I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 9: Intentions

by S X Meagher

Part 3

“Mom! We're leaving!” Jamie was standing at the bottom of the stairs, her bag already over her shoulder.

“Let me come kiss you both good-bye,” the smaller woman called out, as she scampered down the stairs. “I don't know how you two can get ready so quickly in the morning!”

“It's not hard when you're just slipping on a warm-up suit,” Ryan smiled, indicating her Cal Volleyball outfit.

“You look marvelous in everything you put on, Ryan O'Flaherty, so don't even try to get away with that,” Catherine scoffed, patting her daughter-in-law's cheek. “What time should I be there, girls?”

“Well, Annie suggested two o'clock, so any time around then is fine,” Ryan said. “Remember, Catherine, no presents.”

“I understood your edict, Ryan,” Catherine laughed. “That doesn't mean that I didn't try to circumvent it—but I understood it.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

On the long drive home Jamie turned sideways in her seat and said, “We've been so busy I haven't had time to compare our portfolios for a while. How are you doing, Buffy?”

“Just fine,” Ryan smirked.

“That's all I get?” the blonde asked incredulously. “You know exactly how I'm doing!”

“That's because I'm the accountant,” Ryan reminded her, a smug smile covering her features. “You didn't request full disclosure when we made the bet.”

“Well, I'm requesting it now,” Jamie said, a little miffed that she had to beg for information.

“It's gonna cost ya,” Ryan said, shaking her head sadly.

“Cost me? What do you mean, it's gonna cost me!”

“When you change the rules, you have to pay, Sweetheart,” she explained with a patient tone. “Lord, you missed out on a lot, not having siblings.”

“Fine,” the smaller woman groused, turning her body to face forward. “What will it cost me?”

“We don't really have a specific bet,” Ryan reminded her. “It was just who did a better job picking stocks. For full disclosure I think I want…I think I want you to buy me five shares of my favorite stock.”

“You make it sound like you're a sure-fire winner,” Jamie grumbled, narrowing her eyes a bit.

“Well, it pays to be confident,” Ryan informed her. “Besides, I am the sure-fire winner. Simple fact, ma'am.”

“Okay, Alan Greenspan, tell me exactly how you're doing.” Jamie's lips were pursed tightly and Ryan knew she was really getting to her…to her extreme pleasure.

“I'm up $110,000,” Ryan said, both eyebrows popping a few times to emphasize her superiority.

Only Ryan's excellent hearing allowed her to pick up the mumbled “shit” that her partner spat out through her clenched teeth. And she says I'm the competitive one, the dark woman chuckled to herself.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Caitlin's first birthday party was in full swing when Catherine arrived at 2:05. “My goodness,” she said, after kissing Jamie and Ryan, “Jamie warned me to come on time—Did everyone else just get here?”

“Nope. Most of my family likes to come an hour or so early, just in case,” Ryan laughed. “Just remember that you can't ever be too early for an O'Flaherty event.”

The baby spied her good friend at the door and flew over to her, her body leaning forward, arms out at her sides, a slightly goofy look on her face. She had been walking unaided for just a few days, and she still hit the ground as often as she remained upright, but she was getting better day by day.

“Oh my goodness!” Catherine said, picking her up and cradling her in a gentle hug. “You weren't walking last night!”

“She had the concept down yesterday, but she was in the pool all night and didn't really get the opportunity,” Ryan laughed.

“Yeah, and one of us was carrying her the entire time we were at Stanford,” Jamie added.

“Well, it's a fantastic accomplishment, Caitlin. You should be very proud of yourself.” Catherine tickled the exposed tummy, causing the baby to shriek with laughter and wait for her to do it again.

Catherine made the rounds, smiling broadly as every member of the family greeted her like a long-long cousin, even though nearly every one of them had been at her home just the day before. By the time she finished her hellos she was parched and went into the kitchen for a glass of something cold to drink.

Maeve was in the kitchen and she greeted Catherine warmly, inviting her to sit for a spell while she finished the last preparations for the barbeque.

“So, what is the news on the wedding front?” Catherine asked.

“Well, not much there, I'm afraid. I think we've worked out an arrangement with Niall so that we could move into his little house sometime near the end of January.”

“Oh my, that's quite a long time,” Catherine said. “What's the problem?”

“He doesn't have all of his appliances in the kitchen yet, and he can't finish the bathroom until a certain tub enclosure comes in. Then it all has to pass inspection. He thinks it might be ready by early January, but I'm not counting on it.”

Catherine gave her a sympathetic look, seeing the disappointment in her new friend's eyes. “That gives us time to start planning something nice,” she said brightly.

“Oh, I don't know, Catherine,” Maeve said, a worried frown on her face. “We'll have so many expenses. We'll have to buy a whole house full of furniture—Niall has absolutely nothing in the place, and we don't want our children to have to bear that expense if we take our things with us. I'm afraid we won't have much to spend on the wedding.”

“What was your first wedding like?” Catherine asked. “Were you married here?”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “It was a simple little affair. Just the two of us, and my husband's brother and sister-in-law standing up for us. We didn't have the money for a real church service, so we had the ceremony in a little chapel in the rectory. It was fine,” she said, sparing a sad smile.

“Your family wasn't able to attend?” Catherine was quite shocked at the sparsely attended service.

“Oh, my, no! My sister Fionnuala was saving every little bit of money she could to be able to emigrate, my younger sister was still in secondary school, and our brother was younger still. My parents were not very happy with me getting married so soon anyway, and even if they had approved, they never could have spent that kind of money on a trip. No, it wasn't the kind of wedding that a girl dreams of, but one can't have everything in life.”

“What do you think you and Martin will do?” Catherine queried.

“Well, we'll need the church this time—just for all of the relatives,” she laughed. “I suppose we'll have tea and cake in the auditorium afterwards. It's not really important,” she insisted. “All that matters is that I'll have my Martin.”

