I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 4: Disclosures

by S X Meagher


See Part 1

Part 9

After Jamie left, Ryan went upstairs to get some lunch started and was surprised to see her father and her aunt enter the house together. "Where've you been, Da? I expected you when I got up this morning."

"The lads were out battling a blaze until four this morning," he said, suppressing a yawn. "I got up and started a big breakfast for them and then stayed to help clean up. Nothing worse than coming on duty to a mess like that to clean." Ryan smiled at him, admiring her father for giving up his time to help the next shift get started smoothly.

"Did you go to Mass?"

"Yes. I was a shade late for 9:30, so I went to 11:00, and stayed around to offer my sister-in-law a ride home."

"He stayed and helped us clean up is what he did," Maeve scoffed, giving him a mock annoyed look. "You don't have to clean up after every assemblage of people in San Francisco, Martin."

He shrugged his shoulders and reached for the baby who was squirming in Ryan's arms. "I enjoy it," he said simply as he made his way for the kitchen. "What would everyone like for lunch?"

"I'd like to make lunch for you," Ryan insisted, brushing past her father. "You and Aunt Maeve go sit on the porch and I'll cook for a change. Go on," she shooed them out of the kitchen, but Caitlin did not want to follow. Rather than force the issue, Ryan allowed her to sit on the floor and play with her toys, Duffy agreeing to help her watch the little one.

It was a bit more difficult than she had anticipated, avoiding six feet and one tail as she moved around the large kitchen, but she managed to get a plate of sandwiches and bowls of soup prepared without stepping on any of them. Caitlin's new trick was to grab on to a pant leg to hold herself up, and Ryan patiently let her use her leg as they walked slowly and haltingly into the dining room.

Martin heard the door from the kitchen swing open, and he stood in the dining room and laughed at the sight. The baby was trying to walk between Ryan's long legs, each of her chubby little hands grasping a handful of Ryan's pants. At the rate they were traveling, it would take them ten minutes to get to the table, but Ryan was holding the tray of sandwiches in her hands, and she couldn't rush the baby along. Duffy was so close behind them that his nose was pressed against the back of Ryan's calf, his big body only halfway through the door by the time Martin got there to assist.

"Do you ever wonder how your mother got a thing done?" he laughed, taking the tray and placing it on the table.

Ryan actually hadn't wondered about that question, but she did now. She imagined what it must have been like to have a six-year-old, a four-year-old, a two-year-old and an infant all clustered around her while she tried to prepare a meal. "I don't think I'd have the patience to do that," she mused, swooping Caitlin into her arms.

"You do what you have to do," Martin insisted. "If I had to do it over again, I think we might have spaced you all out a little bit more, just for your mother's sake, but when you got older it was nice to have you so close in age."

Ryan mulled that thought over while they all dug in, pausing to consider that if her parents had planned their family, they would likely have run out of time before they had her. "What would the perfect space between kids be?" she asked thoughtfully.

Maeve laughed at the question, reminding her niece, "You've come to the wrong place to get family planning advice, Sweetheart. None of us knew a thing about that entire topic! We just took what the good Lord gave us."

Ryan was a little surprised at this, always having assumed that at least her Aunt Maeve had used some sort of birth control. She had only three children, and they were spaced at least three years apart, something that Ryan guessed would be hard to do without birth control. Not wanting to pry, she asked, "But if you were making a recommendation, what would you suggest?"

Maeve's green eyes flickered with mirth as she teased, "Are you asking about anyone in particular, dear?"

"Yes, ma'am," Ryan nodded, her mouth curving into a smirk. "I'm speaking of myself."

"Are you ready to start down that path right now?" Martin's eyes were wide, and he looked like he was controlling an urge to try and talk her out of any such plan.

"No, Da, don't worry," she assured him. "I think we want to wait until we're through with grad school. I'm actually more worried that we won't have time to have all of the kids I want to have."

"Knowing how you feel about children, that wouldn't surprise me in the least," he laughed. "You'd better make sure Jamie's of the same mind, though. It might be tough for her to go from being an only child to having a house full of ruffians."

Ryan adopted an outraged look and demanded, "And just what makes you think my children will be ruffians?"

Both Martin and Maeve laughed at the thought. "Even if you weren't related to the child, you could turn them into a ruffian. It's one of your gifts," her father teased, speaking the absolute truth.

She rolled her eyes and shrugged her broad shoulders, conceding the point, since it was clear that she was well on the way to turning Caitlin into a ruffian. The baby was currently sitting on her lap, playing with some zwieback cookies that were no longer fit for human consumption since Duffy had already had them thrust into his mouth repeatedly. Ryan leaned over and whispered something in her ear, causing the baby to giggle at the tickling sensation. Looking up at her father, Ryan informed him, "Caitlin says she's chosen a rather wild lifestyle all on her own. She assures me that I was not a major influence."

"Uh-huh," he grinned, "just wait until I get my report on your church attendance today, Siobhán. We'll just see which of you was the instigator."

Ryan gave a mental sigh, knowing that her father wasn't kidding about receiving a report. Martin was known to nearly everyone in the parish, and she knew that everyone from Father Pender on down would comment about her rare appearance at Mass. Somewhere in the report, someone would mention seeing her speak to Mary Elizabeth Andrews, so she thought it best to get that little bit of information out of the way immediately. "I uh...was surprised to find Mrs. Andrews sitting behind us today," she began.

In the blink of an eye Martin's face grew grim and Ryan could see the anger welling up. "Well aren't you the lucky one?" he snapped. "She avoids the rest of us like we're lepers. I've seen that woman cross the entire church just to avoid leaving by the same door as I do."

Maeve looked at Ryan with a great deal of sadness in her dark green eyes. "Did you speak with her, dear?"

Ryan nodded. "Yes, Jamie and I did. Brendan gave her the cold shoulder though," she admitted.

"Good for him!" Martin insisted. "She deserves no better!"

Ryan gave him a long look and explained, "I don't want to live like that, Da. I'm not willing to hide from people that might upset me. I'm really glad that we spoke." Turning to her aunt she asked, "Did you know Sara just graduated from Stanford law?"

Maeve nodded. "Yes, sweetheart, I did know that. Mary Elizabeth doesn't speak to me personally, but I've heard updates about Sara from some of the other women." Looking at Ryan carefully she asked, "Should I have kept you informed of the things I heard?"

Ryan shook her head briskly, "No. I don't think I was ready before. I think I am now, though." She was absently rubbing Caitlin's unkempt blonde hair, causing the little green eyes to flutter closed. As Caitlin's head dropped, Ryan shifted her small burden and drew her into the crook of her arm to better support her. "This is hard to explain, but being with Jamie has made me more confident about facing people that have hurt me in the past. I'm not sure why that is, but it was really okay to see Mrs. Andrews since I knew Jamie was there." She tilted her dark head and gazed at her aunt. "Do you know what I mean?"

