I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Book 7: Getaway

By S X Meagher




A little past seven on a bright, cool August morning, Catherine Evans walked down the long hall of the second floor of her home, eagerly anticipating beginning her day. Her usual waking hour was around nine, but she was so excited to have Jamie, Ryan, and little Caitlin visiting that she found herself wide awake just after the sun rose.

She had showered and was fully dressed in what was, for her, a very casual outfit—navy blue cotton slacks and a mint green cotton blouse, the long sleeves rolled up a few times. Approaching the door to Jamie’s old nursery, she pressed her ear to the door to determine if the baby was already awake. When she heard nothing, she opened the door stealthily and blinked in surprise when she saw that the crib was empty. Oh…the girls must have taken her into their bed. I hope she didn’t keep them up all night, she worried. Ryan looked absolutely exhausted yesterday, and she’s going to need to be well rested to enjoy our little trip.

The soft sounds of inchoate speech caught her attention, and she walked to the door that joined Jamie’s current room to the nursery. Poking her head in just a few inches, she had to stifle a laugh at the scene that was playing out on the bed. Ryan was lying on her back, a pillow pressed over her face and held in place by one long, bare arm. Jamie was cuddled up against her right side, arms and legs haphazardly entwined with her partner. A bright blonde head peeked out from between their merged bodies as the baby reclined against Ryan’s torso, her little feet rhythmically kneading Jamie’s belly. She was fully awake, seemingly quite content to lie in her little nest as she sang an atonal song of her own creation.

Catherine was about to back out of the room when the baby caught sight of her. Immediately the contented little song turned into a grunt of dismay as the little pea struggled to extricate herself from her pod.

Averting her eyes from what she assumed were nude bodies under the sheet, Catherine crept over to the bed and held her hands out to the grasping infant. The sunny smile that immediately suffused Caitlin’s face filled Catherine with joy, and the two blondes cuddled each other for a moment. No sooner had Catherine taken a step with the baby than the pillow was shoved away from Ryan’s face and the dark head lifted in confusion, her expression comically stunned. Placing her hand on Ryan’s shoulder, Catherine said softly, "Go back to sleep, Dear. I can keep her occupied for a while."

With a massive sigh, Ryan fell back to the mattress, muttering, "I worship you," as her eyes closed once again. Obviously missing the full-body contact, Jamie snuggled closer to Ryan, mumbling something in her sleep as she draped her arm across her body and wrapped her hand tightly around the tall woman’s shoulder, effectively trapping her.

Shaking her head in amusement, Catherine carried the baby from the room, the little blonde head swiveling just a bit to see if the rest of the gang would join them. To Catherine’s great pleasure, Caitlin accepted their decision to sit this one out and focused her attention on the thin gold chain that Catherine had made the mistake of wearing. The twosome walked down to the sunny kitchen, ready to start the day. Now if only one of us knew how to make breakfast, Catherine mused, deciding that it was never too late—nor too early--to learn.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When Ryan entered the kitchen two hours later, she was a little surprised at the mess but quite pleased to see several plates with remnants of adult and baby food. It’s good to know that Catherine isn’t so helpless after all, she mused. Unless she borrowed one of the neighbors' cooks

She could hear Caitlin’s delighted laughter from somewhere in the back yard and went in search of the pair, finding them playing in the formal gardens behind the pool. Catherine was obviously introducing Caitlin to the great variety of flowers in the well-tended space, holding her little face above the various plants and allowing her to sniff the multitude of aromas. Caitlin seemed to be enjoying herself thoroughly, continually looking to Catherine to mimic her actions.

Ryan left the hiding place from which she had been observing the two, and when her feet hit the gravel pathway, Caitlin screamed in delight and held out her little arms to go to her cousin. "How could you ever be in a bad mood when someone was so happy to see you in the morning?" Ryan asked rhetorically, sharing a dazzling smile with the baby.

Caitlin cuddled up to her contentedly, nuzzling against Ryan’s warm body for a few minutes while Catherine looked on. "I don’t think I’ve ever had a more enjoyable morning, Ryan," the older woman mused while watching the cousins reconnect. "It’s impossible not to see the world through new eyes when you have such an inquisitive little soul in your arms."

"Isn’t that the truth?" Ryan agreed. "I learn something every time I’m with her."

"Would you like some breakfast?" Catherine asked. "I made a large serving of the world’s most expensive oatmeal while you two slept."

"Most expensive…?"

"Well, the oatmeal wasn’t expensive," Catherine allowed. "But the 45-minute call to Spain certainly helped drive up the cost."

"Spain?" Ryan gaped.

"Marta’s with her family in Spain this month," Catherine explained. "Luckily, she’s a very patient woman, and she didn’t mind telling me where everything is located and walking me through the process. I’m not sure I made the oatmeal correctly, but Caitlin and I both rather enjoyed it."

"You’re wearing a good bit of it," Ryan observed, picking a hunk of the congealed cereal from Catherine’s hair.

