I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 6: Fidelity

By S X Meagher






Part 6

Tuesday dawned foggy and cool, and for just a fraction of a moment Ryan thought she was home in bed with her beloved. But as soon as she was mostly awake, that thought faded. Lying in bed with Jordan was absolutely nothing like being with Jamie. Jordan was much taller, so her head was level with Ryan’s, unlike Jamie’s convenient shoulder-reaching height. Ryan was used to moving her head down just an inch or two and kissing Jamie’s soft blonde hair as soon as she was half awake, and she realized how much that unconscious ritual meant to her when the first thing she laid eyes on was the back of Jordan’s head.

Her arm was still clutched tightly in Jordan’s grasp, but being wrapped around her long muscular frame was so unlike feeling Jamie’s soft curves that the experiences were nowhere near comparable.

Jordan woke a few minutes later, and she gently lifted Ryan’s arm from around her waist and started to get up. Deciding that she didn’t want to go through another day like the previous one, Ryan stilled her with a hand on her shoulder. "Hey, wait a sec, will you?"

The blonde head nodded, and she sank back down into Ryan’s warm embrace. "Do you want to talk about what’s upsetting you?" Ryan’s low voice was calm and undemanding, but Jordan still began to tense up. Ryan could feel her whole body coil as she shook her head firmly, not saying a word.

Ryan rolled onto her back and started to gently trail her fingers down Jordan’s spine. Trying a different tactic she asked, "Have I told you that I was gay bashed last year?"

"Huh?" The abrupt change in direction worked perfectly to get the recalcitrant woman to at least speak, and Ryan was pleased with that small victory.

"I was gay bashed, just over a year ago," she repeated. "I was hurt pretty seriously, and it took me a couple of months to recover physically."

Jordan didn’t say anything to this, but she snuggled a little closer to Ryan.

"My physical injuries weren’t the hardest part, though," Ryan confided. "It was the fear that was hard to get over. Actually, I’m still not nearly over it. I had terrible nightmares every night for a long time, and I still have them occasionally. Actually, I had one a few weeks ago–really scared Jamie," she added.

The blonde head nodded sympathetically, and Ryan continued to stroke the long, smooth back as she said, "I was embarrassed and angry that I showed her how scared I was, but after we talked about it for a while, I felt better." She let the silence build and then said, "I’m not pressuring you, Jordan, but if you want to talk, I promise to listen. I’d never make fun of you for having something that frightens you."

In the blink of an eye, Jordan had flipped over, startling Ryan a bit. She wrapped her long body around Ryan tightly, nuzzling her head into Ryan’s neck. She didn’t cry, but she was hugging Ryan so hard that her ribs ached. Running her hand down Jordan’s back, Ryan asked again, "Wanna tell me about it?"

"No." There was a pause and she finally added, "I’ve been talking about this since I was nine fucking years old, Ryan. I really thought I was over it."

"I could be off base here, but maybe you need to talk about what’s bothering you with someone outside of your family. Maybe you need to see a counselor."

Jordan’s grip loosened, and she released Ryan from captivity. Sitting up on the edge of the bed, she tossed her blonde hair over her shoulder and said, "I’ve only talked about it with professionals, Ryan. My parents didn’t believe in taking on a job that they could more easily hire someone to do. All of my soul baring has occurred with the meter running."

Whoa! You’re out of your league here, O’Flaherty. Better step back. "I’m sorry, Jordan," she said softly, giving her back a little scratch. "I’m butting into your business way too much. I just want you to know that I understand what it’s like to be afraid of something, and if you ever want to talk or just be held, I’m here for you."

Jordan's heavy sigh caused her shoulders to rise, and Ryan could see some of the tension leave her body. She reached back and grasped Ryan’s hand, bringing it to her face. Softly kissing the back of her hand she asked, "No charge?"

Ryan chuckled and assured her, "No charge, pal. And I’m available 24 hours a day…at least until we get home."

"That’s the best offer I think I’ve ever received, Ryan," she murmured, giving the hand that she still held a firm squeeze.

Ruffling Jordan’s hair with her free hand, Ryan advised, "You’ve gotta get out more!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

The sunlight was bright and the hour was late when Catherine knocked softly on the door to her daughter’s room. "Go away!" Jamie mumbled into her pillow.

Ignoring her command, Catherine opened the door to see her daughter curled up in a little ball, holding her stuffed tiger tightly against her chest with one arm. Placing the tray she carried on a mahogany table, she sat down and waited for Jamie to wake up. She got a great deal of pleasure out of watching her only child sleep, and she realized that she hadn’t had the opportunity to do so since Jamie was quite small. The independent young girl had never expressed a need to have either of her parents tend to her during the night, even when she was sick. Elizabeth, Jamie’s nanny, occupied an adjoining room when Jamie was small, and any of her nocturnal needs were met by the competent, but domineering older woman.

Catherine was in a bit of a daze as she thought about those early years, and before she knew it, it was nearly lunchtime. The rest of the family was planning to take the yacht out for the afternoon meal, and while it was obvious that Jamie would not want to go, Catherine felt that she should at least make sure that her daughter knew they were all leaving.

Moving to the side of the bed, Catherine gently shook Jamie’s shoulder, surprised by the firm muscle she felt. "Come on, Jamie, I need you to wake up for a minute, Dear. I brought you something for your headache."

Responding to her mother’s request, Jamie tried to open her eyes, only to have some sort of white-hot spikes thrust into her red-streaked green orbs. "AAAAHHHH!" she cried, curling her hands into fists and covering the tortured organs.

