few children who grew up like that were capable of a normal life. A silent rage simmered as she picked up the first report. "Is this all?"
"I think so. I started the run on Monday, working backwards through the records, but I didnt have anything when I checked back. When you gave me the date of birth and the new spelling, I put in another query working forward from that date, and thats when I started getting hits. But I had to wait to check them until everybody went home tonight."
"Why was that?" Anna asked.
"Well, technically this kind of thing is a no-no. I could get into trouble for misusing my access to information, but Ive been with the state so long, Id probably have to kill somebody to get fired."
Lily shot her an annoyed look.
"Oops, sorry. Poor choice of words." Sandy wasnt all that surprised that Kristy Parker had ended up behind bars, given her history. That Lily hadnt also was something for which they owed Eleanor Stuart thanks.
Lily paged through one report after another, noting various social workers observations that Lisas parentingor lack thereofalways stopped just short of criminal. Obviously, the woman was mindful of what might lead her back to prison, and clearly she didnt want to go. "This last report was when Kristy was 14 years old. Do you think youll find more?"
"I doubt it. If you look at the last paragraph of that one, it says she ran away from her foster home. Lisa denied knowing where she was, but the social worker suspected she was back with her mother. They probably just closed her case on her 18th birthday, without a clue of where she was."
Lily dropped the report in disgust. "And that, ladies, is why so many kids need a guardian ad litem. I cant believe they didnt even pursue it."
The blonde was treading dangerously close to Sandys turf. "Come on, Lily. You know what the case loads are like. Social workers dont have the means to chase kids who dont want to be found."
"I know, Sandy," she conceded sheepishly. "I just wish shed had somebody looking out for her back then. Then maybe a good man like Peyton Graves wouldnt be dead."
"So what do you think about all of this?" Lily asked as they drove home in the darkness. Shed sensed from their earlier near-argument that Anna was losing patience, but shed seemed very interested in what Sandy had discovered.
"I think its all pretty incredible. Its amazing to me how you always seemed to know it was her, but I have to admit I had the same feeling that first night we saw her on the news."
"Its really ironic. After all these years, I find out that I have a sister. And, oh by the way, shes a murderer."
"We still dont know that, Lily. Innocent until proven guilty, right?"
"Its supposed to be that way. But I know they dont lock people up and deny bail without having a pretty good case."
Anna had to agree. Shed read every article Lily printed out, and the prosecution was predicting a conviction already. Still, they hadnt released any information on their evidence, and it wasnt clear how McGinnis and Parker had been identified as the perpetrators.
"Maybe I should go see her," Lily wondered aloud.
Anna knew how important this new revelation was to her partner, and she wanted to be supportive. Still, shed have to admit that the idea of Lily corresponding with a murderer was unsettling, to say the least.
"Why on earth would you want to do that? You dont know this woman at all, Lily."
"Youre right, but shouldnt I try to know her? Shes my sister."
"Just because you had the same mother?
Lily sighed in exasperation. How could she expect her lover to understand? "Anna I dont have any other family."
"Thats not true and you know it." Anna reached over and took her partners hand. "Im family, and my family is yours too."
"I know, but you know what I mean."
"No, Lily. I really dont. Kim and I dont share a drop of blood, but she is my sister."
"But you were raised together, and you had people in common. I have people in common with Kristy, so in a way we shared an upbringing. Just not at the same time."
"What would you talk about with her? Would you commiserate about Lisa?" Anna was frustrated, feeling that the only thing that could come of Lilys meeting Kristy would be heartache.
Lily was silent for a long time, seeking a way to make her partner understand. "I could have been her so easily."
"But you werent. And going to her now to show her what she might have been could only hurt both of you."
Annas mention of Lisa made Lily shudder, reminding her that she was far removed from her life as a Parker. The trip to Oakland last year had affirmed that she wanted nothing to do with her past. Anna was right, and Lily gently squeezed the hand that held hers in silent thanks. "Youre right, sweetheart. I dont know what I was thinking."
"Heres a headline youll like." Anna tossed the A-section of Sundays LA Times across the patio table.
"Which one?" Lily quickly scanned the front page, watchful of a story on the Peyton Graves case. "Oh, I see it. Earthquake prediction model faulty, geologist says. Thats hilarious. Youre getting pretty good at this, Amazon."
