~ Strained ~
by KG MacGregor
Disclaimer #1: These characters are of my own creation, but if you want to imagine that they look like certain familiar people, I won't mess with that.
Disclaimer #2: This story is about two women in love, and all that goes with it. If you find that idea offensive, if you aren't old enough, or if you live where reading such depictions is not allowed, this isn't for you.
Disclaimer #3: [Insert favorite other disclaimer here.] Angst-meter very low for this story.
This is the third story in my series with Anna and Lily, the first being Shaken, followed by Stirred. FYI, I worked my way through college as a bartender.
Thanks to my trusted beta reader and fashion consultant, Tami, and to LA Tucker, who also gave it a read. Their contributions made it a better story. Of course, if you don't like it, it was probably because of something they made me change.
This is for my Sweetcakes, who helps me with my grammar and spelling. Without her, I don't think I could write about love at all.
"I'm so excited about seeing Sarah."
"Shhhh! I love this part! Listen."
Anna Kaklis rolled her eyes indulgently and leaned back into her seat. Her partner was very possibly the only flyer in America who actually paid attention to the safety messages before takeoff.
"?in the unlikely event of a water landing, your seat cushion may be used?" the flight attendant droned.
"Just what exactly is a 'water landing'? I mean-by definition-doesn't a landing have to involve land?"
Anna chuckled. She'd heard it all before, but it never stopped being funny. In fact, even the anticipation of what Lily would say started her giggling. "Maybe it's-"
"Wait, there's more." The blonde woman held up her index finger to shush her again.
"?seatbelt fastened while in your seat, as unexpected turbulence may occur at any time."
"Isn't that what makes it unexpected?" Lily mused.
"I think they mean-"
"Shhh! Here's my favorite part!"
"?place the mask over your face, tightening the straps by pulling on the tabs on each side?"
"?and continue to breathe normally," Lily mouthed in unison with the rote instructions. "Like I normally breathe bottled oxygen from a dangling plastic cup in a decompressed cabin at 30,000 feet!"
Anna just shook her head. She'd been flying regularly since she was 11 years old, and had never once questioned the presentation of the safety drill. "Are you through?"
"Well?I am if she is," the blonde answered, gesturing toward the flight attendant. "But I can't make any promises if she starts talking again."
Said flight attendant interrupted the two women to get their drink order and to explain their choices for breakfast entrees. One of the perks of being Anna Kaklis' sweetheart was that they usually rode in first class, a real treat for the young attorney. This morning, the guys in the back got a cold green banana and a soggy cellophane-wrapped muffin.
"Carolyn said she might change her mind about having a baby herself after seeing what Vicki went through. She said she fully expected Vicki's head to turn all the way around on her shoulders in the delivery room," Anna laughed.
"But she was healthy the whole way through, wasn't she?"
"Oh yeah. But apparently, she was miserable the last couple of weeks. Carolyn said she gained a lot of weight and wouldn't go out of the house. I think the actual birth was relatively smooth, but she was in labor a long time."
"It'll be good to see them again." Lily's thoughts went to their last meeting, the camping trip to Yosemite almost a year ago. So much had happened since then: she had lost her mother; she and Anna had parted briefly while she struggled with her drinking; and three months ago they had committed their lives and love to one another on a beach in Fiji. "I can't believe they asked us up to Seattle so soon after the baby was born."
Anna laughed knowingly. "I think Carolyn used us as an excuse to force Vicki's mother to go back to New Jersey. She sounded desperate when she called."
"Well I don't care why she asked us. I can't wait to see Sarah."
Two and a half hours later, the 737 broke through Seattle's cloud cover. Since they'd packed together in a single roll-on, the pair bypassed baggage claim in search of their friend.
"Anna! Lily!" Carolyn worked her way through the crowd to her friends. The tall redhead-no, her curly hair was a dark brown this time with blonde tips-smiled and waved excitedly.
"Carolyn!" They greeted one another hugging and rocking like the old friends they were. The Seattle programmer didn't do anything halfway. "We're so excited for you and Vicki!"
"Thanks! I can't wait for you to see Sarah. She's gorgeous, just like her mom." Carolyn was beaming from ear to ear with pride. "Is this all your stuff?" She gestured at the rollerboard.
"We're only here one night, you know. I sort of forced Lily to decide before we left home what she was going to wear." Anna teased Lily about her penchant of trying on 10 different things before finally getting dressed.
"Can I help it that I have a dynamic fashion sense?" Lily stuck out her tongue and turned toward their host. "So how are you guys adjusting to having a baby in the house?"
"I'd say it's been very eye opening. In fact, we have to open our eyes around one a.m., then again around 4:30 a.m. I'm not complaining, mind you. But I really had no idea how much it would impact everything."
The three friends reached the 4Runner and loaded their bag in the back.
"I'll get in the back seat," Lily offered, recognizing that both Carolyn and Anna would need lots of legroom. "Try not to crush me when you push your seat back, Amazon."
"Why don't you just sit up here in the cup holder?" Anna countered, earning herself a playful pinch in the ribs. "Ow!"
"Listen to you pick on that poor woman. When did you get over being so serious?" Carolyn asked her friend, amazed at this new mischievous demeanor.
"Oh, about three years ago, when I found myself trapped underground with this imp. I had to learn to fight back," Anna explained.
"Don't let her kid you, Carolyn. She started on me as soon as I pulled her out from under that bookcase. I almost put her back."
Anna reached behind the console to caress her lover's calf. "Don't worry about Lily. You can see she gives every bit as good as she gets." The tall woman turned in her seat to find Lily's eyebrows arched at the subtle innuendo.
"I can believe it. By the way, ladies?there's something I need to talk to you about before we get home," Carolyn said sheepishly. "I'd never lie to Vicki, but I sort of gave her the impression that it was your idea to come this weekend."
"What'd I tell you?" Anna spun back around and winked at Lily. "So you needed an excuse to get your mother-in-law to leave, right?"
The driver was quiet for a long moment as she gazed pensively through the windshield. "Guilty as charged. But it's not what you think. I really like Susan a lot, and she's been a big help."
Anna laid her hand on her friend's shoulder. "For what it's worth, we loved getting the invitation, even on short notice. And we don't even care about your ulterior motives."
"Thanks. I really appreciate that. But I'm afraid it would really hurt Vicki's feelings if she found out that I orchestrated all this just to have an excuse to put her mother on a plane this morning."
"How bad was it, Carolyn?" Lily asked from the back seat.
"Like I said, Susan was great. It's just that I had all these fantasies about Vicki and Sarah and me, and they all played out with my mother-in-law right in the middle."
Carolyn was obviously exasperated and in need of someone she could talk to about all this. "Go on," Anna prodded.
"You know, I dreamed for so long about coming home from the hospital and carrying Sarah into the house for the first time. But when the moment actually came, Susan insisted on carrying her so I could help Vicki. I think I could have done both. And the first time Vicki finally let me get up in the night between feedings to see about Sarah crying, Susan was already there, telling me I should go back to bed because I had to work the next day. So I felt guilty about being rested in the morning when Vicki was so tired every day. I know it probably sounds silly and childish, but I really wanted to be part of everything. These are all the things I wanted us to share. I feel like a?husband or something."
