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 10

Thanksgiving break was coming up in only 2 days. The break was only Thursday and Friday but Jamie planned on spending the time at her parents' home, mainly because she couldnít think of a valid reason not to. She and Jack would spend Thanksgiving afternoon with her family and then have a light supper with Jack's family.

The break was a great time for Jamie to catch up on all of her reading for her classes as well. Staying on top of her reading was getting more difficult with all of her training, so she really needed at least 2 days of uninterrupted concentration. She had devised a training schedule that emphasized bike riding in lieu of weight training for the week, since she had decided not to go into Berkeley on Friday for her training session since the trip would take up most of the early evening. Ryan was more than willing to meet her at the gym, but Jamie thought it was important to not make any plans to go to Berkeley in case her parents or Jack wanted to occupy her time.

She did, however, make plans with Ryan to go on a long ride on Friday morning. She knew that Jack would study during the day and since she was staying with her parents he wouldnít even need to know she was going. They decided to meet at a big regional park that had a lot of attractive bike paths, mainly because she just didn't think it was a good idea to have Ryan meet her family yet.

On Thanksgiving morning she and her father sat in the sunny library as they enjoyed a cup of coffee. "Iíve been worried about you a little bit Honey. Did everything work out between you and Jack?"

"Yeah, Daddy, we talked it out the next day," she affirmed. She did not think it wise to involve her parents in the details of her relationship with Jack, but she appreciated her father's interest.

"I got the impression that things had been difficult for a while, Honey. Do you want to talk about it?"

"No, not really. I think weíre just going through a phase. He doesnít like some of the changes Iíve been making but I really think heíll get used to my being a little more independent."

"I must admit that I was concerned when Jack mentioned that your new friend was a lesbian," he stated thoughtfully. Jamie felt her hackles start to rise as she looked at him carefully, hoping he would drop the matter. When she didnít respond he persisted, "Well?"

"Well what, Daddy?" she asked blankly.

"Why are you spending your time with her, Jamie? That hardly seems appropriate for a young woman like you," he stated.

"What do you mean by Ďa young woman like meí?" she asked. "Ryan is a perfectly lovely young woman also."

"But Jamie, youíre a young woman whoís engaged to be married. Donít you think itís wiser to spend your time cultivating friendships that can carry over into your married life? You two need to build some relationships with other couples," he explained.

"Ryan is my friend. I enjoy her company, Daddy. The fact that she is a lesbian is an inconsequential element of our relationship. I think it would be nice to have some friends who were in a couple but since we never leave Jackís apartment, thatís a little hard to do."

"Well, Jack certainly didn't seem to think that it was inconsequential and as he made clear, neither does Cassie." He paused for a moment as he regarded her carefully. "Is your new friend more important than Jackís feelings?"

"Yes, she is Daddy. If his feelings are based on preconceived, stereotypical notions of what a lesbian is." She looked at him sadly, "I really thought you were more open minded than this."

"I am profoundly open minded Jamie. And I do not like being referred to as otherwise," he said with a good deal of pique.

"Then why do you assume that Jack and Cassie's opinions are more valid than mine?" she replied logically. "I'm the one who knows Ryan. They have spent less than 10 minutes with her."

"I'm not implying that their opinions are more valid, Jamie. I am saying that I don't feel it's appropriate for you to spend an inordinate amount of time with someone like that. Youíve known Jack for 3 years and Cassie for 7. They know you very well, Honey. Why would they feel the way they do if there wasnít something about this woman that was of some concern?"

"I truly believe that they have let their prejudice take over. Jack admitted that heís jealous of her because he assumes sheíll try to get me into bed!" she said with an exasperated look.

"And why do you assume she wonít?" he asked with his own look of frustration.

"Well at least it's nice to know you're not narrow minded," she said as she deposited her coffee cup on the table and stormed out.

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

Dinner was a very tense affair. Not even Reverend Evans could add much spark to the occasion. He realized that something was seriously wrong between his son and his granddaughter but he did not have the opportunity to speak with Jamie alone to determine what it was.

Before Jamie left he embraced her and said into her ear, "Call me tomorrow." She pulled back after kissing his cheek and quietly agreed.

On the drive to the Townsends Jack finally asked the obvious question. "Whatís going on between you and your father? You two were shooting daggers at each other all day."

She gave him a thoughtful look as she debated how much to tell him. Finally deciding that it was better to know she asked, "Did you talk to him about our problems?"

He shot her a perturbed glance as he replied, "No, Jamie, I have not. Frankly, Iíd be embarrassed to admit how little you respect my opinions."

"Pull the car over, Jack," she said in a tone that did not allow for discussion. He pulled over onto a lovely tree lined street on the outskirts of Hillsborough. He killed the engine and rolled down his window to let some of the crisp fall air into the tension filled car. He turned as much as he could in the little import and faced Jamie with a look of quiet resignation on his face.

"Yes?" he asked wearily.

"Itís obvious that both you and Daddy are unhappy with the changes that Iíve been making," she said slowly. "But even though I love both of you very much neither of you are going to control me." She took a deep breath as she continued. "We can have a good life together Jack, but it has to be a life where both of us get to be who we really are."

He sat in silence for a few minutes; his shoulders still a little slumped. Finally, he took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "Look, Jamie. I know youíre used to getting everything you want. I know youíve been terribly spoiled both with material things and by always having things done your way." He ignored her look of outrage and blithely continued. "But thatís part of you and Iím willing to accept that most of the time. But youíve got to learn that there are some things that youíre going to have to give in on. It canít be me who has to give in all of the time," he explained as patiently as he could.

She was silent for a long time as she dropped her head back against the vinyl seat. Shaking her head slowly she asked in a voice filled with sorrow, "Is that really how you think of me? As a spoiled little rich girl who gets everything she demands?"

"Well, yes," he said confidently. "I feel like Iím supposed to make the sacrifices in our relationship and Iíve got to admit that Iím growing a little tired of it."

Her anger had been bubbling up throughout his explanation and when he finished she felt the words begin to fly from her mouth. "What sacrifices have you made, Jack? Iím dying to hear them," she said bitterly. "Tell me about how you have to leave your house in rush hour traffic every Friday night. Tell me how you no sooner arrive than you have to start dinner, alone, while I sit in the living room and read. Tell me how you feel when I barely comment on what youíve made. Tell me how you do the dishes alone while I continue to read. Tell me about how you sit in the living room and watch me study every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tell me about how you feel when the only time I pay attention to you is when we have sex. Tell me how you lie in bed and get so frusÖ" She yanked herself back from the abyss just before she told him exactly how unhappy she was with their sex life. The tension in the car was so thick that it was nearly visible, but she was afraid to look at him. Long minutes passed before he finally spoke.

"I didnít realize you were so miserable," he got out as a tear escaped down his face.

"Iím not miserable!" she said fervently. "Iím not!" She lifted her hand to his face and softly stroked his cheek. "Iím not," she whispered as the tears started to slide down her own cheeks. "Are you miserable, Jack?" she asked softly.

"No," he said shakily through his tears. "But I was so much happier before. You seemed happy too," he said. "Now you just seem tense around me. I know youíre not happy, Jamie and itís driving me crazy!" he choked out as he began to sob. She continued to stroke his cheek and run her fingers through his hair for a long time. As he got control of his voice he added, "I know you donít like what we do in bed. But I just donít know how to please you. I swear Iíve never had this problem with any other woman. I just donít know what to do," he moaned.

"Itís okay, Jack. I swear Iím not unhappy with you. ItĎs just that Iím changing and growing up a little bit. I love to come down here on the weekends, and I love to cook for you. But when you give me such a hard time about what I do when weíre not together it just drives me insane! I think thatís why itís been hard for me in bed," she admitted. "I need to feel totally connected with you to be able to enjoy sex. When we have this ongoing tension I just canít relax. But thatís all it is, Honey, Iím sure of it."

He looked over at her with an expression that was equal parts fear and trust. The sadness in his sweet blue eyes nearly broke her heart. "Honey, can we get out for a moment?" she finally asked.

He looked a little suspicious but he complied, coming around to stand on the sidewalk next to the car. She got out and stood right next to him as she put her arms around his waist. He slid his arms around her back and held her close for a long time. He bent his head to smell her hair and breathe in her reassuring scent as he felt some of the tension ebbing away. Jamie felt the same way and she looked up into his eyes and said, "I feel so good when you hold me. It just feels so right to be close to you."

He squeezed her tightly as he felt the emotion well up in his chest. "Iíll try harder, Jamie. I swear I will."

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

The evening spent with the Townsends was thankfully more jovial than the tension filled afternoon at the Evanses. Jack came from a fairly large extended family and a raft of aunts, uncles, cousins and their children were in attendance. Jamie spent some time playing with the assorted children and that lifted her spirits substantially. She took a little break to go into the kitchen and offer to help. She noted that every adult woman was in the kitchen chatting about their kids and their husbands. The conversation was fairly interesting, but it just seemed a bit alien to her. After her offer of help was rebuffed she went into the living room to watch a bit of the Dallas-Philadelphia game on TV. She paid close attention to the conversation and noted that not one man mentioned his spouse or his kids. They talked exclusively about the game, politics and their jobs. Are we really so different? How can we ever expect to get along for 50 years if we just arenít interested in the same things?

She was not really included in the conversation and she realized that Jack didnít even seem that happy to have her in with the men. Even though she knew more about football than half of them, she felt like her comments wouldnít be appreciated so she eventually went back to play with the kids.

Itís odd how I feel so out of place here. When Iím at the OíFlahertyís I never feel like a woman, I just feel like me. The boys treat me like one of them, not like Iím different. But here it feels like there are two different camps and Iím not in either one. The women donít accept me because Iím not a mother yet and the men never will. Where do I belong?

Jackís cousin Stephanie had a 6 month old boy named Ethan that Jamie was drawn to. She whisked him away and carried him around the house as she spoke into his ear. Stephanie was at least 10 years older, but she was the cousin closest in age to Jamie. "You can get one of these for yourself," she teased as she came up from behind.

"Not for a long while," Jamie said confidently. "Iím sure I wonít have a child before Iím 30." She had not noticed, but Jack was standing next to Stephanie and as Jamie turned she caught the shadow that passed over his face. Now what did I do?

"So you want to keep her all to yourself for a while, huh Jack?" Stephanie asked playfully.

"Jamieís the boss," he said with a thin smile as he turned to head back to the safety of the football game.

Well that answers that question, she thought disgustedly. They left her alone with the baby and her thoughts immediately turned to her friend, I wonder if Ryan has commandeered Caitlin by now, she thought wistfully. Iíd give anything to be with the OíFlahertyís today. I wonder if Jack will mind if I spend all of the holidays with Ryan after weíre married? she thought with a disgusted sigh.

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

After Jack dropped Jamie off at her parents home the next morning she spent a long time getting ready for her bike ride. The park was a good 10 miles away, but she decided to ride there just so she could leave earlier. As she came downstairs her mother regarded her with alarm. "Where are you going in that outfit?" she said as she stared at the skin tight black shorts and the equally snug emerald green jersey.

"I'm going on a bike ride, Mother," she replied airily as she continued down the stairs.

Her mother continued to stare at her, so Jamie did not even stop to get a bottle of water. She nearly jogged to the front door and grabbed her bike from the open garage and took off. Ahhh, freedom.

When she finally met up with Ryan she was already a bit tired. She told her friend the bare outline of the conversation with her father, but she elaborated on the two dinners that she had endured and included the low points of her argument with Jack. Ryan listened carefully, but could not really offer much solace.

Ryan had of course had a lively Thanksgiving. "It was exactly like the party for my birthday except we had cranberry sauce and dressing but no cake. I stole Caitlin right at the start and I didn't have to give her up all day," she gleefully related. "You should hurry up and get married so I can play with your kids," she teased.

As soon as those words hit her ears Jamie was struck by a bolt of panic. She realized with perfect acuity that Ryan would not be a part of her future. Jack would never allow Ryan to attend their family dinners and carry their children around the house. Her father would never warmly welcome Ryan into his home. Marrying Jack would necessarily destroy her friendship with Ryan.

"Jamie, what's wrong?" Ryan asked in alarm as she got a look at her friendís face.

"I think I have a cramp in my thigh," she said as she stopped her bike and hopped off. Ryan did the same and bent down to examine the affected part. While Ryan was bent over Jamie did her best to compose her face. She was absolutely not going to share this revelation with her friend. Ryan began to knead the muscles in her thigh while she gazed up at Jamie's face. After a moment she asked, "Is it better now?"

"Much," Jamie replied as she forced a smile. She gazed at her as she worked on the leg for another minute. I can't lose you Ryan. I am not going to let them take your friendship from me. No matter what!

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

After they had ridden for a good 10 miles Jamie pled exhaustion so they found a nice grove of trees and sat at a picnic table to rest. Ryan gave her a sly smile as she patted the top of the concrete table and instructed, "Come on. You know you want it."

She hopped up without a second invitation as Ryan removed her shoes so her feet would not slide on the slick painted surface. Those strong hands started at her feet and worked slowly up her leg. By the time she reached her groin Jamie was tingling with sensation. It took her a second but the realization quickly hit her that this was nothing less than pure sexual arousal. She shook her head and reassured herself that it was not odd to become aroused when anyone touched you in such an intimate way. But she knew she had to put a stop to this quickly. "Could you concentrate on my calf where I had the cramp?" she asked in order to keep those hands away from her crotch.

"Umm, the cramp was up here," she said as she trailed her fingers along the inside of her thigh, mere inches from her throbbing vulva.

"Oh, right. Well, I must have a new one because my calf is sore now," she lied weakly.

Ryan set to work on the illusory cramp and after a few minutes Jamie called a halt to the entire endeavor. "Thanks," she said as she sat up and started to put her shoes back on.

"But I didnít get to the sore spot," she complained.

No, and weíll get arrested if you do, she thought wryly. "Feels fine," she said even though she knew she would feel much better if she let her continue.

Ryan hopped up on the table and sat next to her. "You seem awfully tense. Are things really going that badly for you?"

"Yeah, they really are," she admitted sadly. "I just donít know what to do about Jack."

"Are you sure you still want to see me as much? I just feel so guilty that I seem to be the cause of your problems."

"No, Ryan," she reassured her forcefully. "You are most definitely not the cause of our problems. We have lots more issues than who I see. Just last night we had another fight about sex."

"Ahh, wanna talk about it?" she asked hesitantly.

"I donít want to make you uncomfortable," Jamie replied, hoping that Ryan would insist.

"Iím not uncomfortable talking about sex, Jamie. Youíve heard me at the talk line. I just donít want to pry where I donít belong. I donít want to embarrass you."

"So youíd really be okay if I wanted to talk about something really personal?"

"Yep. I guarantee you wonít shock me. Remember that I have the most hours logged at the Talk Line," she teased.

"I know, I know, but you never talk about really personal things so I guess I feel like you must not want to."

"No, thatís not it at all. I just havenít had many issues come up that have been bothering me. Iíve been sexually involved with women since I was 17 remember. Iíve had a lot of time to work out my issues."

"Is it hard for everyone to work out their issues as a couple?" she asked thoughtfully.

"Iíve never been with anyone for an extended period where some issues didnít arise," Ryan admitted. "I mean, how could they not? Youíre never more open and naked emotionally than you are with your sexual partner. All of your dormant issues come bubbling up to the surface when you expose yourself like that."

"I guess that does make sense," she admitted. "I just donít know how to get anywhere on my issue."

"Tell me about it," Ryan said firmly.

"Well, I know Iíve hinted that we donít get along great sexually."

Ryan nodded her assent, maintaining her neutral glance.

"Well last night I decided that I was tired of being frustrated. So I got a little more aggressive. I asked him to please me first."

"Is that the first time youíve done that?"

"Yeah, it is," she admitted with a blush. "I usually just let him do his thing and hope for the best."

"Go on," Ryan urged.

"I thought it went well. He got me there pretty easily when I gave him a few extra pointers," she said as her blush deepened. "But when he actually entered me he just didnít seem very excited. He finally finished, but it took him forever! Normally he just likes to go to sleep but I asked him what the problem was and he was tired enough that he didnít censor himself. He said he didnít enjoy sex as much when I was satisfied first because I wasnít as responsive. He said I move more and act more excited before Iíve had an orgasm."

Ryan nodded, trying to remain impassive even though she was beginning to get angry with Jack.

"So the bottom line is that heíd rather I was frustrated so he can have a better orgasm!"

Ryan guessed it was her turn so she jumped in. "What about pleasing you after he has an orgasm?"

"No, I donít think so. Iím usually too sensitive right afterward and his hand just causes too much friction. He tries, but either his fingers are too big or he just doesnít know how to be gentle enough. I get all tense and that just makes him do it harder which is the worst response."

