I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 3: Coalescence

By S X Meagher



General Disclaimer: I double-dog-dare you to prove that this piece infringes on anyone's copyright.

Plot (or lack thereof) Disclaimer: This piece is primarily a playful little honeymoon romp. The entire book covers one week in the lives of two women in love. If you need a lot of action or intrigue in your fanfic, give this one a miss.

Sex/Love Disclaimer: This book consists of the interplay between new lovers. The main characters spend a lot of time in bed, gaining rather explicit knowledge of each other. I can understand if you find it is not your cup of tea, but if you read it with the knowledge that you are the sensitive sort when it comes to sex, donít come cryiní to me.

Serial Story Disclaimer: This is the third story in a long series. I highly recommend that you read the first two stories before this one. You might well be confused even if you do so, but for Godís sake give yourself a fighting chance!

Warranty: My team of experts assures me that each and every physical expression of love depicted herein has been tested under rigorous field conditions. Some assembly required.

Implied Covenant of Readability: If you are able to read this story without tripping over a dangling participle, the following generous, patient souls are responsible: JTD; Day, the Wonder Woman; Natalie; MaryD and Stacia.

Acknowledgement: To the bards and the many readers of fanfic in the Xenaverse. This is a very special community, and Iím grateful to be a part of it.

Dedication: As always, to my life partner and chief research assistant, Carrie. Every part of my life is enhanced by her mere presence.

Feedback: To receive advance notice of updates, please join my e-group. SX_MeagherUpdates-subscribe@egroups.com. This is an announcement ONLY list.

I can be reached at sx_meagher@yahoo.com

***Part 1***

The massive six-lane thoroughfare was jammed with people. Some sat upon sleek, brightly colored racing bikes, unwilling to dismount even after so much saddle time. Small packs of people clad in bright, primary-colored T-shirts said their good-byes with emotion-filled hugs. Coworkers, family members, friends, and lovers shouted greetings and ran to meet their loved ones, welcoming them home from their long journey. So many peopleóso much emotion; the scene was close to chaotic, save for one small oasis of tranquility.

Two young women sat alone on the edge of a large, balloon-bedecked stage. They were holding hands and the smaller of the two, a young blonde woman, leaned heavily against her taller, brunette companion. Her fair head rested against the broad shoulder of her friend, who supported her with a strong arm tucked around her waist. A banner over their heads proclaimed, "California AIDS Ride 6---Welcome Home, Riders," but neither woman seemed particularly cognizant of her surroundings.

They gazed blankly at the throng of people below them, their unfocused eyes only partially taking in the joyous celebration that showed no signs of abating. As a group of stagehands jumped onto the platform and began to break down the stage, the smaller woman spoke. "I know we should go, but if we do, I feel like the spell will be broken."

"Spell?" Her dark companionís voice rumbled huskily, its normally smooth tones rough from singing and shouting farewells.

"Yeah," the blonde answered, feeling a little shy. "This week has been so magical for me that Iím afraid to have it end."

"Jamie," the deep voice crooned, "the magic has just begun, Baby."

Sighing heavily, the blonde cuddled up tighter against her partner. "Really, Ryan? Are you sure weíll be able to hold on to this feeling?" Her voice held a wistful note, and it was clear that she hoped that her friend would reassure her.

The brunette sat up tall, separating a bit from her companion. She allowed her considerable confidence to show as she sought to convince her partner. "Guaranteed, Babe. This feeling is all about love, and passion and commitment. Weíve got tons of that!" A gentle laugh floated up to Ryan, and both women smiled as they considered that thought. "I could sit here all day, but I guess weíd better go find Mia or sheíll ditch us," Ryan suggested, a small chuckle showing that she was partially kidding.

"More likely sheíll hook up with someone, and then ditch us," Jamie laughed, well aware of her roommate and long-time friendís tendencies.

She got to her feet and stretched for a minute to get some of the kinks out of her back. She was bent over at the waist loosening up her hamstrings when Ryan chortled, "You know her too well, Hon. Sheís hooked up alrightóoohóan older man."

"Probably the head of the studio," Jamie said absently, alluding both to her friendís propensity to attract attention from a wide variety of males, and her summer job working for a movie studio in L.A.

Ryan jumped to her feet and gave a hearty wave as Mia jogged over while holding the hand of a middle-aged, sandy-haired man. Ryan turned to comment on Miaís date but caught sight of her partnerís stark white, terror-stricken face. "Jamie, whatís wrong?" she cried, grasping her by the shoulders.

"MÖmÖmy fÖfÖfather!" she squeaked out, looking like she was going to faint.

Ryanís hands dropped as she whirled to stare at the approaching pair. Her eyes focused on the tall, athletic-looking man and immediately saw the resemblance to her partner. Not bothering to process the information her brain was receiving, she leapt from the platform and intercepted Mia, grabbing her in an enthusiastic hug, while Jamieís father, his attention centered on his daughter, continued towards the stage.

"Miss me?" Mia giggled, her feet dangling a foot and a half off the ground.

