I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 6: Fidelity

by S X Meagher


Part 8

"Okay, guys," Ryan said to the assembled group, holding out the long string of tickets Cami and Heather had just purchased. "I think we should play in two teams of seven. Any objections?"

The group all agreed and Ryan handed out five tickets to each woman while they tried to come up with an equitable means of choosing sides. Jordan finally spoke up, "Let’s go by class. Every team should have two freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors, and one senior. Argue amongst yourselves for who goes with Ryan and who goes with me." When most of the players started lining up next to Ryan, Jordan shot them a glare and said, "Remember that I lead warm-ups during the season." Now all of the players scooted over to Jordan’s side, giggling as they did so.

"I have a car for making ice cream runs for the rest of the week," Ryan taunted, and miraculously she was surrounded by 12 bright smiles.

"This could go on all night," Jordan decided. "Let’s go in alphabetical order. I’ll take the first two of each class alphabetically."

"The first shall be last, and the last, first," Ryan teased, surrounded by her six smiling teammates.

* * * * * * * * * * *

As the members of her team got into their reflective vests, Ryan gave them a few pieces of advice. "Okay guys, the key to winning in laser tag is to move unpredictably. This should be easy for us, since we’ve been hurling our bodies all over the gym since Sunday. Don’t move in a straight line—start and stop repeatedly. And don’t stay on the same plane for long. Stand up tall, then drop into a crouch quickly. Don’t ever let them be able to guess where you’re going to go next. Any questions?"

"Does it hurt?" Amy asked, her eyes darting from Ryan to the laser tag gun in her hand.

"Hurt? You mean the laser?" Ryan shot her a puzzled look and scratched her head. "Um…they’re not surgical lasers, Amy. Why would they hurt?"

The embarrassed woman shrugged her shoulders helplessly and said, "My brother had welts all over himself when he played."

"Nah…he was probably playing paintball," Ryan guessed. "My brother plays that all the time, too. He looks like someone’s been hitting him with a ballpeen hammer!"

No one else knew what a ballpeen hammer was, so her joke didn’t have the desired effect, but Ryan had successfully allayed their fears.

The teams took off when they were given the signal, running through, around, and over the obstacles and barriers placed around the huge space. The room was completely devoid of natural light, instead using black light to provide the dim illumination. The darkness made maneuvering difficult, but the reflective vests showed, in eerie contrast, the exact path that every woman trod.

Using the skills they had been honing for the last four days, the women followed Ryan’s advice beautifully, and managed to pick off two members of Jordan’s team before their opponents copied their strategy and began to follow it as well. They all dropped, weaved, jumped, rolled, and squatted, moving from obstacle to obstacle, doing their best to stay unpredictable.

After running around like mad for quite some time, Ryan realized that very few people were being "shot". Then she realized that few of the women had probably ever had real or fake "guns" in their hands before. She got down behind a low barrier and relaxed for a moment, taking her time to slow her breathing. Dropping to one knee, bracing her free arm across the other leg to help steady her weapon, she aimed carefully, picking off three more members of Jordan’s team, leaving just two of her opponents standing. She had no idea where the other two members were, but she found out the location of one of them very quickly when Jordan popped up on the other side of the barrier and shot her right between the eyes. "Die, sucker!" she cried, obviously enjoying herself immensely.

Hating to lose at anything, Ryan grumbled all the way back to the sidelines, only partially cheered when her team emerged victorious a few minutes later. "Hey this is like in ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ Erika said. "We won, but the captain died."

"Great. Just great," Ryan grumbled, still a little miffed at being killed.

"Quit crying, O’Flaherty," Jordan teased. "We have to do your stinking laundry for the rest of the week. That should give you some satisfaction."

Ryan immediately brightened at the prospect of her friend having to wash all of her very ripe clothing. "Now that you mention it, Jordan, I’m feeling better already." She smiled as she draped an arm around her new laundry woman, and they made their way to the bus for the short ride home.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The minute Ryan arrived at the dorm she tried her cell, grumbling to herself when she could not get a strong signal. Hmm…maybe it’s the building, she decided. Shrugging into one of the Cal Volleyball sweatshirts they had been issued, she went outside and turned on her phone, smiling to herself when the signal strength meter indicated that there was an acceptable level. I wonder if maybe I can get this a little stronger. She walked around aimlessly, not paying any attention to where she was headed, looking only at the level of the signal. She wound up near the tennis courts and took a seat on a wooden bench, spreading her arm out across the back of the bench as she settled in for a long chat with her beloved.

Jamie answered on the second ring. "Now there’s the voice that makes me smile," Ryan said upon hearing her partner’s warm tones.

"Ooh, that goes double for me, Love. I just want to listen to you breathe." She sighed heavily, wishing there was some way to crawl through the phone lines to wrap her body around her partner.

Ryan thought that was a pretty good idea herself, not wanting to go into any of the upsetting topics that she knew she had to broach. "I’ve uh…got a few things to talk to you about, Hon," she said. "Can I do that before I breathe for you?"

"Of course, Honey." She paused a beat adding, "Nothing is wrong, is it?"

"No, no, not wrong…but I don’t have a lot of good news," she admitted.

