Ryan OFlaherty stumbled up the basement stairs of her family home on a cool, foggy August morning, wishing that she could return to bed but knowing that a long day of work awaited her. Her hair was thoroughly mussed, partly from sleep and partly from the long hours of lovemaking that she and her partner had blissfully engaged in the night before.
Said partner was still out cold, uttering one small unhappy grunt when Ryan pulled herself from their bed. Before going upstairs, the tall, lean woman had tugged on a pair of loose sweatpants and a T-shirt, knowing there was a possibility that her father was at home. Her brother would definitely be at work on this Friday, so the muffled sound of voices from the dining room puzzled her a bit. Mmm Aunt Maeves here, Ryan thought with pleasure when she recognized one of the voices to be female. She looked at her rumpled self and decided that her appearance wouldnt shock the woman, who had seen Ryan look substantially worse on many occasions.
Crossing the small living room while she absently scratched herself, the dark woman nearly screamed when she saw that her father was not speaking to her aunt after all. Catherine Evans sat at the table, looking casual and alert as she conversed companionably with Martin.
"Well, well, look what the cat dragged in," Martin teased upon seeing his scruffy daughter.
"Catherine!" Ryan cried, completely stunned to see her mother-in-law in her home. "How why um hi," she finally got out, her pleasure at seeing Jamie's mother overriding her shock.
Casting a long appraising look at the lanky woman who stood in front of her, Catherine mused, "So this is the vision that my daughter wakes to, hmmm?"
Blushing lightly, Ryan gave herself another quick glance, admitting the truth. "This is about as good as it gets, Catherine. Scary, huh?"
Sharing a broad smile with the slightly embarrassed woman, Catherine assured her, "I think my daughter has done very well for herself, Ryan. Now that Ive met your father, your stock has gone up even further."
It was clear to Ryan that her father was the latest victim to the charms of Catherine Evans, and she spared a moment to offer up a prayer of thanks that her aunt was not in attendance. Seeing your fiancé blushing like a schoolboy in the presence of a very charismatic, very attractive, very wealthy woman wasnt a good way to start the day.
Taking a seat at the table, Ryan acknowledged, "Da is the pick of the OFlaherty litter, Catherine."
Blushing even more, the senior OFlaherty got to his feet and made for the kitchen. "Starving as usual, Siobhán?" he called over his shoulder.
"Ive only been gone ten days, Da," she scoffed. "I couldnt possibly have changed something so elemental to my personality."
"Do all of your children have such a healthy appetite, Martin?" Catherine asked over the muted clatter of pots and pans.
"Oh my, yes," he called out. "Manys the time I wished I could drop them off at Bell Foods for the day. They nearly ate me out of house and home."
"I wish I could disagree, but its all true," Ryan shrugged. Looking at her mother-in-law, she cocked her head slightly and asked, "Im still a little groggy, but Im quite sure I dont know how it is that were having breakfast together."
Catherine blushed a little as she told the whole truth. "After your cousins dropped me off last night, I started to feel quite depressed," she admitted. "Being around you girls and the baby was so wonderful for me that I could hardly bear the thought of being in that big house all by myself. Your perceptive cousin Annie sensed that I was having a hard time saying goodbye, and she generously offered to stay over. We had a marvelous time, and Caitlin got to go swimming again," she said, a fond smile stealing over her patrician features.
"Annies a good woman," Ryan agreed, letting her love for her adopted cousin show.
"Shes a darling girl," Catherine decided, "and Tommy is a very good father. Caitlin is so clearly in love with her daddy."
"Oh yeah. Daddy is number one in her heart," Ryan agreed. There was a moment of silence before she asked again, "That still doesnt explain how you wound up here, Catherine."
"Well, we all got up early so they could start for the beach. I was up, I was dressed, and I thought it would be fun to help you girls out today. Tommy gave me a list of everything you might need, and I went to the adorable hardware store he recommended and bought everything we need to clean their house properly."
Ryans mouth was gaping open so comically that her father couldnt help but gently close it when he entered the room with her breakfast. "We have a fly swatter, Sweetheart. You dont have to use your mouth."
* * * * * * * * * * *
While Ryan got to work on her breakfast, Martin said, "Im off work and Mrs. Driscoll has an unexpected free day also, so were at your disposal to help today, too."
"Oh Da, I cant impose on you and Aunt Maeve like that," Ryan complained.
"Nonsense! No one is more concerned about the safety of that baby than Maeve. And if Maeves concerned, Im concerned," he declared. "Isnt that the way this works, Siobhán?"
"It is indeed, Da," she agreed as she gave him a wide smile. "Youre catching on quickly."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
By noon over half of the work was finished, but all five crewmembers were tired, dusty, and ready for a good long break. "Hey, Ive got an idea," Jamie said, as they all shared the front porch steps. "Why dont we pack it up for the afternoon and invite all of the cousins over for a big barbeque in the backyard. We can cook while they all work!"
Martin smiled over at Ryan as he said, "Shes a quick learner, this one is, Siobhán. Shes quickly figured out the benefits of a large family!"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Late that night Jamie was sitting on Ryans lap in Tommys backyard. The house was spotless, all of the linens had been washed, the curtains washed and ironed, and every toy and article of clothing was neatly returned to its proper place. They had managed to feed twelve hungry men and were in the process of filling each of the workers with just enough beer to keep them happy.
None of the aunts or uncles had come, nor had Conor or Brendan, but Catherines mind was still reeling from the introductions that had seemingly gone on for hours. The older woman pulled one of the lawn chairs next to her daughter and let out a sigh. "How long did it take you to learn all of these colorful names, Jamie?" she asked in exasperation. "Its nearly impossible to tell these handsome young men apart, much less assign names to them!"
Laughing gently, Jamie acknowledged her mothers plight. "It seems hard now, Mom, but when you spend a little time with them, you hardly notice how much they look alike."
