I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 6: Fidelity

by S X Meagher


Part 7

As promised, J.C. was well into demolishing a hearty breakfast when Jamie came downstairs on Wednesday morning. No one else was up, but the always present wait staff was at the ready. "Toast and cereal for me, please," Jamie requested before Daniel was out of the kitchen door and into the dining room. He smiled at her and turned to fill her order while she poured her own coffee from the urn on the breakfront.

"Looks like a great day for our round of golf," she said conversationally. "Are you typically an early riser like I am, J.C.?" Jamie asked as she sat down next to her cousin.

"Mmm, I can be," he decided. "But only for things I’m interested in. I make it a habit never to schedule a class before noon." He shot her one of his impish grins, and she had a glimpse into his impressive success with women. Everyone expected J.C. to become the family playboy, taking over for his father, who had relinquished the title upon his marriage. Father and son had similar appeal, Jamie thought, studying the young man while he rose to get another glass of juice. True to the Dunlop heritage, J.C. was not a very large man, but he wasn’t nearly as diminutive as his grandfather, who was practically elfin. J.C. stood about 5’8", but his well-muscled body gave him the appearance of a larger man. His hair was fair, not as light as Jamie’s, but closer to blonde than brown. Since it was late in the summer, the crown of his head was quite sun-bleached, and the color complimented his golden tan. He had the typical brown eyes of the Dunlop line, a stunningly bright smile, and a very even temper—so long as he wasn’t drunk. J.C. was never one to turn down a party, and he generally behaved himself at the frequent bashes he hosted. But if trouble started, he was always in the middle of it—fists flying.

They finished breakfast while chatting companionably about their schedules for the coming school year. When they heard J.C.’s grandmother Patsy come down the stairs and speak to one of the servants, J.C. jerked his head towards the door, whispering, "If we don’t get out now, we’ll be here another hour!"

Jamie nodded her readiness and they made a dash for the kitchen, startling the cooks and wait staff as they barreled by them, heading for the back door. "That was close." The look of relief on J.C.’s face was quite comical.

"You can make a quick getaway when you’re in the mood," Jamie laughed as they searched for the chauffeur to request a car.

"Practice, Jamie. Lots and lots of practice."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Coming on the big sailing adventure tomorrow?" J.C. asked as they stood on the first tee of the Newport Country Club.

"Sure. It sounds like fun," Jamie said. The event was an annual affair, and every member of the family was expected to attend. "How about you?"

"Yeah, I’ll be there. Spending the day listening to my grandfather’s stories isn’t my idea of fun, but you do what you have to do."

Jamie had no ready retort to that comment, so she merely nodded as she went to hit her drive. She felt a little off today and her drive was decent, but not as sharp as usual. "Hmm, I think today could be a long day," she mused as she watched her ball roll into the short rough.

"You know, this is the first time I’ve been alone with you since we got here," J.C. stated. "Every other time some adult has been with us."

Jamie smiled at him as she observed, "We’re adults, too, J.C."

"Only chronologically, Jamie. I’m not about to give up my hard won immaturity." He was smiling as he said this, but Jamie knew there was more truth than jest in his comment. She also had the distinct feeling that he was completely happy with his lot in life, and she considered that being a good looking, wealthy playboy in New York City really wasn’t such a bad life.

"I really like being an adult," she said reflectively. "I like being responsible for my own choices, and I like the freedom of feeling that I don’t have to curry favor with my parents."

"That’s because you not only are assured of getting tons of dough when your mother dies, you never do anything to piss your parents off! You’ve always been the perfect kid."

Something about his tone irked Jamie and before she stopped to think she replied, "That’s not true, J.C. I’ve actually had a very difficult year with my parents. I’ve made some choices that have upset both of them, and even though things are going well with my mother, my father and I are not even speaking right now."

"What did you do?" he asked with an astonished look on his face. "I thought your dad idolized you."

"It’s not what I did, it’s just that he doesn’t like the direction that my life is going," she explained, being intentionally obtuse.

"Did you join a religious cult or something?" he asked, a slightly mocking smile on his handsome face.

Jamie thought about her reply for a moment. Her mother had clearly stated that she did not mind if she told her cousins about Ryan, but she was a little concerned that J.C. would just take her declaration and use it as family gossip. Still, the thought kept coming back to her that she only wanted to maintain relationships with people who knew her and accepted her. And the only way for people to know her was to be open and honest about the most meaningful relationship in her life. "No, I didn’t join a cult, although sometimes I think my father would have preferred that. I fell in love with a woman," she stated simply.

He stared at her for a moment to make sure she was serious. The determined look in her eyes told him that she was. "That’s a shocker," he said slowly as he let out a breath. "I never would have guessed that, Jamie. You just seem so…straight."

"If that’s a compliment, thank you," she said warily.

He looked a little embarrassed as he explained, "I mean that in every sense of the word. Being gay just sounds a little wild and I don’t think of you like that."

