I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 4: Disclosures

by S X Meagher


See Part 1

Part 3

The shrill ringing of the phone woke Ryan from a perfectly lovely dream. She reached out blindly and inadvertently woke her tiny blonde companion, who greeted the affront with an equally shrill cry. Jamie also sat bolt-upright, and for a brief moment Ryan felt like joining in on Caitlin's plaintive cry. “This is soooo not how I wanted to wake up,” she grumbled, grabbing the offending telephone. “H'lo,” her ragged voice croaked.

“Ryan?” came the deep voice on the other end.

“Oh, hi, Tommy,” she yawned.

“Is Cait being ornery?” he asked somewhat sheepishly.

“Nah…we were all asleep and the phone woke her.” Ryan smiled up at Jamie, who had scrambled out of the tangle of sheets to pick up the still-squawking baby.

“Jeez, I'm sorry, Buddy,” Tommy murmured, using one of his many nicknames for his cousin. “I just called because Annie's home, and we wanted to come get the baby so we could have dinner together.”

“No prob,” she muttered, tossing her long legs off the bed to stand up. She was unable to resist her compulsion to stretch, and did so from the vertical position, much to Jamie's amusement. She felt short fingernails scratch her back while she stretched, and as she leaned into the contact, she nearly hung up without saying goodbye.

“Ryan?” Tommy's voice held a note of amusement also, and Ryan knew that his hazel eyes were likely dancing impishly. “You okay?”

She forced herself to swallow the pleasured groan that was about to escape, and tried to concentrate. “Fine…just fine,” she drawled. “Jamie's just helping me wake up.”

“I'm not gonna have to deprogram Caitlin, am I?” he chuckled.

“Nothing she hasn't seen before,” Ryan assured him. “All “G” rated.” The baby was now calm, and she struggled a bit to go to Ryan. “Talk to Jamie,” she said, handing the phone to her partner as she accepted the baby.

“Hi, Tommy,” the slightly hesitant voice began.

“Hey, Jamie. Good to have you guys home again. Wanna join us for dinner since Martin's working?”

“Sure,” she said immediately, not even bothering to check with Ryan. She was confident that her partner would never turn down the opportunity to spend some time with the Driscolls. “We'll get dressed…I mean we'll um…put our pants back….I mean…” She was blushing furiously, but Tommy rescued her immediately.

“I take Caitlin into the shower with me, Jamie. If that hasn't scared her to death, seeing you two half-dressed won't scar her, either.”

“Good point,” she mumbled, feeling relieved but still slightly embarrassed. “We'll be over in a few.”

“See ya then,” he called out in his deep baritone. “Don't forget your pants.”

“This level of openness is gonna take some getting used to,” she muttered, dropping the phone in the cradle and flopping onto the bed.

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

A little after six, the threesome started off for the walk to Caitlin's home. The Driscolls, like the rest of the family, lived in the Noe Valley. Their small rented house was on the edge of the business district running along 24th Street, while the O'Flaherty brothers and Maeve lived in Upper Noe and enjoyed the very hilly terrain of the area nearer to Castro. Conor had not bothered to bring the baby's stroller, and the car seat was still in the truck, so Ryan placed Caitlin on her shoulders for the six-block walk.

Jamie smiled at the pair as they made their way down the steep pitch of Noe St. “You look like one of those mules in the Grand Canyon,” the larger blonde commented. Ryan was walking carefully, her natural gait greatly slowed—almost ambling with the baby astride her shoulders.

“Brrrrrrhhhhh,” the lanky pseudo-donkey replied as she shook her head playfully. Caitlin, of course, loved this sound, and she jumped and slapped at Ryan's head to get her to repeat it. It didn't take long for Ryan to get into the game and begin acting more like a frisky filly than a donkey, and Caitlin could not get enough of the fun. They cantered a few dozen yards, then galloped back up the hill, to the delighted laughter of both rider and pony. Jamie urged them on, cheering for them both until the pony was gasping for breath.

“No more,” Ryan cried, bending over at the waist to gasp for air. Jamie pulled Caitlin off and settled her on her own shoulders, mentally preparing herself for a more casual hairdo than she currently wore.

When Ryan was rested they took off again, with Caitlin only slightly dissatisfied with her new, slower mount. Ryan slipped her hand around Jamie's, giving it a gentle squeeze, but she felt just the slightest hesitation from her partner. “Wanna talk about it?” Her voice was slow and calm, and Jamie knew that the invitation could be declined without bothering Ryan.

“I suppose.” Her voice betrayed her lack of enthusiasm, but Ryan moved forward anyway.

“It's a pretty bad feeling, isn't it?” Empathetic blue eyes met and held Jamie's gaze.

A small head nod was the reply. “It just caught me by surprise, I guess. That was the first time I've ever felt judged like that.”

Ryan's brow furrowed at that declaration. “What about that time we went to the Hillsborough Tea Room? You were treated pretty shitty there.”

The blonde shook her head as well as she could with Caitlin's chubby fingers threaded through the golden strands. “No, Honey. You were treated shitty. I was just an observer.”

Ryan considered this for a moment, then the light dawned. “Ohh…you didn't identify with being gay, so you didn't feel like you were being criticized.”

“Riiight. I was outraged by how we were treated—but I was outraged for you. The woman today was talking to me…about me.”

“Gotcha,” Ryan mumbled, understanding that the difference was critical. “What about Cassie? Didn't you feel judged by her?”

Blonde brows knit together for a moment. “No…not really. I know her pretty well, and she isn't really anti-gay.”