"Iíve got another suggestion," she said quickly. "What about touching yourself while heís inside? I know the equipment isnít the same but when a woman has her fingers inside me I have to have some stimulation on my clitoris to reach orgasm."

Jamie wasnít sure why but the thought of Ryan on her back with a womanís fingers in her was enough to make her pass out. And just hearing her say Ďmy clitorisí made her pulse throb. She fought with herself to stay focused on her issues with Jack but the image kept flying through her mind. "I guess I can try that too," she finally agreed. "But I donít really enjoy the penetration all that much so Iím not sure I could get there."

"UmÖwhat about oral sex after heís finished?"

"Youíre serious, right? He would rather poke his eye out than do that after intercourse. I offered that suggestion once and he acted like I was insane!"

"Too messy?"

"Yeah. But itís his mess!" she said defensively.

"Remind me to count my blessings again today," she teased. She ducked Jamieís swat as she continued in a more serious vein, "What about mutual oral sex?"

"Umm do you meanÖ?"

"Yeah. Could you give him a blow job while he goes down on you before you have intercourse?" she asked neutrally.

All of a sudden Jamie regretted having brought this entire topic up. She squirmed on the table top for a moment before she said, "I canít do that."

"You canít do what?" Ryan asked gently, sensing Jamieís growing discomfort.

"I canít give him a blow job," she said as the deep pink flush infused her cheeks. "I donít know why but it makes me sick to my stomach."

Now Ryan was stumped. She felt that oral sex was one of the most glorious experiences ever devised and she had a hard time understanding why Jamie would be so opposed to it. "Have you tried it?" she finally asked.

"Yes. Iíve tried it," she admitted softly. "But he kept hitting that thing in the back of my throat and I truly almost threw up in his lap."

"Uvula," Ryan helpfully supplied.

"Pardon?"

"That thing in the back of your throat is your uvula," she said. To herself she thought, Any idiot would know not to shove his dick so far down your throat as to make you gag, but she said, "It sounds like he got a little carried away. Maybe you should try it again but make sure you control how deep he goes. If you stayed on top of him you have a better chance of controlling things."

"I guess I have to try it again," she conceded, but she looked so glum that Ryan felt sorry for her.

"Youíre going to be with him for a very long time," she reminded her. "You donít have to have all of your sexual issues worked out before you get married but if you close the door to a lot of experiences Iím afraid youíll never try to open the door again."

Jamie pursed her lips and nodded her head slowly. "I know I need to be more open, Ryan. But part of me is just selfish. I know Jack doesnít like to use his mouth on me and Iím unwilling to get over my fears if he isnít willing to do the same. Iím afraid itíll just be me pleasing him without him trying to please me."

"Jamie," she said gently. "Please donít take this as criticism but it puzzles me that you seem to begrudge doing things to please him. I mean, Iíve never been with a man but if men turned me on I think Iíd be playing with their penises all day long. Like when Iím with a woman," she said softly as her voice became gentler and rather sensual. "Itís her breasts and her vulva that turn me on. I just canít keep my hands off them," she laughed gently. "Donít you feel that way about his penis?"

Oh God, why did you have to say that! she screamed to herself as her mind locked on the image of Ryanís hands on her breasts. "Um, wellÖno, I donít think like that about his penis," she admitted. She placed her hands behind herself and leaned back on her locked arms. "Iíve never thought about it this way, Ryan," she had to admit. "But I donít think of his penis as a toy for both of us to play with. It seems more like the little dictator," she admitted with a wry laugh.

"Huh?"

"Our sex life is all about his penis," she revealed. "When heís hard he wants to have intercourse. Itís really simple for him. He comes inside me and within a few minutes heís satisfied. But it doesnít work like that for me," she explained. "I meanÖ" She looked at Ryan for a moment and tried to translate her frustration to fit Ryanís sexual orientation. "Remember those dildoes we saw at ĎGood Vibrations?"

"Yes, I have a working knowledge of those," she said with an impish look.

Jamie gave her a playful swat and continued. "How would you like it if you were dating someone for a long while and every time she pulled that dildo out you were supposed to be turned on just by looking at it?"

"UmmÖjust by looking at it?"

"Yeah. And most mornings you felt it jabbing you in the back and you knew that she just wanted you to turn over so she could put it in you?" Now Jamie was getting into the topic and the words just flew from her lips. "And every time you made any serious romantic gesture the dildo popped up again. If you kissed her with any passion or rubbed your hand on her thigh, the dildo would come out and youíd be on your back with it inside you."

"Umm, no other foreplay?" Ryan asked weakly.

"Sometimes," Jamie admitted. "But the dildo is where all the focus is. Your partner gets almost all of their satisfaction from putting that dildo inside of you, no matter how turned on you are. And once sheís thrust it in you enough she pulls it out and looks at you with an expectant smile and asks, ĎDid you come?í "

Ryan nodded her head briefly and gave the obvious answer. "Iíd take the damn dildo and throw it away," she admitted. "I wouldnít allow her to use sex toys on me if she couldnít be more connected to my body."

"Thatís just how I feel sometimes," she admitted. "I donít agree with Lorena Bobbitís tactics but I have empathy for her," she said with a chuckle. "His penis just dictates everything, Ryan. And when he has an orgasm he seems to lose all motivation to continue to please me. I mean, he makes the gesture, but I can tell he wants me to cuddle him and let him go to sleep."

"Gee, Jamie, that really is a tough one," she admitted. "Clearly, the only way to approach this is to tell him what you need and make sure he does it. Youíre going to have to set the ground rules because it doesnít sound like he understands how to please you."

She blew out a frustrated breath and nodded slowly. "I know thatís what I have to do, but I so want him to want to please me. Do you know what I mean?" she asked with a sad and terribly vulnerable expression on her face.

"I know," Ryan soothed as she rubbed her back gently. "But maybe if you told him he would eventually get to know you well enough that he would have some ideas of his own. Youíre going to be with this one man for the rest of your life, Jamie," she said solemnly. "You canít just hope for the best. I think you need to talk this through. You have to trust that each of you wants the same thing in a relationship or youíre in real trouble."

Jamie looked up through half hooded eyes and asked, "Youíve been in his position; do you enjoy performing oral sex on another woman?"

"I told you about being with Sara," she replied in a matter of fact tone.

At Jamieís nod she continued. "Not long after the Ďeventí with her I met a woman when I was rollerblading in Golden Gate Park. I was still very fragile and I felt unattractive and totally undesirable. Katie was an intern working at the park through a program that Berkeley runs through their landscape architecture program. She was just 3 years older than I was but that seems like a lot when youíre not quite 17. She was taking a break and came over to sit next to me on a bench. We started talking and before I knew it she asked for my phone number. I had never been picked up before and I didnít have a clue what to do so I stuck to the phone like glue until she called. Luckily for everyone in the house it only took her a day!"

Jamie laughed at her friendís self effacing recounting of this youthful encounter.

"She had a little apartment that she shared with two other women not far from Telegraph. I hopped on BART and went over for my first date with a woman. It was a Saturday afternoon in late May as I recall. I was so nervous I practically barfed on the train. I didnít know what I was supposed to do or what she expected of me. For all I knew we would just sit and talk or go to a movie." Ryanís face curled into a smile as she recalled, "She had something a little more intense in mind."

"You must have been terrified!" Jamie cried.

"Yeah, I guess I was. Her roommates each had a job and they were only going to be gone for a couple of hours so we got down to business right away. My hands were shaking so badly that she had to go first," she said with a laugh. "She kissed and touched me until I thought my head would explode," she said with a chuckle, smiling to herself at the memory. "But when she started to move down my body I just about freaked!"

Jamie joined in her laughter, terribly amused by her friendís animated facial gestures. "I was sooo naïve! I knew that girls gave guys head but I had never stopped to think about the converse. But from the first touch of her tongue I was a convert! Wow," she mused dreamily. "I can still feel it." She shook her head and looked over at Jamie, laughing when she caught sight of the look on her face. Her friend was intensely interested in the story at this point. She was sitting right on the edge of the table, hanging on to every word.

"So?" she asked eagerly.

"SoÖ"

"So what was it like?" she demanded.

Ryan turned serious and regarded her carefully. "Do you really not know, Jamie?"

She shook her head rather violently. "If the half hearted attempts that Jack has made are representative of the act you are very, very easily pleased," she declared.

"Well," Ryan mused. "Iím not sure how to describe it. To be honest even though I still enjoy it a lot itís lost a lot of allure since I practice safe sex all the time. Honestly, thatís one of the reasons Iíd like a steady girlfriend. Iíd like both of us to get tested for STDís and then stay monogamous. I am so sick of barriers!"

Jamie was still staring at her intently, obviously waiting for a response to her earlier question. "Okay!" Ryan laughed at her expression. "Iíll do my best. Oral sex with someone you care about is the most intimate touch that you can imagine. I mean, itís using one of your most sensitive organs to give pleasure to them through their most sensitive organ. Itís exposing yourself fully to your partnerís touch. Youíre just so vulnerable in that position but the vulnerability is very erotic for me. Thereís just no greater sign that you love and trust someone than allowing them to touch you in that way, Jamie. Itís just such a special touchóI really wish that you could try to experience it for yourself." She caught the questioning look that had not changed and asked, "Didnít I describe it well enough?"

Her friend shook her head briskly. "You described your emotional reaction really nicely. But whatís it like physically?"

"Hmm, thatís even tougher," she mused as she let her head fall back against her shoulders. "I donít think Iíve ever tried to describe this before." She spent another few minutes deep in thought and finally said, "I guess itís the combination of the vulnerability, the intimacy and the slightly naughty nature of the act, but all of that comes together for a real wallop on the old central nervous system," she said thoughtfully. "Itís just a jolt of sensation when they first touch you. It starts in your vulva but just radiates out until your whole body tingles. Their tongue feels so warm and wet and soft, just such a tender touch. And if youíre turned on enough it just feels like someone pouring aloe on a sunburn. Itís really very soothing. But within seconds that fire is burning hotter than ever and you just want to jump in and let it burn you alive." Ryanís eyes were half closed and her mouth was curled up into an adorable little grin as she softly described the act. She had a dreamy expression on her face that perfectly matched her soft, sensual voice. Jamie knew that she had stopped talking and she sensed that it was now her turn. But she could not make her mouth move. She tried gamely, but the signal just could not get to her mouth from her brain since all of the other neurons were sending signals to her own vulva.

Ryan turned her head to look at her friendís open mouthed stare and finally asked, "Too much information?"

Jamie shook her head roughly to snap herself back into reality. "No, No, not at all," she insisted. "I justÖIíve neverÖI meanÖ"

"I know," Ryan said gently as she patted her knee. "But you can, Jamie. I know you have a ton of passion that just hasnít been tapped." She smiled at the still stunned looking woman and said, "I think youíre going to surprise yourself someday, Pal. I guarantee your best sexual experiences are in front of you."

"I certainly hope so!" she laughed. "I couldnít go on if I thought they were behind me! But back to your story. Wasnít it hard to touch her that way the first time?"

"No, not really. What she had done to me felt so utterly fabulous that I had to do it to her just as a way of thanking her!"

Jamie laughed again at Ryanís guileless face as she recounted her tale. "So, did you like it?"

"Like is not even in the ball park," she said wistfully. "I felt like we were merged into one big, throbbing, pulsing body. I was completely, totally, helplessly in love with Katie no more than 2 seconds after my tongue touched her. Of course she was a little more realistic about the experience," she said sardonically.

"What happened?" Jamie asked as she placed her hand on Ryanís shoulder.

"About what you would expect," she related. "She was from Iowa and since the term was over she was going home. She didnít want me to write to her and a few weeks later she sent me a note and said, ĎThanks but no thanksí."

"You poor baby," Jamie said with a face full of empathy.

"No, no, Jamie, this isnít a sad story. I didnít know a thing about Katie. I wasnít in love with her. But she showed me how totally wonderful oral sex can be and for that I am forever grateful. I have no idea where she is today but wherever she is I hope she has gotten as much out of the act as I have over the years."

"So is Jack being a baby because he wonít try it with more enthusiasm?" she asked with a bit of trepidation.

"No, not really. I had someone who showed me how to do it and how it felt to have it done to me. Itís not quite the same for you but I bet if one of you was more experimental the other might follow."

"I guess thatís about the only other option I have at this point," Jamie agreed. "If I ever want to have an orgasm I guess Iíll have to try one of your suggestions. Iím sure he wonít like it though. He views every orgasm as inferior if it doesnít come from penetration."

"Thatís ridiculous!" Ryan shouted before she could catch herself. "I would never try to dictate how my partner had an orgasm. Jesus! I do everything in my power to please my partner and these are women I hardly know!" She was immediately chagrined to have allowed herself to vent like that, but she was getting so sick of this guy. She hated to see Jamie saddled with an insecure jerk like this, but she knew that it was not her business. She vowed immediately to keep her opinions to herself, but she was amazed by the smile that lit up Jamieís face.

"Thanks. I really mean that," she said softly. "Youíve really made me feel better. Iíve been so afraid that what I wanted wasnít reasonable. But youíve helped me see that not everyone is like Jack."

"Jamie," she said as she took her hand. "Sex is an important part of a relationship. You have a right to your own pleasure. You just need to figure out how to best please yourself and then you need to ask for it. You canít spend the rest of your life with this man only caring about him and his satisfaction."

"I know youíre right, Ryan. But itís just another area that is not going to go smoothly," she predicted.

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

The rest of the weekend passed at a snail's pace. The restless boredom that had been tugging at her guts grew worse as the hours passed. She spent time with her mother, going shopping and trying out 3 new restaurants. Did I used to enjoy this? After spending yet another lunch listening to her mother talk about absolutely nothing of interest Jamie thought that she would scream. I've been here for 4 days and neither she nor Daddy has really asked about me. I know they don't know what classes I'm taking. They know nothing about my life. They don't even ask about Jack. Am I just so used to this disinterest that I've not noticed it before?

* * * * * * * * * * *

After dinner with her parents she decided to go spend the night with Jack. He was glad to see her, but within an hour he was engrossed in his schoolwork. Jamie pulled out her own books and spent the evening reading while sitting on the couch with her legs in Jack's lap.

Before bed she went into the kitchen to get a drink. He came into the kitchen just as she was finishing and sat down at the kitchen table. "I love having you here, Jamie," he said with a smile as he took her hand. "It just doesn't feel like home when you're not around."

Warning bells were sounding in her head but she ignored them and asked the question. "Why do you love me, Jack?"

He looked completely dumbfounded. "You know why I love you Jamie," he said defensively.

"No, I really don't," she disagreed. "I know that you tell me you love me, but you never tell me why." She grasped his hand and looked at him with pleading eyes. "Please tell me."

He stared at her for a long time before he finally answered. "I guess I love how I feel when I'm with you," he said thoughtfully. "You make me feel whole."

Is that all??!!! She continued to stare at him without saying a word. Silently she prayed that he would continue with something---anything--about her.

"I am really attracted to you," he continued hesitantly. "I love the way you look and I love the way I feel when I touch you," he smiled shyly as he began to do just that.

She concentrated with every fiber of her being and finally found the strength to shut down the voice that was screaming for her attention. She repeated the mantra, He does love you, he just doesn't know how to express it. He does love you, he does.

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

On Monday Jamie got to the gym just as Mia was finishing up.

Ryan's mood was ebullient when she greeted her friend. "Hiya," she said with a big grin as she gave Jamie a quick hug.

"You certainly look happy," Jamie said as she caught some of the infectious mood.

"Whatís not to be happy about?" she asked lightly.

"Good point," Jamie replied, thinking that she could spew for an hour about her unhappiness with Jack.

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

Mia was still at the gym working on the stair climber when they had finished their session. Jamie approached her and asked, "Would you like to go grab a bite with Ryan and me?"

"I'd love to as long as I can go shower first. I would scare the livestock the way I smell right now," she replied as she wrinkled up her nose.

"I think we could both use a little freshening up," Jamie agreed. "Let's go home so we can take a shower, then we'll decide where to go."

Mia called dibs as soon as they walked into the house. She trotted up the stairs with the promise that she would be quick. Jamie and Ryan walked up to her room to wait. They discussed all of their menu choices and when Mia was done Ryan went back downstairs to allow Jamie to get ready.

"So, how do you like working with Ryan?" she asked after Mia came into her room.

"I like it a lot, James. You were right; she is really good at what she does. And she's a lot of fun too," she conceded. "I guess I should just accept your view of people and save myself some trouble."

"Iím really glad you like her, Mia. I knew that you two would get along, being that you're my two favorite people." Mia smiled at her friend, pleased by the confirmation of their long friendship.

