part 2

by SX Meagher

Please see part 1 for all disclaimers.

Chapter Three


Ryan was on the phone as early as she thought polite on Saturday morning. She had gone on a long run with Duffy and she felt fully rejuvenated after her talk with her father and a good night's sleep. "Are you in the mood for a hot date tonight?" she asked when she reached Jamie.

"Sure," she replied readily. "You certainly sound like you're in a good mood. What's up?"

"I've decided that we've been going about this togetherness thing all wrong. We're trying to fit our little square pegs into round holes. It's time we refocused our energies," she said mysteriously.

Since they had both been neglecting their schoolwork so thoroughly they decided to spend the day studying and, to her surprise, Ryan refused Jamie's offer to study with her in Berkeley. She knew the study session would turn into a make out session post-haste, and she needed to get caught up with finals looming just three weeks away.

She called Jamie just before she left her house and was pleased to learn that no one else was home and that neither roommate was expected back that evening. Mia was down in L.A. visiting her boyfriend, and Cassie was staying with her parents. "Bring your jammies," Jamie instructed, much to Ryan's pleasure.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Forty-five minutes later Jamie ran down the stairs to answer the door. The stunning vision that greeted her nearly knocked the breath out of her lungs. Ryan was wearing her most faded jeans, an even more faded jeans jacket and a skin tight white tank top. As Jamie pulled her into the house she slid her hands into the jacket and ran her hands up and down the strong back as she stood on her tip toes for a welcoming kiss. Ryan gave her a sexy grin as she stretched to her full height. "Like the look?" she drawled.

As she slowly blinked her eyes to clear her head she could only nod mutely. Her ability to speak had been stripped from her when her hands discovered that the only material covering her lover's gorgeous torso was the thin ribbed cotton of that painted-on tank top.

"Thanks for the generous compliment," Ryan murmured as she pulled her close for a longer, hotter kiss.

"You look so…" she said weakly.


"So hot," she finally decided as she slowly walked in a little circle to admire the vision from every angle. "And sexy," she added while she ran her hands down her broad shoulders. "And tough," she growled as she slid her arms around her slim waist from behind and pressed her body firmly against her partner's. "I hope we're staying in tonight," she murmured as she rested her head against Ryan's broad back.

"Nope," she said firmly. "We're going out. But we'll be able to kiss and hug to our hearts' content."

"We can do that here," Jamie suggested, refusing to release her captive.

"I know we can, but given how you're acting and how I'm feeling I think being in a public place is a good idea," she said gently. "My self-control is a little wobbly tonight."

"Whew," Jamie said as she released her hold and shook her head. "I don't think I have any tonight, so that's probably a good idea. But I need to go change so I look like we belong together," she said as she glanced down at her polo shirt and khakis. "I look like I'm going to play golf and you look like you're going to…well, I don't know what it is you look like you're going to do, but I want to be there to do it with you," she decided.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan cooled her heels in the parlor while Jamie went upstairs to change. Ten minutes later she came back down, having performed admirably in the matching outfit competition. To Ryan's extreme pleasure she had taken the tough theme and tweaked it to match her own style. In a surprise twist she was wearing a dress. Ryan was generally very appreciative of Jamie's dress selection and she had tried to banish lascivious thoughts from her mind on several occasions when her companion had worn one. But now that they were lovers, lascivious thoughts were not only allowed, they were welcomed.

Tonight's ensemble was sky high on the lascivious chart, and Ryan realized that they had better head out immediately or they would never be able to leave.

Jamie's mother had once told her that her clothing was a little juvenile. But her mother had obviously never seen the outfit she had on tonight. The dress was sleek, black, tight, shiny… and leather. Ryan wasn't sure what this style of dress was called—other than mouth-wateringly hot that is. The strapless top fit like a black leather long line bra—also a good fashion choice in Ryan's mind. But the dress continued down Jamie's firm body, caressing every one of her many womanly curves. It ended about four inches above her knee and Ryan spent a moment wondering how Jamie was going to walk, much less dance, in the skintight outfit. But she decided that some sacrifices had to be made for fashion and Jamie was just the one to make them. As Ryan stood and gazed at her Jamie just smirked at her slack-jawed expression. She remained on the last step to equalize their heights and crooked her index finger to summon her. Ryan trotted over like a compliant pet and placed her hands on her partner's slim waist. As Jamie dipped her head to reward Ryan's obedience their mouths merged in a sweet kiss that gradually heated up until it became nearly incendiary. A small growl escaped from deep in Ryan's chest as her hands strayed from her partner's waist and found that her rear was unencumbered by her normal panties. She couldn't help but trace the outlines of the tiny thong that she found and against her better judgment she ventured to ask with a weak voice, "What color is it?"

"It's black and it's lace," she whispered as her warm breath glided past Ryan's ear and sent chills up and down her spine.

"That's just not fair," Ryan moaned. "I think the Geneva Convention covers this under cruel and unusual punishment."

"Ha! What do you think that little tank top does to me, Ms. Gorgeous Braless Breasts?"

"So are you discovering that you're a breast woman?" Ryan asked teasingly.

Jamie's deep blush was a clear enough answer but she fought through her embarrassment to admit, "I didn't know that I was but I must be. I just get chills when you wrap me in your arms and I feel those hard little nipples rubbing against mine. Maybe that's why I had a hard time feeling desire for men, huh?" she added with a wry smile as she wrinkled her nose in amusement at her amazing powers of denial.

"That could be a factor," Ryan chuckled as she took her hand. "I assume we'll drive your car?"

"Are we going far?"


"Then let's ride."

"In that dress?!"

"Yep." She playfully tapped Ryan's nose as she enunciated each word. "I want to drive you crazy."

Jamie went to the hall closet and pulled out a black leather trench coat just slightly longer than her dress. The coat had deep slits on each side that gave her some flexibility. When they reached the bike she hiked her dress up a good foot and climbed on the back, tucking the leather coat around her legs to create a modest appearance. But Ryan knew what little was between them and that knowledge did indeed drive her nuts on the short drive.

They pulled up near the lesbian bar on Telegraph but Ryan quickly turned around and instructed, "Let me get off first." Jamie obeyed and waited patiently as her partner climbed off. Ryan stood next to the big bike and placed her hands firmly around the smaller woman's waist and easily lifted her from the seat.

"Why'd you do that? Just showing off?" Jamie asked as she shimmied around to pull her dress down to its normal length.

"No, Jamie, you're the one who would be showing off," she explained. "I don't want that crowd of women to see your hidden assets before I do." She pointed at the group of women standing on the sidewalk smoking cigarettes, and then pointed at Jamie's extremely short skirt. "Even you can't gracefully get off a motorcycle in a skirt that short."

Ryan paid the $5 cover for each of them and guided her up to the bar after placing her coat on the handy rack. Jamie smiled to herself when she remembered the first time she had spent the evening with Ryan and how she had noticed her unconscious habit of guiding her by the small of her back.

Sandy the bartender was in her normal place and she greeted Ryan like the old friend that she was. "I haven't seen you two in here since…I think it was your birthday," she said as she smiled at Jamie.

"That's right," she admitted. "I've been keeping her too busy to come back," she teased.

Sandy returned her smile and said to Ryan, "It's nice to see you're finally getting some sense into that beautiful head. I've been telling you for years that you should get a steady girl. I'm glad you've finally listened to reason."

"Oh, this one's not steady," Ryan said. She slung her arm loosely around Jamie's shoulders as she added, "She's permanent."

"Excellent!" Sandy cried. "That merits one on the house. What'll it be, ladies?"

"White wine spritzer," Jamie said. Ryan thought for minute and decided to throw her normal abstemiousness to the wayside, "Harp lager."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

They had their stools very close together so that they could lean against each other in order to be heard. Ryan had an arm loosely draped around Jamie's waist with her other elbow on the bar. She held her chin in her hand and stared at her date with undisguised interest. Ryan's stare was so intent that after a while Jamie started to feel a little uncomfortable. "You look like you're planning on having me for dinner," she finally teased to lighten the mood.

But instead of lightening the mood her comment served to intensify it. Ryan leaned even closer and let that deep voice rumble up from her chest. The warm breath slid past Jamie's flushed cheek as she replied, "Ummm, now that would be a meal to remember. I don't think I'd be able to control my gluttony." She leaned over just enough to capture a pink earlobe and take a good nibble as an example.

The image that flashed through her mind caused Jamie's breathing to quicken just slightly as the heat in the room seemed to rise a few degrees. "I think we'd better dance," she mumbled, hoping that her legs would hold her.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

She thought that she had seen Ryan dance before, but what they had done before was a pale imitation of dancing compared to the way she moved tonight. Ryan moved her strong body against Jamie's so seamlessly and fluidly that it actually felt like making love standing up. She had removed her jeans jacket because of the heat in the room but Jamie's temperature rose as the jacket fell. Those incredibly soft mounds of flesh moved slightly beneath her tank top, completely capturing Jamie's mind and imagination. It was all she could do not to grab both of the tempting breasts and explore them to her heart's content. It was clear that Ryan was taunting her and attempting to escalate her desire since she continually brushed her erect nipples teasingly against Jamie's aching breasts.

But even though Ryan seemed to enjoy teasing her it was fairly obvious that she was much more interested in Jamie's choice of underwear for her own growing arousal. She would come in close and wrap her arms around her smaller partner, letting her hands drop dangerously low on her back, obviously trying to feel the outline of her undergarments. The teasing and taunting went back and forth until both women were completely and thoroughly aroused. A sexy, slow number came on and as Ryan drew her close Jamie's head tilted up just enough to have her tender lips captured by her partner's seeking mouth. They were in the darkest corner of the dance floor, barely moving their feet, but their mouths were far from inactive. Their deep kisses continued to escalate in intensity as the song continued its driving, pulsing, Latin beat. By the time the last chords faded away Jamie was nearly hanging from Ryan's neck, weak with desire.

Ryan gently guided her to a stool in the darkest corner of the bar and quickly lifted her up before leaning in to capture her swollen lips again. Jamie's heart was throbbing so violently in her chest that she could feel the beat through every fiber of her being. She knew her resistance was fragile at best and Ryan's seemed dangerously low as well so she pulled herself away and gasped, "I have to…go…" She got to her feet and stumbled into the line for the bathroom, thankful for the respite from the overpowering aura of lust that was just rolling off Ryan tonight. When she finally reached her goal a good ten minutes had passed and she spent another two or three splashing cold water on her face to cool down a bit.

Thoroughly refreshed, she made her way back to her companion feeling much more in control. But faster than she could have imagined possible all of her control vanished as she gazed at the dark beauty waiting for her in the corner. In her ever-expanding list of things she was learning about herself Jamie had discovered that she was very aroused by Ryan's tough girl look. Her partner did not affect the look often, but Jamie had already decided she could live with a steady diet of it.

