I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 6: Fidelity

By S X Meagher






Part 11

"What are you in the mood to eat, Dear?" Catherine asked after they had whiled the day away at the tony boutiques of Manhattan.

"Hmmm…not French," Jamie decided immediately. "I feel like we’ve been stuck in a 1960’s vintage Paris restaurant for the past week. I’ve not seen that many reduction sauces and beurre blancs since the last time we were in Monaco."

"It is a little bit of a time warp, isn’t it?" Catherine agreed as she stopped to consider the style of food served at the cottage. "Hmm…what’s the antithesis of French." Pausing to think for a moment she nodded confidently, sure that her choice would be far removed from the high-fat, intensely-flavored, complex meals they had been dining on. "I’ve got it," she said. "Sushi."

A few well-placed phone calls later, they were dining well and simply at Nobu, one of New York’s finest Japanese restaurants. "My Lord, I love good sushi," Jamie exclaimed, as she took a bite of remarkably fresh tuna sashimi. "I don’t think I’ve had it since I’ve known Ryan."

"Why not, Dear? Doesn’t Ryan like fish?"

"Yes, she does, but I’m not sure she’s ever had sushi. Her tastes are pretty traditional. Plus, I’ve not wanted to get into an argument about how much dinner would cost. I don’t think she’d see the logic of spending a few hundred dollars on dinner…especially when it isn’t even cooked!"

"Do you think your money will continue to be an issue between you two?" Catherine asked. She was busily mixing wasabi with a little soy sauce, but even though her attention was divided, it was clear that she was paying close attention to Jamie’s answer.

Idly dipping a piece of salmon in the sauce her mother had created, Jamie nodded her head slowly. "I don’t see it going away any time soon, to tell you the truth. Ryan’s pretty hardheaded about the issue, and I must admit that I am too. Was it hard for Daddy?" she asked, not really knowing how her father dealt with her mother’s wealth when he was a young man.

Thinking back on their first years together, Catherine admitted that it was hard for her new husband to deal with the family fortune. "I think it was more of a problem for us when we were dating," she mused. "He took a good bit of teasing from his friends, as I recall, and I think that’s hard for a man to take. Once we were married, though, he seemed to acclimate quickly. We’ve always kept separate accounts, and he spends his own money on things that he wants, so he’s never had to ask me for anything. I don’t think that would have gone over very well," she decided. "For either of us."

Pausing thoughtfully, Jamie queried, "For you too? But why…?"

"I hate to admit this, Dear, but I’m quite sure I would not have been attracted to your father if he didn’t want to earn his own way. There is something slightly unseemly about a man that allows his wife to support him."

"Hmm…I guess that’s just conditioning," Jamie decided. "I admit that I felt the same way about Jack. I was downright miserly with him! But it would be absolutely fine with me if Ryan never worked a day in her life."

"I’m guessing that scenario would not be to Ryan’s taste," Catherine observed.

"Not hardly," Jamie chuckled. "She has every intention of finishing school and going into some professional field. Even knowing that this is temporary, though, she’s having a tough time adjusting to accepting my support. Now that she’s quit her job, she’s dependent on me for everything from clothes to spending money. She’s still accounting to me for every little thing she wants to buy–as though she needs my permission. I don’t know how to get through to her that the money in our joint account is ours…not mine." Her frustration showed as she scrunched her face up in a scowl and shook her head.

"I don’t have the answer for you, Dear. I suppose this is one of those things that will work out over time. I just hope that it isn’t too difficult for you both to deal with–I’d hate to have it drive you apart."

Jamie laughed wryly, a small smile on her face. "No way, Mom. If it’s causing too much strife, I’ll just move into Ryan’s family’s house and get a job. I’d rather renounce my inheritance than lose her."

Reaching across the table to lightly grasp her daughter’s hand, Catherine said, "I hope she’s as determined to make your relationship work as you are, Jamie. I know it will be a difficult adjustment for her."

"She is, Mom. I’m confident of that. She loves me more than she hates my money."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Hey, Beastie," Jordan greeted Ryan as she walked into the TV lounge in the dorm.

"Beastie?" Ryan asked, as one eyebrow lifted dangerously. All of the other women gathered in the room burst out laughing, and Jordan let Ryan in on the joke.

"Amy observed that when you get really focused it’s like you let your inner beast roam free. After your little demonstration in butt-kicking the other night, we decided that it really fit–so your new nickname is Beast, or Beastie depending on how fond we are of you at the moment."

"Well if I’m the Beast, you’re gonna have to be Beauty," Ryan countered, "since you were more concerned about your pretty face than in helping me put some hurt on those guys."

