I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 6: Fidelity

by S X Meagher


Part 9

Pushing a limp looking serving of pasta salad around on her plate, Ryan muttered, "I’m gonna get a vitamin deficiency if we’re here much longer."

Jordan looked up in surprise. "I think the food is pretty darned good - for dorm food, that is."

Ryan nodded, placing another forkful of the salad in her mouth. "It tastes all right," she agreed, "but they don’t give us any fresh veggies…and the only ripe fruit I’ve seen is bananas."

"So…you’re a health nut?" One blonde eyebrow was raised as high as it could go. "I’ve seen you shovel a load of junk into your mouth in the short time I’ve known you, O’Flaherty."

"Nah, I’m not a health nut. I just need a lot of fuel, and I feel better when I get the majority of my calories from fruits and veggies."

"Maybe we should all go out for dinner tonight. I think Coach likes it when we do things as a group."

"Okay," Ryan said, "but I doubt we’ll eat any better if we go out. It would be nice to get off campus though. I’m going a little stir crazy."

"I’ll check with the coaching staff and see if any of them will drive the van. Do you care where we go?"

"Nah…I like everything. I just have to stop at an ATM before we go."

Jordan’s curiosity got the better of her tact. "Do you guys share money, or what?"

Ryan blushed just a little and nodded. "In a way we do, but I don’t have much to contribute. I had to quit my job before we came down here."

"Wait a minute! Now you’re telling me that she supports you? No wonder you’re monogamous!"

Jordan made this statement with a smile on her face, and her tone was light, but Ryan gave her a penetrating glare and growled, "I hope that was a joke."

"Yeah, of course it was," Jordan said quickly, her brow furrowing slightly. "Did that piss you off?"

"Look," Ryan said firmly, "you can tease me about anything. I can take it. But don’t even imply that I’m using Jamie. She means everything to me, and I don’t like to have our relationship called into question. If I had my choice, she’d be poorer than I am. Her money has caused us more problems than it’s worth, in my opinion. It’s not always a blessing."

"I’m really sorry, Ryan. I didn’t mean to imply that you were using her—I’d never think that about you. It was just a bad joke. I promise I won’t do it again," she said with conviction.

Ryan gave her a half smile. "It’s okay. I think I overreacted a little," she admitted. "It’s just that most of our problems with her father seem to be because of her money."

"Does she really have a lot?"

"Yeah. It’s clearly enough to be concerned about. And I don’t blame him for trying to protect her. It just pisses me off when people assume that the poorer person is trying to scam the richer person in a relationship. I know people from every socioeconomic group, Jordan, and I’ll tell you this, I’d leave my valuables with a poor person over a rich one every time."

* * * * * * * * * * *

The sailors arrived back in Newport late in the afternoon. The salt air, brisk breeze, warm sun, and glare on the water combined to make everyone long for a nap, and as soon as they returned to the house, that’s just where most members of the family headed.

Jamie purposely delayed going upstairs until she saw Trey headed towards his room. Dashing up the stairs, Jamie intercepted her cousin when he was halfway up the long staircase. "Your room or mine?" she asked without preamble.

He gave a start and looked like he was going to wave her off, but Jamie narrowed her eyes and said, "Those are your only options, Trey."

Shrugging his shoulders, he followed her to her room, taking a seat near the window. "I heard you and Steph had a little incident this morning," he said, with about as much emotion as he would have shown if they were merely speaking about the menu choices for dinner.

"That’s one way to characterize it," Jamie said, cocking her head at her cousin’s cavalier attitude. "I guess finding your drugs on the floor of her room is an incident."

He nodded, his demeanor still casual. "So…what is there to talk about, Jamie? Steph was telling the truth. I’ve had a relapse, and I’m trying to get admitted somewhere. My counselor is probably trying to get hold of me right now." He looked longingly at the door as if his confession should be the end of this unwanted discussion, but his determined cousin was not through with him yet.

Having almost died as the result of a drug overdose, Trey knew the consequences of his actions better than any Jamie could point out. Her primary goal now was to make a difference where she still could. "Is Stephanie doing drugs with you, Trey? I know that she uses, too."

He looked genuinely shocked at the mere suggestion that their younger cousin could share this habit with him. "No! She just smokes a little grass, Jamie. I’m sure she doesn’t do anything dangerous. Why would you even think that?"

"That doesn’t matter," she started.

"Julia’s put that idea in your head, hasn’t she?" he hazarded.

"I’d rather not say, Trey. What’s important is whether or not Stephanie needs treatment also."

"Look, Jamie, you know that Julia and Steph don’t get along. Julia is trying to get her parents to let her stay home and go to school locally. What better way to get what she wants than to tell her parents that the school is some breeding ground for drug habits? Trust me—I know that Steph isn’t doing hard drugs."

