I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 4: Disclosures

by S X Meagher


See Part 1

Part 7

An hour later they were lying on fully-reclined chaises allowing the just-applied mud that coated their bodies to dry a bit. “This is too weird,” the taller of the two mud-women muttered.

“But your skin feels soooo good when you wash it off,” Jamie assured her.

“How could it not?” Ryan chuckled at her own joke and Jamie smiled over at her, pleased that her sense of humor was returning. They were still the only patrons in this part of the spa and when Ryan heard a pager go off, she knew it had to be hers. She got to her feet, grimacing when the mud began to audibly crack as she moved. “This is gross!”

“You'll live,” Jamie insisted. “I bet you were nearly this muddy on a daily basis when you were little.”

“I wish I could disagree, but you know me too well, Sprite.”

Jamie flung one of her shower sandals at her partner for using today's favorite term of affection and was amazed to score a direct hit on her butt.

“Not bad,” Ryan said absently as she retrieved her pager from the little basket where they had stored their things.

“Who is it, Babe?”

“Can I use your phone?” Ryan was already dialing, and she shot as much of a smirk as she could at her partner while the call went through. “I think I'm being recruited again. Hi," Ryan said when the call was connected. "No, I haven't made any decisions yet." After a long pause, she began to nod her head. "That probably would make me lean toward playing, but where did you get it?" A slow scowl began to form on her face. "Have you told her yet?" Pursed lips accompanied another slow nod. "Upperclassman?" Slight pause. "In state?" Another pause. "Okay. Yes, I do understand." Longer pause, more nodding. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't do anything on this yet. I'll get back to you by tomorrow afternoon. Yes, I do realize that." She was nodding thoughtfully, but there was an unreadable expression on her face that Jamie couldn't wait to have explained.

Ryan placed the phone back in its cradle and flopped back onto the chaise. "Shit!" she muttered as she crossed her long legs at the ankle and rested her head on her linked hands.

"What's wrong, Honey?"

"Coach Greene offered me a scholarship." Her voice carried a heavy dose of bitterness.

"But I thought that's what you wanted?" Jamie asked, totally confused by Ryan's attitude.

"I do, but she's yanking it away from another player. She has a player who hasn't been contributing as much as she'd like, so she wants to kick her off the team and give me her scholarship."

"Can she do that?" Jamie asked incredulously.

"Sure. There are all sorts of restrictions on how you dole out scholarships, as you might expect. I actually called Coach because I read in the school paper that their best goalie was declared academically ineligible. When that happens, they can't reuse that scholarship, so she's light one ride this year. But if they kick you off the team because of your performance they can award the scholarship to someone else."

“Light a ride?”

“Oh…sorry. A scholarship is sometimes called a ride…You know, like a free ride.”

“Got it," Jamie said. “Okay, so she has one less than normal anyway, so she wants to make sure every one that she does have is used for the best player, right?”

“Right,” Ryan agreed.

“But I'm guessing you don't feel very good about benefiting from someone else's misfortune."

"Right," she said quickly. "Been there, had that done to me."

"Do you think she would have kicked this woman off if you weren't interested?"

"I doubt it. They start practice next week and I assume her roster is set. So I'm guessing the only thing between this other woman and her scholarship is me," she replied glumly.

"What did she tell you about her?"

"She's a junior and she's from out of state. If she loses her scholarship, she'll have to pay a load for tuition. I just don't think I can accept this knowing that some other woman will probably have to drop out because of me."

"I see your dilemma, Babe, but if she really isn't cutting it, maybe she doesn't deserve the scholarship."

Ryan nodded absently and started to pick at the flaking mud on her belly. "That's probably true in the abstract, but this is a real person who will have her life turned upside down because of me. I don't think I can be responsible for that."

“Okay. I can understand that, Baby. I know this is hard, but I want you to tell me exactly why the scholarship is important to you. How much is about pride, and how much is about money."

"I was thinking about this yesterday afternoon,” Ryan remarked. “I'm going to have a pretty difficult schedule this fall. If I play soccer, I'll have to practice every afternoon, run every morning and spend more time in the weight room than I do now. I don't know if I'll have the energy to do all of that and be available to you." She gave her lover a fond smile. "I figure I need to save at least two hours a day for lovemaking, so my time would really be stretched. I just don't know if I want to have to take out loans for the privilege of running myself ragged."

"How does a scholarship fit in?"

"If they paid for my tuition, books and fees I could live on what I saved last year. It wouldn't let me have much left after the school year, but I could get by."

"I have a simple solution to your problem, Honey," Jamie said softly as she bridged the distance between them and grasped Ryan's hand loosely.

Ryan rolled her eyes and muttered, "I was hoping to delay this conversation for another year."

Jamie sat up and rolled over onto her side, facing her lover fully. "You want to play, Ryan. Either soccer or one of your other sports-to-be-named-later. You don't want to contribute to ruining someone else's plans, and I admire that about you. But I don't want you to deprive yourself of the pleasure of competition just because of money. And I don't want you to be horrendously busy every moment of every day. Let me support you this year, Ryan. There is nothing I'd like better than for you to be able to just relax and enjoy your last year of college. It breaks my heart to think of how hard you've had to work to get this far, Honey. I would truly be grateful if you would let me help you."

Ryan gave her a bemused grin, "Grateful, huh?"

"Yes. I would be grateful that you were willing to put aside your reservations about this issue and allow me to help you. It would give me more pleasure than you can imagine to let you have another chance to fulfill some of the dreams of your youth. It would make me feel like I was helping you heal some of your wounds. I swear it means a lot to me, Baby."

Years of indoctrination flashed through her mind, and Ryan had to struggle to not immediately refuse. She didn't want to be hardheaded, and she knew this was important to Jamie, so she gave her partner another shy grin and offered a compromise, "How about we make it a loan?"

Jamie breathed a heavy sigh, grateful that Ryan was willing to budge, but not terribly happy to be loaning her spouse money. Seeing the determined look in Ryan's eyes, however, made her realize that this was probably the best deal she was going to get out of the negotiations. "Okay, that would work. I'll loan you the money for tuition, fees and books. I'll even have a loan agreement drawn up. I will not though, under any circumstances, put a repayment date on it. You can pay me back as slowly as you need to after you're finished with school."