"What did you see?" Ryan hissed into her ear.

Mia leaned back in the embrace, staring at Ryan for a moment. "What do you mean? We saw a bunch of people on bikes."

"You didnít see us on the stage?" the dark woman demanded, her heart still racing.

"Well, yeah, we saw you on stage. It was like 30 seconds ago, Ryan. Do you have heat stroke or something?" the curly-haired woman asked with concern as she looked into Ryanís eyes.

Exhaling heavily, Ryan placed Mia back on the ground and leaned over, resting her head on the small womanís shoulder. "Thank you, Jesus," she breathed.

Mia placed her hands on Ryanís shoulders and moved back a few inches, staring at the normally implacable woman. "What in the hell is going on, Ryan?" she asked. "You look like you had the scare of your life!"

Turning her head to catch sight of her partner, Ryan murmured, "We almost did, Mia. We almost did."

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

"Daddy," Jamie whispered, her voice far too soft for her father to hear. The beaming man extended both of his strong arms, and without a second thought, she clasped his forearms and let him grab her waist and lower her to the ground. "Daddy," she whispered again, the weak voice now filled with tears. Her panic had morphed into shock, but when she saw how happy her father looked her mood changed once againónow she was filled with appreciation that her father had gone out of his way to be here for her. "HowÖwhenÖGod, Iím glad to see you," she finally got out.

"Nothing could stop me from being here for you, Cupcake," he murmured, his voice cracking with emotion. "Iím so proud of you, Jamie. So very proud." The hug in which he had enveloped his child had grown progressively tighter as he spoke, and he had to force himself to loosen his hold. "I donít think Iíve ever been prouder in my whole life," he finally whispered. "Iím so happy that youíre my daughter."

Hot tears began to course down Jamieís cheeks, her body weak with emotion. "Thank youÖthank you for coming, Daddy." She wiped the tears away with the back of her hand, the gesture ineffectual since the flow had not stopped. Jim Evans retrieved his clean linen handkerchief and gently dabbed at her eyes, the tender gesture causing the emotional woman to cry even harder. "ItÖit just means so much to me," she sobbed. "Iíll never forget this, Daddy."

"There, there, Baby," he murmured, hugging her tightly. "Itís all right, Honey. Itís all right."

It took another minute or so for Jamie to control herself, but she finally took a deep, ragged breath and stood tall. "Wow, that just knocked me out," she said, a little embarrassed at her uncharacteristically emotional display.

"This was a very big deal, Jamie. Itís perfectly understandable that you would be emotional about it. While we were waiting, Mia and I heard some of the families talking about their loved ones who were participating. There are a lot of very courageous people on this ride, Honey."

"Oh, I know, Daddy," she smiled. "And hereís one I want you to meet." She extended her hand and grasped Ryanís arm, pulling her close. "Daddy, this is Ryan OíFlaherty." She didnít know quite what adjectives to use to express the deep bond she had with her partner, so she chose to say nothing else.

Ryan stepped forward and extended her hand. Her eyes grew wide as the grinning man enveloped her in a hug, whispering, "Thank you for helping Jamie accomplish this, Ryan. I know how instrumental you were."

Ryan was stunned, at both the display of emotion and the warm appreciation that the man offered. "IÖIímÖpleased to meet you, Mr. Evans," she got out.

"Forget the ĎMr. Evansí stuff, Ryan," he said, releasing her. "Please call me Jim."

"Me, too?" Mia piped up, poking her head around Ryanís shoulder.

"You too, Mia," he laughed. "You girls are adults now, and itís time we treated each other that way."

"Cool," the cherub-faced brunette beamed.

"Iíve gotta get my bearings here," Jamie muttered. "I still donít know how you got here, or why youíre not still in Italy, Daddy."

"Itís simple," he said as he slung his arm around his daughter. "Letís go get your things and Iíll tell you all about it." As they started for the "Meet and Greet" area, he explained, "I needed to be at work on Monday for a meeting, so I decided that if I had to be in California on Sunday, I might as well come on Saturday. I called Miaís dad, got her number, and she and I met up this morning."

"So, youíre staying over?" Jamie asked, hoping that was not the case. As grateful as she was for her fatherís generous act, she had a deep need to spend the evening in her partnerís arms, and she doubted that would happen if her father were to stay the night.

"No, Baby, thatís why we came to look for you. Iíve got very little time. My flight is at seven oíclock, so I need to be at LAX by six."

"Itís nearly five now," Jamie said, looking quickly at her watch. "You have to leave now to be sure you make it."

"My point exactly," he smiled. "We thought youíd never get over here, so we had to come find you."

They were now at the gear pick-up area, and since they were so late, their things were easy to find. "Itís amazing you found us in this crowd," Jamie mused.

"Not really," Mia piped up. "I saw a big group of women with matching T-shirts that saidÖumÖthat saidÖthat they were from San Francisco." Mia discreetly failed to mention that the complete slogan was, 'The Lavender MenaceóSan Francisco'. "On a whim, I asked if they knew you or Ryan, and they did! One of them said you guys were still over at the stage, so we high-tailed it over there."

