I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 6: Fidelity

By S X Meagher


Part 14 (conclusion)

The loud shriek of a baby roused Jamie from sleep. Slowly lifting her arm, she recalled that when the clasp from her watch had snagged in Ryan’s hair one too many times during their frenzied lovemaking, Ryan had solved the problem by slipping it from her wrist. It now lay on the floor next to the bed, so Jamie had no idea of the time. The sun was still bright, but she was decidedly hungry, so she reasoned that it was around five, since her body and her appetite were three hours ahead.

Ryan was draped over her body, her heavy leg effectively pinning Jamie. It looked like the exhausted woman was out for the night, not moving an inch when Jamie tried to extricate herself. Finally resorting to an old standby, Jamie lightly tickled behind Ryan’s knee, and just like clockwork the larger woman drew her legs up and rolled over, curling up into a tight little ball, protecting herself in her sleep.

Slipping out of bed, Jamie crept over to the window, being careful not to wake her partner. The sight before her nearly brought tears to her eyes. Her mother had changed into her swimsuit, and she was guiding a wildly enthusiastic Caitlin around the pool. The baby was as naked as the day she was born, and she kicked her tiny feet out behind her as Catherine held her by her waist. They both looked so happy that Jamie was slightly awestruck. I’ve got to get in on this, she thought as she went into her dresser and found a suit for herself. She slipped it on and quietly padded out of the room, blowing a kiss to her partner as she silently closed the door.

When Jamie arrived on the pool deck both swimmers greeted her enthusiastically, although only one spoke much English. "I’ve decided that I’m ready to be a grandmother!" Catherine declared happily.

Jamie gave her a beaming smile before cannonballing into the water, grabbing her knees as she submerged completely. She swam over to the happy twosome and stood up behind her mother, giving her a full body hug as she reached around and kissed her cheek. "Thanks for the present, Mom, I’m not sure we could have made it all the way back to the city," she admitted with a shy grin.

"I wasn’t sure you could make it all the way to your bedroom!" the bemused woman observed. "You two really do throw off some sparks!" Jamie blushed deeply as her mother reassured her, "There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, Honey." She turned and regarded her seriously as she pulled the baby up into her arms. "I’m just happy that you enjoy each other so thoroughly. It’s hard to make a partnership work, Jamie, but if you have that physical spark it helps to even out the road."

"Does it bother you to see us be affectionate with one another?" Jamie asked, guessing that it might be difficult for her mother at first.

Catherine thought about the question for a moment as she turned slowly in the chest deep water, dragging Caitlin’s little legs with her. "No, it doesn’t ‘bother’ me in the traditional sense. It will take some time for me to be completely comfortable with it, but I’m really happy that you seem so relaxed around me. That’s the gift you’ve given me, Jamie."

"I’ll admit that it’s a conscious choice," she said. "It seems like the best way for us all to get to know one another. But I feel so relaxed with Ryan, it’s hard for me to be any other way when we’re together."

"The only hard part for me is that I’m seeing two major facets of your personality that I did not know existed. I’d never seen you be so physically expressive with Jack, and of course, I didn’t know that you preferred women. I suppose it will take me some time not to give a little start when I see you touch, but I really want you to continue to act normally around me, Honey. It’s the only way that I’ll get used to it."

They started to pass the giggling Caitlin back and forth between them, and she splashed around so forcefully that they were all three drenched in moments. After a few minutes of this animated activity Jamie resumed the conversation. "I’ve got to admit that it has been a surprise to see how easy going and accepting you are about the whole sex thing, Mom. I guess I always assumed you were pretty hung up about it."

"Really?" Catherine asked in surprise. "Why would you think that?"

"Mostly because we never talked about sex," Jamie admitted. "I learned everything from Elizabeth, and most of what she told me was pretty conservative. I guess I just assumed your views mirrored hers."

"No, Honey, I’m not terribly conservative about sex. This is just another example of my neglect," she said, a small scowl covering her face. "Elizabeth and I actually discussed this on several occasions. I worried that the message you were getting was overly conservative, but she told me that she had been talking to you about sex since you were small and she convinced me that to talk about it with you would send you a mixed message that would only serve to confuse you. I assumed her view would be conservative, but I wasn’t so sure that my more liberal views were right for you either. Growing up in the 60’s showed me some of the havoc that sex without rules could produce. In my day we believed that if it felt good, it was all right to do. I certainly didn’t want you to grow up believing that sex was something to do with strangers, so a part of me thought Elizabeth’s way might be best." She looked at Jamie carefully as she asked, "Did we do you a great disservice?"