After they were presentable they settled on a Thai restaurant within walking distance. During dinner Jamie grew pensive and finally asked, "Do you guys think it's odd that Jack can't tell me why he loves me?"

Mia looked at Ryan who returned the gaze. They mouthed "Oh, Oh," in unison, as they laughed. Mia spoke first, "I guess that doesn't really surprise me," she replied. "Guys are not great at that kind of thing." She paused for a minute, "Let me guess, his answer was either 'Gee, I don't know, I just do', or it was about how you make him feel," she said presciently.

"Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner," Jamie replied. "His answer, and I quote, was 'I love how you make me feel when we're together'. " She let out an aggrieved sigh. "It makes me feel like I have to guess how he feels and just assume Iím right."

"Well, that is the safest course," Mia agreed with a slight chuckle.

Jamie noticed that Ryan had not responded, and was in fact gazing down at her meal, deep in thought. She decided to drop the subject and they began to discuss their workouts and the ride and other topics of mutual interest. At about 7:30 Mia announced that she was meeting some friends for a movie. Both Ryan and Jamie declined the invitation to join the crowd and Mia took off after hugging both of them goodbye.

After they had settled the bill they began to walk down Telegraph. The street was still filled with the merchants who set up tables along the sidewalk and they browsed for a long time. After they had turned down a quieter street Jamie suggested they stop for a coffee. They found themselves at 'Sufficient Grounds', Jamie's favorite spot. They received their respective lattés and settled into a table.

Jamie noticed that Ryan was still a little reserved, so she finally asked, "What's bothering you? You were so up before dinner, and now you seem a little sad."

Ryan looked down at her coffee and shrugged her shoulders a little. "I don't know if I should talk about it," she finally replied.

"Should or want to?" she asked. "If something is bothering you, I want to know about it, unless you donít want to talk about it, " she said firmly.

Ryan looked up with those deep blue eyes and stared at her intently for a long minute. "It's about what you said about Jack," she finally revealed. "It hurts me that he isn't able to make you feel better. I want you to have a great relationship. I really want you to be happy and fulfilled, Jamie," she said sincerely as their eyes locked again.

"I appreciate that more than I can say, Ryan," she said as she patted her friend's folded hands. "I know I shouldn't be so hard on him. Maybe I just didn't give him time to think."

Ryan shook her head a little. "That's what I was doing in the restaurant. It only took me a moment to think of what I love about you," she said with an embarrassed little smile.

"Tell me," Jamie said simply as she grasped her hands as they continued to stare into each other's eyes.

"Okay," she began hesitantly. "I love how you treat other people. You have a ton of empathy for others, and itís very genuine. Not just a token. You're thoughtful and kind and very considerate. I've never heard you make a derogatory comment about anyone. Not even Cassie who certainly deserves a few," she laughed. "I love your intelligence and your sense of humor. You have a really quick mind and I love to see you work on a problem. I appreciate how much you love language and literature, and how deep your knowledge is on the topic. You make me laugh more than anyone I know, and that's saying a lot," she smiled. "I love how interested you are in other people and topics that you aren't familiar with. You have a real love of life and you're really open to new experiences." She thought for a minute as she continued, "The bottom line though, is your heart. Your compassion and love for other people constantly impresses me. It's what I love the most about you." As she finished she looked up to see tears forming in Jamie's eyes. She pulled one of her hands from Jamieís grasp and laid it on top of hers as she smile tenderly at her.

"That was the most amazing thing anyone has ever said to me," she finally choked out. "But do you know what the funny thing is?"

Ryan shook her head a little as she cocked it in a question.

"As you spoke I was thinking that every trait you ascribed to me was exactly how I would describe you," she said sincerely. "I've never met anyone who is as connected to their feelings as you are Ryan. That is such a gift. I hope you find someone that you can share it with who really appreciates it."

Ryan looked a little surprised but finally replied, "That's part of the reason I'm so happy tonight."

"What do you mean?" Jamie asked, a bit confused.

"I've been thinking a lot about love and relationships lately. I was bothered by the interaction that I had with that older woman. Thatís why I snapped at you when you called me on it," she admitted with a bashful grin. "But I had some time to really reflect due to the time off from school. And I think you're right Jamie. I have been avoiding real intimacy. Iím worried that if I keep avoiding it I wonít be able to be intimate when I feel Iím ready. So I'm going to try to find a real girlfriend and stop my serial dating."

"Anyone is mind?" Jamie inquired lightly.

"Yeah, as a matter of fact. It's someone you know," she revealed.

"Who?" she asked, really confused.

"Tracy Stuart, from class," she explained. "You know her, right?"

"Yeah, I know her." Boy do I ever know her. From the first day of class Jamie had been impressed with the tall, lean brunette. It was a toss-up between Ryan and Tracy for who was more beautiful, but Tracy had a sleek, smooth feminine grace that was mesmerizing. Jamie had often thought that Ryan and Tracy would make a knock out couple, but she had never seemed interested in Ryan. "How did you make a connection with her?" Jamie finally asked.

"Well, I tried to talk to her one day just after school started, but she shot me down fast," she said with an embarrassed grin. "She was dating another woman, so I didn't approach her again. A couple of weeks ago I heard that they had broken up and I tried to talk to her again." Here she looked a little embarrassed. "She told me that she had no intention of being just a stop on the O'Flaherty Express," Ryan blushed at being called at her game. "I thought about that a lot the last couple of weeks. But after that encounter with the woman from the gym I just decided that I had to stop sleeping with everyone who caught my eye. I called her on Saturday and she agreed to have coffee with me," she said happily. "You know, Jamie, this is the first woman I have pursued in years," she said as she blushed again.

"So what happened?" Jamie asked, beginning to get a little nervous.

"We talked for a long time. I confessed that she really had my number." She paused for a moment. "But then I asked her if she would go out with me if I promised not to see anyone else and I promised to remain open to having a real relationship." She looked up at Jamie. "I had no idea that I was going to offer that, but she really is something Jamie. I don't remember the last time I was this attracted to a woman," she shyly revealed.

"So did she agree right then?"

"Nope," she said happily. "She made me wait until today. She called me this afternoon and agreed to go out with me tomorrow evening." She laughed a little, "She also told me in no uncertain terms that when she said 'go out' she meant 'go out'." Here she gave a bemused chuckle, "I don't think I'm going to 'have my way' with this one for quite a while," she drawled.

"Are you okay with that?" Jamie asked with a laugh. "I know you have 'needs' that you are used to having filled."

"I think my overactive libido could use a rest," she reflected.

"This could give you a chance to get to know yourself and discover what's really important to you in a relationship," Jamie said thoughtfully.

"Oh, believe me, if she makes me wait too long, 'Knowing myself' will not be a problem," she said as she laughed at Jamie's deep blush.

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

On the first Friday after Thanksgiving break Jamie walked into Jackís apartment and was astounded to find him setting the table for dinner. She smelled something cooking but she was too shocked to even try to guess what it was. "Hi," he said brightly when he saw her.

"Uhh, hi," she managed to get out. "Whatís up?"

He walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her tightly. "Iíve been giving a lot of thought to what you said on Thanksgiving and Iíve really resolved to do something about it. I donít want to have a marriage like my parents, Jamie. But I have been falling into their patterns. Iím sorry that you got so frustrated before you told me but Iím glad you told me eventually."

"I had no idea that you even took me seriously," she said in wonder. "I canít tell you how good it makes me feel to know that you care enough to try to change."

"Jamie," he said softly as he lifted her chin with his fingers, "Your opinion of me matters tremendously. Youíre the most important person in my life. Donít you know that?"

She rested her head on his chest and let herself just sink into his embrace. His strong arms completely enveloped her and she felt warm and loved for the first time in weeks. "Thank you," she said softly. "Thank you for everything."

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

The following Monday morning Ryan walked up to Jamie after class and asked, "Juice?"

"Sure," Jamie agreed, very thankful that Ryan did not stop their little breaks together even though she was getting close to Tracy. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the good looking brunette talking to a group of women. "Would you like to ask Tracy to join us?" she asked with just a moment of hesitation.

"UmÖI guess I could. But I like having time alone with you," she said firmly. "So I wouldnít mind asking her once in a while but I donít want to make a habit of it."

Jamie smiled sweetly up at her friend as she shook her head. "You are such a sensitive woman, Ryan OíFlaherty," she said fondly. "I really like having time with just you also, but Iíd like to get to know her a little. Is it okay?"

"Sure. Iíll ask her," she said with a winning smile as she sauntered over and gently placed her hand on Tracyís back. The dark head turned to regard her and Jamie watched as Tracyís face broke into a big smile. Seconds later both women were walking her way. "Ms. Stuart has accepted our invitation," Ryan said with mock formality. "Our usual?"

"Perfect," Jamie said with a smile.

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

After a few minutes of topical conversation Jamie hopped up from the table to buy another round of juice for her always thirsty friend. Ryan had whipped through her two bottles and was eyeing Jamieís rather hungrily so since it was her turn to buy Jamie strolled over to purchase another cranberry juice. I am amazed by how natural Ryan seems with her, she mused during her short walk. I thought sheíd have the predator persona but she doesnít at all. Hmm, maybe she puts that on only when she has a woman alone. She considered this idea but reminded herself, No, she was very predatory with the women she picked up during class. Having an audience sure didnít seem to stop her then. A smile crossed her lips as she watched Ryan gently flirting with Tracy. She wasnít up to her usual tricks, however. She was just smiling shyly at something the gorgeous brunette had said. Her eyes were half lidded and also reflected rather innocent shyness. Tracy obviously appreciated this new attitude as she playfully touched the tip of Ryanís nose. But there was still a little predator left as Jamie watched a feral grin come over her friendís features just before her mouth snapped open to grab Tracyís index finger between her perfect white teeth.

Jamie set the bottle down on the table, admonishing her friend, "Iíve brought more calories, Buddy. You donít have to resort to cannibalism."

Ryan just gave her a rakish look as she tamely released her prey. Tracy leaned over and patted her gently on the cheek, murmuring, "Good girl."

She turned to Jamie and twitched her head in Ryanís direction and asked, "How long have you and blue eyes here known each other?"

"Mmm, just since class started," Jamie informed her.

Tracy blinked a little at that bit of information. "Gosh, I thought youíd known each other for years. You just seem so close."

"We are," Ryan said, locking her eyes onto Jamieís. "Jamieís the best friend Iíve ever had."

The misty green eyes did not waver as Jamie echoed her thoughts. "Best class Iíve ever taken," she said with a small smile. "Iíve learned a lot and got a best friend in the bargain."

Tracy gave each woman a long appraising look as they grinned at each other seemingly unaware of her presence.

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

After class on Wednesday Ryan sidled up to Jamie and asked, "Do you know how to bowl?"

"Bowl? Like in a bowling alley?"

A delightfully quirky grin crossed Ryanís face as she asked, "Umm, what other kind is there?"

"Well, thereís lawn bowling, but I guess they do that mostly in England."

Ryan cocked her dark head and repeated her question. "Do you know how?"

"Well, Iíd say Iíd be more proficient at lawn bowling," she mused. "I went bowling once, in grade school, and the manager of the alley asked me to stop before I hurt myself," she said with a wry laugh.

"Perfect," Ryan pronounced with a very satisfied grin. "Weíre going bowlingótonight!"

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

After their workout and a stop for a quick shower and a mini-rubdown they got into the Porsche for the drive to The City. After some dogged questioning Jamie finally got the story out of her recalcitrant friend. "So all of your brothers and cousins are in a bowling league, right?"

"Right."

"And you fill in when someone canít make it?"

"Right."

"So tonight Brendan canít make it and for some obscure reason, you want me to be on your team to take his place."

"Almost right," she said with a smile. "Brendan is on Conorís team. Iím filling in for Rory and heís on another team." Her waggling eyebrows indicated her extreme pleasure with her plan and after a few minutes the reason dawned on Jamie.

"You asked me because you knew Iíd suck!!" she cried in outrage as she slapped Ryan hard on the thigh.

"Hey! That hurt!" she winced, rubbing the affected part as she shot a glare at her friend. "And I asked you because Conor suggested you," she sniffed. "I thought weíd have fun together." Her eyes were dark and a tiny little pout was forming on her lovely face.

"Ryan, Iím sorry," she said quickly as she gently rubbed her hand on the still stinging thigh. "I didnít mean to hurt your feelings."

Her friend gave her a rakish grin as she admitted, "You didnít, Jamie. I really did ask you because I thought youíd suck."

At the smaller womanís outraged squawk she added, "Plus I wanted to spend the evening with you. Tracy would suck too," she reassured her. "I just thought it would be fun."

"Okay," Jamie said suspiciously. "Who would you have asked if your team needed another player?"

"Ally," she said quickly as she tried to cover up from her laughing friendís pinch.

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

They arrived at the Japantown Bowl just as the rest of the clan was arriving. Looking around quickly Jamie observed that they were the only women in the entire building. "Is this the Testosterone League, or what?" she whispered to Ryan.

"Pretty much," she admitted. "Youíre on the Carpenterís Local 751 team. Iím on the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 128." Her playful grin caused Jamie to smile back at her, ignoring her pique at being tricked into playing.

Conor arrived moments later and claimed Jamie as his charge for the evening. "Finally, a teammate that Iíll enjoy looking at," he said with obvious pleasure. "Iím so sick of looking at sweaty men all dayóthis is a treat, Jamie."

"Just remember that she has her own sweaty man that she likes to look at, Conor," Ryan reminded him as she playfully patted her brotherís cheek.

"Oh, Iím well aware of Jamieís marital status," he said sweetly. Turning to the blushing woman he inquired, "You are still single, but with some vague plans on marrying some unemployed fellow in the distant future, correct?"

"I suppose thatís about right," Jamie admitted with a grin.

"Perfect," Conor said with a sexy grin that nearly matched the one Jamie had seen on his sister whenever she spotted a fresh face. "Letís get you set up," he said as he took her hand to lead her over to the racks of balls.

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

Conor spent quite a few minutes helping Jamie choose a ball that fit her hand and proved light enough for her to roll effectively. After she secured a lovely pair of tan and red rental shoes he took her up to the line and spent a good 10 minutes instructing her on his philosophy of bowling. She kept looking at him with a puzzled glance and finally Ryan could take no more. She stomped over to their lane and demanded, "Are you teaching her how to build a bowling alley or throw the damn ball?"

"Ryan," he explained patiently. "Bowling is a difficult sport. It helps to understand the angles and the percentages of the different approaches."

"Oh for Godís sake," she snapped as she placed her hands on Jamieís shoulders and said, "See the center arrow on the lane?"

Jamie nodded.

"Stand just to the right of it, take 4 steps, staring with your right foot. Bring the ball back to about here," she instructed as she pulled her arm back. "Release it smoothly, while looking at the matching arrow right up there," she told her, pointing to a mark on the lane about 10 feet away.

Jamie nodded once and mimicked Ryanís instructions perfectly. The three watched the ball as it slowly but determinedly made itís way right to the pocket where it knocked every pin down, one at a time.

Jamie turned and threw her arms around Ryan, who was grinning like the Cheshire cat at her scowling brother. "Keep it simple, Stupid," she instructed as she backhanded him sharply in the stomach on her way back to her own lane.

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

The evening went fairly smoothly and Ryan quickly became engrossed in her own play. She didnít own her own ball and she sometimes had trouble finding one that fit her long, slender fingers. Her strength allowed her to effortlessly roll a 16 pound ball but she had never been able to find a heavy ball that did not fall off her hand. So she usually had to settle for a 14 pounder just to keep some control. But tonight she had found the perfect ball. It was a 16 pound dark red ball and the finger holes were nearly perfect. The initials JWB were stamped into the plastic and she made a note in her organizer for the next time she had to fill in so that she could find the darn thing again.

The proper equipment allowed her to have the game of her life, she noted happily. Her first game was a 225, the second 215 and she was already at 230 in the 9th frame of the last game. Even though she was concentrating on her match she shot glances over at Jamie every time her friend went to the line. Not bad for a rank beginner, she thought with a small smile. Her eyes wandered to her brother and her assembled cousins as Jamie went to roll her second ball of the frame. Perverts! she scoffed when she saw 5 pairs of eyes firmly glued to her friendís butt. But she admitted to herself that Jamie did indeed have a very watchable butt so she really could not blame the lads. The second ball gave her a spare for the frame and Ryan smiled broadly as the smaller woman jumped gleefully into the air and gave a whoop of delight. All of the members of her team were smiling and congratulating her but Ryan noted with her own delighted smile that those misty green eyes immediately found her, seeking Ryan out to share her enthusiasm. She did so with pleasure, giving Jamie both a broad smile and a wink of approval.