Maeve closed her eyes as a knowing smile crossed her face. "I know exactly what you mean, Sweetheart. It's a very nice feeling, isn't it?"

Ryan's beaming grin lit up the room. "It's the best."

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

It was after one when they finished eating, and Ryan was anxious to do something physical. "I need to get outside and do something," she finally whined.

"You're just like a puppy, Darlin'," Martin said affectionately. "You just can't be cooped up too long, or you start chewing on the furniture."

"I thought I could take Caitlin to Golden Gate park," she suggested. "If I could borrow a truck, I could put her in her jogger and I could Rollerblade for a couple of hours."

"I've got a better idea," Maeve said. "Why don't I drive you, and I can take a leisurely walk while you two speed around."

"That works for me," Ryan said. "I'll run and change."

"Why don't you come with us?" Maeve asked Martin. "I wouldn't mind some company while I'm waiting for the girls to finish their run."

"I've nothing on the schedule," he admitted. "But I need to be home in time to make my baby's favorite meal tonight," he said as he gave his daughter a warm hug. "She's taking off again in the morning, and I want her to remember her old father for another week."

"If I'd known I'd get extra attention, I would have left home years ago," she said with a wink at her grinning aunt.

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

When Jamie entered the locker room at the club she nearly gasped when she saw Mia sitting patiently in front of her locker. "Took you long enough, James," she chided, jumping up and wrapping her friend in a hug.

"What are you doing here?" Jamie was truly flustered, and Mia enjoyed the atypical bout of inarticulateness that her surprise had caused.

"I decided to come home for the weekend, and my father suggested we get together with you and your dad for a game. I wanted it to be a surprise, so I didn't call you. Surprised?" Her warm brown eyes sparkled as she reveled in her ability to put one over on her friend.

"Totally," Jamie agreed, giving her another generous hug. "I've missed you, Mia. There have been so many times in the past two weeks that I've wanted to share some things with you."

"Is everything okay?" she asked a bit anxiously, still holding Jamie in a loose embrace.

"Everything's perfect." Jamie's smile was very bright, and Mia delighted at seeing the sparkle in the green eyes.

"I've got a seven o'clock flight back to L.A.," Mia said. "How about giving me a ride to the airport so we can dish."

"You're on, Buddy. I've got tons of stuff to tell you."

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

When the golf match ended, the young women said goodbye to their fathers and retired to the locker room. Very few of the women members used the spa and steam room, so they decided to spend some time relaxing in the deserted area before they had to leave for the airport. It was just three o'clock and they didn't have to leave until five, so they had time to burn.

They were barely settled in the steaming spa when Mia turned to Jamie with a look of rapt interest. "Okay, girlfriend, spill it. I want everything-down to the dirtiest detail."

Jamie laughed at her usual directness and said, "I don't know where to start, Mia. I have never felt like this about anyone." She reached up and pushed her damp hair from her eyes, then took a drink from the lemonade they had carried into the spa area. "I had no idea what it felt like to really love someone."

"That's nice, Jamie. I'm really happy for you," she said mechanically. Then an impish grin crossed her face and she demanded, "Now tell me about the sex!"

"Is that all you ever think about?" she asked with a laugh.

"No, I have lots of things on my fertile mind. But sex is the only thing that interests me enough to get me up at nine a.m. on a Sunday to play golf!"

"I'm honored that you agreed to play with us," Jamie offered, acknowledging Mia's uncharacteristic behavior, "but I thought that perhaps you were interested in seeing me just for me."

"You know I'm teasing, James. But I am dying to know!"

"Okay," Jamie said thoughtfully, deciding that she wanted to share some of her feelings with her old friend. "It's better than I could have imagined, Mia," she sighed. "I mean, I know I loved Jack, and I know that we did make love-but it honestly feels like what Ryan and I do together is a whole different kind of act. She's so loving and caring and patient with me. I've just never felt safer or more protected than when I'm lying in her arms. It's funny," she mused. "We can be lying together so peacefully, feeling all safe and loved, and two seconds later she can get that gleam in her eyes and just drive me insane. She is absolutely irresistible, Mia!"

"I'm really happy for you, James," she said with a smirk. "Although I'd love some details, I get the feeling that you're not going to give 'em up today."

Jamie smiled back, acknowledging that she wasn't willing to share the details of her life with Ryan. "It's different when you really love someone, Mia. It's just too intimate to talk about with anyone. Do you understand?"

"I do," she admitted. "You'll notice that I never told you any details about being with Jason-until I knew it was just about over."

"I'm glad you understand," she said fondly. "I don't want you to feel left out."

"No, I'm cool," she said happily, looking very much so. "What's the plan for the rest of the summer--are you just going to hang out and make love?"

Jamie smiled serenely and shook her head a little. "I wish we could. But I think we're both ready to move on with the things we want to accomplish this summer. I'm thinking of telling my parents about us soon."

"Are you nuts!!??" Mia shrieked, completely surprising Jamie with her outburst.

"N...n...no, I don't think I am," she stuttered. "Do you think it's a bad idea?"

"I think it's a very bad idea, James. Why go asking for trouble?"

Jamie shook her head, still puzzled by Mia's comments. "I think I know my parents pretty well, and it's bothering me more to have the secret than it is to consider telling them. Just to get it over with, I might tell them next weekend."

"Boy, that seems fast to me," Mia said. "You do know that they'll flip out, don't you?"

"I know they won't be happy at first, but I think they love me enough to try to work through this with me."

"Uh-huh," she replied again, trying to keep her face devoid of emotion so that she did not exert undue pressure on her friend.

"Come on," Jamie urged, realizing that Mia was holding back. "Tell me what you're thinking."

Mia smiled at her, glad that Jamie knew her so well, but sorry that she couldn't hide anything from her, even at the risk of hurting her feelings. "I think it's gonna be hard, James. I don't think they'll be nice about it at all, and I'm afraid it's gonna get ugly."

"Do you really?" Jamie was amazed that Mia would assume this about her often emotionally distant parents. "Why?"

"You're their only child, James. If they didn't make you into what they want, they're out of chances. And not to be mean, but your mom is totally into what her friends think of her. She's not gonna want her social set gossiping about you."

Jamie nodded slowly, acknowledging that her mother's clique loved nothing more than a juicy tidbit like this to gnaw on. While that thought was rumbling around in her mind, she remembered that she had promised to pass on some interesting information herself, and now was as good a time as any. "Speaking of parents having a bad reaction...I saw Melissa last weekend."