Catherine rose from her seat and placed her hands on Maeve's shoulders, smiling a little when she realized that they were the same height. “It does matter, Maeve. Every woman should remember her wedding day fondly. Tea and cake is fine, but it's not enough for a special day. Let me help.”

She said this with such determination that Maeve heard herself asking, “How?”

“Let me host a reception for you and Martin. I have a cook who longs to cater a big party, and enough china and silver to serve a small army. I would be forever grateful if you let me give you this gift.”

“Oh, Catherine, that's too generous of you! We couldn't impose like that!”

“Why do you and Martin keep saying that?” she responded with a note of frustration. “Either I'm a member of this family, or I'm not! I see how the whole family pitches in to fix Niall's home, I see how you accept his home as your own, why refuse such a simple offering from me?”

Maeve pursed her lips and made a decision. “Why indeed?” she repeated, noddingher head. “I accept—with one proviso. You have to allow us to pay for the food.”

Catherine narrowed her eyes and made a counter offer. “Only if I can pay for the liquor.” And the flowers, she said to herself.

Maeve grimaced, knowing that she had been outflanked. Sighing heavily, she smiled and gave Catherine a warm hug. “It's a deal,” she whispered. “Nothing too fancy, now. We're simple people.”

“I promise to hide the caviar spoons and the paté forks,” Catherine laughed, already planning the menu in her head.

“Now I just need to find a dress, make the arrangements with Father Pender, and tell my parents…in that order.”

“Will this not be happy news?” Catherine asked solicitously.

Maeve sighed and said, “They were never happy with Martin, to be honest. Even though we were poorer than church mice, Mam had great plans for Fionnuala. She was very talented musically, you know. Great promise. But she wanted to come to the States, and once she met Martin—well, you know how it is,” she laughed.

“Your sister didn't regret her choice, did she?” Catherine asked as tactfully as possible.

“Oh, my, no! She was completely happy, Catherine. She loved Martin and the children with every bit of her heart. She was very much like Siobhán that way. Her heart was as big as the North Sea. No, she was a very happy woman. It's Mam who never warmed up to Martin. Part of it was distance. She only met him twice--once, not long after they married, and the second time at my sister's funeral. Not the best time to make a good impression,” she admitted. “Mam has always had the unreasonable notion that Fi would still be with us if she hadn't come to the States. She seems to think that we're surrounded by all sorts of carcinogens that they don't have in Ireland.” She shook her head and rolled her eyes a little, amused as well as dismayed by her mother's beliefs.

“Will she be upset that you've chosen Martin, too?”

“Yes, she will. Distance wasn't the only problem,” Maeve admitted. “The children spent a lot of time in Ireland, and Martin and my mother each have strongly held views on child-rearing. At one point they had a terrible row, and I'm quite certain that Mam has never forgiven him for it.” Shaking her head again Maeve said, “I'll be 57 years old this year, Catherine, but I still hate to think of making my mother angry with me.”

“Will you tell her by letter?” Catherine asked.

“I have to. It would cost five hundred dollars for a ticket right now. We could buy a new sofa for that kind of money.”

You can? Catherine mentally gaped, but politely held her tongue. “It's September, right?”

“Right,” Maeve said cautiously.

“I have enough miles for three first-class airline tickets to anywhere in Europe, but they expire at the end of the year. I'm certain that I won't use them, so will you use one of them to tell your mother and father in person?”

“Oh, Catherine,” she cried, for the second time in the day. “Those are yours! You should use them! You could take the girls on a nice trip.”

Catherine gave her a look and said, “I have a hard time getting both of them in one place for dinner. Jamie could get away around Christmas, but Ryan starts basketball as soon as volleyball is over. There is no way that she will get any time off.”

“What about your husband? Couldn't he…?” Maeve began, but stopped abruptly when she saw the look in Catherine's eyes. “Is something wrong?”

“We've separated, Maeve. He left for Washington on Friday. I won't be joining him.”

“Oh, Catherine, I'm so sorry to hear that. We saw him on the television just the other night…he's such a nice looking man. He looks quite a bit like Jamie, doesn't he?”

“Yes, he does,” she agreed, smiling sadly. “Nonetheless, we won't be traveling together in the near future. If you don't want these I'll give them to Stanford to use, but I would prefer that you take them.”

“All right,” she said, giving her another generous hug. “It would mean a lot to my mother, and I would love to see my father again. I truly miss him.”

“Thank you, Maeve, for treating me like a member of the family. You've made my day!”

* * * * * * * * * * *

The party raged on for the better part of the afternoon, so many people jammed into the small house that it seemed like the walls would bow. Jamie tried to catch her mother's eye several times, but for nearly 45 minutes the woman was engaged in a rather serious-looking discussion with Tommy and Annie in a relatively private corner. Finally, at around six o'clock, Catherine came breezing over, saying, “I wish I could stay a little longer, but I'm exhausted! Being around you energetic people for a whole weekend has worn me out!”

“Well, you still look marvelous, Catherine,” Ryan said, taking a long look at her fashionable mother-in-law.

“We had a great time, Mom. As soon as we have a spare weekend, we'll do it again.”

“I know that will be a while, Dear, but I'm happy with whatever time you can spare. I promise not to be one of the cloying mothers that tries to make you feel guilty for having your own life.”

“Once again, I thank God for giving me the most wonderful woman in the world and her equally wonderful mother,” Ryan said, giving both women one of her patented beaming grins.

“See you both soon,” Catherine said as she kissed them both and bade a quick farewell to the others.

As she left, Jamie spared another glance back at Tommy and Annie, who were both sitting right where they had been when her mother was speaking to them. “Ryan, they don't look well,” she said, with a note of worry in her voice.

“No, they certainly don't,” Ryan agreed. She strode over to the couple and sat down, placing a hand on Annie's knee. “Are you two okay?”

“We're in shock,” Annie said vacantly, a sheaf of papers in her hand.

Tommy nodded somberly. “In shock,” he echoed.

Jamie came up and placed her hand on Ryan's back. “What's up?”

