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 15

On the next Friday night Ryan pulled Martin's truck up a fire road on Mt. Tam and parked. She and Jamie hopped out and began to unload their mountain bikes. Jamie had to admit to a little apprehension about this ride. A group of women met every Friday to ride and she had heard that the rides were pretty intense. But she had been riding her mountain bike around Berkeley for months now and felt pretty comfortable with it.

In February Ryan had spent long hours showing her how to shift her weight to climb curbs and small rocks and tree stumps. She had spent quite some time learning how to position herself in the saddle to go down a steep incline and was beginning to feel pretty confident. But she knew she was a rank amateur compared to these women.

Since it still got dark early they each had halogen lamps on their bikes. As an extra precaution Ryan had insisted that she wear a light on her helmet also. She wore long bike pants, heavy, off road bike shoes and a light nylon jacket over her jersey. Ryan had on similar attire plus a pair of clear polycarbonate wraparound glasses. When Jamie had inquired about their purpose Ryan had mysteriously answered, "mud."

Jamie left it at that, figuring she would find out soon enough.

Ryan's bike was a serious off road machine. She had switched tires on the bike, opting for a very aggressive tread pattern, just made for dirt. She greeted several other women as they drove up in their trucks, jeeps and sport utility vehicles. When they were a group of about 20 they took off. It was a fairly normal ride until they reached a small peak. Ryan turned around and said, "Don't follow me," with a wild grin on her face. She and another woman took off, pedaling furiously until they stood on the top of a set of very large boulders. Each rock was at least 20 feet tall, and they sat atop one another to form an outcropping almost 100 feet high.

When they reached the peak she and her partner gave each other demonic smiles just as Jamie wondered what on earth she was going to do. She found out a split second later as Ryan hurled her bike straight down the rock face. Jamie was too shocked to scream or she surely would have done so. Ryan and her friend catapulted down the sheer face at incredible speeds. They crossed paths as they came down in a zig zag pattern, much the way a skier descends a steep slope.

When they reached the bottom Ryan threw her head back and howled like a wild dog. She slapped hands in the air with her friend and as they rode back to the group they were laughing uproariously. When Ryan pulled up next to Jamie she smiled an enormous grin and proclaimed, "Sweet Jesus, that rocked!"

Jamie caught her infectious happiness as they sped along down the trail. They came to a small rocky creek that still had a decent amount of water flowing after the winter rains. The descent at this point was not too steep, but some of the rocks were rather large. Another woman came up to Ryan and slapped her hard on the butt. "Tag!" she shouted as she pedaled away right down the middle of the creek.

Within a heartbeat Ryan was on her tail. The creek curved down the mountain in such a way that it was possible to stand at the top and see the path of the water for a good 1/2 mile. Jamie scrambled over to the edge to watch the pursuit. Ryan flew down the hill, seemingly with no regard for her safety. Jamie's heart nearly stopped beating when Ryan slipped dangerously at one point, but her incredible athleticism kept her from flying over the handlebars. She caught her assailant near the bottom of the creek, slapping her equally hard on the butt as she yanked her bike 180 degrees and began to climb back up the creek bed. The woman tried to keep up but Ryan had a good 10 yards on her by the time they reached the top of the hill.

Jamie was shocked when she saw her. She was dripping wet from heat to toe. Mud covered her legs and ran halfway up her back. But she wore the most blissful smile that Jamie had ever seen on a human being. "I won," she said proudly.

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

The rest of the ride was a bit more sedate. Since it was now fully dark they stayed on the trail, although the dust from the dry earth stuck to Ryan's wet body like glue. The ride was entirely uphill and by the time they made it back to the car they were all sweating heavily. Jamie had never felt so grimy, but she could only imagine how Ryan felt.

One of the riders called Ryan over and Jamie surreptitiously watched them speak. Jamie wasnít sure which of the riders this was since it was so dark. But as some of the other cars turned their headlights on the pair was illuminated for a few seconds. The woman was a particularly striking Latina that Jamie had noticed immediately upon their arrival. She was very dark skinned, and had gorgeous jet black hair that went half way down her back. She had put it into a loose braid for the ride but she had shaken it loose while they spoke and it now framed her beautiful face. They were obviously well acquainted and they stood very close together as they spoke softly. The woman put her hand on Ryanís cheek and she turned her head slightly and kissed her palm. It was unclear what the woman was asking but Ryan was gently shaking her head Ďnoí. She reached into the womanís SUV and pulled out a couple of wet wipes. She quickly wiped her own face and then delicately cleaned all around the womanís mouth, trying to remove the caked on mud and dirt. When she was satisfied she leaned in for a few very friendly kisses. As she pulled away she started to turn but whirled around for another more passionate kiss. She reached up and gently touched the womanís cheek, and then she turned and crossed back over the road to the truck where Jamie waited.

Most of the women were going out for a few beers. Ryan was tempted but she finally decided that she needed dry clothes more than a cold beer. "I've got to remember to bring a change of clothes next time," she said as they pulled off down the fire road.

"Who were you speaking with?" she inquired as casually as she could muster.

"One of my friends. I should have introduced you," she said quickly.

"Thatís okay."

When Ryan didnít elaborate, Jamie persisted. "Are you close friends?"

"Pretty close," she said noncommittally.

Jamie couldnít take any more of this cat and mouse game so she blurted out, "Who the hell was that!?"

Ryan let out a deep laugh that rumbled through the cab of the truck. "Iím sorry, Jamie. Iím just playing with you. That was Alisa Guerra. Sheís an assistant district attorney in The City and Iíve known her for about 3 years."

"Were you an item?" she asked delicately.

"We still are," she said smoothly. "Or at least as much of an item as we ever have been. Sheís one of my long term buddies," she explained.

"Oh, well, Iím not stopping you from seeing her, am I? I can easily head on home if you want to go out."

"Nope. She wanted me to come over but Iím not in the mood. Iím really too tired for anything other than a warm shower and a soft bed."

"Well, I should think so," she agreed. Jamie studied her filthy form for a few minutes. Ryan still had an energized glow about her that Jamie found mesmerizing. "I don't think I've ever seen you be that wild," she finally said.

"I don't do it very often, but every once in a while I just need to blow off some steam. Riding up here is the easiest way I know to really clean out the pipes," she said happily.

"You just seem so full of joy when you're doing something crazy like that sprint down that huge hill," she said with a shake of her head. "Aren't you afraid to try something like that?"

"That's the whole point, Jamie," she replied with a confused little look on her mud spattered face. "It's the fear that makes it hot. If you knew you were safe you wouldn't get off on it."

"Get off on itÖ" she mused, unconvinced of the sentiment. "Do you need that kind of excitement?" she asked with a bit of concern.

"Yeah, I guess I do. I've always been an adrenaline junkie. I was just like this almost every day when I was a kid. If some other kid dared me to do something I did it, no matter the consequences."

"Is that what you mean by blowing off steam? Do your need to do this kind of thing or it just builds up until you can release it?" she inquired.

"Yeah, I guess it does. I've never thought of it in quite than fashion, but that's a good analogy. If I don't have some excitement in my life I get kind of anxious and I have to find an outlet," she admitted. "Itís almost like a sexual release. As a matter of fact this is the first time Iíve been on a ride that I didnít go home with Alisa. We donít see each other a lot but we both get kind of hot after a really good ride."

"Do you think your need for excitement is why you like to um...date lots of different women?" she asked, just a bit afraid of the answer.

"I guess that is part of it. I get bored easily and I need to have a different kind of stimulation, if you'll excuse the double entendre," she grinned.

"Do I ever bore you?" she asked hesitantly.

Ryan pulled the car over to the side of the road. She turned fully in the big bench seat and looked directly into Jamie's eyes. "Never," she said firmly. "I don't know what it is about you, Jamie, but every time I'm with you it feels fresh. Sara was the only other person I've ever felt that way about. Itís funny but I was with Ally for a few days a couple of weeks ago. She is the most amazing lover," she said appreciatively. "I mean truly amazing," she repeated just in case Jamie missed it the first time. "But after being with her for 3 days in one week I had enough. Itís not that I donít like her; I really do. And she is so totally hot in bed!"

"You mentioned that," Jamie said dryly.

"Oh, right," she said with a smirk. "Anyway, I was thinking about that since I had just broken up with Tracy. I thought, ĎMaybe I could make it work with Allyí. Conor had just given me this big talk about how he thought I should date a friend rather than a stranger and I mulled that over when we were together. But I had just seen enough of her after those 3 days." She turned again to fully face Jamie. "That has never happened with you. Never. Other than my family, youíre the only person I donít get tired of."

Jamie was outrageously pleased to hear this information. She gave her friend a luminous smile and simply patted her leg as she said, "I've never gotten bored with you around either, you wild woman."

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

When they arrived home Martin came out to the front porch to greet them. He laughed at the sight of Ryan and told Jamie, "She's just lucky you're here, Jamie. I used to take her out in the back yard and hit her with the garden hose to clean her off before I'd let her in the house."

After a short lecture about contracting pneumonia Martin ordered them to enter the house through the door next to the garage to avoid tracking mud through the living room. Jamie was so exhausted that she gladly accepted Ryanís invitation to sleep over. After two long showers they relaxed on the bed. "Thanks for showing me your wild child, Ryan."

"Anytime, Jamie, anytime."

As they settled down Jamie heard a sharp grunt as Ryan rolled onto her side. "What's wrong?" she asked with concern.

"When I was going down that creek I almost lost it," she admitted. "I yanked it out at the last second, but I felt something pop in my leg. It just pulls a little when I roll over."

"Let me see," she demanded as she switched the bedside light on. Ryan was wearing thin Royal Stewart plaid flannel pajama bottoms and a dark blue T-shirt. Turning her face to gaze at her friend for a moment she gently demurred.

"I think itíll be okay, you donít have to do anything."

Jamie leaned over just a bit until she was able to face Ryan fully. She placed her hand on her shoulder and asked, "Why wonít you let me help if I can? Youíre always so solicitous of me, and Iíve got to tell you, it feels great to be pampered a little."

"I know it does," she admitted as she obviously found it difficult to maintain eye contact. "Itís just that you might be uncomfortable with the location of the problem." She quirked her mouth into a lopsided grin and rolled her big blue eyes just a bit when Jamie looked a little stumped.

Ryan was lying on her side facing her friend, who was lying in a mirrored position. She reached over and gently took her hand, bringing it behind herself and placing it on the abrupt swell of her right buttock. "Itís my hamstring," she needlessly informed her. "And itís really high, almost in my glute."

Smacking her lips together to increase the flow of saliva the smaller woman took a deep breath and found the courage to say, "The offer still holds, Pal. A sore muscle is a sore muscle, no matter where it is. If it would help Iíd be glad to work on it for you."

With a dubious tilt of her head Ryan decided to take her friend at her word. She rolled over in the other direction until she was fully on her belly, arms stretched out above her head. "It's right around here," she said, indicating the general area.

She was terribly grateful that Ryan could not see her face, but she sucked it up and allowed her hand to explore the area. As she probed gently she heard a sharp intake of air pass through Ryan's lips as she touched the spot. "Does it hurt a lot?" she asked as she gingerly touched the swollen muscle.

"It's just tweaked a bit. I'm sure it's nothing serious," she assured her. "Start a few inches below the swelling and slowly work up to actually touching the tweaked muscle."

"Okay, I can do that," Jamie replied firmly as she tried to figure out how to position herself. Making a quick decision she patted Ryanís left leg to indicate she wished her to move it away from her right. Once she did that Jamie was able to straddle the injured leg and work on the hamstring with a pretty good position. The pants were going to be an impediment but Ryan made no move to remove them to Jamieís concurrent relief and disappointment. So she did her best despite the obstacles.

She decided to draw an imaginary circle around the injury and attack it from all sides before actually touching the sore spot. Regrettably, this called for a large amount of actually rubbing her friendís smoothly muscled buttock. But she had made the offer and she felt obligated to perform the task without allowing herself to become sexually excited.

Working as gently as possible she began to knead all around the injury, never drawing closer to the actual spot. Her plan was to sneak up on it after relaxing all of the surrounding muscles. And her plan would have worked if the muscle was right on the surface. But it was not only high on Ryanís legóit was deep. In order to reach the surrounding muscles she had to exert a lot of pressure and after a few minutes Ryan mumbled, "Youíre rubbing my skin raw." She lifted up onto her elbows and reassured Jamie once again, "Itís okay, Pal. Itís just a tough one to reach."

"We can do this," Jamie insisted as she placed a hand on the small of Ryanís back to hold her in place. "Lotion would help," she suggested after she gave the issue some thought. But when she thought of how the lotion would have to be applied she began to regret her idea.

Ryan seemingly sensed her hesitation and she turned her head to gaze at her friend for a moment. "You sure?" she asked again.

Now feeling trapped Jamie felt her head move slowly up and down. But it was obvious to Ryan that she was struggling with the concept. But all at once the dark head bobbed up and down briefly as she scrambled off the bed. "I think an equipment change is in order." She was standing in front of her underwear drawer as she made this declaration. After rummaging through the neat stacks for a moment she found what she was looking for as she held out a tiny black piece of material. "Better access," she grinned as she went into the bathroom to change.

Jamie could feel her heart thumping through her chest so audibly that she feared Ryan could hear it in the bath. Please God, don't let that be a thong! But alas her prayers were not answered. When Ryan emerged revealing a high cut black thong in a satiny material she could feel every bit of moisture leave her mouth and travel straight down to her groin. The look of terror mixed with lust must have been evident for Ryan stopped in her tracks and asked, "Is this okay? UmÖItís all right if you donít want to do this, Jamie."

"NO! No, really," she insisted. "I uhh just didnít want to get anything on those," she fumbled. "They look reallyÖuhhÖnice."

"Oh," Ryan said as she looked down at herself. "Thanks. I never wear them for long," she laughed. "Theyíre more of a prop than anything."

"A prop?"

"Yeah," she said with a chuckle. "My friend Ally likes things like this. Although she never lets me leave them on for long." Ryan found this fact quite humorous but Jamie could not loosen up enough to find humor in anything right then. She needed every bit of her strength and concentration just to stop her hands from shaking.

Ryan climbed back onto the bed, once again face down. This position did nothing, however, to alleviate Jamieís discomfort. She hadnít realized it until just that moment but she discovered with a gut clenching jolt that she was inordinately fond of Ryanís butt. Ryanís rounded, incredibly firm, finely muscled, smooth, creamy white butt, that is. And to have that perfectly shaped derriere placed right in front of her eyes for her shaking hands to massage was too much for her racing heart.

She nearly stumbled as she got to her feet but she managed to right herself as she declared, "That ride really dehydrated me. Iím going upstairs for a drink. Need anything?" One foot was on the lowest step by the time Ryan could reply but she managed to respond, "Uhh sure, a little water or Gatorade would be good. You sure you donít want me to go?"

"No, no, I know my way around," she assured her as she scampered up the stairs. Luckily she was modestly dressed in the roomy top to Ryanís pajama bottoms along with her own panties because she ran into Conor sitting on a stool in the kitchen, reading the paper.

"Hello there," he rumbled, looking her up and down briefly. "Nice outfit by the way," he added with a twinkle in his bright blue eyes. "You should wear that type of thing more often."

"Thanks," she blushed, suddenly feeling very exposed even though the top covered her body almost to her knees. "Itís your sisters," she explained needlessly. "We went on a big bike ride up on Mt. Tam and I was too tired and dirty to go home."

"Ohh, riding with the big girls, are you?" he chuckled.

"Yeah, and I did pretty well, if I do say so myself. Of course, I could never keep up with Ryan. Sheís amazing." She walked over to the refrigerator and peeked at the contents. "What are you doing down here?"

"Oh, I had a long meeting with some thick headed clients. Ruined my whole evening. So I thought Iíd at least have a beer and read the paper before I went to bed."

She turned and eyed his dark creamy looking beer in the very large glass. "What is that? It looks delicious."

"Murphyís stout," he proclaimed as he held the glass out. "Have a sip."

All of a sudden the thought of alcohol was very, very attractive. She reached for the heavy glass and took a long gulp. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand she pronounced, "Now thatís a beer!"

"Have one with me," he urged. "Ryan wonít miss you."

"Iíd like to," she prevaricated. "But Ryan hurt her leg and I promised Iíd give her a massage after I got something to drink."

"Well, if you had a wee one with me you would be getting something to drink," he said in his most seductive voice.

"You know, a little alcohol might make her leg relax. Would you pour one for us to share?"

"Geez," he grumbled as he got to his feet and retrieved another pint glass from the cabinet. "Even the straight girls wonít give me a chance!"

Jamie read his teasing as just that and as he finished pouring the big can into the heavy glass she stood on her tip toes and kissed him on the cheek. "Youíre irresistible and you know it, Conor OíFlaherty."

He graced her with a big smile and a gentle one-armed hug as he handed her the glass. "Go take care of your patient," he ordered. But as she started from the room he asked, "Sheís not hurt badly, is she?"

Looking over her shoulder she gave him a grin and reminded him, "It takes more than old Mt. Tam to get the best of your little sister."

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

She was a good bit more relaxed as she made the turn to descend the stairs but just for good measure she slugged down at least ľ of the pint on the short trip. Ryan was just where she had left her, lying on her tummy with her arms extended. She was obviously very relaxed, but Jamie could still see the muscular tension in her powerful thighs and butt. "Whereíve you been? I was about to come looking for you."

