I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 11: Karma

by S X Meagher


Part 3

It was nearly five p.m. when they returned home to Berkeley that night, and Ryan began to unleash her frustration as they came in the house. The issue of her playing time had obviously been weighing on her mind, because she brought it up as she sorted through the mail on the entry table. “I'm not saying I'm better than the starting forwards, but when you're getting your asses kicked, it's time to try a different substitution pattern!” she grumbled. “How does she know I can't help if she won't give me a try?”

“Maybe you should speak to her, Ryan.”

“Aww, coaches hate it when you take up their time to whine about playing time,” she muttered. “I just have to make the most out of my three fucking minutes!”

Jamie came up and slid her arms around her grouchy partner's waist. “This has never happened to you before, has it?”


“That you don't get to play much.”

Ryan lifted her head as she considered the question. “I guess it hasn't, now that you mention it. But this is what happens — the competition gets stiffer as you go up in class.”

“Do you really think the other forwards are more talented than you are?”

“Uhm, I can't really say, Jamie. That's Coach Hayes' call. They're obviously doing what she wants, or she'd give me more of a chance.”

“Well, I still think you should talk to her. At least let her know that you want to contribute more.”

“We'll see,” she said absently as she looked at the list of phone messages scribbled in Mia's nearly indecipherable hand. “Does this say Rich Placer or Mick Jagger?” she asked.

“Do you know Mick Jagger?” Jamie chuckled.

“How can I know him if he won't call?” Ryan conceded absently as she carried her bag up the stairs.

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

They were both too tired to cook, so Ryan offered to go pick up a pizza from Zachary's, leaving Jamie to unpack while she was gone. When she pulled into the driveway, she was surprised to see Catherine's Mercedes. Hmm … I didn't know Catherine was coming over. She must have been in the neighborhood.

“Hi there,” Ryan smiled as her mother-in-law rose to greet her. “This is a nice surprise.” Ryan's eyes darted from Catherine to Jamie, and she knew immediately that something was very, very wrong.

A second, longer look revealed that Catherine was obviously upset, and had been crying. Ryan opened her arms and Catherine nestled into her embrace, leaning against her heavily while Ryan's eyes frantically searched Jamie's face — seeing the same desolate sadness that filled her mother's eyes.

Catherine lifted her head and said, “As I just told Jamie, I've had Jim served with papers, and I'm going to file for divorce.”

Jamie looked over at her partner with an ineffably wounded look, hearing the news for the second time not making it any more palatable.

“But I thought …” Ryan started to say, but Catherine shook her head.

“I thought so, too, dear, but things haven't worked out like I had hoped.” She pursed her lips while shaking her head a little, looking like she was arguing with herself. “I wouldn't normally tell you details like this, but it won't make any sense if I don't.” She lifted her head and squared her shoulders, saying, “I was watching the congressional session on C-SPAN on Wednesday and saw the woman Jim has been having the affair with. She's still with him,” she added in clarification, her lower lip quivering.

“Are you sure, Mom?” Jamie asked, her tone bordering on frantic. “Maybe there's a reasonable explanation …”

“I spoke with your father, honey,” she admitted. “He claims they're no longer involved, but I just can't let myself believe that. He might be telling the truth, but I don't trust him enough to believe him.”

“But what if he is telling the truth, Mom? Is it fair to let him try to work towards reconciliation, and then dump him because of a suspicion?” Jamie realized that her words sounded harsh, but she wanted to make sure her mother was thinking this through thoroughly.

“Maybe it's not fair,” she admitted softly, “but life isn't fair, dear. I was committed to giving this my best effort, and I think I have. It seems to me that my best isn't good enough.” She sank into a chair, looking as if every iota of energy had been drained from her body. Having expressed all that she felt needed to be said, she fell silent. A silence that lengthened as Jamie and Ryan processed what was going on, and struggled for an appropriate, supportive response.

After her original question, Ryan hadn't ventured another word. She finally walked over to Catherine and sank to her knees in front of her. Catherine's head cocked slightly in question, and Ryan silently extended her arms, offering an embrace. Leaning forward, Catherine fell against her, while Ryan held her tightly, saying simply, “I'm so sorry.”

Though Jamie was devastated by the unexpected turn of events, she took the cue from her partner, and stopped trying to cross-examine her mother. She moved across the room and joined Ryan, cuddling up against her mother's side as she hugged her tight. “I'm sorry, too, Mom. I know you tried your best. He got more chances than he deserved.”

Catherine sniffed a little, trying to maintain her composure, drawing comfort from the obvious love in the embraces encircling her. “I couldn't have gotten through this a year ago, Jamie. You've helped me find strength I didn't know I had.”

