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 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."

 

Chapter 7

Jamie rushed home after her morning classes and dove into her work. She didnít cook elaborate meals very often, but she really enjoyed doing so when she got the chance. She actually enjoyed making something difficult a lot more than just making an ordinary dinner, especially when she was feeding someone who really enjoyed foodóand she didnít know a soul who enjoyed eating more than Ryan.Methodically, she assembled all of the ingredients that she would need. She placed them on the counter neatly and then organized all of her utensils. Next she got out her stainless steel pasta machine and began to make dough. Her mother had taken her to a tiny little restaurant in Bologna where she had the most extraordinary lasagna imaginable. She was terribly pleased to find the recipe in an Italian cookbook and it was now the only kind of lasagna she would eat. Jamie remembered that they had used green noodles so she decided that she must also.She began to clean the fresh spinach, and when she was finished she wilted it quickly. She took the wilted spinach and gently dried it as much as possible with a thin kitchen towel. After chopping it coarsely she set it aside.Next she went to a small dedicated baking counter in the corner of the kitchen. The counter was made of a dark green marble and was set 4 inches lower than the rest of the counters. She mounded 1 1/2 cups of flour and scooped out a hollow in the center of it. She broke two eggs into the hollow and added the chopped spinach. She beat the eggs with a fork, as though making an omelet, for about a minute. She began to draw some of the flour over the eggs, just a little at a time, until the eggs were no longer runny. Discarding the fork she began to work the mass with her hands. She worked the dough until the ingredients felt fully integrated. After washing her hands again, she tested it by pressing her thumb firmly into the center of the mass. After her thumb came out clean, she put the dough aside and cleaned the work surface.Now came her favorite part. Sprinkling a little flour on the marble she began to knead the dough. She pushed the mass forward with the palm of her right hand, then she folded it in half, gave it a half turn and repeated. She continued in this fashion, always turning in the same direction. After about 8 minutes of steady work the dough felt as smooth and supple as a babiesí bottom.Satisfied that the dough was perfect she clamped the heavy pasta machine to another part of the counter. After adjusting the rollers to their full width she inserted the handle. Then she cut the dough into 6 roughly equal parts. She rolled each little piece through the rollers, one piece at a time until all six had been slightly flattened. She then ran each strip through another two times, folding each in thirds after each pass through the machine.

She had cleared all of the counters and spread kitchen towels on them in preparation and now she lay each flattened strip on a separate towel. She closed the rollers a notch and repeated the entire operation until the towels were covered with very long very thin strips of green dough.Now came the hard part. She stuck each strip into a large pot of boiling water for mere seconds, then scooped it out and dropped it into a bowl of ice water. After several strips were in the ice bath she removed them one at a time and ran cold water over them. Then she delicately wrung them dry, treating them rather like fine lingerie. She lay each strip back onto its respective towel to dry.

Well that was a quick 2 hours, she thought as she looked at her watch. Ryan was coming over at 5 and she felt like she just had enough time to finish the lasagna and the desert and wrap a few little presents. But first she ate an apple and a few pieces of cheddar cheese, just as Dr. OíFlaherty had ordered.She began to prepare a Béchamel sauce, slowly stirring the milk, butter and flour together until it was smooth and luxuriantly creamy. Ohhh, that looks perfect!Now she was ready to assemble. She took out a large enameled cast iron lasagna pan and smeared the bottom with the béchamel sauce. She lined the bottom of the pan with a single layer of green noodles, cutting them to fit, edge to edge with just a tiny overlap. She took the warmed Bolognese meat sauce that she had prepared on Wednesday and mixed it in with the béchamel. She then spread this mixture in a thin layer over the first layer of noodles, sprinkling it with a bit of grated Reggiano Parmesan to complete the first layer. She repeated this process until she had 9 layers of pasta and sauce. She had just enough sauce left to spread a thin layer on the topmost noodles. She again sprinkled Parmesan on the top and added a few thin pats of butter at various strategic locations.She stood back to look at her creation with satisfaction. Not bad for a WASP, she thought with pride.Now comes the true test of my prowess, she thought. She put 6 egg yolks into the bowl of her Kitchen Aid mixer. She added 3/4 cup of granulated sugar and beat the yolks until they were a beautiful pale yellow and formed soft ribbons.

Next she put 2 cups of very fresh milk in a saucepan and added the peel of half of an orange. She heated the milk until it reached a slow simmer. She then added the hot milk to the eggs, running it through a fine strainer as she did so. She stopped periodically to run the mixer again, being careful to thoroughly beat the mixture together. Finally, she added a tablespoon of Grand Marnier, and stirred it well.She put the whole mixture into a saucepan set on a medium flame and beat it with a whisk for a couple of minutes, making sure to not let it reach a boil. She took it off the heat and set it to chill in the refrigerator.

Her next task was to clean the enormous mess she had created. When she had done most of the dishes the custard was chilled. She put it into her electric ice cream maker to freeze and let the machine do all the work.

By now it was 4:45 and she knew Ryan would be on time. She flew around the house and assembled her wrapping paper, tape and scissors. The last little gift was just barely finished when the bell rang. As she dashed over to the door she quickly hid the small presents and ran her hands through her hair to order it.She was greeted by a broadly smiling Ryan who leaned over to give her a hug. They had recently begun to hug each other when they hadnít seen each other for a few days. Jamie felt very comfortable with the increased intimacy, and found that she missed the contact on the rare occasions Ryan didnít offer it. She was a bit surprised today only because they had seen each other earlier at class."You certainly look happy," she told the beaming face."You are cooking, arenít you?" she asked logically."Yes, I most certainly am," she replied."Then I am most certainly happy," she stated with an even bigger grin. She leaned over again and gently brushed her thumb across Jamieís cheek a few times. Holding her hand up close to her eyes she nodded her head and thoughtfully said, "Flour."

"I get a little wild when I cook. God knows whatís hiding in my hair!" God, one smile from her and I would cook like this every day. The world is lucky that she uses that smile for good, and not evil."It smells very good in here," Ryan stated as she twitched her nose reflectively. "I smell something sweet. Do I get dessert, too?""Yes, you get dessert, too. I donít believe in making a partial thank you dinner.""Far be it from me to turn down a special meal, but you donít owe me any thanks, Jamie," she stated sincerely. "Weíre friends, and I take my friendships very seriously. You were really out of it on Tuesday and I felt responsible for you. I know you would do the same for me.""Well, conceptually you are right, Ryan. But I was thinking about that night and I donít remember walking on my own volition at any time after that phone call."

"You walked to the car, but I had to carry you in."

"And did you not also carry me up that huge staircase?" she asked, already knowing the answer."Yeah, I had to. You were about to go out again and I couldnít leave you on that little sofa. I was afraid you would fall and hurt yourself. I thought your bed would protect you better.""Okay, now letís switch roles. Where would we be if you had passed out that night?""Um, still lying on the floor of the building, I guess," she admitted with a twinkle in her eyes. "It would take two men and a strong boy to pick me up.""My point exactly. My spirit would be willing, but my flesh is weak. So the bottom line is that Iím very thankful not only for your friendship, but your big muscles are awfully nice to have around too.""So youíre just replenishing all of the calories I expended, huh? I guess that does seem fair," she grinned. "I will admit though, I wished we had the Range Rover that night.""Whyís that?" Jamie asked, a trifle confused."I had to power you up from a deep squat to get you out of the car. Iím gonna have to do some more work on my quads if Iím going to continue to pick you up off the floor," she teased as she slapped her ample thigh muscles."Maybe you shouldnít try to get my weight back up. It might be to your detriment.""I think I would rather make sure you donít get that stressed out that badly again," she replied as she slipped her arm around Jamie, and they wandered into the kitchen together.