"What is it, Ryan?" Jamie’s voice was a little sharp now, and she felt her heart start to beat faster. "It’s so hard to do this on the phone," she moaned. "I can’t see your face and look into your eyes to see how you really are."

"I’m fine, Love," she assured her. "Let me stop torturing you and tell you what’s going on."

It took 20 minutes to discuss the revocation of the scholarship. Ryan had chosen this item first since she needed to talk to Coach Placer the next day, and she didn’t want to run out of time. As expected, Jamie felt strongly that the scholarship should have no impact on Ryan’s decision to play, and Ryan felt very secure and happy to know how enthusiastic her partner was in her support. Jamie’s point was that if her father gave them a hard time about the money, she would ask her mother for a loan. Ryan had never considered this option, but she had to acknowledge that it made sense. The suggestion made Ryan feel better immediately, and she thanked the heavens that Catherine was being so supportive of their young relationship.

As they continued to talk Ryan could tell that Jamie was fading fast, and she considered continuing their discussion the next day. But the incident at the Boardwalk had bothered her much more than she had let on, and she knew that Jamie would be angry if she didn’t tell her something like this as soon as she could.

"Anything else going on, Hon?" Jamie asked sleepily.

"Umm…" Ryan thought fast and made a decision. "Yeah, actually there is. I uh…got into a little scrape tonight and…"

"Scrape?" the sharp voice demanded, now very alert. "What kind of scrape were you in, Ryan?"

"Um…we were all at the Boardwalk and some guys were harassing two of the freshmen. I um…made them stop."

"Ryan," Jamie said slowly. "Did you get hurt?"

"No, no, really I didn’t," Ryan assured her. "My face is a little red where this asshole slapped me…"

"WHAT?! Someone slapped you?" Her voice was now firm and low, and Ryan knew that trouble was a-brew. "I’m coming home on the first plane," she announced, not sounding like this was a topic for discussion.

"Jamie," Ryan soothed, "please, Honey, don’t make this into a bigger deal than it was." Damn it, damn it, damn it! I knew this would upset her! I should have kept my big mouth shut!

"How can you even say that? Someone assaults you, and you don’t want me to make a big deal about it?! Have you been to the police station to make a statement?"

"Uhh…we decided not to press charges," she said weakly, immediately realizing that Jamie did not agree with her decision.

"Pardon me?" Each word was enunciated slowly as Jamie tried to understand her partner’s words. "You didn’t press charges…after someone HITS YOU!"

Oooh…sounds like someone else would hit me if she was in town. Thank God for Rhode Island. "Jamie," she soothed in her best placating voice, "I handled it, Honey. Believe me, I gave him a much harder whack than he gave me, and I got in a very good knee to his chest. He’s gonna have a bruise that will remind him of me every time he breathes."

"Did…you…start…the…fight?"

Oh boy…when it takes two minutes to get out five words, I’m in big trouble. "No, no, of course I didn’t. I was defending my friends, Jamie. He clearly asked for it."

"My point exactly, Ryan," she insisted. "Some thug hits you…you press charges. How could you let him off scot-free, Ryan? That gives him permission to do this again."

Okay, so I didn’t think of that, she admitted. So maybe I do need Jamie close by to keep me from doing stupid things. "I screwed up, huh?" Her voice was low and soft, and Jamie could just picture the big blue eyes peeking out through the long bangs.

"Yes, Honey, you screwed up. I’m proud of you for helping your friends, but I think you were wrong to let the guy off. People like that have to suffer some consequences or they have no reason to behave civilly."

"I’m sorry, Jamie," she said, very contrite. "I should have been thinking of the long term, but I just wanted out of there." Her voice grew quiet as she admitted, "The whole thing upset me, Honey, and I wasn’t thinking."

"Ryan, I’m going to come down there and make sure you’re really all right. I’m feeling very uneasy about this."

"Jamie, please don’t do that," she begged. "I’m absolutely fine, Honey, and if you came down I wouldn’t be able to spend any time at all with you. I swear it would be more stressful than reassuring for me." It was clear from the pleading tone in her voice that Ryan was serious, but Jamie had such a bad feeling about the incident that she had a hard time acceding to her wishes. "Please, Honey," the dark woman continued. "I really don’t want you to come."

With a heavy sigh, Jamie capitulated. "All right, Honey. I don’t want to make things worse for you." She sounded tired—defeated, and Ryan immediately felt guilty for the way she had presented her last point.

"Jamers," she soothed, using the pet name she invoked infrequently, "I always feel better when you’re with me, Love. You know that, don’t you?"

"Yes, Honey," Jamie replied softly. "I know that. This is just hard for both of us. My imagination runs wild since I know you downplay everything."

Thinking of a solution to the problem, Ryan said, "I’m outside now. Call me on the dorm phone in ten minutes, okay?"

"Okay," Jamie said slowly. "What’s--" But Ryan had hung up by the time she uttered her question, and she was forced to wait to determine the point of the exercise.

Exactly ten minutes later, Jamie dialed the dorm phone, smiling to herself when Ryan’s out-of-breath voice said, "Jordan wants to give you the story, Honey. She’s impartial."

"Hi Jamie," Jordan’s soft soprano voice said. "I’m looking at Ryan’s homely mug right now, and I promise that she’s no uglier than she was earlier in the day."

