I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 1: Awakenings

By: S X Meagher

Disclaimers: See Chapter 1

Feedback: I enjoy hearing from people who have enjoyed the story. If you have a comment or a question please let me know. Specific feedback is greatly appreciated. If a particular character or scene worked or did not work for you, let me know. I might even kill someone off if you ask really nicely.


Chapter 5

The workout schedule that they had agreed on was meeting their needs perfectly. It allowed Jamie to tax her legs 4 times per week, which allowed a full day of rest between workouts. Jamie rode her long distances on Monday and Wednesday. Her hill climb was on Saturday or Sunday depending on her weekend plans. She found a good set of hills near Jackís apartment, so she was set. They worked her trunk and shoulders on Monday, her arms and back on Wednesday and her legs and chest on Fridays,

After two weeks of this regimen Ryan decided to leave her mountain bike at Jamieís so they could ride together on Monday and Wednesday. As much as Ryan loved her new gym she could no longer go on her morning bike rides, so she had to use whatever time she had available in the afternoons. She began to ride her motorcycle to Jamieís and leave it in her driveway at 5:00 a.m. She would then fetch her bike and ride to work, and later to class. Cassie was not very happy to be roused from sleep every morning at 5:00 by the thrumming engine of the Harley, but she eventually stopped complaining when Ryan agreed to turn off the engine at the curb and walk the bike down the drive.

Cassie was also not particularly happy when Jamie gave Ryan a key to the house.

"Jamie, I donít want that woman to be able to barge in here whenever she pleases," she huffed.

"Okay Cassie," Jamie agreed. "She needs to come in to change out of her boots and heavy jacket before she can ride her bike, so Iíll just tell her to ring the bell every morning. You are a really light sleeper, so would you run down and let her in?" she inquired sweetly.

"Fine Jamie, just give all the sex crazed lesbians in town a key to our house," she fumed. "You know, I talked to some people who know her and they say she is a real slut. I canít believe thatís the type of person you like to associate with."

She pursed her lips and regarded her roommate for a long moment. "Cassie if all of my friends were as kind and as generous and as honorable as Ryan, I would be one happy woman," she stated with narrow, flashing eyes, as she turned on her heel; hoping that Cassie understood the true meaning of the jibe.

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

As the term progressed the demands on Jamieís time increased until she felt like she didnít have a moment to herself. She spent a massive amount of time reading for her 4 English classes and she occasionally kicked herself mentally for taking so many classes that required so much reading. When her face was not actually buried in a book she was either at the gym or riding in the hills. But she found that no matter how much time she dedicated to her workouts she did not regret one minute of them. When she was on her bike she was able to free her mind of every concern about her classes and her future. She didnít worry about her relationship with Jack or think about their life together. She merely put her mind on hold and let the wind fly past her face as she pedaled along the steep hills of Berkeley. Having been away from bike riding for so many years she realized that she had forgotten the freedom that two wheels afforded. No matter how bad traffic was she could scoot right past the stalled cars and be home in a matter of minutes.

But the workouts with Ryan were what really kept her motivated. They worked together 3 hours a week but she had to admit that they were among the most enjoyable hours of her busy week. Even though they spent lots of time together having coffee or a quick meal the workouts were when Jamie felt truly special.

When she really allowed herself to think about it Jamie was the one who usually spent her time making other people feel special. Sometimes it seemed that her entire relationship with Jack was spent making sure that his needs were met: making him lunch and dinner; being with him while he studied; never making demands to go out to dinner or a movie; and being available to him sexually. But for 3 hours a week the world revolved around Jamie and her slowly developing body.

One of the things she had grown to appreciate about Ryan was her ability to intensely focus on a task. As the weeks passed she realized that focus was never welcomer than when it centered around her.

Jamie had observed many other trainers during her weeks at the gym but she had never observed anyone who concentrated so fiercely on their clients. Without a word from Jamie Ryan would automatically remove 5 pounds from the weight stack if it was a tiny bit too heavy; she would order her to stop at 9 reps instead of 10 if she detected too much fatigue; she would skip a certain exercise if a related exercise was too difficult on a given day. All in all she was just so highly attuned to Jamie and her body that after a while they spoke very little during the sessions.

After most sessions they rode to Jamieís home on their bikes. Ryan was always vigilant to make sure that Jamieís muscles were warm enough to handle the short trek and once they arrived she would invariably order her client into the shower. Ryan would wait patiently for Jamie to finish in the bath and then she would give her a thorough massage on whatever body part they had stressed. During the massage Ryan would usually spend at least 10 minutes praising her performance in the weight room. Jamie knew that part of the reason Ryan did this was to keep her motivated; nonetheless, she ate it up greedily. She just felt so unique and special when they spent this time together that she began to wake up in a very happy mood on every workout day.

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

On a cool and overcast Wednesday Jamie arrived at the gym for their usual 4 oíclock appointment. She looked around for Ryan but did not see her hanging around the front desk as was her usual habit. She dropped her things off in a locker and entered the main part of the gym, looking for her friend. After she was about to give up and have her paged she spotted her in the far corner of the gym.

Jamie had never even noticed the boxing equipment located on a slightly raised platform in the corner. But Ryan was standing in front of a heavy leather covered bag, banging the stuffing out of it with her hands which were encased in bright red boxing gloves. She stood for a second and observed her friend, watching the sweat fly from her face as she delivered one strong blow after another. Jamie mused that she would not hit the bag the way her friend was doing it. But when she watched carefully she could see that Ryanís technique was the proper one. She punched from her shoulder, getting the force of her entire torso behind each blow. Jamie noted that she was nearly standing on her toes while she punched the bag and that her body followed her arm, with even her hips helping provide thrust. It truly amazed her that she could stand and watch her friend for such a long time without her being aware of her scrutiny, but Ryan was so intent that she was obviously unaware of anything other than her furious assault on the heavy bag. "Um..mad at someone?" she finally asked to break the spell.

Ryan whirled to face her, sweat flying from her hair and hitting Jamie in a light spray. "When did you getÖwhat time is it?" she asked as she looked at her watch. "My God!" she gasped. "Itís 4:15!"

"I know," Jamie said with a smile. "Iíve been watching you for 15 minutes."

"You have?" Ryan asked with a truly perplexed look on her face.

As she said that Jamie realized how odd it sounded to just be watching her so she explained, "Iíve never seen anyone work on a bag like that. Iíve always been fascinated by boxing."

"You have?" Ryan asked dubiously as she grabbed a small towel from a stack and wiped her face and neck down.

"Yeah, I have. That was pretty impressive, by the way," she said with a smile.

"Thanks," Ryan said as she blushed a bit. "My 3 oíclock cancelled and I wanted to do something aerobic for a few minutes. I thought this would be something that I could do and not sweat too much," she said as she looked at herself rather helplessly. Sweat was still running down her face and into her black shirt. Rivulets ran down her arms and even her thick black golf shirt looked drenched.

"UmÖyou were wrong?" Jamie hazarded.

"Well, I started out just playing around with the speed bag," Ryan admitted. "But when I was finished I still felt kind of twitchy so I thought the heavy bag would tire me out."

"Twitchy?"

"Yeah," she said as a blush covered her face and neck. "Sometimes I just need toÖI donít knowÖlike let off some steam."

"I think you were successful," Jamie observed wryly.

"I didnít look too bad after the speed bag," Ryan insisted.

"Well as long as youíre doing a demo let me see you on that for a minute," she begged, truly interested in seeing her friend work her magic again.

Ryan graced her with a quirky grin. "You sure?" she asked dubiously.

"Positive," Jamie insisted. Ryan shrugged her broad shoulders and stuck out her hands. After a second Jamie realized that she could not take the gloves off herself. "Wow, these would have been a good way for my parents to make me stop sucking my thumb at night," she laughed.

"Hmm, I didnít suck my thumb but I could have used these for a little self control at night myself," Ryan mused as Jamie slapped her firmly in the stomach.

"Some of your dates probably wish you had them now," Jamie chided her.

"Ooo, thatís cold," Ryan muttered. She pulled off the gloves that Jamie had unlaced and put on a pair of very lightweight hand protectors. Facing the bag she centered her weight and raised her fists almost to eye level. "My brother Conor put up a speed bag in the garage when I was about 10," she revealed as she started to slowly tap the bag with each hand in sequence. "I had to stand on a box to hit the darn thing but I was much more dedicated than he was. Of course he was 14 and just starting to get into girls so his attention was diverted," she smirked. "Anyway, I loved working on that bag and it really helped me enormously with my hand/eye coordination as well as my concentration. I was so skinny that bag would have knocked me right off that box if I didnít pay attention."

By the time she was finished recounting this insight into her youth her speed had picked up to such an extent that the bag was a mere blur as she worked it easily with her fists barely moving. It was truly mesmerizing to watch and Jamie mused that she could stand here all day and just watch Ryan flail away. But after a few minutes she slowed and eventually stopped the bag by grabbing it with both hands. "Look like fun?" she asked with a twinkle in her eyes.

"Yeah, when you do it," she said with a laugh. "Why doesnít anybody ever use this stuff?"

"Well, it is a lot harder than it looks and most women donít grow up around the stuff so they donít know where to start. But Iíd love to show you how if you want. It would be good for your upper body."

"Letís stick with the machines for awhile, Pal. I donít want to bite off more than I can chew." She regarded her friend for a moment and asked, "Do you have another shirt? That oneís a mess."

"Good point," she agreed as she plucked at the limp garment. "I think I can grab another from the office. Be right back."

A few minutes later she trotted back over in a much too small shirt. Jamie guessed that she normally wore an extra large and this one could not have been more than a medium. But she didnít have any complaints and neither did the two women on the stair climbers who followed Ryanís progress across the gym. "The only one they had was from someone who quit earlier this year," she said with a scowl. "She must have been a 9 year old."

"You look fine," Jamie assured her. "Now letís get busy, Coach. Iíve got my work cut out for me if Iím going to keep up with you!"

After their very strenuous workout Jamie asked, "Do you have time for dinner? I could whip something up?"

Ryan appeared to consider the offer for a moment, but finally said, "Iíd love to, Jamie, but I canít squeeze it in. My father made a brown bag dinner for me, so Iím just gonna go study."

"Thatís okay," Jamie said, trying not to sound like she cared. In truth, she cared a great deal. As much as she enjoyed the workouts she equally enjoyed the post shower massage and the praise. But she didnít feel comfortable admitting how much that special time meant to her so she tried to appear casual.

Ryan caught the small look of disappointment in her face. "If you need some company tonight, Iíll make time for you," she said kindly.

Jamie felt a little busted, and tried to cover it up with a careless reply. "No, I should study too, Iím just looking for a reason not to."

"If youíre sure, Jamie," Ryan said with an intense gaze as she squatted down a bit to make eye contact.

"Positive," she replied, immensely glad that Ryan cared enough to meet her needs.

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

4 hours later Jamie was hard at work on a short paper for ĎThe Lesbian Experienceí when she realized that she did not have an important book. Darn, I must have left it at Jackís. The paper wasnít due until Friday, but she had plans to study for a ĎRomantic Poetsí class the next day. This was really the best night to write the paper, but it was 9 oíclock and she wasnít sure where to buy the book. She called around and found that ĎMama Bearísí had the only copy in the area so she hopped in the Porsche and drove to Oakland.

As she circled the block, looking for parking, she noticed an unmistakable vehicle. A turquoise and cream Harley. Hmmm, whatís she doing here, ĎLittle Miss I Have To Studyí? She was a trifle annoyed when she entered the bookstore side of the store. She looked around furtively but didnít see Ryan anywhere. Well I guess there could be two women who ride that Harley. That is within the realm of possibilities. She found her book, stopped at the counter to pay for it and was getting ready to leave when she paused to take a quick look around the coffeehouse.

The room was quite a bit darker than the last time she had visited. A woman was on the small stage singing some contemporary ballads in an adequate fashion. Jamie scanned the crowd in the dim light and noticed that only 3 of the small tables were occupied--none of them by Ryan. As she turned her head slowly, trying to adjust for the differences in brightness between the two rooms she caught what looked like a familiar form in the farthest corner of the establishment. Two women occupied a small loveseat in the very dark corner. You couldnít really say they were sitting, because neither of them was upright. An attractive black woman with very close cropped hair was half reclining on the loveseat and Ryan was practically lying on top of her.

Jamie stood slack jawed in the bright light of the bookstore, staring in shock at the pair. Ryan was kissing the woman deeply and moving gently against her whole body as she did so. Jamie did not think she had ever seen anything that was more erotic but every fiber of her being wanted to run out of the store and never think about the sight again. She watched as Ryan gripped the womanís face and kissed her even more passionately. She was completely unable to move but equally unable to stop watching.

Ryan began to sit up and the woman came right with her, latched on to her mouth like an eel. When they were both upright Ryan put one arm around her shoulders and another under her knees and pulled the woman onto her lap. Jamie saw those strong tanned hands begin to caress the woman all over her body. She knew she would faint if she did not look away, but she felt rooted in place. She watched as Ryanís hands again moved to either side of the womanís head and held her still as she began another round of deep kisses. Jamie saw tongues passing between mouths as they drew back an inch or two and then fell right back into each other. The womanís hands slowly slid up Ryanís torso and Jamie had to grasp for something to steady herself as she saw one small dark hand firmly grasp Ryanís left breast and begin to knead it. Ryanís head rose slowly and dropped back against her shoulders as a look of absolute pleasure crossed her beautiful face.

As the book slid from her now nerveless fingers Jamie heard a voice ask, "How ya doing kid?" The question, which came from directly behind her right shoulder, nearly caused her to scream. She used all of her composure to focus her attention in the direction of the voice. Babs, the owner of the shop, and Ryanís friend, looked at her in sympathy. "Donít be mad at her, hon," she said. "Ryanís not a bad kid, but she just canít get tied down to any one woman. Sheís just not the type."

"What?" Jamie looked at her in total confusion. "Why would I be m...? What?" Never in her 20 years had she felt so completely inarticulate.

"Itís okay, kid. You arenít the first and you wonít be the last. Donít let it get to ya."

"B..b..but, weíre not...she isnít...IíM NOT...I didnít..." Jamie truly wanted to sink to the floor and cry. She was so frustrated with her inability to form a coherent sentence and her chaotic feelings about Ryan that she was truly at a loss.

"All Iím saying is that there are plenty of women who would love to date a good lookiní girl like you. And most of them wouldnít give you up so easy as Ryan did," at this she patted Jamie on the back and walked back in to the coffeehouse.

Jamie was even more stunned now. As if in a trance her eyes traveled on their own accord back to the dark corner. She watched as Ryan and her date disentangled themselves from each other and stood on wobbly legs. The woman had her arm wrapped around Ryanís waist and Ryanís arm was draped across her shoulders. Their heads were very close together as they stumbled out into the darkness.

In order to give herself time to collect her feelings Jamie picked up her book and sat down at one of the small tables. She sat motionless and dazed for at least 15 minutes with her mind a complete jumble. She was angry, puzzled and curious and although she hated to admit itÖtotally aroused.

Finally, she felt as though she had enough control to drive. She walked outside and was very surprised to see the Harley still in its space. She made her way around the corner and saw Ryan and the woman leaning up against a car, continuing what they had been doing in the coffeehouse. The problem was that the car was right in front of Jamieís.

Now Jamie was able to sort out her feelings--she was angry! I want to leave for godís sake! And I donít want her to see me.

Her quandary was solved a moment later when the woman opened the rear door, crouched down and slid across the seat. Ryan dove in and obviously landed right on top of her. Their heads immediately dropped below the windows and Jamie felt like she could leave and not be seen.

She ran to her car and got in quickly. After a moment of fumbling with her keys she started the engine and roared off as fast as her little German wheels would take her.

Once at home, and safe in her room, she let her mind ruminate. Itís not like I didnít know she was with a lot of women. Itís just that actually seeing her with a woman was such a shock. But why did I feel so turned on? She pondered that question for long minutes. It must just be the shock and the thrill of seeing someone do something that is kind of forbidden. I would probably get turned on from watching Mia and her boyfriend really go at it, too. She could feel her body flush as she considered just how passionate Ryan had looked with her date. God, she sure was going at it. She looked so powerful and strong. Her hands just possessed that woman. She kissed her with a fierceness that I have never felt. She just looked so intense. God, I wonder what theyíre doing now? Her mind only paused a second before it delivered the obvious message. What do you think Jamie? Theyíre having hot sex in the back seat of that car! Oh god, why didnít I take abnormal psychology like everybody else?

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

Jamie decided that speaking to Ryan about seeing her at the coffeehouse would serve no useful purpose. They did not speak on Thursday but after class on Friday they stopped for their customary juice break but since the day was nice they grabbed a couple bottles of juice and went out to Faculty Glade to relax in the sun. As they got settled Jamie was puzzled to see Ryan pull a brown bag from her book bag and begin to eat her snack.

"Um, Ryan?" she began.

"Mmrmfh?"

"Why are you eating cold dry pancakes?"

"They're cold because they were made last night, and I donít have access to a microwave. They're dry because syrup doesn't travel well." After delivering her logical answer she gazed at Jamie with an open, placid look on her face. This was one of Ryanís idiosyncrasies that Jamie both loved and hated. She invariably answered your questionóshe just answered it exactly as it was asked. The thought passed through Jamieís mind that everyone she knew thought like a lawyer.

"You know that's not my real question," Jamie said as she gave her arm a little slap.

"Okay, I'll confess. I didn't call home by 3 p.m. to tell my father that I wouldn't be home for dinner. This," she said as she shook a dry cold pancake, "is my punishment."

"Um, I guess that clears it up," she replied with a confused look.