"That’s where that last spoonful went!" the amused woman cried. "I looked all over for that! When Caitlin gets a spoon in her hand it’s best to take cover!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan pushed back from the table, her mood bright and her stomach pleasantly full. "I don’t know about the rest of you, but nothing would feel better to me than a nice swim."

"Not for me, but I’m sure Caitlin would accompany you," Jamie suggested. "After you two play for a while, we can go home and get packed for the trip. I suppose we should sleep here again if you don’t mind, then we can all go to the airport together tomorrow."

"That’ s fine," Ryan decided. "I think Caitie slept well here, and it was nice to have a real room for her. I think she does better when she can’t lie in her crib and watch us all night." Realizing how that sounded, she hastened to add, "You know, she stays in her crib and plays quietly in the morning if she has her own room."

"Yes, Dear," Jamie smirked, catching the grin her mother tried to stifle. "We knew exactly what you meant."

Rolling her eyes, Ryan got to her feet, stretched languidly for a moment, but stopped short when she realized, "I don’t have a suit."

"Neither does Caitlin, and that didn’t stop her," Jamie said, batting her eyes at her partner. Ryan continued to gaze at Jamie, not saying a word, a patient smile on her face. "Okay," the smaller woman laughed, "you can wear one of mine. Second drawer, left hand side of my dresser."

"Be right back," Ryan promised, heading for the door.

"I don’t think Ryan will get much swimming in if Caitlin is with her," Jamie observed, "but she had more than enough activity down at her training camp. I wish she would just take it easy for a few days, but trying to convince her of that is like taking to a wall."

"She does seem to have a determined personality," Catherine agreed. "I’m surprised that you don’t fight more. You’re not exactly a pushover either, Honey."

Acknowledging the truth of the statement, Jamie nodded contemplatively. "It’s funny that we don’t fight much. I suppose it’s because neither of us tries to change the other. I mean, I really want Ryan to relax and lie in a lounge chair all day, but I know that she won’t. I try not to bug her to get her to do what I want—mainly because I know it won’t work. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I won’t try to talk her into a nice long nap later," she grinned. "I just have to use the right enticements."

"Did someone say enticements?" Ryan asked, popping her head around the corner.

"Yes, Love," Jamie said. "I was just telling mother that I was going to entice you to take a nap with me later."

Entering the room, Ryan strode across the floor and picked Caitlin up from Jamie’s embrace. "That will not be a tough sell," she grinned. "I’m really dragging today."

"Didn’t you sleep well?" Catherine asked.

"I slept well," Ryan informed her, "just not long enough. Caitlin woke me three times, and I spent almost an hour with her at around four."

"I didn’t know that!" Jamie exclaimed. "I thought she slept through the night."

"That’s because you slept through the night," Ryan averred, tweaking her partner’s nose. "Come on, Little Bits," she said to Caitlin, "let’s go swimming."

"Did you find a suit?" Jamie asked, gazing confusedly at Ryan’s outfit—the same one she had left in.

"Yeah. But I didn’t have anything to put on over it. Your robes were all too small."

"It’s okay, Babe. You don’t have to be modest here. It’s just us girls." Surveying Ryan’s rumpled clothes, Jamie offered, "Give me your clothes, and I’ll wash them and Caitlin’s dress while you play."

"You sure?" she asked, casting a hesitant look in Catherine’s direction.

"Sure. Hand ‘em over, Buffy."

Sensing that Ryan was uncomfortable undressing in front of her, Catherine stood and announced, "I’m going to go to my office and start making some phone calls about our trip. I’ll be there if you need me."

As Catherine left the room, Ryan returned Caitlin to Jamie and quickly dropped her slacks to the floor. Jamie’s eyes grew in size as the buttons on Ryan’s blouse opened, revealing a dazzling display of womanly pulchritude. The smaller woman blinked as she slowly trailed around her partner, a low, soft whistle escaping from her lips. "My Lord, Ryan! How did you manage to even get that on!"

The microscopic bikini that Ryan wore was at least three sizes too small for her, but Jamie was the last person on earth to complain. The bandeau top strained to contain her full breasts, the creamy flesh spilling over the top of the bright blue fabric. It truly looked as though one deep breath would rend the material, and Jamie fought with her conscience to stop herself from poking Ryan in the stomach to elicit the gasp she hoped for. The tiny bottoms weren’t much more successful at reining in the bounty, and Ryan’s smooth cheeks protruded from the fabric in a nearly scandalous fashion.

"This was the best of the bunch," she blushed, turning her head to look over her shoulder, trying to assess whether she should just scrap the idea. "The other ones were one-pieces, and they were so short I couldn’t stand up straight."

"You know, you’d look less tantalizing if you went swimming in the buff." At Ryan’s slightly perturbed glance, Jamie hastened to add, "Don’t get me wrong, Buffy. You’re fantastic naked—it’s just that this tiny little suit makes it look like you’re intentionally showing off your wares." She ran her thumb over Ryan’s firm nipple, giving her a sexy smile as she did so. "Please don’t take that as a criticism. You can show off any old time for me."