An amused chuckle greeted Jordan’s news, and Jamie asked, "Did she get hit on the head, Jordan? I don’t know if you know this, but she’s had a number of head injuries. She really has to be careful."

Recognizing the seriousness of Jamie’s question, Jordan assured her, "No, she didn’t really get hit, Jamie. The idiot slapped her on the cheek and he’s the only one who touched her."

"How many were there?" Jamie gaped, not realizing there had been multiple assailants.

"Four," Jordan informed her. "She kicked one guy in the gut, two of them ran, then she took the last guy out. She did pretty good for herself, to be honest. I was there to back her up of course, but she didn’t seem to need it."

Ryan wrestled the phone from her friend’s hand, informing Jamie, "With backup like Jordan, I’d better carry a firearm." Looking up at the outraged look on her friend’s face she said, "Dismissed, pal. Thanks for your help."

"Anytime, Ryan. Remember, I live to serve."

As Jordan shuffled back to their room, Ryan said, "Feel any better, Love?"

"Yes, Honey, I’m sure Jordan would have loved to bust you if she could."

At her gentle laugh Ryan had to agree. "You’ve got that right! She’s worse than my brothers!"

"Here’s the deal, Babe. I’ll call you tomorrow to make sure you still feel all right. If you have any…and I do mean any…pain or stiffness or anything…you will tell me, right?"

"Yes, Dear. If I feel any pain other than the chronic pain from two-a-day practices, I will let you know. My health is worth more than this camp, Honey. I promise you that."

"Okay, Love," Jamie sighed. "I’ve got to get to bed, now, Honey. I’ve got to get up early for sailing."

"I love you, Babe. Talk to you tomorrow."

"Night, Honey. Love you."

Well, this is just not the night to tell her about her father, Ryan decided. One more day won’t make any difference at this point.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Good morning," Jamie said to the assembled guests when she went down for breakfast. Much to her surprise her mother was already sipping a glass of orange juice, looking quite awake and perky.

"Morning, Jamie," the older woman said. "Ready for our sail?"

"Yep. I’m looking forward to it, actually. It’ll be nice to go out a little farther than usual." When she sailed with her father they almost always stayed within the confines of the Bay, not wanting to risk the unpredictability of the Pacific, and she found that she was enjoying the thought of a long sail on the calm Atlantic.

She looked around the table to see that all hands were on deck, save for Stephanie. "It looks like we’re almost all here," she said, smiling at Trey, who looked like he could use another five or six hours of sleep.

Carolyn spoke up. "I sent one of the servants to try to rouse my eldest. I swear, that girl would sleep until dinner if I allowed her to."

The servant in question returned to the table moments later, and bent to whisper into Carolyn’s ear. She folded her napkin and sighed heavily, pushing her chair back. One of the waiters was in the process of delivering her omelet, and she grumbled, "Just when my breakfast gets here, and I have to go wake that child up."

"Let me," Jamie offered, getting to her feet. "I haven’t even decided what I want for breakfast, Carolyn."

"Are you sure you don’t mind, Jamie?" Carolyn was already sitting back down, and her napkin was neatly placed on her lap by the time her sentence was finished.

"Not a bit." Catching the waiters eye, she indicated that she’d have an omelet too, and made her way towards the stairs.

"Oh, Jamie, here’s the key to her room. I doubt that she’ll answer your knock."

* * * * * * * * * * *

After the fourth round of knocking brought no response, Jamie inserted the key and poked her head into Stephanie’s room. The young woman had been occupying the room for less than a week, but it looked as though at least six people were squatting in the space. Clothes covered every piece of furniture, CDs, tapes, and other accessories of adolescence lay scattered across the dresser and the club table, and discarded shoes provided an additional hazard.

The room was pitch dark, even though it was a bright, sunny morning. Jamie didn’t want to wake her cousin too abruptly, so she stumbled around in the dark room for a few minutes, trying to reach the bed. She finally found it, and grasped Stephanie’s shoulder and shook it a few times. "Stephanie…it’s time to get up." No response. Three more tries finally elicited a response, but it was merely a very unhappy sounding moan. Well, at least she’s breathing.

Deciding that drastic action was called for, Jamie turned on the bedside lamp, casting a warm glow over the disordered room. What a pit! Jamie thought to herself. I would never have been allowed to leave my room like this! She stooped to pick up some of the discarded items that littered the area around the bed, grabbing a pair of jeans by the hems to fold them. A ticket of some sort fell to the ground, and she retrieved it to put it on the dresser. Hmmm…that’s odd. Why would she have a receipt from The Minuteman Mini Mart in her jeans? She looked at the paper idly as she placed it on the cluttered dresser, and almost gasped when she noted the time and the date. This is from Boston…and it’s from this morning! What in the hell was she doing in Boston at four a.m.!?

Turning back to the bed, she shook the frail young woman harder, not stopping until she got a response. The response was a mumbled, "Leave me the fuck alone!"

Jesus! I don’t think she knows it’s me trying to wake her up! Don’t tell me she talks to her mother like that!

Her patience at an end, Jamie got close to Stephanie’s head and insisted, "I’m not leaving until you get up, Steph. Let’s go!"

As the young woman rolled onto her back, Jamie crossed the room and flung open the curtains. The bright light that washed in glinted off a small, foil- wrapped packet lying on the floor, and Jamie bent to pick it up, also. "Stephanie," she said, much louder this time, "it’s time to get up!"