"Okay, my father expects each of us to be home for dinner at 6 p.m. sharp. It's no big deal if we can't make it. But if you don't opt out by 3 p.m. he cooks for you. If he cooks for you, you damn well better eat it. So whatever you didn't eat for dinner, you get for lunch the next day."

"But you don't have to eat it, Ryan," Jamie laughed.

"Yes I do," Ryan intoned seriously. "It's important to my father."

"What do you mean?" she asked completely unable to understand how eating cold pancakes could be important to anyone.

"When my mother died he did his best to keep us functioning as a real family. Having meals together is a big part of what makes that work. When I break one of the family rules there should be a price to pay. It's all about respect." Her deep blue eyes were serious as she gazed steadily at Jamie.

"I would love to meet the man that you love and respect so much, Ryan," Jamie said as she covered Ryan's hand with one of her own.

Ryan blushed just a little and gave Jamie a big smile. "Why don't you come for Sunday dinner and meet everyone?"

"I would love to," Jamie replied enthusiastically.

"Sunday at 3 p.m. Don't be late," she threatened ominously as she gave her cold pancake another shake right in Jamieís face.

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

Jamie left Palo Alto extra early to insure that she would be on time for Sunday dinner. She followed Ryan's neatly written directions as she moved along the 101 and as she exited at Cesar Chavez Blvd. She mused to herself that she had never been in this section of the city. She often took the 101, but usually only to see her grandfather up near Nob Hill. As she drove along Chavez it became clear why she had never been to this neighborhood. Her family was interested in high culture, fine restaurants and major sporting events. This modest neighborhood looked like a fine place to get a good Nicaraguan meal, but that was about it. The neighborhood wasnít terribly run down but it strongly reflected the culture of its recent immigrants from Central America. Is this Ryanís neighborhood? she mused thoughtfully. I know she doesnít have much family money but this seems awfully modest.

After a couple of miles she crossed Dolores, a broad, divided street with a large greensward down the center. At that imaginary dividing line the neighborhood began to change dramatically. The houses were very neatly tended and the shops looked decidedly more upscale. This is really cute, she mused as she regarded the plethora of small 2 and 3 story Victorians that graced every block.

She arrived at the stated address at 2:40. She found a parking space rather easily and walked up to the neat little Victorian. She heard music playing from the attached garage and decided to check there before climbing the exterior staircase to approach the front door. Two dark figures were lying on the floor flanking a turquoise and cream Harley as she approached.

Walking into the garage she tentatively asked, "Ryan?" still not positive that one of the figures was her friend.

"Hey, Jamie," replied her friendly voice. "Did you bring your overalls?" Ryan scooted out from beneath the bike and rose to her full 6 ft. plus height. She wore her black hair in a neat braid that stuck out from beneath the bill of her backwards red baseball cap. A tight white ribbed tank top showed every one of the many assets of her torso. Very old, very faded 501's covered her long legs. The jeans bore large rips at each knee and small ones beneath the soft curves of her butt. As she stood Jamie could make out gray underwear through the rear rips that seemed to extend well past the norm. What does she have on under those jeans?" she mused. Does she wear boxers? Big brown lineman's boots covered her feet.

Jamie could almost feel her chin hit her chest when the next figure stood. She was fairly certain that Ryan did not have a twin. But the tall man who now stood beside Ryan was clearly a testosterone laden clone. Looking at them together Jamie marveled at the likeness. But where Ryan had smooth curves, the man had tight muscle. He was at least 5 or 6 inches taller and a lot broader in the shoulders, but his hips were narrow. He did not have an ounce of fat anywhere it did not belong. His hair was identical in color and texture, but he wore it short around the side of his head and a little long on top. His eyes were the same deep blue and they had the same intensity as Ryan's. But Jamie quickly noticed that they lacked the gentleness that Ryan's often bore. His gaze seemed intimidating, almost predatory, while Ryan's usually seemed open and interested. He was dressed in a similar manner, but his T-shirt covered his shoulders and his jeans had fewer holes.

Ryan looked bemused at the expression on Jamie's face. "Kinda creepy, huh?" she teased.

"Wha...Oh...yeah," she admitted. "You aren't twins, are you?"

The man was busy wiping his hands on a towel. As he finished he extended his right one in greeting. "She should be so lucky to share my chromosomes," he said with bravado.

Jamie laughed as Ryan punched him rather hard in his bicep. "This is my sweet, charming brother Conor. Conor, this is my friend, Jamie."

"I'm pleased to meet you, Conor," Jamie finally got out, aware that she was still staring, but unable to stop.

"It's only gonna get worse, Jamie. Prepare yourself," Ryan warned.

The grungy siblings spent a few moments putting away their tools and neatening up the work area. Jamie watched them work, still unable to get over the astounding similarity. After they had finished they all exited the front of the garage and hung a left to walk up the narrow staircase that led to the front entrance. When they reached the landing she noticed a very nice flower rimmed deck that obviously covered the two garages. "Nice," she said appreciatively, taking in the neat space.

"Yeah," Ryan agreed. "Weíve got the only deck on the whole block. Actually, one of the few in the whole neighborhood. Itís a great place to sit out and get a fog tan," she chuckled, acknowledging the few clear days that The City was blessed with. Giving a quick glance at the surrounding houses she noticed that they were all of a similar type. They were all quite narrow and spaced very closely together; actually most of them seemed to touch each other on both sides.

Conor held the door for her and she stepped in before the siblings. "Your home is charming, Ryan," she enthused. As Jamie looked around she thought to herself that part of the charm was the near Lilliputian size of the rooms. The house was only two rooms wide and two rooms long. The small entryway led to an equally small but attractive living room. The living room opened into a formal dining room that was identical in size to the living room. The living room held two love seats and a comfortable looking leather wing back chair. A full sized sofa would never have fit, and the room was a little cramped with the current seating arrangement. There was a small fireplace topped by a mantel that was filled with pictures of the family. Small leaded glass windows bracketed the fireplace. Additional photos and diplomas lined the walls under the windows. The wall to the left of the fireplace held a floor to ceiling bookcase that was lined with books and more photos. The opposite wall revealed a door but Jamie couldnít figure out what room would open off the front of the living room.

As she looked around she noticed that the most attractive part of the room was all of the exquisitely detailed woodwork. The ceiling was bordered by a deep crown molding with a wide picture molding right underneath. Each window and door was trimmed out, as was the fireplace. Jamie guessed that the home was 60 or 70 years old, really too new to have all of the millwork be original. "I love all of the moldings in here," she said to Ryan.

Conor gave her a big grin as he offered a slight bow. "Thank you, Jamie," he said.

Ryan explained, "Conorís a finish carpenter. After he got out of trade school he used the house as his little project. Weíve got every kind of molding and trim that you can imagine."

She ran her hand over the elaborate woodwork of the mantel. "You certainly do nice work, Conor," she said appreciatively.

"Donít encourage him too much," Ryan warned. "Heíll pull out his pictures and monopolize you all night!"

"Some people are interested in craftsmanship," he sniffed. "Jamie certainly seems to be able to recognize quality."

"My motherís very much into home decorating," Jamie explained. "We did a major remodel a couple of years ago and we had a lot of trim installed, so I learned a ton about your craft, Conor."

The cozy dining room held a very large oak table, rectangular in shape. It had room for 10, but only 6 places were set today. As Jamie finished surveying the room she was greeted by yet another of Ryan's clones. This one looked a bit older and while he was also well built he did not leave the impression of raw power waiting to burst out of his skin that his siblings had. "Oh, Brendan, when did you show up?" Ryan asked as she crossed the room to give him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"I came over about a half hour ago, but I've got good clothes on and I wasn't going to let you grease monkeys talk me into ruining another pair of pants," he replied sagely.

"Brendan, this is my friend, Jamie," Ryan again began the introductions, and was forced to add another, "and this is Rory," she said to Jamie as the last brother entered.

Well at least he's not a clone, too, Jamie thought. Rory was shorter than Ryan by 2 or 3 inches. His hair was also lighter, and Jamie guessed that it would be a deep red in the sunlight. His eyes were a soft green and they twinkled when he smiled. His skin was fairer than his siblings, but his features were quite similar.

"I'm pleased to meet you both," Jamie said as she shook hands with each in turn.

A voice rang out from the kitchen, "Dinner will be served in exactly 1/2 hour. Anyone with a spot of grease on them will not be served."

Conor and Ryan stole guilty glances at each other. "Flip you for the shower," Ryan said. She produced a dime from her jeans, but Conor lucked out. "Please leave some hot water for me, Conor," she begged.

"What's it worth to ya?" he inquired.

"Well, it's you who has the most to gain since I sit next to you at the table," she reasoned.

"Good point, Stinky," he relented, "I'll hurry."

The voice boomed from the kitchen yet again. "Shi' vawn," it appeared to say, "Use some manners and bring your guest in here."

"Shi' vawn?" Jamie mouthed to her friend.

Ryan looked a little sheepish. "It's my real name," she admitted. "I changed it long ago, but my father doesn't acknowledge it."

They walked through the dining room and turned right into a very large kitchen. The room was rectangular in shape and ran about 15 feet to a screened door at the rear. It was only about 10 feet in width, but the high ceilings and bright tile made it look much bigger. The kitchen was not what Jamie was mesmerized by however, that distinction fell to the older male clone stirring a pot on the stove.

Gee, I guess they're not adopted, thought Jamie. Martin O'Flaherty was clearly the original from whom the little O'Flaherty copies sprang. He was a good 4 inches taller than Ryan, with a bit of gray at the temples. His physique matched that of Brendan and from a distance he could have been 30 years old. But up close his face had the small lines and weathered skin that befitted a man who worked at a dangerous profession. His eyes, however, were exact copies of Ryan's, deep blue, warm and friendly.

"Da, this is my friend, Jamie," Ryan again made the introduction.

"Ahh, Jamie," he said warmly with a more than a hint of an Irish accent. "Shi' vawn speaks of you well and often. I'm very pleased to make your acquaintance, but I wish it had been weeks earlier," he said as he shot a glare at his smirking daughter.

"If she speaks half as well of me as she does of you Mr. O'Flaherty, then I'm a lucky woman," Jamie replied with a twinkle.

"Shi' vawn are you certain this little one is not from the old sod?" he said with a laugh. "She seems to have kissed the Blarney Stone rather recently. But there is no Mr. O'Flaherty here darlin'. You may call me Martin or Marty, whichever you choose."

"What do you prefer?" she inquired.

"Pay attention, Shi' vawn," he said with a grin identical to the one Jamie had seen hundreds of times on her friend. "This one's got manners." He turned to Jamie and looked a bit pensive as he finally said, "I suppose I prefer Martin. It's the name my parents gave me and I can't think of a reason to change it." This last was directed at a bemused looking Ryan. "Another lesson you could take from this one is how to dress for dinner," he said as he regarded Jamie's outfit. She wore a forest green cashmere crew neck sweater and a pair of wide wale corduroy slacks in a soft buttery cream color. Shiny brown faux alligator loafers completed the outfit.

"I'll try, Da," Ryan agreed. "But I don't think even Jamie could do much for my sense of style." She cocked her head in concentration. "I think Conor's out of the shower. Wanna come to my room to give me some pointers, Jamie?"

"Sure, Ryan," she replied a little hesitantly. Even though she was very interested in seeing what was under those jeans, she knew it was not the wisest course of action. But she put her cautions to the side and followed right on Ryan's heels. They walked back to the small entryway and opened a door that Jamie had not noticed. As they descended a low staircase Ryan was forced to duck her head severely. It seemed to Jamie that they were in a room that would be located right behind the garages. The room was surprisingly bright as it was above ground even though she supposed it was technically in the basement. A large casement double hung window loomed over the bed and faced the small neat backyard. Jamie could see a large black dog looking through the window with a quizzical look on its face.

"Hi Duffy," Ryan said as she sat on her large bed and opened the window. "Duff, this is Jamie," she said as she pointed at her amused friend. "She's my very good friend, and I want you to greet her gently." The dog cocked his big black head and gave her a stern expression that seemed to imply agreement. "We'll be out soon, so you go practice," she said as she closed the window and the dog trotted away.

"He's awfully cute, Ryan," Jamie said. "What kind of dog is he?"

"He's half black lab and half standard poodle. I got him from a client 3 years ago. Best tip I ever got," she said proudly.

Ryan rose from the bed and crossed the room to a well built set of drawers and doors that lined the entire side wall of her room. She began to open the doors and look at her wardrobe. Jamie walked up next to her and marveled at the way everything was organized. Each drawer was labeled neatly. T-shirts L/S; T-shirts S/S; T-shirts N/S; Sweats; Socks; U/W etc.

"Got enough T-shirts?" Jamie asked casually as she opened the N/S drawer to confirm that indeed the shirts stored inside did not in fact have sleeves.

"Hey, Iím a dyke," she said defensively. "T-shirts are part of the uniform."

"Do you need help Shi' vawn?" Jamie asked innocently as her friend seemed at a loss.

"Don't start," she warned with a smile.

"God, Ryan, I think I know you so well, but I don't even know your real name."

"I haven't used that name since I was seven," Ryan replied. "Only Da and my grandparents use it, the boys even stopped when I beat them up," she admitted. "And you do know me, Jamie," she said sincerely. "You know me very well. I wouldn't have invited you here otherwise."

Jamie remembered that Ryan's mother had died when she was seven. Thinking there might be a connection she chose not to pursue the matter. "I'm sure I know all the important parts," she admitted. "Besides, a touch of mystery becomes you."

Ryan laughed and resumed her task. "My big problem is that I don't have any nice pants," she moaned. "Every time I decide to buy something nice I find some new bike pants or a new warm up suit that I know I'll wear ten times more often and I buy that instead."

She pulled out a perfectly acceptable pair of navy blue wool slacks and a cream colored cable knit sweater. She laid her selections out on the bed and sat down to unlace her boots. Jamie chickened out as she considered watching her undress, so she knew she had better get out now. "I think I'll offer to help your father while you get ready," she offered.

"He won't let you help, but he'd appreciate the offer," Ryan predicted.

As she turned to leave she remembered something that had puzzled her. "Why do you call him 'Da'?"

"It's the Irish equivalent of Dad. Many kids call their parents Ma and Da rather than Mom and Dad."

"It's kind of cute," Jamie offered as she began to walk up the stairs.

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

As Ryan predicted, Jamie's offer to help was rebuffed by Martin. "You go play with the children," he said as he directed her to the now open door off the living room. The relatively big bedroom facing the street was filled by a king sized bed, a well worn upholstered chair and 3 men lounging in various positions as they watched the Ď49ers battle the St. Louis Rams from a TV set located in another lovely built-in cabinet lining the wall.

Jamie sat on the floor after refusing the offer of the chair. She quickly joined in the discussion of the Ninerslack of a good tight end. "Tom Rathman and Brent Jones made them click," she added knowledgeably. Ryan joined them, freshly scrubbed and shockingly beautiful in her dress up clothes, as half time was just beginning. She sat next to Jamie on the floor and watched a little challenge that Conor had obviously just made with Jamie. They were each putting $5 up and Rory was acting as judge. Jamie scrunched her face up, deep in thought. "Well, there has to be an 'S', she said, "and an 'H'?" she asked hopefully.

"Two for two!" said Rory.

"How about an 'A'?"

"Three for three!"

"A 'W'?"

"Nope, one wrong," he replied.

"S-I-O-B-H-A-N," Ryan enunciated as she handed each contestant back their $5.

"No fair, Ryan," said Conor, a little perturbed.

"I don't like people to play games with the spelling of my name," she said seriously. "It bothers me," she said softly as she looked at the floor.

"I'm sorry, Ryan," Conor said quickly as he rose from the bed and squatted down to give her a little kiss. "I wouldn't have done it if I knew it would bother you."

"Well," she admitted, "It doesn't bother me much, but it did get you off the bed and into my evil hands," she laughed gleefully as she began to tickle his sides unmercifully. He quickly lost his ability to remain upright but she stuck right with him, as he rolled around on the floor.

"Please, please, no more, I can't take it," he pleaded as he giggled hysterically. "You win, you win!"

"I always win," she said proudly as she helped him straighten up. "I'm the little sister."

"Just our luck boys," he addressed his laughing brothers. "To have a little sister that can kick all of our butts."

The game began again just as Martin called them all to dinner. Brendan rose and hit the record button on the VCR, and they all walked into the dining room without a word of complaint.

Jamie could not remember ever having a better time at the dinner table. Meals at her home were always pleasant enough, but there was never much spark. When she and her mother ate alone, they often went out to dinner and the conversation revolved around her mother's interests; clothes, travel, art and her many social obligations. When her father was at home for a meal they usually talked about his work or his latest case or politics.

The O'Flaherty clan however, spent their mealtimes in a boisterous game of one- upmanship: funny stories, jokes and constant teasing. Jamie was pleased that they seemed to welcome her into the group seamlessly. They teased her unmercifully but gently, but she noticed that they did the same to each other. By the end of the meal Jamie had formed some tentative impressions of each of the O'Flaherty men.

Martin was clearly in charge. All of the children seemed to respect and admire him, but she did not detect even a glimmer of fear. When he told one of them to stop a tease that was becoming too sharp, they did so immediately. He had quite a flair for storytelling and Jamie noticed that each of the kids listened to him raptly even though she imagined they had heard his stories many times. The number of repetitions was obvious when he finished one, and all of the children complained that he had changed the ending. "How else can I keep the lot of you on your toes?" he explained with a laugh.

Brendan was the most serious of the group. He was a lawyer with a small public interest law firm, working to secure the rights of people with disabilities. The other boys and Ryan looked to him as a bit of an arbiter also. He was quite adept at keeping the rest of them in line, with his wit and easy laughter, but his teasing was very gentle and sweet.