“They're in shock, near as I can tell,” Ryan said, glancing up quickly at her partner. “I just can't figure out why.”

Annie looked up at Jamie with a stunned, wide-eyed expression and said, “Your mom.”

“What? What happened?” Jamie was getting a little anxious since the couple looked like they had seen several ghosts all at once.

“She gave us a present…for Caitlin.”

“Darn it,” Jamie said. “We told her no presents. What did she give her?”

“Four years at Stanford,” Tommy said, as Annie extended the papers in Jamie's direction.

“WHAT? She gave her a college degree?” Ryan was nearly speechless, but she had just enough air left to get out, “Holy crap!”

Jamie shook her head, knowing full well what her mother had done. “She's done this for a number of kids.”

Ryan looked at her with such a blank expression that Jamie had to laugh. “It's okay, Love. Breathe.”

“What in the hell is this, Jamie?” she asked.

“Okay,” she sighed. “It's a program that some private schools have started. You pay for the child's education in today's dollars. There are all sorts of formulas based on the kid's age for how much you owe, but that's not important for this discussion. The money earns interest--not a lot--but a decent amount. No matter how much tuition is at the time the kid is enrolled, his tuition and fees are covered. It's kinda like an insurance policy for the donor, and Stanford gets the money early…17 years early, in Caitlin's case.”

“That's remarkable,” Ryan gaped.

“Now, it's not guaranteed that she'll be admitted—she'll still have to qualify, but this guarantees her a free education if she wants to go there.” Jamie shrugged her shoulders, secretly pleased that her mother thought so highly of Caitlin and Tommy and Annie.

“Did you accept the gift?” Ryan asked, amazed that her proud, headstrong cousin would do so.

“Uhh…I think I did,” Tommy said dully.

“He did, he really did,” Annie vouched for him, looking equally stunned.

“She just talks you into stuff,” Tommy said, feeling like a truck had hit him.

Annie was coming around now that they were talking about it, and she said, “Catherine said that if we didn't want the gift in 17 years, we could give it back. Since she'll earn interest on it, it's not really ours until Caitlin enrolls. Cait might not want to go there, and she might not have the grades or the scores to get in…”

“Not to worry,” Ryan said, seeing some of her own talents already blossoming in her young cousin. “She'll be admitted anywhere she wants to go. So you're okay with this?” Ryan asked again.

“I guess so,” Tommy said. “I mean, it's going to be impossible for us to save enough to send her to a private school. Catherine promised that if, for some reason, we don't feel comfortable when the time comes, we can just refuse it—no hard feelings. So it's almost not even real, ya know?”

“Your mom does this for other kids, too, Jamie?” Ryan asked.

“Yeah. She's awarded two scholarships a year to low-income kids who go to the school attached to my grandfather's church. She pays for tutors to help the kids get the grades to get admitted to Stanford, too.” She shot Ryan a wide grin and said, “She's a pretty cool mom, isn't she?”

“The coolest,” Ryan agreed, her sentiments echoed enthusiastically by her cousins.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The party was winding down, but the baby was becoming more and more frazzled as the guests began to leave. Annie approached Ryan and asked for a favor. “Any chance you two would take her for a walk in her stroller to tire her out a little? We can get the place cleaned up so we can give her a little attention by the time you get back.”

“And the alternative is staying to clean up?” Ryan asked, smiling brightly. “Duh…I think I'd prefer the walk.” She scooped Caitlin up and got her settled in her jogger, mostly ignoring the outraged squawks from the baby, who believed that her newfound ability to walk had rendered the stroller a thing of the past.

The threesome took off, deciding to go on a long walk down to Castro for some of Ryan's favorite Double Rainbow ice cream.

They crested the hill and rolled down into Castro, the street fairly crowded on a warm Sunday evening. As they drew near the ice cream shop Ryan's face grew darker, her expression morphing from outrage to desolation. Finally, her nose was pressed up against the now-empty store window. “They can't close it!” she cried, looking completely bereft.

Jamie rubbed a soothing hand on her back, confirming the obvious. “They already have, Honey. We're gonna have to settle for something else.”

Ryan turned to her with a pout affixed to her face. “This was one of our places,” she insisted. “I thought we could come here for years and years, and tell our kids about how we came here when Mommy didn't know she was dating Mama.”

Jamie's eyes fluttered closed at the adorable sentiment. She tossed her arms around Ryan's waist and hugged her tight, murmuring, “You are the sweetest woman on earth, Ryan O'Flaherty. You capture my heart anew nearly every day.”

“Nearly?” Bright blue eyes peeked out of long bangs, making Jamie's heart skip a beat.

“Every day,” she corrected. “You make me fall in love with you all over—every day.”

“That's pretty nice, isn't it?” Ryan asked, returning the hug with fervor. “Falling in love feels so good—it's a shame to only do it once.”

Caitlin didn't care for the unexpected stop, and she displayed her displeasure vocally. Jamie stooped to check her diaper, finding it in need of an immediate change. She volunteered to take her into A Different Light to ask if she could change her on the floor in the rear of the bookstore, since there was no other horizontal surface in the immediate vicinity. Ryan stayed out on the street to keep her eye on the jogger, even though she thought it was safe to leave it. She leaned against the building and people-watched for a while, finally walking down the street just a few yards to look in the windows of the neighboring shops just as Jamie came out and began to put the baby back in her jogger.

Out of the corner of her eye Jamie saw a woman approach Ryan from behind. Ryan's arms were crossed over her chest, and the woman threw her arms around Ryan's crossed ones, lifted her off the ground, and began to spin her around in a very enthusiastic greeting. Jamie started to call out but she could tell from Ryan's body language that she knew the person who was tossing her around like a toy. My God, how strong do you have to be to pick her up that easily? I know she's lost weight, but that is ridiculous!

As Jamie struggled to get Caitlin settled, she intently watched the interplay between Ryan and the stranger. It seemed like the woman was intentionally showing off, still holding Ryan's body a good half a foot off the ground. The captive was giggling as her feet dangled off the ground, looking like she was well used to this game.