The vision that greeted her return was more appealing than Jamie thought possible. Ryan stood next to the stool, one shiny black-booted foot casually resting on the lowest rungs. A sweating bottle of cold beer was dangling from her left hand, resting right at the apex of her thighs. Her right hand held her jeans jacket over her right shoulder in a very relaxed posture and her hips moved sensually to the bass beat of the spine-numbing music. Jamie didn't know many things at that moment but one thing was perfectly clear; no other human had ever aroused her so immediately or so thoroughly.

Ryan caught the gleam in her eye and immediately responded by lifting her onto the stool once again. She pounced on her lips with a wild ferocity as Jamie shivered uncontrollably. They both knew the scene was escalating too rapidly but it was Ryan who pulled back, moments before their passions spiraled out of control.

She took in a breath so deep and heavy that Jamie was able to hear it over the thundering bass. Dropping her head onto Jamie's shoulder she spent a few minutes trying to collect herself, breathing deeply the entire time. Jamie's hands ran up and down Ryan's damp back, silently thanking her partner for pulling them back from the brink.

"This is too much," Ryan murmured into her ear. "It's…it's just too hard, Jamie. I…I can't…"

"I know, Honey," she soothed, feeling completely overwhelmed herself. "Let's go home." Sliding off the stool she grasped Ryan's hand, noticing the slight tremor as she did so. She led her through the crowd, dodging the women on the dance floor as they threaded their way towards the door. A quick detour to retrieve Jamie's coat and they burst through the throng that was trying to enter. As soon as they cleared the crowd they threw back their heads and sucked in the cool, moist air.

"We need a new plan," Ryan grumbled as she took Jamie's hand to lead her to the motorcycle.

"Let's walk," Jamie suggested as they neared the bike.

"Walk? Really?"

"Yeah," she insisted, pulling her along. "We both need to cool off a little and the bike might not be the best place to do that."

"Good point," Ryan agreed with a tiny smirk as she gazed once again at the mouth-wateringly hot dress that covered her partner's body.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The night had cooled appreciably and Ryan shivered a little as the damp air met her wet tank top. She shrugged into her jeans jacket and helped Jamie into her coat, and then draped her arm around her partner's shoulders as they began the short walk. "This isn't going too well, is it," Ryan said, more a statement than a question.

"The whole thing?" Jamie asked as she turned her head to gaze into Ryan's eyes.

"No," she soothed. "Just the arousal thing." After several more steps she asked, "What do you think we should do about it?"

Only the sound of Ryan's boots clicking on the pavement filled the air for several minutes as Jamie considered their options. "I think we can go one of two ways," she decided. "We either jump in or pull back…a lot!"

Ryan gave her a gentle squeeze as a small smile curled the edge of her lips, "Which option do you pick?"

"It's not just me that decides that, Honey," she reminded her. "It takes two to tango…as well as other things."

"Are you leaning one way over the other?" Ryan asked carefully, wanting Jamie to have the space to make up her own mind.

"I sure was a few minutes ago!" she reminded her, her eyes comically wide. "I was leaning so far I almost fell over! I guess I just need some time to think about it."

"Okay," Ryan agreed as they continued their walk. "Take your time." As they kept a slow, companionable pace Ryan smiled down at her partner. The smaller woman was deep in thought, her brow wrinkled just a tiny bit in concentration. Ryan absolutely loved to watch her think but she was a little wary of revealing her interest. She knew that Jamie would want to know exactly what she liked about watching her. And since she had to be honest she would have to reveal that she most loved the fact that her partner looked considerably younger when she was deep in thought. She actually looked like a little kid trying to solve a puzzle that was a little too advanced for her. Sometimes the tip of her tongue even stuck out of the side of her mouth, adding to her juvenile appearance. But since Jamie was already a little sensitive about looking so young Ryan didn't think it best to bring it up. Resisting the urge to pinch her cheek, she merely gave her shoulders a gentle squeeze and tried to hide her grin.

They walked the remaining distance in silence, gently holding hands in the cool evening breeze. When they arrived, Ryan paused at the door and said, "I think maybe I should go home."

"Home?" Jamie asked, her face immediately clouded with disappointment. "Don't you want to sleep with me?"

"Of course I do," Ryan soothed as she took her in her arms. The warm golden glow of the porch light gave Jamie's hair such beautiful highlights that Ryan had to close her eyes to concentrate on their actual discussion. "I would never be apart from you another night if I had my wish."

"Then why do you want to leave?" her small voice asked into the denim jacket that her face rested against.

Ryan pulled back to look her partner right in the eyes. "I think we both need some time to figure out what we want," she said. "We almost got carried away tonight, Hon, and that's not how I want it to be with us. I want our lovemaking to be slow and intentional and deliberate. I want our last 'first time' to be a time we always remember," she insisted as she leaned forward for a kiss.

"Our last first time?"

"Yeah," she grinned. "It'll be our first time but it's the last first time I'm ever going to have. I've already got our first real kiss burned into my brain. Now I'm gonna partition my mental hard drive to make sure I have room to archive our first time. Cause it's gonna eat up memory, big time!"

"That was the sweetest, nerdiest thing you've ever said to me," Jamie smiled as she stood on tiptoe for some tender kisses. As she settled back onto her feet she left her hands lightly clasped behind Ryan's neck. "We could discuss how we feel…while you stay over." She had intentionally placed a deceptively innocent look on her face but Ryan wasn't fooled.

"Do you promise you'll behave during this discussion?" she asked sternly.

"Depends," Jamie replied as she wrinkled up her nose. "What do you have to sleep in?"

"Duhhh, I forgot to bring anything," Ryan groaned as she closed her eyes tightly and smacked herself on the forehead.

"I've still got some of Jack's sweats here," she offered. "I'd like it if you stayed and I promise I'll behave. Scout's honor," she vowed as she held up all four fingers of her right hand.

"You weren't a scout, were you," Ryan chastised as she bent the little finger of Jamie's raised hand down and brought the thumb up to trap it. "You don't even know the pledge!"

"No, I wasn't," she admitted. "We were gone most weekends and that's when they did all the fun stuff. I always wanted to join though. Camping out sounded like so much fun."

She had a wistful, childlike expression on her face and as Ryan bent to give her a light kiss she said, "You'll get all the camping you can stomach on the AIDS Ride. Now let's get inside and warm up!" As they walked in together Ryan thought, for the thousandth time, Don't ever ask her parents for advice on childrearing!

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

As they paused in the foyer Jamie asked, "Drink?"

"Yeah, I'll take whatever you've got. That dancing is dehydrating."

"The way you do it is," Jamie teased as she slipped into the kitchen. Popping out a moment later she questioningly held up a beer and a Pepsi.

"Ahhh, let's go with the beer," Ryan decided. "Tis as well to hang for a sheep as for a lamb."

"Irish slang?" Jamie asked over her shoulder as she went back into the kitchen to grab one for herself.


Handing Ryan her bottle and adding a kiss she decided, "I like it…a lot."

"Mighty!" Ryan replied with a gleam in her eye, leaning down for another kiss.

"Don't wear it out, O'Flaherty," she warned with a mock scowl as she slipped her hand around Ryan's arm to lead her upstairs.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Kicking off her shoes Jamie flopped down onto the loveseat and tried to cross her legs. Ryan stood, hands on hips, as she pointedly gazed at the tight leather dress. "Now you know why cows don't cross their legs," she informed her. "Skin's too tight."

"Very funny," Jamie scowled. "I'll put my pajamas on."

"If you want this discussion to be rational I would highly recommend it," Ryan agreed. But she quickly added, "Unless your pajamas are hotter than that dress."

Heading to the dresser Jamie pulled a sedate pair of black-watch plaid flannel pajamas out for herself and then rifled through the bottom drawer, finally extracting a pair of gray sweatpants and a bright red t-shirt. "Put these on…for your own safety," she warned her grinning partner with a wink.

Minutes later they were both in their night-clothes and they sat on the loveseat to discuss their situation. For a change they weren't sitting particularly close and even more remarkably they weren't touching. Each wanted to make some headway on the issue and both knew that distractions were easy to come by so they silently agreed to keep a polite distance.

"Mind if I lay out the problem as I see it?" Ryan asked when they were both settled.

"No, go ahead, Hon," Jamie agreed, always appreciative of Ryan's analytic mind.

"First we have the big issue—do we just let go and have sex when we can find a private space, or do we make a firm decision to wait until we're both sure we're ready."

"Okay," Jamie started to interrupt but Ryan held her hand up, asking for patience.

"Once we decide on that we then need to find ways to implement the decision and make sure we stick with it. That's the harder part," she stated.

Jamie grinned shyly as she amended, "If we decide to go ahead I don't think we'll have a problem sticking with it."

"Good point," Ryan smiled in return. "One fewer issue. So, how do you want to attack this?"

Slumping down a little further on the cushions Jamie let her head rest upon the back of the loveseat and moaned, "I don't know! I'm just so confused, Ryan." Lifting her head a few inches to be able to make eye contact she plaintively asked, "Do you know what I mean?"

Gently patting her thigh Ryan murmured, "Sure I do, Honey. There are a lot of issues to consider no matter what we do."

"Well, let's get those out first. Then we can make a rational decision."

"Okay," Ryan said, ticking off the points on her fingers. "If we decide to have sex we need a place where we can be alone. But you don't want your roommates to know we're together yet so I guess it has to be somewhere that we could use for a few hours but not stay overnight."

"Gee, that sounds great! Why don't we go to one of those nice places in The Tenderloin?"

"Jamie, we will not be reduced to going to Skid Row," Ryan gently rebuked her. "Come on, stay open-minded."

"I'm sorry, Ryan, I promised to behave," she said with a guilty grin.

"That's better," Ryan said as she patted her leg absently. "Okay, I got ahead of myself a little here. First we need to decide if we're each ready to have sex. If we had a place are you feeling comfortable enough to take that leap?"

"Uuuuuhhhhh," Jamie mumbled. "I uuuhhh…I'm…well it depends…"

"I'll take that as a no," Ryan said patiently. "Look Jamie, this is really about your comfort level. If you're not sure you're ready you're not ready. It's that simple."

"But I am sometimes," she complained. "Like tonight. If we had the opportunity I would have had you right there in the bar!"

"Honey, that's not making a decision," Ryan reminded her. "That's letting your vulva replace your brain."

"Ooo, now that's a pretty image," she giggled, shaking her head at the thought.

"You know perfectly well what I mean, Jamie," Ryan said rather seriously. "We need to be adults about this. I've sworn off sex in cars—I can't go back to that. This is too important to me to be cavalier about." Her deep blue eyes glittered as the warm lamplight hit them and Jamie was terribly moved by how sincere her partner was about protecting their nascent relationship.