"Fuck off, Jamie," she growled, pulling the pillow over her head.

Hmm…maybe she just doesn’t like me, Jamie thought with a smirk. She unwrapped the tiny package and found a brownish-white powder. I might not know a lot about drugs, but this is certainly not marijuana! Damn…this sucks!

Now angry, Jamie grabbed her cousin's damp tank top and yanked hard, finally propelling the young woman into action. Stephanie threw her pillow across the room and sat up, scrubbing at her face with both hands. "What in the hell is wrong with you? The fucking door was locked!"

"I know that, Stephanie. Your mother asked me to come wake you to go sailing, and since you ignored the earlier attempts to get you up, she gave me the key to your room."

"I’m not going sailing or any other goddamned place. Now leave me alone!" She flopped back down on to the bed, the acrid smell of perspiration hitting Jamie as she did so.

"I’m not leaving you alone until I know why you were in Boston early this morning," Jamie demanded in her best no-nonsense voice.

"Go fuck yourself," Stephanie snapped, pulling the covers over her head. "What I do is none of your business."

Not to be deterred, Jamie grabbed the covers with both hands and yanked hard, pulling them completely off the bed. Stephanie was wearing a tank top and a pair of bikinis, and as Jamie got a good view of her emaciated body, she shuddered involuntarily. Her earlier guess of 95 pounds was a significant overestimate, as she now realized that her young cousin was probably ten pounds under that.

With an outraged squawk, the girl jumped from the bed, and Jamie feared for a moment that she would punch her. Instead the irate young woman stormed into the bath and slammed the door, locking it after her.

"I don’t know if this is cocaine or some other drug, so I’ll just take it downstairs and let everyone discuss it over breakfast," Jamie called to the closed door.

The door flew open, and Stephanie lunged for her older, bigger, and much stronger cousin. Jamie sidestepped her, causing the young woman to hit the carpet forcefully. "Gimme that!" she cried, her thin arms flailing.

"No way, Stephanie. Come downstairs with me, right now, and we’ll get this out in the open. You obviously have a problem."

"I do not!" she cried. "It’s Trey’s! He’s afraid that his parents will search his room, so I agreed to keep it for him! Don’t tell on him, Jamie. Please!"

"Oh, Jesus." Jamie sank onto the bed, holding her head in her hands. "And that’s a reason not to tell!? Stephanie, that makes it even worse! He almost died from a overdose!"

"He’s trying to stop, Jamie, I swear! I’m helping him to stop. That’s why I’ve got his stuff! He’s going to call his counselor from the last clinic he was in to see if he can get admitted. Come on…you’ve got to let him do this on his own."

"Why? Why does it matter who calls as long as he gets back in treatment?"

"His grandfather will disinherit him if he finds out he’s using again! He told him the last time that he would not stand for it if Trey had a relapse. You can’t let that happen, Jamie! Trey would be out on the streets if Grandfather told Uncle Skip to throw him out!"

Jamie considered this argument for a moment. David Dunlop had some very strong views on a number of topics, and one of them was drugs. He thought that illegal drug usage was a sign of weak character, and Catherine had confirmed that Trey was on thin ice after his last relapse. "So what’s his plan?" she asked.

"He’s going to try to contact his counselor today. If he can get in, he’ll just make some excuse to his grandfather and take off. Give him a chance, Jamie. Please! He’d never make it without his inheritance."

Jamie took a deep breath and locked her eyes on Stephanie. "Do you swear you are telling me the truth?"

"Yes. Yes, I am, Jamie. I swear it!"

"Okay, Steph. I’ll wait until tomorrow. But if Trey isn’t on his way to treatment by tomorrow evening, I’m going to talk to Skip."

"He will be, Jamie. I’m sure he will be."

* * * * * * * * * * *

By the time Jamie returned to the dining room, Trey was nowhere to be found. "Any luck?" Carolyn asked from across the table.

"Yes, she’s up. She should be down in a few minutes."

"Have you ever seen a girl who was more difficult to wake?" Carolyn asked, laughing softly.

"No, she’s something all right," Jamie agreed, forcing a smile.

* * * * * * * * * * *

It was 7:45 on the west coast by the time Jamie was finished with breakfast, but she desperately needed to speak with her partner. Maybe there’s a phone near her practice area, she hoped, dialing in her number on Ryan’s pager service.

Thankfully, just a few minutes later Ryan’s honeyed tones came through the receiver. "God, it’s good to hear you," Jamie sighed.

"What’s wrong, Baby? You sound upset."

"Can I ask you a question about drug use?"

"Uhh…Jamie, that’s not the best way to open a conversation when I’m due at practice in ten minutes. What in the heck is going on?"

"It’s a long story, Honey, but the bottom line is that I found drugs in my cousin Stephanie’s room. She swears that they belong to my cousin Trey, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t believe her."

"Jesus! How old are these people?"

"Steph is just sixteen. Trey is my age. He’s been in and out of treatment centers since he was in high school. He’s been clean for a year now but Stephanie told me that he’s using again."

"Shit." Ryan desperately wanted to go to Rhode Island and bring her lover back from the crazy situation, but she knew that wasn’t an option. Instead, she tried her best to provide as much help as she could.

