I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 6: Fidelity

by S X Meagher


Part 4

An hour later, mother and daughter were sitting near the bow of the large, luxuriously appointed yacht, letting the wind play in their hair and generally enjoying the experience.

"Were you finished with your list of spousal attributes, Jamie? It seemed like there were a few more things on your list."

She laughed and admitted, "It was a fairly extensive list. But most of the details aren’t important. Only one big thing was an absolute deal-breaker for me, and thankfully Ryan is the perfect fit for this attribute."

"I can’t wait to hear this one," Catherine teased, a broad smile on her face.

Jamie grew quiet for a moment, thinking about how important this trait really was to her. "I wanted someone who wanted to have a family. It was very important for me to choose a mate that would be a good father. Obviously I’ve had to re-think the title, but whether she would be the birth mother or a co-parent, she would be fantastic. She’s loving and patient and very gentle, and she is a tremendous amount of fun when she’s around kids. I can’t think of anyone who I would rather raise a child with."

Catherine looked just a trifle taken aback as her smile dimmed. It took her a moment to reply, but Jamie waited patiently, having assumed that this might be hard for her mother to accept. "I must say I had not given that thought any consideration. I just assumed that most lesbians remained childless, and that we wouldn’t have grandchildren."

"I think that’s probably accurate, in raw numbers," Jamie agreed. "I don’t know what the statistics are, but I’d guess the majority of lesbian couples don’t have kids. But I think that might be changing for women our age. There were so many babies at the Gay Pride Parade it looked like a really colorful day care facility!"

"Gay Pride Parade," Catherine said with a look of stunned disbelief. "I…I have a hard time imagining you at that event, Dear."

"Yes, we went, Mother, and I know just what you mean because I had a hard time imagining myself there. But Ryan’s very much involved in the community, and we had a great time. It’s taking me a little while to get comfortable, but I really enjoy being around her friends."

"I just thought that since you don’t really consider yourself a lesbian…" she said tentatively, not sure what to make of this development.

"It’s not a big deal, Mother. "I’m not going to lead the parade or anything. I do enjoy going to those events, though, and I expect we’ll continue to do so. You don’t have to be a member of the club to go either…Ryan’s father and her brothers and her aunt were there to support us, and of course, Poppa was there for his congregation."

Catherine shook her head, trying to get her mind around this concept. "I just had no idea…"

"Don’t worry, Mother," Jamie assured her. "It’s taking me some time to get used to all of this. I assume it will take you a little while also."

Catherine nodded, deciding to be completely honest. "I don’t want to upset you, Dear, but the idea of you having children will take me a while to get used to. I just don’t know that it’s wise to raise a child in a non-traditional family. It seems to me that is an additional burden for the child."

Jamie had a tremendous amount to say regarding this issue. She and Ryan had discussed it from nearly every perspective, and they had covered it extensively in her psych class. But she knew that she had come to embrace the idea only after a good deal of discussion and soul-searching, and she knew that her mother had not had time for either. She knew there would be plenty of time to do that before she and Ryan made any concrete plans to have children, so instead of defending her point, she said, "We’re not planning on having children for several years. We can revisit this when we’ve decided to proceed, okay?"

"That’s a good idea, Dear," Catherine agreed immediately, obviously not in the mood to discuss the issue at the moment either. "Anything else on your list?"

"One last big one," she acknowledged. "I always dreamed about having a partner who loved me as much as I loved them. I wanted someone who would consider me an equal partner and who always respected my opinions, even when we disagreed."

"And your Ryan does all of these things?" she asked with a twinkle in her eyes, knowing the answer.

Jamie shot her a shy grin as she acknowledged, "Yep. Every one of them. She treats me like I’m a precious gift. She never really loses her temper or yells at me. And even though we’ve just been together a short time, we’ve had some pretty trying situations already. I think I would have seen her temper come out if it was going to."

"That is a big issue," Catherine agreed, privately wishing that her own husband had the ability to consider her an equal partner in their marriage. Thinking of Jim brought up the topic that she knew he was fixated on. "How does she really feel about our money, Jamie?" she asked a bit hesitantly.

"I was concerned that the money would be a problem, too," her daughter responded with a serious look on her face. Jamie waited just a beat for the surprise to register on her mother’s face before she smiled broadly as she added, "But she loves me in spite of it."

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

The Santa Cruz-bound women got back into the Lexus after lunch and spent the rest of the drive discussing what could be expected from the upcoming season. "You know," Jordan said, "we really have to go out of our way to set an example this year. This is the youngest team I’ve been on at Cal, and there’s going to be a leadership vacuum if we don’t step up."

"Weren’t you one of the leaders last year?" Ryan assumed Jordan would take charge of almost any situation, so she had not really even considered this point.

"Nope. The two seniors were really dominant. They did a good job of keeping the team focused, even though we weren’t very good. And the year before that, we had three seniors who kicked butt when it was necessary. But you and I are the only seniors this year; of course, you’re by far the oldest player," she teased, getting a smirk out of Ryan.

‘I see your point, Junior," Ryan mused. "I’m not unwilling to step up, as long as the returning players don’t think I’m stepping on toes. It’s pretty rare to have a senior walk-on, and I don’t want people to think I haven’t earned my stripes."