"It’s not a political statement for me J.C., I just fell in love."

"So, do you think you’re a lesbian? Or is this just a…"

"No, it’s not just a fling; no, it’s not an experiment. I love this woman with all my heart, but if we weren’t together, I wouldn’t go back to men. I’m definitely a lesbian, J.C." As she said those words she realized that it was the first time she had ever made that declaration, and she smiled broadly as she realized how comfortable she felt having made it. She wasn’t even certain why she had said it, but it felt so true—so right, that she was immensely glad that she had done so.

"Boy, it’s a pretty screwed up family when I’m the most socially acceptable kid."

"I think Julia’s got you beat," she said sweetly, as she approached her ball and gave it a beautiful ride.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After morning practice Ryan headed for the dorm, intent on getting in a serious nap. Jordan had remained in her own bed the night before, but Ryan’s sleep did not improve significantly, even though she had appreciably more room to move around in. Jamie has absolutely ruined me! I not only don’t enjoy sleeping with other women…I don’t enjoy sleeping alone either!

When she got to the dorm she was dismayed to see that several of the younger team members had the doors to their rooms open, and they were gathered in the hall dancing to a new CD that one of them had just bought at the campus bookstore. Ryan fixed them with a glare and warned, "I’m in charge of stretching exercises today. If I don’t get a good nap in before afternoon practice, the lot of you will feel like you’ve been beaten with a rubber hose when I’m finished with you!"

Four sets of very wide eyes stared at her as she passed, and by the time she entered her room the CD had stopped and she heard four doors close so quietly that there was barely a "click." Sometimes it’s nice to be a senior, she smirked, falling onto her bed fully clothed.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"How about an ice cream cone?" Catherine asked, a few hours after lunch was finished.

One blonde eyebrow twitched as a slow smile spread over Jamie’s face. "I thought you’d never ask!"

Procuring a car, mother and daughter took off for one of the places that Jamie had very fond memories of. Cruising up Highway 114, Jamie decided that she had better inform her mother of her discussion with J.C. "The opportunity arose, and I told J.C. about Ryan, Mom."

Catherine looked neither surprised nor displeased, and that reassured Jamie immediately. "I’m glad," she said, smiling fondly at her daughter. "If you told him that, it must mean that you feel comfortable enough to share your private life with him. I’d really like it if you could foster a relationship with your cousins, Jamie. They’re the only family that you have." At the raised eyebrow query she received, Catherine hastened to add, "Blood relations, Dear. I know you consider Ryan your family, too."

"I do, Mom," she said. "But it’s more than that. I don’t feel like the O’Flahertys are my in-laws. It honestly feels like they’re blood relations, too. It’s like I was adopted by them—and now we’re family."

"I’m so glad that you have that, Jamie," Catherine said sincerely. "I so longed for a larger family when I was young. It must be nice." Her voice was so wistful that Jamie felt a pang of sympathy for her.

"You know, Mom," she said. "There’s no reason that you can’t be part of the clan. The entrance requirements are really simple."

Catherine gave her an impish grin and demurred, "They might be simple for you, Jamie, but I don’t think I’m oriented in that direction."

"Mom!" she cried, slapping her lightly on the thigh. "I’m not offering you my girlfriend!"

They laughed together, both amazingly comfortable with the other. "I’d really love to get to know Ryan’s family," the older woman said after she caught her breath. "Now tell me about these entrance requirements."

Jamie smiled over at her mother and said, "Well, when I joined, I just had to show that I loved Ryan. But since I’m a member now, I think I could get you in just because you love me."

She graced Catherine with a beaming smile and extended her hand. Catherine grasped it and gave it a gentle kiss, saying softly, "I love you more than you know, Jamie."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Hey, good lookin’," Jamie said into the phone after they returned from their ice cream excursion. "I didn’t think I’d catch you before your afternoon practice."

"Must be your lucky day," Ryan agreed, her mood significantly improved after her three-hour nap. "What’s going on?"

"I just got back from the most sensually delightful experience," Jamie said, sighing heavily. "The only way I could have had a better day was if I could have used you as a cone."

"Cone?"

"We went for ice cream," Jamie informed her. "Probably the best ice cream outside of France, in my humble opinion."

"Really? I looooove ice cream," Ryan needlessly commented. "What kind did you have?"

"I got the specialty…ginger," she said reverently, speaking the word like a prayer.

"Ginger? I don’t know about that," Ryan said. "I take it this was not Baskin-Robbins?"

"Nope. It’s a little place called Gray’s in Tiverton. Just on the mainland, almost in Massachusetts. It’s so cute, Honey. They have llamas outside, contentedly chewing grass…It’s really Rhode Islandy."

"I still don’t know about the ginger," Ryan insisted.

"Have I ever steered you wrong on any taste treat?" Jamie asked, her voice indicating that the innuendo was intentional.