"It sounds like you are confident that Trey is using, huh?"

"Yeah…that seems pretty likely. But I don’t know how to tell if Steph is, too, Do you know much about drugs, Babe?"

"Well, not from personal experience," Ryan said. "But I’ve taken a number of seminars on drug use when I worked at the teen crisis center. Describe her manner and her appearance."

"She looks pretty normal, actually. She dresses like a Dunlop, and she obviously cares about her appearance. She’s painfully thin, but I think that’s normal for her age. Her eyes are funny, though. On Monday they looked dull and flat, but yesterday they just sparkled. I guess that could be boredom, but it seemed odd."

"Does she look like she has a rash or does she scratch her skin a lot?"

"No, nothing like that."

"Does she wear long sleeves all the time?"

"No. But she’s normally pretty well covered up. She wears the oversized clothes that girls her age wear. I saw her almost naked today and she didn’t have tracks in her arms or anything, if that’s what you mean."

"How’s her mood?"

"Well, on Monday she acted really withdrawn. We were by the pool for a couple of hours, and she was either asleep or bored to death. She didn’t say two words at brunch or dinner. I also noticed that she moved her food around her plate, but she didn’t seem to eat hardly any of it"

"Sounds like she could be bulimic or anorexic. Does she have a history of eating disorders?"

"I think all of the women in my family have some sort of eating disorder," she admitted. "I look like I could play nose tackle for the 49ers compared with the rest of the women here."

"Hmm…" Ryan’s agile mind was considering all of the details, and just hearing her partner think was reassuring to Jamie. "You say you saw her today when she was almost naked. What’s that about?"

"I went to her room to get her up to go sailing. Stumbling around in her pit of room I came across a foil packet which is obviously drugs of some kind. I confronted her about them, and I was afraid she was going to hit me! She got so angry that it was a little frightening."

"Unfortunately, that all sounds like plausible adolescent behavior. But it could also indicate cocaine or even heroin use."

"Heroin! But I didn’t see any marks on her arms or anything."

"Kids smoke or snort heroin more than they shoot nowadays. What drugs did Trey do?"

"I’m not sure. You know how closed-mouthed my family is about problems. But I know he overdosed a little over a year ago. That’s when he got clean. Steph says that he’s trying to get back into treatment now. She doesn’t want me to tell his parents because they’ve threatened to disinherit him if he relapses."

"Jeez! So all you have is Stephanie’s word, huh?"

"Yep. That’s it."

"Only one problem with that, Honey."

"What’s that?"

"Addicts lie. All the time. It’s the universal trait of an addict. So if he’s using and she’s using, you won’t get one bit of truth out of the pair of them."

"Great. Just great," Jamie muttered.

"Does it seem like he’s at least trying to straighten up? Is he going to AA or NA meetings this week?"

"Apparently he participates in a very liberal treatment program," Jamie scoffed. "The program includes wine with dinner and Bloody Marys by the pool."

"Huh," Ryan mused. "I guess that would make more people get into treatment wouldn’t it? That’s very progressive." Her tone was heavy with derision, and Jamie realized that Ryan would have very little patience for people who voluntarily abused their bodies.

"What do you think I should do, Honey?"

"Where’d you leave it with Stephanie?" Ryan asked.

"She said he’s going to try to get into treatment today. If he does, I won’t have to worry about him. But I still think I have to tell Stephanie’s parents that she was traipsing all over New England with him at five this morning. I’m willing to wait to make sure Trey gets located first, but if you think I should just tell now, I will."

"Gosh, that’s hard to say," Ryan mused, giving Erin the signal that she’d be right there. "I guess it can’t hurt to wait a little bit. Are they going sailing with you today?"

"Yeah, the whole bunch is going."

"Well, keep an eye on them. Maybe your mom will have some advice. She knows the personalities involved a lot better than you do."

"True. I’ll do that. Thanks for calling back so quickly, Babe. I feel better now."

"I always feel better when I talk with you," Ryan said sincerely. "But I’ve gotta scoot. Love you."

"Love you, too. OH! How’s your head?"

"Fine, Love. I’m only volleyball sore today. Call me tonight."

Just ten minutes with her, and I feel so much better, Jamie mused, giving her stuffed tiger a hug.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The first hour out, Stephanie and Trey took turns running for the head. No one but Jamie seemed to notice, and after they got their sea legs, they both sprawled out on towels on the bow deck and promptly went to sleep.

The boat was impressively long, providing numerous places for the various members of the family to gather. During the trip people moved about, sometimes gathering around the large round table in the dining area near the galley, sitting on the edge of the deck and leaning against the rails. At one point, Jamie was alone with her uncle David as he piloted the yacht. "Why don’t you take the wheel, Jamie," he offered. "Your mother tells me that you’ve become quite the little sailor."

She wasn’t fond of the "little sailor" comment, but she decided to bear with these indignities, deciding they were not worth making a fuss over. Taking the helm, she smiled when she felt the bulk of the huge teak wheel in her hands. The yacht was nearly seventy feet long, substantially larger than her father’s boat, but her years of experience piloting the smaller craft had prepared her well for the job at hand. They didn’t speak for a long while, and Jamie let her mind wander as the brilliant sun glinted off the small whitecaps they powered through. The day was quite warm, with very little marine layer, and the fresh breeze felt delightfully cool on her exposed skin. As she had promised Ryan, she wore a thin life-vest over her suit, and she had a pair of cargo shorts on to protect her legs from the burning sun.