"The juniors saw you play for USF," Jordan reminded her. "I don’t think they’ll mind having you keep them in line. The four sophomores are all pretty quiet, and the freshmen already think you’re a goddess just from watching you in the weight room, so there won’t be a problem with them."

Ryan’s right eyebrow popped up a couple of times. "A goddess, huh? Smart girls."

"Right," Jordan laughed, always amused by Ryan’s cockiness. "So I think we have to go all out this week, to really show these kids how hard we’re going to have to work. I don’t think we need to give rah-rah speeches or anything like that. Let’s just work our asses off to set an example."

"I wouldn’t have it any other way," Ryan agreed, privately musing that she couldn’t see the point of doing something if she wasn’t going to go all out. "We’ll see if you can keep up with me," she taunted.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Hi, Love Bug," Ryan said into the receiver, once she found the phone in the hallway of the dorm they were assigned to. "Bad news all around, Babe. The cell doesn’t work, and there’s no phone in the room. I’m going to have to use the phone in the hallway of the dorm." She grimaced as she considered the effect that was going to have on their plans for extracurricular phone usage. "Which reminds me…I don’t mind that I’ve never gotten to live in a dorm. How do people stand these places?" She looked around the long hallway, wondering how a space that large, painted a bright peach, could look so dull and drab. Remembering that she was talking to Jamie’s message center, and that her question would, perforce, remain unanswered, she concluded, "I’ll hang out by the phone at nine o’clock your time, okay, Babe? If I don’t hear from you then, page me with the time you will call, and I’ll be here. We’re having dinner at seven, so don’t call from 6:45 on, okay? Love you. Miss you." Hate this, she added to herself, feeling quite ill at ease in the strange dorm so far from her beloved.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The 14 members of the volleyball squad gathered on the floor of the empty gym, a smallish facility that looked like it would generally be used for pick-up basketball games, or rec league play. They had all followed their own schedules over the summer, and some of the girls had not been in town, so this was really the first chance they had to be all in one place.

Ryan looked speculatively at her teammates. She knew many of the women from their morning workouts, but she was not sure what position most of them played, even though she could hazard a guess based strictly on height.

The setters and the defensive specialists were generally the smallest players, and were fairly easy to spot. More Jamie’s height, she thought, a smile curling her lips. The middle blockers were generally the tallest players, but she knew that she and Jordan were two of the three tallest team members, even though both of them were outside hitters. The other six-footer looked like a middle blocker to Ryan’s assessing eye, and she hazarded a guess that a shorter, but powerfully built woman also played in the middle. She figured that Coach would carry four outside hitters, and she was engaged in trying to guess who the other two were when the student manager called them to attention.

"Hi, everybody," the nervous looking young woman said. She cleared her throat, then shifted from one foot to the other, tossing her head to sweep her shoulder length hair back from her face. "I’m Liz Chang, and I’m going to be the student manager this year. It’s my first year at this, so you might have to bear with me while I learn my job, but I’ll do my best for you all. First thing we have to do is some paperwork." She handed out multi-part forms to each player, and the team members compliantly dropped to the floor and began to fill in the forms with the pens Liz provided.

Only in school or the military can you give a group of people a form to fill out and have them drop to the floor to do it, Ryan grumbled, still feeling grumpy about being confined to a dorm for a week. Once they had written in their emergency contacts and listed food allergies and any other special needs, Liz gathered the forms and announced that the coaching staff would be along presently.

As predicted, the staff made their entrance, and the players stayed where they were when Rich Placer indicated they should remain in their relaxed positions. "Okay, everyone. Good to see you all. Let’s spend a few minutes getting to know one another, and then we’ll get started."

Everyone spent a moment or two introducing themselves, and Ryan concentrated intently, trying to associate the names with the faces. Coach then introduced assistant coaches Ken Nakajima and Erin Malloy, and launched into a detailed assessment of their potential as a team. He realistically admitted that they would have their hands full with UCLA, USC, Arizona, and Stanford in the PAC-10. Both UCLA and Stanford had beaten them handily the previous year, and both had their key players returning. Nonetheless, he claimed that this year’s team had the talent to do very well in their non-conference games, and if they played well he thought they could make the NCAA tournament for the first time in several years. Ryan and Jordan exchanged determined looks, each knowing that the other was thinking of aiming even higher than just a tournament appearance.

"I’d like to spend today getting an idea of where each of you is in terms of fitness and ability," he announced. "Now that we’re into our practice time, we won’t run as a team any longer. I think each of you will get enough of an aerobic workout that you can stop running, but if you still choose to do so, have at it. Just don’t leave all of your energy out on the road." He looked directly at Ryan and Jordan as he said this, well aware that his competitive seniors had a tendency to overdo their training. Ryan grinned slightly and nodded, showing that she had received the message. "So, since we’re not going to be running any longer, let’s celebrate by having a final blowout!" His proclamation was greeted with groans, even though no one knew exactly what he was proposing. These lifelong athletes had learned at an early age that whenever a coach tried to make an exercise sound like fun—they were in trouble. "Let’s head over to the track." His enthusiastic voice did not diminish the grumbling, but everyone dutifully followed him.