"Never mind," Ryan grumbled, turning to go back upstairs. "We can just go back home and pack."

"No way, Love," Jamie insisted, placing a restraining hand on her arm. "Take that little thing off before you cut off the blood flow to some vital part, and get out there. Mother will be in her office, which does not face the pool. I’ll tell her that you need a little privacy. No big deal."

"You sure?" Ryan really did want to swim, and she loved swimming in the nude, so the offer was tempting.

"Positive. Now scoot."

Without another word, the suit was peeled off, Jamie’s mouth watering when Ryan’s breasts jiggled as they were set free. "Maybe we should take that nap now," the entranced woman murmured, leaning forward to wrap her lips around one hard nipple.

"Swim first," Ryan decided, pulling away with a "pop" as she broke the suction of Jamie’s hungry mouth. "Keep that thought," she advised, patting her partner’s cheek as she ran into the yard with Caitlin in her arms, both swimmers shouting for joy.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Having a built-in excuse, the two cousins stayed in the pool until Jamie came out to announce that their clothes were washed, dried and ironed. "This is the life, eh Cait?" Ryan asked conspiratorially as she carried the gurgling baby to the steps. "What’s that you say? Oh…I guess this is the treatment you’re used to, isn’t it?" Looking at Jamie, Ryan shrugged her shoulders and informed her, "Caitie says you’re gonna have to work a little harder to impress her. I, however, think you’re fantastic."

"Thank you, Sweetheart. I think you’re both fantastic, too. Ready for a shower? I waited for you."

"Uhh, sure," Ryan agreed, knowing that she shouldn’t let the chlorine-infused water remain in her hair. "Can I go in the house in just a towel?"

"Sure. But you don’t have to. Let’s shower in the pool house. I’ll bring your clothes in."

"You have a shower in there?" Ryan asked, gazing at the neat square, two-story house that stood perpendicular to the main house.

"Yep. A really nice one," Jamie informed her interested partner.

* * * * * * * * * * *

"My sweet Lord!" Ryan exclaimed, purring sensually as the warm water cascaded down her body. "I have never been in a shower that felt better than this. Can we move here?" Before the words were fully out of her mouth, she grimly reminded herself that Jim would probably not be wild about that idea, and that she needed to tell Jamie about his visit as soon as possible.

"Sure. It would be a tough commute to school, but if it would make you happy—we’re here."

"I guess this is better as a getaway than as a full-time residence," Ryan decided, knowing that Hillsborough was too far from home even if Jim didn’t hate her.

Jamie was holding Caitlin, who was having as good a time as her big cousin. The waterfall-type showerhead propelled a foot-wide stream of water onto their heads, and the baby laughed while she sputtered and spit, trying to get the water out of her eyes. Taking pity on her, Jamie moved back in the stall, where she immediately shot a puzzled glance down at her leg.

Ryan saw the look on Caitlin’s face and knew that she was relieving herself on Jamie’s leg, but she wasn’t about to break the news if Jamie didn’t notice it. Regrettably, Jamie caught her in mid-stream, making a disgusted face as she grasped the baby and held her at arm’s length. "Gross!" she cried, maintaining her sour face.

Please don’t add any solids, Caitlin, Ryan thought, wisely keeping that thought to herself. "Does this mean that you won’t indulge in my fetish for golden showers?" Ryan asked, trying to look innocent.

"I’m not absolutely certain what that means," Jamie admitted, "but given the context, I’d say that’s a resounding no!"

"You’re no fun," the taller woman muttered, adopting a look of dismay.

"Speaking of fun," Jamie asked, "what do you want to do with Munchkin the rest of the day? Should we take her back to the city with us?"

"Well, if I had my choice, I’d like to cut her hair," Ryan suggested. "She looks like a nut with this goofy haircut, and I’ve been itching to get my hands on it for months. Annie gave me carte blanche to do anything I want, including shaving her head."

Jamie pretended to be considering that option. "I don’t think that would flatter her," she decided, "but she does need some help here."

Getting out and drying off, Jamie tried to slide a wide-toothed comb through the baby’s wet locks, which featured at least 16 different lengths. The very fine hair on the back of her head was short, but permanently tangled from sleeping on her back, and it was clear that Annie had declared the area a total loss. Very long strands of golden hair grew from the crown of her head. They were not bad looking, but they were uneven and they blew around Caitlin’s head in the smallest breeze. The worst part of the cut, however, were the very short, annoyingly uneven bangs that zigged and zagged haphazardly across her forehead, looking more like they had been chewed than cut.

"Da has a set of clippers at the house," Ryan suggested, seemingly in earnest.

Jamie’s eyes grew round as saucers, as she stared at her partner in horror. "Absolutely not!" she cried. "Neither of us knows how to cut hair with a clippers! I will not have this adorable child look worse when we’ve finished with her."

Ryan scratched her head pensively, shaking it slowly. "I don’t think she could look worse, Honey."

"Ryan, the child needs a good haircut, and she’s going to get one." With that, the determined woman strode across the pool deck, baby in her arms.