"Thats what I told you, Jamie," Ryan agreed. "I hardly see any similarities at all!"
"Now thats stretching it," Jamie demurred, chuckling at her partners claim. "I think of them as a big litter of puppies. They all look alike at first, but when their personalities are revealed, they become distinct."
"Odd analogy, but its apt," Ryan agreed, realizing that she was both the bitch and the runt of the litter.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Before Catherine departed, she pulled Jamie aside for a little pep talk. "Even though Ill be in Italy, I want you to know that Ill come back on a moments notice if you need me, Honey."
"I appreciate that, Mom. I really wanted to talk to Daddy today, but his secretary said he wont be back in town until Monday. Its not going to go well, but I promise Ill try to stay civil. Im going to tell him, in no uncertain terms, that hed better keep his nose out of my business. Its up to him how he responds."
Casting a worried glance at her daughter, Catherine pursed her lips, knowing that a full-scale confrontation between father and daughter was inevitable. "Just try to remember that he loves you, Jamie, even if it doesnt seem like it sometimes."
Putting on a stern face Jamie said, "That doesnt cut it, Mom. Saying that you love me while you treat me like chattel is not acceptable. The rules to this game have changed."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
When they returned to Berkeley on Sunday evening, they nearly collided with the cab that was depositing Mia in the driveway. "Jamie!" she called, her face lighting up with delight.
"Mia!" she hollered with the same intensity. They ran for each other and screamed like 12-year-old girls while Ryan ambled over and stood by patiently, waiting to be noticed.
When the joyous reunion showed no signs of ceasing, Ryan finally asked, "If I carry your bags, can I get a hug too?"
The sunny, impish face turned in her direction seconds before a slightly demonic look took over. Ryan knew something was coming but was still unprepared for Mia to take a running leap at her. But leap she did, and only Ryans extraordinary reflexes allowed her to catch the woman before she broke something major. "Youre right, Jamie," Mia cried. "She is as quick as a cat!" Her legs were wrapped around Ryans waist and her arms draped around her neck as she made her proclamation.
"Hey, are you gonna tell all of your friends to test me like this?" Ryan complained. "Luckily, youre both light as feathers."
"Look what I got!" Mia demanded as she leaned back in Ryans protective embrace. She yanked up her knit shirt and revealed not only a tanned and toned belly, but a shiny silver ring piercing her navel.
"Yeoow!" Ryan cried. "That must have hurt like a bitch!"
"You have no idea," she agreed, shaking her head solemnly. "If I hadnt been drunk and high, I never would have done it!"
"Theres not enough alcohol in the world," Ryan vowed, accompanied by Jamies knowing smile.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
"Honey, stop obsessing," Jamie reassured her partner as they loaded up her big golf bag in the Lexus on Monday morning. "I should be the one whos nervous," she reminded her.
"I know, I know, but not being able to come with you is driving me nuts!"
"I think its for the best, Love. Im a little nervous about playing in front of a crowd right now, and I think seeing you would make it worse."
Giving her partner a puzzled glance, Ryan privately mused, Why would you want to participate in a sport if it made you nervous to play in front of people? Aloud she asked, "Now tell me again how they do this?"
"The golf team has three openings. As of Friday, fourteen women had signed up to compete for them. We play 36 holes of stroke play today "
"Thats normal golf?"
"Yes, thats normal golf. You count all of your strokes and see who has the fewest at the end of the day. The top eight women then compete starting tomorrow in a four day match play tournament."
"Thats where you win holes, right?"
"Right. Each hole is a discrete event. So even if you have 20 shots on one hole, you only lose that hole; your bad score doesnt continue to haunt you. There are, of course, 18 holes, and you stop when it becomes impossible for the other person to win. They refer to the winning score as three and two or five and four to indicate that the winner has one more point than there are holes left to play."
"The eight women play four matches, starting on Tuesday. The three women with the most wins make the team."
"What if theres a tie?"
"Then Scott considers scores of the matches. He adds up the points you made, so its to your advantage to beat people decisively."
Ryan shot her a crooked grin as she pointed out, "Its always to your advantage to do that, Honey."
* * * * * * * * * * *
The sandy-haired man leaned back in his sumptuous leather desk chair, a lit cigar protruding from his mouth. His firm had a no-smoking policy in the building, but everyone agreed that the restriction didnt pertain to the managing partner. His feet were planted on the desk so that the smooth, soft leather of his custom-made shoes was the first thing that Helen, his secretary, saw when she entered the room.
She gave him a tentative look, unaccustomed to the relaxed posture from her high-energy boss. "Um theres a call for you on line one," she indicated.
"Who is it?" he asked absently, his attention focused on something that only he could see.
"He wont say," she said. "He said that you were expecting his call, but he wont " she trailed off as he lethargically slid his feet from the desk and leaned forward, propping his head on his hand.
"No problem, Helen. Ill take care of it." The woman gave him a puzzled look, nodded once, and excused herself, a furrow firmly etched into her brow.
As the door closed, he picked up the receiver, eschewing the speakerphone that he usually chose. "Jim Evans," he said.
"Dick Williams of Williams Investigations," the caller responded. "Its been a while, Mr. Evans. I was planning on calling to congratulate you on being the governors choice to replace Senator Sommers."
"How did you know " he began, but trailed off. Dick Williams knew nearly everything about nearly everyone, and Jim knew he wasnt exempt from the snare of his information net. "I have a job for you, Dick, if youre able to assure me of complete confidentiality."
"Of course, Mr. Evans," he said immediately. "Ive never let you down before!"
"No, thats true," he agreed, "but this job this job is absolutely top secret. No one--I emphasize, no one--can know about this."
"Mr. Evans," the voice on the phone reminded him, "my entire business is built on confidentiality. That is my only asset."
"True," the attorney mused. "You have a point there." He paused for a few long minutes, allowing his well-honed instincts to determine if he was comfortable going forward. Finally, he sighed and said, "I need a full work-up on a young woman. I want everythingbackground, friends, lovers, family. I want to know about every speeding ticket, every person shes slept with, everything!"