"M...My Melissa?" Mia squeaked

Jamie nodded slowly, puzzled at that particular moniker. "She's a lesbian, Mia. And she seems pretty happy."

An unreadable expression crossed Mia's face. Jamie thought she detected a note of sadness, but it was gone almost immediately. "So...how is she?" she asked lightly.

"She seems good. She's got a girlfriend, and they live together. I don't know if you knew this, but she's at USF. She's still a cheerleader-Ryan knew her when she was there and playing on the basketball team."

At Mia's raised eyebrow, Jamie assured her, "Not in the biblical sense, Mia. They were just in a class together."

"So what was the bad reaction?" Mia asked, looking puzzled.

"Her parents freaked. Cut her off financially for the most part. She seemed pretty cool about it, though. It's hard to tell with her, though, she has that cheerfulness that seems kinda forced sometimes."

Mia nodded, realizing that she was one of the few people that had seen through Melissa's chipper façade. "It would be hard for her to lose contact with her dad," she said softly. "Her mom is a total whack job, but she cares for her dad." She wasn't sure why, but suddenly she felt like crying. She didn't want to tell Jamie that hearing about Melissa upset her, so she dunked her head into the steaming water and climbed out. "I'm gonna order another drink. You want anything, Hon?"

"No, I'm fine," Jamie advised, sensing that Mia was unsettled by the news she'd just shared.

When Mia returned a few minutes later, she carried a large plastic cup of orange juice that assaulted Jamie's nose with the smell of vodka when she set it on the deck of the spa. At Jamie's raised eyebrow, Mia shrugged and said, "I'm not flying the plane, James."

Abandoning their previous topic, she asked, "So, is Ryan moving into the house?"

"Yeah, we're already staying there during the week, then we go to her house for the weekends."

Mia got a contemplative look on her face as she said, "I want you to be honest with me, James. I know this relationship is totally important to you. Do you want me to find someplace else to live this fall so you can be alone?"

"No!" she said firmly. "We both want you to live with us this year. I want you to get to know her better. You're really important to me, Mia and I want you to be a part of our lives."

"Thanks, Jamie. You're really important to me too. I'm glad you want me to stay," she said as she patted her shoulder. "I was afraid you were going to boot me when you got engaged, but I think things worked out well then. This will just be another little challenge."

"Actually, I have news on that front, too," she admitted, rolling her eyes a little.

"Really? Have you talked to him?"

"I saw him," she said mysteriously.

"Get out! When and why?"

"I went to his graduation," she said simply.

"Did he invite you?"

"Not specifically. But he called me before the ride and was really sweet. I thought about it and decided that going would let me put our relationship to rest."

"Did it?"

"Yep, but not in the way I was planning. He has a new girlfriend," she said slowly.

"What a jerk! It's only been four months since you broke up and two months since you tried to reconcile!"

"I think he's had her for a while, too. But I can't complain, Mia. I'm already living with Ryan, and I decided I loved her the day after he broke up with me."

"That's no excuse. He should be in mourning for you," she said firmly.

"Well, he's clearly not. He seemed really happy, and I was amazed that it made me completely jealous!"

"Are you serious?" she asked, truly startled.

"Yes. I made a huge fool out of myself. I was crying so hard that he had to hold me just to calm me down. I think it really got to me that his new girlfriend is his law review partner. Do you remember Natalie?"

"That dog! How long do you think they've really been together?" she asked suspiciously.

"That's just what I thought!" Jamie shrieked. "But he convinced me that they didn't start seeing each other until we had broken up. I believe him, even though I think Natalie might have had her eye on him for a long time. You know how easy men are to manipulate."

"Hey, it's my life's work," she said proudly.

"Anyway, when I saw them together, I totally lost it. I felt like our whole relationship had been a sham, and I just got hysterical. His parents saw me, Natalie saw me, it was totally humiliating, Mia. I hope I never see any of them again."

"You poor baby," she said as she rubbed her arm. "What did you do?"

"I spent the whole day driving around Palo Alto, just letting myself feel the loss for the first time. It was really cathartic, but more painful than I ever would have guessed. I was a wreck when I got back to Ryan's. But she was really supportive and understanding when I told her everything."


"Yep. And she was really cool about it. She said it made total sense that I was jealous. She said it just showed that I had loved him, and was really nothing to be ashamed of."

"Boy, she is understanding. Most guys would have killed you if you'd told them that."

"She really is, Mia. I'm telling you, I hit the jackpot with Ms. O'Flaherty."

Mia nodded, sharing a smile with her friend. "I'm totally prejudiced, Jamie, but I think it's the other way around."

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

At four o'clock Ryan was racing down the street, pushing a laughing baby in her jogger. They had been touring through every mile of the park for nearly two hours after leaving Martin and Maeve near the Hall of Flowers with the promise to meet them back there at four thirty. "Hey, Munchkin, we've got 30 minutes left. Let's go to Stow Lake and watch the boats." As expected, Caitlin agreed wholeheartedly with this plan. She signaled her acceptance by grinning up at her big cousin. Ryan bent over to kiss her forehead as she said, "You are sure easy to please, Little One."

When they arrived at the small lake, she removed the baby from the jogger and let her stand for a few minutes while they watched the various paddle, row, and power boats cruise around. After a while she picked her up and sat her on her shoulders, so she could have a better view. She patiently and needlessly pointed out all of the points of interest to her, explaining that the small island in the center of the lake was man-made and previously used to disguise the water tanks that served the park. As she was prattling on, something caught her attention. Is that...? she thought to herself. She focused closely and saw that she had indeed seen her father and aunt standing near the Chinese Pavilion, so she decided to wait for them where she was rather than go back to the Hall of Flowers. She bent to get the baby ready to go, but after the few minutes it took to get her set, she saw that they had still not moved on.

She patiently waited, glancing up every few moments, but one glance nearly brought her to her knees. As her mouth dropped in shock, she saw her father lean over and begin to kiss her aunt. This was clearly not a friendly kiss from a favorite brother-in-law. This was the kiss of a man and a woman who were far more than friends. Ryan tried to avert her eyes, but she was mesmerized by the sight. Maeve had wrapped her arms around Martin's neck and was kissing him back with enthusiasm. This was obviously not the first time they had kissed, and her mind reeled when she considered what this meant to the family.

As she stared at them in dumbfounded shock, she forced herself to look at the situation as objectively as possible. When she looked at them with some detachment, she was able to see them as they would appear to a casual observer. Martin was, by any standard, a very handsome man. He was tall, with broad shoulders and a very trim, muscular body. Even though he no longer fought fires, he firmly believed that he had to be physically ready to do so if called upon in an emergency, so he worked out regularly in the small gym the firefighters had rigged up in the station.