"Fine," she said, not believing his carefully contrived story. "I’m still going to talk to Adam and Carolyn. They need to know that she’s smoking grass, and I’m going to tell them that she might be doing hard drugs."

Finally exhibiting some emotion, the young man pushed to his feet and hovered next to Jamie’s chair. He looked at her curiously, his anger just beneath the surface. "Why do you want to screw with her like that? This is really none of your business, Jamie."

"It is my business to stop a sixteen-year-old from going down the same self-destructive path you chose, Trey," Jamie snapped, her voice rising in volume. "You’re an adult, Trey, and you’re old enough to make your own decisions. Stephanie should at least get the chance to reach adulthood!"

"You’re being melodramatic, Jamie," he said, his face a mask of boredom. "Are you the only person in California that thinks grass kills? Jesus, my grandfather knows more than that!"

"You can insult me, and you can try to make me doubt myself, but it’s not going to work, Trey. I’m talking to Adam and Carolyn today, and if you’re not in rehab by tomorrow, I’m talking to your parents, as well."

"How am I supposed to manage that without everyone knowing, Jamie?" Now his anger was showing plainly, his voice rising precipitously. "Steph told you that my grandfather will cut me off if he finds out. What am I supposed to do then?"

"Well," she mused sarcastically, "you could do something wild like stop doing drugs and perhaps even get a job!"

"Yeah, all this money lying around here, and I’m supposed to get a job. That’s fair!"

"Fair or not—I’m talking to your parents if you’re not signed into some place by tomorrow. That’s it, Trey."

He glared at her for a full minute, his eyes flashing with rage. "Thanks for ruining my life, Jamie. Thanks a lot!"

As he stormed out of her room, she held her tongue, thinking, You beat me to the punch, Trey.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Once again, Bob Nymoen, their strength and fitness trainer, agreed to transport the team to downtown Santa Cruz. For the second night in a row, Erin Malloy, their assistant coach, accompanied him, and the team members were quietly gossiping about a possible love match the whole way to the restaurant. Jordan had picked the eatery, and as the fourteen women entered, Ryan wished that the choice had not been left to her friend.

The place was more bar than restaurant, and the state’s prohibition on smoking in bars was obviously not being enforced at this place. When Ryan gave Jordan a suspicious glance, the tall blonde shrugged her shoulders and said, "This was the only place that had a separate room for us to sit in. The food’s good—even though the atmosphere is a little lacking."

"It’s lacking all right," Ryan muttered, deciding that since they were there they might as well make the best of it.

The place catered to a college aged crowd and it was quite full, even on this Thursday evening. A harried hostess got them settled, and a few minutes later, when their appetizers were delivered, Ryan was pleased to find that the food was actually quite good. "This was a good choice," Ryan complimented her friend. "Ambiance is highly overrated in my book."

When everyone was finished with their entrees, many of the women drifted into the main room to play darts or one of the video games. Ryan didn’t join them, preferring to stay in their private room and chat without the grating noise of the jukebox in the main area. One by one the other team members dispersed until only Ryan and the freshmen remained. Cami was sitting by Ryan and when she got up to use the rest room, a very pleasant looking man walked into the room and slid into her seat. Ryan turned and started to ask him what he was doing there, but he quickly introduced himself.

"Hi," he said, extending his hand. "I’m Rob Thomasson. Mind if I join you?"

"Well, actually, Rob, my friend was sitting here, and I think she’d like her chair back." The three remaining freshmen, sitting on the other side of the table, got up and left, giggling the whole time. All of the young women crowded into the rest room with Cami, leaving Ryan with Rob, much to her annoyance.

"Hmm," he said brightly, "looks like your friend doesn’t want her chair back. Can I keep it?"

Ryan assessed the young man trying to chat her up. He looked to be close to her age—maybe 25 or 26—with dark, slightly wavy hair, parted down the middle and stylishly long. His face was quite handsome, but he had the pink cheeks of a young kid, which softened his features and made him look very approachable. His light blue eyes were friendly and warm, and when he gave her a very bright smile, she found herself smiling back. This is a switch, she thought with an internal smirk. Strangely, men had not often approached Ryan, for which she was totally grateful. Even though she was very good looking, she didn’t give off vibes that made her seem interested in them, and nearly all sober men caught on to that. Add to that the fact that she rarely went to predominantly straight bars, and her chances of being picked up were quite slim.

"I don’t mind if you sit here, Rob," she said, in her normal friendly manner, "but I think you could get a better return on the investment of your time from one of my teammates. Still, if you don’t mind talking to a married woman, be my guest."

"You’re married?" he asked, quite surprised that this young woman would be attached. "You don’t wear a ring." Taking her hand in his, he traced his thumb over her bare ring finger, just to make his point.