"Screening for a new assistant?" Dick asked, knowing that Jim Evans always had anyone on his immediate staff investigated very thoroughly.
Jim paused before he answered, deciding to reveal all just to make sure the investigator understood the underlying goal. "Everyone has some dirt, Dick. Im going to use whatever I learn to break this young woman. Shes threatening my family, and shes going to regret it."
"Got it, Mr. Evans," he said immediately, shaking his head at the temerity of any young woman who would dare go up against an opponent like the powerful attorney. "Well find anything thats out there."
"Theres something there," he stated firmly. "There had better be." The implication was clear, and Dick Williams understood it.
"There will be, sir," he stated confidently, hoping that he didnt have to manufacture something out of whole cloth. While he was not unwilling to make the facts match the request, that wasnt his preferred business style, and he silently hoped that the young woman was as dirty as Jim implied.
* * * * * * * * * * *
When Ryan returned home from her afternoon practice, Jamie was sitting in the back yard drinking a large glass of lemonade. Her feet were drawn up under her, and she had a pensive look on her face. Not noticing Ryan until the larger woman placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, she gave a little start, then patted the soft hand and gave it a squeeze. "I didnt hear you come in," she said softly, a faraway look in her eyes.
"Didnt it go well?" Ryan asked sympathetically, recognizing the look of disappointment on her partners face.
"What?" Jamie looked confused for a second, then nodded and said, "Oh, yeah, it went fine. I came in second."
"Then why the long face?" she asked softly, crouching down to make her eyes level with her partners.
"Oh." Jamie shook her head, obviously trying to dispel some bad thoughts. "I tried to make an appointment to talk to my father, and he claims he doesnt have a moment to spare this week."
"All week?" Ryan gaped, stunned that Jamie actually needed to make an appointment to see her own father.
"So he says," Jamie mused. "It took several tries just to get him on the line. He must have told his secretary to brush me off."
Kneeling on the ground, Ryan nestled her head into her partners lap, trying to lend reassurance with her mere presence. "Im sorry, Love. Im sure its not that he doesnt want to see you."
"Yeah, I know. He just doesnt want me to be mad at him, so he avoids me. Very mature."
"Very hurtful," Ryan corrected, knowing that her partner had to be wounded by this snub.
"Right on the money, Baby," Jamie agreed, thankful that her partner understood her mood.
"Well, its probably best not to let this get in the way of your concentration anyway, right?" Ryan asked brightly, lifting her head to gaze into her green eyes. "I wouldnt want this going on when I was trying out for a sport."
"Eh good point, I guess. Ill track him down over the weekend. Would you go down there with me if he wont return my calls?"
"Um sure," Ryan replied immediately. "I love the CD player in my car. Ill be waiting for you in the driveway."
"Cluck, cluck, cluck."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Ryan came down the stairs on Friday morning, puzzled to find her missing lover sitting in the kitchen. The circles under her eyes indicated her lack of sleep, but her expression was determined and grim. "Im going to my fathers office after the competitions over this afternoon."
The words that Ryan had been dreading hit her hard, and she felt her stomach clench painfully. She knew that Jamie felt a strong need to confront her father on his behavior, but she knew in her gut that there was a very real possibility that her partner would find out that Ryan had known about her fathers infidelity for months now. When you make a decision like that, you have to be able to tolerate the consequences, she reminded herself.
"I thought you were going to wait for the weekend. Were you able to get an appointment?" The words still sounded odd to her ear, but this was the Evans way, and she tried not to show her disdain for the practice.
"No, I wasnt, but thats not going to stop me. I just talked to his secretary and told her that I wanted to surprise him with a little visit since I havent been to his office in so many years. Shes going to make sure hes free at four oclock."
Ryan nodded, knowing that this would be a very stressful day for her partner. "How do you feel about your match?" The golf competition had taken a back seat to Jamies anger the entire week, and oddly that distraction had allowed her to play very well. She was still in second place, and a win today would ensure her a spot on the team. Her odds were still very good, even if she lost, but Jamie was determined to do her best.
"I feel good. Im playing a freshman, and she seems really nervous. Shes good, but she needs a lot of seasoning. I honestly think that shed do well to practice this year and work with a teacher to improve her confidence level, so I dont think Ill feel guilty if I beat her."
Hmm I wonder what that feels like? Ryan mused. Have I ever felt guilty about beating anyone? I felt sorry for those women I thrashed during my volleyball tryout, but that certainly wasnt guilt.
"Huh? Oh, sorry," she said. "I was just thinking about something. What did you say?"
"I said that Id like to take the Lexus again today. You dont mind, do you?"
"Course not. Youll probably have to put gas in it, though."
Sighing heavily while giving Ryan a mock perturbed look, Jamie asked, "Do you ever actually fill it up? Its chronically on empty!"
With an adolescent looking shrug, Ryan replied, "Yeah, I do fill it up. I just have a thing about buying gas. I put it off for as long as humanly possible."
"Youre gonna run out someday, Buff. Dont say I didnt warn ya."
"Duly noted," Ryan nodded, even though she was sure that would never happen.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Jim Evans barreled past his secretary a little after four, muttering, "Im gonna try to get out of here, Helen. Anything urgent I need to know?"
"No," she said brightly, pleased with her role in arranging for Jamie to visit the office. "Enjoy yourself."
He cast a puzzled glance in her direction before opening the door to his inner office. Striding over to his desk, he grabbed his large briefcase and started throwing files into it, wracking his brain to make sure he brought everything he might need to complete a major deal with a Swedish company. He was so deep in thought that he didnt see the young woman sitting patiently on his burgundy leather couch. Hitting the intercom he barked, "Helen, have my driver meet me at the front door of the building. Itll take me all night to get to Pebble Beach as it is."
"Uh yes, sir," she replied, puzzled by this order.