The younger woman kept her arms tight around her mother. “We'll get through this, Mom. We'll be there for you whenever you need us.”

“You already have been, sweetheart.” Catherine smiled, focusing not on what she had lost, but rather on what she still had. “You already have been.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

They convinced Catherine to stay while they ate, but she had no appetite, and didn't join them. The hours passed slowly, since none of the women had much to say — each of them struggling with her own feelings. At around nine, Catherine stood and said, “I'd better get going.”

She looked so lost and alone, that Jamie immediately protested. “I don't want you to be alone tonight, Mom. Please stay with us.”

“No, honey,” Catherine protested. “I've taken up your whole evening. There's nothing more to say, anyway.”

“It doesn't matter if we talk,” Jamie insisted. “I just don't want you driving home tonight.” She walked over to her chair and sat on the arm. “Please?”

Catherine shook her head decisively. “I'm really fine,” she said. “You needn't worry about me.”

Ryan finally spoke up. “We do worry about you, Catherine. Both of us do. I'd feel better if you'd spend the night, but if you won't do that, we'll drive you home. Whatever you prefer.”

“Oh, I wish I had just called,” she sighed. “I hate to be a burden.”

“That's so far from the truth that it's not even in the ballpark,” Jamie insisted. “You're not burdening us, Mom. We're sharing this with you. That's a very different thing. We're all sad … Let's spend the evening supporting each other, okay?”

“Okay,” Catherine finally agreed, the tiniest of smiles curving her lips. “We'll have a sleepover.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

“How ya doing?” Ryan asked gently as she sat down on the bed after they had Catherine squared away in Ryan's room.

Jamie looked at her for a second, and then climbed onto her lap, knowing that Ryan's touch would help her calm herself. “I'm sad … I'm disappointed … I'm angry with my father for his inability to control himself … I'm a little angry with Mother for starting down the path of reconciliation if she was going to give up so soon … I'm sad for both of them.” She rested her head against Ryan's neck and sighed. “I'm sad for myself, too. I want my parents to love each other, Ryan.”

“Of course you do,” the larger woman soothed. “That's a very natural reaction, honey. Every child is affected by divorce … no matter how old you are.”

“I guess that's true,” Jamie murmured. “I'm just a little disappointed in myself. I want to be there for my mom … I don't want to be so wrapped up in my own feelings right now. She's the one who's in pain.”

“So are you,” Ryan reminded her. “And if you let yourself experience whatever feelings you have — even the ucky ones — you'll be able to be there for her when she needs you.”

“How'd you get so smart?” Jamie asked softly as she leaned back in her partner's embrace and settled a few flyaway strands of her hair.

“I learned that in my grief support group after Michael died,” she said. “I was having terrible nightmares for a while, and one day the group leader got me to admit that I was furious with him for dying. As soon as I let that out, the nightmares stopped, and I was able to get past my anger and let myself feel the loss.”

“That was a long time ago, and you were just a kid,” Jamie marveled. “How'd you remember that all of this time?”

“I use it a lot,” Ryan explained. “It was honestly one of the most important lessons I've ever learned. If I can allow myself to feel the dark, ugly emotions that always come up when something upsetting happens, I'm able to let my gentle feelings come up, too. It's like the bad ones have to come out to let the good ones flow.”

“Do you have bad feelings about my parents divorce?” the smaller woman asked softly.

“Yeah, I do,” Ryan admitted, “but I don't want to share them. It works better for me if I keep them to myself.” She waited a second and said, “But feel free to share yours if it helps. It just doesn't work for me.”

“Okay, if something comes up I might, but this is probably the kind of thing it's best to share with Anna. It's nice to have a therapist at times like this,” she sighed.

“You might need to see her a few extra times. The holidays are gonna be hard for you if there's a lot of strife between your parents.”

“Okay. I might do that,” she agreed.

“Are you going to call your dad?”

“Yeah,” Jamie said softly. “I'll call him before I leave for class. I'm not looking forward to it,” she added needlessly.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan emerged from the bath the next morning, Jamie was sitting at her desk chair, her head in her hands. “Well, the deed is done,” she declared, looking up when she heard Ryan enter.

“How was he?”

“Not good. He was going to come home for Thanksgiving to surprise me. Mother called him on Wednesday night to tell him to stay in Washington.”

“Oh, Jamie, I'm so sorry. He must really be in pain.”

“He is. He swears that he hasn't slept with his … mistress … since the weekend of the Stanford game. I believe him, Ryan, I really do. I think he was making a totally sincere effort here.”

