part 3

by SX Meagher

Please see part 1 for all disclaimers.

Chapter Five

Even though the temptation was strong, Jamie refused Ryan's offer to join the family for dinner that evening. "I've got to make some progress on my big paper," she explained. "It's got to be at least 50 pages long and I don't even have a good outline yet."

"I understand," Ryan assured her, even though she was inordinately depressed by her partner's decision. "God knows I've got enough to keep me busy."

"Yeah, we should spend the evening getting caught up so we're a little less stressed this week."

"You're right…as usual," Ryan smiled as she walked her to her car. After a few minutes of giving the neighbors a free R-rated show Ryan climbed the stairs to the front door and spent a few moments on the deck, watching Jamie's car descend Noe. Could I be any more lovesick? she asked herself with a smirk.

Dinner would be ready in 45 minutes, which wasn't enough time to really make much progress on her studies. Instead, she decided to take care of some housekeeping issues. Grabbing the phone from the living room, she took it onto the deck and plugged it into the outside hookup. She then started to make a few phone calls that were a little overdue.

She started with Ally but her old friend wasn't home, so she left a brief message. "Hi, Ally, it's Ryan. Good news. Jamie and I have finally hooked up and I'm in L-O-V-E. Call me some time if you want to work out together. I've been slacking off in the weight room--other things on my mind. I hope things are going well for you. Bye."

Next on the list was Alisa Guerra, her friend, the assistant district attorney. As she dialed the memorized number she spent a moment reflecting on the relationship they had.

Alisa was almost ten years older than she. Physically, she was one of the most attractive women that Ryan had ever dated, with her long wavy black hair and deep brown eyes. But those eyes had seen a lot that had hardened Alisa and Ryan knew from the start that they could never make it as a couple. Alisa's perspective on life was always jaded and sometimes cynical and after a while that attitude wore on Ryan. Even though Alisa could find the dark cloud around every silver lining, Ryan secretly thought that there was a hidden optimist buried behind that tough shell of sarcasm. Alisa didn't seem to want a partner to help her release that lighter side, though. She actually seemed rather happy being a cynic, so Ryan took what she had to offer and was thankful for it.

They had been seeing each other for just over three years, with most of their liaisons coming after an exuberant mountain bike ride. They had drifted in and out of each other's lives but Ryan felt close to Alisa in many ways and she knew that she had to tell her about Jamie before she found out through the lesbian grapevine.

"Alisa?" she asked when a sleepy-sounding voice answered.

"Yeah," the voice croaked out. "Who the hell is it?"

"Ahhh, wrong number?" Ryan tried, but her friend had recognized her voice by this time.

"O'Flaherty," she said with pleasure. "Where the hell have you been? I could really use a fill up, Baby. My tank is dangerously low." Her lightly accented, honey smooth voice dropped into it's lowest, sexiest register as she said this and Ryan felt just the slightest stirrings of desire trickle down her spine.

"Ahhh, that's kinda why I wanted to call, Alisa…" she began, but the sexy voice cut her off.

"I'm already in bed, Querida, come on over and remind me why I love to see you."

"Umm," Ryan gulped. "You see Alisa…it's ahh…well, I can't come over any more…"

"What?" she snapped sharply. "Why can't you come over?"

Ryan shook her head slightly as she recalled why she had always thought Alisa would be a good trial attorney. She had an uncanny knack for lulling someone into an unguarded moment but in an instant could pounce on them like a panther. "Because I've fallen in love," she said clearly. "I'm in a monogamous relationship."

"YOU!?" Alisa cried, sending Ryan's teeth on edge. "You, of all people, are monogamous?"

"Yes, I am," Ryan said with her own voice taking on an uncharacteristically sharp tone. "I thought I owed you a phone call, Alisa, so I'll see you around…"

"NO, no, don't hang up, mí hija . I'm sorry I've offended you. I just didn't think you had any interest in that type of thing. You always said you wanted to wait until you were through with school to find a lover."

Ryan felt her temper abate as Alisa tried to placate her. "That was my plan," she agreed. "But you don't always have control over your heart."

"So…tell me, Dulcita, tell me about your lover." Alisa's voice had grown warm and comforting again and Ryan found herself spilling everything about Jamie--her engagement and her confusion about her sexual orientation; her family's wealth; her well-known and powerful father. To her surprise, she even told the attorney about Jamie's attempt at reconciliation with Jack. Alisa asked few questions, but she gently encouraged Ryan to continue until the whole story was out. It had taken quite a while to tell the tale and just as she was finishing Conor poked his head out to tell her that dinner was ready.

"I've got to go, Alisa," she explained. "Dinner's ready."

"Come see me after dinner," she said firmly. "We have more to talk about."

"But Alisa," she began, but once again the older woman insisted.

"I won't touch your perfect little body, Ryan. I don't want to change your mind…I just want to talk to you."

She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly as she considered the invitation. "Just talk?" she asked suspiciously.

"I promise, Ryan. Just talk."

"Okay. I'll be over about…seven," she decided as she checked her watch.

"I'll be waiting," Alisa agreed as she disconnected.

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

On the way over to Alisa's apartment in Bernal Heights Ryan mused that she probably should have told Jamie where she was going. She really didn't have a good read on Jamie's feelings about her past lovers, though, so she decided to tell her after the discussion was over rather than have her worry about it.

She wedged her bike into a semi-legal space between two cars that looked like they were in for the night and approached Alisa's apartment with some trepidation. She knew that nothing Alisa could offer could compromise her fidelity to Jamie but she wasn't entirely sure that her friend wouldn't try to tempt her. Alisa loved to play…and she was very good at most of the games she chose. Even though Ryan knew she could take anything her friend could dish out, she was not interested in having a scene.

Alisa's roommate Mike answered the door, and he gave Ryan a hug as she entered. "Hey, Ryan," he said happily. "Long time no see."

"Yeah, I've been pretty busy," she smiled as she entered. Mike was also an attorney in the D.A.'s office. He was straight and Ryan had met many of his girlfriends, but they never seemed to stay around for long. As she entered the living room she saw what she assumed was the girlfriend of the week and Mike confirmed this fact as he introduced her.

"Ryan, this is Ellen. Ellen…Ryan." The women shook hands as Mike said, "Alisa's in her room. Go on back."

"Good to meet you Ellen," Ryan said as she continued on through the apartment. She wasn't too happy to be consigned to Alisa's room but she didn't have much choice at that point. Knocking lightly, Alisa's warm voice bade her to enter. "Hi," Ryan said as she breathed a sigh of relief that her friend was fully dressed and sitting on the neatly-made bed.

"Hi yourself," she said as she scampered off the bed and wrapped her arms around Ryan's waist. "Can I kiss you or are your sweet lips off limits?"

Ryan gave her a smirk and a friendly kiss, adding a little squeeze for good measure. "I'm not really sure what the rules are, to tell you the truth," she admitted as she sat on Alisa's desk chair. "I've never had a steady girl before."

"I know, Querida," she said softly as she ran her fingers through Ryan's hair in an almost maternal gesture. "That's why I wanted to talk to you. Let me get us a glass of wine, okay?"

"Okay," Ryan said. "I'm not going to study tonight anyway."

Alisa's laugh floated over her shoulder as she left the room for the kitchen. "You could pass every class without opening a book and you know it. That struggling student act doesn't work with me."

Ryan laughed at her friend's teasing, admitting the truth of her statement. She knew that Alisa had also done exceptionally well in school, earning a full scholarship to Stanford undergrad as well as a free ride at Harvard Law School. The gorgeous, poised woman could have had her choice of any law firm in the city and Ryan mused that Alisa must have been courted by Jamie's father's firm. But she had political aspirations and she thought the D.A.'s office was the best way to move up in the public eye.

Alisa had done very well for herself as a prosecutor. She had been promoted three times in her seven years and was now prosecuting high-profile death penalty cases. Ryan knew that Alisa was very committed to working for the Latino community and she had every confidence that someday her friend would make it in politics if she continued on that path. But she also knew that Alisa would probably never have a permanent lover as long as she sought that goal. Lesbianism was no longer an insurmountable bar in San Francisco politics, but such was not the case in the Latino community. Alisa had told Ryan on many occasions that her own father would disown her if she ever admitted to her lesbianism and she firmly believed that her political aspirations would be foiled if her private life was revealed. So she dated a lot but kept the relationships mostly sexual. Ryan had a lot of empathy for her friend's dilemma but she privately thought that perhaps Alisa used her reasons as a shield so she didn't have to risk being in a more intimate relationship. She wasn't going to figure that out tonight, though, so she brushed the thoughts away as her friend returned with two glasses of red wine. "Cabernet okay?" she asked.

"Perfect," Ryan agreed as she accepted the glass.