He shut the case, hefted it off the desk and started for the door when a quiet voice asked, "Dont you think you should make a little time for your daughter before you leave town?"
The case fell to the floor, slamming into the carpet with a dull thud. "J--Jamie," he stuttered. "Wow, what a nice surprise!" His face immediately grew pale, and Jamie felt a burst of pleasure at having caught him so off guard.
"Tell your driver that you wont need him for a while," she said coolly, her green eyes boring into him with unblinking intensity.
"Well um I have a big deal going on, Honey, and I uh Ive arranged for a conference call for late tonight "
"You can do it from here," she said, her tone flat, yet determined. "Helen can change the arrangements when she cancels your driver."
"Ive got an early tee time with a client "
"Fine," she snapped, her limited patience at an end. "Lets make this quick then. Ryan is my life partner. What you do to her, you do to me. I dont give a rats ass if you like it or notshes staying! We live togetherpermanently! By the way, you cant throw her out of a house that isnt yoursits Mothers, and she wants Ryan to stay. Maybe you should be a little more careful in trying to control things that you dont own!"
Her face was red, both from anger and the hurt that had been welling up in her chest. She stood and approached him, getting close enough to see the small nervous tic in his right eye. "Its bad enough what youve tried to do to Ryan, but what youve done to mother is beyond contempt. Youve disgraced your family by cheating on her, and it sickens me to admit that we share the same genes!"
She turned on her heel and made for the door, not getting four steps away when his equally fiery temper snapped and he slammed his hand down on his desk and yelled, "That bitch!"
Wheeling around and flinging herself in his direction, Jamie grabbed the lapels of his custom-made suit and gave him a powerful shake. "Dont you DARE speak of my mother that way! DONT YOU DARE!"
His hands automatically grabbed hers, and he peeled her off of his suit, his dumbfounded look reflecting his befuddlement. "What? I never " Realization dawned and he shook his head quickly. "Im not talking about your mother," he growled. "Im talking about that sanctimonious bitch youre living with. I guess its okay for her to lie to me, huh?" he demanded, his anger nearly equal to his daughters.
"What in the hell are you talking about?" Jamie asked, her entire body shaking with rage.
"The bitch swore shed never tell you, but the second I call her on her little extortion scheme, she cant keep her mouth shut!"
The rage that flowed through her body was stunning in its intensity. Without having any conscious thought of what she was doing, Jamie started to advance on her father as he retreated in shock.
"WHAT!" She slapped hard against his muscular chest, both hands open, the sharp sound echoing loudly in the quiet room.
"ARE!" He backed up a step, hitting the back of his leg against a low table as he tried to escape her attack.
"YOU!" Another slap as her hands gave him another rough push, the furor in her eyes stunning him into speechlessness.
"TALKING!" An even harder push caused him to stumble a bit, his body unused to moving around his office in a backwards direction.
She had shoved him into the corner of the office, and he fell into the couch, nearly too shocked to speak. His daughter stood over him, her fists clenched, a look of absolute rage distorting her normally attractive features. She was breathing so heavily that her chest was heaving, and for just a moment, he was afraid that she would punch him. With effort, he managed to sputter, "She told me that she wouldnt tell. I thought we had an understanding!"
A sound unlike any he had ever heard from a human erupted from her throat, and before he could say another word, she was gone, nearly sprinting from his suddenly silent office.
* * * * * * * * * * *
After a long week of two-a-day practice sessions, Ryan was physically and mentally exhausted as she drove across the Bay Bridge during the height of rush hour, having a hard time getting through the near-gridlock even on her Harley. It was legal to straddle a lane on a bike, and she made slow progress until some aggressive jerk decided to block motorcycle access by wedging his car between the lanes. Damn! Its not like Im not nervous enough! Sitting in this mess makes me feel like jumping out of my skin on a good day, and this is turning out to be anything but a good day. Practice had gone poorly, Coach Placer ragging on the team for the entire two-hour session. Ryan knew that they were just exhausted, but she realized that he had certain expectations that were not being met, mostly because they had missed the previous week of practice because of repairs to the gym. She knew that she had been much less than sharp, and she had seen her coach give her several long looks of near-disgust at her poor execution of the fundamentals.
Im so damned worried about whats going on with Jamie that I was in another world! I have got to be able to focus better or hes gonna have my ass!
When she pulled up in front of the house, she was pleased to see Conors big black truck blocking the driveway. Well, at least Ill have someone to talk with to take my mind off Jamie.
Conor proved to be a very competent distraction as they sat in the kitchen having a beer. He was going out soon, accompanying some of the cousins to a baseball game, but he lingered as long as he could, sensing that his little sister needed to talk.
They had just finished their beers when the front door flew open, the heavy frame rattling as it slammed. Giving her brother a wide-eyed look, Ryan got to her feet and walked toward the living room, only to find herself face-to-face with her extremely angry lover. "HOW COULD YOU?" Approaching Ryan with a menacing look on her face, Jamie raised her hands, looking like she was going to grab the startled woman. She paused a second, looking down at her hands as though they belonged to someone else. Roughly crossing her arms over her chest, she tucked a hand into each armpit, seemingly trying to stop herself from striking Ryan. Again she said, "How could you?" By this time she was backing up, and as she moved back the rage that colored her face began to dissipate, slowly being replace with a devastated look of hurt that tore at Ryans soul. "How could you?" she finally cried, nearly hysterically, as she turned and ran down the stairs to their bedroom.
Ryan was right on her heels, leaping over a cowering Duffy, who was trying to find a safe place to hide.
Jamie was standing in the middle of their room, looking like she had no idea of what to do. Her face was both flushed and deathly pale, small patches of bright red on an otherwise chalk-colored canvas. Her hands clenched and released as her entire body shook with rage.