Ryan gave her a sympathetic look, trying not to allow her own grave doubts to show. “I guess it doesn't matter if he's telling the truth at this point. It's your mom's decision, and only her opinion matters.”

“I know, I know, and I'm going to try my best not to get in the middle. Daddy actually begged me to try to get Mother to listen to him — but I can't, Ryan. This has to be between them.”

“I know it'll be tough to stay neutral, babe, but I really think it would be a mistake to get involved. You have no power here — you can only be pulled in both directions.”

“I know, but it's hard to say no when I hear him crying on the phone. He was sitting in his office on Thanksgiving, Ryan—with no one to talk to. We were all having a blast, and he was alone.” She looked out the window as she bit her lip to keep from crying. “It just doesn't seem fair.”

“It's not,” Ryan agreed. “Especially if he's telling the truth.”

“Especially then,” Jamie agreed.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie's focus was far from sharp when she showed up for golf practice. The morning was crisp, cold, and windier than she liked, so she spent some extra time stretching before she started to work. Scott Godfrey, the head coach, nodded at her, and she gave him as warm a smile as she could muster. “Have a nice Thanksgiving?” he asked.

“Yeah, it was fine. How about yours?”

“Great. This was Elizabeth's first Thanksgiving, so we had more than the usual supply of relatives show up. I think my wife is really glad that it's over.” He rubbed his hands together and said, “It's really freezing today, isn't it?”

“I just got back from Colorado Springs last night, and compared to that, this weather feels positively balmy,” she joked.

“Were you skiing?”

“No. My partner, Ryan, is on the basketball team. They had to go all the way to Colorado to get their butts kicked.”

He cocked his head and commented, “I thought Ryan was on the volleyball team.”

“She was. But the season's over, and she felt compelled to jump right into another sport.”

“Are you opposed to her playing basketball, Jamie? You certainly don't sound very happy about it.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I'm not opposed to her playing. I'll admit that I don't care for the chemistry on the team, but she thinks she can help improve that.”

After a moment, he asked, “What do you think of ours?”

“Our … what?”

“Our chemistry,” he clarified. “How does it compare with what you've seen with Ryan's teams.”

“Mmm … I'd say we're right in the middle of the two extremes that she's experienced this year. The volleyball team was a very tightly knit group. They really liked one another, and they socialized quite a bit as well as playing together. But the basketball team is very cliquish, and I get the impression they don't like to be around one another more than is absolutely necessary.”

“And where do we fit into the continuum?” he asked.

“Well, I don't detect a lot of camaraderie, and I don't think many of the girls socialize, but I also don't see any antagonism or jealousy. We're all polite to one another, and we joke around in the locker room, but that's it. To be honest, we don't know each other well enough to have much to talk about.”

He shook his head. “I wish we had the budget to do some things to build some team spirit. All I can afford is the one weekend before our first tournament in Vallejo.”

“It's really an individual sport, Scott. I don't see that it's possible to do much to bring the team together. For what it's worth, this is no different than my high school team was.”

“Things were a little different last year,” he commented. “We had three seniors who were all very gregarious. The younger girls really followed their lead.”

“This is a pretty quiet group,” Jamie observed.

“Yeah, and it doesn't help that the team is so young. With four freshman and only two seniors it has been hard to keep the spirit from last year going. You're brand new, and Juliet is … well, she's just not the type to spend her time getting to know the other players.”

Jamie chuckled and said, “I don't think I've ever heard her speak.”

“I'd guess that she's the most focused player I've ever been around,” Scott mused. “Her goal is to turn pro as soon as she graduates, and I think she's honestly got a chance.”

“I haven't seen her course management skills, but she's a heck of a ball striker,” Jamie agreed. “She has one of the most beautiful swings I've ever seen, too.”

“Yeah, I wish I could take credit for helping her build that swing, but she had it when she got here,” he chuckled.

“I'd better get busy if I want to build my own swing,” Jamie joked. “I'll try to think of some ways to promote a little harmony, Scott. It's just hard when we have to practice at the beginning of the day. Not having our own course makes things tough.”

“It does,” he agreed. “But we're never going to get a course, so we'll just have to be more creative.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Scott had spent time with Jamie the previous week, giving her a few tips on improving her draw shot. She worked on that diligently, then spent another hour going through her entire bag, hitting 15 or 20 balls with each club. Scott and his assistant, Evan Foster, split their time among all of the women, spending a few minutes watching each and offering tips where needed. By the time Jamie was finished, only Juliet remained. It was not quite 8, and she didn't have class until 10, so Jamie sat down at the base of a practice bunker to watch her teammate.