Alisa clinked the rims together and toasted, "To happy endings." She leaned over and placed another very gentle kiss on Ryan's lips and pulled back a little to lightly stroke her face. "I wish you every happiness, Ryan. You deserve only the best."

"Thank you, Alisa," she said softly. "That means a lot." They resumed their previous seats with Ryan astride the wooden-backed desk chair and Alisa sitting cross-legged on the bed. "So what did you want to talk about?" she asked after she took a sip of the tannin-rich wine.

"I'm concerned about you, Ryan," she admitted. "I don't want you to get hurt and I'm afraid that you're setting yourself up to do just that."

"Because…" Ryan drawled.

"You know why," Alisa said gently. "Straight girls are the kiss of death, Querida. And I don't want her to break your sweet little heart when she goes back to men. She will do so, Ryan. They always do."

Ryan knew that her friend was speaking from painful personal experience. She and Alisa had spent the better part of a weekend once eating carryout and drinking wine while they tearfully confessed their broken hearts. Alisa's wounds were just as deep as Ryan's and even though the stories had different results, they were equally painful.

Alisa had fallen in love for the first time in college. The object of her affection was a teaching assistant in the political science department at Stanford when Alisa was an undergraduate. Linda had equally strong feelings for Alisa but she steadfastly refused to be open about their relationship. The end came rather violently when an acquaintance had greeted them on campus one day by asking Alisa if Linda was the mysterious girlfriend that none of her friends had met. Linda had been polite as she denied their involvement to the woman but as soon as they were alone she told Alisa she couldn't see her any longer. All of Alisa's attempts to contact her were rebuffed and less than six months later Linda married a professor in the Spanish language department. Linda had gone on to earn her doctorate and the last Alisa had heard she was on the faculty at Stanford and had just published a book on the increasing political clout of Latinos in California politics.

"I know that's a possibility, Alisa," Ryan said. "But there are risks with any lover. Anyone can break your heart."

"Not like a straight girl," she said bitterly. "That is the worst! To love you and be pleasured by you and then to run back to their safe little world when things get difficult…it is…it is horrible," she concluded, her shoulders now slumped in defeat. "It is different for us, Ryan. We have no choice…we either love women or we don't love at all. But a straight girl can always choose the other way…and they will!"

"Jamie won't," Ryan said firmly, her face full of confidence.

"Ryan, sweetheart, you already told me that she tried to go back once. What made her do that? Did she have a bad experience when she told someone about you?"

Ryan had to take in a calming breath before she could answer. She knew that the truth was strong evidence for Alisa's point but she had no interest in being less than forthright with her old friend. "She hasn't told anyone yet. To be honest she tried to reconcile with her fiancé just because she was afraid of committing to being gay."

Alisa tried to jump in but Ryan held up a hand, asking for a moment to complete her thought. "She worked that through, Alisa. She really regrets that she tried to take the easy way out and she's spent a lot of time in therapy trying to get comfortable."

"She's told no one?" Alisa asked quietly, her eyes locked upon Ryan's.

"No. No one."

"Not even her close friends from college, or a brother or sister?"

"No. No one," Ryan admitted as she stared at the ground. Alisa crawled off the bed and squatted down in front of Ryan. She gently pushed the hair from her eyes and whispered, "Are you sure you can trust her, Cariña?"

Ryan closed her eyes and nodded almost imperceptibly. As her eyes fluttered open a smile graced her face as she said, "With my heart…with my life…with my soul."

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

By the time the bottle of wine was finished it was eleven o'clock and Ryan knew she was too drunk to drive, so she called home and asked for a ride. Rory was chosen to go since he had shoes on and 15 minutes later he buzzed the doorbell. Ryan bid goodbye to Alisa with a sweet but chaste kiss as she thanked her for her concern and her companionship for the past three years.

"For your sake I hope we never share a bed again, Querida, even though it will break my heart to lose you."

"I truly believe I'll be with Jamie for the rest of my days, but if I'm wrong you're the woman I'd choose to help mend my broken heart," Ryan murmured as she wrapped her in a warm hug. "Keep in touch, Alisa," she said as she scampered down the stairs, wobbling slightly.

"What happened to you?" Rory asked as she climbed into his truck. "And why are you over here anyway?"

"Old flame," Ryan said briefly. "Tried to warn me to expect a broken heart from Jamie."

"And she got you drunk?" he asked, unused to seeing his sister inebriated.

"A little," she admitted. "It's kinda upsetting to think about, Rory. I guess I let the wine take the edge off."

The O'Flaherty brothers had all been discussing their sister's new commitment and after several discussions Rory was chosen as the spokesperson for their position. He knew he had won only because he was the youngest of the three and he always got the dirty jobs, but he agreed anyway. He had been trying all week to find a good moment to bring up their concerns. And now seemed just about perfect: Ryan was open, vulnerable, reflective and drunk. Rory could count on one hand the number of times his little sister had actually heeded his advice but he reasoned that her weakened state gave him a leg up.

"Um…what was your friend trying to warn you about?" he asked as casually as possible, hoping the liquor had dulled Ryan's always sharp mind.

"Oh, the usual lesbian stuff," she said lazily as her head dropped back against the seat. "Straight women are evil…blah, blah blah."

"Is that a lesbian thing?" Rory asked, a little surprised that it would be so. "I know it's a straight guy thing."

"Huh? What do you mean?" she asked as she turned her head in his direction.

"If a guy dates a woman who has ever been with another woman everybody assumes she'll go back the first time he acts like an ass. Which is usually not very long," he added with a chuckle.

"Hmm," she said thoughtfully. "It's the same thing but reversed. I guess everybody's a little leery of people who can go either way."

"What about you?" he asked with forced nonchalance.

"I don't think I'm going to give guys a try," she smirked. "I've got my hands full with Jamie."

"That's not what I meant," he said with a grin. "Are you leery about Jamie?"

"Oooh," she drawled. "Did you win the honor of talking to me about this?"

"Can't we ever get away with anything?" he grumbled. "Even drunk you're ahead of me."

"No I'm not, Bro. I'm just not surprised that you guys are worried. Is Da among your group?"

"No! God no! None of us would have the nerve to question anything about Jamie to him…or to Duffy," he laughed. "Those two are her biggest supporters."

"Nope. I am," Ryan said seriously. "Look Ror, I know you all care about me and I know you only want to protect me. But I'm confident about Jamie's decision. I know her a lot better than you guys do and I know we're going to be together for life. So get used to her 'cause she's gonna be the mother of at least one of your nieces or nephews."

He turned as much as he was able and shot her one of the patented O'Flaherty dazzlers. "Nothing would make me happier, Ryan. And if you need any genetic material…"

"I know where to look," she laughed. "And since the lot of you doesn't seem to want to use it for anything constructive…"

"Hey…hey…now watch it," he warned. "Don't go throwing stones at a lad's hobbies!"

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

Ryan spent their walk on Monday morning explaining the long talk with Alisa and her shorter one with Rory to her partner. Jamie was a little perturbed that she would be considered unstable just because she had recently been with a man, but she had to admit that they had some valid concerns. "Are you worried about me going back, Ryan?" she asked, realizing that only one opinion mattered to her.

"No, I'm not Jamie. I don't believe you would hurt me like that no matter how strong the pressure was."

"You do know me well, don't you?" she teased as she gave her a small kiss right in front of the Applied Science Building.

"Apparently not!" Ryan gasped as she tried to reconcile this new boldness.

"I like to keep you on your toes," she purred as she added another kiss and scampered away to class.

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

Chapter Six

The week flew by. After a fairly productive study session on Thursday night, they decided to skip their make-out session at the coffeehouse and have a snack at Sufficient Grounds since it was almost 9:30. Jamie smiled up at Ryan as she placed the cocoas and two scones on the table. "You were quite the good little girl tonight," she praised. "You barely looked up until 9:15."

"I think my anxiety is beginning to overtake my ardor," she admitted. "I've been slacking off ever since you told me you might be interested in me. And since you've changed that to a definite, it's gotten much worse. I think I'm going to have to start studying during our lunch hours."

"I can get you some extra hours," she suggested. "Both Mia and I can use a break from weight training. Why don't you use our time to study?"

"Okay, if you think she wouldn't mind. Two hours extra on Monday, Wednesday and Friday would help a lot, and if I skipped our lunch, that's an extra 11 hours a week."

"Are you okay with losing that money?" she asked tentatively.

"Yeah, I'm fine. But thanks for asking," she said softly.

"I love you, Ryan," Jamie replied as she cupped her cheek with her hand. "It's important to me that you are comfortable in every area of your life." Ryan just sat and gazed at her lovingly for a few moments. Jamie was shyly smiling at her, and the energy that radiated from them was nearly palpable. It wasn't a sexual energy tonight, but even a casual observer would have noticed the loving gazes and gentle touches that passed between them. And when that observer was one very interested Cassie Martin, the little tableau became positively mesmerizing.

