Strained — Part 3

By KG MacGregor

© 2002


Chapter 8


The blonde waited nervously in the reception area of the busy government office, hoping this wouldn’t be a wasted trip. John Moss was 45 minutes late, apparently called out this morning by police to a domestic disturbance involving children. Lily understood these emergencies–she herself had worked cases like these as an attorney–but hoped that Moss could resolve the matter and still have time to meet with her today.

Everywhere she looked, people were on the phone or scrolling through information on their desktop monitors. About half the desks were empty, their owners likely in the field checking on the status of their charges. The waiting area was overflowing.

"Is there a Lilian Stuart here?" A middle-aged woman stepped up to the other side of the long counter.

"Yes, right here." The attorney hurried up to the counter with her purse and folders. Thank goodness!

"I have a message for you from John Moss. He’s going to be tied up for another hour or two. He apologizes, but he’s dealing with an emergency this morning."

"It’s okay. I understand." It would serve no useful purpose to complain, and Lily knew from experience that no one else in the office would be able to help. Besides, it was possible that Mr. Moss would feel guilty for having her cool her heels, and would be more cooperative about Andy.

Turning back to the waiting area, Lily discovered to her chagrin that her chair had been taken.

"Excuse me, but would you ask Mr. Moss to–?" Just like that, the woman had disappeared. Great.

Lily fished out her cell phone and dialed Moss’ direct number, leaving a message that she was going for coffee and would be back in the office at 11:30, one hour from now. Leaving her callback number, she tucked her belongings and headed for the elevator.

No sooner had she stepped from the building than her phone rang, the caller ID registering an unknown local number.

"Lilian Stuart."

"Ms. Stuart, John Moss here. Listen, I’m sorry to keep you waiting. I called right back and was told you’d left, so I was really glad you left your number."

"I’m glad I did too."

"Yeah. So I’ve been stuck waiting for a policeman to sign a release form but he just did, so I’m leaving the scene now. Why don’t you meet me downstairs in 20 minutes, and we’ll grab some coffee and talk about Andy Parker."

"That’d be great, Mr. Moss."

"John. Mr. Moss was my dad."

"John. I’m Lily, and I’ll be right here in front of the building."

True to his word, 20 minutes later a slender man in his late 30s rounded the corner and strode toward the pacing blonde. Dressed in khaki chinos and tweed blazer, his striped tie hung loosely from the collar of his denim shirt. The man was only a few inches taller than Lily, and wavy brown hair receded slightly from his forehead.

"Lily Stuart?"

"That’s me," Lily answered, locking her best smile in place as she held out her hand. She needed to win this man over.

"John Moss. Nice to meet you, and I’m really sorry I kept you waiting."

"That’s alright. I understand. It happens to me in my work all the time."

"Oh yeah? What kind of work do you do?" He gestured with his hand in the direction of the coffee shop.

"I’m an attorney…a family attorney. Mostly I advise the guardian ad litem program in LA." She wanted this man to know that she knew her stuff, but also that she was his comrade, one of the good guys.

The social worker stopped abruptly on the sidewalk. "Uh, would you mind terribly showing me some ID?"

Lily smiled, actually appreciating the level of this man’s scrutiny.

Moss inspected the driver’s license and handed it back, satisfied that this was indeed the Lilian NMI Stuart who had shown up in his records last Friday afternoon as the adopted daughter of Eleanor Stuart, birth daughter of Lisa Parker.

"So as a family attorney, you’re aware of all the privacy restrictions in place regarding the kids in state custody."

"Yes, I am. But we covered that on the phone last week, so I hoped we could move on to why you offered to have me come up anyway. Surely if there was no way I could get information on this child, you’d have told me so then and saved me this trip."

"I was…intrigued."


"Yeah, I actually didn’t believe you. I thought you were another reporter. A guy called last month trying to find Andy so he could do some kind of ‘bad seeds’ story, blaming everything on the failures of the system."

"You thought I was a reporter?"

"Yeah, but I did some checking on Friday afternoon and found your adoption records. They were never sealed, you know, so linking you to Lisa Parker was actually pretty easy. So was linking Kristy Parker. And you kind of look like her, by the way."

"Actually, since I’m older, she looks like me," she corrected cordially. "So now that you’re convinced that I’m related to Andy, does that mean you’ll tell me about him?"

"I am satisfied that you’re related to him, but I’m going to want to know more before I give away any confidential information."

"What do you want to know?" Lily’s heart was starting to race. She couldn’t believe she was this close to finding out something.

"Mostly I just want to know what’s in this for you." In Starbucks, they each got black coffee and climbed the spiral staircase to a small table in the loft overlooking the entrance.

"I don’t want anything at all, if that’s what you’re asking. I just need to know that he’s alright." That was the simple answer. The why was elusive, even to her. "I’ve been there, and I can only imagine what kind of parent Kristy Parker was, given that Lisa Parker raised her. If there is anything I want, it’s my peace of mind."

"And what if he isn’t alright?"

Lily’s stomach lurched. "Does that mean he isn’t?"

"I didn’t say that. I just want to know what you plan to do if you find out…say, that things aren’t as good for him as they should be, or even that they could be. What will you do?"

"I…think that I would…try to do whatever I could to make it better. Maybe ask for a new placement, or better services. It would depend on the circumstances." Lily was starting to feel like a dog that had chased a car and actually caught it.

"And would you ask as Andy’s aunt? Or as a lawyer? Or as your garden variety critic of the system?"

"I…really don’t know the answer to that," she replied nervously. He was really putting her on the spot. "I’m not a critic of the system anymore than you are, though. In a way, I’m a part of it too."

"Let me phrase it another way, Lily. If you found Andy’s situation to be lacking, would you be willing to take him into your home…as his aunt?" It wasn’t often that Moss talked with relatives of children like Andy who were educated professionals. If the Italian handbag and shoes were any indication, Lily’s husband was probably making a pretty good living too.

"You’re not trying to clear your caseload here, are you?" she asked, half teasing, half serious. Besides, her question might deflect his, as she definitely wasn’t ready to answer his.

"Not at all," the social worker replied calmly, not offended by her innuendo. "You strike me as the kind of person who cares about the kids you work with, and you should know that I’m that kind of person too. I care about Andy, and I want what’s best for him."

Lily turned red at the gentle reproach. John Moss had all the traits of a first-rate social worker. If she weren’t able to see for herself how Andy was doing, she was at least relieved to know that the boy had this kind of advocate.

"I think I can tell that about you, John."

"So to answer my question…are you interested in custody?"

The shake of the blonde head was barely perceptible. "I’m not looking for that."