"I'm sorry, Honey," she whispered. "It's important to me too. Really it is."

"My take on this is that if you're not sure--all the time--then you're not ready," Ryan opined. "I think we should wait until we both agree on the when and the where."

Much as she hated to agree, Jamie nodded her head slowly. "That makes sense," she agreed. "I…uh…I think I might be trying to avoid responsibility for the decision," she revealed. "Anna thinks that's kind of a pattern."

"Do you think it is?" Ryan asked.

"Yeah. It is. Especially around sex," she decided. "This is just what I did with Jack and it's probably why we waited so long to have sex. I was waiting to be swept away with the emotion, but that's not fair—to you or to me."

"I agree, Honey," Ryan soothed. "So let's move to making sure we can implement our decision…and stick to it."

"That will be the hard part," Jamie agreed. "Any ideas?"

"Yeah," Ryan said quickly. "But I don't like them."

"Tell me," Jamie urged.

"The easiest way is if we see each other less. Fewer opportunities will keep us safer."

"That sucks. What else ya got?"

"We see each other the same amount but we spend less time kissing."

"Sucky idea number two," Jamie declared. "Anything else?"

"No showers?" she asked with a hopeful grin.


"Eat lots of garlic?"

"No. I can't even smell garlic on you. One more example of your perfection," Jamie teased as she tweaked her nose.


"Now there's a good one. How about Cassie?"

"I'd rather skip showers," Ryan said decisively as she crossed her arms over her chest.

"Hmmm, I guess the only thing that makes sense is to kiss less and make sure it doesn't get too hot. But that is kinda counterproductive for me," Jamie mused.

"Counterproductive? How?"

The smaller woman pursed her lips together briefly before she said, "This is really different for me, Ryan. It's a good difference but a difference nonetheless. Kissing you and touching you gets me really, really turned on and that's something that didn't happen much with men. I guess I'm allowing myself to get used to that feeling."

"And not having sex with you allows me to experience what it's like to be turned on and not be satisfied immediately," Ryan informed her. "And as frustrating as that is, I think it's good for me."

"Really?" Jamie asked shyly. "You really think you're learning something from this?"

Ryan grasped her hand and brought it to her lips. She kissed it gently on the palm and held it to her cheek for a moment. "I am, Jamie. I'm learning what it is that I want from sex."

"Tell me, Ryan," she begged.

"I've learned that sex becomes lovemaking when we touch each other not just with out bodies but with our souls. It's lovemaking when I welcome you to touch me in ways no one else ever has or ever will. It's lovemaking when I show you the essence of myself, stripped of pretense and façade. Lovemaking is sharing souls, Jamie. It's profound and poetic, intimate and intense. Nothing less will do when we're together." She trailed her fingers through Jamie's soft blonde hair and smiled as her partner snuggled close. "I've been with many, many, women, Jamie, but I swear I've never made love before," she pledged. "When we share that experience it's going to be a first for both of us."

"That was so beautiful," Jamie whispered as she lifted her head for several achingly tender kisses. "God, you take my breath away." She dropped her head onto Ryan's chest and nuzzled contentedly for a few minutes. "It's gonna be wonderful between us." Lifting her head she gazed right into Ryan's eyes. "I love you, Ryan."

"And I love you, Jamie." They cuddled together on the loveseat for a few minutes, nuzzling their faces into each other's necks, until Jamie sat up and sneezed.

"I'm at a disadvantage here," she complained as she grasped a handful of Ryan's long hair.

"Hand me a scissors," Ryan ordered as she attempted to get up.

"You goof! Sit right back down here and tell me how we're going to control ourselves."

"Okay," she nodded decisively. "I've got a plan. Now, I don't like it, but it's a plan."

"What is it, Ryan?" Jamie asked, concerned about the sour look on her friend's face.

"I volunteer to keep us on the straight and narrow," she said firmly, even though she looked slightly ill.

"Oh, Honey, I can't ask you to do that!"

"You didn't ask," Ryan reminded her. "It's hazardous duty but I think it's only fair that I volunteer."

"Fair? How so?" Jamie asked.

Ryan shifted a little bit and traced her thumb down the baby-soft cheek as she cradled her partner's face in her hand. "This is brand-spanking new for you, Jamie. Even ignoring the same-sex aspect you haven't had much experience in playing with your libido. I want to give you that gift. I promise to do my very best to keep a lid on while you feel free to explore."

The smaller woman sat immobile for a moment, stunned by the overly generous offer. "I…I don't think I can accept, Ryan," she said softly.

"Why?" Ryan asked. "I really think this is the best way."

"It's too unequal," Jamie complained. "I don't want you to be responsible for both of us."

"Jamie," she said as she leaned forward and brushed her forehead with her lips. "I've been unleashing my rabid libido on innocent young women for 6 years," she said with just a touch of hyperbole. "I think it will be good for me to learn a little restraint. Please let me give you this gift."

The fair-haired woman sat quietly for a moment, considering the offer carefully. "Are you really certain that you won't resent me?" she asked.

"I'm positive. This gift is freely given. I'll do my best to let you explore, but if it gets too hard I'll let you know. You just have to promise to pull back if I tell you to."

"Hmm, that might be tough," Jamie laughed. "But if you can offer nearly a mile I can go the last few feet."

"Deal," Ryan said happily. She got up and walked over to the bed, flopping down on the surface as she spread her arms and legs wide. "Whenever you're ready," she offered, pulling her head up to make eye contact.

"Get back over here, Goofball," Jamie laughed. "We're not done."

"Boy, you sure do know how to take the fun out of an offer," Ryan joked. As she got up and settled herself on the loveseat once again she asked, "What else?"

"I'm sure this isn't an open ended offer," Jamie said as she wiggled her eyebrows. "I mean, you wouldn't want to do this for a year would you?"

"Aaaah, no," Ryan agreed immediately. "I'd be ready for the asylum."

"So we need to make some progress on our end-date."

"You mean our beginning date," Ryan corrected gently.

"Precisely," Jamie agreed. "Tell me your thoughts."

"I think I could muster some enthusiasm for just about any date you might pick," Ryan said thoughtfully, blue eyes twinkling. "How about you?"

"Okay," Jamie said as she considered the request. "I guess I'm pretty close right now. I'm still nervous and all but I think you could help me through that. But I want to wait until we can make it special. I've promised myself that, Ryan, and I don't want to go back on that promise."

"Tell me about that," Ryan urged as she draped her arm around her partner and pulled her close. "Tell me about your dreams."

"Well, I have this…um…fantasy…about the first time we really make love," she blushed. "We're in a special place and we spend hours just touching and kissing and touching some more. I want to touch and kiss every little part of you, one inch at a time. That's what lovemaking feels like to me."

"That's what it feels like to me too, Jamie. That's exactly it! And I agree that we need to wait until we have that special place."

"It's more than just the place," she reminded her. "I need time too. Unstructured time, with no interruptions. I want you and your beautiful body to be the only thing on my mind," she insisted.

"We can do this, Hon, I swear we will. But I think we've got to wait until finals are over, no matter what. If we don't I'm gonna see chemical formulas imprinted on your beautiful little body!"

"Okay," Jamie chuckled. "We'll revisit the issue after finals."

"Deal," Ryan said, extending her hand.

Jamie shook it firmly, pronouncing, "We make a good team, Ms. O'Flaherty."

"The best, Ms. Evans."

"Bed?" Jamie asked with a smile as she got up she extended a hand to her partner. "I left a new toothbrush out for you."

"Excellent. Be back in a minute."

After Ryan spent her normal five minutes brushing and flossing every surface of her enamel she went back into the room, pleased to see Jamie in bed already. "Boy, you look good in a horizontal position," she said with a cute little grin. "What a wonderful sight to look forward to for the rest of my life."

"I bet you say that to all the girls," she teased, blushing a little at the compliment.

"Uh-uh, Jamie," Ryan said with a completely serious expression. "I've never told anyone that I wanted to see them every night for the rest of the month, much less my life. I don't tease about the commitment I'm making to you."

"Oh, Honey, I'm sorry," she said sincerely. "I was just teasing but I'll be more careful in the future. I know you're sensitive about this."

"It's okay," she said quickly. "I know you didn't mean anything by it."

"Come here and let me apologize more convincingly," Jamie beckoned, jerking her head towards Ryan's side of the bed.

Ryan hopped in and they fidgeted around for a minute trying to lay the ground rules for sleep. "How do you like to sleep?" Ryan inquired. "Side, back, tummy?"

"I'm very versatile," she replied. "I can sleep just about any way I fall. But I tend to wake up most often on my side. How about you?"

"When I sleep alone I curl up in the fetal position," she said with a laugh. "I take up about a quarter of my bed at home. But when I sleep with someone I'm usually on my back or side. I think the only time I've slept on my tummy was when you gave me that great massage on St. Patrick's Day."

"Why do you sleep differently with people?"

"I'm usually the larger person and people tend to cuddle up to me. It's apparently one of the perks of having a big girlfriend. And it's pretty comfortable to have someone curled up against my side with their head on my shoulder or chest."

"Like this?" Jamie asked as she snuggled up tight against her side.

"Exactly. Feels good, doesn't it?"

"Yeah," she said softly.

Ryan remembered one major item as she said, "We didn't discuss which side of the bed you want. Any preference?"

"I don't think so. You?"

"No, not really. Which side did Jack sleep on?"

"My left," she said immediately. "Always my left."

"Excellent," Ryan declared, already in the correct position. "New administration. New side."

"As long as we're trying new things why don't I lie on my back and you can put your head on me?"

"Okey dokey," Ryan replied, knowing this experiment would be short-lived. She snuggled up against her smaller partner's right side and gently laid her head just above her breast.

"Ohhh, this feels nice," Jamie said, happy that she had suggested the arrangement. She could run her fingers through the dark hair, and Ryan's fresh clean smell wafted up to fill her senses. "You've been hogging the good position," she gently chided.

"Well I like it down here, too," Ryan happily agreed. "I feel all safe and warm, just like I'm in a snug little cocoon. I've been missing a lot up there."

They were quiet for a few moments and Ryan was nearly asleep when she heard the soft voice say, "Um…my arm's falling asleep."

"Okay, I'll move a little farther in." Now her head was nearly on Jamie's sternum, but that obviously wasn't going to work as she heard her labored breathing. Finally she rolled onto her back and held her arm open, smiling to herself as her grateful partner climbed into her embrace.

"Remind me to start following your advice to start with," she said sleepily as she tossed both an arm and a leg across Ryan's body.