Jordan tossed her long blonde hair and licked her lips in a suggestive fashion. "Beauty," she breathed, trying to put as much sex appeal into her voice as she could muster. "It works." She adopted one of her fashion model poses, gazing at the other women haughtily until they gave her the applause she sought.

She flopped down on the floor in front of Ryan and handed her a narrow-toothed comb. "Will you braid my hair?" she asked, sending a glance over her shoulder. "It will enhance my beauty."

"Why can’t you braid your own?" Ryan asked, nevertheless accepting the comb and running it through the shiny, pale blonde tresses.

"One–my arms are tired from spiking the ball down your throat all day. Two–it’s too hard to reach."

Shrugging her shoulders, Ryan separated the hair into three large bundles and started to braid it.

"Not that way, Beastie. I want little braids." She shook her head briskly, causing the strands to fall from Ryan’s hands.

"How little?" Ryan asked, having a sneaking suspicion this task would take a while.

Jordan did the first braid herself, showing Ryan that she wanted about fifty hairs included in each one. Given the thickness of Jordan’s hair, Ryan calculated this little endeavor would take all night.

"I’ll do half," Ryan decided, scooting over as she picked the right side. "The rest of your fan club can help you out on the other side. That’s my final offer."

"I’ll do it, Jordan," Heather offered, shyly sitting next to Ryan on the sofa.

"Let’s race," Ryan proposed. "Loser has to go for ice cream."

"Hey! That’s my head you’re bartering with," Jordan complained as the two women started to furiously grasp tiny little bunches of her hair and braid it.

"Beggars can’t be choosers," Ryan informed her, chuckling as she caught sight of the determined look on Heather’s face. With a little work, I think we can turn young Heather into quite a competitor, she decided happily.

* * * * * * * * * * *

They began the long drive back to Rhode Island a little after ten o’clock, and Jamie could already feel herself starting to fall asleep. Car trips had put her out almost immediately ever since she was a baby, and it appeared to Catherine that she had not outgrown the tendency.

"It’s all right if you want to sleep on the trip back, Dear."

Yawning loudly, Jamie shook her head and said, "Have I always done this? It’s a little embarrassing to conk out as soon as the engine turns over."

Her mother nodded in remembrance. "When we couldn’t get you to quiet down, your father used to put you in your car seat and drive around the neighborhood," she revealed, with a fond smile. "I suppose it’s partly our fault that you developed that response."

Reflecting on her solitary childhood, Jamie cocked her head a little and asked the question that she had entertained since she was young. "Why didn’t you have any more children?"

Catherine looked a little taken aback by the question, but she pursed her lips for a second, then answered. "At first we thought one child was enough for us," she said thoughtfully. "As I told you, I went back to school full-time after you were born, so for two years I was too busy to even entertain the notion. I’d say I was 25 or so when I got the idea that I’d like to have another child, but your father was quite antagonistic to the idea."

"Really?" Jamie asked, privately thinking that she would have believed it more likely that her mother wouldn’t have wanted another child. "Why was that?"

"You were five, and he liked the fact that you were turning into a ‘person’ by then. I don’t think he wanted to deal with the stress that a baby brings into your life."

"So–just because he didn’t want to, you didn’t do it?"

"No, that wasn’t the end of the discussion. It took me another year or two, but he finally agreed that we could try." She looked pained as she went on, "It just didn’t happen. I tried to talk your father into going to a fertility specialist, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He said that if it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen, and there was a reason for it." Catherine tried to smile, but it looked forced. "At least I didn’t have to use birth control any more," she said, a touch too brightly.

"I’m sorry, Mom," Jamie said softly, reaching out to grasp her mother’s hand. "That must have been very disappointing for you."

"It was, Dear," she admitted. "I think I would have been a better mother if I had tried again when I was older and a little more mature. It would have been nice to have another opportunity."

"You’re doing pretty well now," Jamie said, giving her a loving smile. "And I think you’ll be a kick-ass grandmother!"

"I don’t think I’ve ever been a kick-ass anything, Honey," Catherine said, a bemused smile covering her face. "It will be fun to try."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Hey, Grace, will you take over for me for a while?" Ryan asked her teammate, though Jordan’s hair was less than one-third finished. Heather had given up long ago, replaced by Amy, who was lagging so far behind Ryan that the older woman had called a halt to the bet.

"Sure," Grace said amiably, watching Ryan get up to leave the room. "You coming back?"

"Yeah," she said, stretching languidly. "I’ve gotta call Jamie while it’s still a decent hour on the East Coast."

"Don’t forget to tell her your new nickname," Jordan called after her. "I’m sure she’ll find it apt."

"You’re a funny, funny woman," Ryan drawled, smiling at her friend even though she tried not to.

The cell signal was weak, but Ryan didn’t want to spend the time going outside, so she pulled her calling card from her pocket, dialed the number for her partner’s cell phone, and counted the rings…one…two…threeThat’s funny, she usually picks up immediatelyfour…five

"Hello, Ryan."