"Hmm…now that you mention it," Ryan purred, her own libido waking up after its forced hibernation.

"I know you’d like the ginger, but when I bring you here I would allow you to get a cabinet," she teased.

"Hey, just because I eat a lot, doesn’t mean I want to chew on the furniture."

"It’s not furniture, silly. A cabinet is another Rhode Islandy thing. It’s whatever syrup you want…in your case, chocolate, some ice cream…in your case chocolate, and some milk. Blend it all together and you have a cabinet."

"Sounds like a shake to me," said the always practical Ryan.

"A shake it may be, but a cabinet it is when in Rhode Island. Whatever you call it, it’s delicious. I prefer the coffee myself, but I’ll buy you chocolate."

"You know," Ryan mused, "you’ve never suggested that you’d like me to go with you some day. That must mean you’re having a good time."

"I am," Jamie said. "I really am. I mean, I think I’d be having just as good a time if it was just mother and I, but it’s really nice to be in a place that means a lot to her and be able to do the things that she did when she was a little girl. After we got ice cream, we went to this really cool topiary garden where I could kinda remember going with my grandfather. It’s neat, Ryan—and I’d love to share it with you."

"Then I’d love to come. I’d be happy to go with you next year, Love."

"Well…" Jamie hesitated, not wanting Ryan to be hurt, but decided to be honest anyway. "Except for my cousin J.C., the family doesn’t know about you and me yet. I think I might have to get them comfortable with the idea before we showed up together."

"That’s cool," Ryan said easily. "You’ll tell them when it feels right. Not a problem, Babe."

Jamie let out a heavy sigh. "I love you so much, Ryan. It’s just so nice that you don’t get all bent out of shape over things like this."

"That’s probably because it really doesn’t bother me, Babe. I know you love me, and whether you feel comfortable talking about our relationship with others says more about your relationship with them than with me. It’s not a problem."

"Lord, you’re mature!"

Ryan chuckled deeply, making Jamie smile in reaction. "After three days of two-a-day practices, I feel very mature," she laughed. "Very, very mature. Downright ancient!"

"Ooh, are you all achy?"

"No, not too bad. We get massages whenever we want them, and that helps a lot."

Jamie’s thoughts flashed briefly on strong hands moving over Ryan’s body, then with an effort of will she returned them to formulating an acceptable response. "Really? How can they accommodate all of you?"

"Oh, there’s lots of people with us. Some of the student trainers from the other sports are down here too. It’s kinda training camp for them, too. They’re not as talented as you are, but it’s been helping to keep me loose. We also have a spa in the locker room, and a really nice outdoor pool. If you were here, it would be a nice week."

"My sentiments exactly," Jamie agreed. Checking her watch, she realized that Ryan was due at practice very soon. "You’d better get going, Love. Don’t want you to be late."

"Luckily, the gym’s close, and running will limber me up a bit. I’ll call you tonight, okay, Love? I don’t know when we’ll get back from the Boardwalk, and I don’t want you to wait around for me."

"You call no matter how late, okay? If I’m in bed, that’s all the better."

"Oooh…somebody wants a re-creation of Monday night, huh?"

"Yeah…." Jamie’s most sultry voice made chills chase up Ryan’s back. "And this time I’m going to be sober enough to enjoy it!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jordan was sent as the emissary to negotiate with Coach Placer. Just after practice, 13 sets of eyes tried to act like they were not watching her approach the coaching staff to make their request. The conversation did not last very long, and when she returned to the pack, she shot them a discreet thumbs up, much to the pleasure of the entire group.

"Your negotiating skills must be excellent," Ryan praised as she draped an arm around her friend on their way back to the dorm.

"Yes, they are," she agreed, tossing her long blonde hair over her shoulder. "But in this case, they didn’t have to be. He thinks it’s a good idea for the team to hang out together, and Bob said he’d love to go too, so he’s going to drive us."

"Cool. Good job, Jordan."

"I live to serve," she drawled, meaning not a word.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Since they skipped dinner, the entire group was ravenous as soon as they entered the Boardwalk. The team trainer, Bob Nymoen, wanted to give the women time alone, so he informed them that he and Erin would meet them near the entrance at nine o’clock.

"Okay, guys," Jordan said, "let’s pool our money and buy two blocks of tickets for rides." She collected a few dollars from every player and got in line. "You guys decide what you want to eat while I wait in line here, okay?"

They conferred and decided that there were four votes for pizza, four for hamburgers, four for corndogs and two for Mediterranean. "I’ll go get our food, Jordan," Ryan said, since she and Jordan were the only takers for gyros and falafel. As she turned to leave, all twelve of her teammates stood in front of her, looking puzzled. "Um…do you guys want to eat tonight?"

Every head nodded, and Ryan decided that this was a group that was a little better at taking orders than making up their own minds. She quickly assigned tasks, pairing people up to go in search of their preferred fare. Four of the women were sent for lemonade, leaving the freshmen Cami Jackson and Heather Clark without a task.