“That's fair,” Ryan agreed, grateful that Jamie was allowing her to maintain her principles. "Now, I won't be able to contribute much to our household expenses if I don't work. I want you to keep track of what we spend this year and add half of that to the loan, too."

Jamie pursed her lips and shook her head firmly. “Uh-uh. No deal," she insisted. "School is sort of optional, and I can understand that you feel like it's a big expense. But you need to eat, and you need to have some entertainment, and you need some spending money. I am your partner, Ryan. I pledged to take care of you just like you take care of me. I will not have you feel indebted to me for providing you with the essentials of life."

"You sound like me father," she said softly, lapsing into her brogue.

"Well, that makes sense, since he and I both love you dearly. But why do I sound like him specifically?"

"Because he won't allow any of us to contribute one dime towards household expenses. He says it's a parent's duty and honor to support the household."

"He's absolutely right. I'm in a position to provide for our financial security. Because I can do that, it's my duty to do so. So play nice, and I won't have to hurt you."

Ryan laughed at her mock threat. "You almost broke my neck last night, and that was while you were loving me. What would you do if you really wanted to hurt me?"

"You'll find out," Jamie muttered as she narrowed her eyes, the scowl looking sillier than normal because of the mud masque.

“Well, this will be an interesting experiment, Ms. Evans. It's going to take a lot of adjustment for me to be comfortable, but I will do my best to allow you to deplete your fortune in order to keep my belly full.”

“That was less than poetic, Sweet Pea, but I truly appreciate your willingness to work with me on this. Compromising like this is what being life partners is all about, Babe.”

“You're right, Hon, but I gotta tell you, most couples would trade their problems for ours in a hot minute. Most people don't argue about having too much money.”

“Good point, Ryan. I certainly hope that this is the most contentious issue we ever face.”

Ryan smiled at her partner, knowing that her wish was entirely fanciful, but hoping that the inevitable problems that they would experience were a long way off.

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

A few minutes before seven, they drove the short distance to the Recreation and Sports Facility, where the tryout was to be held. "I think I know what sport this is," Jamie said, a confident smile on her sunny face.

"Oh, is that deductive reasoning kicking in?"

"Yep. I reason that women only play two sports at Haas, so I've got a pretty darned good idea what today's sport is." Jamie had carefully attended to Ryan's choice of attire, and the odd shoes that she wore indicated that they weren't going for a basketball tryout. “Those funny shoes with the built-up soles don't look like any I have, so I think I have a pretty good idea.”

"You're much too quick for me to ever pull a fast one,” Ryan agreed. “I'm a little nervous about today, to tell you the truth. You heard the coach mention that I haven't done this in a long while.” She looked contemplative for a long moment, and Jamie was just about to step in to reassure her when Ryan mused, “I sure hope I don't have any trouble with the pommel horse. That's my worst event."

"Isn't that in gymnastics?" Jamie asked in a stunned voice.

"Yeah. You don't think my feet are too big for the balance beam do you?" Her blissfully innocent face didn't prevent her from getting a hard slap to the belly, and she rubbed the spot with a dramatic flair.

"Very funny, Ryan," Jamie growled playfully. “You never tire of setting me up, do ya?”

“No, I can't imagine getting tired of that,” she happily agreed. “You are such a perfect victim—that sincere little face that just wants to believe every word I say is too easy a target to waste.”

“I always thought I was missing something, growing up as an only child. Little did I know that I would marry into a whole family of teasers and comedians that would extend my childhood indefinitely.”

“Yep. You've jumped into the O'Flaherty fountain of youth.” Ryan's smile showed just how happy she was with the chain of events that had led to Jamie's joining the family.

“You're only young once, Baby. But you've proven that you can be immature forever!” They shared a smile at that, both women silently reflecting on how much fun it was to be immature together.

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

Coach Placer was waiting as promised. As soon as they caught sight of him, Jamie's guess was confirmed: Ryan was there to try out for the volleyball team. The coach had set up the net and coerced three other women to attend the early morning workout, none of them looking very happy about the early hour. His two assistant coaches were there as well, but since they were dressed in khaki shorts and Cal golf shirts, they obviously were not planning on playing. He introduced Ryan to his assistants, Ken and Erin, and to the other players, Stacy, Ashley and Anna, and they spent a few minutes warming up by just tossing the ball back and forth, all of them on the same side of the net.

When the coach decided they were sufficiently warmed up, he signaled one of the players to stay on Ryan's side and sent the other two to the opposite side. It was clear that they were going to try to play the two-person game on the big court, even though the large area was an awful lot of ground for two people to cover.

Ryan was wearing an outfit that Jamie was very fond of, and the other players were somewhat similarly dressed. She had on a pair of bright blue Lycra shorts, but they were amazingly short—Jamie guessed that the inseam was no more than two inches. Acres of long, lithe, lean leg were exposed to Jamie's appreciative gaze, and she decided that she liked volleyball better than soccer without even seeing the ball go over the net. The other players wore similar shorts, but all three sported T-shirts. Ryan had gone for a different look and Jamie was very pleased that she had done so. She wore a print tank top with the blue of her shorts, a bright yellow and white pattern. Even this was not her usual tank—it looked more like a compression top, or even a very long sports bra. It obviously gave her a little extra support since it was so tight, and Jamie reasoned that she would be able to be very active without fear of her bra riding up.

All of the other players were tall, lanky women, and they each looked very athletic. Jamie wasn't sure if her partner had chosen her outfit to display her impressive musculature, but whether planned or inadvertent, it did just that. The other women looked a little gawky next to her—they looked as tall as they were, while Ryan looked shorter until she stood right next to one of them. Her body was so perfectly proportioned that it continually surprised Jamie how tall she was, until she had to stand on her tiptoes just to get her arms around her neck.

As the ball was tossed into play Jamie had to remind herself that she had seen her lover play this game on the beach in Santa Monica. Playing on a large hard court changed the game so much that it seemed like an altogether different sport. The players moved so quickly, and covered so much ground, that they were literally throwing their bodies all over the court. Fortunately, Ryan wore both kneepads and elbow pads, and Jamie was thankful that she had, or her body would be acquiring a mass of bruises. Ryan's tight braid flew around her back and shoulders as she dove for ball after ball, making a play on most that she tried for, and giving an all-out effort on the ones she missed.