Catherine’s soft voice surprised her a little, but Ryan quickly replied. "Hi, Catherine. Are you serving as Jamie’s new answering service?"

"Actually, I’m serving as her pillow." As she spoke, Ryan realized that Catherine’s voice was even softer than usual, and she immediately conjured up a mental image of the small, elegant woman cradling Jamie’s head while she slept.

"I’ve been there," Ryan laughed. "Sometimes I think that’s my main appeal."

"Trust me, Ryan," Catherine said softly, "your position is secure, even if you loose your squooshy qualities."

Chuckling softly Ryan said, "Once she falls asleep on you, you might need some help to get her off. She’s absolutely dead weight! Can you use the cell phone to call for assistance?"

"We’re in the car, driving back to Rhode Island," Catherine informed her. "Luckily, the chauffeur is a burly sort–I’m sure he can lend a hand."

"Where did the Evans women take off to today?" Ryan asked, having no idea how her partner had spent the day.

"We went to New York," Catherine reported. "The shops of Newport weren’t big enough to hold us!"

"Well, well, well," Ryan laughed. "I assume New York is still reeling from the influx of capital?"

"They were repaving the streets and adding police officers by the busload," Catherine agreed, fully enjoying the easy banter with her charming young daughter-in-law.

"How deep is the coma?" Ryan asked, well acquainted with the varying levels of her partner’s sleep.

"It seems quite severe," Catherine opined, picking up her daughter’s hand and letting it drop onto her leg. "I think there’s a fire extinguisher in the trunk. I could give her a good spray to wake her…"

"Nah…I’m going to bed soon, so I’ll just call her in the morning. If I don’t catch her, tell her that we’re playing an intra-squad match in the morning, then we’re taking off. I’ll be home by dinner."

"I shall, Ryan. Thanks for calling."

"Um…Catherine?" Ryan’s voice was uncharacteristically high, evincing her discomfort. "When she wakes up, will you tell her that I love her?"

"Of course, Ryan," she agreed, smiling broadly. "She loves you too. You’re all she thinks about, you know."

"I feel the same," Ryan said, her embarrassment diminishing as she experienced Catherine’s obvious support. "She’s absolutely precious to me, Catherine."

"I echo your feelings, Ryan. We’re both lucky to have her."

* * * * * * * * * * *

The next morning, after Jamie got out of the shower, she heard her mother moving around her room, so she slipped on a robe and knocked softly on the adjoining door.

"Come in, Honey."

Opening the door, she found her mother, fully dressed and sipping a cup of coffee, the telephone receiver cradled between her neck and shoulder while she made some notes on a pad. Catherine gestured to her, and she crossed the room to look over her shoulder. A myriad of notes was hastily scribbled on the legal pad, and Jamie was just able to make out that her mother was doing the research that she had promised Adam she would handle.

A coffeepot was sitting on the table in front of the two upholstered chairs, and Jamie poured herself a cup and refreshed her mother’s. The older woman was speaking in Italian and seemed to be making good progress. After a while she concluded her business and hung up, letting out a heavy sigh. "My, but it’s fun to try to get information out of hospital administrators."

"Any luck?"

"Yes. I think I’ve found a good facility for Stephanie. It’s near Milan, which would be nice since that’s near the school they want to send the girls to. It sounds like a well run place."

"How did you find it?" Jamie knew that her mother was eminently resourceful when she needed to be, but she had feared that this task would be beyond even her impressive skills.

"I have quite a few contacts in Milan," Catherine explained. "Just a few phone calls, and I had some recommendations."

There was a knock on the door to the hall and Catherine called out, "Come in."

Carolyn poked her head in, looking at Catherine and Jamie. "Is this a good time?"

"Certainly," Catherine said warmly. "Join us for coffee."

Carolyn sat on the window seat after pouring a cup of coffee for herself. "Have you had the opportunity to make any calls for us yet, Catherine?"

"Yes, I have," she said. "I think I’ve located a good place for Stephanie. It’s right outside of Milan, and they have availability. Have you spoken to her about it yet?"

"No, not directly. Adam hustled her over to David’s doctor yesterday afternoon, and we got the news this morning. Regrettably, our fears were confirmed. She tested positive for opiates. That must have been heroin that you found, Jamie." Carolyn looked absolutely ill, her face drawn and pale in the early morning light. She was dressed neatly, as always, and her hair and makeup were flawless, but she looked as though she hadn’t slept in days.

"I’m sorry," Catherine said, moving to join the shaken woman on the window seat, and covering Carolyn’s trembling hand with her own. "I was hoping that she was covering for Trey."