"Okay, you two, you’re in charge of finding us a place to sit together. Can you handle it?" Both of the freshmen nodded without speaking, showing that neither was yet entirely comfortable with their imposing senior teammate. "Go get ‘em," she growled, smirking to herself when they scampered away.

"You are torturing those two," Jordan laughed. "They act like you’re gonna bite!"

Ryan looked a little embarrassed, deciding to admit what she had done earlier in the day. "I kinda yelled at them this morning. They were playing their stereos when I wanted to nap, and I think I freaked them out a little."

Slapping her friend on the arm Jordan said, "They’re afraid of you even when you’re nice, O’Flaherty! Don’t give them a heart attack!"

"I’ll be better," she grumbled, leaving Jordan to wait for the tickets while she headed off in search of gyros.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The line for gyros was long, and Ryan had only made it halfway to the window when Ashley came running up to her in a panic. "Ryan!" She grabbed the older woman by the shirt and started running back in the direction from which she had just come, tugging Ryan behind her.

"What in the hell are you doing?" Ryan yelled, prying the young woman’s fingers from her shirt.

"Heather and Cami! Come on!" Without another word of explanation, the frightened freshman took off again. Ryan ran after her, muttering the whole while.

Ashley rounded a corner and stopped dead in her tracks, nearly causing Ryan to plow into her. Ryan looked in the direction that Ashley was pointing and saw Cami and Heather sitting at a table with four young guys. Draping an arm around the young woman’s shoulders, Ryan said in a deceptively agreeable tone, "That’s very nice, Ashley. I’m very happy that Cami and Heather can pick up four surfers." Her voice changed to an implied reprimand as she growled, "Now can I go get my dinner?"

Ashley’s head shook violently, and she exclaimed, "Those guys won’t let them leave! They’re trapped!"

"Oh for God’s sake!" Ryan strolled over to the table, checking out the layout as she drew closer. The two freshmen were seated on heavy concrete benches on opposite sides of a large concrete table. Each woman was flanked by two men, who were --Ryan guessed--close to her own age. The guys looked a little scruffy, but not dangerously so. She decided they were probably local surfers or skateboarders who routinely hung out on the Boardwalk. She was well acquainted with the type of guy who lived for the beach, and she wasn’t very worried about this group, figuring they were just having fun with the young women.

Hoping for an easy way out, she approached the table in a friendly manner. "Hey, could you guys come help me carry the food?" she asked, addressing the women. "I can’t handle it all."

Both young women looked up at her with relief flooding their tense faces, and simultaneously they started to rise. But the young man on Heather’s right clamped a large hand onto her shoulder and pulled her right back down. As soon as he did so, one of the guys next to Cami did the same. "They don’t want to leave," the first guy said, a haughty smirk on his face.

Oh-oh, I think I underestimated these guys, Ryan realized, seeing the malevolent look in the eyes of the first speaker. Still trying to get out of this as easily as possible, she maintained her friendly attitude, as well as the ruse, and said, "I’ll bring ‘em right back, guys. I just need a little help."

The first guy, who Ryan named The Mouth, shook his head firmly. "That one over there can help you," he decided, jerking his thumb at Ashley. "These two are staying with us."

Ryan nodded, shrugging her shoulders as she did so. "Okay, no problem. I’ll see you two later." She turned and walked back to Ashley, reaching into her pocket to extract some change. "Call the cops," she instructed just as Cami’s frightened voice called out, "Ryan, we don’t want to stay here!" Ryan shot Ashley a grin that she hoped looked genuine, and patted the frightened woman on the back as she pushed her in the direction of the pay phones. "Don’t worry. I can handle them." I hope.

Strolling back to the group, she casually perched on the edge of a nearby table, and looked around to see if anyone looked like they could help if she needed it. It was still quite early for dinner, and very late for lunch, and there wasn’t a soul around. The table seekers had chosen the most hidden spot on the whole boardwalk, which would have been fine for sitting together but proved not so fine for self-defense purposes.

Knowing it was best to keep the guys occupied until the police arrived, Ryan kept her appearance calm and unthreatening. Both Cami and Heather looked like they were about to pass out, and their fear filled Ryan with determination to keep them from harm. She looked at the four young toughs, trying to see how agile and muscular they appeared. To her disappointment, they looked pretty darned fit, with The Mouth fairly rippling with muscles. I hope they’re just for show. Maybe he doesn’t really know how to fight, she mused. Picking on young girls might just mean he’s a bully.

The spokesman for the group looked her over and said, "You can join us too, baby. There are plenty of us to go around."

"I don't think so," she said slowly, looking a little regretful. "I really wish we could, but we’ve got to eat and leave. We’re here with a tour bus and the driver’s going to come looking for us soon. We really should get going."

Narrowing his gaze to focus on Heather he said, "Fine. Go. But these two are staying with us."

