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 13

Ryan had been pestering Jamie for a week trying to get her to decide what she wanted to do to celebrate her birthday. Since it fell on a Thursday she was not going to see Jack or her parents. Her parents had invited her down for a celebration on Saturday and Jack decided that they should celebrate both her birthday and Valentine's Day since it fell on the following Sunday. Ryan found this arrangement more than odd, but she kept her comments to herself. The jerk lives 25 minutes from here! He canít drag his ass up here for a couple of hours to celebrate her 21st birthday?! And who wants to lump their birthday in with Valentineís Day? That is beyond cheap!!

On Wednesday Jamie finally decided that she wanted to go to a bar to have a legal drink. This was fine with Ryan but the next problem was finding an acceptable bar. "Where do you normally go?" Jamie inquired.

"I don't go to a lot of bars to be honest," Ryan said. "I don't drink much and I'm not crazy about crowded places. But when I do go to one in the East Bay I usually choose a lesbian bar right on Telegraph. I don't think that's what you had in mind though. Maybe we should ask Mia, Iím sure she knows every hot spot in the Bay area."

"I don't really care about the atmosphere, Ryan. I just want to have a drink without fake I.D.'s"

" Would you be comfortable in a lesbian bar?"

"Yeah I would if I was with you. Besides, we would be bothered less at a gay place."

"Hey, speak for yourself," she said haughtily as she ineffectively hid a grin.

"You know what I mean, silly. The men there won't want us and you've said that women aren't very aggressive, so I thought we would be left alone."

"That's probably true" she replied. "It's fine with me if that's what you want to do. How about dinner first?"

"Sure. You pick where we go. Why don't you come over at 6 or so to pick me up?"

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

As promised Ryan showed up slightly before 6 o'clock. She was dressed in her black silk t-shirt and a new pair of black lightweight wool slacks with deep pleats. The pants were held up by a thin black belt and they draped attractively over her long legs. Her black leather jacket was draped casually over her shoulder. "We need to get going, Jamie. I made reservations for dinner at 6 sharp."

"Reservations? We're going somewhere that you need reservations?" she asked in surprise.

"It's your birthday, knucklehead. I thought it would be nice to take you somewhere where the biggest question isn't ĎYou want fries with that?í "

"You wait right here, I'm going to change," she said as she looked down at her jeans and golf shirt. "I need to keep up with my escort. You look so..so.."

"Evil?" Ryan supplied helpfully, her face breaking into a crooked grin.

"No, I'd say you look sleek," she decided.

"Sleek, I think I like that," she mused.

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

5 minutes later Jamie came down the stairs in an outfit that clearly rivaled her escorts in terms of sleekness. She had changed into a little black crepe tube dress that followed every curve of her slim body. The little dress was covered by a supple black leather bolero jacket that gleamed dully in the light of the staircase. Small black flats finished the look. "I've decided that we should both be PIBS," Jamie announced.

"PIBS?" Ryan inquired as she slowly walked around her friend, looking at her outfit with open appreciation.

"People In Black," she replied. "It's very L.A."

"If this is how they look in L.A., I'm moving tomorrow," Ryan said decisively.

"You are such a tease Ms. O'Flaherty," she replied.

"Oh, Iím not teasing," she said with mock sobriety. "You just look so...so....soÖ" Ryan fumbled.

"Sleek?" Jamie inquired.

"Yes, but more than that," she pondered her image again. "Sophisticated, glamorous, sexy, somewhere in there," she finally decided as she waved her hands in the air.

"That's probably because my mother bought this for me. She forced me to attend an art exhibit down in SOMA and she insisted that all of my clothes were either too Ďmainstreamí, or Ďjuvenileí."

"Well," Ryan reflected, "I would agree that is one of the least juvenile outfits I have ever seen," she said appreciatively.

As they left the house Ryan dashed ahead and opened her car door, waiting until Jamie was settled before she gently shut it. Jack could learn some manners from her, she thought. Ryan drove, of course, and they pulled up to the valet at ĎChez Panisseí at 6 sharp.

"Ryan, you are so sweet! I told you I liked this place months ago. It's adorable that you remembered," she enthused.

Ryan gave her a curious look as she replied, "If itís important enough for you to tell me itís important enough for me to remember." As she held the door for her she related, "I couldn't get reservations downstairs, but I thought we would be more comfortable upstairs anyway. It's a lot more casual," she said happily.

"I actually prefer the upstairs. It's not filled with stuffy businessmen trying to impress clients. Normal people from the neighborhood eat upstairs," she said knowledgeably.

Jamie ordered her favorite meal; a small steak with French fries. Ryan had rack of lamb with some delectable oil-roasted rosemary potatoes. She insisted on ordering a bottle of wine but made Jamie pick out the vintage since she was wholly ignorant on the subject. Jamie was just a bit disappointed that the server did not ask for her I.D., but she had to admit that she was glad that she looked over 21 tonight.

They had a thoroughly enjoyable dinner. Jamie was impressed that Ryan seemed very comfortable in this atmosphere even though she was certain that she did not dine out much. After they had savored cups of cappuccino and a delightful piece of chocolate silk cake they headed home. The bar was very close to her house so rather than trying to park they had planned on walking. After they had parked the car Ryan dashed out to her bike and removed something large that had been lashed to the seat. She carried the big box into the house with a wide grin on her face.

Jamie tried to wrestle the box from her hands but Ryan held it securely, finally holding it above the laughing womanís head. "What makes you think this is for you anyway?" she teased.

"Because it's my birthday and you are too sweet not to give me a present, even though you don't need to," she replied logically.

"Well, you've got me there. This is for you," she said as she presented the box to Jamie with a flourish.

Jamie proceeded to rip off the wrapping paper and tear the heavy cardboard in a matter of seconds. She was delighted to pull out a brand new bright yellow motorcycle helmet. "Ryan this is so cool!" she said gleefully. "I absolutely love it!"

"I've been worried about you wearing my spare," Ryan admitted. "My spare is fairly large so that anyone can wear it. But I wanted to get you one that would fit properly. Your head is mighty important to me, you know," she said as she began to adjust the helmet properly. The fit was perfect and now Jamie wanted to take the bike to the bar. Ryan agreed conceptually, but she suggested that Jamie might want to change first. "Have you ever ridden a motorcycle in a short tight skirt?" she asked helpfully.

"Oh, good point," she said with a little blush. "Should I change or should we drive my car?"

"I'm very content to have you remain in that outfit," she said with an eyebrow waggle. "But you get to choose. It's your birthday."

"Can I drive?" she begged as her face scrunched into an adorable little pout.

Ryan pursed her lips as though deep in thought. But she quickly let her face slide into a grin as she admitted, "You know Iím powerless against that puppy dog face. Of course you can."

"Be right back," she said as she ran up the stairs to change.

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

In a surprisingly short time Jamie came trotting back downstairs, still looking lovely, but much more equipped to drive a motorcycle. The short black leather jacket remained but now it covered a white turtleneck. Neat black jeans topped shiny black boots, now firmly placing Jamie into the sleek category. "Do you often have to warn your dates not to wear skirts?" she teased as they made their way to the driveway.

"Well, no," Ryan admitted with a leer. "I encourage my dates to wear short skirts."

Jamie was concentrating on getting onto the bike and she hadnít noticed Ryanís leering grin. "Why would youÖ" she started to say but the obvious answer came to her quickly. "Ryan!" she cried as she slapped her friend in the stomach. "You are such aÖ"

"Letch?" she once again helpfully supplied.

"At least!" her giggling companion agreed.

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

Moments later they pulled up to a rare legal parking space near the bar. It was still early and there were not many people in the establishment. It was dark and smelled of smoke even with the ordinance that banned smoking in bars. Jamie figured that years of smoke smell had just permeated the walls.

"Well, well, well," smiled the bartender. "The class factor in here just went up 100%," she said as she shook Ryan's hand. "Haven't seen you for a while, Ryan. I would ask what you've been up to, but it's pretty obvious," she teased as she regarded Jamie with a long look.

"You are incorrigible, Sandy," she grinned as she shook her head. "This is Jamie. Tonight is her 21st birthday, so treat her right."

"You certainly look like you're used to being treated right, Jamie," she said as she leaned over the bar a bit and moved her head close. "I guarantee that I'll continue that tradition," she purred.

Jamie unconsciously moved closer to Ryan and meekly ordered a white wine spritzer. Ryan asked for the same, although without the wine. After Sandy had placed their drinks before them Jamie whispered with a laugh, "I thought you said women didn't come on so strong."

"Sandy would be the most surprised person in the world if anyone ever took her up on one of her propositions. She's been in a committed relationship for years but she loves to joke around," Ryan informed her.

They found two stools near the rear of the bar. The juke box was on and the volume was a little higher than Jamie would have preferred but they could hear each other if they leaned close. "So what do you think?" Ryan asked. "Is it what you expected?"

"Well," she said as she looked around, "I have not been to a lot of neighborhood bars but from the few Iíve seen this one looks pretty typical. If you looked in quickly you wouldnít notice it was a gay place at all. Are most gay bars like this?"

"No, this is more like your typical middle class lesbian place. Some of the weekend clubs are very glitzy and appeal more to the Ďlipstick lesbiansí. I donít know why, but I feel more comfortable here. There are tons of good looking women at the weekend places but theyíre always really noisy. I think I just like the more laid back atmosphere of this place."

"Why do you call them weekend places?"

"Some promoters have a traveling club that is only open 1 night a month or 1 night a week. Youíll see signs up advertising where the party will be. Itís a lot cheaper to just rent a place for 1 night. Then they donít have the upkeep of keeping a place open on the slow nights."

"But you donít like them?"

"No, itís not that. Sometimes theyíre a lot of fun. But theyíre real high energy and umÖwell, letís just say that I wouldnít take a date to one."

"Why not?"

"Itís hard to um..well, I tend to umÖ"

"You get hit on a lot donít you?" she said with a big grin.

Ryanís chagrined look was a clearly affirmative answer. "Thereís usually a lot of people that I know that go to those and it gets kind of embarrassing," she admitted shyly.

"You canít help it that youíre irresistible," she teased.

"Itís hardly that, Jamie. Iíve just dated so darn many women that it seems like half of the city knows me when I go to one of those big parties."

"Well, I think itís because youíre so darned cute," she said as she tweaked her nose. "Iíve got to use the rest room. Is it right there?" she asked as she pointed.

"Yep. Itís just behind that wall. Iíll keep your seat warm."

There were about 5 women in line and she waited patiently while she watched a spirited game of pool. When she emerged from behind the partition she was surprised and a bit peeved to see someone on her stool. I donít get any respect in this community, she thought crossly. Hitting on her when I go to the bathroom! Unacceptable !

She marched right over and slid in between Ryan and the stranger. Ryanís legs were splayed wide apart and she nestled herself right between them as she leaned back against her. When she received a rather wide eyed look from the woman she smiled sweetly and said, "Hi, Iím Jamie, Ryanís date. Who are you?"

"Just leaving," she said quickly as she did just that.

Ryanís head moved forward just a bit to rest on Jamieís shoulder. Her deep chuckle rumbled across Jamieís back as she said, "I guess I could take you to one of those weekend clubs. Youíd just open a can of whupass on anyone who got near me."

"Itís all about respect," she said easily. "Youíve got to let them know they canít mess with you."

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

After Jamie had reclaimed her stool they sat and chatted amiably while they people watched. After a while Jamie ordered another drink which surprised Ryan a bit. "Are you sure you're up to another?" she gently inquired.

"Yes, Mom. I may have just turned 21, but I've been drinking for years. I've spent a lot of time in Europe and wine is part of every dinner there."

"I just want you to be careful. Alcohol will hit you harder because of your weight loss. You wonít be insulted if I drive home, will you?"

"Nope. Iím a big fan of the designated driver. But since youíre driving it won't kill me to get buzzed on my birthday," she said firmly.

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

Around 10 o'clock Jamie decided that she needed to dance. The small dance floor was nearly filled as she pulled Ryan to her feet and led her to a spot near the juke box. A current song that Jamie particularly liked was playing as they began to move to the beat. My God, I assumed that she could dance, but this is ridiculous! she thought as Ryan became one with the music. Every part of her body reflected the strong beat of the thrumming bass. She moved her hips and her shoulders in a teasingly seductive way that had every pair of eyes on her. I am sure she is not conscious of how sexy she is. Every woman in this bar wants her, she marveled. They continued to dance as 3 more good songs came on. Jamie was no slouch as a dancer herself and by the time they finished most of the women in the bar were deciding which one of them they would choose if given a chance.

The exertion of their dancing and the closeness of the room made Jamie feel a bit tipsier than she normally would after her two drinks. Ryan actually felt a little light headed herself, due to the lingering effects of the wine they had at dinner. They went back to the bar for a few minutes as Jamie signaled Sandy for another round. When her spritzer was delivered she drank it quickly, mostly to rehydrate. She knew she was getting buzzed but she was having such a good time that she just let herself go for a change. She ignored her inner voice that normally kept a tight watch on her actions and her emotions. She just let herself have fun.

It was too loud to talk so they just sat back on their stools and watched people dance for a few minutes. After a while Jamie felt cool again and as soon as another favorite came on she rose and took Ryan's hand. The song was very slow and sensual and Ryan cocked her head as she gazed down at her. She leaned over a little and asked, "Are you sure?" Jamieís answer was to guide her to the dance floor without a word. As she slipped her arms around Ryan's waist she felt her partner's strong arms slide around behind her shoulders and drape loosely behind her neck.

As they moved to the slow, insistent beat of the music Jamie drew imperceptibly closer to her friend. There was still a respectable distance between them but she could occasionally feel Ryan's thigh brush against hers. A warm tingle passed down her body when Ryan's breasts touched hers slightly. They continued this soft and gentle connection when the song changed and another soft melody began.

There may have been other people on the dance floor, but only one person existed for Jamie at that moment. The connection between them was both soothing and electric. Each small touch, each warm breath that passed by her ear made her feel more and more deeply bonded. The next song was considerably faster but neither woman made a move to break the connection. They continued to hold one another as they moved at half time to the quick beat.

When the next song began Jamie found herself drawn inexorably closer to Ryanís body. The slow love song thrummed in the background but Jamie felt so connected that she swore they were moving to the merged beat of their hearts. The song was over much too soon and as it wound down they stood back slightly with their arms still gently holding each other and silently regarded each other for a few long moments. Ryan leaned down just slightly to speak but Jamie misinterpreted her movement. She slowly closed her eyes as she slid her hands up the powerful back to rest behind her neck. She placed her lips softly on Ryan's and let the warmth just wash over her like a warm summer rain shower. The kiss was gentle and tender and relatively chaste. But it lasted considerably longer than she had intended. Ryan didnít make any move to separate so Jamie eventually pulled back. But Ryanís crystal blue eyes locked onto hers, freezing her in place for a moment. There was a hint of a question in those deep blue eyes, but Jamie simply wrapped her arms around her neck and held her in a tender embrace for a few seconds. Ryan returned the affection and when they broke apart Jamie found that she held Ryan's hand in hers.

The clear blue eyes had gentled as Ryan looked down at her and asked, "Are you ready to leave? Itís getting a little late." As her face broke into a sweet smile she added, "And I think we're both a little drunk."

Jamie returned the smile and acknowledged the truth of both statements. "Yes, we probably should go," she said as she leaned against her for another full body hug. "It's nearly midnight, so my special dayís almost over."

"Thatís where youíre wrong," Ryan said as she slid her arm around Jamieís waist. "The day doesnít make you special. Itís the other way around."

Jamie dropped her head against Ryanís shoulder as she mused, How does she do that? She just makes me feel so precious.

When they emerged from the bar they followed their previous agreement to have Ryan drive. It was just a few short blocks to the house but as Jamie hopped off the skies opened up as a heavy rain began to pelt them. They both made a mad dash for the door, making the front porch relatively unscathed. Both Cassie and Mia were obviously at home, but the house was quiet. Jamie beckoned Ryan to follow her into the kitchen where they could speak normally without waking anyone.

"I don't want you to ride home in this weather, Ryan," she said.

"This is one of those nights I told you about," Ryan admitted. "You know, 50 degrees and raining like heck."

"Take my car home tonight. You can return it tomorrow," she offered.

"I don't really feel comfortable driving your car alone, especially in the rain," Ryan demurred. "Iím not on the title or the registration, and my motorcycle insurance wouldnít cover me if I wrecked it. I'm a careful driver, but not everyone else is. I don't want you to have to explain an accident to your father," she stated firmly.

"Then call home and tell them you're staying here," she insisted. "I won't be able to sleep if you drive home in this."

"Okay, you win," Ryan finally agreed. "I can ride in the rain, but it isn't the safest thing to do." She looked a bit shy as she asked, "Where should I sleep?"

"It looks like everyone is home, so you're stuck with me," she said with a crooked grin. "Unless you want to sneak into Cassie's room and make a woman out of her," she teased.

"I think that is beyond even my many skills," she replied with a return grin.

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

Jamie took her clothes into the bathroom to change as Ryan called home to tell her father she was taking refuge from the rain. A few minutes later Jamie emerged in glen plaid flannel pajamas, with her face scrubbed and her teeth brushed. She offered Ryan a new toothbrush and showed her where the clean towels were. Finally she asked, "What do you normally sleep in?"

"Um, my normal outfit is a little casual for a sleep over," she admitted shyly.

"It's okay if you like to sleep in your underwear," Jamie reassured her. "Your underwear covers a lot more than mine does."

"My normal attire is quite a bit more casual than that," she said with a blush.