"Too bad. I would like very much to place Andy with a relative who can give him some stability. Nobody really knows how all this is going to be resolved, but if Kristy Parker’s convicted, we’re probably going to move to sever parental rights."

"And then he’ll be eligible for adoption, right?" Like she had been at four years old.


"And what do you think of his chances?"

Moss still wore his poker face. "I honestly don’t know. What kind of life would you want for him?" The social worker sensed that there was more to Lily’s interest than simple affirmation that the child was alright. Her emotions were very close to the surface, and soon she would spill it.

"I want him to be saved from all of this. I want him to be loved, and to be able to grow up without having to be part of his past. I want him to have a chance." She was close to tears, but fought hard to keep them at bay.

The two sat silently, sipping their coffee for several minutes. Finally John spoke.

"My car’s in the garage around the corner. What do you say we take a little ride out toward Candlestick Park? There’s a house just around the corner…."

Lily stood immediately and pitched her empty cup in a nearby bin. "I’m ready when you are."


Lunch was the proverbial rubber chicken, with some sort of…sauce. The eight diners at Anna’s table had practically fought over the bread basket, giving up on the main entrée and the too-cooked mixed vegetables. At least the salad had been edible, and all were looking forward to the chocolate mousse.

This was the annual Entrepreneur Awards Luncheon for the Greater Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. As one of last year’s winners for her sweeping acquisition of three new dealerships, Anna was seated near the speakers’ table with several of the movers and shakers who had made their mark in LA’s business community. At the tables near the back, diners networked with one another, meeting as many people as possible to help grow their new or struggling businesses. At Anna’s table, the subject was city politics, a topic which in LA was the rubber chicken equivalent of discussion.

A tapping on her shoulder took her mercifully away from an anti-city hall tirade.

"Greg, hi! How are you?" Greg Cahill owned a string of office supply franchises throughout the region. As the Chamber’s vice-president, he would ascend to the top job after the next election, two months away. Like Anna, Greg and his businesses were ardent supporters of several projects that benefited children, either in the schools or in the neighborhoods. Anna liked him a lot, and he drove a black Premier 740iL.

"I’m doing great, Anna. It’s good to see you. Listen, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I wonder if you’d mind joining a few of us for a short meeting after lunch. I promise it won’t take long."

"Sure," she nodded. If Greg was getting behind something, chances were she would too.

"Great. We’ll meet in the Palm Room down the hall. Oh, and Geri just ordered a sandwich tray," he added with a wink.

"Then I’ll definitely be there."

Anna walked into the room after the luncheon to find a small group of the Chamber’s elite members, including several past officers. Anna herself had served as the organization’s treasurer three years ago.

"Anna! Thanks for joining us," Greg said eagerly.

Suddenly nervous to realize that all eyes in the room were on her and smiling, Anna thought fleetingly about faking a vibrating page. This is about me.

"You’re welcome, Greg. Hi everyone," she added, nodding in the direction of the smiling faces. "So what’s this about?"

"This is about your campaign for vice-president. We really want you to run, and we’ll all do our part to help you get elected."

Anna had worked like a dog the last time she’d served the Chamber. Well, not like Chester, but maybe like a working dog…. However, she knew from others who had held various posts that no office was as demanding as treasurer, and she’d survived it.

"Why me, Greg?" There were lots of Chamber members with more business experience than she, and Anna was almost certain she wouldn’t get much support from the old guard. They’d want one of their own.

"Because you’re the kind of leader we need: somebody who has shown that she knows how to operate a sound business and make it grow; somebody who can be a good role model for other women and young people in the business community; and somebody who cares about the whole community, not just her own business interests."

Anna was staggered by Greg’s unwavering praise, more so by the way it was echoed by the nodding heads around the room.

"Well I…."

"Just say yes, and we’ll worry about the rest," he prodded.

Anna sighed. It was a two-year commitment, as the charter called for the vice-president to automatically succeed the president. That was a lot of time, but it would give her a platform for advocating better business practices and more community involvement.

"Okay. I’ll run."

The room erupted in applause, and everyone rushed forward to offer their thanks and congratulations.

I hope I don’t regret this.


Moss wheeled his Honda Civic south on 101 toward the infamous stadium on Candlestick Point. Only the sportscasters called the landmark by its corporate name, 3-Com Park. Over the years, Lily had collected lots of memories of sporting events here in the park. In fact, her mother and Katharine Fortier were seated in the upper deck before the start of the World Series in 1989 when the tall lights began to sway from the Loma Prieta quake.

"So what kind of work does your husband do?" the social worker asked, snapping her back from that frightening memory. Please don’t say he’s a mobster.

Lily chuckled, knowing that the ring she wore had led him to that erroneous assumption. "She sells cars."

Momentarily perplexed, Moss recovered nicely as understanding dawned. "And do you two have any children?"

"No, but we have a basset hound, and my partner and I seem to take turns acting like children from time to time."

"I know what you mean. My wife says I do that too."

"How about you? Do you have children?" Lily was really starting to like this man, and again she was glad that the wheels of fate had landed Andy’s case on his desk.

"Two boys, 12 and nine. I tell you, sometimes after a really tough day, I have to go straight to their rooms when I get home and tell them how much I love them."

"Believe me, I understand. We see some horrible things in this line of work. Still, I like knowing that I’m doing something about it."

"Me too," he concurred. "Here we are."

Moss parked and led Lily up the steps to the porch of a narrow three-story house. The garage took up the ground level, so the front door entered on the second story. They were expected, as the social worker had called on the way over.

"Nice to see you again, John. Come on in."

"Hi Mary Beth. Sorry about the short notice," Moss apologized.

"Not a problem. We’ve just had lunch."

Moss and Lily entered the small living room, where the social worker made the introductions. "Lily, this is Mary Beth Shull. She and her husband have been foster parents with us for about eight years."

"Hi Mrs. Shull. I’m Lily Stuart," she eagerly offered, barely able to avert her eyes from the three young boys huddled around the TV. If one of them was Andy, he was big for his age.

"Call me Mary Beth. Even the boys do."

Taking in the heavyset woman with an abundance of gray hair, Lily surmised that Mary Beth Shull was in her mid-fifties. She doubted seriously that any of the children in the room belonged to this woman and her husband. In fact, besides the actual presence of the boys in the room, there wasn’t much evidence that children lived here. There were no toys, games or books of any kind in the room. Everything was neat and orderly, and Lily immediately got the impression that Mary Beth Shull ran a tight ship.

"It’s nice to meet you Mary Beth. Thanks for letting us come."