Heather tore her eyes from the man’s voracious stare and gave Ryan an utterly piteous look. She looked frightened out of her wits, and as a tear rolled down the freshman's cheek Ryan concluded that she needed to take action before the police arrived.

She stood at her full height and folded her arms across her chest, flexing firmly against her breasts to enhance her muscles so they would seem as impressive as possible. "They don’t want to stay with you," Ryan said, leveling her gaze at The Mouth.

"That’s not for you to decide, Stretch. We decide who joins us, and we decided that we like her," he sneered as he slapped his hand onto Heather’s thigh causing a startled gasp to escape from her mouth. "Who the fuck are you to make her decisions, anyway?" he scoffed. "You her mom?" His friends found his humor absolutely hilarious, and they all laughed long and hard at his snappy repartee.

"No, I’m not her mom, but I know her pretty well. Heather," she said calmly, addressing her, "do you want these guys to leave?"

The young woman was so frightened that she didn’t even speak. She just nodded, wide eyed, her pleading look begging Ryan to make them go away.

You’re going to pay for scaring these two so badly, Ryan thought, but remained outwardly unaffected. "I suggest you get up and leave her alone. Now," she said firmly.

He turned to his friends and laughed heartily. "Think she's a dyke, guys?" he asked his friends as they all appraised her.

Her cold blue eyes moved from man to man, showing each that she was not afraid of them individually or together. "Why can’t people ever come up with anything more creative?" she asked rhetorically as she looked back to the speaker, a disgusted smirk on her face. "Is that comeback number one in the Idiot’s Handbook?"

"This one’s not a dyke, is she?" he asked, gazing intently at Heather. Ryan did not respond to his taunt; she merely stood a little taller and waited for his next move. Looking at his friends, he said, "I think I’m gonna have to test her out for myself." A nasty leer covered his face as his friends all hooted their approval of his plan.

Three people present didn’t think his idea was sound, but Ryan was the only one in a position to express her displeasure physically. His head had barely traveled an inch toward Heather’s lips before Ryan's strong hands latched firmly around his throat. She picked him up slowly; not having to lift all of his body weight since he willingly rose with her. The man had obviously decided that he rather liked breathing, so he followed her lead like a small puppy. When she had pulled him off the bench, she kept her hands right where they were, but eased the pressure a bit to let him suck in a few gasps of air. His friends had scrambled to their feet and warily regarded Ryan as they backed away from the scene.

Leaning close to his ear, Ryan asked, "Will you leave us alone now?"

"Fuck you!" he grunted, turning quickly in her grasp to wrench away from her. He stumbled a little, but got to his feet quickly, grabbing onto one of the tables for balance. One of his more cowardly friends approached Ryan from behind, but she sensed his approach and launched a precisely executed flying kick, landing it square into his stomach. The "ooof" that escaped was painful even to hear, and the other two men backed up even further, deciding to let The Mouth take care of the rest of this battle.

With one man on the ground, holding his gut and gasping for air, Ryan got into a well-balanced fighting stance, her weight evenly distributed so that her opponent could not read her intent. Sensing another of the men approaching, she started to turn, only to catch sight of long blonde hair. Coming up to stand next to Ryan, Jordan quickly took in the situation and asked, "Want me to hold your cape for you, Super Girl?"

"How are you at kicking ass?" Ryan asked, keeping her eyes fixed on The Mouth as he started to circle her.

"After you," Jordan demurred, giving her an exaggerated bow. "This face is too precious to serve as a punching bag."

"Nice to have your support," Ryan called, moving slowly to keep tabs on her opponent.

By this time all of the rest of the team had gathered, most of them standing behind Jordan. Ashley had called the police, who were obviously in no hurry to mediate such a small a dispute, which meant that Ryan was pretty much on her own. Luckily, the man that Ryan had kicked finally got to his feet and wisely decided to retreat, taking one of the other two with him. Of the remaining twosome, only The Mouth seemed like he wanted to fight. His friend just hung in the background, looking around to see if anyone was going to come to the aid of the women.

"Think you’re pretty tough, don’t ‘cha, Butch?" The Mouth asked, an unattractive sneer contorting his features.

"I do all right," Ryan agreed, as they continued to circle each other, deciding that showing him her most confident side was the prudent move. "Ask your friend who’s probably blowing chunks right about now."

"Fuck you," he growled, making another lunge for her. He engaged her in a wrestling move, grabbing both of her shoulders as he leaned in close. His head was nestled right next to hers as they grappled, and she realized this was not a style of fighting that she could prevail in. He was stronger than she and nearly as tall, which gave him several advantages. But Ryan’s mind was working the whole time, plotting angles and running through moves that could disable him enough for the women to get away.

Without warning, he released her and reared back to deliver a knee-weakening slap right to the side of her face. Even though it was a physiological impossibility, Ryan could feel smoke coming out of her ears. Slapping is just so…so…chickenshit, she fumed, deeply insulted by such a weak move.