Miaís huge, rather impish smile indicated that she had more to add, but Jamie, wary of Mia's propensity to reveal all, didnít want to ask for too many details. Therefore, she tailored her query to obtain the minimum of information. "Did you see the whole ceremony?"

"Yeah, but we didnít hear it," Mia laughed. "We watched from your dadís office." She turned and pointed to one of the gleaming stainless steel office buildings that flanked the wide street. "Up there, on the 15th floor."

Jamie offered up a silent prayer of thanks that her father had an office in the neighborhood, since he surely would have seen the impromptu serenade if he had been in the crowd. "Thatís fantastic," she said, the relief evident on her face. "Iím so glad you saw it all."

"Yeah, it was pretty cool from that perspective," Mia commented. "It was just a sea of people and bikes."

Jim nodded enthusiastically, smiling broadly at his daughter. "It was very impressive, Jamie." He took a quick glance at his watch, pursing his lips as a worried frown settled on his forehead. "I hate to leave so abruptly, but I really have to run."

Mia and Ryan busied themselves with grabbing all of the gear so that Jamie could have a moment alone with her father. Once the gear was secured, Ryan paused to take in her future father-in-law. Her previous glimpses of the man only allowed her to identify him from an angle that she hoped she was never unlucky enough to see again. Viewing him fully clothed allowed her to concentrate on the overall package, and she was pleased with what she saw.

He was tall, much taller than Ryan would have guessed--actually about Ryanís height--and his build was amazingly similar to Jackís. His hair was mostly blonde with a good smattering of gray that, with his vibrant demeanor, actually looked premature. After another minute of reflection, however, Ryan amended her opinion. Jim Evans did not really look that young when judged solely by his features or his hair, but there was something absolutely boyish about his sparkling eyes and energetic enthusiasm. Ryan had always prided herself on being able to judge people based on their physical appearance and energy level. After spending a moment looking at Jim, she decided that things would probably go just fine between them. He looked friendly, and open, and very at ease with his emotions. He reminded her a bit of Jamieís grandfather and she prayed that Jim took after his father in personality and open-mindedness as well as in appearance.

No matter what happens when Jamie comes out to him, Jim has shown that Jamie means a great deal to him, Ryan thought, watching the father and daughter talk quietly. He really went out of his way to be here to support her and for that, Iíll always be grateful.

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

Jamie stared at her father for a few minutes, enormously pleased that he had realized how important this event was to her. He seemed to understand her unspoken words as he placed his hands on her shoulders and smiled broadly. "Your mother and I worried about you all week, Honey. We must have mentioned you at least 20 times on Sunday alone." His smile broadened as he revealed, "I called my secretary as soon as the office opened on Monday to see if she had watched the news about the start of the ride. She went on and on about how many people were riding, and how much money had been raised, and I decided that if I could rearrange my plans a little in order to be here with you, it was well worth the effort."

As she wrapped her arms around his waist for another hug, he continued, "You know, Jamie, itís one thing to give money to a charity, but quite another to make this kind of physical and emotional sacrifice. Youíve really shown me what youíre made of."

She snuggled into his embrace and just let the sobs take over. He patted her back and rocked her slightly, just as he had when she was young. When she was in control, he held her out at armís length to inspect her. He was both surprised and pleased by how muscular and fit his little girl looked. Her skin had tanned during the ride, even with Ryanís obsessive sun block application, and she looked healthy and vigorous and very mature. Tears formed in his eyes once again as he held her tightly and allowed himself to share in her accomplishment.

"Ryan seems like a lovely young woman," he said after a minute, sniffing slightly.

Jamie shook her head and wiped at her eyes, her enthusiasm immediately bubbling out. "Oh, she is! Sheís absolutely remarkable, Daddy. Sheís been losing weight all week, and she was so sick this morning that I donít know how she continued, but she got back on that bike and forced herself to finish. Iím just so proud of her," she choked out.

"There, there, Sweetie, itís okay." He soothed her tenderly, rocking her in his arms. Looking up, he motioned to Mia and Ryan. They both looked a little embarrassed at witnessing such a private moment, but he put them at ease. "Iíve got to leave, girls. Will you make sure my baby gets taken care of tonight?"

"Weíll take very good care of her," Ryan said, as she cast a fond glance at her partner.

Jamie kissed her father goodbye; then with a sob, she turned and fell into Ryan. Jim gave the tall woman a small nod as he passed his only child over to her. He clasped her shoulder, giving it a good squeeze, hugged Mia goodbye, and disappeared into the crowd.

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

Mia looked at Ryan and made a hand signal to ask if she should make herself scarce. Ryan shook her head, knowing that Jamie just needed a moment to collect herself. "Time to go, Honey," she soothed, stroking her partnerís back. "Can you make it?"

The smaller woman took a deep breath and straightened up. "Yeah, Iím okay." She tilted her head back and paused for a moment, trying to calm herself. "This is just an awful lot to take in at once."

"What happened before we saw you guys?" Mia asked, aware that she had missed something momentous.