"Oh, Conor was upstairs and he talked me into having a short one with him," she said airily. "I brought a pint down for us to share. I thought a little alcohol might help relax your leg."

"Hmm," she speculated as she rolled onto her side and supported her head with her hand. "That might be the key to increasing my massage business. ĎHave a pint and a rubí."

"I think they already have that in The Tenderloin," she scoffed, mentioning the cityís notorious Ďsin districtí.

Ryan held out her free hand and grasped the glass, giving first it, then Jamie a speculative look. But she did not comment further about the large missing portion, easily matching the amount Jamie had siphoned off with one enthusiastic gulp. "Ahh, thatís smooth," she murmured.

Jamie got up on the bed and took another hearty swallow. They passed the glass back and forth, drinking quickly and in silence, until it was drained. "I guess we were thirsty," Jamie observed as she eyed the empty glass. "Care for another?"

But Ryan gently shook her head. "Iíll be pissed if I have more on an empty stomach."

"Angry?"

"No, pissed," she explained. "One of the many, many terms the Irish use for inebriation." She rolled over onto her belly and turned her head to maintain eye contact. "Still interested?" she asked with one raised eyebrow.

"Yep," Jamie bravely agreed as she resumed her former position. The stout had helped a bit, she was pleased to note, and her hands were hardly shaking as she poured a generous amount of massage lotion onto them. She delicately began to implement her former plan, again working around the perimeter of the obviously swollen muscle. Once again Ryan relaxed into the touch, controlling her breathing with deep, steady breaths, evidently to control the pain.

Jamie imagined that the distended muscle must be terribly painful but Ryan stoically allowed her to work, never even flinching at her touch.

As she got into her work she carelessly allowed her mind to wander, a very bad decision as it turns out. She allowed herself to actually realize that she was straddling her friendís firm thigh with only her satiny panties between them. And the movement that she needed to press deep into the muscle caused that firm thigh to rub in a most delicious fashion against her throbbing vulva. At this point her only option was to distract herself. She tried everything. She thought of car crashes, world hunger, tornadoes, and pestilence. Nothing helped. She was only able to carry on by trying one of Ryan's tricks. She focused her mind totally on Ryan's leg. She rubbed, kneaded, stroked, tapped, fondled and petted that sinewy muscle all the way to the middle of her buttock. She had never been so focused on any task.

When she had done as much as she could for the injured muscle she spent a few minutes working on its twin. Small, satisfied grunts greeted her touch but she was so focused that she did not need feedback. When both hamstrings were loose she slid off and instructed, "Roll over for me." Ryan did not question her plan, meekly complying with the edict. She began to work on the stressed quads, making both legs as pliable as possible. After a very long time of very loving connection she realized that she had not heard a sound out of Ryan for a long while. She abruptly lifted her head and she saw it: an unguarded look of pure desire on that beautiful face.

Ryan knew from the look on Jamieís face that she had been caught. Nonetheless she tried her best to adopt a neutral expression as Jamie slid off her leg and lay down next to her. Without allowing herself to form a conscious thought Jamie placed her hand on Ryan's soft cheek and turned her head until they were breathing the same charged air. As though guided by a magnetic force she dipped her head and closed her eyes as she began to place delicate kisses on her forehead, across her cheeks, her chin and even the tip of her nose. She pulled back for a moment to gather her thoughts and to her horror she saw not the desire of moments before, but wide eyed fear clouding that beautiful face. She shot bolt upright and leapt to her feet in a near panic. "Oh, God Ryan, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I thought..."

In the next instant Ryan was on her feet wrapping Jamie in a strong embrace, cooing into her ear, "It's okay Jamie, it's all right." She rubbed her back and ran a hand through her hair as she continued to reassure her shaken friend.

Jamie was crying softly against her chest. "I'm so ashamed," she whimpered. "I don't know why I did that. I promised myself I wouldn't...."

Ryan pulled back and stared at her shaking friend for a long minute, "What do you mean, you promised yourself that you wouldn't?" she asked gently.

This brought on a new flood of tears as Jamie shook from head to toe. Ryan guided her to the bed and urged her onto her side. She got in right behind her and wrapped her arms around her quivering body, murmuring comforting words the entire time. After a few minutes Jamie finally had the ability to speak. "I am so sorry Ryan. I just assumed that you might feel the same way," she murmured with her voice filled with grief.

"Is this something that you've felt before tonight?" Ryan asked softly.

"Yeah," she said shyly. "It's one of the reasons that I started seeing Anna. I was so confused about how I felt about you that I just needed to talk to someone about it. She told me I wasn't ready to act on my feelings," she said glumly. "I guess I should have listened, huh?"

Ryan turned her friend over so they were face to face. "Jamie, I want you to hear me carefully," she solemnly intoned. "You are the most desirable woman I have ever been near. If we were not such close friends you would be on the way to your third orgasm right now." She gave her a little eyebrow wiggle, "At least."

This brought a little chuckle from Jamie as Ryan continued. "You just broke up with your fiancé 4 weeks ago, and it wasn't your idea. You are under an incredible amount of stress and it's manifesting itself in physical symptoms. Anna is right, Jamie, you need some time to know what you want. To introduce sex into our relationship could destroy it and I'm not willing to take that risk," she said fiercely. She grasped Jamie's chin in her hand and stared directly into her eyes, "You are far too precious to me to risk losing you over a passing urge." Adding after a pause, "Even if it is the most tempting urge I've ever resisted."

"So, are you saying that you might be interested in me if I was sure that this was what I wanted?" she asked timidly.

"If I could make you my lover, without losing you as a friend, there isnít a doubt in my mind," Ryan said decisively as she gently kissed her forehead.

"So what do we do now?" Jamie asked, afraid that the revelation alone might affect their friendship.

"We stay just like we are," she soothed, gently stroking her face. "You continue on in therapy. You take as long as you need to figure out what you want. When you make up your mind, you just let me know. If you want me, Iíll be waiting for you. But if you donít, I want you to feel like you can tell me. I want whatís best for you, Jamie. If youíre a lesbian Iíd love to build a relationship with you. But if youíre not, I want to be your best friend for as long as you can stand me," she said with a twinkle in her vivid blue eyes.

"Youíd really be okay if I told you that I was straight?" she asked tentatively.

Ryan chuckled a little at the question. "I thought you were straight 15 minutes ago, Jamie. I think Iíve been getting by all right."

She blushed furiously as she realized how her question had sounded. "No, thatís not what I mean. I mean could we go back to how weíve been? Wouldnít it change things too much once Iíve told you how I feel?"

"Not for me," Ryan said firmly. "I love you, Jamie," she said with a tear in her eyes. "Whether I ever express that love sexually is another issue. But no matter what, I love you. And if you are straight I want you to find a man who will love you like you deserve to be loved."

"I love you too, Ryan. Very, very much," she said as she closed her eyes and sank into a welcome hug. The hug turned into a full body cuddle and after a few minutes Jamie felt herself begin to relax fully. All of the sexual tension between them had dissipated and she felt herself drift off into a contented sleep just minutes later, relishing the feeling of being wrapped in that comforting embrace.

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

The following Friday afternoon Ryan returned a page between clients at the gym. "Hey, Ally," she said when her friend answered.

"Do you have my phone number memorized?" she asked with a chuckle.

"Yep. I tend to remember things that I associate with pleasure," she replied happily.

"I know this is late to ask, but would you like to have dinner with me tonight?"

"Dinner?" Ryan asked, a bit surprised.

"Yes, dinner. I know thatís not normally how we use our mouths but I want to talk to you about something."

"Um, yeah, I can do dinner. But I have something to talk to you about too," she admitted. "Iím not able to stay over tonight."

"Thatís okay, Ryan. Iím actually not calling for sex this time. I really want to talk."

"Okay, what time should I come by? Iím off work at 5."

"Just come over when you can. Weíll decide where to go when you get here."

"Okay, see you then." Thatís weird. She sounded like she didnít want to have sex. Thatís a first!

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

At 6:15 they were seated at a casual little place in the Castro. The restaurant was small, rather dark and very quiet. Ally was obviously a regular since she was greeted by nearly every employee. They were shown to a small table in the back of the room where they could speak in private. After they placed their orders Ally cleared her throat and started to speak. "I...ah...I want to talk a little bit about some changes Iím making," she finally got out. She looked very nervous and Ryan reached up to cover Allyís cold hand with her warm one. She gave her an encouraging look, but didnít respond verbally.

"I have decided to try to change some of my sexual umÖphobias," she said as she looked down at the table. "Um I haveÖsomeÖissues that IÖum," she looked at Ryan helplessly as she was unable to find the words to express herself.

"Itís okay, Ally," she said gently. "I know youíve got some things that get in the way a little bit. Tell me as much as you want to."

"Okay," she said as she let out a breath. "I donít know why I feel so nervous talking to you about this. You obviously know I have some hang ups," she added with an embarrassed look.

"Everyone has some," Ryan reassured her.

Ally looked up at her with a quizzical glance. "Even you?"

"Yep. Most of mine donít come up when Iím with you, but Iíve got my share. My big issue is being in control. I normally canít let anyone be in chargeóit really freaks me out if someone is too aggressive."

"Um, Ryan," she said gently. "Thatís exactly what I do to you."

"I know!" she laughed. "But I swear youíre the only one! Iíll have you know that most people think Iím a total top!"

"You!? Youíre the biggest bottom Iíve ever been with!" Ally cried as she howled with laughter.

"Hey! Keep it quiet! Iíve got a reputation in this town," she scolded.

Ally laughed long and hard at this revelation from her friend. But it seemed to relax her quite a bit and when she resumed her story she was much more calm. "I know youíre pretty perceptive, Ryan. So I guess youíve figured out that I was sexually abused."

Ryan gave her a small nod as Ally continued. "My oldest brother raped me when I was 11," she said softly. "He continued to molest me until I was 13. Thatís when he left home to get married," she said with a disgusted look on her face. "Anyway, thereís all sorts of reasons why I couldnít go to my parents or anyone, but thatís not important right now. What is important is that Iím going to try to open myself up to be with one person. And because of that, Iím not going to have casual sex any more." She looked up at Ryan and gave her a shy smile. "Even though I donít want to stop, especially with you."

Ryan gave her a luminous smile in return and squeezed her hand tightly. "Iím so glad that youíre trying to feel more comfortable with yourself, Ally. I think youíd be a wonderful person to be in a relationship with. And please donít feel bad about us. I ...uh...I wanted to tell you that you were right about Jamie, my straight friend. Sheís not quite as straight as I thought," she said with a deep blush.

"Ah ha!" she crowed. "I knew it! So are you two an item?"

"Not really. She made an overture but I donít want to get involved until she works out some issues in therapy. Sheís too important to me to ruin our friendship before sheís sure this is what she wants."

"Anyone in their right mind would want you, Ryan," she said sincerely. "You are one perfect little prize."

"I donít know about that," she said as she blushed again. "But thanks for the compliment."

"So do you think we could still see each other once in a while? I like you a lot, even outside of bed," she asked with a very shy smile.

"I would love that," Ryan said sincerely. "And Iím really honored that you called me to tell me this, Ally."

"Well," Ally blushed deeply. "I do like you a lot and I trust you totally, Ryan. I knew youíd be safe to talk with. But umÖthe other reason was that I didnít want you to call me to have sex. I feel confident about this now, but I was afraid that an invitation from you would blow my resolve to hell!"

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

Through an unspoken but mutual agreement they didn't speak of the details of Jamie's progress in therapy. Jamie was pleased beyond words that the incident did not seem to have an effect on their relationship. Ryan treated her exactly the same as she had before and she felt herself settle back into their old patterns as well.

What impressed Jamie the most was how honorable Ryan was about the whole episode. She loved her all the more for her fortitude in being able to rebuff her advances in order to preserve their friendship. Even if we never become lovers, I know I'll never have a better friend, she thought of her fondly.

Just as March was winding down Jamie asked her one day how she felt about baseball. "I would have to say that baseball was my first love," she reflected thoughtfully. "Conor was a big fan and since I did everything he did I became one too. How about you?" she returned the question.

"Football is a much bigger deal for me but I like baseball a lot," she replied. "How would you like to go to opening day next week?" she inquired lightly.

"Do you have tickets?" she inquired gleefully. At Jamie's sly nod she enthusiastically accepted.

Jamie did indeed have tickets. Her father was a big supporter of the group that had bought the Giants from the Stoneham family years earlier. When the team was struggling just to draw 8,000 fans he had purchased 4 sets of box seats for the law firm, and a set for himself. He didn't go to a lot of games, preferring to give the tickets to young associates and their friends. But he was always willing to let Jamie use them when she wished.

Since they had 4 seats it was obvious that they had to invite Conor, but they were not sure who the 4th should be. Martin had to work, and he would sooner die than take a day off for pleasure; Brendan wasn't much of a fan; and Rory was out of town. Jamie asked Conor if he had a friend he would like to bring. "Sure, I've got dozens of friends and cousins who would love to come," he said easily. "But it's hard to choose just one. Don't you have any great looking friends you could bring, Jamie?"

Jamie and Ryan looked at one another and laughed. "I've got one, Conor, but she's a handful," she replied teasingly.

"Bring her on Jamie. I'm up to the challenge," he said confidently.

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

The game was on a Tuesday afternoon. Conor was going to work in the morning and Mia needed her car for an appointment in the city so Jamie and Ryan agreed to meet them in front of Gate A at 1:00 o'clock. The day was perfect for baseball. 75 degrees with a crystal blue sky and a light breeze off the bay. Jamie drove the Boxster down into the underground parking garage of her father's law firm at noon. She hopped into the elevator that led to the main reception area where she patiently waited for him to come down. After a few minutes he arrived, with a big smile and a hug as a greeting. "I'm glad you wanted the tickets today, Honey. I like to think of you at the park on a beautiful day like this, playing hooky," he teased. "It reminds me of my own misspent youth."

"I really appreciate the tickets, Daddy. Thanks for saving them for me," she said sincerely.

"It's my pleasure, Cupcake. Hey, I've got mothers new car here. Do you want to see it?" he asked.

They went back down in the elevator together. He led Jamie to a brand new brilliant red Mercedes CLK320 convertible. She whistled appreciatively at the sexy car as she walked all around it, admiring it from all angles. "I didn't know you were such a fan of cars, Jamie," he said with a grin.

She blushed a little as she said, "I'm really not, but I'm taking Ryan and her brother to the game and they are both fanatics. I was just thinking of how much they would like this one," she admitted.

He reached into his pocket and handed her the keys. "Take it, Honey. I'll be here until at least 10 o'clock tonight. Bring it back on your way back to Berkeley."

"Are you sure, Daddy? Would mother mind?" she asked tentatively.

"She barely knows which car is hers, you know that. Now go have fun. Feel free to let your friends drive, Jamie. I know the lure of a hot car," he said knowingly.

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

She pulled up in front of Ryan's home at 12:30. As was her habit she was sitting on the porch waiting when the new red car pulled up. "Hey little girl, want a ride?" she said seductively as Ryan trotted down the stairs.

Ryan's mouth gaped open as she slowly walked around the car. She lightly touched the paint with loving hands as she made three complete circuits before she uttered a word. "Is this yours?" she finally said in wonder.

"No. It's mothersí. Daddy is driving it while she's out of town this week." She turned off the car and got out to stand next to Ryan. "Wanna drive?" she asked with a leer.

"You're kidding, right?" she asked as she gazed longingly at the keys dangling from Jamie's extended hand.

"I would never kid you about something as serious as a car," she stated seriously.

"Is it okay? I mean, this is your momís," she warned.

"It's fine, Ryan. Daddy insisted that I take it, and he insisted that you drive it," she revealed.

That caught Ryan by surprise. "Did you tell him I was going?" she inquired, realizing at that instant that it was important to her that Jamie not be ashamed of their friendship.

"Yes, I told him that you and Conor were going and that you were both car nuts. That's when he told me to take the car," she said, proud of her own candor with her father.

"You know Jamie...." she began, but stopped short. "Never mind," she added quickly.

"What were you going to say Ryan?" she inquired seriously.

"Um...I was going to make a joke about being your best friend again, but I just decided that our friendship means too much to me to joke about," she replied frankly.

Jamie gazed up at her with respect and admiration, "You are just about the sweetest woman I've ever known," she said slowly.

"Oh yeah?" she grinned as she snagged the keys from her outstretched hand and hopped into the convertible, "Let's see how sweet you think I am after I peel the rubber off these tires," she grinned as she laughed maniacally.

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

Ryan pulled into the line for valet parking as they approached the stadium. "I think I'm beginning to have a small appreciation for why rich people don't give all of their money away," she said thoughtfully. "Having money really does make life easier in terms of creature comforts. I don't think I ever realized the seductive nature of it."

"It really is seductive, Ryan. It's so easy for forget how little most people have when you have a lot. You can be so insulated that you just never get in touch with normal people." After a moment she added, "I hope that never happens to me."

"I'll give you a dose of reality anytime, kiddo. I'll show you my bank statement if you really want a shock," she teased.

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

After their car was taken from them they had just a short walk to the front gates where they saw Conor waiting. He was wearing faded blue jeans; a white golf shirt and an authentic Giants warm up jacket. Black wool with black leather raglan sleeves, with 'Giants' across the chest in bright orange script. "Gee Conor, you really do look like a fan," Jamie said as she gave him a hug.