"It’s alright. I told Andy that someone was coming to see him, and he slipped upstairs to the bedroom without finishing his lunch. He’s pretty shy."

"Can we go up there?" Lily was almost shaking with anticipation.

"Right this way." The blonde woman fell in behind Mrs. Shull and Moss brought up the rear. Straight ahead at the top of the stairs was a small bathroom, the upward toilet seat a sign that its last visitor had been one of the young boys. To the left was a closed door, presumably the Shull’s bedroom. The room on the right was open, two sets of bunk beds visible from the doorway. Apparently, all four of the boys shared this small room.

"Andy?" the foster mother called.

Lily stepped into the room behind her, her eyes drawn immediately to movement in the corner behind the tall chest of drawers. A small brown-haired boy squatted low, his green eyes wide as he watched the new people enter the room. Even in his crouched position, Lily could see that he was quite small for his age, probably less than 30 pounds. His complexion was slightly darker than her own, evidence of his Latino parentage.

"Andy, do you remember John?" she coaxed.

If he did, he didn’t let on.

"Hi Andy. How are you, buddy?" Moss smiled a friendly greeting to the boy. "I brought someone to see you today. This is Lily. Can you say hi?"

Lily slowly squatted lower, careful not to crowd the child in the corner. From here, she noticed that his hands tightly clutched a small toy car. "Hello Andy. What’s that you’re playing with?"

The boy didn’t answer, but meekly held out the toy for her inspection, as though afraid that she would take it from him. He was dressed in oversized red gym shorts with a faded blue t-shirt, most likely hand-me-downs from children who had stayed with the Shulls over the last eight years.

"That’s a nice car. Is it fun to play with?" Lily found herself wanting badly to connect with this child. Simple questions might draw him out.

Andy nodded and pulled it back.

"He really likes to play with cars," Mrs. Shull interjected. "We have about five or six of those matchbox cars here that he keeps hidden under the bed so the other boys won’t get them," she added, walking to the lower bunk on the left to retrieve his stash.

Andy followed her with his eyes, anxious that she knew of his secret place.

"One of my friends likes cars too, Andy," she continued, reminded at once of her beautiful partner.

"Behavior-wise, he’s not a lot of trouble," the foster mother offered, talking as though the child weren’t in the room. "He doesn’t talk much and he plays by himself a lot. But he’s a very picky eater, and he doesn’t wash himself very well."

Lily had learned some of those same things about herself from the papers Eleanor had saved.

"How’s his asthma been?" Moss asked.

"He has asthma?" Lily was momentarily startled by this piece of information. She still had a few problems herself with the condition, and knowing its hereditary nature, she wondered if Kristy also had suffered with it.

"From what I can tell from his records, it seems to be a little worse in the summer time. I had to move him down to the couch the other night because his coughing was keeping the other boys awake."

The image of the small boy alone downstairs in the night almost broke Lily’s heart. The best medicine for an asthma attack was a double-edged sword at night. It usually stopped the coughing but stimulated the senses, making it difficult to fall asleep.

"Mary Beth, why don’t we go talk in the kitchen for awhile and let Lily visit with Andy?" Moss liked Lily’s fearless approach to the anxious child, and hoped if they disappeared, Andy might actually talk to her.

Now alone with the bashful boy, Lily adjusted her dress and sat cross-legged in the floor. His wide eyes never left her as she reached out to drag the other cars over to the space between them.

"Which one of these is your favorite, Andy?"

Shyly, the boy leaned forward and crawled the few feet to where she sat, pointing to a small convertible.

"This one?"

He nodded, still not making a sound.

"I like that one too. Can I see the one you have in your hand?"

Reluctantly, Andy gave up the small black Firebird with flames painted on the hood. This was the "Bandit," Lily remembered. "This one’s very nice too," she remarked, quickly handing it back to him. It was important that she establish a sense of trust.

"So which bed is yours?"

Andy stood and walked to the lower bunk. "’Dis one," he finally spoke.

"It looks like a fun place to sleep, like having your own little room."

"I can climb ‘dis," he indicated, grabbing the ladder that led to the upper bunk. In a flash, he began to demonstrate.

Lily stood instinctively, readying herself to catch him. "Wow, you’re a good climber, Andy."

They had finally broken the ice, and the boy spent the next half hour showing his new friend how he could cross his eyes, balance briefly on one foot, and almost reach the top bunk when he clumsily jumped up from the floor. Next, he showed her his other pair of shoes, and the five t-shirts and two pairs of shorts in bottom drawer of the nightstand. Lily delighted in the way he opened up, and genuinely enjoyed watching him show off.

Time flew as he entertained her in the crowded room upstairs. She was surprised when Moss and Mrs. Shull appeared again in the doorway, and he suddenly became subdued.

"We’ve been having a lot of fun," she stated, still smiling at the shy boy who had retreated to sit on his bed against the wall.

"We’ve been hearing all that fun," his foster mother admonished, an obvious reference to the jumping they had heard from downstairs. "You haven’t been climbing on the ladder, have you Andy?"

The child looked down without answering.

"Uh, that was my fault. I asked him if he could and he showed me. Sorry, I didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to do that." Lily wasn’t sure why she suddenly felt like a co-conspirator, but she wasn’t going to let the child be punished on her account.

"Andy knows he’s not allowed to do that. Don’t you, Andy?"

The boy nodded solemnly.

Thankfully, that reprimand was his only punishment, and Lily shot him a quick wink and a smile to lessen the blow.

"I need to be getting back to my office, Lily. Are you about ready to go?"

An inexplicable panic gripped Lily as she realized that their time together was over. She had really enjoyed playing with the boy, and found herself strangely moved by the connection she felt.

Ducking under the top bunk, Lily started her goodbye. "I have to go, Andy. Do you think I could have a hug to take with me?"

"Oh, he doesn’t really like physical contact that much. That’s probably from being abused when he was with his mother."

Lily flinched at the mention of Kristy Parker, but was more annoyed that the foster mother had brought that up in front of the child. It was as though she had little regard for his feelings. Maybe she doesn’t.

Turning back to the child, Lily coaxed him one more time. "Would it be okay if I gave you a hug?"

Slowly he crawled to the edge of the bed, rising up on his knees to wrap his small arms around the blonde woman’s neck.

Lily’s eyes quickly filled with tears at the tender gesture, and she hugged the boy fiercely to her chest. "Maybe I’ll come back to visit you again sometime. Would you like that?" Did I just say that?

Andy nodded, and Lily slowly stood. Looking back one last time at the bright green eyes, she smiled and started down the steps.

Moss was quiet as they pulled away, aware that his companion was working hard at composing herself. Finally, he broke the silence.