"I was too, Catherine." Carolyn shook her head slowly, as she said, "I’m so disappointed in her…not to mention how I feel about Trey. Adam won’t hear of it, but I have half a mind to report him to the police for this. I think a good long stint in jail might give that young man some perspective!" Her eyes were shining with fury and both Catherine and Jamie could empathize with her, even though neither thought that was the best solution for Trey’s problems.

Directing the conversation away from Carolyn’s anger, Catherine asked, "What will you do now? Will you leave immediately?"

"Oh, we must!" she said. "I don’t want her to miss too much school. We talked to the headmaster at the academy we want them to attend, and school starts at the end of September. If we get her into treatment immediately, she might be able to start on time."

"Is there anything I can do to help you prepare, Carolyn? Anything at all?"

"You aren’t, by any chance, going to be in Italy soon?" Carolyn asked hesitantly. "We could really use some support in getting her settled."

"I can leave immediately," Catherine decreed, looking to Jamie for agreement.

"I definitely think you should go, Mom. Since you know Milan so well you can help get Julia ready for school."

"That’s another issue," Carolyn said. "Neither of the girls speaks Italian well enough to get by. They’re both going to have to take an intensive course just to get ready for school."

"That settles it," Catherine said. "I’ll go to Milan with you. Of course, you’ll all stay with me. Julia can attend a language academy and we can all speak only Italian to her. She should be fine by the time school starts."

Carolyn was shocked at the gracious offer. "Are you certain that you don’t mind, Catherine? This is such an imposition."

"Nonsense," she insisted. "I’m only too happy to help in any way that I can. What are your travel plans?"

"We thought we’d leave tomorrow and spend a week in Long Island getting packed and taking care of details. But if Stephanie can be admitted sooner, I suppose one of us will take her over and then come back."

"I’d be happy to take her," Catherine offered, much to Jamie's surprise.

"That might work," Carolyn said slowly, "although you should know that she’s very angry with both you and Jamie."

"That makes sense," Catherine said. "I won’t take it personally if she refuses to speak to me." She smiled slowly and added, "Although I would request that our seats not adjoin. That’s far too long a trip to sit next to an angry teenager!"

"Let me talk to Adam and see what he thinks," Carolyn suggested. "I want this to go as well as possible."

"I assume we don’t want the older generation to know what’s going on, correct?" Catherine asked.

"Oh no!" Carolyn replied, shaking her head briskly. "We’re telling Adam’s parents that we’re moving because of his Formula One commitments. We’ll just say that you’re going along to help up get settled."

"There’s a good deal of truth in that," Catherine reminded her. "I’m sure this will work out fine, Carolyn. Let me know what Adam thinks."

"I will. And thank you, Catherine. This doesn’t seem like such an unbearable thing when we have your support."

After Carolyn left, Jamie looked at her mother and said, "That was a very generous offer, Mom. I’m proud of you."

Catherine blushed a little and said, "I wish I could accept your praise, but my motives are not totally altruistic. This just illustrates how much I’m ready to leave. I’d rather go on a trans-Atlantic flight with a drug-addicted, angry teenager than stay here without you!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jordan fought her way out of the tangle of sheets that had wrapped around her legs during the night. She grabbed her shower supplies and smiled at Ryan as her friend joined her to clean up. "This is your last day to wake up with me, Beastie. Can you feel the loss already?"

"Oh, yeah, Jordan. It’s gonna be soooo horrible when I have to wake up with Jamie nestled in my arms. I just hate to have her warm body pressed up against mine. It’s positively awful to feel her skin react to my touch, and hear her sharp little intake of breath when I nibble on her neck while she’s still half-asleep. It’s just torture…" She stopped abruptly when Jordan darted into the shower room and slammed the door in her face.

"What’d I say?" Ryan asked plaintively as the closed door. "I was agreeing with you!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Through the long week of practice, the team had worked diligently on the individual elements that, hopefully, would bring them success during the season. On this, the last day of camp, they finally got to put it all together and play a five-game match. The staff split the team up into two six-member squads, with two extra defensive specialists who would rotate between the teams as needed. Coach Placer announced that he was merely an observer, with Erin coaching Ryan’s team and Ken taking the helm of Jordan’s.

The match got under way at precisely ten a.m. Erika served the first ball. If my team doesn’t win this match, I’m going to have to put up with her banging on me for the rest of the season, Jordan and Ryan thought simultaneously. I’ve got to go all out today!

* * * * * * * * * * *

"I think we’ve got everything organized," Catherine informed her daughter over lunch by the pool.

Jamie looked up from her cold lobster salad and cocked her head. "What’ve you come up with?"

"I had a long talk with Sara after you came down to swim," Catherine informed her. "She was upset to hear about Trey’s relapse, but I think she’s calmed down now."