Cassie had wandered in to pick up a coffee on her way home from the library. She had placed her order and was just standing around waiting when she caught sight of them in her peripheral vision. Jamie's increasing comfort level was clearly allowing her to be more open with her affections, but tonight's display was probably a little farther than she would have gone had she been thinking clearly.

Ryan had purchased a chocolate chip and a strawberry scone. Jamie made a show of eating the chocolate one all by herself, but Ryan continually begged for a bite. "Okay, you can have a bite," she relented. "But I get to have portion control. Your bites are as big as my meals!"

"Okay, Ms. Stingy. Break me off a piece."

Jamie tore off a small piece and instructed, "Open up."

Through her wide smile, Ryan opened just wide enough for Jamie to pop the morsel into her mouth. But her reflexes were way too quick for her partner, and she caught her thumb between her teeth before she could extract it. She sat there grinning like a Cheshire Cat, holding the thumb gently between her white, even teeth.

"Release," Jamie ordered, repeating the command Ryan gave Duffy when he picked up a bit of trash from the street. She patted Ryan's pink cheek and added, "Good girl."

The game was too much fun for Ryan to let it go, so she held up her scone with an inquisitive look. Jamie nodded slightly and opened her mouth. But instead of biting, she chose the more loving path of firmly sucking Ryan's finger into her warm mouth. They both closed their eyes at the sensual contact and as Ryan pulled her finger out, she turned her hand and held Jamie's chin in her fingers for a few loving moments.

To avoid fainting or screaming Cassie turned and nearly ran out the door, leaving her coffee unclaimed.

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

Jamie strolled back into the house at around ten. Her hair was a little mussed from Ryan's fingers running through it, but her clothing was straight and she looked completely normal--unlike some nights when she looked like she'd just crawled out of bed. She noticed the light in the kitchen, and she walked over to turn it off before heading up to bed. When she swung the door open, she was surprised to find both of her roommates huddling at the table with anxious looks on their faces.

"What's up?" she asked with trepidation, afraid that something tragic had happened.

"We need to talk to you, Jamie," Cassie replied firmly.

"W…what about?" she asked, with a twinge of panic beginning to form in her stomach.

"Sit down," Cassie ordered. Jamie glanced at Mia and saw that her friend looked concerned but much less angry than Cassie. With growing anxiety, she pulled out a chair with nearly numb fingers and sat down, waiting for them to begin.

"We want to know what's going on with you, Jamie," Cassie began. "You've been gone nearly every minute of the day; you were gone over a couple of weekends when you were not at your parents'; and you just seem very different."

"Nothing's going on," she lied, feeling trapped and very defensive. "I've just been really busy."

"Who are you spending your time with?" Cassie persisted. "Are you dating someone?"

"No, I'm not," she lied again, feeling worse by the minute.

"Then where were you two weekends ago? Or last Saturday for that matter? We were worried about you when you didn't come home."

"I went to Stinson Beach two weeks ago," she said, at least telling the truth about one part of her life. "And I stayed in the city last week since I had too much to drink. I didn't realize that you wanted a full report on all of my activities. Are you going to start calling to tell us when you're staying at your boyfriend's?"

"That's an entirely different matter," she said. "When I'm not here, you know I'm with Chris. But when you're gone, we have no idea where you are. You could be hurt or injured, and we wouldn't even know where to start looking for you!"

Jamie looked from Cassie to Mia and back again. "Do you normally spend your evenings discussing where I might be? I thought my days of captivity were over once I broke up with Jack!"

"He broke up with you," Cassie sweetly reminded her. "And no, we do not normally discuss your social life, but we're both worried about you, Jamie. We both believe that woman is a very dangerous influence on you, and we want you to be safe."

"What are you talking about?" she fumed. "Ryan hasn't been over here for weeks!"

"Jamie," Cassie said as she gentled her voice and placed her hand upon Jamie's arm, "it's obvious that you're spending all of your time with her. We're concerned about you. People are going to start believing you're like her."

"I just wish I was like her!" she screamed in frustration and anger. "If I was half as nice or half as sweet or half as thoughtful, I'd be the happiest person in the whole fucking world!" She leapt to her feet and started to turn for the door when Cassie's cold, flat voice knocked her back into the chair.

"I saw you, Jamie. I saw you with her tonight. And I and every other person at Sufficient Grounds thinks you are just like her."

Mia rushed to try and help out. She put her hand on Jamie's and said, "Tell us, Jamie. We want to help. If you're confused or unsure about your feelings, maybe we can help you work through them."

Rebuffing Mia's soothing words she turned to Cassie with fire in her eyes and demanded, "Tell me what you saw, Cassie. Lay out your overwhelming evidence of my perversion!"

Cassie blinked a couple of times and looked a little unsure, but she rallied.

"I saw you feeding each other," she said with a hint of disgust.

"You most certainly did not!" Jamie cried. "You saw us giving each other bites of our scones. We were just fooling around." She turned to Mia and said, "You know how playful Ryan is. She was acting like she was going to eat my hand when I gave her a bite."

Mia looked terribly uncomfortable but she replied, "Um…when I give a girl a bite of my food, I tend to just hand it to her. I don't normally put it in her mouth."

"I had a gooey chocolate chip scone. As a polite gesture, I pop it into my friend's mouth to save her from getting chocolate on her hands. She playfully bites my fingers because she's a very playful person. And that scenario makes me what…a lesbian?"

"Yeah, that would probably be enough," Cassie decided. "Given how you were looking at each other, that would probably be enough."

"Now you interpret my facial expressions! What's wrong with you, Cassie?"

"Nothing is wrong with me, Jamie," she said coldly. "When you fed her, it could have been play. But when she fed you…" she shook her head slowly, a sour look on her otherwise attractive face.

"She did not feed me!" she yelled.

"She certainly did feed you, Jamie. And you sucked her fingers into your mouth like they had been there, and many other places on your body, hundreds of times."

"That is a lie!" she growled as she jumped to her feet and leaned over Cassie with a menacing stare. "I have never had her fingers in my mouth or anywhere else on my body! I resent every nasty implication of your fevered imagination, Cassie. Not all lesbians are predators! Not all lesbians have to force unwilling straight women to sleep with them. And not all people who claim to be your friends really are!" She turned so forcefully that her chair fell against the floor and skidded a few feet before sliding to a stop. Kicking it out of her way, she stormed out of the kitchen, leaving both women to stare after her in shock.

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

Every fiber of her being urged her to call Ryan, but she knew that they would be up for hours discussing the issue and she just didn't have the heart to take that much sleep from her poor partner. An insistent little voice reminded her the other reason for her reticence. You completely betrayed her, Jamie, she repeated over and over again. You made it sound like she was just a friend, and you denied every shred of your love. How do you think that will make her feel?

A soft knock startled her out of her musings, and she tried to gather herself for another onslaught as she muttered, "Come in."

Mia poked her head in and asked, "Can I come in?"

She nodded her head and scooted up on the bed to give her friend some room. But Mia chose to pull the desk chair over and sit facing the back of the chair as she leaned it over on the back legs. "I'm so sorry that all came out like that, Jamie. Cassie dragged me down to the kitchen not ten minutes before you got home. She was in the midst of explaining what she saw when you came in. I never would have agreed to gang up on you like that."

She returned her sincere smile and said, "Thanks Mia, it really did make it harder to think you two were both against me."

"I'm not against you at all, Jamie," she said as she forced eye contact. "And I like Ryan, too…"

"But…" Jamie supplied.

"But I have a hard time thinking Cassie made that all up. "

"Oh Jesus, I thought you were on my side!"

"I am on your side. I really am. But if you're going through some big changes, I want to be there to help you, Jamie. I'm your friend, and I promise I will not judge you. Please be honest with me."

Jamie took a deep breath and regarded her friend carefully. They had been friends since they were freshmen in high school, and she knew things about Mia that would remain with her to the grave. They had always been close, but they had become even closer since they'd come to Cal nearly three years before. She tried to allow all of these reassuring thoughts to affect her answer but, almost to her own shock, she heard herself say, "She's wrong Mia. Cassie just has an irrational hatred of Ryan that allows her to see things that just are not there."

Mia looked truly sad as she stood and returned the chair to its proper place. "Okay, Jamie. I believe you. Sorry for everything that happened tonight." She bent over and kissed her friend on the forehead, ruffling her short hair affectionately as she stood.

"Mia," she said, stopping her friend in her tracks.


"Would you mind if Ryan took a couple of weeks off from training? She's having a tough time keeping up this term, and she really needs time to study."

"No, that's okay," she said in an uncharacteristically flat tone. "I should study more too. Should I call her?"

"I can tell her. We uh…see each other since our classes are close to each other in the morning."