Jamie pursed her lips, grasping Caitlin’s slippery little body as she carried her around the pool. "No, not really," she finally decided. "If I had stayed with Jack I don’t think I would have come out of my shell, but Ryan has just unleashed my sexual persona so fully that my early training is less important."

"I’m so glad that she makes you happy, Jamie. Sexual fulfillment is such an important part of life."

Their little discussion was interrupted by a deep chuckle from the doorway of the house. "Where’s your camera, Honey?" Ryan asked. "I’ve got to have a picture of this."

Jamie turned and grinned at her extremely rumpled lover. Cotton clothing did not take well to the rough treatment they had shown her clothes, and she was paying for it now. "Have you looked at your clothes, Sweetie?" she asked innocently.

Ryan’s face grew slightly flushed as she grinned and replied, "Yes, Honey. But I wasn’t the one who treated my clothing so shabbily. And I don’t have a closet full of clothes to substitute for these."

"Would you like me to have someone press your clothes for you, Ryan?" Catherine asked helpfully.

"No, that would be a little more embarrassment than I’m up for today," she admitted. "Besides, you’re alone this week, Catherine. If you direct me to the iron and board, I could do it myself."

"My camera’s in my bag, Honey. I think it’s still in the kitchen. Come out and play with us for a few minutes, and then you can take care of your clothes."

Ryan did as requested, returning to take candid and posed shots of the threesome. It was 5:30 and the sun was just dipping behind the house as Jamie noticed that Caitlin’s skin was a little cold despite the 83-degree pool. "Sweetie, can you go in the pool house and get us some towels?" Jamie asked.

Ryan brought out three big fluffy towels, then grabbed the offered baby and wrapped her up despite her screamed protests. "She would live in water if she could," she explained to Catherine. "Bath time lasts for hours."

After they were dried off they went back into the house, where Ryan got Caitlin dressed again. Jamie walked the baby around the kitchen while Ryan did her best to return the creases to her clothes, doing a reasonable job given the wrinkled state her clothing had been in. When Ryan was finished, Jamie ran upstairs to change, and by the time mother and daughter had returned, Caitlin was sound asleep in Ryan’s arms, her bottle hanging loosely from her little cupid’s-bow mouth.

"That’s just how I feel now that I’m home," Jamie said as she gave her partner a kiss on the cheek. "Safe and warm and protected."

Catherine had changed into a pair of buff-colored linen slacks and a deep blue cashmere v-necked sweater. She had quickly dried her hair in a more casual style than she usually wore, and Ryan noted that--without makeup--she could easily pass for 30. Catherine usually looked very well put-together but Ryan much preferred this more casual look. Once again she thought, I’m so glad I met Jamie first. If her mother had been a client of mine I’m sure I would have wormed my way into her bed. After a moment the terrifying thought hit her. As angry as he is with me for being with Jamie, I can’t even imagine what Jim would do to me if he caught me with Catherine!

"So what’s on your agenda for tonight, Catherine?" Ryan asked, trying to dispel the notion from her head.

Catherine shrugged her shoulders slightly. "I suppose I’ll just have a little dinner and turn in early."

Ryan knew that Catherine was completely inexperienced in the kitchen, so she persisted. "Do you have anything to cook?"

"Cook?" she asked slowly, a puzzled look on her face. "Oh! I forgot again! I…I…I suppose I’ll order something to be delivered. I’m sure I can figure out how to do that," she said a little helplessly.

"Nonsense," Ryan insisted. "You both must be starving by now. No one is home at our house, so why don’t we have a Peninsula version of Sunday dinner?"

"I’d be happy to treat you all to dinner," Catherine suggested. "There are some fine places in San Mateo."

"Umm…that might be stretching Caitlin’s limits," Ryan decided. "She’ll be fine if she gets a little meal soon, but going to a restaurant would rile her up. If you don’t mind, I think we should cook something."

"I agree," Jamie said as she peeked into the refrigerator. "Hmm…looks like we have every type of condiment known to man, but not one other thing. Marta did a fine job of cleaning out everything that could spoil while you were gone. Toss me the keys, Babe, I’ll make a grocery run."

Ryan used her free hand to fish them from her pocket, telling Jamie, "If you want to stay home, I’ll be happy to go."

"Nah. I know where I’m going, Love." Placing a gentle kiss on Ryan’s cheek, Jamie whispered, "I can’t believe I’m letting you out of my sight, but I’ll be right back."

"Hurry home," Ryan said, giving her a fond smile. "We’ll miss you."

"Any special requests?" Jamie asked, searching for her wallet.