"Ooooh," Jamie replied. "That would be a touch casual. I'll find something for you." Jamie rummaged through her dresser finally coming up with an old pair of sweats and a t-shirt that Jack had left with her during the summer. "He's a little taller than you are but these should fit," she said as she handed the bundle to her friend.

Ryan followed Jamie's lead and went into the bathroom to change. As she brushed her teeth she reflected on the events of the evening. God, I donít know what happened at the bar, but it felt all together too good. I know the alcohol got to her a little bit, but there was more to it than that. I know she feels close to me but I have to keep my head. The last thing she needs is to make her life more complicated right now. When she kissed me I didnít want to encourage her but I also didnít want to hurt her feelings by pulling away. Iím not sure I did the right thing but honestly it just felt too good to stop it. Boy, this is one of those days that itís a real bitch to have morals, she mused.

As she slipped into Jackís clothes she thought, I donít know if itís a good idea to sleep in her bed tonight. I wish there was another place to crash but it would really be insulting to curl up on that little loveseat when she has a king sized bed. I just have to remind myself that sheís a wonderful, attractive, sexy straight woman, whoís engaged to be married.

After a few minutes she emerged with her hair in a simple braid and Jack's clothes covering her body. Jamie marveled at her appearance for a moment, "You and Jack could not look more different, but those are exactly your size," she said.

"Yeah, we just fill them out in different places," she grinned.

I'll say, thought Jamie silently. She climbed into bed and turned the covers down for both of them.

Ryan looked at the bed and hesitated. After Jamie was settled she attempted to pull the covers back up on her side and lie down on top of them. "What are you doing?" asked Jamie with a confused look on her face.

"I just thought I should sleep outside the covers," she said shyly.

"Afraid I'll bite?" Jamie replied a bit cross at the insinuation.

"No, not at all," she replied although that was exactly what she was afraid of. "I just don't want to put you in a bad position. I know Jack isn't wild about me, and I don't want you to have to explain anything that might make him mad."

"It'll make me mad if I'm trapped by these covers all night," she said. "Get in here," she ordered.

Ryan complied despite her reservations. "I do kind of hate to sleep on top," she admitted. "It's lots cozier inside."

They kept a respectful distance as they shifted and adjusted their positions for a few moments. As they both settled down Ryan quietly said, "Happy birthday, Jamie."

Jamie smiled at her friend in the dark and replied, "You made it happy, Ryan. Thank you."

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

Several hours later a loud clap of thunder woke Jamie from a deep sleep. She had been having a vaguely arousing dream and as she struggled into consciousness she realized with alarm why the dream had seemed so real. She was plastered up next to Ryan, touching her with her body from her shoulders all the way down to her feet. Her right hand was slowly tracing gentle patterns on her friend, starting at her waist and traveling down her hip to the inside of her thigh. She nearly gasped in shock at what she had been doing, but when she pulled the offending appendage away she heard Ryan softly mumble, "PleaseÖplease don't stop."

Jamie felt as though she was in a trance as she felt Ryan's strong hand grasp hers and place it on her breast. She felt those sensuous hips move against her as they began a slow, steady beat. She was not sure what propelled her to respond, but she did so enthusiastically. Her hand touched, and rubbed and teased both of those perfect breasts until Ryan's hips began to grind into her lap insistently.

Suddenly, she felt herself being rolled onto her back. Ryan appeared on top of her, bracing her body with her forearms, blue eyes dark with desire. She dipped her head and stared intently for a moment, gauging Jamieís receptivity. The vivid green eyes that gazed up at her unblinkingly were a clear signal so she locked her warm mouth onto Jamie's waiting lips. The smaller woman felt her mouth open just a bit and seconds later that warm, wet tongue slid in.

Jamie felt her head begin to spin as the sensations became overpowering. Ryan's tongue moved slowly in her mouth as her own tongue joined in the sensual dance. Jamie felt her body respond in a way that she had never imagined possible. She felt a depth of connection with this woman that felt bone deep.

Ryan lowered her torso onto Jamie's and began to move slowly against her body. Every part of Jamie's body was rubbed softly by its counterpart. Breasts glided against breasts, firm bellies and strong thighs slid sensually against each other. Every nerve ending tingled in anticipation. As the touch became overwhelming Jamie growled as she wrapped Ryan in her arms and rolled her onto her back. She felt Ryan's legs open in invitation and she slid in between them, settling her hips in the warm furrow. Those long strong thighs wrapped around her hips as she pressed herself against the apex of Ryan's desire. The heat radiated from her as Jamie groaned into her mouth, claiming her with her lips again and again.

Ryan's hands slid under her top and moved slowly up her sides until they found their target. Soft, warm fingers teased the taut nipples as Jamie felt the contact deep in her groin. She moaned again and again as those fingers continued to torment her aching breasts. She reached down and grabbed the hem of her top, pulling it over her head in one swift move as she pulled herself up towards that inviting mouth. Ryan did not relinquish the firm hold that her thighs had claimed as she moved as one with her.

Jamie lowered herself over Ryan's mouth and let out a low growl as that warm mouth captured a throbbing breast. She raised and lowered herself repeatedly as each breast was loved in turn. Ryan's hips were nearly off the bed as she clung desperately to her.

Jamie felt herself nearing climax as Ryan bit down on a tender breast. She threw her head back and felt herself release as wave after wave of sensation coursed down her body. She was unable to support herself on her shaking arms and she felt herself collapse onto Ryan's powerful chest.

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

A loud thunderclap rumbled through the house. Jamie sat bolt upright in bed and whipped her head around trying to make sense of where she was. She focused her senses and found that she was fully clothed. She looked to her left and found a peacefully sleeping Ryan. Oh my God, was that a dream?!

She lay back down and let the dream wash over her again. I have never felt anything so real! Touching her and being touched felt so completely erotic. I don't think I've ever been that aroused.

Thoughts and sensations fought for space in her overtaxed brain. Why did I dream about Ryan like that? Is it just because I'm a little high and she's lying so close to me? I mean every woman at that bar wanted her. If I'm going to fantasize about a woman why not choose Ryan?

I'd give anything to be able to respond to Jack like that. Why can't I just accept what he's able to give me and get on with my life? It's not like there's anything wrong with him. He's really a lovely man. I just wish he could excite me half as much as I was in that dream.

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

The alarm sounded at 6:30 a.m. Jamie stuck an arm out of the covers and slapped it with her hand. She groaned as she opened her eyes and saw the time. She turned and saw Ryan gazing over at her with a big smile on her alert face. "You're not a morning person, are you?" she observed happily.

Jamie merely responded by covering her head with the pillow. She felt Ryan hop out of bed and found herself falling back to sleep when she heard the shower running. When Ryan was finished in the bathroom she came over and perched on the side of the bed. She was wrapped in a huge bath sheet and she debated whether to put her nice clothes back on or try to get away with wearing Jacks sweats. While she debated her wardrobe choices she decided to wake Jamie. She looked down at her friend, so peaceful and serene in sleep. She contemplated a gentle way to wake her; finally letting her evil side win. She threw the covers back as she climbed onto the bed and began to tickle her mercilessly. Jamie giggled and thrashed about on the bed as Ryan refused to let her go. There was a very brief knock on the door that occurred almost simultaneously to it being thrown open.

Cassie opened the door a bit and stuck her head in. Ryan was mostly covered by the bath sheet but she was straddling a wildly twitching Jamie. Their hands were locked together as they fought but the open door caused them both to freeze in place. Both women caught the expression on Cassieís face that was a mixture of glee and revulsion. "Jack's on the phone," she said as she ignored Ryanís presence and their very compromised position. "He said he called you yesterday to wish you a happy birthday, but you were obviouslyÖout. Do you want to speak to himÖor are you tooÖ busy?" she said innocently.

"Of course I'll speak to him. Just give me a second," she said as she hopped up and dashed to the bathroom.

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

Cassie went back downstairs and was speaking with Jack when Jamie picked up the upstairs extension. "You can hang up now, Cassie. I've got it." Cassie signed off and Jamie greeted him. "Hi honey, thanks for calling. Sorry I missed you last night."

"Isn't it a little early to have visitors, Jamie?" he inquired softly.

She sighed deeply as her hopes were dashed that Cassie had been discrete. "Do you want me to answer that or was that a rhetorical question, Jack?"

"I suppose it might as well be rhetorical. I don't feel that I ever get the whole truth out of you anymore," he replied.

"If you want to know why Ryan is here you can ask me. I don't lie to you Jack, and if you don't know that we've really got problems."

"I'm not sure that I do know that, but I would agree that we most definitely do have problems. I hope you had a nice birthday, Jamie. I'll see you tonight if you're still planning on coming down." He hung up before she could form a reply.

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

This is a big deal, Jamie. You canít continue to ignore the fact that Cassie is making him nuts about this. Look at it from his perspectiveóto him, Ryan is the same as a guy. All he knows is that you were in bed with someone who he believes is sexually interested in you. Cassie probably made it sound even worse than it wasÖwhich wouldnít actually be hard to do, she admitted.

But even though she knew that the last two weeks had been very damaging to her relationship, and that she should be concentrating on that, she could not help thinking about Ryan. I cannot believe that I kissed her like that! God, I canít believe how incredibly soft her lips were. So much different than kissing a man. It was just like melting into the softest thing I can imagine. And what in the hell must she have been thinking? She wasnít as buzzed as I was, and sheís always in such control. Did she enjoy it too? I know I should bring it up or apologize or something, but I donít think I can.

Her stomach was in such turmoil that she was only able to get down a diet 7-up for breakfast. Ryan bought her story about being a bit hung over so she didnít give her too hard of a time about not eating. Now lunch was coming up but there was no way she could even think of eating.

Iíve got to talk to Jack. Obviously I canít concentrate today anyway; maybe Iíll drive down to Stanford and look for him. What the hell. Iíll take my bike and ride around campus for a couple of hours to get rid of some of this stress.

An hour later she was furiously pedaling around the campus. She knew he had a long class on Friday afternoon, but she seemed to remember that it was over at 3. I think thatís his last class of the day so I should be able to find him.

At 2:45 she was riding up and down the street where most of the law buildings were housed. Oh, thereís his law review partner. Sheíll know where he is. "Hey, Natalie!" she called out.

"Oh, hi Jamie," she replied with less warmth that she usually exhibited. "Looking for Jack?"

"Yeah. Do you know where he is?"

"Heís just getting out of his ĎSecured Transactionsí class. Iím supposed to meet him here to go over some things. ButÖumÖIíll just go to the law review office. Ask him to come over there when youíre done talking." She looked a little uncomfortable as she added, "Good luck."

A few minutes later he came around the corner with a neutral expression on his face. But the moment he saw Jamie his eyes narrowed and his entire demeanor became rigid. "I saw Natalie and asked her if I could talk to you for a few minutes before you get together. She said sheíll meet you in the law review office. Can we please go somewhere quiet for a little while?"

"Sure. Letís go over to one of those benches," he said, pointing to a quiet picnic bench in a grove of pine trees.

She walked her bike as he walked beside her in silence. She climbed up to sit on the table and he sat on the bench so that her head was a little higher than his. "Will you talk to me about how youíre feeling?" she asked gently.

He stared straight ahead for a few moments until he finally said, "Iím confused, Jamie. Iím more confused than Iíve ever been. Were things really so bad for you before? I really thought we were happy, but maybe I was deluding myself."

"No, Jack, thatís not true. I was happy before, we were happy before. And we still have really good times together. I know this is a hard period of adjustment for both of us, but I promise it can be even better when we get through it. I know it seems like Iíve changed an awful lot, but deep down inside I donít think Iíve changed at all. I think I was just afraid to let my real self out before. I was trying to be the woman that my father and mother wanted me to be. Then I wanted to be the woman you wanted. Now Iím just trying to be who I am. I know itís difficult but I think Iím getting to the real me. And in the long run I think thatís the only way you and I can be happy together. We both have to have the freedom to be ourselves."

"Iím not really sure what you mean by freedom," he said slowly. "Have I been stopping you from doing what you want?"

"No, not really," she admitted. "But youíre not always as supportive as I would like. The AIDS ride is really important to me, and you just donít seem to have any interest in how my training is going. And you donít seem interested in my schoolwork. You used to ask me questions about my classes, but you donít anymore."

He looked down at the ground for a few moments as he pondered this. "Youíre right. I havenít been supportive. Itís just that since Ryan is so intrinsically involved in the ride I try to steer clear of the topic. I donít think weíve ever discussed her without a fight, so I guess I do avoid asking you about it just to keep the peace."

"But we canít live like that, Jack. You have to be able to tell me when things bother you, it doesnít help to avoid topics."

He looked at her for a moment and nodded his head slowly. "Okay, Jamie, I think that Ryanís continued influence is harming our relationship. I would feel much better and more secure if you would stop seeing her."

She took in a deep breath before she replied. "Thatís not talking about your feelings, Jack. Thatís just telling me what to do," she explained. "I want you to talk about how my friendship with Ryan affects you. But I canít stop seeing her just because it bothers you. What if it bothered you that I was in college? Should I drop out?"

"If you chose to go to college in New Zealand or Japan, and we could never see each other, and I couldnít afford to talk to you on the phone? Yes, you should drop out if it was harming our relationship. Iím not asking you to get my approval over all of your friends. Iím just telling you that this particular friend is a real threat."

"But sheís not, Jack! Thatís the point. Sheís only harming our relationship because you perceive that she does." She reached down and rested her hand on his shoulder as she looked into his eyes. "This is just the type of issue that weíre going to have again and again in our relationship. There are going to be choices we make that the other is not going to be happy with. But this is me. I have needs just like you do. And one of my primary needs is for the freedom to chose my friends and my activities."

He looked up at her in reflective silence for a few minutes. He gazed at her face carefully, starting with her eyes. She felt like she was on display but she allowed the discomfort since he seemed to need to do this. "Okay," he finally said. "I think Iím finally starting to understand. This isnít just some temporary thing. You are just showing me for the first time who you really are. And it seems that one of the things thatís most different is your independence. You want to be able to make your own decisions without regard for how it affects me or your parents. Right?"

"Well, I wouldnít say without regard, but thatís essentially correct. I need to do the things that are important to me even if the people that I love arenít that crazy about them."

"Like when you told Stephanie that you werenít going to have children for several years," he said by way of another example.

"Exactly," she said, happy that he was finally beginning to understand. "I know thatís something that we havenít really talked about but I want to go to grad school, or spend a few years writing. I donít think Iíll be ready to have kids for at least 5 years."

"I see," he said rather neutrally. "Well, it is your body, so I guess the decision rests with you."

"Well, no, not completely, Jack. Your opinion matters too. Either of us has veto power over something like that. We both have to say yes at the same time. I wouldnít get pregnant if you didnít think you were ready yet," she explained.

"Okay," he said. "I think I understand. I need to go see Natalie now, soÖ"

"Are we okay?" she asked tentatively.

"Iím glad you came down, Jamie. I appreciate that you went out of your way to clear some things up," he said as he reached up to kiss her lightly. "Iíll see you later," he said as he got up and strode away.

Did that go well? she wondered. He seemed so flat, but he did sound like he finally understood my point. I guess time will tell.

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

When he arrived home they discussed neither Jamieís birthday nor their subsequent fight. As usual, we ignore the things that cause the most strain in our relationship. It amazes me that he still hasnít asked why she was in my bed. If another man slept with him Iíd like to know why! They spent their evening as they usually did. Jamie made dinner and later watched a movie while Jack read. When they went to bed he made love to her, but she could tell that he was not very emotionally connected. Normally he spent a lot of time looking into her eyes while they made love. But this time he broke off eye contact just a few moments after he entered her. He buried his head in her shoulder and just pumped away, almost like he was forcing himself to finish. She did not have an orgasm and for the first time that she could remember he was not concerned about that fact. When he was finished he merely kissed her on the cheek and wrapped his arms around her. He was asleep in moments but she was awake for hours, feeling partially aroused and rather lonely even in his embrace.

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

On Saturday night they went to her parents home together. Jack looked very handsome in a navy blue double breasted blazer over a white long sleeved golf shirt. Gray flannel pleated slacks finished his look. Jamie was dressed in a short, sleek dress of nubby silk in a deep burnt umber. The deep earth color complimented her golden hair and showed off the tan she had obtained from her frequent bike rides.

Catherine greeted them at the door. She was obviously over her pique at Jamie as she kissed her cheek and gave her a firm hug. Jim came down the stairs moments later, giving Jamie a hug and a kiss as well.

They chatted about law review and Jack's recently completed finals. Jim was working on a case that had been in the news and he and Jack discussed it in detail. After a while Catherine asked what Jamie had done on her actual birthday. She casually replied that she had gone out for a drink with friends, noticing Jack's discomfort at the topic. She did not elaborate and they did not pursue the topic.

After a delicious dinner, Catherine brought out several small boxes as Marta presented a lovely white cake with coconut frosting, Jamie's favorite. Her mother had purchased a lovely pair of emerald earrings, the stones fashioned in a brilliant cut, nestled in simple gold collars. The earrings were lovely and they looked fantastic when Jamie put them on.

Her father gave her the thinnest watch that she had ever seen. Its solid gold case was no more than 1/8 inch. It was waterproof and shock resistant which made her happy as she thought about wearing it while working out and riding. It had a woven gold bracelet that hung a little loosely on her small wrist. Engraved on the back was 'Happy 21st, Love, Daddy'.

Jamie was terribly pleased with the gifts and she thanked both of her parents profusely. They told her of their travails and different choices available to them in deciding on the gifts. After a little while Catherine handed Jamie an envelope. Inside was a first class ticket to Florence via Air Italia. "I want to take you to a wonderful new exhibit at the Ufizzi," Catherine said with excitement in her voice. "Iíve seen so little of you this year I thought it would be a great way to reconnect a little bit."