Jamie's eyes raked over the powerful woman who held her lover so effortlessly, starting at the soft-looking sandy brown hair that fell forward into her eyes. The cut was much like the one Brendan sported--a few inches long on the top, tapering to less than a quarter-inch on the sides and back.

Her face was attractive, though quite androgynous, with a strong jaw line, a broad forehead, and surprising gentle eyes that were nearly hidden when she smiled, which she was currently doing. She was tall…very tall…at least two inches taller than Ryan, and given that Jamie rarely met a woman who approached Ryan's height, she assumed that this woman must attract more attention than she wished for her notable size. She was muscular, too, in a way that was very different from Ryan. This woman looked like she had earned her muscles the hard way, through manual labor. She was far too bulky for Jamie's tastes, but she could understand the attraction that Ryan obviously held for her.

It was clear that this woman was not just a casual acquaintance. The sparks flashing between her and Ryan were almost visible, and only Jamie's iron-clad belief in her partner's fidelity prevented her from marching down the street, grabbing Ryan by the ear, and dragging her back home and away from this temptation.

When the woman finally set Ryan back on her feet, Jamie's eyes almost popped out as the tall stranger bent over and placed a very, very familiar kiss on Ryan's lips. The kiss continued much longer than Jamie was comfortable with, but in reality it was probably just a couple of seconds. Ryan pulled away before the other woman did, but the automatic gesture that followed was actually less preferable to Jamie's eyes than the kiss. As the taller woman stood, Ryan laced her hands behind her friend's neck and leaned back in a gesture that looked well practiced and very familiar. There was something almost girlish about Ryan's body language, and Jamie marveled that she had never seen this softer, almost shy side of her lover. But the woman who gently held Ryan had obviously seen it, and seen it often.

Caitlin was secured by now and Jamie steered her quickly over to the twosome, unable to control her proprietary streak another moment. Turning to the very tall, very buff woman, she stuck her hand out and said clearly, “Hi, I'm Jamie Evans, Ryan's lover,” her emphasis on "lover."

The tall woman smiled widely and said with a slight Southern accent, “I'm very pleased to meet you, Jamie,” as she grasped her hand with both of her large ones. “I'm Ally Webster.”

Jamie found herself a little tongue-tied at this revelation, but Ally rescued her when she added, “I have got to tell you that I think you've captured the most precious woman in the whole Bay Area. I really wish you both the best,” she said with a beaming smile that Jamie could not help but return.

Just then Caitlin decided that the focus of attention had been elsewhere for too long. She cried to be picked up, and Ryan lifted her from the jogger immediately.

“Is this your little cousin?” Ally asked with delight. “Can I hold her?” Ryan immediately relinquished control, and the baby happily went to the large woman and snuggled up in her massive arms. “She's adorable, Ryan!” She grinned as she bounced the baby on her hip, but Caitlin wanted a better view, so Ally shifted her until she was nose to nose with the giggling baby. Caitlin grabbed each part of her face, to Ally's delight, but the baby was truly in heaven when she reached Ally's soft hair. She had never experienced a woman who kept her hair that short, and after a moment she leaned over and rubbed her little face on Ally's head. Looking up at Ryan's blush, Ally just raised an eyebrow to her friend's embarrassed nod. “I can certainly see the family resemblance,” she said dryly, obviously sharing a private joke.

“Yeah, she's already showing evidence of the family charm,” Jamie admitted.

“Well, she's got a long way to go to catch up with her talented cousin,” Ally said as she patted Ryan's cheek fondly.

She's blushing like a schoolgirl! Jamie marveled. I have honestly never seen this side of her. I've got to know more about this woman—as soon as possible! Almost without thinking Jamie said, “I'd love to let you two catch up. Why don't you come over for dinner, Ally?”

It was hard to tell who was more surprised by the invitation, but Ally paused for a moment and looked at Ryan carefully. “Would you like that, Ryan?” she asked.

Ryan paused for just a second, then made her decision. “Yes, very much,” she nodded enthusiastically.

“Okay, when do you want me?” Ally asked Jamie.

“Are Sundays good?”

“Yeah, Sundays are fine.”

“Well, how about next Sunday? It's the only weekend date that Ryan has available for a few weeks.”

“You're on,” Ally said firmly. “Will my future girlfriend be there?” she teased as she pulled Caitlin up for a kiss on the cheek.

“No, her parents won't let her date for a while,” Jamie said. “But you can bring a date if you want,” she said, hoping that Ally had someone to replace Ryan.

“I might,” she replied noncommittally. “Can I let you know?”

“Sure,” Ryan said. “We usually have one or two joining us for dinner, so we always have extra.”

“Great. Pager still 555-2345 Ryan?”

Jesus, she has her pager memorized! “Call her on her cell or at our house,” Jamie said as she pulled out a slip of paper and wrote both numbers on it, hoping to remove the other number from Ally's memory bank.

“Will do,” she promised as she leaned in for another kiss from Ryan. This one was shorter and much more chaste, to Jamie's satisfaction. Ally stuck her hand out and shook Jamie's once more. “I look forward to seeing you both,” she said politely as she returned Caitlin to Ryan's grasp. “Bye-bye Junebug,” she said as she mussed Caitlin's hair.

As Ally strolled away, her determined gait almost mesmerizing to watch, Jamie switched her gaze from Ally to her lover, trying to imagine Ryan with this woman. She shook her head slowly as she muttered, “If I had to guess what she looked like, that would have been my last guess. I couldn't have been more surprised if she had a big penis!”

Ryan leaned over and whispered, “She's got a whole box full of 'em!”

* * * * * * * * * * *

There was no acceptable substitute for Double Rainbow in Castro, so they started the long climb home. “Are you okay with me asking Ally over?” Jamie asked.