Even though they'd been practicing at the same facility for nearly three months, Jamie could not remember saying more than a total of 20 words to Juliet. However, after talking with Scott, she decided that she needed to start being a little more aggressive about making friends on the team. She actually felt a little guilty about her own self-involvement, but she selfishly wanted to spend every minute of her free time with Ryan. You're going to have a lifetime with Ryan, she reminded herself. If you're going to be a member of this team, you've got to make an effort to help turn it into a real team, rather than a collection of individuals.

She spent at least a half hour watching Juliet's nearly perfect swing. When the woman finally stopped and began to stretch, catching Jamie out of the corner of her eye, she turned around in surprise and said, “Uhm … hi.” Looking over her shoulder just to make sure Jamie wasn't looking at someone else, she asked, “Are you uhm … waiting for me?”

“No, not really,” Jamie smiled. “I don't have class until 10, so I thought I'd hang out for a bit.”

“You've … been watching me?” Juliet asked, obviously puzzled.

“Well, if I'm going to sit and watch a teammate, you're the one I'm going to choose,” Jamie answered honestly. “Might as well try to learn from the best.”

“You uhm … think I'm the best?” Juliet asked, a small smile forming.

“I know you don't pay a lot of attention to what's going on around here, Juliet, but you don't seem oblivious,” Jamie chuckled. “It's no secret that you're the best player on the team.”

The woman just shrugged, looking uncharacteristically shy. “I just work hard,” she said.

“A lot of talent and hard work are a great combo,” Jamie said. Looking at her watch, she asked, “Do you have time to get some coffee?”

“Uhm … not today,” Juliet said. “I have class at 9.” She hesitated a beat, then added, “I could tomorrow, though. My first class is at 11.”

“11, huh? My first is at 11, too. Why don't we come out early and play a round after we practice for a while. I'm sure Scott would let us cut practice short.”

Juliet nodded. “I'd like that. It's getting tough to get 18 in after class, now that it gets dark so early.”

“Where do you usually play?” Jamie asked.

“Here at Tilden, mostly. I usually go home to Sacramento on the weekends, though. I can get in a lot more holes, since the course is much less crowded. On a good day, I can play three rounds.”

Jamie gave her a warm smile and said, “You do work hard, doncha?”

“Yep. I know what I want, Jamie. I might not get it, but I swear I won't fail because of a lack of effort.” Her watch alarm went off and she hefted her bag onto her shoulder. “Gotta go. See you bright and early tomorrow, okay?”

“It's a date,” Jamie smiled. She watched Juliet practically sprint for the parking lot, thinking, It wasn't a huge gesture, but I feel good about at least trying to form a friendship.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jamie stopped back by the house after practice to find her mother and Mia in the kitchen, chatting companionably. “How are you feeling?” Jamie asked when she crossed the room to offer a kiss.

“Better,” Catherine said. “A good night's rest made a big difference. You were right, as usual, honey. I'm sure I slept better knowing that you were close by. I only woke up once, which is a big improvement. When I couldn't get back to sleep I almost took a crack at playing that elaborate drum set that I assume must be Ryan's,” she chuckled.

“How'd you guess?” Jamie asked wryly. “I gave it to her for her birthday, but she's barely had time to break it in.”

Mia stood and walked over to her friend. “I've got to get going now. I'm really sorry to hear the news,” she said, meeting Jamie's eyes.

“Thanks. We'll get through this, won't we, Mom?”

“We will, Jamie. We're tougher than we look.”

“That's a relief,” Mia joked, bending to kiss Catherine's cheek.

* * * * * * * * * * *

As she was walking out of her morning class, Jamie reached down to her waistband to retrieve her ringing phone. “Yesss,” she drawled.

“How do you always know it's me?” Ryan asked. “Or do you use that sexy drawl with everyone?”

“No, just you. And I know it's you because you're the only person who knows my schedule so intimately,” she revealed. “What's up, babe?”

“I have good and bad news,” Ryan said with a note of mystery in her voice.

“Hmm, give me the bad first,” she decided.

“I've been asked to try out for the national volleyball team,” she replied, unable to keep the enthusiasm out of her voice.

“That's the bad news?” Jamie shouted, unable to control her excitement.

“Well, it's both,” Ryan admitted. “It's good news since it's a huge honor, but it's bad news since it requires me to make some hard choices.”

“Are you at home?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I'm coming home for lunch,” she said decisively. “I have to congratulate you properly!”

A half hour later, Jamie rode up to the house and automatically matched the grin on her beaming partner's face. Ryan hopped off the top step and trotted over to the bike, lowering it to the ground. “I am so proud of you!” Jamie cried as she threw her arms around Ryan's neck.

“Thanks, honey,” she mumbled into her shoulder. “I'm pretty excited myself.”