Jamie's pleasure turned to dismay when she noted the departure and return dates. "Oh Mother, this is so thoughtful, but I'm not free during these weeks," she lamented.

"Of course you can be free Jamie. School will be out by then, I checked myself."

"Mother, I told you about the bike ride I'm participating in," she explained. "My ride is right in the middle of this trip."

"Jamie, I thought I made it clear that I didn't want you to do that ride," Catherine said slowly.

At this point Jim interrupted. "I don't know anything about a bike ride," he said with a confused look on his face.

"As I told Mother I committed to riding in the California AIDS ride this year, Daddy. It begins on June 6th and ends on the 12th."

"Where are you riding to, New York?" he asked in surprise.

"No, silly, it's from San Francisco to Los Angeles. This year almost 3000 people are going to participate," she explained.

Catherine interrupted, "Jim have you ever heard of anything more dangerous or fool hearty? You know what Highway 1 is like. I'm afraid she'll be killed!"

Jim regarded his daughter for a long while. He cast a glance at Jack who seemed to be studying the pattern of the Oriental rug. "Is this something you are preparing for properly, Jamie?" he asked slowly.

"Yes, Daddy. I bought the right kind of bike, I've been working out in a gym with a trainer and I'm riding about 100 miles a week now," she stated confidently.

"What do you think of this, Jack?" he asked.

"Jamie makes her own decisions, Jim," he said without much enthusiasm.

"Catherine, I think that Jamie is old enough now that she can make her own decisions in matters such as these. I trust her judgment and this seems like a good character building experience." He smiled at his now grinning daughter, "How does this benefit people with AIDS?"

"Every rider pledges to raise at least $2500. The money I raise will go to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. People who live in Southern California donate their pledges to the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center. Both of those groups give direct care to people living with AIDS," she said knowledgeably.

"Catherine, I think you should allow Jamie to decide if she wants to go to Europe with you this summer. If she chooses not to go, perhaps she can turn that ticket in and donate the money to her ride," he said with twinkling eyes.

Jamie jumped off her chair and trotted over to her father. She wrapped her arms around his neck and whispered into his ear, "I knew you would understand. Thank you, Daddy."

As she pulled back he laid his hand on her cheek and smiled up at her with admiration. "I'm proud of you, Cupcake," he said as he used a favorite childhood nickname. He turned to Jack and beamed, "This one has a ton of determination, doesn't she Jack?"

"Yes Sir, she certainly does," he replied somewhat stiffly.

Catherine finally relented and agreed that Jamie could use the ticket however she chose. She was firm in her resolve to worry as much as she wanted, however. "I still think of you as my little girl, Jamie. I'm having a hard time letting go, I guess."

Jamie walked over to her mother and kissed her cheek. "I don't want you to let me go completely," she smiled. "Just let me make my own decisions."

"It is so hard for me to believe that you'll be married in a little over a year. But I suppose you can decide to ride a bike if you can decide to get married," Catherine laughed.

Jack had been nearly silent during this whole interchange. He finally spoke up to tell Jamie that he had a present for her back at his apartment. She found that a bit odd, but happily nodded her assent.

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

At around 10 o'clock the young couple was on their way back to Palo Alto. Jack was silent on the ride home. Jamie noticed that he looked very tired and that his movements were not as smooth and graceful as usual.

When they arrived at the apartment Jamie was surprised that Jack did not immediately change into his sleepwear. He sat down on the couch and looked at her with a blank expression on his face. She was very uncomfortable with his attitude and she sat next to him on the couch as she took his limp hand in hers. "Honey, are you all right?" she asked hesitantly.

In a flat voice, he responded "Don't you want your gift?"

"Um, sure, if you want to give it to me," she said unsteadily as her heart started to pound strongly in her chest.

"I'm giving you what you most want, Jamie. I'm giving you your freedom," he said as he stared at her with emotionless blue eyes.

"H...h...how are you giving me freedom," she replied, already knowing the answer.

"I'm giving you the freedom to live your life exactly as you wish. You no longer have to answer to me. You no longer have to be concerned with my feelings. You are officially a free woman, Jamie. Congratulations."

"Jack, please don't do this," she begged on a quavering voice. "It doesn't have to be like this, sweetheart."

"Yes it does, Jamie. I just don't feel the way I used to feel about you. You've become a different person." He slowly looked at her right in her sea green eyes as he delivered the knock out punch, enunciating clearly. "I don't like that person."

Jamie rose on shaking legs to stare at him as she backed away from the couch. "Is there anything I can do to make you change your mind?" she finally choked out.

"No, Jamie. I realized last night when we had sex that I'm just not in love with you any more," he said, rather flatly.

She could feel her ire rise as her eye narrowed dangerously. "Did you realize that before, during or after we had sex, Jack?" she spat out in anger.

"During," he said through gritted teeth. "I tried to connect with you, Jamie. But as usual you looked like you would just as soon have been riding your bike as making love."

Jamie used every bit of control that she had left in her shaking body to refrain from hurling an insult back at him. She knew from the look in his eyes that his love for her was gone. She felt her control start to take over as she slowly, sadly, and thoughtfully removed his grandmothersí engagement ring from her left hand and handed it to him. "You're right, Jack" she said slowly, "You do deserve someone who can please you. I'm just sorry that it couldn't be me." With that she turned and went to the bedroom to pack her bag.

When she returned to the living room he was sitting right where she had left him with silent tears running down his cheeks. His eyes stared at the floor, unfocused. She stood by the couch and looked down on his face, as she touched his cheek with her palm. After a moment she leaned over and kissed him one last time, whispering as she rose, "I'm sorry, Jack. I'm truly sorry."

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

She didn't want to do it, she really didn't. But she just had no other option. It was nearly midnight but it was Saturday night and there was a good chance that she was still out. But she just had to call her. She dialed the pager number from memory.

Minutes later the smooth deep voice came through the little phone, "What's wrong?" more of a statement than a question.

"Are you busy right now?" was the hesitant reply.

"No, I'm just trying to get to sleep after a very frustrating evening with Tracy," Ryan replied.

"Did you have a fight?" was Jamie's concerned response.

"Not that kind of frustrating," Ryan's voice rumbled out a full octave lower.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I ... I ... I didn't mean to disturb you," Jamie muttered.

"Jamie, I'm teasing you. Now please tell me what's wrong," she said, the concern evident in her voice.

"Jack justÖbroke up with me," she sobbed in reply.

"Oh God, Jamie, Iím so sorry to hear that," she soothed. "Where are you?"

"Iím in Palo Alto, sitting in my car," she sobbed.

"Jamie, itís not a good idea to drive when youíre upset. I can come get you wherever you are."

"No, I can drive," she said as she continued to sob. "It just hurts so much," she wailed as she had to pull over to the curb. She was overcome by wracking, deep sobs that felt like they were being pulled from her body. She continued to cry without a pause for several minutes. Ryan was very concerned since she didnít really know where she was. She couldnít hear much background noise so she was obviously not on the freeway, but she really wanted to go get her.

"Jamie, Jamie," she said loudly. "Where are you?"

"Iím just about to get on the freeway," she said weakly.

"Iím going to come get you," Ryan said firmly. "I donít want you to drive in this condition."

"Iíll be okay. I donít want to just sit here and wait for you."

"Could you go to your parents?"

"No, thatís the last place I want to be tonight. I just want to go home," she said as the sobs began again.

"Please let me come get you," Ryan begged. "Iíll be crazy with worry if you drive home."

"How about if I drive but stay on the phone. Would you feel better then?"

"Call me back in 5 minutes. I want to get dressed in case you canít make it," she said as she switched off. Damn him, damn him to hell! He breaks up with her at midnight and then lets her get into her car and drive all the way home!

Ryan was sitting on the front stairs of her house in navy blue sweats and a long sleeved red t-shirt when Jamie pulled up 30 minutes later. She was exhausted emotionally from trying to keep her friend focused on the long drive, and her constant pacing made her feel like she had made the trip by foot. She approached the car as Jamie killed the engine and squatted down by the driver's door as she opened it. "You can stay here tonight or I'll drive you home. I want you to think about where you'd feel more comfortable," she said soothingly.

"Can I stay here with you?" she uttered through her tears.

"Absolutely," Ryan replied firmly. "For as long as you like." She stood and offered her hand to Jamie. When her friend was firmly on her feet Ryan slipped her arms around her and hugged her close. They stood like that on the street for many long minutes. Finally, Ryan pulled back and guided the distraught woman up the stairs.

Ryan was the only one home. She led Jamie into the kitchen to make her one of her famous hot cocoa drinks. As the milk was heating up Ryan asked her if she had any other clothes. Jamie nodded silently and started toward the door to get her bag. Ryan pulled her back onto a stool and instructed her to watch the milk. She trotted out to the car to retrieve the small suitcase and was back in the house before the milk began to boil.

Jamie went downstairs to change into her pajamas while Ryan finished the drinks. She carried two big mugs with her as she settled herself on the bed. Minutes later Jamie emerged from the bathroom still in her dress, crying inconsolably. "I only have one of Jack's t-shirts, " she held up the light blue garment. "I can't bear to smell him," she sobbed violently as she bent over, wrapping her arms around her stomach.

Ryan had learned this early warning signal and she jumped up to steady her friend. "Are you going to be sick?" she asked soothingly.

A silent bobbing head was her answer. She came up behind Jamie and quickly unzipped her dress. She slid it down her slim body and helped her step out of it. Then guided her over to the toilet and supported her as she fell to her knees and began to retch violently. Ryan knelt down right next to her, with reassuring hands around her heaving waist. When all of the contents of her stomach had been expelled Jamie was stark white and sweating. Ryan dropped the lid and maneuvered her so she was sitting on the seat. She grabbed a washcloth and ran cold water over it for a moment then squatted down in front of Jamie and began to wipe her face and neck with the cool cloth. When she was fairly certain that the nausea had subsided she guided her over to the bed and sat her down.

She dashed over to her dresser and pulled out a long sleeved white t-shirt. Dashing back to the bed she slipped the gathered garment over her head. She reached behind her back and unhooked her bra, slipping the delicate lace off her shoulders and in nearly a single move managed to slide her limp arms into the long sleeves and pulled the hem down.

Jamie looked a bit better now. Her color was returning and Ryan was relieved at the thought that she would probably not pass out. Ryan pulled her up onto the bed and placed a few pillows behind her head. She debated whether to offer her the cocoa at this point. She had slipped a healthy shot of Bailey's into the drink and she was concerned that the alcohol would further irritate her delicate stomach. Nonetheless, she held up the mug in front of Jamie's eyes. "What do you think?" she inquired.

Jamie reached for the still steaming mug and swallowed a mouthful. "I think it'll be okay," she said as she savored the steaming concoction. They sat in companionable silence as they sipped their drinks. Ryan did not want to rush her, so she allowed her friend to go at her own pace. After a good half-hour of reflective silence Jamie was ready.

"You know, I'm mostly sad, but there is a small part of me that is so angry at him that I can hardly see straight. I think that's the part that is making my stomach hurt," she pondered.

"Why are you angry?" Ryan inquired.

"I think he said something just to hurt me," she replied sadly. "I've never known him to do that and it just made me question what kind of a man he is."

"Do you want to tell me about it?" Ryan asked gently.

"Yeah, I guess so," she replied. "He told me that he realized that he didn't love me anymore while we were having sex on Friday night," she blushed deeply at revealing this intimacy. "I asked him at what point did he arrive at this conclusion, before, during or after sex." She sighed deeply, "He said during!" she gasped out as she began to cry again.

Ryan wrapped her arms around her friend and began to rock her gently. After long minutes she was able to continue. "It just made me feel so violated!" she cried. "I thought we were making love while he was planning on breaking up with me." She heaved a few more deep sighs, "Could you continue having sex if you had that realization, Ryan?"

Fuck no! she wanted to scream. I would never have sex just to satisfy myself! But instead she soothed, "I don't know that I can answer that Jamie. Except for Sara I've never had sex with someone I love. It's impossible for me to be able to put myself in his place. But I can empathize with how that made you feel," she said sincerely as she continued to rock her softly. "I'm certainly not on Jack's side here, but there is a chance that he was just lashing out at you for hurting him. You might feel better if you don't try to understand his motivations, and just let yourself feel the hurt," she said tenderly.

Jamie nodded her agreement as she tried to let go of her anger. But she quickly realized that the anger was helping her stay afloat. As she felt it ebb she was overcome with sadness. She rested her head on Ryan's chest and let herself reflect on the 3 years they had together. Images of Jack flooded her mind; his smile, the way he cocked his head when he was interested in something, his quick mind, his long lean body, the way he smiled at her in pleasure after she climaxed. There were so many sweet and loving things he had done for her it became impossible to focus on this one betrayal. But the sorrow was so overpowering that she felt too weak to bear it. Only Ryan's strong arms and powerful body kept her grounded.

It was nearly 2 a.m. when she began to feel a little more in control. For the past 10 minutes or so Ryan had been softly humming into her ear. The melody was gentle and smooth as the vibrations rumbled through her body. Finally she asked, "What are you humming?"

Ryan paused for so long that Jamie was unsure if she was going to answer. "A song that my mother used to sing to me," she finally said, in just above a whisper.

"And you remember it after so long?" Jamie inquired gently.

"Yeah, it's the only one I really remember," she sadly admitted. "She sang it as a lullaby. I'm sure I heard it hundreds of times." After a very long pause she finally asked, "Would you like me to sing it for you? It always worked to make me feel better."

"I would love it," Jamie replied simply. "I've never had anyone sing me to sleep," she admitted shyly.

"Then we're even because I've never sung this for anyone," she revealed.

Ryan pulled down the covers and got Jamie all snuggled in. She slipped off her own sweats and nestled close. She fluffed the pillows and had her friend adjust them to her taste. When she was in her favorite sleep position lying on her left side Ryan snuggled up against her back as she wrapped an arm around her and began to sing the tune.

"It's a cold old world that we're walking through

they ought to tell you from the start.

But it's warm as toast, walking two by two

lay down the burdens of your heart"

"Lay down the burdens of your heart

I know you'll never miss them

Just show me, Angel, where it hurts

And let your Mama kiss it."

"It's a fine, fine line between love and hate,

it's hard to tell the two apart

But what strength I have, I offer you

Lay down the burdens of your heart"

As Ryan began the refrain again, Jamie was soothed into slumber. Her last conscious thought as she drifted off was of the bone deep connection she felt for this woman. There is no safer place on earth than in her arms.

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

She felt Ryan slip out of bed just after the sun came up. Not one molecule in her body wanted to follow her friend so she slipped back into sleep easily. At around 9 her body demanded that she answer its call and she slowly stirred. She heard a soft chuckle from behind and she sleepily turned and saw a smiling Ryan, sitting at her desk, in her underwear, pouring over her books. "I didn't wake you, did I?" she asked.

"No, I didn't hear a thing. How long have you been up?" she asked through a yawn.

"About 3 hours," Ryan replied after checking her watch. "Duffy and I went on a run, then I made breakfast for the boys and I've been studying for about an hour," she said.

"What time is it?" Jamie inquired after shaking the fog from her brain.

"It's just after 9. What can I make you for breakfast? You name it."

"Something bland would be good. I'm still a little queasy," she admitted. "I think I'm going to go to Mass at 10:30." She stretched languidly and asked, "Do you want to go with me?"

"UmÖI will if you need me to," Ryan replied after a brief hesitation. "I have plans to have brunch with Tracy, but I'm sure she wouldn't mind if we shifted it to a late lunch. Actually," she said as she rose and went to the phone. "Let me call her and cancel. I think I need to stay close to you today."

"No, Ryan, really. I'm fine going alone. I'll call my grandfather and see if he can spend some time with me after the service. You go meet your girlfriend," she said as she climbed out of bed and patted Ryan on the shoulder. She walked a step or two before she turned back and wrapped her arms around Ryan's neck and gave her a strong squeeze. "I can't thank you enough for last night. I honestly don't know what I would have done without you."

Ryan leaned her head down to rest on Jamieís entwined arms and gave her a gentle pat. "I'm glad you called, Jamie. Now go get ready while I get your breakfast."

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

Jamie was amazed at the array of items in front of her place at the table. There was a large bowl of slow cooked oatmeal, a small pitcher of cream, bowls of brown and white sugar, a bowl of raisins, a cut up banana and a tiny bowl of blueberries. "I wasn't sure what you liked on your oatmeal, so I brought out everything," she said logically.

"I usually have what Mr. Quaker gives me," she replied with a gentle shake of her head. "I'm unfamiliar with all of these options. What do you recommend?"

"I am a fan of cream, brown sugar, banana and blueberries," she replied. "May I?" she asked as she picked up the bowl of oatmeal.

Jamie nodded her assent as Ryan got to work mixing the ingredients one by one until the dish had the proper consistency. She presented it with a flourish and was very pleased by Jamie's compliments.

"I don't think I've ever had oatmeal before," she mumbled through a large mouthful of the delicious cereal.

Conor came in just then and sniffed appreciatively. "Oooh, oatmeal. Is there any more?" He walked over to Jamie and kissed the top of her head as he gave her a firm hug. She leaned back against him from her position on the kitchen stool as he maintained the contact. It was obvious that Ryan had told him what happened, but equally obvious that he was more comfortable giving her physical comfort than verbal. She patted his hands as he drew away.

Ryan came back with two more bowls filled with the warm dish. She placed one in front of Conor and the other in front of an empty stool. Moments later Rory poked his head in inquiring, "Oatmeal?" as all three laughed.

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

As Jamie was leaving Ryan inquired, "What are you doing after you speak with your grandfather?"