Ryan offered to help with the last of the dinner preparations. Jamie set her to work on setting the table and choosing some music. Ryan bustled around the large kitchen, finding out for herself where everything was kept. She was just about finished when Jamie asked," How do you feel about anchovies?""I feel very kindly toward them, so long as they lie still while theyíre being eaten," she replied with a laugh. She walked up behind Jamie and enthused, "Ooooh, Caesar salad, my favorite.""Ryan, I swear that almost everything you eat is your favorite," she admonished her."Well it is," Ryan gamely defended herself. "I have tons of favorites, but what I choose to eat at any particular time becomes my favorite. Caesar salad is my favorite Italian style salad, particularly when served with anchovies and followed by lasagna."Jamie gave her a narrowed glance as she asked, "How much time do you spend thinking about food?""A lot," she admitted. "Okay, a whole lot," she amended when she caught Jamieís dubious glance. "Food really is the highlight of most of my days. An hour or so before lunch I start thinking about what I will have. I do the same at dinner. It really gives me a great deal of pleasure.""I guess the pressure is really on me to perform then, huh?" Jamie asked."Nope. Not at all. You get tons of points for the effort even if the execution isnít perfect. Where do you get your recipe for lasagna, anyway? Is it a family secret?""I come from a family of diners, not cooks. My mother could probably make a peanut butter sandwich, but Iíve never actually seen her do so," she admitted. "And come to think of it, Iím certain she would never eat peanut butter, so it really would be a lost exercise.""Are you really being serious?" Ryan asked as she stopped in the middle of the kitchen and stared, absolutely dumbfounded."Completely," Jamie replied. "I have never eaten a meal that my mother prepared for me. Come to think of it, I wasnít even breast fed," she laughed."Not even tea and toast when you were sick?" Ryan asked."Nope. I had a nanny who took care of me when I was sick. My mother didnít really get involved in the day to day caretaker stuff.""God, Jamie, I find that so hard to believe!" Ryan was truly shocked."Well, itís true. Our relationship has always been friendly and pleasant enough, but distant. She traveled and spent time on her hobbies, but child rearing wasnít really one of them," she admitted.Friendly?? Pleasant?? What kind of words are those to use for your relationship with your mother?! "So how did you learn to cook?" Ryan asked, trying to change the depressing subject."We had a great cook, named Marta. Sheís still with us as a matter of fact. Sheís from Spain but she can cook anything. She does a lot of Northern Italian cuisine because thatís my motherís favorite. But she can also do classical French and some great spicy Spanish dishes for my father and me.""Did you just watch and learn?""No, she was a really good teacher. She knew I was interested and she spent a lot of time with me, teaching me the fundamentals. My mother found it odd that I wanted to spend my time chopping vegetables into julienne, but she didnít mind much as long as I was entertained. Actually, Marta was one of the best teachers I ever had. She didnít have any children and we spent a ton of time together just talking and hanging out."Ryan was enormously saddened to hear her friend speak of this emotionless upbringing. The thought of young Jamie having to get her parenting from the hired help was just too much to consider. She tried to change the subject again. "So, you know my favorite food, whatís yours?"Jamie turned thoughtful as she finished tossing the Caesar salad. "I think my favorite is a good steak and pomes frites from a French bistro. I have had some extraordinary meals at Chez Panisse," she named a local Berkeley institution. "Have you been there?""No, but Conor has. He said he liked it, but the portions werenít big enough. Not that that is surprising!" she laughed."I think we are ready to eat. Hungry?" she asked needlessly."I was hungry when I got here. But smelling that lasagna cook has put me into a whole new classification of hunger. Itís beyond famishedÖbordering on starvation, I believe.""Then have a seat and get ready. Iíll take the lasagna out so it can cool for a minute." She went to the oven and pulled out the pan, using hot pads. Ryan did not sit down as instructed, but trotted right behind Jamie, looking over her shoulder, mouth watering."God, Ryan, you look like a hungry wolf with a wounded animal in its sights," she said of Ryanís intense gaze."Thatís exactly how I feel at the moment," she replied, never taking her eyes from their bubbling target. "I think Iím willing to risk the burns to my mouth to eat that right now," she threatened as she leaned over her prey.But Jamie grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her firmly around to face the kitchen table. She gave her a little push and said firmly, "Sit. Now."Ryan complied, grumbling the whole time. "Would a Caesar salad placate you for a few minutes?" Jamie asked, taking pity on the poor creature."I suppose," she moaned as she let out an aggrieved sigh.Jamie filled two salad bowls and deposited them on the table. Ryan dug in and in moments her face became a study of various levels of pleasure. She started at mere happiness and by the fourth bite had progressed to ecstasy. "My God, this is good," she moaned from her state of bliss. "You have ruined me for life, Jamie. All other Caesar salads will be but pale imitations. Iíll never be satisfied with another!""Then youíll just have to come here when you need a fix," Jamie replied, terribly pleased at the effusive compliments.Ryan mopped up every bit of dressing with a piece of crunchy Italian bread. "Is it considered rude to lick the salad bowl?" she asked."There is just a tiny bit left, but I donít want you to be too full for your entrée," Jamie warned."My physiology is just like a cow," Ryan informed her. "I have six stomachs, all in different stages of digestion. Iíll just put the entree in another stomach." She was already on her feet, moving toward the salad bowl. As she passed the cooling lasagna, she leaned down and gave it a hearty sniff. "Youíre next," she growled.Jamie laughed heartily at her antics. Ryan was so full of life, so immersed in the pleasure of whatever she was involved in that it was impossible not to enjoy being with her. Jamie thought of all the women that Ryan had been with and felt a little sorry for them. She knew how much they must crave further contact, and how few of them got that wish. She considered herself very lucky to be able to be close to Ryan and receive so much of her time.

Ryan was polishing off the remnants of the salad right from the serving bowl. She used more bread to capture every bit of dressing and every tiny green leaf that tried in vain to escape."I donít think I have ever met anyone who enjoys food as much as you do. You just seem so immersed in the whole experience. Itís fun to watch!"Ryanís face grew serious. "Honestly, thatís my whole philosophy of life, Jamie. I try to be fully involved in whatever Iím doing. The simplest task is made beautiful if Iím fully in it. When I eat I try to feel it with every sense. I try to really taste and smell the food. Thatís why I love to eat with my hands. I love the feel and the texture of food. I love to look at food before I eat it. I love the colors and variety of textures. I even really enjoyed the crunch the croutons in the salad made." She grinned up at Jamie from a slightly embarrassed smile. "I know that sounds kinda nutty, but thatís how I approach life.""That is the least nutty thing Iíve ever heard," Jamie replied. "Youíre really teaching me a lot about savoring life, Ryan, and I want you to know how grateful I am for that," she said simply."I didnít realize that Jamie, but Iím glad itís helpful for you. I made up my mind when I was a teenager that I wasnít going to let life pass me by. I knew that every day we have is a gift and I intend to make the most of those gifts.""Well, speaking of gifts," Jamie said as she rose and walked to the counter, "Happy Birthday, Ryan." She lit the candle that she had placed in the lasagna and carried the large pan to the table. She leaned over her shoulder and gave her a small kiss on her flushed cheek.Ryan was truly stunned. "How did you know?" she asked delightedly. "Iím sure I didnít tell.""No you didnít, you big dope. And Iím a little miffed I had to find out from Conor.""You know, youíre right Jamie. I should have told you. I usually spend the day with my family and sometimes I forget to include other people. I kind of hate to have a big deal made out of it, but I should have included you. Iím really glad that Conor told you."

Jamie served up a steaming plate of the lasagna and Ryan took a hearty bite. She was silent as she closed her eyes, deep in concentration. Jamie could just imagine each of her senses kicking in, feeling and tasting and smelling the delectable bite."If I didnít believe in God before today, I would now. This," she waved another forkful of the dish at Jamie, "is a clear sign that God loves us and wants us to be happy.""Iím so glad I could make you something that you enjoy so much," Jamie replied as she tried to control her beaming smile."I have eaten lasagna at least 200 times in my life. I order it every time itís on the menu. But I can truly say, Iíve never tasted lasagna before today."Jamie just grinned in response.

They ate in silence for a few minutes to allow Ryan to concentrate. Finally, she looked up from her plate. "I need to know how you made this. There is nothing about this that I recognize, not the noodles, not the sauce, nothing! Most of the time lasagna is heavy and overly rich. This is just so light and delicate tasting."Jamie explained the entire process, while Ryan watched her in rapt fascination. Finally she shook her head and locked her clear blue eyes on her friend and asked, "You did that all just for my birthday?""Yep. And Iíd do it again in a minute to see you enjoy yourself so much," she replied truthfully."Do you cook like this for Jack?" Ryan asked after a moment, a bit off topic."I do cook for him, but I donít think Iíve ever done anything very elaborate. He doesnít care about food a lot. He thanks me for cooking, but in the same way he thanks me for vacuuming. I think he eats to live, and thatís about it.""Well, anytime you need an enthusiastic taste tester, you know where to find me.""Iíll keep your name on file," Jamie replied with a grinAfter Ryan had eaten much more than Jamie thought wise, they sat together in the living room with large cups of cappuccino. "Is there anything you donít cook well?" Ryan asked as she sipped her coffee."Iím sure Iíve screwed up my share of meals. I just had a good day," she replied. "But I must admit, cooking for an appreciate audience is really pleasurable.""If I were any more appreciative Iíd be on the phone to the Vatican petitioning you for early sainthood," Ryan said."I was thinking about the teen talk line," Jamie said after a few minutes. "Yvonne said you were the volunteer who logged the most hours. When did that happen, and how did you get involved?"Ryan was silent for a few moments. She looked down at the floor as she said softly, "Itís a long, sad story. Are you sure you want to hear it?""Only if you want to talk about it," Jamie replied.

"I like to reflect on my life on my birthday. Itís a good way to appreciate all of the gifts Iíve been given. So I donít mind. But I guess Iíve got to go back to high school to make it make sense. Did I ever tell you about Sara?" When Jamie shook her head, Ryan continued. "She was my best friend all through grammar and high school. It was kind of like the caller you helped the other night. I was totally in love with her. She was my whole world. I have never felt like that about anyone--before or since," she admitted, her hooded eyes dark."I went to an all girls Catholic high school. I knew that I was different from my friends but it didnít bother me. I thought I was just unique," she said as she gave Jamie a crooked little grin. "I didnít ever have a crush on a guy or have any desire to go out with one. Luckily we didnít have the pressure of having guys around all the time, so the issue was never forced. I honestly never considered that I might be gay, though. I just thought I wasÖme. I thought everyone had crushes on their girlfriends and teachers. I honestly thought everyone scheduled their week around ĎCagney and Laceyí," Ryan said with a small laugh at the memory.