"It’s bad for morale to have the captain be the only one with a vest on, Jamie," David kidded her. "You really don’t need that bulky thing. Why don’t you take it off and get comfortable?"

It was awfully warm, and she briefly considered his suggestion. She decided that her promise to Ryan overrode all other considerations, and she shook her head briskly, saying, "I’m more comfortable with one on, Uncle David. I’ve taken quite a few spills into the drink, and I like to be prepared."

"Okay, Jamie," he said gravely, "but don’t complain to me if there’s a mutiny."

"I won’t," she grinned. Her thoughts returned to her absent partner. I miss you, Love. But when I look at my relatives I realize how very much we have to be thankful for. Jamie looked at her family scattered around the decks of this ultimate emblem of wealth and privilege, her eyes coming to rest on her cousins. This entire family should be so thankful, and yet… Her mind became preoccupied with the thought of drugs and the destruction they could cause. As if on cue, Trey got up from the deck and made his way below. He was gone for a long while, and Jamie decided to go fishing for information. "It’s really been nice to be able to spend some time with J.C. and Trey," she began, but David didn’t bite. He just nodded, gazing across the horizon, looking for other vessels.

"I haven’t really seen either of them since I was a child," she mused.

"I suppose that’s true," he agreed, focusing his attention on her. "You should be glad that you were spared watching that foolish young man almost throw his life away," he said somberly, twitching his head in Trey’s direction. The young man in question had just popped back up on deck, and he quickly made his way back to his towel in the furthest part of the bow.

"Drugs are a horrible thing," Jamie agreed. "He’s doing well now, though, isn’t he?"

"Oh yes, we’ve made it clear that nonsense will not be tolerated any longer."

"Umm…how did you do that?" she asked, surprised that he was talking about this so openly.

"We spoke to the boy in the only language that he seems to understand, Jamie. Skip is with me 100% on this, I’m proud to say. We’ve told Trey that if he’s caught one more time, he’s on his own financially. Neither his father nor I will give him another cent!" He looked very proud of himself for taking this stand, and since he seemed approachable, Jamie asked a follow-up question.

"Does Sara feel the same way too?" Knowing that the easygoing woman had always overlooked her son’s transgressions, she was surprised to think that Trey’s mother would agree to this plan.

"Skip and I control the funds in this family, Jamie," David said, as though that should have been obvious. "Sara’s coddling of that boy is the main reason he’s gotten in half of the trouble he’s been in. It’s time someone took a firm hand with him."

It sounded more like a plan for controlling a three-year-old, but Jamie kept that opinion to herself. "Let’s hope that you never have to follow through on your threat," she said, shuddering with the knowledge that the consequences could be realized in the very near future.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After her stint at the helm was completed, Jamie managed to get her mother alone in the bow of the boat. "I uhh…have some bad news about my cousins," she said when they were comfortably seated on a pair of cushions.

"Bad news? What…how…do you come to have bad news about them, Jamie?"

"Long story," Jamie said, anxious to get to the heart of the matter.

Catherine pointedly gazed ahead to the still very distant island, then back to Jamie. "We have time," she stated, encouraging her daughter to start from the beginning.

"Okay, on Tuesday while the rest of you were sailing I spent a little time with Stephanie and Trey. Steph inadvertently revealed the fact that she and Trey had been out the night before, and after a few questions she admitted that they had been smoking grass."

Catherine nodded, a small furrow in her brow. "I don’t think that’s uncommon for high school girls, to be honest, Jamie. And I’m sure that marijuana is one of Trey’s drugs of choice. I don’t think it’s anything to worry about, Dear."

"Uh-huh," Jamie nodded, not surprised that her mother took this news in stride. "Don’t you find it a little odd that he drinks and smokes grass? I mean, he is supposedly clean, isn’t he?"

Pursing her lips, Catherine nodded, considering the matter. "Yes, I think he’s clean," she agreed, looking at Jamie rather blankly.

"When you’re trying to stop doing drugs, you have to stop all drugs, Mom, not just the one you’re addicted to."

"Oh, I didn’t know that, Dear. You mean to say that Trey can never drink again?" Her tone of voice sounded like she thought never was a very, very long time.

"That’s the general plan, Mom. If you’re addicted to one substance it’s very easy to become addicted to another. Every treatment program I’ve ever heard of stresses complete abstinence."

"But surely Skip and Sara know that he drinks, Jamie. He has alcohol with his meals, just like everyone else."

"I’m sure they do, Mom, and that’s part of my concern, but that’s not the major problem."

"What is, Honey?"

"At least one of them is also doing hard drugs," she said gravely.

"What!? Oh, Jamie, are you sure?" The concern in her voice was genuine.

"When I went to wake Stephanie this morning, I found some drugs on her floor. She claims they’re Trey’s, but for all I know they are both doing them."

"That’s so sad." Catherine looked truly pained, and Jamie shared her dismay. "Sara told me just this morning how happy they were with him. She said they still watch him for warning signs like agitation or dilated pupils, but she says he’s been very calm and tranquil ever since he quit."