"I guess I'll just go home," was the sad little reply. "I've got some reading to do for school."

Ryan moved around so that she was facing her friend. She squatted down a tiny bit so that she could look directly into her sad green eyes. "I'd feel better if you came back here," she said somberly. "You've got your books with you, don't you?"

When Jamie admitted that she did indeed, Ryan persisted. "I want to see you again today. My date will be over by 3 at the latest. Why don't you come back here and study?"

"I don't know, Ryan. I might feel a little uncomfortable with you not here," she replied with a tiny bit of hesitation.

"Let me ask Conor if he'll be home. If you're lonely he can keep you company or you can go to my room and read." When Jamie hesitated Ryan played her trump card, "Will you do it as a favor to me? If you wonít come over Iíll have to come to your house to check on you. It will save me a lot of driving."

"Like I could refuse to do you a favor, huh? Very sneaky Ms. O'Flaherty, very sneaky indeed," Jamie teased her as she easily saw through the ruse.

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

As they had arranged, Rev. Evans waited for Jamie in the Sacristy after Mass. He was in very good spirits and was happy to see his only granddaughter. But one look at her forlorn face immediately alerted him that something major was amiss. "Do you want to tell me what's wrong now, or over lunch?" he asked as he gave her a hug.

"Over lunch I think," she replied. "It's gonna take a while." They walked next door to the small house that the church provided. The housekeeper had made them a nice lunch before she left for the day and as they sat down at the kitchen table Rev. Evans placed his hand on Jamie's and said, "Tell me what's wrong, Sweetheart."

Before she could even attempt to stop them the tears started to flow. Jamie could not remember crying like this in front of her grandfather but he patiently waited until she was able to speak. Finally, she was able to say, "Jack broke off our engagement, Poppa."

"Oh, Jamie, I'm so sorry. What a sad thing for both of you," he said with sympathy. "Tell me what happened."

"Well, we haven't been getting along great since the school year started. We just fight about little things, and we had never done that before," she related.

"I must admit that surprises me, Jamie. I honestly never saw any tension between you two."

"Maybe that's part of the problem," she ventured. "Neither one of us is very good at showing how we feel," she reflected. "Anyway, it's been getting worse lately. He's gotten very jealous and he really doesn't like one of my friends."

When Rev. Evans looked confused Jamie explained, "Remember Ryan who is training me for the ride?" At his nod, she continued, "Jack doesn't like me to see her, and it had become a big issue. I don't think the issue is really Ryan though. I just don't think he liked the fact that I did something against his wishes."

"Do you really think he called off your marriage just because he didn't like your friend? That just doesn't seem like Jack."

"Part of it is that, but another part is that I was spending lots of time with Ryan, even though it didn't interfere with our time together. He didn't like the fact that I was doing this ride, and he didn't like the changes in my body," she blushed a bit as she said this.

"Still, Jamie, that is a drastic action over some minor issues. Is this really everything? What specifically doesn't he like about Ryan?"

"I think it's mostly that she's a lesbian," she admitted. "He thinks that hanging out with a lesbian is exactly like hanging out with another man. I've got to admit, I've been disappointed in his attitudes about gay people, Poppa."

"As you know, that's not a uncommon reaction, Jamie." He paused to look at her carefully. "Do your parents know your friend?"

"Um..no, Iíve never taken her home."

"But youíve been at her home," he said with a tiny frown. "Quite often if I recall."

"Yes," she said as she smiled. "Her family has just about adopted me."

"Why havenít you introduced her to your family, Honey?"

"Mainly because Daddy agrees that I should stop seeing Ryan because Jack doesn't like her. He doesn't understand why I would make Jack unhappy over a friend," she replied.

He leaned back in his chair and nodded briefly. "Do your friends like Ryan?" he persisted.

"Well, Cassie hates her. She is part of the reason this got so bad with Jack. She's been trying to get him upset about Ryan and she's been very successful," she admitted disgustedly. "But Mia likes her a lot. She's even hired her to train with."

"I want you to think about the next question carefully Jamie. You tell me that your fiancé has broken up with you over her, your father agrees with him and one of your closest friends hates this woman. Is there something about her to create this emotion or are they all just narrow minded?"

Jamie did as he suggested. She was deep in thought for several minutes. Finally she replied, "I think Ryan is the sweetest, most thoughtful, most kind person I've ever met. I swear there is nothing about Ryan that isn't a positive force on my life. I really think they've just jumped to conclusions because she's gay, Poppa."

He let out a breath and rubbed the bridge of his nose in a frustrated gesture. "Well, it wouldnít be the first time that people had an irrational reaction to a lesbian." He shook his head a little and turned to gaze thoughtfully at his granddaughter. "How do you feel about her Jamie?" he asked carefully.

Jamie began to turn red as she realized that she had to tell everything. "I feel safe with her. She's my best friend and I treasure every moment we share. She is just the most extraordinary person I've ever met."

Rev. Evans leaned over and gently grasped Jamieís hand. He gave her a small smile as he said, "Seeing how your face lights up when you talk about her could be part of the issue, Jamie. Perhaps Jack felt that he had to compete against her. And maybe he thought that he would lose."

"What do you mean, Poppa?" she nearly gasped.

"Describing her as the most extraordinary person youíve ever met doesnít leave much room at the top for Jack, does it Honey?" he asked gently.

A deep sigh preceded her answer. "No, I suppose not," she replied glumly. "But she really is remarkable, Poppa. Sheís helped me change and grow in so many ways. And I just couldnít give her up. Not for Jackónot for anyone!"

After a moment spent gazing at her face he asked, "Do you have romantic feelings for her, Sweetheart?"

The blush that flew to every exposed inch of her skin was a dead giveaway. "Um, I...I...I guess the thought has crossed my mind," she admitted rather weakly. "She is incredibly attractive and I have had aÖromantic dream about her. But that is really recent. I havenít had any thought about leaving Jack for her, I swear! I love her, Poppa, but just because I love her doesnít mean Iím in love with her does it?"

"Of course not. Itís entirely possible to form a very close and loving attachment to a friend. But you say that you have recently been thinking about her in a different manner," he reminded her. "Tell me more about that."

"I guess itís just snuck up on me," she said slowly. "IÖI actually kissed her on my birthday," she admitted with a furious blush. "But it was just one kiss and we didnít even talk about it afterwards. Weíve slept in the same bed twice since then and nothing has happened so I think it was just kind of a fluke."

"Do you think it is within the realm of possibility that Jack could have picked up on your changing feelings?" he asked.

"What? That I kissed her?"

"No, Honey," he said. "Could he have picked up on the fact that your feelings are beginning to deepen?"

"Iím not sure that they have deepened, Poppa. Iím just so confused," she moaned. "I suppose it's possible that Jack noticed something. But he disliked her from the very beginning, Poppa, long before I knew her well at all."

"Besides this thing with Ryan, how are you getting along with your parents?" he asked.

"Not great. Mother is very unhappy about my involvement with the AIDS ride. Daddy actually defended me last night that really made me feel better, but I just don't think the issue is dead. And Iím worried about their reaction to Jackís breaking up with me. Iím sure theyíll blame me."

"Anything else?" he persisted.

"I just feel like I'm growing up all at once, Poppa. I'm making decisions for myself and no one is supporting me. They still think of me as a child, and I think Jack did too," she added.

"How have you been feeling, honey? Is this all bothering you a lot?"

"Yeah, it really has. My sleep has been way off and I can't seem to keep my weight up. You know how I get my nervous stomach? It's been a lot more nervous than normal and that contributes to the weight loss," she admitted. "Iím down to less than I weighed when I entered high school."

"Have you ever considered seeing a counselor, Jamie? I think this would be a great time to get some professional help with these issues," he opined.

"Can't you help me? You always have before," she asked with a look that reflected both fear and surprise.

"No, Honey, I'm too involved. I don't think you have any terrible secrets just waiting to jump out at you, Jamie. But I do think you're going through a tough time dealing with some very adult matters, and I think you could use some help. What do you think?"

"I guess that's a good idea," she replied a bit hesitantly. "Can you help me find someone?"

"Sure, I have a couple of referrals. I really think this will help, Jamie. Give it a little time and I guarantee you'll feel better. Now lets try to get some of this lunch into you," he said affectionately.

 

Chapter 14

At around 2:30 she pulled up in front of the house in the Noe Valley. She knocked on the door and Conor came to answer. "Hi. How was church?" he asked brightly.

"It was good. What have you been up to?" she replied.

"Rory and I are watching the Warriors on TV. Ryan just got home. Go on down if you want," he said.

She started down the stairs but paused as she reached the open door. Jamie stood in open mouthed shock at the scene in front of her. Ryan was lying half on the bed, with her new pants around her ankles. She had on her standard knit boxers but this pair was bright white. Tracy was straddling her waist and was bent over her prey kissing her in a thoroughly erotic manner. Ryan's wrists were pinned down securely by Tracy's hands, and the smaller woman was slowly undulating her hips in a lust filled pattern. Ryan seemed to be struggling a bit but just as Jamie turned to go back upstairs she heard her friend utter a long, low moan that turned her knees to rubber. She had to place her hand on the wall to steady herself, but she was able to climb the stairs and reach the safety of the living room. She found herself standing in the kitchen when she heard Martin come in the front door.

Doing her best to compose her face she went out to greet him. "Hi, Martin," she said lightly.

"Ah, Jamie. I hoped that was your little car I spotted out in front," he said as he came over to give her a hug. "What are you girls up to today?" he inquired.

"Nothing much. I just got here. I had been at church and Ryan went to brunch with Tracy. I think she's downstairs changing or something," she said, just lying a little.

"Does she know you're here?" he inquired. "Go on down if you like."

"No, no," she responded immediately. "I'll just wait until she's finished."

"Let me get you a drink or a little something to eat, Jamie," he said as he regarded her thoughtfully. "You're still losing weight arenít you?" he said after a moment. "Are you still troubled by the attack?"

"No, itís not that. I've been having kind of a hard time, and I have trouble with my stomach when I'm upset."

"What's troubling you, lass?" he inquired as he brushed her cheek with his palm.

"My fiancé broke off our engagement last night," she replied shakily as a few tears started to stream down her face.

"You poor little thing," he said soothingly as he wrapped her in his arms. For reasons she could not understand Jamie felt completely comfortable resting her head on his chest and letting out her feelings. "That man must be daft to let a prize like you get away."

"Thanks, Martin," she said softly as she pulled away. "That really does make me feel better."

At that moment Ryan and Tracy came in to the kitchen, hand in hand. Martin greeted them both as Jamie struggled to erase the image burned into her brain. Finally, she was able to say hello in a fairly normal tone of voice.

Ryan looked at her quizzically as she asked, "Have you been here long?"

"No, just a few minutes," she fibbed. "I was just chatting with Martin here," she said as she smiled at him.

He smiled back as he replied, "I'm going to go change out of my uniform. Try to get this one to eat a bite or two will you, Darlin?" as he addressed Ryan.

"I try, Da. I really do," she said as she grinned at her friend.

Tracy came over to Jamie as Martin left the room. She placed her hand on her shoulder and looked directly into her eyes. "I'm really sorry to hear about your breakup, Jamie. I really feel for you."

"Thanks, Tracy," she replied, still a little shaky.

Tracy went back to Ryan's side and smiled sweetly at her. "I've got to go study, Sweetie. I had a very good time at brunch."

Ryan placed two of her fingers on Tracy's chin. She slowly lifted her head as she softly touched her lips with her own. Both kept their eyes open and Tracy's mouth broke into a grin as Ryan pulled away. The kiss was completely chaste, no more than a light touch. But Jamie felt like she had witnessed a terribly private moment. She felt an ache of emotion flood through her chest at the tenderness of the contact. And right at that moment, she knew. She was as sure as she had ever been about anything in her life. No qualms, no doubts. She wanted Ryan. She wanted to be with her, to touch her, to love her. She felt herself begin to become aroused thinking about how she wanted to touch her and be touched. Her dream came back in full force and she had to close her eyes to concentrate on remaining centered.

She heard herself say goodbye to Tracy and she knew that she was now alone with Ryan. She wasn't sure who moved first but in seconds she was wrapped in Ryan's arms, holding on tight. But this hug felt different from all the other hugs she had received from her friend. She allowed herself to really feel Ryan this time. She inhaled deeply to imprint her scent; she felt her warm breath tickle the side of her face. She focused on the soft firmness of her breasts as they pressed against her chest. This is what I want! I want this woman!

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

The rest of the day passed in a fog. She knew they had all eaten dinner together. She knew they spent the evening in Ryan's room, studying. Rather, Ryan studied as she tried to force herself to look at her books, instead of daydreaming about the beautiful creature sitting mere feet from her, clad only in her underwear.

As the evening wore on Jamie watched Ryan repeatedly shove her dark hair behind her ears in an irritated gesture. Since her entire focus was on her lovely friend she automatically found herself standing behind her and gently pulling the dark tresses back into a ponytail. But the silky hair felt so fabulous in her hands that she unconsciously began to run her fingers through it, starting at the scalp and extending all along the length. A deeply contented murmur of satisfaction greeted her ministrations, which only served to encourage her. She continued her stroking until Ryan sleepily mumbled, "Two more minutes and Iím out."

Her eyes flew open as she stared down at her hands in amazement. She was fully conscious but she had no memory of getting off the bed and beginning to rub her friendís beautiful head. She stood there with her fingers entwined in the dark hair, not able to reply in any fashion. Slowly, Ryan turned her head and Jamie felt the silky threads fall gently from her hands, one lock at a time. Ryan gave her a gentle smile and asked, "Are you having a tough time concentrating tonight?"

Jamie tried to control the blush that was rapidly traveling up her neck. "Yeah, I guess I am. I've just had so much on my mind that it's really hard to focus."

"Is there a lot you need to do for class?" she inquired.

"No, I'm actually pretty caught up. I studied a lot on Friday night, so I'm just trying to stay ahead."

"Why don't we go for a walk? I'm about to go cross-eyed from looking at these chem problems. If you feel up to it we could walk over to the Castro and get some ice cream."

"How far is that?" Jamie asked suspiciously, knowing that Ryan's athletic capacity far exceeded hers.

"It's about a 20 minute walk, at a leisurely pace, " she replied. "I guarantee it's not too far for you."

They got their shoes and sweatshirts on and stepped out into the foggy, damp evening. There was not another person in sight and the streets were likewise deserted. The fog seemed to muffle every sound from the neighborhood and Jamie felt like they were all alone even though they were in the middle of a very large city. Ryan slipped her arm around her shoulders and said, "I'm so sorry that things are hard for you right now, Jamie."

Jamie just smiled up at her friend, happy for the closeness. She reached up with her right hand and held onto Ryanís dangling hand, pressing it into her shoulder. They walked for another few minutes before Jamie asked, "You seem to get along with Tracy really well. How do you think it's going?"

Ryan's eyebrows gathered in concentration. After a moment she cocked her head slightly and said, "I'm not sure, to tell you the truth. I thought a long walk might actually clear my mind enough to let me consider how itís going." She pursed her lips together and allowed her forehead to crease into a little frown. "Iím not up for talking about her right now though. Letís talk about you."

"Ugh," she grunted in obvious disgust. "I thought a walk might take my mind off my stuff." Looking up at Ryan she quirked her mouth into a grin and observed, "So both of us have things on our minds that are obviously bothering us but neither wants to talk about it. Thatís a switch."

"Yeah, I guess it is," she agreed with a little nod, not rising to the bait.

"Well, letís talk about where weíre going," Jamie suggested. "Iíve never been to the Castro you know."

Ryan stopped short and stared at her. "You havenít?! I thought they brought bus loads of straight children up here to observe the natives in their habitat!"

Jamie laughed at her exaggerated antics. "Nope. I missed this on the cultural tour. I guess I just never had a reason to come here. Thereís no museum, gallery, symphony, or outstanding restaurant here is there?"

"Nope. Although I think ĎHot Ďn Hunky Hamburgersí is worth a trip."

"Riiiight," she agreed. "Sounds just like my motherís kind of place. No, for living so close to The City we didnít come up for anything other than restaurants, sporting events, or culture. We actually didnít do a lot of investigating the Bay Area. Iíve spent much more time sniffing around Tuscany than I have San Francisco."

"Well, stick with me, Pal, and Iíll introduce you to every dark alley in this town."

"Did your family do a lot of things together in The City?"

"No, not really," she admitted. "Because thereís 6 years between Brendan and I he was involved in sports and school things by the time I was old enough to go out in civilized society. So it was hard to do things that appealed to all of us. We stuck pretty close to home as a family. Our lives centered around our extended family, our parish and our sports teams."

"Then how do you know so much about the back alleys?" she teased.

"Cause as soon as I was old enough to ride my skateboard over these hills I was gone," she said with satisfaction. "I still remember the first time I had the gutsÖor the stupidity to ride down Castro."

Through the fog Jamie saw the steep terrain that they had to descend to reach the main business area of said Castro Street. "YouÖyou rode down this!?"

"Yep. I strapped my little helmet on as tight as I could and let Ďer rip! My heart was in my throat the whole time and my legs were shaking so bad I almost fell off but I did it. When I got to the bottom I actually spent a minute feeling my body to make sure I was still in one piece. I was tingling so much that I couldnít really tell!"

"So once you crossed ĎThe Rubiconí there was no stopping you, huh?"

"Nope," she said happily. "I had some buddies from the neighborhood, boys of course, who had to do it since I could. Once we all had our Ďwingsí we just started ranging farther and farther from home. We had passes that let us take MUNI for free so weíd go over to Castro and Market and just jump on the first train. Weíd ride until we got tired of it and get off and ride around until we got bored. Then weíd get back on and head home."