"I had a good teacher." Anna grinned at her partner, who was buried in the state section. "Did you find anything today?"
"No, not yet. Im not all the way through it, though." Every day for the past four weeks, Lily had scoured the paper for news. Little by little, evidence had been released that incriminated the two suspects: hair strands at the scene, traces of Graves blood found on Parkers jeans, and pawn tickets among their things for items belonging to the murdered man. Neither suspect was cooperating with authorities.
"Could I interest you in"
"Heres something! Its just a snippet, but I bet theres more on the web. It says San Francisco. A grand jury indictment in hand, District Attorney Warren Hasner has asked that a trial date be set for Kenneth McGinnis and Kristy Parker, both charged in the death of billionaire philanthropist Peyton Graves. Hasner indicated that the heinous nature of the crime warrants the death penalty for both suspects in the case. Good god, Anna. Kristy could get the death penalty."
Anna shook her head in disbelief. Neither woman cared much for the idea of capital punishment; the recognition that it could impact someone they indirectly knew made it especially distasteful.
"Easy, babe. She hasnt even had a trial yet."
"Youve seen the kind of evidence they have. Its going to be pretty hard to explain it all away." Lily was resigned to her sisters guilt, though in her heart of hearts, shed hoped it had all been a big mistake.
The attorney lugged her briefcase into her office and heaved it onto her desk. Shed had 13 placement reviews today, a new single-day record. Funny how part-time work could eat up 40 hours a week like this job sometimes did.
As far as scheduling, it was nice to know in advance that most of her childrens hearings would be on Thursdays in Judge Evans family court. Over the years, shed developed a good working relationship with the irascible Rusty Evans, a grandfatherly sort with a real soft spot for the welfare of kids. Lily knew better than to enter his courtroom unprepared.
All in all, the attorneys day had been successful. Most of the cases were run-of-the-mill, usually recommendations for continuation of current placements, though a couple were denied and the children were returned to their parents. Shed obtained speech therapy services for a girl in foster care, and gotten two of her charges wait-listed for group homes. The last case was unusual and brought a smile to her face as she recalled Judge Evans befuddled look as she made her request. Shed managed to secure a special provision that would allow a teenager currently finishing a long stint in a juvenile detention facility the space and time to practice his saxophone. A job in his cousins weekend wedding band awaited his release and that, she argued, might just be the best way to put distance between the youth and his gang activities.
"Here are your messages, Lily," Pauline said, handing her a small stack of the pink and blue forms. "Sandy called three times, but she was on her way to a training session the last time she called. She said shed stop by your house tonight about eight if that was okay. Otherwise, just leave a message on her voice mail."
Thats odd. Lily couldnt imagine what would be so important that it wouldnt wait until tomorrow.
"Okay, thanks Pauline." The attorney deposited the files in her outbox so that their part-time clerk could transcribe her handwritten notes into the electronic version of the case files. With only 30 minutes before the close of business, she sat at her desk to return her other calls.
"Im next!" Lily announced from the kitchen as she heard her partner warmly greet the excited basset hound.
"Okay, but for the same treatment, youll have to lick my face too," the car dealer answered, following her nose to the boiling pot on the stove.
"On second thought, maybe Ill pass. That dog licks his balls, you know, and if hes been licking your face, I dont think ."
"Youre disgusting," Anna replied, suddenly snaring the smaller woman and rubbing her slobbery cheeks all over Lilys face.
"Ewwww! Lily finally squirmed free of the assault. "Ball face."
"Whats for dinner?"
"Meat balls and Brussels sprouts," the cook deadpanned.
"Youre disgusting," the car dealer repeated.
"Would you believe pasta primavera?"
"Thats better. Ill set the table. Do I have time to change?" Anna carried plates, napkins and silverware to the breakfast nook. Unless they entertained indoorswhich was exactly twice in the last two yearsthe dining room was wasted space, often littered with accounting printouts from Premier Motors.
"Sure, as long as you wash your face. Sandys coming by around eight."
"I dont know. She left a message at work. Suzannes birthdays next month, so maybe she wants to talk about a surprise party or something." If not something like that, Lily couldnt imagine the reason for her friends seeming urgency. "Why dont you set an extra place, in case she wants to join us?"