"So are you satisfied?"

"Satisfied with what?"

"Satisfied that he’s doing alright. That’s what you came to check on, isn’t it?"

"He seems to be relatively healthy, except for the asthma she mentioned."

"His last checkup was pretty good. And the Shulls take pretty good care of the kids that stay there."

"But he doesn’t seem to be particularly happy. I guess that’s not all that unusual for kids in foster care, is it?" Lily lamented.

"Yeah, he might do a little better if there were fewer kids there. The Shulls are only certified for two children, but they’ve had four at a time for most of the last year."

"That’s terrible. How can you let that happen?" She was immediately sorry at her accusatory tone. "I mean, isn’t there somewhere else he could go?"

"You know what it’s like. We just don’t have enough beds for the kids that need them. All in all, the Shulls are doing a pretty good job."

"She seems nice enough, but you’ve got to admit she’s a little severe. I mean there were four children in the house, and the only toys in the house were hidden under the bed. And Andy acted like he was afraid of her when she said that about him climbing on the ladder."

"Lily, I understand what you’re saying, believe me. Our house looks like a toy box in every room. But a lot of these kids come into foster care with absolutely no sense of order or rules. It isn’t such a bad thing that they learn a few boundaries."

"But they’re still kids, John. And I didn’t like how she talked about Andy with him sitting right there in the room."

Unknown to the ranting woman, the social worker was actually enjoying her tirade. Everything she said was a sign that she cared, and when she’d shared the touching hug with the boy, he’d stepped into hall and pumped his fist in the air twice, mouthing a silent "Yes!"

"Do you need to go back to the office, or is there somewhere I could drop you?" he asked, approaching the freeway entrance.

"How about SFO? Would that be too much trouble?" Now that her business was finished, she could probably catch an earlier flight back to LA.

Turning south, they drove in silence once again.

"John, could I ask you a huge personal favor?"

"Sure." He really liked this woman, and he was pretty sure of what she was going to ask.

"Will you keep me posted on how he’s doing?"

Moss didn’t answer right away, carefully choosing his words. "I will if you’ll do something for me," he finally offered.

"What’s that?"

"Will you go home and think about taking him in?"

Lily’s stomach fluttered at the suggestion. When she’d felt the boy’s arms go around her neck, she’d been ready to scoop him up and take him home right then.

"That’s not a decision I can make by myself. I just don’t think this is a good time for us." The excuse sounded feeble, but she and Anna had agreed that they wanted more time together before they thought about the prospect of children. Besides, this wasn’t just any child; he was the child of a sister she had never met.

"But it’s a good time for Andy. He’s doing okay, but he could do a lot better with somebody like you." Moss wheeled the small car into the departures lane. "What’s your airline?"

"United," she answered, picking up her folders from the floorboard, and hooking her handbag over her shoulder.

Moss maneuvered in front of the United Airlines section and pulled to a stop.

"If I decided to keep him for a while, would Kristy have to know?" The longer she thought about it, the more unattractive was the prospect of actually meeting her half sister.

"I’m afraid so. Under the terms of voluntary surrender, it’s policy that we advise the parents of every change in placement."

"But does she need to know that I’m her sister?"

Reluctantly, Moss nodded. "I can’t recommend a move out of the county unless it’s a relative."

Lily sighed deeply and stepped out of the car, leaning back in to finish their discussion. "I guess you have your answer then, John. I’m just not ready to do that. I’m sorry. I really appreciate all you did today."

"Glad I could help you find out what you wanted, Lily," he said, not even trying to conceal his disappointment. He may have lost Round One, but he was certain that the idea had taken root. They would talk again, and soon.


Chapter 9


Anna was glad to see the X5 already in the garage when she got home. Lily had left a message for her at work that she had seen Andy, and was at the airport. Still, her scheduled flight wasn’t until six, so the car dealer hadn’t expected her before eight.

"Lily?" Anna strode into the family room, stopping briefly to pet the happy hound.

"In here."

Anna continued into the kitchen, where her partner was running a garlic press over a buttered split loaf. "Hey, baby. When did you get back?"

Lily stretched up for a kiss. "I got to the airport early and walked onto an earlier flight. Good thing you didn’t try to sneak your girlfriend home, huh?"

"What? She isn’t upstairs?"

"Funny, Amazon. You shouldn’t tease the cook, you know." Lily sprinkled the seasoning on a pair of salmon steaks. "You could come down with a serious case of chickenella."

"A case of what?"

"Chickenella. You know, you get salmonella from undercooked chicken, and…."

Anna groaned at the feeble joke as Lily took the steaks out to the grill. "I want to hear all about your day. Is there anything I can do?" The table was set, the salad was tossed, and the bread was in the oven.

"Nope, everything’s under control. I’ll tell you about it when we sit down."

"Okay. What do you want to drink?" Anna asked, poking her head into the refrigerator.

"Let’s see. White wine would be good." Now that was a joke.

"Smart ass. Just for that, I’m going to pour you a glass of chocolate milk to go with your fish."

"You’re gross."

Anna opened a bottle of ice cold sparkling water and plucked two glasses from the cabinet. Lily was bringing in the steaks just as she finished cutting up a lemon.

"That looks great, hon. Slaving over a hot stove, all for me."

"These are both mine. What are you having?"

"I was thinking about battered pygmy."

"Such a funny girl," Lily answered, crinkling her nose. She thoroughly appreciated her lover’s quick wit. Retrieving the bread from the oven, she and Anna sat down at the table.

"So tell me all about Andy. Where’s he living?" Anna started in on the warm bread and waited for her lover’s report.

Lily described the Shull’s crowded home, a two bedroom house with four children and two adults. Borrowing Anna’s silverware, she laid out a model of the small bedroom, showing where the bunk beds were, and where she found the small boy hiding.

"What did he look like?"

"Oh Anna, he was beautiful! He’s really small for his age–Mary Beth says he’s a picky eater–and he’s got curly light brown hair, and big green eyes like mine."

Eyes like yours? He’d slay me.

"And he’s really bashful, but he finally opened up and started to play with me. He’s very sweet. Oh, and guess what he likes to play with most! You’ll love this."

"I…have no idea."

"Cars. He loves cars, you know, those little matchbox cars. He has a bunch of them that he hides under the bed." Lily went on to tell about the "tricks" he did, and how he showed off for her until the other adults returned. "He was adorable. And when I had to leave, he gave me a big hug; I tell you, it just stole my heart."

Anna nodded, enjoying her partner’s obvious excitement. "I’m really glad you went, sweetheart. It sounds like he’s doing okay."

"Well, he is doing…okay. I just wish…."