Ryan's mouth gaped at this revelation. “She sure coulda fooled me!”

“No, really, Honey. I think she suspected something between us from the beginning, and she was convinced that you were trying to turn me into something I'm not. I'll admit that it was misguided and narrow-minded, but she has gay and lesbian friends, and she treats them well. I think she just hated you.”

“Oh…well…that's understandable.” Ryan was wearing one of her adorable goofy grins, and Jamie couldn't help but give her a pinch.

“No, it's not!” she decreed. “I never want to see her again, to tell you the truth, but I still maintain that she's not really homophobic.”

“Okay,” Ryan agreed, deciding to let the matter drop, even though she didn't agree with Jamie's assessment. “Today's little episode was from a homophobe, and it was directed at you, and you have every reason to feel hurt by it.”

“Yeah…” Jamie was staring at the pavement, walking carefully because of her cargo. “I was hurt. It really got in…do you know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I do,” Ryan said. “Sometimes things like that just surprise you so badly that they get past your defenses.”

Jamie looked up at her with a completely quizzical expression. “I don't think I have defenses.”

“Sure you do,” Ryan assured her. “I've seen your whole personality change when you're interacting with men.”


“You put a damper on your openness, your friendliness. When you're around guys you don't know, you don't show all of your most adorable qualities. I assume that's so guys don't get the wrong idea and start hitting on you, right?”

“I…I don't think I do that consciously,” she mumbled, not refuting that she did tone her personality down when she was in the company of available men.

“I don't put up my defenses consciously either,” Ryan said. “They just come up when I'm in public, or with people that I don't know well. You've seen my defenses up full force around Jack and Cassie.”

Jamie thought of the few times she was with Ryan and Jack. “Yeah…I guess I see what you mean. You were very reserved around him. I thought you were just shy.”

“Nope. I haven't been shy since I was a kid. I just knew that he had an issue with me, and I tried to give him as little ammunition as possible.”

“Do I have to do that with people about us?” Jamie was heartbroken to think of having to hide her love for the wonderful woman who was so gently holding her hand.

“No, Honey,” Ryan assured her. “You will figure out what you're comfortable with. I'm willing to put up with some harassment from strangers—so I act pretty normally around you in public. But when I'm in a situation where I could be physically harmed…I pull back and try not to give off any lesbian signals at all.”

“Have you always been like that?”

Ryan's face grew dark as a flash of pain crossed her face. “I got much more careful after I was gay bashed last year,” she admitted. “I haven't been to the bars or clubs in the marginal neighborhoods since then. Some very violent guys know there are gay and lesbian clubs there, and they sometimes go looking for victims.”

A shiver ran down Jamie's spine as her mind automatically created a mental image of her partner lying on the street in a pool of blood. They hadn't spoken about the incident since Ryan had first mentioned it, and judging from the look on her lover's face, it was best left alone for the moment.

Trying to lighten the mood, Jamie adopted her fiercest look and muttered, “Nobody will mess with you now, Babe. They'd have to get through me first.”

The smile returned to Ryan's face as she paused to assess her protector. Sunny, open features, a wide smile and dancing green eyes were topped by a jumble of fine blonde hair and one giggling baby. “I wouldn't mess with you two,” Ryan said in a somber tone. “You could cute a person to death!”

“I'll show you cute!” Jamie leaned over just enough to allow Caitlin to reach Ryan's eye level. “Get her, partner!” Amazingly, Caitlin seemed to understand the attack command perfectly. She slapped her tiny hands at Ryan's face, while the tall woman playfully bit at each little pink hand.

“I give! I give! You win, Cait. I know when I'm up against a born fighter.”

Jamie straightened and patted the champ's little leg. “Ya did good, Rocky.”

Caitlin seemed to agree, and her joyful laugh echoed off the cozy little Victorian houses lining the streets of the Noe Valley.

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

As they reached the front walk of the Lilliputian house that Tommy and Annie rented, Ryan cast a quizzical glance at her partner, noticing a large number of voices coming from inside the house. “Who else is coming?” she asked, hefting Caitlin from Jamie's shoulders.

“Search me.” Jamie shrugged her shoulders, partly in reply and partly to loosen them up after carrying her burden.

The door was locked, which in itself was strange, and the women shot another puzzled glance at each other when the house grew quiet as soon as Ryan banged on the door.

Seconds later the decibel level grew beyond the previous high when the assembled crowd saw them enter. "Surprise!" they all called out in unison. All of the cousins and aunts and uncles were jammed into the small living room around a very beautifully decorated cake that read, 'Congratulations, Jamie and Ryan'. Colorful balloons and streamers flew around the ceiling, and the table was laden with cards addressed to them.

They were both staggered by the welcome, and Brendan came over to swoop the baby from Ryan's arms. He leaned over and kissed her, then leaned farther and gave a kiss to Jamie. A big smile played across his face as he needlessly asked, "Are you surprised?"

They both nodded, still in shock over the outpouring of affection from the clan. Jamie resorted to her normal reaction and tears began to flow down her cheeks. Ryan quirked a grin in her direction as she slid her arm around her shoulders and hugged her firmly. "You're really a member of the family now, Sweetie. You've gotten your first cake!"

One by one the various members of the family came over to hug and kiss each of the still startled women. A few bottles of champagne were produced, and everyone held up their filled glasses as Martin proposed a toast. "To my most precious daughter and her beloved Jamie. May your love bring you joy and peace and sustenance all the days of your lives. We love you both, girls. And we couldn't be happier for you."