His temples were touched with gray but rather than making him look his age, the gray just made him look more distinguished. When Ryan paused to consider it, she had to admit that he had begun to look even better in the last year or so. He switched barbers and started going where Conor went, and his new cut was more stylish and complimentary to his ruggedly handsome face. He had also started wearing more casual clothes at home and on the weekends. Traditionally he wore an old pair of dark blue uniform pants around the house, but now he could be found in a pressed pair of khakis or some Dockers. His shirts had also undergone a transformation. No longer did he wear a clean white T-shirt at home; nowhe was just as likely to be seen in a sky blue polo shirt that perfectly matched his eyes, or an oxford cotton shirt, ironed to perfection.

Maeve had changed a bit also in the past year, Ryan observed. She was always a stylish woman, and Ryan had honestly never seen her without a tasteful amount of makeup and an attractive hairstyle. Recently she had put even more care into her appearance. She often wore just a touch of an appealing perfume, and her hair color had lightened up recently, going from her natural auburn to a lighter shade of reddish brown. Her clothes had also softened up a bit, now consisting mostly of sweater-sets or shells over tasteful print skirts.

From a distance, they just looked like two mature adults who were falling in love, and Ryan knew that she should welcome this news enthusiastically. But her roiling stomach didn't agree with that sentiment.

Her first problem was what to do with this information. She could let them know that she had seen them and ask them to explain, or she could act as though she had seen nothing. She doubted that she could pull that off without them knowing something was wrong. Her moment of decision was drawing near as she saw them break their embrace and begin to walk back to the shore of the lake. They stopped on the footbridge for one last kiss, and she knew that she either had to disappear for a while to collect herself or just be honest with them. With a heavy sigh she decided to bite the bullet. She was waiting for them when they stepped onto solid ground. They were laughing and paying attention only to each other as they walked along, hand in hand.

"Hi," she said quietly from behind the happy couple.

Martin whirled around, dropping Maeve's hand as his eyes locked on his daughter's. He knew the second he saw her face that she had seen at least some of their intimacies. He cast a quick glance at Maeve, and she gave him a dismayed look and quickly looked away. "I guess we owe you an explanation," he said as he looked straight at his daughter.

"No, Da, you don't owe me an explanation, but I would like to know what is going on."

"Did you see us together on the hill?" he asked quietly.

"Yes," she admitted, staring at her feet.

"Then I guess it's pretty obvious what's going on," he said as his face flushed a deep pink.

"That's not what I meant, Da," she said softly. "I know this is private and if you want me to drop it I will, but I don't think I can ignore what I saw. I know this will change how I act around you, and that's why I wanted to tell you that I saw you together."

"Why don't we go have a cup of tea so we can talk about this," Martin suggested. "I think it's time we shed some light on this issue."

They walked to the car in silence. Ryan had brought a pair of running shoes, and she quickly changed into them and tugged on a sweatshirt. Maeve drove to the first coffee shop she spotted, and she and Martin went in to grab a table. Ryan spent a few minutes extracting Caitlin from her car seat before going inside. They were all a little uncomfortable with each other, and they stood in front of the menu board for a moment in silence. "Tea for you both?" she asked, and received two nods in return. She ordered a latté for herself and a biscotto for the baby, along with the tea. Martin indicated that he would wait for the drinks while Ryan took Caitlin out to a table.

She sat down on the metal bistro-style chair and adjusted Caitlin on her lap. After a few moments, Maeve placed a hand on her arm and asked, "Are you upset with us, Honey?"

Ryan closed her eyes for a moment and reflexively rubbed them. Her head was beginning to ache, and she pinched the bridge of her nose firmly to staunch the pain. She looked up at her aunt and said, "Of course I'm not upset. It's just a shock, Aunt Maeve. I never suspected anything."

Caitlin was beginning to fuss, and Ryan quickly checked her diaper. Seeing that it was time for a change, she took her into the bathroom. When she came back, she settled into her chair with the baby on her lap. She handed her the biscotti, and the baby happily began to gum the hard cookie.

"Do you want to ask us some questions, or should we just give you the whole story?" Martin asked.

"The whole story would be good," she replied, feeling incapable of forming appropriate questions at the moment.

"Okay," Martin said. "I'll tell you my version of events, and Maeve can correct me if she needs to," he said with a smile at his sister-in-law. "I've been fond of Maeve since the day I met her, Siobhán, which should surprise no one since she's one of the loveliest women around." He shot a shy glance at Maeve, and Ryan had to force herself not to smile at the boyish grin on his face. "She certainly had more than her share of troubles, what with Michael's illness and all of the problems she had with Charlie, but her spirit has never dimmed. She's the same lovely woman I met at church in 1965," he said with another glance at the now blushing woman.

Ryan watched their interactions and had to smile in spite of her mixed feelings. She knew that her father's perceptions of her aunt closely mirrored her own. Maeve was still a lovely woman, and despite the fact that she was three years older than Martin, she had a youthful vitality that belied her age. Her green eyes danced and her mouth curled up into an adorable grin when she smiled, which was often. There was a marked similarity between Maeve and her younger sister, Fionnuala, but Maeve had always been more gregarious and outgoing. She was fortunate that she possessed an optimism that had never really diminished, despite her troubles. And she had, indeed, seen plenty of trouble.

Martin continued with his explanation. "I didn't have a single thought of being with another woman after your mother died, Siobhán. I can honestly say that I had resigned myself to being alone for the rest of my life. But I looked at Maeve in a new light one day not long after Charlie left the house, and I thought, "My God, but she's a beauty." He sat quietly for a moment, laughing a little at his own surprise. "Of course, I didn't tell her or anyone else that I had begun to see her for the lovely woman that she was. But I will admit that the possibility that she might one day return my affections has kept me from seeking out other women."

"I always wondered why you never dated, Da," Ryan said thoughtfully. "I knew that you could have your pick of the single women from church, but you never seemed to even notice them."

"I can honestly say, Darlin', that I spent a good six or seven years not even noticing that women existed. When you've had the love of a woman like my Fionnuala it's almost inconceivable that another could compare in your heart. But once I had the hope that Maeve could one day be mine, I had no time to waste on others." He gave her another sidelong glance and gently laid his hand over hers.

Ryan had to smile again as she asked, "So when did you talk about this with each other?"

"When Charlie died I felt that I could finally tell her of my affections, but first I had to let her mourn for the poor man. No matter what he was in his later years, I knew that Maeve had loved him when they were young. So I told her not long after your last birthday, Siobhán."

"And how did you take this news, Aunt Maeve?" Ryan asked with a twinkle in her eyes, now beginning to feel more comfortable with the situation.