"Okay. 'Night Jamie," she said as she closed the door behind her.

Jamie flopped down on the bed and began to berate herself for compounding her betrayal of one friend by lying to another. But using one of the tricks she had perfected through years of dating men, she closed her mind to all of the internal dialogue and forced herself into a deep, dreamless sleep.

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

Ryan was pacing around on the corner when Jamie came barreling out of the house at 7:15 the next morning. "Are you okay?" Ryan asked with evident concern.

"Yeah, yeah, just running late. I didn't hear the alarm this morning."

They took off, needing to walk quickly to make it to class on time. Jamie felt terribly guilty that Ryan would not get breakfast so as they passed the long line at Sufficient Grounds she ran inside, waved a ten-dollar bill and pulled three scones from the covered tray on the counter. The clerk gave her a puzzled look, but she merely replied, "Tip," as she ran back out to her companion.

Ryan shook her head as she accepted the scones. "What did these cost you?"

"$10. You're worth it," she said sincerely. "I have to make sure you have enough fuel to get you through your…what development class?"

"Neuronal development," Ryan supplied.

"Right. You must need extra fuel to study something I can hardly pronounce." She knew that her affect was off today, so she compensated by being overly cheery. But she knew that every moment with her hyper-alert partner would lead her one step closer to exposure. Obviously she had to tell Ryan what had happened, but she needed some time to get a handle on her betrayal before she would be able to withstand the look that was sure to form on Ryan's sweet face.

As she munched on the first of her scones Ryan said, "So we finally get a couple of days off. How do you want to spend them? Hey, I know, why don't you come stay the weekend? We can't sleep together, but we could have lots of uninterrupted kissing time." Ryan waggled her eyebrows in an exaggerated fashion while pasting a hopeful smile on her face.

Jamie had not planned on making the statement that came from her mouth, but she heard someone say, "I think I'll go down to Hillsborough for the weekend. My mother is leaving in two weeks and she'll be gone most of the summer. I feel like I owe them a little bit of my time."

"Okay," Ryan said, trying to hide her disappointment. "Do you want me to come down for our ride on Sunday? We could do some of the long trails."

"No, I think I'll study in the afternoon, and I'm sure my dad will want to play golf in the morning. If I'm going to go, I should give all of my time to them."

"Oh…all right," Ryan said a little uneasily. "What about tonight? You won't want to get stuck in traffic will you?"

"It's not really that bad. I think I'll leave right after I see Anna so I can beat the rush."

"Oh, so you don't want to work out?" she asked, now even more tentatively.

"No, I'd better get going. Oh, and I talked to Mia, and she said she didn't mind skipping for a couple of weeks. Actually she'll be leaving for L.A. as soon as finals are over, so you can just pick up in the fall."

"All right," Ryan replied with a very concerned look on her face. "Um…Jamie," she began, but they were right in front of Jamie's classroom building so she gave her partner a gentle hug and whispered, "I'll miss you, Ryan. I love you very, very much."

"I love you too," she got out, but before she could utter another word Jamie was scampering up the steps.

I don't know what she's hiding, but it must be a doozy, she thought as she shook her head and continued on her way.

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

She sat in Anna's office, head in hands as she berated herself for all of her betrayals. "I denied her, Anna," she moaned. "I claim to be so much in love with her, and the first time anyone questions me, I deny her completely."

"Jamie, Jamie," she soothed. "Being angry with yourself is just going to make the feelings last longer. Try to pull back a little to feel some compassion for yourself."

"Why do I deserve compassion?" she demanded as her head shot up and she leveled a withering glare at Anna. "It's Ryan that deserves compassion. She's the one who was betrayed!"

"Jamie, you did not betray her. You just refused to be baited by one person who has proven that she is not your friend. Once you made that choice, you felt trapped and you didn't want to be fully honest with Mia either. But you did not harm Ryan."

"But I feel like I harmed our love," she insisted.

"You don't think your love is resilient enough to withstand a lie to a woman who only wants to intrude on your business? Come on, Jamie, you can't really think that, can you?"

"No, I guess not," she admitted. "But Ryan is so precious to me, and she's so fragile sometimes. She was hurt so badly by the first woman that she fell in love with and I feel like I've done the same thing."

"What happened to Ryan?"

"She was in love with a classmate and she thought her feelings were returned. She made some overtures that she thought were accepted, but in fact the woman told her mother and other people at school and they all turned on Ryan. They nearly destroyed her self-confidence, and they ruined many of her plans for the future."

"And you equate telling Cassie that you are not lovers with that type of betrayal? Do you think you might be being just a tiny bit hard on yourself?"

"I guess maybe I am being hard on myself. But Ryan deserves someone who will shout their love from the rooftops, not a coward like me."

"I think Ryan gets to choose the type of lover she wants, and I'm pretty sure she's chosen you. Why don't you share what happened with her. I bet she's a lot more understanding than you think she will be."

"I will tell her. But I need to spend some time examining my motivations for having lied in the first place. I'll do that this weekend. Let's talk about this some more on Monday, and then I'll talk to her on Monday night."

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

She stopped by her house to grab some books and ran into Cassie coming down the stairs. They regarded each other warily, like natural enemies in the wild. Cassie backed down the stairs and said, "Now that Mia's not here I really think you ought to come clean, Jamie. I know you don't believe me, and I've got to admit that it really hurts. I only want to help you get through this obviously confusing time. I've known you since grammar school, Jamie. We've grown up together and I know that you're not gay."

Jamie descended the stairs also and looked at her for a minute. "Then what's the problem?"

"Even though I know you're not really gay, I saw you with her last night and I know what I saw. You were acting like lovers, and if you haven't slept with her it's only a matter of time. You can still get out, Jamie. You don't have to ruin your entire reputation over her," she said emphatically.

"Being friends with Ryan can only help my reputation," she said confidently. "Anything of her that rubs off on me can only make me a better person."

"Look Jamie, I really feel for you. I know you have very little experience with love and sex. She's such an operator that she's convinced you that she loves you. But she only loves what you can do for her. Can't you see that?"

"So, only people who want my money or my family connections would be stupid enough to want me?" she snapped.

"Of course not. But why would a slut like her waste her time trying to get to you? There're thousands of women just like her, and she certainly doesn't seem to have any trouble picking them up. She has to want something from you, Jamie. The people who care about you can all see this," she insisted. "I spoke to Jack this afternoon, and he feels the same way that I…"

Her voice was cut off by the 110 pounds that propelled themselves against her body in a wild fury. Jamie grabbed her blouse with both hands and shook her violently as she cried, "You bitch! You god-damned bitch!"

Cassie was nearly too shocked to move, but her self-preservation instincts took over as she used her superior size and weight to push Jamie away from her roughly. "Listen to me, Jamie," she said with cold rage marring her attractive face, "you can do whatever you want with that dyke. But you keep her out of my house! I will not have her fouling the air that I breathe."

"No, you listen to me, Cassie. This is MY house, and I decide who visits here. Ryan is completely and totally welcome here. If you don't like it, you'll be the one who leaves, not her!"

"You mean to look me in the eye and tell me that you choose that whore over our friendship?"

Jamie edged as close as she could get and glared at her, locking eyes as she enunciated, "If I had 100 opportunities, she'd win every time."

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

Her hands were shaking so badly that she knew she should not risk being on the road. She had not yet told her parents she was coming down and now she began to doubt whether it was a good idea after all. She had nothing to talk about except Ryan and the AIDS Ride, and neither topic would be terribly welcome at her parents' home. She did have a lot of studying to do, and if she took the weekend off from seeing Ryan they could both get caught up. The jumble of ideas rolled around in her head as she sank down onto her bed and promptly fell into a depressed sleep.

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

After her last client Ryan ran by a favorite cheap and cheerful restaurant and got some dinner. She pored over one of her ever-present books while she ate and then decided that spending the night at the library would be a better idea than fighting traffic on the way home.

The library was open late in preparation for finals, and she climbed into a carrel and did not move until the lights flashed, signaling the close. My God, she thought in amazement. I can't believe six hours flew by like that. At least I got my concentration back for an evening.

She trudged all the way back to Jamie's with her heavy book bag, knowing that the ride home would keep her awake. As she passed by her lover's house, she was hit with a stab of shock and outrage when she saw that her car was still in the driveway. No lights were on in her room, and the living room was dark as well. God damn it, Jamie. You don't have to lie to me! You're still a free woman, and you can spend your evenings however you wish, but lying to me is just unacceptable!

She rode home in a funk and glumly welcomed Duffy into her bed. "And they call you a dog," she murmured as she snuggled him close to her.

