I Found My Heart in San Francisco
Book 3: Coalescence
By S X Meagher
Disclaimers: See Part 1
***Part 17 Conclusion***
Jamie arrived in Palo Alto nearly an hour before the graduation was set to begin. She had decided that she would sit alone, not wanting to make the Townsend family uncomfortable. She didnít know what, if anything, Jack had told them about their breakup, but she wanted to avoid any unpleasant questions. Although they were very nice people, and she knew they would not consciously offend her, she knew that if they knew about Ryan they might feel obligated to say something, and she wasnít in the mood to discuss her lover with them.
She strolled around the law school campus, reminiscing about all the good times she and Jack had shared at the school. Passing by the administration building, she recalled going with him for his first registration, when he was nervous about his new adventure. They had only been dating a short while and they hadnít yet learned much about each other. They stood together in the various lines, her hand resting on his back. Her presence seemed to soothe him, and by the end of the day he was his normal, confident self. That day had done a lot to cause her to fall in love with him. The fact that he was not only willing to share his vulnerability with her, but was also willing to let her help him through it, was completely charming to her.
She let her mind wander through their three years together. It became clear to her, in retrospect, why she had fallen in love with him. He was so like her father, it was almost eerie. But he was a little bit more emotionally available than her father had been. Perhaps that was only because he was a student, and didnít have the demands of work that her father had. She suspected that in reality, her father was absent because he needed the space. She knew that he loved her and her mother, but she guessed that he could only handle small amounts of that love at a time. Jack seemed to have a larger capacity for closeness, but he still had a lot of her fatherís quiet reserve. She thought that was what made him feel so safe and comfortable, almost from the start.
Since she had never allowed herself to acknowledge her innate attraction to women, she had never known the power of fierce sexual attraction. Because of this, she had felt that the desire she had for Jack was what everyone felt. She had found a good man who would be a good father; it made sense to snatch him up while he was still available. She had to acknowledge that being with Jack had prevented her from exploring her deep, hidden feelings. She would never have cheated on Jack, no matter how strong the attraction, and the thought occurred to her that perhaps she was subconsciously trying to permanently remove the possibility of succumbing to her latent desires. Perhaps taking the lesbian sexuality class was a sign from her subconscious to burst out of the confines of her safe choice and take a risk. Whatever the reason, she knew it was the best decision that she had ever made.
Jamie walked past the area where the graduates were lining up, many of them posing for pictures with their families. She thought she spotted Jackís tall blond head, and as she came closer she saw that her guess was correct. He was standing with his parents and getting ready to pose for some pictures. He looked so handsome in his cap and gown that she felt a small stirring of emotion that took her by surprise. His gown was black, but he wore a cowl of a deep burgundy and white, along with a gold cord that she knew symbolized an honor. She assumed he would receive honors for being editor of the main law review, but he might have merited other commendations that she was unaware of. She felt a pang of loss at not even knowing how his last semester had gone, a sharp pain deep in the pit of her stomach.
Fighting to control her emotions, she was struck with the thought that she had given herself to this man. She knew now that she had not given of herself totally, but she had not known that at the time. It was deeply painful to watch him move on through his life without her, even though she was so much happier now. There was a part of herself that she had permanently given to Jack; she could never hope to reclaim that part, and she wasnít sure that she wanted to. The things they shared were all in the past now, but they were important to her. She wanted to treasure the good times they had together and mourn the bad ones.
She wiped the tears from her eyes and decided to go say hello before the ceremony began. Just as she took one step towards him, she saw why they had been waiting to take the pictures. His law review partner, Natalie, approached the group. Jamie watched, transfixed, as Natalie walked up and slid her arms around him and gave him a very, very friendly kiss.
Jamie stood, unable to move, as Natalie greeted Mr. and Mrs. Townsend. Her legs felt so weak that she nearly collapsed before she could stumble to a bench and collect herself. Every rational thought in her head screamed at her to leave at that moment. But the urge to observe the pair tugged at her like the need to look at a car wreck.
