I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 10: Journeys

by S X Meagher

Part Three

When Ryan came home from practice on Monday, she picked up the mail on the way into the kitchen.

“Hi, hon,” she said absently, examining the package addressed to her.

“Hey, how about showing me as much interest as you show a box?” Jamie demanded as she stirred the delicious smelling concoction on the stove.

“Sorry.” Ryan scampered over to kiss every exposed inch of her lover's neck. “Better?” she whispered into an ear as she caught the tender lobe in her teeth.

A sexy hip grind was her only answer, but it was fairly definitive. “What do you think this is?” Ryan asked as she went back to her package.

“What does it say?” Jamie asked, having a pretty good idea who it was from.

“It's from J. Giovacchini in Palo Alto,” she said, shaking the box.

“I hate to belabor the obvious, but you could just open it.”

“Where's the fun in that?” Ryan demanded. She sat down at the kitchen table and hefted the box in her hand for a moment. “It's not very heavy, but something moves when I shake it.”

“Maybe you broke it,” Jamie supplied helpfully.

Ryan shot her a chiding look. “No, not that kind of movement. There's no sound, but there's definite movement. Like it's muffled.”

“Well, it is in a box,” Jamie suggested.

“Nope. More muffled than that. It's in another container within the box.” She shook it gently, and then more forcefully. “Do you know what this is?”

“Umm, no,” she said honestly.

“But you do know something,” Ryan deduced from her tone.

“Well, I should hope so. I'm due to graduate soon from a prestigious university.”

“You're evading the question,” Ryan said as she tossed the box from hand to hand. “Since it's from Palo Alto, and since you obviously know something, it must be from your mother.”

“Do you want confirmation, or are you in this alone?”

“Confirmation, please.”

“Okay. You're dead on correct so far.”

“Superb! Now since it's from your mother, and since my birthday was Saturday, I can only assume that it's a present.”

“Also correct,” her assistant conceded.

“And I assume that this Giovacchini person was the person who sold this to her.”


“Hmm, do you know this person?”

“Mmm, too broad,” Jamie decreed.

“Okay,” Ryan rephrased, “do you know who this person is?”


“Have you met them?”

“No, but I was going to meet them.”

“But you didn't.”


“Is that important?”

“Not really. It is a clue, but you'd have to really think to get it, and even if you did, it wouldn't let you know what was in the box.”

“But I love clues,” she said with a gleeful look in her eyes.

“Okay, here's another. Someone else was going with me to meet this person.”

“Hmm, can't be your mother because she must know them. Who would…I know--Jack!” she said triumphantly.

“Very good!” Jamie agreed as she took the saucepan from the stove. “Dinner's ready, babe. Do you want to eat or guess?”


The little box didn't leave Ryan's grasp through the entire meal. It was either in her hand, or resting on her leg, or being used as a weight when balanced on her fork. During the meal, she guessed that it was from a jeweler, so the surprise was really over, but she was still reluctant to open it.

After she cleared the dishes, Jamie came over to sit in her lap. “Why don't you want to know what's in it?” she asked.

“Oh, I do. But when I'm done, the surprise is all gone. Before I know what's in it, it can be anything in my imagination, but once I know, the fun is kinda gone.”

“But what if you really like the reality?”

“Good point,” she said happily as she tore the wrapping without a moment's hesitation. Inside the paper was a rectangular dove-gray velvet-covered jewelry box. It was at least nine inches long and six inches wide, and Ryan stared at it for a long while before she said, “I hope it's not earrings!”

“Open it, silly,” Jamie demanded, now tiring of the game.

The box creaked noisily as Ryan opened it to stare wide-eyed at the most gorgeous necklace she had ever seen. The silver-colored piece was very substantial, and looked as though it had been handcrafted. Each oval link was slightly hammered to cause the light to reflect off the delicate hammer marks and make the piece gleam dully in the muted light of the kitchen. The links were quite large, each one almost an inch long, and they were about three-quarters of an inch wide. When Ryan delicately lifted the piece she was forced to murmur, “It's so heavy!”

Jamie slid her hand under the necklace and hefted it in her palm. “Good thing you have such a strong neck,” she agreed.

Now Ryan took the piece and examined it with precision. After she had spent a good three minutes in silent contemplation Jamie finally asked, “Do you like it?”

Ryan looked at her like she was stark raving mad. “How could I not? It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen!”

Jamie had to agree that the piece was not only magnificent; it reminded her exactly of Ryan. It was strong, and sturdy, and substantial, but with so many delicate little facets that it was impossible to take it in completely in one glance. The necklace was starkly modern, but could also have been found in a Sumerian temple, so simple was the design.

Jamie took it from her and unclasped the hook. She started to fasten it, but decided that one little equipment change was needed. “Take off your shirt.”

“I would ask why, but I guess I don't really care,” Ryan decided, yanking off her T-shirt.

Pausing for a moment, Jamie decided, “Bra too.”

Without hesitation, she shed her sports bra, and waited for her partner to place the necklace on her. Jamie clasped the piece around her neck, smirking when Ryan let out a yelp as the cold, heavy metal touched her skin. “You look like the queen of some tribe of Amazons,” she murmured as she took in the sight. “I want to take you upstairs and worship you all night long.”

“Honey, I have to call your mother to thank her,” Ryan protested. “I haven't even read the card!”

“Later,” she insisted.

Wearing only her necklace and her jeans, Jamie led her through the parlor. The front door opened as Mia and Jordan came in from dinner.

Mia grabbed her mail, and started to leaf through it as the pair passed her. “Nice necklace,” she said idly. “It goes great with that outfit.”

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

It was nearly ten o'clock when Jamie had finished admiring the necklace from every angle. She was moments from sleep when Ryan shot up and said, “I have to call your mom!”

“She won't mind if you wait until tomorrow,” Jamie sleepily assured her. “She'll just be glad to know how much we both enjoyed it.”

“Uh-uh,” Ryan said as she crawled out of the tangled mess of sheets. “I'll be back, hon. Go to sleep.”