“Well you should be! I guarantee you're the only woman with only two years experience at the college level who got invited.”

“Actually, a couple of freshmen got invited, including that cutie from Stanford, but I am the only 24-year-old.”

“It just makes me so happy that you were able to play this year,” Jamie said as her eyes welled up with tears. “It's wonderful to see you this excited about something.”

Ryan grasped her hand, and pulled her into the house. They jointly prepared soup and sandwiches, and a half hour later when Mia came wandering in, she had to laugh at the scene. Jamie was perched on Ryan's lap feeding her spoonfuls of soup like a bird feeding her young. “You two are so cute,” she said affectionately as she ruffled Jamie's hair.

“Have you seen Jordan?” Ryan asked as she craned her head around to make eye contact.

“Not in the last 15 seconds or so,” she said as Jordan came strolling in.

Ryan urged Jamie off her lap as she jumped up and threw her arms around her teammate. “Congratulations!” she said as she gave her a rough squeeze.

Jordan leaned back in the embrace and asked suspiciously, “How did you know?”

“Coach told me when I talked to him this morning,” she said without elaboration.

“Why were you talking to Coach?”

“'Cause I got invited too,” she said, her eyebrows bouncing wildly.

Jordan let out a joyous cry and jumped into Ryan's arms. “That's so cool! That little rat didn't say a word about you!”

“He wanted to tell me first, and since I was out of town he didn't get hold of me until this morning,” Ryan explained. “But since he had already talked to you, he was free to tell me about you.”

“Ryan, we're going to have so much fun!” Jordan cried again, but another looked showed that Ryan did not share her exuberance. “What's wrong?” she asked.

Ryan put her back on the ground and said, “Umm, we're not sure that I'm going to accept.”

“Not accept? Are you nuts! You'll never get another chance to go to the Olympics, Ryan. How can you possibly not accept?”

“There are a ton of repercussions to accepting this invitation, Jordan. I'm just not sure if I can turn my life upside down right now.”

Jordan sank down heavily into a chair as she let out a breath. “Boy, you jacked me up awfully high only to cut me right back down.”

“I'm sorry, but we have to spend some time discussing this. It's not an obvious choice for me.”

“You two can discuss it, but I have to get back to school,” Jamie announced. “I love you, Tiger,” she said softly as she kissed Ryan's lips gently. “And I'm very, very proud of you.” Walking over to Jordan she bent to offer her a kiss also. “You're not so bad yourself, Jordan,” she said affectionately, patting her cheek.

Jordan looked at Ryan as soon as Jamie left the room and asked, “Doesn't she want you to go?”

“No, that's not it at all. She's very much in favor of my going. I think she's a little confused by my reluctance, too. I guess it's hard for me because this isn't something I was planning for. I mean, I'd been scouted for the national team in soccer since I was 14. I'm pretty sure I would have made the team after my freshman year in college if I had gone to Cal at first. That was always my goal, and after that died I just put thought of the Olympics and World Cup aside. I'll admit it was hard to let it die, but once it did, I didn't expect to resurrect it again.”

“But this just fell into your lap, Ryan. It's a tremendous gift!”

“I know, Jordan. But I'd have to drop out of school for at least a semester — even if I didn't make the darned team. If I did that, I would not only not graduate this year, I'd have to put graduate school off another year.”

“But what's your rush?” she demanded. “It'll all be here when we get back with our gold medal.”

“There are things I want to do,” she explained. “We want to wait to have a child until I'm out of grad school. Delaying that a year just slows our time table down.”

“Jamie could go first,” Jordan reminded her.

“I know, but I like the way we've planned things. Besides, if I do this, Jamie will have to drop out and come with me. I couldn't be away from her for almost nine months.”

“But it's the Olympics, Ryan,” she moaned. “This is not just some small thing.”

“I know, Jordan, but I'm also tied to the basketball team. It's not fair to just ditch them.”

“That's a joke,” she scoffed. “The equipment manager plays as much as you do!” Ryan shot her a stunned, hurt look, and Jordan rose to come stand behind her chair. She put her hands on the strong shoulders and gave her a gentle massage. “I know how good you are, Boom, and it just kills me that your stupid coach doesn't. I listened to your game on the Internet on Sunday, and there was a good ten-minute period where you would have sparked them in a big way. What in the hell is wrong with her anyway?”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, but she doesn't seem to share your enthusiasm,” Ryan said glumly.

“Well if you're going to let that be a big factor in your decision, you had better ask her if she's going to use you. It's dumb to pass up the Olympics to ride the pine.”

