part 4

by SX Meagher

Please see part 1 for all disclaimers.

Chapter Seven

On the way home from school the next day, Jamie stopped to do a little shopping. She found some new Ralph Lauren boxers that came down even lower than Ryan's current Calvin's. She got her two pair in white, two in gray and two in black, as well as the matching ribbed knit tank tops and a few close fitting t-shirts in the same colors and material as the shorts. Then, just as a tease, she bought one pair of panties that would have had to grow a bit to even be considered a thong. I know she won't like to wear these out but I could explore her body a lot better isf she was wearing these. Actually I could explore her body from across the room in these!

Ryan wasn't due for another hour, and she had just laid the gifts out on the kitchen table when the doorbell rang. She waited for a second, but when she didn't hear anyone else come downstairs, she realized she was alone in the house. She spotted a blonde head through the leaded glass window of the front door, but it took a moment for the realization to actually hit her brain. "Mother!" she nearly gasped when she opened the door.

Although Jamie lived only 45 minutes away from her parents' home, her mother had not once paid a visit to the Berkeley house in the three years she had lived there. She and Laura Martin had furnished the place before the girls moved in, but once they were firmly ensconced, Catherine made herself scarce.

"Hello, Jamie," she said softly as she lifted her head for a kiss. Catherine Evans was one of the few people who actually had to stretch to reach Jamie's lips, a fact that had pleased Jamie to no end when she was fourteen and finally surpassed her mother's height.

"W…What's wrong, Mother?" she asked hurriedly.

A flash of pain raced across the smaller woman's face, but she hid it quickly and asked, "Is it that odd to have me visit?"

Jamie didn't want to say the truth so she quickly replied, "Of course not. I'm just surprised to see you, especially without warning."

"Warning?" she asked quietly as another hurt look passed over her patrician features.

"I mean notice," she amended, but quickly decided that wasn't much better. "It's just a long trip to make, given that I'm home so little during the day."

"That's all right dear," her mother reassured her, sensing her discomfort. "I suppose I can't blame you for being surprised when I visit so infrequently."

Yeah, never is pretty infrequent, she had to admit. "So why visit today?" Jamie asked. She was getting a very strange vibe from her mother, but since she couldn't read her very well, she had a hard time guessing what the issue was.

"I just came by to chat for a while," she said, rather mysteriously. "I'm not interrupting you, am I?" she inquired, her impeccable manners always on alert.

"No, not at all. Would you like something to drink? I have some bottled water."

"That would be nice," Catherine agreed. "I like your kitchen quite a lot. Could we sit in there and chat?"

"Sure, Mother," she agreed somewhat nervously, with her feeling of unease growing.

Jamie went to the refrigerator as her mother pulled up a chair at the table. "Been shopping, Dear?" she asked rather absently as she held up a pair of the boxer shorts. It was obvious that the large shorts would fall off of Jamie, and the t-shirts were extra-large as well. She picked up the tiny black panties that were also clearly labeled large, though they were anything but, and stared at her daughter with a puzzled expression on her face.

"Uh…yeah. Just shopping for a friend," she explained as she gathered up the clothing and shoved it back in the bag.

Catherine did not comment but her expression grew troubled as she took a deep breath and asked the question that had been burning in her brain since the previous day. "Jamie, I know that we've not been as close as I wish we could be, and I know I've not been your confidant. But I have to ask you a question that's deeply personal. If you choose not to share the answer with me I'll understand. I merely ask that you not lie to me."

Jamie knew that all of the color had drained from her face and she felt that familiar clenching in her stomach. Oh, please, oh, please, she begged as she braced herself for the inevitable.

"Laura Martin called me yesterday. She says that Cassie called her in a frantic state over a dispute that you two had."

Jamie merely nodded, hoping against hope that Cassie had the decency to only speak of the fight and not the underlying reason. Her hopes were dashed when Catherine continued. "Cassie claims that you're involved in a lesbian affair, Jamie." She locked her big brown eyes on her daughter's and gently asked, "Is that true?"

She sucked in a few deep breaths, trying to regain her composure without making it too obvious that she was panicking. "I know that one thing is totally true, Mother. Cassie Martin is no friend. She has developed an intense, almost irrational, hatred of my friend Ryan, who is a lesbian. She's tried to convince me not to hang around with her merely because of her sexual orientation, and when I refused, she obviously made up a ridiculous story about us."

"Jamie, the things Laura said were really quite troubling. She said you were feeding each other and kissing and sucking on each other's fingers." Catherine looked embarrassed to even relate this tale, but she had such a worried, pained expression on her face that Jamie felt compassion for her.

"Mother, you know from listening to Daddy talk about trials that the easiest thing in the world is to take things out of context and use them to impeach someone. That's what Cassie does!"

"But how…"

"Look, Mother, Ryan and I were kidding around in a very public place. I'm not the kind of person who would be kissing and sucking on anyone's fingers in public. I gave her a bite of my food, and she acted like she was going to bite my fingers! It was totally innocent, and anyone else would have come up to the table and either teased me about it or at least said hello. But she went home and jumped all over me when I came home. She wouldn't listen to any of my explanations, and we finally had a very big fight. I basically told her that I chose Ryan's friendship over hers, and now she's running to her mother just to get back at me for that. She's a very small-minded, mean-spirited person, Mother, and I feel like I'm well rid of her!"

"But what about living together next year?"

"I've had it with her. I refuse to allow her back in next year!"

"Oh, Jamie, is that really wise? You've known each other since you were children!"

"I can't feel comfortable having her in my house if she's going to go behind my back to try to create trouble for me, Mother!"

"But Jamie, Laura claims that she's concerned about you. I didn't get the impression that she was trying to cause trouble."

"Mother, if you were concerned about one of your friends would you run to her husband or her children with the problem? Of course not! You'd work it out with her alone, if you really cared for her. Cassie telling her mother was a sure fire way to get you upset! That was her goal. I'm certain of it!"

"So you're telling me, unequivocally that you are not involved in a relationship with this woman?" Her deep brown eyes were still intently focused on her daughter's, and Jamie knew that she would be betraying her trust for the first time in her life if she was not honest with her now.

"I'm most definitely in a relationship with her, Mother. She's my very close friend, she's my training partner for the AIDS Ride, and she's my personal trainer. But I do not have sex with her!" She honestly could not decide what felt worse--lying to her mother so blatantly, or once again denying her love and her passion for Ryan. Part of her actually felt that the lie to her mother was the more egregious wrong, since her main reason for lying was that she did not trust her enough to tell her the truth; but she acknowledged that she felt worse about the denial of her love for Ryan.

Catherine looked at her carefully for a moment and finally raised her hand to cup her daughter's flushed pink cheek. "I'm sorry if all of this upset you, Jamie. I know you feel betrayed, but please give it some more thought before you do anything rash."

"I will, Mother. And thanks for your concern."

"Jamie, no matter what you think of me as a mother, I hope you know that your happiness has always been paramount for me. I really regret the distance that has built up between us and I would do anything to close that gap." She reached across the table with her elegant, perfectly manicured hand and lightly grasped Jamie's hand. Gazing into her eyes with a winsome look on her face she explained, "That's the biggest reason that I wanted you to go to Italy with me this summer, Dear. I miss the time we used to spend together when you were younger. It just seems like we have so little time before you'll be involved in a career or married. Will you work with me to try to regain some of our connection?"

"Of course I will, Mother. I miss those times too," she admitted truthfully.

"Remember how we used to try out all the new restaurants in the Peninsula and the South Bay?' She smiled softly at the memory. "That was fun, wasn't it?" The fragile, pained expression on her mother's face made Jamie want to take her in her arms and comfort her like a child. But physical expressions of their love were just something they had never done and she didn't feel comfortable enough with her mother to start now.

"They were fun, Mother. We've had lots of fun together and there's no reason not to have more in the future. We just need to work on making more time for each other."

"Thank you, Dear," she said as she patted her cheek. "Your father and I are just so lucky to have you as our child. You make us both very proud of you."

Jamie fought back a tear as she grasped her mother's small hand. "Thank you, Mother. That means a lot to me."

"Well, I'd better get going if I want to beat traffic," she said as she stood. "How are things going with your preparation for your ride, dear?"

"They're going well, Mother, very well. I'm really excited about it."

"Will you call me when you get back? I'll be worried about you the whole week, you know," she said with a small smile.

"I promise I'll call."

"So what will you do the rest of the summer?"

"I actually had a favor to ask concerning the rest of the summer," she related. "Would you mind if I took Ryan down to the weekend house for a little rest after we get back?"

"No, of course not. You're welcome to bring any of your friends at any time, Dear. Just let the maid know if you want daily cleaning service. And call ahead to have them stock the refrigerator if you wish."

"Thank you, Mother. I really appreciate your generosity."

"Jamie, you're my only child. I'd do anything for you," she said as her voice caught a tiny bit. She gave her daughter a firm hug and turned to leave. As she reached the door she said, "Please be careful, Honey. You're very important to me."

Wow, what was that all about? Jamie thought as she stared after her. She seemed so…interested.

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

Perhaps betraying her lover on a regular basis was making the task easier but, for whatever reason, Jamie didn't feel all that bad when Ryan showed up at six. She decided to hold off on the presentation of the new underwear and grabbed her book bag for the walk to Telegraph. As they were descending the stairs, Mia came walking up the sidewalk. "Hi guys," she said when she caught sight of them.

"Hi," both women replied. "We're going to grab some dinner and then go study. Wanna join us?" Jamie asked.

Mia looked a little uncomfortable, and she stumbled over her words a bit as she obviously tried to come up with a reason to demur. "Ahh, no I don't think I can. I've got to, you know, um…study, and I might go out later, so…"

"That's okay," Jamie assured her. "Some other time."

"Yeah. Okay," she said as she dashed into the house without another word.

As they walked down the street Ryan said, "Was she acting funny or is that normal?"

"She's acting funny. I think she might be having an attack of homophobia."

"Really? She's never seemed uncomfortable with me before."

"It's not you," she said quietly. "It's me."

Ryan stopped abruptly and gazed at her partner carefully. "Did you tell her?"