"I know the opening day roster of every team back to 1976, I'll have you know," he said with a grin. "Did you have a hard time parking? It really is a zoo here," he said.

"No, we didn't have any trouble at all, did we Jamie?" Ryan replied innocently.

"Spill it, Ryan. You never could keep a secret," he said as he wrapped his arm around her waist and began to tickle her.

Through her giggles she admitted that they had driven the new Mercedes to the game. Conor was crestfallen. "I've never been in a CLK," he moaned. "Could I come to the parking lot with you after the game to drool on it?" he begged.

Ryan took pity on her big brother and generously offered, "I'll take your truck home and you can go with Jamie. I know how insidious the addiction is, and I empathize with you, Conor."

He gave her a big kiss on the cheek while he hugged her soundly. "You are my absolutely favorite sister," he enthused.

"Wow!" they heard from behind. They turned to see a startled Mia staring at them in shock. "There's two of her!" she said to Jamie as she walked around the still linked siblings.

"I prefer to think there's two of me," Conor said smoothly as he released his sister and grasped Mia's hand. "You must be Mia. I'm Conor," he said as he shook her hand. Within seconds he was guiding her to their seats, with a strong arm loosely around her shoulders. "Keep up, you two," he said as he turned around slightly to wink at Ryan.

"Boy, are you two ever related," Jamie said as she shook her head at a smirking Ryan.

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

They had a marvelous time at the game. Their seats were directly behind the Giants dugout, just 4 rows back. Neither O'Flaherty had ever had seats that even came close to the quality of these. Ryan and Jamie sat in front, with Conor and Mia right behind. But Ryan was turned around for most of the game kibitzing with Conor about a particular player or a dubious strategy.

Jamie was impressed with Ryan's knowledge of the game. She seemed to understand the small details that made the game interesting. "I don't see half of the things you notice, Ryan," she admitted when Ryan correctly predicted that the Dodger first baseman would get a hit.

"Well, I used to follow the game very carefully," she admitted. "I could teach you a few things if you're interested."

"I'm very interested," she replied. "Teach away."

Ryan spent the better part of two innings showing Jamie some of the finer points of baseball. "When I see a team that I don't know I always spend some time watching the catcher," she revealed. "I see how he calls the pitches to each hitter and see where he positions himself behind the plate. You can learn a lot just by watching the catcher for an entire inning."

They proceeded to do just that. Jamie had never really noticed how much in control the catcher was. "I never realized he has to run down to first base on a ground ball," she admitted. "He's all over the place."

"Yeah, and he has to cover 3rd base also. It's funny, catchers are usually slow guys with bad knees but they have to run their tails off during a game," she observed.

After the 6th inning Mia and Jamie went to find a restroom. Ryan and Conor went with them to wait in line for more food. When they reached the privacy of the women's room Mia slapped Jamie hard on the shoulder. "Where have you been hiding him?" she shrieked.

"Hey, knock it off," Jamie said as she rubbed her shoulder as she laughed. "I haven't been hiding him anywhere. He's just Ryan's brother."

"Are you sure he's not why you broke up with Jack?" Mia inquired suspiciously.

"I'm sure I didn't break up with Jack at all, Mia," she replied. "And if I had it would not be because of Conor. He is a doll and a real sweetheart, but I'm not interested in him."

"Why wouldn't you be?" she asked incredulously. "He is a total babe!"

"I'm just not," she replied. "Besides she has two other brothers that are just as cute and about a dozen cousins, all good looking, and all unmarried. I wouldn't know where to start," she added with a laugh.

"Well, I do," Mia replied. "I'm starting with Mr. Muscle out there," she said firmly.

"I wish you the best, Mia. But aren't you forgetting someone?" Jamie inquired delicately.

"Who's that?" Mia responded blankly.

"Um...Jason, your boyfriend?"

"Jason who?" Mia asked innocently as she entered a stall and closed the door behind her.

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

As promised, Ryan drove the big Ram truck back to the house to allow Conor the pleasure of chauffeuring Jamie in the Mercedes. "This is one sweet ride," he said through his wide smile. He was taking them home via side streets to make the ride last as long as possible. "And speaking of sweet, you friend is quite the little prize," he said appreciatively. "Is she dating anyone seriously?"

"Mia doesn't tend to ever date seriously," Jamie admitted.

"Oooh, a girl after my own heart," he said with a leer. "Would you mind if I asked her out, Jamie?"

"No, Conor, not at all. You'd be a definite improvement over her normal choices," she said with a grin. After a pause she asked thoughtfully, "Have you ever been serious about anyone?"

"Yeah, I have," he responded quietly. "I had a very serious girlfriend for almost 2 years. We were on the verge of moving in together but Da talked me out of it."

"Really, why?" she asked, a bit surprised that Martin would get involved.

"He convinced me that if I loved her I should marry her," he replied. "I'm only going to get married once, Jamie, and after I thought about it for a long time, I realized that I didn't love Melissa enough to commit to her forever." He looked at Jamie as he said, "Da made me see that living with her just took her off the market and prevented her from finding someone who really did love her enough to marry her. I can't tell you how hard it was for me, but he was right. As usual," he added with a laugh. "That was 3 years ago and she got married last year, and is going to have a baby soon."

"Do you want to settle down soon, or are you still enjoying your freedom too much?" she asked.

"If I could find the right woman, I don't think I would hesitate. But I am totally picky, so I don't know how soon that will be," he added. "Maybe Mia will be the one," he said wistfully.

"I think Mia is a long way from settling down, Conor. But you two could have a lot of fun together in the meantime," she grinned.

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

She was just leaving her last class on the first Friday afternoon in April when her cell phone rang. "Hello," she mumbled as she tried to balance the little phone against her ear while struggling with her text books.

"Jamie?" the familiar voice asked.

"Jack," she breathed, amazed to hear from him. "UhÖhi," she added hesitantly.

"UmÖ" he stumbled a bit, obviously unsure of himself. "Would youÖumÖwhat I wanted to know wasÖumÖif you would have any interest in talking to me a little bit."

"Talking to you?" she asked, rather confused by his tone and his request.

"Yeah, Jamie," he said with a bit more confidence. "Iíve been doing a lot of thinking and I have some things to say to you."

"Uhh, well, sure Jack, Iíd be happy to talk to you," she agreed even though her stomach was clenching. "Whatís good for you?"

"If youíre free tonight I could come take you to dinner," he offered.

"UhÖokay," she said. "Iím free after 7."

"Great," he said happily, sounding very much like himself now. "Iíll call and make reservations. Anyplace new youíd like to try?"

Is this Jack Townsend? she wondered warily. "Well, thereís a nice little Northern Italian place called Cucina. I donít know the number though."

"Thatís okay," he said quickly. "Iíll make a reservation and come get you at 7." He paused a moment and asked, "You arenít seeing anyone are you, Jamie?"

"Um, noÖno Iím not," she replied somewhat honestly.

"Great!" he said. "See you then."

"Okay," she said slowly as she clicked the cancel button. What in the holy hell was that all about? she wondered as she stared at the phone in her hand.

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

She felt a bit off kilter during her workout and several times she glanced up at Ryan to find her looking at her with concern in her eyes. The hour passed quickly though, and at the end of the session Ryan asked, "Thai?"

"Pardon me?" Jamie replied with a very confused look.

"Wanna go out for some Thai food after therapy?" she said with a smile. They had been spending nearly every Friday evening together and it had become an unspoken agreement. Jamie went to therapy while Ryan worked out. Then Ryan rode over to her house and took a shower before they went to dinner. It all worked out beautifully even though they had never formally discussed it.

"UmÖwell, I uhÖcanít do it tonight," she said as she nervously scratched the side of her face. "UmÖsomething came up and I uhÖ"

"Itís okay, Jamie," Ryan assured her as she lightly squeezed her shoulder. "We donít have to have dinner together every Friday night." She smiled broadly, but Jamie could see just a tiny bit of disappointment on her handsome face.

"I know," she quickly agreed. "We justÖ"

"Itís okay," Ryan said again. "Call you tomorrow?"

"Please do," she said with a smile as she went to the locker to pull her things out. As she walked out the door she could feel Ryanís piercing blue eyes follow her out to the parking lot. Why do I feel like Iím lying to her?

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

She and Anna had decided to see each other 3 times a week since she was really ready to deal with her issues and needed all the support she could find in dealing with her feelings for Ryan. After settling down and briefly telling Anna what had happened Anna smiled neutrally, encouraging Jamie to explain her feelings about the issue. "I donít know what I think about it," she maintained. "Iím just trying to be polite."

"Hmm," Anna mused. "Do you normally feel like youíre doing something wrong when youíre just being polite?" She smiled again, and Jamie once more felt like Anna could see right into her soul.

"Oh crap!" she cried in frustration. "I donít know what in the hell Iím doing! He sounded like he just wanted to chat, but then he offered to buy me dinner in a real restaurant no less!" she gave an ironic grimace at that. "And right before he hung up he asked me if I was seeing someone," she finally admitted with an embarrassed look.

"And that makes you feelÖ?"

She threw her hands up in frustration; amazed that Anna could not see the problem. "I feel like Iím cheating on Ryan!"

"CheatingÖ? How exactly are you cheating?"

"I told Ryan I loved her!" she cried. "Now Iím going to have dinner with my ex-fiancé and I donít even tell her about it."

"Jamie," she said soothingly, "I think youíre getting ahead of yourself here. Yes, you told Ryan that you were attracted to her, but she told you to take the time to figure out what you wanted. If what you told me is accurate she made no claim on you at all."

She nodded her head slowly, as her brow creased. "I told you the truth," she agreed. "But weíve been spending all of our time together. If sheís dating anyone else itís very late at night because sheís with me most of the weekend. It just seems like weíre slipping into a dating relationship even though we donít touch sexually."

"Oh, I see," Anna said as she nodded. "You think your actions have told her something that your words have not."

"Kinda," she admitted. She shook her head roughly, causing her thick blonde hair to bounce all around her face. With an annoyed move she shoved her right hand through her hair, brushing it out of her eyes and settling it in its normal casual style. "I was just starting to feel like I was getting close to making a move, Anna," she nearly moaned. "I really felt like I was on a pathÖdo you know what I mean?"

"I think I do, but tell me more," she urged.

"I know itís been a tortured path," she said with a wry smirk, "but a path nonetheless. I feel like from the time I met Ryan Iíve made consistent baby steps towards being with her. This is the first time Iíve felt my desire waver," she admitted.

"Whatís the pull with Jack?"

"Oh, I donít know," she said after a deep breath. "I did love him, you know," she said a little defensively as she stared at Anna defiantly. "And I didnít break up with him. He dumped me. So maybe it feels good to have him make overtures to getting me back."

"Well, he did have a little help with the breakup," she reminded her gently.

"What do you mean by that?" Jamie asked swiftly, her hackles obviously rising.

"Only that Jack was worried about your relationship with Ryan. He told you he was threatened but you refused to let her go."

"He was trying to control me, Anna!"

"Maybe he was," she said gently. "But he was right about Ryan, Jamie. She was a threat and she did take your focus away from him."

"Are you saying that it was all my fault that we broke up?" she asked incredulously.

"Hardly," she assured her quickly. "Iím not sure that fault is the correct word to use, either. All Iím saying is that in retrospect I think you had a hand in causing your breakup. And itís possible that you feel a little guilty about that now."

"So what should I do?" she asked in frustration as her head dropped into her hands.

"I think you should have dinner and see what happens. Look Jamie," she said as she gazed deeply into her eyes and let her voice drop into a low, calming tone. "You have a hot button about anyone controlling you." Jamie nodded slightly, acknowledging the truth of the statement. "But you also have to be careful not to try to control yourself where your feelings are concerned. Try to stay open tonight and just see how you feel. Donít worry about Ryan, or even about Jack. Just feel."

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

She barely had time to shower and wash her hair, but she got both tasks accomplished before the doorbell rang. "Mia," she cried out.

"Yeah?" she asked as she ducked her head into the door of Jamieís room.

"Iím running late," she needlessly explained as she stood in nothing but a towel. "Would you go downstairs and keep Jack company?"

"Jack!?"

"Donít ask," she urged as she rolled her eyes.

Mia gave her a look but trotted downstairs and did as Jamie had asked. She stood in front of her closet with a critical eye; finally choosing an outfit that she was certain Jack had not seen her in. She chose a deep salmon dress in a fine linen, just short enough to be a little sexy but demure enough in cut and style to look sophisticated. The rich color showed off her golden tan and made her already sun bleached hair even paler. She dabbed on just a touch of makeup and found herself automatically putting on a dash of perfume, adding the fragrance to all of her pulse points. Itís just dinner, Jamie, she reminded herself sternly as she found herself dabbing the perfume between her breasts.

She slipped on a pair of black pumps and trotted down the stairs, pausing in alarm as she got a glimpse of his lean body perched on the edge of the table by the front door and felt her pulse begin to quicken. Whatís that about? she wondered as she tried to regain her control. But she quickly remembered Annaís advice and she let herself just feel. She took a deep breath and let her eyes roam over his sandy blonde hair and his very attractive profile as he chatted amiably with Mia. Inexplicably, she felt just like she had when they had first started to go out. She was excited and a little nervousÖwondering what the night would bring.

She descended the stairs slowly, taking him in the whole while. When she got to the bottom stair he turned and met her gaze. His bright blue eyes gentled into a warm smile as he walked over and gently took her hand, giving it a slight squeeze. Yipes! she cried in alarm as a jolt of sensation hit her deep in the groin. Where did that come from? But she knew exactly where it had come from. Jack was being his most attentive, engaging self and she had always found him extremely attractive when he interacted with her in that fashion. He had the ability to focus on her completely, making her feel like he could see deep within her. It was a little unnerving but also completely arousing.

"You look great," he said as his eyes slowly moved up and down her body, taking her in fully.

"So do you," she agreed as she surveyed his crisply pressed charcoal gray slacks, and bright white oxford cloth shirt with very thin navy blue and yellow lines running through it, creating a wide plaid. "Thanks for coming down, Mia," she said as she forced her eyes away from him to glance at her smirking friend.

"Anytime," she replied lightly as she leaned over to kiss her cheek on the way back upstairs. "Have fun, you two."

They watched her go and looked back at each other a little awkwardly. "Did you get reservations?" she asked to break the tension.

"They were booked," he said with a slight frown. "But I remembered that nice little place in the City that we went to with your parents a couple of years ago. So I made reservations for 8 oíclock at Café Mozart."

Jamie was rather stunned by this development. Café Mozart was a lovely little place but it was most definitely a romantic setting. The restaurant could only handle around 50 people but the tables were set well apart to allow for quiet, intimate conversation in the intimately lit space. "OÖOkay," she managed to get out. "I guess weíd better go then."

He helped her on with her coat and grabbed his navy blazer, shrugging into it with his casual, graceful movements. He led her to his little sedan and held the door open for her, waiting until she was safely inside to close the door.

As he got in he looked over at her, once more locking eyes. "Thanks for agreeing to see me," he said softly. "I canít tell you how good it is to see you again." He blinked slowly and she allowed the sensations to fully enter her brain. He was just a foot or so away and she could see the smoothness of his cheek where he had obviously recently shaved. He smelled of a subtle after shave, likely one of the ones she had bought for him. His dark blonde eyelashes framed his blue eyes attractively, giving him an almost delicate, boyish look. But the intense gaze he fixed her with was anything but childlike.

Oh boy, Iím in trouble here, she mused as he smiled and started the car.

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

They relaxed at the small table, waiting for the waiter to bring them the bottle of wine that Jack had confidently ordered. He seems more mature, more sure of himself, she mused as she watched him place both of their orders with the attentive server.

After their wine was delivered Jack touched the rim of her glass with his own as he toasted, "To self awareness," he said with a twinkle in his eye. He took a deep sip of the golden colored Chardonnay and said, "Iíve given more thought to our relationship and the problems that we had than I can ever remember devoting to any topic. And do you know what Iíve decided?"

She shook her head rather dully, her eyes never leaving his lips.

He leaned over slightly and enunciated each word. "YouÖwereÖright," he said simply. As she blinked slowly he quickly followed up. "You were right about how I had come to take you for granted. You were right about how unfair it was for me to be jealous of your friendships. You were right about my failing to see who you were and how you had changed." His voice lowered and he blushed adorably as he added, "You were even right about how one sided our sex life had been." He lifted his head quickly, as a cascade of sandy blonde hair tumbled into his eyes. "You were right about everything, Jamie. And Iím here tonight to ask for a second chance."

His eyes had not wavered from her eyes and hers had not wavered from his lips. Her heart heard his sincere apology but her head could not process the information. He was validating all of those months of struggleóagreeing with every point she had ever madeóand it was just too much. Her hand reached rather blindly for her wine glass, grasping it firmly and lifting it to her lips to swallow a great deal of the contents down in one gulp. "IÖIím," she tried to get out. "IímÖamazed," she honestly replied.

"I donít doubt it," he said gently as he tenderly pried her hand from her glass and grasped it in his own warm one. "I never gave you much reason to think I was much for reflection," he said with a rather derisive chuckle.

"But whyÖ?" she began but he immediately answered.

"Youíre just too valuable to let you get away without fighting for," he said decisively. "Itís like throwing away a fistful of diamonds because you donít like the cut." He sat back in his chair, still gazing deeply into her eyes.