I do believe this is one of those, "Give up, Ryan" kinda days, the brunette mused as she watched the blondes head for the house.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ryan sat at the kitchen table, watching her partner make arrangements to take Caitlin to Giancarlo for her first official haircut. "Three o’clock is fine," she said into the phone. "No, just a cut. Great. See you then." Turning to Ryan, she announced, "Let’s go home, get packed up and then head over to Berkeley."

"Okay. Let’s go tell your mom."

Catherine was pleased with the plan, and she offered to take the baby separately so that Jamie and Ryan could get packed up more efficiently. That settled, Ryan decided that she needed a little lunch, so they repaired to the kitchen for the noon meal. The day was getting away from Ryan, and she knew that she had to talk to Jamie, but she found herself trying to think of another reason to delay. Deciding that she was just making matters worse by waiting, she sat down at the table with the baby and cleared her throat. "Um…Jamie?" she said, getting a questioning glance from both mother and daughter. "I mentioned this to your mom last night when you were gone, but I’ve been putting off telling you something."

"What is it, Honey?" the smaller woman asked, pulling up a chair right next to Ryan.

Taking a gulp of air, Ryan said, "The morning that you left for Rhode Island, your dad came to our house in Berkeley."

Just that much of the story caused Jamie to clench her fists, her mouth a grim line. She said nothing, but it was clear that she was expecting the worst.

"We had words," Ryan said, cutting to the chase. "Mostly about money, of course. The um…bottom line, Honey, is that he told me that I had to move out."

Catherine cast a worried glance at her daughter as the young woman rose from the table, muttering a tense, "I’ll be back," before stalking out of the room.

Ryan sighed heavily, shaking her head as she watched her partner depart. "Well, that went well," she said ruefully.

"Why did she leave?" Catherine asked.

"She doesn’t like to yell at me, so when she’s really angry she likes to be alone to blow off some steam," Ryan informed her. "I guess she also didn’t want to start hollering in front of Caitlin."

"But why is she angry with you, Ryan?"

"Because I didn’t tell her when it happened," Ryan said, having known the entire time that she was doing something her lover would be hurt by. "She hates to be treated like a child."

"She always did," Catherine mused thoughtfully, "even when she was one." She looked out the large window, just able to make out her daughter’s shape in the distance. "You know, Ryan, I think that’s one of the reasons that I never took her to places like Disneyland. She never seemed like she would enjoy those child-centered places. Even at Caitlin’s age, she was rather serious and quite somber."

Ryan sighed again, realizing that she had made a mistake in trying to control the flow of information that her partner received. "I think I’ll go find her to apologize," she said.

"She’s on the tennis court," Catherine hazarded, even though she couldn’t see the court from where she sat. "That’s where she’s always gone to deal with her frustrations."

* * * * * * * * * * *

As predicted, Jamie was trying to smash the covers off the fluorescent green balls that the electric ball machine shot at her. Sensing rather than seeing Ryan, she growled, "You’d better give me some time. I am not responsible for my mouth right now."

Ignoring the warning, Ryan continued on her course, sitting down quietly behind her partner. A few minutes passed as she watched Jamie whip the balls down the line. "How about if I talk for a minute," she suggested. "I came to apologize, Jamie. I know that what I did was wrong, and I want you to know that I’m really sorry."

"Do you know why I’m angry?" the blonde woman asked through gritted teeth, grunting with each hard-hit shot.

"I think so," Ryan admitted. "I think you’re angry because I tried to think for you. I tried to determine the best time to reveal this to you rather than sharing it immediately. I think it really pisses you off to have me, or anyone else, keep you in the dark about something—especially something like this."

"That’s about it," Jamie grunted. "Good answer for somebody that obviously didn’t realize that just last Sunday."

Her derisive tone stung, and Ryan took a breath to control herself from snapping off a sharp rejoinder. "Jamie, I said I’m sorry. I will try never to do that to you again." She pushed herself up, walking dejectedly to the opening in the fence that surrounded the court. "I can’t do any better than that."

She quietly closed the gate and had traveled about 15 feet when she heard her partner’s rapid footsteps scampering across the court’s surface. "Ryan, wait! Please!" she cried, flinging the gate open.

Ryan paused, waiting patiently but not turning. Soon she felt Jamie’s damp hand on her own, and she turned to face her flushed partner. "I’m sorry, too," Jamie said. "I know that you must have had a good reason for keeping this from me, even though I don’t like it."

"I’m not sure that I do, Jamie," the taller woman said softly. "I think part of the reason that I didn’t tell you was because I just didn’t want to deal with it. I was down in my little isolated cocoon, and I was able to put it aside by not talking about it. I couldn’t have done that if you were all upset about it."

Snaking an arm around Ryan’s waist, Jamie laid her head against the warm chest that was presented when Ryan raised her arm. "That’s a pretty good reason, in my book," she said. "I know last week was hard for you, Baby. I’m sure you did the best you could."