"Anything you make will be fine, Sweetheart," Catherine said. Ryan nodded her concurrence and Jamie took off, waving at her partner as she departed out the front door.

Ryan went back to the banquet, her arms fatigued from holding the sleeping baby. Catherine walked over to the well equipped bar near the dining table and mused thoughtfully as she considered what to have. "I was going to open a bottle of wine, but I don’t know what we’re having for dinner. Would you like a drink before dinner, Ryan?"

"No, I don’t think so," Ryan said, not really understanding why one would want the taste of alcohol interfering with the food.

Catherine looked at her carefully and asked, "Do you mind if I have one?"

"Uh…no," Ryan said, wishing that Catherine did not seem to need alcohol on a daily basis. "Please do."

Catherine nodded, turning back to the bar. "Perhaps a little vodka," she decided. "Maybe Jamie will join me." She spent the next five minutes expertly preparing her drink. To Ryan’s surprise, Catherine had an entire set-up just for chilling the spirit. Taking a foot-high glass container, she filled four tall, leaded crystal shot glasses with Cristall vodka, placed the glasses in the container, and filled it with crushed ice, nestling each little glass in the ice. Placing the container on the table, Catherine idly swirled each of the glasses, gazing at Ryan pensively as she did so.

"Call it a hunch, Ryan, but I have a suspicion that you’ve had some contact with my husband while we were gone."

Her statement was rather matter-of-fact, but Ryan understood that she was waiting for confirmation or denial. She nodded her head, gazing down at the table as she did so. "He came to our house in Berkeley on Sunday morning," she admitted. "It…it wasn’t very pleasant."

"How so?" Catherine asked sharply, narrowing her eyes at Ryan.

Never having seen Catherine’s temper flare, Ryan wasn’t sure if the suspicious glance was for her or Jim. Her face flushed a little as she mumbled, "He uh…he ordered me out of the house. He was really angry when he left, Catherine."

"He didn’t hurt you, did he Ryan?" Her voice was filled with concern, and Ryan was immediately reassured that Catherine was on her side.

"No, he didn’t touch me," she related. "He looked like he wanted to, but he just tried to wound me with his words."

"He’s very skilled at that," Catherine said derisively, grasping a glass of vodka and draining it. She shivered a little as the ice-cold liquid hit her stomach, and Ryan wondered once again why anyone would choose to drink something that caused such a reaction. Catherine shook her head, looking angry at herself as she said, "Forgive me for saying that, Ryan. I find it utterly distasteful when people complain about their spouses behind their backs."

Reaching across the table, Ryan placed a hand on her arm, giving it a gentle squeeze. "Don’t mention it, Catherine. This must be hard for you."

"It is," she sighed, her shoulders slumping dejectedly. "I never dreamed I’d be caught in the middle between my husband and my child." Looking at Ryan curiously, she asked, "You haven’t told Jamie, have you?"

"No. I didn’t get a chance to on Sunday when it happened, and then with the events in Rhode Island…" she trailed off, knowing that she didn’t have a good excuse for not revealing the happenings to Jamie. Her gut had told her to wait until they were together again, so that’s what she had done.

"He called me in Rhode Island…I’m not sure what day, but it was likely Monday or Tuesday. He didn’t tell me about his visit with you, but he tried to convince me to ask Jamie to stay with my family for the rest of the month." She laughed softly, adding, "I couldn’t stay the entire month, and it was my idea to go."

"Giving Jamie an order doesn’t seem like the best way to get her to agree to something," Ryan observed wryly.

"That would seem all too obvious to me too, Ryan, but Jim apparently hasn’t learned that simple lesson. He continually amazes me," she added, shaking her head.

"I thought I’d go into the whole thing tomorrow," Ryan informed her. "It just seemed like we needed a little time to reconnect before we got into this can of worms." She gave Catherine a shy smile as she said, "Thanks again for letting us have some alone time this afternoon. We really appreciated it."

"My pleasure," Catherine insisted. Hearing Jamie’s key in the lock she said quietly, "You just let me know if you need anything from me, Ryan. I’ll get involved in any way you two wish."

"Thanks, Catherine." Ryan gave her arm another squeeze, getting to her feet to welcome her partner home.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan and Caitlin shared an enormous vegetable salad while Jamie prepared some seared ahi steaks for the adults. "I’ve never seen a baby get so excited about eating her vegetables," Catherine observed, staring at the twosome in fascination.

"Yeah, Caitlin likes them too," Jamie chuckled, getting a smirk from her partner.

"I missed my veggies almost as much as I missed you," Ryan teased, her sentiment very close to the truth.