Pointedly removing her hand from his grasp, she said, "No, I don’t, but that doesn’t make my relationship any less valid. Nor does the fact that we’re not allowed to be legally married. I’m irrevocably, permanently partnered."

"Not allowed…?"

"We’re both women," Ryan said, a broad smile on her face.

"Ohhhh…" he said slowly. "You’re…" He waggled his brow, drawing a chuckle from Ryan.

"Yeah, we’re…" she replicated his facial gesture, and he joined her in laughter. "That’s why I think you could have a little more success with one of my single friends."

"Now what makes you think I came over to talk to you just because you’re the prettiest woman I’ve ever seen," he drawled, his blue eyes sparkling.

"Because that’s just the look I used to use when I was trying to pick up a woman," she laughed. "It worked pretty well, too."

"You know," he chuckled, leaning back in the chair. "I think I’d rather talk to you than anybody else here…even if you won’t go out with me."

"Fine with me," she said agreeably. "My name’s Ryan." She extended her hand, and he gave it a shake.

"You’re pretty well set on this lesbian thing, huh Ryan?" he asked conversationally.

"Yep. I’d say I’m pretty set on it. If I did go out with you, which I won’t of course, you’d be my first date with a boy."

"Whoa…" he said, his eyes wide. "That’s remarkable! Tell me how you discovered you were gay, Ryan?" With that, they engaged in a very pleasant conversation that lasted well into the evening. Ryan found that she was entirely comfortable in his presence, and once he stopped teasing her, Rob proved to be a very enjoyable companion. He seemed genuinely interested in Ryan and gay life in general, a topic that he claimed little knowledge of. It was after nine when Jordan came back into the room and announced, "The bus is leaving, pal. You’d best be on it, unless you’ve got alternate plans for the evening."

"Get in here, you goofball," Ryan laughed, introducing Jordan to Rob.

He looked at Ryan for a second and asked, "Is Jordan…" waggling his eyebrows again.

"No," Ryan said honestly, grinning at him. "She’s susceptible to the charms of men."

Jordan batted her eyes, doing a much better job than Ryan was capable of. Rob looked back at Ryan and lamented, "I’ve just spent the better part of the evening talking to a woman that I have zero chance with while your gorgeous friend was hanging around all alone?"

"Don’t say I didn’t try to steer you in another direction," Ryan teased.

"Lucky for me I had a really nice time talking to you, Ryan. Now I’ll just go cry in my beer for the rest of the night." He got up, mumbling, "Two gorgeous women…and I spend the whole evening with the lesbian." Turning towards Ryan, he winked and whispered, "I had a lot of fun tonight. Let me know if you ever want to switch teams."

Taking his offered business card, she smiled as she flicked her thumb against the edge. "Not likely, Rob. The grass seems pretty darned green on my side of the fence."

"Hey, you never know," he said brightly, as he shook her hand and went back to his friends in the main room.

"Sometimes you do," she murmured, folding the card neatly and tossing it into an ashtray.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After dinner at the cottage, Jamie gathered her courage and gave her mother a nod as they left the dining room. She then approached Adam and Carolyn with an invitation. "Mother and I are going for a walk in the garden. Care to join us?"

"Sure, Jamie," Adam said. "Let me see if the girls would like to come with."

Placing a restraining hand on his arm, Jamie shook her head. "There’s something we’d like to talk to you both about. Do you mind if we go alone?"

"Okay," he said, a touch of hesitation in his voice as he glanced at his wife for agreement.

As they walked down the crushed gravel pathways, Jamie approached the difficult subject. "I hope you don’t think that I’m intruding in your business, but I’d like to talk to you about Stephanie."

"What has she done now?" Carolyn asked with a resigned sigh.

"I’m pretty sure she’s been using drugs," she responded quietly.

"Oh," Adam said, nodding briefly, "we’re aware of that, Jamie. We’re not crazy about it, but all the kids smoke pot. We just decided not to make a big deal about it, since it is relatively innocuous. I mean, we all smoked when we were her age, didn’t we Catherine?"

"Well, no, I didn’t Adam. Not when I was sixteen."

That was equivocal, Jamie thought to herself. It never occurred to me that mother might have smoked grass. I guess it makes sense, though, given her age.

Adam raised an eyebrow, but continued making his point. "Well, I smoked grass when I was sixteen, and it didn’t permanently affect my life in any negative way. I really prefer it to alcohol for someone Stephanie’s age, to tell you the truth."

"How do you feel about heroin, or cocaine?" Jamie asked, getting to the crux of her concerns.

Both Adam and Carolyn stopped abruptly, staring at Jamie in unison. "What do you know?" Adam asked, not looking terribly surprised.

"I found something on her floor when I went to wake her," Jamie informed him. "It was either heroin or cocaine, I’m not sure which."

"God damn it!" Adam muttered, collapsing heavily onto one of the garden benches. "I knew she was lying!"