She blushed deeply before she responded, "I was more surprised than I had ever been in my life. Of course I had always loved Martin, but I had never thought of him as anything more than a wonderful brother-in-law. I told him that I needed some time to sort out my feelings. But after a week or two I had to admit that there was no finer man to be found, and that I shouldn't let our history prevent the possibility of our finding happiness together."

"I guess I'm just uncomfortable that you felt the need to hide this from us," Ryan said quietly, getting to the crux of her hurt feelings.

"There's a very good reason for that, Darlin'," Martin said. "This will obviously take a lot of adjustment for the family, and it didn't make any sense to get everyone upset if it was not working out. So we wanted to spend time together and make sure before we told anyone."

"And quite frankly, I'm afraid to tell my parents," Maeve admitted with another blush. "I really doubt that they'll be happy about this."

Ryan had to laugh at her insecurities, but she reached over to pat her hand. "I guess some things never get any easier, do they?"

'No," she admitted, "I'm still afraid of disappointing my parents, and I'm going to be 57 years old."

"I take it that things have gone well?" Ryan needlessly asked.

The new couple looked at each other fondly. "It's been a blessing for me," Martin said. "A gift that I never expected."

Maeve leaned her head against his shoulder and gazed at Ryan with an open, innocent expression. "I had no idea how being loved could change my life," she said softly. "It took me 56 years to feel this, but to win a man like your father, I'd wait twice as long."

Ryan was touched by the honest expression of their love, but she knew that many more issues had to be resolved. "So where do you go from here?"

"We were making plans today to tell the children," Maeve admitted. "After we do that, I'll face my parents. If I have all of the kids on my side, it'll help my confidence."

"Do you think you'll marry?"

"Of course," Martin said immediately. "But that raises more issues, like where will we live?"

Ryan shook her head slowly, knowing that housing was a difficult issue for all but the wealthiest San Franciscans. "What do you think you'll do?"

Martin said, "Well, our house is bigger, but I don't know how Conor and Rory would feel with having Maeve in the house. It would be a big adjustment for each of them. You know, we've come up with some pretty firm routines around the house, and I worry about changing them. But since Kevin still lives at Maeve's, we'd have the same issue if I moved in there. So it's been a conundrum."

"That's another reason we didn't tell anyone of our relationship. We knew there would be lots of questions, and we just didn't have answers yet," Maeve offered.

"Well, as Jamie and I have discovered, the rest of the issues just fall into place once you make a commitment to one another. I'm sure you'll work all of those details out." She bounced the baby on her lap for a few moments as she began to fuss. "I think Caitlin has been still long enough," she said. "We'd better go."

As Martin held Maeve's chair out for her, Ryan walked around to their side of the table. She handed the baby to Maeve and put her arms around her father. "I'm very happy for you, Da. I want you to have love in your life again, and I couldn't have chosen a better woman for you." He brushed a tear from his eyes as he wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her tight.

"Thank you, Siobhán. That means more to me than you can know."

Ryan sniffed a little as she stood up and took the baby once more. She then handed her to her father and bent over to hug her favorite aunt. "I've always thought of you as a second mother, Aunt Maeve. I'm thrilled for you both."

Maeve was unable to answer in words, but the hug she returned was full of meaning. They hung onto each other for a long time, and when Ryan finally stood up she took the baby again and said to Caitlin, "It looks like you finally get to have a grandfather, Sweet Pea!"

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

On the way home Ryan unnecessarily told them that she would not mention a word to the boys, but added that she would like to share the news with Jamie. They were both agreed to that, and a few minutes later Maeve pulled up in front of the house. Ryan got out after kissing Caitlin goodbye, and as she reached up between the seats to kiss her aunt, she said, "Don't rush, Da. I'll start dinner."

Jamie arrived home just as Ryan was coming out of the shower. She took one look at her and immediately asked, "What's wrong?"

Ryan gave her a gentle smile and said, "Nothing really major. I just got some shocking news today."

"What is it, Honey?"

"I think Da's getting married," she said simply.

"Married?" Jamie nearly shouted. "But I thought you said he's never had a date?"

"Apparently he still hasn't," she said enigmatically.

"Did he order a woman from a magazine?" she asked, totally confused.

"No, but it's someone you know," she said slowly.

"Who do I know that isn't married..." she mused, as she furrowed her brow in concentration. "Mrs. Andrews?"

Ryan had to laugh at that one. "No, she's married."

"But Ryan, I don't know any other single women besides your au...." she started to say, but the words caught in her throat when she saw the confirmation in Ryan's eyes. "Oh Honey," she said, as she went to her and wrapped her arms around her bare waist.

Ryan dropped her head to rest on her lover's shoulder. She closed her eyes and just relished the deep sense of comfort she felt when Jamie held her. "Boy, I needed that," she admitted after a few minutes.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Jamie asked tentatively.

"Yeah. I'll burst if I don't. They don't want the other kids to know yet. They only told me because I saw them kissing in the park and I confronted them."

"Oh, God, what a terrible way to find out," she said sympathetically, flopping down onto the love seat.

"Yeah," Ryan agreed as she joined her. "But it could have been worse. Caitlin was on my shoulders two minutes earlier. I could have dropped her, my knees were so weak."

"You poor little thing," she soothed. "Tell me how you feel about it."

Ryan smiled at her approach. "I love that you ask me how I feel about it, rather than what I know about it."

"I'll find out the details later. What I care about is you, and how this affects you," she said sincerely.

Ryan snuggled next to her and nuzzled her head down into Jamie's neck. They sat right next to one another in silence, until it became clear that Ryan really was having trouble putting her thoughts into words. Jamie scooted down the sofa until she was against the opposite arm, and pulled on her lover until her head was resting in her lap. Ryan tossed her legs up over the other arm and began to relax as Jamie ran her fingers through her dark tresses. After a few minutes of the loving touch, she had relaxed enough to speak.

"I guess what has me the most puzzled is how betrayed I feel," she finally said. "I love my father and I love my aunt, and there's nothing I want more for each of them than that they should find love and be happy. So why does it bother me so much that it's with each other?" she asked plaintively.

"Honey, don't be so hard on yourself. This caught you completely by surprise. If this was a stranger, you'd still be upset because of the suddenness. But it's not a stranger. It's your aunt. And I can only imagine that the image of your father with her is not very comfortable for you. It's probably almost as if he was with his own sister. She's family, Honey. It's going to be very odd for all of you for a while."

"That's it!" she agreed. "It's almost like incest!"

Jamie laughed at her characterization as she said, "I'm sure it feels differently for them, Honey. But you've been related to her since birth. It probably feels like your father is related to her too, but he's not, Baby."

"I know that logically, Jamie. But my guts don't know it."

"I can't imagine how this feels for you, Honey," she said, continuing to soothe her by stroking her hair.