She slipped into a T-shirt and her discarded boxers and headed back downstairs. Mia was sitting in the living room with Jordan sprawled across the small sofa, her blonde head in Mia's lap. “Let me see that necklace, princess,” the curly-haired woman demanded.

Ryan decided that their recent bout of lovemaking precluded her from being too close to the ever-observant Mia, so she reached behind her neck to unclasp the piece. Handing it to her she asked, “Nice, huh?”

“I'll say,” Mia agreed wholeheartedly as she accepted the necklace. “Shit, this must have cost a fortune!”

“I'm sure it did. Silver isn't cheap!”

“This isn't silver, silly. It's platinum!”

“Are you sure?” Ryan asked weakly, plopping down on the arm of the sofa.

“Yeah, of course I'm sure. Platinum and silver don't really look alike at all. Silver is much shinier and more reflective.”

“It's gonna take me a long while to get used to being in this family,” Ryan said, a wry smirk on her face. “I got a club sandwich from my father, and this from Catherine.”

“Well, no matter what it cost, it looks gorgeous on you,” Mia said. “It fits your style and your personality. You'd look goofy with some delicate little chain.”

“That's what I like best about it,” Ryan admitted. “Catherine obviously put a lot of thought into this to tailor it to me. That's the cool part.”

“I'll take the pound of platinum, you can have the sentiment,” Mia offered.

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

Ryan had to tickle Mia mercilessly to get the necklace back, but she finally had it, and the card, in her hot little hands. She sat down on a kitchen chair to read the handwritten card.

Dear Ryan,

Please forgive me for breaking the O'Flaherty rules, but I simply had to buy you something to commemorate your birth.

I know this was an unintended consequence, but your love for my daughter has allowed me to experience a re-birth this year. I fear that I would not have come out of my emotional torpor if it had not been for you, and I want you to know that I am forever grateful for that gift.

Being with you both, and being allowed to be an honorary member of your family, has permitted me to see what a real family can be. I am going to spend the rest of my life trying to live up to the example that your clan so beautifully models.

Knowing you has been a wonderful experience for me, Ryan, and I hope you will think of my regard for you when you wear this necklace.

With love and affection,


Ryan brushed the tears from her eyes as she read the note at least six more times. She is so precious, she thought fondly. So much like Jamie. Like a beautiful pearl just waiting for someone to help open her shell. I hope to God that Jim can wake up and see what he has right in front of him!

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

“Hi, hon,” Ryan said on Tuesday night when she came in from practice. “You look thoughtful. What's going on?”

“I just spoke with Jennie,” Jamie said, an uncharacteristic listlessness to her words.

“How is she?” Ryan sat down next to her partner and placed a hand on her thigh. “Is everything all right?”

Jamie shook her head and tried to put a name to the discomfort she was feeling. “She says they're sending her to live with her father.”

“Oh, shit!” Ryan sank back against the cushions and ran her hands through her hair in frustration. “That's so not going to work.”

“I got that impression too, honey. But I can't put my finger on why I feel that way.” She cocked her head and added, “Jennie sounded pretty happy about it.”

Ryan sighed and said, “She adores her father, and I'm sure she believes that things can work out. But he hasn't gone out of his way to see her in over a year, babe. No loving father abandons his child for that long.”

“Oh, Ryan, what are we going to do? She seems happy at the group home. Why won't they just let her stay there?”

Sighing heavily, Ryan shook her head, then let it drop back onto the back of the sofa. “I guess they have their reasons. In Jennie's case, there's no obvious choice of a permanent placement, so I guess I see that they want to give the birth parents a chance. I'll be amazed if this works, though.”

“She sounded funny,” Jamie revealed. “I'm not sure what it was—but she was giving off a vibe that just didn't match her words.”

“When is she leaving?” Ryan asked.

“Tomorrow night. Apparently her father is being deployed at sea for six months starting Monday, and they want to give them a few days together to bond.”

“Did you make dinner?” Ryan asked.

“Oh! Damn, I was so preoccupied I forgot to start it.”

“Skip it,” Ryan said. “Let's call Jen and see if she can go out with us. I want to give her a pep talk before she leaves.” Ryan stood and started to remove her jacket, then walked up the stairs, mumbling to herself, “They wonder why she doesn't do well in school. She's eight weeks into the term, and she's changed schools twice. Can't anyone buy a clue?” As she rounded the stairs to go into the bedroom, Jamie heard her final grumbled comment. “I still don't have my damn drums set up!”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jennie had an early curfew and couldn't go out with them, so Ryan decided to get in a little work on their stock portfolios even though she would have preferred to set up her drums. But Jamie had to make a weekly report on her progress, and since Ryan kept the books, her preliminary work was required. Jamie had caught up a little, showing good progress, but Ryan was still confident that she'd prevail. Jamie came up behind her and observed her for a minute, saying, “You took a beating on that big block of General Motors, didn't you, babe?”

“Yep, sure did. I have confidence, though. I'm not going to change my position until they have two disappointing quarters in a row. I think this is just a momentary blip.”

“Ooo…I did well,” she said, very pleased with the numbers that Ryan was scrolling through.

“You sure did,” the dark woman said. “You're starting to catch up, Sparky.”

“Where are we?” she asked, trying to see the totals for both portfolios.

“I'm at $967,000, and you're at $725,000. I think we're both doing great.”

“I'd say so,” Jamie laughed.

“Thank God this is a game. If this were real, I'd be in front of the computer all day.”

“Just what you need,” Jamie scoffed. “Another fixation!”

“One is quite enough,” Ryan agreed, tipping her head up to be able to look into her partner's eyes. “And you're it.”

“Hmm…that's interesting,” Jamie commented, trying to see as much as she could before Ryan scrolled past her own holdings.

“What's that?”

“I'm surprised to see you loading up on 3com. Do you know something?”

Ryan turned and gave her a dazzling smile, blue eyes filled with delight. “I know plenty--but I don't share.” With that, she turned back to the screen, stifling a giggle.

“Come on,” Jamie moaned dramatically. “Give me a little break! I'm doing this for a grade, Ryan.”

The dark head turned slowly as the contemplative eyes traveled up and down Jamie's body. “What's it worth to you?”