The well-maintained track was located right next to the gym, and Coach Placer explained his goal. "I’d like to gauge your physical condition and your stamina by having you run a series of 400-meter laps." Now the groaning increased among most of the players, but Jordan just sat down on the bleacher and pulled out a pair of shoes. While she was lacing them, Ryan sat next to her and casually asked, "Spikes?"

A quick nod of her head caused her long blonde hair to cascade down her shoulders. "It pays to be prepared," she announced.

"It also pays to have been on the team last year," Ryan reminded her, adding a sharp slap on the back.

Coach allowed them a few minutes to warm up, then had the players run in pairs until everyone had finished the first lap. He timed them with a stopwatch, with Erin keeping notes on everyone’s performance, and after all had finished the first heat, they switched partners and did another.

Ryan was paired first with Jordan and then with the tall woman named Jenny Fletcher, who was, as Ryan had predicted, the incumbent middle blocker. She was a pretty good runner, but Ryan beat her handily, even though the 400 was a little long for her. Ryan’s best track event was the 100, but she was no slouch in the 200 or the 50 for that matter. Speed had always been her greatest asset, and she was both surprised and pleased when she turned in a near personal best in the 400.

When she considered her time she acknowledged that her fast showing was probably due to the fact that she was down to just under 180 pounds, partly from the grueling workouts she and Jordan had been struggling with, and partly because she had never fully regained the weight she had lost during the AIDS Ride. She knew that she was running well this summer, and she had a feeling that her lighter weight gave her a burst of speed that she had not experienced in a few years. I guess I won’t try to put that weight back on, she thought wisely. I need it for the AIDS ride, but I think I’ll play volleyball better at the lighter weight. I’m as low as I was my freshman year in college, but I feel good, and my energy level is good, so I may as well stay here.

Erin posted the combined times on an erasable white-board she carried, and Ryan smiled with pleasure as she noticed that she had beaten Jordan by .05 seconds. This was clearly not a decisive victory, but she was inordinately pleased to beat her fleet-footed friend at any distance.

"Okay, now let’s make this a little competition," Coach suggested, causing both Ryan and Jordan to perk up. "Two more heats, ladies. Overall winner gets to lead warm-ups during training camp. This is not a small incentive, as you returning players know, since you can tailor the warm-ups to suit your personal preferences. Bob Nymoen, our fitness and strength trainer, has a preference for ab crunches, as you well know." Once again everyone groaned, the ab crunch always appearing at the bottom of the players’ list of favorite exercises. "As a little more incentive, the players with the four slowest times are in charge of bringing the equipment from the dorm to the gym every morning." Now the groans and grumbling increased, since the dorm was nearly a half-mile from the gym. "Okay, let’s get ready to fly!"

Two more laps, and Ryan was declared the winner, nipping Jordan for the title by a full two seconds. As they walked back to the gym, Jordan caught up to her and complained, "I have cramps and a really bad headache. I think I broke one of my toes, and I might have appendicitis."

Ryan laughed heartily as she tossed her arm around her friend’s shoulders. "It’s only a couple of seconds, pal. Don’t take it so hard. I’m sure you’ll beat me next time."

"Next time I’m going to remember to take the lead weights out of my pockets," she promised, shaking her head as she tried to suppress a smile.

.

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

The next exercise was the vertical leap, the best gauge of the athletes' ability to jump high and often--one of the prime skills they would need as volleyball players. Ryan hadn’t tested her vertical leap for two years--since she had played for USF--but she recalled exactly what her personal best had been, and she was determined to beat that number.

She watched as the first player rubbed the colored chalk on her fingers and walked to the white painted cinderblock wall. The middle blocker stood tall, keeping her feet fully on the floor, and lifted her fingers as high as she could-- making a small mark with her chalked hands. Her comparison mark made, Jenny backed up about 15 feet from the wall, which would allow her to take a four-step approach, taking off about six feet from the wall, extending as high as possible for the touch that would measure her vertical leap.

Ryan was concentrating so hard on her mental preparation that when Jordan gave her a firm push to indicate it was her turn, she nearly fell flat on her face. She shot her a menacing look, but quickly gathered herself for her attempt, determined not to let Jordan distract her.

She moved to the wall and made her first mark. Jamie would love this, she smirked as her extension caused a rippling in her abdominal muscles. Ryan backed up farther than the other women had, and took four very big running steps. She shifted her momentum on the last two steps and propelled herself upward, straining to get as high as possible. Standing right next to Ken as he measured her effort, she did a little hop and let out a whoop when he announced that her vertical leap was two inches higher than it had been at USF. Maybe I’m not getting older—I’m getting better, she thought happily. Or maybe Jamie’s breathing new life into me. She thought about that for a moment, then had to admit, More likely she’s sucking all the life out of me with her insatiable demands! She sobered as she thought, I’d give anything to have that sweet face with me here right now. She realized that she was staring dreamily into space and she reminded herself, Focus Ryan, focus! You’ve got a job to do here.