"I don't think it sounds silly or childish at all," Anna consoled. "I think it's really sweet that you want to share all this with Vicki."
"And we'll keep your secret," Lily added.
Carolyn and Vicki's home sat in a quiet subdivision in Redmond, not far from the programmer's office at Microsoft. The homes on their street were new and modern, with lush landscaping that thrived under Seattle's infamous rainfall. That this was a family neighborhood was evidenced by the occasional bicycles and soccer balls that lay temporarily forgotten in the light drizzle.
Their host filled them in on the details of the cover story as they were pulling into the driveway. "And now, you may want to put on your sunglasses before we go in. Between the little angel you're about to meet and her mom, you're going to see the most radiant sight on earth!"
Lily wrapped her arm around her smiling lover's waist as they walked toward the house. She and Anna hadn't talked about the prospect of having children for quite a while, but she knew this weekend would trigger the discussion once again. Undecided about her own desire for children, Lily knew that being committed to Anna meant also being committed to the things Anna needed in her life.
When the proud parent opened the door for her guests, she was immediately greeted by her partner, who held a finger over her lips to shush the new arrivals. The three friends whispered their hellos excitedly, and tiptoed through the house to the small bedroom beside the master suite. Neither Carolyn nor Vicki could conceal their pride and happiness as their guests peeked over the edge of the crib at the beautiful sleeping infant. Anna and Lily silently mouthed their approval, gushing appropriately that this was indeed The World's Most Beautiful Baby.
With that important detail settled, the foursome retreated to the kitchen for proper greetings.
"Vicki, you look fantastic!" Lily couldn't believe this woman had given birth only four weeks ago.
"Thanks. I'm really glad you guys could come. That'll probably save you from getting copies of every single picture this one takes," Vicki gestured to her partner, who was popping a disc into her laptop to load the most recent round of photos.
"That's alright. We understand. Hal and Kim send us about a dozen new pictures every month. When Jonah grows up to be president, his biography will be a piece of cake." Anna was as proud of her nephew as any aunt could be.
"Didn't you tell me that they have another one on the way?" Carolyn asked.
"That's right, a little girl due in about two weeks." Anna secretly congratulated herself on her own role in the conception of her niece. She had insisted that Hal, Kim and Jonah use the Labor Day Maui trip she had planned last year with Lily when it was clear that they wouldn't be able to go.
"So are you guys going to get the baby bug anytime soon?" Now that they had a child of their own, Vicki thought everyone should have such a joyous experience.
Anna and Lily exchanged quizzical looks, each waiting to see how the other might answer. Mercifully, Carolyn broke the impasse. "Okay, so it's not for everybody."
"It isn't that," Anna spoke up. "It's just that we haven't really talked about it. Maybe one of these days. Maybe not." She reached out and took her lover's hand. "I don't know if I'm ready to share this one yet."
Lily answered with a quick peck on the lips. "Is that so, Amazon?"
"That's so, Pygmy."
"Well aren't you two cute! Hey! Let's have a look at those rings." Carolyn had expected to hear news of their commitment soon after their Yosemite trip last year, especially given the conversations she had had with Anna about how to know if Lily was "the one." Not knowing about Lily's problems with alcohol, she assumed that dealing with Eleanor's death had taken a lot out of her friends.
Anna and Lily proudly held out their left hands, boasting identical twisted bands of tri-colored gold. Despite their private nature, they had both agreed that they wanted to share news of their commitment with Anna's family and their friends.
"Read 'em and weep, George!" Lily goaded the patriarch as she and Anna laid their ringed hands side by side on the dining room table at the elder Kaklis' home. "Looks like we're all family now."
"Oh, my gosh!" Martine couldn't contain her excitement, jumping immediately to her feet and racing around the table to embrace the two women.
"Would you look at that! My big tough sister is a romantic mushball." Kim was thrilled that her stepsister had taken the leap. Though she knew that Anna truly loved Lily, she had worried that the failure with Scott would prevent her from making this kind of commitment again.
"Congratulations, boss!" Hal hugged his sister-in-law, and then turned to Lily. "You know, I've been around these Kaklis people for almost 15 years. Are you sure you know what you're getting yourself into?" he kidded.
"Yeah, I think so. The old guy's a little cranky sometimes," she gestured with a wink in the older man's direction. "But the rest of you make up for it."
George was well past his early objections to Anna's love affair with another woman, though the game with the small blonde continued to this day, and probably always would. But remembering how his daughter had expressed her disappointment last year that he had withheld his open approval of their relationship, he passed on the biting comeback this time and quickly reached out to embrace them both. "That's wonderful, Anna!"
The tall woman was moved by the unusual display of serious emotions from the staid man. But she fully understood the sentiment: her father genuinely approved.
"You're being such a good sport, George," Lily observed skeptically. "What are you up to?"
"Now what makes you think I'm up to something?" he answered mischievously.
"I don't know. I think you've learned how to get under my BS detector. That worries me."
Her maternal instincts on high alert, Vicki heard the sputtering first, long before the others had a clue that little Sarah was waking up from her nap. "I'm going to change her and feed her," she announced. "You're welcome to come in. We don't mind visitors."
The others waited until things quieted in the bedroom before slipping in. Carolyn had found the old style rocker at an antique store, restoring its ebony gleam as a gift to her partner. The room was dotted with Seahawks paraphernalia, mostly shower gifts from Vicki's coworkers. The newborn was dressed in a soft green terry jumper with the team's emblem on its back. No one could deny the beautiful sight of the tiny baby at her mother's breast.
"How's my sweetie-pie?" Carolyn leaned over her lover's shoulder to make eye contact with the nursing infant. "Huh? How's my little sweetie-pie?"
Lily nudged Anna, who promptly jabbed an elbow into her partner's side. She knew that Lily was laughing to herself about her observation that people always said things twice when speaking to babies or animals.
"You're so pretty!" Carolyn continued, wide-eyed and smiling. "Yes you are. You're so pretty!"
"She's beautiful," Anna concurred.
Vicki shifted the infant to her other breast. "She always wakes up hungry. Don't you, Sarah? Don't you always wake up hungry?"
"That's because I wanna be a big girl like my mommy. Isn't that right? You wanna be a big girl like your mommy," Carolyn cooed.
Lily was going to pee her pants. The next time a sentence was repeated, she was definitely going to pee her pants. "Is the bathroom this way?"
"First door on the left," Carolyn answered, completely oblivious to the blonde woman's private joke.
When Lily returned, she was happy to see her partner holding the baby to her shoulder, its tiny hands gripping the material on Anna's shirt. Vicki and Carolyn looked on proudly. They were going to be great parents.
"So Carolyn, have you decided whether or not you're going to have a little brother or sister for this angel?" Lily asked.
"Actually, we're thinking maybe next year. I want to take a couple of months off so I can be with Sarah when Vicki goes back to work in August, so maybe about six months after I go back to work would be a good time to get pregnant. I don't want to take advantage of the family leave policy at work, you know, being gone so long."