Eyes wide, Jamie considered how she could entice her reluctant partner to share her thoughts. A smirk settled onto her face, and she leaned over and whispered into Ryan's ear.

Shaking her head, the amused woman turned her seat around fully, gazing at Jamie with fond regard. “I don't know why I find this so adorable, but I love the fact that you can't even say things like that aloud. You sure don't seem to have a problem doing them,” she chuckled, “just talking about them.”

The blonde shrugged her shoulders and wrinkled up her nose, unable to explain her quirks.

“Okay,” Ryan decided. “Even though I'm sure I could convince you to commit that act without giving you a stock tip, I'll spill it.” She turned back to her computer and went to another screen. “Okay, here's 3com's history over the past 18 months. See what the price did here in September?”

Jamie nodded, assessing the graph.

“That was when they announced that they were spinning off Palm. I think that's gonna be a massive IPO, and I want to own it. I also think that 3com will get a boost after the IPO, if it does as well as I think it will.”

“How much are you putting into it?” Jamie asked, trying to gauge Ryan's confidence.

“Well, I would never do this with real money,” she insisted, “but I'm going to unload a number of under-performers.” Her brow furrowed as her eyes slid down her holdings. “I'll probably stick $100,000 into it. I really have a hot feeling about this one,” she decided.

“Hmm…maybe I'll do it too, if you're that hot for it,” Jamie mused.

“Well, ya could,” Ryan agreed as she turned in her chair to grin at her. “But the IPO isn't going to happen until February or March. That's too late to do you any good for your class.” She was grinning like the Cheshire Cat and Jamie slapped at her while making an outraged squawk.

“You suckered me into offering sex acts for information that you knew I couldn't use?”

“So it would seem,” she happily agreed. “You really ought to ask the right questions before you start compromising your virtue, sweetheart.”

“I'm gonna kick your ass!” Jamie fumed.

“No,” Ryan said thoughtfully, her brow furrowed, “that wasn't part of the deal. Right part of the anatomy, though,” she smirked.

* * * * * * * * * * *

They were already in bed when the phone rang, and Jamie crawled across her partner to answer. She was in a very vulnerable position, and Ryan had to stick her hands under her own butt to fend off the nearly irresistible impulse to grab some of the attractively displayed merchandize. “Hi, Mom,” the smaller woman said, shooting warning daggers at her partner. “No, you're not interrupting us.” She listened for a few minutes, nodding occasionally, a very thoughtful look on her face. “How long would you be away?” Another pause. “No, I don't think you're crazy…not at all. Besides, how often will you get an opportunity like this?” She smiled at Ryan as she crawled back across her body and settled herself into her usual position. “If you're asking my advice, I'd say that you should go.” She nodded again and said, “Sure. I'm always up for a shopping trip. Friday midday would be best for me. Will you come to Ryan's game on Friday night?” After yet another short wait she said, “Yes, I know it's a silly question, but you never know…something could tear you away. Okay, Mom, I'll tell her.” She cast a look at Ryan, who was gesturing at her. “Ryan's blowing you a kiss, Mom. Okay, I will. I love you.”

“You will never--ever--guess where she's going next week,” Jamie declared when she hung up.

“Oh, boy! Do I really get to guess?”

Jamie looked at her watch and said, “Nope. Too late. She's going to Washington to attend a state dinner at the White House…with my father!”

“Darn it!” Ryan cried, hitting the mattress in frustration.

“What's wrong, honey? Don't you think that's a good idea?”

“Oh, sure, I think it's a good idea,” Ryan assured her. “I just know I could have guessed that eventually!”

* * * * * * * * * * *

After they finished dinner on Wednesday night, Ryan went upstairs to study, while Jamie staked out the library, as usual. She realized she needed something from her room and went up to get it, finding Ryan lying on their bed, talking on the phone. “I know we have to have a consistent time,” she said, “but I can't commit to any one day right now.” Her massive day-planner was open in front of her, and she thumbed through the pages idly. “I have games on either Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday,” she said. “Hmm…I guess I could do it on Monday night, but I've got a few conflicts between now and the test.” Her shoulders shrugged and she said, “No, I agree that one day a week hardly makes it worthwhile.” She met Jamie's eyes and said, “I don't like it, but I guess we have to. Let's do Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Yeah, 6:30 until 8:00. That should give us enough time to make a dent.” She chuckled mildly and said, “Well, at least we'll know that people who join the group are serious about it—or idiots.” She started to pencil in the times in her day-planner, nodding the whole time. “Yeah. We may as well start tomorrow. See you then, Vijay—and thanks for this. I really appreciate it.”

She hung up and cast a glance up at her partner, who was perched on the arm of the loveseat. “Wanna yell at me now, or after I explain what I agreed to?”

“Oh, I think I'll be rational for a change. Just to mess with your mind,” she chuckled. “Care to explain what you're committing to?”

“Studying for the Putnam,” Ryan said, her expression far from happy. “If it's gonna be worthwhile, I've got to commit a significant amount of time to it, and the only time I can be consistent is early in the morning. Vijay Khan, my student advisor for my independent study, is willing to get up at the crack of dawn to help me, so we're going to try to get some of the other alternates to join us. The more minds the merrier, with this stuff.”

Jamie sat down on the loveseat and looked at her partner for a moment. Ryan started to feel a little uncomfortable under her penetrating gaze, and finally said, “What?”

Shaking her head, Jamie said, “Sorry. Sometimes I really wish we could speak the same language on this stuff.”

“Me too,” Ryan smiled.

“I know this is probably a silly question, but why do you have to study? Isn't this stuff obvious for you?”

Ryan sat up and gazed back at her partner for a few minutes, trying to think of a way to explain a little bit of her mental processing. “I do have to study, honey, but not like I have to study a language or history.” She gave Jamie a long look and said, “I've been thinking about this a lot,” she admitted, “because I know that you feel a little left out when I talk about math. I've come up with an analogy for how I think about it. Now, it isn't perfect, but it's the best I can do.”

“Come sit by me,” Jamie urged.