Conor was clearly the troublemaker of the boys. He seemed to love to get under everyone else's skin. Jamie could just imagine the practical jokes he must play on the others. She wasn't surprised when Martin told of the number of times he had to leave work to bail Conor out of the principal's office when he was young.

Conor worked as a carpenter, a trade that he loved and was obviously very good at. He had built Ryan's wall-to-wall closet and Martinís bookcase and the work was immaculate. He worked for a firm that did renovation work in the City, and he took obvious pride in talking about the historically accurate work his firm did on the City's many Victorian homes.

Rory was very boyish and a little shy. He was a musician and played in a band that often performed at various pubs and clubs in the City. Ryan explained that his group played primarily traditional Irish music. Jamie wasn't sure what that meant, but she hoped to find out. He traveled quite a bit when his band toured with bigger name acts, but he was at home for several months this winter, playing around the City. He would occasionally lapse into a soft Irish brogue that one of the others would call him on. Ryan explained that he spent most of the summer in Ireland every year, playing all over the country. Ryan seemed particularly fond of Rory, and she boasted to Jamie about his considerable talents as a musician. He just blushed and shook his head at the compliments, but it was clear that he appreciated them.

When dinner was ended Jamie was amazed at what happened next. With nary a word from Martin, or to each other, each child got up and began to perform a particular task.

Brendan went into the kitchen, rolled up his sleeves and put on an apron. He began to run water in the big double sink as he cleared off the surrounding counters. Conor began to clear the table in a quick but efficient manner. Rory joined Brendan and prepared to dry the dishes. Ryan was in charge of removing and folding the linen tablecloth and napkins. Jamie offered to help, but Ryan refused her offer saying, "Once we get going you could get hurt if you tried to step in."

Conor moved to Rory's right and began to place each washed and dried item in its' proper home. Ryan grabbed a broom and began to sweep the entire dining room floor. She had to shoo Martin and Jamie away from the table in order to place the chairs upside down by their seats on the wooden surface. Jamie moved to the doorway of the kitchen to watch the precision event unfold.

Brendan was finished washing by now and he moved to wash each counter in the kitchen with a mild bleach solution that he had prepared in the sink. Rory and Conor finished up and moved back into the dining room to set the table for the next meal. They used a pretty everyday tablecloth and some ironstone dishes, setting the table for 5. Brendan cleaned the tops and fronts of all of the appliances while Ryan swept the kitchen. After she had finished she got out a mop and bucket and mopped the entire room. She backed out of the room toward the screened in porch and disappeared, reemerging a few minutes later, via the front door, accompanied by Duffy.

Duffy tried his best, but gentle was not the term best used for his initial greeting of Jamie. He placed his big black paws on her waist and whimpered until she lowered her face enough to be thoroughly licked. "I guess I should have asked if you like dogs," Ryan drawled.

"Lucky for you, I love them," Jamie enthused. Her family had never had any pets but she had always wanted a dog. Her grandfather had a cute little long haired Chihuahua when she was young but he had not replaced him when the elderly dog passed away.

Duffy however, was a real dog. He went to each of the brothers in turn and licked each face. Martin made a show of disliking the attention, but he giggled as Duffy worked away despite his complaints.

As Ryan sat down on a love seat Duffy climbed right up next to her and dropped his head in her lap. "Duffy, we have company," she rebuked him. "You know there are only enough seats for the humans."

He looked up at her with plaintive, sad eyes, begging for a reprieve. He was rescued by Brendan who reminded everyone that the game was probably over. When the door to the bedroom opened Duffy bounded off the couch and headed right for the middle of the bed. Brendan checked the TV to make sure the game was over, and when everyone else was assured they would not inadvertently hear the score they all entered the room.

Jamie was surprised to see Ryan, Duffy, Conor and Rory all fit on the bed. Ryan had dashed downstairs to put on a pair of jeans and a navy blue hooded ĎCalí sweatshirt, and Duffy cuddled next to her from her horizontal position at the foot of the bed. Conor and Rory each sat against the headboard, easily able to see over Ryan and Duffy's dark heads. Brendan brought in a dining room chair for himself alone after Jamie refused his offer to bring one for her. She sat on the floor at the foot of the bed, close to Ryan's head. Martin sat in his well-used upholstered chair, and began to act as though he was reading the newspaper.

The game was a close one, way too close for the assembled Niners fans. Everyone complained and cajoled the team to improve their execution. Every mouth however, dropped open in shock when Jamie shouted in frustration, "Oh please! My grandmother could have read that blitzing linebacker. Hit the slot, Steve, hit the slot!"

After a moments pause she realized that all eyes were on her. "Um, I watch a lot of football," she admitted with a small blush.

"How much is a lot?" Ryan inquired once she had put her eyes back in her head.

"Well, I've gone to every Stanford home game since I was born, and we go to almost every Niners game," she admitted shyly.

"You've got tickets?" Conor and Rory shouted at once.

"Yeah, um, my father's firm has tickets."

"What's your fathers' firm?" asked Brendan.

"Morris and Foster," she said quietly.

"Oh," was all he said.

No one else seemed interested in talking about law firms after Young threw a perfect spiral to Hearst to cap a beautiful game ending 45 yard scoring drive.

They chatted about the game for a few more minutes until Brendan excused himself to go home and get caught up on some work. Ryan caught Jamie's eye and indicated that she wanted to go downstairs. Jamie got up and followed her out the door and down the stairs.

"So, what do you think?" Ryan asked as she flopped down on her big bed. Jamie sat on Ryanís desk chair, pulling it next to the bed and putting her stockinged feet up on the comforter.

"About what?" she asked innocently.

"You know what--what did you think of my family?" Ryan stated the obvious.

Jamie gave her a big smile as she admitted, "I don't remember when I've met a nicer group of people."

"You must not get out much," Ryan drawled, but she was obviously pleased by the compliment.

"I get out plenty, Ryan, and believe me, you are one lucky woman. Your brothers clearly adore you and your fatherís face lights up every time he looks at you."

Ryan gazed at her in contemplative silence for a few minutes. "I really do know how lucky I am Jamie," she said softly. "I spent a couple of years feeling sorry for myself during puberty. I missed my mother so much and it was just hard going through that with a bunch of clueless men. But once I got a little older and saw how few people share the love we have for each other..." she let out a sigh, "I thank God every day for all that I have".

"Do you really?" Jamie asked, interested in this new facet of her friend. "Youíve never talked about your spirituality."

"Yeah, I really do," Ryan admitted. She looked a little bashful, but continued tentatively, "I wanna tell you something that I've only told Da." She locked her clear eyes on Jamie, obviously waiting for permission.

Jamie returned her look and gave her a little encouraging smile, "Please do."

Ryan cleared her throat a little nervously as she began. "As I've told you before, my mother died when I was seven. I was just starting first grade when it happened and we were beginning instruction to receive religious instruction. The nuns told us about letting Jesus in to our hearts and all of the standard religious stuff they think 7 year olds can comprehend. But what struck me the most was when they talked about the Virgin Mary. Sister Kevin explained that we could talk to Jesus directly, but we could also get a message to him via his mother. She said that Mary would always watch over us just like our own mothers would." Ryan looked down at her folded hands and wiped a tear from her eye. Jamie took this opportunity to get up and sit down right next to her, reassuring her by her presence.

"I figured that since my mother was already with God, I didn't have to go through the Virgin Mary, I had an insider to listen to my prayers and direct them to the proper party." Here, she laughed a little at the memory of her childish self. "So from then on I prayed to my mother instead of to God or Jesus. I knew that no one would ever care more for me than she did, and I knew she would always be there to watch over me. I still do that every night," she admitted with a catch in her voice as the tears began to flow in earnest. Jamie scooted even closer and wrapped her arms tightly around Ryan's sobbing shoulders.

"Shhh, shhh, "Jamie cooed into her ear as she rocked her gently and caressed her head.

They sat like that for a few long minutes, Ryan seemingly at ease revealing herself so totally; Jamie touched beyond words at the trust that Ryan showed by her actions. After a bit Ryan leaned away to grope for a box of Kleenex on her bedside table. She took several for herself and wiped her eyes and blew her nose. She watched as Jamie did the same, clearly having been moved by the story.

"Does it bother you to talk about her, Ryan?" she finally asked.

"No, not with you or my family," Ryan replied. "I miss her more than I can express in words, but she loved me so well that I can still feel her love. Of course I would give anything to have her back, but I had her so totally when she was alive, that I am forever grateful for the short time we had together. I really love talking about her with people who understand what she means to me. It makes her come alive for me again when I talk about her."

Jamie was wonderfully pleased at this revelation of Ryan's feelings for their friendship. She leaned over and gently kissed both of Ryan's moist, pink cheeks. "I'm sure she would be proud of the woman that you have become, Ryan," she said simply.

Ryan looked up at her with the most adorable little grin that Jamie had ever seen on a human being. Her eyes were a little hooded and she looked just a bit embarrassed as she said, "Thanks Jamie, that means a lot, coming from you."

After they sat in companionable silence for a few more minutes, Jamie got up from the bed and walked around the room, examining it closely. The room looked very much like Ryan. Clean, neat, organized and fairly utilitarian, but with a little color here and there. A large built-in bookshelf covered the wall opposite the closet and it was filled with science texts, magazines, awards, trophies for various sports and photos. Jamie was struck by one such photo and after staring at it for a few moments she turned back to Ryan with tears in her eyes again. "You knew, didn't you?" she inquired plainly. Ryan rose and came to stand next to her. She put an arm around Jamie's shoulders and looked at the very familiar picture.

The 3x5 color photo in the simple frame showed a very ill woman holding a small, very melancholy child. Ryan's big blue eyes stared up at the camera and revealed all of her fears. The woman, whom Jamie guessed was quite beautiful before her illness ravaged her, also stared directly into the lens. She had a stoic, calm look in her green eyes and it was clear that she still possessed a fiery spirit. Little Ryan was holding on to her tightly, her small arms wrapped around the frail waist. Ryan's head was resting on a bony shoulder and a painfully thin hand held the back of her small head.

"Yes, I knew how sick she was. This was my 7th birthday," she said wistfully. "I didnít understand what death was but I knew that she was going to leave soon, and I knew she wasnít coming back. She died about a month after this picture was taken," she said with a flat voice.

"Oh, Ryan, I'm so sorry you had to feel all of that pain," Jamie said as she turned and was enveloped by Ryan's strong arms.

"Everybody feels pain like that if they really love someone," Ryan whispered. "No one gets out of here alive, you know," she said into Jamie's ear.

"I know, but you were such a baby, Ryan. Look at that precious little face," she lamented as she looked at the photo again.

"I'm not saying that I didn't have a difficult time, Jamie; I know I did. It was incredibly tough for a little girl not to have her mother. There were times that I felt so lost that I didn't think I could survive. The pain was just so great. But I got through it and it made me stronger and it enhanced the connection that I have with my brothers and my father. That's what I am the most grateful for. Death tears many families apart but it made ours much stronger."

"You don't have to answer this if you don't want to, Ryan," Jamie said as she pulled away from their embrace, "but why did you change your name?"

"As I'm sure you guessed, it was because of my mother. She loved the name Siobhan and Da said she was ready with the name for each of the 3 boys. I liked it too, mainly because it was different. I got through first grade okay because everybody was just getting used to each other, and having an odd name was hardly noticed. But right after I came back to school after my mother died a little boy started making fun of my name. We were just learning to spell using phonics and as you found out today, that's one name where phonics doesn't apply. The other kids kind of picked up on his teasing and I just flipped out. It was probably too soon for me to be back at school, but there I was, and I had kind of a little episode. In retrospect it must have been a panic attack. But from that day forward every time a person outside of my family called me Siobhan I flipped out and got hysterical. Nobody knew what to do with me. It was only a couple of weeks after my mother died and everybody in the family had their own issues they were trying to deal with. Luckily, Sister Kevin sat me down and asked me what I would rather be called. Most of my ideas were unacceptable. I was particularly fond of Tigger as I recall," she said with a gentle laugh.

Jamie let out a little laugh of her own as she continued to look at the picture.

"Finally, and with a lot of prompting from Sister Kevin, we settled on Ryan. It was my middle name and my mother's maiden name and Sister Kevin pointed out how that would keep her with me every time someone spoke my name. That was just about the only time that Da just wasnít able to support me," she admitted sadly. "He was really invested in the name since my mother had loved it so. But he didnít put up too much of a fuss after Sister Kevin explained it all to him. The side benefit, of course, is that I don't have to spell Siobhan several times a day," she said with a little smile.

"Wow, Sister Kevin sounds like a neat lady," Jamie said.

"Yeah, she really was. I lost touch with her when her order left our parish, but I still think of her often," Ryan said.

"I do have one more question," Jamie finally said. "That balletic performance of cleaning the kitchen was something to behold. How did that come about?"

"That's another effect of my mother's illness. When she was too ill to cook or do housework we were all assigned jobs. I was so little that I had to do the jobs closest to the floor. Brendan helped me with the moping for years, but I think it was important that they made me feel a part of it," she smiled at the memory. "After my mother died, we just kept to the same tasks. Da transferred from active fire fighting and became a cook. He did it mostly because he just wasn't willing to risk his life anymore. We couldn't afford to lose him, too. He became a good cook and we just drifted into him doing all the cooking and us doing all the cleaning. It's a little militaristic, but that's how a firehouse is run."

Jamie spent a few more minutes looking at the photos placed all over the room. She found one of Ryanís mother when she was about Ryanís age. "Wow, she was a great looking woman," Jamie said.

Ryan grasped the picture in her hand and looked at it for a few moments. "Yeah, she was," she said softly. "I used to wish I looked more like her. She was small and delicate, fair skinned, with auburn hair and vivid green eyes. She had a lovely soprano singing voice and just the gentlest touch you could imagine. When I was going through puberty I felt so big and awkward that I wished I had inherited her bone structure. But it all worked out in the end," she admitted.

"Yeah," Jamie agreed with a chuckle. "I donít think youíd get much sympathy complaining about your looks, Ms. OíFlaherty."

Ryan blushed deeply as she changed the subject quickly. "Letís go see what the boys are doing," she suggested. As they returned to the second floor Conor came out of the bedroom and asked with a hopeful grin, "Jamie, Ryan said you have a Boxster. Could I take a look at it?"

"Sure, Conor, you can drive it if you want."

"Can I really?" he asked with delight. "I've never driven a Porsche. Cars are kind of my passion but I have to drive a truck for work," he said sadly.

"Here's the keys," she replied as she tossed him the set.

"Aren't you gonna go with me?" he asked as his baby blues lit up.

"I will if you want me to, but it's okay if you want to go alone," she replied.

"I don't want to hurt anything. You can show me where all the buttons are," he grinned.

As they began to make their way to the stairs Ryan grabbed Jamie's arm and whispered, "Be careful. He thinks he's God's gift to women."

Jamie wrinkled up her nose and whispered back, "And you don't?"

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

Conor wore a look of childlike exuberance as they walked down the street to the waiting Porsche. "Thanks a lot for letting me do this, Jamie," he said with a dazzling grin.

"It's my pleasure," Jamie replied. "If your love of cars is anything like your sisters, it would be a crime to deprive you of this experience," she teased.

"I think I've got the car bug more than Ryan does," he said reflectively. "But she's got the motorcycle bug a lot worse than I do. We used to drive Da crazy. We were always in the garage working on some engine. I got my license when she was only 12, and from that time on you couldn't keep the grease off of her."

"So she gets it from you?"

"I guess she does. Neither Brendan nor Rory cares much about cars. Da just sees them as transportation. I think I got my license at a time when Ryan idolized me a little, and she took it up to be able to spend more time with me."

"That's so cute," Jamie laughed. "But didn't it bother you to have your little sister hanging around all the time?"

He looked at her quizzically as he opened the driver door. "Why would it bother me? You know Ryan. She was always pretty much like she is now. She never was a pest. She picked things up really quickly and was always eager to do the grunt work. She had a lot of patience for a little kid, and her small hands fit into a lot of spots that mine wouldn't."

Jamie was charmed by this open expression of affection. "You all seem so close, Conor. It's really nice."

"Yeah, we are. I guess we're lucky that way, huh?"

He was now firmly ensconced in the driver's seat, carefully noting all of the gauges and switches. He adjusted the side view mirrors and brought the engine to life. "Oh, this is sweet", he said as he closed his eyes and let a satisfied smile cross his lips.

"Conor, that is exactly what Ryan looked like when she turned the car on!" Jamie said in amazement.

He looked at her with a leer. "I bet she didn't punch it like this!" he said as he hit the accelerator hard and they lurched away from the curb.

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

Conor drove much faster than Jamie thought prudent. But the streets of the Noe Valley were deserted on this early Sunday evening, so she allowed him to conduct his test drive as he chose. She noted that he seemed much more aggressive than Ryan, and that he seemed to get some satisfaction from making her squeal as they crested a rise in a hill. I bet thatís not the only way he likes to make women squeal, she thought. He could certainly be a bad boy fantasy for a lot of women.

"Do you think I could drop the top?" he asked after they reached a more congested neighborhood.

"Sure, as long as you keep it under 40 or so. I'll freeze if you go as fast as you have been," she warned.

"Scout's honor," he promised as he raised 3 fingers in pledge.

They glided down Market for a while, Conor keeping his promise about the speed. They had crossed nearly the entire city when Conor noticed that Jamie looked a little cold. "How about a hot drink? There's a Starbucks right up ahead."

"Iíd love a latté, " she admitted.