"No. This is what I was hiding from you on Friday. Cassie was at Sufficient Grounds on Thursday night and she saw us feeding each other."

Ryan closed her eyes and allowed her head to drop back against her shoulders. She shook it slowly a few times, long dark hair twitching against her back. "Oh, Jamie, I'm so sorry," she soothed. "I…I forget what it's like to not want others to know. I really apologize for being so obvious."

"No, it's certainly not your fault, Ryan. I just need to get over it."

"Jamie," she said quietly as she took her hand. "This is a big change for you. I want you to have the time and the space to only go as fast as you are comfortable with. I feel responsible for encouraging you to be more open than you're probably ready for, and I truly apologize for that."

"No, I'm the one that needs to apologize, Ryan," she insisted as she blinked her eyes and tried to summon her courage.


"Because I told her she was mistaken," she said in a voice so small Ryan had to bend over a little to hear her.

"Why on earth would that make you feel the need to apologize?" Ryan asked, clearly puzzled.

She stopped in her tracks and stared at her companion. "Because I denied our love! I didn't have the courage to face her and admit the truth!"

"Jamie, Jamie, Jamie," Ryan murmured as she slid an arm around her shoulders. "That would not have been a courageous thing to do. That would have been self-defeating. You're not ready to tell everyone about us yet. Confirming our relationship to Cassie would have been like putting an ad in the Chronicle. I thought you understood how I felt about this after that incident with your father. It's perfectly okay with me if it takes you a very long time to be open about us. Please don't worry about my feelings."

"Oh, Ryan, how can you even say that? Your opinion of me means everything!"

"I know, Honey," she soothed. "And I'll admit that I'm really invested in having you be honest with everyone about us. That's something that I think we both need to do in order to feel like our relationship is something we're proud of. I just meant that I don't need for you to worry about my feelings about this right now. You need time to work on this on your own without worrying about me."

"But…I don't understand why you're not upset about this, given how you felt at my dad's apartment."

"It's simple, Babe," she insisted. "You denied me that time. It felt like you didn't want him to know that I was even your friend. This time it's about you. This is all about your relationship with Mia. My feelings about it should have no bearing."

"Thanks," she said as she gave her a gentle hug. "I think I get it. But now I have another person to worry about. Cassie told her mother!'

"How do you know that?"

"Because I got a visit from my mother this afternoon. Actually it was the first time she's visited since we moved in three years ago, just to show you the level of distress this created."

Ryan was nearly speechless as she blinked her eyes slowly. The Evans family was a breed she was unfamiliar with, but this was too much even for them. To have their only daughter live 45 minutes away and never visit her was so alien to Ryan that she had to force herself to not comment, lest she say what was really running through her mind. "What happened?" she asked instead.

"I lied to her too. I said that we were just playing and Cassie misinterpreted. I…I've never lied like that before, Ryan. I'm…beginning to doubt who I even am anymore."

"Did you consider just telling her that you didn't want to speak about it?" Ryan asked gently.

"That's the funny thing. She wasn't angry or confrontational at all. She gave me a perfect out, but I didn't take it. That's what puzzles me, Ryan. Why did I feel the need to lie?"

"Only you can answer that for sure, but I have a theory."

"Besides that I'm a spineless slug who's never going to be trustworthy again?" she said with a bitter laugh.

"Yeah, besides that," Ryan said as she squeezed her hand. "I think you were put into a really tough place by Cassie. I assume she didn't approach you in a gentle fashion and ask if you were ready to talk about this?"

"No. She and Mia were sitting at the kitchen table, and she jumped on me like a district attorney. I thought Mia felt the same way, and I just felt overwhelmed and trapped."

"So, once you lied to both of them, you were in a bit of a bind. I assume your main reason for not confirming our relationship to Cassie was because you're not ready to tell your parents?"

"Yeah, basically that's true."

"So telling Cassie is the same as telling them since you know what a gossip she is. Then when your mother asks, it only makes sense to keep up the lie since she was the reason you lied in the first place. It all fits, Jamie, and it's all understandable. I'm just concerned about how you feel about yourself for lying," she said, her face full of genuine concern.

Jamie stopped and took in a few deep breaths, trying to stem the tears that were trying to get out. With her lower lip quivering, she closed her eyes and grasped Ryan in a tight embrace. "I can't believe how sweet you are to care more about my feelings than your own. I thought you'd be badly hurt by my betrayal and that's why I was afraid to tell you. I was so ashamed."

"Did you tell any of them that I was a big scary dyke that was trying to seduce you?"

She jerked noticeably and stared at Ryan in shock. "Of course not! I said you were my closest friend, and I told everyone how fond I was of you."

"Then why would I be hurt? Jamie, this is about you and your relationship with these people. What you tell them about us is purely your decision. I only care about how these things affect you, don't you see that?"

"As usual, Anna was right," she said with a little laugh. "She said you'd be understanding and reassuring."

"She sounds like she knows me pretty well," Ryan agreed with a smile. "Maybe you'd better describe her for me. We might have gone out!"

Jamie chased her laughing friend down the street, not stopping until she ran her into her favorite restaurant for a quick dinner.

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

After dinner, they walked to the library and studied until ten, with only one short kissing break. Ryan was really pretty frantic about her studies, and Jamie didn't even mention going to the coffeehouse or bar. On the walk home they talked about the other victim of Jamie's lies. "I feel dreadful about lying to Mia," she admitted. "I really feel like I need to come clean with her, but she's been acting so funny towards me since it happened that now I'm afraid to."

"It might lighten things up if you told her the truth, Jamie. You trust her, don't you?"

"Yeah, at least I always have. But if she's gonna be weird about it I'd rather wait until I'm more comfortable."

"Why don't you spend a little time thinking about it? You'll know when you're comfortable."

"I will," she promised. They were nearly at Jamie's house by this time and they both locked eyes when they noticed that the house was dark. "Come on," Jamie urged as she tugged at Ryan's hand. "Let me give you a proper good-night kiss."

"But don't you have to be more careful than normal? I don't want this to get worse for you."

"I've got yet another fiendishly brilliant idea," she said with eyes dancing.

Ryan let herself be dragged along the sidewalk, and they quickly dashed inside. Instead of going upstairs, Jamie led her to the lovely redwood-paneled library just off the parlor. She had seen the room when Jamie took her on a tour of the house, but she'd never seen anyone use it. The room was accessed through pocket doors that silently glided along tracks to disappear into the wall. She slid one of the pair open and led Ryan inside. After she closed and locked the door she led Ryan to the dark brown leather sofa that rested underneath the leaded glass windows at the front of the house.

Moments after they entered the room, they heard one of the roommates enter the house. Ryan's sensitive hearing picked up that the person was in the living room, and she seemed to stay there for quite a while.

They heard her dial the phone on the entryway table and after a few seconds Cassie's voice drifted through the room clearly. "Hi, Mom, it's me," she said. Jamie rolled her eyes and gripped her stomach like she was going to vomit. Ryan just smirked at her and motioned for her to be quiet, then carefully got up from the sofa to avoid having the leather squeak. She sat on a straight-backed wooden chair, and Jamie quickly straddled her lap. They started to kiss softly, but neither could ignore the conversation going on in the other room.

"What do you mean she believed her? Oh, come on, Mom. I saw them nearly making out! What is she, delusional?"

After a moment she barked out a laugh and agreed, "Yeah, she probably was drunk. What time was it?" Another pause. "Yeah, three o'clock is plenty of time for her to get hammered," she laughed.

Ryan badly wished that she was not here to listen to the agitated woman's slurs, since they were clearly embarrassing Jamie.

"Well she can deny it all she wants but sooner or later I'm going to catch her red-handed. No," she added after a pause. "I'm not surprised. I've suspected ever since she brought her over here in September. I'm not sure what it was, but there was just something between them from the start."

Jamie's mood lightened at that comment. She patted her lover's face and smiled sweetly as she nodded her head in complete agreement.

"Yeah, I suppose she's pretty." Now Ryan gave her a smirk and an eyebrow wiggle. "But in a really mannish way." Ryan's eyes shot open and her shocked expression caused her mouth to form a wide circle. Jamie had to bury her head in Ryan's chest to stifle the laugh that tried to burst from her. "No, I don't think it's anything but a conquest for her. I mean, not to be cruel, but would you choose Jamie if you were just interested in sex?" she said with a snicker. Ryan had to grab her feisty partner by the shoulders to hold her down and stop her from running into the living room to pummel her roommate at that comment. "She's so, I don't know, reserved," she finally decided. "She just looks like she'd be a cold fish." Partly to prove Cassie wrong, Jamie started to work on Ryan's mouth with a fiery intensity. They quickly lost track of Cassie's conversation but they did hear Mia come tromping in a few minutes later.

Cassie was just hanging up, and they greeted each other casually. "Hi," Mia said.

"Your mail's over there, and here're your phone messages," Cassie replied.

"Jamie home?" Mia asked.

"No. I assume she's out with the whore of Babylon," she replied drolly, as Ryan pursed her lips and scowled.

"Knock it off, Cassie," Mia snapped.

"What?" she asked, rather stunned.

"I said, knock it off!" she replied at higher volume. "I like Ryan and I love Jamie. She's been our friend for years and no matter what you think of her sexual orientation, you owe her at least a little civility!"

"You heard how she was with me last week! Would you call that civil!"

"Look," she said in a calmer tone. "If she is having an affair, I agree that she hasn't been very honest with us. But have you ever considered that it might be too hard for her to talk about it? Maybe she just doesn't trust us."

"But we're the only ones she can trust," Cassie fumed. "Ryan certainly can't be trusted. She's the one who got her in to this!"

"Maybe you're right. But no matter what, Jamie has been a good friend and a great roommate for both of us. We have to cut her a little slack while she tries to figure out what's going on in her life. I'm just really sad that she isn't being honest with me. I thought we really trusted each other."

Jamie looked physically ill at this revelation. Ryan wrapped her arms around her tighter to comfort her as Cassie snapped, "Jamie might have been a friend before, but she's made sure that's no longer true for me. She's basically told me to leave if I don't want Ryan in the house. She's made me look foolish by denying that they were making out together, and I don't tolerate that type of treatment! I'm going to catch her, and when I do the whole campus will know about it! Then her stupid alcoholic mother won't be able to dispute the truth!"