"That bad?" Catherine asked, obviously shouting at the top of her lungs from a distance of a millimeter.

The pillow was automatically pulled over Jamie’s head, this small action completely ineffective in lessening the pain. She tried to speak, but someone had filled her mouth with spun wool while she slept. Trying to free her tongue, she smacked her lips together, the stunningly loud sound of her jaw moving nearly causing her to burst into tears. With Olympian effort she moaned, "Pleeeease leave me alone."

"You’ll feel better if you take this, Honey. Come on, let me take care of you."

Deciding that the horrible noise would not go away, she pushed the pillow from her face and peeked at her mother with suspicious, slit eyes. "Why aren’t you as miserable as I am?"

She sat down on the edge of the bed and tenderly brushed the hair out of Jamie’s eyes with what seemed to Jamie to be razor blades. "I guess I’m a little more used to alcohol than you are. You don’t drink much, do you?"

"No. Ryan gets kind of mad at me when I do," she croaked out, her dry mouth feeling like she was chewing glass. "I don’t seem to know when to stop."

Catherine laughed as she recalled, "I was just like that in college. Your father used to think it was so funny. We’d go to a party, and the next day he’d feel fine, while I’d just want to die."

"That about sums it up," Jamie agreed, as she placed the pillow over her face again.

"Come on, Honey. At least drink this before you go back to sleep. You’ll feel better when you wake up, guaranteed."

Jamie decided that she’d do almost anything to end the conversation and go back to sleep, so with great difficulty she forced herself to sit up. Catherine dropped two Alka —Seltzer tablets into a glass of water and waited a moment for the cacophony to ebb before handing it to her daughter.

Jamie stared at the glass for a long moment, trying to decide if drinking the bromide would make her vomit. She finally steeled herself and gulped it down, not stopping until the glass was drained. Handing the glass back, she sank down into the pillows again, sighing heavily. "What time is it, anyway?"

"It’s around 11:30."

"11:30!" she cried, her own voice sounding like it was coming through a public address system. "I never sleep that late!"

"Well, you did today, Dear. It doesn’t matter, though. You didn’t have anything to do this morning, did you?"

"No, but I don’t like to sleep late. It upsets my internal clock."

"Once won’t hurt," her mother reassured her, ruffling her hair. "Now you go back to sleep. The rest of us are going out for a sail. We should be back well before dinner."

"Oh boy," Jamie said with false enthusiasm. "Sailing sounds like fun!" She started to struggle out of the mess of sheet she was tangled in, but she quickly realized that she was naked. "Could you hand me a T-shirt from the dresser?"

"Why on earth do you want to get up?" Catherine asked.

"If I’m going to get that drunk, I have to punish myself somehow," Jamie said, her reasoning totally lost on her mother. "I’m going to get up and take a shower."

Walking over to the large cherry-wood lowboy, Catherine pulled out a shirt for Jamie, bringing it over to the bed and waiting for her daughter to slip it on before helping her up. Catherine held out her arm and tried to guide Jamie to her rubbery legs, but the younger woman muttered, "Whoa," as she was forced to sit down immediately. "Dizzy."

"I don’t think a shower is a good idea, Jamie," Catherine cautioned worriedly.

"I’ll be okay," she reassured her. "A shower always makes me feel better."

"You wait here. I’ll go turn it on for you." Moments later Catherine was back. She wrapped her thin arm around Jamie’s sturdy waist and guided her into the bathroom, then opened the shower door as she said, "I’m going to stay to make sure you don’t get dizzy and fall down."

"You don’t need to do that, Mother," she reassured her. "I’m sure I’ll be fine."

"Jamie, I’m not going to be the one to have to call Ryan and tell her I got you drunk and then let you fall in the shower and crack your head open. This is pure self-preservation," she said with a smile.

Jamie gave her a small smile in return as she held her arms up over her head. "If you’re going to stay, you may as well help." Catherine obliged by tugging her shirt over her head, an act she had not performed in a good 18 years. She took her daughter’s arm to steady her as she stepped into the hot, steamy shower. "Oooh, this feels better," Jamie moaned, as she leaned against the wall and rested her cheek on the cool tile.

Catherine waited patiently while Jamie steamed some of the alcohol out of her system, at one point tilting her head back and letting the stream hit her mouth just to hydrate herself. After the water was turned off, Catherine held out a fluffy white towel that Jamie accepted and wrapped around herself as she stepped out. Her mother did not appear to be leaving any time soon, so the younger woman began to rub her body dry with the towel. After a long appraising look Catherine said, "I must have been out of my mind when I criticized you last winter about how your body had changed. You really look lovely, Dear."

"Thanks," Jamie said with a slightly embarrassed smile. "It takes a lot of work, but I really like to be strong. It just gives me more confidence."

"I think I was needlessly worried that you’d look hard or tough if you developed your muscles. But you don’t look hard at all. You look soft and smooth and firm. It’s really quite becoming."

"Thanks," she said wanly, knowing that she looked anything but attractive this morning.

The shower really had helped, and with the benefit of the Alka-Seltzer Jamie was starting to feel a bit better. After slipping into her swimsuit and a loose pair of shorts and a T-shirt, Catherine helped her make her way to the pool, where she pledged to spend the entire day.

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

"Hi there, sleepyhead," Ryan said as she returned her page.

"Oooh, I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I swear I’ll never get drunk again."

"You have said that before," Ryan agreed, her voice rather serious. "Maybe you should pay attention this time, Love."

"Don’t lecture me, Honey. I’m not in the mood. My head feels like it’s going to split apart."