"Your wish is my command," he said gallantly, as he found an on street parking spot. "Come on in with me. You can warm up a bit."

"Okay, but I think I'll call your house to tell them we'll be gone awhile," she said as she pulled her Startac from the glove box. "What's the number?"

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a $20. "You go on in and order me a latté too. I'll call and then put the top back up. Go get warm," he said firmly.

As Jamie hopped out he dialed the little phone. Ryan answered on the first ring. "Hi Sis, it's me."

"Where are you?" she said crossly. "You've been gone over an hour."

"You sound a bit possessive, Ryan. I thought this one was on my team," he laughed.

"She is on your team, but she's somebody else's starting pitcher--so keep your mitts off her," she warned.

"I have no intention of touching her...unless she asks me to of course. We're going to stop for coffee to warm up a bit. We'll be home soon. Don't wait up if you get tired. I'll make sure she's well taken care of."

"Conor, if you harm one hair on her head I'll kick your butt all the way down Market Street," she threatened.

"How can I hurt her getting a cup of coffee?" he asked innocently.

"Just bring her back in one pieceóand still engaged!" she said as she hung up.

"Gotcha!" he crowed as he shut the phone off.

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

Jamie was sitting at a little table with two steaming cups of latté in front of her. Conor slid into a chair and accepted the mug with his thanks. "So Jamie," he said as he gazed at her with those intent blue eyes, "Tell me about yourself."

"What would you like to know?" she inquired, as she tried to avoid his penetrating gaze. Boy this guy could be trouble. He's a real operator.

"Well, you know all about my family, tell me about yours."

"I'm an only child. We live down in Hillsborough. My dad is an attorney and my mom stays at home. We don't have a dog. There--now we're even," she teased.

"Gee, could you be a little more succinct? You were rambling so much I think I missed a lot."

"I'm just teasing you. What do you really want to know?"

"What do you do for fun?"

"Do you mean when I'm alone or with my fiancé?" she asked innocently.

He gave her a charming smile as he drawled, "Oh yeah, Ryan mentioned something about a boyfriend. Isn't he getting out of San Quentin soon?" he asked as he pursed his lips in thought.

"Something like that. He's graduating from Stanford law school this year."

"Right. I knew it had something to do with lawÖor prison," he added as he looked a little confused.

"His name's Jack and we're getting married a year from June."

"How old are you, if I can be indelicate?" he asked.

"I'm 20 now. I'll be 22 when we get married," she said.

"Isn't that kind of young to be making permanent life choices?" he asked with a note of concern. Gosh, I'm 27 and I can hardly decide what to have for lunch. There are so many choices on the menu and they all look so good," he drawled.

"Yeah, but when you find that perfect, one of a kind sandwich, you better order it before someone else does," she replied, keeping up the analogy.

"With my luck, there would be some hidden ingredient that I was allergic to," he laughed.

"Well, I'm really happy with what I've ordered," she stated firmly.

"Well Lassie, if you ever get hungry for a little Irish fare," he said with a heavy brogue, "don't forget me."

"Between you and your sister, no woman in San Francisco is safe," she said as she laughed heartily.

"You're telling me," he agreed. "I'm just glad she's a lesbian. If she were a guy, there wouldn't be any straight women left unsullied."

"Does her, um, sexual orientation bother you, Conor?"

"No, it really doesn't. It was obvious from very early on that she was never going to be swooning over guys. She never did any of that teenaged girl stuff. She never had crushes on guys or anything. And itís not like she wasnít good looking or anything," he added. "When she was 14 I had 18 year old friends who wanted to go out with her, and Rory had to stop bringing guys over because they all wanted to hang around until Ryan came home. She finally told us when she was 17 and we were all like, 'What took you so long?" he laughed at the memory. "I'm sure it helps that we live around a lot of gay people and we had a gay cousin that we all loved, so it doesn't seem like such a big deal."

"I'm sure my family would not be so accepting as yours," she said disparagingly.

"Well, lucky for you, you'll never have to find out, will you?" he said as his blue eyes bore into hers.

"No. Of course not," she said a little defensively as she averted her gaze.

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

The next day Ryanís head was swimming from the plethora of questions that Jamie threw at her. They were sitting outside near Strawberry Creek having their usual juice break. It was a clear sunny day keeping with the usual Bay Area phenomena of the best weather of the year being in the fall. Ryan was wearing a black warm up suit made of a fabric that looked like washable silk. A bright white T-shirt peeked out from behind the jacket. Ryan looked carefully at Jamie as she spoke. She was wearing a sleeveless golden yellow sweater that just covered the belt of her green khaki pants. A matching cardigan was loosely tied around her shoulders. Ryan thought about how much she liked Jamieís clothing. She always wears something that compliments her. Like that sweater. It is just a shade or two darker than her hair. I wonder who taught her how to dress? Probably her mother, unless her mother hired someone to do that too!

"So what instruments does Rory play?" Jamie persisted as she asked her fiftieth question of the day."He plays keyboard and accordion.""Do the rest of you play anything?" she continued."Yes," Ryan answered patiently. "We all have some competence with an instrument. And the answer to your next question is that I play clarinet, flute and the Irish whistle," she grinned. "I can muddle along on keyboards and I was rabidly interested in the guitar for a few years, but my ardor has cooled recently.""Tell me about the kind of music his band plays," Jamie inquired. "I donít know much about Irish music.""I can see there is only one way to satisfy your curiosity," Ryan laughed, "The next time he plays locally Iíll take you to hear him. Then all of your questions will be answered.""Iíd love to," Jamie enthused.

* * * * * * * * * * * * The week passed in its usual fashion. On Thursday night Jamie was riding her bike home after a long night at the library. It was about 9 oíclock and the wafting scent from ĎSufficient Groundsí called to her. She locked up her bike and walked in to the warm space. As she stood at the counter waiting for her latté she spied Ryan sitting in the corner, her head bent in conversation with a young woman. A very young woman. A very, very young woman. Boy does she not fit the mold. The woman had a shaved head and a riot of piercings on her ears and eyebrows. I bet sheís got some that are hidden, also. That bet was quickly resolved when she got up to go to the restroom. She walked right by Jamie and fairly large rings clearly showed their shape upon her nipples through her thin tank top. Jamie stared at her in shock. She couldnít be out of high school! She turned her gaze to Ryan who was staring at her with a bemused expression on her calm face. Jamie marched right over to her, her outrage growing with each step."Gee, Ryan, isnít it a school night?" she asked sweetly. "You donít want your date to be late for the bus!"

"What do you mean, Jamie?" Ryan inquired with a look of pure innocence on her face.

"That woman doesnít look like sheís even out of high school!" she fumed.

"Donít be ridiculous, Jamie," she said with a big grin. "Jennie isnít in high school." "Well, you could have fooled me..." she began but was cut off by the womanís return."Jennie, Jamie thought you were in high school," she laughed.Jennie laughed too, and mumbled, "I wish."

"Jamie, Jennie is in grade school," she said with a sweet innocence that matched Jamieís earlier tone. "She just turned 13."Jamie felt as though her head would burst. She knew her face was bright red and she felt completely unable to form a word or a thought.Ryan turned to Jennie, "You donít mind if I tell Jamie about the nature of our relationship, do you?""Nope," Jennie replied easily as she smiled up at Jamie."I work with Jennie though a group called ĎGay Teens in Crisisí. She had some tough times at home, and is currently living in a group home here in Berkeley. Sheís kind of my little sister," she said as Jennie beamed at her.Jamie felt all of the color drain out of her face. She struggled to pull out a chair and sit down before she fell down. As soon as she looked up at Ryanís sweet smile, she felt her color rise again, this time in shame.

"Did you order something, Jamie?" Jennie asked looking at the empty space in front of Jamie."Uh huh, a latté," she mumbled in reply."Iíll get it for you. Then I gotta take off, Ryan. 9:30 is my curfew," she said as she rose from the table.Jamie stared at Ryan who just looked back at her placidly. They sat that way until Jennie returned. She kissed Ryan on the cheek and picked up her book bag and her bike helmet. "Put it on," Ryan ordered."Itís so rank, Ryan. Iíve got an image to maintain.""Well, I happen to like your brain," Ryan said as she stood and plunked the helmet on the stubbly head, "and since you donít even have hair to cushion it, youíve gotta wear this.""Okay, you win," Jennie said as she gave Ryan a quick hug. "Good to meet you, Jamie," she said over her shoulder as she hiked up her huge khaki pants and left the shop.Jamie dropped her head to the table with an audible thunk. "I am such a jerk!" she moaned into the wood."Itís okay, Jamie," Ryan replied as she patted her back. "Itís not like itís outside of the realm of possibility that I would be with a younger woman," she admitted. "Although 13 is a little young, even for me. I like my women to at least be able to go to an ĎPG-13í rated movie with me," she teased."I am such a jerk!" Jamie repeated, still not lifting her head from the table."You are most definitely not a jerk, Jamie. I was taunting you a bit. I made it worse, and Iím sorry," she said sincerely. After a moment she added, "As long as youíve got your head down there can I ask you something?" she inquired."Sure," she mumbled from her new table top home."Were you at the bookstore last Wednesday night?""Ohhh, God," she moaned, and sunk even lower in her chair. "Is there no end to my humiliation?""What did you see?" she asked gently as she again placed her hand on Jamieís back and gave it a reassuring scratch."I saw youÖumÖ talking to someone," she said as she lifted her head, hoping that Ryan did not know what she had seen. "How did you know I was there?""I saw your car when I went outside. I figured you were there, but I was kind of aÖoccupied," she admitted with a little blush. Now Jamie felt much better. She was beginning to get her normal color back and had risen to sit upright in her chair. But Ryan decided she needed to be completely honest with Jamie, so she told her the rest. "Plus, Babs told me she thought she saw you," she admitted.As Jamieís color rose, her body sunk until she was again face down on the table. "Shoot me now, please," she moaned. "What did she tell you?" she asked with a quavering voice."Ummm, she was under the impression that we had beenÖummÖ dating," Ryan explained. "And she said that you looked kind of upset." Ryan paused a bit. "I wasnít going to say anything, but I thought that maybe that was why seeing Jennie bothered you," she revealed."Yeah, thatís probably true," she said with her muffled voice."Why didnít you say something, Jamie? I hate to think that my behavior upset you in any way. Tell me what happened," she said gently as she lifted Jamieís head with both hands.Jamie lifted her head the entire way and sat up straight. "I had to pick up a book for that report we were doing. I went and was just leaving when I saw you. It was like watching a train wreck, Ryan!""UmÖI donít think I get the analogy," she said with a confused look on her face."You know, when something happens that you know you shouldnít see, but you canít help it. I saw you getting kind of um...frisky, and Babs came up behind me. I felt like I had been caught doing something wrong. She jumped to all sorts of conclusions, but I was too embarrassed to set her straight. I just stood there unable to explain a darn thing.""Go on," Ryan reassured her."Well, I was mortified to have her make those assumptions and to have been caught staring at you, so I went out to my car, and you were um...occupied, right in front of me. I felt like I was stuck there, because I certainly wasnít going to interrupt you at that point," here she blushed fiercely. "But you got in her car, and I was able to leave," she said as she let out a big breath."So...does it bother you to see me with a woman?" she asked sincerely."No, I donít think so. I saw you with Chitra from class that time and it didnít bother me at all.""Thatís true," she mused. "But you didnít know me very well then. Do you think that made a difference?""That might be part of it," she admitted. "But I think the bigger issue this time was that you didnít know you were being watched. I felt like voyeur," she confessed. "Iím really sorry I saw you and that I didnít turn away immediately, Ryan."

"And Iím sorry that I embarrassed you, Jamie. Robin lives at home too, so we donít really have anywhere to go to be um...alone. I donít usually let myself get that carried away in public," here she blushed furiously, "but itís been kind of a while, and I just lost my head," she confided. "Like I said at the gym, I was feeling a little twitchy," she said as her blush deepened."Iím sorry Ryan, that must be difficult for you," she said sincerely.Here Ryan grinned broadly, "You donít know what difficult is until you try to do it in the back seat of a Corolla when youíre over six feet tall," she said wisely."Well, I hope it all worked out in the end," Jamie teased back."Yeah, we reached our destination," she divulged, "but my neckís still stiff," she laughed as she rubbed the part in question. "Iíve got to start inquiring about living arrangements before I accept dates," she said with a grin.Jamie smiled as she forced herself not to consider exactly how that neck got so stiff.

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

After class on Friday Ryan was bubbling with energy due to her newfound freedom. She had recently decided that she no longer needed to work the early shift at the gym since Jamie had secured 15 hours of private training per week, and that was more than enough to support her. The gym was sorry to see her cut back, but they were so happy with the new members she had brought in that they still felt they had gotten a good deal.

Now, her first appointment was her 8:00 a.m. class. This allowed her to sleep an extra two and a half hours or even go out at night, something that had not been possible for years. "You know Jamie, you have allowed me to have a quality of life that I didn't think was possible. Getting me that job at the gym has allowed me to feel more rested than I have in years."

Jamie regarded her friend carefully. Ryan did look better than she had ever seen her. Not that she had ever looked truly bad, she thought with a laugh. But Ryan now looked completely relaxed and was childlike and very playful the vast majority of the time. The little lines of tension that sometimes nestled between her eyebrows were completely gone and Jamie also noticed that Ryan's chronic habit of rubbing her eyes had almost stopped.

"Did you hear Linda say that we didn't have class on Monday?" she asked, off topic.

"I have never missed a teacher canceling a class," Ryan replied lightly. "I could sleep Ďtil noon if I wanted to," she said happily. "I'm all caught up on my lab work so I don't have that on Monday either."

Jamie was very pleased to see her friend look so serene. "I have a little idea for how to occupy your morning, if you're up to getting your butt kicked," she offered.

"I guess that depends on who is doing the kicking," she mused.

"How about me?" Jamie replied.

"What method are you planning on using for kicking my butt?"

"Golf clubs," Jamie replied fiendishly.

"I think my butt is in big trouble," Ryan replied with a grimace.

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

Jamie pulled up in front of the 2 story home at 6 a.m. sharp. She was driving an enormous claret red Range Rover. Ryan popped out of the front door looking absolutely perfect for a day on the links. She wore a navy blue turtleneck under a navy blue, emerald and white argyle cardigan. Navy blue poplin slacks covered her long legs. Her hair was in a neat braid that hung down her back. She looked at Jamie with a quizzical little grin. "Um, Jamie," she said across the roof of the big car, "Something ate your car."

"As much as I love my little car, golf clubs do not fit well," Jamie replied. "My father has an apartment in the City and he keeps this car there. I called him and he wasnít planning on using it, so here we are."

"Pretty nice spare," Ryan replied as she looked the car over thoroughly.

Jamie tossed the keys to her with out a word. Ryan gave her a winning grin and trotted around to the driver's side. "You know me too well, Jamie. I have to learn to keep some secrets from you."

"I don't think you can ever learn to keep that grin off your face," she replied fondly.

Ryan looked like she belonged in the big car. The scale of the car fit her perfectly, unlike Jamie, who looked a bit lost in it. "So where to?" she inquired brightly. "I hope it's far," she added as she gripped the wheel and got a devilish look in her eyes.

"We're going to the Olympic Club," Jamie replied.

"The Olympic Club?" Ryan nearly shouted. "I've never played before, Jamie. They have the U.S. Open there!"

"I'm well aware of the history of the club, Ryan. My mother's family has belonged for generations," she stated honestly. "But don't worry your pretty little head. We'll get warmed up on the driving range, then we'll get a cart and you can caddy for me if you don't feel comfortable."

"Do I get to drive the cart?" she pleaded. "Iíve always wanted to drive one of those little things."

"Yes, you can drive the cart," she replied indulgently as she smiled at Ryanís hopeful look.

"Okay, let's go!" she responded gleefully.

As she glanced into the rear of the car Ryan noticed only one set of clubs. "Did you bring some clubs for me?" she asked.

"Yep, those are for you. If you can play with right handed clubs, that is. My father keeps a spare set at the apartment for guests or when he wants to play another course. He's about your height, and you're easily as strong as he is, so I thought they would fit you," she explained.

"Well, since Iíve never struck a golf ball I guess I can do it equally poorly from either side, so right handed clubs should be fine."

"Well, itís a little more complex than that, Ryan. Is your right hand dexterous?"

A waggling right eyebrow was her devilish response.

"Come on, silly. Be honest with me. Iím sure we can rent a set of left handed clubs at the course if we need to."

"No, Jamie. Right handed ones are fine. Iím a natural lefty but I switch hit when I play softball and I can throw with either hand."

"You are quite the jock, arenít you?" she observed as she cast a sly glance at Ryanís athletic body.

"I do all right," she said with a touch of smugness.

A few minutes later, Ryan pulled up to the attractive clubhouse as an attendant in a white shirt and pants dashed out to greet them. "Good morning Miss Evans," he greeted Jamie cheerfully. "Are you joining Mr. Evans this morning?"

"No, my friend and I are going to play alone today," Jamie replied as another attendant ran to open Ryanís door. The first young man trotted around to the trunk and lifted the gate. "Will you be having breakfast first?" he inquired.

"No, but I would like a large hot chocolate," she said as she rubbed her hands together against the morning chill. "How about you, Ryan?"

"Sounds great. I'd love one," Ryan replied.

"We'll be over at the range, Charlie," she replied as she led Ryan into the clubhouse.