"I tried to, Jamie," Ryan whispered, placing soft kisses on the top of her head. "I’ll admit to being a chicken," she said quietly. "I just felt so odd and unstable being locked away down in Santa Cruz that I really went out of my way to keep things calm. I’m sorry if I made things worse for you."

"It’s okay, Babe. Let me turn off the ball machine, and we can go back inside."

Ryan gave her a firm squeeze and said, "Thanks for being so understanding about this. I know that I screwed up."

"No you didn’t, Baby. You did your best…you always do."

* * * * * * * * * * *

The rest of the discussion went very well now that Jamie was no longer angry with Ryan. Catherine reaffirmed that the house was in her name alone, and that she would not allow Jim to dictate who was allowed to live there. Jamie wasn’t very happy with that, not wanting her mother to be put in the middle, but since she didn’t see many options at this point she agreed.

"I don’t think this is going to place me any higher on Jim’s favorites list," Ryan worried, knowing that the powerful attorney was not the kind of guy that she wanted to have angry with her.

"He’s just having a tantrum," Catherine assured her. "This will all blow over quickly, Ryan. Don’t give it another thought."

Wouldn’t that be nice? the dark woman thought wistfully.

* * * * * * * * * * *

At three o’clock, Jamie stood in the doorway of Giancarlo peering down the street, looking for her mother. Luckily, she spotted the pair nearly running down the street, Catherine clutching the baby in one arm and several shopping bags in the other.

Handing the baby to her daughter, Catherine panted, "I’ve got to put some money in the parking meter. Be back in a few." With that she was gone, heading in the direction whence she had come, at nearly the same pace. Ryan approached from the other direction, having spent the previous 15 minutes looking for the ever-elusive parking meter.

Seeing Jamie enter, Carlo immediately came over to them and began to make over the baby in the most excessive fashion that either woman had ever witnessed. After a few moments of admiring the child as she shyly nestled in Jamie’s arms, Carlo shot an admiring glance at Ryan. "How did you do this?" he demanded, his hands on his hips. "Jamie tells me how talented you are, but this…" he indicated the baby, "is too, too much!" He turned to Jamie and said something in Italian that had her nearly in stitches. She replied with a comment that had him howling with laughter as he snatched the baby from her and took her over to the sink to wash her hair.

"Okay," Jamie said as she leaned in close to her lover. "I promised I’d try to keep you in the conversation, so here goes. I’m not sure that I can do it, but I’m gonna try to translate this so it has the same punch." She took a deep breath, furrowing her brow a bit as she struggled to find an appropriate translation. "Carlo asked if you were a…gorgeous transvestite or an extremely talented lesbian who could produce a baby by the…um…skillful use of your tongue."

Ryan rolled her eyes as a deep blush crawled up her neck. "Wha…what did you say?" she stammered.

"I said," Jamie replied as she got even closer to Ryan’s bent head, "that I had explored every inch of your precious body and that I could assure him that you were a gorgeous, talented lesbian who could in fact do marvelous things with your tongue, but producing a baby was not one of them."

Ryan pulled her head back as she stared at her lover for a moment in stunned silence. "Honey," she finally said as she slid an arm around her shoulders, "don’t bother to translate any more. I kind of like being kept in the dark."

With Ryan still shaking her head, they walked over to where Carlo had set up shop with Caitlin. Much to the baby’s pleasure, he had stripped her completely naked and placed her in the deep sink used for hair washing. She held a short comb in each hand and was splashing around happily in the few inches of water that he had drawn. He looked over at Jamie and gleefully informed her, "The baby, she likes, no?"

"She likes water very much, Carlo. Excellent idea."

He washed her hair with a minimum of fuss and not too much splashing due to the depth of the sink. Jamie came over with a smock that she insisted Carlo put on after she saw one too many water droplets hit his Armani slacks. Since he was so well protected, he decided to cut her hair while she sat in the sink. Caitlin was very much in favor of this, as she giggled and splashed in her makeshift tub. Ryan sorted through the backpack she had brought to carry all of Caitlin’s essentials, and she found some plastic toys that the baby was particularly fond of. Now Caitie was really in heaven, and she barely noticed that a stranger was carefully assessing her hair.

Carlo muttered to himself for a few minutes as he got a complete look at her current hairdo. He finally could not contain his wrath as he turned to Jamie, his nearly black eyes flashing as he demanded, "Who put the baby’s head in the fan?"

"What?" Jamie asked, completely confused, assuming that Carlo must have mistranslated something.

"Nothing else would explain this….this…" he fumed as he held up the longest locks, "butchering!"

"Her mother has a hard time keeping her still," Jamie explained weakly as she watched Caitlin play placidly in the tub, looking like the calmest baby on earth.