Ryan had been thinking about that very issue, finding that she was less and less comfortable with the idea the longer she thought about it. “Um…generally, I'd prefer that we discuss things like this beforehand. I uh…don't think you'd like it if I decided I wanted to get to know Jack better and asked him over.”

“Bu…but…he was my fiancé,” Jamie gaped, grabbing onto Ryan's arm to stop her progress. “I had the distinct impression that you and Ally had a much more casual relationship than that.”

Feeling intensely uncomfortable discussing her feelings for the other woman, Ryan consciously decided to back off. “We were much more casual than that, Jamie. I'm not saying that I don't want her to come—I'm just saying that, as a rule, I'd prefer to agree on things like this beforehand. Is that really asking for much?”

The blonde shook her head. “No, it's not. I'm sorry, Ryan, but my curiosity just took over. Why don't you call her and tell her that something came up? It's not worth doing if it makes you uncomfortable.”

“No, it's fine,” Ryan said, even though she wasn't at all sure that it was fine. “She was an important person in my life, and I do want to maintain the friendship, so now's as good a time as any.”

They took a short detour on the way home, stopping in front of Rory's Scoop Shop. Looking up at the sign, Jamie asked, “Ice cream? This close to home?”

“Yeah,” Ryan agreed. “It's good. Probably my second favorite place. They mix up Oreos and M & M's and other kinds of candy into the ice cream. I think you'll like it.”

Grabbing her arm once again, Jamie looked up at her with an amused smile. “You mean to tell me that we could have been coming here for all of these months? This is three times closer to home than Double Rainbow!”

“I know,” Ryan agreed, “but I like Double Rainbow about…oh, I'd say five percent more.”

Jamie shook her head and took Caitlin out of her stroller, telling her, “One day when you grow up you'll be able to drive your boyfriend or girlfriend just a crazy as Ryan makes me. Won't that be fun? Yes!” she smiled as the baby enthusiastically agreed.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jim Evans fought through the choked traffic around National Airport late on Sunday night, cursing himself for not sending a limo. He was early, much earlier than he usually was for appointments, but he had been nearly out of his mind with boredom and loneliness for the last three days and couldn't wait to leave his hotel. Why did I come to Washington three days before I absolutely had to? he grumbled to himself as he steered the car around the unfamiliar airport. If I'd waited until today I could have come out with Kayla and had someone to keep me company.

His thoughts focused on the young redhead, smiling to himself as he recalled her elation at being asked to accompany him to Washington. He didn't let himself believe that she was that ecstatic just to be in his company. Kayla was as determined and as ambitious as he had been at her age, and that was saying a lot. Being a junior legislative aide to a United States senator was a very prestigious opportunity for a young woman not two years out of law school, and he knew that Kayla would throw herself into the job with all of her usual passion. He gave himself credit for at least sleeping with a hard-working, bright young woman. I probably would have offered the job to Kayla even if we weren't involved, he thought to himself. Of course, we'll never know at this point.

He found a short-term lot close to the United terminal and quickly ran to the building, his anxiety palpable. She'll think you're out of your mind if you act as excited to see her as you really are, he chided himself. Women don't like to be smothered. Especially young women. You think you would have learned that lesson from Jamie.

The flight was on time, and he consciously forced himself not to crowd around the gate to greet her. He was sitting in a chair, acting as though he was reading "The Economist" when she approached. “Senator Evans,” she said, her voice cordial and respectful.

He almost stood and kissed her, then remembered that he was now a public figure and might be recognized at any time. Mentally slapping himself, he raised his voice in case anyone was eavesdropping and said, “Kayla. Good to see you again.”

“Always a pleasure, Senator,” the redhead smiled. “Ready to get to work?”

“I am,” he agreed. “Shall we?” He shouldered her laptop, leaving her to organize her claim checks for her baggage. As soon as they had retrieved the three large bags, he asked a skycap to bring the bags to the curb and went to get the car. They pulled out into the heavy Sunday night traffic, the young woman sitting quietly until they were near the airport exit.

“Pull over,” she said, her voice calm but determined.

He raised an eyebrow, but did as she asked, pulling into a no parking zone for what he assumed would be a quick stop. “What is i…” he began, but before he had completed his thought she had maneuvered herself against him, pinning him to the door. Her mouth crushed against his, her tongue slipping past his open lips as her body squirmed against him.

“I missed you,” she murmured, her head lifting briefly before she dove back in.

Her touch felt so good…his body ached with longing, needing to feel her skin against his. “I missed you, too,” he sighed, squeezing her tightly. “Let's go to the hotel.”

“I can't wait.” She slid back into her seat after giving him a look so filled with desire that it nearly made him numb.

He shook his head roughly, trying to focus. “Remind me to order a limo next time, will you, Kayla?” he asked wearily as they shared a smile. “I don't think I'm in any shape to drive right now.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

On Monday evening, Ryan was sitting on the steps outside the gym buckling up her roller blades when Jordan sidled up. “Hey.”

Looking up, the dark-haired woman replied in a similar fashion, waiting a beat to ask, “What's up?”

“Not much. Got any dinner plans?” The tall blonde looked like she felt a little awkward, but she obviously had some goal in mind.

“Not really. You?”

Jordan blinked and pursed her lips as she said, “Oh. I thought you'd be going home…”

Now Ryan let out the laugh she'd been holding in. “Come on. We've always got room for one more hungry mouth. Let me call Jamie.”

It took a little longer than normal to arrive home, since only one of the pair wore blades, but Jordan did a good job of running alongside, even after an enervating practice. When they arrived, Jordan plucked at her shirt and asked, “Can I borrow a T-shirt? Mine somehow got drenched on our leisurely walk.”

“Sure. You know where they are by now, don't ya?”

“Yep. Be right back.”

Jordan took the stairs two at a time, managing to find herself in front of Mia's room even though it was further down the hall than Ryan's. Knocking lightly on the open door, she popped her head in as Mia looked up from the book she was reading. “Hi. Ryan invited me for dinner. Are you going to be eating with us?”