"You knew?" Catherine gasped, amazed that her cousin would allow his young daughter to hang around with Trey if he suspected her of drug use.

"No, we didn’t know," Carolyn said, laying her hand on her husband’s back. "We just had some suspicions. I called her psychiatrist, and he assured me that he would know if she was doing anything dangerous." Shaking her head she muttered, "I always thought he was a quack."

"Well, we’re going to have to do something," Adam said. "If mother finds out, she’ll have a fit!"

"Maybe we can find some place near her school for her to get treatment," Carolyn mused. "Then she’ll be nearby during the year."

Gee, I wonder if we can get a family discount at the Betty Ford Clinic, Jamie thought wryly. They sure don’t seem very upset about this. They must realize that it could be life-threatening.

"Is there anything we can do?" Catherine asked. "We’ll help in any way that we can."

Adam looked at her for a long minute, finally nodding his head. "As a matter of fact, you can, Catherine. Your Italian is a lot better than mine. Would you call some of your friends in Italy and find out if there is a good drug treatment center near Rome? I think we have to get her the hell out of this country."

"Really?" Jamie was a little stunned, but as she let it sink in, she thought that perhaps getting Stephanie away from her current set of friends wasn’t really such a bad idea. "Would you move to Italy full time?"

"We’ve talked about doing that anyway," Carolyn said. "Adam’s commitments keep him in Europe for so much of the year that having the girls with us would be nice. Actually, I’ve heard of a wonderful boarding school in Milan where all of the Ferrari children go. That way they’d be close."

New continent, same parenting, Jamie mused, thoroughly disheartened.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Once the team arrived back at the dorm, the players decided to gather in the lounge at the end of the hall to watch a little TV. Ryan was sitting on the couch enduring the playful teasing of about six of her teammates. "So what’s up with the guy who was hitting on you, Ryan?" Erika asked.

"He wasn’t hitting on me," Ryan scoffed. "We were just talking."

"So…he didn’t ask you out?" Amy chimed in.

"Well…I guess he did kinda ask me out, but I told him immediately that I wasn’t his type."

Heather and Cami came into the room just as Ryan was answering, and they both joined in. "He was sure my type!" Cami exclaimed. "Why wouldn’t you go out with him?"

Everyone but the two freshmen laughed at the comment, but neither young woman got the joke. "Ryan’s gay," Grace said, putting words to the open secret.

Ryan shrugged her shoulders amiably, nodding her confirmation. She had purposely not made an announcement about her sexual orientation, preferring to just live her life and let people figure it out. Jamie had gone on their team run several times, and they acted perfectly naturally in front of the team, kissing lightly if the whim struck, holding hands, and exhibiting their usual signs of affection. Now that the issue was out on the table, she thought it wise to be frank about it, preferring to head off any problems if any of the women were ill at ease with it. "Yes, my name is Ryan, and I’m a lesbian. Any questions?"

She looked around the room, seeing nothing but calm acceptance. Until her eyes met Heather’s. The young woman blushed deeply, and averted her gaze, suddenly finding the pattern in the carpet absolutely fascinating. Oh-oh. May be trouble here, Ryan thought. I’d better talk to her privately.

"I have a question," Jordan said, batting her big blue eyes at Ryan.

"Does anybody besides Jordan have a question?" Ryan teased, preferring not to set herself up for any more taunting from her friend.

"Nah. We’ve been talking about you since the first morning you came on a run," Amy laughed. "I’m sure your real life isn’t as exciting as the one we’re dreamed up for you."

"Don’t be too sure about that," Jordan began, but Ryan snaked an arm around her and pulled her onto the couch beside her, clapping a hand over her mouth.

"I lead a perfectly ordinary life, though I’m partnered with a perfectly extraordinary woman," Ryan smiled. "I’m not even particularly kinky…although Jordan does bring out my hidden sadistic side," she mused as she used her free hand to swat her friend sharply on her perfectly positioned ass.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After their talk with Adam and Carolyn, Jamie and Catherine returned to the house, leaving the Whitmores to discuss their plans for dealing with Stephanie’s drug problem. David, Patsy, Louise and Oliver were all sitting in the game room, playing a dispirited hand of bridge, when the Evans women walked in.

Patsy gave them a smile and said, "We just decided to have some Calvados," a delightful apple liquor that Jamie was quite fond of. "Will you join us?"

Catherine nodded her assent, and Jamie offered, "I’ll go ask the waiter to include us."

"No, no," Patsy insisted. "They’ll see that you’re here. Let them do their jobs, Jamie. That’s why they’re called servants, Dear."

She nodded at her aunt as she sat down in a club chair to watch the game. Please God, don’t ever let me think of people like that. Seconds later Daniel came scampering over to ask for her order. "Hi," Jamie said with a friendly smile.