"You're a braver soul than I am, taking on two little ones at the same time," Anna said. "Of course, if we ever had one, I'd have Lily too. That would be about the same thing."
"Hey! I resemble that," Lily pouted. "Just because you're so much older?."
"Listen to you two! You're acting like an old married couple."
"We are an old married couple," the dark-haired woman grinned. Teasing her mate with the running joke, she continued, "That's what we are, isn't it? An old married couple."
"And some of us are a little older than others," Lily reiterated with a knowing wink.
Anna and Lily, both very sensitive about invading Carolyn's motherly turf, declined Vicki's offers to help change and bathe the baby or to hold her for extended periods of time. Watching the new parents as they fussed in tandem over the infant's every need, Anna couldn't help but envy her friends. On display was a fierce connection between the two lovers, now deepened further by this tiny miracle.
Lily ran back into the house, wet from carrying their suitcase out to the 4Runner in the rain. She wished she'd packed her green sweater, but Anna was insistent that she make up her mind and choose only one outfit for Sunday. Had she known that her partner would be more dressed up, she wouldn't have opted for this denim shirt. Lucky for her they weren't flying Southwest Airlines, or people might mistake her for a flight attendant.
"We had a great time seeing your little girl," Anna told their hosts as she gathered the rest of their things. "Vicki, thanks for letting us come up on such short notice."
"Oh, we didn't mind at all. To tell you the truth, it was a good excuse to get my mother to leave without actually telling her she'd worn out her welcome." The co-conspirators remained mum as a surprised look washed over Carolyn. "Don't take this the wrong way-I love my mother-but she was here doing all those things I wanted Carolyn to do. I think it's really important for both of us to bond with Sarah as much as we can, especially in these first few weeks. Mom was kind of cutting into that, you know?"
Carolyn wrapped her arms around the mother of their child and declared, "I love you. Did you know that? I love you."
"Now she's doing it to Vicki," Lily sniggered as she and Anna headed to the car to give their friends a private moment.
"Knock it off, Pygmy! You hear me? Knock it off!"
That sent Lily into a fit of laughter, and despite her earnest attempts at self-control, Anna soon joined her.
The petite blonde slid through the churning water, coming to rest on the tall woman's thighs and wrapping her legs around the slim waist. Face to face, they held each other tenderly, their smiling eyes a window to the connection they felt. Despite their naked state, this emotional link transcended their sexual relationship; if possible, it was more intimate. And that it would end with lovemaking later this evening was unmistakable.
"Did you have a good time this weekend?" Anna asked. They'd gotten home only an hour earlier, and both decided to forego their usual Sunday night routines of preparing for the work week ahead in favor of a relaxing soak in the cool night air.
"I had a wonderful time. But then, I was with you, and I always have a wonderful time when I'm with you."
"You're such a sweet talker." Anna leaned forward for a kiss. "Mmm. Sweet lips too." Her hands traveled up the naked back to pull Lily closer. "I just love my life with you, Lily."
From her lover's deep, almost wistful tone, she could tell that Anna had much more to say. "Oh yeah? Tell me what you love."
If Anna started a list of all the things she loved about Lily, they'd be out here in the hot tub all night. But that wasn't exactly what she wanted to convey. She'd been thinking all weekend about what their life might be like if they followed in Carolyn and Vicki's footsteps and had a child of their own. It was easy to imagine how happy they'd be with a family, but the reality was that it would dramatically change their life together. "Well for starters, I like this; just being able to be uninhibited about being together. And we have both the means and the freedom to do pretty much whatever we want."
"Uh-huh." Lily nodded in agreement, tucking a fallen strand of dark hair behind her lover's ear. Anna has no idea how lovely she is with her hair pinned up like this.
"And we can pick up and go somewhere on the spur of the moment, like we did this weekend."
"Where are you going here, baby?" Anna thought that a conversation like this one set the stage for a serious discussion; Lily would call it beating around the bush. "What's on your mind?"
Anna waited a while before she answered, not sure which way to pursue this now that she'd been busted. "I was just thinking about how much things would change for us if we decided to have a baby."
The question of babies had been a sort of elephant in the parlor since they left Seattle. Lily too been thinking about how it might change things. "How would you feel about all that?" she asked, trailing her fingers across Anna's collarbones.
They had talked last year in more general terms about the idea of having children, but not since they'd made their commitment to one another. Anna knew that Lily had no special urge to bear a child, but that she'd thought about adoption.
"I don't know. It's kind of scary," Anna finally answered.
"You mean because our lives would change so much?"
"Yeah. I just don't feel like we've had enough time together for ourselves, but I'm already 34 years old, and I don't think I want to be having kids when I'm 40."
"Are you sure that you want to be having kids at all?" Lily ducked her head so she could find the wandering blue eyes. She'd be the happiest woman in the world to help raise this beautiful woman's baby.
"I always thought so, but now I'm?I don't know?conflicted. Mostly I'm afraid if I don't have one, I'll regret it."
"Talk to me some more. Why are you conflicted?"
"I guess I just hate to give up what we have. Carolyn and Vicki have been together for eight years; Kim and Hal were married 11 years before Jonah. You and I haven't had that much time together."
Anna was right about a baby changing their lives. Still, Lily worried that her partner would regret it profoundly as they got older if she didn't have a child. "Honey, we have some time to think about this. And 34 isn't too old to put it off a few years."
Anna nodded, almost grimly. It was unsettling, not knowing what to do. Until she met Lily, nearly every aspect of her life had been carefully planned-studying mechanical engineering in college, following that with an MBA, taking over the dealership, her marriage to Scott. Children had been in that picture too. Then this little blonde came along and turned everything on its ear. It wasn't the fact that she'd fallen in love with a woman that had changed her plans. It was that she'd realized that her plans weren't only her own. For the first time, someone else was the center of her life.
"What do you think you want to do about children?" she asked Lily.
"I?want us to keep talking about it. I don't know right now what I want either, but if we work through it together, I think we'll do the right thing."
Later, the lovers lay in bed catching their breath, Lily resting her cheek against Anna's dark curls. Even after two years together, she still couldn't believe sometimes that she was the person Anna had chosen to touch and taste her this way. Though content to fall asleep in this very spot, Lily knew that her lover would get chilled soon and demand to be covered.
As if on cue Anna asked, "Hey, you. How about coming up here with me? And bring that blanket with you."
Lily chuckled knowingly and slowly crept up to nestle into the tall woman's side, blanket in tow. "I love you, Amazon."
"Mmm," Anna mumbled, already half asleep. "If you should go first, I'm going to have your little tongue bronzed."
As she backed out of the tight space in the church parking lot, Lily waved through the windshield at Fran, a friend she'd made at the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings during her days last year at the Waterways Lodge. When she'd finished her daily regimen of AA meetings after the first 90 days of sobriety, Lily had made a commitment to herself to continue weekly meetings through the first year.
The church near Playa del Rey wasn't the most convenient location, but it was nice to come back once in a while to see some of the people she'd met in her early days of sobriety. Lily's regular meeting now was a women's group that met on Wednesday evening at a women's health clinic close to her home. She had briefly belonged to a gay and lesbian AA group, but gave that up after being hit on so often.