Jamie led her cautious looking friend through the ornate clubhouse, finally finding their way to the ladies locker room. She walked over to a narrow but long wooden door which bore a neat plaque labeled 'J. Evans'. Jamie opened the door with a key that she produced from her pocket. Ryan watched as she removed a neatly polished pair of white golf shoes and sat on a bench to put them on. As she watched her Ryan mused that Jamie looked particularly at home in this setting. She wore a sea foam green turtleneck with a cream colored sleeveless cardigan. Her cream colored lightweight wool slacks were held up by a thin black belt, giving her a casual, yet elegant look. After she had tied her spikes she pulled a navy blue nylon anorak out of her locker and stood to leave.

"What size shoes do you wear?" she asked curiously.

"It depends on the shoes," Ryan replied. "My gym shoes are usually 10's, but some of my loafers are 9 1/2's. Why?"

"Come with me," Jamie replied mysteriously.

They walked into the opulent pro shop. Ryan gazed around the overstocked shelves, a bit in awe. "Hi Jason," Jamie called brightly.

"Morning Miss Evans," he replied. "What can I do for you today?"

"My friend here," she indicated Ryan, "needs a couple of things. Hold up your left hand," she instructed as Ryan dumbly complied.

"Hmm," replied Jason. "Looks like a men's small. What color?"

Jamie replied for her, "Navy," she replied firmly.

He handed Ryan a navy glove which she slipped onto her left hand. "Seems perfect," she replied as she got the idea and held up her hand for Jason's inspection.

"What else?" Jason inquired.

"A pair of Foot-Joys, 9 1/2's, leather soles, this style," she lifted her own foot for him to see. This got her a wide eyed look from Ryan, but Jamie just winked at her and said, "Trust me."

Jason brought the shoes out and Ryan sat down and removed her gym shoes. "Would you like to wear two pairs of socks, Maíam?" he inquired. Ryan looked to Jamie who again replied for her. "Yes, a pair of Foot Joys."

As he left to find the proper socks Ryan said in a whisper, "What are you doing? I can't afford this, and I don't want you buying all this for me."

"You can't judge if you like the game if you don't have the right equipment. Now be quiet or I'll buy you golf clubs!" she threatened. Ryan closed her mouth abruptly and kept it closed. With two pairs of socks she needed the size 10 shoes, but she nodded her assent when Jason asked about her comfort.

They clomped out of the pro shop and walked in silence to the rear of the building. Exiting the rear door they walked the short distance to the driving range where their clubs were set up neatly on bag stands. Large buckets of clean white balls stood near each set of clubs. A golf cart sat about 5 feet behind the clubs and Ryan could see two large insulated mugs in the drink holders.

"So this is how the other 1/2 of 1 percent lives," she teased. "But I have a bone to pick with you Miss Evans. I would not have accepted this invitation if I had known you were going to spend this much money on me," she chided.

"Well, Miss O'Flaherty," she replied logically, "Why do you think I didn't tell you beforehand?"

"It really does make me uncomfortable," Ryan revealed. "I'm not used to my friends spending money on me."

"Look Ryan, lets get this settled," she said as she sat in the cart and patted the seat next to her. Ryan gamely joined her, and met her eyes. "I will personally have so much money one day that I don't believe I could spend it all in my lifetime, unless I started buying military aircraft."

"But..." Ryan started but was cut off.

"I wanted to come here to play today. It's much more fun for me to have you with me. You will enjoy the day more if you have the correct shoes. You will not get a blister on your hand if you wear a glove. The membership here belongs to my father. He is happy that I brought you here. He figures that if I have a friend to play with, I will play more. If I play more I get better. When I play well it gives him enormous pleasure. So, really, you've made my whole family happy by being my guest," her face curled into a cute little grin that Ryan had no defenses against.

"Well, if it makes the whole family happy, I guess I can't turn it down," she grumbled.

"Ryan, you are the last person who would want to be my friend because of my money. But it gives me pleasure to spend just a tiny bit of it on you. Will you let me do that once in a while?"

She took a deep breath, gazing into Jamieís eyes and found herself saying, "Yes, Jamie, I will. I promise I will not bring it up the rest of the day. I will just sink into the lap of luxury and enjoy."

They hopped out of the cart and walked over to the clubs. Jamie explained all of the rudiments of grip, stance and swing mechanics. Ryan watched her studiously and seemed to absorb all of the important points. Jamie picked up a 3 iron and instructed, "Stand behind me and watch for a few minutes. Then go around and watch from the front."

Ryan gamely did as she was told. She noticed that Jamie began her swing with a small downward and forward movement of her hands. The next move was a pronounced cock of her wrists, followed by a pulling of her right arm as the club moved behind her back. Her torso was fully coiled at the top of her backswing. Ryan also noted a counterbalancing tension in her legs. When she reached the apex of her swing it almost looked as though her upper body was ready to be thrust forward by her lower body. A millisecond later that was exactly what happened. Her arms paused at the top of the swing. Her left shoulder was tucked firmly under her chin, her hands were behind her head and her body was fully coiled. She exploded out of the stance by striking her left heel to the ground. Her knees shifted laterally as her hips opened toward her target. At impact it appeared that all of her momentum was taking her in the same direction the ball was traveling. The ball clicked sharply as it flew into the cool air and landed a good 200 yards away. Jamie finished her swing with almost all of her weight on her firm right leg, her torso turned toward the flight of the ball, her chest pointing slightly upward, and her hands pausing high above her left shoulder.

"Wow," Ryan enthused, "that is a very complex move. There must be fifty different elements to that swing."

"That is the biggest problem that golfers have," Jamie agreed. "The swing really is complex. I would guess it is harder to hit a baseball because itís moving, but this it really tough to do well. That's why it annoys me when people say golf doesnít require much skill." She shrugged slightly and added, "I mean itís not as much of a sport as baseball or football, but just because you don't get tackled, doesn't mean it isn't hard."

"Well, it certainly looks hard to me," Ryan agreed. I've got no idea where to start."

"Let me get you set up right so you can see how your body should feel when you address the ball," she suggested. "Move your feet about shoulder width. Flex your knees a little so you feel like your weight is a little over your butt, and on the balls of your feet. Keep your back straight but not rigid. Do you mind if I stand behind you to take a practice swing?"

"I donít mind a bit, but I doubt that you can accomplish it," she teased. "Iím at least 10 inches taller than you are."

"Thatís where youíre wrong, Buffy. Itís easier to do when youíre smaller than your student." She stood so close that the toes of her shoes touched the heels of Ryanís.

"Bend your knees a little more," she said. "You should almost be sitting on my lap," she instructed as her own knees touched the backs of Ryanís. "Thatís much better," she said right into her pink ear.

Maybe this wasnít such a good idea, she thought weakly when she began to lose her concentration. Ryan smelled so good that she felt herself trying to sniff her neck. Her breasts were pressed against her back and their legs touched from their pelvises down to their knees. Concentrate! she reminded herself firmly.

She wrapped her arms around Ryanís and loosely placed her hands atop her friendís. "Okay, just stay loose and let me move you," she ordered. Ryan complied with her instructions as Jamie began the swing. "Okay, start with a good flex of your left kneeÖgood, now here goes the handsÖfeel your hips turnÖgood, now feel the stretch in your torso when we really extend at the topÖexcellent!" At the top of the swing they were completely entwined. Jamie felt her mouth go dry as jolts of sensation shot up and down her body everywhere that it came in direct contact with Ryan. She knew that they had been in position long enough but she was having trouble making herself move. She took a deep breath to clear her head, but that just made matters worse when she got another good whiff of her sweet scent. She finally forced herself to move through sheer willpower. "Okay, now plant your left heel firmly and uncoil your hips," she said as she pressed her hips against Ryanís. "Here go the armsÖjust let them followÖgoodÖnow a big follow throughÖexcellent!" she said with pride. "You are very easy to work with," she said happily.

Ryan turned around and regarded her thoughtfully for a moment. "This really is your sport, isnít it?"

"What do you mean?"

"You just seem to understand the swing at a really fundamental level. When you can explain it as well as you do, it must be something that really resonates with you."

Jamie thought about that for a moment. "I guess youíre right," she agreed. "I feel really comfortable when I play. It actually makes me feel kind of calm."

"I feel like that when I run. Itís kind of an altered state," she admitted. "But this golf swing is mighty intriguing. Thereís so many elements that I donít know where to start."

"My suggestion is to put one simple swing thought in your head. Imagine that marker," she pointed at a 100 yard marker, "is an open window in a big wall. Now imagine that you have to stand laterally to that wall and heave a heavy weight through it. Try that without holding a club."

"Okay," Ryan replied, a little doubtful. She did as she was told and felt herself approximate Jamie's swing. "Hey, that works!" she beamed.

"Don't really think about the club, don't think about hitting the ball. Just concentrate on tossing that big weight," Jamie instructed. She handed Ryan a 5 iron and showed her how to sole the club. She bent over and placed a ball in front of the club. "Give it a whack," she exhorted.

Ryan did so, and made very acceptable contact with the little white ball. The ball shot out past the 100 yard marker and she looked up with a big grin flashing those perfect white teeth. "That was fun!" she said gleefully. "Shall I stop while I'm ahead?"

"Nope, we're gonna hit all of these babies," she said as she poked the bucket of balls.

Ryan got to work, and did an admirable job of dispatching each of the little orbs. When she would whiff one or two Jamie stood behind her and gave her a few simple tips. After watching her for a while she commented, "Youíll do a lot better if you loosen your grip on the club. Think about caressing it rather than gripping it." Ryan gave her a cute little smirk but applied her tip and found the results to be quite successful. By the time she was finished her sweater was off and her cheeks were flushed bright pink. She spent a good deal of time just watching Jamie. She was very impressed with her friend's skill. She seemed very comfortable, very much in control of her body. She's really a good little athlete, she thought.

Jamie used all of the clubs in her bag to warm up, but she instructed Ryan to stick with the irons for the time being. "Are you ready to hit the links?" Jamie asked brightly when she had finished her bucket.

"If you've got the nerve to play with me, I'm ready."

"My guess is you'd be beating me like a drum in six months if you played regularly," she admitted. "I think I'd better take advantage of you while you're a neophyte."

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

They hopped in the little cart, with Ryan at the wheel as promised. Ryan drove carefully over to the starter. "Hi, Miss Evans," he greeted her. "Playing alone today, or would you like me to pair you up?"

"We'd like to play alone, Donald. Can we tee off now?"

"Yep. You're cleared for takeoff. Have a good round, ladies."

Jamie was very impressed with how easily Ryan took to the game. She was strong and tall and her balance was very good. She concentrated during her swing, but was relaxed and playful when one of them was not actually addressing the ball. She had no idea what to do with her pitching or sand wedges and they had spent no time at all on putting. So her short game was non-existent. But her iron play was admirable. Of course she hit her share of clinkers, but accomplished players did that frequently. She didn't keep score, as Jamie told her not to focus on scoring, but instead to focus on feel.

Jamie kept score and seemed quite pleased with her game. Ryan enjoyed the look of intense concentration on her face before she hit a shot. When Jamie missed a shot, she didn't get angry, but Ryan could tell that she went over her swing in her head, trying to figure out what she had done wrong.

The course was truly a marvel, and Ryan was tremendously impressed with the quiet and the peacefulness she felt when it appeared that they were all alone on the course. Some of the views were breathtaking and Ryan felt extremely lucky to be here with her friend.

It was nearly noon when they finished and Jamie asked hopefully, "Lunch?"

"I am famished," she admitted, "but I have a 2 o'clock gym appointment."

"Well, you were supposed to do me at 4. We could skip today if you could move your 2 o'clock."

"You are the Devil, aren't you?" she teased as she picked up the offered cell phone and checked her ever present organizer for the number.

She was pleased to be able to rearrange her schedule, and they spent a moment freshening up in the locker room before they entered The Grill.

Ryan was impressed by the quiet understated opulence of the room. Every server knew Jamie by name, but Ryan was pleased that Jamie had taken the time to learn their names also. Martin had always told Ryan that the easiest way to judge a person was to see how they treated food servers. Ryan was pleased to see that Jamie did very well on this test. Ryan ordered a delicious turkey club and a tart fresh lemonade. Jamie had a chicken Caesar salad and a glass of iced tea.

Jamie signed for the bill as she had all day. Ryan pondered how she would repay her, and finally reached a decision. "Jamie, I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed today," she said sincerely. "But I feel like our friendship has reached a close enough level that I feel uncomfortable having you pay me to train you," she held up her hand to stop Jamie's protest. "Yes, I know that this is my profession, and that I would be able to work with a paying customer if I wasn't working with you. But I want to give my talents to you, Jamie. I don't want you to pay for them anymore."

"But Ryan," she protested. "Thatís $375 a week you could be earning."

"Iím well aware of that, Jamie," she said as she gazed into her sea green eyes. "But money isnít an issue between us. If we werenít working out together Iíd still want to be with you, just hanging out. I really enjoy our workoutsóI actually look forward to them. So please donít ask me to accept money for spending 3 enjoyable hours with you a week. At this point in our relationship I just canít accept it."

"Okay," Jamie agreed reluctantly as she gazed back into those mesmerizing eyes. "I can tell that youíve made up your mind. But can I bring you to play golf every once in a while?"

"Deal," Ryan replied as they shock hands on the agreement.

Ryan had just enough time for Jamie to drop her off at home. As Jamie pulled up to the house, Conor was maneuvering his big black Dodge Ram into a nearby parking space. Boy, he looks good in that, she mused. He came over to the Range Rover as Ryan got out and dashed in the house to change. "Gee Jamie, do you have a different car for every day of the week?"

"No, Conor. I actually only have one. This is my father's. We borrowed it so we could play golf this morning."

"Golf? Ryan played golf?" he said in amazement. "I started playing about 5 years ago, and she hasn't stop teasing me about it since. Thanks for the ammo Jamie," he said with a twinkle. "So where did you play, Tilden?" he mentioned the name of a city course in Berkeley.

"No, we played at my father's club," she replied, hoping he wouldn't pursue the point.

"Which is...?" he inquired.

"Olympic," she said without embellishment.

"You took Ryan to play at The Olympic Club?" he said, his mouth hanging open in shock. "Are you still a member, or did they throw you out?" he teased.

"She did very, very well, I'll have you know. I've been playing since I was six, and I bet she could beat me within the year if she worked at it. She's such a gifted athlete," she said admiringly.

"Oh, she'll work at it, all right. She owes me at least 20 rounds after all the teasing I've put up with. That gives me a idea for her birthday though."

"Her birthday? When is it?"

"Itís Friday. Sheís going to be 23."

"I had no idea, the little rat!"

"Well, youíve really helped me out. I didn't have any ideas for a present for her until now. Hey, it would be fun if Brendan and I could play as a foursome with you two sometime," he added.

"I'd like that," Jamie agreed.

Ryan was barreling down the stairs to fetch her motorcycle when she spotted Conor still at the driver's door of the Range Rover. "You can't drive that one, Conor. It's her father's," she stated with authority.

"Did you drive it?" he questioned.

"Yeah, but I'm trustworthy," she stated in a superior manner.

Jamie laughed and said, "Sorry Conor, I've got to get back to Berkeley before traffic gets bad. But next time, I'll let you drive it," she promised.

Ryan grabbed her bike from the garage and walked it up next to Conor. "What were you two talking about?" Ryan asked suspiciously.

"Oh nothing, nothing at all," he said airily as he sauntered into the house.

Ryan smiled up at Jamie and said, "I really had a fabulous day, Jamie." After a beat she added, "Have we ever had a bad time together?"

"Nope. But Iím sure Iíll wear on your nerves over time," she teased.

"Donít count on it, buddy," Ryan said as she patted Jamieís cheek with an affectionate smile on her face.

 

Chapter 6

One of the class projects they had agreed to tackle involved at least one day spent volunteering at a Lesbian or Gay community organization. Ryan had a long association with one such outfit and she agreed to arrange for two evening volunteer sessions at the Gay and Lesbian Teen Talk Line.

Jamie picked Ryan up from the Biology building at 6:30. They generally didnít see each other on Tuesdays but Jamie knew that it was Ryanís busiest day. She also knew that she had a tendency to ignore her own needs in order to be early for her appointments. "Have you eaten?" she inquired sternly.

"Yep," Ryan replied as she patted her flat belly. "Da fixed me a delicious spaghetti dinner which I ate with gusto."

"Good. Then let's get over there early so we can get set up." Jamie always felt more comfortable when she was early for an appointment and she knew that Ryan had the same quirk.

They drove through the streets of Berkeley and crossed over into Oakland. When they reached a rather seedy neighborhood, Ryan pointed out the building and Jamie pulled up in front. A small sign read 'G.L.T.T.L.'. "That's certainly unobtrusive enough," Jamie remarked. "Do you think they get harassed here?"

"Not that I've ever heard of," Ryan replied. "It's not a bad idea to be cautious, though."

As they went into the small building Jamie noticed several cubicles each about 6 feet in height. She could hear soft voices coming from them and she assumed that people were within each one, taking calls. Ryan confirmed this as they walked into a small office near the rear of the building. A large red-headed woman rose to greet Ryan with a big smile on her expressive face. "Ryan, I have missed you..." she said as Ryan enveloped her in a hug.

"I've missed you too, Yvonne. I really miss having the time to come help out."

"Honey, I think you still hold the honor of logging the most hours of any volunteer weíve ever had. Your name is still up on the plaque," she reminded her, indicating a little wooden sign that listed the most loyal volunteers. "We're just glad to see you again," she said as she patted Ryan's back.

"Oh, Yvonne, this is my friend Jamie." Jamie nodded at Yvonne as Ryan continued, "I thought I could take calls and Jamie can listen in. If she wants to handle some, we can do that on Thursday after she feels more comfortable. Does that sound okay to you?"

"That sounds fine, Ryan. You know the drill. You can use Marsha's office to give yourselves a little more room."