"That must be so hard to hear," Jamie agreed, musing about how disheartening it must be for parents to have to go through such a thing with their child.

"Yes, but I’m glad that she was willing to talk about it rationally. I’m not sure Skip would have done the same."

"So Trey’s going back to Betty Ford?"

"No, after talking about how to keep this quiet, Sara decided to send him to the same place Carolyn is sending Stephanie."

Catherine looked very pleased with herself, but Jamie furrowed her brow and asked, "Is that really a good idea? I think they’ve proven that they can’t be trusted together."

"Oh, no, Dear, they won’t be in the same program. Stephanie will be with the teenagers, and Trey will be with the adults. They won’t have any contact at all. The good news though, is that Sara is going to go with both of them tomorrow morning to check them in. I can take my time and go over when Adam and Carolyn go in a week or so."

"Oh, that works out much better," Jamie agreed.

"Indeed it does," Catherine smiled. "Now I can go home with you tomorrow and prepare properly. The clothes that I brought here just won’t work in Milan."

"You could buy everything new in Milan," Jamie teased, her eyes twinkling.

"I think you’re trying to live vicariously through me, young lady," Catherine laughed.

"Well, Ryan will never let me be as frivolous with my spending as I used to be…so maybe I am," she winked. "You don’t mind, do you?"

"Not a bit, Honey. As soon as lunch is over I’m going to switch my flight to tomorrow, and then go speak to Uncle David. He’s not going to be happy to have all of the women leave, but our minds are made up."

"What about Skip? What will Sara tell him?"

"Everything but the truth, I’m sure," Catherine smiled, rolling her eyes a little.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After the first two games, the teams were even with one win each. Jordan’s squad had won the first match all too easily, and Ryan’s competitive fires were stoked for the second, which they finally won at 15-13. They had a ten-minute break between the second and third games, and Ryan used her time wisely, putting in a call to her partner.

"Hi, Love," she gasped as the line connected.

"Hi, Sweetheart! It’s so good to hear your voice! But you sound winded…what’s up?"

"We’re playing our first intra-squad match. We’ve got ten minutes between the second and third games, so I thought I’d try you again."

"Sorry I wasn’t here earlier, Babe. I was in Mother’s room, and I forgot to take my phone with me."

"No problem. I was just about to go into withdrawal so I thought I’d try again." She took in a few deep breaths, trying to slow her heart rate. "You know, I’ve spent more on phone calls this week than I think I have in my whole life! You’re a very bad influence, my pet."

"It’s worth it, Honey. I couldn’t have stayed the whole week without talking to you every day. As it was, I was denied your sweet voice last night."

"And I assume you lay in bed all night long, unable to sleep a wink," Ryan teased, knowing that her partner slept like a log in almost all circumstances.

"Well, no," Jamie replied honestly, "but I missed you nonetheless."

"I miss you too, Love, and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to having you back in my arms again."

"That goes double for me, Babe. Call me tonight, okay?"

"From our bed," Ryan promised. "I doubt that I can sleep well without you, even at home, but at least I’ll be able to smell you on the pillows."

"Maybe I’ll just have to relax you more effectively," she growled, giving a clear indication of her relaxation regimen.

"I appreciate the offer, Love, but I’ve waited this long…I might as well wait another night. I’ll give Lefty a thorough rest so she can get busy on your lovely body as soon as you step off the plane."

"Uhh…Mother’s coming home with me, Babe. There’s been a thousand things happening here–too many to tell you on the phone. But one offshoot is that she’ll be with me tomorrow. So you might have to keep Lefty in check long enough to be polite."

"It won’t be easy," Ryan grumbled, "but I’ll try. I’ll call you tonight, Love. I love you."

"I love you too, Sweetheart. Be careful driving home today."

"I will. Bye."

Twenty-four hours, Jamie sighed as she looked at her watch. I can get through twenty-four hours, can’t I? I mean, I waited twenty-one years for her, twenty-four hours can’t be that bad…can they?

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Why don’t I buy you lunch?" Jordan asked as they loaded up the Lexus with their gear.

"We already ate lunch, Jordan," Ryan grumbled, still smarting from losing, three games to one.

"Yeah, but you didn’t eat much. I was watching you, pal. You’re not getting sick are you?"

Sick of losing, Ryan thought to herself. "No, I’m fine. I guess I could stomach another one of those fish tacos. Is that cool?"

"Totally. Let’s rock."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Slipping her key in the lock of her family’s front door, Ryan called out, "I’m home!" Expecting a greeting from Conor or her father, she was met instead with stark silence. Dropping her bag in the entryway, she went to investigate. "Duffy?" To her surprise, not even her faithful pooch was home to greet her, and she had to wrestle with her disappointment. They knew I was coming home today, she moped as she flopped down on a dining room chair to look through her mail. Coulda left a note or something. She tossed the mail back onto the table with a dejected sigh. Now what? I’m hungry and tired, and I have a headache from driving into the sun all afternoon. My baby’s not home, and my dog isn’t even here to lick my face!