"You wish what?"

Lily set down her fork and sighed. How do I explain this? "I wish that he were…I don’t know…happier. Foster care can be a cruel system sometimes."

"What do you mean?" Anna was disappointed that her partner’s excitement was now gone.

"It’s just the nature of the beast. They move these kids around so much that they actually discourage the foster parents from trying to bond with them because it can cause separation problems for some of them when they have to leave."

"Well I guess that makes sense."

"Yeah, so Andy has a safe place to stay, and a bed, and he gets his meals and his bath. But he doesn’t get to laugh and play very much, and I don’t think he gets any affection at all. I think I might have been the first person to hug him in I don’t know how long."

"That’s too bad." Anna knew from her Kidz Kamp outings how much some of the kids craved adult attention. "So how long do you think he’ll be there?"

"Probably not much longer. The other kids in the house are older and they start back to school next month. John says that Mary Beth only agreed to keep him until then, because she doesn’t want to have one at home during the day." Lily went on to tell about John Moss, and how glad she was that Andy had been assigned to such a good social worker.

"Where do you think he’ll go when they move him?"

"I don’t know. John asked me to think about having him come here."

Inexplicably, Anna picked that moment to drop her fork and send it clanging across the tile floor.

The women looked at one another in silence before Lily finally spoke. "Don’t sweat it, Amazon. I told him it wasn’t going to happen."

The next five minutes brought a serious lull in the conversation.

"So tell me about your day," Lily asked as she pushed back from her unfinished meal. The subject of Andy was now officially closed.

To Anna, the events of her day seemed inconsequential compared to her partner’s visit to San Francisco. Nonetheless, she went on to relate the story of the Chamber luncheon and how she’d agreed to run for vice president.

Lily couldn’t help but feel proud that her lover had been tapped for such an important position. "You know, sweetheart, that’s really quite an honor. I’m so proud of you."

"Thanks." In Anna’s own mind, business accomplishments stacked up poorly against the kind of work done every day by people like Lily, Sandy Henke and John Moss.


"Full staff meeting in the conference room! Now, please." Tony strode rapidly from his office down the hall. Something big was happening.

"Good morning, ladies." Tony greeted the clinic’s small staff, which included his attorney wife Colleen; Lauren and Lily, who rounded out the legal staff; and Pauline, who pulled double duty as the receptionist and file clerk. "I have three pieces of news for you all this morning. Four actually. The first two items are that our esteemed Ms. Stuart has secured significant funding from two organizations to provide specialized legal services, one from the Hispanic Women’s Safe Coalition, and the other from the Ryan White Foundation for persons with AIDS."

Lily beamed as the excited staffers clapped and offered their congratulations.

"The next item is that with this extra work, we’re going to have to start looking for extra help, so I want you to put your feelers out there with some of your old professors and colleagues. And finally–and Lily, you’re really going to like this part–in September, we’re moving into bigger offices on the third floor."

The last bit of news was possibly the best of all, as Lily was still working out of a closet and Colleen felt guilty every single day for taking over her office. The extra work would now mean that Lily would soon be back to full-time, and she could finally quit scouring for extra funds.

"Lily, can I see you a minute in my office?" Tony asked as they walked back down the hall together.


Once inside, Tony closed the door and faced his friend. "I just wanted to say thank you for working so hard to make all this happen. I’m really proud of the way you’ve handled yourself since you came back. I don’t know many people who could have stuck it out like you have." The man was growing awkward at his praise. "Anyway, I just wanted you to know that I’m really glad to have you working by my side at the clinic, but more than that, I’m glad to call you a friend."

For the first time since she’d started her downward spiral into alcohol abuse last year, Lily felt at this moment like she had finally recovered all the things she’d lost. She was proud that she’d won the grants, but knowing that she had once again earned Tony’s professional respect and friendship was worth more than that. I am not going to cry, she told herself as her green eyes misted. But in case she did, the speechless woman stepped forward and buried her face in Tony’s shoulder as she gave her boss–her friend–a mighty hug.


"So it looks like I’ll be back to full-time in September," Lily told her partner excitedly.

"That’s great news! I’m happy for you, sweetheart. Of course, I’m going to miss having you at home already when I get here."

"And my cooking."

"And the times at night when I get to enjoy you instead of you having to get ready for court."

"And my cooking."

"And all the energy you have because you don’t have to work so hard."


"And your cooking," Anna finally conceded.

The women moved into their bedroom, having locked up and turned out the lights downstairs. It was early, only 9:30, but who knew what might happen in that hour or two before they fell asleep.

Lily clicked on the TV as Anna disappeared into the bathroom to get ready for bed. "Have you kicked off your VP campaign yet?"

"I had a meeting yesterday with Greg Cahill and Geri D’Angelo. They floated it at their committee meetings last week and got a positive response. I need to put together a short speech for next month’s general meeting."

"Do you have any ideas for a–?"

"A development tonight in the Peyton Graves murder case. Next right here on News 26."

"What do you think it could it be?" Anna asked, taking a seat on the edge of the bed beside her lover, whose attention was now riveted to the upcoming nightly news.

The trial was set to start in three weeks, with a handful of pretrial evidentiary issues before the court. Already, the prosecution boasted hair strands from Kristy Parker inside Graves’ loft and bloodstains on her pants. Several of his personal items and pawn tickets for others were found in their possession. With the physical evidence directly incriminating Parker, some in the media were even speculating that charges against McGinnis might be dropped for lack of evidence.

Though neither suspect was cooperating, their attorney had already offered an alternate explanation for the evidence. This was an important maneuver designed to prevent potential jurors from automatically accepting the prosecutor’s case. The public defender maintained that his clients had found the stolen items–some of which contained the victim’s blood–while searching in a dumpster near Graves’ loft. Parker, he said, had approached Graves earlier in the day for a handout and he invited her into his home to give her food and a rain jacket, which she was wearing at the time of her arrest. It was admittedly plausible, as the man had a reputation for being generous; he had once made the papers for giving a homeless man a ride in his limousine.

"Aren’t you going to go check online?" Anna asked.

Lily had been trying not to spend too much time in the evenings reading about the case ever since her partner had hinted that it had become an obsession. Usually, she checked the internet for updates at work or before Anna got home.

"No, I’ll watch it here with you."

Anxious minutes passed before the news theme finally sounded. Art Hanson had become a news celebrity of sorts during his on-the-scene reports from the Culver City quake, and now anchored the 10 o’clock broadcast.