Within a very few minutes, Ryan was clearly dominating the game. She had a vertical leap that was hard to believe and her power was truly intimidating. The first time that she rose into the air to spike the ball into the other court, she let out such a powerful yell that the players on the other side froze for a second. Jamie couldn't help but think of the Celtic warriors she had read about that beat their opponents with their blood-curdling war cries and physically intimidating style as much as their skills in battle.

Ryan's powerful back muscles flexed as she brought her arm back to slam the ball onto the opposite court, sending it into a dizzying spin as it curved towards an open space on the floor. Jamie could see the women on the other side occasionally flinch as her arm came back and, even to her unschooled eye, that did not seem like a good tactic for returning the ball. After about ten minutes, they were dodging out of the way to avoid being hit by her powerful slams, another approach that seemed counterproductive, but understandable. The coach was getting frustrated with the two women and he finally asked Ryan's partner to switch with one of them; after getting hit a few times, she was looking for a safe haven as well.

The coach had finally seen all that he could stomach. He called a halt to the slaughter and called Ryan over. He spoke with her quietly for a few minutes and patted her on the back before he gathered the other three into a little group and spoke with them. She came back over to Jamie and flopped down onto the bench next to her. "That was kind of embarrassing," she admitted, rubbing her wet face with a towel.

"Were those varsity players?" Jamie asked.

"No, they were walk-ons like me. I think the roster is pretty well set at this point. My guess is that he's only got one or two spots to fill this late in the year.”

Jamie pulled the towel from Ryan and carefully dried her back, lifting her braid to get to her very wet neck. "It was really woman against girls, Honey. You looked All-World."

"I feel bad for them, though,” Ryan admitted a little sheepishly. “They're trying for a spot, too."

"I know, Baby. But you still had to do your best, even if it made the others look bad."

“Did they really look that bad?” she asked, turning to look directly into Jamie's eyes.

She fluffed the wet bangs out of the bright blue eyes that gazed down at her and wished that she could kiss her partner for being so concerned about the other women's performances. She just nodded slightly, acknowledging that they did, in fact, look horrible, even in her uneducated view.

"I guess I can't let that bother me,” Ryan agreed. “But to tell you the truth, I liked the days of youth league where everyone got to play the same amount of time no matter how bad you were."

Unable to resist her need, Jamie leaned over and kissed her partner's steaming hot head. “I love that you care about those women and how they feel about this, Love. You have such a good heart.”

Ryan gave her a shy, almost embarrassed grin and went back to drying the rest of her body. When she was finished she stayed right where she was until Jamie finally asked, "Are we waiting for something?"

"Yeah, Coach Placer asked me to hang around for a few minutes. I think he wants to talk to the other coaches."

After a few more minutes Coach Placer came back onto the court and motioned Ryan to follow him. "Come on," she said to Jamie.

"Are you sure?" she asked as she trotted alongside. "Maybe he wants to see you alone."

"I don't want to go alone, so that's settled," she said with a smile. "We're a package deal, Honey."

They followed him down the hall to his office where the other coaches were already perched on whatever furniture they could fit on. They took the two chairs as the coach went to sit at his desk. He gave Ryan a broad smile and said, "I think it's clear after that little exhibition that we'd like to offer you a spot on the team."

Ryan smiled back and nodded, waiting for him to continue. "I know you only played volleyball for one year, but what else did you play at USF?"

"I played soccer for one year, volleyball for one and basketball for two. The other things I did were just club sports."

"You were a busy girl, weren't you?" he teased. "What years did you participate?"

"96 and 97.”

"That should leave you with two more years of eligibility since you sat out last year. We'll check the records at USF and make sure everything is square with the NCAA If it all checks out, we'd like to have you with us. Are you interested?"

"Yes. I'm definitely interested. But Coach Greene wants me to play soccer this year and I'm considering one other sport."

“Are you just doing this for fun, Ryan, or is a scholarship important to you?”

She smiled at Jamie and said, “It's important, but I'm not going to let it be a deal-breaker. I've decided that I need to play the sport that appeals to me most.”

“Well, I don't mean to put pressure on you, but I'd like to be able to let the other girls know as soon as possible. If you don't join us, we need to offer one of them a spot.”

Jamie piped up. "Are you offering Ryan a scholarship?"

"Why, yes, of course. We have one left to give. We've been working those three women out for weeks trying to determine which one we'd give it to. Luckily Ryan came along and made the decision easy for us."

"Were any of them scholarship players last year?" Jamie asked.

"No. They were all walk-ons from this year. Why?"

"I just wondered if any of them would lose a scholarship because of Ryan."

"Oh no. I don't yank a scholarship unless there's a compelling reason. If I convince a girl to come here to play, I feel like I have to keep my end of the bargain. If she comes to practice and tries hard, she keeps her ride."

Ryan smiled and said, "That's good to hear, Coach. I do have a few questions. Do you think it will be a problem that I'm openly gay?"

"Not for any of us," he said easily. "The only problem I've ever had is when two players are dating each other and they break up or have a fight. I trust that won't be a problem for you, will it?" he asked with a grin as he looked from Jamie to Ryan.

"Nope," she said happily. "I am permanently partnered. Would you have a problem if Jamie went on road trips with me?"

"We couldn't pay for her airfare, and she'd have to get her own room, but we don't do bed checks, so...” He smiled at the pair and shrugged his shoulders, indicating that his policy was to not get too involved in his player's personal lives.

"I'm thinking of playing a winter sport too,” Ryan said, surprising Jamie completely. ”Would you mind if I had to practice with another team during the end of the volleyball season?"

He shook his dark head and said, "We had two players who played two sports last season. We didn't have any trouble working out the schedule. But I would ask that you focus more on volleyball since that is the most important part of our season. You might have to miss an exhibition game or two, but I'm sure we could work it out."

"When do you start practice?"

"Next week,” he said quickly, his excitement building. “Can we count on you?"

Ryan pursed her lips, obviously not quite ready to commit. “I've got an appointment with Sandra Johnston at nine. After we speak with her, I really need to think about it for a while before I'm ready to commit, Coach. Jamie and I need to spend a little time making sure that I make a decision we can both live with. Can I call you late this afternoon?”