Ryan’s concern was immediately focused on her partner’s pain. "I wish I was there to give you a good neck massage. That seems to help," she commiserated.

"I think this pain is beyond even your talents, Love, but I wish you were here, anyway. I miss you an awful lot." After a pause she asked, "Did we…umm…talk about sex last night?"

"Yes," Ryan drawled. "We most definitely talked about sex last night."

"That sounds suspicious. What did I say?"

"Oh, it wasn’t what you said as much as how you said it," Ryan laughed. "You convinced me to self-pollute," she teased, using a term one of the older nuns in her grammar school favored. "I assume you were pleasuring yourself while we talked, since you exploded in a very erotic sounding orgasm."

"Oh God," she moaned. "I am such a slut when I drink. I have no memory of any details, Ryan. Was it fun?"

"Yeah, it was. And since you have no memory of it, I can use the same script the next time you need a little release. So you’re saving me time and creativity."

"Is that why my phone was dead this morning?"

"Yeah, and you’re going to have one whopper of a phone bill. I could hear you snoring seconds after you finished."

"Well, that sounds appealing. Your girlfriend calls you and makes you get her all hot, then she falls asleep and snores into your ear, leaving you high and dry."

"Oh, I wasn’t dry," she laughed. "I was very far from dry. I was wet and frustrated. Still am, for that matter. Frustrated, that is," she clarified.

"So you couldn’t…"

"Nope." Deciding that she needed to tell Jamie about what happened, Ryan said, "Something frightened Jordan on Sunday night, Honey. I still don’t know what it was, but she was absolutely terrified. She eventually calmed down, and I let her sleep with me the rest of the night."

There was a longish pause before Jamie asked, "Umm…what does that have to do with last night?"

"Well, she was still freaked out, almost like she was afraid to go to sleep, and she needed a little comfort." Ryan paused for a moment and asked, "That doesn’t upset you, does it Jamie?"

The pounding in her head nearly caused her to snap off a biting retort, but Jamie focused her energies on how forthcoming Ryan was being about this incident. "I um…I guess I’m just a little jealous," she admitted.

"Jealous? Of Jordan? Jamie, you’ve got nothing to worry--"

"No, Honey," Jamie interrupted. "I’m not worried that you’ll be unfaithful. I’m just jealous that she gets to sleep with you this week. I miss you so much, and it’s hard to hear that there’s someone else in my spot."

"Oh, Jamie," Ryan murmured, "no one could ever take your place. Sleeping with Jordan was a chore, Honey. It reminded me of why I usually didn’t sleep with women I didn’t know very well. I thought I slept poorly on Saturday, but that was nothing compared to sleeping with Jordan. She’s so upset that I don’t have the heart to say no, but I’m praying that she feels better tonight. I am absolutely dead on my feet." As if to punctuate her point, Ryan let out a massive yawn, causing Jamie to follow suit.

"Now you’re making me tired," she chuckled. "And Ryan, I know that no one could take my place in your heart. I just don’t like someone taking my place in your bed."

"Especially a twin bed," Ryan intoned dramatically.

"Now I know you didn’t enjoy the experience!" Jamie laughed. "Our king-sized bed is hardly big enough for the two of us."

"Well," Ryan chuckled, "you and I move around a lot more than I did with Jordan."

"Ha! You’re gonna need a seatbelt in that bed when I get home," Jamie growled, sending a shiver of delight up Ryan’s back.

"You know that I’m going to hold you to every one of these promises, don’t you?" Ryan drawled.

"I’m counting on it, Love. Now go take a nap before your afternoon practice."

"Will do, Baby. I love you, Jamie. Take care of your sore little head."

"Thanks, I will. Bye, Ryan. I’ll call you tonight."

As Ryan hung up she retained the receiver in her hand for a long moment. Okay, Ryan, what’s your excuse now? She’s awake, she’s alone and you have an hour to spare. She shook her head as she recognized that she just did not want to have an upsetting talk with Jamie while she was being held captive in Santa Cruz. I don’t feel like myself down here, and she’s not herself either, she decided. It just feels too scary to bring this up now. She replaced the receiver and vowed to try to get up the courage to tell her partner about the incident with her father–later.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Soaking in the sun by the pool with her Walkman and some of her favorite tapes, Jamie was starting to feel like herself again. She ate lunch outdoors, took a few dips in the pool, drank at least a half-gallon of water, and let the toxins bake out of her body. She was just about to go inside, since it was nearly five o’clock, when Stephanie came down to sit by her.

The young woman was a little more animated now that the adults were gone, and she quizzed her older cousin with a good deal of interest, "So what happened to you last night?" she asked. "You didn’t really go to bed, did you?"

Jamie laughed and replied, "No. Mother and I sat in the gazebo and talked for a long time."

"Right," Stephanie replied, as though she was waiting for the punch line. She nodded her head, waiting for Jamie to continue, but when her cousin didn’t do so, Stephanie asked, "Are you serious?"

"Quite. That’s why I agreed to come, Stephanie. I wanted to spend time with my mother. I don’t get to see her that often."

The younger woman just stared at her for a moment, obviously trying to determine if she really was serious.

"What did you do all day?" Jamie asked, trying to deflect the intense stare leveled in her direction.

"Just got up," she responded casually, with a touch of pride. The young waiter, Daniel, approached and Stephanie asked him for a Bloody Mary and some toast.

The waiter looked at Jamie with an unstated plea in his eyes. "Make Stephanie’s drink just the way I like my Bloody Mary," Jamie advised him with a wink, sending the grateful young man off to prepare a Virgin Mary.