She let his words sink in for a moment, relishing the sincere compliment with a gentle smile on her face. It was exactly what she had wanted to hear him say for the past year. To acknowledge that she had been a very willing and receptive partner and that it was he who had the problemÖit was he who had been wrongÖit was he who caused her to look to Ryan for emotional sustenance. Yes! Sweet Jesus, yes! she cried to herself. I didnít try to find someone else. He pushed me into it!

She gazed up at his sincere, warm blue eyes and said, "That means so much to me." She was struggling with her emotions but he just held her hand more firmly and maintained his smile.

"Will you give me another chance?" he asked softly, still holding her gaze.

She blinked slowly and took a deep breath. Annaís words came back to her and she paused for a moment, letting herself feel the deep sense of relief and joy that his words had caused. "Yes," she said simply. "Yes I will."

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

On the way back to Berkeley she found her hand automatically drift over to rest upon his muscular thigh. He gazed over at her and gave her an encouraging grin, reaching down to gently pat her hand. She could hear the deep breath that he took, smiling to herself as he said, "That feels so absolutely right."

And she had to admit that it did feel right. This was exactly where 21 years of conditioning had led her. To the strong, secure embrace of a young professional who would love her and the children they would have together. Someone her parents and her grandfather would be proud to introduce in public. Someone that she could build a life with along with the full approval of society at large. She would never have to learn those painful lessons Ryan had told her about. She would never have to see the glares and snickers directed at her that they had suffered at the Tea Room. She would never have to explain to her children that mommy loves mommy and that the other children just donít understand. Wow, that was a big one, she thought as she blew out a breath. She actually felt a moment of compassion for Ryan. She has no choice, she thought sympathetically. But I do. I really do! And if I can love and be loved by a man Iím sure she would rather have that for me. She wants whatís best for me, doesnít she? Surely sheíd rather that I live with societyís approval.

But even though she reasoned that her friend would support her she just didnít want to see her this weekend. "Jack? I think Iíll go down to my parents tonight. Would you like to spend some time together this weekend?"

"Absolutely," he replied without hesitation. "Iíve done a lot of thinking about school too, Jamie. Iím not going to let it run my life any longer. Iíve already got a job and a clerkship lined up. What am I trying to prove at this point?" he asked rhetorically.

"Wow," she said slowly. "You have changed."

"I have," he said firmly. "In many, many ways." He placed his hand atop hers and squeezed it affectionately. "And Iíll change in any other way that you need, Jamie. Iíll do anything to make this work."

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

He insisted on waiting for her to pack a few things so he could follow her down to Hillsborough. She found it odd but also touching that he was so concerned with her safety so she graciously allowed him the honor of escorting her.

She could see his headlights right behind her on the whole trip and she found that it was, in fact, reassuring to see him there. She called her parents from the road but there was no answerónot an unusual result given their active lives. But when she rang the bell Marta informed her that her father was down in L.A. for business and that her mother had decided to go with him at the last minute. Marta was surprised and appeared pleased to see Jack with her but she followed protocol and quickly disappeared after offering to bring them a drink. They both accepted her offer and sat on the large sofas in the living room sipping cognac a little nervously.

After a few minutes Jack looked at her and asked, "Do you mind if I sit next to you?"

She just patted the cushion next to herself and smiled at him as he smoothly stood and switched places. They spoke casually about their respective school terms and he pointedly asked her about the ride in great detail. Ryan was not even off topic as he asked Jamie about Ryanís training and how they were working together. She bent to place her nearly empty glass on the table and when she sat back up his arm was loosely around her shoulders. She found that she liked the sensation and leaned against him, letting out a sigh that seemed to have been building for ages. He turned his head and gently kissed the top of her head in a friendly, affectionate manner. Almost unconsciously she found her head turning and then tilting upwards as she opened her mouth to accept his warm lips. Oh God, she moaned to herself. I forgot how good it felt to kiss him. God! Iíve missed this! She had in fact missed the tender intimacies with a lover. She had missed the casual way they had grown to know each otherís bodies and the natural way they meshed together when they kissed. It was a heady, thrilling discovery as her hormones kicked in fully and she felt herself growing aroused. The deep, intense kisses were having an identical effect on Jack. One that she could feel as he gently pulled her into his lap to continue his passionate assault. What could it hurt? she asked herself as her vulva began to throb. It will just be like picking up where we left off. But there was a tiny part of her that wanted some time to reflect before she dove right back in to this relationship. She knew this was a momentous decision and she felt that she needed more time.

Obviously Jack had improved in his psychic abilities also because moments before she was going to halt the embrace he gently guided her back to an upright position. "Iím about to lose control," he whispered as he leaned his forehead against hers. "And Iím sure that you donít want to move this fast."

She nodded demurely, now feeling that maybe she did want to go farther just to show she could change too. But he placed another soft kiss on her lips and stood with some difficulty. "Iíll call you tomorrow," he promised as he stole one more kiss and quickly walked to the door, leaving her throbbing and frustrated.

"Wow," was all that she could get out.

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

The next morning she lay in bed for a very long while, just trying to be open to her feelings. She thought she was doing a pretty good job of it, but she found that she was really only able to concentrate on how she felt being with Jack again. Every time she tried to force herself to think of Ryan she felt her brain shut down and immediately turn to Jack again. But that didnít seem that odd to her at this point. Itís been nearly a month since Iíve let myself think about him much, she reasoned. I have an awful lot of feelings to process about him.

After a leisurely breakfast she spent some time in the living room casually looking through the plethora of neatly labeled photo albums that chronicled her childhood. Mother sure wasnít very good at being involved in my life but she was great at memorializing it, she thought wryly as she perused the books.

The first book was labeled Ď1978í and showed several photos of her mother and father looking very happy together as they anticipated the birth of their child. Catherine was a very small woman and she obviously did not gain much weight during her pregnancy. Her belly was very protuberant but she actually looked like she was wearing a balloon under her clothing since the rest of her body looked exactly like it had before she was pregnant.

There were a number of shots of the shower that her motherís sorority sisters had thrown for her, the happy looking young women joining in the traditional rite of passage into motherhood. Jamie thought ahead to the future, picturing herself in a few years, surrounded by friends from high school and college, preparing to welcome her child into the world. It would be a far different experience if I was with Ryan, she thought wryly. For one thing, Iíd have to get a whole new set of friends. Different parents wouldnít hurt either, she added with a grimace.

Jesus! she thought grumpily. Itís easy for her with that fabulous family! They would probably think it was great that she was going to have a baby with a woman! No matter how society treats her she always has her family to remind her of how special she is. But most of us donít get that. And I donít want to have to lose my family if I donít have to! she thought defiantly. And if Jack is serious about the changes he has made, I donít have to!

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

Jack called a little after 10, obviously trying to be considerate if she wanted to sleep in. "Hi," he said happily. "What would you like to do today?"

"Do?" she asked slowly, trying to understand his exact meaning.

"YeahÖdo," he said with a chuckle. "You know, like normal people. Iíve actually heard that some people venture outside during daylight hours."

"You donít have to study?" she asked slowly.

"Whether or not I have to isnít the issue," he declared. "Iím not going to so itís a moot point. Now where would you like to go? The Giants are in town, we could drive down to Santa Cruz and hang out on the beach; we could even drive over to Napa for the day. We could have an early dinner and still get home at a decent hour."

She was silent for a minute, letting his words sink in. "You really have changed," she finally got out.

His voice deepened as he replied, "Iíve changed a lot, Jamie. Our breakup made me look at my life in a very critical way. And I did not like what I had become."

Her heart picked up a beat as she considered what this all meant. "Letís go to Napa," she said decisively. "Come on over and weíll take one of my parents cars."

"Iíll be there in 30 minutes," he promised. "Wear something that youíll be comfortable in at a nice restaurant."

She hung up the phone and stared at it for a moment before she placed it on the table. Is it possible to do a brain transplant? That sure as hell did not sound like Jack!

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

She decided on a casual print dress, short enough to show off her muscular legs but long enough to allow them to go to a nice place for dinner. The day was warm and she knew it would be warmer in Napa but she also brought a white knit wrap to keep her warm against the usually chilly evening.

Jack was right on time and he happily accepted the keys to Catherineís new Mercedes. They left the top up while they were on the freeway but as soon as they crossed over into Marin Jack pulled over and lowered it. They had been chatting about his law review duties on the way over and even though he seemed interested in his topic he didnít seem as obsessed by it as he had before. As they neared Napa he gazed at her briefly and said, "Iíve been thinking a lot about my decision to clerk for a federal judge next year. It would be good for my career but if weíre back together I donít think I can tolerate being too far from home. Iím going to do my best to secure a spot in Northern California but if I canít I think I may just go directly to Morris & Foster."

Jamie nearly swallowed her tongue at this pronouncement. From the day she met him Jack had stated clear plans for his future, and clerking had been the keystone of those plans. To hear him casually dismiss this important step was absolutely stunning to her. "But why would you do that?" she finally got out.

He glanced at her briefly, and then pulled over onto a little used access road. He turned in his seat and reached over and grasped her hand as he gazed into her eyes. "I explained to you last night that my priorities have changed, Jamie. Being away from you for a year is just not acceptable to me." He chuckled as he admitted, "Iíve been away from you for 7 weeks and it almost drove me crazy."

She sniffed back her tears as she leaned against him, relishing the feel of his muscular torso, the spicy scent of his after shave and the rough starch in his crisp sky blue oxford cloth shirt. "That means a lot to me, Jack," she murmured softly.

He lifted her chin and leaned over to place a gentle kiss on her lips. "You mean a lot to me, Jamie. Much more than I knew."

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

She had been to Napa many times, but never with Jack. This was only his second trip, his first being when he was a young boy. He was very interested in the wine making process so they went on a tour of the Christian Brothers winery since that the was largest big production winery in the valley.

It was so nice to walk along the tour, holding his large warm hand. As usual, he was focused on the details of the operation, something which didnít interest Jamie much. But she got a lot of enjoyment out of watching him try to digest the vast array of information that was fed to them. He asked several perceptive questions of their guide and she found herself smiling up at him as he spoke, admiring the clean, sharp planes of his face, and the bright, perceptive look in his eyes.

Their tour group was a mix of ages but she noticed that the older couples continually gave them appreciative glances. One elderly woman in particular stole a glance repeatedly and Jamie mused that her interest would not be so benign if she were here with Ryan, holding hands and whispering into each otherís ears. This is just so easy, she thought to herself. I wonít have to endure the sharp glances and whispered taunts that have followed Ryan her whole life. Sheís so confident, and self assured that those things donít seem to bother her. But Iím not like that! I want people to like me and smile at me when I go places. I really like that people look at Jack and me with appreciative glances rather than hostility. Is that so wrong?!

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

Their next stop was to the Schramsberg Winery for a nice little tour of their champagne caves. The winery was very cute and quaint and the tour they were part of was very small, only two other couples. The storage area for the filled bottles was quite cool since it was deep in the ground. Jack wrapped his long arm around Jamieís shoulders and she snuggled up against his body for the rest of the tour. She felt so warm and safe when he touched her like this, and she breathed in his scent with a lazy, contented feeling permeating her bones.

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

By 5 oíclock they were both famished and she was a bit tipsy from the wine samples being consumed on an empty stomach. They decided to go to Tra Vigne in St. Helena for dinner, and since it was so early they had no trouble getting a table.

They were shown to a nice table and presented with the extensive wine list. Jack handed the list to her, always content to have her exercise the skills that he lacked. The server presented the bottle of Merlot that she had picked out and Jack indicated that Jamie would be the one to taste the wine. After pronouncing it acceptable they relaxed and waited for their appetizers to be delivered.

"Can we talk about Ryan a little bit, Jack?" she asked with just a touch of hesitation.

To her relief he did not tense up or look uncomfortable at the topic. He just tilted his head a bit to encourage her to continue. "I know that you said last night that you accepted full responsibility for our breakup but thatís not really accurate." He furrowed his brow a bit as he stared at her intently, but still did not speak. "You were right about Ryan," she said firmly.

His eyes widened perceptibly and she realized how that must have sounded. "No, no, not like that!" she hastened to add. "You were right that she was part of the problem."

"How?" he finally asked.

"She was part of the problem because I turned to her for the emotional support that I didnít feel from you," she admitted. "Ryan is very available emotionally and she was always there for me when something was bothering me. Like when I had that pregnancy scare," she reminded him. "It wasnít that I didnít want you involved. I just thought you would be upset with me for not making sure we used a condom. I felt like she would be there for me without judging me. And I didnít feel that from you," she added softly.

"But that sounds like a good thing, Jamie. Itís nice to have friends that you can count on like that."

"Yes it is," she agreed quickly. "And I want Ryan in my life permanently. The problem isnít with her. Itís with me. Rather than trying to work out my issues with you I took the easy way out and just got the support that I needed from her. That was unfair to all of us, Jack. It didnít let you know what I needed from you; it got her involved in things that were really not appropriate for a friend to be involved in and it let me take the easy way out. In a way I used her, and I feel really badly about that."

He nodded briefly and gazed at the wine in his glass as he lifted it and swirled the deep red liquid around. "Iím glad that you admit that I wasnít imagining that she was interfering with our relationship," he said quietly. "And Iím sorry that I assumed it was sexual and that she was actively trying to interfere. I guess I owe her an apology."

"No, you donít," she said quickly. "I never told her any of the comments you made about her. Iím sure she doesnít know how you really feel."

He smiled gently and said, "Thank you. It makes me feel good to know you donít talk about me behind my back."

She rubbed the bridge of her nose nervously as she conceded, "I wouldnít exactly say that." A small chuckle bubbled up from her chest and she added, "I talked about how I felt about you and how hurt I was by you. Iím not sure she thinks youíre a fabulous guy. I just never spoke about what you said about her. And Iíve never told my parents anything bad about you. I only said that we had some issues we couldnít get over."

"Thatís still pretty good," he admitted. "If I only have to repair my reputation with Ryan I think Iím in good shape."

She looked at him and asked directly, "So you wonít mind if I stay close to Ryan? She really means a lot to me Jack."

"Jamie," he said confidently as he grasped her hand. "She can be your maid of honor at our wedding; she can be the godmother to our children; she can be your biking partner; heck, she can even be your personal trainer. I just want you back!"

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

It was late when they finally arrived back in the South Bay. He walked her in and they spent several minutes sitting on the couch and kissing rather innocently. But she could tell he was terribly tired so she suggested, "Why donít you stay overÖin the guest room?" she added with a grin.

He sighed deeply and stretched before he nodded his head. "Thatís a good idea. Iím really beat."

"Come on, Sweetie," she urged as she got to her feet and tugged his hand. "Time for bed."

She got him settled in the guest room right next to hers. After a few tame kisses she walked to her room and got ready for bed. Just before she slid into the sheets she glanced at her cell phone that she had inadvertently left at home. There were 3 messages from Ryan on voice mail, each one sounding a little more concerned. God Ryan, she thought, donít be so possessive! Canít I have a day without my cell phone?

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

She woke at 6 a.m., still very tired but in dire need of the bathroom. After she had relieved herself she got a sly grin on her face and snuck next door and slipped soundlessly into Jackís room. He was sprawled out across the bed, consuming nearly all of the king sized mattress. He was sporting some cute navy blue and white checked boxersÖand an erection. Oh oh, she thought, as she reconsidered her plan. I donít want to have sex just yet, but Iíd really like some closeness. Well, maybe heíd be willing to just cuddle, she thought, deciding to go for it. She slipped in next to him and his body curled up on his side in immediate reaction. She snuggled up against his strong back, taking in his slightly musky scent and the smooth, lightly tanned skin that her cheek rested against. God I missed this, she mused as sleep claimed her almost immediately.

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

As her eyes blinked open a deep voice whispered, "Good morning."

"Oh, hi," she said with a shy grin. "I hope you donít mind that I snuck in here this morning." He was lying on his back and she was curled up against his chest with her head resting on his muscular shoulder. His arm was securely wrapped around her shoulders and his large hand rested on her hip.

"Best surprise Iíve had in weeks," he replied as he placed a tiny kiss on her head. "But I need my arm back for a minute." She released him and watched his cute little butt as he padded into the bath. A few minutes later he emerged, with his face washed and a toothbrush sticking out of his mouth. "What do you want to do?" he asked through a mouth full of toothpaste. "Ready to get up or would you like a little cuddling?"

She was a bit surprised by that offer since cuddling was never his forte. "Iíd love to cuddle if you really donít mind."

He gave her an adorable grin that lit up his whole face. He dashed back into the bath, spitting noisily, then ran a few steps toward the bed and launched himself at her with a wild look in his eyes. She laughed heartily at his antics, trying to remember the last time he was so playful. He grabbed her roughly and plastered his toothpaste smeared mouth against hers, making her giggle uncontrollably. She calmed down after a minute and he braced himself on one arm, leaning over her and saying in a very serious voice, "I missed cuddling with you, Jamie. After we broke up I would lie in bed in the morning and just ache to feel your body next to mine."

She gazed up at him in amazement both at the sentiment and his very successful attempts at emotional openness. Her face curled into a welcoming smile and he lowered his head to place a few delicate kisses on her lips. But true to his word he immediately flopped down next to her and wrapped her in a warm embrace. She turned onto her side and scooted up against his lap, relieved to find him flaccid. I donít think weíve ever cuddled in the morning without him getting an erection, she mused. Maybe he really is serious about just being close. They were both still tired and after a few minutes of the tender embrace she slipped back into a contented slumber. They cycled through sleep and hugs for another half hour or so, turning from one side to the other several times.