Ryan wasnít in the mood to explain and, since Jamie didnít look able to, she suggested, "Letís get out of the crowd. Iím getting a little claustrophobic. Iíll fill you in on the whole thing when we get to your apartment."

Ryan hoisted her own bag in one arm and shared the burden of Jamieís with Mia. Jamie stayed right by her partnerís side even though the bag prevented them from touching. They located the car in the subterranean parking structure of Jimís office building. Mia got in to drive, and after stowing the bags in the small trunk, Ryan climbed into the back, right next to her partner.

They struggled through the traffic-clogged streets, finally making their way to Santa Monica Boulevard. Mia peppered them with questions and Ryan answered most of them. Jamie was largely uncommunicative, curled up on the seat and leaning against her partner, who had an arm wrapped around her protectively.

Ryan kept the conversation going by asking Mia all about her job as a production assistant for a major film studio. The work sounded fairly interesting and Mia was meeting a lot of people. She had found a fantastic sublet for the summer, and she raved about the apartment all the way to Santa Monica.

When they reached Miaís place, both guests were suitably impressed with the rather opulent apartment. It was a spacious two-bedroom unit, furnished in a rich tapestry of greens and golds and yellows. The style was vaguely Italianómodern, sleek and elegant. The most stunning element, however, was the beautiful, unobstructed view of the ocean. They could see the Palisades and the sharp drop from the street to the shore. Hundreds of people were on the beach and the bike path was also full on this cool but sunny day.

The unit had come completely furnished and sported a very well appointed kitchen. Since Mia had yet to make anything more adventurous than microwave popcorn, they decided they would order dinner in.

Ryan stowed their bags in the spacious, understated guest room. She asked Jamie if she would like to shower first. Receiving only a vacant nod, she gave Mia a little shrug, pulled Jamie into the bedroom and pushed her gently onto the bed. Kneeling at her feet, Ryan looked up at her with concern. "Are you okay? You look pretty out of it." While waiting for her answer, she brushed the hair off Jamieís forehead and felt her cool skin.

"Iím okay," she said weakly. "It was just all so overwhelming."

"Do you want to take a shower? Or would you rather just lie down for a while?"

"I canít decide whether tired or dirty wins," she muttered, wiping at her eyes with an annoyed swipe. "I guess dirty takes it," she groused. "Iíve got a nasty combo of sun block, sweat, sand and tears going on here."

"Need help?" Ryan asked ingenuously, batting her big blue eyes.

"Yeah," Jamie smirked, her normal attitude reasserting itself. "Take my shoes off."

Ryan returned the smirk, grumbling, "I get all the crummy jobs."

"You just wait, Buff," Jamie promised. "Tomorrow, youíll have full access."

"Tomorrow?" Ryan gaped.

"Oh, shit," Jamie cried. "I mean Monday." She dropped back onto the bed and let out a frustrated moan. "Damn, maybe we should just go home tonight."

"NahÖwe canít do that," Ryan demurred. "I think Miaís looking forward to spending some time with you. We canít blow her off now."

A heavy sigh greeted this thought. "Of course, youíre right. I canít let my baser instincts rule my world."

"Base? You think Iím base?" Ryan pounced on her partner, pinning her to the bed and tickling her furiously. Jamie squirmed and cried, seeming more like herself every minute.

"Okay, Love-Bug," the breathless blonde managed. "You go play with MiaÖand get a snack."

"Snack? Did somebody say snack?" The always-hungry woman rose immediately and left the bedroom, nose twitching--every sense attuned to the presence of food.

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

Ryan went out to chat with Mia for a few minutes and look for that snack. The good news was that Mia was familiar enough with Jamieís emotional responses to not be bothered by her withdrawn behavior in the car. The bad news was that there was nary a bite to eat in the house. Her desires frustrated, Ryan went back into the bedroom to organize her things.

Jamie wasnít in the shower very long and when she emerged, wrapped in a big towel, Ryan expressed surprise. "That didnít take long. Werenít you tempted to stay in there all day?"

"As a matter of fact, I was, but I decided to make it quick, since I knew I had to leave some water for you." She tilted her blonde head and grinned at her partner, and Ryan was reassured to see the playful glint in her eyes once again.

"Well, Iím not going to be so moderate," Ryan warned. "Iím gonna stay in here until my fingers prune!"

"You go right ahead, Pigpen," Jamie teased, lightly flicking her thumb at the dirt-smudged face. "Youíre my little dirt raccoon."

"Dirt raccoon?" Ryan queried.

"Yeah. The dirt sticks to your face, but it doesnít get behind your sunglasses. So you get this raccoon effect. Itís pretty cute," she decided.

"Dirt raccoon, indeed," Ryan grumbled, going into the bath to dispute the moniker.

After looking into the huge, well-lit mirror over the double sinks, Ryan had to agree that she looked more raccoonish than human. "Iím going to scrub every particle of dirt from myself, Babe. Would you see what you could get for us to eat?"

"Sure Hon, anything in particular youíd like?"