"Good evening, Miss. What can I get for you?" She noticed that he looked absolutely exhausted, and recalled that he had also been on duty at breakfast, which was 16 hours ago.

Deciding to skip the alcohol this evening she said, "I’d like some iced tea, if you have it."

"Long Island or regular, Miss?" he asked quietly, just to make sure she was still on her temperance binge.

"Regular, please. No sugar."

As the young man quietly left the room, Jamie’s great-uncle turned in her direction and said, "I haven’t had the chance to speak with you much, Jamie," Oliver Whitmore said. Tell me what’s been going on in your life."

Let’s see, she thought. I found out I was attracted to women a few months ago. I have a really hot girlfriend who is to die for, and my father wants to have her killed. Deciding that was probably more information than the family would want, she said, "Nothing too exciting, Uncle Oliver. I’ll be a senior this year, I’m still living in the house my parents bought in Berkeley, and I’m thinking about going to graduate school. You know, just the usual college stuff."

"We were surprised to hear that you had broken up with your fiancÚ, Dear. Now, what was his name?"

"Jack," she said simply, hoping to get off the subject quickly.

"Yes, Jack. We never got to meet him. Has he been replaced?" he asked with a twinkle in his eyes.

Hmm, how do I answer that one without lying? "I don’t think you can replace people, Uncle Oliver. But no, I don’t have another boyfriend." I’m not lying, Ryan, you’re a long way from a boy.

"Well, you’ll surely meet someone this year. You’re too pretty a girl to stay unattached for long," he said in a completely patronizing tone of voice.

"Thank you," she replied, mentally rolling her eyes.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Although she had rejoined the group for only a few minutes, Heather got up and said she was heading to bed. Waiting until she left the room, Ryan stood and said, "I need to call Jamie. I’ll come back when I’m finished." Waving off the teasing and catcalls that were immediately forthcoming, she followed the freshman down the hall. Catching up with her, she asked, "Hey, could I talk to you for a minute?"

The young woman tried to avoid looking at the senior, her pale blue eyes darting all over the hallway. "Um…I’m really tired…"

"Won’t take long." They were near Ryan’s room, and she opened the door before Heather could protest. "Come on in."

Looking very hesitant, the young woman entered the room, standing awkwardly while Ryan sat down on the bed. Trying her best to appear non-intimidating, Ryan smiled at the young outside hitter, but Heather was once again doing her best to look at anything but Ryan. Gazing at her thoughtfully, Ryan saw some of herself in the young woman. She was tall, probably about six foot, and had the beginnings of a muscular build, even though she was currently fairly willowy. Her dark brown hair was usually pulled back in a braid, but tonight it hung around her shoulders, giving her thin face a more rounded look. Her skin was generally pale, but tonight her cheeks were flushed—whether from embarrassment or discomfort Ryan did not know, but she was determined to try to find out. "Umm…would you like to sit down, Heather?"

The older woman twitched her head towards Jordan’s bed, but Heather shook her head vigorously. "No," she said, her voice cracking like an adolescent’s, "I’m good."

"Okay…" Ryan wasn’t really sure of where to start, and the discomfort that was radiating off her teammate was not helping her confidence. Deciding to just go for it she said, "Can I ask you a question?"

"Uhh…sure." Her pale blue eyes finally lighted on Ryan, and she cocked her head a little.

"Does my being gay make you uncomfortable?"

Without warning, Heather suddenly found Jordan’s bed very attractive. She sank onto the mattress, her back to Ryan. "Uhh…why do you ask?"

Thank you for not lying, Ryan thought, pleased that her teammate was trying to be honest. "I ask because you look uncomfortable, and you seem to be having a hard time looking at me, and I don’t want this to become an issue for the team, or for us." After a pause she added, "It’s not that uncommon for people to be uncomfortable around lesbians, Heather. I’m used to it."

"I…I guess I’m a little uncomfortable," she admitted, her voice very faint. "I just don’t think I’ve ever met a um…lesbian before."

Ryan considered that for a moment, and acknowledged that fact wasn’t terribly surprising. She recalled that Heather was from a very small agricultural town in the San Joaquin Valley, and it made sense that she might not have been exposed to much diversity in her relatively sheltered life on the farm. "We’re not that bad a bunch, once you get to know us," Ryan teased, pleased when she saw the young woman’s shoulders relax a little.

"It’s just different," Heather said, still facing the wall. "I thought they were kidding."

"Who was kidding?" Ryan asked.

"The other players. They don’t really tell us much, ‘cause we’re freshmen, but I heard some of them say that you were gay. I thought they were kidding," she admitted. "I um…didn’t know that gay people looked like you."

"That’s true," Ryan said slowly. "Most lesbians are much shorter than I am."