Jamie didnít understand the reference but she nodded to encourage Ryan to continue."Anyway, as the years passed I began to feel more than close to Sara. I wanted to be Ďwith herí, even though I didnít really know what that meant or how to go about it. I was really naive when it came to sex. That was one area that Da did a crummy job with. And the boys were certainly no help. It might have been different if I was a little worldlier but my whole universe was sports and Sara. I didnít watch TV very often or go to many movies or participate much in community events so I was just not clued into lesbianism."

"You must have been so confused," Jamie empathized."In a way I was, but in another way I assumed Sara felt just like I did. We were so close it was like we shared a soul." Ryan dropped her head a little, but continued. "I was finding the temptation overwhelming just to touch or kiss Sara. She was all that I thought about. I wanted to let her know how I felt, but I was so confused about what this thing was, that I didnít feel able to."Jamie nodded to encourage Ryan to continue."One night I was staying over at Saraís. We did that a lot. It was the end of my junior year. She was a year older and she had already decided to accept a soccer scholarship at Cal. Her graduation was in a couple of weeks and she was going to go to a soccer camp in San Diego as soon as school was over. I was panicked at the thought of her going away and I let my fear of losing her override my fear of expressing myself."Jamie cringed, knowing right where this was heading."We got into bed and I started talking. I told her that I didnít think I could live without her. I told her everything--how much I wanted her, how I dreamed about her, how she meant everything to me. She was kind of quiet, but I thought she agreed. After a minute I reached for her and I kissed her. I had never kissed another person in my life and it was kind of overwhelming," here she shook her head and stared at the floor."I was shaking so hard she must have heard my teeth chattering but I could tell she was nervous too. But God, Jamie," here she took a deep breath and let her head drop back against her shoulders. "Nothing since has ever felt that good to me."

"I thought she was enjoying it as much as I was," she said with a rasp in her voice. "No, I know she was enjoying it. I know it," she said firmly as she closed her eyes tightly.Jamie had moved closer to her for comfort. She didnít touch her, but she was so close she could feel the heat radiating off her body.

"In my fumbling, terrified way I continued on. I donít know where I got the courage but I got more and more aggressive. I guess all those years of yearning for her propelled me forward. I explored every inch of her body with my hands. After a long time of totally tender touches we began to get more passionate. And it wasnít just me. She didnít touch me intimately but she kissed me with so much emotionÖ" Ryan closed her eyes again stared up at the ceiling. "I can still taste her lips," she whispered as she shook her head and took in a deep breath. She seemed on the verge of tears but she gathered herself and continued on. "Eventually I discovered what she liked and brought her to orgasm. I cannot tell you how that made me feel, Jamie. I can honestly say that was the happiest moment of my young life. I felt closer to her than I thought possible. I had used my hands and my body to give her such pleasure. She seemed so satisfied, and a few moments later she kissed me with so much love in her eyes. As she fell asleep in my arms, I held on to her with all the strength and the tenderness that I possessed."Ryan blew out a big breath and Jamie steeled herself for the inevitable."I didnít sleep much that night. It felt so wonderful to be that close to her. I canít describe it as anything other than feeling like I was finally home. I watched her sleep and occasionally would give her a light kiss. I was planning our lives together. I decided that night that when I followed her to Cal we would live together and start our lives together," she smiled sadly at the memory."In the morning, Mrs. Andrews came to wake us up. Sara acted very flustered when her mom was there and I figured she was uncomfortable about us getting caught. She came up with some lame excuse and told me she had to go somewhere with her mother. I felt a little funny about it, but I wasnít really worried. I should have been. That was the last conversation we ever had."Jamie sat in the still room with her hand on Ryanís knee. She knew the depth of the hurt, could see it on Ryanís face, and hear it in her voice. But she had no words to heal the old pain. Instead, she just patted Ryanís knee in sympathy and understanding."She would not return my phone calls. On Monday at school she would not even make eye contact with me. I honestly almost lost my mind that day. After school I went to her house. Her mom told me that she didnít want to see me anymore. She asked me to never call their house again."

"How unspeakably cruel!" Jamie shouted in indignation. "How could she do that to you?""Actually that was what made it even harder. I was really close with her mom. She was one of my mother substitutes, but I never saw her again after that day. But I donít blame her." She gave Jamie a small grin as she admitted; "I canít say the same for Da or the boys though. Sara was obviously really upset and I guess her mom didnít want it to get any worse. Sara must have told her what had happened, because her mom told me that she hoped things worked out for me but that Sara wasnít like I was. I donít know," she said softly. "If my daughter was in the same situation I might have done the same thing.""I donít believe that for a minute, Ryan," Jamie said firmly. "If you were her mother you would find a way to be supportive of a child that was going through a very difficult time. You would not turn your back on a child that needed you!" Jamie continued to stroke and pat her leg and Ryan finally gave her a small smile."It was a terrible time for me. After the loss of my mother this was the worst thing that ever happened to me. It screwed up the way I felt about myself for a very long time. It was the only time in my life that I felt bad about being gay. I believed every bad thing I had ever heard about gay people. If someone as wonderful as Sara and as great as her mother thought I was sick, I assumed that I must be. I started doing some crazy stuff. I started hanging out in The Castro and going to bed with older women. I was almost 17 but I looked older. I would be with anyone who wanted me. But I didnít really get anything out of the sex. I just wanted the contact. I wanted to be with other freaks like me. But thatís whatís so hard for so many gay kids. We donít get a chance to develop like straight kids do. Not many of us get to have normal dating relationships. We often go from a crush to having sex like I did. And I realize now how harmful that is for kids. Itís too overwhelming to have your first kiss followed by your first time making love."

"How did you come out of it?""It took a while. The next school year things got quite a bit worse. Iíll save the details for another day. Sara obviously told some people about what I did to her and everyone started to treat me like a freak. I spent the whole year just trying to survive. It was an unbelievably tough year.""Didnít you talk to anyone?" Jamie inquired gently as she continued to run her hand up and down Ryanís leg."After my first semester grades came out over Christmas break Brendan sat me down and said he was worried about me. The boys didnít know what I was doing, but they knew that I had changed. I never came home drunk when Da was home but he was gone 3 or 4 nights out of the week. Brendan was away at school and Conor and Rory had their own things so they didnít keep a very close eye on me. Brendan told me that I could tell him anything, and after a good bit of prodding he pulled it out of me. "He was so wonderful, Jamie," Ryan smiled at the memory. "He was so completely understanding. He really reassured me that there was nothing wrong with me. He said that as I got older I would find lots of women who wanted to be with me. A little while after we talked I made myself tell Da and the other boys. Iíve never asked Brendan, but I think he told them first so theyíd be prepared. They were all super. Da told me that I was precious to him no matter who I loved.""Iím so glad they were all supportive of you, Ryan. That must have really helped.""More than I could have imagined. I didnít feel like I was bad for being this way any more. My self image got a lot better and I stopped being with people just because they wanted me. Brendan did some research and he hooked me up with the Teen Talk Line. I talked to someone really nice who was very supportive. She told me about ĎMama Bearísí and some other places that young women could go. After a while I went to the talk line and got trained as a peer counselor. Talking to other kids helped me realize how good things really were for me. By second semester my grades were back up, but I had screwed up at the worst time. My scholarship to Cal was withdrawn and I had to come up with another plan.""What did you do?" Jamie asked."Conor started taking me to the gym with him and I really got into it. After I graduated I spent the summer taking classes to become a trainer and I worked every possible minute that I could. I had been accepted at the University of San Francisco as my fallback school, but it was really expensive, so I had to work full time to be able to afford the tuition."

"But why go somewhere so expensive? Couldnít you have gotten in somewhere else?"

"Getting in places wasnít a problem," Ryan assured her. "But I had such a hard time during my senior year that I couldnít bear to live away from home. I really needed their support that year. Besides, after all of the problems I had in school that year taking a couple of years off seemed really appealing. So I worked for 2 years and I really enjoyed it. I could really focus on what was important to me. In retrospect it was a foolish decision to waste 2 years and have to pay my own way, but I was so heartbroken over not being given my scholarship that I just couldnít bear to attend Cal. And the thought of seeing Sara around campus was just something I couldnít risk. After I completed two years at USF I decided that I had sulked long enough and I transferred. Itís where Iíd always dreamed of going and I finally decided that I was only hurting myself by not going there."

"Wow, you sure have been through some hard times," Jamie said as she patted her back."Yeah, but I got through them. And I feel pretty darn good about myself now. I mean, I must be doing something right to merit a friend like you, donít I?" she said sincerely as she looked over at Jamie with those clear blue eyes.

Jamie just soaked in the words of friendship that Ryan so easily offered. I do not understand why she isnít in a relationship. It seems so easy for her to open up and show her feelings. Is she really that different when sex is involved?

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

After Ryan had digested enough of her dinner to allow for dessert Jamie led her back into the kitchen. "I hope you like what I made for dessert. I know you say you like everything, but this is a little different," she said with a smile at Ryanís interested expression. "The last time my mother and I were in Bologna we had this at the same restaurant that made this style of lasagna. Itís really the prototypical dessert of the region and I thought it would be a perfect compliment to dinner."