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

As soon as Jamie woke, she felt much more in control of her feelings. It was just after six, but she knew Ryan would be up and running. She quickly paged her and sat by the phone waiting for it to ring. After 15 minutes she gave up and got in the shower. She was slightly concerned, but not really worried since Ryan didn't normally take her pager when she ran. After her shower, she got dressed and took a novel she had to read and walked over to Sufficient Grounds. She didn't want to be in the house since Cassie was home, and she thought she could get more done without the threat of running into her.

It was nearly eight o'clock and her anxiety had been growing for an hour when her phone finally rang. "Where were you?" she quickly asked.

"I was asleep. I had the pager on vibrate." Ryan's voice was completely businesslike. She had answered the question, but no more information was forthcoming.

"Did you just wake up?"

"No. I got up about an hour ago. I had breakfast, then I called you back."

"Um…you knew I paged you two hours ago?"

"Yeah. Why does that bother you?" she asked bitterly. "Does it hurt you like I felt last night when I came by your house at midnight and saw that you were home?"

For some reason, even though Ryan had every right to be mad, the tone and the assumption rubbed her completely the wrong way. "I'm sorry if I disturbed you Ryan. I'm also sorry that I didn't update you on my plans. I'll remember to go to the store and buy a Global Positioning System tracking device today." She clicked off her phone and did not turn it back on, as she fumed over the rest of her coffee.

She walked around campus until the Biosciences Library opened at 10. She'd never heard any of her friends mention using this library, and she guessed that Ryan would stay home to study, so she reasoned that she could hide out and finish her novel. She felt really bad about the fight she had with Ryan; she was aware that, due to her own guilt, she was more sensitive than usual, but the bottom line was that she would not allow Ryan to supervise her, no matter how much she loved her.

At eleven she called home to check for messages and was stricken with guilt when she heard the plaintive messages from her partner. She had left four, each one more contrite than the last. She was in the process of dialing Ryan's pager when a dark head peeked around her study carrel.

With her flushed, damp face, Ryan looked like she had been running laps. Her eyes were sunken and bloodshot, and she looked like she had been up all night. When she made eye contact, Jamie was afraid that her partner was going to burst into tears. She looked so sad and lost that Jamie immediately pulled her into the little carrel and cradled her on her lap. "I'll squish you," Ryan murmured against her ear.

"There's no one I'd rather be squished by," she said as she increased the strength of her embrace.

She heard the person in the carrel behind hers utter an exaggerated sigh, so she patted Ryan's butt and got up to lead her from the library.

They went through the south doors and immediately sat down on the wide granite balustrade that flanked the entrance. Even though this side of the building was less trafficked, they were quite exposed; nevertheless, Jamie ignored her normal hesitancy and sat right on Ryan's lap, wrapping her arms around her neck for additional comfort. "I'm sorry, Ryan. I shouldn't have snapped at you."

"It's okay. I shouldn't have implied that I was supervising you. But I wasn't at all, really Jamie. I don't do that!"

"Well, you never have before, and it was wrong of me to assume you were doing so now."

"I was worried about you," she murmured. "You weren't acting right yesterday morning, and I really felt like you were trying to avoid me. Then when I went to get my bike, I saw your car and I felt like you were lying to me. I was really hurt, Jamie," she said with tears in her eyes. "I couldn't sleep at all last night, and I…and I…." Her voice trailed off as she tried to compose herself. She didn't like to cry in public, and she still felt a little odd crying in front of Jamie, so she pursed her lips and took a few deep breaths.

"I'm so sorry, Ryan. I'm so sorry," she soothed. "It's all my fault, Honey. It's all my fault."

"B…B…But why?" Ryan's shaky voice asked.

Jamie took in a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment. "Something happened between Cassie and Mia and me on Thursday night. It really upset me, but I didn't want to talk about it until I had some things resolved in my mind. And I know this is hard to hear, but sometimes your connectedness makes me feel a little overwhelmed," she said tentatively.

"What do you mean?" she asked in a quivering voice as she looked up at Jamie with her red-rimmed eyes. She looked so fragile and young that it broke Jamie's heart to tell her this but she felt like she had to.

"You know me so well, and you're so attuned to my every mood that sometimes I start to feel swallowed," she admitted. "I love the way that you know me, but sometimes it's a lot."

"But I know you because I love you," she murmured with her fragile face.

"I know, Ryan. I want you to know me that well, but no one else ever has. You know me ten times better than anyone else ever tried to. And I normally think that is a tremendous gift, and I'm normally terrifically grateful that you care enough to know me that well. But some times it feels like I can't tell where I stop and you start. Then it scares me, and I just need to withdraw a little."

"And that's why you lied to me?" she asked softly. "So you could have some peace?"

"No, Ryan, no. I did not lie to you. I was going home, and I was going to leave right after Anna. I had another go around with Cassie, and I was so upset afterwards that I went upstairs and fell asleep in my clothes. I woke up this morning at six and called you immediately."

"But you were going to your parents' to get some peace, right?" she mumbled.

"No, that's not how I would put it. I didn't feel ready to talk about this issue, and I knew you'd know something was wrong, so to avoid having to explain myself, I tried to hide."

"But Jamie, there's such an easy way to deal with this."

"What's that?" she asked.

"When I ask you what's wrong, just acknowledge that something is wrong but tell me you're not ready to talk about it. Isn't that easier?"

She nodded her head slowly, lightly rubbing her cheek against Ryan's dark head. "I'll try," she promised.

Ryan lifted her face and asked, "Is anything bothering you, Jamie?"

"Yes, Ryan, something is bothering me, but I'm not ready to talk about it right now. When I am, I'll tell you, okay?"

"Okay," she said and let her face curl into the most amazing smile that Jamie thought she had ever seen. The smaller woman absolutely could not resist the need to lean down and kiss that beautiful mouth again and again. They were so involved that neither of them saw Mia jerk to a halt not twenty feet away, but she most definitely saw them.

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

"How much sleep did you get last night?" Jamie asked as they both stood.

"Um…I got home about one and I tossed and turned until three. Then I woke up in a panic at five, thinking that maybe you were sick or hurt or mad at me. I went back to sleep until seven but Duffy woke me then and I finally got up."

"What did you do after we talked?"

"I called you a bunch of times at home, then I practically wore the numbers off the phone dialing your cell. I got dressed and came over here at nine but I didn't have the nerve to go to your house. I went to all of your favorite coffee places and restaurants, and then I started hitting the libraries that I know you like. I started in Moffitt and searched every square inch, but then I thought you might come here. I'm not sure where I would have gone next," she said as she shook her head with a forlorn little look.

"You poor, poor thing. It must have taken you an hour to search that huge building!"

Ryan nodded.

"I really thought you could catch up this weekend if we weren't together, and now look what I've done to you."

"It's okay, Jamie. I'll go home and take a nap, and then I can study there."

"Come to my house," she urged. "I want to see if I can study with you near me. We're going to have to get used to that sooner or later, you know."

"Okay, but is that a good idea? I assume any fight you were having with your roommates had me somewhere in it."

"It's fine. I don't think Cassie could be any angrier than she already is and Mia likes you, so it's okay." They walked back across campus, hand in hand. When they reached the house, Cassie was in the kitchen and she opened the door a bit to see who was home. Her face soured immediately upon seeing Ryan. As they entered Jamie's room, Ryan asked, "How could such a pretty face look so ugly so often?"

"You should see her mother. She always looks like there's a bad smell somewhere. It must be hereditary."

Jamie hopped onto the center of the bed and patted the side next to her in an inviting fashion. "Come on, get in."

"But I've got to study," Ryan complained weakly.

"Uh-uh, no dice. You come right here and lay your pretty head right on my lap. I'm going to put myself to the ultimate test. I'm going to read a boring novel by Henry James while I put you to sleep. This is a scientific inquiry and I need pristine conditions, so work with me here."

Ryan gave her a sweet little smile as she kicked off her shoes and started to climb in. Instead, she detoured to the door and locked it, then stripped off her jeans. She left on her bright yellow t-shirt and as she crawled across the bed Jamie patted her butt and said, "You look like a bumble bee with those black shorts and yellow shirt."

"Well, if you're doing a scientific inquiry, you need to account for all of the variables. Having my pants off just makes your task a little bit harder."

"I'll say," she agreed as she ran a hand across the smoothly muscled rear. "Now put your head right here," she instructed as she indicated the area where her thighs met her pelvis.

Ryan raised one eyebrow but quickly complied, settling down comfortably with a minimum of adjustments. Jamie ran her fingers through her hair for a few minutes smiling to herself when she heard the rhythmic breathing begin almost immediately.

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

By one o'clock Ryan had shifted her position so that she was curled up in a little ball on the left side of the bed. Jamie had been plowing through her novel, but she found that she was sinking lower and lower as the afternoon wore on. To combat her weariness and to satisfy her growling stomach, she decided to go downstairs to make lunch. She slipped out of bed and stood still for a few minutes to make sure Ryan didn't wake. She must be a deep sleeper like me, she thought as she watched her chest slowly rise and fall in a slow cadence.