"Was the food bad, Honey?"

"No, not bad, but they can’t leave well enough alone and serve some raw veggies. Everything has to be cooked to limpness. I just don’t get that." She leaned over with a string bean in her mouth, letting Caitlin try to use her little front teeth to chomp away on it. The baby did a very good job, getting a kiss when she reached Ryan’s lips.

"I think I see the attraction to the vegetables," Catherine mused. "Ryan makes mealtime into playtime."

"Ryan makes every time into playtime," Jamie observed, smiling broadly at her partner.

"Life’s too short to spend your time being serious," Ryan agreed, meaning every word.

When the entrees were ready, Ryan settled Caitlin on her lap, letting her play with tiny pieces of her meal. The babysitters spent as much time gazing at each other as they did at the baby, but Caitlin had a knack for grabbing their attention when it flagged. If she noticed that they were not watching her carefully enough, she would take a piece of food and shove it into the closest face, not caring whether she hit a mouth or not. That usually did the trick, and the focus would return to her, where she believed it rightfully belonged.

Jamie was enormously pleased that her mother seemed as playful and fun loving here at home as she had in Rhode Island, and it slowly dawned on her that part of the reason her mother was so charming was because her father was not here. Thinking about it for a moment, she realized that when her father was present, her mother deferred to him on nearly every subject. It wasn’t that he was a dictator, but he had a presence that drew attention to himself and Catherine did not fight him for the spotlight.

They had just finished with the meal when Ryan’s pager went off. "Is this your number in Pebble Beach?" she asked, showing Jamie the display.

"Yep. It must be Annie and Tommy."

Ryan was directed to the kitchen phone, and she smiled broadly when Annie’s first anxious words were, "How’s my baby?"

"Simply marvelous," Ryan reassured her, "Can’t you hear her?" Caitlin was loudly singing a just-created tune as Jamie bounced her on her knee. "She’s been such an angel today I’m sure we’ll pay for it later," Ryan teased. "She got to go to church and out to lunch. Then she went to the airport and down to Hillsborough for a swim. Now we’re just finishing dinner."

"She went swimming?" Annie squealed with delight. "She must have been in heaven!"

"Yep, the only time she was unhappy today was when we took her out of the pool," she admitted.

"Did she get enough to eat today?" Annie asked. "She hates to eat when there’s much going on."

"Eat? I’m supposed to feed her?" Ryan asked with a shocked tone in her voice.

"Okay, I’m being a pest," Annie admitted. "I’m just amazed by how much I miss her, and I’ve only been gone for ten hours!"

"She’s fine, Annie. You really don’t need to worry. If I get into any trouble Maeve is just minutes away."

"It’s not that, Ryan. I trust you completely. I just don’t know what to do with all of the time on my hands. I’ve forgotten how to read a book or watch a television show straight through. Having a conversation with Tommy is just a distant memory. I think it’ll just take me a while to relax and enjoy myself."

"Is everything okay at the house?"

"Okay? You’re kidding, right? We never imagined that the place could be this wonderful, Ryan. This is like something the Queen would live in. It’s just remarkable!"

"It is nice, isn’t it?" she said fondly. Turning to the wall and lowering her voice, Ryan said, "I did some of my best work in that place."

"Speaking of that, which room should we use? You didn’t mention that in your little checklist."

"Let me ask Catherine, she’s right here."

"Could you put her on? I really want to thank her for her generosity."

"Sure, hold on a minute, Annie. Feel free to call me tomorrow. I want you to relax and enjoy yourselves, and if you need to check in often to do that, please do."

Ryan walked back to the table and said to Catherine, "My cousin is on the phone. She has a question about the beach house. Would you mind talking to her?"

"Of course, Ryan." She rose and spoke to Annie for quite a while, with Ryan returning to the table to entertain the baby.

"Lovely girl," Catherine said when she returned to the table. "Should we have let Caitlin talk to her mommy?"

Ryan’s eyes grew wide as she shook her head slowly. "For the sake of your sanity, don’t let her near a phone. You’ll spend the rest of the day fighting with her over it."

Catherine’s wide eyes matched Ryan’s, and she dimly recalled that Jamie had been fascinated by the phone as well. "It’s been such a long time," she said softly, gazing fondly at her daughter. "I’ve forgotten most of the lessons Jamie taught me."

"Caitlin is a marvelous teacher," Ryan assured her. "She’d be happy to give you some remedial classes."

"I would love to be able to spend some more time with her," Catherine said, a note of hope in her voice.

"Anytime, Catherine. I’m sure there are days when Annie would put her on the bus and send her to you."