Ryan watched as Jamie took the frozen insert of the ice cream maker from the freezer. She removed two pale green milk glass bowls from the cabinet and scooped the frozen concoction into the bowls. Next she removed some delicate little orange and chocolate flavored cookies that she had purchased from a fabulous craft bakery on the way home from school. As she looked at Ryan she saw her eyes go wide."You made ice cream?" she asked very tentatively. "I thought you had to be Ben or Jerry to make ice cream," she said slowly."No, itís a feat that is easily accomplished if you have a good ice cream maker," Jamie replied."You know, you are the last person in the world who should be underweight. You obviously donít cook much for yourself," Ryan observed as she playfully tried to pinch her waist."No, I really donít," she giggled as she tried to dance out of the way. "I prefer to cook for others I suppose.""If you donít stop saying that youíre gonna find me on your door step every evening," she threatened. Ryan was focused on her bowl as she took her first big bite of the custard. Her eyes closed and she dropped her head to her chest. Both hands came up and balled into fists as she lightly pounded on the table for a few beats, then looked up at Jamie in wonder. Her hands opened and rose halfway to her face. She shook her hands lightly as she wagged her head from side to side.

Not a word had been spoken, but Jamie knew that she was being lavishly complimented. After every bite Ryan would look at her with a delighted expression of amazement and another little shake of her head. Finally, when her bowl was clean Ryan finally muttered softly, "I have no words." She shook her head again and looked rather helpless as she said, "If I could have another bowl Iíd be forever grateful."

As her second bowl was presented Ryan predicted, "Iím sure Iíll be more erudite after my second helping." She dug in again, but was once more totally silent. Her brows knit in concentration and she looked very reflective a couple of times; as if she had a point to make. But she would again shake her head lightly and shrug her shoulders in a small sign of defeat. She regarded her friend once again and admitted, "I just canít form a cogent thought. I truly want to do justice to that ambrosia but I am unable to come up with a compliment that is representative of my feelings."

"None needed," Jamie replied as she gently patted her cheek. "Just watching you eat is the supreme compliment." As she spoke, she rose and crossed the room to retrieve the hidden presents. She brought the small pile over to a still dumbstruck Ryan who gave her a delighted smile."Jamie, you certainly didnít have to buy me presents after all this!" she protested."I know I didnít have to. But I wanted to. It really gave me a lot of enjoyment to be able to buy you a few little things," she replied."Okay, you win. If you get pleasure out of doing this, then Iím going to shut up and just let myself enjoy it," she decided as she grabbed the first little box.Jamie watched her face take on a childlike glee as she shook each box in turn. "I like to guess. Can I?" she asked."Of course, birthday girl. You can do anything you want.""What I want is for you to be my personal chef," she said with a grin. "But Iíll settle for opening my presents. She shook a box that was about 9 inches square. This one gave a funny little rumble. "Hmmm," she mused. The next box was small, about 2" by 3". A muffled wooden clicking sound emanated from it. The last gift was about 7 inches long and 4 inches wide. It was no more than a quarter inch thick and made no sound when shaken. "I think Iím ready," she finally pronounced. "I believe there is a common theme?""Yes," came the answer."So one box will lead me to guess the others?""Most likely.""Okay," she said as she waved the long thin package. "I think this one is a golf glove," she stated with authority."How did you do that?" Jamie inquired, quite amazed."Well, you did just buy me one. I remember the shape of the package it came in. And I can detect a leather aroma. See?" she offered the package up to Jamieís nose."Wow, how good is your sense of smell?" Jamie wondered."Itís pretty good, I guess. I donít realize how good it is until I can catch a scent several minutes before anyone else. Sometimes I even beat Duffy," she said proudly. "And Iím the official smeller of anything suspect in the refrigerator." She quickly tore open the little package. "Oooh a white one. Now I wonít clash when I wear another color." She opened the cardboard cover and slipped the glove on. "You remembered my size!" she said with delight. "Thanks, Jamie," she said as she half got out of her seat and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.

Jamie knew that she should not feel a flash of pleasure tear up her spine, but she quickly convinced herself that the excitement of watching her friendís joy had just become contagious.

She tore through the rest of the neatly wrapped presents, correctly guessing the two dozen golf balls and the little box of tees. She had not guessed that the tees were personalized however, and this little detail delighted her to no end. "These are the bomb, Jamie," she said as she shook the little box. She hopped up once again to kiss the other cheek and Jamie briefly wished that she had wrapped each of the tees separately. "Iím gonna feel like a pro with all my cool stuff."Her glee continued when she opened the last little box. It was a small set of ball markers and a divot tool in a gold tone. Each was neatly monogrammed with ĎS.R.Oí. Ryan jumped up and came over to Jamieís side of the table. She grabbed her hands and pulled her to her feet. "This is all so nice," she enthused. "I canít thank you enough." They stood toe to toe, Ryanís hands on Jamieís shoulders, smiling faces locked onto each other. Ryan bent to kiss her cheek just as Jamie turned her head slightly. Their lips brushed just a tiny bit, no more than a quarter inch. The kiss was way beyond chaste but Jamie felt a jolt of feeling shoot down her spine and she had a much more difficult time explaining this one away.

Ryan didnít seem to notice her reaction as she wrapped her in her powerful arms for a generous hug. But Jamie felt her body noticeably stiffen in the middle of the embrace. She pulled back and watched Ryanís face close as she backed away. Just then the kitchen door opened and Mia walked in."Wow, what smells so good?" she inquired brightly. "Hi Ryan, Jamie".

"Hi, Mia, " they both replied, nearly in unison.

Mia walked over to the pan of the now cooled lasagna. She grabbed a knife from the drawer and carved off a piece. She stuck the whole big bite in her mouth and mumbled around it, "This is great. Did you make this?" she pointed at Jamie."Yeah, I did," Jamie replied."What gives?" Mia asked as she looked at the gift laden table. "Is it your birthday or something, Ryan?""Yep, it sure is.""Thatís cool. Happy birthday," she said as she surprised Ryan by walking over to her and giving her an awkward hug."Thanks. It has been a very happy birthday so far," she conceded as she grinned at Jamie."Oh, that reminds me," Mia added. "Jamie tells me that youíve got available time on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. I think she has started to look great, and I donít want her to get too far ahead of me in the looks department," here she shot Jamie a grin. "Would you be willing to work with me?""Absolutely, Mia. Do you know what my rates are?""Yeah, Jamie told me. Thatís not a problem. Can we start on Monday? I want to look good for this summer when I go to L.A."Ryan marveled at the financial freedom these women had. Dropping $375 a week on a whim was not something she could ever imagine doing.After Mia left Ryan gave Jamie another winning grin as they sat back down at the kitchen table. "You couldnít stand not to have me get paid for those hours could you?" she asked with a twinkle."Nope. Youíre gonna be swimming in dough when I get through with you," she laughed. "Hey, I forgot to ask why you were available today?" Jamie asked. "I figured youíd be with your family.""Da had to work tonight, so a bunch of my relatives are coming over for a barbecue tomorrow." After a moment she looked at Jamie and asked, "Would you like to come? Iíd love for you to meet the rest of my family."Jamie was very tempted to immerse herself in a whole sea of OíFlahertyís. But since Jack had been none too happy about her absence this evening she thought she had better not . "I wish I could, Ryan. But I need to go down to Palo Alto," she said."No big deal. Youíll have plenty of opportunities. Actually, I was a little surprised that you were available tonight. Iíve never seen you spend Friday evening in Berkeley.""Thatís because you never had a birthday on a Friday evening, silly," she said as she grinned over at her friend.

"Did you really stay in town just for me?" she asked with a shy little smile.

"Well, yeah," Jamie replied as if the answer should be obvious. "I was going to have you over next week to celebrate but when I found out you were free on your actual birthday I decided I had to move it up."

Ryan gazed at her for several minutes, her intense sapphire eyes never wavering from their hold on Jamieís. "You are so thoughtful and so givingÖI hope Jack appreciates you like he should," she said as she patted her friendís hand.

"IÖIÖthink he does," she stuttered as she tried to appear casual. She fought to regain her composure as she said, "My birthday wish for you is that you find someone who truly appreciates how special you are."

"Thanks, Jamie," she said as she continued to hold her gaze. "I hope so too."

"So what are the rest of your plans for the evening?" Jamie inquired, trying to lighten the mood. "Surely you will not be without female companionship?""I guess I could be wrong, but you certainly seem like a female to me," Ryan replied innocently."Thatís not the type of companionship I mean, and you know it," Jamie scolded."Okay, okay. I did have tentative plans to meet someone later," she admitted."Anyone special?" Jamie inquired lightly."No, not really," Ryan said casually."Gee, that must make her feel good," Jamie chided her now blushing friend."Thatís not what I meant," Ryan said, clearly embarrassed. "I just mean, well, you know what I mean," she looked to Jamie for understanding, but found a blank face instead. "Iím still seeing that woman you saw me with at the coffeehouse. I like her, I really do. I donít sleep with people I donít like," she defended herself. "But I donít see this progressing very far. Itís just fun.""Why?" she asked simply.

"Why?"

"Yeah, why wonít this last?"

"One big reasonóand I think itís a good one," she replied with a chuckle. "She doesnít think sheís gay."

"Really?" Jamie asked, rather shocked.