Ryan did so, sitting in the quirky manner that she often did when she was thinking of math concepts. The posture reminded Jamie a little of Caitlin's favorite position, and it dawned on her that Ryan had probably started to develop her amazing abilities when she about Cait's age, and she briefly wondered if that's when the habit began. Ryan placed both of her feet on the cushion, her heels almost touching her butt, and locked her arms around her shins. She was half-sitting/half-squatting, with her chin resting on her knees, her bright blue eyes peering out to stare at a point in space. “The best analogy I can think of is comparing math to houses. Let's say that each of the disciplines is an individual house. Now some of them I built with my own two hands—I know every brick and beam, and I installed the electrical system, the heating system, the plumbing—everything. I know that house so well that when I walk in there, I don't think about the individual systems, I simply live there. I don't say, 'Oh, I want the lights on, let me go to the switch and send a signal down the line to the fuse box that will tap into the main line to the power for the house'. I just flip the switch without a thought.”

“Explain what you mean when you say that you built that house with your own hands?” Jamie asked.

“Well, that means that I learned that discipline from the ground up. I started with the simplest concepts, and work my way through the body of knowledge piece by piece. There are three or four of the branches of math that I'm that familiar with,” she admitted. “Those are my specialties, and I know them so well—so intimately—that I can just take all of that background knowledge and build on it—without thinking about the background.”

Jamie nodded, observing the tranquil, even tone of voice that Ryan used. She could actually see a kind of peace settle over her when she spoke like this, and she offered up a little prayer of thanks that Ryan had this guiding force in her life to center and calm her.

“When I'm thinking of my specialties, I don't think in words or symbols or concepts. I just…live. It's very instinctual.”

“That's so far beyond my ken,” Jamie said. “I always think in words.”

“No, you don't,” Ryan giggled. She leaned over and caught her partner by surprise, pressing her lips to hers in a slow, lazy kiss. Her tongue tickled the pink lips open, and languidly explored the warm recesses of Jamie's mouth for a long while. When she pulled away, a smug grin covered her face and she asked, “What words were you thinking of just then?”

“More?” she murmured, reaching for Ryan to merge again.

“Uh-uh-uh,” the dark beauty said. “I was making a point.”

“It felt like you were making love,” Jamie smiled, her eyes starting to get the hooded look that signaled arousal.

“That too,” Ryan smirked. “But I think I made my point. There are some things that your brain doesn't process as language. It's more elemental than that. My math specialties are like that for me.”

“Okay,” Jamie said. “I guess I see your point. But what about the other areas? The areas you don't specialize in?”

“That's why I have to study,” Ryan said. “But even then, I don't have to study like someone would who didn't have a very good foundation in math. It's like I have to look at the blueprints for the new house. Since I'm a builder, I understand all of the concepts already. I just have to take some things on faith—rather than building the house with my own hands.”
“So what will you have to study?”
“I know the fundamentals of math very well. But they have a lot of questions in group theory, set theory, graph theory, lattice theory, and number theory. Those clearly aren't my specialties, so I need to spend a lot of time looking at blueprints.”
“I think I have some idea of what you're talking about,” Jamie smiled broadly. “I understand this explanation a lot better than when you've tried before.”
“I want you to understand this, Jamie. I'll keep trying to explain it to you.”
“I appreciate that you do this, babe. As I've told you repeatedly, I find you completely fascinating.”
“The feeling is mutual. Now I'd better get to sleep or my head will be hitting the desk tomorrow morning, and I'm sure Vijay would like a little more interaction from me than that.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Due to a Saturday night volleyball game, Ryan decided not to go home to Noe Valley until Sunday afternoon. She stayed in bed much later than normal and was in poor spirits when she finally did wake. Knowing that she was treading on thin ice, Jamie tactfully asked, “I need a few things at the drug store. How are you doing on tampons, honey?”

“I should be doing fine, since I haven't used any in more than a month,” Ryan grumbled, her face mostly obscured by a huge coffee mug.

“Are you overdue, sweetie?”

“Yeah. Third time in a row. This never happened to me before, either. I chalked it up to living with you—it's common for women to synch up when they live together, but it can't be that now.”

Jamie had been standing at the sink, and she walked over to the table to put her arm around her partner. “Are you worried about this?”

Ryan leaned her head into Jamie's hip and said, “No, I'm not worried…but I should feel better by now, and I don't. It's been a long time, Jamie, and I should have bounced back by now.”

“I know it seems like that, honey, but Dr. Aiken said this was fairly normal for a severe case of the flu. I don't think you have anything to worry about.”

“I said I wasn't worried,” Ryan replied frostily as she got up and rinsed her coffee cup out.

Jamie rolled her eyes as her partner left the room. I'm not worried about your energy level, grouchy-bear, but I am worried about your mood.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan's mood had improved by the time they reached the house, but she was still a little out of sorts. Jamie was bound and determined to get her lover down for a long nap, and for a change, Ryan didn't protest. As a matter of fact, she suggested it, deciding to head downstairs as soon as they arrived. Jamie opted to stay upstairs and get some studying done, and she sent her partner on her way, shooting a slightly worried glance after her.

Ryan descended the stairs quietly, as usual, and her light tread did not alert Martin to her arrival. To her frank surprise, her father was standing in front of her bookcase, carefully looking over the titles as his index finger trailed along the spines. “Looking for something?” she asked, a bit miffed to have her privacy invaded. Good thing he's not looking at my gym bag on the floor of the closet, she mused. He'd really get an education!

A deep flush climbed up Martin's cheeks, a rare occurrence for the dark skinned man. “Oh! You're home!”

“Yep.” She walked over to the bed and climbed on top of the mattress after kicking off her shoes. “I'm home. Were you looking for something, Da?” she asked again.

“I ahh…I was just wondering about a few things…and I didn't have the kind of books that I thought they might be in…and you weren't home…” He looked at her with his embarrassment growing by leaps and bounds. “I'm sorry for looking through your things, Siobhán. I've no right…” he finished weakly.

“Hey, what gives?” she asked, throwing her legs off the bed as she sat up. “Something is bothering you, Da. Tell me what's wrong.”