"My God!" she cried. "I had to get advance permission to go to a friendís house, and she lived 3 doors down!"

"Well, Da didnít know a tenth of what I did, and itís better that way. But I remember the first time I got pinched for trespassing down in the Embarcadero."

"The Embarcadero! Thatís miles and miles from here. How old were you?"

"Probably 10 or so," she mused. "Anyway, we were skateboarding down some really cool handicapped ramps some of the big buildings have. The big clothes trend had just barely started and we were all dressed up in our big skateboarding pants and those huge parkas. It was winter and really cold so I had on a stocking cap too. Da would not buy me the big pants of course, so I would swipe Connorís pants when Da was at work and roll them up so I didnít break my neck. Anyway, the pants were too big, even for my purposes and they started to fall down just when the guards started running. My buddies blew out of there but I caught the rolled up hem in a wheel and took a header. One of the guards caught me and started treating me pretty rough, just to teach me a lesson.

"Did he hit you?" she asked in horror.

"No, he was just dragging me by my coat and screaming at me. Anyway, he drags me in the security office and they start to give me the 3rd degree. But I clam up and refuse to talk. I figure theyíll let me go cause Iím just a little girl, right?"

"Wrong?" she asked tentatively.

"Wrong indeed! They searched me and found my MUNI pass. It was in my name but they still hadnít figured out I was a girl yet and the pass didnít help! I had to sit in that office with these goons threatening me for hours! They left a message on the machine at home since the number was on my pass and Da finally called at around 6 oíclock. Listening to their end of the conversation was pretty funny," she recalled. "I heard them say, ĎMr. OíFlaherty, we have your son down at #3 Embarcadero. He was caught illegally skateboarding and weíre holding him prior to sending him to the Youth Authority.í "

Jamie was horrified at the rough treatment that her friend had been subjected to. "Werenít you terrified?" she cried.

"Not of them or the Youth Authority," she admitted. "Actually the Youth Authority sounded pretty good compared to facing my father. The guy on the phone started insisting that I was Daís son and I could just imagine him telling the boys to line up and count off," she laughed. But then the guardís eyes got big and he turned to me and yanked off my stocking cap. He about croaked when he saw that I was a little girl. They got real nice to me after thatóbrought me a soda and some cookies. That really pissed me off," she grumbled.

"What? It pissed you off that he was nice to you?"

"Yeah, since it was only because I was a girl. If he was going to be a jerk cause I was a boy he should have been a jerk when I turned out to be a girl!"

"Youíre something else, Ryan," she laughed. "So then what happened?"

"Oh, I had to sit there until Da came to get me."

"Was he mad?"

"He was more mad about the parking fee than anything else," she laughed. "But I had to pay him back for that out of my allowance. Since I only got $2 a week it took me a month!"

"Was that your only punishment?" she asked, not imagining that Martin would ever hit a child.

"Yeah, plus a very long lecture that I really deserved about using a handicapped ramp for play. We learned our lesson that day though," she admitted. "From then on we always kept one kid near the ramp to warn us if a real handicapped person was coming!"

"You are incorrigible, Ryan OíFlaherty."

"Yeah, well hanging out on my skateboard was nothing compared to the trouble I got into down here," she smirked as they entered the business district of Castro St.

"It looks soÖordinary," she remarked as she looked around.

"You expected what? Dungeons, transvestites in every window?"

"NoÖI donít know what I expected but it hardly looks gay at all," she mused as she turned in a complete circle.

"Yeah, itís pretty hard to tell," Ryan dryly remarked as they stopped in front of a small house wares store. "Do you like those towel bars?"

Jamie squinted at the very small towel racks that were displayed right near the front window. The bars were actually cast concrete replicas of massively engorged penises, all extra large. The towels were embroidered as usual for guest towels. One read ĎCum Towelí, and other ĎTrick Towelí, and a pair that hung together read ĎHis and Hisí. She stood in slack jawed shock, finally turning to her grinning friend as she muttered, "I donít know what a trick towel is and I donít think I want to!" as she turned and continued to march down the street.

Another little video store had a display up celebrating the upcoming Academy Awards. Cute little Oscar replicas lined the display window but each Oscar was sporting a massive gold erection. Jamie gazed up at her smirking friend and asked, "Is the other side of the street all vaginas?"

"No," Ryan laughed. "Itís pretty much all about the penis in the Castro."

Now Jamieís sense of equality was insulted. "That hardly seems fair," she demanded with hands on her hips. "Lesbians need love too!"

"I couldnít agree more," Ryan soothed as she wrapped her arm around her feisty friend to continue their walk.

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

When they reached the 'Double Rainbow' Ryan insisted that Jamie get two scoops of the double chocolate flavor. Because it was a little cold out they ate in the small shop. Ryan had ordered a hot fudge sundae and Jamie watched her eat with obvious pleasure.

"Are you sure you like kissing better than eating?" she teased.

"I'm positive," she replied with a little eyebrow wiggle.

"Then you must really like kissing," she said slowly.

"You have no idea," she intoned solemnly as she slowly shook her head.

Oh God, but I want to know. I really want to know!

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

Back on the street they decided to return via the opposite side just in case there were hidden vaginas that Ryan hadnít previously noticed. "It really seems unfair to me Ryan," Jamie insisted as they confirmed that the street was clearly focused on gay men and their equipment. "I mean, the Castro is supposed to be this big gay mecca and itís all about men. I mean lesbians are the least interested group in the world when it comes to penises."

"Well," Ryan drawled, "oneís with feeling in them at least."

"Huh?" she asked as she turned to face her friend, cocking her head slightly as she did so.

"Sorry," Ryan said quickly. "I was just making a joke. I was merely referring to lesbians interest in non-human penises."

Jamie gazed down at the ground for a moment and Ryan thought she had offended her by the little joke. But she was obviously considering the matter because she finally looked up and said, "Is that really a Ďthingí? I mean, I thought that was a bad joke that guys always make."

Ryanís color rose dramatically as she pursed her lips and tried to decide how much to reveal. "UmÖwell, itís kind of aÖdo you reallyÖumÖshould I give you my personal response or do you want a lesbian-wide answer," she finally got out.

Jamie immediately grasped her arm as she assured her, "Iím sorry, Ryan, I donít mean to make you uncomfortable. Iíve just heard snide little comments about lesbians and their fake penises for years. I guess I want to know if thereís any truth to it."

"Well, you did see the assortment at ĎGood Vibrationsí, " she reminded her.

"Yeah, but I thought the vibrators would be the lesbian thing. I kinda thought the penises were for gay men."

"UmÖwellÖI guess it depends on the umÖpersonÖ" she stammered.

"You donít have to answer, Ryan," she assured her. "I justÖI guess Iím surprised this bothers you since nothing else has seemed to."

Ryan considered this as they started to walk again. "Hmmm, you are right about that," she mused. "Maybe itís because I know you a lot better now. I donít know, Jamie," she said slowly. "Maybe I donít want you to think badly of meÖyouíre opinion has come to mean an awful lot to me," she admitted shyly.

"Ryan," she said emphatically, "why would something like this change my opinion of you?"

"I donít know," she mumbled, looking oddly adolescent. "Youíve been so conservative with your sexual expression, I guess I worry that youíll think my experiences make me kindaÖI donít knowÖum, maybe slutty?" she gazed down at Jamie through the long bangs that had fallen into her eyes, adding to her adolescent demeanor.

"Ryan!" she nearly shouted. "You are a totally honorable woman! I would never think any such thing about you! But I also have no desire to make you uncomfortable. Letís just drop the whole topic, okay?" she asked gently.

" ĎKay," she agreed, happy that Jamie respected her privacy. She slung her arm around her friendís shoulders and asked, "UmÖI would like to talk about Tracy a little. Are up to hearing about it?"

"Yes, definitely," she said sincerely as she turned slightly and Ryanís arm dropped from her shoulder. But she was not ready to relinquish the contact so she reached over and grasped Ryanís hand. She threaded their fingers together as they walked along, hand in hand, as Ryan gathered her thoughts.

"Okay," she finally began. "I've told you that I don't want to be sexual with her until I'm sure that there will be some permanence there." She looked to Jamie for acknowledgment.

When she got it she continued, "When we first discussed this she was very much in support of that." Here she looked a bit sheepish, "But she seems to have changed the rules on me and I'm not sure what to do."

"What do you mean, 'Changed the rulesí?" Jamie inquired, having a pretty good idea about this change given Tracyís behavior earlier in the day.

"Well, last night she really pushed me, and I nearly gave in. But I didn't," she said proudly. "But if Iím gonna stay focused I need to stop going to her apartment. God! She put on this little camisole and a thin silk robe when we got back from dinner. In no time at all my hands were inside that robe and she felt better than naked in just that thin, soft silk." They had been making steady progress on their walk but this thought made Ryan stand stock still for several moments. She looked positively transported by her memories and Jamie actually had to give her hand a squeeze to bring her back. "Wow!" she blushed. "Iím sorry for zoning out like that. Itís justÖ" she mumbled as she shook her head.

"I know," Jamie said gently. "Sheís obviously decided that sheís ready to sleep with you, Ryan. Women donít put on clothes like that just to stay cool."

"Right," Ryan nodded. Then as if she had just heard her statement she looked at her and laughed as she gently shook her head. "Well last night was bad enough, but today, I went downstairs to change. I thought she would stay upstairs, but I had my pants half off when she came down and literally threw herself at me. I had to actually fight her off!" she said with a bewildered expression. "Itís hard enough to hold my own lust in check. Thereís no way I can keep a handle on hers at the same time!" she said rather helplessly.

"Do you want to be with her...like that?" Jamie inquired.

"Yes, ... yes, ... God, yes!" she stated with conviction. "I want her so much my teeth ache," she moaned. "Iíve never in my life turned down sex from someone that I wanted like this Jamie."

"So....what's the problem? She wants you, you want her...."

"I feel like I want her like I normally want women. I'm used to having sex, Jamie. A lot of sex!" she said. "I think Tracy is beautiful, and very sweet. She's smart and quick and funny. And if she makes love as good as she kisses, I bet she is tremendous in bed," she intoned solemnly.

"And those are bad things?" Jamie asked, thoroughly confused.

"No, those are good things. But I have a hard time imagining that she is the last woman in my life. I don't know if I'm in love with her," she said thoughtfully. "And since I made this pledge to her and to myself, I don't feel right about breaking it."

"I can't tell you how much I admire your self control, Ryan," she said with conviction. "I know how hard this is for you."

"I guess you probably do know, given how long you waited to be sexual with Jack," she admitted. "How did you deal with the frustration?" she moaned as she shook her dark head slowly.

"Well, besides the obvious ways of releasing pressure," she grinned, "I just knew it was the right thing for me. And to be honest, I enjoyed those days a lot more than I enjoyed actually having sex," she admitted.

Ryan stopped dead in her tracks, mouth gaping open. "You did?" she squeaked out.

"Yeah, I did," she replied as she looked down at the pavement. "I guess that should have been a clue that things weren't going well in the relationship, huh?"

"That must have been awful for you, Jamie," she said sincerely. "What do you think changed?"

"Mia tells me that this is what to expect from a lot of guys," she said with disgust. "She says that they like kissing and touching but that once you will have sex, they focus on that instead of foreplay."

"Conor always teases me that lesbian sex is all foreplay," Ryan laughed. "Obviously it's not, but I'm not sure if it would bother me that much if it was," she said thoughtfully. "There is nothing on earth that I enjoy more than kissing a woman," she closed her eyes in pleasure and Jamie felt her own close as well. "I guess that having a penis just changes the focus of sex," she ventured.

"From my limited experience I would tend to agree," Jamie said, her voice straining a bit as they climbed the aptly named Hill St. "With Jack, sex was all about intercourse and orgasm," she said. "I would just be getting into it and he'd be done."

"Ouch," said Ryan as she visibly grimaced. "Youíve told me about him not liking oral sex after intercourse but I guess I didnít realize how pervasive the problem was," she admitted. "Were things ever good?"

"Yes, sometimes weíd be on the same wavelength. But usually I just felt like I had to have an orgasm by the time he did or it wouldnít happen. It made me feel under pressure to finish and that just doesn't work for me."

"I don't know anyone who can finish if they're under pressure to do so," Ryan agreed. "I know it doesn't seem like it now, but maybe it's best that Jack broke it off," she said. "If you were really in love with him don't you think sex would have been great?" she asked.

"I always thought so," Jamie replied. "Iíve just assumed there was just something wrong with me, that I wasn't responsive enough or something."

"I rather doubt that," Ryan said with a grin. "I bet you'd be a little firecracker with the right person," she said as she slid her arm around her shoulders again.

And you're the one I want to light my fuse, she silently replied.

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

Ryan finally turned to her and asked, "What do you think I should I do about Tracy?"

Don't ask me that, please! she pleaded. I want you to drop her like a hot rock and kiss me until I pass out! But she stoically quieted her inner conflict and responded thoughtfully, "Tell me how you feel about her."

"I like her a lot," she replied confidently. "She's got all the attributes that I want in a woman. But there is one thing that really bothers me," she said.

"What's that?" Jamie inquired.

"I don't think she likes my family much," she said thoughtfully.

"How could that be?" Jamie asked in true surprise. "You've got the nicest family on earth!"

"Obviously, she's always been complimentary, but she has very good manners, so I would expect that. She's from a wealthy family in Los Angeles." After a beat she added, "No offense," with a little grin.

"None taken," Jamie replied with a smile.

"She doesn't speak badly about her own family, she just wouldn't do that. But I don't sense any real love there. She doesn't like to visit them and she never mentions talking to them on the phone." She shook her head, "I just can't imagine that."

"God Ryan, I just cannot imagine not loving your family. I miss them when I haven't seen them for a few days!" she laughed. "Maybe she just hasn't had enough time with them."

"No, that's not it. I've had her over for dinner at least 6 times. After it became clear that I was trying to get close to her Da encouraged me to have her over more often. She always says she's had a nice time, but she always seems to prefer getting me alone."

"I can see that would concern you, but maybe she wants to spend her time getting to know you. Maybe she thinks you'll have time later for the extended family," Jamie offered.

"You may be right," she said slowly. "But I suggested that we take the baby for the day and she was decidedly unenthusiastic."

"Well, that seems very odd. Caitlin is the most precious thing on earth. But again, maybe she just wants to be alone with you."

"Maybe," Ryan mused. "But when I talk about my desire to have children she always changes the subject or tries to distract me. The other day I asked her flat out if she wanted children and she just laughed and said she hadnít spent much time thinking about it."

"Well, she is young," Jamie reminded her. "Lots of women donít make up their minds about that until theyíre in their 30ís."

"True. And if you both agree thatís just fine. But I donít want to wait that long. Having kids is one of the biggest reasons that I want to be in a stable relationship. And I want to have them before I get terribly involved in my career. If Tracy and I are to be a couple she has to be enthusiastic about having kids in the next couple of years. And I sure donít get the idea sheís on that same wavelength."

"I guess you have to be more blunt with her, Ryan. Tell her what your plans are and see if she is willing to share them. She might surprise you," she offered.

"Well, there is one other thing," Ryan added somberly. "And itís one thing that could be the deal breaker."

"What's that?" Jamie asked.

"She doesn't believe in God," she said quietly.

"Do you mean she's agnostic?" she inquired.

"Nope. She's a card carrying atheist," she replied. "I don't think I ever considered that I would require a girlfriend to have some spiritual belief, but I think I do." She added thoughtfully, "It wouldn't even bother me if she was agnostic, you know, like she didn't believe in God, but she allowed that there was a possibility of a God. But weíve talked about this several times. She believes in nothing. No God, no creator, no karma, no afterlife. She thinks weíre here by some cosmic accident and she thinks every bit of our energy dies and is put in a box. She has actually referred to spirituality as a Ďfairy taleí."

They were approaching the crest of the hill that led them back to the Noe Valley and Jamie had to concentrate just to keep her breathing even. But the pause let her collect her thoughts for a moment. "I think I know what you mean, Ryan. My faith is so much a part of my life that I would hate to not be able to share it with someone I loved."

"Exactly!" Ryan replied. "I mean it's clear that I have issues, big issues with the Catholic Church. I go back and forth between being really connected and really disconnected. I'm in a disconnected period right now, as a matter of fact. But my belief in God as the source of love and goodness and peace is unwavering. I just don't know if I can love someone who doesn't believe in what I trust to be source of love," she said with conviction.

"I get it, Ryan, I really do. I mean, I love to go to church. It's often the highlight of my week. And I could love someone who didn't go. I could love someone with an entirely different view of the world, like a Buddhist or a Hindu. But I would hate to have my lover think I was wasting my time, or doing something foolish."

"That is precisely the problem with Tracy. Itís not just that she doesnít believe, I think she equates my faith with believing in the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. She seems to think itís kind of a cute little phase that Iíll grow out of when I mature. I mean, I like her so much, but if I'm going to be committed to her we have to have a similar moral framework. My faith and my family are so integral to me, it's almost like she can't know me if she can't understand and respect that."

"It sounds to me like youíve already made up your mind, Ryan," she observed.

"Yeah," she glumly replied as she let out a breath. "I suppose I have. Iíve just been trying to convince myself that it can work. I mean, itís hard to find everything you want in one person, and she seems so close," she said emphatically as she held her hand up and spread her thumb and index finger just a tiny bit apart.

"What will you do?"

"I guess I could tell her Iím not interested in a committed relationship and see if she just wants to play around," she replied with a leer. "Or I could just tell her I'm not ready to go any further, and stop seeing her." She gave a little scowl. "I don't like option number two, but that's probably what I'll do."

"I think you'll feel better about yourself if you do that, Ryan. Although you could tell her the total truth and see if she's open to changing her opinions," she replied.