The attorney had missed her Wednesday meeting this week, working late to prepare a spate of custody cases that were up for their six-month review. The Methodist Church was her old standby, still hosting meetings seven days a week at seven a.m. With Anna off to work at seven on Saturday mornings, this meeting worked out just fine, but she hated getting up so early on the weekends.
But this weekend was different. This weekend she had promised her services to Sandy and Suzanne, who were repainting the interior of their home. Three times over 24 years, Lily and Eleanor-with their friend Katharine Fortier's help-had done all the painting on the inside of their San Jose home, so the blonde attorney felt like an old hand. This was Sandy and Suzanne's second undertaking in the 12 years they had lived in their Sherman Oaks home.
"One small detour," Lily said to herself as she passed the strip mall on the main street near her destination.
"We're in here!" Sandy yelled from the kitchen.
Lily made her way through the living room, where all the furniture was pushed together tightly in the center of the room and covered with several large drop cloths. "Sorry I'm late."
"Krispy Kreme!" Suzanne cried when she spotted the green and white box. "You're forgiven, my friend!"
"Wow, you guys have really gotten a lot done." Not only was all the furniture moved to the middle in each room, all of the windows were papered over, and the hardwood floors were lined to the baseboards with butcher paper. "It's like a cave in here with the windows covered."
"Yeah, Kevin and Chet came over last night to help with the furniture. Suzanne and I did the windows on Thursday, and we papered the floors this morning."
"Pam and Tina should be here in just a few minutes. And they're bringing Savannah." Pam and Tina were longtime friends of Suzanne's, and Savannah was Tina's nine-year-old daughter from a good-intentioned but misguided former marriage.
"Well the way I see it, we have two choices," Lily explained. "Either we wait politely until they get here, or we each eat four donuts very fast."
"Lord have mercy," Sandy sighed. At 38, she'd been adding pounds at the rate of three a year for the past six years. Four shortening-filled, sugar-dripping Krispy Kreme donuts for breakfast would be a very bad thing. And delicious. And she was planning to work very hard today. "I can only do three, and we have to hurry." Three sets of hands plunged immediately into the box.
"I got you covered, babe." Suzanne was an eating machine, already taking two warm donuts from the box. Though four inches taller than Lily at five-nine, the nurse weighed the same as her blonde friend.
"It's like having a teenage boy in the house." Sandy had grown up with three brothers. "Right down to the dirty socks everywhere and the snoring on the couch."
"Eat up, Stringbean. It's not like anything's ever going to show up on your bones!" Lily exclaimed, poking the taller woman in the ribs. "I bet you have to run around in the shower to get wet all over."
"I have a high metabolism," Suzanne replied indignantly, taking a large bite of her third donut. "Or worms. Of course, one of these days whatever it is will change, and I'll probably swell up like a blimp."
"Probably not as long as you work at that hospital, the way they run you ragged." Sandy rarely missed an opportunity to disparage St. George Hospital for the demands they put on their nursing staff. Lily knew that she would always hold them responsible for the accident five months ago that nearly robbed her of her partner.
Lily hated when her phone rang in the middle of the night, especially now that she was working mostly with custody and placement cases. That meant some child was in trouble somewhere, and it couldn't wait until morning.
"Hello." Anna's hand reached over and caressed her bare hip as she listened to the caller. "Oh, my god! I'm on my way right now. I'll be there in 30 minutes."
"What is it?" Alarmed at Lily's sudden reaction, Anna sat up and turned on the bedside light.
"That was Sandy. Suzanne was in an accident. A car pulled out in front of her and she wasn't able to stop. She's at St. George and she hasn't regained consciousness."
"I'm coming with you." Anna could hear the fear in Lily's voice. Sandy was her best friend, and tonight she needed their support.
Lily spent most of the next three days at her friend's side, with Anna bringing their meals and spelling each of them while they ate or rested. Suzanne had broken her left femur; the seatbelt had snapped her collarbone; and her head hit the windshield when her airbag failed to deploy.
"I don't know what I'd do if I lost her, Lily." It was late on the third night and they were sitting with Suzanne in her dimly lit private room.
"You're not going to lose her, Sandy. The doctor said her vitals were all good. And there's lots of brain activity."
"Yeah, did you hear that part? That's Suzanne we're talking about," Sandy joked, seeking even the smallest outlet for the dread-filled stress she felt.
Lily chuckled softly, watching the tears well up in her friend's brown eyes. "Suzanne's tough, Sandy. She's going to be okay."
"She's got to be. You know, I really do tease her a lot, but she's so good-natured about it. Sometimes she tries to come off as this big tough butch, but she's such a marshmallow. I tell you, Lily, she's the gentlest person I know. I just love her so much."
"And she loves you back," a weak voice murmured from the bed.
A week later, the lanky nurse was at home. Six weeks after that, she was back on the job.
"Eat up! I just heard a car in the driveway."
"Quick! Get rid of the box," Sandy commanded. "Not in the trash can, they'll see it. Take it back to the bedroom and hide it under a drop cloth."
Lily cleaned up the telltale crumbs in the kitchen while Suzanne hurried off to hide the evidence. Both strode nonchalantly into the living room just as Sandy opened the front door. "Hi! Come on in." Pam and Tina led the way, followed by little Savannah, who carried a box.
"We brought Krispy Kreme!" she announced happily.
"Anna, the guys are here with the new TV."
The car dealer looked up from her desk. "Great. Have them take it to the media room. I'll be there in just a minute." Reaching into her bottom drawer, Anna retrieved the two DVDs she had ordered from Germany. One was a scenic trip through Bavaria, pointing out interesting sights from the inside of various BMW models. The cinematography from that film was such that it almost gave the feeling of being there inside the car on the autobahn, right down to the dashboard features. The second DVD held detailed information-engine specifications, safety features, option packages, and performance-on every single model in the BMW's North American line. The latter was menu-driven, and could be used as a sales tool to educate a potential customer about a specific model.
Joining the delivery crew in the media room, Anna supervised the placement of the HD screen, getting a quick tutorial in the operation of the remote control. The large room held several black leather couches and easy chairs, with glass and chrome side tables holding recent issues of Car & Driver, Motor Week, and of course, brochures on the various BMW models. The room was climate controlled to preserve the rich aroma of the leather appointments, mimicking that "new car smell."
Anna had fashioned this room at Premier BMW to introduce new customers to the joys of driving, especially the joys of driving performance BMWs. She looked forward to showing it off to the sales staff on Monday morning. Captivated by her new toy, the executive sat back in a comfortable chair and hit "Play."
"Have you had any response to any of your grant proposals?" Sandy and Lily were working together sanding the spackled rough spots around the trim in the master bedroom. It would be the next room to get a fresh coat of paint, in this case, pale yellow. The others had started on the walls and ceiling of the guest room, which had been readied last night. Together, the five women were making pretty quick work of their task, with Suzanne using a roller on the walls, and Pam and Tina painting the trim by hand. They were barely two hours into their work day, and already the hallway and guest bedroom were nearly finished.
"No, but I'm hopeful June will bring some good news. A lot of these foundations start their funding cycles July 1st, so they'll be looking more seriously at proposals next month."