The hour came and went with no visitor. When they finished dinner, the pair cleaned up the kitchen and settled into their respective routines, Anna with her magazines and the Dodgers game on TV, Lily on the internet looking for news on the upcoming Graves trial.
It was closer to 8:30 when the social worker arrived, waving off the invitation for a bite to eat. Ushered into the family room, Sandy took a seat on the sofa beside her friend, her hand gripping a manila folder.
"So whats up? We dont often get the pleasure of your company." Anna discerned immediately from the look on Sandys face that this wasnt a social call.
The social worker took a deep breath and began. "Lily, remember last month when you asked me to run that query on Kristy Parker?"
"Yeah." The blonde suddenly found her stomach in knots. She hoped her friend hadnt gotten into trouble because of the favor.
"Well, after I gave you those reports, I never went back to see if there was anything else. So this morning, our IT guy was cleaning out the document queue, and he brought me two reports. There were a couple more hits for Kristy Parker." Nervously, Sandy opened the folder and pulled out the papers. "It looks like she has a little boy of her own, and hes currently somewhere in the foster care system in San Francisco."
The blonde womans face went almost white as she digested the news. "A little boy?"
"Yeah, heres the report. His name is Andres and he turns four next month. The first report has him taken out of the home because Kristy ODd and ended up in the hospital. But he went back after about five months and stayed with her another year or so. The second time was a voluntary surrender."
Lily knew that voluntary surrenders were very rare. Usually they needed police to take children into protective custody. "What happened?"
"It was just over a year ago, it looks like she had to take him to the doctor. According to the social workers notes, hed been abused and they involved the authorities. Kristy said she didnt know who did it, but that there wasnt any way to keep him safe. So they persuaded her just to turn him over."
Lily was relieved to think that her sister had at least made a mature decision regarding the childs safety, though she suspected that it had more to do with not wanting the added obligation. That had been her case with Lisa.
"And did they sever parental rights?" That was key to having the child eligible for adoption.
"No, it looks like they left it open for her to get him back if her home situation changed."
"Well its certainly changed now." Anna finally spoke. Shed been listening to the story, and watching her partners face, wondering how she felt about this new development.
Lily looked fleeting at Anna then turned back to her friend. "Where is he now?"
"Im not sure. Id guess hes in a foster home, probably still in San Francisco, but the specific locations are coded so that the information is secure."
Lily knew that parents sometimes tried to abduct their children from foster care, so it was important to keep their placements secret if possible.
"Can we find him? I mean just to see if hes okay?" She glanced uncertainly at Anna to gauge the womans reaction. After thinking over her partners cautions about making contact with Kristy, Lily had conceded that it would serve no purpose. But this was different. What if this little boy needs help?
"Maybe, but youll have to get in touch with the office up there. His social worker is John Moss. I can search the state directory tomorrow and call you with his direct number. But he might not tell you anything. In fact, he could get in trouble if he did."
Lily nodded in understanding, poring over the reports her friend had brought for details on the child. "Well I can try, right?" Nervously, she looked at her partner, pleading silently for approval to pursue this.
"Yeah, you should at least try to find out how he is," Anna agreed. She was rewarded immediately by the relief on Lilys face.
"I appreciate your help, officers. If theres ever anything I can do for you, just let me know." Anna walked the two uniformed cops back to their cruiser.
Vandals had paid a visit to the VW dealership overnight, leaving 62 flat tires, one for each auto on the front lot. The scene was eerie when she arrived before eight this morning after answering her fathers call. Each car tipped slightly, though the direction varied depending on which tire was punctured.
Their insurance would cover the damage, and already a crew was hard at work replacing the damaged tires. At least the video surveillance had captured the entire episode, and one of the teenagers was well known by the officers on this beat. It was just a matter of time before the police apprehended the boy and his cohorts, but Anna knew from Lilys work with troubled kids and families that the solution usually wasnt as simple as arrest and punishment.
As mood modifiers go, this senseless destruction of property was definitely a downer. The car dealer needed a couple of aspirin for the migraine that was threatening.
"Anna Kaklis, you have a call on line two. Anna Kaklis on two," the loudspeaker blared.
We need to drop the volume on that thing, she thought, heading inside to the nearest empty cubicle. "This is Anna Kaklis. Can I help you?"
"Lily! What did you find out?"