Crossing his muscular arms over his chest, he turned slowly and cast a baleful glance at the tranquil child. He obviously decided that his point had been made since he did not continue his rant. Instead, he began to sing a delightful, lilting melody that included little tickles and much splashing of water. He worked very quickly, but with a sureness of vision that was unwavering. In less than ten minutes the cut was finished, and all agreed that it was absolute perfection. Now Caitlin’s hair was a perfect one-inch long all over her head. The delicate golden locks framed her face perfectly and made her look positively angelic. Carlo drained the water and took the hand held sprayer and carefully rinsed all of the hair off her chubby little body, then he wrapped her up in a big fluffy towel and handed her to Jamie. "Sit," he ordered as he guided the twosome to a chair. He produced his dryer, equipped with a diffuser, and very gently blew the new style dry in a matter of moments.

Both Ryan and Jamie were astounded at the transformation. The cut was absolutely perfect for Caitlin’s sweet little face, surrounding her beatific features like a gilt frame.

Catherine entered the shop just as Carlo finished drying the baby’s hair. She gasped in delight, saying, "You are an absolute artist!"

"Carlo, this is my mother, Catherine," Jamie said. "Mother, this is Giancarlo, who you’ve been hearing me praise for three years now."

Slipping into her lightly accented Italian, Catherine proceeded to charm the easily charmed man all the way down to his Gucci loafers. They bantered back and forth for a few moments, complimenting each other on their clothing and their favorite restaurants, and agreeing on the superiority of all things Italian. A client was sitting in the waiting area, looking pointedly at her watch, and Jamie caught her mother’s eye, indicating that they should leave.

"No, no, stay for a drink," Carlo insisted.

"But Carlo, you have another client," Jamie reminded him, as discreetly as possible.

He cast a quick glance at the woman, who now looked completely perturbed with him. Marching over to her, he pointed at his watch, at the assembled women gathered near his station, once again at his watch, and after a dramatic shrug of his shoulders, the woman’s face grew red and she stormed out of the shop.

"Arrivederci," he muttered, adding a dismissive wave of his hand as he walked back to the group. "Now, who would like a drink?"

Glancing at her watch, Catherine said, "A little Campari?"

"But of course!" he cried, seemingly never having heard of a better idea.

Over drinks for Catherine and Giancarlo, a bottle for Caitlin, and glasses of San Pelligrino for Jamie and Ryan, Catherine broached the subject of her own hair. "Carlo, I think I’m ready to make a change with my hair. What do you think?"

"I think I will make the Botticelli’s Venus weep with envy," he confidently declared, taking Catherine’s hand in his.

* * * * * * * * * * *

30 minutes later, three sets of critical, and one pair of vaguely interested eyes assessed Giancarlo’s creation. Catherine, Jamie, and Ryan all agreed that it was the cut that was designed for Catherine’s face, and Caitlin offered no objection, so they were essentially unanimous. In effect, the cut was a slightly longer version of Caitlin’s, with just a bit more length on the top and a little more tapering near the nape of her neck.

As Ryan took another step back to look at the style, she mused that when she'd first met Catherine, she had decided that the only element of her polished image that didn’t work to perfection was her haircut. This new, more modern style was the antidote to that one flaw, and Ryan considered that Catherine now could easily pass for Jamie’s older sister. "It’s absolutely perfect," she said appreciatively, smiling broadly at Giancarlo.

"Thank you, thank you," he said, sketching a bow. "I follow Michelangelo’s theory, you know."

"Ah… no, I didn’t, Carlo. How so?"

"I study the face and the personality of the woman, and then I take away all of the hair that does not belong," he explained, quite proud of himself. "Now that your mother looks even more beautiful, it’s your turn, Jamie," he said as he turned his attention to the younger Evans woman.

"I know I need a cut, but do you have time?"

"For you? Anything, cara mia. You’ve brought me such joy today that I should cut your hair for free." His face broke into a charming grin as he added, "But I will not!"

Ryan was sent for more sparkling water, and she decided to take Caitlin along for the walk. When they returned, Jamie was just finishing up, and Carlo looked at Ryan and said, "Come on, lover girl, you’re next."

"Me?" she asked, jerking a thumb at herself.

"Yes, you," he said with his hands on his hips. "Jamie, please explain to the beautiful one that hair grows. It must be cut to maintain the perfection of my creation!"

Ryan cast a helpless glance at Jamie but she just shrugged her shoulders in reply, knowing that Carlo would eventually win the argument. After a quick shampoo, Carlo set about removing no more than an eighth of an inch from his creation. Ryan ventured a suggestion that he cut her bangs a bit, but he sternly informed her that she was not allowed to have bangs any longer. He turned to Jamie and explained carefully with a lavish degree of hand gesturing why he would no longer allow the offending wisps of hair, and she nodded in agreement. The dialogue had gone on for at least three or four minutes, but when Jamie turned to Ryan she merely shrugged her shoulders and said, "No more bangs."

Rolling her eyes dramatically, Ryan wisely kept her opinion to herself, reasoning that Jamie really did seem to prefer her hair blown back from her face, and that was really all that mattered.

When they were all finished, Jamie went to settle the bill while Carlo carried Caitlin around the shop, introducing her to every other patron and stylist. She was having a ball and giggled nonstop as she met each person. She was snuggled up against Giancarlo as though she had known him all of her short life, and when Jamie returned, she was none too happy to leave his warm embrace.