As Ryan rolled her next frame she turned and caught Jamie gazing at her intently. They locked eyes and for just one split second the din of the alley died down and became a very faint muted rumble. The other bowlers faded from her view. Only one face remained and Ryan could nearly feel her breathingóso intent was their connection for that one instant. But as soon as it began it was goneóas Ryan walked into the ball return and nearly took a header. "Yipes!" she cried as only her excellent balance kept her upright. All of the cousins laughed at her completely unexpected clumsiness. She felt a deep blush cover her face as she sat down and tried to gather her scrambled thoughts. But just when she was nearly back to normal she felt a warm hand on her shoulder. She turned and saw those green eyes just inches away, this time filled with concern. "You didnít hurt yourself did you?"

"No, no, not at all," she said firmly. "There must have been something on the floor," she explained, trying to cover.

"You sure youíre alright?" she persisted.

"Perfect," Ryan insisted, smiling to herself when Jamieís small hand gently squeezed her shoulder as she returned to her lane.

Wow, I donít know whatís going on tonight, but Iím actually feeling light headed, she mused. I must be having sex withdrawal, she decided, since she had not been with a woman in a couple of weeks. Yeah, that must be it, she decided, as she focused intently on Jamieís cute little butt as the small woman once again approached the line.

"Are you aware of her marital status?" a deep voice breathed in her ear. Her blush climbed her face so fast that she almost passed out from the rush.

She gathered herself with as much grace as possible and shrugged her older brother off. "Get a grip, Conor," she snapped as she went to the line and rolled the first gutter ball of her adult life.

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

Unbeknownst to Ryan, Conor and the boys had been buying Jamie rounds of beers and she had gamely tried to keep up with the much larger men. By the time the match was over her small friend was toast. "Thanks, Conor," Ryan grumbled as a giggling Jamie came over and plopped down on her lap. "Tell Da I had to take Jamie home," she instructed. "Iíll just stay at her house so I donít have to come back across the bridge."

"No problem Sis," he said with a smile. "But I could take her home if you want."

The giggles had stopped and now Jamie was sound asleep against Ryanís chest. "Yeah, sure, Pal," she scoffed. "Like Iíd trust you with her in this condition."

"Are you sure youíre entirely trustworthy?" he challenged. "I can read you like a book, Sis, and youíve got it bad." He was smirking widely with his arms crossed against his broad chest.

"Youíre delusional, Conor," she snapped. "Now help me get her to the car, you big dope."

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

As they pulled up in front of the house Ryan noted with dismay that the lights were on in both roommates rooms. Oh boy, another fun night with Cassie, she groused.

It took a lot longer than Ryan would have predicted but she finally got Jamieís half-awake body out of the tiny, low slung car. She was able to walk with assistance but when they got to the door she was unable to produce her house key. "None of these keys work," Ryan complained as she tried each of the 3 keys on the ring.

"Thoseír for the car," Jamie mumbled.

"Where are your house keys," Ryan enunciated clearly.

"Pocket," she mumbled back.

"Can you get them?" Ryan patiently asked.

"Uh uhh," she said as she shook her head and nearly fell over. Ryan rolled her eyes as she began to pat her down. The key was in the small inside pocket of her 501ís and Ryan gamely snuck two fingers down into the tiny pocket. She got her fingers around it but had a tough time actually getting it out. Jamie picked that moment to lose the ability to support herself. Her knees buckled and Ryan had to grab her with one strong arm just under her breasts. She dug into the pocket more forcefully and extricated the house key on its tiny silver ring. A minute fumbling with the lock while trying to balance the limp woman eventually allowed them to stumble into the house.

Iíve gotta get lighter friends, she grumbled as she stooped and swept her friend into her arms and steeled herself for the long climb up the steep staircase. She was nearly at the top when the ever pleasant Cassie Martin emerged from her room and glared at Ryan in outrage. "What have you done to her?!"

"I havenít done anything to her, Cassie," she said with as much patience as she could gather. "Iím trying to keep her from getting hurt. You can help or you can get out of the way." She glared right back at the tall, thin blonde.

She won this round, for Cassieís expression mellowed and she asked, "What can I do to help?"

"Well, Iíve got to get her undressed and then into bed," Ryan stated.

"Iíll undress her," Cassie said firmly.

"Fine," Ryan snapped, unable to tolerate this annoying woman any longer than necessary. "If you can handle this, Iíll take off." She placed Jamie on the bed and started down the stairs only to be stopped by Cassieís startled voice.

"I canít lift her!" she cried.

Ryan rolled her eyes and trudged back upstairs. She stood next to the exasperated woman and asked, "What do you want me to do?"

"UmÖ" she mumbled as she assessed the situation. "Can you pick her up so I can get her jeans off?"

"Yes, but arenít you afraid Iíll rape her if I see her in her underwear?" she snapped, unable to control herself.

"Look, Ryan, Iím sorry I said that. I justÖ"

"Itís okay," Ryan said, her own voice gentling. "Letís just get her undressed." They worked together, awkwardly but effectively getting her into a pair of flannel pajamas. Ryan carried her into the bath and stepped outside while Cassie guided her to the commode. When she was finished relieving herself Ryan came back in and carried her to the neatly turned down covers on the bed as Cassie hovered.

"Iím afraid to leave her here alone," she mused.

"Why donít you sleep with her?" Ryan asked, thinking the solution was obvious.

"My boyfriend is here," she said, as though Ryan could have known that.

"Why didnít you have him help you get her into bed?" she snapped.

"I donít want him to see other women naked," Cassie snapped back. "Itís inappropriate!"

"Great. So should I sleep with her or with your boyfriend?" she asked wryly. "Iím can assure you he would be safe with me."

"Youíre hardly his type," she scoffed.

"Thatís a relief," Ryan muttered, just loud enough to be heard.

"Do what you want," Cassie fumed. "Besides, I think youíre just what Jamieís looking for, anyway!" She stormed from the room, slamming the door and startling the half-unconscious woman awake.

"WhaÖwhat happeníd?" Jamie muttered.

"Nothing," Ryan murmured softly as she sat on the bed and soothed her friend. "Nothing at all. You just lie down and go to sleep. Iíll be right here," she promised.

"Are you stayiní with me?" she asked shyly. "Iím a little drunk."

"Youíre more than a little drunk, Pal," she chuckled. "Iím gonna stay right here to make sure youíre okay."

" ĎKay," she said happily. She pushed the covers back and demanded, "Get in."

Ryan shook her head firmly, remembering the earlier flush of feeling she had at the bowling alley. "Iíll just curl up on the love seat or the floor."

"Donít you trust me?" Jamie asked with her face contorted into a sad little pout.

"Of course I trust you," Ryan soothed as she sat on the bed and ran her fingers through her friendís pale hair.

"Well?" she demanded, not verbalizing the obvious unasked question.

Ryan just nodded as she kicked off her running shoes and unbuttoned her jeans. She noticed that Jamie was staring at her intently as she did so and she briefly missed the unconscious phase of the evening. She shucked her pants and slid into bed, still in her salmon colored polo shirt and sports bra.

But even through her drunken haze Jamie was still able to make her uncomfortable. "Donít you have to wear that shirt tomorrow?" she asked lazily.

"UmÖyeah, I guess I do."

"Why donít you put on one of my t-shirts," she offered.

Knowing that the idea was sound Ryan got to her feet and went to the dresser. A small voice floated over to her. "You donít have to keep your bra on, Ryan. I want you to be comfortable."

"I think Iíd be more comfortable on that floor, fully clothed," she mumbled to herself, but did as her friend asked. She found a t-shirt that looked like it wouldnít be skin tight and stripped off her polo and then yanked her sports bra over her head, demurely turning her back to Jamie as she did so.

That soft voice again commented, "You have a really nice back."

Great! Just great! Every one of my senses are on full alert, Iím unreasonably attracted to my best friend tonight and sheís watching me undress like a guy at a topless bar!

She gingerly approached the bed and slid in to the small space her friend had left for her. "Umm, can I have a little more room?" she asked in a voice that hardly sounded like her own.

"Sure," Jamie mumbled as she scooted even closer and curled up against Ryanís side. She snuggled her head up against her friendís broad shoulder and let out a deep sigh. "This doesnít bother you does it?" she asked softly.

"No, no, itís fine," she squeaked as Jamieís arm curled around her waist.

"Good," came the mumbled response. "I need to be close tonight."

Oh God! Ryan cried to herself. Please, please, donít want to be any closer, Ďcause I donít think I can resist!

She lay still as a statue for a few minutes until she felt a gentle bump against her side. "Relax," Jamie mumbled. "Itís okay, Ryan. I want this."

Want what?? her internal voice screamed.

As though she could hear that voice Jamie replied, "I want to snuggle a little. No big deal between friends, huh?"

A small smile curled the edges of her mouth as Ryan felt her own body begin to relax as she indulgently replied, "No big deal at all, Pal." She brought her right arm around to tenderly rub her friendís back, slowly and smoothly urging her into sleep.

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

Just before first light Ryan slowly blinked her eyes open and tried to order her thoughts. Where am I? she wondered. And whoís this? Her face was burrowed up against a very soft, very warm back. Her right arm was wrapped around a small waist, and an arm rested upon her own with a soft hand covering hers. Suddenly, all of her senses shot to full alert. My God! Iím wrapped around Jamie! Shit! Shit! SHIT!! She fought with her mind to think clearly and help her extricate herself from this predicament. Okay, okay, just calm down, she soothed herself. She wanted to cuddle, remember? This was her idea. Itís okay if she wakes up and youíre touching. But her rational mind reminded her, She wanted to cuddle you, but she didnít ask you to plaster yourself up against her like a wall to wall carpet! She took a deep breath to speed the flow of oxygen to her brain. Youíve got to pull away before she wakes up but you donít want to wake her when you do it, she instructed her body. Youíve got to be smooth and gentle! She took a few more calming breaths and let her mind wander for just another moment. I wonder if Tracy will feel this good when we sleep together. A deep sigh sprang from her chest as she thought, I wish I could have this with Jamie. I just feel so comfortable with her. Yeah, yeah, her conscience interjected. You feel comfortable with Duffy too, and it would be just as morally wrong to sleep with him! Get up, you lazy bum, and stop trying to cop a feel from your best STRAIGHT friend

She began to remove her arm as slowly as possible, but she was pulling Jamieís hand right along with it. Going for another tactic she moved back to her original position and lifted her head until it was hovering over Jamieís shoulder. She pursed her lips and blew a forceful stream of air right onto the mussed locks of hair trailing over her forehead. Jamieís face scrunched up into an adorable frown and finally her right hand lifted to brush against her hair, freeing Ryanís arm in the process. A satisfied smile came over her face as she checked her watch alarm and reset it for 7. No clothes to run in anyway, she thought to herself as she rolled over onto her side, back to back with her deeply sleeping friend.

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

"You awake?" a soft voice tickled her ear.

"I am now," Ryanís sleep roughened voice replied. She turned onto her back and gazed up at the surprisingly bright green eyes that faced her. "You look pretty peppy for a drunkard," she teased.

"Oh God, was I really bad?" her blushing friend choked out.

"No, not at all, but Cassie and I had to undress you."

"Cassie? Did you need help?"

"No, but she thought I would molest you so she wanted to supervise," she informed her with a tight smile that could double as a grimace.

Jamie flopped onto her back and draped her forearm over her eyes. "Iíve got to get rid of her," she grumbled. "I cannot have her insulting my friends like that. Itís just not acceptable."

"Itís okay, Jamie. She generally doesnít bother me and now that I know you donít care how I respond Iím perfectly capable of defending myself."

"You have my permission to deck her," she grumbled as she rolled over and got to her feet.

"How do you feel?" Ryan ventured.

"Fine," she replied easily. "Why shouldnít I?"

"Donít you have a hangover?"

"Unh uh," she replied with a shake of her head. "I donít think I ever have."

"Do you do this often?" Ryan asked suspiciously.

"Of course not! I must just have a strong constitution."

Ryanís gentle smile beamed back at her from across the bed. "Thatís not how I would describe you," she admitted. "I feel like Iím carrying you up those stairs every third day!"

Jamie sat down on the bed and gently trailed the tips of her fingers down Ryanís arm, starting at her shoulder and continuing on to her fingertips. "Lucky for me that my best friend is stronger than Atlas, huh?"

"Youíre always unconscious," Ryan reminded her. "You donít hear me gasping for breath by the third stair."

"Not a chance, Buffy," she admonished her with a playful tweak of her nose. "Youíve got muscles for days."

"Iíve also got an 8 oíclock class that I canít be late for," Ryan reminded her. "Letís get shakiní."

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

"Hey," Ryan said as she responded to Jamieís page on the following Tuesday. "Whatís up?"

"My father offered me 4 tickets to the Warriors tonight. Wanna go and bring a couple of brothers?"

"Ooo, Iíd love to," she said quickly. "But Iíve got a date."

"Thatís okay," Jamie said, a little disappointed.

"I could ask Tracy to go too if itís important to you," Ryan offered.

But the thought of sharing Ryanís attention made the evening seem much less attractive. "No, she doesnít look like the basketball kind of girl," Jamie admitted.

"No, she kinda doesnít, does she?" Ryan agreed. "Tennis, maybe, or even the LPGA, but probably not basketball."

"Thatís okay. Maybe Iíll call Conor and see if heíd like all 4."

"Heíd love to have you go too, Jamie," she reminded her. "He thinks youíre fine."

"Yeah," she laughed. "I think he thinks Iím too fine," she admitted with a little chuckle. "Iím having a hard enough time with Jack. Going to a game with Conor probably isnít in my best interests."

"Well, let me give you his pager. Iím sure heíd be happy to take the tickets if you donít want to use them."

"Okay," she said when Ryan had related the number. She knew she should hang up, but she just didnít want to. "Where are you going tonight?"

"Tracyís having me over for dinner," she replied with a laugh. "But I have a feeling that someone else is doing the cooking. Sheís not very domestic."

"Where does she live?" Jamie asked, just trying to prolong the contact.

"The Marina. She has a nice little apartmentóand no roommates," she added with a deep chuckle.

"The perfect woman," Jamie laughed gently, trying to get the image of Ryan and Tracy locked in a passionate embrace out of her mind.

"Yeah, so far so good," she conceded. "Itís still too early to tell, but sheís pretty special."

"Sheíd better be, Buddy. You deserve the best."

"Thanks, Jamie. Iíve got to run, but thanks again for the offer. Ask me again, okay?"

"Count on it," she promised.

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

On Thursday afternoon Jamie went to the gym to get in a little cardio. Ryan was just finishing up her last client of the day. "Hey," she said by way of greeting when she spotted Jamie on the stairclimber.

"Whatís up?"

"Not much. I just finished for the day."

"Wanna hang around for a few? I could make you dinner?"

"Oh, no can do. Iím going to the opera," she said as she rolled her eyes rather dramatically.

"The opera? I didnít figure you for the type."

"Iím not, but apparently Tracy is. The things we do for love," she said with a shudder as she considered how long the evening would probably be. "Iíd rather be eating your delicious food, but Iíve got to make some sacrifices I suppose."

"Well, have fun," Jamie said in a much lighter tone than she truly felt.

"You okay?" Ryan asked as she came closer and gave her a penetrating gaze.

"Fine! Just trying to keep up a conversation when Iím laboring on this machine," she said, slightly out of breath.

"Okay, take it easy, Buddy," Ryan said as she gave her a sweet smile and took off for her date.

"I liked her better when she was a slut," Jamie grumbled to no one in particular.

Chapter 11

She's turned you down twice, Jamie. Twice in a week. Of all the times you've seen her, she has refused you just twice. Don't be such a baby. She has a girlfriend now. She can't be sitting by the phone just waiting for your call. Tracy is everything that you say you want for her. She's smart, she's sweet, and sheís very funny. Ryan seems awfully cute with her. Do you want her to be happy or not?

At least Tracy is going home to visit her parents for a couple of weeks during winter break, she thought selfishly. That's nice, Jamie, very generous of you. Do you think Ryan would wish the same for you? She has been nothing if not supportive of your relationship. You have to do the same for her. She knew that her conscience was correct but she really did not want to share Ryan with another woman. But that honest reaction made her feel quite ashamed of herself. Do you really want Ryan to be fulfilled or do you just want her to be available to you when you call? You canít have it both ways, Jamie. Either be her friend or admit that youíre just using her to satisfy your own needs!

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

After class on Friday Ryan popped over and asked, "Whatís the earliest youíre free today?"

"Ahh, Iím free after 2, why?"

"Letís have some fun before you have to go down to Palo Alto," she suggested with bright eyes. "I thought we could take our workout outdoors for a change of pace."