Even though she had been doing well in keeping her pantry stocked, she found nothing that appealed to her for lunch, so she hopped in the car and drove over to Andronico's to do a little shopping. She made two Italian cold cut sandwiches and grabbed two bottles of water before returning to her room. It was nearly two, but Ryan still had not moved a muscle. She sat on the loveseat and read while she ate, whiling away another hour. At three o'clock she heard a small noise and looked up to notice a little movement from her companion. She climbed in bed behind her and gently rubbed all over her body, smiling at the catlike way she stretched and twisted to wake. Cute little moans and tiny growls were the only sounds to come from the slowly waking woman. When Jamie was sure that her partner was fully awake she started to nibble on her tender little ear. "Want some lunch, Sleeping Beauty?"

"Yeah," her little five-year-old girl voice replied. "If my tummy hadn't been growling so much I'd still be asleep, but you know the beast can't be denied."

"Well sit up a little and I'll get your sandwich."

"What do I get?" she asked happily.

"You get ham and salami and prosciutto and provolone with a little mayo and a few pepperochinis."

"Ummm, my favorite!"

"Do you make sandwiches like this?"

"No, but I can tell it's going to be my new favorite," she said confidently.

Jamie hopped back into bed and started to read again. Ryan gulped the sandwich down in record time, pronouncing it her most favorite sandwich ever. She snuggled up against Jamie, laying her head back in her lap, and was asleep within ten minutes. Jeez, how little sleep did she get last night? I've never known her to sleep in the daytime at all, much less for hours at a time.

By the time she finished her novel, she had an overpowering desire to snuggle down and join her companion for a long nap. Since it was nearly six, she didn't think that was wise. She started to move just a tiny bit, and Ryan quickly opened her eyes and sat straight up. "Time to get up?" she asked, sounding fully alert.

"Are you a heavy sleeper or not?" she asked confusedly. "That one time you took a nap on my couch, you said you were a really light sleeper, but this afternoon you were nearly comatose."

"I'm generally a light sleeper, and I usually wake up pretty alert, but I was so relaxed and peaceful this afternoon that I just zonked. I've been fantasizing about sleeping with you a lot, but in my dreams we were never really sleeping," she said with a leer. "I've got to admit that actually sleeping when you're near me is one of the most pleasurable experiences I've ever had. This is the kind of thing I've missed out on, you know. I've never felt comfortable enough with the women I've been with to just collapse like I did today."

"That's so sweet," Jamie said as she leaned over and hugged her. "I love hearing about the things that make our being together special for you."

Ryan was now lying on her back, and she pulled her companion down to rest against her side. "I just felt warm and peaceful this afternoon. It felt like I must have felt lying in my mother's arms," she said softly. "I knew I was safe and that you'd protect me."

"You'll always be safe with me, Ryan," she vowed as she tilted her head just a bit to capture her companion's warm, full lips. They exchanged sweet soft kisses for a few lazy minutes, relishing the warmth and safety of their bond.

Ryan was beginning to stretch again, and she rolled onto her stomach to get the kinks out of her back. She stretched her arms straight out against the mattress and pulled her knees up until she was crouched down like a cat. She pushed first one arm, then the other as far as she could get them, stretching all of the muscles of her back and waist as she did so. The display that she put on was entertaining enough, but the adorable little yawns and sighs just made Jamie's eyes light up.

"You are just so cute sometimes that I can't get over it," she said appreciatively.

Still in the middle of her routine Ryan turned her now-red face to her lover. "What's cute?"

"You are," she insisted. "The dichotomy between how you are in public and how you behave in private is just so adorable. I never would have seen your cute little baby side if we weren't together. That would have been such a loss!"

"Am I really that different?"

"Yeah, you are. Outside you seem bright and mature and thoughtful and patient. You seem really calm and forthright about things. But when we're alone, you're so playful and childlike. It's just so cute!"

Ryan tumbled over onto her back and regarded her companion with a peaceful smile. "I'm not like this with many people. And I've rarely been this relaxed with a lover. I showed most of them my predator side," she laughed.

"Did you really have a different way of being with your past lovers?"

"Yep. But I don't think that side has to stay in my repertoire any longer. The predator can be put out to pasture."

"Umm, I don't know," Jamie mused. "It might be fun to bring it out some day when things get dull."

As she swung her legs around to sit upright, Ryan grasped her lover around the waist for a firm hug. "I don't think things will ever get dull when you're around."

Jamie stood and did a little stretch of her own. "Hey, don't you have any studying to do?"

"Yeah, I do. I guess I should get going."

"Why don't you study here? I did very well on my half of the experiment, but we still don't know if you can study with me around."

"Okay. I'm game."

"Let's go walk around to get our blood flowing and grab a little dinner. Then we can come back here and work."

"Let me call home and tell them I'll be late," she suggested.

"Tell them you'll be home tomorrow," Jamie corrected with an impish grin.

Ryan paused in mid step to turn and stare. "Are you sure about that? Isn't Cassie going to be home tonight?"

"Don't know. Don't care. She's so mad at me that I really don't think anything I do at this point will make matters worse, so I may as well please myself."

"I'm all for pleasing you when it involves sleeping together," Ryan said happily.

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

Cassie was still at home, judging from her closed bedroom door. "Just my luck to have her stay home to study this weekend," Jamie muttered as they descended the front staircase.

"We'll just stay out of her way. I'm happy to get up and leave before she wakes up in the morning."

"I don't think I'd feel comfortable asking you to do that," Jamie said. "I need to stand up for myself and do what I think is right. And I know that loving you is right, Ryan," she added as she lightly gripped her hand.

During the rest of their walk, Ryan serenaded her appreciative friend with a soulful rendition of 'If loving you is wrong, (I don't want to be right)'. The song was unfamiliar to Jamie, but Ryan explained it was a cheesy pop song from the 70's. Her knowledge of music never ceased to amaze, but what Jamie really appreciated was how catholic Ryan's tastes were. She could sing songs from every era, and she seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of appropriate songs with their lyrics stored up in her pretty little head, ready to be retrieved when the situation warranted.

As they walked along, Jamie began to wish that they were walking to at least Oakland, rather than the few blocks they had planned. Ryan's natural flair for performing was out in full force tonight and Jamie was as pleased by that fact as she was amazed. They were on a fairly well traveled street with occasional pedestrians and a constant trickle of cars passing by, but Ryan was belting out the song with every bit of her considerable charm. A chill ran down Jamie's spine and she actually shivered a bit as she considered the immense self-confidence that her lover possessed. Even though her own voice wasn't bad, she had never had the nerve to sing for Ryan in private. But here was this gorgeous creature, singing a soulful song at full voice, complete with tiny hip gyrations, on a busy street in the middle of the evening. I don't think it will be humanly possible to ever tire of this woman, she thought with a self-satisfied smile as she squeezed her hand tightly.

As they walked down Telegraph, Jamie spied one of her favorite vintage clothing stores and decided to go in. Ryan froze just a bit, and tried to decide whether to follow her in or not. Trying to avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation she said, "You go on in. I want to look at some CD's."

"Come with me," Jamie urged. "I need your approval before I buy any new clothes, don't I?"

"The last thing you need is clothes," Ryan teased. "You've got more clothes than I have um…cousins!"

"I don't have nearly that many," she laughed. "Come on. I want some dykier clothes for going to the bar with you."

"You don't have to butch it up, Jamie. You look wonderful no matter what you wear," she insisted as she tried to guide her past the store.

But the little bulldog was not to be deterred. She looked up at Ryan with a suspicious glance and asked, "Why don't you want me to go in here?"

"It's not you, it's me," she admitted. "I kinda know the owner, and I don't want to make her or you uncomfortable."

"Did you have a bad parting?"

"No, but I think she…oh, I don't know. It's silly to speculate what she might have thought."

"Are you being intentionally obtuse?"

"No, it's inadvertent," she laughed.

"Look, Romeo, given how many women you've known, we're going to run into this problem every once in a while. I'll just have to learn how to cope with your past."

"Okay," she agreed. "She might not even remember me."

"Yeeeah," Jamie nodded. "That's pretty likely."

The woman was sitting right behind the counter just as she had been the last time Ryan visited the store. She didn't really look up from her book when they entered and shortly thereafter another customer took a number of items up to the counter, effectively distracting her. "That her?" Jamie asked quietly.

Ryan nodded and tried to look inconspicuous while her friend looked around for some new tops. After 20 minutes she was practically hanging from one of the overstuffed racks, reminding her how much she hated shopping. Jamie was trying to decide from among five different blouses, and Ryan finally decided there was only one way to get her to move. She walked over and stood next to the counter, waiting patiently while the woman lowered her book. "Can I help you w…" she started to say, but swallowed the end of her sentence when she saw Ryan looming in front of her. A smirk crossed her face as she said, "Took you long enough! A woman could get a complex waiting for you."