He had backed up just a bit to deliver the smack, and that was all of the room that she needed. Her right knee came up quickly, catching him right in the solar plexus. As the air left his lungs, he doubled over in pain, and that’s when she drew her hand back and returned his slap with significantly more force than the one she had received. The sharp sound that accompanied the blow made every one of her teammates gasp, and as the helpless man fell to the ground his friend took off, running towards the growing crowd on the boardwalk. "Slap me, will ya?" Ryan spat, kneeling on his shoulders to hold him in place. "Nobody picks on my friends," she fumed. Now that she felt able to let her anger show she was shaking all over, the image of her young teammates quaking in fear still very fresh in her mind.

Just as she got him under control, the police arrived, nightsticks waving. They paused as they took in the sight of this large, muscular woman kneeling on the back of an equally muscular, but quite docile man. Brushing past the other members of the team, the police grabbed Ryan, pulling her arm up against her back to render her helpless. "Hey! I’m the one who called you guys," she complained.

"We’ll get this sorted out in a minute, lady," the officer assured her. "Just hold your horses."

"Could ya ease up on the pressure there, officer?" she asked as politely as she could manage. "That’s my spiking arm!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

After a few moments of discussion, the officers allowed the women to depart, assuring them that they would remove the man from the premises. No real harm was done and none of them wanted to press charges, so they watched in silence as the police removed The Mouth, then everyone but Ryan started to talk all at once. Looking over at Jordan, Ryan patted her stomach and said, "Kicking ass always makes me hungry. Can we eat now?"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Over dinner the inquisitive teammates grilled Ryan and Heather and Cami about what had happened. Both freshmen were still pretty shell-shocked, and neither was very forthcoming, so Ryan answered as many questions as she could.

"I’ve never seen anybody look so calm in a fight," Ashley said, still wide-eyed over the events she had just witnessed. "How could you stay that calm, Ryan?"

"I’ve had a lot of training in martial arts," Ryan allowed. "Staying calm is absolutely essential to protect yourself. There’s not a trick to it," she insisted. "Its just part of my training."

"It surprised the heck out of me when you grabbed the guy by the throat," Amy said. "How did you decide what to do?"

Ryan shot a glance at Heather, still a little worried about the young woman, who was quite pale and seemed to have a hard time even making eye contact with Ryan. "I don’t know," she lied. "It doesn’t matter that much, really. All that matters is that we let those guys know that they can’t mess with the Golden Bears!" She let out a vicious growl, making everyone laugh despite their jangled nerves.

The rest of the dinner break was spent in idle speculation and conjecture, and by the time they were all finished eating, everyone seemed back to normal. As they got up to leave, Heather hung back and made eye contact with Ryan. "You okay?" Ryan asked, lowering her head to look into Heather’s warm brown eyes.

"I’m fine…thanks to you," she mumbled, obviously embarrassed. "Thanks, Ryan. I would have been lost without you."

"No problem, Heather," Ryan grinned. "We can’t afford to lose one of our best outside hitters!"

The luminous smile that lit the young woman’s face reminded Ryan once more of the importance of making these young players feel like they were an important part of the team. "Thanks," she mumbled, then turned and jogged a bit to catch up with her buddies.

"So," Jordan said when Ryan came alongside her. "Another day battling for truth, justice, and the American way, huh?"

"Yeah. Although it would have been nice if you hadn’t turned into Lois Lane." She bumped Jordan hard with her hip, nearly making her lose her balance.

"Hey, somebody has to look good for the crime scene photographers," she sniffed, tossing her hair dramatically.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Dinner at the Dunlop home was late again, and Jamie smiled to herself when she considered that Ryan would most likely be down in the kitchen eating with the staff at six o’clock if she were ever to accompany her on a trip to Rhode Island.

I wonder how she would feel about being here, she mused as she idly worked away at her Scallops Provenšal. Well, for one thing, she’d absolutely hate the food. She’d be at the supermarket hoarding fresh vegetables and fruit on the first day. Her lover took the admonition to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables every day very, very seriously. It was fine if her veggies were stir-fried or steamed, but she honestly preferred most of them raw, claiming that their nutritive value was at its peak in the uncooked state. To satisfy her craving, Jamie made sure that they always had fresh broccoli, cauliflower, jicama, and blanched green beans in the refrigerator for Ryan’s near constant snacking.

While vegetables were served with meals at The Cottage, they were not only thoroughly cooked, they were usually covered with some heavy cream sauce, an addition that she knew Ryan would not tolerate well. The food was very tasty and well prepared, but was usually of the classic French style. Nouvelle cuisine had not made any inroads with David Dunlop, and Jamie assumed that the lighter style of French cooking would never make an appearance so long as he was in charge.

She would also hate being waited on all of the time, she decided. I’m sure she’d want to get up and help clean the kitchen after every meal. She giggled to herself at the thought of her partner trying to shove aside the kitchen staff to get at the piles of dirty dishes.