"Mmmm, trapped like a rat," Ryan mused. "Just like I like it."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Chapter Four

The next week generally followed the pattern of the previous one. Ryan still arrived by seven, parking her motorcycle a block away. They had breakfast together and usually could manage an hour or so during the middle of the day, but with finals so close that was getting a little harder to pull off.

Ryan had never fallen behind in her schoolwork and it made her uncomfortable to do so now, so they decided to try to learn how to study together. Every night after a quick dinner they headed over to the Biosciences Library for a couple of hours of concentrated effort.

Each night started out promising enough but within twenty minutes or so Jamie would look up to find her companion just staring at her with a vacant, lovesick expression on her beautiful face. Jamie would give her a playful scowl and point firmly at her books. Another twenty or thirty minutes later, however, found the same goofy look coming her way and she would indulgently nod and follow Ryan to their secret spot.

The Biosciences Library was a very large building, five stories tall and usually jammed with people. But since Ryan spent so much time in the place she knew where the quietest nook was. So she would lead Jamie to the most distant part of the stacks and pounce on her with abandon. It was certainly not an ideal solution—the dusty, old, little-used books in this section could have brought on an allergy attack and there was no place to sit. But it was quiet and that was all that they cared about at that point. They would spend five minutes or so gently kissing and hugging, with Jamie putting every bit of effort into making sure that the kisses were loving enough to satisfy her partner but innocent enough to allow Ryan to go back and study.

But even with these little intimacy breaks, by nine o'clock each night Ryan's gaze locked onto her and she refused to be dissuaded. They would pack up their books and walk back to the bike where they would jump on for a quick trip to friendly territory. They both decided that the sexual energy at the bar was a little too dangerous so they spent their evenings at Mama Bears. They had to endure a little teasing from Babs that became worse every night until Ryan revealed that they had no place else to go. Quickly taking pity on her friend, Babs turned off the lamps flanking a low velvet loveseat and guided the women over. "It's nice and dark now girls, have fun!"

They dropped down into the sofa and spent a nice half hour languidly exploring each other's mouths. That night and each night thereafter Jamie made it a point to buy coffee or cocoa and some little snacks, telling Ryan, "If we're gonna take up this much space we've gotta eat something!"

By Friday night they were both much more comfortable with the way things were working out. Ryan was comfortable being turned on most of the night since Jamie seemed to be relaxing quite a bit. And she was fully able to release her pent up desire as soon as she got home.

Early Saturday morning Ryan answered the phone to hear a very chipper-sounding girlfriend. "I had a scathingly brilliant idea," she said excitedly.

"Do tell," Ryan urged.

"Remember my father's city apartment?"

"Yeah, you've mentioned it."

"I've got keys," she stated rather dramatically.

"But doesn't he use it sometimes?"

"Yeah, but usually just on a weekday, like if he has a real late meeting in the city. It saves him having to drive home and then come right back the next morning."

"So your plan involves what? Sleeping over?"

"Umm, that's a little adventurous," she mused. "But a nice long afternoon of studying in bed and smooching sounds pretty good to me. How about you?"

A deep winsome sigh was sufficient response.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan was sitting on the deck--anxiously awaiting her date when Jamie pulled up at two o'clock. She was grinning like a two-year-old as she ran down the stairs and Jamie just had to spend a moment taking her in when she hopped into the car. "You are so incredibly beautiful today," she enthused as her eyes ran up and down Ryan's long body.

The day was clear and warm and Ryan had taken advantage of the temperature. She wore a v-necked red knit short-sleeved shirt with small horizontal lines in shades of blue. It was quite tight, hugging her voluptuous form firmly, and it ended a good two inches above her navel. Her long legs were covered by dark blue stretch chinos. The pants did not have pockets, but if they had, Jamie would have been able to call heads or tails on the change she carried. Jamie hungrily observed that her girlfriend looked like she was about to burst forth from her tight clothes and she hoped fervently that a poor quality thread had been used on the seams.

Ryan laughed at her dumbstruck expression and removed the band from her wrist to pull her hair back in a ponytail for the windy ride. "Yet another generous compliment," she said lightly as she patted Jamie on the thigh.

"Wow!" she mumbled as she leaned over and kissed her roughly, right in plain view of the neighbors.

Ryan had to struggle just to focus after that scorcher and she privately mused that she would need to be on her guard all day.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The drive to Telegraph Hill was quick and pleasant on this lovely Saturday. They pulled into the subterranean garage and left the Porsche in the tandem space marked 'Evans'.

Never having been in a building with personalized parking spots, as they waited for the garage elevator, Ryan mused, "Nice place."

"Thanks," Jamie replied, even though she had no real connection to the place.

Moments after entering the brass-toned elevator they were deposited on the first floor of the lavishly decorated building. Jamie immediately steered Ryan towards the uniformed man sitting at a large circular workstation. Ryan held back, letting her partner do her thing.

Jamie's habitual need to engage every member of the service industry in a private conversation had become a little joke between them and when the smaller woman returned she smiled at Ryan and reminded her, "Doormen need love too."

As they walked across the polished granite floor Jamie cast a narrow eyed glance at her partner's squeaky running shoes but as expected Ryan just had to scuff her feet a tiny bit more in response. The little pink tongue that stuck out of those luscious mauve lips was a surprise but most definitely a welcome one.

The generous lift whisked them to the top floor in seconds as Ryan fought with her ears to keep them open against the pressure. "They should supply gum in the lobby," she grumbled as she followed her partner along the sumptuous beige and maroon paisley carpet. The key slid into the lock and opened with a click, allowing Ryan to follow Jamie into the apartment that just screamed 'MAN'.

"Wow," Ryan mused as she looked around the obviously expensive but equally obviously masculine apartment. "My father would die to live in a place like this."

"Wanna take a look around?" Jamie asked.

"Sure. I love to see how people who have taste furnish their homes," she said with a cute little smile.

"Mother furnished the place of course," Jamie said as she pointed out the two generous bedrooms, each with its own bath. Next was the sunny dining room with the very modern brushed aluminum glass-topped table and deep maroon Ultrasuede covered chairs with frames that matched the table base. Modern impressionistic art lined the walls and Ryan noted that every print had been signed by the artist and numbered. Tiny slatted aluminum mini-blinds covered the generous windows and with a smirk Ryan slid her finger across one of the slats to illustrate that they were dust-free.

"Does your father have a staff just for the blinds?" she asked.

"No, but he's a neat freak so I'd guess he has them cleaned every week," Jamie admitted.

Next she led her to the living room and its matching black leather sofas that sat on the edge of the cranberry and slate gray tweed area rug. Small modern chairs in a shiny gray material filled out the living room perfectly. Ryan turned to her partner and mused, "There's more sitting space in here than we have in our whole house." But her tone was matter-of-fact so Jamie merely agreed rather than trying to discern if that fact bothered her.

The kitchen was last on the tour but Ryan decided she like it the best of the whole place. It was even more modern than the rest of the apartment but there was a lot more color in the small, windowless room. Bright, wild modern art filled the stark white walls, making the room look bigger and more interesting. The cabinets and the appliances were uniformly stainless steel, but the counters were black granite. The floor was a dark gray stone of some sort and Ryan found that she liked the hard surface even though she mused it would be hard to stand on for long periods of time. But she needn't have worried about that fact. The kitchen actually looked as though it had never been used. Opening the Sub-Zero refrigerator Ryan nodded to herself, commenting, "Wine, beer, sparkling water, Pepsi, orange juice, oh…there it is," she declared, emerging with a jar of salsa in her hand. "Food!"

"Hey, he's a guy," Jamie shrugged as she went back into the living room.

"Is this just your dad's place?" Ryan asked as she joined her on the black sofa.

"Yeah, I'd say so. They stay here together occasionally, but I don't think mother has ever been here alone. He uses it as a quick place to shower or take a nap if he has an important meeting in the evening. A lot of his time is spent wooing international clients so he sometimes has a teleconference at midnight or even three or four a.m. When he has those it just makes sense to stay here rather than drive down to Hillsborough."

"Yeah, that makes sense," Ryan agreed. "So both of our fathers have to sleep away for work sometimes, huh?"

"After a fashion," Jamie agreed as she snuggled up to her partner. They nuzzled against each other for a few minutes trying to keep things light. But the mere thought of all of those luscious curves in those skin-tight clothes compelled Jamie to begin running her hands all over Ryan's body. "You are so delectable looking in this outfit," she whispered.

"Glad you like it," Ryan's deep voice rumbled back. "You don't think this shirt is too tight do you?" she asked in an innocent tone.

Jamie blew out a laugh as she sat up and smirked at her partner. "I'd like you in Caitlin's clothes, you silly goose!"

"Hmm," Ryan mused. "She has a hot little yellow terry cloth number I might borrow. Would I look good with little embroidered ducks dancing across my chest?"

"I don't know about ducks," Jamie whispered, "but I'd like to take a turn across that dance floor."

"My, my, Ms. Evans, you are the little minx today," Ryan teased as she tried to lighten the mood again. "Hey, is it just me, or is it hot in here? I'm dying of thirst."

"Oh-oh, my bad," Jamie replied as she hopped up and headed for the kitchen. On the way she made a stop at the thermostat to turn on the air in the seldom-used unit, joining her partner moments later with a sheepish grin and two large bottles of mineral water. "Sorry about that," she chuckled as she handed one over to her sweating lover.

"To tell you the truth I didn't notice until about two minutes ago," Ryan laughed. They managed to gulp down most of the liter bottles without pause, trying to hydrate themselves.

"Wanna go to bed and cuddle while we do a little studying?" Jamie asked when they had finished their drinks.

"Sure. Although I doubt we'll get much done," she warned as she picked up her book bag. They chose the guest room and together removed the bedspread and blanket before they kicked off their shoes and made themselves comfortable.

Several minutes later they were busy studying—but not their books. Jamie was terribly intent on trying to examine Ryan's skin through her clothes and, even though she wasn't very successful, neither was complaining. Ryan was surprisingly in control since she had been expecting a full frontal attack. She was just about to call a halt to the proceedings when they both froze in wild-eyed shock.

"Jamie?" boomed a voice from the entryway.

"MY FATHER!!!" she mouthed as she scrambled to her feet. "Get in the closet!!" she demanded. Before Ryan could utter a sound her partner was dashing out the door and running down the hallway to meet her father.

GET IN THE CLOSET!!! Not for you or any other woman on earth!! Ryan fumed in outrage. But her love for the gentle woman she had held in her arms just moments earlier got the better of her and she silently put her shoes back on and climbed under the king-sized bed. Never the closet! she righteously declared.