At around 8 she woke on her left side, cuddled up against his back. She now felt rested and content and found herself start to nibble on his neck and shoulders. He stayed right where he was but he woke also, tugging her arm close against his chest as he relaxed and let her kiss him at her own pace. "Jack?" she asked softly. "Can we talk about sex a little bit?"

"Sure," he agreed. "What do you want to talk about?"

"UmÖIíve done a lot of thinking about how sex was between us and I think we need to make a few changesÖ"

"Oh, I agree," he said without hesitation. "I know you were not very satisfied, Jamie, and I take full responsibility for that."

"You do?" she asked, completely stunned.

"Yeah, I do. I was the more experienced partner and I should have made your pleasure my priority."

"Well you didÖat first," she ventured.

"I know," he admitted quietly. "But that was another of my insecurities. I started to feel shut out and I reacted by trying to care less. Towards the end I admit that I was a total asshole! I still canít believe I acted that way, Jamie," he said softly. "Your pleasure is terribly important to me and I swear Iíll work harder to focus on you."

"Itís not that you didnít work hard enough, Jack, itís almost the opposite," she opined. "I think we both have to loosen up and be more experimental if weíre going to make this work."

He rolled over onto his back and gazed over at her with a very serious look on his face. "Tell me what you liked and didnít like," he asked, his gaze never wavering.

"Gosh," she said as her eyes blinked slowly. "UmÖI loved the way we were before we started having sex," she said tentatively.

"Why? What exactly did you love about that?"

"You used to just turn me on," she said with a winsome smile. "God! Some nights I could hardly walk when I left your apartment. Your kisses and your soft little caresses just drove me wild! But when we started to have intercourse a lot of that stopped," she said softly, still hurt by the withdrawal of her required intimacies.

"Youíre right," he said immediately. "I admit that I was having a great time and I didnít spend enough time making sure that you were also."

"Sometimes I did enjoy intercourse, Jack," she insisted. "But our schedules were not the same and our arousal patterns didnít mesh well. Like in the mornings, for instance," she explained. "You would wake up most mornings and be ready for action, but you seemed to just want to have a quick orgasm. That will never work for me," she maintained. "I can get aroused in the morning but it takes a while. And itís painful when you enter me before Iím fully aroused."

"Itís painful?" he asked with a hurt look on his face.

"Yes, Honey, itís actually painful. And when you cause me pain it just makes me tense up the next time so it becomes kind of a vicious cycle."

"I swear I didnít know that, Jamie. I guess I figured that you would get aroused from having me inside of you."

"No, that doesnít work for me, Jack. It might for some women, but not me. I need slow, soft kisses and touches to get aroused in the morning but thatís obviously not what you need."

"No," he admitted as he blushed deeply. "I wake up horny and I just want to have an orgasm." He pursed his lips together and said, "Thereís no reason that you have to satisfy all of my needs. We can reserve our lovemaking for when we both are in the mood and we have some time."

"Thatís not necessary, Jack," she assured him. "This is where we have to get creative. Iím more than happy to help you reach orgasm whenever you need it. Iím just not willing to have intercourse all the time."

"Oh," he said as he nodded slowly. "You donít mind fooling around a little when Iím aroused."

"No, I not only donít mind, I think it would be fun," she said happily. "But can you be satisfied with other kinds of stimulation?"

"Of course," he said immediately. "Any assistance you can offer would be appreciated," he said with a grin as he leaned up for a kiss.

She turned him over onto his side and cuddled up against his back. "Would you like a little help now?" she whispered into his ear.

"Well, umÖIím not really arouÖoops! Check that," he laughed as he felt his shorts grow snug. "Uhh, yeah, Iíd love a little help. What do you have in mind?"

"Well," she purred into his ear. "I could kiss you while you touched yourselfÖ" He tensed up a little at that suggestion but he gallantly agreed.

"OkayÖwe could try that if thatís what you want."

"No, JackÖItís not what I want, itís what would please you," she insisted. "I could," she suggested as she slid her hand down his abdomen and dipped into his shorts, "stroke you with my hand." She grasped his penis with her hand and took a few experimental tugs.

His eyes closed as his head fell back against her shoulder. "Ohh, thatís nice," he growled.

"I could even touch you like this," she suggested as her hand slid lower and gently manipulated his testicles. His penis immediately got rock hard as he let out the breath he had been holding.

"Jeeesus," he murmured as his hips involuntarily pumped a few times. He turned to face her with a wide eyed look. "Where did you learn to do that?"

"Nowhere," she said honestly. "Iím just trying to get rid of some of my inhibitions. Iím also more than willing to try something else," she said as he locked eyes with him and started to kiss her way down his belly.

His eyes nearly popped from his head as he stuttered, "LÖLetís take it one step at a time, Honey. Come up here and touch me with your hand again." He was lying on his back now and he smiled over at her as she slid his boxers off, revealing his fully erect member. She gazed at him for a moment as a slow smile crept across her face. There was something so obvious about his genitals that she found rather appealing. If his penis was hard, he was aroused. Once he had an orgasm, it became flaccid and he was satisfied. The simple, straightforward nature of his needs was reassuring to her as she tried to throw off some of her restraint and get more fully involved.

"Show me what you like, Jack," she whispered as her hand gripped him again.

He hissed out a moan of pleasure but did as he was told. Guiding her hand with his own, his eyes tightly closed, his excitement built quickly. Within minutes he was making his cute little pre-orgasm sounds. She wasnít prepared for his climax though, and she had to duck to avoid getting hit in the face. "Whoa," she giggled as he collapsed, a fine sheen of sweat covering his now musky smelling body. "You could poke somebodyís eye out with that stuff!"

He turned his head languidly and gazed at her with a bemused smirk. "Are you sure you didnít date anybody while we were broken up?"

"Nope. Not a one. I was obviously waiting for you," she whispered as she leaned over him and kissed him tenderly.

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

To her extreme pleasure they lay in bed for another hour, their soft, stroking caresses interspersed with tender little kisses. "This is exactlyÖand I do mean exactly, what I needed," Jamie mumbled into his chest. "I love touching you and kissing and hugging in the morning, and I really enjoyed helping you have an orgasm. But I really donít think I want to have intercourse in the morning."

"This is a perfectly acceptable alternative," he agreed as he snuggled up against her back and nuzzled her neck.

This is what I thought marriage would be like, she mused as his hand ran slowly up and down her leg. Nice long cuddles, lots of kissing and hugging, and when problems happen you just talk about them.

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

Marta was very surprised to see Jack saunter downstairs, hand in hand with Jamie, but she made no comment other than to ask what they wanted for breakfast. It was after 10 when they finally got out of bed and a quick check of her cell phone while Jack was showering showed that Ryan had called at 8 a.m. God, I donít want to have to go into everything with her right now, Jamie worried. I think Iíll just call her house and leave a message on the machine. Her message was truthful as far as it went, but she knew that Ryan would be concerned. She merely said that she had unexpectedly decided to come down to her parents home and that she would see Ryan at their appointment on Monday afternoon. Oh shit, she thought as she hung up. She probably waited for me to take our long ride today. Oh well, this is a lot more important than a bike ride, she thought decisively.

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

"Youíre being terribly generous with your time, Jack, but I know you have things to do," she said as she tried to keep her train of thought. They were sitting on a double chaise out by the pool after a lavish brunch and Jack could not refrain from kissing her on every exposed millimeter of skin.

"I donít want to let you out of my sightÖor my touch," he whispered as he pinned her against the cushions with his chest and leisurely explored her mouth with his tongue. "Are you sure you donít want to go back upstairs and let me show you how experimental I can be?"

She pushed him away slightly by placing her hands flat on his chest. "I need some time to process this, Jack. I really feel a little overwhelmed right now. And besides," she added with a grin. "I donít have any condoms in the house and if you have one in your pocket Iíll be terribly insulted."

He smiled back and stuck his hands in his pockets, pulling them inside out to show that they were devoid of birth control devices. "I understand, Jamie," he smiled. "I just want to make sure you get satisfied if you need it."

She kissed him gently and stayed very close, whispering right into his lips, "Oh, I need it, alright. Youíve been driving me wild with those kisses. But I can wait for what I want. And I think you need to go get your work done, Sweetheart."

"I wonít be able to think of a thing other than your face," he pledged as he kissed all around her smiling face.

"Youíre too sweet," she said as she kissed him back. "But Iíve got work to do also, so Iíd better go." She got to her feet and extended both of her hands to pull his lean body from the chaise. But instead of going along willingly he gave a sharp tug and pulled her right onto his lap.

"Just a few more kisses," he begged with his eyes closed.

She smiled at his dramatics but granted his wish, now more than ever regretting her decision not to go back upstairsÖcondoms be damned.

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

She arrived back in Berkeley at 2 oíclock, emotionally exhausted but very energized physically. A quick check of the list of messages in Miaís handwriting showed that Ryan had called twice. Does she keep tabs on all of her friends, or just me? she thought unhappily as she wadded up the note and tossed it into the trash.

 

Chapter 16 (conclusion of Book 1)

Monday afternoon found Ryan patiently waiting in the gym at 4 oíclock. Jamie made light of the weekend, mentioning that she had decided to go to Hillsborough and that she had forgotten to wear her phone.

"Did you have a good time?" Ryan asked behind slightly hooded eyes.

"Yeah, pretty good," she said absently. "Hey, letís work extra hard on my legs since I didnít ride this weekend."

Ryan just nodded professionally, never asking why Jamie didnít give her prior notice that she would skip their Sunday ride. She was pretty much her normal self, but when they were done she just gazed at Jamie with an absolutely neutral expression on her face. They had been having dinner together at least 3 nights a week, usually on Monday, Wednesday and Friday after their training. But she made no mention of that as she shoved her hands in the pockets of her warm ups and continued with that penetrating gaze.

The last thing Jamie wanted to do was talk about Jack at this point so she just smiled and said, "See you Wednesday, okay?"

"Sounds good," Ryan said as her normally open face shut like a steel door.

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

"I have never been so surprised by anything in my whole life!" Jamie nearly cried with elation as she recounted the events of the weekend to Anna.

"Tell me about how you felt when he made the overture," Anna urged.

"Just like I told you before," Jamie said with a touch of irritation. "I felt great! It was so validating to have him admit that he was in the wrong about so many things! It just made me feel great!"

"And you accepted his offer immediately," Anna said, stating the obvious.

"Well, yes! Why wouldnít I? He apologized for everything, Anna! I must not be making myself clear! He took away every issue that bothered me in our relationship. And he showed me in very concrete terms how willing he was to change. Thatís what really made me believe him."

"He didnít take away every issue, Jamie," Anna reminded her. "He didnít take away Ryan."

Jamie had to bite back a sharp retort. Anna obviously did not understand the gravity of Jackís actions but her slowness was beginning to irritate. "Anna," she said as patiently as she could, "He forced me to seek comfort and understanding from another person. I wouldnít have even noticed her if she had not been such a good listener. And Iím not accusing her of being opportunistic but I was in a really vulnerable space during all of this. She just filled a void that Jack should not have created!"

"So you believe that your attraction to women was just a reaction?" she asked with one raised eyebrow.

"Iím not attracted to women!" Jamie nearly shouted. "I was attracted to Ryan. Just Ryan. But if I can have a normal relationship thereís no reason to even explore those feelings. I mean, what if Jack and I were married and I met a guy who I thought was just a tiny bit more compatible with me. I wouldnít explore that possibility. I would be committed to Jack and by its very nature that commitment precludes me from doing that. Itís the same with Ryan. I might be able to have a sexual relationship with her, but how is that different from the scenario I just laid out? Just because I could love her doesnít mean I should! Besides, Ryan has never shown an ability to love one woman. I canít imagine anything worse than turning Jack down to be with her and have her find that she canít be monogamous! God, Iíd kill myself!"

"Well, our time is about up, Jamie," she said as she stared directly into her eyes. "But before Wednesday I think you should spend some more time thinking about this. Your life doesnít have to come down to a decision between these two people, either. Try thinking in terms of what you want from a person rather than Jack versus Ryan. Think of your attractions in generalóthe men and the women that youíve been attracted to."

"Well I can save the time," Jamie said confidently. "Iíve never been attracted to another woman. Ryanís the only temptation Iíve ever had. And if I can keep her as a friend I think I would have everything that I want."

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

Just before she got into bed Jamieís cell phone rang. "Hello," she said as she fumbled with the flip up cover.

"Hi," Jackís deep voice replied. "I wanted to make sure I got home in time to catch you before bed. How did I do?"

"I was half in," she admitted. "So Iíd say you did well. How was your day?"

"SlowÖvery slow in fact. I was counting the hours until Friday when you come down." He paused a second and quickly said, "God! That was presumptuous of me! Do you want to see me this weekend, Jamie?"

"Yes, of course I do," she replied.

"Okay, would you like me to come up to Berkeley? Iíd be happy to."

"You would?"

"Sure. Your house is lots nicer than my apartment. Iíd be happy to stay with you. I donít even know how we got into the rut of you coming down here, anyway."

"Iím not sure myself," she said slowly. "But I like to get away from my roommates for a while. So Iíll come down there," she offered.

"I still donít think I can wait until Friday," he mused. "How about dinner on Wednesday?"

"Okay," she said, completely charmed by his neediness. "Iím busy until 6:30. Meet me here?"

"Deal. Iíll call you tomorrow," he said decisively. "I love you, Jamie."

"I love you too, Jack." I really do, she thought as the happiness welled up in her chest.

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

Wednesday afternoon was a replay of Monday except that Jamie kept up a constant dialog during their session. At the end she smiled at Ryan and said, "Gotta go, donít want to be late for therapy."

But this time Ryan didnít even reply. She nodded almost imperceptibly and turned to start her own workout, leaving Jamie standing in the middle of the gym, alone.

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

Her frustration was at the boiling point as she unloaded on Anna. "She acts like I owe her an explanation for my whereabouts! Just because weíve had dinner together quite a few times does not mean that Iím obligated to do so does it?"

But Anna recognized that this question was rhetorical so she wisely kept her opinion to herself.

"She told me clearly that if I wanted to find a man she would support me totally! But now she acts so possessive! You should have seen her, Anna. She barely made eye contact with me!"

"Tell me again what she told you when you made that overture to her."

"She told me that if I wanted to be with men all I had to do was tell her and she would understand," she said with a glower.

"You havenít upheld your end of the bargain, Jamie," she gently reminded her.

"What?"

"You havenít told her anything. Youíre rolling along as usual and all of a sudden you donít go on your bike ride, you donít answer your phone and you donít keep your normal dinner plans. Youíve told me how perceptive she is. Donít you think she knows something is going on?"

"I shouldnít have to report every little thing," she scoffed.

"Jamie, this isnít a little thing. You can obviously make your own choice but if you want to retain Ryanís trust I think you should at least tell her that you need some space. That would be much more generous than just ignoring her."

Jamie took in a deep breath as she shook her head and grumbled, "This is why Iíve never had many close friends. Theyíre too much trouble!"

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

Jack showed up at 7 on the dot, carrying a big paper bag that emitted a delicious aroma. "I thought youíd be tired after running around all day. I remembered that you liked that Dim Sum place down by me, so I stopped and picked up dinner."

"That is so sweet!" she cried as she tossed her arms around his neck. "Kitchen or dining room?" she asked as she led him into the kitchen to obtain plates.

"How about your room? We can be a little more casual up there."

She gave him a knowing grin but quickly acceded to his wishes.

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

An hour and a half later they were sprawled across the loveseat. Her torso was on his lap with her legs spread wide, one over the back and one over the arm of the small piece, jeans and panties on the floor. His fingers were busily working away at her throbbing vulva, guided gently by her own hand. Their foreplay was so extensive that a few minutes of the soft stroking propelled her towards a very fulfilling orgasm. She had slid lower and lower on his lap and by the time she recovered her face was level with his painfully erect penis. "Can I help you with that, Mister?" she asked with a sly grin.

"Much appreciated, Maíam," he said as he grimaced and tried to unzip. She gently pushed his hands away and took over for him, feeling bolder as she proceeded. He lifted up and she pulled his jeans and shorts down fully, then lay right back down where she had been.

She used her hands again but her mouth was so temptingly close that she could not help give him a few gentle kisses. She got a perverse thrill from his reaction, smiling broadly as his penis actually jerked rather dramatically at the sensation. The mere thought of her mouth on him was obviously arousing and he finished almost immediately, sinking back against the cushions of the loveseat, satiated and content.

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

She knew that Ryan was generally free on Thursday evenings, so after her last class she paged her. It only took a few minutes for the return call. "Hi," she said rather neutrally. "Whatís up?"

"Can we have dinner tonight?" Jamie asked hesitantly.

"UmÖlet me think about that for a moment," Ryan replied. "Okay," she finally said, "I can do it."

"If itís not convenientÖ"

"No, I was just trying to remember what we were having since Iíll have to eat it for lunch tomorrow," she said with a chuckle.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. Youíre worth cold pork chops. Iíll be there in 15 minutes."

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

"SoÖ" Ryan said after they were seated at her favorite little Mexican restaurant on Telegraph, ĎLa Fiestaí. "Why did you want to see me?"

"Gosh, canít I just want to have dinner with you?" she asked rather sharply.