Fighting back her tears of outrage, Jamie stared at the happy graduates. Natalie and Jack posed with their arms around each other as Mr. Townsend snapped a few pictures. Jamie was in the middle of a fierce debate with herself over her desire to go take a swing at her former fiancé when the graduates were called to line up for the procession. Jack gave Natalie a very tender kiss as she moved away to find her proper place in line. As she stared at the besotted man, she felt her stomach turn when she recalled him kissing her in exactly the same fashion. Jamie watched his face as he watched Natalie walk away. Two months ago that look was reserved for me, she thought as the flames of jealousy burned at her soul. Or was it? Maybe he always felt that way for Natalie. She remembered the long afternoons and even longer nights that they spent together working on their article. He was very defensive when I compared my relationship with Ryan to his relationship with Natalie, she thought suspiciously. I swear that if I find out he was screwing around behind my back, Iíll kill him!!
She found Natalie in the crowd and spent a few minutes looking at her, feeling an overwhelming sense of hatred for the oblivious woman. She was tall, about 5í10" or so. Her long auburn hair curled around her shoulders, and her figure, although mostly hidden by the robes, looked to be as attractive as Jamie remembered.
As the graduates began to walk toward the stage she debated whether she should leave immediately, or stay to cause a massive scene. Her irrational jealousy was beginning to overpower her and she had to fight with herself to go sit down and think things through before she left. She walked to the very rear of the gathered families and found a bench behind the neatly arranged folding chairs, just barely able to hear the speakers as they began the ceremony.
She sat quietly and tried to still her raging thoughts, taking several deep breaths as she tried to focus her rational mind. Okay, what you know is this, she thought. You know that you were largely unavailable to Jack because of your growing feelings for Ryan. You know that you pushed him away and began to give more of yourself to her. You know that he wanted to be closer to you. You know that he was more than willing to have you back, but you would have had to give up the dream of being with Ryan. And you know that being with Ryan is the best thing that ever happened to you.
Here she dropped her head in shame as she recalled their last conversation. He went out of his way to call you and wish you well. He genuinely wanted to know that you were happy. You are happy, Jamie. Youíre happier than a person has any right to be. Why canít you be as loving to him as he was to you? Doesnít he deserve that after all that you put him through? You did break his heart. A wry smirk crossed her face as she amended that detail. Obviously, his heart wasnít terribly broken, or heís a really fast healer.
Focusing her thoughts on being her most generous self, she thought, You owe him your thanks and your appreciation for all that you meant to each other. Be the person that you would admire. Go up to him and wish him well, and mean it!
She concentrated on this mantra for the rest of the ceremony. When Jackís name was called she found herself standing and applauding enthusiastically for him. No matter what had happened to them as a couple, she knew that there was not a person at Stanford that had worked harder to get where he was than Jack Townsend. Even though she did not feel responsible for his efforts, she had to acknowledge that her two and a half years of support made a difference in the effort that he could expend, and she took some small measure of pride in having been there for him.
Jackís name was near the end of the alphabet, and since she knew that the ceremony would be over soon, she left her bench and went to the reception area, feeling the need to see him quickly so that she could leave before her good thoughts evaporated.
As the joyous graduates passed, she reached in and grabbed him from the queue. He was totally shocked, but as his initial surprise faded, he seemed genuinely pleased to see her. He wrapped his arms around her, and the comfort and familiarity that she felt in his embrace shocked her so much that she began to cry. "Iím so proud of you, Jack," she sobbed. He patted her back and murmured comforting words to her, just as he had during their time together. She clutched herself to him and just let herself mourn for the sadness they had caused each other. She saw Natalie out of the corner of her eye and felt Jack tense up when he caught her glance, but when she looked up, Natalie was gone and Jack had relaxed again.
"Hey, are you all right?" he asked solicitously. "Is everything okay between you...?"
"Oh yes," she said as she shook her head. "Things are great with me, Jack. I donít know what came over me, but seeing you today made me really feel all that we had and all that we lost. Iím so sorry for how I hurt you," she said sincerely, tears freely rolling down her cheeks.
"Iím okay, Jamie," he said soothingly. "Iím going on with my life, too," he said.