At that comment Heather turned and caught sight of Ryan’s laughing eyes. "You’re making fun of me, aren’t you?" Her lower lip was stuck out a little, and she was gazing over at Ryan from beneath half-lowered lids.

"I’m just teasing you, Heather. Don’t you like to be teased?"

"Umm…I guess," she hesitated. "I’m just not used to it."

"Don’t you have any siblings?"

"No. I’m an only child."

"Well, I can guarantee that you’re going to take a lot of ribbing with this group. Do you think you can handle it?"

"Um…I’ll try. This is just a lot for me to handle all at once, ya know?"

God, she reminds me of myself when I started high school! "I do know, Heather, and I’ll try to keep the other players from going after you too hard, but you’re going to owe me a favor if I do that."

Turning completely around, the young woman looked at Ryan with wide eyes. "What do I have to do?"

Ryan’s warm smile reassured her slightly, and her words did even more so. "You have to talk to me when things are bothering you. You can ask me any question that you want…I’ll always be honest with you, Heather. We’re teammates now, and we have to take care of each other."

The younger woman nodded, paused a moment and asked, "Have you always been gay?"

"Yeah. I’ve always been gay, but my lover hasn’t," she supplied, knowing that Jamie wouldn’t mind having her history divulged in the name of education. "Some women know very early, and it takes some a long time to come to terms with it. It’s different for everybody."

"Do you ever wish you weren’t…gay, that is?" She was now looking at a point somewhere near Ryan’s midsection, and the older woman considered that significant progress.

"No. I really like who I am. To me that’s like wishing I was short. It’s just not gonna happen." Pausing a moment, Ryan asked, "Have you ever wished that you weren’t?" At Heather’s shocked look, Ryan added, "Tall, that is."

"OH! No, no…well, um…yeah, now that you mention it. It was hard being the tallest girl in my class. I used to wish I didn’t stand out so much."

"You know, Jamie, my partner, used to feel that way about being attracted to women. She didn’t want to stand out. But over time she’s gotten over that, and I think she’s pretty happy with herself now. Everybody has something they’d like to change at some point in their lives, Heather. But it’s hard to be happy if you don’t learn to accept yourself for who you are."

Heather gave her a grin and said, "I like being tall now. Being tall got me this scholarship—I never could have gone to a school like this without one." She blushed a little and added, "Being tall gave me the chance to be on a team with some pretty cool people, too. Thanks, Ryan." She stood and looked at her teammate a little tentatively. "Umm…can I go now?"

"Dismissed," Ryan smiled, snapping off a salute.

* * * * * * * * * * *

As soon as she could make her getaway, Jamie excused herself and headed for bed. She dropped her clothes to the floor as she walked across the room and plucked a T-shirt from the dresser. After brushing her teeth and washing her face, she settled down on the window seat to stare out at the inky stillness of the ocean at low tide. The night was very warm, not even a breeze coming through the open window, and as she stared out at the night sky she felt a few tears start to roll down her cheeks. A few minutes later she was startled out of her mood by a quiet knock on the door.

"Come in," she said flatly.

Catherine opened the door and stepped in, shutting it quietly behind her. Seeing the bereft look on her daughter’s face, she immediately crossed over to the window and sat down. "What’s wrong, Honey?" she asked as she caught the tears with a fingertip. "Has all of this started to get to you?"

"A little, but mostly I miss Ryan," she said as she started to cry more forcefully.

Catherine scooted closer and pulled her daughter near, running her fingers through her hair and patting her back gently as she let her cry for a while. A wave of sadness hit her as well, and she said, "I can’t tell you how much I regret not holding you like this when you were small. We both missed out on so much."

Sniffing softly, Jamie looked up with red-rimmed eyes and asked, "Why didn’t you?"

Catherine closed her eyes and let the memories fill her mind, trying to recall the young woman she had been 20 years ago. "I’m not sure, Honey," she said, the sadness feeling like a sharp pain in her stomach. "I guess I just didn’t know how."

"I don’t understand that, Mom," she said, her lower lip quivering. "Didn’t you want to hold me?"

"Of course I did," Catherine said, holding Jamie close. "You just didn’t react well to me. When your father held you, you quieted down immediately, but when I did it, you always fussed even more. Either he or Elizabeth used to take you from me almost immediately," she sniffed. "I thought you didn’t like me."

Now Jamie cried even harder, her tears merging with her mother’s as they both mourned for the wasted opportunities of those early years—irredeemably lost forever. "I don’t ever remember not liking you. I thought you didn’t like me," she choked out.

Pulling back slightly, Catherine fixed her daughter with a fierce stare, her brown eyes flashing with an inner fire. "I loved you then…and I love you now. I love you more than I’ve ever loved another soul, Jamie. You mean the whole world to me! I’m so sorry that I wasn’t able to show you that then."