When Jordan took her turn, she bettered Ryan by 1 inches, so her pride and her good humor were fully restored. She stood next to Ryan and teased, "Leave it all on the track, did you?"

"Uh-huh," Ryan muttered, "Just keep telling yourself that, Jordan."

Coach was not overly pleased with the overall group performance on the leap, so he decided they would spend the rest of the session working on jumping ability. Ken and Erin brought out a big basket filled with ankle weights and everyone strapped on a set. The weights they wore were only 2 pounds each, but that extra five pounds of weight would make an appreciable difference in their ability to elevate.

He had them practice their jumping technique before starting the exercise, using Jordan as his model since she had excellent form. She demonstrated the proper technique several times and then got into line behind Ryan for the drill. "Learn anything, Lead Butt?" she whispered.

"Yeah, I learned that you’re overly impressed with yourself," she said thoughtfully. "Oh wait, I already knew that. So, no, I didn’t learn a thing," she said sweetly, patting her cheek.

As the seniors, Ryan and Jordan started off the jumping exercise, which required them to take off from a line three meters away from the net and try to leap as high as possible while extending their hands up over the net. Determined to lead by example, they gave each jump everything they had. By the time each of the team members had taken 20 turns, they were all sweating and breathing heavily. Even though they were obviously tiring, Coach only let them pause enough to drink some sports drink or water. As soon as they were hydrated, he introduced the next little torture.

Ryan and Jordan exchanged challenging looks as the coach described the sequencing. This one had them stand at the net and try to jump straight up, as they would to block a ball. Once again the senior duo led the way, joined by the two middle blockers. Four players did this drill simultaneously, so the rotation went quickly, but the speedy rotation also meant that they had to take their next turn quickly. They flew up to the line and leapt as high as they could, ran to the back of the line and got ready to jump again. Since they were already winded, this drill was a killer, and Coach loudly pointed out each time a player seemed to be dogging it. The torture went on for 15 full minutes, and the other women were bent over at the waist as soon as a halt was called, but Ryan and Jordan both tried to act like they were fine, even though Ryan felt like she was getting a stitch in her side.

Ken and Erin collected the ankle weights and passed out two-foot lengths of surgical tubing. Each woman tied an end to each leg and spent the next ten minutes running sideways up and down the length of the floor. The tubing was fairly stiff to force the player to stretch as far as possible, and really extend. After a few laps, Ryan cast a glance down to see her quads bulging under the pressure, and she thought with a grimace that from a purely sexual perspective, it was lucky Jamie wasn’t with her, because she would be too sore to wrap her legs around that beloved body any time in the near future.

"Okay, people. That was a pretty fair first day." The coach’s understatement brought audible murmurs from his squad. "Now let’s cool down by running four more 400s!"

His announcement was met with nothing but groans, with even Ryan joining in, but everyone filed out of the gym and hit the track as instructed. They gulped sports drink for a few minutes, until the coach reminded them to take it easy or they’d get cramps. When they were all ready to go, he had them split up into pairs, and run the lap as a relay. The first runners were given batons, and before they took off Coach added an incentive. "Winning team gets the whirlpool first and a full body massage."

Ryan turned to Jordan, her partner, and demanded, "Run like you’ve never run before in your life!"

Luckily, they both had enough pop left in their legs to come out on top, which was slightly surprising since they badly bungled the handoff. "Race you to the showers," Ryan grinned, as they took off at a pace just slightly quicker than a pair of tortoises.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The ringing phone jolted Ryan from her exhausted slumber, causing her to jerk awake so abruptly that she banged her head sharply on the pay phone. "Damn it," she muttered, yanking the receiver from the device. "H’llo?"

"Which of those greetings was for me?" The amused voice at the other end immediately warmed Ryan’s heart while it simultaneously soothed the ache in her head.

"The second, Honey, only the second. I hit my head on the phone when it woke me up. Sorry about that."

"Woke you up? I thought you didn’t have a phone in your room."

"I don’t," Ryan said. "I was sound asleep sitting in the hallway on a desk chair." Even as she spoke a massive yawn escaped, and Jamie smiled as she could imagine the ritual stretching that followed.

"Did you sleep that poorly, Hon?" Her voice was filled with compassion, and that alone made Ryan perk up a bit.

"No, not really. But Coach thrashed us at our first practice. If we weren’t required to show up for dinner, I’d skip it."

"Honey!" Jamie had never heard her partner make such a startling admission, and she was utterly speechless for a moment before she could gather herself enough to ask, "Are you sure you’re okay, Love? I’ve never heard you willingly bypass a meal."

Ryan’s gentle chuckle made her sound a little more normal, and Jamie calmed down a bit. "Yes, Sweetheart, I’m fine. We just had a very intense two hours. I think Coach was trying to give us all a warning. Don’t worry, though, now that I’m awake I’m feeling hungry again." She patted her empty stomach as a hollow gurgle alerted her to its demanding presence. "My tummy’s already growling."

"Whew!" Jamie laughed a little at her own relief. "I’d be on the next plane if I thought there was something seriously wrong with you, you know."