"Okay," Jamie said cautiously. "Where should we go?"

"Letís meet at the football stadium at 2:15. But first letís get some juice. Iíve gotta tell you all about this opera thing!"

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

At 2:15 sharp Ryan climbed out of the small set of bleachers set up next to the track and jogged over to meet her friend. "Been waiting long?" Jamie asked as she trotted over to meet her halfway.

"Nope. Just got here," she said happily. She carried a small nylon gym bag which Jamie eyed suspiciously.

"Weíre gonna duplicate our workout with the things you have in that little bag?" she asked as she pointed at the kelly green bag that read, ĎLady Donsí. "And what in the heck is a Lady Don?"

"Oh," Ryan said rather absently, "Thatís my old school, U.S.F. And to answer your question, yes we can duplicate your workout with even less than I have in here. Iím gonna work out too, and I bet I use less of this stuff than you do," she said, in a challenging tone.

"Okay, Ms. Magic, letís see what youíve got."

"Well first, letís just do some warm-ups. Since itís cool out we need to make sure we get loose before we try anything strenuous." She walked over to the grass infield and sat down on the closely cropped grass. "Letís do some hamstring stretches and loosen up our adductors and abductors." Jamie joined her and they spent a few minutes getting their muscles warm. When they were warmed up to Ryanís satisfaction she suggested, "Letís jog a little to get our blood moving." The quarter mile track was completely deserted on this cool but sunny afternoon since it was too early in the season for the track or field athletes to be working outdoors. They moved together briskly down the brick red pebbled rubberized surface, increasing their pace slightly after the first quarter mile. 4 loops of the track had them sufficiently warm, but Jamie was already a little winded.

"Wow," she panted. "Iíve never run on a real track before. You move so easily on that surface!"

"Yeah," Ryan agreed. "This surface is pretty new. Theyíre always coming up with something better in the lab. When you put on a pair of track spikes you can really fly on this."

"Have you run track?"

"Yeah, I fooled around with it in high school," she admitted. "I liked it pretty well but team sports have always held my interest better."

"I bet you were fast," Jamie said appraisingly as she looked at her friendís lean, lithe form.

"Good guess," Ryan said with a raised eyebrow as she dashed back to the track for another very quick lap. "I was pretty quick," she said with a proud grin.

"Showoff," Jamie teased as she slapped her on the stomach.

"That wasnít showing off," Ryan insisted. "But if you want to see me in action Iíll challenge you to a little race." Her waggling eyebrows attested to her confidence in her abilities. Jamie knew that no matter how the race was structured she would lose, but she was terribly interested to see her friend perform.

"Okay, how am I going to be humiliated?" she groused.

"Youíre not going to be humiliated," she promised. "Iíll give you a very, very big advantage." Ryan walked over to her bag and extracted a well worn pair of spikes. She sat down on the infield and quickly laced them up, then jumped up and down a few times to settle them on her feet.

"Youíve got the right shoes!" she complained.

"Yeah, but I need them," Ryan assured her. "Iíll probably break my neck as it is, Jamie. Donít make it harder for me."

"Break your neck?" she asked, truly confused.

"Yeah," Ryan explained. "Youíre going to run the track but Iím going to do the hurdles," she said as she pointed at the low hurdles set up around the track.

"When was the last time you did this?" Jamie asked with trepidation.

"Umm, 7 years ago?"

"Are you nuts?" she nearly screamed. "Youíd better practice or something before we do this for real!"

"Nah, Iíll be fine," Ryan assured her. "Itís really not that hard. Besides, Iím a couple of inches taller than I was the last time I did this. My crotch is even higher off the ground." She said this with that terribly adorable crooked grin that Jamie had discovered that she was addicted to and powerless over.

"Do you have your health insurance card on you?" she asked as they walked over to the starting line.

"Not to worry, Pal," Ryan assured her once again. "Iíve fallen dozens of times and lived to tell the tale." They stood together on the bright track; Jamie shooting worried glances at her friend. "Theyíve got the hurdles set up for the 440," Ryan informed her. "So letís run a 440 meter sprint. Youíve got to run on the outside here," she pointed at the lane next to the hurdles." She got down in a modified sprinters crouch and asked, "Ready?"

"I guess so," Jamie replied, truly reluctant to encourage her daredevil friend.

"You call the start."

"UmÖreadyÖsetÖgo!" And they were off, flying down the track as fast as their legs would take them. Jamie was concentrating so hard on her own race that she didnít even pay attention to Ryan. She heard several of the hurdles fall to the ground and she shot a quick glance over when the first hit, but Ryan seemed fine, so she focused again and gave it her all. She dug into the track for any extra speed she could get but she saw Ryanís dark blue clad body streak by her about 5 meters from the finish line.

"Excellent!" Ryanís voice rang out as she continued on about another 25 meters to cool down.

"But I didnít get to see anything!" Jamie complained. "Show me how you do that!"

Ryan bent over and placed her hands on her knees and sucked in a few deep breaths. "Boy, I really had to haul ass to take you," she gasped. "Youíre pretty quick yourself, you little sand bagger!"

"Yeah, Iím sure I was a real threat," she laughed, secretly proud that she had at least made Ryan go all out.

After they had gotten their wind back Ryan stripped out of her sweats, revealing a pair of shiny electric blue Lycra leggings and a skin tight white nylon tank top. "If Iím gonna do that again I need to cool down," she admitted.

Walking back to the start she explained, "Hurdles are more about timing than anything else. Itís really not that hard to stick one leg out and tuck the other one up. But you have to practice a lot to be able to always start with the same foot and keep your stride length the same. You try to take the same number of steps between each hurdle and thatís impossible to do if you vary your stride too much."

"That makes sense," Jamie said slowly. "I didnít realize that timing would be so important. It looks like the hard part is getting that leg up."

"Well, it takes a while to build up your legs when youíre a kid. Thatís actually how I got my big thighs," she said as she slapped her powerful quads. "Youíve got to have strong muscles to be able to sprint and pop that leg out."

"Show me how you do it," Jamie urged.

"Okay," Ryan said as she got into position. "I start on my left leg. I take 12 steps between each hurdle, which is kind of a lot. I used to use 10 steps but I pulled my hamstrings a lot. So I shortened up my stride and adopted the 12 step routine. It didnít slow me down much but it sure helped with the injuries." She leaned over and squatted down a bit before she took off, more slowly this time so she could explain what she was doing.

She counted her steps aloud, and when she reached 11 she called out, "Watch!" as her left leg shot out straight in front of her and her right leg tucked up just like a gazelleís. She leaned in to the hurdle a little bit as she went over, almost touching her thigh with her chest. Rather than go on to the next she made a little half circle and came back to stand by Jamie. "Get it?"

"Yeah," she said thoughtfully. "When my father took me to Africa we saw gazelles in the wild. I swear that their back legs look just like yours," she said with wonder.

"Iím sure theyíre a little more graceful," she said modestly, "But thanks for the compliment."

"Will you do the whole thing for me again?" she asked hopefully. "Iíd really like to see you."

"Sure," Ryan agreed. "But you might have to carry me home." She trotted back over and adopted her most focused gaze. Jamie could almost see the world fading away from her friendís deep blue eyes. Her face became a mask of concentration and after a few seconds she nodded briefly and took off. Now that she knew the drill Jamie counted with her and smiled to herself as she watched her friend make exactly 12 strides between each hurdle, always starting with her left foot and always sticking that same leg out to take the hurdle. She noticed that this time Ryan knocked down every single hurdle, and she thought, She must be a little rusty. Not that she shouldnít be after 7 years!"

When Ryan came trotting back, winded but very happy looking Jamie enthusiastically complimented her. "You were great!" she enthused.

"Yeah, it felt pretty smooth," she admitted with a satisfied grin. "And I did a great job on the hurdles if I do say so myself."

"ButÖyou knocked them over," Jamie offered hesitantly.

"I know," the crooked grin replied. "I tried to, Silly," she laughed. "The lower you go the less time you waste. You try to be so low that your trailing foot just ticks the hurdle enough to knock it down, but not so low that you catch your foot."

"Well, then you did even better than I thought!" she laughed as she wrapped her arm around Ryan and gave her a squeeze. "Get that sweatshirt back on, young lady," she ordered. "Youíre drenched!"

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

After she had dried off and put her regular shoes back on Ryan produced several lengths of rubber tubing in various colors. The attached handles made them look like sort of a jump rope. "What are those?" Jamie asked as she examined one length.

"These are your weights," Ryan said with one wiggling eyebrow.

"These little things?" Jamie scoffed. "How can they duplicate what we do at the gym?"

"Oh, youíd be surprised," she assured her. "I believe this is leg day?" she inquired.

"Yep."

"Okay. On your back," she ordered as she produced a very thin foam pad for Jamie to lie on. Once she was down Ryan showed her how to use the bands to provide resistance to her quads. She had her using the strongest band and after 10 reps of the exercise her legs dropped to the ground and she moaned, "Enough!"

"Not so easy, is it?" Ryan laughed. "Iíll knock you down one level for your next set."

"Youíd better if you want me to do more than 4 reps! That was killer!"

"Well, it isnít just the tension in the band. When you use these you donít have the machine guiding you at all. Every bit of force and energy has to come solely from you and that takes a lot more effort."

"Iíll say," she agreed as she started her next set with the lighter tubing.

The next exercise called for her to tie one of the ends around each ankle and slowly pull one leg away while balancing on one foot. This motion also had her calling for mercy after only 9 reps. "Geez!" she complained. "Am I that weak?"

"Not at all," Ryan assured her. "This is much harder than what youíre used to. This makes you use your legs to hold your balance at the same time and that makes it very tough. But itís very important that your balance be very good, especially for a long bike ride. I work on my balance all the time," she conceded.

"With these?" Jamie asked.

"Sometimes, but Iíve got lots of things I do to keep myself entertained."

"Show me some of them if you can," she urged.

"Well," she said digging into her bag. "I jump rope sometimes. That helps a lot." She produced a professional quality jump rope with wooden handles and little ball bearings in them to allow the rope to turn smoothly. She began to slowly jump rope, increasing her speed gradually until the rope was just a slight blur. When she was at full speed she lifted one leg slightly and jumped on one foot alone. "I try to jump on each leg for 10 minutes or so," she advised as she proceeded to do just that while Jamie did another set of her own exercises.

"God, doesnít that hurt?" Jamie finally asked with a grimace.

"It starts to burn a bit," Ryan gamely agreed. "But itís not too bad." When she was finished she got a little gleam in her eye and said, "Another thing I do is run up and down the stadium."

"I can see that would stress your legs, but how does that help balance?"

"Watch," she said with a grin. She took off and started to run not up and down the steps, as Jamie expected, but down the narrow metal seats. The slick benches were spaced significantly further apart than the stairs and their surface didnít allow for much traction. Once Ryan started flying down the steep seats it was obvious that her balance was the only thing that kept her from coming down head first. After she had completed three loops she started to run across the narrow benches. Each bench was only about a foot wide but she flew across the surface like it was an airport runway. When she reached the end of a section she leapt across the aisle to the next section, never touching down on the concrete steps. The fact that she chose the uppermost bench did not in any way relieve the knot in Jamieís stomach as she watched her dart around the stadium. When she returned to the section that she started at she once again flew down the seats, completely at ease. Jamie was waiting for her at the bottom, wide eyed with mouth agape.

"You amaze me," she said solemnly.

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

Even the normally indefatigable Ryan OíFlaherty needed a breather after that demonstration. She took the exercise pad and spread it out on the infield, and then she stretched out on it like she was sunning herself at the beach. Just a few minutes of rest found her ready for more. "Now what?" she asked brightly.

"UmmÖI think I need an exercise for my calves and then Iím done. Whatcha got?"

"Hmm, I can think of a few," she mused. "But the easiest is just to do calf raises. You can use the first bench here in the bleachers," she said, indicating the nearby stands.

"I normally do calf raises with weight," she reminded her. "Iím up to 45 pounds now."

"We can duplicate that," Ryan smiled. "Actually, I could sit on your shoulders and give you a real workout." Her eyes were shining in the late afternoon sun, and her sun bronzed skin seemed to glow in the fading light. Jamieís appreciative eyes took her in and just for a moment she thought that was a terribly good idea. But her conscious mind reminded her that Ryan had to outweigh her by 50 pounds, so it was best that she refuse.

She gave her friend a smile and got up to do her calf raises. Ryan assisted by placing her hands on her shoulders and pressing down, actually doing a good job of duplicating the feel of a 50 pound weight on the machine. "How did you figure out all of these ways to exercise without equipment?" Jamie asked as she completed her three sets.

Ryan thought about that for a minute. "I donít really plan this stuff," she admitted. "But I was such an active kid that I was in fabulous shape just from playing. As I got older and started to work out with equipment I found that the structure would bore me after a while. One day it dawned on me that I was in better shape from playing than I was from working out. So I decided to stay childish!"

"Why not play all the time?"

"Well, it is easier to chart my progress in the gym, and sometimes itís too hot or wet to be outside for long. But Iíd say I play once or twice a week through most of the year."

"I feel like Iím done, how about you?"

"I can do more if you donít mind hanging around," Ryan conceded.

"Mind? Itís terribly entertaining. What else do you want to do?"

"I need to work on my core balance a little, and I havenít done anything for my upper body balance."

"Upper body balance? Whatís that?"

"I try to work on keeping my balance no matter what plane Iím on. Iíve got an exercise I havenít done in a while that would let me show off a little," she said with a childlike grin. "Wanna see?"

"Absolutely."

"Okay, I need something about waist high that I can curl my fingers around." She squinted a bit in the bright light that was about a half hour from dusk and finally found what she was looking for. They strolled over to where trucks could drive in and out of the complex. A series of concrete filled yellow metal sleeves were locked in place vertically across the entryway. Each was about 12 inches in diameter and very sturdy looking. It was clear that they were removable when a truck needed to enter, but they were very stable in their locked position.

Ryan grabbed one with both hands and gave it a very firm yank. It did not budge an inch since it was obviously sunk into the ground several feet. "This oneís perfect," she declared as she took off her sweatshirt again. "I need to loosen up my biceps a little first," she commented as she hit the ground and did about 25 quick push-ups. "Here goes nothing," she said as she backed up about 10 yards and took off in a brisk trot. Jamieís eyes grew wide as Ryan neared the post. What in the hell is she going to do? She had her answer a moment later as Ryan slapped her hands down on the post and executed a perfect vault, landing neatly on her flexed legs, adding a quick little hop to maintain her balance. "Okay, I think Iím ready," she declared.

When she heard no response she turned to find Jamie once again slack jawed. "You okay over there?" she asked with a chuckle.

"That was the warm up? My God, what is the exercise?" she gasped.

One waggling eyebrow was Ryanís only response. She walked back to the post and faced it, then placed both of her hands flat on the top. The heels of her hands were touching and her fingers were spread wide, obviously to give her a strong platform. A very quick movement flexed her biceps and in the next instant her feet were off the ground and she was holding herself parallel to the earth, mostly held up by her powerful biceps. Her arms straightened slowly as she rotated into a handstand. Now she was absolutely perpendicular to the ground, her entire body braced on her two hands.

Jamie was awestruck, unable to do anything but watch in wonder as her friend performed. After a few moments in the vertical position Ryan did a few push ups, obviously, just showing off. Now she bent her body once more, this time rotating until her arms were rigid and her body was again horizontal. After holding the position for a few seconds she removed one of her hands and held up her entire body by one powerful arm. She held the position for a few seconds, although Jamie could see the immense strain the move was putting on her dangerously shaky arm. Then she switched arms and held the position for an even longer time with her left arm. She placed both hands back onto the post and pushed up forcefully, landing next to it with another little hop. Just for effect she stood ramrod straight and affixed a very theatrical smile onto her face. She raised her right arm and waved dramatically as she turned slowly, acknowledging the massive crowd that filled the stadium to watch her record setting performance.

Jamie trotted the few feet that separated them and gazed up at her beaming friend. "Are you sure that both of your parents are humans?" she asked with a smile. "Cause that was not of this world," she said emphatically.

"Sure it is," Ryan assured her. "Itís pretty basic gymnastics."

"I took gymnastics, Buddy, and I never got close to doing anything like that! I spent my years on the damn balance beam!"

"Yeah, well I took gymnastics for boys," she said proudly. "You just werenít in the cool class."

"You took boys gymnastics?" she asked in amazement.

"Yep. I thought it was cool when I saw it in the Olympics. Brendan took me down to sign me up. It was pretty funny," she said as she laughed in remembrance. "He practically had to fight the guy to get him to let me in, but after they gave me a few tests they pretty readily agreed."

"I just bet they did," Jamie said with a smirk.