"Really. Robin has a boyfriend that goes to the University of Washington. Heís actually on the football team so I hope he never finds out about me!" she said with a crooked smile. "I donít think Iíd look good with two black eyes and a few broken bones!"

"UmÖdoesnít that bother you at all?"

"What? That sheís bi-sexual or that Iím cheating with some guyís girlfriend?"

"UmÖeither, I guess," she said hesitantly.

"Well, it doesnít bother me a bit that sheís bi-sexual. I think weíre way too caught up on labels for people. And twoóshe claims that they both date others during the school year. Theyíre just monogamous when theyíre in the same city."

"Would it bother you if she was really cheating?" Jamie asked, knowing that she was treading in waters where she did not belong.

"UmÖI guess it depends. I would never try to get someone to cheat and I would never seek out someone I knew was in a relationship, but I have slept with women who were involved with someone else and it didnít really bother me. Itís their relationship and if they want to screw it up I feel like itís not my business. But I will admit I could never be serious about anyone who cheated. If they do it to someone else theyíll probably do it to me."

"Yeah, I can see that would prevent you from trusting someone," Jamie agreed. "So it doesnít bother you a bit that she has a boyfriend?"

Ryan pursed her lips and gave the question some serious thought. "Well, I guess if Iím completely honest there is one thing that bothers me. I donít mind that she has a boyfriend but it does bother me that she doesnít really want to be seen in public with me."

"WHAT? Sheís ashamed of dating you!?"

Ryan gave her a delightfully crooked grin and said, "That outraged tone was a very nice compliment, Jamie. Thanks for the props."

"Well, really, Ryan," she scoffed. "What kind of idiot wouldnít want to be seen with you?"

"Well, I think her concern is that she doesnít want her boyfriend to find out about me. He doesnít know that she dates women," she advised.

"Ohhh," Jamie replied with a slight head nod. "So he doesnít know sheís bisexual."

"Correct." Ryan stood and extended her hand to Jamie. "Enough of this serious talk," she said with a wide smile. "I think itís time we went to our respective lovers and had some fun!" As they walked to the door Ryan started to sing an old Stevie Wonder song, "We are strangers by day, lovers by night. Knowing itís so wrong. Feeling so right!"

Jamie gave her a hard bump with her hip as they neared the door. "You get a lot of pleasure out of being bad, donít you?"

"Go with your strengths!" she said with a confident leer.

"You are incorrigible, Ryan.""Well, I certainly hope so," she replied with a grin.

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

When Jamie walked into Jackís apartment a little before 10 p.m. the look on his face said more about his displeasure than she wanted to know. "Hi, Honey," she called out in greeting as she placed her overnight bag on the floor.

"Hi," he replied, barely looking up from his book.

"Did you have dinner? I brought you some lasagna," she offered.

"Yeah, I made myself a sandwich," he said without elaboration.

"Is everything okay, Jack?" she asked, even though she absolutely did not want to know.

"Sure, why wouldnít it be?" he coolly replied, again not lifting his head to look at her.

She was already sick of this act so she turned the tables on him a bit. "No reason," she said with a sweet tone. "Iím going to get ready for bed. Be back in a minute," she said lightly as she passed by and kissed his cheek. She could feel his eyes burning into her as she walked down the hallway but she refused to goad him into talking if he didnít want to.

She brushed her teeth and washed her face, both with a leisurely pace. She stripped off her clothes and put on one of Jackís T-shirts, then picked up a novel by Djuna Barnes that she had to finish by Monday.

As she walked back into the living room she asked if he needed anything while she was up. He definitely muttered something under his breath, and it sounded like Ďa full time fiancée, but she acted as though she had not heard a word even though she was seething inside. She gave him a completely fake smile and sat down on the end of the couch to read. Just to piss him off she put her feet up on his lap and refused to let his cold disregard penetrate her outer demeanor. Luckily, her novel was mesmerizing and she was fully engrossed for almost two hours. True to his always stubborn form Jack did not loosen up one bit. He did not touch her in any way and he completely ignored her feet on his lap.

At around midnight he stretched and announced flatly, "Iím going to bed."

She couldnít have passed a polygraph test on the issue but she Ďinadvertentlyí dug her foot into a sensitive place as she lifted her legs from his lap. He grunted a bit but still said nothing. The rigors of the day caught up with her and she decided to turn in also. She turned off the lights and followed him into bed where she expected the tension to remain.

Much to her shock as soon as he got into bed he started to make sexual overtures. Oh, please! You canít say a civil word to me but now you want to screw me?! And for the first time in their relationship she found herself intentionally trying to hurt him. "Jack, I have something to tell you," she said in a matter of fact tone.

He lifted his head from her breast with a quizzical look, but still said nothing.

"I had a pregnancy scare this week," she informed him. She honestly had never seen an erection deflate quite so quickly. He shot up into a sitting position and stared at her with a look of pure horror.

"What happened? Why? WhatÖ" he stuttered.

"I havenít been feeling well for over a month and Iíve been queasy in the mornings. But on Tuesday I passed out and that made me take action," she related, leaving out every pertinent piece of information.

"WhatÖ.WhereÖ?"

"I went to my doctor on Wednesday and she gave me a pregnancy test. Obviously it was negative," she said without further elaboration.

"Where is your doctor?" he finally got out.

"Palo Alto," she said with a small smile, knowing that he would be hurt to find out that her doctor was 3 minutes from his campus.

He gave her a look of total disgust as he said, "And you didnít call me to go with you? Need I ask who did?" he added with a snarl.

"Maybe if you tried really, really hard you could be more self centered," she said with yet another false smile. "Iím feeling sick for a month, unable to eat in the mornings because of nausea. I faint twice in one night and vomit all over greater Berkeley. I have to skip a day of school to go to the doctor. I find out Iíve lost 10 pounds without wanting to. The doctor takes my blood and runs a bunch of tests to determine God knows what. But I can see that your most pressing concern would be who took me to the doctor!" she snapped.

"You have the nerve, the unmitigated gall to bust my chops and try to make me feel sorry for you!" he shouted. "How the fuck can I feel sorry for you when I donít know any of this!! Iím your fucking fiancé Jamie! And you donít tell me that youíve been sick, you donít tell me that youíre losing weight and you donít tell me that you pass out! How in the fuck can I feel bad for you!!"

He leapt from the bed and started pacing in a straight line, back and forth across the carpet. He was becoming more agitated by the minute and Jamie was almost afraid of him. In 3 years she had never even heard him raise his voice, much less curse at her.

"I can only imagine why you didnít tell me about your pregnancy scare," he growled. "You and your buddy would just decide what to do about it. You two could have gone behind my back to abort my child!!" Now he stopped abruptly and stared at Jamie with cold fury, but when he saw the frightened look on her face every bit of his anger evaporated. He looked like he had been punched in the solar plexus as his shoulders dropped along with his head. All of the fire, all of the spark were justÖ.gone. He came back to the bed and sat on the edge, facing away from her. He looked like a thoroughly defeated man, and as mad as she was Jamie felt sorry for him. She crawled over to him and put her arms around him from behind. He stiffened at first but as she murmured into his ear he began to relax.

"I would never do that Jack. I would never, ever abort a child, especially yours. I love you, I donít want to hurt you," she whispered.

He pulled her arms from his neck and got fully onto the bed. His last words were, "No matter what your intent is, youíre hurting our relationship, Jamie. You need to make some choices."

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

They kept a very cool distance in bed. She was a bit dismayed to wake up at 7 and find him gone. There was a note on the kitchen counter that read, "Law Review deadline on Monday. Be back late, Jack." Well, that says it all, she thought glumly. No, ĎLove, Jackí, no ĎIím sorryí, no ĎIíll call you laterí. Jamie booted up his computer and his printer. She sat down to compose her thoughts and then began to write.

Dear Jack,Iím sorry that I hurt you last night. I didnít mean to upset you. I know that I should have told you what was going on with me, but I didnít. I donít know why I didnít but I will try to figure it out.

Something is bothering me, and I need some time to work it out. If I stay here this weekend I know Iíll be angry that youíre gone. So for both of our sakes Iím going home. Feel free to call me at home or on my cell phone. If you donít feel like talking today or even for a few days, itís okay.

Iím not angry with you, Jack. I know youíre really busy and I donít want to make things any harder for you. Whatever is bothering me is about me. So donít worry. Iím sure Iíll feel better soon.I love you,She printed off the note and signed it. After a few minutes of just staring into space she picked up the phone and dialed Ryanís pager. When she didnít get a return call immediately she got in the shower and spent a long time letting the hot water clear her mind. She was just finishing drying her hair when her cell phone rang."Jamie?" asked the deep voice."Hi, Ryan. I didnít wake you up did I?""Heck no, Duffy and I were running on the beach. He won, of course, but we still had fun. Whatís up with you at this time of day?" she inquired."Is that invitation to your party still open? Iím unexpectedly free today," she stated the partial truth."Absolutely. Iíd love to have you," she replied easily. "Are you okay? You sound kind of down.""I am, but just a little. Jackís tied up all day, but I didnít learn about it until this morning. I just donít want to sit here alone all day."

"Well, youíre never alone at the OíFlahertyís," she replied. "Not even when you want to be."