“Nothing…nothing is wrong,” he assured her. “I'm just embarrassed…that's all.” His head had dropped, and his blush actually grew in intensity.

“Da, it's okay.” She didn't particularly like her father looking through her things, but she knew that his motives were benign. “I don't mind if you look at my books. I know you don't snoop around in my stuff as a matter of course. Tell me what you're looking for, and I'll help you find it. I've got my computer to look things up, too. Now, what is it?”

He looked as embarrassed as ever, and started to back out of the room, saying, “This was a bad idea, sweetheart. Don't trouble yourself.”

“Da, wait!”

He paused at the door, unable to meet her gaze.

“Come on, now, you can tell me,” she urged. “God knows you know more embarrassing things about me than I can to remember.”

Her warm smile and reassuring tone gave him the courage to stay, and he finally revealed his quest. “I was ahh…trying to catch up on new trends or techniques,” he admitted awkwardly. “It's been a long, long time since I've been in this position, and I figured that I've missed out on a lot.”

He still had not stated the subject that he was interested in, but Ryan had talked to enough people about sex to recognize the warning signs. “Come sit by me,” she said, patting the mattress. He did so, still vaguely gazing at the floor. “Da, there's nothing to be ashamed of,” she soothed. “It has been a long time, and it makes perfect sense that you'd feel a little uncomfortable.”

He looked up at her, his blue eyes showing his vulnerability. “It does?”

“Yes, of course it does. Everybody is a little uncomfortable when they're with a new partner, Da. It's completely natural.”

His mouth curled up just a tiny bit as he said, “You must have been chronically uncomfortable before you met young Jamie, Siobhán.”

She slapped his leg, adding a bump with her shoulder. “Hey, that was a low blow,” she laughed. “But, you know, you make a good point. I wasn't uncomfortable with those women; they didn't mean enough to me to be nervous. But I was trembling so badly the first time Jamie kissed me, I looked like I had a nerve disorder!”

He chuckled at her recollections and said, “That doesn't make me feel much better, sweetheart.”

“Tell me what you're worried about—specifically,” she said, gazing into his eyes.

“Well…I suppose I worry that it's been so long that I've missed something important,” he said. “Your mother and I didn't have a clue, Siobhán, we just did what came naturally.”

Her smile grew even warmer when she asked, “I am surprised to hear myself ask this question, but did you and Mama have a good sex life?”

He couldn't stop the matching smile that settled on his face. “Yes, love, I'd say that we did.”

“Then why on earth do you not assume the same will be true with Aunt Maeve?” Ryan asked. “It's not about technique and performance, Da. You should know that more than anyone. Aren't you the fella who told me how special sex was when you shared it with someone you love?”

“Yes, I'm the one,” he agreed. “It was a lot easier when I was speaking theoretically, love. It's the actuality that has me spooked.”

Ryan stood and went to her bookshelf. She pulled down one of her lesbian sex manuals, a book she hadn't looked at since she was 18, and thumbed through it. “Okay, Da, just to help you feel a little more comfortable, take a look at the first few chapters of this one.” She took the paper bookmark out of the book, and placed it carefully. “Don't bother reading past the bookmark…that's lesbian stuff, and a lot more than you need to know. The early chapters cover all of the technical stuff and talk about different ways of being touched that some women like.” She looked through the book again and pointed out one chapter. “Chapter seven talks about sexual communication. That's an important one, Da. I guarantee you'll have a great time together if you can talk about things.” She smiled at him and asked, “Did you and Mama talk about how you felt about sex?”

“Goodness no!” he cried. “Your mother was very shy about talking about those sorts of things, love. She greatly enjoyed our time together, but she was completely unable to talk about it. She was the typical Irish girl, Siobhán, with a little more guilt than was good for her.”

“I'm sure Granny had a bit to do with that,” Ryan scoffed.

“Of that I'm certain,” he agreed. “I just hope Maeve threw all of that nonsense out long ago.”

“I do too, Da, but if she didn't, send her my way.” She was smiling broadly, and he wrapped her in a gentle hug.

“I should have talked to you weeks ago,” he admitted. “I've lost a lot of sleep over this.”

“I hope you lose a lot more sleep, Da, but I hope it's in pursuit of pleasure.”

“Darlin', this is one part of you that doesn't resemble your mother in the least!”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan slept most of the afternoon away, and when Jamie went down to check on her she was still groggy. “Hold me,” her small voice asked when Jamie surreptitiously approached the bed.

She kicked off her shoes and climbed in behind her partner, snuggling close to her warm body. “I wasn't sure if you were awake yet.”

“I'm not sure I am,” Ryan grumbled, her voice still sleep-clouded. “I hate long naps.”

“You must have needed it, honey, or you wouldn't have slept so long. You have to let your body heal.”

“I'm sick of healing. I'm sick of sleeping so much. I'm sick of being grouchy,” she added in a very grouchy voice. “I don't feel like myself.”

“I can tell, sweetheart. I think it's time to go see the doctor.”

Ryan's body tensed appreciably when this suggestion registered. “I don't have time,” she said tersely. “I'll go during winter break, if I don't feel better by then.”

“Honey, that's nearly a month from now. Why wait that long? If there's something wrong with you they might be able to fix it by then…”

Ryan flipped over onto her back, dislodging Jamie's arms. “You said earlier today that you were sure nothing was wrong,” she growled. “Which is it, Jamie? Is there something wrong with me, or not?” She scooted off the bed and stomped into the bath, closing the door loudly.

Jamie gave her a few minutes alone, knowing that it would do no good to try to force her to interact. She knew that there was a very fine line between smothering her partner and making her feel abandoned, and she still wasn't very good at staying on the right side of the line. Thinking enough time had elapsed, Jamie went to the door and knocked softly. “Honey, can I talk to you?”

There was a long silence, finally punctuated with Ryan's tight voice. “I need some time alone, Jamie. Please.”

She hated to leave her partner sulking in the bathroom, so she offered, “I'll go upstairs for a while, sweetheart. You can have your room back.”