"Sure. Here's my home phone number," he said as he wrote his number on his business card and handed it to Ryan. "Is there anything else I can do to help you make the decision? Would you like to talk to some of the players from last year?"

“Yes. That would be helpful. Could you have one or two of them call me?”

“Absolutely. What number should I use?”

“Just have them page me.” She recited her number. “I'm going to be in and out today, and that's the surest way to reach me.”

“Will do, Ryan. I'll make sure it happens. Anything else?”

“Yeah,” she said slowly. “Would you be comfortable talking about the paperwork that you have on me from when I was recruited in high school?”

He shifted a little in his seat, but answered her honestly. “I can't share anything that's confidential, but I'll answer anything I can.”

She fixed him with a level gaze and asked, “Did the teachers from my high school go to bat for me?”

He let out a heavy sigh and said, “They didn't do you any favors, Ryan.”

Ryan maintained her steady gaze and finally asked just one more question. “Coach Ratzinger sold me out, didn't she?”

He looked very pained as he just nodded his head a slight bit. “I think she made the coaches here doubt your emotional stability.”

“Emotional stability? Being a lesbian in San Francisco calls your stability into question!?” Jamie nearly shouted.

Ryan smiled indulgently at her partner and explained to the coaches, “She's my little champion.”

“Well, Jesus, Ryan, someone needs to be! It just slays me how chicken sh…” she began, but Ryan gently covered her mouth with her hand.

“There's nothing in here about Ryan being gay, Jamie. Now, it's possible that my predecessor just didn't put that in the file, but this indicates that Ryan just quit for no good reason.”

“But she didn't!!!” Now Jamie was shouting, and Ryan felt her stomach start to clench as the tension in the room rose sharply.

“It's okay, Honey. I just need to know the facts to put it behind me once and for all.” Turning to Coach Placer she said, “I appreciate that you were honest with me, Coach. That means a lot.” She got up to shake his hand, nodded to the assistants and shook each one's hand as she made her way towards the door. “I'll call you late this afternoon.”

After they walked a few feet down the dark hallway, she pushed Jamie gently against the wall and gave her a very sincere kiss of thanks. “What was that for?” the startled woman gasped.

“For loving me, and trying so hard to defend my honor.”

“I do love you, Ryan, and it makes me irrationally angry to see what a bunch of asshole adults did to a fragile young girl. I'd do anything to take that hurt away.”

“I know, Babe, but it can't be done. We just need to move on now.”

As they walked down the hallway, Jamie pulled her to a stop in front of a large display of color pictures of the previous year's team. She smiled up at her and said, "I know that you haven't made up your mind, but I choose volleyball."

"He was a nice guy, wasn't he?” Ryan said thoughtfully. “And I'm really excited about getting a scholarship."

"Ryan, Ryan, you're not focusing on the important things," she chided as her face broke into a gleeful smile, "Look at these outfits!"

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

They drove to Sufficient Grounds and spent an hour sipping lattés and munching on scones. Ryan's next interview was at nine, and she assured Jamie that her current outfit would be acceptable for the next sport as well. "Aside from the outfits, what did you think?" Ryan asked, sharing a teasing smile with her partner.

"I liked the coach a lot," Jamie said. "He seemed like the kind of guy you could really get along with."

"I think so, too," she said thoughtfully. “Telling me the truth about my coach at Sacred Heart boosted his stock way up in my book.”

“I can well imagine,” Jamie agreed, knowing that Ryan despised being treated like a child.

“Well, it's time for the last of the interviews,” she said, standing to stretch. As she did so she winced a bit, but kept right on doing it.

“Hey, what was that war cry you let out when you were slamming that ball at those poor girls?” Jamie was laughing at the memory, but Ryan just shook her head.

“That wasn't a war cry, Babe,” she insisted. “That was an 'oh my God, I feel like my abs have been cut by a razor blade' cry. That'll teach me to work out my frustrations on my own body!”

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

“Where to this time, Honey?” Jamie asked as they approached the Boxster.

"Do you know where Kleeberger Field is?"

"No. I've never heard of it."

"Then I'll drive," she said with a grin as she slipped the keys from Jamie's hand.

About 15 minutes later they were striding across a well-tended field to meet the stocky woman who was obviously waiting for them. Ryan approached her and stuck out her hand. "I'm Ryan O'Flaherty," she said in her warm alto voice.

"Good to meet you, Ryan, I'm Sandra Johnston." She turned to Jamie as Ryan made the introductions. "I don't know much about you, and I didn't have time to go through my predecessor's recruiting files, so tell me a little about your background."

Ryan began, "I played at Sacred Heart in San Francisco from '88 to '91. We had a pretty good team…”

“Pretty good! Sacred Heart was the state champ in '90! Hey…wait a minute…I remember you!” The coach was now bubbling with enthusiasm. “Didn't you play under a different name them?”

“Kinda,” Ryan admitted. “My given name is Siobhán, and that's how I was listed.”

“I tried to recruit you,” Coach Johnston said, narrowing her brow in concentration. “I was an assistant at Santa Clara then, but as I recall, you didn't have any interest in moving up to play at the college level. What happened?”

“Long story,” Ryan said dismissively. “I took off a few years and went to USF for a couple of years. I'm just now thinking of getting back into it.”

The coach pursed her lips and rocked back on her heels. "That's an awfully long time to be away from the sport, Ryan. What makes you want to try it again?"

"My financial circumstances have changed, and I'm able to participate in sports this year instead of having to have a job. It's my last year of college and I really miss the competition. I want one more chance to be on a team before I have to join the real world," she said with a grin.

"You look like you're in great shape," the coach said, as she looked her over from top to bottom. "What do you do for a workout?"

"I do a lot of weight training, and I run five to ten miles a day, usually in the hills. Oh, and I ride my bike about 100 miles a week."

"I'd give my eyeteeth if I could get some of my girls to do that much in a week," she said with a laugh. "You certainly sound like you're able to motivate yourself. I'm willing to give you a tryout, if you want."

"Sure. I am talking to some of the other programs, but I'm very serious about playing some sport this year."

"Do you want to do it now or do you need to prepare?"

"Let's go," Ryan said with a grin.