"Iíd eat the back door buttered," Ryan assured her in her best Irish accent.

Jamie shot her a fond smile, always amused by her partnerís endless Irish aphorisms. "I think I can do better than that, my little colleen. You take it easy and take a nap when youíre finished with your shower, okay? Youíve had a tough day, Baby."

"Okey dokey," Ryan agreed, shutting the bathroom door.

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

Ryan stayed in the shower for a good 15 minutes, even though she knew that water conservation was important in Southern California. She needed to pamper herself a little bit today, so she indulged in the extravagance without guilt--washing her hair three times before she finally felt that all of the grit was washed away, then shaving her legs carefully, luxuriating in the feeling of actually being able to move freely in the pounding water after a week of showers in facilities the size of a phone booth.

When she had finished, she was pleased to note that she was feeling much like her old self. Her energy level was better, and she felt so clean that her mood was much improved. Pulling on her cleanest sweats, she climbed onto the neatly made bed and was asleep within seconds.

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

While Ryan was in the shower, Jamie put on a tank top and a pair of running shorts and went out to join her friend on the balcony.

Mia was sitting in the cool ocean breeze, the wind blowing her jumbled curls all around her head. "Hey," she said in greeting when Jamie poked her head out.

"Hi," Jamie smiled. "Do I look like a human again?"

"Yep. I knew it was you under that layer of grime, but you look perfectly normal now. Feeling better?"

"I feel pretty good, actually. The ravenous beast is going to need to be satisfied soon, though. Where can we get plenty of food really fast?"

"Mmm, we can order in or walk some place close. The nearest place is a little ChineseÖ"

"Sold!" Jamie decided. "Thatís Ryanís favorite."

"Itís not fancy, Hon. Itís cheap and quick, though."

"Even better," Jamie laughed. "Those are Ryanís primary requirements in a restaurant!"

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

After they both got shoes on, they started off on their short quest. As soon as they hit the street, Jamie stretched her arms out and took in a deep breath, tilting her head back to gaze at the milky blue sky. "God, it feels good to be off that bike!" she cried to the heavens.

Mia draped an arm around her shoulders and gave her old friend a squeeze. "Was it really hard, James?"

Pursing her lips together, Jamie considered the question. "Yes and no. In a way, it was absolutely ridiculous, it was so hard," she laughed. "If I never see another hill it will be too soon! My legs feel like I ran three marathons, and I have no feeling left in my ass." She paused and considered the conflicting feelings that flooded her brain. "Itís hard to explain, Mia. I never thought Iíd say this, but in a way, it was easy. The energy of the group was so infectious that you found yourself doing things that you didnít think possible. And mealtimes were so nice! I met tons of peopleóand some of them hadnít even slept with Ryan!"

"Yikes!" Mia cried. "Did you run into old lovers?"

"Yep. All ages, all sizes, all shapes. The only thing Iím sure of is that she never slept with a man. Other than that, all bets are off!"

"You seem awfully cool with it," Mia said with a suspicious glance. "Why doesnít that bother you?"

Jamie thought about that for a minute. "Oh, probably because it wasnít a surprise. I knew that sheíd slept with tons of women, and it stands to reason that lots of them would be on the ride. It was a little weird, but in a way, it helps me to know her better."

"Yeeeeaah, that sounds like you," the mischievous woman teased.

The no-nonsense look on Jamieís face gave Mia a clear signal that she was completely serious. "Well, it is like the new me. I donít want to change her. I love her just like she is. And if I really love her, I have to accept that she is who she is because of the sum of her experiences. What matters is that she loves me now, and I believe that sheís committed to me."

"Are you really sure about that?" the curly-haired woman asked, a niggling doubt about Ryanís ability to be faithful troubled Miaís mind. As much as she liked Ryan, her loyalty was first and foremost to Jamie, and she wanted to protect her friend as much as possible.

"Yes. I am." The confident look had not changed, and Mia found herself smiling at her friendís assuredness. A gentle smile slid onto Jamieís face, and her voice turned wistful. "Sheís soooo cute about telling people about our relationship, Mia. She introduces me as her partner, and when I asked her why, she went into this explanation about all of the terms sheíd thought about using, and why each of the others wasnít quite right."

"She told everybody about you?"

"Uhh, we both did," Jamie said, taking a noticeable gulp. "And I do mean everybody."

"Huh? "

"Right before you found us, a group of her friends got the band to play a song for us. We were up on that stage with thousands of people singing to us!"

"Holy crap!!! What were they singing?" Mia gaped.

"Going to the Chapel," Jamie informed her with rolling eyes. "Itís an old song that I think Iíve heard. My beloved knew every word, of course, and we ended up with me sitting on her knee while she serenaded me! We were making out in front of that huge crowd!" As these words left her mouth, all of the color drained from Jamieís face, and she reached out blindly to steady herself against a building. "We were making out in front of that huge crowd," she repeated in a whisper, clutching at her suddenly pain-wracked stomach, eyes wide with alarm.