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

Jamie was still smiling at her friendís theatrics as they walked back across the enormous stadium. Something caught Ryanís eye as they moved along and she zipped over to the interior of the stadium and yelled, "Hey, Jamie, come over here."

With a smirk and a small shake of her head she trotted over to the underside of the stadium. Near the end zone of the football field the school had erected relatively modern bleachers to make the stadium homier for the normally small crowds that Cal drew for football. The back of the bleachers was a series of interconnecting metal supports that ran through the underside like a maze. Ryan was staring at the interlocking braces with a very studious look on her face. "Doesnít this remind you of a great big jungle gym?" she asked thoughtfully.

"Ahh, yeah, I guess it does," she admitted. "Boy, I used to like the one we had at a park near our house. But they decided that too many kids got hurt on it so they removed it and the slide and the swings and replaced them with a really lame bunch of horses on springs. I never wanted to go again," she said somewhat wistfully.

"Well, youíve got to admit that they can be a little dangerous," Ryan said with a gleam in her eye. "Especially when theyíre really, really tall." She said this last statement as she leapt to her full reach and grabbed one of the supports with both of her hands. She was only off the ground about 18 inches, but she looked pretty comical, nonetheless.

"Okay, Tarzana, letís go," she said fondly.

"Go? You want to go?" Ryan said with an even bigger gleam. "Race you to the other end!" she cried as she started to propel herself along the undercarriage of the structure. Jamie not only did not race her, she was stuck in place as she stared at her daredevil friend. Ryan was motoring at an unbelievable clip but she had to follow the supports to get where she was going. In order to do so, she climbed higher and higher until she was at the very top of the very tall structure, dangling like a chimp. A wildly laughing chimp that is, who was having the time of her life.

Jamie started to jog just to keep up but Ryan was moving much too fast for her. She truly looked like some breed of beautiful simian as she swung up and down the supports, gracefully propelling herself along with ease. She was standing on the ground, looking rather bored when her panting friend caught up to her moments later. "Are you insane?" she shrieked as she ran up and slapped Ryan hard on the chest with both of her open hands.

"You said you wanted to go," she said innocently as she blinked down at her. "I assumed you wanted to go fast."

"I canít imagine what I would say to your father if you had fallen!" Jamie chided her laughing friend.

"You could have said, ĎYou were finally right, Martin. She did fall and break her neck!í"

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

They walked the rest of the way in silence, with Jamie reflecting on all that she had seen. "Do you know that you can do things like that?" she finally asked with a very thoughtful look on her face.

"What do you mean?"

"I guess I want to know if youíre certain that you can do something dangerous before you try it," she said.

"Oh, heck no," Ryan admitted. "Whereís the fun in that?"

"Ryan!" she said as she stopped and grabbed onto the back of her tank top. "You mean to tell me that you might have not been able to do that but you tried it anyway?"

"Well, yeah," she explained slowly. "Thatís what makes it fun. I mean, I know Iím strong and that my grip is really good. I know Iím flexible and that I have good balance. Thereís no reason to assume I canít do something like that, so I try it. Once I get into a situation Iím certainly not going to back out, so I have to figure out a way to finish without breaking my neck. But Iíve never done that before, and if I had I probably wouldnít be interested in trying it again. Once Iíve done something it loses its allure," she admitted with a toothy grin.

Like your women, Jamie thought with an internal smirk as she stole another glance at the grinning, sweaty, gorgeous hunk of woman that blithely strolled along beside her.

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

When they reached their gear Ryan checked the position of the sun and regretfully announced, "Time to go, Pal."

"I donít wanna go," Jamie pouted. "Iím having too much fun!"

"Come on," Ryan urged as she bent to pick up her keys and her gym bag.

But her small friend was too quick for her as Jamieís hand snaked out and grabbed the keys at the last instant. "You canít leave without your bike!" she declared defiantly as she dangled them in front of Ryanís darting eyes.

One quick swipe with her hand left her grasping nothing but air as Jamie laughed wildly and took off. Ryan joined her laugh and doggedly began to pursue her. In reality she could have caught the smaller, slower woman within three strides. But Ryan felt a little guilty about turning down her last two invitations and she had actually planned this afternoon to give them a chance to reconnect and just have fun. She had a date with Tracy but it wasnít for another 2 hours so she had plenty of time to play. And Jamie seems so childlike and free, she thought with a smile. She hasnít been this way very often lately. Weíve got to get outside and play more, she decided immediately. She really needs some cheering up on a routine basis, given how things are going with Jack. So even though she was happy to be forced into staying longer she could not let Jamie just winóshe couldnít let anybody just win!

Jamie darted around the infield, using various track paraphernalia as a shield to keep Ryan away. She scurried around hurdles, the long jump pit, even the huge cushion that the pole vaulters landed on. But Ryan was dangerously close; never more than two body lengths away, no matter what she tried. About 25 yards away she saw what she hoped would be her salvation. A large, bright blue, square cushion that protected the high jumpers was beckoning to her. She latched onto an idea and scampered aboard, crawling frantically on all fours just before Ryan grabbed her feet. The cushion stood about 4 feet high, clearly no barrier for her chimp-like pursuer. But as Jamie coyly reminded her, "Wherever you start to climb I can run to the other side and jump down before you get up!"

Ryan pursed her lips and reviewed the situation. Jamie did have a point, her analytical mind agreed. It would not do to just try to climb aboard. She needed to get up there, but not from the ground. A sly smile crossed her lips and Jamie looked around suspiciously, recognizing the gleam in those deep blue eyes. "Thereís more than one way to skin a cat," Ryan declared as she walked back to her gym bag at a leisurely pace and sat down to lace her spikes up again. When she was finished she walked back to the cushion and turned her back to it as she appeared to be measuring off a distance in her head. She was obviously satisfied because she turned and started to run, gaining speed as she approached the bag. Jamie didnít try to run because she still didnít know what Ryan was going to doóshe just stood stock still and watched in amazement as Ryan continued to barrel towards her.

When her momentum was satisfactory she actually slowed down appreciably and turned her back just as she flexed her knees deeply and propelled herself into the air, landing rather forcefully and inelegantly onto the cushion. Her momentum carried her on her back quite a few feet across the surface, but she eventually skidded to a halt right at Jamieís feet.

She looked up at her with dancing blue eyes and put on her sexiest smile as she said, "Hi there."

"Yikes!" Jamie cried as she tried to run. But this time Ryanís cat-like reflexes halted her progress abruptly as Ryan firmly grasped an ankle. She crashed into the cushion face first and quickly rolled onto her back just as Ryan began to crawl up her body like a panther, first her right hand, then her left knee, left hand, right knee. Then she hovered over the supine woman, staring at her intently as she asked, "I believe you have something of mine?"

"Canít have it!" Jamie insisted, still not willing to give up. In an impetuous move she took the keys and shoved them into her cleavage, safe within her tight navy blue sports bra.

"That isnít much of a barrier," Ryan purred, locking her eyes on her prey. She was panting a little from the exertion of her leap, and the smaller woman could actually watch the progress of the individual drops of sweat as they rolled down her hairline, past her strong jaw, down her chin and onto Jamieís chest.

"No, but I fight dirty," she promised. "When you reach for the keys Iíve got two hands free to cause all sorts of mayhem." Her misty green eyes had grown fiery in the last rays of sunlight, and Ryan mused that she could see flecks of gold and amber and even a bit of orange in the shining orbs. She shook her head, spattering Jamie with drops of sweat as she did so. "Hey, cut that out!" she cried.

"Hmm, thatís an idea," Ryan mused aloud. "When my brothers would have me pinned they would invariably spit in my face to gross me out enough to give up whatever prize I had. I bet that would work with you, too."

Jamie gave her a slightly suspicious gaze, but she didnít think Ryan had the nerve to spit on her.

"Nah, thatís too easy," she finally decided, causing Jamie to let out the breath she didnít know she had been holding. "But this might work," she said as she quickly spread her hands out and clamped vise-like grips on each of her captiveís wrists. "Thatíll keep you docile," she mused, still surveying her options.

Jamie felt the deep sigh leave her chest as she looked up at the gorgeous woman holding her prisoner. Iíve been in worse situations, she mused as she watched the deep blue eyes dart around in thought. "How does it help you to have both of my hands if you have to use both of yours to do so?" she smirked. But as soon as the words were out of her mouth she knew she had made a fatal tactical error. Almost before the end of the sentence Ryan pushed her hands together, placing one atop the other. Her much larger and stronger left hand easily grasped both of Jamieís wrists, holding them both above her head firmly.

"Got any more bright ideas?" Ryan growled as she wiggled her free right hand directly in front of Jamieís face. That determined hand moved slowly toward her target, a fiendish look in her eyes that showed she was not afraid to claim her prize.

"You wouldnít dare," Jamie croaked out nervously.

Ryan leaned down until their noses were touching. Her wet skin smelled like the earth: like rich, warm soil, just turned over after the spring rains. Jamie had never smelled another person who shared the rich scent. It was terribly intoxicating and she truly wanted to just lie there beneath the weight of her friend and breathe in that heady aroma. But Ryanís voice startled her back into her senses. "I neverÖeverÖever refuse a dare," she purred with a determined look in her eyes. Her right hand was less than an inch from Jamieís heaving chest and the captive knew that she had to put a stop to this but something deep inside wanted Ryanís hand to snake inside her bra and stay there for a very, very long time.

But her conscience finally woke up and forced her to utter the only appropriate response. "Uncle!"

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

A few minutes later they were standing in the deep dusk, once again clad in their sweats. "I had a fantastic time today, Ryan," she said gratefully.

"I had a great time, myself," Ryan said with a grin. "But thatís not a surprise when Iím with you." She raised her left hand and touched Jamie lightly on the nose, giving her an affectionate smile to go with it. "You bring out my wild side," she added with a chuckle.

"I think you do all right bringing it out on your own," she scoffed, but secretly she hoped that Ryanís sentiments were true.

She leaned in for a hug but Ryan complained, "Iím all sweaty. I must smell terrible."

Jamie did not argue with her but she nonetheless ignored the warning. She held her in a fierce embrace for a few moments, wishing to imprint that distinctive scent onto her memory forever.

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

Christmas break was looming ahead of Jamie like a trip to the slaughterhouse. She was planning on spending the nearly 4 week break at her parents home. Intense anxiety would have been an appropriate term for her mental state as she prepared for the visit. The Thanksgiving visit had gone so poorly that she could not help but assume this one would be worse. Thanksgiving was only really 3 days when she counted the time she was with Jack.

Her last final was on December 17, and school did not start again until January 19. Her only planned respite was a short visit to Ryanís on Christmas Eve day. She wasn't sure how she was going to explain that little trip, but she was going to go no matter what. She had also decided that she was going to meet Ryan at the gym for their 3 afternoon weekly meetings. Ryan had offered to do them earlier in the day but Jamie wanted an excuse to hang around to avoid rush hour so she kept their normal 4 oíclock time.

It just kills me that Ryanís going to be alone for most of the break and I wonít be able to spend evenings with her, she groused to herself when they met for their last workout before the break. "So what do you have planned for your time off?" she asked as their hour wound down.

"Not a lot, thankfully. Iíve got to do some things around the house that Iíve been putting off but I think Iíll spend most of my time with Caitlin. Sheís really turning into a little person now," she said fondly. "Every time I see her sheís picked up something new."

"Wanna have dinner tonight?" Jamie asked a little hesitantly, truly not wanting to be rebuffed.

Ryan gave her a luminous grin as she said, "I canít think of a better way to start my winter break!"

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

She drove down to Hillsborough on Thursday evening and was pleased to learn that Marta had prepared a lovely meal for her little homecoming. Jamie sat in the kitchen with the cook for a long while talking about school and the training she was doing for the ride. Marta was fascinated by the changes in her body, and she teased her about her new muscles and asked if she could pick Jack up now. Jamie realized after a while that Marta was the only one in the house who had asked her a personal question.

They ate dinner after her father arrived home from work. It was late, around 8:15 and dinner was a bit overdone, but the meal was still relatively pleasant. Even though they had not discussed it, the tension between Jim and Jamie seemed to be gone. He was in a very good mood, having just come from his office Christmas Party. He seemed to enjoy spending a few hours socializing with the other attorneys. A much more elaborate party was scheduled for the next week for the entire firm. This little party was just for the partners and their spouses.

During dinner Jim talked about the little party and how enjoyable it was to get to know some of the younger partners. "I did have to stop and wonder at one point, though," he reflected. "One of those young men brought another man to the party. What on earth do you think came over him?" he directed his question at his wife.

"I'm sure I don't know dear," was her flat reply as she did not even look up from her plate.

"They just seem to have taken leave of their senses," he continued. " Why can't they realize how uncomfortable that makes everyone else at a party?"

Jamie knew that her color was rising, but this was the first evening of a 32-day stay. She could not afford to blow up now. She fought with every bit of her self-control to refrain from speaking.

"I guess you're used to that type of thing at Berkeley, Jamie," he said as he regarded his daughter. "But it just isn't done in the business world."

Jamie stared at her soup until she could see the individual molecules bumping into one another. She fought for composure before she finally replied, "I need some more spice in my soup. Does anyone else?" as she rose from the table, soup bowl held by a shaking hand.

She leaned against the door to the kitchen, willing her knees to stop shaking. Marta came over to see what was wrong, but Jamie just shook her head and went to the sink for a glass of water. "Marta, could you please get me a small glass of Scotch?" she finally asked. When Marta returned Jamie thanked her and downed the 2 fingers of amber liquid in one burning gulp. "Thank you," she politely replied as she stepped back into the dining room, leaving the cook staring at her in disbelief.

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

Jamie spent most of Christmas Eve day with Jack. He had studied through most of the day, but he did take an hour break to convince her to make love. As she got in the shower after their break she devised her plan. She had called Ryan earlier and had been issued a blanket invitation to come any time and stay as long as she liked. A number of cousins and aunts and uncles would be there and most of them were going to midnight Mass.

Jamie put her casual clothes back on and announced, "I'm going to Berkeley to take care of a few things. Would you mind just meeting me at church before the service?"

'Gee, Jamie, that's awfully late."

"I know honey, but there are a couple of little things that didn't arrive before I left. I want to go to my house and wrap them. Then I need to go shopping for one teeny thing for my outfit. Rather than come back here I thought I could just go home and take a nap before Mass. I want to be rested for the service tonight," she batted her eyes sweetly. Or: I'm leaving now so I can spend as much time with Ryan as possible, and I like her family so much better than mine. One of these two stories is the truth. Oops, wrong choice, she thought when he gamely agreed.

Well, things are really going well. I have to drink Scotch to get through dinner with my parents and I'm making up bold-faced lies to avoid being with Jack all day. Have yourself a Merry Fucking Christmas!

Nonetheless, she dashed home and dressed carefully. She donned a pure white heavy silk jacquard blouse, embroidered with an Asian inspired design. The banded collar was held together by a tiny black pearl button. A trim black velvet square cut vest just brushed the waistband of her black velvet pleated slacks. Black velvet slippers covered her feet. By 5 o'clock she was satisfied with her look and on her way. She called Ryan from her car to inquire if she needed anything. She laughed at her response, "Yeah, a bigger house or fewer relatives."

Ryan answered the door, looking lovelier than Jamie had ever seen her. Her black hair was combed straight back, held off her face by a black velvet headband. She wore a crimson colored angora turtleneck sweater that gently hugged her smooth curves. Simple pearl earrings graced the ears that Jamie had never noticed were pierced. A single strand of pearls hung just above the swell of her breasts. Black silk pants covered her long shapely legs, and simple black leather shoes completed the ensemble. "Wow!" was all that Jamie could get out.

"Wow, yourself," Ryan said as she ran her blue eyes up and down Jamie's small form. "You look positively lovely," she said sincerely. "C'mon in and let the men pretend not to stare at you," she teased. When she saw Conor making a beeline for them she whispered, "All except one who has no shame, of course."

Conor complimented Jamie until she blushed to the roots of her hair. He looked fabulous also, however. He wore a well-made navy blue double-breasted suit with a crisp white shirt and a green and red rep tie. His hair looked jet black and very shiny as it was neatly combed for a change. "Are you going to stay and go to Mass with us?" he asked hopefully.

"No, I can't. I'm meeting my fiancé for services at my Grandfather's church," she replied.

"Your grandfather is a minister?" Conor inquired.

"Actually, he's a priest," she replied. When she saw the shocked look on his face she added, "Episcopal."

"Oh, I thought maybe I'd been away from church too long and I missed something important," he laughed.

Maeve came up behind him at that moment and stated, "You have been away from church too long sweetheart. The last time I saw you there was Easter," she gently chided.