Approaching her partner as gently as she could, Ryan placed a hand on her shoulder, only to have it roughly pushed away. That one small act felt like a stake driving into her heart, and Ryan had to bite her lip hard not to collapse in tears. "Dont you touch me!" The voice bore no resemblance to Jamie's usual loving tone, and Ryans heart clenched again as the thought flashed through her mind that Jamie might actually be unable to forgive her.
Feeling desperate, Ryan begged, "Jamie, please let me explain. Please!"
Glaring at her with a face full of contempt, Jamie spat, "Did you know that my father had an affair?"
"Yes, I did, but "
Holding up a hand, she asked the follow-up. "Did you tell him that you would keep it a secret from me?"
"Yes, but its not like it "
"QUIET!" She clapped her hands over her ears, unable to hear another word from the woman that she had trusted completely, who had now betrayed her. "I cant stand to hear another word from you!" Groping roughly through her pockets, she found the keys to the Lexus and made for the door.
"Jamie, please, please dont leave when youre this angry." Ryan leapt in front of her, blocking her way. She was on the verge of physically restraining her, but recognized that such an act might make the situation even worse.
"Get out of my way." The tone was low, and so very cold that a chill settled in Ryans guts as soon as the words were out.
"Please," she begged. "Ill go. Ill go back to Berkeley so you can have the house to yourself. Just, please dont leave when youre this angry. Its not safe to drive!"
"Its not safe to be with you," Jamie replied, an ice-cold emptiness in her normally bright eyes.
Ryan hesitated just an instant, then once again put her hand on her lovers shoulder.
With a look of sheer disgust, the smaller woman removed the hand and turned to spit out, "You think you know whats best for me. You dont! You think you can make my decisions for me. You cant! Im an adult, Ryan OFlaherty, and you and every other person who wants to stay in my life had better learn that!"
Ryan was shocked into inactivity just long enough for the livid woman to run up the stairs and slam the door once again. Making her way to the door, Ryan opened it and stood on the deck, watching her partner get into the Lexus and peel out of her illegal parking space, leaving a patch of rubber on the pavement.
Conor approached his sister, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Wanna talk about it?" he asked softly. He was loath to get involved in her private affairs, but he was unable to act like he hadnt heard most of the fight.
She turned and fell into his strong embrace, burying her head in his neck as she sobbed pitifully. "I cant," she muttered, wishing with all of her heart that she could unburden herself, but knowing that she could not commit such a betrayal of Jamie's privacy.
* * * * * * * * * * *
As angry as Jamie was, she knew that her partner was right and that she should not drive, so she went up the hill and pulled into the nearly empty parking lot at St. Phils. The church was open for Friday night confessions, and she went into the cool, dark space to allow some of the anger to drain from her body before she made any decisions about how to proceed.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Are you sure you dont want to go with us, Sis?" Conor asked for the third time.
Privately thinking that this was one of the big differences between men and woman, Ryan thanked him again and declined. Conor would think its okay to go to the baseball game in this situation, she mused. He would reason that going out would take his mind off his troubles and allow Jamie to calm down, but I could never enjoy myself knowing that my beloved was driving around San Francisco so angry that she barely knows where she is. I kinda envy guys for being able to compartmentalize things like this, but I know that going out with the boys would be the first act of my new single life. She shuddered at the mere thought, and tried to chase all such gloom and doom scenarios from her mind.
Her hands were still shaking so much that she had a hard time opening another beer. She sat on the deck, watching the sunset, thinking about Jamie and wondering where she could possibly be. The cordless phone was on her lap and after a few minutes she started to dial. She called their house in Berkeley, and luckily Mia was home, but she had not heard from Jamie. Ryan didnt tell her what was going on, reasoning that Jamie would fill her in if she wished. The house in Hillsborough was next, but there was no answer. She knew that Jamie would not answer her cell, but she dialed it anyway, and when it immediately went to voice mail she knew that it was turned off.
Scrolling through the stored numbers, she hit the one for Reverend Evans, pleased when he answered the phone. "Hi, Charlie, its Ryan OFlaherty," she announced.
"Ryan! What a nice surprise!"
He doesnt know anything, she decided, trying to figure out how to get off the phone without worrying him. "Uhh, Jamies not home and I thought maybe she had come to see you this afternoon," she said, thinking that was a reasonable lie.
"No, I havent heard from her," he said slowly. Sensing something was wrong, he asked, "Is everything okay, Ryan?"
"Sure. Im sure everything will be okay," she said with more conviction than she felt.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The filtered rays of a lovely sunset had just begun to paint the floor of the deck when Ryan heard footsteps on the staircase. Duffy ran for the stairs, cocking his head curiously, glancing back at his mistress and then at the visitor, trying to determine if it was friend or foe. His tail was low and wagged hesitantly, his ears set low as well. Its clearly not Jamie, Ryan mused, knowing that Duffy would be in heaven to have his favorite home.
Getting to her feet, Ryan reached the top of the stairs just as Jims head popped into view. "Oh great," she muttered, turning her back on him. She walked back to her seat, picked up her beer, and chugged the remainder, hoping the alcohol would calm her jangled nerves.
"Where is she?" he demanded, his eyes narrowed and intense.
"I have no idea," Ryan drawled. "All I know is that its a flip for who shes angrier with. Thanks for that, by the way."
"Her anger at me will dissipate when she comes to understand that Im just trying to protect her," he declared.
Cocking her head, Ryan gazed at him for a long moment, finally asking, "Do you really know her so little, or do you just refuse to let yourself see her? Cant you understand that even if I was using her, shed never forgive you for being the one to point it out? For Gods sake, Jim, use your brain!"
"Brain! You tell me to use mine! What about yours? How could you be so stupid as to think that telling Jamie about my affair could possibly work in your favor?"
"I didnt tell her," Ryan spat, her arms now crossed against her chest.
"Then who did?" he demanded.
Ryan would not reply. She merely stared him down.
"Youre the only one who knows about Kayla," he fumed, still at the boiling point.