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

A short time later, Ryan woke with a start as her partner hurled herself onto the bed. "Shit!" the dark woman cried as she jerked up into a sitting position. Turning wide eyes to her partner, she asked, "Whatís wrong?!"

"We were making out in front of that huge crowd," Jamie moaned, still clutching her stomach.

"What?!" Ryan demanded, sleep-fogged and confused.

"We had thousands of people singing to usÖWe were making out in front of all of themÖThere were probably television cameras thereÖMy parentsí friends might see us on the newsÖCassie might see us on the newsÖWhat part of that donít you get?" The words came out in a monotone, all of the blondeís emotion lodged in her cramping stomach.

"Ahh, shit," Ryan slammed her fists down onto the bed. "God damn it!" She was off the bed in a flash, pacing up and down the large room in a tight oval. "Damn it, damn it, damn it!"

Seeing how upset Ryan was made Jamie immediately try to collect herself. "Honey, HONEY," she said at higher volume. "Why are you so upset?"

"Because YOU are," Ryan cried. "I was so involved in the joy of the moment, that I didnít even consider the repercussions! That was so stupid! I canít believe I let that happenÖ"

Ryan started to pace again, muttering under her breath, but in that instant a perfectly clear thought came over the smaller woman, and she looked up at her partner calmly. "Itís okay, Ryan. Itís really okay."

The pacing stopped and Ryan crossed back to the bed, climbing on and scooting across the surface on her knees. "What?" she asked in a subdued voice. "How can it be?"

"It can be because Iíve just decided that it is," Jamie said, her voice full of her growing conviction. "Iím not ready to tell my parents yet, but if they find outÖthey find out." She looked completely normal now, and her lips had even curled into a sunny smile. "Iím not ashamed of youÖIím not ashamed of myselfÖIím not ashamed of our love. I refuse to be ashamed, Ryan," she added softly. "This is too precious a gift to ever be ashamed of."

Ryan lifted her hand and began to stroke Jamieís face, fingers gliding over the smooth planes of her face. She stared at the earnest woman for a few minutes before tilting her head and bending for a kiss. Their lips merged in a tender touch as Ryanís fingers threaded through her partnerís fair hair. Both women rose to their knees and continued the embrace, which was now rapidly escalating in intensity. The kisses grew more heated, more passionate, as each claimed their right to love who they chose, as they chose. Shaking with emotion, they slowly broke apart, finishing with a small flurry of tender kisses.

Ryanís heart was filled to bursting with emotion for the gentle woman in her arms. Jamieís heartfelt words seemed to break the shackles Ryan had used to control her desire. Her hands shook as she trailed them over Jamieís face, lovingly touching each feature. Her eyes were dark with yearning, and her breathing had become more rapid until she was panting softly. "I want to make love to you, Jamie. I need to love you." Her grip tightened, and they tumbled onto the mattress, with Ryanís powerful body poised over her beloved.

Summoning all of her resolve, Jamie placed her hands on the sides of Ryanís clenched jaw, sliding her fingers across her ears and down the tightly corded tendons in her neck. "I want that, too," Jamie said, reaching up to place gentle kisses all over Ryanís flushed face. Jamie blinked slowly, realizing that Ryan was allowing her to make the final decision. The sensations were overwhelming as she tried to calm her racing pulse, feeling the heat radiating from her partner. To her own amazement, she slowly shook her head and tried to kiss away the disappointment revealed in the dark blue eyes "This isnít the place, Honey. Mia will be back soon, and the last thing I want is to have to rush, or be interrupted."

"ButÖ" Ryan began to beg, her arousal clouding her judgment, "we could just not answer when she comes homeÖ"

Jamie was firm in her resolve. "No, Honey. This isnít what weíve waited for. This isnít special, or private. We deserve that," she insisted.

Ryan slowly lowered herself onto her partner, then rolled onto her side and tossed her arm over her eyes. Just then, Mia called out, "Dinnerís ready!"

When neither woman responded, Mia opened their door a few inches and said, "Letís go, you two. Iíve got enough food for the whole building."

"Thank God you were in your right mind today," the brunette muttered, "Ďcause if I was in charge, Mia would have been eating alone, and we would have missed our plane tomorrow!"

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

At eight a.m. Ryanís eyes blinked open, the bright sunlight streaming into the bedroom making it hard to stay asleep. She was lying on her back and Jamie was spooned against her right side with both an arm and a leg thrown over her.

She gently pried Jamieís sleep-heavy appendages from her body, marveling at how her partner could be manipulated in her sleep. As she stretched and flexed all of her muscles, she gratefully acknowledged how a little affection, a lot of loving attention, ten hours of sleep, and a fabulous dinner could restore her good humor.

She found her sweats and padded into the living room, looking for Mia and a little snack. Their hostess, dressed in running shorts and a tank top, sat on the balcony sipping from a large Starbucks cup while she flipped through the L.A. Times.

"Hey, Ryan, I brought back coffee for you guys." Ryan had poked her head around the doorframe when she spotted Mia, but pulled it right back in when she realized that a cup of coffee was waiting for her somewhere in the kitchen.