"I struck out. Sandy was right about the social worker not telling me anything." She had called as soon as shed gotten Moss direct number, only to be told adamantly that he couldnt give out that information.
Anna was genuinely sorry for her partners disappointment. "Well at least you tried, sweetheart. You knew it was a long shot." Anna held the silent phone for 10 full seconds. "Lily, are you still there?"
"Yeah I made an appointment to see John Moss in person on Monday morning." There, shed gotten it out. Now she braced for Annas reprisal, knowing her lover would object to her headstrong action.
A panic rushed through Anna as she suddenly imagined that her partner would return with a small child in tow. But Lily wouldnt make a decision like that by herself. Anna knew that her partners world had been rocked with the news of Kristy, and now with Andres. Lily needed her support to come to terms with what it all meant.
"Youre not never mind," she said with trepidation.
"Is it okay?"
"Of course its okay. Why wouldnt it be?" The car dealers voice took on an agitated intonation as her headache grew more pronounced by the second.
"Please dont be upset, Anna. Can we talk about this tonight?" she asked hopefully. Ever since theyd discovered that Kristy had a child, she could sense a nervousness in her partner. Whats got her on edge?
Anna sighed, pressing two fingers hard just above her left brow. "Lily, Im not upset. Well, actually I am, but not with you. You know how annoying a flat tire can be?"
"You had a flat tire?"
"I had 62 of them."
By noon that same day, Anna was back in bed, having thrown up three times already. Drugged sleep was the only relief for headaches like this one. It had gotten so bad that her father had driven her home, a salesman following in Annas Z8.
It was Saturday morning before she and her partner were able to talk at all. Anna was still wary of the tension a serious conversation might bring.
"So how much of that headache is my fault?" the blonde asked, her feelings of guilt obvious.
"It isnt your fault at all," Anna answered quietly, sipping the hot tea with her dry toast. Yesterdays breakfast was too strong a memory to repeat. "I know that the boy is on your mind, Lily, but Im not really up to talking about it just yet if thats okay."
"Of course. Is there anything I can do?" Lily knew the answer already. Annas migraines had to run their course.
"No, Im just going to take it easy today."
"Okay. Maybe Ill take Chester for a walk on one of the trails. That way, youll have some peace and quiet."
Anna nodded, knowing shed be back in bed soon to chase away the remnants. They needed to talk, but she just wasnt up to it.
An hour later, the happy hound was walking his mistress around the lake at the Kenneth Hahn Recreation Area. Lily hadnt felt much like gearing up for a rugged hike, even though Chester always managed to hold his own. This mindless meander through a family-filled park gave her time to think about what awaited her in San Francisco on Monday.
Andres Parker. Like Kristy and herself, this child carried only his mothers name. The given name suggested that his fatherwho Moss had said was deceasedmight have been Latino. If history was repeating itself, the boys first four years had probably been a nightmare.
Lily had decided she would take her adoption papers along to her meeting, hoping theyd help prove that her name too was Parker. That might be enough to convince them to check the states database, which would show that she and Kristy had the same mother.
John Moss had listened skeptically as shed told him of her relationship to the notorious criminal. When Andres, or Andy as he was called, was first removed from the home, he had located only one relative, a Lisa Parker Haney, Kristys mother. Determining quickly that she wasnt a fit custodian, Moss shuffled the child off to professional foster parents. Other than these few details, the social worker hadnt been forthcoming at all, but he was willing to meet with Lily face to face if she was interested in following up.
And she was definitely interested in following up. Something deep inside called to her to see about this child, if only to ensure that he was alright. It was, after all, her job to monitor the welfare of thousands of children who were unknown to her. The least she could do was see to it that this one, who happened to share her blood, was safe and in a setting that provided the best care.
The rest of Saturday passed without a chance for the two women to talk. Anna slept off and on, her migraine medication stealing both her appetite and affect. Lily knew the drill: dark and quiet.
Anna awoke in the night disoriented by the darkness, having slept so much of the past two days. Lily lay beside her, the even breaths a sign of her sound sleep. She needs it, Anna thought. Lily hadnt slept well at all on Thursday night after they learned of Andres, and shed probably slept little the night before. And shell be a nervous wreck all weekend.