"I think the Spanish Inquisition showed that you can't force faith on someone, Jamie," she teased.

"I donít mean that, Goofy. I mean, tell her the whole truth and see if she wants to just fool around for a while."

"Iím not certain what Iíll do. But I guess she deserves total honesty for putting up with me for almost 4 months."

"That is a lot for one poor woman to bear," she laughed in response. "Gosh, weíre home already!" she said as she looked up and noticed they had turned onto Noe. "That went fast."

"Yeah, it did," Ryan agreed. "But time always flies when Iím with you."

Jamie looked over at her grinning friendís guileless face and gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "You can say that again, Pal."

Ryan let her smaller friend precede her as they climbed the short flight of stairs up to the front door. When they were nearly at the top she leaned in close and whispered, "Just for the record Iíve been on both ends of artificial penises. As Martha Stewart would say, ĎItís a good thing!í "

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

When they went back downstairs, Jamie had to admit that she felt a lot better about her breakup but now she had a whole new topic setting her teeth on edge. Both ends?? What in the hell does she mean by that? she mused, unable to get the images of Ryan and artificial penises out of her mind.

Ryan walked over to her bookshelf and pulled out a neatly labeled photo album. Idly turning the pages she found the photo she was looking for and called Jamie over. Turning the book and handing it to her she pointed at the photo in the center of the page without comment. Jamie barked out a laugh, slapping her hand over her mouth and staring up at Ryan in shock. There, memorialized for all to see, was the little street urchin that Ryan had described earlier in the evening. "My God!" she finally got out, now able to control her laughter. "Is this really you?"

Ryan walked around to stand next to her friend. Taking the book in her hands she smiled fondly at the image of her young self and nodded briefly. The photo showed 5 little ragamuffins, all of a similar age. They were posing on Maeveís front steps, and each child tried to appear older and tougher for the camera. The other 4 were boys but they were all dressed nearly identically. Ryan was in the front, standing on the ground in front of the stairs. She was so extraordinarily tall that she was the same height as the two boys standing on the stair behind her. Jamie guessed that she was rail thin but it was very difficult to tell for sure because of her laughingly large clothes.

She had on a canvas barn jacket, tan in color, with a darker brown corduroy collar. The hood of a dark green sweatshirt peeked out past the collar but the jacket was so huge she could have easily fit another sweatshirt on and still have had room. Stiff looking dark blue jeans covered her long legs, the cuffs rolled up at least 5 inches. The pants were so large it was impossible to see where one leg started and the other stoppedóit just looked like a big mass of fabric. She also sported flat, black, thick soled tennis shoes that looked to be about size 8. A black baseball cap rested on her long black hair in its usual backwards position. Her trusty skateboard was resting on its tail, held upright by her long, slender fingers.

Every child bore a scowl with varying degrees of success. Ryan was probably the least successful of all, her dancing blue eyes and microscopic smile giving her away.

Jamie stared at the picture for so long that her eyes became dry. "I donít think Iíve ever seen anything more precious," she finally said, looking up into Ryanís bemused eyes.

"Precious?" she squawked. "I look like aÖI donít even know what I look like!"

"You look just like a tiny little seed of who you have become," she said with a voice full of wonder. "Look at yourself!" she urged excitedly. "You look so confident and strong! Those boys werenít leading that little groupóyou were! Thatís completely obvious," she announced. "And even though you were trying to look tough you still have that terribly gentle spirit, just oozing out of those blue eyes. See it?" she demanded.

Ryan gazed at the picture and then turned back to her friend. "Are we looking at the same picture? I just look like a little hoodlum!"

"Not at all!" Jamie cried. "I would have killed to be able to hang out with you for just a day! I bet you guys had more fun in an afternoon than I did in a year! This is what being a kid should be, Ryan," she cried. "Testing your own capabilities; learning to interact with other kids; trying to look outrageous! Thatís the essence of youth!"

"I guess I see your point," she said slowly. "Da let me test myself constantly when I was little. I donít think I ever got in trouble for trying something stupid. He only got mad when I did something that could hurt someone else, like taking over those handicapped ramps. He really let me be who I was even though Iím sure he was constantly worried about me. That really was a gift," she reflected somberly. "I hope I can do the same for my kids."

Jamie wrapped her arm around her friendís sturdy waist. "Youíll probably be completely overprotective," she teased.

"Hmm, maybe," she allowed reflectively. "But I donít think so. I want my kids to experience the freedom that I had. Itís what allowed me to dream," she added with a small smile.

As she closed the book and replaced it on the shelf she turned to her friend and announced, "Now itís time for you to dream, Pal. To bed with Ďya."

The walk, or the climb, as she referred to it, had really relaxed Jamie and she felt ready to sleep. She went to the bathroom to put on her pajamas and when she returned she was pleasantly surprised to see a grinning Ryan, sitting on the bed, holding the bottle of massage lotion.

Jamie flung herself onto the bed, pulling her shirt up as she fell.

"I don't want to force you...." Ryan teased.

As the strong, cool hands began to work their magic, Jamie closed her eyes and silently wished that one day those hands would know her completely.

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

The next few days were not pleasant ones for Jamie. Cassie and Mia were shocked at the breakup and had both insisted on a long recitation of the events leading up to it. Jamie was tired of talking about it, but after the whole story was out, Mia was very supportive. Cassie was less so, but Jamie had a feeling that even she felt a little guilty about the role she played in the scenario.

She decided to tell her parents in person. On Tuesday afternoon she drove down to the Peninsula, arriving just after her father had returned home. She had never come down on a weekday and when she thought about it, she had never come down unannounced. Her parents were obviously quite surprised to see her and they both seemed a little anxious so she immediately launched in to the reason for her visit. She told them most of the story, omitting, of course, the role that Ryan had played. She talked more about the difficulty of being apart during the week, of Jack's intense schedule, and of her own doubts about her commitment.

To her amazement, her parents were completely sympathetic. It was obvious that her father was saddened by the news since he had grown quite fond of Jack. But she had tried her best to remove any animus towards Jack when she described the reasons for the breakup. They both seemed to agree that even though he was a wonderful young man, Jamie was probably not really ready to make a permanent commitment. Catherine in particular, seemed relieved that Jamie would not be tied down at so young an age.

As she was leaving, her father walked her to the car. "Was part of this because of your friend, Jamie?" he inquired with a touch of hesitation.

"Yes, Daddy, it was partly that," she admitted.

"It seems odd to me that Jack would be so bothered by that, but maybe that was just a sign that he wasn't ready either," he reflected.

"I am so happy that you and mother are so supportive of me, Daddy. I can't thank you enough," she said sincerely.

"I love you very much, Jamie. I've always been proud of you and the way you've handled this makes me that much prouder," he said with a smile.

"I want you to promise me that you won't treat Jack any differently, Daddy. I don't want this to interfere with his job opportunities."

"I don't mix business with emotions, Honey. Jack will be a good lawyer and we'll be lucky to land him. Don't worry about that," he said as he kissed her cheek.

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

On Wednesday morning Jamie sat in a long hallway waiting for Linda Levy's office hours to begin. The professor came strolling down the hall and waved a friendly greeting. "Hi Jamie," she said. "Sorry I couldn't see you earlier in the week. Come on in and tell me what's on your mind."

"I need a referral for a therapist, and I thought you might be able to refer me to someone good," she related, a bit hesitantly.

"Sure, I know a lot of therapists in the area. Would you feel comfortable telling me what types of issues you need to deal with?" she asked.

"I'm just having some general growing up issues. I'm having a little trouble with my parents," she said as she stalled for time. "And I think I might have some issues with my sexual orientation," she finally got out.

"Okay, I know a lot of people that could probably help you. Is cost a factor?"

"No, not really," she admitted.

"Do you have a preference for any particular type of therapist, like a psychiatrist or a psychologist?"

"No. I just want someone I can relate to," she said.

"Do you care if it's a man or a woman?" she continued.

"I think I'd like a woman," she blushed as she heard her double entendre.

Linda grinned back at her and looked through her address book, finally jotting down 3 different names. "I'm going to refer you to a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a clinical social worker. They're all good and I think you would like each of them. You can set up an appointment with each if you would like to interview them or you can just pick one. Do whatever feels comfortable, Jamie."

"Is there one of these women that you would recommend more highly than the others?"

"I know the psychologist pretty well. So I would say I know her style the best. I suppose she would be my pick," Linda replied.

"Thanks a lot Linda. I really appreciate your input."

"Any time, Jamie. If you ever need to chat on a non-therapeutic basis, I'd be happy to. I hope things work out well for you." Jamie reached for the note but Linda held onto it tightly, drawing Jamieís eyes to hers. "One piece of advice," she said quietly. "You can never make a mistake by being who you really are, no matter how scary the truth might seem."

Jamie nodded briefly and took the names from the professor. They shared a quick smile as Jamie left the office.

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

On Tuesday evening Ryan finished preparing the simple dinner that she and Conor were going to share. He finished setting the table and came back into the kitchen to help carry their plates to the dining room. "Boy, Tracy sure looked good on Sunday," he said appreciatively. "She looks fabulous in that dark brown color. You should have her wear that color more often."

"I donít think I get to have input any more," she said as she carried the last of the dishes into the room. "We broke up this afternoon."

"What? I thought you were serious about her?" He had stopped in the center of the room, a big plate of pasta held in one strong hand.

"I was. But I finally realized that she wasnít Ďthe oneí. So rather than wasting her time I told her the truth."

"How did she take it?" he asked, remembering some of his more disastrous break ups.

"Fine. Actually a little too fine," she admitted with a smirk. "She told me she loved me on New Years Eve so I thought this would be hard on her. But she took it like a trooper."

"Thatís kind of weird," he agreed. "But why did you break up with her? She was pretty, smart, funny and very sexy. Well, she looked sexy," he grinned. "But youíd know better than I."

"She was all that," Ryan agreed. "But she didnít really like the amount of time I spend with the family. She said she loved me but she wasnít ready to love my whole family."

"What is she, some kind of psycho?" he teased. "Whatís not to love?"

"Thatís how I feel," she agreed with a smile. "But she was pretty reserved. I think we were a little overpowering for her when we were all together. And I quickly noticed that she doesnít like to be teased. And as you know you canít get through a dinner here without being teased 10 times!"

"Gee Ryan, did we contribute to your breakup? If you would have told us we would have laid off the teasing."

"Nope. Thatís not the kind of woman I want. I canít be with someone that I have to be so careful with. But you know, if she had told me that she wanted to work on being more comfortable around you guys I would have made some concessions. But she just wanted to maneuver me into spending less time at home. And that was just not going to happen," she said firmly.

Conor looked at her for a moment and said, "Itís too bad Jamieís straight. She would be perfect for you."

"Really? I thought she was perfect for you," she dryly observed.

"Yeah, but Iíve never gotten any vibes from her. She treats me like an older brother. How about you? Any vibes?" he asked, mostly because he was interested, but partly to protect his $50 bet with Rory.

"Umm," she started to say but her cheeks were rapidly blushing.

"I thought so," he said slowly. "You two were acting awfully friendly when we went bowling together. So what are you going to do about it?"

"Well, she did a little something about it last week. But it was nothing huge," she said defensively. "She got a little tipsy on her birthday and she kissed me. But we both just acted like it didnít happen."

"Again, what are you going to do about it?"

"Nothing," she said quickly. "I have a firm policy not to date good friends. And Jamie is the best friend I have. I couldnít stand to lose her companionship."

"You know, Ryan, Iím certainly not the best person to give relationship advice but maybe you should change that policy."

"Why do you say that?"

"Well, you claim youíre ready to find a real girlfriend. Why not get rid of 6 months of work and date someone you already know? You were with Tracy for 4 months before you found out she didnít have some vital requirements. If you tried to make it work with a friend you could concentrate on the love and sex parts instead of having to get to know one another."

"That might be a good idea in theory, but given my record all I would succeed in is losing her as a friend as well as a lover."

"Thatís not being fair to yourself," he admonished her. "You havenít tried to have many steady girlfriends."

"Thatís true but I just donít think itís wise to even consider Jamie. Sheís ostensibly straight; she just broke up with her fiancé; and sheís my best friend. Thatís an awful lot to overcome."

"But you do find her attractive, donít you?"

"Iím not blind Conor," she laughed.

"So you would try to date her if you werenít friends, right?"

"Iíd be on her like green on grass," she said with a sly grin.

"Well I still think you should consider what I said," he urged.

"Hmm, Iíll give that some thought, Conor, but right now Iíve got to go make up for lost time," she said with a wildly waggling eyebrow.

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

"Hi, Ally," she said happily. "Itís Ryan."

"Hey, gorgeous. Long time no see."

"Iíve been out of circulation for a few months. Do you have any interest in helping me get back in the saddle?"

"Iíll be home by 8," she replied immediately.

"Should I bring anything?"

"Just a hearty appetite," she purred.

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

The next morning Jamie was waiting for Ryan after her 8 oíclock class. "I was going to ask you if you wanted to go get coffee, but I can see Iím too late," she said as she pointed at the empty 24 oz. cup in her friendís hand.

"I can use more," she said as she shook her head.

"Are you okay? I know you were planning on speaking to Tracy and I was concerned that it might be hard for you."

"No, actually we had lunch yesterday and we talked it all out. She admitted that she didnít really have an interest in being part of my extended family. She said that she wanted to have a relationship with me, but that she wasnít really ready for a big commitment thing. She said she probably doesnít want kids either, so my suspicions were correct"

"So how did you leave it?"

"Well," she blushed a little, "she was more than willing to have a little fling but for some weird reason it didnít feel right to me."

"Really?" she said happily. Maybe sheís getting this serial dating out of her system. Oh please, oh please.

"Yeah, it was really weird. Once I decided that I wanted a committed relationship with her just having sex didnít seem that appealing. It felt like I would have been settling for something inferior."

"Wow," Jamie said. "Maybe youíve really changed how you feel about sex. Maybe you wonít be satisfied without some substance in your encounters."

"I think thatís a rush to judgment," she admitted with another blush.

"Why? Are you already planning for your next victim?"

"UmÖI had a date last night," she admitted.

"Jeez, Ryan! You didnít break up with her until noon. How did you find someone to go out with in an afternoon?"

"I didnít really go out," she revealed. "I called my friend Ally and she umÖhelped meÖahhÖmake up for lost time."

"God, I bet Tracy would love to hear that!"

"She was really okay with breaking up, Jamie. As a matter of fact I got the impression that she was mainly interested in me to see if she could get me to be faithful. She was hardly broken up about it. It just made me realize that I canít merely look at a check list of what I want in a woman. There just has to be some chemistry there, and I donít think Tracy and I ever had that. We just really wanted different things from a relationship."

"Iím sorry if I sound judgmental, Ryan. I think Iím just projecting how Iíd feel if Jack had a date on Sunday."

"I understand, Jamie. Itís hard not to apply other situations to your own. But believe me, Tracy didnít cry herself to sleep last night."

"And you obviously didnít either," she said as she gave her a mock scowl.

"Oh, I cried," she teased. "I cried for mercy!"

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

Just after 8 a.m. Jamie and Ryan pulled into a parking space in Golden Gate Park. Jamie was riding in the back seat of Conor's big crew cab, playing with a giggling Caitlin. Ryan hopped out and came around to the rear passenger door, and began to busily unstrap the baby from her car seat. When she was released Jamie held her while Ryan climbed into the bed of the truck by holding on to the top rail, stepping on the top of the big tire and throwing her leg over the rail. She picked up one bike at a time, lowering each to the ground to rest against the truck. Then she picked up the lime green baby carrier and did the same.

She spent a few minutes attaching the carrier to her bike, after playfully attempting to stick it on to Jamieís. When everything was set they all put on their helmets. Jamie and Ryan laughed for a long while when Caitlin kept trying to see what was on her head by looking straight up. She finally satisfied her curiosity by reaching for the helmet repeatedly with her little hands. The baby had just celebrated her 6 month birthday and she was going to be put to the test. She had been in the carrier many times but the last time she was quite a bit smaller and Ryan was certain she did not remember the experience.

Caitlin was not at all sure that she wanted to get into the carrier by herself. She made some very serious baby faces but finally began to smile as Ryan started to pedal. The wind whipped by her little head and she giggled from the sensation of the movement and the gentle bouncing of the carrier on the pavement. Jamie stayed behind for a while to make sure that the baby was enjoying the experience.

"She's loving it, Ryan!" she happily said as she came up alongside her companion. She continued this little switch for a long time. A few minutes behind or next to Caitlin, chatting with the happy infant and laughing at her joyous face; then a few minutes next to Ryan, excitedly describing the baby's antics.

They rode through every available road in the park. After a good hour they both needed a rest. They left the park and rode a very short distance to a coffee house. Although they had eaten breakfast, they were both hungry now that it was after 9 a.m. Jamie offered to buy and she waited in line while Ryan took the baby to the restroom to check her diaper. When they returned, changed and happy, Jamie was waiting for them at a table in front of the window. Since Jamie was left to her own devices she had purchased 2 cranberry scones, a poppy seed muffin and a big cinnamon roll. Two very large lattés waited alongside the food. "Jamie, you're finally starting to catch on," Ryan said appreciatively. "You can never order too much."

While Jamie ate her scone Ryan polished off the remaining 3 items. Caitlin sucked on her bottle and observed the other patrons from her resting place on Ryanís lap. Ryan looked at Jamie thoughtfully and asked, "How did it feel to be back in the park?"

"It felt okay," she replied after she took a minute to think. "I'm not sure how I would feel if we were sitting down like we were then. And I don't think I could relax enough to sleep," she admitted.