Her happy little face turned to a sad grimace as they tried to put her back into her baby sling, and Carlo insisted on taking her back into his arms. "You don’t want to leave Carlo, do you?" he crooned. As long as she was wrapped in his toned, tanned arms, the baby was the picture of bliss. Turning to Jamie he ordered, "You must bring her in at least once a month! She is magnifica! And she loves me! See?" he cried as the baby cuddled and batted her eyes at him shamelessly.

"She certainly does," Jamie admitted. "I suppose we’ll just have to bring her over, Carlo."

He sidled up to Ryan, asking, "Why don’t you have your brother bring the baby when he returns?"

"Ahh, my brother is not gay, Carlo," Ryan informed him, surprised that Conor had not made a point of it.

He blinked his dark eyes at her, cocking his head slightly in question. "This affects me, how?"

Ryan blushed deeply, obviously misinterpreting Carlo’s intentions. "Oh! I thought you were…"

"Very short hair must be cut more often, beautiful one. Your brother and Caitlin need their hair cut every month. You, however, can come four times a year. Since he must come more often, he should bring the baby. What of that don’t you understand?"

"I understand perfectly, Carlo," she said, still blushing.

"Lesbians," he scoffed. "Always with the sex…sex…sex!"

* * * * * * * * * * *

After a tearful goodbye, the foursome left Giancarlo. Catherine wanted to do a little more shopping, so Jamie offered to stop at the store to pick up dinner. For some reason, Caitlin wasn’t unhappy to set off in a separate direction from her cousin, much to Ryan’s amazement.

As the pair began the long walk to their car, Ryan commented, "Boy, Caitlin is just crazy about your mom. I’ve never seen her this happy to be with a stranger."

"How many strangers is she ever around?" Jamie smirked, knowing that the Driscolls and the O’Flahertys took up most of Caitlin’s social calendar.

"Good point," Ryan grinned. Deciding to get another bit of business out of the way she added, "Come to think of it, she warmed up to another stranger yesterday."

"Really?" Jamie asked, not having been filled in on any of the rest of Ryan’s day. "I recall that you mentioned you took Caitlin out to lunch. Is that what you mean?"

Boy, she never misses a thing, Ryan thought glumly. She might not tell me she caught something, but she stores it all away up in that cute little head. "Yep. Caitlin and I were at Mass yesterday, and Sara came in and joined us." She saw a twitch in Jamie’s cheek but her face otherwise remained impassive.

"So you had lunch together?"

"Yeah. We had lunch, and I told her all about everything I’d found out about what happened to me in high school. Caitlin really took to her, too," she said lightly. "Maybe she does prefer strangers."

"Anything else?" Jamie asked with studied casualness as Ryan again felt the weight of her prescience.

"Yes," she replied softly. "I told her I didn’t want to see her alone anymore. I said I would like to get to know her again, but only when you and I are together."

Jamie stopped in her tracks and stared at Ryan for a long while. "Why?" she asked simply, staring into her eyes.

Ryan pursed her lips and shifted her gaze to the ground for a long moment. Looking up, she sucked in a deep breath and let out a sigh. "Two reasons. One—I know it bothers you, and it’s not something that means enough to me to risk hurting you over. Two—I realized yesterday that I really have no current relationship with her. Everything we have is from seven years ago. When I’m with her, I keep imagining that we’re both like we were then, but we’re not that way any longer, so it’s not like a real relationship. And if I’m going to build a new relationship with her, I want you to be involved too."

Jamie nodded her head, but the mere set of her posture told Ryan that she didn’t buy that explanation. She looked up at Ryan and said, "It’s too painful…and too tempting, isn’t it?" Her eyes bored into Ryan’s, compelling her to admit the whole truth.

Ryan closed her eyes and nodded. She was moved deeply by Jamie’s thorough knowledge of her inner self, but this knowledge also left her feeling very vulnerable and exposed. It was both reassuring and terribly uncomfortable, and she was sure that duality showed on her face. "I told Sara how sorry I was that I had hurt you," she explained with a pained look on her face. "I explained that I would never put myself in another compromising position with her, and that precluded spending time with her alone. I wanted her to understand that my love for you is paramount, and that I would never do anything to make you doubt me again."

Jamie looked at the open, trusting expression on her partner’s face for a long time, finding herself completely reassured that the dark woman was telling the entire truth. She opened her arms and Ryan buried her head in her shoulder, soaking up the comfort as quickly as Jamie could offer it. "Thank you, Baby," she whispered. "Thank you for knowing how much it hurt me when you kissed her, and for doing what you have to do to make sure it never happens again. It means so much to me to be taken seriously."

Ryan lifted her head and said, "I do take you seriously, Love. And I take our relationship seriously. That’s why I went a little farther and told her some things that were pretty hard for her to hear."

They started walking again, Jamie confident that Ryan would tell all at her own pace. They had only traveled a few feet when she revealed quietly, "She asked me if I love you more than I loved her."