The dark-haired woman sensed a dramatic response in her partner to this news of a child; and truth be told, Anna too found herself emotionally drawn to the events of the past few weeks, but especially to the discovery of the young boy. Despite her initial reservations about Lily going to San Franciscowhy on earth had she thought that Lily would simply bring the child homeAnna was glad that her partner was following up. She hoped Lily would find him healthy and happy, and that he might be able to have the same chance as she to escape a tenuous start in life.
Anna finally crawled out of bed for good early Sunday morning, leaving her partner sound asleep. After a quick shower, she headed downstairs to forage for food, having eaten very little in the last two days.
Chester was glad to see the tall person up and about so early, as it meant his breakfast was imminent. Of course, he needed first to see a man about a dog.
"Youre a good boy, Chester," the tall woman said as he returned through the doggie door. For some reason, the two-legged people really liked it whenever he went, whether on the leash or in the yard. And when he ahem they always collected it, presumably saving it for something very important.
"Youre up early," came a raspy voice from the doorway.
"Yeah, I think 30 hours of sleep is enough for anybody. Did I wake you?"
"Just by being gone," Lily said sleepily. She had rolled over to caress an empty bed.
"The coffee will be ready in a minute." Anna delivered a kiss to her lovers forehead.
"Great. Hows your headache?"
"Its gone now. I appreciate you looking after me."
"You didnt exactly require round-the-clock care."
"I know. But you were really quiet, and you kept Chester busy. And I saw you come in to check on me a couple of times." There wasnt really much one could do when she was in the throes of a migraine.
"Well Im glad youre feeling better. You want me to fix breakfast?"
"No, I think Ill stick with cereal."
"Ill go get the paper then." Lily walked out the front door to the driveway, a spectacle in her plaid flannel boxers and faded purple tank top with the hand-sized hole in the back. Her blonde hair stood straight up on one side, and was perfectly flat everywhere else. Anna thought she looked adorable.
As was their habit, the women perused the Sunday paper on the patio by the pool, Chester lounging underneath in case they dropped the corner of a muffin or a pat of butteror even better, the corner of a buttered muffin.
"So what do you hope to find in San Francisco?" Anna asked without looking up from the paper.
Lily dropped the sports page and drew a deep breath. Not wanting to trigger another headache for her lover, she hoped they werent headed for a confrontation.
"I just want to find out how he is," she offered.
Annas blue eyes met hers with undeniable conviction. "Im glad youre going. I think its the right thing."
Lily had heard wrong, or the mushrooms in her omelet were of the hallucinogenic variety. You do?"
Anna nodded, smiling softly. "Yes, I do." Setting the paper down, the tall woman leaned back and folded her arms across her chest, looking away in thought for a moment, then back at her green-eyed lover. Serious Talk Time. "I woke up last night and laid there for a long time thinking about it. I dont know exactly why, but Im anxious about him too. And I can see that this is important to you."
"It is. I cant explain why, because I dont really know myself. Maybe its because I know what it was like for him. Anna, hes the same age I was when I was put up for adoption."
Anna nodded again in understanding. "You should go see about him. Do you need me to do anything?"
Lily found herself suddenly overwhelmed at how deeply she loved this beautiful woman. "No, I dont think so. Im just going to fly up in the morning and come right back tomorrow. I called Tony already to let him know Id be out all day."
"Okay, but if you think of something, let me know."
"I will. And thank you, sweetheart. For everything."
Sundays were special. The women did relaxing things, like lingering over the Sunday paper, cooking something adventurous, usually finishing their day in the pool or hot tub. In amongst those things, they usually found time for savoring one another.
Today, it started when they passed one another in the kitchen, the ritual flirtation beginning with a casual touch, a suggestive look, and a promising smile. Then more deliberate, with a firm caress and a passionate kiss. The taller woman led the way to the top of the stairs, her chest pounding hard in anticipation of what was to come.
Lily doffed her clothes the moment they reached the unmade bed, pulling Annas shirt up as they lowered themselves, locked in a fiery kiss. Somehow, the shorts and panties disappeared as well and soon their naked bodies were sliding against one another across the cool cotton sheets. Two sets of hands pulled the other closer until finally Lilys fingers slid below the curved buttocks, and through her lovers slippery center. "Roll onto your stomach," she whispered, and Anna complied, clutching the pillow that would soon stifle her cries. The blonde woman drew alongside, draping her knee between the long shapely thighs to urge them further apart. "Open for me."