Mia graced her with one of her best smiles, hopped off the bed and walked to the door. “Yep. I was just going to go down. You look healthy today,” noticing her friend's red cheeks. "Hey, you're dripping wet! Did that Ryan make you run all the way over here?” Mia now wore a fierce scowl as she said, “Don't let her push you around, Jordan. She's going to make you catch a cold running around like this. Do you want a T-shirt? How about some sweats?”

“Do you have a shirt that's big enough?” she asked, looking hopeful, even though she knew where an entire drawer full of extra-large shirts was just waiting for her.

“I think I can fix you up.” She rummaged through her chest of drawers, finally pulling out one that she wore as a sleep shirt. “This one goes almost to my knees. It should work.”

She handed it to the lanky woman, expecting her to put it on, but Jordan looked around and asked, “Bathroom?”

After pointing in the proper direction, Mia shook her head and said to herself, She's a tough one to figure out. I don't know anybody that's afraid to change shirts in front of me—especially an athlete. Don't they get dressed in front of each other?

* * * * * * * * * * *

After dinner, Ryan went upstairs to study while Jamie staked out her usual position in the library. Jordan and Mia took off for a walk, so the house was quiet when the phone rang at about nine o'clock.

“Hello?” Ryan said absently, trying to figure out a chemistry problem that had been vexing her for 20 minutes.

“Ryan?” the deep, rather formal male voice asked.


“It's Jim Evans,” he said, immediately making her heart pick up its beat.

“Hello,” she said. “Would you like me to get Jamie for you?”

“Yes, in a minute, Ryan, but first I wanted to congratulate you on how well you played this weekend.”

“How well I…played,” she said slowly, thinking that his private detective must still be on his payroll.

“Yes. I subscribe to the Cal Bears report, and I specified that I want information about women's volleyball and golf. I get a report after every game. Very good work against BYU, Ryan. You should be proud of yourself.”

“Thanks, Jim. Thanks a lot,” she said, pulling the phone away from her mouth to make sure she wasn't hallucinating. “Shall I get Jamie now?”

“Yes, please. Thank you, Ryan,” he said, his tone friendly and very casual.

As Ryan ran down the stairs she muttered to herself, “This guy has not presented the same face two times in a row. Will the real Jim Evans please stand up?”

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Jamie came up to retire, Ryan was undressed and sitting in bed, working on her correspondence. She was wearing a cute little grin that grew in intensity as she finished up the e-mail she was writing. “What's up?” Jamie asked, slipping into bed and trying to read the screen. “You look like the cat that ate the canary.”

“I uh…was just telling Aisling a funny story,” she said. “I forgot to tell you this, but I think someone made a pass at me at the game on Friday night.”

“What?” Jamie shouted. “You tell your cousin before you tell me?”

“It was no big deal, Hon,” Ryan assured her. “I'm not really even sure that it was a pass,” she added with a little glimmer of a twinkle in her eyes.

“What do you mean you're not sure? You've had enough passes thrown your way to know when someone is doing it.”

“Well, it was hard to tell because they didn't speak and I couldn't see their eyes.”

“What?” Jamie repeated. “What in the hell are you talking about? Were they under the stands or something?”

“No. They were right next to me and kind of grabbed my butt every chance they got.”

“Why do you say 'they'?” Jamie asked.

“Well, I'm not sure what sex they are,” Ryan replied innocently, batting her deep blue eyes.

“Ryan, spill it or I'll tickle you until you cry!” she threatened as she began to do just that.

Through her laughter Ryan finally cried, “Okay, okay! The female Oski Bear kept putting her paw on my butt!”

“Oh Jesus, even the school mascots are hot for you?”

“Not the male, Jamie, just the female,” she proclaimed self-righteously through her giggles. “Even a bear can tell that I'm a lesbian!”

“You just wait until the next home game,” Jamie threatened ominously. “She's so gonna wish she had kept her paws to herself. It's hunting season, Baby, and I'm loaded for bear!”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Getting up to brush her teeth Jamie commented, “Daddy pointed out something when I spoke to him that I think we should consider.”

“What's that?”

“He thinks that I should take some money out of my trust…kind of as an experiment.”


“Well, I think he has a good point,” the blonde said. “I'm worried about taking everything that I'm entitled to—mainly because it's so much money and I'm too busy to decide how to invest it. But as he pointed out, I'll never get comfortable until I do it. If you don't object, I might take out a portion of the distribution I'm entitled to and spread it between a couple of different money managers. That will let me try a few people out to see what kind of relationship develops.”

“Honey, I have no right to object…”

“Yes you do, Ryan,” the blonde said firmly. “It's our money.”

“Okay,” Ryan smiled. “I give you my explicit permission to do anything you wish with our money. How's that?”

“Sneaky, very sneaky,” she chuckled. “I'm going to call Mom and ask her for some recommendations.” She grinned at Ryan and informed her, “Daddy didn't even try to make a suggestion on who I should use. Weird, huh?”

“I think we should have his DNA tested,” Ryan decided. “He's clearly not the same guy.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan walked down the hallway the next morning, absently packing her school supplies into her backpack. As she turned to descend the stairs she saw her roommate pinned in the corner of the love seat, Jordan looming over her. The taller woman was kneeling on the cushion to improve her angle, Mia's face captured between both of her hands. She was working on Mia's mouth with a determined intensity that looked like it was on the verge of getting out of hand. Mia, however, looked more than happy with this state of affairs. Her hands were laced through Jordan's silky hair, pulling the willing blonde to her as firmly as possible.

Great…just great. We need a back entrance to this place, since Mia seems to tend towards exhibitionism! She took another quick look, nodding her approval at her friend's technique. Whoa! You're doing great for a beginner, Jordan. Go get her, buddy!

She had to walk right past them, since she was not going to give up her breakfast just to save them some embarrassment. As she passed by she ran her hand over both heads, giving each a little pat just to let them know she was there. Jordan pulled away, yelping a little as Mia's tenacious grip nearly ripped the hair from her head. “Shit! Is it that late already?” She rolled away from Mia, putting her feet on the floor and scrubbing her hands over her face. Turning to Mia, her brow furrowed, she asked, “How did it get to be so late?”