There was no response, so she took that as acquiescence and went upstairs to give her partner some space. Martin and Maeve were in the kitchen, trying to figure out how to share the space without stepping on each other's toes. “Hi,” Jamie said lethargically as she grabbed a stool.

“Where's herself?” Martin asked. “I thought she'd be foraging for food by now.”

“Bad mood,” Jamie said. “Very bad mood as a matter of fact. I'm worried about her,” she added. “I mean, I'm sure she's just fatigued, but she just isn't herself.”

“I think you'd better take her to the doctor, Jamie,” Martin decided. “Do you want me to call?”

“Does she have a gynecologist?” Jamie asked.

“No, and she should,” Maeve chimed in. “She goes to Dr. Terry—and has since she was in diapers. He's a good doctor, but even he thinks she should have a gynecologist.”

“Do you think there's anything seriously wrong with her, Jamie?” Martin's voice was wary, and his eyes reflected his concern.

“No, I really don't. I think she's just fatigued, and has never fully recovered from the flu. I guess I'll take her to my gynecologist. Ryan likes her, and she's very thorough.”

“Good luck,” Martin warned. “Getting her to the doctor is like wrestling a tiger. I've never seen a child so antagonistic to a simple checkup.”

“I think I can handle her,” Jamie decided, not absolutely sure that she could.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Dinner was nearly ready, and Jamie decided that she needed to fetch her partner, since she obviously wasn't going to come up of her own accord. Ryan was sitting sideways on the loveseat, her knees drawn up almost to her chin, her long arms tightly wrapped around her shins. She was crying softly and Jamie felt a stab of regret that she had left her. “Ryan, honey, don't cry,” Jamie urged as she knelt on the floor next to the sofa and tucked her arms around her shoulders. “Don't worry, love, everything is fine,” she soothed, pleased when Ryan began to relax against her.

“I'm worried that I'm really sick, Jamie,” she sniffed.

“No, no, no you're not,” the smaller woman insisted. “You might be a little anemic or run down, but you're not seriously ill, honey. You're generally fine, it's just that your stamina is off.” She pulled back so that she could see Ryan's eyes. “I know it feels like you're always tired, but you seem fine most mornings. Just like your usual self. I think it's the travel that really takes it out of you.”

“Don't forget the bad food,” she added. “If I never see another pizza from a student union it will be too soon.” She lifted her head and fixed Jamie with a look, searching her eyes as she asked, “Do you swear that you think I'm okay?”

“Yes. I am certain there is nothing seriously wrong with you. But I think there is something minor, and completely fixable, that is affecting your mood. I think we need to get you checked out.”

“Okay,” Ryan agreed. She wiped her eyes and swung her feet onto the floor. “As soon as winter break starts I'll go to the doctor—if I'm not feeling better by then.”

Sheesh! Maybe I can't handle her, she decided, thinking that Martin's prediction was too accurate for her comfort.

* * * * * * * * * * *

“Well, hello,” Ryan said happily as she walked into the house after her Monday morning class. “I didn't expect to see you at home today. It's a very nice surprise.” She crossed over to Jamie, who was seated on the loveseat, and placed a gentle kiss on her soft lips.

“I'm kind of caught up, so I thought I'd hang around today. How about you? Is there much on your agenda?”

“I could obviously keep busy, but I don't have anything I have to do until practice,” she said as she sat down next to her partner. “You sound like you have something brewing. What's up?”

“Oh,” she said casually as she slowly trailed her fingers up and down Ryan's leg, “I thought I might talk you into playing hooky from your studies today. I just feel like we didn't have much of a weekend.”

Ryan looked a little abashed, as she conceded, “You mean that you didn't have much of a weekend, because I was such a jerk.”

“Nope,” she disagreed. “Not what I said—not what I meant. You had games on Friday and Saturday, and you didn't feel well yesterday. Speaking of not feeling well, did you get your period today?”

“Huh-uh,” she said as she shook her head.

“How overdue are you, Ryan?”

“Just a few days. No biggie,” Ryan said dismissively.

Jamie let that slide, even though she didn't agree. “So…are you interested in my offer?”

“Yeah, I could take the day off. Do you just want to go back to bed, or do you want to interact with humans?” Ryan asked with a rakish smile. As Jamie regarded her, she reminded herself that Ryan really was fine—early in the day, before she had drained all of her resources. Most days she was absolutely her normal self, it just seemed like the delay of her period was making her mood bad.

“Let's go out,” Jamie said. “I'll be in charge of our day, okay?”

“Um…sure. You don't often come up with bad ideas. You're in charge of our day. I just need to be back by four for practice. How should I dress?”

“You look perfectly fine,” Jamie said, glancing at the “Cal Volleyball” T-shirt and black jeans. She extended her hand and pulled Ryan to her feet, saying, “Let's rock.”

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

“Palo Alto?” Ryan asked as Jamie steered the Porsche down the sedate, tree-lined streets of the city.

“Yep.” She pulled the car up to a meter and put in enough quarters for two hours. “That should do it,” she said as she waited for Ryan to exit. They walked down the street and turned the corner, but Ryan stopped dead in her tracks when she spotted the quaint little building that they were headed to.

“What's wrong?” Ryan demanded with a note of panic as she grasped Jamie's hand.

“Nothing, nothing,” she soothed. “I decided yesterday that I was going to take you to the gynecologist, and I thought there was a good chance that you wouldn't agree if I asked you, so I decided to trick you into it,” she said, smiling contentedly.

Ryan's hands were placed firmly upon her hips, as she said with a slightly stunned look on her face, “And you're proud of that accomplishment?”

“Kinda,” she said, grasping Ryan's hand to lead her down the street.

Ryan pulled to a halt again and shook Jamie's hand away as she said, “How do I convince you that I don't like you to make my decisions for me?”

“Sweetheart, you were sitting in your room yesterday crying because you feel so bad. I'm not going to stand by and do nothing, and I'm not going to let you wait until winter break to go to the doctor. I have to take better care of you than that. You're just too important to me.” She was looking at Ryan with such a sweet, loving look on her face that Ryan didn't have the heart to stay angry with her. She wasn't ready to completely forgive her, though, so she merely rolled her eyes, shoved her hands in her pockets, and strode down the street to the door of the medical office.