"There’s a development out of San Francisco tonight in the case against the couple who stand accused of fatally stabbing businessman and political figure, Peyton Graves…." Police had been alerted by neighbors to an overnight disturbance near Graves’ residence, in which a man now identified as Robert McGinnis was observed tampering with a row of newspaper racks. The alert patrolman recognized the name as the same as that of the accused, and summoned investigators to the scene. When the racks were separated, they recovered a nine-inch kitchen knife from a set belonging to the victim, believed to be the murder weapon. Robert McGinnis was later identified as the brother of Kenneth, and was being held pending charges.

"Wow, I’d say that about closes the book," Anna remarked.

"Yeah, it looks like McGinnis sent his brother to find the weapon. Maybe it will have his prints or something." Lily had accepted that her half-sister was deeply involved in this horrible crime, but was unsettled by the suggestion that she had acted alone.

"That would put them both there, wouldn’t it?"

"Yeah, unless McGinnis were to argue that she handed it to him or something."

Anna placed her hand on her lover’s knee and squeezed softly. "Does this change how you’re looking at everything, sweetheart?" She knew that Lily had held out hope that the explanation offered by the defense was actually the truth, but the fact that the murder weapon had been hidden–and that McGinnis’ brother apparently knew where it was–heightened the likelihood that they were indeed the murderers.

"It sure makes it harder to buy their dumpster explanation, doesn’t it? Although I suppose a knife like that would be a real find, and they could say they had second thoughts about it because of the blood." Lily knew she was reaching, but as an attorney she was trained to think in terms of reasonable doubt.

Anna clicked off the TV and started back into the bathroom. "Honey, what happens to Andy if Kristy gets convicted?" Lily had hardly spoken of the child since the night more than a week ago when she’d returned from seeing him. Twice, Anna had asked if she’d heard anything, but Lily had said no and quickly changed the subject. Why she didn’t want to talk about him, Anna didn’t understand.

Lily had been thinking about Andy, a lot in fact. But after her partner’s reaction when she’d told her of the social worker’s request, she had purposefully avoided the subject of Andy again. More and more, she felt herself drawn to the boy with the smiling green eyes, and the sweet shyness. And with growing resentment and frustration, she thought of his strict environment and the long nights alone on the couch as he coughed uncontrollably. How could Lily explain to her partner that she simply needed to go get this child?

"The state–John Moss actually–will start severance proceedings and he’ll be placed up for adoption."

"Like you were?"

"Exactly like I was. Except that my mother didn’t murder anyone, let alone somebody famous."

"What does…oh…so you don’t think he’ll be adopted?" Anna recognized that the stigma would be difficult for a prospective parent to overcome.

"Not likely," she answered glumly. "Moss called me at work and told me that Andy’s going to be moved soon, and there’s no telling how long he’ll stay in the next place. If he’s lucky, he’ll get to live with a family for a while, but more than likely he’ll end up eventually in a group home of some sort."

So she’s been thinking about it, just not talking to me. Anna suddenly felt guilty, knowing that her earlier reaction had caused her lover to clam up. "You didn’t tell me Moss called." It was a gentle reproach. She once again took a seat on the bed, this time draping an arm around the slouched shoulder as Lily stared dejectedly at the floor.

The blonde woman nodded. "Yeah, yesterday. He…asked me again to think about letting Andy stay with us until he found a better place for him."

"And you told him no again." It wasn’t a question.

Lily nodded once again, tears forming in her eyes at the frustration she felt.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this. Am I really going to say this? Oh, god help me. Here goes nothing. "Maybe we should talk about it some more, Lily. I never meant for you to feel like it wasn’t even something we should consider," Anna offered, her voice low and steady.

"You mean bringing him here?" Lily’s hands began to shake as she weighed the ramifications of what her partner was suggesting. Yes, she wanted Andy with her–that she knew, and she knew it the moment she saw the boy. But it would mean making contact with her sister, and the enormity of that step wasn’t to be taken lightly. Nor were Anna’s reservations.

"What would we…what would it involve?" Anna was now tentative, unsure of what they were both getting into. This was not just any child they were talking about, but possibly the child of a notorious murderer. And he was Lily’s nephew.

"I would have to go on record as being Kristy’s sister. Unless she objected, Moss would then draw up papers to have him placed here until…."

"Until what?"

"Until he’s adopted, or until we ask to have him placed elsewhere." Lily wondered how many times the child had been moved at the foster parents’ request. She had no idea of the demands he placed on his caretakers.

"So you don’t really know how long he would need to be here," Anna asked, the apprehension in her voice now clear.

"No, but it would be up to us, I think." Lily hoped that Anna would be willing to give it a try if she knew it was only temporary. "I mean if it didn’t work out, we could ask John to find another placement. Unless of course Kristy is acquitted…then she’d be eligible to regain custody." I can’t believe we’re talking about this.

The more Anna heard her lover speak, the more she knew what was in Lily’s heart regarding the small child. Her voice was lighter, excited even.

"Are you ready to acknowledge Kristy Parker as your sister? It’s a big step." It could very possibly draw the attorney into the media coverage surrounding the trial.

"Anna, believe me, having anything to do with her is the next to last thing in the world I want. But the last thing I want is for that beautiful boy not to have a chance to grow up better than his mother. If we could help him–even for a little while," she added hastily, "I’d be willing to face her if I had to." Her green eyes were pleading.

Lily needed this for her peace of mind, Anna knew. Like it somehow paid back what she owed Eleanor Stuart for saving her from a life of foster homes.

"So why don’t you call that social worker tomorrow and tell him you’ve decided to do it for a while."

Her whispered thanks barely audible, Lily wrapped her arms tightly around this wonderful woman that she loved more than life.


Chapter 10


John Moss really tried to be cool about the news, but it was no use. He was so thrilled that Lily Stuart had changed her mind that she could actually hear the grin on his face.

"So what do we have to do?" Lily had stayed home this morning to get the ball rolling on this process, which she knew from her own experience with the system, wasn’t always a snap. One of her clients had likened it to getting a mortgage.

"Uh…," back to business, "first we have to start the paperwork. I’ll need to hook up with a social worker in LA who can handle the preliminaries. They’ll have to do a home visit and interviews with all the adults in the house, so that means you and your partner. I can probably find somebody today and have them call you next week to set up the appointment."

"Would it be alright if it was someone I knew?"

"It’s alright by me, so long as it’s somebody that’s qualified to handle it."

Lily gave him Sandy Henke’s name and number, assuring him that though they were close, Sandy could be trusted to do a professional job. "I would actually put the two of you in the same league, John."

"Well if she’s your friend, I’ll take that as a compliment." Moss started pulling forms from the files in his bottom drawer. "I’ll need to run a background check on both of you, and you’ll both have to get fingerprinted. It’s just routine."