"What!? You told her mother?!"

"I told my mother. What she did with the information is her business," she sniffed.

"You are really a piece of work," Mia said with disgust as she stomped up the stairs.

"If you're really her friend, you'll help me catch her, Mia," she called after her. "She needs to have someone help her before she gets into this too deep. It's going to be all over campus soon."

"With friends like you…" Mia snarled before she slammed her bedroom door.

The inhabitants of the library stared at each other for a few minutes in shocked silence. Jamie was outrageously pleased that Mia had defended her so staunchly, but now she felt even worse about lying to her. She couldn't get much angrier with Cassie, but she was irate about her comment concerning her mother. Although her mother did drink too much for her comfort, she thought it both rude and mean-spirited to characterize her as an alcoholic. But she realistically didn't for a minute doubt her roommate's vow to catch them in the act.

Even though she was confident that loving Ryan was exactly the right thing to do, Jamie was not at all ready to talk to her parents about the matter. She rested her head against Ryan's broad shoulder for a few minutes, feeling overwhelmed with the weight of keeping their love a secret. Ryan patted and rubbed her back as she rocked just a tiny bit in the chair. To their dismay, Cassie immediately got on the phone again. She obviously called her mother again to start slamming Mia this time. Ryan couldn't stand to listen to another minute of this drivel, but she knew they were stuck until Cassie went upstairs. The call lasted for almost fifteen minutes, during which time Jamie nearly fell asleep on Ryan's lap. Deciding that she needed to go home herself, Ryan finally motioned for her lover to get . She tiptoed to the window and saw that she could easily climb out and drop to the ground without harming herself. She whispered her plan in Jamie's ear and, after checking out the drop herself, Jamie kissed her goodbye and watched her go.

Jamie now had two options. She could lie down on the couch and sleep until Cassie went upstairs, or she could walk right by her. The debate lasted less than two seconds as she took out one of her texts from her book bag and strolled right past a startled Cassie while she was hanging up the phone. As Jamie hit the stairs, she turned to her and sweetly said, "Busy sharpening your knives, Brutus?"

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

While Jamie was brushing her teeth the next morning Cassie came barging into the bathroom. "That was really cheap of you to eavesdrop on me last night," she spat.

"I was studying, Cassie. I believe that I am allowed to use all of the rooms of my house aren't I?"

"Any decent person would have let us know they were there!"

"Any decent person? What on earth do you know about decency?" Jamie asked as she rinsed her mouth and walked back into her room. Cassie started to follow, but Jamie stopped her with a withering glare. "We have nothing more to discuss. When you leave for New York, take your things with you."

Cassie glared back for a full minute. Her face was screwed up into a very unflattering grimace as she turned on her heel and stomped back into her own room.

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

Mia made herself so scarce over the next few days that Jamie began to doubt that she was even sleeping at the house. She accidentally ran into her on campus on Friday morning, but Mia was late for a class and didn't have time to stop. As she scampered away she called, "I'm going to L.A. for the weekend. See you Monday!"

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

That night over dinner Ryan asked, "Busy tomorrow?"

"Well, I should study, but I'm sure you could talk me out of it. What do you have in mind?"

"Two things. First, I'm going to play rugby in the afternoon, and I thought you might like to come watch…"

"You play rugby?!"

"Sure. We've played as a family since I was in high school."

"You play with your…family?" she asked carefully.

"Yeah. Why do you look surprised?"

"Um…couple of reasons. One--cause you're the only girl."

"I am?" she asked in mock horror.

"Come on, Ryan," Jamie laughed as she pinched her playfully. "Is this a girls' team or a boys' team?"

"You're gonna have to come to find out. Interested?"


"What's your other reason for being surprised?" Ryan asked.

"Because I've kept a very tight watch over you in the last few months, Missy. And I'd know if you were doing something like this on a regular basis. So what gives?"

"We're not together every night, Jamie," she reminded her.

"Nooo…that's true," the blonde admitted. "But I always ask you what you did on the nights we're not together, and I'm certain I'd recall you saying that you were going to play rugby."

"Well, it sounds like your questions have just been a little too broad then, doesn't it?" Ryan asked playfully, blue eyes twinkling with mischief.

"Oh, so I should say, 'What did you do last night, Ryan? Play any rugby?"

"Well, that would be the best way," she mused as she tapped her chin thoughtfully with her index finger.

"Ryan! You've got to be kidding!"

"Nope. I'll tell you anything you want to know, babe. But I don't give up my secrets easily. Ya gotta work for 'em."

"Sheesh!" Jamie shook her head roughly and asked with some trepidation, "What's the other thing you wanted to ask me? Although now I'm afraid to find out!"

"Oh, Rory's leaving for the entire summer on Sunday morning. So we're having a big goodbye party for him tomorrow night. You have to come to that, so I don't even know why I'm asking."

"Speaking of asking, how long ago did you know about these events?"

"Um…a while."

"You're already starting to take me for granted!"

"Never," Ryan insisted. "I just forget that you don't know every thought in my head. You're such an integral part of me that I forget I have to actually tell you things." She had the most innocent, angelic look on her face that Jamie had ever seen on an adult human.

"Good recovery," she said with a smirk as she patted her cheek.

"Years of practice," Ryan agreed as she ducked her pinch.

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

After three solid hours of studying, they headed back to Jamie's. The house was dark, and since Mia was gone, she knew that they would be totally alone if Cassie was with her boyfriend. Jamie talked Ryan into chancing it and they once again went to the library since that offered the most inconspicuous escape route. After a quick detour up to her room, she handed Ryan the little gifts she had purchased for her and grinned shyly as she opened the bag.

"You bought me a present?" Ryan asked in a delighted voice. "This is the first present you've bought for me since we've…you know." She opened the bag and said in surprise, "Underwear?"

"Yep. Although it your case it's underwear/pajamas," she teased. "Do you like them?"

"Yeah, they look cool, but I have lots of underwear."

"Not here, you don't," she explained. "You need to leave some here and I chose these because they are a couple of inches longer than your Calvin's. Since you hate to have them ride up, I thought these might be even better for you."

"I like them a lot," she said happily as she pulled all of them out. "But you didn't have to buy so many," she protested.

"You seem to run through them pretty quickly when you stay overnight," Jamie teased as she blushed just a tiny bit.

"Good point," Ryan agreed. "I'll let you know if they fit well."

Jamie looked a little uncomfortable as she said, "I uh…thought you might try them on for me…now."

"Are you sure?" Ryan asked, worried about Cassie coming home.

"Yeah. I'd really like it. If you don't mind that is," she quickly added.

"No, I'm happy to drop my drawers for you," the grinning brunette said as she began to unbutton her fly.

Jamie immediately turned her head even though she really, really wanted to watch. She heard Ryan's shoes be kicked off, and then the rustle of fabric as her jeans hit the floor. "Color choice?" the deep voice asked.

"White," said Jamie decisively.

She heard the fabric sliding up Ryan's legs and her resolve almost left her but she waited until Ryan said, "What do you think?" to turn around.

Jamie was very disappointed to find that Ryan had put her jeans back on over the new shorts. "I can't tell how they look with your pants on," she complained.

"I know that," Ryan purred. "So why don't you come over here and take them off of me."

She had to smack her lips together to make the saliva return to her mouth. There was just a way that Ryan had of knowing exactly what would turn her on, and she had yet to be wrong. Jamie walked over, returning Ryan's sexy grin. When she got right next to her, she pulled her tall lover down with one hand while the other grabbed her sexy butt. Once their mouths were firmly attached, she dropped her other hand and felt every inch of those strong thighs and that firm butt. They both let out a little gasp when she started to unbutton the fly, and her hand slid in to get a really good feel for the fit. After a dizzying minute of kisses and cautious explorations, she shoved the jeans down and stood back to take in the view.

Ryan looked hotter than she thought she had ever seen her, and she had seen her look pretty darn hot. But there was something so totally sexy about her confident relaxed posture as she stood there in her sky blue polo shirt, tight white boxers and a pair of jeans pooled around her ankles that Jamie was nearly faint with arousal. Ryan lowered her eyes just a touch and let her deep sexy voice rumble up from her belly, "Don't you want to check the fit?"

Jamie had never heard such a brilliant idea in her whole life. She stood so close that she could feel Ryan's breath flutter across her face as she closed her eyes and let her hands drop. She sucked in a deep breath to imprint Ryan's sweet smell on her brain, smiling a bit to herself as she considered how important smell had become to her in the few weeks they had been intimate. She had obviously noticed Jack's scent when they were together, but it didn't seem to play a big role in her arousal. With Ryan, however, she felt like she needed to smell her body to start the chain reaction of her sexual response. Part of the attraction was that Ryan was an absolute scent junkie and Jamie could just imagine her nose twitching with pleasure as they shared the sensation.

Her hands could no longer behave themselves and almost of their own accord began to roam all over Ryan's body. But as much as she needed to smell and feel her, she also needed to see how those sculpted legs looked in the new garment. She sank to her knees and took in another deep breath as she saw Ryan's body shudder just a bit at her closeness.

The shorts clung snugly around her lover's thickly muscled thighs, and Jamie slowly realized that she had been holding her breath. Shaking her head to order her thoughts, she lifted the long polo shirt just enough to see the entire fit. She smirked a bit as she noticed that Ryan could probably fit into a medium if they stopped at the traditional spot, but her thighs definitely demanded a large.

She ran her hands up and down each rock hard leg, delighting at the way the muscles twitched under her touch. The fabric bagged a little from her slim waist to her pubic bone in the front but there wasn't an extra centimeter in the back. Ryan's round ass filled the shorts out so perfectly that Jamie's heart actually skipped a beat as her hands cupped the firm flesh.