Focusing again on Stephanie, Jamie asked, "Do you normally sleep until five?"

"No. I don’t usually get to. But David and I went out for a while last night. We came looking for you, but you weren’t in your room."

"Really? Where did you go?" Jamie asked, thinking it a bit odd for her 21-year-old cousin to go out with a 16-year-old.

"Just driving around. You know."

Jamie did not know, but she decided to find out. "Did you stop anywhere?" she asked casually.


"How long were you out?"

"I don’t know. A few hours."

"And you just drove around the whole time?" she persisted.

The young woman tossed aside the magazine she was pretending to read and glared at her older cousin. "God, Jamie, get a clue. We went out to get high!"

"You and David?" she asked in open-mouthed alarm.

"Who else am I going to go with? He could find a dealer in a convent," she laughed.

"What kind of drugs do you do?" Jamie demanded in a tone that let Stephanie know that she was not a kindred spirit.

"We just smoked a little weed. No big deal. My parents know I get high every once in a while. They think it’s better than drinking."

Jamie closed her eyes and shook her head. My family is so totally fucked up! "That’s all that you do?" she asked again.

"Yeah. A little weed. Everyone does it, Jamie. God! Don’t you go to Berkeley? I thought you’d be cooler."

"No, Stephanie, I’m not cool. I don’t think it’s cool to destroy your mind and your body with drugs. You don’t have enough experience to know what a habit can do to you. And it really angers me that you involved Trey in this. He’s trying to stay clean!"

"Oh, yeah. That’s right. Trey’s clean," she said with a smirk as she stood to leave. "Eat my toast," she said dismissively as she turned and stormed away. Stephanie had only gone a few feet when Trey came around the corner and nearly bumped into her. As she brushed past him she snapped, "What a bitch!"

He continued on his path and soon flopped down onto a chaise next to Jamie. "What’s with her?" he asked, pointing at their cousin’s retreating form.

"She told me about your little escapade last night, and I told her that I didn’t approve," she said evenly. She turned in her chair to look Trey directly in the eye. "Are you using again?"

"God no, Jamie!" he said defensively. "I almost died from that last overdose. I’m not stupid, you know!" He sat up and ran his hand through his medium-length brown hair. "I shouldn’t tell you this, but I think she needs our support." He could tell by the look on Jamie’s face that so far she was unconvinced of his innocence. Sighing heavily he said, "Stephanie told me she was going out to score. I didn’t want her driving around alone, so I took her. I know you can’t get someone to stop by ordering them around, so I thought it was better to go with her and make sure that she was safe."

"She says you just smoked some pot. Is that true?" Jamie’s green eyes were boring into him, and he nodded somberly.

"Yes, just some pot," he agreed. "High school kids smoke pot like we used to drink. It’s really no big deal, and it’s less harmful in the long run. I know my problem wouldn’t have been so bad if I wasn’t drinking at the same time, so I’m glad she just does a little weed." He gave his cousin a big smile and said, "Don’t worry about her. She’s just going through that almost-an-adult thing. She’ll be fine."

"Stephanie does drink, Trey. She asked me to order her a drink the other night."

"She’s sixteen, Jamie!" he laughed. "She’s just testing her limits…really."

"Are you telling me the truth, Trey?"

"Absolutely. I care about Stephanie too. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt her. Ooh, toast and a Bloody Mary," he said delightedly as Daniel approached. "Who read my mind?"

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

Ryan was sitting on the training table getting her ankles taped for afternoon practice when Coach Placer signaled to her. "When you’re done there, Ryan, can I have a minute?"

"Sure. Be right with you."

A few minutes later she caught up with the coach, and he motioned towards the bleachers. They climbed about halfway up, and as they sat down she noticed that he looked a little uncomfortable. "I’ve got some bad news, Ryan," he began, and her entire stomach did a major flip.

"What?" she asked, her heart racing with anxiety, panicked that something had happened to Jamie or someone in her family.

"Calm down," he smiled, patting her knee. "It’s not that bad."

"Okay," she replied, taking a deep breath. "Let me have it."

"I just got a call from the athletic director," he began, and Ryan tried to figure out how a call from the A.D. could have a negative impact on her. "He tells me that the NCAA has decided to change the status of Melinda Grover."

"Melinda Grover?" Ryan repeated, having never heard the name before.

"Yeah. She was a junior last year, and after just one game she blew out her knee. We thought she’d be back this year, but the rehab hasn’t gone well and we assume she won’t be able to play at all."

"That a tough break," Ryan commiserated, still puzzled.

"For both of you," Coach Placer informed her. "They told us that we have to keep her scholarship open for her."

The light dawned and Ryan nodded slowly. "I’m guessing that scholarship is the same one you offered me?"

"I’m afraid so, Ryan. I know the scholarship means a lot to you, and if you choose to drop off the team, I’ll understand."

"But if you had a scholarship, you would offer it to me, right?" she asked slowly, trying to fully understand the situation. "I mean, you’re happy with me so far, aren’t you?"

He laughed gently, shaking his head as he said, "Ryan, if I was any happier with you…well, I don’t know what I’d do!"

"Then I’ll stay," she decided. "I’m having fun…I like the other players…I like you…why not finish what I’ve started?" The words were out of her mouth before the reality of her situation hit her. "Uhh…check that, Coach," she muttered, biting her lower lip in thought. "I uh…need to talk to Jamie first. We’ve uh…there are some financial aspects that have come up that uh…"

He looked at her sympathetically and offered, "If you need to work this year, I’ll figure out a way to let you have a reduced practice schedule, Ryan. I’ll do anything in my power to help you stay on the team if it’s important to you."