The minutes ticked away and with each sweep of the second hand Ryan felt her temper rise. She wasn't angry that Jamie was unwilling to reveal the nature of their relationship to her parents. Her years of experience with friends and kids on the Teen Talk Line had given her ample evidence of how difficult that step was. But she was still nearly speechless that Jamie had denied her very existence! There were at least one hundred ways to handle this situation and she honestly thought that her partner had chosen the worst one. And as each scenario flashed through her mind she grew more and more agitated.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

"Daddy!" Jamie nearly shouted when she reached the living room. She had managed to straighten her hair into a reasonable facsimile of its usual order and she offered up a silent prayer of thanks that she was not dating a lipstick lesbian.

"You're the last person I'd expect to find here, Jamie," he said happily. "But it's a very nice surprise."

"I was over here…um…in the city …um…working out," her mind rapidly constructed a reasonable lie. "And I've got plans in the city later tonight so I stopped by here for a little nap."

"Oh, I didn't wake you did I, Cupcake?" he asked solicitously.

"No, not at all, I was already awake. I've been here for a while," she honestly replied.

He walked into the living room and noticed the two water bottles on the coffee table. "My, you must have been working out," he laughed. "That's an enormous amount of water for one girl to drink. What were you doing that was so energetic?" he innocently asked.

"Uhh," she fumbled, All of my saliva's in Ryan's mouth didn't seem like a good answer, so she opted for a lie. "I was on a long ride. Guess I got dehydrated."

"I didn't see your bicycle on your car. Is it up here?" he asked, looking around quizzically.

"Oh, no, I rode with a friend and left it at their house." God, I'm already using 'their' as a substitute for 'her' and I don't even know the secret handshake!

"Well, I must say I'm proud of the effort you're putting into this ride, Jamie. I didn't know that you had this kind of determination."

"Thanks," she said weakly, trying to figure out how to get out of the house. "Why are you here, Daddy?"

"I played golf with some clients at the Club and I've got a big charity dinner to attend tonight. I thought I could catch a nap before I have to get into my tuxedo."

"Well don't let me stop you," she urged. "I was about to get going anyway."

"I'd rather spend the afternoon with my daughter any time," he beamed. "But if you're ready I'll walk you down to your car."

"NO! No, really, that's not necessary. You go on and lie down."

"Jamie, I'm only 45," he chided. "And besides, I had to park behind you in the tandem spot. Let's go down together."

" 'Kay," she said weakly. "Um…I left something in the bedroom. Be right back." She scampered into the room, closing the door almost in his face. Silently padding over to the closet she opened the louvered doors and practically fainted when she saw that it was empty. But when she turned she saw a dark head peeking out from under the tailored bed skirt. Dropping to her knees she whispered, "He wants to walk me to the car. Then he's going to take a nap. Wait ten minutes after you hear him get back and then come down to the lobby. I'll drive around until you get there, okay?" Her eyes were wild with fright so Ryan swallowed her displeasure at the rude treatment she'd been subjected to. She merely nodded and blew her terrified lover a silent kiss.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan lay on her back waiting for the door to open again. It took much longer than she expected but she finally heard it open and close quietly. She set the timer on her watch, since her sense of time was obviously off, and settled back down to wait. But no more than two minutes had passed before she heard a gentle knock on the front door. That must be Jamie coming back for something, she mused. She pricked up her ears, listening intently for information. That better not be Jamie, she thought with horror as a woman's shrieking, giggling voice wafted to her ears. Please let that be her mother, she prayed, but she had a pretty good idea that the voice was not, in fact, Mrs. Evans.

"Oh! Stop that! I said stop that!" the young-sounding woman cried. "OOOH! Put me down!" she cried again. Luckily her cries were playful as Ryan mused about what she would do if she sounded serious. That would be quite the introduction: Mr. Evans, unhand that woman! Who am I? Never mind who I am, just release that innocent young thing, you beast!

The playful cries continued into the master bedroom where Ryan heard a loud thump as he obviously granted the woman's wish to put her down. Now loud giggles replaced the screams, but moments later she heard the woman dart down the hallway, with the heavier footsteps of Mr. Evans right behind her. "Come back here," he cried as he obviously chased her around the apartment. Please, oh please don't let her run in here, Ryan begged as she heard them dart down the hall again.

The chase continued back and forth between the bedroom and the living room. She hoped that he would finally catch her in the living room since it was on the far end of the apartment, furthest both from the bedroom she was in and the front door. After a good ten minutes of shrieks and laughter the chase seemed to stop. Now she heard only an occasional cry. Hmm, if they're going at it in the living room I could get out. I think I'll sneak over to the door and crack it open for more information.

When she did so she actually blushed to hear the woman's voice come through the apartment in a rough moan, "Oh God! Yes! Do it, Baby! Oooooh God, you're so big!"

Do they really believe that line? She marveled as she grabbed her book bag and tip-toed out the door only to stop in shock when she turned to find Jamie's dad, pants around his knees, humping a woman right on the elegant carpet runner, not ten feet from her. She had never felt so much like a deer in the headlights and her first instinct was to crawl back under the bed and wait until Mr. Evans left for his dinner. But she had a small glimmer of hope since they were facing away from her. Even though a part of her wanted to poke her own eyes out after seeing Mr. Evans' bare ass, the position of the lovers guaranteed that either Mr. Evans would have to turn around or his 'date' would have to sit up a bit—and neither prospect seemed likely. So she swallowed her fears and crept soundlessly across the hall. But to her horror the very young, curly-haired redhead struggled into a semi-upright position, bracing her torso on her locked arms. Ryan was exactly halfway across the hall but since it was just as far to retreat as to move on she continued. Opening the door an inch at a time she slid out without detection. "Whew! That was close," she mumbled aloud. But her relief was short-lived when she realized that she had to use all of her acting talents to appear normal when she faced her girlfriend in a few minutes.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

"Where in the hell have you been?" Jamie cried when she slid into the Porsche moments later.

"He was running around the apartment for the longest time," Ryan truthfully replied. "I couldn't leave until I knew he was…occupied."

"Jesus!" she moaned as her head dropped onto the steering wheel. "My entire life flashed before my eyes when I heard him come in."

"Because…" Ryan drawled, her ire beginning to rise again.

"He might have seen you…I mean us," she explained lamely.

"That would be tragic," Ryan snapped. Grabbing the door handle she flung it open as Jamie was slowing for a stop sign. Before Jamie could even blink she was walking briskly down the street, a determined set to her broad shoulders.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Stuck on Lombard Street on Telegraph Hill, penniless, no change for the phone, and mightily pissed off was the best description of Ryan's state. How dare she! How dare she! She's actually ashamed of me!

She was striding down the street, nearly oblivious to her surroundings. Her internal homing device was leading her in the right direction but she was clearly not paying conscious attention. Telegraph Hill was probably the most distant point from her house in the whole city and she knew she had a couple of hours of walking over the hills before she reached home. There was only one good thing about her situation; it would give her a chance to cool down and reflect a bit on the whole terrible afternoon.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

As soon as Ryan fled, Jamie pulled the Boxster up to the curb and sat numbly for a few minutes, trying to decide what to do. What in the hell is she so upset about? She knows I'm not ready to tell my father! And to have him find us in the bedroom together would be a horrible way for him to find out! She felt her head hit the steering wheel as she tried her best to open her mind and try to see the incident from Ryan's perspective, but she was having a devil of a time getting past her own hurt. Without warning it hit her—Ryan would not have acted that way if she hadn't been deeply wounded. Going over and over the scene she realized how terrible it must have felt for such a proud, self-assured woman to have to sneak out of an apartment just so her lover's father wouldn't find out about her. Jesus! she cried as she thumped her head against the wheel repeatedly. How could you have done that to her!

As the minutes passed she was yanked from her reverie when she was struck by the thought that Ryan could not have had any money. She didn't have any pockets in those pants. And her book bag is right here! Oh shit! I let her get out on Telegraph Hill to walk all the way to Noe! That's criminal! Throwing the car into gear she pulled into traffic, nearly getting sideswiped by a passing car. Shit! she continued in her rant, ignoring the close call. She had loafers on too, so she couldn't even run if she wanted to. Making up her mind immediately she started to slowly prowl up and down the streets that would lead Ryan to Market, the obvious choice to crisscross the city. She crept down Sansome, Montgomery and Geary, looking at every pedestrian that she passed. Knowing that Ryan could have been walking very fast she decided to proceed to Market and patrol it until her peripatetic lover appeared.

It didn't take long to get over to Market in the light Saturday afternoon traffic but the street itself was a mess, as it was at almost any time of day. The MUNI buses stopped constantly, blocked traffic fully, and were a general nuisance. The constant stream of tourists--who also drove the street--made it a nightmare much of the time, and this day the added issue of street repair made the trip even worse than normal.

After just a few blocks Jamie spotted her partner's dark head bobbing down the crowded street. She missed her for a few blocks since Ryan was moving faster than traffic, but finally pulled up at the corner that she would cross in a few feet. "Ryan!" she cried, but either the street noise blocked her out or her lover was intentionally ignoring her. "RYAN!" she tried again but the pedestrians had a walk light and the tall woman strode off again.

They played this cat-and-mouse game for another few blocks with the same result. Her patience was starting to fray as she realized that Ryan was intentionally ignoring her. She cut around a pack of slow cars, nearly going into opposing traffic to do so. But she finally got well in front of the dark haired form she could see approaching in the distance. Just when it seemed like she would intercept her Ryan crossed to the other side of the street, neatly avoiding her waiting friend. "GOD DAMN IT!" Jamie shouted to no one in particular.

Now she had to turn across traffic, try to get ahead on a side street and then double back. But this task was much harder than it sounded and it took her almost 15 minutes to execute it. Just when she was about to yell her name again a MUNI bus pulled up to the curb, obscuring her view and preventing Ryan from seeing her even if she wanted to. Now frustrated beyond good sense she pulled up to the first spot she could fit in and parked. It was clearly not a legal space and she knew she would get a ticket at best but she was not going to be ignored like this when she was doing her best to apologize. She started running in the proper direction but now she had lost her even though there was really only one way to go. "RYAN!" she cried as she stared up at the heavens in supplication. She scanned the street in both directions and caught just the top of her head--once again--across the street. "I'll kill her!" she yelled as she raced back to her car.

The officer who was writing the ticket was pleasant enough. And he assured her that she was a very lucky woman since he was about to call a tow truck. She tersely thanked him for the $105 present and once again took off, now madder than a hornet. This time she took no chances. She raced ahead of traffic, flaunting several sections of the vehicle code, but she got a good two blocks ahead of Ryan. This was a less-populated section of the busy street and she pulled up next to a bona fide parking meter. Finding quarters in her wallet was another stroke of luck and she fed the meter before taking off running back toward her lover. Playing it safe she watched both sides of the street but did not notice her until she was nearly even with her--on the other side of the street of course. "Oh, no you don't!" she declared as she darted across the street--against traffic. She dashed a few feet, neatly bobbing and weaving to avoid the, thankfully, slow-moving glut of cars, then ran the rest, escaping another close call with a Yellow Cab. Her heart was racing from excitement and anger when she finally caught up with the brunette. Without thinking, she impetuously grabbed her shoulder and hauled her around forcefully, forgetting for a moment who she was approaching so aggressively.