Ryan remained silent, slowly shaking her head. Eventually she repeated her original statement. "I have never told anyone about what I saw. I would never do that."
"Then who--?" he thundered, causing Duffy to move right next to Ryan, his hackles rising dangerously. As the words left his mouth, a look of stark realization hit the man, and he grabbed the edge of a chair, lowering himself into it heavily. "Catherine," he whispered, feeling perversely betrayed by his wife.
Ryan looked away, not wanting him to see the confirmation in her eyes. "You had a marriage that was limping along but functional, and a daughter that thought you were a great guy. What have you got now?" she demanded, cutting him to the core.
"Thanks to you!" he yelled, causing Duffy to bare his teeth and growl. Jim realized that he was about to be attacked, so he backed off and said, "Everything that Ive done, Ive done with Jamies best interests in mind. That is my duty as her father."
Barking out a bitter laugh, Ryan narrowed her eyes and asked, "Does that include Kayla? I would think that part of your duty as a father is to treat your wife with respect."
He stood up, for just a moment looking as if he would strike her. Duffy sensed the danger and growled menacingly, causing Jim to lower his hands. Strangely, Ryan felt almost nothing when he was looming over her. At this point she was so grief-stricken over the entire situation that she hardly cared if he did hit her. He could see that all of the fight had gone out of her, and he knew he had nothing to gain by staying, so he turned and stalked off without another word spoken between them.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Hi Poppa," Jamie said dully when the gray-haired man opened the door of his house at around eight oclock.
"Jamie!" He reached out and wrapped her in an embrace, realizing from her desperate hug that she was very upset. "Whats wrong, Honey?"
She stood tall and pushed her hair from her face, wiping her eyes again as she did so. "Can I have a drink?" she asked as she moved into his small sitting room.
"Certainly," he said, going into the kitchen to fetch her a bottle of sparkling water.
When he returned she looked askance at the bottle, having had something alcoholic in mind. Reverend Evans knew what she had been looking for, but he could tell how upset she was and he didnt think that alcohol was a good idea at the moment.
"Thanks," she said as he handed her the beverage. She took a long drink and let her head roll back against her shoulders, trying to ease some of the tension that was knotting in her neck and back.
"Ryan called earlier, looking for you," he said, slightly stunned when he saw the angry set of her face.
"I dont want to see her," she said, shaking her head decisively.
His eyes shot open at that, but he decided to let his granddaughter tell her tale as she saw fit. "Start anywhere you wish, Jamie."
Letting her head drop to the back of her chair, Jamie sighed heavily and said, "Daddy betrayed our family." She took in another shuddering breath and added, "Ryan betrayed me."
Over the next hour, the young woman unburdened herself, revealing everything that she had learned about her fathers affair, his threatening encounter with Ryan, her partners decision to wait almost a week to tell her of Jims visit, her own confrontation with her father, and finally, Ryan's collusion with Jim to keep the secret of his adultery.
Reverend Evans had stayed quiet during her recollection, only asking for an occasional point to be clarified. Now that he'd heard the story in a linear fashion, he tried to address the issues that were wounding his granddaughter so badly. "What was Ryans explanation for keeping this a secret?" he asked, sensing that Jamie was angrier with Ryan than she was with her father.
The young woman blushed slightly as she allowed, "I um didnt let her give me one."
He nodded, having realized that was probably the case. "Dont you think you owe it to her to at least hear her out?"
"No, I dont," she sniffed, feeling more than a little self-righteous. "There is no valid excuse. She knew something that she should have told me. Not only doesnt she tell me, she conspires with Daddy to keep it from me. Why would she do that?" Her voice was starting to rise again, and Reverend Evans tried to calm her down.
"I cant know that, Jamie, but neither can you. Only Ryan can tell you why she did it, and knowing her, Im certain that she had her reasons."
"Im sure she just didnt want to upset me," she scoffed. "Everybody knows whats best for me! Everybody wants to decide what I know and when I know it." Her mouth was pursed in a hard line as she demanded, "Did you know that my mother was pregnant when they got married?"
"Yes, yes I did," he replied immediately. "It was a very difficult time for both of your parents, Jamie, and I did my best to help them through it."
Her eyes narrowed as she asked, "Did you know that my father has had affairs?"
"Thats not something Im willing to discuss," he said. "I think that is between your parents alone."
"Fine," she grumbled, understanding that he wouldnt feel comfortable revealing confidences. "It just feels like everybody knows all of these secrets and everyone is conspiring to keep them from me. I am so bloody sick of being treated like a child!"
He gazed at her for a long moment, thinking that she was acting more childish than she had in a long while. "Maybe they didnt tell you these things because they were none of your business," he suggested, trying to keep the sting from his words by adding a warm smile.
She looked up at him with her mouth hanging open. "How can you say that? I should have known that my parents had to get married, I should have known that their marriage was on the rocks, I should have known that Ryan knew about his affair. Of course its my business!"
He shook his head slowly, knowing that he was making his granddaughter angry, but determined to be honest with her. "I know it seems like these things concern you, and Im fully aware that they affect you, but that doesnt mean that you should be told about them, Jamie. Whether your parents had sex before they married is their private concern. How your father treats his vows is for him and your mother to discuss. You are not the wronged party here, even though youve been hurt by this."
Realizing that he was not backing down, she focused on the one point she was sure of. "Okay, lets say those points are not my business. Having Ryan know something like this and hiding it from me is certainly my business. Shes my life partner, for Gods sake!"
"Yes, she is," he agreed. "Dont you think that you should treat her like that?"
"The woman youve pledged your life to is probably very, very worried about you, Jamie. If you were as angry when you parted as you were when you arrived here, Im certain that shes beside herself. How can you let her worry about you like that?"
Suddenly feeling very small and very cruel, Jamie hung her head, which ached more and more by the second. "That was thoughtless of me," she admitted, recalling how frantic Ryan had been after their last fight. The woman had scoured every square inch of the Cal campus during finals week just because Jamie had been curt with her on the phone. "I couldnt bear to face her," she admitted. "It hurt too much."