Jamie trotted up behind her and immediately went up to the front desk. “Hi,” she said in her usual friendly manner. “Ryan O'Flaherty is here for her ten o'clock.”

“I need her to fill out some forms since she's a new patient,” the receptionist told her as she handed over a clipboard with a few pieces of paper attached.

Ryan spent a few minutes filling out the myriad of forms, and after she was finished, the nurse came out to call her in. Jamie hopped up with her, and they were shown into the doctor's office. “Dr. Aiken will be with you in a moment,” the nurse said as she closed the door.

“I don't have to strip in here, do I?” Ryan asked as she looked around.

“No, silly. She talks to you for a while, and then they'll show you to a room for an exam.”

“Hmm, I'm not used to a lot of talking,” Ryan said suspiciously.

“It's okay. She's a real doctor. See, she even went to U.C.S.F.” She pointed to the framed diploma on the wall.

“I know, I know,” Ryan grumbled, pacing back and forth across the floor nervously.

The door swung open, and Dr. Aiken came into the room. She extended her hand and said, “Hi, I'm Alison Aiken,” as Ryan stood and shook her hand.

“Hi. Ryan O'Flaherty. We've met twice before,” she said as she tilted her head towards her lover.

“Jamie?” Alison said as she sat down. “Ahh…am I seeing you today?” the doctor asked with a confused look on her face.

“Nope. I brought Ryan in for a checkup. Ryan was here a few weeks ago with her young friend Jennie. She also came with me when I had that pregnancy scare last year,” she added, smiling at her partner. “She's the good luck charm for women who don't want to be pregnant.”

“Riiiight,” Alison said slowly as she looked at Ryan's paperwork. “So how are things for you, Jamie?” she asked absently as she continued to look at the forms.

“Everything is great, and I feel marvelous since I stopped taking the pill this summer,” Jamie said. “I have a new, foolproof birth control method,” she added, picking up Ryan's hand and giving it a squeeze. “My new partner has permanently resolved my birth control issues.”

Dark brown eyes settled onto the couple. “Well, well, well,” she said, quirking a smile. “That's a bit of a change.”

“Yeah, it caught me by surprise too, but I couldn't be happier.”

“Well congratulations, Jamie. I hope things work out well for you…I mean for both of you,” she amended as she turned her gaze to Ryan.

“Things have been blissful,” Jamie revealed. “But I'm concerned about my partner here. Can you reassure both of us today?”

“I'll do my best,” Alison said as she looked down at her notes. “So, Ryan, tell me about how you feel.”

“I guess I feel like I have a really bad case of PMS,” she said thoughtfully. “But it seems like it's lasted since September.”

“Since you got the flu?” Alison asked.

“You read my chart?” Ryan asked in amazement.

“Well, yeah,” she laughed. “Why have you fill it out if I don't read it?”

“I thought it was just a way to make people not notice that the magazines are from the 80's,” she said with a cute little grin.

“No, I read every word. Now tell me about the flu.”

“I got sick right at the beginning of September. I had a pretty high fever for a couple of days, and it took me two full weeks to get most of my strength back. But to be honest, I've never recovered more than about 75% of my former energy level.”

“Hmm, that has been quite a while. Did you take it pretty easy for a while and get extra rest?”

“Umm, well, yeah, I'd say so…”

“No, she most certainly did not,” Jamie interrupted. “She's on the volleyball team at Cal, and she works out like a maniac! She exercises anywhere from three to four hours a day, and it's very high intensity stuff. And she's lucky if she gets seven hours of sleep a night, even though I know she needs at least nine.”

“It is hard to bounce back when you don't get the rest you need. How has your weight been? Any fluctuations?”

“Some,” Ryan prevaricated.

Jamie rolled her eyes and said, “She should be around 190. You can weigh her today, and get the real story. She won't get on the scale at home because she thinks I'll yell at her.”

“Why do you think you've lost weight?” Alison asked.

“I dropped about 12 pounds with the flu, and I was playing better at the lighter weight so I didn't try to gain it back.”

“Honey,” Jamie jumped in again, “you were low before the flu. You didn't gain the weight back from the AIDS Ride either.”

Alison smiled at the interplay between the young women, realizing that Ryan was not the most forthcoming of patients. “You say you feel like you have PMS. Tell me about your usual experience with your cycle.”

“Usually I get a little grouchy on the day I get my period. And sometimes I'm a little sensitive for a few days before. I've been incredibly lucky in that regard. My cycle is very regular—usually 28 days right on the button. If I take ibuprofen, my cramps go away immediately, so I'd say everything is generally perfectly normal.”

“But how do you feel now?” Alison persisted.

“Now I feel like I could go off at any time. My mood is very unpredictable, and I've been snapping at Jamie for no reason, and that is just not like me. I've been cold, too, and that normally only happens when I'm getting my period. I've been much more easily fatigued, too.”

“When is your period due?”

“I should have gotten it last Wednesday, but I didn't.”

“Is anything else worrying you or causing you stress?”

“No, things are great other than this…”

“Uhh, Alison, she's had the most stressful summer and fall on record. I'm sure you don't have time to go into everything that happened, but trust me on this. She's had an incredible amount of stress--plus being ill--all of her athletics, plus the stress of falling in love.”

“Okay, I think I'm getting the picture. Anything else you'd like me to know? Any questions or concerns you have about your health?” She looked at her notes again and a little frown pulled her eyebrows closer. “Why don't you tell me about your mother, Ryan?”

“She was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was only 30. She died in four years even though she had good medical care. So I'd like to have a mammogram as early as you think I can.”

“Do you worry about getting cancer?” she asked gently.

Ryan was pensive for a moment, but she finally nodded slightly. “More so since I've been with Jamie. I want to be with her for a very long time, but there's a part of me that's afraid I'll die young like my mother did.”

Jamie knew that this was a part of Ryan that was very difficult to reassure. So she just reached over and lightly grasped her hand, giving her a small smile when she turned her head to make eye contact.