"I know," she said softly, her shoulders still shaking with the betrayal. "I saw you before the ceremony."
He looked decidedly uncomfortable with this revelation, but summoned his usual direct approach and looked right into her eyes, asking, "Does it bother you that itís Natalie?"
She mutely nodded as the tears continued.
"I swear there was nothing between us when you and I were together, Jamie. I was devoted to you. I never would have cheated on you. You meant the world to me," he said as his own tears fell down his cheeks.
ĎWhen?" She asked the one-word sentence that would either reassure her or prove that Jack was lying.
He took a deep breath, hoping that Jamie would believe him. He wasnít even sure why her opinion mattered so much, but it mattered a great deal. "When weÖbroke up in FebruaryÖshe wasÖshe was there for me, Jamie." He fixed his light blue eyes on his former lover. "It took a whileÖa few weeks I guess, but eventually she stopped seeming like just a friend. We were just starting to explore getting together when youÖgave me another chance." His face reflected both his complete honesty and the lingering hurt that obviously still pained him.
"Did you tell herÖ?" Jamieís voice trailed off, but it was important to know that Jack was honest with Natalie, too.
He laughed softly, shaking his head a little. "Yeah. I told her." He tilted his head and fixed Jamie with a gaze that she had seen hundreds of times on his handsome face. "She wasnít happy with me." He paused a beat and added with a twinkle in his eye, "But if I were you Iíd stay out of dark alleys when sheís around. She kinda thinks youíre evil incarnate."
"ME!" Jamie was stunned that she had turned out to be the bad guy in this little soap opera. But after just a minute of reflection, she had to admit that she was entirely to blame for jerking Jack around during their futile reconciliation. "Iím glad that sheís angry at me, rather than you," she admitted, smiling up into his eyes when he shot her a grateful grin. "She wonít be angry with you about me being here, will she?"
"No, donít worry about that." He gave her his most charming boyish grin as he assured her, "Sheís very easy to get along with. Youíre the only person Iíve ever heard her say a bad word about."
"Thatís very reassuring, Jack," she said with a bit of her sparkle showing again.
"Iím glad that you understand, Jamie. I need to move on, and I think Natalie is going to be good for me. I hope you know that I would do anything not to hurt you." Without thought, he raised his hand and trailed his fingers down the side of her face, brushing his thumb against her lips in an achingly familiar gesture.
Her shaky composure shattered, she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly. "I loved you, Jack, and part of me always will," she whispered fiercely into his flushed ear. "I gave you everything I had to give, even though I now know that it wasnít all I was capable of. Iím so very sorry it couldnít work out. But I truly want you to be happy, and if Natalie can do that for you, then Iím glad."
Releasing him, she reached into her purse and pulled out the gift she had brought. "I hope you enjoy all of the happiness that you deserve, Jack. Take care of yourself." She stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek, relishing the feel of his smooth skin one last time. By the time he composed himself enough to reply, she was gone.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Jamie spent the next several hours driving around Palo Alto, passing all of the places that they went to as a couple. She got out of her car and walked around the campus for a while, finally finding the grove of trees where Jack had proposed to her. She sat on the bench where countless students had declared their love and cried until she had no more tears to shed. She felt absolutely emptyóher emotions overwhelmed and raw. It took a while, but she finally composed herself. Almost as if her car was on automatic pilot, she drove by Jackís apartment and sat out in front for a long while, remembering when she helped him move in.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
It had been a long day, and they were both hot and tired. When they had carried the last box in, they sat out on the steps to catch their breath before they went back inside to start unpacking. A stiff breeze blew the door shut as they simultaneously realized that the keys were inside. A few seconds of shock were followed by near hysterical laughter from both of them. That was when she realized that he might be "the one." Even hot, and tired, and cranky, he could still see the humor in the situation. He didnít blame her and he didnít get mad at himself--he just laughed until his stomach hurt. He had to stay at her parentsí house overnight since they couldnít get the management company until morning, but he didnít let it bother him one bit. He stood outside her room that night and spent a long time kissing her. Her resolve almost melted that night, but she held firm and he took it well, merely giving her a final kiss and a crooked grin as he walked down the hall to his room.