Jamie still had absolutely no idea what sport they were talking about. It's obviously not swimming--no pool; not basketball--no court; not softball--no diamond. I don't think they'd let women try out for football...but with Ryan, you never know.

Ryan walked over to a bench and peeled off the thin nylon warm-up pants that she had put on after her volleyball workout. She rummaged around in her gym bag and took out a pair of black leather shoes with plastic cleats and a pair of knee socks. Before she pulled the socks up, she inserted a pair of shin guards, adjusting the inserts until they were just so. To Jamie's regret she tugged a T-shirt on over her tank, but she had kept the tiny shorts on, so Jamie was still relatively satisfied with her look.

While Ryan fussed with her shoes and socks, Jamie took a moment to observe the coach. As a newcomer to the lesbian club she found that she spent a lot of time trying to guess sexual orientations—something that surprised her a little, since she had never done so before. Ryan had assured her that this was a passing phase and that most people did it when they first “came out,” but Jamie was still uncomfortable with her unconscious habit. She tried her best to refrain from labeling every woman without a man draped all over her as a lesbian, but assessing Sandra Johnston caused her to immediately place her into the “definite” category. The coach was short, stocky and remarkably butch, giving the impression of a pit bull as she strutted around the field, loosening up her ample muscles. Her hair looked like she had placed a bowl on it before she cut it, and her features were compressed on her pugnacious-looking, square face.

Sandra went to her long nylon bag and pulled out a pair of varnished wooden sticks with hooked ends and two small, hard white balls. Field hockey? Jamie gaped, before she reminded herself that field hockey was just about the only sport that was left after all of the others had been eliminated by her deductive reasoning.

When Sandra was standing still she looked quite bulky, but as she started to warm up Jamie noticed that she moved with the confident, graceful strides of an athlete, and she quickly saw how her compact body was perfectly suited to the game. Her short, powerful legs let her stop and turn quickly, and her small stature allowed her to take a full swing at the ball without bending at all.

Ryan, on the other hand, was so unusually tall that she had to bend quite a bit to hit the ball with the rather short stick. That didn't seem to slow her down much though, Jamie had to admit as she dashed around the field.

When they were both limbered up, Coach Johnston tossed one of the balls down on the ground and she and Ryan began to pass it back and forth, using their sticks to direct its movement. After they given quite an impressive little display, she had Ryan run the length of the field several times, controlling the little ball with her stick. Jamie was astonished at the dexterity that her lover showed in this exhibition. She could move the ball around so effortlessly that it looked as though it was glued to her stick. She knew that the stick was perfectly flat, but the way Ryan played it sure didn't seem so.

After she had shown that she could control the ball, the coach tried to run along with her and take the ball away. For seven trips up and down the field, Ryan never relinquished her control of the ball. Jamie was pleased that, as the work out went on, the Coach's smile grew bigger. She finally threw her stick up in the air and shouted, "I give!"

Ryan bent over and rested her hands on her knees for a few moments, but she quickly caught her breath and jogged back over to Jamie with a big smile on her face. "That's my most natural sport," she said with a cocky grin.

"If you want to play, we'll find a spot for you," the coach said as she gasped for air. "Shit! I didn't even ask you what position you play.” She looked up at Ryan from her bent position and let her face curl into a smile. “Does it matter?" she asked with a laugh.

"Not really," Ryan blushed modestly. "I can be a pure defender or a goalie but I prefer to be a midfielder. I like to score, but playing defense really gets my juices flowing."

“I seem to remember that you were going to play soccer, weren't you?” the coach asked, still slightly out of breath.

“Yeah. I'm still considering it,” she admitted. “Plus there's a spot on the volleyball team I'm considering.”

Sandra looked a little crestfallen, knowing that her small, non-scholarship program didn't have much of a chance against the big sports. But she summoned a bright smile and said, "We'd love to have you, Ryan. If you want to talk to any of the players I'd be happy to hook you up. My assistant coaches would be glad to talk to you, too. Boy, when I left the house today I told my husband that I had to go waste an hour. I'm awfully glad I was wrong!" she said as she shook Ryan's hand firmly.

As they walked across the field to their car, they waited until the coach was out of earshot before they looked at each other and simultaneously shouted, "Husband?!"

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

While Ryan took another shower, Jamie prepared a massive lunch for her favorite athlete. Ryan came down just as she placed a large vegetable salad at the table for her to begin munching on. “Oooh…this looks good,” Ryan purred, casting a lingering glance towards her lunch while she dutifully hugged her partner from behind.

Jamie grasped both of the arms that circled her waist and took a moment to breathe in Ryan's sweet, clean scent. She couldn't resist turning in her embrace for a few kisses, releasing her partner only when she felt Ryan's attention start to flag. “I can tell you're thinking more about your lunch than you are about me, Chow Hound, so go on.” She swatted her firmly on the butt. “Go to your first love.”

Ryan scampered across the kitchen, attempting to look contrite. “My stomach has a mind of its own, Honey,” she insisted. “It's the most dominant part of my psyche.”

“Sure it is, Sweetheart,” Jamie said in mock agreement. “Next time you want to make love, I'm going to remind you of that and give you a sandwich instead.”

Ryan knew she'd been caught in a major lie, so she quickly switched the subject as she dug into the crisp vegetables with their light poppy seed vinaigrette dressing. “You are the best cook in the universe,” she gushed, an innocent look plastered on her smiling face.

“I'm glad you think so, Love,” Jamie soothed as she bent to kiss just above Ryan's ear. “Then you won't mind when I feed you rather than f…”

Ryan whipped around in her chair and inserted a baby carrot into her partner's mouth. “Jamie! I think you were going to say a very naughty word!” The shock she was trying to affect was ineffective on her grinning lover.

She bit down sharply on the carrot and smiled as she chewed. “Fondle, Babe. I was going to say fondle.”

“No matter what you were going for, neither is acceptable,” Ryan insisted. She pulled Jamie onto her lap and kissed her tenderly, the kisses growing in intensity until Jamie's breath caught. “Touching you and loving you are the most important things I do. I would gladly starve if I had to chose between that and eating.”

Jamie knew there was more than a little hyperbole in this statement, but she appreciated the sincerity in the big blue eyes that gazed at her lovingly. She rested her forehead against Ryan's and whispered, “We'll never starve as long as we can love each other. Our love is completely life-sustaining.” Their lips merged in another bout of achingly tender kisses, neither making a move to break the contact until Ryan pulled away as she sniffed delicately, “Is something burning?”