"That may be, Mom, but if Trey isn’t using, that means that Stephanie is. I’m not sure if it’s cocaine or heroin, but either way it’s very bad news."

"What should we do?" Catherine asked, looking absolutely helpless.

With a sigh, Jamie gave her mother a slow smile. "Thanks for feeling like this is something for both of us to deal with, Mom. That helps a lot."

Catherine clasped both hands around a knee and leaned back, letting her head drop back against her shoulders. Her face was composed, but her eyes held a good deal of sadness. "This is something for us to handle together, Jamie. It’s going to be hard for me, as odd as that seems. Discussing matters like this is just not something that we Dunlops do, and I doubt that anyone will be pleased with us for sharing this information. But Trey almost died last year, and I couldn’t live with myself if something horrible happened to either him or Stephanie."

"If you want, I could talk to them alone—I don’t want to make this difficult for you, Mom."

Sitting up straight, Catherine shook her head firmly. "Jamie, the other day you told me you wanted me to be your mother, not your friend. I’m going to try to be your mother—even when it’s not easy."

* * * * * * * * * * *

After morning practice, as the teammates walked into the bright sun, Jordan immediately grasped Ryan by the shoulders and turned her so that the morning light shone directly onto her face. "You’ve got a little bruise under your eye, Slugger. That jerk must have struck the bone."

Ryan reached up and fingered the spot, wincing a little as she did so. "Probably did," she agreed. "I’d like to see his ugly mug today," she chuckled. "I bet they could dust him for fingerprints!"

"You really walloped him," she said a little pensively. "I’ve never hit anyone. It must feel weird."

Ryan considered the implied question and shrugged. "I’ve been hitting people since I could crawl. You get used to it."

"Hmm. I always figured you for a lover, not a fighter. You seem pretty gentle."

"I am, but my family is really physical. We’ve always fought—even though we never hurt each other. It’s a good tension reliever. Call it the Irish version of psychoanalysis."

Jordan looked a little surprised by this information. "You and Jamie don’t…" she trailed off, giving Ryan a very concerned look.

"God no! I would never raise a finger against her, even in jest! It’s a completely different thing with my family, Jordan. Wait ‘til you meet them—you’ll understand what I mean."

"Do you have a big family?" Jordan asked, pausing at the door.

"Just to give you the lineup would make us late for brunch," Ryan said with a laugh. "I’ll give you the whole rundown when you have an hour."

* * * * * * * * * * *

The yacht pulled into a slip on Block Island just in time for lunch. Nearly everyone wanted to remain on board to eat, but Jamie agreed to go ashore with Julia to enjoy a meal.

She hadn’t spent any quality time with the young woman, and was frankly a little afraid to get to know her. She could only assume that Julia would follow the path of the rest of her cousins, and she was loath to come to know her well only to see her destroy her life.

As soon as they hit solid ground the young woman announced, "If I don’t get a hamburger soon, I’m gonna die! That French junk we’ve been eating is making me sick!"

Jamie laughed and agreed with the fourteen-year-old. "It is a little rich, isn’t it?"

"Aaaccchhhh!" was Julia’s pithy assessment.

Wandering around the small shops on the quiet streets, they found a place that Julia approved of and went in to have some good old-fashioned American cuisine. For the first time all week, Jamie saw her young cousin actually enjoy a meal, and she was quite astounded at the amount of food the young girl could put away. "Do you eat like this all the time?" she laughed as Julia looked longingly at her unfinished fries.

As Jamie handed them over, the young woman shook her head. "Nope. But I don’t think I’ve had a full meal since we’ve been here. I’m about to starve!"

"I’d have to say that both you and Stephanie look like you could use a few square meals."

Julia scoffed at the statement, crushing the sack that her fries had come in. "She doesn’t need to eat any more, Jamie. Haven’t you noticed?"

"Umm…I’ve noticed that neither of you seems to eat more than three bites during our meals, but I assumed you just didn’t like the food."

"I don’t like the food," Julia corrected. "Stephanie doesn’t need to eat. Big difference." She got up from the table and yawned, shaking her head as she said, "One decent meal and I’m ready to go back to bed. Let’s go back so I can grab a bunk before they’re all taken."

Does anyone in this family have any stamina at all? Even the fourteen-year-olds are sloths! "Hang with me for a while," Jamie urged. "We’re gonna be on the boat the rest of the day. Let’s at least walk around a little."

The girl considered the request for a moment, shrugged her narrow shoulders, and then agreed. "Okay. Will you buy me some ice cream?"

"Sure."

As they walked along, Jamie tried to engage the young woman in conversation, finding the task quite difficult. "Are you excited about your new school?" she asked, nearly biting her tongue as she heard the words come out of her mouth. She had always despised the fact that adults focused on school when they tried to talk to her when she was young, and she had sworn that she would not do the same thing when she reached adulthood.

"Um, I..ah..I guess so," Julia said haltingly, shrugging her shoulders a little.

"Doesn’t sound like it," Jamie decided. "What’s bothering you?"

"I guess I’d rather go someplace different," she explained, not shedding much more light on her concerns.

"Anywhere in particular?"

"Not really. Just not there."

"So you don’t like the school much?"