Ryan took Jamie by the arm and whispered, "Let's get out of here before she starts on me." They squeezed through the mass of relatives until Ryan spied her prize. She snatched Caitlin from her Aunt Peggy and eventually found the path to her room.

Duffy followed them down the stairs, eagerly sniffing at the bundle in Ryan's arms. When they got downstairs she sat down on the bed and allowed Duffy to lick the babyís giggling face clean.

"Duffy sure is good with her," Jamie observed. "He seems to know he has to be very gentle."

"Yeah, he loves kids more than I do. Luckily Caitlin is crazy about him too," she replied as the big dog started to clean the tiny hands one at a time. "Okay Duff, you've had enough baby kissing," she said as she scooped her off her lap and over her shoulder. She went to her dresser and took out a clean T-shirt, which she placed over her shoulder and chest. "Can't be too careful," she said from experience. "She just had dinner and thereís always a chance of rejection."

They all sat on the bed as Ryan propped the baby up against her legs. "So what have you been up to this week?" Jamie asked.

"Not a lot during the week but I had a great weekend!"

"What did you do?"

"Conor has a friend with a condo up near Tahoe and we went up to ski and snowboard for the weekend. It was absolutely fantastic," she said with a very happy grin covering her lovely face.

"I canít imagine what a hellion you must be on the slopes," she mused. "Do you ski a lot?"

"Every chance I get," Ryan admitted. "If I had just a little less of a work ethic I could really be a ski bum."

"That would be a pretty sweet job for you," her smirking friend admitted. "You could live in Aspen or St. Moritz and have the wealthy women support you in the style you deserve."

"Hmm, maybe this work ethic thing isnít such a good idea," she purred as she considered the suggestion. "Well, thatís enough about me. I really want to know how itís going for you so far?" Ryan asked her friend.

Jamie considered how much to reveal, finally deciding that she needed to talk. "I had to chug a glass of Scotch to get through dinner one night, and I told Jack a blatant lie today," she grimaced as she continued, "All in all, not great."

Ryan thought about this for a moment. "Did you enjoy being with your family in the past? Or is this a new development?"

Jamie knew the answer, but was a bit embarrassed to admit it. "I didn't mind before because I thought that was what families were supposed to be like. But after spending time with you and your family I see how stilted and formal my family is. I swear, Ryan, your family shows much more interest in me than my own does."

Ryan smiled at her sympathetically. "We love having you here, Jamie. I think of you as a part of my family. You're always welcome." She shook her head briefly, "I feel sorry for your parents. They don't know what a treasure they have in you."

As she blushed shyly at the compliment Jamie replied, "In their defense, it is me who has changed. I want more from them and I want more from Jack. In a way it's a bit unfair of me, Iím the one who changed the rules."

"It's never unfair to expect the people closest to you to love and honor and cherish you Jamie." She got up from the bed and went to her dresser. "I certainly do," she said as she handed her friend a small package.

Jamie looked up, a wide smile lighting up her whole face. "I really love getting presents, you know. But I feel the time I spend with you is a gift. I don't need anything tangible to know how you feel about our friendship." After a pause she added with a giggle, "But I still love presents."

She carefully removed the red and green striped paper from the little box. Inside was a small black leather book, about the size of a paperback. She opened the pages to find a little map of each of the major bike routes in the Bay Area. The maps had obviously been meticulously removed from another book. Each little map was carefully glued to a strong piece of heavy white paper. Underneath each map was a legend in Ryan's hand detailing the options for each route and the difficulty of each. On the page opposite each map was a space for Jamie to mark the date she completed the ride, what the weather was like and how she felt during the ride. Every 4th or 5th page carried a small handwritten message meant to inspire or motivate Jamie. Some were funny, some spiritual, and some practical. Jamie was touched beyond words at the time and effort that Ryan had obviously expended in making this journal. She fought back a tear as she wrapped her arms around her friend in silence. After a moment she simply whispered, "Thank you."

After Jamie pulled back, Ryan gave her a luminous grin, "I'm glad you like it." After a moment she added, "You know I don't think I tell you enough how much it means to me that you are doing this ride. I know that AIDS hasn't had a big impact on your life, and I appreciate how willing you were to take on this challenge. I think part of the reason that you agreed was because you knew it was important to me. I really thank you for that."

"That is the biggest reason I agreed to do it," she replied honestly. "I knew that you wouldn't give so much of your time to something that wasn't really worthwhile."

Caitlin was getting tired of being confined to the bed so Jamie placed the shirt over her shoulder and picked her up. She carried her around the room, letting her touch all the books and the small items on the shelves. She pointed out the pictures of Ryan and the rest of the family and explained who each person was, even though Caitlin had no idea what she was talking about. Ryan lay back on the bed and watched her friend charm her little cousin. After a while Jamie announced, "I have a gift for you too, Ryan. It's in my purse. Would you mind getting it out?"

Ryan gamely retrieved Jamie's purse and began look through it. She found a card with her name on it and held it up questioningly. "Yes, that's it," Jamie replied.

Ryan sat back down on the bed with a look of anticipation on her face. "I like presents, too," she admitted. She tore open the card as several pieces of paper fell out onto her lap. She began to gather them up as she pulled the card fully out of the envelope. After she had organized all of the paper she began to look at them carefully. Her face lit up with childlike glee as she read off each ticket. "Ohh wow, the Exploratorium, ohh the Children's Museum, Marineland!" she shouted with delight. She came over to Jamie and held up the tickets, "There's two adults and one child for each of these. Where will we ever get a child?" She dangled the tickets in front of the baby and said, "We're going to play, Sweetie!"

Jamie laughed at Ryan's obvious delight. "There's a few more in there, Sport." Ryan grabbed the envelope and found after a thorough audit that Jamie had purchased tickets for them to do nearly every baby friendly event in the Bay area. Finally she read the card, 'Thank you for giving me a second chance at a happy childhood,' read the note.

Ryan hugged her friend soundly, catching the laughing baby in the embrace for good measure. "This was a terribly thoughtful gift," she said sincerely. "Caitlin and I thank you very much."

"I've just never seen you happier than you are with her," Jamie stated. "Being around you two is so healing for me. It allows me to experience some of those childhood pleasures that I didn't get to have," she admitted.

"It really surprises me that you didn't do these things as a child. I mean," here she struggled a bit, "I thought that people with money did all these things, especially for an only child." She blushed a bit, "I just assumed you were spoiled."

"I was spoiled with things," Jamie admitted. "I had every toy and stuffed animal known to mankind. But my father didn't have time to do kid stuff and my mother had no interest. She took me to the symphony and to plays and the opera when I was 3 and 4 years old. So it's not that I didn't go places, I just didn't go to kid places."

"Did you enjoy going to those places?" Ryan asked gently.

Jamie gave her a sardonic look, "You're kidding, right?"

"Didn't you have friends or cousins to do things with?" Ryan continued to probe, unable to believe that Jamie's life had been so barren.

"I donít have very many cousins that we socialize with. My fatherís sister lives in Chicago and she has two kids so they werenít very convenient. We almost never saw them. My mother is an only child, and the maternal side of her extended family just gets together in Rhode Island in the summer. We're not a real close group," she said, stating the obvious. "I didn't start making friends until I was in Montessori school when I was 4, and I was never encouraged to have those kids over. I basically played with Marta, our cook, or the maids."

"So you've been a little adult your whole life, haven't you?" Ryan said sympathetically.

"Yeah, I guess I have," she replied.

"Well, Caitlin and I are going to change that pretty darn quick. You'll have regressed to infancy when we get through with you," she said confidently as she put her arm around her friend.

"I have one more thing to give you, but itís not a gift," Jamie said tentatively.

Ryan cocked her head in question and waited for her friend to continue.

She walked back over to her purse and extracted another envelope as she balanced the baby on her knee. This one was not marked and she withdrew a white form and a check. "I was sending in my check for the AIDS Ride because I wanted to make some charitable donations before year end. I decided to donate $25,000 and it dawned on me that I should make a donation in your name of at least that much. I wouldnít be doing this ride without your support, Ryan. Itís become much more to me than an athletic goal. Itís helping me to change my life in a fundamental manner. And itís all because of you," she said sincerely. "I know you like to secure your own pledges but I also know how busy youíve been. I just want you to know that if you are running short you donít have to worry."

Ryan closed her eyes tightly as she struggled to hold back the tears. She bit her lip to control her shaking chin and took in a few deep breaths. Finally, she was able to open her eyes. She gazed at Jamie with her unwavering blue eyes and opened her arms. Jamie walked right into the embrace, cuddling Caitlin between them. Ryan didnít say a word but she leaned over and kissed each of Jamieís cheeks. She had so much emotion threatening to spill out that she didnít trust herself to say a thing. But she maintained the hug for a very long while, kissing Jamieís head and cheek repeatedly.

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

The rest of the evening was spent laughing and eating and joking with the whole O'Flaherty clan. Small gifts were given to Caitlin by everyone in attendance, and by the time Jamie was ready to leave the baby was once again fast asleep in Ryan's arms.

The two friends walked to Jamie's car together. "I think this was the best Christmas I've ever had, Ryan," Jamie said softly when they reached the little car.

"You made it more special for me than Iíll ever be able to say," Ryan replied as she gave her friend a one armed hug, being careful of the sleeping infant. "If your family gets to be too much I want you to call me. I've got a lot of free time before school starts, so don't be shy."

"I won't and thanks again for everything," Jamie said as she pulled the Boxster onto the small quiet street for the short ride to Nob Hill.

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

On the Wednesday after Christmas Jamie had to get away for a while. Jack was obviously trying hard but his attempts at being closer were driving her absolutely crazy. The message that he had gotten was that she didnít like to make meals and clean up alone. So he gamely hung around in the kitchen while she tried to work. But he really was inept, whether through design or inability she wasnít sure. He was in her way so badly that she finally released him to go back to his work. So the pattern returned to their previous one. He studied, she read. He studied, she cooked. He studied, she watched a movie. The routine was getting so monotonous that she wanted to scream. We never do anything, she whined to herself. We donít go out for dinner; we donít even go for walks any more. I know he has a lot on his mind, but I feel like weíre setting up a schedule that might never vary. Heíll just replace school with work and be just as unavailable to me.

She realized that the main outside activity they had was brunch and golf at the club. But Iíve been doing that since I was born. I want some excitement in my life!

She dialed Ryanís pager and waited just a few minutes for her call. "Hi, whatís up?" she asked cheerfully.

"Whatís your schedule today?"

"Iím at the gym right now. Iíve got clients until 11, then I donít have much scheduled, except your workout at 4. Why, do you want to play?"

"I need to do something fun," she stated firmly. "I feel like my life is so routine! If I donít get my blood pumping a little bit I swear Iíll go mad!"

"When do you have to be back home?"

"I donít care if I ever go home," she sulked.

"Okay, meet me at my house at 11:30. Dress warmly and wear boots if you have them. Weíll go burn the carbon off your sparkplugs."

"You want to take a drive in my car?"

"Nope. Just be there."

At 11:30 on the dot Ryan was sitting on her front porch. She walked over to the Porsche and inspected Jamieís outfit. She was wearing a distressed brown leather fleece lined bomber jacket, a taupe colored turtleneck and faded jeans. As she got out of the car Ryan nodded her approval at her ankle length brown boots.

Ryan was wearing her usual jeans, a crew necked sky blue sweater and her black leather jacket, along with her low heeled black boots. She gave Jamie a sly look as she said, "I know just the prescription for boredom. Come with me, little girl."

She led Jamie over to the Harley and handed her the spare helmet. After her own was secured she got on and helped her friend hop on. Jamie immediately slid her arms around her waist and got ready to take off.

Moments later they were heading over to Route 1. Even though she had been on the bike several times, they had never gone very far or very fast and she found that she loved the excitement of the higher speed. Ryan drove the bike just like she drove a car. She went as fast as possible, while being as careful as she could be. When traffic slowed she would straddle the line between the number one and two lanes and slide right between the stalled cars.

Jamie knew that she should feel some level of fear or trepidation to be so thoroughly exposed at such a high rate of speed. But she had never felt calmer or safer. Every bit of anxiety left her body as they flew down the highway. She forgot all about her fights with Jack and her unhappiness with her parents. All she felt was warm and protected and safe. The wind was really quite intense and she found herself tucking her head down and nestling it into Ryanís broad back. From her little cocoon she truly felt impervious to the outside world. Her world was just Ryanís protective body, the bike thrumming between her legs and the freedom of the open road.

She wasnít at all sure where they were going but eventually she saw the Golden Gate bridge looming in the distance. They crossed the structure and continued on, staying on Highway 1 the whole while. The scenery was absolutely beautiful at this time of year. There were very few cars on the road as they passed the forested acres around Muir Woods. They kept going and eventually the road wound down to Stinson Beach. When they reached the sea Ryan pulled the bike off the road and hopped off. "Letís go for a walk," she said as she held out her hand to Jamie.

After Ryan had secured their helmets they crossed over to the sea side of the road and began to walk along on the hard packed sand. Even though the day was beautiful there was not another soul on the beach. The sun was bright although the wind was stiff and cold as it blew in from the ocean. "Iím glad you told me to dress warmly," Jamie said as a chill shot down her spine.

Of course, Ryan noticed this and held her arm out in an inviting gesture. Jamie shot her a shy grin but snuggled up against her anyway. They walked along in companionable silence for at least a mile before Ryan turned around and guided her back. I would feel odd talking so little with anyone else. But with Ryan the silence is never uncomfortable. Even when we donít speak I feel like weíre communicating. Like now, she just wants me to feel free. She brought me here so I could feel how huge the world is, and maybe that would make me feel less confined.

When they were almost back to their starting place Ryan broke the silence as she asked, "Are you ready?"

"To leave?" she replied with a winsome look on her face. "I guess so," she said, even though that was the last thing in the world she wanted to do.

"No," Ryan said with a twinkle in her eyes. "Are you ready to get started?"

"Get started doing what?"

"Having your first lesson, of course," she explained patiently.

"In what?" Jamie asked, even though she would gladly take a lesson in breathing or walking from Ryan.

"Your first lesson on how to ride a motorcycle," she said, as though it was obvious.

"What!!"

"I donít know of a better way to get your blood pumping than to put 80 cubic inches of power between your legs," she purred.

"UhÖuhÖ" Jamie stuttered as she tried to decide what was more stimulating: the thought of driving the bike or considering the clear sexual tone of Ryanís invitation.

"Come on," she urged as Jamieís feet seemed unable to propel her forward. "Once youíve ridden on a Fat Boy youíll never be the same."

"Fat Boy?" she gulped as she thought, Is there a sexual allusion to every part of motorcycle riding?

"Thatís the style of bike I have, itís a Harley Softail Fat Boy."

"And you want me to drive it," she finally got out.

"Yep. Your blood is going to pump so hard you might have to open a vein," she teased.

"Or several," she squeaked out, as she pictured her broken body strewn across the pavement.

"I guarantee youíll enjoy this," Ryan reassured her. "And Iíve never lost a student."

"Okay," she gamely agreed. They crossed the road and approached the bike. Ryan pointed to a small paved road that gently led up into the hills.

"I thought that would be a good place to start," she told her. "I havenít seen a car come down that road the entire time weíve been here. Iíll move her over there and we can get started." She started the engine and rolled the big bike onto the blacktop. The road was relatively flat for a long while, but there was a hairpin turn about Ĺ mile out. It then began a rapid ascent up into the hills. But you could easily see and be seen from where they were.

Jamie trotted behind her and waited patiently as Ryan slapped the helmet on her head. "Buckle up tight," she warned. When she was ready Ryan began the lesson. "Do you know anything at all about motorcycles?"

"Just that theyíre fun to ride on," she admitted with a grin.

"That is the most important factor," Ryan agreed. "But there are a few more little details. Have you ever watched me shift?"

"Yeah, I think you use your right foot. Oh, and I know that you brake with your hands, kind of like on a regular bike, and I know the throttle is on the right hand thingy."

"Excellent! It really is quite a lot like being on a regular bike. Just like on your bike, itís important to stay balanced with your center of gravity right over the seat. Itís important to brake with both hands and not hit the front brake too hard. Thereís a lean angle on both types of bikes. If you stay above the angle you wonít tip over. On this bike the angle is 28 degrees. Can you picture that?"

"Yeah," she said with surprise. "Thatís really low. I have a hard time imagining going that low."

"Wanna see?" she asked with a devilish gleam in her big blue eyes.

"Uhh, not just because I dared you," she said quickly. "I know you canít resist a challenge."

"No, I feel really comfortable on my bike. Iíll just show you how low you can go. It might reassure you."

"Okay," she said hesitantly.

"Donít worry," Ryan said easily. "Just watch me."