"It is, Coach," she admitted, realizing at that moment just how important it was. "I appreciate your concern."

"I am concerned, Ryan. I feel awful that this has happened, and I’m really sorry for leading you to think you’d get a free ride."

"I think I’ll be okay," she said. "I just need to check with Jamie to see if she agrees. I’m a double major and this is going to be a tough year for me academically, anyway."

"I don’t think you’ve told me what you’re majoring in," he said, looking at her with interest.

"Math and biology," she said vacantly, thinking about getting time to call her partner.

He smiled and nodded, waiting for the punch line. "Oh…you’re serious," he said slowly. After another moment he added, "Are you nuts?"

"Yeah. As a matter of fact, I guess I am," she agreed, smiling brightly.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"What’s up with the private talk?" Jordan asked, sidling up to Ryan when she returned to the floor.

"Ehh, I’ll tell you after practice," Ryan said, unwilling to discuss the matter with everyone else around.

The two-hour session was devoted mostly to critiquing each player's form as they executed the various skills most important to their respective positions. Ryan was pretty happy with the comments that Erin, the assistant coach, made, but she was still not happy with her jump serve. After practice ended, she approached her and asked, "Any chance you’d be willing to stay around for a while and work with me on my serve?"

Erin smiled, already recognizing that Ryan had enough motivation for four women. "Sure. I’d be happy to."

During camp, kids from various local volleyball teams helped the coaches out. One of their main tasks was chasing balls during drills. Two little girls, about ten years old, agreed to stay and shag balls so that Erin could stand by Ryan to look at her technique.

When the kids fetched the balls, they tossed them into a wheeled basket so they were easy to return to the server. Each basket held about ten balls, and by the time each one had been filled four times, the little girls were toast. Ryan kept banging away though, oblivious to everything but her own body and the little tips that Erin kept providing.

A woman entered the gym, obviously looking for the ball girls, and after a few minutes of watching, she lent a hand to her exhausted children. Mother and daughters shagged balls until the maintenance staff came to shut off the lights, and only then did Ryan’s concentration break. She blinked up in surprise when her eyes caught the big clock that read six p.m. "Is that clock right?" she gasped, grabbing a towel to wipe the sweat from her face.

"Yep," Erin confirmed. "I would have stopped you, but you really seemed to be in a groove for the last fifteen minutes, and I thought you should decide when you’d had enough."

"Who’s that woman?" Ryan asked, perplexed that one of the ball girls had morphed into a 30-something woman.

Erin smiled at Ryan’s confusion, knowing she had been in the zone when the woman had arrived. "I think she’s a mom who came to pick up her kids and decided to help out."

The woman helped her girls roll the baskets back one final time, giving Ryan a big smile as she did so. "I tell these two all the time that there’s no substitute for hard work," she said, as she extended her hand. "Thanks for making my point much better than I ever could."

"My pleasure," Ryan said, squatting down a bit to talk to the girls. I had no idea that any of you were here, but I’m glad to help out–inadvertent though it was.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jogging back to the dorm, Ryan reached into her gym bag to check her pager once again. Still nothing from Jamie, she thought. I had a feeling she’d be going to bed early tonight. I hope her headache’s all better.

Jordan was taking a little nap and barely flinched when Ryan entered. Well, at least I can nap alone. Plucking at her drenched clothing, she realized that it would be imprudent to sleep in the state she was in and that a shower would help keep her from getting stiff, so she gathered her things and headed for the communal bath. Much to her dismay, she returned to find that Jamie had paged her twice during her long shower–first with her number, and then five minutes later with 1000# entered in the display, indicating that Ryan should call back at ten. "Damn, I was hoping to be asleep by nine," she grumbled to herself. "Ah well, at least I can get a short nap in now."

She practically dove for the bed, and had just gotten the thin pillow thumped into shape when someone knocked loudly on the door. "Dinner!" a cheerful voice called out.

Glancing at her watch, she saw that it was, indeed, almost seven o’clock, and she got back up with a string of silent curses.

Grumbling mightily, Ryan nearly spit when her pager finally went off. Great…just in time to not be able to talk. She almost failed to check the number, but did so automatically, blinking in surprise when she saw that her home number was backlit in the display. Grabbing her calling card, she dashed for the hall phone and dialed. "What’s wrong?" she asked anxiously when Conor answered on the first ring.

"I’m not sure," he said slowly, causing her heart to start beating wildly. "I just got home and there was a message on the machine…"

"For God’s sake, Conor, spit it out!"

"Okay, okay," he soothed. "I don’t think anything’s wrong, because she asked for you, but Granny called this afternoon."

Ryan blinked in surprise, pulling the phone away from her ear to look at the receiver in shock. "She doesn’t do that," she muttered.

"I know," he replied somberly. "She talked into the machine like we were all standing right next to it, and said that she wanted to talk to Siobhán and no other. There was a long pause, then she said she’d write a letter."

"Is that it?" Ryan asked, her heart still racing.

"No," Conor said, relating the rest of the message as he obviously tried to understand it himself. "She said that you might think she was a culchie, but that she had a very good view of the world from her little corner of Ireland." He paused a minute and asked, "Do you have any idea of what she’s talking about?"

"’Fraid I do, Bro. ‘Fraid I do. I wrote her a letter and told her that I was a lesbian, and that I had fallen in love."