"It’s okay, I’d just rather go by myself."

"You mean that you’d rather not be with Stephanie, right?" Jamie prodded gently.

Julia looked down at the ground and hesitated. It appeared she was debating whether she could trust her cousin, but she apparently resolved the issue because she replied, "I don’t get along with her much anymore, and I don’t like the people she hangs around with." It was clear that the tension between Julia and her sister had been growing for a while, since the young woman looked so completely frustrated. She stared up at her older cousin with a defiant look on her face, as if to say, ‘You want me to share my thoughts? Well there they are. Now fix the problem!’

Was I this difficult to communicate with at that age? Jamie wondered as she shrank back a bit from the penetrating glare of her cousin. Deciding to back off a little, Jamie pointed to a well-known and much loved ice cream parlor just up the street from where they stood. "Let’s get a treat and then talk about this some more, okay, Julia? I can see that this is really bothering you."

"No it’s not," the young woman grumbled, dropping her head as she walked along to the store.

Oh boy, this should be fun. Good thing I’m used to cross-examining Ryan!

After they were served, they sat down at a picnic table next to the shop and Jamie tried to resurrect the conversation despite Julia’s complete focus on her ice cream. "Julia," she began, receiving no indication that her cousin heard her, "I know I haven’t been in your lives much, but we’re all part of the same family, and I care about you both. I think there’s something going on with Steph, and I think you agree with me. I’d really love to know what you think the problem is."

Julia lifted her head and stared at Jamie for a full minute, her dark brown eyes flicking across her cousin’s face. "Why do you really want to know?" she asked, her gaze narrowing.

Trying to maintain her cool, Jamie smiled and said, "Julia, I have nothing to gain by getting involved here. Honestly…I just care about your entire family, and I don’t want to see Stephanie harm herself." She returned the intense stare and said, "That’s all, Julia. I just want to help."

The younger woman nodded, apparently satisfied with her cousin’s motives. "Okay. What do you want to know?"

"Do you think she’s doing drugs, Julia?"

"I know she is, Jamie," Julia said, shaking her head as she cast an unhappy look at her cone and got up to throw the uneaten portion in the trash, her appetite deserting her. "I’ve seen her."

"You’ve seen her, what? Smoke pot?"

"Yeah, but everybody does that. That’s not a big deal," she replied impatiently.

"What is a big deal, Julia?" Jamie persisted.

The young woman sighed, considering how much to trust her older cousin. She shrugged again, and decided to tell what she knew. "Every once in a while my mother makes Stephanie take me with her when she’s going out. About a month ago we went into Manhattan and we picked up this guy she knows from school. We drove around for a while, and the guy turns around and tells me to get out!"

"Get out of the car?" Jamie asked. "Why did he want you to leave?"

"Cause they were going to buy drugs!" she exclaimed, her frustration evident. "I wouldn’t get out, and we had such a big fight that I thought they were going to beat me up! I had my cell phone out, and I told them I’d call the police, so they finally just decided to ignore me. The guy was really mad at me, but Stephanie told him that she’d make sure I kept my mouth shut. We went to some horrible neighborhood, and this guy takes all of Steph’s money and goes into this place that looked like it was about to fall down. He came back a little while later, and we drove a few blocks away. The whole time Stephanie was asking, ‘Did you get it?’ like she couldn’t wait, you know?"

Jamie nodded without speaking, not wanting to interrupt or deprive her cousin of the catharsis of getting all of the story out now that she had started.

"Steph pulls a mirror out of her purse, and they starting cutting this stuff up with a razor blade. Then they each snorted a couple of lines, and they both kinda collapsed. We were in this really scary neighborhood—they were unconscious or something—and I don’t know how to drive! I was so scared, Jamie. I’ve never been more afraid in my life!"

"What did you do, Julia?"

The young woman was still shaking her head, obviously trying to take the scene that had frightened her and erase it from her memory bank. "I decided that I was never going out with her again! If my mom ever makes us go together, I’m gonna have her drop me off at the mall!" Jamie stared at the girl for a moment before recognizing that fourteen-year-olds usually saw the world only as it affected them personally, and Julia was obviously no different.

"I meant, what did you do about Stephanie," she clarified patiently.

"Oh," the girl said. "Nothing. My parents don’t care." She stood and ran her fingers through her hair, settling it in place. "Can we go back to the boat now? I really need that nap."

Jamie shook her head, reaching up to grasp Julia’s hand. "We’ve got to do something about this. I want to talk to your parents today."

The young woman shrugged her shoulders. "Go ahead. They won’t believe you."

"I thought they might if you backed me up," Jamie suggested hesitantly.

"No way, Jamie. I have to be with her up in New Hampshire. She could turn the whole school against me if she wanted to—if she didn’t kill me first."

Jamie patted her leg and reassured her, "It’s okay, Julia. You don’t have to get involved. I am going to talk to your parents though. They might ask you questions. You just have to decide how much you’ll tell them."

Julia gave her a sad smile, chuckling a little to herself. "You’re pretty na´ve for an adult, you know. They won’t ask me questions, Jamie. They won’t believe you, and I bet they tell you to stay out of it."

"I hope you’re wrong, Julia. For Stephanie’s sake, I hope you’re wrong."


Continues in Part Nine

 

original fiction index <> homepage