As the glasses were raised in a group cheer, Jamie looked up at her lover, the tears still glistening in her eyes. "I love you, and I love your family," she said sincerely.

"Our family, Jamie," she corrected her as she placed a delicate kiss on her trembling lips. "It's ours now."

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

The party was a rousing success by any standard. Caitlin, of course, was certain that she was the guest of honor, being of the belief that every part of every day revolved around her. Ryan and Jamie did their best to make her believe that such was the case, even letting her cut the first piece of cake, with their assistance, of course. After everyone had at least one piece of cake, the confines of the small house got to be too much for both Ryan and Caitlin, so they decided to go out to the postage-stamp sized back yard and let Caitlin practice her walking.

The baby still needed the security of a hand or a leg or a piece of furniture in order to feel confident in her ramblings, and her babysitters were only too happy to aid her quest. They both delighted in her determined face as she scrunched up her little brow in concentration and began to scamper toward whatever object took her fancy. She walked with a stiff legged gait, with most of her weight over her toes. She kept her arms at her sides, not yet understanding that they could be helpful in maintaining her balance. She didn't fall often, but when she did, they just helped her up and sent her on her way again. She took her little tumbles in stride, barely stopping after each one, but around seven o'clock she took a relatively minor fall and stayed down. She lay face down on the grass and cried pitifully until Ryan picked her up and cuddled her, cooing into her tiny ear until the sobs subsided. Jamie went to get a bottle as Ryan did a quick diaper change, and after a bit she settled down in Ryan's arms to enjoy her dinner.

The early evening sun provided a warm cloak as Ryan relaxed in a spring chair, rocking the baby slightly as she ate. Jamie went back in once more to grab some tidbits to tide the big baby over, and when she returned, a mildly struggling Caitlin was being held firmly by her big cousin. Ryan was smiling at her and quietly singing a song which eventually got her attention. She stopped her struggles and lay quietly in Ryan's embrace, looking up at her with a look of pure adoration. "That's just how I feel when you hold me," Jamie said quietly from over her lover's shoulder.

Ryan beamed up at her and blushed a tiny bit at the compliment. "Are you having as nice a day as I am?" she asked as Jamie sat down next to her.

"I don't think I've had a bad day since I realized I was in love with you.” Her blissful smile was testimony to the sincerity of her words, and she leaned over to kiss the still-pink cheek before she sat down. "I'd say that this has been a particularly lovely day, Sweetie."

"They really do love you, Jamie," Ryan said as she nodded her head toward her gathered family. "You believe that, don't you?"

"Knowing your family, they'd try to make me feel welcome even if they didn't like me," she said with a grin. "But I really do feel their love, Sweetheart. They all make me feel like I've known them for years. It's so hard to believe that it's only been seven or eight months since I met them."

"You understand how hard it's going to be for me to leave here, don't you?" Ryan's eyes filled with tears as she considered their move to Berkeley.

Jamie immediately got up and squatted on the ground next to her partner. "Ryan, if there is any part of you that doesn't want to live in my house, I want you to tell me. If you want to stay here, I'll call my father and tell him to sell it."

Ryan smiled down at her lover, and ran a hand through her tousled hair. "No, no. I really do think it's best for us to have some time alone. I just don't think I realized how much it's going to affect me until today. I hope you can be patient with me while I adjust to the change," she said.

"Sweetheart, I want you to promise me that if you get homesick, you will let me know," she said as she placed her hand on Ryan's knee. "I've actually been thinking about when we might like to buy a house over here," she said casually, surprising Ryan completely. "As much as I love my house, I would much prefer to live in a place that you and I pick out together. I really don't see any reason that we won't make the Noe Valley our home." She looked down at Caitlin's half-closed eyes, as she gently touched her head. "There's no way I want to miss seeing this little one grow up."

Ryan's eyes filled with tears again as she choked out, "I'd really like that, Babe.” She rested her dark head against Jamie's and revealed the real reason behind her emotional display. “I'm just so used to seeing Caitlin two or three times a week, it's really going to be hard to just see her on the weekends. I can't express how much she means to me, Jamie. I know she's just my cousin, but I feel a bond with her that's…" She shook her head, unable to come up with words to express her love for the child.

"She feels it with you too, Ryan.” Jamie's earnest face and tone of voice showed just how much she understood Ryan's pain. “The look on her face when she first sees you is one of pure joy. She looks like I feel when I see you after we've been apart for a few hours. I know it's hard, Honey, but please don't let this bother you today. If it doesn't work out, we'll come back. That's a promise."

"Thanks for understanding, Jamie,” she said softly, taking a deep breath to calm herself. “I can't tell you how important it is to me that you really understand my feelings for my family."

"I've only known them a few months, and I'm not sure I can stand to be away from them either, Honey," she said with a smile. "Let's go inside and soak up some O'Flaherty magic, okay?"

Ryan gave her another appreciative smile and stood up with her now sleeping bundle. Jamie wrapped her arm around the lithe waist, and they walked into the party together.

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

They didn't return home until nearly eleven. They had planned on spending some of the evening packing up for Berkeley, but they were both too tired to do so.

Ryan flopped down on the bed and let out a groan of pure exhaustion. “One good thing about being in Berkeley during the week,” she moaned. “I might be able to get a little rest. As much as I love my family, they sure do take a lot of energy out of ya.”