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

Ryan gave her all the details of the party and steadfastly refused her offer to bring anything. Jamie signed off and immediately felt better. Iíve known her for 2 1/2 months. She can tell in two sentences that something is bothering me. Iíve been dating Jack for 2 1/2 years and he can never tell when something is wrong. Do I just need more than he is able to give me? Can any guy make me feel understood like Ryan does? Maybe I just want things I canít have.She drove onto Ryanís street at 2 p.m. sharp. She had a difficult time finding a parking spot and finally wound up down the street and around the corner. As she climbed the stairs to the front door she could hear a din of voices. Ryan answered the door and gave her a delighted smile, showing those incredibly white teeth. Wow! Jamie marveled, she looks absolutely fantastic. She mused that she didnít often step back and just look at Ryan objectively anymore. They had grown so close that she saw her inner self more than her package. But occasionally she just looked at her and enjoyed the wrapper and this was one such day. Her beautiful friend was wearing a black knit silk t-shirt which clung to every curve. Black linen pleated slacks and soft black loafers completed her monochromatic outfit. She looked exactly like Ryan should look, tall; sleek; graceful; athletic; and terribly, terribly sexy. "Hi, Iím really glad you decided to come," Ryan said enthusiastically as she gave Jamie a big hug."You did say 2 p.m. didnít you?" she looked around the house which was bursting with people.

"Yeah, thatís when we wanted people to come. But in this family they show up when they want to. Weíve had people show up at 9 a.m. for Thanksgiving dinner," she laughed.As Ryan guided her into the teeming mass of people, Conor swooped down from his place on the staircase. "My, my, my, donít you look lovely today," he said as he looked Jamie up and down. "Isnít that a gorgeous outfit?" he said to Ryan as he continued to appraise Jamie like a new Ferrari. Jamie was wearing a very slim fitting sleeveless shell of nubby silk in tangerine and gold that just brushed her waistline. Slim fitting slacks of the same material showed off her trim legs. A silk knit sweater in the same tangerine was draped around her shoulders. Delicate leather woven loafers in a dark tan graced her feet.Jamie blushed a little as the two siblings conferred. "Yes, Conor, I would agree that Jamie looks marvelous today, " Ryan said with a big smile, "But Iíve yet to see her look less than lovely," she added with a twinkle in her deep blue eyes.Conor boosted the wattage of his smile and asked, "Have you been given a proper tour of our home, Jamie?""Um, not really," she replied warily. "I just saw this floor and Ryanís room," she admitted."Ryanís manners are so atrocious, sometimes," he scoffed as he gave his sister an aggrieved little shake of his dark head. "Please allow me to make up for her faux paux," he stated as he held out his arm to escort her.She giggled at his exaggerated gallantry and gamely took his arm. As he led her off she turned to give Ryan a little wave. Ryan had narrowed her eyes in mock anger, but quickly broke into a smile.Conor escorted her up the staircase that rested at the rear of the small living room. He did not stop to introduce her to the many people that they climbed over and she noted with a smile that they all continued their conversations as though they did not notice the interruption. They walked carefully up the stairs to the 3rd floor. This floor consisted of two good sized bedrooms and one small bath in between. He pointed out a room filled with instruments cases, open luggage and clothes strewn about.

"Roryís getting ready to go on a bit of a tour," he explained. "He and the band are leaving tomorrow for a month.""Really?" she inquired. "Where is he going?""I believe theyíll just be on the west coast," he replied. "He does a lot more traveling in the summer. Theyíre playing in Ireland and Scotland this summer as a matter of fact.""I would really love to hear him play," she admitted. "By the way, Ryan says you all play an instrument. What is your specialty?""I spent most of my youth playing the fiddle and the bouzouki," he replied. "But now I spend most of my practice time playing the mandolin.""I have no idea what a bouzouki is," she admitted. "But I know a mandolin when I see one. Do you practice often?" she inquired as she turned from Roryís room to face him."I play for enjoyment more than I do to become more proficient. I usually play for an hour or so in the evening. It really relaxes me after a day pounding a hammer. " He touched her arm lightly at the elbow to lead her into his room. "Would you like to hear a bit?" he said with a grin, as he walked over to his instrument lying on a small table by his bed."I would love to," she enthused as she sat down on the edge of his bed. Conor picked up the carved wooden instrument and tuned it for just a minute. He adjusted it against his body and began to play a lovely haunting melody. Jamie was not familiar with the piece, but it was eerily beautiful and Conor played it with a depth of emotion that truly astounded her.

When he was finished Jamie sat transfixed for just a moment. She slowly said, "I canít tell you how beautiful that was Conor. Thank you for sharing it with me." She stood and touched his arm in a friendly gesture.Come to Papa, he thought to himself. Iím not gonna let you have this one Ryan. Sheís staying on my side of the river.

After the short tour was complete they began to make their way down the stairs. Ryan was sitting on the 3rd step, leaning casually against the wall with her long legs effectively blocking their path. "Did our house just get a lot bigger or did you show Jamie the roof?" she asked sweetly."No, the house is the same. Jamie was just interested in my mandolin, and I played a bit for her," he replied casually."Um hmm," she replied suspiciously. "Well, Iíve been working on my atrocious manners while you were gone, and I realized that Jamie has not been properly introduced to the rest of the clan," she said as she removed Jamieís hand from Conorís arm and placed it on her own. "I plan to rectify my error immediately," she gave Conor a twitch of her long black hair and moved off with her friend firmly in tow."You two never stop do you?" Jamie asked her with a giggle.

"No, we donít, " she admitted with a little embarrassed grin. "Weíve always been competitive. I guess you just stick with familiar patterns as you grow up. But itís funny," she reflected. "We all played together growing up but only Conor and I were ever really competitive with each other. It really doesnít make sense but thatís the way it worked out."

As they moved through the house Jamie mused that when she was with Ryan and her brother they treated her like some prize they were fighting over. Ryan seems much more aggressive when Conorís around. And it feels a lot more like sheís flirting with me, she thought. No, thatís not it, she corrected herself. Sheís not flirtingóshe acts like sheís already won! She actually acts like Iím her little prize. Hmm, that would piss me off if Jack did that. I wonder why it doesnít bother me in the least when Ryan does it? she mused.

They maneuvered through the small house and eventually broke through the crowd in the kitchen to reach the tiny porch that overlooked the small back yard. There were about a dozen men in the yard, all gathered around two big Weber kettles. Ryan began to point them out. "I thought I would give you an overview before I boggle your mind with introductions," she explained. "This is the male side of Daís family," she said as she indicated the men gathered on the lawn. "Thatís my Uncle Patrick," she indicated a man slightly smaller than Martin, but just as handsome. "Thatís my Uncle Francis," here she pointed to an equally handsome but slightly older looking man who was very muscular and brawny looking. "And thatís my Uncle Malachy," she indicated the youngest and best looking one of the bunch. He looked just like a slightly older Conor although he was not quite as tall as the younger man."Wow!" was all that Jamie could say.

"Now for the next generation." She ticked off her cousins one by one. "Uncle Patrick has Niall, Kieran, Colm and Donal," she indicated each of the dark haired men in turn. "Declan, Dermot, Liam and Padraig belong to Malachy," she said as she pointed them out. "And Frank, Sean, Seamus and Brian are Uncle Francisí boys.""Is anyone in your family less than gorgeous?" Jamie finally uttered as she shook her head in amazement."Ummm, what do you mean?" Ryan responded with a little blush."Do you mean to tell me that you donít know how beautiful everyone is your family is?" she asked in bewilderment."Ummm, well, ummm, no, not really," she finally replied. "I guess I never thought about it," she said as she fidgeted a bit in obvious discomfort."You never thought about the fact that your uncles and cousins and brothers all look like Calvin Klein underwear models?" she had to laugh at Ryanís perplexed expression."Well, no, I never did," she finally said. "Looks are not a big deal in my family. I mean, I know that weíre not exactly ugly," she said with a grin, "but we were never encouraged to feel good about ourselves because of how we looked." She looked thoughtful for a moment before she continued, "Da always told us to never feel proud or ashamed of your gifts or liabilities. He said that what you did with those gifts and how you overcame your liabilities was all that mattered. Everything else was just genetics," here she shrugged her broad shoulders slightly and looked to Jamie for comprehension. "He also told me to be very suspicious of someone who spent a lot of time complimenting my looks. He said if someone was very focused on the outside of me they wouldnít have any time to look at the inside.""That is a wonderful view of the world. Itís very different from how I was raised, but I like it a lot better," she grinned in appreciation at Ryan."Were looks a bit deal in your family?" Ryan asked with concern."Not just looks, although that was important, but appearances were the big thing for us," she replied. "You know, wearing the right clothes, being seen with the right people, driving the right car. That sort of thing." She grew thoughtful for a long moment. "Iím going to try to adopt your philosophy for my children," she told Ryan sincerely."You can thank Da for that bit of philosophy," she replied. "Speaking of Da, I know he wants to see you," she said as she guided Jamie down the stairs to the gaggle of OíFlaherty men.Ryanís immediate family had joined the outdoor crowd and Jamie was warmly welcomed by each man. She was properly introduced to each of the uncles and cousins next. She received a friendly greeting from each and a few polite questions about her background and after a bit they left the men to continue tending to the barbeques.