"Sure you can, you just havenít seemed to want to lately," Ryan replied as she leveled her gaze and stared right into Jamieís shifting green eyes.

"Iíve uhÖIíve just had some things to do. I didnít know we had any plans that I was breaking," she said defensively.

"We didnít," Ryan assured her as she reached over and covered her small hand with her own. "You just seem like somethingís bothering you and Iíve been concerned."

"No, nothingís bothering me," Jamie assured her. "But I do have some interesting news to report." Ryan didnít reply verbally, but her eyebrows lifted in question. "UmÖIíve re-established contact with Jack," she said quickly, afraid of the look she would see in Ryanís eyes. But her friend either did not have a reaction or she was very good at hiding it. Ryan just tilted her head slightly and nodded, encouraging Jamie to continue.

Ryan still held her hand while she maintained her gaze. A couple of guys, obviously students, walked by the table. The one in the lead muttered, "Dykes!" as they passed, much to the enjoyment of his friend. Jamie yanked her hand back roughly, shocking Ryan in the process. A look of quiet sorrow flashed across her handsome features, but she composed herself almost immediately without commenting on the men.

Jamie couldnít bring herself to mention it either so she jumped into her reason for the dinner. "Iím ahÖnot sure where this will lead but he seems very sincere about changing the things that bothered me about our relationship."

"Thatís encouraging," Ryan said absently as their food was delivered. She dug in immediately, savoring the spicy tastes as her attention was fully occupied. After several bites of everything she said rather flatly, "Tell me more if you want to."

But Jamie did not feel safe with her tonight. She wasnít sure if Ryan had a barrier up or if she just didnít feel comfortable but she had said all she was willing to say. "Not much else. Iíll let you know how it goes."

"Do that," she said with a 10 watt smile.

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

"Let me get the check, Ryan," Jamie said as she tried to tug the bill from her friendís hand when they were finished. The rest of the dinner was filled with periods of very stilted silence and Ryan slowly drove her crazy as she fixed her with a penetrating stare every time she looked up. But the dark, enigmatic woman had nearly nothing to say. Jamie had to carry the entire conversation and by the time they were done she was really ready to go home.

"Not necessary," she assured her. "Your portion is $11.26," she added after a quick glance as she pulled her neatly folded bills from her side pocket.

Jamie tossed $15.00 at her and quickly got to her feet. "Keep the rest for tip," she mumbled as she stumbled out the door, trying to stop the tears from flowing. Ryan quickly settled the bill and chased her down the street, having to grab Jamieís shoulder to slow her down.

"Jamie, please stop and talk to me," she begged. But Jamie was resolute in her determination to hide her face from her friend. No matter how Ryan approached she turned her back quickly, brushing her aside with finality.

"I tried to talk to youÖthatís why I asked you here tonight. IÖI thought youíd be happy for me," she sniffed, still unable to face her.

Ryan came up behind her back and silently wrapped her arms around her small waist. She leaned in close and closed her eyes as she felt her stiff body start to relax into the hug. "Jamie, I am happy for you if this is what you want," Ryan whispered. "It just hurt my feelings that youíve been so distant. I swear I support your decision, no matter what you choose, but I donít want to lose you as a friend. Youíve been avoiding me for a week and itís really hurt my feelings," she admitted. "Iím sorry that I didnít hide that better."

"You donít have to hide anything, Ryan," she tearfully assured her. She slowly turned in her embrace and rested her head on Ryanís chest. "Iím sorry," she sniffed. "I didnít mean to do that but Iíve just been feeling overwhelmed," she admitted.

"Thatís what makes me your friend," she insisted. "I want to be there for you when you feel overwhelmed. Donít shut me out, Jamie." She looked down at her with pain-infused eyes and Jamie immediately felt disgusted with herself for doing just that.

"IÖI was afraid that youídÖ"

Ryan gripped her chin with her fingers and tilted her head up so she had to look into her eyes. "I want you to have what you wantÖwhat you needÖI am your friend, Jamie. I meant what I told you. If you want to be with men I just want you to have the man who makes you happy. If thatís Jack, I say good for him." Her eyes gave credence her sincerity but there was a tiny hint of sadness that was impossible for Jamie to ignore.

She dropped her head again and nestled against Ryanís broad chest. "Thank you, " she whispered. "Thank you for being my friend."

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

Friday afternoon found her once again in Annaís office, musing about her relationship with Ryan. "Thank God I was right about her," she said with relief. "She was very supportive and I really believe that she wants whatís best for me."

"She has been an extraordinary friend," Anna agreed.

"Yeah, I havenít proven worthy of her a few times, but she always welcomes me back." She hesitated a moment and then told Anna, "I think Iím going to sleep with Jack this weekend."

She just nodded non-committally.

"Do you think thatís a good idea?" Jamie asked.

"Hmm, do you really want me to make those decisions for you, Jamie?" she asked her seriously.

"I guess not," she replied glumly. "I just wish I knew I was doing the right thing."

"Right thing?"

"Yeah. Am I sure I want to be back with him? Should I be certain before I sleep with him? All that stuff."

"Have you tried to stay present and just let yourself feel your feelings?"

"Yeah, I think I have, but itís sometimes hard for me to stop analyzing things."

"That is hard," Anna agreed. "But itís the best advice I can give you, Jamie. Just open your heart and let your emotions guide you."

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

Just to be safe she carried a box of condoms in her overnight bag. She knew she was over reacting a bit since she was still on the pill but she was not sure that Jack had not been with anyone else during their hiatus and she did not really want to know if he had, so she thought it was best to make him think the condoms were a necessity. She also had not told her parents she was coming down, reasoning that she would just go over there if she didnít feel comfortable sleeping with him.

Their dinner was a very pleasant affair. He had ordered carry outs that were waiting for her when she arrived. "I hate to see you spend your Friday evenings cooking for me," he said sweetly. "I know you have a long week too, and it just seems unfair."

"You," she said as she tapped his nose, "are making a lot of brownie points with me, Mister."

"Iím not trying to make brownie points, Jamie," he said with a sincere look on his face. "Iím just trying to be considerate."

After dinner he proposed a walk in the neighborhood or even a movie. "No, Iíd rather stay in and concentrate on you fully," she said with a smile.

They relaxed together on the sofa, talking about their respective weeks. The time flew by as they sipped several glasses of cabernet, getting closer and closer until they were fully entwined. Jack placed their glasses on the coffee table and started to kiss and caress Jamie with a relentless intensity. He kissed her more and more passionately until she was squirming against his weight. "Letís go to bed," she murmured into his ear. He was on his feet in a nanosecond, tugging her up with him.

When they reached the bedroom he tenderly undressed her, slowly running his hands over each part of her body as it was revealed. "You look so awesome, Jamie," he said in a nearly reverent voice. "Your body is so firm and sleek. The muscles really make you look hot," he whispered as he nibbled her neck.

She spent a long time undressing him, gazing at his long, lean body with complete approval. She crossed the room and retrieved her bag, pulling the box of condoms from it with a flourish. "A whole box?" he said with a rakish look.

"Donít be a glutton," she chided with a toss of her head. She went into the bath and got ready for bed, stopping to stare at herself in the mirror for a moment. I want this, she said firmly to her suspicious conscience.

When Jack had finished brushing his teeth she was lying on the bed with the covers pushed back. He slid in next to her and started to kiss and touch her again. It didnít take long to yank her right back up to her previous heights of arousal and a few minutes later she whispered, "Iím ready for you, Jack."

But instead of entering her immediately he started to lightly touch her vulva just as he had at her house on Wednesday. This surprised her but it felt divine so she did not complain. Automatically her hand went to his groin and she began to touch him in a similar fashion. They began to kiss again as their hands worked away and the dual sensations caused her to be swept away to a delightful orgasm rather quickly. He followed close behind, uttering soft little moans of pleasure as he climaxed.

They rested for a brief time and she finally broke the silence when she murmured, "We didnít get to use a condom."

"No big deal," he assured her. "I had a great time."

"That was exactly what I have wanted sex to be like," she murmured slowly as she sank into a peaceful, satisfied sleep.

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

He woke up on Saturday ready to go again but he very happily settled for a little manual assistance. Jamie got all of the cuddling she wanted so they both started the day in an ebullient mood. They both had studying to do so they spent the better part of the day in front of their respective books. But at around 6 he suggested they take a walk and have dinner in the neighborhood. When they returned at 9 she was beat and she found that she had no interest in sex. He accepted her choice without complaint, cuddling against her after a few chaste kisses.

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

Sunday was another day of surprises. "How about brunch?" he asked with a sunny smile as she woke from a nice dream.

"Brunch?"

"Sure. We can go somewhere in the neighborhood, or we could go to the club if you want to go with your parents."

"Hmm, Iíd rather be with just you," she said, not mentioning that she didnít want her parents to know of the reconciliation attempt quite yet.

"Great, you pick the place and weíre there."

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

They had a great time together and he even let her pick up the check, smiling sedately as she whipped out her American Express card.

Heading back to his apartment they each spent a few hours reading. She had already decided that she needed to be home early to work on a paper on her computer. At around 3 she looked up to see him eyeing her hungrily. Heís been such a darling, she thought to herself. Come on and make the first move. She didnít say a word as she got up from the sofa. Rather, she extended her hand and led him into the bedroom. He smiled shyly at her as she started to undress him, but he happily allowed her to continue. After he had returned the favor he picked her up and carried her the short distance to the bed.

The next 15 minutes were spent driving her absolutely wild. He placed her on her stomach and started at her heels, slowly kissing and licking and sucking every bit of skin that he could reach. She just hummed with pleasure, murmuring small words of encouragement. He rolled her over onto her back and started at the bottom again. Unable to hold back her question any longer she lifted up onto an arm and said, "Where did you learn all of this?"

He chuckled deep in his chest and released her foot from his grasp. "IÖumÖread some books," he said with an adorable blush that covered him from his chest to his hairline.

"You read books?" she asked in amazement.

"Yeah, thatís how I learn everything else," he explained. "Why not this?"

She flopped back down on the bed and spread her arms out in surrender. "Those were some very, very good books," she murmured compliantly as he continued his quest.

He moved up her body an inch at a time, smiling at her encouraging entreaties, but not moving any faster than his current torturous pace. When he reached her breasts he worshiped them for long minutes, ignoring Jamieís small, soft moans and her invitingly spread legs.

She felt more turned on than she had ever been before, finally feeling safe to abandon some of her inhibitions and show him just exactly how she felt. He seemed to be enjoying himself just as much as she was which increased her arousal even more. But try as she might she began to grow tense as he tentatively moved between her legs and gingerly spread her lips apart. She could actually feel her heart thumping in her chest and she tried to breathe deeply to relax. But a quick glance down showed a look on Jackís face that mirrored that of an anxious father trying to assemble an intricate bike on Christmas Eve. His brow was furrowed and he looked very hesitant but he took a deep breath and moved forward.

"Oh my God!!" she cried aloud when his soft, smooth tongue glided across her aching flesh. Her legs spread even further open in an unconsciously automatic gesture. His forehead was still knotted in concentration but he began to move his head slowly, like a cat lapping milk from a saucer. How can anything that feels this good make me this anxious? she asked herself in recrimination. But she was anxious, very anxious in fact, and her anxiety was compounded by the fact that she knew this was a seminal event in their sexual relationship. She desperately wanted to be able to enjoy oral sex if she was going to be with Jack for the next 50 or 60 years but she knew that he would not have the confidence to try again if she was not receptive. But he just looked so tense and rigid lying between her legs that she fought with the instinct to just tap him on the shoulder and pull him up.

You have to concentrate on the feeling! she reminded herself over and over. The feeling is fabulous! Donít look at his face, thatís throwing you off! She closed her eyes tightly and tried to concentrate fully on the sensations flooding her body but it was rough going. She realized that the only way to enjoy this experience was to shut off her conscious mind, something that she found difficult to do in the best of situations. But this act required an openness that she was not sure she possessed. She desperately tried to force herself to think of calming thoughts and experiences but something kept creeping into the corners of her mind.

Her unconscious mind knew the truth, though, and it kept reminding her that the most relaxed she ever felt was when she was with a certain dark haired beauty. She tried to keep those images out of her head but eventually she grew tired of fighting and just succumbed. Jackís rigid body was immediately replaced in her mindís eye by the long, smooth body with the soft sensual curves. His tense face gave way to the dark flowing hair, so silky and smooth as it trailed over her sensitive thighs. The dark head lifted just a touch, and those clear blue eyes, so confident and experienced, twinkled up at her as one brow lifted rakishly. The crystal blue eyes stayed locked on her own as that soft pink tongue dipped down to take another taste. A look of indescribable pleasure settled onto her beautiful features and her eyelids fluttered heavily as she dropped her head to lustily consume the tortured flesh. Suddenly, nothing existed except those few precious inches of real estate. Every sensation in her body went to and came from her vulva. Before she was even conscious of her actions she grabbed a handful of sandy blonde hair and thrust herself hard against his face, moaning deeply as her orgasm permeated every nerve and muscle in her body.

She was vaguely aware of Jack making some annoying motions as she tried to gather her composure but before she could even open her eyes his rock hard penis was poised at her lips, demanding entrance. She remembered Ryanís advice about being on top but she was too enervated to breathe, let alone manipulate him onto his back. Making the best of the situation she opened her mouth and took his latex covered member into her mouth. She fought hard to keep him shallow and after a few moments she adjusted to the odd sensation and began to actually try to think of ways to enhance his enjoyment rather than just lie there and let him control the movement. She found that the condom made the experience much more enjoyable for her since she would not have to deal with his climax. Her receptivity and his intense arousal combined to send him over the edge just a few minutes after he entered her mouth. It was strangely thrilling to feel him jerk and pulse inside her mouth, but the condom gave her a confidence that she would not have expected. His softening member remained within her and she delicately withdrew it as she gave it one last kiss. God, another minute or two and I would have come again, she mused from her satiated fog. She knew something was bothering her but she was too exhausted to think of it, instead just wrapping her arms around Jackís heavy body and drifting off into a dreamless sleep.

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

Soft lips nuzzled her neck and she shifted slightly to increase the sensation. Oh God, Ryan, you are so good, she mused from her sensual haze. She turned to kiss those rose tinted lips but as she turned and met Jackís twinkling eyes she nearly screamed in shock.

"Whatís wrong, Honey?" he asked quickly upon seeing her jerk.

"Oh, nothing, nothing," she insisted. "I was just dreamingÖI must not have been fully awake." She shook her head roughly, trying to focus on who she was, where she was, and why she was in bed with Jack, since Ryan had just made love to her.

Oh shit, not this again, she moaned to herself as she became fully conscious. Why did I have to use her again? Jesus! Heís doing everything I ever wanted him to do! Get out of my god damned bed, Ryan! But even though her emotions blamed Ryan she knew in her soul that it was not her fault. She couldnít help that she was gorgeous and sexy and alluring and so smooth and warm and soft when Jamie was wrapped in her strong arms. STOP IT! Just stop it right now! she ordered her mind. Youíre in bed with Jack and heís being the sweetest man on earth! Concentrate, damn it!

"Are you really okay, Jamie?" he asked rather tentatively, trying to connect with her far away look.

"Yeah, yeah, Iím fine," she said as she tried to shake the image of that beautiful face from her brain. She smiled up at Jack and said shyly, "I think you sent me into another world with that orgasm."

He smiled down at her, beaming proudly at his accomplishments. "Should I send in a readerís review to Amazon.com on the books I bought?"

"Definitely," she said with a matching smile. While youíre on there see if you can find me something on self-hypnosis, will ya?

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

She had to head home and work on that paper. Yep, definitely time to get to work. But even though the shortest way to Berkeley from Palo Alto was straight up she found her little Porsche heading north on the 101 winding up in the Noe Valley. Her fingers automatically dialed the pager, waiting patiently for her friend to return the call. As usual it took mere minutes. "Hi," she said in a reasonable facsimile of her normal tone.

"Finished with dinner?" Jamie asked.

"Yep. I just finished being me and Brendan," she said with a chuckle, referring to their clean-up regimen.

"Any plans for tonight?" she asked as lightly as possible.

"I was going to spend the evening with a few thousand pairs of chromosomes but I could easily be persuaded to put my biology homework aside. What do you have in mind?"

"How would you like me to buy you dessert?"

"Sure. When will you be here?"

"About 30 seconds? Iím in front of your house."

"Get in here, you loon!"

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

They decided to do the ĎDouble Rainbow Death Marchí as Jamie affectionately called it. The walk was not only long, it was terribly hilly, but it allowed her to gather her thoughts. They spoke of their respective weekends, and Ryan regaled her with a hilarious description of a frazzled ride leader who got over 50 people terribly lost in the Berkeley hills that afternoon. Ryan could clearly tell that something was bothering Jamie but she tried to keep the conversation light and let her go at her own pace. But by the time they reached the ice cream shop Ryan was out of interesting stories about her weekend with Caitlin and Duffyís latest exploits. They got their ice cream and started trudging back, the silence descending upon them until Jamie finally broke it.

"Can we talk about sex?"

"Uhh, sure," Ryan said carefully. "What do you want to talk about?"

"I want to talk about some pretty graphic stuff. Are you sure youíre okay with that?"

"Hit me with your best shot," Ryan said with a confident smile.