Ryan later swore that she had not known that Jamie had been following her. She vowed that she'd had no idea that a friendly hand was roughly grabbing her on the noisy, rather seedy street. And she pledged that she was truly, truly sorry for grabbing the startled woman by the throat and slamming her up against the plate glass window of a Subway sandwich shop so hard that her teeth rattled and her eyes rolled up in her head.

"Jamie!" she cried in horror when the frightened face that looked up at her was not the armed attacker that her body had prepared her for but the normally gentle visage of her lover. "Oh my God!" she cried as the small woman sank to the ground. A crowd gathered, mumbling among themselves about the big woman hitting the small one for no reason at all.

Jamie was conscious but terribly stunned as she sat on the filthy concrete and tried to gather her senses. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry!" Ryan gasped, running her hands all over her lover's face and shoulders, trying to determine if she was seriously injured.

A few rough shakes of Jamie's head allowed her mind to clear enough to finally make eye contact. She leveled her gaze and asked the most hurtful question that had ever reverberated against Ryan's ears. "Did you know it was me?" she demanded.

The looks of shock, horror and astonishment that crossed her partner's face were enough to reassure her but Ryan cried again and again, "NO! GOD NO! I would never, never, ever hurt you, Jamie! Don't you know that! My God, what do you think I am?" Now the tears started to flow as Ryan collapsed on the ground right next to the still-shaken woman. She cried disconsolately, attracting stares from everyone within ten feet, many of who were witnesses to the whole scene. Jamie shakily got to her knees and wrapped her arms around her lover, murmuring comforting words to her as the sobs shook her body. It took a long while to calm the emotionally devastated woman but finally they were both able to walk. Several of the witnesses made snide remarks about what had caused the lover's tiff but they ignored them all, trying to maintain what small amount of dignity they still had.

The car was only about a block away and they made the trip in silence. They were both fully aware that each had hurt the other grievously but neither was exactly sure what she had done. Both were sure they were relatively blameless in the big scheme of things, but again, they did not want to make a terrible situation worse so they both held their tongues. When they reached the car Ryan insisted that she be allowed to drive due to the bump on the blonde's bump on the head. Jamie allowed the taller woman to take the keys and did not protest when they went to the O'Flaherty house.

Ryan pulled in front of the garage and got out to help her shaky friend into the house. Regrettably, Martin, Conor and Brendan were all present although all were speechless when they saw their faces. Ryan just shook her head in reply to their silent questions, leading Jamie straight down to her room. Once she got her settled on the loveseat she dashed back up for an ice bag. Three sets of anxious eyes were waiting for her and she spent just a moment trying to reassure them. "Nothing serious," she insisted. "We had a fight and then a bunch of misunderstandings. I was walking and she grabbed me unexpectedly from behind and I threw her against a window. She's got a bump on the head but nothing major."

Now all three mouths dropped open to match the wide eyes. Ryan had to admit that the truth was pretty bad but she didn't like to withhold information from her family, even information that made her look like an asshole. "I've got to go back down," she said as she filled a big plastic bag with ice. "Give us some time to work this out, okay?" Three heads nodded gravely as she ran back down stairs.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

"How could any day that started off so nice end up so horribly?" Jamie asked plaintively when her lover returned, ice bag in hand.

"I don't know," Ryan replied as she sat next to her and gently applied the ice to the sizeable knot forming on the back of the smaller woman's skull. Ryan was inordinately glad that they were at least speaking now, but she was loath to go into all of the issues that had made the afternoon so tumultuous.

"Can we just not talk about it all?" Jamie asked timidly. Ryan nodded her complete agreement, looking rather uncomfortable as she sat on the edge of the piece. "I'd love it if you'd hold me," she said softly.

Ryan thought that some physical closeness was a very good idea and she hastened to comply. She sat very close and put the bag of ice on her shoulder, urging Jamie to sit back and rest her head up against the bag.

After ten minutes or so a small voice said, "The cold is giving me a headache. Can you take it away for a while?"

"Sure," Ryan soothed. "Wanna lie down on the bed and cuddle a little?"

"Sure," she said softly, allowing her tall partner to help her from the loveseat. Ryan climbed up on the right side of the bed and waited for her lover to get in. They were both fully clothed but had kicked off their shoes. After a few minor adjustments they were as comfortable as they were going to get and within minutes both were sound asleep, the excitement, anger and hurt combining to drain each of them physically as well as emotionally.

Seconds after they had nodded off Ryan jerked into a sitting position, scaring Jamie half out of her wits. "What's wrong?" the smaller woman cried.

"It's dangerous to sleep with a head injury!" Ryan said, in a very agitated tone.

"It's okay, Ryan," Jamie assured her. "I didn't lose consciousness you know. It's just a bump…really," she insisted as Ryan slowly sank back down onto the mattress.

"You're sure?" she mumbled through a yawn.

"Positive," Jamie said as she started to lightly rub her partner's back.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was nearly eight o'clock when Ryan slowly woke, hungry, groggy and stiff from the uncomfortable position they were in. During the nap Jamie had migrated closer and closer until she was sprawled across Ryan's body. The weight prohibited the larger woman from moving at all and her body was unhappy about the two-hour-long straightjacket. But stiff as she was, she was unwilling to wake her partner. They had an awful lot of issues to work out and many wounds to heal and she wasn't in a hurry to get to any of them. There was a certain simple beauty to casual sex, she mused. I didn't get my emotional needs met very often but I also didn't ever get stomped on. She knew in her heart that being with Jamie was worth any amount of pain but she had to admit that today's pain would require an awful lot of pleasure to equalize it.

Jamie slowly woke a few minutes later. "Mmm, what time is it?" she croaked out in a sleep-roughened voice.

"Little past eight. You wanna get up?"

"Yeah," she mumbled. "I'm kinda hungry." She rolled off and let out a sigh. "Kinda stiff too," she admitted. After a moment to recall that she had been sleeping on another human being she turned to her lover. "You must be stiff too with me draped across you all evening."

"Little bit," she agreed, feeling uncommunicative and wary.



"Feel like talking?"

"No. Not really."

"Feel like being with your family?"


"Want me to go home?"

"Only if you want to."

"Will you talk if I stay?"

"Not sure."

Jamie got to her feet and padded into the bath. She spent a moment ordering her hair and washing her face with Ryan's nice-smelling soap. When she went back into the bedroom she announced, "I'm willing to hang out if you'll at least try to talk with me. But I don't want to just bang my head against the…" She stopped abruptly when she saw the hurt, pain-filled eyes before her. "Ryan," she said gently as she squatted in front of the bed to maintain eye contact. "We need to talk."

"I'll try," was her terse answer as her eyes flitted everywhere but Jamie's.

"That's all I ask." She held her hand out and Ryan grasped it, getting to her feet and performing a few stretches to work out the kinks. The tall woman spent a moment putting on a pair of socks and her running shoes, made a trip to the bathroom and was ready to go. "Let's walk over to 24th Street for some dinner, okay?"

A reserved nod was Ryan's only reply and Jamie mused that her efforts to talk were less than overwhelming. But she decided to be patient and allow a conversation to develop over time. A very brief explanation to an anxious looking Martin and they were walking downhill to the business district of the Noe Valley. Ryan didn't say a word on the walk but when they reached their destination she asked, "What are you in the mood for?"

"Umm, something comforting," Jamie ventured. "My tummy's kind of upset."

"How about 'Peasant Pies'?"

"I'm not familiar. What is it?"

"A little shop that sells home-made pot pies. They're really good," she said with her first smile of the evening.

Ahh, that's the key, she mused as they walked along. She can never maintain a bad mood when food's involved. But to her surprise and displeasure Ryan was able to maintain her bad mood all through their delicious dinner. She wasn't openly hostile and would answer direct questions, but she was guarding her emotions very carefully and Jamie wondered if it wouldn't be better to just go home and let her stew.

But after dinner Ryan suggested they head over to The Dubliner for a pint. Maybe alcohol is the key, Jamie hoped as she quickly agreed.

A pint of Harp Lager seemed to be the solution she was pleased to note. They grabbed a tiny table in the rear of the bar and as soon as Ryan took a sip of her beer she was verbal. "I think we each have some things to say and I have a feeling that some of them will not be pleasant to hear. So I propose that we each give our laundry list of why we're upset. I promise not to comment or dispute anything you say if you'll do me the same courtesy." She was staring at Jamie with an open, unwavering gaze.

"Okay," she replied softly. "I'll do my best. Do you want to start?"

A quick shake of her dark head was the answer. "I'd prefer if you do."

"Okay," Jamie said slowly as she took in a deep breath and tried to order her thoughts. She nodded briefly and considered her list, "Okay, I'm most angry that you jumped out of the car with no money. I really wanted to go home and just think about what happened, but I couldn't leave you once I realized that you didn't have any way to get home. If I hadn't had to chase you I wouldn't have gotten this knot on my head," she said with a grimace as she reached up to gently touch the lump. Ryan was still silent, still completely passive. "While I was following you I believed you were intentionally avoiding me. I thought you heard me and were just in a funk and refused to stop for me. That's why I asked you if you knew it was me when you tossed me against the wall. I had been chasing you since Montgomery Street, Ryan. I parked the car once and got a $105 ticket for being in a bus stop. I had been practically driving on the sidewalk to get your attention and since I believed that you were intentionally avoiding me I was a little rough with you when I finally caught you. I know that hurt you and I just want you to understand why I said that." She reached over and grasped the strong, tanned hand that lay on the table, the dim candlelight dancing in faint patterns against her skin. Pulling the hand to her face she gently kissed the palm before placing it back down onto the table. "I love you, Ryan, and I know how much you love me. In my rational mind I know that you would never harm me physically. I was just out of my mind with frustration." Grasping and cradling the warm hand again she said, "I'm very sorry I hurt you and I hope you can forgive me."

After a few moments Ryan's gaze gentled and she asked, "Finished?" At Jamie's small nod she asked, "Do you mind if I kiss you?"

"In here?" she asked hesitantly as she looked around at the very heterosexual crowd.

Ryan just nodded with a small smile on her face. "This is the Noe Valley," she reminded her.


"The Noe Valley is the biggest lesbian neighborhood in the city. People are very used to lesbians here. It's very common to see women being affectionate."

"I didn't know that!" Jamie cried. "I swear you've never told me that!"

"Is that a yes?" she asked, blue eyes twinkling in the low flame.