The return trip was more difficult than the outbound had been. Rather than try to negotiate the interior staircase Ryan led her out the front door, down the stairs and past the two car garage to a door on the ground floor. "This way is easier today," she announced as she produced her key chain and unlocked the frosted glass paneled door. Jamieís head was spinning when they entered Ryanís room after a short trip down a narrow hallway that took them past the length of the garage. "I donít think I can remember one personís name," she moaned. "There were so many of them. And they look so much alike!"

"Well, there are two sets of twins," Ryan said matter of factly.

"Two!?"

"Yeah. Sean and Seamus and Declan and Dermot are twins."

"At least Iím not totally losing my mind," she laughed.

"Do you really want to remember them all?" Ryan asked with a puzzled look."Yeah, of course I do. Will you go over them again and quiz me?"They knelt at the head of Ryanís bed and looked out the big windows at all of the assembled men. After 4 or 5 tries Jamie had them all pretty well sorted out. "Okay, Ryan. I want you to lean over and quiz me all day. Thatís the only way Iíll learn. But it might help if you wrote them down for me too. I remember things better when I see them."

"Iím not sure that will help you," she advised. "Take Padraig for example. How would you spell that?"

"I guess it would be Poric?"

"Nope. P-a-d-r-a-i-g." She smiled as Jamie tried to get her mind around the odd spelling.

"Are they all that bad?"

"No. Iíd say Kieran, Padraig, Niall and Siobhan are the worst of the bunch."

"I donít believe youíve told me your motherís name," Jamie asked softly.

"Fionnuala," Ryan replied even more quietly.

Jamie placed her hand on Ryanís shoulder and forced eye contact. "Itís beautiful," she said sincerely.

Ryan was totally charmed and touched by how interested Jamie was in her family. After they completed a few more rounds of Ďguess the cousinsí she pronounced Jamie ready to meet the rest of the family. "You need to meet the OíFlaherty aunts and the Ryans. "But donít worry," she reassured her, "there are far fewer of them, and their names are more American," she teased.

"If there are fewer of them why is your house so crowded?" she asked in amazement.

"Oh thereís people from our parish here, some of my aunts families are here and even a few neighbors. But Iím not even going to introduce you to any the ancillary people. Itís hard enough just to get the key players memorizedóespecially given the difficult names.""I must admit, Iíve never heard so many Irish names in one place." She paused a moment to reflect. "Youíve never told me about how your family came to America. I mean, were your parents born here?""Not hardly," Ryan replied with a laugh. "As a matter of fact, I wasnít born here.""Are you serious?" Jamie was shocked. She assumed that most Irish people were 3rd or 4th generation Americans even though she had to admit that Martinís accent was far from American."Quite," Ryan replied. "But that was a bit of a fluke. My mother came to this country in about 1965 or so. She met my father and they married a couple of years later. The boys were all born here, but when she was 7 months pregnant with me her mother in Ireland became very ill. She felt like she had to go home even though it must have been hell on Da to be left with 3 little boys. And I suppose it was pretty bad for her, too, having to travel that far when she was huge with me. After she was there for a month I surprised everyone by arriving almost a month early.""So are you an Irish citizen?" Jamie asked, not sure of citizenship requirements."Actually, I have dual citizenship. They boys could have it too, and Rory went through the process, but Conor and Brendan donít have much interest." "So your father was born here?" Jamie asked."Correct, but with an explanation," she teased. "He and all of his brothers were born here. Their parents had immigrated during World War II. But after the war my grandfather could not keep a job because of all the returning vets, so they eventually went back home. I think they left here in 1950 or so.""So is your father a citizen?" Jamie asked, still a little confused."Yes he is. But my mother was illegal. She was just here on a tourist visa which had long expired when she met Da. His brothers still tease him that she married him only for his citizenship status.""I never thought of Irish people being illegal aliens," she mused.

"Last time I checked we were the 2nd largest group of illegal aliens in this country," she admitted. "But we look like Americans and people are charmed by Irish accents so there is very little prejudice against us anymore."

"Thatís pretty neat that you are an Irish citizen, though. Could you move there if you wanted to?""Yeah, but I donít see that happening. I feel totally American," she said as she gave a little salute. "Even though Iíve spent a ton of time in Ireland Iím always ready to come home.""What happened with your grandmother? Did she die?" Jamie asked tentatively.

"Nope. Sheís still kicking--along with my grandfather. Sheíll be 80 next year and my grandfather will be 85. Theyíre both pretty spry," she said affectionately.

"Do you have many other relatives there?" Jamie asked."Yeah, my father has tons of cousins and a few uncles and aunts still living around Tralee. And my motherís younger sister Moira still lives in the town they grew up in. Aunt Moira and her husband James have 4 kids, Aisling, Cait, Brenna and Cormac.""More Irish names and I bet I couldnít spell one of them," Jamie teased."Yes, you could use a good course in Gaelic just to hang out with my family," she admitted. "But speaking of family letís go meet the rest of them."

It took nearly 20 minutes for Ryan to introduce Jamie to her Aunts Eileen, Deirdre and Peggy. Each woman attentively asked Jamie about herself and her family but something caught Ryanís eye and she pulled her away from the small group of women. "You must meet my favorite relative," she said as she wiggled an eyebrow and led Jamie through the growing mass of people and finally found the prize that Ryan had been searching for. "There she is!" Ryan said with delight as her eyes locked onto the object of her affection, a pair of equally delighted green eyes.

Ryan held out her strong arms and a tiny face beamed up at her. The cutest baby that Jamie had ever seen clearly knew who she wanted to be with. She continued to squeal until Ryan had grasped her firmly in her arms. Both beautiful faces wore broad smiles that made Jamieís heart melt."Is this the most perfect child you have ever seen?" Ryan asked in a tone that brooked no dissent.Jamie studied the little person. She was very small, maybe a month old, fair skinned with a shock of blond hair. Beautiful light green eyes were framed with long blonde eyelashes that batted at Ryan a bit shyly as she nestled her little head in the crook of her broad shoulder. "I would have to agree with you on that one, Ryan. What is this little beautyís name?" she asked as she tickled a perfect little foot."This is Caitlin," Ryan pronounced as she gave the precious bundle a kiss on the cheek. "Sheís my cousin Tommyís baby." She looked around the room for the proud parents. "Thatís Tommy, there, and his wife Annie is right there," she pointed in one direction, then the other as Jamie confirmed the sightings. "But when theyíre here, they never get to see Caitlin. Weíre always fighting over who gets to hold her. Ryan wins, huh Caitlin?" she whispered conspiratorially into the tiny ear.Jamie was delighted to see Ryan interact so lovingly with this tiny child. Boy, she would be a good mother. I wonder if she plans on having children?"You know, Jamie," she said as she held Caitlin up next to Jamieís face. "Iíve always thought there was something familiar about the way you look. She looks more like you that anyone else here."Jamie looked at the tiny face and then gave another long look at each of the childís parents. There were little pieces of Caitlin on each face, but neither matched the child quite as well as she did. She looks just like my baby pictures, she marveled.Various members of the Ryan clan agreed with the assessment. As Jamie was paraded around Ryan would hold the baby next to her face and ask for an opinion. But when she was introduced to the babyís grandmother, Ryanís aunt Maeve, the agreement was beyond enthusiastic. Maeve made over Jamie as if she were sent directly from heaven. She looked at her from every angle and finally wrapped her in a big hug and said that Caitlin would be lucky indeed to continue to resemble Jamie as she got older.

To get away from the crowds they decided to go downstairs to play with the baby. She was still a little young to be able to do much but she loved to be talked to and held. They took all of Ryanís pillows and made a safe little nest for the baby. When they got her settled Ryan lay face down on the bed and rested on her arms as she held up a little rattle. She entertained little Caitlin by holding it up and quickly hiding it in her large hand for several minutes. The baby was having a very good time but after 5 or so minutes she started to slump over even with the generous support so Ryan picked her up to cuddle her again. Ryan continued to gently bounce the tiny baby up and down. After a few moments her little head dropped to Ryanís shoulder as she grasped small little handfuls of black t-shirt material rhythmically. Ryan smiled down at the still form and kissed her gently on the head."Do you want to put her down on the bed?" Jamie asked. "She must be getting heavy.""Sheís not heavy at all," she disagreed. "Sheís clearly a Ryan. She went to the doctor the other day and Annie said sheís only in the 20th percentile in weight and the 25th in height. Besides, I really like holding her," she replied a little sheepishly. "I see her a lot, but still, sheís different every time. Sheís growing so fast; I wonít be able to do this for long. I really want to enjoy it while I can."Jamie approached and patted Ryan softly on the shoulder. "You are such a sweet person. Youíre just a mass of contradictions," she said with a smile. "You look all strong and confident, like a real loner. But youíre such a tender person when youíre with people you trust."

Ryan replied with just a sweet crooked grin.

"So little Caitlin is a Ryan?"

"Well, technically sheís a Driscoll," she admitted. "Maeve was married to Charlie Driscoll and they had 3 sons, one of which was Michael. After Michael got sick Charlie just went off the deep end. They wound up separated and they remained so until he died about 2 years ago. It was really hard for Maeve and the boys, but he was just not able to open his mind to his son," she said sadly.