Clinging tightly to her mother, Jamie released some of the hurt and pain that she had been storing in her heart for so many years. "Thanks, Mom," she said finally. "That means a lot to me."

"I have so much to make up for, Jamie. It’s not too late, is it?"

Catherine had such a hopeful look in her eyes that Jamie would have told her it wasn’t, even if it was. Luckily, she was able to answer honestly. "It’s not too late, Mom. Not at all."

"God, I’ve been hoping for this," Catherine sighed, resting her head on her daughter’s shoulder. "You don’t know how much."

Jamie kissed the fine blonde hair and asked the question that had been in her mind for weeks. "What made you decide to try to get closer to me?"

Taking in a heavy breath, Catherine wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand, smiling when Jamie pulled one of her enormous T-shirt sleeves out and dabbed at her eyes. "Thanks," she said. Looking at the inscription on the shirt, she smiled and asked, "Ryan’s?"

Jamie looked down and blushed as she read the front of her shirt. "Um…I’m not really a Lesbian Avenger…and neither is she. She just likes T-shirts with a message." Blushing even more fiercely she admitted, "I took it out of the dirty clothes so it would smell like her."

"When I was young I used to wear your father’s dress shirts before I had them sent to the cleaners. Elizabeth thought I was mad." She chuckled softly, adding, "Marta used to take them from the laundry chute for me. I think she approved."

"She would," Jamie agreed. "Too bad Marta wasn’t my nanny. I think we would have done much better as a family."

"I couldn’t agree more," Catherine said. "Although having Elizabeth for a cook would have been frightening also!"

"Good point," Jamie agreed, the elderly Englishwoman’s penchant for the blandest of foods legendary in their house.

Now that the wash of emotion had passed, the embrace they shared began to feel a little too intimate for both of them, and they slowly broke apart, but not before Jamie leaned in and placed a soft kiss on her mother’s cheek. "Let’s do that again soon, okay?" she asked, putting words to her fear that this developing closeness might evaporate.

Catherine gazed at her and smiled, nodding her head slightly as she did so. "We have a lot of hugs to make up for, Jamie. I’ll do my best."

The younger woman stood and stretched, releasing some of the tension and sadness that had been building up in her body. "You didn’t answer my question," she prodded, as she recalled getting sidetracked. "I really think you made the first move here. What made you decide to do so?"

"I might have made the first move, but you’re entirely responsible for that, Dear. I saw the light when I came to your house this past spring to ask you about your relationship with Ryan."

"Huh? Why did that make you want to be closer? I thought you were angry with me."

"I was, Jamie. I was angry that we didn’t have the kind of relationship where you felt safe to be honest with me. The next week I got on the phone and found a therapist. I’ve been seeing her twice a week ever since."

"You have?!"

"Yes, I have, and it’s been wonderfully helpful. She’s helped me see how much of the distance between us is just a legacy of my family. But she also helps me realize that just because I was raised that way, doesn’t make it all right to continue the tradition with you. I’m responsible for my actions—irrespective of how I was brought up."

"That’s true," Jamie said thoughtfully. "We are each responsible for our actions. That’s why we need to make sure we keep talking like this. We have only ourselves to blame if we don’t try to make our relationship better."

Catherine got up from the window seat and crossed the room to stand directly in front of her daughter, the light scent of her perfume wafting on the air to reach Jamie seconds before her mother did. Catherine placed one small hand atop each of Jamie’s shoulders and tilted her head up to be able to gaze directly into her taller daughter’s eyes. "This is a life goal for me, Jamie. I know that I’ll never be the best mother in the world, but I promise to try to be the best that I can be."

Sniffling away the latest wave of tears, Jamie nodded her head, unable to reply with words. She wrapped her arms around the remarkably thin waist and held her close, relishing the comfort and security of a mother’s love.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Hi, Sweetheart." Ryan’s deep voice came through the phone line clearly, making her sound like she was nearby, rather than 3,000 miles away. "I didn’t wake you, did I?"

"No, no," Jamie sniffed a little, looking around the room for a tissue. Catherine handed her one and gave a small wave as she walked towards their adjoining door. "Mother and I were just talking."

"Honey? Are you crying?" Ryan’s voice was immediately full of concern, and Jamie smiled broadly as she soaked up the love she could feel speeding her way through the phone line.

"Just a little, Love. But they’re good tears." She paused a moment, trying to decide how to characterize her feelings. "I just realized that I’ve felt more loved in the past three months than I have in the previous 21 years."

"Even with the problems you’ve had with your father?" The question was out before Ryan could censor herself, and she mentally kicked herself since she had decided to wait until her partner was home to tell her about Jim’s visit.

"Yeah." Jamie paused a beat then added, "I’m angry with him, but I don’t feel that he loves me any less than he did before. I just think he’s misguided, Hon. I’m hoping that by the time I get back he will have had some time to reflect on this, and be able to be more open minded."