"Well, you know Iím trying to work out some issues with Jack to see if we should get back together permanently." A nod urged her to continue. "Well, since one of our biggest problems is sex I decided to sleep with him this weekend." She wasnít sure but she thought she caught just a glimmer of pain flash across that beautiful face. But Ryan turned slightly and smiled at her, still not commenting. "Something really bothered me about it and I donít know who else to talk to."

"Go ahead," she urged. "I can take it."

"Okay," she said as she took a breath. "Um do you everÖahhÖfantasize while youíre having sex?"

Ryan nodded just a tiny bit and said, "I think thatís a very common thing for women to do. Some women do it once in a while, some do it every time. But I donít think itís necessarily anything that should concern you."

"You didnít really answer my question," Jamie said rather shyly.

"I didnít?"

"No. I asked if you ever fantasized."

"OhÖI guess you did, didnít you," she blushed. "Well, um...sure I have. I think everyone does some times."

"When do you do it?" she persisted.

"When? Like specifically when?" she asked lamely.

"This bothers you," Jamie said firmly. "We donít have to talk about it any more."

"No, no, itís not that it bothers me," Ryan admitted. "Iím just worried about why you want the information. Iím afraid of saying something that youíll misinterpret as the norm."

"Huh?"

"I donít want you to assume that the way I have sex is the right way, Jamie. Iím happy to tell you anything you want to know, but I just donít want you to over-interpret."

"Okay. I promise Iíll view your opinion as a sample of one," she smirked.

Ryan shot her a quirky grin and finally answered her question fully. "I have fantasized in order to have an orgasm. But itís not something I do routinely. I would have to say itís a last resort."

"Last resort?"

"Yeah, if I canít come any other way Iíll fantasize to get there."

"But it doesnít happen often."

"No. And it never happens with anyone I know well. Iím all about connection when I have sex. Iím really into experiencing my partner. You knowÖlike on every plane. I love to taste and smell and feel themÖjust let them in as much as possible. If Iím having sex with someone I really like that feeling just gets more intense. I try to open myself up even more with people I trust to experience everything they have to give. A fantasy is something I have to use to be less connected to my partnerÖlike if I misjudged someone."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Well, I donít know if Iíve mentioned this but if donít know the person Iím sleeping with I often donít let them touch meÖgenitally at least," she added with a smirk. "But once in a while I let someone I donít know touch me and sometimes I misjudge them and find that they donít arouse me or their technique just doesnít work for me. But rather than hurting their feelings and telling them to stop Iíll just fantasize so I can have an orgasm and get out of there." Her lips quirked up in a grin as she added, "Pretty romantic, huh?"

"The first part was," Jamie said wistfully as she let out a heavy sigh.

They were back at the house by now and after a few minutes of small talk with Da they walked down to Ryanís room. Jamie sat on the loveseat and Ryan pulled her desk chair over, climbing onto it back wards and leaning forward to face her friend. "Tell me whatís really going on, Jamie. Itís clear that something is really bothering you."

"God, I really want to talk about it with you, Ryan, but I donít want to make you uncomfortable."

"You wonít," she said sincerely. "I really can take it, Jamie."

She nodded briefly as she bit her lip in a nervous gesture. "Okay," she finally said. "We had some of the best sex weíve ever had this weekend. He was like a different guy, Ryan. He was gentle and very loving and he tried really hard to be experimental. And things went great! They really did," she said emphatically.

Ryan continued to gaze at her with a penetrating stare. "ButÖ" she said softly.

"But, this afternoon bothered meÖa lot," she admitted. "He tried to make love to me with his mouth and even though it felt fabulous I had a lot of trouble concentrating and staying connected to him. I mean, he was really doing a good job!" she exclaimed rather defensively.

Ryan just nodded, not saying a word.

"I had toÖfantasize to have an orgasm and it really bothered me," she said as tears welled up in her eyes.

"Why did it bother you?" Ryan asked softly, her deep voice surrounding Jamieís senses like a dense fog.

"Because I had to think about Öyou," she sniffed as she broke into tears. Immediately, Ryan was next to her, cradling her in her wonderfully warm and comforting embrace. She rocked her slowly, making soft Ďshushingí sounds to calm her.

"IÖI donít know what to do, Ryan," she sniffed. "Part of me only wants to be with you and no one else for the rest of my life. But another part knows that Jack is safe and reassuring andÖandÖ"

"Normal," Ryan finished for her quietly.

Jamie lifted her tear streaked face and gazed at her pathetically. "Is it so wrong to want to be like everybody else?"

"No, itís not wrong, Jamie," she said softly. "But it wonít work if itís not right for you."

"But how do I know, Ryan? Iím so afraidÖ"

"I know, Jamie. I really do know," she said with her voice full of emotion and empathy.

"I just wish there was some way that I couldÖyou knowÖkind of experiment before I had to make a decision." She looked up a Ryan with the barest hint of a question in her green eyes.

"What exactly do you mean?" Ryan asked carefully as she sat up slightly.

"I donít know," she grumbled. "I mean I know what itís like with Jack but I donít know if Iíd really be happy with a woman. I wish I couldÖyou knowÖexperiment a little before I had to jump in."

"And you would like to experiment with me?" she asked in that same calm tone of voice.

"Well, yeah," Jamie laughed with an embarrassed giggle. "Iím not attracted to any other woman."

"Oh," Ryan said as she released her hold and stood. "You want me to make love to you so you can make sure I really do turn you on." She was obviously getting angry and Jamie tried to stop her to explain but Ryan was on a roll. "So if I fuck you well enough I win, but if your orgasm doesnít reach a certain height you put me back in Ďfriendvilleí and go marry Jack, right? Now correct me if I got any part of this wrong, Jamie," she said with biting sarcasm. "Do I get two out of three tries? Do I immediately go to oral sex or can I pull out a big dildo to help me out?" She was towering over Jamieís now shaking body, glaring at her with an intensity that was terrifying to the smaller woman. "Iíd tell you where you can stick your idea, Jamie, but that might be another area I might be expected to satisfy!" She turned and ran up the stairs, yanking the front door open violently and shutting it with a glass rattling slam.

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

She wasnít sure of many things right then. But she was most definitely sure that she had never been more bereft. She was as sure as she had ever been that she had destroyed her friendship with the closest friend she had ever dreamed of having, and she was equally certain that Ryan would never have her as a lover. She hovered over the commode, heaving every morsel of food and acid from her clenching stomach, hoping fervently that she did not pass out, since that would only make a worse mess for Ryan to clean. She was crying so violently that she did not hear her come back into the room but soft warm hands lifted her gently from her kneeling position and scooped her up into Ryanís embrace. She carried her back to the loveseat and placed her gently on the cushions but Jamieís fragmented brain could hardly accept the generous gesture. Seconds later a warm cloth whisked the tears from her face and wiped her mouth gently. Then the cushions compressed as Ryan sat down right next to her and pulled her onto her lap.

The dark head leaned forward and planted tiny, soft kisses all over her face, reassuring Jamie with her physical intimacies. When the great, heaving sobs calmed she tugged the smaller woman close and whispered, "Iím so sorry, Jamie. Iím so very sorry."

She accepted the apology even though she did not believe that Ryan had anything to apologize for. "Iím the one who should apologize," she murmured against her damp neck.

"No," Ryan said firmly. "I told you to tell me what was on your mind and when you did I blasted you for it. That was just wrong of me, Jamie. And Iím very sorry for doing that."

"I hurt your feelings, Ryan," she mumbled softly.

"Yes, you did hurt me," she agreed. "But you didnít mean to. Youíre just trying to find a way to make this whole thing less frightening for yourself and I should have realized that."

"Are you still my friend?" she asked tentatively.

"Always," Ryan replied confidently. "I will always be your friend, Jamie." After a second she explained, "But if we were to sleep together on a whim I donít think I could be your friend. You mean far too much to me to cheapen what I feel for you, Jamie. I canít and I wonít reduce my feelings for you to mere lust."

"Iím so sorry I made you feel that way, Ryan. I donít know where that even came from," she said sadly as she shook her head. "I find myself saying and doing things that are just not me! I hardly recognize the woman who propositioned you just to try lesbian sex out!"

Ryanís gentle chuckle caused her to look up. "It wasnít that bad," she teased.

"Yes it was," Jamie said firmly. "Thatís not who I am, Ryan. I donít even know where that thought came from but itís not how I think of you."

"Thank you," she murmured as she gave her a gentle squeeze. "That makes me feel better."

She uttered a deep sigh and moaned, holding her stomach. "I should get home. I need to get something in my stomach."

Ryan sat back and regarded her carefully. Jamie was still terribly pale, her face nearly ashen. Her hands were clammy and shaking a little, whether from nerves or vomiting, Ryan wasnít sure. She was however, sure that she would not allow Jamie to drive in this condition. "Two options," she said firmly. "You stay here or I drive you home. Your choice."

She knew that nothing could budge Ryan when she had that determined look on her face so she pursed her lips and said, "Iíll stay."

Ryan got her a pair of flannel pajamas but she could not keep the pants up so she decided to sleep in the roomy top and her panties. She tucked her into bed and went back to her desk to study for a while but it was clear from the tossing and turning that Jamie could not sleep.

Without even asking if she wished comfort Ryan took her book and got into bed, lying in the center of the king sized surface. She urged Jamie to rest her head in her sweatpants covered lap and began to slowly run her fingers through her short blonde locks. As expected, her breathing evened out and deepened almost immediately as Ryan smiled down at the gently dozing woman nestled up against her body. Come on, Jamie, she urged in silent prayer. Face the truth!

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

"I understand that the dream upset you, Jamie, but maybe we can make some sense out of it if youíll talk about it," Anna urged.

"All right," Jamie begrudgingly agreed. "I was swimming in my parents pool at home. Everything was fine, nice day and all that, but the water was chilly so I had to keep moving. But all of a sudden I was in the ocean. It was weird because I couldnít see land but the water was so calm and still that it was just like the pool had been. Nice and calm but still a little cold. But it was definitely the ocean and I knew that it was really deep so I had to keep floating. There were all sorts of things floating right by me; a life preserver, a thick pool float, even one of those floating chairs. But I didnít want any of them for some reason. I just kept on trying to swim. It went fine for a while but eventually I got tired of trying to just stay afloat. But hereís the weird part. Instead of grasping on to one of the nice safe life rafts I started to venture into the choppy, rough water that I could see in the distance.

"I donít know why I did it," she marveled. "The place I was in was so much calmer and safer, but I had to reach that turbulent water. The closer I got the more energized I felt," she said in wonder. "It was really rough going but I had to continue farther and farther out. Even though the water was wild and rough it was much warmer and clearer. I could actually see all of the marine life surrounding me and that made it very exciting. The water was so blue and clear it was like I was in the Caribbean rather than California. But again, the waves continued to grow. The chop must have been two feet and I felt like Iíd never make it. But out of nowhere Ryan appeared. She swam right up to me so confidently that I immediately started to relax. I really needed her help but she didnít grab me like I thought she would. Instead, she gave me a beautiful smile and turned so that she was lying on her back. She started to kick and move farther out into even rougher weather. Her eyes were on me the whole time and seeing her encouraged me but she wasnít giving me the kind of help I needed. She just smiled and kept kicking. I knew that I had to follow her because she was my only chance at survival! But as I soon found out, she was not going towards shore. I could now see the shore and the calm waters but I was inexorably drawn to follow her. It made no sense to me!" she said in a frustrated tone. "The shore was the other way! All of those things that kept me afloat were in the other direction. But I followed her into those deep, treacherous waters."

"Is that all you remember?" Anna asked.

"Yeah, thatís it."

"Have any ideas about the meaning?"

"Yeah, that choosing Ryanís going to be the death of me," she grumbled. "I mean I had that nice pool, I had the nice calm ocean but I just had to let her lead me into the depths."

"Maybe," Anna mused slowly. "Or maybe she wasnít leading you at all. Maybe she was supporting you on a journey that you were determined to take."

"Journey?"

"Yes. A journey of discovery, Jamie. Tell me again about the water."

"Well, the water in the pool was nice. A little cold, but nice. Then the calm ocean water was about the same. But as I went into the rough water it became warm, almost my body temperature. Wait a minute!" she said excitedly. "It was my body temperature! The farther out I got, the less I could even feel the water. It must have been exactly my temperature."

"What else?"

"It was warm and very, very clear. The water in the calm part had been like regular ocean water. You could only see a few inches. But the rough water was so clear you could see everything around you. It was really exciting," she related. "Kinda like scuba diving."

"Were you afraid to follow Ryan?"

"Yes! I was scared spitless!"

"But you chose to, even though you could see the shore and the nice calm water."

"Yes, I did," she said quietly.

"Why do you think you chose to follow her into dangerous waters rather than go back to safety?" Anna asked.

Jamie was quiet for a long while. She had closed her eyes to allow herself to think more clearly. The silence continued until she lifted her head and opened her eyes, focusing on Anna with a defiant look in her eyes. "Because the calm water was going to kill me," she said firmly. "The only chance I had was to risk the turbulence."

"Was it Ryanís decision to lead you out there?" she asked gently.

"No." Jamie shook her head forcefully and took a deep breath. "She came out to the turbulence for me. She was risking her own security to help me save myself."

Anna nodded briefly and asked the critical question. "What does the dream tell you, Jamie?"

She closed her eyes and involuntarily shivered from head to toe. Her eyes blinked open slowly and her voice grew quiet but determined, "It tells me to say goodbye to Jack."

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

She considered every permutation of plan. Should she have him come to Berkeley? Should she go to his apartment? Over the phone? In a letter? But none of the options seemed optimal. She had never broken up with anyone special before and she truly hated that Jack had to be the one. Finally deciding that she had to get it over with she called his apartment at 7 oíclock.

"Jamie, hi," he said warmly. "I didnít expect to hear from you so soon."

"I need to talk to you, Jack. Can I come down?"

"Tonight?" he asked in surprise. "What is it, Jamie? Is something wrong?"

"Yes, Jack, something is wrong but I think I need to tell you in person."

"No," he said firmly. "I donít want to wait an hour. Donít hold me in suspense, please," he begged.

She drew in a breath and let it out slowly, trying to steel her nerves. "Itís about us, Jack," she said with a tremulous voice.

"I assumed that, Jamie," he said calmly. "What about us exactly?"

"WeÖwe canít be together," she whispered as the tears began.

"Why?" he asked so softly that she could barely hear him. "I thought that I hadÖ"

"You did nothing wrong, Jack. You were absolutely perfect," she said as the sobs shook her body. "Itís not youÖitís me."

"What is you?" he asked, again in a barely perceptible voice.

"Iím not able to commit to you fully Jack. IÖIÖI have sexual feelings for other women," she mumbled, refusing to make Ryan be the villain.

"So do I Jamie," he said with as light a tone as he could muster. "But I donít act on them because I love you. Donít you love me enough to put those feelings aside?"

She was shaking her head even though he could not see her. "Itís not like that, Jack. It would always interfere between us. Youíre too wonderful a person to settle for someone who wasnít able to give you all of their love."

"Shouldnít I be the one who decides that, Jamie?" he asked flatly. "Please donít try to make my decisions for me."

"This isnít just for you, Jack. Iíve tried to focus only on you but I havenít been successful. This is something I have to experience. It will haunt me forever if I donít. I swear the pull is just too strong."

"Stronger than your love for me?" he asked quietly.

"It must be," she admitted as her voice broke. "God! I wish it wasnít, Jack!" she sobbed. "I want to be with you, and have a bunch of kids and close this part of myself off. But I canít. I just canít," she added weakly. "It would be unfair to both of us and our children because someday the pull would be too great and I would ruin all that we had built together."

A long silence developed since she had nothing more to add. Finally he asked, "Are you absolutely certain?"

"Yes," she said quietly. "Iím certain."

He blew out a long breath and quietly said, "I love you, Jamie." Then the phone went dead.

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

The phone rang again at 10 and she was tempted not to answer but she stumbled to the handset and picked it up. "Hello?" she said with her stuffy nose and raspy voice.

"Jamie?" Ryan asked, a little unsure if it was her.

"Yeah," she said flatly.

"Whatís wrong?" Ryan asked amid the noise of wherever she was.

"I had a tough evening," she mumbled.

"Well, you looked upset while we were working out. Thatís why I called. I was getting ready to go home and I wanted to make sure you were all right."

"Iím all right," she said very unconvincingly.

"Jamie, we talked about this last week," she reminded her. "You can tell me whatís bothering you. Thatís what friends do."

"I canít," she muttered as she started to cry. "Iíve been crying for 3 hours and I donít want to start again!"

"Iíll be there in 5," Ryan said decisively as she hung up.

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

True to her word Ryan knocked softly on the door mere minutes later. Cassie poked her head out but she nodded when she saw Jamie open her door to go answer the knock. Her eyes were swollen from crying, and red blotches covered her face and neck. Her hair was seriously askew from trying to sleep and her nose was running continually. But Ryan just gently placed her hand on her back and led her back upstairs. When they reached the room she put a calming CD in the changer and turned it on to disguise their voices from prying roommates. "You donít have to tell me anything," she promised. "Just let me hold you and comfort you."

Even though she did not speak the tears started again. Jamie stood in the middle of the room looking lost and small and frightened. Her shoulders shook from crying and she was sobbing so hysterically that she could not have been understood if she had tried to speak. But she nodded her head at Ryanís offer and closed her eyes as the warm embrace enveloped her. "Bed or loveseat?" she asked gently.