A delighted moan reached Miaís ears when Ryan found the huge cup sitting in the microwave. "God, Iíve missed this," Ryan groaned. She spent a minute figuring out the mechanics of the machine and then turned it on for two minutes, watching the cup twirl around, her anticipation building. She pulled it out when the timer rang and closed her eyes, taking a big sip, then holding the cup up in adoration, "Aaaah, Iíve missed you so." She walked back out to the balcony and kissed Mia on the top of her head. "You have my undying gratitude for this." She hoisted the cup again, gazing at it like a long-lost friend. "I think I missed caffeine more than anything else," she admitted wistfully.

"Iím really surprised they donít provide coffee for you guys," Mia commented.

"Oh, they do, but itís a diuretic. Itís hard enough to keep fluid in me without peeing it out unnecessarily," she replied.

Mia giggled when Ryanís statement reminded her of something. "Iíve gotta tell you, Ryan. I was the most surprised person in the world when Jamie decided to do this, but when I heard that she was gonna have to use a porta-pottie for a week, I knew she had lost her mind!"

Ryan gave her a smirk as she was forced to agree. "I donít think either of us will have fond memories of those little beauties. Youíd be surprised at Jamie, though. She can rally when she needs to."

"You donít have to defend her to me, Ryan. I love her like a sister."

"She feels the same about you, Mia. Iím glad she has you."

A massive smile lit up Miaís already sunny demeanor. She was touched that Ryan knew how close she and Jamie were, and very happy that Ryan supported their friendship. "So, what are your plans for today?" Mia was interested in the kind of things Ryan liked to do for fun. "Do you want to go to the beach?"

"I would love to spend some time playing in the surf," Ryan wholeheartedly agreed. "I want to go to church first, though."

"Church? Really?"

"Yeah, Iím going to St. Monicaís, just down California. Would you like to go with me?" She was teasing Mia, already knowing the answer.

"Gosh, Iíd love to Ryan," she said with innocent, wide eyes, "but I wouldnít want to break my record of never having been inside of a church except for funerals and weddings."

"Far be it from me to try to convince you to give up your beliefs," Ryan joked. "Hey, isnít your mom Italian?"

"Yeah, her parents were both born in Italy. Why?"

"How did you escape being Catholic?"

"Oh." Her laughter acknowledged that it was an anomaly. "My mother was raised Catholic, but she had a big fight with her parents and the Church over something and she quit on the spot. Sheís not the woman you want to piss off," she said with a chuckle.

"What were they fighting about?"

"Not sure. Maybe my dad, heís a heretic Lutheran, you know." She laughed again.

"So you didnít go to his church either?"

"He belongs to the church of the holy dollar sign," she scoffed. "He believes God lives in Ft. Knox."

Ryan shook her head, trying to imagine what it would feel like to have no religious background. "Must be funny to have no organized religion growing up. How do you know what to rebel against?"

"Yeah," Mia laughed. "Thatís about it, isnít it? Jamie is the only one of my friends that goes to church, and I think most of them were raised in some religion. I guess you donít miss it if you donít know it." She gazed at Ryan thoughtfully for a moment. "So, you and Jamie are both regular churchgoers? I hate to admit it, but I wouldnít peg you as religious."

"Jamie attends much more regularly than I do, but I get a lot out of a service if Iím in a receptive mood. I guess you could call me religious, even though I do break more than my share of commandments."

There was a brief moment of silence, and it gave Mia an opportunity to decide to take a plunge. "Do you mind me asking you a really personal question?"

"No, not at all." Ryan gave her a curious grin.

"What are your um...intentions...towards Jamie," she finally got out.

"My intentions?" she asked with a frown. "Ohhh, my reputation...." she said, as realization dawned on her. "You want to know if Iím going to ravage her thoroughly and toss her out when Iíve finished with her," she said with a double eyebrow waggle.

"Well, I wouldnít put it in quite those terms, but I have heard that you really get around, Ryan. Iím just concerned about Jamie, because this is all so new to her."

Ryan put her cup down and raised her face to the sky, composing her thoughts so that Mia would understand her completely. She turned so that she faced the small woman squarely. "Iím deeply in love with Jamie. Iím going to spend the rest of my life with her, if sheíll have me. I have been with a lot of women, but none of them has ever affected me like she has. Sheís one of the nicest, sweetest, most generous people Iíve ever met, and Iím honored that sheís chosen me."

Mia sat in stunned silence; regretting that she had put Ryan on the spot, but grateful that she had responded so openly.. "God, Ryan, I had no idea you were that serious." She reached out to grasp Ryanís hand, giving it a friendly squeeze. "I knew Jamie was wild about you, but I was afraid it might be a little one-sided." It was not an easy admission, and an apology was in order. "Iím really sorry that I assumed that about you."

"I have no one to blame for that but myself," Ryan grumbled. "Iíve never intentionally hurt anyone, but I know that quite a few women were hurt by my inability to form an attachment. I canít change what Iíve done in the past, but it will never happen again. Iím going to put every ounce of my energies into making this relationship work," she added firmly, her resolve evident in her clear blue eyes.