"Oh-oh," Conor muttered, full of empathy for his sister. "Well, look at the bright side, Ryan, she can’t get her hands on you to beat you!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Walking to the dining hall, Jordan reminded her, "You didn’t tell me what happened with Coach. Are you in trouble?"

"Not with him," she grumbled. "But my grandmother seems to be pissed at me." Jordan gave her an uncomprehending glance, but rather than go into the details Ryan focused on the volleyball news. "Coach had some bad news for me," she replied, still a little miffed about the whole affair. "Seems that the NCAA won’t let him award me a scholarship because of some injured senior."

"Really? Is this Melinda?"

"Yeah, I think that’s her name. He just found out that he has to leave it open for her in case she returns."

"But she’s not going to be able to return, Ryan. I talked to her not two weeks ago. Her rehab is going really poorly."

Ryan shrugged her shoulders, indicating her helplessness on the subject. "I’m just telling you what he told me. The bottom line is that I don’t get a scholarship."

"That just sucks!" Jordan stopped dead in her tracks, grabbing Ryan’s T-shirt to pull her to a halt. "You’re not gonna quit, are you?"

"Not a chance," Ryan assured her, hoping that Jamie agreed with her. "You’re stuck with me, pal."

"Whew!" Jordan let out a breath and wiped her brow rather dramatically. "Don’t get a big head, O’Flaherty, but this team would blow if you weren’t on it."

"Why, Jordan, I do believe that is the closest you’ve come to actually complimenting me on something." Ryan coquettishly batted her eyes at her friend, drawing a hearty laugh from the blonde.

"You SO cannot pull that off! You just look like you’ve got something stuck in your eye."

"Works with Jamie," Ryan sniffed.

"What wouldn’t?" Slapping Ryan hard on the butt, Jordan took off laughing, leaving her slightly slower friend in the dust.

* * * * * * * * * * *

After dinner, the roommates walked back to the dorm, both too tired to even think about going out. "Did you tell Jamie about the scholarship?" Jordan asked.

"Nah. She’s not gonna call me until ten. I think she’ll be okay about it. She never thinks money is an issue."

"Sounds like she doesn’t have to," Jordan opined. "I take it she took the news about her dad better than you thought she would?"

It was just eight o’clock, and even though Ryan didn’t want to hit downtown Santa Cruz, she knew she had to stay out of her room or risk being unconscious in moments. In an effort to remain awake until she called Jamie at ten, she offered a suggestion to her friend. "Let’s sit outside for a while."

"Okay. It’s too nice out to be inside."

Sitting down on a bench, Ryan leaned back and let out a breath. "I uh…haven’t told her," she admitted.

The surprise Jordan felt showed on her face. "You are looking for trouble, Ryan, mark my words." Jordan’s tone was calm and non-judgmental, but it was obvious that she felt strongly about this. "Keeping a secret like this is bound to bite you on the ass."

"I’m not keeping a secret," Ryan insisted. "Jamie had a hellacious hangover this morning, and she was in no condition to hear about it."

"Hangover? Isn’t she with her mother? Who gets drunk with their mother?"

"Apparently, Jamie does," Ryan said, still not very happy about her partner’s tendency to binge drink, especially in the company of her family.

"Huh…well, whatever works for you, I guess. But no matter how many excuses you find for not telling her, the fact remains that you’re keeping a secret…and it will come back to bite you."

"I really don’t want to keep this from her, Jordan. You just don’t know how she gets about stuff like this. She’s already in a really bad place with her father, and this will put her over the edge for sure. I mean, I can take care of myself, but I know she’ll take this very, very personally and feel like she has to do something. She’s very defensive of me."

"She loves you, Ryan," Jordan said softly, a hint of sadness in her blue eyes. "Of course she wants to protect you."

"I know," Ryan said, reaching over to give Jordan’s shoulder a squeeze. She stood up and tried to stretch her back out, grimacing a bit as she did so. "I think I need to keep moving. This cool air is stiffening me up."

"Why don’t we walk for a while."

As they walked along, Ryan asked, "Why do you know so much about this place, anyway? I thought you were from L.A?"

"Mmm. I am. My brother went to school here."

She tossed the comment off and didn’t offer a follow-up, so Ryan asked, "I didn’t know that you had a brother. Older than you, I suppose?"

"Yeah." Again, nothing but the bare facts.

"When did he go here?" Ryan queried.

"Mmm, he graduated in ’93."

Ryan did a little math, as was her wont, and asked, "So…he was here during the earthquake, wasn’t he?"

A brief nod was all that Jordan offered as a reply.

Ryan grasped her arm, pulling her to a stop. "He wasn’t…hurt, or anything, was he?" She had a very bad feeling about her friend’s withdrawn attitude, and she feared that her brother had been one of the people killed during the quake.

"Nope. The students all fled the dorms and slept outdoors that first night. It turned into a huge party, to tell you the truth."

"What’s his name?" Ryan asked, always interested in people’s families.


"Huh…sounds Swedish," Ryan observed idly, not really thinking about her comment.

"We are Swedish," she said with just a touch of irritation. "Didn’t Ericsson give it away?" They walked just a few more feet before Jordan said, "I’m too tired to hang out tonight, Ryan. I’ve got to get a good night’s sleep. Try to stay in your own bed tonight, will ya?" She leaned close and kissed Ryan’s cheek, then turned and broke into a trot, headed back to the dorm.

Something tells me that Gunnar is not one of her favorite people, Ryan mused as she watched her friend glide out of sight.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"I want to thank you for being so attentive today, Mother," Jamie said as Catherine walked her to her door at 12:30 that night.