"I’m sorry, Ryan, but that seems impossible." She was leaning over in the chair, playing with Caitlin’s tiny little toes, delighting the happy baby with the game.

"She has her moments, Catherine," Ryan assured her. "Pray that you never have to experience one."

It was after 9:30 when they finally finished the meal, and by the time Ryan got up to clean the kitchen Caitlin was sound asleep in Jamie’s arms.

"Let me help, Honey," Jamie offered.

"I can help, too," Catherine said, not know the first thing about cleaning a kitchen, but willing to learn.

"Why don’t you hold Caitlin, Mom," Jamie suggested. Halfway through the hand-off, Caitlin woke with a start, seemingly on the verge of tears. However, when she saw Catherine, she held out her chubby arms and tumbled into her lap, nestling up to her contentedly.

The look of bewilderment on Catherine’s face was both comic and poignant, and Ryan observed, "She must know you’re a good mom, Catherine."

Fighting tears, the older woman wrapped the baby in a snug embrace, bending to kiss her golden head. "I’m trying to learn how to be, Sweetheart," she whispered, just loud enough for Jamie to hear her.

Jamie stood behind her mother’s chair and wrapped her arms around both Catherine and Caitlin. "Caitlin is very intuitive, Mom. She knows the truth."

Caitlin had already reached her capacity for quiet time, and she tried to scamper off Catherine’s lap to join Ryan at the sink. To distract her, Catherine took her into the living room, scooping up delicate knickknacks from low tables as she went. The baby had clearly gotten her second wind, and she crawled around the large room shrieking with delight. It was all Catherine could do to keep an eye on her, and by the time the girls emerged from the kitchen she was ready to relinquish her duties.

"I hope you two know what you’ve gotten yourselves into," Catherine laughed as she sat down to catch her breath.

"I’m not sure we do," Ryan admitted with a worried look. "I’m so tired I could just drop, but we won’t get to sleep until Miss Caitlin allows it."

"What have you planned for the week, girls?" Catherine asked.

"We want to take her to Disneyland tomorrow," Jamie revealed, surprised that she hadn’t mentioned that detail yet.

"Disneyland?" Catherine marveled. "Isn’t she a little young?"

"She is," Jamie admitted with a grin at her partner, "but Ryan’s just the right age."

"Oh, are you a big fan of Disneyland?" Catherine asked.

"I’ve never been," Ryan revealed. "But I love rides and roller coasters so I think it’ll be right up my alley."

"But how will you go on any rides with the baby? Isn’t she too young?"

"We haven’t worked out the logistics," Jamie agreed. "It’ll take us all day Monday to get there, so we thought we’d go to the park on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, then come home Thursday afternoon. I’ll watch her while Ryan goes on the roller coasters, and we’ll go on the kids stuff together."

Catherine’s face lit up as a brilliant scheme dawned on her. "Why don’t you let me go with you?" she suggested excitedly.

Jamie blinked in surprise. "Would you want to do that?"

"Yes! I really would!" she bubbled, showing more excitement than Jamie could ever remember seeing. Her organized mind quickly determined the appropriate logistics. "I could stay at the hotel in the morning with the baby and let her play in the pool before the sun gets too hot. Then you could take her to the park during the afternoon. We could all have dinner together, and then I could stay in the hotel while you went back to go on the rides."

"You’d enjoy that?" Jamie asked in amazement.

"Yes!" Catherine said emphatically. She was nearly giddy with excitement, and Ryan saw such a strong resemblance to Jamie that it made her grin from ear to ear. "I think it would be great fun, and it would let you two have some time alone."

"I’m just worried that she’d be too much for you, Catherine," Ryan said. "You’ve seen how she can wear a person out."

"Ryan," she said dismissively, "I’m 41 years old. You act as though I was ready for the retirement home."

Ryan blushed deeply as she tried to backpedal. "It’s not your age, Catherine. You’re just not used to chasing a baby around."

"No, I’m not," she agreed, "and I wouldn’t volunteer to take her to the park. I think that would be beyond my capacity. But watching her at the pool for a few hours in the morning and putting her to bed at night are certainly things that this poor old body can handle," she said with a twinkle in her deep brown eyes.

Ryan blew out a breath as she said, "Well, I’m sold. How about you, Honey?"

Jamie smiled at her mother and said, "I always wanted you to take me to Disneyland. Better late than never, huh?"

Catherine got up from her chair and went over to give her daughter a hug. "I really regret not doing those things with you, Honey. I know it’s not the same to do them now, but it can still be fun."