"How do you feel about testifying?" she continued. "It's coming up pretty soon."

Jamie was well aware that they were scheduled to testify at the trial of her attacker in 2 weeks. "It's kind of weird for me. I mean I didn't see him until after it was over, and he was unconscious, thanks to you." She shivered a bit as she said," I'm not nervous about the actual trial or anything, but I don't like to have to talk about the whole thing."

"I know what you mean. It's not my favorite thing to think about either," she said slowly.

"Does it still bother you, Ryan? I mean, I know you had trouble sleeping for a while. Are you okay now?" she asked gently as she touched Ryan's hand.

"I'm mostly fine," she said. "Every once in a while I have a flashback though. It still scares me a little bit," she conceded.

"Tell me what bothers you," Jamie coaxed her friend.

"I flash back to the helpless feeling that I had when I thought he was going to drag you into the woods. I knew I couldn't put the baby down in case he was working with someone. It might have been a ruse to steal Caitlin," she smiled down at the gurgling baby on her lap. "But I also knew that I couldn't take her with me if I had to run after you. I couldn't risk getting her injured," she shook her head at the memory. "It was just the most awful feeling of powerlessness. I knew I could stop that guy in a second but I couldn't risk it, " she said as she stared at her hands. "I don't think I could have lived with myself if he had hurt you, Jamie," she said softly.

Jamie smiled at her in sympathy. "Sometimes I forget that this whole thing is probably harder on you than it is on me," she said gently. "You saw everything and you had to make the hard decisions." She gripped Ryan's hand now, "If anything had happened, it would not have been your fault, Ryan. You did everything just perfectly. When you are trusted with the care of a child she has to come first. I would have been very angry with you if you had not secured her safety first. But you know, I'm still impressed by the hurt you put on him. Tell me about your training."

"When I was about 12 I started taking martial arts. Da was worried about me, justifiably, as it turns out. I ran around all over the city on my skateboard and I had many opportunities to get into trouble. I studied for about 6 years and I was pretty good," she reflected. "I haven't had to use it in a long while, but I did teach a kick boxing class at my old gym."

"You know, I might feel more confident if I learned some self defense. What do you think?" Jamie asked.

"I think that anything that empowers a person is a good idea," she replied. "That would help your physical preparedness. But what about your emotional health? Have you considered talking about it to anyone else?" Ryan asked.

"Funny you should ask that," Jamie replied. "I had my first appointment with a therapist on Friday morning."

"To talk about the attack?" Ryan asked.

"Um...I guess that is a part of it. I need to talk about Jack and my parents and a bunch of stuff that's been on my mind."

'How did you decide to try this?" Ryan inquired.

"My grandfather actually persuaded me. He didn't like all of my weight loss and he thought that a therapist could help me be less nervous."

"Was he able to recommend someone to you?" she asked.

"Um, actually I asked Professor Levy for a referral. I mean, I know she knows people in Berkeley so I thought it would be easier."

"So, what did you think? Did you like him or her?" Ryan asked.

"Yeah, I did like her. Her name is Anna Fleming and she seems pretty cool. She's down on Telegraph by Andronico's."

"I hope she can help you get rid of some of your stress," Ryan said as she patted her hand. Just then Caitlin let out a yell that drew the attention of the entire store. "I think Caitlin has been still long enough. Ready to go?"

"Yep, let's go."

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

As they rode along Jamie brought her bike alongside Ryan for a little while since Caitlin was sound asleep in her carrier. "Have you ever been in therapy, Ryan?"

"Yeah. Iíve had short term counseling a couple of times to get me through some rough periods. After my cousin Michael died I had a really hard time. He and I had always been close, but we got a lot closer during his illness. I tried to go see him every day after school and help out in any way that I could. I think I believed that if I worked hard enough, and we all did everything possible that we could save him. In retrospect I think I was re-experiencing the trauma of my motherís death." She looked over at Jamie with her big blue eyes clouded over with grief. "I had a hard time eating or sleeping for a long time. Da didnít know what to do, but luckily someone from the S.F. Aids Foundation referred us to a grief workshop for kids. I went for almost a year. I canít tell you how helpful it was to talk to other kids who had lost someone to AIDS. Most of the others had lost a parent, and some of them had lost both parents."

"God, I canít imagine how horrible that would be. To watch your parents just waste away," Jamie said empathetically. "Wasnít it tough to listen to that?"

"Yeah, it was really hard. But some weeks the only peace I got was at that meeting. It was one of the most worthwhile things Iíve ever participated in."

"Iím really glad it was available to you," Jamie said. "I hope therapy works for me, but I guess it will take a while to adjust to it."

"Iím glad youíve decided to do it, Jamie. Youíve had an incredibly stressful year and it just makes sense that you might need some help to get through it."

"Youíve helped me more that I can say, Ryan. Youíve really been my rock and I thank God every day that I have your friendship."

"I do that too," Ryan admitted with a shy grin.

"What?" Jamie asked.

"I thank God for your friendship every day," she said. "Youíre part of my roster now."

Jamie beamed over at her for a moment as she said, "Best team Iíve ever been on."

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

Two weeks later they emerged from the rather stately entrance to the Superior Court of San Francisco. The entire day had been consumed by the Ďhurry up and waití atmosphere of the trial and for reasons they couldnít understand the prosecutor stuck the policewomen in between them to testify, forcing Ryan to hang around for an additional 4 hours to wait for Jamie.

"Well, at least weíre done with it," Ryan observed as she filled her lungs with the cool, moist fresh air.

"I donít know what youíre planning on doing for a living but you should consider becoming an expert witness in whatever it it," Jamie told her with admiration. "You were just phenomenal."

"Thanks," Ryan said, blushing a little. "I wrote down a very detailed description of what happened that day right after we got home. It helped me sort things out a little. Iíve reviewed it a couple of times when I was having problems sleepingóin a odd way it calmed me downóso the details were pretty well set in my mind."

"I sounded like the village idiot compared to you," Jamie smirked. "The jury must have thought I had brain damage."

"I think they understood that itís a little hard to remember details when youíre unconscious," Ryan teased. "I think you did great."

"I guess we just have to hope we convinced them," she said soberly. "I want him to be put away for a very long time."

"Well, we should know within a couple of days. The prosecutor thinks theyíll have a verdict by tomorrow or the next day. Do you want to know what the outcome is?"

Jamie thought for a moment as she leaned against the large base of a statue near the front steps. "Surprisingly, I donít. I donít think they can put him away long enough to suit me, so I think Iíd rather assume the best. How about you?"

"Iím interested, but only so I donít have to worry about him for a while. I see him in my dreams enough without being worried about seeing him on the street," she said as a shudder raced up her spine.

"Iím so sorry that youíre still bothered by it," she said softly as she leaned in to wrap Ryan in a gentle hug. "I hardly think about it anymore, thanks to you."

"Iíd trade a lifetime of nightmares for your safety," Ryan said softly, right into her ear.

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

Jamie had been seeing her therapist for 3 weeks when she finally had the nerve to bring up her sexuality. Since cost was not an issue they had decided that twice a week sessions were a good idea, at least until Jamie felt some relief. After only 4 sessions she actually felt significantly better. But she had spent nearly all of those sessions talking about Jack and her distress over the breakup. Now it was time to open up fully.

After 7 sessions she finally broached the subject. "There's something that's bothering me, Anna," she said hesitantly.

"Tell me, Jamie," she replied neutrally.

"I think that I might be gay," she replied as she stared at the pattern on the rug.

"What makes you think so?" Anna asked.

"I'm incredibly attracted to my closest friend, Ryan," she revealed. "I haven't told you the whole story about why Jack and I broke up," she admitted shyly.

After going through the entire story Anna asked, "Have you ever acted on any of your feelings for Ryan?"

"Sort of. On my birthday I gave her a kiss on the lips," she replied.

"How did she react?"

"We both acted like everything was normal. But right after that she said she thought we should leave because we were both a little drunk." After a moment she added, "Maybe it made her uncomfortable."

"Did she act any differently towards you after the incident?"

"No, not really. Sheís pretty much the same."

"So it must not have bothered her too much," she observed. "Do you want to pursue her, Jamie?" she asked.

"I really think I do, Anna. But I just feel so overwhelmed by everything that's happened. I'm afraid of what I'll do if she isn't interested."

"Is there any reason that you feel compelled to do something right now? Or could you wait a while until you feel more grounded?" she queried.

"I guess I'm not in a rush," she said as though this were the first time she had considered this. "She just broke up with someone and I don't think she wants to get into another relationship right away. You know, it makes me feel better to think that I don't have to hurry."

"You might feel better if you resolved some of your feelings about Jack before you put all of your energies into connecting with another person, Jamie. And I think you would be more clear on what to do about Ryan if we spend some time really exploring your feelings."

"So you would recommend that I not tell her about how I feel right now?" she asked.

"My recommendation is that you keep your life as simple as possible until you're sleeping better and able to eat. If expressing your feelings to Ryan would cause more stress, I would advise against it for the time being," she replied.

"Well, given that I feel 100% better already I guess that's good advice," she replied happily.

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

Ryan was finally able to fulfill her long standing promise to take Jamie to hear Roryís band play locally. On that Friday evening Jamie drove over to the O'Flaherty house at 6 p.m. Everyone was there and dinner was a boisterous affair with lots of teasing and boasting from the boys. Rory left at 6:30 to get ready for the performance.

At 8 o'clock they left in several cars to hear the band play at Molly McGuire's, a local pub where they played frequently when in town. Jamie was really looking forward to hearing Rory and his band mates. She didn't know a thing about traditional Irish music, but she assumed she would love it because Ryan did.

There were 5 members in the band. Rory played keyboards and accordion, Terry played tenor and soprano sax, William played the fiddle and the violin, Mike played percussion and Dylan played bass. Shortly after they all arrived the band began their first set. Jamie was charmed by the very accomplished musicians. Most of the melodies were light and melodic, although the lyrics to nearly every song were sad or downright tragic. All of the band members sang, but Rory handled most of the lead vocals. He had a rich, mellow tenor which carried beautifully through the small room.

Jamie had been with Rory on numerous occasions, but she never would have guessed how much emotion he packed into his music. She was nearly brought to tears on several occasions by the expressiveness of his voice. After playing almost 15 songs the band took a long break. Rory came over to the table while the other musicians went outside to smoke.

Rory sat in the glow of the compliments being sent his way. Jamie was effusive in her praise and he soaked it all up happily. He asked her which songs she had most enjoyed. She thought for a long while and finally admitted that she liked the more poignant ones the best. They all laughed at this and asked her which songs had been happy. Together they went through the list; losing the farm, losing children to war, being forced to marry for money, having your lover stop seeing you because you were poor, and having your mate lost at sea. After much discussion they all agreed that every song had been sad in some way or another.

Finally Conor asked Ryan to get up and sing a happy song for the crowd. Jamie chimed in, "I didn't know you sang in public, Ryan!"

Rory replied, "She could make a good living with music if she wanted to, Jamie. She's probably the most talented of all of us."

Ryan blushed a bit at this praise but she admitted that singing for others was not a driving force for her. "I like to sing for myself mostly," she admitted. "I donít mind singing in public once in a while, but it's not something that I love enough to do every day."

"I would love to hear you Ryan," Jamie begged. "Please?"

"Okay, okay. You know I can't turn down begging," she grinned. Since the band was still on their break Brendan agreed to accompany her on the guitar. They discussed what songs to play and finally settled on two favorites. "You asked for it, Jamie," she said with a smile as she got up.

She was wearing her deep red Angora turtleneck and a pair of soft black slacks. Her hair was loose around her shoulders and she had just a few wispy bangs touching her forehead. Brendan grabbed an acoustic guitar and adjusted the strap. When he was ready he introduced himself. There was a single spotlight shining on Ryan as Brendan introduced her as the most beautiful and talented of the entire O'Flaherty clan. She beamed back at him as he began the first chords to the song they had chosen.

The spotlight highlighted the mahogany and gold tones in her raven hair. Her cheeks were pink from the warmth of the room and her eyes sparkled and danced in the bright white light. She looked entirely at ease as she sat on a tall stool with the heels of her loafers hooked over a rung. Her posture was upright and poised but very casual. She looked as though she was singing in front of very close friends at her home.

The song they had chosen was, in fact, rather happy. In her smooth, clear alto Ryan began to sing,

"First when I came to the town, they called me young and bonny,

Now they've changed my name, call me the Lee boys honey.

I'll dye my petticoats red, and I'll face them with a yellow,

I'll tell the Dyster lads, that the Lee boys I've to follow."

Several things impressed Jamie immediately. First, of course, was the sheer beauty of Ryan's voice. The music seemed to flow from her effortlessly. She almost seemed to be talking rather than singing. The second thing was the girlish smile and body language that Ryan had appropriated to sing the song. This was clearly a song about a young heterosexual girl and Ryan had the ability to adopt that demeanor to sell the lyrics. The final impressive element was Ryan's ability to just have fun with this. She even shot Jamie a cute little smile when she sang the next line:

"It's over hill and dale, and over dykes and ditches,

Say, will I like the lad, that wears the moleskin britches?

The black horse draws the cart, and she's as proud as any

Say will I like the lad that drives him on so canny?"

"Feather beds are fine, painted rooms are bonny

But I would leave them all to jog away with Johnny.

Oh for Saturday night, it's I that'll see my dearie

He'll come whistling in when I am tired and weary."

"First when I came to the town, they called me proud and saucy

Now they've changed my name, call me the Lee boys lassie."

Jamie was easily able to believe that Ryan could be the Lee boys lassie. But for a genetic difference she could easily be the girl that boys fought over. She could be sitting in her house on a Saturday night waiting for her Johnny. Jamie was never so glad that homosexuality existed. It gave her a fighting chance to one day know the love of this woman.

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

Conor and Rory sat behind Jamie casually watching both their sister and her friend. Conor had told Rory of his conversation with Ryan and they had decided to determine if there was any mutual interest on Jamie's part. Even though Conor doubted that he would win the bet he offered to double it. But Rory held firm. At the end of the song they both looked at the expression on Jamie's face. It was a mixture of love and desire with a good measure of pure worship thrown in. Rory smiled sweetly at Conor as he held out his hand. Conor reached into his wallet, pulling out two 20's and a ten that he slapped onto the table.

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

Later that night, Ryan walked her friend out to her car. Jamie lavished praise upon Ryan for both her singing voice and her stage presence. After discussing the band and the various members for a long while she could tell that Ryan was beat so she bid her goodnight.

As Jamie got into the car Ryan asked, "What are you doing tomorrow?"

"UhÖnothing. Why?"

"Itís Saint Patrickís Day, lassie!" she announced in her lilting Irish accent.

"OkayÖwhat are you doing?"

"Iím the barmaid at The Dubliner of course!"

"Since when do you work in a bar?!"

"I do it every St. Patrickís day," she explained in her normal voice. "If youíre free come over and have a pint. Conor and some of the cousins will be there to harass me of course, so it should be fun."

"Is that the place right on 24th?"

"Yeah, but if you come be prepared for a huge crowd. Itís quite a zoo!"

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

Jamie didnít want to be at the bar alone so she waited until 8 to head over. She had to park so far away from the bar that she wound up a block past Ryanís house. My God, itís never been this congested over here, she marveled. I guess everyone is out celebrating St. Patrickís Day.

Her suspicions were confirmed when she tried to wedge into the bar. The rowdy patrons were packed in so tight she knew they were violating several city ordinances, but she assumed the local police turned a blind eye on St. Paddyís Day. It took a great deal of patience and a few well placed elbows but she finally made her way near to the large wooden bar. She lucked out and found that the crowd had deposited her right next to a happy little group that featured Brendan, Conor, Niall, Kieran and Frank. "Jamie!" they cried, nearly as one.

The overly exuberant tone to their call indicated the advanced level of their inebriation but she gamely allowed each of the men to offer a hug and didnít even complain about Conorís rather sloppy kiss on her cheek. "How long have you boys been here?" she shouted over the din.

"We walked Ryan over at 5," Brendan supplied. "What time is it now?"

"Almost 9," she yelled in reply.

"No wonder I canít feel me feet!" he marveled in his own little Irish accent.

Just then Jamie spotted her favorite barmaid. Ryan looked extremely attractive this evening, not that that was a news flash. But there was something about her that looked very different. It took Jamie a moment to realize that Ryan looked straight! It wasnít just that her hair was held back with a braided green and white ribbon; it wasnít that she was dressed in a form fitting emerald green knit vest sans blouse; it wasnít even the fact that she wore a touch of makeup. No, it was the fact that she was acting straight and that, most decidedly, to Jamieís keen eye, was a first. Ryan spotted her and gave a demure little wave along with a toss of her jet black hair. Jamie grinned and shook her head at the display, but when Ryan approached the man to her left she nearly fell from the stool that Brendan insisted she occupy.

"Eveniní darliní," she announced in a rather dramatic, thick Irish accent, as she graced him with her most winning smile and a girlish batting of her eyes. "How can I help ya?"

The tongue tied man seemed as flabbergasted by the raven haired beauty as Jamie was but he managed to choke out, "Are you new around here?"

"Aye!" she cried. "Just over from Killala in Mayo!" She said this with such joy that it appeared she expected the man to be a relative from the old sod or at least a fellow Kilallan.

"Welcome to America," he said dreamily. "Can I have a pint of Guinness and your phone number?"

"Ahh, go on with ya!" she cried. "You lads are all so friendly! Iíve had more good wishes and offers to show me around than I can count. Such a friendly place!" she said as she turned to draw his pint. Jamie noticed that her friend bent over just enough to show her best assets as she drew his stout, smiling that unnerving smile the entire time. She placed the pint in front of him and said coyly, "Iím not sure how long Iíll be stayiní luv. It costs a pretty pence to stay in your lovely city. But if I can afford it maybe you can come Ďround some time, eh?"