Ryan thanked her and escorted Jamie to a second little office. There was a cluttered desk and it took Ryan a minute to find the phone. Once she did she searched for a pair of headphones for Jamie. She came back with the headset and hooked it in to the side of the device.

"All of the calls come in and are answered by one person. She logs them in and sets them into a cue. She tries to match the calls to the abilities of the volunteers. I requested calls from lesbians because that's more germane to our class. The operator knows that I have a lot of experience and that I'm older, so she'll probably send some tough ones our way," Ryan explained.

"But youíre going to actually talk to the callers, right? And you want me to just listen?" she inquired.

"No, not just listen. I want you to observe. There are a great number of resources here and I want you to get comfortable with them," she gestured at the disarray that surrounded her, "I just don't know if I can work in all this mess," she admitted. "Sometimes my neatness fetish gets in the way."

Ryan set to work to locate all of the pertinent reference materials. She explained that Jamie could hear, but that the caller could not hear her. She told Jamie that she could mute her own voice so that they could talk about a call in progress. She pointed at a white board on the wall and told Jamie to write down any points or questions that she hadn't covered.

She looked at Jamie for a few seconds with a very serious expression. "The calls can cover anything. Iíve had people ask me how to use a microwave oven," she laughed. "But about 10 percent of the calls are really serious. I do my best to make appropriate referrals, but sometimes the kidsí stories are truly heartbreaking. If any of the calls bother you, just let me know and weíll stop for a while to decompress, okay?"

Jamie was truly touched by Ryanís concern for her. "Thanks for looking out for me," she said with a smile. "Iíll let you know if anything gets to me."

When she felt comfortable she pressed a button and told the operator she was ready. Less than a second later, the phone rang. "Gay and Lesbian Teen Talk Line, this is Ryan. How can I help you?"

The first two hours passed in a blur. Jamie was truly amazed at the astounding variety of issues that kids called about. And most of the callers were kids, she thought. They took calls from girls as young as 12, which truly shocked her. One young girl had kissed another girl at a party and she wanted to know if that made her gay; a 16 year old was sure she was gay but her Orthodox Jewish parents prohibited her from going out without being chaperoned; a 19 year old wanted help with a paper she was doing for school. Ryan didnít spend a lot of time with that call, but she knew who to refer her to and she gave her some interesting sounding web sites to look up. Ryan handled each call with professionalism but an amazing amount of empathy. She dispatched the calls as quickly as possible, but let kids ramble on if she thought they needed to. God, she has an amazing amount of patience, Jamie thought when a particularly non-verbal young woman could not spit out her question. Jamie jumped to her feet several times to write questions for Ryan on the board, and each time Ryan incorporated them into the call. She would generally mouth a thank you or give Jamie a grin when this happened. After two hours Ryan buzzed the operator to take a break.

Ryan stood and stretched thoroughly. After a minute she lay down on the floor and stretched her back out even more systematically. Jamie did the same, but with much less efficiency. Ryan gave her a little smile and asked if her back was stiff. When she nodded Ryan said, "Come here and put yours arms around my neck." Jamie gave her a puzzled look but did exactly as she was told. She got close and placed her hands around Ryan's neck as the taller woman leaned over to accommodate Jamieís height. "Now lock your hands together tightly," she said from mere millimeters away. Jamie again followed her instructions and was surprised to feel Ryan rise to her full height. She felt and heard the pops as each vertebra seemed to slip back into place.

"Ohhhh God, this feels good," Jamie moaned in pleasure.

"All better?" Ryan inquired with a satisfied grin.

"Pretty much," she agreed as she twisted around a little bit. "Except for one spot right in the middle," she said as she rubbed the spot with her hand.

"I've got another one for that," she replied confidently. "This time put your elbows around my neck," she instructed. Jamie felt her mouth go dry as she contemplated this move. She stood so close and Ryan leaned over so far that they were breathing the same air. The warmth of Ryan's breath on her cheek caused her heart to pick up its beat, but she gamely stood her ground and placed her arms just as Ryan instructed. This time when Ryan rose she was draped along her body and her chin rested right on her broad chest. She turned slightly so that her face lay on Ryan's clean smelling white T-shirt. They both heard an audible snap and Ryan's low laugh rumbled right through her entire body. Jamie hoped fervently that her legs would hold her when she was returned to earth. That low voice rumbled through her again. "Ready?" it asked.

"For what?" was her mumbled reply into the strong pectoral muscle.

"For me to put you down," came her deep chuckle.

"If you must," she heard herself reply after a deep sigh.

Ryan wore a bemused grin as Jamie got her legs functioning. "You really are a pleasure hound, aren't you?" she inquired with a light tone.

"Um, I can't say that I knew that about myself, but I guess I am," she replied with an embarrassed grin.

"Lucky for you that pleasure hounds are my favorite animals," Ryan intoned as she tweaked her nose.

I'm gonna have to sit on uncomfortable chairs more often.

After their little break the first really tough call of the evening came in. It was from a 14 year old girl who had been raped by her mother's boyfriend, apparently because he thought she was gay. Karen related that the man had been with her mother for about a year and had been harassing her because she didnít have a boyfriend yet. She claimed that he drank a lot and that his abuse got worse when he was drunk. Her mother worked nights as a waitress and Karen was often left at home with the boyfriend.

She said that he had come into her room on Sunday night and demanded to know why she never had boys calling. She tried to get rid of him with a flippant answer by telling him that she was a lesbian. He had flown into a rage and beat her severely and then raped her, telling her that he wasnít going to have a queer living in his house.

She was terrified to tell her mother because she was afraid that her mother would believe him rather than her. During the call she was hysterical periodically which was absolutely normal. But the hysteria was followed by long periods of silence which frightened both women. Ryan asked her directly, "Have you had any thoughts of death or killing yourself, Karen?"

Jamie looked at her with wide eyes. She thought it was a very bad idea to suggest such a thing to the girl. She was afraid that it would give her an idea that she didnít currently have. But after a long pause Karen finally answered.

"Yes," she said softly.

"Tell me about them," she urged softly.

"I keep thinking about my funeral. I think about how sorry my momís gonna be for having him in the house. And I think about the kids from my school finally understanding how much this hurts," she gasped out.

Ryan quickly placed the call on mute and told Jamie, "I hate to do this, but we've got to trace this call. I think she may have already taken something. Go talk to Yvonne and tell her what's going on."

Jamie dashed in to Yvonneís office and hastily told her about the call, and Ryanís assessment. She ran back in after Yvonne immediately agreed to call the phone company to trace the call. During one particularly long period of silence, Ryan caught a look at Jamie's terrified face and grabbed her hand, holding it tight while she continued to talk in quiet, reassuring tones, hoping to draw Karen out again. At least 10 more minutes had passed and by now Jamie agreed with Ryan's assessment of the severity of the girl's mental state. Her voice was becoming slow and dreamy when she wasn't crying uncontrollably. Ryan had been letting her lapse into silence for a few minutes. But after another interminable silence Jamie could see the tension in Ryan's face and felt the pressure of her hand becoming more intense.

Several minutes passed and the tension in the room was unbearable. Ryan finally stood up and started to pace in a small circle. She started to talk in a louder voice, "Come on, Karen talk to me. Please talk to me," she pleaded. Finally she couldnít take the silence anymore and she yelled in a frustrated plea, "KAREN! FOR GODíS SAKE!! PLEASE TALK TO ME!"

Every muscle in Jamieís body was coiled with tension. Ryan was pale and rigid as she stood in place with her eyes tightly shut. Just when Jamie was sure they had lost her an older female voice picked up the phone and identified herself as an Oakland Fire Department paramedic. She had to hang up immediately to begin resuscitation, but she promised that someone from the department would call back when they got the girl stabilized.

Ryan hit the disconnect button and sank into her chair. Her head dropped into her hands and she sat motionless for many long moments. Jamie was shaking all over and felt like she was freezing to death. When Ryan finally looked up she saw the pallor on Jamie's face and she immediately got up and shoved Jamie's head between her knees. She grabbed a paperweight from the desk and flung it against the wall. Yvonne came running and Ryan instructed her to get a cold cloth. She returned seconds later with the requested item. Ryan told her she could leave, thinking that Jamie would respond better to her alone. She placed the cloth on the back of her clammy neck and slowly massaged her tense muscles. After a few minutes she felt her begin to stir and she helped her sit up.

Jamie was still stark white but she was shaking less and Ryan guessed that she was in no danger of passing out. She helped her to her feet and guided her out of the small office. As they passed Yvonne's office Ryan said quietly, "I'll call in an hour to see how the girl is." Yvonne mouthed a thank you and Ryan nodded her acknowledgement.

As they got to the curb Ryan propped her up against the car and searched through Jamie's bag for the car keys. When she found them, she turned off the alarm and opened the passenger door. Jamie's color had not improved and Ryan began to worry that she should not have moved her. She appeared to be in shock, and Ryan hoped that being in familiar surroundings would calm her down. She had a rather vacant look in her eyes, but she seemed cognizant of where they were.

Ryan maneuvered her into the seat and belted her in securely. She ran around the car to get into the drivers seat. As she started the engine Jamie moaned loudly and started to struggle to free herself from the seat belt. Ryan unhooked her own belt and ran around to the other side. As she opened the door Jamie leaned over dangerously close to the sidewalk and began to vomit. There wasnít much Ryan could do at this point so she just knelt down and placed her hand on the back of her neck for comfort. She grabbed some tissues from the box on the floor and wiped her mouth gently. Then she lifted her back into the car and checked her vital signs. Her pulse seemed a little quick, but Ryan expected that. She reclined the seat as much as possible and placed her limp form back against the seat.

Jamie was beginning to stir as they approached her house. She moaned slightly and shifted a bit as Ryan pulled into the drive. "Please let no one be home," Ryan prayed aloud. She trotted to the passenger side, opened the door and removed her seat belt. She squatted down and made eye contact. "Are you going to be sick again?"

A small nod and a lurching movement were the only warning that Jamie provided. Regrettably Ryanís reflexes were not fast enough and the remaining contents of Jamieís stomach caught her right in the crotch of her jeans. She swallowed the bile that was rushing up her own throat and did her best to comfort her friend. When she was finished gagging Ryan slid one strong arm behind Jamie's shoulders and the other under her knees. She grunted deeply from the strain as she rose to a standing position. Boy, I wish we had the Range Rover tonight. That squat was a killer!

She struggled to carry her friend up the walk and shot a concerned look at her as she moaned softly. Her diverted attention caused her to stumble just a bit on one of the stairs. Please don't drop her, she pleaded with herself. She hoisted her burden higher on her chest to free her right arm. She managed to get the key in the lock and turned the knob, where she was overjoyed to find the house dark and still. She crossed the threshold and laid her down on the sofa. "Jamie?" she said quietly. When she got no response she lightly slapped her face. Great! Now sheís unconscious! After making sure that she would not tumble off the small sofa she dashed into the kitchen to fetch a dish towel which she wet and filled with a few handfuls of ice. She flicked on the overhead lights as she returned to the sofa.

She sat Jamie up again and gave her a brisk ice massage on the back of her neck. She began to respond and finally muttered, "What happened?"

"You almost passed out at the help line. You're in your living room now. How do you feel?" Ryan dropped to her knees and held on to her shoulders to steady her and looked closely at her eyes.

"Okay, I guess. A little sick to my stomach, though. How long was I out?"

"Not long," Ryan said as she exhaled deeply and rubbed her eyes in her familiar gesture of fatigue. "But a lot longer than Iím comfortable with. Has this happened to you before?"

"Yeah. IÖ" she started, but Ryan saw the green tinge return to her face. She scooped her up and began to climb the stairs quickly, feeling beads of sweat pop out on her forehead as she struggled with her weight.

She carried her into the bathroom and allowed her to kneel on the floor and rest her head on her folded arms crossed upon the toilet seat. Another round of gagging followed and after a few quiet minutes she helped her to her feet and guided her into her room.

"What did you have to eat today?" she inquired.

Jamie thought for a minute, trying to order her muddled brain. "I don't remember. Didn't we eat together?"

"No, that was yesterday," Ryan said as another look of worry crossed her face. "Jamie, I want you to think about today. This is Tuesday. Tell me about what you did today."

"Um, did we have psych today?"

"No, that's on Monday. This is Tuesday. You have your Romantic Poets class on Tuesday. Did you go?"

Jamie concentrated hard and after a few minutes her memory came back. "Yeah, I did. After that I went to the library and then I got some lunch."

"What did you have?" Ryan asked.

"Um, I felt a little funny so I just had some soup and a couple of crackers."

"No breakfast?"

"Um, I don't think so. Oh, no, I was running late so I just had a diet coke."

"Okay, then what did you do after lunch?" Ryan continued.

"I had my next two English classes, back to back. Then I went back to the library and got really engrossed in reading for my class. My watch alarm went off at 6 and I rode my bike home and got my car. I drove back and picked you up at 6:30," she gave Ryan a little smile, proud of her accomplishment of remembering her day.

"So, you asked if I had eaten, but you didn't tell me that you hadn't," she chided her gently. "I guess you need someone to look after you too," she said as she ruffled Jamie's hair. "Iím going to call your parents to let them know about this. I think you should see your doctor."

"NO!" she cried. "Donít call them, Ryan! Please!" she begged with a note of panic in her voice.

"Okay, okay," Ryan said as she gently caressed her cheek. "But weíve got to get something into your tummy. Do you think you have any 7-up or ginger ale?"

"Probably, but Iím not sure."

"Do you feel like I can leave you for a minute or two?"

"Yeah. My stomach is still bad but I donít think Iíll pass out again."

When Ryan returned with a glass of ginger ale she resumed her questioning. "Tell me about when you passed out before"

"It's kind of embarrassing, but I tend to pass out when I'm under stress. My blood pressure is kind of low and I just tend to go out."

"Do you get any warning?" Ryan asked.

"Yeah, like tonight I could tell that as soon as you disconnected the phone..." here her voice got fainter and she began to lose her color again. Ryan reached over quickly and removed the glass from her weak hand.

"I'm gonna get you into bed. Then we're gonna talk about this a little. What do you wear to bed?"

"A T-shirt," Jamie replied as she pointed to her chest of drawers. Ryan pushed her down on the bed and lifted her legs, placing them on the bed also. She walked over to the chest and picked out a very large light blue t-shirt, obviously one of Jack's. She returned to the bed holding the shirt up for Jamie's approval. Her questioning look received a nod in return.

Ryan stood at the foot of the bed and began to unlace Jamie's brown leather ankle length boots. She dropped each boot to the carpet and touched a sock as she asked, "On or off?"

"Off," was the faint reply.

She walked around to the side of the bed and began to unbuckle the brown leather belt which held up the khaki chinos. "I can do that, Ryan," she insisted as she tried to sit up.

Ryan let her give it a try but she flopped back down again in seconds. "God, why am I so dizzy?"

"Because youíve been vomiting and you had almost no food in your stomach to start with. Youíre probably a little dehydrated. Let me get you undressed and then weíll try to get some fluids down you, okay?"

"I feel embarrassed, Ryan," she admitted with a small voice.

Ryan gave her a sad look and sat down next to her on the bed. "Jamie," she said softly. "IÖIím not trying toÖI mean I donít want toÖ"

All at once it hit the smaller woman and she hastened to reassure her friend. "No, no, Ryan. Please donít think Iím worried about you seeing me naked. Iím just shyÖaround everyone," she insisted. "I donít even like Mia to see me naked."

Ryan nodded her head, feeling reassured that Jamie wasnít afraid of her in particular, but she didnít want her friend to lie in bed with her stained and smelly clothes on. She looked rather helpless until Jamie sighed and said, "Iím being silly. Please help me."

She dropped her arms to the bed and let Ryan do her job. She unbuttoned and unzipped the pants and instructed, "Pick your butt up a little." Jamie did as she was told and the chinos were removed and folded neatly.

Ryan began to unbutton the multicolor pastel plaid flannel shirt. She worked the buttons of the sleeves open and removed one arm. She turned Jamie over onto her side and removed the shirt completely. Next she tugged the pale yellow t-shirt up her torso and over her head.

Ryan pulled her up into a sitting position, braced against her own body. "Are you okay?" she asked gently.

"Yeah," she said weakly, but it was clear that she was feeling queasy again. She put her arms around her torso and easily unclasped her peach colored silky bra. She slid it off her shoulders and tossed it away, being careful to avert her eyes as much as possible. Gathering the blue t-shirt, she bunched the fabric together and pulled it over Jamie's head, and then pulled an arm through each sleeve and placed her back onto the bed.

Next she went to the other side of the bed and pulled back the comforter and the sheet. She returned to Jamie and rolled her over until she was lying on the exposed bottom sheet. She went back around again and pulled her up until her head rested on a pair of fluffy down pillows.

Jamie's color was much better now. Ryan checked her watch and noticed that it was almost 11 p.m. so she walked over to the phone and called the help line. Yvonne answered the main number and Ryan asked if they had received word on Karen yet.

"Yes, the paramedics called about 10 minutes ago. They pumped her stomach and have stabilized her. They seemed quite confident that she'll be okay. Physically, at least," she added. "How's your friend?"

"She's okay, that was not an uncommon reaction apparently." After a few more words Ryan hung up and went back to the bed. Jamie's color was nearly normal, but now she was quietly crying.

Ryan untied her shoes and kicked them off. She finally pulled off her leather jacket and draped it over a chair. She had to get her sodden jeans off but she didnít want to leave her friend for long. So she just shucked them and looked in the dresser for some sweats or pajama bottoms. Luckily she found some thin cotton flannel pajama bottoms that must have been Jackís. She slipped them on and shimmied out of her bra without taking off her T-shirt. Crossing over to the bed she climbed in and pulled another two pillows behind her back. She scooted right next to Jamie and pulled her into the crook of her shoulder. Jamie's head dropped onto Ryan's breast and she shook with quiet sobs for a long while.