Jamie rested her cheek on the concave belly as her hands continued to stroke and palm her rear. As she continued to excite her lover, she noticed that Ryan's scent began to change from sweet and clean to musky and spicily exotic. Her heart began to thump loudly in her chest as she let herself acknowledge that she was the cause of Ryan's arousal, and that she controlled the expression of her desire. The feeling was both heady and frightening, and she trembled slightly as she considered it. Ryan noticed her apprehension and began to run her fingers lightly through her hair in a reassuring gesture. The gentle touch effectively stilled her fears, and she rubbed her face against the white fabric in grateful acknowledgement.

Emboldened by her newly discovered power she pushed the shirt up but had a hard time keeping it there. Ryan reached down and tugged it off to provide her lover full access to her body. She was wearing a white sports bra that hid her assets quite well, much to Jamie's relief and disappointment. But seeing all of that smooth skin so close to her face made her just a bit more daring than she would normally have been. She stretched as tall as she could and began to kiss Ryan's adorable little midriff.

She could tell that her kisses were having a powerful effect on her partner but she was getting so much enjoyment from the intimate contact that she started to lose track of Ryan's responses and to concentrate only on her own pleasure.

She grasped the waistband of the shorts and pulled them down a few inches. She placed delicate little kisses around Ryan's navel, finally poking her tongue right into the little depression. Next she began to kiss down the centerline of Ryan's belly, pushing the waistband lower and lower, when her nearly frantic lover unexpectedly abruptly gripped her head. "I can't," Ryan moaned, shivering with unquenched desire. "I'm sorry, Jamie, but I can't!"

Jamie immediately regained her senses and realized what she was doing to the poor woman. She looked up at Ryan and saw the lines of stress creasing her beautiful face. "Oh, Honey, I'm sorry," she gasped as she got to her feet. "I'm so sorry for torturing you."

"S'okay," Ryan mumbled, her legs feeling a bit rubbery. "I'll just ahh…get dressed and ahh…get going."

"Oh, Honey, you're in no shape to ride home. Can't you stay here tonight? I really need to feel your warm body next to mine."

They were startled out of their musings by the sound of Cassie coming home. She wasn't alone, and Jamie recognized her boyfriend Chris's voice as they spoke softly in the living room. They both sounded a little drunk, and it sounded like Chris definitely had love on his mind as he urged her to follow him upstairs. Cassie quietly complied, and moments later they heard two sets of feet climb the stairs.

Ryan quietly asked, "Is it safe to go upstairs together?"

"No, I don't think so. Would you be willing to stay right here? You could leave before they got up in the morning."

"I'd love to stay with you, Jamie. Even sleeping on the floor would be pleasurable with you. Let me call home and tell them not to expect me," she said as she bent to pick up her pants.

"You call home and I'll go to the bathroom. Be right back," she whispered as she slid the door open and snuck out.

Ryan left a message since no one was home, and by the time she was done Jamie was back. "Why don't you go freshen up a bit," she suggested. "Use the bath by the kitchen," she said as she handed Ryan a clean pair of underwear and a t-shirt. "See what I mean about how fast you run through clothes?"

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

When Ryan returned, her grinning lover was lying on her side in her panties and Ryan's polo shirt. "You don't mind sharing do you?"

"No," she said with a big smile. "That's a really nice color on you, as a matter of fact." She walked towards the sofa after carefully locking the door again.

"Wait right there," Jamie instructed. "That's a completely different look." She gazed up at her smirking lover and signaled for her to turn around. "The black shirt with the gray shorts gives you a very dangerous aura," she mused. "I actually think you look sexier in those."

"Ahh, maybe I should go home after all," Ryan said, just a trifle nervously.

"Do I frighten you?" Jamie asked with a sexy leer. "Come here little girl," she urged as she crooked her finger.

Ryan returned her smile and joined her on the sofa. "You're not going to drive me out of my mind again are you?" she timidly asked.

"No, Honey," she assured her. "I just want to hold you." She patted the deep leather cushions of the sofa and eased her arm around Ryan's back when she joined her.

"I have a little proposal for you," Jamie murmured as she snuggled up. "How would you like to take a little vacation with me once the ride is over?"

"Vacation? Um…I guess I'd like that. I mean, of course I'd like it, but I don't know if I can afford it."

"What if I could arrange for us to stay at a private little getaway where we could enjoy each other thoroughly at absolutely no charge?"

"How could you do that?"

"We have a weekend house down in Pebble Beach. Mother said we could use it for a week after the ride. I think it would be wonderful to just relax and get our strength back don't you?" she asked as she drew little patterns on Ryan's belly.

"Well, I've never had a more tempting offer but knowing you I'll come home twice as tired as I was after the ride!"

"We'll just have to pace ourselves," she promised.

"Do you think you'll be ready to enjoy each other…thoroughly by then?" Ryan asked, eyebrows waggling wildly.

"I'm ready now," she moaned. "If we had somewhere to go I'm sure I'd be ready. But I've been thinking of what we spoke about before and I know that once we start I won't want to stop. I think it would just be too frustrating to spend every evening trying to find a place to be together. It would really take the special feeling out of the experience."

"I want it to be a time we'll both remember for the rest of our lives, Jamie. Going to Pebble Beach sounds perfect. I'll arrange to take a second week off."

"Are you tired yet? I could probably sneak upstairs and get us a pillow and a blanket."

"I'm beat," Ryan conceded. "But I don't want Cassie to hear you. The arm of the sofa looks perfect for my head. Would you mind using my chest for a pillow?"

"Let's give it a try," she agreed. Ryan scooted up until her head rested on the soft, low, wide arm of the leather sofa. Jamie cuddled up against her side and rested her head just above her breast. "Umm, I think I'm going to throw my pillow away permanently," she murmured. "I love it here. I can feel your heart beat and hear your steady breathing…It's perfect."

"You won't be cold will you?"

"Not with your hot body next to me. I think I can throw my blankets away too."

"That's a little premature. We can't sleep together every night you know."

"How about tomorrow?" Jamie asked with a grin.

"Tomorrow would work fine. We'll figure out some place to put you. Our game starts at two, so come over by 1:30. Don't forget your toothbrush."

"I'll bring my books on the off chance we might do any studying on Sunday."

She could feel Ryan stiffen perceptibly. "Jamie, I have to study on Sunday. Finals are in one week!"

"Okay, Ryan, I promise I'll behave. I won't kiss you, I won't even touch you if you don't want me to."

"Hey, you don't have to be a lunatic about it," she teased. "But I've got at least ten hours of work to get through this weekend and I'll start stressing if I don't finish it."

"I promise I'll put your needs ahead of my desires," she promised. "But I can play with you tomorrow night, can't I?"

"My body is yours to do with as you will. But at midnight, I'm reclaiming it."

"It's a deal, Cinderella," she promised as she kissed her one last time and snuggled up contentedly.

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

Ryan woke a little after three a.m. with an insistent pain in her bladder. As she struggled into consciousness, she realized that the pain came less from fluid consumption and more from Jamie's knee that was pressing firmly into her abdomen. She gazed down at her still face, so open and guileless in sleep, and brought her hand up to lightly touch her cheek. A strong burst of emotion welled up in her chest as she regarded the woman she loved. Jamie looked so childlike and trusting as she clung to her body, that Ryan was reminded once again how vulnerable each of them was now.

Ryan trusted her family as much as she trusted herself. That confidence had been with her since birth; and even though they fought like any other family, she knew that none of them would ever hurt her intentionally or betray her. But she had always been very leery of allowing an outsider to get close enough to even risk being hurt. Jamie was the first to ever really get inside, and even though Ryan would lay down her life for her lover, she had to admit that the unfamiliar vulnerability sometimes frightened her. Just the few minor spats they had already gone through had hurt her in a way she had not considered possible. Jamie's opinion of her meant everything now, and she realized that for the rest of her life she would have to consider Jamie's view on every major decision that she made.

Even though the exposure and vulnerability would take time to get used to, she honestly felt that choosing to be with Jamie was the best decision she had ever made. No one had ever excited her as much as the small woman who now cuddled up against her side, but the overpowering sexual attraction was one of the least compelling reasons for her commitment. It was Jamie's soul that was the most beautiful part of her. Her kindnesses, her empathy for others, and her deep moral convictions were the qualities that attracted Ryan so powerfully.

The small blond shifted just a tiny bit in her sleep, causing Ryan to smile down at her as her mouth worked slightly. A stirring in her groin reminded her of just how powerful her attraction was, and she smiled contentedly as she thought of spending a whole week with her sometimes unpredictable but always frisky little partner. She could no longer resist the lure of those sweet pouty lips, and she allowed herself the guilty pleasure of lightly kissing them. Luckily, Jamie could sleep through anything, and she didn't stir at all. Ryan closed her eyes and let herself dream of their upcoming trip, unable to keep the broad smile from her face.

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

Chapter Eight

On Saturday morning Jamie got up extra early to make sure she had plenty of time to attend the rugby game. Her studies went better than she expected, and she found that she completely lost track of time. She had to rush to get to the Noe Valley by 1:30 and was disappointed to learn that all of the players had already left. Martin and Caitlin met her at the door, and both welcomed her enthusiastically. Tommy was playing and Annie was working, so Martin had agreed to handle babysitting duty while Maeve prepared the post-match picnic at her home. "We'd best get moving, Jamie," Martin suggested. "They like to start on time."

He was driving Maeve's car since the car seat was already in place, and they all piled in for the short drive to the Driscoll house. Martin ran in to help his sister-in-law carry the enormous basket which was loaded to the brim with snacks for the players. During the trip to Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park, Martin explained the overall objective of the sport, which seemed easy enough, but he started to get bogged down with the details of the innumerable rules. Maeve stepped in to help.

"Here are the simple facts, dear," Maeve explained patiently. "Each side tries to run or kick the ball over the goal line. The other side tries to tackle them and steal the ball. It's such a jumble that it's almost impossible to tell who even has the ball most of the time. It just seems like an organized street fight to me, and I've been watching matches my whole life. I spend half of my time praying that they all come out of the match in one piece, and the other half filling up water bottles for them."

"Do you enjoy watching them?" Jamie asked.

"Well, I must say I enjoy watching more when my sons and nephews aren't on the field. Oh, I should say niece and nephews," she amended with a laugh.