She put her helmet on and brought the beast to life. She took it up the flat part of the road and went about another Ĺ mile, and then she turned around and began to roar down the hill. Jamie could see her perfectly well from her angle. When Ryan got to the hairpin turn she leaned the bike over so far that Jamieís heart flew to her throat. Ryanís knee was nearly touching the pavement but she made the corner and straightened up easily. She skidded to a quick halt right in front of her open mouthed student. "That was awesome," she said. "But youíre out of your mind if you think Iím ever going to do that!"

"You never know," she drawled.

"Oh, I know, Ryan, I know," she assured her. "But I would like to go for a nice, safe, smooth little ride."

"Okay. The first step is making sure you can hold her up. I bought this bike from a woman who had the suspension lowered about 2 Ĺ inches. She wasnít much taller than you so I think youíll be able to handle it."

"How much does it weigh?"

"With the stuff I have on it, she goes about 640," she said easily.

"640 pounds!!" Jamie shrieked. "I canít hold up 640 pounds!"

"You donít hold it up, Silly. The wheels do that. You just have to help it balance. I couldnít hold it up if it got below a 40 degree angle while it was stationary. Letís give it a try," she urged. "Iíll scoot back, you come up here and sit in front." She patted the seat in front of her as she beamed an encouraging grin at her tentative friend. "Come on, she wonít bite."

Jamie struggled to throw her leg over since she had limited room, what with Ryan sitting in the back. She finally got up with a great deal of assistance from her friend. "Whoa!" she said, as she quickly let the air out of her lungs. "This is sweet." She placed her hands on the hand grips and shifted around in the seat until she felt comfortable. It was particularly comforting to have Ryan nestled up against her back, and she realized that she felt really good sitting in front.

"Okay, Iím going to stand up a little and let you feel what itís like to hold her up. Iíll be right here if you have any trouble. I promise," she vowed as she began to stand.

Jamieís heart began to thump in her chest but she concentrated and held on tight. She found to her amazement that it wasnít really that hard to balance such a huge weight if you stayed centered. "I feel okay," she said slowly.

"Great! Now Iíll show you how to shift." She provided a basic lesson in shifting and let her practice a few times; going through all of the gears one at a time. "Why donít we go for a little spin? Iíll keep my hands on yours and guide you up and down the hill. All you have to do is shift when I tell you."

"Thatís all? Youíre sure?"

"Yep. Believe me, Jamie. I will not trick you into doing something youíre uncomfortable with. Iíll tell you what you need to do and I swear I wonít expect you to do one thing more than that. Okay?" she asked as she leaned over to make eye contact.

"Okay," she agreed, now completely reassured.

Ryan brought the bike to life and sat back while Jamie got comfortable. "Are you ready?" she asked as she glued herself to her back. A small nod was her answer. "Okay, put her into first gear," she instructed. As Jamie did so Ryanís large hands covered hers, gripping the brakes firmly. "Now Iím going to let the brakes off, so the bike might move a little. Iím going to give it a little gas. Just relax and let me guide you," she said confidently.

Her stomach leapt to her throat but she did her best to stay relaxed as the bike began to move. Ryan really was driving but sitting in the front was a very heady experience. And the experience was made even headier by having her friend covering her body almost totally. Ryanís chin was hanging over her shoulder and her chest was pressed tight against her back. Her warm pelvis was snuggled up against her butt, sending jolts of feeling down and between her legs. Ohh, I hope I donít have to walk anytime soon. I know my legs are completely useless.

As they slowly climbed the small grade Ryan called out when she wanted her to shift. By the time they reached the turnaround point she was up in 3rd gear, and she felt proud of her small accomplishment. Ryan was very enthusiastic in her praise and Jamie was excited about the trip back down. She paid rapt attention to how Ryanís hands worked the throttle and the brakes and by the time they reached the bottom she was ready to go up again. They made the little 1 mile loop 3 more times. Jamie was having a ball and was more than happy to keep her knowledge right at this level. But Ryan raised the stakes when she said, "I think youíre ready to move on."

"What do you mean?" she asked suspiciously.

"This time, you take the throttle and the brakes. Iíll scoot up and shift for you so you donít have too many things to think of."

"I donít know, Ryan," she demurred.

"I have total confidence in you, Jamie. I know you can do this easily," she insisted.

Somehow Ryanís confidence was enough to bolster her own and she finally agreed. Ryan had to scoot even closer to comfortably reach the shifter, but Jamie was not about to complain. She rested her hands on the grips and prepared herself mentally, and then she nodded to show her readiness. Ryan kept her feet on the ground until the last moment to help balance the big bike. Jamie slowly turned the throttle and the bike smoothly began to roll. Ryan kept her promise and kept her own hands down by the grips by her buttóletting Jamie have complete control. Jamie could feel her warm body pressed against her and she was reassured by the relaxed posture that her friend maintained. If sheís relaxed I should be, she thought. Within seconds they were at the turnaround and she performed her next little test very well. She slowly squeezed the brakes and brought the bike to a smooth halt.

Ryanís arms circled her waist for a quick hug as Jamie turned and beamed at her. "More!" she demanded as Ryan laughed heartily.

"Itís addictive, isnít it?" she teased.

An enthusiastic nod was her clear reply. Ryan took the controls to negotiate the sharp turn, but quickly turned it over to her happy friend. They made 3 more complete circuits before Ryanís deep voice rumbled through her back, "Wanna go all the way?"

God, how does any woman refuse her? Oh thatís right, no one does refuse her! she thought wryly.

"O..o..okay," she stuttered. Ryan sat back an inch or two and let Jamie have full control. She put the bike into first and let her go one more time. The increase in sensation was small but significant. Now she was really in charge. If she hit the accelerator too hard or grabbed the front brake alone they could easily be on the ground. But the responsibility didnít frighten her at this point. The slow buildup had reassured her at every step of the way and now she just felt confident. They did 3 more circuits just the same way, but before they began the fourth Ryan said, "This time, you negotiate the turn on your own."

Jamie gulped noticeably but she nodded slightly and started up again. Her heart was pounding when she neared the top but she smoothly downshifted just like she had seen Ryan do. When the bike was going nice and slow she turned the wheel and leaned over just a tiny bit, turning the bike perfectly. When they reached the bottom Ryan squeezed her until she had trouble getting a breath. "Iím so proud of you!" she said with a high wattage grin. "You were so smooth and controlled. I really think you could do more if youíre up to it."

"Like what?" she asked, both flushed with accomplishment and hesitant.

"Letís go further up this hill. You can practice leaning into turns a little bit."

"Okay," she said with only a momentís resistance. As they climbed past their previous stopping point she could hear Ryan begin to hum over the drone of the engine. After a few moments she recognized the tune and began to hum along with her. They rode for at least two more miles, humming the whole way. After they had begun the song for the second time Ryan began to sing. Jamie didnít know all the words so she just let that rich deep voice rumble against her back.

She didnít start at the beginning of the song, instead picking it up right where they had left it.

"Wendy let me in I wanna be your friend; I wanna guard your dreams and visions.

Just wrap your legs round these velvet rims and strap your hands across my engines.

Together Wendy weíll break with the sadness, Iíll love you with all the madness in my soul."

"Will you walk with me out on the wire? Cause baby Iím just a scared and lonely traveler,

And I wanna know how it feels. I wanna know if love is right, and I wanna know if love is real."

Ryan then began to hum the instrumental part of the song and Jamie happily joined her. Moments later they reached a wide point that looked like a perfect place to turn around, Without even waiting for permission she smoothly downshifted and glided the big bike in a perfectly executed turn. Ryan signaled her pleasure by squeezing her thighs and patting her on the leg as she began to sing again.

She was signing at full voice by the time they neared their starting point. Jamie had heard the song hundreds of times on the classic rock station but she had never had anyone sing it to her while astride a motorcycle. Particularly a very sexy woman who had her strong thighs wrapped tightly around her body. Between the intense concentration needed to ride the bike and the focus needed to ignore Ryanís body, she hardly heard a word. But Ryan had timed the song perfectly and as they pulled up she wailed out,

"Come on Wendy, tramps like us, baby we were born to run!

Ooooh, oooo, ooooh o..o..o..oooh, tramps like us were bornÖ"

Ryan dropped her feet to hold the bike up while she performed an impromptu drum solo/congratulations on Jamieís back. "That was so awesome, Jamie!" she yelled. "You are a total natural!"

Jamie could not help but catch the enthusiasm of her friend. She jumped off as Ryan tipped the bike a bit to give her better egress. She threw her arms straight into the air as she ran around like a 2 year old. "I am sooooo pumped!" she shouted.

Ryan had secured the bike on its stand and she threw her arms around Jamieís small waist and picked her up as she began to twirl her in a tight circle. "Wasnít that the most wonderful feeling?" Ryan demanded as the world flew by.

It took all of Jamieís willpower not to shout. No, this is!

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

An hour later they were negotiating dinner. "Look Ryan, you took me all the way out here just because I was bored. I would really like to buy you dinner to show my appreciation."

"But you donít seem to get my point," Ryan explained for the 3rd time. "I do things for you and with you because I enjoy them I canít tell you how much fun it was to teach you to ride. It was like learning all over again for me. I got to experience the thrill through your eyes. That was an awesome gift!"

"Okay," she said as she changed tactics. "Itís just 5 oíclock and thereís no way we want to be crossing the bridge at rush hour. Iím starving because I didnít have lunch and I bet you didnít either. We need to waste about 2 hours to avoid bad traffic. We can either do that in some crummy little place or we can go someplace that I really love. Itís a lot more expensive than you like to go for, so why not let me treat us to a great meal just because I can?"

"So this is not a payback dinner?" she asked suspiciously.

"Nope. Itís just a Ďhey, I want to go to the Lark Creek Inn. Oh look, there it is. Oh, Ryanís with me. Thatís okay, itís more fun if I have someone to dine withí kind of thing."

"Iím sold. But are you sure weíre dressed up enough?"

"Yep. We can sit in the bar and watch basketball on TV while we eat. Itís really pretty casual."

"Letís go," she agreed as they made their way along the tiny streets of Larkspur to the restaurant.

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

It was nearly 9 when they reached the City. Dinner had indeed been wonderful and Ryan was terribly glad that she had let herself be talked into it. As they approached the Marina district Ryan pulled over and turned in her seat. "Do you mind if I stop by Tracyís apartment for a second? Sheís supposed to fly in this afternoon and I told her I might come by tonight."

"Geez, Ryan, we didnít have to stay at the restaurant that long! I donít want to interfere with your relationship."

As she turned even more fully in her seat Ryan locked her eyes onto Jamieís. "Thereís not one minute of this day that I would cut out. Donít demean our relationship like that," she said emphatically. "My friendships are just as important to me as my relationship with Tracy."

"Ryan, Iím sorry," Jamie said quickly. "I certainly donít demean our relationship. Itís incredibly important to me," she stated firmly.

"I just canít stand people who immediately drop their friends when they get into a serious relationship," Ryan admitted. "I like to nurture my friendships just as much as I do a sexual relationship." She allowed her face to curve into a crooked grin as she started over. "Do you mind if I stop by Tracyís for a second?"

"Not at all," Jamie said happily.

A few moments later Ryan was buzzing the apartment. They walked up to the third floor unit together, even though Jamie felt a bit uncomfortable. Tracy was a little surprised to see Jamie, but she greeted her warmly. "Well, well," she said as she looked them over. "What do we have here?" she asked as she wrapped her arms around Ryan for a very friendly kiss. "Youíve already had dinner," she said as she narrowed her eyes a bit. She leaned in for another kiss which they held for a bit longer than Jamie was comfortable with. "And dessert," she added.

If she starts looking for what kind of toothpaste she uses Iím out of here!

"So where were you little scamps all day?" she asked. "I called your house and your pager, Ms. OíFlaherty," she said as she placed her hands on her hips.

"Did you really?" Ryan asked as she pulled the device from her waistband to check it. "I didnít get a page, Tracy . Did you need something?"

"No, I didnít really. I called to tell you I wouldnít be home until about 9. I actually got in right before you got here."

"Good. I hate to inconvenience you," she said apologetically. "But the answer to your previous question is that we were up in Marin by Stinson Beach. I taught Jamie how to ride my bike," she said proudly. "And she was an excellent student," she added.

"Ohhh, tell me all about it," she demanded as she pushed Ryan down on a chair. "Let me get you both a drink first. Do you want a beer or some wine?"

"Iíll take some wine," Jamie said.

"Water for me," Ryan added.

A few moments later Tracy came back to the living room with wine for she and Jamie along with Ryanís usual water. There was seating for 7 in the spacious, well decorated apartment but Tracy chose to sit on Ryanís lap. "Iíve missed you," she said quietly as she placed another kiss on Ryanís lips.

Ryan gazed up at her with a sweet, shy smile. "I missed you too," she replied as she sat up for another warm kiss. They were obviously used to sitting in this position because Ryan looked completely comfortable. She was sitting on a deep overstuffed upholstered chair and Tracy was leaning against her chest with her legs draped over the arm. She had her arm behind Ryanís neck and Ryanís arm cradled her back. All in all they looked very comfortable and relaxed with each other. It didnít seem to bother either of them that Jamie was there, even though she was still a little uncomfortable.

They had just been dating a little over a month but they were already finishing each otherís sentences and other cute little girlfriend things. Tracy would occasionally brush Ryanís bangs from her forehead or push a lock of hair behind her ear. Ryan teased her quite a bit and seemed to know exactly where each of her most ticklish spots was. She seemed to delight in holding her down with her strong right arm while her left hand got in under her ribs or just behind her knee.

When Tracy spoke Ryan would look up at her with barely disguised fascination. She would cock her head and focus intently on her as though she had some vitally important information to impart. They really are cute together, she thought. If I really care for her as much as I think I do Iíll be happy for her. Even though Tracy takes her away from me sometimes itís important for Ryan to have this. I get my needs fulfilled by Jack. Or at least I should, she thought disparagingly. Ryan has needs too, and her needs arenít limited to sex. She needs intimacy and romance and tenderness and it looks like sheís getting that from Tracy.

At around 10 Ryan decided that it was time to go. Jamie wanted them to have a few moments alone so she excused herself to use the restroom. She was gone as long as she thought was polite but when she walked into the hallway it was clear that they were a long way from completing their goodnights. Ryan had her backed up against the wall and Tracyís arms were draped languidly around her neck. Neither of Ryanís hands was visible and Jamie could only guess that they were palming Tracyís firm little butt. It was obvious that Ryan was pulling her hips forward and equally obvious that Tracy did not mind one little bit. Both of them were uttering soft little moans as they frantically devoured each otherís mouths.

Oh boy, now what? I guess I can go back into the bathroom, but other than shaving my legs I canít think of anything else to do in there. But just as she was beginning to turn to go back in Ryan pulled away with a few loud, wet kisses. "Gotta go, baby," she whispered. Jamie was afraid that Tracy was going to collapse right where she stood. Her legs looked a bit rubbery and she still held her eyes closed. She pulled Ryan toward her and whispered something into her ear that caused Ryan to say, "I know, Iím sure I will, too." She then grasped her head and placed several more searing kisses on her lips before she let her go. Ryan leaned her forehead against her girlfriendís and murmured, "Now I know I will," as she gave her one last tender kiss. "See you tomorrow, baby," she said as she patted her cheek in a loving fashion.

"Bye, Jamie," she breathed as the wide eyed woman followed Ryan out.

"See you, Tracy, thanks for the wine."

"Anytime," she replied as she weakly waved a hand.

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

Ryan slid her arm around Jamieís shoulders as they walked back down the stairs. "Are you okay?" the smaller woman asked tentatively.

"Yeah, why wouldnít I be?"

"I thought you might need toÖummÖstay over," she hesitantly suggested. "I could easily grab a cab back to your house."

"Nope. I want to go home," she replied easily.

God, Iím so turned on I ache and all I did was watch for a moment!

When they got to the bike Ryan teasingly asked, "Wanna drive?"

"I think Iíll stick to less populated areas if you donít mind," she replied as she gave her a little pat.

15 minutes later they pulled up in front of Ryanís house. As they both got off Jamie gave her a big hug and a kiss on both cheeks. "I had one of the most delightful days of my life, Ryan. Thank you so much for sharing it with me."

"Youíre welcome, Jamie. I had a great time, myself. Do you want to come in for some cocoa before your drive?"

"No, Iím sure you need to get to bed."

"Well, I do have a date," she admitted with a rakish grin.

"A date!"

"Yeah," she replied as she held up her left hand and wiggled her fingers. "Iím so turned on I could scream!"

That makes two of us, buddy, she thought.

Continue to Part 7

beyond uber index <> homepage