“You've got a point there, but that's not the only factor. I loved playing volleyball this year, but now that I'm on a team I don't really like, it reminds me of how much chemistry matters on a team. What we had this year was really special, and that's why I loved it. I'm not sure I love volleyball enough to devote nine months of my life to it if I wasn't crazy about my teammates.”

“You're crazy about me,” Jordan reminded her with a shy grin.

“Now that's the absolute truth,” she agreed.

Mia had been silently observing this entire dialogue, but she finally got up and took Jordan's hand. “Excuse us, Ryan, but I promised Jordan lunch, and we've only got an hour to spare.”

As they left the kitchen and started for the stairs, Ryan pointed out. “Food's in the kitchen, girls.”

“That's not what Jordan has a craving for,” Mia said lightly as she tossed her curly brown hair and shot Ryan a wink.

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

After practice, Ryan decided that Jordan and Jamie were right — she had to get some indication from Coach Hayes as to her plans for the season, as well as take care of some special arrangements she needed to make. “Hey, Coach?” she called as she started to walk back to her office.


“Do you have a few minutes to discuss a couple of things?”

She looked at her watch and warned, “My family is waiting for me for dinner, Ryan. Is it quick?”

“Uhm, probably not,” she said honestly. “I'll make an appointment.”

Coach Hayes looked at the concerned face for a moment and relented. “Come on, if it's important enough to make that face, I guess I can spare a few minutes.”

“I'm not very good at hiding my feelings,” she admitted as she tagged along beside her coach. When they reached the office, Ryan asked, “Do you mind if I get out of my wet jersey?”

“Go ahead. I'll call home while you change.”

A few minutes later, Ryan walked back into the office in a dry T-shirt and her warm up jacket. She sat down in the chair facing the desk, and waited for the coach to hang up the phone. When she did, she gazed at the younger woman and said, “You're right when you say you don't hide your feelings well, Ryan. It's obvious you're unhappy with your playing time, but I need you to know that I don't explain my decisions to every unhappy player.”

Ryan was a bit taken aback by her comments, but she immediately regained her poise and said, “I do want to ask what your plans for me are, but not for the reason you suspect. I've been asked to try out for the volleyball national team, but I have no intention of doing so if it would let the basketball team down. So my real question is, do you think you need me enough to give up this opportunity?“

Coach Hayes leaned back in her chair and stared at Ryan for a moment. “I didn't realize you were that talented at volleyball,” she said slowly.

“I'm not sure I am, but it's nice to be asked to try out. And just for the record, Coach, I never would question your judgment about playing time. I admit I'm disappointed that I haven't been allowed to contribute more, but I trust you to make the correct decisions for the benefit of the entire team.”

“Good,” the older woman said briskly. “Now, how can I help you?”

“Well, as I said, I like to play basketball, Coach. I made a commitment to play for this team, and I intend to honor that commitment if you're relying on me.”

“I don't understand how my input affects your commitment, Ryan. A commitment is just that. If you want to break your promise to the team, that's your decision. I'm not going to make it easy for you by telling you it doesn't matter.”

The player blew out a frustrated breath and lowered her head, staring at the floor for a moment. “Look, Ryan,” the older woman said., “I appreciate the spot you're in, but I don't want to be the one to make this decision for you. I can't promise you that you'll play much — if at all. There's a good chance that you'll end up being the best player on the team, but things could just as easily go the other way. You have to do what you think is right.”

Ryan forced her mouth into a smile. “Thanks for being honest with me, Coach. I need to decide within the next day or two, so I'll let you know.”

“Good,” the older woman said as she stood.

“One more thing,” Ryan spoke up. “I'm scheduled to take a math test on the day of our game down at Fresno State. It's a national thing, and it's scheduled for that morning. I can get the okay for a delayed start, but I have to take it that day — and that day only.”

“And?” the coach asked, arching an eyebrow.

“And … I wanted to know if I could fly home, rather than take the bus. There's a five o'clock flight that would allow me to get to school by around six-thirty, if it's on time.”

Narrowing her gaze, the coach asked, “What makes you so sure that the game will be over in time for you to make the flight?”

“Well,” she said, flushing a little under the gray-eyed scrutiny, “I don't really play that many minutes, Coach. I thought I could leave at four, whether or not the game's over.”

The older woman drew in a breath and said, “Ryan, if that's your attitude, you may as well quit. Either you're a member of the team, or you're not. Making your own schedules and traveling separately indicate a real inability to understand what a team is all about.” She stood to go, arching her eyebrow again as she cocked her head. “Is there anything else?”

Ryan stood, shaking her head the entire time. “I'll stay for the game and ride home with the team,” she said quietly. “I have to be accompanied by a faculty member for the entire time period of the test. Are you willing to keep an eye on me from nine to noon, and one to three on that day?”