"That's all right, Maeve," Martin reassured her. "After 15 minutes you can't tell the men from the women anyway when the field is wet like it is today."

They arrived at the well-tended field just before two o'clock. Martin told Jamie that they were in a city league that played throughout the winter and spring. The field was lighted for night play and most of their games this spring had been on weeknights. This Saturday afternoon game was a rarity and was also their final game of the season. Martin proudly explained that today's game was for the championship of their division.

Their team consisted of all of the boys in the family plus Ryan and a few family friends to insure that they always had the required 15 healthy players. As the spectators approached the field, they saw 'Team O'Flaherty' performing some easy stretches to get ready for play and Jamie had to really concentrate to spot Ryan amidst the crowd. However, as they got closer it was almost as if the tall rangy woman could sense Jamie's presence. That dark head turned and locked eyes with Jamie as a brilliant smile lit up her lovely face. Jamie returned the smile and added a wink for good measure as Ryan ran over.

Jamie was carrying Caitlin, and both blondes happily greeted Ryan when she approached. Maeve came over and gave her niece a gentle hug while she asked, "Now what's this secret you promised to reveal today?"

Ryan slipped her arm around her aunt's shoulders, led her about five feet away, and replied. "This is kind of a secret," she said quietly. "I want you to keep your eyes open for a very special woman today, Aunt Maeve," she informed her.

"And who might that be?" she asked.

"Against all odds, I've finally convinced the most wonderful woman in the world to fall in love with me," she said with a wide smile. "She might come to see us play, so I want you to keep an eye out for her. She's a little shy and I don't want her to be overwhelmed with all of the family, but I know you'll be discreet," she confided.

"Ryan, Sweetheart, that's wonderful!" she cried. "But how will I notice her?"

"You can't miss her, Aunt Maeve. She's easily the most beautiful creature you'll ever hope to see." She gave her aunt a kiss on the cheek and ran right by her smirking lover, calling out a casual, "Glad you could come, Jamie."

The blonde just shook her head as the chuckling woman ran back to her mates. As Ryan jogged away, Jamie mused that the view she was now afforded was well worth the effort that she had expended getting to the match on time. The whole team wore what Maeve informed her were the jerseys of the Irish national squad. The long-sleeved garment was a bright kelly green with a white collar and a white badge with three shamrocks embroidered over the breast. Very brief, wide-legged white cotton shorts and knee-length kelly green socks completed the uniform, and Jamie wished she had brought Mia or some of her other straight friends to see how the O'Flaherty boys filled out the little shorts.

Still, no matter how many gorgeous hunks of O'Flaherty thigh flashed before her eyes, she truly noticed only one body in the crowd. Ryan looked as cute as she had ever seen her in her little outfit, and the energy just flowed from her body as she jumped around trying to stay loose in the damp, foggy wind. The black-shirted referees ran onto the field, then a whistle blew to begin the game. From the opening moment until the end of the first half, a little more than 45 minutes later, Ryan never stopped.

She was a complete blur most of the time, running all over the 110 yard long field with absolutely no regard for her body. Jamie winced and grimaced every time she was tackled, and it seemed that she was tackled more than anyone else. Martin assured her that it was just because her lover was the fastest player and carried the ball more often than the others, but she hated it nonetheless.

To Jamie's amazement, Martin informed her that there were no time outs during play, but the clock did stop when there was a penalty or after a "try," which she likened to a touchdown in football. Every time there was a break in the action, Ryan would run by and give her aunt a questioning glance. Jamie noticed that each glance was met with a shrug of Maeve's small shoulders. After one such exchange, Ryan came close and said, "She has the most adorable smile you've ever seen. Her eyes crinkle up and sometimes she gets a little wrinkle across the bridge of her nose. Think gorgeous!" she added, as she ran back to the game.

Jamie knew that Ryan was toying with her, and that the game included somehow duping Maeve, but she wasn't exactly sure what the game was. Her curiosity finally got the better of her, and she sidled over to Maeve asking, "What's that about?"

"Oh, ahh, I suppose Ryan wouldn't mind if I mentioned this to you," she said quietly. "She says she's fallen in love, and she's expecting her young lady to come to the game. She wants me to keep an eye out for her."

"Really?" Jamie asked with a smile.

"Do you know her, Jamie? Can you point her out to me?"

"Can't help you there, Maeve. You know how secretive Ryan can be. By the way, how did she describe her?"

"Oh, you know Ryan. She said she was the most beautiful woman I would ever see," she laughed.

"Well, Ryan does tend to exaggerate," she modestly agreed.

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

Play began again, and by half time the players were all caked in mud and dirt and grass. Ryan had her hair tied back in a tight braid but even it was covered in mud. During the break, the players lounged on the ground while they gulped sports drink and relaxed a bit. Jamie had no idea what the score was; there was no official scoreboard, so she was a little surprised when Martin informed her that the O'Flaherty's were leading by 21 points. "How can you tell?" she asked.

"You have to pay attention," he said as he cocked his head just a bit. "Haven't you been watching, Darlin'?" Jamie just shook her head as he laughed at her puzzlement. "The game takes a little while to get used to," he admitted.

When Ryan got up to hit the field, she gave her aunt another set of attributes. "She has a great body, very athletic and fit. Beautiful hair, almost the color of the sun, with perfect, golden-toned skin."

Play began again and the frantic pace never abated. Jamie paid rapt attention this time and began to figure out the scoring system. She proudly called out the score to Martin after every point scored, and he praised her effusively. But, in yet another quirk of the unfamiliar game, no one except the referees knew how much time remained, and the game ended rather abruptly for Jamie's taste. The teams graciously shook hands, then the O'Flaherty's came back to their side to celebrate. They wiped off as much muck as they could, but they were still disgusting, sweaty messes.

Ryan plopped down near Jamie and her aunt, allowing Caitlin climb all over her. Maeve crouched down next to her and said, "I'm sorry, dear, but I could not find your friend."

Ryan adopted a deeply dejected look as she said, "Maybe I was wrong. Maybe she doesn't love me." She looked up at Jamie, who was trying to hide a smile, and asked, "What do you think, Jamie?"

"Well, a person would have to love you an awful lot to want to get near you right now," she agreed as she scrunched her nose in distaste.

"That's true," Ryan conceded. "If a woman could stand to kiss me now, that would be an irrefutable sign of her love."

Jamie gave her an indulgent smirk and sank to her knees right in front of the whole flock of O'Flahertys. Ignoring the shocked glances from each and every one, she tossed her arms around Ryan's filthy neck and dipped her head to plant a scorcher on the dirt-flecked lips. Ryan gathered her into her arms and pulled her down into her lap, tickling her unmercifully as Jamie giggled wildly.

"It's true," Ryan cried loudly for all to hear, squirming under Jamie's return tickle, "this unreasonably gorgeous creature has fallen in love with me."

Jamie laughed along with her partner as all, of the cousins teased Ryan about snatching away the only straight girl she had ever brought home. But Maeve didn't find the development funny in the least. She crouched down next to the women and gave each of them firm hugs as she wiped the tears from her eyes. "I'm so happy for you both," she said with a catch in her voice.

Martin came over to the group and patted Maeve on the back as he agreed. "Could you wish for a better mate for our Siobhán?"

"This is all-together the best news I've heard in an age, Martin," she said happily. "Although I didn't expect Ryan to be the second one of the group to give her heart away. Let's get moving, the lot of you!" she exhorted the assembled men who let out a collective groan.

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

The party moved from the field back to the house after everyone stopped at their respective homes for showers. By six o'clock the barbeques were going, and the house was packed to the gills with O'Flaherty cousins, aunts and uncles. The boys verbally replayed the match for the uncles and aunts who had been unable to attend, and Jamie was thrilled to notice that every reprise included generous praise for her lover. She found it totally charming that the men appreciated their only female cousin and let her play on their obviously important team. Rory set her straight on her misperception when he explained that not only was Ryan welcome, she was the vital link to their success.

"Ryan plays the "fly back" or the number ten position," he explained. "The ten is a bit like the quarterback in football. She makes all of the tactical decisions concerning whether the ball will be kicked or run with, plus, since she's easily the fastest player, she advances the ball better than anyone on the team. When you add in the fact that she's absolutely fearless, you get the accurate picture of what she means to us."

"I guess I just assumed that you let her play because she was fast and agile," Jamie admitted.

"No, Jamie," he said with a big smile. "You'll soon learn that there's not much our Ryan does where she's not the best. Believe me, it was sometimes no fun to have your little sister beat you at everything you tried to do. Luckily for the rest of us she acts so darn matter of fact about everything that you don't feel as humiliated as you would if she lorded it over you."

Jamie reached up and gave him a friendly hug as she said, "You know, Rory, one of the things that most attracted me to her was seeing how crazy all of you were about her. No one knows her as well as you guys do, and if you were all wild about he,r I just figured I had to get to know her better."

He looked at her soberly for a moment and wrinkled up his brow before he leaned over and softly said, "She's precious to all of us, Jamie. We all made a vow to our mother that we'd love and protect her for the rest of her life. I can certainly tell how much you love her, but I'm not sure that you realize how fragile she can be."

She looked up at him and cocked her head quizzically, urging him to go on. "I'm not even sure that she realizes it sometimes," he said. "She acts as though she's been too busy or otherwise occupied," here he blushed a little at the obvious reason for her preoccupation, "to fall in love. But it's only because she's so afraid of having her heart broken. I think you're a wonderful choice for her, Jamie, but if there's any doubt in your mind about your commitment to her, please don't lead her on. I just don't think she could bear another broken heart." He looked down at Jamie with nothing but love and concern on his handsome face. A tiny part of her thought that she should be insulted by his meddling in their business, but her more mature side took over almost immediately. She stood on her tiptoes and wrapped her arms around his neck, placing a gentle kiss on his now deeply blushing cheek.

"I swear, Rory, if I wasn't wildly attracted to your sister I'd want to be with each of you boys. I really appreciate your concern for Ryan, and I want you to know that I've made the same vow that you have. I've promised her that I'll love and protect her for the rest of my life, and I don't renege on my promises."