Her thoughts turned to the night that she decided to sleep with him, just a few days after she had accepted his marriage proposal. She was at his apartment on a Saturday night, just after finishing her sophomore year, and she was planning on staying at her house in Berkeley for another few days while she cleaned up some last minute details.
She normally stayed in Palo Alto all day on Saturday and left around midnight to return home. This night it was near midnight, and she was being driven absolutely crazy by his kisses. He looked at her with such longing and desire on his face that she could no longer refuse him, so she stood up, and he gazed up at her with his normal stoic face. This time she held out her hand and, as he took it, she pulled him to his feet, wrapped her arms around his neck and whispered, "Letís go to bed."
She would always remember the look of joyous anticipation on his face as he gazed at her to make sure she was certain. He didnít ask her for confirmation, but he put his hands on her shoulders and held her at armís length, gazing deeply into her eyes. He saw that she had made her decision, and was ready to take their relationship to this next level, so he bent over and took her into his arms, carrying her to his bed. Their lovemaking was feverish and passionate, both of them being carried along by the stored up feelings they had harbored for so long. But what she most remembered was the tenderness of his touch after they had finished. He gently touched her face as he trailed his long fingers along her cheeks, then ran his hands down her body, soaking up the sensation of finally being able to love her completely. She recalled the tears in his eyes as he looked at her with such love that her heart ached in remembrance. Even though they would never share another intimate moment, Jamie realized that having fond memories of her time with Jack was a very positive thing. She felt all of the anger from earlier in the day begin to lift.
Squaring her shoulders, she started the car and slowly drove past some of their favorite restaurants and bookstores. When she had seen every place that had meant something to them, she drove back to the spot where he had proposed, getting out of the car to sit on the bench again. She let the memories wash over her once again, and as they passed by she felt the pressure in her chest start to lessen. For the first time all afternoon she allowed herself to think of her beloved Ryan, closing her eyes to picture her lover in her mind. Finally back on track, she stood up and took a deep breath. "Iím sorry I wasnít the woman you needed, Jack. But you werenít the woman I needed either," she thought to herself wryly as she got back into her car to be with the woman that she would always need.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Jamie had driven no more than ten minutes when her cell phone rang. She smiled to herself as she opened it and touched the button. "Hi, gorgeous," she purred into the phone.
"Howíd you know it was me?" came the low voice from the other end.
"Well, I only date gorgeous women, so I knew it would be one of you," she answered logically.
"Conor misses you and wants to know when youíre going to be home," Ryan joked right back.
"You tell Conor I miss him too, and Iíll be home in about 40 minutes," she said. "And tell his sister that I canít wait to get her alone in bed."
"I know his sister will be very glad to hear that," she purred. "I miss you, Sweetheart. Drive carefully."
"I miss you too, Ryan. Iíll be there soon."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
When she pulled up in front of the house, Ryan and Duffy were sitting on the front steps. Ryan had changed into a favorite pair of navy blue sweats and a long sleeved white T-shirt. She had obviously been exercising, as her blades were still on her feet and her hair was wet, her face pink from exertion. Even Duffy was panting, further evidence of their shared activity. Her face broke into a luminous grin when Jamie stepped out of the car and both she and Duffy bounded off the porch, with Duffy arriving first due to his advantage in dexterity. He jumped all over Jamie until she squatted down and let him lick her all over her face and neck. She giggled from the assault as Ryan stood by, arms crossed over her chest, and let him have his way with her.
When Duffy had finished with her she stood and shot an accusing glance at Ryan. "I thought you were supposed to protect me," she said.
"Hey, it was either him or me," she explained. "He just got there first."
Holding her arms out to her partner, Jamie smiled and offered, "Come onÖstart licking."
Ryan chuckled at the invitation and indicated her sweaty body. "I need a shower before Iím worthy of your attention."