Jamie knew her partner was mostly teasing, but she had to admit that the sentiment was accurate. The O'Flahertys were closer than any family she had ever encountered, but that closeness came with a price--the almost total loss of privacy. They had nearly no boundaries—and it was unthinkable to say “no” to a request that you were able to fulfill.

The cousins were currently helping Niall renovate a small house that he had purchased in the Sunset District, and nearly every male member of the family had devoted at least one full day of each week for the last three months towards the renovation. Ryan had already been making noises about joining in, and as Jamie considered the eleven other single men in the family, she hoped that the rest would not decide to buy homes for many, many years. The only chance I have of having time alone with Ryan is if we're in Berkeley. We've got to make the most of our time alone this year, 'cause when we move back here our privacy will be shot! She laughed to herself as she thought of the fact that the O'Flahertys did not lock their doors during the day, and that no one knocked before entering. That's one area where I'm putting my foot down! I'll not have the cousins walking in on what I hope will be near-constant lovemaking!

Joining her partner on the bed, Jamie began a light scratching of her belly. “Do you honestly think that I'm gonna go easier on you than your family does?” She continued to tease Ryan's skin as the dark woman rolled onto her side to provide new territory.

“I hadn't considered that,” Ryan mused sleepily. “Maybe I should get my own apartment so I can get a few hours' rest.”

“I'd track you down, Tiger. You're mine now, and I'm gonna exploit every one of your luscious natural resources.”

“How do you know all of my resources are natural?” Ryan teased, rolling onto her back once again. She hefted one of her breasts and gave it a squeeze. “These might be augmented, you know.”

“God, I hope not,” Jamie murmured as she pulled the purple T-shirt from Ryan's shorts. “'Cause I'm gonna give 'em such a workout, there's a good chance an implant would burst!” She dove in with gusto, catching Ryan by surprise. But after a few moments, she relaxed and let her partner fulfill her wishes.

Running her hand through Jamie's fine blonde hair, Ryan bit back a gasp as the voracious touch grew fiercer. “Honey, honey,” she soothed. “I don't think they're guaranteed against puncture.”

An embarrassed smile covered Jamie's flushed face as she looked up and met her partner's loving gaze. “Sorry. I got carried away.”

“Hey…nothing to be sorry for, Love. I was just teasing you. I like it when you threaten to consume me bodily.” A sexy smile combined with impishly twinkling blue eyes as Ryan suggested, “Let's put 'em to the torture test.”

“We'll start our own twisted version of Consumer Reports,” the blonde giggled as she bent to her pleasurable task.

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

Stupid, stupid, stupid!! She cursed herself for showing her hand too early and taking out only one of the toughs.

Two of the men…boys really, she thought with disgust, grabbed her by her wrists and applied pressure to her elbows from behind. The pain was excruciating, but she couldn't fight back, since they could easily dislocate her elbows. Kelly lay at her feet, moaning continuously—a keening, low tone that set Ryan's teeth on edge. As the stocky young man approached her he gave her a sickeningly evil smile, saying conversationally, “You're gonna regret the day you were born, bitch.” Then he hit her—a dull thud to the ribs with a heavy length of lead pipe. Every molecule of air flew from her lungs—leaving her unable to even cry out.

As he unleashed another brutal blow, her mind turned to her teacher, the gentle but lethal soul who had often warned, “Never reveal your abilities if you cannot completely disable your attacker.” I screwed up, big time, she thought as the pipe whistled through the air, aimed for her head. If I live through this, I swear I will never make that mistake again.

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

Am I in a strait jacket? This must be the hospital…oh shit! I can't move my arms!!! She struggled roughly, thrashing about frantically as she tried to assess her injuries.

“Honey…Ryan, wake up…Come on, Honey…It's okay.”

Warm, comforting arms enveloped her, and she sucked in a deep breath of relief. At least Jamie's here. Her heart calmed its racing beat as she considered how that was possible. With a start, she sat up as her head flew from side to side, amazed to find that she was in her own bed. “Jamie?” Her scratchy voice was higher than normal, reflecting the fear that she had been gripped with just seconds before.

“I'm right here, Love,” her partner soothed, brushing her hair from her damp forehead.

Ryan glanced down to find her purple, long-sleeved T-shirt wrapped around her elbows like a tourniquet. Her sports bra was shoved up over her breasts, restricting her ability to take a deep breath. Looking down her body, she saw that her underwear and khaki shorts both clung to one ankle, socks and shoes still laced up tight. “What in the holy hell?” She roughly kicked her clothing from her foot and yanked her shirt and bra off, rubbing her arms to restore feeling to them. “Jesus Christ, Jamie, we've gotta stop doing this!”

Finally meeting her partner's eyes, she saw the flicker of hurt that her sharp words had caused. She fell back onto the bed and draped her arm across her eyes, trying to sort out her tumultuous feelings.

A soft hand trailed down her ribs, stroking her belly softly while she composed herself. “I'm sorry, Baby,” Ryan finally said. “I didn't mean to snap at you. I just…I was having a nightmare, and being trapped by my clothes made me think…” She shook her head roughly, not wanting to go into the dream. Her voice softened, and she removed her arm so that she could look into her partner's eyes. “I'm sorry.”

“It's okay, Ryan, don't worry about it. You were half asleep, Baby.”

Trusting green eyes calmly gazed at her, and Ryan suddenly felt even worse. She had been quite awake, and she knew that she was just venting her fear at her partner. “That's no excuse, Jamie. I really do apologize.”

“You wanna talk about it?” Jamie's tone was soft and somewhat tentative, but her eyes held Ryan's firmly.