"Of course," she said softly. "You never need permission for that, Ryan."

Ryan smiled down at her as she lifted a bit in her seat and leaned over the table, capturing Jamie's lips for one chaste, gentle kiss. "Thanks for the apology," she smiled as she lowered herself back into her chair. "My turn?"

Jamie nodded silently and steeled herself for the blow she feared was coming. "I felt like you were ashamed of me," she said quietly. "When your dad came in there were a number of options you could have chosen but you picked the most humiliating one for me. I'm proud of my love for you and I'm proud that you've chosen me to love. It hurt me deeply that the first time you had the opportunity to introduce me to your family you not only didn't do so, you tried to make me disappear." She paused to let her complaint sink in and then continued. "I'm sorry that I left you so abruptly. But I was hurt and I didn't think I could hide my feelings so I thought it best to just go. In retrospect, that wasn't a kind thing to do. I should have let you drive me home. I'm sorry for that, Jamie."

Her partner reached for her hand again and gave it a gentle squeeze.

Ryan brought her small hand up and gave it a kiss. "Thanks," she said, acknowledging the forgiveness. "My only other issue is how hurt I was when you asked if I knew it was you that grabbed me. That really hurt, Jamie, but I accept you apology and I think I understand why you said it. And just for the record," she said as she squeezed her hand and stared right into her eyes, "I had no idea you were following me. I was in a real fog--I almost got lost getting to Market!" she laughed.

"Finished?" Jamie asked. At Ryan's nod she leaned over the table and puckered up. "Thanks," she said softly as Ryan rose to kiss her lightly. "Now what?"

"Well," Ryan speculated as she reflected on the work they had done, "now we discuss each of our points. But I need a fresh pint to get to the point. You?" she asked as she held up her empty glass.

"Not yet," she prudently replied, having decided to nurse her pint as long as possible.

Ryan hopped up and carried on a few minutes of banter with the bartender, a woman that Jamie remembered from St. Patrick's Day. She made a show of refusing Ryan's money, demanding a kiss as payment. Ryan willingly complied, giving her a friendly kiss on the lips. Jamie was quite glad to find that the casual touch did not make her jealous in the least. When Ryan sat back down she took a deep breath and said, "The only open issue is how you felt when your father came in."

"I know," Jamie nodded, taking a bit sip of her beer. "I admit that I freaked, Ryan. And I couldn't be sorrier that I didn't use my rational mind and introduce you. But I'm just not ready to come out to everyone yet. Please don't think I'm a wimp, Ryan, but I'm just not ready. I have to feel comfortable first and I think that will still take a while. Do you understand?"

Leaning over, she gently kissed her cheek and nodded slightly. "I understand," she said. "I mean, I had a terribly supportive family and I lived in a lesbian neighborhood and it was hard for me. I don't want to rush you, Jamie. I just want you to promise that you'll work toward being open with everyone."

"I promise, Ryan," she said as she reached over and took a big gulp of Ryan's beer. "Does that also address your earlier issue about feeling that I was ashamed of you?"

"A little," she admitted, taking a matching gulp. "I guess it would have made me feel better to have you at least introduce me as your friend. Being told to get in the closet was really harsh, Jamie."

"I know, I know," she muttered, dropping her head into her hands. "It was just a panicked reaction, Ryan. There's no one on this earth whom I could be more proud of. You are just an extraordinary woman. I promise you'll be sick of me singing your praises to everyone I know. But right now this fear is about me--just me."

"Okay," Ryan agreed, draining her glass. "Another?"

"I'll buy this one," she said with a grin. "One kiss a night from other women is your new limit, Hot Stuff." With that she sauntered over to the bar and ordered another Harp, this time from the other bartender, who gladly accepted her money.

When she sat back down Ryan said, "I promise I'll give you as much time as you need to be open about our relationship, Jamie. Just let me know if you need my support."

"Constantly," she admitted as she rested her head on Ryan's shoulder. "I've got to say, Ms. O'Flaherty, that if I'm gonna fight with someone, you'd be the one I'd choose. If I could have had a discussion like this with Jack we'd still be together."

"Good thing for me he couldn't manage it, then," she said in mock alarm.

"It wasn't just him," Jamie honestly admitted. "I couldn't manage this without your help. You're just so emotionally evolved," she said. "It's like you're a member of some super race of highly evolved creatures sent here to educate the lower animals."

Ryan picked up her glass and inspected it. "You've had enough," she firmly decreed.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Around eleven Brendan popped his head into the bar. He made eye contact with the bartender and gave her a quizzical look. She smiled back and pointed to the rear corner of the place. When his eyes followed hers he smiled and stuck his head back outside. "Conor!" he called down the street. "They're in here!" His brother loped down the block from the bar he had been investigating. When he arrived Brendan asked, "Should we go in or just go home and tell Da they're okay?"

"Let's go in. I got thirsty looking all over the neighborhood."

They entered the dark space but stopped almost immediately when they caught sight of the couple. Neither man had seen Jamie since Ryan's announcement and they were both a little uncomfortable with this new dimension to their relationship. Neither was unhappy with the development, but it was a major change and they were each uncertain if it would be awkward. The young lovers were at the rearmost table, in the darkest part of the bar. Their chairs were shoved close and Jamie was cuddled up to their sister's side, her blonde head resting on Ryan's broad chest. Ryan was obviously speaking to her, her breath slightly ruffling her fair hair. A sweet slow smile bloomed across Jamie's coral-tinted lips and she laughed a bit at something Ryan said. They were oblivious to every other patron and when the boys walked up Ryan looked up at them like they were the last people she expected to see. "Uhh…hi, guys," she finally got out.

Jamie shot up, embarrassment evident on her flushed face. "Hi," she squeaked out.

Ryan noticed the change in her mood and immediately sought to reassure her. "Have a seat, boys. The least you can do is buy your new sister-in-law a beer."

Both men grinned in response and went to the bar to buy a round. When they returned each kissed Jamie on the cheek and toasted her with enthusiasm. "Welcome to the family," Brendan said, gracing her with the patented O'Flaherty high wattage smile. "I couldn't be happier for you both."

Conor chimed in gallantly, "If I can't have you Ryan's the one I'd pick."

"Thank you both," Jamie said, now very much at ease. "I'm sorry about earlier today, guys. We just had a terrible afternoon, but everything's fine now."

"How's your head?" Brendan delicately asked.

"Head?" she asked, rather confusedly. "Oh! My head! Well, enough of these little babies can obviously soothe a silly little bump," she said as she hoisted her glass.

"Well, I'm glad you're okay," he said. "Da's worried about you both, you know. But I assume he'll figure we found you if we're gone long enough."

"Call him," Jamie urged, handing Brendan her cell phone.

He accepted the device and made the call, assuring Martin that all was well. "Okay, Da, I'll tell her," he said as he hung up. Handing the phone back to Jamie he announced, "Da says you're to stay over tonight. Rory's out of town on a gig and his room is being prepared even as we speak."

"No argument from me," she said as she tried to stifle a yawn. "Last thing I need is a DUI. A $105 ticket is enough for one day."

"What in the heck happened to you two?" Conor finally demanded, tired of being discreet.

Ryan laughed at his usual directness. "We had a fight when we were down around Telegraph Hill this afternoon," she said, skimping on the details. "I got mad and pulled my usual."

Both boys supplied, "You took off."

"Yeah," she said with a blush. Turning to Jamie she related, "It's kind of a habit. Anyway, Jamie knew I didn't have any money so she tried to track me down. She thought I knew she was on my tail and when she finally caught me she grabbed me from behind. But I didn't know she was looking for me and when I felt a stranger grab me…" She let them imagine the end to the story.

"God, Jamie," Conor said with wide eyes. "You're lucky she only tossed you against a wall. She could have easily broken your nose or your jaw. You should never, ever surprise her like that."

"Now you tell me," she laughed. "I mean, I know she's trained in the martial arts…I guess it just didn't dawn on me."

"It's not a joke," Brendan insisted. "She can hurt you badly before she even knows what she's doing. Years of training like she's had just don't go away."

"I'll remember," she said with a smile as she grasped Ryan's hand. "I knew she was lethal with women," she teased. "I just didn't know it would be me."

Ryan leaned over and kissed her gently. "I'm going to do my best to take myself off high alert status," she promised. "You're too precious to ever take a risk with."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It was after midnight when they climbed the short hill to the O'Flaherty home. Brendan kissed the girls goodnight and continued on up the street to his own apartment just a few blocks away. When they entered the house Martin was already in bed but there was a note in the kitchen that welcomed Jamie and stated that Rory's room was ready for her. "Oh yeah, like you'll use it," Conor teased, regarding the 110 pound appendage that his sister had grown.

"Oh yes she will," Ryan declared. "Da doesn't want us to sleep together so we won't."

But Jamie had been remarkably quiet during this discussion and when Conor made eye contact with her he noticed that her conviction seemed quite a bit weaker than his sister's. "We'll see," he smirked as he gave each of them a kiss goodnight. "Have fun, lovebirds."

Ryan shot him a glare as she escorted her partner downstairs to find some acceptable pajamas. She rooted through her drawers and chose the same outfit they had shared before. A t-shirt and flannel pants for herself and the matching flannel shirt for Jamie. Turning to hand the shirt to the suddenly quiet woman she was rather shocked to see her peeling off her sweater. Ryan didn't mind the display, in fact she welcomed it, but since it wasn't in character she assumed it was because of the drink. So she tossed her the shirt and scampered into the bath to change, hoping that Jamie would be decent when she returned.

Her wish was granted and when she opened the door Jamie was lying across her bed--outside of the covers that had been neatly turned back. "Can I tuck you in?" she asked rather seductively.

"Why don't you let me take you upstairs?"

"Uh-uh," she demurred. "I don't want Conor to hear us."

"Umm…how noisy is it to tuck someone in?" she asked weakly.

"Wait and see," she purred as she patted the mattress. "Come on." She was crooking a finger to draw her tall friend close and Ryan gulped audibly when she saw the lustful look in her eyes.

She tentatively approached and sat down on the edge of the bed rather gingerly. The alcohol was working very well at loosening Jamie's inhibitions but it did nothing to dull her reflexes. She lunged for Ryan and tumbled her onto the bed, kissing her with a wild fury.

As the intensity of the encounter grew even stronger Ryan had an idea that she thought would take care of the situation even though not in the fashion she would prefer. So in a brilliant counter-attack she flipped her partner onto her side and spooned up against her back. "I want you to slide your hand down and touch yourself, Baby," she whispered, her words tickling Jamie's sensitive ear. "I'll be right upstairs, thinking of you, and wishing you were in my bed, touching me everywhere," she breathed, smiling to herself when she felt the goose bumps rise on Jamie's neck. "I love you, Jamie," she added, kissing her softly on the cheek.