"That would be nice," Ryan agreed. It’s not gonna happen, but it would be nice. "So tell me about these happiness tears," she asked.

"I’ve got so much to tell you, Love, but it’s too late to go into detail. Let me just say that this is the second best trip of my life. I’m so glad that I came."

"What was the absolute best?" Ryan asked, having a pretty good idea that she accompanied her partner on the one in question.

"That’s a toughie," Jamie teased. "It’s either the summer Olympics in Barcelona in ‘92…or being on the AIDS Ride with you."

"Hmm…I can see why that would be a tough choice. Either being up close with some of the most gifted athletes of our time, watching people show off their gorgeous bodies, seeing people perform feats that you could barely imagine…or going to the Olympics. I think it’s a flip."

"It’s a flip all right," she giggled. "God, I miss you. Nobody makes me laugh like you do."

"Me either," Ryan sighed. "I enjoy your sense of humor more than anyone else’s I know."

"I enjoy every one of my senses when I’m with you," Jamie murmured. "I was thinking today about what I miss the most. It was a very difficult job, since a thousand different things came to mind, but I think I came up with the answer."

"Don’t tell me, let me guess," Ryan said, thinking for a moment. "Is it a part of my body?"

"Mmm-hmm."

""Let’s see…a part of my body. Do I have two of them?"

"Mmm-hmm. You sure do."

"Is it the part of me that you can’t wait to get your hands on when we make love?"

"Nope. Not even close."

"You like a part of me better than my breasts? I’m stunned!"

"Hey, just because I have a fetish doesn’t mean that I’m fixated only on your luscious breasts. I like other parts of you equally well."

"That’s good to know," Ryan said. "I was beginning to feel objectified," she sniffed. It was clear that she was kidding, Jamie’s interest in her breasts a long-standing point for teasing between them.

"The things I miss most about you don’t even factor into my arousal—give up?" They loved to play guessing games, and it was no small issue that Ryan almost invariably won. Today, Jamie was confident that she had her stumped, and she was wringing every bit of satisfaction she could from that fact.

"Hmm…at this point I’m just guessing, so I’ll say that you miss my eyes." Before Jamie could reply, Ryan’s voice dropped into its lowest register, causing a warm tingle to inch its way up Jamie’s spine. "When I look at you, I know that you can see in my eyes how much love I have for you, how much I respect you, how much I desire you. You can see the unquenchable need I have to be near you and to share my life with you. I know that you can look into my eyes and see that you make all of my dreams come true, and that you’re the answer to every prayer I’ve ever made."

A low, slow whistle came from Jamie’s end of the phone, and she murmured, "I thought I missed your hands the most, but I just changed my mind. Lord, Ryan, the things you do to me with just a few words."

"Ummm, my hands…don’t get me started on what I’d like to do to you with my hands," she whispered.

"Oh, Ryan, I need to see you. I miss you so much…My world just doesn’t feel right when you’re not beside me."

"I know, Love, I know," she soothed. "I feel the same. Only two more nights, though, and we’ll be together again."

"Two more nights after this one, my little optimist," she reminded her.

"Just trying to put the best spin on things," Ryan admitted.

"Well, I hope you clear your calendar for the first two days that I’m home, Love, because you’re not going to see the light of day. Actually, your feet might not hit the floor."

"I’ve got a teensy little bit of bad news on that front," Ryan said. "Annie paged me earlier today and said that Tommy’s days off got switched. He’s off from Sunday afternoon until Thursday. I uh…I said I’d pick the baby up on Sunday morning so they could get ready to leave."

"So we’re gonna have Caitlin from the minute I get back?" Jamie tried to contain her disappointment, but she failed miserably.

"It’ll be okay, Babe. We’ll figure something out so that we can have some alone time."

"How soundly does she sleep?" Jamie asked, only partially kidding.

"Not that soundly," Ryan laughed. "Don’t worry, Honey. We’ll have our time together. I promise."

"I sure hope so," Jamie sighed. "Now that you’ve turned me into a sexual being, you can’t just pull the plug on me!"

"I’ve got a week’s worth of love saved up for you, Sweetheart," Ryan crooned. "This little bout of abstinence is the longest I’ve gone without for a very, very long time. Lefty thinks I’m mad at her!"

"Poor Lefty," Jamie empathized. "You kiss her and tell her that she’ll be put to good use soon. I think she’s kinda partial to me now, anyway, Ryan. She’s probably glad for the rest."

Kissing her left hand audibly, Ryan informed her partner, "She’s waving at you, Babe. Says she misses you and that you are the favorite."

"Heh heh. I’m winning over all of your body parts…one by one. Soon I’ll have complete control over you, Buffy."

"You already have my heart, Jamie. That’s the most important part."


Continues in Part Ten

 

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