“No. I really don't.” Long, bare legs slid off the bed, and as Ryan stood she glanced down at her feet and shot her partner a half-smile. “Since I've already got my shoes on, I might as well go do my run.”

“Want me to go with?” Jamie could tell that her grumpy partner needed some space to regain her normal attitude, but she didn't want to abandon her if she needed some companionship.

“Nah. I know you don't like to run, and I feel like going on a long one today. Why don't you just stay in bed, Babe?”

“No thanks.” Jamie slid out of the messy pile of sheets and came to stand by her partner. “You're even taller with your shoes on,” she teased, placing a small kiss on her breast.

“Hey…that's how this whole thing began, Sport.” Ryan's tone was lighter now, and Jamie accepted the teasing in the jocular manner that it was intended.

Another gentle kiss followed the first, as Jamie's arms slid around her partner's waist. She rested her cheek against Ryan's chest, letting her strong, steady heartbeat calm her completely. “You can't blame me for being unable to resist your luscious body,” she mumbled softly.

“Same goes for me, Love,” Ryan agreed, placing a soft kiss on the crown of Jamie's tousled hair. Released from the embrace, Ryan got back into her sports bra and T-shirt and found a pair of nylon running shorts to complete the outfit. “I'll be back in about an hour.”

“Can I use your computer to check my mail?” Jamie asked.

“Sure. You're a Mac person too, aren't you?”

“Yep.” Sitting down at the desk, Jamie asked, “Any special requests for dinner this week, Honey? I also want to make a shopping list.”

“I've never had a bad meal from you, Love. Anything you want is fine with me.”

“Hey,” Jamie called when Ryan was halfway up the stairs. “Let's invite your father and brothers over for a barbecue this week.”

Ryan flashed a luminous grin at her partner, amazed at how just a few moments with her partner could make a bad mood vanish. “Great idea, Love. Da's off on Wednesday.”

Jamie smiled back and blew a kiss as Ryan took off again, a little bounce now in her step. She's soooo easy, Jamie thought with a smirk.

By the time Ryan reached the top of the stairs, she could hear Duffy begin to whine from the other side of the stairwell door. As she cracked the door open, his shiny black nose peeked through snuffling to get a whiff of her scent. Laughing gently, she opened the door fully, and was greeted by his joyous face and always energetic tongue. She pushed at him weakly, giggling uncontrollably when he reached her ears.

Jamie's amused voice carried up the stairwell. “You sure have done a fine job of training that dog, Ryan.”

Grabbing his eight-foot leather leash and two plastic bags, Ryan rubbed his big head affectionately and offered a stage whisper for her partner's benefit. “You can't help it that I'm irresistible, can you, boy?” Jamie's laugh reached her ears as she needlessly asked, "Ready, Duff?" His fiercely wagging tail was answer enough.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *                
It took a few minutes for the computer to boot, and while she waited, Jamie pulled one of Ryan's T-shirts from the large net bag where she kept her dirty clothes. Sniffing delicately she mused, Not the cleanest thing in the world, but I just can't stand to work at the computer in the nude.

She logged on to her remote mail server and was surprised to see a short note from Jack. Smirking to herself as she read it, she thought, This is a pretty polite way to ask if I've lost my mind. The note was ostensibly a thank you for the graduation present, but he managed to ask if she was all right, and also mentioned that he was concerned about how upset she had seemed on Saturday. He probably thinks I'm a mental patient after the way I acted, she thought.

She hit reply and wrote,

Dear Jack,

I'm glad that you liked the gift. Thanks for writing to say so.

I'd like to apologize for my near-meltdown on Saturday. I obviously had some unresolved feelings about our breakup—but I'm sorry they came out during your celebration. I want to assure you that I'm perfectly fine and am doing very well, and I'm glad that you are too.

Take care this summer. Good luck on the bar exam. I hope to see your name in the paper come Thanksgiving.



She surveyed the message for a moment, trying to make sure she was giving the correct impression. I think it's pretty clear from this that I don't want to have an ongoing relationship. I wish him well, but I don't really want to hear from him again. I know I'll check with Daddy to make sure he passes the bar, but that's really the next time I'd like to hear his name. Satisfied that the message was clear, she hit “send”.

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

As they huffed up and down the hilly streets of Upper Noe Valley, Ryan reflected on her dream and how she had woken up. God, that freaked me out, she mused as a chill ran down her spine. It felt so real—and that hasn't happened for months now. She recalled with a grimace how frequent the nightmares had been, remembering the times she woke in her father's arms after her cries had roused him from a sound sleep. The doc told me I might have another bout when the anniversary came around, she recalled. Guess I'm gonna have to ride it out. She knew that she had to share her fears with Jamie, but she just wasn't willing to dampen their still-joyous mood with the details of the attack. “Maybe that'll be the last one,” she said with more confidence than she felt.

Banishing thoughts of the dream, she allowed herself to laugh a bit at the state of her dishabille when she woke. I've got to have a little more discipline here. God knows I love having Little Frisky love me senseless, but I've got to at least figure out a way to get my teeth brushed! She mused thoughtfully for a second, smiling to herself when she considered, If I tell her I call her Little Frisky, she'll leave me alone at night. Heck, I might not ever have sex again! Trudging up a particularly steep hill, the idea hit her. That's it! I'll brush my teeth every time I eat something in the evening! Ha! She laughed at her cunning solution, figuring that a few more bouts of brushing would be a lot better than doing without.