Jamie was both pleased and shocked at her mother’s emotional openness in front of Ryan. She gave her a big smile and said, "I really want you to come with us, Mom. I think we’ll have a blast."

"I’ll make some phone calls tomorrow and see if I can get us a room. When do you have to be back?"

"I have practice on Thursday afternoon," Ryan informed her. "I just need to be at the gym by two."

"Marvelous. It will take me some time tomorrow to make the arrangements. Is it all right if we leave on Tuesday?"

"I suppose," Ryan said, even though she recognized that would only leave them one full day at the park. "If we leave on Tuesday by ten or so we’ll be there in time for dinner."

"That’s only an hour flight, Ryan," Catherine informed her. "We’ll be there for lunch!"

"Oh…um…We were going to drive the Lexus."

The senior Evans woman didn’t express displeasure with the plan, but after just a moment to reflect she suggested, "Look, girls, I want to go to enjoy playing with the baby, but I also want both of you to have fun. The only way to have sufficient time there is to fly. I propose that you allow me to plan the trip."

"Oh, Catherine, that really isn’t necessary," Ryan began, but Jamie’s mother gently interrupted.

"I would enjoy myself much more if we flew. Seven or eight hours in a car with a baby is just not something that you should do unless it’s absolutely necessary," she said from no experience whatsoever. "I do want to go, but I’d have a much better time if we did it my way."

Ryan looked at Jamie in question and after just a moment of thought, Jamie smiled at her mother and said, "We’d love to have you come with us. Any way you want to travel is fine. We’ll call Annie and Tommy to make sure they don’t object, of course."

It was after ten by the time they had made tentative plans to begin their trip on Tuesday, and Ryan was fading fast. Giving Jamie a questioning look, Catherine asked, "Honey, do you have to go back home tonight? Why not stay over?"

Jamie shrugged, looking to Ryan for her opinion. The dark woman said, "Well, we could, but where would Caitie sleep?"

"In Jamie’s nursery of course," Catherine smiled, tremendously excited to be able to use the room once again.

"You still have her room set up as a nursery?" Ryan gaped, recalling what she assumed were apocryphal tales of sleeping in the bottom drawer of a bureau because Rory was still in the family crib. Space had always been at a premium in the O’Flaherty house, and baby accoutrements were quickly discarded when they were no longer utilitarian.

"Of course," Catherine said. "I reasoned that one day I’d have a few grandchildren sleeping there."

"Works for me," Ryan decided, enormously pleased to avoid the 45-minute drive home. "If you can stand to see me in the same clothes tomorrow, I’m all in favor."

Jamie had providentially thought to buy a package of disposable diapers when she went to the grocery, so Caitlin was set for the night. Ryan stayed downstairs to warm a bottle while the Evans women escorted the little guest to her room.

When the baby saw the carved mahogany crib, she began to get agitated and started looking around wildly for Ryan. "I think she just figured out that she’s not going home tonight," Jamie observed, steeling herself for the inevitable scream.

Ryan’s foot was on the first stair when it hit. Oh-oh. Somebody’s unhappy. Catherine might get that look at Caitlin’s dark side after all.

The frightened baby fought Jamie, trying to escape her embrace. When Ryan entered, she looked up at her with terror in her big green eyes. It had been a very long day, and as much as the baby loved to be with her big cousin, it was obvious that she was ready to go to her own home now and see her mommy and daddy. To avoid hurting her, Jamie allowed her wish to get on the floor. The baby threw herself flat onto the carpet and began to kick her arms and legs, screaming bloody murder the whole time. Ryan had never seen her have a tantrum before, and she was a bit unsure of what to do, but Jamie’s maternal instincts kicked in immediately. She lifted the baby from the floor and clasped her to her chest, sitting down in the rocker to speak to her in soft tones as she slowly rocked her. The baby tried to fight, and she got in a few good kicks and one painful punch to the side of Jamie’s head, but she held her firmly and allowed her to cry out her fears.

Catherine kissed Jamie’s head, gave Ryan a hug and whispered, "I’ll see you all in the morning. Let me know if you need anything."

"Will do," Ryan assured her. "I hope you can sleep if she cries all night."

"My room is at the other end of the house," Catherine admitted, a self-mocking smirk on her face. "I’m afraid it was Elizabeth who comforted Jamie during the night." Looking at her daughter with a face full of regret, Catherine shook her head slightly and left the room.

Ryan sat down on the floor by the rocker and helped to reassure Caitlin. The screaming had quieted down to a less painful level, so she began to sing to her in a very gentle, low tone, getting through at least eight little songs before Caitlin stopped crying, and another three before she stilled completely. Both adults were exhausted by this time, but Jamie was afraid to get up until the baby had been asleep for a little while longer, so she continued to rock.