He was still blushing a little as he said, "I guess I'm just concerned because I know you were recently engaged to a man and I um…"

"It's okay, Rory," she reassured him. "I made a mistake, but even though I was quickly realizing that I was deeply attracted to Ryan, I wasn't the one who broke off the engagement. I'm like a loyal little dog. Once I follow you home, you have to take me to another county and throw me out of the car to get rid of me," she said with a gentle laugh.

He placed his large arm around her small shoulders and tilted his head until it lightly rested upon hers. "Believe me, Jamie, if Ryan tried to toss you aside, the lot of us would knock some sense back into her straightaway!"

With her unfailing ability to sense where her lover was at all times, Ryan zeroed in on her and sidled over to remove her brother's arm from Jamie's shoulders. "This is why I never brought a woman home before," she informed Jamie while she shot a broad smile at her brother.

"You can't blame a lad for trying," Rory smiled back at her.

"Well, lucky for me I have the whole summer to cement my position in her heart. When you come back in the fall, she'll be firmly under my spell," she said confidently.

"Pretty confident, aren't you?" Jamie asked as she snuggled up against her side.

"Yep. I'm going to devote every bit of my energies to making you the happiest woman in the Bay Area."

"You're gonna have to aim higher than that," Jamie teased as she tilted her face up for a kiss, "since I'm already the happiest woman in the world."

As Ryan slid her arms around her and placed several warm kisses on her pink lips, Rory rolled his eyes and walked away, unnoticed by the cuddling twosome.

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

By 10:30 the party showed no obvious signs of slowing down except for Caitlin, who was removed by Tommy from Ryan's protective embrace and taken home to her own bed. Ryan glanced around for her lover and found her once again in the corner, this time with Kevin. As Ryan approached, Jamie gave her the tiniest of headshakes, and she immediately rerouted and went into the kitchen to help her aunts with the clean up. Jamie came in as they were finishing and slipped her hand into Ryan's, leading her discreetly away from the crowd and down the stairs.

"Every time I look up you're in the corner with one of the boys!" Ryan groused. "What gives?"

"I've been welcomed and warned by every male member of your family except for Duffy!"

"Welcomed and warned?" Ryan asked with a confused look.

"Yes. 'Welcome to the family, Jamie. You're a wonderful girl and we're very happy that Ryan chose you, but if you hurt her, we'll track you down and kill you!'"

"They didn't!" she gasped as she dropped to her bed.

"Oh, yes, they did," Jamie assured her as she sat across Ryan's knees and kissed her cheek. "Oh, they were more tactful than that, but the message was the same."

"Jamie, I'm sorry," she murmured.

"Sorry? You have nothing to be sorry for. I think it's completely adorable that all of them care for you so much. It's reassuring to know that you have over a dozen people watching out for you when I can't be on the job," she said as she tweaked her nose.

"You know, every day you give me another reason for why I made such a good decision in choosing you. Most women would be intimidated or insulted by that, but you take it as a reassuring gesture. That's really wonderful," she said happily.

"That's all true, Ryan, except for one small detail."

"What's that?"

"I chose you!"

Ryan nodded her head agreeably as she conceded, "I suppose you're right on that point. So let's say I made a wise decision in accepting your proposal."

"I just want to keep the record straight," she said as she pushed her taller lover down and covered her body with her own.

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

When Cassie Martin returned from her date that Saturday night, she stared at the small note lying on the hall table.

I'm staying at my parent's tonight. I'll be home late Sunday,


We'll just see about that, she thought with a smirk as she dialed the phone. "Hello, Mrs. Evans?" she asked sweetly when the phone was answered.

"Yes," replied the cultured voice, just a trifle thick from her usual evening pastime.

"It's Cassie Martin, Mrs. Evans," she stated as she thought, I hope she's not too drunk to have noticed if Jamie's there or not.

But Catherine was only a bit inebriated since it was only nine o'clock. Her voice snapped to attention and became sharper as she asked, "What is it, Cassie? Is anything wrong?"

"No, not at all," she said calmly. "I just need to ask Jamie something. Is she there?"

"No, she's not here," Catherine replied, sounding a little confused. "Why do you think she is?"

"She left a note saying she was going to your house, Mrs. Evans," she said slowly. "Oh, I hope I didn't cause any trouble by calling you."

Even though Catherine had consumed quite a few drinks her quick mind honed in on a critical point. "Why didn't you call Jamie on her cell phone, Cassie?" she asked suspiciously. "That's always the best way to reach her."

"Oh, that's right. Silly me," she said absently. "I just call her so rarely that I forgot about her cell phone. I certainly hope I haven't caused you any alarm, Mrs. Evans."

"Actually you have, Cassie," she said rather sharply. "I'll call Jamie to make sure she's all right. And then, of course, I'll ask her to call you back. Are you at home?"

"Um…yes, I'm at home, but it's really not necessary, Mrs. Evans."

"Nonsense. If it was important enough for you to have to call here, it's important enough for Jamie to return your call. Goodnight, Cassie."

Catherine slumped back into her chair and tried to gather her thoughts. She didn't want to get involved in any adolescent squabbles between her daughter and Cassie, but there was a glimmer of a chance that Jamie had been on her way home and had gotten into an accident. So she hit the speed dial and waited for six rings before her daughter's happy sounding voice answered. To her own surprise, she immediately hung up. She sat in her chair and stared at the receiver that she still held in her small hand and considered her actions. She realized that she didn't have any interest in checking up on Jamie; she had just wanted to know that she was safe. Once she was assured of that, she really had nothing to say. Although I suppose Cassie will be waiting for a return call from Jamie, she thought absently. A sly smile curled up the corner of her mouth as she rose to pour herself another Scotch. Let her wait!

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

As the last of the relatives left the house, Rory bade everyone goodbye. Brendan had offered to take him to the airport in the morning, so he decided to sleep at his brother's apartment and allow Ryan to use his room for the night. Jamie gave him a big hug and a kiss and quietly promised to watch over Ryan in his absence. She left the rest of the family to say their goodbyes and went downstairs to get ready for bed.

20 minutes later Ryan came down, red eyed and a little glum. "Are you all sad that Rory's leaving?" Jamie asked as she wrapped her arms around her.

Ryan just nodded, her lips pursed together tightly.

"You poor little thing," she soothed as she led her to the loveseat for a little comfort. Jamie sat back in the corner against the cushions and urged her lover to rest her head in her lap. Running her fingers lightly through her hair, she gave her the physical comfort that she obviously needed. She didn't think there was much to actually talk about since it was clear that Ryan just had a hard time being away from any member of her family for a significant time period. She thought about her own family and realized that she often couldn't remember if her mother was even in the country; and her father traveled so often for business that it wasn't odd for him to be away for weeks at a time when she was a child. She reflected that she and Jack had planned on being apart for a whole year while he clerked for a federal judge, and was struck with the realization that things would be very different with Ryan. There's no way in the world I'd let her be away from me for a whole year, she thought with amazement. Why didn't it seem odd to me at the time? I thought it was perfectly natural to see my fiancé only on weekends and to plan to have him be gone for a year. God, I can hardly stand to be apart from Ryan overnight!

As if she read her thoughts Ryan murmured, "Don't wanna go upstairs," in her adorable little five-year-old voice.

"I know, Sweetie," she soothed. "I don't want you to go either, but we're still close. I'll just be downstairs if you get lonely."

Ryan struggled to her feet and went into the bath to get ready for bed. Jamie heard her muttering to herself the whole way, and she was once again charmed by her companion's complete vulnerability with her. When Ryan came out, Jamie offered to take her to bed and tuck her in. She accepted with a dropped chin and a shy little grin that peeked out via her sparkling blue eyes. On the way upstairs they stopped in Martin's room for their goodnight kisses. He gave Jamie a curious glance while he hugged his daughter, and she mouthed that she'd stop in on her way back down.

The next stop was Conor's room. He was just leaving the bathroom that he and Rory shared, and he likewise gave both women a hug and a kiss. He looked very tired, and as soon as he entered his room the lights went out. Jamie led Ryan into Rory's bed and sat on the edge ruffling her hair through her fingers. "I love you, Ryan," she said softly as she leaned over for a tender kiss.

"I love you too, Jamie," she said sadly. As Jamie got up to leave she turned for one last look and felt her heart nearly break at the wide-eyed, childlike expression on her lover's face. She blew her a kiss and started to close the door but Ryan instructed, "Leave it open, please. I want Duffy to be able to come in and cuddle."

On the way back downstairs Jamie stopped in Martin's room and quietly closed the door to be able to speak without her keen-eared lover noticing. "What's with the Princess?" he asked with a furrowed brow.

"She's very sad that Rory's leaving," she confided. "She seems quite fragile tonight, and I think she needs some comforting."

"But you're honoring my rule about not sleeping together, correct?"

"Of course, Martin. We wouldn't dream of going against your wishes."

"Well, you know, Jamie," he said as he slid an arm around her shoulders, "the rule was designed solely to maintain family harmony. But the only member of the family who would notice is Conor. If you could manage to be a bit stealthy there's no reason for him to find out."

"So you really wouldn't mind?" she asked excitedly.

"How can I put this delicately?" he mused. "I feel uncomfortable having my children acting like married people before they're willing to make a public commitment. But it sounds like you're asking to give Siobhán some comfort rather than…"

"Absolutely, Martin," she said as her blush rivaled his. "Besides, given Ryan's mental age tonight, the last thing on her mind is…" she said with a wink.

After another good night kiss she crept up the stairs, being careful to avoid the third step that had a definite squeak to it. Quietly entering the room, she slowly closed the door as she heard Ryan give a start. "It's me, Honey," she whispered.

Ryan quickly sat up and gazed at her with a puzzled look. "What…" she began, but Jamie quickly silenced her with a gentle kiss as she slid into the full sized bed.

"Your father said we could sleep together as long as all we did was sleep," she teased as she snuggled up next to her.

"You asked?" Ryan's expression was so amazed that Jamie had to laugh.

"No, no, Honey, I just said you needed some comfort tonight. He actually made the suggestion. He loves you very much, Ryan, and we wants you to feel better."