She went to the phone and dialed her Aunt Maeve, sticking her lower lip out even further when there was no answer at her house either. Where in the hell is everybody? Next she dialed Brendan, and was pleased when he picked up on the second ring. "Hey," she said laconically.

"Ryan!" her oldest brother cried, sounding very happy to hear her voice. "Are you home?"

"Yeah…but nobody else is. Where is everyone?" She sounded just as irritable as she felt, but she knew that Brendan would not hold it against her.

"Da’s at work, and I think Conor is over at Niall’s."

"Where’s Duff?"

"Oh, Da wanted him to be clean for you and Jamie when you came home, so I took him to the groomer. I was just going to go pick him up."

"Are you free tonight?" she asked hopefully.

He caught the tone in her voice and said, "I can be if you need me to be. What’s up, Sis? You sound kinda down."

"I’m okay," she said, fibbing just a little. "I guess it just feels funny to be home without Jamie," she admitted, getting to the crux of the matter.

"I’ll swing by and get you on my way to pick up Duff. We can have a bite to eat before I go out tonight." He was in full-on big brother protector mode now, and Ryan was very touched by his thoughtfulness.

"You don’t have to do that," she assured him. "Are you going out with Maggie tonight?"

"Yeah, but she went in to work today, and I haven’t heard from her. Don’t they always tell women not to be too available? Maybe I should play a little harder to get." His deep voice rumbled through the phone, and Ryan once again thought that the woman who snared Brendan was a lucky woman indeed.

"Well…" She really did want to spend some time with her brother, but she didn’t want to upset his plans. "I’d love to have dinner with you, but I don’t want to mess up your evening."

"Nah. Don’t worry about it. We’re still spending most of our time uh…not talking," he laughed. "As long as we get together by ten, we can still have our usual entertainment."

"It’s a deal," Ryan said, sounding as relieved as she really was. "I’ll be waiting for you."

She dashed downstairs and stripped out of her oversized basketball clothes, reasoning that they’d probably stop some place decent for dinner, knowing Brendan. Slipping into a clean pair of jeans and a khaki colored cotton shirt, she ran a comb through her hair and dashed back upstairs, smiling to herself when she saw Brendan’s dark head through the window in the front door. He’s a quick one, she thought, admiring her brother’s chronic punctuality.

They stopped to pick up Duffy first, since the groomer was closing soon, then they had to find a spot they could eat with the exuberant dog in tow. Luckily, Barney’s on 24th Street had an outdoor patio, and they were able to hook the leash on the white picket fence that separated the diners from pedestrians. Duffy would have preferred a long walk, a run in the park, or an hour with his doggy pals, but he was so glad to have Ryan home that he happily settled down to wait.

"So, tell me all about camp," Brendan encouraged, looking at his sister with genuine interest.

"Not much to tell, other than two-a-days for a week. It was pretty taxing, to be honest. I think coach wanted to make an impression on us. He did," she laughed wryly.

"Was it really rough being away from Jamie for a week?" he asked, cocking his head slightly.

"Oooh…" Ryan moaned, dropping her head in her hands. "I am sooooo whipped. I never thought this would happen to me, Bren, but I can hardly breathe without her!"

"I feel your pain," Brendan laughed, realizing that he was in the same straits as his sister. "Who would have thought that half of the O’Flahertys would fall in the same year?"

Three fifths, Bren, she thought to herself, the mathematician in her always striving for accuracy. Speaking of which, I need to speak with Da about making his news public. I hate having secrets from my brothers.

"So, when is your keeper coming back?" Brendan asked, a playful smile on his face.

"Not until tomorrow afternoon," Ryan sighed, still unhappy about the arrangements. "Luckily, I’ll have Caitlin with me to pass the time, but it’s gonna be tough. I might show up at the airport at dawn on the off chance that she’ll be early."

Smiling at her obvious hyperbole, Brendan asked, "Are you sure that you know what you’re in for, keeping Caitlin for the better part of a week? I’d have thought that you two would want to be alone."

"We do," his sister admitted. "But we also want to watch the baby to give Tommy and Annie a little time alone. This is the way the schedule worked out. If we could just have one day alone it would be nice," she mused. "But it doesn’t look like that will happen."

"Damn, I wish I could help you out, but I’m in trial this week and I’ve got to spend tomorrow prepping. Da’s got to work tomorrow, too, and Aunt Maeve has her big thing for the Hibernians," he reminded her.