"My pleasure, Honey. You looked so completely miserable this morning that even the most hard-hearted person would have tried to help you."

Jamie leaned against her door, the solid surface not budging an inch against her weight. "I don’t have many memories of you tending to me when I was sick, so today was doubly nice."

Catherine stared at her for a few moments. "I...I guess you’re right. I don’t really remember taking care of you when you were ill."

She raised her hand and placed it gently on her mother’s arm. "Please don’t think I’m criticizing you, because I’m not. I just remember Elizabeth being in charge."

"That’s certainly the proper term," Catherine laughed wryly, a sad smile on her face. "I was so afraid of getting on her bad side that I never contradicted her."

Jamie opened the door to her room and stepped inside. She held the door open in invitation, so Catherine came in also. "Why were you afraid of Elizabeth? She was a dear!"

"She was kind, Dear, but she was a very traditional English nanny. If she had not had full authority, she would have quit in a minute."

Jamie let that thought percolate for a moment, finally offering, "I can’t imagine letting someone else have full authority in my house."

Catherine sighed as she recalled the young woman that she had been. She sat on an upholstered chair and considered her position. "I wouldn’t do the same thing now, of course. But that was such a stressful time for me, Jamie. I was absolutely terrified at the prospect of raising a baby, and Elizabeth just stepped in and took charge."

"Why were you terrified?" Jamie asked softly, not seeing how a tiny baby could frighten anyone.

"I was 20 years old, and I had never even been around a baby. None of my friends were married yet, and I had no siblings or younger cousins. I was honestly totally overwhelmed by the experience."

Jamie considered how she felt the first time she had been to Ryan’s house for her birthday party. "I guess I understand what you mean," she mused. "I was just that age the first time I met Caitlin. Luckily, Ryan is completely casual with the baby, but if I had been alone with her, I guess I would have been freaked out, too."

"It wasn’t just the fact that you were a baby, Jamie. I really didn’t have anyone else."

"But what about Daddy? Wasn’t he able to help out?"

Catherine laughed gently, shaking her head the whole while. "Your father was just starting out in his career, and he was gone at least twelve hours a day. A first year associate works hellacious hours, Jamie. I remember one week when you were barely a month old. He was working on some big trial, and he didn’t return home until after midnight for the whole week. When the next week began, and it looked like it would be just as bad, he asked me to take you down to Pebble Beach for a few days so that he could get some rest during the little time he had home." She shook her head, as though to remove the memory. "That was…hard."

Good God, I would have been in the same situation if I had married Jack! No wonder Mother thought I was too young to get married! She must have been afraid that Jack would be the same way Daddy was. "Didn’t you have anybody else to help out? It just sounds so lonely."

"It was," Catherine sniffed, getting up to get a tissue. "My mother had just died a few months earlier and I was still grieving her loss. Elizabeth was my lifeline, Jamie. I would have done anything to keep her from leaving."

Jamie sat on the arm of the chair and placed her arm around her mother’s shoulders. "I never saw this from your perspective. I just thought you didn’t want to be very close to me," she said in a near whisper as tears formed in her eyes.

Catherine leaned in close, relishing the sturdy warmth of her daughter’s body. "That’s absolutely not true," she said fervently. "I just didn’t know how, Jamie. I swear, I just didn’t know how."

They held each other close for a few minutes, both women unaccustomed to the sensation, but neither wanting the embrace to end. Catherine said softly, "I remember the first time you were sick. You had a bad cold when you were just about a month old. You were so tiny, not more than seven pounds at the time. You had a lot of congestion in your lungs, and I was trying to make you a little more comfortable. Elizabeth found me sitting in the rocker holding you. She snatched you away and told me that I was endangering your life by holding you the way that I was. She said that your lungs could fill with fluid and you’d be dead before I knew it." She shook her head as she recounted, "I was absolutely terrified! I felt so incompetent, Honey. I was just trying to comfort you and here she was telling me that I might kill you!" She brushed the tears from her cheeks as she continued, "I suppose I started to defer to her opinions more and more. Soon she was completely in charge, and I felt like an outsider. I assumed she was doing a better job than I could, and you seemed to be more comfortable with her, so I didn’t fight it."

Jamie leaned over and wrapped her arms around her mother’s small torso. "That must have been so frightening for you," she said sincerely.

"It really was," she sniffed. "I missed my own mother so much. It was so hard for me that she had died while we were estranged. My sorority friends didn’t come around much since my life had changed so dramatically and we had so little in common. We just didn’t have much to talk about since the only thing on my mind was you. I just felt so alone, Jamie."

Jamie pulled her mother into an even tighter embrace, cradling her head against her chest. She tenderly ran her fingers through her mother’s fair hair, smiling to herself when she heard a huge sigh similar to the ones Ryan gave when she cuddled her. "Did your mother take care of you, or did you have a nanny also?"

"I had a nanny, Jane. She was a nice old woman, but not very motherly."

Jamie laughed softly, seeing the parallels in their lives. "We were raised in a very similar fashion, weren’t we?"

"Yes, I suppose we were," Catherine said. "I don’t know what I would have done differently if I had to do it over again, but I hope I would have the courage to demand the right to get to know you better when you were young. I’ll regret that until the day I die, Jamie."

"We can’t fix the past, Mom, but we can change the future," she said with a small smile as she gave her mother another gentle hug. "And someday you can get to be the doting grandmother."

"I can’t tell you how much I’d like that, Jamie," she sighed, as she leaned fully against her daughter and soaked up the comfort the younger woman offered.