Ryan sniffled a little at the thought of Jamie and her father trying to find a way to care for her. Jamie scooted up on the bed and drew Ryan in close so that her dark head rested against her soft breasts. Ryan sighed so deeply it was nearly comical, but she immediately nestled snugly against Jamie's tender embrace, so that there wasn't a millimeter of space between them. Moments after settling down, her deep, even breathing lulled Jamie into a sweet, dream-filled slumber.

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

She woke long before the sunrise, but it took her a moment to get her bearings. The feel of Ryan's body against hers was still unfamiliar, and it took her a second for her brain to get the message that she wasn't wrapped around Jack; but when she allowed her senses to really open up, there wasn't a doubt in her mind who shared her bed. The first thing that caught her attention was the alluring aroma that emanated from Ryan's body. The scent was almost indescribable, but she was sure she could pick it out given a thousand choices. There was something just so Ryan-like about the scent; it was sweet and spicy, complex and simple, sexy and innocent.

But even without her scent, the way Ryan's body felt was so different from Jack's that it continually surprised her that she could mistake one for the other. Where Jack was hard and strong, Ryan was soft and supple. He carried much of his weight in his broad shoulders and chest, and the dense muscles felt heavy and oppressive when he lay against her. But Ryan's softness just molded against her so perfectly that she felt more like a comfortable extension than a separate person.

Jack was an athlete too, and his breathing pattern was very similar to Ryan's. They each drew long, slow, deep breaths with a surprisingly long pause between each one. As she tilted her head just enough to rest her ear against Ryan's chest, she noticed that their heartbeats were also similar: steady, slow and strong. Even though Jamie had enjoyed resting her head on Jack's chest, the sensation of doing so to Ryan was a much richer one. Lying on Ryan's chest was like being enveloped in a warm maternal embrace. There was something so soft and warm and reassuring about hearing that strong heartbeat and having those amazingly supple breasts just inches from her face that nearly made Jamie swoon with pleasure.

Jamie knew that she had only slept for about five hours, but it felt so wonderful to have Ryan wrapped around her that she actually hated to go back to sleep. There was something so unspeakably delicious about feeling her warm body caressing her that her overwhelming urge was to remain awake and luxuriate in the sensation. Ultimately, the warmth and the comfort that flowed from their tender connection pulled her back down into slumber despite her best efforts to remain alert.

For the next two hours they repeated the cycle over and over again. One would awaken and change position to make their connection even more air-tight. The other would quickly wake, and they would spend a few minutes in a deeply sensual dance, moving slowly and tenderly against each other until sleep reclaimed them. Neither had any inclination to actually break the spell, but when Ryan heard Conor start the shower she finally spoke the first words of the day. "I hate to say it, but you should probably go back downstairs. Once Conor's out of the shower, it'll be hard to sneak away."

"Mmmm," Jamie's deep morning voice rumbled. "Don't wanna leave."

"I don't want to either," Ryan sighed as she let Jamie's kisses weaken her determination.

After ten minutes of increasingly sensual touching, she realized that they were much more able to comply with her father's wishes when they were actually asleep. "I've got to get up," she mumbled as she pried herself away from her frisky lover. "Way, way too tempting." She sat on the edge of the bed and shook her head quickly to order her thoughts. "You can stay in bed for a while, I'll go have breakfast with Conor and Da."

"No, no," Jamie insisted. "If you get up, I can get up." She started to struggle to her feet, but she was still so tired that she leaned heavily against Ryan as soon as she was vertical.

"Honey, go back to sleep," Ryan insisted. "There's no rush."

"But I want to be with you," she mumbled into the fabric that covered Ryan's chest. "I like you."

A very amused chuckle greeted that remark. "I like you too," Ryan agreed. "But you still can go back to sleep."

"Uh-uh," she insisted as she shook her fair head.

Ryan started to back out of the room, but Jamie clung to her like a drowning woman. Her hands were clasped firmly around Ryan's neck, and she let herself be dragged along as Ryan continued to move. "Jamie," she soothed. "Your bed is calling you…"

"Uh-uh," she said again. "Only your mouth calls to me." With that she tightened her grip and plastered herself against Ryan's body. They were now in the upstairs hallway, just outside of Rory's room. Ryan stumbled a little and was stopped abruptly by the railing. Giving in to the warm, sensuous kiss, she sat on the railing and enjoyed Jamie's mouth for several seconds. They were so involved that they almost didn't hear the muffled thump and sharp gasp that echoed up from the living room. Ryan tore her mouth away and looked over her shoulder to see her father gathering up the laundry that he had been carrying. She turned and gave her partner a dramatic eyebrow lift as she calmly drawled, "Morning, Da."

"Ahh, good morning girls. I didn't see you up there," he said nervously, not making eye contact. "Ready for some breakfast?" He was busily trying to refold the neat piles he had been carrying, but it was obvious that he was flustered at seeing them in the rather passionate embrace.

"Sure," Ryan said smoothly. "Be right down."

Jamie's hands had dropped to her sides as soon as they saw Martin, and she now gave Ryan a very guilty look. Her partner just pushed her gently into the bedroom and said, "I think that made him a little uncomfortable. Let me go smooth things over, okay?"

"Oh, Honey, I'm sorry I did that." Jamie looked terribly contrite,e but Ryan was having none of it.

"Nonsense. We were doing nothing wrong, Hon. He's just got to get used to it. It's an adjustment for him too."

"You sure?" Jamie asked, obviously hoping to be reassured.

"Positive. Now will you go back to bed?"

"Yep," Jamie agreed as she hopped back in. "I'm staying in bed until he goes to work!"

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

Ryan strolled into the kitchen and grabbed a piece of crisp bacon that her father had just prepared. She placed a kiss on his cheek and climbed aboard a tall stool, staring at him thoughtfully the whole time. Martin was concentrating on his cooking as though it was terribly mesmerizing, but he looked up quickly when Ryan asked, "Want to talk about it?"

"It?" he said absently, trying to avoid this particular talk.

"Um hmm," his daughter replied. "The big 'it' that's making that pancake batter so utterly fascinating."

He uttered a small, nervous laugh as he turned to face her. "I hate to be so transparent," he grumbled.

"It's okay, Da," she said reassuringly. "This has got to be hard for you. It's completely understandable."

He smiled at her with a look of utter relief on his handsome face. "Is it really, Darlin'? I've been worried that maybe I'm not as open minded as I like to think I am."

That admission took Ryan aback, and she blinked slowly as she tried to comprehend exactly what he meant. "Do you think it bothers you because I'm with a woman?" she asked slowly, as she tried to keep the hurt from her voice.

He looked very uncomfortable as he pursed his lips and said, "I…I'm not sure, Siobhán. I've just had a bit of a hard time adjusting…I…I'm not sure."

Conor's heavy tread echoed through the dining room, and father and daughter paused as he entered the kitchen. Taking one look at their faces and sensing the tension in the room, he turned on his heel and marched right back out. Martin smiled at his son's retreating form and said, "The lad has an aversion to serious talks, doesn't he?"

"Yeah, he's the smart one," Ryan grumbled, now wishing she had not brought the topic up at all.

Seeing that he had upset his daughter, Martin wiped his hands and pulled up another stool right next to hers. He sat down and waited until she made eye contact to say, "I'm sure this is temporary, Sweetheart. But you might have to have a little patience with your old father."

Ryan gave him a small smile and nodded her head. "I can be patient," she said. "I just don't understand why it would bother you. It certainly isn't a surprise that I'm a lesbian."

"No, of course it isn't," he agreed. "I've known that you were…you know…with women…for years now, but Tracy was the only woman you've ever brought home."

"Did it bother you to think of Tracy and me…together?"

He blushed a little as he conceded, "Yes, it did a bit."

"I could have reassured you on that one, Da, we didn't have sex!"

"You didn't?" he asked, slightly stunned. "Why not?"

"For the same reason I haven't had sex with Jamie," she explained. "I was trying to find out if Tracy was right for me, and I wanted to concentrate on building a relationship before I muddled the issue with my raging hormones." She looked at him with a very serious expression as she related, "About five years ago, you told me that sex was much more special if you waited for the person that you loved. I obviously didn't heed your advice then, but I'm giving it a go now. I'll let you know how it works out," she said with a charming grin.

"So how do I get over feeling odd about you two?" he asked plaintively.

"I don't know," she said honestly. "I guess we just see how it goes."

Jamie snuck her head into the room and asked, "Is this a private conversation, or can I join in?"

Ryan opened her arms as she gave her a wide smile. Jamie walked over and snuggled into her embrace as she sat on the tiny edge of the stool that Ryan vacated for her. "You're welcome to join us," she said as she rested her chin on Jamie's shoulder.

"I was just telling Siobhán how happy I am that she's found you Jamie. You're the best addition to the family that I could ever dream of," he said as he bent to kiss her cheek. As he stood, he gave his daughter a reassuring smile and a kiss.

Jamie blushed a bit at the praise and turned her head to Ryan as she said, "That's one of the nicest morning greetings I've had in a long while."

"They're only going to get better," Ryan's deep voice burred against the back of her neck, sending a good-morning shiver down her spine.

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

After breakfast Jamie decided to go to church to see her grandfather, but Ryan couldn't spare the time. She grabbed a liter of water and went downstairs with Duffy to get to work. She was completely amazed to feel a soft kiss on her neck after what seemed to be just minutes later, but Jamie assured her that it was nearly noon. Pulling her lover onto her lap, they spent a few minutes kissing before Ryan patted her butt and sent her on her way. After changing into khaki shorts and a sky blue tank top, Jamie went upstairs to make lunch, coming back a few minutes later with two sandwiches and one happy dog. They spent a few minutes sharing their lunch while Jamie related the message of the sermon and gained a promise that they could spend some time with her grandfather after finals. After their meal was finished Jamie said, "When I was upstairs with your father, he acted just like he always does. How did your talk go this morning?"

"It went okay," Ryan said, thinking about the whole exchange. "But he is a little uncomfortable with us. I think he needs some time to let the change sink in."

"Is he uncomfortable with it because we're women? Or just because we were being too affectionate?"

"Not sure," Ryan said. "I don't think he knows, either. But he's willing to talk about it, so I'm sure it will be okay eventually."