Rather than respond Jamie started moving towards the bed and Ryan released her tight hold to drape an arm around her shoulders. She half fell onto the mattress and Ryan kicked off her shoes and climbed right up next to her, snuggling behind her and stroking her arm. She asked no questions and Jamie offered no explanations but after a few minutes she felt the aching sadness begin to lift a little bit. She knew she was close to collapsing from exhaustion so she asked, "Stay with me?"

"Of course," she murmured. Ryan got up and removed her jeans and slithered out of her bra, a difficult feat when one doesnít take off the t-shirt covering it. But she quickly returned to the bed and cuddled up behind her friend, wrapping her arm around her waist.

Jamie was almost asleep but just before she drifted off she mumbled, "I broke up with Jack tonight. Permanently," she added.

Ryan felt a huge amount of empathy for her friend but the tiny glimmer of hope in her heart that had nearly been extinguished flickered and grew warmer, causing a small smile to grace her lips as she tilted her head up to gently kiss Jamieís tear streaked cheek.

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

On a cloudy, damp afternoon she sat in Anna's warm office and declared, "I think I'm ready to move forward with Ryan if she's still interested after my meltdown," she added with a smirk.

"Have you spoken to her about your relationship since that little incident?" she asked delicately.

"No. Weíve become strangely silent about the whole thing. But we seem to be even closer than we were before," she admitted. "She hovers over me like a hawk, always making sure that Iím doing all right. Weíre together almost constantly and when I donít see her she calls me right before she goes to sleep."

"That sounds encouraging. What makes you think you're ready?" Anna inquired.

"My feelings for her just get stronger all the time. I just feel so good when we're together. It's like she is just so complementary to me. I can honestly say that she helps bring out the best parts in me," she replied thoughtfully.

"Do you have any doubts about moving forward?"

"Yeah, oh yeah!" she laughed. "I'm scared spitless, to be honest. I know in my heart that this is right for me, but I'm really scared about sex," she admitted, a bit embarrassed.

"What is it that scares you?" Anna asked gently.

"It's just that I've never been with a woman and she's been with...let's just say that she's been with a lot of women," she blushed. "I worry that I won't be able to please her, or that she'll get frustrated with my inexperience."

"Would you feel comfortable talking to her about your fears?"

"I think I would. I mean I tell her everything else. I may as well own up to this too," she laughed. "It's funny, but I dated boys for almost 6 years before I had intercourse. I just wish I could spend a little time just exploring with Ryan before it got too intense. I wish I could get a 'lesbian learner's permit'. But that didnít go over very well the last time I brought it up," she added with a noticeable shiver.

"That was a completely different situation, Jamie. Youíre asking for something very different now. There is no outside force that compels you to do things that you're not ready to do. If you want to go slow and just explore there is no reason that you can't do that."

"I'm just afraid that Ryan wouldn't be able to do that," she added shyly. "She has needs that she's not used to denying."

"If she's the person that you think she is you might be surprised at what she would do to make you comfortable, Jamie. I think you owe it to yourself to make this experience as safe as you need it to be. I think you need to talk to Ryan," she said firmly.

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

They met at the Ferry Building in the foggy chill of a late April morning. Both had several layers of clothing on to guard against the stiff breeze that constantly fluttered through the Golden Gate. They loaded their mountain bikes onto the first ferry to Sausalito and found places on the rail to watch the panorama unfold before them

"You really can talk me into anything, can't you?" Ryan said as she smiled down at her companion.

"Don't you think the ferry is fun?" Jamie replied.

"I haven't been on one since my 4th grade class went to Alcatraz," she admitted. "All I remember is that Shelly Blake got sick and spent the whole time hanging over the rail. We thought that was pretty cool, so I guess I do think ferries are fun," she replied with a smile.

"Well, I like them a lot, so you have to too," Jamie confidently stated. "I can't remember the last time I was in Sausalito, though. I think it's fun to do touristy things once in a while, don't you?"

"I'm learning that I do," Ryan admitted. "We didn't do a lot of touristy things when I was growing up, so a lot of this is new for me. Actually, I'm not sure I've ever really been to Sausalito. I mean, I've gone through it on the way to someplace else, but I don't think I've ever explored it. I'm really looking forward to it, Jamie. Thanks for taking me," she said happily.

The trip was almost too short for Ryan. She loved the feeling of the fresh breeze in her face, loved the smell of the sea and the feeling of the heavy air as she drew it into her lungs. Jamie just stood back a bit and watched all of Ryan's senses enjoy the trip.

When they arrived in Sausalito they unloaded the bikes and took off. It was around 10 o'clock and Ryan was hungry as usual, even though she had consumed a rather large breakfast. They found a little outdoor coffee shop right on the water and sat outside in the damp mist while they drank their hot lattés and ate warm muffins.

Ryan looked particularly adorable today. Several weeks ago Jamie accompanied her to the Patagonia store near Fisherman's Wharf to buy some new bike clothes. Ryan was making enough money now that she was able to bring her savings up to a comfortable level for the first time in years. She decided to splurge and buy several items that she had been lusting after for a long time.

Due to her fitness level Ryan sweated a ton when she rode her bike. She hated wearing cotton t-shirts because the sweat just stuck to her body. She had always liked the silk weight underwear from Patagonia, but had never had the money to buy it. Now that she was slightly flush she was ready to shop.

She bought 3 silk weight t-shirts that would pull moisture away from her body. She also bought 2 bike jerseys, one short sleeved and one sleeveless that would also wick her sweat away. She had a number of jerseys in her wardrobe but they were all from various races that she had entered and were covered with logos. She absolutely hated to be a walking billboard so the sedate little logo on the Patagonia tops were very welcome. Jamie had talked her into buying two sports bras made of the same type fabric. Her favorite purchase though, was the fluffy fleece jacket that she had on today. It was electric blue and toasty warm on this cool day. Under the jacket she wore a thin nylon vest in a brilliant yellow. This cut the wind and would be handy for wearing later in the day when the weather warmed up.

Jamie had purchased a fleece jacket for herself and a new jersey. Her jacket was a bright blue and green print that complemented her golden hair. Both women wore long black bike pants and their heavy off road shoes.

After watching the morning harbor traffic for a while Jamie asked as casually as she could, "So, have you been dating anybody lately?"

"No, I haven't," Ryan said as she removed her gaze from the harbor and fixed it upon Jamie. "What do you think I do? Leave your house at 10 and go trolling for my nightly fix?"

"What about all those girls I've seen you around campus with?" she teased.

"I am polite, Jamie," she said seriously. "But just because I'm talking to women doesn't mean I'm sleeping with them," she said rather curtly as she picked up her trash and walked to the nearest bin to toss it away. When she returned her smile was back in place and she held a hand out to help Jamie to her feet.

As they got on their bikes Jamie asked gently, "Did I hurt your feelings, Ryan?"

"No. It's nothing. I'm just a little sensitive today. I'm in the throes of PMS and sometimes my mouth has a will of its own." As she rode away she turned to Jamie, "Thanks for asking though," she said with a sweet smile.

They rode for a long while in companionable silence. The trip to Muir Woods was rather arduous, but well worth the effort. The scenery was breathtaking as bit by bit the morning fog lifted and more of the scenery was revealed. Finally they reached their destination. Both women had doffed their jackets due to the exertion. Jamie had hers tied around her waist, but Ryan's was stowed in the pack that was securely attached to her bike. The packs also held a delicious picnic lunch they had purchased at a deli in Sausalito. Ryan had the honor of carrying all the food and drink since she was both the stronger rider and the bigger eater.

As they rode around Muir Woods, Jamie had to put her jacket back on. The path they were traveling was densely populated by some of the oldest and tallest coast redwoods in the state. The tall trees obscured the weak sun and made the path rather dark. It was still and quiet in the forest, the only sounds those made by the two women.

As they drew near Redwood Creek they got off their bikes and stood on the bank of the quick running stream. The sun was stronger now as it neared noon. It poked through the tall canopy of trees and cast deep shadows on the glistening creek. They decided to eat lunch so Ryan went to her packs and removed their purchases. She had brought a neatly folded reflective space blanket which she spread on the ground and the shiny metallic surface gathered what sun there was to warm them.

They sat and ate, mostly in silence, content to listen to the stream and the birds and the wildlife that surrounded them. After the remains of their meal were cleaned up and placed back in the pack Jamie looked up at Ryan with a little smile and said, "Guess what I want?"

"Hmm, letís see," she reflected as she tiled her head up. "What would a little pleasure hound want after a long ride and a big lunch? I would guess that you want either a leg massage or a little nap." She glanced over at her companion as she asked, "How did I do?"

"Pretty good," she admitted. "I choose the second option."

Ryan just shook her head and grinned at her friend as she scooted over to the nearest tree and patted her thigh, "Come on, Sleeping Beauty, it's time for your nap."

Jamie happily complied by crawling over to Ryan and lying down parallel to her stretched out legs. She lay her head on the Lycra covered thighs and moved around until she was comfortable. Ryan's hand dropped to rest on her golden hair and she began to run her fingers through the soft locks. "I donít think itís possible to feel more content than I do right now," she murmured as she heard Ryan begin to hum a slow soft tune.

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

She awoke after a short but very restful nap. She heard Ryan's rhythmic breathing and turned her head just enough to see her friend's head resting against the redwood bark, sound asleep. Ohh, she looks so pretty, I want to scoot up there and kiss that beautiful mouth awake, she thought longingly. In lieu of that she just let the peaceful feeling wash over her as she lay there on Ryan's lap. She let herself drift off again and eventually woke as a blade of grass was drawn over her eyelids and lips. "Hey, no fair tickling me awake," she complained.

"How would you prefer to be woken up, Princess?" Ryan replied with a twinkle in her eyes.

I can think of a hundred different ways but they all involve your mouth and some level of nudity, she thought. "I'll consider that and get back to you," she said with a grin as she sat up and stretched. "Oooh, my thighs did not appreciate that last hill." She turned to Ryan and smiled coquettishly, "Is it too late to order option one?"

"I hope you brought me here for more than my thighs and my hands," she playfully groused as she began to massage the stiff legs.

Well, those are two of the biggest reasons, but it's too early to talk about that, she thought privately.

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

When the massage was complete they hopped back on the bikes and began the ride to Mount Tamalpais. Jamie had been here numerous times, but she had never experienced it in quite the way she did today. The feeling of slowly climbing the 2200 ft. hill was completely exhilarating. It really allowed her to test her aerobic capacity as well as the strength in her legs and her overall fitness. To her surprise she was quite pleased with the results. While the ride was clearly not easy she managed it with very little serious trouble.

The climb was made even more pleasant by the profusion of wildflowers that sprouted from every meadow and glen. This was a particularly spectacular year for the wildflower crop and she offered up a silent prayer of thanks that they had come to this place on this beautiful day.

They stopped frequently on the ride. At one point they spotted a family of deer in the distance and they stopped for a long while to watch them graze peacefully, seemingly unconcerned by the presence of humans. It was nearly 4 o'clock by the time they reached the peak. Daylight savings time would begin that night, but today the sun was scheduled to set at around 6 p.m. "I'm a little concerned that we're going to have trouble making it back while it's still light out," Ryan said as they paused to drink a bottle of water. "Are you up to starting back right away?"

"That was not really what I had in mind," Jamie replied. "I really wanted to stay up here for a while--maybe watch the sun set." She thought about the problem for a minute and then extracted her cell phone from her seat pack. "Let me see if I can resolve our little problem," she said mysteriously.

Moments later Jamie had booked the last remaining room at the Pelican Inn. This adorable little inn was near where Redwood Creek emptied into Muir Beach and it would take no more than 1/2 hour to ride there. Ryan was a little reticent to allow Jamie to pay for the room, but she was finally convinced when Jamie insisted that she was staying over whether Ryan did or not. Of course she did not mention that only the largest, most expensive room was still available and she had no plans to reveal that information later either.

They stood on the peak, alone in the waning sunlight. There were several large boulders and they climbed onto the biggest one to talk and watch the sunset. The view from the peak was stupendous with the huge panorama spread out in front of them. They could see for miles in all directions on this terribly clear afternoon. The fog was still off in the distance and the sun beat down, warming them on their rock.

Ryan was half reclining on the large stone, her torso supported by her forearms. Jamie gathered up her courage and did her best to calm her racing heart. She crawled around until she was sitting right next to her, facing her directly. "You're missing the beautiful view, Jamie," Ryan chided her.

"No, I'm not," she replied soberly. "Iím looking at the most beautiful view I ever hope to see," she said softly as her eyes locked onto Ryan's.

That clearly got her attention. Ryan sat up carefully, keeping her eyes on Jamieís. Her expression was open and very interested. She cocked her head just a tiny bit in question as she continued to stare into sea green eyes.

Jamie reached out and took each of Ryan's hands in hers. They sat directly in front of one another, crossed legs just touching at the knees. "Ryan, I've given a lot of thought to how I feel about you," she said in a very quiet voice. "And I know that I hurt you when I tried to go back to Jack. But I did that out of pure fear, Ryan. I never wavered in my desire for you. I was just too afraid to express it. But in a strange way that incident finally knocked some sense into me and made me face my true self. I know that you are the person that I love," she dropped one soft hand and reached out to touch an even softer pink cheek that began to tremble slightly under her fingertips.

She leaned in closer as her eyes bore into Ryanís with a fierce intensity. "Iím absolutely certain about this and I want to move forward and build a life with you. But our friendship means more to me than anything, and if thatís all you can offer, I can live with that."

Ryan squeezed her hands tightly and whispered, "You have no idea how Iíve prayed for this. I know I told you that Iíd be fine if you decided that you were straight, but I was lying--to myself and to you. Iíve thought of nothing else since you told me that you were attracted to me and when you went back to Jack I didnít know how I would survive. And the worst part was that I had to support your choice even though it was ripping my heart out." She let herself shed the tears that she had been forced to conceal from her friend, relishing the soft embrace that Jamie now offered.

She sniffed as she continued, "Every night when I say my prayers I ask for the chance to love you like you deserve to be loved." A shiver ran down her body as she took in a deep breath, closed her eyes tightly and pledged, "I offer much more than my friendship, Jamie. I offer you everything that I am and everything that I can become. I want to give myself to you, totally, completely, and eternally."

Jamie gazed at her with every tender emotion she felt clearly displayed in her eyes. "I love you completely, Ryan, and I want to be with you." She leaned close and said even more quietly, "Emotionally, spirituallyÖ" Here she leaned over until she was right next to Ryan's ear as she whispered "and physically."

Ryan's heart was pounding so loudly that she was certain Jamie could hear it. She removed the graceful hand that covered her cheek and she slowly turned it until it was right before her lips. She closed her eyes and kissed the palm reverently. She placed kiss after kiss on the small hand as she slowly nodded her head in acceptance of the offer placed before her. Her eyes remained closed the whole while and Jamie could see the first small tear slide down that beautiful face as she rose to her knees and felt Ryan do the same.

She lifted her hands to rest on the smooth planes of Ryanís face. She used her thumbs to tenderly trace over the dark brows, across the prominent cheekbones, down the strong line of her jaw, finally finding the soft, warm lips. One lucky thumb continued the task, softly moving over her moist lips, as they slowly opened to envelope the thumb in their warm wetness.

A jolt of sensation shot up and down Jamieís spine with a force so great that she felt dizzy. But Ryan stayed right where she was, waiting for Jamie to proceed as she felt comfortable. It took her a few seconds to gather herself but she finally was able to move forward. She took in as deep a breath as she could manage and cradled Ryanís face in both of her hands. Tilting her head just an inch she leaned forward and captured those incredibly soft lips without hesitation.

A tiny moan escaped from Ryan as Jamieís mouth sealed hers with the promise of her love.

Their arms slid around one another's waists as their lips came together again. The kisses were slow and soft and gentle but unceasing. There was a great depth of emotion behind each tender kiss, but they did not vary in their intensity. These were not the passionate kisses of lovers about to consummate their union; rather, this was the first stirring of promises to come. Knowing there would be plenty of time to explore in depth, they reveled in the first tender meeting of warm mouths.

Jamie placed her hands on either side of Ryan's face and delicately kissed each closed eyelid, chasing each tear away. "I love you, Ryan. I love you so much," she said as she kissed the tender lips again and again.

Ryan's eyes fluttered open and she gazed at Jamie with a depth of emotion that she had never before felt, "I love you too, Jamie. I do, I swear I do," she whispered fiercely as she drew her into a forceful hug.

They remained just as they were for a seemingly endless time. They alternated soft kisses with warm tender embraces, occasionally shedding a tear or two at the overpowering feeling generated by their bond. As the sun began to slip into the sea the boulder provided warmth to their entwined bodies. But as the chill in the air began to overtake even this heat they reluctantly parted. "I don't ever want to lose this feeling," Jamie whispered as they gripped each other tightly once last time.

"We canít lose this feeling," Ryan said firmly. "This feeling is just the cornerstone of a lifetime of wonderful moments. It will always be with us, reminding us of how we began. But I promise you, Jamie," she said fiercely as she locked onto her sea green eyes, "this is just the first step of a journey that will take our entire lives to complete. Weíve just barely begun."

"Iíll follow you anywhere, Ryan," she pledged as she lifted her head for several more loving kisses.

But Ryan pulled her head away and gazed at her with a look of pure devotion. "No, Jamie, I donít lead you. We go together," she promised. "Always together."

THE END (at least until Book 2)

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