"I know how much my parents loved each other. Da said today that he didn't know that other women existed for six or seven years after Mama died, but somehow this feels like he's betraying her, too."

"Is that what you called her?" Jamie asked quietly.


"Did you call her Mama?"

Ryan's eyes misted over as she nodded. "Either Mama or Mam," she whispered.

"I like that name. Maybe our children will call you that," she said, patting Ryan's cheek gently.

"I'd like that," Ryan's emotion-laden voice murmured.

Jamie kept up the slow stroking of Ryan's head, smiling to herself as the deep blue eyes started to close. Ryan was clearly very relaxed, so Jamie softly asked her a question. "If we had children and you died, would you want me to be alone or find someone else?"

Ryan's eyes popped open and she tilted her head to gaze into Jamie's eyes. "Where...?"

"Just think about it, Honey," she insisted. "Tell me how you'd feel."

Ryan spent only a moment thinking about her answer. "I hope you would find someone. You need love in your life, Jamie. You can't survive with just memories."

"What if I fell in love with Conor? Would you want me to marry him?"

After another moment, Ryan's face lit up in a delighted grin. "You should be a psychologist," she said affectionately.

"But you do agree with my obtuse point?"

"Yes. You're right, Jamie. My mother would have been glad that they had each other. She probably would have wondered what took them so long. If it would be okay with her, it should be okay with me, too."

"I think so, Baby. They were both entirely faithful to their spouses while they were married to them. But it's been so long for both of them. Almost 17 years for your father and 11 years for Maeve. Isn't that long enough to mourn?"

Ryan tossed her legs back over the arm of the love seat and threw her arms around her lover. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you."

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

During dinner, Jamie noticed that Ryan was pretty close to her normal self. Brendan was there and they all chatted about their respective weeks. The boys and Da were extremely interested in Ryan's tryouts, all delighted that she had chosen volleyball for her sport. "I don't think I could have watched your matches if you had decided on soccer," Martin admitted.

"You would have been proud of her, Martin," Jamie said. "We talked about the risks and she immediately decided that she wasn't willing to take the chance, no matter how remote."

"Have you ever seen her play soccer?" he asked with a twinkle in his eyes.

"No, not really. I saw her work out, but that's all."

"You wouldn't think the risk was remote if you had seen her play," he said with a laugh. "My little girl could make sipping tea into a dangerous sport if there was a competition involved."

After dinner they all joined together to clean the kitchen. At around eight Jamie and Ryan went down to their room, but scant minutes later they heard footsteps on the stairs. It was their new habit to leave the door open unless they did not want to be disturbed, and tonight the door was open. Martin stuck his head in and asked, "Can I speak with you girls for a minute?"

"Sure, Da," Ryan said as she motioned him in. She sat down on the bed and Jamie grabbed the desk chair. He paced around a bit before settling on the love seat.

"I take it that Siobhán told you my news?" he asked Jamie.

"Yes, she did, Martin, and I want to tell you how happy I am for you both. You're two of my favorite people, you know."

"Thank you, dear," he said with a smile. "I hope we do as well as you two have. But I came down to see how you were doing with the news, Siobhán. You didn't seem quite yourself tonight."

Jamie started to stand, saying, "I'll go upstairs so you two can talk."

Almost simultaneously, both father and daughter urged her to stay, with Ryan lifting her arm in a welcoming gesture. "I want you to stay, Babe, and Da does too, right?"

"Indeed," he nodded. "Everything that impacts Siobhán has an impact on you too, Jamie."

She smiled at the pair and sat down next to Ryan, snuggling into her side as requested. It still felt a little odd to be physically close in front of Martin, but she knew that the only way to get through her discomfort was to slowly desensitize herself. Accepting Ryan's offers of close contact was a small step in that direction.

She could feel some of the tension leave her partner's body and was glad that she had accepted her invitation to sit next to her. Ryan took in a breath and said, "It's going to take me a while to get used to, Da. Jamie and I talked about it, and I feel a lot better than I did earlier. She pointed out some things that I hadn't thought of, and it cleared up some things for me."

"Is there anything you want to tell me about?"

Ryan looked a little shy about revealing her feelings, but she decided that honesty was the best way to proceed. "Jamie pointed out that it probably feels to me that Maeve and you are already related. When I thought about that I realized that is exactly how I feel. So it feels odd to hear you talk about marrying someone who feels like a blood relative."

He looked down at his folded hands for a long minute. Finally he shook his head and said, "I see your point, Darlin'. I've never thought of Maeve as a blood relative, even though I love her like one. But she's always been in your life, and it makes perfect sense that you would feel that way. I imagine the other kids will feel the same."

"I think that's a real possibility," she admitted. "But I don't think it's an insurmountable problem. It's just something that we should acknowledge so we can get over it."

"Anything else troubling you, Siobhán?"

She debated again but once again decided to tell him the truth. Jamie could feel her stiffen, and she had a very good idea what was coming. "Part of me feels that you're being unfaithful to Mama," she said quietly as she stared at the floor.

The look of shock that passed across his face was painful for both women to witness. He began to flush and looked like he wanted to defend himself, but instead he asked, "Why do you feel that way?"

Ryan ran her free hand through her hair and Jamie could feel the muscles in her torso coil even tighter. "In my rational mind, I want you to fall in love again, Da. Loving Jamie has let me see what it was that you lost when Mama died," she said as tears began to roll down her cheeks. "But there's a part of me that doesn't ever want anyone to try and take Mama's place. I know it's selfish and I hate that I feel this way...." she said as she began to sob. Jamie started to wrap her arms around her partner, but before she could blink, Martin beat her to it. He sat down next to his daughter and put his arms around her shaking shoulders.

"There, there, Sweetheart," he soothed as he rocked her and patted her back. "It's okay, Siobhán. I feel that way too. No woman could ever take her place in my heart. And part of the reason I never dated when you were younger was because I didn't want anyone to come in here and try to take your mother's place. But you're all grown now, Sweetheart, and to tell you the truth...." he paused for a moment and gathered himself, "I'm very lonely," he said quietly. "When you were all younger, I didn't have time to think about myself, but now, with you all home so seldom..." he trailed off.

"Oh, Da," she said, "I'm sorry I said that. I had no idea that you were lonely."

"You've neither said nor done anything that you should be ashamed of, Siobhán. The only way we'll get through this is if we all promise to be honest about how we feel. I'd rather spend the rest of my life alone than cause any permanent rifts in our family. And the only way to avoid those rifts is to talk about them."

"Okay, I promise I'll talk to you about anything else that comes up. But Jamie helped me with the last issue. She asked me how I would feel about her remarrying if we had children and I died."