"Uh, you’re going to find…I got a DUI last year."

Moss was a little surprised at this. Most attorneys were more careful and the ones who weren’t usually had colleagues that could fix everything. "Has that sort of thing been a problem for you?" It was best to get all this out in the open.

"No, just a one-time thing. I, uh, lost my mom last year and I didn’t handle myself very well. But I got into a program, and I’m sober now. It’s not a part of me anymore."

"Okay, thanks for telling me. I don’t think it will be a problem." He shuffled the papers on his desk. "Can you fax me a copy of your birth certificate? I may need it when I talk to your sister’s attorney."

Lily cringed at the mention of her sister. She hated that they had to involve her in this process, angry that Kristy Parker had any say-so at all with regard to Andy.

"I’ll send it right out. Is there anything else you need?"

"I can’t really do anything else on this end until I get the papers back from your friend. I’ll send her a packet in the mail today. She should have it Monday or Tuesday. When she gets it all filled out and sends it back, I’ll set up something with Kristy."

Lily could feel the excitement building. This was really happening. "Is there any way you could send the packet overnight? We might be able to take care of it all over the weekend and get it back to you by Tuesday."

Unbeknownst to Lily, Moss was on his feet now, doing the victory dance he usually reserved for his sons’ soccer matches. "Okay, I’ll get it out this afternoon. Is it okay to send it to your house?"

"That’d be great, John. I’ll watch for it. Thanks."

"Thank you, Lily. I have a feeling this is going to be really good for Andy."

"Yeah…it’ll feel good to be able to help him out…for at least a while, anyway."

"Yeah, at least a while," Moss feigned his agreement.


"Well isn’t this a surprise!" Hal looked up from his desk as Kim pushed the overloaded stroller through the office door. His young son followed closely behind, breaking into a run when he spotted his dad. "Hi Jonah!" Hal caught the boy and stood, coming around the desk to kiss his wife and nuzzle his infant daughter as her eyes grew big taking in the new place.

"Hi handsome."

Hal’s forehead wrinkled immediately. This was unusual. "So did you come to have lunch with me? How did you get that stroller up the stairs?"

"Brad and Danny carried it," Anna answered, appearing out of nowhere to drop a large white paper bag on his desk. "Roast beef on wheat for you, grilled cheese for Jo-Jo, chips and cookies."

The accountant was extremely confused.

"Gotta have a talk with my sister. You get to babysit, big guy." A quick kiss on her husband’s cheek, and Kim followed Anna into the corner office and closed the door.

"I got you tuna," Anna offered as Kim plopped down on the leather love seat.

"Tuna, schmuna! What’s this all about?" Her sister, obviously upset about something, had called and begged her to come by the office for a talk.

Anna told her all about the decision to bring Andy to live with them "just for a while" as they waited to find out what would happen to his mother. She and Lily had told the family a little about the boy, but not enough that anyone would have foreseen this.

"I can’t believe I’m doing this, Kim. He’s not even four years old!"

Truth be told, Kim couldn’t believe her sister was doing this either, but since she was, she didn’t need to be second-guessed. "Wow, I can’t believe it either! But it sounds like great news, Sister."

"What do you mean great news? I’m going to have a heart attack before it ever happens."

"Anna, come on. It sounds like this kid really needs a good home. You and Lily can do that."

"It’s just going to be for a while."

Uh-huh. "What if you like it?" The more Kim thought about it, the more the idea of her sister with a small child grew on her. Anna was great with Jonah, and she had a lot to give. Lily would be marvelous.

"Very funny. You know I only like kids when I can hand them back to their parents."

"But that’s because you can. If you can’t maybe you’ll find out that the real fun is the tough stuff."

"I don’t have to tell you how ridiculous that sounds," Anna muttered, her skepticism evident in the scowl on her face.

"Look, there’s nothing to it, really. You just follow them around 24 hours a day so they don’t hurt themselves, teach them to have a conscience, and hope they don’t talk about your family’s private moments in front of other people." Jonah had told the entire Kaklis family and the wait staff at Empyre’s that his daddy’s pee-pee was a lot bigger than his…like a giant’s.


"I can’t believe you’re really going to do this!" Suzanne exclaimed.

Funny, I keep saying that myself, Anna thought for the thousandth time since Thursday night, so deep in denial she wasn’t sure which part of her was real anymore.

"I have to admit, I was a little surprised when this one here agreed," Lily said, putting her arm around her partner’s waist. "But we both felt that it was the right thing to do."

Anna found herself nodding, though she wasn’t consciously aware of the decision to do so.

"Well this is all pretty straightforward," Sandy looked up from the kitchen counter where she’d laid out the forms from John Moss. She’d called her fellow social worker on Friday afternoon, after she’d gotten the heads up from Lily.

"Hi Sandy." Moss was really glad that Lily was already following up. It said a lot in her favor that she was eager to move forward with getting Andy placed in her home. "Lily thinks a lot of you, you know."

"Yeah, she thinks a lot of you too, John. I can tell."

"So what do you think? Is this a good idea?"


"Of course." He tensed, hoping he hadn’t misread things.

"I think it could be the best thing to ever happen to Andy Parker. That’s my honest assessment."

Whew! "That’s certainly good to hear. So you think they’re able to take this on? I mean, it won’t be a hardship, will it?"

Sandy chuckled. "No, John. They can handle it."

"That’s good. I was just…worried, you know, Lily told me she worked with the guardian ad litem program. I know that can’t pay much. And her partner sells cars, she said."

"Yeah, Anna Kaklis sells cars, alright. She owns the top two BMW and Volkswagen dealerships in Southern California."


"My whole house would fit in their living room, dining room and kitchen," she exaggerated, but it was the right idea.

"Wow, we don’t usually like to place kids in settings like that." Unless the children were accustomed to affluent surroundings, the foster care system generally preferred lower-middle and middle class homes, as it made readjustment easier when the children were returned to their own homes.

"Under normal circumstances, I’d agree with you. But Lily and Anna are pretty down to earth."

"So what’s Anna like?" Moss’s curiosity was more personal than professional, he acknowledged to himself, wondering what type of partner a woman like Lily Stuart would have.

"She’s a blue chipper. Good people, as my mother would say."

"That’s great. So…I guess I’ll hear from you next week?"

"Yeah, but one more thing, John. You have to promise me something."

"What’s that?"

"If I call you and tell you that you need to move this kid, I don’t want you dragging your feet. I want you to hustle and find him a place."

"Are you going to have to do that, Sandy?" It didn’t bode well for Andy if Lily’s friend was already looking for an out.