“It's actually early,” Ryan reminded her, “and if I'm not mistaken, you have an early class. You gonna skip?” she asked over her shoulder as she went into the kitchen to get something to eat.

“Shit!” She got to her feet and shook like a wet dog, the sensations that had erupted from kissing Mia so passionately still pulsing through her body. Looking down at a rather limp-looking woman she said, “I have to make this class.” She tugged at the hem of the tee she wore and quirked her mouth into a shy grin. “Need your shirt back?”

“Not until you wash it,” Mia smiled. She got to her feet and wrapped Jordan in a gentle hug. “That way I can be sure you'll come back.”

Ryan came back out into the living room, looked at Jordan and asked, “Shall I wait for you?”

“I'm ready,” she said. “Can we stop and get me a gallon of coffee on the way?”

“Yeah,” Ryan smiled. “I'll even buy if you'll shake a leg.” She went out to the porch to put her blades on and give the pair a moment alone.

Jordan smiled down at Mia and fluffed her hair gently with her fingertips. “I've messed your hair up,” she teased.

Mia reached up and did the same to her friend, smiling at her as she loosened a large tangle that her frantic clutching had created in the smooth blonde tresses. “You can't tell much with mine, but yours could use a good combing.”

Ryan rapped sharply on the door, and Jordan leaned down for what was becoming her signature goodbye kiss. She once again touched Mia's chin with her fingertips, leaned over and gazed into her eyes until Mia felt her knees grow weak. Then, when the smaller woman was about to grab Jordan and kiss her until her eyes crossed, the taller woman allowed her eyes to flutter closed as she leaned in even closer, took in a deep breath and brushed her lips against Mia's with the barest hint of pressure. “Bye,” she said softly, her lips so close that Mia could feel the moisture from her warm breath.

“Bye,” Mia sighed in return, wishing that she could wrestle the blonde to the floor and ravish her without mercy.

Then she was gone, leaving Mia to collapse onto the love seat and bang her fists against the cushion in frustration.

“Anyone I know?” Jamie asked from the top of the stairs.

“Ryan,” she grumbled, giving the cushion another sharp blow. “She picks the worst damn times to show up!”

“Huh? What are you talking about, and for that matter, what are you doing up?”

“I was really making progress with Jordan,” she sighed, dropping her head to the cushion as she stared vacantly at the ceiling. “For the first time it felt like she was the aggressor…know what I mean?”

“Uhh…yeah. I'm familiar with aggression,” Jamie said, thinking that Ryan could teach a graduate level course in how to be dominant sexually.

“Well, we'd only been kissing a couple of minutes—as usual—when Ryan comes down and takes Jordan away! That's three times in a row! Why does she have to have Jordan with her all of the time? She's mine!”

“Uh…Mia,” Jamie said. “Jordan couldn't pull Ryan away from me if she didn't want her to. Are you sure this is Ryan's fault?”

She gave the cushion another punch and admitted, “No. It's Jordan. I don't know what's wrong, James. I've never had to work this hard to even get a kiss! She seems to have no interest in going any further, and I've gotta tell you, that's not what I'm used to!”

“I should think not!” Jamie laughed. “You have a reputation to uphold!”

“Funny,” Mia said, not even a flicker of a smile crossing her face. “She's just so shy! I gave her a T-shirt last night, and she went into the bathroom to put it on!”

“Mia,” Jamie said seriously. “Jordan's not shy. Jesus, she's practically a nudist!”

“You've seen her naked?”

“Oh, yeah,” she admitted. Waggling her eyebrows she added, “It was worth a paid admission, to tell you the truth. She's got a body to die for!”

“Great! Everybody but me gets to see her naked!” Looking at Jamie curiously she reminded her, “She even wore a suit in the sauna the other night.”

“Not the next day,” Jamie informed her. “We worked out, and she was stripping on her way down to the sauna. I swear she was stark naked by the time we got there. She seems really unconcerned with nudity, Mia.”

“With you! Not with me! What in the hell is going on here, Jamie? Does she like me or not?”

“She acts like she likes you,” Jamie said. “Ryan said she invited herself for dinner, and it was obvious that it was just so she could see you.”

“Then why doesn't she call me? She hasn't invited me to a game or for a cup of coffee or anything. Do you think she's ashamed to be seen with me?”

“No! You're adorable, Mia, anybody would be proud to be seen with you. How can you even say that?”

Mia looked a little embarrassed and said, “This is really getting to me, James. My equilibrium is screwed up.”

Jamie sat down next to her and patted her leg. “I wish I could help more, but if Ryan knows anything, she won't tell. I guess you just have to wait and see what happens.”

“Great. Just great,” Mia sulked, giving the poor loveseat one more jab.

* * * * * * * * * * *

They had been trying to find an open date to spend an evening with Brendan and Maggie, and Ryan hurried home on Tuesday, thinking that they'd be rushed to have everything ready by the time her brother arrived.

To her surprise, Jamie nearly had dinner ready when Ryan entered, and the taller woman gave a brief thought to how difficult it would be to have a social life if she lived alone, given the demands that volleyball put on her. She truly loved being able to entertain and build a family life, and she knew that she would not be doing either if not for the dedicated efforts of her partner.

“I love being in love with you,” she said in greeting when she wrapped her arms around her lover, who was stirring a delicious-smelling concoction on the stove.

“Well, that's a nice greeting,” Jamie decided, turning her head to kiss the only surface she could reach—the hollow between Ryan's collar bones. “What made you say it?”

“Oh, I don't know,” Ryan said, sticking her finger in the pan and taking a taste. “Mmm…delicious.” She went over and sat down on a stool near the counter. “There's a difference between loving you and loving how it feels to love you. I was just thinking about the latter.”

“I'm glad that both are true. Now run upstairs and put on some real clothes, and then set the table, will you?”