“That's my job, Ryan,” she said, giving her a small, insincere smile. “I keep my eye on everyone.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Being in a bit of a fog when she left the office, Ryan's distraction caused her to slam into Lynette, who was trying to enter. “Oh, shit!” she cried as she immediately reached out and grabbed the assistant coach's shoulders to steady her.

“Jesus! No wonder you play such good defense! If I ran into you on a pick, I wouldn't be in a hurry to repeat the experience!”

“I'm really sorry, Lynette,” Ryan said as she looked at the assistant carefully to assess the damage. “I just wasn't paying attention.”

Lynette returned her look of concern, and nodded her head in the direction of the office. “Were you speaking to the coach?”


“Is anything wrong? You didn't quit did you?”

“Ah, no, why assume something is wrong?”

“Well, she doesn't spend much time talking to players. That's our job,” she explained, meaning she and the other assistant coaches.

“I got that impression,” Ryan conceded. “Do you have time to talk to me for a few minutes, Lynette?”

Lynette gave her a genuine smile and said, “I always have time, Ryan. That's my job.”

“Is it against your policy to fraternize with players?”

“No,” she said with a gentle laugh. “I don't know of any other way to get to know people.”

“How about dinner at my house?”


“Yeah. Let me just call Jamie and see if she minds,” she said as she pulled her phone out of her gym bag.

Lynette waited patiently as a grin spread across Ryan's face. “I still don't know how you always know it's me,” she chuckled.

After a pause she smirked and said, “Jamie, I do not believe that the phone rings differently when I call, but it's sweet that you think so.” Her smile grew bigger as she said, “I will tell you. Would you mind if I brought Lynette Dix home for dinner?” She looked at Lynette and nodded as she said, “I knew you wouldn't mind, but I think it's polite to check. We'll be there in ten minutes, honey. I love you.”

As she hung up she smiled and said, “I came on Rollerblades. Do you want to run alongside or drive me home?”

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

Ten minutes later they were sitting in the cozy kitchen, preparing to eat the delightful coq au vin that Jamie had prepared. Ryan had filled Lynette in on her conversation with Coach Hayes on the way to the house, but she took a minute to bring Jamie up to speed.

“So what are you really looking for Ryan?” Lynette asked as she took a sip of the wine Ryan had just poured for her. “Do you want advice on whether to accept the offer from the volleyball program, or do you want my opinion on whether we'll use you more this season?”

Ryan leaned back in her chair and took a sip from her glass as she gazed at the coach thoughtfully. “Neither, actually,” she said. “I want your opinion on whether I'm an addition to the team, or a distraction.”

“That's it?” she asked in surprise.

“Yeah. If I decide not to try out for the Olympic team, I want to stay and contribute if I'm wanted. But I have no interest in investing my time if it'll just make things worse.”

“Coach didn't give you any feedback, did she?” she asked knowledgably.

Ryan just shook her head.

“Okay, I'll give you my take. We'll be a better team when you get more minutes. And nothing makes a team gel as well as winning. So I predict that if you stay, things will get substantially better on the court. But I can't guarantee that will translate to off the court.”

Jamie brought the heavy cast iron Dutch oven over to the table as she asked, “Why do you think the team is so fragmented, Lynette?”

“Boy, this smells delicious, Jamie,” she said appreciatively. “I don't get many home cooked meals.” She leaned over her bowl and took another deep whiff as she smiled again. “I don't even want to wait until it cools, so I'll answer your question to distract myself. Obviously I can't tell you too much, since some of the things I know are confidential. Let's just say that the team has gotten a little more cliquish in each of the five years I've been here. We haven't had much leadership from the upperclassmen, and, as you know, they set the tone for a team. But I honestly don't see much of that changing. I just worry because I can see the freshmen already being infected by it.”

“I see that too,” Ryan said. “It seems like Franny's afraid to speak.”

“Yeah. Blacks, whites, freshmen and Eastern Europeans,” she said wryly. “It must seem just like back home in the Balkans for the Croatian girls.”

“So just Janae, Franny and I are not in a clique?”

“Pretty much,” Lynette admitted.

Ryan nodded her head slowly, looking as if she had made up her mind. “That's what I thought. It looks like we'll have to either take over one of the other cliques or start one of our own.”

“You're gonna need some luck, Ryan,” the older woman warned. “The team's not only fragmented, I think most of the players like being in their little groups. I don't see that they're motivated to leave them.”

“Ryan's very persuasive,” Jamie assured her, exchanging a fond look with her partner.