Oh boy, Ryan sighed to herself. Something is wrong, Love, but not with me. She glanced at her watch when she heard some of the other players leaving their rooms, their playful taunts and jovial bouts of singing nearly drowning Jamie out. Damn, it’s already 6:45. I can’t hit her with this and then hang up. I’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Jamie roused her from her musings as she said, "I’m so tired I almost drifted off there myself, Hon. I’ll let you go get dinner while I collapse."

"I hate this, I hate this, I hate this," Ryan repeated in a childlike chant, her lower lip stuck out in a pout. "I miss you, and I want you with me."

"I miss you too, Sweetheart," Jamie soothed. "I want you right by my side…every day of my life. But we’ve already gotten through one day, and we only have seven left."

"You mean we’ve only gotten through one day, and we have seven more horrible, grueling days to stumble through." It was obvious by now that she was teasing a bit, even though she was sincere in her wish to be together immediately.

"Yes, that’s exactly what I meant, Love. Now you go eat a nice meal. You’ve got to keep your strength up, Baby. You’re gonna need every bit of stamina you can corral when I get home."

"Mrrphh." The strangled little groan that made its way through the phone line put a cheery smile on Jamie’s face. Her voice lowered a bit and she promised, "When I get home I’m gonna put you through a more rigorous trial than Rich Placer ever dreamed of."

"Jamie," Ryan whined. "Don’t make me crazy like this! I’ll never last the week!"

"I’m sorry, Love," she whispered. "I just can’t think of much else when I hear your sweet voice."

"I know what you mean," Ryan murmured. "I was thinking about what you’d probably do to me if you were here this afternoon to watch us work out."

"Ummmmm," Jamie growled, her voice growing even huskier. "I love to watch you work out. Were you all sweaty and flushed?"

"Umm-hmm. Just the way you like me." Ryan’s voice was now rivaling Jamie’s in the sexiest phone voice contest. She was concentrating so hard on the sound of Jamie’s breathing that she didn’t even hear Jordan approach from behind, and jumped at a sharp rap on the back of her neck.

"We’re gonna have to run to make dinner on time, Romeo. Say goodnight to Juliet."

"Damn. I’ve gotta go, Honey. There’s probably some additional torture if we’re late."

"I love you, Ryan," she whispered. "Take care of your precious self for me."

"I love you too," Ryan said quietly so that Jordan couldn’t hear. "We work out from eight until ten, and from two until four tomorrow. So page me with the time you plan on calling, and I’ll be here waiting for you."

"Okay, Honey. Goodnight."

"Night, Babe. Sleep tight." Though Jordan and dinner were both waiting, she did not want to sever the connection.

Jamie’s response was worth the delay. "I only sleep tight when you’re wrapped around me," she insisted. "When you’re not here I just sleep."

* * * * * * * * * * *

At nine o’clock that night, the coaching staff made a discreet exit from the pizzeria where they had enjoyed their evening meal. One of the goals of the week, besides preparing for the physical aspects of the season, was to begin to forge a group of individuals into a team. Rich Placer believed that allowing the young women plenty of time to just relax in each other’s company was a good start in that direction. Towards that end, he and his assistants departed the restaurant as soon as was polite, handing Jordan $40 to purchase dessert for anyone who wished it.

As a group, they wandered down the main street in town, looking into shops and generally just playing around. After a few blocks, Jordan spotted an ice cream shop, and everyone agreed that ice cream was a perfect complement to the spicy pizzas they had just wolfed down.

It took longer than the harried clerks would have preferred, but eventually everyone who wanted a cone made up their minds. Next, nearly all of the tiny tables and wrought iron chairs were dragged across the floor to allow everyone to sit together. Finally comfortable, they relaxed and chatted about Santa Cruz. "These shops look really great since they rebuilt them all," Kelly Linder, a junior from Monterrey, commented.

"Rebuilt?" Jenny Fletcher looked around and noticed that the building did look quite new.

"Yeah, after the earthquake."

"Loma Prieta," Ryan said, able--like most Californians--to spout off the names and Richter scale readings of all of the major earthquakes she had personally experienced.

For the next 15 minutes, the teammates related various horror stories of their own, as well as few apocryphal tales just to keep the conversation interesting. Everyone from the Bay Area had been affected to some degree by the massive 7.1 quake, even though most of them had been in elementary school when it hit.

Jordan and Heather Clark, a freshman from a small farming town in the San Joaquin Valley, were strangely silent while everyone else was trying to impress the others with their personal tales. Ryan considered this, but then remembered that neither of them would have been anywhere near the quake, with Jordan growing up near L.A., and Heather in the fertile farm region in the center of the state.

The banter went back and forth until Ryan reminded everyone, "The ten-year anniversary is coming up in October, guys."

"Are you sure, Ryan?" Kelly asked. "It seems like lots longer than that."

"I’m positive," Ryan declared, looking up at the ceiling briefly to focus her memory. "I was in seventh grade, and we’d played a soccer match against a school in Oakland that afternoon." She laughed briefly, shaking her head as she did so. "It’s funny what you remember, but one of the kids couldn’t find her jacket. Our coach told her to get on the bus or he was leaving without her. The World Series was supposed to start at 5:30, and he wanted to get home so he didn’t miss much." Cocking her head, a small smile crossed her face. "Lucky for us he was a baseball fan. We were in the middle of the bridge when the quake hit."