"How could someone be so cruel to a child?" Jamie finally gasped out. "How could you rape a little girl because you think sheís gay?!"

"I can't answer that Jamie. I can't imagine abusing someone so vulnerable. The really awful thing is that Karen's innocence is destroyed. She might get through the trauma but she can't reclaim her childhood. That's gone forever."

"I'm so proud of you Ryan," she murmured. "You saved her life. You really saved her life!"

"No, the paramedic did that. I just knew enough to call them."

"I didn't realize how bad it was until the end. She would have died if I had been there alone," she began to sob again.

"You don't know what you would have done if you were alone, Jamie. Donít speculate about things like that," Ryan said into her ear as she held her close.

Jamie began to calm down after a few more minutes of sobbing. The stress of the evening began to claim her and she was sound asleep within moments. After Ryan was sure she was in a deep slumber she rolled her onto her back. She drew the comforter up to cover her breasts and pulled her arms out of the covers.

Ryan rolled out of bed and went to the phone. She dialed the familiar number of the firehouse and heard her father's strong voice answer. "Hi, Da. It's me."

"What's wrong, Siobhan?" he said with a note of concern.

"Nothing big. Jamie and I went to the teen talk line tonight and we had a really stressful call. A young girl overdosed and we just got to her in time. Jamie hadn't eaten and she passed out. None of her roommates are here, so I'm gonna stay over to watch her."

"Oh, the poor lass, you take good care of her, Siobhan, she's a lovely little thing."

"Thanks Da, will you let the boys know I won't be home?"

"Sure thing, sweetheart. I love you, Siobhan," he said softly. "And Iím proud of you for helping that child tonight."

"I love you too, Da. See you tomorrow."

Ryan found a small quilt lying on a chair. She flipped off the lights and got onto the bed . She lay outside of the covers and placed the quilt around herself. She lay in that position for a long time, unable to relax enough to sleep. Hours later she drifted off for a few restless hours of sleep.

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

Just after dawn she awoke with a start. She rubbed her weary eyes and carefully rolled out of bed. As she picked up her shoes she heard Jamie stir.

"What time is it?" Jamie asked groggily.

"It's just 6 a.m.," Ryan replied. "You can go back to sleep. You could use the rest."

Ryan came over to Jamie's side of the bed and sat on the edge to check her out. "Iím going to take a shower and go downstairs to fix some breakfast. You stay in bed and Iíll come check on you at 7. If youíre better you can come down and have some breakfast before school, okay?"

"Okay," Jamie agreed. "Gimme a hug," she said as she extended her arms. Ryan dutifully complied, giving her a small kiss on the top of her head for good measure.

By the time Ryan had reached the door to the bathroom she heard Jamie's breathing fall into a steady pattern. She smiled wearily at her sleeping friend and closed the door.

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

After a partially rejuvenating shower Ryan ambled down stairs to find something for breakfast. She had slipped Jackís pants back on along with her own T-shirt. She did a reasonably decent job of washing her jeans out and tossed them in the dryer while she searched the kitchen for acceptable food. The closest she could come was some instant oatmeal. The pantry held every type of spice and herb, but the only real food was microwave popcorn, fat free cookies and diet soda. This is disgusting. Every one of those 3 is underweight and I bet theyíre all malnutritioned. I canít do much about the other two but Jamie is going to start eating better if I have to move in here to cook for her. There was no fruit in the house, but she did find some milk that had a day left before it went bad. She put the instant oatmeal in the microwave and grumbled to herself as it cooked.

She extracted the bowl and added the milk and some brown sugar. She was on the verge of gagging as soon as she took her first bite. What a terrible thing to do to a poor little oat, she moaned. Every bit of flavor and texture has been removed!

Her stomach was queasy as it was, and the wallpaper paste that claimed to be oatmeal was making matters worse. I canít do it. Iíll grab something on the way to class. Anything would be better than that!

She was pleased to hear Jamie stomping around upstairs but she thought she should give her some privacy so she climbed up on the marble counter to wait for her pants to dry. Just a few minutes after 7 Jamie came down the stairs, clean, pressed and very pale.

Ryan hopped off the counter and walked over to her. "You donít look much better," she admitted. "How do you feel?"

"About like I look," she said weakly. "Iím still a little sick to my stomach and I feel pretty shaky."

"I think this is a perfect day to skip school," Ryan suggested. "Why donít you go back upstairs and hop into bed. Iíll go to the store and buy you some human food for breakfast."

Jamie looked at her blankly while Ryan turned her around and steered her back up the stairs. "Scoot," she commanded.

Without a word she climbed the stairs, unbuttoning her blouse as she did so. Ryan pulled her still damp jeans from the dryer and struggled into them. Nothing better than hot, wet jeans that still smell like vomit, she thought cheerily. She picked up the keys to the Porsche and was just locking up when Cassie pulled into the driveway.

"What a surprise," she said dryly as Ryan passed her on the walk. "Do you have keys to the house and the car now?"

Ryan bit her lip to stop herself from snapping at her. "No, I donít. Jamieís ill and Iím taking her car to get her something for her stomach. Is that all right with you?" she added with a false smile.

"Whatís wrong with her?" she asked with a look of concern.

"She got upset last night and hadnít had much to eat. I think her stomach is just raw from throwing up."

"Why was she upset?" Cassie asked with a narrowed glance.

"She and I were volunteering at a help line and we had a really stressful call. A young girl had been raped and she tried to kill herself." Ryan didnít want to give her all of this information, but she didnít want to lie either.

"Thatís ridiculous!" Cassie huffed.

Ryan thought that was an odd term to use, but she agreed. "Yeah, itís really upsetting to think of what people can do to kids."

"No, itís ridiculous that Jamie was put in that position. Sheís not used to that type of person, Ryan," she said dismissively.

There was not one thing in the world Ryan could have said that would not have involved profanity so she shut her mouth and turned on her heel. Cassie was left standing on the sidewalk, mouth open in shock at being treated so rudely by Jamieís uncouth friend.

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

After a $50 trip to the market Ryan returned to the house to start breakfast. Luckily Cassie had obviously just stopped in before class because she was gone when Ryan returned. She organized all of the supplies in the pantry, leaving out just the items that she needed for breakfast.

The first order of business was getting her own meal started. She assumed that Jamie would not be up for some time but she could hardly wait another minute. As it was she had bought some energy bars and had to munch on one during the ride home. She decided she wanted French toast and ham so she mixed up the batter for the crusty brioche that she had purchased. She got everything together quickly and within minutes had it all cooking away. When everything was ready she put her very large latté in the microwave to heat it up and sat down to enjoy her repast. She pulled out one of her textbooks so she could study while she ate. The time flew by and she was astounded when she realized it was 10 oíclock. I guess Iím skipping my bio lab, she thought. Good thing Iím pretty well caught up.

Moments later she heard Jamie get out of bed. She gave her a few minutes to go to the bathroom but when she didnít hear the shower she walked back up the stairs to see how she was.

"Come on in," Jamie replied when Ryan knocked softly. She had crawled back into bed but she looked a lot better. Her color was nearly normal and she didnít have the dark circles under her eyes that she had earlier.

"Are you going back to sleep or are you ready for some food?"

Jamie recoiled at the mere thought. She scrunched up her face in distaste and moaned, "Iím never going to eat again."

"Oh yes you are," Ryan insisted. "Your stomach will not feel better until you get something in there. You can have tea and toast, or cereal, or oatmeal or French toast, or pancakes, or scrambled eggs. But youíre putting something in there if I have to hold you down," she said with her hands on her hips.

Jamie had to laugh at her fierce demeanor. "Jokes on you, Ryan. We donít have anything to eat around here except popcorn."

"You do now," she informed her. "I went to the store." She waited a beat before she added, "And I ran into Cassie. We had a little chat and Iím pretty sure sheís mad at me."

Jamie rolled her eyes and pulled the pillow over her head. "Iím not up to hearing about it right now. Will you tell me after my stomach has calmed down?"

"I donít need to tell you at all," Ryan said. "I just wanted to let you know so you were in the loop. Now what can I make you?"

"I tend to like sweet things when Iím sick. Do you think I could keep French toast down?"

"I think you could if you donít put too much syrup or butter on it. You stay in bed until Iím ready for you, okay?"

"Okay," she agreed as she let out a massive yawn. "Iím still a little tired."

Ryan trotted down stairs and made 3 pieces of French toast for her. She put the plate on a tray and added a small pitcher of syrup, a mug of sweetened tea, silverware, a linen napkin and a bud vase with a bright yellow Gerber daisy that she had purchased at the market. She expertly balanced the tray as she opened the door to Jamieís room. "Breakfast is served," she said cheerily as she entered.

She struggled to sit up as her face curled up into a delighted grin. "Thatís so sweet, Ryan! I just canít believe how thoughtful youíre being."

"You were really in a bad way last night, Jamie. And I feel a little responsible for it. I feel like I should have better prepared you for the types of calls we got, or at least asked them to give us easier calls."

"No way, Ryan," she said as she shook her head. "This is just me. Thereís no way you could have known that I had a tendency to pass out under stress. I should have warned you," she admitted. She took a bite of the toast and closed her eyes in pleasure. "Thanks for making this. Itís just perfect for my sad little tummy."

Ryan was still quite concerned about her and peppered Jamie with questions about her health, as the now ravenous woman diligently worked away at her breakfast. "How many times have you passed out?" she inquired."I would say itís happened to me 4 or 5 times.""How old were you when it first happened?""I donít know, but I think I was in high school," Jamie replied. "I do remember that I had been studying for a big test and I felt sick to my stomach and I just went out.""Have you ever mentioned this to your physician?" Ryan continued."Yes, I did. I had to have a physical before I was admitted here and she asked me if I had ever fainted. She didnít think it was a big deal.""When it has happened before did it last as long?" Ryan asked, still concerned."Iím not sure how long I was out. I think itís usually just a few seconds," she replied."I would estimate that you were out cold for a total of 10 minutes. I was really worried about you. I was wrestling with the decision of whether to take to the hospital," she admitted."Iím sure Iíve never been out that long. Maybe I should call my doctor.""You said that you felt funny at lunch yesterday. What did you mean?" Ryan asked."I just felt queasy all morning. Actually Iíve been feeling a little off for a while. Maybe Iím not getting enough sleep or something.""UmÖI donít want to upset you but is there a chance that you might be pregnant?" Ryan asked gently.Jamieís face was drained of all color in less than a second. Ryan could see her hands grip the edges of the tray so tightly that her knuckles turned white. Her eyes were wide and Ryan was very concerned that she would pass out or throw up again. After she sat for a minute in shocked silence, she tried to answer but couldnít find her voice.

"Iím gonna take that as a yes," Ryan said as she raised her hand to gently stroke Jamieís cheek. "Iím sorry I brought it up since itís obviously upsetting you but if itís a possibility you really should be seen by your doctor."

She pushed the now empty tray away from her lap and let her head fall back against the pillows. "Please God, make it not be true," she begged. "I donít know what Iíll do if Iím pregnant, Ryan," she said with a terribly pathetic look on her face. Ryan sat closer and wrapped her arms around her tightly.

"Donít worry about it, Jamie. Letís get you dressed and go to your doctor. They can give you the results in just a few minutesóthen you can put your mind at ease. Do you want to call Jack and have him go with you?"

"No, no, I really donít. Wonít you go with me?" she asked, looking like a frightened child.

"Of course I will. Iíll call the doctor and make sure they can see you. Do you have the number handy?"

"Yeah, I have her business card in my wallet."

Ryan found the number and instructed Jamie to get dressed while she went downstairs to make the call. She didnít want Jamie to hear her cancel her 1 and 2 oíclock clients or to hear what she said to the doctor so she hoped it took her a few minutes to get ready.

"Hi," she said when the receptionist answered. "Iím calling for Jamie Evans. She had an episode last night where she was unconscious for almost 10 minutes. She also vomited numerous times. She canít rule out that sheís pregnant so sheíd like to come in for a pregnancy test and to have the doctor look at her if possible."

"Well, the doctor is only in the office for another hour today. Sheís at the hospital all afternoon. Could she get here quickly?"

"Yes," Ryan said confidently. "We can be there in Ĺ hour."

Jamie came down just as Ryan was canceling all of her clients for the afternoon. She knew that she wouldnít be able to leave her if Jamie was pregnant so she decided to be cautious. "Weíve got to rush," she told her. "I promised weíd be there in Ĺ hour."

They dashed out of the house and quickly got onto the relatively clear freeway. Luckily they were on the road right between the morning rush hour and the heavy traffic that occurred around lunch time. They didnít talk at all on the way down. Jamie was going over every possible scenario that could occur if she was pregnant; Ryan was just concentrating on driving fast enough to get there but slow enough to avoid a ticket or an accident.

When they pulled up to the charming 2 story brick building that held her physicianís office Ryan pulled over to the curb to let her out. "Iíll park and be right in," she reassured her. Jamie looked hesitant, but Ryan insisted that she get in before the doctor left.

Ryan found a spot only 2 blocks away. She ran all the way back to the office and was pleased to see that Jamie had already been shown to a room. The waiting room was empty and she started to sit down to read a magazine when the door opened and a nurse beckoned her in. "Sheís in room 3," she said as she pointed Ryan toward the room.

"Does she want me with her?" she asked in shock.

The nurse looked at her like she was slow. "How else would I have known to come get you?" she asked with a slight smile.

Ryan just shrugged and walked down the hall to the examining room. Jamie had already taken off her clothes and was sitting on the examining table with just a green paper gown on. She looked small and scared and very cold. Ryan immediately stood right next to the table and wrapped her in her arms, not caring who saw them. Jamie seemed very grateful for the comfort and she nestled her head right into Ryanís neck. "I already gave them a urine sample," she mumbled. "Theyíre doing the test now."

After a perfunctory knock the door opened and a very young looking doctor entered. She looked a bit surprised to see Ryan but she recovered quickly. "Hi Jamie," she said with a friendly smile. "I hear youíve had a tough day."

"Yeah, pretty tough," she agreed. "This is my friend, Ryan. She was with me last night, so she can answer any questions that you might have since I was so out of it."

"Hi, Ryan," she said as she extended her hand. "Iím Alison Aiken."

Ryan shook her hand and stepped back out of the way as Alison started to examine Jamie. She positioned herself so she was close to Jamieís head, but far enough away so that she couldnít see the more intimate part of the exam. Alison checked her blood pressure and took her temperature and then she drew a vial of blood to run some tests Next she asked Jamie to lie down so she could perform a pelvic exam. Ryan felt a little uncomfortable but Jamie clearly wanted her here, so she stayed right where she was.

"Have you had any adverse reactions to the new pill, Jamie?" Alison asked.

"No, I havenít had any side effects from it," she said. "But I havenít been on it for a full month, so it might be too soon to tell," she admitted.

"Have you been using condoms?"

Jamie blushed deeply as she admitted, "Usually. But there were two times where I had sex without one. Both times were on the same weekend, about 3 weeks ago."

"The date of your last period wasÖ" she looked on Jamieís chart and checked her watch to confirm the date. "30 days ago," she concluded.

"Yeah, I should have gotten my period 2 days ago, but I thought the new pill could have messed me up a little."

"Hmmm," Alison said as she stripped off her latex glove and tossed it away. "You can scoot up now," she said as she lightly patted Jamieís leg. "Everything seems normal. But itís too early for me to detect much if you were pregnant. Tell me about your symptoms."

"Iíve felt a little lethargic for a month or so. My sleep has been off a little bit too. Iíve been queasy in the mornings for about a week."

Alison was staring at her intently as she listened to her description of her symptoms. "Are you urinating more than normal?"

"No, no difference."

"How do your breasts feel? Any tenderness?" she asked as she lightly palpated them.

"Yeah, theyíre tender but they always are before my period."

"Tell me about last night," she asked.

"We were volunteering at a crisis line and we got a call from a young girl who was raped and tried to commit suicide. The call went on for at least Ĺ hour and I was tenser than Iíve ever been by the time the paramedics got there. I started to pass out but Ryan got my head between my knees and I felt better. But as soon as we got in the car I started to throw up. Iím not sure how long I threw up but eventually we got home. Iím not sure about anything after that," she admitted.

Ryan piped up to continue the story. "She passed out briefly in the car but she came to pretty quickly. She vomited several more times before I could get her out of the car and as soon as we got in the house she fainted again. She was out a long timeómuch longer than I was comfortable withóIíd say a total of 10 minutes."

"Hmmm, that is a long time," she mused. "Any other symptoms? Have you changed your eating habits or your activity level?"

Jamie started to say no, but Ryan butted in. "Yes she has. Sheís decided to ride in the AIDS ride this year and Iím training her. She rides 50-75 miles a week and she works out 3 days a week with weights. She also works out on a stairclimber or an elliptical trainer 3 times a week."

"Iím a little concerned about your weight, Jamie. I notice that youíre 10 pounds lighter than the last time you were in. How have you changed your diet to accommodate your increased activity?"

"Umm, I havenít?" she admitted weakly.

Ryan butted in again. "Could you recommend a sports nutritionist for Jamie? I donít think she has very good eating habits."

"Yes, I know someone in the East Bay who could help you change your diet. Let me run some tests on your blood. Iíll have the results by Friday, okay?"

"Okay," Jamie agreed.

"Iíll be right back," Alison said as she opened the door. "You can get dressed, Jamie."

As Ryan handed her the neatly folded garments she said angrily, "I should have my certificate revoked!"