Lily had written a grant last fall to have the Braxton Street Law Clinic provide legal services for LA County's guardian ad litem program. When it came through, the program became her primary responsibility at the clinic, accounting for half of her time. With the clinic strapped for cash, the rest of her time was unpaid as she sought additional funding. It was her deal with Tony for taking her back last year following her alcohol troubles.
The guardian ad litem program was a network of volunteers that represented the interests of children who were wards of the state, either in foster care, in juvenile detention facilities, or in residential centers or group homes for physical, mental or emotional handicaps. Without these adult advocates, children could get stuck in the system, sometimes staying in the wrong place just because no one suggested a better option. It was a good fit for Lily, who as a child had spent time herself as a ward of the state of California. Now as a legal advisor to the LA program, she reviewed cases and consulted with the volunteers regarding placement and service decisions. By law, each placement came up for review every six months, so Lily handled about 25 referrals a week.
"How do you like working with the guardian ad litem office?"
"You know, it's pretty rewarding to be the one advocating for the kids instead of the parents. I had no idea how many kids out there have just been forgotten," the blonde lamented.
"Yeah, it's awful, isn't it? What's your caseload like?"
"It varies. At any given time, there are only about 2,000 kids who are in the system long enough to get assigned a guardian ad litem."
"Only 2,000! You're kidding! Who can manage that many kids?"
"It's not all that bad. I don't have to deal personally with all of them. Most of the time, I just advise the volunteer if there are legal issues, and I'm on call for them when they have questions. I do about a half dozen placement reviews myself every week."
Sandy had been a social worker for 16 years, but had resisted being promoted to supervisor. She loved the field work, and felt she could make more of a difference dealing directly with the families. "Well I sure miss working with you, my friend. We don't seem to have many cases in common."
"I miss you too, Sandy. That's why it's so important for us to spend time together on these bonding exercises. And yes, that was a spackle joke."
"Kim?" Anna called out as she opened the back door of her sister's house.
"Come on in. I'm in Jonah's room," the expectant mother answered.
Anna followed the voice down the hallway to find her sister squatting awkwardly to pick up her son's toys. "Where's my little-I'll get those! Sit!" she commanded. Methodically, Anna gathered the brightly colored blocks and shapes, absently running the wheels of a plastic car across the carpet to make them spin.
"My hero," Kim sighed. "Hal took Jonah to visit Martine. If I go sit on the couch, will you promise to help me up before you leave so I won't be stuck there?"
Anna laughed and guided the very pregnant woman to the living room. "Sure, I'll help you up. Can I get you anything?"
"Did you bring a handgun?"
"Then smother me or something." Kim was miserable.
"I see. So did Hal and Jonah leave to give you a break, or did you run them off with your cranky mood?"
"They ran for their lives, Sunshine!" Kim barked. "And I looked at my watch when you walked in to see how long you'd last."
To the car dealer, this pregnancy seemed tougher on Kim than the first. Taking her sister's legs, Anna turned her lengthwise on the couch and removed the terrycloth slippers from the swollen feet.
Little by little, Kim relaxed as long fingers began to massage the aching appendages. "Right this minute, you're my favorite person in the whole universe."
Anna smiled as she continued the kneading. "So I'm not in any danger?"
"No, you're safe until you stop," she sighed. "I look like a Volkswagen Beetle."
"Well at least you don't look like a Volvo," Anna deadpanned, showing no tolerance for ugly cars. Kim wore her long auburn hair pulled back, and didn't bother with makeup these days. Still, Anna thought her sister more beautiful than ever, but Kim had threatened to maim the next person who dared to comment on her "glow."
"Doesn't this make you want to have a baby?" Kim remembered when they used to talk about how their children would play with each other.
"Uh?that would be a no. Lily and I have talked about it-last weekend in fact-but I think we're both pretty happy with just each other." Anna surprised herself with the sudden conviction in her words. Is that what I've decided?
"You really don't want kids anymore?"
"I doubt it." There I go again.
"Will you take mine?" Kim was whining again.
"As long as I can give them back."
"Everybody says that. Will you at least take Hal?" Kim adored her stoic husband, but at this moment held him completely responsible for her miserable condition.
"Look, I keep him on the lot almost 10 hours a day. I think that's more than my fair share."
"So how come you don't want kids anymore?" Kim went back to the subject, a little surprised at hearing Anna's new view. "Is it because you're with Lily instead of a man?"
"No, not at all," Anna answered quickly. "That's just?biology. Our friends in Seattle just had a baby; they used in-vitro. We might change our minds someday, but right now it's like we haven't been together by ourselves long enough. It's only been two years."
"Look, I don't want you to let my complaining sway you here. It'll be over soon, and that little girl is going to make me forget everything about this part." Kim found herself mildly disappointed at her sister's seeming reluctance. As close as they were, she had looked forward to sharing their families too. "It's really not as bad as I make it out to be," she lied. This time, it was awful.
"Don't worry about that. I'm used to you complaining," she teased. "It's hard to explain, Kim. I just don't really have the urge to have a child of my own. Even when I used to think about it, I wasn't sure I really wanted to."
"What about Lily? Does she ever want to have a baby?"
"She says she doesn't. She said something a long time ago about maybe adopting a child someday."
"How would feel about that? Would you want to adopt one?"
Anna had pored over this idea several times after Lily brought it up. Frankly, the prospect terrified her. "I don't know. It seems to me that it might be pretty hard to start loving a certain child just because you decided to. I mean how could you be sure that you would bond?"
"How do I know I'm going to bond with my own?" Kim countered. "It's not like I can send them back."
Both women chuckled, knowing that Moses himself couldn't part Kim from her family.
The redhead continued. "You know, I've found that when it comes to kids and husbands, sometimes love is just a verb. It's something you do as deliberately as you walk, you cook, or you speak. All the feelings that go along with it just seem to grow all on their own."
"When did you get to be so deep?" Anna had never known her sister to wax philosophic.
"I think about these things all goddamn night while I'm lying there awake with hemorrhoids and an aching back."
Anna gave the feet a final squeeze. "Only one more week, Kimmie. Then your little girl will be here, and like you said, you'll forget all of this. Listen, I need to run. Is there anything you need me to do before I go?"
"Oh sure. Go off and be with adults. Adults who aren't miserable."
"Do you want me to help you off the couch?"
"No, I want my husband to find me here and to think I've been trapped all afternoon. Then he'll feel guilty and I'll get him to shave my legs."
Anna hadn't really needed that image, but it was too late. A quick kiss to her gloomy sister's forehead, and she was out the back door.
Lily concluded that Savannah was about the friendliest, most well-behaved nine-year-old she'd ever met. And in her line of work, she'd met a lot. Not once all day had she complained at being relegated to the kitchen with her books and games and Sandy's small TV. She had asked her mom earlier if she might be allowed to play in the hot tub on the deck, but Tina had reasoned that everyone would have to clean up first, and she doubted anyone would have the energy later. Accepting that answer, the little girl went back to the kitchen to start another book.