A look of absolute panic crossed his face as he gripped her more tightly.

"It's not something I like to think about either, Da, but her question was--would I mind if she fell in love and married Conor?" Martin relaxed his grip and sat back a bit.

"Would you mind?"

"Of course not," she said firmly. "I would be overjoyed for two reasons. One, I would definitely want Jamie to know love again. And two, I don't know of anyone I would trust to raise my children more than one of my brothers. I was too young to know how Mama and Aunt Maeve got along, but from what you tell me, they were very close."

He sat up slightly, one heavy arm still draped across his daughter's shoulders. A small smile played at his lips as he asked, "Did you know that the biggest reason she came to America was so that she could be with her sister?"

"No, I didn't know that," she admitted. "You don't talk about her life in Ireland very much."

"As you know, your mother was between Maeve and Moira in age--five years younger than Maeve and three older than Moira. But she idolized her older sister from the get-go. They say she was never content from the time Maeve left home until she arrived six years later. It actually has always reminded me of how you and Conor have always gotten on, Siobhan."

"Yeah, it makes more sense that I would have been Rory's pal, but I was a goner for Conor from the day I was born."

"The affection has always gone both ways, Darlin'. That boy carried you around the house so much I thought you'd never learn how to walk. And the doctor had us a little worried that it took you so long to talk." He laughed at the memory, giving her a little squeeze. "We finally figured out the problem, and we forbade Conor to give you anything until you asked for it. Within weeks you were babbling away."

"She hasn't stopped, Martin," Jamie laughed, giving her partner a little tickle.

"That's the blessed truth," he agreed. "Even though you picked up words quickly once you started, you had some trouble with the names of the boys. I swear I've never seen a boy with a bigger smile than the day you could finally say Conor's name. He was particularly happy that you didn't even try to pronounce Brendan or Rory, but you could enunciate Conor so clearly, it was just a marvel. I can still hear it now," he smiled.

Ryan tried to sniff away her tears, looking around for a box of tissues. Jamie got up and grabbed a few, bending down to give her a small kiss as she did so. Ryan pulled her down onto her lap and rested Jamie's head against her chest. "It's going to be okay, Da. We'll all be fine after a period of adjustment. I do think we need to give some long thought to your living situation, though. That will be hard for either Conor and Rory or Kevin. I know you couldn't afford to buy another house in the Valley at today's prices, so we'll have to do some negotiating."

"Yes, Sweetie, my biggest fear is that one or the other will think they need to move away, and I absolutely do not want that to happen."

"We'll figure out a way, Da. We've faced tougher hurdles as a family."

"I know we have Darlin'. I just want to make sure that you all feel comfortable with this before we move on."

"You know, Da, what Jamie said earlier has made me think about this in a different light. I know how much Mama loved you and I know how much she loved her sister. I can't imagine anything that would make her as happy as knowing that you two were going to care for each other for the rest of your lives. I not only feel comfortable, I support you totally. I'm terribly happy for you, Da," she said, wrapping her arms around him and holding him tightly.

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

They sat in silence for a few minutes after Martin left. Ryan was sitting backwards on her desk chair, her face failing to hide her still-swirling emotions. Jamie came over to stand behind her and give her a shoulder massage, helping to ease some of the tension she could see radiating from her body. After a few minutes, her dark head started to roll with the rhythmic touch, and Jamie leaned over and whispered, "Let's lie down together, Honey. I can give you a better massage that way."

"Okay," she agreed, rarely refusing her partner's offer to rub her back. "Let me brush my teeth first-I know I won't later."

She went into the bath first, and while she stood in the doorway flossing her teeth, Jamie asked a few more questions about the family situation. "I don't think you've ever said much about Maeve and her husband. I know they were separated, but what was the story? I can't imagine anyone being unable to get along with her."

Ryan chuckled at the truth of that statement. "My Uncle Charlie could have picked an argument with a lamppost if he'd had one too many," she admitted, shaking her head at the memory.

"Ooh," Jamie murmured, very sorry to hear that Maeve had been married to a difficult man.

"It wasn't that bad until Michael was diagnosed with AIDS," she recalled. "He drank a lot, but he didn't seem like a mean drunk until then. The fact that they found out Michael was gay at the same time didn't help matters much. As Michael got worse, so did his Dad's drinking, until one night about six months before Michael died, Charlie came home drunk and threw Maeve against a wall, nearly fracturing her skull. She spent the night in the hospital and when she came home, Charlie was gone."

Jamie was absolutely appalled. Maeve Driscoll was one of the kindest, gentlest women she had ever met, and it was unthinkable that her own husband would wish to cause her harm. The shock clearly showed on her face and Ryan nodded slowly. "Luckily for him, it was the first time he had ever physically harmed her. I can't think what Da and my uncles would have done to him if he had ever touched her again."

"So what happened?" Jamie looked like she was about to cry, and Ryan regretted answering her original question in so much detail, but she was in too far to drop it now.

"His guilt, and probably his fear, over the incident overwhelmed him. He found a tiny apartment in Bernal Heights and lived apart from his family. They saw him often, but he refused to attend family functions. As his health failed, Maeve tried to convince him to return to the home, but he steadfastly refused, insisting that he had lost the right to live in his own home."

"Well, at least he had the good sense to stay away," Jamie mused.

"I guess," Ryan said slowly. "But I think it was a way to get extra attention too. Poor Aunt Maeve had to drag herself over to his apartment two and three times a day to take care of him during his last years. It would have been far preferable for her to have him back home, but you could never tell Charlie Driscoll a thing."

"When did he die?" Jamie asked, assuming it was long ago.

"Just two years ago," Ryan revealed. "Liver failure."

"Wow." Jamie lay back on the bed, considering the enormous amount of pain Maeve had experienced through the years. "She sure deserves some happiness now," she agreed. "And if her O'Flaherty is anything like mine, she's in for a boatload."

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

Jamie couldn't stop ruminating about the situation, and a few minutes later she was lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling. "Hey, Honey?" she asked absently.

"Yeshhh?" Ryan replied with a mouthful of toothpaste.

"Would it be totally out of the question for me to buy a house over here and let your father and Maeve live in it until we came back?"

Ryan ducked back into the bath and rinsed her mouth. She strolled out of the room with a contemplative look. "I can't imagine that they would agree to that. Even though it's terribly thoughtful of you," she said as she climbed up onto the bed. They were both in their normal bedtime attire of nothing at all, with Jamie resting on top of the comforter, lying on her side with her head supported by her open palm. Ryan imitated her posture as she settled down just inches away. "I know he would want to pay the mortgage if they lived in the house. And there is just no way he could afford that. I'm not sure how much he makes, but I think it's around $70,000. Maeve lives on Uncle Charlie's social security and his pension. I'm guessing she gets by on about $30,000. That's clearly not enough for an eight or nine hundred thousand dollar home."