"What?"

"Itís criminal that I didnít notice that you had lost 10 pounds! Thatís my responsibility, Jamie. Iím really sorry that I let you down."

"You didnít let me down, Ryan. Itís all my fault. I knew I was losing weight but I didnít say anything or make any adjustments to my eating. I thought it was really neat to be underweight for a while. I usually gain weight around the holidays so I figured it would all even out."

"I guess itís not as obvious with you because I see you so often. Itís hard to detect a change when it comes on so gradually, but Iím still really mad at myself for not noticing it."

"Ryan, you donít see me naked and Iíve been wearing looser clothes to work out in. I didnít want you to see that I was losing weight. Itís really my fault and Iím sorry."

The doctor knocked as she came in again. "You didnít want to be pregnant did you?" she asked with a smile.

"God no!" Jamie shouted.

"Then I have good news," she said with a grin. "You are officially not pregnant."

Jamie threw her arms around Ryanís neck as she broke into tears. Alison just nodded to Ryan and backed out of the room quietly. Jamie cried for a few minutes as Ryan rubbed her back. She finally lifted her head and said," Thank you so much for being with me today. I donít know what I would have done without you."

"Iím glad I was able to be with you. Thatís what friends are for, Jamie."

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

When they were back in the car Jamie looked a little embarrassed as she said, "Was it okay to be in the examining room with me? I mean I know I should have asked you first, but I just didnít want to be alone."

"Of course itís okay. Iím honored that you trust me enough to want me to be with you. But I was a little surprised," she admitted. "You seemed so embarrassed last night."

"Oh, Iím just a big baby sometimes. I slapped some sense into myself last night though. Iím gonna try to be more relaxed about my body. It was kinda weird when she was asking me about having sex, though," she admitted.

Ryan patted her now relaxed hand and said, "Itís okay Jamie. Itís perfectly natural to have sex with your fiancé."Now Jamie blushed deeply. "I know; itís just embarrassing to talk about it.""Now you know how I felt when you saw me practically having sex in public," Ryan teased."There was nothing practical about it Ryan, you were having sex," she teased right back.Ryan shot her a little grin as she quickly changed the subject. "Tell me about your typical daily caloric intake.""I have no idea what I take in," she admitted. "I just try to eat when Iím hungry.""What do you usually have for breakfast?" Ryan inquired."Usually a latté, sometimes a biscotti," she replied."Okaaaay, what about lunch?""I usually get a salad from the Student Union.""Do you eat anything between breakfast and lunch?" Ryan asked."No, I almost never eat between meals. And before you ask I usually make soup and a salad for dinner.""That sounds like youíre eating less than 1000 calories a day!" Ryan nearly shouted.

"Ryan, you told me at the beginning that I needed to eat right. I guess I just ignored you," she admitted."Well, youíre not going to ignore me anymore. Iím going to watch you like a hawk. And Iím going to weigh you at the gym every week. If you lose another pound youíre moving in to my house. Da will fatten you up in no time!"

"Speaking of eating, do you want to have dinner together on Friday?"

"Um, sure," Ryan said as she shook her head slightly at the abrupt change of topic. "I donít have any dinner plans. Where do you want to go?""My house. I want to cook for you to thank you for taking such good care of me last night. Whatís your favorite food?""Well, you certainly donít have to do that, Jamie. Youíre my friendóand my duty as your friend means that I take care of you when you need my help."

"I know that Ryan, but I want to do this. Now spill it!"

"My favorite food--no restrictions?" she asked with a familiar look of satisfied contemplation on her beautiful face. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. She cocked her head just a little and met Jamieís amused gaze, "Lasagna," she said with finality."Lasagna it is," Jamie agreed happily.

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

When they reached the OíFlaherty home Jamie gave Ryan a broad smile as she said, "Thanks again for being there for me. I just realized that today is Wednesday and you missed all of your clients. Can I pay you back for that?"

"Yes," Ryan said quickly, surprising Jamie a bit. "You can go home and make yourself a nice dinner with the things I bought from the store this morning. Then you can call the nutritionist and make an appointment. After that you can take a long nap and pamper yourself for the rest of the day. If you do all of that weíre even," she grinned.

"Youíre the best friend I have, Ryan," she said softly as she gave her a gentle smile.

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

After she left the City she stopped at her favorite gourmet grocery store to buy the ingredients for Bolognese sauce. Luckily the store carried her favorite Italian cookbook so she could double check the ingredients. Once home, she began to make the sauce. She spent a good hour prepping the vegetables and then began to cook. The sauce took her 3 hours to make, but it was delicious. She put some on spaghetti for her dinner, along with a basil, tomato and montrachet salad that she sprinkled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Is this good enough for you Dr. OíFlaherty?At around 9:30 the phone rang. Ryanís deep voice asked, "Did you speak to the nutritionist?""Hi, Ryan, yes I dutifully followed your instructions. Iím meeting with him on Monday. And Iíve eaten so much today I could burst," she laughed.

"Was this your first pregnancy scare?" Ryan inquired a trifle tentatively."Yeah, it was," Jamie said. "And I certainly hope itís my last.""One more reason to be thankful Iím a lesbian," Ryan teased. "Iíd probably have 10 kids by now if I was straight.""Well, you do seem to have a few things in common with bunnies," Jamie laughed."Youíre just lucky I canít reach you from here," Ryan replied threateningly."Where are you anyway? It sounds loud.""Iím at a bar in Oakland. Iíve kinda got a date waiting for me so Iíd better go.""Okay, you little rabbit. Donít do anything I wouldnít do," she teased."Donít count on it, Jamie. They donít call it the luck of the Irish for nothing," she said as she hung up.

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

"Now, youíre sure youíre up to this?" Ryan asked for the third time."Yes, Ryan, Iím sure. Tuesday was just an anomaly. Iím much better prepared for the types of calls we can get, Iíve eaten, and I feel perfectly fine."Ryan was still concerned, but she trusted Jamie to be able to assess how she felt. She had already decided to tell the operator not to give them any really rough calls if possible.

When they arrived Yvonne greeted them with concern. "Are you feeling alright, hon?" she asked Jamie solicitously."Yeah, Iím fine," Jamie assured her. "That was just a series of factors that combined to knock me out. Iíll be fine tonight."They sat in the little cluttered office after Ryan again tried her best to neaten it up. She got Jamieís headset ready and signaled the operator to start putting calls through. After an hour Ryan insisted that they take a break. As they stood outside in the cool night air Ryan asked if she wanted to take some calls. "Oh, I donít know, Ryan. Iím still a little freaked from Tuesday, " she admitted."If you want to, Iíll talk to the operator and ask her to give you some easy calls. She will do that if we ask.""Iím willing to try, but will you promise to take over if I ask you to?" she finally agreed."Absolutely," she replied without hesitation.

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

"Gay and Lesbian Teen Talk Line, this is Jamie. How can I help you?" she asked a little nervously."Hi, this is Carrie. Iíve got a problem that I canít figure out. Can you help me?"Iíll certainly try, Carrie. Tell me about it," Jamie replied.

Carrie was 16 years old and was attracted to her best friend. She knew her friend had been sexual with another girl, but Carrie didnít know if she should pursue her friend. She wasnít sure what it would do to their friendship and she was afraid of being labeled gay."Tell me about your friend," Jamie asked."Sheís my age and we go to school together. Sheís real cute and really nice to me. She goes out with boys but she told me about one time when she went down on a girl." Jamie blushed as Ryan caught her eye and gave her a little eyebrow wiggle. "We do almost everything together. Sheís a lot of fun and she makes me laugh all the time," Carrie explained."How do you feel when youíre with her?" Jamie inquired."Itís kinda hard to explain. I guess things just feel right when weíre together. My stomach gets all tingly when I know sheís coming over.""Have you had any boyfriends?" Jamie asked."Not really boyfriends, but Iíve gone out with guys," she replied."Did you ever really, really like a guy?" Jamie asked patiently."Yeah, one guy at school, last year. We went out a couple of times, but he dumped me.""How did you feel about him? Did it feel anything like you feel for your friend?""No, not really. I liked him and everything, but it didnít feel like it does with Lori.""Have you had sex with any guys yet?" Jamie asked."No, I havenít had sex. I donít want to until Iím sure about a guy. Wow, Iím really impressed! I thought every 16 year old girl had lost her virginity. "Iíve given guys blow jobs, but thatís all," she said proudly. Oh brother.She turned to Ryan who was grinning broadly. Jamie stuck her tongue out at her and continued on gamely, "Do you think about having sex with your friend?""Yeah, I think about it all the time. I think about how she would feel and what it would be like to kiss her and stuff," Carrie replied."Hmmm," Jamie thought for a moment, and finally replied, "You know Carrie, itís possible to have very complex feelings for your friends. Some of those feelings might be sexual. But just because you have that feeling doesnít make you a lesbian. Actually, sometimes itís hard to tell if your feelings are really sexual or just a desire for closeness. Itís possible that you just want to feel even closer to Lori and you think that sex is the way to do that.""I donít know," Carrie replied suspiciously, "I think I really wanna have sex with her."Another glance at Ryan earned another lascivious wink.

"Has she given you any indication that she would like to have sex with you?" Jamie asked."No, not really. We hug and stuff but thatís about all.""Imagine that she came over to your house tonight and you had sex. How do you think you would feel tomorrow?" Jamie inquired.

"I think Iíd feel good..." she replied, "But Iím afraid that Iíd feel gay.""What does that mean to you, Ďto feel gayí?" Jamie asked. "Do you think your friends or your parents would be different to you if they thought you were gay? Or is it how you feel about yourself?""I guess Iím afraid of what the other kids at school would say if they found out," she admitted."Do you think that Lori is someone you can trust? How many people did she tell that she had sex with another girl? Jamie asked."I think Iím the only one who knows. None of our other friends have ever mentioned it.""Okay, I think Iíve got enough information to give you my opinion," Jamie said after a moment. "It sounds like you really care a lot for Lori. It also sounds like you are really interested in pursuing a sexual dimension to your relationship. But your privacy is very important too, and youíre afraid that your friends will give you a hard time if they found out.""Yeah, thatís all true," Carrie agreed."Do you really feel that you need to make a decision right now?" Jamie asked."Um, no I guess I donít," she admitted."One option is to continue to play with your fantasies. You could be a little more open to Lori with your feelings in general. Then if she feels the same way, she may approach you. That might take some of the pressure off," Jamie said."Okay, I think I could do that," she agreed tentatively."Another option is to tell her that you are confused by your feelings for her. You can tell her that you feel that things are changing in your relationship and ask if she feels them too. If she says no, youíre not as vulnerable as you would be if you made some physical overture that she didnít like.""Yeah, I like that idea a lot. That one feels right" Carrie said confidently."But there is one thing I want you to remember," Jamie said firmly. "Are you listening?""Yeah, Iím listening," Carrie replied seriously."Having feelings for another woman does not make you a lesbian. Acting on those feelings with one woman, or several women doesnít make you a lesbian. Your sexual orientation might not be clear to you until youíre in your 20ís or even later. Nothing that you do now has to be permanent. Youíre still developing your sexuality; so let yourself develop at your own pace. Got it?""Got it. Thanks a lot!"Jamie hung up and looked over at a beaming Ryan. "Jamie," she asked ingenuously, "Do you think Iím a lesbian?" she said as she batted her eyes."No, I think you are a brat!"

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

They took another short break for Ryan to heap compliments on her blushing friend. "I canít believe what a good job you did!" she enthused. "You were right there with her. I know you reached her and your advice was so perfect!"Jamie beamed at these heartfelt compliments. "I must admit, our class has really helped me see sexuality in much broader terms than I did before. When I was her age I would have thought that having feelings for a woman would brand me forever. Now I know it doesnít."Ryan looked right into Jamieís green eyes with a quizzical expression as she cocked her head slightly. Jamie felt completely exposed as she imagined that her friend saw all of her secrets. Ryan looked like she wanted to ask a question but Jamie quickly looked away and said brightly, "Letís go do another!"* * * * * * * * * * * *

"Gay and Lesbian Teen Talk Line, this is Jamie. How can I help you?""Hi, this is Star. Iíve started having sex with my boyfriend and another chick and I donít know how to make sure we have safe sex. Is it okay to go down on her after he comes inside her?"Jamie sat with her mouth slightly open and a completely stunned expression on her face. She felt the phone being taken from her hand and heard Ryan answer smoothly, "No, Star. You canít safely do that. HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases can infect his semen. Whether itís in his penis or her vagina, itís just as dangerous."

"What can I do to her?" she asked."HIV is found in semen and blood and vaginal secretions. The safest thing to do is to use a barrier between her vagina and your mouth. You can get free latex barriers called dental dams at the Free Clinic. If you get caught in a bind and canít get a dental dam you can cut open a condom. A lot of women really like how it feels, too."

"Yeah, right," she scoffed.

Ryanís brow knit as she insisted. "That really is true, Star. Iíve been having sex with women for almost 6 years and I practice safer sex every single time. And Iíve got to tell you, I have a great time even with dental dams."

"But how great is the risk?" she insisted.

"Itís impossible to say, Star. Youíd have to know someoneís complete sexual history and the sexual histories of all of their partners to know if youíre safe. I have a lot of sex and Iíve never had an S.T.D. I figure that a little inconvenience is not as much trouble as sitting in a 4 hour line at the Free Clinic for penicillin shots."

"Okay," she relented. "That covers going down on her. What else can I do?"

Isnít that enough!!? Jamie shouted to herself in indignation."Do you ever use sex toys inside each other?" Ryan asked."Yeah, sometimes. Is that cool?""Not unless you put a condom on each toy every time you use it. If you insert something into anyone take the condom off and put on a new one before you insert it into someone else. And never move a toy from your anus to your vagina without changing the condom. I assume you know that your boyfriend should be using a condom every time you put his penis inside your body.""Even for blow jobs?" she asked incredulously."Even for blow jobs," Ryan replied gravely. "I know that guys donít want to do it, but it really can be dangerous not to. If you put just a dab of water based lubricant in the condom before you roll it on, it makes it feel better."

"What can I do without latex," she muttered.

"You donít need latex to touch each other with your hands and there are some great vibrators out there."

"What about kissing?" Star asked, clearly afraid that nothing was safe."Go for it," Ryan said. "There is a very small risk, but a girlís gotta have some fun," she said with a twinkle in her eye.

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

After the call Jamie hung her head. "I feel like Mary Poppins in a leather bar," she moaned. "I canít believe how little I know, or how little Iíve experienced," she admitted."Hey, Jamie, thereís nothing wrong with taking sex seriously. I think itís really great that you found someone to be monogamous with. Donít be ashamed of that.""Iím not ashamed. I just feel so naive. These kids are 4 or 5 years younger than me and theyíve done tons more than I have.""So, the guys youíve been with have been a little conservative. Whatís wrong with that?""Guy," Jamie corrected her, as she blushed."What do you mean?" Ryan asked tentatively."Iíve only had sex with one guy, just Jack. And I mean my definition of sex, not Carrieís," she laughed."I think that is adorable, Jamie", she replied sincerely. "He must really feel special that you share your sexuality with only him.""I donít know if he feels really special. He wasnít particularly happy that I made him wait for so long. I think at times he would have preferred it if I was the town strumpet.""How long did you make him wait, if I can ask?""Till this past summer," she replied with a bigger blush. "June 15 to be exact."Ryan nodded her head and looked a little at a loss for words. Finally she merely uttered one, "Wow."

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

The rest of the night went very well. Jamie began to get over her hesitancy and she was even able to get through most of the calls without blushing. On the way back to her house she asked, "Latté for the road?"

"Sure," Ryan replied easily. They stopped at Sufficient Grounds and found a small table near the window. "So," Ryan began, "Tell me how youíre feeling."

"I feel pretty good. "Iíve really cranked up the calories and I think itís helping already. My stomach is back to normal so I think Iím ready to start working out again."

"I still want you to take tomorrow off," Ryan said firmly. "You need a few days to get your strength back after being as sick as you were."

"Okay, doc, Iíll stay home and get your dinner ready," she said with a smile.

"Can I ask you something pretty personal?" Ryan asked tentatively.

"Sure, I donít have any secrets from you," she replied.

"Why were you so devastated when you thought you might be pregnant? I mean, I could see why if you werenít in love with the guy, but you are. And youíre getting married in a year and a half. So whatís up?"

Jamie sat in silence for a few minutes. She was obviously thinking so Ryan didnít interrupt. She finally looked up and said, "Iím not sure I know. But it felt absolutely horrible. I felt just like I would have when I was 16."

"Thatís kind of odd, donít you think?" Ryan continued. "I also wondered why you wouldnít tell Jack. Shouldnít he be involved?"

"I donít know," Jamie admitted. "It just didnít feel like something he could be helpful with. I mean I know he loves me but heís not very good at the emotional comfort thing. I think he would have been upsetóprobably with meófor having sex without a condom."

"Are you on the pill now?"

"Yeah. But I had trouble with the first two types I took. I got breakthrough bleeding with one and the other made me terribly nauseous. So I had to wait a month before I started this new one. Alison told me to use a condom during the transition but we got carried away once and he snuck up on me early in the morning the other time," she said as she looked down at the table in embarrassment.

Ryan slid her hand over and patted Jamieís. "Iím sorry if Iím prying. Iím just a little worried about you."

She gave her a broad smile and replied, "Itís okay. I know Iíve got some issues that I have to work out with Jack. I guess I just want to make sure that we donít start our family until we get them resolved. I think we have quite a few years of growing up before weíre ready."

"I think youíre awfully mature for a 20 year old," Ryan revealed. "But having kids is a whole new world."

Continue to Part 4

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