Folding the phone and returning it to the side pocket on her painters' pants, Lily shared the good news. "That was Anna. She's got steaks, chicken and burgers, and she's expecting everyone to come for dinner."
"Well I could eat," Suzanne answered.
Big surprise there. "You two should plan to stay at our house tonight," Lily went on. "I'm sure you could use a break from these fumes."
"That's generous of you and Anna, and I accept," Sandy replied immediately.
"Maybe we should go on home. Savannah's been so good all day. I think she deserves to choose something special tonight." Tina knew what a blessing her daughter was, and both she and Pam consistently rewarded the child for her positive attitude. Some of their friends had suffered mightily with demanding children as they tried to blend their families.
"Well?if you say so. But we do have a pool," Lily reminded them, remembering Savannah's earlier request. "And a basset hound."
Those details tipped the scale, and soon they were cleaned up and caravanning in two cars to Lily and Anna's Brentwood home. Chester and Anna greeted them at the side gate as they trouped into the back yard.
Lily made the introductions. "Sweetheart, you remember Pam and Tina from the Valentine's Day party."
"Yes, hello again. It's good to see you both." Anna had crowded seven chairs around the six-person table outside. Never shy around food, Suzanne started in right away on the chips, salsa and Lily's homemade guacamole.
"And this is Tina's daughter, Savannah, who is going swimming!" Lily showed the girl to the downstairs bathroom where she could change into her suit.
As she cooked on the grill, Anna watched her partner playing with the child. Lily walked alongside the pool tossing a diving ring to Savannah, who tried to snag it each time before it reached the bottom of the pool. Lily had a gift with children that Anna envied. She'd seen it first with the girls at Kidz Kamp, then with the extraordinary patience Lily displayed when she played with Jonah, who took after his mother in the cranky department.
"One more day and we'll be finished for another eight years," Sandy sighed. She and Suzanne were whipped from all they'd done over the past few days, but they had only the kitchen and bathrooms to do tomorrow.
"I can help tomorrow," Anna offered.
"Great, honey! We won't need the ladder anymore," Lily chimed in as Savannah scurried into the house to get dressed.
"I bet you did the baseboards today, didn't you?"
"Not funny, Amazon," she scowled. As a matter of fact, she had done the baseboards today.
Lily and Savannah carried the dinner conversation, with Anna unsure about where to jump in, and the others too tired to talk. Lily seemed to know all about the cool TV shows, the right music, and the best computer games.
But an hour later, even the usually energetic blonde was nearly comatose. Sandy and Suzanne thanked their departing friends for their help, as they had other plans for the next day. Finally, Chester led the way as the two remaining couples turned out the lights and wearily climbed the stairs.
"I don't want to hear any noises coming from your room tonight," Sandy warned her friends. "I'll call the night manager."
Lily chuckled and started to speak, but Anna yanked her into their room before she could reply. "Can't have you giving our secrets away," the tall woman whispered sexily as she pinned her lover behind the door.
"And what would those secrets be?" Lily's lips seized the soft skin at the hollow of Anna's neck.
"Oh, maybe a trick or two we learned in a tent once upon a time." She was remembering how she and Lily had strained to keep quiet as they made love in Yosemite with their friends in a nearby tent.
"Hmmm, I don't recall us being very successful."
"Now that I think about it, we weren't. That means we have no tricks."
"Or secrets," Lily added.
Anna blushed at the thought. "Maybe we should just get some sleep tonight."
"That might be a good idea. I'm beat," the blonde concurred, tired to her bones. "But I promise to make it up to you."
Anna winked. "Me too."
As they readied for bed, Anna's thoughts wandered back to the sweet little girl who visited tonight. "Lily, how did you know all those things you talked about with Savannah?"
"You mean the singers and the TV shows and all?"
"Yeah. You don't pay any attention to things like that."
"I don't know. I guess I've picked it up from the kids I work with. I usually talk to them about stuff they like before we get down to business. I have to win their trust so they'll tell me the truth, because a lot of the times, someone else has already told them what they should say."
"You're really good with kids. I wish I were that comfortable with them."
"You're very good with Jonah. He adores you."
"Well that's because I spoil him. But I'm not sure how good I'd be if I had to discipline him or tell him no."
"Yeah, but that's the appeal of other people's children," Lily joked. "I personally think you'd be a great mom."
Anna couldn't see that in herself at all. "What makes you say that?"
"Well first of all, I happen to know for a fact that you, Anna Kaklis, have a tremendous capacity to love." That earned her a sloppy kiss on the cheek, and she wiped away the toothpaste before continuing. "And I've seen how well you get on with some of the kids we've taken camping." Anna had come along three times on outings with Kidz Kamp, each time forging a friendship with a troubled child. "You like to have fun, and you're even-tempered. Those are good qualities for being a mom."
So here they were, talking about it again. That afternoon, Anna had been especially mindful of how much her sister's life had changed with having children. Their needs were front and center, and everything Kim did-walking with her friends, going out to eat, even giving up her real estate work-she did with her children in mind. Anna wasn't at all ready for that kind of change. She couldn't just leave the dealerships to run themselves that long, and it was too much to ask her father to do. Maybe Lily?.
"Do you still think about adopting a child? Or even having one of your own?"
"Having my own, no." When Lily first realized at 14 that she was gay, it gave her a new perspective on what her life would be like. Without really understanding what her options might be down the road, she'd just gotten used to the fact that babies weren't part of the deal. "Adopting?maybe, but only under really special circumstances. I always figured that if I ever met a child that needed me-not just needed a home, but needed me-that I'd feel it too, like Mom did with me. But I never thought I'd just decide to adopt and go pick one out."
The women settled underneath the sheet and light blanket, both gravitating immediately to the center of the king-sized bed.
Lily went on. "And with you and me together now, it's not a decision I can make on my own. You'd have to feel that need too. I couldn't ask you to do something like that if it didn't feel right for you."
For Anna, that was reassuring, though she was certain her partner wouldn't try to push her into something she didn't want. Still, she knew it would be difficult to deny Lily something she really wanted, even something that would impact both of them as much as a child.
It started just as both began to doze off. From across the landing and down the hall, through not one but two closed doors, it rumbled. Their friend Suzanne was sawing logs.
"Lily, the blinking line is yours," Pauline shouted across the reception area. The basic phone in Lily's office, which was an oversized closet off the main reception area, was not connected to the intercom system. She had lost her larger office last year to Tony's wife Colleen, who had taken over her caseload while she was suspended.
"This is Lilian Stuart. How may I help you?"
"Wanna see The Big Unit?"
Lily's face broke into a grin as she pushed her door shut for more privacy. "Oh, I'm doing very, very well today, Amazon, and thanks for asking." She and her lover had started their day well before dawn, when Anna awoke and began covering her neck with gentle kisses and nips. Lily sensed an urgent need in her lover for physical closeness, and matched it quickly with her own. They hadn't shared their bodies in almost a week.
"Sorry, my social skills are a little rusty," she laughed.
The Big Unit? "So let me guess?either the Diamondbacks are in town or that's the worst pickup line I've ever heard." The Big Unit was Randy Johnson, a pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Lily had read this morning that the team was in town for a series with the Dodgers.