“I don't doubt that, Jamie,” Lynette agreed, “but this task could be beyond even Ryan's skills.”

We'll just see about that, Ryan decided, already trying to figure out how to appeal to the small groups.

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

“Did it help to get Lynette's perspective on the team?” Jamie asked when they were getting ready for bed.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Ryan said. “I know we have our work cut out for us, but I still think Janae and I can make a difference.”

“Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like you've made up your mind.”

“No, I really haven't, Jamie. I won't make that decision without you.”

“Uh-uh, Ryan. I don't want any part in this one,” the smaller woman said, shaking her head decisively. “This has to be your decision. You're the one who will have to put out the effort, so you're the one that needs to decide.”

“But your life will be thrown upside down, too,” Ryan insisted, wide-eyed.

“I know it will, but not as radically as yours will be.” She put her arms around her partner, and said, “I'm not in as big a hurry to graduate, and I'm not in a hurry to start to work. Living in Colorado Springs for a year could be a kick,” she smiled. “I love to ski, and I could really work on my technique while you're jumping through the roof of the gym.” She gave Ryan such a look of devotion that the larger woman felt her heart swell with love.

“You're such a wonderful partner,” she sighed. “So supportive … so caring.”

“All true,” Jamie smiled. “And you'll be there for me if ever the situation is reversed.”

“All true as well,” Ryan confidently agreed. She placed a gentle kiss on the top of Jamie's head and said, “I should be able to decide about the Olympics once I get a little more information. Then I need to decide if I want to stay on the basketball team if I don't go to Colorado.”

“How are you feeling about that?”

“It's one thing if I quit to join the Olympic team,” she said. “It's a very different thing to quit just because I don't like it. As much as it pissed me off, Coach Hayes had a good point. I did make a commitment, and I have to decide if my word is worth more than my happiness.”

The smaller woman rubbed Ryan's back and said, “They have a commitment to you too, Ryan. Are they living up to it?” Ryan blinked at her, an almost vacant look in her blue eyes. Jamie explained, “They have a commitment to make the team as good as it can possibly be. That includes taking the time to figure out that you're a fantastic player, and can help them a great deal.”

Ryan nodded, a confused look on her face. “I guess that's true,” she mused.

“They have a commitment to help you develop as a player, Ryan. They have an obligation to treat you with some respect. They can't throw a group of people together and just expect them to survive,” she insisted. “They have to do their jobs, so the players can do theirs.”

Looking absolutely stunned by Jamie's words, she said, “I've never thought of it like that. I guess it does go both ways.”

“Look, Ryan, I know that your word means a great deal to you, but don't let your promise stop you from getting something that you really want.”

Ryan nodded tentatively, “I'll try not to.” She sighed, then yawned loudly. “This has been a bitch of a day!”

“Oh, I noticed that you got a note from Moira,” Jamie said. “How is she?”

“Good,” Ryan said, slipping into bed and cuddling up to Jamie when she joined her. “She just wanted to thank us for the hospitality. Boy, I hate that we spent so little time together. Normally, I'm like her little shadow when she's here.”

“She's really special to you, isn't she?”

“Oh, yeah,” Ryan sighed. Turning to look closely at her partner, a note of concern in her blue eyes, she asked, “Didn't you think she was special?”

“Yes, I did. I was particularly charmed by how much she seems to love you, but even without that vital trait, she was a very cool woman. Not very much like Maeve at all, much to my surprise.”

“No, she's really not. She's much more like my mom,” Ryan agreed. “I think that's why she and my mom weren't overly close — they were too much alike.”

“But she and your mom got on well, didn't they?”

“Oh, sure. They were friends, but they weren't as close as my mom and my Aunt Maeve — they were inseparable.” Ryan paused thoughtfully and said, “You know, my mom didn't really want to come to America. She was perfectly happy in Ireland. As a matter of fact, I think she would have worked on my father to return if she had lived. She wasn't all that crazy about the United States — she thought it was a very dangerous place to raise kids.”

“Did she come only because of your aunt?”

“Yeah, pretty much. Well, my aunt and my father,” Ryan grinned. “She apparently fell in love with him at first sight.”

“I know exactly how she felt,” Jamie sighed as she scooted closer, and wrapped her arm around Ryan's waist. “I can still remember the flip my stomach did the first time you turned around, and I got a look into those baby blues.”

“Aww, you say the sweetest things,” Ryan smiled.

“I speak the truth,” Jamie assured her. “I still get the same flutter when you look at me now, you know.”

“Like this?” Ryan asked softly, as she locked her eyes upon her partner and gave her a sexy smile.

“Works every time,” Jamie insisted as she captured the pink lips with her own.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Part 4

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