"I love you too, Ryan," she murmured, turning to kiss her on the lips. "I miss you already."

Ryan quietly exited and walked to Rory's room, legs shaking so badly she could hardly stand. Holding up her left hand she smirked and informed it, "You've got your work cut out for you, Lefty."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Not so early the next morning Ryan sauntered downstairs in her pajamas. Her father was busy making his traditional after-Mass breakfast and he greeted her warmly when she appeared in the doorway. "Good morning, Darlin'," he said. "Did you have a good rest?"

"Just fine, Da," she agreed as she gave him a kiss. "Any word from Jamie?"

"No, not a peep. Breakfast will be ready soon though. Would you like to go wake her?"

"Sure. Do I have time for a shower?"

"No, not if you want your breakfast hot. Get on with ya," he ordered.

She obediently followed his command, walking downstairs and peeking in the door. As she paused in the doorway to watch her girlfriend sleep she reflected on the sweet-looking woman's recent behavior.

She knew that discovering their lesbian identity was a very difficult thing for many women and she sensed that Jamie was still suffering a bit from her very recent breakup with Jack. Given that she had so little sexual experience, it also made sense that she would be unsure of her desires. Even so, it was a complete shock to have her deny Ryan's very existence like she had yesterday. Ryan, though glad to cut her a good deal of slack, was still a bit hurt from being denied so rudely. But regarding her young partner as she slept made her concerns seem very small and insignificant.

When the sweet face was in repose, Ryan had the chance to study her in a way she wasn't often able to do. She smiled to herself as she gazed at the tousled hair, so childlike as it draped over her eyes. And the smooth planes of her completely unlined face made her look so innocent and young--much younger than her 21 years. It was her eyes that made her look her age. Those clear, sharp, perceptive eyes that sometimes seemed to gaze right into Ryan's soul. But when the eyes were concealed, the face could have belonged to a sixteen-year-old. A sixteen- year-old with a drop-dead gorgeous body, she smirked to herself. They didn't have sixteen-year-olds like that when I was in high school, she decided regretfully.

Walking over to the bed, she sat on the edge and softly brushed the golden blonde hair from her eyes. Seconds later the surprisingly awake green orbs blinked at her and gentled into a sweet smile. "Hi," she squeaked as she tossed her arms above her head and stretched like a happy cat. "Time to get up?"

"Yeah, if you want a hot breakfast. Da's just about ready for us."

"Okay," she agreed but Ryan placed a hand on her chest, stopping her progress abruptly.

"Are we okay?" she asked quietly, trailing her fingers along Jamie's cheek.

"We're fine, Ryan," she said firmly. Grasping her hand she kissed the curved fingers gently. She pulled the hand back a bit to gaze at it carefully. "Is this my competition?" she asked with a chuckle.

Ryan gave her a slightly puzzled look but caught on quickly. "Nope, this is," she said, holding up her left hand. "Righty gets involved too but Lefty is indispensable." Raising an eyebrow she twitched her head in the direction of Jamie's hands. "How about you?"

One hand shot up as she revealed, "Right hand only. And I'm guessing that yours has a lot more miles on it," she smirked.

"Yeah," she mused, blowing on the fingers. "The odometer's about to turn over on mine. Yours got a workout last night though, didn't it?" she asked, trying to make sure there were no hard feelings.

"Not much of one," Jamie said with a wry laugh. "I think I was finished by the time you hit the stairs!"

Ryan smiled back at her and gently grasped her right hand. Bringing it close to her face she waved it back and forth in front of her nose a few times. "Smells delicious," she intoned with a sexy smile. "I can't wait to taste for myself." Leaning over she placed a gentle kiss on the shocked face and informed her, "Let's get moving. Breakfast calls!"

Jamie stared after her, feeling unable to move as the thought of her lover tasting her flooded her brain. Paybacks are a bitch, she moaned as her feet hit the ground.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Even though she knew her breakfast would get cold, she could not go upstairs in her abbreviated pajamas. She took a lightening quick shower and got back into yesterday's clothes, but in lieu of her own sweater she added one of Ryan's big t-shirts, as much to smell her fragrance as anything else.

Running upstairs, she was pleased to see that Brendan had joined the group. All of the men greeted her warmly but Martin got up and wrapped his arms around her for a lingering hug. "I'm so happy you've chosen my little one," he murmured into her ear. "I couldn't wish a better partner for her."

She was shocked at this display of sentiment but very grateful. She was especially pleased by the way he had phrased it--as if she had done Ryan a favor just by choosing her. Blushing furiously she sat next to her lover at the table. Ryan informed her, "You've been officially given Conor's place at the table, Jamie. First change we've had in 17 years."

Now her blush grew even more furious as she took in the four smiling faces gazing at her. "Thank you, Conor," she got out as Ryan leaned over to kiss her.

"Oh, I like this arrangement much better," her tall lover commented with a wide grin. "Finally some kissing at breakfast!"

* * * * * * * * * * * *

After breakfast they cleaned the kitchen in a much more cursory way than dinner called for. The women went onto the deck to soak up the remarkably bright sunshine, accompanied by a very happy Duffy. The big dog had taken to Jamie more than they had ever seen him do with anyone else. He followed her around the house as though he were her dog, causing all of the men to compliment his good taste. As soon as Jamie chose a chair he tried to share the cushion with her, so today she anticipated his needs and chose the chaise lounge. Once she was settled she patted the cushion and Duffy hopped up, lovingly nuzzling against her thigh for long minutes. "He obviously doesn't acknowledge that you prefer women," Ryan scoffed as she smiled at his antics. Leaning over to pet him as she grabbed a chair she whispered, "I know just how you feel, Duff. I fell for her the first time I saw her too."

"I'm going to become an ego-maniac if I hang out here too much," Jamie declared. "All I get are compliments!"

"That's all you deserve," Ryan said, somewhat seriously.

To deflect the focus from herself Jamie said, "I'd better put some sunblock on. Do you need any?"

"Huh-uh," Ryan advised. "It's in my medicine cabinet."

Jamie returned moments later, rubbing her SPF 15 in as she walked.

"I guess your tan lets you stay out as long as you want, huh?"

"I don't really have a tan," Ryan said. "And I do use sunblock. I usually put it on my face, neck and arms as soon as I get out of the shower. Then I don't have to worry about it all day."

"But, you're very tan," she complained.

"No, I'm not," Ryan insisted. "Check it out." She pulled her t-shirt up with one hand while the other pushed her flannel pants down past her hip. Although there was about one shade of color difference between her tummy and her hip, Jamie had to agree that the untanned skin was pretty darned tan.

"But…I just assumed that because you're outside so much…"

"Nope. I'm just dark-skinned. All of us are except Rory. He got my mothers' coloring."

"But I thought the Irish were fair-skinned," she insisted.

"Most are. But the O'Flaherty's are what they sometimes call 'Black Irish'. I'm not sure if it's a compliment or not though. It's not much of a thing now but people used to look down a bit on the darker-skinned people. They used to say that they weren't pure Irish. I'd always heard that the coloring came from the sailors in the Spanish armada that came to Ireland in the 1400's. But I read an interesting web site not long ago that says that couldn't have happened. So I don't know where it comes from but I like it."

"I like it too," Jamie agreed enthusiastically. "Especially for California. Again, I believe it's part of your super-evolved genes. Your family moved to a sunny climate and your skin immediately adapted."

"Good theory, but it doesn't explain why my great grandfather was known as 'Black Jack O'Flaherty, the Terror of Tralee'." This last was said with one raised eyebrow and a rakish grin on the dark face.

"The 'Terror of Tralee'! What was he, the czar or something?"

Ryan laughed and replied, "No, just a local bare-knuckle fighter who packed a wallop."

"Wow! Do you know a lot about your family in Ireland?"

"Some," she agreed. "I only go back to Black Jack's father on my father's side, but I know of five generations on my mother's side all from the same tiny town. They were as far from nomads as you can get!"

"What do you know about this Black Jack character?" Jamie asked, obviously very interested.

"Not a lot. Only that his reputation was so fierce it filtered down to my father's generation. They didn't go to Tralee much but when they did people cut a wide swath to avoid offending any of the boys."

"Wow, that is a fierce reputation. Was he a professional?"

"Of sorts," she admitted. "It certainly wasn't like it is here with governing bodies who watched over boxing but it was how he made his living—such as it was."

"So…he wasn't successful?"

"Oh, he was very successful at boxing. But much of every purse went straight to his liver. I assume he also used his skills on his wife and children, too. Not a nice man, from all reports," she said soberly.

"God, that sounds horrible," she cried.

"Ahh, different time, different culture. The Church and the husband ruled with an iron fist. I doubt that their lives were much different from many in their town," she said with a resigned shrug of her broad shoulders.

"But that's so sad," Jamie insisted. "To drink and abuse your family."

"Sure it's sad," she agreed. "I'm just saying that it wasn't uncommon."

Her face had grown even darker and Jamie sensed that she was finished with the discussion for the moment. To move to lighter topics she asked, "Your skin does get darker in the summer doesn't it? I seem to remember my first thought of you being how white your teeth looked against your tanned face."

"Yeah, it does," she admitted. "I use block every day but I'm outside so much that I darken up in the summer. I almost got the lead in 'West Side Story' because of my skin color," she said with a laugh.


"Yep. My senior year the drama department was casting for Maria. My music teacher begged me and begged me and I finally agreed to audition. We had a decent number of Latina's but none of the women who could sing wanted to do the play. The drama teacher loved my audition and I probably would have done it but word was out about my lesbianism and the principal not so tactfully suggested that they should go with another girl."

"They wouldn't let you be in the play because you were a lesbian?" she cried loud enough to wake Duffy and cause him to start licking her face.

"Umm, not just because I was but it was a factor. There was a lot of controversy about me and a lot of the girls were uncomfortable with me and I think she just thought it was easier to avoid the mess."

"Easier for her!" Jamie cried, outraged at the cruel way her lover had been treated.

"I didn't care that much," Ryan lied. "And just after that things started to go down that made that little slight seem like a day at the beach." Now her face had become a dark mask and Jamie scolded herself for her unerring ability to find a topic that would depress her lover.

"Well, you would have been fabulous!" she said forcefully. "And I bet you still know some of the songs, don't you?"

"A few," Ryan replied with a smirk. "I'll serenade you some night."

"Some night soon," she soothed as she wrapped her arms around Ryan's neck and pulled her over almost into the chaise. "When we're in bed, just after we've made love. I want to see you all sweaty with a satisfied grin on that beautiful face, singing to me as we fall asleep." The luminous grin and dancing eyes that greeted this wish made her reassess her ability to improve her lover's mood. Not bad, she smirked. Not bad at all.

Continue to part 3

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