"Maybe it's both," the car dealer teased. "Would you be interested in two tickets on the third base line for tonight's game?" Anna had gone to work today with the realization that she and Lily had been awfully busy lately with their friends and family, and deserved to spend some time with just each other.
"Well, Ms. Kaklis, since you asked so nicely?." This was fun; it was almost like Anna was flirting. "What time?"
"It's a 7:05 start. I can be home by 6:15."
"It's a date. I'll be ready."
"See you then."
Lily beamed when she hung up the phone. I have a date tonight with Anna Kaklis! As was her practice, she began dressing herself in her mind's eye.
Yes! Anna picked up the phone immediately to call her Chamber of Commerce friend Jerry Grossman, marketing director for the LA Dodgers. "Jerry, hi. This is Anna Kaklis. Listen, I need a big favor. Any chance I can get two tickets on the third base line for tonight's game?"
Jerry came through, sending a courier to the dealership with the tickets and a VIP parking pass. At 6:10 Anna pulled her sporty Z8 into the driveway. Lily met her at the side door with a welcoming kiss, all set to go. "Let me just change real quick," Anna said, disappearing up the stairs. When she returned, she was dressed casually like her blonde partner-in faded jeans, a black t-shirt, and tennis shoes. Appropriate for the occasion, her dark ponytail was pulled through the back of a Dodgers cap. To Lily, she was the most beautiful woman on earth.
Traffic was a typical Tuesday night headache, but they managed to get to the ballpark before the start of the second inning.
"Look at these seats! Did you sleep with somebody?"
Anna laughed aloud at her lover's mock accusation, as did the men sitting behind them. Jerry had delivered alright. Their seats were in the first row, right behind the on-deck hitter.
"Jerry Grossman hit me up last month for a donation to the Dodger's Foundation, their youth organization. I called Tony first, and he said the Kidz Kamp budget was in good shape, so I wrote Jerry a check," Anna shrugged.
Lily was proud that Premier Motors was now the principle sponsor of Kidz Kamp, and especially that Anna was taking such an active role as benefactor.
The dark-haired woman took the menu from the pouch in front of her and waved to one of the attendants that watchfully serviced those in the premium box seats. "I'd like two hot dogs with everything, two curly fries, and two diet cokes, please." Those were Lily's favorites. "You want anything?"
The ladies sat back and enjoyed a thriller, a pitcher's duel well into the seventh inning when the Dodgers broke it open with a triple and back-to-back home runs. Anna enjoyed the game, but was even more entertained at times by her partner.
"Hey Blue! You're missing a really good game!" Lily loved knowing that from these seats, the umpire could actually hear her. "Another eye and you'd be a Cyclops!"
As the temperature dropped, the cold-natured car dealer started adding layers, first a V-necked sweater, then a lightweight jacket. When she reached for Lily's unused Dodgers sweatshirt, the blonde woman cautioned, "If you keep piling on clothes, they're going to show you on television."
"But I'm cold!"
"What if I come over there and sit in your lap?" Lily offered in a voice only her lover could hear.
"Then I guarantee we'd be on television."
Three sharp beeps told Anna she had a call. With Kim due three days ago, she carried the cell phone everywhere.
"It's Hal," she said, pressing the button to talk. "Hello?how long?"
The smile told Lily all she needed to know. She began to gather their things from under the seat, not that there was much more to pick up, what with Anna now wearing everything.
"They're at the Medical Center. Kim went into labor about two hours ago. Hal says it's probably going to be a while, if you want to stay and see the game."
"Are you serious?" Lily knew that Anna's head had already left, so it was only fitting her body should follow. "Let's go!"
Walking quickly to the car, the blonde lobbied Anna jovially that she should drive them both to the hospital, given the taller woman's excitement. Lily had only driven the sports car three or four times since Anna got it more than a year ago, and it certainly wasn't going to happen tonight. Finally conceding, she extracted a promise that her partner would drive with due caution.
So if a Z8 leaves a 30-foot strip of black rubber on the pavement and there was no one in the parking lot to hear it, did it make a sound?
Kim and Hal were running through their relaxation drills in a birthing room on the third floor of UCLA's Medical Center. The room was decorated much like a bedroom in one's home, with a braided oval rug, pictures on the walls and a homey quilt on the twin bed. Birthing rooms were a popular option for families who wanted a low technology, low intervention birthing experience. Equipment was readily available for any type of emergency response, but Kim was healthy and her pregnancy was considered low risk.
One of the nicest features of the birthing room was that even small extended families were accommodated during the labor process. Anna and Lily therefore proceeded directly to the room to see how things were going.
"Hiya sister!" Kim greeted her actually smiling, the first one Anna had seen in a month.
"Hey yourself. What's this grin about? Did you get drugs?"
"No, we were just talking about how much better tomorrow is going to be. This misery will finally be over." Kim really had been pretty wretched over the last three or four weeks. "And I'm looking forward to seeing my little girl."
"Well we all are," Lily added. "Where's Jonah?"
"He's with Mom and Dad. They were looking for the vending machines. My luck, they're buying him chocolate, and he'll be a wild man."
"I think I'll go try to find them," Lily offered. She knew she was welcome in the room, but still she wanted to give Anna some time with her sister and brother-in-law.
"I'll come with you, Lily," Hal added. "Just for a few minutes, hon. I'll be right back."
Alone for just these moments, Anna sat on the bed, taking her sister's hand. "I love you, Kimmie. You're such a good mom, and I'm so proud of you."
Both women's eyes misted at the tender moment. "I love you too, Sister." She suddenly squeezed Anna's hand tightly as a contraction took her.
"Yeah, it's normal. The doctor said it would probably be sometime after midnight. Will you wait around?"
"I wouldn't miss it."
Hal returned quietly and took his place on the other side of the bed. "You want anything?"
Kim seized again, this time stronger than the one before. "You know, I just did that. Maybe we should start timing them or something."
Ninety minutes later, the doctor agreed that it was indeed Showtime!
The Kaklis clan, which according to George's own quiet acquiescence, now officially included one Lily Stuart, waited impatiently for word on its newest addition. Hal's father, Harold, Sr., chatted with Martine while George and Lily took turns chasing Jonah around the couches in the maternity waiting room. It seemed that the toddler never slept; and someone had indeed given him chocolate.
Hal's parents were divorced, and his mother lived in Florida. Father and son hadn't been especially close over the years, but both were trying harder to forge a relationship now that the grandchildren were part of the picture.
Anna stood in the doorway, an eye on the door to Kim's birthing room. No one had come in or out in the last 15 minutes, so she was expecting news soon. Finally, one of the two nurses stepped into the hallway, pulling off the rubber gloves and tossing them in a nearby receptacle. She didn't look Anna's way, so there was no discerning the news.
"I think something's happening here," the tall woman announced excitedly.
Indeed, the next person to exit was Dr. Beth Ostrov, who had also delivered Jonah. The soft smile on her face caused Anna's heart to soar.
By the time Dr. Ostrov had reached the waiting room, everyone was gathered in the doorway. "Well folks, what can I say? She's a beaut! Seven pounds, nine ounces."