“Umm hmmm,” Jamie murmured, leaning in for another scorcher. “Yipes!” She jumped from Ryan's lap and dashed for the range, turning off the burner under the butter she had been melting. “I bet Wolfgang Puck doesn't have to work with these kinds of distractions!” Switching pans, she paid attention to her work, ignoring Ryan's amused chuckles as she prepared an egg white, chile and cheese omelet for her partner.

When the meal was ready Jamie sat next to her partner and munched off her plate while Ryan talked about the decision she had to make. “I'm in a bit of a quandary,” she admitted.

“Tell me what you're thinking about, Hon,” Jamie urged. “Tell me which sport is your favorite, ignoring every other concern.”

Ryan thought for a minute and said, “Soccer is my favorite, I guess. I like that it's played outside, I love being a goalie and the pace is just right for me. I can watch the whole game from my position and I like the level of concentration I have to maintain to defend my goal. I can also express a lot of emotion as a goalie. It's really fun to make a great save and be able to celebrate. There aren't that many other activities that give me the personal satisfaction of saving a goal.”

"That sounds pretty important. Is there anything you don't like about it?"

"No. I love soccer, but there are other factors that I can't ignore. I'm still a little bit afraid of having to hit the ball with my head. The neurologists I consulted don't think I'll have any permanent damage from my concussions, but they all said that the effects of trauma are cumulative. I don't have to use my head much as a goalie, but it does happen. And when a ball is coming at you at 40 or 50 miles per hour, hitting it with your head really gets your attention."

"Honey, if there is any chance that you can injure your brain by playing..."

"I know, Jamie. It's not worth the risk," she said quietly, forcing herself to acknowledge that her head injuries had finally caught up to her. She paused for another few seconds before she continued. "You know, even if that wasn't a consideration, I don't think I'd play. As much as I wish I wasn't, I 'm still angry with Coach Greene. I hated the way she treated me, and it really pissed me off when she offered to yank a scholarship for me."

"Those seem like pretty good reasons to not play."

"They are," she admitted. "But I really love soccer," she said wistfully. "It's hard to admit that some things that mean a lot to me are simply out of my reach now. I guess this is part of growing up.” The sad look on her face made Jamie wish she could make the reality of the situation go away, but she knew it was unthinkable to risk Ryan's health for the sake of a sport.

“Maybe soccer is on my mind more because of the World Cup coming up. Would you like to go to some of the matches? The first-round games are at Stanford."

"I'd love to," Jamie said, smiling at the flicker of a grin on her partner's face. “You can explain some of the strategy to me."

"That I can do,” Ryan agreed confidently. “So… if we narrow it down between volleyball and field hockey I still have a tough choice. Field hockey is truly my most natural sport. It feels effortless when I play, and my instincts just lead me to the ball. The other plus is that they only play 16 games and there are only two road trips."

"I keep forgetting about road trips. How many does the volleyball team make?"

"Probably five or six and then the NCAA tournaments, if the team gets that far."

"Hmm…that is a lot,” she agreed. “Which sport do you like better?"

"Field hockey," Ryan said firmly. "I like volleyball, but I don't love it. Plus it's really hard on my knees. They ache like a bitch after a five game match."

"Then you should play field hockey," Jamie urged.

"There are a few more factors that are important to me," Ryan said. "And one of them is kind of embarrassing."

"What could be embarrassing about field hockey?"

"No, not the sport. I'm embarrassed that one of my considerations is that nobody cares about field hockey. There are usually fewer than 20 people who come to a match. It feels more like you're just running around with a bunch of your friends. I think that's one of the things I like best about it. But on the other hand, if I'm going to devote a ton of my time to a sport I'd like to get some recognition for it."

"And it embarrasses you to feel that way?" she asked gently, touching Ryan's hand softly.

"It's pretty self-serving. I wish I didn't need the approval of fans, but I do. And part of the reason that I want to play is to get the full experience of playing a major sport at the Division One level. Field hockey won't give me that."

"I think I see your point. Do you like volleyball enough to dedicate yourself to it?"

"Oh yeah. I like volleyball a lot. It's just not my favorite. I prefer beach volleyball because it's outside, but I don't think I would have a hard time gearing up for it." She sat for a few minutes in pensive silence. "Plus I can't ignore the scholarship. This is another self-serving trait, but it makes me feel really good that they think enough of me to give me a free ride."

"I can understand that, Honey. It validates that you're important to the team and to the school."

"But I think we need to make some decisions about how we want to live our lives this year. How do you feel about my playing any of the sports?"

Jamie sat back in her chair and acknowledged that they hadn't really discussed the time any of the sports would take away from their time together. "Do you have any idea of how much time volleyball will take?"

"I can only assume it is run like the program at USF There we practiced about two hours a day. You were supposed to spend at least three days in the weight room, and they had us run as a team three mornings a week. They play about 30 games, so that takes up two or three nights a week. Most of the games are on Friday and Saturday nights so we wouldn't have a date night until December at the earliest. And if I played basketball next, I'd be busy every weekend until March."

"That's not a small sacrifice," she agreed. "But let me ask you a question. If you were single and were offered a scholarship would you play?"

"Yes," she said immediately.

"Then I want you to play," Jamie replied just as quickly. "I know there are times when our relationship will cause you to give up things that you like, but this doesn't have to be one of them. I think we'll be able to adapt to your schedule, especially if you quit your job."

"What have I had to give up for the relationship?" Ryan asked with a confused look.

"Having sex with tons of women, for one," she replied with a smirk.

"That was kind of fun," Ryan replied wistfully. "But you are proving to be more than I can handle, so it's not much of a sacrifice," she said as she leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on her lover's lips. "Speaking of which, have we scheduled today's two hour lovemaking session?"

"No…we'll be at our home tonight, so as long as we can get rid of Duffy we can get started as soon as dinner's over.”

Just as Jamie was going to seal the deal with a kiss Ryan's pager went off. “Hold that thought,” she said as she went to the phone.