She had traversed most of the streets near the house and now found herself in front of Douglas Playground, a small, but attractive little plot where she first was introduced to the joys of playing on the swings. She could still remember tugging on Brendan's hand every afternoon, looking up at him with her big, impossibly blue eyes and begging, “Bwen, can we go thwing?” Her big brother would look down at her with remarkable patience for a nine-year-old, grasp her little hand, and allow her to drag him down the street, where he would spend a good hour pushing her until his arms ached.

A choked cry caught her attention before she realized that the sound had come from her own mouth. A flood of memories, washed over her, nearly drowning her with their weight. Her entire life had consisted of roughly one square mile of real estate, and she suddenly realized that she didn't want to go to Berkeley…not today…not ever! The Noe Valley was more than her home—it was her birthright. Every member of her family in America lived within walking distance. She knew almost every person by name and considered many of her neighbors to be extensions of her family. She and Duffy had met every dog within five miles, and she really enjoyed their sociable interactions at the park on cool summer evenings. She knew every employee at Martha and Brothers coffee shop, and she relished the thought that, without a word, her latté was waiting for her when she got to the front of the line. The guys at Peasant Pies constantly teased her about her legendary appetite; Jacob at the newsstand always saved a copy of the Sunday Dublin Mail for her; even the mail carrier, Hector, would stop and chat for a few minutes during his busy day. It wasn't exciting, it wasn't even very interesting, but it was home, and she was physically ill at the thought of leaving it.

She had slowed to a walk, and Duffy immediately sensed her mood. He sat at her feet, cocking his big dark head, and when she made eye contact with his sad eyes she nearly lost it. I've gotta get home, she decided, taking off again at a very fast clip.

“I don't know how you're gonna do without this in the morning, Duff,” she said aloud as they huffed up and down the hills. Her father had already assured her that he didn't mind taking him for a walk in the morning, but he was clearly not interested in running with him. Conor was a good runner and he put in about five miles most days, but he did so at night, and that's not when Duffy had his burst of energy. Rory was away so much that he didn't figure into the equation, so Duffy would have to expend his morning energy in some other way. She knew that most dogs didn't get the kind of exercise that Duffy was used to, and she assumed that he didn't really need as much as he got. But he was very used to their morning ritual, and she knew it would bother him to not have it any longer. "We're just going to have to see how it goes, boy," she said as they ran along. "If you can't stand it, we'll bring you over to Berkeley," she promised. The big dog looked up at her with his trusting brown eyes and she felt her reasoned façade begin to crack once again. “I'm worried about you not being able to stand it,” she muttered aloud. “It's me that probably won't be able to function without you!”

They covered almost ten miles, and were both exhausted when they returned home. Ryan had a rather difficult time catching her breath as they stood outside the family home, and Duffy was panting heavily. They climbed the stairs and were both surprised by the door being opened from the inside. Martin was grinning at them both as he took in the sight. Ryan was drenched with sweat, her hair plastered to her face and neck. Sweat ran down her face, dripping from her chin and trailing down her neck. Her bright red T-shirt was stained a dark crimson from the collar to her breasts. She forced a crooked grin at her father and asked, "Do we look as tired as I feel?"

"Duffy looks none the worse for wear, Sweetheart, but you look like you've been leggin' it!"

"I guess we did go a little farther than normal," she admitted. "I just wanted to make sure he was tired."

Her father looked at her with a gentle concern on his face, "You're already trying to make sure we can survive without you, aren't you, Darlin'?"

Ryan blushed a bit at his accurate assessment, and felt her lower lip start to quiver.

"I think you might have to take him with you, Sweetheart," he admitted. "I don't think he'll be happy without you." After a beat he added, "I know I won't."

The fragile control that she had managed burst apart immediately upon hearing this expression of emotion from her father. She threw her arms around his neck and cried in a way that she had not done since she was small. He embraced her tightly and held on as sobs wracked her body. It took a while, but she finally was composed enough to choke out, "I don't know if I can stand to be away, Da. Even though I think it's the right thing for us to do, it is incredibly hard for me to leave."

"Shhhh, shhhh, Sweetheart," he said as he patted her back and rocked her slowly in his arms. "It'll be okay, Siobhán. You'll be fine once you get settled in with Jamie. If you really don't like it, you can always come home. You know we'd love to have you back any time."

Ryan pulled back and tried to swipe away some of the tears from her eyes, wiping them with the handkerchief her father handed her. They finally went inside so she could get something to drink before she showered. She had managed to make herself somewhat presentable by the time they reached the kitchen, where she nearly ran into Conor. "What's wrong?" he asked immediately, his voice full of concern.

"Your sister's having a tough time of it," Martin responded, leaving it to his daughter to share her feelings if she chose to.

"What is it, Ryan?" Conor asked again, squatting down a bit so they were eye to eye. "Can I do anything to help?"

His obvious concern brought another flood of tears as she leaned heavily against her brother, who glanced up at Martin with a look of total confusion on his handsome face. Martin just shook his head as he stood next to his children and again patted her on the back. Conor was also rubbing her back and uttering soothing words to her as she continued to cry against his shoulder. After a long while she lifted her tear streaked face and said, "I'm sorry I'm being so emotional about leaving."

"Siobhán," her father said in a serious tone. "Don't you ever be ashamed about showing your family how much you love them. This is going to be hard for all of us, and it helps us to see that leaving has an impact on you too. How do you think we'd feel if you just upped and took off without a care?"

She gave him a small smile as she pulled away from Conor's embrace. "You're right, Da," she admitted. "This has made one thing clear, though. I'm only applying to graduate schools in the Bay area. I've learned that I'm not the kind of woman who can be too far from home."