Catherine leaned over and whispered, "There’s nothing funny going on here, Dear. I’d wager that you’re having a little private vision of a tall, dark, and handsome woman."

Blushing to the roots of her fair hair, Jamie dabbed at her mouth with her linen napkin, trying to cover the worst of her embarrassment. "She’s on my mind nearly every minute," she whispered back. "I’ll try to focus."

Beneath the table, Catherine patted her leg gently. "I have a better idea. After dinner let’s go walk in the garden and you can sing her praises once again. I’d love to hear more about her."

"Really?" Jamie cocked her head, locking eyes with her mother. "Are you really interested?"

"Most definitely," Catherine agreed, a sly smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. "I need to know all about her so I can start spoiling her!"

"Oh, she’ll love that!" Jamie rolled her eyes dramatically, causing her mother to giggle right along with her, to the puzzlement of the assembled family members.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Damn, we’re outta tickets," Jordan grumbled as she handed over the last five to the attendant at the roller coaster.

"I’ll go get more," Ryan offered, having already been on the impressive wooden coaster twice.

"No, let us," Heather said, Cami right beside her nodding her agreement.

"Uhh…okay." Ryan reached into her pocket for some money, but Cami shook her head.

"Our treat, Ryan. It’s the least we can do to thank you for getting us out of that mess."

"It’s no big deal," she insisted. "Really."

Cami reached up and touched the still-visible handprint on the older woman’s cheek. "Yes, it was, Ryan. You could have been badly hurt."

"Nah…he was just a bully," she insisted.

"You didn’t know that at the time." Cami was sticking to her guns, and even though Heather wasn’t speaking, it was clear that she was in complete agreement. "We’ll be back in a few."

As the twosome scampered off to the ticket window, Jordan patted Ryan’s unmarked cheek. "Are you going to tell Jamie about this little incident? Or will this go in the growing ‘tell her when she gets back’ pile?"

"Funny. Very funny. My sides are aching from laughter," Ryan deadpanned, her voice devoid of inflection.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When dinner was finished, most of the family reconvened in the conservatory for brandy and cigars, but the Evans women made a quick getaway to the garden, managing to escape before they were missed. "I’m getting pretty good at sneaking out of the house," Jamie smiled. "Too bad I didn’t acquire this skill earlier in life when it could have come in handy."

"Were we that strict?" Catherine asked, surprised that her daughter might think so.

"No, you really weren’t," Jamie assured her. "Besides, I didn’t have anywhere I wanted to go that would have kept me out past curfew."

"Well, like mother like daughter, I suppose." Catherine took a seat on a cedar garden bench, and Jamie joined her. They were in the part of the garden furthest from the house, surrounded by dahlias, one of the showcase flowers of the Dunlop estate. Jamie had no idea how many flowers there were in the grouping, nor how many varieties were represented, but she did know that at their peak, her uncle and aunt always welcomed the members of the American Dahlia Society for a garden tour. "I was never much for breaking the rules in my house, either."

"So dating Daddy was your first act of rebellion?" Jamie asked, curious to know just what had attracted her mother to her father.

"Oh, I wouldn’t say that was rebellion per se, Jamie. I mean, I was already in college when we started dating. My parents were only unhappy that I decided to get married so young. Once my father really got to know Jim, he honestly thought of him as the son he never had."

"I don’t think my little act of independence will turn out that way," Jamie mused, idly drawing patterns in the buff-colored crushed granite of the garden path.

"Don’t give up hope, Dear. Ryan is terribly charming once she opens up. Once your father gets over his irrational fears about her lusting after your money, I truly believe he will come to like her."

"I just don’t get it," Jamie said, her frustration showing. "Especially since Daddy was treated as a gold-digger by your father. Shouldn’t he have some empathy for people who come from middle-class backgrounds?"

"He certainly should," Catherine agreed. "Have you ever noticed that all of his friends, even though they are wealthy now, come from backgrounds very similar to his?"

Stopping to think about it for a moment, Jamie realized that her mother’s observation was quite true. As a matter of fact, Jim had a very strong dislike of people who came from inherited wealth, and he took every opportunity to poke fun at the idle rich. "You’re right, Mom," she said slowly. "That makes it even stranger."

"But it also gives me hope that he will come to his senses, Jamie. He certainly wasn’t raised to think the worst of people."

"That’s the truth," Jamie agreed, knowing that her grandfather was one of the most open-minded people on the planet. "Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to be patient and hope he wises up."

"Let’s go walk around the Shakespeare garden," Catherine suggested, naming the formal garden composed only of plants and flowers mentioned in The Bard’s works.

As they walked along the dimly illuminated path, Jamie asked, "Did Daddy ever come here with you?"

"Just once," Catherine said, rolling her eyes. "Once was enough, I might add. I don’t think I’ve ever even invited him again."