"Is that what houses around here cost?" Jamie was astounded at the estimate. She knew that real estate prices were outrageous, but some of the homes in the neighborhood looked like they were less than 1,500 square feet.

"That's what a house smaller than this on a marginal street costs. And the prices are going up so fast that it's ridiculous. What we really need is at least one large house with a big living room or a yard for all of our parties. When we all start having kids, it's going to be impossible. And being together is one of the things that keeps us close."

"We've got to put our heads together and help them find a way to be together, Ryan. They've been so supportive of us, we owe them that."

"We will, Baby," she agreed.

Jamie lifted her hand and began to play with Ryan's hair, moving up until she was scratching her scalp. "I didn't have a chance to tell you who I played golf with this afternoon," she said.

"Who?" Ryan's lazy, low voice betrayed her desire to get to sleep, and Jamie smiled at her half-closed eyes.

"Mia and her father," she said.

The blue eyes opened fully. "Really? Was she just home for the weekend?"

"Yep. The little devil surprised me. That's her favorite thing to do, you know."

Ryan smiled and asked, "Why do you think everyone in your life tries to tease you?"

"Mmmm...maybe because I'm such a sucker?" she posited, a fond smile on her face.

"Just checking," Ryan murmured, rolling onto her back to provide a different surface for the head-rub. "I want to make sure you're self-aware."

The pinch she delivered caused Ryan's eyes to pop wide open. "Yow! That was a sharp one!"

"You've heard of the sucker punch?...Well, that was the sucker pinch, and there's plenty more where that came from, Tiger."

"Duly noted," Ryan smiled, rubbing her side dramatically. "Did you have a good time today?"

"Yeah..." Jamie hesitated, still mulling over Mia's advice. "I gave her a ride to the airport, and we caught up on everything that's happened since I saw her in Santa Monica."

Ryan grabbed a pillow and placed it over her face, moaning loudly into the surface. "Does she know absolutely everything about our sex life now?"

Jamie pulled the pillow away from Ryan's face and asked with sincerity, "I didn't tell her any details today, Babe, and if I bothers you promise that I never will."

Ryan shook her head and shared a small story. "I got my first computer not long after I came out. AOL was just getting popular, and I found some chat rooms for lesbians. I was on that darned thing every night! That's actually part of the reason my grades were so bad that first semester. I was so taken with everything that was happening to me and the overpowering feelings that came with coming out, I just had to talk to people. It doesn't bother or surprise me that you need to talk about the things that are going on, Honey. Have at it."

Jamie took the pillow from Ryan and placed it under her own head. "You know, I think part of the reason I want to tell her things is because I've never really had anything to tell."


"Mia's always been really frank when she tells me about her life, but I've never had much to tell. I'm kinda proud of myself for finally being able to tell her things that surprise her," she admitted with a slightly embarrassed smile.

"We've just begun to explore each other," Ryan murmured, tracing Jamie's features with the tip of her finger. "You two will be exchanging naughty little stories for years to come."

Jamie laughed at her teasing tone. "I guess that alone is reason enough to keep making love to you." She saucily stuck her tongue out, just barely managing to pull it back into her mouth before it was grabbed by Ryan's lightning quick hands.

"You sounded a little unsure when I asked if you had a good time, Babe. Is everything okay?"

"Yeah," she said lazily, stretching languidly as she spoke. "I told her I was going to tell my parents about us, and she really thinks I should wait."

"Uh-huh," Ryan said, trying to keep her voice neutral.

"Come on, Ryan, I know you have an opinion. What do you think I should do?"

"Well," she mused, "neither your grandfather nor Mia seems to think you should do it just yet. They both know your parents and you pretty well. So I'd have to defer to their opinion." Ryan personally thought that it was far too early for Jamie to break the news, but she didn't want to bear the responsibility for encouraging her to wait.

"I just hate to hide, Baby!" She was obviously frustrated, and Ryan understood the reasons for her frustration, but she still thought it best to wait.

"Why don't you do this in a few steps, Babe. Tell them I've moved in with you. You've told me yourself that you think they'll like me if they get to know me as your friend first. We could have them over for dinner, or go down to their house a few times this summer. You could spend some time making sure you have a plan and getting feedback from your therapist, and when you're really comfortable you can tell them."

"I guess that would work," she said glumly. "I'm just afraid that Daddy will expect you to start paying rent if I tell him that you're taking Cassie's place as my roommate."

"I want to pay rent," Ryan said in a soft but serious voice. "I talked to Da about it, and he made me see it's best for all of us if we do this aboveboard."

"Honey, you can't afford to pay Cassie's share! If you don't work this year, you'll be broke in no time."

Now Ryan looked uncertain of her decision. "Um...how much did she pay?"

"A thousand a month," Jamie said, rolling her eyes a bit.

"A thou...thou...thousand a month?" Ryan's mouth gaped open as she pictured her savings flying from her account. "Did that cover food too?"

Jamie shook her head. "Just rent, Baby. With her share of the utilities, Maria Los and some food, she usually paid about $1,500 a month."

"Wow." Ryan stared up at the ceiling, mulling over this unsettling development. "I could handle that, but then I wouldn't have enough to pay for grad school," she admitted. "I've got about $30,000 total, and $1,500 a month would knock that down to $12,000 by next June." Her sense of humor returned as she suggested, "Could I pay less if I kept my stuff in the garage and we took showers together?"

Jamie patted her cheek and insisted, "I don't want you to pay anything, Babe. My father doesn't need your money-you do."

"Cassie paid him? I assumed she would pay you."

"No, she paid him for the rent, and she paid me for the incidentals." She was deep in thought for a few minutes, finally coming up with an idea that seemed like it might work. "How about this? You want to do the grocery shopping and things like that. I'll make a deposit into your account, and you can handle our household expenses. I can make it out to cash so your name isn't even on it. That way you can pay my father every month out of your own account. He won't be the wiser, and it will look like everything is going along the same way it did when Cassie was here."

Ryan pursed her lips and tried to think of a reason to decline the offer. After a few minutes of contemplation she had to agree that it was the only way to convince Jim she was a roommate without depleting her savings. She was not happy with the arrangement, and she knew it was the absolute moral equivalent of a lie, but she nodded her agreement. "Only one problem, Sparky," she smirked. "I don't have a checking account."

Jamie's eyes opened wide and she actually had to struggle to contain her shock. She had opened her first checking account the same day she got her driver's license and it amazed her that Ryan could have made it to nearly 24 without one. She patted her lover's cheek and promised, "That will change tomorrow, Tiger."

Continued in Part 10

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