13 sets of very wide eyes stared at her, every one of the young women understanding the import of her statement. "But the bridge…it…collapsed," Kelly squeaked out, her face nearly white with fright.

"Not all of it," Ryan reminded her, chuckling a little. "You’ll notice it is still standing today. Only a small part of the upper bridge collapsed onto the lower deck, luckily for us. If we had been delayed just ten or fifteen seconds…" her voice trailed off as a shiver ran down her spine, and she quickly tried to make light of the experience. "I actually feel pretty safe going across it now," she insisted. "If that old structure can shake like it did that day and still stay up, there’s not a thing to worry about."

Ashley Bond, a freshman from Menlo Park, gasped, "Weren’t you terrified?"

"Do the math," she joked. "Put a dozen 13-year-old girls on a bus in the center of a suspension bridge in the middle of the bay and then shake it real hard. Duh!" Ruffling Ashley’s long blonde hair she added, "That was the closest I came to wetting my pants since I was in diapers."

That comment broke the tension, the mere image of this imposing woman in diapers causing the team members to break out in slightly nervous laughter. Ryan’s laughter faded when she looked over and saw Jordan staring at the ground, her mouth set in a hard line. She didn’t want to question her at this point, but since everyone was ready to go, she pulled her to the back of the pack and asked, "You okay?"

A curt nod was all her friend was willing to share, pulling her arm from Ryan’s grasp and walking to the head of the group. Touchy, touchy, Ryan commented to herself, shrugging her shoulders. Oh well, if she wants to talk about it, she will.

As they passed another new building that formerly housed the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company, someone noticed a small bronze plaque near the doorway. The plaque was in memoriam of two young people who were killed during the quake when the brick wall at the front of the store collapsed. "Wow, she was just our age," Grace Browne commented soberly, seeing that one of the employees was just 21 when she died.

"Creep me out!" Cami Jackson cried, slapping Grace on the back.

"You think that’s creepy," Ashley said conspiratorially. "I had a cousin who went to school here during that time, and he said that the building codes were really lax around here." She looked contemplative for a moment and she said, "I wonder how old that dorm we’re staying in is?"

"Knock it off!" Every head snapped towards Jordan where she stood rigidly in the middle of the sidewalk. "We’ve had enough talk of earthquakes and death. I don’t want to hear another word about either!" With that, she stormed off by herself, leaving every other player to stare at her in shock.

"Somebody needs a nap," Ryan intoned solemnly, causing the other players to chuckle nervously. "Actually, I think we’ve all had a long day," Ryan declared. "I’m feeling a little grouchy myself. Let’s go home and get some sleep."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"You, uh, want to talk about what’s bothering you, Jordan?" Ryan asked as she tossed her room key onto the dresser.

"Nothing’s bothering me, Ryan." She sighed heavily and gathered her supplies before slipping past her roommate to head to the communal showers. "I just don’t see the fascination with morbid stuff like that. It irritates me, that’s all." As she stepped into the hall she added, "I think I’ve humiliated myself enough for one evening. Can we just drop it?"

"Uhh….sure," Ryan agreed, crossing the room to jump onto her single bed. When the door closed she laced her hands behind her head, staring up at the ceiling as she considered Jordan’s unexpected comment. What was humiliating? Just yelling at Ashley? That was no big deal. She bunched up the lumpy, thin pillow that rested on the bed, deciding that if Jamie was there she would have already found a store that sold some fluffy down ones. Damn, I sure like having Jamie for a roommate a lot better than grouchy old Jordan.

* * * * * * * * * * *

By the time Ryan returned from the bath, Jordan was either asleep or trying to appear as though she was. I sure hope she’s in a better mood tomorrow. It’s gonna be a long week if she’s snapping at everyone. She flopped around on the bed, trying to make her long frame comfortable on the short, narrow mattress. She finally had to kick the covers from their tucked-in position and let her feet dangle off the end of the bed so that her head didn’t hit the wall. Stretching out, Ryan felt some of the fatigue that she had been battling wash over her, her last thought of the night trickling through her head. I don’t think I can sleep without Jamie snuggled up next to me. Seconds later, her soft, rhythmic breathing was the only sound that her wide-awake roommate heard from her.

* * * * * * * * * * *

What in the hell was that??? Ryan flew into a sitting position, blinking repeatedly to clear her eyes so that she could make out shapes in the darkened room. It took her a moment to remember where she was and who she was with, while she simultaneously tried to determine if her own dreams had woken her or if there were cats mating outside of her window. That was the strangest damn noise, she mused, deciding to get up and go to the bathroom since she was mostly awake. Checking her watch, she saw that it was only two a.m. As she trudged down the hallway, scratching herself idly, she thought, It’s almost dawn in Rhode Island. I’d sure love to be able to see the first rays of sunlight coming into the windows and flickering across Jamie’s sweet face.