She spent nearly 20 minutes on the phone, giving the poor woman on the other end a thorough cross-examination. Jamie began to wash the dishes, and Ryan tucked the portable phone under her chin and took over the drying duties while she talked. Jamie laughed to herself as she heard Ryan ask every possible question that could influence her choice, but her ears perked up when Ryan asked, “How do you think the other players would feel about having a lesbian on the team?”

She recognized the smirk that immediately covered Ryan's face, and instinctively knew that the woman on the other end was flirting with her partner. “Yeah, I'd say I'm decent looking,” she drawled, whipping around as Jamie tried to grab the phone from her hand. “That's good to know,” she laughed. “I'll tell my lover that you'll cast a vote in my favor.” Jamie stopped her attempt to join in on the conversation, now that Ryan had covered the most important point. “Yeah…I'm happily married,” she added, further reassuring Jamie. “That's great. Thanks a lot for your time, and I guess I'll see you on Monday.” Ryan paused again and let the smirk cover her handsome face. “I'll let my partner do that for you.” She handed the phone to Jamie and said, “Jordan wants to know what I look like, Honey. She wants to make sure she welcomes me to the team.”

Jamie laughed and took the phone from her partner, “Hi, Jordan, this is Jamie.” She paused a bit, poking her tongue out at Ryan before she said, “She's very tall, has very dark hair, gorgeous blue eyes, the whitest teeth you've ever seen, and a short blonde bulldog hanging on her leg most of the time.”

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *
As Jamie drove her partner to work Ryan said, “I think I'll call the coaches and give them my decision as soon as I'm done with work. The good news is that you get to see me in your favorite outfit."

"My favorite outfit would be if you joined the hot oil wrestling team," she teased. "But volleyball is a close second."

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

When Jamie showed up to pick Ryan up for the ride to the city, Ryan took Jamie's cell phone and spent the next 20 minutes making her calls. Jamie had so many questions that she fervently wished they had a speaker phone, but she waited as patiently as possible for Ryan to finish. The last call was to Coach Placer, and when Ryan hung up she had a very happy grin on her face.

"I take it that Coach Placer was happy?" Jamie smiled.

"Yeah, he seemed pretty happy. I'm surprised you couldn't hear him yell," she admitted.

The usual Friday night traffic had slowed them to a crawl as they tried to get across the Bay Bridge, and Jamie stared at the skyline of the city for a few minutes, letting the fresh breeze waft over her skin. “What did Coach Greene say after you turned her down?”

"Oh, she had to put down the volleyball program. They did really poorly last year, and she claims that even with me they'll have a hard time making the NCAA's. She said that soccer was the current sports vogue, and that I still had a chance to make the national team if I played for her and all that kind of crap."

"Is that true?" Jamie asked, slightly incredulous.

"If I had come here originally and was only 22 now I think I could have had a chance. I played against some of the women on the U.S. team and I could hold my own against them. But it didn't turn out that way. I don't think there's any way they'd add a 24-year-old to the team, so I think she's just trying to lure me back."

"I'm so glad you decided not to play for her. I don't think you would have been happy."

"I'm glad too," she admitted. "Oh, and Coach Johnston gave me a good tip. She said that since I had only used two years of eligibility, I could play next year."

"But you will have graduated."

"Doesn't matter. As long as you're enrolled in undergrad or graduate school you can play if you have eligibility left. So I could play field hockey next year if I get into grad school here. That would really be ideal. The schedule is less demanding and it would let me play my best sport!"

"That's sounds great, Honey. But that reminds me, we've got to sit down and make some decisions about next year, and then start applying to grad schools."

"Since we've both taken the GRE and I've finished with the MCAT, we can send in our applications any time. Do you want to do that next week?"

"Yeah. Doing all that, as well as two hours of sex a day, should fill our week!"

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

As they slogged through the heavy Friday night traffic, Ryan called Conor from the cell phone. "Hey," she said in their standard greeting.

"Hi, Ryan," he replied in a happy tone. "Are you guys coming home?"

She smiled at his use of the term. "Yeah, we're on the bridge. Traffic is crawling, so we won't be there for about 45 minutes. Are you going to be home for dinner?"

"No, I've got a date. I need to leave home by six or so, and Da's at work, so no one will be here when you get home."

"Oh, okay,” she said with just a touch of disappointment coloring her words. She had spent dozens of Friday nights alone, but she was looking forward to reconnecting with her family, though she had seen them just two days ago. "We're playing golf at eight tomorrow, okay?"

"Yeah. Where are we playing?"

"It's a surprise. But rest assured we'll be the poor relations," she said while she wriggled in her seat as Jamie tried to find enough flesh to pinch.

After she disconnected, she turned back to her partner and said, "Conor and Da are both out. Maybe we should just get off and have dinner downtown."

Jamie blanched noticeably and said, “It's Friday! I told Poppa we'd have dinner with him today!”

“Whoa,” Ryan laughed, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand. “Good save, Jamers.”

“Jamers?” The smaller woman blinked and tried to get a handle on this newest nickname. “Where did that come from?”

Ryan shrugged her broad shoulders and gave her partner a helpless grin. “I've got no idea. It just seemed like your name at that particular moment. Do you mind?”

“You can call me anything you want, Sweetie, as long as it isn't 'late to bed.'“

Ryan shot her partner a sincere smile and assured her, “That will never happen, Buddy. Bedtime would lose its cachet if you didn't join me.”

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

15 minutes later they pulled up in front of the neat little church that Rev. Evans pastored. Following the flagstone walk up to the small house provided by the congregation, they waited just a moment for the distinguished-looking man to answer the door. He wrapped Jamie in a warm hug, squeezing her tightly, then gave a slightly more reserved hug to Ryan and welcomed them both in. They chatted for a few minutes, then decided to walk to a local restaurant since he had no car and theirs could not accommodate all three of them.

It was just six o'clock, and the summer sun was still prominent in the sky, assuring them of several more hours of light. As they walked along, enjoying the cool evening air that whipped around them, they talked about the Ride and their stay at Pebble Beach. Rev. Evans asked a few questions, but was mostly a very interested listener. Ryan reflected that his style seemed to be to allow his companions to talk, and then react thoughtfully to their issues. When they reached the restaurant, they were immediately seated at a small table near the front. After they had perused the menus and ordered, they sat back to enjoy a glass of wine. Jamie's face took on a thoughtful look as she asked, "Poppa, I've been thinking about telling my parents about Ryan. I know we've discussed the topic in general, but I thought you might have some specific things I should watch out for."