Mia leaned over and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "Iím really glad that you found each other, Ryan. She doesnít know this, but I was really worried about her when she decided to marry Jack. I mean, he was a really great guy and all, but it was obvious that she had no real spark for him. With you, she really acts like a woman in love. Itís great to see her so happy."

Ryan paused at that statement, and uttered a small, wry chuckle. "You know, sometimes I feel so sorry for Jack that it just makes me want to cry. If he loves her anything like I do, I canít imagine losing something that precious." She shook her head at the thought, allowing herself to feel how devastated she would be if Jamie no longer loved her.

"I know he said he loved her, Ryan, but how much can you love someone who doesnít love you back in the same way? I think he may have been in love with who he wanted her to be, rather than who she was." She added confidently, "I think you love the real Jamie."

ĎThe real Jamie is so much better than anything I could fantasize," Ryan fervently declared.

"Could you be any more wonderful?" came a soft voice over her shoulder.

Ryanís face lit up in a luminous smile as she turned and caught Jamieís loving gaze. "Címere, Sweet Stuff," she commanded, as her partner came out onto the balcony and curled up into her lap. Ryan placed several small kisses on her lips, smiling through the tender touches. "Hey, guess what Mia brought?" She provided a fairly large clue by holding up her cup.

"I just changed my mind," Jamie declared, getting off Ryanís lap and climbing onto Miaís. "I love you the best," she said as she snuggled against Miaís chest.

"Looks like you were worried about the wrong personís fidelity," Ryan joked to Mia as she left to prepare her partnerís coffee.

"What did she mean by that?" Jamie asked with a quizzical look on her face.

"I um...kinda made the mistake of assuming that she wasnít as serious about you as you were about her." The admission was accompanied by an embarrassed grin.

"And I assume she set you straight," Jamie replied.

"Completely," Mia agreed, rolling her eyes. "She said the sweetest things about you, James. It was really darling. I just had no idea that she was so open about her feelings."

"Iíve never known anyone who was so connected to how they feel," Jamie said. "Itís really easy for her to express her feelings, if she trusts someone."

Ryan came back onto the balcony just as Jamie finished speaking. "Iím going to Mass just down the street at 9:30, Jamie. Do you want to go with me?"

Jamie checked her watch and saw that it was just 8:45. "Yeah, Iíd like to. Do I have time to take a shower?"

"Sure," Ryan replied. "We donít need to leave until about 9:10."

"Oh, but I donít have any decent clothes," she said as she did a mental inventory. "I didnít know we were going to church."

"This is a Catholic church in Santa Monica, Jamie. Iím guessing the dress code is Ďno swimsuitsí."

"Really? I usually wear a dress to church. Are you sure?"

"Iím wearing my purple T-shirt that we got yesterday, and some khaki shorts. If you want to look like youíre with me, dress accordingly," she ordered. "Could I use your shower so we can get ready at the same time, Mia?" Ryan asked as she turned to go to their room.

"Sure, no problem," Mia replied agreeably.

When Ryan was out of earshot, Mia turned and asked, "So whatís up with that? Donít you two lovebirds shower together?"

Jamie blushed to the roots of her hair as she confessed, "We havenít really done um...everything together."

"What kind of everything havenít you done?" Mia asked, narrowing her eyes suspiciously.

"We havenít really had sex together yet," Jamie admitted.

"What!?" Mia shrieked. "Why the hell not!?"

"It was only a few weeks ago that I decided that this was right for me and that I was ready to take the plunge. We just couldnít find anywhere to be together that was private. We canít do it at her fatherís house, and Cassie was still in Berkeley."

"So why didnít you go to a hotel?"

"I wanted it to be special; you know, a time weíd always remember."

"How could you not remember the first time you make love to a hottie like that?" Mia cried. "You could do it on a bus and have it be memorable, Jamie!"

"I know, I know," she muttered, her embarrassment growing. "Iím really struggling with this, Mia. Cut me some slack, okay?"

"Iím sorry, James. I donít mean to give you a hard time. Iím just surprised, thatís all," she admitted. "I never would have asked her if she was serious about you if I had known this! She must love you an awful lot to wait all these weeks."

"Um...months," Jamie corrected shyly, flinching in anticipation of Miaís reaction.

"What do you mean, months!?" Mia was slightly dumbfounded, and her expression reflected her surprise.

"She didnít sleep with the woman she saw before me either, mainly because I talked her into trying to build a relationship based on something other than sex."

"So how long has it been for her?"

"Sheís only had sex once in seven months," Jamie figured with a gulp as she realized how long that really was.

"Seven months! Seven months! Are you crazy? When you finally unleash her, sheís gonna devour you in one bite! Thatís just not natural, Jamie. You could hurt yourself waiting that long!"

"Well, if you hear screaming coming from Pebble Beach tomorrow, youíll know that you were right." Jamie got up to take her shower, hoping that her insistence on celibacy would not prove to be her demise.

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

Continued in Part 2

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