She returned to her dark room and was nearly asleep when she heard it again. A strangled sound, halfway between a cry and a moan, it grew in intensity until it became a high-pitched wail. My God, that’s nearly inhuman! The sound continued unabated from Jordan’s bed, and Ryan grumbled to herself, First the bad mood, now the howling in her sleep. I wonder if it’s too late to switch rooms with one of the freshmen? Remarkably, the sound not only continued, it became worse, and Ryan was afraid that it would frighten their teammates on the other side of the thin walls. What in the hell is going on with her? She sat up, tossing her legs off the side of the bed, and rested her head in her hands. I’m gonna find a drugstore and buy some earplugs during our lunch break tomorrow! No wonder she’s never had a long-term relationship! She’s good looking, but nobody’s good looking enough to tolerate this for!

Ryan’s head began to throb from a combination of frustration and fatigue. I’ve got to get to sleep! Maybe I should wake her up…nah, then she’ll remember the nightmare…That’s too cruel. Damn! I wonder if there are any unused rooms. I’ll pay the tab on a single if I can find one.

Her grumblings were halted when Jordan’s moans turned to tears, and the obviously terrified woman began to sob. Her piteous cries were too much for Ryan to take, and she did the only thing she could think of. Slipping into Jordan’s bed, she snuggled up behind her and wrapped her in her strong arms, holding on tightly while she whispered soothing words into her ear.

Jordan thrashed about weakly in Ryan’s grasp, her pathetic cries nearly breaking Ryan’s heart. My God, I’ve never heard anyone cry like this! With one final gasp she jerked into a sitting position, her hands flailing wildly, barely missing popping Ryan right in the face. "It’s okay, Jordan," Ryan soothed, running her hand down her friend’s sweat-drenched back. "It’s all right."

Jordan collapsed onto her back, wiping at her eyes as a shuddering sigh escaped. "Ohhh God," she moaned, dropping her forearm across her eyes. "Shit! Shit! Shit!" She threw her long legs off the side of the bed and sat up, wiping her face with the thin sheet. Her body was covered in sweat, and the sheets were cold and clammy.

Ryan reached out again to touch her gently, but she shrugged off the comfort and went to the dresser, pulling out a dry T-shirt and a pair of plaid boxers. "I’m sorry, Ryan," she mumbled. As she tossed off her wet clothes she added, "I assume you weren’t in my bed for any reason other than trying to get me to shut up."

Ignoring the last comment, Ryan got up and returned to her own bed, asking, "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No."

Jordan went back to her bed and ripped off the wet sheets, throwing them into a ball on the floor as she flopped down on the bare mattress. A few more shuddering breaths managed to get out, and Ryan made another offer. "Come sleep with me," she said, even though the thought of Jordan sharing her tiny bed was not very appealing. Jordan was obviously very shaken up by the incident, and Ryan didn’t want another incidence of the nightmare to wake her up again. She thought that some physical comfort might soothe her friend enough to let them both sleep for the remainder of the night.

Without a word, the lanky blonde slid into bed in front of Ryan, cuddling up to her just like Caitlin did. Her heart was still racing, and her body was still terribly warm. Ryan draped an arm around her and gently rubbed her arm, whispering, "It’s okay now. Just relax and go to sleep. Nothing will harm you tonight, Jordan. Just relax."

"I’m sorry, Ryan," she sniffed, soaking up the comfort gratefully. "I thought they were over. I haven’t had one in years and years."

"It’s okay, don’t worry about it, Jordan, we all have things that frighten us. We can talk about it tomorrow if you want to."

Her blonde head shook slowly. "Don’t wanna talk about it," she said in a touchingly childlike voice.

"Then we won’t," Ryan agreed. "Just relax now and go to sleep." Please!

* * * * * * * * * * *

The alarm rang far too early for either of the exhausted athletes. Ryan slapped the button on the top of the small clock radio and tried to force her mind and her body to wake up. It actually took her a minute to recall why Jordan was in her bed, but she managed it. She was just about to speak when her bedmate tossed the sheet off and stood up. She walked to the dresser, got her shower supplies, and left the room without a word.

Jeez, Ryan mused, I’ve had total strangers show me a hell of a lot more courtesy after a night together than that! Hurry home, Jamie, she begged silently, feeling her lover’s absence even more acutely after sharing a bed with someone that she felt little emotional attachment with.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Moments after Catherine returned to her room from breakfast, the telephone on the bedside table began to trill. She picked up on the third ring and said, "Hello, Jim."

A small chuckle was her husband’s initial reply, followed by, "When did you become a psychic, Catherine?"

"Oh, I have quite a few hidden talents," she replied blithely. "However, since you’re the only person who has my number here, I thought there was an excellent chance that it might be you. Is everything all right, Dear?" It was quite odd for either Evans to call the other while on holiday, except out of necessity.

"Yes. I think things are fine." He hedged a bit, reasoning from her tone that she had not yet heard of his argument with Ryan. "Are you both settled in?"

"Yessss…" Catherine decided that something was definitely up, and she was determined not to let her husband off the phone until she knew just what it was. "Would you like to tell me why you called, Jim?"