"It's certainly not because I was dissatisfied with my experience," Ryan purred in her old predator voice.

"She's been otherwise occupied," Jamie piped in, having appeared out of thin air to possessively slip her arm around Ryan's waist.

The woman blushed deeply and Jamie immediately took pity on her and apologized, "Sorry I'm so overprotective. She's just…"

"Yes, she is," the woman said appreciatively. "Well, congratulations, anyway."

"Thanks," Jamie said as she piled all of the shirts on the counter.

A few minutes later Ryan teased her for her inability to make up her mind. "I didn't really want all of them," she lamented. "But I wasn't going to let you talk to her all alone!"

"And you say I smother you!"

"Well, you're a very valuable asset. I'm just protecting my goods. Say, how long did you go out with her?"

"Not very long," she prevaricated.

"What's her name?"

"Um, not sure," she replied.

"That's funny, you're usually very good with names," she said as she tried to fish for information.

Ryan finally gave up. "I can't remember them if I don't know them, Jamie. I spent a total of one hour with the woman, and yes, we did have sex. Happy?"

Jamie stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and asked just one question. "Why?"

"Why what?" Ryan asked, looking cornered and a bit irritated.

"Why did you have sex with her?"

"Because I could," she spat as she shoved her hands in her pockets and strode off down the street.

But Jamie wasn't going to be tossed aside so easily. She ran down the street and grabbed Ryan by the back of her waistband. "Wait please, Ryan," she begged. With a deep sigh the brunette stopped, but her eyes were flat and cold when she turned to face her lover. "Let's stop for some dinner to cool off a little, okay?"

She shrugged her broad shoulders but didn't otherwise refuse, so Jamie took her hand and led her to Intermezzo, a little sidewalk café where they could order some nice salads. After their order was taken, Jamie grasped her hand across the table and softly said, "I don't believe you."

"Pardon?" Ryan replied archly, still angry.

"I don't believe that's why you had sex with her. That's not who you are."

"That is who I am, Jamie. I used women just to fill myself up. It makes me sick to think of you eventually meeting more and more of these women, because I know what you're thinking," she grumbled.

"One-that's not who you are, two-you don't know what I'm thinking. Which point do you want to talk about first?"

Ryan finally had to laugh a little at her approach. "Number one I guess."

"Okay, do you remember your encounter with her?"

"Yeah, of course I do. I wasn't drunk or anything."

"Okay. Tell me how it happened."

Ryan sighed heavily as she related the tale. "I was in there trying on clothes and she came up and started to flirt. I flirted back and she just kept coming on, so I eventually asked her if she wanted to go get coffee. She couldn't leave so I suggested we use her office for a little love. She didn't protest, so we did. It took less than an hour, including the time it took me to try on clothes."

"How did you feel?"

"I felt good. It made me feel sexy and powerful. I liked that I could talk her into doing something hot right in the middle of the day with a total stranger."

Jamie didn't really like that answer. She hated to see Ryan in such a brutal light, but she decided that she needed to know her lover fully, even when it was painful. "Was she good? Did she please you?"

"Um, she was very responsive. I think she would have been a good lover."

"But you don't know?"

" I touched her, but I kept my clothes on."


"Jesus, could you ask broader questions?" she asked in frustration.

"Please think about this, Ryan. It's important to me."

"All right," she said as she took in a deep breath. She closed her eyes and concentrated for a few minutes before she said, "It just…I don't know…it was too intimate," she finally said.

"So you didn't do it for sexual release?"

"I suppose not. At least not directly."

"But you wanted to touch her. It was your idea, right?"

"Right. I definitely wanted to touch her."

"Why?" she asked again.

"Because she was cute and she looked like fun and I was a little horny. Why else would I do it?"

"Well, when I'm horny, I'm interested in being touched. Doesn't that make sense?"

"Yeah, I guess. But I'm not like that. I like touching."

"Not at the bar the other night," she reminded her. "You wanted to be touched. Quite a lot, if my memory serves."

"But that's different. I know you and I want to be your lover. You really excite me, Jamie."

"Granted. But why did you want to touch her? Let yourself feel how you felt when you decided to bring it up."

Ryan closed her eyes again and furrowed her brow. When she looked up, she looked very young and very fragile. "I…I was lonely," she admitted. "This happened just before school started this year. I'd had kind of a tough summer and I hadn't been out very much. I just needed to connect with someone, but I was feeling vulnerable and I didn't want to open myself up too much. So I touched her and gave her some pleasure, and I felt a little better."

"Ryan, honey," Jamie said as she took her hand. "You didn't have sex because you could. You had sex because you needed to. As confident and as self-assured as you are, you need a lot of touch. Your good looks and your charm have allowed you to get a lot of touch without having to risk too much. You were just trying to fill yourself up, Ryan. You weren't just making another notch on your belt. You're not like that. You just tried to fill your need in the only way you felt comfortable with."

"Do you really believe that?" she asked with her trusting deep blue eyes wide open.

"Yes, I do. You weren't using people to satisfy your sexual urges. They were actually using you. You gave sex to get connection and touch. I think you would have been as happy to stand in that store and hug for a few minutes."

"No, you're wrong there. I really enjoyed touching the women I was with. I loved trying to please them. It just filled me up to watch a woman throw her head back and have a great orgasm just because of the way I touched her."

"I think you just programmed yourself to feel that way," Jamie theorized. "I think your early sexual experiences were much more about touch than sex, but once you realized you were good at it, I think you used it as a way to get what you needed without having to reveal too much of yourself. I think you used a false intimacy as a way to avoid real intimacy. And that's the biggest reason that I feel so honored that you've chosen me to be intimate with. It's easy for you to be physically intimate, but much harder to be emotionally connected. And for me, I can have emotional connections easier than physical ones."

"So we both have some work to do, huh?"

"Yep. But there's no one I'd rather work with than you."

"I'd love to practice being intimate with you tonight," Ryan murmured as she lowered her eyes to lock onto Jamie's.

"And I'd love to practice being physical with you," she replied with a sexy growl. Ryan's hand dropped under the table to run up and down Jamie's leg as she continued to hold her gaze.

Jamie swallowed audibly as she dug into her pocket for $20. She tossed it on the table and grabbed Ryan's hand, brushing past their startled server. "Feed the homeless," Ryan instructed as the server placed their meal at the now empty table.

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

It was fairly obvious that studying was the furthest thing from Jamie's mind as she tore up the stairs to her bedroom. Ryan followed along obediently, terribly relieved that neither roommate seemed to spot her. When they were safely locked inside, Jamie turned her stereo on to the classical station to provide some background noise and pounced on Ryan like a hungry dog on a bone. "Be gentle," she begged as Jamie tossed her to the bed and climbed aboard her body.

"Is that how you like to be touched, Ryan?" Jamie whispered as she leaned down and hovered just over her partner's flushed face, her warm breath tickling Ryan's face as it floated past. "Do you like to be touched gently?"

Trying to summon enough saliva to speak, Ryan went for the easier means of communication and just nodded her head.

"I'd like to touch you gently, Ryan," Jamie whispered, her eyes fluttering closed at the mere thought of how she wanted to touch her lovely body.

"Kiss me," Ryan begged, involuntarily closing her own eyes as her lips parted sensually.

Jamie immediately complied with her wishes, closing the inch distance with a tiny movement of her head. "Mmmm," she murmured. "You taste divine."

Ryan was too intent on the gentle assault to acknowledge the compliment. Her mouth opened slowly as she sucked lightly, drawing Jamie's silky smooth tongue into her mouth. She felt her hips jerk as the sensation slammed into her central nervous system, and she heard a small moan rumble deep in her chest.

Just when she thought she was as hot as she could get, Jamie pulled away and shyly asked, "Do you mind if I touch you a little more…intimately? I need to feel your skin under my hands."

"No," she replied in a voice that sounded an octave higher than usual. "I'd…like that."

Jamie got up and turned off the overhead lights. She lit two big candles and placed one on the bedside table and the other on her desk. She started to remove her clothing, but realized that she had her eyes locked on Ryan's so intently that she was losing track of what she was doing. So she turned her back and pulled her t-shirt from her jeans and quickly removed her bra. She slipped the shirt back on, unzipped her jeans and let them fall. As she stepped out of them, she turned to find Ryan gazing at her so intently that she seemed transfixed.

She crossed back to the bed and held her hand out to her stunned looking lover. As she got to her feet, Jamie placed her hands lightly on her waist and met her gaze as she said, "I'm going to undress you, okay?"