"Hmm, has he ever seen you kiss anyone before me?"

Ryan thought about that for a minute, eventually smiling up at her partner. "You know, I don't think he has. God, that's gotta be kinda rough on a parent. I mean, he knows I've been having sex for a long time, but it must be weird to actually see evidence of the way I feel about you."

"Yeah," Jamie said with a chuckle. "Your intentions were pretty clear this morning, too. That kiss was way friendly."

Ryan laughed as she reminded her, "You started it, Smarty-pants. I'm just a slave to your desires."

"We're both prone to losing control," Jamie agreed. "But to be fair to your father, I think we should tone it down in front of him. It's kinda rude."

"You're right, as usual," Ryan agreed. "I don't want to have to avoid showing affection, but our passion should probably not be on display."

"You know," Jamie said thoughtfully. "I wonder if that's the real reason behind the 'no overnight dates' rule. I bet your brothers wouldn't mind a bit."

Ryan laughed quietly as she nodded her head. "You know, I've never considered that. But I know Conor would love to have another woman in the house even if she was in my bed! And Rory's so casual about things that he wouldn't bat an eye. I think we may have stumbled upon one of Da's weaknesses."

"Well let's make sure we don't exploit it," Jamie declared as she patted Ryan on the cheek and released her to resume her studies.

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

Ryan got up from her chair at three and lay down on the floor. After performing an elaborate series of stretching moves, she was right back at it. Jamie loved watching her concentrate, and Ryan's trance was so deep that, for a change, she didn't even notice that she was being observed. She was wearing her cute little wire-rimmed computer glasses as she sat in front of her monitor, fingers flying over the keys. Jamie was fairly computer literate, having had her own system since she was in grammar school, but Ryan acted like her computer was just an extension of her brain. She could find the most obscure site on the Internet in a matter of moments, and Jamie suspected that she could make a good living in the software business if she chose that path. Still, even though she was a prodigy with computers she didn't seem to love them with the same passion that she held for science and math. She actually never looked more content than when she was sitting in front of her computer working on a particularly difficult problem. The look of joy and excitement that graced her beautiful face when she solved whatever issue was vexing her was truly a thing to behold, and Jamie smiled when she thought of spending the whole next year watching her plow through her studies. There was just a tiny part of her that felt a little left out, since she had absolutely no idea what Ryan was talking about when she tried to share her discoveries; but she was happy to witness her joy even if she didn't understand it.

Since Ryan was so engrossed, Jamie had no choice but to get caught up on her own work, and they were both surprised when Martin called them for dinner. "Dinner?" Ryan said as she lifted her head. "Did we have lunch?"

"Yes, dear," Jamie said as she tried to roll her away from the screen by tugging on her chair.

Ryan dug her heels in and said, "I've almost got this figured out. I need a few more minutes," and turned her laserlike concentration back to her computer.

Shaking her head, Jamie climbed the stairs with Duffy and informed Martin of Ryan's statement. "I've heard that excuse a thousand times or so," he nodded. He was busily arranging the repast on a pair of platters but he stopped for a moment and reflected. "You know, Jamie, she's been like this since she was a tiny little thing. I used to wonder at the mothers at the park complaining about their children never paying attention to their schoolwork. It was all I could do to get her to stop for dinner when she was working on her little math problems."

"I don't remember doing much math homework when I was small," she mused.

"Ha! She wasn't doing homework," he laughed. "She could easily handle her homework at school and keep one ear open to pay attention to the teacher. She's always been able to seemingly devote her attention to two or even three things at once. No, she was working her way through her brothers' math books by the time she could read. I'll never forget her explaining some difficult concept to Brendan when he was studying for the SAT's. He was nearly 17 and she was 11, sitting on his lap in the dining room, patiently explaining whatever was vexing him. She's truly a prodigy, you know," he said proudly.

"I…I really had no idea," she said with a stunned expression on her face. "I just assumed she liked math and was good at it."

"No, I don't think math is something she likes," he said reflectively as he gazed into space for a moment. "It's more than that for her. I don't pretend to understand it, but I know it's much more than a simple affinity." He furrowed his brow for a moment, trying to explain his idea. "We started noticing that she was different when she was just learning to talk," he recalled. "She was very slow to talk, the slowest of all of the children. Fionnuala was actually quite worried about her, but the doctor assured us that she was perfectly fine. She just had three older brothers who did whatever she asked as long as she pointed!" he said with a fond smile. "Anyway, Conor was in first grade when she was just turning 2. She was usually on his lap or being carried around by the lad, and it seemed that she was learning his school lessons right along with him. One evening Fionnuala was working with Conor on his math homework. She asked him what two plus two plus one was. He fumbled around for a bit, but just couldn't figure it out. Fi noticed that Siobhán was getting frustrated, and before you know it she cries out, "Five, Cono! Five!"

Jamie's eyes had grown wide and her mouth dropped open in amazement.

Martin laughed and informed her, "That's just the look Fionnuala had on her face when she came into the living room carrying the little scamp! Her first sentence turns out to be a math solution!"

"That's truly amazing," she muttered, still in shock.

"Oh yes," he agreed. "She amazed the teachers in school. After kindergarten they wanted to jump her ahead a year or two since she was so advanced. But Fi was so sick," he said, his eyes taking on a sadness that Jamie had rarely seen in him. "We both knew she had very little time left, and it just seemed unwise to cause any more disruption in the children's lives. It would have been very hard for Rory to have his little sister in his class and, aside from math, she was perfectly suited for first grade."

"What did you do?" Jamie asked. "How did you keep her interested in school?"

"Well, she was terribly lucky to have a wonderful teacher in first grade."

"Sister Kevin?" she asked, remembering the teacher who helped Ryan pick her new name.

"The same," he said with a fond smile. "She obtained some teaching materials for fourth and fifth graders and let Siobhán work on them on her own when the others were having their math instruction. It worked out very well and it let her figure things out on her own, and that probably helped her in the end. Sister Kevin spoke to each of Siobhán's subsequent teachers, and they each followed her advice. It worked out brilliantly."

"Wow, that really was smart," she agreed.

"Yes, but we had another go-around when she was in high school," he informed her.

"How so?"

"Did you know she earned a perfect score on the SAT's in math?" he asked, knowing that his daughter would not impart this type of information voluntarily.

Conor came in while they were talking and added, "Tell her the amazing part, Da." Unable to wait, he turned to Jamie and said, "She took the SAT's when she was a freshman in high school as part of a program to identify kids who could benefit from entering college early. She sucked at the verbal part," he laughed as his father cuffed him on the head for that comment and continued, "but when she got an 800 on math, they just went nuts!"

"She did not…suck," Martin said with a sour look on his face. "Her verbal score was in line with a 14 year old. Nonetheless, they tried to talk me into letting her skip the rest of high school and go on to college, but there was no way she was ready for that emotionally. I thought she'd be a much happier adult if she stayed with her own class."

"Plus, she sucked in every course that wasn't math or science," Conor had to add as he dashed from the room to avoid another pop.

"Did she want to go?" Jamie asked as Martin shook his head at his mischievous son.

"I don't think she had any interest, really," he admitted. "She loved sports as much as she loved studying, and she knew she wouldn't be allowed to compete in college when she was 14 years old—even though she probably could have!" he laughed. "I'm sure she'd have a doctorate or two by now if I'd let them rush her through, but she's got plenty of time to make her contributions to the world. It was more important to me that she have an environment where she could mature at her own pace. Although after her senior year, I certainly did regret my decision," he grumbled.

A thought dawned on Jamie and she asked, "Why didn't Ryan have academic scholarships to college?"

Martin shook his dark head again at that question. "She could have gone to any school in the country, Jamie. M.I.T., Cal Tech, the Ivy League, North Carolina, they all wanted her. The people from Stanford would have given their eyeteeth to get her. Their soccer coach courted her like a lovesick suitor! But she wanted Cal and she wanted the athletic scholarship. I'm not sure why it meant so much to her, but it truly did. When she decided to attend USF, they were more than happy to find some money for her, but she didn't think that was fair. She felt that accepting money at that late date would take a scholarship away from someone else, and she just couldn't do that. Personally, I think she set things up the way she did to punish herself for all of the troubles that befell her. I think she still accepts all of the blame for the whole incident."

"But what does she have to feel guilty for?"

"I think she feels like she should have known better than to be vulnerable with that girl," he said, unable to even speak Sara's name.

"But that doesn't make any sense!" she protested.

"Jamie, one thing you'll learn about my little one. Once she makes up her mind about something, it's nearly impossible to change it, no matter the evidence."

Jamie nodded slowly, having figured that trait out already. But she was determined to one day make Ryan see that the troubles she experienced in high school were the result of vindictive, small-minded kids, and that she was truly blameless.

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

After dinner the boys insisted that they would clean up so that the students could get back to work. They went back downstairs and hit the books until nine o'clock, when Jamie realized that she was getting too tired to continue. "I'm gonna head home," she said through a yawn.

Ryan looked up as though she had forgotten that her lover was even there. "I'm sorry I haven't paid more attention to you," she said sincerely. "Are you sorry that you spent the day here?"

Jamie came over and straddled her lap, facing her squarely. "Of course not, Ryan. I had a really nice day. I had to study anyway, and it was so nice to look up and see you every time I took a break. You're the best view in town, you know."

"Why don't you stay over again? Your roommates think you're at your parents don't they?"

"Yeah. But I would normally come home on Sunday night. Besides, I don't have any clean underwear for tomorrow."

"Well, I want you to do what you want, but I have some tiny little underwear that's too small for me. I bet it would fit you just fine."

"Okay," she grinned. "I'll go sleep in Rory's room so you can use your computer."

"Great," said Ryan. "Then we can drive to school together in the morning."

"Will you wake me up? I don't have an alarm on my watch."

"I'll get you up an hour before we have to leave. Then we can have breakfast."

She knew how serious her partner was about her studies when she was seemingly content to receive a single kiss goodnight. But before she left Jamie had to lean over and kiss the dark head that held so many secrets that she was looking forward to discovering.

Continue to part 5

beyond uber index <> homepage