He nodded as if in a trance, pulling out a $5 for the $3 pint and thanking Ryan profusely as he walked back to his mates, happy to leave the gorgeous woman a 66% tip. Ryan dashed to the register and rang up the $3 sticking two singles into her bulging back pocket. She trotted back and signaled to Jamie, "Meet me at the end of the bar!"

It was a tough trip but she made the short distance not too much after her grinning friend. Ryan dug into her straining pocket and handed the gob of slightly damp bills to her friend. "Keep my tips, will you?" she said right into Jamieís ear in order to be heard. "It doesnít look right to look like Iím doing too well."

"Geez Ryan!" she cried. "How did you make all this?"

"An Irish accent, a tight sweater and a Wonder bra!" she laughed. "How else?"

"So you put on this act just to make money?" she asked, slightly incredulous.

"Mighty!" she agreed as she pinched Jamieís cheek and trotted back to her post.

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

By the time Jamie made it back Conor had procured a perfectly poured pint of Guinness for her as well as another round for his drinking buddies. She had never seen any of the boys in their cupsóhad never in fact seen them drink at all except for bowling night. But she had to admit that they were a fun group of drunks. Conor especially was twice as charming, if a little sloppy. He tossed an arm around Jamie and held on to her for the duration of the evening. But after a while it became clear that he did so to maintain his balance as much as to show his affection.

The boys had been teasing and taunting each other mercilessly all night and Jamie found herself on the end of a few pointed barbs herself. But she didnít mind a bitóin fact it made her feel like one of the group and she did her best to give as good as she got. She limited herself to two pints but that was more than enough to give her a very pleasant buzz. Her mind reeled at the thought of how the boys must be feeling since she had personally seen them each have 3 in the two hours she had occupied her stool.

When one patron got a little too enamored of Ryan she watched all of the boys give him a long stern look but they didnít make an obvious move to deter him. Ryan took his wandering hands in stride, stepping quickly out of the way when he tried to grab a handful of her shapely butt. "Iím amazed you didnít flatten him," Jamie chuckled into Conorís ear.

"Ahh, you canít blame them, Jamie," he explained rather expansively. "She looks like she wants them to grab her; she flirts with them constantlyÖhell, Iím half tempted to make a play for her!" He laughed at his own joke and nearly passed out in hysterics when he caught the look on Jamieís stunned face. "Iím kidding, Jamie!" he howled. She slapped him lightly on the side and rolled her eyes in exasperation at his antics. But he leaned over as he pulled her tightly against his side. "How about you?" he purred rather seductively.

Her mouth grew bone dry as she stammered, "MÖMÖMe what?"

"Do you have an interest in my baby sister?" he asked in the same seductive growl.

"WÖWÖWhy would I have an interest?" she stuttered weakly.

"I asked first," he reminded her. "Come on now, you can tell Uncle Conor," he crooned. "I promise I wonít tell."

"IÖIÖI umÖ" she muttered, annoyed at her own inarticulateness.

"Um hmm," he murmured, "Just as I thought." Her rapidly blushing face and weakening knees caused him to pat her shoulder comfortingly and hold on a bit tighter. "There, there," he assured her. "You could do worse than to fall for my sister, you know. And personally, I think sheíd be a fool to let you get away." He tilted his dark head down and rested it against Jamieís for a moment. "Youíre quite a woman, Jamie."

She closed her eyes tightly and accepted the truth of his statement. But a relatively soft object hurled at her head at close range broke the moment. Turning faster than her slightly blurry eyes appreciated she whirled around to find a grinning Ryan tossing peanuts at her head from a dish on the bar. "Donít encourage him, Jamie," she warned. "Heíll follow you home like a lost puppy."

"No problem," she replied with a grin of her own. "Iíve always wanted a puppy," she said affectionately as she teasingly petted Conorís dark head.

"Well, donít blame me if he starts humpiní your leg," she warned, accent firmly in place as she dashed down the bar to pour another pint.

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

Even though she had tried valiantly to leave several times Jamie found herself still in place as Ryan called out, "Last call, lads! Final pints!"

She lifted her arm to gaze in amazement at her watch which did, in fact, read 1:45 a.m. "My God," she muttered. "How did it get to be so late!"

"And how did I get to be so drunk?" Brendan moaned, dropping his head into his hands.

"You are drunk," Frank agreed, shaking his head and clucking in distain.

"Canít hold his liquor," agreed Kieran, who was clearly as drunk as the rest of the boys.

"Iíve only had two and I can hardly talk!" Jamie moaned. "How will I get home?"

"Yer cominí wit us," Conor insisted in his own Irish accent. "As soon as we help the wee one wit her chores."

Jamie watched in awe as the drunken OíFlahertyís got to their wobbly feet and gamely bussed the small tables around the still crowded bar. "Drink up, drink up," Niall insisted as he walked from patron to patron trying to retrieve their still full glasses.

She hopped to her feet and went behind the bar to aid Ryan and the other two women in their daunting task of washing each glass that was returned. But many hands made short work of it and by the time Frank and Brendan rather forcibly ushered the last patron out at 2:15 the bar was clean enough for the professional cleaning crew that arrived every morning to clean the floors and the bathrooms.

Ryan walked and the others stumbled the few short blocks first to Frankís home, then another few to Kieran and Niallís. They arrived at the OíFlaherty house at 2:45, grateful for the fact that Martin was at work. Ryan guided Brendan to her fatherís room and gave him a kiss on the cheek as he fell to the bed. Conor was able to make it all the way up to his room but he accomplished the feat by holding on to the banister for dear life.

Ryan tossed an arm around Jamie and guided her down to her bedroom. "So, did ya have fun?" she asked, back in her Gaelic persona.

"Yeah, very much so," she admitted. "Your family is really a blast to hang out with, Ryan. And it was worth the trip to see you playing the coquettish straight girl," she teased as she playfully backhanded her in the belly.

Ryan looked thoughtful as they reached the lower floor. "Itís fun for me to act like that once in a while," she mused. "But I canít imagine having to do that every day! I donít know how some straight women keep that act up!" She held out her hands as Jamie started unburdening her pockets of the plethora of bills she carried. "Like you," Ryan said as she started to sort the money. "Youíre a straight girl and you donít hardly ever seem like youíre putting on that ĎOh youíre so cool and Iím such a helpless creatureí routine." She looked up at Jamie who was choosing a t-shirt from the massive selection in Ryanís neatly labeled drawers.

"Hardly ever?" Jamie asked.

"Well, I saw you do it with Jack that time I was in Palo Alto," she mused. "But thatís the only time."

"Hmm, I guess I donít do it much," she admitted. "But Cassie does it constantly," she observed as she considered her circle of friends. "She acts like sheís got a brain stem injury when her boyfriend is around."

"Well itís nice that you donít do it much," Ryan observed. "It must be demeaning."

"Well, you do some manipulative things to get women too, Ryan, donít act like you donít."

Ryan looked up at her with a completely guileless look on her handsome face. "I donít think I do," she said. "Oh, I flirt and act a little more forceful than normal, but I donít think I try to alter who I am or what my capabilities are," she mused. "I just try to show my assets to the best of my ability," she said with a wicked glare as she shook her shoulders and jiggled her breasts in an entirely provocative manner. "That kind of stuff is too easy," she muttered disdainfully. "Women just donít go for it."

Some women do, Jamie thought as she quickly scrambled to the bed to avoid falling down.

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

After Ryan had methodically counted her booty they got ready for bed and hopped in together. "Whatís up?" Jamie finally said after she felt Ryan toss and turn for long minutes.

"I don't know. I guess I'm just a little worked up after tonight. I've having a hard time relaxing," she admitted.

"Let me help you out for a change," Jamie said as she reached down on her side of the bed and found the massage lotion.

Ryan smiled in the darkness and willingly rolled over onto her stomach. Jamie began to push her t-shirt up, but Ryan just reached down and yanked it off. There was no moon and the light in the room was too dim to make out anything but rough shapes, but Jamie was still a bit excited at the thought of Ryan's half naked form lying right before her.

When Ryan rubbed Jamie's back she usually straddled her waist. But she had always had sweats on. Jamie was only wearing a long t-shirt and her underwear. She considered her options; get up and put sweats on, sit next to Ryan on the bed, or jump on and hope for the best. She threw caution to the wind and hopped on. Thankfully, Ryan was still wearing her sweatpants, so when Jamie straddled her hips there was an adequate layer of fabric between them. Nonetheless, she found herself feeling a bit weak at the sensation of sitting on those softly muscled buttocks.

She hadn't given many massages, but she had received hundreds during their travels in Europe. She knew what she liked and she assumed that Ryan would like a similar touch. She did her best to rub the strong back in a clinical, professional manner. But she failed miserably. She found that her hands were guided by an unseen force. They lightly and gently touched and rubbed and prodded the tense muscles. Her hands began to dig deeper into the tissue, eliciting a hiss of pleasure from Ryan. After that sensuous verbal cue she really got into the experience. After a while she had a difficult time feeling where her hands ended and Ryan's back began. She felt so connected and close to her friend.

She was rewarded with occasional grunts of satisfaction when she hit a particularly tense spot, but her toes nearly curled when she touched a spot low on her back and Ryan let out a low, pleasure filled moan. Focus, damn it, she shouted to herself. After working for a long while the muscles felt smooth and pliable under her fingers. Ryan hadn't made a sound for several minutes and her body was still and loose. Jamie finished up by touching her entire back lightly with just the tips of her fingers. She slid off the strong hips and was surprised when she felt no movement from her friend. She leaned over and heard rhythmic deep breathing and realized that she was sound asleep.

Oh, this is not good. Definitely not good. I don't want to wake her to get dressed, but I can't sleep next to her naked chest.

She fretted about the situation for a few minutes, finally deciding to be brave and try to get to sleep. She lay right next to her deeply sleeping friend, occasionally trailing her fingers down her lovely bare back. When her fingers strayed too far to the side she could make out a very sexy bulge where Ryanís generous breasts had compressed. Try as she might she had a very tough time keeping that hand away from that gentle curve. Every nerve in her hand itched in anticipation but she clamped down on her raging impulses and forced herself to close her eyes. Eventually she succeeded and she fell into a deep, sound sleep.

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

Ryan woke just before 7. She was puzzled by several sensations. One was that she was in exactly the same position that she had been in for her massage. I never sleep on my stomach, she thought. Secondly, she was naked from the waist up. Did I take off my shirt? Oh, yeah, I took it off for my massage. Oooh, what a massage. I had no idea Jamie was that good. Thirdly was the warm hand of her masseuse resting low on her back, with a couple of fingers slid under the waistband of her sweats. God, this is a pleasant way to wake up. She wanted to just lie there and feel the connection. Why does it feel so good to have her touch me in such an innocent way? Geez! I donít know if I can keep my wits about me this morning. Finally her good sense got in the way and she slowly extricated herself from the contact. As she rolled over she pulled the shirt on over her head.

Jamie was still just inches away. Ryan lay back and regarded her sleeping face in the morning light. The sun was just beginning to touch the pillow where her head rested. Her golden hair was mussed from sleep and tumbled in an attractive fashion around her face. The tips of her long dark blonde eyelashes were lightly brushed by the sun's rays. Her smooth skin was beginning to take on a golden tone from all of the outdoor activity, and a few freckles dusted her nose. It was all that Ryan could do not to lean over and kiss each of those cute little freckles.

God, I wish she were a lesbian! Itís so frustrating to feel this way about her but not be able to do anything about it. But she knew that she could never do anything about it. It was one thing to take a lesbian friend and try to make her into a lover. But it was quite another to take a straight friend and try to turn her into a lesbian. Thanks Conor, thanks a lot! I've never thought of the possibility, but you had to put the idea in my head! She shifted a bit in frustration as she gazed at the peaceful face resting so close to her. God, I would love to touch her. She just looks so delectable lying there, all soft and smooth. And she smells so good, she thought. It canít hurt to take a little sniff can it? she thought as she leaned over to inhale.

And was greeted by sleepy green eyes, smiling up at her sweetly. "Is it time to get up?" she asked through a yawn as she stretched slowly and thoroughly.

Ryan was having a hard time ordering her thoughts, but she finally replied, "Only if you want to. We're not in a rush today." With that she tousled the golden hair a bit and hopped out of bed. Definitely time for a cold shower thanks to you Conor, she muttered to herself as she closed the bathroom door.

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

After going for a brisk run with Duffy she stopped at her favorite coffee shop, ĎMartha & Brothersí, for a pair of giant lattés. She didnít expect Jamie to be up for a while but knew that her friend would be in a much better mood if she had a big cup of coffee waiting for her.

As expected, the house was completely still when she entered. Since the morning was cool and her pace had been slower than usual she didnít really need another shower. Sneaking back down to her room she grabbed a pair of sweat pants and a hooded sweatshirt and tip-toed back upstairs. She had to get dressed in the kitchen since every room was occupied but when she was finished she briskly towel dried her hair and went out to the front deck.

The fog showed no sign of dissipating but that fact didnít bother her in the least. She actually had to admit that she preferred a cool, gray morning, a nice soft day as her Granny would say, to a bright, sunny dawn. Given her habit of running nearly every morning she welcomed the heavy damp air that the fog brought, and she always found that her times were better and she was more rested after a run in the fog. Her coffee was nearly finished and her perusal of the ĎComicalí, San Franciscoís daily joke of a newspaper was just about complete when a still sleepy tousled blonde head poked out of the front door.

"Itís freezing out here!" the grumpy little mole face groused.

Oh oh, Ryan privately thought. Somebodyís hung over. "Itís not too bad," Ryan said as she rose to greet her friend. "Sit down and Iíll bring you a nice cup of latté and a blanket."

Jamie didnít reply to this thoughtful offer, she merely flopped down on Ryanís now empty chair and waited for her delivery.

Well, Iíve become pretty adept at getting Caitlin out of her cranky moods. Now Iíll see how my skills work with a bigger baby. She dashed into the linen closet next to her fatherís room and got out a soft cotton quilt that her grandmotherís sewing circle had made for her when she was a baby. Even though she was tiny the women had let practicality dictate and they had made the quilt fit a full sized bed so it was plenty big to wrap her grumpy friend up in. Trotting back to her charge she gently tucked the blanket around the shivering woman, receiving only a grunt of thanks.

Next came the coffee which she warmed in the microwave while she took out a big earthenware mug and ran some hot water through it so it wouldnít chill the coffee. By the time she returned Jamie looked warmer but even grumpier as she waited for her caffeine boost. Hmm, this calls for drastic action, she decided.

Ryan sat down on the roomy padded chaise lounge and said, "If you come sit by me I can make your headache go away."

"Who said I have a headache?" she muttered, staring into her cup.

"No one," Ryan hastened to agree. "But sometimes I get one when Iím up late at night." Especially when Iíve had too much Guinness, she silently added.

"Where do you want me?" she replied, none too happily as she tried to hold on to her coffee and her blanket.

Ryan spread her legs wide, placing her feet on the floor. She patted the seat in front of her crotch and said, "Come sit between my legs. Iíll hold your coffee until youíre settled."

Jamie handed her the cup and climbed onto the chaise with her back to her friend. She settled the comforter over her body and held her hand out silently, indicating that she wished the return of her beverage. When Ryan was sure she was settled she brought her hands up and began a very light massage of her shoulders. "Tell me where it hurts," she cooed into the nearby pink ear. "Here?" she asked as her fingers climbed the throbbing head and settled just above the neck. "Here?" she asked again as her hands moved to the area just behind her ears. "Or here?" as they moved to her temples.

"Yes," her patient replied with a sigh. "Everywhere."

"Okay," Ryan soothed. "First Iím going to massage your shoulders and neck to get the blood flowing. Then, when youíre nice and loose Iím going to apply some acupressure points on your head. I guarantee that youíll feel better in no time," she announced confidently.

"Prove it," the grouchy skeptic demanded.

Wow, tough crowd, Ryan mused with a smirk as she set to work. But she enjoyed few things more than a good challenge and she was determined to make her friend happy before the morning was up. She started off nice and slow and gentle, allowing time for deep sips of the steaming latté. When she could see that the cup was nearly drained she got a bit more aggressive and within minutes Jamieís head was rolling around on her shoulders like a limp rag dollís. When she had thoroughly relaxed her she started on the acupressure points. Working gently but firmly she applied pressure to all of the spots that she knew might be causing her friend pain. She compressed each of the major blood vessels for a few seconds and smiled to herself as the limp woman in her lap sighed with each release.

It took almost a half hour of determined work but she was amply rewarded when a very satisfied voice purred, "God, that felt divine. Thank you, Ryan. Youíre the best." She replied by beginning a very gentle head rub of the adorably mussed golden hair and within minutes Jamie was curled up against her chest, purring audibly. Watching her friend relax so thoroughly brought a wave of sleepiness over Ryan and before she knew it she felt her eyes begin to slowly close.

At 10 oíclock Conor stumbled onto the deck, stopping dead in his tracks at the sight before him. His sister and Jamie were sharing the same chaise; Ryan in the back with Jamie nestled between her legs. The smaller woman was slightly on her side with her knees drawn up and her head pillowed nicely on a plump breast. Ryanís baby quilt covered them both and Ryanís arms were loosely draped around her body in a protective embrace. Sweet smiles graced both sets of lips. That is about the cutest damn thing Iíve ever seen, he mused through his own splitting headache. But call me narrow mindedóIíd be out of my mind if my straight girlfriend was curled up like that on her best friends lap.

Cntinue to Part 8

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