Ryan nodded her head vacantly, privately wondering what mastermind was dreaming up this exquisite torture. Maintaining eye contact, she placed her hands on her companion's shoulders for support. Jamie snuck her hand under the bright yellow t-shirt and dipped the fingers of her left hand into her waistband. A tiny chill started at the base of Ryan's skull as the small dexterous fingers touched the soft warm skin of her taut belly. Jamie sucked in a breath as she gently pulled the waistband tight to unbutton each of the little silver buttons. When she was finished, she pushed the pants down and urged her companion to step out of them.

Now Ryan stood in her bright yellow t-shirt and her tight knit black boxers. Jamie didn't quite know where to start to get what she needed. She wanted more skin contact, but she knew they were treading on dangerous ground. So instead she wrapped her arms around her and slid her hands up her back to remove her bra. She handled the closure pretty well, given her lack of experience from this angle and as soon as the garment was loose, she ran a hand up each sleeve to pull it from her shoulders. Her hand snaked up the front of the shirt and quickly whisked the lacy black item away.

Okay, she warily thought to herself, I've got her nearly undressed, now what do I do with her?

Ryan obviously sensed her indecision and tried to offer a reassuring gesture. She sat on the edge of the bed and gently wrapped her arms around Jamie's small waist. The long, tender hug they shared seemed to relax Jamie a bit, and she soon began to rub Ryan's back through her t-shirt. The last thing on Ryan's mind was her back as Jamie's perfect breasts rubbed against her face. She fought with every ounce of her self-control to stop herself from sucking one of the tender mounds right into her mouth, but she satisfied herself by inhaling their sweet scent as deeply into her lungs as she could manage.

Without conscious thought, Ryan's hands had dropped to rest on Jamie's sculpted backside, and she began to knead the firm flesh with a slow, throbbing intensity. Jamie was very conscious of the massage, and she knew they were headed right for a cliff.

Gathering her wits, she leaned over gently and placed a wet kiss on Ryan's lips. Holding her face in both of her hands she whispered, "We have to stop, Honey. It's too much."

"I know," Ryan nodded weakly. "We stop now—or a week from now."

"Yeah," she said as she gave her generous partner another kiss. "But I really want to keep going. Bad idea?" she asked, gently lobbing the grenade at her lover as she pulled the pin.

Of the millions of neurons firing in Ryan's brain at that second, nearly every one thought Jamie's hesitant suggestion was the best one they had ever heard. But one tiny holdout reminded her that she had made a promise to hold back. She knew that breaking that promise would be terribly pleasurable, but that the pleasure would have lasting repercussions. So she looked up at Jamie's hopeful face and spoke the hardest single syllable she had ever been forced to say, "Yes." Looking directly into her partner's eyes she reiterated, "It's a very bad idea, Honey."

"Are you sure?" she asked again, running her fingers up and down Ryan's sensitive face.

All of Ryan's early religious training flew into her mind, and she mused that this must truly be the voice of the devil. The nuns used to tell her that temptation didn't come from a scary-looking horned creature; it came from normal-looking people who tried to convince you to abandon your principles and your morals for physical pleasure. She fought back the only way she knew how. She imagined that this was a contest, and she hated to lose no matter what the contest consisted of. Strangely enough, the image worked, and she gently pushed her partner away and stood up.

"I'm completely sure," she said firmly. "Now I'm going to get ready for bed." She brought her hand over to Jamie's damp forehead and brushed the hair away with her fingertips. "When you're ready, I swear we'll make such wonderful love that you'll be glad we waited." With that she stepped into the bathroom and turned on the shower.

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

When Ryan emerged twenty minutes later Jamie had changed into some loose-fitting cotton pajamas. She was lying on her back with the sheet and blanket shoved down by her feet. The window was open and a cool breeze flowed through the room as Ryan crossed over to the dresser and once again pulled Jack's sweats out. She had a big towel wrapped around her body and she shot a tentative glance at Jamie as she passed.

She was greeted with a warm, tired-looking smile from her lover's still-flushed face. "Hurry up and get in here," she demanded. "It's lonely without you."

Ryan ducked back into the bath and quickly put on the now-familiar clothes. As she closed and locked the door to the bath, she hopped in next to her lover. "Nice hand-held shower massage," she intimated with a chuckle.

There was no response for a minute, and as she leaned over her partner, Jamie's timid voice carried back to her. "Mad at me?"

Ryan leaned over at far as she could in order to make eye contact. "Of course not! Why would I be mad at you?"

"Cause I tried to manipulate you into breaking our agreement?"

Ryan laughed gently as she settled back down behind Jamie's warm body. "Well, I did have a flash of you as the devil incarnate, which helped my resolve," she admitted with a laugh. "I just hope I didn't hurt your self-confidence by saying no."

"No, I could tell that it wasn't from lack of interest," she said with a laugh.

"I have honestly never been more interested in anything in my life," she conceded. "But we're in this for life, Jamie, and I want to fulfill your wish to make our first time special. Having to be quiet and worrying about Cassie being in the next room just would not create the kind of atmosphere that I know you and I both want."

"I completely forgot she was even there!" she moaned.

"That's why you have me," Ryan said as she nuzzled against the back of her neck. "I'm the voice of reason."

"Well, I'd give you a solid A minus for your performance tonight."

"A minus! You've got to be kidding!"

"We wouldn't have gotten that out of control if a certain pair of big strong hands hadn't started massaging my butt in the most erotic fashion I've ever experienced," she chided as she pulled one of the hands in question to her mouth for a kiss.

"A minus seems generous, now that you mention it," Ryan murmured as she gathered Jamie even closer to her body and drifted off into a satisfied sleep.

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

The next morning they stayed in bed cuddling much later than either was accustomed to. It was nearly eight when Ryan heard the shower start, signaling that Cassie was both up and occupied. "I'm going to sneak out while she's in the shower," she said as she dragged herself to the side of the bed. Jamie was still clutching her tightly, and she was dragged along right behind her. "Gosh I feel so heavy and lethargic today," she teased as the playful blonde refused to release her. A quick tickle to her exposed waist did the trick, and Ryan jumped to her feet with a laugh. "You're so easy!"

"Someday I'll find all of your ticklish spots," Jamie threatened.

"That will be my pleasure. Especially since all of them are well hidden under my clothes," she playfully informed her.

"Do you really have to go?" Jamie asked as she rolled onto her back and dropped her head off the edge of the bed. "You know, you're even cuter upside down," she said thoughtfully.

"Thanks. Maybe I'll have to walk on my hands more often. And yes, I do have to go, since I did exactly nothing yesterday thanks to you."

"Can you really?"

"Can I really what?"

"Walk on your hands?"

Ryan placed her hands on her hips and regarded her sternly. "Don't you trust me?"

"Of course I do. I just can't imagine that you can do that."

Ryan began to grumble under her breath, but compliantly went to the wall and executed a perfect handstand. When she was sure of her balance, she took a few steps and paused right next to Jamie's still upturned head. "Scoot over," she ordered. As soon as Jamie did so, she flexed her arms and propelled herself onto the bed, landing on her face right next to her startled friend. "I never exaggerate," she said with a dangerously waggling eyebrow.

"Not at all?" Jamie asked with her own raised brow.

"Nope. Not at all."

"Then tell me how you rate as a lover," she purred as she rolled her over onto her back and climbed on top.

"Well, I'm also fairly modest, so keep that in mind," she warned.

"I'm waiting."

Ryan grabbed her by the hips and bench-pressed her into the air, much to the giggling woman's delight. She pressed her into the air and lowered her for a wet kiss as she spoke each word. "I'm…absolutely…positively…stupendous," she promised as she released her grip and welcomed Jamie back into her arms.

She gulped audibly. "Then I'm in deep, deep trouble."

"You have no idea," Ryan purred. As she watched the goose bumps roll down the smaller woman's body, she patted her on the cheek and said, "The shower stopped. I'm really gonna have to make a run for it."

"Just stay in my room all day. I'll keep you as my little captive."

"I'm going to be your little captive who flunks out of school if I don't get busy. And may I say that you have officially proven yourself to be the world's worst study partner!" She grabbed her clothes and made a small circle with her index finger. "Turn around," she said with a cute little grin.

Jamie made an exaggerated display of turning her head while Ryan pulled her jeans back on. "You don't happen to have any of Jack's underwear lying around do you?"

"No, but why…oh!" she said as she remembered the way the evening ended. "Sorry," she said as she wrinkled up her nose in a cute grin.

"As well you should be. I hate riding my bike with jeans and no underwear. I'm going to have to keep some spares here for emergencies."

She was fully dressed now, and she came back to the bed for a few tender kisses. "I'll miss you," she whispered as she placed one final gentle kiss on Jamie's sweet lips.

"See you tomorrow bright and early?"

"Without question," Ryan promised, blowing one final kiss as she snuck out the door.

Continue to part 4

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