"Oh, right," she nodded, remembering that her aunt had been working on the social group's annual fundraiser for months now. "What’s Conor up to?" she asked, looking for any help she could get.

"Niall’s putting in his new driveway. They’re over there tonight trying to get the bed level."

"Can you explain why that guy needs a brick driveway?" Ryan asked, shaking her head. "Other than as another delaying tactic so he doesn’t have to move out, of course."

Brendan shrugged his broad shoulders, as his eyes rolled dramatically. "I’d say that is the only logical reason," he agreed. "His concrete drive was perfectly fine, but he says brick is more elegant." He chuckled softly, shaking his head as he added, "This from a guy who’s using lawn furniture in his living room."

"Ah well, the good news is that Niall will be beholden to every one of us for the rest of his life," Ryan decided, making the best of the situation.

"At least!" Brendan agreed. Surreptitiously slipping Duffy a cracker, he asked, "So, how are things going with Jamie? I mean, I know you’re head over heels, but I got the impression that you were having some trouble with her parents."

"Not parents–father," Ryan corrected. "Her mom has been beyond wonderful, much to Jamie’s surprise." Their food arrived and both O’Flahertys spent a few minutes gobbling down a substantial portion of the meal in silence. Once the edge was off of her appetite, Ryan continued with her explanation. "I could actually use a little advice here, Bren," she said thoughtfully.

"Go," he urged, in his usual succinct style.

"The day I left for camp, he showed up at the house." Brendan’s eyebrow lifted, in a gesture very reminiscent of the one his sister habitually made. "Yeah," she said. "It was a little tense."

"He didn’t hurt you, did he?" her older brother asked, the menace in his tone entirely intentional.

"No, he’s not stupid. Manipulation and intimidation are his things," she said derisively.

"What happened? What did he even want from you?"

She sighed heavily, reaching over to pat Duffy, which always calmed her down. "It’s kinda complex, but the bottom line is that he thinks I’m after her money."

He looked quite surprised and said, "I thought it would be homophobia. Are you sure the money isn’t just a subterfuge to mask his intolerance?"

"No, I’m not sure, but I think I believe him. I mean, he also doesn’t think Jamie’s gay, but that seems like a side issue. He seems to think that she’ll outgrow this ‘crush’ that she has, but he’s afraid that I’ll have run through all of her money by then."

"Yeah…that’s you, all right," he said, rolling his eyes at the mere thought. "I can tell he’s really taken the time to get to know you."

"No, of course he hasn’t," she agreed, "but at this point, I don’t know how to proceed. He ordered me out of the house, and he said that he’s going to stop Jamie from supporting me this year."

"WHAT?!" Their neighboring diners all stared in their direction, and Duffy put his tail between his legs and looked guiltily in their direction, not sure of what he had done, but figuring that he was being yelled at anyway.

"You heard me," Ryan said. "He’s playing rough."

"What does Jamie have to say about this? I’m surprised she didn’t come home and throw a fit."

"Umm…that’s the part I need your advice about," Ryan informed him, looking a little guilty herself.

"Don’t tell me that you’ve kept this from her." His brow had furrowed, and he gazed at her with a look of stark concern.

"Uh…okay, I won’t tell you that." Her eyes grew wide as she shrugged her shoulders, looking very much like an adolescent.

He leaned back in his chair, shaking his head slowly. "That’s a dangerous game, Ryan. Hiding things from someone you’re supposed to share everything with is rarely a good idea."

"I agree," she nodded, "but I thought it was the proper thing to do in this situation. She’s very volatile when it comes to her father, and I knew she’d hop on the first plane and have it out with him. Given his mood when I saw him, it just seemed like that was a recipe for disaster. I hate to think for her, but it just felt to me like it would be best to tell her in person. I’ll be there to stop her from doing something that she’ll eventually regret."

"Okay," he said thoughtfully, leaning back in his chair. "I guess I can see that. Did he tell you to move out immediately?"

"No, he said I had to be out when Jamie got back. He seems to think he can make her stay in Rhode Island for the whole month of August."

"Make her?" Brendan asked slowly. "I’ve only known Jamie for a short while, and I wouldn’t be foolish enough to think I could ‘make her’ do anything! Doesn’t he know who he’s dealing with?"

"Apparently not," Ryan muttered. "But I’m afraid he’s gonna find out–soon."

* * * * * * * * * * *

"Guess where I am?" Ryan asked when she finally got hold of her lover.

"Hmmm…your voice sounds kinda funny," Jamie mused. "Let’s see…it’s nine o’clock there, you’re probably at home, and you sound a little muffled. I’d guess that you’re in our cozy little bed."

"You are so good at this," Ryan praised. "You really should consider being one of the telephone psychics."

"It’s on my list, Love. We liberal arts majors don’t have as many opportunities available as you science and math types do."