"Allow me to play amateur psychologist here for a second, Jamie. It seems like youre taking all of your anger at your parents and compressing it into one ball of rage, which now seems to be directed at Ryan, and I think that is unfair to her. Until you hear her out, you should not assume that shes betrayed you."
With a heavy sigh she rose, blinking rapidly at the pounding in her head and feeling a little sick to her stomach. "Ill go home and talk to her."
"Dont force her to carry all of your anger, Jamie," he urged. "I doubt that she deserves it."
When she reached the door, Jamie gave her grandfather a gentle hug. "Thanks for being honest with me, Poppa," she murmured. "Sometimes I need a good kick."
"We all need that once in a while, Honey," he said, ruffling her hair gently as she departed.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Jamie walked the two blocks to her car in a pensive daze, not really seeing the dark figure crouched in front of the Lexus. She bit back a gasp as the leather-clad woman rose to her full height, holding her helmet in her hands.
"Ryan! My God, you scared me half to death!"
"Im sorry," she muttered, feeling like she hadnt done one thing right the entire day. "I just had to know that you were okay."
"How did you know where to find me?" Even though Ryan knew San Francisco like the back of her hand, it was not a small town, and Jamie was shocked that her partner had tracked her down.
"I decided to start at the most obvious place. Ive been here for a while."
"Why didnt you come to the door?" As soon as it was out she realized that it was a ridiculous question and she shook her head quickly, indicating that Ryan need not bother to answer. Feeling a stab of guilt over the way she had treated her partner, Jamie said, "Im calm now. Can we go home?"
With a relieved sigh, the dark woman nodded, tears springing to her eyes. "Please," she rasped, looking like she was on the verge of collapse.
"Come home with me," Jamie insisted. "We can come get your bike tomorrow."
Ryan looked like she was about to argue, but then realized how dreadfully tired she was. Getting in on the passenger side, she eased the electric seat all the way back to accommodate her long legs. There was stark silence on the ride home, neither woman wanting to reopen the discussion. The house was dark when they entered and to Jamies surprise, Duffy did not run to greet them. Searching the first floor, Ryan found him under her fathers bed, looking like he was afraid for his life.
"Why is he hiding?" Jamie asked, never having seen that behavior from the normally bold dog.
"He hates to have voices raised," Ryan replied softly, not mentioning that it was Jamie who had frightened him so badly.
Now feeling even worse, the smaller woman got down on the floor and popped her head under the bed skirt. "Its okay, Duffy Boy," she soothed. "I wont yell at your mama any more."
Jamie could barely hear the soft, "Is that true?" from her partner; but as the words registered, she shimmied out from under the bed and faced Ryan, promising, "Yes, thats true, Ryan. Im sorry I was so out of control earlier. I should never have yelled at you like that."
Ryan took a step toward her, intending a hug, but Jamie shook her head slightly. "Im not up to it right now," she demurred, drawing another sad sigh from her lover.
Closing her eyes, the smaller woman fought with her instincts and finally forced herself to wrap her arms around Ryans waist, giving her a fierce, albeit brief hug. "Just because Im not feeling affectionate is no reason to deny you a hug," she decided, smiling at the pathetically grateful look on her partners face. "Lets get something to drink and sit outside, okay?"
Ryan went into the kitchen and grabbed two glasses and a pitcher of lemonade, taking a seat a few feet away from Jamie. As she sat down she realized that this was the first time since theyd been dating that they had not shared the same seat on the deck, and she felt a twinge of sadness sting her yet again. Duffy poked his head out of the open door a few minutes later and judiciously lay down across the threshold, just in case Jamie didnt keep her promise.
Deciding to let Ryan do all of the talking, Jamie looked at her and asked, "Tell me what happened, Ryan."
Assuming that Jim had come clean, Ryan began, "When we went to your fathers apartment this spring to study, a woman came in just after you and he left."
Jamies eyes grew wide, and Ryan realized that she probably didnt know everything, but it was far too late for equivocation now, so she continued. "I stayed in the apartment for a few minutes, and when he got back it, uh, quickly became clear that they were lovers."
"Oh my God!" the blonde woman moaned, her head dropping to hit the back of the wooden chair. "Youve known for that long!"
"Yes. Yes, I have," Ryan said quietly.
Lifting her head to look at her partner, Jamie asked, "What was going on in your head? Why on earth didnt you tell me?"
"I felt it was wrong to tell you," she admitted, drawing a very puzzled look from her partner.
"I make it a practice to never reveal unpleasant information about a living person unless it would cause greater harm to keep it a secret," she said, obviously having thought it through very carefully.
"Even to me?" Jamie whispered, leaning forward with her eyes burning into her partner. "Even when you knew how much it would hurt me?"
Ryan nodded decisively. "Even you," she admitted. "I dont agree with much that the Catholic Church teaches, but one thing Ive found helpful is the concept of sin."
"Sin? How is that relevant?" she asked, thinking Ryan was on a different track than she.
"Its against my moral code to spread gossip," she revealed. "Because thats a strongly held belief, it would be sinful for me to do so, even though I wanted to with all of my heart." She fell to her knees and moved until she was directly in front of her partner. "Ive been tormented by this secret, Jamie. I knew it would wound you if you ever found out, and I had a strong feeling that your father would tell you that I knew. Its been killing me," she whispered, tears starting to fall once again. "Im so sorry that you had to find out about this, and that youve been so hurt."
Unable to resist the impulse, Jamie grasped her partner by the shoulders, the warm solidness of her body like a balm for the wounds she had suffered. "You say you cant tell a secret unless a greater harm could result. Wasnt this a greater harm? Didnt you know how much this would hurt me? Would hurt our relationship?"
Ryan nodded slowly. "I knew it would hurt you, and I thought it might hurt us," she admitted. "But I had to balance the harm, Jamie, and even if I chose wrong, youve got to believe that I tried my best!"