They hadn't discussed the issue much in the past week and Ryan still felt it was too soon for her partner to make this revelation, but she didn't think it was her place to discourage her if she was intent on doing so. Rev. Evans sat quietly for a moment before he said, "Mmmm, that is a big one, Jamie. Do you think they have any suspicions?"

"Mother does, but I think Daddy will be stunned," she admitted. “Mother actually came to my house one day this spring and asked me if Ryan and I were lovers.”

He tilted his head slightly and gave her an interested look, not directly asking what her reaction had been, but welcoming her to give it if she so chose. “I lied to her,” she said softly, blushing with shame as she acknowledged her actions.

Rev. Evans nodded his head, giving his granddaughter a fond smile and patting her hand gently. “I'm sure that you felt that you needed to, Jamie. You don't lie easily.”

She smiled back and agreed. “I don't want to get better at it either, Poppa. That's why I want to tell them as soon as possible.”

"What do you plan on telling them?" he asked.

"I want to tell them that I've fallen in love," she said as she looked over at Ryan. The candlelight made her partner's skin glow bronze, and her eyes looked a very deep blue. "I want to tell them that I've met the woman that I'm going to spend the rest of my life with." She reached across the table to grasp her hand.

He smiled at the two young lovers and waited a moment to ask his next question. "Do you think of yourself as a lesbian, Jamie?"

She paused for a moment before she answered, taking a deep breath before she spoke. "I guess I'd have to say that I am, based on my behavior, but I don't think of myself that way. Does that make any sense?"

Both Ryan and Rev. Evans nodded simultaneously. Ryan spoke first, "That's not uncommon, Honey. You might never feel like a lesbian. It's really not that big of a deal."

"I agree with Ryan, Jamie. But I asked the question because I think that it will come up during your discussion with your parents. I just want you to give some thought about how to answer that question. I don't mean to frighten you, but if you tell them you're not sure you are a lesbian it might give them hope that you'd go back to 'normal' if Ryan were to disappear."

"You don't mean that literally, do you?" Ryan gulped.

"No," he laughed, clapping her on the shoulder. "I don't think they'll resort to violence. But I want Jamie to be well prepared for this. I have seen this issue come up time and again for parents, so I assume it might happen here."

"What do you suggest, Poppa? Should I tell them that I am a lesbian even if I don't feel comfortable with that label yet?"

"I'm not urging you to lie, Jamie. I just want you to be prepared for the types of things that can come up. You should think about your answer and feel comfortable with whatever it is. Until you feel right about it, I would urge you to wait to tell them."

“But what if I never have a term I'm comfortable with?” Her eyes were round with surprise and he hastened to reassure her.

“I don't mean to say you have to have a term, Honey. I'm just warning you that your parents will want you to have one. It's perfectly acceptable to tell them that how you refer to yourself is none of their business. All I'm trying to do is alert you that they will probably ask.”

"Okay, that's good advice. What else should I expect?"

"I assume they'll be disappointed. Maybe not with you, but with the loss of some of their expectations for you. I know they expected your life to mirror theirs. That's hard for many parents to deal with."

"Yeah,” she sighed. “I know it will be hard for Mother to have me doing something that is socially undesirable.”

“Don't assume that it won't bother your father too, Jamie. He definitely got a lot of pleasure out of having you and Jack together.”

“You're right,” she agreed, remembering how proud her father was to take the two of them to social functions at the firm. “Okay, what else?"

"I think the odds are good that they'll believe Ryan coerced you into this," he said softly, true regret coloring his words.

The color rose on her cheeks as she said, "That couldn't be further from the truth!"

"I know that, Honey. And when they get to know Ryan, they'll know that too. But that will probably be their initial reaction."

"How do I make them see that's not true?" she asked. "Do I have to spell out how I pursued her?"

"No, I don't think you have to and I don't think you should. This is one area that you should maintain your privacy. It's no one else's business how you came to be lovers, and if you don't want to reveal that, you shouldn't. I think you should tell them that there was no coercion involved and leave it at that."

"What else?" she asked glumly, now regretting her inclination to tell them at all.

"I think they might assume that Ryan is after your money," he said softly.

"Oh please!" she said, her voice rising. "I have to beg her to let me buy her a pair of shorts! The only fights we've had have been because she can't stand to have me spend money on her!"

He laughed at this detail and Ryan blushed a bit. "I know it's not true, Honey. But I am certain the thought will cross their minds. I suggest you remind your father that the Smith thought the same thing about him when Catherine brought him home."

"I didn't know that," she said with a small laugh.

"It's a very common reaction from people who have great wealth. They assume that everyone wants a piece of it."

"Okay, other than seducing me for my money, what else will they think of Ryan?"

"They won't like that she's older than you are, or that she's been with other women before you. That will just reinforce their thoughts of her coercing you. But I think the biggest problem will be their difficulty in dealing with the loss of their dreams for you, Jamie. That's usually the biggest problem for secular, liberal parents."

"Yeah, I guess they can hardly throw the Bible at me," she agreed with a laugh.

"That would be a stretch," he said, sharing her smile.

"So, do you think I should tell them at all?"

He took a sip of his wine and gazed into space for a moment, carefully considering his reply. "I think you need to feel comfortable with why you want to tell them. Are you trying to come out at them or to them?"

"What do you mean?" She had never heard the issue framed that way, and it gave her pause.

"Some people tell their parents because they know it will drive them crazy. They want to create some drama and hurt their parents with the news."

She shook her head violently. "I want to tell them because Ryan is such an important part of my life," she said sincerely. "This isn't a passing fling. I'm not just trying out lesbian sex because everyone else is doing it. Ryan means everything to me, Poppa," she said as she squeezed her hand tightly. "If I don't tell them about her, they can't really know me. She's a part of me now," she said simply.

He smiled at her and patted her cheek with his hand. “That's a wonderful reason, Jamie, and if they have any sense at all, they'll thank God that you care for them enough to share your life with them.”

She smiled up at her grandfather as she said, "It's nice to know that no matter what happens, you'll always be supportive of me."

"You can count on that, Jamie," he said with a broad smile.

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

Continued in Part 8

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