Jamie stopped dead in her tracks, the gravel giving way with a loud crunch as she skidded a bit. "You’ve never invited him again! What did he do?"

"Oh, he didn’t do anything, Dear. It was just more trouble than it was worth to have him here. I was pregnant with you at the time, and I wasn’t feeling that well to begin with."

"Ooh…were you sick a lot?"

"No, not really. But I was just a couple of months along, and I had just started to have morning sickness. I’ll admit that I wasn’t the life of the party either, but your father had this idea that we’d be out sailing and hiking and doing all sorts of activities. I think he imagined it would be like camp." She laughed softly, recalling her young husband’s dismay at finding that the main activity at the Dunlop’s was idleness. "He had just taken the bar exam, and he was justifiably anxious to let off some steam, but I just wasn’t up to it. He wound up sailing or playing golf every day with John and Skip, and I barely saw him. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy with the situation, and we fought during most of our alone time." She sighed heavily, adding, "It’s not a trip I remember fondly."

They had reached the Shakespeare garden by this time, and Jamie wandered around the paths, deep in thought. Catherine was similarly silent, each woman lost in her own private musings. "Are you sorry that you married Daddy?" Jamie asked, her voice abruptly cutting through the stillness.

Catherine’s head snapped up as she was ripped from her contemplations. She started to answer automatically, but then stopped and considered the question for a moment as Jamie’s green gaze burrowed into her. "No, no I’m not," Catherine finally answered. "In a perfect world we would have waited until we were a little older, but the world isn’t perfect, Jamie. We’ve had to overcome a lot of problems, but we’re still together. Many couples can’t say that."

"Um…do you want to talk about the problems you’ve overcome?" Jamie asked hesitantly. "I’m happy to listen if you feel like talking."

Catherine smiled at her daughter and approached her, lifting one tentative hand to cup her cheek. "I know that, Jamie, but the issues we’ve had to face are just between me and your father. I wouldn’t want him to talk about the problems we’ve had, so I shouldn’t either."

Covering her mother’s small hand with her own, Jamie turned her head slightly, placing a gentle kiss on the inside of the older woman’s wrist. "I think it’s nice that you don’t talk about him behind his back, Mother. That shows that you respect him and your relationship."

"I try to, Honey. Sometimes it’s hard…like with his problems with Ryan. But I think his good sense will come back so that we can both respect him again."

Jamie sat down on a carved wooden arbor bench, the intricate woodwork supporting a heavy purple-flowered clematis. "Mom?" she asked pensively, "do you think it’s inevitable that Ryan and I will lose the joy we have in being together?"

Catherine sat down next to her and relaxed against the bench. "That’s a tough one, Jamie." She lifted her head and stared into the night sky, so heavy with stars. "I think most couple do lose the vibrancy that they have when they’re first together, but if you’re lucky you replace it with a depth of feeling and intimacy that, in some ways, is even more rewarding."

"Have you lost it, Mom?" Her question hung between them for a moment. Catherine didn’t want to answer, but she felt that she needed to be open with her daughter so long as the questions didn’t intrude on the privacy she felt that she needed to maintain.

"Yes, Honey, I’m afraid we lost the joy in our relationship far, far too quickly."

Jamie nodded, not surprised in the least. "I’m worried about that, Mom," she admitted. "I don’t know how to make sure we keep the spark going between us. How do you avoid taking each other for granted?"

Catherine answered immediately, obviously not needing to reflect on the issue. "You make each other your top priority," she said firmly. "Not your careers, not your hobbies, not even your children. You have to put your spouse first, and remember that all of your other decisions ultimately have an impact on you as a couple."

"Have you done that?"

Catherine sighed, shaking her head slightly as she did so. Has she always been able to see right through me? I suppose she has, she thought fondly, giving her daughter a smile. "No, Jamie. We have not." She could have gone on at length about the things that kept both her and Jim from focusing on each other, but she didn’t think those issues were to be shared with her daughter, so she kept them to herself.

"I didn’t think so," the younger woman mused. "I was really shocked when Daddy told me he might accept an appointment to fill Senator Sommers' seat and move to Washington. It didn’t seem like a decision you were making jointly."

"No, it’s not," Catherine said quickly. She caught herself and realized that she was doing exactly what she was trying to avoid, so she softened her voice and said, "This is important to him, Jamie. I’ll support him in this, even though it’s not what I would choose for him."

Jamie caught the slightly defensive tone in her mother’s voice and asked, "Is this hard for you to talk about, Mom?"

"No, not really, Dear. It’s funny, but I’ve spent more time thinking about my own relationship since you’ve been talking about yours. I think it’s helpful for both of us to talk about our loves."

"I miss mine," Jamie sighed. "Sunday seems soooooo far away."

Reaching out to grasp her daughter’s hand, Catherine gave it a squeeze and said, "Enjoy this time, Jamie, and hold on to it as tightly as you can. It fades all too soon."


Continues in Part Eight

 

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