"And Kim?" Anna asked anxiously.
"Doing just great! Even Hal made it this time," she joked. He had hyperventilated when Jonah was born. "The OB nurse is still cleaning up a little, but when she comes out, you'll be able to go in. Just try not to rush the door."
"Thanks, Dr. Ostrov. We appreciate everything," Martine gushed.
"The pleasure was mine." Her smile still in place, the obstetrician turned and disappeared down the hall.
After an eternity of eight or nine minutes, the OB nurse appeared and waved everyone down to the room. "Mom and daughter are doing great, but you don't want to overwhelm them, okay?"
"You got it!" Anna replied, and started through the door, the entire clan in tow. One by one, they stepped closer to the bed, careful not to crowd the family. George passed a squirming wide-eyed Jonah to his dad and started snapping pictures with a digital camera.
Kim was sitting up in the bed, her red hair freshly combed away from her face. In her arms was a dark-eyed, red-faced darling with a shock of her father's jet-black hair. "Everyone, meet Jonah's little sister, Alice Martine Phillips."
Kim's mother was moved beyond words at the honor of her namesake. Anna had been equally honored when Jonah had been given her middle name, Merrill.
George snapped away, first moving Martine into the picture, then Anna and Lily. The blonde felt an overwhelming sense of happiness at her inclusion in this family moment.
With apologies to Carolyn and Vicki, tonight there was a new World's Most Beautiful Baby.
"Oh wait. I have to call David!" Hal remembered his brother-in-law, who was a sophomore at Stanford. Harold took one last picture of the entire Kaklis family-including Lily-as Hal relayed the news on the phone, and finally the group's quiet excitement began to settle down.
Shortly after two a.m., everyone started to file out to let the new mom get some rest. Jonah, who had finally fallen asleep, was spending the rest of the night with his grandparents. Since she'd had no complications, Kim would be going home the following afternoon.
"That was quite something, wasn't it?" Lily asked her partner as they walked arm in arm to the car.
Anna was still giddy with excitement. "Oh yeah! Did you see Jonah's eyes?"
Lily chuckled. "You should have seen your own."
Anna was absolutely delighted with the birth of her niece. In fact, she'd made a very important decision as she looked on at the new addition in her mother's arms. Tomorrow, the car dealer would contact her business attorney. No matter what she and Lily decided about a family, she wanted to share Premier Motors with her sister and brother. Jonah and Alice, and David's children as well, would be among her heirs. That was family.
"No good deed goes unpunished," Anna muttered, plowed under by the paperwork Walter had delivered Monday morning to distribute the stock in the car company. He had advised a gradual distribution to alleviate the tax burdens her family members would see with the gift. He had also pointed out that Anna's will needed to be updated to reflect this change in stock ownership.
My will. That thought took the car dealer on a further tangent, as she realized that the three-year-old document held no provisions whatsoever for Lily. With the home in her name only, her partner was vulnerable to eviction by the mortgage holder should something happen to Anna. How could I have let this slide?
Picking up the phone, she placed a quick call to her attorney. "Walter? Anna Kaklis. First of all, thanks so much for that mountain of paperwork you sent over. Do I happen to pay you by the page?" she quipped. "Listen, on the will thing?I need to talk to you about Lily. I want to make sure she'd be taken care of if something happened to me." She quickly jotted down the lawyer's words. "No, what's that?" Anna sat up straight in her chair. "I never knew California had such a thing?. Do you have the paperwork for it? Uh-huh?so what's involved?" She frowned at Walter's next question. "No, absolutely not. It isn't necessary?. No, Walter. Not in this case?. Why don't you send the paperwork over and we'll schedule a meeting, you, me and Lily. I'd like to get this done right away."
Lily nearly fell out of her chair when her partner laid the form in front of her.
"Registered domestic partners?"
"Yeah, Walter told me about it. I downloaded that off the web. He says if we sent that in, we'd be legally bound in the eyes of the state."
The blonde couldn't believe it. She knew all about the domestic partner statutes, but never would have imagined that it was something Anna might consider, let alone suggest on her own.
"Yes, I'd love to be your registered domestic partner." Lily found herself actually blushing, though she couldn't imagine why.
"Good," Anna replied, almost businesslike. "Could you come down to the office with me first thing tomorrow morning to meet with Walter? I need to go over my will and I'd like to put your name on the house and give you a small piece of the company."
Now Lily was stunned. "Anna! I can understand the house, but why give me part of the company? That's your family's company."
"You are my family, Lily. More than anyone else. I want Kim and Hal's kids to have the business, along with David and his kids. But if something should happen to me, I want to know that you're taken care of, that I've left you something that was important to me."
That did it. Stupid tears. Couldn't stop. Lily walked over behind her lover's chair and wrapped her arms around the tall woman's neck. "Just don't ever leave me. That's all I really want."
"Walter, I said no." Anna was angry that he'd even brought it up.
"Sweetheart, he's right. I'm not offended at all," Lily said, looking over Walter's paperwork with her lawyer's eye. "I recommend it to my clients too when there's prior property involved. He's representing you here, and he'd be remiss if he didn't ask for this."
Anna's attorney had presented her with a standard pre-nuptial agreement that she'd make no claim on Anna's business or singular holdings should they dissolve their domestic partnership for any reason.
"I'm not threatened by it, and you shouldn't be either. Didn't you have Scott sign one?"
The car dealer's face burned at that. The pre-nuptial with Scott had saved her ass.
"Fine. Just sign it and stick it somewhere." Anna sneered at Walter, stopping short of suggesting where. "Did you bring the papers for the house?"
"Yes, of course. You'll be tenants in common. But I should warn you that it isn't likely that Lily could afford the mortgage if something happened to you."
"Then get mortgage insurance that will pay it off," Anna snapped. She was tired of this. Why did they have to jump through so many hoops?
Walter started putting the forms back into his briefcase. "I'll file the stock forms today, along with the domestic partnership papers and the new will. The house papers will probably take until Tuesday."
Moments later, the two women were left alone in Anna's office. The scowl on the car dealer's face told her partner that she was unhappy with the way things had gone. Lily wasn't sure why, but Anna was really hung up on the pre-nuptial.
"What's wrong, hon?"
No answer, just more scowl.
"Are you still upset about the pre-nup?"
"I just don't like what it says about our commitment. If we were both serious about it being forever, why do we need a legal document that spells out what we'd do if we split up?"
"Honey, it says nothing at all about our commitment. I'm not going anywhere. Are you?"
"Of course not."
"Then it's a moot document, so why worry about it?"
"I just don't like what it symbolizes."
Lily blew out a deep breath. She'd try a new tack. "It's there in case something bizarre happens. What if you got amnesia and all of a sudden didn't know me from Eve?"
"That's pretty far-fetched."
"Far-fetched things happen sometimes. Besides, it says something important about how I feel about you. It says I married you for your body, not your money."
"Not my gentle nature? Or my tender heart?"
"Nope. Your body."
"Well, then." Anna stood and walked over to her partner's chair. "If that's the case, then I should have the right to expect you to demonstrate that on a regular basis."
"Very well, if I must."
"Oh, you definitely must."
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