Ryan’s head rested on Jamie’s leg as they spoke softly for a few minutes. Jamie began to run her fingers through Ryan’s dark tresses and before she knew it she had two babies sleeping on her. What is this soporific effect I have on women? she wondered as she smiled down at them.

After 15 minutes of calm she figured that Caitlin would stay asleep even after being moved, so she patted her lover for a few seconds, surprised at how deeply she slept. Ryan finally let out a low moan and started to sit up. She was still obviously very groggy, so Jamie got up to put the baby to bed alone. After removing Caitlin’s dress and diaper, Jamie searched for the bag from the store, dismayed to realize they had left it downstairs. A soft knock on the door revealed Catherine, clad in a jade green silk nightgown and robe, holding the package of diapers. "Need these?" she asked, crossing the room. She spared a smile at Ryan, sprawled out on the floor, sound asleep. "Let me take care of the little baby, while you get the big one into bed."

"You don’t mind?" Jamie asked.

"Not at all. Go on now."

"Okay. Thanks, Mom," she whispered. "You’ve been great."

"The pleasure is entirely mine, Jamie," she said sincerely, placing a soft kiss on her daughter’s cheek.

Jamie knelt down next to her partner on the floor. "Ryan, Honey," she whispered as she shook her gently.

But Ryan just lifted her hand and brushed Jamie’s fingers from her shoulder, as if shooing a fly.

Shaking her a little more forcefully, Jamie continued the motion until she finally got a response. "Come on, Ryan," she said firmly. "You’ve got to move to the bed."

Her eyes did not open, but she rolled over onto her side and slowly sat up. Jamie grabbed her hand and gave her a big boost, holding on to her waist as she teetered a bit. Sparing a wave to her mother, Jamie guided her nearly sleepwalking partner to her room, managing to get her pants off her once again. It took a little more work to remove her blouse and bra, but she managed, finally allowing Ryan to sink to the mattress. The dark-haired woman was asleep before her head hit the pillow, and Jamie gave her an affectionate glance as she went into the bath to get ready for bed.

When she came back Ryan was curled up in the middle of the bed, obviously seeking her partner. I’m coming, Baby, she thought fondly as she walked back to the adjoining door to the nursery, wanting to check on the baby one last time.

Biting back a gasp of surprise, Jamie saw her mother, holding the baby tight with a bottle gently pressed against her lips, rocking the diaper-clad infant while she sang a soft song. Caitlin’s eyes were half-closed, and she sucked mechanically, her little hands grasping and releasing handfuls of slick green fabric as she did so. Catherine was staring at the baby so intently that she didn’t hear her daughter approach.

She gave a start when Jamie placed a hand on her shoulder, looking up at her with a slightly embarrassed look. "Is this okay?" she asked tentatively. "She started to fuss a little, and I saw you hadn’t given her the bottle."

"Of course it’s okay," Jamie assured her, kissing her head. "You have very good instincts, Mom. Just follow them." She pulled a chair close and sat down, placing her hand on Caitlin’s warm back, smiling when the baby sighed heavily at her touch. "This is nice, isn’t it?" she asked softly, not really expecting an answer.

Catherine nodded slightly, a single tear rolling down her cheek. Jamie knew that her mother was once again thinking of the past, but she knew that was a pain that she couldn’t heal for her. Catherine had made choices that had hurt both of them, and even though her actions were understandable, they still carried consequences. Nonetheless, Jamie had never felt more hopeful about their relationship, and she wanted to make sure that her mother knew that.

"You know, Mom, years from now, when I look back, I’m confident that I’m going to remember this as the best year of my entire life."

Catherine nodded, smiling affectionately at her daughter. "That doesn’t surprise me, Honey," she agreed. "Finding your life-mate is a turning point in every woman’s life."

"Yes, of course, Ryan will be a very big part of my memories. I just want you to know that you’ll be an equally big part. Getting closer to you means more than I would have dared dream, Mom. I can’t tell you how happy I am that you’ve tried so hard to be here for Ryan and me."

"It’s the least I can do, Jamie," she whispered, taking in a ragged breath. "I know it’s too late to make up…"

She was silenced by Jamie placing two fingers upon her lips, and she looked up through her tears to find a pair of compassionate green eyes gazing at her. "No more apologies," Jamie said firmly. "Going over the past isn’t helping either of us. We both have regrets, Mom. Let’s bury them tonight."