Annas spread her thighs and soon her fervent want demanded that she rise to meet the gently probing fingers, drawing up her knees so she could drive against the pressure of her lovers touch.
"Youre so beautiful," Lily told her, taking in the magnificent sight as she watched her fingers disappear inside. Both women relished the intimacy of this exchange, the prone partner fully exposed in complete surrender.
"God, Lily," she moaned, rocking breathlessly at the three fingers that filled her. "God, you feel so good."
"Tell me when its time." Lilys breath was now mere inches from the writhing womans ear, and her whispered words spoke to Annas very core.
Anna moaned her agreement, trying hard to temper her need. She wanted this to last. Closing her eyes tightly, she climbed higher as her lover continued the rhythmic caress.
"Now," Anna begged.
Lily rose to her knees, circling her free hand underneath to cradle Annas hips. Finally, she slipped a single fingertip through the curly triangle, stopping when she found the hardened nub that would unlock the imminent explosion.
"Oh god!" The rocking grew frantic. "Li-ly," she moaned, sucking in a final deep breath and holding it while the orgasm hovered.
"Thats it, baby. Come for me." Lily felt the sudden sharp squeeze from the walls inside, the rapid pulsing that followed signaling a powerful climax.
Her body shaking, Anna buried her reddened face into the pillow and screamed her release.
Lily slowed her tandem strokes and gently drew her fingers from within.
Inch by inch, Anna lowered herself to the bed as she caught her breath, once again stretching her legs until she was completely prone.
Lily slid closer to rest across her back, her own wet curls nestling against the curve of Annas hip. "I love you so much," she sighed, feeling at that moment like the most special person in the universe because of what they had just shared.
The blonde figure rose gingerly from the bed, ever mindful of what "they" say about paybacks. Anna had delivered on her vow to love her until she walked funny, but every twinge would be a pleasant reminder of their afternoon and evening together.
"Honey, are you okay?" the dark-haired woman mumbled without opening her eyes.
"Im fine. Go back to sleep," she coaxed, rubbing her hand softly across her lovers back.
"What time is it?"
"Its a quarter after four. I need to get in the shower. My plane leaves at 7:05."
Lily slipped into the bathroom and closed the door, hoping to shield the sleeping woman from the light and noise of her morning routine. A simple olive-green dress already hung on the back of door; in fact, everything shed need sat waiting by the sunken oval tub.
Stepping into the warm shower, her thoughts traveled north to San Francisco. Maybe I can even see him today. She hoped John Moss would understand her concern and see her as a potential ally in securing the best placement and care for the boy.
Other than a name and birthday, Lily knew almost nothing about Andy Parker. Who was his father? Was he healthy? Did he have any special needs? Was he a happy child? What did he look like? In just the last year in foster care, he had already lived in four different homes. From her experience with the foster care system, that was a red flag; usually signaling a child who had difficulty adjusting to his or her environment, or a child with unmanageable needs.
The bigger question for Lily was what she would do if she found him? If his care was inadequate, how could she help him? Certainly, if there were legal matters involved, she could advise and assist, but the fact remained that she lacked standing; that is, she couldnt simply insert herself into the decision-making process where this child was concerned unless she formally declared herself a relative. And that might require a face-to-face meeting with a murderer.
Lily shook the excess water from her hair even as she shook off the image of the green-eyed woman in handcuffs. By the time shed dressed and applied the barest hint of makeup her hair was almost dry, sparing Anna the noise of the blower at barely five a.m. Turning off the light, Lily tiptoed back to the bed to deposit a soft kiss on Annas temple.
"Yes, honey. Sorry I woke you."
"Its alright." Anna rolled over onto her back. "I think Ill get up now anyway."
"You can still sleep another hour." Lily felt guilty for robbing her lover of her rest.
"Fly safely, okay?"
"Of course. And in the unlikely event of a water landing ."
Both women chuckled.
"Good luck today."
"Do you know what you want to find?"
"Yes." Lily wanted for Andy what she wanted for every child. "I want to see him healthy and happy, and surrounded by people that really care about him."
KEEP READING!!! (Dont worry, Ill tell you when to stop.) Part 3
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