“Yep. Boy, I know I'm an adult when I have to put on real clothes for my brother,” she mumbled to herself as she left the kitchen.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The foursome was sitting around the dining table, waiting for their entrees to digest a bit before they could even think of dessert. Brendan was more voluble than Jamie had ever heard him, chattering away continuously—mostly boasting about some particularly cute trait that Maggie possessed. Ryan was a little more quiet than usual, mostly because her brother was filling up the room for a change. She had been observing Maggie at every opportunity, and Jamie could tell that her partner approved of the woman. When Ryan was relaxed with someone, she wasn't usually interested in directing the conversation—she was content to participate only when she had something meaningful to say, and that's exactly how she acted tonight.

“So Brendan says you're from a large Irish Catholic family also,” Jamie commented. “Was it hard for you to leave them?”

“Yes,” she said thoughtfully. “In a way it was devastating for me, Jamie, but there must be a little independent streak in me from way back. I had been groomed to attend Notre Dame from the time I was in diapers. My father and two of his brothers went there, as well as one of my older brothers and a sister. But when the time came, I shocked them all by choosing Georgetown.” She laughed gently and related, “You would have thought I had chosen Brigham Young! They couldn't get over it! But I wanted to make my own way…I didn't want to be just another Reardon trooping past the golden dome.”

Ryan chuckled and commented, “You and Jamie have something in common. Her family laid the cornerstone at Stanford, but she's a big ol' Golden Bear.”

Jamie patted her hand and said, “It's not quite that bad, Honey, but it's close. One of my ancestors was in the Pioneer Class, as they call it. The class of '01…1901, that is.”

“Wow, that must have caused some raised eyebrows,” Maggie said.

“A little more was raised than a few eyebrows,” Jamie agreed, recalling her first real argument with her father. “My father was livid, but in reality, it's my mom who should have been upset. It's her family that carries the tradition. My Dad was the first in his family to attend.”

“Hmm…why doesn't that surprise me?” Ryan said dryly, getting a playful scowl from her partner.

“Problems with the in-laws, Ryan?” Maggie asked.

“On and off,” the taller woman replied. “I think things will calm down over time. We've only been together officially since June. Jamie's dad's just going through a period of adjustment.”

“Is he upset with you or…?”

Jamie piped up, “It's mostly the fact that Ryan's a woman, Maggie, even though he won't admit that's the real issue. I didn't know that I was gay until we fell in love.”

“Ooooh…that must be an adjustment. One of my best friends from high school came out to me just this year,” she commented. “I'm sure it's easier to do when you're young.”

“Ask Ryan,” Brendan teased. “She was checking out the other little girl babies in the nursery at the hospital.”

“Not true, Bren,” his little sister insisted. “I was in kindergarten before I even kissed a girl.”

“You kissed a girl in kindergarten!” Jamie laughed. “You've never told me that.”

“I've tried to forget her,” Ryan said, looking like she was about to cry. “She went through the whole class…one by one. I was just a notch on her Cabbage Patch Kids pencil case.”

Jamie reached over and grasped Ryan's hand, giving it a squeeze. “If she could see you now, she'd kick herself. She could have called dibs!”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Mia had foraged dinner for herself, not returning home until Brendan and Maggie had already left. Ryan was on kitchen detail since Jamie had cooked, and Jamie was in the library preparing for a quiz she was having the next day.

“Hey, Ryan,” the curly-haired woman said as she flopped down on a kitchen chair. “How'd your dinner go?”

“It went well,” she said. “I like my brother's new girlfriend. Did you get fed?”

“Yeah. I met some friends for a salad. Ryan, can I ask you something?”
“Sure. What's up?”

“Do you think Jordan likes me?”

The tall brunette scratched her head for a moment, appearing to give the matter considerable thought. “Well, she doesn't French kiss me or Jamie, and I've never seen her slip the tongue to any of our teammates, so I'd say there's a good chance that she likes you.”

“You know what I mean,” Mia said, narrowing her eyes. “Do you think she likes me enough to date me?”

Ryan tossed her dishtowel over her shoulder and took a seat next to her friend. “I don't like to talk about my friends behind their backs, Mia. I don't feel comfortable telling you things Jordan has said to me. Do you understand that?”

“Yeah, I guess I do, but I'm really frustrated, Ryan.” She sat up a little straighter in her chair and said, “How about this? Would you tell me if she didn't like me? Like if she told you that she thought I was okay to fool around with, but not good enough to date?”

“Mia, I wouldn't hang around with her if she said things like that! Jordan's a very honorable woman.” She sighed, trying to think of a way to give Mia some information without betraying Jordan's confidences. “Let me tell you this. This is my own observation, not something Jordan has told me. She seems to have a persona that doesn't really match with who she is. Do you know what I mean?”


“She gives off the appearance of being very much in control and very aloof, right?”

“Right. But she's not really like that when you get to know her,” Mia insisted.

“Right. I know,” Ryan agreed. “I think she's like that in other areas of her life, too. She comes across as being apathetic over whether she sees you or not, but she's not really like that. I think she's just very, very cautious. Very much afraid of being hurt.”

“Oh!” Mia said brightly. “So she's just going slow because she's shy and kinda afraid?”

“Something like that,” Ryan agreed, knowing there was a lot more to Jordan than shyness, but thinking that was a good hint for Mia.

“Cool. So I should just play it cool and let her do what she needs to do to feel comfortable?”

“I think that's all you can do, Mia. I know that if you put too much pressure on her, you'll scare her off.”

“I don't want to do that,” Mia said slowly. “I really like her, Ryan.”

“Well, I like you both, and I hope it works out between you. You make a really cute couple, you know.”

“Do we really?” Mia wrinkled up her nose, doubting Ryan's sincerity.

“Yeah. It's kinda cool to see people who have almost no physical characteristics in common. Kinda like me and Jamie.”

“Well, you're a pretty cute couple, too, so if we look like you two, I'm happy.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part 4

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