“I think a long, healthy life is a very attainable goal, Ryan. Have any other women in your mother's family been affected by breast cancer?”

“No. My Granny is still alive, and my mother's sisters are both healthy. Come to think of it, no one in my mother's entire extended family has been affected by cancer.” She looked up at Alison and said, “That's good news, isn't it?”

“Indeed it is. Now, anything else you want to discuss?” Alison asked. “Any other health issues?”

“No, that's it,” Ryan said.

“Okay, I'll have the nurse show you to a room and we can do an exam. If you want Jamie to stay in the room it's perfectly all right with me, but if you want privacy, that's okay too.”

“Since she does most of my talking for me, I guess I'd better keep her around,” Ryan said with a fond smile at her smirking partner.

Almost as soon as she was undressed, the nurse was back to do a few preliminaries. After the woman took her blood pressure and got a urine sample, she led Ryan out to a common area to weigh her. To her own shock, Ryan was down to 165 pounds. The nurse started to lead Ryan to a chair to take a blood sample, but Jamie interrupted to suggest, “You might want to do that on a table.”

The nurse gave her a quizzical look but Jamie informed her, “Even though she only weighs 165, she's still tough to pick up when she passes out.”

The woman finally understood the situation and led Ryan back to the examining room. She placed her flat on her back, and as she got the materials ready, Jamie tried to distract her by talking in her normal rapid-fire way, but as soon as the needle went in, Ryan's eyes rolled back in her head and she was out cold.

Luckily she came around in just a second or two, but the nurse stayed in the room to monitor her for a few minutes. When Alison came back in she asked, “Do you always pass out from needles?”

“Yep. Every time. I live in fear of getting diabetes!”

Alison went through a routine physical exam, but when she got to Ryan's breasts she asked, “Do you do monthly self-exam?”

“Yes. Every month on the first day after my period.”

“That's good to hear,” she said. After she performed a pelvic exam on Ryan, she stripped off her glove and said, “Everything seems perfectly fine, but I am concerned about your weight. That's a tremendous amount of weight for an athlete to lose. And I'm going to guess that you didn't have much fat to lose to start with.”

“She was rock hard at 190,” Jamie informed her.

“I'll run all of the standard blood tests, but I don't expect to find anything. I think you've been burning muscle, which could contribute to fatigue and irritability and sensitivity to cold. Weight loss can easily upset your menstrual cycle also. Have you ever heard of the Female Athlete Triad, Ryan?”

“Uhh, yeah, but I thought that affected women who had eating disorders,” she said.

“Losing 25 pounds when you don't want to is a disorder, Ryan. It doesn't really matter why you're underweight. You body needs fuel, and if it doesn't get it from your daily intake, it starts stealing from places you don't want it to.”

“Like what places?” Jamie asked, her alarm growing.

“Like muscle, and even bone,” Alison said. “Ryan's delayed period could be the precursor to cessation of her period. When you stop menstruating, your body can start leaching calcium from your bones. As a preventive measure, I'm going to prescribe that you start taking a calcium supplement, along with Vitamin D, Ryan. Up until age 25, calcium loss can be replaced with supplements. After that, all we can do is halt the loss-your bones won't accept the replacement.”

“She'll take the supplements—religiously,” Jamie insisted, glaring at her partner.

“I don't doubt that,” Alison smiled. “Will you be able to relax once the volleyball season is over, Ryan?”

“Not really. I'm going to play basketball too.”

“When does that season start?”

“Well, the season starts this weekend,” she said with a sheepish smile. “I'd like to join them as soon as possible.”

“See what I'm up against, Alison?” Jamie sighed.

“You've got to concentrate on getting some weight back on, Ryan, or you'll never make it through another season. Didn't I refer you to a nutritionist, Jamie?”

“Yeah. She helped me a lot. I'll call and get Ryan in as soon as possible,” she said decisively.

“Until you get in, you may want to drink some of those meal supplements that they sell for senior citizens. They're not just empty calories, and they're not terribly high fat. And I know it's difficult when you're in school, but if you could get nine hours of sleep a night, it would help tremendously.”

“Okay, I'll do that,” Ryan said. “Now what about a mammogram?”

“You're going to have to make that decision, Ryan. I would advise against it because of your age and your history. Having just one relative with pre-menopausal breast cancer doesn't really increase your risk that much. And false positives are so common in young women with firm tissue that it can cause a lot more stress than it relieves. But if you spend much time worrying about cancer, and you think a mammogram will relieve those fears, you can certainly go ahead.”

“But you wouldn't do it if you were me?”

“No, I'd wait until I was 35 or so.”

“Just thinking about waiting that long makes my stomach clench,” she admitted softly.

“Tell you what,” Alison said. “I know a wonderful radiologist in the city. I'd be happy to call Dr. Steinberg and tell her why you want to have one done. She can give you her expert opinion on whether it's right for you. Would that reassure you?”

“Yeah, it might. I guess I just worry because I imagine that my mother could have been saved if she had been screened earlier. I just don't think I can wait past the age she was when she died before I have my first screening test.”

“Is mammogram the most accurate test?” Jamie asked.

“For older women it's very good, but again, it is not a great test for younger women. Given Ryan's age, she would probably get the most accurate result with an MRI, but that's a significant expense that your insurance will definitely not pay for.”

“Money's not an issue,” Jamie said clearly. “Any expense is worth it if it will ease Ryan's mind.”

“Let me give you the radiologist's card. I'll call her and tell her the whole story and see what she thinks, since she's the expert. Good enough?”

“Great!” Ryan said. “It's been a pleasure,” she added as she extended her hand.

Alison shook both of their hands and said, “Your blood results will be back by Wednesday. The nurse will tell you how to get them. It was very good to meet you again, Ryan. And good luck with both of your sports.”

As soon as she left Jamie wrapped her arms around her partner and asked, “Did today reassure you at all, honey?”

“Yes,” Ryan said softly. “It reassured me that you love me, and that you care for me, and that I'm the luckiest woman in the world.”

“That's all true,” she agreed. “One minor correction. We're the luckiest women in the world.”

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

Part Four

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