Jamie could feel her heart stop beating as her stomach revolted and caused her to feel a wave of nausea. She gripped Ryan’s hand harder than she should have, blinking at the startled cry her partner let out.

Ryan stopped and grasped her by the shoulders, turning her so that they stood face to face. "I told her that I couldn’t compare my feelings. I think it diminishes love to rate it or compare it. But I also told her that I would choose you in a heartbeat if given the choice."

Jamie was shocked that Ryan would tell Sara this in such a blunt fashion. "Why did you say that?" she gasped. "That must have hurt her!"

"I felt like I needed to be honest, Jamie. It’s unfair to both of us to have this thing between us."

"What do you mean by ‘thing’?" she asked, confused.

"It’s complex, Honey," Ryan admitted, releasing Jamie’s shoulders and starting to walk again. "I think we both feel that if things had worked out differently that year, we would still be together."

Jamie sucked in a breath, blinking slowly, trying to figure out where Ryan was going with this train of thought.

"But things didn’t go well, and we never got the chance to see how we would do as lovers. Now, I might be wrong, but I got the impression that Sara thinks that if you and I broke up, she and I would get back together and live happily ever after."

"You don’t think that?" Jamie asked slowly, feeling in her heart that was exactly what would happen.

"No, I don’t." Ryan looked saddened as she said, "Sara did some things that showed me who she really is, Jamie. Some of those things are understandable, and forgivable, but some aren’t. I honestly don’t think that I could ever trust her again."

"Really?" Jamie gaped. "I…why?"

"She claims she’s loved me all this time, right? But she’s been out of her parents’ house for all those years and never called, never wrote, and never tried to get in contact with me. She didn’t contact me because she thought I’d be angry, and it wasn’t worth it to risk my wrath. What kind of love is that? Jesus!"

Ryan was clearly frustrated, having spent many hours going over the various scenarios in her mind. "Here’s the rub, Honey," she said earnestly. "If I had never met you, I would have given Sara another chance, given this situation. I don’t think I would have known what real love was, and I would have settled for what she was able to offer me. But now that I’ve known you, and have felt what real love is—I honestly don’t think Sara and I would have a chance. I mean, look at the facts, Baby. You’re willing to give up the most important relationship in your life for me! That’s what love is, Jamie. It’s not just attraction and chemistry. It’s being willing to sacrifice and suffer if need be. I know you’ll do that. I thought Sara needed to know that I had no confidence that she would do that for me."

"But why, Ryan? Why did you need to tell her that? Isn’t it enough that you know it?" Jamie was truly touched that her partner felt this way about her, but it pained her that Ryan had been so brutally honest with Sara. It actually felt gratuitously cruel, and that seemed so uncharacteristic of Ryan, that it worried her.

Ryan blinked back a few tears, took a deep breath and said, "I needed to tell her because I want her to get on with her life, Jamie. She’s stuck in a time warp! The woman hasn’t made one significant step forward since that day in 1992. She hasn’t even tried to find someone to love, she hasn’t come out to anyone, even though she’s confident that she’s a lesbian--she’s living in a fantasy world, Jamie, and I want her to know that it’s just that: a fantasy."

"God, that must have hurt her," Jamie whispered, feeling the pain in her gut.

Ryan nodded, acknowledging the truth of the statement. "It did. But I’d rather hurt her than let her continue to delude herself. I love Sara, Jamie, and I always will. I will do whatever I can to help her get on with her life. I just needed to let her know that, no matter what happens, she and I will never be together."

They walked the rest of the way in silence, their hands linked tightly. When they got to the car, Jamie slid into the passenger seat and asked the one question that still puzzled her. "If you’re so confident that you’ll never be together, why is it still tempting to be with her?"

"I guess it’s the battle between my heart and my head," Ryan decided. "I know that I could never fully trust Sara again, and I would never make the choice to be with her because of that. But I’m still attracted to her, Jamie. All of the things that made me fall in love with her are still there. There’s a pull that I feel when I’m around her that is just too tempting to play with. It’s too evocative, Babe, and it reaches that place deep inside that’s never fully healed from her betrayal. I wish I didn’t feel that way, but I do; and until that attraction dies, I’m not going to take the risk."

Grasping Ryan’s hand and pulling it towards her lips, Jamie placed gentle kisses along the knuckles. Her eyes were closed, and she tried to block out the rest of the world and all of her jumbled thoughts and concentrate solely on the warm, strong hand that she held, feeling like her connection to Ryan was the one thing she was sure of. "I wish that you didn’t feel that way about her," she said softly, feeling like she needed to be completely honest with Ryan, "but I can understand why you told her. It’s... it was a very loving gift…for all of us."

"I just want you to know that I choose you, Jamie. Unequivocally. I choose you over everyone else on earth. You are the woman for me," she whispered fervently. "For the rest of my life."

They sat in the still car, on that warm summer evening, wrapped in each other’s arms, secure and safe in their love.


Continued in Part Two

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