"Don’t worry your pretty little liberal head," Ryan joked. "I’ll happily support you." And I just might have to if your father has his way, she thought, that secret still eating at her.

"I’ll happily let you," Jamie replied, finding it adorable that her partner was fully willing to do so, even though it would never be necessary. Sighing deeply she asked wistfully, "Does our bed feel nice?" She herself was lying in bed amidst the sumptuous feel of Egyptian cotton sheets and plump eiderdown pillows, but she longed for the lumpy old mattress, foam pillows, and nearly threadbare sheets that surrounded her beloved partner.

"Not really," Ryan sighed. "Without you, it’s just a bed. It’s when we’re in it together that it becomes magical."

"It is magical, isn’t it?" Jamie asked, stretching out languidly and rolling over onto her stomach.

"It sure is," Ryan purred, unknowingly mirroring her partner’s posture. "It’s just wood and steel and cotton batting and foam, but when you’re here with me, it’s nirvana."

Jamie signed heavily, her need to be near her partner rising to painful proportions. "Do you think you miss me as much as I miss you?" she asked softly.

"I don’t know," Ryan answered in her usual thoughtful style. "I do know that I’ve never had a week pass so slowly, nor have I ever slept so poorly or been so preoccupied. Thank God that playing ball is so ingrained in me that it’s nearly automatic, because I was so inattentive this week that coach would have kicked me off the team!"

"I feel scattered, too," Jamie agreed. "I’ve been much more tired than normal, and more emotional, too."

"Ha! I almost cried while I was braiding Jordan’s hair last night. Try looking mature in front of your teammates when you do that!"

"Ooohh, why did you almost cry, Sweetheart?"

"I’m not sure," Ryan mused. "I just felt lonely, even though the whole team was there. It reminded me of my mother, and I was missing you and before I knew it, I felt this knot in my chest, and I almost let loose with the waterworks!"

"My poor baby," Jamie soothed, her voice low and soft and comforting. "I can’t wait to wrap you in my arms and kiss all of those sad thoughts away."

Ryan sniffed a little, still feeling much more emotional than usual. "I miss you, Jamie," she said, her voice hoarse with feeling.

"I miss you too, Honey," Jamie agreed, wrapping her arm around her tiger and giving her a substitute hug. "Less than 24 hours, Babe."

"Sixteen hours and…five minutes," Ryan sniffed, a smile making its way onto her face despite her tears.

"Is Duffy with you?" Jamie asked, knowing full well that the big black dog had likely claimed her spot in the bed.


"I want you two to go to sleep now, and cuddle up next to each other for at least eight hours. Then we only have to get through another eight. Okay, Honey?"

"Okay," Ryan yawned, her exhaustion prevailing over her sadness, "we’ll try." She patted the space next to her, and her happy pet left the foot of the bed, where he had slept since he was a pup, and nestled immediately into Jamie’s usual spot. She rested her head against his back and said, "He just had a bath but he still doesn’t smell as nice as you do."

"You are such a romantic, Ryan," Jamie laughed. "It’s wonderful to know that I smell better than a dog."

"This isn’t just any dog," Ryan teased. "Very few women would win that contest, I’ll have you know."

"I gratefully accept the honor. He’s an extraordinary dog who has an extraordinary mommy, who I love very, very much."

"Love you too," Ryan murmured sleepily. "I’ve been waiting all week to say this…see you tomorrow, Jamie."

* * * * * * * * * * *

A very light touch on her exposed arm woke Jamie on Sunday morning. "For such a sound sleeper, you certainly do wake up easily," her mother observed from her position on the edge of the bed.

"Gggrrrr." The unhappy growl that escaped Jamie’s lips was followed by a mumbled, "I’m trying to sleep until we have to leave." Her eyes were still firmly closed, and Catherine could clearly see the child that still remained in her daughter’s personality.

"You’ve done pretty well, Dear," the older woman observed, checking her watch. "It’s nearly ten."

"What?! I had no idea that I could really DO it!" She jumped to her feet, forgetting that she was wearing only Ryan’s T-shirt. Luckily, the length of the shirt was just enough to cover her, so she was spared that little bit of embarrassment. "I have to get packed and have some breakfast! We have to leave at 10:30!"

"Relax, Honey. I brought some breakfast up for you, and I’ll happily pack for you while you take a shower. Go on now," she urged, touching Jamie lightly on the back.

"You sure?" the childlike face asked.

"Positive. I’ll have you packed up in a jiffy."

Impulsively kissing her mother on the cheek, Jamie dashed for the shower, humming a happy little tune as she went.

This is, without a doubt, the nicest trip I’ve ever taken, Catherine mused as she reached up and touched the spot on her cheek that still held the barest bit of moisture from her daughter’s lips.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part 12

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