Jamie wrapped her arms around her tightly, unaccustomed to her partnerís increased height. Her head rested against Ryanís breast, rather than her chest, but she didnít mind the new view in the least. She held on so tightly that Ryan knew she was upset. "Hey, hey," she said softly. "Whatís wrong?" Her long fingers reached down and tilted Jamieís head up. On closer inspection she could see that her partner had been crying today, quite a bit, if her swollen eyes were a proper indication. "Tell me, Honey."
Jamie sucked in a deep breath and shook her head. "I had a lot of memories to purge today. It just caught me by surprise," she admitted.
"Do you need to talk about it?" Ryan asked. "Or do you just want some physical comfort?"
"I donít want to talk about it now. I might take you up on your offer later, though."
"Anytime, Sweetheart. Iíll always be here for you."
"You really will be, wonít you?" There was not a hint of question in her statement.
"As long as I live," Ryan whispered, nuzzling her chin against the top of Jamieís head.
They stood on the quiet street, cuddling for a few minutes. When they finally released each other, Jamie looked up at her partner and asked, "Any big plans this evening, Tiger?" She fixed Ryan with her best sultry gaze, leaving little doubt where she thought the evening would find them.
"That all depends," Ryan mused, leaning against the Boxster to better equalize their heights.
"OhÖmostly on how tired you are." Ryan had something on her mind, but Jamie knew she had to let the little guessing game play out.
"Iím not very tired physically," she revealed. "Emotionally, Iím toast, but as long as we donít get into any big emotional scenes, Iím good to go."
Ryan laced her hands behind Jamieís neck and gazed at her fondly. "Youíre quite the little trooper, arenít ya, Sparky?"
"Thatís me." Jamie smiled and kissed Ryan on the tip of her nose.
"Well, I have good news." A sly grin was curling the corners of Ryanís mouth and Jamie knew she was being set up, but she didnít mind a bit. "Iíve spoken to the committee and youíll be glad to know that I have been given permission to extend full membership privileges in the lesbian community to you." Waggling eyebrows punctuated this announcement.
"Wow," Jamie said, playing along with the joke. "I think weíd better get right to bed so you can show me the benefits package." She started to pull away, but Ryan gripped her a little tighter.
The dark head shook as Ryan informed her, "Thatís not how the initiation is performed, Babe.
Youíre a member of a community nowóeven if youíre only in the group by marriage," she added, trying to let Jamie know it was perfectly fine if she didnít feel like a member of the lesbian nation.
The blonde eyebrows knit in confusion. "I donít have a bloody clue what youíre talking about, Ryan OíFlaherty."
"Jamie?" Ryan said, leaning her head to one side and appraising her partner carefully, "do you remember New Year's Eve?"
The dark blonde eyebrows edged closer together the small woman scrunched her face in puzzlement. "New Year's Eve?" she repeated slowly. "Uhhh...yeah, I think I remember most of it." She rolled her eyes, recalling the hideous hangover she had suffered on New Year's Day. Ryan obviously had a point, but she was certainly taking her time to get to it.
"Do you remember coming to the Mark Hopkins?"
"Yes, Dear, I remember stumbling across the street just to see how you looked in leather pants." Waggling eyebrows showed that the trip was more than worth the effort.
Ryan smiled at her unspoken compliment and continued her questioning. "Do you remember what I asked you that night?"
"Asked me?" Now the puzzled face took on a blank look. "You asked me something?"
"Yesssss," Ryan drawled. "I asked if you were there for a special purpose. You weren't ready then, but you've displayed a marked aptitude, and I now think you're ready." She said this with such a serious look on her face that Jamie was even more confused.
"I...I don't," she stammered, embarrassed that she had been too drunk to remember an obviously important exchange.
"Jamie," Ryan said as she reached down to grasp her partner's hand, "tonight, you are finally going to learn the secret handshake."
"The secret..." Jamie's questioning voice trailed off, and the look of puzzlement on her face was replaced by a broad grin. "The secret handshake," she repeated with confidence, anticipation bringing a sparkle to her eyes and a very becoming blush to her cheeks. "I've enjoyed every single thing you've ever taught me, Ryan, and I doubt that this lesson will break that string."
The two young lovers tilted their heads together and ascended the stairs to the O'Flaherty home, laughing the whole way
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