"That's the best news I've heard all week," Martin said as he gave her another firm hug. "Now I'm off to work, or they'll have my head." He gave her a kiss on the cheek and a quick hug before he turned abruptly and headed for his room. Ryan started after him, and heard him quickly open and close a dresser drawer. He emerged with a clean handkerchief, and as he headed down the stairs she could hear him sniffing away his tears.

Conor had followed his sister into the dining room and he slid his arm around her when he saw that another round of tears was on the way. He held her again as she tried to compose herself, but the emotion flowed from her unabated. He breathed a small sigh of relief when Jamie's blonde head poked up from the stairwell. She made eye contact with Conor and indicated that she'd take over, and he turned the shaken woman to gently guide her into Jamie's open arms. He indicated to Jamie that he would go make breakfast, then left them alone in the dining room.

Jamie sat down on one of the old mahogany dining chairs, and tugged Ryan down on her lap. My God! How much does she weigh? The chair groaned from the demands placed on its construction, but to her great relief it held firm. The dark head fell onto her chest, and Jamie spent long minutes rocking her and whispering words of love into her flushed ears. Ryan was overheated from her run, and the outpouring of emotion caused heat to radiate off of her body in waves. It reminded Jamie of Caitlin when she was very tired and very cranky, and she smiled just a bit when she considered how child-like her partner often was. I would love to be able to let my feelings show in front of my family just once, she wished silently. Maybe someday

The sobs had now turned to sniffles, and when Jamie suggested a shower, Ryan nodded compliantly. Jamie urged her to her feet and took her clammy hand and led her to their room. She guided Ryan into the bath and started to wrangle her out of her wet clothes, but she mumbled, “I can do it myself.”

“I know you can, but I'd like to baby you a little bit today. Do you mind?”

Jamie's look was one of pure empathy, and Ryan could not refuse her request. She sniffled a little and shook her head just a bit to indicate her agreement. To aid her partner, she sat on the commode to provide better access to her long frame. As soon as they were both undressed, she led Ryan into the shower and let the warm spray rejuvenate her spent lover. Moving behind her, she lovingly washed her dark hair, then moved down her body, cleaning her with a tender, loving touch. Ryan soaked up the affection, not speaking a word, but obediently moving in whichever direction she was tugged.

When they were both clean and dry, Jamie led Ryan over to her desk chair and slowly freed her hair of all of its tangles and blew the dark tresses dry, pulling them into a long braid. As usual, the gentle brushing and braiding relaxed the larger woman, and Jamie knew it wouldn't take much convincing to take her right back to bed. But they had too many things to accomplish today, and she knew Ryan would not wish to put them off.

This time, Jamie sat on Ryan's lap and drew her into an embrace and held her until she seemed to have regained her equilibrium. Ryan finally looked up at her sadly. "I can't talk about it now. Can we just go have breakfast? I'm starved with the hunger," she said in her brogue, invoking a phrase that Jamie assumed was familial.

"Sure, Baby. You don't have to talk about it at all, if you don't want to. I think I know what's troubling you."

Ryan smiled at her and went to her chest of drawers to pull out an outfit. She chose a pair of well-worn jeans and a red cotton tank top, drawing on a white oxford-cloth man's style shirt over it. She buttoned the shirt halfway and rolled the sleeves a few times, exposing her tanned, muscular forearms. Boy, she cleans up nice, Jamie mused as she surveyed her lanky form. Ryan took a quick glance into the mirror, shook her head briefly, and tucked both shirts into her jeans, adding a wide black belt. A pair of black penny-loafers completed the look, and as she took another glance she caught Jamie's head nod in concert with her own. She spared a smile at her observer and placed a small kiss on her lips. “I'll go help with breakfast while you get dressed, okay?”

“Okay, Love. I'll be right up.”

Ryan came up behind Conor as he was spooning oatmeal into a big bowl. She slid her arms around his waist and rested her head on his broad, muscular shoulder. "Thanks for the support," she said gratefully. "I had no idea this would be so hard for me."

"It's hard for all of us," he admitted as he looked over his shoulder. "I think breakfast will be the hardest time for me," he said thoughtfully. "I really look forward to starting the day by spending a few minutes with you and Da. It always cheers me up to see you and Duffy come bounding in the front door first thing in the morning."

Ryan felt like her composure was slipping yet again, so she grabbed the oatmeal and took it into the dining room. Conor had already set the table, so she set about assembling the condiments for the cereal. By the time all was ready, Jamie had come into the dining room and cast a quick glance at her lover, who still seemed shaky to her experienced eye. When Conor entered the dining room Jamie asked, "Are you free on Wednesday night?"

"I don't have any plans yet."

"I'd like to have you all come over for dinner if you're free," she said with a quick glance at her lover. Ryan was gracing her with a sweet smile, and her mood looked like it was a bit lighter.

"I'd love to come, and I'm sure Da would too. Should I ask Brendan?"

"No," Jamie replied. "I'll call him. He should have a proper invitation."

They ate their meal quickly, the turmoil having caused Conor to run late for work. Jamie insisted that she and Ryan would clean the kitchen since he had done the cooking, and he gratefully agreed. He came over to his sister and squatted down by her chair, making eye contact as he said, "We're going to miss you, Ryan, but we'll be okay. Da and I will do our best to take your place in the mornings with Duff. I know we can't give him the kind of workout you do, but I think he'll be fine."