"I hope not, but neither one of them has been around a child before, let alone a child who’s spent a lot of time in the system. I don’t want their decision to do this to come back and bite them in the ass." Sandy had never pulled a punch in her life.

"I think I’m going to recommend a few changes to the bedroom upstairs," Sandy started, walking towards the stairs to lay out her plan.

Lily and Anna followed dutifully while Suzanne made herself at home in the family room in front of their state-of-the-art entertainment center.

At the top of the landing, the social worker stopped and asked, "Which room are you thinking of putting him in?"

On the left side was the master suite; to the right were two smaller bedrooms, connected by a bathroom. Straight ahead were French doors leading to a large balcony that spanned the back of the house.

"Maybe that one," Anna gestured toward the room farthest from theirs. "I was just thinking that the balcony might not be safe," she explained. Indeed, the open railings would pose a risk to a very small child.

"Good thinking," Sandy congratulated, walking to the far bedroom. "I think you should get a twin bed for in here. Kids, especially little ones, feel more secure in a smaller bed. And if you’re going to have to put this bed in storage anyway, maybe you should get some other pieces that are more…kid sized."

This room held the bedroom suite from Lily’s apartment, the first pieces of furniture she’d ever bought new. Sandy and Suzanne had stayed in this room when their house was being painted.

"If you want to move this furniture over to the other room, we can put that other stuff in storage," Anna offered.

"Are you kidding? That one in there was your grandmother’s bed, Anna. This is just…functional. As far as I’m concerned, we can pack it off to the women’s shelter." Lily was sentimental about people, not things.

"Okay, that’s settled," Sandy concluded with satisfaction, taking a quick look at the bathroom to make certain it was safe for a small child. "Now you guys are going to have to decide what to do about the pool. I would suggest something simple, like flip locks up high on those French doors in the back." The women walked back downstairs to the kitchen. "Of course, you’ll have to make sure he doesn’t try to crawl through the doggie door," she added, suddenly cracking up at the image. "Can you imagine?"

The blonde shot the dark-haired woman a warning look that told her not to go there.

"Suzanne, can I get you anything?" Anna disappeared into the family room before she lost her composure.


Surprisingly, there had been no word from John Moss. Lily had tracked the overnight package, confirming its delivery this morning. Perhaps he was out of the office today, she reasoned.

Leftovers were on tap for tonight, as Anna had called to say she would be late.

"Ready for dinner, you handsome boy?"

Chester lumbered to his feet and thumped his tail.

"Huh? You ready for dinner, handsome boy?" She was infinitely relieved that no one had heard her slip up and say that twice.

Chester sat by his water dish as she prepared his bowl. Lily scraped the foul smelling food from the can and chopped it up with a spoon. "Here you go, boy."

Scratching her nose, Lily discovered to her disgust that a morsel of Chester’s dinner had stuck to her finger, and was now smeared across her nostril. "Ewwww!"

Quickly grabbing a paper towel, Lily blew her nose and sniffed, the malodorous brown meal somehow pushed deeper into her nasal cavity. Lily blew again and again, but the odor persisted.

The ringing phone mercifully distracted her senses.


"I have a surprise for you."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yes. But if you want it, you have to go into the family room and sit on the couch with your eyes closed until I tell you to open them."

"Sounds kinky."

"No, it isn’t kinky at all." Anna chuckled at her private joke.

"So when do you want me to do this?"

"Well, I’m pulling into the driveway, so right now would be good."

Lily walked into the family room and sat on the couch, picking up the sound of Anna’s car pulling into the garage. She had no idea on earth what her lover could be bringing.

"Close your eyes tight. I’ll tell you when you can open them."

"Okay." Lily clicked the phone off as she got the dial tone, closing her eyes as she leaned back on the couch. The door opened and she heard Anna walk in.

"You can open them now."

Lily opened her eyes and blinked, expecting to see something in her partner’s hand. Tracking now to her lover’s face, she took in the stunning surprise.

"You cut your hair!"

Anna smiled almost bashfully as her lover appraised the new do. It wasn’t short, but the long locks were gone. Her full style barely brushed the tops of her shoulders, the wispy bangs tickling her eyebrows.

"Anna, I can’t believe it. It’s…gorgeous!" Lily jumped up to see the back and sides. "What made you do this?"

"Jackie’s been after me to do it for awhile, every time I go in for a trim. I figured, you know, I’d been wearing it the same way for the past six years. It was time for a change."

"Well, I love it. Really. It’s beautiful."

Relieved, the tall woman wrapped her arms around her lover. Leaning in for a kiss, she suddenly stopped and sniffed, her face contorting. "Honey, you smell like…dog food."

Lily sighed. "I got some of Chester’s food in my nose," she groaned.

"What on earth were you doing to get dog food in your nose?"

"Stop it!" She playfully slapped Anna’s shoulder. "I’m going to have to take a whole shower to get rid of that smell."

"I still can’t imagine how you did that."

"You want supper?"

"I’ll just get a sandwich. Any word about Andy?"

"No, nothing. I guess John was busy today." Lily headed into the kitchen to fix her lover’s favorite, peanut butter and jelly.

"Do you think there was a problem?"

"I don’t know, babe. Everything was in order on our end, I think, so if there was a problem it was with Kristy." Lily didn’t even want to think about that. "You want to see the new room?"

"They delivered everything today?"

"Sure did."

The women had visited a furniture store on Sunday, selecting a child’s suite that included not one but two twin beds; a small desk and chair; a chest of drawers; and a tall cabinet, which had drawers and shelves on one side, and a place to hang clothes on the other. The salesman had explained that the latter piece would leave the closet free for toys. On that note, Anna’s impulse drive kicked in, and she bought a large toy box as well.

The distinct ring of Lily’s phone sounded as she was showing her partner the room.

"Be right back."

Anna walked from one piece to the other, running her fingers along the smooth wood. The simple pinstriped bedspreads were folded down to reveal dark blue sheets. She could picture Jonah in this room, playing with toys from the toy box. It was a good room for a little boy, and when her nephew ran away from home, he could always come here.

Anna turned out the lights and followed the sound of her lover’s voice to their bedroom, where Lily sat on the bed with the phone pressed to her ear.

"Yes, the 7:05 is fine."


"Returning at six…book those please." Lily reached into the drawer of the nightstand for the organizer she kept on hand. Reciting the credit card number and billing address, she completed the reservation. "Thank you."

"You have to go back to San Francisco." Anna put it together easily.

Lily nodded grimly. "Tomorrow. Kristy wants to meet her sister."



Think you got it all figured out? Click here to find out! Part 4

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