Knowing that Ryan tried her best at everything in her life, Jamie softly patted her cheek, closing her eyes as she did so. "I know that, Honey. You always do."
Ryans dark head dropped into her partners lap as she began to cry again, her tears quickly soaking through the thin cotton slacks that Jamie wore. "Im so sorry I hurt you, Jamie. Im so sorry."
Knowing that she should leave well enough alone, but still deeply curious, Jamie asked, "If you had to do it all over again, would you tell me?"
Ryan sat back on her heels and blinked slowly, wishing with all of her might that her partner had not asked the question. Her head began to shake as she said, "Given the same circumstances, Id do the same thing."
With a heavy sigh, Jamie got up, grabbing her head as the throbbing increased with the altitude change. "Ive had enough for one night," she muttered, walking inside.
Ryan got to her feet and followed her, standing in the middle of the room and looking lost when Jamie grabbed a T-shirt and her toothbrush, saying, "Im going to sleep in Rorys room."
"But youve weve never " Ryan murmured, looking like she was on the verge of tears again.
"Youve never hurt me this badly, Ryan. I just cant be close to you tonight. Im sorry, but I just cant." With that, she quietly walked up the stairs, turning her back on her partner, without even a backward glance.
* * * * * * * * * * *
It was after two when the door creaked quietly. Ryan had not fallen asleep, exhausted as she was. She had gone over the scenario again and again and again, coming up with the same answer every time. She would not have told her partner, given the same set of circumstances, and she was not going to lie and tell her differently even though she knew that Jamie would forgive her if she did so. Her eyes were well adjusted to the darkness since she had been staring at the ceiling for hours, and a small smile involuntarily settled on her face when she saw her partner trying to walk stealthily across the floor. "Im awake," she said in a soft, fully alert voice.
"Have you fallen asleep at all?"
"No. Well," the smaller woman said with a sigh, "if were not going to sleep, I guess we might as well talk."
"Okay," Ryan agreed, not really happy about continuing the argument, but unable to relax either. "What do you want to talk about?"
"Ive been going over this in my mind, Ryan, and it finally dawned on me that for you to insist that you would do the same thing says that this means a great deal to you. Can you explain it to me again?"
"Sure." Leaning back against the headboard, Ryan said, "Heres how I thought it through. There was nothing that I could do to take away the fact that your father had an affair. Telling you would not have made him stop cheating on your mom, but it would have wounded you greatly, and would have destroyed your faith in him."
"This is true," Jamie agreed, feeling exactly as Ryan described.
"I was also very much afraid that if you knew, you would tell your mom. They have obviously come to some sort of an agreement over the years, and I was afraid that having this out in the open could destabilize their marriage."
"Okay, that makes sense," Jamie agreed. "That explains why you didnt tell me at first. But it doesnt explain why you didnt tell me once I already knew."
"You didnt know much," Ryan reminded her. "And for all we know, your mom doesnt know that its still going on. I was still concerned that this information would harm their relationship. Thats not a small issue for me, Jamie. For me to intrude on the sanctity of marriage is a very, very big deal." She shook her head slowly, surprised at her own naïveté. "There was also a small part of me that had the foolish notion that your dad might stop cheating if he knew that I knew. I guess I thought he might be more concerned about your and your moms feelings than his own needs."
"I think we know the answer to that question," the smaller woman said derisively. Pausing a moment, she asked, "Did you tell him you knew when he came to the house?"
"Yeah. He was trying to make me mad, and he finally did. I said it just to piss him off." Ryan shook her head, still angry with herself for rising to the bait. "That was an incredibly immature thing to do."
"Weve all had our immature moments," Jamie reassured her. "Well, everyone except Mother. Shes taken the high road all the way."
"I admire her," Ryan said softly. "Putting up with a cheating husband just to provide stability for her child is a very selfless act."
"I couldnt do it," Jamie warned, reminding her partner once again that cheating would never be tolerated.
"It will never be a concern for you," Ryan vowed once again, her sincere blue eyes shining almost clear in the moonlight.
Jamie sighed, leaning against the headboard, shoulder to shoulder with her partner. "Im still hurt, Ryan, and I still think you should have told me, but I think I understand your reasons."
"I know youre angry, Jamie, and I understand why. All I can say is that one of the things I bring to our union is my integrity. I have to do what I think is right, even when theres a very good chance that youll be angry with me or have your feelings hurt. I would never hurt you intentionally, but sometimes it just cant be helped."
Jamie nodded her understanding then yawned loudly, her jaw popping. "Can we go to sleep now?"
"Sure." Ryan scooted down in the bed, tentatively extending her arm. "Cuddle?" she asked, the lack of confidence revealing itself clearly.
"Always," Jamie said, snuggling up tight. "Im sorry I refused to stay with you earlier. That wasnt a kind thing to do."
"Sokay," she muttered. Her relief was palpable as Ryan sighed deeply, almost asleep in the time it took her to yawn. With a start she jerked awake, gasping, "Shit! I forgot! Your father came here this evening!"
"Did you hit him?" Jamie asked lazily.
"No, of course not."
"Did he hit you?"
"Again, no," Ryan drawled.
"Anything momentous happen?"
"He knows your mom told you about the affair."
"No shit, Sherlock," the smaller woman whispered, placing a soft kiss on Ryans cheek. "I love you, Ryan. Even when Im angry with you, I still love you."
Nuzzling her face into Jamies hair, Ryan took in a breath, immediately calmed by the sweet scent. "Even when I hurt you, I hope you never question my love," she whispered softly. "No matter what, Jamie--through every problem, every fight--my love for you is constant."
Rolling onto her side, Jamie pulled Ryans arm across her body, tucking the large, gentle hand between her breasts. Sighing heavily, she murmured, "I know, Sweetheart. I might not act like it sometimes, but I know."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Continued in Part Two
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