Ryan wrapped her arms around her brother's neck and squeezed him firmly. "Thanks, Conor," she said as the tears threatened again. "I'll see you on Wednesday."

He stood up and bent over from the waist to kiss her cheek. "See you then," he said, moving around the table to give Jamie a kiss and a hug. "Thanks for the invitation, Jamie. I'll see you soon." As he left the dining room Ryan burst into tears again, dropping her head onto the dining room table with a “thunk” as the sobs shook her body.

"Honey, honey," Jamie cooed into her ear as she pulled a chair up next to her. "Tell me why you're so sad."

Ryan struggled to sit up and forced herself to take some deep breaths to calm down. “God! I hate being such a baby about this! I'm gonna be home every weekend, for pete's sake!”

“Hey…” Jamie ran her hand through her partner's bangs, fluffing them gently. “Don't be angry with yourself, Honey. This is hard for you, and that's all that matters. Now, come on, and tell me how you feel.”

Ryan sucked in a shaky breath and got to the heart of the matter. “I know this sounds crazy but this feels like…well, like death to me.”

Jamie tried to hide her shocked look. It had never occurred to her that Ryan would equate the move of a few miles with death. She began a slow, rhythmic stroking of Ryan's back to help calm her, and after a few moments she was able to continue. “It's hard to express what it was like to lose my mother, Jamie. She wasn't just a person, she was the center of our home, and when she died some of that role fell to me. There's a part of me that feels like I'm abandoning them, like she did," she choked out as another wave of emotion surged over her.

"Oh, Sweetheart," she whispered, "I had no idea that's how you felt."

"I wasn't really aware myself until yesterday," she admitted through her sobs. "They really do depend on me for some emotional stability, Jamie. I'm just afraid that the boys might leave too, and that would kill Da."

"Oh, Honey," Jamie said soothingly. "I don't think Conor or Rory have any intention of leaving home. I know they'll miss you, but it's only for this year."

"I know," she said shakily. "I just feel overwhelmed, Jamie. I haven't felt this sad in a long, long while."

“Is this what your nightmare was about?” she asked gently.

“No.” Ryan shook her head, deciding that she had to come clean. “Thursday is the anniversary of when I was gay-bashed. The nightmare was about that.”

Jamie's eyes fluttered closed as she considered how many things her partner was trying to cope with at once. “No wonder this is so hard for you right now,” she soothed. “Do you want to wait a few weeks before we move?”

Ryan closed her swollen eyes and considered the offer. After just a few moments she shook her head confidently and said, “No. We planned to do this now so we'll be close for summer school and work. I think we should go ahead and go. Once we're over there, I'm sure I'll be fine.”

“Ryan,” Jamie said softly, holding her face in her hands. "I hope you believe me when I promise you that we'll come home if this is too hard for you. I'm almost ready to tell my parents about us, and I could tell them to sell the house at the same time. Might as well make it a huge announcement!" she said with a twinkle in her eye.

A soft laugh escaped from Ryan's lips and she rested her head on Jamie's shoulder. “Let's table that idea for a little while, okay, Love? My stomach's in a knot already.”

Jamie nodded, standing to grasp her hand. As they went into the kitchen to clean up she said, "I want you to know that I think it's a wonderful thing that this is so hard for you. 25 years from now, I want our kids to feel the same way when they're ready to leave our home."

"At the rate I'm going we'll still be here, and they'll be crying over leaving Grandpa and Uncle Conor and Uncle Rory!"

"That would be fine with me," Jamie declared firmly, standing on her tiptoes to place a kiss on her partner's flushed cheek.

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

After kitchen cleanup, they repaired to their room to pack enough for the week. "Don't you feel like you've been living in a suitcase for weeks?" Ryan asked as she tossed clothes into her bag.

"We have been for a couple of weeks," she admitted. "And I was here for a couple of weeks before that, so yeah, it does feel like we haven't been home in a while."

"I'm only planning on bringing enough to get me through Friday," Ryan announced. "Not much more than this bag will fit into the Porsche."

"That's fine. We can slowly bring things over that we need. Other than clothes, I have everything that you might need, like a hair dryer and toiletries. Is there anything else you can think of that I don't have?"

Ryan gave her the first genuine smile of the day. "Not unless you want me to bring something from my little bag of tricks," she said with a definite leer, eyebrows waggling.

Jamie was a bit taken aback. She knew that her partner had played with lots of toys, but for some reason, she had never considered that she was the owner of any of them. But she loved the twinkle in the blue eyes that gazed at her, and she wasn't willing to dampen it. "Let me see what you've got," Jamie replied with a matching leer.

Ryan pulled out a gym bag from the bottom drawer of her dresser, setting it on the bed to unzip it. Jamie stuck her hand in and pulled out all manner of latex, rubber and leather accessories. Her eyes grew wide as she stared at the assortment, some of which left her clueless as to their purpose. "I seem to remember that you said you didn't want to experiment with toys," Ryan said with a crooked grin. "But you seem to have loosened up considerably since that little talk. Does any of this pique your interest?"

"I don't have any idea what some of this is," she admitted with a little blush. "But I can certainly imagine that some of this would be kind of fun to try. Pick out a few of your favorites and bring them along, but leave some for here, too. I don't want to have to transport this stuff every weekend," she added with a grin.

Ryan sorted through the items and picked out three that she thought would be fun to try. She grabbed another small bag and tossed them in with a big smile firmly affixed to her face.

Now I know another key to chasing the blues, Jamie smirked to herself as they finished their packing.

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

Continued in Part 4

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