"Bury them?" Catherine asked, looking up in puzzlement.

"Yes. Bury them," the younger woman insisted. She reached forward and took the now-sleeping baby from her mother’s arms, placing her in the crib and covering her with a light blanket. Extending a hand, she guided her mother over to a sturdy mahogany table and indicated a chair. Pulling over her own chair, she sat down and opened a drawer, retrieving a note pad and a pair of pens.

"I want you to make a list of every single thing that you regret about our relationship. I’ll do the same." Catherine looked mildly frightened, so Jamie assured her, "I won’t read your list, so please be totally honest. Let it out, Mom," she urged.

With a heavy sigh, Catherine began to work on her list, pausing thoughtfully every few minutes, the pen repeatedly finding its way to her pursed lips. Jamie wrote down quite a few of her own regrets, most of hers focusing on the last few years when she intentionally pulled away from her mother.

Jamie finished long before Catherine, and she leaned back in her chair, watching the older woman as she focused intently on her task. A fond smile was gracing Jamie’s face when Catherine finally looked up. "Mmm…now what?" Catherine asked.

"Now…we burn them," Jamie explained, rising to fetch a large pillar-style candle from the narrow mantel over the fireplace. Catherine was giving her a suspicious glance, but that didn’t deter the determined young woman. "This will only work if you do it sincerely, Mom," she instructed. "You have to be willing to let your regrets burn away so that we can start over."

"I’m willing, Jamie," she whispered, wiping at a tear with the back of her hand. "I want to start over."

"Okay. Here goes." Jamie lit the candle, then held her list up to the flame, watching as the amber glow touched, sparked, and slowly ignited the paper. At her daughter's nod, Catherine brought her own list to the flame, where it similarly combusted. Both women watched with rapt fascination as their regrets were slowly obliterated by the spreading flames.

Jamie lifted a short metal wastebasket onto the table and they dropped the still-burning papers inside, watching them in silence as they slowly extinguished themselves.

Not a word was spoken for long minutes, and when Jamie was certain that the remnants were cold she asked, "Where should we put the ashes?"

Catherine smiled and suggested, "Let’s throw them to the winds."

Jamie returned her smile and agreed with her suggestion. "Your room?"

"Absolutely," Catherine nodded, smiling brightly. "Let’s go."

They each blew Caitlin a kiss and walked down the long hallway together, Jamie carrying the wastebasket. Entering her parents’ room, she switched on the light, but Catherine immediately doused it. "Light ruins the ambiance," she insisted, going to the French doors that faced the back yard. She opened the large doors, pleased that there was a noticeable breeze. Jamie joined her on the balcony, gazing down at the verdant green lawn, the glistening pool, and the neatly tended gardens.

The ashes in the wastebasket were scant, but Jamie managed to scoop up enough so that they each held a small handful. Jamie was right-handed and Catherine left, which allowed them to hold hands while they performed their ritual.

Jamie nodded, and on the count of three both women threw their regrets to the winds, watching in fascination as the scarred bits of paper flew around their heads for a moment before being whisked away.

Suddenly, and for no good reason, Jamie began to laugh, a small chortle that quickly grew until she was laughing out loud. Catherine gave her a slightly puzzled look, but within seconds she joined her, unexpectedly feeling lighter and more carefree than she had in years. Their linked hands separated, then slid around each other’s waists, each woman holding tightly onto the other as their laughter echoed against the stone patio beneath the balcony. Slowly, their laughter faded, replaced by a warm, satisfied feeling that seemed to settle deep in their bones.

I never thought that I’d have the chance to start a new family, Jamie mused, the warmth of her mother’s body pressed against her. A family of choice, made up of all of the people who want to share our love. Ryan will always be at the center, of course, but I know that Mom will be there too. All of the O’Flahertys and the Driscolls, of course. Hmm…Mia’s part of my family, too, when I think of it like this. This is such a gift…this feeling of being drawn together by love. Leaning her head against her mother’s shoulder, Jamie recognized the feeling for what it was, and thanked the gods for giving her the opportunity to experience it. She leaned her head back and stared up at the moonlit sky, offering a silent prayer for the unexpected but cherished gift: the promise of a bright new beginning.


Stay Tuned for Book 7: Getaway



To Carrie. The woman I pledge my fidelity to.


As always, my deepest thanks goes out to Day and Stacia for their time, skill and efforts in beta reading this piece.


Even in a committed relationship, when both partners have tested negative for HIV and other STD’s, it’s wise to use a barrier for anal play to prevent transmission of bacterial infections. Please refer to the attached links for extensive guidelines for safer sex.



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