There is no way in hell she’d be this civil if she knew I threw Ryan out of the house, he reasoned. Maybe I can back into this. "I know you’ve only been gone the better part of one day, Catherine, but I’ve spent nearly the entire time thinking about Jamie and the situation with Ryan."

"Situation?" she replied rather archly. "That’s an odd choice of words, Dear."

"No, it’s not," he said firmly, deciding to reveal some of his evidence. "I didn’t have a chance to discuss this with you, Catherine, but I now believe that Ryan is trying to gain control of Jamie’s trust."

There was a long moment of silence before Catherine burst into laughter. "You’ve got to be kidding," she gasped. "You are kidding, aren’t you?"

"Of course I’m not kidding! She was down at Tuck Gray’s office demanding to know if she could get a power of attorney to make withdrawals!"

"She most certainly was not, Jim," Catherine said in a voice uncharacteristically firm. "Jamie wanted to ask for her distribution, but she didn’t even have a copy of the agreement, thanks to you, I might add. She wanted to get a copy, and while they were there she asked a few questions. She’s tired of being treated like she can’t make her own financial decisions, Jim. In my personal opinion, part of that is your fault!"

"My fault! My fault!" he yelled. "How can you possibly say that?"

"If you had not been so rigid about this, I doubt that she would have any interest in managing her own money. I’m certain she would have been happy to take her distribution and put it in a fund for you to manage. But now she’s worried that she’s going to be financially tied to you until she’s 30!"

"At this rate, she’s going to be," he muttered, now angry with his wife, as well as his daughter.

"Jim," she said sharply, "don’t take that attitude with her. She’s not a child any longer, and treating her like one will only drive her further from you."

She could hear the frustration in his voice, and felt a stirring of sympathy for him when he sighed heavily, seemingly in resignation. "What’s happened to her, Cat?" His voice was nearly a whisper as he added, "She’s just not my little girl any more."

"Oh, Sweetheart, she’ll always be your little girl," she soothed, touched by his very uncharacteristic vulnerability. "But only in some ways. In others, she’s an adult, and she has to make the choices that adults make. One of them is how much trust to put in your partner. She trusts Ryan completely, Jim, and we have to respect that."

"No we don’t, Catherine," he said, his normal confidence returning as quickly as it had fled. "I can’t stand by and let that woman make a fool out of her. Jamie will never forgive herself if Ryan is just using her for her money."

There was a long pause as Catherine tried to understand how her husband could be so shallow and shortsighted on this important topic. "Of course she would never forgive herself if Ryan was using her, Jim. But it wouldn’t be because of the money she lost, it would be because her heart would be so badly broken. The money would be totally irrelevant."

"Fine. Frame it any way you wish. I believe that the sooner Ryan is exposed for who she really is and what she is after, the sooner Jamie can get back to her old self."

"Jim," she started to explain that Jamie’s true self had never left her, but she knew that her husband would not understand that concept. "The more likely scenario is that Jamie would hate whoever successfully exposed Ryan as a fraud. Do you really want to be in that position?"

"No," he fumed, actually sounding like he was going to cry. "But someone has to, Catherine. I don’t want her to get hurt!"

"Then don’t be the one to hurt her, Jim." She let that sink in for a moment before she added, "I’ve spent more time with Ryan than you have. I’m confident that she loves Jamie and is not interested in her money."

"Oh, Catherine," he scoffed, "you wouldn’t recognize the fox in the henhouse. You always think the best of people."

Truly insulted, she bit her tongue to prevent herself from tossing back a hurtful retort. The silence continued for a moment, Jim either not recognizing that he had been rude or not believing he owed her an apology.

"Look. As I said, I’ve thought about this a lot since you left. I’ve come to the decision that Jamie should stay in Newport with you for the entire month. She needs some space to get her head on right, and I think being with your family will help her do so."

The silence continued for a long moment as Catherine tried to get her mind around his statement. "First of all, my family is much more skilled at skewing heads than straightening them. Secondly, I’m not going to have her lashed to the mast of David’s boat and cast adrift, Jim, and I guarantee that’s the only way to keep her from Ryan."

"There are other ways, Catherine," he said slowly, his unspecified threat sending a chill down her spine.

"Listen, Jim," she said with uncharacteristic fervor, "Jamie is my daughter too, and I will not tolerate you trying to force her to see things your way. I’m not sure what you’re suggesting, but whatever it is, I’ll have no part of it."

His heavy sigh showed that he knew arguing the point would be futile. "Fine. I thought I could count on you to support me in this. I assumed that you cared about Jamie’s long-term happiness. I’m obviously wrong."

"Jim," she said gently, her voice filled with as much empathy as she could muster, "I know how hard this is for you, Sweetheart. But the only way to stay connected to Jamie is to support her choices. You don’t have to like them, but you have to honor them."

"There is no way I’m going to honor her choice to welcome that woman into our family. She’s up to no good, Catherine, and one day Jamie will thank me for making the hard choices to protect her."

Her voice grew firm again as she demanded, "What are you planning on doing, Jim?"

"Whatever I have to do, Catherine. I will do whatever I have to do to protect my daughter." Before she could utter another word of protest, the dial tone sounded in her ear.


Continues in Part Five

 

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