After a few moments of watching Caitlin sleep Jamie asked quietly, "Do you want to have children?""Yes. I do," she said confidently. "I actually canít imagine not having them," she admitted. She paused for a moment, "Iím not sure how I will do it, though," she added."Do you mean technically?" Jamie asked tentatively."No, I mean whether I would physically have them or adopt or just co-parent with another woman," she laughed."How would you do it, umm, physically," she persisted."Lesbians have the same parts that you do, Jamie," she teased."Thatís not what I mean, and you know it!" she said as she gave her a little slap on the head. "I mean would you um...use somebody that you know? Would you do it the old fashioned way or what?""I donít really have any desire to experience that particular union," she said with an involuntary shudder. "I would probably either be inseminated from a known donor or use a sperm bank."

"Would you want the umÖ donor to have a role in raising the child?""That is where it becomes tricky for me," she admitted. "I would not want to deprive my child of having a wonderful father like mine. But Iím not sure how to do that in a way that makes everyone happy. I must admit, thatís the only part of being straight that I envy," she teased. "Well, that and the marriage laws."

"That is one of the perks," Jamie admitted. "But the downside is that you have to use birth control most of the time." Jamie made a sour face at this."I guess having kids is a big deal for everyone," Ryan agreed. "What about you? I assume you and Jack are planning to reproduce, although you made it clear youíre not ready yet.""Yeah," Jamie agreed. "I think we both want a few kids. But I want to be significantly older before I do that.""What do you want to do before you have kids?" Ryan asked."Iím not sure. But I want to do something for myself, like graduate school or maybe Iíll write for a while.""I donít know, Jamie. A little one of these," here she tipped the sleeping baby toward her friend, "can be awfully tempting."

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

After a few minutes Ryan offered to go upstairs and fetch some drinks and something to snack on. To avoid waking Caitlin Jamie sat down on the bed as Ryan transferred the precious cargo to her lap. Caitlin stirred just a little as she adjusted to her new home. Her little blonde head was comfortably resting on Jamieís breast as she slowly moved a perfect little thumb into her mouth. "I see your point about the temptation, Ryan," she admitted as she gazed down at the baby. "I can feel my ovaries aching already."Ryan smiled sweetly as she took in the scene. "I think motherhood would suit you, Jamie. You two look perfect together," she said with a big smile as she turned to climb the stairs.

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

Ryan had been gone just a minute or two when there was a quiet knock on the door. Caitlinís grandmother poked her head in and said, "I just wanted to check to make sure you didnít need anything.""Nope. Everythingís just perfect," Jamie said as she smiled up at the proud grandmother. "I must say, this is one lucky baby," Jamie stated.

"Well, I do know that sheís loved beyond words," Maeve agreed as she retrieved a clean diaper from the bag she carried. She placed the cloth on Jamieís shoulder to protect her blouse as she casually asked, "How long have you and Ryan been seeing each other?"

Jamie knew that her blush was rapidly traveling up to her hairline. "Umm, Maeve," she finally said, "Ryan and I arenít together.... in that way," she quietly stated. "Weíre just close friends.""Oh dear, I hope I didnít embarrass you. Iím sorry for making assumptions," she patted Jamieís arm reassuringly. "Itís probably just wishful thinking on my part," she admitted sadly."What do you mean?" Jamie asked, her interest piqued."I was so pleased that Ryan had brought someone home to meet the family," she explained. "Sheís never done so before, and I just assumed you were someone special to her.""She is," came the quiet voice from across the room. "Sheís very special to me." Ryan was crossing the room now, with a small smile on her face. "Regrettably sheís not my girlfriend, though," she stated as she shot a grin at Jamie.Jamie was terribly pleased at this expression of their growing bond. She grinned up at Ryan broadly. "Youíre pretty special yourself, kiddo.""Iím sorry for jumping to conclusions, Ryan," Maeve said sincerely. "I just hope that when you do bring someone home, sheís as special as young Jamie here.""Regrettably, the odds of that are not good," Ryan intoned seriously. "Jamie is truly one of a kind," she said as she watched the blush rise on her friendís face.

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

After Caitlin woke Ryan changed her diaper and the 3 of them went back upstairs. Jamie was charmed at how Ryan just claimed the small child as her own. The baby was very content to be carried around all day, and Jamie found it cute that most of the cousins teased Ryan about when she would have a child of her own. They certainly seem comfortable with her sexual orientation. But maybe thatís because she seems so sure of herself. Itís hard to be uncomfortable around someone who seems so comfortable with themselves.Dinner was ready at around 5 oíclock. Martin had roasted a huge turkey and a ham on the barbecues. The aunts had each brought a dish or two and the feast filled the dining room table. Since everyone was now inside the noise was really increasing. Jamie felt her cell phone vibrate from its place on her waistband. Uh oh, thatís gotta be Jack. She briefly debated just letting it ring, but she thought better of it and stepped outside through the front door. She could still hear the muffled din coming from the house, but she fervently hoped that Jack could not.

"Hello?" she said as she answered on the 5th ring."Hi," Jack replied, sounding a little small."How are you sweetheart?" she said with surprising warmth."Iím okay. Where are you?" he asked."Iím back in the city, honey." She knew that she was intentionally misleading him, but she did not have any intention of continuing the fight. "Are we okay, or are you still mad at me?""Iím not mad, Jamie. Youíve just been so different lately, Iím just really confused."Jamie was dismayed to hear him sounding so sad. "Do you want to be alone, or would you like me to come back down?" she offered."Would you do that?" he asked hopefully. "I really do want to see you, Jamie. I miss you, sweetheart," he added quietly."Iíll be there by 8 oíclock," she promised. "What would you like me to bring for dinner?""I donít care about dinner. I just want you," he said wistfully.

* * * * * * * * * * * * Jamie didnít eat much of the celebratory feast. She was working over in her mind how she was going to avoid Jackís questions about why she was dressed up. I know, Iíll stop at the Nordstromís on Market and buy a new outfit. My pants are all falling off anyway. I could use another pair of jeans until I gain the weight back.Ryan was watching her as she picked at her food. They were sitting nearly at the top of the staircase that led to the 3rd floor, all of the other stairs already being occupied. The baby was still being held by one strong arm while Ryan tried to get a bite or two of dinner into her own mouth. "Was that Jack on the phone?" she eventually asked."Oh, yeah, it was. I think Iím gonna go back down to Palo Alto," she replied."Are you two having trouble?" she asked with concern.Jamie regarded her for a minute before answering, "Yeah, I guess we are. Things just havenít been great for awhile now."Ryan looked at her with sympathy and said, "If you need someone to listen, Iím always here for you."

"Thanks, Ryan. I appreciate that more than I can say." She removed Ryanís plate from her hand and said, "If I donít help you out here, youíre going to starve." She balanced Ryanís sturdy paper plate on her knees and cut up her turkey into small pieces then she speared bites of turkey and vegetables and fed them to her friend, one at a time.

"I guess this is why itís so hard to be a single parent," Ryan stated as she removed Caitlinís little hand from her hair.

Conor and Rory sat on the other side of the room with a few cousins. Conor leaned over and quietly asked his brother, "So what do you think about Jamie?""I like her a lot. She seems like a good friend for Ryan," Rory replied."No, I mean do you think Ryanís going to make a play for her?" he explained."Why do you want to know?" Rory asked suspiciously."Because I think she would be perfect for me," he said smugly."Iíll make you a friendly little wager on that Conor," Rory replied with a glimmer. "If young Jamie is swayed by any OíFlaherty Iím putting my money on Ryan.""Youíre on, Rory. Letís make it interesting, say $50," he said as they shook hands to seal the bet. Rory cast a glance at the pair and watched Jamie carefully feeding his sister. It would be a lot easier for Jamie to just hold the baby while Ryan fed herself, he thought to himself with a smirk. I think my money is as good as won.

* * * * * * * * * * * * Jamie had to leave well before the party was over. Caitlin was asleep on Ryanís chest again and Jamie leaned over to kiss her sweet smelling little head. "I had a great time, Ryan. Thanks for letting me meet your family."Ryan pulled Jamie back down by gently placing her hand behind her neck. She kissed her cheek lightly as she said, "Thank you for coming, Jamie. You made the day special for me."

* * * * * * * * * * * * On the short drive to Nordstromís Jamie tried to remind herself that it was perfectly normal to feel affectionate with her female friends. But a little voice kept asking, Is it normal to feel tingles down your spine when they kiss your cheek?

She dashed into the store and purchased a new pair of jeans and a fleece long sleeved shirt. She asked the sales clerk to remove the tags and while the clerk rang up the purchase she went back into the dressing room and changed into the new clothes. The clerk put her other outfit in a bag and handed it to Jamie with a little puzzled look.She arrived at Jackís just before 8 p.m. She had stopped and bought dinner from a favorite deli. Jack was very glad to see her as he wrapped her in a big hug. He had his face pressed against her neck for a long time. Finally he released her and asked sadly, "Do you still love me, Jamie?""Of course I do, Jack," she said with feeling. "Iím unsure about a lot of things, but I know that I do love you," she said fiercely. She wrapped her arms around his neck as he bent to kiss her. As they progressed in their intimacy they stumbled toward the bedroom, dinner left to cool on the counter.

Continue to Part 5

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