* * * * * * * * * * *

At ten o’clock Ryan was sitting near the phone, trying her best to keep her eyes open. A long walk around campus had kept her moving, but had only served to make her even more tired. The shrill ring nearly caused her to leap from the straight-backed desk chair, but she gathered herself and answered on the second ring. "Hi Love," she said, with much less enthusiasm than she wanted to convey.

"Ohh…somebody sounds tired. Is this too late for you?"

"It’s a little late," Ryan admitted honestly. "But then, it’s three hours later for you, so I shouldn’t complain. What are you doing up, anyway?"

"Oh, everyone went out sailing, and they got in late. We didn’t even start cocktail hour until nine o’clock."

There was a pause as Ryan took in that bit of information. "You have a cocktail hour before you eat dinner?"

Jamie laughed softly, knowing how odd that must sound to her lover. "Lunch too, Baby," she admitted. "It’s a family tradition."

That’s a tradition that will never rear its head in our home, Ryan vowed immediately. "Did you have a good day? Headache all gone?"

"Yeah. I feel fine, actually. I just hung around by the pool all afternoon. Read a little, listened to some tapes. It was pretty relaxing. How about you?"

"Hmm…not so relaxing, but I got some good work in today. Both practices went well, and I stayed after to work on my jump serve for a while."

"I don’t know what that is, but I’m sure you do it very, very well," Jamie said, her support for her partner far outstripping her knowledge of the game.

"I guess I’m going to have to teach you a little about the game so that you can enjoy it more," Ryan suggested.

"Let’s see…" Jamie mused. "You jump around a court in skintight shorts…isn’t that enough?"

Ryan’s gentle laugh warmed her all over, making her feel much closer to home. "I guess that’s plenty," Ryan allowed. "You certainly know what you like."

"I do indeed. I like you. As a matter of fact, I love you. A lot. A whole, whole lot."

"I love you too," Ryan murmured, allowing the longing she felt for her partner to come to the surface. "As tired as I am, I hate to go to bed without you."

"Well, at least you don’t have to sleep alone," Jamie countered, still a little jealous that Jordan got to snuggle with her partner.

"Honey," Ryan said. "Having Jordan there is worse than being alone…really."

"Why, Ryan? I would think it would be comforting to have someone next to you."

"Nope. Even in my sleep I know it’s not you."

"How so?"

"Well, for one thing–she’s too tall. Her head is on the same plane mine is, so I get a face full of blonde hair all night. Yours never does that," she added. "I can hold you tight and tuck your head right under my chin. A perfect fit," she said wistfully.

"What else?" Jamie asked, somehow reassured that Ryan wasn’t enjoying her nights with Jordan.

"She’s too bony, " Ryan decided. "You have such nicely rounded curves…very smooth and gentle. Jordan’s a little too angular, and my mind obviously rebels when it feels her sharp edges."

"Oohh, your poor mind is trying to figure out who’s in bed with it, huh?"

"Apparently," Ryan agreed. "I way lying in bed this morning thinking about how wonderful it feels to hold you the first thing in the morning. It’s just the most peaceful feeling in the world, you know."

"I do know. My poor little Tiger tries her best, but she’s no match for the real thing."

"Do you sleep with her?" Ryan asked, charmed that her partner would do so.

"Absolutely! When mother came in to wake me this morning, I had the poor thing in a death grip. I must have looked three years old!"

"I’d give anything to see that," Ryan said, just able to conjure up the image of her partner with her stuffed animal. Then, getting to the source of her desire, she added, "I’d give anything to see you."

"Me too, Sweetheart. I am honestly counting the minutes."

Ryan sighed heavily, missing her partner so much that it felt like a constant ache. "What’s up for tomorrow?" she asked, already trying to figure out when they would be able to speak.

"I’m playing golf with my cousin, J.C. Nothing much after that. Our big family sail is the day after tomorrow. This is a big deal for Uncle David–so much so that he claims that we’re going to get an early start…we shall see."

"Going anywhere in particular?"

"Yeah…we’re going out to a little island off the coast for a picnic lunch. It should be fun."

"That does sound like fun," Ryan agreed, thinking that she would love to do something like that with Jamie. "Don’t forget to wear you life vest, okay, Love?"

"I will, Honey, but you really don’t need to worry. Both Uncle David and Skip are expert sailors. Skip has crewed on America’s Cup yachts."

"All well and good, but I’ll sleep better if I know that you’ll wear a life vest. Promise me?"

"Yes, I promise," Jamie agreed, privately loving the fact that Ryan was so concerned for her safety. "You get to bed, Sweetheart. You can’t afford to get run down."

"Okay. Call me in the morning if you have time. If not, I’ll await your call at the end of the day. I think we’re going to the Boardwalk tomorrow night, so I might be a little late."

"No problem. I’ll call you until I reach you. You’re well worth the trouble."

"Oh, Baby? Call my cell first. It worked last night, but it’s not clear tonight."

"Will do, Honey. I love you."

"I love you too, Jamie. Sleep tight."

As she hung up the receiver, Ryan slapped herself on the forehead. Jesus! Not only didn’t we talk about her father…I didn’t tell her about the scholarship! Duh!

* * * * * * * * * * *

As Jamie hung up she heard a noise in the hallway and opened her door to see Trey and Stephanie tip-toeing down the hall. She crept out the door to watch them descend the stairs and leave by the main entrance. Checking her watch, she noted that it was 1:20. Well, that would explain why they sleep all day!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Continued in Part 7

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